Whenever I get asked about why I love running so much, I usually answer with “it’s my ‘me’ time away from everything, a chance to lose myself in my thoughts and to put things right”, and if I’m honest it’s time away from being Mam! I’ve been running since I was 15, over 20 years now and I started because I just fancied going for a run as I always enjoyed cross-country at school which is an odd thing for people to hear when I say that I was often last, but that didn’t bother me, I just enjoyed being out and seeing what I could do. Running has been a constant in my life ever since and has taken me on some amazing adventures by running several marathons as well as an ultra. Having the support of friends and family at running events is such a motivation boost, and I love nothing more than when my two daughters come and watch me run, waving banners and shouting support at everyone they see; with a beaming smile and a hug I get as I plod past being the ultimate energy boost.
Having two daughters has made me think about how they see me as their mother and what kind of role model I can be for them. I’ve always loved exercising, from being part of different teams at school and university to running, weightlifting and crossfitting now as an adult. I’d like the girls to also grow-up enjoying and feeling the benefits of an active lifestyle and as a family we’ll often go for walks, bike rides and swimming together
A couple of years ago, I was lacing up my trainers and getting myself sorted for one of my usual runs, when my oldest daughter Mari asked if she could come running with me one day. She was 6 at the time and I felt such pride in the fact that she wanted to join me running. I said that the next time I go out, she could join me and that we could plan a nice route to run together. After I got home from my run, we sat down and planned when and where we could go together. Having not taken a child running before, I wasn’t too sure what to do or where to start! I knew that the girls did the daily mile at school and so knew that she could do a mile without too much fuss.
We decided to go around Roath Park Lake as it’s flat with plenty to see and a nice loop that would be achievable for little legs! Mari was so excited that first time, getting dressed in her leggings and t-shirt and popping on her trainers. When we first set off, she shot off like a whippet and turned around after 10 seconds to see where I was!! It was quite funny that first time out together, she kept sprinting off and then stopping in a heap, huffing and puffing but beaming and just loving being out running with me. It was the start of our running sessions together and I too loved it just as much as she did.
Alys then decided that she too wanted to join us on our next running expedition and two years later, we still go out together – sometimes all 3 of us, but more often it’s just Mari and me, and I have to say that although it’s my ‘me’ time to escape from the girls – I love running with them and I hope it’s the start of a love for running that they too will take with them throughout life.
My top tips for running with kids is to make it fun! You are not going to get a PB and don’t expect to be able to do your usual running training session. The one thing that running with the girls has reminded me of is just how much fun running is and to not worry about what you look like! I usually try and keep a steady pace for the majority of my runs, unless I do some hill repeats or speed intervals, but with Mari – one minute she’s jogging along nicely then she’ll dart off to the next lamp post as fast as possible, so I do exactly the same! We challenge each other and race each other the next park bench, but then we’ll also slow right down and walk and have a chat. It’s great to challenge her too, by encouraging her to keep running a little longer or seeing how a new route works for her and her little legs. Don’t push their distance too much to start and be mindful that they will be achy the next day – a nice hot bath does the trick to help ease those achy legs.
I’d love to one day run a marathon with the girls, that’s a long way off at the moment, but I’m clinging onto that dream. In the meantime, I’m just going to continue to encourage and enjoy running with my girls and support them in their new found love of running.
It’s Saturday March 31st 2018. I’m sitting in a SlimmingWorld group in the Rhondda. I’m 51 years old. Following a hysterectomy for very early uterine cancer in 2015, I’d gained a lot of weight. And although I’d lost most of it, the last half a stone or so was proving quite difficult to shift. I’d got into a bit of a rut with my gym routine, doing the same cardio programme a few times a week, and was aware that I wasn’t pushing myself as much as I could have.
Our regular SW Consultant was on holiday and Mel, who was covering, was more direct than we were used to. ‘So, Beth, what are you going to do to change things then?’ Feeling put on the spot, I responded ‘I’m going to start running’. I still don’t really know why I said it- but I had. It was out there and I knew that saying it out loud in group would make me accountable.
Someone in the group mentioned the NHS Couch25K app, and said that the first week involved only having to run for one minute at a time. This was music to my ears! I’d tried to become a runner twice before, and only lasted for one or two sessions. This was mainly down to my strategy of going off as fast as I could, getting out of breath, and then having to stop. Later on in my running journey, when I did my Leadership in Running Fitness course, our trainer told us about ‘Chatty’ versus ‘Sparkly’ running- ‘Chatty’ being a sustainable pace when you can still hold a conversation, and the ‘Sparkly’ bit being a short burst of speed that you can only manage for a short while- great for a sprint finish or for intervals, but not for the majority of your run. So my previous attempts had fallen down because I’d gone off at a Sparkly pace and then come to a grinding halt.
Back to March 2018. I went home from group, downloaded the app, chose Sarah Millican as my coach and headed for the gym. I can’t say that it was love at first run- I remember looking at my phone and willing the seconds to count down to the next walking break. But I did it! Sarah told me how well I’d done, and to go and have a banana (to which I mentally told her to bog off, I was having some chocolate). My daughter Zoe decided to join in with me, so I repeated Week 1 Run 1 and we went from there.
There were definitely times during the first few weeks where I’d have given up if Zoe hadn’t been following the plan too. The turning point, and the session where I fell in love with running, was a Sunday morning at the end of Week 3. Zoe and I turned up at the gym, and there were NO TREADMILLS FREE. I was all for going home, but Zoe insisted we were going to run around the park instead. Outside. Where people might see.
But I LOVED it! From that point, there was no stopping me. I was determined to complete the programme, and keep on running. I really enjoyed being outdoors, instead of in a sweaty gym. The transitions from running to walking were so much smoother than on the treadmill, and so much better for my joints, which had been quite sore. It didn’t help that I was wearing gym trainers rather than proper running shoes. Getting a gait analysis done and finding the right shoes was another game changer.
