Daily Archives: March 22, 2016

Still sitting on the half-marathon fence


Splinters in your arse are just the start.  It is amazingly and tortuously uncomfortable to be sat on a fence for any length of time, and I’ve been astride these metaphorical railings for far longer than is healthy.  It goes right back to that first decision ‘to run or not to run‘ when I sort of ended up entering the Sheffield Half Marathon by accident back in the mists of time. Technically it’s the Yorkshire Half Marathon I think, but I don’t really care about nomenclature here, much more worried about the distance.  It is a long way.  Too long for a hobbit, probably.  All those weeks ago I think my reasoning went along the lines of ‘what’s the worse that can happen?‘, ‘it’s ages away, I might even train a bit‘ and ‘as long as I don’t inadvertently blurt it out and tell anyone, I don’t have to actually turn up at the start line on the day‘.  The clincher was that old ‘what the hell…’ philosophy, even though I’m not completely sure it’s actually true.  It’s not my immaculately manicured thumb in the photo incidentally, just in case your judgement, senses and all capacity for reason had temporarily abandoned you and you thought it was.

what the hell card

So, having worked on the basic, unfailing principle that if you ignore something for long enough it might just go away, time has passed, and I have come to realise that the principle is not as unfailing as I had first thought.


The marathon is now just a few weeks away, and inexplicably, I have not transformed myself into a lean, mean, muscled running machine, I have instead rather hung on to my hobbit like physique and fundamental tendency towards inertia.  I know it’s a myth about ostriches burying their heads in the sand by the way, and if I was an ostrich, I don’t think I’d be worrying so very much about having to run a half-marathon, they are awesome athletes.  If I had legs like that I’d certainly leave the rest of the field for dust AND probably get my own spin off reality TV series  as well, so no need to ignore anything very much then.

Running last week was particularly dire.  I only made it out for one run, and due to being away from home and other stuff, my diet consisted largely of digestive biscuits and chunks of cheese.  Whilst such cuisine was not inherently unenjoyable (au contraire), it was also not conducive to achieving a svelte waistline and athletic frame.  I don’t think Mo Farah would eat like that training for an event.  In fact,  I think he mainly eats Quorn.  Actually, so do I, but I haven’t turned in to him either.  Strange, but true.  The prospect of even starting the half marathon, much less finishing it, seems to be ebbing ever further away.

On the other hand, if I don’t do the Sheffield half this time round then realistically I never will do it, and there is that irritating FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) echoing in my head all over again plus the unhelpful ‘conscientious if not keen‘ gene, that makes me feel obligated to go through with things that I have made a commitment to do, however unwisely.  Also, (touch wood), I am miraculously still uninjured.  Apart from my crumbling arthritic feet, which isn’t really an injury just a perpetual state of being, I’m basically OK.  A lot of my fitter, more committed running club friends, gurus and competition goddesses (Smiley Paces members I salute you all) have been pushing themselves through the winter months and, whilst they did some awesome running times, some are now limping about, nursing strains and pulls and even stress fractures.  Mind you, Dr Smiley can still go faster with a pot on her leg and on crutches than I can in a sprint, but I won’t draw undue attention to that…  I feel I sort of owe it to those who can’t now take part, to give it a go and to at least show willing by turning up on the day.  Plus I have promised Roger an outing, and that bit at least I’m looking forward to – showing off my very own pony after a half century wait for an equine of my own!


So why am  I posting this now? Maybe, because at this precise moment I have no idea whether or not I am going to run, and it might be interesting to look back and see what was happening with my motivation once Half Marathon Day has been and gone. Exciting isn’t it?  Which way do you think it will turn out?

When I was down South last week, I walked into Kingston and found I was crossing over the bridge over the River Thames,  just as a stream of runners was emerging from the tow path, whizzing round the corner (some runners were more ‘whizzy than others to be fair’) and dipping back into Home Park from, where they’d run on to Hampton Court Palace.  It was a clear but cool morning, there was a cheery band by the riverside that burst into energetic songs as groups passed, and loads of Hi Viz marshals on hand to clap them round.  Turns out, this was the Hampton Court Half Marathon confusingly, there is another event called the Original Hampton Court half which happens in February, but this is a different one, very bizarre.  Anyway, that wasn’t the point, the point was, watching all those runners, pounding onwards I found I felt quite emotional. They all had looks of grim determination about them as they were entering mile 11 (or thereabouts).  They weren’t finding it easy, but they were doing it.  At that moment I felt a wave of not only admiration, but a sense of really wanting to be a part of something like that.  ‘That looks great!  That would be amazing!  I’d love to be part of that!’ I thought, probably erroneously.  As the conductor waved his choir into a rousing chorus of approval, and the rhythm of so many tiring feet thudded their trainers on the ground it all seemed perfect…

I kid you not.  Almost as a reflex response to my having this thought enter my head, the next runner I saw came round passed me, then lurched into a fence at the side of the pavement, grabbed hold of it, and promptly threw up.  Hmmm, maybe not quite such a great advert for running, and also a much needed reality check… or not. That’s the point, I really don’t know!

