Smug. That is current state of being. I quite like it, it is a rare thing for me to experience any degree of smugness at all, let alone running related smugness. It almost makes up for the blotchy skin and peat-soaked footprints that are now scattered round the carpets in my flat.
So the story is this. The Percy Pud details landed on my doorstep a couple of days ago, and accompanying them a pang of conscience. I recall vaguely making a promise to try and train for this 10km as a gesture of appreciation towards those more deserving athletes who really, really wanted to run, but didn’t manage to sign up in time. For various reasons, some legitimate, some not, this has not happened to date. Today I decide to try and to something about it. The weather forecast is great, I have no other immediate commitments, I shall go for a run. I will do it all by myself, and I will cover a ‘reasonable’ distance. I’m not entirely sure what that will be, but believe it or believe it not, I do have a favourite run. It takes me from my front door, down the hill to Whitely Woods, then up the Porter Brook Valley, going out and beyond onto the heather topped hills where you get an amazing view back towards Sheffield, and then you can romp across back to Ringinglow Road, and home again, or sometimes I’ll do a different route back through Lady Canning’s plantation. I don’t really know how far it is, I’ve always thought it was about 12 km, but I’ve just tried to trace the route on a map and it’s coming out at 9.5 miles (more like 15km)- maybe that’s actually right, as I was out for a good couple of hours all in. Thirty minutes of that was actually running, thirty minutes gazing about, and the other hour trying to find a good way to cross the freezing swamp at the top of the route without getting soaked. Epic fail.
So after a bit of a faff over which shoes to wear I was off and out the door. I went for trail, but they were still all mudded up from Longshaw. Stiff and uncomfortable. I’ve got a horrible feeling I’m going to have to replace them soon. I’ve also rubbed a hole in the heel at the back which is VERY annoying, as I think the sole of the shoe is good, but they are becoming a blister risk. Memo to self, ask running buddy about medicinal plasters for repairing of shoes. She has done some excellent improvisation around this with various tapes and plasters in the past, and offered to do some magical repairs pre the Dovedale Dash, but I shunned her, more fool me.
It was still bitterly cold out, but no ice, and clear still skies over head. I walked to begin with, kidding myself this was ‘to warm up’ but really it was to delay the inevitable. I did eventually pick up a bit of a jog, and was surprisingly OK with it. I virtually never run on my own, so it feels a bit strange, I was more comfortable when I got into the woods. There were quite a few people out and about, mostly dog walkers, but a few other runners. I feel no need to keep pace with them, but it is companionable that they are also around. I am terrible for stopping to look about, it is lovely in the woods, robins and other birds in abundance, beautiful trees, the fast flowing stream. I have to consciously remind myself I am supposed to be running. Occasionally I am shamed into doing so, one dog walker asked me in all innocence, not being sarcastic ‘so are you are a runner then, or just out for a walk?’ I make as if I’ve just been doing the walking bit of an interval session training and make a show of sprinting off a bit until I’m round the corner and safely out of sight again.
I do experience a few wardrobe challenges today. My amazing sports bra is suddenly performing below par. It just isn’t fitting well, and there is too much, well movement frankly, and not enough support. I would like to think this is because my body shape is now transforming due to my training regime, but sadly I think it is more likely that inadvertently putting my bra in a hot wash cycle and then drying on the radiator once too often has taken its toll. This is really bad news. Buying a good running bra is a quest as full of danger, frustration, angst and all-consuming intensity as searching for the holy grail itself. Please let my bra magically re align to my boobs, please, please.
