On the subject of superheroes…

Digested read: parkrun volunteering is a lot of fun.  It is a parallel universe of parkrun good times.  If you haven’t crossed over to this other side yet, you might be missing out.  Just saying.  Donning hi-viz for junior parkrun is the highlight of my week, literally as well as metaphorically.  Obviously.

Well, I was holding forth on the subject of superheroes, whether or not you were concentrating I can’t really know, but basically I was saying that that special breed of people who set up inaugural parkruns, and manage to generate enough momentum to keep them going, deserve some sort of public recognition.  They are after all the ‘make it so’ teams who help parkrun grow and regenerate.  Personally,  I favour the option of bestowing these noble few with parkrun logoed capes.  However, inexplicably, it currently isn’t in my gift to generate and distribute these, but what I can do, is potentially make life easier for some Run Directors out there by singing the praises of volunteering.  Step up people and give it a go.  You have nothing to fear… and stunning parkrun hi-viz within your reach. Why wouldn’t you?  You too could be a hi-viz hero, yours for the taking!

volunteer outfit

You do have to supply your own hat though. I think this one might be a Tilly hat, they are very good, I think they are insured for ever but can survive even passing through the digestive tract of an elephant in tact.  This testimonial is spoilt as it involves keeping some poor magnificent elephant in captivity, but it still illustrates a point.  Anyway, most parkruns don’t risk this happening to their headgear, but I suppose in South Africa it could be an issue.  Look forget it, I wish I’d never gone down the headgear route.  Stick with a beret and the associated angst over whether stereotypical national fancy dress is ever acceptable at a Le Tour themed parkrun event, if you prefer,  and let’s move on.

Lucy le tour

There are basically two facts you need to know when it comes to volunteering at your local parkrun (though parkrun voluntourism is a thing too of course). These are as follows:

  1. Fact one.  Volunteering at regular parkrun is fun, lots of fun
  2. Fact two.  Volunteering at fun-size junior parkrun is even more fun. Awesome fun in fact.  Fun in inverse proportion to the average height of those participating.

Alas, capes for TAPSS are not yet available, let alone for volunteers, but the opportunity to be a hi-viz hero is very much there for the taking. You too could join a line up as fabulous as this.  I know, just imagine!  No idea where these folk are or who they are by the way, (borrowed from parkrun uk facebook page at some point), but it matters not, this scene is replicated worldwide at a parkrun near you weekly, I promise.

panshanger-parkrun-volunteers

My volunteering started off at parkrun ‘proper’ as I might have erroneously referred to it before I knew any better.  Now my favoured parkrun volunteering venue is a junior parkrun.   For a number of reasons. In honesty, I showed up the first time mainly because I felt I ought to ‘give something back’, and junior parkrun means I can do so without forfeiting my own Saturday parkrun.  However, I would now say the main motivation is because it is a lot of fun.  Crying with laughter sort of fun at times.   It is such a brilliant way to start a Sunday morning you have no idea until you’ve tried it.

Let’s be honest though, even though I am apparently able to sustain myself whilst living independently, and have indeed lived and worked overseas which ought to mean I can cope with a bit of stress and am reasonably adaptable, I was still nervous about volunteering at first.  I still am sometimes.  Objectively this is ridiculous perhaps to you, but speaking to other volunteers I think it’s quite common to feel some anxiety about taking on a new role.  Passions can run high at parkrun, it is for some if not actually the most important part of their week it’s definitely a highlight.  You don’t want to be the weak link that messes up the timings or sends a front runner hot foot the wrong way on a turn.  The post of time-keeper is particularly feared by me, though interestingly I’ve seen first time DoE volunteers take to it with no problems at all.

The Timekeeper is responsible for recording the times of all finishers. This can be a high pressure role, particularly at our busier events.
For every runner that crosses the finish line on their own two feet, the timer will record that time using a timing device. This data is then combined with the data from the Barcode Scanners (see below). Our events are provided with multiple timers, so there will normally be someone operating a backup timer.

Apparently, clicking a button everytime a runner crosses the line isn’t as hard as I think.   Who knew?  I just imagine I’ll suffer some terrible seizure and be frozen unable to move, or worse yet set off a staccato sequence of line-crossers when there is in fact not a runner in sight.   I must just over think it.  … The thing is, and I say this not to put you off, but rather the opposite, a bit of apprehension because you care about getting it right is surely a good thing.  Besides, it adds to the frisson of excitement and anticipation when you know you are about to join a team of people and contribute to the delivery of something bigger than yourself.  Quite a lot bigger…

As an aside if you go to the global parkrun site and scroll down you can get a live update of the global stats for participation.  It’s pretty impressive. As of today (22 June 2017) the figures are 2,321,735 runners running (bit like lords-a-leaping, just imagine!); 275,019 volunteers and events have taken place in 1,155 locations. If you are a real parkrun stats geek check out http://www.elliottline.com/parkrun/ for weekly updates on UK (mainly) stuff. It’s way more compelling than you might think I promise 🙂 .

I think it’s like the apprehension you get if you’ve ever had to perform on stage be that in a class assembly at school, or giving a presentation or lecture at work, or a speech at a celebration.   There is an inevitability that this event will happen, you will have your unique role and so there will be a moment when everything will feel like it depends on you! Ha!  Think of it not so much as responsibility, but as power, if that helps. (It is rare enough to feel any sense of personal agency or influence in our crumbling world at times…).  Besides, everyone knows that donning a hi-viz jacket at parkrun bestows you with super-human powers, which is why if you cheer and high-five runners as they pass they magically speed up. FACT.  Only possession of a clipboard can trump that.

