I am just going outside … to run Cambridge half marathon*

Waayyyyy back in November my wife’s cousin (Dave) contacted me to say that the entries for Cambridge half marathon were due to open in a few weeks and would I fancy running it with him and my wife’s other cousin, Edd… erm ok!

As far as entries for Cambridge half marathon (CHM) go, I had no real issues getting a place (apart from stomaching the £42 entry fee that didn’t even include a t-shirt!) but it seemed from the messages later that morning that there were a lot of pissed off people who had not managed to get an entry due to the system crashing and/or the event selling out very quickly.

I think I’m right in saying that CHM entries are open for 3 days. Day 1 is for local people to enter (this is a local race for local people) – those with a Cambridgeshire postcode. Day 2 is for the general population who have pre-registered and then any remaining entries (no chance!) are put out there on day 3. It would appear that some people believed that they were guaranteed a place because they had pre-registered, but all pre-registration did was got you an email to let you know when the entry system was open.

I’ve come to realise that the half marathon distance is my favourite distance and running Cambridge has just confirmed that. It’s long enough to get your teeth into but short enough to be home for lunch. Psychologically it works for me – it often takes me a good 4 or 5 miles to settle in so by the time my watch ticks over the 10k mark i know I’m pretty much half way. Then by the time i see mile 9 my head is getting into that all too familiar ‘pretty much just a parkrun left’ territory.

We wanted to make the most of the weekend by getting there on the Friday so that’s how we came to find ourselves driving down the A1 at 10pm, on a Friday evening after work, kids in tow. There was another benefit to us going Friday – I’ve always wanted to visit Cambridge so i could go to the Polar museum so I was secretly hoping I could slope off for an hour on the Saturday for a visit. I’m happy to bore you with a bit of that further on 🙂

On Saturday morning we all headed to the park. I was amazed at the amount of people who row in Cambridge (boats, not argue). I didn’t realise just how popular it was. I was also loving the amount of people on bicycles. I know it’s a university city but there were people on bikes everywhere, of all ages , many of them carrying their children on rear seats or in front compartments. That’s so far away from the norm in Middlesbrough .. ok people may walk to the local shops (or get a taxi if it’s more than 20 metres) but they’ll do that in their pyjama’s. If it were up to me I’d just give those people a lethal injection but Asda would end up closing down and I can’t have those job losses on my conscience.

Nobody else wanted to come to the polar museum with me (I know .. huge surprise 😊) so I left the others to go to the park and I walked across town to the museum before walking back to the house myself.

Suitably fuelled up on chicken, pasta and rice from the night before, we set off at 8.20am on the 1.5 mile walk to the start. I had my trusty bagel with peanut butter to eat on the walk. It was already pissing down and feeling a little chilly so it was with some trepidation when we got there that I stripped down to my shorts and vest so I could leave my bag of warm gear (and Yazoo) in the baggage tent for after the run. Obviously being a northerner, and wearing my NYMAC vest, I did my best to look tough (which is not easy given my frame).

After a wee and a quick warm up all 3 of us got ourselves into the start pen… with the 1:30 pacer to our right.

Dave has a PB on this course of 1:18 and even though he hadn’t been training I knew he’d still run under 90 minutes. Edd had done no running whatsoever since the Great North Run last September so he was aiming to get round comfortably in around 1:40.

My original plan when I signed up was to go for the sub 90 (having missed it by 7 seconds in my last half marathon) but I just didn’t commit to the training over winter so i knew that was off the cards. No amount of race-day adrenalin was going to get me round that quick so my plan was to start with the 1:30 pacer, see how it goes and be prepared to make a call to ease off at some point.
I was interested to see what I could do pretty much just turning up on the back of 10/20 mile weeks and no dedicated half marathon training. Having ran Solihull half last April on similar mileage – finishing in 1:33 – i made that my target.

The first 3.5 miles of the route takes you out from the start and then right back through the town centre. The course gets quite narrow in places and there’s A LOT of spectators lining the route so you naturally push on and go with it. The pace didn’t feel too bad for the first couple of miles but 4 miles in and once out of the town I knew that I was going to have to let the pacer go or I’d land myself in a whole heap of trouble later on in the race. Once I’d made that decision I felt the weight off my shoulders and from that point it was just an exercise in keeping moving as well as I could, try to enjoy the race and hopefully get in under the 1:33.

Out of town the course makes a loop out into the countryside. I seemed to be quite settled around 7:10/mi pace without too much trouble. There were plenty of water stations all offering water and gels. I took water on at each station but i had three of my own gels which i planned to take at 3, 6 and 9 miles. Normally I wouldn’t use them for a half marathon (not 3 anyway) but they don’t give me any stomach issues and quite frankly, i was happy to take anything that might help me.

The loop finally brings you back into Cambridge at around the 9.5 mile mark at the same place you left the town earlier. I like this because even with 4 miles to go it’s a boost to get back into the town with the crowds lining the streets – you start to think you’re almost done … the finish line won’t be long .. but of course you still have almost 30 minutes of running ahead of you so you have to be careful you don’t get carried away and kick too soon.

I was feeling good at this point so I was making a conscious effort to keep an eye on my pace. It can easily drift at this point as tiredness creeps in. As I was coming back through the town i passed Alex and the kids again which was a lovely little boost – I had assumed they’d be waiting at the finish line for me by now. My son was shouting at me to ‘run faster’ (sound advice … it beats the old favourite of ‘keep going’. Thanks, that is my intention). My kid’s other favourite when I’m going running is ‘don’t fall over’. Again, solid advice that I try to take on board.

After a small kick up over Elizabeth Way Bridge in the final mile you turn and head down hill and from there it’s a half mile sprint to the finish line where i still managed to make up a few numbers.

I crossed the line in 1:33:55. A fraction slower than I would have liked but I felt good all the way – keeping on the pace and picking people off in the final miles.

It’s a really nice course and i doubt you’d find one much flatter. I made the right decision, at the right time to ease off the pace. I’ve barely ran anything over 8 miles since Christmas so there was always a chance the last few miles could have been pretty miserable so I’m pleased with the overall result.
If you want to run it make sure you pre-register and be there at 9am ready on the day it opens.

Looking a bit more comfortable than that guy behind me

Now, on to more important things 😊

Scott Polar museum

If you’ve read this post you’ll have a fair idea that I’m a bit of an Antarctic polar explorer bore so as I mentioned earlier, a trip to Cambridge had to mean a visit to the Scott Polar museum so on Saturday morning I made good my escape and off I went. The museum is completely free and houses a range of objects, artworks, photographs and among other things – Captain Scott’s final letters. I’ve added a few photographs .. I don’t want to write too much or i won’t stop so all I’ll say is that if you’re ever in Cambridge I’d recommend a visit (you don’t have to be a nerd like me to appreciate it)

*sorry, had to be done

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