Milton Keynes Marathon 2018 – finish lines not finish times

I had initially planned for Milton Keynes Marathon to be my target race for the 2018 Spring running season before I signed up to the South Downs Way 100.  When the weather forecasters predicted the hottest May Bank Holiday on record though, I was glad that this marathon wasn’t my sole goal for the Spring and I changed my plans for the race.

Milton Keynes Marathon medal 2018

I say I changed my plans, but I really wasn’t sure what to change them to!
I’d had a great run a week before race day.  I’d set out to run eight miles at tempo pace with a mile warm up and a mile cool down.  I found the run easy and could have quite happily turned this run into 10 or 12 miles at tempo pace, had I not needed to come home and get ready for work that evening.8 mile tempo runIt gave me a real confidence boost going into marathon week, although Oscar then became ill at the start of the week and very clingy.  He passed whatever it was onto me and we both ended up feeling rather rubbish for the rest of the week, resulting in Oscar missing two of the groups he usually attends and me missing a large batch of my training runs.

Added onto this I would be working nightshifts the weekend of the marathon.  I had decided that I am best off saving my holiday allowance for target long distance races over the year, and as Milton Keynes Marathon was no longer a target race and wasn’t one of the longer events planned for this year I ended up not booking the weekend off.  As luck would have it though, my manager messed up my shifts the previous weekend, calling me in on a day when I was not needed, so I managed to convince him to let me have the Sunday night before the marathon off in exchange.

It did mean though that I worked through the night until 7am on Friday (with no pre-work nap as Oscar was poorly) and then through the night again on Saturday with a two hour nap in the morning before traveling over to Norfolk for a friend’s baby’s Christening.

Oscar and I at Oliver's Christening

Back home by 6pm to pack my bag and get an early night, only Oscar (who was still feeling poorly, teething and was definitely feeling the heat from the day) had other ideas.  I might as well have gone to work and earnt some money for all the sleep I got that night!

Despite poor sleep and having felt poorly that week, I did still manage to get an amazing night-before-the-race pizza in.

Pre-race pizza

So, no sleep, on the back of being poorly and on a day which turned out to be 28 degree heat…very glad I’d struck Milton Keynes Marathon as my goal race!  I was sweating before I even got into my car that morning!

Heading out to Milton Keynes Marathon

As an ambassador for this year’s marathon I was given a priority parking pass and invite to the VIP room where there was cake, drinks and nibbles laid on.  Best of all though, – no queues for the toilet as we had our own(!)  I nervously stood by a table in the room having only met one of the other ambassadors before the weekend.  I needn’t have worried though and I was soon busy chatting away to the other runners about training, race plans and shoe choices.

MK Marathon VIP area

A little after 9am we headed downstairs along with the pacers for the race to have our photograph taken on the pitch.

MK Marathon ambassadors

(I’m in the bottom left of the shot.  Picture by Tim Bullard)

Milton Keynes Marathon ambassadors and pacers

(I’m third from the right, wearing sunglasses.  Picture by Walker McCabe Photography)

It probably wasn’t the best idea to have the pacers knelt down in front of everyone as their balloons kept bobbing up everywhere!

Milton Keynes Marathon ambassadors and pacers

(I’m third from the right.  Picture by Walker McCabe Photography)

When we returned back to the VIP suite ‘good lucks’ were said as we all dispersed to find friends and family before the race and to carry out any pre-race rituals.  I made my way back over to the spot by the entrance where WDAC runners always seem to congregate before the start of the MK event each year.  There were several of our runners there and I happily chatted away sizing up who was running which distance and who would be in my start pen for the event.

I nipped back to add some more vaseline to my arms before the start.  I knew that I would be pouring a lot of water over my head in order to keep cool and didn’t want the top of my arms to rub as a result.  Luckily, we were allowed to leave our bags in the VIP area during the day, which meant that I didn’t have to worry about the bag drop and could check my phone/make changes to my kit until the last minute.

The start was just outside.  Slightly different to previous years when I have run it, – this time the snake of runners waiting to start curved back onto themselves.  I was in the blue start, the one before the last pen and so found where I needed to go and located the 4:45 pacer I had decided to start alongside.

Although I didn’t enter the pen until 9:50am (with a 10am start time) it took a fair while before we crossed the line.  I began to feel a little queasy and ‘penned in’ despite not really being packed into the pens and so located a van parked to the side which several runners had already made a bee-line for and were leaning against in the shade.  I felt much better after a few minutes of time out in the cool and then made my way back to the starting pen where I bumped into Kev from my club.  He had been out crewing another club member at the Thames Path 100 that weekend and is coming down to crew a different member when I run the SDW100 next month, so we spent 20 minutes catching up and talking tactics before we crossed the startline ourselves.  It was nice to take my mind off how hot things were and how poorly I had felt whilst stood still in the heat that morning.

