Silverdale Stampede – reimagining the school run

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)

bargain prices

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.

Silverdale stampede route

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!

dark peak starting young

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…

to the woods

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.

action shot LM

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!

Hamper of goodies (1)

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?

Smiley winners all ish

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.

seeking bodily warmth

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.  🙂

Categories: 10km, motivation, off road, race, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Terrific Run, Unexpectedly Nice Considering Everything. Trunce #3. Yay!

See what I’ve done there with a forced acronym?  Genius!

Digested read.  Today I finally made it back to The Trunce for the first time in 2017.  It still makes a splash, pretty busy but speaking as a slowbie that just made it all the more companionable.  Aren’t the Barnsley Harriers lovely.  (Rhetorical question, they are, one even took this group photo for us!)

Smiley smileys

Yay, back to The Trunce tonight. We do all know about this now right?  If you don’t basically it’s a super fun and friendly trail race with three river crossings.  It’s about a 3.7 mile romp cross-country. The same route is run nine times at approximately three-week intervals over the summer months.  Points are awarded in some mysterious way I’ve not bothered to find out about because I’m just enjoying it for what it is. Basically, you are trying to beat your own PB I think.  It’s £1.50 to enter, and the first time you do so you get given a number that is yours in perpetuity.  You are from henceforth forever part of the collective Legend that is The Trunce. This is a fine thing.  By turning up you also get to hobnob with fell-running celebrity Nicky Spinks, though if you are like me you will be too awe-struck to speak to her.  Actually, that’s not strictly true, I did tell her my number as I approached registration holding out my £1.50 carefully counted out in 20p pieces (and one 10p piece), and she said ‘I’ve already noted it, thank you‘.  Which is an interaction of sorts but hardly me bowing down in worship or asking if I could take a plaster cast mould of the tread of her fell shoes is it?  Both of those would seem more apt, albeit socially inappropriate, ways to behave in the circumstances.  Basically, celebrity spotting aside, you should come along and give it a go.  No really you should, it’s doable, challenging if you want to be challenged, but with a big enough field that even the slow and steadies, such as myself,  should not find themselves running alone.  Be prepared to get wet though, and if it’s been raining you will need trail shoes – though today the ground was so dry and hard it was like running on concrete, road shoes would have been fine.  Unless they were super posh ones you didn’t want to submerge in water.  If so you’d have had to hope someone gave you a piggy back over the river crossings, or risk losing time by taking your running shoes off before paddling across and heaving them back on again once you are safely over the other side.  Three times.  Not great for achieving PBs, but it’s up to you.

Oh, and if you actually want to know the Trunce route it’s here – and one of the most encouraging and entertaining descriptions I’ve seen of a run route.  Lots of useful info in there from handy manure pile landing hints, and warning newbies of the risk they take should they overtake queuing runners at one of the inevitable bottle necks.  The ire of fellow runners is not to be provoked lightly.  It’s worth noting though that the course description isn’t quite accurate for 2017.  This year the route is starting a bit further on the usual course, the other side of the bridge.  For me this is an improvement, it doesn’t make too much difference to the overall length (though it is a bit shorter) however, it does cut out that punishing hill start that for me at least was not the most auspicious beginning of a race to be honest.  Hardier folk may miss that opportunity to shine and gain competitive advantage by sprinting up the 45 degree gradient as effortlessly as if they were rocket-propelled.  Not something I have ever had to worry about being something less than a living deity myself.

Anyway, this was the third Trunce of 2017, but the first I’ve made it to this year. I’ve been putting it off due to being horribly unfit.  However, I’ve decided I’m only ever going to get fit by actually doing some running, and I always try harder when it’s an event of some sort.  It’s not that I’m competitive, it’s just that I gain support and motivation from running in a group, plus I don’t want to be the one to cave in and walk when everyone around me is still charging off at speed.  Embarrassingly, if I go running on my own I can easily drop back to a walk within the first kilometre, yet mysteriously I always run the entire 5k at parkrun, so I know I can do it, it’s just my default activity setting is inert.   What is it they say, running is as much in the mind as in the legs?  Something like that.  I mean the state of my legs, lungs and general decrepitude is undoubtedly a contributory factor to my running performance, but I do surprise myself by doing more than I think I can when caught up in the tide of other runners.  It seems that  I require peer pressure to gain momentum.  Having said that, I still can’t run the whole Trunce, not even close,  those hills are steep, but that’s OK, just hoiking my weary carcass up gets my eyes popping and lungs bursting out nicely.  It’s got to help my fitness if I keep on trying to move forward and through it.

Sooo, first stop Cheetah Buddy’s house where three of us Smiley Paces People assembled for a group outing to Oxspring.  It was a relatively speedy drive over, not too much traffic, though it was distinctly nippy on arrival.  I rushed over to pick up my laminated number (a fund raising innovation by an enterprising teen) and en route got jumped by the mischievous Sheffield region’s Runderwear Ambassador.  She literally shouted ‘boo’ or something equally imaginative, and I jumped out of my skin.  She was really chuffed, it was a great reaction, though she expressed some concern about the extent to which my pelvic floor held out under such stress.  It was fine, I mean, I was wearing my Runderwear so doesn’t matter if they get wet because you don’t get chafing anyway. Plus the adrenalin surge warmed me up nicely.  We were both winners, I got an instant warm up she got the best laugh of the night to date.  Result!

Here are some laminated numbers, in case you can’t work out what they might look like. Remember, a Trunce number is for life not just for Christmas, worth laminating and nurturing them then.

laminated labels

Also available were leaflets on Lymes disease and some local gala running event, I picked up neither.  Worth mentioning Lymes though, it being Lymes Disease Awareness month apparently.  Nasty and debilitating illness acquired through tick bites.  It’s not common, but one to be mindful of.  I tend to wear full length running bottoms anyway, partly because they are my only pair (don’t panic, I do have access to a washing machine) and partly because I like the protection on my legs as I get an allergic reaction if a blade of grass so much as touches any coquettishly exposed glimpse of ankle, let alone calf.  I shudder at the very thought of exposing even a millimetre more flesh than I need to in rural settings, and don’t get me started on what a meal of me mosquitoes and midges can make!  The great outdoors is all well and good, but there are some downsides too.  Despite my general precautionary principles,  I hadn’t really considered the risk of tick bites particularly before, but it is a real one in some areas.  Loads of runners sprint care free through long grass like they are undertaking a re-enactment of their own personal timotei ad – can you still get that?  They do so wearing little more than speedos or compression shorts (which we all know is basically like running in a thong after the first few metres) and so maybe we should think about it more.  Just saying.  Anyway, thanks to the person who noted on the Trunce Facebook page that they have Lymes, and in so doing reminded us all that it’s worth paying attention to.  This timotei model is really taking her life in her hands as exposed as she is in that meadow!

timotei

So leaflets missed, and laminated number collected, the next task was to join the queue for the loo.  Women can use both the women’s and men’s but actually there was a huge queue for both anyway. Still, managed to do the necessaries before going back to the car to dump our fleeces, and then heading up the hill towards the new start line.   There’s a big flat field for parking, and alongside it part of the space was being used for some youth coaching session.  It was pretty busy. To protect crops you are asked to keep to the paths, which people did I think, rightly so.

There is a reason why start has moved, but I’m not sure what – presumably to protect crops?   I think as The Trunce series has grown, the mass start risks trampling the grass on either side of the track as people endeavour to find a route through, starting higher up there’s possibly a bit more space?  In any event it was a pretty big gathering through the bridge.  From the ground, if you looked up you could see spectators on the top peering down on what must be a great aerial view of it all. As well as the adult runners, there was a big junior contingent milling around.  Thanks Paula Moffat from Strideout in anticipation of you letting me use your photo.

PM trunce start 8 5 2017

As this is not really my home patch, it was quite fun seeing loads of new running club vests. There were of course the familiar Strideout purple army; the yellow and gold of Steel City Striders and the occasional retro Dark Peak visible.  However, also huge contingents from Hallamshire Harriers and, not Easyjet as I first imagined, but Barnsley Harriers who got my vote for friendliest flash mob attendance of the night.

The start line was noisy and chaotic. There must have been a run briefing, but I couldn’t hear anything over the chit-chat.  I don’t think people were being deliberately ignorant, it was just impossible for the Race Director to attract enough attention to command silence. Because of this, I think a fair few people missed some of the directions about the correct route at certain points.  I certainly did, but was saved from a breach of course etiquette by my instinct to follow other runners coupled with being in sight of the better briefed Barnsley crew.  More of this later.

Some kind person took a video of us all charging past at the start of Trunce #3 2017, it takes a while. (Thanks Caroline Saunders).  It’s quite a lot is it not?  438 (including the juniors) according to the results, that’s an extraordinary turn out for a Monday night romp surely.

Shortly after the senior race heads of, the junior runners, who do a slightly shorter route, were set off behind us.  They came hurtling along whilst I was still making my way up the first track.   They then take a sharp right and do a loop round, coming back up the path the adults are still running out on.  Early on in the proceedings, I spotted a Trunce-number wearing adult walking back towards the start. Whether he was hurt, had missed the start or just abandoned the race because he wasn’t feeling the love I have no idea, but it wasn’t the most confidence imbuing of sights to be honest!  I was finding the path under foot incredibly hard on my arthritic feet, it had turned to concrete in the dry, and dust flying up filled my lungs.  This was feeling tough and I was barely 500 metres in.

There is a kissing gate on the first path, and there is no way to pass through this other than one at a time.  The sheer numbers of people means this created a significant bottle neck, with a queue stretching back a long, long way.  For some, this is a pleasing resting up point. You can have a chat with other runners and get your breath back before setting off again.  However, one person’s blessed relief is another person’s blooming irritation, so possibly some frustration amongst faster runners.  Around me people were good-natured.   Pointing out the field which had pigs in last time out, and enjoying the curiosity of the horses that had come across to peer at us in something resembling incredulity.  They didn’t seem at all perturbed by 400 people suddenly appearing alongside their field, rather treating us as some sort of habitat enrichment laid on by their owners, which to be fair, might well be what is behind the whole Trunce enterprise. Who knows?

It was a long wait, soon the front runners from the juniors race were storming back home and I was still queuing to get through the gate. This is even more complex running etiquette.  It seems only fair to give the juniors right of way as they are racing, but you have to let the odd senior nip through or we’d never have got back in daylight.  Some walking juniors responded to our cheers and picked up running again to whizz through the gate, others started to look a bit defeated and I think were quite glad to let a few seniors nip through whilst they tried to get their breath back.  It was all good-natured though.  Nice people off-road runners I think.  Unpredictable terrain is a great leveler, and fell running requires humour – specifically self-deprecating humour in bucket loads, no big egos in evidence here.

Once I finally got through the gate, the people just ahead of me Barnsley Harriers, opted to wait for some of their other club members behind so I had a brief section of running on my own.  It was a fairly steep downhill on a narrow track.  I’m not massively confident down hill so I wasn’t fast but I had a go.  At the bottom was the first river crossing, it was pretty shallow and solid under foot so quite fun splashing through. It makes me feel like a ‘proper’ off road runner.  Plus it cools your feet and it’s good to get your shoes full of water early on, as thereafter you stop faffing about trying to stay dry.  So I splish sploshed through with what was for me satisfying speed.  Then there was a little style, and I knew I was going the right way because the path was now sodden with what I like to think is just water spilling out of trainers as their wearers ran on, but on reflection it could have been blood-soaked as a consequence of the injuries of the fallen earlier on, I never checked.

Just over the little style, and then, perplexingly, I found myself chasing a guy in hi-viz wheeling a bike.  Hilariously, he sped up as he saw me, endeavouring to keep out of my way.  Honestly, I wasn’t really a contender in the catching up stakes, but I appreciated the thought.  I emerged from the narrow footpath onto a road and found the Runderwear ambassador in situ again. She seems to have perfected the art of the impromptu pop up. Whether she has done this purely to spook me, or whether from her perspective this is just a happy coincidence I honestly know not, but it was good to see her. She pointed me in the right way, and as I sped (eh hem) away, shouted after me to make sure I took the same turning coming back (worth being reminded, people have run on by before, and I nearly did myself the first time out).  Amazingly I found I was still in sight of the other runners after all.  Chasing them, I found that pretty soon the front runners of the senior race were charging homeward before I’d even got to the start of the proper uphill climb.  I tried to clap and cheer the first few, but there were too many, and it got a bit exhausting cheering them all, not to mention demoralising.  It was the inevitable consequence of earlier bottle neck. Tricky one, the only way to avoid this would be to position yourself right at the front, but if I did that I would impede faster runners. Also, in honesty, I quite like having a bit of a rest mid race (it’s why I like the Round Sheffield Run so much I think).  Upshot was, I rested up as I queued to pass through, but paid a price in terms of minutes passing.  I do wonder if the junior race could start a little later though, it would stop seniors having to give way to so many when we are just heading out.  Having said that, I fully appreciate the Trunce organisers have been doing this a while, and probably have come up with what is the least worst option.  There’s little you can do with narrow paths and a mass running event, just have to embrace it for what it is.

After a brief road stint, you have what seems to be a sheer drop off the path to the right.  It is a signed footpath, but honestly it felt like jumping off the edge of the world.  Maybe the flat earth society have a point.  Immediately after this there was a little bridge.  I scampered over, only to find at the other side was a guy holding a massive tree trunk over his shoulder waiting for me to pass. That was very sporting of him, I wondered if he really should have had right of way, but perhaps he recognised he’s used to carrying logs and makes it look easy and effortless whereas look at me running and ‘effortless’ is possibly not the first adjective that comes to mind.  The question ‘why?’ being altogether more likely.

What follows is a BIG hill.  It is seriously steep.  I didn’t run up it.  I had a sort of half-hearted jog early on, but quickly abandoned the attempt.  I was puffing enough just power walking.  I make no apology for this.   After all, walking is the way to go apparently. Only today, I read about Evan Dunfee who walked a whole marathon in 3.10.35.  That’s pretty respectable I think.  Gives walking at ‘runs’ a whole new legitimacy.  I kept going as best I good, periodically offering other runners the chance to sprint on by should they wish to do so.  None did.  I think all of us at this point in the field were not-so-secretly grateful for the excuse of being slowed by ‘runners’ walking at this point.  Plenty of people do run the whole thing though.  Here are some downhill runners courtesy of Neil Smith.  Go them.

At some point I somehow found myself running alone again, having been overtaken by stronger participants and pulled ahead of the few that were slower than me.  I decided to at least try to keep in sight of a group of very lovely Barnsley Harrier runners.  They were  resplendent in their orange tops like a burst open Terry’s Chocolate Orange where the segments were constantly trying to regroup into a whole as if pulled by an invisible magnetic force. They were supportive to each other and later on to me too.  There was one particular point across a fairly open field where the stone path went ahead to a gate, but there was also a trampled diagonal grass path to another point, ending up at a cattle grid. I seem to remember going down the short cut last year, but the Barnsley Harriers were shouting out to each other that the correct route was to the main gate, so I followed them.  Speeding up to get in calling distance of them (seems I can put on a spurt when I want to) as I know that I found the route confusing at other points too last year).   I mentioned I was glad to be following them as I wasn’t sure of the route.  It’s not that it’s complicated, but nor is it obvious.  Even though I have run it before, it seemed unfamiliar.  Not sure if that’s because maybe I did take a wrong route last time (I think I may have done through the wood bit, it seemed much more straightforward today) or if it is because I ran my first two Trunce races through a mist of blood and tears.  Both are possible, probable even.  Anyway, subsequently they kept a friendly eye on me, gesturing which way to go if it wasn’t obvious.

For the next stream crossing, after you’ve ducked down through some woodland (I’m sure it was a different and more direct route to the one I did at the last trunce of 2016) it was really deep. My Barnsley Harrier friends went in first forming a human chain. Great team work. I was only a bit behind, but it was helpful to get some warning of how deep it was, I know I’ve only got little legs, but it was way over my legs and ice-cold.  The Trunce can offer up an arctic enema quite as effective as any Tough Mudder methinks, and for a fraction of the cost.  It was weirdly quite nice.  Like a race horse enjoying having its tendons hosed, the plunge of cold really helps your legs.  I couldn’t run through though, not that it was slippery, but the depth of the water made it impossible.  I was surprised it was so deep, it’s not like there’s been any rain or anything.  Weird, could even hear it sounding like a raging torrent as you approached, I don’t remember there being a waterfall en route before…

I didn’t see any photographers out and about this time (often there are some) so here is one of a previous Trunce splash through, to give you the general idea of the river crossings along the way …  Trunce #1 2017 I think.  Thanks to Steve Frith of Mossienet for turning out and taking these at numerous events, in exchange for donations Those Dark Peak Running Vests are badly designed in terms of avoiding nipple chafing by the way.  If you havent yet joined a running club and are thinking of doing so, I do urge you to check out the design of the vest you may be required to run in.  Wish I had.  I love Smiley Paces I really do, but we have the most unflattering top in the world  It’s fine if you have an ‘athletic’ physique, but it does me and my assets no favours at all.  Oh well.  I’m not including a photo of me in that.

Dom Trunce 1.jpg

On the one hand, I’m a bit disappointed that I have yet to get a proper action shot of me at a river crossing, but on the other it’s probably a blessing.  It would take considerable artistic licence and photo shop skills to make me look like I was doing a graceful skip through clear babbling brook waters.  I think the reality would be more like a dumpling wearing the aforementioned deeply unflattering  Smiley vest belly flopping into a deep fat frier.  Lots of splash back, due to the impact of dropping a heavy solid object from height into a liquid but not an altogether elegant sight.

So, second river crossing successfully negotiated, and my lovely Barnsley Harrier friends looked back to check I was OK before heading off up the next hill a bit in front of me.  It was a bit of a haul, and my legs were wobbly by now.  Through narrow gates, over styles, past some more interested looking equines in a stable this time and eventually you emerge back onto the road.  My trail shoes were a bit sticky for this, and that slowed me down, but the road was pretty, lovely views, and I was enjoying the scenery.  I had runners both ahead and behind.  There was one solitary car, with a terrified looking learner driver crawling along, seemingly in constant terror that a runner might suddenly jump on the bonnet of their car.  One random pedestrian passed me coming the other way, and made some sort of generic kindly remark.  ‘Well done‘ or something, which was encouraging and supportive.  It was genuinely lovely being out.  Cattle grazing in fields, pretty little houses with trees laden with blossom outside.  Spring lambs, picture postcard stuff.

This final third has a longish road section, but it’s very flat.  I could see the moving orangery ahead of me, and slightly behind me was a companionable guy in blue. I think he may have been a Penistone Footpath Runners and Athletic Club person, they were well represented too, I suppose it’s their patch.  They have a reputation for being super friendly, and if my deduction skills are correct, that was my experience too.   Anyway, when we got to the bit where you turn off the road down the easy-to-miss narrow footpath, which takes you back across the first stream, the orange army waved to check I knew to take it, and I did the same for the runner behind.  For those of you who think this is over-cautious, I heard later that in fact four runners did overshoot on a previous Trunce, I believe they are still running now.  Shame.

After the splash through, more upward and onwards, clambering up the slope you run down as you set out.  I was seriously flagging. There may have been more walking than running at this point, but I told myself I was saving myself for the flat path which we’d eventually return to. When I reached it I did begrudgingly put on a bit of a jog.  However, I was re-energised by the site of another labeled Trunce runner apparently heading back out.  At least I’m pretty confident it was her going the wrong way not me.  What was she doing?  Sweeping?  Going round again just because?  I have no idea, I was just glad we were heading for the downward hill.  Me and my following friend exchanged exclamations of incredulity.  She looked fresh as anything – surely not a late starter…!

The woman ahead of me seemed to be limping a bit, and I made a mental note to check she was OK when I caught up.  I never caught up.  Not that badly hurt then.  Or maybe that is her running style?  No idea, it’s hard to maintain grace and elegance on trails, but it’s a lot easier to smile, especially for the downhill final weeeeeeeeeeeeeee bit down to the finish funnel.  Now that finish is fun.  No sneaky uphill to the end, which happens way too often at events for my liking!  Instead, a wide open finish funnel, flanked by my Smiley Buddies, who’d been back for ages, and other people looking out for their returning club members. All very social.

Flushed with endorphins, I set about hugging everyone in reach, or even in sight. Took a while. Was that inappropriate? Don’t care really, felt OK at the time.  Anyway, I’d made new friends, shame not to capitalise on that.  There was the guy hot on my  heels just behind me for starters, as well as my lovely new Barnsley Harrier friends who were fabulous ambassadors not just for their club, but the human race too.  There is hope in the world people, remember that.  I can’t find any Trunce photos of this running club, so I’ve nicked this group shot from their Facebook page so you can appreciate them in all their orange glory. Distinctive kit that, give them a cheer if you see them out and about.

colourful harriers june 2016

Reunited with my Smiley Buddies we embarked on an immediate post race de-brief as we removed shoes and socks and then realised it was absolutely freezing. Top Tip, do take a change of socks and shoes for the journey home and a fleece too.  It’s way colder than seems possible at the end.

As we compared tales, it became apparent that of we Smiley trio one of us had gone down the diagonal grass track (WRONG) only to be faced by barbed wire.   Another of us had heard that we were directed not to at the pre-race briefing, and obediently followed the required route, and me, Smiley three, I was fine because of having no personal initiative and just sticking with following the BH crew at a respectful distance.  It was their lead rather than my navigational choices that kept me on track.   Wayward Smiley who took a detour regaled us with tales of watching others ahead of her appearing to fall into spontaneous combat rolls ahead of her.  She thought they’d added in some sort of random physical challenge just to make it all a bit more interesting.  Little realising as she blindly followed that she’d end up having to do her own forward/combat roll under or over barbed wire as she got to the same point.  Actually, was it combat rolls or commando rolls?  I get confused.  It’s not like gym class at school, there is no pre-race knickers inspection.  Nobody checks you are wearing standard issue navy blue passion killer pants before you are allowed to take part, so you can’t honestly tell who was going commando and who wasn’t.  Personally I don’t have to go commando, because I wear Runderwear. In actual fact, my current pants had their debut outing at The Trunce, and I was wearing them again today.  Yay.  I forgot to tell the Runderwear ambassador this.  She will be thrilled when she finds out.  It was her persuasive skills that encouraged me to buy them in the first place, hence she is now always known to me as the Runderwear Ambassador, a title of which I like to think she is rightly proud.  Then again, I carry many delusional thoughts with me as I move through life, this may yet be just another one of those…

Anyway, bottom line (no pun intended) is that we’d all had a grand old time.  Going to take part in The Trunce on a Monday evening is like having a cheeky mini-break, it really is.  It’s good fun and is a great distraction from whatever might be getting your proverbial goat elsewhere in life.

Even better, the joy of the event extends beyond its finish.  On return home, you can extend the pleasure of the Trunce experience by stalking local running club Facebook pages and indeed The Trunce Facebook page as well for accounts of thrills and spills that took place on the night.  ‘Thanks to those lovely runners who helped me after I did my faceplant in the stream/ fell and broke my nose/ got cornered by a cow/ stuck on a fence/ went the wrong way‘ you get the idea…  If you are lucky, there are photos too.  Not so many tonight, but hey ho, we have our memories, and we have next time out.  Yay.  Hit those trails.  Go on, you know you want to!

So, conclusion. The Trunce is fun.  Glad I went.  Will go again.

🙂

For all my Trunce related posts see here and scroll down.

Categories: off road, race, running clubs | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Cease your slumber – get to Clumber! Clumber park parkrun tourists up and at it!

