Monthly Archives: October 2016

It takes all sorts… volunteering at the inaugural Run for All Sheffield Road 10k October 2016

This event could have done without the ranting, racist vicar.

On the other hand,  Scooby Doo was definitely an asset to the occasion.  Thank you Race Image Photography for the shot.

scooby-dooby-doooooooo

Plus, I got a Certificate of Awesomeness for volunteering on the day, which is not quite like getting a medal to mark the occasion, but is nice to get all the same.  You have to write your own name in though, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Au Contraire, I can give myself extra letters after my name, or use this as a baseline document from which to forge a whole new identity if ever I decide I really do need to reinvent myself and take flight to  – oh I don’t know – Cambodia say, to start a new life overseas and anonymous.   I know it says Certificate of Achievement by the way, I can read, but I think you’ll find that is an easily enough remedied typo.  Us volunteers were awesome all the way!  It says as much. Without my personal presence, the entire event would have imploded and nobody would have been able to run anywhere at all.  It’s actually quite a responsibility when you come to think of it…

certificate-of-awesomeness

So, on to the main business of the day.  This is  not an entirely jolly post.  You have been warned.  I’m not even sure it’s entirely running related.  And it’s definitely not about dogging in Sheffield either so I’m expecting a few dissatisfied readers on this occasion.  Don’t be one of them.  Turn around now.  Or stay if you must, but remember, no refunds, no apologies and as for expecting a dose of dry humour?  Well, only hollow laughs are on offer at best – probably not even those.  Though I might treat you to a trainee philosopher’s wise words right at the end, so I suppose you could take a punt that, that might contribute to your personal and professional development journey.  You could perhaps stick it on a sunset photo and make it into a poster to go up in your room or in your PDP file/log book/ Record of Achievement or something.  I might even try to work out how to do that myself!  Would be a hoot…  Are you going to go with delayed gratification and wait and see if I do this, or do you prefer to scroll down now and fast forward to the finish to find out now?  The choice dear reader, is yours.  Just remember though, it is a FACT that an inability to wait for delayed gratification is a known psychopathic trait.  I’m sure I read it in Readers’ Digest or possibly People’s Friend, so it must be true….

yin-yang-running

So, back on topic…. Perhaps it’s the yin and yang of running events.  To date, maybe I’ve been unusually blessed with witnessing almost exclusively the sunny side of race days, today, well… not so much.  Let’s just say not everyone I came across was sharing the joy of having the inaugural Sheffield 10k on their doorstep.  From my perspective far too many were keen to direct  their displeasure rather personally at the volunteer team, aggressively, abusively and – in the case of the aforementioned dog-collared ‘friend’ – with a side-order of bigotry that was so unexpected it was genuinely shocking.   I was in two minds about doing a post on this event.  I try to avoid negative perspectives on the whole, and I wouldn’t want to put anyone off volunteering because it was still a very positive thing to do, and this was certainly a fun event to be part of.  But then again, I figure both my readers are worldly enough to cope with the volunteer’s eye-view exposé  that follows.  Besides, I think some of the behaviours displayed today should be called.  I hope if you are reading this and agree, you might be more likely to volunteer in future not less, you could be part of the solution perhaps?  Go you!  The more the merrier after all.

So, the traditional blah de blah – this was the inaugural Run for All Sheffield 10k.    The Sheffield 10k route is described as follows:

Runners will take on a fantastic city centre route, starting in Arundel Gate, and taking runners on a journey along Charter Row and along Ecclesall Road, before skirting the edges of pretty Endcliffe Park.

It continues along Riverdale Road, along Endcliffe Vale Road, close to the Botanical Gardens, then travels down Brocco Bank and back to an exhilarating city centre finish.

Sheffield 10K route map

So now you know.  Personally though, today I wasn’t running, I’d opted to volunteer, so didn’t really care all that much about the route.   I was far more excited by the prospect of being able to volunteer so near to my house.  Now I come to write that down, it does seem really stupid that this should be so appealing.  I mean, I could stand on a street corner clapping passers-by any time I choose, but it was always going to be better as part of an organised event.  Runners and other road users can be so self-conscious when not part of organised events.  Try standing on a pavement and clapping every passer-by outside a formal race and you’ll see what I mean.  Not everyone appreciates it as much as you might think they would

I didn’t enter the 10k because road races aren’t really my thing – which is a shame as I’ve got a ballot place for the London marathon, but you have to be flexible about these things don’t you.  Also, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be around.  Once I knew I was, I was keen to volunteer as it’s a fab way of being involved in the fun of an event without the effort of being made to run. As it happened I’ve had a horrible cold all week anyway, so wouldn’t have got round, although I was quite well enough to stand and support.  For future reference, there are lots of different ways to volunteer, through the main website is the obvious one, but I did so through a local charity Snowdrop Project, which I’d not heard of before, but which put out a Facebook appeal for helpers.  They were one of the charity partners, and so needed to meet a certain quota of volunteers for the event.

snowdrop-logo

The Snowdrop Project is a relatively small Sheffield based charity, run by a seemingly close-knit and impassioned team who are committed to helping ‘survivors of human trafficking to live lives that are no longer defined by their past and we work to reduce the risk of those vulnerable to this crime‘.  This strikes me as being an incredibly important enterprise, particularly right here right now, when the world seems to be imploding and vulnerable people are on the move in their thousands.  If you fancy supporting them then you can donate here, every little helps.  And, I like to think, it isn’t just the money that helps, it’s the act of solidarity in giving anything at all.  Victims of trafficking and abuse can be so invisible, or even blamed for their situation, honestly, we’d probably all like to look away from that dark underbelly of human nature I’m sure, however, how can we fight it if we don’t face it?   The Snowdrop Project may indeed be the proverbial ‘drop in the ocean’ but even drops of water can erode mountains over time, or evaporate to form mighty stalagmites and stalactites, which might be a rubbish analogy, but is a very good excuse for a  spectacular cave photo.  Like this one perhaps.  No, I don’t know where the cave is.

cave-wonders

So, clocks changed, therefore not even a particularly early start.  I put on as many layers as I could whilst still retaining the ability to walk and do directional pointing.  It can get colder than you think standing around, and wandered down the road to the rendezvous point.   It was quite fun seeing the first road closed signs,   Also reassuring, I live in perpetual fear of getting the wrong day.  I don’t know why, maybe I’m panicked about this as part of my empathetic response to Cheetah Running Buddy who turned up a day late for the Flower and Produce show at her newly acquired allotment patch.  Beyond devastating, I shudder to think if someone as organised as she could make such a diary error, it could happen to any one of us!

It was easy to spot the volunteer assembly point due to the crush of people wearing hi-vis.  No-one looks nonchalant in hi-vis.  Everyone looks important.  The downside of this, was because everyone looked purposeful and in charge, it was a while before I could identify who actually was.  Also, there seemed to be the same muster point for volunteers of different origins.  Not that we didn’t all embrace the multiculturalism and work together, it’s just the allocation of correct t-shirts was a bit problematic.  I eventually, got to tick my name off a list, to meet other volunteers from Snowdrop.  I was offered a T-shirt, but they only had small, and my it was small, so I just stuffed it in my backpack along with my banana which I’d brought along as a snack for later, just in case.  Whilst we hung around waiting for others to appear there was a bit of small talk. We each got given a smallish mars bar.  It became apparent that there were a lot of no-shows.   Thirty-two volunteers were expected, only about 20 of us turned up. I was genuinely shocked.  Why would you be proactive enough to volunteer and then just not show on the day?  Communication had been really good in advance, lots of emails explaining expectations, where to meet and who to contact if any problems.  What’s more, my understanding was that charity partners have to provide x many volunteers, if they fail to do so, they can be charged, so no-shows might end up costing a small charity a not insignificant sum.

Our volunteer organiser was getting a bit twitchy.  We considered taking direct action to press-gang any passers-by and up the numbers.  One lost looking pair clutching a map were clearly looking for their volunteer point.  How we chortled in disbelief that they’d managed to miss us in all our hi-vis as they walked past heads down – we called them over… only to find they were actually en route to the water point further down the route.  Curses.  Time was ticking by.  ‘Has anyone marshaled before?’  Me and one other.  Owning up was a mistake, it meant extra responsibilities potentially, taking on the complexity of junction controls.  Fortunately, the first person was paired up with a woman who was previously a special constable with lots of traffic management experience therefore.  Just as well, since there seemed to be quite a lot of traffic heading down roads that were allegedly closed….  What bit of ‘Road Closed’ was ambiguous to road users I wonder?  Sensing I might actually be required to do something other than clap and point I asked for clarification on what to do if drivers ignored us. I’m glad I did.  The basic upshot is that you tell drivers the road is closed, it isn’t safe to proceed, as it’s an official closure this means if they chose to drive they are not insured to do so.  Be polite, but persist… but not to the point of personal risk obviously.  We all got given a nice lanyard with extra information too, emergency numbers, how to do CPR that kind of thing, though I was inclined to think that the chances of recovery for a runner wouldn’t be all that great if I was having to fumble for my glasses so I could read the instructions  prior to taking life-saving action of any kind.  Fingers crossed all would be well…  Shit selfie isn’t it?  Really must work on my technique for those – but it does capture the lanyard pretty well, and that is the educational point of including it.  You’re welcome.

great-lanyard

Having given up on the other volunteers, and time pressing on, we headed off to our designated spots.  I was amongst the first to be dropped off at the corner of graham Road.  I watched the other volunteers departing like an action shot from the men in black or something.   They marched onwards, fearless, focused, phenomenal!  (Clever with the alliteration there wouldn’t you say?)

marching-onwards

I had quite a big patch of road to watch, but  fortuitously there was a ‘proper’ traffic management guy at my junction.  Despite his alarmingly youthful looks, he did seem to have some experience, and shared with me stories of near miss traffic violations he’d witnessed in his time as event security personnel.    This turned out to be quite handy.  His advice was if you have a problem take a photo of any offending vehicle, and report immediately.  I admit now, I was listening with sort of absent-minded indulgence, it all sounded a bit unnecessarily officious to me, and quite unlikely that we would be at the front line of such altercations.  Unfortunately, not so irrelevant as I’d hoped and imagined.  His insights were in fact, much needed.

The first challenge was that a steady stream of vehicles kept heading up the ‘closed’ road towards us. This meant seemingly endless waving down of vehicles and hoiking the metal road blocks out of the way to get them off the course.  EAch driver insisted the police had directed them up, which was confusing.  It later emerged that this was precisely what was happening, some officers elsewhere on the course hadn’t known our road was shut too, and were intentionally diverting them along Riverdale Road towards us.  Not the best organisational start, but fortunately the problem was identified and nipped in the bud before any runners came round.

After I’d been in place about 15 minutes, another volunteer came sprinting back towards me. She’d been sent to help at this spot, thankfully, it definitely needed not only both of us, but a couple extra would have been good.  She also had some paper work that hadn’t been to hand before.  If you are thinking of volunteering, this is good to know. We got really clear briefing sheets showing where to stand, what to do, who to contact.  It had lots of easy to understand detail, right down to the use of a smiley face emoticon to help us with our appropriate facial expressions.    All very well organised.

We had not only the junction to contend with, we were also a ‘retiree collection point’, at which we sniggered more than was entirely appropriate.  You have to admit though, it does make it sound like you just round-up any random OAPs and kettle them in this one area for… well, I don’t know what exactly, some sort of despotic population control measure or other I imagine…

retirees-welcome

Once the flow of misdirected traffic was cut off, there was a pleasing lull before the tide of runners came into view.  I got chatting with my new BFF the second marshal. She was also a snowdrop volunteer, so we got chatting about why it was she and I had opted to volunteer through that route, as opposed to the more generic volunteer link on the 10k website.  It led to one of those unexpectedly profound conversations that you sometimes have with strangers where communication is accelerated by some coincidence.  I’ve had them on trains sometimes, or when traveling.  I think we covered bereavement; prostitution; sex tourism; paedophilia; criminal legislation; Brexit;  forthcoming American elections; The Jungle in Calais; immigration policy; rise of the far right; the power bestowed by a hi-vis; running injuries; UK foreign policy; experiences of living in other countries; the difficulties of language learning and how to get a job in export.  Usual stuff.  I don’t think it would be quite accurate to say we put the world to rights, because it is very much not to rights just now, but we had a go, and it is the thought that counts.  Apparently.

thought-that-counts

This was all quite fine and dandy. A few spectators drifted into view.  Nothing too demanding.  Eventually, the front of the race came into view, led on by a police motorcyclist with blue flashing lights (the bike not the police officer) and the three front-runners sped by.  This was the fun bit.  At first there was just a trickle of runners, the super fast leaders, but gradually the numbers grew, until it went from a trickle, to a stream, to a river to a great torrent of runners pounding by.  We clapped and cheered, and I looked out for familiar faces.  We also tried to spot Snowdrop runners, but honestly, their’s wasn’t the most eye-catching of T-shirts so only limited success.  I tried to cheer all the runners and running clubs I knew, plus, special cheers for my endurer dash buddy and for those who made an effort with fancy dress.  A cheer for the Strider pacers, a special shout to my Porter Plodder Personal Photographer, shouts of encouragement to Hallam parkun regulars and, of course, plenty of ‘go smiley’ shout outs for Smiley Paces runners too.  These photos are sourced from various Facebook pages and Ian Fearn from Race Image photography. Thanks all who shared them so generously.  Good to see the mandatory morris dancer made it round, and plenty of ‘digging deep’ facial expressions, the mark of the really hard-core runner, and not at all a cause for either concern or outside assistance.  Also, gurning whilst running is in fact evidence of an admirable ability to multi-task, so extra impressive.  Go all of you. Awesome efforts!

This is definitely the fun part of marshaling.  It was great clapping, cheering and watching the world go by. Kids offered high-fives, spectators cheered, fund-raisers rattled buckets.  I tried to take some Smiley snaps. You can’t help but notice I don’t quite have the gift with a camera that others can claim. Methinks, we are back to ‘it’s the thought that counts’ territory. What do you think?  I like to think I shouldn’t take it personally that most of my compatriot smileys are self-evidently doing their utmost to run away from me on sight.  It is my encouragement that helped them put on a turn of speed, not a desire to escape.  Likewise, those hand movements are cheery waves, not wild gesticulation urging me to go away in a ‘get thee behind me satan’ sort of impulse…

I did my best with the shout outs, but I realised at one point, too late, that I’d been doing the unforgivable thing of saying ‘all down hill from here‘ and then realised it wasn’t strictly true.   There was definitely at least one more biggish hill to tackle ahead.  I really hated it when people shouted that to me at the Sheffield Half – still, no runners were going to have the energy to come running back up and headbutt me were they?  Even if they wanted to, seeing the queue of angry car drivers waiting in line to have a pop at me they would have soon realised best to not jeopardise their finish times any more and just press on to the finish without delay.  Even so, I did edit my cheer to ‘downhill-ish, from here on‘ I like to think the runners would have appreciated that nod to accuracy.

Oh, have I not told you yet about the angry car drivers?  That wasn’t great to be honest.  It was really not great at all.

