A few running races… and why Cambridge is the perfect training location

Time is a funny thing isn’t it. No matter how much you have, it always seems to get filled. I’m now fully accustomed to my part time lifestyle and looking back I have no idea how I managed to fit everything in before! My extra 2 days a week certainly seem to be fairly full, and not just with training. In fact I’m not entirely sure where all that time goes…. But in a nutshell life is good and touch wood, both work and training seem to be responding well to the change.

I have some exciting news in that I’ve recently signed up with High 5 nutrition for 2012. I’ve been using their products since I started racing and honestly think it’s the best fuel to go fast, so I’m over the moon to have them on board with me next year and hope I can do their products justice!

I always think winter training can get a bit dull unless you spice it up. So I’ve been keeping myself interested by doing a few fairly low key running races. I view them as hard training sessions and find them a really fun way of breaking up winter training. One of the most enjoyable was the Hereward relays, a mainly off road team relay race from Peterborough to Ely which I raced with friends from Cambridge triathlon club.

I also raced the historic Oxford-Cambridge Varsity Cross Country (photo) on Wimbledon Common and am now officially the oldest ever winner of this race – a fact I’m quite proud of! In true Cambridge style there is a lot of tradition associated with the race and it’s certainly unique. Each university can field 6 runners so there are only 12 girls on the start line, all dressed in white (why?!). The course is fair and tough, including a river crossing and I felt a bit like the old granny, stumbling down the banks mid pack. However I paced it well and ran into the lead about half way round, so finally I’ve managed to pace a cross country race properly – at last!

Then last weekend I raced Bedford half marathon. Though I hadn’t rested specifically for the race, I did go into it with a very definite goal – a sub 1.20 clocking. So despite winning it, I was pretty furious with myself when I crossed the line in 1hr 20 and 1 second! It’s a tough course though and was certainly a good hard training run – I just wish I had managed to go 2 seconds quicker!

To be honest I’m surprised I’ve been running so well recently, particularly as I have a couple of kilos of extra protective winter padding (which I intend keeping for a couple of months while the weather is cold). Racing in Compressport calf guards (or full legs if it’s cold) definitely helps me run quickly for longer. However I think most of this is down to my weekly training with Esther Rodriguez, a friend from work who is going to take the tri world by storm next year. She used to swim for Spain and I used to punish her in running sessions. However the table has turned and it is now me who is chasing her down the path outside the hospital which we use for our reps. Her huge improvement over the last year has got me thinking about how circumstance can influence aspirations, belief and performance.

And ultimately, I’ve come to the conclusion that Cambridge is the perfect stomping ground for any athlete.

OK, there may be no mountains here. However the wind turns pretty much every run or ride into a mountain climb so that’s not really an issue. But Cambridge is somewhat of a unique city. It’s probably not to everyone’s taste and definitely gets some getting used to; when I moved back here I was astounded by students wandering around town in gowns in the middle of the day. However Cambridge attracts a certain kind of person; driven, focused, determined. People don’t do anything by halves. They’re verging on obsessive and probably 80% have type A personalities. Take the inaugural Cambridge half marathon for example – entries filled up in 2 days. And Cambridge isn’t full of runners. Yet it is full of people who will take up a challenge. So anyone who had ever picked up a pair of running shoes decided that, yes, actually, there was no reason why they couldn’t run a half marathon – and hence the race was full (sadly before my boss could enter it).

Consequently, Cambridge has a huge pool of talented, driven athletes so when it comes to training partners, there is no shortage of better athletes to push each other on and drive each other forwards. I run with better female runners, swim with better female swimmers and bike with better female bikers, as well as the plethora of supportive, surprisingly non-egoistical guys who are more than happy to have women fighting to keep up with them. Though we’re all competitive individuals, as a bunch I think we celebrate each others talents and appreciate that we can learn from each other rather than turning every training session into a race.

Success breeds success, of that I’ve no doubt. I learnt huge amounts by training with Lou Collins in Nottingham. You see someone you train with do well and then wonder whether you could do the same. And I think that’s what’s happening in Cambridge. We have our own, non-official, very informal semi-elite training ‘team’ here.

And I can think of a few big names I expect to emerge from this environment in the next year or so…..

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