Cool debut for Newport marathon

After weeks of watching enviously as medal selfies swamped social media from Paris, Brighton, Manchester, London and many more, it was finally time to get to my own start-line on Sunday.

The Newport marathon was organised by the team who deliver the excellent Cardiff half every year and I could not resist something so close to home.

My preparations were patchy, with well-intentioned training plans competing for time with work, family life and the wintry weather.

I did manage a couple of halves – the Hampton Court half (where I got to meet Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn) and the Taff Trail half – and there was a 20-miler too, but that was done at short notice at the end of a busy week and I was struggling by the end.

Overall, training was not ideal and I just wanted a steady start and to get round safely at Newport.

Deciding to get the train over from Cardiff worked well – while we were on our way, we started hearing talk of queues from friends at the park and ride, and as soon as we arrived, the tannoys were announcing the delayed start.

A little frustrating but understandable for a new event, and fair play to the organisers for being decisive and keeping everyone informed as much as possible.

It wasn’t warm, so there was a bit of huddling to be done as runners sought shelter in any buildings that had opened their doors, and supporters handed back the layers they had just been given to hold.

Then we were getting ready to go and it was great to be under way.

The cool weather was perfect for running and there was a good atmosphere among the crowds as we made our way over the bridge and away into the countryside.

I have heard some talk of the route being boring but it was through lots of country lanes and was exactly what I expected.

That said, the calm was definitely smashed at Magor with a fantastic reception in the town – top marks to all for the brilliant cheering on the loop there.

Back into the lanes, it was a matter of keeping steady as the halfway point passed and we started heading back towards the city.

I had set off a little quicker than I had meant and steadied myself a bit in the middle sections.

I was determined to be sensible and just keep going and had a few nice chats with some fellow runners as everyone motivated each other.

There were pockets of support and music (great to see Alice at 7 and 14 miles) and the New Balance DJ at mile 15 also deserves a mention too.

I was wearing my SU2C shirt that I had intended to wear in Birmingham so it was good to be giving that a run-out and the name on the chest definitely helped – everyone should have that to help the supporters cheer you on.

As well as great mile markers, the 25k mark was written on the road, and that was a good moment – it was just over 3 parkruns to go and those three manageable chunks helped me to break down those final miles.

As we came back into Newport, the crowds grew again and there was a bit where we went off to see the Transporter Bridge.

It was a doubleback section which are not universally popular but I always secretly enjoy – yes you can see runners who are ahead of you, but it’s a good distraction and you might spot a friendly face!

By this point it was all about just hanging on. I had been passed by the 4-hour pacer at 23 miles and I let him go without a fight.

I was not aiming for a time and did not have the energy to speed up to keep up so it was an exercise in just keeping moving for that final “parkrun” home.

Over the bridge again at 25 and into the excellent cheering funnel filled with whooping supporters which make you find that extra burst which you did not know was still in the legs.

Through the line, I picked up the excellent medal and got a hug from my dad.

We met up with Sarah who had been volunteering all morning and all headed to the train back to Cardiff where I ploughed though the superb array of snacks that Dad had sourced. A good morning all round.

My time of 4.02 was much better than I had envisaged which was really heartening, and I look forward to planning some more adventures for the coming months with that under the belt.

Well done to all runners, especially Heidi, Mark, James, Hutch, Sophie, Carys, Lisa and many more!

Thanks to all organisers and volunteers, and to the supporters and cheerers too (especially from the local clubs like Rachel B). Diolch yn fawr i pawb!

Inspiration – running with Alice

In the course of my work, I am fortunate to speak to many incredible people who have faced cancer either personally or in their close family, and who wish to raise awareness and funds to fight the disease.

Alice ran the Virgin London Marathon in 2015

Their willingness to help others and improve research in the future often sees them taking part in events such as Race For Life, 10k runs, obstacle courses, half-marathons, triathlons and either running or walking marathons (if you haven’t done one, please don’t underestimate how hard a walking marathon is, especially an overnight one).

Some of these amazing volunteers have also become very good friends, and I have trained and completed events with many of these special people.

They constantly inspire me and, in this Inspiration series, I wanted to pass on some running tips and experiences that they (and other people who may have faced adversity in other ways) have had, and how running has played its part.

