on... the Return of the Magnificent Severn... Bridge... Half Marathon (or how not to prepare for a race)

It's safe to say that whilst this was a brilliant race, I didn't have a brilliant race myself. In order to try to learn from my mistakes (and lay it open for others to learn, criticise, pick holes or feel better about their own experiences), I've jotted down a few of my errors.

1. Going "full circle" on your taper

A  couple of years ago, I'd done my taper as pretty much resting through the last week or two before a Half Marathon. Although that might have helped a little for the first two years, where really, I needed to have my knees fixed instead of running, this resulted in frustration and over-stiff legs. I have tried the "run as often, but with less intensity", and that worked.

This time, I tried the "oh sod it, I should have run 10 miles on Sunday but I was working and it was sooo wet, so I'll run Monday night instead". Combine this with "10 miles - really? I don't trust you Garmin, lets do a bit more, making it actually 13 miles" and you're talking a bit of fatigue to start the week off.

Through the week, I managed a 1 mile recovery run on Tuesday night (amazing how the best thing to help with sore legs is... err... running a bit more, followed by a bit of stretching), then a mixed up three miler on Thursday night to incorporate just a little speed to remind myself how it feels.

A bit of stretching on the other nights, the only other engagement during the week - the Lliswerry Olympics!

2. Engaging in activities right up to the line and over exerting yourself

Woke up on Saturday morning, and really didn't feel too good - just not right. Thought about the afternoon's fun, and didn't want to let my Team down by not turning up. In the end, I managed to let my team (Team G) down by turning up :)

Some blatent "heightism" saw me competing in the long jump - something that I'd not attempted since school. I had a bit of practice, and finally got the hang of not just taking one long stride at the end, but to no avail. The youngest of the competitors showed us how to do it - you could see the gulps as the rest of us saw the legs flying up and apart, thinking "good gosh, that would do me in". My only hope rested with the adjudicator, Paul, also on Team G - he spotted potential in Buffy, and put things straight by disallowing her jumps, but it was not enough.

Anyway, I tried the "walking race" too (or "race" as Howard liked to call it). I volunteered for this as people generally moan that I walk too quickly, but I quickly realised that there was more to the technique than clenching and taking long strides. The clenching was non-optional as the nerves and my lunch were threatening to become more vocal, the long strides started to worry me after a bit as the underside of my left knee started hurting - I should have gone for higher cadence instead.

Just to top things off, the 400m. Just the thing you want at 18:30 the night before a race - I took the baton and took off like a rocket, watching the shadow of my worthy opponent get closer and move on past as I quickly faded. The hero of that particular event was Owen, clearly showing us how it's done by running twice (as did Lloyd in Team C).

Sadly, I had to leave it there to get home. I was unable to sample the delightful "Carlsburgers", probably the best burger in the world, according to Hwyel this morning.

A tremendous event, loved every bit of it, but not the best preparation for the next day's proceedings.

3. Ignoring potential injury

I went home to cook tea, settle down and practice abstinance for the night (not even alcohol) in the hope of being good for in the morning. My left knee was hurting - for you seasoned runners to gauge, it was just at that point of having to do something (like rub lavender oil on it), and worry, but keeping quiet enough about it not to worry my "better half". Hopefully it'll be OK in the morning.

4. Not giving yourself enough time to get to the race

Sunday morning, and I was up bright and despondant again. Got out of the house about 10 minutes late, and sat in the "siege of Bassaleg" (traffic until Spring 2016 folks) for another 10 minutes before hitting the motorway.

Almost off the Motorway at Chepstow and it was like going to Thorpe Park - traffic suddenly stops, cars fly down the outside lane and jump in, and everyone's stress level goes up. I didn't remember it being anything like this last year, but hey - they closed the road... for us. Even coming off at the junction, it was queue all the way into the warehouse shunting yard - luckilly, I found a loo directly in front of the car, so that was good.

