Students are not generally renowned for the types of local political and logistical organisation required to put on a half marathon and full marathon in an urban environment as one. But Cambridge students are no ordinary students, and putting on such an event on the first Sunday in March is exactly what they have achieved.
Now benefiting from the use of the new West’s sports centre, what was slightly lacking at the HQ in signage and marshals was compensated for by ample free parking and high quality changing facilities.
The races started unceremoniously but on time, and runners and supporters were off onto the main attraction: the course. Organisers strongly recommend runners carry a map and written directions provided, as the route picks a careful path around the entire urban area of Cambridge, using footpaths and minor roads wherever possible. However, signage was reasonable, comprising A4 laminated arrows on posts and baking flour arrows on the ground. The quality of the latter deteriorated as repeatedly run over, but one soon came to accept that a scuffed pile of flour meant navigational reassurance.
The route departs the West Cambridge site over the M11 via the Coton footpath, then meanders cross country to touch Newnham before descending through Grantchester Meadows towards Trumpington. Then onto a pace-steadying couple of miles of busway towards Addenbrookes, diving out into the county to get some mud on the feet again for a mile before the most urban section began through Cherry Hinton. The ‘snakey path’ by the Brook saw the halfers begin to wind up, and on past Sainsburys to enter Coldhams Common. By this point the half marathoners were now kicking up for the finish on the north of the common, the perimeter paths of which were reasonably soft under foot. Buses are laid on to take finishers back to the start.
Marathoners continued to pick their way through housing and industrial estates of NE Cambridge, reassuring themselves to be on the right track at the landmark of the Abbey before descending onto mud once again and the riverside from Fed Ditton to Baits Bite Lock. Now bearing West and into a moderate breeze, the runners must push on through Milton village in its entirety, over the A10 footbridge and past the Butt Lane tip before another mile of mud along the bridleway South under the A14 and into Kings Hedges. The busway returns, guiding runners safely to the Histon Road which must be crossed with care before a mile or so cross country to Girton. Out along Huntingdon Road until it seems like you are taking the slip road onto some motorway or other, but then left off onto the toughest two miles of the course. Heavy, sticky wet mud descending into outright bog before ascending a monumental 40m to the top of the American Cemetery. From there a welcome descent to Coton and a final mile push home to West’s. The course is not inherently fast due to twists and turns, and the ever changing terrain which denies runners the opportunity to settle into a consistent rhythm or become bored.
Not everyone will appreciate having to interact with other road users as though on a training run. There are some marshals at key junctions, less after the half marathon finish, and certainly no traffic management is undertaken by them. There are frequent enthusiastic aid stations offering water, fruit, jelly babies, biscuits and buns.
This event is unique, leaves a good sense of accomplishment, and is a bargain at £12/£14.
Half Marathon Winner: Max Holloway – 1:16:20
Anna Cellinska 1:24:11
ERs: 208th Roddie Shepherd 2:11:08
Marathon Winner: Tom Fairbrother – 2:51:45
ERs: 46th Richard Hill 3:39:45 (PB),
ERs: 47th Alan Darby 3:39:46,
ERs: 75th Peter Royle 3:53:32,
ERs: 170th Tammy Clarkson 4:43:27
Apologies for any ERS missed, but the results online do not list club so I was only able to extract results for those I recognised.
On a personal note, Richard Hill would like to thank Alan Darby for making this his Sunday training and slow enough to keep me company, and for putting up with my ‘fatigue tourettes’.
Thanks to Laura and Louise for numerous road side shouts of encouragement (9?) despite a combined pregnancy total of 45 weeks. Well done Peter on creating the discipline of Ultra Duathlon, cycling in from and back to Ely.