Cambridge Half Marathon Race report
|Goal ||Description ||Completed? |
|A ||100% effort ||You’ll |
|B ||Sub-1:21, NYCM Qualifier ||See |
|C ||1:21:35, 10k VDOT ||Oh |
|D ||1:22:43, last year's fitness ||Yes |
|E ||1:25:24, PB ||You’ll |
|F ||Don't catch coronavirus in a crowd of 11,000 people ||See |
Previously seen on…
The last race report I got round to posting here was my last spring goal race, the Three Peaks Race
. The training for that went well:
“In the eleven weeks of the plan, I averaged 60mpw. 11 of the 18 individual weeks were over 60, and I peaked at 74.5 in a week that included a 15 miler on a Thursday night with seven miles at T effort, a full recce of the 3 Peaks course (taking 4:15), and a 15-mile, 2:22 fell race. I ran over 16 miles in a day sixteen times, all in the last twelve weeks of the plan, and I had decent results in the races I did, three in January and a 1:12 10k PB in the middle of a 13-mile run home from work..” The result was about all I could have hoped for.
After that, I took a few weeks easy and then started to build towards an attempt on the Bob Graham Round. My first race of that build-up was my first ultra, a night 50km. Training was OK, if inconsistent. A week beforehand, I went to stretch my neck, trapped a nerve, passed out and went into atrial fibrillation. Not allowed to drive for six weeks, and with no confirmation yet that I didn’t have an underlying issue, I decided to put the BG on hold. I raced the 50k anyway, and I have the first thousand words of that race report sitting somewhere unfinished - I was only 2km in… Anyway, the race was a success, finishing 20th in 5:55
(with 6,000 ft of climbing).
I didn’t take enough time off after that, and irritated my hamstring. 9 miles plus an hour of football four days later was a mistake. I know now that effective use of my roller would have put paid to that niggling injury, but instead I went to race a 16-mile, 6,700 ft fell race
. I found myself unable to run downhill after the halfway mark. The halfway mark was England’s highest mountain, so that was an unpleasant few hours, finishing in the 75th percentile. I’d never been outside the top third of a fell race before… That was my prompt to take a full week off, and build up slowly again, via the Falmouth Road Race
with BARTC and the Oxford Half Marathon
where I was on track to match my PB until mile 11 and finished a minute outside the previous year’s result.
That was at the same time that I started a new job, and shortly afterwards I had a cold and a cough, which just wouldn’t go away. I ended up taking 11 days off in an attempt to get better, but that didn’t work. So I went to the doctor, and was prescribed a preventative asthma inhaler. I was well enough to run the next day, and back to normal in a week. That was the last week of November, so I started planning for Cambridge.
My PBs going in to this were 18:24 for 5k (December 2018), 37:23 for 10k (April 2019), and 1:25:24 for HM (October 2018).
Unlike my past few goal races, this race was not in the hills. Cambridge is famously flat, and this race was no different. The only potential issues I could think of were the twisted streets of the medieval city centre and the introduction of cobbles to mile 12. Otherwise all was set fair - I went to university in Cambridge and have friends who live just outside the city who were racing, so I planned to stay with them for an easy pre-race experience.
After the race, as everyone’s strava said that they ran 12.9 miles, I got concerned about whether the course was short. So I mapped it on mapmyrun
, and it came up at 13.16. Phew.
My training, when it’s going well, is based around 3-4 days of commute running, with a JD 2Q style, at about 60 mpw. One evening run in the week is relatively long, with a workout, and there’s normally quality in my Sunday long run. I also like to race a lot - I raced 17 times in 2019, despite all of the interruptions in the second half of the year. If I do that, then the other weekend run does not have quality in it.
