Quite stressful today, decision wise, to be honest. Today is Thursday, so this has become the day on which I join Accelerate for woodland drills to work on my running technique. (Two pounds, 9.30 a.m. rendezvous in Ecclesall Woods, details on Accelerate facebook page.) Today though, it was more complicated than that, because it is half term, and so today’s session was a ‘family friendly’ kids welcome to come and join the fun sort of event. For me, this was a bit problematic, I’m a bit scared of small children. I don’t dislike them. I just don’t have enough experience with them to know quite how I’m supposed to interact with them. I fear I may be a bad influence, and they certainly have endless capacity to lead me astray, which is part of their appeal. Also, inevitably they will run me into the ground, my fragile self-esteem might not be able to handle that. What to do?
I think young children in particular can be completely hilarious, I especially love their gift for speaking the truth unconstrained by social niceties even if it can get you into trouble. There is an exquisite age when they know it’s wrong to lie, and don’t get the subtlety of the qualifying rider (except when special circumstances require it e.g. politeness, self-interest or most important here self-preservation). I’m thinking of the time me and a female friend of mine went along with her young daughter in tow, to meet up with a mutual male friend who had just split up with his girlfriend – hope you are keeping up. Now, I’m not proud of the fact that, sisterly solidarity or not, she was someone we didn’t particularly like, though we’d always tried hard – or so we thought – to keep our opinions to ourselves. Anyway, our disappointed-in-love male friend half opened the door looking dishevelled, red-eyed and marginally traumatised, only to be greeted by our accompanying child skipping past him into the hallway beyond, quite oblivious to his oozing angst stating ‘mummy and Lucy say it’s really good because Cruella De Vil isn’t going out with you any more!’ There was nowhere to hide. That was an awkward ‘consoling’ cup of coffee we all shared. Still with the healing effect of time – some decades have passed since then – it was undeniably funny, retrospectively, but decidedly awkward and toe-curling excruciating at the time. Talk about being caught out …. . Definite tangible example of that old reassuring axiom ‘one day we shall look back on this and laugh‘ and so we did dear reader, but it took a while… Maybe we should take more notice of that other wise saying: ‘if you are going to be able to look back on something and laugh about it, you may as well laugh about it now‘. Sound advice.
Children also have an admirable capacity for play. This is a wholly good thing, adults don’t play nearly enough, and when I have tried to instigate play in the workplace it hasn’t always been appreciated to the extent to which I might have expected. Those castle fortifications around my desk made using only discarded cardboard boxes were inspired, those turrets were quite something. Insecure colleagues just get jealous of what they perceive to be ‘in ya face’ creative genius I suppose. Strange but true. The passport control area was just a logical extension of that initiative, nothing to get all touchy about. Still, we’ve all moved on from that now, I’m sure… Back to the Woodland Centre in Ecclesall Woods. (Thanks Accelerate for the photo).
Anyway, some apprehension heading out to the woodland rendezvous therefore. I arrived early (I was trying to avoid carpark bumper cars after last week’s ‘where can I park!’ shenanigans). It was gloriously sunny though, albeit with a cruel nip in the air. I was first to arrive, which was a bit out of character. I don’t like to be late, but not conspicuously early either. This is my third Thursday of attending – possibly even my fourth – so I know the routine now. I went to drop my £2 in the wooden bowl and sign up but DISASTER no pen! I asked for one and was told that this week we were to sign in blood, which was fair enough, but there wasn’t a Stanley knife either, and whilst the kit requirement did recommend trail shoes, there was nothing about bringing a sharp blade along too. We had a bit of a discussion about this, and what the health and safety implications might be of various possible courses of action. I am of the view that it would be fine to get us to sign in blood, as long as there was a new blade for each participant, the cross contamination from blood would be a far greater risk than the actual cut. In the event it was all academic anyway, as they couldn’t find one of those either, so we had to make do with a pencil. Oh well, we will know for next time I suppose…
Signing in was followed by the mandatory period of self-consciously hanging around and clinging to the sides of the atrium waiting for everyone to gather. There were a couple of first timers, and a scattering of keen looking children, with accompanying adults various. It reminds me of playing a not very good game of wink-murder at the start. People make sort of half-hearted attempts to make eye-contact with people they don’t know, treading that fine line between wanting to come across as friendly, whilst not wishing to appear overly desperate to engage by holding eye contact a bit longer than is strictly necessary. It’s a nightmare, which side of the scales will you end up in? Will you create the impression of someone who exudes sincere, relaxed engagement or inadvertently fix someone with a psychopathic stare that seems to reach into their soul and strangle it beyond the reach of recovery for all eternity. Or is it just me that worries about that when attending conference buffets and mingling at parties and funerals? Actually, don’t tell me, some things are better left unsaid, even if they are funny (see Cruella de Vil reference above).