I ran with Kev for the first couple of miles before he disappeared behind a bush.  Kev never wears a watch but had planned to run somewhere around 5 hours that day (5h 00m 19s!) as it was his longest run in quite a while following injury.  Just before two miles he asked me what pacer had the balloon bobbing away just in front of us.  I told him that it was the 4:45 pacer, but that I thought he was probably going a bit quickly.  (My first two miles were 10:20 and 10:30 and the 4:45 pacer was a fair way ahead of us, despite crossing the start line alongside me.)  Someone turned around to say that he was just catching up with the runners he was pacing as she had just seen him nip into the hedge, but even so, he was going too quickly.  I had heard him mention that he intended on running the flatter bits faster so that the group may slow down on the uphills.  It’s a tactic used by lots, but I personally prefer to run fairly evenly if possible.

I made the decision to run my own race, without pacer and aim for 10:30mm – up hills, along the flat and also on the downhills (were there any of those?!) keeping an eye on my heart rate as I went.  I have really enjoyed my tempo runs lately working towards a set pace for each mile and find that it gives me a mini focus all the way through a session, breaking a run up into manageable chunks.  Dan was planning to bring Oscar out to come and watch the race and would be at mile 12.5 and mile 15.5, both shaded areas and fairly close together so that Oscar wouldn’t be out for too long in the heat.  The plan was to hold onto 10:30mm pace for as long as I was able, but to reassess at mile 11, just before seeing Dan and Oscar.

It felt easy.  Really easy.  I had to keep slowing myself down.

As a race ambassador (and also due to not wanting to rub in the heat!) I had decided not to wear my club vest for the race, but instead wore my MK t-shirt and found it super comfy and cooling with it’s light colour.  One of my favourite things about the switch backs at the start of the MK marathon/half route is that you can easily see other club vests coming back in the other direction and cheer other runners from our club.  I knew that I wouldn’t be spotted by any club runners this year though without my club vest on and almost felt a little like I was secretly spying on them all running by!

Miles 1-6: 10:20, 10:30, 10:30, 10:24, 10:22, 10:21.

I had been told that a group from WDAC were biking over to the six mile point to cheer the runners on so kept a good look out for them from the 6 mile marker but saw no signs of anyone.  There was a lot going on at this section as we ran through a little park, passed the section for the first relay runners to handover to their teammates and crossed the first block of timing mats, so there were lots of people around and I hoped I hadn’t missed our cyclists.

Heading towards mile 7 though I remembered there was a pub on the side of the road and knew they would be fairly close.  Sure enough I spotted them cheering directly opposite and madly waved to get their attention, almost running into them before they spotted me out of club uniform!

It had started to heat up now.  I’d been passing occasional walkers from about 3 miles in, but now many had adopted a run-walk technique, especially up the small ‘hills’ that cropped up.  I was still feeling good, my heart rate was still fine (160ish) but I was feeling rather hot.

Miles 7-11:  10:23, 10:29, 10:26, 10:27, 11:01.

I dropped my gel at the start of the 11th mile and loudly swore twice as it had interrupted my stride whilst running an uphill which I then decided to walk.  I shouldn’t have walked as the sweat then poured out of me and I could feel myself heat up further.  It was at this point, looking around me and seeing not another single person running up that hill that I decided to just enjoy the rest of the race and make the most of the day.  SDW100 is my main aim for this season, not MK Marathon and I wanted to be able to continue running the rest of the week, not have to take a week off after running a hard road race where I might shave a few minutes from my time.  There would be time for that later in the year instead.

So, from that point I did not care about my time at all and thoroughly enjoyed the race experience in a way I feel you only can if time does not remain a factor.

I sat down with Oscar on the floor for a minute at 12.5 miles who was busy munching on his picnic and excitedly shouting at me “Law Law – run, run, run!” as he had just seen Laura run past.  Dan told me that Laura was only a little way ahead of me, despite initially aiming for a sub 4 marathon that day.  She had unfortunately fallen early into the race and had ripped open her knee.  Dan had loaded her with wet wipes to try and help stop the bleeding when he saw her, but her run had changed to walk now as her knee began to stiffen.

I ran on.  The people of Milton Keynes were AMAZING on Monday.  They came out in their hoards to support the runners.  I ran under more sprinklers than I could count.  Dipped my hat in at least four buckets of water to cool my head down, enjoyed jelly babies, orange segments, watermelon and a couple of slices of frozen melon.  <<  This was the best thing ever.  I’m already putting a request in for frozen melon on the SDW100!  There were so many kids (and adults!) out with water guns on the course and it was so refreshing even when the squirts came to the face!  I took water from every water station, high fived hundreds of kids, thanked all the volunteers and even had a little dance to the band on route.  I passed local residents kindly letting runners sit down on their garden chairs and one even nip in for the loo!  I always thought London Marathon had a great atmosphere, but London was NOTHING on the buzz that was Milton Keynes on Monday.

I plucked up the courage to start a conversation with a runner wearing a Run Mummy Run top, chatted to several runners about how we had been training in ice and snow for a marathon in 28 degree heat and let one woman know that her belt had ridden up her back, potentially causing nasty sores for her later on.

