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!