Well it’s over… for another year, at least.
There’s a great sense of satisfaction in running a half marathon. I understand non-runners might think we’re all completely bonkers (and there are times I tend to agree with them), but running events are one of the most supportive environments I’ve ever experienced (no office politics here). For the majority of non-professional athletes, the only person you’re really competing against is yourself; we’re always striving to improve our times, to find the distance easier, to manage that sprint finish. Fellow runners know that and will support you to the hilt to get that personal best, whether you’ve been running for years or it’s your first ever event.
Unlike many of my Lliswerry Running Club team-mates, I missed the inaugural Admiral City of Newport Half Marathon in 2013; Harri and I had hoped to be lining up for a half marathon in Madeira on the same day, but it was cancelled at the eleventh hour due to bad weather. As some rather displeased German athletes pointed out, they train in much worse conditions, but like most things in life, it’s all relative.
Madeira generally has wonderful weather. The previous day, we’d enjoyed glorious wall-to-wall sunshine, but while we sipped Coral lager outside a Camara de Lobos bar, a storm was brewing out in the Atlantic. It arrived overnight and we woke to torrential rain. Unfortunately, Funchal’s tiled mosaic pavements are not designed for wet conditions. Had the race gone ahead, it probably wouldn’t have been long before an athlete slipped and injured themselves; the organisers decided to cancel at the last minute.
The official reason for the cancellation was the high winds that were expected around 11am (the race was actually rescheduled for the following Sunday, by which time most of the 200 overseas athletes would undoubtedly have left the island, leaving just 200 local competitors.
When we returned to the UK, we tried in vain to get our entry fees refunded. The race organisers, Run Portugal and active.com (who received our payment) wriggled and squirmed and referred us to and from one another. In the end, after numerous emails, we did what they intended us to… we gave up.
Unusually the race tee-shirts were given out before race day so, fortunately, we got ours. Unfortunately, they were completely unwearable. Thick, shapeless and clearly chosen by someone who had never run in their life; we used ours as dusters.
Donning our fast-disintegrating red plastic Ryder Cup 2010 capes (freebies we’d hung onto, thinking they’d be useful one day), we had to laugh at the irony of the situation. We’d flown nearly 1,500 miles, leaving behind a bitterly cold Wales, and yet it was our race, on a tropical island off the coast of Africa, that was cancelled.
Back home, despite the icy climate, the inaugural Newport Half went ahead with just over a thousand runners, my eldest daughter included, braving the elements to complete the 13.1 mile route.
There were slightly more of us today… around 1200, I believe. And just as we lined up for the start at Rodney Parade the heavens opened. Fortunately, it didn’t rain solidly for the whole race… I might have considered throwing myself into the (very high) River Usk had that been the case… but it certainly wasn’t the weather you’d choose for a long run.
This year’s route was a slight variation on last year, presumably because the eastern riverside walk has now been extended to stretch all the way to the SDR Bridge. It meant we got the ‘extra’ stretch done at the beginning while our legs were still fresh and only had to run a short section on the east side on our return to Rodney Parade.
My race ‘plan’ wasn’t quite up to par this time around… I made the mistake of starting too fast and running out of steam at around 11 miles. That’s when you really appreciate the wonderful support from the friends, family and onlookers who selflessly lined up to support we runners and got several soakings as their reward.
There are murmurings (well it was in the race programme) that next year’s race may involve a new route (with presumably some road closures). While I fully understand why a charity (St David’s Foundation provides care and support for people who are terminally ill) might wish to avoid the huge cost of closing roads, I suspect organisers will be left with no option if the event is to grow bigger annually. The cycle path to Caerleon, while perfectly fine for current numbers), just isn’t wide enough for thousands of people to run past one another in opposite directions.
Race verdict? I defy anyone to run a half marathon in their home town with an amazing bunch of running mates alongside them and hundreds of well-wishers along the route not to have a good time. So the weather could have been better… but what we lost in sunshine, we gained in amazingly cheerful marshals, fantastic medals, proper ladies tee-shirts (for the ladies… the men got their own version), drawstring sacks and great goodie bags.
Newport might not be the most scenic of city centres, but you can be sure the people at St David’s Foundation know how to get their supporters out to put on a great event. And the Newport Half Marathon is just one of the many fund-raising events they organise each year.
In all the excitement, I forgot to press the start button on my Garmin as I passed over the official start line so I was delighted when the official (chip time) results were released and I found out I’d got a new personal best for the half marathon distance, knocking over four minutes off my best Cardiff time (2013).