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.
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!
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.
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).
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!
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!