Running, arthritis and me

How I learned not to be limited by my chronic illness.

by Myfanwy Thomas, Run Buddy

Long before I was ever a runner (a recent change to my life in the grand scheme of things) I was an arthritic person. It seems as if there should be a noun for it. Arthritic?  I am an arthritic.

The Early Years

Me aged 2

Diagnosed at the age of 2 I have had arthritis for as long as I can remember. As a child I didn’t notice it very much, only that I couldn’t kneel like other children (still can’t, never will.) I don’t remember it ever stopping me doing anything else, and I don’t remember it hurting. But perhaps that was just down to childhood resilience. Children seem to be able to withstand or cope with much worse things than adults. My mum has reminded me that I slept with a splint on my leg at night for a while. Now she’s reminded me I’ve remembered how much I hated it!

I have always been keen on sports and physical activity. PE was one of my favourite lessons throughout primary and secondary school and I joined in with pretty much every sport I could in high school. I started going to the gym in my teens and doing aerobics classes. I knew I had arthritis but it didn’t really affect me at the time. I didn’t take any medication and didn’t feel any pain. 

I had been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis and it was suggested that I had grown out of it. Great!

Back again

Then when I was 16/ 17 a number of things happened around the same time. I left school and went to college and left all my sporting and fitness endeavours behind. I had new hobbies – drinking, socialising and generally being a nightmare to my parents. I caught Glandular Fever which knocked me sideways for a few months. Then I got hit by a car. Nothing broken but I was just one big bruise from my neck to my foot. 

The college years!

And another thing happened: my arthritis came back, and this time it meant business.

Was it just a coincidence or was it linked to any or all of the above events? I will never know, and if it was there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. 

I had actually been discharged from the hospital a few years prior as the arthritis was deemed to have gone so I saw my GP and he prescribed me ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is fine for a headache but I can tell you, against full-on arthritis it does basically nothing. The weeks (months?) waiting to see a Rheumatologist were hell. Stiff, swollen achy joints, especially my knees.

I eventually got to the Rheumatology Consultant and to my surprise I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. I didn’t even know I had psoriasis but apparently the itchy scalp I’d had as a child was exactly that. So it wasn’t juvenile arthritis it had been psoriatic arthritis all along. It had just been on a little break… Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic auto-immune disease with no cure; but as I’d always had arthritis as far as I was concerned I pretty much took it in my stride in typical teenage fashion. I was prescribed a DMARD (disease modifying anti-rheumatic drug) which helped  to a point and that was that. 

“PsA (like psoriasis) is an autoimmune disease, which means the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, causing inflammation and pain and resulting in damage. Researchers aren’t sure why some people develop PsA. They think it’s a combination of having certain genes, which makes them more likely to develop the disease, and being triggered by something in the environment, like an infection, stress, physical trauma or another factor.” (arthritis.org

Over the next few years my arthritis was up and down. I resumed my fitness activities going to the gym and swimming regularly as my dad paid for a gym membership for me. Running was something I only ever did to warm up at the gym – I used to think 20 minutes was a long run! (That really tickles me now.)

In Yosemite on the snow with swollen legs

I had occasional flare ups. One bad one I remember happened when I went on a fly-drive holiday to California. My knees swelled up and I had to sit in the back of the car with the front seat down and my legs up as if my boyfriend (now husband) was my chauffeur. My Rheumatologist eventually persuaded me to try a steroid injection in my knees. I was terrified but once I realised how much it could help I quickly got over it. A few moments pain usually provides relief for a few months.

Canyonlands, feeling good

A year later we returned to the US for an epic 6 month tour in a camper van. I was really paranoid that I would have another flare – and had persuaded my doctor to give me enough anti-inflammatory meds for the entire trip – but for those 6 months I felt incredibly healthy! The outdoor life agreed with me – endless hiking, fresh air and healthy eating. I have never been so slim before (or since).

Not long after I started Humira

My life was to change forever a couple of years later with the birth of my first child. It is a well-known fact that pregnancy hormones can ease many illnesses and diseases and this had been the case with my pregnancy. However, after the birth I had one of the worst flare ups of arthritis of my life. It took a long time to control the flare and within  a few months I was pregnant again so I didn’t lose the weight I had gained. After the birth of my second baby I was ready for the flare and resumed my meds more quickly (I had waited for 3 months after my firstborn as I wanted to breastfeed; my 2nd only got 6 weeks.) I also started exercising more seriously when I discovered the local leisure centre had a creche a few mornings a week. But my Rheumatologist was concerned that the disease was progressing so he prescribed me what is called a Biologic anti-TNF medication called Humira, which targets and blocks certain chemicals or molecules in the inflammatory process. This was like a miracle cure from the first dose. I can only describe it as like a switch. Sometimes you don’t realise just how bad you are feeling until you suddenly aren’t feeling like that anymore.

It’s funny but instead of looking at my life like “pre-kids/ after kids” or “20s/30s” I think of it as “pre and post Humira”. It was that life changing for me. The constant ache had gone. Suddenly there was the realisation, “This is what it feels like to be normal’ (although I still couldn’t kneel!).

Post Humira

A few years down the line we decided to have a 3rd child. This became a traumatic process. I had to stop all medications a few months prior to trying to get pregnant and it was horrendous. By the time I actually was pregnant I was struggling to walk. This was just nature reminding me that I wasn’t actually a regular person, I was a person with chronic arthritis. I was prescribed steroids as a ‘safe’ medication for baby and waited hopefully for the magic pregnancy hormones to kick in. They took their sweet time. I had barely been able to exercise at all during the pregnancy and by the time I gave birth I was huge. 

Time to get fit again

My baby was nearing a year and I was still bigger than I wanted to be. I was taking my boys to a dance class each week for an hour – too far away to go home again and pick them up so I was just sitting around chatting. A couple of the other mums started going for a run during the hour and asked if I wanted to come along. “No’ I said, “I can’t run.” It had never occurred to me to even try, as clearly I couldn’t? People with arthritis can’t run. It’s bad for your knees! 

