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!
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
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…
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?
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.
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.
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…
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.
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?