Monday, 17 October 2011

Post Race Report: Cardiff Half Marathon 2011

I ran the Cardiff Half Marathon on October 16th for Tenovus Cancer charity, inspired by my amazing friend Hywel Jones, who is a cancer patient and Tenovus supporter.

The big day began gloomily, with grey clouds above and drizzle in the air, but by the time I force fed early morning carbs and sports drinks, and made my way over to the race start the clouds had cleared and the sun emerged. There was a huge queue to begin the run, with sections of people staggered according to predicted finish times. If I'm honest, I just squeezed into the portion closest to the portaloos, which happened to be near the two hour fifteen minute marker man. It took seventeen minutes to actually step over the starting mat such was the volume of people ahead - which was actually a welcome slow start as it gave me chance to savour the anticipation and build up.

Once we were running rather than walking, lots of weaving in and out of people was necessary to establish a comfortable pace and avoid tripping over the person ahead. My parents and sister were cheering on around the two mile mark which was an early boost, and I particularly enjoyed the surrealness of running down a blocked off Castle Street at four miles. I felt ok, my breathing was comfortable and my legs pretty light - as this was both my first half marathon and race of any kind, I kept wondering whether a terrible fate awaited me such as the infamous and feared runner's wall. Luckily, such a fate did not arise, although running uphill along the A232 slip road just past Cardiff City Stadium, toward Cardiff Bay was a tough point as the sun was beating down, and as I've since discovered, burning my face! Another tricky factor at this point was being able to see the faster runners spilling down the opposite side of the A232, having already covered the roundabout we were heading for. I resisted the temptation to scale the middling barrier or catch a bus (joke!) and kept going!

Getting to the downhill stretch myself was a lovely feeling. Even lovelier, was reaching the section of the race along the flat waterside of Penarth, toward Cardiff Bay barrage as I knew the finishing line was near. I still had some energy left in my legs and thoroughly enjoyed picking up the pace as much as is possible for me along that final stretch and crossing the finishing line, with another welcome sighting of my family supporters along the way.

I was pleased to beat the man carrying a gigantic cross on wheels, and also the man running the race backwards, although I'm afraid to say I was pipped to the post by a speedy giraffe.

The crowd who'd come along to watch were fantastic, at many points during the race I felt bolstered by cheers and claps, and whilst I inwardly cursed the sun at points, a bright day did in fact add to the already cheery atmosphere. The organisation of the event was spot on, and I'll definitely be signing up again - once my legs are working - as I loved the experience, and the wonderful feeling of wellbeing the finish provides. My finishing (chip) time was 2:10:14, with a placing of 6531 out of approximately 15000. I'm really pleased, and hope to improve on this in future.

A big huge thank you to everyone who sponsored me. Fundraising allows Tenovus to carry on with their work, supporting cancer patients and their families across Wales. If you haven't sponsored me and would like to, my page is open for another three months so you can still do so - I'll be really grateful.  Also, it would be great if you could continue to read Hywel's blog about his experiences and share with your friends, he's aiming for weekly updates very soon.

Monday, 10 October 2011

A Running Story

A brief background,
recommended reading,
a bit of stolen running-based philosophy,
a sponsorship link
and my new trainers. 

It was a long ago, mid-week afternoon at work when my boss suggested running the Cardiff Half Marathon. Being a spontaneous sort of person, I went with the flow and signed up on the spot. The race seemed a distant prospect which wouldn’t really happen, sort of like your thirtieth birthday when you’re aged twelve or Christmas Day on the First of January.

The summer swiftly passed in a blur of rain, holidays and multiple gigs. Autumn arrived, and along with a crunchy leaf carpet so did thoughts of October 16th. I started to consider running more regularly, and began to actually run more regularly. The physical was accompanied by the philosophical, as I read What I Talk About When I TalkAbout Running by Haruki Murakami and re-read Inner Running by Donald Porter. 

I relate to much of the content in both books, particularly these quotes from Murakami:

“…writing novels and running full marathons are very much alike. Basically a writer has a quiet, inner motivation, and doesn’t seek validation in the outwardly visible….For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put the effort in day after day; to raise my own level. I’m no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary – or perhaps more like mediocre – level. But that’s not the point. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.” (Page 15)


“I’m the kind of person who likes to be by himself. To put a finer point on it, I’m the  type of person who doesn’t find it painful to be alone. I find spending an hour or two every day running alone, not speaking to anyone….neither difficult nor boring…the hour or so I spend running, maintaining my silent, private time, is important to help me keep my mental wellbeing. When I’m running I don’t have to listen to anybody. All I need to do is gaze at scenery passing by. This is a part of my day I can’t do without.”(Pages 15-16)

I feel as though Murakami has plucked thoughts from my head here, so won't elaborate and spoil his eloquence!

I’ve recently given away my copy of Inner Running, so I can’t share any quotes from this (until I buy another), but the reading was revelatory and I'd recommend to any runner, particularly new. Porter writes all about running as a means of 'feeding the soul' in addition to being a fitness builder; a way of clearing detritus of daily life from the mind. He advocates starting small, running however far you feel like, as long as it’s regular – even walking is allowed in between running bursts – a massive pressure reliever to the perfectionist and self-pusher! The key to Inner Running is having fun and enjoying the process. If you don’t like time and distance based goals, then ditch them – if you take to running often, then you’ll naturally become faster and run further, over a time period which suits you and both the physical and mental benefits will become evident.

This past weekend I tried out two ten mile runs. The first was along the Taff Trail, South bound. I ran from Sophia Gardens car park, just outside Cardiff Castle, to the back of Gelynis Fruit Farm in Morganstown. The first half felt great and very comfortable, but I slowed half way though, the return sometimes feeling heavy and difficult – I think largely due to a very poor breakfast and not enough water the day before, plus I wasn't used to that distance. It was such a good lesson to learn. The next day, Sunday October 9th, I ran several laps around the Roath area, between Waterloo Gardens and Cardiff High, continuing for two hours, with only brief stops for zebra crossings and a clumsy iPod drop onto the ground! Luckily, I have a ‘me-proof’ rubber cover. I'd drunk heaps more water, and eaten lots more carbs in preparation this time, and could feel the energy difference. A great excuse for chocolate spread on toast if ever I’ve heard one, as favoured by the lovely fellow blogger and colleague I’ve recently met for the first time!

So. There’s now less than a week to go until the run. I’ll be giving it a go in my style,  relaxing and (I hope) enjoying it, without time or speed pressure, and finding a comfortable rhythm of my own, with lots of music to keep me going. This will include The Shame, Does It Offend You, Yeah?, Biffy Clyro, and thanks to suggestions from Sarah and Mark respectively, a bit of Fall Out Boy and Future Funk Squad. Yes, there’ll be a private indie/cheesey disco going on in my ears.

I’ll be running the race for my friend Hywel Jones, and his favoured charity Tenovus, who carry out fantastic work supporting cancer patients and their families. You can read Hywel’s blog about his experiences as a cancer patient, and a bit about his life in general here, and if you’d like to sponsor me in aid of Tenvous, my JustGiving Page is here. I’d be really grateful for any help you can spare. Thanks lots to the wonderful people who already have.

This has possibly been the most rambling of my blog posts yet, so I’ll stop writing, and leave you with a picture of my lovely new trainers, purchased from Moti, where I was assessed for the perfectly fitting pair through the method of being filmed running on a treadmill, in a dress.*
My shiny new 'Mizuno Wave Nirvana 7s'

*The dress wasn't a requirement, I just happened to call in after work wearing not very suitable running attire!