Monthly Archives: October 2015

Beating the wobbles and bringing ballast to the back – Wingerworth Wobble fell race

Wingerworth Wobble – bring it on!

Seriously though, what’s the worst that can happen?

official hill run 6 Wingerworth wobble

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! celebrity couplecelebrity hiding out in wood

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.

me running in woods

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…

official hill run 1   official hill run 2     official hill lrun 3

official hill run 5  official hill run 6   official hill run 7

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.

post race chit chat

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!

Elizabeth Carr Smiley  ruth smiley

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.

Categories: motivation, off road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , | 23 Comments

Feeling Wobbly

Maybe I got a bit carried away with all the excitement over getting into the Percy Pud yesterday, but I seem to have accidentally entered this as well now:Wingerworth wobbleI’d been umming and ahing about it for a while.  I like off road running, it’s just I’m really, really bad at it.  This though sounds sort of achieveable, I mean 4.5 miles isn’t so very far is it?  And it isn’t very expensive to enter and it’s in a good cause too…  Anyway, I emailed the race organisers a couple of days ago, basically saying, I’ve never done a fell race before, will I die in the attempt or get lost at altitude/ be left behind for all eternity, and do I need ‘proper’ kit.  I have friends who do this kind of thing and are always fossicking around for whistles, waterproof trousers  and Kendal mint cake at the last minute….  Anyway, I got back such a lovely welcoming email from the race organiser, encouraging me to ‘give it a go’ and telling me there is a friendly backmarker to boot , that before I’d really thought it through I’d entered.

Wingerworth Wobblers – that sounds such a friendly approachable sort of club.  Wobbly is soft and cuddly not hard and angry.  The picture on the event poster is a bit more intimidating.  That guy has less hair on his legs than I do, so presumably waxes to achieve the go-faster goal of paring seconds of his finish time.  I also note he is running in a vest top, not a duffle coat, so I’m thinking he must work up a bit more of a sweat than I do when running.  Oh dear.  Perhaps I need to up my game.

I’m supposed to be doing a 10k in about 10 days, so I really ought to be able to manage about 7.5, or whatever it is, at this stage.  The thing is, I do really want to do it, but I’m a bit scared.  I don’t know anyone else doing this, although I do know there will be other Smiley participants, all fleeter of foot and finer of frame, but nothing ventured I suppose.  If I want to get fitter (I’ve given up hope of ever getting any faster) then I need to commit to these challenges.  The thing that is really sapping my morale is that when I signed up on the website it was glorious sunshine  outside.  The sun hitting the orange and yellow leaves on the trees made it look like burnished gold or dense flames out of the window.  Gorgeous Autumnal colours and sunshine, that anyone would want to rush outside and enjoy.  Since I hit the ‘pay’ button, torrential rain has lashed on the velux windows of my attic flat.  I feel my enthusiasm ebbing away from me by the second.

Oh well, it wont be the first time I’ve turned up at an event with more apprehension than optimism, let’s find out what I’m capable of, for better or worse!  I will wear my Smiley Vest, and hope to parasitize the crowds of supporters who have come to cheer others in the Smiley family.  I will need all the sympathetic cheers I can get….

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

Hobbit wins out over Hares – Percy Pud Entry Success 2015

Running isn’t fair.

It started innocently enough.  Last night I successfully got an entry in for the Percy Pud. This race is something of a Sheffield institution, a 10k race organised by a local running club, that sells out year after year.   It’s appeal is hard to explain, I did it last year in freezing hail and have never been so cold and wet in my life.  However, you get a Christmas Pudding on completion instead of a medal, what’s more, one that is vegetarian friendly, and there is always a massive turn out and great atmosphere.  Plenty of people in fancy dress, Santa and his sleigh leading the show and, last year at least, an exhausted penguin bringing up the rear.

The Steel City Striders who organise the event warned on their website that in the past few years they have had to turn away over 700 entrants annually because it sells out so quickly.  They announced that booking would open at 7.00 p.m. on Monday 5 October, so  In anticipation of this being a hot ticket, I was poised and ready with my fingers hovering over the keyboard at the appointed hour.  Immediate fail.   The website crashed, and I found myself guilty of that childish quality of really wanting what I couldn’t have.  Oh no, I wont be able to enter, all the other smileys will be pounding round as one, and I’ll be shivering on the side lines like Molly no-mates all over again.  Clutching a sodden placard and cheering desperately others as they sprint past, gazelle like, not even registering my presence as my voice is carried off in the biting winter wind.

