Cambridge Half Marathon 2017 - race report

8 March 2017, 10:52

I never quite got around to giving you all a winter training update (what can I say, running your own business whilst marathon training really leaves little time for anything else!), but the short version is that it’s been going well. After putting on a few extra pounds over Christmas and generally feeling “blah”, I returned to my good friend Maffetone in a big way. Low-carb isn’t the enemy of endurance training, it turns out, and I highly recommend the book Primal Endurance as a good blueprint for how to maximise training gains while eating low-carb. I even bought a copy of it for my coach so she can adjust my marathon training plan a bit, as I’ve been struggling with interval work in the meantime.

I only mention this as it’s tangentially important to lessons learned during the Cambridge half. Much more relevant, though, is my medical history, as I’ve had two separate illnesses during training – a head cold in January that miraculously only lasted a week (since my transplant, I’m lucky if I’m over a bug in 3 weeks!), and a sinus infection that left me in bed and hopped up on Night Nurse the week leading up to this race.

Granted, I did start to feel a bit perkier on Friday and Saturday, but earlier in the week it was looking like I’d not even be able to party pace it, let alone gun for the PB as I’d hoped. But with my energy levels back up to about 80% and some well-planned nose blowing the morning of the race, I had re-aligned my expectations again to try and treat it as a solid training run. The weather forecast deteriorated as my health improved, however, leaving us with freezing temperatures (6C), pouring rain, and high winds on race morning. Luckily I came prepared – full leggings, thermal long-sleeved top (with hand mitts!), and RDC shirt to run in, plus a sacrificial jumper and hat for the start as well as the ever-chic binbag to keep the wind and rain off (don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!).

Binbag at the start

A sub-1:45 predicted finish placed me in the fastest start pen with the bulk of the club runners, so I positioned myself near the back and mentally prepared myself to be overtaken a lot. The rain came lashing down almost the second we started, which helped to keep me from getting too excited in the first few miles, as did the general crowding through the one-lane sections through the city centre. Since my AppleWatch (running Runmeter) was under my long sleeve, I generally ran this race on feel for “comfortably hard”/tempo pace, and only pulled up my sleeve to check my actual pace a handful of times (and was generally pleased that I was going faster than I’d thought).

When I previously ran this race in 2015 it was comprised of two loops, mostly through town, but last year they switched to a single-loop course to increase the numbers (as single loops can take the full width of road instead of splitting in half for Lap One / Lap Two runners). The route now starts and ends on Midsummer Common, goes through the city centre and past Kings College, then heads out into the countryside to Trumpington and back around before taking some nice twisty-turny bits through town and then repeating the first 2-3 miles of the race to finish at Midsummer Common again.

I personally give the new route two thumbs up – I really like two lap courses in unfamiliar towns as I visually know how far I’ve got to go the second time around, but repeating the first/last few miles of the course serves the same purpose for me, and I quite liked seeing a bit of countryside and fields, even if they were really windy and sparsely supported. Speaking of support, my favourite cheerer of the day was a little dog riding in its owner’s front bike basket, barking support as his owner rode alongside the runners! Very Cambridge.

As for my race, I continued along at my “comfortably hard” pace for the first 7 miles with no real issues. I ran into my friend Ben from RDC just before Mile 6 and ran with him for a few minutes before he needed to stop and stretch out his ankle, but I was otherwise on my own and without headphones (as per race rules). I only grabbed a few sips of water at the stations at Miles 2 and 6, but when I hit Mile 7 I could feel myself dimming and knew I’d need to grab a gel at the Mile 8 station (thankfully they were High 5 isotonic, a brand I’d tried and liked in the past). My months of training under my cardio heart rate threshold had done wonders for my fat-burning ability, but at the pace I was going I know my body would be consuming a mix of fat and glycogen, and at Mile 7 the glycogen stores were just a bit too low. But the gel at Mile 8 (and half of another at Mile 10) really did the trick, gave me a sugar high (it’s been so long since I’ve eaten anything sugar that carrots honestly taste sweet!), and helped me to glide on through to the finish maintaining that same pace. So now I know that I can easily go a good 6 miles at slightly-faster-than-marathon-pace without the need for fuelling, so I can plan my nutrition for London marathon accordingly.

Cambridge Half medal

Even though I was overtaken quite a bit at the start of the race (and the 1:45 pacers when I stopped to open my gel packet at Mile 10), I ended up passing a ton of people in the last few miles, as normally happens when you pace a race well. This is always a terrific boost no matter what the distance, and I sprinted the last few hundred meters to eek out a time of 1:45:59. Now, this is a full 9 minutes slower than my PB (set at Bath Half in 2014), but considering I was still nursing a sinus infection and fiddling with low carb training, I feel that’s a time I can really be proud of. Coming into the race, I’d felt that my planned marathon pace of 5:00/km (8min/mi) was still nowhere near comfortable, yet during this race I maintained an average 4:50/km and felt good. So on top of the nutritional lessons, I’m feeling much more confident that I can maintain my planned marathon pace, especially with another month and a half of training, strength work, and a bit of weight loss, besides.

In fact, the only downside to the entire race was after it ended. The race numbers were allocated based on estimated finish time (so low numbers = faster runners) and the baggage tents were organised based on race number… meaning that everyone finishing at the same time had to join a massive queue for one or two handlers, while the rest sat empty. This would’ve been merely frustrating if not for the fact that it was freezing, we were all wet, not given space blankets, and the VIP area placement made it impossible to distinguish any of the queues from each other. A whippet-thin runner in front of me was literally convulsing with cold and everyone was getting numb in the 30-50min wait to get to whatever dry clothes they’d packed in their kit bags. I don’t know how the organisers could’ve done the bag check so brilliantly in the past yet made such a stupid mistake this year, but seriously guys – BAGGAGE CHECK BASED ON SURNAME. Or assign race numbers randomly. One of the two – it’s not difficult.

Cambridge Half medal

It’s a real shame that the frankly dangerous baggage chaos put a downer on an otherwise excellent race. Assuming they’ll take my advice above for next year, it’s a race I can definitely recommend. It’s great timing for spring marathon training, close to London, cheap (so long as you can snag a place the second they go on sale!), well organised, with a hefty medal, and great pubs nearby to warm up in afterwards.

Cambridge Half Marathon, 5 March 2017, 1:45:59

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  1. Hey I generally read you sewing blog and just came across your most recent post. I’m going to be running my first half marathon on Sunday in Wrexham and I’m rather nervous. I’ll be sure to try out your leggings soon.

    — Jennie glaze    10 March 2017, 20:39    #
  2. Well I completed the run which was my aim. I am the worlds slowest runner and finished in 3 hours 10 but I’ve never run that far before and everyone starts somewhere so I’m feeling a sense of achievement, my husband is running London thia year and I am in awe of marathon runners. Amazing people.

    — Jennie glaze    14 March 2017, 17:16    #

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