So, I’d fondly imagined that basically I’d be pointing, smiling, cheering and offering good-natured information to passers-by and other road users.  Most of it was like that to be fair, but not all.  It only takes a couple, but there were a couple of people who were deeply unpleasant and did take the shine off the day.  For example…

So the race is literally in full flow.  I am talking runners ten deep completely across the road, when I spotted a vehicle trying to sneak out along Graham Road.  Now fortunately, because it was so blooming obvious this was an unsafe manoeuvre, I behaved with uncharacteristic confidence, waving the vehicle to a halt, standing in front of it. The driver rolled down his window and was saying he only wanted to go a short way and I did my ‘I appreciate your frustration, but this road is closed, you can see an event is currently taking place, it is not safe for you to proceed, and further more if you choose to do so, your insurance is not valid‘ speech.  Now, this guy wasn’t directly rude, but he was pretty much laughing in my face, and shrugging in an ‘I’m going to completely ignore you anyway‘ sort of way.  So I repeated that it was unsafe to drive, there are children spectating  comments and added ‘you need to turn off your engine‘.  Which he did.  I walked back to my marshaling post, but did take a photo of his vehicle, which seemed paranoid, but I’m glad I did, it was needed later.

I’m glad, because no sooner was I in position, than another driver, who was very tall, and very angry, came over – on foot – and was towering over me remonstrating at the situation ‘who is in charge‘, ‘this is outrageous‘, ‘down with this sort of thing‘.  He was feeling trapped, as he couldn’t get his vehicle out of a side road.  He was claiming as he’d been away he didn’t know about the road closures etc, all of which may well be true, but I fail to see how he thought by being abusive and angry at me this would improve things.  Another marshal had already phoned our volunteer co-ordinator to see if she could come and escort  him out, and there really was precisely zero I could do.  As we were ‘talking’ by which I mean, he was shouting at me and I was feeling sad, there was a sudden screech of wheels, and the other driver, seeing his moment, started his engine, and sped round the corner causing spectators to gasp and jump aside and narrowly missing running over our poor events management guy with his road closed sign.  Hence, I was glad I’d already got his number plate recorded.  I ran to take another photo just in case, and as I did so, I heard behind me the other driver saying with not a hint of irony, the very person who seconds before had been remonstrating with me because we wouldn’t let him drive said ‘well, that was dangerous and uncalled for!’ Weirdly, I think witnessing this episode of clearly dangerous driving shocked him out of his immediate complaint.  It did illustrate just how risky it was to try to drive through the middle of the run. It might be a temporary inconvenience, but was it really worth risking running someone over for?  Tall man disappeared back to his vehicle, I checked on our road marshal.  He was fine, fortunately, having jumped aside and busy reporting the incident to both his supervisor and the police – aided by my having the number plate on film.  I doubt they will take any action, but they should really, it was so unnecessary.  I wouldn’t have felt so strongly if he’d snuck out at a snail’s pace, but he skidded round the corner.  Do people not realise that a car hitting a person is a lethal weapon?  No, I’m not being melodramatic, there were spectators as well as marshals and runners, and nobody is looking out for moving vehicles on a road that is officially closed.  The official term for drivers in such circumstances is not repeatable here.

The only good thing was that a number of spectators who witnessed it were supportive and offered to be witnesses etc.  Plus it got tall angry man off my back, but it wasn’t at all what I’d expected to happen whilst marshaling, and if my previous experience is anything to go by, not typical by any means.  Me and my fellow marshal got together for an impromptu debrief along the lines of ‘what was he thinking?’ and ‘that was outrageous‘ which didn’t change the situation but did make me feel better.

On a cheerier note though, let’s be grateful for the happy moments of the day. This interaction between the spectators and the runners for example  Aaaaah.  Good example of small child vulnerability as well.   And the battle ready runner too, could have done with his help now I come to think of it, were he not otherwise engaged….  You wouldn’t mess with a gladiator now would you, no matter how great your sense of entitlement?

There was also the team that came prepared for a triathlon – well you can’t be too careful, and there is talk of making Endcliffe Park into a pooling area for flood water, so possibly wise to plan ahead.  I don’t like to comment on other people’s running technique generally, as who I am to judge, but I couldn’t help thinking they’d not really made it easy for themselves there, and wriggling out of those morph suits would really hamper you when attempting your precautionary pee, surely?  Still, made me smile, which is the main thing.  I am increasingly of the view that all running events in the Sheffield calendar have been put on for my personal amusement.  This is a good thing.

be-prepared

In other celebrity sightings, there was our very own Sheffield Macmillan Man.  Our local hero, he is ceaseless in his fund-raising quest, coming round towards the back in his distinctive green wig – a look not everyone can carry off to be honest, but one he sports with gusto, verve and real style!

A special cheer should go to the final finisher of the day.  Well I say final finisher, strictly speaking as we were only just after the half-way point it is potentially possible,  that she might have put a wiggle on and made up some ground.  There was, to be fair, still the opportunity to go for a sprint finish and wielding the power of a negative split do some overtaking…  Anyway, she  was AWESOME.  Properly smiley and making the most of it.  Good for her.  I’ve been last enough times to celebrate the importance of that key role.  She was great.  She had an impressive cloud of support vehicles around her, bit like a celebrity who can’t venture out without a series of minders, or when politicians go for a run and they have to be followed by men in black cruising behind in their 4 by 4 dark-windowed vehicles and flanked by weapon carrying security guards looking mean.  Their dark glasses perhaps hiding their slightly pissed off expressions at being made to go for a run in a public place which is  a body guard’s ultimate nightmare.  She was working it.  Go her.  Thanks for the thumbs up.

So towards the end of the race, I was quite relieved the end was in sight, I’d had enough of being on the receiving end of angry remonstrating for one morning.  The runners were coming in dribs and drabs at the back, and the spectators were drifting away too. To be honest, in some ways this was the worst time for traffic as impatient drivers wanted to get going, but runners coming one by one with a runners haze surrounding them were more vulnerable than the runners en masse like a great mammalian migration.

Me and my companion marshal shared a giggle at how the morning had gone.  It was a way to relieve the tension.  It had been more stressful than anticipated.   As we did so, we found ourselves witnessing yet another angry altercation in progress.  A guy in a royal blue car shouting out of his window with an aggressively officious manner to an approaching police officer on his motor bike ‘I want to talk to you!’ (He didn’t want to talk to anyone, he wanted to shout at everyone, so he wasn’t even telling the truth!).  He’d apparently tired of giving grief to the poor marshals who had the unenviable task of trying to prevent him from driving down the race route whilst the run was still in full flow, and now had set his sights on higher prey.  Me and my marshaling buddy did that really juvenile thing of sniggering together like you do in school when another classmate is in trouble, and it isn’t that you wish them to be as such, but you are just so grateful that you yourself are not in the firing line at the moment of time you can’t help but giggle with relief.  This motorist was shouting aggressively and clearly not in a mood to be reasoned with.  After some animated repostes from him (except that repostes are supposed to be quick-witted and smart, whereas I suspect he was neither) he too sped away, passing us… as he did so, we caught sight of him ….  No mistake, he was wearing a dog collar!  We both exchanged a look and fell about laughing, his manner was so at odds with what I would imagine to be the more obviously desirable attributes of his profession.  You had to laugh.

We laughed less though when we later on got the full story of what had happened from the marshal who had been directly in his firing line.  It seems that, faced with the reality of the blocked road, and frustrated in his quest to get to church, he not only was unhelpfully angry – note to drivers, being horrible to a volunteer marshal will not magically cause a closed road to open – but also chose to underline his fury by raving ‘they wouldn’t have an event and close a road on a Friday afternoon when Muslims are wanting to go and pray‘!  It was jaw dropping to hear this. Quite apart from being errant nonsense – there are  many reasons why races and other events are not organised on a Friday and they have precisely zero to do with taking account any potential inconvenience to any particular faith community.  Furthermore his dubious belief structure had absolutely nothing to do with the situation in question, he might as well have blusteringly proclaimed ‘the earth is flat you know‘ in an attempt to move things on in a constructive way. Besides, holding this race on a Sunday was not a conspiracy directed personally against him, tempting though that idea might be in future years…  He was also demonstrating an arrogant and breath-taking disregard for the lived experiences of other faiths.  Like maybe, oh I don’t know, say Friday being considered a ‘normal working day’ might potentially be a bit more inconvenient when it comes to religious observance  than any organised community event you might care to conjure.  Worst of all, whilst of course anyone can be legitimately angry if they find themself caught up in an unexpected road block, what dark undercurrent of racist beliefs do you  have to hold that your knee jerk response to this is to hit out at other faiths.  And how pitiful are your negotiation skills if your response to this situation is further to shout at volunteers rather than seek some compromise.  I wonder if when he turned up at his church and was preaching his sermon to his congregation later on, they could see the  hypocrisy oozing from his pores?  Or would he be utterly shameless in peddling his offensive rhetoric and signing his ‘faithful’ up to the next Britain First rally in the neighbourhood?  Later on shaking hands with the departing faithful repeating his offensive and paranoid line on Muslims to exiting church-goers nodding in agreement?  It makes me shudder, it really does.   Even though earlier the speeding driver behaved in a way that endangered runners and pedestrians, it is the racist, ranting vicar / priest whose behaviour most appalled me.  That even wearing his dog collar he felt completely comfortable expressing such views and treating volunteers with utter contempt.  Where are his priorities?  There were 3282 runners (Sheffield 2016 10k results here if you care about that sort of thing) taking part, many for charity (and I get that supporting charities is complicated, but I’d still rather be counted with those that support than those that do not on the whole).  Then the organisers, spectators, many of both participants and supporters having their own personal stories as their motivation to run or support the day.  Yet he saw this community, collective endeavour, and apparently felt nothing but indignation and hate.  He could have had a good day, he could have shared the joy, but no.  Not a happy bunny.  Maybe his dog-collar causes chafing?   I really hope so. 🙂

run-for-all-be-inspired

The final finisher having passed us, then there was another flurry of activity as various support vehicles rolled into place and more cones were set up, and the clean up began.  Me and my marshal buddy looked on with the kind of enthusiasm for admiring trucks that is normally the domain exclusively of small children seeing their first tractor.  One of the great things about volunteering (I think) is that you see things in a new light and from a fresh perspective.  I don’t normally spend a lot of time appreciatively watching trucks laden with traffic control paraphernalia, and I’ve been missing out.  Look, it’s marvelous!

exciting-traffic-control-truck

We concluded our cheery chat swapping undertaker tales.  Not the usual ice breakers perhaps, but apt for Halloween arguably, and anyway, I love the random conversations you can have with people you are unlikely to meet again.  It’s a  licence sometimes to dig deep and grow, in a rather splendid way.

The race concluded, we hovered for a bit before we were scooped up by our volunteer co-ordinator.  She was puffing her way up the hill, which she’d had cause to pedal up and down on her bike a squillion times during the course of the event.   I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps for her the novelty of this journey had worn off quite early on.  It must have done, as weirdly, she didn’t laugh all that loudly when i pointed down the hill behind her saying ‘ooh, I think you’ve dropped something important back there down the bottom of the hill...’ as one of my more original and spontaneous quips.

Back at the support vehicle, we were then offered some luminous Asda sponsored volunteering T-shirts.  I took one.  Why not?  Apart from the deeply unflattering hue, it’s a souvenir of sorts.  Plus, it enables you to occupy the moral high ground next time you are doing parkrun or whatever…. though whether that is worth the risk of being seen wearing luminous yellow I’m not entirely sure.

We filled in some incident report and swapped emails ‘just in case’ though there wasn’t any incident follow-up that involved me.   We swapped stories about being berated by the public before we were encouraged to volunteer again next year. Some laughs, not the best timing perhaps to ask about that one amongst us ventured, given how things had unfolded.  However, the weird thing is, we sort of bonded in adversity.  I feel we did get a rough deal from some people, but that was a minority.   A really small minority.  Most people were great.  The runners were fab, the spectators encouraging, the volunteer team awesome of course.  It was still good fun, nobody died (miraculously), and the shared experience was memorable, it was an adventure, and it felt worthwhile, there was an anecdote in it, plus a free mars bar.  What’s not to like.  I was pleased I’d taken part in some way, even though I couldn’t run.  It was great to be there at the inaugural event, and although there were hiccups, it was all fine, all’s well that end’s well as the saying goes.

Next day, I remembered the bananas I’d popped in my rucksack as an emergency snack and retrieved them.  Too late, everything that had come into contact with them (spare clothing, the rucksack itself, my scarf and special woollen hat) now smells faintly (and unpleasantly) of banana.  Note to self.  Bananas are not great as portable snacks unless you fully intend to consume them at the occassion in question, potassium rich or not.  Learn from me folks, learn from me.  Volunteer by all means, but keep your bananas safely contained to avoid cross contamination with clothing that will persist longer than seems possible.

And finally, your inspirational saying of the day, which I did all by myself using  add text, a.maz.ing.

There is a story behind this, but I can’t be bothered to share.  May it speak for myself.  The words are those of a PhD student of philosophy.  ‘Existentially not so much‘ is to be my strapline of choice in future.   You heard it hear first.

existentially-not-so-much

So who’s up for volunteering same time next year?  Of indeed any one of the multitude of events that take place in between?

Sign up here with Run For All – or check with your local charity.  It could be you looking busy and important and rocking the hi-vis tabard.  You know you want to.

Categories: 10km, race, road, running | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Wanton Wobbling at Wingerworth, 2016

This is a long one.  Carry on at your own risk.

The Unique Selling Point (USP) of this cracking trail race, is the little known detail that it is the only event I know of, where there is a  complementary post-race shoe cleaning service available for those brazen enough to avail themselves of it.  Just another example of the friendly welcome the kind Wobblers of Wingerworth extend to runners at this their annual 4.5 mile (mostly) off-road running event.  Below are some sample WWs (not to be confused with VWs) so you can see just how welcoming and approachable they look, whether that is acting as officials, marshals or finish funnel cheerers. Aren’t they quite lovely, a welcome addition to any home and an asset to any running community!

So, for those of you not yet in the  know, The Wingerworth Wobblers are a friendly running club who fortuitously ended up located in a picturesque village of North East Derbyshire with which, by some extraordinary quirk of fate, they happened to share a name!  I know, what were the chances? It is sad but true to note, had they rocked up almost anywhere else, their choice of name may conceivably have raised an eyebrow amongst people possessed of the single-eyebrow-raising superpower.   As it is, the good people of Wingerworth find the running club’s nomenclature completely unremarkable. The Wingerworth Wobblers have their own website, but their Wingerworth Wobble Facebook page is also loads of fun with responsive posters to correspond with if you are feeling lonely  and/or bored and in need of a friend.  I’m sure they only blocked me due to an administrative error.

Anyways, they lay on an annual trail race, which this year took place on Saturday 15th October, the entry website blah de blah is as follows:

The Wingerworth Wobble is a 4.5-mile (approx) mixed-terrain, undulating trail race in picturesque countryside around the village of Wingerworth, near Chesterfield, Derbyshire. The event is friendly, well Marshaled and signposted with water points halfway and at the finish. Race HQ has full toilet facilities and provides reasonably priced hot food and drinks for runners, their family and spectators. There are medals for all entrants as well as category prizes/trophies

The Club took a bit of a risk holding this event on this particular date, because it clashed with so many other celebratory days of worldwide importance.  I probably don’t need to tell you it was also World Student DayChicken Cacciatore day (no interest to me as I’m vegetarian); White Cane Safety Day (perhaps not their target audience to be fair); World Maths Day; Bridge Day (though more specifically BASE jumping, rather than celebrating bridges which would be a disappointment to Isambard Kingdom Brunel if he wasn’t already a bit disappointed by being dead), and also the Sweetest Day.  If you have never heard of any of these important days before, fret not, it’s probably indicative of how you are so totally absorbed with your running you have lost contact with the outside world around you. To be honest, aside from these celebratory days, the outside world is all pretty grim right now, so I’d stay in your own bubble for as long as you can hold out for you have the option…

As it happens, the Wingerworth Wobblers’ confidence was well placed.  It seems the great and the good (er hem) were all happy to forego the festivities of World Maths Day in favour of the Wingerworth Wobble.  Even base jumping held little allure. Why do those things when you could be wobbling across a field instead?  I’m not saying which photo below was taken where.  But the clue is, there is an (optional) river crossing at the Wobble.  That river may or may not feature in the shots below.