I amazed myself by how much I minded, and then did so all over again by accessing previously hidden areas of initiative and knowledge at the depths of my brain by thinking to check on first the event organisers Facebook page, and then thieir twitter feed.  Those who know me will know how remarkable this is.  Whilst not exactly a technophobe, I don’t do facebook (way too scared of stalkers) and the point of twitter has previously seemed to me to be completely unfathomable.  Just a way to broadcast personal idiocy or attract trolls.  However, I find necessity had me change my tune with a quicker turn of speed than I have ever mustered on an actual run!  I find that they have tweeted a different link that can bypass the crashed website and allow you to enter.  Da na!  The deed is done, I am in.

I didn’t think all that much about it again until this morning.  I noticed a flurry of activity on various running groups facebook pages.  Percy Pud 2015 has sold out in 2 hours – all 2,200 places.  This is extraordinary.  I am pleased to have got in, but I also feel a pang of guilt.

It seems a significant number of others have not been so lucky.  The injustice comes in the reason why.  The very event organisers had a regular Sunday run out that coincided with the registrations going live.  This means, that those serious runners who were out, pounding the roads and tracks and trails with head torches and resolve, and who delayed trying to enter until they got back home post runs,  were too late.  Sofa ornaments and couch potatoes like me, who from our recliners could try and try again to access the website in comfort, were able to get in.

There is no justice in the world at times.  I do feel genuinely sad, some people who volunteered last year and were hoping to join in this year have missed out.

I don’t know what the correct response is, but I’ve decided for today it is this.  I am lucky to have a place, so I must make sure I don’t waste it.  I will endeavour to train and truly earn my pudding.  What better tribute can I make.  Weird though, to find I have secured such a coveted place, it is luck not justice, and a rare moment of triumph for my inner (and outer) hobbit, I don’t know what the lesson there is quite.  Life isn’t fair, and on this occasion I have benefited from that inequity.   Don’t hate me.

Percy Pud sell out

Categories: motivation, Percy Pud, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Unleash your inner dancing queen…

Cross training is the way to go apparently.  It seems if I am ever to make any measurable progress with my running, or at least attempt to hold back the tide of decrepitude that comes with the relentless march of time, it is a good idea to try and find other forms of exercise.

I know my balance is rubbish, my core non-existent, in fact it’s amazing I can remain upright long enough to do the washing up some days.   Possibly as evidence of this, or alternatively as an amusing aside, I once told a spotty youth at an induction session for a gym that I had a genetic abnormality that meant I didn’t have any abdominal muscles and so couldn’t do any sit ups or crunches etc.  He eyed me up, and clearly this seemed all too plausible to him, ‘ok, just skip them’  he said.  It didn’t instil a great deal of confidence in me for his basic knowledge of human anatomy nor physical exercise.  Most importantly of all no rapport, no shared sense of humour, no progress to be made.  It maybe didn’t help that when introducing ourselves at the reception before our shared induction, my friend unzipped her fleece only for a ketchup soaked chip to fly out and land in the paper diary on the desk.  Never have I seen ketchup splatter so far and to such devastating effect.  She had been starving whilst waiting for me outside after a long day of work, grabbed some chips to chomp on for quick carbohydrate fix and obviously one had had dropped down her top in her haste to consume them. One way or another we never did go back…

Anyway, I digress, I have been seeking some sort of class to supplement my running.  I can’t motivate myself, and I don’t fancy any more outdoor sessions now winter is drawing in apace.  I want not too expensive, good humoured but knowledgeable leadership.  How fortuitous that the same fitness instructor who marshalled us for the Endurer Dash runs regular classes at a not to distant social club.  I like her positivity, it is almost pathological, and certainly infectious, or maybe contagious.  It might be contagious as she is quite tactile and huggy so could be spread either by physical touch or be airborne, not that it matters, the ability to pass on enthusiasm and positivity can only be a good thing.

