In pursuit of Smiletastic (running club challenge blah de blah) we Feisty Fighting Feathers will do whatever it takes.
- Dodgy pre dawn rendezvous in car park? Tick
- Dubious aliases courtesy of technically literate child gaining temporary possession of fellow Fighting Feather’s phone? Tick (wonder if that might be why that particular associated adult/parent ended up with alias of Poohead? I don’t want to jump to judgement, but you have to concede I may have a point at least…)
- Charging around a park in the dark? Tick
- Anticipatory giggling? Tick
Reader, we Fighting Feathers had signed up to it ALL. We are awesome, we are ninja, we are possibly marginally over-competitive and maybe even have lost all sense of reason or perspective. Also, there was bait. Hare to our greyhound selves if you will. Not that I approve of blood sports, or greyhound racing, but the analogy yet seems fitting.
Let me explain: The final Smiletastic challenge is to improve speed times over certain Strava segments. Our cunning ploy of talking to other members of our Fighting Feathers team (via Facebook messenger, not in real life, obviously, why risk spoiling things by being faced with the awkward physical reality of actually meeting up in person) revealed that a number of us still had to take on the segment in Graves Park. This segment is basically one of the Graves parkrun loops and involves a big hill. It is a steep but short section, and I hoped that now I’ve conquered (sort of) the hill up to Ringinglow, this will seem positively tame by comparison, though I fear not. At least there is some down hill running too to make up for it…
Speaking personally, it’s a bit of a annoying one to get to, as if you do it as part of parkrun and you are slow like me, you are going to get blocked by other runners ahead of you on th first circuit, and will be to knackered to do it justice on the second, thus, for Smiletastic purposes, completion of this segment requires a special trip out. It’s a bit too far from where I live for someone of my fitness level to run over to and still have enough energy in my tank to run the segment with any particular turn of speed, so that means driving over. Seems a faff to drive for such a short run… However, the collective enthusiasm (if not wisdom) of my Fighting Feathers compatriots was such that we cunningly outed each other in terms of who had this loop outstanding. Soon enough, we had been named and shamed. Before I knew it Super Spy 007 Smiley Half Pint had suggested a pre 7.00 a.m. run – last chance to nab the bonus point for early or lates in this the last week of the Smiletastic challenge after all – and I’d accidentally somehow agreed to be there. Pre 7.00 a.m. starts aren’t the best, even though I wake early venturing outside and running about at that unearthly hour is another thing altogether. Also, the clocks have just changed, so essentially we were signing up to get up in the middle of the night. Nevertheless, I do like a group outing/ project, and one for all and all for one etc. So I was in. So were four others.
By the way, in case you’ve been wondering, Super Spy 007 has recently returned from her overseas mission in the US of A, and hence is available to provide in country support and mission leads back in Sheffield now. Her cover story for her 7 week sojourn was an extended ‘holiday’, but really she did it to ensure no rival members of other Smiley Paces Smiletastic teams would be able to get to the same timed runs as her. She doesn’t even like Florida, she was honestly martyring herself by staying there just so she could grace Clermont parkrun with her presence. It’s that willingness to make sacrifices for the team and all pull together that has kept we Fighting Feathers up at the top of the leader board. We have the end in our sights, we must make one final push to the finish and then our work will be done.
Inevitably, there was quite a lot of planning, not least working out who would be in attendance, whether or not fancy dress was required (the consensus was not for this one, concern about drag effect of bunny ears within onesies for a start – no monkeying around appropriate here). Also a particular cause of anxiety was how on earth we four details were to be expected to run round any part of Graves Park without Dr Smiley (aka broken jelly baby) present to hurl jelly babies for instant energy/ nutrition purposes/ psychological support purposes. For those of you who haven’t been concentrating, Dr Smiley is a regular participant at Graves parkrun, and when unable to run due to injury or tapering – she always turns up to volunteer, and lobbing jelly babies at runners as they reach the half way point has become her signature dish of support. Alas, at present she is in injured mode, and hence largely non operational for running purposes. We did try and persuade her that she needed to come join us anyway, but were left with impression – as far as it is possible to glean an impression through the medium of Facebook messenger – that she was laughing in our faces at the very idea of voluntarily getting up at that unseemly hour when she can’t even run at the moment. Some people have little commitment, Fighting Feathers aren’t normally put off running rendezvous by having a leg in a pot and requiring crutches to move about on. It’s only a broken foot for goodness sake… In fact, I don’t think it was that which put her off coming, I think it was the early start.
