Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Three Hobbiteers?

NYE happy hobbit hug

Hobbit hashers?   Hobbit dashers?  Hobbidashers?  Hobbidashery?  Hobbiteers?   Today there were three of us, so I might give the latter a go for a bit and see how it feels…  Getting the running jargon right can be quite challenging.  Only today I spotted a paranoia inducing thread on a parkrun discussion forum.  You have no idea how exercised people get about what they perceive to be violations of the brand.  Exercised to the point of needing exorcism quite possibly.  Another example of where the grammar police are probably right, but also quite scary, I am sure I have contravened the code on innumerable occasions, and I shudder to think of the rage this may have generated.  By way of penance I will display the accepted wisdom here (whilst also secretly being swayed by those who also think that when it is used as a proper noun, it should be capitalised, and surely at the start of a sentence too).  In any event, I’m not going back to edit all previous entries, life is too short, I will try and make it an aspiration (not resolution) for 2016 to be more consistent in my usage though.  Sigh, life is so very complicated sometimes is it not.

parkrun political correctness

So today we finally get to see the end of the year that has been 2015.  This I was expecting.  Less expected, was the disappearance of the BBC website from the ether at just the time I was wanting to check out the weather forecast.  This was a double trouble.  Firstly, I would have to make a decision on what to wear based on using my own common sense as opposed to bowing to the superior wisdom of the BBC (always a worry); and secondly, (more concerning), I’m pretty sure that the BBC is the last service to be allowed to fall in the event of a nuclear holocaust.  It was but a small step from mild irritation at the website being down to an all-consuming fear that this run (which I had committed to the night before in a moment of wine induced optimism and relaxation) might have to take place in a post-apocalyptic world.  That might be a bit too challenging what with my dodgy feet and twinging hip.  Oh well, I had said I’d go, and I’m conscientious if not keen, so I did head out with a bit of trepidation.  Trepidation multiplied as it was freezing out (metaphorically rather than literally) and the kind of cold that feels like your lungs are turning to ice as you inhale.  Jacket on.

We were a 9.50 rendezvous today, to coincide with bus timetables, and we three all gathered punctually.  Each with our own different timing device.  My TomTom today is not talking to me at all.  It didn’t buzz once, and is silently conforming with my preferred scenario of just displaying  current time with a mini display of distance and time moving.  I have absolutely no idea how this has come about, but it is pleasing.  Though due to my slight tendency to anthropomorphise inanimate objects I’m also feeling guilty about turning my gps watch into an elective mute.  Oh well, I dare say I’ll get over it.

It was the first time we three had run together, but we seemed pretty well suited to a yomp out.  We had a blast up the valley basically.  We set off with some enthusiasm because it was so cold it was a relief to get going, but we tapered out after a bit as the ever increasing gradient got the better of us.  It was like a joggers super highway going out and about.  I’ve never seen so many other runners, it was positively congested at times.  I don’t know if it is maybe a new year’s eve compulsion to blow away some cobwebs and try and reclaim some physical fitness before spectacularly reversing it all again hours later in a New Year’s Night drunken binge.  I can report that we saw fellow Smilies again (that’a another word I’m not confident using.  What is the plural for a member of Smiley Paces?)  Weirdly, it was exactly the point we’d seen a fellow Smiley a couple of days ago.  There must be a secret hideout there somewhere.  Super elite Smilies take it in turns to hide in a sequence of underground bunkers that are hidden at intervals up the valley.  There must be some sort of messaging system (sending warrior squirrels ahead, or making owl noises or something) that sends alerts up to the steepest bit of the hill where these superior runners lie in wait.  Then they sprint into view running with the grace of gazelles, or maybe even unicorns, appearing just at the very moment we mere mortals are slumped over a fence for support, breathing heavily.  I’ll find out one day.  There is most definitely some stalking going on somewhere though.  It seemed like chance at first, but there are some familiar faces popping up repeatedly, you know who you are.  It is increasingly blurred who is the stalker and who is the stalkee, not sure which party should be most afraid… Meantime, here is graceful running unicorn so you can get the idea – though bizarrely I couldn’t find a Google image of a unicorn wearing a Smiley vest.  Serious omission.

unicorn running

Anyway, we did pretty well, it was fun scampering up the hill, and even more fun undertaking this challenge with others who were happy to do the whole run/walk thing so we slowed the pace from time to time.  Well, two of us did, one noticeably sprinted ahead at one point, leaving me and hobbit one in awe.  We also stopped for photo opportunities.  Then realised this would play havoc with our strava credibility and kudos.  All is not lost however, as I have already commented extensively on how confusing I am finding my TomTom at present, so we could possibly get away with the user-error defence.   Option b) is the  genius ‘not my fault, just inexplicably my gps paused, probably because I was moving too fast for it to pick up a signal on me at just that point in the woods‘.  To be honest though, I favour option c) which is that we trick some other faster runner into repeating the route for us, laden down with our various smart phone/ TomTom and Garmin trackers and them merely reclaim it as our own.  All are possibles though, it’s good to have options.  Here are the obligatory all possible variant photos.  It was lovely up there it really was.

Out of the woods, we did a little extension to the view point which gives you a great panorama back across the city, and if you stand up on the bench you can snatch a glimpse of the open moor too.  That’s a route for another time, head across the fields and heather and back through the plantation.  My fellow hobbiteers were pushed for time, and it is the tradition to stick together ‘All for one and one for all etc‘ so we turned back.  I could pretend to be gutted by this, but in truth my hip was hurting and it was really exposed up there, definitely need more clothes for doing that route.  Plus, I know from bitter personal experience that the ground would have been completely waterlogged up there, so wet feet all round for the return trip wasn’t an entirely seductive notion.   So just one exhibitionist snap shot and then back we went.

NYE joyfulness

Turning tail, gravity on our side, we picked up the pace a bit, the woodland trails were beautiful, and bulrushes glorious.  Look: the keen sighted among you may even make out some hobbits hobbling along the path by Forge Dam.

NYE hobbit hash

We even spotted a cyclist we knew, but didn’t quite twig until he’d sped past, so belated ‘hello‘ and cheery wave, if you pick this up later.  You were pushing hard up that hill, most impressive!  So that’s it really.  We did fab.  We seemed to pace quite well with each other, and it will be good to do more.  We abandoned the idea of a post-run coffee as we didn’t fancy getting cold sitting about afterwards, so we split and went our separate ways, scattering like the four winds, except for the fact that there were only three of us and we didn’t go that fast or far.

Back in the comfort of my flat, ensconced on the sofa, the rain is pouring down again.  Can’t believe how lucky we were to dodge that.  Also the BBC website is back on so I am over-whelmed with good news stories.

However, the thing I want most desperately to share with you is this.  My gift to you my loyal reader to bring you to the end of 2015 feeling a mixture of life affirming incredulity and hilarity.  It has nothing to do with running, but some things just have to be more widely distributed as part of political conscious raising or something of the sort at least.  Reader, I give you the tampon based Christmas Craft kit.  Now I know it’s too late for this year, but on the plus side, there is ample time to implement these ideas in time for next Christmas.  It was a feature in Chat magazine (and surely worth the purchase price alone so don’t judge me) therefore must be true.  If this revelation doesn’t change your life and make you happy to live in a world where such creativity is possible, then I don’t know what will!

So that’s my Christmas presents sorted for 2016!  I can’t wait.  Check it out for yourself start with a tampon snowflake if you wish, or if you simply can’t wait that long, how about embarking on creating your very own tampon bouquet for your loved one on Valentine’s day?  What could be more romantic?  The link to running may be tenuous indeed just now, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before tampons are utilised to their full potential to recreate running memorabilia and gadgetry too.  As with setting goals running, the only thing that limits us is ourselves, and our own imaginings.  If we really believe, we can make it so!

As the saying goes, whether you believe you can, or whether you believe you can’t, you are right.   So as it is with getting creative with tampons, it is with running, dream the impossible dream and get going to make it happen!  Happy New Year everyone!  Keep on running joyfully like you mean it, whether you are a hobbit, a unicorn or a warthog, running can free us all!  Make 2016 a good one…


Warthogs Running like they mean it.  Happy New year for 2016, bring it on!

Categories: motivation, off road, parkrun, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The call of the wild, inaugural Hobbit Hash

This day shall be known henceforth as the day of the Inaugural Hobbit Run. Our very own Hobbit Hash if you will.   It was fun, and I really hope it is just the starting point for many future companionable yomps up the valley in 2016.

 Jasmina romp 29 dec 2015

I was going to rest up on account of my dodgy hip, but then the sun was shining, and a knicker elastic injury surely isn’t an actual death sentence, just an annoyance, and I still want to play with my TomTom (not a euphemism) so I was quite keen to keep the 9.30 rendezvous with my new potential running buddy for the New Year.  I have already found to my delight we share the same hobbit feet and bunion afflictions, and today I discovered even our hip twinges match.  Honestly, it’s like we were twins separated at birth!  So it was my fellow Smiley and I decided to have a go at buddying up for some runs.  We are both what might be termed ‘steady pace’ runners, who prefer not to be rushed out of our natural rhythm, but want to do a bit more.  We thought we should give it a go at running out together and see how we got on.

I headed out a bit early, and hung around on the nominated street corner feeling a bit self-conscious, and no doubt annoying passing drivers who politely waited for me to cross at the lights not realising I was just loitering with intent.  I was really pleased to see my new hobbit buddy coming into view at exactly the appointed hour, and almost instantly the advantages of having a partner to plod round with started to reveal themselves.  She has an entry Garmin, but it has some similar features to my TomTom.  She could offer a possible explanation for the harassing vibrations which my watch is prone to giving out.  Apparently my watch gets annoyed if I stop moving.  Well, I say annoyed, it would be more accurate to say it just possibly triggers an auto pause feature of some sort, and the vibrations go on and off when I stop and then get going again.  I think this could well be right, as it did vibrate when we stopped to cross roads and things like that.  I suppose it is just my TomTom’s way of saying.  ‘it’s not so much that you’re letting me down, you are letting yourself down and letting down all those women before you who fought to be allowed to run at all.  How could you?  What are you thinking of throwing all that away with your apathetic attitude you sad loser you‘.  Something like that anyway.

As an aside, that story about Kathrine Switzer is extraordinary.  Having some officious bigot trying to physically manhandle her out of the Boston marathon back in 1967.  I mean, that isn’t really even so very long ago, to think that at the time it was considered impossible for a ‘fragile woman’ to survive running that distance does seem remarkable.  Granted, I often don’t think I’ll survive running a 5km parkrun, let alone a marathon,  but I don’t attribute this to my gender, only to my personal commitment (lack of) to ongoing training and nutrition.  It makes me really mad, even all these years later, to think that women were so utterly excluded from the sport within living memory.  Those officials had clearly never seen the Smiley Paces membership in action with all its gusto, gifts and glorious variety.  They wouldn’t mess with our elite runners and live to tell the tale, oh no, most definitely not.

I am still on the fence as to how I feel about my  watch having a go at me when it perceives me to be slacking.  It is sort of part of the point of having it, but I don’t like external pressures on me when I run.  We have to work on our partnership as in all new relationships I suppose.  Give it time, learn to compromise, and try to understand each other’s language.  Meantime, here is a picture of Kathrine Switzer being ambushed at the marathon.  Shocking isn’t it?  I really ought to use that as a motivation to keep on running, it never hurts to prove a point.  That, and the fact that running gear seems to have improved exponentially since then, they seem to be all running in fleeced onesies which are no doubt fine at the appropriate time and place (i.e. privacy of your own home in the evening) but not entirely desirable for heading out on a 26.2  mile road yomp. I may not be an expert, but I’ve never seen that option under recommended kit lists in women’s running magazine for example, so I’m fairly confident in this opinion…

KSwitzerRace credit AP Wideworld

So, we had a post christmas hug, a quick comparison of our timing devices and headed on up the hill.  Quickly it emerged that we are both happy to do a bit of a walk/run thing and enjoy the view and have a bit of a chat around the way.  It was fab.  A really gorgeous day to get out, and being together gave us both the confidence to head off a bit further afield.  We were quickly on the trails, and off into the woods.  We didn’t see too many other runners, but had a bit of a panic when we spotted a fellow Smiley with another runner, gracefully sprinting down hill towards us at exactly the moment we were gawping about admiring the scenery and self-evidently not doing a great deal of actual running!  We nearly got away with it, quickly accelerating into a sprint uphill to meet them, but we possibly took off a bit too quickly and desperately, as it was further than we/I thought, we were definitely huffing and puffing when we reached them.  It was good though, companionable, and I had that warm glow of satisfaction at feeling I was part of the running community, out and about in the  winter sunshine, bumping into other runners from our club as a matter of routine, that sense of belonging is very fine (and rare) indeed!

Onward and upward we went, taking in the sight of a few trees en route lavishly decorated in baubles.  Should have taken a photo really, they looked great – ooh actually, I’ve seen a photo of it before on a different website, Friends of Porter Valley – here we go.  They attribute the decorations to magic elves.   Might be true.  They are wild trees, but covered in red shiny Christmas decorations.  My running companion thought one in particular was bedecked as an annual tribute to a local runner who died too young and unexpectedly some years ago.  I don’t know the details of that, but it seems plausible, and what a wonderful act of commemoration if it is.  Really magical, see for yourself:

porter valley magic elves tree

So we chatted about anything and everything really, but with a large focus on the mutual challenge of getting shoes to fit.  I always feel like one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters taking on the glass slipper challenge (and failing) when I’m trying to heave on running shoes in shops.  It was strangely comforting and reassuring to find it seems I am not alone in this.  It is true what they say about a problem shared being a problem halved, we can have our very own support group.  Hurrah!

Buoyed up by fine weather, good company and enthusiasm we went right to the top of the valley, passing by the alpaca place (the goats are looking quite porky), it was quite exposed up there, decidedly nippy.  Then there was  a short bit along Ringinglow Road (biting wind) before we dodged down on the Jacob’s Ladder footpath, which has been much improved since I last went down it.  Seems to have a new surface and the vegetation has been cut back too, much easier to negotiate.  We were feeling quite smug at our off road trail skills.   However, once we climbed over the style in the wall onto the open field with a steep slope back into the woods we got a bit unstuck, or actually stuck, depending on your perspective.  We paused for some pictures, because it was all gorgeous – the obligatory selfie, one of our matching hobbit feet, and a view shot already revealed above, and then started to hesitantly pick our way down hill.

We’d done alright up to this point, but in the field the ground was really saturated and it wasn’t just muddy, it was really slippery.  The gradient is steep at this point – it’s a really popular sledging spot when snow falls for good reason – and we weren’t bold in our descent.  There was much giggling and sliding.  I went for the zigzag option, my companion went for a more direct route, and quickly was on her arse, spectacularly basted in mud and accelerating down hill on her rain jacket.  Mud is a great lubricant it seems.  I was torn between horror, in case she was injured (heaven portend that I’d have to be the responsible adult in such a scenario), and amusement, because the mud had got everywhere.  In the end we both collapsed in laughter, and there was some payback to me because I nearly wet myself with all that hilarity playing havoc with my pelvic floor!  Only minutes before we’d been discussing the relative merits of tread on running shoes.  She had some bargain ones from decathlon (£20 or something), which had served her well,  I’d got my new acquisitions on which were more like £80), hard to be sure, but it is possible she was now paying the price for wearing cheap road shoes, though to be fair, she’d been fine up to that point.  I feel I should also point out that bizarrely, at the bottom of the hill we found a discarded banana skin!  If it was an attempt to ambush runners and send them flying it seemed hardly necessary, we were skidding around pretty well on our own without any outside interference!

