Pontypridd Roadents RAT RACE Magazine October/November/December 2020

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RAT RACE The Pontypridd Roadents Magazine October/November/December 2020

Inside: 30 Days - 465 Miles - Fiona’s Done It Again The Virtues Of Virtual Running Otherside - Life On The Farm Winter Is Coming - A Year Of Running For Cancer Research Wales: The Final Part www.pontypriddroadentsac.org.uk


Hello and welcome to this, the final RAT RACE of 2020. And what a strange year it’s been! A year of postponements, cancellations, weird ways of running and... me scraping to find content for this magazine (hence a double dose of my Year Of Running For Cancer Research Wales). We’re all looking forward to a return to normality in 2021 but, whatever next year brings, running will always be there for you to help remove those stresses and strains of (not) everyday life. Enjoy your Christmas, however you can celebrate, and stay safe for 2021.

The Committee

Andy Davies Club President

Jo Gwynne Vice Chairperson/ COVID-19 Officer Nick Pounder Treasurer Sam Richards Club Championship Secretary Darren Bishop Kit Officer Fiona Davies Road Race Captain Ben Butler-Madden Road Race Vice Captain Neil Brooke-Smith Club Welfare Officer Mair Johnson Club Welfare Officer/ Child Safeguarding Officer

Paul Graham Club Chairperson

Mike Gwynne Club Secretary Charlie Smith Membership Secretary/Club Welfare Officer Mark Douglas PR Officer

Lawrence Pole Website Editor Bretti Paxton Off Road Captain Daniel Thrift Off-Road Vice Captain Darren Griffiths-Warner Magazine Editor Rhodri Evans Race Director

Nick Denny Club Welfare Officer

David Mather, Liz May, Carol Roughley, Paul Harris, Martin Green General Committee

Pete Jackson @ Gloucester Invitational 24 Hour Elite Race 31/10/2020 Virtual Running With Emma & Wyn Page 29

The November Challenge with Fiona Davies Page 22

Rats In Exhile With Martin Green Page 7

Otherside with Gwyn Johnson Page 13

EDITORIAL Uneven Passage! Wales is full of beautiful landscapes filled with tall mountains, craggy coastlines and wild woodlands. Yes, I know that I’m stating the obvious here but that’s why I find it difficult to understand why some runners here in Wales are wary of taking to the trail. I’m assuming it’s to do with speed, because if anyone expects to compare their road 10k or Half-Marathon time to the same distance on a trail then, of course, your road time is going to be much faster. But then making your way over a beautiful mountain top with its sumptuous views compared to running through an Industrial Estate on the outskirts of Cardiff is very different. I first hit the trails after I had completed my first marathon. It was by mistake really. Having spent months training for, then taking part in, the London Marathon in the year I turned 50, I found myself suffering a down period. I suppose that should have been the end. Running the London Marathon, feeling great, ending on a high. But I suppose I’m really writing about the realities of life - which means high, lows and those mundane bits you find in the middle. London was great; it took me days, if not weeks to come down after I had run it. I didn’t want to come down, but life does carry on and I wasn’t in some Hollywood-ending movie. There’s a big difference between reality and fantasy. To give you context watch the two versions of the film La Femme Nikkita and The Assassin. The original French version ends suddenly with the main character realising the nightmare she was part of would never go away, while the American version had the main protagonist declaring that Nikkita was dead so the case was closed as he watched her joyfully escape into the sunset with her love interest. This was why the American version flopped - because, like many European film makers, Luc Besson who wrote and directed La Femme Nikkita understood life doesn’t have happy endings, it just continues on. And that’s what happened here. Chris Evans, the radio and TV presenter, spoke to a marathon trainer about this coming down-after-a-run state of mind on his Radio 2 breakfast show and this bloke’s response was, ‘Run another marathon.’ Easy enough you might think, but unlike Chris who can automatically sign up to run famous marathons without having the rigmarole of going through ballots or sourcing charities to run for and paying the sign up fee, I still found these words hit home. Taking this advice on board, I made ‘running another marathon’ my target and I knew which one I was going to run: Milton Keynes, my home town. Still, the blues were forming as this run was ages away and I needed to get back into that competitive spirit soon if I was going to break through this state of mind. I needed something more immediate, something soon. Saying that, I only had one Sunday available in May with the only runs I could find being the Dymouth Half-Marathon (I wasn’t sure where this was), the Wells 10k (I wanted something longer) and the Roadents Treforest 10k (I wasn’t a member of the club at this point and the race finisher didn’t receive a medal, and those who know me know I love my bling - so that race was sidelined as well!) Anyway, my post marathon blues started to sink in and I felt the jubilation of the London run starting to disappear down a hole labelled ‘forgotten.’ The ballot for next year’s London Marathon opened but I believed running it again so soon would dilute the euphoria I had felt when I stepped over the line. With many people I know talking about it, I really felt London slipping from my grasp as the next race was sold out and what had been had been. I wanted to sit down and chat with Bruce Springsteen about that glory days but everyone else had moved on and left me behind. Damn, this blues thingy was getting serious. That was when, as if by magic, an email appeared (like that shop keeper bloke from Mr Ben) from the organisers of the Cardiff Half-Marathon reminding me about the Royal Welsh Trail Half-Marathon Festival in Builth Wells. The run was to be around the hills that surrounded the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells, a market town in mid-Wales famous for hosting the biggest agricultural show in Wales every Summer. I’ve always liked the idea of trail running - imagining travelling between open pastures, wooded glens and alongside paths following rivers compared to the hard tarmac and thousands of bodies running along the closed carriageways of a city or town brought the romance back into running. This romantic notion had drawn me towards the Forest Of Dean Spring Trails Half-Marathon that I had completed in March so I felt my experience made me an expert on the subject. What I didn’t realise was that the Forest Of Dean run was no more than a slightly off road experience, running along well maintained forestry tracks - which was no comparison to what I now opted to face! After numerous uneven tracks with treacherous loose stones that sent you in every direction and forced you to

concentrate hard on your footing and not the progress ahead, we made our way through a mixture of dew-covered fields where the only route guidance was from the trodden grass that the faster runners ahead of me had left in their wake. Then the steep rises kept coming as we climbed higher into the hills that make this region of Wales so beautiful. There was little respite from the arduous tasks that were thrown at us with surfaces that had you skiing down the rapid descents. It was pretty amazing that I didn’t go head-over-heels ending up in a pile of cow dung at some point! I soon realised that I was probably heading for a considerably slow time, not breaking any records, as this trail running lark was a completely new ball game to the events I’d run before. Bizarrely, at one point, I found myself in a queue as one by one each of the runners negotiated a style on a footpath! When it got to my turn I did a great job of cracking my knee against an unmovable wooden post that left me hobbling for the next few hundred yards until the pain subsided. Nope, I hadn’t come across that many styles during the London Marathon! But still, I loved every minute of the race - so much so that I soon found myself signing up for more trail runs over road races, including many trail ultra marathons taking me places I would never had got to otherwise. But the transition from road to trail is not as straightforward as it may seem, with a completely different set of muscles to feel sore after a race and maybe, especially in my case, a few bumps and bruises after a tumble or two…or three! A trail run is another form of workout, especially if the route consists of sharp hill climbs or technical tracks strewn with many trip hazards. It gives your body a complete workout for leg strength and power, combined with an explosive plyometric exercise routine where you can exert a large amount of energy in a small amount of time. Trail running teaches you to deal with constant changes in pace while adapting your running stride according to the terrain beneath your feet and stops you becoming a plodder. It also helps adapt your body to run further distances for longer periods of time. In a trail run there is no shame in slowing down! Power walking when you’re facing a climb, heat, rocky terrain or altitude can be more efficient uphill than trying to run it. It keeps your heart-rate low while using your muscles in a different way, giving your running legs a rest. Because of the nature of a trail run it tends to be slower paced, so combining them with track or road runs as part of your training also allows your body to recover from those fast, exhaustive, intense workouts while allowing active recovery. But, of course, training benefits aside, it’s the nature of the trails that bring me back for more. Appreciating the quiet conditions (I never run with headphones) where I can hear birdsong or water running through brooks along with the views over the beautiful countryside gives me an opportunity to reset myself. As I’ve said in the past, I use running as a form of stress relief, a mental reset when the concentration of my footing on the terrain tends to remove all other thoughts outside following the trail beneath my shoes. With the twists and turns on a trail your pace becomes irrelevant, so your run just becomes running for the sake of enjoyment and how you feel.



Pontypridd Roadents AGM

This year’s Club AGM was, like many things during 2020, a slightly different affair. Held on the 5th November it was attended via Zoom. Below is Paul Graham’s Chairman Address about this year’s achievements. I would like to say thank you to the outgoing committee for their support throughout what has arguably been the most challenging year in the club’s history due to a global pandemic which has completely changed everything including club activity. Our club membership has grown yet again to a record number of over 160 fully paid members; which I believe is conclusive evidence that the club has been developed and sustained by our brilliant committee in a way that is attractive to those on the outside. We have huge numbers of transfers into the club due to the friendly atmosphere that is associated with our club activity. Our membership secretary will be standing down from the role this year, which will be a massive loss to the club as Fiona has done an excellent job for many years. Another big thank you to the club LiRFS whose role has become much more prevalent recently due to the changes in the training and the club simply could not function without these people giving up their time so selflessly. Once Welsh Athletics run courses again, we will certainly be hoping to expand the number of qualified run leaders at the club! The track has proved to be an excellent addition to the club and we have seen over 60 people attend a club night within the past 12 months and we are now even running back-to-back track sessions such is the requirement for its use. We have also newly formed a link with the USW triathlon club which is an exciting development which should hopefully help us ensure continued growth, particularly amongst younger members. The growth of the club is tremendous and I’m sure some of the longer standing members can think back to a time where we would be waiting outside the cricket club on a Tuesday night and only 3 or 4 other people had come along. Club Races 2020 Due to Covid, our club races certainly haven’t turned out as expected this year. After a successful sold out Reverse 10 in February, which once again was very popular with the people taking part due to the presence of our large team of happy and chirpy marshals, we were unable to host any further events. Our special edition race top certainly went down well too and I’ve seen it out and about on local runners a lot. It was great to see the ladies’ race won by Nicola Jukes who is a long-time supporter of our club events, and has frequently been in the top 3 of all of the races we host. We were unable to host The Loop this year and we have had to postpone the entries from Treforest 10k to the 2021 edition, with over 200 entries already received. The entrants have been wonderful in their response and are still fully intending to support the race when restrictions allow. Club Events 2020 should have been the year we celebrated our first Castles victory in the Open category, however, this year’s event never materialised. However, what I did find particularly pleasing is that we had entered a Female team into the race for the first time and I know we have now set down a benchmark from which we will continue to grow. It will be great when this race resumes to have 60 different Roadents at the event and I’m sure Newtown will be a rowdier place on Saturday night for it as we have a reputation as not only being one of the most competitive clubs in the country but also one of the most boisterous. As with the Castles Relays, the Rack Raid was also cancelled which would have allowed a further 14 runners to take part, demonstrating the depth at the club. The Welsh Road Relays didn’t take part this year or allow us to build on our excellent performances from 2019 including 2nd in the men’s race, however, many of our members took part in national virtual relay events. Our M35 team managed a 4th place finish as the top Welsh team and it was also great to see that we fielded full teams in both the W35 and W45 category. In Cross Country, our men’s team finished 4th in Division 1 and our ladies’ team finished 10th in Division 2. Adam Bull won the February fixture in Chepstow and was the first male Roadent to win a Gwent League for several years, Adam was also Gwent League champion for the overall season. There were also great season performances from Mark Horsman who finished 5th in the M35 category and Peter Coles finishing 9th in the M55 category. In the national championships, Adam Bull placed 5th in the national championships and we had a strong team showing across all age groups. It was also great to see Sam Richards rewarded for his hard training this year with a first senior Welsh selection in the Anglo Celtic plate.

