my running adventures – barefoot or otherwise

Ely to Cambridge City to City run race review

A picture of me (left) with the winner in the orange hoodie (noisy man), and the 2nd placed guy on the right (great running technique guy).

A picture of me (left) with the winner in the orange hoodie (noisy man), and the 2nd placed guy on the right (great running technique guy).

In my last post, I said that I’d be posting about why jelly babies wrecked my pre-race night of preparation, and a review of the race I competed in this morning. Before we set off from Nottingham to Ely for a few days at the in-laws over Easter weekend, I could have sworn I’d packed my stash of preferred in-race snacks – jelly babies, in my bag along with all my running stuff. Now, this is quite an achievement in that I had to remember to pack all of the following:

Nike white short-sleeved shirt and black nike shorts (that I used in my training run on Friday)
2 pairs of trainer socks (1 to race in, one for my training run)
2 pairs of trainers (my trail shoes and my minimalist shoes)
Windproof/waterproof jacket
Nike long-sleeve blue running top for the race
Nike extra short shorts for the race
Bum bag for the race, including a water bottle
Arm wallett
Mobile phone and charger
All my paperwork for the run (disclaimer, map of the route, route description, etc)

So, to realise just an hour or so before lights out last night that I couldn’t find the jelly babies I thought I’d packed, you can imagine I was pretty miffed! Especially as I’d just returned from the shop I could have got some more jelly babies!! So, back out I went to get the jelly babies. I knew I’d need them for the run and I wasn’t going to try anything new on race day just for the sake of another half hour round trip to a shop.

With that safely sorted, I went to bed in the knowledge that I could end up being woken up an hour later than planned if my ‘smart’ phone didn’t prove to be so smart and automatically move on an hour, as the clocks went forward last night.

I shouldn’t have been so doubting. My smart phone was indeed smart enough to cope with the time change and I therefore woke up at 6:20am, giving me nearly two and half hours to digest my breakfast before I started the race at 9:00am.

Breakfast before a race stays the same whenever possible (but I’ve only done 4 races, so I should probably experiment a wee bit with what I have) and consists of 2 weetabix, followed by a slice of toast with butter and honey, washed down with water only. I usually have a cup of tea in the morning, but never on race day. I think the milk plays around with my stomach a bit.

I got to the race start, just next to the train station in Ely in plenty of time and saw that we’d be starting the run, which followed the Fen Rivers Way, along the top of a floodbank.

While waiting around, going through the motions of pinning my race number on, chit-chat with my father-in-law and generally trying to scope out the other runners (which I’m hopeless at, by the way!), I inadvertently stepped in the only puddle anywhere around the starting line, which was iced over and it soaked the toes and forefoot of my left foot with icy cold, muddy water. Great start!

If I was a bit superstitious, following the jelly baby saga and now stepping in an ice cold puddle literally minutes before the start of the race, I’d be looking around for the third thing to go wrong, hoping it happened before the race began!

Fortunately I’m not superstitious, and nothing else went wrong for a long time (more about that later).

The race began and I’d managed to ensure I was starting from the front. I did this for a number of reasons. First off, I didn’t want to be caught behind a lot of slower people and I figured that I’d prefer to be overtaken by quicker runners, rather than have to be the one doing the overtaking. The second reason was that I could see the top of the floodbank was pretty narrow, and having to overtake slower runners on it wouldn’t have been easy and would mean I’d end up losing time on them unnecessarily.

Of course, all of this was what was going round my head, not knowing if I’d joined an elite field of 100 or so pro-quality athletes, or if I’d be one of the quicker runners.

It turned out I needn’t have worried too much. I quickly settled into third position from the start and followed an incredibly tall, senior dude with a day-glo red hat. He led the race for the first four miles or so and I found out at the finish line later on that he’d finished second in last year’s race. The other guy in front of me was about my height, wore Asics trainers and had the smoothest running form I’ve seen away from watching athletics on the television. He was light on his feet, forefoot landing first, bent knees on impact, and seemed to be full of running.

What was admirable ahead of me, was matched and perhaps even beaten by the frustrating runner just behind me. It felt like he was breathing right down my neck and made the most frequent and interminable noises, grunts, coughs and splutters right in my ear. It was with relief he finally passed me just around the 4.5 mile mark. It turned out he won the race too! He looked a lot better in front of me, than he sounded behind me!

At the first checkpoint at 5 miles, my mile times were:

6:27, 6:43, 6:34, 6:47, 6:35.

