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Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Robin Wilkinson

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Robin Wilkinson. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

Running during lockdown
By Robin Wilkinson, aged 36 1/3

The day we were sent home from work had a strange echo of Christmas. I tied up loose ends, packed my bag and said goodbye to colleagues, not knowing when I’d see them next, or how the world might have changed when I did.

When I got home I called my parents, and then went for a run. It calmed me and helped me get some perspective on the possible personal impact of the unfolding crisis. Running has helped to anchor me during the last  three months: lifting my mood when I’ve been down, and adding satisfaction to days which would otherwise consist of the endless cycle of cooking, eating, working and washing up.

Ready for a run!

I live in Riverside, and running through Bute Park most days given me the chance to watch Cardiff respond to the pandemic. In early March, before the lockdown began, people were visibly making the most of the park in the cold weather. We had been told to avoid indoor public spaces, and families responded by having unseasonable picnics – wrapped up against the chill wind as though dressed for a ski-trip, in coats, hats and sunglasses. Young men socially-distanced together, drinking wine in camping chairs positioned 2 metres apart along the river.

A week later all non-essential trips outside the house were banned, and the official lockdown began. That evening the park was more sparsely populated, with many runners choosing to wear masks or cover their faces with scarves. The volume of activity that people undertake that goes beyond the essential was evident in the deserted pavements and empty roads.

A new footpath etiquette  quickly emerged, as social distancing stopped being a convention and felt like a survival mechanism. On hearing me approach, couples would fall into single file to give me more room to pass. I ran more and more of my routes through fields and copses of trees. Several days into the lockdown I found it necessary to direct a runner for the first time as he ran towards me. I directed him right, like a traffic policeman – he complied, I gave him the thumbs up and we both smiled.

I had hoped that a sense of solidarity would grow between frequent users of the park. But after several failed attempts at friendliness it became clear that the best time to make friends was not whilst sweating and panting during a viral outbreak. Instead of smiling, I began turning away from people as I passed, hiding my face like a bashful debutante.

Spring came with a surreal beauty. Blossom appeared on the branches of trees along the river which, with the low footbridges, made the park look like a Japanese watercolour. Daffodils recovered from their early spring flooding to watch the evening runners with nodding approval. It was hard to reconcile this tranquillity with the rapidly rising death toll.

The background hum of police helicopters reminded me of the world outside the park. I never failed to be surprised by seeing a police horse  – more used to dealing with rugby fans than joggers – trotting along the Taff trail on a bank holiday on the lookout for illicit picnickers.

Running past the football pitches on a drizzly Friday evening I saw what looked like a horse preparing to take a penalty. A mounted policeman in high-viz stood ten metres away from a goal, facing two children with a football. It was a bizarre stand-off, with neither side moving as I ran past, and I wondered what public health benefits there were to stopping two children playing football in a deserted park at dusk.

As my distances increased I started using running as a way to expand my world, which otherwise consisted of my house and the supermarket. As a student I rarely left Cathays and Roath, and as a graduate I’ve rarely gone back. I ran through Cathays to Roath Park Lark and was ambushed by memories, of long-forgotten house parties and meetings that seemed inconsequential at the time but led to some of my deepest friendships.

I ran to the Bay, and past the Senedd, which had changed its name from the “National Assembly for Wales” during the lockdown. The old sign remained, waiting either for two socially distanced workmen, or one with very long arms. I ran over the barrage and was the furthest away from my house I had been in months.

Time became a paradox. Days bled together, but weeks felt as different as foreign countries. Writing down my slowly increasing mileage in a diary helped to create a feeling of continuity. My mileage crept up and I decided to run a half marathon. It felt good to have a project to work towards.

As I added miles to my longest training runs, each run had an exciting feeling of venturing into unknown territory, as I ran the furthest I had for a decade.

I set a date, and felt as nervous beforehand as if I’d been running in an organised event. Buzzing from anxiety and my morning coffee I ran through Grangetown to the Bay. I ran up St Mary’s Street, past boarded pubs, and the Principality Stadium, which is now a – mercifully underused – field hospital.

