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Features Milton Keynes Marathon & Half Marathon

11 January 2021, 8am

All was going to plan for the Rightmove Milton Keynes Marathon in the south of England until the coronavirus struck just two months before race day

A re-imagined race

by Andrew Hully

Rightmove MK Marathon Reimagined
Sun 6 September 2020

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We had record year-to-date entries at the beginning of March 2020 of over 8000 runners. Then Covid came and we were forced to postpone.

Our first thought was to postpone until autumn, but we hire a football stadium as the Marathon venue. Football fixtures are not released until late June so we didn’t know when or where they would be playing matches. Other venues and routes were first explored and then ruled out but luckily the stadium came up with a new date of 6-7 September.

We kept our runners informed of the changes and moved all entries to the new September date unless they chose one of six options, which included running a virtual marathon In May, a full refund or deferring their entry to the provisional date in May 2021. Over 1000 opted to run virtually, another 1000 requested a refund, and 3000 deferred their entry to 2021, leaving about 3000 entries transferred to the September event.

Running virtually simply involved entrants running at a time and place to suit themselves and then uploading a screen shot or photo of their result.

Over the summer it started to look more and more unlikely that large running events would be able to resume in September, so we started to explore alternative Covid-safe race options. As race director and the founder of the event I knew we had to think outside the box. This was what evolved, over many weeks, into the “reimagined” race.

The initial idea was to design new running routes with chip timing and allow the runner to take part at any time over a two-week period and us providing results and a leaderboard. But how could this be done? The team looked at commissioning a wooden start gantry with a locked metal box containing the timing equipment. This would need to be safely secured so that it couldn’t hurt anyone and couldn’t be stolen. Permission was granted from The Parks Trust, a local charity who manage all of the green spaces of Milton Keynes to have this installed at Willen Lake using power from the local Splash N Play park.

The chip timing technology could start and stop a runner, but there was no way of checking to see if they had completed the full route and distance. We then looked into adding timing points along the route but were not able to find the right technology or get permission for a power source.

We switched our attention to gps tracking and found an app called RunGo, which seemed to offer everything that was necessary. The app worked well during testing and also had the benefit of custom motivational and sponsor messages. Runners could simply upload their result when they had finished their race.

All new routes had to be designed using the many cycle paths and parklands in Milton Keynes to minimise road crossings. We decided that it would be simpler to have a two-lap marathon route. All routes were then measured to the AIMS worldwide standard. Runners would be allowed two weeks in which to complete their race(s) and urged to follow social distancing. This was a unique opportunity for entrants to take part in every distance we offered, and a lot of runners did.

A progressive web app (PWA) was commissioned showing the routes, entry list, results, prizes, sponsors, etc. The runner could access the RunGo route directly from the MK Marathon app to make it a seamless experience. We chose the PWA rather than a traditional app as we didn’t think we had enough time to get one approved for the App Store.

We knew that traditional direction signs wouldn’t work. They would likely disappear over the two-week period or be moved to point in a different direction. Instead we decided to use small way marker discs in plastic. Over 150 posts were photographed so that we could get permission from the relevant owners before getting them made and put in place.

As soon as the Reimagined Race was announced we got over 1500 new entries and decided to buy branded running belts as an added bonus for our runners. The courses were accessible whenever the runner wanted to race — any time of the day or night. No weather concerns, no early bus rides, no long waits at the start line… no hassle. We also chose the beautiful Willen Lake event lawn to start all races, as it offered good parking, toilets and a cafe. It has been great to put on a different option for our runners and the feedback and stories have been inspiring.

The 2020 Rightmove MK Marathon Reimagined was not a virtual race, but a race route measured and certified according to international standards which took in the beautiful lakes and scenery of Milton Keynes. A total of six routes had to be measured for the Brioche Superhero Fun Run, Rightmove Rocket 5k, Turing 10k, Half Marathon and Marathon and also the BMI Marathon Relay. This was possible because of the many cycle paths and footpaths that go under or over roads.

The self-supported races featured GPS timing technology with built-in turn-by-turn voice navigation using the RunGo app for round-the-clock service between 6-19 September. Performances were valid for gaining good-for-age qualification for the London Marathon and the Abbott World Marathon Majors Wanda Age Group World Championships.

The timing team downloaded the results every evening and checked to make sure that runners had completed the correct course. The results were then uploaded to the MK Marathon app. Any runner who didn’t follow the route was not included in the results but was still sent their rewards.

The 1000 runners who took part in the Reimagined event ran the same course, with GPS timing, a daily updated leaderboard and were able to earn the cash and prizes that would have been given out at the originally-scheduled May event.

The feedback from runners was gratifying:
“the app was great. Didn’t feel like I was on my own at all”

“I’ve not been a fan of virtual races. They are just not the same as being surrounded by hundreds of other runners but I’m so glad I entered as it gave me focus and something to aim for. The routes were well thought-out and signed.”

Three and a half thousand entrants also decided to run virtually over the same two-week period on a route of their own choice.

The Rightmove MK Marathon Weekend 2021 has been set for 2-3 May when we will be back at the MK Dons stadium.

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