My autumn A-race beckoned…
Back in 2011, I ran the Cardiff Half Marathon in 2:17:10. Oh, how times have changed…
For the 2013 and 2014 races, please click below:
I look forward to each autumn on the racing calendar with great joy, much more so than the spring season. It’s a chance to consolidate that year’s training to really see what I’m made of.
In a year that was decidedly light on PB performances, I knew I had to make this race count. Given the choice, I’d have preferred a longer half marathon training window, but when given lemons, you simply have to make lemonade. I decided three weeks of functional over-reaching (a step below overtraining) was needed to convince my body to go with me on the journey to Cardiff; the result was three uninterrupted weeks of high mileage and high quality training that restored confidence and vigour.
The race day goal had three tiers:
- Goal C – to simply PB by any margin
- Goal B – to PB with 86:30 or better (about a minute’s PB)
- Goal A – to hit 85:XX territory
Goal C was low risk, small reward. I was confident I would be able to beat my PB from the Brass Monkey Half Marathon (87:27) set back in January of this year. Goal B had some spice to it, but would not be unreasonable so long as I kept a cool head and ran 6:35s per mile. Goal A… Well, Goal A was asking me to run a little slower than sub-40 10k pace for a race that was more than twice the distance.
I didn’t sleep particularly well the night before the race, so I didn’t feel quite as fresh as I’d have liked. The taper wasn’t as effective as I would have liked either, but hey-ho. Too late for shoulda, woulda, coulda and I just had to give it my best effort and hoped it was enough to hit one of the above goals…
Lis, Yvonne and I reached Cardiff with over an hour spare – last year taught me this race pretty much requires that you’re firmly parked up at least an hour before to get all your pre-race admin and checks done. In retrospect, I don’t think I quite nailed it this year either, but then where does it end? Do you turn up 90 minutes before? 2 hours before? I excused myself to head off for a mile warm-up, which felt truly awful. There was no bounce in my step and everything felt off-key; I reminded myself that some of my best performances have come from warm-ups that haven’t sat right. I’ve always felt a bit self-conscious completing a warm-up before big city races with non-runners and fun runners staring at me like a mad man; “He’s running more than he needs to? Nut job.” must be going through all their minds.
I dumped my stuff with the girls and made my way over to the start pens via what I thought was the long way round. Big mistake – I hadn’t gone far enough. I found myself caught up in a sea of people made up of runners trying to get to their respective starts, and spectators getting in the way with prams! A fellow runner and I looked at each other and came to the same conclusion to just barge our way through; not our proudest moments for sure, but with only 10 minutes to go until the start, it was absolutely critical that we made it into the pen. Of course, the two of us avoided making any eye contact with those around us… The Cardiff organisers really need to sort out the immediate vicinity of the start pens and make them runner only, especially if they’re looking to grow the event in size.
On the other side of the barriers, I spotted Vince Nazareth and made a beeline towards him – for once I was the one fashionably late to the party! For some bizarre reason, the queue we were in was leading us to the back of the white start wave whereas we wanted to be much closer to the front. We spotted a gap between the fences and just as we began to make our way through, a jobsworth security guard stopped us in our tracks, telling us to go around the long way. She didn’t seem to appreciate we now had only 5 minutes to go before the start and needed to be on the other side of the fence. Vince just confidently went under her arm and went through anyway! I attempted to follow but she stopped me and more assertively told me to “go around”. She was messing with the wrong person now! I told her she’d just let Vince through and now had to let the rest of us pass; I ignored her, ducked under her arms and told her to ban me if she wanted – the look on her face was priceless! A club mate of Vince’s followed suit for some more pre-race anarchy.
The Welsh national anthem was already playing so Vince and I knew how fine we had cut it. I casted my eyes over the crowds a few times to try and spot Darryll Thomas or Charlie Williams, both readers of this blog, who were both looking to run very similar times to me. As if by magic, Darryll appeared for a brief catch-up and pre-race pep talk. We primed our Garmins, and on the sound of the gun, started making our way towards the start line.
We crossed the line only 3 or 4 seconds after the gun for a swift start to the race. Expectedly, people were darting off all over the shop. The two sub-90 pacers were on our right and after only a few hundred metres, the flags on their backs had completely fallen apart almost in tandem. Surprisingly, Vince was still within spitting distance of us for a guy who was firmly in 85 minute shape if his recent 5k and 10k PBs were anything to go by.
Darryll and I were targeting 6:35 as an opening split. If I’m going to be honest, I should have held back ever so slightly for a 6:40 or even a 6:45 mile instead; I felt like I was working just a smidge too hard so early in the race. We traded positions a couple of times and I shared what course info I had with Darryll where appropriate as the first two miles ticked by.