As well as the awkward eye-contact thing, there were a few greetings and hellos and catching up on injuries various. Limping ‘runners’ were gamely running onward, some more delusional than others. I am probably over-sensitive to my body telling me it doesn’t feel up to running, my default position if I have a twinge is variants on the duvet day depending on the weather. Others have learned to overcome these messages. I was genuinely concerned about our star Fighting Feather though who seemed to be in real pain, lawks a lordy, she’d even had a paracetamol, which would be like a normal person having morphine she’s so hard-core! We will have to have a whip round for her emergency physio appointment or she’s never going to be fit enough to complete the Royal Flush in time to gain recognition for the Smiletastic challenge (consecutive miles run at an ever-increasing pace) it’s a worry. Oh, that and the concern she may never walk properly again too of course, but priorities, obviously, I like to think that’s what she would want! I tried to keep a neutral face, but she’s scared me, she really has…
I digress, you are probably desperate to know what was the killer decision that nearly flawed me? It was whether to stick with the small fry/ injured/ tapering/ can’t be arsed (is that a category?)/ slow & steady group (which included children) or go with the fast and frisky runners. My default position is always to go with the slower group, but the presence of small children was a deterrent. What if I fell over one, or worse, they fell over me? I negotiated for a ‘working towards friskiness‘ category, and got a pass into the frisky group as a consequence. I don’t know if this was a good thing or not. It’s all a bit of a blur, still, you have to try these things, and besides things are rarely all good or all bad, there are always nuances of grey in between, always… If you never try, you’ll never know what you are capable of, and if you don’t succeed in reaching that goal, at least you’ll be wiser, and more importantly potentially get an amusing anecdote out of it. Failing that, sympathy and disbelief, which is something I suppose.
Oh hang on, I’m supposed to be posting about running. Got distracted, can’t see the wood for the trees – wooden you know it. Today was another running in the woods day, and a very fine one too. We headed off through the fallen leaves and took a different track from the other weeks I’ve been there. Our friendly resident (I think he must live there) bearded-ranger scampered ahead seeking out mud and puddles under the pretext this was for the smalls amongst us. Not true, I was also game for a bit of mud. We avoided the worst of it as some amongst us having even shorter legs than me would have got a greater percentage of their height submerged by leaf litter and rushing torrents, but it was still fun to see a different part of the woods, and we got muddy enough to justify the trail shoes and feel we’d had a mini adventure. They are lovely, the trees and the wood. Eventually, we came to a halt by a woodland path somewhere. Truthfully, delightful as the woods are I can’t quite shake from the back of my mind the fear that this is some sort of benign – or seemingly benign – abduction. I would be completely unable to find my way out of the woods again. Presumably to lull us into a false sense of security, our run leader told us the names of the trees. The more conventional among you my readers might think this corresponds to tree identification – ‘see and marvel at the bark on this ancient oak‘, sort of thing. That might be an option on some ranger led walks, but the tree at this spot was identified as ‘Bob’. I took a photo under the pretext of admiration of the natural world, but really it was because I was hoping it might be a visual clue to help me navigate my way home later in case of any emergency as a result of being abandoned in the forest. What if they all decided to sprint home and I couldn’t keep up. I could die out there. We did see a pair of woodpeckers though by the way, that was cool.
Later on we met Mr and Mrs Stumpy and there was a general gesturing in the direction of a tree named Merlin. No-one was taking responsibility for the naming of that tree, nor even positively identifying which one it was now I come to think of it. Maybe it was in hiding after seeing what had happened to Mr and Mrs Stumpy (the clue to their fate is in the name, let’s leave it at ‘cut off in their prime’). This squabbling amongst our leaders was so misguided honestly. It’s a rather person-centric approach isn’t it? The tree may have named itself Merlin, and if it was anything like as large as others roundabout it has been around a lot longer than any of us… Undeterred the children on release from school for half-term were asked if they knew why the tree was so-named and eyebrows gently raised in pseudo-mock incredulity at their wide-eyed blank expressions. ‘Surely you’ll know, Harry Potter and all that?’ Nope, they won’t. Trust me. I used to be a careers adviser. Wrong era, wasn’t the topic of a knights of the round table contemporary more a question to be aimed at 12th Century children rather than 21st Century ones? Still, this wasn’t a literary appreciation or tree-identification session, no indeedy, it was a running one, so after a bit of a warm up (running backwards and forwards over a fixed difference on the woodland trails) thus (Accelerate photos):
we yomped onwards to another more challenging (uh-oh) spot.
