Toughest race conditions I’ve ever faced!
Read on to find out how things went in Cardiff for the most expensive race I’ve ever paid to enter.
I woke to glorious sunshine, dry and wind-free conditions. Hold on a second… No, that was Good Friday. Easter Saturday was anything but with grey skies, rain and gale-force winds.
A further complication was how off-key I felt all week long. I don’t know whether it was because I was a touch over-trained, had caught some sort of underlying bug, or both, but I felt quite run-down during the taper, even with just 8 miles of mostly easy running to keep me ticking over. There wasn’t much appetite for running, let alone racing.
With a 14:10 mass start, I was able to have a very relaxed morning getting ready for the race. Having run the Silverstone Half Marathon a number of times over the years with its 12pm start, I was dubious because getting to Silverstone still requires a reasonably early departure, and that’s from Birmingham!
Lis, Yvonne and I still consciously made our way into Cardiff with ample time for me to avoid any undue stress. Well, it turned out to be a very civilised affair and with the race taking place on a Saturday, everything was open to the public so there was no shortage of toilets around the place!
Whilst I’d already had an early lunch, Lis and Yvonne opted to kill some time by having lunch at Wagamama. Amazingly, there were people dressed to run having full-blown meals of ramen or yakisoba in there! I couldn’t imagine having something of that nature before a race, but I guess with the mass-profile of the race, there must have been a lot of newcomers to the sport who wouldn’t have known any better. The window seats we had afforded great views of a number of the elite teams, including USA, Japan and Australia, making their way over to Cardiff Castle’s IAAF warm-up area.
For much of the week, I’d been in touch with both Darryll Thomas and Vince Nazareth regarding the race. The plan was to try and stick together with the belief that we were all in similar shape, albeit with different biases of speed versus endurance. I also had to get Darryll’s bib to him, which I’d picked up a couple of days prior from the expo.
Vince and Andy at the World Half Marathon Championships
Once bags were all checked in, Vince and I parted ways from Darryll to get a warm-up in whilst he joined the scrum for a portaloo, agreeing to meet-up once more within the start pen. Through pure chance, the two of us found a closed off main road for us to cover an easy mile with the final minute at target race pace. It became evident the wind would be our biggest nemesis for the day; running straight into it, even at low speed, felt like we were hauling a tyre behind us!
Venturing into the start pen, it was good to see the marshals were seriously scrutinising bib colours and numbers to weed out anybody that was trying their luck to promote themselves forward. Stood in and amongst my fellow runners, I finally perked up and the desire to race and chase after a PB bubbled to the surface. York’s Brass Monkey Half Marathon was covered at an average pace of 6:28 per mile for 84:54; factoring in the potential to cover a slightly longer distance (13.16 was likely based on previous outings in Cardiff), an average pace of 6:26 was needed for just a marginal PB by only a few seconds. Slim pickings for sure, what with the atrocious conditions on display!
With the world’s media locked-in, the race started at exactly 14:10 without delay, though we were all blissfully unaware of Geoffrey Kamworor’s fall on the start line!
I roughly worked out the opening few miles would be into the wind, and cautioned Darryll and Vince to run accordingly by drafting behind others and to hold steady. In spite of the controlled start, the opening still came in almost ten seconds faster than six months ago for a 6:30 mile without feeling too shabby. Needless to say, there were people darting off all over the place, with some that had started too far forward, such as the sub-90 Pacers, and some too far behind.
I felt relaxed and calm, no doubt benefitting from the light week of running during the taper. Incredibly, I spotted a couple of guys withdraw from the race during just the first two miles. Mile 2 sped up to 6:26.
Whilst I appreciated the cool conditions, I was still working up a sweat and poured most of my water bottle over my head. Darryll and Vince were still firmly with me, though they began to drift backwards as we crested the hill at 5k. Once over the hill’s brow, I glanced behind me and they were both still within sight, but the gap continued to grow. Just a few hundred metres later, Vince and Darryll had completely disappeared from view, though this didn’t stop me from checking behind me for another mile or so in the hope that they would reclaim some of the distance. Miles 3 and 4 both clocked in at 6:31 and left me feeling superb.
I noticed a rather tall Les Croupiers runner was still around me and had remained so since the start line. Assuming he didn’t slow, he would make the perfect wind break for me to draft behind. Each time I’ve run this race, I’ve always approached the Barrage with much trepidation due to its exposure to the elements – especially so on this occasion. I need not have feared because a tailwind provided just the assist I was looking for! I peeked over my shoulder once more to try and locate Darryll and Vince, though there was no sign of them and I thusly gave up my search.
Suitably warmed up, the pace lifted and I approached Cardiff Bay exactly on target pace of 6:25 per mile. Disappointingly, the course took us on the same diversion as back in October to bypass Lloyd George Avenue to take us on to a dull dual carriageway with a slight rise. Nonetheless, the pace remained resolute and stayed at around 6:27 for miles 6 and 7.
