Only 50%? We were robbed, we had to practically swim round parkrun today! I think the phrase ‘inclement weather’ doesn’t entirely cover it. The elements for this Saturday morning were not benign, and I got a good deal wetter than I’d have liked.
So, what happened today was, a new destination for Smileys on Tour. Continuing in our brilliant plan to gain the maximum score for our Fighting Feathers Smiletastic Team (the challenge within our running club for different teams to get points for various running goals from January – March) this morning we were once again parkrun tourists, and today it was Destination Graves.
I’ve done Graves Parkrun before, it is one of my favourites, so I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to go back there. There is a killer hill, but also some fairly impressive compensatory benefits such as you get to run past highland coos, and it is a noticeably friendly (and funny) team which run it. (Funny ha ha as opposed to funny peculiar, but to be fair I dare say both dimensions are true now I come to think about it.) They have a particularly lively, encouraging and inclusive Graves parkrun Facebook page, from which I appropriated the opening image for this post, always a good sign. As if those weren’t delights enough, on a good day, you will also get to see Lily the whippet, regular readers will know her as she has appeared in this blog before, in Halloween garb, and on an outing for Christmas Day. I do love a good Lily The Whippet sighting on a parkrun.
I do not however like rain. It was truly dismal today, however, my commitment to the team, or at least my fear of being the weakest link by which the whole team breaks, meant I did still head out today. I was not impressed. This is the view as I sat in the car, trying to muster the courage to step outside, to join up with Cheetah buddy, who was doing the actual driving bit to take us en masse over to Graves. Would you have wanted to venture out… truthfully now?
I did get out, albeit somewhat hurrumphily, and joined Cheetah buddy and another fellow Smiley and we headed off in her car, which immediately steamed up as the rain pelted down on the windscreen. We scooped up one other Smiley on the way. She is in a rival team (The Old Birds) but we don’t mind giving her a lift as frankly, judging by their performance to date they are no threat to we Fighting Feathers. We could afford to be magnanimous in facilitating her gaining a bonus point through completing a timed run too. Also, she was originally going to cycle anyway, so I suppose we have to concede sharing transport was not a deciding factor in getting her there… though I maintain it would have been today, given the ceaseless rain.
We were a bit on the tight side for time, but made it to the carpark in gloomy skies. There was a huge (well, longer than expected) queue of about five people waiting in line to pay for parking. I gather that a particularly zealous carparking official was out and about at 9.30 a.m., slapping tickets on cars last Saturday, so only the swiftest of runners would have made it round and out before being got. To be fair, it is only 40p per hour, so hardly a bank-breaking sum to fork out. I paid 80p, to factor in my lard-arse running speeds. Better safe than sorry. Getting a parking ticket was way harder than you might imagine, the machine kept spitting out my proffered coins, eventually another nice parkrunner gave me some change in a compassionate act, possibly partly prompted by frustration at how long it was taking me to fathom out how to get the darned thing to work. I was all flustered and embarrassed (my perpetual state today) so didn’t really thank him properly – sorry about that…. Thanks, if you are reading, it was appreciated! I even took a picture of the queue to convey atmosphere, and it was so darned dark, my flash went off, and it still looks like the middle of the night. My, it can be grim up north at times, I will accept the nesh label, it wasn’t the best of days to be out and about at 9.00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. It wasn’t only the people present feeling this. As I was waiting to pay, I saw a rather nice fawn coloured dog (that looked very like Lewis if you are a regular reader) so possibly a labradoodle, anyway, he was trotting alongside his owner, but then espied someone in a 4 by 4 getting out of their vehicle. He immediately gambolled over, and after a show of friendly greeting, made a super impressive attempt to climb in the car. It was quite funny to watch, his human companion had to exert considerable powers of pleading and shouting to entice him away. You can’t blame the dog to be honest, it was really grim, and that car interior looked spacious and warm – possibly even seat heating available for a dog to curl up and use…
Ticket duly paid and displayed, we mustered towards the start. Many puddles were in evidence, and there was a thick mist smothering the landscape. It was pretty atmospheric … in a graveyard scene in a horror film sort of way, but there were still plenty of game parkrunners in evidence. You just can’t keep a good (or even mediocre in my case) parkrunner down!
