The shorts were unnecessary, I felt. Not ‘unnecessary’ in the sense that the wearers should abandon covering their nether regions altogether, but ‘unnecessary’ in the sense that it was flippin’ freezing out there and bare legs were at best inappropriate – and indeed ‘unnecessary’ – and at worst reckless exhibitionism. I’m not saying this just because the last time I sported a pair of shorts I ended up looking like a cross between an Oompa Loompa and a Jumbly, (though admittedly there is more than a smidgeon of envy in my judgementalism) but also because I think runners have a duty of care for themselves. All that exposed flesh was surely just a snow-flake’s width away from hypothermia. There are hard core off-road runners and there are the adrenalin junkies who seem to embrace living life on the edge of human endurance. Judging by the numbers of those in shorts out and about today, Sheffield is home to more than it’s fair share of such people who taunt the elements with their naked knees. Honestly, what were they thinking?
Reader, I am of course remarking on one of the many and wondrous sights to behold whilst at Longshaw last weekend for the Trust 10 off road running event. Alongside the beanie hatted runners, were a few in skimpy shorts and T-shirts. I was shivering in my long-sleeved top with running vest over it, leggings over thermal tights and my generously proportioned bobble hat. Whilst I concede they may get warmer by running a bit harder, surely there is a limit to how much heat anyone can generate by running alone, these few seemed to defy the laws of physics as well as near enough those of common decency in the winter months.
For the record, I did pluck up the courage to ask a guy on one of the Accelerate Thursday Ecclesall wood runs (a snip at £2 a throw) why he was wearing shorts in sub zero conditions. To his credit he said he was miserable doing so, and it was only because he didn’t possess any longer runner tights, being more a gym bunny of late who hadn’t been running outside all winter due to injury (or apathy, I forget which now). He is therefore exempt from my incredulity, having a perfectly reasonable explanation for his state of undress. For those hardy few at Longshaw last weekend looking like they’d turned up to take part in a summer fete’s Dad’s fun run (and it was all men in shorts to be honest, we women apparently either know better, or are more self-conscious about our cellulite and wobbly bits) how could you do it? More to the point, will you do it again? You must have been absolutely freezing.
Hey ho, I’m ahead of myself though. So, last Sunday, was back to lovely Longshaw for their monthly Trust10 10km trail run through the estate. For those of you who are knew, or skim read that bit last time I posted on the topic, this is essentially a free event held on the fourth Sunday of the month at Longshaw (apart from March and December when confusingly they are on the third Sunday due to the inconvenience to the running community caused by Easter and Christmas – tell you what, best just check their website each time to be on the safe side…). You have to register to participate, but you can do this on the day, and it is an inclusive 10km route on trails and a bit of off-road, well marshalled and very friendly. You do get a time, but they don’t guarantee it will be accurate, so if you are fussed about that take your own GPS tracking device with you.
This is one of my favourite local running events. It’s off-road – or at least traily, so you feel sort of adventurous, but actually it’s very safe. It is also highly social, and a good progression from parkrun for the likes of me. You can rock up on the day, and enjoy novel facilities such as warm interiors for registration and toilet paper in the loos prior to the run, and then afterwards catch up with running buddies from near and far as well as sip a decent cup of coffee. I say it is amongst my favourite runs, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have pre-performance angst every time the day comes around, and last Sunday was no different.
