Birthday Challenge Take 2…

How I finally ran the whole length of The Taff Trail

by Fiona Gagg

She Runs: Cardiff 2nd Birthday Challenge – The Taff Trail

In Autumn 2020, She Runs: Cardiff announced their first birthday medal challenge.  I read everyone’s amazing ideas for their challenges but was stuck for what I should do.  I really wanted to do something big that I had never done before, something exciting and, well, challenging. Then inspiration struck.  What if I ran all the way down the Taff Trail?  Not in one go obviously.  That would be mad, but if I split it up into chunks, could I do it?  Did I dare do it?  What if I got lost and had to be picked up by Mountain Rescue?  That might seem like an extreme fear but those who know me, know that I could get lost in my own house.

 I did a bit of research then took a deep breath and posted it on the Facebook group.  Now I had to do it because I’d told about 1000 people that I was going to.  I did some more planning with OS maps and a spreadsheet because I love a spreadsheet and worked out where I could start and stop and feasibly be picked up along the route.  It was all getting exciting…. then we went back into lockdown, and you couldn’t leave the county of Cardiff.  I was disappointed but I modified my challenge to run around the perimeter of Cardiff instead.  On 11 October 2020 I did my first run from Castle Coch to Cefn Onn Park.  

I didn’t get lost.

I really enjoyed it.

I slipped on a rock and broke my ankle.  

That was the end of my 2020 birthday challenge.  No running for 9 weeks.  I hung up the medal on my medal rack even though I didn’t really feel like I’d earned it.

Roll on Autumn 2021 and the announcement of the second birthday medal challenge.  The challenge was to incorporate the number 2 into your challenge.  I thought back to 2020 and the excitement of planning the Taff Trail run and although it only very loosely fit into the brief, I decided to make my 2nd attempt to run it.  I dug out my plans from the previous year then broached the subject with my long-suffering run widow husband.  He’s so used to me saying “I’m going for a run” that he barely even raised an eyebrow when I asked if he could drop me off and pick me up every weekend at random points along the trail.  Better yet, I had a new watch with a map function so I could programme the route into it to prevent the Mountain Rescue nightmare scenario.

 Week 1 – Brecon to Talybont Reservoir (8 miles)

My first run was Sunday 3rd October.  I had persuaded my husband and kids that they would enjoy an afternoon in Brecon while I did the first 8 mile leg.  My sense of trepidation in the car as we drove through a monsoon up the A470 almost made me ask to turn back but I kept thinking, “If I don’t start now, I never will.”  Miraculously, by the time we arrived in Brecon, the sun was shining.  A quick picture with my kids at the start and a hug from everyone and I was off down the canal towpath.  Paranoia kicked in quickly and I spent the first 2 miles continually checking the route and panicking about missing my turning but the Taff Trail is very well signposted, so I easily spotted my first right turn off the towpath and onto what turned out to be quite a busy B road.  

This proved to be the downside of it being primarily a cycle path.  Most of the rest of this section was along B roads without pavement or even grass verges in a lot of places and I had to keep leaping into hedges when a car approached.  In hindsight I should have stuck to the canal path all the way to Talybont on Usk but I was stubbornly determined to run the actual Taff Trail so I doggedly followed the signposts.  At one point, I could see the canal towpath again and I climbed over a gate and crossed a field of sheep to rejoin it but the panic of being stuck on the wrong side of the canal sent me back the way I came and out onto the B roads again.  One hour and 40 minutes later, my family passed me in the car on their way to our rendezvous and the sight of them all waving and smiling spurred me on for the last half a mile.  They know me well enough not to stop and offer to pick me up there because that wasn’t “the end.”  Part one done and I felt like I had achieved something incredible, mainly because I hadn’t got lost.

 Week 2 – Talybont Reservoir to Brecon Mountain Railway (12.5 miles)

Week 2 was set to be a long run – 12.5 miles from the top of Talybont Reservoir to Pontsticill.  Last week’s successful navigation and the fact that the first 5 miles or so were familiar as they form part of the route of the Brecon Trail Half Marathon meant I was less worried about getting lost, at least at the start.  All I had to remember was to turn left at the top of the hill.

Instead of making my poor family hang around for the best part of 3 hours, we went in convoy to leave my car at the end and then drive to the start.  The SatNav took us on a hairy drive up the side of Talybont reservoir, much of which actually turned out to be the Taff Trail so it was helpful to have seen some of it in advance.  My husband was less pleased!  

I got out where I had finished the week before and headed off across the top of the reservoir.  The weather had been kind to me again and it was a beautifully sunny morning.  The path through the forest was completely empty.  It felt incredible – just me and the trail.  When I reached the top of the 5 mile continuous hill, the trail turned onto the road that we had driven up on the way here.  After the solitude of the forest, suddenly it seemed like there were loads of people here, a mix of cyclists and walkers but no crazy runners like me.  From here, the trail continues partly on road and partly on tracks through the forest until you get to Pontsticill.  Finally, there were some more scary B roads without pavements until I arrived back at my car parked outside a pub near Brecon Mountain Railway.

This is definitely the prettiest part of the Taff Trail as you wind through the forest and across the tops of hills along Talybont and then Pontsticill reservoir and was certainly my favourite part.  It is also where the majority of the elevation occurs, as evidenced by me making third place for elevation in the weekly Strava round up that week.  

 Week 3 – Brecon Mountain Railway to Aberfan (9 miles)

I had some company this week which gave my husband and kids a week off from long drives to drop off mummy at some godforsaken point in the middle of nowhere.  Complicated plans were made for where to meet, where to drop off various cars, etc.  Once again, the weather was sunny and 2 of us set off from near Brecon Mountain Railway down the trail towards Merthyr Tydfil.  This section is all tarmac path but runs under the trees, so you still feel like you are in the woods.  It’s also all downhill here so we were absolutely flying.  At mile 4 in Merthyr Tydfil, we were joined by another friend and continued down to Aberfan.  I’d never been to Aberfan before despite having lived in Cardiff for nearly 25 years.  The anniversary of the disaster was later in that week and we finished on the trail just above the remembrance garden, a poignant reminder of the terrible history of this town.  

The first week before I had brought a change of clothes in case it rained.  When I got into the car for the hour drive back to Cardiff, I realised that I would have to wait for my usual post run cup of tea so for the next week and all the rest, I brought a flask of tea and something to eat at the end as well as the change of clothes.  A pint of lukewarm tea turns out to be a great post run drink.

 Week 4 – Aberfan to Upper Boat (12.5 miles)

My luck with the weather didn’t hold out for this one.  As I got into the car in the dark at 7.30am on Sunday morning, it was already starting to drizzle.  The sun was just coming up as I got to Aberfan and this time I caught a glimpse of the cemetery where all the children and their teachers are buried.  Rows of white arch headstones on the hillside brought home how many were lost that day.  

A lot of this run was through forest again and even though you are running alongside the A470 for quite a bit at the beginning, you can forget it’s there.  Two miles in, the trail signs directed me to double back on myself and go down some steps towards a tunnel under the A470.  I can honestly say that this was the scariest tunnel I think I’ve ever been in.  It has a massive pipe running through it and you can’t see into it until you get to the very bottom of the steps.  I sprinted through that to get out the other side and back onto forest trail again.  

When I reached Abercynon at mile 6, it was properly raining.  By the time I reached Pontypridd at mile 10, I was completely wet through and properly miserable.  This is possibly the least attractive bit of the trail as it goes along a busy road by the side of the A470 with lorries thundering past spraying up water.  Maybe it looks better in the sunshine.  I pushed on, around the back of the University of South Wales and miraculously the rain stopped….for about 5 minutes.  Finally, I found the path off the trail down to Upper Boat and made it to Tesco car park and a warm car with a flask of tea.

Week 5 run 1 – Upper Boat to Coryton (5 miles plus a bit more) 

  As it was half term, I split the last section into 2 runs rather than have to do another 12 miler.  My daughters were at their grandparents and I usually finish at 3pm on a Wednesday so I took advantage of this and headed back out to Upper Boat.  It turned out to be one of those runs where I found it difficult to settle into it.  There was quite a lot of faffing in the first 2 miles with sorting out my backpack and eating sweets that I didn’t really need but had persuaded myself I couldn’t do without.  Funny how the shortest run turned out to be the most difficult.  Despite the fact that this part of the trail runs through quite a populated area, at least compared to earlier sections, I saw hardly any people at all.  It sort of felt quite lonely but maybe that was just my frame of mind that day.  When I got to Tongwynlais, suddenly I was back on familiar ground and I didn’t need the watch anymore to tell me where to go.  I stopped where the trail meets Longwood Drive planning to call my husband to pick me up but on the spur of the moment, decided to run all the way home from there.  Not the prettiest run along Manor Way in the fast-darkening evening, but I had done it.  One more to go….

Week 5 run 2 – Coryton to Cardiff Bay (7 miles)  

 The final run!  The weather forecast for the last weekend of October was dreadful.  I had originally intended to do this run on Halloween but decided to take advantage of the most likely dry weather and go on Saturday instead.  I got out the car on Longwood Drive in the pouring rain!  Never mind, it’s not like I hadn’t already been wet on this challenge and I’ve never been a fairweather runner.  This was the most familiar part of the Taff Trail so no navigation required.  I must have run down this part a hundred times but somehow this time felt different.  It was part of something bigger and somehow special.  