One of my favourite photos from the race is one which Dan took as I was running towards Oscar at mile 15.5.

Milton Keynes Marathon - spotting OscarI stopped for a little while here to reapply some suncream, hand back the nakd bar I knew I wouldn’t eat and collect some ‘Free hugs’ from Oscar.

Milton Keynes Marathon - stopping with Oscar at mile 15Milton Keynes Marathon - stopping with Oscar at mile 15Dan said that Oscar had been enjoying cheering runners on that morning and had been busy clapping away and shouting “Run, run, run!” at everyone that passed.  (He’ll make a great coach!)

I bumped into Laura just after 18 miles and walked with her for the following mile before jogging off so that my legs didn’t stiffen up.  We saw a couple of members from our club here where I nabbed some watermelon slices and another bottle of water. Mile 19 of the Milton Keynes Marathon with LauraI was a little confused that I hadn’t seen any other pacers pass me, but it turns out many had struggled on the day, despite running times often an hour slower than their own PB and pulled from pacing duties.  I have never seen so many people walk during a marathon before and there were a couple of miles where I could probably have counted on my hands how many runners I saw!

I had taken a bottle of nuun water from Dan when I had seen him at mile 12.5 but to be honest my body was telling me that I had probably drunk too much water and not enough electrolytes/other stuff.  I was struggling a little with my right ear, which sounds ridiculous, but it’s usually the first telltale sign for me that I need to slow down on the water intake. I walked a little way with two other ladies for a couple of miles from mile 22, deciding to lay down on the verge to cheer some runners past by mile 25 for a little while.  I had salted up a fair bit by this point and felt like I was beginning to get heat stroke, so decided to take it fairly easy and took maybe five minutes to myself in the shade on the side of the path before continuing on.

Salted up post marathonI obviously had to run the finish though.  Milton Keynes Marathon has a fabulous finish – running down into the stadium and then 3/4s of a lap round the pitch before heading under the finish gantry.  I looked up to hear cheers from other runners in my club shouting me round, and then also saw a runner in a giant rhino costume not far behind. MK Marathon finish in the stadium with a giant rhino costume (Picture by Tim Bullard)

Erm wow.  Just take a moment to think about how incredibly impressive that woman was.  She ran a Rhino PB that day – a little under 5h 30m in that insane heat whilst wearing a ridiculously hot costume.  Legend! MK Marathon finish in the stadium with a giant rhino costume (Picture by Tim Bullard)

I crossed the finish line and immediately turned to congratulate her.

My slowest road marathon by far…

Official time: 5:32:01
Position:
1625/2028
Gender position:
375/557
Category position: 100/150

…but for the first time I genuinely didn’t care.  I had thoroughly enjoyed myself that day.

The layout following the finish was slightly different this year.  Normally runners head back out through the underpass and down into the underground section to collect medals and goody bags.  This year though, runners had to walk up the steps inside the stadium collecting their medals and goodies as they went.  I heard a few people moaning about this, but one of the benefits to taking the race easy was that I could jog up the steps at the finish and by Tuesday my legs even seemed to have forgotten that they had covered 26.2 miles the day before!

Milton Keynes Marathon collection of medalsAnother benefit was that my official photographs look great!  This almost never happens to me in a race.  I’m usually the beetroot-red, top-ridden-up runner with her eyes closed!

Milton Keynes Marathon official photosI’m very tempted to buy them, despite the result of the race being so poor.

A post-race family trip to the pub for dinner was definitely in order on Monday night!

Dan, Oscar and I heading to the pub

I’m just waiting for the date for a Decathlon brand trip in September before booking an Autumn marathon to target this year, but after the 100 I’m looking forward to running a few marathon distances again, so will be booking up more soon!

Did you run out in the heat on Monday?
Do you suffer from running in the heat?
Have you run a marathon ‘just for fun’ before?
Photos: to buy or not to buy?

More parkrun tourism and the new Chrome extension

This year has been a bit of a weird one when it comes to running and racing.  Since starting weekend nightshifts last December I’ve had to turn all of my usual plans on their head.

It’s hard enough getting round for parkrun on a Saturday morning when you have a toddler, but when it comes on the back of a nine hour shift finishing at 7am…all I want to do is sleep!

Two weeks ago I wasn’t needed in work on the Friday night, as there were enough staff in already.  So I headed over to the fairly new parkrun in Northampton – Sixfields Upton.  The event started up just after Christmas and several of us have been holding back from going along too soon, so that the volunteer team weren’t rushed off their feet with large numbers of runners when the event was still in it’s early days.

The extra parkrun in town hasn’t seemed to affect numbers of runners at the Northampton Racecourse event though which still regularly hosts more than 500 runners on a Saturday morning.

