Run Big Year: An Introduction

What is Run Big Year? It’s a big year with running. It’s running big over a year. It’s a running year with, er, added bigness! #RunBigYear

Why is it a big year? It’s a big year because it’s probably going to run for a bit more than a year. It’s a big year because it includes a milestone birthday for me (shhh – enough said). More importantly it’s a big year as I want to raise at least £1000 to be split between 5 wonderful charities.

Why is it running big? I’ll be running big by running further than ever before, hopefully culminating in my first full marathon. I’ll also be aiming to set new personal bests in the races that I run. I’ll be running races I’ve never run before and setting myself challenges as I go. If you don’t think that’s running big then you’re probably into ultra marathons or something equally ridiculous.

Why is it a running year? This is not just running one event, this is me running several events over a year (and a bit). It will start with the CAVC Cardiff Bay Run on 2 April 2017 and (hopefully) finish with the inaugural Cardiff and Vale Marathon in April 2018. In between these events I’ll be doing a number of other running events so that I’ll be running the whole (big) year long. Keep an eye on this blog to see where and when I’ll be running.

I have chosen 5 charities to raise funds for. There are reasons I have picked each particular cause and I will go into more detail about this in later posts. The charities are (in no particular order) Llamau, HMSA, Mind, Save the Children and Cancer Research. All funds raised will be split equally between these charities. If you would prefer to contribute to one in particular then please make a donation directly to the charity of your choice. To sponsor me a contribute to them all please click here.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. I’ll try and keep this blog updated regularly to let you know how I’m getting on. Many thanks for reading and for any support you can provide.

Featured post

Race Summary: JCP Swansea Half Marathon

Sunday saw the first Half Marathon of Run Big Year with the Swansea Half. This was clearly a step up from the 5K and 10K in April. Plus this took me out of my comfort zone by not taking place in Cardiff! So did I prepare well enough and was it a good race?

Things didn’t go entirely to plan the night before. I was visiting the in-laws with the wife and we brought the cat with us. Said cat subsequently got far too excited and kept us awake most of the night by running around and shouting. I’m not the greatest sleeper, particularly the night before a race, but this was the worst night before a race I have ever had. As such the morning saw us grumpy and sleep deprived (apart from the cat who happily went to sleep and by all accounts stayed that way for the rest of the morning).

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We travelled on by car to the Landore Park and Ride and from there on into Swansea. It was a grey and drizzly morning, with plenty of disposable rain capes on display. The race pens were due to open for runners to enter from 8:30am but were slow to fill as many people stayed under shelter for as long as possible. The wheelchair start was meant to be 8:50, then 9:00 for elites and wave 1 (sub 2 hour runners) and 9:15 for wave 2 (all the rest). The wheelchair race didn’t start till 9 and the subsequent starts were all delayed accordingly. From where I was in wave 1 pen C we could not hear the race announcer so I don’t know if any reason was given or why this happened. This was a little frustrating.

The race started with a short section round the city centre. Part of this involved a short stretch of cobbles which were treacherously slippery in the wet conditions. I was able to navigate this safely enough and I didn’t see anyone falling, which was a relief. I did hear that one of the wheelchair racers had to switch chairs as the wheels on the one he had been using just couldn’t get a grip on this part of the course. Thankfully the cobbles were soon left behind.

On leaving the city centre we ran down the A4067, AKA Mumbles Road. We stayed on this road for the next 5 miles as it curved round the bay. This section seemed to be largely downhill all the way. My brain flagged this up and warned me to prepare for uphill sections on the way back! Running for so long down one road was odd to me as this was not what I was used to. There was plenty of support along the way, though, with notably enthusiastic volunteer cheering sections calling out runners by name (the names being displayed on every runner’s number). I focused on keeping a steady pace and conserving energy for the way back.

Mile 6 saw us enter the Mumbles before a loose hairpin turn took us on to the Swansea Bay Promenade to head back towards the city. The promenade brought some lovely sea views and by this time the sun had come out as the skies cleared. Around mile 8 there was a chap wearing a Donald Trump mask who was hosing down grateful runners as they passed. I didn’t stop to ponder and kept on going.