Running along the Taff, between Blackweir Bridge and Western Avenue, I felt a strange mixture of movement and stasis. I looked up at the trees, meeting above the path like the roof of a church, and was convinced it was them that was moving and not me. I grinned and burst out laughing, giddy with excitement, or perhaps just oxygen debt. Under two later, exhausted and exhilarated, I was back exactly where I’d started.

I never want to forget the strangeness of running through the city during a pandemic. Cars have started returning to the residential streets I used to happily run down. The people who sat in camping chairs in their front gardens, waving because we were both human and there was nothing better to do, have gone. I’ll miss it, but I hope I never see it again.

Robin has been raising money with his lockdown marathon, fundraising for Cardiff Foodbanks. Sponsor him!

Want to write for Letters from Cardiff in lockdown? Find out how here…

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Setting challenging times for Velindre – a Greek running story, as told by Gwydion Griffiths

There are some avid runners amongst the We Are Cardiff volunteers, so we are delighted to welcome Gwydion Griffiths on to the blog this week. He ran the Athens Half Marathon, and while he might not be sure why he did it, he’s helped raise thousands for Velindre.

The day of the race had come. I had arrived to run the Athens half marathon and I was nervous, excited and apprehensive. I’d never run a half marathon before. Then the questions started. What if I don’t finish? What if I finish last? Does eating too many bananas give you the runs? I got to the starting point, regretting my decision to sign up for this. Looking around, everyone was lean, toned and fit. I was gutted; fortyish, fatish, unfit. I toyed with the idea of taking a few photos of myself with them, spending the morning at McDonald’s, and then picking up my medal after a few hours.

Why had I thought it would be a good idea??

I’ve been raising money for Velindre for years now. Cancer will affect one in two people born after 1960, and that’s sobering statistic. My relationship with Velindre stretches back decades. Just under thirty years ago, when I was studying for my GCSEs, my father was diagnosed with cancer.  Although a little too young at the time to fully understand the implications, I remember being devastated.  However, he received superb care from Velindre and lived to see me, and my siblings, Angharad and Iestyn, pass our exams, go to university and get good(ish) jobs. The cancer returned 12 years later, and this time he lost the fight.

It was a gut wrenching blow to our family, and our mother would be alone in north Wales. She’d made some good friends up there and we visited as often as possible, but she had lost her husband and we had lost our father. Then, three years ago, our mother was diagnosed with cancer. It was another crushing blow. We arranged for her to move to Cardiff to be near her children and receive fantastic care and treatment at Velindre and Marie Curie. She lived to enjoy a nice holiday in Italy, a country that she loved, with me, and spent some quality time with her young grandchildren.

And then 2017 happened. My wife was made redundant in February, my mother passed away in May, after her cancer returned, and then my mother-in-law passed away in August after being diagnosed with cancer. It was a horrible year for us.

Out of adversity, I wanted some good to come, and that’s why I set my Velindre fundraising and running challenge. So, maybe that’s why I ran the Athens Half Marathon – to remember my parents and raise some money for a fantastic cause.

Last summer, I had joined Canton Chargers and Skills running club, who run from Café Castan on Monday nights. Their advice, training and support proved inspirational. I’d also made a new friend, Andy Kreppel, who, despite being a devout Swansea City supporter, became my running partner. Off we’d go every weekend, running up the Taff Trail towards Castell Coch, or down to Cardiff Bay, enjoying chats about football, rugby, work and how much we hated running. One low point was running from Pontcanna to Penarth, about six miles, when it was chucking it down with rain. I was drenched.

Then came the heavy snow. I was miles behind on my training and needed to run. ‘It’s clearing up Andy. Do you fancy it?’ ’No’. He’d cried off like a big baby. So, off I went by myself, running through the snow like Sylvester Stallone about to take on Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV, but a much less lean and ripped version. The training was done and I was ready. Of course, a special mention must be given to my wonderful wife who gave me time to go out training and her heartfelt words of encouragement. ‘I bet you feel all pious now, running around Cardiff like you’re bloody Mo Farah’ was a particular favourite.

