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Botanic Gardens running groups sprint to success

RUNNING around the National Botanic Gardens of Wales may not be for everyone, but the venue has become a mecca for people who love nothing more than to run. From mums and dads pushing buggies to gentle joggers and athletes in training, the gardens have been pounded by thousands of pairs of legs as the Welsh Athletics/Run Wales and head of marketing David Hardy have actively pursued the health benefits for runners in one of Carmarthenshire’s most glorious gardens.

Sharon Leech who works for Welsh Athletics/Run Wales told us about her involvement in enabling the running groups to make use of the gardens. She said:

“I visited the Garden of Wales about 18 months ago, to meet with David Hardy (Head of Marketing), to investigate the possibility of setting up a running group within the grounds. David was keen, as the Gardens welcome initiatives which bring in a ‘new type of customer’ and the hope (and indeed reality) was that these runners would then return to the Gardens with their families as paying customers.

“Initially we set up a Buggy Running Group in September of 2018. That group is very popular, meeting each Tuesday morning at 10.30am and parents and babies run around the paths of the Gardens, usually covering about 3 miles.

“I was also keen to have a trail running group. Most visitors to the Gardens tend to keep to the main paths and core areas, however there is a huge amount to discover beyond these paths. The Gardens do encourage people to go ‘off piste’, with mown paths through the monkey trees for example and guided walks taking people up past Waun Las Farm and beyond and also to the other side, through Fairy Wood. When I first ventured into the unknown (for me), I followed the orange route which was a magical route taking you past a waterfall and through gorgeous tree lined areas. We then had to delay a group, as the Gardens had secured Lottery funding to develop the lakes and the ‘orange’ route was closed to the public as they renovated bridges and paths to make way for these newly filled lakes.

Pics and video: Byron Williams Photography

“That work is now almost complete and David and his staff have allowed the trail group access to some of this area, until it formally opens to the public sometime in the Spring.”

Former manager of the St Elli Centre in Llanelli, Andrew Stephens is a keen runner and he has also been involved in the drive to get people running at the gardens. Speaking about Andrew’s role Sharon said:

Counting the miles, not sheep in retirement: Andrew Stephens

“It was initially quite difficult to find run leaders for the group as in fairness, it means that they are committed to a twice monthly Sunday morning 10.30am slot. However Sion Jones got in touch having seen a post on Twitter and I approached Andrew Stephens, as I knew him from another group which he helps to lead at Llanelli. They both agreed to give it a go and both have been so enthusiastic and have generated so much interest for this group, that when the three of us met for the first ‘dummy run’ of the group on January 5th, we were shocked to have over 20 runners come along, then yesterday Andrew and Sion were in charge of 30 runners. The group will formally launch on 16th February, I’ve no doubt that it will be popular.

Sharon told us that the team at the gardens have been wonderful. She said:

“In terms of the Gardens, they have been very generous in allowing runners to enter the Gardens free of charge. Runners are aware that this is to run only, but many stay after their run for a coffee and cake. This social element is key to many of the Run Wales groups and local cafes profit as a result, so it’s good for the community.

“David has also agreed to fund Run Leader courses for both the buggy and trail running groups, which is much appreciated.”

There are benefits to running in such a wonderful green space as Sharon explained: “Trail running is becoming very popular, research suggests that running where colours are blue (near water) or green (foliage) helps lift people’s mood and is a benefit to people’s mental health as well as their physical health. It’s also kinder on the joints than road running. The Gardens offer a lovely mix of terrain, gravel, grass, mud and hard surfaces and so is ideal.”

Parkruns have become increasingly popular and Sharon has managed to tap into that market. She said: “We’ve targeted the group at people who can run at least three miles on road already, so those who do a Parkrun for example, although pace is not important. These may well be new to trail, so they are given advice and can also email for more information. Trail running shoes are advised. Although we have run leaders in place, runners do participate at their own risk and they sign registration forms to ensure they understand this.”

Sharon concluded: “It’s very enjoyable, I think you’d agree that the photos do capture the fun.”

The National Botanic Garden of Wales – Trail Run from Byron Williams on Vimeo.

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