This was to be my first marathon, training was going great and I had got up to 20 miles, then just 3 weeks before the event disaster struck and I ended up on crutches due to a bad case of bursitis in my right heel, the pain was immense and I thought all my hopes and dreams of completing my first marathon were over for the time being.
However, I am not one to just give up, I’ve had many battles to fight over the years both physically and mentally and this one I was determined to win. With plenty of rest, using my crutches when I could have hobbled, spending time with my foot over a jet in the hot tub and icing my heel every evening I recovered in two weeks enough to walk without pain. I managed a slow 10k around Salcey Forest just 7 days before the event and all was well so I then decided to rest even further until the day.
However, I am slightly over enthusiastic about this running lark so I had signed up for the MK Rocket 5k the day before the marathon, it meant not just one, or two, but three medals in one weekend, as you receive the MK Challenge medal for completing both events, being a medal hoarder I was sold! I remembered that this was a big weekend, I was fresh back from an injury and that the day after the 5k was my first ever marathon, 6.2 miles further than I had ever run before. With this in mind I was telling my self on the days leading up to the race and right up until I was standing on the start line that I would take it easy and ensure I was well over 30 minutes to ensure success the following day. With the buzz of the event, the hyping up of the 2000+ strong field over the loudspeakers and adrenaline pumping that plan lasted about 30 seconds, as soon as there was space I was off, it felt great, I hadn’t run properly in weeks, I was pushing but not overly pushing, I felt well within my limits. The race is on the smooth relatively flat roads in MK and after a short incline and a right hand turn the course runs straight and slightly down hill towards the MK Dons Stadium, it felt smooth, it felt great and I just glided along pushing but not over exerting. I crossed the line in 26 minutes and 28 seconds for a new PB, I felt great, my heel felt great, my legs felt great, I was buzzing. When I uploaded my Garmin to Strava I discovered I had the ‘royal flush too’ not just a PB but also a negative split including a PB mile and a PB 2 miles, I couldn’t have had a more perfect race. I did tell myself off for a few seconds for jeopardising the following day but hey I enjoyed myself.
The following day I woke up promptly feeling a little nervous, my first thought went to my heel, was it OK? I put it to the floor and gradually put pressure on hoping that it’d feel fine, it did, I was elated but worried, it was now very real, I was about to run a marathon! With our eldest son dropped at his Aunty’s house to play with his cousins, as waiting around really isn’t his thing as he has ASD, we headed off to MK, namely the very recently promoted MK Dons’ Stadium. We got parked up easily and headed for the facilities, there was a huge hall for the runners with lots of space and seating, ample clean toilets and a great baggage area with some jolly looking Scouts enjoying helping out, oh and a massive stench of Deep Heat. Once I was prepped I headed off towards the starting pens, of which there were 3, all colour coded, I was in the green zone according to my expected finishing time when registering, this was a 5 hour plus zone and ample for my first attempt. We had a little time to enjoy the race village and our youngest son got some free sunnies from Vodaphone and a go on the trampolines, there was lots for spectators to do and lots to keep the kids entertained. I was then off to the starting pen and the heart rate started to rise, this was it, it was very real, I was penned in with a Rhino amongst all the other runners, well not a real one but a lovely lady called Liz who had also completed the London Marathon just over a week before in the same heavy costume! One by one the different starts went off, followed by confetti cannons also colour coded to the start zone, some great commentary, awesome drums banging out a great beat and all overlooked by the Mayor. The green zone was last to go and we were herded down to the start line, with the caffeine gels, the buzz and excitement, nerves and the beating drums I was feeling amazing and was just in the moment and not worrying at all about what laid ahead. With a countdown, masses of green confetti and those amazing drums we were off and I made sure to keep an eye on my Garmin to ensure I kept to my target 10 minute per mile maximum pace. The support from the crowds were amazing, there were more bands and sound systems along the way, kids giving out high fives and some great signs including one huge banner that simply said LUBE and two guys holding out tubs of what I hoped was Vaseline but with the size of the tubs could well have been axle grease! The support carried on through the city centre and beyond, there were great water stations every 3 miles too. We went up through Milton Keynes village and were greeted by the firemen at the local station all standing out in a line supporting us and also they had rigged up a hose to provide a refreshing shower. We then went up past the scenic Willen Lake area and at around mile 10 I saw my team mates from WDAC that had cycled over from Wellingborough to support those of us club runners that were competing, well I say competing, the only person I was competing with was myself, but hey that’s all that counts, beat yourself yesterday. By mile 12 it started getting hard going, I learnt the lesson that even 10 minute miles for a runner of my experience was probably a little fast so I slowed down a little and started to have the odd short walk, I was still on for a great time so had time in the bank and at mile 13 I was just a minute off of my half marathon PB. My friend Mark Wallace was a friendly sight and he kept popping up every couple of miles and running with me and also helped my wife navigate the route to get to see me, thanks Mark, you were amazing! At about mile 14 or 15 I first saw my wife Kerry and son Joshua, that was a great hug I had with them both, I was starting to feel it a little now. I cracked on and continued the walk/run method to get me through, I was still looking at completing in well under 5 hours, then at mile 19 my worst nightmare happened, a zap of cramps in my left calf like a lighting bolt. I’d had this before in the past and it used to happen bang on 8 miles but I thought I’d sorted it ages ago through getting my electrolytes balance right by using salt tablets. I stretched out, got some more salts in me and carried on but after every 20 to 30 metres it went again, from then on I was down to a power walk at around 15 minute miles. It was hard going and a long way still to go but I was determined to finish, the great support continued along the route and the most amazing thing ever was the absolute angels that were handing out freshly quartered oranges, wow they were amazing, I was also offered grapes, they were also a little bit of heaven after all those gels. Mark continued to pop up to have the odd jog with me and I kept trying to jog wherever I could but by about mile 24 it just wasn’t happening and I just didn’t want to push it and tear something but hey, it was just 2 miles to go, I had this in the bag, not as fast as I wanted but I was about to complete my first marathon. Less than half a mile to go and the stadium was in sight, the hairs started to stand on the back of my neck, there were goosebumps and an amazing feeling, as I took a left turn into the car park I was greeted by one of my WDAC coaches, Lee, who was marshalling and I said my thanks for helping me get there. Running through the race village with pumping music playing on the stage, crowds cheering and urging me along I got into a jog, my calf was cramping but I was here, this was my victory lap, I was going to finish this running whatever it took. Up the slope through tunnel and I was in the vast stadium, supporters in the stands, my wife and son shouting for me and a big screen showing people going over the finish line, my face lit up, in pain but grinning like a Cheshire cat. I kept up the steady jog around the pitch looking in awe at the stadium grinning ear to ear and through the finish line I went, yes, I’d done it, I was now a marathon runner and had completed my first ever one in 5 hours 26 minutes, not as quick as I wanted but still not a bad time for my first especially considering the stint on crutches just a few weeks before.
This marathon was fantastic and I’ll certainly be back, it was somewhat hilly at 853ft of elevation compared to the London marathon at 449ft not something I expected in Milton keynes but it was very scenic. The support, the facilities and race village couldn’t be better and the medals, all three of them are fantastic! An added bonus and something I thought was great as I hate seeing litter and just can’t drop it myself was that High 5 were there at the end after collecting my goody bag and exchanging a new gel for every empty packet you brought back, I’d had 9 in total so a great bonus and my favourite brand to boot. Thanks for an awesome weekend MK, see you next year!