Cardiff Half Sub 90 PB Success – Third Time Lucky!

Ah the sub 90 minute Half Marathon. It has become an achievement that lots of runners aim for. It has been a goal of mine for a few years now. In 2018 after several years of trying to beat 90 minutes in the Cardiff Half Marathon I finally did it.

Sorry it’s taken me so long to write about it, this post has been sat in drafts for months. My life has become pretty hectic over the last few months, Christmas was mental, to say the least! However it’s always been in the back of my mind to get it done as I’ve been trying to hit this goal for what seems like forever, and now that I have I think it’d be useful for me to share how I did it!

Previous Attempts

I’ve been taking part in the Cardiff half for about 4 years now. In the last 3 years I’ve been on a mission to beat sub 90.

My 2016 attemptsaw me get painfully close. I literally hit bang on 1:30:00. However that wasn’t without a world of hurt for pretty much the last 2 miles.

The story was similar for my 2017 attempt except my finish time was worse and I ended up in St Johns Ambulance at the end!

However 2017 was a breakthrough really because it really set me up for what I knew was going to be a successful attempt in 2018. Namely, I knew I had to up my mileage, improve my diet, get more sleep and allow for more recovery time when injured!

My 2018 Plan

No 1 Goal – Increase Mileage (Book A Marathon!)

My main aim in 2018 was to try upping my mileage. I did loads of reading online about different strategies for improving Half Marathon PB’s, particularly sub 90. Most people seemed to agree that although speedwork is important, mileage is key.

The half marathon is an endurance test basically. Every single year I had hit the wall at mile 10, so my endurance was obviously failing me. I had to do more miles in training and more ‘long runs’.

I purposely booked myself up to the Snowdon Marathon in 2018 – it was a few weeks after the Cardiff Half so was ideal timing. My thinking was that if I train for a marathon I’ll be forced to ramp up the mileage.

Book Some Run Up Events

I like to have a few sub goals throughout the year to keep me on my toes. I find it’s nice to have a few mini-tests to see where my fitness is at and what I need to work on.

I aimed to do a 10k a few months before the main event plus I wanted to do the severn bridge half marathon. I thought this would be a nice little tester for me. I also did a few OCRs throughout the year (Spartan Race, Tough Mudder & Battle Of Lansdowne).

The severn bridge half marathon turned out to be a great idea. I’d never ran the Severn Bridge Half before. I ran the 10k last year and managed to fluke a second place but really fancied the half this year.

Severn Bridge Half Marathon

My plan was to take it easy, not go mad on the day and just enjoy it – treat it as a training run. Ha as per usual that plan went down the drain. I did push it throughout. This one is a challenging race – not flat by any means, more undulating than the Cardiff Half. I was hoping for anything under 1:40 tbh.

So was very happy to get 1:34.

This really boosted my confidence which for an event that I believe relies on strength of mind, is a good thing πŸ˜€

My Training Plan

My plan was a customised version of Hal Higdons Intermediate Half Marathon Training PLan. I basically downloaded the plan and edited it to suit my schedule and my goals.

I ran 4 times a week plus strength trained twice a week. From 18th June right up to the Cardiff Half on 01/10/2018. I had also planned to continue obviously up to the Snowdon Half – that didn’t happen unfortunately due to injury. More on that soon!

My 4 runs per week plan consisted of 1 intervals session (for the first 2 months), 1 pace run, 1 long run and 1 easy run.

I mixed up the interval sessions each week. Typical sessions were 1k repeats with approx 1 – 1.5 mins rest * 8. Hill runs, 2 x (10 x100m), 8 * 1 mile repeats etc.

After 2 months I pretty much stopped the intervals and focused on mileage. My interval sessions became pace runs. My goal being during these sessions to run as close to goal pace as possible for approx 10k.

On Sunday I’d do a long run. I believe this was the most important part of my training and is what helped a huge amount on the day of the race. I increased the long runs up to 22 miles which I did a week before the half marathon. Maybe not a long enough taper for some, but I had no choice really as I was trainign for Snwodon Marathon also.

The Race

Race day I was a bag of nerves. I just kept thinking back to some of my previous attempts and the stuff that went wrong. Was it all going to happen again?! Was I going to overheat like last year and end up running the whole race feeling like crap! Was I going to hit the wall at mile 10? Or earlier!

Was it a mistake doing that 22 miler last week?!

I decided that this year I was going to stick to my target pace and not pay much attention to the pacers. Id also decided to run a consistent pace throughout – no negative splits this year, just stick to a pace of 4:15 and see what happens!