The promenade took in a short stretch through woods and threw in a couple of short steep slopes to cope with. At times the path was canted and there were a few sandy patches but generally the surface was good. We continued on towards the marina and had passed Wales’ tallest building, the Meridian Tower, by the end of mile 11. We headed on to the river and over the lock bridge before heading back over the Millennium Bridge towards the city centre.

A short way into mile 12 I decided to kick on but quickly changed my decision once I realised that this section contained the biggest uphill section of the race. The uphill was nothing too horrendous but was energy sapping with 12 and a bit miles in the legs. By the time the finishing straight came around I was feeling pretty drained but still managed to pick myself up for a sprint finish.

My official chip time was 1:56:54.2 which I was pretty pleased with. I had felt sub par and struggled on my last few training runs but training and racing are very different. This was only my third sub 2 hour half marathon and my second fastest overall. If I keep this up then perhaps a PB might be on the cards for Cardiff in October?

I enjoyed the Swansea Half a lot. My usual half is Cardiff, which is a much bigger and busier race. The Swansea race has a nice friendly feel and with the lower number of participants could use routes that would be too narrow for a bigger race. There was good support all along, helped in part by the hairpin route that allowed spectators to stand in the middle watching runners go past on both sides. The hairpin route and long straights means you will see long streams of runners ahead and behind you (unless you’re at the front or back) through most of the race. The route has the potential to catch people out with the constant gentle downhill of the first half lulling you into a false sense of comfort, particularly when the uphill section of the last mile is considered. There are no big hills and the route is generally pretty flat and fast. If you want to try a half marathon you could certainly do a lot worse than picking Swansea.

With that wrapped up all that’s left for me to say is that the next event for me will be the Gauntlet Games in July. On the blog front I will be writing a monthly summary soon and will also look to get some more charity profiles done. Don’t forget that this is all for charity and any donation will be gratefully received here. Goodbye for now.

Monthly Summary: May

  • Number of runs: 10
  • Distance run: 61.63

No races + no records = nothing to write about?

May was always going to be a quiet month in the grand scheme of all things Run Big Year. I had booked no events and so the focus was very much on training and getting myself in shape for the events to come. It didn’t all go to plan but it did include a useful long run to build towards half marathon distance and beyond. I also signed up for the Swansea Half Marathon so I will be racing in June.

At the start of May I was feeling quite tired, which was more due to issues with poor sleep rather than running. Nevertheless I did take the first two weekends off from running, which is why my run count and distance are both down from last month. It was at this point that I signed up for the Swansea Half Marathon and this did motivate me to kick on for the rest of the month. This then saw me complete longer runs of 9 and then 12 miles plus over the remaining two weekends. With this under my belt it should be a relatively straightforward matter to get set for Swansea at the end of June.

With little else to say about May I may as well look ahead to June – my apologies for this blog being so late that a third of June has already passed! June will include a holiday in Pembrokeshire so there will be a bit of off-roading in advance of July’s Gauntlet Games. I’ll also look to do a few more long road runs ahead of the Swansea Half Marathon at the end of the month. Unfortunately I have not run the Swansea Half before so I’m not in a position to write a preview of the race. Any one fancy writing a guest blog for me? If so then please do get in touch.

And that is about that for this summary. June should be a bit more eventful and I should have plenty more to write about soon. Until then, farewell!

Charity Profile: Mind

What’s this charity profile thing you’re including in the blog? Run Big Year is as much about the fundraising as it is about the running. As such I want to let people know a bit more about the charities that I am supporting. Charity Profiles entries will let me give a brief overview of each charity and why I’m supporting them

So who is featured in this profile? I gave Twitter users the chance to choose which charity top I would wear for my first race. They chose Mind so it seems appropriate to profile them first.

What do Mind do? Mind provide advice and support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They also work hard to raise awareness of mental health issues and promote understanding.