Laura, Oscar and Me at the Sixfields Upton parkrun

Dan decided that he would also like to parkrun at Sixfields Upton as he wasn’t traveling back for a Wolves game that morning.  We took Oscar along in his buggy and walked over for the start of the event where we met Laura.  I’d worn road shoes as the parkrun website said that the event was held entirely on tracks and paths, but in actual fact it was incredibly boggy and muddy out there and I was a little upset that my super clean road shoes ended up covered in so much mud by the end of the event!  It also caused a few problems when runners refusing to go through puddles stopped dead in front of Oscar’s buggy.  It wasn’t just the occasional runner who stopped to daintily pick their way round the puddles so I had to really be on my toes.  A handful of runners even leaped back almost into us as water splashed up towards them.  I have no idea how I managed to not clip anybody with the front wheel of the buggy!!!

This was the state of my trainers and legs post run…(!)

Muddy legs after Sixfields Upton parkrun

It’s a very different event to the Northampton one, which is perfect.  Nobody wants two very similar events right next to each other!

I think I’ll probably stick to the original Northampton parkrun course on weekends when I run with Oscar though, as it was a little nerve-wracking trying not to bump into anybody on route with the buggy.

Laura, Oscar and Me at Sixfields Upton parkrunDespite starting from the back of the pack we glided past Dan with nearly a mile to go.  Oscar spotted Dan from way back and began shouting “Dadda!” in his direction.  Although this changed to baa-ing at sheep as we passed them instead.

Laura, Oscar and Me at the Sixfields Upton parkrun

Sneakily, Dan saved just enough for a sprint finish and pipped the three of us on the finishing straight.  We’ll beat him next time though!

Oscar and Me at the Sixfields Upton parkrun

Dan, Oscar and Me at Sixfields Upton parkrun

Official time: 31:34
Position: 147/238
Gender position: 44/106
Age category position: 11/17

Oscar then enjoyed a good forty minutes of kicking a football around the car park before we headed home to enjoy the rest of the day.

Oscar playing football in the car park

I had booked off this last weekend from my nightshift job.  Over the next few months I am also working as a coursework moderator for a GCSE exam board.  (Who needs one part time job when you can fit three in alongside life as a full time Mum?!)  As it will be my first year working as a moderator I was advised to attend a day-long course in Coventry before scripts for the 20 schools I’ve been assigned to start to come in for checking.

I was so excited to see that my course didn’t start until 10am on Saturday morning, and that the course location was less than 4 miles away from a parkrun I’d not run before!  I WILL tick off some more parkrun tourism this year, despite having run all parkruns within an hour radius of my house now!

It was super hot on the morning and even though I’d brought along a towel and packet of wet wipes I decided (already sweltering by 8:15am!) that I was going to just jog around the parkrun at at a 10mm pace so as not to get too sweaty for my meeting which followed.

Coventry parkrun

I ended up arriving super early (This really makes a change for me!) and so went for a lovely wander/explore of the park and off to find the toilets, which didn’t appear to be open.  I wasn’t desperate, so figured I’d be fine for another hour until I arrived at my course location.

Coventry parkrun is fairly similar in size to my local event, Northampton, although set in a much larger park.  Volunteers helpfully set out signs along the start lineup indicating where to stand in relation to the time you expected to finish in.  As the briefing had overrun slightly, we ended up heading down to the start a little late and so I decided to run at 9mm pace instead, figuring that I was going to get sweaty no matter what…better to be on time to my training course if I could be!  I ended up standing just behind the 28 minute board, although frustratingly heard two separate groups of runners declare that they would never run a 28 minute parkrun that day but at least they wouldn’t spend so much time weaving near the start if they started from that position.  In actual fact, I spent the first mile overtaking other runners, despite running at the correct pace for a 28 minute time.

Coventry parkrun start line

Interestingly I read somewhere that this year runners declared their goal time for Brighton Marathon during the expo, rather than when they initially signed up for the race, which was potentially a year earlier.  This a great idea as it reduces the number of people overoptimistic (or underoptimistic) about their finishing times, already knowing how their training has gone for the race before finalising their goal.

The Coventry course is a really flat one with a tiny hill at the far end of the park, and a long, very gradual downhill which follows.  It’s easy to get into a rhythm and the course never felt too busy, despite the overtaking at the start.

By the last mile I really needed a wee, and on scanning my barcode had to race off to the now-open toilets before rushing back to my car.

Official time: 28:40
Position: 331/675
Gender position: 62/273
Age category position: 30/83

Typically I then took a wrong turn when driving to the training course and then as I burst through the doors with two minutes to spare I was met by a rather unhelpful receptionist who not only couldn’t find me on the list because I’d stated ‘Computing’ instead of ‘ICT’, but proceeded to send me to the wrong room after I’d changed out of my running gear and having hurriedly wet wiped the sweat from my face!  The course lecturer found me wandering the corridors ten minutes later looking for the correct room, blaming the receptionist for telling me the wrong location!
I had a very enjoyable day learning about how the coursework moderation system works.  I do love learning and miss being in a classroom environment so often since finishing my last teaching position.

