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 – The Keville family

If you are about to tackle 10 marathons in 10 days, you need motivation – and that’s definitely not a problem for Mark and Harry Keville.

This father-and-son pair are taking on their multi-marathon challenge in August to raise awareness and funds for robbiesrally.

This charity was set up by Harry’s younger brother Robbie who was diagnosed with a brain tumour and passed away last February. He was just 10.

It was just over four years after the family had lost his mum Kate to cancer. I met the family last year, when they supported Stand Up To Cancer with this incredibly powerful film about their family’s experience

.

Along with daughter Lara, Mark and Harry have continued the work that Robbie started and, in June, Robbie’s Rehab was launched – a new NHS service to help families at Southampton Children’s Hospital where Robbie was treated.

Mark said: “During the last year of Robbie’s life, he decided to set up a charity and named it robbiesrally. As a family we have continued to develop the charity to help children adapt to normal life after completing their treatment.

“Last year, our challenges included Harry and I doing a 15-day kayak trip called robbiesrow, and Lara playing tennis for 24 hours in robbiesrackets, while other supporters have been running marathons, obstacle races and organising all sorts of events – it has been wonderful to see so many people get involved.”

Tough training

This year, Mark and Harry have plotted their 10-marathon route for robbiesregionrunaround all the hospitals that are linked with Southampton. I asked Mark what he thought was in store…

“It’s going to be hard – we are under no illusions about that! We start on August 19th with two half marathons  on the same day– one on Jersey and one on Guernsey – then we continue with nine full marathons in a row.

“Even day one is a challenge and training has been tough – we have both suffered injuries and blisters, and it’s been a matter of fitting in runs when we can.

“Harry has been in Exeter doing his finals at university so training has had to take second place to everything else, and I have been busy with the launch of the new Robbie’s Rehab service.

“We both ran the D-Day 44-miler in June along the Normandy beaches as preparation, but it has been massively different to what we did to train for the row. For that, we were able to build up as the challenge went on, but this is going to be hard from the start.

“I think the biggest risk is injury, and staying well fed and hydrated each day.

“With the plan to visit all the hospitals, it has made the logistics complicated to arrange, but we are really looking forward to having those targets each day.

“On each visit, we hope to visit the paediatric ward and meeting some staff and patients to say a few words about the charity and what we are doing, so that is going to remind us exactly why we are putting ourselves through it all.

“We will need to get there on time to stick to a schedule, but we certainly aren’t planning to break any sprinting records – we want to go sloooooowly to avoid undue injury and just make sure we get round.”

“The plan is to finish in Southampton on August 28th, which is Bank Holiday Monday, and if people want to join us for the run into Southampton, we are hoping it will be a free-for-all so that anyone at all can join in.”

To find out more and follow the challenge, visit robbiesrally on Facebook here and you can support their work by donating here.

 

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

Trail Marathon Wales 2017 – race review (of sorts) and pics!

This is my first attempt at a race review and I am not sure I am going to get it quite right, but here goes.

At the start and trying not to think about the hills…

Trail Marathon Wales is based in Coed y Brenin (CYB) in Snowdonia in north Wales – just north of Dolgellau and near Cadair Idris.

It is a beautiful area and CYB is well established as an excellent mountain biking/trail running centre, and the marathon weekend is one of the highlights of the year, with a full and a half available.

A few months ago I signed up to the marathon, seeing it as a chance to do a 10th marathon before turning 40. I knew it had a lot of climbing in it, and that any kind of time prediction was going to be pointless and probably unhelpful.

I was relatively relaxed about it and deliberately didn’t study the elevation map too much beforehand. I think this was a good move.

Looking at the weather forecasts the week before, at first I was pleased that it was going to be dry and that my road shoes should be ok, as I had thrown away my old knackered trail shoes earlier this year and have not replaced them (trainers are expensive).

The views all around the course were stunning

By Friday night, I was starting to get a bit more worried about the heat and was reorganising my kit and rethinking what to wear. I am not the best in the sun, and I was repeating a mantra of “I just want to get round” to anyone and everyone nearby.

I woke up nice and early, and had an hour’s drive to the start and got parked up and registered, then put on some suncream (thank you to “men in van” who helped me out after I forgot mine).

As soon as you arrived, you could sense the excitement around the place was building as fast as the temperature was rising.

The CYB centre is a fantastic base for the event, with great facilities, decent parking and a good café, and I was looking forward to getting started.

Random photo with a bull sculpture

I do love an event morning. After weeks of anticipation, I always think “today is the day I finally get to do this thing” and that makes me bounce around.

It’s the days before I don’t like.

I am always worried about not making it to the start line due to an injury, which is a fear that has grown since I smashed my knee slipping down a set of stairs at a swimming pool two days before my first ultra in April (strangely it felt ok when running so I did it anyway – was fine).

