Originally booked as my final race of 2017 the MK Winter Half was then postponed due to heavy snowfall and icy conditions in December. They rescheduled the event for 18th Feb 2018 and I thought it’d fit perfectly with my London and Brighton marathon training.
There was also a good crowd of people going to the race and on paper it didn’t look too far out of London. However it did eventually mean a 5:40 alarm, out the door for 6:10, train from Euston at 7:24 and then I decided to run from the station to the event village with Sophie (4.5 km’s) – as she had 17 miles to do that day!
The place can be the butt of many jokes mainly down to the roundabouts, stolen football team, grid like roads and concrete cows… as well as on Twitter RE their marathon, from the infamous mile 23 sign (thanks Darren & JK). I did have an open mind though as I have never visited and knew this half in particular had great reviews.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, I’ve never been into MK before but the site does quote “You will need to pinch yourself while running that you are actually in the city as you run along the Grand Union Canal and return via the linear parks that run throughout Milton Keynes.” I was optimistic and the weather forecast looked ideal – I was looking forward to running in a new location and testing out the legs at a good pace.
As mentioned, it was an early start – 5:40 alarm, far too early for breakfast so I got my kit on and headed out the door at 6:10. Bus to Victoria station, tube to Euston all with 10 mins spare before my train. It did seem most people along the way were actually heading home from a night out… how times change!
I bumped into Sophie and Martina on the train and we arrived in MK with plenty of time. Sophie and I ran to the start, and we arrived at the event village – Willen Lake about an hour before the start. It was freezing and foggy but looked like perfect running conditions and therefore decided to cut down to one layer.
Fortunately I already had my race number from the postponed event but there did seem large queues for the pack collection, toilets and especially the bag drop. In fact the race was delayed due to the bag drop queue. This definitely could have been better organised, it was a very small area for the 1,600 runners. It’s a shame as the actual event village was big enough. They had several coffee and food stalls as well as a merch stand and results base where you could print out your time immediately after the run… nice touch!
It was great to see some familiar faces as well as meeting those for the first time, I actually really enjoyed to be racing out of London! We got into the start pens bang on time but found ourselves quite a way back. After the slight delay we headed off as a mass start through some anti climatic snow cannons!
I wasn’t sure how to take this, I’ve never paced a half marathon well, usually heading out at 10k pace and dying around mile 8. I thought starting towards the back may help me slow down however it probably sapped more of my energy as I tried to weave in and out of people and spent a large amount of time of the wet, muddy grass – the course was very narrow in places and my first KM was actually the slowest which is a rarity.
To be honest I can’t remember much of the first few miles. It was very crowded and I spent most of it worrying about slipping! It was mainly along the canal and it was great to see Becca cheering after the first mile or so. I found a good comfortable rhythm and started working out some targets in my head. Basically if I could run 4 lots of 22:30 5 km’s then I’d hit around the 1:35 finish (current PB).
As the sun came out the course really did impress. It was almost flat for 9 miles with only the odd canal bridge or tow path to cross providing short inclines. I felt myself still passing people and felt very comfortable taking in all the green views.
The water tables did only have cups though – a pet hate of mine! I find them almost impossible to drink from and usually left wanting more. They were frequent though so I made sure I grabbed some at each station alongside my 2 SIS gels for the day; I think I fueled this race perfectly with one gel at mile 7 and another at 10.
I had seen the elevation chart before the race and knew mile 9.4 – 10.6 was a long incline. In retrospect I held back too much for this though and it really wasn’t that bad. I seem to do well on hills – my previous half PB is Wimbledon Common and 10 mile PB at Richmond Park; maybe it’s the Yorkshire in me! I felt myself passing a lot of people on this part as we went past the aforementioned “mile 23” section from the marathon. It’s amazing how different it looked in the beautiful weather we had though! It really is a picturesque half marathon and in many ways I’m glad we ran it on a sunny, crisp morning in February rather than the originally planned snowy, ice cold December!
Mile 11 and 12 were real tough! I think the long incline/hill had now taken its toll as well as the 4.5 km I had run before the race. I had been running alongside 2 guys for the last 5 miles and I did my utmost to keep with them. Turning back into Willen Lakeside Park I knew we were close. Hearing Becca’s cowbells again gave me a further push to really kick on for those last 500m and I managed to dip slightly under 1:33:30 – 2 minute PB and a sub 4 minute last km!
Almost immediately after finishing and collecting my 2017 medal and tee – 😐 I bought a huge portion of chips and walked my way back up to Becca to cheer all the other runners. Cheering is a great feeling, you see first hand the “pain faces” from runners and they’re almost always thankful for the extra encouragement. Although some did not appreciate the fact I was eating chips in their faces…ooops!
Overall I thought it was really good event, well organised and actually a beautiful route. The weather definitely helped and I enjoyed running in a relatively small field which is not what I’m usually used to. It was great to run outside of London and I’m keen to come back in December for the actual 2018 event!
I think it is a PB course, unless you really excel on just flat routes. There’s no major horrible hill, just some long inclines but then a lot of down hills too. The marshals are absolutely brilliant as were the small pockets of crowds in certain areas. I think the baggage/toilet situation can be improved and the t-shirt is of pretty shabby quality if I’m being picky.
All in all, my favourite half marathon thus far – lets see if The Big Half can beat it in T-2 weeks!
Have you raced in MK before?
Did you run over the weekend?