Monthly Archives: April 2016

Parkrun Safari: Bushy park delights

One of the (many) brilliant things about parkrun, is that it can take you to some lovely places, and encourage you to experience them in all the different seasons.  Last week, I was back at Bushy park, and it was just stunning.  No real report this time around, just enjoy the photos.  It was like being on safari as one of my Smiley Paces buddies quipped.  It really was.

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As well as the wildlife, there were keen volunteers in abundance:

Even some actual runners, gathering, and then running!  Who’d have thought it?

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So, I’m trying to let the pictures speak for themselves today, and they do say a picture speaks a thousand words so this is officially my longest blog post ever.

Bushy parkrun perfect ten on this day I’d say.  Run happy.

You’re welcome!   🙂

 

Categories: 5km, parkrun | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Loving Longshaw: Trust 10 springtime yomping

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Brrrr, bracing out!

So, this was London Marathon day, it was also Blackpool Marathon day, which may have slipped under the radar for many, but just so you know, that was a venue where many Smiley Paces members also triumphed in their respective age categories, so ‘Go Smileys!’  Just saying.

In the circumstances, given so many Smileys were out and about, running around doing Marathons and Kinder Downfall in the snow (I know, sounds scary), and even the OMM lite (which is an oxymoron if ever there was one), I felt the least I could do by way of solidarity was turn out for the Trust 10 at Longshaw last Sunday.  I always enjoy this event, I’ve been a few times now and it is just lovely.  However, even though it’s most definitely worth it when you get there, the whole business of waking up and venturing out the door into an arctic blast is always a bit of a challenge.  Lucky then, that due to high level negotiations at parkrun the day before, I’d agreed with other Smiley Paces members that we’d all turn out in force.  I am ever conscientious if not keen as you may know.  If I say I’ll do it, then do it I will.  It really helps with my motivation if I’ve told someone what I’m up to, and we’ve shaken on the plan to do it together…  Less lucky then, was a last minute message from one of aforementioned running partners to say family illness would stop play.  Oh well, by the time I got the message I was in my off-road shoes anyway, so in a sense the mutual pact to attend had still worked it’s magic.  I was committed now. Off I would go!

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I have just had an extraordinary light bulb moment.  It occurs to me that, inexplicably, there may be people out there who have not yet seen the light with respect to the Trust 10 series.  As a concession to the uninitiated, the blah de blah about this event is as follows:

Trust10 is a free monthly trail run across selected National Trust sites, open to both members and non members. Come along with your friends and family, explore the landscape and enjoy the outdoors

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It’s really not that complicated, you just have to remember that at Longshaw at any rate, this event takes place on the fourth Sunday of every month (except when Easter and Christmas holidays annoyingly mess up the timetabling) and turn up in time to register on the day.  That means from 8.15 a.m. for a 9.00 a.m. start.  I can’t speak for other host venues, but it’s all friendly and straightforward at my local Longshaw, and it’s lovely too.  First timers have to fill in a few basic contact details, repeat runners just sign in and help themselves to a number, write this number alongside their name which is listed on a pre-printed sheet, and once it’s pinned into position, they are ready to go.  Longshaw even provide safety pins, but as there is no cost to attend the event I’d suggest bringing your own to keep it as low cost for the organisers as possible.

So I made it to Longshaw early as always.  There was a volunteer helping direct vehicles in the carpark.  I scrabbled around in search of change – it’s just £2.60 for 4 hours parking, so a bargain.  I keep meaning to join the National Trust though since, as the attendant pointed out, if you go to the Trust 10 regularly, then the membership would soon pay for  itself through free parking.  This is true, and it is worth mentioning that if you do join, and do so at the Longshaw site rather than online say, then some of that membership fee goes directly to that particular venue apparently.  The problem with joining at a running event, is that as all runners will tell you, you tend to just carry the absolute minimum with you, so a five pound note stuffed into my pocket for emergencies (like say a latte and a scone post run for example) and not a debit card suitable for the purchasing of NT membership say.  Oh well, maybe next time…

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Longshaw always rewards the effort of stepping out the door.  Even though it was absolutely freezing in the chill wind as I stepped out of the car, there was still a sense of occassion as I joined the other runners mustering at the assembly point.  The estate looks lovely, I am terrible at taking photos, but game all the same, so here are some atmospheric moss shots, enjoy.

I know, I know, it looks grim and dark.  Trust me, it’s loads nicer when you get there.  So first stop, roasty toasy warmth of the Tea rooms to pick up my number.  Pleasingly it was 789.  Easy to remember.  It was a bit of a squash in there, with newbies turning to the left to register and repeat offenders to the right to just sign in.  I saw a few people I knew to exchange ‘hellos’ with, so that was nice.  Including one poor soul who is suffering from Plantar Fasciitis, which I’d never heard of before I started running, but the thought of which now makes my blood run cold with fear.  It’s a rubbish ailment as it seems to just mysteriously appear and sometimes eventually, resolve itself, yet is stubbornly resistent to any particular treatment as such.  It can go on for months and months and it really does stop you running.   Really unfair and frustrating because you can’t DO anything much apart from rest… or maybe not, because even that isn’t definitive advice… She was volunteering instead which was good of her, and also I got the silver lining to her cloud, i.e. benefit of another familiar face to cheer us round. She got the double cloud, misery of Plantar Fasciitis, compounded by misery of standing around in the cold.  Sorry about that.  You are appreciated though, little comfort though that may be…

The volunteers here are always fabulous, very encouraging and supportive on the way round.  Also very cold I would think.   They are lured to volunteer by altruism, the fun of watching the runners pass by and the bait of a bacon sandwhich (or vegetarian equivalent) at the end.  It is lucky they are so rewarded, as they are also made to wear an orange high viz jacket and a pink bobble hat which isn’t the best colour combo to be honest, though it is certainly eye catching.  (They are allowed to wear their own clothes underneath as well, it isn’t quite as cold or eye-catching as all that).   If you like the idea of being involved in some way, but don’t fancy the actual running bit and think you can carry off a pink bobble hat with gusto, then remember volunteers are always needed.  You will be welcomed with open arms, just get in touch with the organisers.   Marshals help direct the runners, but also shout out encouragement and clap a lot too.  I think the clapping part is quite important, if only to help keep warm!  Don’t worry though, it’s easy enough to pick up what’s involved, there is no actual audition, and full training is provided.   The route is also well signed for runners by a succession of colourful pink flags all the way round too.  I don’t think you could get lost on this run.  Mostly, this is a good thing, but it’s worth remembering you also therefore lose any excuse to duck out early on by claiming you would have loved to continue but alas inadvertently strayed from the track, so what could you do?  Lost on the moors, your only option was to navigate your way back to the safety of the tea rooms.  Hmm, won’t work, sorry, you will need a better plan.  A pink flag picture follows to illustrate the point, pretty unambigious I think you’ll agree.

There was a horrifying near miss incident in the cafe, when one of the staff carrying two huge tray, laden with scones tried to squeeze past a runner who was signing in  just as they and their backpack repositioned themself.  There was nearly a (tragi-)comic moment of the trays flying upwards and the scones falling downwards in slow motion due to the impact of a seemingly inevitable collision.  However, the skilful staff member somehow averted a crisis, swinging the trays out of the way and to safety and continuing on his path.  It was extremely impressive evasive action.   I can report scones were available after the run, and very nice too.  I had a rhubarb scone which was a first.  It was very nice actually, but it did look a bit like it had grass (not that sort) sticking out of it, which some diners may find off-putting.  Not me, I’m quite open minded when it comes to carbohydrate options along the cake-scone-bread continuum.

So I extricated myself from the heaving mass of runners to head off for my precautionary pee (good facilities here).  Toilet paper aplenty, and mirrors too (not so much appreciated by me at least).  Here in the queue I caught up with more Smiley Paces – veritable plague of us out and about today.  Including one who was sporting a new running backpack in preparation for some marathon off road or other (Nine edges?  No, it was a longer one than that I can’t remember).  Her plan was to practise running in it as she’ll need to carry provisions for that longer yomp.  The backpack did have slightly the look of bondage gear, but naturally I was too polite to mention it.  The fitting also had a sort of armoury lift and separate look to it, it was unclear at this stage whether that would offer helpful stabilising or unhelpful chaffing, but then again, that was the whole point of the exercise.  You can see it here in profile – what do you think?

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I couldn’t make up my mind whether or not to go back inside where it was warm, but then the shock of coming outside again would be even worse by comparison.  Or whether to loiter outside as part of a process of acclimatisation.  I did the latter in the end, watching some of the more hardcore (or just sensible) runners warming up by sprinting back and forth from the start line.  (Just to be absolutely clear, they were doing the sprinting back and forth, I was doing the watching).  I think that’s what they were doing, maybe some of them were just going the wrong way or trying to get a sneaky head start.

So, people, and dogs, continued to gather.  As the registration area got ever busier, crowds spilled outside.  I was still wearing my running jacket at this point, wondering how close you can stand next to people in order to maximise the benefit of mutually exchanging body heat whilst not too obviously invading their personal space or breaking important British conventions around being too intimate with people on first acquaintence.  I’m all too aware of what you can get away with on a tube train, and believe me, I’d have loved to have got squashed up to any number of people to get protection from the icy winds of Longshaw, but fortutiously my natural inhibitions prevented me from doing so  Good turn out though:

I’d already left my backpack on a seat in the cafe.  You do so at your own risk, but I’ve never had a problem.  If someone is that bothered about knicking my carkeys, so be it (it isn’t a swingers party though, so don’t get your hopes up).  I’ll make it easy for you.   Mine’s the magenta range rover spread across two parking bays with a valet in situ.  Take that one if you dare!  We did get a celebrity guest this week to spectate – Jess Ennis (who we love most of all) has strolled by before, but this time it was Royal patronage.

Most people ignored her though, in favour of standing around shivering in the cold; looking hangdog and forlorn; jumping about between handy rocks; hanging around under the bird feeders (that was just the ducks to be fair); faffing about with numbers; stretching and queuing for the loo.  By the way the shivering runner in her parkrun 50 milestone Tee doesn’t have a wooden leg, it’s just an optical illusion.  The shivering was real though.

Eventualy, the start time drew near.  I had a last minute moment of bravery, admittedly in part because of giving in to peer pressure from other running buddies, and rushed back into the cafe to dump my jacket, before joining the migration of runners snaking towards the start.  The marshals having long before made their lonely tracks to wherever it was they were standing out on the trails.

It was a good, but not record turn out – just about a hundred and fifty I think, with a fair few first timers.  Bit hard to hear the briefing, though the run organiser made sterling efforts to walk up and down the line repeating the instructions so everyone had at least a sporting chance of hearing some of it.  No doubt, the collective consciousness and comraderie of The Sheffield Running Community (I believe there is such a thing) filled in the gaps.  The gist of it is that it is off road so watch out for tree roots, mud and each other.  I think that last point was meaning in the sense of looking after each other, rather than a warning about the risk of other runners shoving you out the way or deliberatbely tripping you up, but I didn’t ask for clarification.  It’s a two lap course, follow the flags if you are in the front, follow the leader if you’re not.  Then we were off!  Yay!

It was a slow and steady start, as it takes a while for the line of runners to thin out.  At intervals on the course there are gates which you have to pass through in single file.  Personally I prefer just to jog along enjoying the views and the company and leave the more competitive runners to fight it out at the front.  Despite the bitter wind at the start, it was amazing how I warmed up as soon as I started running.  The sun came out and the setting was just glorious.  The woodland  parts were full of fairy glades, mossy walls and picturesque fallen tree trunks as well as tall elegant trees bursting into life with spring.  On the more exposed hill section you could enjoy bog jumping, and if you took the time to look across to your left as you climbed upwards (good excuse for a breather anyway) you could enjoy the sight of new born lambs all a-frolic no doubt positioned there especially for our benefit.  It was really beautiful.  I snuck back along the route after the run to take some photos, which don’t do the scenery justice, but may give you a flavour of what was possible.  Couldn’t be bothered to walk right back to the lambs though – (well, I had just run 10k and I needed to get back home in time to be able to sit on the sofa in my pants, drinking tea and watch the London marathon on TV later, interspersed with live updates on Facebook about how various Smiley Paces runners had got on with their multitude of super-human running challenges over the weekend).

The marshals were as ever fabulous.  Holding gates open, cheering and clapping in support, and slowly turning blue as time passed.  Second time round their valient attempts to stay upbeat were looking a little more precarious, no number of layers were enough to stave off the cold it seemed.  There is a pattern emerging with the volunteers.  There are a couple in the wooded area to make sure you don’t overshoot the sharp turn left up and out the trees to carry on the route.  Then there is another distinctive tall character who stands astride a stone wall gazing down on the ant-like runners traipsing up the steep off road hill section, some with more enthusiasm and speed with others.  This must be quite an exposed place to watch the action, but a great vantage point for seeing runners facing their inner demons as they try to keep going up that gradient.  Further on there is The Bike Man, who points, silently, dettering you from  taking the short cut back to the cafe, instead tacitly commanding you to continue along the longer route round taking in more uphilliness whether you like it or not.  His positioning is cunning.  I don’t believe it was just me who felt a great moral pressure NOT to cut the corner there, however much of a temptation it seemed.  There was definitely a sense that even if he didn’t actually make you come back and run it properly, he and you would both know you ‘cheated’.  (‘It’s not me you’ve let down, it’s yourself‘ – you know how  that lecture goes I’m sure). Later, there is a flattish bit, coming up to the second car park.  Here again are two volunteers – three, if you count the one actually in the car park.  One was standing looking over the wall, you could see her bobble hat like a pink beacon from miles off, again, this compels you to try and run a bit at least so as not to disappoint.  Drawing closer, there was another volunteer standing in the gap in the stone wall, smiling and shouting appreciation of my Smiley Paces vest as I passed.  Further down and in the carpark another volunteer insisted that there was just ‘a little bit uphill’ and then flat all the way.  Full marks for this trio of volunteers too, who like the others, managed to shout out encouragement and greetings both times I passed.

The description of the rest of the route from there was sort of true, but that ‘short bit of hill’ before the homeward straight is punishing.  I love it once you get back onto that final track though, you know it’s flat and then down hill, and it’s only half a mile if that, so if you have it in you to sprint finish now’s your chance.

As I came round to the end of the first loop, there was a little quartet of volunteers/ organisers, clutching clip boards and wearing matching pink bobble hats.  They looked for all the world like a choir of carol singers, wrapped up against the cold and clutching songsheets.  I took the precaution of telling them this as I passed, and they did say they might sing next time round, but I couldn’t help noticing they didn’t.  Maybe I just took too long on that second loop, and they’d long finished their repetoire of Christmas Carols by the time I made it to the finish.

