Wingerworth Wobble – bring it on!
Seriously though, what’s the worst that can happen?
I expect they’ll be begging to use me as the poster girl for this event next year!
Today was the Wingerworth Wobble, my first fell race. Eek. I found the optimism I’d felt when I first entered had pretty much evaporated by this morning leaving only apprehension in its wake. I was fixated on the prefix ‘fell’ in front of the equally unappealing ‘Race’ and the inclusion of the little detail of information ‘including a 600 foot elevation’. What was I thinking? What possessed me? I didn’t sleep well (Nerves? This is madness, running is supposed to be fun!) It was a lovely autumn morning, but wow, a definite nip in the air. Confidence is a fragile thing, it was definitely ebbing at that moment…
I gave myself my very own pep talk. See spoiler above ‘seriously though, what’s the worse that can happen?’ After all, It’s not like I can get lost – the organiser has promised it’s signposted really clearly, and I can’t come last either, as there is a back marker. Great for ego, guaranteed to be ahead of someone – so I won’t spend all eternity abandoned on the hills, or mysteriously snatched away/ disappeared like that character in ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ (only in a colder climate, obviously).
I idly perused my running club Facebook page for words of encouragement. I see another has ‘come out’ as wobbling along and suggests we travel together. This is a good plan, I am a bit in awe, as I am a shite runner, barely worthy of the adjective, and she is a really good one. I worry she’ll be hanging around for me ages at the end, surrounded by nothing but tumbleweed and mist as dusk falls, shivering, and staring out into the night wondering where I could possibly be. Still, it will be companionable traveling together and indeed it is – though I talk too much because I am nervous. She shares running tips en route and topics include a debrief of a particularly good running talk on female urinary incontinence. All those precautionary pre-event pees are poor practise in relation to preserving our pelvic floor apparently. This may be, but I know I’ll be seeking out the loo as soon as we reach the venue. Probably more than once actually – is that just me …?
We arrive ridiculously early – my paranoia, but it is already lovely as soon as we arrive. Wingerworth is very scenic, especially in Autumn colours. It’s a misty start, but sun is hinting it may yet emerge. It is quite an easy run out from Sheffield, (I mean as in ‘run out in the car’ not as in running on your feet though) and running HQ is totally awesome. It is a primary school, where there are lovely colourful hand-made signs, lovingly written out in felt-tip pen by local children. It’s very sweet. The hall is nothing like I remember from my school days, there is no smell of cabbage and the floor is brilliantly shiny, with very impressive (but unexplained) large elephant paintings all around. Having this area to register allows for other innovations, there are proper toilets with toilet paper, a raffle, tea and coffee, a laptop with projector set up to display the results ‘live’. It is all very impressive. People are friendly – this could be OK!
I also get my first sighting of the fancy dress contingent. I say fancy dress, but it could be more accurately described as a celebrity couple and their celebrity entourage – you decide. In any event, I felt excited, but seriously under-dressed. I actually meet Miss Piggy in the loos! Wow, I can hardly breathe I am so star struck!
Exciting eh? Mingling with the stars! Miss Piggy especially was a childhood idol of mine, sigh, who knew what perks running (however half-heartedly) might bring? I think that other guy must be their minder. A specially trained bodyguard who has to keep up with them out on their runs.
Anyway, I digress, we collect our numbers, and then loiter pre-start. There are a lot of very fit looking runners. I will definitely be at the back of this lot. We chatter lightly. I tell an anecdote (probably exaggerated for comic effect) about a fellow runner who told me about one of her fell runs when she started to notice that the people in front of her were suddenly picking up speed and waving their arms around on a long stretch of path ahead. It was only when she got their herself that she realised the runners had disturbed a wasps nest (or was it bees?) and the insects were exacting their brutal, if justified revenge! How we laughed. Not expecting any wasps on this run! I kid you not, seconds later we get insider knowledge from one of the event photographers… It seems a local landowner has apparently put cattle with their calves in a field we have to cross. ‘Best just stick to the hedge as a precaution’, he advises. Oh dear, I think I’d rather have to deal with angry wasps – though outrunning a raging bull or protective cow would potentially transform my running speeds and I reckon I’d accelerate quite significantly – time to think in terms of ‘half-full not half-empty’ methinks.