So at the new spot, there were extra natural obstacles, including some or all of the following: uneven ground; various slopes (upwards and downwards); muddy bits; tree-rooty bits; dog-walkers; non-dog walkers; knackered looking other runners; a useful bench for sitting on and/or leaving stuff on; woodland staircase. We were quite a big group, and as I’ve been a couple of times now, I am starting to recognise some of them. There are some really amazing runners there. There is The Amazing Jumping man too. I am conscious of how weird that may sound if you weren’t actually there. If you were, you will recognise this description as factually accurate and therefore completely appropriate and not a slogan to attract viewers at a freak show, no really. I promise. I can’t not say how mesmerising it is to see him boing. He seems to be able to spring vertically upwards and land noiselessly, as if he is completely weightless. It is extraordinary, and if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I would say such a feat was impossible. Possibly due to being a bit disinhibited due to lack of oxygen to the brain following physical exertion, I did share this observation with him. I know that’s probably not normal behaviour, but fortunately post-fifty I don’t care so much any more about what impression I may give when compelled to say out loud what is possibly best kept silent in my head. Anyway, I was glad I did, because he told me that some basketball players, when they similarly leap vertically upwards, have a moment at the apex of their flight when they are suspended in the air. I possibly jumped (gettit?) in a bit too quickly protesting that he was confusing this with those cartoons when people (or road runners or cats or whatever) run off cliffs, and keep running in the air until they look down and plummet. Disappointingly, he clarified. It is, it seems, an optical illusion, there is a moment of stillness before they descend. Amazing. The human body can do extraordinary things. Well other humans’ bodies, mine mainly expands outwards from the waist, which to tell the truth wouldn’t have been my super-power of choice, but you have to make the best of what you’re given sometimes. Mustn’t grumble. I (almost) never get properly cold out running, that’s got to be worth something, and I’ll survive longer on my body fat reserves than all the skinnies in a post-apocalyptic world, yay (not). Anyway, back on topic, it seems basketball players do get frozen in time as they leap – otherwise how is a shot like this possible:
So, back to running drills. I am still completely rubbish at these, but I’m enjoying the attempt a bit more now I feel more comfortable in the group. We had to do sequences of: bunny hopping up hill (fail); hopping up hill (epic fail); hopscotch up hill (least worst drill for me); high knees up hill; fast feet up hill – are you getting the idea? We were allowed to go down the hill again in between drills, so that offered some necessary respite. It was though pretty much identical to the Redbull 400 metres uphill challenge held in Slovenia (race up a ski-slope essentially) so maybe we should have a Sheffield team enter that next year seeing as how we’ve all been practising? I don’t mind keeping an eye on the kit whilst others have a bash at the climb. Also, a perk of doing the routines is that you can watch other people doing them too, which is hilarious. Yes, yes, you can pick up ideas on technique etc., which is worthwhile, but even better, you can also laugh and point at the pained facial expressions and grimaces of those also doing the task, whilst trying not to dwell too much on what you yourself must look like doing the same thing. It is something to behold, though I’m not overly convinced that the shots taken on the day would represent a marketing opportunity for Accelerate. Out-takes possibly, recruitment poster, never. Mr Accelerate did snap a few shots, but maybe he thought the better of using them as not yet posted. Or perhaps they were for his own personal collection? Now there’s a thought! If they do end up in the public domain I’ll add a few here… (Late addition, cheers Accelerate). Actually, on reviewing the shots, you do have to question why it is we were all so sweetly compliant. Is it an indictment of our weakness of will, a testament to our run-leaders powers of persuasion or what. Dangerous cults and political regimes have been built on less, we need to take care, be careful out there, you still have free will, if only just…
Just to make for even more interest/ amusement, we then moved to the steps and tried to bunny-hop, hop etc up these. This was ridiculously hard, but surprisingly satisfying if achieved. I didn’t manage to hop or jump up all of them, but felt positively euphoric just making it up one or two. At least I wont get bored by a challenge that is too easily achieved…. I have also discovered an unwelcome addition to my many bodily failings. I seem to be programmed not to ever lead with my left leg. I did break my knee in Hastings (long story- shows worse things happen at the seaside) years ago, and I suppose I’ve been favouring my right leg ever since. This I could understand, but honestly it’s like my leg just wont take direction. You know how we have a way we almost instinctiely like to cross our arms, and if you try and do it the other way round it feels so impossible that even if you achieve it, it still feels wrong? (You don’t? Well try it now. See?) Anyway, it’s like that if I try and hop on my left leg, it just won’t activate. This is worrying, I probably ought to do something about this. Apparently running is a one-legged sport (personally, I think this is only partially true, I mean really, if it honestly was, it would actually be either a hopping event, or only open to say flamingoes or herons only activating one half of their body at a time – which I’d watch to be fair) – if I take this observation in the spirit in which it is meant, I probably do need to do something about making sure I can use both legs independently of one another. Could take a while… don’t want to be left without a leg to stand on, in the meantime, divert yourself, who’d win a hopping race between these glorious guys do you think?