The second looop saw me running mostly on my own.  Some runners dropped out after just 5k, so I was well towards the back of those left on the 10k route.  I don’t mind that, and weirdly, found that I did better on the second loop, just got in a rhythm and enjoyed that feeling of running on my own.  I had a sort of competition with a runner just behind me, I didn’t want her to over take, and a runner ahead, who I didn’t want to quite disappear from view.  The runner behind me did (of course) overtake me, but only on the hills.  She was impressive, running up them whilst I just gave up.  However, I seemed to recover more quickly than her as a result, and whilst she was still getting her breath back, I managed to pass her again once we got to flat bits.  We kept leap frogging each other for quite a way, and it helped us motivate one another too. It was supportive more than competitive, we called congratulatory encouragement to each other as we took turns passing, albeit through breathless gasps.

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Finally, and a bit randomly, when we got to the final flat bit, I did sprint ahead ‘you coming?’ nope, I was on my own, I managed to just catch up with the woman ahead.  A male friend of hers had already finished, and double backed to keep her company for the last mile or so.  As I approached, he called out ‘sprint finish!‘ I tried to accelerate, but my, that woman went off like a rocket!  I must have really scared her!  She shot off, and finished a good few seconds ahead of me, very impressive turn of speed.  I stumbled to the finish, and was welcomed by familiar faces cheering me home.  Thanks Smileys, and National Trust people, it was great to have you waiting for me at the end.

Also at the end, were free water bottles.  You’ve got to like a good freebie.  They are quite cool I think, and an incentive to remind people to fill in the online survey about sporting activities and the National Trust I would encourage people to fill this in if you can as it would be great for free activities like the Trust 10 series to continue, but I guess as with all things now the Powers That Be will want an evidence base to feel justified in keeping these events going.

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There wasn’t any water in the bottle, so I joined the queue in the cafe for my latte, previously mentioned rhubarb scone, and a complimentary glass of water.  It was all very cheery, debriefing on the run and generally catching up and feeling warm and pleased with ourselves.  Chilled volunteers joined the throng too.  That is as in cold, rather than ‘cool dudes’ though many of course would be categorised as both in a suitably drawn venn diagram displaying their many and various delightful qualities.  Restored, I headed off, taking a quick detour for photos, and thanking again the organisers and volunteers as I left, they too were slipping away until next time…

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So that was that, all done ’til next time, I got back in time to watch the first finishers returning from the marathon.  However, it’s a sobering thought that the whole time I’d been at Longshaw, running, drinking coffee, driving back and generally pottering about, some runners had been out there continuously running.  What’s more, plenty more still had hours more running ahead of them.  Pretty inspirational is it not.  Oh well, good for them, Longshaw was way more fun for me.  I got to run in a beautiful landscape and still soak up the ambience of London from the safe sanctuary of my sofa afterwards.  What’s not to like?

So til, next time, thank you Longshaw and happy running y’all.

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Oh, and for those of you who care about such logistical details.  Timings here are done by hand with stop watches and then manually updated on to a spreadsheet of some sort, so you will get a time emailed within a couple of days of the event, but it won’t necessarily be all that accurate.  If you are bothered about that, take your own timings is my advice.  This week, the times came by lunchtime the next day, which was super slick and speedy – which was more than can be said for my 10k time.  Oh well, work in progress eh?

For other accounts of my fun times at Longshaw Trust 10 see here.

Categories: 10km, motivation, off road, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bicentennial Woman – dystopian nightmare or utopian dream? 200 parkruns done and dusted.

We like to move it move it, we like to move it move it

like to move it

In fact Wikistrat are ahead of me here.  They have already produced a report all about The Bicentennial Woman.  Naturally, I can’t be bothered to read it, but no worries.  I worked briefly in a university research department, and now know you can get most salient details from either the abstract, executive summary or conclusions of any report.  Alternatively, as here, you can just google and make sweeping generalisations based on what information is in the public domain via Wikipedia.  I haven’t really met that many Bicentennial women to be honest, but I am delighted to report I was surprised by one coming out as one today.

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In case you are interested,  the research (I use the term loosely) publication offers up only two possible scenarios for such over-achievers, offering either dystopian or utopian futures.  Not much happening in relation to shades of grey in between it seems.

In the dystopian category, analysts envisaged futures with high-cost technology, low quality of life and growing social inequality and instability.

In the utopian camp, the bicentennial woman enjoys her second century of life, being an inspirational symbol for a world with greater environmental stability and collective long-term approaches to common problems read more here

Well, based on my own qualitative research, comprising a quick chat with someone offering me a flapjack earlier on today, I’m going to put my neck out and say this Bicentennial Woman exemplifies the latter category, being ‘an inspirational symbol‘, we didn’t really move the conversation round to how exactly she intends to bring about greater environmental stability nor indeed on her collective long-term approach to common world problems, but I dare say she’s working on it.  To be fair, she must have been quite tired what with having just run all that way. One thousand kilometres is a fair distance.  That’s 621.371 miles, or 23.7 x 26.21875 miles, i.e. 23.7 marathons, EVEN MORE if you are using the Manchester distance for your workings as the Greater Manchester Marathon has been running short for a couple of years, (which isn’t even funny, but is true).  To give you an idea that’s not quite as impressive as Eddie Izzard Marathon Man but it is way more impressive than Tim Peake who’s only going to do one tomorrow whilst up in orbit, and doesn’t even have to contend with gravity, so that makes him a literal as well as metaphorical light-weight compared to our very own wonder woman.

So, what happened today was I headed off to Sheffield Hallam parkrun.  Not been there for a while, to be honest, the Smiletastic imperative to nab bonus points driving me towards parkrun tourism as far afield from Sheffield as Rotherham – I know!  I could have gone last week, but was seduced to Graves parkrun by the lure of fancy dress and an outing for Roger.  As my home parkrun, it sometimes is a bit neglected in terms of the logistical details I provide in my blog.  So I’ll redress that today.  For those who like the Sheffield Hallam parkrun course blah de blah it goes as follows:

The course consists of 2 laps of Endcliffe Park – From the start, by the playground you head east and go right then immediately left towards the roundabout and round the little loop. You make your way back past the playground going west down the path towards and past the café, across the bridge and alongside the lake. Follow the path to the end of the park and turn left onto Rustlings Road, run alongside the park and then turn left back into the park at the car park entrance and follow back round the small loop to the start point. Complete 2 laps for the 5km Sheffield Hallam parkrun, finishing at the playground.

Today, in the crisp spring sunshine, the venue was looking especially fabulous:

Endcliffe Park is pretty fab, there are loos at the start – though not many and you will have to queue if you are of the female persuasion.  It’s a parkrun that attracts a good turn out of runners, but can be a bit thin on volunteers.  There are some stalwart regulars who volunteer week in and week out for which I am truly grateful.  No navigational skills are required, but it helps if you know your left from your right if you are in danger of either being a lapper or a lappee as you have to keep to the left to allow overtaking for most of the way round, but then keep right for the mini-loop if you get lapped at that stage.  I know, highly technical.  If you are worried about a time, you need to get yourself towards the front of the line up, if you like to take in the atmosphere yomping round then always lots to see.  Great spectrum of participants, plenty of club vests in evidence, but also canines, buggies, and whole families gallumphing round.

I slept really badly last night, because I left my radio on all night and it kept disturbing me enough for me to be annoyed by it, but not sufficiently to stir me so I would reach across and turn it off, and the consequence was, not enough sleep.  However, it was after all parkrun day, so what can you do?

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Cold, looked like maybe even a frost first thing.  Brrrrrr.  However, the sun broke through, and as I was running late, I couldn’t find my buff or my gloves.  I decided I would brave the elements without either.  This is in my world reckless behaviour, probably the equivalent of other athletes running naked, but hey, you have to move out of your comfort zone to improve and grow do you not.  I walked down a different route from normal as it was a bit of a short cut, though less park based and scenic.  It was fun seeing arrivals from a new angle.  I spotted different people from those I normally do on my walk in.  I know I’m altogether too easily entertained, but I still get a thrill from seeing how people emerge from seemingly nowhere and seem to noiselessly congregate from the four corners of the world onto the start lines of parkruns everywhere.  The sunshine helped, but you could tell just going down this was going to be a busy one.

By the time I got to the rendezvous point it was absolutely heaving.  There was a jolly marquee up promoting the ‘Move More Sheffield‘ initiative, which does sound good actually, although annoyingly the digital divide means I am entirely disenfranchised from   participating in it due to not having a smart phone.  Oh well.  Maybe that’s a good thing.  I have learned from experience that running accountability can be very stressful (I wont go into it all again now, but just reference Smiletastic)!  Because of these guests, it was a longer than usual race briefing.  I couldn’t hear any of it.  The run director does have a megaphone, but it still only projects sound in a small triangle of influence just in front of whatever direction it happens to point in.  Those assembled in the start funnel were pretty noisy too, which didn’t help. We did the usual clapping of volunteers etc, and after a bit of inaudible input from the Move More team rep we had a countdown for off.

It was the slowest start I’ve ever experienced at a parkrun, took full minutes to get through and then, the snake of runners extended anaconda like so far, that the head of he snake coming round the corner of the opening loop met with the tail of runners bringing up the rear.  I think it was quite fun that the event was so well supported this week, but it definitely made it a slow one out there.  Still who cares?  It’s a run not a race remember!

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Despite my apprehension about shortage of clothing, in fact I soon warmed up yomping round.  The route stayed really congested, but even so I saw a few runners I knew, and we exchanged greetings going round.  One of the many benefits of having a local parkrun is you do get to know your personal tribe, and I suppose, just as I notice familiar faces they recognise me.  Or more accurately I notice familiar backs from my perspective, as most people are running ahead of me – or possibly away from me, but it amounts to the same thing.  It’s still a reassuring and comradely way to travel though.

view from the back

I was way further back in the field than normal, but that meant I got a great view of the streaming head runners doubling back on us as they ran along Rustlings Road and we tail runners were still heading out of the park.  It was a fabulous sight in the bright sunshine.    There’s no shot of that, but there is this offering of the train of runners (thank you George).

some turn out

Not too many pickings in the eavesdropping department either.  Maybe I should have got a hearing test done at the same time as my eye test at Specsavers yesterday.  I did enjoy one exchange though.  Two women expressed surprised at finding themselves ahead of another runner they’d expected to be stronger than them.  ‘What are you doing here, how did we end up in front of you?’ they exclaimed joyfully.  ‘I just like overtaking people, so I always start at the back!’ came the somewhat disillusioning response.  I liked this concept though.  A different sort of take on competitiveness.  Finding the thrill of the race from coming from behind rather than needing to lead from the front.  Picking off your prey one runner at a time.  I can see how that might work to motivate you, hypothetically at least.  Illustrates all over again how everyone participates in parkrun in their own way.  As long as you aren’t shoving people out of your way en route, why not adopt this approach?  Whatever works for you.

I did experience one unusual phenomenon going round.  It was a hybrid sort of thing, I couldn’t work out whether it was unsettling or motivating, but there seemed to be various people at intervals on the way round shouting out my name as I neared them.  Weird.  I haven’t taken to wearing my name on my running top as standard since the half, though I can see the merit in perhaps doing so.  I only discovered at the very end of the event, that I’d been running just behind a much younger namesake who was charging round as only the under elevens can.  Still, the cheers may not have been directed at me, but they kept me going all the same…  In fact, despite what I was saying about it being a slow run, the camera says otherwise.  It seems everyone positively flew round.  No wonder George has his very own day dedicated to him today, he deserves it, who wouldn’t be pleased to be caught in action in one of these shots, especially the dog.

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The large number of participants meant that even more people finished ahead of me than usual.  I could see them leaving the park, carrying with them what honestly looked like an empty paper bag sporting the Move More logo.  I was quite intrigued.  ‘What kind of goodie bag is that?’ I pondered, looking forward to the moment when I might find out for myself.  (I am easily excited remember, I can’t help it.)

Towards the end, I decided to make a bit of an effort, and made a challenge to Bicentennial Woman who was running with my namesake a few strides ahead of me.  I fully expected as soon as I overtook her, they’d burst past me, because that is what usually happens in this kind of scenario. Today though, it didn’t entirely work out like that.  The turn out was so huge, that by the time I had the finish in sight the finish funnel had extended right back onto the route.  It was a bit confusing and a bottle neck. We just sort of crashed into the back and the poor panicked volunteer on timer duties did their best to record us as we stopped, but it won’t be an accurate time today.  Slower, because of the slow start, and the stumble into the queue at the end, but also a shorter route than usual because of the tail back.  The volunteers were fabulous though, trying to keep it all together, and patiently scanning seemingly endless numbers of barcodes with generous grace and patience.

scanning

It was nice in the sunshine, so chatted to others in the queue for our finish tokens.  As the queue double backed on itself quite a bit, there was lots of potential for catch up chats.  It reminded me of wilder younger days (I know, hard to imagine) queuing round the block to get into a night club on a weekend.  Not that I did that very much ever, but you my reader won’t know that for sure.  Smiley non-Smiley-who-now-is-a-Smiley had finished her parkrun ages before, and was now doing sterling work trying to keep order in the finish funnel.  She may have  sweet and sunny disposition, but nevertheless she will have no truck with funnel duckers – and quite right too!   Her assistance was much-needed as the number of runners oozed and moved like an unexpected algal bloom at sea.  Phosphorescent algae and bioluminescent dinoflagellates being substituted by runners luminous hi-viz sports gear.

I eventually got my token, and was handed a promotional torn bit of paper, the empty paper sandwich bag supplies apparently having been depleted.  Oh well.  I just got a slip of paper with some blurb about the Move More Sheffield Scheme.

It does sound like a good idea, but you need to download an app, so wont be involving me.  I did ask at their tent about this, it’s a funding issue.  The team recognise it will exclude some people (though in fairness I do concede I’m in a minority here) but want to start somewhere.  If succesful, it may generate funds (don’t understand how) which will enable them to purchase hardware for non digital enabled potential participants (that’s me) to involve them at some future unspecified date.  I’m hoping this means that basically if I hang on long enough someone will buy me a smart phone. In reality I think I’m just in line for a cheap pedometer.  Maybe.  A year from now.  I’ve queued for less, so you never know…  Here follows a gratuitous ‘move it, move it‘ shot, just because it pleases me.#

all move

So as we lingered at the finish, tokens scanned, and not knowing then that my Tomtom would fail to upload post run for some reason.  Time for some final chit-chat and MAJOR REVELATIONS.  Someone was proffering cake, for a 200th.  A 200th what?  A 200th parkrun!  Who’s done that?  Well, I discovered it was none other than my Smiley Paces, power behind the lens, prancercise buddy with whom I have worked hard to ingratiate myself!  Who knew about that?  She kept that quiet.  For goodness sake, she even disguised herself with shades whilst running round (still got papped though).

Bicentennial Woman

Well, my personal photographer said it had been tweeted, but really, that wasn’t going to make it onto my radar.  I think it would have been more in keeping with tradition to run with two hundred balloons attached to her, or at least given fellow members of Smiley Paces a sporting chance of getting together two hundred members and supporters to participate in a celebratory conga round Hallam parkrun in her honour. It would be amazing, we’d knock this lot into touch for starters (whatever that means).  It would be way better with a few more people to add to the line and everyone in a Smiley vest.  Fabulous in fact, absolutely fabulous.

