Huge congratulations go to Jonathan Norton after a brilliant run at the Milton Keynes Marathon. Here’s Steve Lee’s race report:
If you look at the split times for the M70 category you will gain the impression that three crazy old fools set out far too fast and suffered the consequences, though nevertheless all getting respectably under 4 hours at the finish.
But to begin at the beginning. Jonathan and I travelled up on Sunday via Britain’s historic motorways, arriving in Milton Keynes about 3 pm and deciding to take a look at the race HQ – the MK Dons Stadium. But we took a wrong turn and ended up in the Asda car park next door, a circle of Hell it proved almost impossible to get out of. However we made it into the Stadium car park and discovered where everything would be, thus making for a painless entry the next morning (Yes the Asda car park was jammed at 7.30 am on Bank Holiday Monday!). We also drove round part of the course, giving Jonathan an idea of what to expect in the first 10 miles.
Monday dawned with brilliant blue skies and a chilly wind from the south, but before the race this turned to cloudy with a threat of rain, which luckily never came. This meant good cool conditions for most of the race, only getting a bit warm after 3 hours. But with a good bit of shelter and constant twists and turns, neither the sun or the wind were a problem.
My task was to be at the 9, 15, and 21 mile Drinks stations with Jonathan’s special glucose concoctions (don’t ask). For this I had the use of his bike with the hard tyres and especially hard saddle, and had to navigate myself to each point without using too much of the course as the Redway cyclepaths it used were too narrow to pass the runners. He took his drink at 9 miles but refused them at 15 and 21 as it turned out he had made them twice as strong as he had on his training runs and his stomach didn’t like it – NEVER EXPERIMENT ON RACE DAY, KEEP TO WHAT YOU’RE USED TO!!
I had thought he got to 9 miles a bit earlier than expected, but when I saw the split times afterwards I was astonished to find he had been doing 8.20 mile pace instead of the 8.50 agreed in discussion with experienced coach Geoff Watkin, and was therefore about 4 minutes ahead of schedule. He seemed to reach the next two points at more or less the right time, so I pedalled furiously to the Finish, where I arrived only five minutes before his entrance into the Stadium. I couldn’t see the race clock (wrong side of it) and Jonathan as usual forgot to stop his watch. When he did it showed 3.56.18, so we knew the time was good, but he was somewhat disappointed – finding the underpasses with their twists and ups and downs a real trial in the last few miles.
It turned out that the M70 race-within-a-race was the best of the day, with the first three finishing within 5 minutes and a fascinating tale told by the split times recorded at 6 miles, halfway, and 20 miles. The other two had started even faster than Jonathan, both reaching halfway in about 1:45 (having been even faster at 6 miles) and nearly seven minutes ahead of him. At 20 miles all three had slowed considerably, with Jonathan’s competitors now eight and half and five minutes ahead; and in the last 10 km they all slowed still more, but Jonathan much less than the other two. He passed one, but was still two minutes behind the other.
Because of the strange distances between splits, it was difficult to appreciate at a glance exactly how much each runner had slowed, but my calculations show Jonathan’s pace between each split were : 6 miles: 8:20.0 per mile.
6 – 13.109375 miles: 8:39.5 “ “ (Overall 8:30.5)
13.109375 – 20 miles: 9:11.0 “ “ (Overall 8:44.5)
20 – 26.21875 miles: 9:39.5 “ “ (Overall 8:57.5)
The others started at well under 8 minute mile pace and slowed to nearly 11 minutes! Three crazy old men.
I have to say that the course is not a fast one. The Redway routes are often narrow and twisty, which is hard on tired legs, and the under- and over-passes are mostly quite gentle but occasionally steep, apparently this was a particular problem with the last two or three. I don’t know if anyone has counted them, but there are a lot! They would make lovely training run courses as they are nicely wooded and pass a couple of lakes; and once you knew your way about you could do a different course every day. But the race leaves them until the second half, with the first half on excellent road surfaces and only very slightly undulating. Once on the Redways the course does seem to get genuinely harder the longer you are on them.
It is an incredibly complicated course (even by my standards!) requiring huge numbers of arrows and marshals (who did a great job), and I’m quite sure I could design a much better one once I knew the territory. The organisation was excellent and the Stadium makes an ideal venue; the only quibble concerns the mile markers – a nearest lamppost job with some probably on the wrong lamppost.
I think Jonathan should be very pleased by his performance. His speed over the first half shows that he is comfortable running at a much faster pace than he has hitherto been used to, and it was this comfort which probably led to the pace being just too quick for what lay in store in the second half. In spite of which, he was able to keep running at a respectable pace right until the end, and it was this inbuilt stamina, plus his determination, which enabled him to cancel the advantage that the quicker runners had over the first 20 miles.
In the couple of days after the event there were dramatic developments. Geoff Watkin checked the official runbritain results and uncovered the fact that the apparent “winner” was only 66. I contacted the organisers and they agreed to amend the results accordingly. I am sure this was not an attempt to cheat – just a mix-up due to lack of an M65 category.