How did I get here? This is a mistake? What was I thinking? These thoughts may, or may not, be running through my head as I stand at the start line of the Milton Keynes marathon 2017. But, to be fair, it was a question of timing. The April cray-cray of Brighton-Manchester-Paris-London always throws a spanner shaped object into the Spring marathon works. Last year I did not get into London and so ran Manchester, this year I did not get into London and so booked Brighton. I have run the Semi de Paris before but wasn’t a fan so never really considered the full. And so, with Brighton the first weekend of April I looked for an early May marathon and MK seemed to fit the bill. I was a fan of the Ray Ban wearing Concrete Cow tee from last year so thought, what the hell? Of course, at the time, I didn’t realise I would get a charity place for London and run it 8 days before.
Cue the concrete cow mooing
The tee and the medals were the real draw to be honest. Aviator sunglasses wearing cows, what is there not to like? It would be a unique looking bespoke addition to my medal racks.
Also there would be a pretty large #UKRUNCHAT contingent including the twins, Rob O’Hara and Elle, Clare, Paul, Kev, Kev Briggs, Barry Norman, JK, Kaya, Clare, Chris Holt, Nettie, Tracy and Lisa amongst others for a weekend that included a 5K rocket race, a half and a full. I would be running the full as part of my 12 Marathons Or Above in 11 months for Pancreatic Cancer UK and therefore HAD to finish, no matter what.
And so I went about trying to give my old body the best chance it could to get around. My masterplan involved:
- Staying at the Doubletree connected to the stadium that is the start/finish/race HQ
- Early doors pasta party the day before
- Tape the crap out of my knee that has had tendinitis since half way around London
- Early nights and plenty of sleep leading up to it
- A couple of gentle runs between London and MK, maybe 3 hour long runs just to keep the legs ticking over
I could have had a much later start too, if I had not fallen foul of the postman because my race pack never arrived, and was not returned. I did flag this up very early with the organisers. They had plenty of time, a month or so, to send out a new pack but no! No! Rather than be nice about it, and remove an added element of stress from the already stressful time of running a marathon, I was told to report to HQ before the race, to get there early as there would be a queue, and to get my race pack then. 8am! Not 10am. There is a lot of a difference between the amount of sleep I could have had right there. I would curse the postman, but am convinced I will see him there wearing my number.
Now, I joke a lot. You may have noticed that, amidst the reviews and write-ups, I inject humour. And this race is in Milton Keynes! Oh, come on! How can people not make a joke or two? Even the tee and medal is concrete cow! Still, a few people got arsey with me for calling it concrete cow land (it is on the bloody medal), and reposting JKs stunning photo of the natural beauty of the local landscape at Mile 23.
There is a flyby video too but, to be fair, the only other race video I have seen was for Dublin full, taken from the back of a motorcycle and it actually convinced me not to sign up for that one.
I arrived early afternoon on the Sunday, after forgoing the 5K Rocket race so I could spend a fun night at Goodenough Hall in London at a cèilidh (pronounced caley).
Comfortable hotel room attached to the stadium that would be the start/finish. And a few pints whilst watching the footie with Rob O’Hara and Elle, who had both run the Rocket 5K. Beers turned the afternoon into night and a pasta party at Prezzo with Rob and Elle, JK and Clare, the twins and Kev before an early night and an early morning where porridge and a damp concrete landscape made me feel a little grey.
The Race HQ was in the stadium and literally just around the corner from the hotel lobby. There was already a queue at 8:30 with people who had signed up late (and therefore couldn’t get their bib posted in time) and those of us whose bib never made it at all mingling and wondering why this always happens to them.
But bib in hand, a seamless (Scout manned) bagdrop and I was pinning my number to a nice comfy Dri Fit tee that I have worn many times in training and therefore would not repeat the bloody mess that was my nipples at VLM the week before.
I met up with Kaya and Baz as they queued for Kaya’s number. She had signed up late and needed to queue, and then ran into JK and Clare outside before heading into the stadium. I saw a random UKRUNCHATTER in Team Red hoodie who I kinda recognised but didn’t speak to, Rob O’Hara and Elle and Barry Norman, Kev briggs, and Chris Holt as I queued up at the start and tried to work out how to use my new gizmo.
Like Norwich, and several other races over the UK in ear headphones were banned. And, as I am a good boy (please don’t ask my Rabbi to confirm), I purchased, not only a pair of bone conductor open ear headphones, but also a Bluetooth transmitter so I could still use my iPod when running to fully adhere to their rules.
Rules, that I would learn very quickly were not only completely ignored by a limited group, but were clearly unpoliced by the race organisers. Boo! I feel like such a schmuck!