When an injury meant that my elder daughter Gemma couldn’t do her usual wrestling training, she started running too. And so running became a real family affair for us.The three of us completed the C25k plan, and then progressed to running 5k (the plan takes you to running for 30 minutes, which still isn’t 5k for me). We did our first parkrun together in Hackney Marshes in September 2018 and then completed the Cardiff 10k the same month. We ran that one together, with the girls pretty much dragging me around the final turn. But the finish line photo, of all of us crossing together, is probably my favourite running photo.
At that point, I had to concede that I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with two women who were half my age. Ever since then, I’ve been happy running my own way at my own pace. Running has become a regular, and necessary, part of my routine. Much more than helping me maintain good physical heath, it supports my mental wellbeing. I now run 3-4 times a week, and feel really unsettled if I’m not able to.
So, what have I learned along the way? Firstly, it’s never too late to start running! Of course I wish I’d started years ago, but I didn’t so I’d just as well get on with it now. Secondly, it has to be your run at your pace – don’t bother comparing yourself to others, that produces a whole load of negative energy. And thirdly, the best way to keep going is to link your running to your ‘why’. For me, that’s about being the best version of myself that I can be; the fittest Nanny Beth for my family, the most resilient manager for my teams, the most encouraging voice that I can be for other women. Find your running ‘why’ and you’ll never look back.
Today I ran for the 60th consecutive day. I have laced up my trainers every single day since New Year’s Eve and gone out for a run. I’ve run in the wind, the rain, the snow (three times), the sunshine. I’ve run in the morning, at lunch time, in the afternoon and the evening. Every single day I have run on my own.
The RED January challenge helped kick start things, even though when I initially signed up I was planning on it being ‘regular exercise daily’ rather than ‘run every day’. When I got to the end of the month, I wasn’t ready to let go of the run streak… and so I continued for February. As I’d also run on New Year’s Eve, this meant 60 consecutive days of running.
It’s been hard at times. There have been ups and downs along the way. But I’ve absolutely loved it. It’s taught me a lot about myself, about running, and about how vital regular exercise is for my mental health.
I never intended to run every day for 60 days. But I’m really proud that I did.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
1. I am capable of more than I think
I never intended to undertake a 60 day run streak… it just kind of happened. If I’m honest, I never would have believed I had it in me. If someone had set me the challenge, I woudn’t have accepted it. If you’d told me at the start of the year I would run every day for 60 days I would never have believed you. I never, ever thought I could manage something like that.
But, as I keep on discovering with running, I am more capable than I think. With every running achievement I slowly grow in confidence. Not just when I’m pounding the pavements but in life in general. It’s one of the best gifts running has given me.
I didn’t think I could run every day for 60 days. But it turned out I was wrong.
2. It very quickly became part of my routine
I used to think I didn’t have time to run every day. What I’ve realised is that I have the same 24 hours as everyone else; for me, it was about making the time for running. Granted, it’s much easier to do that in a global pandemic when we are spending so much time at home, when my life is a much slower pace than usual, and with my husband working at home meaning childcare has been way easier. But within a few days my daily runs became a part of our family routine. Everyone in my household knew I would be going for a run and we worked around it. After a week or so, even my Strava would beep at around lunch time with a suggestion that I should start an activity right now.
3. Running daily meant doing less of other things
I haven’t done as much yoga these last two months as I usually would. I haven’t read as much as I usually would. My lunch time running meant I had to find a space in my schedule to catch up on the life admin I would usually have done in that time. I’m okay with that in the short term, but long term I’m looking forward to a bit more balance.
4. Getting out the door is often the biggest battle
I remember one day when I really didn’t want to run. I was feeling tired from not sleeping very well the previous night, it was cold and wet outside, I’d done a lower body strength session and my legs were sore. I was very close to not going. But there was a little voice in my head telling me I’d regret it if I didn’t. I decided I would just go for a one mile run streak ‘saver’. However, I did my mile… felt okay and managed another two. Sometimes the biggest battles are in our mind and getting out the door is the hardest part.
5. I spent more time in sweaty running kit than my regular clothes
I often ran at lunch time as it seemed to be the easiest time of the day to fit it in amid the homeschool/homeworking juggle. I would put my kit on in the morning because I knew if I showered and put on regular clothes, I’d be less likely to go out. When I’d get back from my run I wouldn’t always have time to eat my lunch and for a shower… and so I’d often be in my kit until late afternoon. This is where being in a global pandemic was useful because no one could smell my slightly sweaty aroma! On the occasions when I did run earlier in the day, my family would jokingly ask why I’d made such an effort to dress up.
6. I let go of distance and speed and embraced running for the sake of running
I soon realised that if I wanted to run every day, I needed to let go of any expectations of speed and pace and I needed to let go of the long distances. My shortest run was less than two miles. The majority were between 3 and 4 miles. It’s only the last two weekends I’ve added in comparatively long runs of 6 and 7 miles. I walked and stopped when I needed to. I ran slowly when I needed to. I tried not to look at my running watch to check my pace and instead let how I was feeling determine my pace. Like a lot of runners, I’m usually working towards a specific distance for a race, or trying to improve my pace. There’s nothing wrong with that, but one of the things I loved the most about this challenge was not thinking about any of that at all and getting back to the basics.
7. The daily headspace helped my mental health so much
I’ve long been aware that regular exercise is vital for my mental wellbeing and it’s a huge priority in my life. In ‘normal’ times I run regularly, I go to the gym and I practice yoga. As a family, we go on long walks and cycle. However, even I was surprised by just how good running outdoors every day made me feel mentally. I was more alert, more patient, less stressed, less anxious calmer. It definitely had a positive impact on my life.
8. I’m ready for a rest
My body is feeling tired now. My legs are heavy and my hips are feeling tight. I’m ready to stop and rest. I know I need to before I do my body any damage and rest is enforced upon me due to injury.. I’ve been there before and it’s hard. This time last year I was injured and couldn’t run for 17 weeks. It made the already-hard lockdown even harder and definitely had an impact on my mental health and self-confidence. I will never take running for granted and I feel so grateful to have been able to have run for so many days in a row. But I also know it’s time for me to stop and recharge.
