Spoiler alert. I did it. Yay me.
So if that’s all you want to know, you don’t need to read on. However, if you are seeking a minute by minute account of the day, quite possibly in real time (and bearing in mind I’m a plodder not a runner), feel free to read on at your own risk. Nobody is making you continue with this post, it is a choice you are quite at liberty to make, no-one will judge you. But, if you are curious enough to stick with me, personally I’d get a mug of tea or something first, as I think this will be a long one, even by my standards. You have been warned.
So, inevitably, the night before the race – that critical time when you need to get the proverbial ‘good night’s sleep’ – I tossed and turned in between: waking up to go to the loo, getting up again to replenish liquid lost with glasses of water, and lying awake blinking at the ceiling. I did all of those things several time. It did not make for a restful night. I felt like I didn’t sleep at all, but of course I did, surrendering to a deep, deep slumber minutes before the first of my alarms screamed me into consciousness about 6.00 a.m.. Wow, that was literally and metaphorically alarming, but worked. It was really cold, even looked like a frost outside, and despite the gnawing fear that gripped me, I found I was really quite excited, and/or scared. It is surprisingly hard to differentiate between these two states I find. My arm out of the window test suggested a very cold, crisp morning, but the sun emerging also promised a glorious day. Bring it on.
The early alarm was so that I could have a coffee and my porridge breakfast, hours before the race, and also to coincide with the early morning drama on Radio 4 Extra, (which was the L-shaped room thank you for asking). Despite having decided on exactly what I would eat and wear before hand, it is amazing how mind games creep in. Maybe liquidised kale, linseed, dishwater and beetroot juice together with a coffee enema would be a better bet after all? I’m sure I’ve read that on-line somewhere… Fortunately, my dip in confidence and self-belief about my plans was massively outweighed by the effort involved in having to do anything differently. Plus my cupboards hold basically porridge as a breakfast option, so I did stick with my original dietary plan. I drank loads of water though, but then I always do.
I was very worried about chaffing. I always am. I have a theory that; if my skin isn’t completely dry before dressing; something, somewhere will rub. I therefore decided against a morning shower (I’d washed my hair and had a bath last night anyway, so pretty squeaky clean anyway), in favour of just doing my necessaries with a bit of a splash and soap. Inexplicably, I don’t have a standing army of eunuchs (or indeed minions) on hand with specially warmed, fluffy white towels to perfectly dry me after bathing and before dusting me with fine powder applied with dove wings. If I did, I might have made different decisions, but (top tip alert) you have to work within the resources that are available to you, even if that means the occasional compromise. As it was I had to make do with my usual (for me) weird rituals like blow drying my feet with a hair drier prior to putting my socks on. Works for me. I did have a last minute panic about whether my new socks were in fact thick enough. In the end I did put some blister plasters on my heels, but I think that was paranoia.
Despite having laid my kit out a couple of days before, I still had some unexpected issues arising. Specifically, turns out that my fudgy wudgy’s (I wonder how the grammar police are coping with that apostrophe), whilst they do fit in my sleeve pocket, are quite hard and very rustly – as in rustling a lot due to their packaging. It is an annoying noise, but more seriously a chaffing risk. Could it be I was at risk of being the only participant in the Plusnet Yorkshire Half Marathon in Sheffield to have to withdraw due to a fudge related injury? Not the claim to fame I was aiming for to be honest… I decided to risk it anyway. My poorly knee was also trying to attract my attention, but it seems that it is true that adrenalin (that’s another word for ‘panic’) does indeed distract you, and I was so fretting about every other little detail that I wasn’t overly worried about it. More worried about ‘other little details’ such as inadequate training, not having walked let alone run for over a week, never having done a half marathon before, and things like that. I did find time for a moody portrait of me and Roger. See what I’ve done with the mirror there? Clever, eh? NO, not pretentious, inspired. Takes a fellow artist to appreciate it.
I was also worried about whether the buses would be running as normal, it being Sunday, and city centre roads being closed for the half, so I ventured out ridiculously early to the bus stop. I did feel self conscious in my fleece, trainers, and with Roger slung over my shoulder. It was nippy but sunny out. The roads were deserted, but a bus was supposed to be coming according to the timetable. I was relieved when another woman turned up, and then a bit later a man in running gear resplendent with his number. He was slightly breathless, turns out the bus he’d intended to catch doesn’t run on a Sunday, so he’d had a one mile sprint to get to this stop. Not quite the warm up routine he’d planned for the day.
The bus came, and boarding it became apparent that this was like a shuttle bus for athletes. (I use the term loosely in reference to myself). Plenty of race numbers in evidence, and luminous trainers together with the giddy aroma of deep heat. At every subsequent stop other runners boarded. It was quite exciting. Some looked even less likely completers than me… until it dawned on me that the ones with crutches were actually boarding from outside the Hallamshire Hospital and so possibly had different objectives for how they were intending to spend their day. It was fun though. Definitely a growing sense of occasion. This is real, the day has come, we are actually going to do this, all of us, in our own way! There was a moment of rising collective panic when the bus deviated from its usual route, and everyone started looking around at each other anxiously. A more assertive American woman had a discussion with the driver about where the drop off would be, and a few stops later we all disembarked, a bit off from where we expected to be, but a short walk to the start. It was weird. The only other people around were runners. The city looked beautiful.
