It has taken me a while to sit down and write a review of the Cambridge Half Marathon. Firstly there has been so much going on in the world since the event on Sunday 8th March, and subsequently there has been a lot to get my head around, not just in a running sense. Secondly, it feels a bit bittersweet thinking back to this weekend, as I am not sure when I will get another weekend like this for a while now…
I had planned to take on Cambridge Half Marathon as part of my London Marathon training, but it was also an opportunity to have a weekend together with my sister and her boyfriend, themselves keen runners. They travelled down to visit me and on Saturday we had volunteered at Lincoln parkrun as part of the Barcode Scanning team, and then had gone to watch Lincoln City’s match in the afternoon. We fuelled up in the evening on pasta ready for an early start to drive down to Cambridge on Sunday morning for the half marathon event.
I had taken part in Cambridge Half Marathon twice before, but it was a new event for my sister and her boyfriend. The past two times I had ran had seen some pretty dire weather; the first year the ‘beast from the East’ had threatened to thwart the event, and last year it was wet, grey and miserable. Despite the conditions, I have always ran well at Cambridge Half Marathon and enjoyed the event; it’s a very large and popular half marathon and whilst I tend to head to more local events these days, it is sometimes nice to experience that ‘big event feel’. I was also looking forward to racing 13.1 miles again, after a period of longer runs mid-marathon training, it felt like a nice challenge to have and a bit of a test of where my body was at.
Despite being a previous participant, this year the half marathon featured a brand-new route. I have to admit I paid very little attention to the route change prior to taking my place on the start line; I just like to go out and enjoy a race rather than over analyse the course! However, my only slight complaint about the Cambridge Half Marathon in previous years had been just how congested it was at the start. I was therefore pleased to see a waved start had been implemented for this year, and it proved to be far more effective.
Huddling on Midsummer Common waiting for the start of the race I briefly discussed race goals with my sister and her boyfriend; I wanted a sub 1:40 time and for once I was very clear about my focus. I intended to start steady and try and have something left to push at the end - you know, that famous race strategy..!
After the ‘go’ signal was given for my wave, I spent most of the first 4 miles taking in just how different the course was – perhaps my lack of pre-race course studying paid some benefit here as it completely kept me away from thinking about physically running! We ran through some residential streets before weaving through the stunning campus of University of Cambridge’s King’s College. I was running well, maintaining a good pace and my confident start had definitely been boosted by the well-lined streets and enthusiastic support from the crowds.
At around 5 miles the course headed out to the village of Granchester, as it has done before, but this time in the reverse direction – for me it felt a bit like the novelty of running one of your usual running routes in reverse! After a confident start however, miles 5-7 were tough; there was a strong head wind and running along an exposed road meant for no shelter. I was joking with a friend the weekend before the event that a half marathon was actually my least favourite distance to race and I had no idea why I sign up to so many, and that conversation was at the forefront of my mind – I felt like texting her and saying this is why I hate half marathons! Turning out of the wind and with a slight downward descent into Granchester I found my rhythm again and after hitting 8 miles I solely focused on maintaining my pace until the 10 mile point and reviewing how I felt here.
I am not sure what changed, but at 10 miles I felt like a new runner, the remaining 3 miles felt like a small number to tick off and I could feel the energy lift both in my legs and mentally. I began catching runners up and setting targets of people to overtake. Between 11 and 12 miles the course then returned into the centre of Cambridge and the crowds lifted me even more. I was also strangely helped by a police motorbike who seemed to decide it was going to ride alongside me or a while and without knowing became a bit of a personal pacing vehicle! At 12 miles I got my biggest boost though, I turned a slight bend and saw someone I thought I recognised in the crowd. As I was squinting at the faces, they then burst up like a jack in a box and shouted ‘Go Alice!’ It was my friend from Run Club and I was quite impressed I had actually semi-identified them before they made themselves known!
With a mile left to go now I really pushed the pace; I knew I was running very strong as I passed a lot of runners (I actually ran a 7 min/mile for my final split it turns out!) The final stretches looped past another University of Cambridge campus, Jesus College, before turning into the home straight. I was pleased this section of the old half marathon route remained; a long, straight and wide road heading toward the finish archway. It reminds me of The Mall at the London Marathon every time and I feel such energy as I run along it. I knew a sub 1.40 time was in the bag at this point, I was just chasing down any last remaining seconds.
I crossed the line in 1:37:48 and instantly felt really happy, especially with my strong finish. My half marathon PB is 1:35:23, so I was a little away from that, but then I had not expected to be on form for this either, so was not disappointed. I waited just after the finish arch for my sister to finish and we went and found her boyfriend, who had crossed the line a while before me. Perhaps my only slight gripe about Cambridge Half Marathon remains this finish section; you have to walk a long way before being offered water and some people may be in urgent need of drink. Eventually mulling over the race over our plastic cups of water (maybe another area of improvement here too!) we were all pleased with our performances, although my sister who is generally pretty hard on herself perhaps wanted a little bit closer to the 1:40 marker!
I have to say, the new Cambridge Half Marathon route was great, keeping the same atmosphere and also incorporating some great landmarks and spectator points. With the new waved start, I definitely recommend it as a half marathon to experience. Cambridge Half Marathon is not cheap to enter however and the hefty entry fee nearly put me off this year, but maybe as a special treat it can be one to include in your racing calendar.
Looking back now Cambridge Half Marathon weekend certainly feels like a treat, and I hope there will be another race for me to enjoy sometime in the months ahead and when the world is ready.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...