Plus, at the end of the day it is a RUN not a RACE, most errors can be rectified.  Even if they can’t, it is what it is. Did you know that even Paul Sinton-Hewitt once wiped all the timings at Bushy park parkrun, so it can happen to the best of us.  It would almost be worth making that particular mistake just so you can be in the overlap of a Venn diagram with the great man himself.  The actual point is, the world didn’t come to an end.  Most runners are understanding if there is a system failure – I think one time I ran at Sheffield Hallam parkrun and no results could be processed and we all got a time of 59 minutes, but it wasn’t that bad.  Not like finding you’ve run out of tea bags on waking for example, or are left reeling by toast too big for a toaster, not even near!  There may be a future amusing anecdote in it – like that hilarious time (also at Hallam) when the finish tokens were nowhere to be found and all the many hundreds of runners had to form an orderly queue and have their barcodes written down manually, I kid you not. Still worked.  How the run volunteering team look back affectionately on that Saturday and laugh I can only imagine. What larks eh?  What larks!

So, here is my highly subjective running scared guide to the various roles.  Other more authoritative guides to the various volunteering parkrun roles are available, but who wants to exhaust themself by clicking on external links?

Marshaling:

The parkrun website describes this role as follows:

Marshals guide and encourage the runners around the course warning them of any obstacles or hazards, as well as ensuring that other park users are aware of the run.
They are also the eyes and ears of the run director out on the course.
Marshals perform a crucial function; if there aren’t enough marshals then the event can’t go ahead. So if you’re running and see them out on the course, please say thanks (particularly if it’s wet, windy or cold) and always follow their advice. They’ll most likely be wearing high vis – so they should be easy to spot.

Most of my volunteering has been marshaling. This essentially involves directional pointing and clapping.  You are also the eyes and ears of the event and I suppose ambassadors too.  It is one of my favourite roles to be fair.   For loads of reasons.  The main one being that you get to see every single runner pass. The first time I marshaled was also the first time I got a real sense of the continuum of runners who take part.  As a er hem, more sedate runner, I’d never seen the fast ones other than in a flash of lycra as they lapped me, and only ever from behind. Seeing their faces contort with the strain of it all was actually pleasing and inspiring in equal measure.  Running isn’t any easier for those speed merchants it seems, they are still working hard, it’s just they keep on getting faster.  Fact one of running, it never gets easier, your goals just shift.

never gets easier

Then you also start to see the whole spectrum of people who participate, parents with buggies; runners with dogs; family outings.  It was a revelation.  I’d only noticed the limited group of people who run at my pace, it is genuinely uplifting to see so many different people taking on the same challenge.  You start to notice the octogenarian at your local event; the person who might be in the middle of chemotherapy; the first timers; individuals taking it on post illness or as part of a weight loss challenge.  Speaking personally, I’ve become much more aware of local groups, not just running clubs, but community connections.  I’m not entirely delusional, I don’t know all these people personally, in that sense they aren’t all my friends, but we do have a common interest.  More in common as the saying goes, and at the risk of unleashing just the first of a forthcoming torrent of feel-good clichés yet to tumble out in this blog post, yep, it’s made me feel way more connected to where I live.  Can’t go running anywhere in my neck of Sheffield without seeing or been seen by a fellow parkrunner.  It’s like a constant mutual surveillance.  In a good way though, not stalkery.  Think of it as motivational and jolly.

In my experience, marshaling can also involve hugging quite a lot of people either to reassure en route, or to congratulate on completion.  How you feel about embracing random sweaty runners might be a factor in whether or not you are comfortable with this aspect of the role. It’s not obligatory though, if you stand rigidly you will give off enough protective non verbal ‘don’t touch me!’ signals that you will be absolutely fine.  Nobody likes an awkward hug.  Not even slightly over-emotional parkrunners.  I don’t really consider myself a huggy person at all, but mid or post run endorphins can make you love everyone, and some of the best hugs I’ve had have been from marshals on long trail runs. Thank you hi-viz heroes, you know who you are. Well, you do know who you are, but I can never forget the RSR hug that came when most needed, 20km in to a 24 km trail running event.   You may indeed love running, but I love marshals who facilitate that, and  I thank you!

i-love-marshals

That’s the generic marshal role, but for junior parkrun you need to factor in extra motivational duties.   Specifically, you need to perfect the art of the high-five.  Don’t scoff, it’s not as easy as you think. Firstly, turns out, just because some tot is barely four years old, it doesn’t mean they can’t deliver ferocious power behind a tiny high fiving hand.  I kid you not, I’ve been almost completely taken out by the human bullet which is an infant speeding towards you with an outstretched hand. Secondly, you need to really work on your glutes and quads to retain stability when you are having to maintain a squat for the entire duration of a junior parkrun.  Even when you’ve got the high-five perfected, there is still scope for skill development as you take on the high-ten.  It can be done, but it’s not for the faint-hearted.  Very rewarding indeed though, when it all fall’s into place!  You have never experienced being on the receiving end of a smile until it is one offered up to you freely by a junior parkrunner at the instant at which their high-five is returned to you.  Everyone should experience that surge of validation of their actions at some point in their life.  Feel good doesn’t come anywhere near to describing that sensation.

I should also point out that directional pointing and clapping is harder than you might think.  Plus, clapping and cheering continuously for up to an hour is quite strenuous.  Don’t worry though, as with all such physical challenges your stamina does improve over time.   There does however always remain the risk that however proficient you are at pointing, you may be ignored.  This clip isn’t from parkrun but is nevertheless hilarious. How hard is it to know which way to run when someone in hi-viz is pointing the way for you?  Very hard indeed apparently.  Joy to behold! Check out this Tebay fell race start video if you don’t believe me.  And if you think directing adults is like herding cats, you’ve clearly never experienced junior parkrun, which adds whole new layers of unpredictability, and therefore hilarity to the whole affair.

