Milton Keynes Marathon – The Idiot

The day after London Marathon I felt good, really good. The day after that I ran a couple of easy miles.

The Saturday after LM I did a parkrun in 21 minutes and the following day I ran 6 miles and signed up for the Milton Keynes Marathon in three weeks.

My flawed logic was that I could take London as my final long run and have another three week taper for MK. Much, much later (around mile 17 I think) I realised that what I’d done was have a 6 week taper with a marathon in the middle. Not any kind of preparation for an endurance race and a decision that was going to bite me.



Race day came and it was going to be a hot one. I’d run London in a black t-shirt and shorts ensemble and had had no chafing anywhere so decided to wear the same gear. In the blazing sun. Without the shade London offered from tall buildings.

I’m making my excuses early.

My idea was to stick with the 3.45 pacer and see how I felt after 20-odd miles (whether to push on or hold). However, while the pacers had balloons floating above them, all of them were the same colour and none of them had the time on them. You had to be right behind the pacer, able to read their t-shirt, to see you were with the right one.  The start was fairly calm and although I lost my pacer, I could see one ahead and figured as long as I stayed between the two for a bit I could slow down and let my pacer catch up. It was then, within about half a mile, that it all went horribly wrong.

I felt fantastic.

Again, I wasn’t running with a gps but I did have mapmyrun on my phone in my gel belt. After a mile I had a quick check and was running exactly 8 minute miles. My target was 8.30’s so I knew I could and should back off. But I didn’t. I was still feeling fantastic, what could go wrong? Writing this blog is the first time I’ve looked at the splits and I am astounded at my idiocy! Mile 1 was 8.05 and the NEXT 9 MILES were sub 8 minute miles. Mile 13 I got down to 8.30 but back up to 8.04 for the next mile. In and around 8.30 until 17 and then BOOM! I was destroyed.

There was no way I could sustain that pace, with my level of fitness, having started so quickly – four early miles averaged 7.40. Something had to give and most upsettingly, it was my brain. I think we all like to think that, ultimately, we won’t crack under stress; that we will dig into as yet unknown and untested reserves of grit and toughness.

I cracked like all those Easter eggs I’d eaten between London and Milton Keynes.

At 17 I promised myself I could walk a bit if we got to 18. Then again at 20. AND again at 22.

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have walked had there had been spectators about. In the same way I speed up, just a little bit, when I see another runner coming towards me , or don’t even contemplate walking up a steep hill if a car is coming on a training run, I think I allowed myself to walk because there was no-one around to judge me. True, there were other runners, but a lot of the ones ahead were walking anyway so it seemed to make it OK.

Finally I got to mile 23 and knew I just had one parkrun left to run and was determined not to walk during the race again. I made it into the stadium and saw the clock for the first time. 3.50:50. My VMLM time was 3.51.42 and I was in danger of being slower as you had to run round the sides of the football pitch. I hobble/sprinted the last hundred metres staring at the clock as I finished. I came in at 3.51.22 and later found my chip time was 3.50.40 so I pb’d by just over a minute.

The rest of the day was spent making excuses for having walked (too hot, too soon after London, really busy week at work etc, etc) and feeling really negative about the day.

After a few days though, I now feel pretty positive about it. True, I did a stupid thing, something I’ve read about in every marathon article, heard about on every podcast but now I have experienced it myself I know I’ll never do something like it again.

I still got a pb. And I know that, even with the heat, not ideal lead-up and vast quantities of chocolate consumed, I could have got a much faster time.

On to the next…


Trail Team Trials – and a bit of parkrun tourism

I thought I’d better get this down now while its fresh in the memory and before Mondays Milton Keynes Marathon (which I’ll probably bang on about at length at a later date).

So today, Saturday 5th May was the second half of the Trail Team 2014 trails. Basically there are 100 people who have been shortlisted and of those 4 will win a place on the Trail Team. It’s a chance to run in the Alps on a training camp and get loads of Berghaus, Torq Running and LED Lenser gear to muck about with. What is more interesting to me, especially as a relative newbie to the whole running lark, is that the lucky four will be guided for the year in their nutrition, running, fitness etc. It would be amazing to see the progress made with professional help for that length of time. And running the Alps would be pretty cool too!

