The Cardiff Half – to be or not to be?

Tomorrow was meant to be my last long run before my first half marathon.

At the start of the year, I signed up to run the Cardiff Half Marathon, a lifelong ambition of mine, in memory of my grandad for the Stroke Association.

I started running properly after joining my local club in June 2017 and steadily progressed from the couch to 5K then to 10K. I signed up for the half as a nerve-wracking but exciting next step and started my training on 2 January in the cold, blustery rain with my best friend.

If you’d asked me four weeks ago how the training was going, I’d have answered: “Pretty well cheers!”. I felt quietly confident.

From May, I’d upped my distances and my commitment to running going out three to four times a week.

I painfully worked my way from 10K to eight miles, to nine, to 10 and was covering more than 20 miles a week, which is a lot for the girl who couldn’t run to a lamppost a year before.

Sunday mornings were for long runs whatever the weather. I plodded through ankle-splashing puddles and sweltered in unseasonably hot sun with my fellow runners.

A particularly rainy run

My trainers came with me on holiday and on overnight stays for work. I took them out at 6am on Mondays, 8pm on Wednesdays, basically whenever I could between the children and working.

Running has not only made me fitter and healthier, it’s also brought my asthma under the best control I’ve had for years.

It has made me happier too.

It is time for me to think, run it out, push myself and silence the voice that says I can’t, which has often been too loud. To run away the worries that can come with juggling work and a young family trying to be the best I can be at both.

So I didn’t really struggle to put my trainers on for those runs. I’d committed to the half and wanted to train well. All was on track.

And a fortnight ago I ran 11 miles doing Castle 2 Castle for Velindre Cancer Centre with a month to go to the Cardiff Half, an excellent training run for a great cause.

I met one of my all time heroes former Wales and British Lions captain legend Sam Warburton who waved us runners off and kindly obliged in our photographs. It was hard but excellent practice for the half.

But I haven’t run since.

A niggling cold developed into a chest infection earlier this week that’s making my asthma symptoms flare up in a way they haven’t since I joined my running club.

I’ve rested, drunk honey and lemon, inhaled steam and followed all medical advice. I’ve been on antibiotics and steroid tablets to ease my asthma problems since Tuesday and thankfully the cough that took my sleep for days has eased.

This week’s training regime

But now I’m at a loss.

Will I be able to do the challenge I set myself almost 10 months ago, for a charity I love and did so much for my grandad?

I’ve felt sad about every run I’ve missed and I know I’ll feel sad tomorrow when for the second week I’ll have missed my long run.

My fellow runners training for their first half are doing amazingly – and I’m so proud of them – but I can’t help feeling left behind.

The doctor says wait and see and that it could be possible so for now I’ll continue to rest – and hope.


Cardiff Half for Cliff

Cliff was my grandad.

He was charming, funny, controversial at times, maddeningly old-fashioned but entirely committed to his family.

Generous with his time, he and my lovely Nanna Val were always there from school concerts to cherished days out to listening to my tales around the dinner table every Friday night.

Barry born and bred, he and my Nanna moved to Port Talbot in the 1960s where his charm and ability to strike up conversations with anyone made him the perfect fit as a sales rep at a local printing company.

He was just 60 when I came along as his first grandchild. He and my Nanna were the most loving grandparents I could ask for (at 91, my Nanna still is).

Some of my happiest days were spent with them. During the school holidays, I’d wake up from a sleepover at their home to have boiled eggs cooked perfectly runny for soldier-dipping.

We’d then go on outings to town, or perhaps somewhere further afield like Swansea, to do spots of shopping.

I loved searching shelves for pocket money treasures, with both my Nanna and Grandpa instilling me with a good understanding of value for money that I still use to this day.

Grandpa was an expert storyteller. He was vitally proud of his time in the RAF in World War Two and was posted to Burma. He’d regale us with tales from the time, including once finding a monkey in his accommodation.

Friday nights were dinner nights. My Nanna would cook delicious roast dinners with sides of French bread and an array of desserts that would put most restaurants to shame.

