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.

How running saved my sanity….

by Emma Mitchell-Williams

The latter part of 2019 was pretty rough for me. The year started off well with our annual family holiday booked and put on the calendar. As a teacher you live for the holidays!

The start of the summer holidays came and my wife, with whom I had been with for over 13 years said she didn’t want to be with me anymore. My world was turned upside down, it was like I had been hit by a steam train. Our twins were just four at the time, so obviously the focus was around them and their wellbeing. 

When I returned to school in September I became really poorly. This led to many tests and lots of sleepless nights as I waited for results from a biopsy for ovarian cancer. Thankfully all the nasties were removed; treatment began and I was given the all clear. However, it was deemed necessary to have a hysterectomy so the operation went ahead on the 4th January 2020.

When I look back, I am not quite sure how I got through those 5 months leading up to the surgery. I think I got through each day on autopilot, smiling and telling people I was ‘ok’, when deep down I was broken.

A critical point for me was getting home from hospital, sitting on my bed and crying; it felt like I cried for days on end. I had no idea what was going to happen, what the future looked like, and how I was going to cope. My emotions were all over the place. On reflection I think I was suffering with depression.

Having always been active and loving sport from an early age it was inevitable I would become a PE teacher. My love of sport (and competition!) had continued into adulthood. But since being so poorly my fitness levels had plummeted – for the first time in my life I was inactive as it was just so painful to exercise. I was fatigued all the time, just getting through each day was hard, physically and mentally.

I had been a ‘stalker’ on the She Runs: Cardiff page for some time; I loved seeing everyone’s posts, I was in awe thinking how is it even possible to run that far and smile at the end? 

It was meeting Elaine at the Rhiwbina Christmas market the previous year that made me join the group. She was so kind and supportive and said she would run with me any time. My reply was ‘I hate running, I am rubbish at it’ (that will be the competitive nature). I was that pupil in school who had a note to be excused for anything over 400m, I still don’t make my pupils in school run long distance events unless they want to! 

Anyway, fast forward to April 2020, I left the consultant for the last time after having the all clear to return to exercise. I got home, sat down and had a look at Facebook and there was a post on the group that said, ‘remember you are not alone, if you would like some company, please just shout, someone will meet you for a chatty walk/run’ the post was written by Tanya. 

I sat staring at my phone in my hand as the post really resonated with me; I quickly messaged her to see if it would be possible to meet and explained my situation: basically I hated running and was rubbish at it!

We met two days later at Penylan library. Despite having played sport at a pretty decent level I cannot tell you how nervous I was, I just had no idea of my fitness levels. I actually sat in the car thinking, I can’t do this. I had put on weight during treatment, I felt rubbish, I had zero confidence. I had almost talked myself out it, I was about to drive away and she pulled up!

Why I was nervous I have no idea! It didn’t matter, for 35 minutes we didn’t stop talking…. well actually I think I did all the talking, Tanya just asked the odd question. Before I knew it we had shuffled 5k! I could have cried (again!) but I didn’t have the ability to as my lungs were in overdrive. I can’t put into words how I felt after that. 

Let’s just say, that day changed my life forever. As dramatic as it sounds, it was the day that I started to think about me. For the first time in a long time I was going to put myself first (although I am still working on this!). I was going to make sure that running was going to be my thing, time for me to escape.

I have met Tanya every single week since, along with Elaine, they really are my besties. We have laughed, chatted and cried on our runs. Honestly, people must think we are bonkers when they see us!

Meeting these two amazing humans changed my life. There isn’t a day goes by where we don’t check in. It’s more than running now its friendship and I will always be forever grateful to you both, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

You may be wondering how my running has progressed? 

I threw myself into the monthly challenges (cue the competitive nature!). The bingo board was the first one I took part in, and then run around the ‘diff. If I am honest, I can’t believe that most weeks I now run between 20-30 miles (some are even up and down hills and in the rain; oh, how I have changed!)

If you take anything from reading my ramblings, please, if you would like company on a walk/jog/run, please post in the group. Someone will be there for you. It really did change my life. 

Take care, smile and remember, every day is a new day. We can achieve anything we want to, just one step at a time!

much love, Emma xx

Running through a Pandemic: my running journey as an NHS consultant

by Andrea Lowman

Running has always been a part of my life, back to school days, when I discovered that I was one of the few who actually enjoyed cross country – even wearing bottle green knicker shorts and a red aertex top! If you grew up in Pembrokeshire, like me, you may even be able to identify which school I went to.

I also loved the 800m, 1500m and 3000m at sports day, less so the 100m relay – sprinting has never been my thing.

