Firstly I want to caveat this review by saying that in 2017 I was honoured to be chosen as an MK Marathon Ambassador and as such I had my race entry reimbursed as I had already entered the event. This will in no way affect my review but it is worth being honest and upfront.
This was my 3rd time at an MK Marathon event. I ran the full marathon in 2015, paced the half in 2016 and ran the full again this year. I have lived in MK for about 15 years and running around my new home town is awesome, not only because I get to run on those famous Redways all year round but the running community in MK is strong and comes out in force for this brilliant event.
The organisation for this race is superb and communications are good but I did notice this year that there was quite a queue in registration for number collections. This didn’t affect me as my number arrived in the post about 3 weeks prior. Unlike other, bigger races the local hoteliers do no not cash in on the event and you can stay in the 4 star DoubleTree by Hilton at the Stadium start/finish for just over £100 as well as other local hotels for even less.
Now to the route. As mentioned the race starts and finishes at the MK Dons Stadium so there is no fuss getting back to the start from a separate finish area. The start was organised slightly differently from previous years and we were started in waves from the relay and fast runners first to the slowest runners last. I found this fine but I did manage to make the first wave. The first 5 miles take place on wide, closed dual carriage ways and like many big city marathons consists of a few out and backs. Support here is superb and this is where you encounter the only 4 roundabouts on the course. Considering we have over 300 in Milton Keynes 4 is not many at all; London Marathon has at least 10! At just over 5 miles when the field is suitably spread out you leave the main roads and move onto Milton Keynes excellent foot/cycle-path system locally referred to as the Redways (the biggest club in MK incidentally are the Redway Runners and they provide a huge amount of runners and support to the event). From here the route is a huge circular one covering most of MK, snaking through woodland, parkland, around some of our lakes, along the canal and along an old railway line affectionally known locally as The Nobby. Then after passing the Roman ruins at Bancroft, the famous Concrete Cows and a few more lakes you come to the now infamous mile 23. I will not lie. This hill is not pretty and after 23 beautiful miles can really sap the energy out of even the most positive runner. I reached mile 23 this year in about 3 hours and to my horror the infamous sign was missing! Was it stolen by mile 23 super fans? Or as I suspect ‘forgotten’ to be put out by the race organiser? We may never know. After the dreaded hill at mile 23 there is another tasty incline at Milton Keynes College before a nice 2 mile downhill all the way to the amazing Stadium finish.
MK Marathon is not all sunshine and roses. I haven’t yet mentioned the underpasses. We have a lot of them in Milton Keynes and although the race organisers have tried their hardest, removing 60% of the underpasses from the 2015 route, they are unavoidable. However, an underpass is always better than a road crossing. Also, as the race is quite spread geographically taking in literally every corner of MK, there can be stretches with little or no supporters to cheer you on, although there are timing mats and music from Results Base every 5k, relay change over points at 6.2, 13.1 and 20 miles as well as water stations at least every 3 miles.
The aid stations are all run by different volunteer organisations from MK and all offer water in bottles, as well as some offering Gatorade and High-5 gels.
At the finish you enter the Stadium via the service ramp and complete half a lap before crossing the finish line and being awarded a very cool, very glittery cow in sunglasses medal. Then you have to climb back up the service ramp (ouch) and back into the main race HQ area where you collect your goodie bag and t-shirt. In this year’s goodie bag there were crisps, brioche, Yazoo flavoured milk, High-5 products as well as bananas on offer and more water. In the main concourse there was a guy offering super quick medal engraving for £5 and also sports massages from Body Limits for a fiver; I took advantage of both of these! There were also stalls from the local running specialists at Up & Running and, this year, TomTom. Bag drop as always was run like a well-oiled machine by the local Scout group.
I managed to knock over 10 mins off my previous best marathon time, making my new marathon PB 3:34:15.
There you have it my rather wordy, warts and all review of MK Marathon. Will I be back next year? Of course! Hopefully I’ll see you there!