Digested read:  lots of inspirational running stories doing the rounds today, so great to spend the morning at parkun. New venue Clumber park, home of celebrity triathlete Bailey, glory by association. Friendly run, great coffee. What’s not to like?  🙂

I might have stolen that rallying cry from the Clumber park parkrun Run Director to be honest.  But, couple of points:  Firstly, I wasn’t the only one giving him grief during his pre-run briefing, and secondly, I think you’ll find that it isn’t plaigerism if you properly reference your sources.  Oh no, it becomes ‘modeling’ and helpful triangulation of primary sources, probably so that’s all fine.  Don’t worry about the ethics of this post on that account.  Feel free to fret about the post contents on many other areas of dubiousness if you so wish.  But on that particular point, I’m most definitely in the clear….

So, to business.  It being Saturday, it is parkrun day, obviously, but I felt in need of a bit of parkrun tourism today.  Much as I love and feel loyal to my usual Sheffield haunts, it’s good to ring the changes from time to time. And besides, keep this up, and one day there may be a cow cowl in it.  Plus, entry through those elusive wrought iron park gates into the UK parkrun tourists group.  I can but dream.  In search of a new venue, I settled on Clumber Park.  I was hopeful of a scenic route, maybe some woodland tracks, and it’s far enough away to constitute a pleasing ‘day out’ but near enough not to be a bit too extreme for an early start.  Bearing in mind that I do like to be paranoiacly early to things, especially parkrun.  Plus, free parking apparently (always a boon) and toilets for my precautionary pee.  What’s not to like?  Oh, and it’s a National Trust property, so high hopes for post run refreshment opportunities.  Also, bluebells in season, and you know what?   There were!

bluebells

So my day actually began with watching somewhat erratic live streaming of the much-hyped  sub 2 hour marathon attempt. I only watched the last ten minutes or so (I’m not that committed/stupid as to get up at 4.45 a.m. or whatever it was).  But it turned out to be surprisingly compulsive viewing.  However passing your interest in running in general and marathon running in particular, you’ve got to respect the nigh on superhuman effort that went into that.  Not just the running very fast for a very long time part, but the maintaining elegance in running form and coping with having a camera trained on your running face in high-definition colour for the duration.  No way would I subject myself to that.  Though I suppose on reflection, the fear of that image being on display somewhere for the duration of my time in motion would probably speed me up quite a bit.  The other point of interest, is that it seems – somewhat surprisingly –  that I do in fact have much in common with the last man standing.  Or more accurately running.   Because, even though I know parkrun is a run not a race, and it doesn’t matter what speed you travel those parkrun paths at, in my heart I too would have been very disappointed not to get a sub 2 hour run at my parkrun effort  today. Really, the only discernible difference between me and Kipchoge is that I achieved my time goal, but he alas missed his. Still, he did jolly well though.  Really he did.

Kipchoge

Seeing an inspirational runner first thing in the morning did put a spring in my step.  I do get motivation from seeing what limits other runners will push themselves too.  It makes me work a bit harder, and today seemed full of inspirational runners stories.  The news as also full of Mr Gorilla  AKA Tom Harrison who has raised nearly £50,000 for gorilla conservation by crawling around the 26.2-mile London Marathon course in costume over six and a half days.  Not my chosen way to move forward, but you have to admire the tenacity of that progress.   I find it hard to stand upright again after bending down to tie my shoelaces, his back must be either honed to steel or completely broken.  I fear the latter.

gorilla man

And if that wasnt inspiration enough, arrival at Clumber park brought me into the same space as another inspirational runner and celebrity triathlete in these parts.  The amazing Bailey Matthews.  I had quite forgotten this is his home parkrun, but more of that later.  The point is, that if you, like me, sometimes find your enthusiasm for running flagging, take heart, courage and inspiration from all those amazing athletes out there.  Be they Kathrine Switzer – not only first woman to run Boston marathon, despite officious man trying to drag her off the course, but also running it again, fifty years later!  Local hero Corin Leach, Fastest marathon dressed in a Ghillie suit (female): 3:58.57 (2016); the woman in this year’s marathon who attempted to break a record for the fastest tree.  (Didn’t quite make the record, but not the point, nor did Kipchoge) or Mary Keitany of Kenya who broke Paula Radcliffe’s women’s-only world record to win the London Marathon in two hours 17 minutes one second, the second-fastest time in history.  That’s really, really fast.  Or how about, Mahsa Torabi and other women, still making history by running at all in contexts where women are not supposed to be visible.  Running might feel hard, but at least we can take for granted our right to do so.  Time to get up, get out, and get running.  Yay!

So, upshot, out and at it. I drove to a friend, who drove us to Clumber park.  We were a bit confused about where to go. Turns out the park is pretty big, with multiple potential entrances and parking point. We just headed to the visitors centre, which was in fact fine, and easy to get to, with a massive car park where the main problem was which space to choose of many at that hour in the morning.  Shortly after we arrived, a couple of high vis parking attendants arrived, so I ambled across to check out whether we were in the right place, and whether or not we had to pay. Basically, I grilled them with parkrun related questions until I’d established that we were indeed in the right place, and we didn’t have to pay – as long as you display a spare barcode somewhere prominently (or are a NT member). Good to know.

Just as I turned on my heels and walked away, another potential parkrunner turned up with an identical set of questions.  I heard a brief exchange: ‘are you wanting parkrun?’  enquired the helpful parking attendant, to which the upbeat and direct response was ‘it’s not a question of want, I need to be here, because I’m fat.‘  We all have our own running motivations it is true.

So after a bit of sitting in the car, and sellotaping the barcode to the dashboard, we ventured out in search of the start.  We headed off, basically following a couple of runners ahead who looked like they were parkrunners. Soon there was another two people in our collective wake who’d made the same location finding calculation.  That is, follow others in trainers who look like they know what they are doing… However, as we seemed to be led ever further from the signs to ‘The Burrow’ me and my running buddy eventually bailed, leaving the two behind us in a state of confused indecision. For those who come after us, just follow the signs to ‘The Burrow’ not the speed merchants who are running a quick lap of the route in reverse as their parkrun warm up. Well you could follow them I suppose, but do so at your own risk.  Turns out bailing was a good move, we found our way to the cricket pitch instead, and almost stumbled across an unexpectedly huge gathering.

As we headed up the not-too-steep hill to the start area, we found ourselves at an already big, but ever-growing assembly. There is a cricket club there (which was having an open day), lots more parking (though I don’t know quite how you find it) and an extraordinary number of runners and hi-vis heroes.  I hadn’t expected this particular parkrun to be so big, I don’t know why. It was very well attended, with 334 runners this week.  As we arrived, the volunteers were in a circle formation, from afar, it looked like they were engaged in some pre-run initiation or building up to some sort of Maori haka inspired posture dance. I really hope they were.  Though if they did, I missed it, probably due to having temporarily disappeared in order to avail myself of the facilities.

volunteer haka

We managed to nab someone to take our ‘proof of presence’ obligatory team shot, though I concede it could have been taken practically anywhere.  Good to see we have mirror image people on our shoulders.  We are working towards doing a complete Zaphod Beeblebrox at some point, but I think there is still some way to go, you get the idea though.

There were indeed brick-built loos, (no need for brick s**t house puns though) and some handy parkrun innovations that may or may not be unique to Clumber park parkrun.  Like a special trolley for the safe keeping of personal paraphernalia; a Bailey Board (outlining his latest achievements); a map of the route.  All sorts.

There was an absolute first-timers briefing, and then a more generic run briefing, which was a hoot.  In my opinion it was improved by heckling of the incumbent Run Director, by the young pretender, celebrity triathlete Bailey, who had taken on the role of Run Director last week it seems.   Not content with melting hearts and defying expectations, turns out he is also a dab hand at the pre-race briefing.   The usual RD put on a good show of not minding, but clearly he’s going to have to up his game to hold onto that position.  It was less a master class in managing heckling, and more like watching an impromptu double act in the making, whilst being a little unsure who was going to be the ultimate fall guy…   There was even audience participation ‘Have you got your barcodes?‘ the RD shouted out ‘yes!’ we chorused in crazed union; ‘Will you go through the finish tunnel just once?’ ‘Yes!‘ we screamed back delightedly. I was going to call it a  ‘runner centred’ delivery, but on reflection, maybe I was experiencing the early stages of being groomed in preparation for signing up to some sort of cult of personality (I’ve already crossed over into the benign cult that is parkrun I know).  It felt inclusive rather than scary though.  I wonder if that is how these things always start?

first timers briefing

The route was run through (two laps); tourists were welcomed (Whitley Bay parkrun rather trumped our Sheffield offering).  We were reminded to be respectful of other users, though personally I never came across any cyclists, horse riders or indeed the promised naked rambler.  Maybe I misunderstood the descriptions and just didn’t recognise them as they appeared?  After these cheery formalities, we all turned around and started a migration to the start.  I was a bit confused about which direction we’d be facing, so had a brief panic I’d inadvertently find myself in the front of the pack, but that didn’t happen. I joined the mass moving to the start, which was a little round the corner from where the briefing as held, and then, soon enough (though a bit later than 9.00) we were all awf.

For those of you who like to properly know the route, the Clumber park parkrun course is described on the Clumber park parkrun page thus:

Our route is clockwise and starts and finishes close to the Burrows café.
Runners head east into woodland, then turn right following a downhill path, turning right again onto the lake shore path. You then run back towards the main carpark and turn right before the cycle hire point towards the start / finish area.
Remember it’s two laps

This doesn’t help much. It doesn’t convey that it’s quite a lovely route. The paths were mainly hardcore, with just one short bit of springy forest track.  Road shoes would have been fine, I wore my hybrid trail ones.  You run past mature trees, see bluebells, green meadows and at one point have  a great view of an artificial lake that appeared seemingly out of nowhere.  There aren’t that many marshals going round, but those that were, were very encouraging, and clapped a lot.

I’m a slow and steady runner, but even so, with a much bigger than expected turn out, I did get a bit boxed in at the start, which didn’t bother me, but faster runners probably do need to position themselves a bit further forward.  There were also lots of children around me, that rushed about like ball bearings scattered across a dodgems’ rink.  That is, somewhat speedy and erratic.  Kept me on my toes.  Incidentally, have I ever told you the story of my childhood friend’s most mortifying day on earth ever?  It was when she accidentally spilled the entire contents of a tampon packet out of her pocket whilst on the dodgems during a teenage group outing to a local fair. As they spun off in all directions she wanted nothing more than to die.  It became the stuff of legends.  Try it and find out why for yourselves.  It’s worth it.

I digress, off we went. One parkrun walker was carrying the tiniest baby imaginable, start ’em young indeed.  It was great to see!  It took a while for the field to open up, and I uncharacteristically even started to overtake a few runners ahead of me, although the novelty of that wore off disappointingly fast.   I was having a few unexpected twinges when running.  My regular reader knows I have a lot of problems with foot pain from arthritis, but today I think it was due rather to a change in gait.  I was running in some new Hoka One challenger shoes.  They have fantastic cushioning, and for the first time in years I’m allowing my toes to take the running force, and even risk bending them a bit, rather than crabbing onto the side of my feet which is what I tend to do instinctively to avoid that and to minimise pain. Ultimately, I think this will be a good thing.  However, it has shifted how I run, and I was getting some strange tugs as I moved my feet and legs in unfamiliar ways.  I am used to running in pain, but not these random ‘stop!’ signals that felt like nerves being trapped and released as I mobilised my foot in new ways.  It’s only their second time out, I probably need to get used to them.  I like them, but they require adjustment.  I still could really do with some running shoes with a really big toe box though.  I have yet to find some that properly accommodate me and my disproportionate plates.  Basically I need clown shoes, but with lots of cushioning and decent grip for off-road. Any ideas of where I can source them, please do let me know…  As of now, my quest for the perfect shoe continues, though I do rate the hokas a lot.  They feel bouncy, but in a good way, not in a ‘this bra isn’t working as I hoped‘ way.

 

A contributory factor might also be that I’ve finally made it back to the Accelerate Woodrun sessions.  (Every thursday in Ecclesall Woods – I’ve not been in months due to working away) upshot is I was trying really hard with my form.  I know that sentence will cause those who know me to spit out their tea in disbelief, as I’m not known for paying attention to my running technique, but dear reader, it is true.  I was concentrating on pushing off, and not over-striding, with the inevitable consequence of starting to over think things to the point that I couldn’t sustain it, and rapidly started falling over my own feet, and getting my leg and arm swings out of rhythm to boot.  It becomes alien.  I have started volunteering at junior parkrun recently. The way those children run, effortlessly, and with grace, charging round with an instinctive good form is extraordinary.  I wonder if I’ll ever crack doing what seemingly ‘comes naturally’ to the very young. When did we all unlearn that?  Such a shame….  I also found out recently that I skip wrong too.  Disappointing.  Discouraging even.  Oh well, best to know the worst and be able to tackle it, than run and skip on in ignorance perhaps. …

So, pain aside, good views made for a good run.  One extraordinary feature of this run, is that it appears to have more downhill than up.  I have no idea how this is possible, but it really does. There is a lovely long stretch where you run down towards the lake, and the first time I sped (cough) along there, I enjoyed it, but was a bit fearful of what uphill might come later, but it doesn’t really. There is a long gentle incline, but that held no fear for me coming from Sheffield where the word ‘hill’ has an altogether scarier meaning.   The other cheery fact about this run for me, is that I didn’t get lapped, which these days is unusual for me on a multi-lap course.  I suspect it’s because this isn’t an especially fast parkrun, and for me that is a good thing.  You get your monies worth if you are out and about enjoying it all for a bit longer!

I was able to parasitize the motivational talk other runners were shouting out to their accompanying children.  One father was saying ‘I’m so proud of you my girls, you are brilliant‘ and it put quite a spring in my step as I tried to keep up with them on the off-chance he might be up for adopting me at the end – or at least making me up a personalised compilation tape of motivational phrases.  Another runner, catching up with a young sprinter who had temporarily slowed similarly tried to encourage.  ‘Come on lad.  Imagine the shame if you let me overtake you – look at the state of me, you can’t let me get ahead!‘  It was most comical, gentle and effective.  The youth looked at the runner, assessed the situation, and set off at a sprint with renewed vigour!  Incidentally, just to be clear, I am extremely mindful that slowing and walking is perfectly fine, and nobody should be pressurised to do more than they want at a parkrun, or made to feel like slowing is failing if that is what they need and want to do – however, what I witnessed was a lot of good-natured banter.  This seemed a very friendly run.  Great atmosphere.

The turn into the finish was quite remarkable.  I’ve never seen quite so many marshals at the end. There was a whole wall of hi-vis to direct and cheer you in.  I was fast through the funnel and quickly scanned, and then I joined the cheering of some of the people coming in behind me.  I love this bit. There is something joyful about being at the finish line of parkrun, and that novelty doesn’t diminish.  Ever.  There is always drama and glory on display.   One eventful finisher was the woman with the dog who came charging up to the finish, seemingly giving his handler a running edge, until it suddenly dived to the side, dragging the woman with it as it went to greet a familiar face.  She recovered, but it was a powerful argument against those who maintain running with a dog brings any kind of an advantage!

After a bit of clapping and cheering, time to go in search of post run refreshments. There is a coffee shop right at the finish. Which includes a tempting soft play area!  Alas, the coffee machine was broken. Disaster!  However, no worries, we headed off to the visitor centre area, which was a good move.   Squishy chairs and a lake view to enjoy along with our lattes.  There might have been scones too.

Refreshments taken, we then had a wander about taking in the delights of the discovery centre (tadpoles and sticklebacks); local art exhibition (ho-hum to unexpectedly good); history of the site (genuinely interesting); garden centre and second-hand book shop.  All in all a grand day out.  With parkrun too – pretty  much a perfect saturday morning!

So there we go. Clumber park parkrun?  Tick.  A really good morning, best run briefing to date for entertainment value (which is high praise indeed, Sheffield Graves parkrun briefings are awesome always).  Nice route, super friendly, and great facilities.  Not for speed merchants perhaps, but I really liked it, worth the trip for sure.  If you want to read the official report of the Clumber park 6 May parkrun you can do here.

Thank you Clumber park parkrun lovelies for your warm welcome and slick organisation. I’ll be back!  ‘Til then, happy running y’all.

🙂

For all my parkrun related posts, scroll down through this link

Categories: 5km, motivation, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

There were tadpoles! Parkrun tourists take to the hills at Sheffield Castle parkrun

Digested read:  Community minded, a small but perfectly formed parkrun.  You will get a warm welcome, tadpoles (in season), access to loos and an opportunity to fraternise over a tea urn afterwards.  You will not get a castle.

So, to get the important things out of the way first, it does need to be acknowledged that Sheffield Castle parkrun doesn’t actually have a castle as such on site.  There’s not even an old dried-up moat here.  There is a reason why this is called the Sheffield Castle parkrun.  It’s all to do with there once was a Castle in Sheffield, as far back as 1066 or 1270 depending on how rigorous is your grasp of history and willingness to undertake your own research. I heard it from a fellow parkrunner and then just filled in the gaps on Wikipedia, but it’s a start eh?  Unfortunately, this timeline predates parkrun, so it’s hard to be sure exactly when it all began. However, this original castle wasn’t sited here where Sheffield Castle parkrun takes place. This parkrun actually happens in Manor Fields Park, which was essentially the country retreat linked to the original castle.  It had its own Lodge referred to variously as Manor Lodge or…. and a drum roll please in recognition that I’m finally coming to the point… also known as Manor Castle!  Da da!  See what they’ve done there?   So Manor Castle, was located within what was at one time an enormous deer park, but now there are just pockets of this green space remaining, of which Manor Park Fiels is but one.   I’ve just realised there is a good summary of the history of Manor Fields Park to be found on their website, so just look at that. It’s unexpectedly interesting.  Well, I thought so, but then I’m quite easily entertained.

Manor Fields Park, isn’t huge by any means, and it seems to burst out from unpromisingly urban surroundings.  However, it’s been really lovingly landscaped, and has some unexpectedly fine and interesting sculptures and metal work within.  Look out for the carrot tops.  You get to run past them, but having done so three times (it’s a three lap course) I’m afraid I couldn’t be bothered to skip round a fourth time to photograph them.  Not to worry, you can have the fun of going out to discover that for yourself.  As I couldn’t record its bijou loveliness myself, I’ve nicked, sorry shared, some photos from their website. I don’t think they’ll mind.  🙂

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So, even though to the literal-minded it might be disappointing not to find a castle there, on the plus side, the venue did have a beautifully constructed water feature, and what’s more there were tadpoles in it!  You can’t say that about every parkrun now can you?  I’d rather have some living tadpoles in situ than a dried up moat.  Besides forewarned is forearmed as the saying goes, consider yourself forwarded!  You’re welcome.

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I’m conscious that if I say that one of my favourite things about Sheffield Castle parkrun was that they had tadpoles there,  this may be misconstrued as an overall negative for the event.  But really, it wasn’t, the event was very fine indeed, and having big, fat, healthy tadpoles swimming about in an improvised mini-pond was, for me,  simply the icing on the cake. I’ve not seen tadpoles up close in years, their presence made me very happy.  Whether or not this particular parkrun has to put a volunteer on their rota particularly to tend to the needs of these pre-metamorphosis amphibians I know not.  I do know that all parkruns have their unique variants, maybe this is the stand out one for Castle?  There was a woman in hi-viz in the vicinity post-run, so perhaps it was her role to be keeper of the toads.  I didn’t ask, as she was busy chatting.  I like to think so, but you can’t tell just by looking.

volunteer end

As my regular reader knows, my home parkrun is Sheffield Hallam, but I was in the mood for a bit of impromptu parkrun tourism.  I’m never sure whether just venturing a couple of miles away from your usual turf constitutes proper parkrun tourism, and I have been to Castle parkrun before, but not for well over a year I think, but it was a change anyway.  Turns out, a few of us were in the mood for a refresh.  Three of us from Smiley Paces arrived in the car park shortly before a Monday Mob contingent, also on their summer progresses from Endcliffe Park.  Rother Valley parkrun was cancelled this week, so there may well have been refugees from there too.  One at least was intending to come/  I know this for a fact, because they posted on Facebook asking for confirmation that the course was an entirely flat one.  Someone did provide this reassurance, but I’m not sure it was completely fair. I mean, you might get away with calling it flatish by Sheffield standards, but for non-Sheffielders that wouldn’t wash.  I can report from personal experience that there are at least two hills in there and each is negotiated three times, so that would erm.. Hang on, let me get my calculator – two times three makes, er – SIX!  Six hills to be run up.  Not really flat then?   At best context-free news, at worst fake news indeed!  I wonder if they came and conquered, or came and just got puffed out half way up that second steep hill adjacent to the cemetery.  You have to admit that graveyard is conveniently sited if nothing else.  I thought I’d expire every circuit, though in fact I have survived to tell the tale (at length as always).  Be thankful.

For the record, I think this might be one of the friendliest parkruns ever.  It’s pretty small, so I suppose that makes it easier in some ways, but I’d swear the Run Director greeted every one of us individually as we arrived.  It’s not so much a first timers’ briefing as an individual talk through, complete with a large map for reference, and much pointing out of landmarks along the way.  For this course, there’s not that many marshals on the route itself, so you have to pay attention to the cones and little yellow arrows which the volunteers have laid out in advance, it all works well though.  You really won’t get lost on this one.  Just need to be able to count to three, and even then I reckon the volunteers would help.

I was initially a bit put out that the Race Director directed his remarks, about the current course record of 16.39 minutes, to a young athletic looking male giving it as the time to beat.  When I protested, he hushed me before adding that ‘the female record holder time is 17.26 minutes‘ so I was pacified.  I decided not to go for that today (cough).  After all, I’m really just starting back into my running at the moment, and I wouldn’t want to rock the boat by blasting all the Sheffield Castle parkrun regulars out of the finish tunnel, obviously.  Bad for morale.

It was good to catch up with people at a new venue.  There was a handy wheelie bin where you could deposit your coat for dry safe-keeping whilst on the run.   I think that’s what it was. It may of course have been an impromptu jumble collection/ clothing exchange drop off point.  Perhaps I committed some terrible breach of etiquette by placing my own fleece in it at the start and removing the same one at the end.  Who knows.   The volunteers were all very friendly, pointing out the loos and being generally encouraging.  At the run briefing the race director went through the usual tourists/ first timers/ milestones but then also really urged people to stay afterwards for a tea or coffee.  They ask for an optional donation as they are collecting for a defribulator, but you were encouraged to have one anyway if you had money or not, you can always pay another time, but anyway, it seemed to be really about building a community.  This is a parkrun where if you turned up not knowing anyone I’m really confident someone would approach you and make you feel welcome.

