We were as creatures of the night. It wasn’t our fault. We have emerged from the mind and will of Smiley Elder Super Geek and her Smiletastic challenge. She has created a monster she can no longer control. When historians come to look back on this time with the benefit of hindsight, they will see that all the events that unfolded last night in fact had a terrible inevitability about them right from the outset. As they try to unpick the legends around that mysterious band of Sheffield Women Runners who emerged as a growing force around the start of the 21st Century they will shake their heads and sigh. For those with the wit and wisdom to spot it, the signs were clear, it was always going to lead to this, and we Fighting Feathers have the bitter sweet knowledge that we were there at the birth of the myth.
If you live in Sheffield, or South Yorkshire even, you will no doubt by now have heard about the mysterious nocturnal roaming ape-like creatures that run through the back streets and woods of the city under the cover of darkness. I write today dear reader, to share with you my own testimony as someone who uniquely both bore witness to this event, and participated in it. Think ethnographic research if you will. Prepare to shiver and shudder at the revelations as they unfold. For the night of the Third of February 2016 saw the origin of the story of The Running Fire Monkeys of Sheffield. It is only a matter of time before this becomes a universal legend. Oral history alas inevitably allows inaccuracies to creep in to tales as they are told down generations. I see myself as the Smiley Scribe, let this blog serve as the single true and complete account of all that unfolded yesterday night, and what led up to it too. Prepare to be amazed.
So like all births there was a moment of conception. This was essentially the idea to set up series of challenges for the members of the Smiley Paces women’s running club to keep them out and about during the inclement months from January to March. Known as Smiletastic, it began innocently enough, and I’ve banged on about it before. However, in a nutshell (with apologies to those of you who already know this by rote)at the outset it was all pretty sweet-natured and straight forwards. You basically 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! In a not unreasonably attempt to build up momentum for the month of February, a series of new challenges were unleashed. The heart-shapes were only the start, challenge two was in celebration of the Chinese New Year. So it was the demand that we run in honour of The Fire Monkey was sent out.
For those who like the blah de blah, the official challenge is worded as follows (the ‘I’ in the text is our Smiley Elder Super Geek, the superior brain who has come up with all the challenges to date, and long may she continue to do so):
Smiletastic 2016 celebrates the Year of the Fire Monkey
ADDITIONAL BONUS POINTS for February by 8:00pm on Monday 15 February
Feb 8th is the Chinese New Year and is the start of the year of the Fire Monkey. When you run downhill you should have your arms hanging loose like a monkey…. So I’ve set up a Strava segment for you to run down… like a monkey on fire.
- The challenge is for as many of your team as possible to run DOWN the segment before midnight on 14 February 2016. If you complete it, your run will be on the Strava leaderboard so you don’t need to tell me.
- A map showing the segment will be published on the website and on a pdf on the Facebook page by the start of the week beginning 1 Feb.
- Points will be awarded for those who complete it as a percentage of the members of the team who use Strava. People in your team who do not LIVE in Sheffield area will not be counted in this challenge (sorry).
- The team with the largest percentage of members running the segment will get 5 points, the next 4 points… etc.
- There are NO POINTS for positions on the leader board so its nothing to do with pace!!
So what did this mean to the elite team that is the Fighting Feathers? It meant planning. Anyone who has done any kind of municipal, or indeed other corporate training will know that:
There would be no monkeying around here, oh no, this was serious. We set about a major communication, research and implementation strategy. Messages whizzed back and forth across the ether, rendezvous options were discussed, and the route map pored over. The detailed directive was explicit, this challenge was exacting in the extreme, no corners could be cut, a team effort was definitely required. The official briefing document (below) stressed the essential components, the requirement for chimp-like qualities to execute the run, along with instructions that stipulated even which side of the road you needed to be on to get this route to count. This detail is VERY important later on, remember it.
So we planned with panache and enthusiasm. The running technique aspects looked quite hard, so a lot of our scheming went into other aspects of the challenge, specifically the discovery of fire, and mining for monkey paraphernalia. Like the infinite monkey theorem, there were enough of us on task that sooner or later collectively we were bound to hit upon a winning strategy even if it was by accident!