Is it though? Really? A quick Google will show you numerous studies and articles which prove it is not https://www.womensrunning.co.uk/health/running-bad-joints/

Taking up running

But my friend Charlotte persisted and eventually I gave in. I don’t know how far we ran or how long we took on that first evening. I didn’t track it. I had on some old trainers I’d been wearing for years, some leggings which fell down and a coat into which I put my phone (that would annoy me so much now!) Looking at the route which became our regular I think it was about 7k. Not bad for a first run! And running was of course not that different in terms of impact to aerobics which I’d been doing for years. 

Running with Charlotte

I continued in this way for a few months. Only ever running with my friends about once a week during the dance class. I was enjoying it. My friends Charlotte and Katrin were training to run a marathon and their enthusiasm for running was certainly infectious, I went along with them every week and started to miss it if I didn’t. This was in the autumn. In the New Year in 2016 I decided it was really time to shift the baby weight as my daughter was nearly 2. I watched what I ate and decided to up my running. I went for my first run by myself which felt like a huge turning point. I was soon running a few times a week. It was also around then that I started to run during daylight. To me that seemed quite a big thing as it meant people could see me!

My first race

After my first half marathon with Katrin & Charlotte

For most people their intro to racing might be a 5 or 10k race which they’ve trained carefully for and built up to gradually. Although now I’m a huge fan of a good training plan, for my first race in March 2016 I decided to sign up the week before. It was the World Half Marathon and I’d only ever run 6 miles. Charlotte and Katrin were running it as part of their training for London and Brighton marathons and I became completely caught up in their excitement and decided to just do it. A bit gung ho, but I was confident in my fitness levels even if I didn’t know what it felt like to run anywhere near 13 miles. Despite it being a hideous weather that day I absolutely loved it. I ran every step with Charlotte who supported me the whole way round and we came in at 2:18. I was pretty chuffed with that. 

Cardiff Half 2016

Six months later after following a training plan I ran the Cardiff Half in 1:59. I had never felt so well or so fit in my entire life. Instead of making my arthritis worse as I had always feared running might, I actually felt better. I could run despite my arthritis, and it turned out I was reasonably good at it.

In April 2016 I tracked Charlotte as she ran the London Marathon. I managed to watch her cross the line on a webcam – it was such an emotional moment. I wouldn’t say that’s when I decided I wanted to run a marathon but I did enter the ballot when it opened soon after anyway. I think my desire to actually run a marathon took a bit longer.

Llanelli Half 2017

I credit Charlotte for getting me into running (Thank you Charlotte!),  and in turn I credit another friend, Tanya for my running going to the next level. My son and Tanya’s son were in the same class at school so I knew her but not very well. Tanya says she didn’t speak to me very much as she wasn’t sure how to say my name! I’m not sure exactly how it came about that we first went for a run together but I think there was a group of us and we were doing sprint intervals around Roath Park Lake. There were a few of us who had signed up to the Llanelli Half Marathon so we decided to train together. The race came and went and Tanya and I became regular running buddies over the next few months.

My first Marathon

With Tanya on one of our long training runs

I’m not sure exactly whose idea it was, (probably we both egged each other on) but Tanya and I decided to run the Newport Marathon together which was to be held in April 2018. In December 2017, much to my surprise, I found out that I had won a place in the London Marathon with the sponsor New Balance. I didn’t even remember entering. London Marathon was a week before Newport Marathon. Obviously I wanted to run London as I knew how hard it was to get a spot so I decided I would run them both. After all, it would only require one training block, and I knew I wanted to run Newport with Tanya. 

Training went brilliantly. I can vividly remember the weather was particularly good. It seemed every time we had a long run planned the weather was glorious – cold, crisp and sunny. All was going well….too well perhaps. To control my arthritis I am on quite a serious immunosuppressant which is not to be taken lightly.

A slight setback

Sara’s 50th Party

I went for a birthday weekend away for my friend Sara’s 50th a few weeks before the London Marathon. I had a bit of a cold but I was looking forward to celebrating. I had quite a few drinks on the Saturday night (but not that many.) On the Sunday morning I felt like death warmed up and I admit I spent the journey home heaving into a plastic bag in my friends car. All very embarrassing but I just put it down to drinking too much and having a cold. I was under the weather for a couple of days until the Thursday. My husband was working a late shift and I remember thinking to myself about 6pm that I had to go to bed. It was as if a wave hit me and I could barely stand up. Somehow I got my daughter into bed and told my sons to sort themselves out. I spent the next 36 hours in bed, sweating and occasionally crawling to the bathroom to be sick. It was all a blur. 

On the Saturday morning I got scared. I couldn’t even hold water down and I have never felt so ill in my life. My husband phoned the out of hours surgery for an emergency appointment, and my mum to come to take me there. I staggered to her car in my PJs and dressing gown, I was beyond caring. The GP took my medical history and as soon as I said I was on Humira for my PsA he nodded his head. By a miracle he had done some of his residency under my own Rheumatologist so knew the potential side effects to the immune system very well.

The illest I’ve ever been

“You have the beginnings of sepsis so I’m going to get you admitted to hospital right away.” I was sent to the Emergency Assessment Unit at the Heath and admitted immediately. I can’t remember my mum’s reaction but this is what she said about it “I thought you were going to die in my car on the way, it was the most terrifying couple of journeys! And even when we got to hospital everything seemed to happen so slowly, you didn’t start to rally until the evening….”

Blood tests at the hospital revealed my CRP levels were over 400mg/l. Normal levels are around 3mg/l. I was given IV antibiotics and kept in for 2 nights. They would have kept me in for longer but I was keen to get home to the kids.

The Cutty Sark

Crazily, three weeks later somehow I ran the London Marathon, with the support of my family, Tanya and her son cheering me on all the way round. It was an amazing day. The hottest London Marathon on record and my goodness did it feel like it. I did well for the first half then it was run/ walk all the way, alternately throwing water over myself or drinking it every mile. There was absolutely no way I was going to give up though. I knew my husband and kids were waiting at about mile 25 and I just had to get to them and then I would be nearly finished. My husband anxiously phoned me when I was a couple of miles away. “Are you ok? It looks like you’ve stopped on the tracker?” I hadn’t stopped but I was continuing very slowly. I found them at last, gave them all a sweaty hug and plodded on. Coming around the Mall past Buckingham Palace was an incredible experience. I was completely exhausted and staggered across the line. Then the tears flowed. I had run a marathon! It had taken me 5’27”.

