Hobbit country. Longshaw estate ought really to be pretty much my perfect destination for taking on a 10km. Hooray, therefore, for this National Trust initiative which is basically to offer a ‘a free, monthly, 10k run across a selection of our places around the country. This is your opportunity to try out the running trails as part of a challenge, training or just to explore the amazing landscapes. As a pilot activity for us we hope the Trust10 trails will inspire the runner in you.’ Good oh.
I did in fact go to the pilot event for this at Longshaw estate back in July. It’d been promoted as being for ‘walkers, runners, children, families…’ anyone and everyone basically. It was a bit of a shock therefore for me to turn up and find only keen lean running machines as the majority, then me, then two Nordic walkers. Apparently the organisers weren’t wanting to promote the event too widely until they’d fine tuned some of the logistics, so they’d only notified a couple of the local running clubs it was happening, hence, the turn out was predominantly elite super runners … and me. not quite the continuum of abilities and aspirations I’d anticipated. Somehow I had slipped through this selection procedure and consequently found myself suffering the indignity of plodding round having been lapped by almost every other runner by the time I embarked on the second circuit. The only people I beat home last time were the two Nordic walkers, and if I’m really honest, they weren’t so very far behind me in any case. Even so, it had been fun and friendly and I was up for another go. So it was, that on Remembrance Sunday in November, I was back at Longshaw, running buddy in tow. Yes, yes, this entry is out of sequence, but honestly, who’d notice?
Longshaw is lovely, and it also boasts a rather fine Tea rooms, plus, on this occasion, the option of a bit of serendipitous early Christmas shopping if you are looking for traditional British bounty in the tea-towel, shortbread or quality consumables area. Ho ho ho/ bah humbug etc..
Due to impulsive enthusiastic decision making post Parkrun the day before, I had a running buddy who was game to pick me up, even though today was her birthday, and she’d have had a late night the day before. I waited dutifully outside my house at the appointed hour. Not a soul moving anywhere. I admit I was wondering if she was either still drunk or soundly sleeping prior a monumental hangover and wasn’t sure what to do. Seems rather unfair to text someone on their birthday and demand they drive you and they to a run in the cold and wet wilderness somewhere. In the end I went for a cautious ‘are you still up for it? Ok if not’ message, and got a reply – she’d been waiting a while outside a completely different house. Whoever the occupants were they were lucky they didn’t nip out to get a paper or something, they were at real risk of being abducted and compelled to sprint through mud.
Reunited, we headed off. Weather was cold and not altogether promising. I wasn’t sure it would be how I’d have wanted to celebrate my birthday. We arrived, parked up, and after some confusion about choosing the perfect parking spot and how much to pay, we were in. I’m making this entry out of sequence, but from memory I coughed up for three hours. I figured that I really, really ought to be able to get around even a hilly and wet 10km in that time, and still squeeze in a post run cup of coffee too. Satisfied, we followed the path to the tea rooms.
It was buzzing. Loads of people, and to be honest, it slightly had the feel of a school outing. You know what I mean? Seeing lots of people you know and see regularly, but in a completely different context, where everyone suddenly gets over excited and a bit hyper at the prospect of a shared adventure together. There were familiar faces from Sheffield Hallam Parkrun queuing up to sign in and collect their numbers. Pleasingly, there were even fellow Smileys in evidence, always a boon. Plus there were other people I vaguely recognised from out running too. Truthfully, that would be when they were out running, and I was out ambling about, pretending that they just happened to have caught me at the exact moment I had to pause to tie my shoelace/ do some stretching/ complete a walking stage as part of my fartlek strategy. It was all pretty companionable though, efficient and civilised too. You could register in the warm, heavens there was even access to the proper loos with toilet paper and everything. They had retained my details from last time, so I just had to sign and collect my number from the pile left next to the sign up sheet, my friend had to register, but it didn’t take long. And then we got our actual numbers, emblazoned with the Trust 10 branding which is rather fun. The photo below is actually a dramatic reconstruction, featuring my numbers from both the July and Nov. race, rather than mine and my running buddy’s from the November jaunt, but you’ll get the idea, surely.
