The main part of this report is how I came to be taking part in a half marathon in the first place.
Most people stop sport when they leave school. I never really started sport at school, apart from the odd swimming gala. In cross country running , there were two groups: the runners and the pupils who thought this was a good opportunity to sneak in a few cigarettes. I ran with the smokers – not that I smoked, they were just my standard. Cycling for me was just a cheap form of travel, rather than a sport.
When I first heard of triathlons, I thought that would be a great thing to do, it was just not for people like me. Also, I would never be able to complete the running.
When a marathon event first came to my home town in Bolton in 1981, even non-runners like me were interested. My attempt to join the leaders was prevented by a policeman on a motorbike. He politely told me that the Road Closed sign, also applied to kids on bikes also. I was struggling to keep up anyway!
However, open water swimming was different. I was doing this long before the term had even been invented. UK Summer holidays were all about playing in the sea, lakes and streams.
The route to the Cambridge Half Marathon started with a Fritton Lake Big Swim event, which was a 3km swimming race. While training for this, I found that the other swimmers were all training for triathlons. At first this confirmed my thoughts that triathlons were not for people like me, as physically the people training were not like me at all. After a few conversations, I realised that mentally we did have something in common. We were all slightly mad and obsessive !
So, I became a regular at sprint triathlons, knowing that the Olympic Triathlon was still out of reach for me, due to length of the 10km run. I once entered a 3.5 mile running race, thinking that this was the equivalent of 5km rather than 5.5km. When I got to the 5km marker, with no finish line, my experience of the last 0.5km seemed to reaffirm that 5km at running, was my limit.
After declining performances in the Sprint Triathlon, I started to use a personal trainer. This was a game changer. Performances improved, but more importantly I felt better after sprint races. Suddenly the Olympic Triathlon seemed possible. The first test was the Tri Anglia Winter Handicap, which seemed very inclusive, as it allowed up-to 1 hour 20 mins for a 10km run. For those not familiar with the format, everyone starts at a time of their choice, with the aim of all finishing at the same time. So when I crossed the finish line first, this was really just a measure of my poor estimating, but it was also the boost in confidence I needed. My first Olympic triathlon a year later, in Seaford Sussex, was a great success.
It was at this point, I realised that I had grown to like running. After 8 years of triathlons, I finally felt like a real runner. I started joining the Tri Anglia track sessions at UEA, which helped improve my running further. Therefore, the next natural step was a half marathon…….
This was how I came to enter the Cambridge Half Marathon.
The training leading up-to the event went well, and a PB at the Parkrun the week before seemed to be proof I was at the peak of my form. However, a fastest 5km was never in the training plan, and should never have been. This only happened because my brother in law passed me after 1km, and suddenly I was in a competitive situation. After a few pleasantries were exchanged, the pace picked up, which spurred us both onto personal bests, with me narrowly ahead by 6 seconds. Maybe I had peaked too early, and left myself tired after pushing myself too hard at a critical point in the training regime.
The actual event day started in a similar way to a triathlon, with a bike ride before the run. Why pay £8 to get a bus from the park and ride, when you could cycle from the car park instead? For the 3 of us that would be £24. When I was a child I would cycle to avoid a 10p bus fare, so old habits are hard to break. This was a nice start to the day, and actually meant we got to the event before the many people who were waiting in the long queue for the bus. We even had to rack the bike in the bike parking zone. So far so good and all very familiar.
My main objective of the day was not to start too fast, and keep within a range between 9 or 10 minutes miles. For the first 6 miles, I achieved this with mile splits nearer to 9 minutes than 10. At the 6 mile marker, I decided that I had been too conservative, and now was the time to push ahead.
Suddenly the miles were passing by in 8 minutes 40, and I started to worry I might regret this. With the 2 hour pacer coming into view, this meant that slowing down was not an option. After passing the 2 hour pacer, Miles 10, 11 and 12 went quickly, while maintaining the same pace, as I was now back in the city and surrounded by a great and supportive crowd.
Only then at Mile 13 did my pace drop as my legs started to feel heavy. I was now hoping the finish line was round the next corner. With lots of twists and turns and no clear view of the finish line, I was starting to reach my limits. Then the finish line appeared and from nowhere, I managed to produce an excellent sprint finish, moving up a few places in the process. This was all because I knew some of my family would have arrived by now, having shared my Whatsapp location so they knew exactly when I was heading for the finish. I was very pleased with my time of 1 hour 57 and even more pleased about how enjoyable the event had been.
It was then I read the text from my son, to say they were running late, and would no longer be in time for the finish. It didn’t matter, the fact that I thought they were there was all the encouragement I needed !
So big thank yous to Simon Brierley (my Personal trainer), Tony and Chris for the UEA track sessions, the 10km Club Handicap team, Chris Sargisson who got me into running and joined me in the event, and my family for being present in my mind at the finish !