Cheered and energised by shared laughter we were soon back over another fence, and onto the more solid terrain of the Round Sheffield Walk pathways.  Back past Forge Dam (sighting the new cafe cover which looks awful in photos but quite in keeping up close).  I took the opportunity for a loo break, as all that laughing earlier had left my bladder in a perilous state.  My watch took exception to this too, vibrating furiously at me whilst I was in situ.  It definitely hates me stopping.  I feel better now I know what this is all about, so my relief was two-fold at this point.   Nearly home, we took a slight detour at the stepping stones which offer a short cut across the river going in and out of Whitely Woods – they were visible, an improvement on last time I was out on Christmas Eve,  but stepping out onto the first of them icy water washed over my foot, and I was nervous about slipping off them if I ventured any further out.  Hence we back tracked briefly and then it was just a quick scamper and we were soon back where we started.

I imagine I’ll get bored of posting maps of my routes eventually, but I’m not yet, so here is where we went just so you know.  It is one of my favourite runs, so it will be interesting to see if I can pick up the pace a bit by doing it more regularly, and start to extend it too, I want to up my mileage for 2016.

hobbit run 29 dece,mber 2015

Back home, feeling a bit smug (always a boon) and a bit energised too (always a surprise).  I am feeling my hip though, so maybe it wasn’t the most sensible of yomps to embark on, but hey ho, time will tell.    My trail shoes are definitely doing OK, thoroughly mud covered and now wet from being washed out, they are stuffed with newspaper in a vain hope that they’ll dry out in time for the next outing.  Damp feet for New Year’s Eve seems a real possibility, don’t fancy using road shoes on the trails, it’s pretty erratic under foot out there, you need all the extra tread you can get, just look at my hobbit friend’s mud covered jacket and leggings, and hands and top if you need any evidence, it’s a quagmire out there I tell you, a quagmire!

Happy running.

Categories: motivation, off road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Boxing day bounders

anaconda eating a cow

An anaconda that’s swallowed a cow.  That’s how I feel right now, even though I’m a vegetarian with no snake ancestors to my knowledge  I have a sufficiently random thought association going on in my head to imagine that’s what it would be like to be an anaconda post binging on a bovine.*  This is not my fault of course, oh no, it was an accident.  Flushed with endorphins following a boxing day bound round Sheffield Hallam parkrun, I seem to have inadvertently extended the heady over-consumption of Christmas Day into the next day, and as a consequence indulged in a slap up veggie breakfast at a newly discovered café  immediately after running. I will never eat again, never I tell you, don’t try and make me.**

I am also never going to run again, well not for a couple of days anyway.  Not because of the alteration in my centre of gravity caused by an excess of hash browns, but because I have acquired a puzzling running related injury.  Is it possible to be incapacitated by knicker elastic?  I think I may have been.  I have had this weird twinge, stitch like thing in my hip for a while now, and it’s becoming really painful.  I am not aware of having strained or knocked it as such, but it gets worse every time I run.  I don’t even think it’s a place where you have muscles to tear, it’s more like I’ve trapped a nerve or something.  Doctor Google told me I’ve probably got ovarian cancer with the symptoms I described, which even I recognised as nonsense. I may lack a medical degree, but I am not entirely without basic reasoning.  I’ve been racking my brain to think of what I could possibly have done, and I realise that there is a direct correlation between my running in my Santa skirt (which is held in situ by slightly too tight knicker elastic) and the onset of my injury.  The appalling realisation has dawned on me, that it is this compression on a nerve that may have caused the injury.  What kudos is there in this?  I’m going to have to come up with some better account for slacking on my running than this.  A next door neighbour of mine at a previous address broke their ankle whilst out jogging, because they stumbled as they moved aside to let a blind person pass.  That’s loads better as an explanation of an injury.  I’m going to have to work on it.  Meantime, me and the sofa have some catching up to do.  As I’m on the sofa anyway, I may as well give you the Boxing Day Sheffield Hallam parkrun debriefing…

boxing day start 2015

I was surprisingly up for a run on waking, given that this would be three consecutive days of running.  I don’t know how people manage  running streaks that go on for days and weeks though.  There are even some monks somewhere in Japan that do a thousand marathons in a thousand days around their mountain in a quest for enlightenment.  That I should feel a sense of smugness in anticipation of completing three 5km runs in three days does rather fade by comparison, but I suppose it is at least a start.  I had eaten well and slept well yesterday thanks to a generous festive food parcel from friends and postprandial somnolence.  I always do parkrun on an empty stomach, but I imagine I was effectively massively and uncharacteristically carbed up as I headed off to Endcliffe Park.  My enthusiasm waned a bit on exiting the house and finding overcast steel grey skies and the very real threat of torrential rain at any moment.  I did the rain top on or off debate, but decided it was quite warm in fact, and joined the start without it.  Numbers were very definitely down today, so I suppose I can take some comfort that as my enthusiasm waned in correlation to the deepening darkening of the skies, at least I’d be lapping those who hadn’t made it out of bed at all.  Anyway, it was nice to see people again, catch up on anecdotes from yesterday’s Christmas outing at Concord and thank our official photographer for his efforts in capturing the occasion.  I also learned to my dismay that he has never quite recovered from the shock of my revealing that the real power behind the lens lies with his adoring wife.  It is she who has power of veto over which photos make it into the public domain.  Truth hurts I suppose.  Me and a fellow Smiley took the opportunity of festive chit chat and seasonally associated disinhibition (SAD) to try to persuade her to do an ‘out-takes’ reel, as there will obviously be some corkers amongst those photos that didn’t make the cut over the years.  This seemed like a hilarious proposition at the time,  but on reflection could be a high-risk strategy.  She laughed a bit too hard and loud at the idea, it bordered on a pantomime villain cackle quite frankly, begging the question of what horrors does she have in mind that capture all of us in less than flattering gurning contortions whilst running?  Maybe she never did really hit the delete button on those snaps, maybe all those horrors have been held in a strong box somewhere (codename Pandora) to be let loose to work their terrible torment on those pictured at a time of her choosing.  Everyone knows that once that Pandora’s box is opened, the contents ain’t ever going to be squashed back in again.   We have been warned….  Oh my gawd, she really is!  I’ve just found a photo of her gazing at her hidden treasures, we must act with care.  Here they are together, the photographer and the censor, which would you trust.  They both appear outwardly benign, but appearances can be deceptive?

Anyway, back to the running bit.  There were still a few souls prolonging the festive fancy dress with co-ordinated outfits that did them proud.  For the majority though that time had passed.  Sensibly clad, hangovers worn rather than hilarious headgear for the most part – though I did very much enjoy the guy who had the foresight to run round wearing a golden party hat from a cracker.  Genius.  I’m assuming it was a conscious choice of millinery, and not just that he’d either forgotten to remove if after Christmas dinner or was making a serious claim on the throne.  There was also a fine Christmas jumper – now there’s an idea for same time next year…

I  Couldn’t really hear the pre parkrun  briefing as it was a loud-haler free start, so I was caught a bit unaware at the off.  I desperately pawed at my Tomtom to set it going, but was unsure of whether I’d got that right.  It vibrated almost obsessively going around which was unnerving.  Later I learned that you can set these things to monitor your pace, and then it harasses and harangues you if you are out of your zone.  Maybe it was that. It was annoying.  I need to learn how to work the thing.  I decided consciously to give the run a good go today.  Apart from the twingey hip business I felt OK, and it was the last parkrun of the year.  I normally have a sense of who I run with, and today I found to my amazement that I managed to keep in sight a couple of friends who are normally way ahead, and even did a bit of yo yo overtaking of them.  The only pondering point was that I couldn’t really tell if this was because I was having a good day or they were having a slower one.  (Not that it really matters, it’s a run not a race).  I did uncharacteristically try though, and found that I varied my pace a lot more than I usually do without falling over, and without throwing up. I did try and thank all the marshals going round, but was confused about what to shout by way of appreciation.  Yesterday ‘Happy Christmas‘ was of course apt, on New Year’s Day ‘Happy New Year‘ will be just the job, but in this twixmas period I don’t know what etiquette demands.  One seems belated and the other premature.  The alternative ‘merry winterval‘ might be potentially pretentious, and as an import from the Midlands  (it started in Birmingham I believe) may not relocate all that well to South Yorkshire.  I just went for a breathless ‘thank you marshal‘ in the end, and continued my internal musings.  It’s hard being me, you have no idea.  Part of my incentive for getting my arse into gear was that it looked as if the heavens were about to open, and I didn’t want to be drenched.

I was a bit disappointed then on finishing to find that according to my Tomtom it was my usual mediocre time.  Oh well.   It was nice though to end the parkrun running year alongside many now familiar friends and faces.  I never thought I’d come to a point in my life where most of my social contacts are through running, but there it is.  Stranger things have happened.  (I choose not to draw attention to the fact that the post parkrun breakfast club may have also served as a deciding factor in keeping the running diarised as a weekly and ongoing commitment to catch up with friends).

So lower than usual attendance meant it was speedy getting barcodes scanned (thank you volunteers) and the breakfast club re-grouped and went in search of sustenance.  This was a challenge, as our usual eatery was shut.  We sent out an ace reconnaissance team on bikes, and they found an alternative venue, Ella’s cafe which I’d never been in before.  They literally just opened to let us in, so we were like a private party, though the chef hadn’t made it in yet so we sat damply drinking coffee until he rocked up.  Ella’s I felt was a hit (though it smelt a bit of disinfectant when we first went in no doubt due to over-zealous cleaning prior to Christmas closure).  I stepped away from my usual eggs on toast with mushrooms combo in favour of a veggie breakfast, and very nice it was too.  My eyes were certainly bigger than my stomach, hence the anaconda reference earlier on.  I’d go back there for sure, though only for as long as my elasticated waist bands hold out.

After lingering longer than intended we all departed our separate ways.  I found on my return that in fact my parkrun time was a PB for the year – though a good two minutes off my actual PB, but even so, it was good to end on a good note, even if I have a Santa skirt related running injury to end the year with too.  So thank you Sheffield Hallam parkrun for the literal and metaphorical running ups and downs over the past year – looking forward to doing it all again in 2016 … sort of.

boxing day flag 2015

In the meantime this snake and its distended stomach is taking it easy on the sofa, all snuggled up under a blanket, smelling fragrant after caving in to using bubbles in the bath as a ‘treat’ earlier,  even though actually they have a mildly allergic affect, and so I can now feel my outer epidermis peeling away – or maybe I’m just shedding my skin to accommodate a new growth cycle, snakes do that too don’t they?  Hang on, I’m heading off to Google it now …

Important Points of clarification and edification follow:

* For your clarification and edification,  I have a vague sense that we probably do share a common ancestor  with snakes somewhere along the evolutionary family tree.  Enough that I checked out the ‘facts’ with professor Google earlier on today.  After all, I am deluded enough to think my blog entries may serve an educational purpose for some,  and therefore I feel a certain responsibility to offer up some tenuous evidence base from time to time in support of my more outlandish claims.  Anyway, I  found a helpful article in the Mirror that says human limbs and penises evolved from snakes apparently.  It wasn’t the most robust of scientific papers I’ve read, and as I personally am not in possession of a penis I am a bit dubious about how well researched it actually was.  Nevertheless, it’s a start, and my comparison stands.  Feel free to continue your own research with Wikipedia etc. should you wish to do so…

** For your clarification and edification, this statement is a complete lie.


Categories: 5km, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concord’s Cracking Christmas Compassion

In the midst of all the festive frolics, it is all too easy to lose sight of the fact that for some this time of year is not always a happy one.   Even within the resilient Parkrun community, there are some who find themselves homeless at Christmas, all dressed up yet nowhere to run… It therefore restores your faith in human nature to find that there are still compassionate others out there who will open their hearts and Parkrun home to displaced others at Yuletide.  So it is was for Christmas Day at Concord Park.  Parkrun refugees from across Sheffield and beyond embarked on what is rapidly becoming something of a traditional seasonal pilgrimage to the Shiregreen area of the city.  Displaced persons drawn to one place as if by the nativity star, to recreate the Parkrun dream of a mighty 5 km stampede around the hinterlands of Concord Park.  What could be more merry than this communal Christmas canter to kick start festive proceedings?  Concord Parkrun it seems welcomes migrants, in turbulent times, that’s good to know.   Nothing it seems, nothing at all, could be better than this – nor more apt – on a Christmas morning.  Let me explain…

The day however, did not entirely go according to plan.  It is the season to be merry, but also ’tis the season of prank phone calls.  Ask that woman who got Tim Peake on her land line asking if it was planet earth earlier on today.  Very droll, I hope he hadn’t reversed the charges, that would indeed have been an astronomical cost.  (Sorry, some puns just beg to be brought to life).  My morning was also to involve an early Christmas Day phone call, in this case from my running buddy announcing herself to be en-route to scoop me up and transport me to Concord for our festive frolicking.  The call came within a nano-second of the agreed time of 8.05 a.m., but the voice was unrecognisable.  Croaking tones sounded initially like a desperate last gasp cry for help, and I wondered if I needed to send an ambulance or at least a gift-wrapped strepsil by courier,  but further enquiry revealed them instead to be the incomprehensible utterings of my cheetah buddy on first waking.  Mammoth oversleep apparently.  A consequence of a perfect storm of unfortunate pre-running preparation comprising:  a later than planned night, inadvertent setting of the alarm for 3.00 a.m. by her normally loving and attentive spouse; heavier than expected alcohol consumption and no re-setting of the alarm for the correct hour.  My buddy had spontaneously opened one eye cautiously only seconds before, then seeing the time had been rudely catapulted into both consciousness and Parkrun panic.  Late, late, for a very important date.  I am pleased to report her first instinct was to get on the phone to me and come up with a plan.  I like to imagine the couple in question on such a rude awakening maintained that christmas tradition of starting the day if not with an actual row, then at least some seasonal frostiness and mutual blame.  Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without an undercurrent of tension between family and friends at some point during the Winterval break.


Plan two devised and implemented, I headed off to theirs, willing to scoop them up instead, or at the very least have their place as our departure point for our Parkrun pilgrimage.  I was already bedecked in tinsel (but tastefully understated) and had hoiked on my Santa tutu with some poignancy as it is potentially its last outing of the season.  I’ve had some good wear out of it as it happens, great investment purchase.