Rats In Exile It’s been a testing year when it comes to social and training runs. The national lockdown put paid to mass racing and the weekly club get togethers. It was even harder with the initial 5 mile distance rule and no socialising, but slowly things started to change for the (slightly) better. It was a great feeling when the club sessions started back up again and you come to realise how much you miss running the Porth loop or Tonteg lights or even speed sessions around Sardis Road car park. But of course the main thing about club nights is meeting up with friends and also having a chat (or pint or two in some cases...no names, you know who you are). Even {not} parkruns started allowing the chance to socialise (sensibly) with other friends. The Bryncelynog track opened back up and things were almost back to normal. Then, after one session...RCT was put into local lockdown. For the exiled Roadents in neighbouring boroughs it was back to training without the club again. But, rather than bowing to defeat, several of us Cardiff borough Roadents decided to form an unofficial Cardiff chapter of the club (like a poor imitation of the Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club), and run as a (socially distanced) group in and around the city. Jean Marchant, Claire Ghuman, James Taylor and myself have been proudly wearing the black and white harlequins on our runs in the ’Diff. We’ve even attracted some honorary Roadents and one or two potential Roadents-to-be. What started off as flying the Roadents flag on a Saturday morning running the parkrun route in Bute Park has now progressed to several runs a week including distance and hill rep sessions. The occasional pint or Prosecco may also have been consumed... We’re making do in a very strange world at the moment, but every one of us to a person is missing the club and can’t wait to get back to something resembling normality. Ole! MARTIN GREEN

With Thanks! The club would like to send thanks to two of our members who over the past few years have served on our club committee but now have decided to relinquish their positions. So to Fiona Campbell, who was our Membership Secretary, and Billy Hayton, who had the role of Road Race Captain, we thank you for the service you gave. The current committee can be found on Page 2 of this magazine.

London Marathon Place Due to the current COVID situation we are not sure if we will be allocated an additional London place. The previous places are still active and these has been deferred to the October 2021 race. Should an additional place become available we will go through the usual selection process. To be eligible, in addition to the usual criteria, members are reminded to keep their rejection letters for the October 2021 race. • Must be a paid-up member prior to April 2021. • Must have marshalled at least one club event in previous year. • Must forward your rejection letter to the club secretary.



Winter is coming…the nights are colder and darker and being Wales, the rain falls more often than not, making the ground sodden, muddy and in some places treacherous to run over. It was late October and I still had 13 races booked into my diary before my mammoth task for Cancer Research Wales was complete. I felt fitter than ever though looked as large as I had at the start of the year, so my weight loss programme wasn’t producing the results I had been hoping for! The next race in my calendar was the Ron Skilton Memorial Half-Marathon (20th October 2019) a race run in memory of the former treasurer of Green Events, those people who bring you the Alternative Games including the infamous bog snorkelling and the classic Man vs Horse Race. Today’s race was to be its 14th year, with plans already afoot to make the 15th Year Run very special indeed. And if you have by chance heard of the other events Green administer then you’d guessed that this half-marathon wasn’t going to be one of those flat tarmac road runs.

A more local affair, this charity run in aid of Motor Neuron Disease was an arduous trail climb up two major mountains around a figure of eight route starting from the village of Llanwrtyd Wells, the smallest town in Wales (so the sign says). After days of rain, the morning turned out to be crisp but cold as I drove through the rural countryside into the depths of mid-Wales, the beauty of the countryside relaxing my mood to a more or less serene state of mind. I arrived early (I always do!) and meandered around the village, which didn’t take long as it’s a very small place (so the sign was correct), finding the odd direction arrow already in place before grabbing a coffee in the Neuadd Arms Hotel, the start point of the run. As the time got closer to 9am, the small field of runners gathered at a line drawn across the road and I bumped into fellow trail running Roadent Callum Priest. He told me he had been looking for a run and had read my list of forthcoming events on the back of a recent issue of RAT RACE, which made me happy knowing that at least one person actually read the magazine… The race got away quickly, the faster runners quick off the mark leaving us plodders in their wake, but in a strange turn about in events, I found myself catching up with them as they tackled the appropriately named Cardiac Hill, a long steep ascent upwards through the forestry on a singletrack, muddy path that had you begging for the summit to appear. The pace was slowed by those in front and as I mixed my power walking/ slow jog I actually found myself passing people I thought would have been at least a mile ahead of me (not Callum though, I was destined to be second Roadent over the finish line again today). Some had burnt themselves out already. The route at this point would have been difficult to navigate if it wasn’t for the impeccable smiling marshals who were out in abundance. As it happens every marshal was related to the late Ron Skilton in some way or another, using the event to have a mass family meet up and meal in the pub after the day’s activities were over. After the evils of the climb came the joys of a long drifting descent via the woodlands fire tracks which wound down the hillside passing the 3rd then 4th then 5th mile points. I felt as light as air by this point racing past runner after runner before hitting a tarmacked road that circled St David’s Church, where Ron now lies, before heading back towards the half-way point, and the crossing of the figure of eight in front of the Neuadd Arms Hotel back in Llanwrtyd Wells. Time for a quick replenishment before the second circle of the race and the second major climb of the day. The path was boggy and wet and I found my speed slowing as I carefully made my way through the slippery terrain I now faced. But this was over soon as we hit another forestry track to take us up the ever-steepening climb. Babbling brooks which had been swelled due to the recent heavy rainfall washed over the route with no alternative facing the runners other than to go through them. I bounced through the water with glee, really enjoying this run more than I thought I would, washing the mud from my trail shoes. There was no way you were not getting wet today, so I embraced the natural environment around me and grabbed the experience with both hands. The path summitted on wet moorland before making its descent down, joining a familiar tarmac road that took us back into the town and the finish line. A sweet smiling old lady presented me with my finisher’s medal (Ron’s widow maybe?) with the congratulatory words ‘Well done, young man.’ It had taken me 2 hours and 25 minutes but it felt faster, though Callum had already left and was probably enjoying some home comforts in the time difference between us. The Ron Skilton Multi Terrain Half-Marathon was about the landscape and the setting, not the profit, which is why it was a reasonably cheap race to enter and one of the most enjoyable I had during this year. I highly recommend giving it a go. The build up to the Dublin Marathon (27th October 2019) had been a long one. Entering the race had been initially conceived over a year before with the 40th Anniversary edition being ‘the run to do’ in 2019. It was also going to be my first road marathon since my appalling attempt at Newport back in April 2018. I know I had done the 26.2 miles or longer distances during the past year but most of them were either multi-terrain or full trail runs, running over high peaks and mountainous territory, which is a different beast entirely. I’d been training hard, trying to stick to my 20-week running plan in amongst all the hours on my feet during the other races I’d been taking part in, so I was feeling quietly confident about putting on a decent show and maybe attaining a new road marathon PB. But as normal not all things go according to plan and as per usual my body was to deliver a last-minute blow to the chances of a good run. I live in a constant state of flux within my

bowels, having to have regular invasive examinations and minor operations to prevent any possible cancerous growths from rearing their ugly heads and seeing a specialist on numerous times throughout the year. Of course, this specialist’s diary is bulging and you don’t get much opportunity for manoeuvring appointments, so when I was told he needed to see me on the Monday after the Ron Skilton Half and seven days prior to running the Dublin Marathon, I wasn’t given a choice. Staying alive comes first I suppose. Initially it was just a check up, but a few problems were discovered which required immediate microsurgery. I’ll spare you the details but on leaving the hospital later that day I was walking carefully with a certain amount of discomfort! Physical exercise of any shape or form was discouraged and running a marathon within a week was just idiotic. I was knocked flat. All that training, all those runs. I hadn’t just wanted to get through the run, I had wanted to make an impact and until that surgeon had made his cuts with his knife, that had been a reality. I wasn’t angry, because he needed to do what he needed to do. I have two daughters that I want to see grow up and a wife I love dearly, so any action that needs to be taken, must be done. I was just gutted…as Marlon Brando said in On The Waterfront, ‘I could have been a contender.’ This was to have been the run of the year for me.

Still, the plan in my head was to soldier on and, with as much rest as I could muster around my work, it took until the following Thursday before I attempted any form of exercise. A little weight training in the morning with a careful run in the evening which left me in a little pain, limping around the house pretending all was OK. It was a livable-with pain which had subsided by the morning, but more pain than if I’d just finished a 100k run. Add that to the effect the drugs were having on my digestive system, which meant regular uncontrollable and painful visits to the toilet, and I knew I’d be facing a difficult run on Sunday. The rain had been heavy all day as Gail, my daughter Mena and myself left for the ferry from Pembroke Dock to Rosslare on the Friday night. The departure time was actually 2.43am Saturday morning so I knew that the chances of getting any real form of sleep were few and far between. We met up at the ferry port with Laura McCarthy and Adrian Braggar, both of whom were also running the marathon, for a warming coffee before experiencing a sleepless night being tossed about on a wave-buffeted ship for over 4 hours before arriving in Ireland. I had originally started the night sleeping on a chair but woke up to find myself on the floor under a table, not remembering how I got there. Gail and Mena slept silently next to me, stretched out on sofas that we had bagged before. As we docked, I sat on the loo ignoring the pain before we climbed back into our cars, drove off the ferry into the dark morning and headed towards the JFK Arboretum near New Ross and the destination of today’s parkrun, that we had decided to attend. By the time we got there, the day had broken and the morning chill hung heavy as a mist as we drove up to the closed gate. We were early, so I took the time to sleep before we gathered at the start to run around the beautiful parkland area. The volunteers were friendly, chatting to us eagerly as we told them of our crossing and the forthcoming journey up the coast to Dublin. A number of them were running the marathon as well and as we left we promised we’d look out for them (a difficult promise to keep considering the thousands of runners expected the next day). The day brightened as we made our way north up to the capital city and the expo to collect our bib numbers

before heading back out to the coastal town of Bray and our hotel home for the next few days. After a restless night involving lots of painkillers I was up bright and early to meet Laura & Ade and take the Lewis Tram into St Stephen’s Green and the start point of the run. The Lewis, a system of trams that run all over Dublin, filled up quickly with hundreds of bleary eyed runner types of all shapes and sizes and we all got chatting in a distinctly friendly manner. Despite the last week’s hassles, my numerous visits to the toilet before leaving the hotel, and the three times I enjoyed the pleasure of one of those plastic portaloos before standing at the start line, I was looking forward to the run and couldn’t wait to get going. I had downed some Imodium so maybe the mixture of chemicals in my body wasn’t a great idea but my spirits were high. The start was staggered into waves with the three of us Roadents being in Wave 4. Somewhere ahead in another wave other Roadents set off to start their run while we were herded in readiness for our ‘Ready, steady, go!’ to be shouted. Of course, as with all these mass participation races, once we reached the start line, the pace wasn’t that much faster on the other side as the thousands of people started to make their way around the 26.2 mile course. Laura and Adrian were running a different pace to me, so soon after crossing the start line, I wished them well and set off moving ahead, warming my legs into the run. Initially the route twisted and turned around the streets of Dublin crossing over the River Liffey and heading out into Phoenix Park, one of the biggest urban parklands in Europe, passing Dublin Zoo in the proceedings. I felt good, keeping

