Cambridge Half Marathon Race Recap

It’s been more than a week, so I figured I should finally recap the Cambridge Half Marathon. First of all, it was a new PR for me! I kinda knew it would be unless something went seriously wrong – it was only my 3rd half ever and I trained more for this one than the last 2, so I went into the race feeling really confident. Except for the fact that I wasn’t feeling well all week and my hamstring and arch had been especially grumpy.

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Pre-race group selfie

I didn’t sleep great – I rarely do before a race – but it’s the sleep 2 nights before that really counts, and I slept great on Friday night and even stayed in bed several hours longer than I had planned to. When my alarm went off at 4:30am on Sunday, I was raring to go. I walked Chip in the pouring rain, made myself an English muffin with peanut butter & jelly, drank a cup of coffee and a bottle of water with a Nuun Hydration tablet, and packed my change of clothes for post-race. It was forecast to rain all morning, and while I honestly don’t mind running in the rain (unless it’s 50 or below), I can’t stand being cold and wet afterward. DFMC teammate and fellow Brighton-ite Katie and I split an Uber to the Cambridgeside Mall and arrived with more than hour until the race began. I had time to do 1 shirt change, opting for short sleeves, knee-length pants, and a hat since it was pouring but 60 degrees. I also visited the porta-potties twice while they were still fresh and clean. I only had 3 GUs left in my supply, so I saved them for mid-race instead of having one at the start like I normally do. Our DFMC friends & family team had enough people to secure a VIP table area in the parking garage (location of the after party), so we were able to hang out there pre-race and stash our stuff for later.

By the time we lined up and waited for the gun to go off, I was soaked through my clothes and cold, but I knew I’d warm up as soon as we got going. Just as the gun went off, I realized I really needed to pee again. Fortunately there were no lines so my friend Meghan kindly waited for me to dash in and dash out, and then we were on our way. We settled into our pace from the get-go, starting nice and slow. The first 3 miles were through a pretty residential area of Cambridge and despite the rain, there was a good number of spectators cheering on the runners. I had planned to take GU at Miles 4, 8 and 12 but I was starving by the time the race began (and am used to having that GU before starting), so I ended up taking them at Miles 3, 7 and 10.

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My running ride-or-dies

The water stops began just after Mile 2, and were every mile after that. I alternated water and Gatorade until about Mile 9, when I started skipping stops. Meghan and I ran together until just before Mile 7, when she walked a little longer through the water stop and said she would catch up to me and never did. The poor thing had been sick for the previous 2 weeks and this weather was not at all fun to run it healthy, let alone sick as a dog. I ended up running the whole 2nd half of the race alone, passing a few teammates but never really talking to anyone. I was focused on getting it done.

I ran the first half too slow, trying to conserve but losing precious time. I was able to really kick it into high gear for the second half, but I couldn’t make up THAT much time. I wished I had gone out about 30 seconds per mile faster, but I wasn’t sure what my injured lower body was capable of, so in the end it was good that I erred on the side of caution. I had gas left in the tank at the finish, although mentally I was over it around Mile 11.

The course itself was horrible. The route was wonderful, but they had us go from street to sidewalk to grass (which was all mud) to street to sidewalk and back and forth and back and forth. The sidewalks are about 5” higher than the roads, with sharp granite curbs. I am shocked I didn’t fall or see anyone seriously hurt. The grass/trails would have been fine any other day, but in torrential rain with 8,000 runners, there were a muddy mess. Everyone had to walk at least 10 times throughout the race in order to avoid massive puddles and mud pits. At one point around Mile 8, there was literally no avoiding the mud. I sank in up to my ankles, lost my footing, and used the guardrail to break my fall. That was sharp and rusty and did not feel good at ALL. Fortunately it didn’t break the skin, but my hand hurt and my shoe was SOAKED in muddy water for the next mile. There were also several points during the race where the path we were on was so narrow that I had no choice but to fall in behind people running much slower than I would have liked. And then we ran over two bridges – one at the BU Bridge around Mile 10.5 and another underneath the Longfellow Bridge at Mile 12.5 – where we running on metal grates instead of pavement or asphalt. And during the first one, you are running uphill then downhill, and I really had to slow it down on the descent so as not to slip and fall. I spent a lot of this race annoyed at the terrain. Like I said, the route (after Mile 3) was gorgeous as it followed the Charles River to the Newton line and back, but the course itself was poor-planned for a sunny day with 2,000 runners, let alone a monsoon with 8,000 runners.

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Post-race group shot

I sprinted across the finish line – which included a lot of mud – and quickly grabbed my medal and a bottle of water then made my way inside the mall. I had a clementine, a bowl of oatmeal with maple syrup and brown sugar, and then half of a ham & cheese frittata. The food was on the 3rd floor of the mall, and you needed a wristband to get there, so I had to show my ID (thankfully I kept it in my pants pocket during the race) and wait in a really long line without any of my friends. Then, after I got my food, I had to go back into the mall, then down into the parking garage to get to our VIP area. The good news was that we had our own supply of beer waiting for us, so I enjoyed a can while I changed into dry clothes from head to toe. We stayed for the after-party to hang out, stretch, and dance for several hours until I was finally too tired and hungry for real food. I called an Uber and went home at what felt like 7pm, but it was only 12:30. I took a hot shower, walked Chip, and got back into bed for a few hours before finally getting up to have dinner and clean the apartment.

My official time was 2:18:54 – a 5-minute PR! I was secretly hoping for 2:15 but once I realized that wasn’t going to happen, I was just happy to PR by a solid 5 minutes. I also knew this was my last race for a while and was just glad to have made it to the finish line with 2 pretty rough injuries, one of which I’ve had for well over a year and one that’s been nagging me since March.

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The only official photo I made it into

Overall, the race was fun with friends. The beer was flowing at the after-party, but the food was a bit of a logistical nightmare. Bib pickup was equally as hellish, although I do think that the way they don’t pre-assign numbers is genius. More races should do this – you just get the first bib in the pile when you show up, instead of volunteers having to search for your specific number. The course itself really sucked a lot of the fun out of the race. The volunteers were amazing and the water stops were very well placed and staffed – something that is really easy to screw up, even in small races. I have to give them kudos for that. And while the race photos were free, you have to search a Facebook album of almost 700 photos. Unlike most races, you can’t search by your name or bib number. I only had the patience to look once, but I didn’t see myself in a single race photo, just one group shot at the after-party. The jacket and the beer honestly made my registration fee worth it, but the jackets ran so big that I will probably never wear my size Large with sleeves that are 8″ too long for my arms. Will I do it again? Perhaps. My hope for 2018 is that I’m healthy enough to run half marathons without a ton of training plans. Instead, I want to be in good enough overall and running shape that I can just be running a lot and sign up for halfs without needing 12 weeks to train. So if my friends want to run this one again next year, I’ll probably join them. But otherwise, unless they change the route to be on safer surfaces, it’s not a race I’d seek out again.

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2:18:54 – a new PR!
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