Digested read: Silverdale School put on an inaugural 10k trail run on 14 May 2017. I went. It was fun. I went home with a pineapple!* Will go again next year. *Note, not everyone got a pineapple, but that’s OK because running in such a lovely setting is its own reward.
It always seems a good idea at the time, entering a trial run. To be honest, that’s how it starts. You see the innocuous looking poster for a local 10k at some vague and distant point in time. From the sanctuary of your sofa, you imagine the joy you will experience as you cavort through idyllic fields whilst breathing in the loveliness of the local countryside. I think it’s called positive visualisation. This leads you to believe you will romp round hardly breaking a sweat, before concluding this graceful10k trot out with a seemingly effortless sprint through a perfectly configured finish funnel. This finale flourish of your glorious finish, will be to a chorus of congratulatory screams from an assembly of awe-struck spectators, who will be crying with admiration at your achievement and tossing victory laurels at you in between shouting your name in adulation. You yourself will conclude your challenge with a self-deprecating wave of your hand to indicate ‘really, it was nothing‘ subtext ‘see me, super human, born to run‘. I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.
Truthfully, the actual experience of participating in the inaugural Silverdale Stampede wasn’t entirely in keeping with how I envisaged it from the sanctuary of my own sitting room some weeks earlier, but it was still well worth the effort of getting my weary carcass up and out on a Sunday morning. Hopefully it will be just the first Silverdale Stampede of many more, and next year, maybe you too dear reader will come join the fun. Find out for yourself whether or not ‘fun run’ is the ultimate oxymoron or a cast iron guarantee of grit, glory and gratification, and yes indeed running fun! Albeit susceptible to type one (genuinely fun at the time) and type two (only identifiable as fun retrospectively) variants, depending on your point of view. Do your own research people, don’t rely on what others tell you, thereby lies most of the misinformation in the world. FACT. But obviously, don’t take my word for it. Way too ironic.
So this was the first clue – a poster proclaiming the intention to cause a Stampede at a local school. There were some surprises in the initial publicity. Back in my day, schools didn’t particularly encourage stampedes, for example British Bulldog was banned early on in my school career for health and safety reasons – you can have one too many unconsious school pupils on a school playground apparently – though I’m proud to say at my junior school we continued to play it under the new branding of ‘sheep sheep come home’. Enterprising peers I had at the time. I don’t know if British Bulldog is still alive and kicking (literally and metaphorically) in playgrounds today, but it seems that the practise of chasing down a quarry in the name of sport at school is still alive and well. Feel for the teachers subjected here not only to the pressures of Ofsted inspections and sats but being pursued cross county by a manic mass. Still, whatever it takes to gather the necessary enthusiasm and momentum to get people along to the event I suppose. Perhaps students will be lured by the opportunity to hunt down their esteemed mentors. I expect that on catching them they’d want to thank them for all their educational labours on behalf of their teenage charges. For me, the push to commit to entering was more the strictly-off-the-record insider information that amongst the (many) spot prizes donated that might potentially be bestowed on participating runners, was a large quantity of gin. Also, at that point in time, more prizes than runners. Result! I might yet be truthfully able to claim having one something at a sports day! Where running is concerned, it really helps to think about what motivates you at an early stage in your training. The most elite of runners will tell you so. Check out the strap line for our very own local GB triathletes Les Brutelles for confirmation if you must, they proclaim ‘We swim a bit, bike a bit, run a bit and drink gin quite a lot‘. So fair enough to have them as role models whose lead we must follow. Surely? Totally legitimate part of a training plan, apparently. (But see note earlier, about always checking out primary resources in research for yourself)
So, I set about entering…. and found to my amazement that early entries required the inclusion of a cheque. It’s been a while since I’ve had to write out one of them. Not to worry, sourcing my cheque book in amongst the debris of my living space was a sort of cross training exercise all of its own. Much squatting and stretching into dark corners before it was located. The cheque was sent, and a couple of days later my email acknowledgement was duly received. I was in. So ever conscientious if not keen, that meant I was going to be running in this Silverdale Stampede, ready or not. Mostly not, but hey ho.
