Epic Welsh Runs – Newborough Forest and Ynys Llanddwyn

Starting Point: Newborough National Nature Reserve and Forest Car Park, just beyond the small village of Niwbwrch. LL61 6SG

Parking: Ample parking but can get busy at peak times. £2.00 for first 2 hours then 40 p for every additional 20 minutes.

Type: Circular

Length: Commonwealth Trail – 8.5 miles (follow red signposts)

Elevation Gain: 433 feet

Terrain: Trails, sand and short section on tarmac. Trainers ok if it has been dry. Trail shoes probably better if wet.

Facilities on Route: Toilets at car park.

The famous cross on Ynys Llanddwyn

This is a route that we had been eyeing up for a long time and therefore when holidaying in Anglesey it was on the top of our list. It is around a half hour drive from Bangor and 20 minutes from Llanfairpwll where we were staying.

Newborough Warren and Ynys Llanddwyn was declared the first coastal National Nature Reserve in Wales in 1955. According to Natural Resources Wales the Corsican pine trees that make up Newborough Forest were planted between 1947 and 1965 to provide timber and to stabilise the shifting sand dunes. It has created a quite unique landscape with tall trees forming a dramatic backdrop to the rugged coast.

The site sits within the Anglesey Area of Outstanding National Beauty. Traeth Llanddwyn is one of the most picturesque beaches in Wales. It truly is stunning. Llanddwyn Island juts out into the sea and includes two prominent large crosses, a whitewashed terrace of cottages and lighthouse which you will no doubt recognise. The name Llanddwyn means “The church of St. Dwynwen”. Dwynwen is the Welsh patron saint of lovers, making her the Welsh equivalent of St. Valentine. The island bears the ruined remains of St Dwynwen’s Church.

Newborough Forest was the location for the Commonwealth Ultra Trail Running Championships in 2011. This was a 55km race that consisted of a numerous loops around Newborough Forest and Ynys Llanddwyn. Interestingly Wales’ men finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd in this race courtesy of Richard Gardiner, Andrew Davies and Nathaniel Lane. The winning time was 3 hours 29 minutes.

Natural Resources Wales who manage the site has handily marked out the Commonwealth loop on timber posts with red logos. The directional signs are frequent and well placed which means you can just switch off without having to think about the route. The only place we lost the signs was in the last 500m or so where they seemed to disappear but we were so close to the beach and starting point it wasn’t an issue.

Beach section on the way to Ynys Llanddwyn

The route starts with a loop of the picturesque Ynys Llanddwyn which means a couple of miles on soft sand which can be energy sapping. However it’s worth it for the scenery and views that await you on the island. If you don’t fancy this loop or if it’s cut off by the tide it can be omitted which probably cuts the run down to around 6 miles – this alternative route is well signposted.

Run back from Llanddwyn

Once back on the mainland you run within the dunes and woodland of Newborough Forest. It is a mix of undulating sandy, gravelly and muddy (but firm) trails and some grassy areas so a real mix of terrain which is quite nice if you are used to road running. At around 5 miles it starts to get pretty undulating but it’s not too bad really and the hills are quite short and sharp. We encountered a diversion on route but again this was very well signposted and rejoined the main trail after a couple of minutes.

Uphill forest section

This was an epic run that had just about everything you want in a run (including a sighting of the rare red squirrel!). We went early (7am) and had the place to ourselves which was nice. The run is tough but not too challenging and we managed to keep the pace at sub 8 minute miles for a pretty leisurely run. The best part is the first 4 miles onto Llanddwyn so you could just do this if you want a shorter run. Also the Newborough Forest 5km parkrun route is also brilliantly signposted so this is another option.

Ynys Llanddwyn and its famous cross and lighthouse

Would definitely recommend if you are in the area. Strava link below.

Strava Route.