The drive round to my running buddies was on deserted roads, it was quite fun to see brightly lit Christmas trees resplendent in the windows of some of the grander houses en route.  On arrival, I found my buddies awake and bustling, deprived of a pre-run caffeine fix, and sleep-deprived too, but up for it most certainly.  It was an easy drive to Shiregreen, really no-one about.  We arrived to find the car park at Concord pretty much empty, but then, as always happens, a mighty congregation gathered seemingly from nowhere in the last few minutes, and a festive crew at that.  They were a lot cheerier than they appear in the photos below which have capture them in more thoughtful mood.  The guy with his head in his hands is not representative of the spirit of the morning, and the bah humbug bobble hat (whilst a personal favourite of mine) isn’t either.  I think the serious expressions are on account of how each runner commences parkrun with their own private meditation as they psyche themselves up for the challenge ahead.  Thank you Mr Carman for all the photos by the way, like the tree falling in the forest, unheard and unseen,  if we ran without being captured on film it would be as if we we were never there.  Thanks to you we are all immortalised, even the runner with a turkey on their head, whether they wanted to be or not… you’ll have to scroll down for that one by the way,  I’m pacing myself for the photo postings, rather more effectively than I am able to pace myself when running.  Here though are some others to be getting on with.

We spilled out from the car to take our places under  the seasonal grey sky and icy wind alongside Santas, runners in turkey onesies; a herd of reindeer deeley bopper wearers and join the line up at the start.  There were some familiar faces – refugees from Sheffield Hallam Parkrun, as well as fellow Smilies on tour.  My first celebrity sighting though was of Lily, the famous greyhound from Graves in festive get up.  She sets a high standard in her outfits, last seen mummified at Halloween, but resplendent in her red and white faux fur outfit today.  She’s the real celebrity sports personality hereabouts – her and Jessica Ennis possibly, though much as I love Jess, Lily is definitely more cuddly.

Christmas Lily at Concord

So, at the start we huddled amongst the fancy dress efforts – I , inadvertently found myself next to a rather flatulent Santa who I’d say had been at the sprouts already which wasn’t the best starting point.  He was though a pretty fast runner when we got going – jet propelled possibly, so it wasn’t too prolonged an exposure, and anyway, Parkrun is an inclusive community as we know.  Rather sweetly, at Concord there is a communal bag in which you can squash your fleece or whatever at the start, which is magically moved to the finish at the end of the run.  How genius is that?  I love this kind of local attention to detail you discover through Parkrun tourism.  Welcoming, practical and completely brilliant.  Thank you volunteers, for making the day possible, you all deserve your own sparkly stars of recognition, as I don’t have the means to dispense them, please accept my words of thanks instead.

If the welcoming Concord marshals felt overwhelmed by the swelling in number of attendees from the usual 50 or so to nigh on 250 they didn’t show it.  A warm welcome was offered.  The run briefing was given against the unnerving soundtrack of a pack of baying dogs.  I kid you not, it was like the hounds of hell were on hand to pursue us round the course.  No wonder there was talk of a new course record when the results came out later.  Their rabid barking split the skies and you could feel the tension on their leashes as they leapt about in a state of hyper-stimulation no doubt in eager anticipation of the prospect of hunting down wayward runners any minute now.  I couldn’t hear much of the briefing, but there was a seasonal gift presentation and thank you for the run director, clapping of volunteers, and an over-optimistic attempt to outline the route for the benefit of Concord first timers.  We seemed to comprise half the field if the number of hands that shot up around me when we were asked to identify ourselves to the run committee were anything to go by.

The route by the way, for those of you who are interested in the technical details is described in the concord parkrun events blurb thus:

The course consists of two counter-clockwise laps, all on asphalt paths suitable for mobility aids including wheelchairs. The course starts with a flat of 500m then a slight downhill of 500m levelling out at the far end of the course. Passing through a gate and returning with a slight uphill of 400m before levelling out to complete the lap. On the second lap the finish is 400m before the start line, ensuring a total of 5km.

Anyway, eventually, the cry went up ‘unleash the hounds’ and to the noisy baying of dogs we departed.  The actual dogs were revealed in photos to be cute puppy Labradors and similar, along with the adorable Graves Lily doing her Christmas tour.  But my they sounded ferocious when all you could hear was their baying growing louder and louder as they picked up pace.  The start was a bit tumultuous, the front runners exploding outwards.

start concord rush

Apparently, someone took a dominoes tumble early on being impacted from the rear, but I didn’t spot this at the time, just became vaguely aware of some commotion in my peripheral vision at the start.  The tarmac path narrowed early on, and it felt a bit chaotic, adrenalin surged and I felt a fleeting panic that I’d started too near the front.   However, as always happens, the field settled, and people spread out a bit more soon enough, there was time to enjoy the run and take it all in.  The ferocious hell-dogs were revealed to be mainly the lovely Lily, and other cuddly looking puppy-eyed beauties.  Weird.  You can tell the bit about them straining at the leash was true though…

Personally, I found the route a bit disorientating.  You are sort of running a figure of eight, but you do it twice, so as a slow runner I always seemed to be in sight of someone running in completely the opposite direction to me.  As I saw faster runners pounding towards me at various points I had the unsettling feel that surely at least one of us must be going the wrong way.  From the air I wonder if we formed some strange geometric shapes like those famous ones in the Nasca desert –  a mutant humming bird perhaps.  Or maybe we were more akin to a rather too big and inept troop of synchronised swimmers, having to practice on terra firma due to not being in possession of a pool large enough to accommodate us all.  Who knows, once the new surveillance society really takes off we will no doubt be able to access some drone footage to check it our for ourselves.  For now though, you will have to imagine.  Here is what my new Tomtom said the route was actually like.  I am still enjoying my new toy, though it seems to vibrate ever such a lot and for no apparent reason.  Another mystery to be solved at some unspecified future date…

concord parkrun routemap


One unexpected hazard on the way round is that you have to negotiate those really narrow gate things, specifically designed to stop cyclists going round and narrower at the top than the bottom they only allow one person through at I time.  Because of the bottle neck to get through, the first time round I took the alternative option of stepping over a low wooden bar – I did briefly consider hurdling it, but didn’t fancy an ignoble face-plant that would lead inevitably to a morning in A&E which was a distinctly possible outcome.  I looked on in envy though as Lily bounded over with grace and elegance.  She really does personify (or should that be dogify) the essence of parkrun as she effortlessly races round positively oozing joy throughout.  Second time around, I discovered I can actually run through these without the necessity of turning sideways due to my particular physique bestowing a rare evolutionary advantage on this solitary occasion.  I showed off this attribute (it’s probably not reasonable to claim it as a skill) to my running buddy later on.  I could tell she was deeply impressed, and possibly even a teensy bit jealous, it is unusual for me to outdo her  with my physical prowess, so this was a rare moment of comfort and joy for me this year.  I don’t know quite how you’d manage those in a wheelchair to be honest, but the buggy runners managed fine.

Running in the early stages I did suffer (nearly) a major wardrobe malfunction as I realised I hadn’t tightened the cord on my leggings sufficiently, and could feel the crutch dragging down towards my knees and my running tights were at real risk of ending up round my ankles if I didn’t take pre-emptive action.  This pre-emptive  action early on necessitated the appearance of rummaging around in my knickers under my skirt whilst I continued to pound round.  I was in fear of being papped by the official photographer at just this moment of in-decorum.  Fingers crossed I would be in favour with the official censor this week.  Mind you with the other outfits on offer  I was possibly being a little precious.  The turkey head number was a brave choice methinks, and now is the moment we can enjoy that, that and the risque Santa chest-bearing outfit too:

Apart from enjoying the fancy dress (which I think MASSIVELY improves the running experience), I also got my usual kicks from eavesdropping on other people’s conversations going round.  A favourite of many, was one between a vegan and vegetarian who were comparing their respective christmas fare with some misunderstandings (and potential incredulity/ disappointment) as they did so.   The vegetarian was describing a roast comprising quorn wrapped in sausage meat.  As a fellow vegetarian I was definitely confused.  That doesn’t sound terribly vegetarian, and I’m not convinced as a hybrid option to cater for both the carnivores and the herbivores it would quite work.  It’s like that time I went for a meal and I wanted to drink white wine and my companion wanted to drink red and the waiter suggested we therefore ordered a bottle of rose.  Why?  So we would both be pissed off with the choice presumably?  Bonkers.  Anyway, fortunately for me the vegan also requested clarification, the sausage meat would actually be sosmix. Ooooooooooooooh, now that makes sense, that could work.

The vegan was going to do a vegan version of pulled pork for her meat-eating relatives.  Ambitious I felt, and I was delighted that she elaborated.  It seems you can do this by slow cooking a Jack fruit and covering in barbecue sauce.  I’m a bit dubious as to whether this would fool anyone, though I do get its texture might change on cooking.  Also, I was very excited at this reference to Jack Fruit.  I’d never even heard of it before I went to Vietnam, and they are extraordinary things. It’s quite fun to be reminded of them and to be able to pull a photo from my other now dormant blog (with apologies to those of you who have seen and marvelled at this picture of such a remarkable fruit before).  Amazing though, you have to concede:


Enough of the foody digression. Also going round, I was slightly spooked by the sight of a runner who appeared to be carrying Santa’s detached head under his arm throughout … it turned out to be a themed muff (I think and hope), but it was most definitely unsettling.  Surely enough to set kids screaming if they’d witnessed it.  Though to be fair I suppose it being Christmas morning, even if it turns out this was from the real Santa, it wouldn’t matter too much.  After all, surely it is a safe bet he’d fulfilled his usefulness by this point in the year, so who cares really that he has been brutally decapitated and his head  carried aloft in sadistic triumph round a park today, no-one will really notice his absence until same time next year.   What do you reckon?  Passes the good taste test, or a little too much for Christmas morning…

concord disembodied santa head

Besides, there were other Santas in abundance, so I’m guessing they weren’t all the real one, one looked like he was hoping for a secret Santa slash rather than undertaking a parkrun Santa dash as he disappeared off-piste mid-run heading behind a random building.  In fact he reappeared soon afterwards gazing about in confusion.  I conclude he’d either thought the better of it, or was in search of some other runner.  I hope he was reunited with them eventually, or maybe he’d got a sort of snow-blindness (only from drizzle not snow) and is even now staggering around Concord disorientated and confused.  Hope not.  Here follow more jolly pictures of runners en route – it was fabulous, you should have been there – maybe you were?

I think I need to give special mention to my favourite fancy dress outfit of not only the day, but possibly the whole parkrun year.  It was buggy made into sleigh  through judicious use of cardboard and even rocking a blow up reindeer at the front.  That is class.  What’s more, the sleigh occupant was only 13 weeks old, parkrunners start younger and younger it seems, she could be in a 250 shirt when she’s barely out of nappies, and kudos to parents of a new-born for even making it out of the house without being covered in sick and poo let alone finding the time and energy to decorate a buggy and dress in themed running gear themselves.  Huge respect!

concord favourite outfit

Just as the dogs at the start were a bit unsettling, there were seagulls at the end which had a slightly sinister disposition.  I speak as someone who has recently re-watched ‘Finding Nemo’.  Those gulls screeching ‘mine, mine, mine‘ as they jostle to eat fish/ crabs/ anything at all had a mob mentality that these concord spectators seemed to replicate.  Look, it’s a worrying possibility.  I don’t know if they are always there, or it was a special festive outing for them too.  Maybe the prospect of all those first timers meant they were hoping for a harvest of collapsed runners at the finish.  Any minute now they could expect to be hopping amongst a bounty of carcasses pecking out the eyes of conked out parkrunners at will.

The route seemed to end somewhat unexpectedly.  On entering the finish funnel, I discovered the lovely volunteer marshals had indeed moved the bag containing my fleece from hanging on some railings at the start to placed on a bench at the finish line.  It seems the legends are true, magic elves at Christmas, and marvellous marshals the rest of the year, carry out this selfless act.  Thus I was able to be reunited with my fleece without even leaving the funnel or scanning queue.  This is a fabulous innovation, I think this could be just what  I need, a support crew to anticipate my every need and whim.  I wonder what it would take to have a masseuse waiting at the finish too, and maybe some minion with a steaming mug of hot-chocolate on standby in case of any sudden sugar drop?

The Concord team coped well with deluge of other runners, a cheery queue formed in animated chatter waiting for solitary scanner to process finish tokens, it was a bit like waiting to get into a night club (well, as far as I can recall, it’s been a very long time since I did that).  Good humoured chit chat.  I thought maybe the single scanner operative was due to a lack of volunteers (fair enough in the circumstances) however, it seems it’s actually because the Concord team are only in possession of a single scanner – it was a measure of how much the field had grown for this seasonal outing that it was under so much pressure today!

So finally, bar codes having been scanned, Christmas greetings and yo ho hos were  exchanged, and farewells said.. though many of us would be doing it all again the next day for the Boxing Day Saturday Parkrun as usual.  Bring it on.

Before departing, here is me in action.  As a special Christmas gift I get a flattering photo of me running.   Well, maybe not totally flattering, but definitely in action and no profile view so jowls temporarily hidden from view.  Hurrah, a first.

So we stumbled damply back to car, comparing gadgetry – I got a reading of 4.91 km which apparently is good enough re accuracy, though slightly shorter than my companion’s Garmin reading.  I must have taken an inner track as if by instinct on the way around.

As we approached our vehicle, my friend confidently used her electronic key to unlock the car in anticipation of our arrival.  It bleeped in recognition as it unlocked its doors…  and then in an act of seeming submission (or mischievous rebellion) it also started to wind down all its windows and open the sunroof too.  It was quite comical to witness, thank goodness she stopped pressing the button when when she did, the whole thing could have collapsed into pieces like a comedy clown car.

Although it is probably a mixed blessing to have a car that is more intelligent than all its occupants put together, it was a boon to have heated seats for the return journey.  (Well, it was for those of us in the front, sorry one of our number had to sit marinating in their own drizzle at the back).   I was worried I might suffer the slightly unsettling sensation of having wet myself as warmth oozed round my posterior.  Amazingly though I didn’t (either imagined or in reality)  despite having missed out on my usual precautionary pee on account of the  fact that the  Concord sports centre was not unreasonably shut for Christmas day when we arrived.  No pees possible, well not in less you are either helpfully accessorised as is the male of the species, or sufficiently dis-inhibited not to care about dropping your draws and peeing in public.  Today I was neither.  It just shows though, doesn’t it, how it’s all in the mind rather than in the bladder when it comes to pre-run toileting preferences…

Home for a perfectly cooked Christmas breakfast, courtesy of my hospitable and expert at catering  running buddies.  Yum, and I thank you.


By the way, apparently, according to parkrun uk nearly 30,000 people around the world got out for a Christmas Day parkrun yesterday with over 2,500 volunteers making it all possible.  That’s pretty awesome is it not? Thank you Concord Parkrunners for your festive welcome.  It was my first Christmas Day parkrun and I am a complete convert.  Best Christmas ever. You provided a home to the homeless and a welcome to displaced parkrun people when it was needed most.  Concord at Christmas, what could be more appropriate?  I salute you.