The class is loosely based on dance moves, but that’s not entirely obvious to me.  I do find it much harder than I ought to, but it is definitely fun.  There is a lot of hip gyrating, and standing on one leg (or more accurately wobbling on one leg).  The main thing that will motivate me to stick with it is probably the wall of mirrors that we face throughout.  There is no way you can hide your physique from that reality check.  Normally I will only stand in front of a full length mirror for a very limited period of time, the tolerable maximum duration being however long I can hold my stomach in for on any one particular day.  I defy anyone to hold their stomach in for a whole 45 minute work out session, particularly one where you are standing on one leg for durations that even a self respecting flamingo might query.  Despite the difficultly of the balance exercises, and the torture of the mirrors, the exercise class itself is strangely compulsive.

The instructor (coach, leader – I don’t know what you call these people) anyway, she has super-human mobility and stretch.  She can do things with her body that I didn’t think were possible.  She will ‘simply fold’ over, legs outstretched in front of her, reaching out effortless to touch her toes whilst burying her head on her knees and flattening her prone back. I am still pretty much as a right angle.  I don’t even know  which bit of my body is preventing the move.  Is it because my stomach rolls get in the way, or is it because my ham strings are so tight they aren’t giving a millimetre in any circumstances, try as I may.  Same with sit ups.  She can do this amazing ‘impossible’ manoeuvre where she lies flat on her back, arms stretched above her and legs  outstretched and hard against the floor, then in one graceful movement  she slowly sits upright without using her arms to push her up or letting her legs lift from the floor, she arcs her arms round to touch her toes and folds her whole body against her legs, and then slowly and controlled with her steel abs uncurls and then repeats.  I don’t see how this is humanly possible.  It certainly isn’t humanely possible.  The only comfort I take is that whilst I flail around, not even able to get up to a sitting position without using my arms to help me, I can see in the mirrors that the rest of the class is similarly struggling like so many fish out of water.  Whilst the graceful instructor performs this miracle of muscular control, the rest of us flap about and sweat, thrashing around on the floor to little effect.  One day perhaps…

Despite these indignities, the class is fun, I sweat a lot, and I know I’ll ache afterwards.  It goes quickly, and you emerge into the sharp cold air of Autumn and the dark night almost in a state of shock.  What happened there?  How did I get myself into that?  It is glorious, this is exercise that is fun.

Our coach also has a good trick, after the session she always sends a  text saying how awesome we all are, and how proud she is of our ‘non stop energy’ or whatever.  The thing is, even though I know this is a motivational technique, and I know it is her job to be positive and even though I strongly suspect the contents may not be entirely true re our energy and enthusiasm levels (let’s agree it might be an appropriate use of a little white lie…) it still sort of works.  You get a warm glow of achievement.  Yes I am non-stop with my energy and enthusiasm yes I can do this.  Yes. We. Can!  It seems I am just as shallow as I thought, all it really takes to motivate me is a kind word and a broad smile.

Dance classes on a Friday, core work on a Tuesday night, bring it on.

Categories: fitness class, motivation | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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

Cutting a dash… endurer dash 2015

 More hobbit than hare .. 2015 Endurer Dash 8km September 2015

No stick in the mud

Ignorance can be bliss, it can also be no excuse and get you into a lot of trouble.   Believe me, I speak with some authority based on recent personal experience.  In this instance it probably gave me the naïve confidence to tackle something that I wouldn’t have attempted if I’d actually looked into it a bit more carefully.  To be specific, the 8km Endurer Dash held in the Peak District this September.

For those of you that have no idea what this event is, like me before hand.  I now know it to be basically an off-road obstacle course, over a fixed distance.  In this case, the ‘fixed distance’ was allegedly 8km, but at the start line the officially cheerily said it was actually 9.6km (don’t know if that was an attempt at humour, or a serious disclosure) oh well, what’s a couple of km between friends.  I’m a really slow runner, but I like the scenic trail routes, and I regularly do 5km at Parkrun, so I picked up on the off-trail bit, and the 8km bit and thought that sounded basically doable.  A good friend of mine announced she’d be doing it as part of team and I was welcome to join, ‘the more the merrier’ and so that was it I was in.  Signed up to join the Magnificent ‘Marshall’s Mudders’ baulked a bit at the cost of the event (most expensive I’ve ever entered to date topping £40 with my entry late and the mysterious ‘administration fee’), but, hey I was in.