It has been ridiculously dry of late, so I was impressed that the Silverdale School PTA managed to organise quite a downpour overnight the day before to ensure the off-road trails would be appropriately bouncy and the vegetation newly washed and bursting out with fresh growth. On waking there was still some rain about, but it brightened up. In an unprecedented turn of events, my temperature testing ritual (arm out of an upstairs window) indicated it might get pretty hot out there. Today I would run in a T-shirt under my Smiley vest, I don’t think this has ever happened to me at an organised event before – I always wear a long-sleeved top. It offers more protection against inclement elements, allergy inducing under-growth and frankly is a more forgiving cut. I don’t reject it lightly. However, even I had to concede I’d probably collapse in the heat if I insisted on wearing it today. Well, I would if I was planning to wear a Smiley vest as well, and I couldn’t not wear that. Hence, a running first in my world anyway. I would bare my arms to the world in pursuit of glory at the Silverdale Stampede. Two inaugural events on one day! The planets must have aligned in some special debut inducing way.
I’d never actually been to Silverdale School before, or indeed any school for years and years, decades probably. I expect schools to smell of cabbage and carbolic soap, be fitted with huge noisy radiator pipes that will, according to oral history, give you extensive piles for life should you risk sitting on them even for a snatched instant. Toilets will have cracked sinks and corners heaped with tapeworm eggs amongst the dust of ages. Honestly, in ‘O’ level biology we were told that this was a common finding in the crevices of old school toilets with cracked tile floors.
I was quite taken aback then, to cruise into the car park of the school and be greeted by a grand spanking new building that was more reminiscent of a recently developed university campus than a traditional school. It was impressive, space age, pristine buildings towering upwards – but also somewhat intimidating. I parked over in a discrete corner (I was very early) and surveyed the coming and goings for a bit before plucking up courage to check out the registration system for the run.
Once it got to what seemed to me to be a critical mass of people in hi-vis and miscellaneous looking runners, I ventured out. It was a really efficient set up. There were two tables, one for pre-registered keenies (er hem) like me, and one for enter on the day, fair-weather running chancers. There was also a sea of marshals donned in epilepsy-inducing orange hi-viz, and a slightly manic looking organiser, but it would be rude to draw undue attention to that. I’m sure these event days are quite stressful enough as it is without my adding to the trauma with pointing and laughing in a less than supportive fashion just at the point of delivery…
I got my number 303. I found the symmetry of these digits most pleasing. Accelerate donated the race bibs, which I think you’ll agree was jolly sporting. I was also impressed by the number of entrants… until I found out that in fact the organisers had deliberately allocated the numbers quite randomly, to avoid people being deterred by the realisation that entry levels were quite low. It was a slow burn getting people to enter. I think partly the ‘cheque in the post’ system was a deterrent, and some people deliberately opted to pay on the day as it was ‘more money for the school coffers’ that way. A noble sentiment, but possibly a misguided one. They may have felt pushing the organisers to the point of nervous collapse as they had a growing fear there would be nowt by tumble weed to be seen on the course on the day was but a small price for someone else to pay in the circumstances. Next year though people, do the right thing, sign up early. Give the organisers the gift of sleep in the weeks coming up to The Big Day. Best start looking for your cheque book now though, to save time.
Number collected, the next great challenge was to collect other runners I knew, and in particular herd together fellow Smiley Paces members for the obligatory pre-event selfies. I found wood-runners, Monday Mobsters and Smiley Paces in abundance. Quite a few local running clubs also had a smattering of attendees, but it was a pretty mixed field, which is always good. I know I’m always going to be the ballast at the back, but I like to think I have a chance of staying in sight of the faster runners for a bit at least…
The next mission was to get an idea of the route. There was a map of sorts on display, but as usual I couldn’t really make sense of it. Enough to know that it was 10k, mostly off-road, involving country tracks, up through the Limb Valley woodland trails ‘undulating’ or ‘hilly’ depending on your current levels of fitness and optimism on setting out. I did romp round wearing my tomtom watch – more for adornment than extra speed, but it means I can upload a view of the route for you here. …. inevitably, I forgot to turn it on until we were already underway, but it gives you some idea of where we went. Also, on the plus side, it might make my finish time look less lamentable as well… Looking at the strava map afterwards it makes it seem quite a ‘bitty’ course, but in fact it flowed really well when running, I wasn’t aware of going round in pointless circles at the time, which is rather what it looks like with the dubious benefit of hindsight. Does anyone else think it looks like a bad Strava art kangaroo? No? Just me then.
