Cambridge Half Marathon race report

I signed up for the Cambridge Half Marathon when I lived in Cambridge, thinking that walking to the start line made up for the expensive race entry. Then I moved to London and had to get the train and book an Airbnb! Oops!

I’m not a huge fan of “big city” races, I don’t like crowds and I find I really feel the pressure. In the days before the race I felt really nervous, and knowing that I’d have friends and family watching made me feel even more nervous. I feel like I’ve done quite a bit of running over winter and even though it hasn’t been half marathon specific, I was secretly hoping for a new PB. Pressure!

The day before, I got the train to Cambridge and had a lovely lazy lunch with friends. Afterwards I met up with Mum, and later we (joined by Matt) went for dinner at an upmarket pub in Trumpington. In retrospect, this was a mistake, the food was too rich and I had stomach cramp and slept badly. Pizza Express would have been more sensible pre-race food.

I eventually got up before my alarm went off. I pottered about getting ready and then walked up to Midsummer Common, where the start of the race was. It definitely hit home here that this was a different sort of race to the ones I’m used to: bag drop was a military operation and there were start zones organised by colour. I’m used to a small baggage tent and then self-seeding start lines!

Once in the starting pen I started freaking out about being too slow for my pen, and tried to edge backwards but couldn’t. Once we set off I let people pass me, trying to stay at a steady 5:45min/km. At first the course was nice and wide but after 1.5km there was a pinch point turning onto Elizabeth Way bridge and I got annoyed at people insisting on running three abreast even though it was congested.

I saw a friend at 2.5km and started doing my normal silly maths calculations (only another 8 of these! I can do this!). I didn’t feel that great, I felt tired and I just didn’t feel I could get enough oxygen in. We passed through town, through the market and past King’s College. I nearly ran into a bollard despite knowing it was there.

As we headed down Trumpington Street I looked out for Matt, and luckily for me he was wearing a bright orange coat! I was really warm so gave him my buff, and accidentally knocked my hat off at the same time. A man behind me caught it and gave it to Matt, then came up and told me – thank you so much to that guy! It was the hat I crocheted for a race last year and I like wearing it over my thermal hat as it’s bright.

Down Trumpington Road and I was really feeling tired, not great when you’re less than one third in. At the water stop I took a bottle of water and walked for a little bit to drink, hoping water and a gel would perk me up. At this point the 2 hour pacer passed me (easily) and I felt gloomy.

The road through Grantchester is always longer than I think it is. We crossed a timing mat at around 10km and a man near me cheerfully exclaimed that we were halfway there, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was wrong. I didn’t feel like running another 10km-and-a-bit.

I told myself I’d only walk at the water stations but I lost motivation and kept having little walks. Once on Barton Road and heading back into Cambridge (another road that’s much longer than I think it is!) I felt dizzy and took myself off to the side. I felt quite sick too, my stomach wasn’t happy and although I wanted to have another gel I didn’t think I’d hold it down.

By now I was being passed by lots of people, most of whom looked like they weren’t serious runners. I know, of course, that I’m not a great runner but it’s still disheartening when someone a lot older and heavier passes by.

A friend of mine lives at the end of Barton Road, and as I got closer to her house I thought I could see someone standing outside. I was so pleased to see a friendly face, especially as she’d brought her baby out to cheer too! He was all wrapped up in a snow suit and it really cheered me up.

The route wound its way back into town, along Fen Causeway (why so hilly?) and then past the Fitzwilliam Museum again. I thought Matt might be there so I tried to look good. He wasn’t, and he wasn’t on Silver Street either, where I thought he might have gone, and I felt grumpy and sick and tired so I had a little walk again.

We went over Garret Hostel Bridge, which is a steep old thing, then we were through town and heading back over Magdalen Bridge once again. There was another water stop here so I walked for a bit and finished off my gel and drank a bit. A girl cycled past saying “well done, 11 miles! Only 3 more! Hmm… a few more! Run!”

Running along Chesterton Road, I wanted to bin my water bottle but didn’t want to throw it on the floor, so I jumped up on a kerb to put it in a bin – and fell off the kerb. I went flying, my arms windmilling, but didn’t hit the ground. My right leg was quite sore where I’d twisted it and I was annoyed that two guys standing next to the bin hadn’t said anything to me (though what do you say to someone who’s fallen over?). I hobbled along for a bit and a nice chap came up to me and asked if I was okay, which made me feel a bit better, as did seeing another friend shortly afterwards.

At the top of the Elizabeth Way bridge there was a lady half-hanging out of the window, waving her birthday balloons (90!) and cheering. She’d been there at the start of the race, what a trooper! Everyone waved at her.

