A giant step forward: The evolution of the Cardiff Half Marathon
Having started in 2003, the Principality Cardiff Half Marathon celebrates its 20th anniversary today when 27,500 runners will descend on the Welsh capital.
From a race in the early days of 1500 people on the start-line, the event has now grown into the city’s most iconic date in the diary.
Two members of the Run 4 Wales team, who organise the event, have long been involved: Race Director Steve Brace and Event Manager Rachel Madge.
Rachel is Event Manager. Her job is to organise logistics – everything from liaising with stakeholders, working with emergency services, arranging medical and welfare provision, booking venues and road closures, organising race licences, supporting staff and volunteers and so much more. On the day, Rachel is based in the Event Control room, with radio in hand, dealing with any issues as they arise and keeping things running smoothly.
Meanwhile, Steve Brace – a former Olympic marathon runner himself – is Race Director. He plans and checks the course, is in charge of the start pens, start line, finish line, crowd management, health and safety and managing event officials. On the day, you’ll find him checking that barrier lines are just so, the lead bikes are in place, key volunteers are in situ and that everything is going to plan.
Rachel’s been involved since 2008 so has witnessed first-hand how the Cardiff Half has evolved over the years.
“I was working for Barnardo’s in 2008 who organised the Cardiff Half at the time. I had a similar sort of role but I was more junior. Jean Summerhayes, who is now 78, was the real mother of the event. She got it off the ground and made it happen and has been so instrumental in what the event has become today. She had a huge passion for the event and it was really infectious.”
Meanwhile, Steve was working as Head of Development at Welsh Athletics. He first got involved around 2011 when the event was growing into something much bigger.
In 2012, Run 4 Wales – the not-for-profit social enterprise and charitable trust specialising in mass participation events – was born, with Steve and Rachel both coming on board. And since then, the event has grown considerably.
“It has grown massively and people return year on year, whether that’s to run, cheer people on or to volunteer. This year, we’re on track to be back up to our pre-Covid levels of 20,000 finishers,” says Steve.
Over the years, the route has changed too, often negotiating around major development works in the city. But the same route has now been in place since 2012.
“So much time has been spent working on that route,” laughs Rachel. “It was really important that it took in as many of Cardiff’s major landmarks as possible so that we really showcase Wales and the capital city.”
And importantly, the route has also been refined so that once the last runner has passed, the city can start returning to business as usual as quickly as possible.
But Steve says the event simply would not be able to happen without the support of multiple stakeholders, businesses and residents.
“It’s a mammoth undertaking. It’s always such a feel-good event and it brings so many benefits to Cardiff and that’s because everyone pulls together – whether that’s Cardiff Council, St John Ambulance Cymru, South Wales Police, the Cardiff Bay Barrage. There are too many to mention – we work with everyone! They all share a passion for the event and this makes it much easier to resolve issues as they inevitably arise.
“We work really hard to communicate to businesses, residents and organisations about how it will affect them. We live here, so it’s really important we get it right!” says Steve.
The Cardiff Half – this year sponsored by Principality Building Society – is well known for its friendly atmosphere. On the whole, events like half marathons and marathons tend to get two supporters for every runner. Yet in Cardiff, that number increases to three or four in every runner’s support crew. It makes for a race day with a fantastic atmosphere and brings economic benefits to the city.
Over time too, the event has become a weekend festival of running. The Cardiff Half Junior takes place the day before with a Toddler Dash, fun run and competitive Future Challengers race.
“These are our Cardiff Halfers of the future – we want them to look back and remember where they started. It’s a date in people’s diaries where families get the kids having a go on the Saturday and then Mum, Dad, Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents – you name it – then turn out on the Sunday,” says Rachel.
With live music, entertainment and cheering stations along the route, no stone is left unturned in making the event an unrivalled experience.
“Our runners and our volunteers – otherwise known as the Extra Milers – are very loyal. They keep coming back every year. That doesn’t always happen with major events but it happens with the Cardiff Half,” says Steve.
And Rachel adds, “Volunteers have been key since the early days when we roped in friends and family to help drive lead cars and water station lorries. We need more volunteers now than ever of course.”
Of course, sponsorship is crucial and this year Principality Building Society has come on board as title sponsor.
“We were really excited when Principality came on board. They are a Welsh firm through and through and they understand the importance of the event to not only Cardiff but to the whole of Wales. Already, they are bringing so much to the party – they’ve launched an amazing house deposit giveaway as part of the build-up celebrations to the Cardiff Half and they are teaming up with Pride Cymru to create a Rainbow Roundabout which will have loads of entertainment. That’s something really new for 2023,” says Rachel.
“We keep moving, we keep evolving,” says Steve. “And we never do things by halves.”
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