In this case the running ‘ups’ included a particularly steep hill (twice) and the downs included falling over.
So, today being the 18th October 2015 it was show time for the annual Sheffield TenTenTen. The name comes because the first time it was held, it was a 10km race on the 10th October (tenth month) quite possibly in 2010. So you can see what they did there (although I suppose if all those details are correct it ought by rights to have been called the TenTenTenTen, so perhaps there is some myth making going on there too.) Now years have passed, the name is marginally less apt, but sticks. This is a 10km trail race, very local to me. Some of it is on the same trails and paths used by my weekly Parkrun, so it is a very familiar route. I only have to roll out of bed and stagger down, I’ve even already picked up my number in advance from the local running shop.
My leg still feels a bit numb, and I’ve got a sore throat, so I’m a bit whingey to be honest, but there is no-one about to hear my moaning, and I decide I will just go and take it easy. I don’t want to miss out, and it’s not an especially tough course. I decide on my pre-race goals (see, I’ve learned nothing from experience). I decide I will be happy not to be lapped by the faster runners (it is a two loop course) and not to fall over on the way round. I know all about setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic – and Relevant, and Timebound). These goals are definitely that….
I woke really early, so had a coffee and some porridge with nuts and seeds and dates in it. Yum. I realised to my consternation that I do now have a bit of a pre-event faffing routine. I always use a hair drier to dry my feet after a shower, because I think if my feet are damp at all then I’ll get blisters when I run. This could be a good theory, but last couple of runs have involved getting seriously soaked crossing streams or sinking in bogs, so it’s rather an academic point. This being so, maybe I should face up to the possibility that maybe I’m just a bit weird doing that, at any rate definitely displaying behaviour that’s towards the puzzlingly eccentric end of the continuum. I also usually wear my long sleeved top, but today, I thought I’d go wild and break with tradition, and wear a short sleeved one instead. I’d like to say this is because I plan to run fast and furious and this will be cooler, but the real reason is I hope it will be marginally more flattering than my long sleeved one as I am heaving my Smiley Paces vest on over the top of it, and frankly that is always a bit of a squeeze with my bulkier top. I safety pin my number on. A running friend did say she’d got me some magnets to use instead, but they haven’t found their way to me and I’d rather be organised.
The race starts at 10, but there is a 2.5km fun run for children before (don’t tempt me), I head out just after 9.00. I am met by a forlorn looking older couple in a car. They wind down their window. They have lost their much loved dog. It is a golden Labrador/ Staffordshire cross, with a pink sparkly collar – and they look heart-broken. I say I’ll try and get it put on social media at the event I’m going to as there will be lots of runners there. I did ask at both the café and at the bag drop, but don’t know if they did, pretty sure they didn’t. I felt like it was my responsibility, I did let some other generic runners know as well. Oh it’s so sad.
Walking down I pass the kids running their 2.5 km challenge. Some of them are seriously fast. How can they do that? It’s extraordinary, and many of them are positively laughing with joy as they stream by. There is a photographer waiting to snap them as they pass. He sees me, clocks my Smiley Vest and queries why I don’t appear to be Smiling as it claims on my top. I promise I will try and smile at him when I come running past later (astonishingly, I do achieve this, albeit it has something of the quality of a pained grimace after all that running around, but it shows willing does it not?). It is the second lap though, smiling comes more easily when the end is in sight…
Reaching the start I find that it is as always (well, I say as always, it’s only the second time I’ve done it) incredibly friendly, well organised and well laid out. There is a bag drop; registration; ambulance (delete the memory of that but good to know it’s there); coffee; food; kit for sale; physiotherapists; podium for presentations later (doesn’t impact on me to be honest, but shows the attention to detail), and lots and lots of fluorescent jacketed marshals and helpers. I feel at home here, because it’s very much my Parkrun patch, it makes the whole event less intimidating. It is crowded though, lots of runners and their supporters too. There are also loads of smiling enthusiastic marshals, that really helps to get you round!
Arrival turned out to be quite social. A veritable pleasing plague of Smileys are in evidence, and quite mixed abilities too which is always heartening. I meet one who had also been dithering about whether or not to run, she has a poorly ankle as well as problems with her feet. We debate whether if we took the working parts from each of us we might be able to create some super runner, but regrettably this seems very unlikely. We are both not blessed in the feet department, and that would be a problem, also neither of us is particularly tall – she gets to tower over me at 5’2″ to my 5’1.5″. The plan is abandoned.