2020 Welsh Endurance Rankings

In what has been a very difficult year for everyone it has been extremely frustrating for athletes not to be able to partake in running races especially when other sports seem to be returning and moving forward at a faster pace in Wales. We’re sure that most runners have, at some point, questioned the point of all their training with a race nowhere in sight. Hopefully the new year will bring in some hope of normality but with the Gwent League already cancelled in its entirety for 2020/21 it might be that we need to wait a bit longer. Despite the limited ‘real’ racing we thought it would be interesting to look back at the excellent performances that have been achieved in the first few months of the year and in selected races since. We will look at the best performances by Welsh athletes over the 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon. It is a testament to the athletes that they have been able to achieve these great times during the challenging and stressful circumstances.

*Please note that virtual races or races that don’t have an official licence are not included as they are not recorded on Power of 10 / RunBritain.

5km (Track and Road Combined)

There were some really fast times posted over 5k in 2020 with four Welshmen running sub 14 minutes. Dewi Griffiths of Swansea Harriers was the fastest running 13.43 at the Podium 5k in Barrowford with his teammate Jonathan Hopkins the second fastest running 13.54 at the fast Armagh 5k. Dewi was only 3 seconds off Roger Hackney’s Welsh record. James Hunt and Nathan Jones, both of Cardiff AAC ran personal bests to break 14 minutes for the first time. Scotland based Kristian Jones of Swansea Harriers ran 14.10 at Fife. Other impressive age group results were 14.18 for Osian Perrin (under 20) and 14.21 by Andrew Davies (vet 40).

There were also some impressive women’s results. The standout performance was a 15.16 clocking on the track from Melissa Courtney-Bryant at the Ostrava Golden Spike. She had a brilliant year on the Diamond League Circuit with the highlight a 3rd place over 1500m in Stockholm. On the roads the top 4 times were all set at the Podium 5k in March and August respectively. Bronwen Owen (Leeds City) ran a PB of 15.45, Charlotte Arter (Cardiff AAC) ran 15.53, Jenny Nesbitt (Cardiff AAC) ran 16.02 and Clara Evans (Cardiff AAC) ran 16.21. Late in 2020 Beth Kidger (Brighton Phoenix) ran 16.24 at Haywards Heath.

10km

Charlie Hulson (Liverpool Harriers) was the fastest Welshman over 10km in 2020 running 29.14 at Chichester in February. 2nd fastest was Paul Graham of Pontypridd Roadents with a breakthrough PB run of 29.38 at the Speedway 10k in January, his first time under 30 minutes. James Hunt (Cardiff AAC) ran a PB of 29.43 to win the Lisburn 10k. Vet 40 Andrew Davies (Stockport) was fourth fastest in 30.14 with Rowan Axe of Cardiff 5th in 30.16.  Lloyd Sheppard (Cardiff) running as an under 17 ran a fantastic 30.56 at the Speedway 10k in January. It must be frustrating for talented youngsters like Lloyd not to be able to race more regularly in 2020 and to build on early season performances.

The majority of the women’s top performances were run in early season 10km events before the pandemic took hold. Jenny Nesbitt (Cardiff) was the fastest with a superb 32.42 personal best in Valencia. United States based Rosie Edwards was joint second fastest with 33.30 at Mesa, Arizona with Bronwen Owen who ran a personal best of 33.30 at Partington. Fourth fastest was Cardiff AAC’s Clara Evans in 34.02 over in Lisburn whilst Anna Bracegirdle (Salford Harriers) was 5th in 35.11 at the Podium 10k in March. Under 17 Eden O’Dea of Deeside AAC ran a brilliant 36.36 in the Twin Piers 10k and we understand that this is the best time in the UK this year for an under 17.

Half Marathon

Kristian Jones of Swansea Harriers was the fastest Welshman over the half marathon distance running a PB of 63.05 when representing GB at the World Half Marathon Championships in Poland. Teammate Josh Griffiths also ran a PB of 63.08 in Larne, Ireland. Third fastest was veteran 40 Andrew Davies proving that age is no barrier running 65.51 in Siddington where Charlie Hulson also ran 65.52. Dewi Griffiths ran 65.53 at the early season Big Half in his return from injury.