Nearing mile 3, Darryll pointed Charlie out to me; he wasn’t difficult to spot as a tall bloke ahead in a yellow vest. We eventually made contact with Charlie and I finally got to meet him. The three of us stuck together in a nice little pack for the remainder of the mile until we hit the first climb on the course on the approach to Penarth. Regular readers will know I have a short, fast stride, which is great for covering hills without losing speed. Darryll and Charlie didn’t go with me, but I hoped they’d catch-up on the descent. Nope. No sign of them on the other side and so my race sadly became a solo affair. I could still see Vince ahead by maybe 15 seconds; a club mate of his moving at a similar pace to me served as a good interim target to try and stay with to bridge the gap.
Conditions were pretty good with the skies overcast to leave the air cool and crisp. I had largely been sheltered for much of the early stages of the race, but my thoughts quickly moved to the potential for strong gusts as I approached The Barrage (apparently, I say it far too poshly…) My fears were well founded because the wind did indeed pick up as I set foot on the crossing. I did my best to tuck in around larger runners for some relief. Wind aside, I had finally warmed up properly and felt pretty damn good. The Garmin reported 6:25 pace a couple of times on its display to remind me to dial things back a touch.
I reached Cardiff Bay feeling positive. The first of the race’s timing mats appeared at 10k to let Lis know I would only be 12 to 15 minutes away from her spectating spot at around mile 8. MaxiFuel were handing out their gels, though I didn’t see many going for them, reminding me to slurp down one of my own for a hit of sugar and caffeine.
Due to road works between miles 6 and 7 on what equated to last year’s course, the organisers plotted a slight but not insignificant detour to bypass Lloyd George Avenue entirely with an alternative road that ran parallel. Disappointingly, this move cut out a good mile of crowd support by sending runners on to a barren dual carriageway instead. I’ve historically relied on a mid-race pick-me-up from spectating friends at around this point and it’s no coincidence that I started to lose my grip on the race on this occasion. Mile 7 was tedious and produced the first ugly looking split: a 6:40 mile.
An impromptu gun show at mile 8 – photo by Lis Yu
Reaching mile 8, I looked forward to seeing Lis and Yvonne for a mental break. Pretty much exactly where they were last year, they gave me a few cheers to push me on my way before I would see them again before the finish. The race began to take its toll on me; my legs started to slow and the effort to stay on pace crept upwards. I was still in control, but only just. Vince had disappeared from sight, but his clubmate I tracked was still hovering around me; all I had to do was cover any moves he made to try and stay with him. I finally saw Lis and Yvonne, and postured a bit for the camera. Mile 8 came in at 6:32 to get me back on course, though I was pretty sure an 85:XX was no longer possible.
The penultimate water stop on the course appeared at mile 9. I was cautious to not get distracted by those handing water out like last year and instead had my heart set on a sweet, sweet bottle of Lucozade – the only time they would be handed out on the course. I wasn’t disappointed and managed to bag one for a much needed sugar and liquid hit. I offered the remainder of my Lucozade, just in case anybody had missed the opportunity to grab some as I had previously, but there were no takers. The guys around me had remained consistent for the last couple of miles, so I was in good company.
Mile 10 saw the ascent towards Roath. Oddly, the climb neither felt as steep nor as long as I remembered it from previous years. I’m a stickler for running a clean line in races and a couple of times already, I found myself running on one side of the road with nobody ahead or in tow. I could clearly see the road turning towards the right, but everybody else stuck to their guns and remained on the left-hand side. I took the initiative once again to move over, gaining a few places in the process for free, but also in prime position to high-five a kid for a moment of distraction from the mounting effort of the task at hand. I took to running on the pavement for a minute or so to give my feet a break from the chunky road underfoot – the joys of wearing such minimal racing flats… As I followed the line around the northern end of the lake, I breathed a small sigh of relief that I was finally on my way home.
As I began sucking down my final energy gel, Vince’s wife, Heather, appeared at pretty much the mile 11 marker and caught me off-guard with a cheer. I quickly downed the remnants of the gel to give her a wave and thank her for the support. The effort of the half marathon was beginning to reach breaking point for me; I was mentally and physically fatigued and let out a few grunts and groans. Charlie caught up to me and looked immaculate – clearly his patient game was paying dividends compared to my ever so slightly enthusiastic first half. We gave each other some encouragement and I added a warning to hold a little something back for a short, sharp hill at the end of mile 12 that was rapidly approaching. The course started to descend and Charlie took full advantage of this with his lengthy stride; I simply couldn’t get back to him where my short stride length was proving to be a hindrance acting as a subtle brake with each step. A few metres in front, I saw Chris, the San Domenico runner I worked with in the Magor Marsh 10k and caught up to him, trying to drag him along with me as I bowled down this hill. After Magor, he knew he wouldn’t be able to stay with me and let me go, but wished me well on my way.