To kick the series off…I would like to introduce my friend Alice.

ALICE

Alice was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in 2003 while she was pregnant with her daughter Macie, and then again in 2013 with Ewing’s sarcoma (which is very rare in adults). I asked her to explain why she runs.

Alice completed a Sport Relief mile just weeks after finishing months of chemotherapy

“Running is my time to de-stress and get outdoors. It’s also a chance to meet up with friends and it’s good for your state of mind too.

Whatever is going on at work or home, it is all forgotten when you get out of the door.

My main motivation is that there have been long periods where I just couldn’t run and I would moan about it.

So now, when it is difficult and I am struggling, I just think about the fact that I can. Even if it feels torturous, that thought alone makes me smile and think ‘I might be out in the pouring rain but I am here’.

It goes through my mind surprisingly often and not just on long runs either. And I also think about the fact that there are other people who haven’t survived who can’t be there and that stops me grumbling.

HIGHLIGHTS

One of my proudest moments was my first event after my treatment ended – a Sport Relief mile about a month after a year of chemotherapy had finished. It was a huge milestone and very emotional.

I ran with Macie and it felt amazing to be on a start line again, pinning on a race number after so long. It was my comeback and it was so important.

Alice is helping raise awareness for Stand Up To Cancer’s Celeb Chase Virtual Race this year

At that point, I had this idea about doing the London Marathon. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time but thought it was out of my league – then I decided to sign up and I just knew I would finish it somehow.

The big day was only a year after treatment too – I just went for it!

The atmosphere was incredible and I was doing it for CRUK so that meant a lot. The best bit was doing Tower Bridge – that is my memory of seeing it on TV and the sound of it in real life was incredible – I will never forget that noise.

All of it was hard going, but when I got to Big Ben, I knew I was nearly there.

I was still so relieved to get to the end – there were not too many crowds left in the finishing straight by that point, but there was a stand of CRUK cheerers who were still going, and then I was so delighted to see Macie and my partner John.

NO PRESSURE

My illness has definitely made me more resolute, and I think that shows in my running. I describe myself as slow but one tip I have learned not to try to compare myself to others or try to achieve what they do.

And if anyone is just starting to run, I would say to keep it small and don’t put pressure on. Sometimes just getting outside is the achievement and that is enough.

The first time I went out, I just got to my local park and back, and though I would never do that again. But I did.

Other people are great to motivate you too, and so is doing other activities that you enjoy too. They build up strength and can give you another reason to get fit too – you can do more stuff when you are a bit fitter.

I train as best I can but I never seem to have enough time to follow a plan properly and I usually have to fit in runs when I can and a few exercise classes too.

Overall, I do like a focus or an aim to get me going – even if it’s not an upcoming race, it might be trying to get my parkrun time down.

Obviously I would love to be a bit faster but, for me, it’s all about entering events and finishing them– it gives me such pride and I love my medals.

That said, I did check my Strava after a run recently and I had got an amazing number of PBs, which was great. Then I realised I had left it on when I drove home, so that was slightly disappointing – I thought those PBs were too good to be true!”

Click here for more information about SU2C’s Celeb Chase Virtual Race or here for more about #CRUKChallengers in the CRUK Sports team

Alice is also a CRUK media volunteer (more information here) and is a member of CRUK’s Involvement Network to help shape the charity’s work.

She is on Twitter at @aliceroythorne and Instagram at @royth

B is for buggy running

This article originally appeared in Issue #10 of Like the Wind magazine with an illustration by Lisa Buchanan. It is reproduced here with permission of the team at this beautiful magazine – please do check it out.

Original article in Like The Wind magazine with illustration by Lisa Buchanan

“Can I get in the buggy?”, “That kid’s cheating”, “Who said men can’t multitask?” are a few heckles I’ve had recently.

“He’s going to push me round when he’s older,” is my usual reply, as I try to avoid tripping anyone up with the wheels.

I never planned to become a buggy runner. It was not a conscious decision. It started as a solution to the challenge of fitting in the selfish act of running with the new arrival. But now I enjoy it in its own right.