And after dinner, the record player would go on and we’d dance to La Bamba, Jive Bunny or ABBA. Grandpa was quite the dancer and spent Saturday nights on the dance floor with my Nanna at the Aberavon Hotel.

As I grew older and became an idealistic teenager with strong, liberal opinions, our relationship changed.

Friday night dinner became a time for debates, where Grandpa and I would thrash out our contradictory opinions over roast potatoes and trifle.

Politics, my future career choice, the news, nothing was out of bounds. I like to think this encouraged my love of a good debate.

As I passed exams and started college and university, he and my Nanna supported me steadfastly along with my mum and dad.

Grandpa was a huge believer in education and was proud to see me go to university and start my career in journalism (although deep down I’m sure he’d have preferred me to make the far more sensible choice of becoming a teacher like my dad).

He was also a proud wedding guest when I got married in 2008.

As Grandpa grew older, he stayed remarkably active and well. At 85, he still drove, socialised with friends and danced every Saturday night with my Nanna. He could still charm a room.

But old age did mean he needed knee operations. He’d put them off before, but by the summer of 2010 the pain was such that there could be no more delays.

A few days before his 86th birthday, he had the operation. On his birthday, we visited him on the ward with gifts and cake and he seemed in good spirits.

But not too long after, he sadly had a devastating stroke, the kind that meant he could no longer speak and lost the use of one side of his body.

At first, we had hope. But then we knew that he would not recover his speech, or his movement.

Every night was spent at the hospital, holding his hand, combing his hair and talking to our Cliff as his sky coloured eyes met ours.

My heart felt like an anvil. I felt as though I had this extra invisible weight with me everywhere I went.

We had a month of this, a month of limbo, a month of watching our Cliff, a man of fierce independence, try to communicate but not being able to.

After this month, a long month that stretched and stretched, I got the call asking us to come in as he was slipping away.

I was fortunate enough to get there to tell him how much I loved him. Because, oh, how I and we loved him.

He died later that night.

My Nanna asked for donations in lieu of flowers to the Stroke Association in his memory and raised around £2,000 in his name.

That’s why a little over eight years later I’ve decided to run my first half marathon – the Cardiff Half Marathon – for the Stroke Association in his memory to help other families affected by strokes.

I’ll be blogging about my training efforts as we get closer to the day – Sunday 7 October 2018.

This one’s for you, Grandpa.

Swansea Bay 10K ✅

On the first day of January this year, I pledged to take on a new challenge and signed up for the Swansea Bay 10K.

I have never found running easy so I knew it would be hard, but I decided to run it for the awesome mental health charity Mind following my difficult experience of post-natal depression.

As today inched closer, my nerves grew. Although I’d trained for the best part of three months, a nasty cold meant I’d had to have a fortnight off earlier this month so I worried if I’d make it around the course.

I felt proud putting on my Mind running vest and taking my place among the runners. Shortly before the race started, the rain arrived to soak us through as we waited to get moving.

When it was time to set off, the atmosphere was exciting. I loved

seeing my fellow charity runners taking on the course.

The first few kilometres were okay as I found my slow pace and settled into it. So many supporters

braved the rain and lined the course to cheer us on with pom-poms, shakers and cow bells. Props to the man dressed as Donald Trump at around the 6K mark for making us smile.

From 7K onwards, I struggled. I’ve never run in such heavy rain before and found it challenging to dodge puddles and maintain momentum as the course narrowed.

But somehow I just kept going, one step at a time, and ran without stopping. Yes, I was slow but I was determined to run it all.

Seeing the 400m to go sign felt brilliant and I felt near to tears as

I finally crossed the line. I’d done what didn’t feel possible three months ago.

A huge factor in getting me around the course has been my training with the Pencoed Panthers running club, which I joined in June. Their support and ability to push me when my legs and mind want to give up has helped me achieve a 10K – something I hadn’t done since 2010 (and pre-children).

I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me and sponsored me so far. At the time of writing, I’d raised almost £200 for Mind thanks to your generosity.

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.