The appointed hour was set for 8.15 p.m. double whammy, we would complete the challenge AND gain extra bonus points for undertaking our run during anti-social hours. Whilst not all our team could be present (one is undertaking an international assignment overseas; another has thoughtlessly allowed herself to become injured; others have already completed the challenge on their own terms) we were most definitely quorate. The meeting point was to be the solitary lamp-post that marked the start of the challenge. We came from different directions, noiselessly gathering in the shadows of the unlit back streets. I for one parked up in silence a few minutes early, scanning the horizon to keep watch that we were unobserved. It was so desperately important we were discrete. As the clock ticked towards 8.15 precisely, we seven emerged from the black night, as if drawn by an invisible and unstoppable force – and dutifully assembled at our rendezvous point. We had but moments to agree our final strategy and set our GPS devices various. Like a well oiled and finely-tuned machine we were unanimous in our approach. Getting into the spirit of the challenge we were soon chattering like a troupe of monkeys on acid. Onesies were donned, bananas distributed and photo-opportunities snapped.
We had intended to go for a convincing fire option, despite the obvious risk of collective flambéed monkey carnage (you can never be entirely confident about the fire retardant properties of a onesie I feel..). However, it turns out that creating fire was just as elusive for us, as it was for our early ancestors, and despite our best efforts with matches and candles, the overall effect was less than sparkling, we did try though, we should have credit for that:
Taking seriously my role as official documenter for this enterprise, I tried to do a serious and thought-provoking shot of Three Wise Monkeys, but there was some unfortunate but effective and amusing photo-bombing by an inflatable chimp. These things are sent to try us:
Our Rear of the Year Smiley came up trumps once again. Some people have a gift for carrying off a onesie with panache. It may not be a gift all would cherish, but I feel proud to share a running club with an individual who displays such obvious aplomb, and took the opportunity to document another fine choice of posterior covering on her part that it may be recorded in perpetuity for future generations to behold’
So after much faffing, we were off, like, erm well, like loose-armed monkeys on fire I suppose. It is hard to capture this sort of thing on film, even if you know one end of a camera from the other, which I think the evidence above suggests I don’t. Anyway, most of the troupe was running way too fast for me to truly snap them. I hope the below photo-montage gives some small sense of the eerie sight we presented as we piled down the hill all whooping, snorting and grunting, as we threw ourselves into the required energetic, long-armed, loping, simian-style gaits. We were something to behold, a vision indeed. Albeit not necessarily of loveliness, more like monkey demons unleashed from a darker parallel universe. On reflection, maybe that’s why the photos didn’t come out. Nothing to do with my photographic skills, more because I was trying to record a cipher, an impossible feat…
As an aside, cipher or not, for information, Cheetah Buddy looked lovely and roasty-toasty comfy in her monkey onesie. No ‘step away from the fleece‘ going on for her today, normally she is most insistent that we strip off prior to a run (not completely, but more than I would ideally like). I was pleased, it is an observation I can store for future reference and bring out in case of need at a later date if she ever again tries to wrestle my coat away from me again as we are standing in hail at the start of a run. I also nurse a silent hope I may yet convert her to the potential comfy joy of donning a duffle coat prior to heading off on some yomp or other. Hope over experience perhaps, but hope all the same.
It was quite fun whizzing down hill, though the navigation was not all that slick. I was towards the back (I know, who’d have thought it) so just had to follow the others, but it seemed to require quite a bit of precision turning, had I come on my own I’d have been stopping at every junction to check the route. As it was, we flew downwards, like an out of control shopping trolley stuffed full of monkey toys, and all too soon landed at the bottom of the hill in a giggling and triumphant heap!
Photo posing again, this time aided and abetted by a passer-by who was a great deal handier with a camera than I. I felt for this person, she is now condemned to walk the streets of Sheffield, stopping one in three to tell them of what she has seen. Maddened monkeys beckoning her from a blackened background, then disappearing again into the shadows. She is destined Cassandra like to tell the truth but never be believed. Life is harsh, I hope it comforts her to know in her heart that her memory does not deceive her, we were there, and so was she. If she predicted we’d come again, then it must be true also.