So, basically how it went was this. Lots of vague milling around when people collected numbers, marshals set off excitedly to stand and point and clap where appropriate on the course. I don’t like to label people generally, but what can you do when choose to label themselves? One Smiley was right in the middle of a venn diagram where ‘smilies’ and ‘teachers from Silverdale school’ intersect. She therefore was tooled up with a ‘chase me’ sign. Schools do have to have their targets after all, even if they are not always entirely realistic. I am pleased to report that she took the precaution of heading off before the majority of the field, disappearing up the hill and out of sight, and from the pictures no doubt retaining that lead until the end! Go Smiley!
As she went on her way, the rest of us were shooed towards the start area. There was a tarpaulin on which you could leave your stuff, and a bit more milling about, during which time super-keen people did stretches and Jenny drills, whilst the more nonplussed of us blinked into the sun, focusing less on warm up and more on personal energy conservation.
Eventually, aided by a megaphone – always a boon at pre-race briefings – there was the official welcome to this auspicious inaugural event… and then came the health and safety warnings. The gist of the latter was beware below for roots and above for low hanging branches, and of each other, and other route users, and the sky falling in as well I think. Not that any of this mattered as we’d all signed away all and any liability at the outset anyway. Yay, that’s the thrill of the chase indeed. The other teachers to chase were hauled before the crowd for adulation and identification purposes, and sent on their way, the rest of us gathered ready to depart.
I was a bit perturbed by the presence of a beautifully marked out athletic track, but too late to pull out now. Please don’t make me run 10k in laps! Soon enough we were off and on our way. Not a huge field, but a perfectly formed one. Tail marker at the back, and then, set off to chase and overtake all of us, stealth Dark Peak super-runner, picking us off one by one as she made her way through to the front. Mostly, I got the view from the back, and why not, it was a very fine view, and anyway, I like to get my money’s worth on a race by spending as much time as possible out on the course, plus it’s good to be consistent. I believe I was, maintaining my position in the rankings throughout.
Shortly after our departure, the fun runners were sent on their way to do the 4km route, dragging panting parents in their wake. Some of the younger participants were also sporting local running club tops – who knew Dark Peak started them so young? Perhaps that explains some of the single-minded resolve of those fell runners you glimpse vanishing into the hill mists in these parts, as elusive as any mysterious mountain yeti. They are drawing on decades of self-discipline to keep them going on like the machines they are. I didn’t see the photos of the fun-run start until afterwards, but my, they looked at the take off as if this running malarkey was a serious endeavour indeed. Go them! Ooh – and I see a Smiley in the throng too. That’s grand! We get everywhere. Hallamshire Harriers too! A veritable rash of them. Well supported run I’d say!
Although the start makes it seem flat, in fact you immediately have to heave-ho up a hill, which wouldn’t matter quite so much if it weren’t for the fact that you are being waved off by the fun runners so have to keep running for fear of ridicule and shame if you do not. Friendly marshals did indeed line the way. Some were really communicative and encouraging, some young women early on (students I presume) were excellent ambassadors for the school with the claps, directional pointing and encouraging comments. Their male counterparts a bit further up the gravel track didn’t do too badly either. I do always try to thank marshals on every run I do, but sometimes I am able to communicate my breathless appreciation more eloquently than others. May I thank all you lovely marshals here at least. You were fab!
