I've visited the northern parts of Wales several times in the last 20 years, but haven't been along the south coast since 1991. I have running friends that weren't born last time I was there. It felt safe to assume that it’d have changed a bit in that time. When I saw that Swansea Half is a good race I decided it'd be a good one to enter, and would take a couple of days to look around too. Though as it got nearer to the time I cancelled my extra time off as I felt perhaps I'd got too much time there when I'd be further along the coast at Llanelli in September anyway.
On the Friday before the race I took a half day and drove to Swansea. It should normally be about 3hr40, but this time took five hours to get there. I then checked in, and relaxed for a while before going for some seaside chips. They always taste better at the seaside, and in Swansea this was no exception. What is it that does this? The salty sea air, or just the knowledge that they're supposed to taste better here? Whatever the case, it was a nice start to the weekend.
As a runner, it'd almost be shocking if I was to miss out on a bit of parkrun tourism when I was staying so close to Swansea Bay parkrun. I may have been sensible enough to not run it this time, but I did volunteer as tailwalker so I got to see the route that this coastal path parkrun takes. It's definitely one of the more scenic ones I've done, and it was a nice morning getting to try a different volunteer role for a change.
After parkrun was mostly relaxation, but also some time exploring the local area on foot. I could perhaps have done a better job of staying hydrated, but in the evening myself, Tony, and Carmen - all #visorclub members staying in the area, went for some Italian to carb up for the race day ahead. It'd have been nice to have had some pasta, but with everywhere full and requiring bookings, we went for pizza instead. A couple of us also bumped into more #visorclub members when passing a nearby Wetherspoons: Chris and Laura who had parkun elsewhere in the morning.
The entries for GU36 2024 opened at 06:00 on race day, so the first thing to do was to enter that, and then get ready for the race ahead with the usual breakfast. This was followed by a casual one mile walk to the race village where we met up with some #visorclub runners who would be pacing. It seemed the majority of the #visorclub here would be pacing, and the majority of pacers were #visorclub. In my case, I was just here to run, and hopefully enjoy a seaside race.
Once a couple of partial group photos had been taken, we headed over towards the start. There were three portaloos there so I decided to join the queue before the race start. Someone eventually came over and told the people queueing to use the ones in the event village instead as these were staff ones. After having queued there for so long, there was no longer time to go back there to queue again. Perhaps they should have put up some signage to say these were staff only. Milton Keynes had managed as much with their reserved ones. This might be something they want to consider for next year's race.
At the race start I was behind the 1hr35 pacer as I wasn’t too bothered about position really. It’d been humid when I left the AirBNB, and I think under the conditions it would be enough just to get around. I did however still think it’d be nice to get another sub-90 as it’s been a while so when the race started I settled into a pace that was a few seconds ahead of a 1:30 pace and gradually over the next couple of miles got closer to that pace group as a result.
It didn’t take long for the sun to come out to add to the humidity. It wasn’t the weather that was forecast - it was feeling hot already, and was only going to get hotter as the day went on. There wasn’t much shade, but I stuck to it when it was available. I felt with how warm it already was it'd get too hot for me before the race was over, but would still try for as long as I could.
I noticed the sign for mile 5 fairly early on and realised we’d be doing a loop that’d pass back around soon enough. I wondered if five miles was enough so that the runners at the very front wouldn't catch up with the back of the pack at this point. Trying to figure this out helped distract me from running for a while, and I felt sure they'd done the maths too and that it'd be okay. The winner would do it in somewhere between 4:00-5:00/mi pace, so they'd have up to 25 minutes for this bit to clear which seemed absolutely certain even for the ploggers that were trailing the group. Next, I recognised the location of the parkrun start at the beach cafe, and the route ran along the road that followed this path we’d used until we reached Swansea University. At that point there was a loop of the campus, presumably as they are the title sponsor, and then back out in the direction we’d come from.
I spotted Carmen and waved to her as I carried on running, and thought I could see Nat too. I felt tired though, not in my legs, but low on energy, and I wasn’t even 5K in yet. I really needed water and knew it would be coming up soon. When it appeared I grabbed a bottle, and took a small sip - not wanting to overdo it too quickly in case I was more dehydrated than I thought. I kept hold of the water though as I suspected I’d need the rest of it soon. This was already a big help in perceived energy levels.