At Graves junior parkrun, the start line is on grass, but the participants need to be funneled onto a tarmac path early on in proceedings. This is achieved by having a chain of marshals arms outstretched, to act a human funnel to ensure everyone ends up where they are supposed to. What could possibly go wrong?

and theyre off

Well, loads apparently. The thing is, if you are small, and the start is crowded, why would you follow the route indicated by a human chain when you can just as easily duck under the outstretched arms of attendant marshals and speed round the back of them where there is more room?  Obvious really.  I love this slightly anarchic element of junior parkrun, it is truly hysterical, but could be unsettling for those who find disorder and random running alarming.

Marshaling is also a bit like the ‘any other duties’ bullet point in most job descriptions. It’s a real role, but you have to roll with it sometimes.  I myself have on occasion been dog-poo bin monitor. Yep, you guessed it. This involves standing in front of the dog-poo bin in Endcliffe Park to prevent runners running into it. Yes, all parkrunners apparently have that potential for navigational error within them.  All part of the joy of it all though.  Without a dog-poo bin monitor, Sheffield Hallam parkrun couldn’t happen.  Think about it.  Make it so!

Barcode Scanning and barcode scanning support:

The parkrun UK site describes these volunteer roles thus

The Barcode Scanners are responsible for actually recording runners against their finish position tokens, handed out by Finish Tokens at the end of the funnel.
They scan in the runners personal barcode, followed by the barcode on the position token.

Most of my volunteering had been marshaling – directional pointing and clapping, with the odd spot of barcode scanning.  This latter role is great because you get to speak to people, but those scanners are more temperamental than you might expect, so it’s not quite as cool as wielding say a sonic screw-driver might be, but it’s definitely a role where time flies.  Person then barcode is the rule. Honestly, I did find it a bit stressful – that was at Hallam though, and that is a very busy parkrun. Then again, it’s also quite an adrenalin high, job done you feel your heart racing and the glow of satisfaction at a challenge completed. Also, if you are nosey, you get to potentially put names to faces. Well you would if you had the capacity to remember names, I lost that skill decades ago.  Best to just greet everyone with ‘yoh fellow parkrunner‘ and avoid all that awkward embarrassment of getting names wrong.

You do need to impose the ‘no barcode, no time, no exceptions‘ rule without fear or favour.   I agree with this rule actually, it’s not much to ask of those participating in a free event, and the poor run directors wouldn’t get any weekend left over if they had to manually input an ever-growing list of opportunistic runners who repeatedly forget their paper barcodes, and have no incentive to remember as long as they can convince some poor unsuspecting volunteer that it is ‘just this once’ and they offer up an exceptional heart-rending tale to reinforce their case….

parkrun code

Consequently, I was quite up for the associated role akin to barcode scanning, which is the barcode scanning support role. The purpose of this role is basically to manually record the name and numbers of parkrunners whose barcodes were brought along and failed to scan.  Sometimes it is hard to know why they have malfunctioned in this way.  On other occasions as a sweaty, or rain-soaked disintegrating slip of papier-mache is offered up I feel almost instinctively I know what has happened.  (Praise be for the wrist bands and barcode plastic cards, they are fab, I just wish you could get them on behalf of other people as gifts without having to steal their identity first, though I sort of understand why too…).  Hence, when I took on this role at junior parkrun I was sure I’d be able to channel my inner hard-nosed cow and be firm and resolute in the face of the  most heart-rending of scenarios…  At junior parkrun, or the one I go to anyway, you also write down all the finish token numbers for those who didn’t bring their barcode and record them as ‘unknown’.  I guess this helps with results processing as you know certain finish positions don’t have a runner linked to them, and as the numbers involved are pretty low, it’s quite doable.

For the record, again, at junior parkrun you have to expect the unexpected, and yep, that’s what happens.  It is entertaining, and it keeps you on your toes.  For the most part, junior parkrunners are a complete delight.  If you want to feel briefly positive about  prospects for the future of the human race and restore your faith in humanity, just rock up and watch a junior parkrun.  Even so, the unpredictability of the young diminutive runners can leave you utterly non-plussed.  Or it did me anyway. So can you explain for example how a young runner who had a barcode that failed to scan presented herself to me to have her finish position noted and in traveling the less than a metre between me and the barcode scanner had lost her finish token?  Check out the locations  of these barcode scanners and the clipboard holding barcode scanner support official and see for yourself the surely finite potential for finish token loss during that handover from one volunteer to another:

barcode scanning

It was a mystery that even Jessica Fletcher would have failed to solve.   The junior parkrunner stood blinking, but adamant, nope, there had never been a finish token.  She was sure.  Erm… it’s really hard to get to the truth with a child witness it turns out.  In the end, she was miraculously restored to the results by dint of estimating whereabouts she was in the line up, and finding an unclaimed finish position in that general position. Which is what happened. Tense though.  The photo above is for illustrative purposes only, it does not feature the young runner in question.

More challenging still was the junior participant who had had his barcode with him, and indeed was wearing one of the wrist bands. He clearly plucked up courage to approach me, lower lip all a tremble.  It had fallen off on the way round; he was working towards one of his junior half-marathon milestones.  This is the real test of resolve.  Angry adults are one thing, I can stand resolute in the face of that, you are a grown up, take responsibility and get over it. Traumatised children on the other hand, that’s quite another. Oh gawd!  In the end I noted his finish position and said that maybe someone would hand it in, or maybe an accompanying parent might have a spare, and feeling like the child-catcher I sent him away.  The next line of approach was the child’s parents – could I not make an exception?  Seeing how distressed her child was at first she thought he must have been badly hurt!  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.  No!  No barcode, no time, no exceptions (but yes, I did feel like a jobsworth cow).  She was by no means unpleasant or rude, but pleading.  I directed her to the run director as the last line of defence.  Dear reader I report a happy ending! Turns out the wrist band had been found and handed in, the finish position was therefore restored to the rightful finisher, but ooh, that was a wobble.   For the record, apparently complaints from juniors about no time are pretty rare.  Most of them just come for a joyful romp round, only a minority are fixated on times.  Bit different for the adults though, those milestone tees are pretty desirable and much coveted after all.