Ho ho ho indeed, and Merry Winterval everyone!  Same time next year…




Categories: 5km, motivation, parkrun, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Drums along the river? Tomtom territory…

Tom Tom Runner GPS Pink

So, last night, a friend suggested a Christmas Eve run, and whilst it’s probably a misrepresentation to say I was chomping at the bit to get out there, the opportunity to test out not only my new trail shoes, but my TomTom gadgetry too, definitely helped sway me to a ‘go on then’.  When I woke up this morning, the motivation of a new toy helped me into my running gear, but I have to admit my enthusiasm began to wane in direct correlation to the noise of rain beating down on my attic windows.  It was an apocalyptic downpour first thing.  Sticking my arm out of the window suggested it wasn’t too cold, but it was most definitely too wet for my enthusiasm to hang on in there.

I sent a sheepish text ‘really, are we actually going to do this?’  My phone immediately rang, cheetah buddy acknowledged the inclement weather was a real deterrent, but then again we’d made a commitment to head out with others, there would be coffee and cake afterwards, and, for me the clincher, she’d pick me up en route so I could at least leave a warm fleece in the car for post run utilisation.  Even so, it took super human strength to head out the door.  Still, first success for TomTom in providing external motivation, I did want to experiment with the technology and had to concede this would inevitably involve leaving the flat…  It was that novelty value that got me stepping over the threshold into the great wild outdoors.

We headed to the rendezvous point at the corner of Endcliffe Park and met up with three other runners.  The first of whom was bravely wearing short leggings, bearing her calves which seemed extremely rash in the rain fest that engulfed us.  We moved away from a rather large puddle to avoid further soakings from passing traffic, and then another two runners came to join us.  At this point, we witnessed what can only be described as a Christmas miracle!  The rain, it stoppethed!  Hurray, we set off up the valley, my cheetah friend fortuitously reminding me to set my gadgetry going, and the yomp commenced.

Fortunately it was a social run, so even by my standards it was slow enough to chat and run and put the world to rights.  I don’t know that we altogether accomplished the latter, the world seems anything but to rights just at present, but we did our best.  I was a bit worried I do a face plant in my new running shoes, but they did OK.  Mud-splattered, and all too soon entirely filled with freezing water from the torrent that washed down hill towards us, but they didn’t rub, and although not exactly a perfect fit, fit for purpose nevertheless.  I guess I’m going to have to be brave and keep on wearing them till they become more familiar.


The brook up the valley was really high, and the stepping stones that you can usually hop across to get into Whitely woods were completely submerged.   Not too many others out and about, but we did meet one little chocolate Labrador puppy which sat in an agony of obedience as its owner made it wait for us to pass.  As soon as we had, and it was given permission to get up again it bounded up to us, leaping up with enthusiastic licking and pawing.  It was rather cute, and it seemed a shame to have to resist such a rampant display of affection.  There is little enough joyful adoration in the world, it would have been nice to embrace this canine fan which was instead wrenched away all too soon.

We weren’t out for long, and stayed dry throughout.  Finishing off at a coffee shop for welcome caffeine fix, and in my case chocolate cake.  Others were more abstemious  –  the awful possibility that this could provide some insight into why they are all light of weight and fleet of foot passed through my consciousness, barely acknowledged.  I quickly dismissed the notion and chomped on my cake.  Very nice it was too, thank you for asking.  There is always next year for weight loss goals.

Run over, I checked out my totals.  Mysteriously, my route came up about 2.5 km short of my running buddy’s Garmin.  I’m not too worried, because it is the first time I’ve used it, and surely if it’s recorded some of the run it will be user error not technological failure.  Once home, I was really pleased that it uploaded fine on Strava, and looking at the route, I think I  must have just accidentally turned it off partway home somehow.  I have tiny wrists, and wonder if the watch just moved around too much as I was running.  If I could only work out a way to fast forward it instead, my running prowess could see meteoric development, there has to be a way…

Meantime, here is my half-route, which means I can only improve, not a bad baseline for progress!  So this might not be an especially amusing blog entry, but it is quite a smug one.  Ho ho ho.

Strava first run

Oh, and it rained on the way home by the way, so we really were lucky.  I thanked my buddy for persuading me out.  This led to a discussion about whether or not you ever regret going on a run.  The conventional wisdom is that you never do, but I would add a qualification that whilst this is mostly true, that isn’t to say I haven’t cried with frustration at my own ineptitude on getting home from some.  I just never get any better.  Learn to enjoy doing it badly is always going to be the way to go with me.  Still, I was heartened by reading someone else’s running year summary blog post a couple of days ago.  They categorised runs into three types of fun, i.e.:

  1. Type 1 Fun: Fun for the duration of the activity.
  2. Type 2 Fun: Gruelling at the time but retrospectively enjoyable.
  3. Type 3 Fun: Happy to come out alive and never to be repeated….

So let’s be realistic, relationships with running are complicated, even more experienced and committed runners have less than joyful days.  It might be true that I no longer regard a ‘fun run’ as the ultimate oxymoron, but I do have some way to go before I can honestly say every run is unmitigated and unrelenting joy!  Meantime though, the Tribesports image for today is apt.  Lace up and log that run!  My TomTom will help make it so. Yay!  Onwards and upwards…


Categories: off road, running | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Venturing over the threshold – into the Local Independent Running Shop


Imposter syndrome.  The paranoia I experience when thinking about stepping over the threshold into a running shop has a name.   That sense that I will be unmasked as a non-runner at any moment.  My flailing physique and limited grasp of running jargon will betray me.  However much the staff may have tried to perfect the art of appearing to be non-judgemental in the face of overwhelming evidence of lack of running prowess, they will surely crumble confronted with my self-evident ineptitude.  They may not actually laugh and point, but something within them may die as they try to convey some crucial detail about the relative merits of different sorts of running socks and come to realise that I am experiencing their insights as white noise.  I want to understand, I really, really do, but the learning curve is practically vertical, the concepts alien and as I try desperately to keep up with the key points of the debate I feel my understanding slipping away from me and a rising sense of panic akin to that experienced in school ‘games’ (what a misnomer is that) sessions, when waiting to be picked for a team.  Oh the horror, oh the shame.  As someone who previously only ever purchased my ankle socks in packs of three along with the groceries at Asda, it was a shocking realisation that socks could be so pricey and so complex…. and even more of a revelation that actually, they do make a difference.  Who wants blisters running, a good pair of socks are indeed a fine investment, but oh my, the time it took to get to that outcome, that was a painful lesson indeed…

I like stationery shops – I nearly said stationary shops, which would greatly upset the grammar police, who are many and manifest, though I suppose a shop that stays still may be dull and predictable, but does have some merit.  My appreciation of stationery means I do sort of get how for some even the scent of a running specialist shop can set their hearts racing.   I can get very excited over pencil types and post-it notes.   Others can lose themselves amongst rails of running gloves or bins of discounted running tights; gaze at racks of technical tops; lovingly tease themselves by caressing display pairs of fell shoes and positively drool over the gadgetry on offer that may pare precious micro-seconds off their personal bests.  For them, time stands still in such an environment, they could die happy amongst the buffs and Garmins inhaling the heady scent that is a mixture of deep heat and fresh sweat from other runners similarly browsing this playroom for runners,  each for now suspended in their own personal paradise.


Unfortunately, this is not me.  I feel out of my depth, and this is compounded by my perception that many running shops – particularly the independent ones, are managed and/or owned by actual runners who know what they are talking about.  This means that on the one hand you can access remarkable expertise, but on the other it is inevitable I will be exposed as a ringer, fraudulently crossing the threshold.  Plus I fear I will disappoint, they have all that expertise, and I need help in knowing how to thread the laces on my trainers properly.  (No, really, I do – it was a revelation to me when I discovered a way to secure them with a back-loop thing through that mysterious ‘extra’ eye hole that I always thought was an implausible design statement rather than a functional feature).  My anxiety is further compounded because too many running shops seem to stock specialist women’s clothing that is entirely based on the physique of an adolescent boy’s fantasy girlfriend.  This fictitious creature dresses only in violent pinks apparently (turquoise or sparkly purple at a pinch) and, being solid muscle,  has a physique that is ideally suited to donning a compression-Lycra size six vest with no inconvenient wayward bust to ruin the line and fit of the garment.  For me, a middle aged hobbit, running shops are places to be feared.  They play havoc with my already fragile self-esteem

Nevertheless, I do recognise in my heart of hearts, that if  I can over-come this phobia, the pay off is usually significant.  Access to professional expertise and knowledge.  I don’t go to my local independent running shop very often – mainly just to pick up race numbers or for something really specific, like a head torch, but I’ve never made a dud purchase there.  They do know their stuff and care about getting it right, I’d never have the confidence to buy online, and they will take the time to help.   The time has come, I have a couple of purchases that I ‘need’ to make, and I can’t do this alone.  I am still not confident enough to just breeze in though, I phone ahead first.   It will be easier to fess up to my base level of ignorance over the phone than face to face, I can hide my phone-number and identity, if necessary lie about my name, and talk through a scrunched up tea-towel, then if I’ve over-stepped the neediness mark, they will never be able to trace me.  Other people phone ahead to shops, granted, normally because they are celebrities in need of personalised and confidential services, rather than because they are so needy they feel they need to give the proprietors the opportunity to close shop for the day rather than stay open to serve them, but the principle is the same.

So, my ‘necessary’ purchases were as follows:

  1. Trail running shoes.  I had a perfectly OK pair of Innov8 ones, but over time they have started to develop open wounds on the inside heel of the shoe where the fabric has rubbed away.  My cheetah running buddy carried out extensive surgery on them with plasters and special padding to prolong their life.  I helped by drinking coffee and looking on whilst she did this repair on my behalf.  I think it’s called strategic incompetence, or possibly ‘taking the piss’ I’m not sure.  In any event she did rescue me for a bit.  However,  on my most recent run out this patching technique finally failed, that, combined with complete saturation of my socks and shoes following poor decision making during bog-crossing on Eyam moor led to me having trainers full of water for the last few miles home resulting in open wounds in my actual heels, misery, and me falling out of love with my trail shoes.   Replacement is therefore genuinely necessary.
  2. Less essential, but highly desirable.  I have been flirting with the idea of entering the technological age.  I’ve not been able to participate in some recent club running challenges because I lack a gps watch of any description and a strava profile.  No-one is more surprised than me to discover that I am starting to realise I may be missing out.  However, I am what might be charitably termed a late-adopter with technology.  I still lack a smart phone, and whilst I’m not actually stupid, and I daresay I could be more IT literate if I could be bothered to engage in using it,  I lack patience in learning technical stuff and I’m not really interested in how things work, I just want them to do so.  The thought of having to learn how to get all these things up and running has been a major deterrent in entering the strava age, but it seems the time has come to be dragged kicking and screaming into this brave new world of monitoring distance, altitude, terrain and pace.    I fear it, but it is inevitable.

There is no doubt in my mind, these desires do necessitate that I step across the threshold of a running shop, but I am too fearful to do this without testing the waters first.  Hence the anticipatory phone call.  I ring the day before my planned visit in.   I state my aspiration to join the technological age, but my utter ignorance in how to do so.  It is actually a bit of a relief to come out, and not as bad as I feared.  Yes, they can help, I just need to bring down my laptop (of course I don’t have a smartphone, what do you take me for?) and they can help set me up. I could have cried with gratitude.

shopfront front runner


Even so, I felt pretty nervous heading down to the running shop for the consultation and shopping.  This is ridiculous. The running shop is very local, just a quick walk through the park to get there. The guys that run it are really knowledgeable and friendly, but I still feel a bit like I’m trespassing when I go in. I don’t feel I have quite earned the right to be there as they are very talented and knowledgeable runners and I’m… well, I’m  not. They have given me great advice in relation to equipment in the past – see previous reference to head torches – once again I am to throw myself on their mercy.  They will have to work hard to earn any profit today.

I step over the threshold just after opening time.  Initially I can’t see anyone around.  I wonder if they have actually taken the precaution of hiding as soon as they saw me approaching on the CCTV.  When I lived in Leamington and was self-employed, I used to use the local post office almost daily.  Raj the  postmaster there hilariously used to dive under the counter to hide from me every time I called in – how we laughed!  I like to think it was our little joke, but maybe it was just an early warning sign of how shop staff and proprietors all seek to avoid me given half a chance?  Who knows.   (No answers on a postcard please, some things are better left unsaid).  Well, if they were trying to hide, they weren’t very good at it, because soon enough the guy appeared.  It was like  in Mr Ben, where the proprietor of the fancy dress shop magically materialises as if from thin air.  Anyway, once he’d made eye contact, I had him in my powers.  I explained the projects, and he remembered my call from yesterday and was up for the challenge.  At just this moment a friend of his called in bringing a hot cup of coffee and a mince pie.  I came between this man and those refreshments.  The guilt will haunt me possibly forever.  Such was his professionalism he said he was fine without them, but how could he have been?  It isn’t possible is it, to be deprived of a caffeine fix seems cruel and inhuman treatment to me.

Mr Benn

So first up, technology.  I am illiterate re running GPS gadgets so just went with the recommendation which for those of you who care about such things, was for an entry level tomtom, which was set to charge up on my laptop whilst we looked at shoes.  Sorry, trainers, or do you call them running shoes?  I don’t know actually.

The fitting of shoes was altogether a bit more problematic, I do have hobbit feet, and whilst I am aware of this there was some metaphorical dancing around the issue as the poor proprietor guy tried desperately to avoid using the Bunion word, for fear of causing offence.  Throughout his linguistic acrobatics I blinked  expressionlessly into space, wondering how on earth he would maintain this feat of not stating the obvious, when my deformed feet with arthritic rigidity, combined with bumps and swellings that would add interest to any landscape are  nigh on impossible to ignore.  He did pretty well, working largely with euphemisms like ‘individual foot structure does vary’, and ‘it’s actually very common for feet to be a bit asymmetrical’, even experimenting with ‘there is always some getting used to with any new shoe’ and so on.  I did actually think he might achieve this seemingly impossible goal, and so it was I really felt for him when he eventually said ‘the thing is, I’m not saying it is a bunion but with a widening of the foot in the mid area… ‘ he’d failed in his evasions.  It reminded me of that time I’d had some 12 year old girl do a fitness assessment on me at the gym, and watched her writhe in agony as she plucked up the courage to tell me that according to her computer print out that calculated my BMI based on height and weight I was actually fat.  It was as if this news would come as an absolute shock to me.  I was quite tempted to let out a shout of horror, screaming into a void with ‘Noooooooooooooo, it can’t be so, I had no idea?’   Likewise with my feet, I am all too aware of their idiosyncrasies, it really is OK to call them what they are.  Arthritic, and in possession of bunions.  Frankly, it’s a miracle I can walk, let alone run.  Let’s just celebrate this achievement in the face of adversity and not agonise over the terminology.