Conga!

Despite my mortification at having nearly allowed this milestone to pass unremarked, I still felt able to scoff some of the celebratory flapjacks. Well, it’s rude not to isn’t it, when someone has made all that effort to bring cake – and even apparently sorted out some child labour to help with the logistics of distribution.  All very commendable.  Others had celebrated milestones too, impressive.  Well done all!

milestone finishers

So farewells were said, new running commitments uttered Longshaw tomorrow anyone?  Takers for Burbage?  Fancy dress plans for the Round Sheffield Run.  An anonymous source told me he’d be going for the bald middle-aged man look this year – quite a makeover required therefore, ambitious, definitely ambitious.  Also, could be quite a popular category so will need to work hard at some stand out feature to secure the prize for best fancy dress.  I’m sure it can be done!   Parkrunners melted away leaving only memories and footprints where once they were.

melting away

And we departed our separate ways for breakfast options.  Having said that, as I walked back through the park later on some delighted shrieks of recognition came from overhead.  Agile girls various,  having completed their cake handing round duties, had escaped to the woods, and had clambered up high in to the trees with real aplomb.  Very impressive.  I wish it was OK for adults to join in with that, I’d love to find out if I could still climb a tree, I reckon I could, especially after these had done such excellent pathfinding, but whether or not the tree would take my weight I’m rather less sure.   I wished I’d had my camera with me.

For the record, there were 725 at this week’s parkrun, which if I’ve understood the stats properly (which is doubtful) is a massive increase on the previous record attendance of 651. Amazing.  Also for the record, my tomtom failed to upload this run.  Aaaargh.  That’s twice in a week now, I’m getting nervous.  If it fails tomorrow, I’m back to the shop looking tearful, and hoping to be rescued.  It’s not the watch, it records fine, it’s the docking mechanism, I think the connection isn’t quite secure thank you for asking.

So, what was I saying at the start?  Oh yes, this brief post is intended to be in celebration of Bicentenary Woman, may she forever inspire us all.

Bicentennial Woman Outed

Here goes:

In praise of Bicentennial Woman

Smiley! Smiley! Running right

At the parkruns of delight

What impressive runs you’ve done

Each of them with much aplomb

*   *   *

Did you know when you began

What would happen when you ran?

How you’d feel just running free

Isn’t it just lov-er-ley?

*   *   *

Saturday is parkun day!

Two hundred times it’s been that way

Well done you for such a score

May there still be many more

*   *   *

You are rightly now a star

Honestly, you really are!

What an awesome running streak

All those runs is no mean feat

*   *   *

There is not a milestone Tee

But I’m sure all will agree

Hallam parkrun worships you

For one hundred runs, times two!

*   *   *

Smiley! Smiley! Running right

At the parkruns of delight

What an awful lot of fun!

May I say ‘Jol-ley well done!’

*   *   *

And jolly well done everyone else who has ever done parkrun, whether they are new to the tribe and have all the fun of milestone Tees still to come, or parkrun elders hitting their participation centuries in multiples by now!  Canines too – check out Kobe’s eye view, though note to self, if ever I do a parkrun wearing a webcam, I’ll try and remember to switch it off when I’m having my precautionary pee!

parkrun free forever

Categories: 5km, parkrun, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Birthday celebrations running on and on…

birthday run april 2016

No, not hers, a much more important one, though less indulged by sycophantic outbursts  than HRH.  There is a lesson in there somewhere though, she did go awn and awn about hers (or her cronies did at any rate) so you couldn’t really avoid the news.  There was no escaping knowing it was The Queen’s birthday today what with all that wall to wall fawning and scraping going on as soon as the radio was on.  It’s like when Facebook tells you it’s so and so’s birthday and you feel compelled to send some emoticon laden greeting even if you can’t entirely recall who the person is, and whether or not they have actually just made it through your spam folder uninvited…

Today, was an anniversary of far greater interest.  Specifically, it was the first birthday for the Accelerate Ecclesall Woods Breakfast run.  For the record though, the celebrations and lead up for this occasion were way classier and more confident than the needy, over-communicating fanfare that was obligatory across the country for Her  Madge.  Personally, I think this approach to marking the quietly under-stated first anniversary wood run, was far more appropriate and appreciated than all that noisy superficial posturing.  In fact, this was a birthday that caught me entirely by surprise, but hey, who takes badly being surprised by cake ?

So, the chronology went something like this.  The, night before, there was some phoning around conferring between me and some of my fellow runners along the lines of ‘I’ll go if you’ll go‘ not lack of enthusiasm per se, it was more on my part at least, bodily disintegration post half marathon/ smiletastic challenges.  It might sound counter-intuitive, but I’ve found that weirdly, since doing the half marathon, my confidence in running has crashed a bit.  I did such a successful taper/recovery week that I’ve piled on weight with the gusto of a polar bear preparing for hibernation.  (Praise be for the elasticated waistband in my ronhill leggings).  I am injury free – well apart from a knee twinge, but my attempts at running have been pathetic since the half, even by my rather lack lustre standards.  It’s not that I get out of breath, or that anything hurts, it’s just my body going ‘nope, not today thank you for asking‘.  It’s on a sort of strike.  The like of which I’ve not been witness to since I was about eleven and helped my elderly aunt dip sheep. Have you ever tried to move a sheep that didn’t want to be moved?  I swear it can’t be done.

nb_sheeponheather_lf

Now, there’s a tale.  At the age of seventy, my great Aunt could still vault a five bar gate. She single-handedly ran a sheep farm in Northumberland, and in the summer, we would stay at a nearby rented holiday cottage and join her for sheep-based activities.  This included sheep dipping.  A now extinct activity, but then an annual ritual.  She was amazing at this art, and could press one ewe’s head under the liquid in the dip trough whilst hoiking two other ewes, towards the plunge pool, one under each arm.  As a child I couldn’t compel even the smallest of sheep in the direction of the dip.  Can’t say I blame them, it was a vile smelling liquid, and whether or not it was (allegedly) for their own good, they weren’t to know.   The younger sheep could be sort of wrestled in under protest as they thrashed about.  However, the really immoveable sheep were the experienced ewes.  They would simply relax into the ground and become a dead weight, just impossible to shift.  Very impressive.  You jut can’t argue with that extent of resolute immobility.  Well, that’s what my body has been doing to me of late.  No fight as such, just stubborn resistance to movement of any kind.  You can protest all you like, but know in your heart of hearts the attempt to generate fluid movement is utterly futile.  Running, as a consequence has not really been happening in my universe.

On the other hand, you have to start back somewhere, and the woods are lovely, safety in numbers and the weather boded well.  We.  Were. In.  It was nippy first thing, and personally I found the bright looking sunshine deceptive.  My arm out of my bedroom window temperature test suggested gloves and buff were still sensible precautions before venturing out.

discovery centre ecclesall woods

Headed off to the woods, and as usual arrived early, parking has been a bit of an issue there of late, but not so much today.    An innovation in car parking efficiency has been implemented since I was last there, with newly painted parking bays marked out.  Personally,  I find this a boon, I suffer agonies of indecision faced with a relatively blank canvas of tarmac to park in.  It is a relief to be freed of the burden of using my judgement in deciding where exactly to park up.  I faffed about in the car for a bit before venturing into the reception area where a few other runners had started to assemble.  Some hardy souls were even sporting shorts, and the conversation turned to comparison of injuries post the half. Pleasingly, it seems I wasn’t alone in finding my body in a state of disrepair if not absolute disintegration.  I’m feeling a bit better in this respect, I came across a number of articles recently that outlined in terrifying detail what running a marathon can do to your body, even if you feel fine…(I know I only did a half, but it blooming felt like a marathon for me).  Recovery is very important therefore.  Shame no-one pointed this out to the original marathoner.  I only found out today that poor Pheidippides, is said to have died after running the 26.2 miles in Greek mythology, presumably because his heart gave out on him.  He obviously didn’t have a network of fellow runners through Smiley Paces or Accelerate wood runs or parkrun or whatever to guide him through the process.  Also, whilst I would be the first to admit I’m not an experienced or knowledgeable runner, I do think his running form wasn’t the most efficient.  Over-striding a bit for starters, and carrying that shield around whilst wearing a stone tutu probably made it all a bit harder than it needed to be don’t you think?

Statue_of_Pheidippides_along_the_Marathon_Road

Anyway, I had arranged to meet a buddy there who was coming for the first time.  I felt positively part of the furniture as I explained about putting your two pounds in the wooden bowl, signing in and giving an emergency contact number (I always just give George Clooney’s UK agent) and putting your excess clothes/ cycle helmet whatever in the handily positioned box left out for that purpose.  This weekly run is a well-oiled machine these days, even though I felt something of a hypocrite showing anyone the ropes as I’ve not been in weeks for various reason some of which had more validity than others (tapering/ apathy/ injury/ away etc).  Anyway, it was good to be back.  Incidentally, there is an amazing wooden eagle creation that overlooks you in the reception area, it looks real, astonishing bit of craft working that.  I must take a photo of it next time I go.  After some more faffing and reunions, a few of us stormed the toilets which some workmen in high viz were trying to do some sort of maintenance work on.  Seems you can’t really hold back a tide of runners in need of a precautionary pee.

We adjourned outside to stand in the sunshine for a bit.  One of the more experienced runners amongst us explained that if you maximise the surface area exposed to the sun’s rays you can gain solar power to make you run faster.  I was impressed!  This insider knowledge might yet transform my running speeds in future.  As I stood soaking up the rays though, she added in a disillusioning rider – the sun has to actually hit your exposed skin.  My coat, gloves, leggings combo left little flesh taking a direct hit, and I wasn’t stripping off any more, way too nippy for me out there, sunshine or not.  It seems I’ll have to achieve my running goals on my own merit, no outside solar charged assistance for me! Oh well, you know what they say ‘if it sounds too good to be true, then it is.’

So eventually, we headed off into the woods with spring in the air and a spring in our step.  I started off with some enthusiasm, but all too soon gradient of a hill coupled with an over-enthusiastic start and trying to multi-task by talking and running at the same time slowed me down.  We were a biggish group, with many familiar faces and a couple of new ones.  We headed to place where a number of pathways intercept and there is  a handy triangular island very suitable for running round and round whilst performing various running drills.  At this point, we split into two groups.  I am greatly in favour of this, I always stick with the ‘bottom’ group, though we are probably referred to in slightly more respectful terms.  To be fair, it isn’t necessarily always composed of by the weaker runners, it might include some who are injured, tapering, recovering or whatever.  The more hardcore, masochistic, less able to protest, are picked off for a far more punishing workout.  Normally, the two groups stay in sight of one another, and do fairly similar drills, but the hardcore details might do them up a much steeper hill say, or for a longer distance.

On this occasion my hopes were got up as the run leaders debated what each group would do.  I picked up that the hardcore group would be doing stuff that would be great to ‘stand and watch’ I immediately piped up to volunteer to be in that stand and watch group option, but it seems that one was already full.   Eventually, we were left with Dr Smiley, who fortuitously is now pot-less, hooray, but still not running due to having broken bone in her foot.  (The physician heal thyself jibes are wearing thin by the way, best not go there).   The hardcore group sprinted off in the opposite direction, and we never saw them again. Not until we were long back at the discovery centre supping coffee and soaking up the sun. They appeared panting, breathless, sweat covered and looking ashen.  ‘Good run everyone?’ we asked cheerily, from over the top of our lattes.  I do get that if you don’t push yourself you limit your potential to improve, but they weren’t really selling it to me as an option from how they looked to be honest.  Well done though guys, good effort!

So we in the steadier group, were under the direction of Dr Smiley.  She soon enough had us running round the triangular tree island as a ‘warm up’.  I’m not sure what happened there to be honest.  Maybe she can’t count very well,  maybe she was too distracted by trying to find the perfect stick, but it did feel like rather a lot of running round and round was going on, more than was strictly desirable or necessary.  I had flashbacks to being a child playing musical chairs.  There was a corner that was the start and finish point for this run, and every time I got within sight of it I slowed, willing her to shout stop, but that seemed never to happen.  By the time it did, I traipsed in behind everyone else, suffering disbelief that this was only the start.  Dr Smiley was in a good mood though, in possession of a fine outlook and an even finer useful stick for pointing at things.  She is a good motivator and facilitator, and although she possibly takes a bit too much pleasure in commanding we her charges to perform ever more comical exercises in pursuit of running excellence, you can’t really blame her.  I would to, and it is/was hilarious to watch us in action.

Various drills were modelled and executed, with various degrees of aplomb and elegance.  We did hopping, we did hopscotch – harder than you think, I only seem capable of doing this with one particular leg leading. You try it, it’s like crossing your arms the other way round to that you normally do, it feels not just odd, but nigh on impossible.  Or is that just me?  High knee drills, heel kicks, fast feet.  It all a bit morphed into one long test of co-ordination and endurance.  We did lunging walks (basically ministry of funny walks), hopping to the left and right like we were on wobbly pogo sticks and the Morecambe and Wise run – which I think was a stretch in terms of running relevance but was happy to comply with for mutually appreciated comedic purposes.   Dr Smiley wasn’t able to participate in any of the drills due to still recovering from injury, but I can report that she sang a most glorious accompaniment to this last drill by means of a particularly tuneful rendition of ‘bring me sunshine’ so you can’t really fail to be impressed by that manifestation of willingness to motivate and inspire her running proteges.

It seems the warm weather had brought out the whole world into the woods.  Entering Ecclesall woods is a bit like exploring an underwater coral reef.  You wouldn’t believe what’s lurking if you just hang about a bit beneath the surface.  The trees are incredible on their own, and the pathways through them lovely.  The birds are positively rowdy with noise at this time of year, but there is oh so much more.  A near constant stream of dog-walkers with their canine companions provided distraction and entertainment.  There were some that just ignored us, others got really excited at seeing us (the dogs in the main, rather than their owners), one elderly one-eyed dog, just crookedly limped stoically through the whole proceedings, probably seen it all before by now anyway. One dog, but we couldn’t positively identify which, saw its opportunity, and made off with Dr Smiley’s stick which she had left on the ground in an unguarded moment whilst demonstrating some manouvre or other.  She pretended to take this in good grace and not mind too much, but I could tell she was devastated, that lower lip was definitely trembling.  Hope she didn’t cry herself to sleep that night, it’s hard losing a special stick like that.  Ask any dog that has been made to leave some treasured bit of wood debris behind at the end of a walk.  At least, I hope it was the loss of the stick that reduced her to tears, not an unwelcome moment of realisation at the futility of trying to whip us all into running shape against such impossible odds…

maxresdefault

We had an impromptu pause when some horse-riders came through, one on a nice solid looking coloured cob with a hogged mane, riding alongside a rather finer, but bit moth eaten looking dark bay.  The riders nodded acknowledgement as they rode through, then cantered off in the direction of the other group.  I hope they didn’t trample them with an unexpected stampede mid whatever running contortion they were being compelled to execute at the moment of being run down.  I wonder what they would look like?   Would it be like those figures captured in moment of time following the ash landing on pompeii?  Probably.  If that was going to happen to me though, personally I’d rather be frozen in the moment I was leaping like a gazelle skyward, than in the midst of contorting trying to kick my own bum with my heel, but each to their own.  Perhaps future generations of runners will worship any ancestors that perfected this technique, that would/will be enormous comfort to any runners so struck down I’m sure.