As I ran down through Bute Park, I discovered that what I had always thought was the Taff Trail wasn’t!  It goes across the river at Blackweir Bridge when I’d always assumed it carried on straight down Bute Park.  Of course, I crossed the bridge because I was running every step of the actual Taff Trail.  On into Cardiff centre where the city was gearing up for the rugby international with Wales v All Blacks.  Here it was really busy and I was weaving in and out of groups of people all heading to the match (or the pub!)  Finally, after 55 miles and about 11 hours of running, I reached Cardiff Bay.  Miraculously, Roald Dahl Plass was entirely empty of people, so I ran right down the centre of it feeling like a hero.  It was epic.  

 Turns out I’m not entirely sure where the official end of the Taff Trail is in Cardiff Bay so I just stopped when I got to the water and awarded myself my medal which had serendipitously arrived just before I left for the final run.

I was actually quite sad that this was the end.  These runs have been some of the most enjoyable that I have ever done.  The sense of achievement has been incredible and this year I feel like I have earned that medal.  I challenged myself to do something big and I succeeded.  

If anyone else is thinking of running down the Taff Trail, count me in – I would love to do it all again.

My Name is Deborah…and I am a runner!

by Deborah Collins

Last night, on a pretty grim, dark Wednesday October evening I joined a group of fabulous ladies for a 5k social run around Roath Park Lake. We waved farewell to the “hills” group and set off in biblical rain which didn’t let up the whole way, and in the latter stages were running in ankle deep water and the torrent of a river that Penylan Hill had become. We waded across a now completely flooded car park to do our cool down and paddled back to our cars, laughing and chatting happily despite being soaked to the skin. 

Last Sunday at the age of 57¾, I completed the Swansea Bay Half Marathon. It was my first Half race and I was delighted to squeak in at just under two and a half hours. I shall long remember my name being cheered as fellow She Runners urged me on and celebrated with me as I rounded the the final corner. 

The previous Friday I joined a very excited group of She Runners as we responded to a plea from the national treasure that is Joe Wicks, aka The Body Coach (Swoon, Swoon!) to keep him company on his morning 5k around Cardiff Bay.  We laughed and joked, took selfies and group photos with our hero and I carried on to run another 7 miles on a cloud and grinning from ear to ear. 

Had you told me two years ago that I had written those three paragraphs I’d have split my sides laughing, before telling you to go and have a lie down and get a grip. 

You see I wasn’t built to run. I couldn’t run. As a very keen gymnast in my youth (I had a hankering to be the Welsh Olga Korbut… the younger of you amongst us might need to google her!) but too many wonky, rather heavy landings and crashes off the beam left me with a rather grumpy right knee that simply wouldn’t have wanted to play ball. I wasn’t blessed with long, lean legs and could never have graced the pavements with the gazelle like running I had seen other women achieve… blimey, at times they even seemed to be enjoying themselves! 

But life often throws curve balls, and after losing 3.5 stone and getting fitter at the gym through 2019, lockdown 1 suddenly left me working permanently from home and high and dry with the gyms closed. I was acutely aware of the need to stop myself sliding back down the slippery slope to being a sloth and simply had to find a Plan B. 

Having worked previously in a public health environment I was aware of the “Couch to 5k” programme, so  downloaded the app to my phone. The idea is that with coached running sessions you progress from very short walking and jogging intervals to running non stop for 30 minutes at the end of 9 weeks. How hard could that be? With no other flashes of inspiration on the horizon, I set off for my “Week 1, Run 1” session dressed head to toe in black (it makes you invisible you know) and headed for a lane on the outskirts of the village we live in. The grand plan was to complete the task out of sight and sound of any other human beings. Bad plan. The whole village was out, running, walking dogs or supervising children on scooters and bikes as they took their local daily exercise in compliance with the COVID regulations at the time. Epic fail. So I walked until there was a lull in the human traffic and hit “play” on the programme. My coach guided me through the first session, which left me gasping on a grass verge, wondering what would happen if my lungs burst in a country lane and turning a very strange and unflattering shade of vermillion. I wandered home feeling like a total failure; dejected, embarrassed and massively disappointed in myself, but strangely determined that this running lark would not defeat me. I simply had to make it past the “walk for 30 seconds, jog for 30 seconds” challenge or forever carry the shame! 

9 weeks later a very different me, dressed in my new, coloured running gear, headed off to the far end of the village on my warm up walk. I hit “play” and 30 minutes later had run a shade under 5k across the beautiful Gwent Levels. More importantly I had graduated the programme, learned lots and been seriously bitten by the running bug. A week later I ran my 5k in 30 minutes for the first time and a few weeks later a Personal Best of 28 minutes 30. I had done it…. But I still couldn’t think of my self as a runner; I was somebody who jogged out of necessity to keep the weight off and to stay sane during lockdown. 

My life had been pretty challenging during this time; my Husband was very ill and our lives had changed massively. I struggled to deal with his illness, disabilities and prognosis, but had found that running gave me headspace; an opportunity to have those serious conversations I had to have with myself at times and a new found appreciation of being out in the air, in nature and just focussing on me for a time. I felt like I was giving myself a gift by taking time out for me, to run, to listen to a podcast or music, to decompress and appreciate the precious opportunity to do so. 

Regular runs followed, and I invested in my first very pretty pair of very pink running shoes. It felt like quite a lot of money for fancy daps, but the baggy t-shirts soon got swapped for vests and I was slowly acquiring a running wardrobe! By now I was mixing my runs with workouts in my garage with the lovely and aforementioned Joe Wicks and Zoom classes with one of the Personal Trainers from my gym. I was becoming fitter, stronger, more confident and found myself looking forward to my runs more and more. Not only was I seeing and feeling the physical benefit of running, but perhaps more importantly I felt more positive, energised, calmer and almost indestructible when those fabulous endorphins kicked in after a run. It was addictive, magical, and I was falling under it’s spell!

At around this time a former work colleague of mine suggested that I join She Runs: Cardiff. I had actually been secretly “stalking” the group for a while and was totally in awe of the achievements of this wonderfully diverse group of women; women of all abilities, shapes, sizes, ages and all with their own reasons for running. But running alone felt safe; I wasn’t accountable to anyone but me. If I wasn’t doing it quite right nobody would find out. The fact that we had to run alone at that time was my safety blanket, but in a rush of blood to the head one day, I finally hit the “join” button. I started posting nervously about my runs, successes and struggles and received such lovely feedback and responses that felt like a giant hug and immediately felt so welcome. I learned so much from other members. I was inspired by their running journeys and achievements, motivated by the challenges they set themselves or had overcome to run, and the loved the fun, friendly, non-competitive, non-judgemental nature of their group. 

It’s difficult to explain the confidence that joining this community gave me. This once anonymity seeking jogger even ordered a She Runs T-shirt with her name emblazoned on it loud and proud, and somehow these women, none of whom I had ever met, helped me to start to believe and accept that I fitted in.  

My 5k runs had progressed to 6 or 7 and once even 8k. An easing of restrictions even meant that I finally made it to the hallowed She Runs: Cardiff Turf and finally ran happy laps of Roath Park Lake!  I began to wonder…. Could I? Should I? Might I actually be able to manage to hit the dizzy heights of a 10k? I figured that if I didn’t try I’d never know, so I took what felt like a massive step and signed up for the Virtual Cardiff Bay 10k, safe in the knowledge that as a virtual run I could run alone at a time when there were as few people around as possible to witness the attempt. On a very cold November morning at dark o’clock I set off from my office and headed through Bute Park before following the Taff to the Bay then out across the barrage and back before sprinting up the Oval Basin to finish with a flourish at the Wales Millennium Centre. The winds were biting, and having always wished I’d been blessed with cheekbones I now knew that I had them, as they hurt like crazy from the cold. But I had run 10k and thoroughly enjoyed every stride. I even managed a sort of “Rosie Jump” from a concrete bollard…. It was like a rite of passage and a very clumsy and totally inelegant celebration of what felt like an Olympian achievement. 

Over the winter I continued to run alone, now confident enough to wave at other runners on laps around the lake and even recognising some of them from the group. One of the wonderful Run Buddies who lived fairly locally suggested that we might run together one day and I eagerly agreed, before crashing waves of nerves washed over me at the realisation of what I’d just committed to. I wasn’t ready to run with a real runner. I’d be found out as some kind of fraud. They’d realise I wasn’t doing it properly. Imposter syndrome hit me big time. However soon after I set off from home, my stomach literally doing triple somersaults and feeling sick with nerves to meet the lovely Ann Lawson-Jones nearby. My husband was undergoing surgery that morning and as soon as we set off, I started blabbering away ninety to the dozen, now realising how hard it was to run, breathe, talk and somehow manage not fall over my feet all at the same time. Ann was warm, patient, encouraging, friendly and frankly flipping wonderful. We discovered some uncanny similarities in our lives and I knew I’d found a very special friend. We ran a lovely 5k which whizzed by, said our farewells I headed home grinning from ear to ear. I had run with another human being and it been fine! 

I still struggled massively with the idea of running with others and realised that lockdown and self isolating with my then shielding husband had made me quite socially anxious, something I’d never experienced before my husband’s illness and COVID.  But I realised how I’d missed adult conversation, laughing and joking with others and sharing a love of running with kindred spirits. 

