Monthly Archives: January 2016

To the hills? Hightail to Hospitable Hillsborough – Smilies playing parkrun bingo

In the interests of maintaining a truthful and authentic voice, I will admit I wasn’t bowled over with enthusiasm at the prospect of heading off to Hillsborough parkrun this morning.  The problem was that foregoing an outing at my home parkrun (Sheffield Hallam) on today of all days, meant missing out on the prospect of a fancy dress parkrun.  Some sort of fundraising (unspecified) by some sort of students (of what unspecified) was taking place there today.   I consoled myself with the thought that they might have been fundraising for some cause I do not support, like, oh I don’t know, The Foundation for the Flat Earth, honorary chair that rapper guy B.o.B.   On the other hand, in the interests of gaining Smiletastic bonus points (the running challenge for Smiley Paces club members for the first thee months of the year) necessitated the Fighting Feathers spreading their proverbial wings, and taking on different parkruns.  Tough call.  Anyway, the die had already been cast, Hillsborough here we come.


I was marginally cheered by a quick sneak at Hillborough parkrun’s facebook page – it seems an active site, and a welcoming tone.  Also, and especially helpful when facing a multi-lap course, I was taken with a post about Tanzanian John Akhwari (who I’d never heard of before) who completed a race at the Olympics with a dislocated knee because “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”  I don’t feel quite that level of commitment to running to be honest, but I do think if he could do that, I should be able to drag my weary carcass round Hillsborough Park three times to do my bit for my Smiley Paces Fighting Feathers Smiletastic team.  Let it be.

Hence, as is increasingly usual, I shamelessly exploited the goodwill and mechanical carriage assets of my fellow Smileys to cadge a lift to said event.  We headed off pretty early, causing me almost to leave my house without tomtom and barcode (double jeopardy) but mercifully I realised in time and retrieved both before jumping into the car.  Four of us today.  Hillsborough really isn’t that far to get to, and it was lucky we did arrive early, because we found the promised car park to be inexplicably shut.  We were able to park on the road adjacent to the park by hoiking car up onto the pavement (not by literally carrying it, our designated driver simply mounted the kerb).  It was however a bit of a squash, and there was nearly an ‘oops, there goes the wing mirror‘ moment when a large truck came past perilously close with barely a cigarette paper’s width clearance between their vehicle and our car as they breezed by. It was all very strange, and somewhat frustrating.  Apparently the car park is usually open, so if you are planning a trip yourself you’ll probably be fine.  For us it did look like it might be a deal breaker at one point, as whilst I’m sure there is parking elsewhere, you’d miss the start of parkrun hunting for it, parking and then jogging back.  To illustrate the challenge, here is a photo of an empty car park in case you don’t know what that looks like, together with a photo of us looking a bit sad and bemused at its apparent shut-edness, together with one of a very parked up road adjacent to it, I did feel for the local residents, it was all a bit unnecessary.  Also, couldn’t help noticing the parking meter had been removed.  Surely they hadn’t shut it just because they couldn’t take payment today?

So, not the most auspicious of starts.  Hillsborough park looked a bit stark the way we approached it, surrounded on all sounds by a rather urban infrastructure, the dank weather and icy wind didn’t help.  However, as we made our way to the start I have to concede my first impressions were a bit unfair, it is a lot greener than you might think from looking in from the outside.  It has its own pond – resplendent with ducks, and regular readers will know I always think ducks provide added value to any water feature.  There was also the familiar rousing sight of runners jogging to the start.  I find this assembling of the parkrun faithful uplifting.  It always amazes me the way people gather as if from nowhere.  Five minutes before you’d happily have bet your shirt on the certainty that this time, no-one’s coming, but then quite suddenly they always do.  Like vultures gathering round a dead camel in the desert, they start circling inwards on their target as soon as the first volunteer hi-viz jackets are donned and the start line marker up.  Keep the faith, build it and they will come!

So we joined the start.  Bag lady, Cheetah Buddy provided plastic bags in which we could deposit our fleeces which showed excellence in the field of planning and forethought.  Even better, they were plastic bags from a running shop (Up and Running) so extra kudos there. The Hillsborough parkrun organising committee had helpfully laid on iron railings around the children’s play area at the start, which were very handy for the hanging of bags.  These run directors think of everything!    The good news was we also bumped into other Smiley Paces people who were similarly on migration to different parkruns in pursuit of the Smiletastic bonus points.  That was companionable.  However, this is also the bad news from a competitive angle, as effectively all our extra bonus points for our respective teams effectively cancelled each other out.  Oh well, it’s still fun to be Smiley Paces on tour.  Also, you have to admire the commitment of some of those other Smilies, who not only had made the run out in pursuit of a point, they had quite literally ‘run out’ to do so, and what’s more, were running back.  I think they earned their points today!  I still think our preferred option of following parkrun with breakfast at The Depot, was a better call than the option of running back to Endcliffe Park from Hillsborough, still each to their own.  We all run for our own reasons, as we all know…

There seemed to be lots of friendly marshals, and a reasonable field gathered, couple of hundred I’d say, though I didn’t actually count.  The statisticians amongst you can check the Hillsborough parkrun results page for yourself in due course.

There was the usual Run Director’s briefing.  Pleasingly, this was given from the vantage point of the top of a children’s climbing frame.  One amongst our number was of the view that this was a deliberate strategic choice, to increase the audibility of the pre-run instructions.  I beg to differ.  Of course I completely accept that a side-benefit of this location was that it would be easier for the speaker to project their voice, but really, isn’t it obvious?  What adult doesn’t secretly long to ascend the glorious heights of a climbing frame as soon as it looms into view? If giving an event briefing brings the opportunity to offer some basically spurious, but also vaguely plausible cover for this activity, then that’s great!  I bet there is a veritable stampede each week amongst the volunteers to take on this role, and I also bet the speaker always stays longer atop that frame than is strictly necessary.


So the briefing included what seemed like an astonishingly complex description of the course.  For those of you who like to have the official blah de blah, the course is described on the official Hillsborough parkrun page thus:

The three lap clockwise course begins with a 150m flat fast start, a right turn downhill section and then around the main event square, a left turn around the tennis courts and then the fun starts. A gradual incline past the duck pond to the top of the park before a slight sting in the tail. Its then along the top of the park, past the library and a quick short descent to the next of the 3 laps. Challenging, fast & fun.

As is my want, I just gazed about during this part, as I tend to mindlessly follow the people ahead of me when running, and hope they are indeed parkrunners not random others trying to get a bus, I’d got the ‘three laps’ bit, and was resigned to finding it a bit of a slog round.   I started right at the back of the field, and was a bit startled when suddenly the shout went up for ‘go’!  From the back, I don’t think it is accurate to describe it as a fast start.  I got pretty boxed in, the tarmac paths are narrow, and there was a bit of jostling to get into some sort of semblance of order.  You do a couple of turns fairly quickly, and although  I suppose I could have over-taken other runners by venturing onto the grass alongside, it looked distinctly on the skiddy side, so I just sort of stayed where I was.  This was a mistake really, because I never felt like I could get into my stride.  Once I did get the confidence to make a move to overtake I kept getting leap-frogged by some runners who would sprint for a bit and then stop and walk directly in front of me.  It wasn’t really working for me today.

On a more positive note, running through the park was a lot nicer than you might expect from looking at it through the railings from the outside.  It must be  a slightly strange shape, as there was more of it than first appeared.  The course I’d call undulating, not really hilly by Sheffield standards, though there was a bit of an incline towards the end of each lap.  There were friendly marshals at strategic points.  Some disguised in mufty, (i.e. no hi-viz) I didn’t immediately recognise as part of parkrun, but then them calling out lap times as we passed offered a clue to the wise that mayhaps they were!  Donned in my Smiley top, I also got a couple of extra marshal cheers ‘come on Smiley‘ as I limped by.  I do always thank marshals as I pass, because they deserve to be thanked of course – but it is also nice that it almost always triggers some sort of interaction and response, which makes the course pass more quickly.

In terms of other runners, folk from Steel City Striders lapped me just after the half-way point on my second lap, this is another harsh home truth of a three – lap course, which is hard on morale, i.e. you are much more likely to be comprehensively lapped than on a two-lap course.  On the plus side, you do get to see the faster runners whiz by, and fair play to them, they are really fighting inner demons to achieve those times, I wasn’t sweating to anything like the extent they were.  I also had some fun exchanging brief comments with other participants.  I could hear one guy puffing up the hill behind me, and as he summitted (is there such a word?  Sorry grammar police.)  I glanced across to see he’d achieved this run up the hill carrying his child on his shoulders – I asked if there was room for one more, and he went a bit ashen at the very thought.  As the incline shifted back down hill, he lifted the child off his shoulders and the infant sprinted off, wearing a superman beanie hat.  His dad (I presume it was his dad) looked distinctly knackered – ‘he’s getting heavier‘ he gasped, and then ran off to try and catch up with his progeny, who looked like the whole enterprise was entirely effortless, which to be fair it probably is if someone carries you on their shoulders during all the hard bits!

Also out and about today was a hen party in surgical scrubs.  Very impressive fancy dress, imaginative use of an old CD to act as a surgical head torch for example.  One of them I ended up running alongside of for quite a bit of the course.  It was reassuring, as I felt sure I would be in need of medical assistance at some point.  As we commenced the third circuit, my new companion shouted across ‘come on, this is the last lap!’  I think this was intended as companionable encouragement rather than a medical diagnosis of my projected lifespan, but the way I was feeling frankly either was possible.  I was a bit of a grump today, running just wasn’t working for me.  I don’t mean about being slow particularly, that is always how running is for me, I mean more that my legs felt like lead and I couldn’t get into a rhythm.  I spent the last lap thinking ‘breakfast better be good and the endorphins even better, or I’m never doing this parkrun malarkey again’ which is essentially a not-very-good hobbit runner muttering ‘hurrumph’ a lot.


Eventually, final lap sorted, I could follow the discrete little arrow that pointed in the direction of the finish. The finish was a sneaky further 26 metres or so uphill, but a friendly marshal urged you on to the time keeper, who shouted your finish token number as you went by.  (By the way, the ’26’ is a typo for ’25’, which was my initial guestimate of the number of metres to the finish.  I decided to leave it in though, so you dear reader might initially be bemused/impressed at/ misled by my measuring precision.  The thought of this subterfuge makes me smile, and I wasn’t smiling as much as I ought wearing my Smiley Vest today, so indulge me please with that simple pleasure…)  Two marshals were giving out finish tokens, and scanning was pretty instantaneous, it all went like clockwork, operationally speaking.  I found two Smileys at the finish, one had finished quite a way ahead, and one a bit behind.  I took a couple of finish shots, and even plucked up courage to ask the hen do for a snap of them all together.  Get that ring.  I said I was not a stalker, but clearly immediately created that possibility in their mind. Sorry about that.  The endorphins tried to put in an appearance, and the prospect of breakfast and sun peeping through the trees cheered my flagging spirits by degrees.

So there we go, job done.  We thanked the nice Hillsborough parkrun people, and wished them well for next week.  It is their birthday next week, which means fancy dress and cake in prospect.  Also, prizes for points AND they get to run the course in reverse.  Whizzing down that incline the other way around sounds like a lot of fun (Brain off, brakes off remember guys!)  Surely an extra incentive to turn out and help them celebrate if any is needed.  Volunteers required also…  However, I suspect our Smiley tour will take us to another venue next time out.

So here’s my strava of the route for information.  I’d say it was a pretty flat route in the grand scheme of things, and a tarmac surface throughout.  If you want to go for a faster time, you really do need to put yourself towards the front of the pack at the outset, or get your act together and do some proactive overtaking on the grass. If you don’t care about speed, then be like me, Hobbit Hasher and hide towards the rear, pleading ‘blocking’ or ‘tapering’ in defence of your times in the unlikely event you feel called to account for them.

Hillsborough route jan 2016

The park itself is loads nicer than I imagined, a lovely library building within it, and a nice duck pond too.  You can’t escape altogether the urban location, the dual carriageway along one side is a dead give away.  The park though is a little oasis within it, and well used.  A bootcamp of sorts was taking place on a cricket or netball court or whatever it was that we went by en route.  I heard the instructor shout ‘this is your last 30 seconds, make it count‘ as I passed during the final lap.  Honestly, I felt like I was pursued by the grim reaper on a personalised countdown for me at today’s run – what are all these people trying to tell me?

There was an unfortunate triangular green which appeared to be the unofficial universal dog loo when I passed.  There must have been half a dozen pooches pooping as I ran by, almost synchronised.  Each had an attentive owner standing by with a black bag in readiness, but it wasn’t the most scenic of sights.  I suppose I could have looked the other way, instead of rubber necking, but like staring inappropriately at an accident my eyes were irresistibly drawn to their- er hem – respective performances.  I really am my own worst enemy at times.  Don’t judge the park by that detail of observation, it was a timing issue on my part, nothing more.

As we gathered at the finish area, the sun came out.  We had a bit of run de-brief with other Smilies,  then waved goodbye to the Smiley pair who were running back to the other side of Sheffield whilst the rest of us went in convoy in search of breakfast.  We were back to The Depot, which was quite busy this week.  They have changed their menu and so I branched out with mushrooms on toast, which was fantastically good (comes with a dollop of cheese and some chutney, plus different types of yummy mushrooms).  Others had variously, eggs on toast and raspberry pancakes.  This is fast becoming my favourite breakfast venue that I know of in Sheffield, shame it isn’t realistically in walking distance from where I live.  Though on reflection, that’s probably just as well….  I’d explode.

So that was that, job done.  Hillsborough parkrun, tick.  Thank you nice Hillsborough marshals, runners and supporters for the warm welcome to these Smiley Hallam migrants.  Thank you too for the inspirational updates on your Facebook page, they really help!  Happy Birthday for next week!  May you celebrate in style.  May you eat cake!

motivational shot hills parkrun

I feel compelled to note – as one wag on their Facebook page  has already observed ahead of me, that Hillsborough parkrun has not suddenly revised their course.  The picture illustrating this motivational sentiment, though posted by Hillsborough parkrun, doesn’t use a photo taken there – though I guess on a cold day running into a head wind it might feel that way at times… go run it for yourself and see!


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

Mud, mud, glorious mud – the trials and trails of Longshaw Trust 10

This is another long one, make yourself a pot a tea or crack open the wine, and then you can be multi-tasking by drinking and reading at the same time so it won’t feel like such a waste of time.   (Though maybe not the wine if you are sneakily reading this at work in your lunch break or something).


I hate getting up in the dark.  Fortunately, I do like a good yomp in the mud, so today these two opposing forces sort of cancelled each other out.  Today was Trust10 day – the now monthly off-road 10km run held at the Longshaw Estate, and other National Trust properties too. Frankly though, I’m shallow and self-centred, so I really only care about the one that is local to me, and it is that one, at Longshaw, that had me up and about today.  I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to head off – my enthusiasm for running is always much greater at the end of a run than at the beginning of it, but it was enough to get me out from under the duvet, which was a start.

Truthfully, I was a bit torn about running venues for today.  It was the Longshaw 10k, but also today was one of the monthly off-road runs for my running club (drum roll) The Smiley Paces!  My dilemma is that I’ve struggled to keep up with the last couple of Smiley off-roaders, and whilst they are inclusive events, I still think I’ll get more out of them if I’m a bit speedier, I decided to work on my fitness for a bit before rejoining them.  I am comfortable with this decision, apart from the fact that today was/is also my buddy Cheetah Smiley’s birthday, so I did have a sense that it would have been fun to join them on a Smiley yomp for the day.  As a compromise I headed off to hers to drop off a card for her birthday en route to picking up my another companion Smiley for the morning, who I’d lured into joining me in doing Longshaw.  She is coming back into running so just building up her distances at the moment, so also cautious about joining a longer off-road until she’s got a few more miles under her proverbial belt.  She doesn’t actually wear a belt as far as I can see.  We shared a quick ‘Happy Birthday’ hello, which is very much like a normal ‘hello’ but with more hugging and expressions of effusive good wishes.  Then I headed off, having wished her well, really hoping that the other runners would remember to sing her happy birthday at some point on the run, so that she could experience that exquisite discomfort of being simultaneously massively embarrassed and secretly pleased.  In fact, I gather this is indeed what happened, though from the Facebook posts I think there was more than one birthday celebrant present.  Smiley twins how very splendid!  So I was sorry I missed out on the cake, sorry, I mean celebrations, obviously, but pleased the occasion was suitably marked.

Smiley birthday

I chugged my little fiesta up the steep hills of Sheffield to pick up my other Smiley companion who was game to tackle the 10k with me. I took a spare Smiley vest so we could fly the flag together so to speak.  It is definitely more fun doing these events in Smiley kit, and also more fun doing them with other Smilies, the more the merrier generally speaking

I am always paranoid about being late to thing, so have a tendency to get places ridiculously early.  My Smiley buddy hadn’t been before so would need to register, and you can hang about in the warm so I hoped it wouldn’t be too bad to be early.  In the event it was just as well we did.  We got to Longshaw about 8.30 a.m. (registration is from 8.15) and on arrival, we found the car park uncharacteristically full, in relative terms.  There were still plenty of parking spaces though.    I did that thing (that I have a horrible feeling might be almost unique to me) of becoming almost paralysed by indecision about where to park because of the vast array of options still on offer.  How are you to choose?  Near the start?  Less far to get back to the car at the end of the race when stiffness has set in, but might be a bit congested trying to get out later.  Near the pay machine?  Less far to walk to get your ticket.  Avoiding a slope, easy to exit?  In the end I just opted for any old one, but only after some unnecessarily indecisive circling around in the car first.  We then checked out the parking costs and opted for the £2.60 for four hours offer, we were hoping we wouldn’t need all that time to get around, though to be honest, with the queue for coffee at the end of the run it was touch and go at one point.  I think it’s a fair bet the turn out took the organisers by surprise – I hope in a good way, but who knows.  Here is a picture of the car park, filling up, in case you don’t know what that looks like.  All my pictures today seem to be blurred by the way, I’d love to pretend this was deliberate, either to protect the identities of the subjects of my photos, or to create an impression of casual artistry.  Actually, it’s just because I’m not a very good photographer, and my camera only allows me to point and push, performing all focusing and light adjustments as if by magic.  Magic that doesn’t always work very well, maybe they’ve changed the magic word.  I have no idea really.


