It was with some trepidation that I lined up at the start of my second MK Half Marathon as a 1.35 pacer this morning. My training has been haphazard at best since our return from New Zealand and I am patiently awaiting a knee operation which itself hampers my enthusiasm to train. But, I had volunteered after a great run last year, and i know how hard it is to get pacers and what an important service they offer. So, after my usual last minute toilet visit, I climbed the barrier to nestle amongst the starters in the Yellow Zone.
After a slight delay, and the usual shuffle, I started my Garmin as I crossed the timing mat and set out on my 24th half marathon. Trying to find a clear space to run steady 7:15s proved to be difficult in the first mile and so I had to accept a slightly slower start, confident at least that I would be able to pick up the pace later on. With my pacer balloon bouncing off the heads of those running around me, I said hello to some of the runners I knew and worked my way through the gaps when I could.
I have always been a stand on the start line racer myself, never willing to race a yard more than I have to. But I always keep to one side so that those who are faster than me can get by. Weaving around the slower runners quickly became frustrating, not because I disprove of less able runners, but some must not have even been close to the pace of the zone that they must have started in. As the road cleared ahead, I picked up the pace and passed the 1 mile marker a few seconds after my watch had timed me at 7:17 for the first mile.
By now, I had collected a few runners and I warned them of the slight deficit and that I proposed to pick up the pace a little before baling out at the 7 or 8 mile mark with them on target. We went through 2 miles having made back the deficit but again encountered some traffic through mile 3, arriving 1 second down on pace. The descent through the city centre allowed an opportunity to get ahead of schedule, but at the bottom turn, whilst running at 6:50 pace, I had to take evasive action to avoid a runner at 9 or 10 minute pace. The subsequent climb ate into the advantage, but despite running a 7:03 mile, I had to run a further 20 or 30 metres to reach the mile marker, doing so in 7:15. This became the format for the next few miles, but the gap from the watch to the marker kept increasing and my 7:04, 7:04, 7:07, 7:08, and 7:10 miles still left no margin for error.
My group dwindled through each mile, but there were plenty of friends in the crowd to keep me distracted. I was also working on maintaining my running form and was pleased that I had opted for my Newton Distance 111s. Although these shoes are a little too small (and I have a new, larger, pair of Distance Vs ready to roll soon), they help to maintain my form by keeping me up on my forefoot. They also offer a little more protection through cushioning which appeared to be helping the lack of flexibility in my knees. Through mile ten however, we left the crowds behind and headed in to the wind and the pace began to drop.
With just a handful of dedicated followers remaining, rather than cover up my pacer’s shirt (I had lost my balloon with the slight altercation with the ten minute man) I kept trying for the next mile. At the 7:15 pace (or 7:03 according to my Garmin), I had not been aerobically challenged, but through the latter miles both my calf muscles were beginning to tighten and my left vastus lateralis was beginning to tighten just above the knee. By once more focusing on form I was able to keep any further tension at bay and, despite a 7:27 through mile 12, I thought I could pick the pace back up enough to arrive on schedule.
Last year’s route took you away from the MK Dons Stadium and over some uneven terrain in that final mile, but this year there is a good run down hill to the stadium on the road. I collected a few more people, including club mate John lamb, on the way and encouraged them to pick up the pace for the run into the stadium. Although I probably could have continued to push on to the line myself, I had a few seconds to spare to applaud the crowds in the stands. The MK Dons stadium is an awesome place to host a race and makes for a fantastic finishing atmosphere. I crossed the line in a satisfying 1.34:41. Job done for another year, and I look forward to next year’s race and my 15th consecutive year of running half marathons since I fell ill.