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.
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.
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?
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…
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…
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.
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.