On a day when Eagles were involved in an impressive number of different races (I’ve counted at least six, just from Facebook posts), 15 of us (plus a couple of hardy spectators) swooped on the Cambridge Half Marathon, lured by the prospect of a scenic but flat course and, in some cases, by the opportunity to visit old haunts and/or student offspring.
Cambridge has a fully-deserved reputation for being impossible to park in; in fairness, there is a well-organised park and ride system that was beefed up for the day, but that still means a lot of standing around, so most of us had come up the day before. Harry Claxton did bring a car up on the morning and gets a lot of respect for sweet-talking the porters at his old college into letting him park there.
Anyway, the weather was just as bad in Cambridge as it was in the rest of the country, so a few of us had the chance to show how glamorous we look when modelling the latest trend in designer waterproofs (aka bin bags)…
…and then it was off to the start. Cambridge has a reputation for being quite crowded early on, which they had tried to fix this year with a two-wave start and each wave split into two or three by expected finish time. Now I’m a bit of a novice and don’t have much to compare it with, but all in all it seemed to work: it was still busy, but everyone around you is going at much the same speed so it doesn’t really matter.
The course is lovely, and roughly breaks down into thirds. For a mile or so just after the start you could be anywhere, but then the view opens up and you see the city to your left before crossing the bridge and heading south past King’s College Chapel and all the other classic buildings. Once you come out of the city centre you’re on a contra-flow and only have half the road, so it’s still a little congested, but after five miles you get to Trumpington, you turn right and the road opens up gloriously in front of you saying “come on, you can go faster than that”.
At this point I should explain that I’d based my training around a 1:40 target, but the longer race-pace runs had been a struggle and the last bits of preparation (which mostly involved standing in the wind for two days watching Teenager One play lacrosse) hadn’t exactly come from the textbook, so I’d tempered my ambitions and just decided to aim for a PB, setting off at 1:45 pace and hoping to gain a couple of minutes on the way round. Which is exactly what happened until the road started talking to me and I ran the next 5k at horribly close to parkrun pace.
Anyway, the final third comes when you get back into the city just before the nine-mile point, at which point you take a different route through the cute bit (passing Paul Robinson at ten miles, who is doing his best to tie shoelaces using fingers that have turned into blocks of ice) and then retrace your steps back to the start/finish on Midsummer Common. Just after the final mile marker you go over the river for the last time, and here’s where I paid for taking that middle section so fast and resorted to a 45-second walk break before sprinting home as best I could. Press the “stop” button and my watch says 1:40:00 (yes, really), but I have the horrible feeling that I was a second or two slow to start it and this is borne out when the text comes through (this is a really impressive feature) telling me I finished in 1:40:01.
Rather to my surprise, I’m not remotely upset by the two seconds that stood between me and a “99 something”. It was the best part of four minutes off my PB and nothing hinged on the time (GFA is a very long way away, even at my age). Up at the pointy end of the field, others were taking great chunks off their PBs too: John Foxall led us home in 1:22:47, and Harry and Kira broke their respective 1:30 and 1:40 barriers by ridiculous amounts. Sophie went one better and did a Bob Beamon, leaping the 1:45 and 1:40 milestones in a single bound with a six-minute PB of 1:39:36.
So then it was time to collect the bags and go, and probably my only criticism of a wonderful and very well marshalled event. The organisers had allocated race numbers in order of expected finish time, which makes perfect sense on the surface. The flaw in this cunning plan is of course that all the fast people end up trying to collect bags from the same place at the same time, while the people handling bags for the higher numbers have nothing to do at this point (and there’s not enough physical space for them to help out where they’re needed). With luck this will change next year, although I suppose it does provide an incentive to come home inside your target time: the more you outperform your race number, the shorter your bag queue when you get to it. I was 1,298th off a race number roughly double that, so no queue and very quickly into warm clothes before rushing off down the motorway to pick up Teenager Two from a music competition, while the rest of the convocation did what any self-respecting Eagles would do and went to the cinema.
Alright, so it’s not a cinema any more, but it was in my day. It’s now a pub.