Crossing the line of the Newport Marathon

Just one week later, on a rather chilly and overcast day Tanya and I lined up for the Newport Marathon. What a completely different experience. No sunshine or huge crowds but my running buddy with me for every step. We both had periods of wanting to walk but we kept each other going. Our families rushed around and appeared to cheer us in the middle and at the end! If I’d been alone I would’ve happily walked the last 3 miles but Tanya wasn’t going to let me give up. “If we keep going we can get that sub 5 hours.” We did, we crossed the line in 4’50”. What a high!

Social Running

So that was 2018. In 2019 in addition to completing 2 more marathons (Manchester and New York – but that’s another story!) I added a new string to my running bow – running with a social group! 

In March 2019 I went along to the first run of This Mum Runs (TMR) Cardiff. Although I ran with a small group of friends regularly I had never joined any kind of official club or group, feeling as if there would be too much pressure to run at a certain pace. A women’s social running group seemed ideal. To run at a chatty pace and make friends – it sounded great. And that is what we did for 6 months. Very sadly, something happened which meant that I and some of the other volunteers who lead the runs felt they had to leave TMR Cardiff. We were bereft. This group of women had become a huge family, a group of friends to rely on – a lot more than just being people we ran with. 

The first official She Runs: Cardiff run!

And then, from the ashes of this experience She Runs: Cardiff was born. A running group for all women, regardless of pace, experience, fitness, age or ethnicity. A supportive, inclusive community run by volunteers. The group started with around 30 of us and we’re now at 1,400. It has literally changed my life.

Today

Fast forward to now, a year on from establishing SRC. We have recently won the Run Wales Group of the Year 2020 award from Welsh Athletics. I know that, however I am feeling, wherever I am with my running I have the support of an amazing group of women. I have made so many new friends. Everyone knows my struggles with my arthritis and is incredibly supportive. 

Virtual Race to the Stones 100k

2020 was not good for many reasons. For me the Covid-19 pandemic coincided with my meds stopping working. It all stemmed from being switched to what’s called a ‘bio-similar’ medication (after the patent ran out on my original treatment Humira). I never settled whilst on the generic version and once I was switched back it was too late. It is known that the body can develop anti-bodies to the biologic medications and it appears that is what has happened to me. I had 10 great years on Humira, now is the struggle to find the next great medication so I can get back to what I love – running free! I have ambitions to run more marathons, to run my first ultra marathon, but before that happens I need to re-stabilise my disease. (I’m not allowing myself to contemplate that it might not happen.)

Finishing the Virtual NYC Marathon with my cheer squad

Nevertheless, I did achieve a couple of things running-wise in 2020. I ran a virtual ultra marathon – the Race to the Stones – 100k over seven days and I ran the virtual NYC Marathon solo (with Tanya popping up at various points to spur me on). Both completed through sheer determination rather than fitness or running ability!

That’s one thing essential to running that I have an abundance of – stubborn determination. Inherited from my late dad. Registered blind, he never let it stop him from doing anything he wanted to do (except maybe driving!) Today I may not be able to run, but I can walk and tomorrow is a new day. 2020 was the year that I accepted my identity as an arthritic runner. It’s no longer an oxymoron to me, it’s part of who I am.

It’s not running that’s bad for my knees, it’s arthritis. I am a chronic illness warrior and I will prevail!

The Run Wales Plodcast – the one with She Runs: Cardiff….

by Gemma Brimble, Run Buddy

I really got into podcasts the summer of 2019, when I had a long drive to work every morning. My husband had listened to podcasts on and off for a while and made some suggestions for me; I found they helped me actually look forward to my commute instead of dreading it.

By the end of 2020 I had started to regularly listen to a variety of podcasts. When I heard that Run Wales were releasing a podcast and had asked someone from She Runs: Cardiff to record an episode I jumped at the chance! 

It was a couple of weeks before Christmas when I found myself nervously heading up the A470 in possibly my most festive outfit (and she runs bobble hat of course!) to a Merthyr Tydfil industrial estate… in the dark! I phoned Hannah when I arrived, as honestly it was the perfect opening scene to a horror film. 

A battered old industrial building from the outside, and a labyrinth of doors and staircases inside, concealed a state of the art recording studio. It turns out that the system of doors was all part of the design to ensure the room was totally soundproof. It was all super exciting; the studio was very high tech and we even had our own sound engineer! It was nothing like I had imagined it when I listened to podcasts at home. 

I was very nervous to start with but I soon settled in with Hannah & Drew constantly making me and each other laugh. The conversation soon flowed – even if I did have a complete mind blank at one point when Drew asked me a question! We had to do a few takes at various points due to blips in sound quality and me taking a bit too long to answer a question; but there must have been some clever editing as you definitely can’t tell when you listen to it back! We were recording for about 45minutes in total and the time absolutely flew by, and before I knew it was time to head home.

I knew it was due to be released in the New Year (to coincide with lots of people starting to run for their resolutions) so I had a few weeks to eagerly wait and listen to the other episodes that came before me. All the other guests were really good: it made me more and more nervous for my episode to come out. I suffer with social anxiety anyway, and the day the podcast was released I was quite overcome with nerves. I worried how it would be received and how I would come across, especially as I was representing the whole running club. I needn’t have worried as all the feedback I have had has been so lovely – I really am so grateful for every single positive comment and message I received. 

The experience has definitely whetted my appetite and I’d love to do another podcast if I had the opportunity! (Especially now that I know what to expect!) It’s definitely one of the coolest things I have had the chance to be a part of! I will be forever grateful to Run Wales, Hannah & Drew and of course my She Runs: Cardiff tribe for letting me loose!

To listen to the Run Wales Podcast with Gemma, and all the other great episodes click here Run Wales Plodcast or type Run Wales Plodcast into any good podcast provider. You can also ask your smart speaker to play it!

