The Cambridge Boundary run is somewhat of a home game for me, and in 2018 I would run it for the eleventh time. This created an interest of the story of this race, which is organised by the University’s Hare and Hounds cross-country running club. It is a low-cost and low-key event, but the course is marked, and now there is even a finisher medal (but no prizes given). The beginnings of the Boundary Run are hidden deep in the mists of time and the fens, but it is believed that it was first run in the spring of 1924 (half a year earlier than Europe’s oldest continuously run marathon in Kosice, Slovakia). I don’t know if it harks back to the ancient tradition of walking along the boundary of a town or parish and beating the boundary markers with a stick (the markers made from stone, of course, not the people marking and marshalling the course). This “Beating the Bounds” is probably as old as feudalism, having been already practised during the times of King Alfred of Wessex, and continues into the present day, also in Cambridge (see photo on Mill Lane by James Yardley/geograph.org.uk).
Anyway, in March 1924, three men and one dog completed a non-stop run around the city boundary, which would be the first recorded boundary run, but certainly not a race. It did not seem to catch on in the following years, but a quarter of a century years later, to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of the initial boundary run, James Hasler and Derek Shorrocks revived it, with now around 15 runners taking place. Although originally an irregular event, the run became annual between 1959 and 1985, and had a recorded length of 25 imperial miles (Note: This would have counted as a marathon distance before the the distance was extended to 42.2 km, or 26 1/5 miles due to a start at Windsor Castle at the London Olympics of 1908). After a hiatus of some 20 years, the Boundary Run had its next incarnation in 2006, and since 2008, it is a full marathon, and therefore generate higher interest in the running community, as it had previously been primarily a club event.
Since 2015, the run starts at the then newly completed University Sports Centre in the west of the city and circles the city anti-clockwise. After crossing muddy Coton Country park, Newnham, passing role players at Grantchester Meadows and Trumpington, it passes the new developments around Addenbrooke’s Hospital, which luckily including a well-developed path along the guided busway. Nine Wells reserve. On Coldham’s Common, were runners greeted by a bagpiper, before finishing the half or going for the full, turning towards Fen Ditton and then on a towpath along the river Cam, where rowing boats train. The Cam is crossed on Baits Bite lock near Milton. The grimmer, muddier parts up north (between Girton and Madingley) are reserved for the runners of the full marathon, but after the American War Memorial in goes downhill towards the finish.
The race is a good indicator for a season’s form and a good test for upcoming spring marathons, such as London. Though my training was the worst ever, my finishing time was surprisingly good this year, though probably paid for by a longer recovery time. Favourable weather conditions might also have played a role, as exciting weather can be expected at this time of year, and a week earlier or later, the weather would have been severe.
For a bit of statistics, I have plotted my Boundary Run speed (blue) against my season’s best (orange) marathon speed. My slowest time in 2016 was partially run against a breeze blowing from the northwest, and my fastest time was run in 2013, when I actually did some training, as I would run for the Hare and Hounds in the London Marathon. I am looking forward to the Boundary Run Centenary in 2024!