to a manageable pace without letting the atmosphere of the day carry me off too fast. I passed the 4-hour 30 minute pacers and their entourage and after a short distance could see the 4-hour pacer in my sight, my next target. It was around mile 7 my bowels decided to start playing up and on passing the 8-mile point I knew I had to stop at the next convenient point. I dived into a portaloo around mile 9 not believing that anything was left inside of me, but the sudden rush of pain kept me seated in that little plastic container longer than I wanted to. As I eventually emerged, I watched the 4:30 pacers run past, but decided to replenish what had been flushed out before giving chase. I got myself back into a comfortable rhythm and soon found myself creeping past the 4:30 group again as we headed towards the exit of the park. Not long after I found myself running next to fellow Roadents Jo Gwynne & Fiona Campbell who had been in a start wave before us. They encouraged me to run on as Nick Pounder wasn’t far ahead and I should be able to catch him…I wasn’t so sure about that! The route was getting quite complicated as we ran around Dublin’s suburbia before re-entering Phoenix Park via the wonderfully named Knockmaroon Road. We twisted around the open parkland before leaving the park for good this time and crossed the River Liffey once again and the short distance to the halfway marker. For a while, the route lost its appeal, as we ran around the streets trooping from one suburb to another. But the one thing that didn’t diminish was the support of the crowds. You felt like everyone was your best mate and they all wanted to buy you a pint of Guinness on completion because of the way they encouraged you. Not since the London Marathon had I experienced such support for us strangers (though Cardiff Half gives it a go!). Though I did feel sorry for one lady runner who matched my pace for a few miles. Her name was Eileen and virtually every person supporting from the sidelines on seeing her name would sing or shout ‘Come On Eileen’ in a bad Dexy’s Midnight Runner style before bursting into laughter as if they had just come up with the connection. This did start to drive me insane and my name isn’t Eileen so god knows how she coped! Luckily for me, Eileen

dropped back and I was able to leave her and all her annoying singer-sniggerers to drift into the distance. Time carried on and as I was coming up on the 22 mile point I knew that bowelgate had struck again and I needed to take another loo stop, knocking back my time even further. Once again, I eventually made it back out onto the road but the bodily functions had taken their toll on me, draining me of energy - and as the 4:30 pacer group passed me once again I couldn’t muster anything to keep up with them. Slowly as they edged further and further away from me, so did my dreams of gaining a new PB, beating the 4:23 that I had achieved in the Milton Keynes

Marathon. Still I wasn’t going to let myself get down about it, I was enjoying this run and with that knowledge my pace increased a little. We passed the site of the marathon’s expo the previous day and before I realized it, the finish line was a mere few hundred yards in front of me. I looked around to see if I could spot Gail & Mena but no luck as the crowds were vast all the way to the final point at Merrion Square. I crossed the line in a time of 4:36:35, my second fastest marathon ever, so was very very happy with that considering my difficulties. After collecting my medal and t-shirt, I headed out to find Gail & Mena who were waiting with egg sandwiches for me (my snack after every run) before settling down in nearby St Stephen’s Green to wait for Laura & Ade to cross the finish line. They came in a few hours later having completed their first ever marathon and we all celebrated in a nearby bar drinking some well earned Guinness - lemonade for Mena, of course! We stayed a couple of days longer in Ireland, enjoying the seaside of Bray and being driven around the capital wearing Viking helmets and shouting at passers-by from a DUCK tour that operated in the city, but it took me a few days to get over the exhaustion that had consumed me. My body didn’t like me much at that point - oops! It was a week and a half before I tackled my next race on the Wednesday night and by this point I was feeling much better after my hospital appointment. I had chosen to run the Severn Bridge 5 Mile Night Race (6th November 2019) purely because it was different. It was the first in a series of three races that did exactly what you expected. You ran over the Severn Bridge at night. Couldn’t be simpler really. Of course the Severn Bridge itself is like a hill which you have to run up, before running down then crossing over to the other side and running up again before running down again to the finish line, so pacing yourself correctly on those long slow climbs is important if you need to conserve enough energy to push forward on the downhill sections. At the start everyone around me was covered in fairy lights and florescent paint while I was a little more conservative with my one head torch which I was glad of during the dark turn around stages but felt guilty about when I realised I could be blinding the poor motorists who were driving over the bridge that evening. Most runners were there for the ‘crack’ which gave the event a carnival atmosphere and made the event rather enjoyable. Still as we started off on the downstream footpath, I left the happy crowd behind and found myself pulling away and setting a fair pace. I knew fellow Roadent Martin Green was also in the throng somewhere but wasn’t sure as to where he was after the start pistol (yes they had one here!) went off. I steadily ran up to the peak of the bridge for the first time then let myself go, enjoying the wind rushing past me as the path took us down towards Aust. Crossing the M48 using a footbridge, the route circled round and down to the cycle path on the upstream side of the bridge and the task was repeated. This time though, the climb was longer and seemed to stretch out before hitting the peak so I kept to a simple less tiring tempo to carry me upwards. But once over the crest I let go again using the energy I had saved to propel me down toward the finish point in the tunnel underneath the motorway on the Welsh side of the river. It felt good to finish, having completed my fastest 5 mile run in a long time with a cool medal to add to my collection. (Continued on page 32)


Taking A Look At Lives Outside Running

with Gwyn Johnson Photos by Mair Johnson

Hi, I’m Gwyn you may also know me by my pseudonyms ‘Farmer Boy’ or ‘Gwyn Diesel’. I live on a farm near Tonteg. I joined Roadents in 2017. Currently I’m a LiRF so I help with training sessions.

Farming has been in my family for nearly a century and I am the 4th generation to farm here. I graduated in 2011 from Aberystwyth University with a Bsc (Hons) in Agriculture & Business, and it was a natural progression for me to return home to the farm and work alongside my father. I never considered doing anything else. Being a farmer for me is something that runs deep in my blood and I can assure you it’s not a job for the faint hearted when it’s cold and the rain is sideways! The farm has changed a lot over the years, up until I was 7 we had a small herd of dairy cows, along with some beef cattle and a sheep flock. Now the farm is more varied, the sheep flock has grown to 600 ewes alongside a small herd of beef cattle. We have diversified on the farm and we now sell animal feed and produce renewable electricity! A working day is never the same for me, every day is different and it varies more so depending on the season. The winter months are quite a lean time of year and we mainly catch up on farm maintenance, such as fencing and dry stone walling along with feeding. The run up to Christmas on the farm is very busy, we set the pens up in the lambing shed ready for the ewes to come inside for winter. This is also when we pregnancy scan all the ewes to see how many lambs we can expect. Most ewes generally carry twins but it’s not uncommon for some to have quads! In March, lambing season is in full swing and we generally expect over 850 newborn lambs. Lambing season is without doubt my favourite time of year, it’s hectic but also a real joy to see new life being born, it never gets old. During the summer, the jobs change once more. We harvest hay and silage for next winter’s feed, shear the sheep, administer vaccines, select lambs to sell, plough and reseed to improve the pastures. In early autumn, all the ewes get an MOT. This checks they are in sound health, their body condition is good, along with their teeth, feet and udder. This ensures they are fit and healthy to continue in the flock for a another season. When they pass their test they receive a vitamin tablet and are placed into groups ready for the ram. The rams are put with the ewes on 1st of October and the cycle begins all over again. I work alone or with my father, and we have formed a bubble so Covid-19 has had little impact on my daily life. It’s been business as usual. We were considered to be important workers so outlets for our food products stayed open, along with all feed and animal health suppliers. I joined the Pontypridd Roadents not just to run but to gain social interaction (get away from the sheep). The demand of the farm can mean it is difficult to meet new people. Joining the Roadents has enabled me to meet like-minded people, who I consider friends. The club has an ethos of praise and encouragement. Before joining I would have never thought it was possible to even complete a marathon let alone Snowdon Marathon, to be honest it wasn’t on my bucket list! Seeing what others who started off just like you have achieved inspires me to keep training.

The Virtues Of Virtual Running

‘With the constant rapid changes that the pandemic of COVID-19 have brought to the world at present, it’s only human that we often feel we need something tangible and solid in what is a very chaotic situation. Giving ourselves long or short term goals, routines and targets provide something to aim for, keeping our minds focused with a direction.’

Photo: End To End Wales Coastal Path Challenge Medal

If it wasn’t for the recent advancement of technology, the COVID-19 pandemic might have been even more of a mental challenge than it was. Often during the lockdown period, my eldest daughter who is currently studying at the University Of Winchester was able to join us around the kitchen table at home while we ate our dinner, her face appearing to us via a computer screen. Providing this moment of everyday family existence helped provide a normality to the current situation, our conversations switching from my cooking abilities to who has been kicked out of The Great British Bake Off or I’m A Celebrity. For us runners, the advancement of technology with Strava, Runkeeper or Garmin apps (other apps are available), allow us to monitor our running progress and supply evidence of our achievements. And it’s this technology that has helped the rise of the Virtual Race, replacing the numerous cancellations and postponements that we are having to endure while being a lifeline for some businesses as a form of survival. ‘We had just gone into lockdown and all our work had been affected,’ I was told by Tori Robinson of Go Events Wales, who with her partner Nathan Flear are the faces behind the successful End To End Virtual Running Challenges. ‘Our event, St Illtyds Ultra, had to be cancelled and our running holidays were cancelled so we had to give refunds. Nathan’s coaching business had all been put on pause so everything was tipped upside down. We were really struggling financially and I suppose physically too. We could also see we were not the only ones. We were seeing so many people struggling to cope with not having races planned, or a goal to keep them active. I too was just sat at home baking with the kids, piling on weight and this wasn’t good. We saw Laz from the Berkely doing a virtual event across Tennessee and we just thought a virtual event across the UK would be great. What we thought would make it different to any other virtual event that was popping up was if it could be as virtual as possible, so people could see themselves move along the route. Dot watching is always addictive! Participants could zoom in and see where they were. Also we came up with the idea of the digital postcards when runners reach certain milestones to recognise their achievement and give them the incentive to get to the next one. We honestly didn’t realise how this would motivate people and in a way change how they were coping with the lockdowns. In a time of uncertainty it was giving people something to look forward to and this just made us so happy. That we were actually changing people’s lives from having an idea that was run from our tiny apartment while sat at the kitchen table.’ Of course, many smaller event organisers learned to adapt quickly but what if your event was one of those larger events like London, Cardiff or Manchester where a year of planning was wiped out overnight? What problems did they face and how did they go about changing their whole business plan as a way of recuperating the vast loses of revenue being experienced? Andy Hully, the Race Director of one of the UK’s biggest events, the Milton Keynes Marathon Weekend explained: ‘The Rightmove MK Marathon Weekend normally takes place during the Early May Bank Holiday weekend and regularly attracts entries in excess of 10,000 runners. At the beginning of March the event had record year-to-date entries of over 8,000, so it was quite a blow when the event was forced to postpone due to Covid-19. The MK Marathon hires a football stadium as the venue, but it wasn’t looking likely that it could be secured for a new date in the autumn. The football fixtures are not released until late June so they didn’t know when or where they would be playing matches. Other venues and routes were explored and ruled out, then luckily the stadium came up with a new date of 6-7 September. These changes were communicated to the entrants. All participants were moved to the new September date unless they chose one of six options, which included running virtually in May, a full refund or deferring their entry to the provisional date in May 2021. Over 1,000 requested to run virtually, another 1,000 requested a refund, and 3,000 deferred their entry to 2021, leaving about 3,000 entries in the September event. Over the summer, it was looking more and more unlikely that large running events would be able to resume in September, so the MK Marathon team started exploring alternative Covid-safe race options.’ It doesn’t look likely that any major organized racing events are going to be back any time soon so we need to consider the alternatives. Within a short time of the first national lockdown we found ourselves swamped in a world of virtual running with many saying that they served no real purpose or were not legitimate. I would disagree with this prognosis as I believe anything that encourages you to get out of the house and exercise, even if it is on your own, is better than nothing at all. Of course others would say that they don’t need a virtual race to go for a run or exercise and I understand that logic, but I found that giving myself regular challenges helped my motivation while I was also supporting the running industry alongside donating to many charities at the same time. As for legitimacy, I know there are ways to cheat a recording via an app and that’s why people like the 100 Marathon Club will not accept Virtual Runs, but of course I can bring up that old saying that ‘the only person you are cheating is yourself.’

