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Last weekend, I completed Cardiff half-marathon - and I’ve come away feeling quite pleased with myself. For a first go, I’ve done myself justice.

You may have seen my previous posts on the subject. I’ve always maintained I am not a runner - and that still stands. Ever seen a terrier run? Well, that’s me. I’ve got stumpy little legs that move at twice the pace of anyone else to cover the same ground. Kenyan, I’m not. Nonetheless, since the beginning of the year I’ve run over five-hundred miles in training. The preparation paid off and I made a strong finish. Would I do it again? Yes, although I think my legs might like a bit of a rest first.

The race was around Cardiff City, a place I’ve been to a few times. As cities go I quite like it, but whatever your impressions of the place, you can’t fail to be impressed with the transformation such a venue undergoes when there’s an event like this. With 14,300 runners taking part and an estimated 50,000 spectators on the streets, the place literally buzzes.

In an effort to beat the masses I got there early, arriving just after 7:00am for the 9:00am start. Even then, people were busy in preparation with the roads closed and the starting-line being inflated. I displayed my usual level of obliviousness, walking past the TV cameras interviewing Colin Jackson on the roadside. I didn’t realise who it was until I heard a tannoy announcement somewhat later. Whilst the rest of the world was still in bed, I got my caffeine fix at a nearby café.

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Sometime between 7:30 and 8:00 am, the hordes started to arrive and I made my way to the baggage area to get prepared. It was at this point that I passed a runner assembling at the start line with a giant cross the size of an estate car on his shoulder. Had Jesus existed, I imagine he would have been slightly less than enthusiastic about getting in the queue for crucifixion.

The crowds got larger and the wackiness of the costumes continued. Four chaps in suit jackets and bowler hats carried a scale model of Thomas the Tank Engine, a woman in a cat-onesie bounced past on springs and a hen party cackled in black and yellow wasp-like tutus with skulls on their backs. I was feeling quite plain in my ninja black shorts and top.

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Meanwhile, the runner’s village was heaving. Drum’n’bass was belted out from the buses of the local radio stations, Colin Jackson hung around in a marquee and the runners all queued up for the portaloos and ensured they jettisoned any unnecessary baggage before their journey.

The organisers said that everyone would be (more or less) queued up to start based upon their predicted finishing time, with the elite athletes at the front. In reality, the “pens” of people was more of a random collection of runners. As you’ll see below, it’s hard to group 14,000 people in any particular order. Here’s where I started from, near the back - the actual start-line is about a third of a mile down the road.

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The bells chimed 9:00am to much cheering and tooting of air-horns. The atmosphere was amazing. In fact, thinking about it, why wouldn’t it have been? You were in a group of 14,000+ people, being watched by about 50,000 spectators. We all shuffled our way forwards to the start line that was the inflatable archway and got running.

For days before the race, I’d had the following mantra in my head - “Do not run too fast at the beginning”. However, when you’re being carried along with the herd and being cheered by the crowds, it’s very hard to get an idea of what pace you’re supposed to be doing. Luckily, before the race I’d strapped my phone to my arm (linked to Nike+) and that told me I was averaging about 6:45 mins/km - and whilst I started to warm up, that seemed just fine. I was content to plod along with the pack and see how I got on.

Having run the entire half-marathon distance a few times before the race, I was aware that I could complete it - but how fast? They advertise the course as mostly flat, although there’s one hill at around the 5K point. The best idea seemed to be to get past that point and see if I could keep my pace reasonably constant until the finish line approached.

The next two hours were a bit of a blur, although I do remember running past the marina, Cardiff Bay and the Millennium Centre. I remember there being about six water points along the way, as well as two isotonic drink stations and a gel fuel point. I remember the spectators. Kids were hanging out the windows, cheering and the crowds gave encouragement all the way through the race. I made a resolution to myself that no matter what, I’d never stop running. As I went past each mile-marker, I did some mental arithmetic to see if my aim to finish by 2:15:00 was a reality. It certainly seemed possible, I’d worked out that I could easily be back before 2:20:00.

  • At about four miles, just past a branch of Tesco, I ran past Jesus (still wheeling his cross). I resisted the urge to ask, “Crucifixion?”.
  • At the halfway point a live band were playing by the side of the road. I ran past a man in a gorilla suit and some giant hands.
  • At about seven miles, I ran past the skull-toting wasp-attired hen-party.

What was slightly disconcerting was that after passing the halfway point, I was still feeling pretty good. Sure, my legs were a bit on the tired side, but certainly nothing that I needed to be worried about. So, at around the ten-mile point, I made the decision I was going to start upping my pace and overtaking more. When I got to eleven miles, I was able to up my pace a bit more. I’d rationalised to myself that I’d done 5K runs in about half an hour, and there was less than that left, so why not?

Then I got to twelve miles and realised that I could keep going a bit faster still - after all, ten minutes more and I’d be finished.

It’s a surreal moment when you’re running a race, you have crowds cheering you on and you can see yourself on a video screen as you approach the finish line. When I finished, I felt chuffed - not just because I’d finished, but because I’d been able to keep a constant pace and finish on a high. Not long after finishing, my time was sent to my phone - 2hrs 18 minutes 24 seconds.

Now admittedly, this isn’t the target I’d originally aimed for, but it’s not far off. When I looked at my run data later, I saw this:

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Notice the flat line with a steady increase near the end. I think I probably paced myself just right.

Looking back, I probably could’ve knocked a couple minutes off and gone a bit faster, but in all honesty it doesn’t really matter - it’s my first time and I managed to finish. When I started training properly for this six months ago, I never thought I’d complete it like that, thinking I’d be lucky to get my time under 2hrs 30. Perhaps I can improve another day. Which brings me to what I do next.

Ten months of running has drastically improved my fitness (surprise, eh?), something that I don’t want to let go of. The half-marathon is the right distance for me and I’m not really interested in going for a full marathon. Two hours of running should be enough for anyone. However, there are events coming up that I’d like to take part in. The Tavy7 is at the end of this month and I’d like to give that a go, especially as I’ve tried this before (unsuccessfully). The Plymouth Half-Marathon is in six months time and I’ve contemplated giving that a try too, although the course is tougher than Cardiff’s.

Most of all, though, I’d like to run Cardiff’s Half-Marathon again next year. It’s a nice route, well supported, has a great atmosphere and the encouragement from the spectators was awesome. I never thought I’d say it, but I really enjoyed the event and would love the opportunity to improve on my time next year. Elite runner I may not be, but completing the event has felt like a significant achievement that I’d like to repeat.
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