It wasn’t a great start for me really, I was miles back in the pen this year as I seriously underestimated the amount of people that would be there! The white pen is right at the front behind the elites and is usually full of space. So I casually strolled up to the pen about 20 mins before the start thinking I’d have no problem getting a good position.

I was wrong, it was literally rammed. I was told later there were about 25,000 people signed up this year!

So I squeezed in right at the back of the Pen. Not ideal really. For the first few miles I was constantly weaving in and out of people, it was definitely more congested this year.

It didn’t seem to slow me down though looking at my splits!

5k In = Twisted Ankle!

Yes I hit a slight hiccup at approx 5k into the race. Those who have raced the Cardiff Half before will know about the hill at the top of penarth road and the down hill going into Penarth Marina.

The downhill section is fast and short. In the run up to this race I’d had a few achilles issues on the left leg. I ran down the hill when suddenly my foot decided to randomly twist onto its outer side. Resulting in the full weight of my body being smashed into my foot/ankle.

It hurt like hell and I had to limp for about 30 seconds. For a minute I thought this was it, the end of my race. I stood on the side for a few seconds and decided to try and run it off. It was painful for about 15 minutes. Then the pain disappeared and I completely forgot about it for the rest of the race!

Adrenaline Is An Amazing Thing!

I’ve read lots of articles about the amazing things people have managed to do when Adrenaline is at play. I’ve experienced adrenaline surges before, mainly during Kickboxing bouts. I remember a Kickboxing bout in Paris, I broke my nose halfway through the fight, pretty badly. But didn’t feel a thing for the rest of the bout!

It’s literally like an amazing painkiller! I’ve no doubt adrenaline was at play here, I should have been out of that race when I went over on my ankle but luckily for me adrenaline kicked in and blocked the pain πŸ˜€

The Wall That Didn’t Arrive

I spent pretty much the whole race just waiting to hit the wall. In my head I was thinking ‘Mile 10 is coming up now, so here comes the wall’. When it didn’t come I was just waiting for it to happen. But it didn’t!

I remember a few key points in the race. Specifically getting to bute street in Cardiff which I believe is about 9 miles into the race. I remember comparing how I was feeling to previous years.

In previous years this point has always been a key point for me. Its a big long straight road when you can really get a pace on. If I’m feeling good at this point in the race I know I’ve got a good chance at getting a good time.

Last year at this point I was gassing. I was really struggling to keep the pace, my body just wanted to give up. I somehow managed to force myself to carry on. The rest of the race was uncomfortable to say the least. However this year was different, I felt good, so much so that I could push the pace.

I started to think, maybe, just maybe, I’ll do it, the sub 90 is within reach!

The next few miles just flew by. I just focused on spinning my legs and staying at or below 4.15. Now usually as I said before , at mile 10 this becomes impossible. If you look on my strava at my previous attempts you’ll likely notice a drop in pace from mile 10. My legs just don’t have the endurance to keep plugging at the same pace.

This year though, those long runs paid off. Last weeks 22 miler did the trick πŸ˜€

The Final Mile

The last mile in the Cardiff Half is awesome. It’s pretty much a downhill stretch all the way down Cathays Terrace which is lined with people including my family. This is my favourite part of the race.

I just remember getting to the last mile and thinking, yes I’m going to bloody do it! There was a slight doubt to be honest because the sub 90 pacer was ahead of me and barely visible. But I trusted my Garmin was telling the truth, by mile 11 I had hit pretty much every mile below 4:15 so was definitely on track.

I sprinted down Cathays Terrace, high fived my boys on the way and made it to the finish in 1:29:17. The best bit about it is I felt great at the end. I didn’t feel the need to collapse, or lie down as per usual, I just felt on top of the world!

The Painful Walk Home

Adrenaline is great while it lasts. But when it wears off, well that’s when the pain kicks in! I forgot about my twisted ankle at the end of the race and assumed I’d managed to ‘run it off’.

I was wrong! I got about halfway home when I started feeling pain in my foot, it got worse, to the point where I was pretty much hopping on one leg by the time I got back to my family in Cathays Terrace. I didn’t care though in all honesty, as sad as it might sound, beating that sub 90 goal was all I could think about at the time!!

Snowdon Marathon

Unfortunately over the next few days my ankle and foot swelled up massively and it was pretty clear my ankle was sprained. Running was off the cards for about 2 weeks which mean’t no Snowdon Marathon for me πŸ™ I wasn’t too gutted though, I’d beaten my goal.

Now to think of next years goal! Triathlon anyone?

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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