In addition to running, I always played hockey at school and when I went to university to study medicine, carried on with this, playing for the mixed medics hockey team for the 6 years I was in Sheffield. Playing with boys was a revelation – they were less likely to hit you with the stick than the girls and it was a great source of boyfriends, but that’s definitely a subject for a different blog! I did run as part of hockey training but it took a back seat during my student years and when I was a junior doctor – a 1 in 4 on call rota, and 60–80-hour weeks put paid to most exercise!

When I moved to Cardiff in 1996, I joined a gym, so only ran short distances on a treadmill. I continued my medical training, still working long hours. In 1999, I met Rob and we moved to Edinburgh in 2000 for 2 years, where I was a research doctor in the National Creutzfeld -Jakob Disease unit there. Some of you will remember the BSE crisis in cows and the new variant of CJD which is the human equivalent of BSE. I spent two years travelling all over the UK to see suspected cases. It was exciting and depressing in equal parts, and it was during this time I rediscovered running. Rob and I started to run together and I did my first ever organised race, the Edinburgh 10km in 2001 in 59 minutes. I was so pleased with myself but Rob had just pipped me by a minute!

We returned to Cardiff in 2002, got married in 2003, had Iwan in 2004, Dylan in 2007, I finished my training in 2006 and got my Consultant post and we moved to a new house, so running took a back seat and I didn’t really get started again until 2016.

I had a couple of aborted attempts to get going due to knee pain preventing me from running more than 2km and will admit to a degree of jealousy when Anna-Jane Thomas embarked on her running journey much more successfully and ran the Snowdonia Mountain marathon!

Unfortunately, it was some very sad news from other close friends that finally got me back to running regularly. Their daughter was diagnosed with a bone marrow condition and needed a transplant. It was difficult to find a match for Hollie, so her parents joined forces with the Bone marrow charity Anthony Nolan and started their own campaign, ‘Help Hollie’, with a memorable ‘wear your knickers on your head’ theme. They also launched ‘Hollie’s 100’, a group of 100 of us who all ran the 2016 Cardiff Half Marathon in aid of Anthony Nolan and to increase awareness for Hollie. I was determined to run it, so I trained hard. I had lost my baby weight by then and my knee seemed better, so I booked the Cardiff 10km in September as a tester before the Half in October.

Training went well and I completed the 10km in a PB of 57 minutes but unfortunately my knee started to hurt at 7km and just didn’t settle down.

The day of Cardiff Half dawned and I just decided to go for it and get round, no matter how long it took. It turned out to be a rather eventful day. I ran with Anna-Jane and another friend. My knee started to hurt at 4km and continued to get worse with every km that passed. I ignored it as best I could. We got to Roath Lake; the end was almost in sight when AJ had an altercation with one of the speed bumps. She fell, and we all stopped. She sat up, with her face covered in blood but made the two of us carry on. Reluctantly we did, leaving AJ with her husband who was spectating and some St John’s ambulance men.

We got going again, but after a few minutes my friend felt unwell and we stopped again, spending the next few minutes with her hyperventilating, clutching the railings before we managed to continue running. Amazingly we finished in 2hrs 24minutes and AJ continued her run, finishing only a few minutes after us.

The following day, I could barely walk, and both my knees were swollen. I went to work, had to go up and down the stars sideways like a crab, and get the nurses to fetch my clinic patients from the waiting room whilst I did my best to just move around my clinic room on my wheelie desk chair and not have to stand up! Never again, I thought.

However, I had been on course to run amuch nearer to 2hrs in my training and after a few weeks I got back to running and signed up for the Cardiff Half again, competing the 2017 race in 1 hr 57.

I carried on running, just for me and always by myself after that as I had noticed so many positives – it helped me keep my weight in check and has so many benefits for my mental health and wellbeing. Working in the NHS is hard! Running definitely stopped my alcohol intake from creeping up too.

I did not enter events and just ran for me, 3 times a week, 5-10km at most.

Then in 2019, I joined a female running group and met some fantastic ladies. For the first time I was enjoying running with others as well as on my own.

In October 2019, I was one of the founding members of SRC and have continued to run alone, with friends and SRC since.

Everything was going well, and spurred on by other members of SRC, I decided to enter some races. In 2020, I had lined up Buff 10km trail race, Cardiff Bay 10km, Swansea Half, Cardiff Half, Castle to Castle and Cardiff trail half. I ran the Buff 10km with lots of other SRC ladies and loved it.

By the end of January 2020, it was clear that COVID-19 was going to be Public Health crisis like nothing I had experienced and the NHS was frantically planning. I carried on running.

In March, we had our first National lockdown. SRC had to stop, and we couldn’t run with friends anymore but I carried on running on my own. I went to work, ran, looked after my family and did very little else.

Redeployment loomed….and finally happened for me on Easter Sunday. Working on a COVID ward, definitely out of my comfort zone, was really frightening. I carried on running more than ever. My weekly distances increased from regularly running 25km to now 50km, as I couldn’t meet friends, see family, go to my Barre or Pilates classes so the running took over.

