After thoroughly enjoying the London-based Royal Parks Half Marathon last October, Carmel was as keen as could be to give the Cambridge Half Marathon a go. I was substantially less keen but when we signed up about 6 months prior to the event I wasn’t overly concerned. There was plenty of time to train.
The Cambridge Half Marathon was last held 17 years ago, in 1995. I have no idea why it stopped or why it restarted other than running events seem to be gaining in popularity. The approximate 3,000 places available for this event were grabbed up within 8 days of being made available. That is quite impressive and I’m sure the race will cater for more runners next year.
I hadn’t run a half marathon before, or even run as far as a quarter marathon, but I had 6 months to train so there was no rush to start. Therefore I didn’t start. Christmas came and went, as did New Year and a snowboarding holiday. The winter had not been a toasty warm one and the thought of heading outside in shorts on a precious weekend to go running never quite made it to the forefront on my mind during those cold, dark months.
Finally with 3 weeks to go before the event I thought I should decide if I was going to enter or not. Carmel was looking all smug that I would not be fit enough to run and that was all the incentive I needed. I managed three training runs of 5km, 10km and finally 16km and that proved to me that my legs would take me round.
When signing up for the race we had also persuaded Lauren and John to join us from Norwich. From talking to them on the day I got the impression that they did not think I would actually do the race so had not really planned to take part either. My decision to start upset them a little and they realised that they would have to come and join in also.
One of the jokes we had amongst ourselves was that we didn’t want to be caught out having a Paula Radcliffe moment behind a tree at the side of the track and so we all took a bunch of Immodium the night before to ensure that our race was as uninterrupted as possible.
On the morning of the race we walked the short distance from our house and joined the gathering crowds on Midsummer Common. At this time, around 45 mins before the 9am start, the queues for the port-a-loos were immense, longer than I had ever seen at any festival or public event. There must have been at least 300 people in the queues. I bet most of them never got to go before the race started.
The race was introduced by a very dull man who told us about various safety procedures in a very monotonous voice. He then passed over to the Mayor of Cambridge who seemingly had nothing interesting to say either – but at least he didn’t drag this out. Finally a girl came on to stage to take the enthusiastic minority of the crowd through a warm-up routine. The warm-up was done in time to dance music that sounded like it was being played on a distant kitchen radio whose batteries were about to expire. Carmel tried to join in but the music was pointlessly quiet and she quickly gave up.
We headed over to the start and positioned ourselves at the section for people intending to finish around the 2 hour mark. We hoped that we were not being too optimistic. All 3,000 runners were now congregating in the starting straight on Victoria Road and after a few nervous photos and minutes waiting the klaxon sounded and we were off.
Running in the crowd up to and past the start line was concerning. Firstly, any adrenaline had gone before I got the 50m to the start line and had been replaced by severe trepidation. Secondly, the crowd were running quite fast and I had expected them to be bunched up and running slowly. I had to purposefully slow myself down in order not to get tired too early. Thirdly, Carmel and John had raced off with substantial speed. Carmel had shot off first with John chasing a few metres behind her. Lauren and I looked on aghast and tried to conserve energy as we tried to maintain our position in the crowd. However the two of us spent the first 30 mins being overtaken by quite a few runners.
I had some sort of running watch which told me how fast I was going and whether my pulse indicated that I was due an imminent heart attack. The watch gave me comfort by allowing me to run at a speed that I knew I could sustain for a long time (10-11km/h). Lauren and I ran together at this steady pace for the first 4 or 5 miles or so before Lauren slowly dropped back by a few metres. We ran a short distance apart for the next mile or two but at the half way point I decided that I had run conservatively enough and decided to pick up the pace a little.
The second half of the 13.1 mile course was run without company as I tried to keep my speed up at around 12km/h. The monotony of running on my own in mild pain blurred the time and when I got to the half way point I had stopped counting down the kms and was more interested in the random people who were running alongside me. By now I was beginning to overtake people rather than be overtaken which was much more interesting as I didn’t just see people run off into the distance. You could actually take quite a bit of motivation from running past somebody who was fatter, or older than you and telling yourself that you should be doing better. This worked well for the remainder of the race. A good example was being overtaken by a man dressed as Superman early in the race and then overtaking him back as I got nearer the end. I beat Superman!!!
