Cardiff Half Marathon 2019 – Review

The Cardiff Half Marathon is an iconic road race for elite athletes and recreational runners. On Sunday 6 October 2019, the Welsh capital was host to some amazing Kenyan performances but sadly a runner also died after completing the event. In this post, I’ll answer the question “What happened during the 2019 Cardiff Half Marathon?” and what lessons all runners can learn from this popular race.

What happened in the elite men’s race?

The elite men’s race was packed with quality athletes, many of whom were Kenyan. Some of the men will have trained together and know each other’s racing tactics. It was no surprise then that a sprint finish decided the eventual champion, 29-year-old Leonard Langat. 

Before even two miles had been run the lead pack contained ten runners, spread almost in single file. After four miles, there were five men at the front. By halfway, four remained. Huge gaps between athletes appeared quickly and remained.

At 10 miles the champion would be either Leonard Langat or Shadrack Kimining. They had dropped compatriots Lotiang and Kimutai with ease. This was despite Langat appearing to struggle for a few miles from the eighth mile. Kimining increased his arm drive but Langat stayed calm, sitting a few metres behind. 

They ran a 4:29 twelfth mile, but Langat refused to be dropped. Kimining appeared to kick several times in the last half mile. As they descended on to the final straight, Langat moved passed and took the inside bend. Both sprinted for the finish line, their arms flailing, their teeth gritted. Langat beat his compatriot by two seconds, and in the process established a new course record for the Cardiff Half Marathon.

Prior to the race, Wilson Chebet, the three time Amsterdam Marathon champion, Japhet Korir, the 2013 World Cross Country champion, and Shadrack Kimining, the 2016 Cardiff Half Marathon champion were the organisers’ favourites. Kimining was the standout man who lead for much of the race. The other two men had to settle for seventh and tenth place respectively. 

At times Kimining appeared to usher others forward to take the burden. But no one did. As a result, he couldn’t ease off the pace. In hindsight, Kimining had paced Langat perfectly. The signs were evident though. Kimining’s forward lean was more pronounced and his gaze slightly further down to the ground than his compatriot’s. Langat’s running style, in contrast, was characterised by an upright, relaxed posture. All the elite men ran hard, but it was the athlete with the most composure who produced the outstanding performance of the morning. 

What happened in the elite women’s race?

The elite women’s race was packed with quality athletes, seven of whom were from Kenya and two from Ethiopia. Once again, the champion was crowned after a sprint finish to the tape.

In contrast to the men’s race, a smaller pack of seven women lead the race alongside male club runners and a male pacemaker. By halfway the lead pack had become five. Just past the hour mark, there were only three main contenders. It was Kenya’s Lucy Cheruiyot who was content to stay at the front. 

With only half a mile left, Azmera Abreha kicked. It was now between her and Cheruiyot. But the Kenyan responded well, ensuring she remained ahead. The final sprint to the finish was intense and close. Cheruiyot won by a metre in the same time of 1:08:20 as the Ethiopian. Although exhausted post-race, lying on the ground, her exhilaration was clear to see.

Kenya’s Paskalia Kipkoech, the 2010 Berlin Half Marathon champion, and Ethiopia’s 20-year-old Birha Mihretu were the organisers’ favourites for the women’s race. But they had to settle for third and fifth respectively.

Despite Cheruyiot continually looking at her watch and glancing back at her competitors in the final miles, she remained composed. Her fluid, high arm drive never faltered and she used all her strength to continue Kenya’s dominance in the women’s race. 

Running lessons from the race

The 17th edition of the Cardiff Half Marathon demonstrated three important lessons for all runners: 1. you can leave your last surge late and it can still be effective against your opponents; 2. when conditions are perfect, you need to take advantage, and 3. always listen to your body – if it’s telling you you’re working well beyond your limit, consider slowing down.

Late surges can be effective

In both the men’s and women’s elite races, the eventual champions used late surges to great effect. Although Langat in the men’s race stayed behind the leader for much of the race, this strategy meant he was in the ideal place to surge when he knew there would be no response from his compatriots. Cheruiyot in the women’s race instead led from the front for almost half the race. This allowed her to control the pace so when her Ethiopian rival surged near the end, Cheruiyot  could respond best and finish what she had started from the 10 kilometre mark.