Before the boy appeared, my weekend routine often started with a parkrun or a longer Saturday morning run. After his arrival, I was determined to keep running but it just did not happen at first.

There was not much exercise of any kind going on – there was far too much else to do (including sleeping).

But four weeks on, one of my very first trips out of the house alone with him was to see friends at parkrun and have a cup of tea afterwards. It was great to get out.

Over the following weeks, I grew in confidence with these trips, volunteering as a marshal a couple of times and then nervously lining up at the back of the running pack.

A couple of nods from the other buggied parents as we gathered, and then we were off. One of the dads shot off at a blistering pace, equipped with a bicycle bell on his buggy to warn of his speedy manoeuvres. Clearly a pro.

I knew the route was flat and on a good track, so I could concentrate more on pushing style, trying not to clip anyone, and not veering into the path of any bikes/dogs/walkers when I hit any twig or rock.

Nearing the finish line at Cardiff parkrun (pic by Luke Heslop)

I have still never really discovered a specific pushing technique – it varies so much depending on the terrain, how I am feeling and how much attention the boy wants – sometimes he wants to hold my hand for a whole mile, which leads to a very ungainly bent-double-stance.

Of course the biggest thing is to make sure the boy is appropriately-clothed, well-fed and generally happy. In those early days, he was sleeping a lot and he might wake up on the walk home, but two years on, he is much more mobile.

When it’s all going well, you get a few smiles or the friendly heckles, which is nice, but if he is screaming, writhing and shouting “No running, Daddy!”, those smiles quickly turn to disapproving stares.

“He likes it really” sounds a bit hollow at those moments, but they usually pass…Usually. I must admit there have been a couple of abandoned or shortened attempts where a combination of factors (usually caused by poor or optimistic planning on my part) has led to disaster.

The worst saw him twisting himself into a wet knot (I blame not-tight-enough shoulder straps mixed with a sudden downpour) within seconds. And then his trousers inexplicably started coming off. I had to cower under a bridge that day. Hashtag fail

Those are the exceptions though. Whether we’re exploring new places, revelling in perfectly flat paths or getting fresh air together, buggy running gives us a lovely sense of sharing a moment.

And that’s what I particularly love now. The joy of being together is our special treat, and our conversations are improving too – he points out lots of animals or trees, so we talk about those, or whether we are going to go over Boing-Boing Bridge (he loves the jolting bounces as we go up and down the shallow steps of an otherwise-very-ordinary bridge near the house).

Marshalling with buggy on the 9th anniversary of Cardiff parkrun (pic by Luke Heslop)

Ending at the playground for him to have a run around it very popular too.

When we are doing parkrun, or any other event involving with more people, I do worry about annoying other runners, either by introducing an unexpected vehicle onto the path or by just overtaking them, but I haven’t experienced any real grumbles.

And I have been on the other side of that too – not long ago, in my pre-buggy days, I was beaten by a buggy in a 10-mile race. I was going as fast as I could but only nearly caught up near the end when the baby threw a toy out and his dad had to circle back to fetch it. It still makes me laugh.

I do hope it is going to encourage my son to be a runner too – I see other parents running with their older kids and would like to think we’ll graduate to that one day, although I do suspect I will miss the buggy days hugely.

I am not just saying it – but he genuinely does seem to enjoy buggy running too – especially if I lean over to tickle him while we are going along.

It’s a killer on the back, but hearing him giggling as he hurtles along is one of the best feelings around.

And I believe buggy running has taught me to be less competitive – another dad recently passed me at a parkrun with two kids in a double buggy and also a dog. Fair play to him…I was happy to let him go!

Although there are limits…At the Barcelona Marathon, I saw a man who seemed to be running round with a buggy – now that is too much…isn’t it?

Things to consider  

  • You have to plan well – not just with snacks and drinks, but also in terms of the route and you have to be prepared to bail out at any time
  • You learn lots about good pavements – some routes need to be avoided!
  • It’s not about the buggy – I don’t have a proper running buggy (even though it’s called Baby Jogger). Some people have three-wheelers but I like my four-wheeler as it’s quite responsive.

Any other buggy runners out there? Please comment with any more tips to pass on too!