I was really early, but didn’t know quite what to do. I decided to get my bearings, and wandered around for a bit. I found the baggage drop, signage for various starting points, the charity village (something of an overstatement but I get their point). Toilets, I decided to postpone my precautionary pee until the last possible moment. I also was reassured to see an abundance of water, as well as plenty of marshals and volunteers. Good oh, bodes well.
I didn’t really want to take off my fleece too soon either. So sort of soaked up the ambience. Mostly people looked like ‘proper runners’ (no, I don’t really know what that means any more) but I was relieved to see some busy bees so I wasn’t the only member of the fancy dress contingent.
After a bit, I squashed everything in my backpack, strapped on Roger, and, after depositing my backpack with lovely friendly people at baggage drop, headed off to the Peace Gardens which seemed to be the hub of the action. Despite the cold nip in the air, it was warm in the sunshine, and I was getting into the whole experience a bit more by now. I was delighted and amused by some of the event innovations. Specifically, the buckets of safety pins in evidence. Also very visible, but for no apparent reason, was a large pink cut out cow (also en route – nope, absolutely no idea why) and some similarly unexpected, but very delightful bright pink ducks. They had taken over some of the fountains like a particularly successful invasive species. You couldn’t fail to be impressed by them, but really, should they be there? I feel the same about the parakeets in Bushy park.
There was one potentially awkward moment, when one of the plusnet marketeers tried to give me one of those pink oblong balloony things that spectators wave and bang together as runners pass by. I had to explain about being an actual participant, though to save his blushes I did concede I wasn’t an obvious contender. I took one anyway. I’m glad I did. I now know from their packaging that these are in fact called ‘Noise Sticks’, and the wrapper includes instructions for their use, and indeed re-use. If I can be bothered I may take a photo of this later, because it pleases me. Did you know for example that they are to be inflated with straw that is supplied especially for this purpose? No? Me neither.
More positively, I was stopped by a photographer who encouraged me to pose for shots, I’m guessing I was the first pony he’d seen that day, and with the Grand National still in people’s minds from the day before perhaps there is a topical reference. I have no idea who he was. Therefore, whether I will see these pictures or not ever is debateable, but it was fun to think that Roger was getting the reception he deserves. Shortly afterwards, at long last, some friendly faces! My endurer buddies. I couldn’t have been happier to see anyone. They are a really supportive crew, and collectively they have physically carried me round obstacles at not one, but two successive Endurer Dashes, for which I am eternally grateful. As we whooped in acknowledgement and took some snaps, it was brilliant, I started to relax into the idea of it all a bit more. They reminded me that this would be basically easy, because you wouldn’t be expected to climb over anything, crawl under or through anything, nor jump off anything. They had a point. It’d be fine… I can’t find a photo of all of them together, but here are some, aren’t they lovely? Thank you guys, you are AWESOME and ninja, as are we all:
So after mutual greeting of these guys and others. Hello Rustlings Runners Founding member, great lift to spirits to see you too. I decided to head off for that precautionary pee. Oh dear, talk about queues. They were insane. Why so few cubicles I just don’t know, but pretty poor provision I thought. Never mind, there was still half an hour to go. I picked a queue where I could stand in sunshine, and got chatting to another runner who was encouraging. We had a good natter, so that made the time pass, thanks Charlie – hope you got the result you hoped for. It was a bit ‘Deal or No Deal’ wondering which of the four boxes would vacate first, but one did eventually. Roger wasn’t altogether an asset in the portaloo to be honest, but we managed.
From there I joined the crowds milling at the collection point. There were some marshals standing in the yellow zone where we were supposed to be assembling. I went to ask them which way the runners would head out, but they confidently said in unison ‘absolutely no idea‘. They then both speculated the various options, reaching no obvious let along definitive conclusion. It reminded me of that riddle where you ask two gate keepers which door to go through, and one always lies, and the other always tells the truth. I could question as much as I wanted, but the logical processes defeated me, so I just shared a laugh and then melted back into the crowd.
Lots of hanging around on the cobbles now. Some pacers appeared, lots of Striders, none of whom would be pacing slow enough for me, but impressive scope of times though, and I understand they all did good. I will shortly be moving into the realms of photos begged, borrowed or lifted from others, so thanks to all who’ve let me use them. This is Dan Lilley’s work:
After a bit, music started, and a muffled commentary boomed out from somewhere or other. With 10 minutes to go an earnest looking gym instructor clambered on to a raised platform and started clapping her arms, and whooping, and I realised to my absolute horror we were being expected to do a communal warm up! In theory of course a warm up is a brilliant idea, but frankly this was looking less ‘warm up’ and more ‘work out’ potentially crossing over into ‘burn out’. I did a bit of half-hearted waving, but drew the line at joining in with squats. I found myself gravitating towards two silver foxes – let’s say ‘senior men runners’ one of whom I overheard saying to the other ‘it’s alright for her, she can go and have a coffee and cake afterwards, whereas we’ve all got to go and run over 13 miles!‘ I felt a silent kinship with them. Then joined in. ‘I thought we were allowed to taper before the event?’ They were really helpful, being more experienced runners than me. ‘Actually, you not only taper before the event, you are supposed to rest afterwards, so if you enter enough races you never have to make yourself go out and run at all in between, just once out every fortnight and you’re done!’ Or words to that effect. These people are part of my tribe. I thought. I felt better for shunning her efforts. Elsewhere, photographers were also catching candid shots of the lead up to off. These ones are Ian Fearn, Finish Line photography. Thanks Ian :-).