Finish token and finish token support:

parkrun uk describe these roles too

The Finish Tokens person is responsible for handing out finish position tokens to all finishers in the correct sequence. This role calls for nimble fingers and grace under pressure. They can be assisted by Finish Tokens Support.

At many events there are so many runners, the task of handing out finish position tokens would be too much for one person, so it is a double act, with Finish Tokens support working closely with Finish Tokens.
For example, they will prepare the next set of tokens for Finish Tokens, who won’t have time to do this themselves. It’s also reassuring for Finish Tokens to know that they’re supported.

So these are good roles, though queen Elizabeth parkrun have done a guide to the finish token volunteer role explaining some of the challenges associated with it.  I like this role, you get to be a double act so that’s a new person to chat to which is always a bonus.  You do have to watch yourself a bit, because when you are holding a little batch of finish tokens ready to hand out it takes almost super-human willpower not to inadvertently shuffle them like you would if handed a nice new pack of cards.  I don’t think you have to wear a beanie or bobble hat for these roles, but clearly they look fabulous so you should.  I like that you meet every runner and get to know how many people have taken part allowing for spontaneous sweepstake ‘guess how many runners there are today‘ options.  It takes hi-viz teamwork, but then once you get into a rhythm with your token buddy, it feels fab!

Run Director:

This, along with that of Event director and set up team, is a role that I think should be rewarded with capes. But hey ho.  I’ve never done it, and I’m not entirely sure how you get involved to that degree, though I feel confident most event teams would welcome newcomers.   The official blurb states that:

The Run Director is in charge of a particular run on a specific day.
They have ultimate responsibility for deciding whether or not the conditions are suitable for the event and with advice from the other volunteers may decide to modify the course (because of new hazards, for example), delay the start, or even in exceptional circumstances cancel the event that day (very poor weather being the most common reason for this).
They are also responsible for organising the team of volunteers, along with the volunteer co-ordinator.

They do all this (and more) it’s true, but as an impartial outside observer, I feel I must record for posterity some of the particular ingenuity, dedication and initiative I’ve seen Run Directors display in support of runners.  Quite aside from organising new routes when regular paths are closed, or even removing obstructing fallen trees at short notice, I’ve seen a couple of ‘above and beyond’ moments I wish to note here.

One was at junior parkrun.  A young runner, in full sprint was way up the field but somehow ran on past the finish funnel, skidding dramatically and practically skinning every inch of exposed flesh on the ground as they did not so much a face plant but a full body slide.  Immediately the RD sprang into action.  He sprinted across – naively I thought this was to administer first aid.  How wrong was I?  On reaching the sprawling child, he hauled him to his feet, rotated him, and sort of shoved him off on a new adjusted trajectory down the finish funnel proclaiming as he did so ‘it’s OK, you’re still fine, no-one will overtake you!’.  As a non-parent myself, but on finish token duty at the time I was a bit taken aback by this approach,  but you know what?  Within a few strides a smiling child was clutching a finish token apparently healed and mended.  Quick thinking and another happy ending!

Only last week at Hallam, I was on funnel duty.  I was all set for herding runners, ensuring any would-be funnel duckers were thwarted in the attempt, and keeping everyone in line.  However, what I hadn’t anticipated was the chaos that ensued when one of the early finishers made it across the finish, and then started throwing up spectacularly in the finish funnel (not a problem I’ve ever had to contend with, maybe I really don’t try hard enough). I was momentarily paralysed with indecision, as were other runners piling in behind – keen to stay in line, but not wanting a bottle neck to back up across the finish. As we stood, temporarily frozen in time, the run director again took the initiative and sprang into action.  He appeared in a puff of smoke as if from nowhere, and acted as a proxy to collect the finish token for the sprawling, heaving and retching runner so the ‘show’ could go on – or in this case, the finish funnel keep on moving whilst she attended to the ‘necessary’.  It was an inspirational reflex that saved the running day.  Hooray!

See, that’s the thing about volunteering at parkrun, never a dull moment, and most problems can be rectified.  You also get better at volunteering and more comfortable at it the more you do.  With the benefit of hindsight, I still think I could have handled the loose lamb incident better at Graves junior parkrun, but hey, you live and learn.  Those moments of self-flagellating regret are more than compensated for by the moments of unexpected joy, which are far more numerous.  Like the first time I volunteered as a marshal at junior parkrun and a tiny runner, noting my clapping and apparent interest in her day took the time to stop and explain to me that she was taking part in a run, and it had two laps and she’d be round again shortly and see me again.  I’m quite a cold-hearted, non-broody type, but that did absolutely melt my heart.  Adorable.  Honestly, these junior parkrunners are just like real people, only tiny! Also they are seemingly  more prone to uttering uncynical expressive words of wisdom and demonstrating uninhibited displays of joy.  It’s quite remarkable, it really is!