Although my watch told me that we were nearly there, it felt like the end was a long way off, and I trudged along, scanning the crowd for people I knew. As we turned onto Victoria Avenue – the final stretch – I spotted Matt’s orange coat and ducked around the person next to me to move nearer him. I pulled a face and sped off, overtaking people as the finish line inched closer. At the 13 mile marker there was a man on the ground being looked after by paramedics – it looked serious – and I learned later that he’d had a cardiac arrest and had to be airlifted to hospital. My parents and brother were watching at this exact spot but we missed each other!

CHM1

I carried on overtaking people up to the finish line, then ran on a little bit as there was another man on the ground – he’d also had a cardiac arrest and was also airlifted to hospital. I checked online today and both men are still in critical conditions. I really hope they’ll be alright.

CHM2

From the finish line it was a long old walk to be reunited with my bag, via a medal, a goodie bag, various additional drinks added to my goodie bag, assorted flyerings and a pint of Erdinger Alkoholfrei. The medal is enormous and very heavy, you can definitely see where the entry fee was spent.

I was happy to finish and pleased to meet up with Matt and find my parents and brother. But as the day wore on, I kept thinking about how I should have been faster.

Look how badly I faded!

CHM3

I’m not sure why it was such a struggle. Last year I did Wokingham Half in 2hrs 5 on the back of no long runs and was hoping I’d be able to do better here with a few long runs under my belt. Clearly not enough! I think I also didn’t eat well the day before the race, with rich food that gave me a stomach ache. I’ve had a cold for about 10 days which definitely left me feeling tired. But I wonder whether I’m doing something horribly wrong with my training. I’m thinking of joining a club to see whether I can get a bit better, and maybe then I won’t talk myself out of races halfway through.

I have another half marathon this month and although it’s lots hillier, I think I’ll enjoy it more as it’s a much smaller race (I didn’t like being around so many people), closer to home, interesting things to look at as you’re running in the woods (not that Cambridge isn’t nice to look at, but it’s tiring running on roads you’d only normally drive or cycle on). And you get flapjacks afterwards.

Time: 02:14:57

Place: 1605 out of 2359

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Marathon training – week 3

Monday – I woke up with no voice so decided not to run. A visit to a local hammam and its menthol steam room definitely helped, but I was still croaky and spluttery and unable to breathe. We were meant to fly home that evening but missed our flight thanks to crazy Istanbul traffic and stayed in a hotel by the airport for an early morning flight the next day – I thought about using the gym for a treadmill run but when I saw the gym was closed on Mondays I thought it must be a sign and ate crisps in bed instead…

Tuesday – the alarm went off at 2am UK time, and after a four hour flight, I went to work. I didn’t manage to get a run in, but then I didn’t fall asleep at work so I’m counting the day as a success.

Wednesday – I needed to go to Oxford Street after work, but I also needed to run, so I combined the two. Town was really busy, and around Victoria is a nightmare, but I enjoyed running through Hyde Park. 5.5km to the door of John Lewis.

Thursday – I felt really sluggish but took a slightly longer route to work (6.2km). My phone is playing up so I didn’t have anything to listen to other than the jangling of keys in my pocket. Oscillating wildly between being excited about the race on Sunday and feeling really nervous.

Friday – didn’t run.

Saturday – got the train to Cambridge and met friends (and their dogs!) for lunch. Later I met up with my mum, and Matt and I took her for dinner at a pub in Trumpington. I had pumpkin and ameretti ravioli, plus a treacle tart for dessert. Later I lay on the bed with stomach pains.

Sunday – ran the Cambridge Half Marathon. Full race report to follow.

Total: 32.8km

Total in training plan: 41.1km

Marathon training – week 2

Monday – woke up half an hour later than planned so ran directly to work instead of the long way round. I wore my new orange camo ski socks and they kept slipping down, which was very annoying, but halfway to work I remembered that I had bagels in the office and this distracted me. 5.2km and then a bagel with almond butter… maybe Mondays aren’t so bad.

Tuesday – cycled to work, got new shoes on the way home.

Wednesday – cycled in and then ran home in the pissing rain, along the Embankment and over Chelsea Bridge for 7.8km. When I got in my clothes were absolutely soaked and everything had to go straight in the washing machine.

Thursday – thanks to a drunk boyfriend stampeding about the flat at 1am (including toppling over and landing on my sleeping feet) as well as the various germs going round the office, I woke up feeling kind of crap. Luckily I had some good tunes on my ipod and for once, all the lights were in my favour, although there were no more bagels waiting for me at work. 5.2km

Friday – left for the airport at 7.30am and spent the day travelling to Istanbul, travelling across Istanbul and having a big nap on arrival at our Airbnb as neither of us felt very well.

Saturday – woke up feeling pretty awful, a heck of a cold and blocked ears. We spent the day wandering about Istanbul – the Blue Mosque was my favourite place, as it’s so tranquil and beautiful.