The Final Countdown – Running with Champions in Cardiff

Cardiff is always a great place to run, with its gorgeous parks, riverside runs and a superb running community, but it’s an even more interesting place to explore this week.

A massive Gareth Bale banner towers over “Stadiwm Stadium”

A floating football pitch, flags, banners, a massive blue dragon on the castle wall and Gareth Bale looking out at you from pretty much everywhere, you can’t miss the fact that the Champions League is in town.

The city is used to hosting big sporting events, but this is on an epic scale (or scales if you are talking about the dragon).

The word on the street (“y gair ar y stryd” in Welsh) is that this is the biggest event that Cardiff has hosted, and it certainly feels that way when you get out and about.

Make no mistake, it is going to cause traffic chaos all week due to a series of huge road closures and it sounds like everything is going to be disrupted – even the Cardiff parkrun will be on an alternative, alternative course as the usual route and its back-up are both affected.

Cardiff Bus or Paris Saint Germain?

But it’s here and it’s happening and, partly because I didn’t want to drive, I set out on an early morning run to clock up more pre-work miles than I usually would.

Running towards town, the first thing you might spot are the banners on the main roads.

The Women’s CL Final is taking place on Thursday night between Lyon and Paris Saint Germain, and then the Men’s CL Final is on Saturday night between Juventus and Real Madrid.

All four teams are named on the flags on the lamp-posts, along with a healthy sprinkling of red dragons.

The next thing you’ll probably spot are the start of the security measures. With an event of this size and especially in the current climate, these measures are extensive, and the “Ring of Steel” that appeared for the visit of Barack Obama in 2016 is out again.

The blue dragon is protecting the trophy on the castle wall

As you near the centre, you will see some of the fences, barricades and concrete slabs already up and the roadblocks ready to be moved into place too. It’s imposing, it feels unusual and it’s sad that it’s necessary, but hopefully it will help the week pass safely.

Running past the Sophia Gardens cricket ground and into Coopers Field, there are more things to see, with big corporate tents with accompanying fancy toilet blocks and catering facilities settled opposite the Eisteddfod stones.

From there, it’s a short circuit around the castle to see the big blue dragon sitting atop the wall, fiercely protecting the trophy.

Below the dragon, all the teams in this year’s competition are represented on the row of banners, with the faces of Aaron Ramsey, Jamie Vardy, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero among the stars featured.

Representing Real Madrid, the chosen star is, of course, Gareth Bale, who grew up just up the road in Whitchurch and is already a Welsh legend and all-round hero.

The Juventus and Real Madrid logos are on the stadium

Rather fittingly, his banner is over the road from where his new sports bar Elevens has opened just in time to do a roaring trade this week.

Jogging a few steps round the corner, here is Gareth again, with a huge poster adorning the side of the BT Tower next to the Stadium (usually called the Principality Stadium after a local building society, but naming rights were clearly not part of the Champions League package and it temporarily seems to be called “Stadiwm Stadium”).

By now, you are in the heart of Cardiff so you are paying attention to the traffic, and it’s easy to miss lots of the other signs and banners welcoming the eyes of the football world to the city.

It’s worth a quick stop at the stadium itself which is, as ever, a striking sight, especially from the banks of the river, which flows down towards Cardiff Bay. And that’s where I head next.

(As an aside for any non-Cardiffians reading this, the Bay and its barrage is a perfect loop for a marathon training run (as long as you don’t get held up for too long by boats going in and out to the channel), and it’s also a key part of the excellent Cardiff Half each October which is well worth a look).

The floating pitch is just in front of Pierhead and the Senedd

I am getting to the half-way point of my run as I reach the Bay and in Roald Dahl Plass, aka the Oval Basin, to see that the sponsors are really going for it with huge stands/stalls for PS4, Mastercard, BT Sport and more to entertain crowds with netfuls of football-based activity and excitement.

“Get your photo taken in a team line-up”, “Recreate the world’s most famous goals” and “Show how much of a dedicated fan you are”….it’s all a bit bonkers, to be honest, but the kids (and plenty of adults) are going to love it.

The highlight is the floating pitch and it looks brilliant – drifting just off the shore by the Pierhead building and the Senedd (home of the Welsh Assembly), but sadly I cannot stop for a kickabout (and I don’t think the security man would have allowed it either).

