I always knew this was going to be a tough run - I'm around 4 stone heavier from when I ran my last half in 2013 and around 2 stone heavier from when I ran the marathon in 2014. I also hadn't stuck to my training as well as I should have - hindsight is a wonderful thing! It is amazing how much muscle memory your legs have as the great news is I completed it without dying - more on my incident at mile 10 later!! But it was way harder than I had anticipated due to the crowds - well lack of.
All my previous runs I have done; Bristol, Bath, The GNR & London have always had the streets packed with supports, often 2 or 3 deep in the crowds and finding loved ones was always a challenge. So I was expecting the same - I mean why wouldn't it be - watching half marathons are so inspiring if there was one in your local area you'd go out and watch; plus what else are you going to do when all the roads are closed! Swansea was the complete opposite - there was literally no one- I mean no one apart from the race makes and a handful of people every mile or so. And as great as it was to have those race makers there, I needed more people. When runners say the crowds carry you for the last couple of miles we mean it!
It may have had a lack of supporters because it is only the 2nd year that the Swansea Half has been held, however it could have done with more publicity as friends I know who live in Swansea didn't even know it was being held on Sunday!
There also appeared to be a lack of atmosphere - it was very much a runners run, rather than a run that has a lot of charity runners and us slow ones at the back. There was no charity village at the start/finish and I only saw a handful of people in fancy dress whereas I saw hundreds of running club vests etc. Which is absolutely fine if that is the race you want to hold, but I think it should be made clear to us charity runners that it is more of a competitive run.
I got to Swansea at around 8.00 and parked easily - a big bonus that all council car parks are free on a Sunday and with 4 in walking distance of the start line there was plenty of choice. We got to the starting area and I went for my usual wee straight away as I hate stopping on the course for a wee. I was disappointed that even at 8.10 there was no loo roll in the portaloo's - I mean how hard is it to supply enough loo roll!? Jon and I then wandered around for a bit to visit the charity tents - of which there was 2! The race was due to start at 9.15 and nerves were starting to set in - which meant one thing - I needed to wee again!! However the massive lack of portaloo's meant the queues were horrendous, so we dived into McDonalds in the hope we could use the toilets in there - of which everyone else had the same idea. Although the queues weren't quite as long I still queued for 40 minutes( I may or may not have contemplated using the mens). Although I missed the first 2 pen calls I wasn't overly concerned as I was the last starting pen so had a little bit of time to play with. But the organisers severely underestimated the amount of portaloo's needed for 5000 runners, hopefully they will take this on board and put some more in next year, but a massive thanks to McDonalds for allowing everyone to use the loo's in there!
The race started well, it was hot but not unbearable. The first 3 miles went by quite quickly; I was running just behind the 2:30 pacer and was feeling strong. It was a very flat course which is always a bonus, I knew once I had got to the half way point and turned back that I could do it. Around mile 5 it suddenly hit me that I was running a half and that I had got this far and I could finish - I just needed to bottle that feeling for when I hit the inevitable wall!
Turning round at mumbles to come back up to the city was tough - I saw the tall tower in Swansea that is a mile from the finish line and muttered "F*cking h*ll that's a long way"...didn't realise with my headphones in quite how loud I had said this as the lady next to me patted me on the back and said "it's not too far love we can do it" which is what I love about running, everyone supports each other.
The 2nd leg of the race was a strange one - it was on the footpath along the sea front, which was great views but strange to run on as it wasn't cordoned off for the race so there was people walking on it in your way! Now I know the organisers have had some issues with the council and the roads being closed and reopened by a certain time - but surely holding a half marathon in the city everyone should embrace it even if it does mean the roads are closed for a few hours. If London can deal with road closures for a day I am sure Swansea can!!
My wall came, as I knew it would around mile 7.5, I honestly wanted to cry. So I looked at my phone, text a few people (pretty proud of my ability to run and text if I do say so myself) looked at some tweets I had received and knew that everyone was backing me so I needed to back myself. As Jon said to me "your body has done this twice over, dig deep" so I did. I had 1.5 miles until I knew Jon was at mile 9. I could get there then it was all mind games until the finish - Water stations, double figures, Rhian at mile 12, gel taking, the finish; it's amazing the things you do to count down the miles.
I must shout out to the guy at mile 8ish who heard me ask when the next water station was to be told it was another mile and he gave me some of his water; another example of the kindness that us runners show towards others.
Mile 9 came around and I could see in the distance Jon stood at the side. It wasn't hard he was the only person stood there apart from a race maker on the other side of the path! He gave me a hug, asked how I was and jogged with me a little bit. I waved by to him as I got onto the sandy path and said I would see him at the finish line.
It was now the count down to double figures and then I was on the home straight. I was looking like I would finish around 2:45. Then my ipod died; but that's OK I would just stream the radio on my phone - but that wasn't playing ball so I sacked off the headphones and decided to soak up these last 3 miles. Then I had the most awful pain I have ever experienced in my life. I honestly thought I was paralysed - turns out I just had cramp in my foot. I had stopped at the side of the road and tears streamed down my face, I didn't know what was happening nor what I needed to do. I waved down to the race maker who was about 300 meters away and he came running over. Got me to sit down and got my shoe off. Jon then saw me and came over; literally threw an energy gel down my mouth along with the water whilst the race maker made me stretch my foot. I stopped crying, realised I wasn't going to be paralysed and that it was just cramp and that I had another 2.5 miles to go. With my trainers back on, water in hand and a kiss from Jon I was off.
Mile 11 came and went - the next milestone was mile 12 where I knew Rhian was and then it was the home straight. Rhian saw me coming from about 500 feet away from where she was. Despite her dodgy knees she came running down to me grabbed my hand and ran the next half a mile with me; whilst the police sang happy birthday to me. I wanted to die with embarrassment but that would have used too much energy. It was just the boost I needed to get through the last mile. I turned back up Wind Street where Jon was there with words of encouragement that the finish was just around the corner - it was actually 3 corners but I'll let him off!
I finished bang on 3 hours, not a personal best but I never wanted it to be. Yesterday's half was about overcoming the challenges I have faced mentally over the last year and I did it. I couldn't walk for a few hours but a massive burger and bottle of champagne soon sorted that out!
There were definitely some positives of this race, but more so negatives and that means Swansea Half won't be on my to do list again any time soon. If you are thinking of running it next year, here is my round up of positives & negatives
- The route - "from the city to the sea" is so true and it is a great route
- The car parking around Swansea on the day
- Having your name printed on the bib - it encourages people to shout your name & that gives us runners a boost
- Having the timing chip in the bib rather than a chip for your shoes
- The race makers were second to none and were a great support
- Toilets - has to be top of the list for me; it's not hard to supply enough toilets & loo roll!
- Water bottles - have sports tops not screw tops; do you know how hard it is to unscrew a bottle, drink out of it & do it back up whilst running? Hard!
- Supporters - every race needs them and you need to get the cities buy in if Swansea Half wants to be one of the best in Wales
- Foil blankets - I didn't receive one at the end & the do make a difference.
- Photos - make the search ability on photo's a bit more "in your face" as I had trawled through photos for an hour before I came across the search function.
Overall it was a great way to spend the morning of my 24th birthday as nothing can take away that sense of achievement. Heres to the next one in 13 weeks!