Onwards up the valley, there is a muddy steep bit at the end. By now the sun is sort of breaking through the now leafless branches, and the mulch of trodden birch leaves catch the light. Each leaf on the top of the path sits overlapping the next to form a perfect pattern, like scales on a reptile. The colours are gold, orange and brown, it’s quite magical. I try to think of what they remind me of, and then it comes to me. Honestly truly I felt like I was running across scales of a slumbering dragon. Pretentious possibly, a consequence of a blood sugar drop perhaps, but true nevertheless. There was an almost perfect geometry to the leaf-patterns, and the shimmer of the sun on the leaves made them look alive like the dragon was gently breathing beneath me. Wouldn’t it be completely great if we did have our own Porter Valley dragon? Look out for it next time you are heading up there. See, here is a photo of actual dragon scales and actual autumn leaves. You can hardly differentiate between the two of them, can you?
Heading up out of the woods, and towards the heather I felt really great. It is lovely out and about. I can look back at the view across to Sheffield and feel like I have the whole place to myself. I love this little bit of wild moor, I am so lucky to have it practically on my doorstep I don’t know why I so rarely make the effort to head on up there. Lovely soft bouncy grass, bit muddy, but not desperate, and I turn to head back to Ringinglow Road and Lady Canning Plantation. Now I meet my nemesis. Intellectually I knew we’d had a lot of rain. Hey, I’d even had the foresight to wear trail shoes, so I knew that the terrain would be decidedly off-road. However, it seems I’d underestimated the extent of wetness that would greet me. The path had basically become a swamp. Puddles of icy water glittering in the sun would have seemed positively picturesque were it not for the fact I’d need to negotiate them. I experimented with various alternate routes. Heading up and above the path in one direction just took me to crevasse like holes in the peat where between tussocks water poured back down into the earth in a noisy torrent. In the other direction the bog became more and more treacherous and I had visions of being sucked down into the liquid peat to remain there for thousands of years like those bogmen that are occasionally found across the world. I wonder what they’d make of my stomach contents and my badly fitting underwear millennia into the future. I don’t think they’d be mistaking me for a goddess, sacrifice possibly, deity never.
In the end there was nothing for it. I gingerly bobbed from tussock to tussock in an almost direct route, until inevitably I lost my footing and sank up to my ankles in the freezing, darkly coloured liquid. At this point, my enthusiasm for running what with the gorgeous surrounds, sleeping dragon and general joie de vivre abandoned me. I HATE having cold wet feet. It did though make me pick up speed again, I wasn’t staying out any longer than I had to now. I decided against the plantation route, in favour of the road. There is a gentle downward incline going back towards home. I love this. It’s like that sensation you get when you run on a travelator in a deserted airport (or is that just me). Look at this one – you’d have to have a sprint on it wouldn’t you, too good an opportunity to pass by…
I feel super human, with gravity on my side I really do get into a rhythm and enjoy the sensation of feeling like I’m really covering some ground now, this is easy. I briefly wonder if this is what ‘proper’ runners feel like all the time, but that seems unlikely. Also, they probably don’t have to do what I am doing right now, which is that less than glamorous thing of running whilst holding one boob in each of my hands in a vain attempt to minimise bounce. I am going to have to do something about my bra.
It was an uneventful return run, I got a cheery wave from my postman as I came back. Once I stopped I realised I was freezing, stripping off for a shower (only once back in my flat, I don’t know the postman that well) I revealed the glorious (not really ) sight of blackened feet from the peat, and red blotchy skin everywhere apart from where my bra and knickers were. Is that just me too? I looked like (poor taste alert) I’d been caught in the blow back from a nuclear blast, where all exposed skin had been reddened and burned, but anything covered somehow escaped damage. Well, like I would if I’d been wearing a bikini at the time it all went up in a mushroom cloud anyway. It is not a good look. And it continued even after my shower.
I had a go at cleaning the worst of the mud off my shoes straight away, and then took them into the shower with me to finish them off. Is that also odd? I have no way of knowing. It was effective however. Even though it meant that after cleaning me, I had to go around cleaning the bath, cleaning bath mats, and trying to scrub the peat sodden footprint stains out of every carpet in my flat. Still, small price to pay for feeling smug. That’s me, altogether awesome and committed enough as a runner, that today, I did it all by myself, dragons or no dragons, I took it on!