I’m working again this weekend and Dan is away on the Saturday but I’m already eyeing up my next spot of parkrun tourism for the following week.  The parkrun Chrome Extension isn’t helping my addiction…!

I plan on writing about the Chrome extension in more detail at some point (I’m on the computer at my Dad’s house tonight) but it is just so addictive!

How many different parkrun events have you run?
Do you ever run before work/meetings?

Falling back in love with ultra running

Over the past few months there have been times where I think I’m starting to fall out of love with running.  In the early days, running was such an easy thing to do…throw on some running clothes, lace up my trainers, strap my watch to my wrist and just get out there.  I really never appreciated just how easy running was back then.  Now getting out on a run can become a military operation, planned weeks in advance for a run which might end up being cut short due to lack of sleep (Me) or the spotting of a park on route (Oscar) !

This Saturday, running the South Downs Way 50 reminded me of everything I love about running though, and everything I love about running ultra distances in particular.

I was always going to sign up for the SDW50 this year.  The event had been my main running goal for 2017 – my comeback race from having a baby, booking the race was incentive to return to running and to hopefully feel more like ‘Me’ again once the baby had arrived, rather than just a ‘Mum’.  It worked.  I had a great race last year and, despite having to stop for 25 minutes on route to express(!) I continued to book races into my calendar, including the South Downs Way 100 for this year.

Knowing that the SDW100 was firmly booked in for June, it only made sense to enter the SDW50 again.  Those 50 miles (give or take a couple) are the last 50 miles of the 100 mile race – and miles which I’ll likely be running in darkness next time round.  Having refreshed my memory of the route this weekend I feel confident that I can navigate the miles again in nine weeks time in the dark along with the help of a strong headtorch!

I haven’t really been focusing on the SDW50 this year to be honest.  I’ve actually been a little blase about it all, with my main focus as the 100, closely followed by Milton Keynes Marathon at the start of May where I hope to PB.  I’ve run the 50 before, and know that I can complete the distance.  However, I was a little on edge going in to this event as so many runners from my club of a similar speed to me would also be running the race, with six of them going for the Grand Slam of four Centurion 50 mile events across the year.  Last year I didn’t feel pressured to run at anybody’s pace or to perform a certain way, but this year I worried that I would end up running with one of the other runners from my club or would stress myself into trying to keep up with them.  I’m much slower over road races than all of the others who were there.  Don’t get me wrong – I love chatting to other runners when out on the course, but I hate feeling like I need to keep up with somebody’s pace, or hang back with them when actually that section suits me really well and I can run easily along it.  I race much better when I’m running on my own, even though I always find other runners to chat to along the way.

Friends Kev and Gary were crewing us all and so Kev arrived in his van outside my house to collect me a little before 4:30am on Saturday morning.  I’d set my alarm for 3:30am that morning but definitely hit the snooze button after Oscar decided to wake for a (very unlike him) two hour party at 12:30am.  Tip number one if you’re thinking about running an ultra…don’t live with a toddler!

After picking up another three runners along the way we arrived with the perfect amount of time before the start.  Kit check, numbers on, loo trip, drink, snack, bags on and a walk to the start.

South Downs Way 50 startline

It was lovely to finally meet Lauren properly after having cheering her on at Milton Keynes Marathon a few years back and also to bump into Ally as well, who I also saw at the finish for a chat.  Both ran amazing races in super fast times.  Lauren is also running the 100 later on this year like me and Ally is running the next Centurion 50 mile event in a few week’s time – the North Downs Way.

South Downs Way 50 startline

There was time for a quick photo of our club runners before the off and then followed a gentle jog to the gap in the field, with a bottleneck!South Downs Way 50 WDAC lineup

I felt good from the get go and having started right at the back, the pace was easy.  I didn’t rush to get past anyone, although I saw plenty of others jostling for positions.

South Downs Way 50 starting at the back

(Screenshot of the bottleneck taken from a video shared on the Centurion Facebook group)

About a mile in I started to regret having a peanut butter smothered bagel as a snack less than an hour before the race start.  I had eaten a bowl of porridge with blueberries when I first woke but knew I would need a top-up snack before the run, as I had already been up for so long that morning.  Turns out, a bagel was not the snack I required and I needed a loo stop from early on, on a course when I knew there was barely any course coverage!

Other than the first couple of miles (when everyone was stuck behind other runners along narrow sections anyway), it is fairly easy going until the first checkpoint at mile 11.  My strategy at checkpoints is to grab what food I need, have the lid of my water bottle unscrewed ready for topping up if needed and get in and out as quickly as possible.  Why hang around when you could be moving?!  It wastes time and means you end up getting stiff.  At this first checkpoint I grabbed a couple of grapes and some cheese sandwiches before moving on.  Fruit and cheese sandwiches are always winners for me during an event!  I’d already eaten half of a cocoa orange nakd bar on the way to this checkpoint, and grabbed a carton of chocolate milk out of my bag as I made my way up the hill along the other side of the road.

