Cambridge Town and Gown 10K – A New Personal Best Time

I look around at the start of the race and there’s a sea of orange stretching before and behind me. This is a race organised to benefit Muscular Dystrophy UK and they’ve requested that people wear the orange that represents that charity. I’ve dug out my Wicked Walden tee shirt in which I blend in nicely with the background throng. Now how often have you heard someone claiming to blend in to anywhere in an eye searingly orange tee shirt.

We set off with the usual shuffle. There’s a lot of stepping around and about as I try to find a way through. Even as we turn left onto Chesterton road and have one entire side of the road to ourselves it’s still quite difficult to find enough room to run at your own pace.

I take a quick inventory of my aches and pains for today. I have a bit of a hamstring pain in my left leg. This makes a bit of a change as it’s usually the right leg. My left foot is also uncomfortable. I’m considering whether I should stop and loosen the laces. I figure it’s only a 10K so I may as well just cope with it and keep going.

I think it was somewhere on Chesterton Road that I first spotted the people running in onesies. I think one of them was a tiger and the other was some kind of blue dinosaur with purple spots on it. They were a little way in front of me so I gritted my teeth, increased the speed and shuffled on by, leakingsparadeving them to choke on my dust. We ran back into the city centre past King College Chapel and the Senate House. Carrie was there waiting with the camera and, of course, I couldn’t resist a bit of a pose.

Kings College is also doing a bit of posing there in the background but it does it much more naturally than I.

We then turned on to Jesus lane and watched a line of traffic that was going nowhere until the race ended. It contained many quietly simmering drivers trying to kill us with their eyes. We waved and smiled merrily as we passed by. We turned left on to Victoria Avenue and were greeted by the welcome sight of the drinks station. You probably don’t really need a drink of water on a 10K in October but psychologically it feels really good. I always grab a drink of water whether I need one or not. it gives me a real boost. Then we turned on to Jesus Green. I was feeling reasonably good although starting to slow down a little. Then horror of horrors the tiger and dinosaur onesie people came cruising past me. I was a little rocked back. I’d passed these people as if they were standing still earlier in the race. Had I really slowed down so much? Had they speeded up? I saw them run off into the distance and felt a little deflated. I’d thought I was going well and then the onesie people showed my poor effort for what it was. A little bit more of this whining and psychic self mutilation went on and then I managed to push it all to the side. I could still see the onesie people in the distance. Why don’t I try chasing them down.

I increased my speed bit by bit. I could see that the tiger and dinosaur were no longer pulling away from me although still quite a distance in front. I held that gap for the next two kilometres as we ran along the river and back to Elizabeth Way Bridge. There was another drink there which I grabbed gratefully and then surged on. We were only two kilometres away from the finish now and I still had some energy to spare. The onesie people were still about 500 yards in front of me and I gritted my teeth and increased the speed. It seemed that they were doing likewise. I was passing other people but the Tiger and Dinosaur still taunted me from their position of dominance.

Damn them and their furry coats.

I ran down the side of the Grafton centre and I could now see the finish line on Midsummer Common and a little bit later there was the 9 kilometre marker. Right – now is the time. There’s only one kilometre left. This is my last chance. I turned right along Victoria Avenue and I see that I’m catching them up. This is now beginning to look possible. I can do it. I will beat these onesie people. It just takes a little more pain and a dollop of agony.

I turned right on to Midsummer Common and the gap has now decreased substantially. I surged forward and as we zig-zagged across the common I caught and passed them. All I had to do was to keep up the pace for another few hundred yards. I saw Carrie on the left as I pushed on toward the finish and I tried to catch sight of the time clock but far too many people had decided that this was a good place to stand. It looked like it might be 56 minutes and something but I’m not sure.

I cross the line and am busily pressing buttons on my phone trying to get some information. It is frustratingly slow to update so I give it a moment. I collect my tee shirt, water and medal. Then Richard and Carrie find me. They reckon I’ve done well and may have a new PB. Strava eventually did update and I saw the magical numbers, 56:05. That’s a new personal best for me by a looong way. I’ve been progressively getting better and better 10K times this year. First at St Ives where I got 57:52 which I was delighted at. Then I got Saffron Walden where I romped home in 57:25 and thought was the pinnacle of my efforts.  This time I had managed 10K in 56:05 which was better than I would ever have dreamed.

photo 5 (3)Thank you soooo much to those people dressed as Tiger and Dinosaur that gave me that extra incentive to push that little bit harder.

