The Race of my Life – My Review of the 2017 Cambridge Half Marathon

So. The Cambridge Half Marathon has been and gone. And flipping heck, it turned out to be the race of my life.

This epiphany stuff isn’t half bad.

My other half may argue that this wasn’t the case, but in the lead up to this year’s Cambridge Half, I felt like a different person to previous years. Yes I was still nervous, but it wasn’t all consuming. I think there are a lot of reasons for this. Some of it is down to the support I received from Progress as part of the prize I won with Saucony and OSB Events. I was lucky enough to work with two awesome women (Lauren Bradshaw a Specialist Sports Physio, and Hannah Crighton a Massage Therapist) who have both competed and taken part in sport at a pretty high level. They totally got why I would be so nervous about my running, but they also got me to think about why I started running in the first place and to rediscover my love for it. So in addition to expert physio and massage, and a bundle of exercises that I can keep using to improve my strength, I also got a bit of emotional therapy on the side.

Another thing I’ve worked so hard on over the last 3 months or so, is my Strength and Conditioning with Matt Matcham, who works at both Progress and the University of Cambridge Sports Centre. He made sureΒ to pick a selection of exercises that he knew would challenge me, but that I would also enjoy. He knows that I react well to seeing quick improvements so he always made sure there were exercises that would see a steady rate of increase (I went from 35kg to 60kg deadlifts pretty swiftly), and he kept switching them up so that I wouldn’t get bored. I know that being stronger has made me a better athlete. In addition to all of this fitness stuff I’ve been getting some alternative treatment on the side, but I think this deserves a separate blog post in a day or two.

I also – as you know – arranged on Twitter to meet two girls who I have been following on there for a long time, and this created excitement and gave me something to focus on other than the run. Of course I can run 13.1 miles if there’s the promise of brilliant conversation and a plate of chips afterwards. The fact that I ran into Joanna on Saturday night (ok, I pretty much chased her down the road, but she seemed ok with it. I knew we were destined to be IRL besties) made it even better.

Jo and I

And then of course, there was the shift in my mental focus. This particular change was 7 years coming, and so many people have been commenting on how I seem like a different person now. When I’m running, if I feel good I push myself, and if I don’t I pull it back. I’m listening to my body and letting it tell me what it’s capable of, rather than beating myself up in the past when I thought I wasn’t good enough.

On the morning of the race, I knew to do what works for me. I left it until as long as possible to get to the start, leaving my sister’s house at 9:10am, jogging to Jesus Green and using the (completely empty) public toilets there, and then spotting fellow Ely Runner Andy at the start line (we had arranged for him to wait on the right of the pens in the hope that I’d find him) and then leaping the barrier (apologies to the chap whose phone I nearly kicked out of his hand) and being in my pen at 9:25am. Crowds avoided, and waiting down to a minimum.

When we started, I lost Andy fairly swiftly, purely because I’m a short arse, and it was so congested at the front that trying to get past slower runners was agonising unless you’re small enough to duck and weave. This didn’t really let up until we hit Trumpington Street, nearly 3 miles into the run. If I’m honest, I feel like the organisers have become a little greedy with their numbers. I got kicked in the shin turning the corner outside Jack Wills, and a fellow Ely Runner complained of being elbowed more than once. Of the 9000 spaces around 7000 ran (the weather was spectacularly horrible), and really it felt like too many, so I think they need to cap it at 7000 again (knowing that there is usually at least a 10% drop off in runs like this).

The conditions were tough. It was cold, wet and windy, but I felt pretty good for most of it. I was incredibly lucky to have support along the whole route. My mother in law was screaming her head off in Grantchester, I saw Mary at around the halfway mark, another friend’s mum and my amazing friends Ally and Chris were at mile 11 (when I hit the wall in epic fashion, so thank goodness for them. They were the only reason I didn’t stop to walk) and then my friends Pete, Rachel, Nick and Claire were waiting just before mile 12. Now Claire is an INCREDIBLE endurance runner, and when she screams at you to keep going, you bloody well do it. Although which evil sod put Elizabeth Way Bridge at Mile 12? At this point I was seriously in trouble, wheezing so loudly that I was apologising to the runners around me. Then I spotted Barry, another Ely Runner, around 20 metres in front of me, so I did everything I could to catch him up, knowing that he would be able to help me to the finish line, which the flipping legend of a man did.