South Downs Way 50 the first big hillI’m aware that these pictures don’t make the hill look too ‘hilly’, but trust me, it was!  And, just like last year, the photographer was perched up at the top taking photographs!South Downs Way 50 the first big hillAnother runner struck up conversation when he spotted I was wearing the event t-shirt from last year and I ran with him for a few miles until he told me he needed to slow down.
Mile 15 was our first crew ‘checkpoint’ and I felt slightly guilty for not stopping as I waved at Kev and Gary as they stood cheering me by.  I passed two of the runners from my club here as they had stopped to top up on supplies from our crew.  There was just one from my club ahead now, which really surprised me and I knew wouldn’t last.  (Although I later surprised myself by coming in as 3rd runner of our 7).

Not long after this we headed slightly downhill through a small wooded section and I almost ran into the back of another runner who had squatted down on the path to pee!

Checkpoint two at mile 16 was in a slightly different location this year and I walked in, got some Tailwind, watermelon, more cheese sandwiches and made my way back out again in less than 30 seconds.  Smooth going!  I still felt good.

There were a couple of rather steep hills between checkpoints two and three at 26 miles.  There were also several runnable sections too which I made sure to take advantage of.  The course really suits me as it has rolling hills – dictating which sections to walk.  I usually really struggle mentally and also with my consistency over long flat sections, but had no problems with these this time round, which I’m putting down to the large number of miles logged on my treadmill this Winter!

South Downs Way 50

The third checkpoint was where I had stopped to express last year and this year, where I finally spotted a portaloo to use!  I grabbed some chocolate chip cookies, MORE cheese sandwiches and watermelon, Tailwind and topped up my water.  All in all I think I stopped for about 5 minutes here, but it was 5 minutes well spent.

South Downs Way 50

I knew I was having a good race and used the climb following this aid station to check in with Dan.  He hadn’t realised that he could track me online and so I let him know how to do this.  He also let me know that ‘Oscar’ had sent me a good luck video earlier that morning.  I had turned my internet off in order to save battery but after hanging up with Dan I quickly checked WhatsApp to find a lovely little video where Oscar waved madly at me, said “Sit down Mumma!” and then gave the camera a kiss!  It definitely made me smile.

South Downs Way 50

For the next aid station you have to cross over a set of railway tracks.  Oh how I’m going to love all those steps at mile 84 of the 100 mile version of the race(!)  I knew I needed more Tailwind here but couldn’t see any on display so asked one of the volunteers for some.  She told me that I was lucky, and they had just a little left.  Taking a few gulps from my bottle after being topped up I spluttered out that she could definitely make it go further by watering it down more…it was super strong!

I nicknamed the next section ‘Australia’ last year as the views, with the sun disappearing behind the hills reminded me of scenes I’ve only seen in programs about Australia.  This year though, the sun was still high in the sky (albeit hidden behind clouds!)

South Downs Way 50 It also definitely looked less Australia-like this year!South Downs Way 50The last two checkpoints follow in quick succession; starting with a lovely little pitstop in Alfriston at 41.6 miles with indoor seats to perch on for a few minutes.  This checkpoint is quickly followed by the final checkpoint at Jevington just four miles later.  It’s perched high up some steps alongside the road and I felt rather bad that I just called up the hill to thank the volunteers, continuing on my way rather than stopping in, but I didn’t need anything with only four miles to go and thought it better to keep moving at this point.

I strongly made the final climb up to the Trig point and started to make my way along the narrow, slippy path back down towards Eastbourne.  The clouds were threatening to rain at this point, and we’d been very lucky with the weather until now.  I had twice put on my jacket for the odd spitting shower but the temperature was fairly warm, and the rain never really stuck around.  It had made the rocks on this section rather slippery though.  This being the most technical section on the whole course.  My hamstrings had a few spasms along this section and out loud I told my legs they needed to co-operate for just a little longer…pretty please!

In my head I had secretly hoped to run 25 minutes faster than my time last year (12h 06m).  25 minutes was the amount of time I had stopped to express so I thought it was probably fairly achievable for me to gain back those minutes in my finishing time this year.  As I reached the bottom of the hill though and broke into a faster run I realised I would most likely go sub 11h 30m.

Running and maths never work and despite being just two miles from the finish now and having been out on the course for 10h 40m I was convinced I would have to run really fast to go sub 11h 30m.  Mile 48 ticked by starting with a 12:xx and I realised that actually, I should probably be targeting 11:15 instead.

I still felt really good.  No pains, no aches, I’d fuelled well, I was still running!  In fact, other than road crossings and twice when I walked a handful of steps, I ran pretty much the whole of the last two miles, passing several other runners along the way and changing my target at the last minute to 11:10 – coming into the stadium to the most glorious sunset.  It was honestly the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen and I really regret not asking somebody to take a photo of me in front of it after crossing the finish line.  Unfortunately my official finisher photo, despite showing colour, definitely does not do the sky justice as the photographer was using a flash so that I was the focus of the photo.

I could not stop beaming as I ran around the track!  I’d picked the pace up for the track finish, although definitely not enough to be considered a sprint finish!