Hours later, I was in the car, driving back to Sheffield, and I went past the finish area for the event.  It was on the Hampton Court Green for those of you that know the area.  It had that post-event/ post-festival air.  The finish funnel was empty, there were a few stragglers hanging around, and walking away from the event some limping, but smiling runners wearing the biggest and best medals I have EVER seen.  No really, these give the Percy Pud Christmas Pudding a run for best prize ever…. Then I spotted a woman walking towards the finish. She was really struggling, sweat pouring down her face, she wasn’t having a good time, but, and this is the point, the end was in sight and she was bloody well going to finish what she started.  I didn’t think that was weak to be coming in so late, possibly even last, I thought that was strong.  She was awesome, every step was an effort but she had that medal in her sights.   Yet again, I find that it isn’t always the strongest runners that really inspire me, but the unexpectedly resolute against the odds.  Swift runners impress me certainly, they are awesome, but they impress me like a cheetah does.  They show extraordinary running prowess, but they are also an entirely different species to me. I might as well compare myself to them as reach out and touch the moon (I’ve tried that, it didn’t work). That woman showed serious resolve, if anyone or anything can get me to that start line it will be the image of her, putting one foot in front of another, persevering with gritted teeth.   I know she got there, I just know she did.  What’s more, she wasn’t even in fancy dress – I’ll have an advantage over her with that alone.

So, whilst I’m still not saying ‘yes’ I’m not saying ‘no’ either.  I like to keep my reader on their toes.  On balance, I think if I don’t try, I’ll never know, and that will be really annoying.  If I do try, and it’s terrible, I don’t have to ever do it again.  Admittedly, sloping off undetected by abandoning the race half way round might be a challenge with Roger accompanying me, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.  Walk of shame could be a tad conspicuous in the circumstances.   As for coming last, I’ve done that before, it’s fine, as long as there is an anecdote in it, it really shouldn’t be a deciding factor.

As things stand, if I stay injury free, and unless Roger trots up lame on the day of the race, I think I’d like to give it a go more than I’d like to risk missing out.  This is highly likely to end up as one of those ‘I’m not sure if I enjoyed myself, but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it‘ sort of occasions. We shall see.  Also, I blame Eddie Izzard. That man is a machine.  Twenty-seven marathons in as many days (double marathon on last day due to logistic problems – seriously?).  And all to mark Nelson Mandela’s period of imprisonment, one marathon for each year.  Now, I’m honestly not putting myself in the same category as either Eddie Izzard or Nelson Mandela, just in case you were wondering, but I am thinking it does rather put in context my angst over tackling a measly half within staggering distance of my own home.  Lawks a lordy, I can walk it.  They are doing a series about Eddie Izzard Marathon man by the way, must get round to watching that some time.  He does walk/running too apparently, so it must be a legitimate tactic.  Also, he looked like he was about to die at the end, and that part I’m really confident I can replicate, I look shite on finishing too!

So there are some positives here after all.  Some bits of marathon running I have nailed… as for the rest?  Let’s just say I’m working towards excellence in the bits relating to the actual running part, but everyone starts somewhere, why not me?

route-map sheffield half

Categories: half marathon, motivation, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hobbit Hashers Hurrying Headlong

Is it blood?  You know, that metallic taste you get in the back of your throat after you’ve run ’til you thought your lungs had burst?  Well I think it probably is, and that mine probably did, but it was all in the fine cause of Smiletastic betterment.  Let me try to explain…


So for the uninitiated firstly, where have you been?  Secondly, Smiletastic is a series of running challenges, designed by the All-Seeing, All-knowing, All-awesome, Smiley Elder Super Geek of the fabulous Sheffield Women’s running club Smiley Paces, to keep club members running throughout the dark and dank winter months.  Split into teams by date of birth – or witchcraft, I forget which – we individually and collectively have to complete various tasks month by month.  You might think this would be for some reward, but apparently not, running is its own reward.  (I know, not the most convincing of incentives, but stick with me).  The challenges have been unrelenting, strava art; timed races; long runs; monkeying around.  Imagine a running enthusiast with exceptional creativity, a slightly too keen interest in spread sheets and with a penchant for organising runners and you’ll get the general idea.  Be honest, if you had a group of 60 plus runners willing to carry out your every command and indulge your slightest whim, wouldn’t you start pushing out the boundaries as far as you could and then sit back and watch the fall out unfold?