I am not entirely stupid, so whilst granted, it never really occurred to me to do any training as such (well, I’d only signed up in the last week, so really I figured all I could usefully do at this point was taper and carb up), I did turn to google in search of some pre-event insights.  I found reference to a comment from someone, somewhere, who had done the Endurer Dash last year.  ‘Brilliant, this will help me know what to expect!‘ I thought as with gay abandon I disregarded my anti virus ‘whooooaa, are you sure you want to go there?‘ warning in order to access their words of wisdom.  (On reflection, the warning may have referred to the event itself, rather than the website, but hey-ho, we live and learn, or not, obviously).

Yep, this was relevant, it was a woman talking who hadn’t done much in the way of similar events before.  Someone I could relate to, what could be more perfect?  Unfortunately, rather than finding upbeat, gung ho encouragement, I instead found a candid admission from the author that she’d spent the entirety of last year’s event crying and using a variety of colourful expletives to tell her team mates to ‘go away’.  I did not read on.  I wondered if I ought to share this revelation with others.  I thought the better of it, mostly.

So it was that the day dawned, and I drove through gorgeous countryside on a glorious sunny day.  I felt pretty optimistic heading out.  On arrival though, things started to unravel somewhat.  Parking was on a muddy slope in a field.  For my £2 I was waved to the first of many inclines of the day.  My poor little car (16 year old Fiesta)  phutted and tutted just trying to manoeuvre into position.  A rather more expensive car started spewing thick black smoke as it tried to reverse up the bank on long wet grass.  I then had a growing awful knotted feeling in my stomach as it dawned on me that I didn’t really know what it was I’d signed up to, let alone anything about my team mates.  The majority I’d never even met, and I suddenly felt horribly inadequate.  I was out of breath just walking up the hill to the registration point, and as I did so various obstacles started coming into view.  These weren’t ‘obstacles’ in the cheery apple-bobbing, egg-and-spoon race sense, more ‘obstacles’ in the army assault course assessment what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger regime sense.  Oh dear.  I’d thought a sense of humour and a bit of feistiness would serve to get me round, now I was having to concede it would take rather more than that to get beyond the first few hundred metres with my weary carcass and already depleted morale…

Mercifully, I soon bumped into a familiar face!  The local fitness instructor who had enthused enough of her bootcamp attendees to sign up to marshal a team.  I’d only met her the week before, going along to one of her hybrid exercise/dance classes by way of introduction, but she spotted me and quickly introduced me to the fellow team mates.  We were quite a motley gang, but all were friendly, positive, laughing (albeit nervously) and welcoming.  Granted, I raised the average age of the participants quite considerably, but they reciprocated by raising me (literally) around the course when the time came.  We were a fabulous team, I feel I struck gold, together we were invincible.  We definitely bonded on the way round, strength through adversity perhaps, but who cares.  All I know for sure is there is no way on earth I’d have made it round on my own, but as it was, we all did every obstacle, pretty impressive eh?  I’m not going to claim that each obstacle was negotiated with any degree of dignity, but they were all successfully negotiated!  Here’s how…

Our awesome team - it is probably significant that we found time to pose for photos on our way round the course!

Our awesome team – it is probably significant that we found time to pose for photos on our way round the course!

So, the ‘race’ began, donned with face paint, and sticking together off we went.  Quickly we were in wooded areas, plunging through streams, up river beds, scrambling up steep banks and navigating tree roots.  It wasn’t a fast run, to be honest ‘proper’ runners might be frustrated because it was inevitably very stop start all the way around.  You do have to wait at obstacles as others negotiate them, and then of course if you are sticking with your team it takes a while to get say 10 people over each one.  That stop/ start suits me, no getting left behind or out of breath.  Initially I thought it was pretty straight forwards, off road terrain, splashing through water but nothing too nightmare inducing…  but quite soon we hit the first obstacle and it all changed from there.  Basically, it’s a huge wooden wall.  I’d imagined there would be foot or hand holds to help you get over.  How foolishly optimistic…  I opted to go first, because I couldn’t bear the thought of watching other faster fitter team mates being splattered before me.  Very bad for morale.  I was really lucky, because a couple of our team had done this race before and knew what to expect, they quickly got into position, encouraged me to step into their hands, then clamber onto their shoulders and finally hoik myself over.  It worked!  A.  Maz. Ing!  Jumping down the other side was a bit scary, it was a long drop, and I was worried about twisting an ankle or worse, but the euphoria of having negotiated the first obstacle was so great the adrenalin surged and I felt (temporarily ) invincible!