Anyway, back to CYB and when I went back to get ready for the start, I bumped into Matt from www.runr.co.uk and we recognised each other from UKRunChat and from a blog post I did for the runr site recently.

We got chatting and, despite only meeting properly minutes earlier, we launched into a quick and honest discussion about pace and race plans which went something like this:

This was a big hill. And it was only at 11 miles.

“What time are you thinking?”
“Seriously no idea – I haven’t done enough training”
“Me neither – I’m going to walk up all the hills”
“Me too – it’s going to be hot”
“What time are you thinking?”
“Seriously no idea.”
[silence]
“Anything about five hours would be great”
“Me too – shall we try sticking together?”
“Let’s do it”

And with that exchange, like the Hobbitses and the dwarves and the elves and Sean Bean, we made our pact to head off together on our quest to tackle the hot hills arranged by Sauron (or, in this case Salomon).

We wandered off to the briefing where we bumped into my friend Rhodri (a fast man) and then Ben (a fast man who has just launched goodgym in Cardiff).

Photo stop at mile 17

There was some talking, some music and then a confusing section where we all had to turn around as we were going to start running in the opposite direction to where we all thought we were going…and then we were off.

Within yards, Rhodri and Ben zipped off in front and Matt and I started chatting….and this is where my run report is going to go off piste…

Basically it took us 5.12 and here are some things that I now know:

  • It was a brilliant event.
  • It had a lot of hills. The one at 11 miles is called The Sting in the Tail. There are many others. We made up some of our own names for some of the ones in the second half.
  • There was a proper toilet block at the 10-mile point – it was very civilised compared to a portaloo.

    The route was a great mix of paths and trails
  • It was also Matt’s 10th marathon finish – he did not get a medal for finishing Edinburgh as they took his number away when he was in first aid at 22.5 miles. With a DNF on both of our records, we had a similar approach to this one.
  • You know it is getting tough when you start to dread the flat sections. We conserved our legs by walking up hills from early on, and when you fear those flat bits, you know you are feeling weary.
  • Matt and his friend Craig set up the runr site to help develop a community of people who enjoy running and talking about it. They sell a nice range of hoodies, t-shirts and mugs – but if Matt is going to have to run a marathon alongside every potential customer, he is going to be knackered, so check out the website.
  • It was good to have a loose deal to stick together. There wasn’t any pressure to do so, but the benefits were pretty obvious given the heat and the terrain. And by the time we got to the business end of the last 10 miles, there didn’t seem any reason not to stay together. We had come this far and the best case scenario for either of us pushing ahead was the prospect of finishing a few minutes quicker and then worrying about the other. There didn’t seem to be much point in that, so it was much better to both safely finish and enjoy it.
  • The views from the hills were spectacular. Some of the moments when we twisted through forests and around the hillsides were some of the best I have ever enjoyed.

    So close to the end!
  • It amused us to plan an agenda to discuss in the second half. By this time, I had to fall back on telling Matt some stories that I tell my three-year-old at bedtime. At this point, any conversation is better than none (Matt may disagree but he said he liked the stories at the time)
  • We also saved up talking about football until the second half and it turns out that, obviously from being from the south coast, Matt supports Man Utd. His brother is more sensible in supporting the mighty Tottenham.
  • The variety of the course was a great distraction to make the mile markers tick by – up, down, path, heath, track, woodland – you never knew what was next so that was good.
  • We reckon we could probably had won it if we hadn’t stopped to take pictures.

    Big smiles at the finish line!
  • I tried telling Matt that “it wasn’t really that hot” at one point but he was not convinced.
  • The marshals and organisers were brilliant – thank you to all involved.
  • You don’t get a medal. You get a wooden coaster which fits in with the fact you run through the woods (Coed y Brenin means The King’s Woods)
  • I like my coaster

So there you go – not sure it’s a race review, but it was a great experience, and one I would highly recommend. Apologies it’s quite long, but that has meant I can put lots of pictures in.

Massive well done to Matt for being great company (and then an extra congratulations for driving five hours home straight afterwards – #palaver).

The coaster made sense on Sunday night

Also huge congratulations to Rhodri who was doing his first marathon and did brilliantly, to Ben for doing the 5k the previous day and then climbing Snowdon the next, and to Elizabeth from UKRunChat who did the half to tick off the summer and winter events.

And a special mention to Nia – who came along to be part of my support crew but sprained her ankle in the car park within minutes of arrival and stayed to cheer before ending up in A&E.

Not quite the day we had planned but she was still an excellent supporter – diolch Nia!

Let me know what you think and if you did it too! All comments welcome!

