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.
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:
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:
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!
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!
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…
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!
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…