Tis the season for half marathons…
From mid-February to mid-March you can have your pick of 3-5 half marathons each weekend. Most are billed as, “a great warmup for the London marathon!” and are put in people’s training schedules as their practice race with a few miles before and after to get race practice and mileage in. It’s nice and all to get a medal at the end of a training run, but I think half marathons should still stand on their own as a great race. I’m not going to start calling them Pikermis (the town half way between Marathon and Athens) but I still want a half marathon to more than just half a marathon.
My friend Emma picked her hometown Cambridge Half Marathon as her Spring half, so I jumped at the opportunity to join her. I’ve been to Cambridge before and didn’t think anything could be as hard as punting (seriously, it’s a skill I lack) so I signed up to join her on what looked like a really nice race taking in all the Cambridge sights.
The morning of the race saw an easy 1 mile walk + 1 hour train + 1 mile walk to get me from my flat in North London to the start line. The start was set up on Midsummer Common and combined with the warm morning sun it had a serious festival feel to it, including insane portaloo lines. Emma and I decided a 2 minute warm-up jog back to her parents house to use their bathroom was a much better use of our time. I love “being local” for races! The stampede to the start pens were as orderly as possible and we were off. The roads were closed and wide enough to accommodate the masses of my 1:50ish pace group. The route took us up one of the biggest hills first and along a motorway where we got some very nice honks and waves from the fire trucks going by. Soon we were running along the river and Jesus Green which looked beautiful as usual. Over a bridge and into town we had our first waterstop with squishy water nipple bags. I love the idea of these as once you figured out how to get the water out they were way easier to carry and drink out of, that said the first station was filled with people popping their bags and squirting fellow racers in the eye. Maybe there should be a practice bag sent out with race numbers?
A quick up and down the steep Garret Hostel Bridge and we ran along the backs of the colleges and then did a little out/back u-turn for half a mile which was a great chance to high five other races and spot friends. Just past mile 4 now it was getting hot in the sun. I obviously chose a #SOBO outfit but was cursing my decision to wear short sleeves and not a vest like Katie (who went suns out, buns out, GUNS out full on!) I will never complain about some British sun but was definitely looking for the shady sides of the street to run in.
Running back into the main street of town and the Market was pretty much like running the London Marathon. There were people 3-4 deep cheering us on and I couldn’t help but smile and high fives some kids as I ran past. A quick run across Jesus Green and we were back at the start for the second lap.
Before the race I hadn’t had an exact race plan, after not reaching my sub 1:50 goal at Hampton Court 2 weeks ago I sorta wanted to go for it on this perfect weather, flat race but I hadn’t run more than 5k in the last 2 weeks and wasn’t sure how my legs would react. I ended up just deciding to run how I felt and quickly fell in to a comfortable 8:20ish pace for the first 6 miles. There were no headphones/music allowed in this race so I was running on breathing effort and with the pace of those around me, it was really nice and is definitely one of my favourite ways to run.
On the second lap I felt strong on the small hills but my pace was still creeping up to 8:40/8:50 after mile 7 like at Hampton Court, I wasn’t too fussed though as I was still enjoying the race which on the second lap had even more supporters around (Sunday sleep in innit) and just kept running. Being a city race there was almost no where to go to the toilet on route and (note for Lissy!) and since I was drinking lots of water in the heat I had a moment where I thought, “hmmmm could I bring myself to go behind a tree at the Cambridge University Department of Engineering?” I decided holding it was a better option.
At 12 miles the race got sweary. I promise it wasn’t just me yelling out some serious f-bombs when we had to go over a steep bridge JUST TO TURN AROUND AND COME BACK OVER IT. GAHHHHH! After that the finish line was a short 100m away, but we took the scenic route and ran all around, in/out, up/down, and almost above the finish line to finally find ourselves coming down the final 0.1 mile finish chute. The common was packed with people supporting us (although at the time I was too sweary to risk opening my mouth to say thank you) and everyone got a shout out from the announcer as they finished.
1:52:45 is my new half marathon PB and so close to that sub-1:50 I want! At 12 miles I had just over 7 minutes to run the last mile and am a teeny bit disappointed in myself that I couldn’t pull that out, but had a great race overall and would rather enjoy the full experience than see a few smaller numbers at the finish line.
At the finish we grabbed our medals and full goody-bags and were offered a pint of non-alcoholic isotonic recovery beer. It was a bit weird but then I realized we were sat out in the sun on a lovely common after running for 2 hours… with beer. Could life get any better? Obviously the weather was a huge reason the Cambridge Half was a great race (last year it was 2* and snowing on race day… ugh) but it was also a really well run race with no corners cut (literally, ahem Hampton Court) and everything thought of to make sure the runners had a great race experience.
If you want to run this race next year you gotta be fast, it sells out quickly (registration opens to Cambridge residents first – which is awesome and what more races should do for locals) and judging by this year’s race it will go even quicker next year.