I got a new personal best and Richard, Jackie, Carrie and I went to the Castle pub on Castle hill to celebrate with Adnams beer and Castle burgers. Chris Newell joined us later and he had good news too. He jumped straight into running with marathons and half marathons and had never done a 10K before. Chris got a personal best but that’s not entirely surprising as he’d never run a 10K before. He ran 44:10 and seemed pleased with that.

As for me – I’m still doing the happy dance over 56:05. It’s far faster than I would have ever dreamed of. Thank you Tiger and Dinosaur.

Wish I’d have got a photo of them.



London Marathon – The Decision to run for Save The Rhino

I got the magazine – you know the one – from Virgin London Marathon and it said ‘Sorry’ on the front cover. it’s a very nice magazine full of fascinating information about the London marathon, how to train and how to fuel for a marathon but it still says ‘Sorry’ on the front cover. It means that you don’t get to run in the London Marathon.

I was, well shall we say disappointed.

I decided at that point that I wouldn’t apply for a charity place. That meant that I wouldn’t run in the London Marathon. I’ve entered for Edinburgh next year and I would be happy for that to be my first marathon. It’s a great city and a great course. I’m sure that I’ll love it.

The decision stayed like that for some time but then I began reading the ‘Sorry’ magazine. I saw some of the really great fundraising ideas and thought how much I might enjoy doing some of that stuff. I noticed that one of the charities was ‘Save The Rhino’. As a long time fan of Douglas Adams I have encountered ‘Save The Rhino’ many times. Douglas was a founder member of the charity. However, I felt that it was probably too much to take on at the moment and I was worried about hassling my family and friends to give me donations for the next 6 months.

It was left like that for a couple of days and then Carrie says to me – “you rhinologoknow Save The Rhino are one of the London Marathon Charities?” I said that I was fully cognizant of this. “Wouldn’t you like to run for Save The Rhino?” Well of course I would like to but there were so many potential problems. The main one was that I thought I wouldn’t be able to raise much money. I’d been looking through some of the requirements for other charity places on the marathon and most asked for a 100 pounds registration fee and a pledge to raise at least 2000 pounds. How on earth could I possibly raise 2000 pounds. Carrie waved away my protests. She was buzzing with ideas for raising money and getting people interested in both the charity and my attempt at running a marathon.

There are times when Carrie gets an idea in her head and at those times she suddenly becomes a nuclear powered, unstoppable train, going downhill. She assailed me with so many positive ideas and notions that I was soon swept up in the joy of it all. Moments later I’m in front of a computer screen picking my way through the application process. Save the Rhino, along with the other London Marathon charities have only a limited number of places so they need to make sure they get the best fundraisers that they possibly can. For Save The Rhino in particular this is their biggest single fundraising event of the year so  it’s extremely important to make it count. Such thinking is all very laudable but it does mean that the application process is very much akin to applying for a job. It involves a certain amount of blood, sweat and tears to sell yourself sufficiently that they’ll take you on. I wept those tears, sweated that blood and put together what I hoped would be a decent application. Save the Rhino saw my application and judged that it was good. Only a couple of days later they wrote and offered me a place. I had a few more hoops to jump through and a couple of hurdles and a few poly tunnels to crawl through and I was in.

A London Marathon runner am I.

Now to raise the 2500 pounds that I promised to do in my application. This is a terrifyingly large amount of money to ask for from my friends and family. Most of them are struggling through this recession trying to live frugally and avoid extravagance. I put together my fundraising page and Carrie kicked it off with the first donation. Over the next couple of days more people joined in and after less than a week I find that I’m over a fifth of the way toward my target.

I have some wonderfully generous friends. Thank you very much.

I’m much more hopeful now that I can achieve my fundraising target for Save The Rhino and possibly even surpass it.

There is also the small matter of attempting to run 26.22 miles. A distance I’ve never run before and a distance that seems further than my mind can contemplate.

So you’re probably now desperate to hand over some money to help me reach my target and also to contribute toward the conservation of this few remaining rhino.

It’s easy – just head over to this page

and donate.


Thank you very much

The Blenheim Half Marathon

This run was a little further afield than I’ve gone previously. This one was primarily about the place and its connection to a hero of mine, John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. Take a look at my podcast series here if you want to see the full horror of my fanboy obsession.

We booked a room to stay in Woodstock after the race and a car to get there so at 07:30 in the morning we were on our way. Many roundabouts later (you have to pass through the edges of the dastardly Milton Keynes) we arrived, parked up and then stumbled about in the atmospheric mists to find the race start.


