Running from Shadows

My Marathon des Sables . . . and beyond

Marshmallow Man runs around Milton Keynes

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I’ll be honest, I’d much rather slap my buttocks with wet kippers for 5 hours than run a road marathon. But with few off-road options around at the moment yesterday’s Bank Holiday Monday was spent running around the city of Milton Keynes.

There were a number of races on with Superheroes being the theme of the day’s events: the marathon, half-marathon, a relay and a fun run combined had 5,000 runners turn up for their race around Milton Keynes’ roads.

Those numbers made use of the toilets a bit of  a challenge in the lead up to the 10am start (particularly for Spidermen and Batmen adorned in lycra from top-to-toe). A bug I’d picked up had already seen me have 3 or 4 trips before 9am and my last was stood in a worryingly long line of shuffling chaps, usually the mark of the women’s queue, until someone desperate towards the back asked if the queue was for 1 or 2? Spiderman confirmed that the urinals were empty: thus dissolved the men’s queue. Thankfully.

The next challenge was to decide what to wear: it was windy and cold outside the Milton Keynes Stadium with the sun peeking through a few clouds; too cold and breazy for a lightweight top, but it looked likely temperatures would rise. The majority of us opted for the wrong choice, I for a too-thick T-shirt; others had opted for leggings, full-sleeve tops and beanies or woolly hats.

Sure enough, within an hour of running around the undulating roads surrounding office blocks of a sheltered city centre, the temperature had risen very quickly to a balmy and sunny 18C . . . just a few degrees the wrong side of “perfect” road marathon territory.

By now, Batmen, Spidermen, Viking Man (I saw only one), Wonder Women and all sorts of other weird and wonderful costumed runners appeared to be slowly boiling inside sun-absorbing lycra. St. Johns Ambulance were kept busy throughout the day. One runner I spotted was in full military fatigues wearing a head-melting giant fluffy bear’s head: another competitor helped him up from a few weary stumbles. Then I saw Marshmallow Man of Ghostbuster’s fame getting a loud cheer from spectators and runners alike as he/she doggedly put one foot in front of the other: it must have been an oven in there!

St. John's Ambulance crew try to cool down Marshmallow Man runner with Gatorade Tropical Burst

St. John’s Ambulance crew try to cool down Marshmallow Man runner with Gatorade Tropical Burst

That is one of the great things about big-crowd city marathons that’s missing from off-road events: the crowd support is superb and at Milton Keynes the locals had turned out in full force. Drumming bands were a-plenty, as were dozens of well-wishers handing out sweets, clapping and cheering away for hours.

At one particular roundabout (if you didn’t know already Milton Keynes is famous for endless roundabouts) a group of blokes holding a large banner sporting in big red capitals the word “LUBE”, the sign pointing to an industrial-size pot of something, were manning a powerful stereo system and speakers blasting Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger; on the return leg there was laughter as we all recognised the uplifting TV theme tune of Black Beauty.

After about 3 hours I knew my goal time of 4 hours 20 minutes was gone: my plentiful squits of earlier, too warm and humid a day, the wrong choice of T-shirt and lots of undulating roads and footpaths were conspiring to make things a little hard (which every marathon is, eventually). For the last 8 miles or so I started to zone out by chomping down jelly beans, listening to my iPod and paying attention to managing my heart rate, riding it up with a jog to 160 beats per minute and then back down to 140. A welcome sight was the few householders stood outside their houses with hosepipes to spray us as we passed: delicious relief!

The end came into sight, a lap of the Milton Keynes Stadium to end up at the finish line. I stepped up the pace a bit but felt quite sick so eased off before a final run-in of 5 hours, 5 minutes for a tad over the marathon distance with 3,606 calories having evaporated over almost 1,000 feet of “gentle undulations”. The salt marks on my clothes told what a warm day it had been but I didn’t suffer any cramping at all, which means my regular intake of Elete electrolyte was about right.

I now have just 6 months of hard training time left before I ease down for the Ancient Khmer Path in Cambodia: just where does time go?!? The good base of endurance-building that started in February will continue and more regular faster sessions will start to be introduced. I’ve run just a couple of pain-inducing Park Runs this year (5km: fast as you like!) and my 2015 slightly-portly best of 24m18s says a lot when compared to those in my build-up to the Sahara Race (Jordan): 23m07s in a slightly-lithe November 2013 has been my best so far.

Yep, some speed is what I need. Oh, and less sugar and carbs (still working on it).

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