My Cardiff Half 2017, No PB But Lessons Learnt

My plan for this year as many of you know was to beat last years 1:30:00 PB. However, things didn’t quite go to plan. On the day I completed it in 1:31:43.

I say ‘completed it’ – I got over the finish line, just, and collapsed into the barriers. I tried to walk to collect my medal but couldn’t do so. My feet went from underneath me and luckily someone caught me before I hit the ground.

I was ushered onto a stretcher by the amazing St Johns Ambulance and moved quickly to their tent where they checked my blood oxygen, core temp, blood sugar and blood pressure.
My core temp was too high, I was literally steaming! They plastered me in ice packs to cool me down and forced me to drink water.

In a nutshell I overheated..

What went wrong?

When I think about the race itself and my quest for my PB, my biggest mistake was chasing that PB in the first place. My training hadn’t quite gone to plan, I should have lessened my expectations on the day and not put so much pressure on myself. That’s easier said than done though..

In the lead up to the race there were a few factors which hindered my chances. These are lessons learn’t for me. Not hitting my PB was gutting but I know I will succeed eventually if I learn from my mistakes:

1. I Ignored The 10 Percent Rule

I ran the 10k Severn Bridge Race a few weeks ago, which went really well. Somehow I managed to come 2nd place in that, which has still not quite sunk in, even now. However, me running that race meant that I missed my usual Sunday long run since I was recovering from the race.

My long run for that weekend was scheduled to be around 10.5 miles (having ran 9 the previous week). The following week I went completely against my own advice and the well known 10 Percent Rule. The 10 Percent Rule is basically not to increase mileage by more than 10 percent each week if you want to avoid injury.

The following week, rather than running the 10.5 mile run that I should have done the previous week, I pushed it to 12 miles. 12 miles was my scheduled long run for that week.

The 12 mile run itself went really well. I felt good throughout, so much so that I decided to push the last 2 miles. This was my intention on each long run as I wanted to imitate the final push of the half marathon.

I ran those last 2 miles at a pace of around 4:05. Fast – probably too fast.

I felt great afterwards and the next day. However, the day after I woke up with a pain in my left Achilles and my left calf. This was pretty bad to the point that I couldn’t walk on it without limping. The last time I felt pain like this was approx 2 years ago when I had to cancel my entry into the Bath Half Marathon and couldn’t run for 6 weeks due to achilles tendonitis. Bad times 🙁

So I rested it for a full week. No running at all. I also iced it each day and did calf raise exercises to strengthen the Achilles as my physio told me years ago. Luckily for me, it healed very quickly. A week off did the job. However, that set me back in my training schedule.

2. Less Mileage

When I look back at my Strava training log before last years 90 minute Cardiff Half, I notice quite a difference in the weekly mileage. I was running 4 times a week last year which always included a long run on the weekend.

Prior to last years Cardiff Half I had also already taken part in the IAAF Cardiff World Half Champs in March plus the Swansea Half Marathon in June. So I’d increased my stamina and speed steadily throughout the year. This year although I always run at least twice a week regardless of racing, I only upped my training to 3 runs per week about 3 months prior the race.

Compare that to this year where I only upped my training to 3 runs per week (from 2 the rest of the year) about 3 months prior the race.

I’m not excusing that though – I had no choice really. I had to make do with what little time I had this year. Our youngest boy Sion was born last December. Spending time with the kids is always my priority. I fit my training in during my lunch hours in work. There was no way I could have managed 4 runs a week plus all the strength work and everything else I need to fit in without sacrificing time with the kids.

3. Diet Changes

This year as some of you know I decided to do a 6 week  Low Carb High Fat Ketogenic Diet experiment. Well, it was supposed to be 6 weeks. It went so well that I decided to carry on.

Ketones in the body help provide an almost unlimited amount of energy (via fat) which is great for endurance running – however until a person becomes fully adapted, higher intensity training is tough since the body desperately begins to look for Carbohydrates.

I always knew that this change in diet could well affect my PB chances at the half but I was willing to take the risk. Mainly because I wanted to continue the experiment, to see whether the diet could improve things for me at a half marathon or make things worse. The jury is out on this one to be honest, I’m not sure the diet is at fault here as I had some of my best training runs when in full Keto mode.

I did have some carbs prior to the race. I necked a caffeine boosted tailwind[amazon_link asins=’B01BFMG10E’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’obstafit-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’3fb6e956-ac12-11e7-95d1-b1d120c87116′] plus I’d had a steak & sweet potato the night before. I should have had enough glycogen in my system to see my through the more intense parts of the race.

This was an extra stress prior to the race though. Something else to take my focus off my main goal of hitting sub 90.

4. Lack of Sleep / Lower immune system

When it comes to getting results from a training plan or diet, a good nights sleep is vital. It’s a well-known fact that sleep deprivation can suppress the immune system  ( making us more likely to catch a cold or the flu.

A full nights sleep in our house is unknown of at the moment. Ha, any of you with little nippers will understand where I’m coming from here. If the youngest isn’t up wanting to be fed, our oldest is up coz he’s had a bad dream. We’ve had nights where it’s seemed like theyre both competing to see who can scream the loudest. Just what you want at 3am in the morning 😀

Not making excuses though, It’s all worth it. Our boys are amazing and  I wouldn’t have it any different.

The week before the Cardiff Half we stayed over a friends house in London. Unfortunately, we had a bad night with our youngest who was teething and was up every hour of the night. Stubbornly though I still got up and did a 10 mile run. Mainly because I was feeling guilty for missing last weeks training (due to injury)!

Sure enough, later on in the day I started feeling rough and picked up a cold which stuck around for most of the next week. On the day of the race, it was still lurking in the background but I did my best to ignore it. That was a mistake..

