on... the Cardiff Half

I didn't sleep much on Saturday night and got up nice and early Sunday, with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Up with the first alarm, I downed my normal weekday breakfast of porridge, almonds and yoghurt. I find that I'm fine with this, provided that there's a two hour gap before I run. Boy got up too, and we headed off into Cardiff, looking forward to the 08:00 Lliswerry photoshoot.

We arrived in Cardiff about 07:45, but were horrified to find that others had found our secret parking spot around the Church by Dumfries Place. Long story short, we ended up in the dubious local multi-storey on top of Evans Cycles. I remembered almost parking there on another occassion, before reading the tarriff and performing a three point turn. Nearly did the same, but remembering a similar time when almost refusing to pay a pound for the loo at Harrods, sometimes you need to consider the consequences of not paying the money for the "here and now". In this case we may have got stuck in traffic and missed the start. I dutifully took the ticket expecting to pay £6 for the privilige. Then we moved forward, and realise that it would be £6 if we completed the race and got back to the car in less than an hour fifteen. £12 was more likely (ended up being £18). Parked up, we pinned our numbers on and I needed the loo. Knowing the queues by the museum steps were likely to be long, and following a quick assessment in this strangely quiet car park, I made a call and felt that I'd more had my money's worth.

We set off for the museum steps, and got there just as the runners were leaving. There was a TV camera interviewing a few of the ladies, but we were too late for the main event. So amazing to see so many Lliswerry down there - runners and supporters. I bumped into a few friends, ditched my bag and headed off to join the start. When I arrived at the pens, I'd never been so far forward. I had an orange ticket (< 01:45), but after walking through the Castle, I found myself right at the front! Managed to shout to James (white - <01:30), who popped up to the line for a quick photo before distancing himself again.

I normally use my arm-wallet on longer runs, to carry my old phone and gels. Even if I'm not using music then keeping a phone with you means that I am contactable on a long run, and makes sure that I can take post-race photos with ease. While I hadn't run with music for a while, it was so tempting. I pulled out my second gel, popped the headphones on before changing my mind. Dont change anything on Race Day. In putting things back, there didn't seem room for the Gel, so I popped it in my Shorts pocket... with the other Gel and my car key. Not a good idea as it happened. After the gun went off, I bumbled over the start line, suddenly realising that my shorts were on their way down. Got some sympathetic looks from a few spectators as I hung onto my dignity before being able to whip the errant get out. I managed to cradle it in my palm as I ran, loosely but secure. Didn't really notice it until needed, although I always try to hide such things from the photographers.

From there, I don't remember much until Penarth Road, cheering on a Chair Racer from Parc Bryn Bach - I'm sometimes unsure whether the message comes over as it's meant - one of admiration for people overcoming challenges with tough determination and contagious energy, but I spoke anyhow.

Further up Penarth Road, I passed the dog's home. Having taken one of the dogs out for a walk one day, I remembered the propensity with which he was able to walk along and hoover sweets off the floor with ease (not to mention eat chips, but I got told off for that). While it was early in the race, I quietly hoped that someone shed some Jelly Babies for these dogs. As for me, I bit the top off the Gel and quietly consumed while navigating the post waterstation minefield. It was there that the support from Lliswerry begun, though it seemed a bit more lost than previous years. I have recently switched Gels to one with a higher water content. I struggle to drink water from a bottle while running, but these are just perfect.

Over the barrage, and the race appeared to open up a bit - I had been fairly comfortable up until then, running my pace and allowing others to pass as they wished. The crowd re-appeared as we went through Roald Dahl Plaza and before I knew it, the familiar sight of Merv's hat was there. Thinking on it, he might have been elsewhere, but I also remember the first of a few pairs of attractive twenty-somethings shouting me on, jumping excitedly, with life, fun and excitement in their eyes. OK, reading back through my notes, I realise that this might suggest that I was delirious, but they do talk about a "Runner's High", in which case, that's just fine.

Approaching the Magic Roundabout, I came across a runner making a familiar sound. Not just the panting, coughing or heavy breathing of effort, this was more of a hacking. Just the sort of noise that your dog makes when it's about to be sick. That moment when it's a good idea to grab the collar, shout and show it the door. Unfortunately, he was slap-bang center of the road, primed and ready to go off at any time - talk about inspiration to slam in a few quicker strides to get past - it doesn't always pay to follow the race line.

