The Swansea Half Marathon I’d decided was going to be a fun race for me, I told everyone who asked that I was going to take it easy. After months of hard training for the Edinburgh marathon,
I was going to run a comfortable pace at Swansea and just enjoy the race atmosphere. Deep down though I knew this wasn’t really me! Problem with me you see is that I cannot stop competing with myself. Actually I don’t see it as a problem,
just a strong character trait.
I’ve got an addictive personality which means when I get into something I go for it all guns blazing (ask my friends or my wife about my experience with dj’ing, poker, car detailing, kickboxing/boxing…I could keep going). I see it as a good thing, there could be worse things to be addicted to right? Over the years
I’ve got into lots of different sports and haven’t done too bad at them. Right now I’m into Obstacle Course Racing and Running. I’m very competitive as some of you have probably noticed 🙂 so the idea of me running a conservative race at Swansea was just not going to happen.
My training had gone pretty well. It had only been 4 weeks since the Edinburgh Marathon for which Id trained for about 3 months so I already had a good base to work from. That was one hell of a challenge to put it bluntly. I was smack on my target pace for 18 miles on course for my target time of 3hr30, when I hit the dreaded wall at exactly 18 miles.
18 miles just so happens to be the max distance that I ran in training, what does that tell you! I completed it in 3:39, still happy with that time, but I learnt a lot and still believe with a different approach that I could do sub 3:30. That’s if I do another full marathon that is!
In the run up to the Edinburgh marathon I had been running 3-4 times a week, usually one easy run for 45 mins to an hour, two quality workouts focusing on speed, usually threshold intervals which were either 8-10 min intervals repeated x3-4 at lactate threshold pace, or shorter 4-5 min threshold intervals repeated x6-8. Then I would do a long easy run every sunday, increasing mileage each week to a max of 18 miles. On top of that I’d usually squeeze in one or two bodyweight strength sessions at
home or in the gym.
After the edinburgh marathon I had a week off, plus I decided to give blood. Not a good decision maybe if I wanted a pb at the half in 4 weeks time but someone somewhere definitely needed that blood more than I did!
Following that in the rest of the weeks running up to the half, I ran 3 times a week. 2 quality sessions, the usual threshold intervals or a few hill sprints. Then a long run on the sunday (max 10 miles).
I keep telling myself that one day I will just go out and enjoy a race and not look to compete
I felt good so it made sense to try beat my last Half Marathon PB. Otherwise what’s the point right? Others might say, well the point is that you don’t have to run flat out for the entire race, why not just enjoy it, enjoy the crowd
and the occasion, chat to a few runners along the way and soak it all up. Finish the race not feeling like you’re about to collapse and that your legs are about to fall off!
I get that point, and it’s a nice thought – I keep telling myself that one day I will just go out and enjoy a race and not look to compete. Well actually I do do that now and again but only if I’m running with other
people and usually at an obstacle race. Obstacle races are always fun particularly if you’re running in a group where you can all have a laugh and help each-other out. Don’t get me wrong OCR has a competitive side to it too which is another aspect
I love about it and again if I’m running alone I will try to compete at these too.
The real enjoyment from a race for me though is the feeling of achievement at the end having beaten a pb or completed a distance not completed before. Nothing beats that feeling!
To beat my previous PB of 1:36:56 (Cardiff Half Marathon) I planned to follow a negative split pacing strategy. Negative splits usually means splitting the race into two halves, the first being slower than the second.
My negative split strategy was similar to what I did for the Cardiff half. For the first 5k I would run at approx 4:40/km, then I would increase to 4:30 up until mile 11 then go for glory.
On the morning of the race I woke up 5.50am. The race was starting at 9.15am so wanted to leave plenty of time to pick up a friend on the way and get to the starting pen at least 40 mins before the start. No such luck however, we had a mad rush in the end because the queue of traffic to get into the park and ride in Swansea
was huge. In fact it took us about 25 mins just to get into the car park before having to stand in another queue for another 10 mins to wait for the bus.