In the short time it took to faff around with parking tickets and what to wear, the car park became absolutely packed.  I couldn’t say why (New Year resolutions, deliberately widened publicity, or just word of mouth) but clearly the news is out, this is a great run, and a good example of ‘if you build it, they will come‘ (I know it’s a misquote, but I’ve never actually seen the film, so I honestly don’t care).  It was most definitely a great deal fuller than on the previous two occasions when I’ve done this run.  People were coming from all around.  Thinking about it, we’d even seen some hardy souls running up as we drove to the venue.  Impressive, they were mud-splattered and sweaty before they even got to the start line, proper hard core.

It seemed really dark, and a bit drizzly, but fairly mild.  I decided it would be a coat off run.  Though for the records, I did start off wearing gloves, which I took off half way round.  We found a Rustling Runner to take our photo as evidence of Smileys on tour again.  We also need the documentary evidence to be kept in reserve for the Smiley Paces Running Club spring challenge (points available for turning out to timed events).  There were loads of people milling around, it was quite a scrum to get your numbers, albeit a very polite one.  As a returner (or did they say repeat offender?) I was already on their records.  I just had to help myself to a number, then find my name on a sheet and write the number next to it, this was neither complex nor arduous.  My buddy had to supply basic details (email, emergency contact number), but its really not much to ask is it for a free event?  I squished my fleece, and phone and car keys and everything else into my backpack and abandoned it in a general pile of stuff which looked like a creative cross between a sports-specific jumble sale and a lost property box.  I have become quite relaxed about leaving stuff unattended in this way when I run, maybe too much so.  I’ve got used to the idea from doing parkruns, and I think runners are an honest lot on the whole.  I do periodically wonder if I should take more care, and then I realise all over again I can’t really be bothered.  I’d change my tune pretty quick though if I ended up having to walk all the way back to Sheffield without my fleece at the end of a run though.  This is despite the fact that I met someone whose partner had apparently voluntarily run from home all the way to Longshaw, from an address not 100 yards from my house. That’s ridiculous, it’s MILES!  Here are people gathering for the start of a running event, in case you don’t know what that looks like either.

I quite like having an official number, it makes you feel important, like you are taking part in a serious running endeavour rather than a hobbit yomp (much as I love them as well).  I did struggle with the pinning on though, why is that so hard?  I’d brought my own safety pins with me, which was a good move, as they only had a limited supply on hand which quickly ran out.  I don’t quite know how the National Trust are funding this initiative, numbers and extra staff and safety pins and all, it isn’t cost free, though I dare say runners storming the Longshaw tea rooms afterwards helps generate something in the way of  collateral takings.  I heard later that 180 of us yomped round today, their previous maximum attendance was 120, quite a jump in numbers.  I hope it doesn’t get too popular for its own good…

Although promoted as an event for all, the Trust10 at this venue at least, seems to have been embraced primarily by the running community (if there is such a thing). I couldn’t help but notice there were lots of ‘serious’ runners present, notably the Steel City Striders were out in force, and some of them are brutal (and quite possibly lethal) lean, mean running machines.  I’m not going to say they are using performance enhancing drugs, because I don’t believe they are, but I do wonder about genetic engineering of some sort, or at the very least their runners out today are the progeny of some sort of secret captive breeding programme that must have been going on for decades.  They are a well-established club, so this seems to me to be an entirely possible even probable scenario.  They are all pretty friendly, but they most definitely take their running seriously.  They are also very well organised, they had their own photographer capturing the occasion, and so thanks to Steel City Striders’ Douglas Douglas as I’ve used a couple of his shots to make this post more visually impressive.  Basically, if the shot looks like it’s on a quality camera and in focus, it’s probably one of his.  Also if it is of runners, running, it’s his, because I wouldn’t have got back ahead of those runners.  You’ll see what I mean…   I saw one lovely cani-cross runner with an amazing looking dog, but not so much (no) Nordic walkers, or people with buggies.  I think you have to go with the flow a bit here, I’m not sure it would be quite accurate to describe this as anything other than a ‘run’ now, it would be quite scary if you tried to just complete it at a leisurely stroll, you might get trampled by a stampede of runners coming up behind if you didn’t start right at the back of the pack.

There was a friendly start line briefing, warning of the mud and potential slipperiness of the route, especially in the tree root section of the wooded areas.  You were asked to alert a marshal if you saw someone fall – they didn’t actually say whether you were expected to stop and help the fallen or just laugh and point on your way past kicking mud in their face and shouting ‘see ya, loser’, so I presume that would be down to individual discretion.   Repeat runners were reminded that the route involved two complete laps, first timers that there were two laps – I think the inference was that you might be forgiven for cutting a few corners first time out, but that would be cheating yourself really if you’ve been before.  I’m not so sure, I didn’t spot any short cuts – if you randomly started heading off cross country you’d be just as likely to end up at Surprise View or in Manchester airport as back at the start, and that strikes me as a high risk approach to running to say the least!  I started towards the back of the start ‘funnel’ (actually it was just a huddle of people on a tarmac path behind a red flag) I didn’t want to get caught in the frenzy of more competitive runners sprinting off right from the start.  There was time to exchange pleasantries with other runners, and then I could hear a distant and faint voice counting down to the start and then we were all off.  Tomtom on, and we started to move.  First of the Steel City Striders shots – The Start:

and theyre off SCS shot

Because of the massive turn out,it was a crowded start, quite quickly bottle necks formed and you had to pause to walk through gates and to go single file over styles.  I don’t mind that too much, it’s part of what it is, the tracks are narrow, and if you are that bothered about speeding round you either need to be at the front or recognise maybe this isn’t the event for you.  I found it all very friendly, and a chance to talk to some of the marshals on the way round, who did sterling work of smiling and clapping continuously for over an hour and a half as far as I could tell!  I suppose maybe they could look at organising the start a bit, so they encourage faster people to be nearer to the front of the people train at the start and slower ones to position themselves further back, but I also think that will naturally happen as people become more familiar with what to expect.  Here is another SCS shot of the start heading off -you can just make out two Smiley Paces vests (me and my buddy) heading off:

smiley paces in the throng from SCS

I love this route.  The varied terrain takes you on some firm almost gravel paths; woodland tracks; muddy cut-throughs; spongy mossy areas; bogs; a couple of streams to leap (or scramble) and steep uphill climbs.  You have to remember to look up, because the views are great.  I’m not wild about the steep hills, but there is some satisfaction in having got up them without being sick or crying.  The scenery is absolutely stunning.  My photos are from afterwards, but you get the idea-ish.  No substitute for doing it yourself though!

Early on once we left the track and got to proper off road mud, a young girl a bit in front of me landed sprawled face first in a puddle. I was worried about her, but undaunted, she just instantly sprung up again as if she was doing some sort of off-road parkour trampolining trick, it was astonishing!  Her accompanying adult checked she was OK to continue, which apparently she was.  They are hardier than they look these child runners!

In one muddy section where I sort of hopscotched through from foot to foot rather gingerly, I could hear little squeaks and clicks of exclamation behind me – it was like I was being pursued by an over friendly dolphin!  I offered to let this runner pass, but she said she was actually following in my footprints quite literally and that was her tactic, a concept I found to be both astonishing and rather alarming!  Anyway, that was OK… except I almost immediately heard her give out an actual shriek as she clearly took a stumble, and I sort of felt responsible, I didn’t dare look back….  She must have been OK though, because once we’d emerged from the mud of the wood she quickly overtook me going up the killer hill which is quite exposed and involves stream jumping.   I asked if she’d repay the favour of me having provided her with a lead through the mud by dragging me up the hill in return.  Inexplicably she declined with a ‘maybe next time‘ as she sprinted off like a hare onwards and upwards into the distance.

This is the route by the way, it look so innocuous viewed from above…

Towards the end of the first loop I ended up naturally falling in step with my Rustling Runner buddy who’d taken the photo for us earlier on.  I used to join her for runs on a Monday night that met where – you guessed it – Rustlings Road in Sheffield, but they got too fast for me (spot a theme here yet?) so I’ve not been for ages as I can’t keep up.  It’s a shame really, because they are a friendly and small bunch. Anyway, she was encouraging me to think about giving them another go.  Temporarily having lost the capacity for clear thought, on account of running and talking simultaneously (which I can’t really do) I found myself saying that I would indeed do so, perhaps in a couple of weeks’ time, once my fitness levels have picked up.  It dawned on me afterwards, as she sprinted on and away, that this concept is essentially flawed.  Even allowing for the possibility that I do pick up fitness over that time scale, the problem is so will they, they have upped their training regime for the new year too!  I will no more catch up with them in turns of my fitness training, than I will catch up in age with someone who is older than me, or catch the moon.  (This picture a) doesn’t count and b) isn’t me, but I quite like it, so it gets included).  Anyway, I did feel dumb, it was a hard lesson to learn!

catch the moon

For the second loop, the field spread out more, I found it better and less tiring, because you could go at your own pace, not have it dictated by having to stop and slow for other runners, or feeling pressurised to speed up because of heavy breathing on your collar from behind.  There were some cheery families offering support from the sides which was good.  I don’t know if they had expected to be caught up in the run or not, but they seemed happy enough to be so.  I paused to get a couple of high fives from toddlers as I passed, they may not have actually turbo charged my running (I told them it would help me go faster) but it did cheer my spirits on the way round, I felt like a celebrity some of them were so chuffed at this interaction!

More photos of general loveliness: Thanks Douglas Douglas, whoever you are.

We need to give a heartfelt, albeit virtual, cheer for the marshals at this point.  I think most were volunteers, and the were a mix of National Trust volunteers and some with links to running or runners.  They were all however, fantastic. Positive, cheerful, encouraging and clapping every time I passed them.  Apologies if they don’t all get a mention, but those that stuck out today included:

The woman holding the gate open as you came out of the woods, she had a huge smile and words of encouragement as you passed.  Actually, I really hope she was a volunteer, and not some poor random walker, who had courteously made a call to just wait and let a few runners through, before attempting to go through the gate herself and ended up stuck behind the gateway right until I passed her for the second time.  She did look a bit trapped to be honest, now I come to think of it.  Would be a terrible thing if she got punished for being nice and giving way.  Trapped for all eternity by a constant stream of runners, destined never to pass through the gate herself…

Then there was the guy at the top of the killer hall, stood on the stone wall, watching us creep up the hill like a chain of soldier ants from a distance probably.  He was very cheerful too – mind you, I’d have laughed at the sight of us negotiating that hill, especially second time round, when you couldn’t help but notice how many more of us had slowed to a walk.  He was all smiles and positive thinking, ‘all done now‘ at the end of the first time, and then the second, acknowledging the slower pace he gave a wry get out ‘too churned up to run up now is it?’  Genius!  Of course that was my reason for going slowly, not apathy, mud!

There was man with bike and pointing arm at a junction point, who encouraged us not to cut the corner.  Thanks for that… I think!  I was pleased I’d done it all ‘properly’ when I finished, less so at the time. He also hailed us with good wishes as we limped (in my case) on by.

Then there was the amazing clapping marshal, who honestly just appeared to smile and clap the whole time.  There was a long haul of incline getting up to where she was standing at a sort of hole in the wall (not one of the ones that give money out, there are no cash points in the wilds of Longshaw, in case you were wondering), but she clapped every single runner from the moment they came into sight, to the moment they disappeared from view.  I commented to her as I passed her after lap one ‘I hope you’ve got the energy to still clap me round lap two?’ ‘Of course‘, she responded brightly ‘and I hope you have the energy to still be running’, she seemed more able to carry out her side of the equation than I.  Great clapping on her part!

At the finish line, there was a fair cluster marshals who were sporting bright pink National Trust 10K bobble hats and armed with clipboards and stop watches. The hats were completely fantastic, made them stand out certainly, and probably necessary to prevent freezing as well.  It didn’t seem too cold running round, but I imagine if you had to stand still in the wind for a couple of hours it would be quite a different experience

With the size of the turnout I have no idea how they will manage processing the results.  As an aside, I think if you are really bothered about an exact time, you need to take personal responsibility for that.  Personally, I was just delighted to have made it round.  Just seconds behind me was my Smiley compatriot, that was nice and companionable, and confirmation that we are well matched running buddies –  for now at least – I know she is definitely going to out pace me once she’s got back to running fit.

Having finished, we recovered our coats, and as the queue was so massive for coffee, I pottered back to the finish to watch some others coming back and take some snaps.  Don’t worry too much, I’ll get bored of all this photography soon enough.  It’s dawning on me increasingly that I will never be able to capture images in the same league as that of our ‘official’ Smiley photographers (they know who they are) but I keep hoping that the law of averages demands I’ll surely eventually get at least one half decent one if I take enough –  Even though experience suggests otherwise.  We did find someone who could take an ‘after’ shot of us running, for the record.  So the aftershock after shot looks like this – you can see what I mean about me finding the pinning on of the number a bit challenging, definitely lopsided!

Post run January 2016

I also got chatting to another runner who has apparently been contemplating joining Smilies for some time, but was worried about being too slow.   I gathered that she had taken heart on witnessing my own less than intimidating performance in my Smiley vest, so made first contact. We had a good chat, and so we shall see what unfolds.  She sounded to me like she’d done a fair bit already, parkruns, night torch runs, Bolsover 10k for a start.  It’s amazing how many people will talk to you if you don the Smiley vest, it makes us look highly approachable, it must be the comic sans typeface…  Here are some of the late finishers fighting their way home, and the lovely marshals cheering them back.

Having waited for the massive queue to subside we ventured into the tearooms and had latte (me) and pot of tea (Smiley compatriot).  We joined another fellow Smiley and her friend from parkrun.  They had come along together.  Only it turns out this Smiley isn’t one at all.  I was amazed, she knows all the Smileys, turns out at all the same races as Smileys (though admittedly now I come to think of it I’ve never seen her in the Smiley gear), she has to be an honorary Smiley of sorts.  I’m going to call her the non-Smiley Smiley, which will become confusing at some point if she follows through on her professed intention to get around to joining Smilies at some point.  I’ve seen her around so much I just assumed she was, but apparently not.  She’s another one that’s naturally gregarious and appears to be pathologically friendly too, so would fit in just fine.  Still, we had a very happy chat.  Though I did wonder if outward appearances could be deceptive when she ‘fessed up to having gone out with one of our Smilies yesterday, but broken her.  Our poor Smiley friend had turned quite badly on her ankle, triggering an old injury, so now out of running for a while.  Not only was she too damaged to run Longshaw today as planned, she wasn’t even up for marshalling.  I’d have been even more concerned about this had I not deduced that said injured Smiley is not in my Smiletastic team (Smiley Paces winter challenge) so sad as it is every cloud eh, every cloud.. (Get well soon though, all the same, we Smilies need to look out for each other when push comes to shove).

There was also the curious incident of the disappearing top.  It had vanished from the unofficial bagdrop area (sports-jumble/ lost property), I was pretty confident that if it had been taken, it would have been by mistake.  Runners are a trust worthy lot, and even if they weren’t they hate carrying more than they need. That is why post run everyone pays with a £10 note they’ve been carrying for emergencies, who wants to run with heavy change jingling and bouncing around?  Anyway, I can report the missing top was successfully retrieved, it had indeed been handed in. So you don’t have to worry, you can just admire the Smiley Non-Smiley heading to the finish (thanks SCS).  Can’t help noticing SCS finish shots are rather classier than mine.  Oh well, I suppose it’s because my focus is my running…

smiley non smiley SCS shot


After a good old natter, which was lovely.  We got up to depart, and I realised that stiffness was most definitely setting in.  Oops.  We passed new groups arriving for various organised walks, cycles or clean ups.  It’s a busy place at the weekend Longshaw it seems. We waved goodbye to the organisers who had done a great job and were still smiling, pretty impressive eh?  Thank you nice National Trust Longshaw team for doing such an awesome job.  It is a hard job, but I hope not a thankless one, your efforts are most definitely massively appreciated!  Sorry it’s blurred (did warn you) I think you get a sense of the hats though don’t you.  Fabulous, absolutely fabulous!


I realised I was actually very stiff getting up to walk back to car.  My new best friends, Non-smiley, Smiley (I’ve just realised that makes her sound like a sort of Grumpy Smiley, maybe I should call her Smiling Non-Smiley instead?), and her parkrun pal also made a move.  They practically skipped off ahead as me and my official Smiley buddy laboured our way back up the track to the car.  Also, just to rub it in, did my eyes deceive me, or did I see her jogging up the road later, apparently merrily running home to Dore?  She’s a machine!  Of more concern, I couldn’t help noticing her parkrun friend was no longer with her…. It makes you think doesn’t it.  To lose one running companion may be regarded as a misfortune, but to lose two looks like carelessness…  I hope it was just carelessness, and nothing more sinister still, there is certainly a pattern of mysterious disappearances correlating with person last seen with.  Makes you think doesn’t it?  This might be the last image of that woman, leaving apparently willingly enough in the company of the Smiley non-Smiley…  I shall be watching Look North all week most avidly, just in case of any ‘missing persons’ reports.  Better safe than sorry…


We drove back, chatting about the run, how brilliant it was, how brilliant we were, usual post-run endorphins fuelled euphoria.  It is so true what they say about the addictive nature of that buzz.  (Though I have to concede I find the new evidence from boffins that ‘runners high’ is actually caused by smugness escaping from the body rather than endorphins to be entirely plausible) I’m sure it’s just as great for me with my time as for the more elite runners who whizzed round in a fraction of our times.  Slightly disquieting though was that on the way back, mysterious noises of something rolling around in the boot of my car became more and more obvious.  Eventually I felt compelled to tell my running buddy that I didn’t have a body in there.  Or at least, I certainly couldn’t recall putting a corpse in the back, and I’m sort of counting on the likelihood that I’d have remembered if I had.  I shouldn’t have worried, she was fine about it actually, basically taking the line that as long as it wasn’t anyone she knew personally, it wasn’t any of her business.  That’s what friends are for.  Anyway, let’s be honest, a body wouldn’t roll around that much, on reflection, a much more likely explanation is that someone must have dumped a decapitated head in the boot of my car whilst we were out running round.  After all, I had left my car keys unattended whilst I was out for a run.   I forgot to check the boot when I got home, and I can’t be bothered to go back outside to look now.  I’ll try and remember to peak in tomorrow.  It’s so easy to forget though isn’t it.  Cheetah buddy left some running leggings in the boot of her car for so long that all the reflective strip came off, they were fine otherwise though after a whiz through the washing machine.  I think a detached head might not fare so well if left undiscovered for months and months, but maybe we’ll find out.  I’ll keep you posted.