9. I’m going to miss it.
Having a daily half hour to myself – and, importantly, having this time outside in the fresh air every single day whatever the weather – has helped me in so many ways. I’ve always been the kind of person who needs time on their own and I enjoy my own company. As much as I love spending so much time with my family during this pandemic, I know I am a better person, better equipped to deal with everything everyone else needs from me, when I get a little bit of space to myself. It will be really strange not going for a run tomorrow but I’m hoping now that the routine has been established, I can find the time for a walk on my own instead.
How I learned not to be limited by my chronic illness.
by Myfanwy Thomas, Run Buddy
Long before I was ever a runner (a recent change to my life in the grand scheme of things) I was an arthritic person. It seems as if there should be a noun for it. Arthritic? I am an arthritic.
The Early Years
Diagnosed at the age of 2 I have had arthritis for as long as I can remember. As a child I didn’t notice it very much, only that I couldn’t kneel like other children (still can’t, never will.) I don’t remember it ever stopping me doing anything else, and I don’t remember it hurting. But perhaps that was just down to childhood resilience. Children seem to be able to withstand or cope with much worse things than adults. My mum has reminded me that I slept with a splint on my leg at night for a while. Now she’s reminded me I’ve remembered how much I hated it!
I have always been keen on sports and physical activity. PE was one of my favourite lessons throughout primary and secondary school and I joined in with pretty much every sport I could in high school. I started going to the gym in my teens and doing aerobics classes. I knew I had arthritis but it didn’t really affect me at the time. I didn’t take any medication and didn’t feel any pain.
I had been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis and it was suggested that I had grown out of it. Great!
Then when I was 16/ 17 a number of things happened around the same time. I left school and went to college and left all my sporting and fitness endeavours behind. I had new hobbies – drinking, socialising and generally being a nightmare to my parents. I caught Glandular Fever which knocked me sideways for a few months. Then I got hit by a car. Nothing broken but I was just one big bruise from my neck to my foot.
And another thing happened: my arthritis came back, and this time it meant business.
Was it just a coincidence or was it linked to any or all of the above events? I will never know, and if it was there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.
I had actually been discharged from the hospital a few years prior as the arthritis was deemed to have gone so I saw my GP and he prescribed me ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is fine for a headache but I can tell you, against full-on arthritis it does basically nothing. The weeks (months?) waiting to see a Rheumatologist were hell. Stiff, swollen achy joints, especially my knees.
I eventually got to the Rheumatology Consultant and to my surprise I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. I didn’t even know I had psoriasis but apparently the itchy scalp I’d had as a child was exactly that. So it wasn’t juvenile arthritis it had been psoriatic arthritis all along. It had just been on a little break… Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic auto-immune disease with no cure; but as I’d always had arthritis as far as I was concerned I pretty much took it in my stride in typical teenage fashion. I was prescribed a DMARD (disease modifying anti-rheumatic drug) which helped to a point and that was that.
“PsA (like psoriasis) is an autoimmune disease, which means the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, causing inflammation and pain and resulting in damage. Researchers aren’t sure why some people develop PsA. They think it’s a combination of having certain genes, which makes them more likely to develop the disease, and being triggered by something in the environment, like an infection, stress, physical trauma or another factor.” (arthritis.org)
Over the next few years my arthritis was up and down. I resumed my fitness activities going to the gym and swimming regularly as my dad paid for a gym membership for me. Running was something I only ever did to warm up at the gym – I used to think 20 minutes was a long run! (That really tickles me now.)
I had occasional flare ups. One bad one I remember happened when I went on a fly-drive holiday to California. My knees swelled up and I had to sit in the back of the car with the front seat down and my legs up as if my boyfriend (now husband) was my chauffeur. My Rheumatologist eventually persuaded me to try a steroid injection in my knees. I was terrified but once I realised how much it could help I quickly got over it. A few moments pain usually provides relief for a few months.
A year later we returned to the US for an epic 6 month tour in a camper van. I was really paranoid that I would have another flare – and had persuaded my doctor to give me enough anti-inflammatory meds for the entire trip – but for those 6 months I felt incredibly healthy! The outdoor life agreed with me – endless hiking, fresh air and healthy eating. I have never been so slim before (or since).
My life was to change forever a couple of years later with the birth of my first child. It is a well-known fact that pregnancy hormones can ease many illnesses and diseases and this had been the case with my pregnancy. However, after the birth I had one of the worst flare ups of arthritis of my life. It took a long time to control the flare and within a few months I was pregnant again so I didn’t lose the weight I had gained. After the birth of my second baby I was ready for the flare and resumed my meds more quickly (I had waited for 3 months after my firstborn as I wanted to breastfeed; my 2nd only got 6 weeks.) I also started exercising more seriously when I discovered the local leisure centre had a creche a few mornings a week. But my Rheumatologist was concerned that the disease was progressing so he prescribed me what is called a Biologic anti-TNF medication called Humira, which targets and blocks certain chemicals or molecules in the inflammatory process. This was like a miracle cure from the first dose. I can only describe it as like a switch. Sometimes you don’t realise just how bad you are feeling until you suddenly aren’t feeling like that anymore.
It’s funny but instead of looking at my life like “pre-kids/ after kids” or “20s/30s” I think of it as “pre and post Humira”. It was that life changing for me. The constant ache had gone. Suddenly there was the realisation, “This is what it feels like to be normal’ (although I still couldn’t kneel!).
A few years down the line we decided to have a 3rd child. This became a traumatic process. I had to stop all medications a few months prior to trying to get pregnant and it was horrendous. By the time I actually was pregnant I was struggling to walk. This was just nature reminding me that I wasn’t actually a regular person, I was a person with chronic arthritis. I was prescribed steroids as a ‘safe’ medication for baby and waited hopefully for the magic pregnancy hormones to kick in. They took their sweet time. I had barely been able to exercise at all during the pregnancy and by the time I gave birth I was huge.