Note Jake Smith represents England but RunBriatin has not been updated to reflect this.

On the women’s side Charlotte Arter was well clear in running a world class 70.00 at the Barcelona Half Marathon. Clara Evans had a brilliant run to score a personal best of 72.21 at the Antrim Coast Half Marathon which sealed her a GB vest at the World Half Marathon Championship in Poland. US based Emily Kearney (Wirrall) also ran 72.21 for a personal best in Hardeeville, SC. Also in America, Rosie Edwards ran a PB of 73.25 in Indianapolis. Meanwhile closer to home, Natasha Cockram of Micky Morris Racing Team ran a fine 75.27 at the Llanelli Half Marathon.

Marathon

Whilst marathons were few and far between in 2020 a few did manage to take place including a covid secure London Marathon where a number of top Welsh athletes competed.

Josh Griffiths ran a personal best of 2.13.11 to finish third in the British Championships at the London Marathon and to go 6th on the all-time Wales marathon rankings. This helped Josh win Welsh Athletics Male Athlete of the year. Charlie Hulson was the second fastest running a big personal best of 2.13.34 at the London Marathon to go 9th on the all time Wales marathon rankings. Vet 40 British marathon record holder Andrew Davies ran 2.17.12 at the Bedford Autodrome Marathon and in the same race v45 athlete Martin Green of North Wales RR had a superb race to secure a PB of 2.28.11 and to smash the 2.30 barrier.  V40 Jamie Vanstone of Pontypridd (Roadents) had a big PB of 2.38.48 at the Dorney Lake Marathon.

Only four welsh women completed a marathon in 2020 so we are going to give all of them a mention! Natasha Cockram had a fantastic run to win the British Championships at the London Marathon. She ran 2.33.19 in difficult conditions. She was disappointed to not push towards the Olympic qualifying mark but it was still a cracking run under the circumstances. Debby Saunders (V45) of Run4all Neath ran 3.16.50 at the Dorney Lake Marathon whilst Leigh James (V35) of Bridgend ran 3.24.52 out in Seville. Bethan Apglyn of Penarth & Dinas Runners ran a PB of 3.40.52 at the Running Grand Prix at Goodwood.

Hopefully in 2021 we will have a bit more to write about!

London Marathon Preview

On 4th of October 2020 the eyes of the world running community will be set on St James’s Park, London. The London Marathon will be celebrating its 40th edition albeit it will be a very different marathon with the event taking place without the championship, good for age and the masses. Due to the ongoing covid-19 restrictions the event will take the form of nineteen and a half laps around St James’ Park for a select elite field.

It’s the battle of the greatest marathon runners in the world that will draw the biggest attention. Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge is known for his ‘unofficial’ sub 2 marathon but his official PB stands at 2:01:39. He will finally be lining up against another running great in Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele who has a PB of 2:01:41. It will be intriguing to see whether there is any attempt at pushing towards the 2 hour barrier or whether it is a tactical affair.

The women’s race is equally stacked with marathon world record holder and last year’s winner Brigid Kosgei battling it out against 2019 world Marathon Champion and fellow Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich. They have personal bests of 2:14:04 and 2:17:08 respectively.

It is fantastic to see a strong domestic line-up in the race too including some of Wales’ best marathon runners. Perhaps we should be thanking Dan Nash for that! Listen to him speaking on the Marathon Talk podcast to learn why.

The ladies race commences very early at 7.15am and Natasha Cockram of Micky Morris Racing Team will be lining up. Former University of Tulsa athlete Natasha broke the 21 year old Welsh marathon record last year with a fantastic time of 2:30:49 to finish 5th at the Dublin Marathon. Natasha ran a half marathon PB of 75:25 at the start of the year in Llanelli shortly before lockdown. She spoke to Running Review Cymru following the race about her decision to relocate to Norfolk and concentrate on her running career.  We are very much looking forward to see her returning to racing and attempting to achieve the Olympic standard and reducing the Welsh record further. Welsh athlete Charlotte Arter will be pace making on the day.

