Chickens and running = Smiletastic winter challenge.
If you think of birds running, and I like to imagine that perhaps you do from time to time, then the most likely image to come into your mind will be that of the International Stunt Chickens. When it comes to poulty sprinting, the International Stunt Chickens have been the most amazing ambassadors for the running community. You will see them practically doing parkour in urban environments, as they scatter after being accidentally released on highways or cities as a result of vehicles overturning in a wild car chase. In rural scenes they will tackle all terrains, sprinting across fields, trying to take flight over fences, they may not be exactly natural runners, but they surely demonstrate that with tenacity anyone can run, tackle a tough mudder, even attempt to fly, however unpromising their innate aerodynamic form. In a sense therefore, the International Stunt Chickens, very much epitomise the Smiley Spirit of ‘Just Flippin’ Do It!‘ (or possibly ‘flapping’ in this instance) #JFDI!
Whether or not you were aware of them as an actual cohesive workforce, you will have seen them in action on films. You know those scenes where heroes or robbers are escaping through a crowded market, and they push over a stall selling hens, or a vehicle takes a short cut through a farm yard and the chickens that were previously just pootling about suddenly have to scatter in all directions? Well, those hens are in fact highly trained professionals, the International Stunt Chickens. It is part of their skill that they appear to be running around in fear and confusion (not unlike us Smiley Paces members on a Thursday night running drill session), whereas in fact all of their seemingly random dispersal is carefully choreographed and rehearsed. Copyrighting restrictions have made it hard for me to get hold of much in the way of action shots by way of example, but I was able to track down a few illustrative stills.
Some of the Chicken Stars are instantly recognisable. Who can forget the infamous Chicken Licken, who’s moving autobiography immortalised in the Ladybird Book series was mandatory reading in childhood. Latterly, I hope some of you will have seen the fearless Hatty Hen starring in a memorable version of King Kong, and later the avant garde remake of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. I know, just conjuring up the images leaves us lost for words. It took hours to put on the necessary prosthetics in make up for the Tiger film, she is barely recognisable. What a heroine.
It is a little known fact, that the animated film ‘Chicken Run’ was originally intended to be a vehicle for that particularly talented and fearless hen and it was only because of contracting difficulties that it was eventually made as an animation instead. Contracting problems … and dark rumours that she had addiction issues in later life. So sad, what a loss to the poultry film industry. Mind you, I do love Chicken Run, so maybe it really is true the blackest cloud can have a silver lining.
Anyway, possibly I’ve somewhat digressed, so to get back on track. Just as the International Stunt Chickens can be recognised as making an awesome contribution to promoting running in all terrains, so it seems members of the Smiley Paces Running Club can tap into their inner birds, access their internal road runners and similarly launch themselves on a diverse set of running challenges. To what am I referring, I hear you ask? Well, basically birds running, in this case Sheffield birds. The particular context being the coming of the New Year and with it the Smiletastic Challenge. I like to think of this as basically the emergence of the regionally specific Sheffield Stunt Chickens arising phoenix – like from the freezing fires of yuletide, in time to tackle the fiendishly devised Smiletastic Challenge for the first quarter of the new year, thanks to an elder Smiley guru and designated Geek, who activated her spreadsheet mode and made it so. Yay!
As this idea is basically inspired, I feel it is only public spirited to share it with you. Who knows, maybe you too could participate in your own way? It has the simplicity of say Mornington Crescent (Radio 4 niche audience reference there) in terms of rules. All you really need to know, is it might get you running despite yourself. The challenge is for three months, but it starts off innocently enough. Let me explain- ish.
In devising challenges for running club members to help them through the dark days of January, it was really important to come up with something accessible, straightforward, good-natured and easy to implement. I honestly think any club, anywhere could replicate this challenge, it’s very easy, all you need are these essential components:
- super-geek to set it all up (tick);
- a hoard of slightly over-competitive women to participate (tick);
- strava access (tick);
- spreadsheets (tick);
- dedicated website page outlining the broad principles of the smiletastic challenge (tick)
- dedicated facebook group for challenge for arbitration of disputes (tick);
- approximately 60 individual participants (tick);
- clear challenges which stretch each participant extending month by month (tick);
- oh, and a seven page pdf containing rules of engagement (tick). Strictly speaking, I haven’t read all the rules of engagement, so it may or may not spread to 7 pages. I’m working on the principle that I’ll find out soon enough if I’m getting it wrong, and I have a friend (cheetah running buddy) who will mentor me through the whole process. I’m on her team, so it is in her interests to keep me in check.