My baby was nearing a year and I was still bigger than I wanted to be. I was taking my boys to a dance class each week for an hour – too far away to go home again and pick them up so I was just sitting around chatting. A couple of the other mums started going for a run during the hour and asked if I wanted to come along. “No’ I said, “I can’t run.” It had never occurred to me to even try, as clearly I couldn’t? People with arthritis can’t run. It’s bad for your knees!
But my friend Charlotte persisted and eventually I gave in. I don’t know how far we ran or how long we took on that first evening. I didn’t track it. I had on some old trainers I’d been wearing for years, some leggings which fell down and a coat into which I put my phone (that would annoy me so much now!) Looking at the route which became our regular I think it was about 7k. Not bad for a first run! And running was of course not that different in terms of impact to aerobics which I’d been doing for years.
I continued in this way for a few months. Only ever running with my friends about once a week during the dance class. I was enjoying it. My friends Charlotte and Katrin were training to run a marathon and their enthusiasm for running was certainly infectious, I went along with them every week and started to miss it if I didn’t. This was in the autumn. In the New Year in 2016 I decided it was really time to shift the baby weight as my daughter was nearly 2. I watched what I ate and decided to up my running. I went for my first run by myself which felt like a huge turning point. I was soon running a few times a week. It was also around then that I started to run during daylight. To me that seemed quite a big thing as it meant people could see me!
My first race
For most people their intro to racing might be a 5 or 10k race which they’ve trained carefully for and built up to gradually. Although now I’m a huge fan of a good training plan, for my first race in March 2016 I decided to sign up the week before. It was the World Half Marathon and I’d only ever run 6 miles. Charlotte and Katrin were running it as part of their training for London and Brighton marathons and I became completely caught up in their excitement and decided to just do it. A bit gung ho, but I was confident in my fitness levels even if I didn’t know what it felt like to run anywhere near 13 miles. Despite it being a hideous weather that day I absolutely loved it. I ran every step with Charlotte who supported me the whole way round and we came in at 2:18. I was pretty chuffed with that.
Six months later after following a training plan I ran the Cardiff Half in 1:59. I had never felt so well or so fit in my entire life. Instead of making my arthritis worse as I had always feared running might, I actually felt better. I could run despite my arthritis, and it turned out I was reasonably good at it.
In April 2016 I tracked Charlotte as she ran the London Marathon. I managed to watch her cross the line on a webcam – it was such an emotional moment. I wouldn’t say that’s when I decided I wanted to run a marathon but I did enter the ballot when it opened soon after anyway. I think my desire to actually run a marathon took a bit longer.
I credit Charlotte for getting me into running (Thank you Charlotte!), and in turn I credit another friend, Tanya for my running going to the next level. My son and Tanya’s son were in the same class at school so I knew her but not very well. Tanya says she didn’t speak to me very much as she wasn’t sure how to say my name! I’m not sure exactly how it came about that we first went for a run together but I think there was a group of us and we were doing sprint intervals around Roath Park Lake. There were a few of us who had signed up to the Llanelli Half Marathon so we decided to train together. The race came and went and Tanya and I became regular running buddies over the next few months.
My first Marathon
I’m not sure exactly whose idea it was, (probably we both egged each other on) but Tanya and I decided to run the Newport Marathon together which was to be held in April 2018. In December 2017, much to my surprise, I found out that I had won a place in the London Marathon with the sponsor New Balance. I didn’t even remember entering. London Marathon was a week before Newport Marathon. Obviously I wanted to run London as I knew how hard it was to get a spot so I decided I would run them both. After all, it would only require one training block, and I knew I wanted to run Newport with Tanya.
Training went brilliantly. I can vividly remember the weather was particularly good. It seemed every time we had a long run planned the weather was glorious – cold, crisp and sunny. All was going well….too well perhaps. To control my arthritis I am on quite a serious immunosuppressant which is not to be taken lightly.
A slight setback
I went for a birthday weekend away for my friend Sara’s 50th a few weeks before the London Marathon. I had a bit of a cold but I was looking forward to celebrating. I had quite a few drinks on the Saturday night (but not that many.) On the Sunday morning I felt like death warmed up and I admit I spent the journey home heaving into a plastic bag in my friends car. All very embarrassing but I just put it down to drinking too much and having a cold. I was under the weather for a couple of days until the Thursday. My husband was working a late shift and I remember thinking to myself about 6pm that I had to go to bed. It was as if a wave hit me and I could barely stand up. Somehow I got my daughter into bed and told my sons to sort themselves out. I spent the next 36 hours in bed, sweating and occasionally crawling to the bathroom to be sick. It was all a blur.
On the Saturday morning I got scared. I couldn’t even hold water down and I have never felt so ill in my life. My husband phoned the out of hours surgery for an emergency appointment, and my mum to come to take me there. I staggered to her car in my PJs and dressing gown, I was beyond caring. The GP took my medical history and as soon as I said I was on Humira for my PsA he nodded his head. By a miracle he had done some of his residency under my own Rheumatologist so knew the potential side effects to the immune system very well.
“You have the beginnings of sepsis so I’m going to get you admitted to hospital right away.” I was sent to the Emergency Assessment Unit at the Heath and admitted immediately. I can’t remember my mum’s reaction but this is what she said about it “I thought you were going to die in my car on the way, it was the most terrifying couple of journeys! And even when we got to hospital everything seemed to happen so slowly, you didn’t start to rally until the evening….”
Blood tests at the hospital revealed my CRP levels were over 400mg/l. Normal levels are around 3mg/l. I was given IV antibiotics and kept in for 2 nights. They would have kept me in for longer but I was keen to get home to the kids.
Crazily, three weeks later somehow I ran the London Marathon, with the support of my family, Tanya and her son cheering me on all the way round. It was an amazing day. The hottest London Marathon on record and my goodness did it feel like it. I did well for the first half then it was run/ walk all the way, alternately throwing water over myself or drinking it every mile. There was absolutely no way I was going to give up though. I knew my husband and kids were waiting at about mile 25 and I just had to get to them and then I would be nearly finished. My husband anxiously phoned me when I was a couple of miles away. “Are you ok? It looks like you’ve stopped on the tracker?” I hadn’t stopped but I was continuing very slowly. I found them at last, gave them all a sweaty hug and plodded on. Coming around the Mall past Buckingham Palace was an incredible experience. I was completely exhausted and staggered across the line. Then the tears flowed. I had run a marathon! It had taken me 5’27”.