Who does this help? It is estimated that in any given year 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem. For some people this will be something they live with for their whole lives whilst for others it can be a short term situation where their normal coping mechanisms are overwhelmed. If you are lucky enough not to be directly affected then you probably know an awful lot of people who are. So this helps pretty much everyone!

I might need some help – how do I get it? It depends what help you need. The Mind website provides useful information about various mental health problems, how to cope with them and how to help others. The Mind Infoline (0300 123 3393) is available for information on types of mental health problems, where to seek help, what treatment is available and on advocacy. They also provide a Legal Line (0300 466 6463) for information and advice in relation to mental health law. They also have a yellow button at the top of their website for if you need urgent help. If this is the case you may also wish to consider calling the Samaritans on 116 123.

Are Mind a UK charity? Mind are active in England and Wales but not currently in Scotland or Northern Ireland. If you’re in Scotland you might find The Scottish Association for Mental Health useful. For Northern Ireland you can try Inspire (formerly The Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health).

So why have you picked Mind to support? When I chose my charities I wanted to pick a variety of causes. Each is important to me for different reasons, but Mind is perhaps the one that is most personal to me. I have previously been diagnosed with Social Anxiety and have had some times that weren’t so great. At the time of my diagnosis I felt that I did not get the support that I needed. I don’t want that to be the case for other people who need help.

Are you Ok? I’m doing fine at the moment, thanks for asking.

Is the Social Anxiety why you’re a bit rubbish on Twitter? Hey, be nice! But if by rubbish you mean why I don’t tweet much and don’t interact as much as I could with other users then I would say that it is certainly a factor.

So is there anything else that made you want to support Mind? Of course. I know a lot of other people who have had or are having mental health problems. This includes family, friends and colleagues – like I mentioned earlier this affects a lot of people. There is also a more sentimental reason too.

Oh? Care to share? This is not my first time as a Mind fund-raiser. On the last occasion I also blogged about it and it was this blog that inspired my wife to propose to me. She wasn’t my wife then of course.

Congratulations! Your story makes me want to raise money for Mind too. Where can I find out more? To find out more about fundraising for Mind just click here.

Monthly Summary: April

This was the month when Run Big Year finally started properly. My aims with this project included doing lots of races, setting personal bests and raising over £1000 for 5 charities. April truly delivered a flying start to this project with 2 races, 1 personal best and over £200 already raised. So what were the highlights of the month and what is next for Run Big Year?

On 2nd April I took on the CAVC Cardiff Bay Run, a scenic 10K race that represented a rebirth of the old Cardiff Bay 5 Mile Race. This scenic race took place in glorious sunshine and took in some stunning views. My expectations were that I would not be at my best for this race but I ended up only 3 seconds outside my 10K personal best. Along the way I also improved my Garmin Personal records for a mile and 5K to 7:41.9 and 25:06 respectively. I loved this race and couldn’t have asked for a better start to Run Big Year.

After the Bay Run I settled into a training routine of three runs per week. Tuesday mornings were generally runs of about 5 miles. Thursday runs were short runs to train up for my first 5K race at the end of the month. The weekends saw me building up longer runs ahead of taking on tougher races later in the year. My toughest workout was a 5.3 mile run out to Whitchurch, followed by a walk round the route of the Cardiff 5K Race for Victory and then a 7.03 mile run back from Whitchurch. The run back was tough and I did have to walk at some points. Overall though, I was happy with my form and training and felt in pretty decent shape by the end of the month.

The 30th April saw me take on the Cardiff 5K Race For Victory. This was something of a novelty for me as I had never before run a race as short as this and had never before run an evening race. As this was my first 5K I knew that it would be a personal best whatever time I ran but I was keen to set a good time and make sure that it beat my Garmin Personal Record for 5K set earlier in the month. The race went almost exactly as I had planned it and I improved my Garmin Personal Record for a mile to 7:22.2 on my way to a time of 23:53 for the race.