By way of diversion, some fine wood puns were also exchanged. Puns are always poplar as yew probably know, I’m knot one to give up too easily on a punning contest generally speaking, but sometimes you have to bough to quicker reflexes. Our run leader was annoyingly speedy with a hair twigger response to activating his punometer. In my defence, the root of the problem for me was that our run leader had the advantage of being fitter than me, so hadn’t got my afore-mentioned oxygen deprived post-running exertion brain depleting his punning resources. I don’t want to come across as small minded and bitter, barking up the wrong tree with a belated defence so I’ll just leaf it at that… that, and a few scavenged picture puns for future reference. Wooden you know, there are loads out there, almost over-elming to be honest, especially if you are willing to branch out with your research. Enjoy.
Back for coffee. Fine latte, and I took an atmospheric shot of the reception area, which I am very proud of. Look and be amazed:
It wasn’t a very long distance session today, in fact I nearly had a panic attack as we made our way back to the base in case my run didn’t meet the 2 mile minimum distance requirement for Smiletastic purposes! It was a close run thing, coming in at just 2.1 miles. Eek. Back for coffee and welcome catch up with some other Smiley Paces. We are still all consumed by Smiletastic challenges. It is becoming quite stressful. Even though I am technically in the winning team at present, I am in constant fear that we will be toppled at any moment, and I will have my fickle team-mates turn on me and oust me as the weakest link, which to be fair, I probably am.
It is lonely at the top. You can only fall from this point. Not that I expect the other losers, sorry, fellow competitors, to fully appreciate this. They have their own demons to conquer. Sleepless nights over whether or not their heart shapes will cut muster, and if they are the right side of the road for their monkey runs… It’s true what they say, running is a test of mind over body. For our part, we Fighting Feathers have tried to keep the pressure up. We had a light-hearted attempt at increasing our lead by getting one of our team to wear her gps watch whilst taking an internal flight in America somewhere. Very impressive, elevation over 8,266 metres, longest run 82 mile, average pace 2 miles a minute. Personally, I think we might have got away with it too, if she hadn’t had to go across open water for most of the flight. We were able to blag it when discovered by spinning the whole enterprise as an hilarious jape when our bluff was called, but we aren’t even half-way through the challenge yet, so I’m sure we’ll come up with something else before the final countdown commences. We need something to maintain our lead. We were a bit worried that Elder Smiley Super Geek might actually have her head implode when she saw the stats, and that would put an end to all the fun of Smiletastic high jinks in perpetuity. However, she seems to have survived the sighting of this erm, well let’s say anomalous and clearly inadvertent upload in tact, mercifully… though she has been on the prosecco since I understand… Birthday indeed, as if anyone will believe that! Though on reflection I think it’s true Smiletastic has aged her, so perhaps she has had an extra birthday creep in, just like the Queen. Smiley Elder Super Geek certainly deserves her own anthem, a project for another day perhaps…
So latte sipped, and conversations shared. Thanks for top tips on running jackets (montane minimus keeps being recommended) and tactics for half-marathon too. I’ve still not quite fathomed whether or not I’m actually going to go through with this, but handy to have some hints. Start slow, wear fancy dress (lower expectations of ‘fun runners’ may help morale) and maybe take some dextrose tablets for instant lift at half way point are the ones that stand out. Although it was sunny, it was cold sitting outside on a damp bench, and that sent me on my way eventually. Home to dream about running, and speculate on whether or not it is true that runners who become obsessed by running clearly have addictive personalities. This capacity to become fixated by something as intrinsically unpleasant as running could be ratcheted up to lethal levels if heaven portend they/we came across something that was actually fun to indulge in! Interesting thought… it is very important serious runners never have the opportunity to try anything pleasant according to The Daily Mash – must be true!
I’ll leave you with that thought. Sweet dreams. Run onwards. Run free!