Socially Awkward to Socially Connected

How She Runs: Cardiff helped this anxious runner feel part of the running community.

by Ann Lawson-Jones, Run Buddy

My experience with sport, like a lot of women, had a negative beginning in high school. Being red headed is tough when you are in your teens. Suffice to say I was incredibly shy and socially petrified by the time I finished school.

In April 2018 my husband and I watched the London Marathon. He joked and said we should enter the ballot as it would be great to run and train together to run the VLM in his 50th year. October came and I had a ballot place for 2019 but he didn’t! So I deferred to 2020 hoping he’d try again. He didn’t. I agonised for months about what to do. Could I do this? Especially on my own – I hate crowds at the best of times. It would be fine if he were running by my side. But then I came to the realisation that it had been a true gift to get a ballot place first time. So in May 2019 I started c25k, followed by Race for Life in the July and the Cardiff 10k in the September!

In the short space of time between the Cardiff Met 10k in September 2019 and The London Royal Parks Half I received an invite on Facebook from a friend to join a group called She Runs Cardiff. At the time I had joined another online running group but I did not really interact with the group. Lots of posts were time and distanced focused and from men!

I joined SRC because they didn’t have ‘mum’ in their name – I’d been put off those groups because I imagined a group of ‘yummy mummies’ with pushchairs and young preschool children. Rightly or wrongly, I thought that they weren’t the groups for me as I have grown up children and teenagers. Frankly the school gate wait for my Primary school aged children days were over and much to my relief; I’d found that harder than attending school!

The name ‘She Runs’ felt more inclusive of women at all stages of life. I watched the posts come up and realised that their first ‘official’ run would be the same day as my Half in London. I must have posted something about that because one of the Buddies put me in touch with another member who was also running that half. 

I will never forget Sunday October 17th 2019. I nervously met Rosie and she chatted away to me as we waited to start. I didn’t need to be nervous, she was awesome, helped me to feel relaxed and it made such a difference to be waiting to start with someone else rather than on my own. I enjoyed the run and the atmosphere, walked when I needed finishing in 2 hours 43. I even took photos of a cheer squad of ducks enjoying the mud near the start line. 

After that I continued to watch and occasionally post on the she runs page. There were always positive comments left and thumbs up. It felt a safe place to belong. I googled FOMO one day to find out that I was also having this fear of missing out every Wednesday and Sunday when pictures of the group runs were posted. One Sunday I drove down, parked in the library car park ready for the 8am run. Three times I got out of my car and back in again, anxious to go and stand with a group of women I’d never met. I gave myself a ‘talking to’ and forced myself out of the car, I’d come to run. Someone gave a nod of hello as we warmed up and I recognised a few faces. 

That run I don’t think I talked to anyone, though no-one’s fault but my own. Everyone appeared to already know someone else and I have learned over the years how to blend into a crowd and not be noticed.  I came home with mixed feelings, really wanted to get to know this group of inspiring women but at the same time nervous and kicking myself for not engaging with them. Being shy is sometimes is a real pain in the bum and I’ve always struggled with social interaction. I have this fear of saying or doing something wrong; I still do. 

I continued following posts for a few more weeks and then decided to try a Sunday run again. This time I only got back in the car once. As the run started, I gave myself a mental nudge and told myself to say hi to the lady running alongside me and that if I didn’t I may as well have stayed in the car and I knew I would not try again. So, I took a deep breath and said, “Hi, I’m Ann”. What a fantastic run that was. The lady was Gruby and we found we had so much in common, we had a child of similar age, same school and so on. What had I been so worried about?!

By the time I decided to go for the third time She Runs has added in the 10k route too. Since I was in full swing of marathon training, I decided I’d give that a go. Gruby was there again and I felt comfortable knowing we could have another chat. We had company in our ‘Party at the Back’ because at She Runs no one is left behind, looped or lapped. We run at our own pace without pressure. Our Buddy of the run was Anna-Jane who has since told me she thought Gruby and I had known each other for ages! Another runner with teenagers, this was going well!! I really enjoyed the run and chatting with both women. 

That was that, I felt comfortable running with this group, I had enjoyed myself. I was looking forward to going again and slowly getting to know more members each time. 

My next social hurdle was to join them for coffee afterwards. Posts regularly mentioned the coffee and cake after Sunday morning runs. There was no expectation to attend but an open invitation was there to all. I felt it was another way to continue to get to know people. So far though I had made a quick dash back to my car at the end of the run. I made myself the promise that next time I would go even though I could feel the knot in my stomach of anxiety. However, the world went into lockdown. I am yet to have that coffee and cake, but now instead of anxiety I can’t wait. 

Lockdown perhaps was a gift to me when it comes to SRC. I had more time to continue to get to know the members from the safety of my keyboard. Then life threw me a curve ball and I rushed my husband to hospital. Those were the hardest days I have ever lived – little communication from the hospital, no answers and no visiting. 

Now, being shy I would usually politely thank people for the offer with a ‘I will be ok, but thanks for offer’ but this time I said yes to everything. When asked if I would like a run or meet for a cuppa I said ‘Both?!’. In the days that followed I went for Socially Distanced runs, walks, outdoor coffee, I even learned breathing techniques over Zoom. 

One day in the middle of this I had added a comment to a post about feeling a bit down, but that I shouldn’t really as many of us were struggling and lots of people had it far worse – I was thinking of the over stretched NHS, teaching friends trying to still provide Hubs and so on. In truth it was a very dark day for me and I was struggling to hold it together. I had a Buddy response that in a nutshell said it was ok to not be ok and if I was struggling, I should reach out (I even remember who posted it). I agonized over it for what felt like hours. In the end I sent a direct message to the page telling them what was happening and how I was finding it tough. 

What followed was nothing short of a big purple virtual hug. I received a flood of direct messages from Buddies asking how they could help, offers of support and practical help. I know I will never feel as if I have thanked them all adequately. They got me through that day and beyond.

Building on these friendships I made it part of my October Birthday Challenge to run with someone new every week and most weeks that meant I met with 2 or even 3 people as I explored new places to run in Cardiff. It has been amazing and due to the Firebreak we had I still have a post-it note of people who offered to run with me.