Mercifully, the clock hands moved onwards, and we started to gravitate towards the start. The crowds got denser, and the sense of expectation grew. The tension was tangible. We could hear a commentator giving a rousing build up, but through the echoey streets where we were mustering couldn’t really make out what was being said. We could however make out the count down. From Ten, Nine, Eight – I won’t list all the numbers, as I’m going to put my neck out and reckon you can count down from Ten – and eventually GO! I think the honey monster is also a fancy dress outfit, rather than a stray from a Fathers for Justice protest demonstration taking place on the same day, but how can you tell?
Can you see me in the line up? I’ll give you a clue. No. Because at this point, where I was we were so far back that basically nothing at all happened. There was a pause, then a gradual shuffle forwards. As we approached the start, some keener souls put on a bit of a jog, but I held back, I wasn’t moving faster than a shuffle for anyone until my chip was activated. Teasingly though, the commentator was calling out for people to ‘high five Harry as you pass‘. Now, regular readers will know that Harry Gration (BBC news presenter for Look North, though I really can’t believe I needed to explain that – the man is a LEGEND!) is basically my secret celebrity crush. I can’t explain it, he probably wouldn’t be flattered if I gave my reasons why. It’s sort of because of how he endures. He turns out for the Percy Pud year in year out, and does his epic sponsored 3-legged walks, looking a wreck, but smiling through it. You have to admire that. This was my big chance to get up close and personal with The Harry Gration. That high five was within reach. I manoeuvred myself into position at the right hand side of the throng, and heart in my mouth reached upward and…
I DID IT, I made contact. I can die happy. I began my first ever marathon with a high five from Harry Gration. The shot above is stolen from The Sheffield Star video of the sheffield half marathon day, I don’t think they’ll mind too much. Anyway, back to me. I think this contact makes me practically a Look North sponsored athlete, well, I’m not sure the BBC are allowed to do sponsorship, but at the very least I must now be an endorsed one, surely? I am so proud. The fact that three strides after starting, my half-marathon was nearly ended by a collision with a minion is neither here nor there. I’d made it over the start line, nothing else would matter for the rest of the day! To be fair, it was quite a large minion, so more of an obstruction than you might think. These photos are from Tim Dennell by the way, thank you!
So, under way. Eeek. I couldn’t really believe I’d got to this point. I still had no idea if I was going to get all the way round, but I was going to give it a go. I started off really slowly. It was immediately hard. The start isn’t the most scenic bit of Sheffield. It was very urban, very roady – because it is essentially a road race after all – and although the crowds were impressive it was a little disorientating and unsettling. I sort of loped onwards wondering how the day would unfold. It wasn’t too crowded, and I was glad I was far back in the line up so I didn’t have a sense of a crush that I sometimes get at some of the more competitive parkruns. The turning point for me though was at Waitrose. Not in the way you might expect. I mean I appreciate for many Waitrose is indeed a shopping wonderland, but that isn’t the point. There were loads of people outside, cheering the runners by. At least I think that’s what their placards were about. I presume it was not an improvised plea for assistance because they’d found themselves trapped inside the store car park following unexpected road closures. These being put into place whilst they’d just nipped in to get some organic mung beans or ironing water (they really do) from the ‘Waitrose Essentials‘ range or whatever, and so caught unawares…
Anyway, I digress (unusually), what happened next was I saw them! I didn’t think anything could top my moment of snatched intimacy with Mr Gration but it could. I spied Smileys! Out in force, supporters with placards and cheers and broad smiles. It was FANTASTIC! Also only the beginning of the tsunami of support all the way round! Thank you – you made me go faster! Well, maybe not faster, but further, definitely…
It was sensory overload from then on. Everyone running will have had their own experiences of the day. For me though, it was just awesome. I know it’s really boring and trite when other runners say meaningless clichéd things like ‘if I can do it anyone can‘ or ‘the crowds are amazing and they will carry you along‘ but guess what? It turns out these statements are actually true! It was pretty much a wall of noise turning up into Ecclesall road. I also realised that Roger was turning quite a few heads! Fancy dress is the best idea ever. People do respond, I don’t flatter myself they are relating to me because of my irresistible personality and legendary communication skills (thankfully), but a cuddlesome pony? Well, that’s another thing altogether. Lots of shout outs with quips including ‘the Grand National was yesterday‘ and ‘that’s cheating‘ but also real delight from some of the children spectating. I wasn’t over-keen on the ‘donkey-woman‘ and ‘why is she riding a camel?‘ comments, but you have to take the rough with the smooth. It did mean I got extra claps and cheers going round, which must have been quite annoying for anyone running along with me, but top tip for next time guys, get yourself an outfit before you get to the start! Endless high fives, and an unbroken line of proferred jelly babies along the route. No-one could complain of being unsupported on this road race! Here are some photos from the Radio Sheffield people, they got some good ones of crowds armed with helpful placards and supplies:
The next moment of raw excitement was seeing a whole wall of support, and more Smiley Paces clan. They were a bit set back off the road, so I hear the shout of ‘go smiley‘ before I saw them, that was so exciting. Huge display of waves, and roar of cheers. You’d think I was leading the liberation of a city that had experienced decades of living under siege. I was for that moment a super-star. I totally appreciate we were probably all a bit giddy with the sense of occasion, and I know myself from watching the Tour de France that you can psyche yourself up to such a frenzy that you will cheer a paper bag blowing by in your enthusiasm, but I don’t care. It feels great to be on the receiving end of such external validation. I’ll be shallow if being shallow makes you feel that good! Here are the supporters captured in a more thoughtful moment, the calm before the coming of the Smilies perhaps? (Thank you lovely George Carman for these and subsequent glorious Smiley shots).