Despite my initial grumpiness at being required to run, it has been fun on the whole, and whilst when each new challenge is unveiled my default reaction is despair, my more considered response is that you do get a sense of not inconsiderable satisfaction once they are achieved.  Plus it has definitely got me out and running loads more than I ever imagined possible, or possibly desired, but hey ho, serves me right for not reading through the small print in the terms and conditions when I signed up for Smiletastic in the first place.  Plus I have become a convert to Strava, though I did rely on a local running shop to set it all up for me.  I was a bit dubious at first, never needed it before blah de blah, but now I fear I have a growing addiction to its delights.  If it ain’t on Strava it didn’t happen, and it seems, that is never truer than when trying to bag some Smiletastic segments…  oh haven’t I said yet?  Well, this month’s challenge (apart from the Strava Art Easter Bunnies) was to re-run five selected Strava segments, but way faster than previously, to sort of measure progress over the year I suppose. Well, that was the official reason given, really I think it was the ultimate spreadsheet challenge, five segments, 60 plus runners, endlessly shifting times and alteration of table rankings, it’s a Geek’s paradise, surely?   Did you know that last year there was a Spreadsheet Day by the way?  I hope there is one this year too, I’ll look out for it.

Spreadsheet Day is usually in October apparently and in case you can’t summon the energy to follow the link because inexplicably you don’t really care about spreadsheets, let me enlighten you as to the history of this day with the following short but pleasing extract:

A holiday sure to appeal to some people more than others, Spreadsheet Day commemorates the date that VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program for personal computers, was released – October 17th, 1979. Since its beginnings, Spreadsheet Day has grown to become a day for celebrating both the advantages and the aggravations of working with spreadsheet software.

History of Spreadsheet Day
The idea for spreadsheet day came about on February 2010, when the importance of spreadsheets in day to day business operations, and in fact living, became apparent to its creator. By the following October, celebrations were underway…..

How to Celebrate Spreadsheet Day
It all begins with recognizing how ubiquitous spreadsheets are in modern life. Every business uses them to manage their books, and data for everything including names and numbers of members and much more. Following on the heels of that, you could take the time to learn how to use spreadsheets and design them for your own lifestyle….

They’re surprisingly easy to use, and can help you balance your budget, prepare shopping lists, keep track of important dates and people, and just about anything else your imagination can come up with. So take Celebrate Spreadsheet day as an opportunity to get your life organized!

A holiday sure to appeal to some more than others indeed, as they say… and plenty of time to plan for celebrations if it is essentially a winter festival.  Could do it instead of Halloween, swap favourite spreadsheets door to door instead of going out trick or treating perhaps?

Anyway, up shot of all this was that for today’s hobbit hash, me and fellow hobbit decided we’d have a bash at a couple of the segments and take a bit of a detour from our normal yomp up the valley.  We had ground rules of course.  NO TALKING during the segment runs, (LOTS OF TALKING between them).  As much energy conservation as possible coming up to the segments, shuffling half heartedly up to the start points, then regroup before turbo charging off to Take Them On.  (In our dreams anyway).

We met at 8.30 a.m. in our usual spot, actually a bit before because we saw each other approaching it and got into step with each other lamenting the morning’s news (bombs in Brussels, blimey).  We were so absorbed in conversation that we headed off up the hill and then I nearly had a panic attack as I hadn’t set my watch.  I turned it on, and then it wouldn’t pick up a signal.  I actually retraced my steps in the interests of exactitude, and then floundered about waving my arm like a drowning Tai Chi practitioner’s last gesture manifesting the art, I was increasingly desperate.  It did eventually register with a pleasing buzz, and we could recommence our yomp with a more regular heart beat!

As always, we started up the hill with some aplomb, before recognising defeat and falling back into a walk with a half-hearted shuffling run in it now and again to show willing.  To a spectator, I wonder if we would have looked like those much reviled badminton teams at the Olympics 2012, who worked out that they’d do better in the event by losing their heat.  Both teams deliberately tried to do so, resulting in pitiful performances that rather brought the sport into disrepute.


Similarly, we were doing just enough to persuade ourselves, and maybe the casual and ill-informed viewer that we were trying to run, but not enough to convince a more critical eye.  Still, we needed to keep that fuel in the engine if we were to take on those Strava segments and smash our former times!