So we got to the start a bit panicked to be honest, it was 8.35 and we still had to drop off the bags, do the usual last minute nervous loo stop and get to the starting pens before the race start at 9am. Luckily the race was delayed by 15 mins probably because most of the race were stuck in the park and ride queue!
I managed to squeeze (quite literally) into the starting pen for 9am. The start saw lots of people squashed together very tightly running through some narrow cobbled roads in the centre of Swansea. So I had to do a fair bit of dodging and weaving to get around people and find some space so I could get to my to target pace. Looking back at my splits,
the first 5k of the race went pretty much to plan. Maybe a little bit faster than planned, but I managed to keep my pace down. Negative splits is always challenging at the beginning because its all too easy to get carried into a faster than planned running pace by the adrenaline filled runners around you. For a lot of people, this spurt of energy
at the beginning of the race will bite them on the bum later in the race!
Once we were out of the centre of Swansea, the route took us on a road close to the coastline towards a place in Swansea called ‘Mumbles’ and I now had some space to run in and therefore knuckle down!
I was carefully checking my watch looking out for the 5k mark when I needed to up my game. Strangely I was looking forward to hitting that 5k actually because I knew it was the last pace change really until the last mile. In my head at least I know once I’ve hit 5k, my goal is simple in theory – stick to the target pace for the rest of the race, go for it in the last mile!
So at 5k I upped my pace, well I thought I did anyway.
Looking at the splits, 5k was 4:38 – not quite 4:30 but I more than made up for it! I stuck to 4:30 until about 8k. I’m sure at that point the route went downhill slightly. It was very tempting here just to cruise on the downhill section. Going downhill burns less energy which is why it always feels easier.
However I thought to myself, what goes down must come up, I knew this route came back on itself so I could potentially face a hill coming back. I decided to run faster on the downhill section to make up for the potential slower pace coming back uphill! That explains a few of the 4:23/4:26 splits – however many of those were flat, how I managed that I have no idea – I only ever hit those paces
during my intervals in training. Obviously those intervals were paying off!
I’m not sure if spectators realise how much their support is appreciated, particularly when you hit ‘the wall’ and your entire body is screaming at you to stop!
THE MIDDLE BIT
Along the way I saw a choir on the side of the road and straight away looked out for my Auntie who I knew was singing in a choir somewhere along the route. I spotted her waving frantically just as I passed, which was nice! I find it always gives me a boost seeing someone I know, or even just someone shouting my name. It kind of wakes me up and I’m sure it makes me run a little bit faster for a few seconds 🙂
Throughout the race quite a few people shouted my name, probably because I had my obstafit t-shirt on with ‘GARETH’ written on the back. Support from spectators at races helps massively I believe. I didn’t put my name on my tshirt for the Edinburgh marathon which looking back
I think was a mistake. I’m not sure if spectators realise how much their support is appreciated, particularly when you hit ‘the wall’ and your entire body is screaming at you to stop!
I had my first gel at 45 mins into the race as planned. I don’t get a huge boost from gels but realise how essential they are for topping up glucose levels, and I’m pretty sure I’d find it a lot more difficult to maintain a continuous pace without them. My plan was to top up again another 30 mins later, which I did. I had another gel for the finishing mile (which in the end I didn’t bother to take)
Often I think back to some of my kick-boxing fights when i have never ever felt as exhausted but had to dig deep to keep on fighting
At about 6 miles, the route turned back on itself. I’d been dreading this bit as I knew there were one or two downhill sections on the way so what goes down must go up! So I was very happy when I realised that the route back didn’t follow the same road but instead what looked like a flatter path along the coast. That PB could be in sight!
I had another gel at this point (and needed it!), I started feeling a bit uncomfortable now unsurprisingly. Those 4:20+ splits were kicking in now!