Seconds after the shouts of support a friendly face behind a lens. Oh good and oh no! He was supposed to be running, but had to pull out at the last minute gutted for him. But from a selfish perspective, it was fantastic to see another friendly face. Also, Glorious George got my favourite photo of the day of me and Roger, you can see just how delighted we were to hear and see Smiley support. I think this is the expression I pretty much kept up all day to be honest, and who can blame me, when I was having so much fun out there. Roger was so happy I think he’s put in a bit of a flying change going round there, first of many…
So whatever was ailing our photographer friend, he was well enough to operate his camera buttons, and got some awesome shots of passing Smilies, and apparently, most of us were similarly over-joyed to see him. On the way out anyway, some of the people coming back were looking perhaps a tad jaded. You get sense of occasion though – great spot for spectators it seems.
So, the good news is, that even though I’d been dreading the first couple of miles they passed really quickly, the atmosphere and distractions speed you on your way. There is so much to see, and I felt compelled at first to acknowledge every cheer and return every high five, which involved quite a lot of zig zagging and very little running in a straight line.
I had a pre-arranged rendezvous with hobbit buddy at Rustlings Road, but as we passed Hunters Bar, felt a bit panicky, because I wasn’t quite sure where she’d be. Hunter’s bar for future reference, looks a good place to be. Some great shots taken there which I found on Steel City Striders Facebook page, thanks Sheena Woodhead.
Around Hunter’s bar, you know the hills are coming, I was in need of a friendly face. I was ecstatic therefore to see some stealth Smiley support. A whole family cheering on Smilies, with palms lined up like dominoes so I could nab a load of high fives in one sweep. It was so good to see them, even better for being a surprise. The only down side, curiously, is that every time you get that push of support, you put on a spurt of speed, and ironically, I was worried as I whizzed (well, sort of) away, that if I kept going this fast too early on I wouldn’t make it round.
I was keeping an eye out for hobbit buddy, and spotted her in full cheer, as promised. I insisted on hugging her, because by this time I was so brim full of bonhomie or whatever it is called, that I loved everyone. Next year I’m going to take a clicker with me and keep a tally of the hugs exchanged on the way round. It’ll be absolutely loads and loads. Anyway, she captured the moment of joy I experienced when I saw her. This is what ecstasy looks like:
I was never going to push myself too fast up the hills early on, but I kept moving. I was amused by people coming out of their houses, and staring out of windows. Occasionally you’d see a scattering of jelly babies in a gutter where they had been perhaps inadvertently jettisoned due to over-enthusiastic grabbing of goodies by passing runners. Absolute carnage at times, and quite disturbing. Their frail little bodies sacrificed at the altar of running. Oh well.
So continuing to Banner Cross, and again friendly faces to cheer me on. Injured cheetah buddy and breakfast buddies, shouting support. They too had some good photo opps, not only of my disappearing posterior (does my bum look big in this?) but also bin man, elite smiley and someone who seems to be late, late, for a very important date!
Onwards and upwards. I was steady, but kept going. There were so many little moments of joy on the way round (not a euphemism). There was the salvation army band, playing. The church which had refreshments laid out and toilets available for runners. They also had a brass band, which happened to be playing Jerusalem as I passed by, concluding just as I came parallel to them. I paused to applaud their efforts. It was the least I could do. I mean, running the half is hard for sure, but clapping, shouting and playing brass instruments for 4 hours solid (or whatever they did) is quite a test of endurance too. Volunteers, photographers, spectators, performers and marshals everywhere I salute you.
There were bemused students clutching cans of lager standing at the end of their garden paths and blinking in something between astonishment and disbelief. Whole families settled outside with deckchairs and picnics. Banners for particular people, generic signs of support for everyone. Children holding Tupperware containers of jelly babies in outstretched hands, longing for a runner to grab one in the way that you might try and tempt a rare bird to your hand with some dainty delicacy in a rainforest crammed full of gorgeous, yet elusive, wildlife. They would contort with delight if one ‘bit’ it was so sweet and such fun to watch.