Phew that was a long one.  Didn’t realise there was so much to comment on.  No wonder I’m stiff, despite the hot bath earlier.  I’m wondering if I ought to finally do something about that by getting out the foam roller.  I found out quite recently that apparently they don’t in fact work by osmosis.  It is not enough to just have the in the same house/ flat or room as you, you are supposed to actually use them in an interactive and considered way!  I suppose that means I’ll have to take off the polythene wrap.  I thought it was like joining a gym, once you’d paid your membership fee for the year that was a sufficient commitment to getting fit to start to see results.  I attributed the fact my foam roller wasn’t really getting results was because it was a cheap and cheerful purchase got in a sale from an already discount sports shop. You get what you pay for sometimes.    Now I find out otherwise, truth hurts almost as much as using the darned thing probably will.  Maybe I’ll have a go  later, or maybe not.  Perhaps it’s time to follow the best possible advice for avoiding running injuries that my very own Cheetah buddy shared with me today.  It was an image on one of her birthday cards, awesome choice!

how to avoid running injuries

For now, pot of tea I think and maybe some Sunday night telly.  Perfect end to perfect day.  Thanks running buddy, thanks National Trust, thanks other runners, and thanks especially marshals.  Goodnight y’all.  Over and out…

getting ready jan longshaw 10k

Categories: 10km, motivation, off road, race, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Storming the castle! Smiley Paces going places take on Sheffield Castle parkrun


Morning has broken, and another gorgeous sunrise.  Really quite a nip in the air though, anyone would think it was winter!  No bonus points on offer though as it did warm up in time for parkrun (for new readers, Smiley Paces club members are undertaking a series of running challenges throughout January to March, extra points are gained from sub-zero temperatures, and also unique timed runs, it’s too complicated to explain all over again just go with it, or if you really care, check it out at Smiletastic Challenge information page on our website – all you really need to know, is if it stayed sub-zero out on the run a bonus point might be grabbable).

Today parkrun tourism had Smiley Paces going places once again.  In part we’ve been meaning to get around the other Sheffield runs a bit more this year anyway, but the specific reason for going today (ironically forgoing cake for a 50th milestone celebration at Hallam) was the quest for Smiletastic bonus points.  We didn’t know about the cake offer at the time we were co-ordinating who went where otherwise we may not have martyred ourselves in quite this way.  Even so, we were heading off to a castle, yay, what’s not to like.  Sheffield Castle parkrun to be precise.

I scooped up two Smiley Paces team mates on the way, and we had a sort of collective navigation thing going to get to Manor Fields.  The first weird thing about getting though, is that where you pull in to park is sort of hidden by an optical illusion,you needed to hold your nerve to turn in when coming from our way anyway.  It was like the Harry Potter pushing your trolley through the wall thing to get to platform 9 3/4 or whatever it was you needed to be on to get the Hogwart Express –  though don’t try that literally, the first turning is a phoney one, then you see the entrance a bit further on that you expect to get in to the car park.  And there is parking, not masses, but more than enough for the bijou turnout, so that was good.


The next weird thing, no castle.  Not that I could see anyway.   I really, really wanted there to be a castle.  The absence of one is a shame, but the venue has other delights, so don’t rule it out.  Those other delights include extraordinarily welcoming marshals, and a whole pack of them!  Almost as many volunteers as parkrunners which makes a change. It is a small parkrun compared to others, I think there were 35 of us out today, but the consequence is it all feels quite intimate and bespoke even.  Those of you who are worried about my need for a precautionary pee can be put at ease, there is a loo at the start!  Phew, also, a handy wheelie bin in which you can dump your stuff whilst you run.  We sort of hovered about (not hoovered in fact, even though I almost always use those words interchangeably with unfortunate but amusing results).  I made a half-hearted attempt to bag some atmospheric shots but with mixed success.

Manor Fields themselves were quite unexpectedly lovely, my photos are basically shite, sorry about that.  There was a playground area, and loads of sort of ‘public art’ I suppose you’d call it.  Most of it you see whilst running round, but I didn’t actually stop to take photos en route so you’ll either have to take my word for it or go and see for yourself, you can sort of see one of them in the background of the shot of my two Smiley compatriots.  There was a lovely pond with masses of bulrushes which are one of my favourite plants (I nearly said favourite aquatic plants, but then I thought I cant really name that many aquatic ones, so I thought it might be damning with faint praise!).  The resident marshals made us welcome, it was all quite relaxed and low key.  There was a friendly and brief welcome, basically, you run round a clearly marked route, all on tarmac, then you do it again, and then you do it again.  No barcode, don’t go through the funnel – because we all know by now don’t we, No Barcode, No Time, No Exceptions #DFYB.

For those of you who like it spelt out, the Official course description for Sheffield Castle parkrun blah de blah is as follows if you really care about such details:

The course consists of three laps of Manor Fields park in an anti-clockwise direction.
The Start/finish line is situated at the entrance to the park from the car park adjacent to York House, City Road.   From the start head east following the tarmac path which descends gently and then takes a more north easterly direction. Take a right fork climbing gently on a curved path towards the Queen Mary Road entrance to the park keeping the houses to your right.   Adjacent to the Queen Mary Road park entrance take a left turn following the tarmac path north east towards the children’s playground.
Immediately prior to the playground, at the cross roads, turn left and take the gentle descent north westerly. Continue along the tarmac path following it north keeping rocks to your right and over the discreet, level bridge.   Take the next available right and continue along the tarmac path in a generally northerly direction as it ascends ever more steeply towards the Raynald Road exit from the park. Follow the tarmac path left and north west as it descends steeply towards the Manor Park Crescent park entrance keeping within the park boundaries following the path as it bends left passed the entrance heading south in a steady climb.  Stick to the main tarmac path as it bends south westerly and commences its steady climb past the cemetery entrance on the right back to the start/finish line.
Complete three laps of the course for the 5km of the Sheffield Castle parkrun.

This description makes it sound as if the course is ludicrously complicated to navigate.  Trust me, it isn’t.  You just follow the person in front, or if you are in front (and well done you for being so) follow the yellow brick road of pointing clapping marshals and don’t barge through the carefully positioned plastic cones that have been lovingly put in situ by early rising volunteers in advance to indicate the ‘no through roads’ when running round.  The hardest thing is having to count to three, so you do enough laps.  It felt like a lot more than three times round to me to be honest, and I was gutted on completing the second loop that the marshals didn’t mistake me for a fast finisher and helpfully pointed me back round to run it all over again whilst waving through the front runners who had comprehensively lapped me.  You start and finish in the same place, the finishers go to the left of the tape – I don’t know if you can quite make it out in the photo, but there is a dear little arrow pointing you the correct way by the sign – and the ‘still going rounders’ continue on to the right.  It’s very obvious when you get there, no orienteering skills needed.

One of the advantages of doing three loops, is that you do get to appreciate the surroundings.  I thought that it would be grim running round and round in circles, but fair play to the place, you get some great views going around.  The downside of this is that the reason you get great views is because you are on hills.  Lots of them.  They just kept on coming.  I was talking about Sheffield hills with someone the other day, they maintained that what goes up, must come down, i.e. don’t worry too much about running up a hill as ‘sure as eggs is eggs’, you will get to run down it again later.  I say crap to that.  These hills only seemed to go up, if there was a little undulation downwards now and again it was but to toy with you, tease your frantic mind into thinking there was to be some temporary respite, before throwing up another EVEN BIGGER hill in front.  For them as enjoy hills, and find hill training useful, which I suppose it is (hypothetically for other people) then this is a great course. Personally, I found it hard.   It doesn’t help that each time you tackle a hill on the way round, you continue in the knowledge that it remains unfinished business, you will have to do it all over again, twice.

The hills of death had a Escher like quality, upwards and upwards only, and it didn’t help that for a lot of the course you are in sight of the (admittedly picturesque) cemetery, which inevitably encourages you to contemplate your own mortality as you pound around wondering if it is your legs or lungs which will give up first.  To be fair, looking at the picture it looks like you could go continuously downhill as well if you chose.  Maybe they should try running the route in reverse? In any event, great choice of place to train for the Sheffield Half which is basically up hill all the way going out and down hill all the way coming back.  Sounds dire, what were we thinking when we accidentally entered?  Presumably we a) weren’t thinking at all and b) it was far enough away that training seemed hypothetically possible.  Time will tell…


I did puff a bit, I felt determined to keep going, I was wearing my Smiley vest for goodness sake, the honour of the club was at stake!  My calves were hurting today for some reason.  Maybe the cold, maybe because I never do any stretching before hand if I’m honest.  Maybe I can get away with it at Hallam which is basically flat – bit of a gradient, but not really a proper hill as such, much more prolonged up hill here.

As we went round the sun came out, and the light looked lovely.  I don’t think I’ll ever really be sold on multiple lap courses, but if I had to do one, this is a good one.  Maybe if it was your regular run it would become quite therapeutic, getting in a rhythm and loping round.  Because attendance is small, there is nothing to stop you running as fast as you like (I was going to say ‘as fast as you can’ but that’s not true, for me, my head prevents that every single time I venture out).  You can’t really get boxed in, and if you slow, it will be your own doing not outside influence.  There didn’t seem to be all that many other park users around, a few people with dogs watching from the sidelines were friendly enough and I wondered if they might have a parkrun connection too to be honest.  One quirk I noticed going round was periodically there were some weird shapes in the tarmac, sort of circular squiggles, like an attempt had been made at three dimensional graffiti perhaps, etching into the path, but then removed by someone else, shoots of green had sprung up in some of the gaps leaving a sort of impressionistic artistic shadow in their wake.  They weren’t all that distinct, but enough to leave an impression of swirls and shapes.  Manor Fields answer to the Nazca lines of Peru perhaps?  Also any excuse for Paddington.  (Note to self, must ask the others if they noticed them too…)

I was relieved to finish, and finally get to veer to the left and pass the timer.  Friendly congratulations and instantaneous scanning of my barcode.  This didn’t go entirely according to plan as I initially proffered my tomtom as that is also on my wrist (I’ve got a parkrun wristband – they are brilliant), sorted eventually though, once I’d re-engaged my brain and brandished my wrist band instead.  I’ve fallen out with my tomtom today, as for some reason it recorded my run, but failed to upload it.  Catastrophe, I am gutted!   It had better redeem itself at Longshaw 10k Tomorrow!  On a cheerier note, retrieving my bag from the wheelie bin baggage drop receptacle,  I noticed there are even glasses and a jug of water at the finish, that is so brilliant!  Good job Castle.

It was companionable at the end.  We retrieved our things, met some new people – a couple of nice women were potential Smiley recruits, always a bonus.  We managed to get one of them to take our photo as is traditional for a parkrun tourism foray.  Well I say traditional, it’s the first time we’ve done it actually, but I think we should from now on!  Look at us, aren’t we lovely, Smiley Paces going places, looking like the holy trinity here!


One of the great joys of it being such a small field, is that you find yourself whizzing up the finishing places to an extraordinary degree.  (I know, it’s a run not a race, but it’s fun to unexpectedly excel!).  I ended up in an uncharacteristic 24th Place and gained what was for me an unprecedented 93 points!  Normally I barely get a solitary point, and finish in the high hundreds in terms of finish position.  At Bushy Parkrun I’ve made it as high/low as finish position 1023 on one occasion to tell the truth, so you can see the novelty value in making double figures in the line up.  Yay!

It’s also worth doing Castle just to get that warm glow of boosting your points score from single figures (in my case, sad but true), to almost maximum available.  The only time I’ve bettered this was when I’ve volunteered on the first day of the new year for my home parkrun.  100 points, straight off, found myself at the top of the points leader board (jointly admittedly) for the first and only time. I could have had singular lead position if I’d only thought to volunteer as tail marker too, hilarious.  Another Top Tip for the more competitively minded amongst you out there…

I snapped away a few not very good photos, so I’ll add a little smorgasbord below in case of interest to give a bit more of a feel for this lovely venue.  Granted, it is in the middle of pretty urban surrounds, and it’s small, but beautifully formed.  A little oasis in a perhaps an initially less than promising location.  It might not be able to compete with the likes of Bushy parkrun but it can hold its own in its own way in its own terms.  Give it a go, I would go back certainly.

There was the option for tea at the venue in the adjacent community building.  People were really welcoming, but we’d had another idea.  So we waved and shouted our thanks – and sincere it was too, its a really, really nice and friendly parkrun, and heaved our weary carcasses back in the car to head off to Kelham Island.  I know, madness really, totally out of our way, and not en route to anywhere, but once we got there, I could see it was well worth the effort.  We were headed to The Depot Bakery, which was just stunningly good!

Granted, when we first headed off, to an apparently increasingly derelict industrial area of the city, I did feel like I was being abducted.  Even when we got there, you have to duck into what looks at first like a dead end backstreet – though personally I do like the old red-brick industrial architecture.  However, once we got in, oh my god, I’ve never seen such an amazing array of bread and cakes.  Though you have to question the wisdom of the artistry in question for at least one of their offerings… is it just me that can’t get out of their head what it instantly reminds me of.  I wont spell it out.

There was some slight disappointment that they weren’t doing the weekday menu so still no scrambled eggs on toast with mushrooms on offer.  However, I went for a mushroom and spinach rarebit which was fantastic. Really quality cup of coffee with the squirly pattern on top and everything.  Cheetah buddy had a goats cheese, courgette and pepper focaccia toasted, and we halved each with each other.  I was genuinely impressed.  It was on the expensive side for a breakfast, but I loved the ambiance of utilitarian surroundings, friendly service, spacious, and details like they had an see-through urn of chilled water that you could help yourself too, and it had sliced cucumber in it.  How upmarket is that.  Ten out of Ten, I vote for doing Hillsborough parkrun next weekend just so we can go back to The Depot again afterwards with a bit more of a geographical justification for doing so in terms of proximity to parkrun venue.  It was empty when we first arrived by the way, but filled up by the time we left.  The food was much nicer than it looked, these photos have stripped it of all panache and presentation, oh well.

So there you go, another parkrun tourism outing in the bag, and a really successful one, Sheffield Castle parkrun even provided sunshine!  Also, because it’s such a small field, and the team seem incredibly well organised, we had our results ping through on a text before we’d had a chance to order brunch.  That’s service indeed.

So thank you Smiley companions, thank you Sheffield Castle parkrun team and thank you Depot Bakery too.  A good mornings work!

So final task on returning home was to upload the run on Strava.  Disaster, an error message, no run.  Fortunately Cheetah Smiley sent me a copy of her run so I could use that for Smiletastic purposes – the distance, route and elevation are all the same, and pace isn’t relevant for this challenge.  Unfortunately-ish, there is no way I can alter her time, so it looks like I was turbo charged (by my standards) all the way round.  Isn’t that splendid.  I will enjoy the moment whilst it lasts, and hope I never have to prove it was me what ran it…  Don’t understand the graph though, I’d swear those hills were steeper, elevation total was 243 according to summary stats too, so the numbers make no sense. I don’t care, we all did it, that’s what counts!

Castle parkrun route

In summary, don’t expect to see a Castle, but do expect to experience a warm welcome.  Enjoy.



Categories: 5km, parkrun, road, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Feathers will fly, taking Smiletastic into the woods

too cold for a run running bible

Whilst this sentiment may raise a wry smile of recognition more widely, for those members of the Smiley Paces running club taking part in Smiletastic, we could change the latter part of the slogan to ‘you’re obviously not signed up for the Smiletastic challenge‘.  Whilst I have nothing but admiration for our very own home-bred Super-Geek for initiating this contest in a well-meaning quest to help motivate members of Smilies to just keep on running throughout the winter months, she can little have known quite what competitiveness she had let lose in so doing…

People have been grouped into teams based on birthdays – Fighting Feathers being ‘my team’, other lesser teams being respectively the Old Birds; Squawky Chicks; Rowdy Roosters and the youthful Clucky Ducks, bless.  Points are awarded to each team each week, based on whether or not each individual within the team has completed their agreed target number of runs.  So far, so uncontroversial and all nice and amicable.  The problem has stemmed from the more contentious issue of the allocation of bonus points.  Extra points are gained from running before 7.00 a.m. and after 8.00 p.m.; doing a timed run (based on misguided notion that that means the participants will actually exert themselves in race mode – a technique I have largely resisted) and, most relevant here, for undertaking a run in sub-zero temperatures.  So today, when I woke up and it was absolutely freezing, I actually felt quite pleased.  Yes, lovely sunrise blah de blah, but more importantly, potential bonus points! Get me and my new super-competitive zeal.  (Photo is through my duplex window by the way, there are some perks to attic life)


The problem is, debate over how to verify temperature claims have got a bit heated (ironically enough), you can only claim one of these points per runner per week anyway, but with the temperatures rising, there is some angst about whether or not there will be other opportunities to gain them.  The official line is that we are all adults to be trusted and our word will be taken as true – the old ‘presumed innocent until proven guilty’ adage.  All very commendable, but have you seen the gameswomanship at work amongst the Smiley cohort?  I will completely understand if things get to a point where all claims need to be externally verified by some sort of independent panel if necessary.  Anticipating such an eventuality, it seems only sensible to stack up evidence wherever possible, photos are a start, more tangible forensic evidence optional.  A runner I met today swore to me she had seen frozen dog pee out running in pursuit of bonus points yesterday.  I think it was wayward of her not to snap that up and put it in a shoebox to send off to Guru Geek Smiley for verification.  To be honest though, I don’t really care if she didn’t because she’s not a Fighting Feather, so if her bonus point is lost to eternity frankly her loss is our gain, harsh, but true.  Still, to cover my own arse, here are my photo shots (note ‘ice under foot’ evidence at Ecclesall Woods especially).