The next real challenge, was venturing out of the nice warm registration area to face the cold and threatening wet. I was not alone in doing the ‘should I/shouldn’t I?’ dance with my clothing, I did have my running waterproof with me, but I still haven’t quite fathomed whether it does any good. I always seem wetter inside than out. Frankly, it’s so cold, I’d rather be running in a fleece, but accept that’s not really allowed. Ultimately, we leave them in the tea room and traipse out to the start. I immediately spot someone looking all roasty toasty in one of those lovely Michelin-man style jackets. I stared a bit too longingly, and caved in to asking her if she intended to run in it – she looked a little startled, and it emerged that she thought I was judging her for potentially doing so, rather than looking on in envy. I clarified the motivation for my query. She said, in fact, she was intending to ditch it as soon as we set off, I was half minded to ask if I could borrow it if she wasn’t using it anyway, but bottled it. Anyway, it didn’t look waterproof at all so not worth the risk of being weighed down with sodden outer garments once out on the trails.
Soon enough, we were off. It is a tight start, a narrow path, that quickly takes a sharp right turn and away you go. It was good to get moving, but I wasn’t a natural. It felt hard, even though I’d had some breakfast to set me up. Actually, I wasn’t sure that had been an entirely good idea, I’d had a lot of golden linseed with my porridge, which, just so you know, is an excellent aid to digestion. The problem was, combined with a morning run out, it might turn out to be just a bit too instant and effective as an internal scourer, which hadn’t been quite my intention when originally ingesting. This is either a top tip, or a dire warning, depending on your point of view. In any event, I really didn’t want to be doing a Paula Radcliff half way round. Oh well, at least it wasn’t… oh hang on, the rain did come, and when it did, it was icy and heavy. My fringe stuck to my forehead, and I feared it was going to be a long, trawl round. Despite the inclement weather, the setting is glorious. I really love the Longshaw estate, I’ve had to cheat, and lift some photos from their Facebook page as funnily enough I didn’t stop to take pictures on the way round, but these shots were only the week before and you can’t fail to notice the loveliness of the setting. I may have sad bunion feet and arthritis in my toes, but if I look around me, I am distracted from how much pain I’m in and can instead delight at the surroundings. This is what the route might have looked like had it not been raining:
It turns out that the route had changed a bit from last time I was here. The first time I did the run the two laps were different lengths, 5.5km first and second time round only 4.5km which was quite nice psychologically. This time the laps were identical. You go through wooded areas, handy marshals point the way where there is a risk of misdirection, but loads and loads of colourful flags marked the route. Even I couldn’t get lost here. For me, the biggest challenge of the course was when you emerge from a wooded part into more open landscape and have to run up a steep hill, dodging boulders and moving like a slalom through the bracken and heather clumps of the changing terrain. A few ahead walked I noticed, which was more than enough to ensure I did likewise after a bit. I tried running to start with, and even offered to move aside to let a faster runner past, but she cried out a bit too enthusiastically ‘no, please don’t!‘ It seems she was quite glad of having me as an excuse to slow down. It’s good to know that some at least appreciate my running style. I saw one runner at this point do a perfect commando roll on the ground, she was fine apparently, having just tripped over her own feet, but it was very impressive. I’d have complained about it more personally, but she was made of sterner stuff. It probably felt like this (thanks nice creative commons people):
At the top of the hill, you scramble over a wall, and the track flattened out. I was puffed out by now, and conscious that the field was spreading out, with, guess what, me towards the back. At first I tried to stay in sight of my running buddy, she had a hangover, surely I should be able to keep pace with her? Nope, apparently not.
