Chariots of Fire 2021: Our (almost) essential guide to the Cambridge charity relay race
One of the great Cambridge traditions - the Chariots of Fire relay race - returns on Sunday, September 19.
Hundreds of runners will be taking part in teams, raising money for the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA), this year’s official charity partner.
We’ve got everything you need to know about it, and some things you don’t, right here, based on our years of experience in the race (look, we can show you the medals and everything).
What time does it all start?
If you’re reading this, you’re late. Get a move on.
Runners need to be on Queens’ Green by 9am on Sunday, September 19. Double amputee and former EAAA patient Shaun Whiter will officially start the race at 9.30am. Team leaders need to register on the day between 7.30am and 9am.
What about parking?
There’s no parking on Queens’ Green, but limited street parking is available for some nearby and there are some pay-and-display spaces. However, it gets busy, so if you can walk or cycle to the race, then do so.
There will be bike racks on the Green. Don’t park your bike on the fence along the top of the Green, opposite West Road, or you’ll interfere with the running and look like a fool. Some hardcore runners - who don’t break a sweat over 1.7 miles - even run to the event, then run back (or so they say)...
One of the great delights of the Chariots of Fire race is its unique 1.7-mile route. It goes through some of Cambridge’s historic city centre along with two University of Cambridge University, over the River Cam and along the famous Backs. But don’t spend too long admiring the beautiful scenery - your teammate is waiting for you.
Runners take part in teams of six, starting and ending their run on Queens’ Green, where the baton is passed on to the next victim - participant, we mean.
What’s a good time then?
Funny you should ask. This being Cambridge, somebody has worked out a mathematical formula for that, as follows:
G = A + 10s
Where G = Good time, A = The Actual time you record and s = seconds.
Following this formula, you can be assured of impressing your colleagues.
And remember, this is a team race, so if your group’s time is a bit on the rubbish side, it’s because your teammates were slowcoaches. What are you supposed to do?
But seriously, if you want something to aim at, the winning team in 2019 (after you-know-what scuppered the 2020 race), finished all six legs in a breathtakingly nauseating time of 56 minutes 56 seconds. They called themselves Team Secret Squirrel, but eyewitnesses report they were more like greyhounds.
Can runners wear fancy dress?
Yes, in the spirit of Chariots of Fire’s camaraderie and good taste, some runners do wear ridiculous costumes. We recommend it, in fact, because although it can scupper your dreams of a record time, it does mean that when someone speed machine from Cambridge and Coleridge Athletics Club or suchlike steams past, you can call after them: ‘What do you expect? I’m dressed as Bugs Bunny’.
We’ve been overtaken by some cracking outfits down the years - Where’s Wally characters, Mario and Luigi… mortifying, really. Hide your shame within a sumo suit or something.
What if it’s raining hard?
Then you’ll get wet.
Bring your own refreshments
There won’t be bottled water handed out this year due to Covid safety considerations, and also for environmental reasons. So bring your own reusable water bottle. Or maybe a hip flask and a cheese and pickle sandwich. Whatever gets you round, eh?
Will there be road closures?
Yes, from 8.30am-12pm, Silver Street will be closed to vehicles and a diversion will be in place. Garret Hostel Lane footpath will be closed to pedestrians and cyclists from 9am.
This is what it’s all about really (along with bragging rights in the city, of course). Runners raise money for a good cause every year, and since launching in 1992, Chariots of Fire has raised a massive £1.48million. This year, it’s the turn of East Anglian Air Ambulance to benefit, so there’s all the motivation you could need to tap up your friends and colleagues for extra sponsorship money. Proceeds will help to fund a £97,500 project for EAAA to provide more CPR and defibrillator training.
The charity says sponsorship of just £50 could help train up to 20 people in these life-saving skills at a community CPR training session, so all race participants are encouraged to raise at least £50 in sponsorship to help support this lifesaving cause - but go on, see if you can do better still. Sponsorship money should be handed in by mid-December.
Matthew Jones, CEO of EAAA, said: “Some people might be surprised to learn that our clinical teams actually attend more cardiac arrests than any other type of emergency, and sadly the average survival rates for these emergencies in the UK are very low at just one in ten. In these situations, immediate CPR and early defibrillation can treble the chance of someone surviving. We’re committed to improving awareness and confidence in delivering CPR and using a defibrillator so that when our crews are tasked to someone in cardiac arrest, they will have the best chance of receiving this help from a bystander first. We can really only make a difference if the patient has received this help before we arrive; the bystanders are the real life savers!”