I was really glad (despite everything) for Smiletastic, because those running club challenges set by Smiley Elder Super Geek for Smiley Paces members during the winter months had given me a good idea what to expect. I knew the hills that were ahead, and I knew I could do them because I’d done them before. Also encouraging, were so many familiar faces amongst the runners. The miles were ticking by and periodically my watch pulsed to tell me another mile had gone. I didn’t work out how to pace properly, but each time it vibrated I had a little look, and had a sense I was doing OK. Heading up towards Ringlinglow, I was really glad to have in sight a friendly face from parkrun, she always smiles. How does she do that? Later on I spotted another fellow Smiley/ Monday mobster too. All very inclusive and encouraging though. You are never alone in a Sheffield half-marathon it seems. Or only alone with your inner demons anyway….
I think we sort of tagged each other going up that hill. I didn’t run all the way, but I seemed to be struggling a lot less than some of the others around me who were heads down and panting. At one point everyone was walking and I realised that was why I stopped so, (GET ME), I thought, but I can run, so I did. But very, very slowly.
As you go up the hill, you pass the entrance to a riding school, Smeltings. A lot of girls who obviously help at the yard had traipsed outside to see what was going on. They were completely ecstatic to see Roger. They clearly know their equine blood lines, no question of them thinking he was either a camel or a donkey. From some distance away I could hear them shrieking with delight and recognition, and pointing furiously. Obviously I felt compelled to milk this as much as possible, so moved into position for a whole sequence of high fives and giddy upped a little as I went on my way.
I was thirsty by now, I had drunk quite a bit at earlier water stations, and was worried I’d get a stitch if I drank much more, but mindful that it was hot, and I really shouldn’t allow myself to dehydrate, especially as not even at the half way point. I knew a Monday Mobster was waiting at the top near the Norfolk Arms, and in my head, before the race I’d visualised myself getting to her. Not in a particularly pretentious way, more a pragmatic one. I knew once I saw her I’d done the really tough bit mentally, and ahead it would be undulating, but it would be beautiful views and a lot more downhill for the return. Even so, I greeted her like a dog with abandonment issues. Rushing over and grabbing her in an unusually-huggy-for-me expression of enthusiasm and affection. She looked a bit alarmed, and who can blame her? She said all the right things though, gave me a bottle of water and shooed me on. It was all over a bit quick. Also at the summit, were the crew from Accelerate, I didn’t see them actually, but they posted some photos afterwards. They captured some of the sense of it, but maybe not the incline of the hills quite as much as I’d hope for. The way to really get a sense of those hills is through Velo Viewer pretty astonishing graphical representation of gradients. I’d love to pretend this image is from my time (1 hour 29 minutes? That would take some blagging…), but it plainly isn’t. I still did this route though, so you can still be impressed if you like!
Back to the Accelerate photos, they do show how lovely the weather was though. Also the Strideout Supporters, who I shamelessly appropriated as my own when I passed them. They too had lots of youngish girls amongst them, which seem to be the demographic who are was most appreciative of Roger’s unique qualities, and were only too pleased to cheer me by.
Incidentally, somewhere on that hill I saw an enormous banner proclaiming ‘LUCY’ and thought it was only fair that I cadged some support by association from them. I ran up to them asking ‘will I count?’ breathlessly, but they looked really confused, and slightly scared, so I don’t think they got the point. I ran quite fast for a bit after that interaction to be honest. It’s surprising I know, given what I’ve been seen wearing in public you might think it would take more than that to embarrass me, just shows, you should assume nothing, question everything. Anyway, here are some Accelerate photos. Thank you!
So, I was clutching my water bottle at this point, and planned to walk for a bit, but immediately I hit a wall of supporters, crowding in as you turn left and head towards Sheephill Road. They were smiling and cheering, it was amazing. I felt it would let them down if I didn’t put in a bit of an appreciative jog, so I kept going. No sooner was I out of sight of them, than a young earnest guy, wearing a huge smile and clutching a furry microphone pulled in alongside me. He was from Radio Sheffield, ‘can I chat to you whilst you run?’ ‘Of course!’ I said, now fully possessed by runner’s brain and no longer able to think rationally. I think he’d assumed because of my outfit I must be running for charity. He also made the error of saying ‘What is that?’ ‘A horse!’ I said, in slightly hurt turns. ‘Obviously a horse, he’s called Roger‘ (tell me honestly, does that make me sound a bit odd? Actually, no, don’t tell me honestly, in fact, don’t tell me at all…) Anyway, as we talked, or I just monologued actually, (oh dear), and he asked me about who I was running for etc, I explained that I wasn’t running for charity because I was too scared I wouldn’t have finished it, but that loads of people were and that was great la de la. I also explained my choice of fancy dress as being motivated partly by the fact it was the one that best hid my stomach rolls, so that was no doubt a good image for the radio. I did give a plug for Smiley Paces though, and as I did so, on a verge as I cornered I saw an injured Flying Feather! I shouted over to her and her accomplices, probably going off the scale for the sound sensors on his radio mike system. Hope I didn’t burst his ear drums. I did also a bit of a spiel about great atmosphere, wonderful support, and I had a brief moment of unwelcome self-awareness when I realised I sounded like those slightly desperate vox pox bits they do with finalists on the X-factor or the Voice or whatever, when they thank everyone they’ve ever met for getting where they are today. It sounds so cheesy, but in the moment it is true. I promise you. All that support, from Smiley club members to get me to the start line to all those crowds en route to keep me going on the day. I’d like to think I was running too fast for the reporter to keep up, but more likely he cut his losses and peeled away with a cheery goodbye. Still, it was another example of an unexpected bit of novelty that kept me going. I found I could run and talk, and it took me round an uphill bend and onto Sheephill Lane. These photos from Robert Scriven capture the crowds at the turn really well.
