Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Cambridge half marathon - race report!

 I did it! I made it round! I didn’t stop and fall down with just a mile to go (I very nearly did though). And, I didn’t get a PB but I did get my 2nd fastest half marathon time of 2:00:47 (so close to sub-2, yet so impossibly far). Given that just a few weeks ago, I was on the verge of pulling out altogether, I’m pretty ecstatic about what I achieved. Huzzah!

Altogether, it was always going to be a tough race for me. I’m still slightly injured from the terrible are-they-aren’t-they fake Asics incident (turns out, not fake, but more on that in a bit). I was wearing brand new shoes as a result, which started to get a bit uncomfortable around mile 10. I wasn’t in top form because I haven’t been running as much as normal because of injury and travel. And, the weather was unseasonable warm, hitting 18C while we were out on course, and I’ve not run in anything close to that since some time last summer. I do better in cooler temperatures as I quickly start to feel dehydrated and overheated in warm weather. It’s all terribly British of me. Saying that, the weather this year was FAR PREFERABLE to last years snowy, freezing, mud bath of an event, even If I did run faster then :)

As for the day itself, it all started reasonably well. I had some insomnia issues overnight, so I wasn’t as rested as I would have liked, but my legs felt fresh from a week of tapering, and I was feeling positive about the run. I was staying at a holiday apartment just 10 minutes from the start of the race with two friends, one of whom was also running (Melissa), the other was supporting us after withdrawing with an injury (Sarah). Melissa and I had a brief wardrobe crisis as we realised that it was looking like shorts weather. We both had shorts with us, but this would be the first time we were busting them out. I hate making changes on race day, even small ones. In the end, we both opted for shorts, and I’m so glad we did! There were a number of others on the course who had stuck with their winter tights and long sleeved tops. They did not look comfortable.

We meandered over to the start line for 9am (30 minutes before the start) where we met up with my Cambridge running buddy, Anne. After that, we spent the rest of the 30 minutes queuing for the toilet, as is tradition, before sprinting to the start line with a minute to spare (also tradition, especially when Anne is running!).

The event itself was really well organised. One Step Beyond have been managing it since its inception 3 years ago, and have done a great job year after year. I always take part in their post race survey, and they always take any comments or criticisms on board, and make the small changes suggested. The route is also pretty nice. It’s 2 loops around the city centre, and takes in the picturesque colleges, the Backs, Jesus Green and Midsummer Common for the start/finish. The course can get a bit narrow, meaning you bunch together at times, but by and large it’s a pretty fast course (at least I’ve always run fast there). And support (especially through town and on the common) is strong too, which can be very important when you suddenly hit a wall at mile 11 or so. Also, as I’d run the course before, I knew exactly what to expect, which makes me feel more relaxed at the beginning of a race.

After our 1 minute recovery from sprinting to the start line, the horn sounded and we were off! I started out running the first couple of kilometres with Anne, which is unusual because she’s much faster than me. But once the pack opened up a bit, we said our goodbyes and she raced off. I was running pretty comfortably at a 5:30 min/km pace, which I was happy about. If I could just maintain that, I’d get round in under 2 hours, which was far better than I could have hoped for a few weeks earlier. I found the heat a bit difficult at times, but I took on a lot of water, both from my own supply, and at the excellent feed stations that were scattered throughout the course. I really liked the water pouches they were handing out. They were already opened, and easy to drink from, run with, and spray yourself with (a must for a hot day). And, they led to my ‘comedy moment of the day’. I was running alongside some guys who I was having a bit of informal chatter with. After grabbing water pouches at the feed station, one of them exclaimed that he couldn’t figure out how to get the water out, and his friend was failing to offer good advice, so I chimed in:

Me – “You’ve got to suck it and squeeze it!”

Them - exchange looks of mild horror and shock

Me – “Uh… that sounded a little inappropriate… I was talking about the water pouch”

Them - much laughter

Me – “This is a family event after all, keep it clean guys.”

Then I accelerated and left them behind. Who doesn’t love a bit of innuendo during a race :)

Me, demonstrating how to keep cool with the 'suck it and squeeze it' water pouch outside King's college

The miles continued to chug away nicely. I had supporters in the crowd at miles 6 (my mum and stepdad) the 5th/11th mile (my friend Wis), and the final sprint (Sarah, Alan, and the Sweaty Betty’s), and this gave me a nice extra boost on each occasion. Around mile 10 I started to feel incredibly confident that I would break 2 hours, as I currently had a fair bit of time in hand, meaning I could slow down substantially and still make it. But then, everything fell apart…

Just after mile 11, I went from feeling relaxed and in control, to exhausted and ready to throw in the towel. It happened so suddenly, and I’m not sure what tripped it. But there I was, with sore feet, a painful hip and no energy to speak of. My pace plummeted, and the 2 hour goal looked increasingly unlikely. Things hit a complete low in the 12th mile where you have to run over a bridge one way, then immediately turn around and hit it again. I had to walk the bridge the second time, and motivating myself to start back up was pretty tough. But I told myself that, if I did, I could still beat my 2nd best half marathon of all time (also ran in Cambridge, in a time of 2:01:05). So I gritted my teeth and pushed forwards. From there, it was all a bit of a blur. I saw Alan and the Betties, and responded to their cheers with an overly dramatic cry of ‘I’m going to die!’, then I saw Sarah cheering me on and lining up a photo of my glorious finishing sprint, which encouraged me to force a happy smile and slightly less terrible form for posterity. Evidently I maintained this for the remainder of the race, because I look determined and strong in my finishing photos, although arguably I was feeling more like the chap behind me… and my finishing time of 02:00:47 was very welcome indeed! Especially as I felt that there were no changes I could have made on the day to take off 48 seconds and make it under 2 hours. And so, it felt like a big victory!

Looking strong! Feeling like the guy behind me :)

After crawling out of the finishing area, I met up with my friends, both of whom had fantastic races. Anne got a new PB of 1:43, and Melissa ran in 1:53, below her 1:55 target. So, naturally, we did what all sensible people do after a satisfying run. Showered and headed to the pub with our supporters for a delicious lunch and a few beers. A great end to a wonderful day :)

Shoe-gate update!

My last post talked about my suspect running shoes. While sold as Asics GT-2000, they were so different from my previous shoes of the same model (in terms of their size, shape and material) that I suspected they were fake or faulty. At the very least, they were no longer good for me, having caused a number of injuries. Having investigated this more thoroughly (via Google and in-shop testing of the same model), it appears that these shoes are genuine, but are a redesign of the GT-2000 model I knew and loved. Normally Asics changes a digit when they make significant changes to a shoe, but not this time. If they had, I would have been more likely to try them, rather than just buying them. I would also have become suspicious of them much quicker than I did, and would have swapped to a different shoe sooner. But what’s done is done. I replaced the offending shoes with some New Balance 870 v3s. And I love them! Super light and very comfortable. Hopefully these will spell a conclusive end to my injury woes!

New shoes!


  1. Fantastic blog of the Cambridge Half race day, and great photos! Plus, lots of good lessons to be taken from this too: the race isn't over until it's over, no matter how good you are feeling in mile 11. It's all about pace - important for us all to bear in mind for the big goal in September!

  2. Thanks! I think it is also about strength... need to work on those core muscles to keep me upright when I get tired. Probably all the other muscles too... ;)