As COVID regulations eased the She Runs social runs started up and I looked forward to my Sunday morning runs with “The Heath Park Posse”. The run buddies led a warm up and the run fitted everyone; quicker runners headed off on the lap and a half route whilst a fabulous “party at the back” was taking place for those enjoying a slower paced run. A warm down and chat rounded the session off perfectly and I so enjoyed meeting, running with chatting with my fellow She Runners. I’d blabber on nervously about heaven knows what at every run…. But nobody seemed to mind. Nobody seemed to find it strange or if they did they didn’t let it show.  I felt I was amongst friends and that it was ok to simply be me. It was wonderful.

By now running had become such an important part of my life, and a part of me. It was a wonderful coping mechanisms and had opened up a completely new social network to me. I had started to feel like the “old” me. I got so much out of the group but also enjoyed and felt confident enough to post regularly on the forum and to “pay back” some of the support, motivation and encouragement I had received and been so grateful for.

And then the “moment of madness” as my dear Husband calls it happened. I finally felt I had the confidence to challenge myself with “real running” and real races. With a few swift clicks of the mouse I had entered the Severn Bridge 10k as a stepping stone to “The Main Event”…..the Cardiff Half Marathon in October 2021. I devised my bespoke 12 week training plan; blending a beginners intermediate plans I found online which suited me running 3 times a week; a fartlek/hill/intervals session for one, a longer run on a Friday and a recovery run at the Social Run on a Sunday, along with a cross training session once a week, which for me was a Spin class, a totally new experience I’d never had the confidence to try previously, and one I really enjoyed. 

On a gorgeous August Bank Holiday Monday I and a fabulous group of She Runs members gathered at the event village for the Severn Bridge run, all nervous and most of us running our first “real” race. The buzz was incredible and I felt extremely emotional as we walked to the start together, supporting and willing each other on. The atmosphere was wonderful. The route was blooming hard. If anyone ever tells you the Severn Bridge is flat, it is absolutely, most definitely not. That long drag incline is never ending…. Then you run downhill and have to run back up it again, though I have to say, running on a closed motorway is pretty unique and very cool indeed! The sound of bagpipes played as we turned in England to run back into Wales and I had a moment of overwhelming pride and happy tears that simply would not stop and sheer joy at what I was doing. We all finished and had a celebratory photo and group hug. I was very happy indeed with my time but it wasn’t about time. I had crossed the finish line and run a real race. I will always remember sharing that experience with people I had never met before, but who like me had been a part of something pretty wonderful that morning. 

This run was a big boost on my training plan and built my confidence hugely. I was running the Half Marathon for Team Alzheimer’s Society in honour of my dear Dad who has this cruel illness. Sadly, soon after the Cardiff event was postponed to March 2022, but undeterred and having raised almost £700 for the cause felt I was ready for the test and signed up for the Swansea Half Marathon which took place last weekend. 

What a journey it’s been! There have been so many highs in the last 20 months; some fabulous challenges, treasure hunts, bingo cards to fill, the Kidney Wales relay, charity runs and distance challenges and medals. There have been tough times too; a knee injury from putting my foot in a rabbit hole on a walk which kept me out for 5 weeks in March, more health challenges and hospitalisations for Hubby and difficult news about about his prognosis. But sitting here today writing this blog I can honestly say it’s been fabulous. I have so many people in the group to thank for that; too many to mention by name but all deserving of a huge and heartfelt “Thank You”. I’m so incredibly proud to be a member of this wonderful community and so thankful for the positive impact it’s had on me and my life. I’m a happier, healthier, more fulfilled person with a more positive outlook and an energy and zest for life that I had feared I had lost forever. 

So where might will the journey take me next? Well I’m signed up for the Pudding Run at Merthyr Mawr in December… a 10k run for which I have promised to try to overcome my “issues” with fancy dress… then the rearranged Cardiff Half in March and hopefully another half and a perhaps a bit of trail running in between. The RIDUM Ultra Marathon in September sparked an interest that is gnawing away in me, but I think helping at our awesome checkpoints might have to be as far as that whacky plan goes! Registration for next year’s Swansea Half has opened today….  and it looks like I have a hot date on my wedding anniversary on 12 June 2022 …..just don’t tell my husband!  

I hope to be able to continue to contribute to the group by posting and taking part in our runs and challenges, and to return some of the support, love and “purple power” that I have enjoyed to others, wherever they are on their running journey.

So, that’s my story so far…. From slouch to 5k, 10k, a Half Marathon and hopefully to infinity and beyond! If you made it to this far, thank you for sticking with me. If you’re dithering about joining us I hope I’ve given you a gentle nudge in the right direction. If my experience encourages just one person to come along to a social run, to join me for a run one day or to sign up for their first challenge or race then that would be simply wonderful; I hope you enjoy your journey with this wonderful group of women as much as I have.

Thank you She Runs: Cardiff for carrying me along with you on such a wonderful wave of, friendship, fun and support in running and in life. I’m hugely proud to be a part of this fabulous community of women supporting women; for the love of running. 

My name is Deborah… and I am a runner! 

Happy Birthday She Runs: Cardiff!

On the 13th October 2021 She Runs: Cardiff turned 2 years old! It’s hard to believe it’s only been two years as such a lot has happened and we have achieved so much as a club. Here two of our Run Buddies, Gemma and Nia, take a look back on our two years and what She Runs: Cardiff means to them.

My Purple People
by Gemma Brimble

2 years ago myself and group of like minded ladies decided we wanted to create a safe space for women who run with no joining fees, no expectations of speed or distance and of no judgement; so She Runs Cardiff was born. 

I’ve made some incredible friends through this group and even 2 years on my purple people continue to amaze me. 

I posted a photo when I was dreading one of my marathon training runs after a bad injury and a tight timescale to get my miles up and logging back onto facebook to post that I made it I was absolutely blown away by dozens and dozens of comments from ladies at all stages of their running journey’s cheering me on. A couple of months on I don’t remember a single detail of that run – where I went or how long it took me but that feeling of friendship and love that overwhelmed me after I got home that day will stay with me forever.

I am not the only lucky one though, we celebrate all of each other’s achievements and we are there for each other through illness, injury and other life tribulations in a way that I have never experienced before. 

She Runs Cardiff has transformed over the past 2 years from a running club to a running community and I am so proud every day of what we have managed to achieve.


My Tribe
by Nia Williams

I always wanted to be part of something big; to be part of a community that was real and true. To be somewhere where I felt I belonged and could be authentically me. I used to see running clubs at races and look at them with envy, seeing the colourful shirts, the camaraderie and thinking they look so professional, I would never fit in there.

But then we did something special. A group of like minded women from all different backgrounds, in all different stages of life created She Runs Cardiff. A club for women, created by women; and at last I found a place where I truly felt like I belonged.

When we created the idea of She Runs Cardiff two years ago, we didn’t know what it would turn into.
We created our brand and our name which means so much to us: She Runs.
She Runs covers so much. She Runs a mile, She Runs 5k, She Runs 10k, She Runs Half Marathons, She Runs Marathons, She Runs Ultra Marathons She Runs every Day, She Runs Trails, But, in its purest form, SHE RUNS.

We created our ethos: Run and your pace and no one ever gets left behind. A party at the back so that every runner is included and supported.

We defined our Colour: Purple. A strong and bold colour that suits everyone.

We created our strapline: For the love of running – and this is so true, we either have, or ultimately find the love of running and the benefits it brings to our lives and our wellbeing.

And when we launched it was so wonderful to see the community start, and develop and grow. All of these hopes and dreams I had previously had, were coming true. I had found somewhere that I belonged. I had found a group of like-minded women that I would meet every week and go for a run. And it wasn’t just me, the group was growing and other women were getting the same feeling as me. We were making new friends – something which is notoriously difficult once you get older. 

Then the C word happened – I won’t mention it as it has been mentioned too much. But this is when the community really pulled together and provided outstanding support, and that is what you always hope a community will be. A community can be defined as “A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals” and we all showed the power of a community when we supported each other through the dark and frightening and lonely days of isolation.
There are so many ways that I am grateful for She Runs: Cardiff and the positive impact it has had on my life.

I now have a tribe – each and every one of you are part of the tribe. I want you all to know that I am honoured to be in this tribe and I am eternally grateful for you. Attending the regular runs is amazing, but my word, the feeling of the tribe comes out in force at a race. Seeing a sea of purple, sharing that nervous excitement with others, high fives and hugs at the finish line – this is my tribe 🙂

I have a tribe who shares my highs and lows. A tribe that will celebrate my successes and pick me up from the lows. I have genuine friends who would do anything for me and me for them – my tribe. I am inspired by the Women of this group. To the ladies starting out on your running journey and joining the C25K – you inspire me. Starting out on your running journey is such a nerve wracking and exciting time – please know that She Runs: Cardiff will support you and champion you. To those ladies working towards a 10k – you inspire me. Seeing the sea of purple at the Cardiff Bay 10k was phenomenal and the comments on the group were outstanding. To those ladies training for a Half Marathon – do it, do it, do it!! You inspire me and I know that you also inspire others.

To those ladies that are nervous about joining, that are following our journey on Facebook and are unsure of joining – please come and give it a go, I promise we won’t let you down. This isn’t an exclusive club where you need the right gear, to be a certain speed, to look a certain way – this is a club where you feel safe, a club where I hope you feel that you belong, a club that will support you.

Happy birthday She Rus Cardiff – I am so proud of you.


When you don’t feel how you are ‘supposed’ to feel post-marathon

The London Marathon & Me

by Ann Lawson-Jones

It has been a few days since I ran the London Marathon and time for a reflection as things have been on my mind.