Still, it’s amazing what a bit of collective emotional blackmail on Facebook messenger can do (and actually, it is completely different from cyber bullying, so I’ll thank you to take your unseemly accusations and protestations elsewhere) and soon enough we running quartet were not only pacified, but fired up by a turn of events (is that an oxymoronic description to give? Half-hearted apologies if so).
Our very own Dr Smiley/ Broken Jelly Baby Dr Smiley is not completely without a heart. At the very least she can be manipulated by others. She may need her beauty sleep (don’t we all) but it seems she is also able to fully appreciate the importance of her motivational role, as trainer, coach, mentor, role model etc etc pot or no pot (medical not hallucinogenic variety). So it was that the day before our morning rendezvous she whet our appetite and sharpened our resolve with the following poetic treasure map, a pen portrait that would surely lead us to a sweet bounty – things were looking up:
Betwixt the car park and the cafe
Awaits a treat for those who run
A bonus point for fighting feathers
In the hail or snow or sun
Look to the left from on the path
Beside a shocking grey construction
Amongst our Jenny’s lovely flowers
Find the baby sweet confection
This last minute revelation was SO EXCITING I was worried I wouldn’t be able to sleep the night before. Plus, there was always the awful possibility that this motivating tactic could backfire if we spent so long milling about the park trying to find them that we missed the crucial pre 7.00 a.m. cut off time and started too late for our bonus points. We Five Fighting Feathers would need to be highly disciplined, as well as early risers and elite runners to take on this challenge, the stakes were high indeed!
Incidentally, the jelly baby photo above is stolen from the Round Sheffield Run people, they won’t mind, they are lovely, and they have done a great job in documenting the progression of jelly babies running the trails of Sheffield over the last couple of years. Mind you they are not alone in so doing – below is a Fighting Feathers image by our very own Elevation Queen, she does like her jelly babies. I fear it may not have ended happily for those pictured below, Elevation Queen and Maths Geek of the FFs together gorged on these and their kindred I believe, but all for a good cause eh?
We Fighting Feathers are focused and strong however, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, the other thing I was fretting about whether, post clocks changing, we might actually have to do this run in the dark! Uh on, that wasn’t part of the master plan. Still, it was 007s fault, sorry ‘idea’ that we’d try and nab the pre 7.00 a.m. run bonus points for the last week of challenge, so I guess that did mean it was only fair that she would call the shots.
Mercifully dear reader, the BBC weather forecast (which never lies) assured us that the sun will rise at 6.45 a.m. what could be more perfect? Also, rain due to hold off until 10.00 a.m. and I’m hoping as my previous time was around the 9 minute mark, I should be done within 3 hours time band – hopefully even before 9.30 when car park charges kick in. Actually, I was a bit fretful about whether the car park would be open pre 7.00 a.m. but one can only fret over so many topics at one time I find. Probably a blessing.
So, after much, squawking, clucking and prior preparation, the plan emerged. 06.45 hours, Tuesday 29th March 2016 the Fighting Feathers detail of five runners would rendezvous in Graves Park car park. There to warm up, and then take on the Smiletastic Graves Strava Segment. Mission accomplished, a jelly baby hunt would follow. We had nothing to lose and all to gain. How exciting! We would indeed meet at dawn!
I was secretly hoping a Clucky Duck would come across us unexpectedly, for them to witness yet another display of our team work in action like a well-oiled machine would freak them out entirely. Mean-spirited perhaps, yet true. I cannot tell a lie…
So it was this morning dear reader, I found I woke up spontaneously about 5.30 a.m. rather than risk falling back to sleep I made a coffee, and peered out of the window. It was still dark, and decidedly nippy, but I was still up for it. I headed off pretty early, and found I had to scrape some low grade ice of the car which was a bit unexpected. I got to the park entrance about 6.35 a.m. to find the entrance had a massive gate across it. Uh oh, needed to find somewhere to park.