The final exercise had us in pairs.  Four of us had to run to a certain point, wait for another two to join us, and then two would run back to the start point ‘at 5k pace’.  Honestly, I don’t really know what that means, I’ve only got one pace.  However, my presumption was that for most people a 5km pace would be faster than say their marathon pace, so I just ran back as fast as I could, it wasn’t all that far, and it was quite fun.  I was also quite releived, as although my body has been feeling a bit croaky and out of sorts, really it responded relatively OK.  Nothing snapped or fell off, and although my stomach has a tendency to keep on moving after the rest of my body has stopped, I tell myself that’s just helpful exuberance and useful glycogen stores, not worth beating myself up over.  It was also good, because the way the exerise was configured, we could spend our recovery time standing about chatting to each other, and wondering how long it would take Dr Smiley to realise if we all elected to go and hide behind a tree somewhere.  Great team building activity!  Hide and seek in those woods would be a hoot, plenty of options!  It’s stunning the exercise avoidance techniques we all collectively come up with considering we have voluntarily signed up to do this and it is genuinely useful and fun, it’s just that it’s hard too.  It seems you don’t improve at running by osmosis, magic or by just reading running magazines, more’s the pity…

group runs cheap therapy

So, then suddenly it all ended.  We were done, no more running for that session at any rate.  Instead, a gentle lope back to the centre, and a queue for lattes. (Great coffee here by the way, huge generous glass mugs and proper caffiene fix too).  The majority of us lingered, enticed by the sunshine and fine company, but little knowing then just how our loyal impulse would be rewarded.  As with everywhere in Sheffield, there is quite a slope in the al fresco eating area, so we had a battle arranging chairs on the challenging gradient so we could all fit round.   Group two appeared as we were all settled down, enjoying our post run coffee, and feeling that post run pleasure that obscures any memory of all the vociferous complaints made whilst actually running just a few minutes before.  This motivational poster might be a bit OTT, but you get the idea.

death reborn

It was already nice and companionable, catching up with people, and finding out about others future running plans and past adventures.  However, things took an unexpectedly glorious turn when the understated announcement was made.  Our leader announced tat it was the First Birthday of the Accelerate wood runs, and so a celebration was in order.  He then produced not one, but TWO enormous, and fabulous cakes.  They were not of his making it is true, but most certainly the product of his organisational skills which amounts to the same thing in my book.  ‘Who needs to cook if you can shop?’ has long been a mantra of mine.   There was carrot cake, and there was chocolate cake, and in ample quantities.  Fortuitously, one of our number had sufficient initiative to set about carving up the cake and distributing it round the table in paper towels appropriated for this purpose.  It was absolutely delicous.  I would happily have gone for round two and gone back for a go at the chocolate cake, but felt it would be a bit indulgent, though the temptation was great indeed.  If I’m really honest, I probably would have snuck another slice had I not had so many eyes upon me, very fine cake indeed.  I have nothing but respect and admiration for the individual who, as people peeled away and said their farewells saw his opportunity.  With half a huge cake remaining he homed in, ‘room for a fourth slice then I think..‘ Personally I think this showed appropriate appreciation, you can’t be letting cake like that go to waste!

Oh and we did sing Happy Birthday too, not necessarily all that tunefully, but with gusto, and with only a slight hesitation over the name bit – I think we went with ‘deeeeeeeeeeeeee-ar wood run’ as opposed to anything else, but it was a bit touch and go.  So thanks Accelerate for cake and coaching model, and Ecclesall Woods rangers and goodly people from the council for hosting us each week, it’s all fab.  Running and cake, perfect combo.

So that was that.  It was really nice to be back, and it was great to coincide with the first birthday bash, long may it continue.  Its a great way to appreciate the woods, network with other runners, access some advice and do drills that, let’s be honest, most of us wouldn’t spontaneously do.  I also got some insider info on forthcoming runs.  I’ve been flirting with the idea of the Burbage Skyline, but don’t know if it’s  really a beginners option or not.  Others have suggested it might be, but I’m not over-confident.  The tail marker sweeper at the back has said she’s very happy to go slow.  I believe her, but have suggested she might actually want to bring along a picnic if it’s just me and her at the back, she could be in for a long one, and patience can only be tested so far.  However, I learned today from my wood run companions who have done it before, that no navigation will be required.  This is a significant issue for me based on past experience (let’s just learn from the Wingerworth Wobble) and also identified a couple of other fence-sitters who want to have a bash but aren’t quite sure.  Safety in numbers, we can make a suicide pact and do it together!  Oh, hang on, maybe not the best turn of phrase, but in it together, certainly!  I have a theory that if enough of us go along as our first ‘proper’ fell race, then we can be a mutually supportive gang and perhaps influence the mood of the event.  If there are a fair few first timers taking it slow, rather than a solitary outlier, it seems more reasonable to be spread out at the back.  We can lope along together- ish at least.

It looks so lovely, you have to want a bit of that…. nothing ventured as they say, then again, that’s a lot of climb, we’ll see.

burbage skyline

Categories: off road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Winning streak? Celebrating Graves parkrun four years in the making!

The implausible and seemingly impossible delights of running continue.  Believe it or not, I wasn’t going to do a post this week.  Thought my reader might be bored and have something better to do, but then you know how it is.  ‘Events, my friend, events…

Glorious Graves, providing a perfect parkrun party for their fourth anniversary.  Despite a week horribilis, parkrun will party on, possibly even newly appreciated and newly reborn!   Well, we can live in hope…

accessible parkrun

The forecast for today was actually snow at one point.  However, on waking, no snow was in evidence, in fact it was looking nice out.  Deceptively so.  I broke with tradition and decided that my luminous lime green Sheffield half marathon finishers T-shirt should get an outing.  Just so you know, this will for sure be its only ever outing, as it is profoundly unflattering even by my standards!  I was like something out of Cinderella hoiking it on, not Cinderella herself as such, all petite and fragile, more an Ugly Sister, heaving technical tee over my head with as much grace as they achieved trying to squeeze into her dainty shoes.  Still, more fun to play  baddies anyway. The shirt does fit, it’s just erm, well let’s say ‘particularly unforgiving‘ in the way it caresses my contours.  Frankly, I’d rather my contours were covered with a poncho than lovingly defined in lime hi-viz, but who listens to me.  I decided that if I was ever to wear this shirt, it would be today.  It is a running fact, (in my world) that at the parkrun immediately ocurring post any particular event you can wear the T-shirt freebie acquired at said event.  Just to be absolutely clear about this, I’m referring to running events, not apocalyptic ones, that would be in bad taste.

Birthday party also means in my world, and thankfully that of Graves parkrunners too, fancy dress and potentially cake.  Thus, double bonus, Roger can come too.  Yay.  Graves do a good party usually.  Even when they can’t.  One of my runs there was on New Year’s Day in fancy dress, even though they’d had to cancel due to ice.  Still fun.  Those fairy lights with their own battery pack are a great boon for festive running outfits.  Party invite looked like this:

fourth birthday

Whilst getting ready, I managed to annoy myself by listening to Radio 4.  Specifically, Thought for the Day was sort of about parkrun.  It was one of those really generic pieces, sometimes they are funny when they make really tortuous and obscure links from topic to topic in desperation.  At best trite, at worst beyond offensive… You know the kind of thing  ‘The other day, as I realised too late that I’d run out of toilet paper, I reminded myself how important it is that we develop resilience, so we can cope with unexpected catastrophes.  This experience brought me closer to today’s refugees.  They like you and I, have to cope with unforeseen trials and tribulations….‘ blah blah.  Maybe that’s a bit unfair, occasionally there will be a genuinely thought-provoking one…  Today’s though was just annoying.  Fence sitting, lots of mealy-mouthed obscuration of what he really thought.  But I was suspicious.  He was talking about parkrun, and the outcry this week over the decision of Little Stoke Parish Council to impose a charge (£1 a week) on parkrunners to pay for use of the public facility at this time in order to contribute to upkeep.  Pah, as if – basically it is not only a lazy and shameless attempt at profiteering but an ultimately futile position.  It is against the founding principle of parkrun, so if it went ahead, parkrun can’t, everyone loses, they don’t get their money anyway, and the run stops.

There is so much about that position that makes me mad I hardly know where to begin. However, gist of my EXTREME ANNOYANCE, with the unfunny joker on thought for the day, is he was basically saying it is reasonable to ask a commercial organisation to pay to use facilities in order to help maintain them for the public good.  He said this whilst strongly implying parkrun is one such commercial organisation. WHICH IT ISN’T, and totally failed to understand the points.  Just like Jeremy Hardy on the News Quiz yesterday.  I used to like him, now he is not my friend.  Sad, but true…  Go to News Quiz Episode 1, series 90, 18 minutes 30 seconds in if you want to raise your heart rate for training purposes.  The link will only work for a bit, so sorry if you are a visitor from a future time and it doesn’t work.  Still, on the plus side, time travel eh?  That’s pretty cool!  Leave a message from the future back to us in the past.  You’ve had a lucky escape though if you are a parkrunner.  It would put you in a bad mood.

I will try hard to resist a general rant, but for a very measured argument against the charge see Chrissie Wellington’s blog – running free.  There is also  a QALY benefits analysis by Mike Weed  (not the point, but if needed) and mental health benefits of participation in parkrun too. Others have waded in with why charging for parkrun is a terrible idea .  There is even an Early Day Motion on the topic ‘this house is disappointed at the decision of Stoke Gifford Parish Council to begin charging Parkrun (I’m going to let the use of the capital ‘P’ go on this occasion, hard as it is), parkrun has never been more in the news.  I am going to gloss over the fact that even Katie Hopkins is apparently on side for this.  Oh well, we will find out to what extent the saying ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend‘ is actually true..

'Are you two friends?' - 'No, we just hate the same people.'

‘Are you two friends?’ – ‘No, we just hate the same people.’

Ironically, this has created a surge in welcome new registrations.  There is an online petition in support of parkrun (they don’t do anything, but do provide a psychological lift…) It has also got ugly at times, with so many people not understanding why the issue of a ‘simple charge’ is not simple at all, but strikes at the heart of what parkrun is all about.  Before I get too depressing, it is worth noting there have been moments of welcome humour too.  This notice was spotted at Little Stoke today, implementation of fee for using the children’s playground.  After all, why should non-users be expected to subsidise toddlers on a swing, think of all that wear and tear on those climbing frames.  Well, I’m assuming it’s a joke… though maybe that is the official parish logo, so if you are going out to play, best take your credit card with you.  Particularly at Cleethorpes too, they are getting in on the act.. Thanks Steve Green – loving your work with the pay machine, apologies whoever took the other shot, can no longer find the link  – oops.

Little stoke playground charges

Steve Green Genius

parkrun central have tried to keep it dignified, a stance I favour too, in theory, but in practise?  Well, let’s just say it’s hard not to harbour vengeful thoughts, counterproductive or otherwise.

Anyway, upshot of all this, best way to support parkrun this weekend, is to bloomin’ turn up, be part of that community, and really appreciate what a rare and potentially fragile initiative it is.  We must not take it for granted.  It is therefore not out of self-interest, but for the greater good, that I shall pick a parkrun to visit where there is a high probability of cake as well as camaraderie.  Graves parkrun, I’m on my way, ready or not…

I don’t know if Roger fully appreciated all of this political and personal background (the personal is political and vice versa) to be honest.  But he seemed pleased at the prospect of another outing.  Not that I anthropomorphize inanimate things, obviously.  However, I do find it quite companionable jogging along with him.  I like the way his head bobs up and down in front of me, and I especially like the way he covers my stomach (though the side view is more problematic to be fair, but I try not to think about that).

As always, I got to Graves early.  I ventured out of the car to get my parking ticket (80p for two hours, but a notice tells us there is to be a price rise at the end of April I think).  It was freezing, I nearly had to abort my mission.  This run was now not going to happen in a T-shirt, the jacket was going on, and quite possibly my buff too!  More suitably dressed, I braved the cold, got my ticket, and taped it to dashboard with some sellotape I had brought with me especially for that purpose,  in a not-entirely paranoid attempt to stop it blowing away when I was compelled to exit my vehicle later.

I sat and shivered for  a bit.  Where are all the people in fancy dress?  Then, finally  encouraged by seeing one arrival in fancy dress (presume she doesn’t normally don a suit and draw on a fake moustache for parkrun) ventured out of car.  Many of the photos that follow are from Keith Turton by the way, thanks, very public spirited.

KT fancy dress arrivals

It was as always, super welcoming at the start.  They are pathologically friendly at Graves anyway, but it helped to see familiar faces too.  There was Dr Smiley/ Fighting Feather team buddy still wearing a pot on her leg, but hopefully for the last time today.  She was on duty as back up timer and armed with a tin of jelly babies that was almost as big as her. The tin, not each individual jelly baby.  That would be stupid.

KT assembly and jelly beans with Dr Smiley

Pleasingly, there was also a banana, which as you know is the runner’s friend.  People may scoff, (laugh as opposed to eat, but both uses of the word are apt here) but great choice of outfit on a nippy and breezy morning, no drafts would be getting through that.

bananas are great for runners

My breakfast buddies had also succumbed to parkrun tourism and joined the migration from our usual Sheffield Hallam home parkrun to be enticed over to Graves for the party.  One of them was especially well-connected, and took time to introduce me to one of the run directing team who she used to share a flat with back in London years ago apparently.  Small world eh?  I like these kind of coincidences, I find that pleasing.  A further coincidence was that he was also called Roger – ‘like MY Roger!’ I exclaimed, introducing him to my pony with a bit too much noise and enthusiasm.  Afterwards, I hoped he wouldn’t think I was just being sycophantic, deliberately pretending my fine steed was named after him to gain some sort of unspecified advantage from being part of the in-crowd at Graves.  It turned out though, that Rogers are ten a penny at Graves, so he didn’t bat an eyelid.  Phew…

A few other runners appeared in onesies – it’s been too long since I’ve seen a tele-tubby, not entirely sure which one it was, but looking good.  The harlequin  morph suit was a brave but pleasing choice.  Not everyone can carry that look off cycling to a park, but this runner/rider can. Took the precaution of disguising himself with a wig though, didn’t fool us, we know him from Sheffield Hallam Parkrun too.