When I run, I can think and process everything that has happened, at work and at home. I shut the rest of the world out to a degree and sort my head out. COVID made life and work so much harder, the processing time went up and my need to run did too.

I have run through the rain, snow and summer heat. My running wardrobe has significantly increased in size and I have gone through 4 pairs of trainers. I have discovered Tikiboo, Lucy Locket Loves and Sweaty Betty. I have run every path and street that I can from my door, exploring places on my doorstep I have not been to before. 

I have managed to hang onto my mental health, by a thread at times, but without running, I don’t think I would have. I am also lucky to have some great friends and an absolutely amazing Multidisciplinary team at work, and we have supported each other through redeployment, working in PPE, outbreaks of COVID in patients and staff, and countless new rules, regulations and ways of doing things, which at the beginning changed daily. I am now proficient at phone and video consultation as well as seeing people face to face, so maybe something good for the NHS long-term will have come out of this pandemic.

SRC virtual runs and challenges really helped keep me going. In brief respite periods when we could run with friends, I explored bits of Cardiff I had never been to, inspired by Run around the ‘Diff and the Bingo boards and was also encouraged to look after my wellbeing. The virtual runs encouraged me to get out every Wednesday and Sunday and I have hardly missed any of them, especially since I returned to my usual job.

I have run to the Bay and Caerphilly Castle with AJ, clocking up my longest ever run at 25km. I ran the Virtual Race to the Stones, clocking up 100km in a week. I resisted the urge to run the VOGUM but have signed up for the Virtual London Marathon. My 2020 races have been rescheduled so many times, I have now totally lost track but luckily someone in SRC usually knows, posts something and changes the date of the event!!

Coleen and I, as SRC Welfare Officers, had a change in role we had not anticipated, which at times felt a bit like the COVID police, but we have done our best to keep everyone in the group informed regarding the restrictions on running with others, and we are both less scared of videoing ourselves. I have also never taken so many selfies, nearly always sweaty with no make-up, grey roots and terrible hair! 

As we are approaching the restarting of our SRC ‘in person’ runs, I am looking forward to being able to run as a group and support the amazing women that make SRC what it is, albeit in a different way for a while.

Vaccination has given me hope that there will be a way of living with covid and I continue to run. I have been so lucky not to have been injured, to have had secure employment, to be able to work away from home in a great team, have kids old enough to home school themselves, good friends and SRC to get me through what has been definitely the worst year of my career (I qualified as a doctor in 1995 so have been doing this a while) and likely the worst year of my life.

I am so grateful for a healthy body and the ability to run and am hopeful that 2022 will be better. Might even sign up for that ultra-marathon after all – I am 50 this year so might be a way to celebrate – we will see…….

And my school was Tasker Milward in Haverfordwest, for those of you that may have guessed.

She Runs: Cardiff are Back!

Over a Zoom call last night, the final preparations for our return to group runs were made! Behind the scenes over the past few weeks our Run Buddies and LiRFs (Leader in Running Fitness) have been very busy doing reconnaissance runs and risk assessments on various locations around Cardiff.

From this Sunday, 9th May, we will be holding runs in 5 of the 7 locations we have been risk assessing. Each run will be for a maximum of 13 runners, to include 1 qualified LiRF and 1 Support Run Buddy. Covid guidelines will be strictly adhered to and every runner will be required to book in advance online and complete our Covid survey before attending each run. We hope, if demand dictates and Leader/Buddy availability allows, to provide more runs as time goes by. 

Given the limited number of spaces available, we have agreed to request that everyone books a maximum of one run per week at the present time.💜 We are so very excited to be able to run together again after so long and we’re looking forward to seeing you all!💜

Keep your eye on our Facebook Group on Wednesday evening for information on how to book onto Sunday’s run. Meanwhile, here’s a little taster of the routes we have been recce-ing in preparation…

How I accidentally became an avid listener of audiobooks while running – and four books I’ve loved so far!

By Cathryn Scott 

A year or so ago I would have turned up my nose at the idea of listening to an audiobook. For me, part of the joy of reading has always been holding an actual book in my hand, feeling the turn of the pages, and seeing how the words look on the page. 

But then, during the first lockdown, my son’s teacher suggested we download Audible – a monthly audiobook subscription service from Amazon – to listen to the book they would be studying as a class. “You can have your first book for free – but don’t forget to cancel,” he told us. 

And, of course, despite setting a reminder on my phone, I forgot to cancel. The next month I was billed £7.99 and got my first monthly ‘credit’ for any audiobook of my choice. “Oh well,” I thought to myself, “we’ll use that credit to download a children’s book to listen to in the car when we’re on long journeys.” We’d had audio books on CDs previously and my children had always loved them, so this would be a lovely treat. Except lockdown didn’t lift any time soon and we didn’t go anywhere in the car for months and months. My one credit soon turned into two credits and when I tried to cancel, I realised my best option was to pause my account for three months, use up my existing credits rather than lose them completely by cancelling, and then cancel.