My journey to London was a long drawn out one. I entered the ballot in 2018, I deferred my 2019 place in hopes hubby would get in with me, then Covid took it, and then a broken ankle and rehab paused things. 

2021 was my race. I worked hard for it, I trained diligently while keeping up my physio exercises. I was ready for it. The build up was exciting, but also anxious as more and more pupils in my son’s year group were going down with covid. 

Everything was in place, bag packed and off we went. Saturday ran smoothly, the journey down was ‘great’, in the way only long car journeys can be. The hotel was lovely and within walking distance to the ExCel to drop off my bag and collect my bib.

I’d arranged to meet Rosie before hand as she was staying close by and we made our way on the DLR to the start together.  At the top of the hill, we had to go our separate ways as were in different colour start areas. A big hug, and then I was on my own. I diligently queued for the loos and then headed to my wave start area. I was a little cold so glad of my jumper. I text hubby as well as AJ & Gruby. While I was waiting Rachel approached me – she spotted my SRC skirt that Gruby and her husband had made for me, we chatted while we waited for our start time.

Once we were off, we parted ways, and my marathon had begun. 

Here’s where it got weird. I had the thoughts ‘I’m doing it! I’m actually running the London Marathon’ but I didn’t feel it. I can’t explain it. I’d been told to ‘enjoy every moment, soak in the atmosphere’ so I tried that. I had a little smile, thinking ooh I’ll see something familiar in a minute, or, when we converge with the other colours I may be able to spot other SRC members. Neither happened, I was running on strange, unfamiliar roads with thousands of strangers alongside me. 

I felt out of my depth, I decided the only thing to do would be to focus on the miles I had offered to run in memory of. So, each mile became a quick selfie and a post to social media, naming the mile and person it was for. That’s how I got though the 26.2 miles. I didn’t have 26 people I’d been asked to run for but I had my own grateful list that easily topped it up, they were all on a piece of paper in the back of my phone case for quick reference. At one point the cycling paramedics were alongside and I almost asked if I could just run with them as that is how I had done most of my long runs with hubby on his bike with me. 

There had been advice to chat to other runners, but I find that so hard, I just couldn’t do it. There was this overwhelming sense of being totally on my own. In this huge city full of thousands of spectators and runners, I was on my own. I knew there was lots of support out there for me, I knew family, friends and SRC were following my progress but running and following your social media is nigh on impossible, how I managed those mile updates and keep running I’ll never know. Knowing the support was there was a big comfort, but at the end of the day I wanted my running buddies actually running with me! 

There were a few moments of relief – seeing Beth and Zoe three times; the first time they screamed so hard! By the time I realised I was the Ann being screamed at I couldn’t carry on running so I turned back and got the most amazing hug! Saw hubby twice – the first time my overactive, delighted to see him hug set off the incident detection on my Garmin and it stopped my run, so it was in two parts on my watch. 

There was also a boat, a bridge and a palace along the way. To be fair the supporters were amazing, the live music and the cheering especially when the heavens opened, but it got too much for me towards the end, the wall of sound took over all my senses and I felt a little claustrophobic. 

I was relieved to see the finish line, but I was confused – there were two arches. I ran through the first and knew I’d run over the timing chip but I kept going until a marshal told me it was Ok to stop! I was handed a foil blanket but struggled to open it, another volunteer took it from me and wrapped the one she had opened around my shoulders.

In a daze I wondered more than half The Mall to find the crate number that had my bag in and then tried to find hubby. It all felt a little bit too easy? As if I’d forgotten a big bit, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what’s missing. 

That post run euphoria, that feeling of ‘OMG I’ve just run a marathon’ that was missing. I didn’t have that insane grin on my face that you see in so many finishers’ photographs. I’ve spent the last few days still hoping that moment will come, but it hasn’t yet. 

Hubby was able to join the two run files when we got back home on Monday, so I now do have a recorded marathon time as well as my official text. But the feeling of disappointment remains. 

All of this has not put me off though. I want to run another marathon but quite differently; I want to run in familiar places with my running tribe joining for all or parts of it. I want it to be a celebration of the community I feel such a part of, in thanks for the support and wonderful message I was sent in the days up to, of and after London. I’ll make us all medals and we’ll have a big party on the Rec at the end. That will, for me, trump any world major running event!

The She Runs: Checkpoint

Volunteering at a race can be just as much fun as running it!

by Gruby Barrett

In early 2019 my husband, Mark, was volunteering for Repair Café Wales.  Chatting to the organiser, Cerys, he discovered that she was married to a man called Rhys who was running 26 marathons in 26 days and keen for company. Mark joined Rhys for some loops around Bute Park and learned that he directed an ultramarathon company, Pegasus Ultra Running. Before we knew it we were both signed up to volunteer at one of their races, the VOGUM (the Vale of Glamorgan Ultra Marathon)! It runs for 40 miles along the coastal footpath from Porthcawl to Penarth. At the time we had little idea what an ultramarathon or a checkpoint was, but Cerys and Rhys can be pretty persuasive.  

So in May 2019, having carefully read our emailed instructions, we set off early to pick up a boot load of food, drinks and equipment and set up a checkpoint in Porthkerry Park. We were honestly both hooked from the start. The first runner came in and chatted as we filled his water bottle, and off he went. For 8 hours we stood in the sunshine, providing food, drink and where needed TLC and encouragement to runners and they passed through. Every runner greeted us with a huge smile, largely I suspect of relief as they had covered the distance and reached the next checkpoint. That year Pegasus had organised  3 ultras, and I volunteered for all 3 while Mark ran 1 and volunteered for 2. Then Covid hit, and in 2020, sadly, no organised runs went ahead.

The HOWUM

In Summer 2021, after several false starts, ultramarathons started again with the HOWUM (the Heartlands of Wales Ultra Marathon in mid-Wales) followed by the Eddum, a brutal 50-mile loop on the Epynt way, near Sennybridge. The day of the EDDUM was hard for us with high winds and heavy rain, I hate to think of how it was for the runners. Despite guy ropes the gazebo kept blowing up into the air and we had to catch it several times until we came up with the bright idea of tethering it to our car on one side and our co-volunteers’ van on the other. Unfortunately, the van had to head off, and as soon as we untied the gazebo it took off! Luckily two runners who were sitting in camping chairs underneath it caught it by the legs. Our checkpoint sadly became some carefully laid out food and drink in the boot of our car and we jumped out in full waterproofs to assist each passing runner. A few changed into dry clothes at our checkpoint only to be caught by the next deluge 5 minutes later. All the runners are inspirational, particularly in those conditions; from the fastest who ran over hilly, difficult terrain completing 50 miles in 9 hours, to the last finisher who was out in all weathers for 20 hours. 

When Mark announced that he was going to run the VOGUM on 27th August 2021 I was fairly confident that I could recruit a couple of volunteers to run a checkpoint with me from the fabulous She Runs: Cardiff community. Within 24 hours of putting a message on Facebook I was thrilled that 12 volunteers had put themselves forward, which threw up the problem that the checkpoint might get too crowded. The solution was to have two shifts so everyone could try the experience. Planning the shifts the nerves kicked in, as the responsibility of coordinating the people, food, drink equipment, and manpower for a checkpoint for Pegasus’ biggest event ever (with 180 sign ups) hit me. Really, I needn’t have worried, with just a 5 minute briefing the SR:C ladies came up trumps and managed all the inevitable minor problems as they happened with ease. The early crew were having such a great time they didn’t want to leave at the allotted time but again, I need not have worried. They worked so well as a team that at no point did the checkpoint seem crowded. As runners came through, they were greeted with cheers, enthusiasm, cake and  fruit. It was lovely when runners from the SR:C group arrived, creating a fabulous party atmosphere. Once the checkpoint had been packed up and delivered to the finish, I grinned as I overheard two finishers contemplating running back for more cake.

And so the Pegasus SR:C checkpoint was born! There was no difficulty recruiting volunteers to help at the RIDUM (30 miles along the Rhymney Ridgeway walk) or the South CANUM (40 miles along the Monmouthshire canal from Newport to Brecon).  The runners were informed of the quality of food at the SR:C checkpoint at the briefing and for each race the response at the checkpoint and afterwards on social media was fabulous. Quite a few runners were running several of the Pegasus events, and I had queries about where the SR:C checkpoint would be and whether there would be the usual favourite food.

The South CANUM

The dates for 2022 are already in my diary, and I’m looking forward to helping at checkpoints again. You never know, one day I might even run one.

Finally a huge thank you to everyone from SR:C who gave up a day (in some cases two!) to join me in helping out, and respect to the inspirational ladies who ran.

Running for Kidney Wales….with a little help from our friends!

The She Runs: Cardiff Summer Relay 03/07/2021

by Myfanwy Thomas

What an incredible day we had yesterday. The 3rd virtual relay held by She Runs: Cardiff was all set to be the biggest and best we’d ever had and it didn’t disappoint. Our 2 previous relays have been held exclusively within our group but this time we wanted to connect with the wider running community which is exactly what we did.

Rosie & ‘Reenie’

For relays one and two we supported Cardiff Women’s Aid and Huggard Homeless Centre as important charities local to us. This time we chose Kidney Wales because of a very personal connection to the cause. One of our own Running Buddies (our volunteers who help run the group), Rosie, donated one of her own kidneys to her best friend Zoe only 3 months ago. Kidney disease is incredibly debilitating and affects as many as 1 in 10 of us so it is something which has touched many of us. There are several members in our group affected by it themselves, or with relatives or friends affected by it.

