Cardiff Half Marathon, Chasing a Sub 90 Half

So far It’s been a busy year for road races. Did the IAAC World Half Marathon in Cardiff in March, the Edinburgh Marathon 31st May, Swansea Half 26th June and on 2nd October I did the Cardiff Half Marathon. Also ran lots of obstacle races in between,
so it’s been a full on year for running for me! I’ve pretty much not stopped training since Christmas last year. I’ve been on a bit of a mini mission really trying to beat each of my pb’s at each race. As I explained in my last blog post ‘Swansea Half, Chasing a PB’, i’m a bit of a mentalist
in that I find it difficult to relax and enjoy a race! I have to push and try beat my PB.

Cai regularly sprints with his little legs across his playroom ‘I’m gonna “rhedeg” really fast like daddy’ he says

THE TARGET

After completing the Swansea Half earlier this year in 1:34:49 I’ve been fired up ever since. From that day onwards I set myself a slightly ambitious target of beating 90 minutes at the Cardiff Half Marathon in October. In my head I had a good 3 months of training to prepare for it so it should be acheivable.
Part of the reason for my wanting to beat 90 minutes aswell is because we’ve got another little boy on the way. I remember how hectic things got when Cai was born, racing and training goes out the window, so in my head now is the best time to beat all my pb’s.

My training plan was basically one of the Hal Higdon Intermediate Half Marathon training plans, recrafted to suit my schedule and preferred method of training.

I also think, both Cai (my 2 year old son), and baby to come will hopefully be well proud of their Dad when they get older and will hopefully be motivated to get into competitive sports themselves. In fact it seems to be working already, Cai regularly sprints with his little legs
across his playroom ‘I’m gonna “rhedeg” really fast like daddy’ he says, often with one of my medals round his neck. Love it! He also believe it or not likes to pressups and squats because he’s seen me doing them! A few weeks ago he actually told nanny to stop in the middle of St Mary Street to do pressups! Sorry my fault again #22pressupchallenge 😀

THE TRAINING

My training plan was basically one of the Hal Higdon Intermediate Half Marathon training plans, recrafted to suit my schedule and preffered method of training. It was a 5 runs a week plan – speed work in the week and a long run on the weekend. One of the best workouts that produced the best results for me were the 400m intervals.

I visited cwmbran stadium in my lunch hour in work every other week to do 400m intervals on the track with about 1 minute rest in between. Each week I added more laps up to 2 weeks before the half when I did 10 x 400m laps. I felt great during that workout and set my quickest 400m lap at 1 min 12 secs. That was a turning point in my training to be honest, it gave me a big confidence boost!

Other key sessions were ‘Pace Runs’. I learned to hate these sessions. The challenge was to basically run at target pace for a set distance. My target pace was 4:15/km (6:52 min mile). In all honestly I really struggled with these sessions – I found them demoralising as I struggled to hold the pace all the way through the workout. I think the furthest I managed to hold 4:15 mins per km was about 5 miles.

THE MENTAL GAME

So you can imagine the negative thoughts that crept into my mind, along the lines of ‘That target is way too ambitious, you can’t even run for 5 miles at that pace never mind 13!’. But then also in the back of my mind, I thought back to some of my previous race experiences,where I ran comfortably at paces I could get nowhere near in training. Adrenaline on the day is a funny thing!

The same kind of thoughts used to plague me at my Kickboxing fights, you have to win, everyone has come out to support you. Don’t get knocked out in front of all your friends!

On the day of the race I was anxious. I’d had next to no sleep as Cai hadn’t had a great night, but not only that – the crazy target i’d set myself was gnawing away at me. Thinking stuff like ‘I’m gonna mess it up and bonk halfway through the race’! That would be a disaster. But it was too late to turn back now, id been stupidly telling everyone about my target.
I do this on purpose though, it forces me to be accountable – if everyone knows about it then I’ve got to go for it. As stupid as it sounds I feel I’d be not only letting myself down but also everyone else that is supporting me.

