For the 2013 and 2015 races, please click the following:
Same race. Different year. Different result.
You know the drill by now. Grab a drink, along with a snack and let me share my Cardiff Half Marathon tale with you. As ever, skip right to “The race” for the good stuff.
Throughout the years, I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with half marathons. The half marathon for me is a classic distance and the original reason I got into long distance running in the first place, but it’s also been the distance that I’ve failed most at, trying to live up to my own potential over the years.
My three targets for the summer season featured a sub-19 minute 5k (done), a sub-40 minute 10k (got two of those in!) and a sub-90 minute half marathon. Cardiff was my last chance to do it in 2014 and if I failed, I would have to wait until a spring race to come good again.
Dave was meant to be in tow with exactly the same targets, and in just two weeks had managed to decimate my 5k and 10k PBs. Sadly due to injury, he had to pull out of this race at almost the eleventh hour rather than risk further long-term damage. I had his and my own hopes and ambitions resting on my shoulders – extra motivation for when the going got tough out there. It would have been great for both of us to shoot for sub-90 and see what we were made of, but alas, the running gods above deemed it not to be.
All I needed was the right day, the right weather and some luck to make magic happen one last time in 2014.
I’m normally meticulous when it comes to pre-race prep but I wasn’t quite all there in the morning. Here’s a list of the things that didn’t go according to plan:
- Forgot to fill in the emergency contact details on the bib reverse (seriously folks, don’t take the risk that I did – fill it in)
- Forgot to drink my strong espresso shot
- Peed in a bottle due to lack of toilets
- Couldn’t find Vince Nazareth of Les Croupiers Running Club
- Less than stellar warm-up (no 400m at race pace)
Yup. Not a great start to an already stressful race morning. Apart from that, I was 100% ready to do what was needed to go under 90 minutes. I felt fresh from the taper and I was well fuelled. And lastly, I believed in my training from the last few weeks. “Commit to the plan. Execute the plan” was my mantra to get me to the end.
After parting ways with Lis and her mum, I made my way over to the start pens for my first bugbear of the day – none of the marshals or volunteers knew where the entrance to the white start pen was! I finally convinced one of the start line marshals to let me in via a gap by the photographers’ barrier. I actually crossed under the start gantry, noticing a distinct and audible beep – had I just activated my race chip?!
The white start pen was tiny with no more than a few hundred runners in there, including the elites at the front. I bumped into Nigel Foulkes-Nock of Lliswerry Runners and Daniel Luffman of Les Croupiers at the front of the pen just behind me. Nigel’s son, James, was just ahead of me, also chasing after a sub-90 minute finish. I finally spotted Vince on the left of my pen but couldn’t grab his attention – he was my lucky charm, where in every single race I’ve participated in with him, I’ve managed to score a PB of some sort.
Very fine rain began to fall from the heavens to keep things cool and fresh – near perfect race weather. After a rendition of the Welsh national anthem and an intro from Colin Jackson, we runners were freed from the shackles of the start pen to begin the race.
I ran with James for a few hundred metres and let him go at the first bend – I had a feeling I would catch him up later in the race. Vince finally saw me and I made my way over to him at the first opportunity. He was hoping for a PB of sub-87 but felt a sub-88 minute finish was all he had due to a few too many races over the summer. I ran with Vince for the first mile but eventually let him go due to a slight pace mis-match between us. I wanted to run a smart race without any heroics to jeopardise the plan – goal creep was not available on the menu.
At about mile two, somebody behind me yelled out, “How you doing, Andy Yu?” – it was only Gerwyn from Cardiff Parkrun! I’m not even from south Wales and the number of people I recognised in the race was pretty incredible. Gerwyn stormed off into the distance at a very nice clip and I was certain he’d post a huge PB after a good summer’s training.
I began drafting behind people of a similar pace to me to reserve as much mental and physical stamina for later in the race. When the first hill arrived, naturally everybody’s pace began to drop so I charged on up to keep my target pace in check – 6:49 per mile at that. Due to how fresh my legs were feeling, I had to rein them in because they constantly wanted to go faster – a positive sign that the half marathon paced sessions had worked. On the descent from the hill, I decided to let my legs stretch out a little and along with the aid of going downhill, my pace climbed. And climbed. And climbed some more, until I was 18 seconds ahead of schedule… I sank one of my three Isogels to keep fuel topped up, also receiving a nice pick-me-up from the caffeine.