As I turned the corner at the bottom of the stadium I noticed that opposite the gorgeous sunset, was a gigantic rainbow.  What a lovely finish arch!

South Downs Way 50 finish archI took this shot a few minutes after I finished but I wish I had taken more pictures, and actually of something, rather than just randomly pointing in the direction of the sun!

Looking on the Centurion Running Community Facebook page yesterday, I found these two images which another runner had taken which give a much better impression of the view we finished to…

SDW50 sky pictures

South Downs Way 50 sunset

It tipped it down not long after I finished and I was glad to bump into Nic, who had finished about ten minutes ahead of me and who had the keys to Kev’s van so that I could grab some warm clothes.  I took a quick picture with my medal in the fading light and queued up for my free sausage bap and hot drink, unsure of how long the other 4 runners from my club would take to come in.

South Downs Way 50 medalOfficial time: 11h 7m 22s
Position: 277/353
Gender position: 52/81
Category (senior female) position: 21/35

Turns out I took quite a lot of steps that day(!)

South Downs Way 50 Garmin step count

When a race doesn’t go to plan

Last Sunday was the Milton Keynes Running Festival.  An event of 20 mile, half marathon, 10k and 5k distance races all starting from the Xscape Centre in Milton Keynes.

MK half race number

I had entered the event a while back almost on a whim.  I knew I should be halfway into some serious mileage by this point in the build up to the ultras I have coming up for 2018.  I also knew that my half marathon PB is from a very long time ago (December 2013) and was in desperate need of an update.

My training had been going really well since the start of the year, but as always when I intend to race a short distance event I had a few nerves before the start of the race.  A lot of my miles in recent weeks had been treadmill miles due to childcare issues, and I was concerned about transferring my running from a flat, no bumps treadmill to the ups and downs of Milton Keynes redways.  A quick chat on Twitter with some other treadmill runners eased my nerves though, and ultimately I was feeling rather confident with my race plan when I set off for Milton Keynes on Sunday morning.

The plan was to run 9:30mm pace for the first 10 miles, and then if I could, to pick it up to 9mm for the remaining 5k, pushing for those final few miles, finishing somewhere between 2 hours and 2h 5m.  My current PB is 2h 9m 16s.  Just under 10 minute miling which, on paper is so far away from where I feel I actually am at the moment.

I rocked up on my own with a little over an hour before the start, cursing the fact that I hadn’t researched cheaper places to park beforehand as I handed over the £8.32 it cost me to park for four hours by the race start.  A positive being that I was in a car park literally right by the race start though, so there really was no chance of me getting lost trying to find my car again after the race!

I placed myself somewhere between the two hour and two hour ten minute pacer on the start line and planned to constantly check my watch during the first few miles to ensure I was running the pace I had set out to race and not get swept away with people running by too quickly or get stuck behind other runners who had set off too slow.

The gun went.  We all started pretty much on time and my first mile went by spot on as planned in 9 minutes and 30 seconds.  Lots of people from behind where I had started were rushing past me but I stuck to my guns and stayed at the pace I had set out to run.  I ran the second mile in 9m 20s.  With much of the mile either flat or at a slight downhill I struggled to slow any further without feeling like I was ‘braking’ all the time and I didn’t want to end up injured, so leant into the downhill, whilst trying to remain light on my feet.

My third mile went by in 9:41 (so still an average pace of 9:30mm).  Milton Keynes is actually a lovely area to run around.  There are lots of parks and green spaces.  You would never know that you were so close to such a large city.  (It’s not such a lovely area to drive around though.  All the MK roundabouts look the same to me!)

Mile four – 9m 29s.  I was actually feeling nervously excited by this point.  I began to pass by all those people who had raced off at the start in a hurry to get going and had already burnt out too quickly.  I was definitely going to smash my PB.  I felt so strong and the pace felt so easy.  I knew there were still nine miles to go, but I had never run a race before where the pace I started out at was so conserved and still felt so easy after four miles.

Mile five – still going strong.  The top of my left calf started to feel a little tight and I silently vowed to get the foam roller and compression socks out as soon as I got home that night, trying not to think any more about it.

Within metres of the five mile marker pain shot through the top of my calf and ground me to a complete halt.  I desperately tried to flex my leg before setting off at a jog again only to collapse back into a slump as I realised I could no longer run using that leg.  Glancing at my watch in despair, seeing the average pace creep up I hurriedly took myself to the side of the path where I fully stretched out my left leg, desperate for it to let me run the final miles of the race.

I let a few tears trickle down my face when I realised my leg wasn’t going to let me run and a few more fell as I watched my average pace creep up into the 10s.  I rang Dan, upset and angry that the race hadn’t gone to plan, and so desperate for him to give me some magic words of advice to get my leg working again.

He didn’t have any.  And neither did the running friend I chose to ring to cry to about my bodged race attempt, whilst seeing my watch now display an 11mm average pace.  But they did both calm me down and make me realise that this wasn’t my goal race, – that much better any problems rise now, before my goal race so that I could deal with them before they became an issue.