The main aspect of many of the virtual runs is the fact that they offer flexible start and finish dates which allows runners to complete the distances in their own schedule or time-scale, giving yourself less pressure in a world that currently seems pressurised to exploding point. If something comes up unexpectedly, you don’t lose out. Over the past few years I’ve found myself missing races due to injuries or illness, with no chance of any financial remuneration, but in this virtual world you can put your life on pause until you are ready to run again. A recent back injury stopped me from running, even now I’m still deep in the slow lane, but that hasn’t stopped me continuing with my virtual challenges. If anything, the virtual challenge has made me push myself towards getting back to the place I was a few months ago. I’m not there yet, but I’ve still completed four marathons, eight half marathons and various other distances even though they’ve taken me double the time. At least nobody is packing up the course around me! By eliminating these essential race services, self-supported runners have more time to complete a given distance. So there were alternative plans put into place by the organisers of the MK Marathon Weekend, maybe finding one of the best solutions for an event of its size. After the decision to cancel the September Milton Keynes Marathon, Andy Hully said: ‘We had to think outside the box and came up with a Plan B, which evolved over many weeks into the Re-imagined Race. The initial idea was to design new running routes with chip timing and allow the runner to take part at any time over a two-week period, giving results and a leader board. But how could this be achieved? The team looked at commissioning a wooden start gantry with a locked metal box containing the timing equipment. This would need to be safely secured so that it couldn’t hurt anyone and couldn’t be stolen. Permission was granted from The Parks Trust, a local charity who manage all of the green spaces of Milton Keynes to have this installed at Willen Lake using power from the local Splash N Play park. ‘However, the chip timing technology could start and stop with a runner, but there was no way of checking to see if they had completed the full route and distance. The team then looked into adding timing points along the route but were not able to find the right technology or get permission for a power source. Attention was then moved to investigating GPS tracking and we found an app called RunGo, which seemed to offer everything that was necessary. The app worked well during testing and also had the benefit of custom motivation and sponsor messages. Runners could simply upload their result when they had finished their race. ‘All new routes had to be designed to utilise the many cycle paths and parkland in Milton Keynes with minimum minor road crossings. It was decided that it would be much easier to have a two-lap marathon route to keep things simple. All routes were then measured to the AIMS worldwide standard. Runners would be allowed two weeks to complete their race/s and instructed to follow social distancing. ‘As soon as the Re-imagined Race was announced, over 1,500 more entries came in. The courses were accessible whenever the runner wanted to race — any time of the day or night! No weather concerns, no early bus rides, no long waits at the start line… no hassle. We also chose the beautiful Willen Lake event lawn to start all races, as it offered good parking, toilets and a cafe. It has been great to put on a different option for our runners and the feedback and stories have been inspiring. ‘The 2020 Rightmove MK Marathon Re-imagined was not a virtual race, but an EA measured and certified race route taking in the beautiful lakes and scenery of Milton Keynes. A total of six routes had to be measured for the Brioche Superhero Fun Run, Rightmove Rocket 5k, Turing 10k, Half Marathon and Marathon and also the BMI Marathon Relay. This was possible because of the many cycle and public footpaths that go under or over roads. This self-supported race featured GPS timing technology with built-in turn-by-turn voice navigation using the RunGo app for round-the-clock service between 6-19 September. ‘The timing team downloaded the results every evening and checked to make sure the runners had completed the correct course. The results were then uploaded to the MK Marathon app. Any runner who didn’t follow the route was not included in the results but was still sent their rewards.’ Also the Milton Keynes crew offered the opportunity of running in your local area and uploading evidence of completion as travel restrictions were still a problem, so making the re-imagined event possible for those runners unable to get to Milton Keynes. Though I took part in a number of shorter runs that had to be completed on a specific date, it was the longer distance challenges that came to the forefront during lockdown for me. Giving yourself a challenge of running the equivalent length of the Grand Canyon, Route 66, Hadrian’s Wall, The River Severn or something similar meant that you were encouraged to put in the time regularly to achieve your goal, chipping away at the mileage. With time and travel restrictions in place, a virtual race starting and finishing from your front door means you don’t have the additional expense of driving to a location or an overnight stay. It also gives you the opportunity to discover new places in your local area, running along tracks that you may never have ventured along before. It may be comfortable to stick to the same route you know like the back of your

hand, but it may well be worth your time to explore those pathways you see leading to left or right as you run past. There’s pure joy in just following your nose along a different route and discovering something new. And if you come to a dead end you can simply turn around and run back the way you came because it still counts towards your end distance goal. Tori from End To End continues: ‘We looked for long routes in the UK. We knew of the Lejog (Land’s End To John O’Groats) so we started with that. Nathan is Welsh and we had lived in Wales for a while, also he’s always wanted to run the Wales Coast Path so we decided to do this too - it seemed a perfect fit for all our friends in Wales who were struggling. We then decided on the Pennine Way as a shorter distance for people who may not necessarily want to do or be able to do the 870 plus mile ones. Then we thought of Everest, thinking people could also use their elevation from current runs or walks to use towards climbing Everest virtually. I had looked on google maps to see if we could see base camp from the street view and it was amazing so we just had to do it. Nathan wants to climb Everest one day but I keep telling him it’s too dangerous so as a joke I said “do it virtually, I’ll build you a map so you can see what it looks like and buy you a big coat and goggles to wear” and that joke turned into our Everest Route. We have a couple of other routes we are going to launch soon too.’

One of the aspects of the virtual races is that despite the tight restrictions COVID-19 has forced upon us they have created a more expanded community, with runners from all over the world committing to some events. During challenges that give you access to a map like End To End or Conqueror Events you can actually see your running rivals who may be from America or the Far East whom, via the world of facebook, can also e-chat to you in the runs’ community pages. Tori continues: ‘We organise the St Illtyds Ultra in Wales which we had to cancel this year, but by all means we are not professional event organisers. We learn a lot as we go along. We are runners, hikers and outdoorsy people so we just do what we would like in an event and it seems to work - but don’t be fooled, we have made LOTS of mistakes along the way both in our real event and the virtual ones too. Luckily, we have attracted a really supportive community of runners who know we are not perfect but we will always try and make things better for them. We will always rectify any mistakes as soon as possible and we will do everything we can to make sure they really get what they pay for and more.’

Photo: Milton Keynes Medals

‘Virtual racing helps people stay motivated by setting and achieving goals, at a time when having goals seems more important than ever.’

Organizing such events isn’t an easy ride. Redirecting big races like The Milton Keynes Marathon to a number of Virtual Runs isn’t a straight forward process as Andy Hully explains: ‘It has been a very stressful year, and I’ve worked harder than ever with no actual event to show for it, but we will bounce back! So far we have had 6,250+ virtual runners this year who have claimed over 9,000 medals, so it has kept the event going and has gone down extremely well with the running community. We get lots of messages thanking us for offering virtual runs which has helped them find their mojo in a difficult year. ‘We are planning for a Covid-safe event next May and will also offer a virtual option alongside for those who can’t or don’t want to travel to Milton Keynes.’

Photo: Athens Virtual Marathon in Taff’s Well

Tori at End to End also tells us: ‘It’s not been plain sailing at all organising these events. We’ve made so many mistakes. We’ve experienced every possible issue you can and even blew up the system at one point so had to build a completely new one from scratch. There have been so many emotions and our lives were tumbled and tossed all over the place. I remember at the beginning when we had lots of issues I spent 20 hours a day at the laptop working out all the problems and living off Redbull and salted peanuts. Even now when there is an issue we say, “It’s a Redbull and salted peanuts kind of day!” I think I may have single-handedly kept Redbull afloat during this pandemic as it was only me, Nath and our eldest (age 10) helping too! ‘There’s things like usage costs of the maps to google we didn’t take into account when we first started, postage costs, tax, VAT, admin work, hosting costs, development costs, spot prize costs... The list is never ending and we didn’t calculate costs over a 12-month period which is what length the events are on for, so you could say we made every mistake in the book. We never expected it to become a “business.” But we didn’t set up the events to make money, we just wanted something to tie us over until we could get our other work back up and running (excuse the pun) and give people a bit of motivation in all the chaos we were all facing. Never in a million years did we expect to get over 12k runners! I remember at the start me and Nath were sat talking about the event and he said, “If we can get a couple of hundred runners then we shouldn’t lose any money and it will cover all the income we have lost recently. Then hopefully something else will come up.” ‘It’s crazy to think how popular the events have become, even our parents are doing them now too. We even have schools, businesses and charities contacting us to set up events just for them. Honestly, we are so grateful to everyone who has entered the events and supported us. We really have no words to describe that feeling when you have so many people supporting you and telling you how much you have changed their lives. It’s overwhelming and makes me fill up thinking about it. We hope it can continue to help people long after restrictions are lifted, but who knows what lies ahead.’ Virtual racing helps people stay motivated by setting and achieving goals, at a time when having goals seems more important than ever. I’ve recently completed all the Milton Keynes Runs - 5k, 10k Half-Marathon & Marathon - as well as finishing the 870 mile End to End Wales Coastal Path Challenge all adding to my 2020 miles this year and I’ve been loving every minute of each virtual run. With so much uncertainty surrounding us these days, we can still find a way of crossing that finishing line. And there’s just something comforting about that, especially when you receive a medal. And those who know me, know I love my bling!! DARREN GRIFFITHS-WARNER with additional help from ANDY HULLY, Race Director, MK Marathon Weekend & TORI ROBINSON, Race Director, St Illtyds Ultra (Go Events Wales) & End to End Challenge

465+ Miles In A Month The Ramblings Of A Crazy Ultra Lady!