I don’t think I have ever pushed my body so hard in a run, and when I saw that my time began with 1.3… I think I went a bit into shock. There’s nothing like a marshal putting out a hand and saying “are you ok?” to make you wonder just how blimmin’ awful you look. But with my toes burning from what would turn out to be some pretty epic blisters, I picked up my medal in a daze, caught up with Lauren at the Progress tent (who had smashed the 90 minute mark with 1:29:45) and then saw Ally and Chris running up to me, a box of brownies in their hands and the offer of a coffee, before they made me leave to go and get some warmer clothes from my sister’s house as my lips were turning blue. I feel at this point I should mention the mistake OSB made with the bag collection queues and lack of foils for runners. The conditions were pretty dangerous for people to be standing in the cold for that long, but they admitted the mistake really quickly, and are already looking at ways to improve it next year. And this was the only negative in what was a brilliant, brilliant race. The marshals and volunteers were the absolute best I have experienced, as were the people who came out to support runners. Doing that in such bleak weather made them all heroes in my eyes.

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When I got the text to say I had run 1:35:37, I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t to be honest. I never, ever imagined I could be that kind of runner, and I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve something like that again. And the best thing is, I don’t care. I didn’t run that race to achieve that time. It was just a brilliant side effect. I know I put in so much hard work over the last three months and set myself up as well as I can, but I also enjoyed the race (well, maybe not the last two miles), and that was my goal.

As for the pub trip afterwards, getting to know Joanna and Pip was just brilliant, and I convinced Ally and Chris to come along too, so I was surrounded by awesome, awesome people. Even though we came close to gnawing our own arms off thanks to an hour long wait for food, it was the best couple of hours I could have hoped for, and played a part in making March 5th 2017 a day I will never, ever forget.

Same time next year?

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The Making of an Athlete

So, if you’re signed up to the Cambridge Half Marathon or are my Facebook friend or follower on Twitter, you may have seen that I am now the “sponsored athlete” for the Cambridge Half Marathon.

Oh sweet Barack on a Bicycle.

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I am seriously going to miss this guy. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters.

I’llΒ  be honest. When I first saw the email I wasn’t sure whether or not to accept. It’s one thing to back out of a race because you’re not fully fit, are nervous about a recent injury or simply don’t fancy it. It’s another to back out when people have invested a lot of time and money in you and your race plan. In other words – you just don’t do that. So if I said yes, bar a serious injury, I would lose my get out of jail free card. But after having to back out of last year’s Cambridge Half, I realised that I would be crazy to pass up this opportunity to redeem myself. As part of the package I get the following from Progress:

1 x 60 min new physiotherapy assessment including run analysis
6 x 30 min follow-up physiotherapy sessions
8 x 30 min sport massage sessions
8 x 30 min AlterG sessions
Saucony Trainers, shorts and a t-shirt

Not to mention working with Lauren Bradshaw, a Specialist Sports Physiotherapist with a half marathon PB of 1:31. What kind of an idiot would say no to that?

When I told my friend Ally (theemiddlesis to the outside world) that I had accepted the prize but that I was somewhat nervous (read: bricking it) about losing the option to bail, she pointed out that that when I have had to bail in the past, I have absolutely hated it. She reminded me of last year’s tears on the finish line when all of my Ely Runner clubmates finished high on PBs, and I was like that tearful drunk at a party bringing everyone else down with them.

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Gif from Giphy

Blooming heck that girl knows how to give you some perspective.

Since agreeing to the role of “sponsored athlete” it has to be pointed out that my running hasn’t exactly been stress free. I have a mysterious recurring issue with my foot that despite physio and osteo appointments, rest and excessive amounts of yoga and foam rolling has failed to really disappear, and I also had a more than ropey result at my first ever Frostbite 5 miler on Sunday. I just got it a bit wrong and blew up in the last mile, my head giving up before my stomach for once (which I suppose makes a nice change) and the last 750 metres turned into an embarrassing walk/run mess. I was so disappointed with myself, but I have never managed to recover when I stop to walk. When my head gives up, that’s it, and it continues to do so for the rest of the run. I managed a time of 36:39, but I should be capable of something closer to 35.

But I know I need to be kinder to myself. I haven’t competed for a while due to this reason, my foot was still a bit grumbly and the terrain wasn’t an easy one. If I heard anyone else berating themselves after a race the way I did I would point out all of the positives and tell them that they were being really unfair on themselves. I suppose at least realising this is a step in the right direction? Right?

And then yesterday, Stacy and I were reunited on the track with the one and only Baldrick. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to have him with us on the track, and the last time Stacy and I trained together a fortnight ago we had an absolute shocker. I felt like it was the first time I had ever run, and I nearly stopped three times on a 400m rep. 400m for crying out loud! And it wasn’t just me – Stace had the exact same experience. But then yesterday, we both smashed the session (a mix of distances), and I ran my fastest ever 400m (although it is obviously a hell of a lot easier when you’re only doing one rep rather than 6). I feel like Alan is my lucky charm, and things are now on the up again. He’s going to get a training plan in place, and together with Progress (I had my first appointment with them this morning – I’ll post about that once my calves have recovered!) I’m going to do my utmost to wipe 2016 from the slate (aren’t we all really) and make 2017 my running year.

Wish me luck.