10th marathon (before 40)

Am absolutely delighted to have completed my 10th marathon today and fulfilled a goal of doing it before turning 40 (which may or may not be very imminent…).

I had been worried about this one (Trail Marathon Wales) as I knew it could be hilly and hot, what with it being Snowdonia and in June.

And it was.

So I decided to focus on trying to be sensible and just getting round safely.

Race report will follow but it has been a great day. Thanks to organisers, marshals and supporters. Superb event.

And a big shout out to Matt from www.runr.co.uk – we met at the start and ran the whole way together.

Sponsorship page is here – I support the work of CRUK and all donations are very welcome.

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…

Running and fundraising – 10 things I have learnt

If you are doing an event to raise money for charity, you might be facing a fundraising target that feels as daunting as the race itself.

This might be for a Golden Bond place (around £2,000 for a coveted London marathon spot) or because you just want to raise as much money as possible for your cause.

A supermarket bucket collection is so easy that a child can do it.

Either way, it can be a lot to consider when you are also trying to put in the training miles too.

I have found it really motivating to see the training and the fundraising as two halves of the same challenge, with each giving momentum to the other.

When I am running, I try to use the time to think about plans for the next event, or people to contact/ideas to follow up as it is always good to keep thinking of new things.

If it’s your first event, you might get a great wave of support and donations from friends and family, but after that, charity/donation fatigue becomes a very real concern.

GET STARTED

It’s so awkward to just keep asking the same people for money and if you do more events regularly, people quickly realise that this is something you obviously like doing.

So if you can offer something in return for a donation, then it’s easier for everyone.

I am sure there are loads of great fundraising ideas out there (and please add yours in the comments below), but here are 10 thoughts which might help:

  1. Get an online page set up as soon as possible. If someone asks if you are fundraising, it can be really frustrating if you don’t have something to send it straightaway. On the page, you should explain why the cause is important to you too – the more people understand why you are doing it, the more they are likely to support you.
  2. Think about lots of ways you can fundraise. I find that little and often is good. Taking cakes to the office may only raise £20/25 a time, but if you do it a few times over a few months, it adds up and people will occasionally stick a tenner in the box. Also, cakes can be expensive to make, but you can approach local supermarkets to explain what you are doing and speak to the manager, they might be able to give you £20/£30 of ingredients – really handy to get a stock of flour/butter/sugar in.
  3. Sticking with the supermarkets, another great idea is to approach your local stores if you can come along with a fundraising bucket on a Saturday – for a few hours’ work, you can raise loads even if you are on your own (you may need a letter from the charity to do this). Last time I did this, I got one slot in the coming weeks, and another a few months later just before the event and it really helped.
  4. Start early – if you are thinking about doing an event next year, why not start with some smaller events now. Even if you are planning one big event like a gala dinner, it is great to have the ball rolling and the totaliser started to make you feel more positive. And the more friends you involve, the more people who might be able to help in other ways too (such as helping with your big/other events)
  5. For big events, there are ways of making things easier. My current event of choice is a curry/quiz night where you charge £20/25 for a night out at a local restaurant (charging £11 per head) then also doing a quiz at the end of the night. It’s a chance to see friends for a nice evening, you don’t get stressed about food and everyone enjoys competing to win a box of chocolates.
    All you have to do is write some questions, and you can add a raffle or a heads/tails game (everyone gives a £1 coin and keeps guessing heads/tails to try to match your coin until only one is left) to add a bit more too.
  6. Look at things you enjoy and keep it simple. If you bake cakes, organise a bake off competition or a coffee morning. If you play netball or five-a-side football, organise a tournament. I have done a few football tournaments – most centres have a charity event package already costed and you can opt to have referees etc. One quick word about tournaments – it can be hard to get teams to commit so if you can get them to pay a deposit, you can help prevent teams dropping out on the day.
  7. Keep asking for raffle prizes and don’t take it personally if people aren’t able to help. If you are out for a meal, why not ask the manager if they ever do vouchers as prizes – there is no harm in asking and you might get some nice surprises of really generous gifts. And what about unwanted/unused Christmas gifts too? If you are fundraising for a spring marathon, you might already have a good range of prizes suitable for your raffle/quiz night already sitting on your shelves.
  8. If there is a big sporting event at some point during your fundraising, a sweepstake is a quick and easy option too. Get in there early, make clear it’s for charity and charge £5 or £10 to enter. The prize doesn’t have to be much, and I have recently done a couple where I sent regular emails round to participants each time people got knocked out, mentioning each person by name in a poem so that they got a bit more out of it (when I say poem, it was along the lines of “Sweden got sent packing by Spain, so that saw Dave crash out of the game”)
  9. Spread the word. Your local paper might well be interested in your efforts- either in the run itself or your fundraising events. It can help get support, but it’s worth saying that an article, or even a frenzied social media campaign to get lots of retweets from celebrities to a sponsorship page is not always going to bring in money on its own – people will give if they feel a connection. And if you can give people other ways to help like attending an event, that might be more effective than a direct ask for money.
  10. Make a film. A few years ago, I decided I needed something to send out with fundraising links. Turns out it is a really good way to engage with people and led to some great donations and interactions. Here’s the one for Paris/London:

And here’s the one for Barcelona:

What fundraising tips do you have? Please get in touch below.