I’d done parkrun the day before, with a bit more gusto than planned due to an extended sprint finish (not my idea and one I couldn’t sustain thank you for asking), and then the day of the Longshaw 10km dawned and it was bitterly cold. On the plus side this meant I’d get to bag a sub-zero bonus point for Smiletastic, on the down side in order to do this I’d have to go outside and run in the freezing cold. I was shattered before I’d even started. It did not bode well. Nothing in life is free it seems. I’d agreed to scoop up a running buddy en route, so headed out to get her around 8.00 ish. Even though I know where she lives, I used satnav to get there. This meant I went the most bizarre route ever to her house, discovering back streets of Sheffield that hitherto I had not realised existed. Leaving the house is always an education. My buddy was waiting, and clambered in. She doesn’t have a car, so has to submit to my driving and navigation which must do wonders for elevating her heart rate. She is too polite to say so, but I fully appreciate being picked up by me is a little like being forcibly abducted, because I never really know where I am going and so can end up taking some more obscure routes if I lose concentration and ignore the satnav. She has got a bit better at politely forewarning me when I seem to be about to breeze past a turning and I think we are evolving a team driving/ navigation ethos which will have us competing in off road rally driving competitions before too long. Whilst I’m talking about scaring passengers into thinking they’ve been abducted, the last time I ever picked up a hitch hiker I did just that. It was a long time ago, and I was a bit naive, driving north from London I stopped to pick up a hitcher just before going on the M1. He climbed inside and expressed both gratitude and surprise that I’d stopped. ‘Why are you so surprised I stopped?’ I asked ‘well, he said, rule number one of picking up hitchers, don’t pick up hitchers without luggage, and rule number two don’t pick up hitchers without a destination sign, and rule number three, don’t pick up a hitcher if you are driving on your own.’ ‘Oh‘. So that was three out of three. He went on to explain whey each of these rookie errors could be so catastrophic. ‘So should I be worried?’ I queried lightly. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I’m fine honestly, but I am jumping bail.‘ ‘Oh‘. I said. Anyway, it was all fine, but it turned out I was going to Leamington, and he wanted to go to Coventry, and I knew a back route to where he was heading. Long story short, once I pulled off the motorway and started going cross country he started looking really, really nervous. The power dynamic entirely shifted as I realised poor guy was completely lost and feeling really vulnerable. He was ever-so pleased and relieved when I finally deposited him by a road sign saying 2 miles to Coventry. I’ve not picked up a hitcher since, but I am more mindful of the power dynamics of being both a lift-giver and liftee so to speak. I did once hitch a ride with an alleged murderer, but that’s a tale for another time too.
So me and running buddy bounced on the uneven roads of Sheffield wending our way to Longshaw. It was funny driving across, at that precise moment I just couldn’t imagine my legs doing any running at all. I sort of knew I would run the 10k because that is what happens when you turn up at these events, but I didn’t feel remotely enthused at the prospect and felt like there was nothing in the tank. I always wonder if ‘proper runners’ ever feel like this. Is it hard for them to muster the motivation too. I know there will come a point at which it is enjoyable, but right then I was most definitely not feeling the love. Oh well. We were sort of committed by that point anyway. The scenery was spectacular though, I wasn’t quite sure if it was actual snow on the ground or a deep frost, but my, it was beautiful. Cold, but bright and wintry in a gorgeous Christmas cliché sort of way.
We arrived early. I’m delighted to report that after last times shenanigans with not knowing where to park, (too much choice of spaces) this time the lovely people at the National Trust had left nothing to chance. A marshal with a very fine pink flag was on hand to direct us to a parking place. This was great, I didn’t have to expend useful brain energy on early morning complex problem solving. I could save that for the running later on.
It was fun already at the point of arrival. It wasn’t fun that I realised I’d left my running coat at home, but I was sporting both my Smiley Paces vest and my newly acquired thoroughly splendid pink Trust10 bobble hat (for which I thank you nice Longshaw NT person). As I was faffing about getting out of the car, my buddy got us a ticket for parking and I struck up a conversation with the driver of a monster truck in the adjacent parking space. He was friendly, and noting my Smiley Paces vest made a comment along the lines of ‘I didn’t realise that this event was attracting hard core proper runners‘ I was a bit thrown, as I clearly don’t really meet any of those criteria. I explained about being the one in the club who makes the other Smiley Paces feel great because they get to overtake me. He turned out to be a Steel City Strider, which was even more confusing, because they really are hardcore, and what’s more, probably the ones most likely to be wearing shorts in the snow to be completely honest. Still, this guy was friendly enough, and claimed to be like me one of the ‘also runs’ so who knows, could have been bluffing, but it was a friendly enough exchange.