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So here comes my parkrun geek alert.  parkrun have recently produced their first parkrun UK run report 2016  I am keen enough on both parkrun in general and procrastination in particular that I have actually read it.

parkrun UK 2016 Run Report by parkrun cover

In amongst the general overview, something caught my eye.  Now, (and quite honestly, this is a sentence that I never thought I’d think in the privacy of my own head, let alone write down) this was the fact that there is now a new mission statement for parkrun.  Honestly, I couldn’t have told you what the old one was, but knowing it has changed the new one feels apt to me, albeit on the ambitious end of the ‘for the greater public good’ end of the continuum.  Basically, it says this:

In 2016 we redefined our previous mission statement from ‘a parkrun in every community that wants one’ … to ‘a healthier and happier planet’.  A statement that is intentionally ambitious, and represents our desire to instigate change, and pro-actively target areas where parkrun can make a difference…

.I take that as a shift from the focus on getting people who already know they want to be able to run running, towards more of a focus on community enrichment, engagement and involvement.  I wonder if raising the profile of volunteering and getting the message out about it being ok to walk at parkrun is part of that.   It was interesting to read this in the days before coming here to Sheffield Castle parkrun, because this one really does have a community feel.  You can just run and disappear off afterwards if you wanted to, but at this parkrun the socialising aspect is really actively encouraged and embedded. They have  tea urn at the ready!  You don’t want to turn your back on that!  No wonder people kept on coming at the start.

still they come

Parkrun is full of (pleasant) surprises.  However, although they do try to be encouraging, try not to be misled by the parkrun signage on this course.  It’s further from the start to finish line than it appears in the photo.  You have to run round quite a lot between these two signs, it’s not a straight A-B.  Don’t be scared though, you can walk round if you want to, a friendly tail marker is available here.   Or was today at least.

so it ends

So, where was I?  After the run briefing you set off pretty much straight away. It’s not a big parkrun, there were only 68 today, and the highest ever attendance is just 97.   The average is given on the parkrun site as 39.3  I include this statistic because I am fascinated by the concept of a 0.3 runner.  I wonder if that might be me?  Someone dropping out after just the one lap perhaps?   By the way, they are planning birthday celebrations I think the first Saturday in August this year.  Course run in reverse, presumably cake?  One for the diary surely….  On a separate note, as numbers are relatively small, even though it’s a three lap course, faster runners shouldn’t feel boxed in here as by lap two the slower runners will be pretty much spread out, and the whole route is tarmac so lends itself to overtaking.

Honestly, I found the first lap hard.  The first ‘incline’ is in actual fact, a hill.  Definitely.  But then again, when you get to the hill proper, you shift perspective. It is a long haul up the hill alongside the cemetery, but on the plus side the views are really unexpectedly stunning.  I will concede the novelty wore off a bit by third time round, but if you want the challenge of heave-hoing up a hill, the sight of trees in blossom and miscellaneous public sculpture works will offer welcome distraction!  As you summit the top of the killer hill (is it acceptable to use ‘summit’ as a verb in this context?  Apologies to any grammar police out there who may have now spat out their tea in agonies of convulsion at the very idea).  I was saying.. as you summit, the start/ finish area comes into view, and the time-keeper – who on this occasion was also the run director – called out the minutes elapsed for your first lap.  This is helpful and potentially either encouraging or depressing, depending on how you view things.  Again, because numbers of participants are relatively small, it’s not frenetic, so  I guess the timer is able to do this without becoming apoplectic with stress.  All good.

So it was off round again for lap two.  You can see the front runners streaming ahead, which reminds me.  Incidentally, if you are new to parkrun firstly where have you been?  Secondly, don’t worry about getting lost, you can’t.  You just follow.  Even if you are in the lead it’s very obviously sign-posted.  For lap two, in my case, I was reminded that I have not been paying enough attention to training running up hills.    Fortunately, just on my heels was a cheery monday mobster, who – perhaps unwittingly – kept me going.  It isn’t about being competitive, I wasn’t seeking to beat her, it was more a sense of if she can keep on going so can I.  When I felt like slowing, I heard her getting closer, and tried to pick up speed again.  I can’t talk and run, so couldn’t communicate thanks at the time, but it was appreciated.  May I thank you now, Monday Mob Motivators.

MM happy faces

Somewhere on lap two I started being passed by the faster runners, it was OK though.   I tried to breathlessly cheer them on with ‘great running’ or some such vacuous commentary.  For the most part they said something encouraging too as they sped by.  It was extremely good-natured.  It was nice to be at a smaller gathering for a change.  For the record, there was a particularly fabulous marshal at the bottom of the long haul hill, he was just very encouraging.  I spluttered out my ‘thank you marshal‘ as I passed, with increasingly poor diction as the laps took their toll, but he kept up his supporting and encouraging clapping and comments.  It’s a long stint of clapping a parkrun, when you are a solitary marshal out on a course and the runners are all so spread out.

At the end of lap two, the timer was still able somehow to shout out cumulative lap times as well as click in the finishers.  Impressive multi-tasking.  I was slowing.  Oh dear.  By the third lap I was struggling a bit, but I know I can run 5k continuously, so I was determined not to stop. On the course was a small child with a scooter, at the top of the first incline, heading back towards the park community house.  She was proffering high fives, which was really sweet, and surprisingly effective in encouraging me to continue on past the carrot tops sculptures and get me to the bottom of the big hill for the last time.  It is counter-intuitive, but the last lap is the easist one, because the literal as well as metaphorical end is in sight.  Indeed, as I got in sight of the finish tunnel my Smiley Buddies were waiting to cheer me in.  You can’t slack when your running club mates are watching FACT, I even managed a (short) sprint finish, and crossed into the tunnel feeling like the first one home.  Admittedly only because there was such a big gap between me and the person in front, but hey, details.  Still a case of yay, done it.  Phew, that was hard.

Got my finish token and barcode scanned in record time, and then was able to cheer back the final few finishers.  They stormed in.  One of the things I love about parkrun is that everyone’s a champion here!

There was a bit of generic milling about whilst people collected belongings and did some post run stretching and fraternising.  Obviously, we also had to do some mandatory posing for pictures.  Then it was next stop communal tea drinking.  Also a sport associated with parkrun…  and not just any tea, but Yorkshire tea.  Actually, in these parts, I’m not sure there is any other tea available, and quite right too!

There is a little house – York House – which seems to be a community space.  As well as having a loo inside and out for pre run precautionary pees, there is a kitchen space with a big urn, tea and coffee and mugs put out and you can help yourself to a hot drink (or water/ juice) can share running tales with friends old and new or family as you wish.  There is a pot for an optional donation.  The photos show the post-run euphoria captured brilliantly!  Now wasn’t that fun.

Tea/ coffee quaffed, we said our farewells to the great and glorious volunteers.  Thank you Sheffield Castle parkrun people.  We’ll try not to leave it so long next time, and we’ve put your Fourth Birthday Bash in the diary for 5th August  (nearest date to inaugural one on 3 August 2013, so presume that’s right).  Hopefully see you there.  Presume there will be cake?  🙂

and we went in search of post-parkrun breakfast.  Which isn’t compulsory but might as well be.  On this saturday we went to The Forge Bakehouse on Abbeydale Road (we were in a car), which I’d not been to before. It’s got an extraordinary selection of fabulous looking stuff.  Mostly sweet.  Expensive, but very nice.    I had the french toast, which was delicious, but not as expected.  The place was heaving, so we had to sit outside, but that was OK because you can borrow a complimentary grey blanket if you wish. We did wish, it might be the may bank holiday weekend but no-one has told the weather gods it’s time for some warmer days.

So this was my post parkrun fix – probably negating the positive benefits of running but oh my, quite a treat.  Note to self, would have been better without the chocolate sauce as well. Next time I think I’ll try the mexican bean breakfast as a more savoury option.

breakfast

So Sheffield Castle parkrun. Friendly, unexpectedly scenic, three laps (not keen on that) watch out for them there hills. If you just want to know about parkrun, register here, go to your nearest just remember, as always #DFYB – Don’t forget your barcode!  (Though if you do, you can still run, you just wont get a time, and where’s the fun in that?)

DFYB

Try it.

The end.

For all my posts about Sheffield Castle parkun see here

For all my parkrun related posts see here

Categories: 5km, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

London Marathon 2017: recovery, aftermath and debrief

Digested read.  Phew, that was tough…. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat though!  🙂

good luck walking

To be fair, even the most elite of athletes is likely to pick up a few niggles after a marathon.  Kenenisa Bekele himself got cramped up with a hamstring injury as a result of a shoe wardrobe malfunction.  Not sure his Nike sponsors will be high fiving him for his feedback on their new shoes though, but it shows, it can happen to the best of us.  In the circumstances, I’m grateful that I can report that I myself have got off relatively lightly in terms of physical meltdown post the London Marathon.  I’ve really just got a mightily stiff neck from all that craning over the barriers to try to espy Sheffield runners from amongst the tide of participants whilst spectating at yesterday’s London marathon.  It was worth it, but it was quite a physical challenge.  Cheering on all those 40,000 runners is tough you know, but worth it.  Spectating a marathon is not for the faint-hearted Just saying.

The thing is, the extraordinary thing is, that in inverse proportion to the physical challenge of running is the emotional high!  The more broken you feel, the more glorious the endorphins that come later.  Or would that make it direct proportion.  Worse makes you feel better, but then both are high. Whatever…  Yeah, yeah, I get that those who actually ran it might have had a tad trickier time of it on the physical side the next day, but then again they also get all that positive affirmation of 26.2 mile long of people cheering their name.  It’s pretty much exactly the same as a spectator I reckon. I strained and shouted and clapped for eight hours solid, of course it took  a physical toll!  But you know what?  It was wondrous.  Frankly, if you are ever feeling down about all that is wrong in the world, go watch a marathon – or a parkrun if you are pushed for time.  It will restore your faith that there is good in the world.

just watch a marathon

I’m not going to lie though.  I found it preeeeeeeeeetty cool this morning. I spent some of it walking through London, ‘the morning after the day before’ exchanging knowing empathetic looks and nods with ‘fellow athletes’ with whom I’d shared the big day.  You can recognise each other immediately.  The shuffling gate is one clue and the wearing of a completers finish medal another.  Or, as in my case, the ostentatious-though-trying-to-look-nonchalant carrying of an Official Marathon Kit Bag of the type you ONLY get as a competitor.  You know, the one you are issued with to all you gear in at the start, which gets magically transported to the finish to greet you at the other end.   I actually picked this up for a friend, so I suppose strictly speaking not really actually mind.  But surely gaining a bit of glory by association is acceptable?  If I was a member of Swansea Harriers I’d have made a point of going for a run in my club vest today for similar reasons.  Point is,  my Smiley buddy is off away today, so I said I’d take some bits and bobs back to Sheffield for her so she doesn’t have to drag it all off on holiday with her.

Fortuitously, (and I didn’t plan this) she spontaneously put all these said ‘bits and bobs’ into her marathon branded see-through bag. You know, the one only competitors get?  Oh my gawd.  How excited was I collecting it from the concierge at her hotel, and deciding I’d walk back to mine the long way round, just because.  Well, needed a bit of a walk before the long coach journey home, it was just a happy side-effect that the good people on the streets of London assumed it was my own.  Anyway, I can report that hoiking it around London was actually really good fun.  I felt like a minor celebrity, maybe the same experience you have if you wear a back stage pass at a big concert or something.  People might not actually recognise you, but they know you have been hobnobbing with the great, and should not therefore be overlooked.  Thus my  running comrades would recognise me by this acquisition uniquely available only to the marathon participants themselves.  Smiles of mutual recognition and congratulation were therefore freely exchanged.  I didn’t feel the need to explain to everyone I met that it wasn’t actually my bag, why spoil a beautiful moment?   Rather I just enjoyed that feeling of being part of an amazing club.  We had shared something extraordinary.  We had been spat out the other side, changed, renewed (in a broken sort of way) we had done the seemingly impossible.  Now we could do ANYTHING!

Bit of a shame my Smiley buddy missed out on this opportunity for continuing glory, but then again, I’m guessing she did get to wear a London Finishers’ medal for her onward journey.  Hopefully it will have got her an upgrade for the next leg of her travels.  If I had a London medal I’d wear it for weeks.  I met one Shelter runner at the post race reception.  He wasn’t wearing his because he’d got really bad sunburn on his neck going round and was in agony. That’s the kind of running injury it’s easy to forget to prepare for.  Personally, I think I’d have found a way to wear the medal anyway.  At the very least, I’d have found some flunky to follow me round, carrying my medal on a velvet cushion for me.  That might work… it would have to be a red velvet cushion to match Shelter’s branding, but possibly would need to choose a supplier wisely.  I don’t think ‘The Freemasons Collection’ would be quite the way to go.

COU-RougeSo back to exchanging knowing greetings.  The thing about the London Marathon is that it really is astonishing to see the variety of people who participate in the event and do well.  Whilst watching, you get to see the most unlikely looking physiques breeze by quite comfortably, whilst more conventionally looking athletes can crash and burn before your very eyes.  You must assume nothing.  Thus, even if only a couple of days before it would have seemed unlikely to the point of impossible that someone who looked liked me could start the London Marathon let alone complete it; anyone watching or taking part in the Sunday spectacular will now know otherwise.  Why not someone like me?  An extraordinary number of others defied expectations yesterday after all!  So it was, that strolling through London, marathon kit bag at my side, I perfected the art of sharing half smiles with the walking wounded. Skipping on by some pretty formidable looking but temporarily hobbling athletes who must have been inwardly wondering how on earth could someone like me look so fresh the next day, whilst they themselves had nothing left to give.  I know.  A complete mystery.  Some mystery in life is a good thing, let’s not disabuse them of this belief.  And for me, practise, maybe I’ll be swapping knowing glances for real a year from now.

You might (or might not) be pleased to know that the London Marathon Experience extends beyond the day of the event, not only because of the aches and pains, indeed mobility limiting serious injuries, but because of the rush of ‘human interest’ stories and obsessional posting of images and experiences of the day on-line. That’s fair enough. We all know the first rule of Marathon club I think?

first rule of marathon club

So, for the record, the following day I think there were four main stories doing the rounds.

  1. The Heart warming one – a finishing runner sacrifices own time to help fellow athlete in Brownlee Brother moment
  2. The inspirational moment – a club runner is first Brit over the line
  3. The taboo-busting celebration – in the form of the Head’s Together running team getting people talking about mental health
  4. The Welsh Tourist Board campaign ‘Visit Wales, land of the Swansea Harriers’ in the light of the above

So first things first. The feel-good viral moment was when a Swansea Harrier runner, sacrificed his own run time in the final few metres to get a fellow runner over the line.

Yep, it was pretty emotional – plus it’s a parkrun run director helping with the heave-ho to the finish for the record.

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This action wasn’t without its critics though. There is some talk of the Tories now cancelling next year’s marathon after the chilling sight of seeing a strong runner helping a weak one who really should just learn to pull his socks up and fend for himself.  I will admit, the footage does bring a tear to my eye 200 metres from the finish, with the roar of the crowd willing them over the line.  However, there were countless examples of this on the course.  People jumping the barriers at the 40km mark to walk or run a bit with their emotional runners.  However, I also saw a couple of absolutely broken runners, who were practically been carried round by their team mates.  They got an extra cheer.  It must feel a very, very long way round indeed at this point, but these guys presumably started together, they’d finish together.   That’s inspirational too.  It’s an emotional roller-coaster out there I tell you. Take tissues.

So to the second wave of viral stories.  It was, astonishingly, also a Swansea Harrier who also took the running punters by surprise as the unexpected first Brit over the line.  Or, as I saw it ‘a normal one‘ as I shouted out when I spotted him way ahead of the mass starters at the 40 km mark yesterday.  An extraordinary achievement.  What’s more, as if that claim to fame wasn’t enough, I understand from stalking their Facebook page that he is also the first Swansea Harrier to make it to LadBible.  Gosh.  He should retire from running now, nothing will ever top that.

josh brit

Other running clubs are available, and are equally awesome.  Well, maybe in somewhat more understated ways.

Thirdly, this year’s marathon became known as the mental health marathon, with the Head’s Together organisation as the nominated charity for the event, and the ‘young royals’ on board as mental health champions.  Generally I’m cynical about both the royals and charities.  Not that charities don’t do excellent work, but because I worry that responsibility for providing support gets relegated to charities when it should be a core public responsibility, if you rely on charities to do this work, then those in need are at the mercy of whether they are a popular and/or ‘worthy’ cause.  A return to Victorian notions of the deserving and undeserving poor makes me uncomfortable.  Nevertheless, it has to be said that the dialogue around mental health for this event has been really fantastic.  The two associated BBC documentaries ‘mind over marathon‘ following a group of ten first time marathoners who were training as part of their strategy for dealing with various mental health challenges were genuinely moving.  Here’s hoping the legacy continues.

mental health marathon

Fourthly – the Visit Wales campaign by the Welsh Tourist Board.  I made that one up.  But surely only a matter of time?

One fun activity for me after the marathon was going through my own photos and trying to pass them on to those pictured where possible.  This is a great procrastination activity, and also an abject lesson in the power of the internet.  It’s alarming easy to track people down if you can be bothered.  Note to self and my reader, we both need to check our social media privacy settings. Anyway, although my photos aren’t especially great alas, I figured everyone likes to see pictures of themselves running don’t they?  Besides, a blurry freebie than paying £25 a throw for the official ones.  Question.  Why are so many official photos taken as close-ups?  You could be running anywhere, personally I prefer the ones with a bit of crowd and sky line.  Then again close ups don’t favour me.  I’d feel differently if I was all streamlined and graceful when running.  I’m not.

Turns out, the reactions from recipients of these unsolicited blessings  I was so freely bestowing were mixed.  The WaterAid photographer was genuinely chuffed I’d got blurry action shots of him running his own marathon as he ducked and dived trying to photograph the actual charity runners.   Steel City Strider Runners turned out not to be unconditionally euphoric at being snapped potentially in their darkest of moments.  Yep, maybe I should have thought of that.  However, on the plus side, I learned that even though barely a runner acknowledged my shouts all day (seriously focused lot, Sheffield runners) turns out they did hear some of the screams of support and they did help sometimes ebbing morale.  Apparently it was good to hear a ‘Go Smiley‘ or ‘Go Strider‘ shout and know that someone, somewhere in that mass of people was cheering you and you alone.  It was not just a random vegetable or guy in speedos that had caught their eye.  I didn’t like to explain that I could see the temptation where the miscellaneous plant foods were concerned. Some of them were pretty enticing… How’s this for running eye candy?

FD corn on the cob

I rest my case.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath, the inspirational stories keep on coming.  Personally, I thought the best advice given to these runners was by the trainer who said something along the lines of ‘whatever that road throws at you, whatever dark place you end up in, you’ve encountered worse and come through’.  Worth remembering, for those of use who have battled with mental health issues of our own.

Hard to know what the runners must be feeling, in the immediate aftermath, and the following days.  Probably a pick’n’mix of emotions to be fair:

I did say it was an emotional and physical roller coaster.  Everyone does.  Entering for a ballot or charity place for a marathon is understandable, but definitely contributory negligence on the part of any event participant. You can’t say nobody warned you.

Oh, and as for photos?  They are everywhere, but the official ones are searchable for 2017 London Marathon here.  I  prefer the more informal ones that keep popping up…

The key point though is this.  A record-breaking number of participants, 39,487 runners crossed the finish line at the London Marathon 2017. That’s impressive.  That’s a lot of people.  Who else is going to be making up the numbers same time next year?  For my part, time I dug out those trainers.  After this weekend’s trials, I think I’ll start with a gentle recovery run…  It’s going to be a long haul.  Just getting to the start will feel like victory.

39487 finishers

Eek.

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It’s not called a marathon for nothing! Supporting Shelter runners at the London Marathon 2017

Digested read.  Running a marathon may be hard, but supporting a marathon is also an endurance test.  Want to get a flavour of what that’s like.  Read on.  There follows a marathon account of my marathon spectacle by way of illustration. You’re welcome.

No need to guffaw at my expense.  I fully appreciate that self-evidently, for runners the London Marathon was indeed always going to be a marathon, because it actually is.  They know they will have to go and run 26.2 miles either voluntarily as a chosen challenge, or as a result of a bit too much brash bravado after one too many at the pub one night.  Whatever.  They are all guilty of contributory negligence as they find themselves at the start line for the London Marathon.  It’s going to be tough out there, but it will also be glorious.  They are all superstars for being there, just for getting to the start, and over 99% will finish.  They might be broken beyond repair at the end, but hey ho, those post-running endorphins will make  it all worthwhile…. hopefully.  So the story goes.  There will be (rightly) blogs aplenty about their stories, their metaphorical and literal journey from start to finish on the day.  This is of interest to me, but not what today’s post is about.  Oh no, rather this entry is going to be all about me.   Me and my experience as a volunteer on the sidelines of this iconic event.  Let me tell you, it was tough out there.  A marathon indeed!  Unless you’ve been there and done it yourself, you can have no idea of the emotional highs and lows 8 hours of spectating can put you through. That combined with the physical challenge of craning to see people, clapping and shouting can really take its toll.  With hindsight (always a great thing) I  perhaps should have put in a bit more training before hand, but it’s always so easy to be wise after an event. It was worth it though, to be part of the Shelter cheer team, but phew, it was surely a test of endurance too!

team shelter embankment

The upshot is that in my mind I totally earned this complimentary congratulatory bottle of ‘champagne’ that awaited me on my return to the hotel at the end of the day.  I don’t feel I got it under false pretences at all.  To be fair, it probably wasn’t all that complimentary anyway, not with the price I paid for a room in Kensington whilst swept up in the euphoria of the idea that I’d actually be running the marathon myself this weekend.  It was nice though.  I’m glad I didn’t fess up that I was a marathon deferrer coming anyway  and not an actual runner anymore when I checked in, having originally booked in on a ‘marathon package’ months back.

complimentary champagne awaits

So the story is that by an extraordinary fluke I did get a ballot place for the London Marathon 2017.  I couldn’t believe my luck!  However, circumstances conspired to make training nigh on impossible as I was working overseas in Cambodia at a critical time.  I did try, really I did, but eventually bowed to the inevitable and tearfully deferred my entry.  However, I’d already booked and paid for my (non-refundable) accommodation, so I figured I might as well go anyway to watch… and then I thought well why not volunteer?  Inspirational idea.  That way I’d still get to feel part of it.  Honestly, ending up volunteering for Shelter (the housing and homelessness charity) was a happy accident.  I do think Shelter do amazing work, and it is a charity I have contributed to over the years.  However, I found the volunteering opportunity just by googling, and it came up.  I wasn’t tested as to my limits in who I would be willing to associate with just for the glory of being associated with the London Marathon.  So that’s good.  I have subsequently discovered that loads of charities seek volunteer supporters on the day, so that’s a great option for anyone who wants to get involved.  Also London parkruns are involved in running the bagdrop and collections which sounds fun too.  Parkrunners get everywhere these days.  I’ve stolen this picture from a facebook post elsewhere, aren’t these parkrun ambassadors great?  Sigh, got to love parkrun in general and parkrun volunteers in particular.

volunteer parkrunners being aweseom at VLM baggage drop

Anyway, I figured I’d be up for some volunteering.  It didn’t sound too bad.  Basically just cheer along any Shelter runners, with opportunities to moonlight by cheering other runners as you wish.  (I’d be looking out for my Smiley buddies from my Sheffield Women’s running club Smiley Paces for sure!  Go Smilies!) It was about raising the profile of the charity by branding all in the vicinity with Shelter T-shirts and then giving their runners a psychological boost by cheering them as loudly as possible on their way round the course.  I’ve volunteered as a marshal at runs before, and usually when marshaling you have to multitask with directional pointing as well as cheering.  When you factor in high-fiving and clapping as well it can get pretty busy, but it’s always been manageable.  I wouldn’t be required to point here, so just focus on cheering and clapping.  It’d be fine.

I’ve had some more stressful volunteering moments, the inaugural Run for all Sheffield road 10k got quite challenging but the tententen trail one, also in Sheffield was a lot of fun.  Parkrun volunteering is the best though, especially junior parkrun.  Those mini runners are hilarious and inspiring and amazing all rolled into one.  Not unlike the folk that turned out to the London Marathon to be fair.  You have to be a bit careful because small children can give unexpectedly ferocious high-fives in relation to their body mass, but the pay-off is the adorability quotient of some, which has caught my usual hardened cynicism off guard on more than one occasion.  My personal favourite moment was recently when at Graves junior parkrun one of the participants I was clapping round stopped as I cheered her so she could explain to me that she was taking part in a run!  I suppose she picked up I was clearly interested, so it was only polite to tell me what it was all about.  How cute is that?  One of the photos that follow is from volunteering at Sheffield Hallam parkrun recently, the other from Graves junior parkrun if you are interested.  I only have a finite number of clothing options so the presence of a near identical outfit in both pictures may confuse you, leading you to believe it is the same event,  if you are the type to both a) care at all about where the photos were taken and b) notice it is the same outfit on ostentatious display in both, despite obvious differences in location.  As to which is which?  Clue, only Graves park has its own goat(s).  Cue ‘what’s got your goat’ punning opportunities, but I think I’ll save those for another time.

