Just a training run, that’s what Milton Keynes 20 Mile Race was supposed to be; good training for the London Marathon. I was a little worried about taking part in the event though – this was my first ever 20 mile race and the first 20 miler of my current training plan. It felt like ages since I had last ran a distance of 20 miles, and my longest run in training so far had been 17 miles, which was three weeks ago. The thought of being in a 20 mile race day scenario made me apprehensive; ‘we can’t even stop for a road crossing!’ I messaged my friend (whose idea this race had been, and as I never turn down a running invite, obviously agreed it was a great idea!) ‘Its fine’ she replied, ‘it is just training,’ she reiterated, ‘it will be a nice steady run’. I felt more reassured by this, and we came to a mutual agreement to try run 8:30 min/mile pace, but if either of us felt good we could (as I jokingly put it) ‘p*** off and leave the other to struggle’. That’s real running buddy love right there…!
Race day arrived. It was misty and grey in Milton Keynes, but the weather had forecast a milder day, so I boldly opted to run in a t-shirt. I had looked briefly into the route; not to much extent, but I knew we were running a couple of loops, but had no idea what sort of surroundings to expect. I liked that though; these 20 miles would make a change to running our usual loops around Lincoln and I almost wanted the surprise. A moderate field of runners huddled with my friend and I on the 20 mile start line; the 20 mile race formed part of the MK Festival of Running, so there were lots of other distance races starting later in the day. The start gun then literally made me jump out of my skin, it was so loud, and suddenly we were off.
The initial miles were nothing too exciting, running on some main roads in central Milton Keynes. I chatted to my friend sporadically as if we were out on our usual Sunday long run, although the silence of the runners around did feel like everyone was listening to our conversation at times! After about 2.5 miles we started a loop which I knew we would complete twice; in my head I hoped it would be interesting and not something I would dread running around again. The route was actually more stimulating than I expected; there was some pleasant green spaces, running past a lake, twisting and turning through bridges and small residential areas; it broke up the miles and there were not too many long sections of drawn out running. I was not really paying much attention to our pace during this part, running beside my friend I felt comfortable, although she did note a few times we were running a lot quicker than our planned 8.30 min/mile, and were closer to more like 8-8.10 min/mile pace at times. I am unsure why this did not worry me – but it just didn’t at the time. We must have looked at ease as a couple of ladies openly said they were using us as pacers since we looked like we knew what we were doing – on reflection I am not really sure we did!
The first ten miles were the practice; the second ten were the real test. As we completed the first loop my friend and I braced ourselves for a repeat, although I didn’t know how long we would be able to keep running and pacing so consistently. Up to this point we had hit a kind of natural rhythm, still ahead of our planned pace, but we were just going steady. However as we began the second loop we met the half marathon runners who had began their own race. This was slightly off putting; not only did the route suddenly become a lot more crowded, but also these runners were at a much different pace, and no matter how hard it was to avoid, you found yourself getting swept up with them.
Between 10 – 15 miles I started to feel my quads beginning to protest a little. I tried to distract myself by attempting to spot new things on this loop that I had not noticed before, but it was not always working. An unwelcome distraction for my friend and I was a half marathon runner who we found ourselves stuck running near. She was running all over the place; speeding up and then slowing right down, meaning we kept catching her up and overtaking, only for her then to find a way past again, taking up most of the path in the process. She clearly wanted to race us (even though we were not even in the same actual race!) and put simply, it was annoying. I actually lost it with her eventually. She had slowed down again on one section, and we caught up and overtook, to which she responded by pushing through the middle of us, muttering loudly under her breath in an indignant tone ‘coming through!’ Coming through! That was something I had never heard any runner say in any race – I could not believe it. ‘Did you just say ‘coming through’?’ I shouted after her in disgust, but her facial reaction showed she didn’t even care I had pulled her up on it. If it was not for the fact we were in totally different races, I probably would have charged after her and raced my legs off to make sure I beat her to that line – but I let my anger dispel quickly. Not the type of runner I am thankfully used to sharing paths with!
After losing our lovely ‘friend’, we hit the 15 mile marker. By now my quads really did hurt. I could cope with the pain, but I knew I would have to keep mentally strong to keep tolerating it. Unfortunately the final miles of this second loop were a little undulating, something that became much more noticeable now we were running on tired legs. I had joked on our first loop that these little climbs would feel like mountains second time round… a strange sense of humour I seem to have! It was actually the downhill sections which hurt my quads more; I longed for flat paths to return, and knew I just had to tick the miles off one by one. My friend won’t mind me saying but she started to find things harder at this point too. We had slowed down now and were starting to pay the price of our faster than planned earlier miles.
I tried to keep our spirits high as our legs faded and as we started our quest to the end. I basically talked rubbish and tried to be vaguely motivational! I would try and boost our morale when my watch ticked over another mile by saying something predictable like ‘only four miles left!’, but then a corresponding mile marker would appear a little bit further along; I thought to myself my friend probably wishes I would just shut up! Mile 17 -18 saw us run on the same path for the third time – this was not fun. At 18 mile though we turned off the dreaded loop and headed onto a new section which led to the finish. ‘Shall we just go round again?’ I joked to my friend. She didn’t reply, and then despite the course being clearly marshalled, she nearly took me out by proceeding to run straight on as if to complete the loop again anyway! Ill admit her somewhat withdrawn actions did worry me a little, so I kept pushing out the thoughts of how much my flipping quads hurt me, and tried to keep us both positive and calm. ‘Two miles – we can do this’, I said, ‘pace does not matter at all now, just get those 20 miles banked’.
With a mile to go I spotted a large hill in the distance with people dotted on. I hoped these were spectators and not runners and did not let anything onto my friend. We had already been going up and down little climbs again in these final miles and I thought surely this would be too cruel to end a 20 mile race. Don’t think about it Alice, just get to that finish. With literally half a mile to go, my friend urged me to go on without her. I was reluctant as we were so close now, but she was persistent. Hesitantly, I was reverted to my comical pre-race words by ‘p***ing off and leaving her to struggle!’ Despite being slightly suicidal in our early pacing, we had made it this far, so I knew she would not be far behind me; I would never have really left her to struggle!
Within a few metres of leaving my friend the large hill appeared, and yes, we were running up it. I cursed under my breath but battled my way up it. Even though my quads hurt I then found something more to push for the finish, crashing as I crossed the line. I did not look at my watch; I did not care about time or pace at this point, I was simply happy I had completed 20 miles non-stop and just waited for my friend. As she crossed the line shortly after me I gave her a massive and tired hug – it felt almost like we had completed Berlin Marathon again! We forced our legs to walk and collect our medals, supporting each other slightly, almost as if we did not quite trust our limbs yet. Then we reviewed our watches. Mine read a finish time of 2.47.33, which was an average pace of 8.21 min/mile; even in my exhaustion I knew that was some of my best distance running and definitely not a training run!
So our plan of the Milton Keynes 20 Mile Race being a training run pretty much went out the window. I am not really sure what we were thinking at the start, and those final five miles subsequently proved tough, with the final three just down right brutal. Despite the pain, it was still strangely enjoyable though! The race also reinforced to me that I can run that pace; however my friend and I agreed we need to do it in a better way – e.g. more consistently! 20 miles banked, and in a pretty incredible time, meant we had earned a post race cider though regardless of our race tactics!
I am proud of our performance in the MK 20 Miler, but I know I am going to miss my friend beside me at the London Marathon, when we are in totally different start pens – that scares me more than the prospect of 26.2 miles right now I think!
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...