For this block, I started back from illness with three 50-mile weeks, got back up to 60, and then took three days off because I mucked up my logistics (the peril of run-commuting). So training properly started on 19 December, with a “week” of 50 miles in four days. From there, it went something like this:
|Week ||Miles ||Elevation ||Key Runs |
|23 Dec ||69.9 ||6,398 ||Back-to-back long trail runs on 26th and 27th (28 miles and 3,700 ft of climb) then the Michigan on Sunday. Hit target paces based off a 38:30 10k |
|30 Dec ||61 ||2,598 ||14-miler with 4.5km tempo, 4.5km fartlek; 18:24 Parkrun, equalled PB |
|6 Jan ||57 ||3,363 ||14 with 3x2-mile hilly tempo; Met League XC, 8k in 35:22 in thick mud |
|13 Jan ||63.5 ||5,735 ||12.4 with 4x4' hills for a 15.6 mile day; Box Hill Fell Race, 7.5 miles, 2,000 ft |
|20 Jan ||55 ||2,717 ||South of England XC, 477/1172. 8.4 miles, 975 ft. Improvement on 575/1150 the year before. |
|27 Jan ||68.9 ||4,544 ||14 with 3x2-mile hilly tempo. Didn't hit pace; 17 miles with 2x3xhalf-mile hills. |
|3 Feb ||51.3 ||1,227 ||12 with 5x1k track @ 3:31; 12 miles on the treadmill hiding from the storm. |
|10 Feb ||55.9 ||3,133 ||Chase the Moon 10k race, Wednesday evening. 36:53, 30 second PB. 14 mile LR, 2 mile tempo, 3 hills, 2 mile tempo. |
|17 Feb ||68.2 ||6,421 ||14 miles on a Tuesday, 2 hours on trails Saturday, 9th in a 10 mile hill race on Sunday, 1,660 ft |
|24 Feb ||54.9 ||1,683 ||10 with 5k tempo plus 4.5k fartlek; 13 mile LR |
|2 Mar ||41.8 ||1,332 ||Race week - 4 strides and 2 miles at race pace on Tuesday. Race Sunday |
I had to get out miles occasionally as other things got in the way, but this was consistent - there were only two days in 11 weeks I planned to run and didn’t, and my strava training log looks very organised. Plus, having finished the 10k only 3 seconds behind durunnerafc
, I had a plan for the race - stick with him. My thoughts on it, as set out in the Weekly Rundown, were:
“It ended up being an 11 week block at exactly 60mpw. There were seven "sessions", six races, and nine proper long runs (12+), so it looks like I hit the 2Q approach fairly well. That includes a 30-second 10k PB and my highest ever rolling 90-day mileage”. I had good reason to be fairly positive.
Obviously after feeling positive about my training I picked up a niggle in the last few days - an odd pain deep in my right lower leg. I took a couple of miles out of the last few days, but there wasn’t much to be done other than hope. I spent a large part of the week expecting the race to be cancelled because of coronavirus, but that didn’t happen either.
Talking to durunnerafc
about race plan, we decided to try to run together at 6:10-6:15 pace and see what happened. With high winds predicted, it was going to be a race where you needn’t worry if you were slightly behind pace at halfway, but also one where you would be well set if you were on pace at that point. My last workout was bang on 6:10 pace.
I travelled up the evening before, watching the rugby on my phone on the train and having a pre-race meal of lasagna and garlic bread. Waking up the next morning I had two bagels with butter and a 500ml bottle of coke. We then waited for our taxi to the start, which we’d pre-booked because of the road closures and we thought it would be busy. When it got to 5 past, for an 8 o clock pickup, we rang them. Turns out pre-booking didn’t make a difference to their allocation system, so our booking was just being repeatedly allocated to new drivers, who realised they were on the other side of the road closures from us and cancelled it, so it was reallocated etc… Luckily our friends were happy to drive, and we lucked into a parking space half a mile from the race start.
We dropped our kit off at the boathouse we all used to row out of, and I went for a gentle two mile warm-up along the river, before wheedling my way through to near the front of the pen. Race kit was ARTC best, new SOAR shorts and xmas present 4%s, worn only for the 10k tune-up. I didn’t manage to find durunnerafc
, but did manage to meet up with philipwhiuk
, who I was 2-1 down to for the year (two XC wins for him, a fell race victory for me). Like me, he had been subject to qrszx
egging us on to aim for something overly ambitious so that we would blow up and he could be faster.
The Thing Itself
Start - 5k (19:13)
We were set off, and despite a fairly busy field, it was possible to settle into pace relatively easily. Phil came past me quickly and settled in behind the 1:20 pacer, and I could see them a few metres ahead. I went through 1k on pace, according to my watch, which I would later realise was out of sync almost immediately, and it felt like the appropriate effort level and rhythm. The first two kms headed east and then north, and I felt in a good rhythm. The third km, though was a taste of what was to come - we turned left at a roundabout to go full face into the wind, the same direction we would be running from miles 5-7 later. It was brutal, 15-20 mph with gusts of 30+. The only thing to do was to stay in rhythm and try to duck in behind people. Happily, it was still busy enough that this was possible, and we rattled along towards the turn back into town.
5k-10k (38:11 - 18:58)
The turn was on home turf, on my route from student accommodation to rowing and nights out, due east and over Orgasm Bridge, named for the sounds made by Cambridge’s many cyclists when they forget to change gear because it looks like such a small bridge. Shockingly I can spot it on the elevation profile for the race at a glance, even though it must only gain 10 feet. Here we entered the city centre, where the aim was to try to maintain rhythm through a series of tight bends, which would all get smoothed out on GPS. I also still felt smooth, and this is where the only race photos where I’m actually smiling happened, going out of King’s College and onto the backs. Back into town and we were going south on Trumpington Street, past Fitzbillie’s (try the cakes) and getting another hint of the wind, albeit not yet directly. Again, I was just trying to stick to my rhythm and watch the kms on my watch go by at 3:50 or thereabouts. With a right turn onto Barton Road, home of the mighty Pegasus (my uni rugby team), we were right into the wind. After five miles/eight km, the crowd had thinned. My plan here was to tuck in, hopefully get to halfway pretty close to goal pace, and then accelerate with the tailwind in the second half. That didn’t really happen, and it becamse clear that people were really struggling with the wind - every time I got to a group it seemed to disintegrate, leaving me chasing the next one. I switched tack mentally. Now the goal was to just keep the rhythm going, work hard, and then recover in the tailwind.