Munch The scream

Anyway, it seems that whilst gadgetry is great, the shoes are also from the fantasy girlfriend range on the whole.  This fictitious individual has sleek, petite narrow feet instead of big round plates like me.  She also has feet of the same size, so doesn’t have to try on every shoe in the shop, to the repeated complaint that one seems too tight whilst the other seems too big.  There was a great deal of getting on and off the treadmill, repeatedly trying different trainers on and off.  I found it nigh on impossible.  The sad truth is that I’ve never been wholly satisfied with any shoes I’ve ever bought, it’s always a question of least worse option because I’m always in pain when I run.  I still hold on to this dream that one day I’ll find a pair that make me feel light, pain free and like I could run for ever, but this miracle is yet to occur.  In the meantime I fret and sweat over the available options.  I’m so used to my existing shoes that even though they’ve started to give me heel blisters they still fall into the category of ‘the devil I know’.  I was in the shop for hours.  I feel some guilt, because that’s a couple of hours of his life the poor guy will never get back, but equally, I suppose it is an occupational hazard in his job, and it was not an insignificant purchase in the end.

Eventually I settle on some Brookes which are a half size bigger than I usually wear, and are an acceptable level of discomfort, especially with some deft re-lacing courtesy of the shop guy who found a bunion-avoiding strategy to ease some of the pressure – check out that corsetry below.  Phew, it was hard work!  They don’t sell them muddy by the way, this is them picture taken after their first trial trail run on Christmas Eve.


Back to the tomtom setting up process.  This brought about further paranoia, as the helpful proprietor knew my name, and used it throughout our discussion.  On the one hand, this was companionable and quite friendly and appropriate.  On the other, how the hell did he know me?  I don’t go in very often, am I really so demanding that I am now recognised (and dreaded) within the running community?  It was only when I got home that I twigged it’s because my name comes up on my laptop as I log in.  Duh.  Anyway, there isn’t anything very much to remark on in terms of setting me up with my tomtom and strava.  Basically, this was all achieved by magic, whilst I looked on.  He even set up a request for me to join the Smiley Paces running group on Strava, that’s surely quality service.   It does indeed look straight forward to use now it’s on my computer, but I think impatience would have got the better of me if I’d tried to put it all on myself.  I am quite excited about whether or not this gizmo will motivate me to get out more, I think it may, we shall see.

So just a little question of emptying my bank account into Frontrunner’s, but I do not begrudge them, they are fab.  I also got a ‘free’ T-shirt for spending over £100 (quite a lot over actually, but hey ho, seeing as it’s Christmas).  It is in fetching purple.  I got medium.  I could fit into the small, but it was rather unforgiving, so I prefer the more drapery option whereby fabric gently wafts over my spare tyres blurring my silhouette into a less clearly defined form.

front runner tshirt

So, that was me, enduring swamping, as a technique for over-coming my running shop phobia.  You know, when you get exposed to the thing you are scared of as a technique for becoming de-sensitized to it?  I don’t think I’ll ever experience relaxation in a running shop, I feel too out of place, but I was happy with my purchases.  Plus, it gave me a bit of a boost to my confidence that nobody actually laughed in my face, and whilst he  didn’t take the opportunity of watching me using the treadmill  to talent spot me as their next sponsored runner, my running mentor did engage in small talk around whether  I was planning to do the Sheffield Half in a few months time, implying such an idea is not actual insanity. Stranger things have happened it would seem….

So thank you nice folk at Frontrunner for helping me out.  I shall enter 2016 fully equipped to take on the running trails with gusto.   Bring it on!


Categories: running | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The bells, the bells… and tinsel toes, jollily jingling along

This is what festive Smilies look like, apparently, you wouldn’t believe it was just the week before Christmas, though I suppose the Santa outfits might be a bit of a give away.  Some things you should know about the photo below

  1. One of our  number is wearing a pair of red bloomers which were at least forty years old, I’d like to say fifty, but can’t be sure, and four decades is pretty god-darned impressive.  They are quite racy, what with their lace ruffled trimmings, and a fine choice for seasonally apt Santaesque apparel
  2. Twenty five of us made this outing, only twenty three are pictured.  One was the official photographer, the other is out of shot having a wilderness pee, we all have our backs to her, I’ve tried playing ‘where’s Wally?’ but she’s definitely not in the frame, normally it is me who misses the photo op, so this is a pleasant change
  3. I did try, what with my skirt getting another outing and tinsel on my toes and ponytail, but others decidedly trumped me with actual battery operated fairy lights (thank you pound shop) and santa hat regalia, oh well, there is always next year to up my game…

Eyam Moor Christmas Jingle run

The occasion was this:

Sunday Jingle off road run with bells on!
‘festive, beautiful yet slightly challenging winter run.  Meet at Hathersage pool for 09:30 start. 6 miles of hills, ancient bridges, moorland, woodland, spectacular views (hopefully) and lashings of mud.  Be prepared for variable weather conditions, undulating terrain, mud, maybe ice, water and slippy areas.  Trail or fell shoes, waterproof protection essential. On the top of Eyam moor the weather can change dramatically, there maybe strong icy winds, rain or even snow, if we are lucky. So please protect yourselves ladies.  Festive attire optional.  Coffee afterwards at Outside cafe’

To be really honest, I was a bit ambivalent about joining in this run.  It sounded a bit scary, what with the warnings of potential snow and ice, dying of exposure, starving to death (I can’t carry the recommended  mandatory extra jelly babies cited in another dire warning post, on account of being vegetarian, I could surely die out there).  As usual, I ummed and aaaahed, and eventually went with the flow as kindly Smilies undertook to give me a lift.  I’m getting into a bit of a parasitic pattern re transport.  More often a recipient of lifts than a giver of them.  I do feel some shame at this, but on this occasion my excuse was I’d had a tyre blow out on the motorway the day before and the very nice man from the AA who changed it for me pointed out that all my tyres are basically useless death traps.  FYI when  asked him if he thought they’d be OK to get me back to Sheffield from Newbury where he rescued me, he non-committally but accurately said ‘well you obviously thought it was possible when you headed out this morning’.  Great.  I’ve never crawled home so slowly, or been so relieved to make it back there in one piece.  In the circumstances I wasn’t offering lifts to anyone ’til they’d been checked out by my local garage.  My local garage by the way said in fact one of the tyres was actually ‘pretty good’ so there you have it.  Only three replacements required out of four.  You have to keep these things in perspective…

So, I faffed about waiting for promised warning text that my ride was en route, when the phone rang to say they were outside.  Guilt engulfed me.  It is very wrong not to be ready when you are beholden to others.  Not quite dependent on the kindness of strangers, but you get the gist.  Seems preparatory text was lost forever in cyberspace, where do such missives end up I wonder.  Maybe that nice Tim Peake will be receiving it up at the space station sometime.  I wonder if he’ll be really confused at a message saying his lift is arriving imminently.  It’s probably quite hard to do an off-road run in a space suit, especially when you’ve become habituated to operating in zero gravity?


Four of us were in a squeaky clean sparkling super mini, and we phutted our way to Hathersage pool.  Our driver did an awesome parallel park into a minute space, I’d have gone for the car park personally, way to challenging to negotiate that.  We sat for a bit watching the car steam up whilst waiting for other festive smilies to appear bedecked in seasonal decorations.  We joined them, meaning we had escaped to the pavement on the opposite side of the road to where we were parked.  This was timely, as we then witnessed an altercation between a local resident, and some bemused walkers who were lacing on their boots from the back of their car which was also parked on the road.  The local resident took issue with this business of walkers parking here.  Tricky one, you don’t own the road outside your house, it probably is annoying if you are a local resident and it gets parked up, but then again that is the price you pay for living in such a spot.  We bravely ignored the whole thing, and concentrated on admiring each others festive festoonery.

The mob assembled, the skies were amazingly bright and clear, and although there was indeed an icy wind, the outlook was good.  Quickly we were off.  A decision was made to stick together as one group.  This was a bit daunting for me as I’m so slow, however slow the fast runners go it’s always a push for me.  The route seemed to head up hill endlessly, and my morale took an early hit.  I was reduced to walking quite early on, well, stomping would be more accurate, hands on my knees to give me some extra stability and leverage heading up.  Eventually though, we got off the road and into the open moor.  It was absolutely stunning.  The views back across Hathersage were amazing, and you do feel like you have the landscape to yourself.  For the first part it wasn’t even as wet and boggy as I’d anticipated, I suppose we were so high up it had all run off.  You had to pick your way a bit, but that suited me, because it necessitates slowing down.   Even though I was a bit dispirited by my general crappiness at maintaining any sort of pace you couldn’t look around and not be glad you were there.  The day before the heavens had opened to pour forth unrelenting rain, it seemed miraculous that today the sun was out and the skies clear.

Our route took us up to Eyam moor.  Eyam of the plague stories.  I feel I should make some witty and insightful comment here in reference to it, but I can’t, it is a sad sad tale, though a remarkable one too.  A village that sacrificed itself essentially, to contain the outbreak.  Oh well, we skipped over that, and jollily jingled onwards, across the moor, alongside a crumbling stone wall, bog hopping.  It was about this point that, leading from the back (well, tailing the rear anyway, I can spin it how I want I was always going to be bringing extra ballast to the back-marker) I made a serious miscalculation and ended up ankle deep in freezing bog water.  In a way, this was almost a relief.  In the early stages of off road runs, I always try to avoid getting wet, but inevitably eventually do.  After that you stop pussy footing around and taking futile detours, and can just embrace the mud and puddles and charge on through.  The downside though, was that wet socks at such a stage probably contributed to subsequent blister formation, which was  a bit grim, and did reduce my overall joyfulness during the run.

Sore feet aside, scenically speaking it was absolutely spectacular.  I also got to have some good chats with people I don’t usually get a chance to connect with.  They were taking it in turns to back mark I think, but it was companionable.  I also enjoyed eavesdropping on other conversations.  Favourite observation of the day was made by one of our awesome ultra trail runners who remarked ‘two sets of eyes would be ideal really, one for looking at the ground so you can see where you are going, and one for admiring the view‘ this is the kind of  wisdom you can pick up from more experienced runners, you have to acknowledge she had a point!  I wonder if it might even be a case of the more the merrier?  If I could just get over my spider phobia (which is possibly even more embedded than my running shop phobia) we could use a selective breeding programme, or genetic engineering, to create a super race of smiley runners.  Spiders have heaps of eyes, and actually, they are pretty nifty on their feet too.  This idea could yet be a runner (pun intended).  I’m not great with spiders – though I have missed my house spider flat mate Christopher recently, he seems to have vanished, in any event, I’ve found a picture of a cute jumping spider to make the idea more palatable to any sceptics out there.


What goes up, must come down, and so it was with us.  Coming down was actually more challenging, it was muddy and skiddy, and quite a few Smilies took a seasonal tumble.  I did a mud slide of my own, but suffered no ill effects.  I got good stories though from a fellow runner who recognised the route from a previous outing.  ‘Actually, I have a feeling we ended up losing someone last time we went out‘ she commented with alarming nonchalance, definitely implying they were never found again.  I mean, I know the Smiley Paces membership has exploded exponentially, but I still like to think that losing a member in the hills somewhere would not be seen as helpful natural wastage.  I really believed Malthusian principles had been discredited by now.  Just as we shouldn’t see poverty and starvation as great ways of limiting population control, I don’t think we should be condoning abandoning slower runners on the open moor as a legitimate tactic to make membership numbers more manageable.  I’m not just being politically correct for the sake of it, I actually believe this.  Consequently I pressed her for what happened next.  Apparently, ‘it was fine’, they noticed eventually, and the missing runner was someone who knew the hills well, but had to keep within a certain heart rate for health reasons, so had not been able to stay with the faster group as they picked up speed sprinting down the hills in drier weather.   Eventually they just sat down and waited for her to catch up.  Oh good.  I’m glad I didn’t lag behind too much. I’d have quickly laid down sobbing and given up entirely.  Though I do fervently believe my silken layer greatly increases my personal chances of survival for quite a while. Anyway, fortuitously this didn’t arise.  The fallers were scooped up,  the stragglers (me basically) waited for, and we made it back to the start without major injuries or losses.  I say without major injury, but a got a leaked photo of one bruise that had matured nicely in the days following the outing.  How’s this for a thigh bruise (I’m not revealing the owner of the bruise nor breaking my journalistic integrity by disclosing the source, but impressive, eh?)  Seems that running can be a literally as well as metaphorically bruising undertaking!

bruising running

I was actually most at risk of being separated from the group when we wound our way from where we’d parked to the cafe.  I was chatting to a friend and we were mindlessly following the people in front as we didn’t know where we going.  So it was we ended up following some random walkers who were headed in quite literally the opposite direction to that in which we were supposed to be going.   Fortunately some more observant Smilies hailed us and brought us back to the pack.  I wonder where we’d have ended up?

Coffee at Outside cafe was possibly the slowest service in the world, but it was a festive gathering nevertheless, and handy to know that this store has a pretty big cafe that was able to cope with seating a group of our size, plus it has parking out the back, which I never before knew.  So it seems you really can learn something new every day.  Also, I had a warmed scone with clotted cream and jam and a coffee for just £4, I consider that worth the wait.


Coffee was drunk, hail Happy Christmases shared, and then we scattered our separate ways once again.  We are so lucky to have such beautiful landscape on our doorstep.  I do want to find ways to explore it more, but I also need to find slow paced runners to do it with, I was knackered by the end.  Full marks though to the organising committee for taking us on such a gorgeous trail.   Thanks to to our nominated driver.  We did remove our shoes prior to re-entry into the sparkly interior, but mud will out.  Hope the damage wasn’t too bad.

As for our trail – it was this one, just so as you know for next time – note the early escape route – that would indeed have been an emergency ejection at the first sign of trouble!  Fortunately not needed today, because we are all awesome.  The actual route was over 7 miles too, which makes me feel less pathetic for finding it a challenge.

jingle run dec 2015

Categories: off road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Car Park Seasonal Fun and Games –

It wasn’t dogging, let’s be clear about that.  It turns out you can have a great deal of good clean and wholesome fun in a usually desolate park’n’ride car park out of hours and in the dark.  We’d probably need to put in an FOI or data-protection request to get the CCTV footage by way of confirmation, but I’m sure you’ll take my word for it.  I am referring of course to the traditional Smiley Paces Christmas Cavorting.  I missed the frolics last year, I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

The early warning of this seasonal ritual read thus:

This Thursday (17 December) is…. The SMILEY PACES CHRISTMAS GAMES!! The lovely people at Tesco have said that we can use the Park and Ride Car Park at the Abbeydale Road Tesco Store – so it’s convenient for parking and FLAT! We will start at 7:00pm and go on until 8:00pm or whenever you are all exhausted!
You will need….. Headtorches, Hi Viz (compulsory)and suitably festive attire!! It would also help proceedings if you can bring a working felt tip and safety pin. You may need water if you are going to take it seriously!!
We will give you an evening of fun and jollity that you will remember forever… or at least until the next one.
Gaffer tape, cones, and polystyrene baubles will be feature in the evening’s merriness… as will CHOCOLATE!!
See you there!

