Cardiff Half, 2011

2011-10-18, , , Comments

Michael’s Tom Tom guided us from the M4 to Grangetown Station. We parked alongside the Taff. Michael ate a banana and changed into his Swansea City shorts, which he thought appropriate since the route would be passing Legoland. We made fall-back plans where to meet after then set off on foot, falling into line with the gathering crowds heading the same way. Ahead rose the metallic curve of the national arts centre, gleaming in the sunlight.

Wales Millenium Centre

What does it say on the front? That’s a classic pub quiz question.

Hear the stones sing in silence. I don’t know. Something like that. It’s in Welsh and English.

… ?

Go on then, what does it say?

I don’t know either, Michael admitted. Now we were right there beneath the imposing lettering but didn’t bother checking. The runners village was swarming with runners getting ready. We had to prepare.

Plas Roald Dahl is built on a scale to accommodate 15000 runners and supporters — excepting toilet facilities. Queues for the portaloos folded back on themselves. We shook hands and separated. With half an hour to go I stripped off and deposited my kit bag. I made my way to the start, down to the waterfront, left, past the Senedd, left again, then tried to find the right starting pen. My number was blue, meaning an expected finishing time between 1:20 and 1:30. The instructions from the PA alternated between English and Welsh, happily noting the sun had come out, there was no wind, the route was flat — the event record could well be broken.

In amongst the packed athletes I discovered Mike Rimmer, Mark, Pippa and Michael (again). They were huddled close to the 1:30 pace-maker. Push up, Mike ordered, and I don’t want to see you till the end of the race! I squeezed and twisted and wriggled a few metres forward then gave up.

After a welcome message from the mayor we were off, shuffling, walking, striding, jogging, running. After Bristol, I took it easy to begin with, settling into the race rather than wasting energy trying to weave through the pack. Soon the roads broadened, proper city avenues and boulevards, and I could run my own pace.

Pro-cyclist David Millar recently tweeted about his specialism, time-trialling.

TT’s are weird. Imagine the best long-distance runners being set off at 1min intervals to TT 20km. Be considered mad. Cycling = Madness. — @millarmind

A TT generally involves the athlete emptying their tank completely in order to post the fastest time they are physically capable of. — @millarmind

A mass-start race involves tactics and economising of effort in order to cross the finish-line first. Winner often the freshest at the end. — @millarmind

Interesting, as far as it goes — but in a regular bike race tactics and positioning are paramount and in athletics a strong athlete can run off the front. For me, the half marathon is a time trial. I’m racing against the clock and emptying the tank. I look for the mile markers and check my time as I pass them. A 6:10 pace would bring me in at around 1 hour and 21 minutes, just under.

Miles 8 and 9, the route heads in then out on the same arterial road, doubling back at a spectator-packed roundabout. It gives you a chance to watch faster runners, some really fast runners — and to appreciate the scale of the event. Go on Ifan! I shouted. His head stayed down, he was working hard. He’d heard me. My legs still felt good.

At mile 10 there’s a climb. It’s not so steep but it’s long enough and it comes at just the wrong stage of the race. I’d slipped a few seconds. The arithmetic was getting harder. Dig in!

Cardiff Bay

Then the final stretch, along the Cardiff Bay barrage. You’re exposed to the wind but today there wasn’t any, just a fabulous approach to the capital, towards the Norwegian Church, the Assembly, the Armadillo. Those efforts along the Avon towpath, the interval sessions on Oxwich beach — now they make sense: you know how it feels to run at tempo when legs are burning and lungs are heaving. I was going to do it!


1:21:31:07 it said on my watch. My official chip time, received in a text message an hour or so later, was 1:21:30, a personal best by almost half a minute. I was wiped out but not hurting, not like last time. I’d finished 110th.

Cardiff half marathon 2011 race results for Thomas Guest


My thanks to gordonplant and Chris Bewick for allowing me to use their fine photos of Cardiff Bay and the Millenium Centre in this article.