on... The Cardiff Half

I have a few goals for 2013. One of them is unique to me - to run the Cardiff Half without requiring a knee operation afterwards. The previous two years have seen me experiencing issues, not necessarily caused by running, but I've followed the same pattern of injury during August, Cardiff Half in October, surgery in December. Not recommended.

The big day arrived, and having dropped Son#2 at the Lliswerry Motivation Station, me and Son#1 parked up and wandered off to the line.

We were early, but pre-race nerves had set in. Combined with me having a bladder the size of a pea, we had to go. James joined the first queue for the porta-loos but I told him to keep on walking. We passed the spectacle of more people peeing in the streets than on MTVs "The Valleys", and went to City Hall. A little known benefit of running for a Charity is that was well as raising money for a great cause, boy do they have a good set of toilets. Real ones, porcelain, paper and everything. Ones where you don't need to do the "squat of fear" over goodness knows what, where the flush works and you don't need to come out saying "sorry, it was like that when I went in". Hand washing facilities too - with soap and dryers - what a luxury, sets you up nicely for the day.

Downside of our loo visit was that I lost James. Now, I realise that's not unusual, so I got my priorities right - get back to the Museum steps in time for the Lliswerry photoshoot.  After trialling it at the Great North Run a few weeks earlier, it made sense to wear an old top to keep warm before the race, to ditch it at the start. Unfortunately, I didn't take it off for the photo, just undid the shirt to show off the Barnardos top - not a good look, even for me!

This year, it was a welcome relief to be placed in the right colour zone - Orange. My estimated time was right on the edge of the time band, so it was so nice to filter in at the back of the pen and not need to spend the first two miles moving through the crowd. Some familiar faces there too - Lou, Pete and James to name a few. Another chap introduced himself as a Newport parkrun regular on his first Half, with the same sort of time goal as myself (he shot off, and I haven't seen him since. Hope he's OK!).

As we started running, a few people said "Hi" as they went past - that was nice, though as I've mentioned before, I am rubbish at recognising people or remembering names. The most memorable one was when a chap ran past and said "You gave me a Jelly Baby on the Newport Half, thank you".

The first few miles were great - slightly ahead of my expected pace, but not too much. The incline up Penarth Road felt straightforward. The water stations came and went - I treated these as normal, move to the middle of the road and watch out for discarded bottles - then take a gel. This, I believe, was part of my downfall.

Going over the barrage, I slowly closed the gap on the 1:45 pacer and vowed to keep him there. Going through Cardiff Bay, I was offered Gels from SiS, but kept to my plan, stick with what you know - I had a couple more High 5 gels and they were going to help me through.

Ten miles came and went, and I started to feel it. I was struggling, getting more and more tired by the minute. The 1:45 pacer came back, and went past. I kept going, but it was getting warm, and I was getting tired. At this point, I'd had three gels, a mouthful of Lucozade and zero water. I knew what I'd done wrong, you know what I'd done wrong, but it was a bit late then.

I struggled to keep running to the Lliswerry Motivation Station where I was handed a bottle of water by Matthew, one of my boys. This was the first water that I'd taken on, clearly starting to get pretty de-hydrated by then. I felt completely exhausted, so I stopped to drink. Stopping on a race is rubbish - it is just so hard to get started again, and so easily to stop once more.

That's how the rest of the race went - funny how less than a parkrun becomes an seemingly endless road. I had a few helpers along the way - I saw three people from work during my troubled stretch - one turned as he ran and offered a hand, geniunely wanting me to join him and get back into the race. I only found out that he was running on the previous Friday, and I so wanted to beat him. The fact that I couldn't move was worrying.

Started running again, just to stop once more on that little hill after the Roath Park loop - I saw someone else from work. Someone that has given me great joy recently with how much weight he has lost - telling me how he's going to start parkrun at Cardiff next month, and really looking forward to being able to run. I didn't exactly act as a poster boy for running - Tim shouted words of encouragement and all I could offer in return was a look that said that I was severely unimpressed with him. When discussing later, I corrected this - I was unimpressed with myself. I really should stop doing that - beating yourself up is neither helpful or nice. That said, the best way to not end up beating yourself up is not to stop!

I tried running again, then slowed, only to feel something on my bum. Another colleague had chosen to bump it with his fist. Now, I had read about this habit in the weekly fundraiser e-mail that he puts out - he's running the New York Marathon soon. I'm sorry, but this annoyed me a bit - tapping is acceptable behaviour during a relay, but not on a race, and (for me) not from a bloke! My reaction to this violation gave me hope - I was not too far from normal (well, my normal) and I started to pick up - running more than walking. Wasn't long before I turned the corner and saw the Finish. What an inspiration - crowd cheering, runners speeding up, but more than anything - the Finish line! My brain is so easily wired to say "that's all you've got to do now, get past that line". No matter how you're feeling, push the last bit and you're done... so I pushed. I sprinted the final 200 metres, raised my arms and celebrated - I was done. Time didn't look too bad, and it was done.

I slowed down, and then it started. I felt fuzzy. I felt hot, I felt my whole body pumping. No pains, just a feeling that I was about to pass out. I slowly moved to the side of the road - lets sit down before I fall down. One thing that struck me afterwards. There were a number of spectators the other side of the barrier behind me. Not one of them asked if I was OK. While I didn't need medical assistance, I would have appreciated a quick "you OK mate?". Thinking on it, maybe I didn't look too bad then. After a few minutes, I was good - fine to stand up, and I wandered off towards the Goody Bags. Caught up with a few friends, took a few photos and tried to find my family. Top tip - phone networks are rammed just after an event like this - should have agreed a meeting point, but errr... I ran for Barnardos, and they had free food for their people. Should have guessed that this is where James and my parents would be.

My breathing felt a bit funny - done a bit of testing and probably just filling 60% of my lungs. Then I made the worst mistake - I told my parents of my little dizzy spell. Love them as I do, they do worry about my running.

Four weeks later... my breathing returns to normal. I am convinced that it was down to a low-level cold taking hold just before the run. Oh, that and the heat and the lack of water.

There you go - a race report with no time, just my experiences and thoughts. I'm aiming to not repeat my mistakes, and if I can help someone else to not make them too then I'm happy.

Nigel.