Just one week later, on a rather chilly and overcast day Tanya and I lined up for the Newport Marathon. What a completely different experience. No sunshine or huge crowds but my running buddy with me for every step. We both had periods of wanting to walk but we kept each other going. Our families rushed around and appeared to cheer us in the middle and at the end! If I’d been alone I would’ve happily walked the last 3 miles but Tanya wasn’t going to let me give up. “If we keep going we can get that sub 5 hours.” We did, we crossed the line in 4’50”. What a high!
So that was 2018. In 2019 in addition to completing 2 more marathons (Manchester and New York – but that’s another story!) I added a new string to my running bow – running with a social group!
In March 2019 I went along to the first run of This Mum Runs (TMR) Cardiff. Although I ran with a small group of friends regularly I had never joined any kind of official club or group, feeling as if there would be too much pressure to run at a certain pace. A women’s social running group seemed ideal. To run at a chatty pace and make friends – it sounded great. And that is what we did for 6 months. Very sadly, something happened which meant that I and some of the other volunteers who lead the runs felt they had to leave TMR Cardiff. We were bereft. This group of women had become a huge family, a group of friends to rely on – a lot more than just being people we ran with.
And then, from the ashes of this experience She Runs: Cardiff was born. A running group for all women, regardless of pace, experience, fitness, age or ethnicity. A supportive, inclusive community run by volunteers. The group started with around 30 of us and we’re now at 1,400. It has literally changed my life.
Fast forward to now, a year on from establishing SRC. We have recently won the Run Wales Group of the Year 2020 award from Welsh Athletics. I know that, however I am feeling, wherever I am with my running I have the support of an amazing group of women. I have made so many new friends. Everyone knows my struggles with my arthritis and is incredibly supportive.
2020 was not good for many reasons. For me the Covid-19 pandemic coincided with my meds stopping working. It all stemmed from being switched to what’s called a ‘bio-similar’ medication (after the patent ran out on my original treatment Humira). I never settled whilst on the generic version and once I was switched back it was too late. It is known that the body can develop anti-bodies to the biologic medications and it appears that is what has happened to me. I had 10 great years on Humira, now is the struggle to find the next great medication so I can get back to what I love – running free! I have ambitions to run more marathons, to run my first ultra marathon, but before that happens I need to re-stabilise my disease. (I’m not allowing myself to contemplate that it might not happen.)
Nevertheless, I did achieve a couple of things running-wise in 2020. I ran a virtual ultra marathon – the Race to the Stones – 100k over seven days and I ran the virtual NYC Marathon solo (with Tanya popping up at various points to spur me on). Both completed through sheer determination rather than fitness or running ability!
That’s one thing essential to running that I have an abundance of – stubborn determination. Inherited from my late dad. Registered blind, he never let it stop him from doing anything he wanted to do (except maybe driving!) Today I may not be able to run, but I can walk and tomorrow is a new day. 2020 was the year that I accepted my identity as an arthritic runner. It’s no longer an oxymoron to me, it’s part of who I am.
It’s not running that’s bad for my knees, it’s arthritis. I am a chronic illness warrior and I will prevail!
I really got into podcasts the summer of 2019, when I had a long drive to work every morning. My husband had listened to podcasts on and off for a while and made some suggestions for me; I found they helped me actually look forward to my commute instead of dreading it.
By the end of 2020 I had started to regularly listen to a variety of podcasts. When I heard that Run Wales were releasing a podcast and had asked someone from She Runs: Cardiff to record an episode I jumped at the chance!
It was a couple of weeks before Christmas when I found myself nervously heading up the A470 in possibly my most festive outfit (and she runs bobble hat of course!) to a Merthyr Tydfil industrial estate… in the dark! I phoned Hannah when I arrived, as honestly it was the perfect opening scene to a horror film.
A battered old industrial building from the outside, and a labyrinth of doors and staircases inside, concealed a state of the art recording studio. It turns out that the system of doors was all part of the design to ensure the room was totally soundproof. It was all super exciting; the studio was very high tech and we even had our own sound engineer! It was nothing like I had imagined it when I listened to podcasts at home.
I was very nervous to start with but I soon settled in with Hannah & Drew constantly making me and each other laugh. The conversation soon flowed – even if I did have a complete mind blank at one point when Drew asked me a question! We had to do a few takes at various points due to blips in sound quality and me taking a bit too long to answer a question; but there must have been some clever editing as you definitely can’t tell when you listen to it back! We were recording for about 45minutes in total and the time absolutely flew by, and before I knew it was time to head home.
I knew it was due to be released in the New Year (to coincide with lots of people starting to run for their resolutions) so I had a few weeks to eagerly wait and listen to the other episodes that came before me. All the other guests were really good: it made me more and more nervous for my episode to come out. I suffer with social anxiety anyway, and the day the podcast was released I was quite overcome with nerves. I worried how it would be received and how I would come across, especially as I was representing the whole running club. I needn’t have worried as all the feedback I have had has been so lovely – I really am so grateful for every single positive comment and message I received.
The experience has definitely whetted my appetite and I’d love to do another podcast if I had the opportunity! (Especially now that I know what to expect!) It’s definitely one of the coolest things I have had the chance to be a part of! I will be forever grateful to Run Wales, Hannah & Drew and of course my She Runs: Cardiff tribe for letting me loose!
To listen to the Run Wales Podcast with Gemma, and all the other great episodes click here Run Wales Plodcast or type Run Wales Plodcast into any good podcast provider. You can also ask your smart speaker to play it!
How She Runs: Cardiff helped this anxious runner feel part of the running community.
by Ann Lawson-Jones, Run Buddy
My experience with sport, like a lot of women, had a negative beginning in high school. Being red headed is tough when you are in your teens. Suffice to say I was incredibly shy and socially petrified by the time I finished school.