Natasha Cockram – Photo Credit Paul Stillman

The men’s race kicks off at a more civil 10.15 and will include a number of Welsh athletes. It should be a great battle between Charlie Hulson of Liverpool  and Josh Griffiths of Swansea Harriers with only seconds separating their personal bests of 2:14:22 and 2:14:25 respectively. Charlie and Josh lie just outside the Welsh marathon all-time top 10 list:

Source – Power of 10

This will be Charlie’s first time in London and only his 2nd marathon attempt following his impressive 2:14:25 debut at Valencia last year. The New Balance athlete recently completed the Cheshire half marathon in 65:52 with his teammates as a final preparation for the marathon.

Swansea athlete Josh is in fine form having recently broken his half marathon PB at the Antrim Half Marathon in 63:08. The Welsh and GB international surprised the UK domestic scene at his debut Marathon in London back in 2017 after he started in the Championship race to go on to finish first Brit and 13th overall to gain automatic selection for the World Championships (also in London).

Josh Griffiths winning the 2019 Porthcawl 10k – Photo Credit Paul Stillman

Josh spoke to running Running Review Cymru recently about the marathon build up and the race itself:

‘Training has gone as well as it could have given the conditions. Having no track access hasn’t been easy but there are worse problems to have! Not having access to massage or any support like that hasn’t been an issue as I never have access to that anyway. I’ve managed to run my highest ever weekly and total mileage in the build-up this time, probably due to the lack of other races, so having that sort of focus all on one event has been good.

Racing will be a bit strange with no crowd but in terms of the elite race I don’t think it’ll be too different. Of course I love having 40,000 other runners there but the elite field always breaks away after about 400m anyway and after that it’s just small groups so I don’t think that will be too different. As for the laps, yeah that is obviously different to a normal London but it’s still 26.2 Miles.

Being a part of such a great field is a real honour, it’s part of the reason I train every day to get the chance to go up against these type of guys, I won’t see much of them after the gun goes off but it’s still a great experience. I’ll be more focused on my own race and trying to achieve my own goals’

Both Josh and Charlie appear to have prepared well and we are excited to see how they perform.

Another Welsh athlete lining up is Cardiff AAC’s long distance specialist Dan Nash. The current bronze medallist from the 50 KM 2019 World Championship finds himself on the start line after  contacting London Virgin Marathon on twitter asking them to consider adding himself and others to expand the domestic field. It’s great to see that London Marathon HQ thought it was a good idea and we hope that they get good coverage on the day.

Dan Nash at the Welsh Road Relays – Photo Credit Paul Stillman

Dan has a PB of 2:18:51 from Brighton last year but there are good signs that he will significantly lower this at London. The Cardiff Met PhD exercise physiology student has been using his scientific knowledge to assist his training as well as training in small loops of Bute Park, Cardiff to simulate the lapped race conditions at London.  Dan spoke to Running Review Cymru ahead of the event:

“With just a few days to go, the excitement is really building! I am one of those runners who loves to race, and I’ve really been missing that adrenaline-rush over the last few months. Having said that, the lockdown actually worked out quite well for me. I picked up an injury after setting a PB at The Big Half in March and couldn’t run for 7 weeks. Normally after an injury, I’m always in a rush to get fit for the next race. However, with all the races being wiped from the calendar, I really took my time to build my training back up. This seems to have paid dividends, as I have managed to put together a really consistent block of training and I’m feeling in the best shape of my life!

My overwhelming feeling going into the race is gratefulness. While so many other runners are continuing to have their races cancelled, I have somehow managed to fluke my way into the highest profile race in the world! Am I really going to be standing alongside the likes of Eliud Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele on the start line?! Whatever happens on the day, I’m sure I’ll have some amazing memories of what will be a very unique race.

Dan will feel at home as he is joined with his fellow Cardiff AAC teammate and England International Josh Lunn in the race itself whilst Matt Clowes and Jake Smith also of Cardiff AAC will be on pace making duties.  