What I learned from this first obstacle, is quite a lot.  To get over an obstacle, you have to first get over yourself. There will be no dignity, but you can prevail.  I also had to get over my initial apprehension about breaching social niceties.  I don’t consider myself to be particularly socially accomplished or well versed in etiquette, but I know that (as well as not talking with your mouth full) you shouldn’t really scramble over people’s faces and smear them with the contents of a slurry pit on first acquaintance.  Now I don’t know about the ‘not talking with your mouth full’ rule, that might be a social faux pas too far, but it seems that despite my initial protestations that I couldn’t possibly clamber all over my team mates for fear of injuring them, I quite quickly moved into a position where I was quite happy to kick them in the face, smother them with excess mud,  or stomp on their shoulders if that was what was needed to get me round.  Sacrifices had to be made, and I was happy enough to let others make those sacrifices on my behalf, I suppose that’s just the kind of committed team player I am.  I  did have brief moments of guilt, but they passed.  I took the precaution of not asking about injuries or bruises the next day. Sometimes, it’s best not to know (see reference to ‘ignorance is bliss’ above).

This sort of set the pattern really.  There were some obstacles that just required you to grit your teeth and take the plunge (literally and metaphorically) see river crossing and mud/slurry bath.  The water was pretty deep at one point.  Our nominated team member who volunteered to leap in first, literally plunged completely out of sight when she jumped as it turned out that she was considerably out of her depth.  Watching her disappear below the surface of the murky water I did wonder if I was supposed to jump in and rescue her, or whether I’d get away with denying ever having seen her go in if it went to an inquest – it was quite a relief when she surfaced – cold and spluttering expletives, but definitely very much alive.  Personally I went for the unceremonious but more cautious climb in.  The shock of the cold water was still pretty great, but I managed the miracle of crossing the water without getting my hair wet.  Is that  not incredibly impressive!

  water challenge 12063768_867999563278176_2034079849084584575_n

Don’t know if this link will work, but here is the action replay on video of the water crossing

There were quite a few more obstacles along the way, that required you to surrender to the support of others.  The monkey bars were a case in point.  I don’t really have any upper body strength at all, and couldn’t even find the strength to hang on them, let alone progress across with a confident primate swing.  Top Tip, smile sweetly at the attending marshal.  Generally speaking I am in independent woman who likes to do things by herself.  However, needs must.  On the day a marshal basically offered to hold me round the legs whilst I approximated moving across the monkey bars whilst he walked forward below carrying my complete weight.  I didn’t even break into a sweat, way easier than trying to do it ‘properly’ all by yourself.  Then there were the majority of obstacles where I just accepted that my best strategy was to adopt the role of an inanimate, and only marginally sentient object, and allow my team members to get me round much as if I was a log that they had to manoeuvre and heave around with them as part of the challenge.  Yes, it’s true, not much dignity, but really, it did work.  No tears were shed, and we all got around.  Yay!

More posing en route at the Endurer Dash

More posing en route at the Endurer Dash

Team work in action, this is what it takes to get someone over..

Team work in action, this is what it takes to get someone over..

The final two obstacles were the straw bales – easy peasy and them the slide, which was basically whooping through suds on a plastic sheet with gravity spinning you towards the finish.  It was FAB!  The last obstacle did though leave you with a rather unsettling frothy residue that was not only noticeable in all the runners as we hastened to the finish, but persisted despite many attempts to hose myself down at the end.  These were suds that could seek out personal orifices in a way I previously thought was only achievable by grains of sand.  Yet another example of how this dashing experience was quite an education!

A rare find - smiling mid run, must be because the end is in sight, literally!

A rare find – smiling mid run, must be because the end is in sight, literally!

We all made it, how awesome is that.  I can honestly say I was sad when we got to the finish!  (You can see what I mean about the suds though, can’t you?)

The finish

So my top tips for surviving and even thriving at the Endurer Dash?