10k-15k (57:32 - 19:21)
At halfway I saw philipwhiuk
ahead of me, and started to reel him in. I knew he hadn’t tapered for this race (has he ever really tapered for a race, except by doing another race?), so this wasn’t the biggest surprise ever. I was definitely running substantially slower than goal pace, and I was also passing people at a rate of knots. I was also working far too hard for miles 6-7 in a half, entirely depending on the promised tailwind to get me through miles 9-11. We turned out of the direct wind, heading south-east, onto the only really noticeable rise of the course, a slow drag, as the people who had been on my tail for the last two miles started to come past, looking fresh (or so my bitter race brain thought). I wasn’t feeling the relief I’d hoped with some tailwind, but at the same time, I was still moving at about goal pace. That was a positive to be taken, right? If I could just stay here long enough I’d recover, right? Maybe? As we got to Grantchester, home to romantics, detectives, and a couple of nice pubs, I was trying to do finish time calculations in my head. They didn’t really work, but they did pass the time.
15k-20k (1:16:22 - 18:50)
Finally. The left turn back north, along the wide, well-paved Trumpington Road that durunnerafc
and I had been wistfully discussing as a glorious, delightful, even easy tailwind! It didn’t really feel like it, but suddenly at the same grim level of effort and discomfort I was moving faster, and my watch even had me at goal pace (only the last mile would show up as faster than 6:10/mile on strava). Even better, at the 10 mile mark my brain was able to cope with the simple maths of 10 miles + 5k = HM and worked out that if I could hit goal pace till the finish 1:21 would be… a really close run thing (1:01:39 + 19:10 - cobblestones). Best of all, durunnerafc
caught up with me! Sorry, best of all? I mean worst… He was going to slingshot past me, he’d paced himself so much more sensibly, he was running so smoothly and breathing easily and even talking!!! Bastard!
I got a grip and realised that actually a friendly face was what I needed more than anything else. We were going to crush the last 5k, we were going to do it side-by-side like the 10k tuneup, and we were going to get a great moose photo at the finish. Right. Good. And, actually, it was good, as we got into a rhythm going north before hitting the town again. The cobbles didn’t seem so bad, the crowd support was great, and we were crushing it.
Then things started to go wrong. durunnerafc
was suddenly no longer breezing along, and I realised that I was about to get to 19 km, not 20 (my watch was on lap mode). Oops. My slow ramp up of pace was premature and now I just had to cling on and hope my speed didn’t fall apart as my form did. But as durunner fell back, I tried to encourage him and in doing so managed not to notice my girlfriend cheering for me. Another major error, albeit one that wouldn’t have its payback in race times (or at all, to be fair).
The Finish (1:20:43 - 4:21)
At 20km, I felt as bad as I had in any race. I just wanted to lie down on the side of the road. Not only was I sure my form was all over the place but I was also sure that 1:21 had gone out the window. I must be slowing down now, I’m definitely under my other goals, so what’s the point in ekeing out every second here? As we went out of Jesus my defeatism was revealed as unfounded - if that’s the finish, and I have a minute to get there, surely I’ll be able to do that? And so, eyes closed, gnashing teeth, looking angry/pained/constipated I crossed the line in 1:20:43. All goals hit, and despite the coughing fit that had a volunteer rushing over to me, I don’t think I had any more major illness either.
I watched durunner cross a minute or so after me, and philipwhiuk another 40 seconds or so back. We wandered through the finish area, got our freebies, and met up with people. My friend had run a 6-minute PB to run 1:13 (!!!), so he was in a pretty good mood, and we hung around for a little bit before heading back to change and go for brunch. I had eggs royale with chips, which was exactly what I needed, and headed home.
Well, who knows? My plan was to have 2 weeks easy, a 6 week block on the same model as before but with a couple of long trail runs, and then a 100k on 2 May. That’s been postponed to August, and I suppose I’m just training for fitness now. The only thing I’m looking to change is to bring in some more strength and conditioning work, whether yoga, hill sprints, or weights sessions. Coming from a power endurance sport I’ve neglected these, but looking at my form I think they’d help now.
Looking back on the race, I am increasingly pleased with it.. At the time I found it hard to be, both because of the inherent anti-climax of realising that a goal was well-pitched and also because I was struggling to reconcile just how grim I felt with the actual result. If the process feels awful and the outcome is positive, how are you meant to feel? Especially when a process focus is what so much of my training is based on… But I also remember rowing in Cambridge, and how the same friend who ran 1:13 and was then my coach used to remind us that it wasn’t how we looked or felt that mattered, but how fast we moved the boat. For all that it didn’t feel good, it undoubtedly was. I couldn’t have squeezed anything more out of myself, I dealt with the wind well considering, and my last mile was the fastest. Can’t really argue with that.
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