Amongst the many was the inarguable  eyesore of a multitude of hi-viz half marathon T-shirts, that looked like an alien  algal bloom taking over the park.  A great many were in evidence, worn proudly by people a lot hardier than me braving it without their jackets.  I was not budging from my earlier decision to wear my jacket over my finisher top as the wind whipped through the ‘Conquered the hill’ tee.

I was  initially a little regretful that I missed the chance of being snapped in it in all its glory on the way round, but having seen the photos of the end, I made a good call.  This must be one of the least flattering tops in the history of event T-shirts.  I shan’t be wearing it again.  However, I will achieve immortality on the internet by posting a photo here, what was I thinking?  Hopefully, you, dear reader, will be distracted by the juxtaposition of giant with Lilliputian, and not dwell on my barrel like appearance amplified by luminous lycra…  Also, meet (some of) my breakfast buddies, hello!  And, remember height isn’t everything you know.  I get more leg room on planes for a start.

I’ve got a headache from the light bouncing back off all those tops bobbing up and down even now, just from watching others running in tem, and I strongly suspect I’m now contaminated with radiation from wearing the darned thing just for a morning.   Surely a risk assessment is needed before encouraging runners to don these tops on mass again at any events in future.  Easy and forgivable mistake to make once in all the excitement of post half-marathon highs, but not one that should be repeated in my world or lifetime.

Back to the parkrun.  Lingering was eventually ended by a call to join the run briefing.  This is always something of a highlight at Graves, the bar has been set high – (no pressure future run directors at that venue then) .  They have adopted many clever innovations, not least, it is generally audible, as well as welcoming and imaginative.  This time it was all about the Fours.  Not as in golf, and ducking out the way,  but as in how the number four was eerily appearing everywhere in relation to parkrun as a sort of oblique tribute to Graves which was celebrating its fourth birthday today.  New runners signed up this week?  14,000 new people have joined parkrun UK in the past seven days.  Number of parkrun events across the UK?  487.  Co-incidence?  I think not, very spooky.  I am humming the theme for The Twilight Zone in my head as I type…  They tried to find someone doing their fourth parkrun today as part of milestone shout outs – but didn’t get lucky on that one which was a shame.

There were welcomes though for tourists, claps for the 50 and 100 club entrants, pretty much everyone in attendance got a personal ‘hello’ one way or another.  All delivered from the lofty heights of a park bench by a duo, one in the more traditional Run Director outfit, the other dressed as Wonder Woman.

I’d like to think she is always so dressed, but I think it’s unfair to create that expectation for future visitors, so will concede she had dressed for the special occasion.    I love that they do the run briefing so well at Graves. It is this warm and funny welcome, almost as much as the resident highland coos, donkeys and llamas that makes Graves my favourite of the Sheffield parkruns.

Scanning crowd the crowd during the briefing, I saw my favourite thing ever (after being high-fived by Harry Gration, and bearing in mind I do excite quite easily), a knitted parkrun hat!  It was sported by a guy in a suit with a spotted bow tie.  Looking great, that is the sort of mark of respect parkrun merits.  I’m having my own hat like that one day.  I wouldn’t go so far as to steal his.  Well, I like to think not, but then again, let’s say if it were to ever appear to be insufficiently appreciated by its current owner, perhaps because they recklessly abandoned it in a public place for example, temporarily unguarded, well then obviously it would be coming home with me for its own protection…

KT The Hat

My breakfast buddies were also present.  One had made an effort with fancy dress, combining it with political point, well done.  Not sure how she fared with the stethoscope surely offering up a strangulation risk on the way round, but I do think such verisimilitude shows an appropriate level of commitment which I like to see.

It being a birthday, high jinks was in order, and the plan was to run the route in reverse.  Hooray!  It is amazing how much fun and how disorienting this is in fact.   Oh just realised, some people like to have the course info blah de blah but it doesn’t seem appropriate here as we ran it the other way, suffice to say figure of eight, run it twice, lots of hills (up and down).  I think we may even have surprised the livestock with our early arrival and coming ‘the wrong way’ through the animal park.  Certainly the donkeys (I like donkeys) with their big fluffy ears looked interested to see us.  They don’t seem remotely bothered by everyone shooting past.  I know they must be used to it, but even so.  The pig didn’t even bother to come out from its straw bed to see what was going on, and the deer carried on grazing.  They must have seen it all.  More than even the researchers for Jeremy Kyle, they were unphased by any outfit.  If you aren’t a Graves regular you may be confused at this point, basic info, you run through a lovely venue, including past loads of animals.  LLama, alpaca as well as those already mentioned.  Worth coming just for the novelty of that- don’t be put off by the strava segment references to things like ‘killer hill to cow poo corner’, they are named with affection and good humour, nothing more. No slurry pits along the course  – it’s not an OCR (Obstacle Course Race) type scenario.

At the briefing, we’d been warned to take some care on the way round, as recent rain has made the course a bit slippery in places.  I’m sure he said ‘especially by the cricket pitch’.  Really?  There is a mown area in one part, but it’s on a pretty steep slope, not really ideal for the playing of cricket I would have thought.  Still, Sheffield folk need to see quite a bit of gradient before they’ll acknowledge anything as being a ‘hill’ as such, maybe it’s my latent nesh, soft southerner coming out.  Anything less than 45 degrees is regarded round here as ‘flat as a mill pond!’  Anything more, well ‘it’s only a hill’ oh how many times have I heard that in the last seven days! Half marathon supporters mean well, but those hills aren’t really ‘onlys’ in my world!  OK, so confusingly, this is a later edit, so new photos added in from Grave Parkrun facebook page – photographer was Gail Moss, all great shots, for which I thank you.  Though if the photographers keep supplying such fabulous photos I’ll have used up all my  free memory capacity on this wordpress site so that’ll be the end of the blog.  Oh well, cross that bridge eh… This start one, and the montage further down are her work.    Remember though, if planning a visit, this is the route in reverse, if you come back some other time as a tourist, you’ll be running in the opposite direction.  Basically make sure you concentrate and keep quiet during the run briefing – which it is only polite to do anyway, as I’m sure you know!

GP off

Loping round I started with enthusiasm, but quickly ran out of steam.  Blimey, it was weird, I wasn’t breathless, and my legs didn’t particularly hurt, it was just there was nothing in the tank.  I felt a bit sheepish walking for some sections, but then I caught a blinding glimpse of my half-marathon tee and thought ‘I’ve nothing to prove!’

KT on the run with roger

Some fun interactions on the way round.  Hello to my photographer friend who introduced herself and who let me use her picture in my last blog about the Sheffield half.  The man in the spotted bow tie with the amazing hat with the parkrun logo specially knitted in.  We joked lightly that he mustn’t leave it unattended, but I possibly came across as a bit too serious in my thieving intent.  I couldn’t talk and run anyway, so he sprinted off. Story of my life that, being left behind.    Oh well.

I was also massively impressed by the runner who had fully taken on bord that #DFYB Don’t forget your barcode.  I commented to him to this effect, only to be met with the unexpected response ‘you won’t believe this but..‘ Turns out whilst he hadn’t actually completely forgotten his barcode, he had left it in the car.  He said it was OK, he’d stop of and retrieve it during the second loop.  That’s the spirit!  I wonder what would happen if you tried to scan it that size?  I hope someone gave it a go!

KT barcode on the run

I don’t know if it’s quite fair to say the views are better when you run the reverse route, maybe I just paid more attention to them because of the novelty, and the glorious sunshine bathed everything in sharp spring light that was deceptive.  It ought to have been warmer, but my it was cold!  The views though were stunning.  How lovely a sight is this:

KT on the run

A stream of runners ahead, cattle to the left, llama to the right, me in the middle with Roger giving it his all, his little head bobbing up and down in front, it’s very comforting.  I tried to thank the marshals on the way round, even the one who thought Roger was a camel (she corrected it to ‘horse’ second time round, hope my assertive reply didn’t tip over into an aggressive retort earlier..)  The marshals had done good on the fancy dress front.  Well, I say that, I assume the ‘Where’s Wally’ outfit was fancy dress and not homage.  There were a fair few wallys (I’m not being rude, I’m being factual) out there, it was amazing!!

I got overtaken by armoured gladiator and superheroine, but promised to watch their backs as they passed.  I must have done this really well, as they both were alive and kicking (not literally as far as I observed) at the end.  You’re welcome!   He had impressive shield carriage by the way, I reckon he must practise in this outfit quite a lot.  A commitment I applaud.

KT gladiators

Also out and about was the grim reaper, I’ve always thought that was just my imagination.  You know, thinking death was on my heels every time I headed out running –  but here that nightmare was made manifest.  Perhaps I was a bit more burnt out than I thought after last week?

I love the interaction with people as you go around.  I guess faster runners get an adrenalin kick, but they miss out on the over heard conversations and companionable chit chat en route.  Parkrunners are fab.  Amongst the throng, I heard just behind me two women encouraging a younger male runner – he was struggling a bit, but still breezed past me.  I exclaimed ‘you’re doing great, you’ve overtaken me and I’m riding a horse!‘  I’m not sure he entirely appreciated it, but I  thought it was fun.   To be fair I am thinking I might be a bit on the heavy side for Roger, especially after the half last week, but he was uncomplaining.  Possibly because he’s a stuffed animal, I don’t know…

Here are some more atmospheric running shots, just so you can either know what you’ve missed, or nostalgically look back on a lovely morning. depending on whether you were there or not on the day!  Check out that car number plate by the way, a caption writer’s gift! (OAP if you need help spotting it!).

So, eventually I limped in, not my speediest run round, but I’d had fun, and was pleased I’d ventured out at the end if not always en route…  I was pleased to make it through the funnel and stop my watch.  Runner’s brain kicked in, and I got confused when asked for my time and finish token number (they do this to double-check accuracy on finish funnel – impressive attention to detail).  There follows a smorgasbord display taken from the late addition photos thanks to again to Gail Moss you can find plenty of others on the Graves parkrun facebook page Fabulous 4th birthday photos

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I found my breakfast buddy mates (yes, they both finished before me, but let’s not dwell on that).  I had a panicky moment of seeing proffered cake float past.  Seemed rude to chase it.  Loads of regulars had brought a massive bounty of culinary delights in celebration of their fourth birthday.  Don’t worry, I caught up with it in the end…

So, I lingered at the finish to cheer home the last few runners.  Awesome efforts all round.  It is a brilliant parkrun this one, real encouragement for everyone.  The grim reaper also got into position to chase a few stragglers home.  There may be a later edit if photos of that activity appears, it was hilarious!

All done, adjourned to cafe.  I think it’s the Rose Garden Cafe, but can’t be bothered to check.  Oh no, wait, I will, it will  be annoying otherwise – here ’tis:

rose gardne cafe

It looks lovely from the outside – albeit this is a summer photo nicked from their website.  It is roasty toasty cosy inside which is great. Welcoming to parkrunners, also great.  Not so great for quality coffee to be honest, and food is in the ‘cheap and cheerful’ rather than bistro category, worth lingering for, as long as you can cope with the shocking acoustics, really hard to hear in there.  Nevertheless, me and my breakfast buddies adjourned for the post run debrief, and to witness the Birthday Awards.  You will be relieved to hear that birthday cake was circulated again, so I did get to have a chocolate cupcake courtesy of the Graves parkrun bakeoff team. These, as the awards, were brilliantly done.  Maybe it’s a surefire sign of my middle age, but I actually felt quite emotional bearing witness to this ceremony.  There was so much good will in the room.  An outpouring of appreciation and affection.  There isn’t enough of that in the world.

KT the prize giving

Facts and figures were offered up. I’m sure their official report will capture it better than me, but twice round the world is the mileage of Graves attendees over the past year for starters if I was listening properly.  There was appreciative applause in all directions, not only for the points winners (impressive as that undoubtedly is).  This impressive awards ceremony was punctuated by astonishingly loud shout outs of numbers for food orders which were brought out at intervals from the kitchen area.  Nothing will stop the well oiled machine which is the Graves Park Cafe from running smoothly it would seem, hilarious, but true.

There were prize winners aplenty – though I couldn’t help wondering if some were the sort of parkrun equivalent of ‘imaginary friends’ as a suspiciously large proportion of the award winners appeared to be absent.  Generous audience participation/ heckling from the floor suggesting redraw the winner for e.g. most points, or to collect on behalf of others were brushed aside.  The team at Graves may be cheery, friendly and positive, but they are no fools it seems!

Amongst the prizes was one for most inspirational parkrunner.  This went to another Roger (that is what I mean about Rogers being ten a penny round here).  I don’t know what else he’d done, but the picture he had done of Lily alone would merit such recognition.  I didn’t have my camera with me, but I really hope someone did. It was the most fantastic painting of Lily, the whippet, resplendent in her parkrun 100 bandana/neckerchief. Amazing, just amazing. If you tune in regularly you should know Lily by now, but in case not, here she is in action today.  I  love Lily.  Actually, she also won an award, fastest canine, well deserved too!  All the awards and other good stuff is in the event run report for their 4th anniversary parkrun at Graves.

KT go lily

So then award ceremony concluded, I wiped a tear from my eye at the all-round loveliness of it all, and got ready for depart.  But, GUESS WHAT, nope, you won’t guess, not unless you were here in which case, that isn’t really a guess, it’s more insider dealing.  Well, there was still one more award to come.

It was an award for ‘Best Fancy Dress’, and, to my utter astonishment, it went to Roger and me!  I was beyond ecstatic, this is my first ever running prize.  I felt a little bit guilty, because Roger is real, so technically, it isn’t fancy dress, but seemed rude to quibble.  I honestly thought nothing could top the feeling of getting a high five with Harry Gration, at the start of the Sheffield Half last Sunday, but apparently it can!  Roger and I have had public recognition, how unexpectedly glorious is that.  Once again, it the seemingly impossible has come to pass.  I was ridiculously excited.  I felt ninja all over again!  Me and Roger together are clearly a force to be reckoned with.  Our prize, well, public adoration (the writer of their run report came and got my name, I mean it doesn’t get much better than that) and also some sports themed wine gums.  I appreciate that attention to detail…  Just hope the gelatine wasn’t equine in origin…

DSCF9415

Touchingly though, even when the awards were sort of officially over, the sly parkrunners of Graves had clubbed together to acknowledge their run director team with these brilliant certificates.  It genuinely brought a lump to my throat, I don’t think I’m particularly hormonal, I was just feeling the love.  Graves parkrun community, you are awesome, officially, and I should know, I’m an award-winning runner, albeit only for fancy dress!

everyones a winner

So finally, a woman from Athletics UK or Run Britain or something – oh in fact England Athletics, I checked, came along to address the group about new running paths that are being put in around Sheffield as part of their Outdoor City project. I felt a bit sorry for her it was rather a ‘follow that’ moment, but heartening all the same that there are proactive initiatives to promote running (bursaries for run leader training as well as new local paths) against the backdrop of recent events at Little Stoke.  Plenty of scope for hope, let’s embrace that for now.  Outdoor city run routes are appearing in abundance we are lucky indeed!

