Marathon Race Review – 01/03/2020
I was supposed to run this race in 2019 but ended up getting called in for an operation on my shoulder just a few days before the race so had to defer to 2020. It was meant to be my first marathon back then and a training run for my first ultra marathon.
The Cambridge Boundary Run is a marathon organised annually by the Cambridge Hare and Hounds University Running Club. It’s a 26.2 mile loop around Cambridge on a mixed terrain of tarmac, gravel paths, grass meadows and fields.
Last year I had learnt a lot about nutrition and hydration and I had heard a lot about the race so it was pretty easy to put a plan together. I have stopped using gels to keep my energy levels up on long runs and now use Active Root, an energy rich drink made with natural ingredients, and Chia Charge bars too if I’m running over a half marathon.
Over the past year I had experimented and seeked a lot advice from books and other runners I had found that keeping a steady flow of nutrition and hydration going into me was much better than just gels and water at the feed stations or water stops. Firstly, when under the stress of running your body diverts blood flow from your digestive system so it is less efficient and can only process a limited amount of food. Secondly spikes and troughs of blood sugar levels and of blood volume when it comes to hydration aren’t in my opinion the greatest option. I had always kept away from running in a hydration vest in a road run or a race with lots of stops as I was worried about looking like a bit of a wally and it being overkill. I now firmly believe it’s the right thing to do for any race of half marathon distance or over. Another great reason to do this is to cut down on plastic cups at water stations too.
So with knowing roughly how many calories I would need to keep me going and having carried out a sweat test last year, I also knew how much hydration I would need I could go about loading my hydration vest. For this run I took two 500ml soft flasks with Active Root in, a small plastic container of Active Root powder so I could refill my bottles at the halfway mark. This meant I only had to stop once, I also packed 3 Chia Charge bars.
Next up was pace. I knew that most of the first half was tarmac with a few trails and was fairly flat and that the second half would be a majority of trail with almost all of the elevation in the last 4 miles. Therefore I planned to run at a decent pace for the first half and have a slower second half where I could take a few walk breaks.
The First Half
Armed with my plan and the rarity of both of our boys having a sleepover at grandparents my wife and I set off early for the hour drive to Cambridge. We arrived in plenty of time at the University Sports Centre on the outskirts of the historic city and I got in the queue for my race number. With the race number picked up we found a space for me to get ready. A bit of tape to stop any runners nipple and some body glide in the delicate areas, hydration vest on, number fixed to my shorts and I was all set. I stood and talked to Tony for a while, a fellow WDAC club member and then we headed off towards the start line.
I didn’t feel nervous at all, my training had been coming on well, I felt confident and I hadn’t put myself under too much pressure about time. My ultimate target was under 5 hours but I was happy to either beat my previous best marathon time of 5h29 or in fact, just finish. For me it’s more about getting out there and getting around, getting a decent time is just an added bonus really. The start was a pretty informal affair, a bit of a shout out, not much of a crowd and we were off. That’s when you get that o’ shite feeling that you’ve now got to run 26.2 miles, it all becomes real. I turned on my snazzy new Aftershokz Aeropex headphones as the crowd of runners headed up the path and selected some 90’s dance music to get me through the first half at a decent pace.
The first mile was a bit of a slow affair with a few stops as the tightly packed runners came to a few gates and bottle necks, but after that I was off and hit a nice steady pace of around 9 1/2 to 10 1/2 minute miles. For 10 miles the pace felt pretty good although possibly a little fast bearing mind the work I had left to do so I decided to be sensible and back it off a little and even stopped for a bit of a walk while I munched on a Chia Charge bar. Before I knew it I was entering Coldham’s Common, the half way mark, to the sound of bagpipes. As I approached the water station I saw my wife with a big welcoming smile on her face, who had been tracking me on Garmin livetrack and was surprised at the pace I had been keeping. Kerry helped me refill my bottles, I gave her a sweaty hug and off I went before the cold wind got to me or my legs started to tighten up.
The Second Half
As I left Colham’s Common heading out on the second half I entered a meadow that was very much flooded. I tried to weave my way through but there was no chance and I ended up with submerged feet, soaking wet for the next 13 miles. The route from here on was probably half trail and half tarmac. There was a nice scenic stretch along the river with rowers speeding past and some lovely views but it was here that we started to find some deeper mud.
At around 18 miles I missed one of the red and white tape markers on a post indicating a right turn along a small footpath. Luckily for me the runner I had overtaken just a short while before shouted me back. I turned around and headed back thanking him as I caught up again and overtook him. We then hit a wide open area and the headwind really started to pick up making running on the flat like running uphill.
I reached a junction on a main road at around mile 20, fatigue starting to hit and saw a bike left abandoned on the verge, it was so tempting to take an easy ride back, however I resisted temptation and cracked on.
At about 22 miles we started to hit the majority of the elevation of the whole race. Firstly a farm track which then turned into a muddy walk up the side of a field. Not one person I saw ran this section as they were battered by the headwind. I managed to keep my walking pace up though and overtook another few runners up the hill. Next there was an easier flatish country road section masked by tress to give a welcome break from the winds.
We then headed up a steep muddy track at the side of the American Cemetery and emerged at a busy main road. It took a while to get across the road but it gave me a chance to get the heart rate down again after that hill. Once across the road the route headed down another little footpath and then a downhill section along the side of a muddy field. If you where behind me I apologise for the string of expletives as I slid and tried to keep my balance for about 40 feet, luckily I stayed up!
With just a couple of miles to go we were taken back onto the pavement and some nice flat land again. Eventually the finish was in sight with about half a mile to go and as the emotion washed over me I increased my pace and hit 9 1/2 minute miles again. I crossed the line at 5h13m and a new PB, considering the conditions I was elated. I ducked my head down for my medal and went to see my wife. Tony was there too, he unfortunately had pulled out of the race at half way due to blisters on his feet caused by wearing trail shoes on the mainly tarmac first half. As I wondered over I very nearly lost my balance, I had certainly pushed it for that last part, powered by emotion.
It was a great a day and a very relaxed and friendly event. The marshals and everyone involved really were fantastic. The event is put on at a budget and you do get what you pay for, the medal isn’t fantastic and there are no closed roads or real signage. For me though it wasn’t a problem, the memory of a great day is just as good as a medal. The markings of flour arrows on the floor and red and white tape tied to trees and posts was sufficient. In fact I didn’t need to use my watch GPS once and the only mistake I made was more due to me not paying attention with my head down battling the wind.
Overall a fantastic day and I’m sure I’ll be back again.
if you would like to see a video of the route you can click here.