Keep on smiling…

Percy Pud 10 k - a Sheffield institution, December 2014

Percy Pud 10 k – a Sheffield institution, December 2014

It was an accident, honestly.

I started with Parkrun, and thought I could handle it.  Before I knew what was happening I found myself being unwittingly groomed by the FGRs* that comprise the awesome Sheffield Women’s Running Group the Smiley Paces.  It was then only a matter of time before I was lured in by the promise of cheerleaders at every future run from the Smiley Supporters, and the initially loss-leader membership fee of £2 a year.  This has subsequently escalated to the eye-watering fee of £5 a year, but I’m in now, there is no turning back.

I can't claim credit for this shot, I didn't take it, and I'm not in it, but it does show case Smiley Solidarity get 'em young!

I can’t claim credit for this shot, I didn’t take it, and I’m not in it, but it does show case Smiley Solidarity get ’em young!

The membership is sufficiently big that I still don’t recognise many of the people who turn up for the various training sessions and events.  Of course, this might partly be because in most instances I only ever see the backs of other runners as they disappear into the distance over the horizon.  Perhaps if these same people just turned round and started running away from me I’d instantly recognise their bobbing ponytails or distinctive gazelle like gait as they sprinted off.  The talent is diverse, I like to think of myself as like the ballast in a ship.  Not in itself remarkable, but offering stability, and someone has to do the important job of bringing up the rear.  At the other end of the continuum are champion runners, elite athletes who eat up marathons UK and overseas, take on ultras like I can maltesers and gallop up steep mountain peaks before breakfast.  Smileys embraces all.

Even so,  I do feel a bit sheepish and apologetic declaring myself a member of a ‘running club’ it feels very alien to my natural identity – my default position is generally inert, I am a conserver of energy at heart, who consoles myself that come the apocalypse I will outlive everyone with my fat supplies to live off and give buoyancy in the event of global flood.  Equally though, my inability to run away from it all will hopefully mean I survive no-one, who wants to deal with the hassle of rebuilding an annihilated world?

Anyway, I am so very grateful to the more experienced runners who give of their time and expertise to help motivate other less accomplished runners.  Even if one who shall be nameless, brushed off my thanks saying it was no problem at all to do the route with slower runners, because it was after all for her a rest day.  It is a bit demoralising, if accurate, to be made aware that my maximum effort equates to someone else’s non-running day!

I digress, so it is, on a Thursday night, I find myself traipsing off in the dark, clad in my compulsory high vis and head torch (leggings and top as well, I’m neither that hard core nor that exhibitionist or frankly deranged enough to go without those).   I am heading out to join fellow smileys for our weekly training run.   I always have an inner battle with my motivation to get there.  It’s cold.  It’s dark.  I will hold everyone up.  I may fall over.  I will be rubbish.  However, I tell myself I am always glad I’ve been afterwards, and last night was no exception.

Lately I have felt particularly inadequate, always at the back, often very significantly so, with some poor volunteer assigned to back mark me.  The problem is most definitely in my head, not in the attitudes of others. My Smiley Paces comrades have always been supportive, encouraging and welcoming.  It’s just no amount of positivity can disguise the fact that I may attend, but I don’t really improve.  Hey ho.  Yesterday I was enormously heartened to find a massive turn out, some 44 of us.  With our bobbing head torches and flood of high-vis we looked like some sort of mad neighbourhood watch vigilante group on speed.  All kitted out to pound the pavements on a weekly patrol.  Especially pleasing for me, was that when we split into four groups, there were a good 10 in the bottom group.  I call it the bottom group because I consider the terminology accurate.  However, I think it is more correctly referred to as variously ‘the improvers group’, ‘the foundation group’ or simply ‘Group 4’ (but not as in being sponsored by the dodgy security group, just so you know).  It is probably just a completely arbitrary coincidence that Group 1 is entirely populated by super fast elite runners, and Group 4 less so…  Our wondrous leaders though had done an expert job.  The challenge for the night was hills, and they came armed with maps and routes, and graphs of gradient and sequences to ensure all groups could get stuck in without colliding with one another in an unseemly scrap like a high-vis version of an historical re-enactment battle club, or as I prefer to think of them, hysterical re-enactment societies.  The logistical operations undertaken by the volunteer organisers are extremely impressive, they surpass themselves week after week.  When we reached the segment of hills – four parallel streets in a residential area  – each of the four groups took on a different street in sequence.  It was like witnessing some performance art watching the bright lights of reflective gear disappearing in all directions as Smileys sprinted into action.  Surely it is only a matter of time before the Smileys create a new sport of synchronised running.  The way we were all lit up and moving in formation was like that part of the opening ceremony for the Olympics, or was it the Tour de France.  You know the one with all the cyclists in neon and fluorescent light moving in choreographed glory to create visual patterns in the night sky.  Awesome.  Why shouldn’t we put ourselves on a par with that.  We are all performing at the best level we can after all?  Certainly I noticed a fair number of curtains twitching as curious residents peered out at the spectacle of us plodding or sprinting past their terraced houses in all our glory!

Last night, I was promoted, albeit inadvertently, possibly because of my panache, but more probably as a consequence of my consistency in bringing up the rear, I was given the responsibility of keeping a register of the ‘Foundation Group’ participants.  I thought I might burst with pride.  It was only a moderately stressful role, and I counted everyone in, and I counted everyone back, as the saying goes, so that has to constitute success.  It was also pleasing because for the first time in months of attendance, there was a good spread of talent at the base, so I was able to enjoy brief moments of not being at the back, whilst never being so much as in sniffing distance of having to actually navigate from the front for example.  I love you Smileys, beaming, rosy-cheeked faces all round on completion of the night’s challenge, buoyed up for next time out.

There is no doubt in my mind, if motivation is an issue, find yourself a running club.  You are never alone if you don a Smiley vest, and although you’d be lucky to find a club as good as this one near to you, you could always start your own.   My only gripe with Smileys is that the official gear is deeply unflattering to those of us with what might be politely and euphemistically called a ‘fuller figure’ but hey ho, surely we all understand running is not glamorous by now.  Anyway, one of the few benefits of being a slow runner, is that if I don the Smiley colours, and join an organised event, I get the benefit of all the other smiley supporters on the way round for longer than anyone else.  Those fleeter of foot may be finished, changed and tucking into their post-run nose bags whilst I’m still slogging my way round, but I get the transferred cheers of recognition from their friends and family en route,  who continue to stick it out for fellow Smiley’s to the (sometimes bitter) end!

Fellow Smileys, I thank you, and I salute you all.

Solidarity of a fellow smiley - Sheffield Ten, Ten Ten October 2014

Solidarity of a fellow smiley Sheffield Ten, Ten Ten October 2014

*An acronym for Very Good Runners, except the Very is actually a word with an F at the start and an ing at the end and three letters in common with the word ‘duck, if that enlightens you at all.

Categories: motivation, running, running clubs | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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