I think it is possible I may have misunderstood the term ‘eccentric running‘. Disappointingly, it seems it isn’t a workout based on the Ministry of Silly Walks (even though that is REALLY effective at training your muscles to cope with stresses of running) even worse, fancy dress doesn’t apparently cut it either. Gutted. Still, easy to be wise after the event, but I don’t really care. It was worth a try, it was a hoot, and I’m sure all that laughing is good for your stomach muscles even if it might rather stress your pelvic floor….
So the tenuous logic of the costumery for this Hobbit Hash was the desire to practise running in fancy dress. Doing a course recce might seem more appropriate for some in their pre-race training, but that sounded quite hard, and might necessitate quite a lot of actual running. I and my hobbit buddy/ training mentor had a way better idea. The logic of today’s foray out was to see if mooted fancy dress ideas are sufficiently practical for a longer run, ahead of the day. Anyway, why not…. what’s the worst… oh hang, on, that logic has got me into trouble before now to be honest… Basically though, I reckon pony trekking through the woods is sort of cross training really, and therefore entirely compatible with half-marathon training plans.
The scheming started early, sourcing and purchasing a pony of my own. The dream birthday present that never came when I was younger, so I’ve decided to just splash out and treat myself. Happy birthday to me. There was a small technical issue, in that the costume when it arrived was distinctly on the snug side. On reflection, I should have anticipated this probability when ordering – it claims only to fit 4-8 year olds, and only boys, disappointingly, if the photo is anything to go by. Ride on Horse – child’s ride on horse with straps looked quite cute all the same, and a snip at less than a tenner!
Undeterred, I set about pimping my ride. It was this DIY clothing alterations that caused a blood bath in my home towards the end of last week. However, I am nothing if not determined, and hobbit hasher comrade has a matching pony Ginger – to my Roger (see what we’ve done there) so I was determined to ‘make it so’. I did manage to squash myself into the costume, but it wasn’t a good look. Less problematic round the waist, but the straps were way too short to accommodate my ample torso up top so to speak. The crafters amongst you will be fascinated to hear that I got round this by using an old belt to lengthen the shoulder straps, and some ribbon ties on the midriff to give an adjustable (and more forgiving) fit around the waist. Final touch was a rosette, because Roger is a winner for sure. I can’t tell you how proud I am of this whole genius endeavour. It was worth shedding blood, sweat and indeed tears over, in the creation. You know how the saying goes, the best things are worth fighting for. So, meet Roger, resting up in his stable prior to his first ride out galloping up the valley with his stable mate Ginger in due course. Could hardly wait for them to meet one another!
Then finally the day dawned – TODAY. Despite a LOT of prior planning and pledges of commitment to go through with this endeavour, there was some last minute ‘I will if you will‘ type exchanges. As if there was ever any doubt. I was quite excited at the prospect of Ginger and I heading out together for our first cross county yomp. Not at all sure how it might all unfold, but feeling upbeat about the possibilities I was rather chuffed with the overall effect… whilst still in my flat. Heading out of my own domain into the public eye of communal areas was a rather different challenge. I hadn’t expected to be greeted by some random electrician working in the hallway, I did a cheery smile and breezed past him quite quickly trying to exude a not absolutely unfriendly vibe, more a purposeful ‘I’m so busy, can’t possibly stop to talk‘ sort of vibe, making no direct (or indeed indirect) reference or acknowledgement of my ‘unconventional’ outfit. Phew, got away with that, tomtom on, started jogging, and oh joy, there are school children in a small swarm, waiting at the bus stop. Why or why did this seem like a good idea from the sanctuary of my home and blustered confidence of planning through social media? This brilliant idea seems a lot harder in the execution than in the planning. I ran past them eyes front, again behaving as if I was the most natural sight in the world to behold. Just another jogger, sprinting by on a sunny wintry morning. They were obviously well brought up young people, as they managed to stifle their giggles until I’d gone by and then I heard a chorus of strangled guffawing burst out behind me in my wake. I did not look back.
I arrived at the rendezvous point punctually. I discovered if there is one way to feel more self-conscious hanging around on a street corner than doing so in your running gear, it is to do so in your running gear, enhanced with a four year old’s dressing up pony. Still, a deal’s a deal yeah? So why did hobbit buddy come into view not wearing but carrying her pony. What’s the point of having a horse if you carry it, they are supposed to carry you? Fortunately, I was sufficiently relieved that she’d come at all, and with an equine friend to boot, that all was quickly forgiven. We took time for some pre-run posing shots. It was going to be a busy morning for cameras.
