I’ve been in Cardiff, intermittently, for about four years, and it’s a city I know well. The third time I arrived in Cardiff I had just come from London. By comparison Cardiff seemed the chill, walk-able city I was needing after the never ending hustle of the big smoke. I was working from home and needed to exercise. I started running and started this blog.
So, back to the present. Before I get the 11.30 flight from Cardiff to Belfast, and say goodbye, here’s a retrospective. A wistful remembering of the locations of Cardiff I’ve had the pleasure of clomping around. From the joyful sight of the ducklings and goslings in Roath Park to several near leg breaks on the slippery wooden slats of Cardiff Bay.
The most excellent photos in this blog are provided by Amy Genders. The less good photos are by me.
-Cardiff City Centre-
I’ve always enjoyed running right in the heart of the city. It’s a great way to see what’s going on, what the city is about. You have to nip between traffic, depending on how adventurous and fast you’re feeling. Cardiff is flat so your only challenge is the crowds on St Mary’s or Queen Street, just pick your time when the crowds are low. I was too scared to run down the posh arcades but I wanted to. The very few times I managed to get out of the door before 7 a.m., I enjoyed seeing the city wake up. People are always around- Queen Street was always surprisingly busy with rubbish collectors and store deliveries. The smell of rubbish mixed with kick-starting coffee. Sometimes, an occasional glimpse of a rat or fox skulking in the dawn light. And the other guaranteed early riser- the runners diligently following their training plans.
CDF‘s Monday routes ended right in the centre near the Nike Store. Jamie’s Italian and the John Batchelor statue, the summer and winter end points. I remember gasping to the finish line whilst people sat, smoked and sipped coffee outside Starbucks. One of my favourite things- the cheers directed at other, non-CDF runners at the finish line. Seeing their confused faces as they went on by. Don’t be bamboozled folks, just take the applause! You’re out running in the centre. Good on you.
The city’s constantly changing, and runners find the news. Bill Bailey jokes that he doesn’t trust us because we’re always the ones that find the bodies. Occasionally, my normal route was interrupted by something out of turn. Once it was police tape cordoning off a crime scene, another time I ran past the blackened burnt out shell of a bus that had caught fire.
When you run a city, you get all of the city- the good, the bad. You log the landmarks, you discover secret parts. Little-known routes that spiderweb outwards and connect the big locations up together. You cross fellow runners and get the wave/nod of acceptance, you see some really great dogs. Unfortunately, you get the street harassment. I’ve learnt my in-built politeness filter is severely impeded on long runs, and anyone who catcalls me gets slurred expletives served right back before I can stop myself. The responses I give are never clever. After 9 miles, my only response to comments on my arse is a slurred ffffuuuuckkkkk youuuuuu before I’m gone, a mad echo of an angry woman just trying to run in public. But off-putting as the comments get (and maybe others have had different experiences), Cardiff has never felt unsafe to me, regardless of the time of day I chose to get out there.
What’s not to love about Bwte Parc? It’s big, it’s shady, it’s leafy, it’s where CDF host their summer runs. It’s like the green heart of the city. A big event scheduled? Chances are you’ll find it here, interrupting our normal running schedule: football championships, flower shows, food festivals, even races you haven’t signed up for are taking up space in Bute Park and only serving to clog up your route. One time I gate crashed an Alfie’s Angels training run in the park that was being filmed for broadcast and the crew applauded me. I waved back and hoped for TV fame. Alfie himself ran past me. I felt secretly superior as they were running a 10k and I was finishing a 10 miler. HA.
I remember Bute Park in the summer, the hottest day of 2016. I ran the sweatiest 3k of my life, and secretly hated all the couples lounging on the grass and the students with their illegal BBQs. In the winter the park shuts early so you have to escape through the gap in the hedge near Castle Mews. (Or walk round to the 24 hour entrance, but who’s got time for that?)
The park’s got a lot of variety. I really liked the off road bit underneath the trees alongside the river and the sport pitches. I always worried for the kids who launched themselves off Blackweir Bridge into the water.
– Lloyd George Avenue-
It goes by many names. Lloyd George Avenue. Lloyd George. LGA. Llolly Jezzer. The Straight Up n’ Down Menace.
If you’re part of CDF you know the route well. The out and back, the flatness, surviving the first straight of LGA, the pretty run along the twinkly bay side and restaurants, past Techniquest and then back on LGA for more straight road punishment. At the bottom of LGA, whisper a silent prayer to the running gods to switch the traffic lights. Green if you’re going for a fast time. Red if you’re dying and you need a legitimate reason to stop.
A massive rat died on Lloyd George and its body stayed there for a little over a week. Being basically outside my house, I ran past it quite a lot, keeping an eye on it. It got more rancid and mysteriously kept subtly altering its location, as if it was picked up by seagulls but was too far gone even for them. Other fellow runners noticed it too. We bonded over it. We named him Old Lloyd. Then one day he was gone, carried off into the night or resurrected, we’ll never know. I miss him.
– Cardiff Bay and Penarth-
I was so lucky to be living close to the Barrage. I had a real feeling of achievement when I first ran all the way around it. Completing that loop. I remember Pokemon GO: there were a lot of rare Pokemon to be caught along the barrage. (Remember that fad?) I’ll admit I planned my running route to go out and catch ’em all.
The bay is so scenic, it changes quickly, from Doctor Who to sea front to pretty boats to new apartment buildings and back to town. When the weather changes, as it does very often in Cardiff, these views change too, so it’s hard to get bored. When I ran the Cardiff Half Marathon, a helicopter flew overhead as I was crossing the barrage. I imagined sweeping camera angles and pretended I was in a movie.
Once you’ve gone round the barrage you’ll find Penarth and some hills. Finding a hill in Cardiff is tricky but they’re there. Oh, they’re there. Waiting patiently for you. I actually secretly enjoy hill sessions, everyone works hard and stays together as you all run up and down the same incline like maniacs. There’s a good winding path off of Terra Nova Way where we had some solid hill sessions. Amy took a cool photo:
It was like a Ghibli movie, sparkly and magical but with hill repeats. Then we ran back home across the barrage in the dark like badasses. The barrage is pretty brutal in the dark, by the way. The roar of the sea in your ears and very little street lighting in your eyes. If that doesn’t get you up to tempo pace then I don’t know what will.
There’s so much more in this city. I could waffle on more but I won’t. Snapshots of Roath Park, where I ran in my uni days with my friend Nicky whilst we talked about boys. Running up the hills near Penylan Library with the Moti run club. Cosmeston Lake, taking things off road- the medieval village there and the mud and the RAIN. So great. Running to work, running to choir, running for the sole reason of buying Magnum ice creams and running back with the box in my bare hands. People laughing at the lady who literally ran for ice cream. I let them laugh. Magnums are fucking great.
So, what now? I’m about to move somewhere I have never set foot before. So many new parks and roads and places to explore. New Parkruns with new course PBs to set. New runners to meet. I feel there’s a lot Belfast has to offer to a runner. Honestly, it feels daunting to be starting all over again. But I know the best way to find my feet, as it were. Shoes beating a fresh tattoo onto the city streets, marking routes onto the weathered skin of the pavement. Hop up the steps, alongside the river Lagan, out on an adventure. Time to run the city.