My squad – two months as a Pencoed Panther

Running has never been my forte.

At school, miserable cross country runs were enough to put me off long distance running for life. I hated running around the drizzly field near Port Talbot steelworks, always one of the slowest runners. Sprinting was fun, thrilling; long distance running was not for me.

It was only as I neared the end of university that I started trying to run again. I did a few charity 5K runs and worked my way up to taking on two 10K runs for charity.

In 2010, I earned myself the dubious title of one of the slowest finishers in the Cardiff 10K.

I remember vividly being heckled by a male running club member who taunted me and a runner I’d befriended for being so slow. “You should be ashamed ladies,” he sneered, medal around his neck, taking no heed that we were running for good causes. Our only goal was getting over the finish line but that wasn’t good enough for him.

And that was one of the last times in recent years that I’d attempted running outside. Two children in less than three years and working full time meant I focused on gym classes when I could, my running days behind me.

In January, I decided to do the new year, new me, challenge and signed up for the Swansea Bay 10K, which I last did in 2009. It would be a motivator to improve my fitness and to get running again.

After being pretty unwell with postnatal depression after having my daughter, I decided to run it for the charity Mind, who do so much to break down the stigma around mental illnesses.

My plan to train alone faltered after a nasty chest infection in April/May. So after making a slow recovery, in mid June I went along to my first Pencoed Panthers training session feeling nervous as anything.

I wasn’t the only newbie that night and our lovely run leaders started us off with gentle walk runs using lampposts as our markers. I could barely run for two lampposts without stopping but their encouragement made all the difference.

At our second session, we covered 5K in walk running. And I really struggled. But when we got back to our meeting point, I felt jubilant.

And with each session since, I’ve felt my stamina and fitness improve. Some days are more difficult than others and some days are slower, but nothing beats that feeling of making yourself go a little bit further, a little bit faster.

And the encouragement of the fellow members makes all the difference. They are there to tell you to keep going, that you can do it, that you don’t need to stop.

On Wednesday, two months after joining the Panthers, I ran for four miles without stopping. Yes, I was slow. Yes, it was hard. But I did it. Those efforts sessions in the rain, those runs I thought I would never do all helped me to run the furthest I’ve run since the Cardiff 10K seven years ago.

So with five weeks to go, I feel the Swansea Bay 10K is doable. And it’s all thanks to my squad, the brilliant Pencoed Panthers, who have helped me cover more ground that I thought possible in two months.

I won’t be anywhere near the fastest runner in the Swansea Bay 10K. That’s not what it’s about. For me, it’s about getting over that finish line and raising money for the charity that made me feel less alone at the toughest time.

This post was inspired by the Sport Wales #OurSquad campaign to get more women active in Wales.

Find out more about the Pencoed Panthers here.

If you have a pound or two to spare for my Mind challenge, you can sponsor me here.

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A sunny Sunday at Dyffryn Gardens

Our favourite family days out involve exploring somewhere new so a few weeks ago we signed up to be National Trust members.

Today we put that membership to good use with our first visit to the magical Dyffryn Gardens. Nestled in St Nicholas in the Vale of Glamorgan, its 55 acres feature a myriad of gorgeous garden rooms with plants and landscaping themes from across the globe. Although just 15 minutes from Cardiff, it feels worlds away from the bustling city.

When you arrive at Dyffryn Gardens, the first thing to greet you is the park. The children raced straight in, enjoying the wooden, nature-themed playground.

After encouraging them to leave the park, we went through the Reception area to start exploring the gardens.

Our son led the way and we soon found ourselves outside the impressive Dyffryn House, a manor house built in the late 19th century which is partially restored.

We followed the path around the house to discover the croquet lawn peppered with striped deckchairs. From there, the children meandered through a network of gardens, finding vibrant flowers, apple-bursting trees and arches threaded with roses. It was stunning.

The children loved exploring the gardens, discovering arches leading to a new walled garden and the various sculptures and statues.

My favourite? The Italian walled garden and the rose garden. Our daughter loved spotting the different colour roses as we strolled around it.

As you’d expect of a National Trust property, the facilities were excellent. It had a cafe, picnic benches and sitting spots as well as traditional garden toys to keep the children entertained.

Tired little legs meant we didn’t get to go inside Dyffryn House but we will definitely be back to visit – and see the house – soon.

Overall, a beautiful family day out that is such a treat for garden lovers of the world.