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The Journey to Merthyr (Almost) Half Marathon

There had been a few attempts to join 10 miler or a half marathon distance race in the last few years. The last time I trained for such a distance was for the inaugural Wales Trail Half and Full Marathon at Coed-y-Brenin in 2012. It was also my first ever half marathon after having just started running in 2010. It was definitely a race in which my attempt was abysmal and forgettable but I can never forget the picturesque route and I vowed that I will return at some point to do better.

Due to over-training on trails prior to Coed-y-Brenin, I picked up an injury. Due to over-compensation of some muscle group, my right iliacus muscle had ‘switched’ itself off and whenever I run uphill or increase my mileage, I can feel a building discomfort just beneath my right hip bone. I eventually had it looked at and slowly but surely I don’t hurt anymore.

Subsequent attempts to enter Forest of Dean Spring/Autumn Half and SOSPAN 10 were foiled because I sprained my ankle out running two weeks before the races and I did not want to risk aggravating the foot. Learning from Coed-y-Brenin, going into a race slightly injured or carrying an injury is not a good idea as it could mean months after of pain, discomfort and frustrations.

So the attempts to race stopped.  I stepped away from even parkrun because I just could not find the motivation or incentive to ‘perform’. I still ran as I do, less frequent during the week but gave up training for any races until I felt better physically and mentally. My annual mileage dropped. Normal life took over – work, college, house hunting and moving to Merthyr etc meant training for any race became less of a priority.

The journey to the Merthyr (Almost) Half Marathon then began when I ran the Merthyr 10K with my sister when she came to visit. I have just moved to Merthyr and I thought it might be nice to enter a local race and to run with my sister Li who was the one who got me started on running.  That was back in August 2015. It was a lovely little race and we both enjoyed it.

Then it was about trying to find time to run that fit around 3.5 days of work, 1.5 day of college plus an hour train commute/journey to and from work and college during the week. This began with getting up at 5 am and get a 3 – 4 miles in before work or college. It was not sustainable. After a few weeks, that plan was ditched and I began running on my lunch break. I run with a few colleagues who are new to running and soon we got a small group going and I found someone who is at my pace and a bit faster. Soon we established a regular Tuesdays and Thursdays run, Tuesdays being a shorter and faster run of just 2.5 – 3 miles and Thursday is a 4 – 6 miles. The plan was to help my colleague train for her first 10k. It was wonderful to see my colleague do really well in her first 10K as we both ran the St David’s Day 10K in Bute Park.

On days when I have college, I sometimes leave the house early to beat the traffic jam and get a 3 mile run in before class which starts at 9:15 am. In doing so, I discovered a nice 3 mile route around Pencoed which is quite pretty!  Longer runs were then reserved for the weekends, either a Sat or a Sunday and consists of building up to at least 11 miles two weeks before the Merthyr (Almost) Half Marathon. The routes I would take is either run downwards along the Taff Trail to Aberfan and back home which is about a 11 mile loop if I ran all the way including an uphill section home or stop in town and walk up the hill. If I feel energetic and can mentally get myself psyched up for a bit more of a challenge it could be a run north on the Taff Trail to Pontsticill Reservoir which makes a 12 mile loop.

Did I think I was ready for the Merthyr (Almost) Half Marathon after some shape of training? I thought I could have done with another 2 weeks of longer runs to be better prepared but a few weeks of chesty cough and cold, knocked the plans off a little. However, I thought I know part of the half marathon route which is the stretch along the Taff Trail from Merthyr College to Aberfan as I ran it as part of the 10K and I ran it as part of my long weekend runs.  I also double checked online to see the route and a youtube video of the route in 2015, confirmed it. So I was optimistic and felt I should do fine.

Come race day, I was completely taken aback. The first half of the route was unexpected. It was along the Trevithick Trail which meanders through the hillside from Merthyr to Merthyr Vale before you drop down to the valley floor and come back along the Taff Trail from Aberfan. The climbs were not sharp nor steep but the route undulates continuously throughout 3.5 – 4 miles on tarmac trail and then you have a short 2 miles or so of forest trail before you drop down to a pretty stone bridge called Pontygwaith and then you have another 2 miles of undulations again. The route finally flattens out after mile 8 and the last 5 miles is almost a flat route to the finish. Just two little climbs, one as approach the leisure centre and another as you approach Merthyr College. See Figure 1 for route map and Figure 2 for elevation below. I had only realised this route is similar to the San Domenico 20 recently when I compared the routes!


Figure 1: Merthyr (Almost) Half Marathon Route


Figure 2: Merthyr (Almost) Half Marathon Route Elevation

The unexpected undulations for the first half, played havoc with my breathing and thus I battled with stitches until I got into some form of rhythm. However I did manage a pace that I had planned for about 6 miles then everything got a bit harder as the undulations tired my legs out. By mile 8 when it flattened out, my calves were so tired and began to lock. So it was a case of stopped, stretched, jogged and ran whenever I can and finally made it to the finish line at 2:25. I wasn’t too pleased when we had to do two loops of the carpark just in front of the finish line. Quite soul destroying! Even worse when you found out, having done that it was not 13.1 mile. It was just 12.94 on my Garmin!

What did I like about this race? I liked it for a various reasons. Firstly, it is an interesting and quite picturesque route and this appeals to me. Personally, I do not like running around concrete and city streets, if I can help it. However, the down side of this is that, picturesque route means it is more challenging! Secondly, it was inexpensive compared to other city half marathons and thirdly, there was only 443 runners compared to big city races where you have thousands.  There was also many people along the route who came out to cheer the runners on and some were even handing out jelly babies as we came past them.

My only criticism of this race is, the course should be better measured so that it is not short. I am not particularly concern that it is short but this will deter many club runners from entering what is otherwise a beautiful race. I understand from Phil that it was measured for 2015 but the route may have changed and he had not heard from the organisers since. It is such a shame. I also don’t think running two loops around the carpark before the finish line works. Perhaps much better, if they consider relocating the start/finish point to make up for the distance and a better finish.

Will I enter this race again? Yes I probably will as it is local to me and it will be good to see if I have improved in a year’s time. Now I know the route, I can use it as one of my long Sunday runs.

Ai-Lin Kee

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