What I didn’t bank upon was falling in love with listening to audiobooks, using all those credits on me and not my children, and continuing my subscription willingly in the months to come. My love of audiobooks happened quite accidentally.

It started with Caitlin Moran’s More Than A Woman. Ever since I saw Caitlin speak at a conference way back in the early days of my career as a journalist, she’s been someone I’ve admired and resonated with. I’d heard really good things about the book and, with Caitlin herself narrating, it seemed like a good choice. 

I loved this book. If I’m honest, it’s aimed at a certain type of woman (mostly middle class, straight, working mums) so won’t appeal to everyone but I found so much of it relatable.

There were chapters when I actually laughed out loud while running in public (the one on married sex and the one on the vulva… if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean!) but also chapters that filled me with such emotion I needed to stop and pause mid-run (her daughter’s eating disorder). She really made me think with her chapters on parenting teenagers, being a working parent, and one about the pressures on boys and men to conform to masculine stereotypes, which as a parent of two boys really hit hard. 

Running has always been ‘me time’ for me. Reading has always been ‘me time’. Listening to a book while running made me feel like I was getting double ‘me time’. Having my mind filled with someone else’s thoughts – and those thoughts being ones that I really related to – helped me to switch off from the effort of running. My mind was busy processing what it was listening to and the running felt easier somehow. It also helped me slow down on my longer runs. Upbeat music often makes me speed up to a pace I can’t sustain but listening to a book helped me find a more gentle rhythm to my run.

When I’d finished More Than A Woman, I still had one more existing credit to use. There was no doubt in my mind that it was going to be Becoming, Michelle Obama’s autobiography. I’d wanted to read it for a while but as it was only available in hardback at that point, the price was putting me off. The audiobook costs more than £20 to purchase but as you can use your one monthly credit on any title regardless of price, I felt like I was getting a bargain.

I admit I didn’t love this book straight away. It took me a while to get into it, as I found Michelle’s reading pace a little slow and monotone and difficult to match with my running pace. After the passion and enthusiasm in Caitlin’s narration, I wondered if my successful audiobook experience had been a once-off. Luckily, I discovered that you can change the narration speed to be slower or faster – and a tiny adjustment to speed it up made all the difference. It’s a long book – 19 hours, in fact, so I felt like I was listening to it for weeks and weeks. But I loved having Michelle accompany me on so many runs. It was fascinating hearing about her working class upbringing, her time at Princeton University and Harvard Law School, the early days of her relationship with Barack, her thoughts on motherhood, her career highs and lows, and her role as First Lady of the United States. The chapters on gun crime were especially powerful.

By this point I was an audiobook convert. I unpaused my membership and waited for my next credit to land so that I could download Limitless by astronaut Tim Peake. I had listened to an interview with Tim on Jenni Falconer’s RunPod podcast a few months previously and found hearing about not only his astronaut adventures but running a marathon in space absolutely fascinating. I loved Tim’s voice, so soothing but with dry sense of humour too. I’d always imagined anyone who ended up as an astronaut would have been the brainiest kid in the class, but Tim didn’t do especially great in his A-levels. His route in was through the Army Air Corps and being a test pilot. Some of the training exercises and expeditions he went on were brutal and this book made me think a lot about mental resilience. His account of running a marathon on the space station while the London Marathon was happening below on earth came at the perfect time for me – when I was struggling with a 15 mile run. It definitely helped me keep going when I wasn’t sure if I could.

My latest choice is Untamed by Glennon Doyle, which had been recommended to me by so many people. I’m just over half way through and it’s incredible as Glennon draws on her own experience in finding the joy and peace when we stop striving to meet the expectations of the world and instead listen to and trust the voice deep inside us. In the opening chapter Glennon talks about a cheetah who was born in captivity acting differently when the keepers weren’t looking. “Mommy, she turned wild again” says her daughter, as they sense the cheetah somehow knows there is somehow more to life than the only existence she has ever known. It sent shivers down my spine and I feel so inspired listening to her stories of how she fought back against convention to find her true self. How she ‘untamed’ herself against the choices she had made previously that have been imprinted into her by society. Who were you before the world told you who to be? 

Several times while listening, I’ve stopped my run to make a note of something inspiring she has said. She has some inspiring thoughts on motherhood – notably on the tendency of many mothers to become a martyr to their children and to lose an essence of themselves. This is something I struggled with when my children were young and it’s through running that I’ve found ‘me’ again. “What if a responsible mother is not one who slowly dies and calls that love? What if a responsible mother is one who shows her children how to fight to stay wildly alive until the day she dies?” And on bravery (I’ve said before how running is helping me to become more brave) she says it’s not about being scared and doing it anyway but about forsaking all others to be true to your self. 

