This week I set off to Cardiff for the world half marathon championships. I’d opted not to run in the mass race, rather to spectate it and give Sarah and Mo Farah, among others, a bit of support. The half marathon was on Saturday afternoon, so I thought I’d have a crack at a decent time in Cardiff parkrun earlier that morning. I also convinced an old Bristol Uni friend, Steve Mitchell, to meet and do his first parkrun. Steve is a 1500m runner who has run a few times for England and has a really quick PB of 3.38. In February he ran a 14.27 5k on the road in the prestigious Armagh International road race. Suffice to say, on most days he’d probably win with a steady run, but being his first official parkrun and equipped with the magic little bar code, he wanted to put a decent time down. I think at one point he was thinking of a course record time, but the wind conditions would put that out of sight from the start. I did consider switching our bar codes around but I thought it a little unfair to give him such a slow time, not to mention, give myself a PB that I would never beat.
I hadn’t run a flat 5k on smooth paths for a long time. I’ve done longer distance races recently, so although not 5k sharp, I was hoping for a relatively decent run out somewhere in the lower 17 minutes. The rain and stormy weather was set to get a lot worse later, precisely when the half marathon champs was on. We were quite lucky in that respect, although there was a decent head wind that was already blowing. Cardiff half takes place in Bute park and runs close to the river Taff. The course winds along a wide smooth path which heads out for 2 and a bit kilometres before doing a short loop and rejoining the same path. There’s no off-road, and on a good day, it’s a really quick course. Leuan Thomas holds the course record in a rather speedy 14.24. That was the fastest parkrun of 2015 and the 3rd fastest parkrun (of all park runs) ever!
Cardiff Park run is pretty popular. Even with the half marathon later, 415 people rocked up on this particular day, the previous week saw over 600. One of these was Sarah’s mum who was now doing her 48th parkrun having been introduced to them through Sarah. She’d never really run before starting and since doing the park runs, she’s lost 2 and a half stone. That’s the great thing about parkrun. It’s for absolutely everybody and it can motivate you in all kinds of ways, be it for socialising, challenging yourself or just to get outside and breathe some fresh air. With Sarah racing later it was her turn to spectate the 3 of us among the other 400 odd runners and hopefully take a good photo or two. So, it was 3 -2 -1 and off we scooted. Well, I scooted anyway. Steve set off like a possessed rocket ship. I didn’t see Sarah’s Mum but I imagine she had a far more tranquil start. I remember distinctly thinking after about 300m how on earth had Steve managed to get so far in front. Cardiff usually has some quick runners but we were all left a long way back before we reached the first km, and the funny thing was, I’d started a bit quick! Combined with the wind, I was going far too hard in that first mile, which I ran through in 5.23, hitting a heart rate of 179, easily the highest I’ve reached this year. Inevitably, this poor pacing meant I would be suffering far too early and would have a poor second half. Heart rate tends to drift slowly up to maintain the same effort over the entire course of a race. Unfortunately, I’d given it nowhere to go except down. Still, it was never going to be a great time with the headwind. As it happened, Steve too had gone off a little hard and said that it had been a real struggle. He won by about a minute in 15.16. I rolled over the line in 17.38 for 8th and Sarah’s mum, Anne, came in with the crowds around 35 minutes.
We all finished, happy to have started our mornings off in the park and ready for breakfast. I’ll be back here at some point this year and I’d like to run under 17 minutes. Perhaps I’ll give the swim/bike training a break for a month or two after July, and perhaps Steve can have a crack at that course record but that’s definitely going to be tough. Leuan had Steve pacing him for the first couple of km and James Thie on a bike for the last few km, so it was a top effort.
A few hours later, some of the fastest runners in the world descended on the streets of Cardiff for the World Half Marathon. The weather was rubbish so there would be no records but there would be some tough racing. The élite women went off first, 40 minutes before the men and the mass start. I managed to catch them (as in take their picture) at 45 minutes, when a group of 4 Kenyans and 2 Ethiopians had broken away from the group. Peres Jepchirchir (in the centre with the spotty hair) and Cynthia Limo would be the last 2 as they headed into the finish straight. After losing a few metres, Peres would fight her way back and outsprint Limo to take the gold. She’s aiming to run the 10k in Rio at the Olympics later this year. A short while later I would see Bristol & West runner, Jenny Spink coming through. The élite ladies race was quite fragmented and she like many of the others at this point, was running on her own. Unfortunately she would be forced to pull out with a calf strain – hopefully something that will clear up quickly.
I carried on walking the course, aiming to get to Roath park for when the men came by. This was the only point where you could see the runners pass by twice, with them doing a 2 mile loop in-between visits. In among the short downpours, I tried setting up my camera. I’d opted for a 50mm prime lens with a lowish F-stop, as I figured I could get quite close to the runners and i wanted to capture some expressions. This also gives the advantage of quick shutter speeds which you really need for these guys! When the first two Kenyans arrived, I was around the 9 mile mark and they were flying, and making it look quite effortless.
I saw a bit of the race later on TV. They went through 5k in 14.10 and got even faster, going through 10k in 27.59. At this point Mo and some of the others were dropping back. In fact, Mo’s pacing seemed pretty spot on. The only guy to go with the 2 Kenyans was Ethiopian, Tola, who sat behind to get a little shelter. At around 40 minutes into the race, and in a spot of tactical brilliance, the Kenyans separated to either side of the road, put in a surge for about 15 seconds and joined back together. They kept the pace high a little longer to ensure Tola was well off the back before settling down. The pace of that third 5k from when the Kenyans broke was a super speedy 13 minutes 40 seconds ! Even Mo in a slower group 22 seconds back, smashed the European 15k record at that point. I’m sure there must have had a bit of wind assistance here but impressive nonetheless. When Mo came past me he was in 5th place, chasing the Ethiopian Ayele. He really looked like he was suffering. I managed to snap a great picture which illustrated some of the pain and I can remember quite vividly seeing how much he was hurting.
As they came back after 2 miles around Roath park, the Kenyans were still out front but the chasers, including Mo, had formed together to join a group of four. Mo looked a lot more relaxed than on his first pass. It probably helped that there was a gradual descent at that point, but you realise that these guys are racing and the pace is changing. They’re trying to separate and chase down runners which means there are points where they have to go through hell intermixed with the normal long-term pain that is the majority of the run.
The pace did lift after 15k but the Kenyans were relentless and Kamworor would break from Muchiri to finish in 59.10 – a run that Farah suggested would probably have been record-breaking had the weather been different. As for Farah, he would reach the finish just inside the hour and outsprint Ayele for a bronze medal. Mo doesn’t often have this kind of competition when he’s on the road and it was good to see him in a race like this. He ran a good race. Today the Kenyans were just too strong. I wondered the course back giving a bit of support to the masses as they came through and found Sarah. She had a tough day coming in around 1.54 but soon cheered up when we found the cake counter at Pettigrew tea rooms. Well, you’ve got to replace those carbs haven’t you!