Overall April was a successful month for Run Big Year. May will not be as eventful as I have no races planned for this month. In terms of running this will mean a focus on training. For the blog this will hopefully give me the chance to write a couple of pieces about the charities that I am running for (Mind, Save the Children, HMSA, Llamau and Cancer Research). Beyond that I am considering signing up for the Swansea Half Marathon in June before taking on obstacle races in July and September. There is a lot more running still to come.

 

Race Report: Cardiff 5K Race for Victory

Well the second event of Run Big Year has come and gone with the Cardiff 5K Race for Victory. At 5K it is the shortest distance I’ve ever raced over and the 7pm start also meant it was my first evening race. So was this a triumphant first or a damp squib of a race?

I had spent the week before keeping a close eye on the weather forecast. There was rain on the way but it was uncertain when or how much there would be. With the race on a bank holiday weekend it did seem likely that the heavens were destined to open. However, when the race came around there were only a few drops in the air. It did get a bit heavier after the race but there was no downpour. I quite like running in the rain but was glad I didn’t have to stand around getting soaked while waiting for the start. As it turned out the conditions were pretty excellent for running, although spectators might have preferred it to be completely dry.

Appropriately enough the race was started by weather presenters Derek Brockway and Sue Charles. Where I was stood we were a bit crowded and the start had plenty of stopping and bunching as we approached the line. I was probably a bit further back than I should have been and did worry that I might get slowed up passing other runners. Fortunately, as we crossed the start line the bunching eased and the width of the road made it relatively easy to pass people.

Having visited the course last week as research for my preview of the race, I had decided that the best approach was to take up a good pace from the start. I then intended to use the downhill second kilometre to put in a fast section ahead of a hill at the start of the 4th kilometre. As such I would build a buffer against any necessary slowing for the hill.

The race plan went perfectly. I was sub 5 minutes for every kilometre, with my fastest kilometre being the second and the slowest the fourth as expected. I had a bit left in the tank at the end so had a nice little sprint over the final few hundred metres. The end result was an official time of 23:53, which put me in position 366 of 1446. Having targeted a sub 25 minute time, I was delighted with my run.

I enjoyed this race a lot, although it felt like it went by very quickly! The race village was packed, with plenty of people sampling the food and the pubs. Considering the weather, there was a good level of support along the whole route, no doubt due to the urban setting. As we crossed the finish line we were welcomed back by live music and a festive atmosphere. Had the weather been sunny then no doubt this would have been very lively indeed.

In summary this was a nice, fun event. I didn’t stick around afterwards but it looked like there was some good food and entertainment on offer going into the night. If you’re looking for a 5K to run next year then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this race. But then again I’ve never run any other 5K race so what do I know?

Race Preview: Cardiff 5k Race For Victory

The next event of Run Big Year takes place on Sunday 30th April with the Cardiff 5K 2017 Race For Victory. The race is an evening race in the Whitchurch area of Cardiff and there will be live music and street food in the village too. With the event on a bank holiday weekend it looks set to be a fun and festive atmosphere, but what will the race be like?

I imagine some readers may be questioning why I’m including a 5K race in Run Big Year. For me this is a short race and something a bit different from my normal events. My first ever organised race was in the Cardiff Half Marathon back in 2010 and indeed I have never run any race shorter than 5 miles before. As such this is an opportunity for me to tick off a box or two in regard to my running ambitions. In addition I recall stating that one of the aims of Run Big Year was to set new personal bests (PBs) and that is guaranteed for this race!

The race starts and finishes on Merthyr Road, not far from the parish church. The route heads down Penlline Road before taking a left at the roundabout onto Kelston Road. You may notice that the official race charity partner, Cancer Research Wales, has a shop on this roundabout as you head past.

A further left from Kelston Road leads to Heol Don and to the kilometre mark. The route continues along Heol Don with a significant downhill stretch past Llandaf Station. The route continues on the same road (now Station Road) past the 2K mark before heading left via Gabalfa Avenue through to College Road. The 3K mark is on College Road, which also features speed bumps and a steepish uphill section around said mark.