I’ve noticed that – perhaps subconsciously – all the books I’ve chosen so far have been ones that have inspired me, not just as a runner but in other areas of life too. Running through lockdown, staying motivated, and coming back from injury has not been easy. It’s also been a hard time for me career-wise to be so adversely affected by the pandemic. But these books are full of such powerful stories of strength, determination, resilience and overcoming the odds that it’s had an amazing affect on my own confidence and ability. In Glennon’s words, “I’m a god damn cheetah!” (Admittedly not when it comes to running speed!)

I’m unsure what my next read will be. I struggle to listen to fiction audiobooks – I find myself losing track of the plot. Maybe a running-related book or maybe another memoir/autobiography. 

If you have any recommendations, I would love to hear them. I’ll keep you posted what I choose in my posts in the She Runs Cardiff Facebook page. 

When Vicky ran the Thames Path 100!

by Vicky Luffrum

March 3rd and 4th 2012

As if running a marathon was not enough, on 12th September 2011, eight days after completing the Wye Valley “adventure” marathon, on a balmy, windy evening the first miles towards an even greater challenge were ticked off. Those running it on that evening (a tough run up Leckwith Hill to the “five bar gate”) might not have realised its significance to me.

Early March 2012 seemed so far away, well it WAS far away, not only were the straightforward (!) miles of training need to be invested week in week out but the chilling jabs of of yet another severe winter would have to be ignored if any sort of success in completing the 100 miles was to be achieved.

For any serious race planning is a pre-requisite; ensuring flexible options are part of it ….after all Christmas, New Year, let alone the chance of injury, illness or simply the unexpected could so easily interrupt the best of training plans! But on paper, my plan looked simple. As it transpired, we were blessed with a relatively mild winter but with some inevitable bitterly cold periods; the sensibility of my mileage increases, week by week combined with the balanced sessions at the gym resulted in five months training with an accumulated total of 1100miles. Throughout the period I ran five days a week, all except just two weeks before the actual race when I developed the worst cold I had had for many years. Minor niggles with knees and ligaments were attended to brilliantly in the Aspire gym, so much so that “back to back” runs were carried out regularly, the most significant being the highest mileages of thirty miles one day followed by twenty the next day. These “back to backs”, often as early as 2.30am in the morning to replicate the “feel” of running when you should be sleeping (!) have been identified as a basic requirement for ultra marathons. During the darkest days of winter it gave opportunity for practising night time running as often as possible, using head torches on local trails even for short distances..the hundred miler would be nearly eleven hours in darkness on the narrow towpath along the River Thames.

With the weekend of the race approaching, the other elements of planning began to be spread about my lounge floor, expedition like! Putting together “drop bags” with gels, electrolytes, food (yes food!!)..pasties, hot cross buns, crisps, flapjacks…change of clothing, first aid stuff.. thinking about every eventuality. These bags were dropped at strategic aid stations along the route where hot food and water was also available provided by support teams. The last drop-bag was to be at the ninety-one mile mark, one which I chose not to make and looking back, might have been my only strategic error!

As in all races the jangling of nerves is helped along by the dramatic stories of the elite. In these “ultras” there is a huge feeling of camaraderie with recognition of names from internet forums and here we were, nearly two hundred of us being primed about route diversions (how would I remember these?!) and waiting for the 10am gun!

We’re off! A false start (just for fun!)…no whizzing off “I’m in the lead” runners here. Light drizzly rain for the first forty five minutes, just the British weather making its point. Forty five minutes! It doesn’t seem long ago when forty five minutes running was at the top end of my ability!! The day then turned out to be fine with temperatures of 9c and at times feeling quite warm, what I would consider to be ideal running conditions. 

Discipline in such distance running means keeping a pace that can be maintained; in using my Garmin for the first daylight half of the race ensured that my pace kept at a steady 10.30-11.00 minute miling, this was well within my comfort zone. As I past Hampton Court Palace, with its golden gates at about twenty miles I felt that everything had physically and mentally come together.

The first marathon distance passed, at Windsor (28miles) I had the opportunity to replenish my camel-back bladder with “High 5, 4:1” recommended to me by George and Joe of Aspire, which certainly ensured adequate hydration during  long training runs and on my recent Brecon to Cardiff fifty miler. Shortly beyond Windsor and towards Cookham, in a zone of my own, I became aware of two people shouting and whistling to me from the other side of the river! Those who know of my erratic sense of direction will not be surprised to learn that this was my first of three occasions of taking the wrong route! In fairness I had simply missed a sign guiding runners over a bridge and was jogging off towards a different sunset. Damn it, an extra mile onto the total distance but again the importance of discipline, refocus and no panic. At about thirty five miles soreness in my hip-flexor joint had to be put firmly to the back of my mind, it was a niggle brought on by constant use and definitely was not going to interrupt the run. Ok when running but a bummer when re-starting after the aid station check points!