The most important of the key components is probably the Super-Geek. This has to be someone with statistical understanding (ideally say an engineering background) who has natural command and authority (ideally say someone who’d maybe got experience as a head teacher or similar). They must be incorruptible, firm but fair, inspire the respect of all running club members and be thick skinned enough to withstand the inevitable emotional blackmail to which they may find themselves exposed as the competition hots up. I’m not saying all members of the Smiley Paces running club would stoop that low, but in reality most of them probably would, given half a chance (allegedly).
Fortunately, Smiley Paces is in possession of such an individual, so Smiletastic was born. Having gathered together all expressions of interest, our Super-Geek/ Smiley Elder, split the 60+ participants into groups based on date of birth. We were allocated into teams as follows:
Old Birds (1900-1964) – I didn’t know we had any members who were 116 years old, just shows how running can keep you young!
Fighting Feathers (1965 – 1968) – my team, yay!
Rowdy Roosters (1969 – 1974 ) – slight anomoly in a women’s running club perhaps
Clucky Ducks (1975 – 1980 ) – got to love a duck, just got to
Squawky Chicks (1981 – 2015) – bless, start them young
So now you can see where we dovetail (bird pun intended) with the International Stunt Chickens – though to be honest I do concede I’m not quite sure where the Rowdy Roosters fit in an all-women running club, but we’ll let their running do the talking shall we? Individuals allocated to teams collectively secure the points for each week, depending on how well they stuck to their individual training plans, and what extra bonus points they were able to achieve (or successfully argue for, which amounts to the same thing).
The rules are hilarious, sorry, I mean ‘comprehensive’ So concentrate: Essentially, the challenge will run for three months, and each month adds a new ingredient to the running mix. A ‘run’ must be a minimum of 2 miles, but can be at any speed. In January, you just commit to how ever many runs you plan to do each week (but it has to be a challenge, or you risk being shamed as a ‘sandbagger‘ – that was a new word for me) and it is a minimum of two runs each week or you aren’t really showing willing to be honest are you? February, you still pledge to do a certain number of runs, but add in how far your longest run each week will be. March, things hot up even more as you do your pledged number of runs, your longest distance run and have to include a timed run each week as well. Are you still with me? Good, because it gets harder from here… Extra points are awarded for team elevation; total miles; running before 7.00 a.m. or after 8.00 p.m.; for running when below zero; doing a timed race (but only one member can participate in each timed race). Fortunately, as we are all flippin’ good runners, this should present no difficulties at all..
Especially for my amusement, there are some very first world problems included in the rule book. For example, a day’s skiing equates to a run for example, to take account of all those people who wont be able to run because they are off on holiday during the February half term! Someone holidaying in hotter climes even negotiated a bonus point for running above a certain temperature. Now my normal inclination would be to be distinctly sniffy about such accommodation of other people’s exotic holidaying plans, but as I find this flexibility benefits my own team members, and therefore indirectly myself, I find I am suddenly a convert to such considerations.
At the time of writing, we are at the end of week one of the challenge. I freely admit to being late to this particular running party. When the challenge was originally proposed, I didn’t have Strava or a gps watch, so it didn’t seem accessible to me. However, I now have both, and found myself aching with that sense of missing out, wistfully stalking the discussions on Facebook as people negotiated for bonus points or allocated parkrun tourism attendances between fellow team mates to maximise their team scores at the end of the week.