Cruising through Penarth, I noticed an older chap from Aberysywyth AC just in front of me. Being an Aber graduate, I shouted out “Go Aberystwyth!” to him, and received a thumbs-up in return.
I was a touch nervous about reaching the Barrage due to the winds, but need not have worried – conditions were spot on and the breeze actually helped cool me down; some cheeky drafting here and there helped to eliminate much of the slow-down. Passing by a DJ blaring out tunes, he reminded us all that we had reached mile 5 by declaring, “You’re at mile 5! Almost there!” Not helpful at all with over 8 miles left to go. The Garmin virtual pacer reported a 26 second lead, so I decided to stop worrying and simply let my legs do their thing. It was pretty crazy where only a week prior, I was struggling to run 2x 2 mile reps at this pace, yet I had raced 5 miles without really even breaking a sweat!
Things got a bit tight on the approach to Cardiff Bay with runners bunching up. The course took us through a less picturesque part of town where road conditions were pretty shoddy and wire fences made up the scenery. Motivation to run faster perhaps? I reached Cardiff Bay and saw no sign of the MaxiGels that had been advertised to be handed out – disappointing for people who would have relied upon them.
Passing by the Wales Millennium Centre, I had to keep my eyes peeled for Kate, Ben et al who were waiting in the crowds for me. They cheered me on during last year’s race and really helped to push me along during those tricky middle miles where runners experience a lull in energy and motivation. It wasn’t long before I spotted Ben’s mum, Kate, Ellie and Ben and laid high-fives on them all for a renewed race boost. Thanks guys!
I found myself running alongside a guy in a silver morph suit for the rest of Lloyd George Avenue. He must have been a strong runner under the suit to manage sub-90 pace and with limited vision!
Time to flex the gun!
I was rapidly approaching Cathays where the crowds were huge, lining the street on both sides. There were banners, bells and all sorts to distract weary runners. I placed Lis and Yvonne further up from the crowds for some more motivation. The pressure from the task at hand started to take its toll on me, and the group I was chasing managed to create a sizeable gap of several metres. I finally spotted Lis and her mum, so I waved, pointed and had a bit of fun before taking advantage of the motivational boost.
Mile 9 took an age to arrive and when it did, the marker was waaay out for me. Most of the previous markers were out anyway, due to them being attached to lampposts, railings and whatever else was convenient on the course but this one was out by almost 80m or so. I had run a relatively clean line, though a few sloppy moments here and there had caught up to me. The Lucozade station wasn’t particularly well sign-posted either and if you read through the official race literature, there was no specific mention of where the station would actually be! I went to grab a bottle of water and did the courteous thing, moving out of the way for others to then filter in, only to then realise that a very short row of Lucozade marshals were just a few metres further on. I couldn’t stop and turnaround so I went without. Not good because I’d only budgeted three gels and a few swigs of Lucozade to get me through the race… Thankfully, a saintly runner had finished half of his Lucozade and offered the rest to me, which I was grateful to receive. Welsh runners – love ‘em!
Roath marked the 10th mile of the course and another climb to track around the lake (I recently ran this in reverse for the replacement Cardiff 10k course). I gained a few places on the ascent and told myself there was “just a hard Parkrun left” to bring the closing race into context. I noticed a Hyde Park Harrier girl – a club mate of Tom Williams from Marathon Talk. All I had to do was get to the other side of the lake and a nice downhill section would launch me on my way to the finish. I clocked Nigel’s son, James, just ahead and grabbed his attention; he was clearly fading and his breathing sounded quite laboured. I spurred him on to stay with me for a sub-90 minute finish and he diligently followed for the next 800m or so before he started going backwards again.