I did get stressed out by an escaping lamb on the track on Easter Sunday, but it was resolved.  To be fair, the run directors can’t cover every eventuality in their volunteer briefings.   Anyway, stop distracting me with all these parkrun questions –  I need to crack on with my London marathon witness testimony … The point being,  that given my previous volunteering experiences, I was pretty laid back about the skill requirements for my role as Shelter cheerer at the London Marathon.  ‘yep, I can do that‘ I figured.  Complacent.  Guilty as charged.

It was really exciting waking up on Sunday morning.  TV coverage had started of the build up to the marathon, and I couldn’t wait to get out and at it.  Whilst some commentators might now be a bit jaded about the whole thing (seen one marathon you’ve seen them all).  I’m not.   I saw the couple who’d just got married at the Cutty Sark on the telly, watched the wheel chair athletes whizz away and that was it, I was off and out the door myself, wanting to get to my cheer point at the embankment ahead of them.

Even the tube was fun. There was one runner at least in his gear on the train – though I did wonder if he might be cutting it fine to get to the start.  Loads of people were sporting charity tops, presumably there to support friends or family running for a chosen cause today.  I was spat out at the embankment, and immediately you could feel the buzz!  There were flags all the way along where various charities had marked their pitches for the day.  Apparently it’s a bit of  a free for all just after the roads are closed, charity mobs come out and bag spots, some securing better viewing areas than others.  There was only a scattering of spectators at first, but whole armies of support crew in high viz.  Volunteers handing out programmes, marshals, paramedics and St Johns Ambulance crew in abundance.  The sun was shining, the London skyline glorious.   Definitely the capital at its best.  I’ve only ever spent time in London for frenetic work trips previously, seeing it as a tourist was amazing.  Made me appreciate London in a way I haven’t previously.

There was already some sort of race underway when I arrived, which was initially a bit confusing.  I had a brief moment of wondering if this was some secret youth cohort of Steel City Striders, sporting green and gold tops as they were. But I don’t think the striders have got a women’s junior running group. Therefore, I suppose it must have just been some opportunistic PE teacher despatching their charges along the route so they wouldn’t have the bother of getting out the gym equipment during double games.  You can understand why. PE teachers are notoriously low status in many schools – or were in my day anyway.  Of course they’d rather be smoking out the back than dragging out the coconut matting so everyone can practise their forward rolls.  Quite a temptation to send everyone out for a run when all the roads are closed, who’d know?  Really?

steel city striders youth cohort

I had a bit of an explore, then sauntered over to the Shelter pitch.  I was pretty early, about 9.30 a.m. I think.  There weren’t any Shelter reps around, but no matter.  I busied myself making friends with a couple who were already there. They’d come to watch, and were seduced by the close proximity of the Shelter flags to some decent toilets.   I suggested they just stay put and don Shelter shirts when they materialised which they were happy enough to do.  More the merrier after all, I presume what Shelter was seeking was a long flash mob of red to catch the eyes of passing runners.

It was quite sociable chatting to my new friends.  We had quite a laugh.  They weren’t really running much now apparently, but regaled me with tales of races past.  My personal favourite of their many stories, was the guy’s account of experiencing serious nipple chafing during a half (or possibly full) marathon in his first long race.  In literally bleeding agony, he espied an amply proportioned older woman brandishing a huge tub of vaseline ahead of him at the sidelines of the road route.  Now normally one might be shy of soliciting lubricants off unknown members of the opposite sex, but in a marathon, anything goes!  On this occasion he ran towards her lifting his top as he approached brandishing his bloody tits, so signalling he was a man in need.  In response,  she obligingly slathered generous amounts of vaseline all over his chest with open palms.  Blood and vaseline mixed together he ran on, comforted.    I can only presume this all happened pre mobile phones, as otherwise surely such an act of human kindness would by now have gone viral, a Brownlee Brothers moment before that was even a thing.  And  an extra element of titillation from the naked chest bearing dimension!   I don’t have a picture of nipple chafing injuries that I wish to include.  You can find your own on the interweb if you must.  Really though, don’t have nightmares, protect yourself and just don’t go look. It’s not pretty.

So after a bit, Shelter staff arrived, and we negotiated the extra tops.

cheering buddies

Other volunteers gathered too, and the crowd began to congregate. It was fun, highly sociable.  The event began to build, first to appear were the wheelchair racers.  That was impressive but over really quickly. It reminded me a bit of spectating at the tour de yorkshire.  Over 3 hours hanging off a verge-side tree awaiting the pantaloon, or pelican or peloton or whatever it’s called, and then when it came it was gone in the blink of an eye.  It was still fun to be there, but not tremendously sustained fun to tell the truth.  How they steer those wheelchairs I have no idea, they go really fast.  Also, the body posture is really punishing for some, heads down, I wonder how much these athletes can see and hear as they power round.  Are they aware of what’s around them or is it all just one big blur?  Plus, they aren’t really very well positioned for high fiving.  I’d never have made it round the Sheffield Half without plenty of them!  Wouldn’t want to participate in any event where that wasn’t at least an option.  I suppose athletes of this calibre have internal motivation to drive them instead – extraordinary!

We were all hyped and ready to go so cheered and clapped anything passing really.  However – and this is a top tip here for marathon newbies – it’s so true you mustn’t start off too fast.  Supporting the marathon is a test of endurance, you need to pace yourself.  Initially, it was obvious we had all potentially peaked a bit soon, complaining of aching hands and sore voices before even the visually impaired runners were in sight.  (See what I did there).  It was OK, we had a bit of time to regroup, breathe and recommence our support strategy before the next load of runners came through.

Some adjacent spectators similarly suffering from clapping-induced RSI  were eyeing up our shelter inflatables.  You know, the ones you can bang in appreciation that you see at lots of sporting events?  I’ve always been a bit sniffy about them previously, but in fact they are a real boon to spectating.  They are labour-saving and volume creating.  I do worry a bit about the plastic waste they must generate, but have to admit they certainly do create atmosphere and colour too. Let’s hope those recently hyped plastic-eating caterpillars can really deliver.  We need something to tackle all that post event debris.  Anyway, I soon had them kitted out in Shelter regalia too.  We were an ever-growing red swarm indeed!

We were a colourful crew craning over the barriers for the next load of runners to surge by for our amusement, merriment and indeed amazement.  I was a bit confused about what was happening – there are lots of different cohorts competing, and they all started at different times.  Fortunately my new friends had sussed out there were free programmes available if you just jumped one of the many bag wearing volunteers who were strolling around giving them out. The spectators guides are/were great.  They include maps, who to look out for, where to watch, and, crucially, what the approximate arrival times for the leaders of the various race categories would be.   I did manage to procure a programme, but to save me the arduous task of reading this myself I outsourced this particular task to one of my companion cheerers, who was periodically able to update me on who to expect to come surging by Cleopatra’s needle and so into our sightlines at any moment.

The VI guided runners were many indeed.  It was fascinating to watch them speed past.  Some were stride for stride with their guides, some used bungee cord to link together,  others seemed to be holding onto one another, lots of techniques were in evidence.  I have seen a few guided runners at parkrun and local trail running events round Sheffield.  Mostly the guides and runners I’ve seen seem to talk  to each other a lot ‘knees up’ or ‘keep left’ or whatever as they go round.  I don’t know how much you’d hear at the marathon with so much crowd noise.  I do know that we were near a sequence of three timing mats which crossed the road.  One guide raised his hand really high over this stretch, I wondered if it was to indicate the need for caution.  Or maybe the guide simply had cramp.  Who knows.  These elite VI runners are impressive, but later in the field came other non-elite VI runners, coping with the crowds of a mass start, that’s surely a new kind of awesome.  One guy ran the whole thing with a white cane. No idea how he would have navigated the crowds, but clearly successfully to this point at least.  We were standing bank on the 40km mark, so safe to say he must have pretty much perfected the technique by then!

The para-athletes having stormed through, in their wake were the elite women.  To my shame, I don’t really know what the score was here, I do know that the lead runner seemed to be essentially running solo.   She also didn’t look like she’d already run near enough 25 miles.  She was fair sprinting.  Maybe she was trying to shake off that annoying convoy of motorbikes that were apparently stalking her.  I’m sure when I’ve watched the marathon on the telly in previous years, whilst sat on the sofa eating donuts or whatever, there is usually a group of elite runners at the front. They are at least in sight of each other if not actually in a pack.  Not so for her, nor for the male lead who came behind.   It seems it is true what they say about the loneliness of the long distance runner.  Well I say that, I’ve never actually read the book or seen the film come to think of it, it could be about anything…  I’m just meaning that running a long way is always ultimately going to be a personal and lonely journey.  Less so if you are cavorting along in fancy dress with the mass start, but here, all eyes on you, wanting to win, wow, that’s mental fortitude right there!  Let me see what I can find in the way of photos.  A bit hit and miss but at least it shows I was there eh?  Think I got male lead but not the female.  Curses.  Nice shot of St Paul’s on the sky line though.  And a proper London Bus too.  Isn’t that grand?

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What this basically meant, is that we cheerers had been able to have our own warm up, putting in lots of practice by cheering the serious elite athletes  as preparation for the real reason we were there, which was to support the more fun to spectate (but just as serious to run) mass participation bit.  The elites are extraordinary, but for me at least, impossible to relate too.  It’s like watching another species to see them fly past.  How can the human body do that? However, for the record, even I noticed an anomaly at the front of the field.  ‘Look, that one’s a normal person’ I shouted out in my not-very- politically-correct way as what looked like a club runner romped by well at the front of the elite men’s group.  Later I discovered it was indeed ‘a normal person’ inasmuch as it was the unexpected first brit home and Swansea Harrier runner Josh Griffiths.  Wow, how proud his club must be of him.  I didn’t get a photo though, was too busy picking my jaw up off the road.

There were other distractions too. Due to operator error, early on in the proceedings I accidentally dropped my Shelter inflatable baton over the barricades.  Oops. I was in mortal fear that this would blow away and result in some freak skid instance, knocking out some elite athlete, who’d probably take out loads of other runners as s/he fell.  Those VI athletes would be at risk surely?  Not the kind of publicity Shelter had signed me up for when they asked us to do all we could to raise the profile of their organistion on social media during the event I’m guessing….  Fortunately/ unfortunately, other inflatable batons from other charities were also available, tumbling along in the wind, plus my particular one got scooped up by a marshal and removed from the scene.  Phew, the presence of lost inflatable batons on the courese may or may not be a lethal accident waiting to happen, but as long as I was apparently blameless in this, all would be well.

sleeping in the gutter

The next cause of excitement, albeit in an excruciating way, was that as the faster of the mass runners started to arrive, so too did the number of people who hit the proverbial wall in front of our very eyes, and went crashing down like nine pins.  It was really disturbing.  These runners were one minute racing and then next minute grey and collapsed.  The St John’s ambulance crew on hand at our spot was being pulled in all directions to attend to these people.   Sometimes rushing round unsure who to prioritise.  There was also the practical challenge of getting to runners if they were the opposite side of the road to that where the ambulance crews were sited.   By this point the runners were like a raging torrent, and so focused on moving forward that they were not necessarily aware of the need for a group of medics to cross their path.  It was nail-biting stuff.   The thing is, chances are it is ‘just’ extreme exhaustion, but some of the runners looked terrible.  Any one of them might be in their death throes, plenty of fit people have been known to have heart attacks at running events.  Then again, some that were ‘crippled’ did display phoenix like recoveries.  A bit of eccentric calf stretching sprawled out on the road and then they were up and good to go.  Gazelle like sprinting off once again. (Gazelle-ish, anyway).

There’s a lesson in their somewhere.  Personally I listen to my body a bit too well, the slightest twinge of protest and I’ll happily slow down and/or grind to a complete halt.  I have a theory that the stronger, faster runners are ‘better’ at pushing through pain in training in order to improve.  But, could it be they have learned to use mental strength to silence that inner voice when maybe sometimes they shouldn’t.   Ironically, they seemed more likely to come to grief than the long, slow travellers at the back of the field. In any event, it was heart breaking to see apparently strong athletes crumple just before the 25 mile mark.  If that’s what hitting a wall is, I don’t want that to happen to me.  Or anyone else for that matter.  Not worth it.  Just slow down and eat/drink something people, please!

Collapsed, little crowds of marshals and medics huddled round. Some were able to stagger to one side, and others were able to continue after a brief massage and roadside assistance.  Only roadside assistance was available, not relay, or at least the runners I saws hadn’t thought to pay for that upgrade ahead of the big day.   A few though, were trussed up in foil blankets like a carnist’s Sunday roast and wheeled off on little mini-wheelchair things, swaying around even in transit.  Whether or not they’d be allowed to rejoin the race after a stint in the recovery tents I have no idea, but it wasn’t looking good.  On the plus side, the way teams worked together to support the fallen was genuinely moving.  Whether that support extended to stopping the garmins of these runners I couldn’t tell.  I like to think if any of the helpers were runners themselves they would have done so.

So after the impressive bit, came the fun bit. We Shelter gang had got in the groove, and were now distracting ourselves with selfies and general whooping.  Although I did know a few people running, it was great to have the charity tops to look out for.  It gave a focus to the occasion.  You feel much more part of it.  There are so many charity runners out there I don’t know the extent to which participating raises the profile for any particular organisation, but it was good to meet like-minded others and in a small way support runners raising funds for a particularly worthy cause.  Homelessness is not glamorous, and it really can happen to anyone.  Since 1966 and Cathy Come Home, Shelter has been campaigning for affordable housing for all.  Progress has been made, and they plough on.  It doesn’t seem right to me that something as fundamental as supporting the homeless or housing vulnerable, is often left to the charity sector to pick up.  However, it’s good that Shelter do what they can for people in housing need.  Not surprising perhaps, but we cheerleaders all shared stories of how homelessness had impacted on either us directly or those we knew.  I fear in the current political and economic climate the housing situation is going to worsen still.  It may be the 21st century, but we need Shelter now more than ever.

Oh well.  In cheerier news, here are jolly support mob shots.  Surely a minion will put a smile on your face?

The next part of the day was focused on spotting Shelter runners.  This was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more stressful than I’d anticipated. You’d be astonished how hard it is to spot a particular runner in a mass of people, even when they are just a few feet away from you and even when we had fab team work. Loads of us scanning the crowd for the tell-tale red shirts.  We had some misses, and a few mis-identification.  I wonder if as many British Heart Foundation cheerers inadvertantly shouted at our Shelter runners as we did theirs!  There were a lot of red running tops out there, they aren’t as distinctive as you might think.  Even when we did see them and scream like the sky was falling in it was often to no avail, some runners were so in the zone they were seemingly oblivious to all around them.  Presumably just focused on not dying and continuing to put one foot in front of the other.  The few that did see us gave reactions which varied from euphoria, to shy smiles to ‘curses, why wasn’t I running when spotted’ type reactions.   One runner was on her mobile phone walking and talking for the whole extent of our banner.  What a missed opportunity to get some support!

It was rewarding though when they saw us and we saw them too. High fives and joyful cheers exchanged, runners sped away as if they really had been given an energy surge.    I didn’t know I had such power to motivate others within me.  Cool!  There were however some heart-breaking moments also.  The Macmillan team had a huge line of supporters, and were in great voice, but inexplicably there was one particular runner who saw them and waved and jumped around right in front of them, but they just didn’t see him.  It was awful.   That’s the thing about watching the marathon, it is such a roller coaster.  The pain, the agony, the ecstasy, the glory, the ‘what might have been’ all emotions in the raw are laid bare before you.  Running it may well be hard, but watching is not for the faint-hearted either!

I tried to snap a few Shelter runners as I passed, but it’s hard to get action shots I find:

Fortunately, the professional photographer at our cheer station captured the moments rather better than me, but hey ho, it’s the thought that counts I’m sure!  Here are some of his.  Or you can look at the Shelter facebook 2017 London marathon photos link for more.

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He wasn’t the only photographer earning his keep on the day.  We were near to a WaterAid UK cheer station. Their photographer was particularly proactive.  He must have run his own marathon on Sunday, most of it in reverse.  I don’t know how he was able to seek out his team so effectively, but he was on fire!  He was constantly scanning the stampede of runners to spot his targets, he’d then dart in amongst the throng – risking being trampled at any moment – or worse yet, getting his camera shoved.  He’d somehow alert his WaterAid runner where the cheer station was and sort of shoo them across to collect high fives, whilst simultaneously shooting off a load of shots and running backwards at speed.  I got quite fascinated by  this tour de force.  He must have got some amazing shots.  I ended up trying to get some of him in action too, which I didn’t really achieve, though it’s the thought that counts.  WaterAid also had a running camel,  which is helpful. Helpful because all those who think my running buddy Roger is a camel can see he is definitely a horse when you have an actual camel by way of comparison.  If you don’t know what I mean you’ll have to read up all about the Marathon themed Southwark parkun on Saturday, I can’t be bothered to go over it all again here.

By this point in the day hours had passed, and I was  hungry and thirsty and my neck was really hurting. The thing is though, Fear Of Missing Out, or more specifically, fear of missing a Sheffield runner in general or one of My Smiley Runners in particular, was pretty strong.  It is addictive being at the side lines.  You don’t want to lose your spot, and it doesn’t really feel right to sit down and start chomping down on a picnic lunch when weary runners are dragging themselves past you.  The only right thing to do is continue the endurance test yourself and hang on in there cheering yourself hoarse.  A random wise woman I met said to me once one day when we struck up a conversation in a park cafe ‘of course, the right thing to do is always the right thing to do.’  And you know what?  She’s absolutely right!

There was a tracking app available but as I’m the last person in the world without a   smart phone I was unable to make use of that technology.  A friend of mine on standby was unbeknownst to me texting me real-time updates, but I didn’t notice my phone messages until all but the last of the people I was looking out for had run past.  I did spot one Smiley, and screamed into her ear but she was too in the zone to notice.  Likewise I shouted out ‘Go Strider’ and ‘Go Dark Peak’ to other runners in familiar Sheffield kits,but in return got not so much as a sideways glance all day.  Incidentally, the two Dark Peak Fell runners I saw were going incredibly fast and strong, they are extraordinary runners, way ahead of the field.  Not just tackling ultra fell runs like mountain goats, but whizzing along tarmac like the great cartoon roadrunner himself.  Even without much in the way of response, it was brilliant fun when you did see someone you ‘knew’ even if only by association.   When we as a Shelter mob saw one of our own we went wild!  Who knew it could be so exciting?  However, it’s harder than you think to multi task at the side lines.  Cheering, clapping, trying to attract the attention of your designated runner etc, gets in the way of actually taking photos of them.  Probably just as well, as mine weren’t the best quality on the whole.  Still, everyone likes to see photos of themselves in action right?  It’s part of the post run debrief and reliving all the fun…  Type two fun is still fun, we all know that.

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So as I said at the start, this marathon malarkey is indeed a test of endurance.  I might have felt like my energy levels were becoming seriously depleted, but there was no thought of slacking off.  There were still so many more runners to look out for – the world record attempts to be ticked off for starters in our Marathon Bingo quest.  I’m sure there were loads more than I actually espied.  Some had helpful labels visible on them so you knew to give them an extra cheer.  Some choices of kit were more runner friendly than others.  I struggle to see how running the marathon carrying a tumble drier ever seemed like a brilliant plan, but hey ho, he was out there.  Mr Potato Head was pretty good, and then there were miscellaneous unidentified Official World Record attempt contenders.  Make of them what you will.  I never got to see the guy who was trying to run the whole thing in Wellington boots.  I don’t even want to think what that will do to his feet.  I’m very proud of the composition of my world record attempt at a tree running shot, even if it was inadvertent.  A veritable Birnam Wood on the move there methinks!

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As well as the world record attempts, there was a reasonable scattering of more modest fancy dress offerings.  Not that many though to be honest.  I’d expected loads, there are a fair few, but it’s still a minority of the participants, not too many duplicates either.  Just as well, can you imagine how annoying it would be to roll up as a sea urchin or whatever and find a whole rock pool’s worth hanging around at the start?  There were a fair few dinosaurs, but seemingly different species, plus there were some fine London landmarks too, complementing the London skyline.  You don’t see those traditional red phone boxes so much any more, great to see one at least running today!

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Then, as if that wasn’t more than enough excitement for one day, there were the mandatory naked men.  Well, part naked, fine torsos thrust forward and running strong.  This is all well and good in theory, but my fear is that all this exhibitionism will ultimately come to nothing.  Just as a run doesn’t count unless it is on strava, a race didn’t happen unless you make the official photos. Those who bravely – recklessly even – removed their tops, and with it their race numbers en route, will have no way of ever finding themselves in the official photos of the day which are searched by number.  Oh well.  Never mind, I expect it means they will be thrilled I have caught their moment of glory.  There was one notable exception to this by the way.  The global runderwear ambassador had it sussed, wearing his number as a sort of fig leaf arrangement to great effect.  Classy.  My regular reader knows we have our own runderwear ambassador at Sheffield Hallam parkrun, but dare I say I think this might be a more official rep.  (I’ve never seen our local ambassador running just in her bra and knickers.)   No wonder there is no chafing if the requirement is you wear only their pants whilst running.  I don’t recall that directive being on the operating instructions for their products – and I am an advocate and wearer of the pants myself.  Probably a blessing to the people of Sheffield to be fair…  Talking about chafing, I’m sure that heart monitor one guy is wearing is poorly positioned, it’s going to take more than an open palmed woman proffering copious amounts of vaseline to remedy that nipple chafing risk in my view…

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Then there was a scattering of bare footed runners.  Clearly however, for some running without trainers isn’t challenging enough, as one of these found a literal cross to bear and lugged timber round with him too.  Another was decked out as a mister man character… not just any Mr Man, oh no, but Mr Rush!  Genius.  There were some practical implications of the ‘no shoes’ choice though, as the VLM issue timing tag was intended to be worn on a trainer.  Mr Rush and JC has got around this with I think an ankle option, but one runner at the 40km mark, had to touch the ground three times to scan his timer as he passed over the official timer mats.   Not what you need after 25 miles running I’m guessing.

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Some people let their outfits or efforts speak for themselves.  Some were frankly showing off, but hey, you know what, some really impressed me.  Top contenders were any runner at all who took time to work the crowd on the way past (there were a few) and these two people.  The guy who leapt from timer mat to timer mat like he was taking flight, and the cool runner who appeared to be doing the whole thing whilst ‘effortlessly’ playing with his balls!  I know!  Eye catching indeed.

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Oh, and there was the  Morris Dancer.  Didn’t get a photo of him unfortunately, but when he came dancing and hanky waving down the embankment, the other side of the barrier was a whole team of Morris Men, mirroring his moves.  Hilarious.  Genius.  Inspiring.  You had to be there.  What team work too.

Ben Moss marathon morris man

And on the subject of team work, pushing a manual wheelchair round with its ‘just chilling’ occupant is no mean feat either, just saying:

Pushing on

It seems not everyone who had their assets on display did so intentionally.  So The Mirror reported.  I am not aware of any such corkers in my photo gallery.  Nor do I approve of such red top reporting.  Well, not in theory anyway, in practice of course I had a look, and as it’s in the public domain anyway, it would be hypocritical not to share….  Anyway, that’s not the only thing this guy had out to impress.  He was also second in his class so he had the last laugh for sure.