Also, we were promised MEDALS, and insider information meant that some of us knew to also expect a RAFFLE.  Only a bathing in a whole bath tub of Ferrero Rocher could be more indulgent.

Now, I’m not one to brag, but I’d actually done the Wingerworth Wobble in 2015, so was well placed to dish out advice to newbie participants, generalising from my one-off attendance.  I’d had a couple of minor hiccups last time round, so this time I set myself so new objectives.  I’ve had a whole year’s running experience since WW2015 so this time I went for three:

  1. Don’t get lost
  2. Get back before the tail marker
  3. Improve on last year’s time

Last year I succeeded in meeting zero of my objectives, so these aspirations were ambitious.  But on the plus side last year I did achieve two impossible things in one day (see objectives one and two, both thought to be impossible), so never say never.  Plus, my regular reader will know I’ve had a bit of a run of unlikely happenings… and, without wishing to give too much away, as a little teaser for you I can reveal that this event poured yet more blessings upon me, but more of them later.

So, what you need to know, is that I’d been looking forward to this event for ages.  Hobbit Buddy and I had long schemed to do this run together, seeing it as a good opportunity for a romp out with Ginger and Roger, who haven’t been out in action as a pair since the Round Sheffield Run which was ages and ages ago.  I figured that it would be an appropriate occasion for them to make an appearance as last year was blessed with not just fancy dress runners but celebrity participants too (Miss Piggy AND Kermit no less), I thought Ginger and Roger would fit right in.  Adding to the build up and sense of occasion, this was also one of the race events in the Smiley Champs season so there would be a good turn out of Smiley Paces Compatriots, and so a heightened possibility of potentially being able to parasitize a lift with one of them too.  I wasn’t over-confident about this, as not everyone is keen on transporting horses, so in the end hobbit and I just cadge a lift by responding to a post on Facebook and ever-so slightly didn’t mention the horses as such.  Well, it had been sort of inferred earlier, what with the promise of another friendly feeder Smiley to bring some oats along for them specially.

We synchronised watches, and because nobody else in the whole world departs for race events as early as I do, Hobbit Buddy and I got a longer lie in than if I’d been driving and rendezvoused outside my house at 9.03, in order to facilitate some pre-event photo opportunities.  Only one of these was really successful, but it is a fine shot nevertheless.  You can see hobbit buddy is having a near spiritual experience at the very thought of the run that is ahead of her.  And quite right too, running should be like that!   She also seems to be at one in perfect harmony with her steed Ginger, so that was also a good start to the day.

dscf0679

Whilst we had a lie in, I’m pleased to report that the Wingerworth Wobble Crack Team were up pre-dawn to do the pre-race prep.  I’m sure that seeing the sun rise was more than enough recompense for that early start, but just in case not, can we take a moment to thank the Race Team, unsung superstars for their labours not only on the day but in the run up and wind down of the event too!

OK, that’s enough clapping for now, back to the main event.

So, Hobbit Buddy and I were standing on pavement, with Ginger and Roger, staring excitedly down the road, when a shout came from a car that had parked up in completely the opposite direction.  Our transport awaited us.  Yay.

We excitedly clip-clopped across the road and piled in.  ‘I didn’t know it was fancy dress!’ exclaimed our designated driver (which is why I’ve adorned her comment with an exclamation mark).  ‘Did you not get the memo about the mandatory equine themed fancy dress requirement?’ we (hilariously) queried.  We kept that ruse going for about a millisecond, but it was fun whilst it lasted.  Hobbit Buddy and I are extremely good at making our own entertainment.  We were now REALLY excited, it was a bit like going off on holiday.  Leaving the bright city lights of Sheffield to head to the rural surrounds of NE Derbyshire.  It just so happened that our route took us past Sheffield Hallam parkrun, and the lead runners were just flying down Rustlings Road as we drove past.  It was really fun watching them from the back of a car.  First time I’ve ever over-taken any of that lot, and you see it in a different way.  It took me a while to think to take any photos and they aren’t great, but you get the idea. (FYI the crap photos on this post are all mine, the finish shots are mainly the work of the talented Mr David Carr – also run support team – and woodland shots are courtesy of the accomplished Eleanor Scriven, thanks to both for letting me ruthlessly exploit the fruit of their labours in order to make all the words in this account near tolerable to readers).  So parkrun looked like this to me:

I think George and his nominated stand-in are safe from my encroaching on their parkrun picture territory for now.

So, we made it to our destination with only a minor navigational lapse.  And soon we were parked up (on the verge outside) Deer Park Primary, the rendezvous for registration.  It was really exciting.  Other runners were pouring out of their vehicles or striding down the street towards the registration hall.  ‘Caution Runners’ signs and similar were in evidence.  Bring. The Wobble. On!

There was also a sign – which will be important to note for later – advising as to positioning of muddy trainers:

We made our way into the hall which was already a-buzz with happy and expectant runners in general and Smiling Smilies in particular.  We did some meet and great. In particular, it was grand to see that one Smiley faithful delivered on her promise to bring oats for Ginger and Roger.  This was a little bit awkward to be honest.  It was really generous of her to have brought this along, but she’s clearly not really an equine expert, as she offered them the oats straight off.  I didn’t want to be rude, but I was terribly worried if they gorged on oats immediately before the race they’d get colic half way round.  Way better to let them enjoy them afterwards, once they’d cooled off.  Anyway, the compromise was a bit of a taster from the nose bag, and then save the rest for later.  I think animal welfare was observed whilst showing sufficient gratitude for such a supportive act.  Hope so anyway…

So, once we’d said a few hellos, we got on with the important business of registration.  Hobbit buddy registered with few problems, but I got a more officious steward.  He cautioned me about the number of bridleways en route, and I think, between you and me, he was a bit dubious about whether or not, strictly speaking Roger was allowed.  There is/ was nothing in the rules I was sure.  Also, without wishing to diss dear Roger and Ginger, given the leg-length issue as evidenced in the pre-race photos, I’m not absolutely sure that we had a competitive advantage on the way round, though there may have been a psychological boon. Watching Roger’s head bob up and down in front of me as I run is strangely comforting, and companionable on those long and lonely trains where there is not another runner in sight.  Anyway, to be on the safe side, once we’d been ticked off the list, and allocated a number, he took a photo of us both for identification purposes in case of later trouble.  I haven’t been required to pose for a mug shot in such a way since I was an extra in an advert for a ‘worldwide sportswear brand’ filmed at Rotherham New York Stadium.  The brand in question insisted on taking a photo of each of us individually, holding a copy of our signed global non-disclosure agreement. To this day I’ve been unable to tell anyone about what unfolded before us on that day.  The mystery of this I will take to my grave.  I don’t have copy of the latter shot – even that was top-secret I daresay.  I do have a copy of the former though.  We don’t look like trouble makers particularly do we?  Oooh, what’s that number Roger and I are sporting?  Forty-one, well, well.  More of this later…

roger-and-ginger-checking-out-our-numbers

A bit more loitering and interacting took place pre start. Nothing that couldn’t be paused for a Club photo of us all together.  Check out the Smiley Race Director looking busy and important with a clipboard, but still making time to hang out with us mere mortals on the day.

roger-and-ginger-centre-stage

As well as posing for the above (approximately whole) group shot, incorporating obligatory mysterious background figure (great stealth photo-bombing in action methinks).   Not sure if he was quite expecting to be outed with the close up though – cheers Mr Carr, excellent detective work.  In fact, let the records show there was a pincer sleuthing movement by the event photographers, with the stunt gurner ultimately identified by one of the Scriven Siblings.  Just shows, we Smileys have our spies everywhere.  You have been warned…

dc-photobomb-stalker-shot

Other activities included:

  1. Checking out the raffle prizes (rumour was first prize was a trip on Concorde, but I that can’t have been an actual flight as it’s now grounded, so I presume it would be a tow, just as much fun and more environmentally friendly too)
  2. Trying not to be phased by the elephants in the room
  3. Failing to browse pre-race information (course map etc)
  4. Vaguely wondering where all the fancy dress/ celebrity runners were
  5. Noticing poster giving current course records, I can but dream, not to worry, we all just run our own race in our own way at the end of the day…
  6. Me experiencing ‘survivor guilt’ for having got lucky in the London Marathon ballot when other more worthy runners have not.  I will give it my best shot, but the arbitrariness of it all is hard to take.  Even harder for those that are unlucky.
  7. Posing for pre-race picture (note, finding Smiley’s is like herding cats, just could not get them all together in one place, but below is the best shot attempt)
  8. General Smiley spotting, aided by sporting of Smiley related kit on this occasion, none of the underhand disguising as in evidence at the TenTenTen last week
  9. Pondering strategy and racecraft – discussions between elite Smilies focused on their endgames
  10. Hilarious conversation with our transport manager who was explaining where her car keys were if I got back before her and needed to get into it for some reason.  Hilarious, because I engaged in this with all seriousness before it dawned on me that this would only come to pass if she was shot by a sniper on the way round.  Unlikely therefore, on balance.  I mean, vandals laying a false trail on the course is one thing, taking pot shots at runners is another league of disruption all together.
  11. Hoping Hobbit Buddy wouldn’t come to realise we were the only two in fancy dress
  12. Trying to convince Hobbit Buddy that honestly, last year there were loads of fun runners…
  13. Trying to further convince Hobbit Buddy that besides, Roger and Ginger were just blending into the background perfectly, no cause for alarm.

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It’s amazing how completely absorbing faffing can be.  What with all that and the necessary (for me two) precautionary pees, the time sped by. There was one somewhat unfortunate aspect to the faffing.  One of the events team (also photographer extraordinaire) stopped by to be social, and give us a bit of insider info on what to expect on the course.  Unfortunately, he unwittingly identified too possible-but-unlikely hazards in the form of cows with calves and a Doberman on a chain, both of which we might potentially pass en route.  The problem being, this represented a perfect storm for Hobbit Buddy, representing the manifestation of her twin off-road running phobias.  I swear she went white.  I tried to be reassuring ‘last year we were warned about wasps and there weren’t any, and a bull, and that never materialise, it’ll be fine, these are precautionary, hypothetical warnings not a serious cause for concern.’  Dear Reader, Hobbit Buddy was less than impressed.  She actually went a lighter shade of pale than I’ve previously witnessed.  She was however in sufficient possession of her faculties to utter the accusatory line along the lines of ‘you are saying it’ll be fine, but you also said there’d be lots of people in fancy dress‘.  Touché.  In the end, we came up with a contingency plan.  We have negotiated all these hazards together before.  If she is ahead of me, other runners will surround her, if she ends up on her own, then wait for me, and I will personally accompany her through.

Then a cry went up, and the Exceptionally competent, glamorous, friendly and accomplished race director and her glamorous sidekick called us all to order.  We were encouraged to make our way to the start.  There were some arrows, but we all just followed someone in high vis who appeared to know what they were doing.  This strategy isn’t fool-proof (I once accidentally ended up amongst the delegates for a pharmaceutical conference using this technique) but on this occasion was successful

to-the-start

Huddled at the start line, a whoop of recognition went up, and operating on strictly just-in-time principles, Fell Running Smiley appeared on the scene. Yay.  There was a swift briefing: ‘take care out there, it’s muddy and slippy in places‘; ‘cut off is one hour‘ but ‘you’ll all be fine‘; ‘no sloping off as a DNF without letting a marshal know‘; ‘there is a tail runner so you are not alone‘..  and then, right on cue, we were awf…

One small advantage of having run this course before, was that whilst I didn’t actually remember it in great detail, I did recall that you start with a (to me) relatively steep uphill climb.  You go through some grand gates, along a track past a small lake/large pond and then, rather bizarrely as well, emerge to take on the next bit along tarmaced roads and through a housing estate of sorts.  This section seems a bit incongruous for a trail race, but isn’t too long.  On this occasion, we had the added obstacle of negotiating some road works, so had to sprint by some rather bemused looking, but encouraging work men, who took a break from digging up the road to cheer us past.  They did look a bit surprised to see us, but not as surprised as some squat boxer/pug type dogs we passed later on, who veered away from us, staring at Ginger and Roger with real suspicious.   Hobbit Buddy and I began by running together.  At the top of this first steep climb, was a hi-viz marshal who did really excellent directional pointing to send us off down a right hand turn and towards more traditional trail running territory.

We trotted along, horseying around and exchanged some pony puns that we personally found very entertaining but possibly aren’t objectively funny enough to repeat here. Neigh, neigh, wouldn’t want to de-stable-ise you with laughter.  However, I can’t talk and run, and Hobbit Buddy in fact has a turbo-thrust super-charge mode that she employs in race situations, whereas I really and truly only operate in one speed.  Therefore, soon enough she pulled ahead, with a promise to wait if she needed help negotiating any scary obstacles that might lie in wait.  I was towards the back and not actually at the back this time, so that was a pleasant change from my normal fell-running experiences.  Contrary to what you might think and what Hobbit Buddy asked me when I got back, I did not stop on the way round to take photos.  Had I done so though, they may have looked a bit like these.  The pics that follow were gleaned from the Wingerworth Wobble Facebook Page and taken the day before so give you the gist.  You will, like me, be delighted to note that the organisers had even thought to provide some extra ponies along the way to cheer on Roger and Ginger as they passed.  They thought of everything.  Attention to detail.  I like that.

The photos are all well and good, but somehow manage to make it look as if the entire course was completely flat.  It was not.  Just saying.

My race chronology is a bit vague.  It’s all a bit of a blur, not so much because of the speed with which I was running, more to do with how light-headed and breathless I got on the way round.  Them hills you see, them there hills.  Hence, some of the anecdotes that follow will be out of sequence oh well, sue me*.  If you are interested, Strava says the course is this.  It’s not my Strava unfortunately, that was too humiliating, I’ve nabbed Smiley Elder Super Geek’s one, which is way more impressive. And no, since you are asking, this isn’t in anyway duplicitous, it is actually a tribute and a compliment to the great Smiley Elder to wish to emulate her in this way and in no way an attempt to mislead.  Is it my fault that some people just scroll through to the photos and never read the explanatory text alongside for context?  No it’s not.

ww-strava-not-mine-unfortunately

So you run (or trot, or gallop or pootle, depending on the extent of your personal athletic prowess) and the way is lined with a combination of smiling marshals, luminous posters and the de rigour jaunty red and white tape.  The reasonably flat section includes a stream crossing, but it’s early on, and to be honest I took advantage of the little bridge alongside to traverse it. Didn’t want to get my feet drenched quite so early on.  Then, after a bit, you get onto some fields, then there is a long haul.  First of all you have woods alongside, to be fair it was quite pretty.  The fields were nothing like as muddy as last year, and I managed to maintain something of a yomp.  Last year it was literal as well as metaphorical ‘feet of clay’ so no-one was running anywhere.  The gradient was tough, I nursed black thoughts about how the hell I’m ever going to be fit enough to even attempt to run a marathon if I can’t drag my weary carcass up even these – by Sheffield standards at least – relatively modest inclines.   Mostly, just as I was losing heart, a cheery marshal would appear.  This did help with motivation as not only do they offer verbal encouragement, I don’t like to be caught slacking, so whenever I espied one ahead I put on a bit of a show to demonstrate in no uncertain times that I wasn’t only running now, but I’d most definitely been running continuously a great deal before hand  and would continue to do so until stopped by death.  Like the story of The Red Shoes, except I think then the poor girl in question was cursed to dance on even after death, which seems a little extreme even by the most exacting of running club standards.