This, combined with a picture of the intended props for the night represented an irresistible force, to protest is futile, any Smiley within range would feel a compelling urge to get there, come what may.  Push toddlers aside if you must, throw kittens out of your way if they would otherwise delay you, the cause of the Smiley games gathering is bigger than all of us, sacrifices have to be made.

christmas games props

This is fun, but serious fun.  The organisational skills of the Smiley guru who has instigated proceeding are such that all her instruction are to be obeyed without question.  Prior to the run I dutifully dig out a working marker pen, find a safety pin (cryptic, why do we need that?) including a spare in case someone else has forgotten theirs and might otherwise get into trouble, and attend to my festive finery.  (The same Santa skirt that did me service at Percy Pud basically, with some red tinsel for my hair as an afterthought).  I was also a bit unsure about where we were rendezvousing, so I headed off early.. and consequently found myself alone in a VERY dark and dodgy looking empty car park.  It felt like a prison compound exercise yard, whoa those boundary fences were high.  I felt a bit spooked.  I locked myself in, and fumbled with my head torch.   It was only a couple of minutes later that another Smiley arrived, I moved into her car to await the descent of others.  Pretty soon what looked like a scooby-mobile skidded round the corner, breezed past us and parked up at the far end of the park and ride plateau.  Seemingly in a blaze of glittering confetti, helium balloons and infectious enthusiasm, our games co-ordinator emerged triumphant.  A glamorous assistant on hand (grandson, nephew, waif?) to hump boxes (not in that sense, really, I’m surprised and disappointed in you); set out cones, keep score and, on command, hurl a pass the parcel package.  Bring it on.  It was pretty much as good as the opening ceremony of the Olympic games, indistinguishable even some would say.  They might say it a little bit tongue in cheek, but they’d say it all the same.  But really, our enthusiasm was the same, and what with all those head-torches and all that hi-viz bobbing about the car park was lit up like a christmas tree indeed (how apt) or firework display at least!

So once we were all assembled.  The mystery of the safety pins was revealed.  We were each allocated a balloon, the first challenge which was to inflate unaided.  Then we had to attach some thoughtfully provided ribbon to the balloon, before using the safety pin to attach some string to ourselves.  In a stroke of absolute genius, the colour of balloon we ended up with represented our random team allocation.  So laughingly we were clumped together, before embarking on a collective warm up.  This was based on ‘The twelve days of Christmas’ with each gift, being replaced by a physical exercise.  It started benignly enough, ‘on the first day of Christmas, my trainer said to me, to reach up as high as can be’ how we all laughed as we enthusiastically joined in with full, voice and maximum exertion.  By the time we were repeating twelve spotty dogs, eleven deep squats, ten punishing lunges etc. some voices were wavering a little.  I for one was quite pleased I’ve become accustomed to squats as they are greatly favoured at my other exercise class, others were still complaining about their glutes at Parkrun days later!

bacchic procession1

There were way too many games to go through, but it was genuinely imaginative and fun.  This is a sentence I never expected to say, but Smiley Paces are blessed by counting amongst their number a retired headmistress who as Smiley guru coordinated the joys of this evening’s Yuletide entertainment, and at least one retired PE teacher.  No wonder there is such accomplishment and challenge at the planning stages!  The first game involved creating our own bingo cards.  We each had to pick four numbers between one and twenty and write them on a card.  The game was then to run around until at intervals a bingo ball was pulled out of a sack.  When all four of your numbers had been called, you (alas) were required to stop running, in this case, the ‘winner’ is the one who gets to run right to the end.  Imagine then my joy, to find that I was indeed amongst the final runners, jogging round in circles of increasing desperation willing my number to be called.  Imagine then my joy giving way to manically blinking back the tears as I discovered that actually my final outstanding number was the one that had been called out first.  I must have been running so fast that the wind rushing past my head rendered me temporarily deaf at just the moment it had been called.

Probably though, my favourite game involved rubber bands and the huge dice (die?).  Basically, you rolled the dice, and then whatever number was thrown, represented the number of people who had to be tied together to run to the end and back to gather up a polystyrene ball.  You maybe had to be there to appreciate the degree of hilarity this exercise invoked.  It was not only fun to participate in, but excellent to watch.  Motley crews of slightly over-competitive women in running gear bastardised with tinsel, tied together and awkwardly manoeuvring up and down a darkened car park with unseemly haste just because someone had told us to.  We are it seems a compliant and suggestible lot.  I wish there were some photos, but we were all too busy either engaged in the activity ourselves or laughing at others who were for anyone to think of doing so.  Anyway, maybe it’s best that such things are not on the record. This written account will suffice, who wants pictures of the above in circulation on revenge running/ blackmail sites in future.  Far better that the shared experience brings us together than fear of subsequent exposure seeds paranoia and drives us apart.  Shame though…

The most stressful of the games was basically a complete balls up.  The balls in question being multi-sized polystyrene balls much like these:

polystyrene balls

I know they seem innocuous enough, but they are fiendish things.  They have slippery qualities akin to Teflon.  The ‘game’ was simply to take turns to run up to a box of said balls, and for the first runner to pick up just one, then on return to the rest of the team hand over the ball, so the next runner goes up, collects another, returning with two which they then pass over and so on in relay, with the number of balls involved in the handover ever increasing with each runner.  To begin with this seems straightforward.  However, with alarming speed it becomes a seemingly impossible task.  Transferring polystyrene balls which apparently have a life and momentum of their own, and which is entirely at odds with the goal of the game is really, really, ridiculously hard.  Have you seen a pair of emperor penguins trying to transfer a single egg between themselves without letting it touch the ice and so freeze and die?  Well this was way harder than that, and the consequences felt just as serious and final.  For each of us making the transfer of our precious cargo the pride of our team was at stake.  Whilst it was hilarious to see other team’s balls bouncing about in free fall, it was altogether more disturbing when our own magical spheres took flight scattering in all directions in apparently irretrievable disarray.  I was quite relieved when that game ended to be honest.  Way too stressful…


The grand finale was basically a run for chocolate.   A relay, where each member of the team in turn ran as fast as they could to the teasing tin of celebrations at the end, grabbed one and made the return trip, high fiving their next team mate so they could make their own foraging journey in sequence.   My some of those fellow Smileys can sprint.  You should see the spurt that they can put on when a mini marathon is on offer (as in the chocolate ‘snickers’ bar, not one that involves actual running on this occasion).  Apparently we were supposed to keep these sweets to count at the end in order to determine the winner.  In the event we all just chomped through whatever plunder we had seized and empty wrappers only were proffered up by way of evidence.  In fairness, all teams had adopted the same strategy here, it was probably naive to have ever imagined we might do otherwise.   Like those dog obedience tests that you sometimes see, when some poor canine is required to carry a sausage in its mouth and return it to its owner uneaten, never going to happen, and it seems to me to be wrong to demand otherwise, it goes against nature I tell you, and nature will always find a way.  Trust me, I’ve seen Jurassic Park.


As we all know, it’s not the winning that matters, it’s the taking part.  Also, my team didn’t win, so clearly I have no interest in noticing who did.  However, with a seasonally saccharine tone that is keeping with the yuletide festivities, I like to think we were all winners in a way because our collective cavorting was bonding and fun.  What a great gaggle Smiley’s are, the capacity to play is always to be celebrated.  Thank you guru elder organising Smiley for your super human efforts.  They are appreciated.  Go Smileys, abandon your inhibitions and embrace your inner Bacchic spirits!  They ain’t stopping us now! Dance on into 2016, who knows what delights will await us then…

greek dance



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Percy Pud 2015 – the day of reckoning

You might want to get yourself a cup of tea, or even a mug of tea to be honest.  Tell you what, why not make a whole pot?  Or you could crack open a bottle of wine if you like and maybe get started on some of those nibbles that you’ve been stocking up on and (supposedly) saving for Christmas too if you are feeling decadent – this is going to be a long one, even by my standards, so make sure you pace yourself … ho ho ho or bah humbug maybe, you choose.

Truth to tell, I don’t think I really believed I’d make it to the start line of Percy Pud at all.   There was the unseemly scrap for places – selling out all 2200 places in under two hours.  Then in the build up to the race (gulp- I don’t like to think in terms of races really, the very idea fills me with fear and dread), it was like living through a tsunami.  Subject to the forces of a great sea of runners building, drawing back then returning with a vengeance like a great tide taking over the road ahead.  Bear with me, and I’ll try and explain.

You see, at first there was the excited Facebook chatter of a multitude of Smiley Paces high fiving ‘me too -I’m in‘ as they got lucky in the lottery for places on the night bookings went live.  It was like waves rolling in with the incoming tide, a gathering invisible force of as yet unknown dimensions.

high five

Then, in the last couple of weeks, it’s been like the sea drawing back with an unexpected and almost unnatural retreat.  Smileys dropping like flies as they announce themselves suddenly unable to run – not through apathy, but through injury and illness.  Not since the Eyam plague have so many people within such a localised vicinity been apparently rendered physically helpless and struck down in one way or another.  Shin splints, twisted ankles, dodgy hips, ruptured Achilles all took their toll.  Where is everyone, what’s happened to this sea of runners?

As an amusing (to me) digression, purely  because it made me guffaw inappropriately, there was even an incident not at our running club, but of one poor Rother Valley Parkrun race director who was blown off his bike in the wind yesterday, whilst doing the pre-run safety check.  Ended up with a splintered shoulder or collar bone or something so no Percy Pud for him this year either.  I know, try not to laugh at the irony of it: safety officer hospitalised, – the run did go ahead by the way, safe on foot apparently, just not on a bike.  That’s certainly true to the Parkrun spirit!

I myself wondered if I’d have to pull out after I dropped a ridiculously heavy pottery garlic bulb container on my bare foot earlier in the week.  Right on my  most arthritic bunion, I really screamed, I thought I’d pass out with the pain.  By the way, does anyone else have one of those?  A garlic bulb holder thing, not an arthritic bunion – or is that just me.  I was in excruciating agony for a couple of days.  I honestly began to wonder if I’d broken my foot.  Not as unlikely as it sounds, I do genuinely know someone who spent an entire Christmas Day in A&E after dropping a giant musical toblerone on her foot – she ended up in plaster with some broken bones.  Elevation and angst for me at first, but you will be pleased to know I’m  back to normal now, thanks for asking.

Right, just so you know, I was trying to find a photo (licensed for non-commercial reuse) of running injuries, I came across the one below.  I couldn’t not use it.  I think you’ll understand, it made me laugh out loud!  I could have taken a photo of my pottery garlic bulb holder and included that instead, hope you agree I made the right call…


Then I wasn’t sure of the lift etiquette situation.  A friend kindly offered a lift, but to me and four others, picking me up last, I did wonder if I’d fit in the car, or just have to stand waving at them as they drove past at speed on their way to have all the fun.  How many people can you squash in the average car?  Oh OK – Professor Google suggests quite a few, if you have some outside assistance, and don’t mind being manhandled like you are an inanimate object whilst wearing american tan tights, an unnecessarily tiny cheer leader’s skirt, and an unconvincing fixed smile – so maybe we would all get there after all, but not in my Christmas Tree fancy dress outfit perhaps.  Oh the anticipatory stress of it all – I really hoped this was going to be worth all the pre-run angst.   It’s so hard being me, all that social paranoia, running ineptitude and middle aged insecurities to deal with.  Amazing I leave the house at all quite frankly, and in my heart of hearts I recognise there are many amongst my acquaintances who probably wish I wouldn’t take the trouble to do so.  Such is life.  Hey ho.

As race day eve approached, there was a final roll call of Smileys who posted whether or not they’d be running on the great day itself.  In our own small way we were recreating our very own ‘I am Spartacus’ moment.  That is, as in standing up to be counted in an act of union, one for all and all for one sort of way, not as in getting crucified for your troubles.  Well, I rather hoped not, that isn’t what I signed up for….  ‘Who’s in?’  Loads of us, like that great tsunami thundering in, it seems a great tidal wave of us were going to be at the start.  Over 60 I believe. Some were fit and raring to go; others consumed with apprehension and angst.  I knew at least one who was basically setting out to run on two fractured legs, but decided as she wouldn’t be seeing a medical professional prior to the run who would tell her not to take part, she’d sprint round anyway and then crawl back to her physio/ GP later to be rebuilt.  Run Cheetah, run!  To be fair, it will take someone as gifted as that lovely Supervet chap to recreate her some bionic limbs, so maybe the cheetah analogy will help her in accessing the treatment options she so dearly needs?

Smiley supporters were also getting into gear, I was rather hoping they would have proper banners for us on the way round, and ticker tape and confetti to scatter on us at the end.  But even if not, we were promised a man with an empty IKEA bag at the start.  As we pass we could throw unwanted garments at him (outerwear, not knickers and stuff) which he would then carry into the marquee for collection at the end.  There was to be no freezing in the rain at the start for this solidarity of Smileys – (best laid plans though).    Unlucky Smileys who missed out first time round with getting a place, secured them by mopping up the entries from those who could no longer race.  Mind you, you do have to be a bit careful what you wish for – Percy Pud organisers had put us in some sort of order of ETA at the finish line, so at least one poor runner was now destined to be herded in amongst the clump of people in the sub-40 holding pen, good luck with that!  My number was 2122 – which I reckoned must be pretty much the back-marker, lawks a lordy, I hoped I wouldn’t be quite that slow.  Maybe I was the only one who didn’t lie about my expected finish time on the online entry form!   Thoughts crashed through my head the night before.  I distracted myself by pre-pinning my number on my Smiley vest – doesn’t it look fab!  I think the slightly out of focus effect is rather arty, and is suggestive of the blur I created speeding past photographers during the event, which is why I’ve only managed to find one of me in action to date.  It’s unlikely they will have captured me on film because I was just so fleet of foot, it is not at all the case that I was simply obscured by a plague of puddings overtaking me at critical points around the course.


So, race day finally came around.  I didn’t sleep, got up ridiculously early for my porridge, coffee and little rituals like the hair drier on the feet routine (I can’t be bothered to explain that again, you’ll have to guess).  I heaved on my fancy dress outfit, I’d compromised a bit on that, so I could be sure of squeezing in the car.  I waited outside at the appointed hour, and was scooped up, everything going brilliantly to plan.  Yay!  Quick chit chat with fellow Smileys and we’re away.

We got to our destination, the Percy Pud start, relatively painlessly.  Well, it was painless for me, because I just sat in the back and was transported as if by magic.  Others had to deal with the complexities of navigation.  Our designated driver had awesome parallel parking skills too, so squeezed into a space only a couple of hundred metres from the start.  Less encouragingly, it was looking grim out the window.  To my considerable consternation, one of our number said with satisfaction, ‘that’s great timing, 8.40 a.m. plenty of time for a decent warm up!‘  Turned out, she wasn’t even being sarcastic, it seems this is what ‘proper’ runners too.  Personally with nearly an hour to go (9.30 start) sitting in the cosy car watching the windows steam up for the next half hour seemed a better option. Anyway, in a 10 km event isn’t the warm up what you are doing as you limp round the first kilometre?  Apparently not.

