In short: Not exactly as advertised! In full: I'm an experienced marathon runner and I would have to say that this is the 2nd hardest course I have ever marathon-ed on (Despite what another review says, it isn't as hard as Windermere!). For the organisers to brand it as flat is really misplaced and, judging by the field, attracted a lot of new marathon runners who would not have been prepared for it. No big hills but constant up and down with twists and turns on "red routes" which were often cracked or uneven.
The traffic management was very good but how the locals put up with it is beyond me with every street and cul-de-sac closed and noone seemingly able to easily get in and out.
I agree about the marshalling being very good (with the exception of the disastrous first water station) and plentiful. The support for a smaller marathon was very good indeed. The stadium finish may have been brilliant but I would admit to being far too fatigued to care!
The signage at the start area, as another has commented, was almost non existent and noone could easily see where they were supposed to be.
The lack of start pens was a major mistake. It is fine to mix half and full marathon runners but so many clearly hadn't a clue where they should be as many seemed to be newcomers. The whole first 3 miles was worse than London for weaving.
I did see a new marathon record of someone walking after half a mile!
Overall, a race that I view as an achievement but not one I will reflect on as being a favourite. I would stress that it wasn't the organisation or the atmosphere, it was the course that would stop me going back. Date of review: May 6, 2014
In short: Good atmosphere, but course needs a huge rethink In full: I'll start with the good points, because there were plenty of them. Crowds on the whole were superb, lots of encouragement throughout, plenty offering things like orange segments, jelly babies, and - in a couple of parts - a massively welcome hosepipe shower. Bag drop was spot on, and the water stations seemed well stocked throughout. Great medal too, and the stadium finish was fantastic.
A nod too for the fact that everyone's numbers had their names on. All races should follow suit here, as it makes an enormous difference to the support you get on the course. General polite clapping really can't compete with people encouraging you by name.
Big acknowledgement for the pacers too, doing a challenging job on an awkward course. I stuck with Rosemary 4:30 for around 11 miles before struggling, and tried to join the 5:00 bus, who seemed to be having a fantastic time, and getting brilliant encouragement. Sadly for me, I was done in by that point and couldn't hang on. The quicker early pace needed to counterbalance the harder second half made their jobs all the harder, and I saw several that had a faster time in mind utterly done in towards the finish.
A big shout out too for the medics dotting the course - the heat and the challenging course really took their toll on some runners, and these guys really earned their corn yesterday. Really hope everyone got home in one piece.
Unfortunately, there was a lot wrong with the whole day, and it started with the parking situation. I'd paid £6 for VIP parking, but had to abandon my wife almost 10 minutes from the stadium because traffic simply wasn't moving. She later reported that the VIP section seemed to have been massively oversubscribed for the space they'd set aside, and she'd ended up being directed to park on a kerb on the outside edge of the stadium car park. So I'd like that £6 back, please. Seeing as though we arrived in MK well almost 75 minutes before the race was due to start, this was unforgiveable. I seriously pity any runner that was driving themselves to the race - huge stress, and the last thing you'd need ahead of a baking hot race.
Once I'd made my way to the stadium, the lack of signs was somewhat bizarre. People were perplexedly walking in and out of the Hilton hotel thinking that was Race HQ, and there was seemingly nothing and no-one on that side of the stadium directing people in the right direction.
Once I'd found the right bit, it was borderline bedlam. Signs were up pointing out "Male toilets and changing", which it turns out was the same thing. Even if the enormous queue hadn't been there, never in a million years was that somewhere you could or should be expected to change. It was roughly the size of the toilets you get in a medium-sized pub. No benches, no hooks, nothing to mark it out as a changing room. It was male toilets, nothing more.
Thankfully I'd arrived with shorts already on, as god only knows what I'd have done otherwise. I - like many others - ended up getting changed in the main bag drop/HQ area. That area of the stadium was huge - why did nobody think to set up substantial and separate tented/screened off areas for people to get changed? Most of it looked like wasted space to me.
Then came the start, which was chaotic for the reasons explained elsewhere. As with many races, organisers really need to get extra speakers set up so that people at the middle and back can also hear what they're saying. And like everyone else, I racked up an awful lot of extra distance in the first handful of miles weaving around walkers.