I found myself running increasingly on my own, but periodically there was a cheery marshal (they must have been absolutely freezing) to encourage me on my way. A guy with a bike stood pointing to his left like those people you see in town with placards ‘pizza this way’ kind of thing. His arm must have really hurt. At one point en route I spotted the Sheffield Hallam Parkrun Race Director, and fellow Smiley running in the opposite direction to me with a posse of other runners. That was a bit surreal, surely one of us must be going the wrong way? Turns out, she was doing a reccy for some future demon running challenge…
Possibly my favourite marshal though, was the one who appeared to laugh manically the whole time. As I approached him at the first lap, it was like the laughing policeman, a constant stream of guffaws, all good spirited and quite encouraging. ‘Only one more lap to go‘ he called after me as I ran on by, as I sped (well, that might be pushing it, let’s say ‘lolloped’) on my merry (well, that might be pushing it, shall we say ‘desperate’) way. As I continued, it dawned on me I had another whole 5km to go, and I’d be doing it solo. His laughter seemed to morph into more sinister tones, you know like those laughing clowns you get shrieking manically in booths at the end of an old fashioned seaside end of the pier show. Well it sounded like that, judgemental cackling at my idiocy in running at all. Quite menacing, it creeped me out. How was I ever going to finish this? The weird thing is, the second time around, passing him just before the finish, his laughter was all benevolent and festive ho ho ho again. How weird is that? I know, inexplicable!
Still, running is a funny thing. By the time I got to the second lap, I was pretty much running solo. It turned out that there were some runners still behind me, but I didn’t know that at the time. There were also runners not too far ahead, but a quirk of the course meant that I could never quite see them as they were always just around the corner from my line of sight. So with lap two, I stopped worrying about what everyone else was doing, and just pootled about in my own way. It was really lovely. The rain eased, and I embraced my inner hobbit, looking at the mossy hillocks that surrounded me, fallen trees providing little hobbit holes, and lovely leaf-covered tracks in all directions. It felt temporarily at least, like my natural hobbit habitat, a comforting if somewhat fantastical parallel universe of ferns and glades and scampering wildlife. What’s not to like? I ran on, with some genuine enthusiasm, the second lap seemed a lot easier for some reason, I wonder if quite genuinely it was because I just ran at my own pace, I didn’t fall over, and even though I was pretty slow, I pretty much ran the whole way. Now I fully appreciate that this might seem a weird observation to make to people who run properly, but I am an accomplished walk/run ‘runner’ so to keep on going throughout an off-road 10km is pretty good going for me, however slowly one foot goes in front of the other, and even if it is just the second lap.
So whilst I didn’t exactly manage a sprint finish, I did get round to the applause of the awesomely enthusiastic event organiser who was brandishing at least one stop watch, even more pleasingly, my fellow Smiley was there to welcome me back. Hooray, job done. Plus, I realised to my absolute astonishment, I had not been lapped! Yay, I’m making progress. Suddenly, running is great again! The cold and wet is forgotten, it’s all about the post-run endorphins and the prospect of a hot latte in a warm café….
So next stop tea shop and racing debrief – great to gossip with fellow Smileys and enjoy that post run glow. Thank you lovely Longshaw people for laying on this event, friendly, fun and (with hindsight) an enjoyable course, whatever the weather… For me, this event is a great extension to Parkrun, in that it is a fixed, but longer distance, and more interesting too in that it is off-road. The timing may be inexact, but that isn’t an issue for me. (Oh, and if you are interested in that kind of thing, they email you your time later on, seems to work OK, though if you are a real keenie you probably have a more accurate time on your all singing all dancing GPS tracking watch anyway.)
Debrief over, shop browsed, minute’s silence for Remembrance Sunday somewhat awkwardly observed, coffees drunk and we headed back to the car We tried to take a selfie together in our running numbers but it was a fairly unsuccessful, if amusing, exercise. Note to self, either find an outsider to take the blog-shot next time, or get a new running buddy in possession of a selfie stick, and work on ingratiating yourself to them. In the interim, this will have to do – we could be anywhere, but I promise we were indeed at Longshaw, trust me, I’m a Hobbit, and I felt at home..