I am so excited at my own creative genius here you have absolutely no idea!
Whilst the design skill and judgement are all my own, I can take no credit for the scheme to utilise Strava for artistic purposes, nor indeed the theme. Nope, that lies entirely with our Smiley Elder Super Geek and her now (hopefully) familiar Smiletastic challenge. This being the moniker of the cunning plan designed to keep members of the Smiley Paces Women’s running club motivated to get out and up and running during these hard, dark and cold winter months.
It started off as an apparently benign initiative. Pledge to run so many runs within a week, with compassionately awarded bonus points to recognise those runners undergoing particular hardship in pursuit of their run (sub-zero, anti-social hours, timed runs/races blah de blah etc.). However, as is often the way with good intentions, the way to hell was soon extensively paved by (over) eager participants seeking to play the system. Deliberately putting themselves in harm’s way in pursuit of the bonus points. Blizzard warning? Yay, get out there and do that run! Middle of the night? Perfect timing for a quick sprint up the hills – that’s what head torches were made for! By the way, did you know Karl Marx (amongst others) is attributed with this saying? No me neither ’til quite recently. (The saying about ‘the way to hell..’ not the one about running in a blizzard).
Our Smiletastic challenge setter has thus felt it necessary not only to arbitrate on pursuits (apparently a walk on a glacier is not equivalent to a run, and elevation obtained by use of ski-lift has been disallowed also) but also to increase the complexity of the challenges on succeeding months. February requires Smiletastic participants to pay homage to the Fire Monkey in honour of the Chinese New Year (though I prefer to think in terms of Vietnamese New Year myself). In addition, and of relevance here, we have each received a directive as follows:
To be submitted by 8:00pm on Monday 22 February
Feb 14th is Valentines Day. Strava Art provides us with a new artform. Your job is to draw a heart by running. Each person can submit the Strava address/URL for ONE run where they think a heart shape can be CLEARLY seen.
- Only ONE submission per runner will be looked at and only accepted if the run information is sent by email.
- The run MUST have taken place in February 2016
- The Strava Address MUST be given for your drawing run or I won’t be able to see it! No address = No point.
- If I can’t see the heart, you DON’T get a point! Sorry – I realise that’s a bit subjective but there has to be a limit.
- These points are individual points, but I’m afraid are only available to those who use Strava – unless you can find a different way of showing me what you ran!!
- “Best” drawings will be published to all participants.
So naturally, my first instinct on seeing this challenge, was to be intrigued enough to start googling street maps and see what might be possible. This initial curiosity quickly turned to despair. It is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay harder than you might think to find routes to replicate even the most simple of shapes. Serious respect to those Strava artists who create dinosaurs and all sorts. It was beyond frustrating… I felt a bout of petulance brewing, this was stupid, who wants to do Smiletastic anyway? It’s impossible, not only impossible, pointless…. apart from the indisputable fact you get awarded a point for doing it. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh. My head hurt… and then I had that elusive Eureka moment, when I thought I might have cracked it. This challenge is completely brilliant. I can do it. It is hilarious, what fun it will be to try and how exciting to think of others out there pounding the streets of Sheffield (and America too actually, but that’s another story) trying to execute their heart shapes too! In what can be accurately judged as cynical self-interest, I then couldn’t wait to get out and give it a go!
So it was I bounced out of bed today, espied the sunshine, winced at the snow laden cars (where did that all come from) and trotted out. Never have I been so nervous about the functioning of my Tomtom and the accuracy of my footfall. I had in mind a heart-shaped balloon on a string. I was worried about key points of the image coming out clearly on the map, so had to submit to some particularly eccentric behaviour, even by my standards. I ran round a lamp-post a couple of times at the ‘bottom’ of the heart to make sure I’d got a fix on where it was, and then off up hill. My route took me round the outside of the Botanical Gardens, which felt a bit weird. Normally I try to avoid running on roads, and it is bizarre to deliberately run alongside traffic when on your other side just railings separate you from an oasis of calm, with considered planting. On the other hand it was a different view, I don’t usually see the striking main entrance gates of the gardens for example, as normally I go in from the other end.