I didn’t do any selfies this week, for which you must be grateful, however, I do feel compelled to include a photo of my fine hat, which is being modelled in the picture below by my bear Fraser. He isn’t really a runner, and I couldn’t persuade him to wear my Smiley vest as it is so unflattering, but you get the idea of the overall effect I think, for better or worse…
So we did some car park faffing, getting tickets, picking our way over the frozen surface and marvelling at one or two arrivals who appeared to have run to the venue from over hills and vales far far away. I felt almost pathetic fretting at the prospect of a measly 10k.
When we arrived in the Longshaw Tea rooms to register it was already heaving with people and lovely roasty toasty and warm. This was good, apart from the fact that prizing yourself away from it to go outside into the cold again was made even harder by way of contrast. I don’t think there were quite as many runners overall as last time out, but there were heaps and heaps of Smileys. In Smiletastic terms (our running club.s winter challenge) all of the five teams were represented. As we would therefore each bag a bonus point for our own team, we effectively cancelled each others efforts out. However, it made for a very social gathering. I met a few Smileys I hadn’t seen before, only as names on Facebook, so that was fun. I also had the rare experience of having some insider information and therefore (admittedly short-lived and tenuous) expertise, as some of the youngsters (get me) from both the Squawky Chicks and Clucky Ducks hadn’t actually done Longshaw before. This gave me the chance to dispense words of wisdom, which doesn’t happen all that often. I was able to reassure them that it was eminently doable (lawks a lordy – look at the sight of me, and I manage to drag my weary carcass round) plus, I shared my secret Top Tip for attainment tactic. It is simply this. There are a couple of really steep hills. Now some will attempt to run up these, but exhaust themselves and that is poor for morale. I suggested not ruining a perfectly lovely walk with an opportunity to take in some lovely views by forcing yourself to run up a near vertical incline. Treat the run strategically, conserve your energy for the top! They seemed satisfied with this legitimate running technique, and I felt a certain surge of contentment at having led the youngsters so easily astray. (Though really I maintain walking up the really steep hills is indeed a legitimate technique to avoid injury and tears on your first time out.)
There were so many Smilies to catch up with, and even a couple of Rustling’s Runners (a group I used to go out with before I came to realise they are way too speedy for me to keep up with them, but they are a friendly duo), it was a shame to have our chit chat interrupted with a call to the start. We shuffled into position. I didn’t wear any kind of a coat, but I did have gloves and my hat. I put myself sort of in the middle of the bunch this time, didn’t want to get stuck behind walkers too early on. Couldn’t really hear the briefing, but it was presumably along the lines of look out for each other, watch out for slippery bits, have fun, that kind of thing, and then we were awf! Yay!
One advantage of the cold, is that it is actually a bit of a relief to get going. Now I am more familiar with the route, it feels a bit quicker. Also, because the ground had been frozen, it was hard and not as muddy as last time out. Although it was white underfoot in parts it didn’t feel too slippery. I was in my ‘proper’ off road shoes, and I was glad of them, but I think I might be getting a bit more confident on my feet now. It was lovely. I don’t feel the same lurve running on roads, but it was stunningly beautiful out in the countryside. The sky was initially dark and a bit broody, but it made for breathtaking scenery. It was cold, and apart from us runners and the hardy marshals – who have been highly trained to smile apparently continuously, without even a moment’s lapse – there didn’t seem to be many people about.
It was very pleasing to report that our Extra Smiley Smiley (200) Formerly Known As Smiley Non-Smiley was amongst those marshalling. Not only did she hold that gate open early on with real dedication and aplomb, it meant I got to be on first name terms with one of the marshals. It does make it more fun running when there are people to cheer you round. Even more pleasingly, she then relocated to the half-point/ end point so could cheer again at the mid-stage and ending. Great value out of her volunteering skills there. It didn’t feel too crowded today, and I got into a rhythm early on, a slow one granted, but a rhythm nevertheless. It was gorgeous, the trails felt springy, the woods were lovely, and if you remembered to look up when you got to the steep hill not only did this help your breathing but you got an awesome sense of place. I had a few broken exchanges with people on the way round. Nothing too much, (regular readers know I feel VERY strongly about not being expected to talk and run at the same time), but enough to touch base companionably with others, and shout acknowledgement.
