1st Ever Swansea Half Marathon

2014-07-22, , Comments

Crossing the Tawe

For me, a half marathon is a race against the clock, a notoriously ruthless opponent, and since the city halves are fast, flat and accurately measured, you can compare your time in Cardiff to your time in Bristol, or your time in Cardiff to Neil’s time in Brighton or Matt’s time in Bath. There’s nowhere to hide.

Maybe that’s whay I prefer trail and cross country, where conditions and tactics seem more important than minutes and seconds. For a half marathon conditions are either suitable for a PB or unsuitable, and there’s just one tactic:

Run an even pace, or

Don’t go out too fast, or

Don’t slow down, or

Keep going, for, in my case, 80 minutes-ish.

Oh, but the -ish matters! My personal best of 1:21:30, Cardiff 2011, the last time I ran a half, was 90 seconds over. At the start of this year, 2014, I decided to do something about that. I’d return to Cardiff and I’d try and go under 80 minutes. Effectively, I’d have to cover a distance which previously took me 60 seconds in just under 59 seconds, and I’d have to repeat that record breaking performance 81 and a half times in a row.

Such a calculated task requires planning.

Forerunner 10

To assist me in my race against time I’ve been using a Garmin Forerunner 10, a device which is not so much a watch as a tagging device: it knows where I am, and when, how fast I’m going, how fast I’m supposed to be going, and it can recall this information for subsequent analysis. As well as the Garmin, I devised a training routine which includes an extended early morning run. Once a week I meet anyone prepared to join me for 90 minutes in a session which culminates — 10 miles in and after a couple of hills — with 2 miles run at tempo. The idea is to build stamina and to get used to running on weary legs.

My plans to race the clock in Cardiff in October were brought forward in April when the word got out that this year, for the first time ever, Swansea would be hosting a half marathon. The date had been set for July 20th, meaning I’d have time to prepare, and — if the race didn’t go well — time to regroup and reset my strategy for Cardiff. I signed up sharpish.

And they're off

So. July 20th. Race day. Start time, 08:30. With entries limited to 2000 the race was a sell out and when I arrived, with an hour to go, the runners’ village — the patch of grass filling the gaps between the museums and the LC2 — the village was buzzing. I saw Rob Falconer stretching before the race. I jogged a slow loop to the sea front and back around the marina, briefly hooking up with Steve Smith. Gary Irving, marshalling for the day, was stationed on the path in front of the Marriott with a group of cadets at what would be mile 10. It’s tough going from here, he warned me. The path narrows and there are lots of twists and turns. Could be nasty.

One last swig of water. Isobel had come to support me and I knew Dan would be down too. I walked to the start line with Eamonn. Being near the front could only help.

Paper shower

For the first three miles along Oystermouth Road I ran alongside Raul. At each mile my Garmin bleeped and displayed a lap time. I was hitting 6 minute miling. That would do it. Coming through Blackpill I got a cheer from Simon Beer. The crowds thickened in Mumbles. My race number had my name on it and I was wearing my Swansea Harriers club vest which meant I got lots of local and personalised support. There was Iain standing on the pavement. Raul had dropped back.

I ran with the chap in the blue vest for a while

I reached the turning point, Verdis, Knab Rock, alongside a bearded runner in a light blue vest. 5 miles, flat, only one turn, barely any wind and the sun had yet to burn through the mist. I pushed on and caught another Swansea Harrier, Adam. We worked together for a couple of miles. Past the half way stage now and I was flying. Mile 8 felt like the fastest yet. Adam had fallen back. The next runner, some way ahead, also wore a Swansea Harriers vest. Surely not Eamonn?

Mile 7 or 8, I think

I went through 10 miles in 60:06. It was Eamonn! We were running through searing July sunshine. I no longer felt light on my feet. I focused on how I’d felt running along the towpath, how I’d held my pace when my legs were screaming. As Gary had warned, the path narrowed and swerved.

Tawe pedestrian bridge

I could see runners ahead crossing the bridge over the mouth of the Tawe, zig-zagging through the development zone on the other side of the river. I didn’t want to have to think about which way to go! I slowed into the bends and accelerated wearily out of them, forcing myself back up to speed. I was still catching runners who’d been ahead of me for the past hour or so. On the last cruel switchback just before crossing the Tawe for the second time, on the Sail Bridge, I saw Eamonn. All the way, Tom, push for the line, he shouted. I saw Alan Davies and wondered why he wasn’t running. There was Dan, my brother. There were Isobel and Cai.

Last push. Breathless

Stop the Garmin

What time? I didn’t know. I didn’t see the usual race clock on the line. I gulped in air and watched the next few runners finish. I gave Isobel a hug. Eamonn came in, then Kneath. At last I checked my watch. 1:19:36. I had gone under 80 minutes by a few — several! — precious seconds.

When the official results were published I was credited with a gun time of 1:19:38 and a chip time of 1:19:36. Racing the clock turned out to be a great tactic for placing well: I finished 10th overall, having been 15th at the half-way point, and I came first in my age category. My prize, apparently, is to be a new running watch. It’s late.

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Thanks to Dirty Green Trainers sports photographers for the images used on this page, and for permission to publish them here.