MK Winter Half Marathon

I’ve heard lots about races in Milton Keynes and most of them talk of roundabouts and flooded underpasses, I was hoping the MK Winter Half would be different.

This should’ve taken place on 10th December, however given conditions that day it was rescheduled to late-February. Personally I was quite happy with the rescheduling as I wasn’t particularly Half-marathon ready at that stage after injury during Manchester Half and lack of enthusiasm to run in the cold winter nights.

Fortunately I got my act together since and managed a couple of longer runs, albeit not being great confidence boosters, I gathered at my own pace it would go better.

I signed up originally because there was quite a crew building and it seemed like it had good reviews excluding the swim halfway through last years’ race where it was flooded up to the calves.

I drove up to MK with Nat (@tea_runner) and Becca (@redfaced_runner) and we had tons of fun on our own little road trip, what happens in the car, stays in the car.

Our overnight was the Holiday Inn (classy broads us), a 10min walk to the start and opposite a Harvester. Joined by Paul (@Brummierunner) for dinner and good chat before an early night for the race.

Kit laid out in all combo’s given I had no idea what the weather was going to be like.

I had the worst pre-race sleep ever, I’d forgotten to take my medication before bed so was up throughout the night until I realised my mistake. I woke up at 7.15 with a cracking headache, Becca came to the rescue with some Nurofen which worked a treat thank goodness. I was still feeling a bit ropey after breakfast but sure I’d pick up before the race.

We made the walk over to the event village and I was going through things in my head and negativity was setting in as I still wasn’t feeling great. As we got to the event village we saw the baggage and loo queue and they were some of the longest I’ve seen since Royal Parks – funnily enough they use the same system of giving you a wristband and tag for your bag completely separate to your race number. We were lucky as Daz took care of our bags in his car while we joined the loo queue which had diminished quite a lot leading up to 10am start time. I couldn’t help but notice I was fairly dehydrated already (caused by not taking my meds), I had my vest and bladder so started to drink from that before the start.

I wasn’t feeling it, I didn’t want to do it, but I had some awesome people around me and I basically didn’t want to disappoint them and my friend Victoria who was coming down from Derby specifically to see me finish. So I put my big boy pants on and went with it, mostly because Becca had warned me not to do a “Victoria Park” on her – I scared a few people that day.

We joined the back of the start – something I rarely do but it was quite well packed in. Before long we were underway and the hill up in front became very apparent. By the time I got there, I was last and the string of runners headed along the canal towpath.

Goals for today were quite specific – I usually set myself three goals, but tbh this was my first half in a while, but I’d dropped a fair bit of weight since Royal Parks, got a lot stronger and knew I was in decent condition (for me).

A) Finish (always my A-goal)

B) PB – sub-3:15:55 from Hackney

C) Do not go under 3:15…

The reason for the last one, I wanted to take it easy and enjoy it, I’d have a good crack at sub-3:15 at the Big Half, I knew I’d got it in me.

I caught Becca under the bridge around mile one and of course stopped for a mid-race selfie. I pressed on keeping a few people in front of me in sight and I put my tunes of using my Aftershokz.

I kitted myself out with compression shorts, calf sleeves, 2xu base layer top, Adidas long sleeve tee and Adidas tech hoody as it was pretty chilly to start with. By mile 3 I was actually smiling and enjoying it, the route was lovely and the sun was coming out, ah yeah. I was getting hot, not just warm but hot.

Unpin number from hoody, remove vest, take hoody off while holding vest and running alongside canal, put hoody in vest, put vest on and re-pin number on tee. Once I had finished I crossed under a canal bridge, came out the other side and had no idea which way to go – I couldn’t see anyone in front nor could I see any of the luminous signs – so I went with my gut feeling that the route pretty much just followed the canal.

The runners in front had pretty much disappeared, so my challenge was to catch them up again. I got a rare view every now and again to judge where I was against them and I could see that I was catching them for the next few miles.

0-3 miles were ok and I actually began to enjoy the run, wasn’t worrying about coming last and just spent time getting into my rhythm and doing a costume change.

By 10k I was feeling good, I’d caught up to one person and powered on through as she hugged one of the marshals.

The route was a bit all over the place but generally quite nice. I got into a rhythm of 5min run/1min walk and my goal was to get to the 10mile marker with an average pace of 15m/m for each mile from 6-10.

Around 8 mile I caught up to another group of ladies and stayed with them for a brief chat and to see how they were doing. I contemplated letting them pace me to the finish but I was feeling pretty good still.