For those who like the Graves parkrun course outline official blah de blah, it reads as follows:
A 2 lap course which starts in the middle of the path that connects the car park (beside the animal farm, off Hemsworth Road) to the Rose Garden Café. From the start run down to the Rose Garden cafe, then turn down towards the Lakes. Run between the 2 lakes and turn right along the far side of the west lake. The route then tracks across open park to the Meadowhead entrance. It turns left around the back of the house in the park. It follows the south park perimeter track, and turns up towards the Manor house (Norten Hall) – watch out for the Highland Cattle! A rough track then takes you back down to the lakes. Follow the nearside of the east lake towards the animal farm. Take the track up through the farm, and back towards the start.
Personally, I never bother with noting the course route, I just follow blindly and hope it is indeed a parkrunner ahead of me and not someone running an ultra-marathon instead. Perhaps unusually, the Run Director’s briefing didn’t particularly give an outline of the course today, beyond what I think it is fair to call a ‘tongue in cheek’ reference of ‘welcome to the flattest parkrun available – bag that PB‘ or something along those lines. (See note above about killer hill, methinks he was being somewhat ironic.) The briefing though, despite the rain, was most cheery, and definitely the best one I’ve been to. Funny and informative, and covering a lot of potentially dull stuff with wit and clarity that was a real treat.
So I learned a lot from the Run Briefing. It was delivered with a rousing, upbeat, banter, culminating with a whoop and a cheer, as well as applause for the volunteers that would put the congregation of a Billy Graham rally to shame! Rules were clarified so, for example, we learned that although the rules state ‘only one dog’ for parkrun, it doesn’t only mean one dog for the entire event, only one per person, so that was handy to know. I actually think that even if the rule was only one canine for each parkrun caper it would have gone to Lily without too much of a dogfight, but I was glad we didn’t have to put this to the test. The ‘being within reach’ of an adult if under 11 rule was also re-stated (seems to bother a lot of people this one, and I don’t know why, doesn’t seem so unreasonable to me), but with the advisory point that you could make a point of selecting an adult with an especially long reach – say Mr Tickle, presumably… I didn’t spot Mr Tickle in evidence, but he might just be a very fast runner and/or it was the first time this possibility had been pointed out to me, so maybe no-one else had thought to invite him along previously. Worth keeping an eye out for next week. He would be easy to spot because of his distinctive blue bowler hat.
There was the bit about respecting the park, again the vaguery of this rule was addressed head on. We were explicitly told this meant no duck-kicking and no tree felling either. Presumably Amey are not a company that sponsors parkrun, as they (through a contract with Sheffield City Council) have been doing a great deal of gratuitous, harmful and unnecessary tree-felling on the streets of Sheffield of late. (If you want to help support the group action to Save Sheffield’s Trees this, you could look at the link). Similarly the one about ‘respecting other users’ means no shoving, and ‘respect everyone’s right to participate in their own way’ has the tacit tag line – ‘however bizarre or unexpected that might be’. I do like this non-judgemental and inclusive approach. It is what makes parkrun great, and allows for fancy dress options too. What’s not to like? There was an attempt to flush out any anniversary runners, but they were lying low, there were none in evidence. There was however, a huge welcome to any parkrun first timers with a wry observation that ‘they’d picked the weather for it‘. Well I guess any first timers would have had a memorable run, if not exactly a baptism of fire, more trial by water to be honest. A 26 minute pacer outed themselves. That’s an impressive time, I didn’t see them again, lost in the mists very soon after take off…
The ‘have fun directive’ was especially mentioned, and runners were warmly encouraged to vocally acknowledge volunteers on the run round and most especially as you passed the finish funnel at the half way point. It was all very joyful. Run briefing over, we all traipsed back up the path to the start. It seems the Run Director had used a different bench than usual to stand on to give his briefing. Sort of epitomises just what an anarchic spirit he was. I felt a lot jollier than I had before as I made my way through the crowds to the rear of the gathered crowds at the start.
In the gaggle at the start we spotted our Clucky Duck spy all over again. In fact, of the five Smiletastic teams, at least three were represented (- correction, on checking the results I think all five had someone there!). The Duck spy pointed out our mutual presence sort of cancelled each other out (if every team gets a point for having a person or people at this particular parkrun, then there isn’t any real benefit in anyone doing it, we might as well not have run at all). Hah, as if we’d fall for that thinly disguised attempt to keep us all having a lie in next week whilst the Clucky Ducks are out all over South Yorkshire bagging parkruns! Nice try. Dastardly Duck… Lucky we had already been warned about the no duck-kicking rule, also, I do have a soft spot for ducks, so important to let things go.