We started with 8 teams from She Runs: Cardiff and added to that 19 other teams from around Wales, the UK and in fact the world! Our furthest flung team was ‘We Run Gaborone’, entered by The Gaborone Runner. If you don’t know, Gaborone is in Botswana! Which google tells me is 7,623 miles away. We also had entrants in Australia and Florida. It was truly a global event.

Here is our team list!

  1. WJEC
  2. Rondo Media
  3. Team Jelly Baby
  4. Ysgol Garth Olwg
  5. We Run Gaborone
  6. Not Fast, but Furious!
  7. The A-Team
  8. Team B-lue
  9. Count me In
  10. Not fast, but Fabulous!
  11. Team 2….Beat!
  12. Glorious in de Feet
  13. Reenie’s Runners
  14. We’ve Got the Runs
  15. Between a Walk and a Hard Pace
  16. Run on Irene
  17. Chafing the Dream
  18. #TeamBenchWatch
  19. CDF Runners
  20. Badass Mother Runners
  21. Just Run Penybont
  22. Dolly Mixtures
  23. Pegs
  24. Runk
  25. Team Reenie
  26. Ogmore Phoenix
  27. G C Fitgangers

The teams were arranged to cover 30 minutes slots, starting at 7am in the morning and ending at 7pm that night. The idea was to move continuously as a team and see just how far we could get! Some team members covered more than one slot with many keeping moving for 60 minutes or even 120!

The morning of the relay dawned and the weather (in Cardiff at least) was not great. But that did not dampen any spirits. We heard from Shathiso in Botswana that despite it being winter they had the opposite issue – it was too hot! But the threat of a hot & sweaty run did not deter any of their runners either. At 7am BST the first 27 runners & walkers were off.

And that was it. From 7am until 7pm and beyond that evening the buzz of the relay was phenomenal. The @sherunscardiff social media were going crazy with the hashtag #SRCSummerRelay & #RasGyfnewidMHRC trending (probably…!). The SRC social media team worked all day with hardly a pause (apart from running their own relay slots) and all the team captains were superstars encouraging their members to do their best and enjoy throughout the day. Each SRC team had a WhatsApp group, and I can tell you that by the end of the day some of them had over 600 messages in them!

From amongst our own club members there were some amazing participants who overcame many barriers to take part. Angela & Claire have only recently completed c25k and are embracing their new love of running. Gemma ran the furthest she’s ever ran by herself. Claire is only on week 3 of c25k but smashed out an amazing run despite a very difficult morning. Angharad tested positive for Covid on the morning but still completed her 30 mins on her treadmill at home. Deborah started off her team and was the biggest cheerleader for them all day. Laura was not feeling the love for a run on the morning but following her team mates encouragement went for a lovely run around Hendre Lake. The running community truly is inspiring.

So, the all important questions. How much did we raise and how far did we go?
At the time of writing our fundraising page had hit £6,323 for Kidney Wales. There’s still time to donate!
All 27 teams collectively covered a distance of 2,849 KM or 1,770 miles. How awesome is that? That’s as far as Greece! Just goes to show how important every single persons contribution to the distance was. Whether it was 1 mile or 5! And the teams that covered the most distance? In 1st we had ‘Tîm Ysgol Garth Olwg‘, followed by ‘Between a Walk and a Hard Pace‘ of She Runs: Cardiff , and in 3rd ‘Count Me In‘ of South Wales Running Community.

We even had a radio show dedicated to us! Huge thanks to Danny & Dave of The Sunrise Run. Listen again below:

Congratulations and a huge huge thank you to everyone that took part, you truly were part of something special.

Our next relay will be at Christmas time – we can’t wait!

When your Ultra-Marathon is cancelled but you run it anyway….

Over the past 15 months we’ve all got used to races being postponed; it’s become the absolute norm. There’s a glimmer of hope that something might go ahead but as it gets closer to the time the inevitable happens.

This was the case for the Pegasus Vale of Glamorgan Ultra Marathon (VOGUM). It almost looked like it might go ahead but sadly Pegasus had to make the decision with a few weeks to go that it couldn’t go ahead as planned and would be postponed until late August, when (hopefully!) events are able to go ahead.

Within She Runs: Cardiff there was quite a large group of women who were preparing to run the VOGUM. Training for an ultra is no casual affair. Marathons were run in preparation even. It’s one thing when your 10k race gets cancelled, it’s an entirely different story when your 40 mile race is pushed back 2 months! How do you reconcile all that effort you’ve put in? Do you keep training at the same level for another 2 months?

An intrepid group of 9 came up with their own solution. They would run their own 40 mile race, and affectionately name it the FAUX-GUM. On the 5th June they set out bright and early from Ogmore and ran the 40 miles all the way to Penylan Community Centre in Roath, Cardiff, the “unofficial home” of SRC, to be greeted by family & friends celebrating their achievement. To top it off they raised a staggering £1,987 (to date – donations are still open here).

So what made them do it? What were their motivations to run an ultra in the first place? Read as they tell us in their own words.

AMY

AMY
What was your motivation to sign up for an ultra?
In early 2020, I was looking for my next challenge. I’d jeffed the Manchester marathon in 2019 and felt comfortable at the end (and walked halfway through Manchester after the finish to get the train home!) and wondered about Ultra marathons. The idea of a race that was about adventure and endurance instead of speed was interesting but I was still nervous about entering a race. Then in the course of a couple of weeks I happened to listen to a podcast with Nicky Spinks, heard a radio  interview with Anna Mcnuff and one Sunday morning She Runs run, I ran with Bernadette Mccarthy who told me all about Pegasus and how she had run the VOGUM.  My mind was made up and I signed up that day. Being able to start and finish from home, no cut off times and the promise of cake at the aid stations sounded a good idea.I also spoke to Gruby and volunteered to man an aid station at another race so I could get an idea of what it would be like.Training was going well until March when covid struck and the race was postponed until 2021.  However, I was still keen to complete it and several other She Runners signed up too.
What’s the furthest run you’d done previously?

Before signing up I’d completed several marathons. During lockdown I completed a birthday ultra for Pegasus, several times around Roath Park with lots of She Runners joining for a lap or two.However during the training leading up to the VOGUM the longest distance I ran was 20 miles a couple of times, one of which was on trail with lots of elevation. I also did a couple of recces of the Coastal Path, which I found really helpful on the day.
How did the training go?
Apart from the false start in 2020, the training in 2021 went well. I signed up for a coach who sent me weekly plans for my runs. Until the end of March my longest runs were 10-12 miles but I was building up endurance with interval training, back to back runs and strength training.  Then from April, I increased my long run mileage, trying to incorporate trail and elevation, also jeffing different intervals too.
4. What was the best thing about the run?So many things as it was an awesome day! Starting at Ogmore amongst the sheep, lambs and bunnies, the stunning views and beautiful coastline, the sense of adventure and freedom, the kindness of the support crews and everyone who came to see us finish. Most of all it was running with 8 amazing women who supported each other from start to finish. 
What was the hardest thing about the run and how did you get through it?
40 miles is a long way and I think all of us felt tired or found it tough at some point during the run. The other runners were really supportive and positive and friends and family who support us were fantastic in lifting everyone’s spirits. I also recommend having a cup of tea en route ( Thanks Gruby!)
Will you do another?
Definitely! I’ve swapped my entry to do the RIDDUM in September.

KATE

KATE M
What was your motivation to sign up for an ultra?
Ahhhh let’s just say it didn’t take much encouragement from fellow SRC friends… turns out I’m a pushover!!
What’s the furthest run you’d done previously?
I’ve done a few marathons in the last couple of years
How did the training go?
On the whole really well- I very much enjoyed exploring new trail routes with others also training for ultra marathons. Fitting it around family life was a little challenging, especially as the mileage increased. 
What was the best thing about the run?
The company of the eight other girls, the beautiful scenery, the overwhelming kindness and support and the glorious sunshine! And the rather emotional finish line!
What was the hardest thing about the run and how did you get through it?
Not getting to eat one of Gruby’s amazing brownies at the aid stop she and her husband kindly manned for us on the outskirts of Barry! I’m breastfeeding my baby daughter and she has various allergies so I’ve been dairy free for several months: the brownies looked incredible. Gruby and Mark has also bought fruit: the mouthwatering watermelon and fresh pineapple were an absolute tonic to the artificial, sweet gels!
Will you do another?
Well there’s the actual race later this summer but I can totally see why people get bitten by the ultra bug .

SAM

SAMANTHA
What was your motivation to sign up for an ultra?
If I’m honest the main reason I entered the VOGUM was that it was 40 miles and I turned 40 this year so it seemed a great way to celebrate. Most people have a party I wanted to run an ultra! Also, Pegasus, who run the event, have a great ethos in that they don’t have cut off times. What could seem like a really intimidating challenge felt much more manageable knowing that there would be no sweeper behind me if I was struggling time wise. Finally, the race was local which meant that my family would be able to be at the end, which was really important to me.
What’s the furthest run you’d done previously?
The furthest race I’d run prior to our FAUX-GUM was a half marathon, which just seems bonkers on the surface of it. But get the right training plan and you can do anything. 
How did the training go?
I really enjoyed the training. It meant that I went of exploring places that I would never have considered before as the distances I was running in training meant that I could go further afield. I have to admit that during the final couple of weeks training when I was reducing my milage I really missed those long runs.
What was the best thing about the run?
The support we had on the day was beyond what any of us could ever have imagined and totally made the day. The support from our She Runs Cardiff crew was phenomenal. They were there ready and waiting with everything we could have wanted or didn’t know we wanted – thank you for the ice lollies! We pretty much had someone pop up every five miles to see if we wanted water or haribo. Without the support we wouldn’t have been able to complete the run.
What was the hardest thing about the run and how did you get through it?
This may be a bit of an odd one, but I didn’t struggle on the day at all. I had expected to ‘hit the wall’ physically and mentally but felt alright all day. Clearly a diet of cheese sandwiches and ready salted crisps agrees with me! I was very lucky not to get blisters as well as I think that would have made things far more challenging. 
Will you do another?
Absolutely – just don’t tell my husband yet! He needs to get over the training from the first. Plus we have the actual race in August as well.