The early miles around the centre of MK were tedious and really quite confusing. Support was excellent in these sections, but downhill, tight turn, back uphill roughly the way you've just come is far from inspiring.
Water stations on the whole were great, but the first one was pretty poor. Nowhere near enough volunteers, and some of those that were there were a bit ropey. I saw one woman go to the stacks of bottles, remove one bottle, then go to the kerb and offer it, and then return for another single bottle. Particularly that early on in the race when the crowds are so tightly packed, things need to be fast and efficient, and several runners around me had their hands out, but there were no bottles ready for them. Wasn't a problem with stocks - it was purely a lack of numbers handing out, and a bit of a lack of urgency on their part.
The split when the marathoners turned left and the half-marathoners went straight on seemed straightforward enough, but it did strike me that those doing the half really got gypped on the scenery front. What a boring course that must have been.
Thankfully, for those doing the full 26.2, things prettied up substantially from 12 miles onwards. The park/lake bit was really nice, and some of the residential areas were pretty pleasant too.
Unfortunately, once we got into redway territory, the course was really quite horrible. Those routes are great for cyclists, and probably in chunks are really good for training runs to get a bit of hill training under your belt. But for the second half of my first marathon, it was just too much. None of the climbs were enormous, but every time we went downhill and saw an arrow pointing left or right, we just knew that the next corner was going to be the start of another hill. I have plenty of hills locally, and feel they're a relative strength of mine nowadays, but cumulatively these just destroyed me. I'd be very, very interested to know exactly how many of these inclines there were on the course, because it felt like absolutely dozens. Some of the marshals here weren't a massive help either - it's great to be ushered on and encouraged, but some of them were telling us that it was a "nice flat section now", when in fact it was about 100 yards flat followed by another bloody hill. That's just demoralising when you've run 18+ miles.
It was my first marathon, and having had a very disrupted training schedule, I'm not the best advert for how the route for the second half affected my race. As an illustration though, I hit half at 2:15, and finished in 5:15. And even if that second half had been the first half, I'd have still been way, way off 2:15.
Marshals on the whole were very good, some in fact were absolutely brilliant (big shout to the girl on the hill just after the park, and the massively enthusiastic guy somewhere around the 20+ mark), but some really, really let the side down. I counted 4 on corners that were on their phones with their backs to the runners. There was a section too where some wideboy and his moll were out walking their dog off the lead in the middle of one of the redways, which nearly took out three runners in front of me. They walked past at least one marshal, who didn't seem to bother suggesting that they migh like to get it under control.
One marshal in the last stretch in the stadium car park wasn't exactly on the ball either, as he was blocking off most of the width of the course, leaving room for only 2 runners. And as the two directly ahead of me were walking side by side, I had to detour round him to avoid a collision.
Back inside the stadium, things moved along nicely. Nice finish area, got my water, my medal, my goody bag (sans T-shirt, as others have mentioned) and my fruit. The previously packed toilets had to do for a changing facility, but were absolutely disgusting by this point.
As a postscript, and this race is by no means alone here - if you're going to go to the trouble of having a company in to set up cameras to film the finish, would it really be that hard to show security and marshals that are stationed around this area where NOT to stand in order to avoid ruining the footage? I had a quick flick through on the Marathon Photos website, and the fourth placed finisher has a bespectacled guard's head ruining his big moment from one of the available angles, and I imagine he's not alone. Bit weird too that none of the photos or video included the actual finish itself. Would it really have been so hard to set up the cameras on the other side of the finish line?
Overall, I had a good day because I finished my first marathon. But while the event went by safely and reasonably efficiently at first glance, I think there's a hell of a lot of room for improvement, and it really has to start with the course itself. I'd be surprised and enormously disappointed if that was the course in 2015. Date of review: May 6, 2014
In short: Enjoyable for a first time marathon runner but not sure I'd do it again. In full: As my first marathon I found this event enjoyable and the organisation good with no complaints.