So, once there was two of us, all embarrassment evaporated. Once again, taking our ponies for a gallop cross country was an absolutely brilliant idea. Unconditionally, unqualified genius. Never since the invention of prancercise have people inspired by our graceful equine friends had sooooooooo much fun whilst exercising.
So our usual route up the valley, but given a new twist of adventurousness as our steeds were unfamiliar with the route. They acquitted themselves brilliantly, braving river crossings, and later on hurdling stone walls and even stiles as we headed properly cross country! See their grace in action, it looks almost effortless doesn’t it?
Inevitably, we found we had picked the busiest possible morning to be out and about. However, I can report that having ponies of your own, is almost as good by way of making new friends as being accompanied on a walk by a puppy. We got a lot of attention. Some of it was by way of jaws being dropped and undisguised incredulity along the lines of ‘what were you thinking?’ It’s funny, there isn’t a clear answer to that really. We were thinking ‘let’s practise running in fancy dress‘ but that was always a bit of a cover story. Really we were mainly thinking ‘it’ll be fun‘ and ‘why shouldn’t we?’ At what point do we have to unconditionally subscribe to adult conventions of dress. I mean hobbit buddy said that only this morning she packed her children off to school as pirates – though on reflection I never established whether or not this was out of respect for their wishes, or an imposition of her own. However, a mere detail surely. She did say that she had planned to exit the house without her husband finding out about her fancy dress plans for this morning, but he had taken her by surprise (not like that) by working at home for the day, so she made a sort of shy admission, before running out of the house clutching Ginger under her arms. Mind you, given what happened at the end of the run, I’m not sure this version of events is entirely credible. I think she may have an imaginary spouse, but I don’t want to draw attention to this just yet. Anyway,back to our run, we bumped into a ‘school mum’ hobbit buddy knew, and she pleasingly was able to capture us in a photo together which was good, before she ran away from us again as fast as she could, crying with either laughter, fear or disbelief. Hard to tell. Bye bye mystery runner, good to meet you.
The next person we met was a rather serious looking guy, who stopped us for a quick chat. If there is one thing funnier than people’s extreme reaction of surprise at seeing two short-arse but nevertheless full grown women in fancy dress, it is having someone not react and behave as if it is an entirely unremarkable and ordinary thing to do. Hence, this unknown tallish man, greeted us with a matter of fact ‘now where did you get them from. I’m always on the look out for something like that?’ We explained about the getting from ebay and also that bm stores shop in town next to Lidl, though they’ve actually run out you could always get a T-Rex instead. Long story short, he’s part of the Sheffield Hash House Harriers (I met a branch of them in Vietnam), and they are always alert to the possibilities of new fancy dress ideas. I love the thought that we two hobbits might yet inspire a whole generation of other runners to incorporate horse riding in general and cross country riding in particular into their training regimes as part of cross training. The best thing about this conversation on fancy dress, was that it was undertaken with real seriousness. The same seriousness with which runners might discuss the relative merits of new running shoes, nutrition and hydration regimes or how to prevent nipple chaffing on a marathon. It was a meeting of equals, who understood one another. We said our farewells and yomped our separate ways. It was good to get going again to be honest. I think Ginger and Roger got a bit cold and bored standing around for so long and they were keen to get moving again.
So we picked up bit more speed, and started to feel quite smug about these outfits. They are brilliant for running in, light and comfy, and the way the horses’ heads bob up and down in front of you whilst you are running along makes it feel exactly like riding a real pony! The novelty started to wear off and we forgot we were wearing them. Conversation turned to more serious topics, what’s going on in the news. Anonymity for victims of crime versus those accused of crimes; translation; self-employment; me being an extra yesterday for the first time (hilarious, but of this I cannot speak as yet); weather; feet – usual sort of things. The only time the horses became an issue was in the choosing of routes to take. We felt obligated to stick to bridle paths, and it was irksome to find some of our preferred lanes were no longer open to us. Still, fair’s fair, we did what needed to be done.