Bottom lip a-tremble, I succumbed. I put a tear-stained appeal in writing to the Smiletastic organiser and found to my delight that I was allowed in as a late arrival at the running ball. I sent what I hoped would come across as a sweet-natured and tentatively worded request that might melt the hardest of hearts. I said I’d completely understand if I was too late, and would happily stalk the challenge as a spectator if need be instead. I found this quietly understated threat, sorry ‘plea’ worked wonders. I am in. It seems that our very own Super Geek and Smiley Elder has thought this through, and concluded it is better to have me on the inside of the proverbial tent. Hooray! The only downside is that it also seems I have to now run three times a week… for at least the next 12 weeks. Just as the temperature has begun to plummet. Perhaps I didn’t entirely think this through. For better or worse, I have fledged, I am now part of the flock that will strike fear in its competitors. I am forever more linked to The Flying Feathers!
We have our own Facebook page for the challenge, which is full of animated discussions regarding the finer points of the rules. For a friendly running club, the debate is complex, furious and keenly felt. Clarification of the procedure for verification of claims for bonus points would put the National Lottery Claiming Committee in the shade. To get your sub-zero run bonus point in a location other than a 20 metre radius of the Challenge Setter herself requires (not unreasonably) the runner in question to take a selfie showing ‘Photos of thermometer… with a street sign…. with today’s newspaper… with a digitally synchronised watch…. wink emoticon xx‘ Don’t be fooled by the wink emoticon, of course she is being serious. Bring it on!
Naturally, I like to think of myself as entirely non-competitive, being of a naturally sunny and timorous disposition. It was alarming yesterday therefore to have my naturally amiable outlook put to the test. It was freezing cold, pitch black and altogether grim in the evening when I was due to be heading off to my first core training exercise class of the new year. Cheetah buddy was coming too, and sent me a brief message saying she intended to run there, but could she have a lift back. Seeing the inclement weather, and the general gloomy horror of the outside world, and deducing she must be car-less for whatever reason, I naturally immediately offered to pick her up en route as well. Problem was, in her response she explained that she had to put a 2 mile run in, or she’d be out of time for fitting in the rest of her Smiletastic challenge runs for week 2 – this is what comes of committing to doing 4 runs a week, when you have already lost Sunday due to accidentally volunteering to lead out a communal bike ride too.
This posed a massive dilemma for me between my head and heart. My heart went out to her – ‘how could you possibly be expected to risk death by exposure to the elements on such a night as this, just to avoid losing points in some silly competition, everyone will understand. Let me scoop you up in my lovely roasty toasty car and transport you as if by magic to the gym? ‘ Meanwhile, my head said ‘she’s an adult, she knew what she was signing up to, it’ll do her good to learn that actions have consequences, she needs to take it for the team‘. I did what anyone would have done in the circumstances, I buried my soft-hearted impulses in a lead lined tomb, turned off my phone, and let events take their course.
She was fine (sort of), by which I mean she made it to the gym. It’s true she was pretty much curled up in a foetal position on the floor when I arrived, looking like she might die if required to make any further exertion, but hey ho, I felt that was a sacrifice worth her making for the Fighting Feathers. We were leading entering week two, we have everything to play for. (Note how I refer to it as ‘we’ were leading the grid, even though I myself didn’t actually contribute so much as a single run to the first week’s efforts). I’m sure once her heart rate stabilised and her respiratory rate returned to normal she’d be glad too. What is it they, say, it isn’t the runs you do that you regret, only the ones you don’t? I took the precaution of not reminding her of that point there and then though. Like poking a sleeping snake, they look like they are pretty much dead, but they can still strike out with lethal force unexpectedly, best to leave well alone. It’s what she would have wanted.
All of this might make a bit more sense if I let you have a sneak look at the summary of the first week’s results – I know, simples, eh?
So, Sheffield Stunt Chickens we are go!
So dear reader, if you have not the good fortune to already be a member of Smiley Paces, then I hope this simple challenge will help motivate you to keep on running. Are we all not part of one glorious running community? We need to share our Top Tips to stay motivated to keep on moving as winter finally arrives. Why not give your own version of Smiletastic a go? As I said to Super-Geek when she accepted my belated application to participate ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ We have nothing to lose but our apathy – oh and dignity, and possibly our will to live too, but small price to pay to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
Today the Fighting Feathers, tomorrow who knows, The International Stunt Chickens mark two – stranger things have happened!
Oh, and in the event of a tie at the end of three months, I think we basically just have a fist fight and it’s last women standing. Seems reasonable to me.