This next bit was my favourite part of the run. We were a bit more spread out now, lots of runners in sight ahead and behind, but more in your own thoughts. Fewer spectators, but some chalked messages on the road, aimed at Steel City Striders, but for all to benefit from. They proclaimed ‘all downhill from here’ which wasn’t strictly true, and rang increasingly hollow as more and more banners and signs promised the same further down the route, but fun for now. You get the most glorious views on this part of the trail, heather and moor beyond the stone walls to the right of you, city views beyond the countryside to the left. So the road shot is from Mick Wall, and the others, Andy Douglas, thanks photographers, lovely shots!
I was so glad I’d recced this part, as it definitely made it easier. I was alert to the undulations so they didn’t catch me out. There were a few female marshals along this part who were especially enthusiastic. I have a feeling they may have been international students doing events management or something, because they were just so apparently enthused by being there. All cheered my costume more than was strictly necessary which was wonderful, and all of them were incredibly pleased to exchange high fives. I was very, very glad of their interactive support on what was a relatively quiet part of the route.
The runners out on the course were fantastic too, the hard core, the glamorous, the quiet, the noisy, the fancy dress and the fancy footed. All shapes and sizes, no really. These photos are from Tim Dennell, and a lovely glimpse of the great and the good and the ‘goodness me’ going round:
I kept going, and the next big crowd of people was on the outskirts of Dore. I’d been hoping to see a former work colleague here, but she either didn’t make it, or did and a) I failed to see her, or b) she saw me first and thought the better of acknowledging me in public. However, an unexpected bonus was that I saw a different former work colleague with whom I exchanged violent hugs, that sent me on a trajectory for even more violent hugging with a guy who recognised me from a former incarnation when I worked up at the Alpaca farm. Which was nice actually, though afterwards I did wonder if it was entirely appropriate. We didn’t hug in that other context. Oh well, the sense of occasion got us all a bit carried away, and I think that’s good thing.
Leaving that crowd behind, it was a bit of a plod towards Whirlow. However I got chatting with some other runners. The woman who shared a loud guffawing laugh with me as we saw yet another banner proclaiming ‘all downhill from here’ I muttered ‘do they think we were born yesterday‘ at the same time as she exclaimed ‘well we’ve heard that before today‘ and we had a moment of mutual sympathy and amused recognition at our self imposed plight. Another friendly runner trotted alongside me for a bit. She was aiming to match her time for last year of 2 hours 40 minutes. I hadn’t even thought about times up until that point, I’d got a vague sense of liking to finish in around 3 hours, but now I realised all being well I might even finish well within that… though with 5 miles ahead I was by no means complacent. After a bit I couldn’t keep talking and running at her pace, so I wished her well and she went on her way, though we kept in sight, and in the end she only finished a couple of minutes ahead of me.
It was another quiet stretch. So quiet in fact I noticed one male runner disappearing into a wooded area for a comfort break. Irritatingly they are rather better accessorised than their female counterparts in this respect. Though I’m not sure how the guy in the minion costume would have coped (I’m assuming it wasn’t an actual minion running but you never know…) However, I can report there were actually some loos scattered at intervals (and signposted in advance) along the way. This was a mixed blessing for me, as I am programmed to ‘go while you have the chance‘ as you never know when the next opportunity will arise. It took nigh on super-human effort for me to resist this impulse, but even I knew that getting into the habit of stopping for just-in-case pit stops is probably ill advised. It’s bad enough that I am so devoted to my ritual of the precautionary pee, I don’t want to start thinking I need to stop en route as well!
There was one moment of gloom ahead. There was a bit of activity at the side of the road. Some police, an ambulance response vehicle, and lots of high viz marshals on walkie talkies. I was vaguely aware of a foil-blanket covered figure lying on the pavement of a side road, but didn’t stop to look. I wasn’t overly concerned, because people pull out of races for lots of reasons. I also know from the annual gymkhana where I used to ride, how keen bored St John’s Ambulance people are to intervene at the first sniff of injury. Any fallen child would be stretchered off and used to practise on, so such intervention isn’t necessarily bad. However, a few minutes after I passed them, a blue light ‘proper’ ambulance was speeding back towards them. Later, still with flashing lights it sped past in the other direction. It does focus the mind I hope they were OK. It might not even have been a runner, it could have been anything, but sobering.
The route went onwards, it’s a bit of a blur recalling it now, but I do have some shout outs, even if people never hear them. The supporters who, recognising me and Roger from our outward journey whooped in recognition at seeing us again. That was so awesome, I did have brief moments of feeling like a celebrity. Really, I had done nothing to merit such adulation, but it was glorious. I don’t care that I am not worthy, I was at least appreciative. I even got a shout out from the Radio Sheffield Man who was by his van again having somehow relocated. Shouts of ‘its donkey woman!’ are welcome in the right context! I’ll take my fifteen minutes thank you very much. I was also really taken by a couple who had music blaring out that just happened to be playing that song with a clear lyric
On and on
I just keep on trying
And I smile when I feel like dying
On and on, On and on, On and on On and on, On and on, On and On, On and on, On and on, On and on
just as I passed. How apt was that? Now, whether they had had this song on a loop deliberately, because of it’s content, or whether it was chance I know not and care less, it was brilliant. I’ve looked it up, its a Stephen Bishop song I find.