Blenheim Palace, even shrouded in mist looked a splendid sight. It’s a building that invokes mixed emotions in many. It is an extremely grand and imposing building but does get rather carried away with Baroque twirly bits. The words subtle and Blenheim Palace are rarely used in the same sentence. I adore it and felt a warm glow of joy and affection for the building and its grounds as I walked down to the start line. I’m also feeling considerable affection for my wife Carrie, who is with me, offering invaluable support, taking pictures and trying not to mention how worried she is about me running with such a stinking cold.

jimover2hoursWe are given a choice at the start as to whether we’re under two hour runners or over. With a personal best of 2:12:42 from the Cambridge Half Marathon I have to put myself in the over 2 hour pens while all the speedy folk line push forward closer to the start line.

10:30 and we’re off. The speedy runners move and then it’s our turn. There was a bit of a panic while the marshal tried to tear the plastic strip that kept us in our pen. She didn’t succeed but people jumped in to help and slid it to the ground so we could jump over it.

We ran over the bridge toward the Blenheim Victory Column and then turned left up the first of what were to be a surprising number of hills. Don’t get me wrong – these aren’t huge vertical inclines. They are more like undulations than hills but I live in Cambridge. It’s nearly all flat here so we’re likely to even refer to speed bumps as hills. I am however starting to develop a technique for these undulations that seems to help a little. Running downhill can be quite painful. The books all tell me that I can ease this pain by turning my legs over fast and making it into some kind of semi-controlled falling action. It sounds bizarre but it actually does seem to work and it means I go a lot faster downhill than I normally would. The difficulty I found today, was with my breathing. My chest felt really clogged up so when I did my faster downhill descents I was reaching for deeper breaths, failing and then gasping like a beached fish. I must have looked like I was having a heart attack.

We were running around a loop and I was seeing signs that said 6 kilometres. My  goodness, thinks I, we’ve gone further than I thought. A little later I saw a sign for 3 miles and was terribly confused. The kilometres kept clocking up but the miles were sadly lacking. I eventually figured out that the kilometre markers were for the 10K race later in the day. I should ignore these and only take notice of the mile markers.


We headed out of the grounds onto a road. Half of it had been closed so we were protected from the traffic by a row of traffic cones standing silent sentry guard from encroaching homicidal motor vehicles. There were more hills but also more mile markers. When you set off on a half marathon run the 13 miles seems a ridiculously long way away. There’s no point looking towards the end as it’s just too far away to contemplate. At about 7 miles all that suddenly changes. You start to realise that the end, if not in sight, is actually somewhere that you could reach and you might not even die of exhaustion and despair on the way. The 7 and 8 mile markers came along in quick succession but then I got an entirely new pain afflicting me. The call of nature didn’t so much beckon as thwap me in the stomach making immediate demands. I nipped off into a field to pee and then jumped back into the race trying desperately to look as nonchalant as possible whilst giving off the impression that I’d just nipped into the hedge to investigate an interesting looking berry. I suspect not one single person was fooled.

Unfortunately the peeing helped not a jot. There were more significant movements going on down there and I was extremely uncomfortable. I could do nothing more than try to push these feelings aside. The end was only around 50 minutes away. Surely nothing really horrendous would happen before then. My imagination begged to differ and was absolutely certain something downright horrible was going to happen right here and right now. This battle continued throughout the rest of the run. It was extremely unpleasant but that’s all just part of the experience.

Despite the discomfort the miles kept dropping away and I soon began to hear the crowds around the finish line. The sound would tease and tantalise as I drew closer and then seemed to veer away and then back again. A couple of twists and turns later and I can see the grand house in the distance. Up the hill we go and I hear the announcer shouting my name. I grit my teeth and surge forwards. I am looking from left to right but there’s no sign of my wife Carrie. I stagger across the line, grab my medal and a bottle of water.

Wandering across toward the lake to find somewhere to sit down for a bit, medal
Carrie finds and congratulates me. It seems I’ve caught her unawares. I’ve finished much sooner than she expected. It’s looking like a new personal best. I am pleased but there’s another urgent matter that is pressing hard upon. I disappear into the visitor centre in search of a public convenience. What happened inside there is too diabolical to relate here. I think we should perhaps just pull the veil over this and just say that all ended happily without loss of life or limb.

I had the time confirmed later as 2:09:08