Pros - as a slower runner I positioned myself about midway down the pack at the start line. Due to this being a smaller race I had no issues with the fact we were mixed in with the half marathon runners and starting in one wave, it only felt like a minute or so until I was over the start line and on my way. - start line was only a short walk from the stadium and VIP parking unlike other races I've done (Reading half in particular) where it feels like you've walked for miles before you've even started! This meant I only had a short walk back to the car after finishing when the legs were starting to seize up. - some parts of the route were pretty, Willen lake and through the woods around miles 20-21. - music in the town centre part of the course and lots of support there - being mixed in with the half marathon runners for the first 10 miles....this would cause obvious problems for more competitive runners but for me it gave the feeling of being in a 'big race' and watching others took my mind off the distinct blandness of this area - lovely medal - no shortage of water, Gatorade, gels or treats being given out by the locals. - support was sparse in places but the pockets of supporters were really encouraging and made it all worthwhile - marshalls - friendly and supportive
Cons- - I would have liked a finishers t-shirt in the goody bag. Bag contained a Mars bar, cereal bar and crisps which were greatly appreciated and I also grabbed a banana from the baggage area but otherwise we were just given leaflets. Some people aren't fussed about goody bags but for those of us that don't do these events very often they're an extra treat for finishing. - first 11 miles the route was uninspiring, mainly on dual carriageway. It's not Milton Keynes fault that it's been designed with such a bland town centre but there's nothing to look at to take your mind off things. Thankfully it gets better later on. If I'd have done the half marathon only I think I would have felt a bit flat (excuse the pun) afterwards. - queue for VIP parking.....it got to 09:25 and we still weren't parked. I panicked and got out and walked. If I'd have been alone in my own car I would have been worrying about missing the start of the race. - race can get a little lonely at times with long stretches of dual carriageway and no supporters around. - no portaloo at start line .... They do advertise this in the race packs though and the stadium loos are only a few minutes walk away, but I'd already gone and needed it again while hanging about waiting to start!! - lots of inclines.....I'd always thought MK was flat! I ended up walking up most of them which wasn't an issue for me but I could see it being frustrating if I'd been looking for a pb.
I wouldn't discourage anyone from doing this race as I did enjoy it but realise now the importance of scenery and crowd support. I'd be unlikely to do this race again on that basis. Date of review: May 6, 2014
In short: The course is as useful for a PB as an ejector sit is for an helicopter In full: Organization wise this race is okay, no major issues, but selling this as PB material, seriously? there are no major hills as such, but when all the inclines are added together you end up with over 900ft of climbing, draw your own conclusions if it's worth going for a PB on a course like that Date of review: May 6, 2014
In short: Good marathon but a few improvements required to compete with the big city events In full: This was my third year running this marathon and I enjoyed it more than the previous 2 (mostly due to the weather). Its a challenging route but not tough and definately has PB potential - I broke mine by 14 minutes. Great support, marshalling and 3:15 pacers was excellent. Suggestions for improvement: post all race packs in advance. I hate having to collect my number on the day as you need to arrive extra early because you don't know how busy it will be. They need to have starting pens based on predicted times. It was a bit chaotic at the start due to the number of fun runners starting to near the front and holding up the more serious faster runners. This was made worse with the addition of the half marathon - maybe the 2 events could be started 15 minute apart? Date of review: May 6, 2014
In short: First half of full marathon through the town was uninspiring with too many loops making up the distance. Second half was quite scenic but the underpasses did get to you near the end. Organisation quite good. Marshals excellent, great local support. In full: Pros - Second half of the full course was quite scenic. Well organised and marshalled. Good local support. Stadium finish. Cons - Start was a little chaotic due to no timed pens. First half of full course through town was a bit boring. Underpasses with little steep inclines just when you didn't need them in the last third. I have to say a special thank you to the runners, marshals and locals who helped me when I had a bit of a problem at mile 19. Not a great run for me personally. I'd recommend it to others but think a PB would be harder than the organisers advertise. Date of review: May 6, 2014
