She Runs: The Year – a 2020 Look-back

by Coleen Manuel

As this year draws to a close the general feeling is that people can’t wait to see the back of 2020, and aren’t seeing it as a particular source of good memories.  Like everyone else, the committee and Run Buddies of She Runs: Cardiff are looking ahead to a hopefully better year in 2021, and with this in mind, is it right to look back?  The answer can only be yes, as to not to look back at our memories and achievements this year would be doing a disservice to the community we have built and the experiences we have shared as a group.

In January 2020 we were excited about the year to come, anticipating we would have new members looking to make a new year commitment to fitness, and we were eager to provide them with a welcoming atmosphere and promote our ethos of getting out there, getting time for yourself and not worrying about speed or distance.  Party at the back was ready and waiting for our existing members and new recruits if they needed it, and we were also aware of women wanting a greater challenge so we launched our new 10K social run route to an enthusiastic response.  

On 5th January 2020 we had 55 runners turn up on a cold Sunday morning, and Coffee #1 no doubt stocked up on extra teacakes (and Marmite!) after the popular post-run gathering.  In total we had 344 runners over the January social runs, and also over 40 women signed up for the Buff 10K race in the Afan Valley.  This was the first trail race for many and the day felt like everything SR:C is all about; tips and encouragement shared prior to the run, lift-shares organised, a photo meeting point beforehand and cake all round afterwards.  We were hoping this would be the first of many race meet-ups for the year.

The February social runs continued to be busy as word about our relaxed atmosphere and pledge to leave no one behind, or without someone to chat to along the way, spread.  However, the elements were against us after managing to continue through icy weather (your dedicated run buddies even meeting at 6am one morning to check for ice before confirming the Sunday run would go ahead!), when Storm Ciara, followed by Storm Dennis hit, and we had to cancel our group runs for the first time.  Meanwhile in the news, talk of a certain virus was growing but our minds were firmly on our cores, when a plank challenge introduced by Run Buddy Tanya got everyone involved from their own homes, where partners, flat-mates and family members were no doubt bemused; ‘but why do you have to do another plank?’ ‘Because my friends on the internet are doing it!’  

Despite the weather conditions being against us, we did have an exciting development in February – the launch of our very own run club kit! Orders flew out and Cardiff started to turn purple.  We loved the reception from our members, many saying they felt like part of a very special team.

So many of our members embraced the plank monthly challenge that it lit the spark for more.  In March we took on squats, mountain climbers and crunches, in some cases all three, and suddenly we were missing the plank challenge – at least that one had rest days! 

In early March we were still able to meet as a group, and this gave us the chance for a triumphant volunteer takeover at Tremorfa parkrun just in time for International Women’s Day. We had enough volunteers to cover every parkrun role, as well as some from the group running and completing their very first parkrun, and the atmosphere was fantastic with runners heard to ask if the SR:C ladies could come back every week.

But then of course, lockdown.  At which point we could have seen the engagement we’d worked so hard to create fizzle away. After all, who ever heard of a running club where you can’t run together?  I can say with pride that we not only kept going, we built on a strong foundation to become something incredibly special and something credited with helping many of our members (this author included) cope with lockdown and all the other uncertainties of life this year.  We started mental health check-ins where women felt they had a safe place to discuss their fears and frustrations, and in April we launched a self-care challenge to remind everyone of the importance of looking after themselves more than ever as work and family pressures mounted.  We still wanted to go outside though, with daily exercise time being incredibly valued, so the virtual SR:C baton was created and enjoyed trips not only around all corners of Cardiff but even crossing the border to England meaning members far and wide could join in.

Our Run Buddy Cathryn also launched book club via Zoom meetings in April.  This has gone from strength to strength with interesting discussions and motivational appearances from many of the authors, including Lowri Morgan and Lisa Jackson, who were incredibly open and happy to answer our questions.  We’d encourage anyone who has considered attending a book club to please give it a try next year, you don’t have to speak if you don’t want to, but the general consensus is that everyone comes away feeling inspired and connected in a new way.

With protecting mental health on everyone’s mind, it seemed apt to use Miles for Mind as our May challenge.  We pledged 2950 team miles, but actually ran over 3,600 and it was amazing to see our members’ confidence grow as they signed up for individual distance targets, either to challenge themselves, or just to keep themselves active.  Run Buddy Dani treated us to the creation of the She Runs Spotify playlist this month, and there’s not many of us left who haven’t had the Trolls song as an earworm as a result! 

It was clear by this point that the SR:C community loved a challenge, and this was proven further by the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response to our first bingo board launch in June.  As ever with an SR:C challenge, it goes beyond what is on the official board, when the craze for what will always be known as the Rosie jump appeared time and time again in our post-run pictures.

