Sara James guides us around her home town of Cardiff – and Nestle consider changing their Kit-Kat slogan.
World Half-Marathon Championships (Cardiff) – Saturday 26th March 2016
I never thought I’d get the chance to take part in the World HM Championships… Yet that is exactly what I found myself signing up for several months ago. The fact that it would be taking place in my beautiful home town of Cardiff (and a trip back to the homeland) was the key selling point
I had ran the annual Cardiff HM back in October 2014 when four of us made the long journey down to South Wales. My best friend had come to support us then and had asked me if I ever thought she could run a HM… Yes! She started running, when she could, and another friend and I nominated her for a free place in the “World’s” – she got a place This meant she had to keep the training up throughout the winter and this would actually be her first race. I knew she’d love the atmosphere and the feeling of accomplishment she would get as doing this was a big thing for a variety of reasons. She told me she was planning to stop and walk at mile 5 and 10 and wherever else, if need be, so I was never running this one for a time and just wanted to make sure we both completed it and enjoyed it.
My friend returned the “favour” by designating me to run a parkrun with her daughter that morning – “oh, and she loves the encouragement the marshals at Cardiff give her so I take her to that one as she run faster there. She usually tries to run ahead and I can’t keep up with her – haha”. Great! The encouragement from the marshals was, indeed, brilliant and we had a fantastic time running along the Taff Trail by the river (very flat course – can highly recommend it and so well organised given it takes place on a busy, narrow cycle route). Thankfully every time she darted ahead I could catch her and pull her plaited hair in mock retaliation
We went home, refuelled, and got the train back to Cardiff. We kept an eye on the forecast and it was scheduled to rain throughout the entire race… There was already a strong wind at parkrun and it had not let up. My friend’s dad was on hand to give us sole access to the Cardiff Arms Park to prepare ourselves pre-race – think no toilet queues, warmth, a secure baggage area and free water right next to the start line outside Cardiff Castle! We donned our Adidas ponchos (a gift from the Expo) to try to keep the wind off us. It didn’t really work! My friend wrapped up a Kit-kat for fuel en-route. Interesting choice! We found our pen a third of a mile away and there was lots of camaraderie (and space!) but the wind was gusting. We were surrounded by large signs announcing that urination in public would result in disqualification… I wondered if that was a nod to Paula as she was taking part in a lot of publicity for the race. Seb Coe addressed us all, we sang the Welsh national anthem, were serenaded by a male voice choir and Rhydian – a runner up from some sort of X Factor show… Then we saw the elites lining up. My friend wondered why they weren’t wearing ponchos – the realisation dawned that they possibly hadn’t stood in their starting pen for 45 mins like us!
Then we were off – in very well managed waves with the ponchos getting chucked everywhere! There was no clipping of heels and there was plenty of space, even in the first couple of miles. Off we went through Grangetown and Leckwith and past the car dealerships along Penarth Road, then the steady incline up to Penarth Marina. We then overtook the four guys dressed in tight turtle outfits who were in a state of semi undress looking to avail themselves in some bushes – they’d obviously not read the signs at the start… I knew there was a sharp downhill and a flat stretch through the Marina and across the Barrage to enjoy. Then we got to mile 4. This is when the forecasted rain decided to come down. In a torrent ;-( Cue much shrieking and swearing all around us! It was so bad that our feet were squelching within a minute. We then turned and had to run across the completely exposed barrage – rain lashing at us horizontally and the cold wind pushing us sideways. But, we chatted with other runners along the way, laughed and there was solidarity. We were soaked through and freezing cold. It couldn’t get much worse!
We ran through the industrial state and past the Dr Who Experience, then around Cardiff Bay and past the Norwegian church where the applause was immense We went past the Senedd (Welsh Assembly) and there was a water and gel station – this meant it was also half a kit kat time! We continued on the dual carriageway, past the jail and back into the town centre. On we went through Canton and out towards Roath Park where I knew there was a cheeky hill at mile 11. This is where my friend said she was going to walk. She was adamant, but she didn’t There was a band playing at the top of the hill and that really spurred us on. Around Roath Park Lake we went (that Lake goes on and on) and this was the first time we got a glimpse of the faster runners on the other side. We passed the Residential Home and the residents were standing at the window waving flags and cheering us on (too wet this year to be outside). Our time dropped here as it just felt a bit of a drag. I told my friend we had 2 miles to go and she said, no we have 3. Uh, no definitely only 2! So it was at this point she said the words “I am definitely going to do this race again in October!”. We picked up another runner shortly after and she said she was dreading the final hill. Words you don’t really want to hear. But I remembered it was short and sharp, she stuck with us and we pushed on, up and over the railway line. We then only had 800m or so to go and it was a case of “push, push”! We crossed the finishing line together, medals were placed around our necks and we got our hands on the coveted Welsh dragon technical t-shirt. Yes, Louise Kelly, it’s Adidas This is when my friend said she’d wanted to do it in 2h30 but, with no watch on, I told her she’d smashed it in 2h21. She had also ran every step I think Kit-kat’s may be the way forwards!
There was so much support on the sidelines throughout the race – hardy supporters standing out in the rain and wind lining the majority of the course. And so many marshals – even one on every speedbump along the route. Great bands and music blasting. We both had an amazing time, despite the awful weather. I love doing races like this where you actually just go out and have some fun. Maybe controversial but this, to me, is where I get the most enjoyment from running. Sometimes it’s nice to enjoy a race and not feel like you want to vomit/die…
The race had cost between £49 and £60 depending on when you entered and if you got a discount. Pretty similar to the GNR but this compared to £30 for the Cardiff HM in October (also very well organised). This showed in the number of runners – only 12,000 were running this race in comparison to 16,000 for the annual one. However, I could not fault the standard and organisation of this race – it was second to none and they also had pacers. Even the Expo was great – well organised, plenty of offers, lots of gels, power bars, etc. for you to try for free. Cardiff University, as the main sponsors, also had games for kids and were giving out free technical t-shirts at the Expo. I would definitely recommend Cardiff – on a nice day it’s definitely a potential PB course, not a slow (or araf!) one.