Now, my position is (apart from tail runner bringing ballast to the back); that I entered into Smiletastic in the naive belief that bonus points would land good-humouredly enough to those hardy individuals whose personal circumstances necessitated going out in inclement weather or anti-social times. It honestly never occurred to me that the battle for the bonus points would take on a strategic significance in the quest to be the best.  I certainly didn’t imagine I too would discover an inner competitiveness and find myself all too easily led over to the dark-side of plotting for points.  How little I knew myself…

Admittedly, I’m enjoying the feverish debates and pleas on Facebook where individuals plea for special consideration for bonus points because of some random set of personal circumstances.  Requesting extra points for pushing a buggy round parkrun for example.  Some baulked at this, because they felt disadvantaged that they were not in possession (are you allowed to say that) of small children, so this option would not be available to them.  Others chipped in suggesting that if you could wrestle your teenager into a buggy that would be just fine, and potentially merit even more bullet points.  Speaking personally, I would be game to be buggy ballast and get pushed round a parkrun if that would help, but it didn’t look like that particular argument was ever going to get past Elder Smiley.  A more promising try was made for gaining bonus points if you managed to persuade a teenage relative to actually run round parkrun with you – dragging by force if necessary. The clincher proof of how hard this might be to actually accomplish being how few bonus points would ultimately be claimed for achieving this feat.  Interesting idea, certainly.

One person did successful get a bonus point for having a furtive snog with a random stranger on a sub-zero run, fair enough I say, Go Smiley!  The exact circumstances are shrouded in mystery, but the official line is that this was necessary to keep warm. Basically, there are daily spurious pleading posts which are the Smiley equivalent of ‘the dog ate my homework’ for our Smiley Elder to review.  She needs not only her thick skin, but the wisdom of Solomon to maintain order here.  Still, we all keep telling her it’s much better to have to deal with so much positive and animated engagement than silence and tumbleweed echoing across her spreadsheets.  I don’t know to what extent we are believed.  Maybe it is as with many running challenges, the euphoria only really sets in at the moment of completion, whilst you are in the midst of it all, you wonder what possessed you to embark on this malarkey in the first place…

Bottom line, Smiletastic has changed my mindset with regard to running, and I find I am a willing pawn in group decisions.  If I need to travel to the four corners of the earth to nab a different timed run then travel I will!  Did I not explain you can only get one point for each separate timed run, i.e. no point in all the Fighting Feathers flying round the same parkrun, each has to attend a different venue to qualify for a point each… harsh perhaps, but opens up the gates to serious competition if you can get your act together to disperse your troops.  Honestly, why isn’t every running club in the vicinity undertaking Smiletastic, it’s oh so simple as the saying goes….

Anyway, upshot, I went outside, even though it was cold and my windscreen had frozen over.  It was turn out second time around to Accelerates woodland running session.  I don’t know if having been before makes it better or worse.  On the one hand I was now au fait with the mechanics of the set up, where to park and register, on the other I now knew what was in store, and I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d like it…

I arrived in good time, and parked up, saw various runners stripping off in the car park, always a clue to being in the right place, but really bare legs?  I’d got thermals on under my leggings.  I wandered in to the discovery centre.  It was like enrichment for caged animals.  In a break from the usual (based on my solitary previous attendance).   I noticed for the first time some fantastically sited and richly filled bird feeders the other side of a glass panel opposite the entrance, loads of birds were visiting, mostly blue tits, but I’d swear I saw a couple of nuthatches moving vertically down the trees to get to the peanut feeders.  Possibly even more excitingly, in front of this enormous glass window was a tower of boxes each filled with a different sized pair of some trial trainers.  Montrail Bajada II (or something).  Oooh, temptation.  They appealed to me some how, so in my unending search for the perfect fitting trainer I donned a pair to see how they’d go.

In order to heave on the trainers, I sat on a conveniently sited bench.   Initial impressions were very promising, they seemed to fit my foot shape pretty well, lots of room for my bunion to expand into.  Yay!  I then had the embarrassment of a fellow runner, who happens also to be a particularly awesome Smiley Elder and Guru, apologising to me because her bag was on the bench under my  bum.  It was pretty apparent that really apologies were due from me to her, as my bottom was on her bag  – this brief apologetic pantomime gave new realism to the phrase ‘bum bag’.

I digress, back to Smiletastic.  Up until a couple of weeks ago, the most devious I’d got in terms of trying to influence authority figures, was a feigned interest in West Bromwich Albion, in order to ingratiate me to my employing organisation’s CEO.  It seems that Geek Smiley Elder is a great deal harder to manipulate, but that doesn’t stop people trying….  It was apparent that there were a number of Smilies present, all of us pitching for a sub-zero point for starters.  Quickly discussion turned to how to maximise the elevation strand of Smiletastic, a sort of ski-lift in reverse was suggested, whereby you’d increase the elevation to miles ratio by reaching the top of a hill and then being driven back to the start to do it all again.  The message has come across loud and clear.  To get as many points as possible you need to head out on a literally freezing (sub-zero) night, make a perpendicular ascent, and do so after eight at night, basically – I wonder if a timed torch run across the moors might add in another bonus point too, just a thought….

Anyways, a Smiley gaggle gathered, and we talked tactics for Smiletastic.  Talk turned soon enough to weekend commitments.  As well as the many local parkruns, there is a Smiley off-road run this Sunday.  I wasn’t planning on going as it clashes with the Longshaw off-road 10k, a timed race.  Truth is I’ve struggled to keep up with the last couple of off-road Smiley runs, so I thought I’d build some stamina by putting in some extra runs on my own before trying joining them again. Anyway, turned out one of this week’s Sunday organisers was present. She was really sweet and encouraging me to come on the Smiley off-road instead.  I was almost persuaded… then I suddenly twigged.  If I go and lollop Longshaw 10k, a timed challenge, I will bag a bonus point for the Fighting Feathers.  Who is trying to dissuade me from this course of action?  Why, a Squawky Chick!  You have to be on your guard, surely a saboteur in action. She was good, but not that good, Longshaw it is, and I shall keep my wits about me.

Eventually off into the woods, it was pretty frosty underfoot, but the woods are lovely – apart from you have to cross a really daunting road to get from one side of the wood to the other.  We followed the same format as last week, gentle jog to the start point for drills.  I chatted to a few people on the way.  Other runners are a friendly lot, apart from when they are trying to trick you out of nabbing smiletastic bonus points.  A few of them ran companionably with me for a short stretch, until my slow pace got too much for them and they strode off ahead.  I couldn’t resist asking the guy in shorts how he was coping.  I loved his response.  Badly basically, he hasn’t got any longer running gear so he’d had no choice.  I suppose for him, running in his shorts was the adult male equivalent of me being made to do gym class (I can’t bring myself to call it ‘games’ it so wasn’t), in my navy school knickers – please tell me they don’t still do that in schools.  He was stoic it’s true, but not exactly celebrating his choice of kit.  He also said he didn’t mind running at my pace for a while, as if he went flat out, he’d only get cold hanging around waiting for everyone at the rendezvous point.  I love this insight.  I can use it myself.  I am running slowly as a legitimate training strategy to ensure I remain warm throughout, I could sprint easily enough, I just choose not too.  I am going to write it down, you can too, another Top Tip nailed!

So on arrival at the appointed spot we again split into two groups for different drills, the run leaders swapped groups from last week, it was unclear if this was to give them a break or us.  Some questions are best left unanswered.  Our run leader, Dr Smiley, repositioned us a bit nearer a bridge so that ‘good news’ our drills would all incorporate a bit of uphill  It is further indicative of my change in mindset that I logged almost unconsciously that this would be a good thing in that it would surely help the elevation quotient for my Smiletastic team (oh, not mentioned that yet?  Take it as a given.)

It was marginally less daunting doing the drills this time, I don’t know that I did them any better, but at least I had some sense of what I was supposed to be doing.  It did make it harder having more hill, but the group I was in was friendly and encouraging, and there were lots of explanations to help make sense of it all. The worst bit was probably the ‘warm up’ which involved running at an ever increasing speed up the incline to a signpost and then jogging back, and then doing it again, and then doing it again, and then doing it again.  I do not like running backwards and forwards in this manner.  I totally get it is good for me, but it does feel utterly pointless, I was relieved when it was finished.

We moved onto other drills with mixed success.  I am particularly poor at the hopping ones.  I don’t seem to be able to balance on one leg at all, hopping is just a constant battle not to fall over.  We were aiming for a particular rock as an end point.  I fantasised about moving that rock a bit closer, but to do so would seem like cheating.  I did wonder if we might be able to persuade one of the fleeter, more serious runners to move it for us – for them it would be cross-training (strength) and that wouldn’t be cheating on our part would it, at worse opportunism perhaps but most definitely initiative… Then there were sort of walking on your heels ones (especially hard going up a gradient) that made us look like psychedelic penguins and the goose stepping too of course. So what with Fighting Feathers and Clucky Ducks – and everything in between – doing penguins and geese that was a lot of ornithological exertions going on.  If you went down to the woods today you were certainly sure of a big surprise!

Other drills included high knees.  Well, I say high knees, but my knees can’t go up all that high because my stomach gets in the way.  I had a game go though.  Note to self, eat less, starting tomorrow (mañana).  What cannot pass without mention though, is the super charged springing drills.   Dr Smiley did a jaw dropping demonstration, honest to god she sprung twice her body height in the air.  I couldn’t disguise my amazement, but was told apparently her athleticism and spring was as nothing to another in our midst (well in other group technically, but in reeling in distance).  I asked if we could lure him across and trick him into showing us his jumpiness.  No real trickery was needed, they just asked him, and he happily obliged, launching himself heavenward after a couple of test springs, up up and away beyond the atmosphere before landing with light gently bent knees as if this was the most natural way to get around in all the world.  I was in awe!  It was like a Masai warrior or something.  I tried to take some photos, but I don’t think they do his feat justice.  You’ll have to imagine.  Also, getting extra demos this way was a great exercise avoidance technique (another Top Tip for the weary).

We did loads of other stuff, mostly involving running around.  Towards the end of the session we moved to a ‘better’ (I use the term loosely) hill, i.e. steeper, so we could try out some up and down hill strategies. This was really useful albeit brief insight into how to tackle gradients.  Accelerate do a 2 day training course on this, so our 5 minutes was only a taster really.  I learned that I should look up and over the brow of a hill, rather than plant my chin in my chest as I heave my weary carcass upwards.  This helps open your airways apart from anything else we were told, and logically I suppose directs your energy forwards and upwards rather than planting back into the ground.  Coming down hill we were encouraged to keep loose limbed (chimping?) and sort of keep your back straight and butt down so it’s your quads stabilising you – though not braking.  This is a marvel to me. I can’t say I got it completely in terms of implementing it, but got it enough to appreciate how it might in fact work. Fellow Hobbit will be awe-struck when I share it with her on our next hobbit hash!

Eventually, we all congregated at the bottom of the hill where we sort of melded inadvertently into the other group.  I was distracted by what looked like the discarded remains of a Smiley that didn’t make it – nothing left but the Smiley buff and an empty coat –  but not so distracted that I couldn’t enjoy the other more advanced group pairing up for a sprint race to finish.

My amusement was short-lived, as I found myself paired with the final runner, and accidentally agreed to a sprint up to join the others.  I enjoyed it actually, it felt like a test, even though all my flabby bits wobbled as I ran.  It sort of felt like a benign abduction, in which I was guilty of contributory negligence with respect to my fate.  This has actually happened to me before.  I was backpacking in Australia, and joined some other backpackers for a cheap and cheerful snorkelling trip which involved taking a boat out to a coral cay somewhere or other.  When we arrived, there was a more upmarket group already there, I got confused about which group was my mine (trust me, all those Aussie boat trip leaders are interchangeable).  Anyway, clearly all British Backpackers look the same too, because a tour leader hailed me, and said ‘come on, you’ll be late’.  I dutifully joined him, and found myself corralled into a glass bottomed boat to explore the reef from above.  I thought it was odd this aspect of our budget outing hadn’t been mentioned before… and then it dawned on me I was with a completely different group.  I was far too embarrassed to out myself, but did wonder where we’d end up, and also, I was a bit worried the other group might think I’d been taken by a shark or something.  I did the very British thing of saying nothing, and just trying to make myself invisible.  Besides, it was fun seeing coral and octopuses and stuff.  Eventually we were landed back on the little island and I rejoined my original group.  They were seriously impressed ‘wow, you must be a strong swimmer‘ they said, ‘you’ve been snorkeling for hours!’  ‘Yes‘, I said.  Some secrets are best kept, and I’d never see any of these people again.  In fact I am an even less strong swimmer than I am runner.  I am exceedingly buoyant it’s true, but don’t really get forward propulsion very well.

So finally, run done.  Yay!  True, we had to tackle the monster hill again on the return, but it did feel a bit more manageable this time, plus, it was quite good to try and implement my new running techniques.  Eagle eyed Dr Smiley was at the rear and periodically yelled encouragement of sorts ‘keep going‘ or ‘look up‘ which helped actually, even if I did feel there was nowhere to hide.

Back at base, shoes were removed, I enjoyed swapping bunion stories with a companionable fellow relatively newbie runner – she offered to show me her bunions, but we stuck with a mutual through the socks viewing.   She too had been trying out the new shoes and I think we were both sold on them.  They don’t perhaps have quite as much cushioning as I’d have liked, but they didn’t pinch anywhere at all, and lots of rooms for toes.  Recently (Monday Mobsters) I met a runner who was telling me she regularly loses toe nails from running, and it scared me a bit.  That is not happening to me if I can possibly avoid it. I’d definitely think about getting the Montrails, or whatever they were, as my next trail shoes.  As a back up plan, my new friend allowed me to take a snapshot of her road trainers for future reference, as she clearly has similar issues to me foot wise, and found her’s very comfortable.  Some sort of brooks I think, but I’m not sure which.  Anyway, always good to have options.


FYI Australia came up again at the end of the run too.  Can’t remember how, but we were talking about how annoying it is when Australians give you Vegemite and say it is ‘just like Marmite’ when it clearly isn’t.  Oh, I know, we were talking about brand names in relation to the trial trail shoes.  I said I was completely uninfluenced by brands in relation to shoes, I just wanted comfort every time – but I did say I had very strong views on the matter of Marmite.  Supermarket’s own yeast extract is NOT THE SAME, and that led into a mutual rant on the terrible interloper down under – vegemite.  However, useful top tip again, apparently they have a supermarket chain there Coles, which has an own brand yeast extract which is a pretty good approximation of Marmite.  I remain sceptical, but have banked this information for future reference. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and in the unlikely event I ever find myself in Australia again, it will be good to have options.  I do miss Marmite on the rare occasions I am away from the UK.


So all done and dusted, we went off our separate ways.  I was glad I went, and not just because I’ve hopefully bagged a bonus point.  I got to see the highest unassisted jumping in the world, I’ve got a contingency plan for getting Marmite if ever I’m back down under, and people were once again friendly and inclusive.  Cheers Accelerate, and Cheers Smilies.  We are all awesome!




Categories: motivation, off road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yak attack…


I wasn’t going to do a blog post today, I’ve been over-communicating lately, and it was only the standard yomp up the valley, so not sure that there’d be all that much worth reporting on that…  and then we had such a hilarious hobbit harrier outing it seems a shame not to document it.  Plus, I know how dependent some people may have become on my training Top Tips, and there were some corkers today that it would be criminal not to share.  Today I will be covering footwear; social running etiquette; random technique tips; posing for action photos and feeling old because of fly-tipping.

So hobbit hashing duo only today for our morning run.  It was good we’d previously arranged to meet up, as my enthusiasm waned a bit after the weekend.  The lovely snow has mostly melted away so it’s more slush and so dark outside it feels like you are moving around in a virtual reality black and white painting. Strange really.

Footwear: Despite the unpromising conditions, on the plus side, this gave my hobbit companion a chance to try out her new yak traxs.  These are a device not so much for the tracking of yaks, but sort of spikey things that you attach to your shoes to stop you slipping in the ice.  Apparantly for a brand name you can pay up to £13, clever hobbit got hers for £1.99 on ebay, but in fact the cost has now crept up to the eye-watering, life-changing price of £2.99 – presumably some opportunistic pricing based on the sudden cold snap, still you can’t put a price on your own safety can you?  Anyway, she yomped towards the meeting point positively beaming with enthusiasm.  The coil grip treads made a sort of crunching sound as she walks, no chance of creeping up on anyone. They were perhaps less than ideal for the tarmac pavements, but as soon as we got the muddy and icy trails they were brilliant. Well, brilliant for her, as no sliding or slipping, less so for me as I lost that entertainment outlet.  Don’t worry though, we substituted with other play innovations to keep us laughing throughout.   Meantime, here are some shots of her not slipping:

Social running etiquette: as I think all but the most solitary of runners would acknowledge, one of the best bits about having a running buddy is the companionship of conversation as you trot round, seeking advice, solace or amusement as part of an holistic running experience.  So I naturally used the opportunity to explore with my hobbit companion the dilemmas of multiple running group membership.  Is it positive networking, maximising running opportunities and spreading the joy?  Is it prostituting yourself to all and any that will let you across their running threshold?  Is it disloyal moonlighting?  Who knows.  The upshot was we seemed to agree (I think) that it’s OK as we run with different people and groups and in different places for different reasons.  Sometimes we need to stick with our own kind in terms of pace, other times its more social.

What was hilarious, was just as we debated whether or not we should have told other potential runners about our pair run in the interests of inclusivity, or whether it was OK to just head out together because that was the least complicated way to tackle it, we came upon two other fellow Smileys, who had similarly headed off on their own (with Lewis).  They are faster than us, so although we have run together previously, in various combinations, indeed on this very route, and we were clearly heading in the same direction today as well, it made sense to stay in our distinct pairings.  We did bump into each other at intervals as we sort of leap-frogged one another all doing our own thing, and it was most jolly too, but we did so without any pressure to stay together, mutually fabulous.  What I found really funny though, was every time we saw them, they appeared to be either standing leaning against a fence chatting, or actually sitting down chatting, and there was very little evidence of them having done any running at all.  They must have done, because they were always comfortably ahead of us, and to have made it to whatever bench minutes ahead of us they surely exerted themselves to get there in the first place.  Even so, you couldn’t be entirely sure they hadn’t just found a way to teleport from one location to the next, I’m left with some doubt…. Look at Lewis’s eyes too – you have to admit they have a sort of other-wordly look to them in this shot at least.  I’m just saying.