PS In case you are wondering, my current page is here. You may notice it is not prolific which is because I was worried about my first ultra and was nervous to talk about it beforehand.

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...

Over the fence – a cheerer’s perspective

Taking part in events is obviously excellent and something I fully endorse, but running cheering points can be pretty excellent too.

For the last few years, I have been organising the Cancer Research UK cheering point for the Cardiff half marathon each October.

I work for the charity but it’s a great chance to volunteer and, rather than running the same event each year, I enjoy seeing everything from the other side of the fence.

Rain or shine, we have a hardy gang of regulars who turn up to shout each year, so it’s great to catch up with them and make a lot of noise together.

The more energy the better when it comes to cheering

In the weeks beforehand, it’s particularly handy to be able to tell friends who are running exactly where you will be, and that their supporters can come along to be part of somewhere easily recognisable too.

I always know that I will see some of my friends who I haven’t seen for a while on the day and, as it’s my local event, there are usually lots of other people I didn’t know were running too.

From a runner’s perspective, I find that using the established cheering points rather than making up your own arrangements can make it easier for both the cheerers and the cheered.

It’s good to have something to aim at and, when you are running, it’s much less confusing to look out for the big flags than “I’ll be at the second lamppost after the Costa”.

From the supporters’ perspective, anything that makes the day easier is very welcome – it’s a tiring business scurrying on the outskirts of an event trying to get to certain places by the deadline and there’s plenty of scope for misunderstanding!

Early start

Over the years we have had a few different locations for our CRUK point, but we are currently to be found just before the eight-mile marker. It’s far enough along for cheering to be needed and gives boost before those tough last few miles kick in.

On the day, we are up as early as the runners to get close to the cheering point and set it up, and you get to see some of the crowds pass on their way into town.

It takes about exactly a year to forget how we set it up the year before

As we are trying to remember how we put the flags and banners up last year, it’s a chance to wish good luck to everyone, sharing the pre-race excitement while also being able to eat a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea.

Then those runners disappear and it’s back to more preparations as our cheering gang arrive and cable ties are applied to make sure everything is in place and not likely to topple over in a gust of wind.

There’s usually a helicopter filming the start, so you can look out for that, and then you forget and realise that the race actually started 10 minutes ago.

You keep doing the maths to work out when the first runners might arrive. Eight miles of their rapid pace seems to take no time at all and the outriders are suddenly upon you.

It’s easy to spot people to cheer at first and fast friends glide through in single file at exactly the pace they had predicted so you can be sure of seeing them.

Then the crowds start to swell and it’s more of a lottery. It’s hard to know if people started in the right pens and even seeing the pacers is no guarantee of if people got held up at the start.

You’re sure to miss seeing some of your friends in the throng, of course, but you are busy cheering everyone else anyway.

As it’s a CRUK point, the CRUK runners get a big shout as the call of “CRUK runner” goes up from our advance scouts at the front, but everyone else gets cheers too – BHF, Macmillan, Tenovus, Teenage Cancer Trust, Vegan Runners, Les Croups, Penarth & Dinas, San Dom, Swansea Harriers…everyone!

And regardless of charity or club, if you have a name on your vest, your chances of getting a shout are multiplied a thousand-fold.

For that next 60 minutes, it’s a blur with so many smiles and laughs and so much energy being passed from crowd to runner and back again.

A big hand for all our wonderful volunteers

The loudhailer cuts through the masses and runners waving back and high-fiving get everyone smiling.

After that hour, the ranks start to thin and it gets easier to see individuals again to give encouragement – by this point you can often have a full-on conversation with some runners too.

There is always a tricky balance later on as some of our cheerers have to head off to meet their runners, and families have to think about food, parking and getting home.

We always do our best to stay in position for as long as we can to see the last runners. These are the people who might appreciate the cheers and enjoy the support the most.

And then it’s time to go back to the car. The flags and banners are reunited with their corresponding bags and, with all the snacks and bottles of water gone, the boxes are significantly easier to carry on the return journey.

We’re usually starving by then. Obviously the runners deservedly get their medals for their morning’s work but I think we have earned some dinner too!

Come and join us at Cardiff on Sunday 1st October 2017, or check out if there’s a CRUK cheering point at an event near you here. Other excellent charity cheering points are also available!