NEW Year is the time when, having had our fill of Christmas cheer, we think of self-improvement.
There is no simpler way to do this than running. It's free, is a great way to lose weight, burns more energy than many other forms of exercise and it gives you time out from the pressures of family life and work.
So if you're gingerly looking to do your first run, wanting to step up a gear or a runner looking for inspiration, here are some of the best routes to run in Gwent.
ALONG THE RIVER USK FROM CAERLEON TO NEWPORT
Even for city-dwellers there are plenty of chances to run through somewhere scenic.
The banks of the River Usk between Newport and Caerleon provide a great backdrop for a run no matter how experienced you are.
Using the route of Cycle Path 88, you start at the Hanbury pub in Caerleon, taking in a bit of history past the amphitheatre and then past the comprehensive school, along the railway line and River Usk before joining the old Pillmawr Road going into Malpas.
From there, it turns south and heads towards the city centre, emerging near the Sainsbury's superstore. Of course, you can start from the Sainsbury's end if you’re coming from Newport.
The route forms part of the course taken by Newport's half-marathon this year and it's not hard to see why this is so popular with runners, cyclists and walkers. Andrew Taylor of Caerleon Running club says it is one of the group's stand-by routes:
"It's predominantly flat and there are plenty of points of interest along the course, with wildlife and pleasant, ever-changing scenery along the way.
A regular features for the Caerleon club’s running nights, the route is around five miles one-way.
Further east there are plenty of scenic options for the runner wanting to blow the cobwebs off in the New Year.
And what better way to take in leafy Monmouthshire than a run along the Wye Valley starting at Tintern Abbey?
Niki Morgan of Chepstow Harriers running club calls this “quality” route the Tintern Trot.
She tells me the 10k (6 mile) route starts at Tintern Abbey car park then goes across the bridge and along a wide track for a couple of miles before turning leftwards towards the Shorncliffe.
“This rising path takes you underneath Shorncliffe crag, and then you take a sharp, steep rightwards path which you follow to the top and then turn left and head towards Brockweir, first on a gently undulating trail, then a steep, exciting, runnable descent. At Happa, you take a left back on a gently rising trail towards Tintern.”
CWMCARN FOREST DRIVE
Cwmcarn Forest Drive has become one of Gwent's top attractions and is famous for its mountain bike trails. But there's plenty for the runner here too.
Mike Heare of the Islwyn Running Club explains that it’s a favourite route for the club. He told me the seven-mile route from the toll-booth at the car park has some tricky climbs and runners should follow the tarmac signposted route for cars.
“It’s probably not a route for a beginner – although you can run and walk it if you wanted. The views at the top make it worthwhile – you can see over the Severn, the Millennium Stadium,” he added “and the last three miles are all downhill.”
When you've finished you can reward yourself in the cafe in Forest Drive visitor centre.
CANAL PATH - NEWPORT TO CWMBRAN
If you want to build up your stamina before tackling climbs, there are some routes, even in Gwent, where you'll be guaranteed a nice, flat run and these are along our many canal paths. The stretch of the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal linking Newport and Cwmbran has something to offer the beginner and the seasoned runner.
The route, starting near the bottom of Barrack Hill in Newport (if you begin in the city) takes you underneath the motorway at Malpas. Providing you take care not to follow the other branch of the canal towards Rogerstone, you'll soon leave the urban confines of Newport and be sharing your run with the ducks on the canal and the occasional cyclist as you go through Bettws and cross the boundary into Torfaen.
Around Pentre Lane you could turn back and make it a three-miler, or if you're feeling bold, you can do the full five-miles to Cwmbran. The route, clearly signposted as a national cycle route, is a delight, not only for the wildlife, but also for the glimpses of the past that enliven your run as you pass great lock gates and bridges.
TREDEGAR HOUSE PARK
The grandest location for a run in Gwent has to be through Tredegar House park. Its 90 acres of beautiful gardens and parkland provides an interesting, but not too difficult running route around the historic house. The organisers of Newport's Park Run chose it as their base - and every Saturday at 9am, 300 or so runners of all abilities take part in the timed 5km (3.1 mile run).
The Park Run route takes you from the front of the house, around the main lawns to the front and then around the lake. Two laps of this would give you your three miles and you can do this circuit yourself at any time when the park is open.
For runners in Torfaen, Park Run have also launched in Pontypool with a course around the town's park.
Further north, just outside Tredegar lies Parc Bryn Bach countryside park. The track around its lake is around 1.5 miles, making two laps a 5k or 3-mile course. This is another Gwent venue for the Park Run series, but the park also hosts numerous races throughout the year.
If you're starting from scratch or an improver, there's plenty of choice in Gwent for you. You can take up running on your own or if you want some support, there are running clubs across Gwent with runners of all abilities. The Park Runs too are a great way to get running and to do it the most pleasant surroundings.
I'll leave it to Andrew Taylor of Caerleon Running Club to give you a final few words of encouragement: "Running is an activity that people can start at their own pace and gradually build up to whatever level they aspire to. There's really no excuse for being a couch potato, just get out there and raise a sweat!"
Caerleon Running Club
Islwyn Running Club
Newport Park Run
Pontypool Park Run
Parc Bryn Bach