The bakery has freshly installed countertops in its kitchen and new armchairs by the fireplace, but the old glass door still doesn’t close properly. A brisk wind keeps pushing into the shop, swirling chilly air and buttery smells all the way to the back, where I sit. But I have tea, and anyway, I can’t move: my legs are jelly after this morning’s Boundary Run around Cambridge.
In the 1920s, three men and a dog decided to run nonstop around the city’s border (a distance roughly equivalent to a marathon), cutting through hedgerows, trotting over fields, most likely nodding to horses, sheep, and starry-eyed academics in equal measure. Now, the university’s running club, The Hare & Hounds, replicates the event, rain or shine, each spring. Given the season, that usually entails about 800 runners tromping through the mud and whizzing past daffodils and cherry blossoms. Today there were also 20 mph winds blowing in from Ireland. Thankfully, for most of the race, the gusts pushed me toward the half-marathon finish at Coldham’s Common.
The race began on my home turf, passed my usual running routes, and then through my neighborhood of short brick townhouses, all standing stoutly against the wind in their shades of light blue, pink, and pale yellow. Then we turned southeast into the fields to reach the next village, Grantchester, running on a riverside path that, because of last night’s rain, had turned into cake batter.
Then it was northeast, back into town. I spent the last half of the race pacing with Mystery Girl, who appeared after the liminal area near the London-bound train line—it’s half built up with industrial sites, a small airport, and various science and technology buildings rising up from muddy fields. The trees are newly planted, and there is limited wind cover. By the time Mystery Girl and I started pacing, though, the route had us running through the more livable area of eastern Cambridge, where, instead of stately Georgian mansions and 12th-century churches, I saw children and parents walking back to their cars after a soccer game, elderly couples hauling bright orange Sainsbury grocery bags, and a few hardy gardeners tearing up soggy front beds.
Now that I’m showered and fed, with my muddy clothes in the laundry, I can dwell on how I wound up losing a final sprint against the Mystery Girl, finishing one second behind her. We never spoke during the run, and only said “good race” afterward. We listened to a bagpiper and nibbled on snacks before hopping on the bus back to the start. But hours later, warm and dry and nestled in the bakery, I can be a good sport and toast my running friend as I hobble to close the windblown door.
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