Welsh marathon running is exceptionally strong at the moment with four guys running 2.14 marathons last year. One of these, Swansea Harriers’ Dewi Griffiths was originally scheduled to run London but unfortunately had to withdraw due to a niggle. Hopefully he will be back competing soon to try and push for Olympic qualification. V40 British Record holder Andrew Davies has decided to give London a miss to concentrate on mountain running. It would be great to see all of our great marathon runners together in one race. Wrexham Marathon 2021 perhaps?

We would like to wish them all good luck and we cannot wait to see how they all get on. If you wish to watch the races unfold there will be live BBC coverage.

Epic Welsh Runs – Porthmadog, Borth y Gest and Morfa Bychan coastal run

Starting Point: Circular route so you can start anywhere along the route (Porthmadog, Borth y Gest or Morfa Bychan).

Type: Circular

Length: Long loop – 10 miles; Medium Loop 6 miles;

Elevation Gain: Long loop 500 feet; Medium loop 430 feet;

Terrain: Road, trail, sand but road trainers should be sufficient.

Facilities on Route: Toilets in Porthmadog, Borth y Gest and Morfa Bychan (seasonal)

This is one of our all-time favourite running routes and one we try and complete every time we are up in Porthmadog visiting family. The long route is 10 miles and there is a medium route of 6 miles but really you could tweak your run quite easily to be shorter than 10 or 6 miles if you wish. The routes are a combination of quiet roads, trails along the amazing Wales Coast Path, about 2 miles along Black Rock Sands and some pavements alongside the A497 back to Porthmadog.

We start our run by the fire station in Porthmadog. If you want to you could park in the Leisure Centre car park which is nearby. From the fire station cross the road just after the roundabout and run down a single lane track with Bodawen Care Home on your left.

Credit – Google Street View

Continue running down this lane adjacent to the grounds of Ysgol Eifionydd and parallel to the Porthmadog Bypass. Turn right after about a mile when you see Clwb Chwaraeon Madog and continue along a quiet road past Porthmadog FC’s Y Traeth football ground and a level crossing. After about half a mile and as you come back into Porthmadog you will need to make a sharp left turn onto Cob Crwn, a walking route around the flood defence system of Porthmadog. Continue around the embankment until you come to Porthmadog High Street. Cross the street and run past the Ganolfan Centre on your right hand side and the harbour on your left hand side. Continue through the harbour area keeping the harbour to your left. Keep bearing left, past Madoc Yatch Club and continue for a few minutes passing numerous boat yards. At the end of this road you will need to bear right up a sharp climb that brings you into the stunning colourful seaside village of Borth y Gest.

Borth y Gest Beach: Credit – Running Review Cymru

After reaching Borth y Gest continue along the promenade and through the car park aiming for the coast.

Views across the Dwyryd Estuary towards Harlech – Credit Running Review Cymru

Once you are on the coast you will be able to follow the Wales Coast Path signs for a couple of miles. This follows narrow in places but well defined trails.

Trails between Borth y Gest and Morfa Bychan – Credit Geraint Evans

Once out of the woods take a second to admire the views across the Dwyryd Estuary with the mountains of Snowdonia in the background.

The Wales Coast Path signs should direct you from Borth y Gest to Morfa Bychan along well defined trails, passing a number of picturesque coves and Porthmadog Golf Club. This part of the run is probably the highlight with long range views towards Harlech across the estuary.

Known locally as 3rd beach – Credit Running Review Cymru

**If you want to cut the run into a 6 mile loop then turn right the first time you see the golf course and continue past the clubhouse of Porthmadog Golf Club. From here turn right and run on the pavement back to Porthmadog. It is quite undulating!**

Turn right to do the 6 mile loop. Continue along the coast for the 10 mile loop. Credit – Google

If you have followed the Wales Coast Path signs correctly then you will have come around the headland to arrive on Black Rock Beach, a 2 mile long golden beach which is a favourite among locals and visitors alike. You will need to run the whole length of this and it is normally quite firm although you may have to navigate a couple of rivers coming down into the sea along Black Rock sands but it’s all good fun!