The only slight problem is that now I’ve done so many junior parkruns, I wonder if I may come across as a bit patronising to the adult runners at the 5km event?  I shall erase that thought from my mind, who doesn’t like being congratulated on their smile or being encouraged with a whoop and a shout of ‘superb effort’ even though they may look ever so slightly to be on the brink of tears.  There is more in common between these runners than you may think,  I promise.  It isn’t only the juniors who start walking as soon as they think they are out of the sight of the main field and in the shadow of a strategically positioned bush.  That’s not to say I haven’t made mistakes I admit.  I stumbled a bit at junior parkrun as the first junior female shot by ‘great job, first woman home‘ I shouted enthusiastically.  ‘I think it’s OK to say “first girl” when they are eight years old‘ my companion marshal gently remarked.  Probably true, it’s just that personally I have such an aversion to being referred to as a ‘girl’ I avoid using it.  It really makes me mad if people call me a girl.  It’s literally infantalising, however well meant.  However, probably is OK as a term of reference in junior parkrun context.  In another of my rookie errors, a parent (I presume) was holding the hand of an increasingly reluctant child. ‘Oh no, you are having to drag him round‘ I shouted out at the child, to which the parent replied laughing ‘oh yes!’  But I hadn’t intended my words for him, they were aimed at the junior runner as a hilarious (I thought) quip.  Misfire.  We live and learn.  Another couple of weeks and I’ll have a full repetoire of non-judgemental and encouraging phrases  on the tip of my tongue, to validate everyone participating whether walking, running or skipping.  I’ve started adding in ‘that’s my favourite T-shirt today’ or ‘best balloon of the morning’ in to my supportive calls, these seem to be better received by juniors on the whole, but that’s only because the 5km parkrunners aren’t habituated to this new order as yet.  Give it time.

There are loads of roles in fact, and new ones evolving all the time too – hard to imagine now there was a time when ‘photographer’ was not an acknowledged role, and great to see the new role of VI guides and sign language support.  Such is the accelerating speed of change in the world eh. Jobs in the near future will crop up, that we haven’t yet dreamed of, and quite right too.  It’s an evolving concept.  There are warm up leaders at junior parkrun, think at the moment it’s an added extra, but it might yet become ‘a thing’ like the first timers briefing. Who knows?

junior warm up

And finally – tail runner.

The Tail Runner stays right at the back of the field and should be the last person to cross the finish line ensuring that everyone is accounted for.
They are encouraged to carry a mobile phone in case of emergencies.
They let any marshal out on the course know that they can collect nearby signs and leave their post.
This role is compulsory in the UK but please note that not all events in our parkrun world have a tail runner.
Volunteers undertaking this role receive both a run credit and a volunteer credit.

I’ve not done this role either, though as a frequent final finisher at other organised events, I have met plenty.  It certainly seems to be one of the ultimate feel good positions, plus you get a double whammy of credits as both runner and volunteer (same with pacers I assume).  It doesn’t matter if you are the final finisher, you’ve still done the same 5km as everyone else.  Some of the runners I admire most embrace being the final finisher, so what if you are being tailed by a queue of traffic and an ambulance idling, you can still smile and own the road until cut off point.   That’s why I love this photo of  the final finisher at an organised event somewhere, she runs confident in the knowledge most people in that queue of traffic will be blaming the caravan for the tail back!  All good.

final finish flourish

Seriously though, the tail runner is a really important role in giving confidence to people who might not yet see themselves as in their natural habitat at a 5km run.  That’s not the only reason I love them though.  For me it’s personal.   I don’t normally make reference to stuff outside of running in my blog, but on this solitary occasion I will.

My mum lives hundreds of miles away from me, but, she likes to go and watch parkrun whizz on by at Bushy park each week. She’d been doing this a while, and is quite distinctive sitting as she does in the same spot every saturday, so the regular tail runner started to chat to her each week.  Long story short, she’s now been embraced by the parkrun community at Bushy park (and yes, that would be the actual parkrun mecca in case you were wondering) and even has her own personal hi-viz to don as honorary marshal down there each week.  It makes me really happy that whilst I’m storming (ish) round my local parkrun, she’s out there being part of the parkrun community too.  Go us!

tail running this time its personal

So you see, parkrun isn’t only about the running, not even only about the volunteering and the running, it’s about way more than that.  If you only run, that’s fine, not everyone wants to, or is able to volunteer.   There have been times in what I laughingly refer to as my ‘parkrun career’ when just turning out at all felt like an impossible challenge.  That’s the point of volunteering, it isn’t compulsory.  However,  if you do step up and give it a whirl, you’ll get to enter a whole new delightful parallel parkrun universe of collective fun.  A whole fun factory of anecdote generation is there for the taking.  So if you can ever don the hi-viz of a weekend, don’t risk missing out, step forward and you will get to be part of that story too!

Oh, and if you want to volunteer, here’s how – subscribe to the volunteering email for your local event is the official way, but not all parkruns seem to use this, so just go and say hello to a run director or pop a note on your parkrun’s Facebook page, you will soon be welcomed warmly into the cult fold, I’m sure.  The gateway drug is hi-viz, but you might work your way up to a clipboard or even get your own whistle one day.   The only limit is your imagination.  All the roles are pretty straightforward, and you’ll be shown what to do and never be asked to do anything you aren’t comfortable with.

Also, I think the purple tees are the most flattering.  And they bestow super human powers.  The evidence is there for all to see.

By the way, I still don’t really know if it should be hi-viz or hi-vis.  Hope I haven’t pushed any grammar police over the edge.  Luckily parkrun is an inclusive community, both variants are acceptable I’m sure!

volunteering garb

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

The glamour of Grindleford, getting stylish on the trails…

Digested read:  your personal running mojo can be elusive, but you’ll get by with the help of your friends.  You might get wet as well though, so go out prepared.  That’s my experience anyway.  Running buddies are awesome. Just go run.

You’ll have to wait for the visual punchline to fully understand and appreciate the  ‘getting stylish’ reference of the heading.  I’m not suggesting by the way, it will necessarily be worth the wait, only pointing out that the delay is unavoidable. It’s just the way the cookie crumbles.  Proverbially that is, there are no actual cookies available to readers of this post unless you have taken the precaution of sourcing your own.  Which would be sensible to be fair, but is beyond my area of control or influence.