However, as the saying goes, what goes around comes around.  As surely as we were able to raise an ironic eyebrow at our laggardly friends, we too were massively caught out.  Deep in conversation we were walking up a steepish part of the Clough, when suddenly there emerged a scout Smiley, quickly followed by a gaggle of giggling others galloping onwards and upwards.  Regular readers will know I have always had a suspicion that there are designated Smileys detailed to lie in wait for ‘runners’ who slack off at this point on the run.  I feel pretty confident that whilst they may well have caught us slacking, we caught them getting into position to jump out of the undergrowth and appear to be magically sprinting downhill or up as soon as any other leaden Smilies started to come into view.  It was extraordinary though just how many of us were out and about at the same time.  I blame Smiletastic, it’s certainly got me up and out and up again.  We tried to keep up with them for a bit, but it was like trying to swim alongside a turtle (I imagine),  we did OK as they slowed to pace with us, and kept them in sight as they basically floated effortless in the sea currents,but then one flick of their flippers (turtles) or push off from the ball of their foot (runners) and they disappeared into the mist and trees.  Go Smilies!


Posing for action shots: now we have come up with a strategy, it seems to me to be absolutely incredible that we hadn’t come up with this before.  You can learn from our mistakes, I know, hard to express your gratitude.  We got to the sledgy hill, which is indeed very steep, and after a conversation about how this would be a great test of the yak trax, and further debate how great it would be to get some action shots of us running up and down the hill, we lamented how all action shots can basically make you look completely shite.  That’s when we hit on the perfect solution, we’d just recreate positions to make it look like we were running, and see what happened.  You must have seen it done before, like when people just lie sprawled and crawling on the ground, and rotate the photo, and the image makes it look like they’ve been rock climbing some vertiginous slope, you get the idea.  Anyway, here are some we came up with.  You can use your skill and judgement to work out which are for real and which are erm, let’s say artistic representations of our inner athlete.  I think we did well – on both counts!

Random technique tips: I think we’ve already covered the value of the yak trax imitations.  Many of you will already have come across fartlek.  This is the Swedish word for ‘speed play’ and is basically interspersing your training runs with different speeds – a cross between interval training and continuous running.  It is a totally genius training technique that will work for anyone.  It helps more experienced runners, because as a method you will build speed and strength as your body doesn’t get stuck in a plateau.  It is a very efficient way to train.  It is possibly even more genius for less speedy runners.  This is simply because when you are spotted, oh, I don’t know, let’s say randomly walking up a hill and find you are caught out by  the super-keen and fast contingent of your running club coming galloping up behind you catching you unaware, you can pretend that you’ve just been doing fartlek.  They won’t necessarily believe you, but it avoids the embarrassment of any confrontation, and everyone can go their separate ways dignity in tact, which is the main thing.  So that’s fartlek, but have you heard of actual farting training?  No?  Well check this out, don’t care if it’s true or not, coordinated trumping, or as headlined here ‘timed farting may improve your running pace‘ completely brilliant.  Why should yoga and pilates people have the monopoly on flatulence in training?  It seems a dis-inhibited approach with the wind behind us might rocket propel many of us to a personal best if only we embrace the science.

and finally Feeling Old because of fly tipping: so we’d had a really lovely run, and no sliding, though there was one nasty ankle turn which caused an anxious moment, thought I’d broken my hobbit friend and would have to carry her home.  The pain passed though.  What was awful and made me feel old, was that our lovely run was ruined when we came across a pile of dumped builders waste, completely blocking the path.  It was so depressing, not only unsightly, but dangerous, with nails projecting and causing environmental damage as some of the pile had tumbled into the brook.  Why do people do that? It must have taken quite some effort to hoik it up there.  I was really outraged.  What made me feel old, was that I took to photographing it so that when I got home I’d be able to contact Sheffield City Council to report it, which I did.  It occurs to me that is the behaviour of a grown up, I do have a ‘responsible adult’ mode at times, certainly an indignant one.   It cast a bit of a shadow of the end of our efforts as it is basically like having someone crap in your front room in my book (I imagine, that hasn’t actually happened to me, but I wouldn’t like it if it did!).  The only point I have to make in the interests of completeness, is that hobbit buddy twisted over on her ankle after this discovery.  This led me to contemplate the ethics of either using the rubble to create some sort of raft in which I could float her down the river, or possibly, if she’d really hurt herself, to bury her underneath in order to avoid having to dispose of the body myself.  Does that make me a hypocrite, or just very pragmatic?  Who knows.  She’s fine now though, we’ll probably go out again next week to be honest, I’ll try and sneak another photo of her in the next blog just so you know she’s OK.

Jogging on, back at forge dam before we knew it, taking in the local trails, admiring again the Christmas baubles, and taking a cut through by the frozen water pool behind the Oakbrook coffee shop.  Another run down.  Yay!  Worth the effort of leaving the house.

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

Monday Mob Muster

This post will be photo free.  There is a very good reason for this.  The Monday Mob are essentially an underground secret society.  They have been around for quite a while, years in fact, lurking in the shadows, furtively whispering messages to one another to agree a rendezvous.  They emerge from winter shadows at the designated time and place, head out for their companionable slow and steady run, and then once again disappear into the mists and trees of Sheffield.   That’s what I’d heard anyway.  A mysterious gathering, other runners would speak of them, but no-one seemed to have actually seen them or run with them.  Like a sort of benign urban myth, you know the kind of thing, a friend of a friend met someone whose neighbour’s hairdresser’s post-person had seen them out running together… once… allegedly.

There was little to go on quite frankly, until, unexpectedly, back at Halloween parkrun at Sheffield Hallam they seemed to quite deliberately out themselves.  Admittedly they were disguised to look as inconspicuous as possible, wearing lime green witches hats, and rattling collection tins in aid of parkrun as they gamely sold cake (good call) to the runners of Sheffield.  To be completely fair, they may not have intended to be publicly identified and outed in this way.  What happened, was that the race director alerted parkrunners to the Monday Mob’s fund raising initiative, and that was that, cat out of the proverbial bag, not going back in not for anyone.  The group now had  a name, and members of the group had recognisable faces.  They were well and truly in the open and in the public domain, ready or not!

cat-out-of-the-bag warning

Clearly, I did make a donation and have some cake (just to be polite) and so put some faces to some at least of this elusive gathering.  They all had big smiles and a welcoming demeanour.  I also recognised at least a couple as regular parkrunners, and more importantly, parkrunners of about my speed and running temperament.  That is, happy with the slow and steady complete rather than compete approach.  Got me thinking.

So it was a couple of weeks ago, having done some shark like circling of those I recognised back at parkrun for a few weeks before,  I approached one of the Monday Mob directly, and asked if they were up for a fresh face.  The person I spoke to was incredibly friendly and welcoming, and immediately gave me her contact details, perhaps it wasn’t going to be quite as hard to infiltrate this group as I’d first imagined, would there be a catch?  Apparently not.  Upshot of all this shenanigans is that tonight, I headed off to join them.  Venturing out in the dark and cold to embrace whatever initiation may await me.  How I levered myself off the sofa I’m not entirely sure, but I’m very glad I did.

I strapped on my TomTom and again by jogging to the rendezvous point in an attempt to up my mileage, was ridiculously early, and had to hang around feeling self-conscious in the dark wearing my builder’s tabard (all reflective stripes and luminous yellow in extra extra large).  Eventually another runner appeared and was really encouraging.  Others emerged from the gloom, and all were so friendly it was like being swamped in a really sincere (but not inappropriate or claustrophobic) hug.  I was made to feel really welcome, it was genuinely lovely.   I’m not sure how many of us there were, maybe 8 or so?   I was a bit worried that by prostituting myself around other running groups in this way I might be being a bit disloyal to Smilies, and come across as flaky and/or disloyal to this new group, but actually at least a couple were also Smilies, and many do parkrun and other stuff too.  The woman I paired up with said on one occasion only a couple of them turned up, and they ended up hooking up at the back of a Frontrunner escorted run which had coincidentally just headed out from their shop.  Wow, Monday nights are positively congested around Hunters’ Bar!

I’m coming to the conclusion that the running community in Sheffield is really a complicated Venn diagram or spirograph of overlapping circles.  Lots of us toy with a variety of groups, and I think maybe it doesn’t matter too much – we can simultaneously embrace multiple identities without developing multiple personality disorders as such.

I will always be primarily a Smiley, but I think there’s room to be a Marshal Mudder at an Endurer Dash; an Accelerator on a Thursday wood run; a Hobbiteer out in the woods with my yomping buddies; a parkrunner on a Saturday; an intermittent Rustling’s Runner (if I ever get fast enough to keep up with them) – so why not a Monday Mobster now and again too?  I guess if I was out their winning national or international races it might be a bit more complex, but I can’t see clubs fighting to retain sole rights to sponsor me.  All good.  One day if I can be bothered I might do an actual Venn diagram of Sheffield running clubs, but I have a feeling it will always be a project for tomorrow, mañana, as the saying goes.

I wanted to join the Monday group because I think the steadier pace will suit me, the Rustling Runners who also head out on a Monday, but a bit later are way too fast for me to keep up without feeling like either my chest will burst or I will cry, possibly both.  Also, although I have significantly upped my running mileage in the last couple of weeks, I haven’t been doing any road running at all, because I don’t like it frankly, but it will do me good to get some miles on the clock on tarmac, how else am I ever to even get to the start of the Sheffield Half?  The Monday Mob do road running at this time of year.  Most importantly, they seem a companionable and friendly group, what’s not to like?

So greetings were exchanged, introductions made.  I couldn’t believe quite how nice and inclusive everyone was, really encouraging and apparently genuinely pleased to have a newcomer join in the fun (though I know from personal experience, that the novelty of having me in the  midst may wear off quite soon, I’ll enjoy the honeymoon period whilst it lasts…)  I found out a bit of history of the group, it started as part of an Active Sheffield (or something) initiative, and that meant led runs for a few months.  Once the funding dried up, the group continued under its own steam, which is a pretty impressive example of sustainability and capacity building of which any public health initiative should be proud.  It was great.  There was a bit of discussion about where to go, and then we headed of towards town (Waitrose to be precise), I never run that route, it was reasonably lit, and we did go at an easy pace, I was able to chat away with my running buddy.  A fellow Smiley I recognised her, but haven’t really spoken  at length before.  It was really nice and companionable.  We swapped tales of how we got into running and why we do it, most bonding, and inspirational too – for me at least.  She is coming back after a pretty major injury, such tenacity to get fit again is very impressive.

It was quite an urban run (though not exactly parkour to be fair, in my head this is sort of the stuff we were doing-ish), and it made a change.  We even went under an underpass at one point and  alongside the dual carriageway before we turned back towards are starting point at the Hunters’ Bar roundabout.  I really enjoyed it, much more than I’d hoped, it was a comfortable pace, atmosphere and welcoming group.  I’m sure I’ll be back.

So I thanked my new Best Friends Forever, and after hugs of farewell and promises to do it all again soon (although not next week as they’ll all be at the pub instead – this group gets better and better)  we dispersed through the park.   They were a little apologetic about this ‘not running’ aspect of their running diary, but personally, I think team bonding, and group nurturing is fantastically important and a very sensible approach to maintaining motivation in my book.  It may take cake to entice a Smiley (or prosecco), the Monday Mob are apparently more hot chocolate/ pub people.  It’s good to do cross training, I think my running Venn diagram will find room for both!

why are you running

We said our proper goodbyes by some of the cars parked in Endcliffe park, and  I set off at a gentle jog to go home.  I didn’t have a head torch, so bottled out of running through the park itself, instead heading off down Rustlings Road.  I found myself at the corner just in time for the rendezvous with the regular Rustlings Runners Monday group.  It was a bit surreal, as they at first assumed I’d come to join them, whereas I was actually all garlanded in smiles because I’d got endorphins flowing post run, and because I knew I would not have to do any more running until tomorrow,  they on the other hand, being stronger runners than me were all garlanded in smiles at the prospect of being just about to embark on a run in the cold and dark right now…  I had been caught red-handed, moonlighting with another group.   Uh oh…  Even so, it was really nice to see them, and we ran together up Rustlings Road where we paused for a quick catch up before they sprinted off up the hills in the darkness and I loped home at a rather more sedate pace.  I am very fond of these running buddies too, but I am not in their league, I was puffed just doing the 1 km or whatever it is,  up Rustlings Road to the corner, though it probably did me good to have to push on a bit.  Definitely at a speed where I could no longer comfortably talk and run though.  There was plenty of time however to identify future running challenges.  Longshaw next weekend is a possible, though clashes with the Smiley off-road, the half-marathon coming up too of course.  Get me and my running calendar insights!   I did my usual thing of being really enthusiastic as post run I feel invincible, it is sometimes hard to recapture this enthusiasm the following morning…

monday mob initiation run

So, this is what I ended up doing despite myself, once again a triumph for my ‘conscientious if not keen’ gene.  I said I’d go, and go I did, and that ended up being a respectable extra 5.6 miles on the mileometer, and my first road run in months.  I don’t really count parkrun, as those footpaths are a bit more forgiving than the pavement slabs of the roadside.  Hooray!  All in all, a very positive Monday Mob initiation.  Also a great end to the day which started catastrophically.  Oh, why was that I hear you say?   Well, I wouldn’t want you to think I’m being a drama queen or attention gaining or anything, but it was pretty dire I can tell you.  I’d woken early, and had a blast of energetic hoovering, washing up and tidying, before settling down at my laptop to do some writing work I’ve been putting off for some time.  To reward myself for my domestic goddess like achievements, I made myself a really perfect cup of coffee.   As I sat down and put the mug down beside me, by some freak of gravity, combined with the ill-judged juxtaposition of my over-full desk tidy to the mug, I somehow knocked not one, but two permanent marker pens.  They sort of catapulted out of the desk tidy in a perfect arc, landing upside down right in my mug of coffee.  I was really, really displeased.  I wish now, I’d had the foresight to take a snap shot of this accident, it was rather newsworthy after all.  However, at the time, I was way too upset.  Not only was my caffeine fix ruined, I had to do quite a lot of both mopping up and pen salvage.  Those permanent marker pens cost more than you think – or would do, if they hadn’t mysteriously found their way back to my house from an unspecified work place some years ago.

My desk tidy is fabulous though, I made it myself hoping to submit it as a ‘top tip’ to Take-a-Break magazine as it’s made out of an old poster tube, decorated with the cover of take-a-break and then sticky backed plastic.  I made a set, one for me, and one for each of my most favourite work colleagues, four in total.  I’ve had mine nigh on 15 years I should think, and it’s still quite as lovely as the day it was created.   I like to imagine my friends/colleagues have similarly treasured theirs for all these years, but then again, I harbour a lot of misjudged fantasies.  Don’t we all?  You know what, I’m going to go and photograph it now to share with you – I won’t do an absolute dramatic reconstruction of the incident itself, but you will get to see the desk tidy, and the ceramic coaster that was the landing point for my  mug.  I fully accept I could probably have done a better risk assessment in advance of this manoeuvre, but I need your support with this, not your contempt.  I did submit this brilliant and practical idea to Take-a-Break as intended by the way, but for some bizarre reason they never snapped it up for their top tips page.  Their loss.


So that’s my running done for another day, thank you Monday Mob for the welcome, I’ll be back, yes indeedy I will!  Now I just have to review the Smiletastic stats, the highlight of my week for the first quarter of the year.  This is living, it really is, here is an upbeat motivational quote to prove it!

dude run run



Categories: motivation, road, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A quartet of snow angels yomping, and their dog.


Maybe not actually running, or even yomping, in this picture, granted, but that’s only because we had to stop some random guy with the most enormous extendible lens I’ve ever seen,  to get him to take a photo of us all together.   There are only so many variations of the three of us together in different configurations that a blog post will take, and we’d exhausted those, outside assistance was required (the dog was fun but rubbish operating the camera).  In the interests of justice, fairness and mutual accountability, I thought I should kick off with a group shot.  This is the one I chose.  Anyway, what I’m basically trying to say in respect of our distinct lack of any obvious movement in this picture, is that given we accosted this person who was quietly minding his own business and probably enjoying his own solitude, it would have been rude of us to have just sprinted away from him in those circumstances.  Plus, I’d then have to have sprinted back to reclaim my camera, so I’d ended up running way too far. Actually, I might have been rude anyway, because he took some, gave the camera back, but none of them had come out, so we made him take them all again. Is that inappropriate, or assertive?  I’m never quite sure.  Never mind, done now.   I quite like this photo.  You can’t tell from it, but we’d just had to wrestle the dog away from some very enthusiastic sniffing of our nether regions and crotches to avoid a somewhat more inappropriate snap. Clearly we got a lot hotter running than we felt like at the time!

So, today’s mission was another Hobbit Hash, taking in the route up the valley in hope of making the most of the snow (which is fun when it first falls) and nabbing a few sub-zero bonus points as well as some elevation kudos for the Smiletastic competition.  A flurry of recruitment messages went to and fro to see who was up for it.  Some enthusiasm the night before, some last minute checking in the morning.  Including one nameless would-be companion who ‘fessed up to being still in bed at the hour of departure.  An understandable sentiment, showed integrity in sharing, but personally I’d have stayed silent on the theme or possibly lied about my exact circumstances.