At the hill point, I came across another backwards runner! What’s that about? I know I saw one at parkrun the other week, but I really thought that was a one off. I asked if it made the uphill easier if you couldn’t see the summit. ‘Yes‘ was the enthusiastic reply ‘especially second time around!’ I didn’t really want to think about the second lap at that point to be honest, but it was an observation worthy of consideration. I heave-hoed up the hill, and did cave in to walking, though I can truthfully report I was not alone in this. My relationship with hills is complicated, I still can’t run up with them, but the views at the top are joyful and then there is always the thrill of the descent to come… Living in Sheffield I feel cheated if ever I go for a run and there isn’t a hill somewhere. Mind you, can’t really think of any occasion when that’s happened round where I live to be fair, you can’t escape them!
There was a friendly marshal at the top though offering cheering words of encouragement. It is nice once you get over the wall to be on a flatter forest path and quite soon two marshals came into view, one in the gateway acting as a decoy presumably, whilst another appeared to be in hiding behind a stone wall, but had her presence betrayed by her fine pink bobble hat. My own bobble hat got a bit of attention on the way round. One passing runner told me she’d been eyeing it from way back, focusing in on it to catch me up and then overtake me. I was quite delighted at her observational skills and compliment, particularly as she herself was sporting a sort of Peruvian three bobbled hat creation, that truthfully might have incited a bit of bobble envy had I been of such a disposition to mind. Truth is, you don’t really care about anything very much when you are running, well I don’t. It looked a bit like this, only more colourful, it you are struggling to visualise it:
I was worried you might be imagining more of a jester’s hat, which would be silly, obviously.
The route seemed to go quickly today, I was cheered round the half way point by name (nowhere to hide) and yomped onwards with renewed vigour. The field scattered out a bit, so for the second lap, although I was in sight of people throughout, I was more or less on my own. I was aware of my running buddy (the abductee from earlier) just behind me, and although we’d agreed mutually that there would be no talking and running, I wanted to avoid getting shoulder to shoulder with her in case we ended up chatting.
On the second lap you really need to remember to make a point of looking at your surroundings. There are gorgeous mossy tree roots, lovely rock formations on the horizon, and in the woods, some fabulous fantastical configurations of trunks and branches that make alluring dens. I saw one parent with two small children clambering around the magical roots, it looked like a parallel universe, it really did. I could quite happily have ditched the running and gone to join them, but if my body is ever to be a temple to running, then I need to keep on running in my asymmetric, minimalist way.
Also on lap two as I went through one of the smaller car park areas (no, don’t know what it’s called) there was a nice couple (well I say they were nice, they may have been axe-murderers for all I know, but it wasn’t obvious that they were, so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt) asked how far we were running. I said breathlessly ‘10km‘ and they ooohed and aaahed in a ‘gosh, how impressive‘ sort of way as they heaved on their walking boots and let their dog out of the boot of their car. That helped me pretend to run on with a bit more enthusiasm than I was actually feeling at that point, I didn’t want to let the side down, and in a hundred metres or so I knew I’d be comfortably out of their line of vision so could heave into the undergrowth if necessary.
In the last couple of kilometres I suddenly noticed ahead of me a Rustling Runner, she is training for the half-marathon, so I was wondering if I could somehow catch her. Not out of competitiveness, but more to see how my running is comparing with hers. She was/is a much better runner than me, and has done half marathons before. I reasoned if I could catch her, then maybe it is realistic for me to at least start the half in a few weeks’ time. It was an effort, but I did catch up with her. Then though, I could hear another runner behind me right on my shoulder, and it sort of spurred me on. I didn’t want to be overtaken at the last 100 meters. Disaster, her partner (presumably) appeared at the gateway to the finish, and started cheering her on ‘come on, you can do it, you can beat her‘. I don’t know if I felt outraged exactly, but being aware I was someone else’s target made me really want to hang on. I gave it super-human effort, found my turbo sprint button and charged onward. I did think I might either be sick, or fall over, but I did make it. Whether I’m ever going to have enough in my tank to do the Sheffield half, I really don’t know… I have to get to grips with running up some hills at some point, and not long to go. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh. Maybe my insurance policy should be just to get one of these, and run in that, job sorted. How do you think it compares to my usual running vest?