Mile 8 of the World Half Marathon Championships – photo by Lis Yu
Running through Cathays at mile 8, I caught sight of Lis and Yvonne for a much needed mental lift. Literally moments after posing for the camera, the heavens opened up and soaked me to the bone. The downpour was sobering and at least did the trick to cool me down! Rather bizarrely, I witnessed one lean runner utilising a fartlek style strategy; he sprinted off for maybe 200m or so and then slowed dramatically to recover and would then do it all over again! Miles 8 and 9 clocked in at 6:27 and 6:23 respectively and a PB was still in contention, so long as I could hold on to the pace.
As my Garmin beeped for mile 9, I looked around for the marker but it was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t until I turned the corner and experienced a face full of headwind that I realised it had been knocked over! The force of the wind was incredible, and coupled with the rain made for an incredibly unpleasant mile. Looking ahead, the next group of guys was just out of reach by about 30m; not a huge distance under normal circumstances, but I simply couldn’t muster the strength to reach them with the gale blowing. Looking backwards, the next group was also too far behind for me to even consider slowing down any further to join. I was conscious of the climb towards Roath in mile 10 and had to save a little something for that. The remainder of mile 9 was ran on my lonesome to produce the slowest split of the day at 6:42; this was the critical moment in the race that ultimately dictated whether I would PB or not…
The steady climb towards Roath graciously threw some runners back to me, getting me out of no-man’s land. There’s always a decent crowd in Roath to cheer you on and plenty of kids’ hands to high-five for some momentary distraction from the mounting pressure; I’d always wanted to tap one of those “Touch for a power boost” boards and was finally able to tick that off my list. I reclaimed the distance between the tall Les Croupier runner and me; firmly locking in that I would cover him, stride for stride, to the end. I turned for home at mile 11 with 6:34.
With a little over 2 miles remaining, I switched my Garmin over to the stopwatch display and began pressing for the finish. Unfortunately, the wind had other plans and in spite of the largely downhill remainder of the course, I couldn’t generate anything faster than 6:23. I was knackered and my legs grew increasingly unsteady as the descent did its best to shred my quads. Arriving at the short, sharp climb at the end of mile 12, a female Kenilworth runner audibly gasped, clearly not expecting to see yet another ascent on the course; the Les Croupier and I reassured her that was it and the rest was plain sailing until the finish line.
I had less than 7.5 minutes remaining to cover what was likely to stack up to 1.16 miles, and there was still no guarantee of a PB at the very end. I allowed my stride to stretch out and broke away from the Les Croupier runner. I knew I was capable of a 6:12 mile or faster in the closing stages of a half marathon based on my performance at the Brass Monkey, but the headwind persisted to stand in my way and reduced me to another 6:23 split.
The mile 13 marker arrived and I heard Lis and Yvonne’s cheers. It was down to mere seconds whether I would snag a cheeky PB or not. I launched myself into a final kick, head first into the wind, and claimed a few scalps on the finishing straight for the line.
Here’s the Strava data for this race.
I stumbled over to the barrier and the over-powering need to throw my guts up took over, except nothing came out.
My Garmin revealed I’d failed to come good and missed a PB by only 9 seconds for 85:02. Considering the conditions and overall distance covered (13.17 miles), this wasn’t bad at all and if not for the ferocious headwind, especially between miles 9 and 10, I’d have done it.
I waited for Vince and Darryll to come through. Vince too was also just shy of a PB by only 6 seconds, whilst Darryll was sadly over a minute off. The pattern continued and only a select few I know made the race a success for themselves, such as Daniel Luffman who finally bagged his sub-90 performance.
Soaked from the rain and quickly cooling down, we changed out of our sopping wet race tops and donned our souvenir Adidas tech t-shirts before parting ways to gather bags, meet with loved ones and so on. I really cursed not having a foil blanket, though have now been informed there was a limited supply of them that were handed out by volunteers at the end.
Were this race and the Brass Monkey Half Marathon in January swapped around, I’ve no doubt I would have produced a PB around 84:30 or faster on Saturday. Whilst this is all theoretical, I’m going to use the equivalent marathon pace of 6:47 in training.
I’m in bits as I write this review and due to the Saturday mid-afternoon start, I’m finding muscle soreness is kicking in at unexpected times of the day than what I’m used to. What would normally be “Tuesday morning legs” within Marathon Talk circles is more like “Monday afternoon legs”…
Disappointingly, I don’t have any half marathons planned between now and the Yorkshire Marathon in October and feel I’ve missed an opportunity to capitalise on the training of the last two months. Vince is looking at the Tewekesbury Half in May, whilst Lis and I have discussed visiting Swansea again in the past and could always dovetail it with their half marathon.
The plan for the next two months or so is to recover properly and to begin working in earnest on my 5k and 10k PBs before knuckling down for my marathon campaign formally in June.
Well done to all that ran – not an easy day at all!