Thursday, 12 May 2016

Running out on the Fens

Although I really like the concept behind the RedBull Wings For Life World Run, it's often nice to take a break from things,so I wasn't planning on running it this year. Certain life-changing events can drastically alter plans and that is why I found myself going to the Cambridge race this year. Last year I ran in South Africa, and although I had a good run (finishing as 5th lady in the worldwide competition) I was outrun by a special lady called called Riana van Niekirk. Only a few short weeks after the event she was diagnosed with a terminal illness, but we kept in touch through her subsequent treatment and she remained both strong and positive, with the idea of returning to her running firmly fixed in her mind. Unfortunately, she passed away a few weeks ago, and as I wrote a short memorial piece for her club, I realised that I'd had the honour of running her last race with her, and she would have given anything to run one more time, so I entered the event that day, to run it "for her".

With my pink ribbon for Riana!
Having seen the start list that included a London 2012 marathoner, I knew the win was out of the question, but Riana would have given it her all, so I wanted to run as far as possible on her behalf (and if I'm honest, I wanted to see if I could run as far as I had in the previous 2 events for myself as well). This definitely put me under pressure (though I know it was pressure from myself) and so sleep for the few nights before the event went out of the window. In fact, race morning saw me awake at 5am, lying in my bed eating chocolate and trying not to think about it.

Having arrived at Parker's Piece, I picked up my race number, did an interview for RedBull LIVE and then went and caught up with a couple of old friends and their young children in a playpark. Time passed so quickly that I nearly didn't make it back in time for the start of the event! I ran down the road towards the gantry only to see everyone lined up behind it, but luckily I climber over a fence and made it in time. 

There was time for a brief catch up with Steve Way (who was aiming to run 80k), and an introduction to Caitriona Jennings (the Irish 2012 marathoner and 2015 World 50k contender) . Caitriona said she was hoping to run at least 50k, whereas I had originally thought of aiming for 45-50k myself. However, it was the hottest day of the year so far (about 26 degrees) so I decided that I'd better modify my goals. A guy called Benjamin (in a Serpies vest) said that he was aiming for 45k so I decided that he would probably be running a similar pace to me. 

The route....
There was the usual hectic start as people sprinted off around a couple of corners and through the centre of Cambridge. It was quite surreal to pass Danny MacCaskill (running with music blasting from his backpack) and along streets I'd wandered as a student, and then past my college and forming stamping grounds).

As we ran up the hill towards Fitz and then Girton, the heat of the day really struck me. Although I knew we'd gone off too fast as it had been quite exciting going through town, others had gone off even faster, as I passed a lady after a couple of miles that I'd seen shoot off with the fast men right from the word go.

I'd expected Caitriona to be well ahead of me, so was surprised to be joined by 2 cyclists bearing the placards "leading lady" on their handlebars. They asked me to let me know if I needed water or anything, which I thought would be rather important as the day progressed. There were no clouds in the sky and even the wind felt hot, so it was difficult trying to work out whether to run the shortest line on some of the windy roads, or whether to aim for an edge with overhanging trees to try to snatch a few seconds of shade.

Still with Benjamin at this point
Just after the 10k mark, Caitriona ran past me as if I was standing still, and within about a kilometre, she was already 100m up the road. Fair play to her.....she looked really strong, and I had expected her to be way ahead of me right from the start. Unfortunately, this also meant that the 2 cyclists disappeared as I could no longer ask for any water outwith the official feed stations. 

Benjamin dropped back a bit and so I found myself running alone along the hot roads until I managed to reel in another guy. Interestingly enough, he called me by my name as he'd remembered running with me at the Silverstone event a couple of years ago! I wasn't half impressed at his memory!

Having just grabbed water at the feed stations I'd passed, I decided to try to go for something more at the next one......unfortunately this was a bit of a failure. The bananas being handed out were still in their skins, and I didn't feel like peeling one as a I ran, and the drinks in cups were rather difficult to I went back to water for the rest of the run (though I did appreciate the jelly babies when they had them!).

In the heat of the day
Soon after this Neil came cycling down the road to find me. He'd driven out and parked in a village further along the route and cycled back in. It was great to have someone to chat to (although I did get rather a few renditions of Leicester City songs along the way) who could also give me advance notice of how far ahead the next water station was. 

I knew my pace was gradually slowing, partly due to the heat and partly due to how heavy my clothes, socks and shoes felt as I was pouring as much water over myself as I could get my hands on. I would slow as I climbed up into the  villages and then unconsciously speed up when I turned onto some cooler tree lined lanes. I had a few brief chats to runners in passing (and to some locals who had come out to support - though none of them seemed keen to take me up on my offer of taking my number and running on instead of me) but the road did seem very empty stretching out ahead in the sun.

No wonder my foot was sore!
My brain got a bit addled as I tried to work out how far I'd run. I think I had convinced myself that 30 miles equated to 50k, so I was rather disappointed when Neil pointed out it was only 48k. The road had become much rougher and my left foot was getting very sore (I'd actually felt a blister forming on my little toe after only about 5-10k due to my wet socks and shoes) but he did a good job of encouraging me to push onto the 50k sign before the catcher car got me (no, not just by saying that he would cycle off and leave me if I did actually stop and walk as I was threatening to do)!!

By this point, I was just desperate to see that car so that I could stop running, but it seemed to take forever to close in (but then again, it could have been that I'd been given inaccurate information by the cameramen/film crew when they drew alongside me on motorbikes!).

The 50k sign came and I managed a little raised arm salute/cheer as I'd seriously doubted I'd make that distance in those conditions. Another motorbike came past and told me that the catcher car was about half a mile behind me but that a couple of other cars were preceding it. I didn't think that the catcher car would be going twice my speed yet, though I had been running over 3 1/2 hours by now, so this meant that I probably had at least another mile or so to run.

If they'd been this obvious, it would've helped ;-)
After a couple of hundred metres or so, a couple of white cars drove past me, but I didn't really look at them, as nobody said anything and there were no flanking bicycles or motorbikes (as there had been at the Silverstone event). I was therefore rather surprised when a white van following a short way behind them shouted at me to stop running as I'd been passed. I was shocked and so pulled up sharply. So causing me to bend over double with a stitch. What an anticlimax that was!!!!

Still, at least this time there was a bus that I could get on to go back to Parker's Piece for a well-earned beer (though it did take a while as I'd run almost as far as Chatteris, which was the furthest point away from the start of the whole route)!

Despite another slightly disorganised ending, I still think it is a great event, and think I did as well as I could have done on the day (2nd lady and 5th overall out of over 2000 starters in Cambridge)......for myself and in memory of Riana. You cannot affect anyone else's run and so massive congratulations go to Caitriona for winning the ladies' event (4th overall on the day) and Steve for the men's event. 

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