KT new routes

So for now ‘that’s all folks’, thank you Graves parkrun, you are just brilliant. Had a fab morning, long may your reign of excellence continue.

There may be more photos to follow, or there may not, it will be a surprise!  Boo!  For now, you will forgive me if I need to celebrate my winning streak with a bottle of Tesco Prosecco (can’t go wrong for £6.49) and a David Bowie archive footage experience on ‘yesterday’ TV, I know, I’m wild.

Thanks Graves parkrun for hosting today, but thank you too, to everyone in the parkrun community that makes it the phenomenon it is.  I wish I had some clout, I’d love to share with the world what a force for good parkrun is, it certainly has changed my life.  We all have our stories.  Why anyone would seek to crush that is beyond my comprehension.  Let’s not let Little Stoke parkrun die in vain, let’s keep the vision more vivid and alive than it ever was.  Free, forever, for all.

always free

And yes, that prosecco has gone to my head, and I am a bit pissed right now (not in the American angry sense, but in the British, slurring sperch, temporarily disinhibited, uncharacteristally affectionate way).  Just slightly tipsy really, it will pass,) but it doesn’t mean I’m wrong, au contraire, I’m so right it hurts.

Keep on running y’all, in your own unique ways!

Categories: 5km, parkrun, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Well that was intense… First Half-Marathon

Spoiler alert.  I did it.  Yay me.

DSCF9409

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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

DL steel city striders

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 :-).

IF Finish Line pre startIF Finish line spectators

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?

IF Finish line start

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…

Harry Gration Star video

 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).

GC wall of support

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…

GC so pleased to see you

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.

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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.

SW Hunters bar

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:

a friend in the crowd

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….

TD smiles all round

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!

Veloviewer half marathon hills

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!

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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.

RS from norfolk armsRS getaway from norfolk arms

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

AH hunters bar

AH photography en route

AH running on

Categories: half marathon, motivation, race, road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Distraction techniques? Kit inspection.

I’m a bit confused.  I don’t know whether my current activities are helpful distraction or going to drive me to distraction, but hey ho.  My half marathon preparation top tips are to continue, this time moving from the importance of the tapir to consideration of appropriate kit.  You do genuinely need to do this, otherwise you will be picking stuff out of the laundry basket on race morning, and may have to resort to gusset sniffing to select the most acceptable option available to wear in public.  No-one wants to be doing that on half-marathon day.  Also, and more importantly here, this is a good displacement activity.  It will divert you from having to think about all the aches and pains and mystery illnesses that are accumulating about your person during the taper.

Today, I thought I’d lay out my kit, and check I have everything in readiness for Sunday.  This is an important part of preparation for any event I am told. If you look on the internet, loads of people do this.  Problem is, most of them who document the process highlight the slipshod naivety with which I have apparently approached this task.   To give you an idea just how I compare with more experienced runners, see if you can take a wild guess about which of these three snaps is my kit laid out in readiness, and which might belong to other runners?

I’m pretty sure you will have guessed correctly, and not only because of the give away Smiley Vest in the picture.  Still, undaunted, I will talk you through some of my choices.

Socks.  I had no idea before I started running just how much interest I would take in socks.  I now have developed an almost obsessional interest in what to put on my feet.  I have tried and rejected injinji ones (too bulky between the toes for me); short cut ones (I don’t like to have a draft up my ankles); too thin (blisters); too thick (blisters); not enough cushioning (feet feel like they will disintegrate).  Forget the quest for the holy grail, the quest for socks is way more important and probably just as inconclusive in my book.  I also find I am now prepared (albeit reluctantly) to fork out ridiculous sums of money in this search for the perfect foot covering.

I used to just buy socks at the supermarket checkout in Asda in packs of three, now I consider that an affront to my most important running asset, my feet.  I decided I’d treat myself to fresh new socks for the half.  My favourite ones up to now have always been some smart wool ones, but they are wearing out at the heel.  I headed off therefore to my local running shop (hello) in search of a ‘same again’ purchase.   I still feel self-conscious going in there, and am positive I always come across to the poor guys there as even odder  than I am in real life.  I can’t express myself,  I get all tongue tied and awkward.  I still feel like I am not worthy to be in the same space as ‘proper’ runners, and that they will naturally assume I have just popped in to ask for directions or about a lost animal of some sort.  Maybe just a dog or cat, but just as likely a ferret from the look of me.  Still, I need them, and they are always generous with their time and expertise, and I have always been happy with what I’ve bought there.

Last week though, disaster struck!  I went in to make my ‘usual’ sock purchase, only to find I am apparently such a cheap skate in relation to replacement sock purchasing patterns, that the socks I so covet are no longer made.  Various smart wool options were laid before me, and I agonised over the many choices.  But, they failed.  Nothing met my Goldilocks requirements.  For me, those on offer had not enough cushioning and were in any case too short at the ankle.  Not for me.  It was good whilst it lasted, but this relationship with smartwool has now ended.  They’ll be gutted I know, but I’ve moved on.  Instead, after examining every single sock in the shop (yes, individually, not just pair by pair) I took up with some hilly socks.  I was a bit dubious, and somewhat hurrumphing about the colour.  Fluorescent pink AGAIN, really?  I’m not five.DSCF9341

I don’t like changing kit – I’ve only got two identical running tops which I alternate for goodness sake, and only one pair of wearable leggings to complement my single Smiley vest.  (I did have two, but gave the smaller one away to a more appropriately sized running club member). However, defying my inner resistance to kit change, I can report that I have come to love these socks.  I took the precaution of doing one run in them pre event, in case the padding wasn’t enough, but they seem to be fine.  Cushioning on the heel and ball of the foot, and lots of ventilation looking fabric elsewhere so hopefully won’t get too hot either.  It feels unexpectedly decadent having new socks, like having freshly laundered sheets.  I feel I have an extra spring in my step.

They handily are marked ‘L’ and ‘R’, so if you get confused about navigation on a long run say, (as long as you’d put them on the correct feet first thing on waking), you could simply stop, remove your shoes, and voila!  You will now be reminded of which way is left and which way is right!  Genius!  They also claim day and night visibility.  I probably still wouldn’t use them instead of a head torch for illumination purposes on a night run say, but good to know.  The colour certainly does have a glow like sunrise from quite a distance.  I think they might actually be radioactive, but if it makes me run faster that’s fine.  Socks?  Sorted.

The really unexpected challenge for me today was around ‘where to fix the race number’?  I’ll be honest, it never occurred to me this would be an issue, but it is. Roger will be a great comfort to me en route, but by taking him round, my number will be totally obscured if I attach it to my Smiley Faces vest. (I draw the line at attaching over my ‘Smiley Paces’ logo and bust, that would take unbecoming to a whole new level)  The only option seems to be to put the number directly on him instead.  This is what I have done.   Now of course, I’m really panicking, because I know you aren’t supposed to transfer your number.  If you do, you can be disqualified in perpetuity, so never run at an organised event again (so, silver cloud then), but I feel I have little choice.  We have discussed it, and we are in it together, so it will be fine.

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I’ve dug out my lucky pants (no, I don’t feel a need to post a picture of those, but Marks and Spencer’s basically – does anyone else stock knickers?) and I’ve invested in a new sports bra for the occasion.  So basically sorted in the runderwear department.

The thing that I’m now stressing about is pacing it.  A secret source (thank you Smiley Elder Super Geek) has supplied me with an interactive spreadsheet.  I can use this to enter my estimated (or aspirational/ or realistically expected) finish time, and it throws up by magic the time in which I need to complete each mile (taking into account gradient) in order to finish on target.  It is genius, and quite fun to play with.  It even tells me when I need to take on nutrition.  Problem is, I don’t really want to run with a laptop, and anyway, I don’t know if my battery would last for the length of time it will take for me to get round.  I considered a clipboard and print out, but given how hard it was to stash my fudgy wudgy’s that was never going to work.

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I do have a TomTom, but can’t work out how to programme it for cumulative miles (though nice people at the running shop showed me how to set the ‘lap’ feature to one mile to give me an idea of how I’m doing as each mile passes).  It has been suggested I just write all these figures on my arm.  This is a great idea.  Others have used similar, more committed strategies.  I’m wondering if I have got time to sort out a personalised tattoo before Sunday?  On the other hand, if I just want to complete rather than compete, maybe I can just listen to my body (but not too closely, it will whinge quite a lot) and lope around as the mood takes me.

pacing guide

The other thing I’ve been doing, is finding out (ready or not) that people I know who are not actually running, may be spectating.  They will even look out for me!   This is both encouraging and terrifying.  It will be really nice to see friends and supporters on the way round – assuming I can see anyone through the veil of sweat and tears pouring from my face – but they are asking awkward questions, like what time I expect to be at certain points.  I have no idea at all if I will even make it to certain  points, let alone what time.   The excel spreadsheet has been great for providing some guestimates of ETA, but whether or not it is complete fiction I don’t know.  On the plus side, there is a brewing sense of occasion.  People will be there to soak up the atmosphere, the crowds will not be hostile (the people of Sheffield fed and watered the masses at the waterless marathon of two years ago for goodness sake), the atmosphere will be fab.  They may draw the line at physically carrying me round, but maybe, just maybe, the buzz will emotionally and psychologically get me over the finish line – or even more importantly perhaps, over the start!

So, for the record, my knee does still hurt, but increasingly I really do want to do this, however slowly, I’m out to complete not compete.  Anyway, the slower I am, the more hours on the course, the better value for money it all will be.  Those speed merchants potentially miss out on all the fun, whizzing by, the crowds a blur, and all done and dusted whilst the likes of me are still wondering how extreme the hill ahead will be.  I also did have one small and unexpected confidence boost.  I saw on a Facebook page somewhere a non-Sheffielder asking if anyone knew if the Sheffield Half had any hills.  Oh dear.  That runner is really going to be in for a shock.  Irrespective of whether or not the hills defeat me, at least they wont come as a surprise!  Anyway, I can be super courageous when the need arises.  Only a couple of days ago I removed a spider the size of a Shetland pony from my bath. I know.  I can do anything if I really set my mind to it, anything at all…

what the hill

Categories: half marathon, race, road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Oh crap. This is real. Race pack has landed.

It has come.  More accurately, I have been reunited with my number for the Yorkshire/ Sheffield half-marathon.

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It dawned on me a while ago that my number hadn’t reached me.  Although many of my running buddies were excitedly posting pictures of their newly arrived race packs, ripped open after tumbling through letter boxes.  I wasn’t overly concerned, I quite liked the comforting perpetual sense of denial associated with lack of physical proof that the Half Marathon is drawing ever closer.  Then I saw a post somewhere that said if you’d entered pre 22nd Feb then you should get your packs by such and such a date (early in March and long since passed).  I finally I realised that maybe, just maybe, I should be a bit proactive about things, and see what might have happened to it en route to my residence.

I emailed the nice people at the Yorkshire Marathon team, and explained my dilemma.  I was now panicking about the non-receipt of my race pack, and would like to replace that current state of panic, with a new existential terror about having to run the darned thing instead.  They responded pretty swiftly, I should indeed have received it by now.  However, they could reissue, if I’d just confirm again I hadn’t received it.  So that was fine.  Except I had a thought.   I wonder?

I live in a building converted into flats.  People come and go, junk mail accumulates like snow drifts in the hallway, and former residents who either never used redirection services or whose arrangements have long since expired, continue to get post for years and years after moving out.  Periodically, mail fairies jettison some of this excess.  There is a large plastic box that appeared by magic in the hall way some years ago, and it is there for the express purpose of dumping unwanted or unhomed mail as a temporary holding pen until someone works out what to do with it all.    I myself have even been known to forage through this box now and again.  Sometimes to retrieve and forward on or return to sender items that look important.  Sometimes out of nosiness.  Why lie?  Of course I do – though I have been well brought up and never open anything, I have been known to hold things up to the light – well you have to don’t you, to see if something needs to be returned to sender or can reasonably be jettisoned.  I do this for the public good…  Sometimes, this mining is actually  necessary to see if something I was expecting has in fact been misdirected into this sink hole for unclaimed post.  The sink hole looks a bit like this, only with more postal items and junk mail occupying the space, so it’s quite an operation to excavate it.

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Yesterday was such an occasion.  I wonder…

I emptied the post pile onto the communal hall floor and went through every single pizza delivery service flier, Christmas cards from Nick Clegg, free newspaper and TalkTalk bargain price offers.  Like an archive historian I marvelled at this documentary record of former tenants who have long since been and gone.  It felt a bit hopeless as I excavated each successive layer unearthing earlier and earlier eras of residence  However, eventually, and remarkably, I did eventually hit the dubious jackpot.  It was there!  Against the odds, I had located it.  Hooray.  A thin looking envelope, albeit a large one.  I can see why it might have been categorised as junk mail by a neighbour in my absence.  I ripped it open and OMG (get me and my text-speaking yoof jargon), there it was. My race number.  This is real.

I replied to the nice people at Yorkshire Marathon (thank you Elliott) and said that I’d now been reunited with number.  I might have glossed over the ‘it was here all the time’ aspect of it all, didn’t want to draw attention to my own stupidity, but all’s well that end’s well eh.  Now I really don’t know what to do.  To run, or not to run, I have no idea, after all this faffing, and so late in the day.  It’s ridiculous.

The problem is, I have this poorly knee still.  I’ve never had knee problems in my life before (apart from breaking one years ago by running into a brick wall, but that was different and also the other knee).  My head tells me I probably shouldn’t run.  My heart tells me ‘what the hell‘.  I am completely resting at the moment, but this path leads to mind games and mental torment.  Too much time to think?  I seem to wake up every morning with a new niggle, ailment or cause of panic.  I really don’t know if I’m becoming a hypochondriac, or whether I’m just hyper aware.  Maybe I’m resting too much?  Shoulder’s hurting, the calf in my other leg is all stiff now and this morning I was just exhausted for no reason at all.  Is this normal?  Is this part of the taper experience and why tapirs are better role models than actual athletes as a spa and (another) nap might help more than worrying about having to run all the time?  I honestly feel like my body has started to fall apart since I stopped running.    According to Run Britain (What Could Possibly Go wrong) a good taper allows you to arrive at the start line feeling ‘fresh and feisty‘.  I know, sounds great.  But also right now completely implausible. I just feel sluggish and slack.  Surely not how it’s supposed to be?  I found this, apart from the Americanisms (for which I apologise to my British reader ‘sneakers’ are not a real thing, not in the UK) this looks a bit of a familiar check-list.  So maybe all that I describe is normal and proportionate after all.

runner in denial

I can’t right now imagine walking to the corner shop without a limp, let alone voluntarily running for miles and miles more than seems sensible.  Plus it is currently hailing outside (no really, it is) what if it does that on Sunday?  I’ve supplemented my training and tapering regime with Googling race tips.  A whole new source of angst.  Chaffing and nipple blisters are only the start of it.  Add in falling over, being sick, getting the runs (but not in a good way).  What was I thinking when I entered?  I have absolutely NO IDEA!