Back on track, or path, I joined two rather good looking young men; (easy to get pulled along in such a situation!) but realised that these two were 2hr 50 min marathon runners. I was on a high enjoying the whole experience, the scenery, the wildlife, running with others with the same goals but I had to check back on my pace. This was the race of my life!

Checkpoint four, a “drop bag” to open. 6.30pm. Running for eight and a half hours had passed seemingly so swiftly! Darkness. Change of clothing, but despite initial ideas about changing running shoes, advice from other runners erred me away from this. If the feet are ok then stay with the familiar. Chicken soup and ham sandwiches were handed out by the support volunteers as well as their overall help in getting things together. Who says that you don’t get your money’s worth from race entry fees?! Apprehension! Concerns about the chances of getting lost were allayed however by the brightness (170 lumens) of my head torch. The night time turned out to be even better, more focussed and exciting than running during the daytime. I set off from the aid station with two guys, Fabrice and Simon who were struggling at the time. Ticking off Henley (famous places!) at 51 miles, Reading at 58 miles (where I had changed trains on route to the event just twenty four hours earlier) and Whitchurch at 67 miles. Feeding station! Baked beans were enjoyed but repeat is a term best used in the negative here, suffice to say that I would not recommend them to anyone during a distance run!

On the outskirts of Streatley at 71 miles and at 2am on Sunday morning I began running alone; I had thought that running along pitch dark towpaths along a river would be daunting but there was company with the sound of geese on the river and I felt liberated and free of all life’s worries. It was just about putting one foot in front of the other and “being there”.

There was no wonderful sunrise to view, the night had been dry yet clouds had drifted over. At 82 miles and 6am, despite the cloud cover, the temperature dropped dramatically over the next hour and a half. With it came heavy rain, wind and eventually snow with a temperature of 1c. With the freshening wind the wind chill factor began to be cause for concern at exactly the point where the towpath became a quagmire of mud! Unable to run because of the depth of the mud and uneven surface, the chilling effect of the weather and only now able to walk allowed my body to cool down far, far too much. I learned later that this was the case with many other runners. I took a hot cup of tea at the 91 mile aid station realising that with my soaked through clothing the last nine miles was likely to be a killer. The situation was highlighted by runners who had pulled out and who were sitting, huddled with duvets wrapped around them! I had run ALL the way up until 86 miles and felt that I was on the way to completion. At 91 miles I was well on target to finish within 24hours…if only I had been able to continue to run through the mud!

Pushing on through Lower Radley at 95 miles I checked in my race number, it was now snowing heavily (if only I had had extra clothing at the 91 mile drop bag point..the bag I had decided not to use!). I was becoming even colder but mentally able to realise that I was physically approaching a dangerous condition though still continued to what was the 100 mile point (due to diversion). I turned to look behind and saw two runners approaching and made the decision that I needed medical assistance; I needed someone to use my mobile phone because I was shivering so severely I was unable to use it. One of the runners altruistically stayed with me until I was taken away by ambulance.

The total official course had been re measured at 102 miles, so in having to withdraw at this point meant that (due also to my own diversion!) I had completed a total of 103 miles in 25 hours thirty minutes.

In the local hospital I was informed that my core temperature had dropped to 34.2c and that the race had been abandoned on medical and safety advice.

Getting back home to Cardiff would not have been possible if I had not have had the support of Sian England from the Aspire Running Group. She saved my bacon!

Would I do anything like this again? You bet!!

Our First Litter Pick!

by Gemma Brimble

As someone who was brought up knowing that littering was abhorrent, and being passionate about animals and the environment I got super excited when Tanya mentioned a weekend dedicated to litter picking. 

I borrowed a litter picker from a friend and I purchased a mini picker for my daughter so that she could join me. We chose to do just ten minutes whilst walking to the playground and then whilst my daughter played I scurried around for a few more minutes. I managed to fill a recycling bag and a black bag in no time at all. I was really shocked at the sheer volume of litter. 

It was strangely therapeutic and actually quite a giggle trying to prise objects out of brambles or wrestle them through fences and into the bags! I am super excited to get involved properly with some support from Keep Wales Tidy and my local litter picking group. 

Equipment you will need:
* Gloves- gardening gloves or latex gloves if using a picker
* A litter picker (either borrowed from a local litter picking group or bought online for a few pounds
* Some alcohol hand gel for sanitising your hands afterwards
* Some bags – any bag will do or you can get specific litter picking bags (red in colour) which you can then leave by any public bin for collection by the council. Contact for Cardiff.