Now, I had never used the headphones in anger. In fact I had only tested them once on the couch at home (tick) shortly after purchasing them, and then at the hotel room the morning of the race (tick). I did discover that linking your Bluetooth bone conductor headphones to your Bluetooth transmitter is very easy in a hotel room, but trying to link said Bluetooth bone conductor headphones to your Bluetooth transmitter in the start pen of a marathon where a LOT of people were also trying to pair their Bluetooth devices made it nigh on impossible. Ah!!!!
When they did finally link, as my wave (blue wave) moved towards the start line, I couldn’t hear them as (1) they were very quiet and (2) the annoying announcer was bellowing some nonsense about us making our families proud, and (3) the thump thump of motivational dance music. I was concerned but needn’t have been as then, after about 20 yards, once the small crowd of supporters had dissipated and we were left with dual carraigeway and little else, I could hear my tunes quite clearly. Yay for technology!
You know those play mats you had as a kid? My youngest brother had one. Maybe you did, or maybe a sibling did. The MK Marathon route, from what I could tell, was pretty much that, but grande. From what I recall we ran up one side of a dual carriageway to a roundabout, took the first junction all the way to the next roundabout, then turn back along the other side of the road up to the next, yes, you guessed it, roundabout before a few more there and backs along the road and waving goodbye to the half marathon runners, who turned back toward the stadium as we entered flavour country.
It started to drizzle at mile 5 I seem to recall. There had been rumours of thunderstorms that did not materialise and roundabouts that did. My knee that had been hurting pretty much since mile 12 at London was hurting the whole time but I soldiered on, enjoying the occasional pause to capture the moment.
My mind went back to an agoraphobic girl I met at the last Saxon Viking Norman race I did, the Bowieathon. She was petrified of crowds but loved to run. She was running London and it scared the life out of her. As the field thinned through underpass after underpass, as we circled a park, then a housing estate, ran alongside motorways, under more underpasses, through a few quaint villages, under more underpasses, and across a few bridges spanning dual carriageways, I thought of her. As there was very little support, if any in large chunks of the route, this would definitely be the race for her.
And, to be honest, I didn’t mind it too much either. It could not have been more the opposite of London, where I could barely catch my breath with someone shouting for me to keep running, here, it was all quiet, and sedate. Indeed, if I had to estimate it, I would say 85% of all the support we got was from the excellent marshals.
I did hear the shout of “Come on, lightning bolt guy” at one point and it spurred me on, despite my crunchy knee and the fact that the headphones were actually quite uncomfortable for such a long period of time. The mile markers were ticking over, which made me happy. And I took photos of most of them, with the aim that I would then meet the Katzenjammers at Mile 23 for a group photo and hopefully a nice cold, ice cold Coke.
And this is the sad bit, and perhaps a sign of the times. The 23 mile marker was not there. It was gone. I could say it was stolen, but then why not the others, and 23 was on a motorway bridge. The country signs would have been easier to half inch. My thinking is that the jokes made over the last week or so about it meant that it was never put up, which is sad. As a joke is just a joke.
And so, not only was my Coke and my fellow Katzenjammers missing, but the Mile 23 sign was also missing, but that was ok because…
It was roughly at this point that my iPod/Bluetooth transmitter/painful bone conductor headphones died. It was also the time that an annoyingly cheery guy dressed as Scooby Doo ran by carrying a charity collection bucket, telling me and a few fellow runners to keep going, and that there wasn’t far to go, before running up to cars that had been stopped by a marshal, to ask the drivers for donations. We were glad he had gone, but soon enough he was back. Now, I don’t know about you, but it was always Scrappy Doo that I hated. I have changed my opinion now, and call for open season on the entire Doo clan.
There are many things I liked about this race. And the organisation was part of it, save them not getting my race pack to me. Water bottles were at the checkpoints every 5K. Later, after the half had split away from the full we had gels too, and Powerade at the tables manned by very supportive marshals.
You do get a little deja vu as you get to the top of an underpass and look down and ask yourself, “have I run this way before?” Whether it was an underpass that lead you to a small park, or the lake, or a small village, a housing estate, or just the other side of the motorway, you didn’t know until you got there. I am sure it wasn’t the same underpass, as the mile markers (except for 23) kept ticking over and then, somehow, I reached the last one, with a deafening silence in my ears.
When my headphones finally died (around the time I wanted to kill Scooby), I wondered what I would hear, what could possibly be the soundtrack of the MK marathon to go with the repetitive scenery. The answer? Traffic. But as I saw the stadium approaching, we didn’t even have that on closed roads. The last 1500m would be a silent movie… or would it?
The support was virtually non-existent, other than the marshals who I am happy to praise highly. The route was very repetitive and mundane and more boring that the Open University TV programs that are spawned from nearby. Mile 23 was all it had promised to be, lived up to it’s reputation, but paled into insignificance when compared to the sheer beauty of Mile 22. The highlight was actually the stadium start and finish.