I really liked the little Health and Safety notices ‘slippery ahead‘, ‘warning mud‘ that welcomed you into the woodland.  I myself am of course very compliant with such directives, any excuse to catch my breath with a bit of a brake on my otherwise supersonic speeds/  However I heard it reported that at least one Smiley took advantage of other runners slowing out of respect for the terrain to try to overtake.  She came a cropper I understand, but survived to tell the tale.  I’m not saying who it was out of respect for those involved.  She is an awesome runner, but they remain so super-competitive these Clucky Ducks**.  Get well soon, hope the mud washes out of your bits and bobs eventually.  I was more confused by the sign that said ‘water ahead‘ because I didn’t remember there being any waterfalls, river crossings or arctic enema on the course last time round.  But then again, OCRs are getting more and more popular, perhaps these Wingerworth Wobblers have decided to stir things up a bit?  AFter all, they did go to all that trouble to incorporate personalised bespoke multiple river crossings for me last year.  Maybe they were just being even more ambitious and even more secretive this time round?  Still, no time to dwell on it, as EMERGENCY photographer ahead.  (Why don’t they put up warning signs for that, way more useful).  I could see her from afar, which was good, because lots of time to (attempt to) perfect my pose and running gait, but not so good as it was a long way to sprint.  Still, I can report she managed to snap some fine action shots.  Not only of Roger and me, but, believe it or not other Smilies AND other competitors and participants too.  (I tend to think of myself more as a participant than a competitor to be honest, no shame in that.. Is there?)

Oh, and I don’t want any wise-cracks along the lines of – ‘How come you are running in the dark in one of them – did you not finish until the middle of the night!?’  Because actually, I was within the cut-off time.  The Black and White shot is just artistic interpretation courtesy of Eleanor Scriven. Now, bit of explanation here.  It is confusing, because ‘usually’ (though not at the Stanage Struggle either this year) it is Robert Scriven who is the snap-happy photographer lurking in the undergrowth.  He most definitely jumped out from behind a tree in the Wingerworth Wobble Wood last year.   However, as I understand it, he’s been cloned or something, or they have used some sort of cell generation technique to generate a twin.  I’m saying twin, but that might not be strictly accurate, sibling at least.   I don’t know if they are identical because I’ve never seen them side by side.  It can’t be like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde though – you know, both different sides of the same person, because it seems they can co-exist simultaneously in time and space, whereas Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde could not.   The proof is here look.

es-secret-sibling-shot

Spookily, Eleanor Scriven has photographed Robert Scriven demonstrating they were in the same place (near as dammit) at the same time.  Though I suppose he might have used a timer to put us off the scent.  I still don’t think so, as both the able photographing Scriven Siblings or Snapping Scriven Siblings as I’ve decided I’d like to call them seem to be (outwardly at least) very nice and obliging. This is not consistent with the Jekyll and Hyde documentary, which if you recall, showed one of them to be really horrid and one to be really nice.  I can never remember which was which though.  Fortunately, we don’t need to be able to differentiate between these two photographers on safety grounds, we can just be grateful for their labours.  Thank you both. Eleanor for today at the Wobble, and Robert for last year’s Wobble and both of you for other runs near and far.   Your efforts are appreciated.  If, dear reader, by some extraordinary lapse of faith,  you don’t trust my judgement and want to check out all the Scriven Wingerworth Wobble 2016 shots follow this link.  So, hope we’ve cleared all that up.  Thanks both for the use of your photos 🙂

After the exhaustion of being photographed in the woods, and having to look enthusiastic and energetic, I emerge from the woods at what was pretty much the half way point, where there was a welcome water station and some very friendly marshals, being supervised by a small but helpful child who was placing plastic cups of water in line for runners as they came through.  . They informed me I was the second pony through so that was handy.  I did pause to drink my water.  I have learned now that if I gulp and keep running, I just get hiccups and feel the liquid sloshing about.  I probably should learn to sip, or trust myself not to drink if it’s just a 10k.  Oh well.

The next bit was  a good run downhill, on a country lane, there wasn’t any traffic beyond the actual marshalling vehicle.  It was a bit further than I remembered, and I did wonder at one point if I’d missed the turn off to the right.  I passed the field with the Shetland ponies in, that was nice.  At the bottom of the hill was a support vehicle which quite literally was bedecked with flashing lights, so you really couldn’t miss the turn, I’d just lost my nerve.  A marshal cheered me on, and I turned off the road, down a farm track of sorts.  There, just before some rather grand stone pillars, a lone marshal stood on a grassy bank, pointing towards a style into some more open fields.  He was friendly too, must have been a bit lonely there, and presumably the speed I was going he’d been hanging around for a while what with the gap between me and the runners ahead.  Anyway, he did warn me the style was pretty slippery, as indeed it was, so I negotiated it with caution.

Into the cattle fields. Cattle had left evidence of their recent habitation, but I couldn’t see any in the field.  I wasn’t worried about me, but I was a bit nervous for Hobbit Buddy. What would she do were she to encounter her nemesis?  This bit of the run was basically a straight line through the middle of a series of cattle pasture fields.  There were styles to be negotiated at intervals, some on the narrow side but Roger made it through OK.  There was one section here where I did nearly go wrong.  Now I’ve done the run, it’s obvious you do just follow your nose.  However, at one of the walls I went through there was a farm directly ahead and it was unclear if you went ahead past the large feeder (which is what you actually did) which looked like a dead-end, or veered off downhill to the right where a footpath sign was pointing.  I came to a halt, and cautiously went ahead.  There weren’t any more flags in sight, but eventually I spotted a flash of green hi-vis in the distance and figured I was on the right track.  Then just as I’d lost hope again there was another bit of tape and I ran on with a bit more confidence.

There was another bit of a turn down a road, where a handily marshal was placed to make sure we didn’t go wrong.  He jovially said to me ‘now look out for the horses coming the other way won’t you?‘  I chortled appreciatively, turned the corner and saw: two horses coming the other way!  I must have a slightly narcissistic personality type, I just assumed he was saying this to humour me, I was a bit surprised to see actual equines.  They were nice horses, one was in fact an icelandic pony, not a highland as I originally thought.  (I know because I asked).  One of the riders said to me – with not a hint of irony ‘what are you doing with a horse?’ which given her own equine friend I thought a bit of a cheek, though it wasn’t unfriendly as such.  We exchanged pleasantries, and I ran on.

I was relieved to see the next marshal who was on a short stretch of road, as I knew then that I’d both nearly finished and not gone wrong (though still time for that of course)! You head off down the road, and then I saw another marshal acting very suspiciously, lurking in a hedge and I would happily have sworn he was taking down the big orange arrow sign.  What was this?  A false trail being set just for me all over again?  Despite my suspicions, his broad smile reassured me and he waved me … well, basically into someone’s back garden!  It was very strange, but hey ho – others had clearly been this way before. A little bridge, a style, a wooded area a BIG SIGN complaining about dog s*&t deposits (not in that language but the meaning was very clear).  Then, very suddenly, I realised I was right at the finish.  Seeing it again, I can’t quite compute how I got so misdirected when in spitting distance of the finish last year.  I literally had about 10 feet to go before I saw the finish, but last year a false trail sent me off on a detour back into the woods.  This year I was older, and (in this respect at least) a year the wiser., (though not any fitter unfortunately).  I raced across the bridge, as if fearful a Troll beneath would drag me under, and emerged from the woods.

I emerged at speed from the woods, and then saw it again.  My true nemesis. The Hill.  Even Doctor Smiley conceded this hill was tough, and has mooted the Wingerworth Wobble be known henceforth as Wingerworth stinginthetail Wobble.  Another Smiley (who shall be nameless, referred to it as a ‘horrendous hill’ which I think is accurate but a bit rude to say out loud so won’t repeat.   For the record, the majority of Smilies, irrespective of whether or not they had found the hill to their liking, had already made it through the finish tape by now and even had time to pose for a finish photo.  Which follows.  It remains an unfulfilled ambition of mine to complete a race in time for the Smiley team shot at the end.  I think that ambition is going to be a long time coming to fulfilment between you and me.  Here are the others though, all looking fresh, feisty and suitably victorious.  Go Smilies!

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So back to me and my hill sprint.  This was a big miscalculation, to have started running at speed quite so soon.  There was a spirited crowd at the finish line to cheer people in. This is very encouraging but it also makes you alarmingly accountable. You really do not want to stop running going up that hill with so many people watching.  However, it felt to me like I was trying to run up a down escalator whilst pretending everything was fine.  I thought my lungs would burst and my eyes  pop out.  Well, my eyes didn’t pop out, but my lung may have burst as I definitely had that metallic taste of blood in the back of my throat for a few hours afterwards…  The final sprint to the finish looks like this by the way.  More Scriven shots thank you.  I still don’t think it adequately portrays the gradient, though you do get a sense of the distance.  Also, I like the shot of the people at the finish funnel, looking out across the horizon for returning runners like they might for lost explorers staggering out of the snow on an expedition to the arctic.  Almost exactly like that, only with a bit more hi-vis and marginally less snow. The anxious anticipation is all there though isn’t it. You can see it oozing out of the shots!  You can also see some smilies working together like a wolf pack, making a sandwich manoeuvre on the unknowing Dark Peak Runner.  Go them.

As I approached the finish, a small child ran down the hill, and then ran back up again in parallel to me.  I gather they had been doing this all morning, a feat that can only be described as super human.  Also, very sweetly, there was a little girl who had the job of giving out the medals.  She was so excited at this responsibility, that she kept running towards the finishing athletes, and had to be called back to make sure she waited for them to cross the finish line before handing out the trophies.  It was rather touching though.  She gave me my medal.  I was very chuffed.  It was also great to have so many Smilies cheering me home.  Also present and correct and performing his documentary photography skills with customary skill, grace and professional aplomb, was our very own David Carr.  I say our very own, because he has honorary Smiley status by marriage.  Also, he is a multi-tasker, having been up since pre-dawn with race preparations as key partner within the race direction team.  What’s more, even after he’d done all that rushing round putting out tape, and taking photographs, and shooing runners in the right direction, he STILL was working it later on as the glamorous assistant for the trophy presentations at the end.  Is there no end to his talents?***

So, finish photos, there are lots of awesome ones, some low resolution ones are available to browse on David J Carr’s WW album on his facebook page,  or purchase high resolution ones on-line at David J Carr photography, Wingerworth Wobble page and they are well a look.  I have naturally used my contacts to source some particularly genius ones of myself and Roger so you can judge for yourself the extent of my eye-popping, the fragility of my lungs and the extent of grace I am modeling with my running technique.  Roger looks quite fresh I think.  Well deserving of extra oats at the finish.  I can not tell a lie, I find the juxtaposition of really talented photographic technique with my gurning faces both hilarious and cringe worthy.  Unfortunately, the camera never lies, so I feel I should embrace the moments captures as truthful capturing of my running journey. When I am finally metamorphosed into a ‘proper’ athlete, with chiseled features and limbs of solid muscle I shall look back on these as but a distant memory as if looking back on a stranger.  Or most likely, I wont. Either way, how lucky we all are to have these memories captured, whether we like it or not, these times may now be in the past, but they will not be forgotten.  Own it.  I do quite like the one of us both all limbs flying though. Might put that on a T-shirt and work it if required.  (Though, granted, it is quite hard to imagine the scenario in which that line of action would be either necessary or helpful).

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So medals donned, and the last few cheered home, I was able to pause to reflect briefly that I’d achieved all three of my pre-race goals. Didn’t get lost, made it back before the tail runner AND improved my time.  It certainly helps you slash times if the year before you sped 10 minutes running backwards and forwards across a river. Good 10 minutes off I reckon, way good!

That was the race done and dusted, and we all adjourned to the school hall for the really important business of the day. We removed our muddy trainers on the way in, donning our stockinged feet in the deeply attractive blue plastic bags provided for just this purpose.  We were all rocking this look in the great hall.

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The Raffle.  This was by far the most nail-biting and competitive part of proceedings.  People fought to buy strips of tickets (sold in aid of the school and air ambulance) and you could have heard a pin drop as the numbers were called out.  There was the agony of suspense as everyone waited in eager anticipation to see if their number would be up!  Although the pickings were not so rich this year, it was a big relief that Dr Smiley was the Smiley winner amongst us.  She is highly strung, and extra hyper following a running triumph (second lady home) I wouldn’t have wanted to cross her.  In fact, as her nominated minder, I had to use the ruse of wanting to document her selecting her prize in order to stay with her and ensure all about her were safe.  It was fine.  The chocolate mints seemed to pacify her. This was a huge relief as I didn’t really have a plan as such had she turned, although I did take the precaution of befriending one of the St John’s Ambulance Crew just in case I needed extra support.  If you look carefully, you can see she got one of her colleagues to keep an eye of things from a respectful distance too.  Dr Smiley never suspected a thing.

Although my lucky number didn’t come up at the raffle, my Lucky Number did come up big time in another unexpected way.  At some point in the post-race shenanigans, Hobbit Buddy, Ginger, Roger and I went in search of someone to take a post-race photo of us with all our bling.  The person we happened upon – actually, I think it was Hobbit Buddy who negotiated this because Ginger and Roger can’t talk and I prefer to delegate these tasks – made an AMAZING REVELATION.  He was looking first at Ginger’s number and said ‘ah, so close, I thought for a moment...’ and then, as he espied Roger ‘Aha!  It’s there. The number 41!  you know of course that’s a very lucky and important number indeed, of course?’  My blinking and otherwise blank expression suggested that no I didn’t.  ‘You don’t know your athletics then?‘ Well, alas no, I glanced across at Dr Smiley in desperation for some clue as to what this might refer to, but she shrugged expansively, just out of view.  This prophet from heaven then enlightened me.  Forty – One was ONLY THE VEST NUMBER ROGER BANNISTER WORE WHEN HE BROKE THE FOUR MINUTE MILE!!!!! OMG.   How did I not know that.  I was giddy with excitement, all around we whooped and cheered.  This unknown stranger (but clearly my new best friend forever) went on to say that whenever he was race director at an event he’d try to let whoever got randomly allocated that number run for free, as a sort of tribute to the achievement that number represents.  This was just so exciting.  I can’t believe the amount of random good fortune that has come my way of late, I’m dreading it going into reverse with equal force.  Here we are, check that number out!  Also check out my attractive footwear, courtesy of WW.

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The only disappointing thing is that we/I was so excited with this revelation, that I completely failed to register the double significance that I was actually running with my very own Roger today.  Roger B’s namesake taking on the Wingerworth Wobble wearing the number 41.  What were the chances eh?  When we finally remembered, we thought it would seem a bit either stalkerish or unlikely to seek out our benefactor and tell him, so he may never know, or maybe he’ll get to find out.  Thanks though, whoever you were, tall knowledgeable man.  I am going to keep my number 41 FOREVER.

The next main distraction was the prize giving. Quite a lot of bling and trophies to get through.  Seven of the top ten ladies were from Smiley Paces, which is a good haul.  We might have had similar representation at the other end of the spectrum to be fair, thanks partly to my endeavours, but let’s not dwell on that here.   Instead, lets admire the shots, and appreciate the Race Director and WW team all over again for a job well done.

Oh the results?  You actually want to check them out?  Whatever happened to ‘it’s not whether you win or lose… ‘ Still, if you really care, they are here, bravo Wingerworth Wobbler Finishers, you / we are all awesome!  Roger and I didn’t break the four-minute mile but in our defence, it was way harder for us than our lightweight Bannister namesake, he ran on the road and it was flat.  We were off-road and had hills. Way more challenging.