In April 2018 my husband and I watched the London Marathon. He joked and said we should enter the ballot as it would be great to run and train together to run the VLM in his 50th year. October came and I had a ballot place for 2019 but he didn’t! So I deferred to 2020 hoping he’d try again. He didn’t. I agonised for months about what to do. Could I do this? Especially on my own – I hate crowds at the best of times. It would be fine if he were running by my side. But then I came to the realisation that it had been a true gift to get a ballot place first time. So in May 2019 I started c25k, followed by Race for Life in the July and the Cardiff 10k in the September!
In the short space of time between the Cardiff Met 10k in September 2019 and The London Royal Parks Half I received an invite on Facebook from a friend to join a group called She Runs Cardiff. At the time I had joined another online running group but I did not really interact with the group. Lots of posts were time and distanced focused and from men!
I joined SRC because they didn’t have ‘mum’ in their name – I’d been put off those groups because I imagined a group of ‘yummy mummies’ with pushchairs and young preschool children. Rightly or wrongly, I thought that they weren’t the groups for me as I have grown up children and teenagers. Frankly the school gate wait for my Primary school aged children days were over and much to my relief; I’d found that harder than attending school!
The name ‘She Runs’ felt more inclusive of women at all stages of life. I watched the posts come up and realised that their first ‘official’ run would be the same day as my Half in London. I must have posted something about that because one of the Buddies put me in touch with another member who was also running that half.
I will never forget Sunday October 17th 2019. I nervously met Rosie and she chatted away to me as we waited to start. I didn’t need to be nervous, she was awesome, helped me to feel relaxed and it made such a difference to be waiting to start with someone else rather than on my own. I enjoyed the run and the atmosphere, walked when I needed finishing in 2 hours 43. I even took photos of a cheer squad of ducks enjoying the mud near the start line.
After that I continued to watch and occasionally post on the she runs page. There were always positive comments left and thumbs up. It felt a safe place to belong. I googled FOMO one day to find out that I was also having this fear of missing out every Wednesday and Sunday when pictures of the group runs were posted. One Sunday I drove down, parked in the library car park ready for the 8am run. Three times I got out of my car and back in again, anxious to go and stand with a group of women I’d never met. I gave myself a ‘talking to’ and forced myself out of the car, I’d come to run. Someone gave a nod of hello as we warmed up and I recognised a few faces.
That run I don’t think I talked to anyone, though no-one’s fault but my own. Everyone appeared to already know someone else and I have learned over the years how to blend into a crowd and not be noticed. I came home with mixed feelings, really wanted to get to know this group of inspiring women but at the same time nervous and kicking myself for not engaging with them. Being shy is sometimes is a real pain in the bum and I’ve always struggled with social interaction. I have this fear of saying or doing something wrong; I still do.
I continued following posts for a few more weeks and then decided to try a Sunday run again. This time I only got back in the car once. As the run started, I gave myself a mental nudge and told myself to say hi to the lady running alongside me and that if I didn’t I may as well have stayed in the car and I knew I would not try again. So, I took a deep breath and said, “Hi, I’m Ann”. What a fantastic run that was. The lady was Gruby and we found we had so much in common, we had a child of similar age, same school and so on. What had I been so worried about?!
By the time I decided to go for the third time She Runs has added in the 10k route too. Since I was in full swing of marathon training, I decided I’d give that a go. Gruby was there again and I felt comfortable knowing we could have another chat. We had company in our ‘Party at the Back’ because at She Runs no one is left behind, looped or lapped. We run at our own pace without pressure. Our Buddy of the run was Anna-Jane who has since told me she thought Gruby and I had known each other for ages! Another runner with teenagers, this was going well!! I really enjoyed the run and chatting with both women.
That was that, I felt comfortable running with this group, I had enjoyed myself. I was looking forward to going again and slowly getting to know more members each time.
My next social hurdle was to join them for coffee afterwards. Posts regularly mentioned the coffee and cake after Sunday morning runs. There was no expectation to attend but an open invitation was there to all. I felt it was another way to continue to get to know people. So far though I had made a quick dash back to my car at the end of the run. I made myself the promise that next time I would go even though I could feel the knot in my stomach of anxiety. However, the world went into lockdown. I am yet to have that coffee and cake, but now instead of anxiety I can’t wait.
Lockdown perhaps was a gift to me when it comes to SRC. I had more time to continue to get to know the members from the safety of my keyboard. Then life threw me a curve ball and I rushed my husband to hospital. Those were the hardest days I have ever lived – little communication from the hospital, no answers and no visiting.
Now, being shy I would usually politely thank people for the offer with a ‘I will be ok, but thanks for offer’ but this time I said yes to everything. When asked if I would like a run or meet for a cuppa I said ‘Both?!’. In the days that followed I went for Socially Distanced runs, walks, outdoor coffee, I even learned breathing techniques over Zoom.
One day in the middle of this I had added a comment to a post about feeling a bit down, but that I shouldn’t really as many of us were struggling and lots of people had it far worse – I was thinking of the over stretched NHS, teaching friends trying to still provide Hubs and so on. In truth it was a very dark day for me and I was struggling to hold it together. I had a Buddy response that in a nutshell said it was ok to not be ok and if I was struggling, I should reach out (I even remember who posted it). I agonized over it for what felt like hours. In the end I sent a direct message to the page telling them what was happening and how I was finding it tough.
What followed was nothing short of a big purple virtual hug. I received a flood of direct messages from Buddies asking how they could help, offers of support and practical help. I know I will never feel as if I have thanked them all adequately. They got me through that day and beyond.
Building on these friendships I made it part of my October Birthday Challenge to run with someone new every week and most weeks that meant I met with 2 or even 3 people as I explored new places to run in Cardiff. It has been amazing and due to the Firebreak we had I still have a post-it note of people who offered to run with me.