I won’t lie, I still worry about saying or doing the wrong thing, have a knot in my stomach before meeting with someone for the first time in the flesh. Social anxiety isn’t fixed over night and may never be, but SRC is a safe place and all you members make it that way. You encourage one another, support one another and most importantly you care. Life is tough and never more so that the last 12 months. Every single one of us will have had dark days, tough days, tearful days, exhausting days. At SRC there’s nothing we haven’t heard now, there’s nothing we’re not ready to say ‘I hear you’ to.

 SRC is more than a running club, it has given me the courage to step so far out of my comfort zone; I now even have funky patterned leggings and I don’t regret a thing! All it takes is a little support and encouragement – something we have in plentiful supply in SRC.

Running brought us together, friendship has made me stay.

Running for Two

My experience of running with baby on board and beyond

by Kate Morgan, Run Buddy

The day I found out we were expecting our third little munchkin was the day after the 2019 Cardiff Half Marathon. I had had my suspicions for a couple of days (even furtively googling if energy gels were safe in pregnancy!). The following day, in the midst of nursing very heavy legs and thinking ‘ohhh I really should have done some cool down stretches whilst admiring that medal!’, my suspicions were delightfully confirmed. 


In my previous two pregnancies I wasn’t running regularly at all so this was a brand new situation to find myself in and I really wanted to ensure it was safe to run. Everything I read, from NHS guidance to studies funded by Tommy’s the baby charity, stated that exercise is not dangerous for the baby. The guidance states that if you ran pre-pregnancy regularly, you can carry on for as long as you feel comfortable. Indeed, running has many benefits, including contributing towards a fit, healthy pregnancy, reducing the risk of pregnancy complications and helping towards reducing anxiety and stress in pregnancy. One of the best bits of advice I received in those early weeks was that pregnancy is not a time to aim for PBs, longest ever distances or to break fitness records. Hydration, stopping if any dizziness was experienced and avoiding overheating were also key messages. I also think there is, as always, a lot to be said for listening to your own body. There were evening runs I cut short or ran/walked when energy levels were low, even though I craved the headspace of a good run after a tough day at work. 


Three weeks after the Cardiff Half I took part in the Yorkshire Marathon. In a funny way, being pregnant completely eliminated any pressures to achieve a certain pace or time and I enjoyed that more relaxed state of mind; although I must admit to not necessarily enjoying the heady combination of Lucozade, morning sickness and the whiff of manure from the fields around the stunning countryside of North Yorkshire!


As Autumn turned to winter and the nights drew in, fortunately we were still able to run as a She Runs: Cardiff group and without the support & encouragement of the wonderful members I suspect my enthusiasm for running would have waned a little with the temptation of the sofa and a boxset. The pregnancy was not without its complications in the third trimester, and compounded by the emergence of the pandemic, it wasn’t an easy time. But running, as it always does at any stressful or worrying time, provided much balance, an opportunity to pound out those anxieties and valuable thinking time. 


As the bump got bigger, I’d often have a surprised look as I’d plod past. Often passersby would call out encouraging words, which meant an awful lot, especially as I think there is still that old fashioned school of thought that pregnancy is an illness and subject to a state of confinement!


I stopped running at 34 weeks pregnant; our little girl was delivered early a couple of weeks later. I genuinely loved running through pregnancy and look back with great fondness and fortune that I was able to keep it going until the final few weeks. After a few months off running to recover postpartum I’m back enjoying it as much as I always have done, except now I get to enjoy it with a little co-pilot in the running buggy!

Resources:NHS Exercise in Pregnancy: https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/exercise/

Exercise in pregnancy – NHS The more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be for you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain. It will also help you to cope with labour and get back into shape after the birth.. Keep up your normal daily physical activity or exercise (sport, running, yoga, dancing, or even walking to the shops and back) for as long as you feel comfortable.www.nhs.uk

Running habits in pregnancy study, Tommys Charity https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/blogs-and-stories/im-pregnant/pregnancy-news-and-blogs/largest-ever-study-running-habits-shows-running-pregnancy-safe

Largest ever study of running habits shows that running in pregnancy is safe | Tommy’s Running during pregnancy did not affect the number of weeks babies were born, or the birthweight of the baby.; The results were shown in the largest ever study of running in pregnancy which has been published in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine.; The international retrospective study looked at 1,293 women who take part in parkrun.www.tommys.org

Driven by Data

The highs and lows of chasing numbers

by Georgina Lloyd

The most important thing that I have learnt both physically and mentally over the last four years is don’t be driven by performance data. The multi million pound sports watch industry has boomed over recent years as people are interested in step count, pace, distance travelled, calories burned and heart rate as they strive to hit personal bests. I was introduced to such a watch 30 years ago and have been wearing one ever since. I am currently wearing a Garmin 735XT, but do I really need to?

Being a triathlete, Ironman and someone who takes part in all 3 events individually, my trusted companion has never been far from my wrist. For swimming, it counts my lengths, strokes, pace, distance and time. For cycling, it shows my speed, power,  gradient, and for running I can check out my performance condition, cadence and training effect. All of this then automatically syncs into my Garmin account, Training Peaks and Strava. This opens a whole new world into analysing performance against fatigue, training loads and projections. 

For those of you who own a smart watch, would you consider going for a swim, bike, run, (or any other activity) without one? 
No.
Why?
If it is not on Strava is doesn’t count, right?
Wrong.

In 2017 whilst training for the London marathon I was advised to ditch the watch and run for fun. This in itself was enough to raise my heart rate and show a look of panic on my face.
As a child I was very competitive, I had to be the fastest and the best. I had to win all of my races as both a swimmer and runner. Primary school sports day was all about the cup at the end (which I won every year). This continued into secondary school as I progressed through the levels of international hockey. I lost a few years due to all of my knee operations (I am in double figures) but this made me more determined to smash the goals and targets set for me. I wanted to be fitter, better and faster than ever, and every run needed to be a  personal best. I was  pushing limits and boundaries too far on a road to self destruction. I was the same academically (still am)  and in work (off with mental distress).