The sharp hill arrived and after a steep descent downwards, it was jarring to suddenly have to climb again. But the climb was completely worthwhile because on the other side was an almost entirely downhill final mile towards the finish line. Charlie was still just ahead of me by no more than a couple of strides and I once again tried to reel him back in, but to no avail. I let out a few more grunts and groans to soothe the fire inside. My form had gone to shit by this stage, with my arms and shoulders flapping about with no control. A mysterious runner dressed in black ran alongside us for a brief moment, offering encouragement just when it was becoming most unbearable to continue. Darryll and I later realised we’d both had interactions with this mystery runner (he offered water to Darryll); had we just witnessed the Good Samaritan of the running world?
Sprinting for the line at the Cardiff Half Marathon 2015
I began to wind up the pace, with only the slight hump over the railway line to slow me down. My Garmin reported only 500m or so remained between me and a shiny new half marathon PB. Charlie was still just ahead but I was steadily closing the gap. I turned the final corner and just in front of me behind the barriers were Lis and Yvonne for one final cheer. Firmly planted on the home straight, it was time to kick. A chap in a red top responded and went with me as we hurtled down towards the finish line. Charlie was now within spitting distance but was also in full flight with that long stride of his – had we have had another 10 – 15m of road to cover, I’d have got him but alas, he deservedly pipped me to the line by 2 seconds or so on gun time.
Here’s the Garmin data for this race.
So many times previously in Cardiff, I’ve finished as a heap over a barrier to the side of the finish funnel and this occasion was no different. A marshal asked me a couple of times if I was OK; the first time, I tried speaking but nothing came out – only the desire to throw my guts up from the hard racing. I tried again and finally, I managed to muster a few snatched words of “Just. Need. A moment. To catch. Breath.”
Checking my Garmin, I PBd with 86:44, though this was later confirmed as a couple of seconds faster for 86:41. I must have started my Garmin a little too early and stopped it a little late, but I’m not complaining when free time’s on offer!
Once recovered, I got back on my feet to find my left quad twitching from cramp. I waited for Darryll to come through and to try and also locate Charlie to congratulate him. Darryll shared he had suffered some stomach complaints that undoubtedly cost him a bit of time, yet he still managed to produce an 87:39 in the process for his second fastest half marathon. On a different day, he’d have run his PB, I’m certain. Charlie scored an 86:40 to beat me by just a second on chip timing – a very well earned PB from what looked to me to be a perfectly executed race.
Vince, Andy and Darryll at the 2015 Cardiff Half Marathon – photo supplied by Darryll Thomas
I caught up with Vince who got his long awaited half marathon PB. Not the 85:XX territory he wanted, but a PB nonetheless of 86:13. With Vince in tow, we bid farewell to Charlie and made our way over a couple of busy main roads on unsteady legs towards the baggage stores. I bumped into a few familiar faces en route, notably Daniel Luffman (didn’t get his sub-90, sadly) and surprisingly, David Sansom – a regular BRAT member from Cannon Hill Parkrun.
Darryll and I headed over to the Hilton to rendezvous with our respective families. It was fascinating to hear of the ins and outs of his “run less, run faster” training schedule; to me as an observer, it looked like the right change in stimulus to get him back in PB contention shape.
To round off a pleasant birthday weekend, I was stopped on the way back to the car by two guys that had stumbled upon this blog whilst searching for “fast Parkruns in the UK”. James and Will were from the Newport area and James commented that he’d noticed my Autobots tattoo on my leg during a couple of races past, notably this year’s Magor Marsh 10k. Always good to bump into readers!
In an unexpected turn of events, my half marathon PB of 86:41 now ranks as my strongest PB of all the distances I regularly run. The McMillan Calculator reports the following equivalent performances:
- 5k – 18:43 (18:51 actual)
- 10k – 38:53 (39:16 actual)
This has never happened before with my 5k historically as my strongest PB due to the regularity of PB attempts. Looking at the above, it’s now crazy to think that I ever even had a glimmer of 85:59 in my sights – that would have simply been too big a leap when using the equivalent 5k (18:34) and 10k (38:34) performances as a barometer.
A few stats from the race:
- Finished 429th out of 15,989 in the top 3%
- Gun time of 86:48
- Chip time of 86:41
- First 6.5 miles covered in 42:51
- Second 6.5 miles covered in 43:04
I’m content and satisfied with how the race went. If I were to nitpick, I could have potentially taken off an additional 10 seconds if I was to have held back ever so slightly in the first half, but that’s really it. There aren’t any feelings of unfinished business, unlike after January’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon where ground frost forcibly caused me to slow my splits. One training modification I’d have definitely made was to include a half marathon or 10 mile race covered as a fast training run. The last time I raced a half marathon was at Silverstone in March and there was a lot of unease inside me at Cardiff over the distance and effort. As farcical as the Worcester City Half Marathon was last year, it did just the trick to give me the confidence I needed before the 2014 Cardiff Half Marathon.
With the racing season over for me until next year, the attention now shifts to simply having a crack at my nearly one year old 5k PB – Mr McMillan seems to think I have the right credentials!