This was the first event I’d entered which involved a number for my shirt that had my name written on it. It was bizarre when people that I don’t know started cheering me on by calling out my name they had read off my shirt. I think this may be an invasion of my privacy but am not sure. It would be different if a bunch of pretty college girls cheered me on, but my memories were of a few bearded, male strangers shouting out my name. Definitely a bit weird.
And that number on my shirt… The dictatorial instructions that we received prior to the race told us we needed to attach the number with safety pins at the top of the number only. I did this and it was fine until I started running. Every time the breeze caught it it would flip upwards and land back-to-front resting on my chin. This was fairly off putting but at least people couldn’t read my name when the number was upside down against my face.
And those pre-race instructions… They also included a dictate not to use headphones. I assume this wasn’t in case an entrant might enjoy themselves by listening to music or perhaps an audio book during the event. I assume it was done for safety reasons. But since no marshals needed to speak to me during the race and the only words I heard were from bearded strangers in the crowd, I think wearing headphones and listening to a bit of music would not have exactly been dangerous.
With about 3 miles to go I caught up with John who was looking significantly worse for wear. Part of me thought that the competitive side of him would mean that we would be racing for the finish together, but he didn’t seem at all interested and I ran on ahead alone. The last mile or two of the course doubled back on itself and as the path narrowed the runners were squeezing past each other as they ran in opposite directions. It was here that Carmel spotted me and cheered me on (I didn’t see her until she had gone past and heard her shouting my name).
The final mile was the hardest for me and I was becoming really keen on slowing down and taking it easy. The dull ache in my legs was now much more intense. However I picked the pace up for this last section and nobody passed me as I ran towards the finishing area on Midsummer Common. When I saw the finish straight I predictably got a small burst of energy and did my best to look less haggard in front of the crowds. My final hurrah was to run as quickly as I could and overtake a 70+ year old man who was looking close to death as we both neared the finish line.
As reward for completing the course all the runners got an entirely forgettable plastic bag full of leaflets, a packet of crisps and a bottle of water. There was also the opportunity to collect a medal but I declined due to the incredible tacky nature of the mass produced tat.
I met up with Carmel who had found a space amongst the small crowd to cheer on the remaining three from our group. Within 5 mins of me finishing I was shouting John on as he ran across the line. And then 5 mins later we cheered Lauren on as she too made it across the finish line.
Our finishing times were officially:
Carmel = 95th in her category of “F Senior” (770th overall) with a “chip” time of 1:50:23.
Rob = 472nd in “M Senior” (1030th overall) with 1:55:45.
John = 536th in “M Senior” (1255th overall) with 2:00:18.
Lauren = 182nd in “F Senior” (1214th overall) with 1:59:24 (although there was a mistake with this time since she finished approximately 5 mins after John).
I think we were all quite happy with this. We’d all finished in the top half and given the bare minimum of training that the 3 slowest of our group had done this seemed better than we could have expected. It actually made us wonder if the other slower half of the contestants actually bothered at all, either during training or during the race.
Carmel was additionally happy that she had taken 15 mins off her first half marathon time from the Royal Parks in London a few months earlier. Although she may secretly have wanted a bigger differentiating gap in time between the three of us and her since she had been training throughout winter.
I’d consider doing another half marathon in a while. Perhaps the Norwich event to return the favour to John and Lauren who had to drive from Norwich to Cambridge for this one. Although it has to be said that I don’t find running much fun. Sure, it keeps you fit, but it is hardly enjoyable. This actual event wasn’t particularly enjoyable either. Running seems to be a personal challenge of how much you can push yourself for the duration of the race. It is certainly not a team event and since everyone experiences quite different types of pain then there are only so many notes you can compare afterwards. For me, my quads hurt within the first mile and tightened up slowly for every follow on mile until I got to the finish in a lot of discomfort. The others had problems with their thigh muscles, their hips and their groins – each suffering to differing degrees from different parts of their bodies.
And perhaps worst of all, there was no bar near the finishing line for us to have a quick celebratory pint – so we had to go home.
Here’s a distribution chart for all the finishing times. Our time slots are in red.
Duration 1:55 hours
Distance 13.1 miles
Path (Google Earth)