The thing is, photos never really do a place justice do they? It was just beautiful out today, but you’ll have to take to the hills to find out for yourself to fully appreciate it.
Sunday morning, and I’m back in Sheffield after some time away doing my parkrun tourism at Bushy Park (not that that was the only reason I was down there, but it is the running link). With the doubtful faces of my friend’s children burned on to my retina (their expressions on hearing I had entered the Sheffield Half Marathon for those of you that haven’t been concentrating), I was particularly mindful that I need to get my arse into gear if I have any chance of starting, let alone finishing this event on the 10th April. Hence, Saturday night was a flurry of facebook and email exchanges trying to rally support for an off-road yomp.
Most bowed out with various plausible excuses (childcare/ illness/ rehearsing for concert performance), but I don’t need those light-weights in my life anyway. Cheetah buddy was true to her word and fully committed. What’s more, a couple of Rustling Road Runner Refugees were also up for it. The deal was struck. A suitable rendezvous spot identified. With the zeal of a new convert, I was up early enough to have porridge prior departure, and even jogged down to the start point. This turned out though to be a massive miscalculation. To my surprise, jogging did mean I actually arrived more quickly than when I just dawdle down gazing around, who’d have thought it? Therefore I had to stand around in the freezing cold, runner spotting. Confusingly, the place we’d picked (just outside the park and at the point where a couple of footpaths converge entering Bingham Park and Whitely Woods) was a popular meeting place. I wasn’t entirely sure if some of the other runners lurking might be for ‘my’ run so I did that awkward squinting, slightly apologetic ‘hi’ to a couple, before establishing they were sprinting off down roads with others, or in one case, waiting for a lift back after a run. Though, for the record, that poor woman was having to go straight to a children’s rugby session, which, as far as I could gather would involve standing around in the freezing cold, and she’d forgotten to bring a fleece of anything else warm to put on post run. She’s probably still there, frozen in time. At least she had a nice run first before being immortalised in that fashion.
It was really, really, horribly cold waiting. I was wearing my deeply attractive buff, and resorted to pulling it up over my head in a sort of hybrid between a balaclava and a face veil. It was not only unflattering, but probably made me look marginally unhinged, was it my imagination that subsequent passers-by passed by with a wider berth than previously? I am actually secretly very impressed with myself that I worked out how to do this all by myself, without recourse to any instructions. It is true that necessity is the mother of invention. However, in case you haven’t kept up with such innovations, I came across this stylish guide on the internet for you to enjoy. My profile isn’t quite so sculpted by the way, rather than accentuating my chiselled features, my buff made it look like my head was a swathed pumpkin. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the swathed pumpkin look could be a real hit come next Halloween:
I enjoyed watching passes by, and temporarily forgot how eccentric I must have looked My favourite sighting of the morning was a group of fairly tough looking young men (band of brothers), unusually tall, and quite rugby player looking if I had to stereotype for ease of reference. Each of them was accompanied by their own petite French bulldog on a delicate looking lead. It was a bizarre juxtaposition of dogs and men. These people definitely looked more like they should be accessorizing with say a British bulldog, or bull terrier type – maybe they ended up with these particular mutts after a lexicographical error when ordering them off ebay or something, who knows?
In time the Rustling Runners duo appeared, and finally, in a fluster of flapping jacket and spinning bike wheels, cheetah buddy too. We did hellos, set our respective gps devices (get us, seriously kitted up for action) and the yomp up the valley commenced. It was really, really crowded for some reason. I don’t know if it was partly that people are finally getting back into some sort of a routine now the festive season is officially over, whether it was New Year Resolutions to ‘get out more’ in action, or possibly even an organised event of some sort. We seemed to see an unfathomable number of people in groups with greyhounds and whippets. I wondered if it might be a fundraiser or social for the greyhound trust say. Also, couldn’t help but notice an unusually high proportion of what might be universally recognised as ‘reluctant teens’ amongst the mix. Family groups which didn’t look like all members were equally joyful about heading out to the woods. Naturally, we were sprinting way too fast to stop and ask them, much better to just speculate, and imagine their motivations, truth can be dull and disappointing by comparison, sometimes it’s very much better not to know.