Another cause of angst is race nutrition.  I never eat when I run, never ever, and because I’m so slow and do a lot of walk/running, I’m often out for up to 3 hours and haven’t had problems before.  However, a few wiser runners far more experienced than me have advised that if you are going for more than 90 minutes (and I will be out for a lot more than that) it is a good idea to have something.  Also, even if I don’t feel like I need it, the psychological lift of ‘rewarding’ myself with something when I reach say the Norfolk Arms (round about the half way point and  at the top of the Killer Hill) would be good.  The problem is what to take?

Bit late in the day to practise with gels.  I am vegetarian, so don’t really want to opt for jelly babies.  I have been known to eat them (Round Sheffield Run had them at feed stations, and I did need something then – I even enjoyed them, but then felt really guilty afterwards).  I’m not a total purist, and would eat jelly babies in a survival situation, post an apocalypse or indeed at point of collapse on a run say – but I don’t feel comfortable using them as my default energy plan.  I scoured supermarket shelves for alternatives/.  I can’t cope with the nutrition bars mid run, and some of the sweet options looked like they’d just be a congealed mess by the time I got to them on a run.  Melt in heat, dissolve in ran, too hard to open, too unfamiliar.  This was way harder than I thought.  Bananas were offered on the Round Sheffield Run feed stations, but I can’t digest these, also can’t imagine how you’d carry them whilst running, nor the consequences of discarding the peel en route (actually, I can imagine that bit very well, slapstick running humour in the extreme, but not public spirited)…

In the end I came across these.  An extreme sugar hit, not seen them before, but they look relatively innocuous – as far as uber refined sugar can ever be called innocuous I suppose.  Not so tempting I’ll eat unless I need them, but will do the job.  Also, small enough that they will go into my sleeve’s zip pocket, which is only carriage option unless I put a saddle bag on Roger, which I don’t want to do.  I probably ought to try one of them prior to Sunday, but can’t face it.  Contrary to public opinion, I don’t have a really sweet tooth, carbohydrate definitely, cake now and again certainly, but pure sugar?  The thought makes my teeth vibrate.  Still, they look jolly, and I think the cow is for decorative purposes, not to indicate that the package contains beef.  (In Vietnam you see shop fronts adorned with happy looking healthy dogs… these are not poodle parlours, but restaurants where dog is the speciality, so I now regard packaging as always potentially open to more than one interpretation…  Be careful out there).

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So in terms of pre-race check list I have the following:

  • All pervading sense of being woefully ill prepared?  Tick
  • ‘Nutrition’ fix for en route sustenance? Tick
  • Race number? Tick
  • Horse for assisted passage? Tick
  • New injuries?  Tick
  • Running Club vest? Tick
  • New sports bra?  Tick

Think that covers it….  Just remains to be seen if I have the nerve and audacity to turn up on the start line.  Jury still out on that one.  We shall all find out together.

Categories: half marathon, race, road, running | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Never under estimate the importance of a good Tapir

Tapirs should be taken seriously I’m told.

Personally, I still haven’t made a definite decision about the Sheffield Half, but I see no reason why that should prevent me from putting some unsolicited second-hand advice out there for those of you who are.  The week before a big race, especially for a first timer, is always going to be stressful.  I think it’s fair to say the accepted wisdom is to be resting up during this time in order to ‘preserve your fitness‘ (Thanks Smiley Elder Super Geek).   Let’s face it, at this stage it’s a bit late to imagine you are going to magically metamorphose into an upgraded runner version of yourself within the next 6 days .  However, that means that all the time that might normally be spent running around, can now be spent surfing the internet for random advice to get you to the start line in peak physical condition.

As a running blogger (I’ve decided that for today that’s what I am) I feel confident you will be anxious to hear my own Top Tips on the thorny subject of the perfect tapir.  Only the other day a running companion gave me a serious look and remarked that ‘one should never underestimate the importance of a good tapir‘, and it occurred to me that this is all well and good and easy enough to say, but what does it actually mean?

For a start, what makes a good tapir?  Which ones in particular are relevant here?  There are lots of different versions – who knew?  At least four distinct species according to this wikipedia page about tapir, so that must be true.  I’ll be honest, I was a bit vague about what a tapir is exactly, but I’ve googled them, and they are pretty attractive – especially the calf, but not noticeably aerodynamic or athletic in form. It did make me a bit doubtful about the extent to which an appreciation of these pig like, trunked creatures will enhance my running performance, but on the plus side, they do offer a great photo opportunity – look:

The lying down looks good, and they are probably triathletes too, as they are ace swimmers, though it was a bit more challenging to find any photos of them on bicycles, not that I care about that too much to be honest, this is after all a running blog, not a cycling one, we all have our particular areas of expertise.  Actually, I suppose I did find one of a tapir on a bike, colour co-ordinated and everything, but, whilst I’m not a qualified cycling or triathleting official, I doubt this would have been waved through as legitimate competition.  I mean, say what you like about cycling, but I think it’s learned its lesson from the Lance Armstrong scandal, and they are a lot tighter with rules and regulations these days…  That flamingo is definitely giving some outside assistance don’t you think?

tapir on a red bike

 So here is a photo of a tapir swimming really well, it’s not drowning, and it’s not hydrotherapy either.  Well I sort of assumed not, because of all the pond weed round about, but then again, loads of spas do expensive algae wraps and things these days don’t they, so maybe it is just doing that.

hydrotherapy

In fact, I think I’m beginning to see the point.

If you look at google images of tapir, then there are many shots of tapirs variously lying about not doing very much,  and flailing around in an algael swamp, apparently enjoying a spa. This does sound like it could be the way to go in relation to easing back on the running prior to a big event.  Seems my running buddy’s Top Tips (thanks 007) have more insight than I first credited them with.

So, if you are now scared about your impending half marathon, if you are experiencing all sorts of emotions from the aggravating existential angst to a zillion permutations of unease along the continuum, worry not.  Just think about the tapir.  What I have learned from them is the following key points:

  • Sleep a lot
  • have an algae bath
  • don’t try cycling, not even if you have a flamingo to help it wont work.

Also (and this is my own non-tapir based tip) try to keep stress levels as low as possible by avoiding all the road closure signs and notifications that have started to spring up all over the place.  The sight of them will make you feel sick, and this is contra-indicated at this important time.

Also, eat cake, but not too much.  And lay out your running kit a lot and keep looking at it admiringly if possible.

I think that just about covers the tapir.  If you want alternative tapir tips, then maybe my blog wasn’t the best go-to website for running insights.  You could also try runners world on tapering or wikipedia on tapering – works for me, though I think I can confidently say my article illustrations are rather more appealing.  Each to their own though I suppose.

Plus, keep checking the post, only when your race pack finally arrives will the absolute terror show itself, and then you will know what real fear feels like.  Just a week to go the Sheffield Half and mine has yet to land.  I’m quite relieved really, it means I can continue in denial for a little longer.  Periodically I have a little wave of panic that I wont be able to run if it doesn’t arrive in time, but this is probably nothing compared to the tsunami of panic that will engulf me if and when it does land on my doormat, and I come to realise this challenge is real, and I will be expected to run it after all!

So, be careful what you wish for.

be careful

Whether running or not, I recommend that over the next week you indulge all and any impulses to sleep, eat and see if you can blag a bubble bath/ hot spa or whatever equivalent is within your budget range.  So go wild, indulge yourself, give yourself some sofa time, find your inner tapir, and let’s see what the results have to say about that tactic a week from now.

You’re welcome.

 

Categories: half marathon, race, road, running | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Pioneering parkrun pilgrims take on Poolsbrook

007 and “M” Stealth parkrun Smiley mission.  Our Smiletastic task was to be up early, navigating the hills, facing the rain, battling the wind – and all because the ladies love to ……….run !!!

Poolsbrook country park

I’M SO EXCITED!  Today, I did something extra special, something I’ve always wanted to do, and something that is even on my bucket list.  This isn’t an actual list, to be fair, but I always know when an item comes up that would be on it if I’d ever got around to writing one.  It’s that feeling I get when an opportunity presents itself that it is for something I’ve longed to do so  much and for so long it actually hurts.   As the day and then appointed hour draws near, the excitement is such I feel I’ll burst.  I sort of enjoy the anticipatory angst – is my dream really about to come true, or will it yet be snatched away at the final hour?  That is what I felt like when I heard that Poolsbrook parkrun was to be launched in Chesterfield.  Finally, a new parkrun taking place commuting distance from Sheffield.  One I could be in on at the start.  I too could join the throng that will be for ever listed as First Timers on the first ever set of results for Poolsbrook parkrun.  I’ve always wanted to get to an inaugural parkrun.   I was always going to get there to join them for their first ever event at Chesterfield (near as dammit) come what may.  I wanted to be one of the Pioneering Poolsbrook parkrun Pilgrims, and reader I WAS!  The inaugural Poolsbrook parkrun was today! How amazing is that?

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So here is what happened.  The run was first mooted ages ago, and I’ve been circling the parkrun pages ever since waiting for news.  Finally, the official announcement came that the run would indeed be happening for the first time at 9.00 a.m. (you probably knew that bit already) on Saturday 2nd April 2016.  A Poolsbrook parkrun Facebook page was duly launched the week before and the countdown began.  They had a suitably inviting cover photo (see above), as well as a succession of ‘getting ready’ photos to reassure their parkrun public that all was progressing well and that they had e.g. the requisite number of colourful helpful signs ready to go. (That three laps direction one was a bit of a worry though):

helpful signs

Even more pleasingly, the organising committee (we love you race director and volunteers whoever you are) had a sense of humour too, coming up with a most acceptable April Fool the day before, which was sufficiently well thought through to be funny, without risking veering over the line in terms of taste (oh dear Preston parkrun – is it true your one involved a bomb on the course?  Seems not everyone found that funny – though Google pranked themselves too so they were not alone – shame, I like a good minion story, who doesn’t?)

poolsbrook pranksters

To be honest, there were quite a few parkrun pranksters out there.  I’m sure I only stumbled across a very few, but if you like a detour en route to the substance of this Poolsbrook premier parkrun commentary, have a peer at these:

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So, back to business.  The day dawned.  Obviously, in this age of Smiletastic, it wasn’t quite so simple, bonus points for timed runs still needed to be claimed.  Serious members of Smiley Paces (Sheffield Women’s Running club) who are registered for Smiletastic need to take this into account.  The most effective strategy being for team members to disperse as far afield as possible. Then again, there was the pull of wanting to do things as Flying Feathers all together for the team as well.  Who want to run on their own if they can have a running buddy to accompany them?  The compromise was just me, and our very own undercover agent 007 would take on this particular parkrun challenge and nab the point for the team between us.  Normally I’m known as hobbit, but as this was a special mission I was anointed ‘M’ as my alias for the day.  (Too complicated to explain, just go with it).   We synchronised our watches, agreed rendezvous hour and allocated tasks.  I was in charge of transportation, my fellow Fighting Feather would check in with Q and sort appropriate turbo assist rocket chargers to get us round.  Such external speed boosters being deemed necessary, as Poolsbrook parkrun hasn’t yet introduced the platinum membership initiative on offer from Tring parkrun.

On waking early, as we had an uncharacteristic commute to our destination, my weather check through the window revealed RAIN.  I was a bit taken aback, this wasn’t what was ordered, and the Poolsbrook team had looked so efficient I thought they’d have had that aspect covered.  Oh well, we are feisty fighting feathers, it would take more than a bit of rain to abort our mission.  I scooped up 007 and satnav took us on a magical mystery tour that ended up at the entrance of Poolsbrook Country Park.  The postcode didn’t work on my satnav by the way, but I was able to use the ‘points of interest‘ option, so that was an exciting test of my problem solving skills.  If you are planning a satnav directed trip maybe check the route in advance just in case.

On arrival, I couldn’t help noticing the entrance looked rather less enticing than on the cover photo of the Poolsbrook parkrun Facebook page.  It’s the way I take them probably, that, and the rain, but compare and contrast my gritty realism in the photos with the charming paradise above and you must concede I have a point:

Even so, I was even more excited when I knew we’d made it to our destination, and there were even super keen runners to be espied who were making their way to the start loping along in the rain.

On a practical note, it was really easy to find – handy brown attraction signs as you get close) and about a half hour from our side of Sheffield.  There was loads of parking… but, even so, this space was almost full when we got there, so I don’t know what happened with the overflow cars of which there must have been some.  Obviously, it could have been that this début event attracted a lot of parkrun tourists like me and Smiley 007, as it settles into a more local event maybe fewer people will drive there if it’s a more local catchment area that becomes the core of the run.  No problem though, and parking was free too (yay!).  It was still raining though (NOOOO!) but there were ducks milling about who seemed to appreciate that, so ill wind etc..  Actually, there was a lot of milling about of waterfowl now I come to think of it.  I wonder if that was part of their pre-run risk assessment?

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Now, apologies if you are a newcomer to my blog and this is too much information, but regular callers will know that I do appreciate the opportunity for a precautionary pee pre parkrun.  So, in case anyone is anxious on my behalf, or indeed on their own, I can report that Poolsbrook parkrun scores full marks for precautionary pee facilities.  Loads of loos, all open, and whilst there was the mandatory queue for the ladies there was also a separate disabled loo and gents as well.  Toilet paper, sinks for hand washing, the full complement of facilities.  Always puts a smile on my face!

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There was much excited milling around.  Very quickly I saw familiar faces.  The odd strider with their fetching and distinctive charity fund raising bobble hats and a familiar chatty friendly face from Sheffield Hallam amongst the throng.  I wrongly attributed her to be a Monday Mobster, but she claims not, I think otherwise – she must be one by association surely?  Hey ho. She too no doubt lured away by the intoxicating prospect of joining an inaugural run.  I ambled about, and spotted an upmarket coffee van at the start/finish line too.  This is a great innovation I’ve not seen before.   Not only coffee on completion, but potentially coffee before hand, and/or for volunteers or spectators on arrival.  I don’t know if this was a one off or not. (Clarification – coffee is to be covered, mobile outlet for now, inside café some weeks down the line)  Decent coffee too.  Yay! Though I went for delayed gratification option, didn’t want to have to off load en route so to speak due to the contributory negligence of having taken on extra liquid immediately prior to departure, so I saved myself for the treat of caffeine on completion.

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I was like an over-excited puppy, I just didn’t know who to greet first, and would probably have been in real danger of wetting myself had it not been for the first rate facilities already alluded to.  I exchanged hellos with the Friendly Face on exodus from Hallam, who had come with a gang of raucous running friends.  I took a photo of them all together. What do you think?