Perfect weather and course support fast times

Favourable weather conditions, the relatively flat course and huge support from spectators were ideal for fast racing. There were sunny intervals with a fresh breeze, with the temperature around 17°C. This was in contrast with the almost four days of rain prior to the race. 

The pressure was on to produce fast times and the elite athletes didn’t disappoint. The top four men all produced times faster than the previous course record, set in 2017 by third place, John Lotiang. Leonard Langat smashed the course record by 72 seconds. The 28-year-old Kennedy Kimutai on his half marathon debut finished in a respectable fourth place, in a time of 1:00:39. The standard has now been raised for future years, and cements the race as one of the best half marathons in Europe.

Heed your body’s natural warning system

The sad death post-race of the third runner in two years should be a reminder for all runners that you should never ignore excessive physical stress. Although the specific details may never be known, it’s crucial that pushing through extreme pain should be avoided at all costs. If the stress of running becomes too great, slow down, stop and even speak to the nearest medic if in doubt. 

Due to the growth of the event in recent years it has become a member of the Super Halfs Half Marathon Series. The event is a great fundraiser, generating millions of pounds for national and local charities. So it is understandable that people flock to the race and want to push themselves. But it’s important that the health and wellbeing of all runners is prioritised. Runners must therefore take responsibility for their effort levels. 

Conclusion

The 2019 Cardiff University Cardiff Half Marathon was filled with drama but also sadness. The close racing at the front meant it was difficult to predict the winners of the elite men and women’s races with less than half a mile to run. Although it was exciting how the elite field ran, the race is yet again known for the death of a participant. With around 27,500 runners entering, and over half of them women, it’s undoubtedly one of the best sights in Welsh athletics. However, Nicholas Beckley’s death is a stark reminder for all runners to never push yourself when you feel serious physical stress. The result can be devastating for you, your family members and the local community. No personal best is worth dying for; listen to your body and never ignore serious pain.

Read the 2018 review, a race which doubled up as the Commonwealth Half Marathon Championships.

3 Lessons from 2018 Commonwealth Half Marathon

The 15th year of the Cardiff Half Marathon acted as the inaugural Commonwealth Half Marathon Championships. The event was packed with talent and numbers, but there were three important pieces of advice demonstrated throughout the 13.1 miles.

#1 Execute an Individual Race Plan

In the men’s race the story was dominated by five Africans competing against the Australian Jack Rayner.

However, even from the early miles the four Ugandans and Kenyan struggled to settle. They frequently exchanged positions, veered across the road, and accelerated suddenly only to soon be rejoined by the lead pack.

They could have been forgiven due to nerves, but surprisingly this erratic behaviour continued throughout the race. Despite the Africans’ impressive mile splits their surges and glances over to one another were a constant distraction. As I watched the televised coverage I imagined the coach of the Ugandan athletes confused and annoyed; they appeared to run with a lack of composure and self-assurance.

I wonder whether the team title (which they won emphatically with their four runners finishing in the top six) was their priority because they had used up all their reserves, unable to respond to Rayner’s timely surge over the final section.

Rayner’s strategy of staying at the back of lead pack, concentrating on a smooth rhythm and not getting drawn into competitors’ tactics secured him the win.

#2 Stay Focused throughout the Race

In contrast to the men’s race, Juliet Chekwel lead almost from the start line, never looking back and pacing herself consistently. After each 5km she dropped only 3-4 seconds per mile on her overall average pace. She ran alongside top male club runners for long stretches, then later by herself.

Like Rayner though, the Ugandan focused on her own race, pumping her arms across the body in a powerful lifting motion, which reminded me of a boxer practising uppercuts. Her head was still and relaxed, with her mouth slightly open, taking advantage of her lofty stride.

As Tanni Grey-Thompson, the decorated former paralympian, observed during the race Chekwel was “running on feel”. This performance was all the more astonishing because it was the longer distance race she had completed. Her running future appears bright.

#3 Running is a Demanding Sport

Sadly, soon after the event finished news broke that two runners had passed away. Two men under the age of 35 lost their lives, with cardiac arrest the causes.

Although these men had varying training histories, it remains true that regardless of athletic experience death is always a possibility during exercise.

Running is highly impactful and requires the heart to work efficiently and in synergism with every other system in the body.

This tragic news should remind us to never take the challenge of an endurance event for granted and that, if and when we feel pain in our chests during running we should seek medical assistance immediately.