Back when it was announced that the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships were announced to be in Cardiff, Jodie and I immediately signed up. Cardiff is a city close to our hearts, as Jodie studied there, its where we met, and its also where I graduated with my MBA.
We were keen to make a weekend of it, and as it was Easter, I took Thursday off to get up good and early. Much like the London Marathon, the event had an “Expo” where you pick up your number and goody bag in advance of the race, and there were stands/booths for major brands and events to advertise their wares. We won a couple of tee shirts from the Cardiff University stand for beating their buzzer game, and I ate a whole lot of Clif bar samples! The expo wasn’t as large as London but then it is only a third of the size. One thing I was glad of was that we went on Thursday. It was very quiet and we got to see all the stands in relative peace! This also meant picking up our numbers took seconds.
After getting our numbers and having a look around we headed to our hotel as we wanted to get a run in. Whilst we were out, we saw the Canadian elites out on a run which was pretty cool!
One of the most interesting parts of the expo was the guest speaker programme. The main highlights were, Paula Radcliffe on the Thursday evening, and Mo Farah on Friday Lunchtime. We decided to head down to see Paula, and got there good and early, only to find out that she was delayed (eventually, by an hour and a quarter) but whilst we were waiting we heard some inspirational stories I wouldn’t have ordinarily gone to hear.
Steve Jones, former Marathon World Record holder and welsh running legend spoke of his times at the peak of the sport, breaking records, and stopping for a sh!t on the way to winning the London Marathon.
Then, unexpectedly Dave Bedford was asked to speak on stage to fill in for Paula in the meantime. What an absolutely top bloke! Dave Bedford is the former world record holder over 10,000 on the track and became the race director of the London Marathon for 20 years. His most famous story was that he actually ran the first London Marathon as a bet. On the Saturday night he went out, had a skinful, had a late night (early morning!) curry and then dragged himself round in less than 4 hours. His witty repartee was excellent entertainment and he really seemed like the sort of guy I’d like to have a beer with, and could have listened to him for hours!
Eventually, Paula Arrived and she was as inspirational as I expected. She spoke so eloquently of her experiences as a runner, as a running mum and I’m sure she struck all the right chords with Jodie. It was a real honour to see her in person and rounded off a great first day of the event.
I slept in, but Jodie went for a walk to casually bump into team Kenya! Lucky girl, shame she didn’t get a photo! As today was “Mo Farah Day” at the expo we headed over there at about 10.30 to get good seats – and we weren’t disappointed, we got into the second row. We arranged to meet Nikkii and Steve and they joined us on row two as we waited the guest of honour.
The seating area filled quickly, and then there were people standing 4 or 5 deep all around the seating area too – it was crazy!
When he eventually got on stage the crowd went wild! During his introduction he walked behind the projector and project a mobot onto screen to the delight of the fans.
When he was on stage I was so impressed with how he spoke. He was so enthusiastic, passionate and dedicated and clearly appreciated all the people that came to see him. Often when I’ve seen him with the media he seems a bit closed, or a bit “stiff” but this was the opposite – he was in his absolute element, and was thoroughly entertaining.
As he left the stage he was totally mobbed by people trying to get his autograph and if he had is way, he’d have stayed to sign every single thing. Unfortunately he had to be dragged away for other commitments.
We then left the expo to go for a walk and have a picnic. We walked past the start area into the park, ate, then walked back down the finish area to see the finish gantry and grandstands they were building. It was quite exciting!
We chilled out for the rest of the day before having our usual pre-race ritual dinner – Fish and Chips – and watching telly.
Race day was a weird day. With a 2.10 race time we had an awful lot of anxious waiting around to do. We went for a wander to find the start area and take some snaps. At the time, the weather was good, almost perfect conditions for running. If only it stayed that way!
I really struggled trying to work out what to eat. I had a porridge pot at about 9, and another at about 11. Other than that I was just drinking lots of water. We were literally in our hotel room bored, waiting to check out and head to the start.
Chris came to meet us at our Hotel, as did Nikkii and Steve. We got a good club photo before heading off to the baggage areas.
This is when things started buzzing. The atmosphere was great, and organisationally the whole race was fantastic. From the runners village, baggage storage, signage, access to all the right areas, road closures and start pens were all superbly managed.
Unfortunately, the sky got darker. Thankfully the temperature was OK and the wind was quite low, so putting on our free ponchos we deposited our bags and headed for the start pens. Chris and I were in White near the front, so had to leave Jodie quite early on. Again, the marshals getting people to the right pens were superb, even to the point where when Chris and I got separated they were very strict. I was meant to be in the pen ahead of Chris – we tried to get Chris forward one, but instead they offered for me to go back one… Sorry to Chris, but I chose the forward pen!