So then, all too suddenly it was ended.  Most of us scooped up our muddy and sodden shoes and headed off homewards shouting words of thanks and farewells in our wake.  On the way back to Sheffield we contemplated the day and took a good look at our personal bling.

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Now, I cannot tell a lie, responses to the medal were a bit mixed.  Clearly, we were delighted to have bling, and the blue enameling was rather fetching, with a thoughtfully colour-coordinated ribbon.  All good.  We were a bit less enamoured with the 3D image which portrays a guy evidently pushing past a female runner in a somewhat bullying manner.  We weren’t sure about the iconography and semiotics at work here.  Was it saying men always come in first as if by divine right?  Was it saying that they are only able to do so by using such aggressive tactic on their female counterparts?  eventually the penny dropped.  Check out that guys hair-do!  Clearly the medal was making a contemporary reference to the appalling misogynistic behaviour of presidential candidate Donald Trump.  Best not to think too much about where that hand is reaching.  How amazing that a trail race like this would have so hit the  zeitgeist that it came up with this in such a tight time frame! Not seen such a topical nod in any race bling ever.  I like it.   Might be an interesting way forwards.

All too soon I was deposited home.  I am opposite a newsagent so popped in to buy a newspaper first, only then realising I still was wearing Roger and had bright blue plastic bags on my feet.  Well, they must have seen it all before because the nice woman there barely registered. I’m surprised though, Fulwood isn’t the sort of neighbourhood where you expect people to nip to the shops in their PJs or onesies, but then again, what would I know.

Home, pot of tea, pleasant afternoon reviewing photos and sharing happy wobble memories on Facebook.  Possibly rather more of a packet of cheddar biscuits than i really should have indulged in, but no-one need ever now… The gist of it was we were all awesome.  However, the Wingerworth Wobblers still had one surprise to offer up!  It was this post and these pictures:

Basically, it seems one of our number had indeed left her muddy trainers in the designated area outside the school hall, as per the written instructions clearly on display and showed above.  Later on, she got a message alerting her to the fact that her trainers had now been cleaned to good-as-new standards, but unfortunately she had omitted to leave her contact details.  The person responsible, who may or may not have been Dr Smiley but let’s just say I’m not putting anyone else’s name in the frame for it, then stepped forward to identified herself.  Seems she was the sole (ha ha) beneficiary of the complementary post-race shoe cleaning service AND what’s more will get her newly spruced trainers returned to her by personal delivery.  That AND the raffle, she did good!

Well dear reader, I’d love to carry on, but I can’t spend all day here on the sofa chatting away to you, you’ve detained me quite long enough. I have places to go and people to see.****

So just to finish thanks to everyone for delivering another fine and dandy Wingerworth Wobble.  In my vast (er hem) experience of fell/trail racing this remains amongst the friendliest.  It definitely has the best loos, best elephants and quite clearly the best Race Director and photography duo in the whole of Wingerworth too. Seriously though, congratulations to the organising team; thanks to David Carr and Eleanor Scriven the event photographers; cheers to marshals who pointed and cheered so competently and with such enthusiasm throughout; thank you to the nice man who enlightened me about the significance of the number 41; thank you fellow Smilies (that thanks is on repeat cycle of course) and thank you fellow participants and their supporters too.  Special thanks to our transport co-ordinator and also of course our oats supplier for the day.  Roger and I would never have made it to the start without you!  Mostly though massive high five and hugs to our very own Race Director, it must have been so much work, but how great and smug you must feel now.  Go seek out those laurels you’ve just earned and have a good rest on them!

Maybe I’m sentimental at heart, because I still think there is something inherently joyful about the way these fell races come together.  Everyone gathers for a morning and then vanishes again into the mist.  Isn’t it magical.  Oh and finally, thanks to the weather gods too.  We may all be hardcore fell runners of course, but be fair, it is nice to be able to run in bright but cool autumn sunshine.  Fantastic that the Wingerworth Wobbles used their collective influence to guarantee even that.

Bravo!

I think you have earned more than one trip to the Wingerworth Barley Mow myself, but I’m sure you know best.

Same time next year?  🙂

For all my posts relating to the Wingerworth Wobble (including this one, so you may need to scroll down) see here.

Finally, some footnotes giving points of clarification follow:

*Only please don’t.

**Smiletastic has a lot to answer for

***Racecraft also includes remembering the importance of never getting the wrong side of a race photographer.  No point in sycophantic flattery, that will be seen straight through, only ever speak the truth.  We all love you Mr Carr, and your photos are FAB!

****Well, I’d like a glass of wine at least, and blogging and drinking are not wise companions.  Arguably, blogging isn’t wise anyway, but believe me, mixed with alcohol even more risky.

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

Dogging in Endcliffe Park: reporting on the Debut Doggy Dash TenTenTen K9 2017

I know that some of you think I have at best entered a harmless fantasy land, and at worst developed some sort of weird unsettling variant of Munchausen Syndrome whereby I make up increasingly unlikely stories in order to draw attention to myself, but honestly, it’s all true.  I have got a place in the London Marathon, I am going to Cambodia and I have also got myself a time machine*.  The latter has allowed me to whizz forward a year purely so I could check out the Inaugural TenTenTen K9 Trail Doggy Dash of 2017, and report my findings back to all of you.  Well it surely isn’t just me that couldn’t wait to see how that grand plan was realised in action?  If you’d rather wait for time take its course than so be it, but if you want to know what the future holds read on:-

What could possibly go wrong?

everything-i-dreamed-of

It all started innocently enough, with a post on the  Sheffield TenTenTen Facebook page.  Flushed with the post-event glow of their seventh successive Endcliffe park based 10k trail run in 2016, a new idea was mooted:

What do people think about the introduction of a K9 dog race for next year? With Doggy treats at the end …… owners would run with their dogs in full canicross gear or with a regular lead. The start would be quite a spectacle 🙂 …… it may have to involve a river crossing too.

Erm. With respect.  Pretty dumb question huh?  The idea was always clearly genius, right from its inception.  It might have seemed like an impossible dream at the start, but we know don’t we, that you’ve gotta have a dream, cos if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?  Never was this statement more pertinent than in the vivid imaginings that helped the Inaugural Doggy Dash/ Endcliffe Park K9 come to pass, for this we must all be grateful.

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So a bit of background.  As I understand it, the main driver for this event was to provide me personally with some bespoke entertainment.   Motivation enough you would have thought for any new and welcome initiative.  Canines can be inherently hilarious as I hope you will appreciate.  Dogs being dogs are the cause of me laughing until I literally wet myself at a job interview once.  It is the only time this has ever happened to me during a recruitment selection process, and yet I can’t regret a moment of it.  Have you not heard that story?  Oh digression alert…  miss the next couple of paragraphs if you really don’t want to know, and who would blame you.

Diversion ahead: 

diversion

So,   I’d been called to a group selection-day in Leamington Spa following my application to work as a trainer with Dogs for the Disabled (now dogs for good I think).   This would involve both training assistance dogs, and working with their people who would be partnered with them.   A bit like Guide Dogs for the Blind, only in the case of the DfD  they train dogs based on the individual needs of their owner which are not necessarily anything to do with visual impairment.  So that might be passing clothes, alerting to an oncoming fit, helping with domestic tasks like switching a light on, that kind of thing.  The selection day was all quite interesting.  We were interviewed; we had to experience both being in a wheelchair and assisting someone using one; we met with a service user; we observed experienced dogs working; we had to simulate teaching someone how to complete a practical task; we had to verbally explain how you tie shoelaces… so far so expected.  However, there came the point in the day when they needed to observe how we would actually interact with dogs.  Now, it takes a long time to train an assistance dog, so the selectors were not going to let us loose on any of their working canines.  Instead, we were taken out to a large soggy (that bit’s important) field.  After a few minutes of hanging around in the cold, two separate vans appeared from two different entrances. It looked really dodgy!  In the back of each van was half a dozen pet dogs, borrowed from staff of the organisation and their various friends and relatives to use for this part of the day.  These dogs weren’t necessarily particularly (at all) trained or obedient.  Further more, they didn’t know each other, they didn’t know the experienced handlers who were supervising the day and they sure as hell didn’t know any of the candidates for the day.  Still, they met the criteria of being dogs, so what was the worst that could happen?

You’ll never guess what happened next!  The back of the vans were thrown open, all the dogs piled out of each and there was basically an almighty fight as every dog in each of the two packs tried to sort out relative dominance with one another.  It was both terrifying and hilarious in equal measure.  The interviewing panel wrestled with dogs to drag them apart from each other, and eventually, some sense of order having been restored, the bedraggled organising committee handed each one of us candidates a dog for the day.  Up to this point in the proceedings I had remained largely continent and straight-faced – albeit giggle stiffling was really hard.  Anyway, you need to know that one of the candidates on the day was a really annoying young woman, who was convinced she was not only god’s gift to the world, but also was very over-confident about her dog-handling skills.  She was positive she’d be selected, because her dad was a police dog handler, and my didn’t we all get to hear about it.  (Yawn).  They handed her a large but innocuous looking Alsatian, and she handed out unsolicited and patronising advice to the rest of us about what we should be doing.

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It was then dear reader, that her large-but-innocuous-looking dog espied something in the hedge at the far distant corner of the field.  Suddenly, it was as if this was a wolf possessed by a demon, and it took off in pursuit of whatever it was it had seen.  I cannot tell a lie, I did actually wet myself at the sight of this young woman being dragged face down across a wet field at high-speed.   She was so determined not to let go she must have been taken a good couple of hundred yards.  I not only wet myself, I also cried with laughter, another job interview first, and my stomach muscles ached with laughing for days afterwards.  It was so worth it.**  I think it was this happy memory that made me so desperately want the dream of a TenTenTen K9 Doggy Dash to be made a reality in 2017.  If I could have that much fun so unexpectedly and in such an unlikely context, imagine the fun potential when the whole point would be (presumably) to unleash chaos and hilarity just for me?  Bring it on!

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Normal reading route resumes below:

Sooo, back to K9 Doggy Dash.  I feel I have already presented a powerful self-evident argument in favour of laying on this event which would be more than enough to guarantee its establishment in the Sheffield running calendar alongside the TenTenTen and Round Sheffield Run.  However, because the organisers are a conscientious team who like to pay attention to detail, they did nail it down a bit more than that prior to deciding to go ahead with the event.

The essential concept was always, I think it’s fair to say, to host an event that was as inclusive as possible, catering for a wide range of canine athletes.  It should be open to all: canicross event tourers in their matching kits; celebrity parkrun dogs like Sheffield’s very own Lily-the-whippet from Graves; fell-running dogs like Skip from Frontrunner; have-a-go dogs of unknown origins as well as much-loved pets.  All would be welcome in singles and pairs, and all should be free to participate in their own way.  It was also part of the participation pledge in the race ‘terms and conditions’ that all participants should respect the right of other entrants to participate in their own way.  I’m not sure about the collateral damage those greyhounds caused to that poor rabbit though.  Don’t like that at all.   It’s so hard to know how to police these events.  What is unavoidable suffering and what might reasonably be avoided.  Quite relieved it’s not my call to be honest.

Obviously, a straight-forward trail race would be rather dull, and make for an all too predictable outcome.  To liven things up therefore, there’d be a mass start, and a variety of challenges to be negotiated on the way round.  Originally, this was to be just a simple river crossing along the lines of The Trunce, but pleasingly, this idea was adapted over time.  In the final iteration, new obstacles were incorporated and constructed in advance of the event in consultation with local Sheffield dogging*** groups.  This resulted in the inclusion of both quick sand and bog sections.  There was significant and ongoing community involvement in building these things, we have some talented dogs in our catchment areas.  It’s worth remembering that these events don’t come from nowhere, it takes a dedicated team, a significant number of excel sheets/ Gantt charts, and in this case, kilos of doggy treats to get the course all set up in a safe and timely fashion.  As it was, earth movers were operated, tree trunks dragged and the site supervised with the dedication that only those with a genuine passion for what they are trying to achieve can muster.

Although much attention was paid to obstacles and inclusivity, less attention was given to the rules and regs for participation.   Which did lead to a few hiccups on the day, but nothing that didn’t add to the general commotion sense of occasion on the day, so that was grand!

The Doggy Dash kicked off the race series, with a 5km lap ahead of the juniors’ 2.5km run.  The misguided logic was that this would allow runners for the 10k later on to participate in both events (having rested up during the children’s event), and also – theoretically at least – reduce the number of over-excited dogs leaping about in close proximity to small children at the start.  This was true, but it also effectively trashed some of the trails that subsequently had to be negotiated by the more conventional running events that followed.

It was a lovely autumnal morning.  When I headed down to be there at the start of the proceedings the sun was reaching through the trees in Endcliffe Park and I could hear the dulcit tones of carefully chosen music floating through the air towards me.  The MC did well with doggy themed tracks.  We had ‘Who let the Dogs Out?’ (a personal favourite), and the ever familiar ‘Ain’t nothing but a hound dog‘ (not performed live though, I understand Elvis was most recently seen in June 2016 in America, so not been in the uk for a while.)

I thought I was early, but I wasn’t the first down.  This event is really unusual, maybe even unique, in that it is open not only to dedicated canicross competitors, but more delighted doggy dashers that are the canine equivalent of fun-runners.   It was fun seeing all the dogs and their accompanying humans muster.  Some were clearly rather more pampered pets than others – surely the accommodation options for a few of our canine friends suggested they were actually fully sponsored players.  Nothing wrong with that, it was always intended that the event should welcome a wide spectrum of entries, but I was surprised by the calibre of canines who’d turned out.  Check out the camping option for this pamapered pooch:

sponsored-dog-athlete

 I’m afraid the photo options are a bit mixed.  I didn’t think to take any photographers forward with me into the future because I assumed they’d be there again.  In fact because the donations for ‘free’ photos were a bit disappointing last year, which is this year 2016, there was less incentive for organisers to prioritise getting photographers out in the field in 2017.  A real shame.  I think the 2016 TenTenTen snaps definitely merit a donation of some sort if people are using them. Maybe another way would be to add an optional couple of quid on to the entry fee to contribute automatically to the cause next time.  I don’t honestly know if the Endcliffe Doggy Dash K9 2017 event is a fixed point in time, in which case it’s too late to change the future, or if we can still influence it. On the off-chance we can, how about making that donation that you really meant to make before right NOW.  You’ll feel all the better for it:

 (The TenTenTen2016 event organisers are) collecting donations for Weston Park Cancer Charity in return for free race photos on Facebook – any kind of donation massively appreciated! https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/TENTENTEN2016

Anyway, upshot is that in the absence of any official 2017 event photos,  I’ve had to improvise myself with a few random snaps and topped up with google, that’s why some of the pictures are illustrative rather actual, but you’ll get the idea.

The event was run like any official race, but with more bottom sniffing, play fighting and yapping than is usual at registration say.  How you feel about the random urinating up trees, benches and unattended luggage items depends on whether or not you have been fell racing. I’d say that on balance there was more of this than you might expect at a parkrun say, but less than at a real outdoorsy event or paris marathon say.  Ask Regal Smiley about her behaviour at the Dovedale Dash if you require clarification.

The attempt at a collective warm up backfired somewhat, disintegrating into near catastrophic chaos pretty quickly, which was great as a spectator sport, not so great if you want your dog in tact and  un-scarred for future showing purposes, or were particular about which dog mounted your bitch to produce an unexpected litter in a few months time.  Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed random copulation between participants at any running events I’ve attended previously so that was new to me (though I understand some of the overseas Hash House Harrier lodges can be rather risqué on runs – choose family friendly ones if you are traveling to be on the safe side).