But running around Cardiff isn’t quite the same as doing a half marathon race in Athens. And that was where I found myself, at the front of the race, surrounded by super fit looking athletes. I did what any sensible first-time half marathon runner would do: I went to the back, where I hoped all the slowest people would be. The headphones went in and I started listening to Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds, Live in Las Vegas. This would put me in the right mood; upbeat, with a fast tempo. I started feeling a little bit better.

Then the tap on the shoulder came. I was busted. I turned around and a very nice Greek racing steward pointed me in a different direction. ‘I think you are in the wrong place. Your number is blue and you need to be with them’. I don’t speak any Greek and assumed that something had been lost in translation on my registration form. I was placed at the front with people who looked to me like elite athletes. I tried to think of something to comfort myself with. I failed to find anything.

To my left, a man had his ankle on top of a metre-high barrier, stretching. I thought, if I did that I’m going to do some serious damage to my groin. I looked to my right. Another man was wearing what can only be described as a hunting vest. However, instead of bullets and cartridges, he had drinks, gels and sun cream in each compartment. He also had that tape on his legs that is supposed to be good for your muscles. All the gear! I had rocked up in Cardiff Blues shorts, a Velindre t-shirt and my old trainers. And then the race started.

As we passed the starting line, I remember thinking to myself, ‘only another 13 more miles to go’. Within the first mile, I was overtaken by hundreds, if not thousands, of runners. I didn’t mind. I hadn’t set my Strava App deliberately. I didn’t want to know how slow I was going—it’s not a sprint, it’s a half marathon, was my motto.

Then, at about two miles, the noise! There were huge speakers blaring out techno music. Bang. Bang. Bang. If I was in a nightclub it would have been amazing. But I wasn’t. I was running 13 miles around the Greek capital city, and I needed to focus. Then, at about four miles, the African drums came, spurring me on. Boom, boom, boom to the beat of my feet; every stride taking me closer to my goal.

I plodded around for what seemed like ages, and then I saw it, like an oasis in the distance. The finishing line. Off I went, foot down on the gas. Give it my all; don’t save anything for the swim back. I saw the clock — I’d smashed it. About 60 minutes off my target time. I’d nailed it! Unbelievable. And it was. ‘Bravissimo, bravissimo, one more lap to go’ shouted the nice Greek racing steward as I approached.

I was gutted. I was halfway. So, off I went again. ‘Tough times don’t last but tough people do,’ ‘If you’re going through hell, keep going’ and other such clichés raced through my head.

Round the corner, up the hill, down the hill, up another hill, down another hill. Bang, bang, bang Dalek music. Boom, boom, boom African drums. Past the collapsed Corinthian columns of the ancient temple and the old Olympic stadium.  Then, with a mile to go, in went the headphones again. Big Black – Kerosene. Nothing like some classic ‘80s Californian Anarcho punk to drive me to the finishing line.

I did it. I’d completed my first half marathon, in Athens, the birthplace of politics, philosophy, democracy and drama. The birthplace of the Olympics. A city I’d always wanted to visit since seeing photos of the Acropolis as a child.  The race itself took just under three hours (it was hilly) but the journey and all the training had taken about nine months.

None of this would have been possible without the support of the incredible Andrew Morris and Kylie McKee, and the amazing team at Velindre Cancer Research based in Cardiff. A charity that does fantastic work and is close to my heart.

About two years ago, I came up with a simple idea that I hoped would raise thousands of pounds for Velindre. Like most good ideas, it was born in a pub. I’d gone to watch Cardiff Blues record another rousing victory at the Arms Park and went for a few beers with two mates afterwards. I explained to James and Illtud that there were about 660,000 schoolchildren in Wales. If I could get them all to wear red and donate £1, that would raise a lot of money. They thought I was nuts. Undaunted, I ploughed on. I’d worked out that if 10 per cent of the schools took part, that would raise £66,000 and one per cent would raise £6,600. And thus, Wear Red for Wales and Velindre was born.