There was plenty of room so I managed to have a bit of a warm up as I got there so early, but the pen soon filled up. The pre-race entertainment was quite emotive, with the Cardiff Arms Park Mens Choir singing welsh hymns with Rhydian off of the X Factor and after some speeches from the Chairman of the organising committee and Lord Sebastian Coe, the elite ladies were paraded out (that sounds kinda wrong…) and off they went, lightning fast as you’d expect.
Nervously we waited for another half an hour before the men got their big announcement and we were ushered toward the start… After a good amount of fanfare and some giant flames coming out of the castle… we were off.
The course itself was advertised as “fast, flat and iconic”. The course itself is similar to the one which is run in the regular October edition of the race, which is held annually. The course has changed slightly from that but not too much. I’m not too convinced on the “flat and fast” part, though it is certainly flatter than most – though not as flat as I remember! There were some tough longish climbs which to be honest, I wasn’t expecting. The elevation profile below shows that the second half seems to be most uphill!
The route takes in Cardiff’s biggest landmarks. Starting in front of Cardiff Castle, you run past the Millenium Stadium, Cardiff City Stadium, Penarth Marina, The Barrage, The Doctor Who Experience, Roald Dahl Plass, the Millenium Centre and Roath Park before finishing in the grounds of the university. Aside from a few industrial areas, the route was varied and interesting – not that I was able to take much of it in! The crowd support in places was amazing, which, considering the weather was testament to the people of Cardiff.
Speaking of the weather, it was a hot topic of conversation throughout the weekend. It was just destined to be a torrential downpour at some point with reported 41mph winds. The first half of the race for me was relatively weather free. But at the 6/7 mile mark, the wind kicked in and the heavens opened. Within seconds, I was drenched and the howling wind, no matter what direction we ran in, seemed to be in our faces. The worst of it passed in a few minutes, but it was still rainy and windy for the second half.
The grandstand finish was excellent, it was fantastic hearing the cheers of all the magnificent supporters as we rounded the last corner onto the wide finish straight. It was quite an experience crossing the line of such a big event, with sponsor board and TV cameras lining the funnel.
Additionally, the bling and finish tee shirt were superb!
My race itself was a tale of two halves. The first half I went out a little ahead of pace. I felt like I was in control to a degree, I was running with people of a similar pace and tracking quite nicely towards a comfortable 1.27. After about 6 miles it started to feel a bit of a struggle, but this was expected. I hoped I had built enough of a buffer to continue slightly behind pace and still come in at 1.27. But then there was a long uphill which I really struggled with. My quads started to burn and I started thinking about revising my goal.
This became inevitable when the weather hit me and really took the wind out of my sails. I struggled on for the rest of the race. Roath Park was really hard and another seemingly endless uphill to the far end. I had to walk a few steps at 10 miles and I at that point I knew I’d have to fight for every second to try and come in under 1.30. As we turned at the end of Roath Lake it started gradually going back downhill until the 12 mile marker which was a short sharp uphill that I just had to walk up for a few steps. After this it was pretty much downhill as I puffed and panted my way through to the finish. As amazing as that finish funnel was, I wish I could have enjoyed it more.
Looking at the race analysis below you can see it all fall apart during the second half.
Yet my heart rate maintained a steady pace. This meant I literally couldn’t have put any more effort in – my legs just couldn’t keep up with my heart rate.
I’v been annoying Jodie trying to analyse where it “Went wrong”, even though it didn’t really. My finish time was 1.29.27, a 40 second PB which I am really pleased with – But I was hoping for a bit faster.
The conditions obviously didn’t help, and I do think I went out a bit quick. I think a few seconds per mile slower in the first 10k probably would have helped. My legs feeling dead though was purely fuelling. I needed more to eat in the morning. If it had been a 9am race, I think I would have been just fine as I’m used to that routine and what to eat pre-race. With hindsight, I probably should have taken on some gels. Additionally, a 22 miler 6 days before probably affected things too.
Jodie finished in an amazing 2.01 – faster than Yeovil last week, and 5 months pregnant. So very very proud of her!
We had a brilliant weekend. Cardiff were the most welcoming hosts to such a big event as you can ask for. It is a shame the weather tried to ruin the party but everyone seemed to enjoy it. It was a brilliantly organised race and the crowd support, considering the weather was excellent.
Thank you once again Cardiff. You were ace.