The same kind of thoughts used to plague me at my Kickboxing fights, you have to win, everyone has come out to support you. Don’t get knocked out in front of all your friends!
All the pressure, I put it on myself I realise that, no-one else is pressuring me – just me, myself and I. But I think I thrive on the pressure…

THE BUILD UP

For brekkie I had my porridge with peanut butter, banana AAAND honey (coz it’s race day!). Plus a nice strong coffee! Gave Cai + Lisa a Sws and legged it out the door to begin the 2 mile walk to the start (so I actually did 17miles that day if you count the 2 mile walk there and back but who’s counting;)).
Kelly from Obstafit had arranged for any obstafitters doing the race to meet for a pre-race photo outside the museum. It was good to see those friendly faces and good to know that everyone else was as anxious as I was!

It felt weird walking all the way to the front into my white ‘sub 1:30’ pen. In all honesty I felt like a bit of an outsider,

After a quick photo and catch up with the obstafit guys n gals I made my way over my start pen. It felt weird walking all the way to the front into my white ‘sub 1:30’ pen. In all honesty I felt like a bit of an outsider,
I almost felt out of my league. There were some serious runners here, people around me were talking about beating 1:24 pb’s etc. What am I doing here!!.
When I entered the pen there were about 30 people in the pen at most – then thousands and thousands of people behind me crammed into the other pens…it was weird. We were also really close to the elite pen so all the news cameras etc were right next to us.
I did my usual, found a good spot in the pen, waited until it felled up and then decided I needed the loo again. So 9.45am 15 mins before the race start im legging it back past the castle to the loo. I then sprinted back just in time to join the back of the pen, which was now rammed like all the other pens!

At this point I got my phone out and started filming/streaming a live feed for facebook to show anyone that wanted to login what the atmosphere was like. All the cool kids are doing it these days 😀
The anthems started, people started jumping up and down in an attempt to warm up quickly, garmins started beeping as people unlocked them – there were big flamethrowers going on around us. The atmosphere was just electric, it always is. Of all the races I have done, the atmosphere at the start of the Cardiff Half Marathon

is not beaten by many. I’d say the only race that comes close is Tough Guy – they know how to build an atmosphere!

THE START

The gun went off, and all 22,000 people started to shuffle to the beginning. I crossed the line and pushed the start button on my Garmin. We were off!

As usual the start was quick, however in my new sub 1:30 pen it was a lot quicker than I’m used to. I had to tell myself several times, slow down, run your own race, don’t try keep up with those around you.
However, something I also had to remember was to keep the 1:30 pacer in sight. That wasn’t actually something I’d planned to do. My plan was to run 4:25 per km for the first 5km, then speed up to 4:15 for the rest of the race with an obligatory sprint at the end.
As soon as the gun went off that changed. The 1:30 pacer was out 50 metres in front of me from the start (with a big 1:30 flag on his back). I decided to keep him at roughly that distance in front of me throughout the race, then at about mile 10 start trying to overtake. It was the perfect plan that would hopefully
easily see me smash a sub 90 half.

I remember at about the 6 mile mark, thinking to myself – this actually surprisingly feels almost comfortable.

So pretty much right from the start I was averaging my target pace of 4:15/km. So much for my negative split plan. Never mind, the pacer must know what he’s doing!

The miles passed by, now and again my pace crept up to 4:20 so had to speed up to get back on pace. But rarely did 4:15/km(6:52 mile) pace feel uncomfortable! I remember at about the 6 mile mark, thinking to myself – this actually surprisingly feels almost comfortable.
My breathing feels good, I’m cruising here. Shall I overtake the pacer? Nah wait until mile 10 then leave him for dust. If this is comfortable now, I could push the last few miles and maybe even get a 1:27, anything is possible!…

MID RACE

I remember running through Penarth and through the roundabout just before the barrage, the crowds were amazing, out in their thousands. really gave me a boost. Also all the way along the barrage and into the bay! The pacer was still comfortably in sight it was going well.
When I reached Cardiff Bay I gladly snatched a water bottle and necked a gel. Then began the long straight down Bute Street.