It wasn’t long before I decided I needed to do something more to cool down, and I poured the remainder of the water over my head. Perhaps I should have drunk some more of it first as this didn’t take very long to dry off at all though. Before I’d even reached mile 4 I needed more water and realised the next water station wasn’t until around mile 6. I realised now the only way I was going to stay cool was to switch to a run/walk strategy and thinking about photographic opportunities around this area. I figured I could always take some photos after I was done.
When I got to mile 5 I was back in familiar territory, and around this time I remembered that I’d seen the mile 6 sign before the University, but I knew water was approximately every 5K so figured it must have been a little past that turn. I saw Stu, one of the pacers half-jogging back to the event village by himself, so it seemed something had gone wrong. He looked okay now, but hoped he was okay. I could understand if the heat had been too much though. I was really in need of more water now, not just to drink, but in the hope that pouring more on me might just start to cool me down so I could get moving properly.
It wasn’t until somewhere around mile 7 that I saw more water, took a gulp and poured the rest over my head immediately; knowing how drenched I would now be for however long it took for it to dry off. I was heading towards the Mumbles, and the 1hr35 pacer overtook me around mile 8. This wasn’t going well at all. One runner gave me a shove from behind whilst I was walking; he told me I could do this, and to keep running. It’s the second time a runner has done that to me, and both times this year. I’m not sure they realise how much of a jolt it can be for someone not moving anywhere near their speed. I’ll refer to him now as the runner in orange, as I did come across him a few more times yet - I could easily recognise him as his arms were mostly at his side, straight and unmoving with his palms facing behind him.
It made me think though, Tony wasn’t that far behind me, around five minutes behind pacing 1:40 and I’d said during pizza the night before that if he caught me up, then things would be going very badly for me. Now it seemed a possibility though.
As I got closer to the turnaround point in The Mumbles I could see runners on the other side of the grassy area, running along the coastal path. Eventually I reached that too, and it felt like I had a burst of speed as I started my journey back into town. I kept running for as long as I could, and then took another break. I saw one of the two 1:35 pacers had stopped on the grass and was taking a break. It seemed the heat had gotten to him too. Across the other side of the grass I saw Tony and realised I wasn’t that far ahead so got moving again.
There was someone with a hosepipe offering to spray people with water, and that was brilliant, but I still walked a lot. Eventually I got to what had been the turnaround point for parkrun and knew that I was getting close now. Shortly after I overtook the runner in orange again, and stayed not that far ahead of him for a while.
After a while I heard what sounded like someone falling over, turned around, and saw the runner in orange hitting the floor and his headphones going flying. I stopped and ran back to him to help him up, asking if he was okay as I grabbed his headphones and passed them back to him. He was angry, swearing at his own legs and put his headphones back on again. I asked if he needed any help, and he insisted I carry on running. Just moments after I got going again I saw him tear his headphones from his head, swear again, and then throw his headphones across the road in a fit of rage.
At the location where parkrun had started there was the final water station and I drank a sip of this and once again poured the rest over my head. Shortly after the race left the coastal path and joined the road and I soon saw the finish gantry ahead. I got running, and decided to pick up a little speed too.
I finished 280th out of 2,966 finishers with a time of 1:38:20. It was a slow race for me, but I was glad to have done it and finished and this scorcher of a day. With Guernsey Ultra 36 not being a UKA course, this meant this was my first M40 category race.
At the finish I had some water, an apple juice, and a nut bar. I ate the bar quickly, and then drank the apple juice as I walked around the marina to see what there was to photograph. When I made it back to the finish area I found an empty spot along the finish straight, and I stood there waitng. The first person I recognised that I saw finish was Phil, a pacer who I'd only seen a few weeks back at Milton Keynes. Next I saw Carmen and cheered her on, and when talking to her and others afterwards I'd heard how tough it'd been for the pacers as well. She'd wanted to pull out, but also hadn't wanted to let others down with her being the only 2hr30 pacer, and another similar timed one having pulled out. She did incredible in that heat to keep going like that.