This part of the course had a lot of music, drums, sound systems, all sorts. However, my favourite was a troupe of dancers. I’m so disorientated by now I couldn’t honestly tell you where they were, but they were really going for it, dancing in unison as runners ran by. I thought that rude – (the running by bit, not the dancing). I tried to join in from my position on the road, and gyrated badly, but with enthusiasm which is an accurate description of my dancing, and I was overjoyed that they started to mirror my inexact efforts. I was so delighted I thought I’d burst. Thank you dancers you were beyond fabulous. This link is a clip someone took of them presumably before the runners came on by, I love your work Sheffield half dancing troupe, hope you are an annual fixture!
I’ve been pondering my half marathon experience, and I’m starting to get it a bit more I think. I got enormous support and pleasure from spectators going round, and appreciated all their efforts: singing; dancing; quipping; cheering; clapping; high fiving; offering water; sweets; taking photographs; looking on in either disbelief, incredulity or awe – and I suppose it must be fun for them too if a runner now and again acknowledges that with a cheer or a wave. They’ve gone to all that trouble, not for me personally, but to be part of an event, part of a sense of occasion, so it is mutually fantastic when that relationship between the runners and the supporters is acknowledged. The event just wouldn’t be the same if one part of that equation was missing. There is no way on earth I’d have been able to trudge round for 13.1 miles if there hadn’t been a new adventure in human experience awaiting me with every step. And, to be fair, there’d be little point in standing at the end of your road with a tub of jelly babies and a flag if there isn’t going to be something to gawp at, even if that isn’t necessarily 7,000 runners pouring by. Reciprocity, that’s what it’s all about. It’s fun. You should try it – whether as spectator or runner – in some event to come.
Homeward stretch, I was really delighted to see some hardened Smilies had stuck it out, and were still there to cheer me on my return route. I also got a really random shout out from someone I didn’t really see and therefore didn’t recognise who seemed to call behind me ‘you made it, you’ll be able to write about it now‘ so that must be my reader! Thank you, it was a surreal moment, but a really good one, I never know who or indeed if anyone reads my ponderings, but it’s nice when they say they do. I thank you my anonymous dear reader, I thank you ! I was still running too, and I really don’t know how. I was thinking that’s just a Longshaw 10k, now it’s just a parkrun and so on. But the novelty of it all and the encouragement from the sidelines really helped.
Also brilliant was right towards the end. Some Smilies who’d actually finished and were now disguised in their luminous lime green finishers shirts shouted encouragement and even ran with me a little, one even describing the contents of the finisher’s goody bag ‘there’s a twix!’ (she didn’t qualify this by mentioning it was a mini twix though, but I forgive her). As I reached the final roundabout towards the finish (near Debenhams, don’t know what it’s called) a poor woman runner was crumpled on the side, clutching her ankle. I didn’t stop as she had other runners and a first aider/ marshal with her, but I felt her pain. ‘The finish is literally just around the corner‘ she was saying/wailing ‘I can’t believe I’m not going to make it after all those miles‘. I couldn’t believe it either, not only the injustice that she’d hurt herself when the end was so nearly in sight, but that apparently the finish was indeed just around the corner and I was more than likely now going to make it too! It felt really strange, it was round the corner that I met the Smiley of the twix motivating technique with her squeeze (no longer a new squeeze, now quite an established one), they were both wearing their finish medals with pride.
I could see the finish. There were people ahead of me, but I thought ‘bugger this, I’m going for it‘, and embarked on a final sprint to the line. I’m not sure why, and it might be ill-advised as it meant I sort of landed on top of a couple of runners in a passionate post race celebratory hug, probably simultaneously photo bombing their finish shot and ensuring there won’t be one of me. I don’t care, my personal photographer Mr Carman took best shot of me ever going round, so that’s fine.
The moment coming up to the finish, and knowing I had made it was extraordinary. Other runners who have done this will know the feeling, and may now even take it for granted. I hope not, I hope they haven’t forgotten what it was like. It was the briefest of moments really, a fraction of a second perhaps. But I was suspended in time. I knew then that I was invincible, I had done this impossible thing, I can therefore do anything, I’d bloody done it! This must be the runners high of which I have heard told but never really felt until now. It won’t last I’m sure, but it was like a glimpse into a parallel universe where I have the confidence to believe in myself a bit more. I really and truly never thought I could do this, and yet I have, ergo, what other impossible things should I now set about tackling?
I was a bit dazed then. Runner’s high, morphing into runner’s fog. An Endurer buddy said he saw me at this point but couldn’t attract my attention which is a darned shame because I’d have loved to have shared that moment with someone. Instead I limped onwards down the funnel, got my medal, scooped up a goody back (only extra small or extra large T-shirts left) I went for small, misguided optimism induced by runner’s high no doubt. Realistically though, I don’t know how wearable lime green is really, especially fluorescent, so perhaps not such a loss to my wardrobe choices.