I had moaned (sorry, been clear) a lot in advance, that I wanted to do long and slow. My plan is to extend my distance each week, and hope as I do so I’ll end up running increasingly long sections within it. Cheetah buddy was very loyal, and stuck with me at my petulant pace. The other two were a bit fleeter of foot, and went on ahead, stopping at intervals. It was nice though, we weren’t too unevenly matched, others have either lost fitness lately, or were just happy to take it slow and enjoy the scenery. We saw another heavily bedecked bauble tree right by Forge Dam, I’ve not noticed that before, no idea when that guerilla decorating took place.
Lovely going up through the wood and trails, it was pretty muddy, but not as muddy as you might think given recent weather. Once we came out at the top of the valley, the other two decided to head back as they weren’t able to do the longer run. We shivered and chit chatted a bit at the view point back across Sheffield, than waved them goodbye, and Cheetah Buddy and I yomped onwards. Over the stile and onto the grass found us really exposed. It was sooooooooooo cold up there. I began to wonder if it was such a good idea, but after an admittedly pretty unpleasant 500 metre dash we found ourselves at a fenceline crossing to the heather, I always feel once I’ve stepped foot on that, I’ve properly made the most of being so near to the peak district out on a walk or run from my house.
The fence turned out to be something of a challenge. To this point, we’d kept our feet dry, but it was mud and pooling water by the stile here. As we are highly intelligent human beings, we worked out that we might be able to by-pass this trial by icy water, if we clung onto the fence, standing on its lower wooden rail, and sort of used that to get a bit above the worst of the water. Unfortunately, we aren’t all that bright as we thought, because although it was a very nice post and rail fence thank you very much, the upper rail had an electric fence attached to it. I went first and was immediately zapped. I couldn’t believe how much it hurt. Blimey! I had to concede though it was funny, and deserved. Cheetah Buddy found an alternative route hopping lightly from boulder to boulder – there were a few emergent stones that stood out like little islands in a sea of mud. She negotiated this just fine, I didn’t. I don’t have a ‘light leaping’ gene and seem to be entirely without any natural bounce. Also, my legs are shorter, so I didn’t have the same reach. Oh well.
Over the other side, I was only partially wet in one foot, Cheetah Buddy was dry, and quietly smug I felt. Absolutely not rubbing it in, but didn’t deny her feet were all warm and snug when asked about this directly. We jogged on, pausing for obligatory selfie shots. These were disastrous. We went for individually posed ones instead. These were unflattering. I really hope they were anyway. Do we actually look like this? I might close this blog post for comments in case someone feels they need to tell us how it is. See earlier reference above, it isn’t always important to know the truth, it really isn’t, it can spoil things more than you know.
It was nice to yomp and talk. Amongst other things, we discussed running niggles – Cheetah Buddy has posterior problems, styrofoam syndrome or polystyrene syndrome or something – hang on I’ll look it up –Piriformis Syndrome, so I was close. Basically, this massive pain in the butt, presents enormous punning opportunities along the lines of how she needs to get her ‘arse into gear’ and similar. Possibly slightly intoxicated by the thin cold air, I found this disproportionately funny, (great friend I am), Cheetah Buddy less so, mainly because it really hurts, and there isn’t all that much you can do about it other than self-imposed torture of foam rolling or using ice – which she was reluctant to try, because that would be hideous. I offered to push her arse first into an icy puddle once we got to the top of the moor, I knew there would be a good one up top, but she declined. Honestly, some people just wont help themselves will they. Another alternative it seems is to manoeuvre herself, and her bottom’s sweet spot, onto a golf ball to get deep tissue massage in precisely the right area. This sounds like an extremely high risk activity to me. I imagine she would be very likely to end up in A&E having to trot out her embarrassingly unlikely explanation as to how a golf ball came to be lodged in whatever orifice it finally ended up. Tricky.