The other guy in our front breakaway pack of five wore a luminous top and pretty much followed me the entire way round until about 11 miles or so, when I got far enough ahead of him I couldn’t see him behind me any more. Time after time we ran through ‘kissing gates’ between fields along the edge of the river.

The race spent the first 11 miles or so following the Fen Rivers Way almost exclusively along the top of the floodbanks, before it then joined a gravel toepath. The views along the floodbank were sublime. We could see the various wildlife on the River Great Ouse and then Cam (ducks and their ducklings, graceful-looking swans), see rabbits diving into their riverside holes as they saw us approach and even avoid a charge from a bunch of big cows that didn’t seem pleased to see us!

I marvelled at the beautiful big skies we were surrounded by in this ultra flat part of the country. What I really enjoyed about this run was the quiet, peaceful serenity that seemed to permeate the whole landscape, the tree-lined field boundaries, the various shades of brown, green and yellow fields and the challenge of each step along the bumpy surface.

By mile 11, the top 5 had become a top three, which was becoming increasingly spread out, with me at the back of the three, spritely good-running technique guy in the Asics in second, and the noisy, tall runner in first position.

My lap times from mile 6 to mile 11 were:

6:35, 6:37, 6:42, 6:39, 6:43, 6:46

I tried to keep them in my sights for as long as I could but following the meandering river toyed with my head. I wrestled between making huge efforts to stick with, and try to gain on the guy in second (when he was in view), and then wondering whether I should just stick to maintaining my speed so I secured third place (when he was no longer in my view).

A mixture of the two was the result of my uncertainty and it seemed to delay the inevitable of me getting slowly further away from the front two runners.

It was also at about this time that my Karrimor arm wallett that i use to hold my mobile phone, which has the Strava app on it) finally gave up the ghost. My upper arms are not blessed with bulk, and the velcro strap I have to wrap around so tightly to keep it in place finally had worn away. After a few unsuccessful attempts at re-fastening the arm wallet, I admitted defeat and shoved the whole thing in the front of my bum bag. Surprisingly, I could still hear the half-mile reports from Strava and although weird initially, my arm was grateful to be able to breathe again.

When I got to the 13 mile marker, which Strava told me without emotion, I was really battling with myself to continue. While running away from the city and built up areas is wonderful for appreciating the environment, it makes for a very lonely run unless you’re running with a partner who is of an equal ability.

I persevered, and I’m pleased to say that I relied on prayers and speaking to God through this tough time. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just speak to Him when I was in need. I was speaking with Him at various times throughout the run, thanking him for this wonderful opportunity to be outside in His wonderful creation, taking in the beauty of the Fens and really feeling alive as I battled with my body and mind. I really felt that God was with me during the run and it felt so intimate to be running, alone in a physical sense from other runners, but knowing I was running my race God had marked out for me today, as he has marked out the race that is my life in a wider sense.

The last couple of miles thankfully passed much more swiftly than I was expecting and I was grateful I’d taken the time to memorise the route to the finish from the moment the toepath ended, to the finish line on Midsummer Common in Cambridge.

I got to the finish line, thankful to be able to stop running and really pleased I’d managed to have come third. It turned out I finished the 16 miles in 1 hour 46 minutes, 2 minutes or so behind the winner (official results aren’t yet posted at the time of writing) – this was about in keeping with my target and I was chuffed with my time because it was actually a minute faster than the time last year’s winner had achieved!

I was proud and grateful to have my father-in-law and brother-in-law at the finish line to cheer me on, and proud too of the trophy and medal I received for my efforts.

MIle 12 onwards times:

6:31, 6:36, 6:51, 6:54, 6:54.

My run can be seen on Strava here:

Something that was particularly and unexpectedly nice at the end was the realisation that as of today, Lent had ended. Now, the reason I was pleased was because I’d given up coffee for Lent, and that now, in triumphant mood, I could celebrate with a cup of caffeine-infused hotness to warm me up, together with a banana and a couple of bourbon biscuits. Teriffic!

All in all, definitely a race I would compete in again. The link to the website is:

It is surprising how nice a cup of coffee is after weeks of not having it. I’d recommend it to anyone who, like me, finds themselves drinking too much coffee!

A word for any medical professionals out there! After the race, my right knee has been hurting. It is on the front left of my kneecap and is a sharp pain, that is aggravated whenever I engage my thigh muscle to move my leg. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what the problem might be? Perhaps just an over-use injury from the long run, or maybe something more sinister?

Next up – thinking of the people behind me!


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