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Heads together headband spotting was also a thing. Well it was for me anyway, but then again, I’m well-known for making  my own entertainment in unlikely ways.  My favourite sightings were where it was used as part of fancy dress. The WaterAid camel and handler combo therefore especially pleased me.  Actually, not all that many runners wore them. That may have disappointed the organisers, but personally I wouldn’t embark on a 26.2 mile run with a new bit of kit, especially something as irritating as a headband.  Still, fair play to those that sported them, looking good!

headstart headbands

Nigh on 40,000 runners took part in the 2017 London Marathon, I forgot to count, and I was also really pleased I wasn’t volunteer time-keeper for the event, imagine how stressful that would be clicking times as hordes pass under the finish arch!  Bad enough at a parkrun! After about 3.30 p.m. the field started to open out, and more elaborate fancy dress options appeared.  I was in awe of the Save the Rhino team especially.  Those costumes are quite something. Also, and I know this is shallow and possibly harsh, whilst the costumes are great for raising the profile of this important cause, (and rhino conservation is most definitely a cause close to my heart) in fact – the truth is that the runners themselves are pretty anonymous whatever the A4 sheet with the name on may proclaim  Basically it could be anyone in there.   So Rhino Runners, for what it is worth. Respect!  Hope you all made it.  I’m sure you had to dig deep in those last few miles.

rhino run

Most of the other cheerers and supporters had started to peel away from about 2.30 / 3.00 but I had made a promise.  My  new best friend (who I’d met at the marathon-themed Southwark parkrun the day before) was running and expecting to be way at the back of the field.  I said I’d stay for her, but when to expect her?  What if I missed her?  Finally, I looked at my phone, and there it was, like a gift heaven-sent, a message from Cheetah Buddy, my Sheffield friend and now my own personal London Marathon Communications Manager. There were loads of texts giving estimated times for lots of runners I knew around the course.  Curses, why had I not looked at this earlier?  Still, not to worry, the faster runners were in less need of my shouting.  There was an ETA for the purple army marathon runner, and what’s more it worked!  I was there and I saw her, and she was looking strong.  How brilliant, what a great way to end my own marathon of spectating!  Even better, I screamed loudly enough to get a sunny smile and wave.  Finally, a runner saw me too!

Hunger, thirst, a stiff neck and a need to find a loo finally conspired to make me decide to take my leave at this point, it was gone 5.30 though so that was a solid eight hours I’d been at my post.   Great though, quite an adventure.  Walking along the course a short way was good, other supporters and motivational signs were there still offering encouragement to the final finishers.

poop signs

Another Shelter cheerer stalwart, who knew London rather better than me was also departing.  Together we wandered over to Horse Guards to see the finish.  It was bathed in sunshine, still quite a bit of activity, and you got some sense of the logistics.  There were meeting areas, some loos, and a fabulous photo backdrop.  Cheery (and exceptionally tall) police were on hand to give directions.   The one I asked was worried I’d just taken a photo of him blowing his nose.  I don’t think I did, not intentionally.  I’ll have a look:

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From here, we decided to seek out the Shelter post run support.  It was in a very grand building and up a great many stairs – though I think there was a lift for the runners which is just as well because I don’t think they’d have welcomed skipping up even so much as a kerbstone after what they’d just accomplished.  The reception was winding down, so although obviously runners were the priority they’d all had refreshments and we were welcome to assist in polishing off some rather fine sandwiches and some mediocre coffee.   For future reference, for runners there was hot food and massages, as well as lots of comfy seats and areas for photos.  It was pretty good.  It made me appreciate that if you did opt to run the marathon with a charity place there are definitely some benefits in terms of the support you get as part of the deal.  Plus, you’ll more than likely get some decent action photos of your big day.   I’d consider it for sure.  There is the awkward fund-raising bit, but weirdly I think I’d be more comfortable asking for sponsorship now I’ve seen the effort that goes into it all.  It’s quite something this challenge.  Not one to take on lightly.  I dare say some will question the grandeur of the surroundings given the cause, but I’m sure that’s factored into the day, nigh on half a million pounds was raised by the running team today, it’s fair enough they get a reception area afterwards.  Loads of other charities were sharing the space by the way.  Seems to be a post marathon thing.

Replete with sandwiches I decided it was time to head off.  Departing back to the station I saw the most inspirational sight of the whole day.  It was probably gone 6.30 by now, and the roads were being swept and cleared, barriers thrown on the back of lorries, and people in hi-viz trailing off on map.  In the distance I could see a solitary runner for (I think) Children with Cancer – couldn’t quite make out the top to be fair.  Anyway, I’m guessing he wont have made the cut off, but you know what, he was still going, on the pavement now, with almost deserted roads.  He was in the distance, and with just about a mile still to go, I heard some people sitting on a wall give him a cheer and got a blurry photo of him raising his hand in acknowledgement.

Yes, it might be a cliché, so what, some people talk of inspiration fatigue, I thought that was pretty goddarned amazing.

Charity runner, whoever you are, you were not invisible to me.  You are awesome, and yes, for me inspirational.  That’s quite some marathon you nailed there, medal or not!  There is awesomeness at both ends of this running challenge.  Believe it.

Heroic and inspirational indeed

And so it ends.

Same time next year?

Categories: marathon, motivation, road, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Southwark parkrun mainlining mood-setting magic and kicking off marathon mania. Yay!

Digested read.  Runners are awesome. The marathon weekend in London is lots of fun.  Parkrun is awesome.  Southwark parkrun laid on a marathon-themed event today.  Awesome plus fun plus awesome means it was great.  Thank you 🙂 Job done.  We’ve had today, who needs tomorrow?

marathon mood

This is the problem with pre-emptive strikes.  It’s honestly not that I want to be  a doom-monger, but I’m just a bit worried now, that tomorrow will be an anti-climax.  The thing is, Southwark parkrun today was epic beyond awesome!  With their special Southwark parkrun marathon-themed event they managed to recreate all the fun of participation at the London marathon without the annoying hardship of having to run a bit over 26 miles and get chaffing to boot.    Through their innovative and inclusive approach they provided all the cheers, camaraderie, landmarks – even a feed station with a complementary banana at the finish for goodness sake – under the literal and metaphorical parkrun banner, which means dear reader FOR FREE!  Gotta love parkrun.  It was such a good event, that as someone purely down to support the marathon runners this year, far from having an underlying sense of potentially missing out on the actual running part of the occasion tomorrow, I feel I’ve experienced all the excitement of having done so, and still made it back to the hotel in time for a decent brunch with the afternoon free for extra sight-seeing to boot.  It’s true they were not able to deliver on the medal front, but hey it’s still a credit towards your next milestone Tee (worth the wait I promise) and memories as they say, are priceless.  Thank you Southwark parkrun team, you gave such a welcome, I loved it.

It was all a bit of a blur at times though, it was so exciting, so that’s why some of the photos which follow are a bit hazy.  Think of it not as an indictment of my photography skills, more as a practical alternative to putting vaseline on the lens in pursuit of a flattering shot.  Vaseline is in short supply at present, I think there may have been a run on it what with the run round scheduled for tomorrow.   Whatever, make of it what you will.

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I even made a new best friend!  Endorphins can be like that I know, but really,  I felt like I discovered a kindred spirit and have the photos to prove it.  More of this later.

So first things first.  It did take some effort of will to get to Southwark.  Once I knew I’d had to defer my own London Marathon entry and decided to volunteer instead, I was looking out for a local parkrun to grace with my presence for the day before.  Thanks to the parkrun discussion group I got a tip-off that Southwark parkrun were going to be pulling out all the stops to put on a marathon themed event. This was a brilliant bit of insider info, as frankly I’d earlier ruled out going to Southwark as it is a three-lap route and I think of Southwark as being frankly very urban, so it wasn’t really on my radar.  However, any opportunity for a pop-up parkrun party and I’m in.  Especially as their lovely volunteer team even replied to my lowering-the-tone Facebook enquiry about the pre-run facilities.  I am (over) reliant on my precautionary pee, and figured forewarned is forearmed. Worry not dear reader, there may be nothing in Southwark park itself, but I was speedily advised there are a couple of options near at hand (Seven Hills leisure centre for one).  Astonishingly, I didn’t in the end avail myself of these, and coped OK.  Good to know I can, without tena lady sponsorship to boot!  So warm welcome, and lots of fun.  Decision made.

So, I was all set to go, and had worked out tube routes, and even squashed Roger into my luggage for the outing. What is a marathon themed event without fancy dress I figured?  Plus I had planned to do the marathon with him, it would be rude not to include him in this equivalent event.  This was my theory. The reality of donning my smiley vest and strapping on my horse (that came out a bit wrong, oh well) was a bit different.  In the silent isolation of my hotel room (and is a hotel posher than I am) my nerve failed me a bit.  It was the thought of having to walk along those long corridors with the risk of another ‘proper’ runner emerging from behind the rack of anonymous looking doors at any moment. Plus the thought of trying to be nonchalant walking the streets and negotiating the barriers at the tube.  Maybe this wasn’t after all up there with my top ten best ideas I’ve ever had. …. On the other hand, surely other people would make an effort, and it would be really stupid to have brought him all this way and then abandon him to the four walls of my hotel room at the final hour.  That would be shamefully disloyal.

I did peer out through my little eye-hole to check the corridor was clear first, and then stepped out.

The worst bit was leaving the hotel for sure.  Picking my way through the lobby, an over-attentive concierge smiled a good morning greeting ignoring the fact I was probably in direct contravention of their dress code in a way that I imagine a skilled butler would feign ignorance of inadvertently observed proof of infidelity in the presence of his employers. Quite a skill, it made me feel even more self-conscious.  My breach of etiquette was so extreme, it could not even be joyfully acknowledged.  Oh well, I made it out, I’ve done scarier things than this.  Once on the street it was weirdly completely fine.  Surprise surprise, this is London, they’ve seen way weirder, nobody cares.  I was genuinely ignored on the tube.  It was even fun, the stations that were so heaving yesterday were pretty deserted pre 8.00 a.m. on a Saturday morning (yes I was way too early to parkrun), and I could even take time to appreciate the architecture of the stations.  They have this futuristic alien film set feel, well, the one on the jubilee line did at least..

I was a bit vague about how to get to the actual park once I got to Canada Water.   However, with the wit of Jessica Fletcher, I used my initiative and espying some people in running gear ahead, trailed them at what I hoped was a respectable distance.  I was still feeling a bit shy about turning up in fancy dress and didn’t want to attach myself to other runners who might not embrace the opportunity to be associated with Roger and I.  Leaving the station, I continued my pursuit, other runners started to emerge from side streets and other station exits, and soon there was quite a merry trail of us following on behind the unwitting leaders.  We had to hope that they were indeed parkrunners, not bound elsewhere. I mean I could cope with ending up at a boutique coffee shop say, but I’d be less impressed if I accidentally had to do a British Military Fitness Bootcamp say.  I just don’t feel burpees and Roger are natural bedfellows.  Not that I’ve tried to be fair, but it’s an educated guess.

Eventually, I was swept up in the increasing mass of runners, and struck up a conversation with one – along the lines of – hope we are all following the right person, and the proverbial ice was broken and it was all fine.   Lots of tourists, plenty of people supporting or running the marathon tomorrow, a growing sense of excitement.  Phew.  It was going to be fine.  The only slight potential problem, was that having abdicated all sense of responsibility for navigation, and being highly suggestible, I didn’t want to abandon the herd and get lost.  I therefore walked on by the Seven Hills Leisure Centre and Peeing Point without making use of its facilities.  I figured we were ridiculously early, it would be OK to pop back later, and I’d rather find out where the start was first.

Well, dear reader, the park itself is unexpectedly large and glorious.  Mature trees, great signage, immaculately maintained with mowed areas and mini-wildernesses of bluebells and cow parsley in full flower.  I was really impressed.  It was nothing like I expected.  One of the great joys of parkrun tourism is that it takes you to places you might otherwise overlook.  Granted, the sun helped, but honestly, it was gorgeous, and,  it even has its own athletics track!  Who knew?

Now, parkrun is incredibly friendly, and you are guaranteed to have something in common with everyone there, obviously.  However, I was lurking a bit at the perimeter, acutely aware of being the only one in fancy dress, despite the increasing volume of people closing in on the rendezvous point like the cast of extras in Close Encounters drawn to the mysterious site where UFOs are to land.  It’s really quite hard to look nonchalant in such circumstances.  Fortunately, this is where my new best friend came in.  I think it was she who initiated first contact with a photo-op and well, it sort of grew from there, due to our mutual awesomeness I imagine.  She is, like me, gifted in the art of simultaneous broadcast, so we pretty rapidly downloaded each other’s stories and found common ground.  I felt vindicated in bringing Roger along too, whether or not some may espy him and regard it as an assisted run. They obviously haven’t been paying attention to his leg length, which does not work in my favour to be honest.  The thing is, we may have been in splendid isolation, but were it not for Roger, she might not have struck up in conversation with me and the world would be a duller place, so Roger is staying. He will continue to run with me in future, and one day, when I’m race fit, I might even be able to reduce the length of the added panel that allows me to accommodate him round my ample frame!  (I can but dream).

Key points, she totally gets fancy dress, and recently herself sported a giant daffodil at a Macmillan support run cavorted with grace as an escort to the final finisher. Respect.  She has a highly developed appreciation of running for fun, enjoying the moment kind of experience.  However, importantly tomorrow she is running for Pancreatic Cancer UK raising funds and awareness for a brutal and too often over-looked cancer with particularly grim stats linked to it. So big shout out for Pancreatic Cancer everyone!  Well, not to encourage it obviously, that would be ethically dubious, but for getting the information out there, and encouraging people to keep it on their radar.  There are lots of worthy causes represented tomorrow I know (I’m cheering Shelter, but I’m delighted that mental health has finally come onto the agenda with Heads Together as the official charity for the 2017 London marathon even if not everyone can carry off a blue headband with elegance and grace ) but nevertheless, I urge you to  have a shout out ready for any in this particular purple army should you see them along the way.   We do not have a finite number of cheers, the more we chorus, the more others join in and raise the volume!  Despite the photo below, don’t count on there being angels dancing attendance to help the charity runners round either.  I have a feeling that ultimately the London Marathon will be a personal journey for all who embark on it, but oh my, those crowds will surely be willing them round and no-one, but no-one should lack a multitude of cheerers to provide virtual wings when needed to help every runner dig ever deeper as the going gets tough.  It’ll be fine, it’s just one foot in front of the other at the end of the day…. (eek).  And just so you know (I didn’t) there is a cut off time for the London Marathon, this means that those who complete outside that time don’t get an official time (I do sort of get that) nor do they get a medal.  This latter point seems harsh to me, when people who are taking part are doing so in the face of enormous personal physical, practical or emotional challenges, surely a medal can be put aside for them and held by the relevant charity for issue on completion of the distance?  It’s not like they’re trying to get qualifying times for Boston or anything.  So, extra credit for any participants who embark on this challenge knowing they probably won’t make the cut off, especially as it is from the gun time start not chip time start which loses you a chunk of time too.  That really requires mental as well as physical fortitude and resolve. Respect.  I’m volunteering cheering for Shelter at mile 25 until three officially, but I’m going to try to stick it out as long as I can to cheer as many of the final few back as I can.  It might be a bit tiring standing around cheering and clapping but hey, compared to the effort of running 26 plus miles, that’s pretty small-scale hardship in the grand scheme of things surely?  I know when I’ve finished last at fell races (which has happened more than once) I’ve really appreciated being cheered in.  Payback time.

pancreatic cancer uk

We were distracted by the need to take lots of selfies, until we were interrupted by the first of two first-timer briefings. The Southwark parkrun course was explained, three laps is the main thing, and expect business, so many newbies perhaps a bit of confusion so might not be a PB day. Oh you want to know the course – well, it’s on their website, but to save you the arduous task of following the link the blah de blah follows:

We are a flat 3 lap course run entirely on tarmac.
The first section of the lap approaches the art gallery and then navigates around the children’s play area before circling the duck pond. The route then continues with a 300 meter straight under the canopy of large oak trees. The final third of the lap follows the perimeter of the park past a nursery school and a running track before re-joining the route back at the start line.

I just follow though, so really just blinked through the briefing in relation to that bit, and then I concentrated on practising counting to three, as it’s a lot harder than you might think to keep count when running laps.

More people gathered, there was another first timers briefing, and then the actual race briefing during which we learned exciting new things. Such as, present today was another celebrity, world record holder for fastest marathon runner in a spider man suit no less.  I’m impressed.  He was giving out finish tokens so we’d all get a moment of celebrity endorsement of our own at the finish.  We heard that runners and volunteers had gathered from all over the world and it was looking like a record turn out.   There were a couple of milestone runners, but also, and this especially pleased me, some absolute first timers to parkrun. What an introduction!

We also discovered that this parkrun has taken to setting up it’s very own cheer station along the route for the marathon and today was an opportunity to practise encouraging techniques.  Oh my, they so have it nailed!  I was especially taken with the morphing of the tail runner into a sweeper bus.   Clearly genius. Also, as it was recognised that this would be the day before a not insignificant run for some, walking along the bus route was positively encouraged for any who needed to save energy and legs for their big day.

I got distracted taking my blurry photos.  It’s a new camera I hope it is user error not machine error.  I’d rather I was crap than the camera to be honest.  I’ve already had to ask for a replacement battery as the one sent with it was a dud.. hmmm.  Oh well, who cares, more important things happening today.   Not least admiring the ever swelling crowd at the start. This was going to be epic!

As often happens when I am over-excited and distracted, I nearly missed the start.  All that companionable chit-chat and I was faffing as the countdown completed.  Didn’t matter, today was never going to be about whizzing round for me anyway.

We set off, at more of a lumbering trot than a gallop, but underway.  In fact, the pep talks from yesterdays expo, were pretty apt even here. You do get swept up, it would be easy to push off too fast just with shere joy at being there, even for me at Southwark parkrun I had a bit of an extra spring in my step, it’s amazing what a bit of collective mutual affirmation can do.  Life felt good, people are great, fancy dress and Roger’s company was a brilliant idea once again.  If it’s good enough for Spider man, it’s good enough for me!

Well, dear reader, the course did not disappoint.  Quite apart from the unexpected loveliness of the park with mature trees, blossom, its own lake resplendent with water fowl, there were hoards of enthusiastic marshals.  Not only were they very good at directional pointing and clapping (core skills for the role to be fair) they also had a fine selection of motivational signs and strategies.  Offers to stop your Garmin in the event of collapse (always a boon), power boosts (surprisingly effective) and even a dance station were available to the runners:

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Added in, were handy milestone markers and critical landmarks en route. This was way better value than the hop on /hop off buses which may be ubiquitous in these parts, but remain eye-wateringly expensive.

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It was all awesome.  I did stop and start quite a bit, because those photos won’t take themselves, but  today wasn’t about speed for me (who am I kidding, it never is) it was about taking it all in, loving and living the moment.  Having said that, my strava says otherwise.  I actually got a PR for fastest 1km EVER today.  Impressive I think.  Albeit it was because I kept it going whilst in the tube.  Had I but thought to book to spend some time on the London Eye later, the elevation would have been even more spectacular.  Memo to self for next time.

One thing though which was unique to this parkrun for me anyway, was because of the three loop model, you get extra shout outs when people lap you.  I can report that even here, miles away from our mother city, the Smiley Paces vest worked its magic.  I got some ‘Go Smiley’ shout outs.  How awesome is that.  It was worth squeezing into after all despite the less than flattering silhouette.  I also got some recognition from fellow Sheffielders who had also made this London pilgrimage.  It was just brilliant.  There were a couple of Sheffield half finishers T-shirts from different years.  In fact, I’m sure this parkrun was proof of that six degrees of separation thesis or whatever it is.  My new best friend used to share a house with (or work together or  something – on reflection, I was probably too self-absorbed to be listening properly, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story after all)  a Steel City Strider, and she’s an American living in Belfast, so there you go.  Spooky!

I also got some shout outs of camel woman.  Less brilliant. Especially now I know camel toe is a thing, which I didn’t until relatively recently.  As an aside, did you know in Cambodia you  can buy undergarments to replicate this look.  Why indeed? I don’t understand this world I really don’t.  All in all though, maybe I have to accept I need to do something about Roger’s forelock, it doesn’t do him any favours, and I do think it is lack of this that creates the animal identification confusion.  I wonder how he’d feel about hair extensions?  We shall see.  One for another time.

Even though I was slow, there were some speed merchants optimistically haring round, I would have thought the crowds would have worked against that, so many of us doing the course for the first time, but it was fun to watch them shoot past.  I’m not a fan of multi-lap routes, but one bonus is seeing the elite athletes in action, and on this route, on occasion you could even high-five other runners coming towards you.

The course completely disoriented me, but towards the end I ended up alongside a Southwark regular and we chatted for a bit. He was telling me more about their cheer station and how the parkrun has grown, also more about their very own superhero spiderman, of who they are rightly proud.  He also said that apparently a big group from Sheffield was down the other week en masse, celebrating a wedding I think.  I wasn’t sure who they were, but my money is on Graves parkrun, I just think from other parkruns people might identify themselves by running club allegiances rather than parkrun attendance, unless it was the Monday Mobsters.  Aaargh, I don’t know, I daresay I can find out, there are ways and means after all…  Ooh, and better yet, I got an extra selfie shot, this is what happens if you parasatise someone elses pacer.  Result.  Hope you have a great time on SUnday guys.  I’m sure you will continue as team awesome.  Just shows, everyone needs a trusty running buddy eh?

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We finished in a sprint towards the funnel to great cheers (not me in particular, everyone finishing got huge support) then into the finish funnel and our celebrity greeting.  Perhaps I should have felt a bit sheepish (in an equine-related way) me and Roger clip-clopping in to be faced with a ‘proper’ celebrity, spiderman.  Indeed, there he was, the world record holder for the fastest marathon in a sprayed on lycra spiderman suit.  I was impressed, obviously, but less so now I’ve discovered we in Sheffield have our own record-breaking ghillie suit runner.  It puts things in perspective.  Naturally I got a selfie though, spurred on by missed opportunity to get one yesterday with mankini marathon man.  I know, you had to be there – I’ll blog about that later, I’m behind, but talking about behinds, this was his. For the record, I did ask about where the number goes, but never got a satisfactory answer.

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I was emboldened by post running endorphins and also my new best friend’s ability to negotiate these with calm.  I offered to take one of her with him too, and because I have no idea how to operate a smart phone asked her to check I’d captured something useable. Well, my reader, you will be delighted to know that through happy accident and my near-terminal ineptitude I’d actually taken several hundred inadvertently, so capturing a really good one. This is apparently the secret of good photography, just shoot at everything and the occasional inspirationally pleasing shot will rise to the top.  Excellent!

I lingered a bit at the end, and it was fantastic to catch up with some Sheffield migrants.   So shout-outs to Graves parkrunner, yay; friend of fellow Smiley (Wingerworth Wobble RD, you know who you are) and those who donned half marathon tees.  Great to see the Steel City Spirit made it to Southwark.  More (blurred) selfies followed.  I even had a couple of shout outs by name, which was truly bizarre and unexpected.  Maybe my new best friend had given a tip-off elsewhere on the route to other runners, I was pretty distinctive to be fair.

By the time I came through the funnel, what with having to stop and take photos en route and everything, the volunteers had run out of finish tokens. By an extraordinarily smart bit of initiative, they were instead giving out raffle ticket numbers. You took these to the volunteer scanners, and one was on hand with a sheet of barcodes so they could scan the corresponding one, really clever.  The organisers were apologising for this, but really, they did an extraordinary job in the face of a tourist take-over, and mingling afterwards is part of the fun. Well it is on a sunny pre-marathon day at least, less so in horizontal hail to be fair, but that was not the case today!  I enjoyed the mingling, seeing some of the coveted cow buffs was a pleasing boon. They wear them like a (not very) secret sign to other 20+ tourists, sort of like a benign variant on the freemasons I think, well, I hope they’re benign, I guess from the outside there is no real way of knowing, we have to take these things on trust.  Turns out this group included run directors and parkrun ambassadors, all in all, quite a glitzy gathering at Southwark today it would seem!