I take the precaution of not looking at the route in advance, it will only depress me. My fellow smiley and I have a gentle couple of hundred metres run as a token warm up. I’ve never bothered with this before, but it does actually seem to help remind my legs what they are supposed to be doing, rather than wear me out, which is a pleasant surprise.
We gather outside some gates that look like they lead to a posh private dwelling. There is a brief warning about the cows again (oh dear), and then we are off. It is straight up a hill, a lot of hill actually. Can anyone explain to me how it is that every race with an incline always seems to operate on a perpetual uphill principle. Surely the law of averages requires the occasional downward slant.
Quickly I am overtaken by just about everyone, some of the seriously fleet of foot disappear over the skyline within seconds. However, I can sense I am a couple of hundred yards ahead of the backmarker. I decide that will be my goal for the day. Try to keep ahead of them. This is not due to any particularly competitive streak, it is rather because I have a fear that if I slip into the rear position, then I may have to engage in cheery banter with the backmarker who I can hear is laughing and chatting away with her running companions. I can’t yet talk and run at the same time. Anti social (and somewhat pathetic) I know, but true. If I end up at the back, I’ll also end up either walking so I can talk, or trying to run and talk simultaneously, which always seems to result in me falling over.
The race is 4.5 miles, and it’s lovely. More an off-road trail course than a fell race as such, but I find that reassuring given my level of experience. There are friendly marshals everywhere, cheering on, and pointing the path ahead. We pass through fields, and wooded areas, I can smell bracken and fallen leaves. It is lovely – apart from the running bit obviously. I do give in to walking at the edge of a ploughed field, it’s too muddy for me. I can see ahead other runners are also walking and that makes me feel that this is a legitimate tactic. Periodically I find fallen green feathers that have come off Miss Piggy’s feather boa. I consider scooping these up to sell on eBay later, but think the better of it. After a bit the other runners have pulled ahead of me out of sight, but I can hear the backmarkers behind. I suddenly felt I got into a rhythm running, and it felt great. I was pounding along, feeling the miles fall away almost effortlessly. It’s amazing, it is slightly disappointing when I realise actually all that’s happened is that the uphill bit has stopped and I’ve got a good run downhill a last. Oh well, it was good while it lasted.
I found myself running alone through a wooded area. On entering it the health and safety conscious Wobblers had put a helpful sign up saying ‘warning uneven ground’. Actually it wasn’t too bad, I think it would have been more helpful to have signs ahead of the hills saying ‘warning, stressful incline’ but what do I know? Left to my own devices I inevitably ended up walking, my default position is inert rather than active to be honest. That was of course, until I spotted a photographer ahead. I suddenly found inner strength to put on a show. I adopted my best running ‘pose’ and conceding I’d been caught red-handed slacking, called out to him to make sure that he did know that it was his job to make it look like I’d been running the whole time. He was gracious enough to laugh, say yes he did, and then tell me when it was OK to carry on walking again as I was out of his photo range. I’m not proud, that’s how it is in my world. Maybe not a flattering shot, but at least I look like I was moving! Thank you Robert Scriven.