That team’s not got a baton...
Spot runners handing something a little bigger than a baton between their teammates and it’s either that somebody’s brought a packed lunch, or you’ve spotted the East Anglian Air Ambulance team, which this year will be handing over
Matthew, of EAAA, who will be one of the runners, said: “Not only are we entering a team into the race to take part, but we will be passing a defibrillator instead of a baton to remind everyone there on the day what it is that they are helping to support through the race.
“We will also have a team on hand throughout the event to provide CPR and defibrillator demonstrations, so anyone taking part in the event or watching the race will have the opportunity to learn these skills for themselves and get involved.”
Joining Matthew on the EAAA team will be four of the charity’s frontline doctors and a former patient, Laura Bird, who is also their secret weapon, as she’s a seasoned ultra-marathon runner. You won’t miss them. They will be running in EAAA uniform - orange flight suits for the clinicians and navy pilot flight suits for Matthew and Laura, to represent a full EAAA crew. Give them a big cheer when you see them - they’re lifesavers, after all.
Why is it called Chariots of Fire then?
The run follows in the footsteps of the Chariots of Fire film, which tells the story of Cambridge runner Harold Abrahams and his bid to win a gold medal in the 1924 Olympics.
The film includes an iconic scene of the race around Trinity College Great Court.
Bill took the idea to his friend Lewis Isaacs and they talked their respective firms Robson Rhodes, chartered accountants (now Grant Thornton UK LLP), and solicitors Hewitsons (now HCR Hewitsons), to provide the initial funding and organisation. HCR Hewitsons continues as the main sponsor today and organiser today, through HCR Hewitsons Charitable Trust.
How many have taken part?
6,245 teams featuring approximately 37,470 individual runners. Next question.
Can one runner go around again?
If your teammate has failed to set his or her alarm clock after one too many the night before (it has been known), then yes, an individual can run in more than one of the legs. But they must pass the baton to a teammate, and the team won’t be eligible for the prizes.
Prizes? You didn’t mention them
We’ll be honest - we’ve not got near winning any. But we hear there are cups on offer to the fastest three teams, the fastest male, female and mixed teams, and for veteran male, female and mixed teams, where veteran is, rather worryingly, considered anyone over 40. There’s a new super veteran team category for over-60s. There’s an Intercollegiate Cup for college runners and a People’s Cup for the team that gets the best reaction from the crowd on the day (we suppose this might be because they’re wearing something daft, or have bribed the lot of them).
Crocodiles, trap doors and flaming arrows… none of these are present on the course. But there are some cobbles in the city centre, plus the potential for some slippery grass, so watch your step. There are also a few sharp turns and some narrow sections, so if you’re struggling to record anything like a decent time, just try telling your colleagues you got stuck behind someone window shopping in the city and felt it rude to overtake.
Since it’s organised by a law firm, you know that an extensive risk assessment will have been completed. You can find it right here.
The race organisers have also done everything they can to reduce the risk of Covid transmission, including asking every runner to take a lateral flow test before the race and not to turn up if it’s positive. A number of social distancing measures will be in place on Queens’ Green. Runners are asked not to spit, high five, or engage in unnecessary contact, and to keep their distance as best they can on the route by using all of the available space. When not running, you are asked to maintain social distancing, as are spectators.
What’s the running order?
Runners should go in the order Red, Blue, Yellow, Pink, Green, then Black. Just think snooker, and then realise that it’s actually nothing like that. Except it does finish with black and that’s important because the final runner, wearing the black colour bib must place the bib labelled “front” on the front of their body for the timings chip to work. If incorrectly positioned, no timing will be recorded. For some, that might be a blessing.
Tactics, tactics, tactics
Do you send your fastest runner out first? Or will they get caught up in the crowd? Should you save your best runner for the final leg, where they can zoom past as many as possible in a heroic dash to the line? Honestly, we’ve no idea. You’ve all got to do the 1.7 miles, so perhaps it doesn’t matter too much. We can only recommend sending out whoever looks the most awake on a Sunday morning on the first run.
Photography - and coverage in the Cambridge Independent
Our photographer, Keith Heppell, will be there to capture you at your best for our big picture specials. We’ll post galleries online and print oodles of them in the Cambridge Independent, out from Wednesday September 22, so don’t miss that. And if you see Keith, smile (or grimace - makes you look like you’re working hard for the cause.)
Any final words?
Good luck. It’s a good thing you’re doing. And most importantly of all, don’t forget the…
Sorry, out of room.