So.  I’ve been feeling really wobbly about what I euphemistically refer to as my ‘running’ of late. This isn’t only in the literal sense.  Whilst it is true that I increasingly find it impossible-to-ignore the independent motion of my extra layers of adipose tissue that jiggle unbidden whenever I attempt any turn of speed.  I swear parts of my anatomy have developed a life of their own, whole colonies are boiling beneath.  I refer also to my metaphorical negative and wobbly state of mind.  I’m currently in utterly disheartened mode, my ‘running career’ (if that isn’t the ultimate oxymoron of all time) braked completely in Cambodia, and since I’ve returned to the UK I seem to be slower and more lumbering than ever before.  My running mojo has evaporated.  I am too shamed to show my face at running club, and feel more intimidated than ever by ‘proper runners’ bounding by at organised events, or ostentatiously stretching and warming up at the startlines.  To be fair, this latter issue is I know mine not theirs.  In the main ‘proper runners’ have only ever been supportive and encouraging to me.  Perhaps it is just human nature.  Whether or not it is a universal truth, it’s definitely an individual one.  Whatever, my personal paranoia, ensures it is only ever the notable exceptions whose actions and voices spring into my mind.  My negative self-talk hardly needs a mocking chorus of others to reinforce it.   I can be loud enough all on my own. This dear reader, is how negative running cycles start.  Not in the ‘now I must undertake a duathlon as this cycle is so compelling and it’s all running round me as well‘ sense, more in the ‘this sofa is a way preferable option to humiliating myself in public by running‘ one.  Only, with great irony, it usually isn’t. The sofa I mean, really being the better option.  There is no great mystery to running, the only way to get back into it (injuries and over-training aside) is to get back into it.  That is, to go out and run.  Stop/start slow/ fast or otherwise.   It remains true that once completed, I have never regretted a run ever (though I will concede that I have sometimes deeply regretted undertaking a run at the time).  Short term memory failings, brought about by post-run endorphins are in this respect the runner’s friend.

never run again

So it was, that feeling really crap about life the universe and everything in general and running in particular, when a suggestion of hooking up with some slow and steady trail explorers popped into my inbox I hesitated before swiping left.  What if?

In the end, I decided not to over-think it, just go out and try. After all, it was a lovely day, full of promise for evening sunshine in verdant countryside. What’s the worst? ‘Yes please‘ I said, adding a ‘Simon’s Cat’ emoticon for good measure and hitting send… and then I did my research….

So the plan was to do a recce for the Grindleford Fell Race.  I’ve not actually entered this year, well not yet anyway.  But lots of lovely smiley-by-name and smiley-by-nature smiley paces comrades have.  It’s 15th June this year, and not many spaces left at the time of writing.  I know nothing about this event.  I decided to have a little look at the route.  This induced near apoplectic paralytic panic, as I inadvertently happened on the route for the Grindleford Gallop instead.  The Grindleford Gallop is 21 miles and 3000ft of ascent, and requires navigation.  Not at all the gentle confidence-building romp out I’d fondly imagined I’d signed up to.  Cripes!  Fortunately, once I’d mopped up the puddles of tea spat out in shock and disbelief earlier, I was able to find the actual fell race route. That was much more encouraging.  4.5 miles, and ideal for newcomers. The Grindleford Fell race website tells us that:

The Grindleford Fell Race takes place over a 4.5miles route starting on the playing fields. The route takes you up through Hay Wood, the Longshore Estate and back through Padley Gorge. The celebrated river crossing within site of the finishing line offers excellent spectating opportunities (!).

The route is well marshalled and partially taped.

This race is suitable for newcomers to fell racing and requires no local knowledge or navigational skills.

Phew, that’s OK then.

So it was, at the appointed hour, I stood outside waiting for my pick up just as the heavens opened and freezing torrential rain started to pour out of the sky. This was not the plan.  However, dear reader, this is also a learning point potentially. For the conscientious-if-not-keen runner such as myself, making an agreement to meet is half the battle.  I’d never have gone out for a run in my own in the face of such inclement weather, but we’d agreed, so what can you do?  You have to turn out don’t you.

Thank you running buddy for sweeping me up and out of the rain. We peered through the rain beating down on the windscreen and squinted through the mist as we headed out to Grindleford.  The rendezvous point was at the Cricket Club Pavilion, where at 7.30 on a Tuesday evening there was ample parking. We sat waiting for our other Smiley compatriots to appear.  We didn’t risk venturing out the car. Who’d want to step out into that?  Besides, seated where we were, we had a great view of a rather intrepid ground maintenance guy. He was mowing the near vertiginous slopes of grass that were alongside and behind the clubhouse with what looked alarmingly like an electric powered lawnmower.  I seem to remember something in my science O levels about the perils of eletricity and water mixing  in the proximity of a person.  Or was that Frankenstein?  Anyway it was pretty impressive.  It seemed to me reminiscent of that sport of extreme ironing.  You know where people take ironing boards to remote and inaccessible places and then iron random items of clothing. To be fair, this extreme mowing looked more hazardous. Wet slippery slope, and storm overhead.  High adrenalin inducing activity I’d say.  There are no photos of the extreme mowing in action, so here is an extreme ironing one instead.  Enjoy.

440px-Extermeironingrivelin

After a bit, four of us assembled, and we had to leave the sanctuary of the car.  Fortuitously, we had all got some sort of wet weather gear with us, even though we’d all been caught out by the elements.  Beyond my running jacket, I rather stupidly hadn’t brought anything else.  I know it’s summer but it got darker than I expected and with hindsight a head torch, whilst not necessary this time, would probably have been sensible just in case.  I hadn’t even worn my fell shoes.   This is my problem.   Hope over experience.  I have done a few fell races now, but I still am astonished to find that they all involve rough terrain and… a hill! Why is that always such a surprise?  I think I just block out the bad memories otherwise I really would never venture out in the peaks again.