The mountaineer George Mallory was once asked by a reporter why he wanted to climb Everest. He responded, ‘Because it’s there.’ My November Challenge wasn’t on that scale, but the reason behind it was similar – the challenge was there, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could achieve it! Activity Wales has labelled it ‘The Beast’ and it consists of running 1 mile on 1st November and adding one extra mile every day, so by 30th November you’re running 30 miles – this adds up to a total of 465 miles, neatly distributed as 55 in the first 10 days, 155 in the second 10 days, and 255 in the final 10 days of the month. A few things made this the perfect year to attempt this challenge. Firstly, COVID meant that none of the usual cross-country events were taking place, so I wasn’t going to miss anything. Secondly, it was an opportunity to raise sponsorship for the Rhondda-based charity Heart for Africa, of which I’m a trustee – restrictions on events had hit our fundraising hard, at a time when our partners in Tanzania needed our support more than ever. And with a couple of 24-hour track races planned for 2021, as well as the 250+ miles of Lôn Las Cymru, it would be a good way of seeing how well my legs would cope with increased road and track mileage. I’d already been building up mileage and core strength in preparation for the Gloucester 24-hour on 31st October/1st November, but couldn’t compete due to the Wales ‘firebreak’ lockdown during that period – maybe a blessing in disguise because at least I went into the November Challenge with fresher legs! As Heart for Africa was formed as the ‘overseas arm’ of Rhondda schools charity Sporting Marvels, it is fortunate to have a core of young, committed supporters. When I put forward the suggestion that not only should I take on this challenge, but they should each set their own monthly mileage targets and make it a team effort to reach 1500 miles in total, they were all on board immediately! Several other friends and family (including my Roadent clubmate Bethan Ford) joined in, and we ended up with a team of 21, with target mileages of between 30 and 180 miles (and me on 465!). The Heart for Africa November Challenge was on! With Activity Wales starting ‘The Beast’ two days early on 30th October so as to complete on a Saturday rather than a Monday, I would always be two days behind the runners I knew who had entered it, which would be a good motivator. I swapped my normal three working days to five mornings to ensure I wouldn’t be running totally in the dark on any day, had a week of easy running, and was all ready to go! DAYS 1-10 (55.88 miles, average pace 10:26/mile) Still in lockdown, so runs had to be done solo and close to home - not that it’s worth driving anywhere to run 1 mile! Day 1 was from the phone box below my house to Wattstown Rugby Club and back – same mile I did for the Welsh Athletics Virtual Challenge but this time I didn’t push quite so hard, and just broke 8:30. Day 2 a nice little loop around Wattstown Park. Day 3 I thought about pushing for a good 5k time, then decided an easy jog in the sunshine was a better idea. More lovely sunshine on Days 4 and 5, and on Day 6 I even did the weekly club track session, on grass. Day 7 I took advantage of golf courses still being closed and went up the mountain to do a circuit of the Rhondda course, trying to remember the names/ distances of the holes which I’d memorised on frequent runs up there during the spring/summer lockdown - good on the names, not so good on the distances! An easy run on Day 8, and celebrated being out of lockdown on the 9th with a lovely socially distanced run round The Loop with Brioney, chatting about our experiences of East Africa. Then it was Tuesday, and it only needed a little circuit of Beddau before and after to make the club session up to 10 miles - it was almost longer, Beddau is a very easy place to get lost in after dark! So that’s a third of the way through November, but less than 12% of my distance completed! 55 miles over 10 days is pretty normal training for me, so this wasn’t hard so far – the only thing I’d found difficult was the lack of a rest day. I was trying to be sensible and conserve energy, so wasn’t doing the 2 or 3 Wattbike sessions I’d normally do as well each week. This meant that Training Peaks, which I use to record my training, was still telling me that my fitness was decreasing daily! When would that turn around?

DAYS 11-20 (156.13 miles, average pace 11:07/mile) Day 11 – decided on a change of scene so went over to Aberdare and ran the Cynon Trail up to Hirwaun and back. Lovely autumn running, swishing through the fallen leaves – until 2 miles from the end and the rain started. Back at the van soaking wet and I still had to Click and Collect at Asda! After a hot bath and food I was in bed by 7:30, utterly exhausted – I’m sure shopping is harder than running! A good long rest though until Thursday’s club run – 3 miles beforehand and then 9 miles up to Wattstown and back – I was glad Gareth Harvey and Roy Vincent decided to keep me company on the long route option. By Day 13 I’d had enough of tarmac and went up the Rhondda track in the afternoon. My husband Gareth often trains there after work, so he ran a couple of laps with me and then several a lot faster than me! Many of our Heart for Africa team, particularly those involved with Sporting Marvels, were doing the bulk of their mileage on the track, so this was also a chance for the team to encourage each other. We kept well to the outside to leave room for a group from Cardiff Met lapping at more than twice my pace - me at 10:06 per mile, their mile efforts were sub-5! And finally Training Peaks was acknowledging all my hard work and my fitness score was going up again! Woke up to rain on Saturday 14th, with the promise of even wetter, windier, wilder weather to come. On returning at 9am from getting my flu jab, the thought of staying inside and watching the European Cycling Championships was very appealing! I reckoned I could cope with an hour at a time, so it was 5.7 miles, break (warm up, coffee and flapjack, watch one cycling race), 5.2 miles, break, and a final 3.1 miles which seemed like the longest 5k ever! But it was done! Sunday 15th was so different - a bright, newly-washed morning that made me feel glad to be alive as I ran up my favourite trail to the Maerdy Reservoirs (I even drove 2 miles to start on the trail rather than have to road run). The autumn colours were glorious, the previous day’s rain had turned little streams into full, frothy waterfalls and waterfalls into massive tumbling torrents. They put me in mind of the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem Inversnaid: “This darksome burn, horseback brown, His rollrock highroad roaring down” (Inversnaid is on the bank of Loch Lomond – I ran through it on the West Highland Way Ultra in 2016!). Even a short burst of thunder, lightning and hailstones on the way back couldn’t dampen my spirits – feeling very positive as I went into the second half of the month with just over a quarter of total mileage done! 16 miles is exactly twice round The Loop from Barry Sidings car park, so that was the plan until I looked at Monday’s weather and decided that perhaps once would be enough. So I ran down from home and around the Merlin to make up the extra miles, and then up onto The Loop. The forest gave some shelter, so it was OK until I got close to the top, where a chill wind was howling through the gaps in the trees and blowing driving rain into my face. I remembered running with Liz May and Jan Edwards at the end of 2018, when they were training for the Gloucester Marathon and I joined them for the second Loop of two in similar conditions (plus a bit of snow) – I had survived that so I could survive today! Got home chilled to the bone, straight into a hot bath. (I have been asked during this challenge if I’m using ice baths to help my legs to recover – the answer is no! The last time I put my legs in a cold bath after training was following a pyramid session in June when temperatures were close to 30 degrees. November is hot bubble bath time!) Day 17 – Laura McCarthy’s massage did my legs the world of good! A little 3 mile warm-up before attending both track sessions - did the fast bits at about three-quarter pace on the first one, but still found it hard to raise my pace during Session 2. The last mile was tough – but another day completed, and a run with Ceri-Anne to look forward to! We did 12 miles on the cycle path down to Treforest/ Nantgarw and came back on the Taff Trail, chatting all the way. I took a walk break as she powered up the hill toward Sardis Road, and completed my 18 miles with a rather too dark lap around Barry Sidings. On Thursday I met Jan Edwards for a lovely run up to the top of the valley, and had enough energy left for a club run up to Tonteg and back. So far so good! Decided to run on the Rhondda track again on Friday as several of the team would be there, and break the 20 miles up by doing a couple of loops to the top Clydach lake. Weather was grey and miserable, especially on the last loop by which time it had got so dark I didn’t dare to come down the trail for fear of falling, so ran down through Clydach and had to do several loops around blocks of houses to finish. Legs tired and heavy but I knew by now they should recover by the morning! Two thirds of the way through the month, 45% of the mileage done. I remembered Iestyn saying to me that he thought he would be able to get to 20 miles on this challenge, but after that would be the toughest bit. Yes, an average of 25.5 miles a day for the next 10 days might be quite hard. On the other hand, if I could get up early and run 7 miles before work, the rest of the day would be just what I’d done the week before. Getting those early miles in will be the key to success! DAYS 21-30 (255.55 miles, average pace 12:02/mile) 21st November - another grey, wet Saturday. Went out early, stopped for a brief chat with two old friends which lifted my spirits for a while … then as both I and the weather were getting a bit miserable, I crossed the street in Pontygwaith to distance from an old gent who was taking a rest while walking his dog. He shouted across, “You lucky person! I wish I could follow you!” That snapped me out of it! How

The mountaineer George Mallory was once asked by a reporter why he wanted to climb Everest. He responded, ‘Because it’s there.’

dare I be miserable when God has given me the health and strength to do this at my age, the good fortune to live in a country where women are free to run, and the beautiful Rhondda Valleys to run in! I wondered about the old gent, whether he’d been a sportsman in his youth, even a runner perhaps? He will probably never know how his comment changed my mindset and helped me through that run, and the second one that day! Sunday 22nd dawned bright and sunny and I was excited about my planned long run all the way up the river to the Maerdy Reservoirs and through the forestry to the Rhigos, then toward the Bwlch, turning left to come down through Cwmparc – a route I had done on a bike many years ago, but never run. The waterfalls and the autumn colours were still beautiful; the weather stayed fine and the forest roads were quiet apart from a few runners (including some friends from Rhondda Valley Runners) and cyclists. After 3 hours or so I was on the long downhill, a lot stonier than I remembered and my feet were pretty sore by the time Gareth picked me up in Treorchy. But it was great to have my running done early and go out for a family walk in the afternoon, which eased my aching legs!

Monday 23rd and I got my planned 7 miles done before work and met up with Ceri-Anne in the afternoon to explore the Lady Windsor Trail – another lovely social run! Pleased on Tuesday to manage 11 miles before work, meaning that after another McCarthy massage I could rest until the club track session (x 2!!). The last couple of miles were so tough! I split Wednesday’s 25 miles into 4 - a run before work, 2 runs in the afternoon with a short break, and a final 4 in the evening. Definitely felt like too many runs! Thursday 26th - marathon day! A late start for work meant I was able to get 10 done early, then met up with Jan again for 11 on the track (I plodded around while she did some rather fast 400m efforts!), and completed the day with a lovely club run around the handicap course. Somehow, I’d known that Friday 27th would be the toughest day, and so it proved. Freezing temperatures in the morning put me off going out in case I slipped, so it was one big, long run – start from home, run 13.5 miles down the Taff Trail and then get myself home again! Sam Richards passed me at about 16 miles on his run home from work, just as the light was beginning to fade. The last few miles were a real effort and I got slower and slower – but finally I was home (and Gareth had my food ready!). Day 28 I split again – one early road run, 8 miles up the track with some of the team (socially distanced of course!), and the rest from home late afternoon. Sundays had become trail days – so day 29 saw me doing 15 miles up my favourite Maerdy trail in the morning, and after a massage from Laura, 14 on the Taff Trail in the afternoon. So glad the weather had improved for the last week! By Sunday night I was a bit emotional, finally believing I was going to finish the challenge! On the last day I managed 8 miles before work, leaving 22 for the track in the afternoon with lots of support promised! Darren, Gail, Ade and Laura made sure I didn’t do any laps by myself, taking turns to run with me and even buying me coffee. It was lovely to catch up with Brenda as well as we ran a few laps together, then as it was getting dark Gareth and our daughter Rachel arrived. Rachel had been part of the Heart for Africa team, completing her own 100 mile challenge with a 21 mile walk the day before – this had left her