It was jolly enough to begin with, we shuffled upwards and onwards, putting the world to rights, eventually though, and with awful inevitability, we approached the mile long up hill stretch towards Ringinglow.  Eek.  It was almost comical really how we slowed as we approached the start point.  Our nerve failing us.  We stood on a corner in advance of the segment eyeing it with suspicion.  We each listed our various ailments and all the reasons why this would be really hard.  We also gave each other pep talks.  It wouldn’t matter if we were slow as it would only pick up any improvements, slower running could be our little secret.  No, it wasn’t a legitimate tactic to stop the watch en route and have a little breather before restarting – besides which that probably wouldn’t work.  We faffed about for ages.  It was a bit like waiting at the water edge before jumping into a cold sea.  You know it has to be done, and once you commit to the idea it probably won’t be as bad as you think, and also that ultimately, you just have to take the plunge and if you enter tentatively it will be way worse.  Three, two, one, we’re off!

taking the plunge

Unusually, and unexpectedly, I took the lead.  It was a bit alarming to find myself running alone, and up front as fast as my little legs would carry me with no-one to follow and nothing but a hill ahead.  On the plus side, I didn’t have to worry about navigation, it was basically a straight line, and although I was slightly unsure of the exact segment end, I figured we’d have it nailed.  Knowing my hobbit buddy was right behind me was quite motivating, as I was desperate not to let her overtake, and when we got to the only road crossing I took the opportunity to glance behind me and she was on my shoulder which gave me the motivation I needed to keep on moving.  Left to my own devices I’d have caved in and walked at that point for sure.  It seemed a long, long way up that hill, though actually I think it is pretty much exactly one mile, we finished in a heap, breathless, just ahead of the Norfolk arms.  I knew it had to have been faster than first attempt as we’d also done that together a few week’s back, and we’d been able to chat together whilst doing so. This time we couldn’t even talk at the end of it, legs a-wobble and panting hard, but we felt chuffed.  Neither of us knew how to extract that time from our watches, so we’d have to wait until we got back to check for sure, but we were confident we would have smashed our original Smiletastic times.  Yay, segment one, tick!  I will overlook the fact that we are on different teams so in some ways our efforts cancel each other out, we still did it, and we are therefore awesome, ninja etc.  Also, it suggests I do have another gear in my repertoire of speed, albeit one I intend to save strictly for emergency purposes.  Definitely felt the high on completion, definitely don’t want to have to run that segment at that pace ever again!

Smiletastic Ringinglow Segment – looks so innocuous does it not?  Ho hum.  Let the records show that I improved on my previous time by 25% whoop, whoop.  I will gloss over the fact that some of this remarkable increase is made less than remarkable if you knew how slowly I’d lumbered up it in the first place, nevertheless, progress has been made, let’s celebrate that!

smiletastic 2016 ringinglow segment

So, once we had recovered our breath enough to mutter mutual congratulations at each other, we turned back down the hill, along the footpath that cuts through the alpaca place (gawd how depressing that place is, collapsed shelters and over-grazed paddocks – lovely alpaca though who come across to check you out).  We recommenced our chit chat, loping along down the valley.  We noted the last lot of dumped rubbish had been collected and sighed with inward relief that for now at least there was no more. Oooh, how I’d love to put a camera trap up there and catch the perpetrators, I’m sure it’s the same people every time, it infuriates me the fly tipping.  It’s bad enough to put litter and rubble, but last time out it was detergent chemicals and sump oil that was perilously close to the stream.  Makes me mad, it really does.

Soon we found ourselves approaching Forge Dam, and so the next segment was in our sights.  My hobbit companion was asking me where it was, and I had to say that whilst I was really confident I knew exactly where it was she would have to understand that running based on my recommendation was entirely at her own risk for Smiletastic points, and also, at the end of the day we are in different teams.  She being a Rowdy Rooster and me a Fighting Feather, so each to their own eh?  On this understanding, we identified the start of the run – it was just adjacent to a higher route that was temporarily blocked off – we did briefly consider running our segment, then nipping back to move the diversion signs to prevent any other Smiletastic runners from coming after us subsequently and also improving their times. We abandoned this idea quite quickly.  Partly we thought we’d never get away with it, partly it would potentially disadvantage our own respective team mates and partly that we conceded hilarious as the idea was it might be deemed a tad anti-social in respect of other users of the Porter Valley footpaths. Plus, we couldn’t really be bothered.  What run full pelt and then voluntarily retrace our steps so we’d have to then run it all again?  I don’t think so!