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There was no formal prize for the raffle tickets, but it did entitle you to a fruit of your choice from the feed station, so I had a banana.  Great innovation too.  Generous lot at Southwark.  Hope we haven’t bankrupted them all for their generosity.  It was appreciated though.  A lot, by me certainly, but others too I’m sure!

I joined the finish funnel to cheer the final few back.  It was a glorious sight.  Bringing up the back was the sweeper bus.  Brilliant.  I really hope that particular innovation catches on.  And shortly afterwards a declaration of what had indeed been a record field of 475 I think.  There was brief speculation about rounding up ‘a few randoms’ to get them through the finish to break the 500 mark, but that didn’t happen.  It’s only a matter of time though. Could double again this time next year with the good press and good will generated from today I’m sure!

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So it was one big party really.  I said thanks to the run director and left a bit forlornly, after this morning, I feared everything else will be an anti-climax.  The rest of this London Marathon weekend will be experienced in black and white after the full (unexpected) 3D colour of Southwark parkrun.  Sort of a reverse principle of the original Wizard of Oz film.  If you are old enough to remember that film you will understand the reference, if not, just know there was a time when films were made in black and white.  Only to morph into colour half way through as confidence in the film soared led to a similar soar in budget. Really, go watch it for yourself and see….

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I left all a marvel at the park, and as I peered back through the railings for a final farewell, there were my fundraising buddies waving goodbye.  Next time I see them, hopefully it will be in the final miles of the marathon.  Wow. That’s quite something..

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So many runners, so many stories. ‘Just’ 475 here today, multiply that to get to 39,000, that’s a lot of tales to be told.

On departure I somehow got a bit disoriented.  I lost my nerve as everyone else seemed headed in the opposite direction, though on reflection, maybe they were heading to the cafe whereas I was heading to the tube.  Long story short, I ended up hooking up with some hapless Southwark parkrun locals who misjudged the situation by making eye contact with me.  Emboldened by this,  I asked them for directions and it turned out they were heading to Canada Water tube too, so I asked if I could walk with them if I promised to keep a respectful distance.  I concede though it is a bit hard to look inconspicuous when you are wearing  a pony, but they were gracious enough to make the best of it, and you know what, I don’t think it was even remarked upon. We spoke instead of parkrun and expo and marathons. They weren’t running in fact, though as London locals had been to the expo, and one of them had recently done the Manchester marathon so awesome runners also.  It’s extraordinary who you can meet along the way at parkrun.

Tube ride home was fun.  I had completely forgotten about Roger by that point, but he led to me striking up a conversation with a  lovely father and son combo on tube en route to the Natural History museum to see dinosaurs, which coincidentally I did later too.  Londoners have a reputation for being less than friendly, that wasn’t my experience today, though it may be that most of the people I spoke to were tourists to be fair, but hey ho, let’s not quibble. The Southwark parkrun team weren’t tourists and they get ten out of ten for friendly, fun-filled hospitality.

I made it back to the hotel in time for an enormous brunch.  Opportunism played a part there.  Note to self, never eat again.  I’m not even carbing up! Well I am, but don’t need to, and probably actively shouldn’t.  My hotel room I found had already been made up in my absence.  Truthfully I was a bit disappointed by this discovery, as I hadn’t yet had a shower, and this meant I’ll shower now and then again tomorrow morning pre marathon cheering duties, and I’ll have to do so without having had my bathroom serviced in between!  I know, what hardship.  I’ll have to fold the end of my toilet paper into a triangle all by myself!  Seriously, what hardship indeed?  It’s ridiculous, nobody services my bathroom for me at home, ever, I only do it myself in extremis.  It will be fine. So  I’ll have to hang up my own towels, people running tomorrow for all their myriad of reasons will face moderately bigger challenges than that and overcome them.

So that was that. Southwark parkrun done and dusted.  Thank you awesome parkrun people.  Don’t worry too much though people.  You can re-live it all through flickr account of the Southwark parkrun marathon mania here.  I’ve stolen these shots just for starters:

So now, are we ready 4 London?

Get Ready…

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Steady ….  (see what I’m doing here?)

GO!

Categories: 5km, parkrun, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

It’s not a parkrun apparently. Lessons from the Virgin London Marathon expo 2017

Digested read.  I went to the London Marathon expo. There were lots of talks and stands.  It was great.  I learned a lot.  Specifically, the London marathon is not quite like a parkrun.  Being in London for the build up to the big day is a) exciting and b) recommended.

How exciting!  Off to London today, not to see the Queen, which is an opportunity I could take or leave to be honest, but way more exciting than that.  Off to London to get to the London Marathon expo.  Yay.  What insights and adventures awaited me I had little idea, but I can report it did not disappoint.

Some of the excitement began on the coach trip from Sheffield.  In fact it was retrospectively uneventful.  However, I’d got on ‘the fright seat’ at the front.  I like this seat as you get a great view, but the downside is that great view an expose you to scary driving that is bad for the nerves.  One driver on this trip, the guy who took over at Chesterfield, had a habit of giving a running commentary of everything that was going on in his head.  I genuinely have no idea if he realised he was saying everything out loud, but it was a bit disconcerting.  Like when Gollum starts rambling in the Lord of the Rings, it’s unsettling because you don’t really know what’s going on.  Anyway, this driver, was perfectly friendly, professional and competent, but even so, his repeated commands to himself to ‘just concentrate’ and ‘need to concentrate’ and ‘stay awake now’ didn’t build confidence.  Likewise his low whistles of horror at the exploits of other road users focused the mind.  It wasn’t the most restful of voyages!

The drive was OK though.  Once we got to London itself I started to feel a growing sense of anticipation. It’s ages sine I’ve got a coach to the city, you go right past famous landmarks, Swiss Cottage Pub, Hyde Park (I think) wonderful buildings, impressive statues.  I eyed up my other travelers hoping to spot ‘fellow marathoners’ but it wasn’t that easy to tell.   Alighting at Victoria (is there any other context that we use the word ‘alight’ I wonder?).  It’s a short hike from the coach station to the tube, it’s only about 7 minutes but not well signed.  Then short ride to Gloucester Street and I found my hotel.  It is waaaaaaaaaaaay posher than any I’ve ever stayed in before, and even though I wasn’t quite posh enough for it, and did feel a bit intimidated, I got over that and made it in.  I was greeted warmly as someone who had booked in on the ‘marathon package’ I had, so I didn’t go into a lengthy explanation about having to defer.   However, I did wonder if the receptionist – who has presumably be trained to betray no judgement or emotion on her face at all in such situations – was doubting my performance potential as an athlete capable of completing the challenge in two days time.  To be fair, she had a point.  No words were exchanged.  I made my way to my third floor room at the back of the hotel. I’d requested a quiet one overlooking the garden at the rear, and that’s what I got.  Fancy complimentary toiletries too.  Yay.  Classy.

I dumped my stuff, opened and closed every draw and cupboard in the room and ate the complimentary biscuits before heading straight out again to get to the expo.  For this journey the tube was heaving, noisy and overwhelming. It was sensory overload, and I felt really dehydrated. Wouldn’t fancy having to do this the day before a marathon, it’s quite exhausting, well I found it to be anyway.  It was mid afternoon on Friday, and as I boarded the tube to get to the Excel arena, there was an ever-growing mass of runners making the same trek.  By the time I got off the tube at the arena, the platform was heaving.  Those of us just getting off were disoriented and blinking uncertainly in the daylight unsure where to go.  On the other side, runners who’d already finished at the expo were being herded down the platform to get them out. They were clutching their standard issue see-through London marathon kit-bags and wearing slightly anxious smiles.   A few were laden with last-minute emergency purchases or possibly impulse buys.  Some had little entourages of friends and family with them.  Definitely this marathon malarkey was becoming real!  Eek.  And I wasn’t even running it!

Those of us disembarking were urged to keep on moving through without even scanning our Oyster cards, I did wonder if that might be a mistake, but they didn’t want anyone pausing on the way through.  Maybe as you have to go back the same way as you arrive it sorts itself out.  I have no idea.  Anyway, for anyone worried about navigating, it was very easy to find. You just head over the bridge to the main arena, there  are loads of signs and anyway, you simply follow the migrating herd.  However, even though I wasn’t worried about getting lost, I was astounded at just how huge this cavernous arena is.  It’s enormous!  Should have worn my TomTom, you walk miles and miles to get to the main Marathon expo.  En route, I realised to my consternation and regret that I had apparently missed out on the  StoneShow. That’s the thing about London, so many opportunities.  You appreciate the scale of this space though when you consider the Marathon Expo, which had to cope with over 40,000 runners and their associates, was just one small part of this massive events venue.  Overwhelming. Truthfully, yes. On the plus side though, there are lots of loos, and signs and refreshments available – though, perhaps inevitably, the options were expensive.  I wish I’d brought loads more water with me.  I balk at £2 for a small bottle of water, but was increasingly desperate, and succumbed eventually.  I’d rather pay £2 than damage my kidneys at the end of the day.

Eventually, I made it to the Expo Hall.  The organisation was incredibly slick.  Yes the crowds are huge, but as it’s one way through the expo and the signage is pretty good you can’t miss the key things you need to do.  So first off you are met with a huge wall of signed booths from where you can get your number.  There was a help desk too, and a separate area signed for overseas runners to register.  It was dark, and vast.  The best analogy I can think of is to imagine yourself in one of the massive space ships that you see in sci-fi films, that carry whole colonies of people to populate new planets post Armageddon on earth.  There is the same sense of no natural light, and a mass of people in a very hard-edged synthetic space.  Not threatening, but definitely strange and alien.

So once you’ve got your number, you move through into the exhibition hall.  To do so you have to go through one of a number of narrow entrances (like at a tube station), at each of which was sat someone issuing timing tags.  This way, a runner would have to work quite hard to miss getting their tag, though I daresay some must.    You are then spat into the exhibition itself.  I don’t know what I was expecting exactly.  I suppose I was hoping for freebies and bargains. Honestly, I didn’t see much of that.  What you do see though, are trade stands from just about every organisation linked to running you can possibly imagine.  You could definitely pick up any forgotten items hear from specialist gels to compression shots.  Shoe companies were showing off newly launched products.   Whether or not they had event offers I’m not sure. Personally I wouldn’t buy running shoes at this kind of event.  I prefer to support, and get objective advice from, my local independent running shops. Frontrunner and Accelerate in Sheffield have both given me excellent help and support in the past, and have a wider range of products to draw on than these single brand outlets.  I’d burn with shame if seen by them to be wearing trainers or other gear sourced elsewhere.  It’s the independent shops and local running clubs that have helped get me going running wise, I don’t want to have my head turned by the glitz of an expo that will disappear like a vanishing magic kingdom in a puff of smoke come the end of the weekend.  Where would I go for advice if I don’t support the grass roots people who know the ropes and routes of running in South Yorkshire?  Even so, no harm in looking eh?  I wandered through the strange parallel universe eyes a-pop.  I didn’t buy any London Marathon souvenir clothing, it would have felt wrong as I’m not running but it was fun checking out all the sights on offer.

As well as all the sports gear stands, there were some running related organisations with pitches.  I found the Trail Running Association, who I’ve not heard of before, and said a bit too loudly to them (given the context) ‘I hate running on roads‘.  Fortunately others at the expo were too preoccupied with their own marathon challenges to take time out to lynch me for such speaking such sacrilege, so that was good.  Other stands were promoting international marathons and some at home too.  It is tempting, you get swept up in it all even though I  can barely manage 10k at the moment myself, and even that isn’t pretty.  It’s the atmosphere and buzz of it all, and affirmation of seeing runners everywhere.  Ten a penny in this venue marathoners.

I continued my ambling about.   A couple of displays had enormous course maps up with suggested viewing points which was handy.  Also though they brought home that, you know what, 26.2 miles is a very long way to run.   One of the maps was on the floor, so I was able to locate my personal cheer point. I’m volunteering with Shelter around the 25 mile mark.  I stood on it for a little while by way of practise.  I didn’t practice the clapping and cheering though, saving my voice and hands for the big day.  All of the charities with runners had their own stands too, so I went to say hi to the Shelter gang. They were friendly and welcoming so that was good.  They were also supportive of my intention to do a bit of moonlighting by shouting for other runners I know, as well as of course the Shelter team on Sunday.  That’s good.  Wouldn’t want to be drummed out of my lovely Smiley Paces club for dereliction of support duties.  It is a FACT that all Smiley Paces members put on a power surge if they hear a shout of ‘Go Smiley‘ when out running.  They don’t even have to be at an event, just espied whilst tackling the trails of Sheffield. It’s like an involuntary Pavlovian reflex, you hear the shout aside or behind and you start to sprint.  If someone standing at the finish is brandishing a raspberry pavlova that makes us run faster too, but it isn’t so practical an option whilst I’m standing somewhere on the Embankment.  Anyway, it means that clearly I am duty bound to do as much of that shouting as I can. Be it for Smileys, or be it for Shelter cometh the marathon hour cometh my supportive shrieking.  I’m so pleased to be volunteering.  I think I’d be have by now been consumed by my own seething petty jealousy at not being able to run otherwise. This way, I can still feel part of the occasion, and it’s the ultimate recce for London Marathon 2018 too!  That’s the theory anyway. You’ll have to wait  year to find out if it actually helps.

Circling the displays I found a random logo where you could write supportive messages to runners.  Despite the only limited crayon choices I had a go at scribing something for Sheffielders.  Not the most creative of graffiti art, but they do say it’s the thought that counts.  I was really hoping someone might discover it spontaneously, but in fact when I did rendezvous with my running Smiley buddy, I dragged her across to admire it.  She was suitably appreciative though, so that was heartening.  Next year I’m bringing my own pens and glitter and I’ll create something properly eye-catching.  Stickers even.  Now that would be an innovation.

Eventually, I’d had enough of traipsing round, so I decided to secure a spot in the central area where there were various videos been streamed and a series of talks taking place.  By happy coincidence, I was in time for the 4.30 sequence, too good an opportunity to miss.  I positioned myself towards near to the front next to an unassuming guy who was nonchalantly sitting with his marathon kit bag resting on the floor.   I suspected an experienced runner, the first time runners hung onto their issue numbers with white knuckled, unreleasable grips.  Quite right too.  Don’t want to lose that before Sunday!

Expo talks

I happened on the central area just as last year’s runner was being interviewed.  I only caught the end of it but Kenenisa Bekele just came across as incredibly nice and unbelievably unassuming.  What great people runners are on the whole.  As he stepped off the stage a huge crowd gathered in a queue to pose for selfies with him.  He good-naturedly obliged.  Running royalty indeed.

So then it was the talks.   You know what, they were brilliant, just brilliant.  Ironically, I suspect the runners actually participating on Sunday might not have had time to sit through this as they’d have been preoccupied with logistics of numbers and getting proper food etc, but for me, the advice was really good.  Also it was actually reassuring, I gained the impression that they have indeed put on this event for quite a while now, so it does (mostly) run like the proverbial well-oiled machine. What’s more it was encouraging and supportive in tone.  With useful top tips thrown in.

The first speaker was Geoff Wightman who was talking about the logistics of the day.  He was a good speaker and I learned loads.  I squirmed a bit through the warm up intros, when he was asking people who’d got lucky in the ballot to identify themselves.  ‘You people are so lucky, one in 10, just one in 10 got places that way.‘  Then those who were marathon first timers were asked to raise their hands also.  I sat there too scared to breathe, feeling just awful I’d had a ballot place I wasn’t using (though I will next year).  Then I worried about whether it was at best misleading and at worst outright deceit not to hold my hand up to ‘first time at a marathon’.  What if other people thought I must be an old hand, here to romp round my twentieth or something?  Maybe I should leap up and confess all before I was discovered?   I could explain about deferring and everything at the same time?   Don’t worry, I didn’t. Besides, most people were way too preoccupied with their own marathon fears, excitement and demons to notice.   Even if they weren’t maybe they’d look at me and feel inspired.  ‘Blimey, she’s done it and look at the state of her!  It must be possible!‘  That kind of thing.  That would be OK, I’m always happy to help.

Key points included that the marathon is not like a parkrun apparently! You can’t just rock up 3 minutes before and whizz off.  He explained the importance of getting to the correct starts, that kit bags have to be the marathon issue ones or they won’t be accepted, and that the lorries go at a particular time blah de blah.  Water is for drinking not pouring over your head – but there are showers on the way round!  Really? I had no idea, not sure you’d have time to wash your hair, but certainly you can run through for a cool down.

Participants were forwarned about female urinals (they are not for all) and reminded there are loos en route – the first set just one mile in, which is worth remembering.  Bring an old jumper or bin bag for the start that you can discard when you get moving.  Know that when the klaxon goes for the start… NOTHING will happen.  It takes a while for so many people to get moving.   Key landmarks were pointed out which are great markers of distance traveled en route for Sunday, but also, more importantly, helpful preparation for me too, as I was planning to attend the marathon-themed parkrun at Southwark the following day.  🙂  Runners were advised (scarily) that the most important piece of kit is their tag and their number.  Both are in the kit bags.  The kit bag is the most common item of lost property at the Expo!  That is both understandable given how frenetic the build up is, but also alarming.  If you are going yourself next year, hang onto that bag.  Trust no-one, relinquish it to no-one.  If you are a supporter, carry it at your peril.  That’s way more responsibility than I’d like.  I think the runner has to take ownership of that for themself.

On the day, don’t panic. There are St John’s ambulance crews a-plenty and they have seen it all before.  Not only can they deal with cramp and blisters and patch you up to carry on. They can also give out supportive hugs as part of their job description.  Now that is good to know.  Most of us surely appreciate a hug on a long run.  I hugged every marshal en route of the Round Sheffield Run last year.  How excellent this is an accepted part of the medics remit for the London marathon.  They clearly know their runners on this route march.

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So yes, there were loads of helpful practical tips, and reassuring stuff about the logistics (you won’t get lost, you will get your kit bag back at the end), however, the key take away point was preparing for the finish.  You get a sign at 385 yards to go (that’s the 0.2 miles, I don’t know why it’s measured in yards) this is your opportunity to prepare for your finish photo.  Don’t get upstaged by an elaborate fancy dress participant, and make sure you wipe snot from your nose. Good top tips.  Remember people, no official photograph then the race didn’t happen. Try to prepare to get one shot at least that you’d be proud to have on public display!

Expo talk finish walk through

One let down, was the reality check that when you finish, you will gather up your goodie bag, and then head to the bag drop. As you approach, a volunteer will already be holding out your bag for you. This may be lovely, but don’t be too impressed. They have not in fact remembered you in your unique loveliness from the start, they have simply seen you approaching at a snail’s pace from afar, and had plenty of time to rummage around and get your pack.  Oh well, as long as you and your stuff are reunited that’s the important thing.

Then to horse guards, and there is a gathering area.  If arranging to meet others, the advice is to factor in say 20 minutes to cross the start line and maybe 15 minutes or so to get to the rendezvous. There are loads of flags with letters.  You can be unoriginal and choose the first letter of your first name say, but if you want to avoid a crowd then maybe X marks the spot.  Not likely to have too many Xmen and women running.   There may be a Zorro, but it’d be cool to hang out with men That’s the theory.  Also on a practical note, there is often no mobile phone coverage at this point, the sheer volume of people means you can’t rely on a signal. It’s back to the olden days when you just hang around hopefully, and trust that eventually you will indeed meet up. Well worth knowing that, forewarned could save a considerable amount of marathon meet-up related angst.

As well as the top tips, there was a bit of history too.  We were shown a picture of the mile 9 mark back in 2006 I think with no spectators at all, and then the same shot last year.  Fair to say interest has grown!  It is an extraordinary phenomenon indeed!

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There followed a nutrition talk, which was probably a bit too late in the day for most.  Key points though were just don’t do anything new, don’t be seduced by fancy gels on the course if you haven’t tried them before and remember you only need to carb load two days before. What’s more (and I didn’t like this message very much) you don’t even need to take in any extra calories apparently, simply change the proportion of carbs in your meal, so you are having more carb less fibrous veg say.  Disappointing.  No midnight pizza and pasta fests after all.  I’m sure she talked a lot of sense, I did get the message I need to pay more attention to how I fuel my own marathon.  I’ve only done half before, and got away with a lot.  However in a marathon you probably are going to drain reserves, replenishing that requires planning and forethought.  Curses, not my forte.  Don’t you think Anita Bean is a great name for a nutritionist by the way, even if she doesn’t recommend intravenous carrot cake the night before a bit race.

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So next, it was Runners’ World rep, talking about the pacing teams. There are a fair few pacers out there, and they have different coloured flags according to start, which is worth remembering if you see them en route, as before you hook up with them, you have to factor in that you don’t know what time they went over the chip mats.  What was interesting, or was to me anyway, is that these pacers just literally aim to do the same speed for every mile. Quite different from pacers in Sheffield events who have to factor in the killer hills.   Despite the big team of pacers they might still be hard to spot in such a massive field, so good to know they are out there, but if you want to find one, head to the back of your particular pen.

Note to self for next year, I probably do need to consciously start to think about pacing.  I don’t at all at the minute, just run how I feel.   At the Expo one stand had wrist bands with cumulative times for each mile according to target times.   Handy, and not difficult to do.  I was tempted to nonchalantly pick up a 2 hours 20 minutes one just because, but they’d all gone.  Anything over 5 hours 15 is regarded as walk/run apparently.  Beyond that I think you must be on your own.

The final speaker for the 4.30 talks was Martin Yelling himself.  I’ve watched a few of his live Facebook sessions, but haven’t otherwise heard him speak before.  Well, dear reader, I can report I thought he was a brilliant motivational speaker.  I’ve not particularly been aware from him before but he came across really well, realistic, helpful, encouraging, smart and funny.    I was really impressed.  I daresay none of his points are actually all that original but his presentation was great.

He used photos to illustrate key points.  For example the importance of paying attention to kit, showing a nicely relaxing well kitted out runner pre race and a collapsing mankini wearing runner who may have been having some fancy dress regrets post race.  Nicely memorable:

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As the mankini shot went up, the guy next to me suddenly came to life.  ‘That’s me!’ he exclaimed.  I didn’t know whether he was joking or not, and neither was I sure of what might be an appropriate response!  Martin (we are on first names now I feel) spotted him and gave him a wink and a thumbs up ‘sorry, couldn’t resist‘ he said to my neighbour. It was indeed his bare buttocks magnified on screen above!  It is a cause of immense personal regret that I didn’t insist on a selfie moment there and then. In fact I just took a surreptitious one of him as he walked away.  Is that inappropriate?  Probably, but, tenuous as it is, it might be my only claim to fame for the weekend, so in this post it goes!  I’m not sure if the buttock contours are identifiable through clothing, but you can draw your own conclusions.  Sorry I blew it people, I just bottled it. An opportunity that passed me by…

Expo celebrity spotting

I can’t cover everything in this talk, because a lot of it was how he presented rather than the intrinsic content.  I will report that at one point his children stormed the stage which was endearing rather than annoying.  It was not quite on a par with that serious TV news interview photo bombed by toddlers the other month, but it was fun to behold all the same.  He did emphasise that 99% of people who start will complete this marathon so ‘why not you?’  The main thing is not to start too fast.  Don’t get swept along. All the speakers emphasised this point.  Runners were also urged that if they fall victim to their own negative internal voice the secret is to look outwards.  Notice the crowds, even get inspiration from looking at the wrecks of other runners around you who are also struggling.  Remind yourself if they can still put one foot in front of another then so too can you…. and know that in all likelihood they are looking at you with exactly the same thought in mind.  Harsh, but true!

