Today I started training for my second Cardiff Half Marathon.
It’s not taking place until October which means I have five whole months in which to train. I already run three to four times a week so it should be a doddle, right? Just so you know, I’m shaking my head at the computer.
As I learned to my peril last October, it’s one thing being reasonably fit and running the 5km parkrun in a half-decent time most Saturday mornings but a completely different challenge to run a half marathon.
As for my amazing Lliswerry Runners mates who have been running full marathons over the past few weekends (London, Llanelli and Manchester), I’m just in awe of them. One guy completed a 100-miler a month ago which takes some believing. How do you devise a training plan for a distance of such mammoth proportions?
I have nothing but admiration for each and every one of them, particularly the virgins (a running term for first-timers!). It’s hard to imagine how anyone ever gets to a point where they feel comfortable running 26.2 miles, let alone 100.
The weather in Llanelli last weekend was particularly gruelling, with runners having to battle through heavy rain and blustering winds along the Millennium Coastal Path (I ran the Llanelli Half in March 2012 and it’s not an experience I’d care to repeat solely because the route is so exposed).
Fortunately, I’m not attempting anything nearly as difficult – just the 13.1 miles around Wales’ capital city. Like every serious runner (and in a sport that’s obsessed with statistics most of us get serious quite quickly) my aim is to beat my 2012 time of 2:19:06. I’d also like to complete the race pain-free.
Above all, I don’t want a repeat of last year’s fiasco when my size 7 Reeboks undid TWICE in the first mile and I lost my running partner (my eldest daughter Morwenna) while TWICE pausing to re-tie them, when my soles and toes were already hurting so much at five miles that I needed to pop two paracetamol (in addition to the earlier Ibuprofen), when I sat down on stone steps in Cardiff Bay and phoned Harri in tears, when I abandoned my gel soles at six miles (is it just me or are they really uncomfortable?), very nearly did the same with my socks at eight (thankfully I remember they weren’t mine) and handed my water bottle over to a hysterical girl at twelve miles.
It was all rather traumatic for one morning’s running.
On the positive side, the sun was shining, I finished without blisters, my grand-daughters waved me across the finishing time and Morwenna materialised fifteen minutes later (somehow I’d managed to overtake her without noticing).
I now know that my foot problems were caused by ill-fitting shoes. I’d bought a size bigger than usual in the mistaken belief they’d allow my feet to breathe; instead, they were so enormous my toes were clenching to hold onto them, resulting in cramping. Worse, after the first disastrous mile, I’d tied my laces so tight I had practically cut off the circulation! It’s no wonder my poor feet were protesting… very LOUDLY.
Still, it’s important that we novices learn the hard way and buying too-big shoes is a mistake I won’t be making again.
Yet, despite the pain, I loved every minute of the Cardiff experience from the energetic Zumba warm-up (ever tried doing it with a rucksack on your back?), the astonishingly well-organised luggage drop, the singing of the Welsh Anthem before former world champion hurdler, Colin Jackson sounded the air horn and the socialising with friends, old and new, runners and spectators at Cathays Park.
Over 18,000 runners had turned out to celebrate the Cardiff Half’s 10th anniversary and the sheer numbers forces you to jog quite slowly at the outset. It’s easy to get carried away when the faster runners start breaking away and squeezing past, but I learnt my lesson at my first-ever race (the Swansea 10k in 2010) when I ran the first half like a hare. Inevitably, I tired quickly and finished the race at a tortoise.
What’s surprising for those who aren’t ‘in the know’ is how friendly running events are. There’s always huge sense of camaraderie, with support from other runners and spectators. I couldn’t believe how many people had braved the chilly weather to wave and cheer us on – the entire route was lined with well-wishers and their presence was a massive morale booster. When the last ounce of energy has drained from your body and you’re wondering why anyone – YOU – ever thought it was a good idea to enter a very long race when you always mooched off games at school… that’s when you really need those cheers from the sidelines.
But however bad it gets, you can be sure others are struggling too: the pink gorilla with an ironing board strapped to its back; the four pairs of legs inside Thomas the Tank engine; the Jamaican bobsled team.
One brave man ran the whole race in a pair of Speedos, maybe leaving too little to the imagination, and there were teams of runners fund-raising for many, many charities.
And you’re not really aware of it at the time, but the elite athletes out front are treating the race very seriously and trying to beat course records. The male winner was Andrew Lesuuda from Kenya who finished in a record time of 1:02:21, while the women’s race was won by a Brit, Susan Partridge, in 1:11:10. All I can say is ‘wow’!
Also miles ahead of me, were four members of Men Aloud, one or two of whom admitted afterwards that they hadn’t taken their training very seriously.
Which brings me back to the T word. And I intend to take my training very seriously this time.
In the past, I’ve usually hazarded a guess at my distances and speeds. I don’t own a Garmin or a stopwatch and I’ve yet to work out how to download a suitable app on my phone. This lack of technology means my approach to training has always tended to be rather laid-back; I set off having no real idea of what I want to accomplish in terms of mileage or speed. Whether I end up running for 40 minutes, an hour or nearly two hours is anyone’s guess, including mine!
Well, this ‘let’s see how it goes’ attitude to training is going to stop! As of today, I’m going to consider myself a proper athlete who is in training for a serious race (I have Welsh Athletics membership after all).
From now on, I will decide, in advance, whether a training run is about speed or distance. If it’s distance, how far I am going to run? I shall devise routes for specific distances rather than my usual habit of just running where the fancy takes me at the time (often making last-minute decisions at crossroads).
At Wednesday’s interval training, I’ll push myself to run harder and faster rather than stay within my comfort zone. I’ll run four times each week, unless hiking commitments make it impossible, and I’ll do a long, steady run (over 10 miles) at least once a week, building up to 13 miles by September.
On Sunday 6th October, I’ll line up with 18,000+ other runners (including my former sisters-in-law, Allyson and Catherine) and I will know that I can improve on the 10, 377th position I managed in 2012.
Now all that remains is to reacquaint myself with one of the mapping websites and perhaps download and learn how to use an app… sounds like more training to me.
PS I have just spent an hour carefully mapping my run on walkjogrun and I’m pleased to record today’s vital statistics as follows:
Distance: 9.41 miles
Time: 1 hour 37 minutes
Speed: 5.8 miles per hour
Pace: I averaged 10.18 minute miles
Calories: 1354 (but I’ve probably devoured more than that since I got home)
PPS If I’ve worked this out correctly and I could keep up the above speed for 13.1 miles I would finish this year’s Cardiff Half in 2:13:36. Better than last year but surely there’s room for even more improvement with a proper training plan? Watch this space!!!