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Beast from the East no match for Saucony Cambridge Half

by Ben G
Thursday 15th March 2018
Tags  Saucony Cambridge Half   |   OSB Events   |   Ben Goddard   |   Saucony
Two days before the Cambridge Half Marathon, Cambridgeshire had its biggest day of snow from the ‘Beast from the East’. Previously we’d had a few centimetres, which was nothing compared to the rest of the country. This ‘extra’ snow caused many local parkruns to be cancelled by Friday night, but there was no cancellation email from OSB Events, who organise the Cambridge Half. Saturday and a bit more snow but still no cancellation email. The forecast for Sunday showed the temperature rising to a balmy 8 degrees during the race, so I was guessing that the snow would melt overnight.
I went for run around the local nature reserve on Saturday morning, there was still a lot of snow, but it was definitely runnable on the trail, the busier roads were already turning into slush by mid afternoon so it bode well for when we would head out of Cambridge into the countryside during Sunday’s race.
One last check for a cancellation email in the evening and it looked like the race was going ahead, the wind had picked up, but a lot of the snow was already slush.
An early start on race day, despite it being a local race, and it was the usual banana porridge breakfast and cup of tea before heading to the one of the Park & Ride stations - these are a great way of getting into the centre of Cambridge without the hassle of trying to park. They put on a special service for the half marathon starting at 7:30, and there is the option of paying for this in advance when you sign up for the race.
I get to the race village/start far too early because, well, I’m just one of those people. Luckily I’m not the only one, and people are already dropping off bags, grabbing a coffee or a last minute breakfast from one of the food stalls around.
The snow had pretty much disappeared and been replaced with what was already becoming a mud fest, and my new-ish trainers were already becoming caked in mud. It certainly didn’t feel as warm as forecast and even in my merino wool base layer and Saucony running top I was feeling the chill. It was about then that they announced they would be giving out foil blankets for people to keep warm, there was then a surge towards the area that were giving these out, I though it was a nice touch from OSB events, and maybe a nod to some people having to stand in the wind and rain last year, waiting to pick up their bags post race.
With a sea of foil blankets before us I headed off to catch up with some of the people from Team Saucony that were also taking part in the race. We did a quick warm up together and posed for a pic before making our way to the start pens.

Ben Cam 1

It’s my third year of doing the Cambridge Half, and one of the few races that I have done more than once. Obviously it helps that it is local and there’s always a good turnout from the running club, but I also genuinely enjoy this race. Plus, it seems to fall in the right place at the right time in my training for whatever events I have coming in the spring.
As we all made our way to the relevant colour coded pens, based on estimated finishing time, and awaited the start. The announcers tried their hardest to get everyone pumped up and arms in the arms but it was a lacklustre effort from the runners, I think they just wanted to get on with it.
Once the announcer started counting down to the start, there seemed to be a surge of energy from the waiting runners and before you knew it we were shuffling towards the start line, then we were off!
The start of the race winds through the centre of Cambridge and as you would expect there is a good level of support, from shoppers and people looking out for people they know. By now the weather had improved, while still overcast it was definitely feeling warmer, and I was starting to regret keeping the merino wool base layer on….

Ben Cam 2
Already regretting the choice of wearing the red merino base layer.

As we made our way out of Cambridge city centre and past the supporters, with various charities and bands encouraging on all the runners, the race is already taking a toll on a couple of runners. I ask if they are alright and they both have gone off too quick and slowing it down in an effort to save their race.
There are fewer supporters as we head towards Grantchester but those that are there make sure they give you a boost and kids are ready to give a high five or hold signs promising boosts of power if you touch the ‘button’ on their signs. The residents of Grantchester are always out in force to lend their support, and with your name on your race number you do get calls of encouragement aimed directly at you which always gives me a boost.
I ignore the majority of water being offered at the aid stations but I’m aware of how many volunteers are at each aid station, and the aid stations are longer than just a couple of tables, which you get at some races, and there are other volunteers picking up the discarded water bottles further down the road. Obviously a slick operation after years of getting it right on a race with this many people running.
As we approach the section of the race which is one of the few unenjoyable parts I’m feeling alright and kick on, picking up the pace a bit, trying to get the dual carriage way section over with as quickly as possible. It’s just a bit devoid of anything, obviously no support on this section and it always feels like it goes on much longer than it actually does, realistically it’s over with quite quickly. With this over with we’re now making our way back towards Cambridge. For the vast majority of runners it seems their race is going to plan and they’re looking in good shape, though there is the odd person stopping for a stretch or walking for a bit. 
Apart from the odd blast of wind the temperature is continuing to climb as the number of people cheering us on increases, the cheers are getting louder and you see people taking encouragement from that and their pace quickens, faces are recognised, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and friends are easier to pick out as the field has stretched out considerably during the course of the race.
The mile indicators are ticking by and everything is still feeling good, then as last year with just under 3 miles to go I slow. Not sure why it is but it’s all becoming a struggle suddenly, there’s a tiny bridge where the incline feels like running up treacle, it’s probably less than 20 metres long but seems to take it out of everyone’s legs momentarily, then we’re on the long stretch of main road before we head near the park and some of the runners kick on, knowing it’s not long to go.

Ben Cam 3

I can smell the finish. Elbows out, fists clenched. Not ideal running form….
All throughout the race the marshals along the course are supportive, offering encouragement or making sure you don’t make a wrong turn. Later, after I’ve finished my race I see them offering the same support to those who will run three hours plus as those that at the front of the race. One of the them sees that it’s become a bit of a slog towards the end and gives me a shout of encouragement and for a brief few seconds it’s all easy again, the 12 mile marker comes up and I try to kick on. By now there are a lot of people on the street and you can hear the announcers cheering those across the line, the finish is in sight and people from all around shout your name or offer a cheer, and then it’s over. My finishing time is quicker than I targeted but a couple of minutes off last year’s time, which I was expecting.
Again there are a number of marshals making sure you keep moving through the finish funnel, or checking on those who are slumped by the sides. It’s a couple of minutes walk to the place where you pick up your medal and goodie bag, which I think works quite well, you don’t get a bunch-up of people getting their medals seconds after they finish. After picking up your various goodies, including the free pint of Erdinger, which I always look forward to, the bag pick-up is a much more slick operation than last year and although there are queues it looks like people aren’t waiting for as long as last year.

Ben Cam 4

Another Cambridge Half Marathon finished. It felt good to race rather than the cycle of longer distance runs in the build-up to races in the next few months. A really well organised race with great support from start to finish, the weather could have been so much worse but finished in pretty much ideal conditions. I’ll be back again next year!

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