Diagnosed with arthritis at the age of two, Myfanwy from Wales has never let her chronic illness define who she is or what she can do. An active working mum of three, she has run three ultra-marathons, five marathons including three majors – London, New York and Chicago, and shows no sign of stopping! She has also inspired several women through her active leadership and involvement in the She Runs Cardiff Running Club which supports and encourages women runners and raises money for various charitable causes. I connected with Myf on social media a couple of years ago and was immediately drawn to her positivity, her raw honesty when sharing her challenges, and her grit and determination to get up and try again when things don’t work out. Myf attributes this ‘stubborn determination’ to her late father, who was registered blind but never let this stop him from doing what he wanted to. This is Myf’s story…
It’s fantastic to have you on the blog! First things first – when, how and why did you start running? I started running about 7 years ago after having my third child. It sort of happened by accident. I was taking my 2 boys to a dance class once a week on the other side of town. The lesson lasted an hour but it wasn’t worth coming home in the meantime. A few of the other mums who I was friends with were runners and instead of hanging around waiting, they would go for a run. After a few weeks of refusing (I was a determined non-runner!) I caved and went with them. After that first run, I think I was hooked.
Hooked indeed! Your first race was a Half which you hadn’t planned or trained for properly. What lessons did you get from this first race? I think the best lesson I got from that first race was that actually I could run pretty well, something I can attribute probably 75% to determination. Since I started high school, I’ve always kept myself reasonably fit, just not by running before. With the support of my friend Charlotte, I finished that race in a good time of 2h 18min, especially considering I’d never run more than 10km before. It made me wonder what I could do if I actually tried and trained properly. Six months later I ran a half in 1h 59min.
Wow. You’ve since run three ultra-trail marathons, five marathons and several Halves! Which race would you say was your best experience, and why? In terms of marathons, each one is such a learning experience and so my latest one, Chicago, was my best experience. 42km is not a distance you can just run and see what happens. Without careful pacing, the second half of the race can be pretty horrific! So, with each marathon I’ve done I think I’ve got a little better at pacing myself. Chicago is definitely the one I’ve enjoyed running the most and apart from the wonderful weather, great support and amazing atmosphere, my enjoyment is down to not feeling like I wanted to die in the last 10km!!
I have absolutely loved the 3 ultras I’ve run too, but it’s hard to compare to a marathon as it’s such a different experience. A road marathon requires an iron will to keep going. But running an ultra-trail is like a long day out with a rolling picnic. Mentally, an ultra is easier than a road marathon as you get natural breaks with the different terrain, and of course the food stops!
Again, looking back at past races, which race did you struggle the most? I struggled at some point in the first 4 marathons I ran, but I enjoyed all of them, nonetheless. London Marathon was my first. An overwhelmingly exciting race to run but also very difficult. It was the hottest London marathon on record after we had trained through one of the coldest winters of recent years in the UK. A month or so earlier the snow was so bad that Bath Half was cancelled altogether, then bang, the London Marathon happened, and it was 24 degrees Celsius (which feels much hotter in London when you’re running!). I ran a pretty decent first half in something like 2:15 then the second half took me 3:15! I cried when I finished – relief and disbelief at finishing my first marathon (I’d also been very sick a few weeks before).
Which race was the most emotional for you to run, and why? That’s a really hard question! I think London is the only race where I *actually* cried but I find all races emotional to some extent. It’s when you get to that point where the mental toughness has to take over. Are you going to give up or are you going to show yourself what you’re made of?
What has running taught you about yourself? It’s a cliche but it’s taught me I’m capable of many things, all I have to do is try. It’s given me self-confidence I didn’t know I had. As a pretty shy, introverted person I never could have imagined I would be Run Leading every week but the desire to share my knowledge and spread the pure joy of physical movement has overridden my default mode of blending into the background in this case. It’s brought a whole new, overwhelmingly supportive community to me. I can’t imagine what I would be doing if I didn’t run. Who knew that running could change your life?