Eventually, we got to the steepest part of the valley. The bit where hobbit buddy and I are perpetually caught walking by sneaky stealth like Smiley runners storming up behind us to laugh and point at us slacking whilst they have still the energy to power on upwards. Now, I’ve made this point before, about them hiding and lying in wait, and I’ve rather gained the impression that nobody takes my accusation seriously. I am humoured in this claim, in that no-one actually tells me to my face it is nonsense and my paranoia, but I’m sensitive to unspoken signals, and strongly suspect I am not believed. Well, today, I finally have proof. Look what popped up from behind a wall to spy on us! If this doesn’t look like a group of elite Smiley Paces members lying in wait to you then I guess I have to accept you will never be convinced of the truth of what I say! At this point in our run, we had once again lapsed into forgetting our equine companions, so we were a bit taken aback by these Smiley Snipers with their pointing, and laughing and general disbelief, though on the plus side it was this reaction that revealed their hiding place, so ill wind etc. Also good, this offered up a mutual photo taking opportunity, it seemed only fair by way of truce, plus there was at least a couple of fellow Smiletastic competitors (my team and others amongst them) so we needed to at least keep up the façade of friendly rivalry for a little longer still. Mind you, they are cunning those Smiley snipers, even to catch them on camera was tough, see how they have cleverly disguised their identities by that age old (but effective) tactic of having us looking at them with the sun behind them, keeping them in camouflaged silhouette, whilst blinding us for good measure. It’s like trying to get documentary proof of the existence of a yeti. Believers will always believe on limited evidence, cynics will find reasons to disbelieve even the most compelling of proof.
Onwards and upwards as the saying goes. We might be slow, but we are hardcore. The super sniper Smileys had already turned round and were heading back down the valley when we were just getting stuck into the next bit of our elevation. ‘Lightweights‘ we shouted after them bravely, when it looked like they were a) just about out of earshot and b) has built up sufficient momentum that they weren’t very likely to brake their stride to stop, turn and run back up the hill to settle with us once and for all. Also, we had our ponies to ride, and so galloped on upwards, right to the view point in the sun. Here we gave our ponies a break and a chance to graze. We also nearly caused an accident as we saw a white van man drive past us and give us an alarmed looking double take as we were just clambering over a style with Ginger and Roger. We imagined a whole scenario for him when he got home, trying to explain what he’d seen to his sceptical wife. ‘No honestly, two middle aged women wearing ginger ponies‘ (Technically, a true equestrian would say ‘chestnut‘ but he didn’t look like a horse riding regular to be honest). ‘I don’t know why. Nope, it can’t have been a race, there weren’t any bibs or numbers of anything. Yes, they were short, but I can tell the difference between an adult woman and a child, even if the adult woman appears to be having some sort of public breakdown. Look, what is it that you find so hard to grasp? Yes I have been working long hours, and I admit I am a bit sleep deprived, what has that got to do with anything? Why don’t you believe me? Two women in fancy dress pony outfits, climbing over a style in the peak district for no apparent reason – is that really so difficult to credit….. oh hang on... I think I may see your point‘ Silence. ‘Shall I put the kettle on?’ Incident forgotten, and never again referred to, though the uncertainty remains. We caused that.
We decided not to go up to the peaks this time, favouring a different route. We had an explore, going cross country following an old footpath. Truth to tell, I think the landowner may have deliberately sabotaged this path as although there were definite way signs, the path was in very poor repair, blocked by collapsed fencing, and had flowing surface water at many points with the remnants of stone paths and collapsed wooden walkways in evidence. It was comical to negotiate, but we got very wet, and very muddy, and only limited opportunities to really gallop free cross country. Ginger by name and ginger by nature it turned out as Hobbit buddy’s horse put in few near refusals at the water jumps though gamely tackled the wall and style in her own inimitable way. Roger was a bit bolder, and even got quite strong once we found some open land. It was beautiful though, and we felt adventurous scampering about on the hills in glorious sunshine.
We felt so blessed to be in a gorgeous part of the world. It was perfect conditions for running, shame we aren’t in perfect condition to do so. I was back to lamenting the ‘should I, shouldn’t I?’ internal debate re the Sheffield Half. I’m certainly not fit enough to actually run it, but then again the distance is eminently doable if I give myself permission to do it at a walk run. This brings me belatedly to the whole purpose of this blog post, which was to share with you my running Top Tip for Half Marathon first timers. The plan is this. Do it in fancy dress. If you don fancy dress, all spectator expectations evaporate you are clearly a ‘fun runner’ even if not obviously having any fun in that precise moment. You are therefore allowed to walk, and/ or be generally crap at this, or indeed any similar physical challenge or sport. I had a brief moment of disloyalty, speculating whether or not if I was going to be right at the back of the field anyway I maybe should have gone with the T-Rex outfit in favour of Roger, because it would be hilarious to be a carnivorous dinosaur in pursuit of all those thousands of runners. Then I felt incredibly guilty. How could I think of replacing Roger when we have such an obvious bond created instantaneously. I feel Roger and I are meant to be, we will complete in our own special way, whatever it takes…