Anyway, up, porridge, heaved on thermals (not being caught out two days running without those).  There was definitely snow outside, enough to hint at a winter wonderland further up the valley, and certainly enough to demand proper trail shoes (I went for my super-treaded off roaders, which I increasingly like, they gave good grip, even in ice and snow, and have great cushioning).  Rendezvous hour was 10.00 a.m.  I made sure I didn’t leave the house too early this time (didn’t fancy standing around on a street corner in the cold again), and gingerly jogged down the slope to get there.  It wasn’t too icy, but I wasn’t super confident.  It was already fun,  I love the sound and feel of crunch of newly fallen, untrodden snow.  There were some people out and about optimistically towing sledges, and although it was gloomy, the contrast of settled snow on dark tree branches was spectacular.  I amused myself snapping away some photos of the environs, whilst waiting for first couple of Smiley Paces punters to arrive out of the gloom.  Seconds later we three were joined by another Smiley in the company of her dog.  We were keen to have this canine companion as we thought it might bring extra bodily warmth.  Lewis (that was his name) is a labradoodle apparently, though not acquired in direct homage to Barack Obama, rather to rescue a hairdresser (it’s complicated).  He was quite exuberant, but impeccably behaved, though I think he would have liked us to go quite a bit faster.

After a few social niceties of greeting, one of our group gave up the cry ‘let’s go’ and once again I remembered about the being required to run aspect of this otherwise convivial gathering.   The dog loped off, effortlessly bounding up the hill, occasionally bouncing across to greet some other dog with playful mutual bowing and then excitedly scampering off in the hope of a fun run of his own.  He had mixed success in terms of garnering others to join in, I know how he feels.

So we yomped off, the leading pair headed off with gusto, I limped afterwards wondering if I’d stay the pace.  I didn’t really to be honest, but eventually decided to just do my own thing, and although I had some guilt about the others having to stop and wait for me now and again, I rationalised that ultimately they would find this a preferable option to having to carry me back home if I collapsed in exhaustion high up on the hills later on from all that early over-exertion and/or having to witness me throwing a massive tearful tantrum because it was all too much.  I also slowed my pace still further, by having taken my camera with me (a first, I never normally carry anything with me out running – unless you count paranoia and existentialist angst as having a physical presence, which I think they can to be fair…) this necessitated lots of stops for snapping away at the scenic wilderness unfolding in front of us.  I can’t do quality, so I went for quantity, hoping that at least a few would make the cut.

I insisted on a loop past the forge dam cafe as the other week I’d noticed a tree bedecked with baubles and I thought it was worth a photo then, I reckoned it would be even lovelier all snow covered, and so indeed it was.  In fact, it is near a memorial bench, so I wonder if that is why it had been decorated.  An added bonus of this loop was that we saw a most excellent selection of mallards (go to love a duck, as you know), and some fantastic snow-covered bulrushes.  I love bulrushes, they are extraordinary plants.  All in all I call that a successful diversion, even if it did rather interrupt the running part of the run, replacing it most emphatically with a walk segment.

Onwards and upwards as the saying goes, truthfully, the others were considerably more onward than me.  I ended up behind a couple of walkers on the steepest part of the climb up the porter valley, I was too embarrassed to over-take them as I knew I’d only end up walking myself a few steps later.  The others waited for me in a shivering huddle at the top, and we even did a few staged photos of us running brilliantly… or at least amusingly.  No-one will ever know.  Might get to add them later, or might not, depends on whether or not they make their way into the public domain.

We debated about which way to go at the top.  I favoured the route across the moor as it would look lovely in the snow – we weren’t sure how wet it would be.  I wondered if the snow and ice would actually make it firmer than usual, and this did seem to be the case, it was marginally easier to negotiate than last time we were out.   The first climb over the wall into the open field, now with quite thick snow, exposed us to a truly icy blast.  How on earth do those contemporary explorers do it, let alone the earlier ones like Shackleton and others?  They headed out wearing tweed and cotton; and eating, oh I don’t know ship’s biscuits, bovril and probably rose hip syrup and raw husky-dog livers for nutrition.  (Don’t worry, Lewis was completely safe, I’m vegetarian anyway, and the other smileys were too squeamish, not hungry enough and/or sufficiently emotionally invested in our new canine friend that we’d happily have eaten each other before turning on him).  It felt like an adventure it’s true, but an adventure that wore thin after about 30 seconds, I was pleased when we got to the relatively more sheltered aspect of the moor.

To transition (is that even a word?) from the field to the moor, involved negotiating a style – the one deep in liquid mud and with an electric fence.  Much of the water had frozen, so it was possible for people in our party to get across and stay dry.  The challenge, was getting Lewis to work out how to tackle the style.  He ended up confused and a bit panicked, sprinting off up the hill parallel to the field we were actually in.  Eventually his Smiley rescuer returned and, aided and abetted by a couple of (hopefully) dog-loving walkers, physically woman/man-handled him over.  He didn’t initially look overly impressed by this approach, but leapt about with euphoria once he was successfully over the other side.  Thereafter, he seemed to negotiate each new style with ever-increasing confidence, I imagine we have effectively taught him to escape from any future attempt to enclose him with a garden fence or similar.  Not my dog, not my problem.  I helped by documenting the process from afar:

Once we made it to the heather, the landscape took on a really weird quality.  The heather sort of looked like it was in blossom with the way the snow had landed in amongst its wooded stems.  I attempted a few arty shots, trying to capture the textures of the landscape and wishing I was George.  The photos don’t come anywhere near to conveying what it was like, but I’m going to put them up anyway, out of petulance.  In the same way a small child may demand their latest creative masterpiece is taped on the fridge door for months and months.  I am minded of such an offering of  a child’s picture that was recently shared on Facebook.  It was an abstract looking set of swirls made with  dirty white poster paint on off-white paper,’hard to make out’ doesn’t quite cover it…  Someone had thoughtfully written ‘sheep’ by way of explanation on a top corner.  This was shared on social media, acknowledging the difficulty of interpreting the picture, and I learned subsequently that the child who’s art it was became indignant when they saw it, not because they had detected it was being perhaps affectionately mocked, but because their parent had uploaded it THE WRONG WAY UP!  How could they have done such a thing.  I hope that hobbit smiley is suitably humbled, she knows who she is.  Anyway, in the circumstances, I think I can be allowed to share my own atmospheric photos, you can laugh at them if you like.  You will be laughing on the other side of your face when they end up on the cover of National Geographic.

Ice rather than swamp at the top, meant I was able get across without getting any wetter than I had at the outset of the run.  Forgot to mention that within about 20 metres of heading off, I stepped in a slush swamp and got my feet comprehensively soaked.  Splash back up the legs too.  I am wondering if seal skin socks might be the way to go.  They are not made of actual seal skins as far as I know, so acceptable for vegetarians and/or ethically minded.  I need to find out.

At the top where we exited on to the top of Ringinglow Road, the snow was so deep the road was completely obscured.  It was quite fun, we felt quite intrepid.  Well I did anyway, there were some four by fours showing off on the terrain, but I wouldn’t have risked my little car up there.  It was quite slidey too, the snow compacted by these heavier vehicles, pretty treacherous.  We crossed into the plantation, where we slid trying to keep out of the way of mountain bikers (well, some of us did, the Lewis contingency within our number had fun loping alongside them), until we saw the aforementioned photographer and picked him off for our own illicit purposes.


Coming down through the plantation was fun, because the gradient was in our favour.  Running is one of the few circumstances when the phrase ‘it’s all downhill from here’ makes your heart sore, rather than sink!  I wasn’t massively confident because of the snow, but it was enjoyable yomping through.  If you looked at right angles to the path into the woods, it looked like troll or maybe bear country.  Actually, that’s really silly, we don’t have bears in the UK any more.  Trolls, definitely.  Be careful out there!  On the actual pathway through it was quite busy though, lots of dog walkers and bikes had made it up.  Exiting the wood, we found slush, and it was clear we’d had the best of the day, the temperature was rising now and snow vanishing to filthy looking messy slush for now, that will frozen again later into lethal ice.  We were nearly collectively caught out by the compacted ice just as the exit, skidding about and tumbling into one another.  One Smiley companion sheered right into me, out of control and instinctively grabbed at me for support, which was never going to work.  We both shot forwards shrieking. It reminded me of that time I’d seen some pedestrian trying to navigate the black ice of Sheffield’s streets one particularly harsh winter a few years back.  Skidding out of control down a slope, she instinctively grabbed onto a structure as she passed it, hoping for some support.  It was a wheelie bin, her hopes were dashed, and very nearly her body too, if truth be told.

We abandoned the original plan to head down Limb Valley to Whirlow instead doubling back to Ringinglow Road and then diverting down Jacob’s ladder, taking in both the curious alpacas, and getting to watch the sledgers making the most of that vertiginous slope.  Two of our number seemed to march even jog down with ease.  Me and my fellow more cautious Smiley picked our way down at a zigzag, pacing ourselves at a speed which would not have been out of place in a Noh Theatre production.  A woman watching the sledgers pointed us to what she said was a less slippery route.  We placed our trust in this benevolent stranger in the absence of other plans.  Fortunately, we both made it.

Bizarrely, coming back into the woods, we were met by a convoy of enormous off road vehicles.  Although they were courteous, and remained stationary as we tried to wriggle past them, they were quite intimidating.  It reminded me of that scene in one of the Jurassic park films, where Pete Postlethwaite is furiously driving a safari vehicle as they go off to hunt dinosaurs.  It felt like they would be getting out their big guns and skidding off as soon as we passed.  By way of contrast and loveliness, coming past Forge Dam kiddies playground, we espied a rather fine snowman. Well, a fellow smiley did, and I’ve decided to take the credit for it. We went in for closer inspection (didn’t feel too creepy or inappropriate doing so as there were no children using it at the time).  It was an excellently accessorised creation.  With jaunty hat and holly decorations.  Less politically correct, it had a cigarette as well – well I think it was representative of a cigarette, it might have been vaping I suppose, but that still normalises and legitimises nicotine use and I don’t think that’s very good really.  Might have been chewing a straw I suppose, but I don’t think so, that story would just be spin.  On reflection, I think it may have been a pipe, but point still stands, I’m sure you’ll agree.

It was getting cold now, and my legs were tiring, despite my thermal leggings under my running ‘tights’ my quads still felt frozen solid from yesterday.  Wish some of the fat laid down on my belly could seep into top front of my legs.  We collectively agreed that to incentivise us to make it back, we would now be on a quest for hot chocolate.  We eventually emerged back at the Oakbrook coffee place, and to our great good fortune were just in time to squeeze ourselves onto a vacated table.  Lewis was allowed in too.  It was lovely and cosy.  In the event, in the interests of accuracy, I should report that only one of us had a hot chocolate, one had breakfast tea and chocolate cake, one had a skinny latte and I had a full fat latte.  It was lovely and warm and consequently it took super human effort to wrench ourselves away and back to our respective dwelling places until next time!

There was some debate about whether or not we would have done better to have gone out later.  At one point forecast was for sun later on (never happened).  Personally, I think we got best part of the day when snow was still relatively untrodden.  Plus, if I’m really, really honest, I still do suffer a bit from the mentality that I need to ‘get the run out of the way’ so thereafter I can reap the benefits of feeling smug back home on the sofa drinking tea.  Which is pretty much what I did.

So another run down, on target for my contribution to the Smiletastic total for the Fighting Feathers cohort.  Thank you fellow Smileys for cheery companionship and ensuring we got out.  Collective commitment is good.   Together we are invincible!  (But let’s not actually put that to the test… just in case).

run dont hide

Happy running!


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

Did someone say cake? Motivational running techniques made simple.

Mention cake!  That’s how you attract the attention of a Smiley, simple.  It is most effective as a motivational technique if you talk about the eating options first, and then slip in the requirement to run before you get to enjoy them a bit later on, once you’ve hooked them in.  It’s a sort of grooming really, but it works really well, and to get people out running, well whatever it takes.  Let me explain:

celebrant in the crowd

If you want someone to run, specifically a member of the Smiley Paces women’s running club, you basically just point down a running trail and tell them there is table groaning under the weight of baked delights awaiting them at the other end.  Say to them that if they just run that distance, they will find a smorgasbord of home-made  parkins; bakewells; brownies; muffins; lemon-drizzle, ginger, chocolate and carrot-cakes; just for them if they care to jog down and find them.

piece of cake

Just let them eat cake, and a grand Smiley Paces turnout is pretty much guaranteed.  There is often some tenuous justification for including the consumption of cake in Smiley outings,  usually along the lines of ‘because we can‘ or ‘because it’s there‘,  but now and again we Smilies hit the jackpot and a truly magnificent celebration comes along.  Cake will be abundant, and the cause of celebration is entirely legitimate.  So it was at parkrun on this particular Saturday in January.   I think it’s more than a fair bet that the quantity of Smilies turning out was in direct correlation to the quantity of cake on offer afterwards.

Such was the lure of home baked treats, that there was even a temporary truce over strategic acquisition of bonus points for the Running Club’s Smiletastic winter challenge.  Instead of scattering in all directions in search of unique parkruns (one point for each different timed run attended is potentially available) all Smiley eyes turned to a single focal point.  The cake table would be at Sheffield Hallam parkrun, it was to there that all Smiley pilgrims would trek.  We are a pretty friendly club on the whole, but if you asked members to list what motivated them to run in order of most importance with respect to various specific factors you could possibly find a teensy element of self-interest rather than altruism in the results.  Just maybe.  Do you know what?  I’d so love to know how to do a proper poll within this website.  Perhaps it’s just as well I can’t.  If I could, the questions would be this:

Dear member of Smiley Paces running club,

What were the main motivating factor in your running at Sheffield Hallam parkrun today? Please rank the following responses in order of importance:

  1. My running club friends are celebrating milestone Tees at parkrun, how could I possibly stay away?  What do you mean, can I name exactly which people?  We all move together, it’s about team achievements not individual names
  2. I love doing parkrun at 9.00 a.m. on a Saturday morning when its all covered in ice and so cold I fear random body parts may fall off at any moment due to frostbite
  3. Potential bonus points for Smiletastic – it’s got to be a sub-zero run surely?
  4. I run for its own sake
  5. My body is a temple, I run to celebrate all its wondrous potential
  6. I hadn’t intended to run, I just got caught up in the crowds trying to fight my way through to the cake table
  7. My own next milestone tee is in touching distance, it’s not a race, its a percentage of a T-shirt
  8. Fear of missing out
  9. My friend/ partner/ fellow-club member made me come
  10. Cake, obviously.

Thank you for your responses, they will be collated and analysed, possibly using a spreadsheet, but I think we all know what response will be at the top of the table.

Look, pretty clear equation I think you’ll agree.  Incidentally, don’t be fooled because it looks like Smiley members have their back to the cakes.  They are adopting this stance as a defensive tactic to prevent anyone else creeping up on the goodies unawares.  Bit like a good old fashioned wagon train, making a circle around a central camp to protect self and stock:

In my  humble opinion, there is a lot of unnecessary mystique around how to motivate yourself, or indeed others, to venture outside and go for a run on an icy cold day, when really it is both metaphorically and literally a piece of cake to get Smileys out in force.  It’s really not that hard to grasp.  All you need is a quartet of runners marking some sort of running milestone at say parkrun, who promise to provide vast quantities of celebratory home made cake which will be offered up for communal consumption afterwards.  Such a lure will pretty much guarantee a massive Smiley turnout, it just isn’t that complicated a motivational technique.

To prove legitimacy on this occasion, here are the celebrating runners, actually I couldn’t find photos of all the Smiley celebrants, so I’ve included one of some random guy celebrating his fiftieth run with some cunning hand signals.  Genius, well done to you too sir!  In terms of Smiley stats, we had two doing their 100th, one 50th, one 200th and a SPAM (Smiley Pacer’s Man) doing his 200th too.  That adds up to a great deal of celebratory cake in anyone’s calculations!  Yay, well done all, awesome.

Smilies aren’t completely stupid though, for some hesitation might start to creep in if required to do say an ultra-marathon rather than a 5 km just on the promise of chocolate brownie, but a piece of cake will work for pretty much any distance up to about 10 or 15 km I’d say.  If you are seeking a bigger effort, you might want to up the stakes and offer something sparkly instead.  Not necessarily diamonds – though actually I reckon that would be quite effective too.   No, what I was thinking of for future reference, if you find yourself wanting to rustle up a few Smileys to brighten some other running or other social occasion (and we can be exceedingly jolly en masse) is that promises of prosecco can also be extremely effective.  Whilst much appreciated, such bubble-assisted opportunities for indulgence are few and far between and generally much harder to come by, so definitely will boost turnout, just so you know.

You can also generate almost unmanageable levels of running motivation within your own running club by identifying a super-geek to set up a club specific Smiletastic challenge, but we’ve been through that already, and it turns out to be less easy to replicate than it first appeared.  So if you don’t have a Super Geek/ Smiley Elder to hand to facilitate this for you, just go with cake, it will save you an awful lot of grief in the long run (pun intended).  In the event, I think the final count was thirty three Smilies, plus at least some men who were in some way linked to Smiley Paces.  They have their own acronym, SPAM (Smiley Paces And Men), it’ll grow on you.

So back to the start.  It was very cold indeed on the morning of the run.  So cold, I actually sneaked on a thermal vest underneath my running gear before I went out.  I wanted to have my Smiley vest on show, which meant I’d have to run without my jacket, and although Cheetah Smiley is very quick to spot me wearing too many clothes as outerwear and wrestle the off me, I thought that surely I’d get away with it as a hidden bottom layer.  My little secret… unfortunately, it left me distinctly wrinkled and swollen in appearance by time I’d got on my regular long sleeved running top over it and then heaved on my Smiley Vest as well.  I did actually take a selfie of this, because it was hilarious.  But on seeing the photos I have decided to use my editorial discretion and not upload it.  It wasn’t a great look, and I think I need to focus a bit more on protecting my brand image now I’ve been recognised by the broader media.  Sponsorship deals are hard enough to come by.

For me, today was not the best of runs in truth.  I jogged down to the start, and although it wasn’t as icy as you might think given how cold it felt, I wasn’t over-confident about the surface.  I did warm up a bit with the jog though, and guilt started building up in me in the knowledge that beneath my Smiley Vest and running top, lurked a purple damart thermal vest.  I just couldn’t go through with it.  Cheetah Buddy would be bound to spot me, I could hear her voice in my head ‘walk away from the fleece’ I always am too hot once I get going, I know she’s right, curses.  I nipped into the disabled loo and removed my hidden thermals.  Exiting the cubical into the chill of sub zero air and feeling my breath being sucked away by the cold I wished I’d hung on to the thermals a bit longer.   I think we should get more than one miserly bonus point for turning out in this.  It was however cheery to see loads of Smilies in evidence, and other familiar faces too, so plenty of chit chat at the start.  Especially pleasing, was that the Smiley Placards had been brought out for a special appearance to mark the occasion, they are so completely fabulous.

