Happy runniversary to me!
Sunday 16th October was exactly 364 days after my first ever 10K race and to celebrate this I ran the Cardiff Half Marathon. I had really hoped that this would be the race that I finally got my first sub-2hr half marathon, but alas it was not meant to be. I finished the race in 2:05:10 – not even a PB! I did finish though, and it was only a few minutes outside of my fastest time.
The race itself was, if I’m honest, pretty awful. The Cardiff Half Marathon is marketing itself as a major event in the Welsh athletics calendar, and as such it turned out a pretty big crowd – 10796 runners – but the organisation of the day wasn’t quite slick enough for an event of that size.
The runners village was very well equipped, with excellently organised baggage storage and enough toilets for an event of that size. However many of the toilets were hidden beneath a bridge at the far end of the village and so runners formed an enormous queue for the visible few until rumours of these ‘secret’ loos reached those of us waiting at the back. Also, the village was open to everyone, not just runners, so the area was very overcrowded with family members and supporters, pushchairs and dogs.
The overcrowding continued through to the starting pens. Spectators and runners shared the same paths to the starting pens which meant that I had to fight through the crowds to try and get into the starting pen in the appropriate place. In the end me and several others opted to climb over the barriers rather than push all the way to a gate. And this was 20 minutes before the race start – I dread to think about the chaos for anyone who tried to get in any later!
In the pen, everything felt a bit calmer. The crowd of runners seemed quieter than usual and so I didn’t feel comfortable striking up conversation with anyone next to me. Normally race starts feel a bit more sociable, but perhaps we were all recovering from our traumatic journey through the runners village. Once the race started though it all felt normal enough. There was the familiar overcrowding of the first mile or two, but as the route swept around the bay towards Cardiff Castle we soon spread out and I made excellent time through the first 5 miles. All of my training around hilly Hampstead seemed to have paid off as I approached the 5 mile marker 2 minutes shy of my target time but with no noticeable extra effort. The route however took an unpleasant turn after Cardiff Castle and my times took a knock as a result.
The race route was new this year after it had been discovered that 2010’s route through the city centre and beautiful parks had only been 12.9 miles long. The organisers of the Cardiff HM seemed to have taken the term ‘road race’ a little too seriously though and by the time I reached the 6 mile marker I had passed under a flyover and was climbing a gradient onto a dual carriageway – not quite the scenic run around Cardiff I had hoped for! I hoped that the dull grey road would just be a brief part of the course, but alas, as I squinted through bright sunshine at the road ahead I could see miles and miles of runners. Even worse, the runners were doubling back past the 10 mile marker.
I was going to be stuck running on this dual carriageway for over 5 miles.
I want to say that I chatted with fellow racers to pass the time, that the cheers of spectators distracted me from the drab surroundings, and that my specially made playlist made this chunk of the race pass quickly, but none of this is true. Everyone else seemed as miserable as me at the sight of the zombie-like progression moving along the road for miles ahead. There were no spectators, no encouragement, no cheers. And whilst my playlist did prove to be excellent, it’s difficult to be roused by Million Dead or sing along to KT Tunstall when you’re trying to shield the sunshine from your eyes long enough to see where you’re going, but not pay attention to the zombie parade on the horizon…
I hate to be so down on the event because I had been looking forward to it for so long, but if the reviews left by other runners on the Runners’ World website are anything to go by, I’m certainly not alone in this opinion. And the monotonous route definately took its toll on my running. By the time I had doubled back down the dual carriageway my pace had slowed and I was 3 minutes below my 10 mile target.
And to add insult to injury, I was overtaken by a runner in an emu-riding costume.
I’m not blaming the route for me missing my sub-2hr aim. To be honest, the course probably has really good PB potential as it is pretty flat and the dual carriageway was at least wide enough to accomodate all of the runners. But as an event that I had been looking foward to, and looking forward to sharing with my family, I am very disappointed. If you have few expectations of a race of this size and little or no experience to compare it too, then you may forgive the organisers for the overcrowded start, poorly organised finish and mind-numbingly dull course. Indeed, as the race is targetted at charity runners perhaps the organisers are not concerned with the demands and expectations of regular runners. But if the the Welsh Athletics Association is planning on making the Cardiff Half Marathon one of their flagship events, they are definately going to have to buck up their ideas.