Little did I know that such pressure would one day be detrimental both physically and mentally. Something had to give and something had to change. My addictive behaviour  towards exercise saw me fall into the realms of self harm. 
Returning back to 2017, I did what I was told by the marathon coach (kind of). I still wore my watch but step by step I started paying little attention to it. My running changed, it became lighter, it became freer and I started noticing where I was and what was around me. I would go to parkrun and wasn’t bothered about getting a personal best. If I spent the whole run near the back talking to someone then so be it. I found something that I had never really experienced in running before and that was enjoyment. My focus had shifted.

I have been fortunate enough to run the London marathon 3 times, New York marathon,  and finish Ironman Wales (amongst many other events). I am also a holder of the London Classics Medal. The questions I am always asked is what time do you hope to finish in? or what was your time? My answers are always I don’t care, and usually, I don’t know.
What I have found is that naturally I have got fitter and faster without the help of my Garmin. These days when I go out for a run, I don’t plan distance, time or route, I just put on my daps and decide when I am out of the door. How much I do is all dependant on how I feel.  I have become better at listening to my body. If I want to return home after 1 mile then I will. If I run for 9.99 miles then it must have been an ok day. 

When I start my watch, I will not look at it during the run (unless I get a notification). My feet and lungs determine my pace and speed. If I stop for a chat, great. If I stop to take a selfie, great. When I finish I stop my watch as it automatically uploads. It is only when I add a title to my activity do I see what I have run. It does not bother me if I stop on 4.97, or 5.99 miles. I can see how my pace has got much quicker (as an average) over the last couple of years and this has happened through running for fun.
The reason why I still wear my Garmin is because I am interested to see how far I have run or cycled (not much swimming at the moment) during a month. I make no comparisons from month to month or to other people. I also need to provide evidence for my virtual challenges. Oh, and I am also in a Red January challenge with my dog Olly.

Of course everyone has different goals and objectives. Some of you want a 5k, 10k, half marathon, or marathon PB. I have utmost respect to your commitment and drive. This works for many people. It can give training structure and is a good measure of progress,  but to me it became detrimental to my mental health.
Next time you are out running, try taking things back to basics by listening to your body rather than being a slave to your watch. You never know, it may work for you as it has done for me.
Let me know your thoughts and how you get on.

Twitter: @georgie_lloyd
Instagram: georgina_lloyd_10
Blog: georginalloyd.com

Why running for me is a team sport…

by Cat Fenton, Run Buddy

Ever since I was young I have been very into sports; Be it gymnastics from an early age, tennis in primary school, being obsessed with football in my teens and then to my main passion now of hockey. 

Where does running come into all of this? Back then it didn’t. It wasn’t really a big part of my early sporting days. Yes, there is a lot of running in hockey, but I never took it seriously. I could run up to 5 miles in a game but would never think of going on a 5-mile run. I was regularly picked to run 800m for the school in athletics meets, but I hated every minute of it and always wanted it to end. I was never a runner!! 

Playing hockey at a high-level means that I need to be able to play at a fast pace, up to 70 minutes. I need power to accelerate and change speed, agility to change direction and endurance to keep going. Coupled with the skills training that we have twice a week the club expects you to also have a high level of fitness that you manage in your own time. 

I started adding “proper” running to the training/fitness regime about 2 years ago following the birth of my youngest son. Before that, I dabbled in running. Doing a 5k here and there (if that), but I struggled with it and found it boring. But hockey had to wait until I developed the base fitness I needed to compete, so running was the appropriate choice at the time. Turns out the reason I struggled was linked to my competitive nature; I wanted to do everything as fast as I possibly could, which would then result in burnout, me not enjoying it, and then giving up. 

While on maternity leave I joined the SRC group back before they were even “official” and this changed my whole perspective on running. It taught me that it’s ok to slow down (I WAS going too fast), enjoy the surroundings, the headspace and have fun while getting to know others. I never thought of running being a team sport or a group activity, but it truly is! I now consider the buddies and the lovely community members to be my ever-expanding teammates. The support and feedback from the group is phenomenal and I get just as much buzz in chatting to people, and in soaking up the atmosphere in races (what are they nowadays??) than I do in hockey matches! I’ve now done trail runs, 10Ks, half marathons, met some wonderful new friends and I am now even considering doing an ultra!!

Running is more ingrained in my weekly life, especially with working from home. I need to leave the house daily! Before lockdown I would say that it did significantly improve my hockey. I represented Wales at the European Masters Championships in Rotterdam with the O35s squad a year after  my son Ifan was born, playing against former Olympic players. I was selected again in 2020 for the World Cup squad but the virus has put that ambition on hold!! 

Now team sports have been cancelled indefinitely running is now my team sport! There is evidence to suggest that group exercises or team sports might be more beneficial for mental health than exercising alone, but the reason a person is exercising, or the environment they’re exercising in is just as important. I can’t currently play the sport that I love, but being part of this community and the supportive environment SRC provides gives me the boost that I need, and I am very grateful for that.

The “RUNVERSATION”

Popping my Runversation Chery

By Samantha Haines, Run Buddy

Today I popped my runversation cherry. For those unfamiliar with the phrase it’s simply a run whilst having a conversation.

Clearly there are some safety points to be made at the start so I’ll get those out the way first. If you’re using headphones make sure you’re aware of your surroundings, both in terms of other people around you but also traffic, so you’re not putting yourself and others at risk. I know that’s obvious but it would be remiss not to point it out.

Ear buds firmly clamped down by my buff

As we can’t meet to run in person, our running group and lots of others around the UK I’m sure, are finding innovative ways to keep in touch whilst out and about running.

I was quite nervous about my first runversation. Not because of who I was having it with (Gruby is lovely) but more the logistics. My ears don’t seem to like ear buds, they never stay in for long when I’m still let alone moving. Plus I was worried I’d sound like I was heavy breathing down the phone and no one wants that!

I sorted myself out with a very fetching set up. Ear buds in ears held down tight by a buff so they couldn’t move. I tested it out on a walk with another friend, Ann, on Friday and it seemed to do the trick.

After my first runversation I can honestly say I’m a convert. It was so nice to get to know Gruby a little better and chat to someone whilst I was running. I hadn’t realised that I’d missed the company of running with others as I’m quite happy in my own little world when I run.