The route was well-marked, but the field spread out quickly. The overwhelming majority of runners pulled out of sight from me within minutes, I had a couple of runners in view for a while, but as soon as we got to twisty turny bits I couldn’t see them any more. A few runners behind me were soon out of earshot, so I did most of the run on my own. That was OK. There were interactions with other people out and about. There were two women on a bench early on who, seeing I was struggling a bit, stated emphatically ‘well, you can see we aren’t running anywhere!’ which I took as encouragement rather than rebuke as I hauled on past them with their cheery raucous (but benign) laughter still ringing in my ears. There were a few dog walkers, some other runners – which was confusing, as they were coming the other way.
The route went up and down, and in and out, and it was really, genuinely lovely. I did have a couple of nervous moments navigating, one early on as I romped down a footpath that terminated at the roads near to Whirlow Hall but a marshal did appear out of the woods in my peripheral vision and sent me on up limb valley. I’ve only ever run down that before, when it is a lovely bouncy woodland trail. It seemed a lot longer on the way up, running it in reverse, but it was scenic. I did nearly asphyxiate it is true, but that was only because I inadvertently swallowed a larger than I’d have liked insect of some sort which got caught in my throat. Earlier a smiley first aider had headed out clutching a first aid kit, but I reckoned I wouldn’t make it to that point on one breath, and seriously feared I’d have to flag down a walker at some point and somehow communicate to them that they needed to carry out an emergency tracheotomy with the tube from a biro. This sounds a bit alarming, but fortunately it is such a commonplace plot device on everything from Casualty to Doctors that I reckon most of us would happily have a bash at doing a DIY tracheotomy on someone else given the chance. Just imagine the bragging rights. I suppose it would have to be successful if you were to dine out on the story to be fair, but you aren’t going to get good at it if you don’t take up chances to practice are you? In the event my obstruction cleared itself, so I could spend the rest of the run not worrying about death by suffocation, but rather hating myself for inflicting death on some poor unwitting insect. Not compatible with my claim for vegetarian credentials. Dark thoughts can often come upon me when I run, but that’s OK, I get to work through them and replace them with jollier ones in due course. I think that’s quite common. Although now I write it down I have induced a wave of personal paranoia that no, it is only me on whom this tidal wave of negative thought has landed….
Up, up through the valley. Between you and me, I might have caved in and walked for some of the uphill bits, but I think you’ll find if you walk and no-one is there to see you, it doesn’t really count. Then, at exactly the point I most wished for it, there was a smiling marshal holding out plastic cups of water. I never carry water when I run, and it didn’t occur to me until I was under way that there might not be water stations on this route. It was only a small event after all. I was very glad of it at this point, and the excuse to get my breath back before heading off. I didn’t want to gulp down too much though, so just had a few sips before handing the cup back. Don’t want to litter these precious routes. As you emerge from the woods of Limb valley, there was a path to the left, almost doubling back on yourself, that I’ve never noticed before. You head off along this, over some wooden boards, and up and over a couple of styles and then you get to green, green meadows that were like something out of an award-winning costume drama set in the English countryside. Verdant fields of swaying grasses with gamboling lambs skipping about them in all their late-spring gorgeousness. Even better, I realised that I was in fact still in sight of other runners. Yay, no need to navigate, only blindly follow. The views were stunning. It might not have been the best running weather in that it was a bit hot, but my it was really gorgeous, and lovely to be introduced to a local route that I hadn’t discovered before. No particular reason, I suppose I’ve just got used to running the trials I usually run, and have become lazy about exploring new footpaths.
Joy on joy – another Smiley marshal ahead, also brandishing water and throwing out words of encouragement. Initially somewhat unnervingly even greeting me by name! Closer inspection revealed we’d met before at a Trust 10 Longshaw 10k some months ago, yay. Small world, Smiley solidarity goes a long way. Mind you, I genuinely believe all local runners will support other runners, but it’s human nature to have an extra soft spot for you own running club especially one as all round awesome as we Smilies. A group built as much around coffee and cake stops (sometimes prosecco and gin) as it is about social running rendezvous!
