If I am honest, I was not truly feeling Cambridge Half Marathon in the days leading up to race day. It had been a tough week for all manner of reasons, more of which here, and I was simply very tired. The runner in me wanted a race day and the enjoyment, challenge and test it brings; but the other, perhaps you could say, more human side of me just wanted a rest. I had planned to run Cambridge Half Marathon in further support of my Brighton Marathon training, and because it also offers an opportunity to visit my parents, who live not too far away in Suffolk. Despite my reservations, it turned out that Cambridge Half Marathon was actually exactly what I needed…
Sometimes I wonder what my parents think of their running obsessed daughter – do they get what running means to me? I think they do; and I hope they know how special it is for me when I know they are coming to support me run. Waking up Sunday morning I did however feel a little guilty that I was dragging them out the house so early, in miserable March weather, to glimpse me a few times run through some streets…! It was not a pleasant day; cool and grey with a persistent rain in the air and the threat of gale force winds approaching. I was not sure what I was expecting from my performance; I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself, but I also wanted to try and remain close to my time from a couple of weeks ago – a 1:35:23 at Leicestershire Half Marathon. My time at Leicestershire was in fact a new PB, but I think I knew deep down before I even ran that I was not going to be challenging that today. That was ok though; this was part of my training after all.
Cambridge Half Marathon is a well organised event and we arrived in good time on the efficient park and ride system. My parents were a little horrified by the lengthy portaloo queues (a sight us runners are quite used to!) but the lines moved quickly, and before I knew it, I was waving my umbrella clad supporters goodbye and heading to the start wrapped in a very unflattering plastic poncho. It was here it hit me just how many runners were taking part in the event, as masses joined the start line. I had ran the event last year, but after the infamous ‘Beast from the East’ I think some had stayed away (I later looked and saw that there in fact an extra 1300 runners this year). One in the start pens, one of my favourite athletes Jo Pavey gave us the starting signal, and I began to run.
I say I began to run, but in fact I began to weave, dart, jog, walk and even stop during the first 2 miles. The start was incredibly narrow on single side Cambridge roads and it was a little bit ridiculous at times; on a couple of turns we actually came to a complete standstill. This did not help me settle into the race, my pace was all over, and I felt like I was probably annoying other runners trying to get past when I needed to. After two miles the course thinned slightly, which I was extra pleased about as it meant I could focus on spotting my parents, who I waved madly at like an excited child.
After 3 miles the course left the city centre of Cambridge and headed out toward a village called Granchester. The roads widened here and I felt I could finally get some running rhythm. Although I found my stride, I could feel my legs were not as sharp as a couple of weeks ago when I last raced 13.1 miles. I did not let this bother me, and instead focused on running as well as I could and not obsess over pace differences. I liked the rural sections of this part of the course, which loops out before returning back to Cambridge city centre at about 9 miles, and it featured a nice mix of gradient and lots of pockets of supporters. Arriving back into Cambridge though I could feel the energy from my legs starting to fade.
Up until mile 10 my splits had all been reasonably consistent and below 7.30 min/mile pace, even with the slow start. I think the start rather than slowing my average pace had actually just made me run less efficiently, running in bursts rather than steadily conserving energy. As mile 10 ticked over on my watch I knew I was going to have to fight for the finish. Thankfully the course weaves back through the city centre at this point and the crowds lifted me, as did the knowledge my parents would be on the roadside around mile 11. My quads felt like heavy masses at this point with absolutely no power, and my pace felt like it had slowed much more than it had – just keep moving. I spotted my mum and dad and they brought a smile to my probably pained face. I gestured it was hard, but it was also equally hard not to be spurred on by their own smiles beaming back at me and the pride in their eyes.
The final two miles was tough work, especially running over a relatively gentle bridge which at this point in time felt like Mount Everest to my limbs! As my watch hit 12 miles though I found that little bit of something, picking off runners until I turned into the finishing stretch. This part of the course reminds me of The Mall in the London Marathon. It’s a long road with supporters lining both sides, and like in London, the finish archway just never seems to appear on the horizon when you want it! I pushed hard down this section, somehow finding something more in my legs. I was relieved to make it to the line – although my body hurt a lot even when I stopped running!
I stumbled to the side barrier and waited for my parents who had made a swift move from Mile 11 to watch my finish. What they must have thought now of their daughter I do not know – I was an exhausted and slightly delirious mess! Their faces looked more like concern now, but I was actually alright – just very tired! My mum asked if I was happy and I instantly said yes; my finish time was 1:37:49, and I was very pleased to run another sub 1.40 half marathon, especially when I had not felt my best all week. It was a very pleasing result in fact.
I slowly walked through the finish area to collect my medal and a jam packed goody bag, as well as carefully carrying a pint of the alcohol free beer that races seem to like to give out (I hate it!), which I thought I would reward my dad with! I met my soggy supporters again and posed for a few photos with my latest piece of running bling. After a tough week and a tough run the best part was that I now had people to look after me post-race. Arriving back at my parents house and after a warm shower, I relaxed with my feet up watching football on TV with my dad and then athletics, all whilst being fed some of my mums delicious homemade cooking and baking. I even got to lie in on Monday morning until the crazy time of 7.30am! I needed this weekend, I needed to share what I love with the people I love, and it sounds almost ridiculous, but I think I needed just to feel loved too.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...