I would suggest it is easiest to do it in pairs so one of you can take a recycling bag and one hold a general waste bag as I feel it might be tricky to hold both! Always thoroughly clean your hands and wash your gloves after litter picking and dispose of anything you pick up properly.

I was really chuffed with what we achieved after our first litter pick in such a short amount of time and I am already planning to do it again! It felt really good to be doing my bit to clean up the area and potentially stop wildlife and the environment being further harmed. However, I did feel like it was a ‘drop in the ocean’ so I want to encourage all my family & friends to do a litter pick when they can. If everyone picked up just one bit of litter on all their runs and walks Wales would be a much cleaner, tidier place!

Keep Wales Tidy are doing a nationwide Spring Clean Cymru (28 May – 13 June). You can simply register your support by pledging on the page and stating how many minutes you are going to give to the campaign. You could pick up litter whilst on a run, walking the dog or on the walk to school.

I’d love it if all my she runs cardiff ladies and their families could join me!

When Vicky ran the Hope 24!

by Vicky Luffrum

As usual, and for most participants of any event, it all begins in earnest the moment I leave the house to travel to the venue. Public transport from Cardiff to Plympton is amazingly straightforward with one train change at Bristol to continue the journey south. It is no surprise  to many of those who know me that my sense of direction and observational skills leave something to be desired but “south” is obvious enough. Isn’t it?!

I hugged my huge red hold-all close to me in my reserved seat on the train – this is no “girlie” bag; a peek inside would reveal an ultra runner’s survival kit and more, weighing in at about a third of my body weight. Big, thick and cumbersome to handle!

“The train shortly departing from platform 4 is the 12.30 pm express from Cardiff to Dundee”. 

In seconds my brain had reasoned that Dundee was north…and certainly not south… in a scene not unlike that in the film “Clockwise” I had mere seconds to disembark. Using my big red bag as a battering ram to push aside the hoards of Scots travelling north to celebrate their nation’s SNP victory in the General Election the day before, I was still able to spill enough choice words to startle those who hitherto would have been my traveling companions!

By the time I had fled the train I was as breathless as if I had done an interval session around the fields adjoining the Aspire Gym!

If ever there was a case for using alcohol as a relaxant this could well have been the day. I arrived at my B&B four hours later to view a mass of scaffolding around the building and several burly men drilling the rendering from the walls..but “Thank God It’s Friday” chorused in my head as their 5pm finish heralded a downing of tools, the evening was to be quietly mine with thoughts and strategies for the weekend to eventually lull me off into a restless pre-event sleep. 

Hardly any need for an alarm clock then, the dawn chorus was barely at the end of its first verse when I looked out at what was a rainy start to the day. Let’s face it, it is seldom “just perfect”- being either too hot, too cold, too windy, too wet, too humid but as the next few hours past by a much better day emerged. Arriving at Race HQ the atmosphere was buzzing with general excitement: music, competitors, supporters (loads of them!) and tents pitched randomly as if waiting for the main act on a Saturday night at Glastonbury. “Hope 24” already had the makings of an event to be celebrated.

I didn’t know though whether to laugh or cry when a novice looking competitor asked me how long I thought it was going to take me to do 24 miles! He surely was in the real Hope category! Luckily I was able to drift off into the throng as Danny Slay (the Race Director) began his race briefing; he informed us all that in order to spice things up this year the five mile laps were to be run in reverse. my mind I knew that it was still going to involve two steep hills! Who cares in what direction we go? (er…no comments about me at this point please!).

For those who are unfamiliar with the principles of such events the aim is to complete as many laps of the course within the twenty four hour period; at any point a competitor can chose to call it a day..or a night..or even stop to sleep or eat! The chipped times and distances recorded included data from solo runners like myself as well as teams (varying from 2-8 members) doing their laps in relays. The obvious conclusion to draw from this is that yes, there were team runners relatively sprinting along and passing many solo runners who had to ensure a discipline so as not to crash out having exceeded their long distance pace ability. After a 12 noon start reaching the end of the first lap in 51 minutes proved not to have been at all bad, my self talk of “not bad Vicks” a purposeful attempt at self hypnosis and a denial of the impact of the hills climbed just the once! The impact though of the 600 ft elevations, lap after lap soon resulted in them feeling like the climb up Pen y Fan (for those geographically disinclined…yes…a deliberate pun… this is the highest mountain in South Wales). We walked them!

I came to the event carrying an injury which emanated from my glute muscle and causing piriformis syndrome. However, having tested it out before race day and having had some physio work carried out it seemed likely that I would be able to perform reasonably well– I felt sure that I could more than survive without using up my whole prescription of pain – killers. Pain after all is part and parcel of ultra running (what a strange delight!). It wasn’t long before the discomfort reared its ugly head, I hadn’t anticipated or planned for this happening quite so soon it was going to be a long period of… well…acceptance.