The organisers and marshals at the end were in fine form, voice and had great commentary and organisational skills. ‘Second dog home‘ they called out to the runner just ahead who was accompanied by her pooch and ‘ooh smiley‘, and then ‘come on Lucy‘ as I was recognised by my pink hat (which I can report had stayed on throughout) and presumably, matching pink face and puffy cheeks as I charged into focus at the finish. Afterwards I spoke to the woman behind me who was most gracious about my determination to stay ahead, from her perspective I think she wasn’t too fussed about catching me anyway, it was motivator at the sidelines who was being uber-competitive, but to be fair that made me find reserves I didn’t know I had. I still wasn’t that fast mind, but I was a good 5 minutes faster than last time out. A lot of that to be fair is due to the firmer footing rather than any improvement in my inherent athleticism, but all the same that’s good for morale. (But NOT good for Smiletastic, for which PBs only attract points next month, and I doubt now I’ll be able to improve on this time, very poor gamesmanship on my part there I’m afraid. Best not tell the other Flying Feathers, I’ll be drummed out of not just the team, but Smiley Paces too. Driven into exile I’d have to join another running club instead… somewhere flat! Fate worse than death.)
It was pretty cold once we stopped. My running buddy was very close behind and about five Smilies all crossed the finish line within a few minutes of each other, so that was companionable and nice. We did lots of mutual congratulations, before retreating to the warmth and comfort of the tea rooms for coffee and run de-brief and Smiletastic tales. It was really, really nice.
Another triumph, thank you marshals, for clapping, smiling, pointing, holding gates open, and offering cheery commentary as we passed. It was and is much appreciated, you must have been freezing out there!
There were long queues in the cafe, but it was all good-natured. I felt a bit for the 11.00 o’clock walking group that were probably not expecting to find themselves in the middle of a pack of steaming and slightly over-excited runners, but hey ho. Refreshments eaten and drinks drunk we performed the super human feat of getting up after stiffening into a sitting position, and hobbled back to the car park, newly crippled. I spotted an abandoned cross in a tree en route back. Hope it wasn’t in memory of someone who didn’t quite make it. The snow scattering had almost vanished, giving way to bright sunshine, but it was still distinctly nippy out there.
Back at the car park, there was a random woman roaming. Turned out she was on a mission to spot the next vacated parking space, so as we reversed out, she was frantically gesturing in another car. We did fine, but there may be some logistical problems ahead for Longshaw if the running contingency start overlapping too much with other activities. Speaking for myself I couldn’t imagine being fit enough to run up to the start from Sheffield, but a fair few runners do. Maybe when the weather is warmer and days are longer I could give it a go, as long as I can take a picnic with me for emergencies.
Meantime, thanks again lovely Longshaw, it was gorgeous out, worth the effort, and I like having another number to add to my collection. Wonder if we can get even more Smilies along next time, it was like a club outing, but even so, the more the merrier I say, reckon we could easily double it next time. Now that would be a treat… Till next time, happy running y’all!
Home, dropping off running buddy en route. I did a quick detour laying bait for rabbits, more of this later. It’s not easy doing Smiletastic, first Elder Smiley Super Geek wanted our hearts, now she wants hares. I can’t find any, so I’m resorting to laying out organic produce for them in a possible vain attempt to lure them hither. Will it never end…? It’s an organic one, which is why it isn’t very symmetrical.
If you wish to compare and contrast with previous Longshaw experiences you could check out mud, mud glorious mud and/or lolloping Longshaw, but really I wouldn’t take any notice of what I have to say, just if you are tempted get out and do it. I would recommend trail shoes, but apart from that it’s eminently doable, fun, friendly and free. What’s not to like? Plus, if you do decide you need to bale at the half way point (and for the record I did see one runner do just that as we passed the tea rooms first time around) you absolutely can, no-one will care, or even notice probably, and it’s not like they’ll put it on a blog and tell the world or anything, so keep your worries in perspective.