Milton Keynes half marathon – 14/12/2014

A large part of my pre-christmas training has been focused around the Milton Keynes winter half marathon, and since the Budapest marathon I’d been running well and doing some good speed work so was hoping to go close to a personal best. The weekend kicked off with the obligatory Brockwell parkrun, but the plan was to take it easy and use it as a nice gentle warm up for the following day’s race.

This week’s event was celebrating 4 years since the very first run around Brockwell, and at the end of each year there is a small presentation to first male and female runners in the annual point’s competition. Each week points are available depending on your finishing position – the runner finishing in first place will score 100, second gets 99 and so on, with volunteering instead of running also scoring you a set number of points. Despite only starting 4 months into the season in mid-April I’ve finished the year in 16th place in the male standings, which I think is a pretty reasonable effort all things considering. With a clear run at things this year I’ll definitely look to improve on that and try and sneak into the top 10.

Back to this Saturday, and as stated, the plan was to take it relatively easy to leave the legs fresh the following day. Well, this plan went really well for the first 4 kilometres, but as usual, I completely failed to supress the urge to open up the legs a bit coming towards the finish. I ended up running just under 22 minutes, and my immediate thought was something along the lines of ‘I bet I’ll pay for that tomorrow.’

The plan for the following day was to drive up to Milton Keynes from Katie’s parent’s house near Reading, as this would be quicker for us than travelling from London. Still, 6.30 on a Sunday morning still felt like a ridiculously early to be getting up at the weekend – especially knowing it’s not exactly going to be a relaxing jaunt around the shops kind of day…

After the usual breakfast of some Alpen (cereal of champions), we were on the road by 7. The first thing to note was that it was absolutely freezing. The car was telling us it was around 2 degrees and there was a fair bit of ice on the roads – I was just hoping by the time the start rolled around at 10 most of it would have cleared up. I’ve never driven to a race before, and having a car was an absolute dream. We arrived in plenty of time and managed to park up around 400m away from the start/finish area. After taking a wander over to scope out where the bag drop was and assess the toilet situation (as always, not quite enough), we ran back to the warmth of the car and sat about until heading back with 15 minutes to go.

The start was on a fairly narrow path (probably wide enough for 3 abreast) so I stuck myself around 7/8 rows back from the front. After what seemed like no time at all we were off and I immediately tried to settle into my desired pace (around 7 minute miles). This clearly wasn’t happening in the first 3 miles with splits of around 6.30 each mile.

I was pleasantly surprised at how nice the route was. The only thing that has ever popped into my head when thinking Milton Keynes is roundabouts, and I’d assumed there wouldn’t be much to see on the way round. However, the route took us around the city, almost entirely alongside the canal which made for a nice change of scenery.

Everything was going so well, and I’d found a lanky guy in a Jesus vest (he had a bible verse on the back of it) to tuck in behind so he took on the full force of the headwind we were being exposed to, but I knew disaster was about to strike. In a very similar situation to the Reading half marathon, I’d clearly taken on too much water before the race. Back then I decided just to hold out and not go, but this time I felt like this might hurt me more in the long run, so I duly let my friend head on while I dived in a bush to try and pee as quickly as possible. My watch told me I lost a total of around 16 seconds, and my Christian friend was long gone. However, the next two guys who had been behind us were right there so the 3 of us formed a little group and headed through half-way.

At this point I was feeling good and quickly dropped the two guys I was running with. By now the field was massively spread out and I was reeling in the guy I left for my quick pit stop earlier on in the race. I ran up to him and thought we’d work together, but I was obviously feeling slightly fresher so pushed on past in search of the next person up the road.

This trend continued for the next few miles which was great for motivational levels. I’d spot the next guy about 50 metres ahead and slowly pull them in. I’d then usually (probably much to their annoyance) ask them what kind of time they were aiming for and tell them we should work  together before promptly easing away as I found the pace a touch too slow.

I realised I was on for a half decent time when I went through 11 miles and asked a guy what he was aiming for – ‘1.28’ was his response, and I’d certainlty never found myself in this kind of position with 2 miles to go. I just couldn’t believe how fresh I felt though so carried on moving forwards, making sure to thank all the marshals out on the course for putting the event on for us.

Into the last mile and I knew I was on for a decent time, and luckily for me I found myself in a 3 way battle with a giant chap from the Mornington Chasers and another from the Redway runners. Rounding the final corner with the finish in sight, I emptied the tank and had enough to pull clear from both of them on the final straight.

I usually don’t get too emotional when running, and I hate all these x-factor ‘sob stories’ that they seem to roll out on any kind of reality TV shows these days, but as I approached the line I found myself thinking about my grandmother who was at the time seriously ill (unfortunately since the day of the race she has passed away). She always took a keen interest in my running and all these other events I do and I know she would have loved to hear about how this went. I found myself thinking – this one’s for you nan.

Crossing the line, as always, is such a great moment because you know you don’t have to run a step further. I stopped my watch at 1:27:01 which I was initially pretty annoyed at, however the ‘chip’ results later showed I had run a 1.26.58, which had taken a whole 6 minutes off my PB! 61st out of 1035 runners. That’ll do very nicely indeed. The finish area was offering free mince pies, shortbread and gingerbread biscuits so I promptly scoffed about 5 of each – a lovely addition to an excellently organised race.

I headed back down the course to go and give Katie some ‘encouragement’ (shout at her to run faster), and was pleasantly surprised to see her earlier than I expected! I’d never seen her working so hard during a run before and coming towards me she was cruising past a couple of club runners. I followed her round the final turn and have her one last shout as she overtook a couple more on the final straight, finishing in 1.49.02 – her first sub 1.50 half. PB’s all around then. She wasn’t quite feeling up to any mince pies or biscuits so I gave her a hand in finishing those off as well.A quick walk back to the car and we were away in no time – much more ideal than getting public transport to a race.

If you were thinking that was it for christmas, you’d be gravely mistaken. In the next 3 weeks I’ve got the small matter of three 5k’s, a 10k, a 10 miler and a triathlon, starting with the Greenwich park 10k next week. Looking at my stats from today, it turns out I actually ran a 10k PB during the half marathon (41.02, with my current PB being 41. 43). I’m not counting this as it’s not ‘official’ but I’ve obviously got to put this to rights next weekend. No pressure then..
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