SIAN

SIAN
What was your motivation to sign up for an ultra?
I’m always looking for a new challenge and wanted something to aim for with my running. An ultra-marathon is a box I never thought I’d tick off but I’m so happy that I have! 😊
What’s the furthest run you’d done previously? 
A month before the event I ran my first marathon (unplanned and solo!) up to Caerphilly Castle, back towards Pontypridd and then returning to Cardiff. That was a great sense of achievement!
How did the training go? 
I didn’t really have a training plan as such, I just increased the frequency of my runs and ensured that I did at least two 10K plus runs per week. I also forced myself to slow my pace as I tend to start out too quickly and then have no energy for longer distances! 
What was the best thing about the run? 
I can’t really pinpoint one favourite thing about the run, it was an epic day in so many ways! But the thing that stood out for me was how much support we received throughout the whole day, every step of the way, from friends, family and our extended She Runs family, it was hugely heart-warming, and I can’t express how much it meant to us all. The scenery was pretty good too! 😉
What was the hardest thing about the run and how did you get through it?
The hardest aspect for me was running with an injury, I really wouldn’t advise it but I made sure I didn’t push myself too far and made contingency plans beforehand in case I needed to tap out at any point. Luckily it didn’t impact too much on the day and the continued support and encouragement kept me going.
Will you do another?
I’m actually doing the postponed VOGUM in August, so yes definitely! I’m also tempted to sign up for another next year…so watch this space!!

REBECCA

REBECCA
What was your motivation to sign up for an ultra?
Mainly because my sister Kate signed up for it and I was worried I’d get FOMO 🤦🏼‍♀️ But also wanted a challenge to focus on to get through lockdown
What’s the furthest run you’d done previously?
The furthest official race I’d done previously was a half marathon. But we’d done a marathon as part of our ultra training.
How did the training go?
Great! Actually really enjoyed it! Especially the Sunday long runs! Went on some lovely new routes and really enjoyed the chats with Kate and Alex. 
What was the best thing about the run?
So many things to choose from but it’s going to have to be the support we received – it was phenomenal!! Not just from our families who were amazing, the support we had from the she runs group was incredible! So emotional when we arrived back in roath! Felt so privileged to be part of it! 😭💜
What was the hardest thing about the run and how did you get through it?
Getting the nutrition right (which I didn’t!) I’m not the best at drinking / eating on runs but managed ok on training runs. But on the day it was so warm I ended up drinking way too much and it resulted in me feeling sick from about mile 20. That made the rest of the run really tough and I felt so frustrated with myself. Pep talks from my family and my fellow fauxgum runners got me through it. I don’t think I’d have finished it without them!
Will you do another?
Yes!! Deferred my official race entry to next year so look forward to doing it all again in 2022!! 

ELAINE

ELAINE
What was your motivation to sign up for an ultra?
I knew I would NEVER do this on my own – I know full well that I don’t have the mental strength for the long training. So it was now or never when I knew that others were signing up. 
What’s the furthest run you’d done previously?
I’ve run three marathons in the past (but the last one was 6 years ago and the other two were way before that).
How did the training go?
Mixed. I had a few niggles which completely destroyed my confidence. But I absolutely loved the training runs with the other ladies – just wonderful.
What was the best thing about the run?
One hundred percent the support we received from our She Runs Cardiff family, friends and the families of those running. It was absolutely beyond anything I could ever have imagined and I will never be able to say thank you enough.
What was the hardest thing about the run and how did you get through it?
Some parts were tough but the cup of tea at the layby in Barry was just the best pick me up ever! My ankle really started to hurt at Penarth but my daughter had joined us for the last six miles and I couldn’t let her down. The fact that she made me run (shuffle!) the 0.1 miles along Richmond Road so that I was running when I hit 40 miles was just the best.
Will you do another?
Not much choice if I want my medal (not sure it will be as good as the ones Amy arranged though?!). We go again at August bank holiday and as it’s my birthday the next day I may even wear a party hat!

ALEX

ALEX
What was your motivation to sign up for an ultra?
I’m crazy! I love a challenge and I’d always said I would do an ultra one day. What better time to train than during a pandemic. 
What’s the furthest run you’d done previously?
Before training for the event the furthest I’d run was a half marathon. My longest run before the ultra was a 22 mile run. 
How did the training go?
Training was tough. I printed out a training plan and stuck it to my fridge but by week 3 I was already doing my own thing! Ultra training turned me into a morning runner. I enjoyed our long run adventures on a Sunday morning but I would always be nervous the night before. Hilly routes became the norm but I found it tough to keep up the momentum over many weeks. The best runs were the runs with company. 
What was the best thing about the run?
This is the hardest question to answer as there were so many best bits. I loved the route that took us over cliffs, beaches and through huge fields. Most of all I loved the company!
What was the hardest thing about the run and how did you get through it?
I found the middle section hard between miles 20 and 30 when we ran through Barry. It felt even hotter than it had all day and there were lots of road sections.  The amazing company of the ladies got me through the difficult sections and knowing that we were running to raise money for such a good cause – Kidney Wales. The fact that we had family and friends waiting for us at various points to cheer us on was a huge incentive- I will forever be grateful! 
Will you do another? 
Never say never!

KATE & REBECCA

KATE J
What was your motivation to sign up for an ultra?
Through lockdown my runs and been getting longer and I’d been enjoying running for the sake of running and not pace.  After seeing some sign up, I knew I’d get FOMO if I didn’t as well – and it sounded like a beautiful route. 
What’s the furthest you run you’d done previously?
Before training started I’d run a handful of half marathons.
How did the training go?
I actually quite enjoyed the training – it wasn’t as intense as I thought it might be (although most of it was done during lockdown when there wasn’t anything else on!) and it was great doing the longer runs wit Bex and Alex and exploring new areas. Special mention also goes to Marie and Jane who helped me get out of bed for the early morning week runs 😊
What was the best thing about the run?
So many to choose from but I’d have to say the amazing ladies that we ran with, some who I’d never met in real life before the day, it was so lovely to start and finish as a big group and the encouragement was amazing.  I can’t not mention the support we had along the route though as well – the fabulous SRC ladies, friends and family that ensured we had all the encouragement and supplies we needed along the way – we literally couldn’t have done it without them! 
What was the hardest thing about the run and how did you get through it?
I think the hardest thing was the heat as with typical Welsh weather none of the training runs had been done in the heat.  Having support out along the route with cold water, ice lollies and sun screen really helped – ice cold water never tasted so good! (and a note for anyone running in heat – don’t forget to put sun tan lotion on the back of your knees!!). 
Will you do another?
Yes!  It was such an amazing day that I will definitely do the real event – I’m just deciding whether to do it in August or next year (but think I might end up doing both!).

SHARON

SHARON
What was your motivation to sign up for an ultra?
The first motivation was the route, it just looked so pretty. But then also to see if I could, and the sense of achievement. I always like to see if I can!
What’s the furthest run you’d done previously?
26 miles when I completed the Virtual London Marathon last October. I did that without training and although tough was achievable so figured if I can do that then with training I could surely do the 40 miles.
How did the training go?
I can’t follow training plans, I run because I enjoy it and the thought of running on a day when I don’t want to because a plan tells me to would never of worked, so the training was brilliant and enjoyed it as it didn’t feel like a chore.
What was the best thing about the run?
There’s just so many things. The scenery and the route were just breath taking, especially in the sunshine but ultimately the other 8 ladies. It was such a pleasure and it was just so much fun. Oh and the pineapple!!!!!! Courtesy of Gruby at the Barry checkpoint.. I had struggled to eat all day and I had one piece of pineapple and just couldn’t stop eating it, a definite must for the future!
What was the hardest thing about the run and how did you get through it?
The state my feet got in, in the first half. Luckily Zoe was on hand to sort them out at the halfway check point, but the pain for the last 20 miles was tough going. Also my inability to eat and the heat on the day. 
Will you do another?
Yes absolutely. As well as the actual VOGUM now on the 28th August I already have the Race to the Stones on my list for next year after missing out this year. 

THE FINISH LINE!

We are so inspired and proud of our incredible 9!!

Are you feeling inspired? Why not check out what races Pegasus Ultra Running are putting on next?

Love it/ Hate it: My Marmite Love Affair with Running

by Anna-Jane Thomas

At the grand age of 38, I decided that I should try to get fit. 

I’d dabbled with exercise in school, until I no longer had to do it, and then I pushed it aside in favour of music and, on going to University, socialising and drinking (well I was a medical student!).