Mile 12 was almost my undoing. I had worked so hard to get to that point and due partly to me not paying attention and marshals not being vocal enough, I stumbled on a speed bump whilst grabbing a gel from my pocket. Everything went into slow motion like something out of the Matrix, and I could hear people all around me going “ooh!” as I was about to hit the deck. Thankfully, the running gods above bestowed me with cat-like reflexes, even at such a late stage in the race, and I regained my footing just in the nick of time to carry on and sink a gel. Phew! A short, sharp hill made itself known and clearly finished a few runners off around me. Reaching the brow, I was knackered too and had to slow slightly to regain some composure. It was almost all downhill from that point onwards (in a good way).
I began to pick my pace up and use the downhill straight to my advantage. I was now 29 seconds ahead of schedule and knew this would only increase until the very end. Out of nowhere, people started aggressively charging off into the distance. I had no idea what had spooked them and looked around, only for the sight of one of the sub-90 minute pacers to make me go into a blind panic! I stared down at my Garmin and I was 32 seconds ahead of schedule. What had gone wrong? Had I run such a sloppy line that the official pacer had caught up to me? Or had he gone too fast for his target? Another guy in the rough group I ran with for the last few miles remarked that this particular pacer was definitely too fast and that we would “comfortably go under 90 minutes”. This was enough to signal that moment was the right time to begin winding things up, and to claim back as much time as possible from the clock. My stride lengthened and I began my charge towards the new finish line on North Road. I also switched up my Garmin to elapsed time, where it ticked over to 85 minutes; I was certain I would go under 90 minutes but by how much?
80s kids and Transformers fans will understand my song choice…
The final short hill over the railway line arrived and an announcer declared there were just 600m left until the finish. One guy piped up with, “Let’s do this, boys!” and I carried things on with, “Only a lap and a half of the track! Come on!” along with a kick. I swung my arms and came tearing around the final corner. I knew Lis and Yvonne would be somewhere in the crowds but I was sprinting too quickly to clock either of their faces (sorry!); the only sign that I knew I had passed them was Yvonne’s shout of “Go beetroot!” This was my Olympic final; the moment I had been waiting for to take down as many places and seconds as possible. I increased my cadence and laid down one last effort to overtake a huge group of runners to finally cross the line.
Not sure what happened at mile 10 – I didn’t slow down that much!
As ever, I was majorly unsteady on my feet and fair play to the finish area marshals, they could see this. Somebody grabbed my arm and started walking me over to the St Johns Ambulance area; I told him I was OK and just needed a moment to catch my breath, so he lead me to a nearby barrier. Remarkably, I was back to my usual self after only a minute or two. My Garmin proudly displayed 1:28:49 on its face (now chip verified as 88:51) – woohoo! I had a grin on my face as big as the Cheshire Cat’s and thus marked the final part of my holy trinity of a sub-19 minute 5k, a sub-40 minute 10k and a sub-90 minute half marathon. Jobs jobbed and missions accomplished for 2014!
I saw James come through shortly afterwards, with his Garmin reporting an 89:53 finish. Sadly, his time oddly came up as 90:10 on the official results. The chap that had said that we would “comfortably” go under 90 minutes came up to me to say “well done” for my closing sprint. James and I video-bombed an interview going on, so we may appear on the race broadcast due out in a few weeks!
Vince and Andy. Ouch! Bloody nipple for me!
I caught up with Vince who had run a superb 87:40 – a time I would have been blown away by had I have run it, but it was just short of a new PB for him. Whilst we were chatting away, I inadvertently bumped into my cousin (didn’t even know he was running!), Bruce, who posted a 1:34 PB.
A good day for all, indeed. Cardiff, you were beautiful and I shall see you again in autumn 2015!
For the data junkies, here are some stats:
- Gun time – 88:57
- Chip time – 88:51
- Gun position – 623
- Chip position – 657
- First 6.5 miles – 43:51
- Second 6.5 miles – 43:59
Based on my finish positions, I pretty much started in exactly the right place within the start pen with only 34 people passing me. Ignoring the final few hundred metres of sprint, I ran 13 miles with an ever so slight positive split of only 8 seconds. The second half of the course has more climb than the first half, so had I have not lost 10 seconds during the uphill miles 10 and 11, I’d have finished with a very minor negative split.
Here’s the Garmin data for this race.