Simon Hearn in the Swansea Half Marathon

Simon Hearn had unfinished business with the Swansea Half Marathon from a previous visit

Returning to scene of a race you’ve previously is sometimes like visiting an old friend. You haven’t seen them ages, but you still remember them well. That was certainly the case for Simon Hearn when he made the journey to Wales for the Swansea Half Marathon.

It was the very same race that he first attempted a sub 1:30 half marathon back in 2015. A slight incline near then end scuppered his plan that day and he ended up going over the line in 1:30:30, missing out by half a minute.

He did go on to accomplish that feat the following year in the Chester Half Marathon but he hadn’t forgotten about his experience in Swansea. Deciding that now was time to bury those demons, he signed up for the 2023 edition.

Of course, he’s progressed a lot since then and his aims are slightly different these days. He’s now completing his half marathons in around 1 hour 26 minutes and set a PB of 1:25:34 at Reading three months ago. This time, he was hoping to rival that sort of time and perhaps even eclipse it.

Whilst at the event he bumped into fellow Bournemouth AC stalwart Sanjai Sharma. Being a member of the club since 2015, Sanjai has seen many changes and evolutions over that time and he’s competed in many half marathons, and many marathons as well for that matter. This was his first attempt at the Swansea Half though.

It wasn’t a planned race with a dedicated block of training behind it for Sanjai though. For him, it was a late entry which he decided on because he was meeting a couple of friends in the area. The weather was forecast to be warm, which isn’t usually to Sanjai’s liking but he went for it anyway. Like Simon back in 2015, Sanjai was targeting a sub 1:30 and on the day, decided he would attempt to stick with the sub 1:30 pacers.

Having been very busy with work, Sanjai hadn’t been able to do as much running as he would like recently but he had done the first couple of races in the Upton Summer Series. He is probably just about the fastest in the Male 60 to 64 category as well.

The route for the Swansea Half Marathon begins at the Copr Bay bridge, just in front of Swansea Arena and heads out towards Singleton campus. It then loops back towards Brangwyn Hall before passing through the city centre. Taking in Swansea Castle and Swansea Museum, it’s a real whistle-stop tour of the area, going off towards the mumbles after that where the pier and the lighthouse come into view.

There is then a chance for the runners to take in the sights at Swansea Bay before hitting the road at Brynmill Lane and heading to the finish at Swansea Arena.

Simon usually does one or two races in the build up to a half marathon target race and this time he’d gone for the RunThrough Hampton Court Palace 10k. It was a flat route bit part of it was on the tow path adjacent to the River Thames so it wasn’t as easy as running on tarmac the whole way. He completed the course in a time of 40:17 which put him first in his age group and 26th overall out of 1,271 finishers.

Simon had his race strategy sorted and he was planning to just stick to his designated pace. After the fourth mile though, he knew it was going to be tough and that he would struggle to maintain the pace he’d set for himself.

It was quite a warm day and it wasn’t really a PB course as there some slight undulations and they seemed to sap his energy somewhat. He got his head down though and pushed on as best he could.

Sanjai Sharma with the 1:30 pace group in the Swansea Half Marathon

Sanjai Sharma (in the white cap) was running in a group with the 1:30 pacers

To begin with, there was a large group of runners going with the 1:30 pacers, including Sanjai, but the cluster got gradually whittled down as the race progressed. By mile 9, there were only about four runners left with the two pacers. Sanjai was one of them.

By mile 11 though, even Sanjai was unable to keep up and had to drop off. The heat and humidity was really taking its toll on him. It took all his willpower not to stop and to keep soldiering on to the finish.

As Simon got close to the finish, he had another runner just behind him and when they got onto the finishing straight, the guy behind went on the attack. There was no way Simon was going to let himself be outgunned at the end though. He always keeps something in the tank for a strong finish and also to hack people off when they try to outsprint him.

Simon Hearn finishing the Swansea Half Marathon

Simon wasn’t about to let the guy behind get the better of him

Going over the line in 1:26:41, Simon had finished 67th out of 2,966 and had also won his age category, finished first M55 out of 136. Although it wasn’t a PB on this occasion, it was still a terrific run from Simon and he had every reason to feel pleased with what he’d produced.

His prize for winning his age category was a free entry into next year’s race, which isn’t a bad prize when you consider that it costs £30 to enter. It was his third fastest ever half marathon time and he’d managed to lay the ghost of his previous attempt to rest as well, which was a bonus. His average pace for the run was 6:37 minutes per mile.

Simon Hearn after the Swansea Half Marathon

Simon completed the Swansea Half Marathon in 1:26:41

Making it round in a time of 1:30:54 in the end, Sanjai finished in 130th place and was 2nd out of 56 in the M60 division. Only Paul Llewellyn of Swansea Harriers could better that. He clocked a time of 1:29:16.

Given the conditions, it was a good performance from Sanjai and he was happy with it. If the weather had been cooler, there’s probably a good chance he would have been able to keep up with the sub 1:30 pacers as well. That will have to wait for another day now.

Sanjai’s average pace for the run was 6:56 minutes per mile. He enjoyed the course and said he would consider doing the event again.

Omar Ahmed winning the Swansea Half Marathon

Omar Ah,med comes in to win the Swansea Half Marathon and smash the course record

The race was won by Omar Ahmed of Birchfield Harriers in an astonishing new course record of 1:02:53. That was over three minutes ahead of his nearest challenger, Seyd taha Ghafari who got round in 1:06:16. Alexander Brampton of Highgate Harriers was 3rd in 1:06:57.

Lucy Reid finishing as first female in the Swansea Half Marathon

Lucy Reid finished as first female in 1:14:22

Lucy Reid of Tonbridge AC was first female and she rocketed round in 1:14:22 which put her 11th overall. Clara Evans of Pontypridd Roadents was second female, crossing the line in 1:16:01 which put her in 13th place.

There was another famous face from the Bournemouth AC ranks of days gone by at the Swansea Half Marathon. That was none other than ‘Disco’ Dave Long, who now represents Pontypridd Roadents.

He went out incredibly hard at about 5:06 pace for the first 5k. He ended up paying for it a bit as the race went on but he held it together well to finish in a time of 1:13:09 which put him 8th in the overall standings.

The start of the Swansea Half Marathon

You can see ‘Disco’ Dave Long in the white cap

It was a magnificent time from Disco and his average pace for the run came out at 5:34 minutes per mile.

It had only been about a year and eight months since Dave was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma which is a type of cancer that effects the immune system.

Refusing to let it get the better of him, Dave went through the treatments and chemotherapy and made a full recovery. It wasn’t long before he was back doing all the things he loves doing, including running.

He’s steadily worked his way back to full fitness and is now running at a level not too far off where he was before his illness. That takes tremendous courage and conviction.

Simon Hearn in action at the Swansea Half Marathon

Simon had set himself a tough benchmark to live up to in previous races

It could also serve as an inspiration to anyone in that position, who gets diagnosed with some form of cancer or knows someone who has. All is not lost.

If Disco can overcome it and can get back to running 1:13 half marathons, that proves it’s possible to get through it and get back your best again. Whatever field that may be in.

Simon has signed up for the Big Half in September, so that will be his next target race and who knows what he’ll achieve in that one. One thing you can certain of though is that he will throw himself into his training block and will work hard to get in the bet possible shape he can for it. He might even do a couple of league races in the process as well to keep fresh.