If that doesn’t work, regard your race number as your self-belief right there. You entered, you can do it.  And all that cheering by crowds lining the way?  That’s all for you right.  Just make sure you have your name on your shirt to guarantee some personalised support when the going gets tough… and it will.

So, upshot is, the talks were great, I learnt loads, and I do think it will help me to look back on all these pearls of wisdom next year.  I can’t believe it will be me one day.  It blooming better be.

Talks over, I went back to ambling about.  Taking in the stands.  I found freebie cherry juice shots, and guessed how many cherries were squeezed to fill a jar of juice in the hope of winning a month’s supply of whatever this juice stuff was.  I mean it was OK, but I don’t know what special benefits it is supposed to offer up.  I also had a beetroot shot.  Not sure about that, I like beetroot a lot, but as a food rather than juice.  It was a bit much super-concentrated, plus I had to make a mental note to myself to remember I’d had it.  Don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning and think after my first bathroom visit of the day I’ve got bowel cancer or something.  I always forget beetroot does that to me.  Others too probably to be fair, but I’m not in the habit of peering into the toilet bowls of others to check.

I was flagging by now, so took advantage of a stand that had some massage machines and just stayed there for ages, having a mechanical back rub.  It was pretty good actually, but not good enough that I wanted to fork out £150 to take one home with me.

I made my way to the exit area.  Here you pass by a goody bag pick up point for runners, and seemingly acres of space devoted to photo ops, selfies and booths where you could don a ‘heads together’ head band and record your ‘reason to run’ for posterity. There were even some slightly incongruous charity fundraising games. Table football, bowling, and a dance floor.  I didn’t engage.  I was in need of a sit down.  A lie down would have been better, but it wasn’t an option.

Just as I was thinking I’d had enough, I got a message to say my Smiley buddy and her squeeze were on their way.  Yay.  I caught up with them by circling back to the central talks area.  By now it was pretty late.  The exhibition was beginning to close down, but as people dispersed it all became a lot more manageable.   No more pushing past people, we could find the few places we particularly wanted.  Smiley Marathoner was in search of some very specific gels and cliff bloc shots (I think) and was able to get both.

We were only just in time for a goody bag (phew) and found the selfie, ostentatious posing area pretty much deserted.  We used our initiative to access the medal shots, which greatly perturbed a roaming security guy because ‘there’s tensile there‘  Not tinsel, that would have been way better.  I both do and don’t see his point.  We may have been in technical breach of barriers but we were hardly about to steal the crown jewels.  Got a photo, so that’s the main thing eh?  Even if it wasn’t the best.  Sorry fell flying Smiley, I’m still learning to use the camera.  It’s supposed to be just point and push, but it doesn’t like being inside in the dark much I think.

We were all about done and done in anyway.  As we had hotels near to one another we caught the train back and shared a supper at pizza express.  Being in central London, and having seen all we’d seen, I felt like we were in some parallel univesre.  Even the coach trip up seemed a lifetime ago.

So, dear reader, I can report that the London Marathon Expo is a grand thing indeed.  The whole marathon enterprise is an extraordinary adventure, and pretty intense even just as a supporter.  I’m torn between thinking gawd I can’t wait to do this myself, and wondering what am I thinking? I just hope this time next year I am  indeed at the start line, having done the training and taken the advice and being ready to give it my best shot!

By the end of the day my head was spinning and I was dehydrated and exhausted.  I’m so pleased I’ve got tomorrow to chill before the big day. Note to self.  I don’t care if it’s cripplingly expensive, pay for the extra night in the hotel next year too!

So that’s it.   Expo done.  Wasn’t that fun!

Now bring it on.

Categories: marathon, race, road, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Giving parkrun the thumbs up!

Digested read:  I like parkrun.  It is the gateway drug to all that is great about running, be it badly or brilliantly.  Thus Mr S-H is my hero.  I have now met him. I am happy. The end.

Is it ethical to take a DNA sample without express consent?  I’m just putting it out there, I’m not talking about shoving a cotton bud up someone’s nostril say, that could get messy.  More how about if the DNA capture was more sort of inadvertent?  Then once this hypothetical sample had come into your hypothetical possession who does it belong to really?  What is the most responsible way to handle it?  So many questions to ponder, you can see why I have to seek guidance from the online running community for this….  I don’t think it’s entirely straightforward.  You might think you know absolutely which way your principles would direct you to behave in a whole range of circumstances, but unless you’ve been in that situation can you honestly say?  I mean really, hand on heart?  Have you never found yourself in a new situation where your previously heart-felt definitive ‘what I’d do’ assumptions just aren’t enough to navigate the new reality?  It can’t just be me left waivering about what to do!  I’m not accepting that!

I accept that you are thinking re this ‘getting a DNA sample without consent’ broadly speaking it is probably not OK, but, well you know.   You don’t know the full story.   What about if I came by it as the product of a happy accident.  The acquisition being inadvertent rather than the outcome of malice and forethought it can’t be that bad surely?  So now I’m in possession of this prized and rare resource (it’s high quality superhero DNA), it would therefore surely be criminal to simply chuck it in on a 30 degree economy wash cycle and so consign it to history.  It would be as if it had never existed, it is socially responsible therefore to at least think through the consequences of what might otherwise be idle irreversible destruction.  The upshot is, that right now I’m thinking I’m never washing again.  Probably not anyway. I mean truthfully I suppose I might yet care and have a shower one day myself as a nod to personal hygiene and an expression of good – manners to my fellow parkrunners on a Saturday morning, but my running top?  Nope.  Never.  That’s where the DNA lies and that becomes a site of special scientific interest and I need to preserve it.   There are other options though.  I’m considering possibly getting it framed – but then the picture framer might contaminate it with their own DNA, which would be catastrophic (they can be funny about being asked to wear latex gloves when working, I know from experience, whatever happened to ‘the customer is always right’?) – so the other obvious option is cryogenically freezing in a vault somewhere.  I’ve not researched the financial implications of that, but I’m sure that’s what crowdsourcing was made for.  I’m personally a bit skint now what with the flat tyre on the motorway coming back to Sheffield.  We’ll have to wait and see.

So what’s brought all this on?  I hear you chorus. Well, it was my unexpected brush with parkrun royalty at Bushy parkrun earlier on today.  Not just a metaphorical brush, but a literal, actual one, you know, physical contact with the living deity himself, parkrun creator, our esteemed founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt!  I know!  I’ve previously marvelled at the unicorns and rainbows at Bushy parkrun, I didn’t think they’d be able to top that.  But today? Well, today was transformational for me….  I know, extreme joy, I will try to share the love, but you will have to wait a bit for it.  Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start as Maria would say….

So I heave ho-ed myself to Bushy park first thing.  I’d had to come to London anyway, and as I was staying locally it would be rude not to. I wasn’t entirely in the mood though to be honest.  I appreciate that statement seems borderline sacrilegious now, but as my regular reader knows I do battle with my running motivation all the time.  Being conscientious but not keen is what gets me out there.  I am a parkrunner, therefore I attend parkrun, decision-making doesn’t really come into, it’s just what Saturdays were made for.

I arrived ridiculously early because I was in the car.  You can park for free if you time it right, but there is quite a bit of pressure on parking spaces and I usually walk, sorry, ‘jog’, obviously if I can.  I found a spot next to a gnarled old tree, which turned out to be a great move as I could watch a mini-colony of jackdaws hopping about and checking out the nest-building options.   They are truly amazing birds, smart, and I love the way they sort of flop about, they don’t look like they are natural fliers.  Though to be fair, one of them didn’t help this impression by trying to take off carrying a twig practically the size of a branch.  Credit where credit is due, after a few aborted attempts it did eventually leave the ground and headed to a hole in said tree. The twig/branch was too wide to fit in the space, but unlike YouTube dogs thwarted by stick size and gaps, the bird worked out how to tilt it to fit it through.  Smart things jackdaws  I love them.  Hang on, I don’t have a camera any more, I’ll find a shot from google..

20150507_e60_20150321_1055_120_fb3 jackdaw about to land on perch (adjusted crop)(r+mb id@768)

Got to love a jackdaw, in my world anyway.

It was a bit nippy, so I didn’t venture out straight away, I briefly entertained the idea of getting out and going for a warm up, but well, you know.  Eventually I did emerge, and went on a quest to find another runner who was supposed to be there.  I couldn’t.  I did mistakenly proposition quite a few random people who fitted his description though, and then gave up.   You can only take so much rejection on a Saturday morning I find  Precautionary pee – great loos at Bushy parkrun, though not great supplies of toilet paper.  Worth noting for future reference.  I strolled up to the start, taking in the morning chill and brilliant sunshine, and looking on in admiration at the co-ordination of the first-timers briefing.  They have their own sign and everything!  I love this photo, I didn’t take it, but acquired it from the Bushy parkrun run report, love all the stretching and silhouetted figures milling about in the background, makes me think of a Lowry painting – does that sound pretentious, or just accurate.  Oh well…

Duncan Scoble new runners briefing

Then I joined the run director’s briefing.  apparently it was his debut performance, well it seemed pretty proficient and expertly executed to me.

Bushy parkrun is huge.  There was a lot of chit-chat going on during the briefing that really irritates me.  I was near a couple of teenagers who were noisily slagging off a mutual acquaintance throughout which put me in a bad mood.  I did my passive aggressive thing of ineffectually glaring at them, and then felt a bit stupid.  I mean, is annoying, but hey ho, it will happen when you get a crowd that big, and I probably did more thoughtless things as a teenager.  Then something happened that completely changed my mood.  An adult and child – his son I think, were discussing shared tactics.  An under 11 for sure as they were running together.  ‘What time are you going for today, 24 minutes?’  (Needless to say I didn’t see them again after the awf) they debated it a bit. Then, and this is what filled my heart with joy, after the toing and froing about times had been concluded the parent said to the child ‘I don’t mind what time you get at all, just as long as at the end of the run you give me a big thumbs up!’  Heart warming indeed, surely that captures in essence what parkrun is all about.  It brought perspective to the occasion, parkrun is supposed to be fun. It’s a run not a race after all. That is all.

thumbs up sculpture

So then, after the usual bouts of applause for volunteers, milestones, and I know not what else, we were on our way, on the bushy parkrun course, which is indeed a particularly glorious one. The park was looking absolutely stunning, mist clearing, and trees bursting with life. Well, for the most part they were, some of those big chestnuts are looking a bit poorly, but it was still gorgeous.   This venue is rightly iconic.  Not only because it is for parkrunners the sacred site where it all began, but also because of its inherent loveliness.  Call me unnecessarily sceptical by all means, but I have harboured the secret thought that parkrun might not have evolved as it has if the pioneers had gone for circuits of Bentalls multi-storey car park for their first time trial rather than the Royal Park.

This is a photo of the parkrun briefing which I have lifted from Bushy parkrun run report. Hope you don’t mind Duncan Scoble, lovely shot 🙂

Duncan Scoble photo 8 4 2017

On cue, the stampede of runners took off like startled herd animals, some more gazelle like than others, I was probably more on the lumbering bison end of the continuum to be honest, but you get better value for money that way don’t you?  Longer out enjoying your run, whereas those speedy ones at the front are all done and dusted in 16 minutes and some have even been known to throw up at the end from all the effort. Where’s the fun in that?

As I settled in to my pace I was vaguely aware of others around me.  There was another interaction between an adult and child.  This was initially less uplifting. The girl was tearful and profoundly upset, berating her mum over something.  I was listening in, I’m always alert for bullying parents at parkrun, it’s something I’ve seen only very rarely but I have once intervened when an adult ran off and left his distraught child behind because they couldn’t keep up.  To be fair, just by my stopping the adult was mortified and the situation resolved, but it wasn’t OK.  I had an awful feeling this might be a repeat.  How wrong was I. This was not an infant compelled to run, oh no, this was a girl distraught because ‘I’ll never get a PB if I have to run with you!’  Harsh, but true, and for me, whilst you couldn’t not feel the girl’s agony of frustration, hardly an indictment of the parkrun spirit!  Life just isn’t always as we might wish it, can’t blame parkrun for that.  I don’t think she was ever going to buy the ‘it’s a run not a race’ mantra today.  I though, could jog on heartened.

You see all sorts at parkrun, I love that.  I saw the best behaved cani-cross dog ever.  No idea what breed it was, but it was poetry in motion, constantly looking over its shoulder to make sure that it’s owner and s/he were still perfectly synchronised.  I googled afterwards, and I think it might have been a Weimaraner, because google never lies.  No fake news there.  I’m usually a bit cautious around big dogs, they can be intimidating, but this was extraordinary teamwork.  Extremely impressive to behold, quite a partnership.

Weimaraner-Running-Dog-ADB250028DC012528

There were quite a few dogs about, not all on leads, but all unusually well-behaved.  One shot off, at a fair old lick, only to then take a detour to splash about in one of the waterways that criss-cross the park.  Well, you need a cool down after all that running around and water is fun as any Trunce runner will tell you.   The jury is out on whether or not having a dog offers an unfair advantage at parkrun – I think you can list it as an ‘assisted’ run, and Lily the Wonder Dog at Graves parkrun in Sheffield definitely confers a PB on all that are honoured enough to escort her, other dogs not so much I’m guessing. Cani cross is one thing, the Sheffield Inaugural Doggy Dash quite another!  Just saying…

It was the usual pick’n’mix fest of all shapes, paces and sizes.  One curiosity that seems unique to Bushy Park parkrun, is the number of small children weaving through the course route on bikes.  I don’t know if it is official policy to allow this at Bushy Park or whether it’s a question of turning a blind eye, but they are always there.  Some months ago I did see one pile up at Bushy parkrun as a child wobbled off their bike taking out assorted surrounding runners as they did so.  Personally I gave them a wide berth, I’m quite relieved that hasn’t been an issue at my home parkrun as yet.  Tricky one, you want the event to be inclusive, but I don’t think runners and bikes mix. Buggies are different, there is an adult in control of that, very small children on bikes I find less predictable.  Still, they were having fun, and every parkrun can have its unique variations.   We at Hallam now have a four-funnel finish for instance.   Suddenly the two-funnel innovation at Bushy parkrun is a lot less scary and unfathomable – though it remains phenomenally impressive!

So I ran round, thanking the abundant and cheery marshals en route, squinting into the sunshine, and like Orpheus, trying to exercise quite a bit of willpower and not to turn my head and glance across at the front runners who were visible looping towards the finish as I was puffing out barely half way round.  Not so much that I was scared of consigning others to Hades, or being pillars of salt or whatever, more that it can be bad for morale.  However,  I failed, and watched them streaming ahead, like prayer flags colourful and moving in the distance.  If parkrun isn’t your thing, you won’t get how uplifting it all is. Being part of a sea of people in sweaty lycra running round in a big circle ending up pretty much where you started.  I do concede it’s not an easy sell from the outside.  If parkrun is your thing, you will smile even now as you recall the memory of your last run and look forward to your next.  If parkrun is not, your eyes will glaze over and you will be at best politely non-plussed and at worst mocking with incomprehension the very idea of it all – particularly first thing on a Saturday morning.

Then almost suddenly the end is in sight.  The person I’d been looking for at the start had finished ages before and come to cheer me and other runners in, which is always great.  It’s great both to be cheered and to cheer others in. When I’m particularly hormonal I can actually get quite tearful at my home run seeing the final finishers come in.  Sometimes it’s a newbie runner, maybe someone returning from injury, often small children determined to battle round that whole 5k.  It is always glorious, everyone has their own story to tell.

Personally, I always like to go for a sprint finish.  Well, my idea of a sprint finish, objectively it’s not all that impressive, but I do try.  It has occurred to me that the fact I almost always have the energy for this suggests I don’t try hard enough on the way round, but who cares it’s a run not a race after all.  You shoot past the timer and are swallowed up into the double funnel which is rightly the stuff of myth and legend.  Here are some runners captured on film speeding into it.  This happens at Bushy parkrun at the finish. You are suddenly back-lit by glorious sunshine and morph into superhuman as you hear the click of the time-keeper snapping you in.

Duncan Scoble sunny finishers

The archway of rainbows come later, you can’t see them in this photo, but if you’ve seen the video clip of that final finisher at the Rotterdam Marathon the other day you’ll get the idea. This is certainly what it feels like at parkrun mecca!  Every time. Whatever position you end up in.

rotterdam marathon final finisher

Once in the funnel, you are encouraged to squash up with unexpected intimacy to other runners as you need to make space to accommodate other runners still coming in.  It’s not like United Airlines I mean, the funnel managers won’t start dragging you out and breaking your nose or anything, but they do like you to do your best to keep on moving through when space is at a premium, fair enough.  I got chatting with a fellow runner – I love the randomness of how you make parkrun acquaintances and evolve into friends.    I still don’t think of myself at all as a runner, however you do get to know the regulars who run around at your speed at your local.  For me, a pivotal moment in my parkrun journey was going back to my local parkrun after some weeks absence following a difficult bereavement and being welcomed back by ‘strangers’ who had noticed my absence. ‘Where’ve you been?’  It was the first time I identified as being part of a ‘running community’ I wasn’t invisible.  It was incredibly supportive, even though it was just a seemingly little thing.

So we struck up a chat and she was telling me about her half-marathon adventures leading to an accidental entry into the London Marathon, and successful completion too.  Such accidents are more common than you might think, only recently I heard of a Sheffield local who accidentally ran the whole thing in a Ghillie suit, gaining a Guinness World Record in the process.  I know, who’d have thought it!  This shot is from the Sheffield Half 2016 but it does show a ghillie suit, and I had no idea that’s what it was called until quite recently, so maybe you don’t either…

GC name check well done Kate Moss

My own effort to take place in 2018 is similarly inadvertent.  I got lucky with a ballot place for 2017 but have had to defer.  Bring it on for 2018 though.  It’s reassuring to hear from others who have already achieved that seemingly impossible feat.  I overheard someone at this year’s Sheffield Half saying to another runner apropos of the London Marathon ‘I cried all the way round, it was brilliant!‘  I’m scared.  I still want to do it though.  If it weren’t for parkrun I’d never had done the Sheffield Half-Marathon and that was just brilliant.  Yeah, yeah, my time was nothing to write home about, but I had a ball, and at the end of it I felt super-human. I could do that, I could do anything…. admittedly the feeling does wear off more quickly than I’d have liked, but you still have a glimpse of a potential new reality, that’s powerful stuff!  Oh, and that’s Roger.  He’s a great running buddy.

GC so pleased to see you

So the reason I digress is because parkrun has done so much for me on every level.  It has in fact been the gateway drug to the whole parallel universe of a life enriched by running.  I’ve crossed into a community defined by running related fun.  Yes there is the running bit, which can seem like a shame before you start but is always brilliant retrospectively.  But, in return you get parkrun breakfasts, parkrun fancy dress, parkrun milestone celebrations, parkrun cake eating opportunities (your body-weight in cake before you know it or your money back!  Oh hang on… ) parkrun volunteering, parkrun vocabulary (isn’t your life enriched now you know what a funnel-ducker is as well?).  Then through parkrun I found Smiley Paces which just happens to be the most awesome women’s running club in all of Sheffield.  Through that ‘what the hell’ entries to off road runs like the Round Sheffield Run (which I entered by accident the first year but have never looked back).  The joy of being cheered home as final finisher in fell races.  Top tip, if you panic the organisers enough by coming in behind the tail runner due to getting lost you will get an even bigger crowd looking out for you in the finish funnel. Plus, as no-one else is about it will actually look like you are winning in the photo if you want to impress your non-running friends and acquaintances.

final finisher

I might be guilty of the ‘seen a photographer’ syndrome, but I’m not alone with that… we all know who we are.

running bible

Obviously this recommendation comes with a warning.  As with any drug there are sometimes unwanted side effects.   Not just the obvious ones like chaffing and missing Saturday Live** but more subtle ones like, in my case hanging out almost exclusively with ‘proper’ runners so finding myself forever destined to be the fat friend in photographs.  It’s the yin and yan of it all.

Basically though, parkrun has been great for me.  It helps you see the good in the world, it has made me feel part of a community, it reminds me that what we share is more important than what we disagree on.  By providing a constant familiar place of sanctuary it has helped me and others too through multiple life crises.  Be it bereavement, illness, redundancy – anything…  It spreads the joy too.  parkrun birthday celebrations; running routes backwards; any excuse for a pop-up party at the Sheffield parkruns for sure.  I’ve made new friends and rediscovered old ones.   Three decades it took me to bump into an old school friend in a new city and yet we did.   I’ve commenced my radio career (OK that’s tenuous, but it was on my bucket list) and even started a running blog.  I’d never have got a National Trust pink bobble hat if it were not for that. So basically, there is much to be said in Praise of parkrun.  It is true to say it has changed my life (though I know that sounds really pretentious to the uninitiated).  As surely as the sun rises in the East and the world turns around come Saturday parkrun will burst into life all over the world.  That’s awesome.  Hence, the only time I was homesick when working in Cambodia recently, was when I discovered I had missed seeing Jess and Paul at a Sheffield Hallam parkrun. Two great icons.  What was I thinking missing out on that Saturday gathering just because of teaching overseas.  Gutted doesn’t cover it.

paul-and-jess-parkrun

You will understand therefore why it was I was so excited when my new funnel friend commented ‘oh look, I see we have parkrun royalty here today.’  Oh.  My.  God.  Could this be it?  Was it possible that I wasn’t just running the sacred ground of the inaugural parkrun, but actually in the vicinity of the great man himself?  I turned to look behind me, and there he was!  It was as if time stood still.   A great shaft of sunlight breaking through the sky to illuminate him like he was standing in a spotlight all of his own.  Chatting to other parkrunners with his dog (or at any rate a dog) at his feet.  What to do?

I was torn.  I mean on the one hand the poor guy has just been doing his local parkrun, maybe the last thing he wants is some giddy star-struck groupie stalking him. On the other, who wouldn’t like to be told that they have done an awesome thing.  I might regret it if I didn’t say anything and let this chance to say thank you to him pass me by.  I pondered as I gathered up my finish token and got my barcode scanned.  I wasn’t that starstruck, unless you forget your barcode it would take nothing less than complete collapse to stop me getting it scanned once I was over the finish, and even then I’d count on fellow parkrunners to ensure it was anyway.  To be fair, plenty of runners have documented their thanks to other runners for ensuring this happened after their own inopportunely timed collapses.  I remember one guy in particular posting on a forum somewhere his thanks to a fellow runner for ensuring his barcode and finish token got scanned after he fell and broke a hip I think in the finish funnel. Still, all’s well that ends well eh?

Scanning completed I sidled over to where our founder was standing, lurking and eavesdropping on the ongoing conversation. I did consider aborting my mission, as it sounded like a ‘proper’ conversation about maybe setting up another parkrun somewhere, and I was losing my nerve about lingering just to be pointlessly effusive.  I mean, every parkrunner worth talking to will be wanting to get to their post parkrun breakfast rendezvous I wouldn’t want to come between P S-H and that.  Maybe he’d done enough fraternising for one day?  The conversation ended, as he said he was off for coffee.  It was now or never!  Seize the moment or endure a lifetime of regret (yep, I am a bit prone to melodramatic over-statement, so what, sue me).  I stepped forward, and I realised belatedly I hadn’t really thought the subsequent interaction through at all.  I just blurted out ‘I know you are off for coffee, but I just wanted to say thank you so much for parkrun it has changed my life!’  Because I am grateful and it has.  So it was true.