I looked at my watch and could see my pace was beginning to slow, I was not going to let this continue so decided to start trying to pick people off. In other words I would pick someone in front of me and focus on overtaking them,
then the next then the next. It was probably a bit early to start doing this, I usually don’t do so until the last few miles but I needed to do something to keep my pace on target!
I remember overtaking a guy in an ‘iNVNCBL’ parc penallta tshirt. I asked him if he was doing the Pembrey race next week, he took his headphones off, mumbled no then put them back on. Probably thinking to himself, ‘shut-up I’m trying to race here’. That gave me a boost to stay in the zone and focus on the race! It’s the little things 😉
I find if I can ignore what my brain is telling me ‘stop stop stop, your legs are going to fall off’, my body will keep on going
The path along the coast was indeed pretty flat, although there were a few inclines – which is inevitable really seen as the finish was up the road from the start. So we had to get back up to where we started at some point! Those inclines felt like mountains, trust me on that one. When you are pushing to stay at a pace and then come across a hill, it’s so difficult to get back to that pace when you get over the hill.
I find that late in a race, if I’ve been pushing throughout, the slightest incline really takes it out of me – despite running plenty of hills in training, maybe I need to do more hill training – specifically with hills at the end!
Got to about mile 9 and everything was beginning to ache – my heart-rate was well into threshold zone and my brain was telling me to slow down. However in the back of my mind I was telling myself, this is nothing compared to what you went through at the marathon. Suck it up, it’s only 4 miles. The body can always do more than we think it can more often than not, it’s only our brains telling us the opposite. I find if I can ignore what my brain is telling me ‘stop stop stop, your legs are going to fall off’, my body will keep on going.
I use lots of strategies in my head to get me through a race or to defeat a goal.
Often I think back to some of my kick-boxing fights when i have never ever felt as exhausted but had to dig deep to keep on fighting. Losing or getting knocked out in front of friends and family was simply not an option. Compared to some of those fights, what I’m feeling at this point in the race is nothing. I know from experience that my body can cope with much more damage, so I plough on.
The last few miles ticked away particularly slowly, though somehow I managed to hold that pace. I wouldn’t call it a sprint finish like I did at Cardiff but I did put in that last bit of effort on the finishing straight to get me over the line, then proceeded to collapse in a heap on the floor.
Looked at my watch and was very happy with my new PB of 1:34:49.
I was knackered following the race, and writing this 2 days after, I still am. The drive home was hard work, I was struggling to stay awake! I really did push it this time around, I don’t think I could have pushed any more to be honest.
I’ve got the Dirty Dozen Race in Usk next week – that one I am going to enjoy, will be running it with friends and not looking to compete. However in October i’m booked into the Cardiff Half, I need to set a new target. Is sub 1hr30 too ambitious? I think it could be do-able with the right training.
With another little Partridge on the way and therefore lots more sleepless nights to come after christmas (though it’ll be worth it ;)), October could be the best time to go for it. What do people think?
On another note, I feel I have to mention that the friend that I picked up from Bridgend – Claire Taylor also did something amazing that day.
She was doing the half marathon distance for the first time. This is a huge challenge for anyone, however it was even more so for Claire since she has only recently (7 months ago) had life-saving surgery known as an ileostomy to remove part of her colon due to colitis.
She amazingly completed the half marathon and was true to her words ‘I’m determined to finish and stick two fingers up to a disease that almost cost me my life’.
What an achievement, well done Claire, you’ve proved that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. You are an inspiration. RESPECT!
With offline and online donations, Claire also managed to raise over £1000 for Colitis! The justgiving page Claire’s Swansea Half Marathon Page is still open if you want to donate.
P.S I’m addicted to Strava these days, it brings out the geek in me 🙂 If you are on Strava, feel free to follow me. If you weren’t aware, we’ve also got an Obstafit Strava group setup, why not join us and see how you stack up against other obstafitters!