Happy Friday everyone! I have a great guest post today all about cycling and in such a beautiful part of the UK, North Wales.
Cycling is one of the fastest growing sports in the UK, and we’re lucky to have a nation covered in quality cycling routes. Combined with North Wales’ popularity as a family holiday destination, you can’t go wrong planning a cycling trip in the area. Get yourself a holiday cottage in Snowdonia and spend a weekend, or maybe a bit longer, on your bike in the beautiful Welsh hills.
Chester and Holyhead are already worthy destinations in their own rights – and for cycling fans there’s a really charming, but quite challenging, ride between the two. You have a multiple options along the way: National Cycle Routes 5 and 8 are available at various times, or you can hop off the main roads and take a scenic detour to avoid traffic. Strong cyclists are required for this route, as it takes up to eight or nine hours to complete in a day.
For mountain bike enthusiasts, Coed y Brenin is kind of the big one. It hosts a huge network of mountain biking routes of varied levels of difficulty. We recommend trying the Tarw Trail, if you’re an experienced mountain bike rider, a reasonably tough trail that starts off quite easy but, over the course of the ride, accelerates you into twisted rocky corners and some challenging terrain cambers. If you’re not a technically skilled rider, there are plenty of other options in the area.
If you’re interested in a more family friendly experience, the Mawddach Trail is a great bet. Both ends of the course lead to plenty of parking, cafés, and bike hire facilities. The ride itself is spectacularly scenic, giving you views of Southern Snowdonia and the gorgeous Mawddach estuary. The route is 9.5 miles long, so younger riders need not be overtaxed by taking in the whole route. If you plan a trip, don’t miss the iconic bridge railway at the Barmouth end.
Note: The flat, paved terrain and traffic-free ride make this a great route for any wheelchair users, or for disabled cyclists to build confidence before taking on other routes.
Forming part of National Cycle Route 5, the bike path between Talacre and Penmaenmawr is a charming coastal course. You’ll pass through Prestatyn, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay, Conwy, Llanddulas, and more. The full route is 34 miles, so a competent rider should be able to complete the round trip in a day quite happily.
The trip from Caernarfon to Bryncir is a 12.5 mile stretch of scenic cycling on a section of National Cycle Route 8. You’ll be skirting the edges of Snowdonia with some wonderful vistas of nearby ridges and the occasional glimpse of Mt Snowdon over the hills. An usually-wide bike path with good tarmac, you’ll have wonderful views of the sea as you descend towards the ocean overlooking the Lleyn mountains.
If you’re screaming at your monitor because you can’t believe we left out your favourite route, let us know in the comments!
Cardiff has such a special place for me in my heart because of the three years I spent there at university. I met some of my best friends there and we have such good memories of our time (amongst the ridiculous hard work and stress, of course). So running a half marathon there just made sense to me. I was never a runner at uni so it was strange going back for a race.
So carrying on from my last post…
The wind was picking up and the rain was just starting as I clustered together in the starting pens with my running club buddies (though some had gone to the super speedy pens – sub 1:30!). I’d lost Matt after seeing my running club and it was difficult to spot anyone when we were all wearing our ridiculous white ponchos (ridiculous perhaps, but definitely grateful for!)
As we stood waiting we heard the male elites announced (big cheer for Mo Farah of course) and after each name huge bursts of fire were sent up next to the castle. For those brief seconds we were warmed by the flames. I had a moment of panic when I realised I needed a wee…but thought “just hold it”.
We jostled about (took a selfie, of course) and then finally we were off! The wind was against us from the start but I didn’t feel it too much. I found a comfortable pace and decided to keep that feeling of effort, regardless of what my watch told me.
I’d separated from my running club buddies but was happy to run at my own pace. I had a brief moment of “damn I wish I had music or something” as I soon found myself a little bored and demotivated. I had a weird moment where I suddenly felt a bit tired and “can I do this?”. I have no idea what came over me but I just felt a bit mentally exhausted, without that actually translating to my body. I gave myself a shake and got on with it though.
We began running through an area of Cardiff I’d never been before (out of my student bubble I suppose) and it reminded me so much of the Reading Half Marathon. There were residential areas and also industrial bits that just reminded me of the monotony of the Reading course, and the fact that there were always people around me as the entry size was about the same. And similar to Reading, despite the weather, there were a good number of supporters all along the course shouting and cheering. It had a great atmosphere. But every single loo I saw made me want the loo more but I couldn’t bare to stop and faff about.