Coming back into Cardiff proper, the crowd support was back at full strength. I'm constantly amazed at how many people call your name if it's written across your chest. So many shouts, especially as. Sorry I can't name names, I am absolutely rubbish at remembering faces and names, but there was a Lliswerry chap on top of the cobbled area in the middle of the road with his two girls who went absolutely bonkers shouting Niiiiggggeeeeelllll as I went past. Coupled with other shouts on either side of the road, I was just so inspired to keep the pace. A bloke to my right said "errr... are you someone off the telly or somefing?". I probably should have said yes, but I just pointed out that I had my name on my shirt (before leaving him for dust).

I do like to run with a bit of inspiration, and often get sent some words of wisdom from friends, just to get me through the tough bits. Todays thought was from the Nun - "Anyway, the Nun says you will run fast and will have fun". The Nun helped me out now and then through the race, every time I felt a bit weak, the Nun said have fun, so I run.

Roath Park seemed easier this year. Although I didn't tap the "Hit for Power" board, I did salute the senior citizens that we out cheering us along and waving flags. In previous years, the return leg of the park was my downfall (normally just after taking some water from my son at the water station). Matt decided not to help this year, and I just kept on running, second gel loaded some ten minutes earlier. Last year saw me stall on "Cemetary Hill", unable to move after stopping (btw, physio said that if you stop, you have 40 seconds to start again before it all goes to pot). Just started the "ascent", and I recognised a shout from the left. Gareth Beck was providing a free service, getting Lliswerry and NEWTS up the hill with a generous amount of abuse and just a little bit of encouragement in there. I must say though, Nicola was next to him, shouting along too and that was what made sure I wasn't going to stop this time. If Nicola can get up after a 19 mile collapse to finish of a Marathon then I was sure as eggs not going to go woossy at this point. Up I went, and onto the flat - counting the steps before recovery was complete (normally about 15 in my opinion). The rest of the race was a bit of a blur - I remember coming up to Fanny Street, thinking "got to look strong here" - the local Property company normally take free photos and lets face it, got to try your best to look strong.

Turned the corner, and spotted the finish line. I'd already worked out that I was going to leap the finish, but I was getting jittery about being too high for the timing chip to work. Hold on - what's the time on the clock - wow - I'm going to make it under the 01:40 mark! Skipped over the line in the end and leaped over the second mat, absolutely delighted.

I met up with Boy, who was equally delighted, showing off his time of 1:29:56 on his Garmin. He's cracked the magical 1:30 (a bit close, but sub 1:30 is sub-1:30). Mum and Dad were there too, really excited about them waiting on the finish line, even though my Dad seemed a bit disappointed that we couldn't go to the Barnardos post-race party like last year.

My Garmin was my friend throughout the whole race - though I never looked at my time. I worked out the time that I wanted, divided it by 21 to get my km split time and used the Virtual Pacer function to make sure I was on track. I didn't want to be below my pace, but equally had rules for how many seconds that I could build up "in credit". I monitored this through the race, and checked my split time every km, just to be sure. To my delight, my split times were pretty much even throughout the race, though there were a few slower bits around the Lake and going back into town (i.e. the 10-12 mile mark)

Unfortunately, the official results showed Boy's time as 1:29:70 - these things happen!

After a long race, I do like to put things on an even footing - running my times through the Runners World age-graded calculator, seeing as I'm a few years older than Boy. Sadly, he still beat me by about 40 seconds.

After the race, it was so good to read about fellow club members, including the amazing Emma Wookey bringing it home for Wales. The TV special summed it up, Lliswerry Runners pretty much owned it, and I am so proud to be part of the club.

As for feeling a bit fed up of running every day, well my Recovery Run of 12 minutes super slow on Monday wasn't too onerous. I'm currently enjoying some different things, though I have suffered from a sore big-toe, painful shin and a knock to the cheekbone. Don't think I could call this "cross-training" or "recovery work", but it's a pleasant change to Running, and I saw nothing about it being banned in the Club Constitution.

Nigel.