I absolutely adore the Cambridge Half Marathon. It’s a grand occasion, a celebration of running and a celebration of just being in this glorious city.
We were on Midsummer Common about an hour before the start and soon began to meet our regular running pals. It was a little more difficult to connect up this year as the event has doubled in size. They have changed the route so that it goes out into a couple of the nearby villages in a wide sweeping loop. That means they don’t have to worry about runners getting all tangled up with each other on the double loop that they had before.
There is a really handy meeting place for us in that the shop ‘Up and Running’ has their own stall this year and is displaying a giant flag that draws us in like moths to a nice quiet mothy spot where we can hang out with other moths without worrying about this moth flame that everyone talks about. Darryl and George from the shop are both there. Richard, myself and Carrie all stand about chatting to other runners asking how they feel and what time they are aiming for. John is injured and can’t join in this year. Steve is quite distraught that he won’t be able to run. He’d been training really hard and was hoping for a good time in this race. Unfortunately he was riding his bike when the chain came off. He was pitched forward over the handlebars and suffered a wide variety and fascinating and painful injuries. All of which made us wince in the retelling.
It’s a cold cold day so we’re quite pleased when the time rolls around and we are summoned to join in with the complicated process of getting into the right colour coded groups. I am in red group which is the very slowest of the groups. Richard leaves me to join yellow group. It’s an odd system in that anyone who reckons they will take longer than two hours is put into red group. That means that this group has people of a very wide variety of abilities, from those who are pushing close to two hours to people who will stagger in around 3 hours and longer. It’s a big group that could possibly benefit from being broken down a little more.
We are yelled at for some time by the chap on the microphone who wants us all to bunch up so that we can fit on the road. The umpty thousand (about six thousand apparently) people who are here don’t seem to fit in the space they’ve marked out for us. We shuffle, we bunch we look confused and make noises of incomprehension and bafflement and eventually someone, somewhere makes the decision to start the race. People move off but we red group at the back don’t have much notion of what’s going on way up there at the start line. We sidle along here and then stumble back there and suddenly we are moving toward the start. The people who could not get onto the road to begin the race are now joining us from the side and there is quite a squash.
We’re thrilled to be off but it’s just so crowded out here that you can only trot forward slowly with little choppy strides as you are afraid of treading on your fellow runners all around you. It is frustrating but I realise that this is how it’s going to be until we begin to thin out a little. I run up to the Elizabeth Way Bridge and we are slowed to a walk again as our path narrows. We see Arco Eris on the bridge and they are making a gloriously rambunctious noise. (Tip for race organisers, if we could have percussion bands all the way around then that would be just great).
We turn left from Elizabeth Way Bridge on to Chesterton Road and just as we’re on that corner I see people in front of me waving toward one of the upper floor flats. There are a couple of silver balloons and a silver haired woman in the window waving at us. The balloons are both in the shape of zero so I wonder if there was another balloon somewhere with the number one. This running fan may have been a centenarian. I waved at her too and this wave of interaction carried on as far as I could see. Poor woman must have been quite exhausted with all that waving but I’ll bet she felt like a queen.
We run down Chesterton road now but the choppy stumbling continues as we try to settle into our own pace. I give up trying to move through the field and settle back to wait until we get the chance to stretch out a little.
There’s a sharp left turn back along Bridge Street and we are heading into the centre of Cambridge The noise of the crowd is quite deafening. I’m trying to pick out people I know in the crowd but it’s all quite disorientating. I’m assaulted by noise from all sides and there are runners everywhere. It’s all so confusing that I almost miss the first water point. There’s a real crush to get water but I managed to grab a bottle. I don’t take a gel as I find the High 5 Energy Gels a bit too sweet. I have a supply of 3 Shotblocks in my pouch and reckon that is about right for me when I’m doing 13 miles.