Today’s run was hard for me.   Weirdly, my quads were really stiff today.  I never get any stiffness there, but today they felt frozen.  Granted, I had gone back to a dance conditioning class yesterday evening for first time since before Christmas, but I genuinely don’t think it was that.  It was like I was cold from the inside.  The outside cold didn’t help, and my legs just wouldn’t work properly.  It was a very full turn out at parkrun today, with lots of first timers.  Unusually, I found I actually had to walk for a section as the sheer volume of runners caused a bottle neck at one point near the first pond, and this was further exacerbated by a couple of walkers with dogs coming in the opposite direction.  We parkrunners gave way to them, in keeping with the parkrun code, and I do agree with that actually, but it did make for a spectacularly slow circuit.  I never warmed up at all, and that, plus being boxed in, made for slow progress.   My legs were turning to ice, I never get cold legs, what was that about?  I wouldn’t have minded so much, but on greeting Cheetah Buddy at the end, turned out she’d got some sort of thermal tights on under her running leggings.  Pots and kettles methinks!  It felt like a personal betrayal, how come I can’t wear a fleece but she can wear her fleeced long-johns?  On the plus side, I suppose this means that in future I can too.  Speaking of which, there was another runner ahead who might want to think about doing the same – put on an extra layer of underwear that is.  I noticed this poor woman had a small, but growing, rip in the seam over her bum as she was running.  She was too fast for me to go and tell her that she was exposing more than she can possibly have intended, but even if I had reached her it wouldn’t have helped much, nothing she could really do about it.  Here is an atmospheric running shot to break up the text.  You can see it was so cold, that it quite drained the colour from the runners, even the landscape, now you don’t have to be nesh to call that nippy!

moody parkrun

So watching with a mixture of dread and anticipation for the moment when all would be revealed by the woman running ahead on account of a complete wardrobe failure by her leggings, made me think I really need to attend to the state of my own running gear.  I’ve only got one pair, that have served me well.  I’ve had them nearly two years, and given that I wear them several times a week and always wash them inbetween, it’s amazing they’ve survived as long as they have.  The other pair I have for emergency use,  are literally decades old, still just about serviceable, but I’d only wear them in an exercise class, they’ve lost their elasticity, and I have to hoik them up with increasingly regularity.  This is achievable in a gym or class context, but not really ideal for running free.  With my favourite pair I’ve found recently that the crotch is sagging, and the fabric noticeably thinning.  Today was living proof that those sudden rips can indeed happen at the most inconvenient of times.  I may have thought little of putting Cheetah Buddy’s arse in the public domain in my blog of last week (she’s fine with it, no-one could possibly identify her from my post, there must be loads of other runners out there who also run their own cookie making businesses in the Sheffield area for goodness sake) but heaven portend I should allow my own buttocks to be put on display in the same way.  Time to start running in my tutu again perhaps.  Would give a bit of extra cover in case of emergencies.

On a more positive note, there were some particularly encouraging marshals today, aided and abetted by some Smiley supporters with actual official Smiley Supporter signs, always a boon.  Because I was wearing my Smiley vest I even had a few random others, including a marshal I didn’t recognise shouting encouragement ‘come on smiley‘ at just the moment on the second lap when I was flagging the most.  It does make a difference if early finishers cheer you round too.  I’ve heard some say they worry if they do this it comes across as patronising, but it never does to me, more empathetic and encouraging.  Keep on cheering us please!

I was beaten home by one of the Monday Mob who I’m usually a little ahead of.  She was gracious enough to attribute this to the fact that she’d been hounded round by a friend who’d goaded her to keep going the whole way round.  She offered up his services to me for next week, but I’m not sure, the whole experience looked a bit terrifying!  Effective certainly, but hardcore.  Here are two of the Monday mob, one in action, captured in the moment of being hounded to the finish line, the other offering particularly enthusiastic support from the sidelines.  I love parkrun, I really do.

It was a relief to join the cake celebrations, run done.

It was indeed bitter, standing about though, not so much because of the cold (though  it was, more for the bitter and ignoble grappling for Smiletastic bonus points, claims and counter claims pinging back and forth on the Smiletastic dedicated Facebook page.  I was in the camp that firmly believed a sub zero point should be awarded for today’s run, but there was a worrying uncertainty that this might not be allowed.  Fortunately, one of our number had the foresight to provide documentary proof of the freezing conditions, I am desperately hoping the casual reader will think this is my own parkrun time, ‘get her and her self-effacing tales, she’s really an awesome runner with a 25.28 parkrun time!‘ well, I say that, it would only work as long as I was never required to replicate the achievement… best laid plans eh, best laid plans.

temperature control parkrun bonus

 (UPDATE: I’m actually finishing this post when the results were in and points were given for sub-zero running, praise be for that).

FYI, those of you who are following the Smiletastic shenanigans with interest may want to know about the outcome of other claims.  Claims that were ultimately rejected included a Smiley wanting a bonus point to take account of the ‘drag’  she endured from having to run with a balloon.  Initially I too regarded this claim as spurious when members of competing teams were claiming, but then I suddenly panicked.  I wondered if I should argue that this was in fact a legitimate when it dawned on me that one of our own Fighting  Feathers might potentially also be beneficiaries of this decision.  Points were also requested (and rejected) for general loveliness (as in ‘I volunteered, and also I already have done 100 runs, don’t I get one?‘); running with a hangover (but I don’t think as a responsible women’s running club we should condone that.  Others expressed amazement that anyone had ever ran parkrun without a hangover in any case, making such a claim redundant).

100 balloon

The creativity of the Smiley cohort is pretty impressive. It seems we not only have many talented runners in the Smiletastic mix, but also some highly competitive and strategic thinkers.   You should all be grateful that this powerful force is being harnessed for good purposes and not for evil ones.    Our Super Smiley Geek must be absolutely thrilled.  At least it’s positive engagement in the challenge, much better to have an overflowing inbox than to be sat gazing at an empty spreadsheet, surely!   I know it looks from a distance like she’s crying, but you can cry with joy as well as frustration right?  Basically, that was what we were all talking about shivering over the cake and coffee at the end, Smiletastic tactics.  Oh, and congratulating the milestone runners, they have a pretty impressive tally of runs between them, more importantly perhaps, they make great cake.  Thanks guys, nom nom yum yum etc.


So, post run, new breakfast venue, Jonty’s being full, and Ella’s being a bit cold, we went for Cafe Ceres.  I had welsh rarebit, which made a change, and was nice enough, but really I’d like to get a decent scrambled eggs on toast with a proper portion of mushrooms again, this seems to be a dream too far if my experiences of the past few months are anything to go by.   For the record, today conversation covered a range of themes, Smiletastic; pharmaceutical trials; road accidents; cake; breakfast venues; legitimacy of bringing Cheetah Buddy’s arse into the public domain (basically, it’s fine for me to do this, as she is so obviously anonymous and unidentifiable… unless she chooses to complain about said post and thereby, ironically out herself.  It’s like the perfect crime!)

Eventually the chat turned to running techniques.  I quizzed fell running Queen-of-the-Hills Smiley about the ‘chimp down, tiger up‘ mantra me and Hobbit Smiley had been pondering.  Hills Smiley looked at me like I was mad, but she’d been trained to maintain a non-judgemental expression, even in the face of such extremes of behaviour.  ‘No‘ she’d not come across that.  Pleasingly though, she did have a new one for me.  For running at break neck speed down hills she’s got one ‘brain off, brakes off‘!   Well, that certainly explains a lot.  There’s no way you’d tackle running down hill at the speeds she reaches if you’d engaged your brain at all.  We didn’t quite explore whether this advice was health and safety compliant, or just incredibly effective.  I shan’t be following it myself to be honest, I’ve more of a cautious bent tackling uneven terrain.  Zig-zag slowly with heels dug in and arms held out for balance is more my established technique and I ahve been known to resort to sliding  down on my ample bottom if circumstanes seem to require it.  You may not wish to emulate me for speed, but it will get you down safe enough when the going gets terrifying.  Just a thought.

brain off brakes off

As we chatted, Cheetah buddy got out a self-cooling ice pack to strap to her leg (shin to be precise).  She refrained from doing the thing with a golf ball in public though.  Anyway, she says it’s better with a tennis ball.  I’m worried all the running around has broken her, I hope not, I need my running buddy to head off to the hills with.  Get well soon.

So, all this is a roundabout way of letting you know, that motivating people to run is basically a piece of cake.  So now you know.  Look, it even got me flying round, surely a first?  With both feet off the ground, I can almost forgive the capturing of my double chin… please tell me it isn’t true that the camera never lies.

levitating smiley


Categories: 5km, motivation, parkrun, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Making the big time – meet The Poster Girl for the Round Sheffield Run

round sheffield run 118 in the woods

It’s not that I’ve got a poor body image exactly, it would be more accurate to say I have a realistic understanding of my body’s human frailties, and it’s a poor body indeed.  Mine, for all its idiosyncrasies is what defines me whether I like it or  not.  Whilst it is hardly true to say ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way’, it has served me well, I should take care of it, and not berate my genetic inheritance, after all, it allows me to put one foot in front of another, repeat, and so on – that’s all that was needed to access the complicated and ambivalent joys of running!  Bizarrely, through running I’ve become sort of habituated to the horrors of being caught on film.   It’s not made me body confident, but it possibly has made me body-resigned.   I’ve never been so snapped in my life since I started running. There are photographers everywhere at events, parkrun, sharing on Facebook.  The photos are great, yeah, yeah, we all may wince a bit at ones of ourselves, but on balance they are really fun.  Individual flattering photos are few and far between, rare treasures indeed.  However, I think maybe this is an example of how individual sacrifices have to be made for the greater good.   I cannot begin to explain how much joy photos of other people running have brought to my life.  Very few people look unconditionally fabulous in such circumstances, but a great many look hilarious.  There are websites devoted to unflattering running photos and some voluntarily upload their own corkers – I’ve included a few of my own on this blog.

Some runners look determined, or with a good photographer framing them (and we are blessed with fine photographers in these parts) can look like art works, captured in a moment in time.  You can observe people’s technique, relive races as you lament the puddles and bow waves generated by runners passing through liquid mud.  Having experienced the run first hand in inclement weather, you can now enjoy it again this time from the comfort of your sofa.  Photos allow you to see into other runners’ souls, pain written on their faces.  I love the shots of people apparently levitating, captured in the moment when both their feet were off the ground.  The fancy dress offerings, family outings with all generations represented.  The fast, the furious, the good, the bad and the ugly.  Everything in between. Even the worst of shots can be reclaimed with a good caption competition.   How about this (you might take as your inspiration the guy on the extreme left of the photo, giving me the evil eye).  Worst case scenario, at least they show you were there, taking part in something unexpected and maybe bigger than yourself.

victory finish smile unflattering

The point is, I’m never going to look like I’m running with the grace of a gazelle, lightly bounding through the grasslands of the Savanna.  If I’m to continue to risk being seen in public and head out the door to ‘run’, I guess I just need to develop a thick skin, a sense of humour to deflect the worst of the pictorial atrocities and sort of embrace the concept of the ‘unfortunate snapshot’, as an inevitable part of the running experience.  As surely as I have become interested in running socks; developed an unexpected curiosity for both foam rollers and the road less travelled, I will find myself now and again caught on film, captured for all eternity in a less than flattering pose.  Same things happens to celebrities, ultimately, nobody cares.  OK, maybe celebrities get a few more fringe benefits by way of compensation, but let’s not get picky.  Basically, what I’m trying to say is don’t let a poor body image get in the way of running… you probably are doing just fine.

Over time,  I have come to realise that actually, when you are running, this is honestly true.  Really, nobody cares.  They might possibly be amused, but they are unlikely to be judging in harsher terms, and those that are judging are most likely doing so from the sidelines.  We should feel sorry for them as they are missing out on all the fun, no wonder they are small-minded, bad-tempered and have to plump their own egos by being derogatory about others.  (What do you mean defensive?).  As for the really fast runners, or being self-conscious about my body as a middle aged, past fifty female being lapped by lithesome young men I’ve learned a few things since I started running, which I will share here, you might want to write them down, or at least bookmark this page:

  1. We aren’t so much being lapped we are ‘active spectators’ who can simultaneously watch and admire the front runners, whilst participating in the event ourselves, perfect example of multi-tasking.  A cause for celebration, not shame.
  2. Whilst I absolutely deplore the objectification of either sex, focussing on an Adonis like form ahead can help you in your quest for a PB, where is the shame in that?  And incidentally, I’ve had at least one short sighted runner (straight man) admit to me they had their eye on a particularly delightfully contoured bottom for almost an entire parkrun, really pushed themselves to keep it in sight, and it was only at the end they realised it belonged to a gender other than the one they had been pursuing in their imagination!
  3. Most importantly, I now realise that the ‘serious’ runners, are so focused on their own performance, that I could be running ahead of them naked, bar my shoes, and they wouldn’t even notice me unless my spikes were superior to theirs.  Fact.


Honestly, nobody cares.  Having said that, I’m not so completely liberated that I’m going to now upload all my really dire offerings, there are options enough within this blog already for anyone who wishes to ruin me.  I’m quite happy to post funny and unflattering photos of others though, they are already in the public domain, so I reckon it’s a fair cop.  Note, all of these people are in great shape, they ought to look absolutely fabulous in photos, but guess what, if you are running, chances are you’ll be snapped in less than poised perfection at some point in your sprinting, trailing and jogging career.

Even so, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that now and again I’ve dreamt about being a bit more in tune with the fantasy image of the streamlined runner.  You know, those runners that look strong, confident, streamlined and are eating up the miles with effortless long athletic strides.  They never have to worry about bounce, and drag, and pelvic floor.  They won’t fall over half way round, end up face first in the mud or be last home at the end of an event.  Sigh, imagine what that would be like.  To be The Poster Girl* for a running event, then you’d know you’d really arrived.

So I like to think it isn’t entirely hypocritical and inconsistent of me to harbour a dream of one day being that Poster Girl.  To find myself chosen as the singular image that will epitomize and encompass all the that the organisers wish for in promoting their running event.   Now, wouldn’t that be something?  However far fetched.  What is it they say ‘you gotta have a dream, cos otherwise how you gonna have a dream come true‘ (sorry, Americans and their cut short English, not exactly RP I’m afraid, but you know what I mean.)


If I’m really honest, I’ve been angling for such an opportunity for some time, albeit going for the ironic rather than serious approach.  I had really hoped to be snapped up by the Wingerworth Wobblers for the poster for their 2016 Wingerworth wobble.  I’m not ashamed to admit I’d more than hinted at this possibility, perhaps even pro-actively lobbied for it in an earlier blog entry (bringing ballast to the back). After all, if you see me in action, compared with the poster advertising the 2015 event (profound contrast between the rhetoric of the promotion and reality of participation you will agree) I think you can see that replacing the current image with one of me in action instead would have a profound impact on the appeal of the race.  Widening participation is terribly important in this day and age, and surely I could be the face of inclusivity for them if not exactly aspiration and excellence?  To be fair, I don’t think the committee for this year’s event have yet agreed their publicity strategy for the 2016 Wingerworth Wobble so there is still time for them to consider.  What do you think, am I in with a chance?  The photo’s already good to go, just a bit of photo-shopping to complete the picture

Reader, I am toying with you.  I’m here to tell you that dreams really can come true, I am the living incarnation of this!  Earlier this week I was stalking the Round Sheffield Run Facebook page for updates on how entries were going. This is absolutely my favourite event of the year.  Friendly, local, beautiful location, leafy trails and glorious views.  It has everything, lovely route, pathologically friendly marshals, great stop start/ format so you never have to run more than 3 km maximum.  Lots of spectator support – look out for the pirate in the woods (or was that the TenTenTen?).  It is clearly a run/race designed by people who love running, and have thought about the ideal components for a perfect event, and then made it so.  It is unusual, and possibly unique, in that the way it is structured allows elite runners and novices to run in the same event.  They use the terrain in a fun way.  So there are prizes for King/Queen of the mountain for those who are super-keen and want to sprint up the killer hills, but places where it is beyond imagining (and/or too dangerous) to run, like up some steep slippery steps going into one of the woods, become untimed zones so you can saunter up, eating your body weight in jelly babies as you do so, and exchanging pleasantries with other runners or marshals en route.  What’s not to like?

Fast runners can treat it as interval training, mere mortals like myself can enjoy the unpressurised approach.  Jelly babies in abundance (bananas as the vegetarian option), nice bling.  Different waves of start times mean, if you go early you get to see the faster runners pass you by, whereas in other events you just trail home behind them never getting to see the elite runners.  This was the first time ever I’d actually enjoyed the experience of running at the time, as opposed to feeling smug on completion, and given that the route is 24 km or thereabouts (only 20 km is timed), that’s pretty much a miracle.  I also made the rookie error of taking the advice about ‘suitable for all abilities’ quite literally, and from having only really done parkrun and a slow and laboured 10 km before (well over an hour and on a tedious flat course Varsity 10K), entered the RSR without realising  quite how far it was.  I’m so glad I did, I would have missed out massively otherwise, and once you’ve done that distance once, albeit as a walk /run (it wasn’t so much of a miracle that I could actually run the whole thing – what do you take me for?) – then it follows you can do it again.  Hooray!  So, another learning outcome for you from today dear reader, don’t be afraid to give the RSR a go. What’s the worst that can happen?  (Actually, scratch that bit, that sounds like tempting fate).  Maybe think in terms of if you can walk this distance, then why not enter anyway, and just put in the odd gentle jog en route.  You’ll be fine, it’ll be fun, think of the bragging rights on completion.  And trust me, I went to complete rather than compete, and it was a great way to go.  More time on the course, better value for money, that’s how I see it, and the queue for coffee is shorter by the time you get back to Endcliffe Park.