Sunday – my cold got even worse but I went for a run along the Bosphorus. It wasn’t particularly scenic but there were at least two or three other runners out (all foreign women) which made me feel less worried that I might be doing a really silly thing, running alone in Istanbul. I ran to the Bosphorus bridge and back (11km) and only tripped over one paving stone, landing against a shop window. Running in Istanbul is slightly better than running in Athens as at least there are wide pavements here, as long as you keep an eye open for unexpected massive holes. Later we took the boat to Asia, then later ate in the best restaurant ever.

Total: 29.2km

Total in training plan: 45km

New shoes

I’m not really a shoe kind of girl – while I do have quite a few pairs of shoes, it’s only because so many of them are specific and practical (ie. road cycling shoes, MTB cycling shoes, running shoes, walking boots, walking shoes…). Generally, I like wearing trainers or big clumpy boots. I find shoe shopping boring and can’t imagine getting excited about shoes.

This said, yesterday I felt a *tiny* bit excited about getting new running shoes. I’ve had a few pairs of the same shoe – Adidas Supernova Sequence Boost – now, bulk buying at the end of the season. I really liked the shoes when I first got them (August 2014) but I wanted to try something new. With 500km running and quite a bit more walking done in the latest pair, the soles are looking a bit worn and so it was time to at least start looking for new shoes.

I took my old shoes into the shop and showed them what I’d been wearing and how they’d worn. The sales assistant pronounced me an overpronator (nothing new) and brought out some shoes for me to try, letting me run on the treadmill in them and filming the results. One really noticeable thing about the way I run is that I’m a forefoot runner. This is quite interesting as I definitely heel strike when I walk – but not when I run.

Adidas Ultra Boost ST – this shoe felt light and the upper was a nice texture, kind of like a sock. It felt a little like I was on a bouncy castle and the shoes are insanely ugly both in terms of overall shape as well as colour. The heel is an odd shape, with a very high back.

Asics GT1000 – I quite liked the feel of these but the fit was wrong. I wanted to try them in a different size but the assistant got me another model instead.

Asics Kayano – can’t remember anything about these. 

Brooks Adrenaline – these felt good but unexciting. They felt more solid than some of the other shoes, quite a big heel and a lot of shoe.

Brooks Ravenna – I hated these, they felt really clunky.

Nike Air Zoom Structure – by the time I tried these on I was a bit bored of trying on shoes and running on the treadmill and taking off shoes and trying to explain why I didn’t like them. They seemed fine, they were perhaps a little on the solid side but they were super comfy across the toes (I have very wide feet). They are lighter than my current shoes and with less of a heel drop too. And they’re vile, a really awful (but almost good) colourway.

*After* trying on lots of shoes, the sales assistant told me that as I am a forefoot runner I could probably wear a neutral shoe, as it doesn’t matter so much about overpronating if you don’t land on your heels. I think by this point he was sick of bringing out shoes for me to reject, and he said that he thought I wanted shoes similar to my current ones – which wasn’t really what I said to begin with. I kind of wish I had tried on a few more shoes but I’m not 100% sure that I don’t heel strike a bit more when I’m tired – I’m going to look out for it on my next long run – so didn’t want to push it or buy shoes I’m not happy with.

I ended up buying the Nikes, as I need shoes and they fitted well and were fine. But is “fine” enough? Could I get away with more minimalist shoes? I would like to reduce my heel drop and wear something a bit lighter. I’ll get another gait assessment when I need another pair of shoes.

See!! This is why I don’t like shoe shopping!

Marathon training – week 1

Week one makes it seem like it’s the beginning of training, but given that there are only 13 weeks of training I need to try to shake this mentality.

Monday – I created an amazing multi-coloured training schedule. A work of art. Potentially a work of fiction, too.

Tuesday – spent some time googling “causes of chest pain” and was told by Dr Google that I might already be dead (spoiler alert – I wasn’t having a heart attack, just very annoying muscle pain in the top of my back/upper chest). Didn’t do any running but did do two hours of swing dancing, where the teacher said one of my moves was “beautiful” (BOASTPOST!).

Wednesday – went to Canary Wharf to dress up as a toilet for a few hours and was quite excited about getting the ferry over to Rotherhithe to run home. In the end I took the tube to the other side of the river as I was freezing (toilet costumes aren’t that warm). My phone stopped working halfway home which meant no more podcasts. Still, 8.7km done.

Thursday – woke up hungry as I didn’t have any dinner, so ate a banana and then jogged to work. Uneventful 4.6km but I had a podcast to listen to (I’m still obsessed with Serial, so was listening to Part 4 of Undisclosed PCR hearing coverage – this will mean nothing to anyone not following the case. A few questions about Undisclosed – does Rabia always have a cold? Is Susan following an entirely different case? Does Colin talk about anything other than Fry and Brady violations?). After work, I put on my sweaty clothes from the morning but my right calf was really sore so I sacked it off after 2km and got the bus home to do some foam rolling.

