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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4 thoughts on “Accelerating into the woods

  1. Would love to come on one of these one Thursday. Difficult day for me though. Must work on that!

    This is so so true for me:
    “I turn up to do these things [….]and yet I’m always a bit taken aback when we have to actually start to sprint off [..]It always catches me by surprise.”
    I LOVE the idea of an ‘event’ – but forget the actual pain of running the ‘event’!!

    Liked by 1 person

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