Approaching mile 9 marker you can see the inflatable arch up above you on the dual carriageway and I figured this was the hill everyone was telling me about. It wasn’t all that bad, it just drew out for quite a while and took a fair bit out of your legs. But it was all along one of MK’s famous dual carriageways, had it been along the canal it might have been a little easier.

Mile 10 on the other hand was a dream, all downhill and I felt like I was flying and ran the whole mile.

The mile markers were a bit out, but I put that down to the tunnels and underpasses, so the markers were coming up short compared to GPS. From my watch I had 46mins to PB, from 10mile marker. I’d got to 10miles on a couple of runs recently and it’s all gone a bit wrong. I was hoping my legs would stay strong and I would at least keep moving forwards.

My goal for the last 5k of any half is just get home in one piece – doesn’t matter about pace. Mile 11, was a good mix of run/walk but the path was really uneven, it made it hard to run on and you really had to ensure you picked your feet up. Mile 12 I really wanted it done with so tried to push on, not that it actually showed in my splits that much.

This seemed like a long mile. I was keeping an eye out for Becca who I knew was cheering somewhere on this mile. There was a bit of a cruel hill and there she was, surrounded by the rest of the IG crew.

I knew we couldn’t be that far from the finish but given the nature of the route it was impossible to tell where you were. Fortunately having the others with me they told me exactly when I’d see the finish.

I’d could see the finish line ahead and went over to say hi to Victoria before just going for it. And when I say I was going for it – Martin & crew couldn’t even keep up with me, anyone would think they’d just ran 13miles or something – but first time for everything!!!.

It was done, I knew I’d done a quick time (for me) despite not looking at my watch for the last two miles. I jogged over to the merch tent to pick up my mug and left the Garmin running to top up the additional 0.05 mile to make it up to half-marathon, such a small distance I am not going to argue about distance given the amount of twisty track and tunnels we went through.

I’d set a new PB and I’d gone sub-3:15, something that’s been on my radar since Royal Parks 2016. I got close at Hackney and Royal Parks ’17 but was about a minute off on both. What do I put this down to – two things: being leaner and stronger (if you haven’t see my Instagram vids of my box step ups, TRX and general strength training, go check them out) and losing a few kg – I’ve dropped about 10kg since November and for the obvious reason I’m sure that it’s helped.

Post-race was spent wandering around slightly bemused, as I always am post run, then clambering up onto the podium for a group pic. I let Becca and Nat drive off home and I joined Victoria for lunch before getting the train home.

So where next? Well I don’t know how to run the Big Half now, that was going to be my big attempt at sub-3:15, I know I’ve got another minute to take off that without killing myself as long as I dress accordingly and don’t chat too much, but then that’s the nice part of running. The training plan says 18miles that day, so the temptation is to take the race very easy (3:20 pace) and then crack out another 5miles post – but then I feel a tad silly for doing a race and holding back so much, plus I miss out on the post-race fun and activities. We’ll see what most others are doing and take it from there.

I have rated the race on Racecheck, unfortunately the rating comes out lower than what I would’ve liked, but I could only give 1/5 on the ease of navigation and marshals given that I felt a few spots were missing a marshal to direct or at least clearer signs.

Would I do it again? I won’t be the first to sign up for it again, but to be honest if I was desperate to find a race in MK I’d rather do this one than any of the others on offer. The route is 90% along lovely paths along the Grand Union Canal, there isn’t much support but it didn’t need it with the views. There’s a couple of stretches along dual carriageways but its minimal, apart from that its rather nice country lanes.

The aid stations seemed ok with me – I didn’t need any water but someone said that at one of the later stations they had run out of water. There was always jelly babies or jelly beans on offer at each station and that was a nice touch. Just don’t expect gels or Lucozade like at some of the bigger halves.

The bling is half decent too, albeit saying 10th December 2017 all over it, but I didn’t expect them to update the medal. I was a little disappointed with the event village, there wasn’t a great deal to do apart from sit round the lake with chips and coffee and I think most had closed by the time I finished – and I was about 45mins in front of the last runner.

Free photos posted directly to your Facebook is a big yes for me, free photos full stop is a huge plus, they were also fairly decent too, better than some I’ve paid for!

And finally….don’t forget you can still vote for me and my blog for the 2018 Running Awards -> under Publications & Online, Blog (Personal), BigCarlRunning