What a race last weeks half marathon turned out to be. Every aspect from the weather to the race itself ran like clockwork. (N.B Please read footnote)
Only the day before we faced a deluge and unbelievably by the time the sun rose on the Sunday morning the sky was clear and the wind had subsided.
This year as I awoke I was especially nervous. The 2018 CHM offered me one particular challenge, to shave a meer 4 minutes from my half marathon time achieved in recent years.
The amazing thing about running is that it allows us all to set our unique individual targets and for me this year a sub 1:30 race would offer me an opportunity to turn back the clock and temporarily deal with the fact that I turn 40 early next year.
It’s been 8 years since I dipped under the elusive hour and a half mark and this was my challenge. Some might call this a mid-life crisis, still I suppose it’s better than buying a sports car right?
Training for all intents and purposes had gone reasonably well. I had managed to start running some fairly quick 5kms at Parkrun inspired by Dame Kelly Holmes (more about this aspect in a future blog) and unlike others years where I had essentially just turned up and hoped for the best this year was different as I had approached training with a purpose.
Having gone to bed feeling satisfied although not full on a bowl of tuna pasta the previous evening ,the morning offered its own mini challenges. Thankfully my wife left with me with one less stress by ensuring I avoided the carnage that our children regularly hurl at us on cue at 5:30am daily. This enabled me to run around the house like a headless chicken periodically asking ‘Where are my headphones?’ and ‘Who has stolen my running shorts since last night?’
Typically my Garmin strap had broken and as my wife reluctantly duct taped it to my wrist I had only one last request which was to be dropped into town. Biting her tongue she quickly ushered our children still sporting their PJs into the car and wished me luck as I stepped out into the pre-marathon hassle and bustle.
Myself and a group of thirty four other runners were representing a fantastic charity ‘Amser Justin Time’ which raises awareness for pancreatic cancer and I was due at a pre-race photo forty five minutes before the start. Unfortunately sporadic arrival times meant the photo was a little later than arranged and as my pre-race bowel habits are about as reliable as Arriva trains I visited the Park Plaza to avoid pulling a Paula Radcliffe on the course.
I still hadn’t quite set upon my race tactics as I stood in the race pen nervously tying and retying my shoe laces and it was a welcome relief to bump into some accomplished running friends who I had enjoyed some training sessions with in the build up to the race.
We found ourselves standing behind the 1:30 pacers and although not my initial intention to follow the pacers I did not have a better plan as the starting gun went off.
I knew I had to achieve an average pace of 6:52 mins per mile for the race and within the first few miles I had already lost sight of my friends as I turned to the pacers to ensure my race destiny.
The first three miles felt relatively comfortable and although I was slightly concerned at the faster than anticipated race pace that flashed up on my Garmin at miles one and two I trusted in my new comrades.
The first half of the race takes the participants through Leckwith and towards Penarth which offers a slight challenge as you clamber up an incline before heading down towards the barrage.
CHM is always extremely well supported and as you venture into Cardiff bay at mile 6 you are greeted with screams from the supporting crowd especially on the bridge at Roald Dahl pass. A quick glance at my watch read 42 mins as I passed the half way mark, slightly slower than anticipated but I felt relatively comfortable as I momentarily contemplated and declined the running gels on offer.
Mile 6-7 takes the runners down Lloyd George Avenue which is a tedious stretch of road towards the city centre and at this point I found myself ahead of the pacers and slightly anxious as my breaths felt ever heavier. The runners around me seemed to be jostling for position for the second half of the race and I willed myself to hold my spot.
In previous years this section of the race has proved my Achilles heel and I focused heavily on keeping my stride and mind focused on the fact that my wife and children would be waiting at mile 9 to spur me on.
As I ran towards my family at the mile 9 marker it took a great effort to return the motivational greeting screamed at my person although it did put a much needed spring in my step.
Another quick glance at my watch and my forearm (where I had conveniently penned my split guide with a Sharpy) confirmed I was bang on time with 1hr 1 minute having passed by since the start of the race.
Half a mile later and things were beginning to take a turn for the worse as I gratefully accepted the bottle of Lucozade on offer. The pacers and the surrounding runners had begun to pull away.
Mile 10 was always going to be a pivotal point for me as not only does it mark the last 5km of the race but it also happens to circumvent Roath Park Lake my regular running stomping ground. I actually screamed out loud as the lactic acid started to take it effect ‘This is your turf now!’ Slightly odd admittedly however it did seem to invoke something in me.
As the pacers disappeared around the other side of the lake I had started to feel that age wasn’t on my side although I constantly reminded myself that all the tempo runs, the hill sprints and the competitive Park runs were not in vain.
Miraculously, as I shuffled up the final incline at mile 12 I passed a wheelchair racer. His arms must have been burning in pain as the crowd, the participants and myself screamed at him to keep going.
‘How poignant’ I thought ‘this is what it’s all about’- inspiring each other and willing each other to push the boundaries to achieve what we once might have thought not possible.
At this moment I became instantly stronger and as the sun beamed onto my face on Cathays terrace the student area of the city I felt overwhelmingly content as my legs began to take on a mind of their own.
As I rounded onto the finishing stretch my legs began to propel themselves faster and faster and I could now see the finishing line and clock above ticking the seconds away.
I found myself over taking the first of the 1:30 pacers then unbelievably the second and as the clock ticked onto 1hr 29 mins I crossed the finishing line with my hands raised in the air.
My quest was complete and as the endorphins and lactic acid pulsed through my body I couldn’t help feel like I had turned back the clock ever so slightly.
I was firmly on cloud 9 as were a majority of my running friends who all seemed to hit their own personal goals.
In the mean time I’ve accepted I am getting older which is exactly why I’ve asked my wife if I can enter next years Tenby Ironman. Probably not the best event to propose with a 3 year old and a two year old so we’ll see.
In the mean time Cardiff Half Marathon entries for 2019 are available today. I wonder if a sub 1:25 is possible ?
Nb Thoughts and prayers with the families and loved ones of Ben McDonald and Dean Fletcher two young runners who tragically passed away on finishing the race.