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She claimed them as friends anyway, some of them look a bit cold at first glace, but look again and you wonder if it might not be cold, it might be the expression you pull when being photographed under duress?   I wanted her to lie across the front of them, but she wasn’t keen.  Later on she admitted she’d actually driven over on her own, and not come with them at all (something about being paranoid about being late because of conditioning brought about by having parented a run director herself ya da ya da ya da etc).  I can’t honestly be sure if she knew them all, or had just appropriated them at that moment for self-promotion purposes.  I say it doesn’t matter, if you can photo-bomb a group and look completely at home, then you can claim that group as your friends.  Well done.  Good on yer, I’m going to try that technique myself next time out…

Photo taken, we started checking out our surrounds and as well as being excited by just being there, and by the presence of loos, and by the presence of a mobile coffee outlet I was further excited by the proximity of an outdoor adult gym!  At this point my Friendly Faced running mate from Hallam (not a Monday Mobster) was compelled to point out I do seem to excite quite easily.  I concede this point.  It was quite remarkable that I hadn’t already burst or otherwise exploded just on arrival, this sensory overload was putting me in real peril of going off with a bang!  But really – look – shouldn’t every parkrun have one of these as a warm up area?  I think you have to bring your own golfing umbrella and clipboard though.

There was an absolute first timers’ briefing – it looked like this:

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Aww, I felt quite emotional watching it.  I remember my first ever parkrun, all that apprehension and uncertainty, yet also the beginning of a beautiful relationship – these people had/ have the pleasure of all that still to come!  Nevertheless, for me and 007 this was our first First parkrun, so we found someone to capture our moment of initiation to this club too!

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Oh, I almost forgot, for those of you who like the official course description blah de blah, the Poolsbrook parkrun page describes the course as follows:

Course Description
The course is entirely within Poolsbrook Country Park which was once the site of the former Ireland Colliery, but which has been transformed from dereliction into a popular country park and amenities area. The course is almost entirely on compact wide trails but some sections of the course may accumulate mud, leaves and puddles after rain, so please take care. Dependent on availability, marshals will be at key sections of the course, or signs will be in place.

The course starts about 300m away from the café and consists of three anticlockwise laps of the main lake. The finish is on the grass on the right side of the path, in front of the adult gym facilities.

A couple of points to note:
The course leaves the immediate side of the lake to cross the weir and for about 30m runs on the wide path next to the road. Please keep to the lake side of the path.
If you are being lapped by faster runners please keep to the left side of the course to allow faster runners to overtake on the right.

More milling about, and finally a sort of migration to the start that seemed to be communicated by osmosis.  I’ve stolen some of the ‘official’ photos to report on this part, mine weren’t as good.  I don’t like to think of this as plagiarism, rather I’m honouring the photographers by displaying their work, also, I freely admit they aren’t all mine that follow, so as long as it’s referenced that’s OK too right.  So it seems that most of those that follow are from Andy Morris (thanks Andy) though there were others out there who I may well also borrow freely from if ever their work makes it into the public domain.  Here’s a picture of one of the other ones below, don’t know his name, but documentary proof that many were out there to document this historic occasion.   You know you are sharing a moment of history in the making when the paparazzi are in attendance in plural.  Loving your work, whoever you are, all of you, thanks for turning out.  Oh, and (late addition) I’ve now added in some of Mark Webster’s photos too, so thank you Andy and thank you Mark for sharing so beautifully.  You are AWESOME!

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So the milling about, and the migration to the start, and the official inaugural race briefing looked like this (you can tell who took which photos as mine are basically the out of focus ones, I’d like to pretend I was trying to achieve a soft focus effect, but that is basically untrue):

We took the opportunity for a selfie, obviously, which came out a bit crap (also obviously).  Less obviously, we had even more excitement (I know that seems impossible) as we were joined by two more Smilies making a similar pilgrimage to the start.  One of which was a Smiletastic opponent, but only a Rowdy Rooster, they’ve got no chance to be honest so we didn’t have to pretend to be sporting, we could be genuinely friendly!  It was great to have some other Smilies sporting their vests to join the fun.   Albeit we sported them a bit sheepishly on the whole, under rain coats truth be told…

So finally, after much applauding of the great and the good, the volunteers, the organisers, the local authority who’ve given permission to use the park and so on, we were awf!  I love the first shot here – Steel City Strider with bobble hat on tour, Smiley Paces and the guided runners all in one shot. All the fun of the proverbial fair in one picture, thank you flickr uploading photographer, fab!

start mob

ready for offthe off

So, as always, I was a bit surprised to find myself running but it was fun.  I was taking it very easy because of my poorly calf/ knee, but it was really fun to soak up the atmosphere.  This is a three loop course, so I hadn’t expected to enjoy it as much as I did, but in fact there was loads to look at on the way round.  Waterfowl aforementioned didn’t limit itself to the water.  There were some particularly immoveable geese of some sort just before the bridge at the half-way point on the loop.  As I approached them on the first lap they just ignored us.  Second time passing they looked a bit pissed off, third time round, they took direct action honking (I think that’s what geese do) flapping their wings in an ‘I’m very annoyed now’ display and at least one of them led a protest march onto the path.  Good for them, they were there first after all.

I am however jumping ahead.  You have been forewarned that there are three loops, however, that’s not strictly true.  You also start a few hundred metres back from the eventual finish point, so you have to pass the finish FOUR times.  I had a moment of hopefulness after the first 300 metres, or whatever it was, when I thought that might count as first time round, but apparently not so.  You will know, so avoiding any future disappointment.

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My photos make it all look a bit dismal, but in fact it was very jolly.  Loads of colourful marshals in their high-viz tabards for a start, and runners in fluorescent gear a plenty, it was quite a rainbow of hues out there.  The ‘proper’ photographers did rather better.  Thanks Mark, this next one is yours I think:

Rhapsody of colours MW

 Although three loops aren’t really my thing, an unexpected benefit of this set up was that there was a bench in handy proximity to the finish.  I realised I was going to be too hot going round, and was able to jettison my coat onto the bench after the first lap.  I guess you could strip off ever more layers as you went round, knowing they could be heaped on the bench near the finish in safety several times with four passes available to you.  Like a running version of strip poker if you will, should the mood take you.  I stuck with just the one layer taken off, but in principle at least I guess more dis-inhibited runners could bare as much as they dare en route.  It might even spice things up a bit for other runners in their wake.  Some runners might otherwise be finding the laps a bit relentless.  Some disrobing runner offering up a bit of eye-candy (or presenting a dire warning) might offer up a welcome distraction, just a thought.  Here is a spectator espying the course, a fun one to watch I reckon, because you can see all the drama unfold without having to particularly relocate.  You could even plonk yourself down on a bench and drink coffee as people plod (or sprint) by, possibly even offering unsolicited advice on their running technique each time they pass you.  I’m sure that would go down really well!

surveying the course MW

It was a good surface, tarmac really, and despite the number of runners, it spaced out pretty well, and you could overtake (on the right please) by nipping on to the grass if you did feel penned in.  There seemed to be a good cross section of runners.  Including a blind runner with a guide.  I’ve not seen that in action before and it was VERY impressive, they left me for dust early on.  It is the ultimate in team work watching that display of trust, timing and co-operation.  I wonder how long it takes to build that partnership.

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So, at Poolsbrook parkrun you do most definitely have to run round a lake three times, there is no escaping that, but it looks cool in the photos don’t you think.  These next two are from Poolsbrook parkrun Flickr site too – though not all photos are accessible for some reason, don’t know why.  I might go back later and have another look to see if any more are apt for inclusion in this post, but I’ve got bored of waiting for now.

round the lake we goview from the back

 One of the great joys of parkrun is meeting not only old friends, but new people too.  I also love to eavesdrop and people watch on the way round.  So people who stood out today – the mightily speedy runner who sprinted past and I thought I knew from a previous life, only it wasn’t him.  He looked very surprised when I lurched towards him offering a high five as he walked homewards back along the course after he’d finished and when I was still embarking on my final lap.  He looked even more discombobulated as I aborted my high five attempt looking slightly horrified. Sorry about that nameless pirate runner with the bandana and long hair!  (Mind you, I know one running blogger who confessed to once high fiving a passing cyclist she thought was offering an upward palm for that purpose, only realising as she passed the poor guy was just using a hand signal to turn right – or possibly left, she didn’t say which…)

Pirate man surprised by high five MW

The guy with a black Labrador on a canicross harness, who was running with a dog in one hand and freshly bagged dog poo in the other.  (Well, I assume it was freshly bagged, it isn’t the kind of thing you’d head out the door with like grabbing a water bottle and energy gel is is?)  It was somewhat dispiriting to realise that this must mean he was so much faster than me, he was able to stop and supervise his dog pooing on the way round, then clear it up and recommence running and still be way ahead.  Well done for being a responsible owner.  His dog wasn’t especially appreciative though, as I watched, it dragged him into a ditch alongside the path which was rather deeper than first appearances indicated.  Very wet footed owner was reduced to – well, I was going to say ‘walking’ but ‘sploshing’ would be more accurate!

responsible dog owner MW

At about the half way point I also became increasingly aware of a female runner on my shoulder.  We had a sort of unacknowledged battle with each other.  Every time I slowed a bit she put on a spurt to try and catch me… and I’d realise I was slowing and so speed up again.  I feel we were evenly matched and even kindred spirits – she too removed her rain coat on the way round!  She kept close by right up until the very end when I did a sprint finish (I use the term loosely).  It was nice after we’d both finished to have a chat with her – she’s done loads of inaugural parkruns I was most impressed, and a regular parkrun tourist too. Thank you Peniston Footpath Runner for the external motivation on the way round!

Some other observational details.  On a three-lapped course, you get lapped.  Well, you are more likely to get lapped than on a two-lap course (sometimes) or one lap (never – unless you go in reverse which seems unlikely).  The one advantage of this, is that as I was finishing my second lap (or quite possibly my first, but let’s say second here) I was  lapped by the winning runners going through the finish tunnel.  However, a consequence of this is that there may well be (time will tell) photos of the first finishers which provide the illusion that I was in the lead…  Not a very good illusion apparently, as none of the marshals tried to point me towards the finish funnel, but I can dream.  Incidentally, I felt this was an unusually polite run in the over-taking department.  Whilst parkrun is a run not a race remember, sometimes speedier runners let their competitive spirit rule them and are not always forgiving of slower runners as they pass.  Here, I am delighted to report, camaraderie running was the order of the day.

A special mention should go of course to the small army of marshals who remained smiling supportive and cheerful despite the unrelenting rain!  It makes such a difference to have their support en route, not to mention the fact that parkrun wouldn’t happen anywhere without them.  I did try to thank each one as I passed each time, but have to admit my efforts got a bit more breathless and a bit more strangled sounding with each passing loop!  I had an inward smile for the road based marshal who shouted after me and my acquire running buddy from Penistone ‘just remember to keep the arms and legs moving‘ as we neared the finish.  Good advice, if only it were as easy to implement at that point as it sounds – encouraging shouting nevertheless, I thank you!

Another thing that I noticed plodding round was that they have thoughtfully put km markers at, well funnily enough, at 1km intervals.  This is sort of helpful, but also a bit perplexing.  As it is a multi-lap course, I got a bit confused at points because the first one I saw was on the first lap and it was for 4k, then later on I spotted the 2k etc etc.  However, this is ungenerous of me, because once you get your eye in it’s pretty handy. Well it is for those of us who either don’t have a GPS or similar, or like me have one but have no real grasp of how to use it other than for uploading runs onto Strava after the event for Smiletastic purposes.  Actually,  you might like to see the Strava route – and proof, it ’twere needed that it is indeed incredibly flat.  I reckon for them as who seek it out, this has the potential to be a PB course for sure.

strava route

As I neared the finish, I espied my Hallam parkrun tourist friend just ahead, I admit I used her as a goal to aim for and managed to catch up and overtake, but only just.  I felt a bit mean doing so, but she cheered me on.  For that I thank you Monday Mobster, no wonder everyone wants to be your friend!  She was right behind me anyway.  At the finish tape were my Smiley smiling buddies, cheering me home.  That was so great.  We’d agreed not to run together under the pretext of me being slow, (also grumpy when I run, I can’t talk and run, I just can’t) but really it was so we FFs could spread out amongst the course and keep an eye out for any previously unseen Smiletastic opposition. We got away with it though.  I felt like I’d broken the 4 minute mile or something as I went through the tape!  No finish photo of me, but here are my fellow Smileys romping home.  I don’t know why one of them looks like she’s standing around with her hands on her hips.  Maybe she’d just abandoned all hope of passing the other two at this stage in the game…

Smiley finishers MW

We were able to pose for a photo, then, hilariously (I thought) our fellow Smilies were off to do another 6 miles in the rain – oh the tyranny of the long run!

DSCF9285

Me and 007 instead drank coffee and went to cheer home the other runners still coming in.  Thanks for the caffeine fix my friend, although maybe that’s what got me over-excited all over again and making an exhibition of myself on the adult gym…

We inevitably felt we had a go with the various exercise equipment that looked so inviting as play equipment for adults at the start/finish, and 007 did some very impressive balancing stretches.  We moved into the area of making our entertainment at this point, I can’t help feeling one of us did rather better than the other in securing flattering photos for their scrap book.  I’ll let that go this time, but it has been noted…  And no, I don’t have any idea how to use the equipment properly, I think that’s fairly obvious.

We enjoyed going down to the finish funnel to cheer back the final finisher who romped home with a canine companion…. who was very nearly a funnel ducker (the dog not the runner) but disaster was averted, order was restored to the funnel, and cheers all round in the rain as the finish token was handed over, then handed back for scanning. Run done.  Mission accomplished.  Great job y’all!

So that was that, suddenly all done, and we could head home. We waved cheerily at our fellow Smilies who we could see in the distance were only just heading off on the Trans Pennine Trail which goes through Poolsbrook Country Park  – they didn’t look too keen to be honest.  This is what happens if you pledge a long run, you have to be willing to follow through!

Home with the usual parkrun high, and a lovely warm feeling of appreciation and delight that all seemed to have gone so smoothly for the Poolsbrook parkrun pioneers.  It must be quite nerve wracking to put on an inaugural event, but it seemed to go really well.  The results came through promptly.  Photos were on Flickr and updates on Facebook.  In keeping with parkrun lore and tradition they even had a handful of unknowns (sorry parkrunners, you know the mantra, no barcode, no time, no exceptions #DFYBC) and their first finish token go walkabout. This was no doubt very, very annoying but also probably had an awful inevitability about it too.  Nevertheless, here’s hoping that finish token Missing in Action number 58 has a well developed homing instinct and makes its own way back to the fold in time for next parkrun day.  Fingers crossed eh?  Oh, there was a Poolsbrook inaugural run report too, all jobs covered, and in record time.

So thank you everyone at Poolsbrook, you did an awesome job today.  Thank you whoever got the idea off the ground in the first place, thank you organising committee and run directors for putting in the work to make it happen, thank you marshals and volunteers on the day for the cheery, encouraging and efficient hosting, and thank you fellow runners too for a great morning of parkrun tourism

We’ll meet again, don’t know quite where or when, but I’ll be back, you have been warned.

The over the top Love-In endeth here!

Have a Heart shaped balloon - Copy

 

Categories: 5km, parkrun, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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