A gaggle (or should that be a giggle?) of Smiley’s assemble in the start funnel. We are having a really good natter in fact, which annoyingly is cut short by some sort of collective warm up. We wave our hands aloft, copying the people in front, and not really sure what is going on. It seems benign but a more serious point would be how easy is appears to be to get people following orders in this way. It could have been some bizarre cult initiation ceremony for all we knew, goodness only knows what we’ve now been inducted to… The conversation picked up again (on the topic of social media faux pas mainly) and then again was annoyingly interrupted by having to go for a 10km run. I’d been so stuck into a conversation about the tyranny of ‘to like or not to like’ on Facebook, that I’d genuinely temporarily forgotten that was why we were there, I was somewhat shocked and affronted therefore to find myself in a stampede of whooping runners, but hey ho, here we go!
I’m not entirely sure how many starters there were – around 950 perhaps? I was in the 60-70 minute band, and it took a while for us to get through the start, doesn’t really matter as the chip timers are in the number anyway. The first bit of the route is snaking across the grass of Endcliffe Park. This is my least favourite bit of the course, because you feel like you are doubling back on yourself (perhaps because you are) and also, I feel a bit conspicuous as here are spectators, you have to pretend to run with vim and vigour! You quite quickly leave the park and end up on the road. This was a bit confusing to me, as we are so programmed to NOT RUN ON THE ROAD at Parkrun, that I instinctively migrate onto the pavement which slows me down loads. Then it dawned on me I could take the more direct route, I sped (in my terms) along there, feeling quite anarchic! Oh the joys of the open road… This momentary pleasure is displaced by the first encounter with The Hill. It is very steep it is true, but honestly not that long. It is a grassy bank that seems to rise almost vertically up, and is surrounded by spectators that are either there to offer moral support, or could be there in the hope of witnessing some sort of blood-fest as runners tumble back down the slope with a dominoes effect on all those in their wake depending on your perspective. I do start by running up, but quickly give way to walking.
To be honest, I’m also quite relieved to find a bottle neck at the top where a narrow path takes you back into the woods again. An opportunity to catch my breath. The next bit is my favourite part of the run, it’s a nice woodland trail, not desperately fast because of the uneven path people do stop and start a bit. There are a couple of friendly marshals warning about specific hazards (sudden down hill or unexpected fallen trees) but the BEST BIT is that someone has put up some posters saying ‘Come on Smileys’ at intervals in the wood. It does really give your spirits a lift. A much needed lift, as I’d just overheard someone pointing out to a friend the exact point where they’d taken a tumble in last year’s race. We cross a couple of roads, a few non-running Smileys appear as Marshals or spectators and shout encouragement. I feel like I’ve been caught slacking as they always seem to appear from the woods as I’ve started to slow. Wearing a Smiley Vest is great for support though – that and the fact that this year’s race labels have your name on them, it makes you feel like a celebrity if you run and someone calls your name. Actually, that’s not strictly true, the first time I heard my name called I thought I was in trouble, but that’s probably just me!
Eventually we turn around and run back down through the wood, yay, downhill, it is a lot easier. As we go back towards Endcliffe Park we are back on tarmac paths, and spectators and slightly non-plussed walkers are around. One runner remarks to another ‘those people must think we are completely mad!’ I am compelled to interject ‘actually, I do too!’ They laugh in recognition – and then overtake me and speed away – surely not something I said? We pass the steep hill again – this time we can see the fleeter runners tackling it for the second time – some of them look like they are actually bounding up it! I like seeing the better runners, I don’t like being lapped by them, but I do love to see them in action. It is amazing what the human body can do, not mine perhaps, but some people’s somewhere, somehow!
