The Main Event

RW’S Adrian Monti finds the Swansea Half Marathon is re­ally a race of two halves

Runner's World (UK) - - IN THIS ISSUE -

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 swansea­half­

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