After some discussion about what to take and what to wear, and where to meet.  We leave the safety of the vehicle for the icy wind outside.  How did I manage to delete from my memory banks just how exposed it is up there?  I even looked at the weather forecast for Sheffield just prior to leaving and concluded it would be dry.  Loxely though is that much higher up, it’s not looking good.  We plodded up to the start, some with more of a spring in their step than others.  The start set up is pretty well organised.  There are lots of portaloos, and a tent with mobile urinals for the guys which is a pleasing innovation. and looked a bit like the flight deck on a space ship from a distance.  There were also marshals at the loos who blew a whistle to attract attention to any queuers so they would know exactly which portaloos had become available.  When you are waiting, this is a genius idea, as you don’t have to play a weird Russian Roulette type of game in guessing which loo to queue for.  If you were exiting a cubical it was a bit more alarming.  I did vaguely wonder if that is how they potty train kids these days, you know, clicker training, they come to associate a sound (like a clicker, or in this case a whistle) with being rewarded for positive behaviour.  In this case, the accomplishment of using a portaloo rather than wetting yourself in public.  In any case, the consequence was I left my personal portaloo, a whistle and a shout went up just as I exited and I could see the person next in line start sprinting towards me in order to take up occupation in the same cubical as quickly as possible.  Efficient, but slightly intimidating to be honest. I’ve always had a bit of a bashful bladder, and this didn’t help me much.


Onward to the marquee, where we could temporarily huddle together for warmth.  For my part, I nursed treacherous fantasies about whether or not it would now be too late to offer up my Percy Pud place to someone else who had been unlucky in the ballot earlier in the year…  On the plus side though, I was amazed at the number of people I saw who I knew.  People I didn’t know were runners even, but used to ride with, work with, that kind of thing.  I even met an acquaintance I’d chatted to for the first (actually only) time at the start of the Tententen.  Apparently I’d said to her that I found tapering effectively was the most appropriate preparation for an event, much more effective than actually training say.  Yep, that does sound like me.  Pleasingly, she had thought of me whilst carbing up for today.  I couldn’t be more proud.  I also shared another Top Tip, namely, it is important to always don some sort of approximation of fancy dress – in my case this £5.99 purchase from the party shop in Sheffield – it makes it appear as if you are just running for fun and not taking it all too seriously, thereby lowering the expectations any spectators may have about your running performance.  This is good advice, but doesn’t entirely work, because if the rain was set to continue as heavily as it threatened, my face would quickly betray the self-evident fact, that the emotion I was currently experiencing and expressing most definitely wouldn’t be compatible with that of someone having a great deal of ‘fun’.  Even so, here is a dramatic reconstruction of my outfit, there weren’t photo opportunities today, and I drew the line at a selfie.  Also the proof is in the pudding.  In this case, the pudding prooves I did make it round, apprehension and all.  Yay!

As well as sharing useful Top Tips with other runners, there was the added bonus of a celebrity sighting too.   Harry Gration,  I feel like I know him because he’s round my flat all the time on the telly, and because I usually have a cup of tea when watching Look North, I associate him with comfy cosy things – kittens rescued from chimneys rather than shock and awe outbreaks say.  Last year he got roped in to do the prize giving for Percy Pud, but I don’t know about this time around because that had all happened long before I made it back to the marquee.  Still, fortunately, running is its own reward, I don’t need a trophy.  Mind you, I’d have gone a bit mad if I hadn’t got my pudding at the end (vegetarian friendly I notice, and I thank the organisers for this detail).   Actually, he (Mr Gration) must have got back after me as I passed him when he was heading towards the half way point and I had just turned around to head back.  He looked a bit knackered actually, but we exchanged a virtual high five.  So that celebrity exchange means we are practically related now, I’m well in there, mixing with the stars.   Couple of months ago I was happy to settle for Miss Piggy at the Wingerworth Wobble, but I’ve gone more serious now, and upmarket too by mingling with a BBC news reporter as well.  I’ll try and remember my friends on the way up…

After a bit, having enjoyed the band and the carols, inevitably the time came when fleeces had to be discarded.  The worst bit of today for me was, making my way to the exit of the tent, looking through that marquee opening to see a great sheet of rain pouring down.  I was decidedly low on seasonal cheer, what was I thinking signing up for this for a second year on the trot?  I slid off to the start, and (via second precautionary pee – I know it’s psychological, but what can you do?) made my way into the heaving throng at the start.

It really was quite something.  I found some Smileys and other familiar faces in the crowd.  Oh, another Top Tip for you by the way, some more experienced runners were wearing bin bags over their running gear, not as an ill-judged punk fashion statement, but with the intention of whipping these off at the start like a seasoned stripper, and casting them aside for the run.  In this way they would stay dry until the moment of off.  I do concede the potential appeal of this technique, I just worry about the turtles.  Marine life suffers terribly from discarded plastic, they end up trying to consume plastic bags in particular, because they confuse them for jelly fish, and the bags jam up their intestines so they starve.  I can’t help thinking there is a very good reason why you never hear of any marine life at all, let alone sea turtles on the Loxley road.  Food for thought you’ll agree…

There were a few friends, noticeable by their absence – may you all recover speedily and join us in the throng next time round.  It was fun fancy dress spotting – though not that many this year to be honest.  A mass outing of Christmas puddings was the most noticeable.  I was initially quite jealous of those outfits, because they looked roasty toasty and you could potentially keep your arms in  them and stay dry – but then again, they looked like they were made of felt, so might have got quite sodden and started to shrink in the rain.  Even worse, what if someone mistook them for the real thing, doused them in alcohol and set light to them?  Death by being flambéed wouldn’t be such a great way to go.  All in all, I decided I was happy to stick with my red and white tutu.  (Thanks to Finish Line Photography for some of the photos by the way, pretty good eh, I know!?)

Once in the start funnel, a miracle occurred.  The skies seemed to clear, things were looking up.  It was all good natured banter, not that I could see much on account of the fact that every runner around seemed to tower over me.  The crowd started edging towards the start, and then almost unexpectedly, the shout went up for off, and the wave of Smileys – and everyone else for that matter – was unleashed – ready or not, here we go, a tidal wave of runners moving like a force of nature down the Loxley Road!  I made the start, hooray, now just the little matter of getting around.


So as to the actual race.  Well, I don’t know if it was partly a consequence of the rush of relief I felt as the skies cleared, but I really enjoyed it.  I know, a first! Apart from the Round Sheffield Run (which is my favourite event ever) I only normally enjoy runs when they are over, and I am safely tucking into my post run carb and protein replenishment with free-flowing endorphins confusing my powers of accurate recall.  Today though, the atmosphere was great.

I remembered the route a bit, so that made it a bit easier as I knew what to expect.  I never saw the Smiley Spouse with the IKEA bag though, so was quite relieved I’d left my fleece in the marquee.   I wasn’t quite so horrified when at the 3.5 km mark going out, we met the front runners charging behind Santa on their way home.  (Though who was that woman that appeared to have even overtaken the lead car,  odd?)  That was hard last year, quite a shock indeed, I felt defeated before I’d even hit the half way point.  The Smiley Vest really helps too, you get lots of extra encouragement from spectators.  Also, I quite enjoyed shouting ‘go smilies‘ at the faster runners who were passing us on their return.  It’s also fun to see the real athletes sprinting in a way that seems impossible, though to be fair, I don’t think they’d be able to speak and run at the same time either, judging from the expressions on their faces, so I do have something in common with them in my own running journey.  I must find  some of the winners and swap stories sometime, I’m sure s/he’d be thrilled.  Some action shots follow, courtesy of Accelerate, thanks guys – went to one of your running workshops once, it was fab!

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High points: Smiley cheers; kids at the side holding out their hands to offer high fives on the way round; virtual high five with Harry Gration (I know, I’m so star struck); cheery marshals.  There was one who shouted at about the 500 metres to go now, ‘it’s easy now, just look at the top of the hill and let it draw you up’.  I’m not sure that really worked for me, but I greatly appreciated the sentiment.  The glimmer of a rainbow at the half way point, just before we turned back on ourselves; the view of other runners ahead, streaming over the bridge, as those of us at the back were still taking off from the start.  Oh, and the marshal in a lion suit (I nearly said ‘loin suit’ that would have been a bit chilly) who did a brilliant roar at me as I passed, and then said with considerable self-satisfaction ‘I think I’m having more fun than you!‘  which was probably true! Below the legend that is Harry, together with Race Director (well I believe what it says on the high viz jacket) Rich Dunk.

TV legend Harry Gration

I also enjoyed listening to the banter of other runners.  There were two guys behind me who were discussing trying to overtake me, I knew I wouldn’t hold out for long, but kept putting on a bit of a sprint to stay ahead for as long as I could.  They made me laugh, they were discussing tactics.  My favourite one was their idea to save a bit of energy so they could offer up a sprint finish, and make out they were really elite runners but had just started off a bit late for some reason.  Turned out they were honorary Smilies anyway, as one was running with his Smiley partner’s number, as she’d injured herself and couldn’t run.  I was a bit disappointed he hadn’t thought to take on her vest as well as her number, but I suppose you don’t always get everything you wish for at Christmas.  Hope that news isn’t too much of a spoiler for any readers out there.  The tooth fairy is a lie too by the way, whilst I’m about it…

Less good moments included: being overtaken by a posse of puddings, they completely surrounded me, and I had little choice but to give way with grace;  the marshal at the middle of the last hill climb who shouted ‘how about trying some running‘ when actually, I was trying at that point, in my own special way – to be fair, he was meaning to be encouraging, and after all he must have been freezing in that weather, so I appreciated him really, just with hindsight more than at the time;  and my brilliant tutu ending up as a Marilyn Monroe tribute accessory when we went over the bridge.  There was a serious up-draft both coming and going, which completely inverted my skirt.  Why this should be embarrassing, when normally I run only in my leggings anyway I don’t know, I think the ‘big reveal’ just made me feel more naked than I actually was because it seemed such a  contrast to the coverage offered by the taffeta and (fake) satin combo that I was sporting.  To date, this is the only action shot of me I’ve located – you get the gist anyway (thank you nice people at Accelerate for the photo).

Lucy running

oooh, hang on late addition – thanks to SI events photography  for being quick with capturing this sequence (I think) not flattering, but proof of my presence, and frankly you have to take whatever crumbs are offered in the race photograph department.  Besides which, I am secretly extremely chuffed to have an airborne shot – (I’m not that good at keeping secrets to tell the truth…).   You can probably tell I have a bit of a propensity for taking up any crumbs on offer, possibly a bit more than I should.  Oh well, might as well lard-up over Christmas now and then worry about shifting it all again in the New Year…

Ambivalent moments:  the marshal who shouted ‘go smiley – there are loads of you out there today‘ I cheerily thanked him, and then he shouted after me as I passed ‘not enough puddings for you all though‘  Aaaargh, surely not!;  and the bystander who also shouted ‘Run Smiley‘ which was great, immediately followed by a ‘Go Strider‘ to some other runner!  Split affinities can be almost as upsetting as split infinitives.  Let’s not boldly go there…  Having someone point me out as Mrs Christmas to their kids was also strangely unsettling –  it had never occurred to me that that was The Look I was modelling, my lack of self-awareness can floor even me at times.

The run seemed to go really quickly.  I amazed myself by actually running the whole thing.  No walking at all, at any point, normally I cave in somewhere.  I was quite chuffed by this, I’m sure though it’s a testament to the number of spectators and the fact you have all the faster runners passing you, you don’t want to be caught slacking, you are way too accountable on a route like the Percy Pud!  Marshals everywhere, they must have been cold!  Thanks marshals, you were and no doubt still are, all awesome!


A final heave up the hill, and I did indeed go for a sprint to the finish. Great surge of adrenalin.  Job done, and felt warm and dry too!  I got chatting to a friendly woman who finished about the same time, she might be up for joining Smiley Paces too, that would be cool.


Grappled off my timing chip and in due course surrendered it to an official in (a very fair and cordial) exchange for my Christmas Pudding (there were enough to go round, phew!).  Then it was just a question of seeking out and greeting other Smileys.  The ones that hadn’t already gone home because they finished hours ago.  I don’t really know how to describe running club greetings.  You know how dogs are really pleased to see others they know, or would like to get to know and go round and sniff their arses?  Well it isn’t quite like that… not exactly… but there is that slightly euphoric air of expectant enthusiasm mingled with appreciative recognition, and a fair few hugs – some more self-consciously offered and received than others  – were exchanged.  It was good to hear tales from around the route.  Also, to share kit advice.

One Smiley guru expressed enthusiasm for my choice of outfit.  This is timely, because she is responsible for sourcing and trialling new Smiley kit ideas over the next few weeks.  Clearly an important and influential role.  I am therefore pleased to say that she, like me, was in agreement that a logoed Smiley taffeta skirt would be an apt and awesome addition to our club running wardrobe options.  The only stumbling block appeared to be the issue of fit.  I was able to reassure her that no, it wasn’t sewn into place.  I am blessed with that ‘silken layer’ of excess body fat.  The elastic in the said skirt simply squeezed neat rolls of fat on either side of the waist band creating a perfect groove in which the skirt could sit securely.  Genius design, there are some advantages to my apple shaped physique, staying warm, and being able to hang onto tutus and ra-ra skirts are but the tip of the iceberg of the accomplishments I can claim based on this personal attribute. I am also very good at floating in the event of flood for example, exceptionally buoyant in fact, really exceptionally.  I’d have been fine if I’d inadvertently toppled over that bridge into the water of the reservoir for example.  Good to know.

We gently rounded up our travelling companions, failed to take a group photo as none of us had a camera – though one of our number spectacularly photo-bombed some other people’s group photo, which I found disproportionately hilarious – and then we made our way back to the car, clutching our puddings with pride.  As we did so, the skies darkened, the wind whipped up, and the heavens opened.  The timing couldn’t have been much better as we’d been able to run the course in the dry at least, but we were pretty drenched by the time we made it into the vehicle.  Exiting was tricky.  Our driver expertly got the car out, and we then we sat in a long immobile traffic jam, slumped in the car, with rain beating down on the windscreen and steam building up on the inside, going nowhere for the next half hour at least.  It was weirdly reminiscent of family holidays in Northumberland in my youth.  Long journeys in a car, shivering, gazing out at mist and rain and trying desperately not to ask again too soon ‘are we nearly there yet?’ Or plead for a loo stop.  Still, good opportunity for a natter, always welcome.

I was deposited back home, hot bath, bubbles, tucked up on the sofa with a cup of tea and no intention of leaving the house again until Monday, brilliant!  In the meantime, I stalked Facebook for photos and stories of individual adventures throughout the day.  So far, my favourite excuse for a poor (in relative terms,  it would have been miraculous for me) Percy Pud performance and no PB for the day was ‘remind me next time not to give blood just before a race day‘.  Love it – love it, moral high ground and great get out clause.  A few fellow Smileys offered virtual comfort ‘think about how much more important it is that you saved a life‘ or words to that effect, I get the impression that for this particular runner, that’s an inadequate return.  This won’t be happening again within the same time scales, future blood lettings will fit around her racing schedule, NOT vice versa!