In short: Not a flat course In full: This was a potentially cracking race let down by some big issues. First was the parking I paid for vip parking and it was chaos I had to get out of the car and walk not a great start.Baggage area was good but at the start no time markers to tell you where to start. The course is not flat and I found from mile 19 you couldn't get any rhythm going and people were dropping like flies. As for the cost to not give a t shirt cant be justified. This has the potential to be a good race I hope the organisers read these reviews and make some changes as I would like to run again next year. Date of review: May 6, 2014
In short: Hillier than I expected but well organised! In full: Like all the other reviewers have said, this course isn't flat (though to be fair I am pretty sure the full marathon is billed as 'undulating' and only the half as flat) and was a very tough course from mile 20 onwards. The organisation at the start was brill - no loo queues, clean loos with loo roll (!) and the baggage pick up / drop off was seamless! I enjoyed the 2 nd half of the route, pretty and varied,and the support from locals and marshals was spot on without being too in-your-face (I ran London 3 weeks ago and was exhausted by the noise by the end, so this was much better for me!!) Also, i really liked the stadium finish at the end, it was really good and made me smile when every bit of my body wanted to cry! HOWEVER - few points to improve on: the start needs proper time zones - we were aiming for a 3.45 finish but spent the first 3 miles dodging very slow runners/ walkers (mostly doing the half) and so lost 3 minutes by the first 3 miles! It needs proper start zones, or two different start times. 2nd - there were a couple of mile markers missing which disturbs me as I don't wear a gps watch so I rely on them! Particularly as I didn't see one from mile 24 onwards and was wondering whether I was suddenly doing a 15 min mile or actually it wasn't there!! So from 24 onwards I had no idea where the finish was until I actually got into the stadium! Finally, for over 40 quid and a 26.2 mile run, I want a tshirt!!!!!!!!! Even small local halfs give you a medal and tshirt, so this was disappointing! Having said all that, I did enjoy it a lot - far more than I had expected, and will def be back next year to crack the elusive 3.45 which I missed out on yet again yesterday! Date of review: May 6, 2014
In short: A tougher than advertised marathon - not really good for PBs In full: 'The course is traffic free on closed roads and cycle paths or “redways” as they are known locally, the course is gently undulating with no significant incline providing real PB potential.' So says the MK Marathon website. I entered this race some months ago chasing 2:45. When I was made aware of the second half of the course using mostly the redways and underpasses, I baulked and entered Rotterdam, using this as a back up instead. I'm very glad I did.
Many of the issues have been already highlighted below and I'll echo those sentiments. Having run Rotterdam I chose to help pace someone at a considerably slower pace than even my long Sunday runs. That said, by 22 miles I was pretty much spent and totally sympathised with my friend who had long since hit the wall and was utterly frustrated by the constant undulations, twists and turns, which although there was no one climb that was that steep or long, had a cumulatively devastating affect on tired legs (I clocked the run as having 970ft elevation - hardly flat by any stretch of the imagination). I'd actually state that recognised hilly marathons such as Winderemere or Taunton were easier than this course. If Milton Keynes wants to be taken seriously as a leading 'city marathon' it needs to be run in its entirety on closed roads and give up on the idea of using the redways - there are no shortage of them and they are generally forgiving in their nature (If a little boring). I thought crowd support was good, as were the marshals. The start was poorly thought out with mixed abilities all over the place. Also some of the water stations were a bit amateur hour in how they handed out drinks - not enough volunteers manning them in many instances. For the price I'd also expect a free t-shirt with the medal. Hate to say I would never race this again, but without major changes I cannot recommend it - unless that is you like major challenges! Date of review: May 6, 2014
In short: Overall a good event but I would not call it flat. In full: I enjoyed the day but I would imagine the fact it was advertised as a flat PB course would have upset a lot of people. The 2nd half of this course is tough. It really challenges the legs with the constant twisting course and the up and downs of the Redways. I understand why the organisers have used the fantastic cycle network Mk has, but if they have aspirations of being a big/top city marathon then they need to use more of the nice flat roads. In fact at 23 miles I think the constant up and down was making me go mad as I started to dream of lovely, flat well tarmac roads. Saying that, I did run a PB but I think that was more down to prior race expectations and pure painful determination rather than the course being as advertised. VIP parking was a mess, needs looking at for next year, but overall I thought well advertised and I enjoyed the stadium finish. Plenty of water stations, which were well manned. Marshalls were good and supportive, some enthusiastic spectators as well. I would do it again, but it is a tougher course than advertised. Date of review: May 6, 2014