The aperitif

parkrun has become a fixture in my life so when I knew the Trail Team event would start in north London at 10ish it was obvious I could slip a cheeky parkrun in beforehand. I’d already done Hampstead Heath a few months previously so went to the next nearest to the venue, Gladstone parkrun. A two lapper described as “undulating”, this was a really nice course, especially on a beautiful morning. Hills were not too onerous and I deliberately kept my pace slow as I knew we’d be running later in the day. Came in at 22.34 which was bit quicker than it felt.

Main Course

On to the main event of the day. 50 of us congregated in an education centre at the bottom of Parliament Hill and the day kicked off. mattphoto_35_tt-4

After a brief introduction it was the Berghaus chaps turn to tell us all about the ethos of Berghaus as well as a bit of product. In the late 80’s there were two companies important to my fledgling career as a photographer. Firstly there was Courtney, the pinnacle of studio lighting, then there was Berghaus. In the same year I saved up £1000 to buy a pair of Courtney studio lights and around £300 for my first Mera Peak Berghaus jacket. 25 years on I’ve no idea what happened to those lights or, in fact, Courtney themselves. I still have that jacket and even though it has lost its waterproofing I can’t bear to get rid of it. I now have the updated Mera Peak (which was £100 less than the one I bought 25 years ago) and live in their fleeces of various types. A Volvo Estate was also a must for a photographer but I could never stretch to that.

Next up was the Torq running guy. It’s a difficult job to present one companies product as its always going to sound like a bit of a sales pitch but the nutrition advice was really interesting. I’ve used SIS products in all my races as I never have stomach problems with them and they certainly do the job so I’m loathed to change. However, I’ll definitely give Torq a go on long training runs as some of the flavours are gorgeous! I’ve been dabbling with the idea of using a more paleo diet (spookily and a little unflatteringly the Torq guy took one look at me and announced “you’re obviously on a high fat burn diet”). I’m not particularly comfortable with the artificial stuff I’m putting in my body, but if this is all natural ingredients then possibly this is a shortcut worth taking.


After lunch it was the turn of Katharine and David Lowrie, who ran the length of South America totally unsupported, to tell us about their incredible trip. This talk alone could probably have taken up the whole day and it was fantastic to hear from them. 25 years ago I made an abortive attempt to cycle from Britain to South Africa. Organisation at that time (and in fact, now) was not my strong point and although I did end up in South Africa and hitch hiked around a country and surrounding countries still relatively unknown to tourists (there were only 30 pages in the Africa Lonely Planet Guide  on South Africa) I did end up flying there.  An inspiring talk, just the right side of of awesome and self deprecating Katharine and David certainly rekindled those long dormant thoughts of a challenge still to be conquered. Time to pin that Africa map back on the bedroom wall. Now just to break it to the wife and kids…

Last up on the talk front was the utterly unbelievable ultra runner Stuart “tits” Mills.



His talk focussed on the mental side of long distance running, the idea of focussing on goals and the journey. There was so much in that one hours talk that I have been able to take away but I’m still distilling it so I may have to come back to it when I’ve got a clearer idea of what I want to say. The other great thing about Stu being there was that I was now the SECOND oldest person in the room!

The dessert (with a cherry on top)

And so onto the run.


I have been running naked for a while now so I have no idea how far we went, what our elevation was or, in fact, where we went but we finished where we started, took in a lot of path, trail, hill and woodland and were out for about an hour and 10 minutes.


Having worked in and around London for a good while I have never seen this side of the capital. The views from the top of Parliament Hill were truly awe inspiring in a “see what humans can do when they set their mind and money to a project” kind of way.


It was a great run, much further than I wanted to do two days before Milton Keynes but I was having too much fun chatting to a variety of fellow runners as I bumbled along.


It was great to be able to vary my pace so I could meet up with different people and just be able to strike up a conversation. Essentially this to me seemed to be the point of the whole day; not a competition to be whittled down to four lucky people, more a coming together of like minded individuals in order to spread the word of trail running.


I’ve no idea what the team are looking for in the finalists. If they want amazing athletes, well versed in ultra running then there were certainly plenty there to choose from. If they are looking for people who have run marathons but no further and are looking to extend their knowledge and skills over longer distances then there definitely are many great candidates. If, however, they are looking for a bald mid-Forties pretty new runner floundering around in a sea of new-found knowledge then I think I might know just the chap.

Good luck to all the participants from both the London and Helvellyn groups. Whatever happens we have shared an amazing day and great company. My fingers are crossed for all of us (but just a bit tighter for me)