All too soon, the cry went up ‘unleash the dogs!’  And with a frenzied baying of hounds the canine lurched forwards, in hot pursuit of a rather nervous looking trail cyclist who’d got the short straw and was designated pathfinder.  Never did see him/her again actually come to think about it?  No worries, I’m sure s/he was fine. Or if not fine exactly, expendable.  Probably expendable.  The important thing is that no animals were hurt or injured in the running of this event.

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A learning point for next year (2018), might be to use a different start call.  This particular phrase resulted in the literal, rather than metaphorical unleashing of many dogs.  It perhaps wasn’t made clear in the briefing (or couldn’t be heard over the ferocious barking) that ideally dogs should remain attached to humans for as much of the way round as possible.  I acknowledge it is completely unrealistic to expect that many people to have any degree of control – let alone complete control – of their canine companion, but perhaps some might have made more of a show of trying just to reassure the spectators.   Another possible area for improvement, is thought as to how many dogs per person would be appropriate.  Some handlers were rather more ambitious than others, a few were showing off quite frankly, and some got their just deserts for doing so. (See reference to woman dragged across field by Alsatian above).

Even so, I’m aware I’m quibbling.  As a spectator sport this event delivered in bucket loads and beyond.  It certainly met the ambition of striving to achieve an inclusive field at the start line.  Some dogs were more enthusiastic participants than others, but all shapes and sizes were represented on the day.  I got emotional watching the fun run last year (2016), but it was way more of an emotional roller-coaster being at the sidelines of the doggy dash.  Here are just a few action shots of some of the participants – it amuses me to see that even some dogs look terrible when photographed running, I’d always taken that as rather a uniquely human frailty.  Not so!

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For the record, I did both cry with laughter and wet myself through laughing whilst spectating at this event.  However,  no worries on either front.  Why?  Because I was  prepared.  It is occassions like this that Tena ladies were made for (there are male equivalents). Personally I think both options should be given out to participants on the day as they they register.   After all, it wasn’t just spectators who lost control of their bladders.  They may have done so through irrepressible laughter but  I’d bet a fair few of the competitors wet themselves too, through raw fear at being dragged round that course at speed.   The issue of distribution of such incontinence products would be straightforward.   You could just ask people to specify their bladder control requirements male/female, number of drops, on a drop down menu alongside asking about T-shirt sizes.  Simple.  Also, good public service role, as urinary incontinence is surprisingly common and really shouldn’t be a taboo topic.  I reckon the Doggy Dash would win an award from some sort of health promotion initiative if they did that – think of the publicity!  Hell, why stop at that, go all out and get sponsorship from some suitable company.  I bet they’d be thrilled.  You could use the plastic bag packaging from the tena pads for poop picking as well, multi-functional, genius if I say so myself.

Sorry I digress, I expect you want to know how the obstacle bits went.  Honestly, I think it depends if you were watching or having to negotiate them with a dog.  As a spectator, completely hilarious.  The photos speak for themselves.  I’m not sure if the prone runner is deliberately lying in a star-shape to maximise the distribution of his body weight over the widest possible surface area to avoid sinking into the quick sand, or whether he has just given up and lain down to die.  The results will probably say – if he’s a DNF on them it wont look good.  Infuriatingly, one downside of time travel it seems is that I can’t link to a yet-to-be-created website, so you’ll have to go along and watch for  yourself to find out the results in a few short months from now.

Watching at any of the bog/ quicksand points was a great option, but I also enjoyed gawping at the water crossing enormously.  It was here you could really see which canine/human partnerships were strong and trusting and which were… well, frankly not.  There wasn’t clarity in the rules about what was acceptable help for this river crossings, some of the techniques I witnessed did cause me to raise an eyebrow (well more accurately both of them, sadly I’ve never been able to raise just the one, a cause of unending disappointment to me alongside so many other of my life’s failings).  Honestly, the really fast pairs went through without outside assistance, so I don’t suppose it mattered too much – it comes down to ‘respecting everyone’s right to participate in their own way’.  They are only cheating themselves, as long as they don’t impede anyone else I suppose it’s fine.

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The course was testing enough that it did allow the cream to rise to the proverbial top.  Some dogs had a few navigational issues on the way  round, at least one had rather more outside assistance getting round than was intended… I don’t like rules for their own sake, but perhaps this does need to be looked at.

Also marshaling is a problem.  Dogs don’t seem to be able to read directional arrows all that well, and nor do they respond to pointing as obediently as you might hope.  Perhaps a scent trail would work better.  I think it depends on whether the dog or the person is in the lead position, not a given by any means.  More importantly, it depends on who is ‘top dog’ in the partnership.  Usually the dog, obviously.

So all in all, I’d say it was a massive success this event.  If you are canny with where you stand you can rush between the obstacles and then line up at the finish funnel for the Sprint Finish of runners and their dogs across the green field of Endcliffe Park.  I hope the organisers are really as responsive to feedback as they claim to be though, and consider putting in place either a viewing platform (think lifeguard stations) or alternatively have live outside broadcasting TV coverage relayed back on a large screen so you can watch all the drama unfold from the comfort of the Endcliffe Cafe. This would seem to me to be a fairly natural extension of the event village development anyway, it caters for most needs as it is.  Here are some of the field in the final push to the line, exciting stuff eh?

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At the finish, dogs and their dishevelled running humans being dragged along behind were awarded with the traditional TenTenTen medal for the humans, and a jaunty autumn themed bandana for the dogs.  This last innovation being a result of taking on board one particularly insightful suggestion from  an especially genius member of the public after first posing the idea of the event of Facebook. It just so happens that genius idea came from me, but I can’t take all the credit, at least the event organisers were wise enough to recognise a great idea when they heard it and to take it on board.

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There were doggy bags too, though I didn’t get one myself so not sure what they contained.

To be honest, the K9 event was so much fun, the actual 10k afterwards was something of an anticlimax, so I can’t be bothered to write-up the account of the TenTenTen 2017 just yet, maybe I will later on.

In the meantime just take it from me that what started as a genius idea from the outset came to be realised at this Debut Doggy Dash K9 TenTenTen in all its glory WITH SPOTS ON!  I feel confident this will become an established event in the Sheffield Running repertoire. Even if you don’t have a dog of your own, make a note in your diary to get down early for your own 10k run so you can soak up all the fun.

Thanks TenTenTen organisers, participants, spectators, marshals – all!  You delivered splendidly, you can feel very smug indeed.  Well done you!

Just one thing, do watch where you tread if you are among the front runners for the subsequent trail race.  Most dog owners are of course responsible, but there will always be one I’m afraid.  You have been warned.  Those of us towards the back don’t need to worry, it will all have been magically removed by the time we get round, particularly if we get lapped.

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So that’s it really.  I do like recording what happens at inaugural events, hope you enjoyed it too.  Til next year then.  Happy running y’all, pracise keeping those hounds under control!  Oh, and one further bit of late addition/ stop press/ hot off the press feedback. How about a Good For Age category for the dogs too?  It’s been brought to my attention that in dog years some of the canine participants were octogenarians, that should be recognised surely.  Also more fancy dress please.  Humans and/or dogs, matching outfits for preference.

You’re welcome.

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Some footnotes:

* Well, two out of three ain’t bad?

** Remarkably, I did get invited back for a further 4-day selection weekend, which, for various reasons I decided not to go for.  What a different trajectory my life might had taken…

*** I know it’s really childish, but I’m deliberately including references to Sheffield dogging in this post, as I found out recently that this was one of the search terms that directed a (disappointed) user to my running blog.  How, I have no idea, but be fair, it is hilarious!  If you have found yourself infuriated at being back here reading this again ha ha, hope you see the funny side, good luck with your searches elsewhere 🙂 !

For all my posts relating to the TenTenTen follow this link

Categories: off road, running | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

On the run in Cambodia…

So, for those of you that don’t yet know, I’m heading off to Cambodia in a few weeks’ time, and will be there for almost four months – hence the massive complications about how to train for the London Marathon. Eek. I have however been researching options, and also keeping a low profile blog that will be all about what I get up to in Cambodia (feeling inadequate and confused mainly, much like life in Sheffield but with more humidity and fewer Smilies). The blog hasn’t really got a voice yet (sorry if that’s pretentious) but if you are interested it can be found at https://cambodiacallingsite.wordpress.com/ it will be more general than just running stuff so I appreciate may not appeal to my running buddies. However, I thought this post was worth sharing with other runners out there because it tells us that:

‘To run is to be totally free, to think & to build up your strengths, both mentally & physically,’ (yeah, well, you knew that) but it adds: ‘whilst making you more interesting and attractive to others!

If Running in Cambodia can do this for me, I am going to be laughing all the way round our great city of London come April 2017!

I’m reblogging this post from Cambodia Calling to Running Scared, partly just to see what happens with the technology.   I think there is a limit to what my loyal reader will tolerate blogging wise. I was going to pause my running blog whilst I was away, but now I’m not so sure.  My regular reader might be fretting about whether or not I’m keeping up with my training what with all the distractions of the big city lights in Phnom Penh.  Perhaps I should be cross fertilising with posts between the two?  Who knew that I’d need a venn diagram for the overlap between my ‘running’ exploits and my new life in Cambodia. Eek. Don’t get your hopes up, I’m only going for a few months….

Oh the plus side, as friends have told me previously, because I’ll be keeping a blog it will save you from actually having to talk to me at all over the coming weeks.  Always a boon I’m told.  I think the phrase used was ‘that’s brilliant, because if you write it all down, I won’t ever have to talk to you again to find out what you’ve been up to!’   Friends are great when they are candid aren’t they?  How we laughed.  One of us with more hollow hysteria than the other…

Cambodia Calling

To run is to be totally free, to think & to build up your strengths, both mentally & physically, whilst making you more interesting & attractive to others!!

Can you be an armchair runner?  I believe so, I’ve found an outfit to wear whilst I browse the internet looking for running options to help me train for the London Marathon whilst living and working in Phnom Penh.

What do you think?  It’s described as ‘adult bear sleeping bag‘:

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Soooooooooo, what has my armchair research yielded?

Well, not all that promising to be fair.  There’s the Phnom Pen Hash House Harriers, but they are ‘drinkers with a running problem‘ and that’s not my thing, though I’ll probably go along once at least just to see.  They meet ‘every Sunday 2:00 PM at the Phnom Penh Railway station.  Truck departs from the railway station at…

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Categories: motivation, running | Tags: , | 17 Comments

Can you keep a secret? Life in a parallel universe. Strange but true.

I have no idea what has just happened to me.  But it began with the postman ringing my doorbell first thing (not a euphemism) and climaxed in my ripping open the post to unveil this:

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It took me a while to process what it was.  I mean, I knew that packs would be landing on doormats with the outcome of the ballot for the London Marathon this week, but I just assumed I’d be getting a rejection pack along with everyone else.  It honestly never occurred to me I’d get lucky, I just thought applying for a ballot place in the London Marathon was a rite of passage.  You know, you enter year on year for about a decade and after you’ve done your time you might get lucky once.  Consequently you do your one-and-only ‘never again’ road marathon around age 60, everyone claps a lot and then you get bragging rights but never have to run on a road again.  Yay!    I mean, I’ve always said if I was going to do a marathon, it would have to be London, but I wonder if that was partly because at a sub-conscious level it reduced the likelihood of me ever having my bluff called and actually have to do it.  I mean, what are the odds?*

Well, it seems that although I have never had a premium bond come up, and despite over a decade of membership of a lottery syndicate never won anything there either the running gods have on this occasion smiled on me. My number is up, quite literally.   OH.  MY.  GAWD!  I’I was provisionally in.  Now, at this time of writing,  I’m actually in, because I’ve now paid and had my email confirmation arrive as well,  which is the modern-day equivalent of getting a tablet in stone erected outside your place of dwelling.  It was only £39 to enter,  cheaper than the endurer dash I did earlier in the year which was a bit crap, but obviously rather more expensive than parkrun.  I think it’s worth it though.

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At this precise moment I have absolutely no idea if I can achieve this.  There are some logistical issues around where I can train, but hey ho, I can’t let this opportunity pass me by, that would be nigh-on criminal, and surprisingly perhaps, once it dawned on me what the plastic cover contained I am so up for this.   Have you heard that thing about when you ask people for advice, it’s not so much the advice that they give you which is helpful, it’s how you find you react to it.  If you don’t like what you hear, you just keep asking other people until they give you a version of action that you feel you’d prefer.  If you keep asking more and more people, that’s a powerful indicator that you don’t like what you are hearing.  Similarly, if I’d opened the envelope and felt sick with fear at the very thought of turning up at the London Marathon and wished it had never presented me with the option of running it at all then I’d have quietly ignored it.  As it is, yes I am sick with fear as per the first part of the reaction, but nope, I’m not wishing this had never happened.  Au contraire.  This is potentially awesome, amazing, life changing (well, maybe not that exactly, but I think a bit of melodramatic exaggeration is permitted for the next hour or so at least).  I can’t not do this.  Well, I can, clearly, but I can’t not give it a darned good try.  Maybe I’ll get to be one of those annoying people who say ‘if I could do it anyone can’, only I’ll be marginally more plausible.  Equally annoying, but not unattainable as a role model.

I feel weird, because I don’t know if I’m deserving enough as a runner (blimey, look at the vitriol heaped on fun runners who made it through to the Percy Pud from certain quarters) but then again, why shouldn’t it be me?  Every dog has it’s day, allegedly.  Maybe this is mine.  I will take it seriously, but in my own terms.  I’ll be slow, but I want to do this, and thereafter make my fortune as a motivational speaker on the after-dinner talks circuit.  I fully appreciate that both parts of this aspiration are unlikely to come to pass.

Yes, yes, I’m terrified, yes yes, I’m already suffering crippling angst and performance anxiety, but you know what, if not now when?    I did the Sheffield Half unexpectedly, and although I fully appreciate this is an entirely other level of challenge, I did surprise myself by what my body would tolerate.  If I don’t try, I’ll never know.  Of course, the risk you take when you peer under any proverbial stone is that you might not like what you uncover, but hey ho, on balance I think I’d rather know.  Apparently it is better to have tried and failed as the saying goes… although Homer Simpson’s take on it has a more immediate appeal:

The only possible explanation for this delivery seems to me to be that I have entered a parallel universe where not only am I lucky enough to get a ballot place for the London Marathon, but I train for it, and accomplish this seemingly impossible challenge.

If I get even within sniffing distance of it, this won’t be me by the way, so you have been warned:

Even so, I think I’ll keep it close to my heart for now, don’t want external expectations to paralyse me entirely.  I wonder though, I really wonder.  What will I be thinking and feeling on Monday 24th April 2017.  Will I be reflecting on a race well run (or completed at any rate) sobbing inconsolably as a DNF, or never even have made the start line.  I wonder.  I have no idea.  Exciting though, isn’t it? Terrifying too, but what the hell eh…  can’t turn down a chance like that.  Absolutely not!  Oh crap.

Eek.

*The odds of getting a place in the London Marathon are apparently as follows:

How many people entered the ballot this year and what was the chance of gaining a place?
A. A record total of 253,930 people entered the ballot for the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon. We accept a total of more than 50,000 runners as we can predict, after 36 years, almost exactly what proportion of entrants will drop out due to illness, injury or other reasons before Race Day.

Categories: marathon, race, road | Tags: , , | 15 Comments

It’s not every 10k that gives you the red arrows. Marshalling at the Sheffield TenTenTen 2016.

Ambitious, but hey, why shouldn’t a Sheffield based 10k kick off with a bit of a fanfare? Frankly, promising the red arrows en route was only the beginning of the delights on offer at today’s tententen!  I’m genuinely touched by the efforts everyone went to to give we the marshals (not sure I can absolutely speak for all of us, but hey ho, why stop me now) such a grand day out!