This run was no exception.   We set off at a steady pace down a little road, over a wooden foot bridge and then almost immediately off down a footpath into the woods.  I say down a footpath, but you know what?  It was definitely UP.  A lot of up.  I was puffing and feeling hopeless in next no time, just like I was doing a ‘proper run’.  Fell races have hills, there is a clue in the name.  To be fair, in the grand scheme of things this was by no means the steepest or longest of available hauls heavenwards.  But, it was enough of a challenge to me, trying to drag my weary carcass contrary to the pull of gravity that I was seriously wondering if this ‘joyfully venturing out with others’ was just romantic nonsense.  Running uphill is hard, and this wasn’t the most auspicious of starts.  One of our quartet sped by like a little rocket. Impressive.  I caved in and started walking.  I will concede it was beautiful though. The rain was heavy enough that it penetrated the tree canopy, but it was so green.  Full of moss and ferns, and, unsurprisingly perhaps, we had the place to ourselves.

grindleford moss

As we reached the top of the path, I realised I’d made the rookie error of not having started my tomtom, so all that elevation was completely wasted on me.  It wont be on strava so it never happened, whatever my calves might be telling me the day after.  Oh well.  I had no idea of the route, seeing my role here as follower rather than leader.  The consensus of those in the know was that the fell race would probably carry on through the woods for a bit, but that might take us into private land and no-one was really confident about the exact path.  Instead, we headed off through a little gate and along a path in green, green fields.  Heading towards Longshaw. To my embarrassment, I didn’t realise how these paths all connect together.  It’s in fact ridiculously close.  The fields were beautiful, and this was a gentler gradient albeit still uphill.  I can’t really talk and run, which, made me feel as if I was being a bit antisocial. On reflection though, it was – and indeed perhaps always is – probably a blessing for those compelled to run alongside me!

I don’t really know where we went exactly, but we did end up at Longshaw, and seeing spring lambs cavorting and staring cattle and calves silently observing our progress.  It was a gorgeous route.  With a good flat section on fairly solid paths for those who wished to stretch out.  Hang on, I’ll get the strava route for you. It’s incomplete, but you’ll get the idea.  See if you can spot the missing section?  Not exactly a mensa challenge is it?

grindleford recce route.jpg

We emerged and crossed a road towards Padley Gorge, where we thought we’d have to paddle across a stream, but were able to pick our way across on stepping-stones staying pretty dry. Into more lovely woodland.  Maybe because the uphill bit was now behind me, or maybe because my legs were warmed up by now, or maybe I’d just settled into the new running company this was bit was the most fun.  We hopped and picked our way over the bouncy woodland tracks, and tried to remember to look up and around us not just down at the tree roots and random stones.  We took time to pose for selfies (very important) and agreed how lovely it was to be out and about.  We weren’t out for very long really, but it does transport you to a seemingly parallel universe.  The rain had stopped.  The gradient was in our favour, as the paths ahead led down, ironically, things were looking up.

We emerged, more road.  And then I got very confused about where we went.  We sort of cut across what must have been a very over-grown footpath, alarming various sheep that were clearly unused to pathfinders emerging from the nettles and thistles at all, let alone at seemingly superhuman (er hem) speed.  We ended up on a lovely green, flat flood plain, alongside the river.  My faster companions sprinted ahead.  I take seriously my role in life as ballast at the back, so didn’t deviate too much from that.  I caught them up as they stopped, staring at the alarmingly fast flowing river.  We had to cross it.  The irony that we’d endeavoured to stay dry up top, only to now plunge in water and get completely soaked was striking. Even so, there was little alternative.  Our pathfinder leader espied some steps on the opposite bank, that she declared to be ‘familiar’.  Good enough for the rest of us.

Like the billy goats gruff, we took it in turns to wade across.  It wasn’t massively deep, though a lot deeper than I’d anticipated for sure, well over  my knees.   It also felt pretty firm underfoot – but what was more disconcerting was the current.  I don’t know how experienced fell runners sprint through such crossings. I’m built for solidity, but I felt like my legs were going to be swept from underneath me.  It was fun though.  You feel kind of intrepid, but it’s actually pretty tame in the grand scheme of things.  Even so, I did rather regret my choice of shoes. Inexplicably, despite the fact this was a fell race recce, as referenced earlier, I hadn’t thought to wear my fell shoes, but instead was wearing my new hoka trail ones.  I do really like them, but my fell raisers would have been better.  Water went into my hokas alright, but doesn’t drain out in the effortless fountain I’ve come to expect as the standard response from my fellraisers.  Ah well, we live and learn I suppose.  I may be slower than others on the uptake at time, but I daresay I’ll get there eventually.

The river crossing complete, there were a few short steps and then, the moment you were waiting for, a style!  We aren’t completely stupid, the style was padlocked, necessitating a clamber over.  I’m not sure quite why. We weren’t doing it just for fun or ostentatious ‘tough mudder’ training.   Probably we had committed an inadvertent trespass, but there was no-one standing with a gun making us retrace our steps so that was OK.  Rather just our lovely pathfinder with her phone to capture the exact moment of our stylish exit from the trail.  You can judge for yourself exactly how much the camera loves us!  I know. A thing of wonder indeed!

Inevitably, as I’d spent the whole run completely clueless as to our exact whereabouts, I was a bit surprised to find we were pretty much back where we started.  Just the playing fields themselves to cover with an optional sprint finish.  In the middle of it sat a somewhat incongruously placed mandarin duck.  It pointedly ignored us I felt. This was a duck that would not be moved. It sat motionless, and fearless as we ran by.  I don’t have a picture of the actual duck, but here is one for illustrative purposes, they can sort of make themselves all small and tucked up.  Amazing creatures really.  Gotta love a duck.

george mandarin duck1

And that was it. Run over.  Game over. We were back with the cars.  Grindleford yomp concluded.  By the way, the extreme mowing cycle had been completed in our absence. I must say the ground looked splendid. The mower operative was pushing his mower across the car park and both appeared intact. On this occasion at least it seemed he had survived the challenge and neither tumbled in front of the roaring blades of his run away mower at any critical point, nor been struck by lightning.  He lives to mow another day….. this time.