So soon enough we were sploshing off. It was exceedingly wet. I didn’t mind it as much as I thought. It was actually a relief to get going as it was pretty cold, you head off straight down a hill, it’s a tarmac path, but there were impressive lake-like puddles everywhere. I have a feeling last time I went to Graves it was for a New Year’s Day run where I turned up festooned in fairy lights, only to find they’d had to cancel because of ice. We (I was their with Cheetah Buddy and her Sprinting Spouse) ended up doing a ‘Freedom Run’ which was completely terrifying. The paths weren’t just an ice rink, but a vertiginous one. Seeing all that running and standing water today, I’m not surprised they do have to cancel from time to time… though not today, hurrah!
I like the route, even in the rain and fog-like visibility, it’s a gorgeous location, with lots to gaze at. It is a two-lap course, so that means sometimes you can see the line of runners spreading out in front of you (unless you are very fast, in which case I suppose they are all running in your wake). Each lap is a sort of figure of eight, so you also get runners coming towards you at one point, which is slightly disorientating, but fun. Last time I was there, there was one off-roady bit, with a very muddy path, but this has now been tarmaced over, so all the surfaces were good – I ran in trail shoes, but I think road shoes would be OK too for the most part. The volunteers on the way round were armed with beaming smiles, huge umbrellas and cheery responses each time I called out ‘thank you Marshal‘ as I passed. At least one said every time ‘It’s my pleasure‘ which was a very nice sentiment for her to express, but I think she may have been telling a bit of a white lie to be polite if I’m honest with you. It must have been freezing standing there in the pouring rain, you can clap all you like, but it will only keep you warm up to a point!
The absolutely best bit of marshalling though, was most definitely when you go past the half way point (which is also the start and finish). The route was lined on either side with hi-viz coated volunteers cheering and clapping like you were at the finish of the London Marathon or something. The BEST BIT was Man With Triangle. A volunteering role I have not previously encountered – this is the most glorious aspect of parkrun tourism, you learn new things and new ways of doing things! He furiously bashed his triangle with passion and aplomb as I ran by and it was BRILLIANT. I did look for triangle man at the end, as I wanted to photograph him, but he had vanished into the mist. I think no parkrun in future should ever take place without this function having been allocated. It was really fun! On an aside, I wonder if there are regular marshals out there who are called Marshal? There must be. Would/does it make them jump with paranoia that you know their name if you trot out the ‘thank you marshal‘ phrase as you puff past? Answers in the comments option below please. So I didn’t get him, but I did get some of the others, albeit afterwards (one by borrowing from aforementioned Graves parkrun Facebook page – hope I’m forgiven for that):
In absolute terms, my running efforts were thwarted by adversity today. I’m pretty feeble at the best of times, but events conspired against me to make things even worse than usual. Because of the rain, on the second lap my shoelaces came undone. I sort of assumed this was because I’d not tied them securely enough, but I can’t very easily because the darned laces are too short for a double bow – there’s not much lace left as I use those little extra holes at the back to secure the shoe at my heel. In stopping to tie my laces, my bar code band (which has never ever done this before) just slipped off my hand. The rain had drenched me and it, so it was all incredibly well lubricated. Mercifully a passing runner spotted this and called out to me that I’d dropped it, so although I had to pause it to pick it up, I didn’t fall foul of the ‘No barcode, No time, No exceptions’ rule. I could have perhaps recovered from this, but then my darned shoelaces came undone again! Aaargh, they were so wet they wouldn’t stay done up. I was most displeased. That’s bad though, three complete stops on the way round, I can be embarrassingly slow, but I’m not normally actually stationary at parkrun, I sort of get carried round by the crowd.
The hill wasn’t as bad as I remembered. And it was lovely to pass sheep, the highland cows, a couple of llamas, and even some donkeys, deer and a pig (that took one look at the outside world, and stayed very much inside). At the end of the run I went back to snap some shots of the animals nearest to the car park. They looked cheery enough despite being as comprehensively drenched as we runners that had passed them. I wonder what they make of us. Whether we are an unwelcome intrusion, or enrichment that livened up an otherwise dull day? I suppose they must feel like those people who have houses on the route of the Tour de France, pros and cons, depending on how you feel about cycling … or in this case running. They didn’t look displeased, not to me.