Before the race, Matt and me had discussed the course and where we thought the wind would be the worst and both agreed it would be around the Bay where there was so much exposure. As I got closer to that area I found the wind was actually behind me, pushing me along. It was amazing! OK it was annoying having my ponytail flap me in my face and it being so gusty but it was great having it behind us. In the back of my mind I kept thinking, when’s it going to turn…
Going through the Cardiff Bay area and past the Wales Millennium Centre
[I bit the bullet and bought my race photos as they weren’t that bad – plus my mum wants some nice ones for her conservatory…haha]
I let my pace increase as the wind pushed me along (it would be silly not to take advantage!). At around seven miles it suddenly (and I mean suddenly) down-poured. Within seconds everyone was drenched. I was actually a bit worried about my contact lenses! I remember hearing people around me swearing and then this Welsh guy goes “come on guys, what did you expect – it’s Wales! This is our summer!” which was funny.
A couple of times during the race my tummy went funny and I had some regrets about the rather large pre-race breakfast. I definitely did not need any gels during that run!
I have no idea where this photo was taken!
We headed back towards the city and still I felt the wind on my back. I kept a smile firmly plastered on my face as I found that more people cheered when you looked happy. I was genuinely happy though. The pace wasn’t easy but it wasn’t a sustained effort either. The wind was contributing to some easy and tricky moments but overall I felt it was helping rather than hindering.
We got to a lovely residential part of Cardiff that has a beautiful park and lake that, as a student, my friends and I used to walk around (Roath Park). I know I keep saying this, but it just felt so weird to be in such a huge race running those same streets again. I saw the coffee shops I’d been in, saw where the Woolworths used to be that we always went to to buy our cheap pick n mix for the cinema (we were that cheap)… it was just great. It kept me entertained. People cheered my name out as I had it on my vest and I just kept smiling.
Then as we came around the lake the wind hit us in the face. The dream was over and the work was needed to be put in now. I tend to break half marathons into chunks: get to 5 miles, get to 8 miles, get to 10 miles (just a parkrun to go!) and then mile by mile until the end. The last three miles were tough. My legs were tired (mile 10 was actually almost mile 16 after my earlier run) but I kept going. I stuck with a girl who had “Elaine” on her vest and played the game in my head of who got more cheers, Elaine or me. It made me smile more and look at the crowd so I think I won Elaine did well though, a worthy contender.
There was a steep incline at Mile 12 which was tough…but generally the course was flat.
Then the best, but hardest part, of the race. Running through the Cathays area. This is literally where I used to live. Despite feeling tired, I couldn’t help but have a huge smile on my face. A guy next to me turned to me and said “that’s not fair! You’re still smiling!”. And then I ran past the road I used to live on and, this will sound ridiculous, but I got a bit emotional. Must have been on those endorphins I knew where we were finishing so I knew exactly how far we had to go, because I’d walked that way so many times during university. Past the Lidl I used to shop at, the pub I used to go to, over the bridge (what a bitch at these final stages of the race!) and then past the beautiful university buildings and all those crowds. It was a fantastic way to end the race.
I finished in 1:42:55 (chip time), 159th in my age/gender category and 2498th overall. For a training run as part of a longer run I’m over the moon with that! 7.47min/mile average is not too shabby!
I finished the race and headed straight for the bag drop area as it was COLD. I was soaked through and got very cold very quickly. Luckily I bumped into Matt again as he was heading back from the bag drop (he did a very speedy 1:36 dead). Then we walked back to his hotel and where my car was parked. It was a good job I was with him as I wouldn’t have had a clue how to have gotten there again!
We said our goodbyes and I stripped off my wet vest right there in the street (I had a sports bra on it was fiiiine), got a dry layer on and got straight into the car and headed home. I stopped at the first services back in England after the bridge and dashed into the loo. Finally had that wee I needed!! I got a hot coffee and then back on the road again.
My heating was blasted on full, I had a post-race banana and I had my music up. I sang all the way home in a happy buzz of post-race euphoria. Despite the awful weather I got back to my parent’s in under three hours, but it seemed like no time at all. My dad had picked up a takeaway for me so I had that literally as I got in. Showers can wait!
And then I was completely wired for the rest of the night. The coffee, the food, the buzz… I just couldn’t relax. I was tired and my legs ached but I was buzzing. But I had no alarm set the next morning so I wasn’t worried
So a fantastic race. I loved it and fully enjoyed it, despite the wind and rain! And an extra small ladies technical t-shirt that fits!!
Have you ever raced in a city that’s special to you?
Do you prefer the wind behind you or no wind at all?