So today was Sheffield TenTenTen day.  Yay.  The blah de blah on this is:

What is the Sheffield TENTENTEN?  Its an exciting and creative multi-terrain trail 10k,  attracting over 1000 runners each year the event is well supported and has a fantastic atmosphere. The first edition was on the 10th October 2010, hence the funny name, and has stuck ever since.

 Who is it for?  This is an all inclusive event, anyone from 4 upwards can compete in the 2.5k Fun Run, and 15 upwards for the 10k. All abilities are represented, many have started their running journey at this event. The range is wide we have even had international standard representation (see course record). Then there is the rest of the family, bring them along to soak upthe atmosphere and support.

 The Course  The course has been created with a twist of creativity and innovation. Its not your regular road race, it is run on grass, road, paved paths and woodland trails. Its a really nice mix, and introduces novices to the world of trail running gently. The course does have a few lumps and bumps, twists and turns, and all adds to the fun.

 We hope to see you on Sunday the 9th of October 2016 in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield

This time though, instead of running (slowly) as in the previous two years, I was marshalling.  Yay.  The night before I wasn’t quite sure what to do in the way of race preparation.  I mean if you’re running then it’s all about the carbing up and tapering isn’t it.  I wasn’t so sure with the volunteering role.  I mean, would I be better off just resting up, or should I practise a bit more with the directional pointing and clapping bit, and maybe even have a go carrying a clipboard with an authoratitive but friendly air?  Tricky.  I was rather regretting having sold myself so assertively in the sign-up email.  What if they did some sort of audition at the 8.00 a.m. rendezvous and I messed up on say the decibel levels of my clapping (which can happen if you are wearing gloves or just miss when you are trying to get the palms of your hands to connect). The shame of being drummed out of the marshaling team would really sting.  I’d have to give up running, move from Sheffield, the whole of South Yorkshire, blimey, maybe I should start planning a complete relocation to Phnom Penh just to be on the safe side?  I didn’t want to peak too soon with the applause either, and find I had nothing left in the proverbial bag for the actual event.  It’s more stressful than you might think, this anticipatory angst regarding the responsibilities that go with marshalling.  Oh well, stick with what you know. Carbe Diem it was.  They do say don’t make any big changes prior to race day don’t they?  Why buck the trend.

carb-diem

Anyway, I managed to wake up OK in the morning.  It felt like the middle of the night to be honest, but I was up and about before the first of my two alarm clocks had gone off.  Performed my necessary ablutions and packed my back-pack.  Not forgetting my glasses in case I had to showcase my literacy skills and e.g. match names to T-shirt purchases on a list of tiny typed out names.  I’ve been caught out like that before.

It was a very autumnal and crisp morning.  Perfect for running.  I was wearing pretty much every item of clothing I possess, as standing around in a dark wood in the cold can be a lot more chilling than you might think.  And not just in existentialist terms.  Consequently I was wearing: two thermal vests (one long-sleeved, and one short); my usual running top; chunky fleece; fuscia winter coat and an incredibly long and gorgeous scarf that I’ve only recently rediscovered( which once belonged to my Dad and says it was made in Peru so might even be made of alpaca fleece); some thermal leggings; winter socks; over-trousers; gloves; light weight walking boots – oh and my Smiley Buff too.  The advantage of wearing so many clothes was that I could have a reasonable expectation of keeping warm, but there were a couple of disadvangates.  Specifically, firstly, I was a bit worried if I fell over onto my back I’d be trapped like an up-ended tortoise, and unable to get back on my feet without outside assistance (at best humiliating, at worst actually fatal).   Still, at least I wasn’t wearing a turtle neck, that would be a real high-risk clothing item and make me guilty of contributory negligence at the very least. Secondly, it meant that disrobing was quite an operation so I basically would need to give myself three days notice if I needed the loo, or just wet myself.  Oh well, I’d worry about that should the situation arise…

I felt pretty cheery going down to Endcliffe Park.  Today was always going to be a good day.  I was already seeing some pretty significant up-sides to being at a running event without doing the actual running.  Copper and gold leaves in the trees were lit by early morning rays of sunshine bursting through the thinning leaf canopies.  (Not to be confused with canapés, which would be a different order of ‘extraordinary’ viewed in the same way).  It was really beautiful.  Pleasingly, on my way down I espied a pumpkin* growing and was able to take a gratuitous squash shot.  I know!  Great start to the day.  *I know it’s probably a miscellaneous squash rather than an actual pumpkin, but still part of nature’s bounty I’m sure you’ll agree.

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On the way down my excitement was building.  There were indeed red arrows about, and also blue ones, and some police tape cordoning off areas where the organisers were expecting trouble of some sort or other.  Presumably only more experienced volunteers with riot shield use training would be deployed there:

As I passed down by the bottom pond it was like arriving at a festival.  Or being present at the start of time.  You could hear music, and bright shards of sunlight were slicing through the trees back-lighting the scene.  It looked spectacular, definitely like the dawn of time.  This was going to be epic!

I arrived at the volunteer assembly point just a tad before 8.00 a.m. which was the appointed hour.  There were already quite a few people gathered. some even already in position at the T-shirt distribution point.  It was well organised (I expected nothing less, I think it would be a nightmare volunteering at a badly run event, but I knew this would be fine and dandy).  I had a precautionary pee in one of the handily positions portaloos before reporting for duty. It was quite an undertaking given the amount of clothes I was wearing, but I think practising by taking Roger in with me (fancy dress horse) on a previous event meant I accomplished this in relative calm.  Nobody actually commented to my face about the sounds of thrashing around that had been rising from the portaloo whilst I was within once I came out again, so I take that as a win.

My name was on the volunteer list, which is always a good sign, and we were directed to select first an orange hi-vis jacket (a jaunty alternative to the more conventional luminous yellow I thought, and appropriate for the autumnal theme), then I went in search of a T-shirt.  The T-shirts for this year’s tententen are really nice.  First year I’d actually voluntarily wear one in public.  Grey is flattering and the logo ace.  The sizing was a bit on the snug side.  I tried on the medium initially, but that was optimistic, instead I went for the large.  Mind you, I was hoiking it over pretty much my entire wardrobe, so perhaps I was expecting a lot of give in a medium size uni-sex offering.  There was then some companionable milling about, waiting for others to assemble and making small talk.

I wandered around wishing I was George, and taking some random snaps to document the occassion with mixed success.  However, pleasingly, I soon encountered my Cheetah Buddy, who after months off with injury is now re-entering the running fold, but like me volunteering today.  Cue selfie.   I still need to practise these, but hey ho, records our presence on the day.  I know the pictures aren’t great (no, really, I do) but I like how they get the sort of architectural structures of the tents against the sky line.  I might steal better photos from the official ones once they are made available, in the meantime you’ll have to make do with these, and your imaginations.  Good luck.

After a little while, I found I was on the list for the ‘bottom loop’ group.  Clearly, this was going to be a particularly vital role, with volunteers in no way arbitrarily allocated to position, but rather comprehensive skills analysis dictating who stood where.  I felt a bit for our volunteer co-ordinator, who made the rookie error of trying to remember all our names, which was heroic, and polite, but ultimately unlikely to be achieveable.  We all blinked at him, unhelpfully.  Oh well.  A little troop of seven of us headed off.  We were basically on the small loop of Sheffield parkrun if that helps.  One of our number had a particularly responsible role being right at the start.  As there would be first a 2.5km kids’ fun-run, then the official 10k race, with different routes, he was tasked wtih moving a stake with a bit of tape in it from one position to another AND back again to indicate the direction of flow for the lead runners.  I know, quite an awesome level of responsibility.  He was very tall, so I think the height advantage also helped, he’d be able to see trouble ahead much earlier than any of us more vertically challenged.  We abandoned him at his post, and trudged onward.  He did well – slight spoiler – but here he is in action at the start of the 10k.  Great authoratitive overseeing and confident pointing technique I’m sure you’ll agree!

I was designated marshal point two.  This was just outside the children’s playground if you are interested.  I’d have to do both directional pointing AND supportive clapping.  I was aided with some dome-shaped cones, which I positioned rather brilliantly, to guide runners away from the wrong turning and towards the correct route.  Would you call these markers ‘cones’ as such?  I honestly have no idea.  On reflection, I might have made more of alternating the colours say, and possibly that slight misalignment of the curve should have been corrected with the benefit of hindsight, but not bad for a first attempt.

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Once in position, I wasn’t sure what to do.  I hung about for a bit, and after a few minutes, some of the other marshals who had now been put in position a bit further on from me appeared.  We did some companionable team-building, mainly involving selfies, sharing running anecdotes and laughing at how much we were worrying about getting it wrong.  It is amazing any of us are able to live independently, or even dress ourselves, given the collective angst we were sharing about whether we’d be able to meet the demanding responsibilities that were about to be thrust upon us.  It was hilarious, it seems I was not alone in suddenly imagining I’d point the wrong way, accidentally run screaming into the runners demanding they’d stop causing a pile up and major race incident or in some other, as yet unimagined way, inadvertantly sabotage the whole event.  Why we were all so insecure I can’t adequately explain, other than by saying it was because we were all runners, or supporting runners and we all really wanted the day to go well.  Our concern wasn’t an indication of our imcompetence (necessarily) but it was a measure of how much we cared about getting it right. So if you are wanting to volunteer at any event, not just this one, just do so, you’ll be fine.  Be brave and stick your hand up to have a go.  You can fake it to make it if necessary.

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We did see the funny side of it, and it was reassuring to share our collective apprehension.  If you are thinking of volunteering but suffering a similar disproportionate worry about getting it all wrong on the day don’t let that stop you.  It really was pretty straight forwards and whatever ‘stupid question’ you may have, others are probably thinking it too.  Yes, dear reader.  We did go and look at the directional arrows and query which way the runners were supposed to be going.  It is in fact, blindingly obvious.  The runners follow a bike out, and the arrows were comprehenive anyway. Also, the way this loop was set up at least, we were within shouting distance, if not actual sight of other marshals, so you aren’t really on  your own.  Or if you are, it’s only in the existential sense that we are all alone in the end, but let’s not dwell on that now.  Instead, here are some selfies with my new best-friends forever.  Aren’t we awesome:

One of these runners is doing the Sheffield 10k in a couple of week’s time; one is doing a Portugal marathon, and one has secured a ballot entry for the London Marathon 2017 but doesn’t know it yet.  Can you work out who is who?  What do you think of my scarf by the way?  Pretty comprehensive neck coverage I think you’ll agree.

After a bit of faffing, we took up our positions in anticipation of the event building up momentum.  Runners started to arrive, some known, some unknown.  I had to exchange a few sharp words with one running buddy from Smilies who OPENLY GUFFAWED at my michelen-woman effect outfit.  I pointed out to her that she shouldn’t ridicule marshals in this way because ultimately her safety, health and well-being might well depend on how well I carried out my marshaling duties at the event.  Besides, I’m sure the ‘layered look’ is probably very in vogue for the winter months, I’m probably just (as always) ahead of the trend.  I can rock layered, see me work it:

I wouldn’t say she was chastened exactly, not at all even, but I put this down to her pre-event race nerves.  We made up afterwards so that was OK.  Post race proof of this below.  You can tell this is after the race, because she has a medal, I no longer have my hi-vis, and the nice people at the cafe have put up loads of special bunting just for us to mark our reconciliation.  Also, don’t let on, but when I actually saw some pictures of me in action in my clothing choices for the day, I did have to tacitly concede she may have had a small point.  I still think ‘abominable snowman’ was going a bit far.  I shall endeavour to rise above such ridicule, but have logged it for future reference nevertheless.

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I got into my stride responding to enquiries.  I liked this bit.  I forgot at first I was wearing a bright orange tabard, so was a bit taken aback by random people approaching me with questions.  ‘I must have one of those approachable faces’ I thought to myself in self-congratulatory tones.  It was good when I knew the answers.  Most frequent questions were ‘Where are the loos?’ ‘Where do I register?’ ‘Is there a bag-drop?‘ and ‘what’s going on here today?’  Reader I was brilliant, I got all the questions right.  Just shows, you know more than you realise sometimes, and also shows that all those precautionary pees I’ve had over the years have really paid off!  It was great, I felt massively competent based on extremely little expertise, it boosted my confidence!

The domed cones were a bit more of a challenge though.  You would be amazed how many people trod on them, fell over them, or otherwise couldn’t cope with the challenge of stepping over them.  It was extraordinary. Toddlers couldn’t walk past them without scooping them up, which I felt mean having to prevent.  They treated the cones with real delight, like some unexpected and rare treasure come across on their ramblings.  The world is indeed full of wonders when you are discovering it for the first time.  The dogs made me nervous, all that sniffing, I was sure one would cock a leg at one point though none did.    One alsation puppy was terrified of them, cowering as it approached the line of cones, and  backing off at the end of its long lead as its accompanying human tried to reassure him/her that there was no cause for alarm.  Eventually it bravely raced past them tail between it’s legs, and then jumped about with relief and delight at having negotiated such a terrifying and unknown obstacle safely.  One particularly law-abiding citizen came to a dead halt in front of them, like it was a mile high wall of razor wire with watch towers atop it and flood lights as well as weaponry trained on her.  ‘Is it OK for me to pass?’ she enquired, magnanamously I let her through.   Get me.  Powerful, but fair in how I chose to exercise that power.

The junior 2.5km race was due to start at 9.15 a.m..  We were all on tenterhooks awaiting the start.  Confusingly, from a distance, there was a warm up taking place, and so there were lots of loud counting down ‘three, two, one’ shouts. I kept thinking this was the cue to start, but in fact I think it was either counting down numbers of squats or to start of whatever routine.  It all helped build the mood of expectation though.  Fab!  It was Trib3 leading the warm up apparantly. Go them (thanks tententen facebook page for the photos).