Once in the gardens, I was a bit faffy. Creating shapes is fun it turns out, but also requires loads more concentration than you might think. Because my chosen route chopped off some bits of the paths (off piste one might say) I wasn’t altogether confident of where I was going. Also, the gardens are beautifully laid out, and extensively planted, this means that, although I was heading for a fountain as my landmark, there were hedges and trees obscuring my view. I hadn’t considered that in order to run my route shape with complete accuracy I ought to drop Agent Orange on the entire region to give me a clear view. To be fair, I don’t think I’d have gone that far. Do you know that in Vietnam people today are still living with the reality as well as legacy of that appalling use of this poisonous defoliant by American troops? One of the most disturbing and moving things I’ve ever seen, is an exhibition at the War Remnants Museum at Ho Chi Minh City/ Saigon photos of the Vietnam War (or American War as its sometimes referred to over there). Most poignant of all, an open letter from a second generation victim of Agent Orange, written to President Obama, asking for help to overcome the challenges she faced. It was eloquent, simple and incredibly powerful. It deserves to be read. Anyway, sorry to put a downer on things, but no, I wouldn’t use that, not even to gain a competitive advantage on a Smiletastic challenge.
Fortunately, and possibly unusually, on this occasion my self-control was rewarded. I loafed on in the general direction of the fountain, and came upon it just where it was most useful to be placed. I did then get confused about where I was supposed to go next. I freely admit I had to do that turning the map upside down manoeuvre to get my bearings, and even then I wasn’t overly confident. I’d thought the distances would be further, and lost confidence a bit about whether or not my grand plan would work if the twists and turns were too small to be picked up by Strava. It’s lucky I am not relied on to do orienteering challenges, I am not a natural at navigation, any more than I am at running. Perhaps one day I’ll discover where my real talent lies. I must have an innate aptitude for something…
Despite the rigours of the challenge, I couldn’t not be distracted by the amazing statement plants around. I tend to use the same route every time I go through the gardens, a cut through to get to the city centre, so this diversion, though really short, took me to areas of the botanical collection I’d never seen before.
So, after some snapping some shots, I trotted round to the bottom exit of the gardens and it was a straight run back on familiar roads. Though I made a point of doing two circuits of my maker lamp-post at the bottom of the heart before I carried on down the balloon string.
Feeling over-confident at my achievement, I even came up with another brilliant idea! I decided to try and add on a kiss a little distant from my heart by running a X shape in Endcliffe Park. This didn’t really work unfortunately. I found a spot where two paths cross, and even remembered to stop my Tomtom and run over to a start point a bit away from the string of my balloon. I then ran to and fro in a cross shape, feeling only a bit self-conscious. Where did all those dog-walkers and photographers suddenly appear from? Anyway, it didn’t work. That’s the blurry bit on the Strava map towards the end of Endcliffe Park, near the pond. I might have another go sometime, now I know you need to get quite a gap between the shapes for it to work. Then again I might not, it would be like gilding the lily, why risk spoiling this work of perfection with an act of vanity?
Home, uploading my run was angst ridden, please don’t fail me now – but the joy (and relief) on seeing the shape emerge once I could finally click on my Strava run ? Priceless. I thought my actual heart might burst with pride at the extent of my achievement. This would have been quite ironic really wouldn’t it. To burst a heart and therefore break it, at the very moment of creating a new virtual one. Wow, life has profound moments does it not. Anyway, you will see my run for all intents and purposes, is completely indistinguishable from the image I had in mind at the moment of composition. How proud am I! It’s uncanny – look and learn and be amazed:
So have heart all of you. Strava art is a more accessible palette than you may have thought.
Health Warning, for information purposes:
As a sometimes responsible blogging adult, I recognise I have some responsibility towards my readers. I should therefore point out that I am extremely mindful of the ‘oh, so if someone told you to run in front of a bus I suppose you’d do that too would you?’ accusation/ question. To follow blindly directives from others can be ill-advised I admit. So, my answer? Well, no, clearly I wouldn’t blindly obey orders from just anybody, that would be absurd! But, seriously, you know, this Smiley Elder Super Geek Guru is indeed a charismatic force of nature, it is an entirely different scenario. As with a member of any cult, sorry, wrong word ‘team’ naturally I want to do my best for the group, and to do that, sometimes you have to have faith and trust in your elders. So of course I’m going to launch myself into following any directives received from our leaders with unbridled enthusiasm! I think it is not entirely fair to imagine Smiley Elder Super Geek, constantly extending her reach, toying with members of the Smiley Paces cohort by setting ever more exacting challenges that have her controlling us like pawns on a chessboard. It is an abuse of her generosity – she has voluntarily put this whole challenge together – to think she is simply intent on building our trust and ensuring our compliance over weeks and months before using us to help her seamlessly execute her power-crazed plan to secure global domination. A sort of grooming I suppose… well I just I won’t hear of it, because it’s just not entirely fair.
Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day, bit early, but I thought I’d best get in there before my good wishes are lost in the mass of mail, flowers and romantic gifts that are even now making their way to you in time for 14th February. Oh, and if your doormat is not laden with post, worry not, the whole thing is a cynical commercial construct anyway. Bah etc.