No real mystery as to how the race turned out seeing as I couldn't help but post my time yesterday - plot not so much spoilt as blown, but here is a little of the detail of how it all came about that I set my personal best over 13.1miles.
Apologies for the lack of pictures but I ran without a support team armed with cameras.
Pre-race / start line
As it happened this year we weren't in Cardiff before the race, we were at a big family celebration an hour and a half drive away from town. We had a great time at the birthday celebration and the kids especially were having brilliant fun. I learned that being well meaning can result in doors being slammed in your face, but is not a story for this blog (just one of those little life lessons). I set off for the race at about 4:30am having decided that I would be best served getting back early and chilling at home over breakfast before heading to the course.
I got home in time for a good slow breakfast, a chance to sort out my kit thoroughly, and mentally disengage by watching the first half of the Korean Formula1 Grand Prix (which was pretty eventful). About an hour and a half before the race start I set off on my bike for work, where I could leave my keys, phone, dry clothes and so on without having to queue at the baggage drop off. The race this year had grown to take in 18,000 runners and an estimated 30,000+ spectators, so I wanted to get myself there and set in good time and good order.
On the way out of the office I met a bunch of fellow runners from the department all of whom were in great humour and fun to chat with on the short walk towards the start line and start pens. The start was set up outside the castle and was fantastically busy with a bustling atmosphere. I arrived in my start zone with a bottle of water, an empty bladder and a head full of happy thoughts.
Miles 1 & 2
The first two miles I had already determined were one of two key elements to my effort for a sub-2hour half marathon. I had to make sure I ran loose, ran easy and ran controlled - yes, I have that classic propensity to go out and blow it in the first phase of a race. Despite the usual ebb and flow of slower and faster runners trying to find their way within the mix of abilities I managed to run to my schedule of 9min/mile to 9.25min/mile - though admittedly on the high side of my target range. In the start pen I had spotted the sub-2hour pacer was about 100yards ahead of me so I had resolved not to chase him immediately but perhaps to be near him at halfway and thus be 100yards under his sub-hour pace.
Miles 3 & 4
The main hill in the course came early on and I was happy that I accommodated it without puffing like a train. At this point already I was having a good feeling about my potential time, especially as I recovered quickly from the effort of the hill. I looked to keep the pace as I'd set it and to keep the pacer in line of sight. I was holding the gap and if anything edging towards him slowly.
As I hit mile three I opened up my energy jelly beans and began popping them one at a time every couple of minutes.
Miles 5 & 6
Heading back towards the middle of the city from the bay and the barrage I was still working to keep myself flowing and rolling without over cooking things. I had gained on the pacer and was level through the sixth mile (a little early but it felt okay). The only problem with getting close to the pacer was the throng of runners stuck to him like flies round a jam jar, it was a little dicey as the route twisted and narrowed at times through the barrage area.
Miles 7 & 8
I knew this was where I had to start grafting while keeping my plan together knowing the the second big test of my plan lay three more miles away. I had taken my drink of water and decided on a caffeine energy gel at the same time. At this point I put away the remaining jelly beans and resolved that the gel was the last fuel that my system needed (and frankly would take - I have the growing feeling that some issues in last years near miss were from over using gels and upsetting my stomach).
Into the eighth mile I had a mini surge according to my GPS watch, but I don't remember trying to push and think perhaps it was just the distraction of the huge crowds while musing my fuelling plan change. I didn't do anything drastic but I recognised it and reigned it in before I went over the top.
Miles 9 & 10
At this point I sensed I was in shape to do the thing, although I noticed that the pacer was closing on me a little. I worked to keep concentration and keep my form.
The second big test - I have had issues around 11.5 miles in half-marathon runs and during my marathon at this distance out. I knew if I'd gotten the pacing right that I should ride it out, and in fact though I knew it was getting tougher to keep my pace (the GPS was giving me subtle hints!) I was managing it well.
Miles 12 & 13
There were two more rises through the closing section which I like to think took away my chances of pushing my pace on at all (ahem, wishing thinking probably). I worked hard on the inclines to keep the pace on target and keep my gap ahead of the pacer. Through these miles I began to really see that a PB was on the cards. The crowds through this section were even bigger, and as it was the student area very vocal.
The final dash and the line
As it happened the last bit was past my work on roads I know so very well. In the closing half a mile I knew that only an accident could take a sub-2 hour run from me, and happily I didn't fall foul of any mishap. It was a strange feeling knowing that I didn't have any need to have to sprint madly for a specific time - I was neatly under the 2 hour target.
My final time was 1hr 57min and 53seconds - and yes I think (I know) I pumped my fist with joy as I crossed the line. After the line the organisation was fantastic and though my legs were rapidly turning to jelly there was a good flow of runners so I didn't have to stop (where I would have probably stiffened up badly). I was not in ruins but I knew I had run hard and run well. Could I have gone faster? Perhaps, but I had trained with my final pace in mind and the target of sub-2hours as my primary goal so I executed my plan perfectly.
The weather was perfect, I marshaled my energies well, I listened to my stomach regarding gels, and I held to my plan - so all in all a good days running and a day to store away to remember during the tough road to my second marathon next year in Milton Keynes.