The conclusion dear reader?  Despite my initial reluctance, poor shoe choice and the inclement weather you know what.  It WAS fun.  My running buddies were supportive, encouraging and great company.   And you know what – sometimes they have running demons to wrestle with too!  Who knew.  I’m not the only person in the world ever to be riddled with self-doubt over running, or to have misplaced their running mojo.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say my confidence to get out and get running has returned.  But I would say that my desire to try to find my running mojo again has.  It is true it seems that:  ‘I really regret that run’ said no-one ever.

regret

So if your running mojo currently seems AWOL.   Worry not, like a long forgotten missing sock, it is probably still out there somewhere, and you can expect to be unexpectedly reunited in time.  No-one expects the unexpected of course, so you won’t believe me.  I’m not sure I do myself.  But in the meantime, surely there is no harm in yomping out in search of it.  The search is part of the fun.

So thank you for the unexpected yomp out and about Smiley running buddies.  You are smiling, shining stars indeed.  Go you!  Go us! Go everyone! Don’t think, just run. There will be cake!

dont-think-about-it

Categories: motivation, off road, running | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

A call to capes. Let’s out our hidden parkrun superheroes. Just saying.

Capes would be good.  I mean, I do like the milestone tees, they are a unifying and egalitarian gesture.  Anyone can achieve them, if they turn out on the pre-requisite number of occasions and – in the case of runners at least – are clutching their barcodes at the finish.  This is fine and dandy and altogether delightful.  However, I was a bit taken aback recently, when I discovered what should have been obvious to any of us really,  if I’d actually thought about it for more than a millisecond previously.   I speak dear reader of those tireless few,who have almost literally given birth to new parkruns after lengthy gestation periods and sometimes bloody, prolonged and painful labour too.  All of this pre-parkrun planning goes under the radar in terms of public recognition.  A year of blood, sweat, tears and worse still – planning meetings and fund-raising too, and not so much as a single credit to bring you closer to achieving the much coveted purple volunteering tee.   Yes, yes, seeing the event come to fruition may well be ‘its own reward‘ but, hey, we can do better than that surely?

It is time we gave more public recognition to our superheroes within. Those, who having had the spark of an idea that a new parkrun is needed, actually went ahead and ‘made it so!’  They put in many months of tireless – and let’s be honest, sometimes frustrating and potentially thankless work so that we the many can get out and run.  Their efforts bring new life to the international parkrun community, be it the standard issue 5k or the glorious fun-sized 2k junior option.

It’s not that this work is unappreciated, but be honest, I can’t be alone in sort of forgetting about it over time.  I rock up at my local parkrun or a new venue as a tourist, I do thank the marshals and I do thank the run directors, I volunteer from time to time, and I am on record as being willing to bow down and worship at the feet of P S-H himself, but as to the inaugural start-up teams.  Nope, no idea who they are for the most part.  Currently, it is inevitable that years down the line I have no idea which precise individuals at the various runs I go to got down and dirty (not like that smutty-minded people) and did the hard graft to get it off the ground in the first place.  Maybe it doesn’t always matter, parkrun is a collective community endeavour at its heart and we have all seen in recent months the dangers a cult of personality can bring to the world… however, I think some sort of visual symbol to alert the many of the sacrifices of the few would be a grand thing.  We have our milestone tees, why not something for the parkrun startup teams who have laboured locally?

A symbol that would mean anyone of us could recognise and honour these individuals.  Let’s all celebrate our own Totally Awesome parkrun Startup Superheroes.  I suppose that makes them TAPS?  Well, what we call them isn’t the important thing, think of it as just a working title for now – what matters is how we celebrate their unique contribution to the parkrun family.  Just as a run that isn’t on Strava is doomed to be forever lost from the collective mind (you might as well have stayed in bed, it basically didn’t happen), so too we are in danger of overlooking the contribution of our local TAPS if we don’t set about some sort of recognition scheme PDQ.

There are accolades aplenty to choose from.  Lapel badges (yawn), sashes (bit reminiscent of school netball for me), laurels (not great for running in), bronze statues (would necessitate more fund-raising and committees), carriage clock… blah de blah, but what we need is something more distinctive, life affirming and joyful. Also something that would be absolutely fabulous when running – or for non-running TAPSS standing about in with authority or whilst generally striding about purposefully (with or without clipboard).  Dear reader, the solution is clear. What we need for these super-heroes who move amongst us are parkrun themed running capes.

SONY DSC

No really, I’ve researched it, and the idea is genius.

Think about it.  There is a reason why superheroes wear capes. They imbue authority and flourish, they are available in a variety of colours and FACT they make you run faster, or longer, depending on what you want.   What’s more, any child could tell you the donning of a fine superhero cape enables you to fly!  I think our TAPSS teams have earned that gift just for starters.  I think once we get some momentum behind the idea we can improve the offer too.  I’m thinking they could be customised to leave a trail of glitter in their wake and be accessorised to shoot off fireworks or ticker-tape for example on special occasions.  At the very least, people should be able to choose between long billowing out behind types, or short ripply ones.  I dare say there is already research out there on swishing and swooshing options according to width and length.   Right now, I’m just wanting buy in in theory.   Design specs are details really, as long as we have amazing capes for amazing people.  Just imagine the whoosh of capes as these superheroes come whizzing by or simply move amongst us.  Sigh. Glorious indeed.

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The TAPSS are already superheroes afterall, the cape is just a bit of rubber stamping by way of fabric.  What’s not to like?

Just saying.  Who’s with me?

Categories: motivation, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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.

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

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?

team awesome

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

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