Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Swansea half-marathon 2015 - my race review

My impressions from the day -
Course: 10/10 it is a super simple one lap course, that looks like an out and back and is more or less just that. Very nearly pan flat but for a bump in the final mile.
Marshalling: 10/10 Very good.
Facilities: 9/10 Very good, it is in the middle of the city so there was plenty of options for supporters too. Could have done with a few more port-a-loo units.
Organisation: 8/10 - two words "car" & "parking"
Fellow runners: 10/10 good and smiley, pace squad were excellent.
Crowd: great support all over the course, a bit patchy but lovely and vocal
My performance:  7/10.
My time: 2:04:59 official chip time - my watch gave me two spare seconds. at 2:04:57.

My race day -
Got up for an early breakfast and walked the dog which set me up nicely and got me properly awake. Getting to the race was a nice straight forward drive from Cardiff to Swansea along the M4. The morning weather was looking good, a little cloud cover, with no sign of rain.

I had decided ahead of time to make the run about training, and so time was put onto the back-burner. This wasn't to say that I was ignoring time - far from it - I aimed to go out at a strong pace, aiming to get to half way (something like 10 km race pace) and coming back in whatever I could muster from there. Hoping all the while quietly that I might be able to hold the high pace beyond halfway.... and so it was a race of two halves...
Image of the start taken from WalesOnline - there is a review article about the race at on their news pages
Inside the start corral I stood near the 1hr 50m pace guys (from race pacing) with their fantastic back pack mounted Xempo flags, it was utter fantasy for me to able to follow them the whole way but they were on perfect target pace for my 'hot' 10 km. For the first 3 km it felt pretty good, my running form was okay (not that good, but okay) and the pace didn't feel searingly fast mechanically (though my lungs weren't entirely sure). So over that first phase it was already clear that I could not run that pace the whole way, which I of course knew and so hoped to control. Though to 8 km I kept my focus on trying to relax and stick to the pace guys. It turned out that around 7-9 km the switch came as my body began to let me know just how much more it could take of the 'hotter' pace.

So my fall off the back of the pacers was slow and sort of graceful (!) in so far as I didn't just stop and wheeze. I eased to the inside of the course and let my pace ease down from 5:15 per km to 5:30 per km, which was okay to get me through to the turn around point out in the area of Swansea bay called the Mumbles. Now, the Mumbles is lovely and I have been there a few times, but on race day other than the over head weather and air temperature I couldn't tell you much about the lovely picturesque area - I was utterly internalised working out my second half and how much I had taken out of myself in the first. In the Mumbles was a water station, I took a bottle, pressed the lap button on my Garmin and steadied myself for the hard work part of my marathon endurance test! (see the photo montage below)

After having a handful of sports beans with the drink walking along for about 100 metres I picked up my feet and took off again. Well I say "took off" I mean started to shuffle again intending to find full marathon pace for the trip back to the start / finish. In many ways I did mange my second half goal - (1) I finished, (2) my pace was pretty good (but not quite what I had hoped for), (3) I enjoyed the day more with my head up looking around me, and most of all I discovered that I could put myself to the running sword and have my body deliver after months of niggling injury and uncertainty.
I think my face tells a story in itself - left top is me at the start; middle top is me taking a halfway drink,  from there on it was all hard graft
The last mile was hard - really hard (!), I walked a short way at the bottom of the hill and then ran it home through the cheering crowds of the city centre. One big downside for me personally was that I had signed up with my non-injury target time, which meant I had a 'quick' coloured bib number and large numbers in the crowd had the look of "what's he doing back here?" on their faces. I would have happily swapped my race number and stood in a different start bin but I didn't look into it in time and so just had to put up with the "look at that prat running so slow in a fast number" sort of sentiments.

Inside the last 150 metres I put on a stupid burst of speed, partly because of the mounting feelings around my race bib and mostly because I spotted that I could sneak under 2:05. After colliding with someone in a previous race I had sworn not to be so daft, but the red mist dropped and I finished my run with a lung bursting attempt to sprint (in my head Usain Bolt, in reality of course a lumbering knackered bloke flailing his arms and legs about). Over the line the organisation and the funnel was great, returning me to my family and my wife's quizzical question of "why did the race tracker say you went through half way in such a fast time?". I spent some time explaining my mad plan!

Having the family there was great, with the enthusiasm of the kids and the flaming influence of my lovely wife. My kids had made little good luck signs that they waved at me in the start area. The signs made not just me smile silly smiles but the runners around me were smiling along with us. In the end I offered to carry two of them folded up in my back pocket to 'push' me along. Thankfully I remembered they were there when the going got hard and my plan seemed foolish - they did really push me up the only hill on the course inside the last mile.

On our way back to the car park we stopped for a Joe's Ice Cream which is a Swansea must-do in my wife's opinion (I have to say I am converted to her way of thinking). Munching our way through the delicious vanilla ice cream we spotted the only fly in what was otherwise pristine ointment - the chaos in the car park. We spent the next hour going nowhere as my legs began to seize and everyones blood pressures soared. Eventually a handful of community and full police officers came to everyones rescue by adding some common sense to the process of feeding cars out of the only exit from the Parc Tawe car park - certainly something for the organisers to tend to there.

My takeaway -
All in I was extremely happy with my effort, and even happier that my body took it well with no huge adverse reaction to a long and hard run. I feel I now have a good platform for a summer of training towards Berlin, so onwards and maybe upwards. I certainly hope to be back next year, perhaps to hunt the pacers all the way round.

Note - Swansea Half-marathon race day photography was looked after by Dirty Green Trainers Sports Photography though sadly I didn't have the kind of run where I would want a memento they did great work and were all over the course. So if you ran go take a look at what you might find.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

10 days to go until the Swansea half marathon

It seems to have come around seriously quickly, but the Swansea half marathon is ten days away. My preparation for the race has been fragmented and so I will be going into it with much lower expectations than the day I sat down at the computer to enter the event. I put down a time that was a good chunk off my PB as a race entry prediction, which was yes ambitious but a target I felt was wholly attainable. If asked in February if my prediction would hold I would have smiled broadly and said "yes!", things since then have been rocky to say the least (see previous posts).

In terms of training I have definitely settled into two run sessions a week and found my calf is doing okay with it. This weekend I did 18.1 km as a long run and 'test' for Swansea which went really very well, it was one third on grass, one third on gravel, and one on tarmac - so it was nice a varied too. My idea was to just run long and set some sort of benchmark for the race, and I think I now have a much better of where my fitness is. Tuesday night I followed up with another 8 km which was much harder work and reinforced my feelings about the race.

Aside from pondering fitness levels happily the organisation of the Swansea half-marathon ahead of time has been fantastic, the race pack has arrived and all looks very good. We know the course well and visit Swansea a few times a year so I am looking forward to race day all round.