I ran the event as a non crewed solo runner, running as planned with Ernie – the aim was that we would support each other for the duration of the event. We discovered that we wasted a lot of time queuing  for drinks, water and food at the “food bus” and where we ended up in line with supporters and friends queuing up as well. As positive as one can be in such situations we used these periods as “rest times” before starting the laps again and again.

Thirty miles and six laps completed , hot food beckoned. Who would imagine that you could enjoy spicy potatoes and curry before jogging (jogging?!!) off into the evening sunshine? The smell of veggie burgers wafted through the air and even though fancying one we had to make our way onward into the evening, the ten minute wait was just too long to take out. I carried the thought for another five miles or more while thinking about cheesey jacket potatoes, soup..who says you can’t eat when you run?! The intake of calories on ultra runs is a priority, even though gels and electrolytes reach some necessary spaces they simply don’t cut it when day turns to evening turns to night.

Somewhere around midnight my body was indicating that it was not a happy chappy; some parts were beginning to complain. Ernie, my running mate as well as being a physiotherapist and trainer taped my nagging calf before elbowing firmly the glute, the site of my injury, while I sat uncomfortably on a rock. Imagine the scene and what it looked like to passing runners, “It’s just a piriformis” shouted Ernie. Hmm!!

The goal of the race was to complete 45 miles in the first twelve hours and to have achieved this in just eleven hours indicated that the overall goal of eighty miles was well within grasp. I felt that I was really in my element despite the earlier discomforts, I always say that I feel at my best when I am running well. At this stage the calls of the resident  peacocks had ceased while they settled down with the pea-hens for the night.  Head-torches had been lighting up the route for about two hours, bobbing lights and beams behind and in front of us, my favourite time had arrived, running through the night.

Despite increasing physical discomfort the atmosphere carried me along as each lap was ticked off. As well as the darkness a fairly dense fog had fallen on the course and surrounding countryside but which was lit with coloured lighting at every five mile mark, flashing across the grass raising everyone’s spirits in such a small but in the event, a meaningful way. 

The hours awake have never particularly bothered me in ultra races, sleep deprivation being something I have been well able to handle–the only difficulty comes in trying to calculate miles done, laps completed and so on when the  faithful Garmin has ultimately and inevitably run out of gas quicker than a runner! On this occasion at 3am, fifteen hours into the run, things took a turn for the worse when I began to feel nauseous and began to wobble uncontrollably as if I was intoxicated. Knowledge has taught me it’s important to act upon such situations sooner rather than later…. (heck..I hope I’m selling Ultras to you here!) Ernie was suffering from extreme tiredness too, leading us to the decision to take a tent rest..spiders or no spiders! (Yes, I just don’t like them!). Lying down proved to be the most painful thing for my injury and I couldn’t relax so, while Ernie literally hit the sack, sleeping for an hour, I sucked and chewed on ten wine gums until we were off once again.

The downhills that had previously been a blessing now became something of  curse. It had been possible to fairly sprint down them making up precious time during the early miles, but no more, the up hills and the chance to walk to what seemed like a summit at this stage almost…almost..became something to relish.

Mentally I continued to be up for the challenge and doing what I feel I do best. Until a few weeks before the event I had been struggling with low energy, mood and motivation yet now I was again at a high point and felt that my training and involvements in races had come full circle. Happy Days!

Other competitor’s crews and race organisers were phenomenal in cheering us on as we continued to surge onward, best foot forward into the dawn again. I have no recollection of what time I reached the sixty mile mark but all I know was that I was moving (rather than running!) and it certainly didn’t look pretty.

God Bless the Mobile Phone! I was able to call Steve, my partner and George from Aspire Gym in Cardiff during my 70th mile lap to discuss the options for the remainder of the event..I like to think and it has been affirmed (!) that I sounded upbeat and focused. I was mulling over the logistics of the distance left to be covered in relation to the time left available and having to travel home by public transport. It felt good that I knew that I was easily able to complete 75 miles…..

…and so it was that at 10.20am after 22 hours and twenty minutes I decided to call it a day. I felt more than content with my achievement  having felt in control and fully able to walk away before the actual finish time, mentally and emotionally intact albeit with some physical soreness. I was easily able to walk the mile odd to the Gym and back the following day! Although I know that I could have reached the original goal of eighty miles (which Ernie DID achieve), on the day I did not feel as though I needed to; in the past I would have berated myself but now see a major change in my approaches and attitudes, I have definitely changed as a person.

I have to say a big thanks to everyone who gave me support in the approach to and during the event; my family, the staff of  The Aspire Gym in Cardiff, Ernie Jewson and the Hope 24 organisers. I will be back to do it again!

Vicky Running with friends in Forest Fawr