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

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…

Midnight Ramadan Football? Why not!

I like playing football and I knew I wasn’t busy at midnight…

It was a chance to play on a nice big pitch

Recently, I saw an advert for Midnight Ramadan Football, organised by BME Sport Cymru to encourage Muslims to keep active during the holy month of Ramadan, which started on Saturday.

As Ramadan means fasting all through the day, including not drinking water (which is quite handy during exercise), the game is an opportunity to take part in sport during the break in the fast.

BME Sport Cymru aims to make a difference to the inclusion of BME (black and minority ethnic) communities in sport, and this is the first time they have organised the sessions in Cardiff, after seeing it was a popular idea elsewhere in the UK.

On Friday, I got in touch to check that non-Muslims were able to play and Simon at BME Sport Cymru replied straight away. He confirmed that it was absolutely fine and that they had spaces, so I signed up.

Turning up at the House of Sport centre at midnight, I was welcomed by Simon and some of the players. We started warming up and we all got chatting.

Communities from all across the city were represented, including Somali, Congolese, Senegalese, Bangladeshi, Sudanese, Pakistani, Eritrean, Guinean, Yemeni and Chinese, and it was interesting to hear more about how observing Ramadan impacts exercise and  work routines through the month.

But we weren’t there to chat. The warm-up showed that there was plenty of talent on show and piledriving shots were flying in from everywhere – this was going to be a proper game.

We kicked off and, although the others may have just eaten a big meal to break their fast, there was no holding back. It was fast and frantic, and there was no time to be worrying about sleep.

These days, I am used to playing five-a-side on small pitches which stops when the ball goes over head-high, so it was a great change to play nine-a-side on the bigger pitch.

I put some tackles in, chased long balls over the top, got beaten by some ridiculous skills and basically just tried to keep up.

The session flew by and it was thoroughly enjoyable (apart from when I blazed my best chance over the bar), and it was 2am before I knew it. There was food afterwards (watermelon and biryani on offer to all) as the fast started again at 3am.

The sessions are happening again at weekends for the next month, and if you were interested in getting involved, Simon would be delighted to hear from you.

Marathon-training permitting, I hope to get along again – partly because I strongly believe it is so important for communities to interact and sport is a great unifier, but also because I am gutted I missed that chance in front of goal and I would like to put that right.

Thanks to BME Sport Cymru and all the players for the game. Da iawn pawb.

More information and contact details on Twitter at @SportsBme

(I know this post isn’t about running as such, but I did do a lot of running on the pitch)