The Main Event
RW’S Adrian Monti finds the Swansea Half Marathon is really a race of two halves
The Swansea Half Marathon
TO BE HONEST, I’m not a fan of most out-and-back courses. Running to a set marker before heading back the same way leaves my running mojo deep in sleep mode. I’ve run enough of them on dull streets, in uninspiring locations, to know that if it’s ‘meh’ on the way out, it’s going to be ‘double meh’ on the return.
So when I was asked to race and review the Swansea Half Marathon, my expectations dipped somewhat once I saw the course map. But at the same time I was intrigued to find out why this race has become so popular in such a short time. With a field of 6,000 (up from 2,000 when it began in 2014), it’s now second only in size to Cardiff in the Welsh half-marathon pecking order. I soon discovered the excellent reasons why.
We began in the hub of Swansea, close to its ancient castle ruins and the modern high street. On cue, moments before the off, the steady drizzle that threatened to dampen proceedings ceased and sunshine took over.
As a first-time visitor to Swansea, I was happy to circle and see the city before heading out along the main coast road. As well as noting the civic buildings, the university and the superb national swimming centre, the towering floodlights of St Helen’s Rugby and Cricket Ground caught my eye, at mile two. Being something of a sportingtrivia anorak, I knew this was where West Indian great Gary Sobers made history in 1968 when he smashed six sixes off a single over in a cricket match.
Most of the course was as flat as the wicket Sobers batted on that day. Only as we neared Mumbles, the pretty fishing village on the western fringes of Swansea Bay, was there the hint of a climb.
With the sea to the left and inviting cafes, pubs and shops to the right, this area is easy on the eye and the legs. No wonder it was a favourite haunt of one of Swansea’s favourite sons, the poet Dylan Thomas.
There was the promise of more stunning beaches beyond, where the coast curved away towards the Gower Peninsular. But as we reached the ice cream parlour on the prom, it was time to turn.
And this is where I was pleasantly surprised. I was running along a cycle path only a few feet from the natural sweep of sandy Swansea Bay. This smooth path cut through two miles of delightfully lush, green parkland space. Through the trees I could glimpse some of my fellow runners heading in the opposite direction before turning, but I still felt I was in a totally different race to the first half. Even though I was going back on myself, I had no sense that I was retracing my steps. Simply by swapping the road for the trees and street signs for the seashore, it felt like a new racing experience rather than a repeat journey.
My visual guide on the horizon was the Meridian Tower, the shiny, modern, 29-storey residential high-rise with a restaurant at its pinnacle. It’s the tallest building in Wales and so, unsurprisingly, it dominated the skyline.
With water stations manned by scores of well-drilled army cadets, enthusiastic crowds strung along the course and live music along the bay area, I could see why this race was such a winner. Little things impressed me, too; having runners’ names on their bib numbers meant we all received shout-outs along the way, while pacers at a selection of times ensured there was someone for runners of all levels to chase.
As we returned to the city, we snaked through the Maritime Quarter and then SA1, the rejuvenated waterfront area that was once the city’s docks. And after our trainers had echoed across the sail-shaped Millennium Bridge, which spans the River Tawe, there was only a mile to go to the finish. There were no festivals, hog roasts, beer tents or other add-ons currently popular at larger races, but there were plenty of volunteers going about their business with an air of unflappable efficiency, mingling with hundreds of runners who were happily donning lurid-pink finishers’ T-shirts and inspecting the contents of their generous goody bags.
I tried hard to find fault, simply to confirm my pre-event prejudice, but the only thing I could come up with was that my banana was too green. In truth, this race thoroughly deserves its reputation and in the years to come it will surely be luring even more runners across the Severn Bridge to join the plethora of Welsh club vests already among those in the know. The 2018 Swansea Half Marathon takes place on June 24. For more info, visit swanseahalfmarathon.co.uk