  • Get yourself a good team – and learn to trust them fast
  • Get over yourself, and you are more likely to get over the obstacles
  • Keep your sense of humour with you, and leave any sense of dignity behind
  • Some people try training in advance, that strategy could work, but I say  go with plenty of  ‘what the hell’ feistiness and chances are you’ll still get around
  • Wear gloves
  • Embrace the joy of doing it badly, who cares about times, its completion not competition that counts on the day
  • and for next time – get yourself a team Haka worked out in advance, that was my only regret, still, there is always next year is there not…

team finish

Years ago I used to share a flat with a good friend, sometimes in our youth we would find ourselves of a weekend night at studenty parties, or weird social occasions that were full of embarrassment, angst and uncertainty.  The following day would always involve a bleary-eyed, hung-over post-mortem as we struggled to make sense of what had passed the night before.  We always reached the same conclusion ‘I’m not sure if I enjoyed myself, but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it!‘  So it is it seems with running races, you don’t want to risk missing out, it might be fun, it will certainly be an adventure, and worst case scenario you get to carb up with an easy conscience the night before and maybe a good story out of it by the end.  What could possibly go wrong?*

Just do it – what have you got to lose?  If you don’t enter you’ll never know

*FYI – things that could go wrong are quite a lot actually, best not read the events disclaimer too carefully, it will only depress and scare you.

Team at end - we made it!

Team at end – we made it!

go big or go home - eek!

go big or go home – eek!

Categories: motivation, off road, race, running, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Running scared? More Hobbit than Hare? Then why am I here?

Good question, glad you asked me that.

So here I am, kicking off keeping a personal blog about my own half-hearted running endeavours.  I am embarking on this, even though I have zero expectation that there is anyone out there who might be interested in stalking my progress.  Yet, here this blog will sit,  pixels dancing in the void, documenting my many frustrations and maybe modest triumphs along the way, for all eternity.

Why do it?  Why am I here clogging up the internet?  Well, bottom line is, why shouldn’t I?  What is the internet for if it is not for amusing pictures of cats, for sharing personal experiences and for addressing the fundamental and universal existential questions that haunt us all?  I don’t have a cat, so the first scenario isn’t really an option for me, so by a process of elimination I’m going with scenario two, ‘shared experience’.  Sorry if you really seriously thought for a moment I’d be helping you along the way to solving the meaning of life, I guess I’ll have to help you manage your expectations.  Though if it makes you feel any better, that’s actually already been done.  Try 42.  Trust me, I heard Hitchhiker’s Guide right at the start when it was on the Radio.  Genius.

So, I’ve decided I’m going to start writing about my ‘running’ experiences.  Honestly, I will be the first to admit these are limited.  I’m not a ‘proper runner’ I look shit in Lycra, and I’m always shuffling along at the back – hence the ‘More Hobbit than Hare’ strap line to this blog.  I’m now the wrong side of fifty (unless you think that life begins at fifty, in which case I’m the right side of it), I’ve got arthritis in my toes and I’m certainly not noticeably lithe.  I don’t even really enjoy running very much, more the smug feeling at the end of it, and I don’t think I’ve ever actually looked forward to going out for a run.  Even so, I think I am persuaded of it’s benefits.

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Running is free, social and it’s true, as the saying goes:

‘I really regret that run…’ said no-one ever

It helps with physical and mental health, gets me out and about in some glorious countryside, and I’ve got to meet some awesome people along the way.  When my motivation is elusive, I hope that by embarking on a blog I’ll remember why it’s so important to keep on keeping on.  I may never be fleet of foot, and learn to run well, but I can enjoy doing it badly.  For me, this blog is about being accountable, celebrating the benefits and pleasure running brings to me and putting up two fingers to the PE teachers of old who catered only for the sporting elite of my school cohort and wrote off the stumbling majority of whom I was most definitely one.  Here I am, decades later, I still can’t throw or catch a  ball, or get the point of competitive sports, but I can put one foot in front of another, repeat, and keep on repeating until I get to the end.  That’s it, that is all that is required.  I don’t think there can be a more inclusive sport than running.

Join me in the running revolution, what the hell – let’s just haul on our trainers and hit the trails!

Round Sheffield Run 2015

Round Sheffield Run 2015

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

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