At this point it started to feel a bit uncomfortable tbh. I noticed my pace started slipping off, and the pacer had started pulling away. This didn’t last long though luckily, the gel kicked in so it seemed and I was back to a 4:15 pace. I kept looking at my watch thinking, this cant be right
this pace actually feels ok. In training it was hell trying to run at that pace for any distance, never mind what is now 8 miles in!

When I got to the prison in the centre of town, I started flagging again but somehow still managed to keep to my pace. What helped again, massively, was the huuuuge crowd of people lining the streets basically from the centre of town and all the way along Richmond Road. I’d say Richmond Road
was a highlight of the race for me. I felt strong, the crowd spurred me on and gave me a second wind. The pacer was still comfortably in sight, that sub 90 was looking like a piece of cake.

I was annoyed at myself for getting this far only to let it go. In my head I’d almost given up on the attempt.

THE TURNING POINT

It was the same story all the way down albany road and back to Roath Park Rec. As i reached the 10 mile point (Roath Rec), for some reason something changed. Suddenly my legs started hurting a lot, my breathing picked up and suddenly started to feel considerably knackered!!
I still somehow managed to keep the pace somehow until I reached the Roath Park Lake. Then the pacer started pulling away and my pace began to drop. My whole body was suddenly telling me to slow down, have a break, just for a few mins then pick it back up again. About halfway alongside the lake I also started feeling sick.

As I suspected I’d gone too far this time, a 5 minute improvement in 3 months was a stupid target. What was I thinking!

I was annoyed at myself for getting this far only to let it go. In my head I’d almost given up on the attempt. I could barely see the pacer flag by the time I got to the top of the lake, I had no chance!
I was off pace by now. The 3, 1 km splits around the lake for me were 4:17, 4:28 and 4:18. I think that 4:28 split was the point at which I nearly gave up and almost decided the sub 90 was gone, just aim to finish now!
However at the same time, I was also thinking ‘You cannot give up now’, ‘Just think about how you will feel if you cross the line knowing you purposely eased off at the end of the race’, ‘What a waste of all that training’.

So I continued to push as hard as I could. Fairoak Road is a key point of the Cardiff Half Marathon, everyone dreads it. It’s a small hill at the 12 mile mark, but at that point it feels like a mountain! I told myself to keep running, even if it was a shuffle. To the top of the hill.
It then continues to climb slightly, for what feels like forever. Then finally at the end of fairoak rd I reached Cathays Terrace, a long downhill stretch leading to a small incline before the finish. Reaching Cathays Terrace is an amazing feeling. There are hundreds of people again lining the streets.
Students hanging out of windows, bands playing. And best of all, my Mum, my Dad, Lisa and my boy Cai cheering me onto the finish. It gives me such a huge boost. I looked at my watch and surprisingly the sub 90 was still within reach! How did that happen?!

Fairoak Road is a key point of the Cardiff Half Marathon, everyone dreads it.

FINISHING SPRINT

So I went for it, I picked up the pace. High fived Cai on the way down, then gave it everything I had all the way down Cathays Terrace. Over the small hill just before the finish. Then what is probably a 100 metre stretch to the finish. I sprinted, or at least I thought it was sprinting.
It probably didnt look like sprinting but it certainly felt like I couldn’t possibly run any faster if I tried. I crossed the finish, stopped my watch at 1:30:02, then immediately collapsed to the floor.

I was absolutely exhausted, pushed myself to the absolute limit! It took me a good 5 mins to get myself up off the floor. Several medics approached me with concerned looks on their faces, I don’t blame them I probably looked a complete mess. I literally could not pick myself up off the floor.
After about 5 mins, I managed to pull myself up and slowly attempted to walk along the finish stretch to receive medal, tshirt, water, banana, and about 5 bags of crisps – people just kept giving them to me!?