It was also in June that we well and truly turned Cardiff purple, the day of our inaugural relay, where 116 women ran in half hour stints between 7am and 9.30pm.  WhatsApp buzzed with chat across the 4 teams and donations for our chosen charity, Cardiff Women’s Aid, came pouring in.  For many, the relay was the first type of race experienced they had ever taken part in, and the constant refrain since June was ‘can we do another one please?’ before our super co-ordinator Myfanwy treated us to a Christmas version.

In July we launched the official SR:C website, and turned our attention to another distance challenge, again as a team where we pledged to help the larger Team West run around the world in the Run Things challenge.  Over 100 members signed up for the SR:C team and we ran 13,037km in total, with our competitive streak rising to the surface to desperately win back the number 2 spot, towards the end of the month no one was free to pop out for some milk without turning Strava on first!  To inspire us along the way we posted updates of different countries relating to how much distance we’d covered, this led to lots of members sharing their travel experiences, and in a time where travel was restricted this could have been depressing, but was, as ever with SR:C, uplifting.

With staycation becoming the buzz word for 2020, our August challenge fit perfectly, where we challenged members to run ‘Around the ‘Diff in 30 days’.  It was a joy to see women discovering new parts of our fabulous city, with some running further than ever before in pursuit of one or more of the locations.

For September we focused a step challenge; Steptember was just too good a pun to miss, and it was again a challenge that was open to all, and particularly helped some of those working from home to get some much needed time out of the house.   This was also the month when our Run Buddy Sharon was recognised by Welsh Athletics as a leading lady for her innovative virtual Couch to 5K programme.

Excitement was mounting for our first birthday in October with many keen to know how we would celebrate, and celebrate we certainly did.  Although we may have had to be socially distant, we would never let that stop us marking the occasion, with a week-long itinerary of runs, challenges, selfies, coffee and cake over Zoom, and even giving some essential advice to check our boobs in line with breast cancer awareness week.  Our birthday was commemorated with our very own SR:C medal, designed by Dani, which was open to everyone to choose their own personal challenge.  We loved hearing about everyone’s goals, with a great variety of challenges set, from personal best runs, to press-ups, from self-care to healthy eating, and it was the best Medal Monday all year to see so many members displaying them with pride.  As Tanya so aptly put it ‘we didn’t survive in October, we thrived.’  

Face to face Couch to 5K sessions with Sharon also started, where her members have shown great determination, despite constantly changing lockdown restrictions, and have built amazing friendships despite a 40 minute cut-off on their weekly Zoom calls! 

We continued to thrive in November with the return of bingo, thoughtfully co-ordinated by Run Buddy AJ to again include self-care but also to encourage us to try something new with a whole range of dance classes, and to consider paying it forward with an act of kindness.  We were also able to launch some new merchandise this month meaning Cardiff sightings of SR:C luminous yellow along with purple are now becoming common, keeping us warm and safe through the winter months.

If the Christmas leggings are anything to go by, December has been going on for quite some time, but reliable sources tell me it has only been a month as per usual.  But what a month, where we’ve enjoyed playing Scrabble organised by our own Run Buddy the Elf, Elaine, and shared our Christmas traditions while staying active, (who knew so many of you were on the Naughty list?!).  Not content with just one December challenge, we’ve also taken part in the Run Up to Christmas challenge, where we smashed our 250km team total on the very first day, and have raised over £1,000 for MIND.

We’ve also held another highly successful relay.  This time we had 10 teams running and even with a lockdown announced just hours before, as ever our community adapted and rose to the challenge. The runs were completed within all guidelines while still raising smiles and festive spirit (even those who ran through hailstorms!), and collecting £2,700 in donations for the Cardiff charity, the Huggard Centre who provide support for the homeless.

As this summary of the year draws to a close, there can be no better way to finish it, than with the achievement we would never have dreamed of when we sat around a pub table discussing ideas for an inclusive women’s running group – the news in December that She Runs: Cardiff have been named the Run Wales group of the year by Welsh Athletics.

This award is for all of us; the original women with the idea, the Run Buddies, the members who post every week, the ones who wear our kit, the people who don’t want to post but will always give a Facebook Like, or send a private message to someone who is struggling, and for all those who read and feel inspired by the SR:C message to get out there.  2021 may be uncertain but I think we can all say with confidence that our community will be a constant.  After all, who would even know what day it is between Christmas and New Year if we didn’t have Run Buddies Kate and Rhian to reliably inform us it is virtual run club day so therefore it must be Sunday or Wednesday?  If only we could all remember what races we’ve signed up for that have been postponed until 2021….

With the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out there has been talk about the light at the end of the tunnel, but if this is the case then surely for many SR:C has been the beacon which has been with us through the darkness.

Right then, that’s enough reminiscing.  Time to put on the Christmas leggings for one last time this year, add some purple kit, optimistically hunt out the Goodr sunglasses, fire up the play-list and head out there. Perhaps I’ll try some Strava art, or take a selfie by a post-box, spell my name with some street signs, and finish with a Rosie jump, followed by some cake of course! 

Happy New Year everyone!

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