A half-marathon. Thirteen-point-one miles. Twenty-one-point-one kilometres. About twenty-one thousand steps. However you describe it, it sounds like a long way, especially for someone who, until the age of thirty-five, would proudly announce that she wouldn’t even run for a bus. I had been a sporty kid – gymnastics, netball, hockey – but the idea of just running mystified me, and with a sympathetic mother in my corner, I always had a pre-prepared note in my bag should the dreaded ‘cross country’ be mentioned. Like many women, I fell away completely from sport and physical activity in my twenties before gradually rediscovering it with the help of an inspirational female personal trainer who never once made me feel chubby or inadequate. She encouraged me to run on a treadmill, and slowly, slowly, I grew to love it.
I’m no one’s ideal vision of a runner, and yet I run. I run because I love the way it reconnects me with my body. I run because it reminds me that my sturdy legs, asthmatic lungs and beetroot cheeks aren’t there for society to judge, but to drive me onwards and onwards and onwards. I run because with every step my head gets clearer and my heart gets lighter. And I ran this half marathon because with every step, all twenty-one thousand of them, I was justifying the sponsorship given to me by my amazing friends, family and colleagues to try to make a difference to women’s lives in Wales.
I moved to Cardiff in 2015, leaving behind a life in London for a new job and the chance for me and my ever-patient husband to buy a house bigger than a shoebox, and in the process discovered an amazing running community. I watched the World Half Marathon championships hurtling past my street in March 2016, followed by thousands of fun runners making their way through the pouring rain, and I decided I fancied a go at that. I ran my first Cardiff Half in 2016, and the following year decided that I’d have more motivation if I was raising money for a cause that really mattered to me. It didn’t take long to light on Welsh Women’s Aid as the ideal option. The purple vest was merely a bonus. So that’s the why, but what was the actual race like?
- Mile one: the start, the temptation to go off far too quickly, the excitement and adrenalin of getting going.
- Miles two to three: Not the most beautiful bit – car dealerships and not many crowds, and that hill! Long, slow, grinding hill. Why didn’t I incorporate this into my practice runs? Why didn’t I remember from last year? Positive tunes essential. Consolidate, find the right running rhythm, don’t be disheartened by being overtaken by someone in a dinosaur costume.
- Miles four to six: downhill! Through Penarth Marina and across the barrage. Don’t worry about the crosswind, just rejoice in the crowds and the cheering and the warm red-brick glow of the Pierhead building up ahead. You’re almost halfway – you’ve got less to go now than you’ve done.
- Miles seven to nine: Newport Road, Richmond Road and Roath, lovely big crowds, and about here the jelly sweets start appearing. Grab them – they help.
- Miles ten to twelve: Roath Lake. Massive crowds – so many you’ll forget the steady, leg-draining slope you’re climbing. More jelly sweets – take these too, you’ll need them for the short, sharp incline up Fairoak Road.
- Mile thirteen: downhill again! Into town. Rounding the last corner into the finishing straight. Pulling your earphones out to absorb the noise of the crowds. Discovering you do have a little bit left in those legs after all. Lifting your knees like Dina or Mo or Kelly.
The Finish! – check your watch. Two hours, thirty-five minutes. But that couldn’t matter less. You did it! Grab your goody bag, t-shirt and bottle of water. Pour half of it into your mouth and the other half over your head. Laugh hysterically with delight. Swear furiously that you’ll never do it again. Pose for a cheesy medal picture.
Yes, there was a bit of walking along the way. Yes, my training was interrupted by work and an annoying ankle injury. Yes, it wasn’t as quick as I was hoping for. But I did it. Thirteen-point-one miles. Twenty-one-point-one kilometres. Twenty-one-thousand steps. All me, under my own steam. And all for a cause that could not be more important to me, and to our whole society, especially at the moment. It’s completely true that running for a cause keeps you motivated. At the moments I wanted to give in, I remembered how much faith had been placed in me, and how much I couldn’t let people, or myself, down. I remembered that asthmatic little girl with the NHS specs who always came last in the school running races, and I wanted to show her that one day she would be really proud of something other than her skills as the school’s perennial narrator of plays. If I can do it, I genuinely believe that anyone can. Sign up. You won’t regret it (except briefly on that hill).
If you are thinking about signing up to run the Cardiff Half Marathon for Welsh Women’s Aid, find out more here: Run for Welsh Women’s Aid
If you are interested and would like to chat to someone about it, please contact [email protected]