When I signed up for the Cardiff Half on May 25th, I had barely started running and saw it as a goal to aim towards. Little did I know then that I would quickly find myself pushing my boundaries and signing up for races including the Bath Very Long Half Marathon and the St Bega’s Ultra 35.
In a short space of time a half marathon had started to become a training run. I had become accustomed to the distance but until now I had never run a half marathon road race. Most perform differently in races for a variety of reasons not least that running with others can bring out your competitive side and push you further.
In training runs I’ve managed a fairly respectable time for the distance but wanted know how well I could really perform in a competitive race. With the Cardiff Half course being predominantly flat, this would be a great race to see how well I could perform.
Using Jeff Galloway’s Magic Mile calculation it estimated that I would be able to run it in 1:37:16 which seemed to be out of my reach but if I maintained a pace of between 7:20-7:25/mi I would be finish in that time or slightly quicker. My first race was the Caerphilly 10K in June and I managed to maintain 7:10/mi for the distance so there was a possibility that I would be able to achieve it.
The race starts in front of Cardiff Castle with the different pens following the road back around the eastern side of the building. Leaving Cardiff Castle the route heads over the River Taff, along Cowbridge Road East/Wellington Street before turning off to Leckwith Road and then along Sloper Road which runs alongside Cardiff City Stadium.
At the junction with Penarth Road, the route takes a right along a long, completely flat stretch of road that leads around to the first incline of the course before descending into Penarth Marina. Exiting the marina you head across the Barrage and are rewarded with stunning views of Cardiff Bay. The 10K marker is located outside the iconic Millennium Centre just before you head down the long Lloyd George Avenue and ontoTyndall Street and Windsor Road which feature two more inclines.
Crowds line the length of Fitzalan Place an West Grove as you cross Newport Road which offer great encouragement as you reach Mile 8. More crowds and live music continue the encouragement allow Albany Road and onto Roath Park. It’s here that you will encounter the most crowds as you look the lake.
Exiting Roath Park the route heads up a slightly steep incline into Cathays for the final Mile or so. Heading into the University you can see a live broadcast of the race on a giant screen. The screen marks the final sprint (if you have anything left in the tank) to the finish line.
Part of the registration process requires you to provide an estimate finishing time that would be used to sort runners into different timing pens. Unsure what my time would be I gave an educated guess of 1:45. This put me in the second timing pen after the elites and fast runners. I wasn’t sure how the system would work but rather than everyone leaving at the same time the first timing pen leaves and the other timing pens move up so that the runners leave in waves. As the race is fully chip-timed, it doesn’t matter when you leave as your time will be recorded the moment you cross the start line.
Straight after crossing the start line I spotted someone I knew that said they were aiming for 1:42. I thought I would stick with them and use them as a pacemaker but I quickly realised that I if I didn’t get up to my required pace I would find it difficult to get near my target and would have to work harder in the race. I increased the pace and by about 1-2 miles in I was on track. The pace felt good and I didn’t sense that I was going too fast; it felt like I could maintain the pace.
After a long flat run along Penarth Road the course heads up the first incline of the race. This hill is not at all steep and it was early enough in the race not to be an issue. The course wound its way through Penarth Marina and out onto the Barrage with a stunning view of Cardiff Bay.
I crossed the 10K timing checkpoint at the Wales Millennium Centre at 46:57 (46:22 on the watch) so I knew I was close to being on target but I would have to speed up. If I repeated that pace I would need to do the final KM and bit in under 4 minutes which I knew I wouldn’t be able to achieve. I upped the pace so that I could gain some time over each 5K.
The crowds lining the section between Cardiff Prison and Richmond Road were extremely supportive and worked wonders in giving me a boost and keep the pace up. By the 15K point I had done the previous 5K in 22:38 which was a reduction of 17 seconds compared to the 5K up to the 10K checkpoint.
Passing mile 9 and onto 10 I was in familiar territory. Having run this section around the lake every month since March with the Mikkeller Beer Running Club I knew exactly where the slight inclines were and where you could pick up the pace. This section of the race had the most support and in addition to official water stations, people had bought their own water to hand out along with sweets. And then there were the ladies at the care home – this is probably the only part of the race where the runners cheer on the people cheering them.
At Mile 11 as you come around the north of the lake there’s a bit of decline so a chance to pick up the pace slightly. At this point I’m visualising the stretch to mile 12 and beyond and trying to calculate whether I was on time or not. Leaving Roath Park you’re hit with a short, steep hill
Before the race I was almost reluctant to tell people the real time that I was aiming for and would just say that I had got around 1:45 in training so was hoping for that or better. I wasn’t even sure myself that I would be able to maintain a 7:20/mi pace for the entire race.
After stepping up a gear early into the race I was surprised that I managed to settle into race pace. I do believe that the crowd cheering runners on had a big impact on my motivation to maintain the pace especially when running along Fitzalan Place where you truly felt part of a large race.
Official Race Times