I won’t lie, I still worry about saying or doing the wrong thing, have a knot in my stomach before meeting with someone for the first time in the flesh. Social anxiety isn’t fixed over night and may never be, but SRC is a safe place and all you members make it that way. You encourage one another, support one another and most importantly you care. Life is tough and never more so that the last 12 months. Every single one of us will have had dark days, tough days, tearful days, exhausting days. At SRC there’s nothing we haven’t heard now, there’s nothing we’re not ready to say ‘I hear you’ to.
SRC is more than a running club, it has given me the courage to step so far out of my comfort zone; I now even have funky patterned leggings and I don’t regret a thing! All it takes is a little support and encouragement – something we have in plentiful supply in SRC.
Running brought us together, friendship has made me stay.
My experience of running with baby on board and beyond
by Kate Morgan, Run Buddy
The day I found out we were expecting our third little munchkin was the day after the 2019 Cardiff Half Marathon. I had had my suspicions for a couple of days (even furtively googling if energy gels were safe in pregnancy!). The following day, in the midst of nursing very heavy legs and thinking ‘ohhh I really should have done some cool down stretches whilst admiring that medal!’, my suspicions were delightfully confirmed.
In my previous two pregnancies I wasn’t running regularly at all so this was a brand new situation to find myself in and I really wanted to ensure it was safe to run. Everything I read, from NHS guidance to studies funded by Tommy’s the baby charity, stated that exercise is not dangerous for the baby. The guidance states that if you ran pre-pregnancy regularly, you can carry on for as long as you feel comfortable. Indeed, running has many benefits, including contributing towards a fit, healthy pregnancy, reducing the risk of pregnancy complications and helping towards reducing anxiety and stress in pregnancy. One of the best bits of advice I received in those early weeks was that pregnancy is not a time to aim for PBs, longest ever distances or to break fitness records. Hydration, stopping if any dizziness was experienced and avoiding overheating were also key messages. I also think there is, as always, a lot to be said for listening to your own body. There were evening runs I cut short or ran/walked when energy levels were low, even though I craved the headspace of a good run after a tough day at work.
Three weeks after the Cardiff Half I took part in the Yorkshire Marathon. In a funny way, being pregnant completely eliminated any pressures to achieve a certain pace or time and I enjoyed that more relaxed state of mind; although I must admit to not necessarily enjoying the heady combination of Lucozade, morning sickness and the whiff of manure from the fields around the stunning countryside of North Yorkshire!
As Autumn turned to winter and the nights drew in, fortunately we were still able to run as a She Runs: Cardiff group and without the support & encouragement of the wonderful members I suspect my enthusiasm for running would have waned a little with the temptation of the sofa and a boxset. The pregnancy was not without its complications in the third trimester, and compounded by the emergence of the pandemic, it wasn’t an easy time. But running, as it always does at any stressful or worrying time, provided much balance, an opportunity to pound out those anxieties and valuable thinking time.
As the bump got bigger, I’d often have a surprised look as I’d plod past. Often passersby would call out encouraging words, which meant an awful lot, especially as I think there is still that old fashioned school of thought that pregnancy is an illness and subject to a state of confinement!
I stopped running at 34 weeks pregnant; our little girl was delivered early a couple of weeks later. I genuinely loved running through pregnancy and look back with great fondness and fortune that I was able to keep it going until the final few weeks. After a few months off running to recover postpartum I’m back enjoying it as much as I always have done, except now I get to enjoy it with a little co-pilot in the running buggy!
Exercise in pregnancy – NHS The more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be for you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain. It will also help you to cope with labour and get back into shape after the birth.. Keep up your normal daily physical activity or exercise (sport, running, yoga, dancing, or even walking to the shops and back) for as long as you feel comfortable.www.nhs.uk
The most important thing that I have learnt both physically and mentally over the last four years is don’t be driven by performance data. The multi million pound sports watch industry has boomed over recent years as people are interested in step count, pace, distance travelled, calories burned and heart rate as they strive to hit personal bests. I was introduced to such a watch 30 years ago and have been wearing one ever since. I am currently wearing a Garmin 735XT, but do I really need to?
Being a triathlete, Ironman and someone who takes part in all 3 events individually, my trusted companion has never been far from my wrist. For swimming, it counts my lengths, strokes, pace, distance and time. For cycling, it shows my speed, power, gradient, and for running I can check out my performance condition, cadence and training effect. All of this then automatically syncs into my Garmin account, Training Peaks and Strava. This opens a whole new world into analysing performance against fatigue, training loads and projections.
For those of you who own a smart watch, would you consider going for a swim, bike, run, (or any other activity) without one? No. Why? If it is not on Strava is doesn’t count, right? Wrong.
In 2017 whilst training for the London marathon I was advised to ditch the watch and run for fun. This in itself was enough to raise my heart rate and show a look of panic on my face. As a child I was very competitive, I had to be the fastest and the best. I had to win all of my races as both a swimmer and runner. Primary school sports day was all about the cup at the end (which I won every year). This continued into secondary school as I progressed through the levels of international hockey. I lost a few years due to all of my knee operations (I am in double figures) but this made me more determined to smash the goals and targets set for me. I wanted to be fitter, better and faster than ever, and every run needed to be a personal best. I was pushing limits and boundaries too far on a road to self destruction. I was the same academically (still am) and in work (off with mental distress).
Little did I know that such pressure would one day be detrimental both physically and mentally. Something had to give and something had to change. My addictive behaviour towards exercise saw me fall into the realms of self harm. Returning back to 2017, I did what I was told by the marathon coach (kind of). I still wore my watch but step by step I started paying little attention to it. My running changed, it became lighter, it became freer and I started noticing where I was and what was around me. I would go to parkrun and wasn’t bothered about getting a personal best. If I spent the whole run near the back talking to someone then so be it. I found something that I had never really experienced in running before and that was enjoyment. My focus had shifted.
I have been fortunate enough to run the London marathon 3 times, New York marathon, and finish Ironman Wales (amongst many other events). I am also a holder of the London Classics Medal. The questions I am always asked is what time do you hope to finish in? or what was your time? My answers are always I don’t care, and usually, I don’t know. What I have found is that naturally I have got fitter and faster without the help of my Garmin. These days when I go out for a run, I don’t plan distance, time or route, I just put on my daps and decide when I am out of the door. How much I do is all dependant on how I feel. I have become better at listening to my body. If I want to return home after 1 mile then I will. If I run for 9.99 miles then it must have been an ok day.