So after our bit of exploration, we ended up back on a familiar path, rejoining a footpath that branches down the Limb Valley in one direction, and back towards Ringinglow road in the other. Whilst it was tempting to stay out longer, I was starting to feel a bit guilty that we might be a tad on the large side for our mounts, so time to head homewards. That is what we did. We met a few more people, including a large contingency of fluorescent jacketed Friends of the Porter Valley environmental volunteers. I have volunteered with them a few times, and felt a bit guilty for not doing so today, I also felt suddenly self-conscious. It seems it is fine to be seen by random strangers galloping about on pretend ponies, or to see running buddies from Smiley Paces – they above all people will recognise how stressful the whole Smiletastic endeavour has been and accept unconditionally that such pressure has to find an outlet somewhere. In the circumstances, manifestation of stress by way of fancy dress seems a positively benign option when you think of how events might have otherwise ended. After a fruitless search for a detour we brazened it out, running through, exchanging pleasantries with the volunteers who were doing a grand job of planting out. I have a feeling that I was recognised by at least one of them, but he had a look of someone that was thinking ‘Now I’m sure I know that woman, but I just can’t quite place her’ so that was fine. We then went past the Forge Dam cafe which of course was similarly heaving. This time though we saw our Tuesday morning greyhound walking friends, they were pleased to acknowledge us, though one did shout after us that they thought our horses looked a bit tired. Unsurprising and truthful observation we had to concede. From there, it was a speedy romp back, pausing only to take the time to smell the flowers along the way. Great fun, you are never alone with a pony it seems. Top Tip Tick, this idea is a long shot, but it might just work! Ponies and hobbits alike had had a really nice day. I shall gloss over the few wardrobe malfunctions on the way round that will be easily remedied in advance of any future hypothetical half-marathon, should such an event take place and include myself amongst the entrants. Just so you know.
Run over, we paused at the point where our ways part for a final run debrief. We congratulated ourselves on a successful inaugural outing for Ginger and Roger. I’m not saying this will necessarily be a regular occurrence, but it certainly livens up the routine run a fair bit, and anyway cross training and eccentric running are very much in vogue, even if prancercise sadly is not. Plus, you can cover so much more ground on a horse than you could on foot, it has to be the way forward.
Whilst we chatted, two things occurred. Firstly, my hobbit buddy was mortified at seeing her downstairs next door neighbour walking down the street, so we had to pretend to be in all absorbing animated conversation in order to avoid the embarrassment of a social encounter. Then, a super fit runner in dark glasses came sprinting down the road towards us. I was facing him and so hobbit buddy had her back to him and didn’t see him straight away. However, as he passed us and so into her view, she shouted in recognition. ‘oh no,’ she exclaimed, ‘that’s my husband‘ and she called after him with increasing desperation. Nothing, no acknowledgement, not a backward glance, not even a break in stride. It was all a bit awkward really. Now, I come to think about it, hobbit buddy does talk of her DH (Darling Husband) a fair bit, but I’ve never actually met him. The awful possibility that he is a fantasy partner, along the lines of an imaginary friend (of which I am well known to have at least one) reared into view. I’ve decided not to draw attention to my suspicions just yet, I’ll wait and see how things unfold. Meantime, can this be our little secret? I enjoy our hobbit hashes, and I wouldn’t want my discovery of this truth to come between us. It is a situation to handle and monitor with care.
We lightly brushed off the obvious ‘misunderstanding’ and both ran onwards to our respective homes with a bit more speed and anxiety to return to the safety of being hidden behind a closed door once we realised we were once again running alone.
So in conclusion, fancy dress is marvellous. This particular fancy dress option is very comfy, very light and very practical. More people will smile and talk to you whilst you are out running if you wear it. This is a GOOD thing. However, there is definitely a sense of safety in numbers. Walking the streets on your own in fancy dress on a Tuesday morning is a lot less fun than pairing up with a buddy and doing so together, even if it is for no apparent reason. No reason is in fact required. It is fun, it hurts no-one and it left everyone we met wreathed in smiles. It is an unnecessary technicality to quibble over whether the smiles were with us or at us, I don’t care, a smile is a smile, we need more in the world. That is why there is room in the world for Smiley Paces and also Smiletastic, it is all part of a mission to propagate smiles. Today Sheffield, tomorrow the world. Smile and the world smiles with you:
However, point of information, if I happen not to be smiling at any point, that is my prerogative. It does not mean it is OK for men to say to women ‘cheer up love, it may never happen,’ because that is patronising, annoying, unnecessary and makes me want to punch you in the face. So watch out for that please. I’m sure there are better critiques out there about why it is so not OK to do this, but here’s one version for starters from a blog post by Sophie Wilkinson (no I don’t really know who she is, but I agree with the sentiments she has captured here).
I thank you.
Have a nice day.
PS ponies available to hire, can also offer escorted hacking up the Porter Valley or across the peaks, contact me for further details. Even better, if you have your own pony and want to come too, we can have a proper ride out together, more the merrier!