I downed two bottles of water, declining the isotonic wotsit option. Then wandered across to the baggage claim in a daze. I was towards the back of the finishers, so no queue, and the staff there warmly welcomed me, recognising me and Roger from earlier in the day. I am so always going to run in fancy dress, it really makes a difference to the support you get. I thanked them for their labours and had some chit chat, and then went to join the queue to get your medal engraved. A rather optimistic attendant was handing out pens and paper so you could write down what you wanted on your medal before you got to the front of the queue. This was hilarious, as most of the runners in the queue had lost the ability for coherent speech or thought and the act of writing anything down was really challenging.
Also at this point, I saw another Endurer buddy, who’d had an awesome run. I utilised their assistance to take my ‘after’ photo. That was harder than you might think, it involved putting my bag down and then picking it up again. Bending and stretching it turns out are contraindicated at this point in the race.
Although there was a long queue for the engraving, it was free, and it was sunny, and I got lucky standing next to a really nice couple who were good company. One had run for charity and her partner (husband?) wasn’t able to run any more due to injury, but they were planning to do the Hathersage Triathlon in a couple of month’s time. I was trying to persuade her to join Smilies, I wonder if she will.
By the time I got to the front of the queue I’d had my time texted through to me so that was fun. The guy doing the engraving was quite jolly, but I interrupted his flow of thought, and so he nearly tried to set the engraver going on the wrong side of the medal which was entertaining, but averted. I like my medal a lot:
So I waved goodbye to my new best friends, and disrobed myself of Roger, slinging him over my shoulder again. Then I heard a voice ‘and why would anyone even do that? Have a pony as a backpack‘. I couldn’t help myself ‘It’s not a backpack and it’s not a pony, he’s a horse‘. Well you have to don’t you, educate your public? With great celebrity comes great responsibility. Anyway we had a chat. They were event marshals and it was all very friendly.
My final destination, was to the massage tent. Massages by Sheffield Hallam physio students in return for a donation… except their benefiting charity had removed their bucket. The woman in charge said to just make a donation to one of the other charities, which I agreed to do. Physio was great, mainly because you get to lie down. A bit odd, because I had two people working on me in tandem, one on each leg. They just did my calf muscles really, and a bit all over my legs, and then I flipped over and they worked on the fronts a bit. It makes a hell of a difference, I mean I’m not exactly skipping about today, but I’ve only got a bit of soreness, no real cramping at all.
The only charity people left in evidence were Breast Cancer Awareness and MacMillan, I went for the latter, because of the legend that is shopping trolley charity collector man in his distinctive green wig. I told this to the people in the tent. ‘Ah, well you shouldn’t give the fiver to us then, you should give it to his grandson round the corner‘ my five pound note was retrieved from the collection bucket and I was escorted round the corner and introduced to the grandson. There is a family resemblance, something about the hair maybe?
So that was that, pretty much. It was like a party I didn’t quite want to leave, I wended my way to the bus stop between the people packing up the barriers. I never thought I’d be at the other side of this challenge.
Home, foot inspection. Couple of blisters, not too dire, injury free. I’m not posting a photo of my feet, because it’s not that sort of website, I understand there are other service providers who cater for such interests. So, dear reader, I have completed my first half marathon (that was another top tip from a different athlete, once you’ve done one you can always refer to it as ‘my first’ and just be a bit vague about plans for any future ones). I didn’t cry, and I wasn’t sick. Amazing.
Now, it’s a question of feeling the love, and processing the memories. It still doesn’t entirely compute, I don’t know at all how I got around. It seems unimaginable today, and it all only happened yesterday. Don’t worry, grateful as I am, normal malevolent service will be resumed shortly. For now, though, I love all my running buddies, half-marathon supporters, event organisers, volunteers and photographers – god darn it the whole wide world. Thanks especially to Smiley Elder Super Geek for sending the spreadsheet with the pacing and nutrition. It was a vote of confidence as much as anything, I hope you’ll forgive me for not quite seeing it through in relation to the post race ice bath. Consider me to still be work in progress… My free love philosophy however is definitely a time – limited offer. Don’t worry, cynicism will be restored imminently. I’m sure you wouldn’t have me any other way? (Rhetorical question).
Would I do it again? Well, never say never…
But before I think about that, let’s just check out a few more photos – my they keep appearing! If ever there was a case for joining a local running club, and running wearing their vest in a local race this is surely it. Loads of local supporters turned out to take photos, some were runners injured or focusing on other events so free to click away, others are enthusiastic sports photographers happy, apparently, to keep taking photos in pursuit of that perfect action shot. Some even sit pleasingly within that overlap in the ven diagram of talent, skill and running insight. The consequence is I keep finding MORE photos. This is just as well to be honest, as I got the official ones via a link. They are broadly shite. The takers have not understood that you need a ‘power behind the lens’ person, to vet them all and delete the horribly unlfattering ones before letting a poor vulnerable runner be exposed to them. Also, they have take ‘portraits’ I sort of do understand why, but for me at least, the consequence is a) I look bad in close up, and b) I could be running anywhere. I like the to see the atmospheric crowd shots too, more of a sense of occassion. Anyway, here are some more, this time from Alex Harding, another photographer to thank for his contributions. Three cheers for our photographer friends. You are all generous as well as talented, public spirited and generally awesome.