AFTER THE RACE

I was literally just walking in complete daze, and from side to side. Several times I bumped into people and had to apologise. I felt drunk!!!
Eventually my brain and my legs began to slowly return to me and I suddenly realised I may still be in with a chance here if my official chip time is quicker than my garmin.

I had ran an entire half marathon in just 1 hour and 30 minutes, A 6:53 minute average mile pace.

So I made my way to the finishers photo booth where they had a digital clock next to which you could have your photo with your finishers time. ‘Please tell me what my time was, I’m dying to know’ i asked. ‘Sorry, we can’t tell you. Just give
us your estimate’. No that wasn’t good enough, it had to be spot on! So I spent the next ten minutes walking round aimlessly asking random people how can I find out. I Then figured out I needed to download the app.
So I got back in the queue for the finishers photo and started downloading the app. Eventually it downloaded and up flashed my time. 1:30:00. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooo. I missed it by just one second! No way!

At the time I was gutted. But quickly that passed and I realised what I’d achieved. I had ran an entire half marathon in just 1 hour and 30 minutes, A 6:53 minute average mile pace. I also found the text from last years Cardiff half marathon showing I had run it this time last year in 1:39.
So I had beaten my time from last year by 9 minutes, and improved my half marathon PB from Swansea by 5 minutes. Suffice to say, for the rest of the day I was beaming.

The half marathon or in fact any endurance race I would say is as much about mental strength as it is about physical strength + fitness. I’ve learnt that for myself after doing several races. The body can usually be pushed a lot further than we think it can.
The key to beating PB’s and running quick races I think is partly to do with overriding the brains natural temptation to give in to the body. Doing lots of races and gaining experience helps a lot in knowing what the body is capable of, and in gaining the confidence to push a bit more at the next race.

When my body is screaming out for me to stop because it is uncomfortable at the pace I am running, in my head I think to myself that unless its an injury (which I can usually tell) the pain is only temporary. It always dissipates quickly as soon as I cross the finish line. I know I’ve had tougher experiences in the past during training or competitions and got through them.
I try to take my mind elsewhere, like focusing on how good it will feel having crossed the finish line with a PB. I also think how annoyed I would be at myself if I knew having finished the race that I didn’t give it my all. I know I gave it 100% during this race, I literally did not have an ounce left in the tank, so I really have to be happy with that.

On walking back to cathays terrace to meet my family, It was amazing seeing Lisa, my mum and my Dad who were pretty proud. Cai literally ran as fast as he could towards me and jumped straight up to me. That was the highlight of my day!

I spent the rest of the afternoon basically unable to remove myself from the sofa. Went to bed in the evening a happy man, full up with chinese takeaway and beer!
I’m really proud of all of our obstafitters that did the Half Marathon. Claire Jones, Kelly Lewis, Kay Lawless, Paul Eggins, Emma Tum, Emma Webb Davies, Dean Bishop and anyone else I’ve missed. Those who got your PB’s, awesome, well done!

Those who didn’t get a PB, I know i’m being a hypocrite here but it takes a certain kind of person to complete a half marathon. Treat every race whether it was a good or bad result for you as a positive experience, another step on your journey to better yourself! You can now analyse your race, figure out what went wrong and improve next time.
You should all be massively proud of yourselves!

Now onto the next challenge, whatever that may be. Hows about a sub 90 half?!

PS My new favourite quote: THE BODY ACHIEVES WHAT THE MIND BELIEVES!

Written By: Gareth

I'm a full qualified PT with a number of OCR's on my CV including the legendary winter Tough Guy. Also a former Light Heavyweight Kickboxing Champion and Black Belt! You'll usually find me over Roath Rec beasting training the guys to help them overcome their obstacles :D

Website:

Comments are closed.