Mercifully, there was a handy road just opposite, a little cul de sac with lots of space to park. More of concern to me was that this might also impact on my fellow FFs, what if this made us late and we missed our bonus points? I walked up the short distance to the car park. I had the place to myself, apart from a couple of dog walkers. The animals in the animal park were pretty noises, and the hens and other birds waking up made quite a din. I wandered over to have a snoop, and came face to face with an owl. It took one look at me and dive bombed the chicken wire that separated us exactly where I was standing. It was magnificent, and I couldn’t work out whether it was attacking me or maybe had been hand reared and was trying to get close. I do know I felt sorry for it. It doesn’t matter how big the aviary is, and to be fair this one isn’t too bad, I don’t like seeing birds in cages. Hypocritically though, it was amazing to be so close to it, even if it was a very pissed off owl indeed:
The owl and other animals distracted me for a bit, and then I made my way back to the car park. At this point it was dawning on me that time was ticking and I was all alone in a deserted car park with a distinct lack of other FFs to join me for our fun running plans:
So, just as my nerve was failing, an FF came into view. My I was relieved, two others followed, and we did some enthusiastic mutual and relieved greeting of each other, whilst debating where our 007 Smiley half pint was? We did some running round the carpark, partly to keep warm and partly to make sure our run would pass the 2 mile minimum run length threshold once we finally got underway. Not the most imaginative of running drills, but an efficient one! She eventually materialised, rather appropriately apparently appearing out of thin air in keeping with her strictly undercover modus operandi. She had the gall to question whose stupid idea it was to do this ‘er, that would be you?’ We others were willing to plead guilty to the charge of contributory negligence for agreeing, collusion even, but initiators of this idea we most definitely were not. Anyway, pre-run shots were duly taken.
So, let the records show that:-
At the appointed hour, those present and correct (if not exactly bright-eyed and bushy tailed) were:
- 007 Smiley Half Pint
- Hobbit – myself
- Fighting Feather Elevation Queen
- Fighting Feather currently incognito 1
- Fighting Feather also incognito 2
Apologies (I use the term loosely in relation to Mountain Goat) were received from:
- Dr Smiley/ Broken Jelly Baby – injured, but sterling work in hiding jelly babies so we love her best
- Mountain Goat – she apparently isn’t aware that there are early morning options for hours such as 5.30, 6.30 etc.. as opposed to pm. variants. She has a point, though I don’t entirely feel describing her fellow team makes as ‘crackers’ for coming up with the plan in the first place was quite in the spirit of comradely support we had been hoping for – though granted it was a completely authentic response…
- Poohead – sleeping as rest is just as important as running. Also didn’t need to do this segment, already done, very good point, very well made. At least that is what I was led to believe… maybe I’m too gullible
- FF nameless – away skiing (probably not absolutely sorry not to be joining us then, felt ‘apology’ might be stretching it)
- FF playing away in Saltburn – North Yorkshire seaside basically, very nice, and probably not entirely compatible with nipping back to Graves for a dawn death run round a Smiletastic segment
Other FF members are available, but unaccounted for. Some injured it is true (cheetah buddy, your running regeneration will happen, give those calves time), some not on the segments anyway so thereby exempt, as for the others. I like to believe they will have slept soundly as a deliberate strategy and so conserved their running talents to turbo charge other outstanding segments later in the day. They may of course just have had better things to do than be on Facebook messaging other Flying Feathers on Easter Monday and therefore known nothing of the plan, but I always prefer a good conspiracy theory given half a chance…
We checked our watches, we agreed our game plan and headed off. Gentle romp down to the start point and a final pre-run shot
After not nearly enough faffing for my liking, we were suddenly off. The others shot ahead, I lumbered up the rear. It is undoubtedly motivating having other Fighting Feathers flying ahead. I was never going to keep up with them, but it was reassuring to keep them in sight, and fun to watch too. The sun was breaking through, the park looked lovely. My leg was really hurting, I have definitely knackered it somehow, it’s the speed running that’s done for me, but I didn’t want to give up, and I was pretty confident I’d still be going faster than last time I did this loop which was with a streaming cold at a particularly congested parkrun in the rain. Head up, arms pumping I just ran as fast as I could. There was an anxious moment when just before the steep killer hill a dog walker with a mass of half a dozen mutts appeared. She carefully waited for the other four to pass her before letting them off their leads. They were polite dogs, but curious canines and I was a bit worried they were going to chase me up the hill. They didn’t. Onwards and upwards, at least I didn’t break my stride. Then sharp right turn and slightly uneven path which eventually turned down a steepish hill. Recent rain had scoured the surface of this and it was wet and gravelly and I did consciously brake, I did want to improve my time, but more than that I wanted to stay vertical. I soon enough joined the others, and before we knew it we were whooping in mutual celebration and posting for ‘after shots’. We even found a conveniently located passer by who took a snap for us. The jelly babies were courtesy of our Elevation Queen Fighting Feather by the way. A precautionary measure in case we were unsuccessful in the later hunt for goodies courtesy of Dr Smiley/Broken Jelly Baby.