MILES RUN IN NOVEMBER: 467.56 TOTAL TIME: 89hrs 56min AVERAGE PACE: 11:32/mile ELEVATION GAIN: 11,614 metres with a rather sore ankle but she still jogged and walked a few laps with me. As we reached the last couple of miles, we saw the rest of the Heart for Africa team who had come along to cheer me to the finish, where Rachel surprised me with flowers and chocolates! Challenge complete! The team celebration went on for a while, as some completed their last miles and cheered on the Cambrian Rugby boys, who had also got involved with the challenge and turned up to show their support by running 3 miles. The Heart for Africa team had smashed our 1500 mile target by over 600 miles, and exceeded our fundraising target as well! Inevitably talk turned to “What shall we do next year?” Well, we haven’t decided yet, but it will definitely NOT involve me running 465+ miles in a month!! This was a brilliant challenge and I’m so pleased I took it on, but that box is now firmly ticked! On to the next one! Finally, a massive thank you to all club members, family and friends who encouraged me, ran with me, sponsored me and the team, and supported me through this challenge. I couldn’t have done it without you! FIONA DAVIES


With not much racing this year I had the chance to race a Half Marathon in Larne in Northern Ireland on 12th September. Here I ran a PB of 72:21 to finish 3rd. This was split into separate men’s and women’s races with small fields. As World Half was cancelled due to Covid in March, British Athletics reselected the teams, from this race in Larne and I was selected to be in the team which was my first Great Britain vest. The event was very different to any other race. Before travelling you had to have a Covid test then upon arrive in Poland we had another Covid test and had to selfisolate until we got these results 3 hours later. On race day we had an allocated warm-up area to warm-up in which was around 800m loops. The call room was in the hotel and all members of your team had to enter the call room at the same time otherwise you couldn’t run. Upon check-in at the call room our kit was checked to make sure it complied with standards and chips checked to make sure they worked. Once in the call room we had a 20-minute wait before we were called out to the start. A mask was worn until we were on the start line where we were allowed to take them off. From then on the race went as normal. Once TV introductions were complete, the gun went and the race was off. The race started extremely fast and I tried to run my own race and run my own pace. It was a four-lap course which involved climbing for the first 3km from the start line until you dropped down onto the beach where the finish was located. Once the race was finished you had to go through the media zone where you were given a mask. I was interviewed by the British Athletics media team before leaving in time to watch the men’s race. Overall, I finished 65th in 73:11. CLARA EVANS

Want to tell everyone about the race you took part in - submit your reviews to me directly at darren@darrenwarner.co.uk



Since the original lockdown in March and the cancellation of all our events, virtual running challanges have been the way to go for many of us this year. Running for me has always been really important, but even more so during these challanging times. It’s been great to complete non-parkruns, virtual time trials of various distances and great to have a reason to get out and about for our daily excercise when so many other things were taken away from us. So with no actual events as such to train for I’ve been keen to look out for other challanages to keep me motivated and make things more interesting. Infinity Running have definitley provided so many fun and interesting challenges during this time and continue to do so - and their medals are absolutley fantastic! Well worth the entry fees and each challenge suitable for all running abilities, it’s a win-win all round. Such a friendly, supportive and motivating group too. RUN AROUND THE CLOCK The aim of this challenge was to run the distance of each hour of the clock (from 1-12) and could be done in either kilometres or miles, depending on preference/ability. So 1 mile at 1 o’clock, 2 miles at 2 o’clock, up to 12 miles at 12 o’clock (am or pm), either over the course of a week or a month. Myself and Wyn chose to cover this challenge in miles over a month as our longer runs would have to be done on a weekend. It gave us a total of 78 miles on completion and we enjoyed some lovely runs as a result. The medal is a large 3D clock face and very heavy - it’s fantastic! GROUNDJOG DAY Another really challenging run was the Groundjog. The aim of this being to run the distance of a marathon but with a twist. Instead of running it in one go as on a normal event the run was to be split into chunks of 4.4 miles 6 times over the course of 24 hours. We did this one day during our annual leave (which coincided with the last fire break lockdown), so it was great to have something to get our teeth into during that time. We started with our first run at 6am in the dark and had the sun rising on our way back home which was lovely; our last run came at 6pm and back home in darkness. This was a tough little challenge as I personally found it much harder to stop and start 6 times than getting it done in one go. We had some fun with it though, for example, covering every street in our local village, finding fantastic wall art that’s popped up since lockdown and taking lots of photos en-route and taking much more notice of the area we live in. I’ve never changed so many times in one day and no sooner than we had changed, sat down and grabbed a snack, it was time to get going again! What a fantastic challenge and another brilliant medal - a 3D Groundhog. When it came through the letterbox it made a real thud and it’s a beauty! Infinity Running Virtual Challenges: Dirty Dozen- run either 12 days in the month or 12 days in a row Summer Solstice – 20 miles in 20 days (one mile a day or 20 in one go) Key To Determination – a one-off run of any distance of your choice to challenge yourself Thank You Key Workers Virtual Event Halloween Run Run Around The Clock Groundjog Day Our December challenge is The 12 Runs of Christmas, each day brings something different to find en-route to make the runs a little more interesting. Runs can be any distance or duration, we just have to find certain items depending on the day. For example, Day 1 (a subway to get you back home), day 2 (two reindeer), day 3 (3 hills), 4 loopy laps, 5 miles long, 6 coner shops, 7 Santas, and so on. EMMA ADDIS


Abby Forster after completing her Virtual Rainbow 5K Challenge in aid of the NHS.

Ceri-Ann Davies after running The Loop twice in preparation for her epic challenge of running Pen Y Fan five times in one session to raise money for Bwthyn Hospice in memory of her mother.

Last year Laura McCarthy & Adrian Braggar completed their first marathon in Dublin. After this year’s cancellation, they decided to run the Virtual Dublin Marathon around the pathways of Rhondda Cynon Taff.

Jo & Mike Gwynne back at it again, running the Phoenix Riverside Marathon and Saturn Super Wonder Christmas Run back-to-back.

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With another great run under my belt, I looked forward to the coming weekend. A double whammy of two trail half-marathons that were going to push me to my limits. The first on the Saturday was the Gower Trail Long Half-Marathon (9th November 2019) organized by Endurance Life and pretty much followed part of the course that I had run a month earlier during the Run, Walk, Crawl Gower Trail Races. It hadn’t been that way when I signed up, with the original route taking you away from the coast at Oxwich Bay to ascend Cefn Bryn, the highest point on The Gower, then following a big circle back down to the coast. It was a shame the route had changed to the coastal path but at least I knew when to push and when to take it easy. The only differences were that the run started on the northern end of Rhossili Down, so we had a big lump of hill to climb almost straight away, and the finishing point was Oxwich not Mumbles. The rain prior to the run was of biblical proportions and everyone hid in the registration tents before being shipped off via a coach to the North Gower start point, the buses steaming up with the damp bodies that chatted excitedly about the race to come. I conserved my energy so sat quietly for most of the journey, but did speak to the guy who sat next to me who said this was his first half-marathon and his first trail run and asked about what he was about to face. I smiled at him knowing that the route he was just about to experience may put him off for life as it was going to be sodden and thick with mud with many slippery downhills that would have you crashing into the undergrowth at bone breaking speeds. Next thing I knew, everyone around me was trying to pick my brains about the day ahead of them. Suddenly I realized I was perceived as an expert, an experienced trail-runner whose wise wizened knowledge was saught after like an old sage Yoda-type character - experienced, yes; expert, no! Still, as I looked out of the bus at the darkened skies and felt the chill in the air as we got off and headed towards the start line, I knew this wasn’t going to be a fast run and, experienced or not, I was going to find it as hard as anybody who was running today.

The race started off at Hillend, near Llangenith and set us against a more-or-less immediate climb up the slippy grassy slopes of Rhossili Down. Last time I’d run up this path had been during the Worm’s Head 10k on my birthday back in February, the second run of My Year Of Runs For Cancer Research Wales - but this time I found it easier than the snow covered sludge of a path that I had experience on that date. I got to the top and enjoyed the views across the bay from the uplands heights as the path undulated across the top of the downs before the slippery descent towards the village of Rhossili itself. Then it was off on a rough metallic track towards Worm’s Head and the sodden, wet undulating coastal path beyond towards Port Eynon. We passed checkpoint 1 on the cliff tops before checkpoint 2 at the eastern end of Port Eynon before heading into the quagmire of the path that I remembered from the previous Gower Race. Worse than before, if you could actually say that, the deep treacherous mud sucked at your shoes trying to rip them from your feet and leave you wading through the muck barefoot. I did feel a little sorry for the poor runner who ran past me then carelessly fell headlong into the dirge in front of me, wallowing in the mud like a hippo in Africa. Travelling at a slower pace than Scott Of The Antarctic, I stuck my hand into the slimy mess to retrieve his lost shoe that now resembled an ancient relic found on an archeological dig. He thanked me for my help before staring at the shoe and realizing that somehow he needed to put this thing back on his foot, while I trekked on, my

legs double the size thanks to the extra coating. Out of the obstacle course, I had to then negotiate the coastal path that clung to the cliff while the layers of insulating mud that caked my shoes and calves started to fly off in all directions. Before long I reached the headland at Oxwich Point before and not far from the finish line, though I had to tackle the infamous leaf strewn woodland section before any solace was to come my way. Last time through here I’d dislocated my thumb, this time I wasn’t going to be so stupid, so took a fair amount of care while other runners gagging to complete the race slipped and fell around me in their haste. One bloke, after doing a slide worthy of a spot on Ski Sunday, just sat down in the undergrowth to let his sanity catch up with him. He seemed visibly shocked by his dangerous manoeuvre so I stopped, gave him some of my Lucazade Sport (Note…Product Placement here), then helped him focus and make it down to the road at the bottom of

the hill. Leaving him breathing the fresh air of the bay, he waved me off with thanks and let me complete the final sandy beach run to the finish line. I finished in 3:34:32, quite slow for a 15 mile run but then this was no road race and had so many unexpected elements, even for this wise old guru, that you learn the time isn’t important. I’d completed it and I felt great! Tell that though to my body the next morning as I rose to take part in the second of my trail half-marathons of the weekend. The Tough Runner Cardiff Trail Half-Marathon (10th November 2019) wasn’t going to be a nice easy recovery run. The clue was in the company’s name, Tough Runner, and they boasted on making their races…well…tough! Had I bitten off more than I could chew? Unlike the rain soaked previous day on The Gower, Sunday provided us with a pleasant sunny outlook though the temperature was close to the bitter mark. We gathered at Castell Height Golf Course, on the southern slopes of Caerphilly Mountain, creating a cast of thousands. While we were waiting to run, I thought of Gail who had