When College Road meets Whitchurch Common there is a left turn back onto Merthyr Road. This takes us past the 4K mark and back towards the start/finish area. But we’re not at 5K yet so the route heads down Bishops Road & Bishops Place before heading up Church Road back to Merthyr Road and the finish. It is worth noting that most of the final 2K stretch is a gentle uphill slope.

The route is entirely along urban/suburban streets. It does not take in any particularly stunning scenery but the area is pleasant and a lot of the streets are lined with trees, many of which are currently in blossom.  Runners should look to take advantage of the big downhill in the second kilometre to pick up some speed to carry through into kilometre 3, which is mainly a gentle downhill until the aforementioned climb on College Road. I did notice that there are several pubs along this route, which may be of interest to potential spectators.

I am really looking forward to having some fun with this one. My aim is to finish in under 25 minutes, which seems a reasonable target rather than anything too ambitious. I’ll be sticking around for a bit later to grab some food and check out the entertainment. Plus as this is a short race it’s practically a rest weekend for me!

Race Report: CAVC Cardiff Bay Run

So Run Big Year finally got under way with the CAVC Cardiff Bay run on Sunday 2nd April. I had meant to blog about this before but unfortunately just didn’t get around to it until now. Better later than never though and so here is my belated report on the race.

The day of the race was warm and sunny. For the 2k family fun run at 10am I suspect the weather was just about perfect. By the time of the main 10k race it was possibly slightly too warm, although certainly nothing to complain about. I know some other runners have complained that there was only one water station on the run, but this was what I expected and have been used to in previous races. The Bay was looking absolutely stunning in the sun and it would certainly have been a shame if it was cloudy and raining!

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I started in the red pen, which I think was for runners aiming for between 45min and 1 hour times. I couldn’t remember what the timings were from the pre race info and I don’t recall seeing it on the signposting at the event so I wasn’t quite sure where to position myself in the pen. To be honest I think most people just ended up in the order that they entered the pen rather than being ordered according to pace.

I should apologise to anyone who read my race preview, as this did not get the route quite right. The race started with a run up and down Lloyd George Avenue before heading through BBC Roath Lock and the Port of Cardiff. We then ran down the barrage but stopped short of the locks before looping round and heading back the other way. After returning over the barrage there was another little loop on Lloyd George Avenue to allow us a nice little downhill segment leading back to the start/finish line in Roald Dahl Plass.

The initial section of the race showed me that I had indeed started a bit further back than I should have and I lost some time making my way through the slower runners. As such my first kilometre was ran in 5:24.7, which was comfortably the slowest. A similar thing happened to me in last year’s Cardiff 10k and on that occasion I overcompensated by doing the second kilometre a minute faster, which was not sustainable. This time I managed to pick up my pace in a more gradual and measured manner.

Heading around BBC Roath Lock my pace was fairly steady at around 5min/km. I did slow a bit on the way down the barrage and looping back up – this was around kilometre 7, which was my slowest after the initial 2k. Part of this was also due to getting stuck behind other runners on the tight loop to come back down the barrage. Unfortunately the nature of the route did mean that there were some tight turns that caused bunching at points, most notably on Lloyd George Avenue and the aforementioned turn on the barrage.

The route back down the barrage is a fast stretch as it is slightly downhill and allowed me to build a good bit of momentum coming through kilometre 8. This continued through kilometre 9 around the rear of the Millenium Centre. By kilometre 10 I was feeling tired but knew I had a bit left in the tank. I kept steady for the first part and then kicked on after the turn back to Roald Dahl Plass on the second Lloyd George Avenue section. As mentioned earlier, this was a clear downhill finish and I got up to a decent sprint for the final 100m or so.

It was an enjoyable race and my chip time of 51:14 was faster than I was expecting to do and just 3 seconds off my personal best. With the fast finish I also set new Garmin records for fastest mile and fastest 5k at 7:41.9 and 25:06 respectively. I picked up no injuries and felt great afterwards. Altogether I could not have asked for a better start to Run Big Year.

