So four days after setting a new half marathon PB I was back in action again as my #18in18 challenge continued in Swansea.
This was a race I was looking forward. I had heard a lot of good things about it. I was curious to find out just why it has been voted the UK’s favourite half marathon for the last two years.
I arrived in the city on Saturday afternoon, some 12 hours after leaving home, so I had no time for a day before warm-up which has sort of become the norm now.
What I did do, however, was go for a little explore of the start area. It was literally around the corner from my guesthouse which meant I didn’t have the hassle of worrying about availing of the bag drop facilities on race day.
My accommodation was literally on the seafront and, with the race itself essentially being an out and back along the impressive Swansea Bay I was in the unique position to view almost the entire course just by turning my head left and then right.
Initially I thought this was a good thing. Then it occurred to me that the halfway point at the Mumbles looked so, so far away and that I would have to run there and back again!
I have run 13.1 miles many times, the distance doesn’t scare me but usually in races I tend to focus only on the road in front of me and getting to the next bend, then the next one and the one after that etc.
This time, however, there were no bends. It was a case of running so far, turning, and then coming back again … and I could see it all stretching out in front of me long into the misty, grey, faded distance! Don’t get me wrong, the scenery was beautiful but it just seemed so far away.
But I couldn’t let my mind play tricks on me. I spent a long time that night just looking out to sea admiring the view.
I felt good on Sunday morning. Up nice and early, I decided to go for a 6am stroll. As I said, the start was literally around the corner from me so I had lots of time to kill and a gentle walk seemed like a good idea.
However, even at that time in the morning it was hot. I returned to my room with the sweat running down my back … this should have given me some indication of what lay in wait.
After a bit of a rest I made my way to the start area when it opened at 7:30am. I was supporting the 1BloodyDrop campaign in their attempt to set a new world record for the most Type 1 diabetics to run a half marathon so wanted to be there as early as possible to collect the team goody bag and running shirt, and to meet up with the rest of the team.
It was good to see some old friends and say hello to some new faces I only knew via social media. In the end I didn’t wear the shirt for the race. As comfortable as the material felt it was very fitted, and given the heat of the morning I knew I wouldn’t be able to cope. I needed to be as ‘loose’ as possible.
I dropped the goody bag etc. back round to my room and returned to the start, and chatted to a couple of more friends I’ve got to know through running before taking my place in my correct wave.
I positioned myself close to the 2:30 pacers. I didn’t expect to achieve that time but my tactics were to keep them in view for as long as possible.
Finally, at 9:07am, we were off. The first couple of miles were through the city centre, the atmosphere was fantastic, the crowds were out in force and it felt good.
I was comfortable with the pace, and as we turned onto the Oystermouth Road for the long sweep along the bay out to the Mumbles everything was going well. In fact, despite thinking I didn’t know anyone in Swansea other than my fellow competitors I still spotted a supporter out on the route, it was great to receive a wee cheer from Paula!
She didn’t know it, but she was standing close to my accommodation so, as tempted as I was to pop in for a little drink, I knew I had to push on. It wouldn’t have looked good!
After three miles or so things were still going well. In fact, at this point I lost sight of the pacers. Initially I feared I had been dropped already but then I turned around and there they were just behind me, much to my relief.
I figured it would be wise to slow a bit and let them get back in front for me to ‘chase’. The next four miles were quite pleasant. The morning was getting progressively hotter, but I ran a sensible race, fuelling as per my plan (3.5 miles and 7 miles) and taking advantage of the water stations. The tree-lined road which protected us from the worst of the sun was also very welcome, and I could see the pacers. All good.
Then came the turnaround point at seven miles. Oh my! Gone went the shade, gone went the breeze.
Do you know that feeling when you go on holiday to sunnier climes, the plane lands, the doors open and you’re hit with a blast of warm air which almost takes your breath away? That.
What didn’t help was that right at this point there was a local restaurant. Unsurprisingly, given the heat, it seemed all their patrons were sitting outside enjoying the weather and supporting the runners. All very welcome, of course, but it looked like every single last one of them was eating ice-cream. How I craved ice-cream right there and then!
Swansea Bay lay in front of me. I could see it all. I had just come from there and now I had to go back again. Except, this time, I had nowhere to hide from the sun.
The view was stunning. The route seemed to hug the beach all the way and I knew, if nothing else, I was going to enjoy what I was looking at.
Although it was an out and back course it was done in such a way that the runners on the opposite side weren’t really noticeable unless you turned your head to the side which was refreshing in a race like this. It was a feature I really liked.
I maintained my pace for another mile before I just seemed to wilt. My stats show I dropped a minute per mile at this point although, apart from a brief wobble around the 10/11 mile point I didn’t get any slower than that. My legs felt ok, it was just the rest of my body that struggled!
I wasn’t the only one. I spotted a few runners along the route who required treatment but they were being attended to and conscious so hopefully they were ok.
There’s a very distinct camaraderie amongst runners on days like this. We look out for each other, and offer encouragement as much as we can, or have the energy for. With that in mind I must mention Zoe (not that she’ll ever read this!) whom I seemed to cross a few times in the latter stages and who seemed a lot chirpier and energetic than she should have been by then … she did a wonderful job geeing up her fellow runners, it was a joy just being in her company for a couple of miles.
I also referred earlier to the people of Swansea and their support along the route. They really were fantastic, especially one lady who very kindly hosed down every runner who wanted it … including me. It certainly made up for the hot bottle of water I picked up a bit earlier! Yuck!
The last mile took us back into the city via the Maritime Quarter, and here the crowds were plentiful. It was a great finish and encouraged me to put on a bit of sprint finish for the last couple of hundred metres, or at least attempt one!
After I had finished, and had walked to find the Diabetes UK gazebo for a cool down, my left foot really began to hurt. I was reduced to a hobble and knew I had a walk back to my guesthouse. Under normal circumstances it would be little more than a 15-minute stroll but with a sore foot it felt like I was being asked to run the race all over again!
My mood was a bit pants at the thought of this, I began to analyse my performance and decided to beat myself up a bit for not managing to maintain my pace despite the heat and for generally not getting a time I had hoped for.
Later on, though, as I began to think more rationally I did begin to draw positives from the run.
First of all, it was my second half in four days during which I set a pb and, since then, I had a full day of travel behind me. This alone would have sapped my energy, and that was without the stifling heat in the second part of the race.
And, on the race, I performed to my own expectations for the first eight miles with comparable times to Wednesday night. Yes, I then slowed but I didn’t get any slower.
Indeed, looking at the official results I was actually stronger than many of those around me during the last part of the race. My overall position improved by around 240 places from the halfway point to the finish which might not mean much in the grand scheme of things but, to me, it shows that I’m building up my stamina and gradually maintaining my pace for longer and struggling for less.
Anyway, that was Swansea. It brings to an end the most intense period of my challenge (three in two weeks), I know have a two-week gap before my next one, the Bath Two Tunnels, which will bring me to the halfway point!