We look pretty pleased with ourselves yes? Alas, short lived. One of our number had a calamity befall her. Despite wearing not one, but two recording devices, neither had logged her run. Uh oh. There was no alternative, she would have to run it all again! Well there would have been another option in my world, I’d have just thought, ‘shame’, and gone home annoyed, she is made of sterner stuff. A plan was devised. One would run with her, the other three of us would just gently jog the loop in reverse and cheer her round the last bit. Also, this meant I could gaze about for a bit and take some photos of the park. I concede, I’m distracted way too easily.
So, we applauded and cheered our Feisty Fighting Feather on her way, and she went off like a rocket. It was so impressive it was a bit unsettling. The rest of us got into position, and then we waited for our compatriot to come into view. When she did, the effort that showed on her face was humbling. I was once again reminded that maybe the reason I don’t ever get any better is I just am not willing to try that hard and put my body through that. It is fair to say that some people look elegant and gazelle like running. Some people. I have a bit of a dilemma here, as generally speaking I avoid putting unflattering photos of other people in this blog as it seems unfair. On the other hand it seems a shame to miss out on comedic potential when offered up on a plate. Also, ‘unflattering’ is maybe not the right word to use, I was just capturing the reality of the pain she was experiencing at the time. It is not therefore an unflattering photo, so much as an authentic one. Should really be on the cover of ‘Time magazine’, or at least ‘Women’s Running’. See what you have done to us Smiley Elder Super Geek? see what lengths your disciples will go to to make you happy?
So the FF’s in waiting scooped her up and ran with her for the final few hundred metres, even though she was weakly protesting that she could run no more. I waited for the other FF who’d helped pace her out at the start, and joined her for the final fling. It was fun.
I slowed again on the downhill gravel path finish. My bloomin’ leg, it’s not right. And by the time I caught up with my FF friends, they were in self-congratulatory mood. They seemed completely unconcerned that our Feisty FF who’d just been compelled to run it all again at high speed was collapsed on the concrete at their feet. Oh well, all in a good cause I suppose, plus she’s made of strong stuff. Anyone who admires the FF Team Spirit should look at this photo, it sort of encapsulates what we are all about… for better or worse!
So, Fallen Fighting Feather was revived, and we hared off for our final challenge, the search for jelly babies. The clues were pretty fab, and we quickly located the grey man made bin in ‘Jenny’s flowers’ – daffodils, and were rummaging around in the foliage. I espied the Jelly Babies eventually, but not before having a too close for comfort encounter with dog poo in the bush above them. I think the legacy of one of those biodegradable dog poo bags being hung in a tree. The bag had decomposed and a rock of dog poo is now forever welded into place in that bush. Honestly. Still, didn’t put us off finding our treasure though. Dr Smiley/ Broken Jelly Baby, we salute you!
How happy we were. Final photo session to record our success, whilst our poor Fallen Fighting Feather ran backwards and forwards like a caged wolf pacing, trying to capture the necessary missing mileage to avoid having to go out running all over again. Suddenly, it was mutual farewells, and scattering to the four winds as we exited the park. Tired, but happy, and pre 7.00 a.m. bonus points bagged, along with new PRs all round for our Strava segments. Yay, go FFs!
Mission accomplished, dawn raid paid off. We shall miss these Smiletastic gatherings in a way, but when it comes to an end we will have memories, and our injuries too, to keep reliving the extra special moments…