already been running for one and a half hours. She had stepped into Laura McCarthy’s shoes at the last minute when Laura had to pull out, and was currently running the Bonfire Bolt with Adrian Braggar at Margam Park. Aiming for 10 miles, I secretly hoped she’d have a go at a half-marathon. As my race got ready to head out, I found myself alongside fellow Roadents Neil Fitzgerald & Gareth Jones…so no first place Roadent for me again today! The race started and we found ourselves running around the edges of the golfing greens in what seemed like a complicated spaghetti style before heading into the woods around Forest Fawr that sit above the sham castle of Castell Coch. The woodland was a treat to run through, the soft ground underfoot making for easy progress before we headed in a downward direction to join the Taff Trail. This is where I first encountered Kristian Walters and his daughter, who had opted to marshall today’s event. It’s so good to see familiar faces on such runs because it always gives you a boost. After running back towards Caerphilly along the tarmacked path of the Taff Trail the route turned and took on a much harder aspect, climbing up the bulk that is Craig yr Allt. Up to this point I had thought that Tough Runner had gone soft, but no, this climb was steep, hard and technically difficult because of the single file nature of the trail and the sharp rocks that made up the footpath. The ascent was slow and arduous with an elevation that, at some points, felt close to vertical before finally reaching a path that felt more stable with views that spread over the valley. The respite was short lived though as we soon turned to make our descent along muddy, slippery paths that threatened to throw you into the nearby foliage if you took your footing for granted. Eventually, we reached the Taff Trail again and headed down the path we had not long before run along. On reaching Kristian again, I quickly took a selfie of us all, before attempting the climb back up to Forest Fawr and the latter part of the half-marathon. This was a different route to the way down, so bar the Taff Trail section we were treading mainly on new ground which kept the run interesting. This time the climb was less harsh but still seemed to go on forever, though this wasn’t a problem as running again through the woods was a beautiful pleasure. The top was summitted near a car park before re-entering the golf course and heading around the edges along a curving trail back up an incline to the finish line - always an evil way to finish a race that! Today it had taken me 2:37:14, so you could say that the race wasn’t as hard as the one the day before, but I don’t think my body would have agreed with you. The Great Orme is a massive lump of rocky headland that protrudes into the sea north-west of Llandudno on the North Wales Coast. Its imposing cliff face dramatically emerges from the sea making it quite an impressive sight as you rise from the lowlands of the town around. Seeing the runners ahead of me as I started to climb upwards along the tarmac road named Marine Drive, the younger relative of a footpath that skirts the perimeter of the headland and clings to the sheer sides like Sherper Tenzing had on Everest, I knew that I had a hard task ahead of me. ‘Sh*t!’ was all I could muster as us runners turned the corner to see the climb before us. The more local runners around me laughed at my expletive with one adding a simple, ‘Yep!’ The day had been a long one already. Another early rise and drive to North Wales because of me trying to save on expenses and not pay for an overnight stay, meant that by the time I reached my destination to take my place in the Conwy Half-Marathon (17th November 2019) I felt as if I’d completed the run before I’d started. I had actually contacted a number of the organisers of the events I was running in my Year-long Challenge for Cancer Research Wales to try and blag a free place, but few had responded and of those few only a couple were prepared to give me a free place - I understand completely, they’re businesses and with many runners doing a run for charity I know it’s not really possible to give away too many places for free... So basically, Gail and myself were funding this epic charity challenge out of our own pockets. These races aren’t cheap are they, and the many long journeys in themselves had not only guzzled gallons of petrol but had killed off my trusty Peugeot and forced me to invest in a new car. Hence I was cutting costs as much as possible and having to deal with the consequences of being knackered on the start line. I’d chosen to do this run purely to make sure that I had covered most areas of Wales during this Year-long Challenge. This was the first time I’d raced around the North Wales Coast though, so was quite excited about completing it. As I drove into Conwy across a long bridge across a causeway, the imposing structure of the castle loomed over me in the dismal morning light, the rain landing softly on my car’s windscreen. I felt like a warrior on the attack! I was going to beat this Half-Marathon with Blood, Sweat & Tears (well, hopefully no blood actually!). I was early of course, the race not starting for another couple of hours, so I bought a coffee from a stall near the start line on the quayside, visited the plastic toilets, then wandered around aimlessly taking in the salty atmosphere and staring out to sea like all Brits do when they’re drifting through memories and thoughts. I was thinking of Gail and my daughter Mena back home, who I’d probably woken up with my text just after my safe arrival, and my eldest daughter Elin who was probably still asleep in bed in her University Halls of Residence in Winchester. I used this time to allow my body to adjust to the temperature of the day before nipping back to the car and removing my outer layers before the start of the race at 10am. After watching the children’s races it was our turn to run, so the crowds gathered and huddled together against the drizzle and cold. Then we were off! With an immediate little climb from the quayside to the castle gate that slowed everyone down before joining the relatively flat bridge along the causeway and…out of the town! The route turned and headed

towards Llandudno along fairly mundane and typical town scenery on one side (houses, takeaways, garages) and the beautiful inlet looking over to the retreating Conwy on the other. I found my pace and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere, waved at the odd spectator who had braved the weather to shout ‘Well Done’ to these random passing strangers, before entering into the Victorian seaside town of Llandudno. Using some back roads we started to climb up, passing the classic pier that stretched out into the sea before joining Marine Drive and the long haul upwards around Great Orme Head. Majestic, stunning, impressive…just some of many superlatives used to describe this bulk of headland that sticks out into the sea, an appendage of very large proportions. Well, steep or precipitous could also be included in its description as I joined the long line of runners making our way up and around the coastland. The long, slow draw that ascended the cliff face gave

you views out to the imposing waters that reached out to nothingness while the waves crashed relentlessly against the shape’s jagged rocks below. And relentless was a good description of the climb as well, though I found the going quite relaxing. This was on a tarmacked road for godsake! No viciously sharp stones to upset your footing, no awkward rises and falls to play with your pace, no slippery mud to send your legs in incongruous directions leaving your body askew and constantly fearing another fall to the ground. No, this wasn’t a trail run - this was a straightforward road run and quite easy to navigate at that! Of course, what goes up must come down and after reaching the pinnacle of the headland the road headed down. And what a joy this downhill stretch was! Not too steep to create discomfort but steep enough to allow me to accelerate beyond my normal half-marathon speed that I felt I could take off and fly. The three mile descent rushed by as I started to overtake a number of runners and felt my legs responding to the pace with gusto and not the normal cries of pain. The road brought us back down to earth in Llandudno where we rejoined the outward route and headed back towards Conwy. Soon I was traversing the causeway for the third time that day to cross the finish line back at the quayside, watched over once again by the imposing walls of the castle. I finished in 1:53:52, which I thought unbelievable due to the huge climb we had to deal with. So a happy chappy collected yet another medal for my wall and another t-shirt to fill my already bulging cupboard. I had conquered this North Wales race, a very happy man, though I did ask myself the question, ‘Why is it called the Conwy Half-Marathon when you actually run away from Conwy and spend the majority of time in Llandudno and up the Great Orme?’ As the year drew on, I found the races started to dwindle as I headed towards my end game. November was half gone when I tackled the second of the Severn Bridge 5 Mile Night Runs (22nd November 2019) on a

Friday night, where I came in 32 seconds slower than my previous run over the bridge. Pretty consistent timing I thought. While on the Sunday, I joined many of our club members as we took part in the annual interclub Mob Match against Aberdare Athletics Club, the Sara Brook-Smith Memorial Race (24th November 2019). A great event made all the more impressive as I almost overtook Nick Denny! OK, he had been on the pop the night before and was suffering the consequences - but a run is a run and if I’d had the ability to take him, I don’t think certain club members would have let him forget it! The next race that I took part in was with Gail, booked more for the experience and because I had a weekend free. The Ashton Court Wild Night 10k Run (30th November 2019) was going to be different. 10k no problem! The ‘10k’ bit was all I had really seen when I read the email. A run around a woodland area in pitch black with only a head torch to help guide your way, this turned out to be more of a treacherous run than I had thought. When we arrived at Ashton Court Park on the outskirts of Bristol around 4.45pm, it was already dark and the information in the car park a little confusing. It said it was closing by 5pm and there was no marshal to say the opposite. Some runners were already moving their vehicles but I thought they wouldn’t lock the gate knowing there was an event on in their park that evening. Luckily, I was correct because the walk from the car park to the race registration almost meant I’d completed a 10k by the time I returned to our car, where Gail was waiting for me. It was a cold night and although I had thought that this was going to be a tarmacked path and track run, I soon realized that I had entered us both for a mucky trail run through some pretty dense woods. Luckily, again, we had brought out trail shoes just in case - especially as the week leading up to the run had been nothing but heavy rain. We prepared ourselves by the car before heading out on the epic journey back to the registration tent and start point. All around us people shivered in the cold while the delayed children’s races took place. On completion they all got a medal and helped themselves to a range of sweets, crisps, cakes, biscuits and warming drinks which was at least something to look forward to later on. More delays meant that our race, due to start at 6pm, was set back to 6.30pm then again to 7pm. So by the time we had our race briefing the contingent were all streaming with runny noses and shivering as if we were part of Ernest Shackleton’s crew on the ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition aboard the Endurance. There was to be one circuit of the course for the 5k runners with a second circuit of the same route for us 10k participants. The 5k route was a beast of two halves, with us starting off by crossing a wet soggy and very boggy grassed area where we headed toward a red light in the distance. This terrain zapped your energy almost immediately, taking over three quarters of a mile before you made the rough woodland track that took you into the unknown. Lit up by our head torches and following the lights of the runners ahead and the marshals who were strategically placed to guide us onwards, you had to take a certain amount of care as the ground below changed from compacted earth to waterlogged mud with puddles that stretched across the path. The route meandered before climbing up through the woods and reaching its peak then undulating along the hills ridge. As we hit the 3km mark the woodland gave way to a parkland path through an open space. This joined a tarmacked road that took us back down the hill towards the halfway point, giving us views of Bristol at night, a sea of neon that permeated the darkened sky like a space station. Here Gail and myself picked up speed, passing a number of the other runners as we were more sure of our footing, though some speed bumps could have caught out the unsuspecting. We ran past the crowded start/finish line to repeat the process and sludge our way across the muddy bog for the second time, realizing that the run was now devoid of many other bodies. It wasn’t until after the race that I realized only a few people had opted for the 10k version of the event, so there wasn’t many runners on the course by this point. What also happened was the route seemed to be devoid of marshals as well, so no guiding lights to direct you up the correct path. We could have strayed off track at many points, but I had forced myself to memorize the route - more because of the terrain underfoot than anything else. So Gail and myself continued on comfortably, not realizing that our lights were carrying many others running along the route behind us. The 3k/8k point arrived and once again we blasted off down the hill to the finish line and our wooden finisher’s medals. Unfortunately, the massive pile of food we’d seen earlier had been desecrated upon our finishing - so for us and those few hardy 10k runners who came in after us there was nothing but crumbs left. Frustrated and hungry, we made the epic walk back to the car and the heat that it would supply. Though we enjoyed the run, it was the organization that seemed lacking and thoughtless. The late start and the lack of food for 10k finishers was forgivable, but the woodland marshals who had left their posts after the 5k runners passed by was rather reckless. We only passed one marshal twice, and he was at a corner on the final kilometer before the start/finish/halfway line. It was a shame but also quite careless for a company that prides itself on difficult night runs. Every runner should have the same treatment, whether completing a child’s race, a 5k or a 10k - supportive marshalls to the end and a few more jaffa cakes wouldn’t have cost much! With only four more runs left on my calendar and one month to complete my challenge I found more space between the actual races. It was the next weekend that I tackled my last double whammy, though you could say I ran three races if you count the Saturday morning Pontypridd parkrun. By midday on the Saturday, I