With all the stops, and puddles, and rain, my enthusiasm was waning a bit. The marshals were fantastic in cheering us round. I was so cold my nose was running, and I couldn’t honestly tell if it was snot tracing down my face or rivulets of rain, frankly, on reaching the finish I was so relieved I was past caring! A fellow runner did an amazing sprint finish and overtook me flying by, very impressive turn of speed. The finish funnel marshals though were still cheering, and as one of the late finishers there was no hanging about in my processing. It was as efficient as we might wish a conveyor belt at a slaughter house to be. I was processed and spat out in seconds. Pleasingly, the scanner I happened upon turned out to be one of our own. Not only a fellow Smiley Paces comrade, but better yet, a Fighting Feather too! It’s a small world. She is saving herself for Dewsbury 10k tomorrow. We have to hope the weather is better for her then than it was out and about today. Also that her poorly shin is not so very poorly any more, or she will have to hop the whole thing, and there are no bonus points available for that approach, so hardly worth the effort.
As I turned to leave, the runner who’d overtaken me at the finish came up to tell me she’d been using me as a person to follow all the way round, and hoped I didn’t mind that she’d gone shooting past me right at the end. Honestly, not one iota, it happens to me a lot, and occasionally I’ve passed others too, so it’s totally fine, we all participate in our own way. My view is that if a runner has some extra fuel in the engine at the finish then go for it should be their mantra. Anyway, truthfully I felt a little quiver of pride, legitimately I feel. After all, if what she said was true, and I ‘kept her going’ because she was focused on me, then it’s sort of true that I am therefore ‘an inspiration to other runners’ it may be a technical stretch, but I’ll happily claim that as my own. Yay, get me, and my inspirational running techniques! It was all very mutually supportive and lovely! I love other runners, I really haven’t had negative experiences with parkrun at all. It’s a wonderful phenomenon. We all love each other – especially when it’s all over…
I was last of our car load to make it to the finish. I then dawdled further as wanted to sneak some animal shots, and ended up cheering on some of the runners who were still finishing off and looking a bit defeated by the final heave ho up hill to the car park to be honest. At least one was muttering ‘first and only time I’m doing this‘, I’m sure at the finish though she’d be doing the classic retrospective re-write ‘that was great, I’m back next week‘ routine, we’ve all been there I think… I gave a wave and final thanks to the marshals as I left them, they were still standing in the rain, resolutely there until the last person was home. Very impressive work by all the volunteers today, I salute you, and really, thanks!
So back into the car, and off in pursuit of breakfast. (There is a cafe there for future reference, but we had our eyes on an alternative venue to try). With the change in our usual parkrun venue, there was also a change in eatery options. We ended up at the Amici and Bici I quite liked it. It’s bike-themed and atmospheric, with bunting left over from when Sheffield hosted a stage of the Tour de France (it’s very fine bunting, so worth keeping). We weren’t over confident about the pink water and tulip combo. You will have to judge for yourself… It was cold in there though, and we sat shivering and dripping. Good coffee, and I had a very nice cheese and mushroom omelette thank you for asking. However, it came with a bizarre scattering of grated carrot on it, which did not enhance the overall appearance. Also they had only white bread. So it was good, but not the best place we’ve been for breakfast. More of a summer venue, just too cold for sitting around in after a run.
On the plus side, a very unhurried breakfast and wide ranging conversations including (for illustrative not comprehensive information purposes):Radio 4; heroin addiction; fitting of running shoes; whether it is a good idea to grate carrot over a meal; how The Guardian is funded; skiing holidays; funerals; Smiletastic tactics (quite a lot more than was probably healthy); people we know; people we don’t know; funeral readings; speculation on whether or not they’d really used butter for the bread; relative merits of white and brown bread (white is obviously poisonous but can also be legitimately desired as a nostalgic comfort food); difference between Angel Delight and instant whip; fancy dress and Elvis Presley. Surprised we had time frankly, and that’s not even an exhaustive list! Pleasingly, a neighbourly cyclist (well he was wearing the gear) also took a group shot of us, so that was a nice memento of our gathering.
So world put to rights (although granted not so effectively that anyone would really notice), we piled back into the car and made our way home. Damp, cold, but fundamentally smug. Another parkrun done and dusted ’til same time next week. It may have been raining on the outside, but it was all sunshine within!
Thank you lovely people at Graves, marshals, runners, volunteers and supporters alike for the warmth of your welcome on the wettest of days. I won’t leave it so long between visits next time!
Postscript: Graves parkrun are also most diligent in producing a weekly newsletter, you can read the Graves parkrun report for 6 February 2016, complete with fab extra photos (in focus this time) by following the link. Enjoy.