What’s great about having a runversation is that you can run your own route at your own pace and still feel like you’re running with company. Gruby and I ran in totally different directions and at totally different paces but it made no difference to feeling connected.

That feeling of being connected is so important right now. It doesn’t matter if you’re chatting about the weather, family life, home schooling or politics, it’s whatever works for that moment in time. We’re often, for good reason and the right reasons given the current covid climate, stuck in our little bubbles not seeing people socially. Today has shown me we can still be connected with others in a way that I wouldn’t have thought of before. Clearly I speak to people on the phone and via video chats, I’d have just never done it whilst out running.

Also if you’re worried about the heavy breathing issue or random pauses and that’s what’s putting you off trying to have a runversation it’s not something I even thought about whilst I was out. Pauses naturally happen in conversations or when one of you is crossing the road and they didn’t make it awkward at all. Neither does saying hello to others who aren’t part of the conversation as you pass.

It turns out the whether you’re running physically together or connected on the phone that feeling of going for a run with someone is still the same when you’re having a runversation.

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!

She Runs Cardiff book club with Lisa Jackson, author of Your Pace Or Mine?

by Cathryn Scott, @cardiffmummy

Author Lisa Jackson is a huge inspiration to many of us in She Runs Cardiff. Her book Your Pace Or Mine? What Running Taught Me About Life, Laughter and Coming Last is often mentioned by members of our Facebook group as one of the best running books they’ve read, helping them to change their mindset towards running and achieve more than they ever thought possible.

With so many fans of Lisa already in our group, we were keen to discuss Your Pace Or Mine in the She Runs Cardiff book club. Even better was the news that Lisa herself was able to join us via Zoom when we held our sixth online book club meeting earlier this month.

Your Pace Or Mine? was first published in 2016, the follow-up to Lisa’s best-selling book on running, Running Made Easy.

Written in a chatty and informal style, Lisa’s own running journey is interspersed with stories and anecdotes from people she has met along the way. Each chapter offers a different perspective on what Lisa has learned from running, such as what it’s taught her about taking the first step, never giving up, laughing, dreaming big, and even death.

What makes Lisa’s book so inspiring and uplifting is that she’s the first to admit she finds running hard. “It’s always been a bit of a struggle,” she writes in the book’s opening pages. “But it’s precisely because I’m the least likeliest runner you’ll ever meet that running gives me such a thrill.”

Lisa has run more than 100 marathons – and has proudly come last in 25 of them. Pace isn’t important to her; the experience you have while running is. “Running isn’t about the time you do, but the time you have while doing it,” she writes. 

The book is laugh-out-loud funny at times – one particular episode where she tries out a weeing-while-running technique and ends up with soggy trainers really made me chuckle, as did some of her fancy dress exploits. As she writes, “When I let go of my ego and instead hugged my inner comedian, it gave me the courage to do things I’d never have imagined being brave enough to try.”

It’s also filled with raw emotion as Lisa talks about how running has helped her and others work through difficult times in their life, including grief following bereavement. “Running really is a sacred, joyous way of remembering the dead,” she writes. 

An energetic and enthusiastic Lisa joins us over Zoom. She’s wearing the flamingo hat she talks about so much in the book, and is delighted to see three of our members wearing their own flamingo hats in tribute to her. “I love your running group!” she tells us. “If I lived in Cardiff I’d definitely join and come running with you.”

Those in attendance have given the book a resounding thumbs up and are keen to know more about Lisa’s running and writing journeys. She explains the two have become very intertwined. 

“Running isn’t just running,” she tells us. “The mental training makes you a strong person who can do anything. Running gives you super powers in your every day life. The stamina you build up you can apply to everything.”

“Just knowing that if you can run a 50 mile ultra you can certainly sit and write 50,000 words,” she laughs. 

She says that running helped her develop the resilience needed to keep on putting herself out there. “Running Made Easy was the best-selling beginners’ running book for a decade. However,” she says, “before that 40 publishers all said no or didn’t say anything.

“There are parallels between running and writing. The more you put into it the more you get out of it. 

“The more you push outside your comfort zone, the less scary everything becomes. And a good challenge needs to scare you.”

In the book, Lisa quotes Christopher McDougall, “The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other, but to be with each other.” She adds, “I truly believe that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. And that there’s great satisfaction to be gained by interacting with people, no matter how fleetingly.”

It’s unsurprising then that she tells us lockdown and social distancing has been tough for her. 

“I get so much energy from other people,” she tells us. “At races, it might be just a little smile, a thumbs up, a pat on the back, sometimes their whole life story. 

“People can touch your life. You may never see them again but kept in touch with lots and have become good friends. 

“Every runner has a story.”

Lisa has such a refreshing outlook on what success looks like for her. On paper, the London Marathon where she got a huge personal best time should have been a highlight for her. However, she tells us, “It was my least favourite race.”

She adds, “I didn’t talk to anyone. It was a wasted experience. I hadn’t had an experience. I don’t know if any of you run with headphones on but I hate people who run with headphones at races. Take them out and expose yourself to the possibilities of new friends and experiences.”

It’s hard to read Lisa’s book and not come away thinking “I could run a marathon” or “I could run an ultra” or “I could join the 100 Marathon Club” (made up of people who have run 100 marathons and of which Lisa is a member). Her enthusiasm is contagious and her experiences are a reminder that it really doesn’t matter if you finish last – or even if you don’t finish at all. “Running has given me the courage to fail,” she writes about the events she started but didn’t finish. “To begin the journey but to accept that it won’t always necessarily end in success.”

She tells us we need to own our own running journey and that’s why there’s a space at the end of the book for the reader to fill in their personal experiences. 

“You don’t need to sit around and wait for someone to tell you you’re a runner or to give you permission to run your first 10K, marathon or ultra,” she says. “You’ve got to give yourself permission. It should never be someone else.”

Although that said, one of our members, Beth, says it was Lisa’s book which helped give herself the confidence to call herself a runner. Beth’s now training for her first ultra-marathon. 