I trialled it during the glorious Euro 2016, asking 13 friends if their kids’ schools would ‘Wear Red for Wales and Velindre’ when Wales took on England on that sunny Thursday afternoon. All the schools agreed and we raised £3,500. Then I took the idea to Velindre. They liked it, and in 2017, through Velindre’s hard work, about 80 schools and companies took part and raised £20,000.

In 2018, on the eve of the first Six Nation match, Velindre had received 344 registration forms: 185 from schools, 139 from companies and organisations such as the Welsh Government, and 20 from individuals. They all took part in Wear Red for Wales and Velindre 2018. Each person had donated £1 – and we just heard the total amount raised is now in excess of £100,000!

Next year’s date for Wear Red for Wales and Velindre has been set for Friday 1st of February 2019, when Wales open the Six Nations, taking on France in Paris. It’s easy to take part, just get your work, school, university, club, gym class, pub, choir, or whatever, to Wear Red and donate £1 per person. You make the difference. Please donate at Velindre’s website.

Gwydion Griffiths, lives in Pontcanna, Cardiff with his wife, eight-year-old daughter and two cats. Having previously worked for S4C and Cardiff Blues, he now works in Business Marketing for the Welsh Government. A season ticket holder at Glamorgan Cricket, Cardiff Blues and Wales football he can be spotted plodding around Llandaff Fields and is thinking of participating in another fundraising race.


Cardiff Bay 10k … run Cardiff, run!

A photo essay of this year’s spring Cardiff Bay 10k. Well done to all you runners! All photos by photojournalist Kerry Elsworth.

Cardiff Bay, Wales. 2nd April 2017. Athletes take on the Cardiff Bay 10k run.

Cardiff Bay, Wales. 2nd April 2017. Athletes take on the Cardiff Bay 10k run.Cardiff Bay, Wales. 2nd April 2017. Athletes take on the Cardiff Bay 10k run.Kerry_Elsworth_Cardiff_10k_ - 03Cardiff Bay, Wales. 2nd April 2017. Athletes take on the Cardiff Bay 10k run.Cardiff Bay, Wales. 2nd April 2017. Athletes take on the Cardiff Bay 10k run.Kerry_Elsworth_Cardiff_10k_ - 07Kerry_Elsworth_Cardiff_10k_ - 08Cardiff Bay, Wales. 2nd April 2017. Athletes take on the Cardiff Bay 10k run.Cardiff Bay, Wales. 2nd April 2017. Athletes take on the Cardiff Bay 10k run.Cardiff Bay, Wales. 2nd April 2017. Athletes take on the Cardiff Bay 10k run.Kerry_Elsworth_Cardiff_10k_ - 12Cardiff Bay, Wales. 2nd April 2017. Athletes take on the Cardiff Bay 10k run.


Running real fast … Cardiff half marathon 2016!

What an incredible day for a half marathon! The weather is banging, and record numbers of you turned out today to run the Cardiff Half Marathon, which is one of the flattest and fastest in the UK.

Congratulations to everyone that took part!

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People who have run the race before will be familiar with the mountains of water bottles strewn across the streets, but this year’s race was one of the greenest yet with more recycling bins than ever before, more signs, and for the first time an army of environmental champions there to help people recycle properly and make sure the maximum amount of materials are recycled. Brecon Carreg’s water bottles are also smaller for the first time (which is a brilliant move – it’s not easy to chug down that much water on mile ten!).

In terms of the impact of recycling at the event, according to Recycle for Wales, if every Cardiff Half runner recycled one 500ml water bottle, enough energy could be saved to power these famous Cardiff Half route landmarks:

  • Power the Principality Stadium’s floodlights for three years
  • Operate the Cardiff Bay barrage for 48 hours
  • Provide the Millennium Centre with electricity for nine hours
  • Make sure Cardiff Castle stays regal, and keeps its electricity going for 55 hours.

Although the best bet is always to bring your own reusable water bottle, the plastic bottles that are recycled on the day will be transformed into a number of different products (including clothing – as well as new bottles!). The peels from the bananas handed out to runners at the end of the race can be used to generate energy, which could charge a range of household items. FACT: just one banana peel can create enough electricity to fully charge two smartphones. Where’s my banana charger?