You’ve previously shared details about your arthritis journey. Please briefly share how your diagnosis affects your daily life? When my arthritis is under control, I can almost forget I have it. The main thing is having to take my meds. It does limit certain movements and some of my joints do look a bit wonky. I favour one side so have to be mindful to try to stay balanced. The more tired I am the more lopsided I become! When it is not under control then I would classify myself as disabled. I struggle to walk far, am in constant pain day and night, and find it difficult to do everyday tasks that require strength in the hands or wrists such as opening a jar. The other issue that I do have to consider and remember is that my medication makes me immunocompromised. I am more susceptible to viruses and infection so must be careful.
What is the treatment for arthritis? There are many, many different treatments for arthritis. None of them will cure you. I take a combination of 6 daily tablets and twice weekly self-administered injections. My current combination has been working effectively for 20 months during which I’ve had no flares whatsoever. Long may it continue! In addition, I supplement with various supplements such as turmeric & glucosamine. Every little helps.
You’ve previously said that 2020 was the year you accepted your identify as an arthritic runner. What did you mean by this and how has this acceptance changed your approach to running, if at all? I think it’s about acknowledging my limitations but also ignoring them?! Yes, I have an auto-immune disease but it’s not going to stop me living my life as I want. There was a time I thought that I shouldn’t run at all as I had arthritis. Now I’m wondering just how far I could actually run. I got up to 40 miles (64km) this year…. Something which has helped me as a runner is adopting the 80/20 method. 80% of my runs are at a very low intensity with 20% being at high intensity. My body likes this, and it has allowed me to run many more miles this year than ever before. I’m hoping to pass 2,500km for the year in a week or two.
That’s just incredible mileage. Wow, well done! I’ve had a few down weeks this year where running has felt like the last thing I want to do. How do you motivate yourself to run on those difficult days? I think it is important to give yourself breaks. After a big run I try to give myself grace to have at least a week off. You can’t maintain 100% discipline 100% of the time – It’s impossible and counterproductive anyway. I’m a firm believer that if your motivation is low then maybe your body is telling you it needs a break, and you should take it. If you are mid-training and you really feel like you need to keep going but are struggling, then I think the best thing to do is try to bend and adapt. Don’t feel like getting up for a run in the morning? That’s fine, rest and go out at lunchtime instead. Make your training fit in with you. Adaptations like running my child to school whilst she scoots, running home from work, running for an extra 10 minutes before group run – all ways to get that training done without making it a big deal.
You’ve been incredibly active in the She Runs Cardiff Running Club. What inspired you and other women to start this club? We started the club because we didn’t feel like there was a club for us out there. We wanted a non-competitive space where women would feel comfortable to put their trainers on and take that first step out of the door. If you see others like you doing something, then you think ‘maybe I can do that too’. I would never have dreamed of joining a traditional running club. They feel too daunting, too focused on speed and PBs. She Runs: Cardiff is all about the joy of running. Celebrating what your body can do.
And I think it works. Testament to this is how many women have signed up to marathons and ultras in our club having never even considered that they could do it before. We now have over 2,000 women in our private Facebook group with probably 100 runners who join one of our runs regularly. The greatest thing has been watching some members absolutely blossom, to see their confidence grow with each run and achieve things they never thought possible.
As an honorary SRC member (thanks to you!) I’ve seen the camaraderie online and the amazing positivity. What message would you give to someone reading this who wants to start running but just doesn’t know how. I’m of the strong belief that ANYONE can run. It’s just a matter of confidence. Try not to even think about it too much. Go for a walk one day and just try it for a minute or two. Then walk for a bit and maybe try another little run. There’s no qualification or entry requirements to be a runner. All you have to do is move your legs a little bit faster than your walk. Hey presto, you are a runner! Another thing – don’t worry about what anyone thinks of you. Others’ opinions of you are none of your business!
Thank you Myf for sharing your story and for inspiring all of us to push past the barriers we sometimes set ourselves, and just get it done.