Monday, 11 March 2013

Race Review - Milton Keynes Half Marathon 2013

Pros: Relatively quick course, good organisation, plenty of toilets at start/finish, plenty of parking, the ability to shelter in the Xscape centre.

Cons: Not particularly scenic, some traffic on course, killer hill in the last mile, no goody-bag.

This was my first time running the Milton Half Marathon. It is part of the Milton Keynes Festival of running, which also includes a 5k and 10k race (which started slightly earlier).

We were able to get parked very close to the start/finish area at the Xscape centre and lucked upon a multi-storey which happened to be free. It was absolutely freezing when we arrived at 9:30am. The car was showing 1c but I reckon it was about -7c with the wind chill! We were able to shelter in the Xscape centre and even managed to get a seat in the Costa Coffee there. With about 20 mins to go, we headed out to use the loos and head to the start line. I think this was the first race I have attended, where there were no queues for the toilets (perhaps everyone was just sheltering inside and using the facilities inside!) The start was well signposted and we got away on time.

Runners huddling in the Xscape Centre pre-race

I read that they had introduced a wave start (splitting sub 2 hours and over 2 hours, I believe) and this seemed to work well. In fact the first 2 miles were very quick. This is where I need to apologise to #TeamColwick. I had planned to run this race as a pacing exercise for the Milton Keynes Marathon (on 6th May). I had put down 1:44:45 for my #Marchvellous prediction and was planning to tap out metronomic 8 minute miles throughout. A combination of those first couple of miles being downhill and the fact I was keen to keep warm and just get the race done, made me change my race plan and try for a PB. This did mean that my Marchvellous score was going to get blown out of the water though (sorry Helen et al!) My current PB was 1:37:04, gained at the Worksop Half last October. I didn't particularly feel in PB shape going into the race but felt pretty good on day and just wanted to get back into the warm!

The race is run on roads and cycleways. Following the first couple of miles, there were some small undulations as you passed under the many underpasses but otherwise it was pretty flat. We passed through some bland housing estates but also through some nice parks and around Willen Lake. Support was sparse, which is unsurprising, given the conditions. In fact, the only real surprise was that people were out to cheer us on at all! Thanks to all those supporting and to the marshalls on the day, who were in good voice and very supportive.

Asked afterwards what I thought of the route, I struggled to describe it and a day on, I am still struggling for words. Some bits were quite interesting but some were pretty uninspiring. I suspect it could look very different without the blizzards though!

The early parts of the route were shared with those runners (and walkers) doing the 5k and 10k races. There was some passing required, some of which was a bit tight on some of the cycleways but overall the integration of the 3 races worked well. The race was well signposted and there were plenty of water stations. The race did cover some side roads which were not closed to traffic. There were marshalls at some points controlling the traffic but not at others, where cars were idling and waiting for the runners to pass. I didn't see any problems as a result but I thought there was potential if a driver became frustrated at waiting.

I had felt good for the majority of the race but in the final couple of miles I started to tire and the cold started to get to me. I had been warned about the killer hill at the end and I really had to steel myself to try to stay on target for a PB. Looking at my mile splits today, I didn't actually slow as much as I thought. My actual mile pace for mile 13 was 7:37 but my GAP (Gradient Adjusted Pace) was 6:58, the quickest mile of the race. No wonder my glutes are hurting today!

Although I started out planning to run at 8 m/m my 'goal creep' had led me to believe that sub 1:35 might have been on the cards but that final hill put paid to that. Still, I finished in 1:35:56, which was an unexpected PB in tough conditions.

The organisation on finishing was good. The finish funnel worked well. I was passed a medal and grabbed a sports drink and a foil blanket, which was most welcome as I had finished 10 mins earlier than I told my wife and had to pace around shivering until she arrived with my change of clothes! The lack of a goody bag was slightly disappointing and I could have done with a Mars bar (or similar) at that point.

Reflecting on the race, I think the decision to run it hard was more beneficial than my original plan. I still had to watch my pace closely and holding it was a real challenge towards the end. It also showed me that I have built a good level of endurance on my longer runs and a bit more speed than I realised. I am also hoping that it will make the 8 minute miles feel a bit slower now!

Now, I've just got to apologise to my Team Colwick chums for screwing up my Marchvellous predictions!


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