You know what he smiled broadly and… gave me a hug (DNA transfer moment)!  and beaming broadly said something like ‘that’s wonderful, how has it changed your life?’  Which was a reasonable enough question in the circumstances, but not one I was able to articulate a response to in the moment.  It was like that episode in Father Ted, where Dougal for the first and probably only time, inadvertently has a brilliant idea.  However, asked to follow-up with how to implement it, he is thrown into panic, so he stomps off instead. Thus it was with me, I was completely tongue-tied.  There was so much I could have said, all of the above just for starters. I didn’t though, I just gushed incoherently for a bit and staggered away feeling both joyful at the encounter and furious at my awkwardness.  Aaargh.  Still, on the plus side, at least he didn’t disappoint, he actually looked genuinely pleased by my self-conscious outpouring of goodwill.  Well, I like to think so anyway.

So afterwards I was trying to think what I could have said.  I found myself thinking back to the man and boy at the start.  All the stuff that happens on a parkrun, irrespective of the time you make, the adventures you have, the camaraderie, it all just boils down to this, a thumbs up at the end.  Every time.  Simples.  That’s what I should have said.

Essentially I’m just putting it out there that for me and for many others parkrun is a precious thing.  In the circumstances, given that we can’t condone a captive breeding programme of community focused runners recruited from parkrun (though to be fair I think some of that has evolved organically if the number or wedding themed parkruns is anything to go by), I think you’ll understand why I will nevertheless treasure my DNA harvest.  I’m not so creepy I’m actually going to arrange to clone it, but you know what, we live in uncertain times.  It wouldn’t harm to preserve it for a bit just in case.  Bragging rights at least in the interim.  I might have texted some friends to tell them what had just happened too. Shallow me?  Guilty as charged.

So you see parkrun dreams can come true. I got to meet my hero.  Even if I hadn’t I’d still get to go to parkrun every week.  So thank you Mr Sinton-Hewitt. You have done a great thing with parkrun.   That’s some legacy in your wake.   I salute you.*

Our glorious founder P S-H

*Oh, and I have washed my top now.  You are quite safe!  🙂

Thanks Bushy parkrun for the use of your photos, and to lovely George Carman for the many and varied Sheffield snaps.

For all my parkrun blog posts see here – you’ll need to scroll down beyond this one to get to the others.

For all my Bushy parkrun blog posts see here – scroll through for the historic ones.  Enjoy, or not, reading is not compulsory.

 

** and Runderwear will help with the chaffing and I understand Saturday Live is available on podcast, so be gone with your exercise avoidance strategies!

Categories: 5km, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Token women! Hallam Heroines…*

*All parkrun volunteers are by default heroes FACT, so good to know we must be too!

Anyway, don’t be childish.  That really is very immature.  Clearly I mean token women and not toking women, as you would know if you bothered to listen and concentrate properly.   Those of you sniggering at the back know who you are.  Drugs are not tolerated at parkrun (apart from the previously referenced caffeine in chocolate covered coffee beans which is a different thing altogether and a quite legitimate pre-parkrun product.  Heavens, it is even a recognised running fuelling strategy inasmuch as there is some serious research relating to the link between caffeine intake and running prowess). Caffeine aside,  no post of mine will condone any illicit activities, including that of toking inappropriate herbal substances.  Should you wish to relive, reminisce about or simply romanticise your misspent youth you will have to make do with hoiking yourself around to watch tribute bands from the appropriate decade, reading alternative blogs, maybe even surreptitiously sorting through old faded Polaroids (from first time round, not when they were reintroduced as retro chic) and/or gazing wistfully at torn Riz+la packs unearthed from the back of your sofa.  You will find such fantasies have no truck with me!  I am referring to an entirely more wholesome sort of toking, I mean token women.  Glad we’ve cleared all that up.  Here we are, looking lovely!  Not under the influence or inappropriately giggly at all.  Rather a natural high!  This could be you too dear reader.  It could be you…  Read on to find out how.

token women

So, I wasn’t sure about whether I’d make it to Sheffield Hallam parkrun at all today.   I was really poorly last week, proper, ‘this is definitely meningitis this time‘ poorly, only it turned out not to be.  Even so, once my temperature had abated, and I’d surfaced from nearly a week under the duvet I was definitely decidedly wobbly on my feet.  Nipping to the co-op to buy soup reduced me to tears yesterday, so running today, just 24 hours later was never really an option.  Not to worry.  One of the great joys of parkrun, is that even when you aren’t running you can still have all the fun of participation in the grand collective community event that is parkrun, without any of the unpleasantness associated with actually running the course.   Yay!  ‘But how?  By what dark artifice and mysterious magic is this possible?’ I hear you cry .  To which I reply,  ‘dear reader, it is simple – you can volunteer!’

So, about volunteering.  Ideally, me in a parallel universe, would forward plan sufficiently to get myself on the rota in advance. This isn’t really my forte, forward planning I mean.  I like to think it’s because I’m a fun-loving spontaneous sort of person rather than just hopeless at personal organisation.  In fact I’ve been turned down from volunteering at Hallam parkrun on multiple occasions because of leaving it too late and being told the rota is full so there is no room at the proverbial inn.   This is ironic as often my home run struggles for volunteers, but it just seems that I always try to opt in when everyone else does, the day before a race or whatever.  Anyway, it’s been discouraging. Hence, I decided that today I’d just roll up and see if there was a job for me, and if not I could always be an independently operating unofficially sanctioned cheer leader, not too bad as a worse case scenario to be fair.  I woke up early, not deceased as a result of my terrible illness, so no excuses, there would be no surrender.  Oh no, so I wrapped up warm and headed into the wintry sunshine of Endcliffe Park.  Isn’t it lovely though – got to be worth getting up and out for in anyone’s book.  (Thanks Douglas Armstrong for the photos today by the way – he and George Carman are sharing the paparazzi load at Hallam these days, we’re pretty blessed with photographers in the Sheffield area – for better or worse, but more of that later…).

the gathering

By the time I arrived 8.30 ish, there were already a fair few donned in their pink hi-viz, and the run-director was doing sterling work in allocating other roles.  Hallam parkrun has just suddenly exploded like an algal bloom in terms of participation, which is great, but does create some logistical challenges.  I lingered hopefully on the periphery of his vision until a suitable role was found for me.   Previously  I’ve been both a marshal on the course, and a bar-code scanner, today though it was a new adventure.  Today, I would be token back-up! More accurately ‘Finish Token Support’.   Get me and my newly acquired awesome levels of responsibility.  The acronym FTS hasn’t entirely caught on, so best I write it in full for now, if I added the initials after my name without explanation I might be expected to deal with enquiries as diverse as those relating to the Forensic Testing Service or Floppy Trunk Syndrome, both of which are currently outside my areas of expertise.  Finish Token Support though – newfound competency in that area I think you’ll find!

Volunteering is a funny thing. All the roles are critical, in that if anyone is missing the whole event comes crashing down.  It is an accepted truisim that runners can’t run without the volunteers (well they could actually but they wouldn’t get a time) but it is also true that there’d be little point in all the volunteers turning out without some runners to organise.  The yin and yan of parkrun I suppose. I like volunteering, it’s a great way to see the whole field of runners, and it is way more fun than you might expect.  Good camaraderie and a whole different way of enjoying the event.  However, I have to be honest, I do find some of the roles a bit scary.  Shouldn’t really.  None are beyond the competence of most, and you don’t ever have to do anything you don’t feel comfortable with.  (Unless maybe you are a run director, but they don’t usually dump that on you if you just rock up without warning as far as I can tell).  If you are apprehensive about volunteering, please don’t be, you will be welcomed, you will have a laugh,  it’ll be fine.  In the unlikely event that something should go wrong, really and truly it’s a run not a race, it’s a free event, the world won’t stop turning, the sun will still come out tomorrow, and pretty much any error can be rectified.  Worry not…

Even so, I concede, it is curious to me as well which volunteering roles are (to me) stressful, and which are pleasurable.  Personally, I’d find the stress of time keeping a bit much.  I’d fear sudden tremors might result in my issuing a staccato of multiple clicks at a critical moment, or a temporary seizure would render me motionless and helpless with zero clicks registering just as a whole crowd came stampeding across the finish line like a cast reunion of Riverdance.  That would be my scary role – not so for everyone though. Fortunately, the pair allocated this responsibility today had no such reservations. Quite right too, basically you click a button.  Not too hard as long as you don’t over-think it.  A back up timer does the same, so you aren’t on your own with it anyway.  Kudos to those who step up to this role.  Each role has particular responsibilities.  I like being a generalist clapping and pointing marshal, but even then there is the worry about ‘what if‘ you are called on as first responder in the event of a medical crisis of some sort.  In reality, parkrun is a community, other runners are likely to help out too, plus there are radios issued to marshals at the more remote postings at parkrun these days.  Even so, whilst not wishing to be alarmist, I couldn’t help but notice in the post parkrun perusal of the photos that some runners ran so fast some of their fingers fell off whilst running.  In this instance, I’d have had no idea how to help!  I guess they had so many running endorphins and so much adrenalin whizzing around their blood streams they hadn’t noticed yet.  Hope they were OK about it when they got home….

Back to business.  The fun bit about getting there early is, apart from feeling busy and important in the way that only the donning of a hi-viz can bestow,  you get to see others assembling in all their many guises, shapes, sizes and celebratory accoutrements.  First timers querying the what and the where and the why of parkrun (amazing there are still some first timers out there to discover parkrun, lucky them)  and old timers adorned with balloons. Yay to the centenarians  single and dual.  That’s some serious running miles you’ve put on your legs. Go you. There were a fair few milestone runners at Hallam parkrun today, to be fair, awesome – forget how long it’s been going sometimes, it takes years to reach triple figures, that’s commitment – and commitment with style and sartorial elegance too if these photos are anything to go by!  centenarians I salute you!  You are rocking it.

milestone runners

There was a lot of milling about as people assembled.  There was the first timers briefing – all those bright expectant faces welcomed into the parkrun family and launched on the new adventure that is parkrun.  That’s their Saturdays sorted for the next few decades then, do they have any idea what they’ve signed up to?   Then there was the group briefing.  It was quite uplifting watching this from the other side of the tape. So much diversity, so many colourful tops, and to be truthful, the runners seemed a lot more attentive than it feels like when you are in the midst of it.  I’m quite short, and I can’t always see or hear the briefing if other runners are chit chatting in the vicinity.  It seemed orderly from this new perspective.  One of many surprises of the day.

It all seemed to be going swimmingly. There was the count down to the shout of ‘awf’, and off indeed they all went.  Like greyhounds out of the trap, but with more lycra.  I took it upon myself to do some clapping as the front runners came round the small loop chasing back towards the cafe.  It’s harder work than you might think clapping when there are 616 runners.  But I daresay it will be great for limiting the growth of my bingo wings.  As I clapped, and did the odd shout out to familiar faces or running club brands (Go Smileys, Go Vegan Runners, Go random club/event name that I’ve never seen before) the run director and others tried to do an approximate head count to get a feel for the numbers taking part.  I didn’t know they did this, I suppose it helped give a feel for what the challenge would be with the finish funnel, and also for how many are out on the course as it comes to a conclusion. Well, those are possible explanations, I think we all know the real reason is the weekly sweepstake on who can guess the closest figure to the actual number of completers.   I’m not sure if there is a cash prize for this or if it’s just for glory.  I strongly suspect that the run director has a bit of an advantage here though in that s/he has the authority to order snipers on the course and/or disqualify individuals at will.  I’m not saying that happens, only that I wouldn’t personally ever bet against the house in such circumstances.

Once all the runners had heave-hoed themselves past the playground, attention turned to funnel creation.  Now, it wasn’t all that long ago when the finish was but a flag and the funnel an understated strand of plastic tape, and that was about it.  Over the years it’s grown into an increasingly elaborate construction, with twists and turns and marshals in place to try to enforce ‘no funnel ducking’ regulations (to mixed success).  However, latterly, participation at Sheffield Hallam parkrun has exploded.  Like an unexpected and unexplained algal bloom, runners have just appeared as if from nowhere.  Such enthusiasm is great, but has created some logistical challenges, not least, how to stop a pre-finish bottleneck.   There have been some weeks where runners have been backing up way down the course, which is stressful for marshals and runners alike.  It is a run not a race, but who are we trying to kid, everyone likes to know their time as accurately as possible really don’t they.

Anyway, it seems that last week (when actually I hoiked myself over to Graves parkrun so didn’t witness it for myself) a new initiative was born.  A new funnel design was engineered, implemented and made its impressive debut, it was a success, as evidenced by the somewhat triumphalist expressions of this ‘made it happen team’ on 18 March – unfortunately, the photo doesn’t include much in the way of clues as to how they achieved this, only their delight at having done so. Their idea may have been genius, but it wasn’t documented for posterity.  No worries, the wheel could be reinvented. Why not?  What could possibly go awry?

funnel engineers

I can report a fabulous four-lane funnel was duly created.  I can take little (actually none at all) credit for this.  As planning conversations were earnestly debated and structures moved about I hung back.  It was one of those time-sensitive scenarios when you don’t really want to ‘help’ as you might unwittingly jeopardise all the progress that had been made to date.  I favoured hovering around in earshot, ready to leap into action by twisting red and white funnel tape around a pole at a moment’s notice, but resisting the urge to offer unsolicited assistance which quite clearly would have been in direct contravention of the ‘too many cooks’ ruling with which we are all I’m sure familiar.  Amazingly, it did come to take shape.  I salute the run director for managing to keep together (just) an outward disposition of cheery calm whilst this challenge was undertaken and completed  It is worth being reminded from time to time that the RD role is quite a responsibility, and we are lucky to have a team willing to step up to take it on week after week.  Anyway, the upshot was the creation of a thing of simple beauty. I tried not to worry too much about my overall incomprehension about how this might work in practice.  It wasn’t the time or place to be voicing doubts. Anyway, as has already been established, I was finish token support only, support.  The proverbial buck was not stopping anywhere near me.  (Collective glory by association though, count me right in!)

The funnel established, there was some time before the runners started crossing the finish, so  I was able to do some quality bonding with my Finish Token erm, well ‘Supervisor’ I suppose.  Pleasingly, she seemed to have at one time at least, shared many of my anticipatory neuroses, but had prior form in this role. Thus she had lots of useful advice and strategy pitches from which I could learn.  Also lots of reassuring damage limitation pointers in case of need.  (Abandon dropped finish tokens, they can be removed from the results later – always check you are taking tokens from the correct end of the pile, that kind of thing).  Key points, in case you fancy this role for yourself.  The finish tokens are all threaded carefully in number sequence on a piece of cord. This is kept safely in a snug little hi-vis bag.  The accepted wisdom is that you leave this bag on the floor at all times, removing only a small pile of tokens at a time, in order to avoid a token spillage catastrophe. This approach required some modification as we realised we were going to have to migrate between finish tunnels  in this new incarnation.  Not to worry, we were a team, we would overcome.  I have to be honest (I don’t actually, but I just can’t help myself), the thread of finish tokens we dragged around behind us reminded me of nothing more that a trailing tapeworm being ejected from a dog’s bottom.  I fully appreciate this analogy is both unwholesome and unwelcome, but it also happens to be absolutely true. Once seen, never forgotten.  Trust me on this. I will spare you a googled stock image picture to prove my point.

Let me replace that in your mind’s eye.    My regular reader will know I am particularly partial to a nice duck shot.  This one is classy indeed.  I thank you Dougal  (other photographers are available) for this offering, George may have pretty capacious shoes for you to fill, but you did pretty good today I’d say. Got to appreciate a finely turned out mandarin.  Bravo.

classy duck

So, back to finish tokens. The plan was this.  Basically, we took it in turns to distribute tokens. The first person would take a batch of say 30 tokens and give them out, as they got to the last couple they’d shout and the second person (me) would step in with the next 30 tokens and the first person would step back and collect their lot ready to go.  Easy.  However, a bit like rubbing your stomach and patting your head, to mix things up a bit, we also had to migrate between the finish funnels. The new system is that finishers fill up one lane of the funnel, and then once they are all squished in, someone at the finish point directs the next lot of finishers into the next line and so on.  It sounds really complicated, but worked surprisingly well. The only challenges were newcomers looking bewildered in a ‘why can’t I have a token now’ sort of way as they stood at the end of the lines waiting for us to get to them, but I’d say it was a success.  I felt we were a good team, and it was fun having a volunteer buddy. Plus we could even enjoy the looks of suffering on the first finishers, noting that just maybe they work way harder than I ever do out running. I can just about cope with getting out of breath when I run as normal now, but some of the guys in the finish funnel were practically crawling up towards us and dry retching as they did so.  Nope, that doesn’t happen in my world.  Impressive to see, but not my running aspiration, though it does remind me I probably need to push myself out of my comfort zone quite a bit more to improve.

It is a great boon of volunteering to get to see the speedier runners who have normally gone home ages ago by the time I get round, but it isn’t only they who impress. There are the buggy runners, the team players, the juniors, including some real tots who were full of smiles at their achievements.  It was also fun for me as I’ve been away for ages, so it was great to see and greet pretty much every runner and see so many familiar faces.  It did get pretty busy at some points, but not so busy that I didn’t get some extra hugs and high fives from friends old and new.  All very affirming.  There were runners coming back from injury, milestone runners, runners in new gear, runners in old gear.  The whole continuum was out there.  It is genuinely inspiring to see.

I also think we need to celebrate the slower runners and remember how important we are too – these guys look all speedy and at the front and everything, but they are only running that fast because they are being chased from the back.  And if they get close to lapping us – well, we are giving them a target to chase aren’t we. They’d be nothing without us to chart their progress by (eh hem).   Seriously though, it’s the inclusive nature of parkrun that is so awesome, I love that it’s an event that has such a broad continuum, inspiration comes from both ends of that colourful spectrum of lycra!

only fast because being chased

Is it a bell curve?  Anyway, after a flurry of activity, it levelled off a bit as the main bulk of runners had passed through. Time to chat with other runners and the photographer for the day alongside the runderwear ambassador who had knocked out another PB. Almost getting dull, she’s done that week after week for ages now!  We were debating the merits of being photographed at parkrun, and the extent to which it is motivating and helpful.  In summary, it is a marvelous thing to have photographers at parkrun capturing the occasion and sometimes the hilarity of our running endeavours.  All of us admit to a sort of addiction to reviewing post-run shots be they from parkrun or any other event.  The issue is our general appreciation of all the photos juxtaposed with our inner cringing at any that might be particularly unflattering of ourselves.  It’s a fine line.  This led to speculation about whether or not there may be a gender issue when it comes to photos.

Now, we all know Regal Smiley exercises considerable power of veto (which is not the same as editorial control) over the issue of which photos make the cut when Glorious George is operating the camera.  She has long been acknowledged as the real power behind the lens in that respect.  She has learned to pronounce on the acceptability or otherwise of photos,  with a skill, speed and judgement that is usually only associated with those who appraise diamonds for a living.  She can tell practically without even looking, whether or not an image is fit for public circulation. It’s about assessing whether the subject would, having seen this picture let loose on the world, ever be able to leave their house again without disguise, let alone continue to go running.  I cannot be alone in silently thanking her for undertaking this task so selflessly on behalf of photographed runners everywhere.  Today’s photographer does similarly jettison photos that are likely to mortify the object of his art, which is good to know but not the point. The point is we were debating whether or not there was a gender thing re vetoing of photos.  Is it the case that  relatively more men take some perverse pride in the gruesome ‘and here I am retching over the finish line‘ snaps whereas women may be more likely to favour shots at the less gurning end of the continuum?  This was one view mooted.  I don’t like to generalise, but I think there may be something in this.  On a good day I can guffaw along with everyone else at the comically bad running shot of me in action (and there are many of these), but there are some that are so unflattering (at least I hope they are unflattering and not reality of my appearance in motion) that I’d not only never run again if they made it into the public domain, I’d never leave the house again either. Fine line indeed.   OCR  (Obstacle Course Race) photos are particularly trophy-orientated in that respect.  ‘Look at me experiencing high voltage electricity charge through me whilst I battle through a pool of crushed ice‘ for example. Honestly, it’s not a look everyone can carry off, yet Facebook profiles are littered with such snaps.  And I can see why, totally, I’m perhaps as delusional as everyone else…

Anyway, there were plenty of happy sights to behold going round today though.  Not an arctic enema or mud slide in sight today at Endcliffe Park, as people sprinted round.  Joyful, each in their own way.  You’ve got to look on and smile at this slide show.  There were some amazing photos of juniors running too, some really adorable tots going round today, but I haven’t included those shots as I’m not sure it’s appropriate to do so, but if you saw them for yourself you’d have smiled too, maybe you did and you did.  I hope so 🙂  Run Happy indeed!

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It’s great to see how each and every one of us is motivated by our own personal goals – cake, running down cancer, or the simple joy of running for its own sake.  Each to their own.  The volunteers had their own stories too I’m sure.  I’d love to do that one day, get every participant’s back story for a single event (runners and volunteers) I think that would be awesome.

I’m pleased to report that today at least, nobody vomited at the end of this parkrun.  Elsewhere, it was a different story – at least one smiletastic contender (the winter running club competition for the Smiley paces Sheffield Women’s Running Club) threw up fairly spectacularly at the end of her tourist run at some random parkrun somewhere.  I know this, because she tried to claim a bonus point for this on the basis that this surely was evidence of near super-human effort in running.  I’m not sure on this one.  It might be of course.   But it might also be the aftermath of an inappropriate Bacchanalian frenzy the night before or just picking up some sort of unfortunate streptocooccal infection.  Even if it wasn’t, there was an absence of proof provided either in photographic form, or in carefully bagged and tagged forensic form. Whilst we must be thankful for such small mercies, it is a tricky area to judge on therefore.  I’m glad it’s one for elder smiley to arbitrate on and not me.  On the subject of Smiletastic (yes we were) the photos suggest badger action underway at Hallam too – but, whilst not wishing to absolutely cast nasturtiums (but also not wishing to allow such a fine opportunity for a malapropism to pass unused),  I suspect a bib-mule in action here – what with smiley paces being an all women club, but then again, perhaps it’s all gamesmanship in action. Who knows, the stakes are high as smiletastic 2017 reaches its climax for sure!  Far be it from me to judge, I am but a witness to history…

smiletastic badger perhaps

Anyway, back to funnel practicalities.  Erm, well, it was sort of complicated and simple. Complicated to explain, perilous at times, but yep, it did sort of work, this four filtration funnel system. The photo doesn’t really help but here we go.  Poetry in motion we were, go us!  Loving the Strider Bobble Hats too.  Classy.

Whatever the role volunteering was pretty awesome today.  Look at this cutey getting her love token at the end. Gotta love a parkrun that let’s you be part of this!

skillful token support

So if you have come to see that you have been missing out and are now craving a slice of the action?  Get yourself on the volunteer rota and you too could be rocking the hi-viz and counting down to your own purple T delivery day.  Yay!  Better yet, one day you might even be in possession of a clipboard!  I know, there is no greater authority on earth than that!   I can’t promise it would be every time, but it is a real possibility once you’ve proved yourself.

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Oh, and don’t you just love Endcliffe Park?  We are lucky indeed.  The backdrop to a glorious collective endeavour.

love our park

So that’s it really.  Hallam parkrun event 335 put to bed.   All it’s mini-adventures complete for another week.

Tomorrow is the Longshaw 10k.  I’m still not up for running so will head over and volunteer instead again I think.  Why not, sunshine is pretty much promised.  I’ve just got to remember the clocks will change (in the correct direction) and all will be well!

See you there.

clocks change

For all my Sheffield Hallam parkrun posts click here

For all my parkrun related posts – including Sheffield Hallam parkrun click here

Categories: 5km, parkrun, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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