When I start my watch, I will not look at it during the run (unless I get a notification). My feet and lungs determine my pace and speed. If I stop for a chat, great. If I stop to take a selfie, great. When I finish I stop my watch as it automatically uploads. It is only when I add a title to my activity do I see what I have run. It does not bother me if I stop on 4.97, or 5.99 miles. I can see how my pace has got much quicker (as an average) over the last couple of years and this has happened through running for fun. The reason why I still wear my Garmin is because I am interested to see how far I have run or cycled (not much swimming at the moment) during a month. I make no comparisons from month to month or to other people. I also need to provide evidence for my virtual challenges. Oh, and I am also in a Red January challenge with my dog Olly.
Of course everyone has different goals and objectives. Some of you want a 5k, 10k, half marathon, or marathon PB. I have utmost respect to your commitment and drive. This works for many people. It can give training structure and is a good measure of progress, but to me it became detrimental to my mental health. Next time you are out running, try taking things back to basics by listening to your body rather than being a slave to your watch. You never know, it may work for you as it has done for me. Let me know your thoughts and how you get on.
Ever since I was young I have been very into sports; Be it gymnastics from an early age, tennis in primary school, being obsessed with football in my teens and then to my main passion now of hockey.
Where does running come into all of this? Back then it didn’t. It wasn’t really a big part of my early sporting days. Yes, there is a lot of running in hockey, but I never took it seriously. I could run up to 5 miles in a game but would never think of going on a 5-mile run. I was regularly picked to run 800m for the school in athletics meets, but I hated every minute of it and always wanted it to end. I was never a runner!!
Playing hockey at a high-level means that I need to be able to play at a fast pace, up to 70 minutes. I need power to accelerate and change speed, agility to change direction and endurance to keep going. Coupled with the skills training that we have twice a week the club expects you to also have a high level of fitness that you manage in your own time.
I started adding “proper” running to the training/fitness regime about 2 years ago following the birth of my youngest son. Before that, I dabbled in running. Doing a 5k here and there (if that), but I struggled with it and found it boring. But hockey had to wait until I developed the base fitness I needed to compete, so running was the appropriate choice at the time. Turns out the reason I struggled was linked to my competitive nature; I wanted to do everything as fast as I possibly could, which would then result in burnout, me not enjoying it, and then giving up.
While on maternity leave I joined the SRC group back before they were even “official” and this changed my whole perspective on running. It taught me that it’s ok to slow down (I WAS going too fast), enjoy the surroundings, the headspace and have fun while getting to know others. I never thought of running being a team sport or a group activity, but it truly is! I now consider the buddies and the lovely community members to be my ever-expanding teammates. The support and feedback from the group is phenomenal and I get just as much buzz in chatting to people, and in soaking up the atmosphere in races (what are they nowadays??) than I do in hockey matches! I’ve now done trail runs, 10Ks, half marathons, met some wonderful new friends and I am now even considering doing an ultra!!
Running is more ingrained in my weekly life, especially with working from home. I need to leave the house daily! Before lockdown I would say that it did significantly improve my hockey. I represented Wales at the European Masters Championships in Rotterdam with the O35s squad a year after my son Ifan was born, playing against former Olympic players. I was selected again in 2020 for the World Cup squad but the virus has put that ambition on hold!!
Now team sports have been cancelled indefinitely running is now my team sport! There is evidence to suggest that group exercises or team sports might be more beneficial for mental health than exercising alone, but the reason a person is exercising, or the environment they’re exercising in is just as important. I can’t currently play the sport that I love, but being part of this community and the supportive environment SRC provides gives me the boost that I need, and I am very grateful for that.
Today I popped my runversation cherry. For those unfamiliar with the phrase it’s simply a run whilst having a conversation.
Clearly there are some safety points to be made at the start so I’ll get those out the way first. If you’re using headphones make sure you’re aware of your surroundings, both in terms of other people around you but also traffic, so you’re not putting yourself and others at risk. I know that’s obvious but it would be remiss not to point it out.
As we can’t meet to run in person, our running group and lots of others around the UK I’m sure, are finding innovative ways to keep in touch whilst out and about running.
I was quite nervous about my first runversation. Not because of who I was having it with (Gruby is lovely) but more the logistics. My ears don’t seem to like ear buds, they never stay in for long when I’m still let alone moving. Plus I was worried I’d sound like I was heavy breathing down the phone and no one wants that!
I sorted myself out with a very fetching set up. Ear buds in ears held down tight by a buff so they couldn’t move. I tested it out on a walk with another friend, Ann, on Friday and it seemed to do the trick.
After my first runversation I can honestly say I’m a convert. It was so nice to get to know Gruby a little better and chat to someone whilst I was running. I hadn’t realised that I’d missed the company of running with others as I’m quite happy in my own little world when I run.
What’s great about having a runversation is that you can run your own route at your own pace and still feel like you’re running with company. Gruby and I ran in totally different directions and at totally different paces but it made no difference to feeling connected.
That feeling of being connected is so important right now. It doesn’t matter if you’re chatting about the weather, family life, home schooling or politics, it’s whatever works for that moment in time. We’re often, for good reason and the right reasons given the current covid climate, stuck in our little bubbles not seeing people socially. Today has shown me we can still be connected with others in a way that I wouldn’t have thought of before. Clearly I speak to people on the phone and via video chats, I’d have just never done it whilst out running.
Also if you’re worried about the heavy breathing issue or random pauses and that’s what’s putting you off trying to have a runversation it’s not something I even thought about whilst I was out. Pauses naturally happen in conversations or when one of you is crossing the road and they didn’t make it awkward at all. Neither does saying hello to others who aren’t part of the conversation as you pass.
It turns out the whether you’re running physically together or connected on the phone that feeling of going for a run with someone is still the same when you’re having a runversation.