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Cardiff Uni put together this awesome little video of things to look out for while running around the city

The numbers of runners turning out today wasn’t the only record thing about the race. Kenyan runner Shadrick Korir set a new Cardiff Half record in his first run ever outside Kenya (finishing the race in an eye watering 1’00’54!!). Viola Jebchumbah won the women’s race with a new record of 1’08’14, and there was even a new Guinness World Record set today!

Yes, that’s right – Batman and Robin stormed the course in under 71 minutes, to set a new Guinness World Record for the fastest half marathon run in fancy dress. Yes, there’s a record for that!


Some of our other favourite tweets from the day:



Well done to ALL who participated in today’s run. Remember, there are only three kinds of winners: those who start the race, those that finish, and whoever happens to come first. You’re all winners to us!

Now go celebrate with a pint and get those feet in some ice, yes?

cardiff half marathon

(photo from Helia’s half marathon effort in 2015)

Inspired to sign up for next year? Everything you need is on the Cardiff Half Marathon website.

For more information about the Run Refuel Recycle campaign, and to find out how you could win a £115 voucher from Cardiff-based specialist running shop, Run and Become, head to www.RunRefuelRecycle.org.uk

Thanks to photojournalist Chloe Jackson-Nott for all the great pics of the race this year.


“I Heart Bute Park” – Lisa


I’m very lucky to have my favourite place in Cardiff so close by. Living in a flat means I don’t have any green space to officially call my own, but Bute Park provides all the leafiness I need just feet from my front door.

I lived in Hirwaun, a little valley village, until eight months ago when I made the move to Cardiff. Back there, I had a little garden complete with mountain views, and whilst I often cursed its inclination to grow wild and unruly within seconds of my secateur attacks, it was a place of solitude, a tiny slice of grassy-ness where I could read, drink a cup of tea or glass of wine, or even just watch from the shelter of the house as rain hammered down or snow softly fell.

I’ve always spent lots of time in Cardiff. I spent years driving back and forth to and from Hirwaun for gigs, films, friends and the like before deciding to take the plunge and move. It has made my social life much easier!

As much as I now love being amidst music venues and coffee shops and cinemas and pubs, I feel a shot of nature is needed to stay sane, some natural surroundings necessary to counterbalance the city silhouette.

Bute Park provides exactly that.

Early morning runs become more pleasurable when exercised within its environs, the foliage and flowers and the glistening River Taff providing stunning distractions. The same features soothe and calm on a summer’s day when a blanket can be spread on the grass, under a tree, or river side and the day spent with wine, words, chocolate and conversation. When the rain falls or the wind blows, the park’s beauty becomes slightly rougher, trees bend under the blustery breeze; rain is glugged greedily by the Taff. After a snowfall it transforms into a real life winter wonderland, a sparkling white layer spread all around. The park illustrates the seasons in an impressive natural artwork, something rarely revealed within a city.

Bute Park is a place for activity or introspection, a place to go with friends or family, a place to walk your dog or stroll solo. It’s a place of history, home to Cardiff Castle, the Gorsedd stones and the Animal Wall.

Initially developed in 1873, the park was later presented to the council in 1947. Hundreds of thousands of people have passed through it over the years. It’s a place where the energies and histories and souls of the Cardiffians gone by can be felt, as well as the stories and passions and secrets and longings and evils and regrets of the contemporaries.

It’s a place that inspires me to write, which provides a platform for my fitness attempts, which allows me to think, and gives me that shot of nature needed to stay sane. I feel very lucky indeed to have Bute Park on my doorstep.

Lisa Derrick is a Development Officer for a community arts project in Merthyr Tydfil. Lisa won runner up place for best writing on a blog at the Welsh Blog Awards in 2010, you can read The Chocolate Takeaway here and find her on Twitter @lisajderrick. She also writes for Plugged In Magazine and has published articles on the Guardian Cardiff site. She is currently studying part time for an MA in English and Creative Writing at UWIC and has novel shaped hopes for the future. She currently lives in Riverside.

Lisa was photographed in Bute Park by Adam Chard