Friday – my calf was a lot less sore but I thought it would be best to rest, meaning my five day old training plan was worthless.

Saturday – we had friends staying so I didn’t do parkrun. Or, indeed, any other running. It was cold and wet and I spent a lot of time eating/drinking/being merry.

Sunday – despite eating an Ethiopian curry for lunch, I set out in the evening for a long run. I’d been told on saturday night that my marathon is “really hard” and “really hilly” so I headed up to the top of Crystal Palace to get a bit of hill practice in. It wasn’t too bad but I was cold the whole flipping time and the top of Fountain Drive wiped me out. 13km.

Total: 28.3km
Total in training plan: 52km

A marathon, again?

Two years ago I ran my first marathon and it was awful. I’d signed up for the London Marathon ballot after the 2013 edition and didn’t expect to get a place on my first attempt. When the ballot places were announced later that year, my pack didn’t arrive as I hadn’t updated my address, so a couple of weeks after everyone else I finally found out over the phone that I had a place. It felt a bit weird and anticlimactic, which set the tone for training and the race itself.

The race itself I wrote about here. Looking back at my training log, in the 12 weeks running up to the big day I ran an average of 33km a week. I did one 30km run, one 27km run and nothing else over 24km. I generally ran three times a week and these runs were pretty much all at the same speed, although the long run was usually slower. I felt like I was running a lot, but I’ve done the same average distance each week this year, and it’s not felt like loads.

When I crossed the line outside Buckingham Palace I felt pleased, but I distinctly remember going along the Embankment feeling really pissed off. I didn’t enjoy how busy the race was but I was also really annoyed at myself for running such a poor race. I decided that maybe marathons weren’t for me. I decided that it was too hard, too far, too much training.

People say that you should respect the marathon distance, but not fear it. I was absolutely terrified of it.

Already this year I’ve completed a 31 day runstreak and feel a lot more confident about my running. I got some great advice on my technique last year (arms down! knees up!) and feel like I’m running a lot better. I’ve got two half marathons booked for the early part of this year and ran across a Greek island at the very end of last year.

So for some reason I decided to enter a marathon again!

I wanted something small and low key (unlike London!) and easy to get to (not abroad, however tempting). I remembered a friend telling me about a marathon he’d done where you ran along country lanes, passing through small villages every couple of miles. That sounded perfect – the occasional cheer but lots of solitude. I decided to sign up for the same one.

It’s Halstead & Essex Marathon, on the 8th May. The course is “undulating” (ie. will kick my arse on the hills) but scenic, and there are around 500 runners.

I’m genuinely excited.

Ovaltine

It was a Friday, after work, for people who’d been to work – though this was Lidl so perhaps not everyone had. This kind of thought makes me feel like an elitist snob, but I’m pretty sure a lot of people in Waitrose don’t go to work either.

I’d gone to pick up essentials like loo roll, but if I’m honest I’d chosen Lidl over the other supermarkets for the £1.99 chocolate truffles.

As I reached for some mixed spice (for tasty, warming, porridge) I heard a middle-aged man sighing loudly near me. I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye. He was dressed in a shabby brown coat and had the look of someone who might enjoy a drink or two (what did I say about being an elitist snob?). He was standing in the hot drinks aisle and was swearing under his breath.

I watched him wheel his trolley over to where a bored young worker was half-heartedly unpacking a cardboard box.

“Have you got any Ovaltine?” he said, loudly, rudely.

The young man stopped and pointed towards the hot drinks aisle.

“I know where it normally is, it’s not there!”

The young man muttered something about it being on the shelf, and to the old chap’s credit he wheeled back over to the teas and coffees to scour the rows of produce for Ovaltine again.

But it wasn’t there, and there wasn’t any more swearing under his breath. Oh no – we could all hear it. The man was incensed. He looked for the young chap but he was nowhere to be seen. His eyes settled on another young chap in a Lidl uniform, standing over in the bakery section. Like a missile, he homed in on him.

“OVALTINE! Do you have any Ovaltine? It’s not on the shelf!”

This young guy stopped what he was doing and thought for a second. His face lit up. He knew where it was. He told the man to follow him.

There was a hushed silence in the store as my fellow shoppers and I waited to see whether the great Ovaltine reunion would take place. A minute passed.

“I said OVALTINE!! Not AUBERGINE!”

I heard someone in the cheese section start laughing.

“Are you DEAF?! What is wrong with you? I asked for Ovaltine! Not a bloody aubergine! Go and look out the back for Ovaltine!”

The young chap scuttled off, and we all knew that he would not be looking for Ovaltine and that he would not be back.

Our hot drink fanatic paced about the store for a while, swearing. Bloody aubergine this, bloody Ovaltine that. Eventually he abandoned his shop and left, without his precious Ovaltine.