I was limping along the side of the path whilst I tried to ease the pain in my calf.  I wanted to smack every spectator who shouted in an attempt to get me to carry on running (although I do realise they thought they were probably being encouraging) but on the flip side I was so touched by the amount of runners who came past and genuinely asked me if I was OK.  One guy offered me paracetamol, another a spare layer, and several shared words of ‘Tough Luck’ or something to that effect.

By mile six I realised that I would be silly to try and hobble a further seven miles to the finish so stopped to ask a marshal the quickest way to get to the finish line.  He told me that I could either turn around and go back the way I had come, or continue the way I was going.  I figured that at least if I continued the way I was going then I would get a goodie bag containing food at the finish, so traipsed on.

Next panic: I rang Dan to fret that I wouldn’t have enough time on my parking ticket.  I had only gotten four hours from the time I arrived, and with some quick calculations I realised that I would be coming in somewhere around three hours for the half marathon that afternoon.

As Dan was calming me for the second time that morning I overheard a man wearing a 20 mile bib telling a woman that he was hoping to pull at the next marshal point and that he would not be completing the full distance that day.  I ended my conversation with Dan and joined in with the conversation the runners were having, sharing the information that had been given to me by the marshal I had spoken to.  This man (never learnt his name!) lived not too far from me and was honest in saying that he hadn’t put in the training to run 20 miles.  He was suffering with a painful stomach and had done too little, too late when it came to trying to fix it.  I fell into step beside him and having someone to chat to made miles 7-10 go by a whole lot quicker than the 45 minutes it took us to walk.

The guy I was walking with hoped to be able to run the final 5k of his race, so once we reached the 10 mile mark we thanked each other, wished each other well and I saw him run off into the distance.  My leg had begun to ease a little by now and I was able to pick up the pace to a faster walk, completing my 11th mile in just over 13 minutes.  It’s quite satisfying to know that even if it gets to the point where running is no longer an option during the later miles of my 100 in June, I still have a fairly fast walking stride so won’t lose as much time as some by dropping down to a walking pace.

I decided to try and lightly jog the final couple of miles left to the finish, stopping to walk any hills (as these were pretty much impossible without a great deal of discomfort).  (11:10, 11:02)  I passed the guy I had walked with earlier somewhere around mile 12.

The start of the thirteenth mile is on a horrible, horrible uphill slope.  I’d walked it before when traveling between the two Milton Keynes parkruns on the New Year’s Day Double.  I made a point of lightly jogging my way up this time though.  On my toes so as not to stretch my calf to breaking point.  I didn’t need to prove myself to anybody!

500 metres left until the finish after the horrible hill and my leg was feeling a fair bit loser.  I was gliding past other runners – many of whom were walking by this point.  I knew that my leg wasn’t right though and the finish line couldn’t come quick enough!

MK half marathon finish(Image from here)

The commentator shouted out my name as I approached the finish which was a nice touch and I crossed the line to collect my goodies.  Rather disappointed to be given just a banana along with my medal though – I don’t even like bananas!  (It didn’t go to waste…Oscar happily munched on it for dessert later that evening.)

MK half banana and medal

Side note: I find it rather creepy that Strava knows the exact location I took the above picture as shown below in my Strava screenshot…

Strava map of MK Running Festival half marathon

Chip time: 2:50:42
Position: 1387/1436
Gender position:
570/607
Category position (SF):
223/240

I drove home in a grumpy fed-up, feeling-sorry-for-myself state.  Sunday was Mother’s Day and the afternoon before Dan, Oscar and I had been down to the churchyard where my Mum was buried to add flowers to her grave.  She would have been the first person I rang on the way home from the race to have a whinge to and provide a guaranteed pick-me-up.

Mum's grave and Mother's Day flowers

The ground still hasn’t settled enough for us to be able to have a headstone fitted, so Mum’s grave still displays just a standard wooden name cross.

Oscar insisted on choosing a flower from the bunch I had bought for the grave which he then walked around the graveyard holding, smelling from time to time.  Mum would have loved that he wanted to be a part of it all and, as we left, he placed the flower on top of the mound of earth that marks her grave.  Almost as if he knew that’s where he should place it.Oscar at Mum's graveRunning wise, I’m OK.  I feared the worst initially, but a four day family holiday with lots of walking followed by a trip to the physio this morning has actually done me the world of good and I feel refreshed both mentally and physically.  I’ve got some exercises to work on from the physio but essentially I’ve been given the all-clear to continue running high mileage and high volume, just not to include speedwork or hills for the time being, with a follow-up physio visit scheduled for just before Easter.

Milton Keynes Marathon and South Downs Way 100 remain firmly in the calendar.  As does South Downs Way 50, which is in just 3 weeks time.

Bring it on!

Have you ever pulled from or walked a large portion of a race before?
Did you choose flowers for your Mother on Mother’s Day?