And I’m back in England again after a flying visit to Wales this weekend. I travelled up to North Wales, Llandudno, with my dad to see my grandparents. Originally my mum was meant to come too but for various reasons she couldn’t unfortunately.
My dad and me drove together straight from work on Friday evening and got to Llandudno just after 10pm. After a quick catch-up with my grandparents I headed to bed – after over four hours of being in the car! The next morning the plan was to head to the very local Conwy parkrun. As it was just a five minute drive from the house it meant we didn’t need to leave until 8.20am and even then we when arrived we sat in the car for a little bit to keep warm. It was such a luxury to not have to get there early to set-up the course! (Though I did miss the social side of Netley parkrun).
The parkrun is located just next to the RSPB Nature Reserve (which I visited a few years ago on a different visit). It was easy to park (for free!) and the views were fantastic. It was a beautiful crisp and clear day and you could see out to Conwy castle and the surrounding areas.
The gate is where the parkrun begins, Conwy castle in the distance
My grandad and dad had come to support me which was lovely. I think my grandad was a little shocked that I wasn’t wearing warmer clothes but I assured him that within a few minutes of running I’d be lovely and warm – especially doing a 5k! He used to be a mountain climber and guide so proper equipment and clothing is vital to him.
My plan was to give it a blast but not be stupid due to my long run planned tomorrow. But I did want to make the most of the flat course to see where my fitness was sat.
I also had my music with me for a change to help motivate me to run fast. After a gentle warm-up and the race brief we off. Annoyingly I should have started a bit closer to the front as I had to weave in and out of people. It’s always tricky to judge where to start at a new parkrun!
The route is very simple, you head out alongside the Conwy River on a compacted dirt track, have a brief moment of pain as you go over the footbridge over the main road, then turn left to do a quick out and back to the Conwy Castle, then continue alongside the river before turning around and going back over the footbridge and back to the finish. It’s super flat (bar the bridge) and great to stretch the legs on. It was a little windy but nothing major. I’d say I felt comfortably steady for 80% of the run but had to dig deep and ride the pain train for the last stretch.
Photo credit: Steve Jeffrey Photography
I knew I was second female as I’d seen the first female ahead of me on the out and back but I managed to catch her up a little bit and she finished 20 seconds ahead. She was wearing a hoodie which leads me to believe she might have been taking it easy!
My time was 21:40 with an overall place of 17/202 (one of my best finishes!). I also managed another royal flush negative split which continues to surprise me!
The Conwy parkrun was very friendly and welcoming and had a fantastic course really showing some beautiful scenery. I’d definitely recommend it if you’re in the area. There’s also a lovely cafe at the Nature Reserve to go afterwards (we didn’t, we went straight home as we were cold).
The entire weekend’s weather in Llandudno was really good. Beautifully sunny though very cold. Conwy parkrun wasn’t that windy (though the next day it was), whereas at Netley, my usual parkrun, it was cold, wet and miserable. Apparently it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Very odd that for once Wales had the better weather!
The rest of the day we spent doing some odd bits of shopping and walking around Conwy. Conwy is known for its mussels so I had to take a photo of the HUGE bag I saw next to the water. They’re sustainably hand-raked.If I lived in Conwy I think I’d be eating them all the time! Anyway, it was a nice relaxed day.
That evening, as a normal tradition when we visit my grandparents, we went to their favourite Indian restaurant. Perhaps not the wisest choice before my planned 18 miles the next day but I know exactly what to order that won’t upset my stomach.
Tandoori chicken and an onion salad – my usual! With poppadum and a mixed kebab starter. Half way through the meal the owner of the restaurant came over and presented us with a bottle of champagne. We all looked at each other a bit confused as we hadn’t ordered it. He said it was because we were celebrating a special birthday. Well, we were – it was my dad’s birthday the next day, we were just confused as to how he knew! And then at the end of the meal he brought over a chocolate cake with candles and they sang him happy birthday. Though it was obviously very nice, we were still confused as to how he knew.
My dad then received a phone call from my mum saying she’d planned it! How lovely! My dad was so touched. Strangely though, my mum hadn’t paid and when my dad tried to pay they refused. How bizarre!
Obviously we all had some chocolate cake to finish off the meal.
I’ll do a recap of the next day (well, the long run I had planned) as this post is getting quite long and I have a lot to say about the run. But as a synopsis for the entire weekend, it was fantastic. I love seeing my grandparents. My grandad is very similar to me in his personality and how much he enjoys staying active and being outside. He’s 83 years old but he’s not stopping yet!