STOP PRESS – presentation alert – look at these fab Smilies in their moment of glory.  Seems Harry made it back in time to do the honours after all.  Harry is a legend, an icon in fact.  Anyone who suggests otherwise is at best misguided, and to insinuate he was wearing his tracky bottoms the wrong way round?  Well, that’s just downright sacrilegious, let alone slanderous.  We all love you Harry!  Hurrah, all is well with the world, my cup runneth over – who needs a tooth fairy anyway!

smiley awards

So that’s that, Percy Pud 2015, done and dusted ’til same time next year!   Thank you Steel City Striders for laying it on, and especially thanks to those of you that ended up marshalling for two years running (pun intended) because you didn’t get to run again this year.  Your sterling efforts are much appreciated.   Thanks too to all the photographers for their efforts in capturing the occasion, and to the supporters for cheering us all round.  Isn’t the running community fab.  I love you all!  Well, I do just now as I’m in the warm, I might go off you a bit if you expect me to venture out in the cold for another run with too tight a turn around.  I was thinking I’ll just hibernate now ’til spring, and then start off again, raring and ready to go (ish).

For myself, if I do make it to the start line again in 2016, my goal will be to make it to the finish in time to be included in one of the Smiley group shots at the end, so far that achievement has forever eluded me…  Trophies you can save for someone else – mind you, I wonder if it is possible to consume a whole Christmas Pudding on your own.  They are microwaveable after all – I’m going to go have a look at the instructions.  For now, over and out!

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Categories: 10km, Percy Pud, race, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Principled Parkrunners?



It could have been me…. Today I held a monumental personal best in the palm of my hand, but I threw it away.  ‘But why?’ ‘But how?‘ I hear you cry out with concern (in my dreams).  Well let me explain.  And, whilst I’m about it, I’ll share a few other things about Parkrunners and their principled natures that are good to know.

So, what happened was this.  Last Wednesday, I was on a mission to get my wrist watch looked at.  It has a weirdly freakish ‘fault’, namely, that whenever I wear it, it loses time,  a lot of time, up to 20 minutes a day.  However, when I am not wearing it, i.e., when it is on my bedside table at night it works just fine, keeping time perfectly. Now, I have no reason to suspect I’m being periodically abducted by aliens, or otherwise being somersaulted about in the space time continuum without my knowing, so I thought I’d get the battery checked out at my local friendly watch seller/ jewellers.  This detail has absolutely no relevance to my Parkrun story, but I think it’s quite interesting.  Anyway, on my way to the shop I espied in the gutter a muddy and discarded Parkrun barcode.  As a Parkrun evangelist, I could not in conscience leave it where it lay.  It needed to be returned to the happy herd of other Parkrun barcodes to live out its designated lifespan in the company of others.  It is a well known fact that Parkrun barcodes are profoundly social artefacts, and one should never ever be separated from the others in this way.  See how they huddle together for security and reassurance by instinct in the photo below:


The things is, though, when I came to look at it my eyes nearly popped out of my head.  This wasn’t just any barcode, this was a barcode that would blow my previous Personal Best out of the water by some significant measure.  I was like Charlie Bucket when he saw the coin glinting in the drain that he could use to buy that elusive extra bar of chocolate and which might, just might, give him the chance to win that life changing golden ticket.  Like him, this discovered barcode could change my whole life, starting with my running career, it might, just might, take me to a PB beyond my wildest dreams.  What should I do?

golden ticket

So what I did, was stuff the barcode in my pocket and continue my trot to the watch shop.  There I discovered the battery in my watch is completely fine, fully charged (which is more than can be said for me) but I am apparently not the only person in the whole world who has this issue.  The people at the shop know someone else (not Uri Geller) who also is unable to wear certain watches because they keep stopping.  It was sort of a relief to find this out, although it doesn’t really help me much, because I have two watches, and neither of them will work for me, but would happily prostitute themselves to keep time for others.  I had thought I was going mad, I may be going mad of course, but the issue with my temperamental time pieces is real, and not from my violent imaginings.

Back home, I look at the barcode.  It is for position 126.  Now I know what the right thing to do is of course, but would it really hurt just to have  a little look to see what substituting this recent unexpected acquisition for my next legitimately obtained barcode might achieve?  I find out, that for the two Parkruns I take part in most frequently, this barcode would turbo-charge my performance beyond my wildest imaginings.   At the Sheffield Hallam Parkrun (my home run) it would give me a time of around 23.24.  However, if I were to hypothetically speaking hang onto it, and take it to, oh I don’t know, let’s say Bushy Parkrun, that might give me a time of 21.30.  Blimey, imagine that.  I started to wrestle with my conscience.  This is what I look like when I am in the midst of that battle, undergoing that inner struggle between the impulse to do what is right versus that almost primal desire to do what would be hilarious…


Ultimately though, I remind myself that the whole point of principles is that you stick to them through thick and thin, even when it’s hard.  Principles that you abandon when the going gets tough are meaningless.  Further more, if I were to offer up this 126 finish token in place of (for example) last week’s barcode at Hallam which was 364 or for Bushy last time I did it which was 782, I’d only be cheating myself.  The clincher though, was the absolute certainty that I’d get caught.  No-one is going to let the fact that I’ve beaten my previous PB by near enough 10 minutes pass without scrutiny.  Unlike Lance Armstrong, I just wouldn’t be able to brazen it out.  Worse, if it was believed, I might find myself talent scouted for some running contest, and having to repeat the literally impossible as as well as utterly implausible feat.  Just not worth it.  The conclusion of this is that it is amazing (not) how easy it is to do the honourable thing, when that is the only option open to you.  I shall occupy the moral high ground, know I have stayed true to the principles of Parkrun, and avoid being ostracised by the Parkrun community all because I wont get away with it.  That’s the kind of noble being I am.  Matilda sort of had a point about if you are going to tell a lie, make it an outrageous one, but where running is concerned, I think not, I’ll save my subterfuge for another occasion.

So, today came around.  It was incredibly windy today, hello storm Desmond.  Blustery doesn’t quite cover it.  I wasn’t altogether sure whether running today was a great idea, because I’ve got Percy Pud 10 km tomorrow, but then again, who am I kidding, I only pootle round anyway, I doubt it’ll honestly make any difference, plus there’s little point in volunteering at Hallam this week as lots of other Percy Pudders have already put their names forward.  I head down.

The field is definitely depleted this week, with nigh on 2000 runners doing the Sheffield Percy Pud tomorrow, I reckon a large number of regulars are ‘tapering’ with a strategic lie in.  As I pass the loos on my way to the start, the temptation for a precautionary pee is too much for me to resist and I join the queue.  It is an open sore of injustice that there is only one cubical in the women’s toilets, and so there is always a queue.  Hence, a tradition has been established that women alternate between the official ladies loo and the disabled toilet, this means you wait outside and then you can nip into which ever one comes free first.   Generally speaking I do avoid using disabled loos because it seems unreasonable to do so, but the ‘restroom’ provision for women in Endcliffe Park is so pitiful I’ve become used to this custom.  I’ve not been in the gents funnily enough, but I think they must have a Tardis like quality (smaller on the outside) and every male parkrunner has their own personalised urinal and cubical because there is NEVER a queue for that.  Today though, disaster strikes, the disabled loo is out of order, we all have to use the official ladies.  This causes consternation.  A fellow smiley (we are a wise and public spirited lot) takes charge of the situation.  Anticipating a huge queue, she has the wisdom to pop out after ‘performing’ but prior to washing her hands in the automated hand washer/drier combo, so someone else can nip in and make the most of the facilities instead of having to wait for her to complete her ablutions before she exits and makes others aware of the vacancy.  I am very impressed.  She is a time and motion genius!  Not ‘motion’ in that sense, but in a public spirited assessment of time efficiency she has the situation sussed and under control.  The Smileys are truly a super human breed, I don’t know how I slipped through their selection criteria.

Precautionary Pee executed, I go to the start.  Reluctantly remove my fleece and stuff it in  my backpack prior to the start.  Regular readers will know my backpack isn’t waterproof, but I have come prepared with a large M&S bag into which I put it before leaving it with the other pile of discarded clothing and baggage alongside the wheelie bins used by the race director and volunteers to transport the Parkrun paraphernalia to the course.   In the start funnel I hear an adult and child discussing Parkrun tactics.  The youth (under 10 at a guess) has worked out that there are definitely some short-cut options en route, should you choose to take them.  The adult is quite calm and non-judgemental in exploring the pros and cons of this possible course of action.  Through careful questioning he leads his charge to the only possible conclusion ‘I  could do this, but I would only be cheating myself.‘  Silently, and sagely I inwardly nod and smile at this further manifestation of the Parkrun Principles.  How honourable we all are – and starting young too?  That collective sense of warm smugness fogs outwards, enveloping all the gathered runners and volunteers in its embrace.

The run itself is good today. The threatened rain doesn’t really come, and the blusteryness is quite fun.  It feels dramatic.  Loads of volunteer marshals are on hand to cheer runners round.  I can get away with not really trying because I’m tapering, which is always a boon.  I get to wave at people I know on the way round.  Going along the outside of the railings as you head down Rustlings Road there’s a back wind and a slight downward incline so you feel like you’re flying.  What’s more, there was an over-excited collie – the sheepdog sort – trying to herd the passing runners along from the other side of the fence.  It was fun to watch, and motivating too in a way.  Maybe instead of cani-cross, Parkrun should encourage more sheepdogs at runs off the lead to chase us all forwards and round, it could work.  Imagine these sheep wearing milestone tees and you’ll get the idea…


It’s all good.  There is one anxious episode where a fellow Smiley companionably tries to engage me in conversation not realising I am unable to speak and run – I hope I didn’t come across as hostile.  Then, towards the finish, I hear a younger man behind me suddenly lock onto me and I sense he has made it a mission to ‘have me’ he is on course to overtake.  I don’t like to think of myself as fiercely competitive, but having kept ahead of him to the last 500 metres, I’m not giving way now.  Sprint finish!  Yay, I did it, made it back first.  It nearly killed me, but I did have it in the tank after all.  There are no photos of my sprint finish, but there are some shocking ones of me en route, being beaten by a succession of small children and somewhat unflattering.  I’m hoping they are unflattering and that it is the case I’ve fallen out with the power behind the camera lens, it would be worse to have to face the fact I might actually look like this.  The new hair colour might be a mistake too, running in the – sorry with a -buff was possibly a miscalculation also…

The finish funnel is quite jammed with volunteers.  I wonder if they have decided to take a particularly hard line on funnel duckers (now there’s a term begging to be spoonerised) but actually it’s because each post in the finish funnel line up has been allocated its very own marshal to stand on it and weigh it down so they don’t get blown away (the posts not the marshals).  Look, marshals as dead weight  – that’s a sight you don’t often see:

marshals as weights 5 dec 2015

 It was windy out there it really was.  I get finish token 333, not as impressive as 126 perhaps, but I got it all by myself, and I quite like that it was all the threes, that pleases me.  It doesn’t take much sometimes, little pleasure eh, little pleasures…  That’s three threes in a row which is sort of like have four threes, and four threes make 12, and if you add one and two together you get three again.  A.Maz.Ing!

Got my finish token from running buddy Cheetah Smiley. Her spouse has expressed surprise at the association of his wife with this particular animal.  I have dared him to name another more suitable species by way of alternative.  He has yet to rise to this challenge.  Anyway, she does look like a cheetah when she runs, you should see where her mascara ends up after the wind has made her eyes water on the way round…

DSCF4486Wristband and barcode scanned, rogue barcode 126 handed in with conspicuously martyred expression, I skip across to collect my backpack.  DISASTER.  The fine M&S plastic bag that had so carefully been used to protect it is no longer in evidence.  Worse, a suspiciously similarly sized M&S carrier bag is now being used to house two different bags and a couple of sweat shirts, to protect them from inclement weather.  What is this?  Some scheming UNprincipled so-called ‘fellow parkrunner’ has appropriated MY plastic bag for their own illicit purposes.  I am quite genuinely shocked.  I consider reclaiming it, and upturning the contents in a puddle somewhere, but I am fearful that there may be some quite ‘reasonable’ explanation.  (I don’t really think there is a reasonable explanation, I suspect opportunism, possibly assisted by wind loosening the tie between my backpack and the carrier bag, but basically it is still theft.) Later I espy the ‘guilty’ (innocent until proven otherwise?  I think not) party carefully folding up the same bag and secreting it in his pocket.  Hurrumph, moral high ground is all very well, but that was a really good bag.  I just have to hope his need really was greater than mine, and failing that, that the next carrier bag he appropriates in this way will have a hole in it.  Of course I wasn’t assertive enough to challenge him for possession.  Much better to passive/aggressively blog about it later.  I may inhabit moral high ground, but I also suffer from moral cowardice, it is my cross to bear.

I scoop up a breakfast buddy and we exit the park in search of Jonty’s and eggs on toast with mushroom side.  As we are leaving I bump into two particularly inspirational Smiley elders.  They welcomed me to the group and got me running (sort of – I use the term loosely) through their inclusive encouragement of ‘all abilities’ right from the outset.  Together with other Smiley anchors they came up with ideas like Smiley mile challenges and other events for all and any runners.  They are awesome.  Alas one now is no longer running due to illness, but they have come together to have coffee with other Smileys post Parkrun today.  I stop for a quick chat.  ‘Are you not doing Percy Pud tomorrow?’ one queries, implying that I should be tapering ‘running today – that’s naughty!’.  ‘Erm, yes I am‘, I reply sheepishly.  And then confess that I freely acknowledge that there is really very little point in me tapering, because I only ever trot round anyway, much as I like to think taking a day of before hand would hype me up to a stronger performance the next day, it’s more likely I’d lose what little momentum I have.  This though, is when their expertise, insight and wisdom really kicks in.  They point out, that by dint of running the day before a challenging 10 km I can claim this as my excuse for any (inevitable) ‘poor’ performance at the event itself.  My excuse is already in the bag as in ‘I would have done better/ got a new awesome PB, but alas I made that rookie error of messing up tapering with a punishing Parkrun the day before – could have happened to anyone, just happened to happen to me!‘  These women are an inspiration, they have every angle covered.

Jenny and Dot

You know who you are, and from the heart I thank you, not just for giving me a get out clause for tomorrow, but for making room for me at Smileys  in the first place, when you are AWESOME runners and inspirational women whereas I can barely put one foot in front of the other without falling over!  I skip (ish) off to Jonty’s  feeling a lot more confident about tackling the 10 km tomorrow.  It’ll be fine, it’s all good, let’s go!

We exit the park past the pop-up Christmas tree shop in the park.  How seasonally appropriate!

christmas trees for sale endcliffe park 5 dec 2015

Just got to finalise my fancy dress…  This is what I had in mind to slow down runners who risk injury by going hell for leather, but if they aren’t taking up the option I might have a go myself.  Now, let me see if I can find some gaffer tape, tinsel and an abandoned fir tree – how hard can it be?  There are bound to be some cuttings from the place in Endcliffe Park…

christmas tree fancy dress

PS, also just found out on one of the Parkrun discussion pages that the Rother Valley Parkrun run director got blown off his bike whilst carrying out the pre-run safety check of the route because of the wind.  Not only is this profoundly ironic – come on, you can’t not have to suppress a bit of a guffaw at this news –  (and painful, we are talking hospitals and operations) the poor guy is missing out on his Percy Pud place.  Life can be cruel at times, on Volunteering Day too.  Harsh, harsh indeed.  Get well soon.

Categories: 5km, motivation, parkrun, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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