So, at the tops, sure enough, a great expanse of saturated bog awaited us. It was beautiful though, even though it presented a serious challenge in terms of how we were going to get to the other side of it. Morale was not altogether helped, by seeing a man coming the other way. He had with him two dogs, and even they looked a bit reluctant to get stuck in – and one of them was a springer spaniel, aren’t they supposed to love water. He was wearing wellingtons, and still tentatively trying to find tussocks that wouldn’t have the water over the top of his boots.
We made various attempts to scoot round the outside. For me it was hopeless, I was ankle deep very soon. In a way, it was almost a relief to have my feet completely waterlogged, it’s much worse when you are trying to avoid this fate. Once ‘the inevitable’ has happened, you stop being pathetic with puddles and mud and can just splosh through them in the most direct route. Frankly, what I should have done in the first place. Whilst I was becoming resigned to my fate, we saw an experienced sprite like fell runner come sprinting down the path towards us. He barely broke stride, but on tip toe, leapt with grace and accuracy from tiny tussock to tiny tussock landing on a pin head with the accuracy of a mountain goat (actually, I might have muddled up a few similes and metaphores there, but hopefully you’ll get my drift) he was amazing. I bet he kept his feet dry. Wading through, I glanced across at my cheetah buddy. Her fell shoes are gortex, and waterproof. I couldn’t see how this would work. Surely the water would come over her ankles anyway, and isn’t the whole point of the meshing that it lets out the water once in, gortex can’t cope with that can it? Well, it seems it could cope, it coped very well indeed. By choosing her path carefully, and negotiating the route on tip toe somehow Cheetah Buddy had stayed completely dry. I know cats don’t like water, but this was nigh on miraculous. I was very impressed, and in honesty, pretty jealous too, I tried not to let on too much, but I’m shallow and easy to read, so I think she may have guessed. I need to learn to hurrumph more quietly.
Back across the moors, through Lady Canning’s plantation, dodging mountain bike riders en route. All very courteous, but again many about. There must have been some event going on. Scampering back down the valley I had that brief sense of running free when gravity helps you and you feel super-fit. It may be only temporary, but it is fun while it lasts. Towards the finish we saw the tiniest imaginable mini dachshund puppy. I’m not sure about that, from a distance it looked a bit freakish, up close though, you had to accept it’s cute quotient was off the scale.
We ended up in an independent coffee shop, Oakbrook Coffee House. The last free table was for two, and it was in a corner away from the door (which SOME PEOPLE seem to take joy in leaving open all the time) and we snuggled up in the corner supping on coffees and polenta and orange cake which was really delicious. FYI my spell check thinks ‘polenta’ should be ‘tadpole’, tempted to allow that correction for hilarity purposes, but then I thought as I’m vegetarian it might be confusing. It had a great texture and was very moist, also gluten free, thought that wasn’t particularly why we chose it.
Whilst in the shop we compared the state of our muddy trainers and socks, possibly we got a bit dis-inhibited as we ended up removing our shoes for comparison purposes. They were pretty friendly in the coffee shop, and I imagine they get a fair few runners in so I expect they’ll have seen worse. I needed the shoes to come off, because I wanted to be quite satisfied that Cheetah Buddy’s feet were indeed dry. They were, and what’s more, this revelation gave me sock envy, to add to the dry feet envy which I’d been somewhat braced for. She has those amazing (life-changing according to some) Injinji socks. I am so tempted. Maybe if I complete my Smiletastic challenge for January without slacking I will reward myself with a pair. Soooo tempting, it’s either that or find a way to become a sponsored athlete, and I just don’t think that’s going to happen somehow, not in time for February anyway…
So for those of you that care about the stats, the run/walk was around 7.2 miles, bit more if you count the jog to get there. Cheetah Buddy not only provided encouragement and companionship, but was also official photographer. Thank you for that. I still haven’t worked out what I give back in return. Maybe I’m a slow burner and it will emerge later. Running wise, it felt fine, granted, I need to do a lot more running within the distance, but it’s a start. First run down. I can do this…