So, in 2010, pre-smart phones, I bought myself a Couch to 5K book and set about getting fit. I’d recently read that, if you didn’t get fit before you were 40, then you’d never really get fit and, after 2 kids, I needed to get into some sort of shape.

My husband watched me leave the house on my first walk/run. I ran to the end of the road, turned the corner…and walked! I don’t really recall how long it took me to complete the program, but I do remember being stuck at running for 20 mins and struggling to get past that. I can’t say I was enjoying it either.

My youngest had just started school and I’d become friendly with a mum at the school gate who offered to run with me. Thanks to her, I found myself increasing my distance gradually over the weeks. Running with company was so much better.

My first official run was a 10k in Margam Park just before Christmas which I ran with 2 friend’s husbands. It was so cold, the water at the drinks station had frozen. Cardiff 10k followed where my friend and I found ourselves chasing someone dressed as a blueberry, there was no way we were being beaten by someone dressed in a big foam costume! Why would anyone want to run in fancy dress?

My first half marathon was the Forest of Dean Half which was so scenic but I found myself running alone as my friend had a finish time in mind and all I wanted to do was finish. That was tough as I had no music either and found myself at the back of a rather fast pack.

I took on Cardiff Half several times with another friend, back in the day when it started and finished in Cardiff Bay and was a much smaller event but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed them.

It seemed natural to progress to a marathon, especially when my school-mum friend decided she was signing up for Snowdonia Marathon. I had no plans to complete another marathon after this one so, I figured, I may as well do a tough one! What was I thinking? We’d drop our kids off at school on our day off, head off for a run, go home, eat, shower and pick the kids up. 

The race itself was amazing, the views were stunning, the atmosphere was so uplifting and the support fantastic. I so loved the event but the endless training beforehand put me off running so far again.

Not long after this, I started to experience lower back pain and running seemed to be exacerbating it, so I stopped. I was diagnosed with a couple of prolapsed lumbar discs and, although I returned to some running, anything more than 10K seemed to bring on back pain so I turned to exercise classes because, by this time, I’d found a love of exercise and wanted to set a good example to our children.

In 2016, I came out of “half marathon retirement” to become one of Hollies 100, raising money and awareness for Anthony Nolan after our friend’s daughter was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. This was going to be my last ever half.

My back started to niggle at 10 miles and, at 11 miles, because I’d started to shuffle, I tripped on the speed bump by the Indian restaurant in Roath Park (henceforth known as “AJ’s speed bump”). I ushered Andrea and our other friend onwards, it was only after they’d gone that I looked down at the road to see a small red object beneath me. I’ve never been particularly vain, but the thought of losing a tooth was awful. I checked my mouth…all my teeth were there so I took another look at the ground…a red jelly bean. The grazed lip and egg-sized lump on my head didn’t matter once I knew my teeth were all still intact. I was never doing a half again so I had to finish this one. The adrenaline carried me for those last 2 miles, I saw several friends spectating on the way and each one got a tearful hug, they must have wondered what the heck was going on. Crossing that finish line was so emotional. 

That was it, no more halves, in fact, for a while, it was no more running. I turned my hand to marshalling instead, getting involved in the next Cardiff Half (coincidentally being placed at my speed bump) and Women’s running 10k as well as park run. Cheering on and encouraging friends and strangers alike gave me a buzz that was similar to actually running it.

I struggled to get back into running, my mojo was missing. Every now and then I thought I’d found it but I just didn’t seem to have the drive to run anymore. Every run was hard, I didn’t enjoy it and it became a chore, even with my trusted running buddy, Gary Barlow, serenading me. 

August 2018, I was invited to a hen weekend near Gleneagles so I took my running kit, attracted to the romantic idea of a run in the Scottish countryside. Whilst everyone nursed a hangover on the Saturday morning, I set off for a loch nearby with Del Amitri singing to me (well I was in Scotland!). Over a couple of fences, through the woods, following the directions I’d been given. Finally, I’d found my mojo in the wilds of Scotland. The path around the loch was rather overgrown and a misplaced foot on a loose log resulted in me ending up on the floor with a painful puffy ankle. I limped back the remaining mile and smiled happily during breakfast despite the pain making me feel sick. The ankle grew and grew in size over the course of the weekend, luckily the planned activities were sedentary with lots of (pain numbing) gin. I flew back to Bristol and drove home but, 3 days on from injury, I thought I’d better get it checked out. I returned home from A&E with a fracture and the “boot of doom”.

There’s nothing like not being able to run to make you yearn for running. That feeling of envy as you see runners out on an evening or Sunday morning run, the Facebook posts from friends enjoying their running.

My gradual return to running was a very happy time post-injury and, in 2019, when Andrea mentioned a ladies running group she’d been thinking about joining, I was keen to get involved. This was what I’d been looking for all along. Running with others can take you so much further.

In October 2019, I was one of 30 ladies sitting around a pub table discussing the possibility of a new ladies running group. She Runs Cardiff was born and these ladies became our Run Buddies and good friends too. 

Our first event as a group was the Cardiff Half. I’d signed up to marshal (remember I was “never doing another half”) and my friend and I were placed at the midway point. From here, we had a perfect vantage point to cheer all the She Runners as they passed. Even though I wasn’t running, I felt part of something good.

At Christmas, we suggested that ladies may want to wear fancy dress to our social runs. I had acquired quite a collection of fancy dress outfits from previous participation in the Merthyr Mawr Pudding Run over the past few years (no-one expects the fancy dress runners to be fast!). I wore my whole Christmas wardrobe in the weeks before Christmas and, suddenly, I got why people would run in fancy dress.

Being in the group, I was encouraged to sign up to more events planned for 2020, the FOMO is so real! I had trail 10k, Cardiff 10k, Cardiff 5k and Castle to Castle booked. 

Early 2020 saw COVID-19, a Public Health crisis like nothing ever seen before. My workload, as a locum GP, increased and I needed my running more than ever. It allowed me to shrug off the stresses of the day and relax.

When the lockdown happened in March 2020, I lost my physical running support and prepared myself for another falling out with running. It didn’t happen, SR:C assumed an immediate online presence and switched the Wednesday and Sunday runs to virtual runs with a round up of all runners at the end of the day. We started monthly challenges, Bingo boards, Around the ‘Diff in 31 days, Self care and a virtual baton relay around Cardiff. There was plenty to keep us interested in running. We were also blessed with stunning weather and I began to really enjoy my pre-work 5Ks around Forest Farm and the Glamorganshire Canal. Our Spotify playlist and #runversations meant we never had to be alone but I became increasingly happy to run solo. I did try running with my bearded running pixie (my husband, Gareth) but my pace increased significantly and I realised I wasn’t enjoying it and returned to running alone. During the height of lockdown, my life seemed to consist of work, running and sleeping but it felt like a happy balance and the running stopped me from drinking much (the way some of my colleagues coped with the pressures). 

During the times that restrictions were lifted, I started to get out running in company again and completed 2 half marathons last summer and another two early this year….so much for never doing another one again!

I’ve done so many virtual events, the Tough Runner Trifecta in August, the Wales Coastal Path Challenge, Gin Runs and even a Santa Paws 5k with Charlie, our dog.

Over the past 18 months I’ve ventured out in a Birthday Cake Costume for SR:C’s first birthday, Christmas attire (again), a Polar Bear (Tudur) and an Easter Duck (Wil Cwac Cwac), often in the company of my long-suffering running buddy, Andrea, the Stevie to my Miranda.

I’ve also gained a whole new running wardrobe, moving from plain, usually black, leggings to the brightest I can possibly find and adopted the SR:C running uniform, our own, ever growing, merchandise range.

All of these things make me happy and fuel my love of running. But the biggest fuel is the She Runs: Cardiff group itself. The unending mutual support and care for each other, the healthy competition, the opportunities it has brought us and the amazing friends I’ve made. 

Thank you all for restoring my passion, I truly am a lucky lady.

And, as for never doing another half, I’m considering an Ultra….

Running with a purpose – long run anyone?

by Caroline Privett

Training for a big race is great when you have a training plan to follow – someone else has planned it out for you, you just change it slightly to fit in with you. Yes you have to choose your routes but the distance is all laid out ready for you. I ran my first (and so far only) marathon in 2019 and loved following the training plan… that is until injury struck 4 weeks before the race and some urgent physio and tweaks to the plan were made. Luckily as I’d done most of the hard work I still managed to finish and in my target time just – as in 10 seconds under!!

Roll onto 2020 and all races are cancelled – no training plans needed, who knew when we might race again (who still does for sure?). I wasn’t signed up for any races before lockdown and one by one they were all postponed once if not twice!

Initially working in the hospital and with 2 small children at home, running became tricky to fit in around our new crazy family schedule of home schooling / childcare / work juggling. I just about hung onto my long run on a Sunday but with the restrictions over how long we should be out and how far we could go, I often stuck to a familiar route which I knew allowed room for social distancing. As the weeks rolled on my work schedule changed slightly which suddenly allowed me more time to run (yay – essential for my mental health) even if it did mean pre 7am runs. Gradually as the anxiety lessened or rather I became more accepting of it, I slowly started to try different routes on a Sunday again.

I rarely run with music at the moment – my small ears don’t get on with ear buds and I just enjoy the listening to the birdsong / other sounds around me while getting lost in my thoughts – although annoyingly some kids songs pop into my head –tunes from Peppa Pig anyone, grrr? So how do I manage on long solo runs? 