So what’s next? I have just added a new race to the Run Big Year itinerary by signing up to the Cardiff 5k 2017 Race for Victory on 30th April. I’m quite excited as I have never raced a 5k before! Expect to hear more about that soon, but for now that’s quite enough from me.

Monthly summary: March

  • Miles run: 50.55
  • Number of runs: 10
  • Races run: 0
  • PBs set: 0

This is the first of a series of regular monthly updates to let you know how I’m getting on with Run Big Year. Of course Run Big Year doesn’t start properly until the first race on 2 April 2017 so this update is more to let you know what to expect from future updates than anything else.

I am relying on my trusted Garmin Forerunner 10 and Garmin Connect to record details of my runs. As such please prepare for future inaccuracies when I forget to charge my Garmin!

In my introduction I mentioned that I was looking to set some personal bests along the way. It is therefore worth noting what these are currently so that I can look back at the end of the whole thing and see how I did. I have included official race times where applicable, otherwise the information below is from my Personal Records section on Garmin Connect. Where these are official race times I have noted where the record was set:

I should point out that the 1km and 1 mile times have been set during longer runs and as such there is considerable scope to improve these on shorter runs. I have also only run 10K and Half Marathon Road races so far – possibly I should look at fitting a 5k in at some point during Run Big Year. The farthest will of course need to nearly double if Run Big Year goes to plan!

Well that’s about it for this monthly summary. April’s should include a bit more running and will look back on the CAVC Cardiff Bay Run (see my preview here).

Race Preview: CAVC Cardiff Bay Run

By this time next week Run Big Year will have started for real with the first race run. The opening event is the CAVC Cardiff Bay Run. But what is this race and how will I get on? The only possible way to answer that on a blog is with a race preview!

The CAVC Cardiff Bay Run – which I’m going to shorten to Bay Run for the rest of this post – is brought to us by the organisers of the Cardiff Half Marathon. At the last half marathon they announced that they intended to run a marathon in April 2017. They were unable to get all the necessary agreements in place, however, and so subsequently announced that they would aim to launch a Cardiff and Vale Marathon for 2018. That’ll be the very same marathon that is intended as the last event of Run Big Year.

In the meantime it was also announced that they would run a ‘stepping stone’ event in April 2017, which turned out to be the Bay Run. This race is a new 10k race but also a revival of an old race, the Cardiff Bay 5 Mile. The Cardiff Bay 5 Mile used to be a bank holiday event at the end of May but ended due to other events being held in Cardiff Bay on the bank holiday and leaving no room for the race to run. I took part in the 2014 version of the Cardiff Bay 5 Mile and welcome the return of this race, even if it is in a revised format.

The route of the Bay Run will be familiar to previous 5 milers, with the extra distance being made up by a segment up and down Lloyd George Avenue. This course is flat, fast and has some decent scenery along the way. The route takes in Cardiff Bay’s most iconic sites as it runs from Mermaid Quay to Penarth and back with that little extra section up and down Lloyd George Avenue. There are some beautiful views along the way, particularly as you cross the barrage each way. There are some less attractive parts and here I’m primarily referring to the section through the Port of Cardiff. I think it’s fair to say that the Tardis has seen better days too.

As mentioned earlier it is a flat and fast route. If you are aiming for a PB then this is a good race to do it in. If you are looking for more of a challenging run then maybe this is not the race for you. I loved the 5 Mile when I ran it but I overheard another runner describe it a boring as it was so flat. Different people look for different things in their races. If only there was some kind of way to find out what to expect in advance!

How will I do in this race? I’m not expecting a PB this time around, although I expect a decent time given the nature of the course. My training has been going OK but I’m behind where I had planned to be due to a chest infection last month that kept me from training for two weeks. I also have a friend’s birthday to attend the night before, which is never going to be ideal. Still, you have to start somewhere and this seems like a good start for Run Big Year to me. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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