Back into the park, more woodland, I started to feel more confident again as it’s very familiar paths and almost the half way point. I am snapped in action unawares, and seem to be actually voluntarily running (as opposed to posing for the camera running) in the shots which is a first – even airborne in one (if you squint)
Reader, alas, this temporary elation is short lived. A couple of hundred metres later and I am lapped on the path round the corner, where the finish is in sight it is true, but definitely lapped. Seconds later I also fall over. How did that happen? I didn’t hurt myself (well, grit in the palms and public humiliation, but nothing much), nearby runners did stop which was nice of them, I felt very foolish. Then I had to do the horrible grassland plateau run again. This is so much harder second time around as I was sort of on my own rather than in a big herd of other runners like wildebeest on migration. Also, I can hear the commentator bigging up the first few finishers and cheers of adulation and appreciation go up on their return. The second lap is going to be tough. I get a stich and feel a bit miserable, but I am determined to get round. Road then that hill again, this time a bystander shouts ‘it’s OK to run up here you know’ and because I recognise him from Parkrun I retort ‘it’s OK to give us a helping shove from behind!’ and then I have a moment of panic that this could be read as an open invitation for assault. Last time I got helped round a course was at the Endurer Dash and I had a huge number of strangers shoving my ample arse to get it (with me attached) over the obstacles there – this isn’t quite the same situation, and I didn’t really want to be assisted in the same manner here. Doh. No such assistance was forthcoming in any event – much more fun to watch us all heaving ourselves up the slope looking like we’d perish in the attempt or perhaps they were running a book on who would vomit first (or most prolifically) on reaching the summit.
Despite my fading morale, I did get around – helped a lot by upbeat marshals who seemed to have a word of encouragement for everyone who went by. I even enjoyed the last kilometre – there was a real crowd at the finish, and I passed by grabbing my medal and into the collective warmth of a smiley hug. They are so good my fellow Smileys it doesn’t matter if you are fast or slow the cheer is the same on your return. In fact, people like me who are final finishers probably do get more people cheering for us at the finish line, just because more have made it back ahead to welcome you. It’s quite humbling.
I still don’t quite look like they do crossing the finish in Chariots of Fire but I’m sure my sense of achievement is just the same!
The only downside is that I was way too late for the smiley team photo, oh well, not the first time that’s happened to me, and wont be the last either… I swapped stories with some other Smiley runners, thrills and spills en route; injuries; running adventures. It’s amazing how much you can find to chat about at the end of a race with all those endorphins charging through your system.
Even our fastest runner (second woman back no less) had a tale to tell. She had apparently suffered a serious wardrobe malfunction en route. Her compression shorts, were, it seems, ill advised, ultimately compressing into a thong, leaving little to the imagination as she hurtled round. I’m not surprised she went so fast, anyone would be in a hurry to get to the safety of the finish line in similar circumstances!
So just a question of picking up the goodie bag. We already had bling. This goodie bag had: banana; crisps; bottle of water; Lucozade sport; weird looking popcorn bar and some chewy sweets. Very respectable and in a quality bright red plastic bag which pleased me probably disproportionately. Once this was safely in my possession, I joined the queue for the physios. A local company provide quick sports massages in return for a charity donation to help restore runners aching muscles post run. They turn up at quite a few local events and I am a complete convert. I never understood the point of sports massages, but I had one after the Round Sheffield Run last year, and although it really hurt at the time, the following day was the first time EVER I’d not had cramp in my calves the day after a run. Miracle. Plus, today I hope that they’ll be able to tell me if I should worry about my numb leg. Which isn’t particularly worse after the run, but definitely still has a pins and needles feel to it. The woman who massages my calf calls over a more experienced colleague. He has me on my back and stretching my legs up in the air to test their flexibility – he pronounces that it probably is a bit of sciatic pain (though this is not the same as sciatica as such) and that I oughtn’t to ignore it. Actually, I’ve been meaning to get it checked out for a while, and as there is a 20% discount for TenTenTen runners AND I find they offer physio in the local running shop I will do this now.
So over-animated conversation with a fellow smiley as we go through our race experiences together. We pose for a photo, hoping our juxtaposition next to the ‘sub 40’ sign will send a subliminal message to anyone who subsequently sees it, that we actually, honestly, ran really fast. Of course, they are unlikely to fall for this, and it may well be they assume this time relates to a 5km not a 10km, oh well, it can still be my little joke for me… I also get a really excellent cup of coffee from the back of a mobile coffee place at the finish. That was great!
Home, bath, blog, photos, I love the post run feeling, smug and happy – tomorrow I will be stiff and sore, I shall just concentrate therefore on enjoying today!
Oh, and to recap on my goals: no falling over, no being lapped. Epic fail on both counts. Still, there’s always next time I suppose.