THE CARDIFF HALF. It had arrived. 13.1 miles, training done, no backing out now. Heck!
5k races, 10k races, done… The next goal was a half marathon. I remember the billboard advertisement at the end of Lloyd George nagging at me every time I walked past it earlier this year. Fear held me back for a while, then one payday I felt a bit blasé and booked it. My first half marathon. Heck.
I’d been training for this run, but maybe not as much as I would have liked. I had slowly been increasing my mileage on long runs, and had got up to 12 miles at my peak. I had never run the full distance, but didn’t mind that; I thought it would make race day more exciting and challenging to run the unknown 13th and a bit mile on the day.
Like the Cardiff 10k, the half marathon route is described as a “predominately flat and fast course,” good for PB’s and beginners like myself.
Also like the 10k, the Runner’s Village and start line is situated near Cardiff Castle. The route heads out through Riverside and Grangetown, before sweeping towards the Penarth Marina. Then a lil’ hop over the barrage and down through Cardiff Bay, past my house on Lloyd George Avenue. That’s seven miles.
The second half of the course then heads north, looping round Roath Park Lake, snaking up a mean but thankfully short hill and then smashing back into the heart of the city where the finish line awaits.
The race goes through most of the run routes I’ve discovered in Cardiff. (Though missing out Bute Park for once!) Cardiff Bay and the Barrage are my main routes now, and I used to run around Roath all the time in uni, so I was looking forward to smooshing the two routes together to make a nice nostalgic run sandwich.
Cardiff Half is also the biggest race I’ve taken part in, with over 20,000 runners participating. The crowds were a little daunting. When you arrive at the Runner’s Village it’s like being dumped into a music festival where the majority of revellers are sober and in active wear. The bag drop seemed well-organised and well-crewed, with multiple baggage drop tents allocated to race numbers. I met up with the CDF Runners at 9 o’clock, (see group photo above) helped a friend with the bag drop and queued in line for a pre-race pee. Those little tasks took nearly an hour thanks to the crowds, so it didn’t feel long before I made my way to yellow race number pen and soaked up the excitement as everyone around me prepared to start.
I heard a commentator say on loudspeaker that the weather was “perfect” for today’s run, and I politely disagreed. It was too sunny, too hot! Maybe in the shade it was cool, but it felt hot to me in the direct sun, and I hadn’t started moving yet.
Before I go through my more in-depth race breakdown, here’s some pics from before and after the race!
Mile 1-3: Over the start line, I whooped, I cheered, I was excited. I started off with two friends, Rachel and Beth, and it was really nice to share the start line experience with them. The very start of the race was quite boring, scenery-wise. I remember straight roads, warehouses, garages, that sort of thing. I committed the number one rookie mistake and zigzagged past people for the first two miles. I should have been more chill and conserved energy, a lesson I learnt hard after mile 8.
There was a steady incline just before the 5k mark, but since I was still feeling fresh I kept pace and ran up it, stopping to grab water from the first water station and pouring most of it over my head. That felt great.
Mile 4-5: This was definitely my favourite part. I felt uplifted at the first glimpse of Penarth marina. The sun on the water, the pretty boats and the slight downhill incline made me feel glorious. I achieved that elusive zen feeling, where you’re feeling strong and as if you could run forever. I’ll remember that little section going down into Penarth for a long time.
As we were crossing over the barrage, a spectator yelled:
“Don’t look at your watch, look at the view!”
It was good advice. The bay is magical in good weather. With water either side of me, as I strode out along the small pathway, it really felt like an adventure. I can’t romanticise that part of the race enough.
Mile 6-7: GEL TIME. I brought my own SiS gel, as that’s what I trained with. It went down fine, washed down with my original water bottle from mile 3. Heading down Lloyd George I kept an eye out for my support crew, Rob and Christina, and sure enough I found them cheering me just outside my house. I stopped briefly for a quick hug, probably sweated gross amounts over both of them. Buoyed up, I set off. Second half of the race, begin!
Mile 8: This is where the Unfun began. The crowds were getting thicker now, and the cheering was helping. But my pace was slowing.
Mile 9-11: Heck. This was plod central for me. The worst part. I couldn’t see the crowds much because of the sun. My knee started to ache. The zen feeling I had at mile 4, this was like the opposite of that. Roath park’s steady inclines had reduced me to walking speed, but I was stubborn and still kept plodding on. I saw lots of different spectators handing out jelly babies at this point, I took one for a sugar boost and kept on.
Mile 12: Mile 12 gets a special mention for that hill after Roath park. Ugh.
Mile 13: THE UNKNOWN! THE LAST STRETCH! I tried to pick up the pace as I entered the last part of the race. When I saw that finish line it was much easier to do so, and Rob and Christina had made their way here to cheer me though the last 100 metres. The later miles of this race had felt like a slog but the finishing part felt real good. I got a time of 2 hours 31 minutes.
I was handed my race-booty: water, a banana, a finisher’s pack, a race tee and of course a medal. I was feeling tired, thirsty, but also a new thing: wobbly. As I headed to meet my cheer crew my vision was starting to blink out a bit and I felt lightheaded. It was a new sensation so I was mildly vexed, but since I didn’t feel like I wanted to throw up I was also strangely calm. When they found me by the museum they said I was really pale, and we headed promptly to Sainsbury’s where Christina prescribed the best post-race potion: a massive bottle of cold water with added Dioralyte. I don’t know what’s in those magic sachets- salt? Sugar? Electrolytes? Whatever is was, it really helped and stopped the weird vision thing. Now I could head to the Gatekeeper for a beer or two. Huzzah!
My first half marathon was a tough one. Looking over my mile splits, it was obvious I started out too fast. I felt I was crawling from mile 8 onwards, and didn’t enjoy the parts around Roath park because of this. It’s made me doubly, triply, infinitely more in awe of people who run marathons. I think I would have died if I had attempted that route twice.
I am super up for another half though. I want to get stronger, more experienced, so I’m ready to take on another 13 miles and beat my time. (I think this is where the runner addiction really grabs you.)
When I got home, after much food, I felt inspired to draw:
My knee is sore as heck today, and running is bullshit! I still love it though.
Grumpy Kate x