The woods were lovely, but pretty empty…
At one or two points there were photographers lurking. Mixed blessing. At one point in the empty woods, when I thought no-one was about I resorted to hopping for quite a way. It’s a great running drill as running is basically a one-legged sport, might as well give it a go whilst no-one is watching. Anyway, another Smiley was in situ, lurking ready to snap me in action. It may not be an entirely graceful sight, but hopping off-road for that sort of distance is harder than you think, especially when there are loads of tree roots to be negotiated.
There weren’t any km markers on the route, and my tomtom wasn’t set properly due to operator error. However, towards the end the route became a bit familiar again. Some fo this was because you do go back along partially the same tracks, and some of it is because it takes similar paths to the Dig Deep Whirlow 10k, which meant I wasn’t quite so caught out by the sneaky uphill towards the end. You emerge from the woods to a style where the route was confusing, do you go left across to the next style or down the hill? The path went in two directions. There was a marker but it had clearly fallen down and wasn’t pointing anywhere. I saw other runners ahead and decided to continue my sheep like following, it is a strategy that has served me well before. It was a good call. It really was nearly home now. A few twists and turns, but lots of marshals, and soon I was back in the playing fields and could see the finish.
The last bit is all down hill and a pleasing ‘weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee’ moment. Less pleasingly, everyone else was assembled round the little tent where the prize – giving was underway, so although the event wasn’t entirely done and dusted, there was no mistaking that I was definitely a comparatively late finisher. I could hear the announcements, and then the presiding official espied me and encouraged everyone to cheer me home! That was pretty cool. I may be shallow and misguided. In fact, I almost definitely am. However, rather than weep at the humiliation of my slow time, I chose to celebrate and embrace the shouts that helped speed me in. It is fun! My five seconds of fame. Even more pleasing, I had no sooner come through the finish, than my number was pulled out of the raffle for a spot prize! What?
Couldn’t have timed it better if it was scripted. I picked up the fastest turn of speed I’d managed all day and sprinted over to the tent to choose my prize. There was a ridiculous number of offerings, eye-popping choice. I went for the fruit and veg hamper, because that seems the sort of fell-race appropriate local produce option. Though I don’t think Waitrose necessarily grew the pineapple in the Sheffield area. Very fine hamper though. Yay!
Loads of us got prizes, and we managed to gather a few Smilies for a post race shot. Not sure why it looks like teacher Smiley has dropped her trousers especially for the photo, but I don’t suppose anyone will notice. There’s always one with exhibitionist tendencies though isn’t there?
The prize giving and raffle was speedily concluded, and then, right on cue, the wind picked up and icy rain started to fall. This brought about the rapid dispersal of most of the runners, whilst the many marshals huddled together for bodily warmth. All great team building I’m sure.
After a few more minutes, eventually the final finisher and back marker came into view. The timer rushed back out to put back up the funnel which had blown over in the sudden unexpected storm and those of us around got into position to cheer then home!
I’d rather ostentatiously left my hamper at the finish, as a sort of lure. I think she earned a hobgoblin legendary ruby beer at the finish as much as I did. Lucky there were two bottles, one each perfect. She wasn’t immediately effusive as to the degree of fun she’d had en route, but I’m sure the post run endorphins kicked in eventually!
For my part, home, and the next project was to work my way through as much of the produce as possible starting with the new potatoes (which I did cook first) and hobgoblin beer, which was actually pretty fine. Also, I think I have a similar profile. Perhaps it is my kindred wood-spirit finally found? So, since I’m here drinking from the sanctuary of my sofa once again, flushed with alcohol and a post run high, no harm in having a little surf to see what other runs are out ther is there… now let me see…
So there you have it. Inaugural Silverdale Stampede. Done. Only one person got lost, and they were found again so that’s fine and dandy. A grand morning out, and a fixture that I hope will run and run (see what I did there).
See you there next year? Hope so, ’til then, we have our memories… Didn’t we do well? Thank you Silverdale PTA for an excellent initiative, and the just the first of many more I hope.
Happy running y’all. 🙂