The Cambridge Running Gang

The Cambridge Half Marathon

I was so anxious the night before the half marathon. I just couldn’t sleep. It’s my first half marathon race and although I know I can do the distance I’m still ridiculously nervous about it.

I gave up trying to sleep at about 5 o clock and got out of bed and ate some weetabix. The cats looked at me askance. They thought that all this moving about stuff was a silly idea and I should be laying down in bed stroking cats rather than pacing restlessly from one side of the room to the other.

Richard collects me at about 08:30 and I start to relax slightly. We’re on our way and it’s going to be great.

We park up and jog down the hill to Midsummer Common. The sun is shining and we’re surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of runners all making their way to the start. I’m still feeling desperately anxious but also tremendously excited.

We meet with the rest of our running gang near the Fort St George. Lloyd is there as is Darryl from the Cambridge running shop, ‘Up And Running’. John joins us a little later. It’s really good to see John there. He’s been suffering from so many injuries this year that we had seriously doubted whether he would be able to run today.


Eventually 09:30 arrives and we split up to go to our separate pens. I’m in red pen which is the folk who expect to finish slower than 2 hours and 15 minutes. This seems to make a lot of sense as my best time so far is about 2 hours and 25. The idea is that you run with people who run at a similar pace to yourself. that way you are unlikely to be held up by people slower than you. The rest of the gang are much faster than me so they are all in different pens nearer the start.

A great cheer goes up but we don’t really know why. Several minutes later we start to move forward, very slowly. Eventually we’re moving fast enough to begin a gentle jog. We cross the start line but still the pace is very slow. There are so many people all around me.  I know I should be starting reasonably slowly but it’s frustrating not to be able to run at the pace I would like to do. We turn left along Elizabeth Way Bridge. We have an entire chunk of road to run along but still it isn’t enough. We spread out across the pavement and fill every possible space. Turning left on to Chesterton Road there is slightly more space. It’s starting to feel a little more comfortable now and I’m beginning to relax and enjoy myself. I suddenly hear someone shout “Go Jim”. I’m confused for a moment. I look around wondering who it is that has recognised me. I see someone that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen before. I’ve forgotten that my name is on my chest and assume that she must know me. I nervously wave back at her.

We turn left on to Bridge Street and then right on to Trinity Street. There are a lot of spectators here but also some early morning shoppers who are more than a little bemused (and possibly slightly irritated) at thousands of runners swarming down this tiny street. We turn right and head out across the bridge toward the Backs and Queen Street. We arrive at Silver Street and do a weird little up and back down this street. Then it’s onwards to the Fen Causeway. There are beautiful art deco apartment blocks to the left here and the green where Charles Darwin used to catch butterflies to our right. We then turn left past the Fitzwilliam Museum toward the glorious Kings Parade. I grab a bottle of water here and a gel. Both are very welcome indeed. The gel is a nasty sweet sticky thing but it’s got a lot of energy bundled up in a small package.

The noise on Kings Parade is absolutely astounding. There’s so much screaming and shouting. It’s just an incredible atmosphere and I’m really loving it.

We keep going along Market Street and soon we’re back by the Round Church and yet more cacophonous noise. I hear my name again many times but I’ve figured out what’s going on now. People pick out a name and shout randomly to cheer you along. It may be random but it does feel really good.

We turn on to Jesus Green and it feels good to see the river. It looks absolutely gorgeous. I hear the words “Go Jim” yet again and I hear the same woman who had shouted to me on the other side of the bridge on Chesterton Road. I’m not as surprised this time and quite delighted that I seem to have a supporter of sorts. She’s taken the trouble to cross the bridge to cheer me on once more. It feels really good.

I’m just leaving Jesus Green when a motorbike comes roaring past asking us to move out the way. Soon after, the lead runner follows the bike moving at an incredible speed. Aaron Scott came in first as he did last year. His 2015 time was an incredible 1:08:49. Second was Chris Darling who we see regularly at the Cambridge Parkrun several minutes later at 1:12:28.

I’m now into the second lap and am feeling strong. The field has strung out a little and I have room to run at the speed that I’m happy with. Back on Elizabeth Way Bridge I hear someone saying my name. John is here and we run together for a little while. He tells me that he had intended to just run until Bridge Street on the second time around but he’d managed to run 14K the previous week so was hopeful that could actually do the distance. We chat for a while and then I move on. I’m feeling absolutely great along Chesterton Road and have increased my speed a little. Further down I hear a manic cry once more. “Go Jim” she cries. It’s my supporter again. I smile and wave back. It feels great to have been picked out as someone to cheer on.

Soon after this I arrive again at Fen Causeway. My energy just suddenly flaps its wings and callously departs leaving me staggering along the road feeling distraught and desperate. John catches me again and sweeps past. I stare at the ground watching it lurch back and forth. My sense and ability to reason have suddenly left me.

I don’t know how far I have left to run and this seems to me the most tragic thing in the world. I feel helpless and hopeless. How on earth can I possibly finish. I stagger on to Kings Parade, looking forward to another gel and a bottle of water. They have water but they’ve run out of gels. In my disoriented state I take this as a personal slight. I’m very miserable and very upset. It doesn’t make any sense but I was completely incapable of anything like rational thought at this time.

I battled across Jesus Green and on towards Midsummer Common. I can see the common but there’s all sorts of weaving about seems to go on before I get to the finish line. We wind around the common and I’m beginning to despair that I will ever see the finish. Eventually I turn the corner and there’s the great inflatable Saucony finish arc. I keep pushing on and hear Richard off to my right hand side cheering me on. I cross the finish line and stop running. My legs have ceased to function and I stagger from side to side. I’m channelled through a tent thing and someone leaps out and hangs a medal around my neck. A plastic bag is thrust into my hand as is a bottle of non-alcoholic beer. I look at it with what must have been a very confused look. “There are some folks just around the corner who will open it for you.” pic of jimI still can’t think straight and certainly can’t walk straight. I wobble forward like a drunken sailor outwards and onwards. Eventually I find Richard and we exchange stories of pain and triumph.

Later we meet up with more folks and stagger up the hill. The Castle Pub is waiting for us where we will drink Adnams Ales and eat Castle Burgers.

Life is good.

This was my first half marathon race and I was aiming for around 2 and a half hours. I actually managed 2 hours, 12 minutes and 42 seconds so was absolutely delighted.


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