5. Trying to make up for missed training

I’ve covered this in the last few points but I wanted to highlight it. The worst thing we can do when we miss a training session is trying to catch up by pushing the next one. I’m well aware of this yet I still ignored my own advice.

I missed a long run due to my entering the Severn Bridge 10k. So the week after I tried to make up for it by running 12 miles as I mentioned earlier under the 10 percent rule. That resulted in me going backwards in my plan when I lost a weeks training.

6. Being Stubborn!

I’m my own worst enemy sometimes especially when I’ve got a goal in mind. I have to beat that goal, no matter what. If I don’t beat it then I have to know in my heart I’ve given 100% in trying to do so. I certainly can’t say I didn’t give 100% in this case. However, on the day of the race, I think I probably should have lowered my expectations a little.

On the day of the race I knew I was up against it – given what had happened in the lead-up, my chances were slim. Plus I was not feeling 100% on the morning of the race with a slight head cold still hanging around.

My stubborn mindset kicked in though. I’d told everyone I was going to try to beat sub 90, so I had to go for it. Thinking back now, that was probably dangerous given the state of me at the end of the race (and throughout pretty much!).

I like to tell people about my goals not to show off but to make me accountable. If I tell people I have a goal to meet, it makes me accountable for it. That pressure can be a good thing sometimes, it helps with the mental game later in the race.

Race Start & The First Quarter

Pre-Race I went to meet the guys from Obstafit as we did last year. Loved this, it was great to catch up with everyone and see some friendly faces before the race.

At the start of the race I felt good. I’d had an injection of carbs, electrolytes and caffeine via my new fave pre-race drink [amazon_textlink asin=’B01BFMG10E’ text=’tailwind’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’obstafit-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’6acd568b-ac12-11e7-8dd0-156ddc372adf’].I was jumping up and down in the pen raring to go.

The first few miles ticked over and felt ok. I’d decided to run a negative split which meant the first 5k of the race I would run 15 seconds slower than my target pace. Target pace was 4:10 per km so I tried not to go over 4:20 for the first 5km.

At about 2 miles in I noticed I was feeling hot. It was a rainy day, not too cold not too warm – probably ideal weather conditions really. Yet, my face just felt really hot! I ignored it and hoped I would cool down eventually as the pace increased.

It didn’t though. As we reached the crest of Penarth rd and the intensity went up, I could feel my core temperature beginning to rise. We were only 3-4 miles in and already it was starting to feel tough.

In my head though I thought to myself, ‘It’s early in the race, it always takes you a while to settle into the run. Ignore it and carry on’. So that’s what I did, or tried to do for pretty much the rest of the race.

7 Miles In Getting Hotter!

It just got more and more difficult as the miles passed. I remember getting to 7 miles thinking, ‘I feel terrible, maybe I should just stop and have a rest for a bit’. My body just wanted to slow down, get some water in and take it eas.y.  I just couldn’t give in though.

I recognised lots of people on the sides of the roads who shouted my name which always helps give a boost. In my head though I was thinking, I’m not going to do it this time. It feels different. I couldn’t help but feel I was going to let people down too, all those people who were believing in me to beat that 90 minutes.

In a way that’s what made me push, all the way to the end. The hardest part of this race as always was the last 3.5 miles or so. From the bottom of Roath Rec and around the lake – then that horrible little hill that is Fairoak Rd.

Mental Games

Strava tells the same story – I was hanging on up to about mile 9, That’s basically just at the start of Roath Rec. It’s always tough from this point mentally and physically. There is a gradual climb for the next 2 miles pretty much which although small, is always difficult after running 9 miles at pace.

Plus you have to go out to come back in if that makes sense, so you are running away from the finish for 2 miles before turning back on yourself. That’s a tough one mentally!

I used all the mental games I could think of to help get me through those last few miles. There was no way I could keep to my target 4:10 pace no matter how much I wanted to. My body just wouldn’t let me, but I wasn’t going to ease off. I knew I had to give it 100% all the way to the end. That way, even if I didn’t PB at least I know I’ve given it my all.

The Finish

The last mile was just painful, to be honest, I wanted to just collapse on the floor and not get back up for a long time!! Though I knew that my family would be on the side of Cathays Terrace so I couldn’t stop now. I dug deep and found some energy from somewhere. Gave my boy Cai a high 5 as I ran down Cathays Terrace and tried to smile! I was just thinking of getting over the finish line as quickly as possible and nothing else.

As I came to the top of the hill at the bottom of Cathays Terrace I knew the finish was just around the corner. Somehow I managed some sort of a sprint at the end. I crossed the finish and staggered to the nearest banner.

From that point on my body just completely gave up. I had pushed to my absolute limit and beyond. All I remember is that I was feeling ridiculously hot and light headed.

Cooling Down with St Johns Ambulance!

One of the medics from the amazing St Johns came over to check on me. I insisted I was fine and just needed a minute or two. I tried to move and my legs buckled from under me.

They put me on a stretcher and took me to the medical tent. For the next 30 mins they did their best to bring my core temperature back to normal with ice packs and water and fed me countless bottles of water. My blood oxygen levels were pretty low whilst my core temperature was high.

Never have I felt worse during and after a race. I’m always absolutely wrecked at the end, but this was beyond what is normal for me!

It took me what seemed like forever to get to the point where I could stand up again without my head spinning. Eventually, I got up and slowly wandered out to collect my medal, goody bag and check my time on my watch. 1:31:30.


I was gutted but like I said, I know in my heart I couldn’t have tried any harder. However, I could have done things differently in the lead up. I’ll learn from my mistakes and be back stronger and faster next year. In fact I’ve already signed up. See you there 😀

P.S I love hearing other people’s race stories. Let me know your race experiences in the comments!



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


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