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!
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.
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!
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.
Place: 1605 out of 2359