2 miles of Black Rock Beach – Credit Geraint Evans

Continue running across the beach towards Criccieth Castle until you come to the furthest vehicle entrance onto the beach (yes vehicles are allowed onto the beach so please be careful as you run). Pass the portacabin and the toilets on your right and hand side and then make a left turn onto a single track road.

Come up from the beach and turn left before following the road around – Credit Google

This single track road is called Treflys and will connect you back with the A497 main road. It is a hilly but enjoyable section with nice views. It’s generally very quiet and peaceful but you may get the odd car using it as a rat run to the beach. Follow the road until you come to the A497. Once you reach the A497 then simply run along the pavement back to Porthmadog. It is about 2 miles and slightly downhill back to the town.

Food and drink facilities are aplenty in Porthmadog so don’t forget to check them out. Some of our favourites for a post run coffee include Siop Coffi TH, Siop Fawr Portmeirion Café and the Big Rock Café. If you want something a bit stronger then The Australia Pub run by local brewery Mws Piws / Purple Moose is a great pub that does good food.

Strava Link for 6 mile loop

Strava Link for 10 mile loop

Epic Welsh Runs – Wales Coastal Path (Cliff Hotel, Gwbert to Mwnt)

Cardigan Island from the Coastal Path

Starting Point: Entrance to the Cliff Hotel, Gwbert

Type: Out and back

Length: Just under 8 miles /12.8 km

Elevation Gain: 1135 ft / 345m (less if you don’t climb Foel y Mwnt)

Terrain: Trail with a small section on the road

Facilities on Route: Toilets and a beach shop in Mwnt

If you are lucky enough to be staying in the Cliff Hotel in Gwbert or anywhere else in the beautiful Gwbert or Cardigan and you enjoy running then this is a cracking little route with spectacular scenery that is not too difficult to navigate. An 8 mile out and back route along the Wales Coast Path in south Ceredigion, this is a spectacular route, mostly above sheer cliffs overlooking the blue waters of Ceredigion Bay. The route is very well defined and in the summer can be done with road trainers. We would imagine that trail shoes would be required during wetter seasons.

Start from the archway of the Cliff Hotel and turn left directly up quite a steep hill for about half a mile. This is probably the hardest part of the run so do persevere! Unfortunately you cannot run directly along the Wales Coast Path directly from Gwbert due to private land so a short (but hilly) detour is required. Once past the entrance to the Cardigan Island Coastal Farm Park take a left turn (its well signposted) to enter an agricultural field. The well signposted route continues around the edge of the field for around another half a mile before turning west down towards the coast.

Wales Coast Path – Gwbert to Mwnt

Once down adjacent to the cliffs the route is fairly flat with the exception of when the route has to go down and up around pretty sea coves. The trail is quite narrow but well defined and maintained and ideal for running. After about 3 miles from Gwbert the picturesque beach of Mwnt comes into view with Foel y Mwnt overlooking the golden beach.

Descend down into Mwnt – a chance to pick up some speed. You could turn terminate your run on the actual beach but we couldn’t resist passing the beach and climbing Foel y Mwnt (250 ft of climbing) where we had amazing 360 degrees. It looks much higher than it is, but it is steep and you end up walking most of it but it’s worth the effort when you get to the top.

Top of Foel y Mwnt looking back towards Cardigan Island

Also don’t miss the chance to see Eglwys y Grog (Holy Cross Church) a Grade I listed whitewashed stone church that has its origins back in the 13th century. Grade I listed buildings are described as exceptional, and usually of national, interest and there are less than 500 in Wales. Others include Cardiff Castle and Caernarfon Castle.

Eglwys y Grog (Holy Cross Church)

From Mwnt you simply retrace your steps back to Gwbert along the Wales Coast Path, finishing with a very nice downhill half a mile. If it’s a warm day continue your run into the Cliff Hotel grounds, down the side of the hotel, through the golf course and onto the clifftop. From here you can venture down into beautiful coves where it’s possible to enjoy a cool down in the sea!