We lingered at the start, each willing the other to take the initiative.  It was ridiculous how we had to somehow pluck up courage to do a section of run that we normally do pretty much every week.  Somehow though, the pressure was on.  Eventually, I took the metaphorical plunge and headed off, with hobbit two in hot pursuit.  This is a joyful part of our regular runs.  A gentle down hill gradient, lovely woodland location, pretty firm path (icy in winter sometimes) – I was a little hesitant about running it in my road shoes (which I’d put on in deference to the first smiletastic segment which was all on road) – but it had been dry and in fact I felt pretty confident haring off.  Well I say ‘haring’ that’s a relative thing, obviously.  I led the way and felt strong, it was further than I remembered, there’s a sort of false finish, when you can see some houses through the trees and I always think that means you are about to hit the road, but in fact it weaves away from you rather than across the track.  I/we had two points where we had to almost stop due to erratic passage of small dogs.  One forced me to brake suddenly as it looked scared and I thought it would be anti-social to storm by, so I jumped sideways and walked a couple of steps before picking up speed again.  Honestly, hard to know if that really will affect my time or whether the brief pause gave me new momentum afterwards.  I might try again next week just to see.  I finished and seconds behind was hobbit hasher buddy.  We both found a suitable stone to sit on for a bit, instinctively putting our heads between our knees for a bit, grimacing smiles at each other, but not able to speak.  When we did, we were truly proud of ourselves.  We’d done, it, really pushed ourselves, and we weren’t obviously broken and nor had we either fallen over or been sick – all of which had felt like very real perils as we ran.  We felt awesome.

We got our breath back and continued homewards at a gentle self-congratulatory jog.  We said our goodbyes at the corner of the road where our paths diverged, and jokingly quipped how annoying it would be if the runs didn’t show up on strava after all our efforts! Ho ho ho, oh how we laughed!  As if that would ever happen!

Porter brook smiletastic segment

Hobbit buddy made it home before me, so as I fired up my computer and was waiting for my Tomtom to do its mysterious syncing, updating and transferring of data, a message pinged up to me through Facebook from my buddy?  ‘What happened to segment two?’  Uh on, this is more than a little ominous….  surely a wind up?  I anxiously uploaded my run – for me, result.  Phew, both segments recording,  both showing a significant improvement (25%) – there is some weirdery at work.  Specifically, although the time is correct for my Ringinglow segment it doesn’t say it’s a PR (no big crown/ medal thing alongside the time by way of celebration).  On reflection, I think it might be because it has recorded a PR for a longer section that subsumes the shorter bit within it.  However, hobbit buddy, though her run is shown as taking place with me on Strava, hasn’t had her Porter Brook segment recorded.  To us, and our collective brains this seems unfair, inexplicable and wholly mysterious.  We consult with others, we learn of new phenomena such as satellite drift, we try to think up options.  We may feel small in the great universe, but we have a strong sense of justice and an internal streak which is either annoyingly stubborn or impressively tenacious, depending on your perspective.  This situation does not compute, how can the run be visible on the Strava map, but not appear within the relevant segments section?  In the end, I discover a help link for Strava  which covers exactly this scenario Strava Segment Matching Issues  – better yet, there is a link to get support.   An email is sent, and within an hour, no really, incredibly quickly, all is not only explained but resolved:

Miko Tron Chase (Help Center) Mar 22, 12:58 PM

Hobbit (actually, they did use her proper name, but I’m protecting her identity for security and confidentiality reasons),

Sorry for the trouble. I’ve corrected the minor gps tracking error that caused the mismatch. Take another look over things to make sure it looks right.

Best, Miko Strava Support Team

This lifted our spirits.  Better yet for hobbit buddy, the correction actually brought her down the valley faster than me  … no worries, I’ll get it back off her next time…. and we were deliriously and quite possibly disproportionately delighted at how it all unfolded.  Thank you Miko at Strava, you can never know the joy your tweaking efforts (no, not twerking) have brought to we two in the age of Smiletastic.  How amazing for you to be in a job that is so transformative to the lives of others.  You must sleep well at night thinking of the good you have spread through the world…

So, as the bard himself reminds us ‘All’s well that ends well‘.  It ended well for us.  Segments smashed AND recorded as such.  Plus, we discovered our inner strength both literally and metaphorically.  After all, who would think two hobbits could overrule a satellite and influence Strava?  Shows that through the Smiletastic challenges we have come to understand that we can do anything, we are invincible, we have grown as runners and as human beings.  Today Strava, tomorrow (or thereabouts) world peace… we can but hope… meantime we would all do well to remember, we are more capable than we know!

more capable than you know


Categories: motivation, off road, road, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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