Emerging from the woods, water came around the half way point. Onwards, following scattered boa feathers as well as the carefully positioned large orange arrows, and red and white tape strategically hung in the trees and I was feeling quite confident I would in fact make it, and not be last and not get lost. Never saw the cattle in the field, don’t know what happened to them. I followed the path with an extra spurt – not far to go now, I’d been over-taken by one other runner who’d been trailing me most of the way, but psychologically I wanted to keep the distance between me and the back markers. so I headed through what turned out to be the final bit of woodland, and then hit a river! Well, more of a stream than a river to be honest, but definitely a ‘you’re going to get wet crossing this’ sort of challenge. I was really confused. No-one had mentioned a river crossing, but the path was clearly signed to it, but then the markers seemed to mysteriously disappear. Adding to my general discombobulation (sorry, just wanted to get that word in really) I could hear cheers from the finish line, but couldn’t see it. I followed a path out of the woods, but there were no further signs, I double backed to check the markers, but they were clear. Then suddenly I got it, and inwardly smiled – ‘this is what off-road running is all about – plunging through water, and charging across the countryside’, I congratulated myself for having cracked it. This was clearly an in joke by the Wingerworth Wobblers. They obviously don’t tell newbies, keeping it as surprise sting in the tail at the end of the run. A sort of initiation perhaps! I will complete the run soaked but victorious and renewed, having completed a sort of off road running baptism. Besides, I vaguely remembered seeing something on the Wobblers Facebook page – linking to the ‘Run Britain’ website, that referred to a ‘spot prize for the best river crossing’ clearly this was it. I splashed through triumphant. And ended up in dense woodland, gallumphing around in search of a path. This was not going according to plan, defeated, I plunged back through the stream, then having rechecked the signs repeated this to and fro a few more times, before I had to concede that I was lost. I was like one of those blind dogs you see sometimes, frantically trying to return to their calling owner, but hopelessly misdirected in terms of where it is heading.
Eventually, I retraced my steps much further, hoping to see the backmarkers, but time had passed, they were nowhere in sight, if I had been on the right path they would surely have caught me up by now. I ventured across a small bridge, and there saw a great crowd at the top of an alarmingly steep grassy hill. I was so relieved to see the end in sight, that I found my little legs put on quite a sprint. This was a big miscalculation on my part, as the hill was long and steep, and there were people watching. Every runner knows that it is really important to pretend that you are running with ease when others are watching, especially at the finish. I honestly thought I’d die, dragging my weary carcass up that hill.
Oh the glamour of running. Don’t I just make it look effortless and elegant (rhetorical question)! With particular thanks to David Carr for taking these shots and allowing me to use them – I’ve promised him lots of celebrity referrals once I go viral from having made it in the blogosphere, hope he’s ready for a long wait…
My running club buddy came down the hill to run the last bit with me which was lovely. The organising committee seemed to be there as one to greet me, I was quite touched… though I think on reflection, it was more a cheer of relief that went up for my safe return (think of the paperwork if you lose a few runners on the day), rather than a cheer of admiration at my uphill running technique (which is unique it’s true, but not something to emulate). I quickly realised, they’d been panicking a bit, the back-marker was long time home (well, a few minutes anyway, and because she’d known I was ahead of her they really couldn’t understand how I got lost. Nor could I to be honest, I was a bit embarrassed, but cheered by my medal. Yay, bling, sponsored by Peak Cables, I was a bit disappointed it wasn’t actually made of cabling, but it was quite a heavy duty one, result. Mission accomplished.
The organisers were still waiting for other returners, but they turned out to not be out there at all, so I can report that the worst did happen. Both of them. That is, I accomplished the seemingly impossible double whammy of both finishing last and getting lost. However, I can also report that this didn’t matter at all. I still had a great time, and a great sense of achievement. The race organisers went into Miss Marple mode to investigate where I’d got lost, and discovered that someone had mischievously moved the markers at the end to lay a false trail, which made me feel better. It only affected me because, presumably, everyone else was either in sight of another runner or already knew the route so didn’t really notice them. Good to have it explained though, I had wondered how on earth I’d gone so far astray.
I like to think that without those extra minutes in the wood I’d have come in about the 56 minute mark, as it was my official time was 62 but I honestly don’t care. Not going for a steward’s enquiry on this occasion.
So, back to HQ attractive plastic bags on our feet to cover our trail shoes (the wobblers have thought of everything, providing these in abundance for the use of runners, free gratis too – no 5p charges here!), raffle drawn, prize giving, all in a worthy cause. Coffee, companionable chat, home.
So Wingerworth Wobblers, I salute you! What great ambassadors you are for that North East Derbyshire village. It was a friendly, welcoming supportive day. Well organised, great attention to detail and a good laugh too. What’s not to like? Thank you too to my fellow Smileys for your encouragement and grace in keeping me going!
Just waiting for the rest of the photos to come in now, and the stiffness to set in, but it was so worth it. Another win for ‘feel the fear and do it anyway!’ Get me, running free, not to mention achieving two impossible things in just one morning! Result.