I made my way to the start to be told (thankfully) that it's been postponed to 09:15 - lovely, just enough time to get my number and pay a quick visit. Nice touch when the kind lady handing out the numbers didn't need my name - she just handed it over. Forget all the nonsense about queues for the loos - there's none once all of the runners have gone to start the race. Lovely sign on the back of the door, along the lines of "be quick, there's someone outside listening". Clean too, unlike the loo at the Rugby club that I found last year that could only be described as being like a "Walls Vienetta".

On the subject of toilets (as it featured quite heavily in the Race pack), I was rather impressed to see a tactic taken by a mate (you can call him "Al"). Now Al had been challenged with doing a negative split - i.e. running the second half of the race quicker than the first. Al succeeded in this, but running fairly evenly the whole race, having stoppied for a pee after just a mile. Not recommended, but he achieved his goal!

Climbed my way onto the bridge, with memories of last year - I arrived with two children in tow who were going to help volunteer. Unfortunately, no-one wanted or needed them in the end, so I had to make the tough decision to abandon them at the side of the Motorway while I ran to the start with my Garmin complaining "locating satellites".

5. Take the start time of the race seriously, even if it's Chip timed

This time, I heard the race start well in advance of getting the line. I had teamed up with Hwyel and Tomas and we casually strolled up before getting a team photo "The Lliswerry Three" and setting off on our merry way. We weren't last - there was at least 50 people behind us.

6. Pacing - Don't go off too quick, and be careful how you make up time

With hindsight, I overcooked the first few miles, a bit more weaving than last year and started to feel it in the undulations. By the time that I got to "that Hill", which I'd been rubbishing and telling people not to worry about, I had to stop and have a little breather before even starting on it. A bit of walking, a bit of running, and I was over the top - my Garmin was telling me how far off-pace that I was, so I decided to set that right by belting it for a few miles. Nearly back on track, and in front of the 1:45 pacer by now, I started to feel a little dizzy. The rest of the race was done on run-walk(apologise)-run-walk as I decided that I wasn't going to beat my time from last year, and I'd have to settle for going back two years. If there'd been a water station, I would have had some water.

7. Hydration and Fuelling

I ignored the water stations, just treating as the trip-hazards that they are. I should have taken on some water (I refer you to Cardiff Half 2013, when funnily enough I had similar problems). I took a single Isogel, which has water as well as sugar, but this was clearly not enough. I had eaten properly in the morning, but kept my fluid intake low due to an inordinately small bladder.

The final mile or so felt like forever, especially knowing the "ending ramp" (from last year). I was just so happy to get over the line - my worst race in ages. My "gun to chip" difference was a whopping six minutes - my best yet (though I wont be trying to repeat that one), so my overall time wasn't too bad, but I was disappointed.

As ever, I went over this in my mind and come up with the following:

  • Learn the lessons from (almost) all of the above mistakes
  • No regrets for being part of "Team Ovey" and joining in the Lliswerry birthday celebrations
  • I am no longer going to attempt the Snowdon Marathon in October
  • I will offer to pace my brother round in his Half Marathon later in September before a comeback at the Cardiff Half

After the medal ceremony, I was delighted to get the opportunity to meet Steve Way (male winner, hero of mine, mentioned a lot on Marathon Talk - link below), where we had a brief post-race conversation on a topic that I can clearly say he has never had before. I wish that I'd thought and got a picture that also included the female winner - our very own amazing Emma Wookey. I must say, Emma's performance, together with Nick's tremendous pacing makes us ever prouder to be Lliswerry Runners!

So nice to see so many Lliswerry Runners out there too - always nice to say hello. I am absolutely rubbish at recognising people though - it's easier if they're all dressed the same, especially if their name is on their top. Cue a moment on the race - "Good job Nigel", (me) "thanks", "It's Karl", me (silence), "from work", me (silence), "from work", "Hi Karl, sorry!".

Great race, well organised with a good course, nice T-shirt and medal (last year's one broke a bit). Brilliant ethos too - by runners for runners. OK, a few parking issues, but I'll be back. At the end, there was talk of next year's race, with the possibility of adding a Marathon option, taking in both bridges. I am interested.

Thanks Rogue Runs, thanks Lliswerry.