I started to enjoy the SRC monthly challenges and treasure hunts – giving me a reason to try new routes – such as trying to spell my name with street names (vowels are quite tricky- not ideal when you have 4 in your name!) or special post boxes but it was the Run the ‘Diff SRC challenge in August 2020 that really got me into planning different long runs to reach each target from home. Why else would you get greeted by a friendly face while you take a sober selfie of yourself on the Magic Roundabout early on a Sunday night?

Basically from then on I like to see where I fancy running to plan my long routes – maybe related to another challenge, maybe inspired by other ladies routes in the group, maybe seeing an article in a magazine or online about lockdown photos on bus stops / literary trails, looking for Armistice Poppies or even finding filming locations from TV shows. I Run Wales set challenges too. 

When we couldn’t travel I ran to somewhere the kids missed just so I could take a photo for them, be it Cardiff Castle or the start line of Junior Parkrun! I found a Roald Dahl trail round North Cardiff and ran that. A few weeks later I completed it by heading down to the Bay. Sometime I’ll head back to places I miss too or haven’t been to for a while especially Castles or maybe to return somewhere in better weather to check out the views.

Strava stalking is great for working out new routes too (how did they get there then?…) and I got given an OS map centred on our house as a Mother’s day present to help choose routes – although that ended up with me being stranded in a field of sheep so my navigation skills still need a bit of practise!! I did find Ruperra Castle eventually though. 

Most recently I ran the journey of a Stroke patient in Cardiff as part of a month long challenge at work. Collectively we were aiming to cover 7400 miles on foot/bike in May to raise awareness and money for the Stroke Association. The number representing the number of people in Wales who have a Stroke each year. My run took me to the Heath Hospital, then onto the Rehabilitation Centre in LLandough Hospital and then back home – 16 miles, my longest run since those marathon miles 2 years ago. Without much preparation and no rest day for 2 weeks it was the meaning of the run that carried me through.

So where next for a long run… I just wait and see what takes my fancy, where my heart pulls me next. I won’t be planning any long adventures like Anna McNuff anytime soon (her book Pants of Perspective was in the book club last year) but running somewhere you want to helps those miles pass by and without music to distract me I can take it all in. You may have a buddy/ies to share in your adventures or may tend to run solo like me. Either way why not give it a try?

At last I can run happy: how running helped me find my happy place with friendship and acceptance

by Sharon Eckley

Exercise has always been my place of escapism. My place that I choose to go to when things overwhelm me or rather the place I need to go to when things just get too much. You see, I spent the whole of my school years being bullied. From the age of 7 until the day I left I was bullied pretty much every day. It was so extensive and so horrific that I truly believe that exercise, including running, actually saved me, eventually.

All throughout school I longed to fit in. I loved the idea of playing sports, but all the sports offered in school are all team sports, which was a big no go area for me. I did try netball once, but I was bullied off the court and gave up trying. 

You see, when you have been bullied as much as I have you resign yourself to the fact that you just aren’t good enough, full stop. You question every single thing about your being and continuously become overwhelmed with trying to answer all these questions of why.

You question your whole entire existence in the hope that you can find that elusive answer to your prayers for happiness and to rid yourself of the sadness that has become a part of your life. But in actual fact it’s not even trying to find happiness at all, it’s just to stop feeling sad! To remove that black cloud that follows you everywhere. 

Although I skated outside of school I needed something else that skating didn’t give me. It was then that I turned to running. Running cross country in school gave me that freedom to escape the bullies throughout the school day for a little while and it really helped to deal with them. That time alone, that break and that escapism during the school day, gave me a bit of a reset to deal with whatever the rest of the day had in store for me and I could have a good cry without anyone knowing. 

It was around the age of around 14 that I discovered solo exercise. A friend invited me to the leisure centre one evening to do a step class. I absolutely loved it and it was something else that gave me that extra bit of respite from the continual feelings of sadness that consumed me and after that one session I was hooked. I had found something else that I not only enjoyed but it was something that, despite being totally rubbish at it, had made me feel amazing and was away from school and anyone that I went to school with. I walked home from the leisure centre on cloud nine and I felt euphoric. 

The trouble was that what started as two classes a week very quickly turned into more. I would walk or cycle to the leisure centre, complete a class or often more than one class in a row, and then I would walk or cycle the 3 miles home. It was my happy place where I could go to forget about everything, and I just wanted to be there all the time. I started to become obsessed. What turned into a healthy hobby turned into a very unhealthy obsession whereby I became addicted to exercise. 

My weight plummeted and my shins became extremely sore to the point that I couldn’t walk and I was forced to stop. 

I left school at the age of 16 after my GCSE’s with no plans whatsoever of going back into an education setting as for me it was completely tarnished and was not an environment that I ever wanted to be in again. Leaving school was the best decision I had ever made. I embarked on an apprenticeship and once I left school and started work things changed dramatically for me. 

I found my confidence and found my way I guess. I eventually met my ex-husband and had my two boys who are now 17 and 14.  It wasn’t the best of marriages; I found myself needing that escapism again and found my way back to exercise. The old feelings of release and freedom and headspace all returned and really helped me deal with the challenges that I was facing again, including postnatal depression, but I once again becoming obsessed. I just couldn’t find a healthy balance whilst things around me were too overwhelming to cope with. 

Fast forward to post divorce in 2011 to a time where I was actually feeling settled and finally happy. I decided to start running. I wanted to exercise but felt that I needed to stay away from a gym setting and decided running may be the right way to go. 

For years I ran cautiously. There we no races, no events, no running buddies, just me and a short run to hopefully enable me to keep control of it. This meant that running was never consistent ,which also made it continuously hard. This also ensured that I didn’t go overboard and become obsessed again. Unfortunately, this meant that I always ran with fear, so I didn’t get all the usual benefits of the headspace that I used to get from running and exercise as I once did, and this continued for a number of years. 

In 2017 I participated in the Race for Life 5k with a couple of friends and absolutely loved everything about it. This then led to me signing up to the Cardiff Half a few months later in a drunken haze, after a friend’s husband signed her up to the Cardiff Half without her knowing. I signed up to ‘keep her company’ as she was worried about holding her hubby back and being on her own.

As a result, 2018 was when I started running again. I had no idea about anything when it came to actually running properly or training for a race and I had never had any idea about how far I had run before, although looking back I’m guessing no more that a mile or two tops so what I was thinking I don’t know.

But nevertheless 2018 came around and I vowed to start running again and complete the Cardiff Half. I started off well, but I was only letting myself run once a week max because I was running with the fear that I wouldn’t be able to control it again. Then in the May I was hospitalised with Mastoiditis. After a couple of weeks in hospital and weeks of recouperation I had to start all over again. 

By the time I got to the Cardiff Half I had only completed up to 10k distance, and had only achieved that once and completely by accident. Nevertheless, I had also completely by chance, discovered a way to run comfortable by running to heart rate. 

So, with my goal of not being picked up by the sweeper and my ‘plan’ to stick to my comfortable heart rate I set off across the start line of the 2018 Cardiff Half. Despite people continuously running past me the whole way I completed the whole race with only one brief walking spell at Roath Park, in a time of 3:03:15. I was over the moon and the elation I felt was so overwhelming that I just had to do it again. 

I immediately signed up for the 2019 Cardiff Half and vowed to keep running. However, it didn’t quite workout that way. I did the odd run here and there but again I was holding myself back and kept putting any real kind of commitment to it on a back burner. That was until April/May time of 2019 when I took the plunge to meet up with a women’s running group. 

I cannot tell you the fear I felt about doing this. Every week I would vow to go and every week I was paralysed by fear. Because of the bullying, the thought of being vulnerable within a group of unknown women was literally the LAST place I ever wanted to put myself. The day I eventually attended, I was panic-stricken and just terrified. 

As it happens, I went to the wrong meeting place and met up with a couple of other runners who had done the same thing, the lovely Nicola and Justyna. We got talking and realising, we were perhaps in the wrong place, we made the decision to run down to the right place together. That was nearly enough for me. It was the fastest I had run I think at that time, and that was pretty much my usual distance of running! But it helped to ease some of the terror. 

As we approached the group, they were in the middle of the warmup and I just quietly slotted in trying to remain out of sight of anyone. 

As we started running, I was pleased to realise that it was quite chilled and at a comfortable pace. Then the lovely Cathryn spent quite a bit of time talking to me and asking me loads of questions. Although it took my mind of what I was doing I did think I was going to push her in the lake at one point if she asked me anymore questions as I just couldn’t speak anymore. Running and talking is an art form! I ended up running faster than normal and talking …. But I felt amazing afterwards and was so thankful to Cathryn for making me feel so welcome and taking my mind off everything with all those questions, that I did go back. 

Fast forward to September 2019 when I joined that amazing group of women and was privileged to be part of the founding members of She Runs: Cardiff and completed my LiRF. I know this sounds dramatic but they and the group at large, have literally changed my life beyond words. 

Through running I have finally found my happy place. I have found friendship and I have found acceptance, something I never thought I would be lucky enough to achieve.

I now also run the She Runs: Cardiff C25K group, something I wanted to do because I understand the fear of wanting to do something but being held back by worry of the unknown. Seeing someone who thinks they can’t and then helping them in a little way to find their confidence to realise that actually they can, is just the best feeling in the world.

At the age of 40 I can finally say that I have found my happy place with running and exercise and that is a huge testament to all the ladies within the group. It has helped me to just about cope with a really tough few months and I am forever grateful that I can now run happy.