We were dizzy with our accomplishments, proud of our team endeavour and giddy with the potassium highs associated with extreme banana consumption. However, our revelries celebrating successful completion of the challenge were interrupted when we spotted a Clucky Duck – an interloper from the other team, clearly she had been stalking us, and was there to try and uncover the secret of our unblemished run of success at the Smiletastic Challenges over the four consecutive weeks of January. She was trying to melt into the shadows but we were waaaaaaaaaaay too clever for her! Realising we had seen her, she then changed her tactic, and made a big show of having come upon us ‘so unexpectedly‘. She had a good stab at feigning astonishment and dismay at sighting us, but it was pretty obvious her dismay was really at having been discovered. She had very obviously set out to spy on our group and learn our tactics. She must have been lying in wait up one of those dark back streets, biding her time until it was safe to emerge behind us, and trot nonchalantly down the pavement on the other side of the road, hoping not to be noticed at all, but as a back-up plan trying to behave as if she’d come upon us by chance. Should have chosen a different top though, the one I espied under her coat also betrayed her not-very-well hidden motive for being there…
She didn’t fool us oh no. She might have got away with it it’s true, but for some elementary mistakes. Honestly, have today’s youngsters not learned anything from Scooby Doo? Perhaps they missed out on the crime busting techniques of that inspirational and informative documentary that was the backdrop to our lives growing up in the age of four channels only and a limited repertoire of viewing delights. Anyway, I shall explain for the benefit of those of you less quick on the update. Her errors were all there in black and white – see the instruction sheet above remember: ‘Please note the side of the road I have advised you to run on – I don’t want anyone missing out!’ What would an innocent runner from a rival team be doing on the wrong side of the road? Hmm, quite, gives another whole meaning to being on the wrong side of the tracks I’m sure you’ll agree… No ambiguity there, no indeedy, you cannot blame us for suspecting foul, or even fowl, play… Personally, I think she was hoping we wouldn’t see her, and she could carry out her undercover surveillance undetected, and then slip away again into the night. Pah, as if she might outwit our collective wisdom!
However, fair play to this Plucky Clucky Duck, she thought on her feet. Once discovered she slapped on a cheery smile, and adopted a non-threatening demeanour. No doubt seeing the opportunity to infiltrate us absolutely, trotted across the road to join us. Granted it did all seem outwardly plausible, and she might have got away with it too, but she was trying too hard. There were a couple of suspicious inconsistencies in her cover story. Firstly, she was on the wrong side of the road for the challenge, which clearly specified exactly which pavement we should be on for each section of the downhill run. This oversight betrayed her – a serious attempt at the Strava segment for Smiletastic 2016 celebrates the Year of the Fire Monkey would have required her to step out on the other side of the road, the side we were currently occupying! What’s more we know she knew this, as she dropped her guard for a moment and let slip this was her second attempt at the challenge. As if she hadn’t already condemned herself enough by her own tongue, I think we all know that the camera never lies. Just look at her face – you have to admit it all looks a bit of a staged OTT ‘see how surprised am I‘ reaction.
So all in all this Plucky Clucky Duck was Lucky too, she brazened it out joining us to jog back to the top of the hill again, companionably amongst us, whilst all the while grilling us about our tactics. Know we weren’t fooled, not for an instant. Still, fair play to the Plucky Clucky Lucky Ducks, they have much ground to make up. These youngsters could learn a lot from we Fighting Feathers. We’re not scared. Bring. It. On!
We went along with the charade of friendly rivalry, jogging back up the hills together until we were back at our starting point. Our guises were discarded, our challenge complete, we vanished quickly into the night, leaving only a monkey memory behind.
So, dear reader, that is how the Running Fire Monkeys of Sheffield legend was born. It is inevitable that a happening so action packed, endowed with meaning and so reverently performed will leave a permanent trace in the cosmos. The vision of the running monkeys will be elusive, but it will repeat. Next time you are out running at night and you catch a glimpse of something from the corner of your eye, a mischievous spirit, chimping along just out of your range of vision, breathe deeply and run on. Some years may pass between such sightings, but as sure as Smileys will Smile (and eat cake) when the year of the Fire Monkey comes round again, the apes will be out and about, strutting their funky stuff with abandon! Be careful out there… you have been warned!
So do we get our points Smiley Elder Super Geek – was that enough monkey business for your liking, or are the stakes to be raised again? We all love you by the way, haven’t laughed so much in ages!