Lisa echoes our thoughts at She Runs Cardiff that the friendships made through running can be life-changing and adds that running is one of the few sports where amateurs can line up alongside world class professionals, and where you enter a race not knowing anyone but come away with a new best friend.

“No other sport gives normal people the chance to connect over the world in the same way as running,” she concludes. 

And tonight’s book club chat is proof of exactly that. We at She Runs Cardiff are very grateful to have connected with Lisa through our love of running and thank her giving her time to join us at our online She Runs Cardiff book club.

The She Runs Cardiff book club will be back in 2021. Keep an eye on our social media channels for more information.

9 of the most Inspirational Quotes from Anna McNuff’s “Pants of Perspective”

by Cathryn Scott

The She Runs Cardiff book club met online recently for our fifth meeting, this time discussing The Pants of Perspective by Anna McNuff.

Anna is an adventurer, motivational speaker and author – and a huge inspiration to many of our members who love following her on Instagram, listening to the interviews she’s done on podcasts such as RunPod, and reading her column in Women’s Running magazine.

Her book The Pants of Perspective – which charts her 3,000KM running adventure along New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail – was a natural choice for our book club.

Anna spent 148 days running along the trail, taking in forests, ridge lines, mountain passes, beaches and rivers, with much of this in the wilderness. She would run 30-40KM a day, although sometimes as much as 50KM, often wild camping along the way or staying in the specially-constructed huts along the trail. Anna travelled to New Zealand alone and although parts of her journey were incredibly lonely, the friendships she formed along the way, and the strangers who showed up to support her, or offered her a bed for the night, are a beautiful testament to human nature. Although Anna comes across as a naturally vibrant and positive person, she is also very honest about how tough it was and the mental struggles she dealt with, not to mention the physical injuries too. She writes vividly about what she witnesses and how she’s feeling – it’s very easy to feel like you’re there with her. 

Those present at the online book club were full of praise for The Pants of Perspective, with many of us saying it had inspired us to be braver and to think about taking on more challenging adventures. 

We loved that the title of the book came from a pair of brightly coloured leggings adorned with pictures of unicorns and robots, which Anna puts on when she’s at one of her lowest points. “It was scientifically impossible to be miserable whilst wearing these pants,” she says in Chapter 13. This lead to us discussing our own items of clothing which fill us with confidence when we wear them, from t-shirts from races we still can’t believe we completed, to hydration vests which make us feel invincible because we look like someone who can take on the long distances, and of course our purple SRC tops which make us feel like we have our tribe cheering us on, even when we’re running alone. 

Anna was unable to join us at book club but she did send us an exclusive video answering some of our questions – a huge thank you to Anna for taking the time to record this and for providing such detailed answers. You can watch it in the She Runs Cardiff Facebook group. 

The whole book is inspiring but certain passages really stood out to me and I found myself highlighting quite a few quotes along the way – here are some of my favourite words of wisdom from The Pants of Perspective. If you’ve read the book, let us know if any moments stood out to you. 

“I reasoned that being afraid to begin things was no way to live my life, and so I thought stuff it.” p15, Ch1

“I reminded myself of what I constantly told other people – that the body has an incredible capacity for change and if you guide it firmly in one direction for long enough it’ll work things out.” p23, ch2

“I guess it just comes down to a choice about how you live your life. I would rather live it completely wetting myself with fear, but doing something worthwhile than staying safe and just bumbling along. That makes you prouder when you get to the end.” p30, ch3

“What if someone announced that it would rain forever from this day forward? Would I sit inside? A life lesson dawned on me: you can’t sit around waiting for the rain to stop. There may never be a ‘good time’ to go, but you just have to and hope the weather clears up.” p107, ch7

“I thought for a moment about what people would think of my decision to leave the trail for a week. I decided that I didn’t care. This was my journey after all. I could spend my whole life chasing the approval of others and I know that I’d not make it to my grave happier than if I simply sought my own approval in how I spent my days.” p148, ch9

“Each time a bizarre thought entered my brain, such as ‘You know you’re not running this much faster than you could walk it, don’t you, Anna?’ I would stop. I would talk to that thought aloud like an insane person, and effectively tell it to bugger off. Or, better still, I would reason with it, I would acknowledge it, and offer another explanation. It was the battle between the cheerleaders and the soldiers of self-doubt once again, and it raged on like a civil war in my mind for the whole afternoon.” p145/6, ch10

“Watching Nikki* walk away, I became acutely aware that she was the perfect example of what this run was about. I often found my journey reflected in the lives of others. It had been a real privilege to watch Nikki today. To observe as she told herself she wasn’t capable of something, to be gently convinced that maybe, just maybe, she could do it, and then to watch her come spinning and grinning out of the other side. It was days like this that filled me right up to the brim.” p340, ch24
*Nikki joined Anna to run ‘a few Ks’, was worried she’d be too slow for Anna, but ended up running 20KM, double her longest-ever run.

“For all the ranting and raving I had done along the way, for all the swearing at orange triangles, talking to poles and cursing the weather, I still adored this trail. It would beat me to a pulp, grind my body to pieces, turn me into a blurring wreck, and yet I truly loved it. The highs, the lows, the companionship it had offered me. The challenges it had laid in my path to allow me the freedom to grow as an individual. I felt very proud to be among the few to have travelled along it, and to have a deep connection with the land it passed through.” p359/360 ch27

“I would have taken that lighthouse [which signified the end of the trail] over all the money in the world at that moment. Because all of the money in the world couldn’t have made me feel the way I did in the hour that followed. Money buys you material things which can be taken away. And no one could take away the way I felt today.” p402, ch30

See Anna McNuff’s website for more information on The Pants Of Perspective, as well as her other books Fifty Shades of the USA, in which Anna cycles 11,000 miles through every state of America, and Llama Drama in which Anna and her friend Faye head off on a 5,500-mile cycling adventure through South America.

The next She Runs Cardiff book club takes place on Wednesday 2nd December at 8pm. We’ll be discussing Your Pace or Mine? by Lisa Jackson and are thrilled that Lisa will be joining us for the discussion. There’s a warm welcome to all our members. More information will be posted in our Facebook group nearer to the time or you can contact us via any of our social media channels if you’d like to know more.