We pass by the Round Church and then turn right on Market Street. I see Carrie there but she doesn’t recognise me at first. Maybe she is overwhelmed by the sheer mass of people also or maybe she’s just not admitting that she knows me.
We turned left on to Kings Parade and the view is as always absolutely gorgeous. Kings College must be one of the most iconic buildings in England. Truly a splendid sight.
As we run out along Trumpington Road I start to find a little bit more space around me. I can’t yet run at the pace that I would like to but I am starting to move through the field a little. I pass a pink flamingo here. It’s a very ungainly looking bird but seems to be enjoying itself.
We turn right then and we are heading toward the picturesque little village of Grantchester. There is another large crowd here at the turn all cheering us on and a sign that says ‘food stop’. It points to a barbecue grill but I’m not sure I’ve earned a burger quite yet. Just slightly further on there is a water point and I’m prepared for it this time. I am running quite slowly and it’s downright chilly out here so I don’t feel that I need the water. However, I grab a bottle and it gives me a real psychological boost.
We enter the village and I encounter the 2:15 pacer. He’s running along nice and easy pointing out landmarks as we pass by. That’s Geoffrey Archer’s house there he says waving toward the Old Vicarage. There are some questions about who the statue is that we can see through the gates. I guess that it might be Rupert Brooke and googling later find that it is. Rupert Brooke immortalised this village and the Old Vicarage in his poem, ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester. Here’s snippet from it:
God! I will pack, and take a train,
And get me to England once again!
For England’s the one land, I know,
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go;
And Cambridgeshire, of all England,
The shire for Men who Understand;
And of that district I prefer
The lovely hamlet Grantchester.
Of course the lines that most people remember are the last two:
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?
I am really enjoying my run now. There is more room to move and we are curving around to join Barton Road. I check my watch and it shows I am some way behind schedule. It would take a lot to hit my half marathon PB. I resolve to speed up a bit but reckon there’s no point pushing really hard as I am over half way through and there’s just too much to make up.
We turn back toward Cambridge and all around me runners are making comments about being able to see the city in the distance.It’s a cheering sight to see that we are now heading back in the right direction.
All the way down Barton Road we run and eventually arrive back in Cambridge. Turning on to Fen Causeway I remember how I felt last year at a similar point. My legs had turned to jelly and I was just dragging myself on to the finish. This year I felt strong and happy and was coasting along nicely. I think I allowed my mind to wander here as looking at my splits I see that I slowed down again while running along Chesterton Road only to speed up for the last 2 kilometres. Darth Vader came running past me and then stopped to collect donations from people at the side of the road. He passed me again and again just to rub it in. The dark side is evil indeed.
Just before turning right on to Elizabeth Way Bridge I glance up and the silver haired lady is still there waving to everyone as they run by, and we are all waving back. She has some stamina that lady.
Arco Iris must also have some stamina as they are still on the bridge banging their drums and blowing their whistles. At the end of Elizabeth Way there’s a marshall shouting out, ‘just 5 more minutes’. Excellent, thinks I, 5 mins is no problem. I put on a bit of a spurt toward the finish. Crossing the finish line I see a chap on the ground and medics are attending to him. He looks in a bad way. Hopefully he pulled through.
The finish funnel went a looooong way, presumably so that there was plenty of room for people to fall over, gasping in agony at the end. I didn’t do this and felt a little guilty that I didn’t. Part of me was saying that I should have pushed myself much harder and part was saying well done for running within myself and avoiding injury when I’m only 8 weeks before the London Marathon.
We all met up after the run. There is a mixture of emotions. For many of us this race is the climax of our running year. It’s the biggest race in the area and an astounding experience. We train for it, we plan for it, we adore running it but then it’s over.
Some leave to go to the Old Spring for the meet up of Cambridge and Coleridge running club. The rest of us head off up the hill (the only hill in Cambridge) to the Castle Pub. There we drink Adnams Ale and eat hearty pub food while we share our race stories.
It’s been a very good day.
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