joined many of our Roadents club members to run the Gwent League Cross Country Race at Blaise Castle (7th December 2019) and felt I put in a fair performance over the muddy 9.3k route. The following day though was probably one of the more unique shorter runs of the year. The Merthyr Mawr Christmas Pudding 10k Race (8th December 2019) is less of a serious run than a series of natural obstacles than make up to a great course. Starting off by running up The Big Dipper, a hill of soft sand that has you sliding backwards and falling all over the place, you understand why this in itself is regarded as a separate achievement and you are given a time just for climbing it, with the fastest up winning a bottle of champagne. I did it in 4:42 knowing I didn’t want to exhaust myself for the rest of the run (an ultra runner trick) or that I was ever likely to win on the hill. Still, I got to the top around halfway in the pack before running down the other side and heading inland, finding myself overtaking a number of more exhausted runners. The route took us through rivers, marsh, forestry and out on to the beach that on a wet rainy day might have felt like a trial. But the recent spate of bad weather had relented for the morning and this run became glorious. As I ran alongside the Ogmore River before running through what seemed like a length of river rather than just crossing it, I knew I

was loving this course. One last river crossing where I paused before running to allow the photographer to get the best action shot of me without interference of any other runners (he still missed it), I made it over the finish line in 1:11:55. Presented with a t-shirt and a Christmas Pudding which I donated back to the organisers for the homeless charity they supported, I changed, got myself a lovely cup of thick warm vegetable soup and waited to encourage in the other runners, including many Roadents still out on the course. When I said to the organisers on crossing the line, ‘I’m doing this run again’ I meant it... It was two weeks before my next race. In the meantime, I watched The National live at Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena, picked up my eldest daughter Elin from University and took my younger daughter Mena to Cardiff & Vale College to sign up for her A’level courses. And we had to vote! Boris Johnson got a landslide victory back into number 10 Downing Street carrying forward his plans to remove our country from the European Community, while two days later I almost removed myself from life itself for the first time during a run. The Celtic Way is a long distance footpath of over 725 miles stretching from Strumble Head on the west coast of Pembrokeshire to St Michael’s Mount on the southern edge of Cornwall near Penzance. It’s one of those routes that evokes an air of mysterious beauty as it passes by numerous prehistoric sites that litter Wales and the West Of England. Rarely touching a road other than at a crossing point, the section of this path that was on offer by Run, Walk, Crawl as part of the 32 mile Celtic Christmas Winter Trail Races (21st December 2019) turned out to be possibly the hardest run of all the races I had attempted all year. Not just because it was the shortest day of the year or the terrain (as that was no more than the usual mixture of fire track, technical stone paths and uneven mud paths), it was down to the abhorrent weather that we had experienced leading up to and on the morning of the event. With so much foul rain pouring down from the skies the route’s paths had become sodden, making the journey a series of highly treacherous terrains for running including thick gloopy mud topped by a foot and a half of ice cold water that reached those parts of your body water shouldn’t reach. From the word go at 8am on the dark morning, you knew this was going to be a true test of your endurance ability - and that comes from a man who has run most of the ultra courses and races here in South Wales. At first there was little respite from this difficult journey giving me tired legs and an aching back within the early stages of the run. OK, I wasn’t expecting it to be bright, warm sunshine with butterflies joining me along the way and Sleeping Beauty singing to the wildlife as I continued my quest, but this was hard going.

The actual day’s events consisted of three runs in total. The 32 mile Ultra starting near Margam plus a 20 mile version and a half-marathon run that joined the ultra route at various points to complete the journey. My aim was to get to the point where the half-marathon joined the ultra route because Gail, Laura McCarthy & Adrian Braggar were running that version of the event and I intended us all to make our final triumphant descent from Y Darran to the Dare Valley Country Park finishing point together. I judged that meeting point to be at the 20 to 22 mile marker and hoped to get there by 12.30pm. That gave me four and a half hours to get there. But of course, all best laid plans depend on you performing on the day and after around 7 miles my leg started to really give me problems. I had pushed myself too much at the club’s monthly handicap race the previous Thursday, believing I had a one-time chance of winning- only to eventually come in 5th place and pull a muscle in the proceedings. Not that this was enough to make me pull out of this race, it was enough alongside the harsh terrain to slow down my progress when I should have been further along the trail. The run consisted of a series of massive undulating rises and falls that eventually kept going up, with so many twists and turns as you ascended and descended the sides of the valleys that it almost became impossible to know what direction you should be going in. I had been left by the majority of the runners, most passing me by or dropping out after reaching the first check point, so I was on my own for most of the day. The signage as well was pretty sparse so any reassurance that I was taking the correct path lead to a real sense of apprehension. Rarely do I allow myself to get into a negative state of mind so found myself singing my Ultra Marathon Man Song that I made up on the Glamorgan Coastal Ultra and have used on a number of occasions to inspire me to keep going and not give in. It’s an awful song by the way, with the only lyric being its title repeated until I drive myself insane. I thought of selling usage rights to Little Mix as their songs have similar properties! Anyway back to the run and, luckily, some paths crossed areas I already knew - including the trails around the Afan Forest were I had completed a 10k back in those warm summer days of July. Had it looked so bleak then? I asked myself as I head onwards and upwards. Mist sat on the paths and the sounds of the whirring wind turbines on the higher ridges added to the weird feelings that were affecting my mind. I eventually reached checkpoint 3 around 2.15pm, which I was told was the point that the half-marathon runners had joined the ultra trail and I was probably the last expected runner to be coming through (though this wasn’t actually the case). I had to make the final checkpoint within two hours not to find myself being removed from the race, so I replenished quickly and sped off along a treacherous stoney path that resembled a river by this point. The rain had actually stopped but the water running off the hills kept the brooks and paths full for the journey, while the temperature started to drop as the day grew older. The path was never ending and seemed to go on forever, until I finally emerged to see Checkpoint 4 across the other side of the Rhigos Mountain Road. Unfortunately, between that checkpoint and me was ‘The Bog Of Doom’ - a devilish area of deep water on top of shoe sucking mud with the odd grassy stump to cling on to. I could see the marshal waving to me but couldn’t believe what I was attempting to cross. I fell forward swimming at one point, while falling backward sitting on a muddy lump another time. It was crazy and exhausting and by the time I finally made it to the otherside I had planned my assassination of the organisers in every detail. This wasn’t a run and I’m sure that there must had been a track around this obvious death trap. Still, reaching the checkpoint at 3.50pm meant I was well within the cut off so I wasn’t going to hang about long and waste precious light. From there on the route took me through another windfarm to the Maerdy Reservoir, but my progress was still at a snail’s pace. I watched the waters on the reservoir darken and knew that was it, time for my head torch. The track I was on actually lead down to Maerdy, but I knew from the morning briefing (yes it is worth listening to them, people) to look out for some markers that would take you across a country path to the final destination. I caught a glimpse of them hidden in the darkness and made my way across yet more water filled deep troughs of rutted mud that may have not been a problem in daylight but in near pitch darkness threw up enormous challenges. I eventually came to familiar territory once again, the edges of Dare Valley Country Park but noticed a light behind me. Yes, another runner who soon caught up with me. She was on the 20 mile version of the run but was left behind by her fellow comrades to fend for herself, taking the wrong path almost to Meardy itself. She didn’t know the area so I suggested that we make the journey downhill together as I was aware what was around us but invisible to our eyes. She seemed happy to have the company and stayed behind me as we made our descent carefully forwards, rather than stepping over the high cliff of Y Darran on our right - the direction she thought she originally had to go! I decided not to tell her about her potentially fatal mistake. My body was starting to shiver uncontrollably as we slowly ran down the steep path. I knew the freezing temperature and swims in the ‘Bog Of Doom’ hadn’t helped my run at all but I knew that I had to keep going. Soon I could her a familiar voice shouting up through the darkness as we came closer to the bottom of the path. It was Fiona Davies alongside Gail, Laura & Ade waiting at the bottom gate and guiding us towards the finish line. I was feeling pretty rough by this point but wanted to make sure my unexpected ward made it down as well, so gave all my focus to the task in hand. We eventually made it down to the road where my wife and friends greeted me before jogging along to make the finish line in the courtyard of the Country Park

Buildings. I went into a nearby room and sat down with everybody placing heaters around me while removing my wet clothing. The race doctor said I was suffering from mild hypothermia and could slip into shock if I didn’t get out of my wet clothes so found myself being stripped naked before redressing in my spare clothes that Gail had got from the car. I couldn’t take on food so Laura & Gail packed our bags with the multitude of mince pies that were on offer and I tried to drink some warm coffee before being presented with my medal and t-shirt, but all I wanted to do was get home and sit in a hot bath. The lady I came down the last few miles came over, gave me a hug and thanked me for my help. I said it was no problem but still didn’t tell her how close she had come to taking a dive off the cliff edge. In the end the run had taken me 9:45:44 that in the scheme of things wasn’t my worst time for a mountain trail 32 mile run, beating my Vale Of Glamorgan Coastal Ultra time over the same distance, but it was the hardest due to the conditions and temperature. It took my body a while to recover, days not hours, which was something I had never experience before. It wasn’t sore or tired legs, it was like my body needed to start up again. A bit like starting up a car from cold and letting the engine warm through the interior. At that point I vowed I would never do such a run in the winter again. Christmas came and went and I had one more race to complete before the year was out. Before that though, Gail had her 100th parkrun to complete (which we celebrated on 28th December) and I had to get a few training runs under my belt to make sure my body was responding correctly. Originally, I had intended to sign up for the

‘I never ran a race unless I was going to finish. Nothing will get me to stop, however tired or exhausted I felt. Cancer doesn't just stop and people's suffering doesn't just stop, the least I could do was keep going.’ Nos Galan 5k as my final race of the year, but felt the distance wasn’t long enough. Add to that other plans for New Year’s Eve and another race had to be found. That came in the guise of the New Year’s Eve 10 Miler (31st December 2019), a club run out from Llandeilo around the nearby hills to finish on the local school playing field. It took me 1:39:32 to do the distance which included country roads that went in the direction of Bethlehem (very Christmassy!), a sharp climb up to highest point in the area followed by a glorious downhill that seemed to get you to your destination before you expected to. No medal, but a lovely buff at the end. A pretty low-key end to the year as it happens, but it still felt good to just go out and push a bit. But what a year it had been: 70 different races with varying degrees of success, all to highlight one cause while mainly running the beautiful countryside that is abundant in Wales. I had set out to achieve what I had started and celebrated the fact when my friends gathered at our house that evening to welcome in the year 2020. I had already decided that I wanted to run a few more ultras - in the summer this time, with generous or no cut off times, and Gail and myself had signed up for a few Half-Marathons to run together. Not as many as 2019 but then who knows what will happen…that situation reported on the news from Wuhan in China concerning something called Coronavirus is thousands of miles away. Nothing really to worry about here in Wales!! Taken from the notes for Darren’s forthcoming book The Spirit Is Willing! The Ramblings Of A Middle Aged Runner

Virtually The End....A Few Last Words

It has been over one and a half years since I took over the running (no pun intended) of the editorial of RAT RACE and I hope that everyone in the club is happy with the results. My aim was for the magazine to be inclusive of all runners, whatever their ability or age, as well as a magazine read by a running community looking for recommendations of runs worth the money and effort. I know that the readership spans further afield than just our club membership and I welcome those readers throughout the world who enjoy these pages. Of course this magazine would not exist if it wasn’t for the contributions by YOU, the club members. But with the current restrictions in place, it has been difficult to fill the pages of the magazine. So if you fancy having a go at writing about anything to do with your running life, past runs, trails you have run along, difficulties you have had to endure, then please do not hesitate to contact me with your ideas at darren@darrenwarner.co.uk I also need to your help by spreading and sharing any facebook posts I make. And remember, if you want to look back on any of our past issues, then they are all available at


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