There are activities aplenty down in the Bay

I turn and head back into the city, nodding at the Big Gareth poster again on the way.

Then it’s into Bute Park and along the always-pleasant Taff trail, and there are more tents (and teepees!) in Pontcanna Fields – not the corporate ones this time but rows and rows of canvas for a village of people to stay in.

These tents are probably one of the key reasons why parkrun is moving this week, and that’s just one of the smaller details in the mayhem that will come.

The Women’s final is taking place on Thursday night

We have had multiple warnings about how busy everywhere is going to be as Saturday draws closer, and safety and security are the big issues now.

And there endeth the run – I am heading home at the end of nearly nine miles which have flown by because of all the distractions, and I have work to do.

Personally, I am looking forward to going to the Women’s Final on Thursday night and I am bravely predicting a French win in that.

Then let’s see if Gareth Bale is fit to play on Saturday (he’s been injured). It’s his city, and it’s got fairytale written all over it…

Quiz marathon: Can you complete the challenge and get the medal?

Quiz marathon: Can you complete the challenge and get the medal?

Running is the theme, but this quiz is for everyone. How far can you get along the quiz marathon course? Answer the 26 questions to find out...

A love letter to parkrun

I may only be on my second post, but I could not go any further without a quick love letter to parkrun.

I feel I might be preaching to the converted here, but I am a big fan of parkrun for its inclusivity, atmosphere, positivity…and all the options it offers.

Most Saturday mornings are spent here…

parkrun is flexible and it’s totally personal – you can go whenever you want, wherever you want and take it as seriously as you want.

Once I realised that meeting friends and/or having a cup of tea afterwards was as important as the run, it all clicked.

When I first went along, I never thought I would get to 100, and was delighted when I passed that landmark last year.

With the 250 milestone a long way off now, I have been enjoying finding some other things to aim at for 2017.

These are:

  • 25 volunteering shifts – I don’t quite know why, but I never got round to ordering the 50 or 100 parkrun t-shirts. I thought I would order them as soon as I could, but then I didn’t and now it seems too late. But the 25 purple volunteer t-shirt is one that I definitely do want.
    Volunteering at parkrun is always a pleasure and makes you feel so much more a part of the community. And it’s not just for the injured or those with an event on the Sunday. I am currently on 15 but hope to get to 25 by the end of the year. The future is purple.
  • 100 parkruns at my local run – I am currently on 96 runs for Cardiff Blackweir (@cardiffparkrun) and am looking forward to reaching the century.
    It’s the volunteers who make parkrun possible

    I might even have got there already if I hadn’t forgotten my barcode a couple of times. Or, on a couple of occasions, I had not wanted to record my time in case it messed up my average (this was in the very, very early days when I took it far too seriously).

  • 20 different locations – parkrun tourism is another of the great things about parkrun. I am currently on 15 locations and I love getting to different events to see what their course is like, meeting the organisers and volunteers, and trying a different café.
    There is a little group of four of us who have a whatsapp group where we plan our next adventures to explore, or if I am away somewhere new, I am always working out if I can fit in a parkrun to start the day.
    Barry Island, Conwy, Guildford, Cheltenham, Reigate and Aberystwyth are a few of the ones I have got to so far, and I look forward to getting to lots more in the future.
  • I hesitate to put this on here, but my final secret ambition is to get back under 20 minutes again.
    I really don’t think times are very important any more, but I used to be able to do it…and maybe I could again? It has been a good few years since I had a proper go at this, and I know it’s a tall order and will take quite a bit of training.

    Glorious views across the estuary at the RSPB reserve which hosts the Conwy course

    Admittedly, running with a buggy for probably around 50 or 60 runs has not helped in the speed stakes, so it all depends on how much time I get.

Whether I reach these targets or not, I can’t thank the parkrun teams around the country enough – from everyone at head office to each volunteer who makes this amazing movement possible.

It has to be the most accessible community out there for runners, and it’s there week after week after week…for free.

I am sure to mention parkrun again in this blog soon, and I am looking forward to getting more familiar with junior parkrun once my boy reaches four next year.

Let me know what you think, and any great parkruns I should be aiming to visit!