Did I not mention they even have proper coffee at the end?  Also sports massages in return for donations.  Photos for ‘free’ – donations encouraged,only cheapskates fail to cough up.  Honestly, the only thing that would improve this event would be an archway of rainbows lining the entire course, and compulsory fancy dress for competitors.  Oh, actually, that reminds me.  First year I entered this as a pair with my Cheetah Buddy and we found our numbers were 118 118.  No really!  We were over-joyed, we hadn’t known in advance unfortunately, so had to resort to post event fancy dress via a bit of cunning tampering with the image.  You get the idea though.  Shame we couldn’t find a way to make our legs look longer with the image tampering, but we look happy enough all the same, and that was for real!

So, I’m really building up to the climax now.  Guess what?  No, go on, see if you can guess!  No, not that.  Oh, no, not that either – what do you take me for?  Perhaps I should… yes, I’ll just tell you.  LOOK.  It’s me.  I am The Poster Girl for a running race.  Not just any running race by MY FAVOURITE RUN OF THEM ALL.  I can now die happy (though hopefull not as an immediate and direct consequence of all this excitement).  I could burst I’m so chuffed I don’t mind telling you.  In the circumstances they could have picked a picture as unflattering as hell and I wouldn’t have cared, but actually, they’ve done pretty well AND I’m wearing my Smiley Vest.  This means a perfect trinity of delight – I get to be The Poster Girl (point one)  for my favourite run (point two) and do so sporting my treasured (but rather unflattering) Smiley Paces vest (point three).  Weirdly, it’s also a picture I’ve not seen before so double bonus points for that:

RSR poster girl

Now, pedants amongst you might notice (so I’ll get in there first), that strictly speaking this isn’t an actual poster, and nor is it the only image being used to promote the event on Facebook.  It is but one post of many on their Facebook page, bigging up the occasion and trying to get people to sign up.  You know what.  I don’t care.  I have had my five minutes of glory, and the opportunity to get a screen dump of that moment so it is now true for all time.  I was the runner they chose for that moment on that day, even if it was just a joke or because of my Smiley vest.  It even looks like I’ve over-taken some of the other runners, as long as I don’t draw attention to the fact that their different coloured bibs are indicative of a later starting wave, so actually they’ve well caught me up.  It can be our little secret, yes?

The fact that the use of my image was but fleeting, sort of echoes with the nature of both a dream-like state (who knows what is real and what is not in that magical land of limbo and semi-consciousness) and that running requires a fleetness of foot.   Or in my case, at least to be game.  Yay, get me, I’m a Poster Girl for the running community.  It is only a matter of time before if you Google my name it will come up as ‘runner’ for the top hit.  If my old PE teacher could see me now!

I’ll try not to let this unexpected moment of celebrity change me, instead I’ll use my influence for the greater good.  Ideally, I’d like to travel the world and meet people, be an ambassador for world peace and rescue animals.  Fortunately I have friends to help keep me grounded; eminent Smiley Paces athletes who have been proper celebrities before me (by say actually winning championships whilst representing the UK in running and triathlon for example. as opposed to having their picture randomly chosen for a facebook post) who can advise; and also actual ground beneath me.  Muddy and undulating, ultimately, it is that uneven  terrain which will bring me back to earth.  I fully expect to be face planting or arse sliding at some point on the Round Sheffield Run 2016, but you know what, it will be soooooooooo worth it.  Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait.

So dear reader, on dark days when life’s challenges may seem to overwhelm you, I’m here to tell you dreams can come true.  If it can happen to me it can happen to anyone.  I may even come to build a career as a motivational speaker, touring the country with my rousing and uplifting talk on this very theme, coming to a village hall near you any time soon.  Look out for the posters!

(* In this instance it is OK to use the term ‘girl’ because the whole point is that a poster girl is an artificial one-dimensional construct that just doesn’t really exist, trust me on this).


OMG – have found I’ve practically gone viral – see runABCnorth Kandoo attitude for Sheffield Trail Run article  it just gets better, I get to be associated with a pun as well, who doesn’t love a fun pun for a fun run?

ABC north running feature

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

Accelerating into the woods


I wonder how many people have ended up in A&E because of beetroot?  Not so much beetroot injuries from the hardened tap root being lobbed at them in anger and landing on its target – though I imagine that could indeed do some serious damage- but from eating them and then forgetting.  On the subject of unexpectedly savage injuries though (yes we were) have I ever told you about the time I was in a cubicle in A&E with a pulmonary embolism, and overheard someone in the next cubicle being diagnosed with a possible radial fracture of the eye socket after being hit in the face with a shuttlecock?  No?  Well I was and I did. The most comical bit about the whole episode was hearing the junior doctor telephone a more senior consultant to ask if he should do an x-ray or not (not for me, but for Shuttlecock man).  Although the senior physician on the other end of the phone was obviously more experienced and better medically qualified, they were clearly originally from overseas, and had English as a Second Language, mysteriously the vocabulary acquired for medical purposes had not expanded to encompass the word for ‘shuttlecock’.  Thus, the junior doctor was trying to explain what it was ‘sort of made of feathers‘, and how it had come to cause such a severe injury.  You could almost hear the consultant the other end deeply inhale and suggest in no uncertain terms that feathers probably wouldn’t cause an injury as serious as all that.  The junior doctor renewed his explanation giving increasing detail about what exactly a shuttlecock is ‘there’s a little tough ball in the middle of it as well…’  Disappointingly, I never did find out what happened next as annoyingly I started to go into cardiac arrest at that point, life is full of such unknown endings is it not…  Incidentally, don’t you think a shuttlecock would make a great template for a dalek? I tried to Google images for shuttlecocks made into daleks and didn’t find a single one.  I’m astonished, I may yet take up the challenge myself, some things are just begging to be brought to life.


I had very little sleep last night (excitement over being part of the Flying Feathers perhaps, or too much cheese too late – hard to be sure?)   Whatever the cause,  I was really, really drowsy when I had to get up.  I must have dropped back off to sleep again after hearing all about the terrorist attack in Indonesia just being reported, because I finally woke disorientated and late, radio still on, having slept through my actual alarm.  Attending to my toileting I got a great shot of adrenalin though.  I didn’t need Doctor Google to know I was dying, and wondered whether or not I’d be needing to use my sick note for the Smiletastic challenge in what for me is week one.   This would be a very bad start indeed.   (The rules stipulate that you can play one sick card during the 12 week series, which means your runs get credited for that week, after that, you are on your own).  It took a few seconds to realise it was just my impulsive new healthy eating regime making itself known.  Beetroot eh. I do love it, but it gets me every time.  Big relief, not least because I didn’t really fancy having to take a selfie of me and the contents of my toilet bowl alongside a copy of today’s paper and my synchronised watch to send to Geek Guru Smiley just to qualify for a  sick note.  I like think that my relief at this turn of events will be as nothing to hers.  I wonder what other treats she has been getting in her inbox since initiating this challenge?  Unintended consequences are always the worst.

Still, on the plus side, got me into active mode.  Just as well as really dark and dismal out, but today was to be a new challenge.  Today I was to take to the woods, and discover running in a new regime.  No idea what to expect.  It was absolutely bloody freezing.  Surely it was sub-zero?  I don’t have any means of gauging this, but if the state of my pert nipples protruding through my running top was anything to go by this was a seriously cold day.  I thought they might fall off, and I didn’t fancy having to go to A&E with those in a sandwich bag in hopeful anticipation of surgical reattachment either.  Wind chill, sleet, even though I headed off about 9.10 a.m. it was so dark outside it was like we’d entered an eternal night, had dawn really come?  I was heading off to the Woodlands Discovery Centre in Ecclesall Woods, for a running drill session put on by Accelerate.  It takes place every thursday at 9.30 a.m., cost £2 and is ‘suitable for all’. Hmm, well I’d find out.  It was so cold, there is no way on earth I’d have gone through with this were it not for my ‘conscientious but keen’ mode being fully operational.  Two-fold motivation to get there today, 1) Smiletastic, need to bag those runs, and 2) I’d rung up the shop yesterday about recycling my old running shoes.   I’d heard that they collect them up and recondition them to send to Africa or something, and I’d said I’d take them along to today’s run.

discovery centre winter

So driving down to the woods it was so murky outside I had my headlights on.  Sleet spat down on the windscreen, and the traffic was pretty heavy.  I saw one car with a good couple of inches of snow on its roof and bonnet, it must have come from a bit higher up.  It seems there is indeed ‘proper snow’ not too far away.  I arrived at the discovery centre which I’ve never  visited before.  It’s an impressive development.  I parked in the car park in what turned out to be at right angles to the intended parking places.  Oh well.  I hovered about self-consciously, but then a fellow Smiley spotted me and I her.  She is a regular at this Thursday session apparently, and pointed out the rendezvous point which is lovely and warm inside.  There were a fair few runners already there, most were taller than me and looked fitter.  I recognised many Smilies and a few from parkrun too, plus one person who I’d swear was a doppelgänger for a friends’ son from years ago but can’t have been, because that was when I was working in Anglesey.   There was one other complete newbie who’d been brought along by a friend.

I basically copied the others.  You sign in with an emergency contact number, always a challenge for me, I’ve really no idea who should be contacted in a scenario serious enough that I can’t communicate options for myself.  I just put in my default number which is for George Clooney’s UK agent.  Don’t know if it would actually work, but worth a try.   You then toss your two pound coins (or equivalent currency) into a tasteful wooden hand-crafted bowl put out for the purpose.  Cold and disorientated I nearly threw in my car keys as well, as it looked very similar to a turned rustic wooden bowl I have at home for just this purpose.  Fortunately, I didn’t follow through with this impulse, I don’t think a swinging party was quite the appropriate way to go.

I couldn’t quite fathom who was ‘in charge’ so to speak, as everyone looked more competent and confident than me.  I knew it was a guy leading the session though and that did narrow the options down quite considerably, of the 18 or so of us there, only three were men.  I chose the wrong one to approach, proferring my old trainers in a plastic bag (worth 5p alone), he was friendly, but pointed me at the run leader, who, understandably looked slightly horrified, like I’d just regurgitated some food up for him to eat or something.  I had cleaned them, more than I ever did for my own usage (discovered sports shoe cycle on my washing machine bizarrely) just I think the offering was unexpected.  He didn’t really want them before the run, and I stood a bit embarrassed, feeling this was just the first of many faux pas which I had still to make.  The first guy though rescued me.  Turns out he is a ranger who works at the discovery centre.  Escorting these weekly runs comes under the mysterious job description bullet point of ‘any other duties’ it seems.  He relieved me of my shoes and put them in his office for later collection.    As everyone had assembled by now, he also had to lock his office, which seemed to involve basically walling himself in with wooden panels.  Then he magically reappeared at another entrance.  It was like a magic trick.  Da na!


So, all assembled, next stop, ironically was go – i.e. physical activity.  Tomtom on, and off we went, through the woods, for a gentle 1.5 km or so jog.  It was quite companionable, although there was only one other newbie there, the other runners seemed friendly. One I struck up a conversation with commented on my trail shoes because she had the same pair at home and was running in her fell shoes today.  I glanced across and realised I’ve got the same fell ones as her too. Spooky.  It was nice running in a new location, the paths were pretty good, it was off-putting that it was quite so cold though.  There also seemed to be a ridiculous amount of large dogs about.  Alsations and huskies, I’m usually OK with dogs, but in these numbers they were a bit intimidating.  We had to cross the road at one point, and just where we emerged from the woods there was a group of small-ish children all in hi-viz.  Some were sitting in a small wooden cart which an adult was towing along, and the older ones were in a sort of fluorescent crocodile.  As we approached their accompanying adult said ‘ooh look a race!’ and urged the children to clap us enthusiastically as we scampered by, it was rather sweet, and also encouraging, you can’t really stop in such circumstances, whatever it takes to keep me moving..

ecclesall woods sign

So we ran on, until we reached the designated drill place.  Here we split into two group to undertake various running routines.  I was in the beginners group, the advanced group looked brutal.  We started in the same place, by a handy memorial bench bestrewn with flowers, but ran in opposite directions.  They had to do all their drills running up hill.  We had a flatter section.  I was a bit dubious about some of the drills to be honest.  I wasn’t entirely sure if they were to improve our running techniques or just for the merriment of our run leader.  I do know they were way harder to execute than they should have been.  Mutant bunny hops, reverse spotty dogs; high knees (done that before); fast feet; hopscotch (but without the stone throwing) all sorts really.  Interspersed with explanations and a few pointers on technique.  The run leader did offer up some particularly impressive demos of the drills.  When he did one of the legs-together jumping ones it was like watching a human pogo stick.  Quite amazing, how did he get up so high?  I have no such spring, and my body seems to cling to the earth no matter how much I try to project it upwards.  Still, good to know it’s hypothetically achievable, even if only by other people.

Technique was things like working your arms so that they are parallel with your body, rather than elbows sticking out to the side so you end up twisting and wasting energy… this I already knew, the extra bit of of bonus technique, was learning that if you feel crowded at the start of a run, then elbows out is the way to go.  Sharpened elbows twisting sideways can clear you a phenomenal amount of space it seems on a start line.  Runners will part like the  Red Sea for Moses so you can just run right through.  Worth knowing.  One eminent Smiley elder is especially gifted in this technique apparently,but I wont name her, she wasn’t there to defend herself in any case, so especially unfair to draw attention to this sportswomanship… though actually, I think she would most likely rightly own it as a badge of honour and a legitimate technique, and frankly if she is as good at doing it as they were saying, who would challenge her?

From the session I found that I can’t really balance on one leg; I can’t really run in a straight line; I can’t really get airborne in any jumping exercises; my toes hurt with on tip toe exercises and my calves hurt with the on heel ones.  I also found I winced more than a bit at being collectively referred to as ‘girls’ we really aren’t.  Other people don’t seem to mind the use of this word like I do, I just find it incredibly patronising and annoying, even when women use it referring to themselves.   It just seems to infantalize us, I’m fifty, I’m really not a ‘girl’.   I fully appreciate it is intended to be friendly, and many women find it perfectly acceptable, like it even, I really hate it though.  For me it actually spoils otherwise worthy campaigns such as ‘this girl can‘ I applaud the sentiment, but my how I hate that slogan, I’d never wear the T-shirt.  Rant over.  Temporarily.  It’ll annoy me again pretty soon I should imagine.

this girl can logo

 I also learnt that maybe it’s time to get some tena lights as my pelvic floor wasn’t really up to all that jumping around.  Apart from these minor details covering about 85% of the activities I was quite brilliant at everything.

ecclesall woods

It was nice being in the woods, apart from the cold and sleet, and I did enjoy watching others and you can learn from this too.  A favourite moment was glancing round and seeing the advanced group effectively in formation goose-stepping up a hill (only the legs though, not the arms).  It’s a good idea to take this kind of activity into a hidden woodland glade if you are planning to use it as a training device.  It was funny to observe, but definitely had the potential to be misconstrued.

So lots of running around, some standing around, a bit of chit chat, and then finally, session ended and so we had a final jog back to the start. This involved a pretty brutal up-hill run, but I took it steady, and although it was hard, Porter Valley has habituated me to the necessity of up hill running, I know in my heart of hearts I’ll only get better by doing more.

Suddenly we were back, and it was all over.  Our run leader mentioned a more specialised gait analysis session happening at the Sheffield shop on Saturday.  This does sound good, but clashes with parkrun and although no doubt good value at £20  I can get cake and run for free at parkrun.  I did ask if it was really suitable for all-comers though, as I’m never entirely sure whether to believe this.  The response confused me, ‘absolutely’ and then our run leader listed off all these very famous running champions who’d attended such sessions and perhaps missed my point.  I don’t want to know Jessica Ennis or whoever has been to these sessions, I want to know if people like me can turn up and not be laughed out of the place.  Hey ho.  I think the point being made was anyone can learn from such sessions whatever level they are currently at.  I still feel out of place though, even whilst I recognise the problem is in my head, not in how other more experienced runners are behaving towards me.  Sigh, it’s hard being me, all those neuroses to contend with, you have no idea…

So afterwards, I thanked the friendly run leaders and they asked if I’d be back.  I think I will.  It was definitely useful.  It was a bit of a shock to the system as although I’ve done drills before these specific ones were new, and I did feel a bit out of my comfort zone socially.  I suppose it’s a long time since I’ve done anything like that with an entirely new group of people.  The Smileys present today were super-smiley and friendly of course, but they were all from the awesome runners end of the continuum.  I think I need to process some of what we did, so that next time I can try a bit harder.  I still suffer from this sort of denial syndrome with regards to running.  I turn up to do these things, whether that’s a training session or a run out or an actual race/event, and yet I’m always a bit taken aback when we have to actually start to sprint off somewhere.  A bit inside of me is quietly horrified at such voluntary exertion.  It always catches me by surprise.  I must be very, very slow on the uptake, as well as slow on the run.

I’m not sure if the quote below is quite right, because I’ve never to run to try and beat anyone else, but I can relate to the competition with the inner voice.  I do know that now and again I get a little glimpse of what it’s like to really run and feel free.  When you catch yourself building up momentum whizzing down hill, when you are in some glorious countryside and have the world to yourself, or when with friends, putting the world to rights jogging along, literally and metaphorically with random thought processing and simultaneous broadcasting covering topics as diverse as international politics and where to get a decent sports bra.  Those times, and the joy of running on a travelator at an abandoned airport.  I get it then, what’s not to like?

just run

On a more positive note, for next time, I now also know there is a coffee shop on site, and a post-run coffee would be fab.  Pleasingly, even though the continuous running was quite limited, the total does exceed the minimum criteria for a Smiletastic run, coming in at around 2.8 miles I think.  How I love my TomTom, I’d never have known that before.  Now I just have to worry if this drill session will lead to my being deemed a ‘sandbagger’ as I still have parkrun and long Sunday run scheduled in.  The wrath of Smiley Guru Geek is something to be feared…

ecclesall woods 14 jan 2016

So thank you nice people at the Woodland Discovery Centre for hosting and welcoming, thank you nice Accelerate run leader for sharing your expertise, thank you nice uber-runner Smiley leader for being so positive and encouraging and thank you running companions all for being inclusive and non-judgemental as I tackled it all with wide-eyed apprehension rather than through revealing previously undiscovered latent running talent. As the saying goes – I’ll be back…

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

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