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Then, bang on 9.15, after a little encouragement to all the runners to shuffle back behind the start line, the shout went up and they were awf!  It was ridiculously exciting!  My those kids can sprint!  The bike shot off a bit ahead of them, and within next to no time the lead runners were whizzing past me with barely a glance in my direction despite my awesome clapping, encouraging shouts and helpful pointing.  It reminded me very much of the tour de france when it came through Yorkshire.  I hung around for hours, having a lovely time with other spectators, and then when the pelican or whatever it’s called, eventually came through it was ‘blink and you’ll miss it!’  Phew, mission accomplished, marshaling duty one complete.    Most of the children were running with enthusiasm and confidence.  I must be less cynical or marginally more hormonal than I realised, because I actually felt quite emotional watching them. They were great.  There were a few adults in the throng keeping their offspring company (or maybe warming up for their own race), only one poor child at the back seemed completely overwhelmed by it all and was not having the best of times.  I hope they cheered up and carried on, but well done to whoever it was for even making the start line.  It’s a ‘proper’ event after all, with registration, race numbers, warm up, timing, crowds, it was bound to create a bit of anxiety for some.   I’m loving the photos.  Check out the marshal high-fiving one of the runners (his son I think) in one of the photos.  You’d have to have a heart of stone not to get just a little tear in the very corner of your eye at seeing that surely…  I’m sure you don’t really want to be called out as a heartless bastard on a lovely autumnal day like today?  Look at that logo, isn’t it great?  Definitely best yet.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I love everyone today, it must be the post-run endorphins kicking in by association with runners if not an actual run 🙂

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The great thing about my volunteering position, was once everyone had passed, I could move up to watch the finish.  That was brilliant, so much joy to behold.  Also, and I particularly enjoyed this aspect, exhausted parents/nominated responsible adults comprehensively outrun by their sprinting youngsters.  The smiles on the faces of these runners wearing medals that probably should have been confiscated on health & safety reasons as they weighed more than the average young runner’s head were brilliant.  That bling would have any self-respecting runner grinning from ear to ear!  I’m not sure about the appropriateness of posting a picture of a random unknown child I don’t know on a blog post, so here instead is one of a known celebrity Sheffield running dog to give you the general idea.  (Credit to Skip at frontrunner)

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So then, that race done and dusted, there was a bit more loitering waiting for the main event.  Well I say the ‘main event’ but to be fair, that’s not true if you were in the fun run, so each to their own.  I regrouped with my BFF marshals, and we debriefed on our pointing and clapping techniques sharing top tips and expertise.  One’s child had run in the event and rather sweetly they came to show off their medal.  It really was enormous in comparison to the child.  I reckon, it would be like the average adult walking around with a canon ball round their neck. Still, there were loads of vouchers kicking around for white house physio so hopefully no irreversable damage.  And, to be fair, I’d carry round a medal that weighed as much as a canon ball if it looked as awesome as that, and I’m over five.  More familiar faces appeared.  People from parkrun, people from Smiley Paces, some I know a bit from using their photos here.  Monday Mobsters came by to say hello – I made a mental note to look out for them as they ran past.  When you are marshaling, loads of people come to talk to you. It was really good.  Some were running or spectating.  One runner was supporting his son and suffering from runner envy, reminded of his more competitive days.  Some were random people who were perplexed about having stumbled on this parallel universe of geometric tents, ostentatious bling and colourful lycra.  One new to sheffield was delighted to discover she had this running venue on her doorstep (Sheffield Hallam parkrun recruit – tick).  I also managed to recruit some people to the Longshaw Trust 10k so that’s good.  Not everyone was delighted by the event.  Some were seeking to take evasive action, others were really pleased to be able to plonk themselves down at the edges and watch everything unfold. Well, we certainly had the weather for it did we not?

There was quite a carnival atmosphere at the ‘event village’ catering options, running gear options, backage drop options, portaloo options and pens for the runners.  All needs catered for.  I can’t explain why Frontrunner had its own dedicated emergency response vehicle (that’s another way of saying ambulance in rather more words).  I also don’t know what the animal is or which end we are viewing, but all pics are they not.  They are courtesy of tententen team, George Carman and Steve (Mossienet) Frith.   Please consider donating to Weston Park Cancer Charity in return for free photos – they raised an incredible £1500 last year and are hoping to smash this target this year! 🙂 https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/TENTENTEN2016 :

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So, more greeting of arrivals, more hanging about, adjusting my dome-shaped sports boundary marking cones (I’ve just looked them up on the interweb, and that is their technical term apparently).  Time went quickly, as the 10k route was in a different direction, I actually went up to watch the start.  I thought I’d get some pointing and applause practise in early.  Again, a prompt start.  Watching all the runners sprint off was amazing.  When you are taking part in an event you never really get a proper sense of  the continuum of ability; the assortment of body shapes; ages; running styles; club tops; causes – everything really.   I think there were around one thousand participants, and it took quite a while for them to stream past.  Long enough that I realised I was going to have to really pace myself with the clapping once I got back to my marshaling point as my upper arms were killing me from just this one fly-by of runners at the start!  It was fun looking out for Smilies, though there were rather fewer Smiley vests than I’d expected, and at least one Smiley was in disguise, donning her work-sponsored T-shirt in preference to her club vest.  This is what comes of being a wage slave I suppose.  I still cheered her though.  Mysteriously, couldn’t spot the Monday Mobsters… strange.  Only later when they came to say goodbye did I find out they weren’t running.  Doh.  I’m hardly Ms Marple am I, not wearing running gear was perhaps a clue had I but had eyes to see it…  Oh well.

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Back in my position, it was only about 15 minutes or so later before the elite runners were snaking back through the park, first lap down.  There were about three of them way ahead of everyone else, it was extraordinary.  At the risk of stating the obvious, they can really run!  The rest of the field was a bit behind, and then the mass of other runners started flooding through. I’ve used the analogy of wildebeest on migration before, but really, that is the best image.  This unstoppable organic mass bearing down on you.  It would crush anything in its path.  I got into my pointing and clapping stride, but cheering was harder than expected.  I should have done some voice exercises to warm up.  Still, I did my best!  ‘Great running‘, ‘good job‘, ‘Go Smiley‘ (but only if it was actually a Smiley running), and calling out random names or club names if I had time for the letters to come into focus before the runner sped on by.  I did worry at one point if my commentary might be deemed as patronising, but then again, if you’re running the fast one’s wont hear/wont care, and others like me are grateful for any support vocalised and don’t generally waste time grading it on levels of acceptability.  Even if they do, I can say hand on heart, no-one stopped running to come across and critique my cheering skills or express annoyance at my choice of phraseology, so don’t worry, just follow your instincts on that one if ever you are required to cheer runners on in a public place.

Looking at my ‘action shots’ of the day, I have to reluctantly concede (sorry about the split infinitive) that the outfit isn’t one of my finest is it really, oh well, astoundingly, I don’t do running related activities because of the flattering clothing choices it offers up!  Just as well frankly.

The next 20 minutes or so was a blur of directional pointing and clapping.  It then started to get a bit stressful.  The problem was, faster runners started to lap the slower ones and were coming to the finish.  The slower runners were caught unawares and what with the corner, and spectators milling around trying to get a view of their mates completing the first lap I was really worried the finish funnel would be blocked.  I was shouting frantically to people to keep clear of the finish but, not unreasonably, the spectators couldn’t really fathom what I was on about.  Fortunately, the psychic race organiser appeared like some Deus Ex Machina to save the day by expert relocation of some of my dome-shaped sports boundary cones to signify the finish funnel.  Disaster was thus avoided.  Phew.  Here is a picture of him in action:

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It is eye-opening marshalling.  Most people were really lovely, but some seemed to have zero awareness of what was going on around them.  People sort of wandering into the path of oncoming runners who seemed surprised and amazed when I asked (politely, I was very polite) to keep clear.  It wasn’t even that they were making a point about it being a public park and their entitlement to use the paths, more that they didn’t seem to compute that taking on maybe 800+ runners piling towards them by ambling towards them in the opposite direction wouldn’t end well.  Some runners had children supporting them at the sidelines, and periodically whoops went up as high-fives were exchanged.  A few people asked me random questions when I was in the midst of particularly high-pressure directional pointing.  Timing people, timing!  Oooh, the adrenalin was certainly flowing.  It was one such question about – oh I dont know, where to buy duck food or something – that prevented me from either enquiring about how her shorts were faring or indeed setting off a rousing two-way ‘honey’ ‘g’ call and response chorus in honour of our elite Marple Smiley Runner, so that was a missed opportunity now lost for ever.  Probably just as well.  I particularly asked that people today kept me abreast of any wardrobe malfunctions after compression-shortsgate last year, but no official notifications were made to me so I presume all was well.

A different set of challenges ensued once a proportion of the runners had finished but others were still passing the half way point, or coming through to the finish themselves.  There seemed to descend a sort of runners’ haze, which I’ve experienced, but not really witnessed in such graphic terms before.  A wall of runners stumbling towards me, making their way home with medals and goody bags along the finish funnel in reverse, and back out from whence they came. They wore dazed expressions, and just walked five a-breast right out on the course, completely obstructing the entire route. With apologies if it’s a distateful analogy, but it was honestly like those photos you see on the front page of newspapers catching the aftermath of some horrific disaster.  You know the one, black and white images of victims emerging from collapsed buildings, hardly able to comprehend what has just happened, zombie like, with dust billowing behind them and ruins all around.  They stagger onwards, unresponsive, unhearing and (in my view) insufficiently compliant with marshal directives such as ‘clear the course, clear the course!’  Amazing!

I put some thought into what to shout by way of encouragement to the runners more towards the end of the pack.  I started by shouting ‘sprint finish‘ as my position at the second lap was  a few hundred metres from the end.  But then again, I remembered how I loathe it if people pressurise me to do more than I want on a run, and also I remember how at the Round Sheffield Run (still my favourite race of all time) I strategically kept walking as long as I was hidden by the handy concealing hedge, only picking up a ‘lumbering run’ (yes, that is a technical running term) once I was in sight of any spectators.  I therefore amended my approach to a more ambigious ‘get ready for your sprint finish!’  If I say so myself, this was an act of creative genius.  Why?  Because serious runners, could indeed do just that, but the have-a-go crowd could if they preferred simply share a hollow laugh or knowing wink, enjoying the hilarious use of irony at such a moment.  Nice bit of marshal/runner bonding.

Another grand thing about my location, was I got to see lots of people I knew as they departed.  I’d hoped to be able to take some action photos of runners too, but abandoned that plan early on.  It was more fun clapping etc, and you needed to be able to see what was going on.  Marshalling  wasn’t difficult as such, but it did require more concentration than I expected to encourage people to give way to runners.  Also, runners’ haze again, some participants who had ended up on their own for whatever reason, and presumably didn’t know the park, did get confused about  where the route went despite me pointing, all the arrows and the crowd lining the route.  ‘Which way?’ was a plaintiff cry more than once.  I didn’t mind, it met my criteria of making me feel busy and important, without actually making any great demands on any specialist skills, always a bonus.  The sense of feeling important is a pretty rare occurence in my own life, alas.

Hobbit buddy survived her run in tact, which is nigh on miraculous give the state of her feet and her recent near-death experience!  She performed some good photo duties, and I took some delightful snaps of her too.  She looks very bling happy indeed.  She hasn’t just been shopping by the way, those are the bountiful goody bags dished out at the event, no wonder she was so happy.

Surprisingly, well I was surprised, you do remember who has been round, and I was aware that at the back were a group of charity walkers a bit behind the main throng.  After about 100 minutes, it was clear everyone else had finished bar this group.  We weren’t quite sure what the protocol was around when to leave our posts.  I was happy to stay until the very end, but my BFF marshals appeared saying that they needed to leave.  We weren’t sure what to do, but we could espy our volunteer co-ordinator taking down tape on the finish line and collapsing tables.  The others went off to ask, I stayed put because I wasn’t in any particular hurry, and as a slowbie myself I appreciate it if there is still some evidence of life when you come in.  My new BFFs reappeared.  We were to stand down.  The group were with the tail marker and OK to finish together.  Fair enough.  We said our farewells, handed back our hi-vis and said emotional farewells.  Not all that emotional, but we had bonded, I’d definitely recommend volunteering it was a hoot.

We were in time for the prize giving presentations.  I went across to see what was going on.   A lot of the winners had already departed (not died, just gone home) but there was still a good line up on the very impressively proportioned podium.  I decided that rather than go for the obvious winners shot, I’d try and get one of the photographers instead.  It didn’t really work.  The particular shot I wanted, was one of all the photographers with their impressive lenses, viewed through the legs of the winners.  However, just in time it dawned on me that if I did  indeed attempt that shot, I’d also have photobombed every winners’ shot, and probably not in a good way.  Oh well, I tried.  It was my attempt at a tribute to all the photographers who turned out on the day and laboured unseen behind their magnificent lenses to capture all that unfolded on the day.  We thank you.

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By the way, STOP-PRESS, my stealth photography project wasn’t wholly successful, but on the plus side, this photo is hilarious, so that’s OK then!

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Just as the prize-giving was concluded, the final finishers were in sight.  Those of us still around were encouraged to gather round the finish to cheer them home, that was a really nice gesture.  Aw, what great people are behind this event, the attention to detail, and the inclusivity is really impressive.  Here they are, the final returners I mean, and some of them put in such a turn of speed with their unexpected sprint finish, I’m afraid they got a bit blurred. Sorry about that. You will also see though, that I have captured some great volunteer marshal shots.  See the skill with which they are proffering those medals.  That’s quality  technique I’ll have you know – but it doesn’t mean it couldn’t be you dishing out the honours same time next year!

Free from responsibilities, I wandered about picking up friends along the way and hearing their running tales.  Very soon I came across cheetah buddy who appeared with another volunteer (her new BFF from the top loop), both were stuffing their faces with burgers – they’d got pretty chilled on the Hanging Water Road location which is shaded, and were in calorie deficit replacement mode.  Still, I could be sympathetic at their plight, yet not miss out on the chance of shooting at an open goal.  ‘Is that what you’ve been doing all morning?’  I quipped with great originality and hilarity ‘scoffing buns?’.  How they laughed at my merry jape!

Cheetah buddy correctly identified that my real problem was jealousy.  For reasons I couldn’t quite fathom (being cold from volunteering mainly) she and her marshal buddy had got free food!  It seems I might also, AND there was a vegetarian option of lentil and aubergine soup, which was actually delicious.  I was quite peckish, well breakfast was now almost 8 hours ago.  I wondered if I could get a roll wtih my soup.  Wasn’t technically on offer, but they had them for the burgers after all.   ‘Can I have a roll with my soup please?’  ‘No, we don’t have any rolls, sorry‘.  I was completely non-plussed.  I could see an abundance of rolls.  What was going on?  Fortunately, another staff member came to my assistance, correcting her colleague.  ‘ We have lots and lots of rolls, it is simply a question of the vernacular, of course she can have a roll, but it is not a roll, it is of course, a breadcake!’  Me and my soft-southerner incomprehensible ways eh?  Still, all’s well that ends well.  I got my soup.  I got my roll/breadcake, and I even got to tell a story I’ve not had the opportunity to share in ages.  When I was about 17, a friend of mine had a job at Thorpe Park (amusement place near Staines in Surrey).  She spent an entire summer telling every American tourist who visited that she was sorry but ‘no, there are no restrooms available within this attraction‘.  Hilarious.  Well, Americans can be demanding cant they, how was she supposed to know they didn’t mean they wanted a bit of a lie down before taking on the next queue for a roller-coaster or whatever?  Incidentally, that food place had a particularly great view of the portaloos from their tent didn’t they?  See how I’ve framed it with such artistry in the shot.

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Once we had our soup, and buns, and whatever, we plonked ourselves down on some free seats outside the cafe.  This turned out to be an unexpectedly good move.  Not only did we score big time, finding ourselves joined by regal smiley, her talented offspring and her dedicated celebrity photographer, but we were also joined by another Smiley compatriot who has PROMISED to do the Wingerworth Wobble next week (this is important as I am in fear of doing it on my own); but also, I found if you sat there long enough people brought you free things.  No really, I came back laden.  Firstly, cheetah buddy procured some amazing chocolate fudge brownies – which admittedly she had to pay for but I didn’t, so I may be regarded as a social parasite but I still got free food thrust upon me.  It was from these people I think:

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Then, after a bit, someone was offering free bunches of bananas.  Get in, you can’t go wrong with a free bunch of bananas.  And Then… ‘free rainbow drops, anyone want free rainbow drops!’  I know, real multi-coloured droplets from actual rainbows!  There didn’t seem to be a catch, this was no child-snatcher.  I don’t even think I like rainbow drops (what with my body being a temple and everything) but I got a bag of them too.  Though on reflection, we may have despatched a child to procure them for us.  Still, result.

Finally, my cheetah buddy had brought me bountiful produce from her allotment, so I went home with freshly harvested apples and pears.  Not a bad haul. I’m slightly worried that I brought nothing to the literal or metaphorical table, as I wasn’t even knowledgeable enough about camper vans to join in that conversation, but perhaps I’m holding back on my more bountiful qualities so I can use them for a special occassion.  Once the supply of all the free things had apparently been exhausted, we started to depart.  It had been a good day.  However, amazingly it wasn’t over, there were more surprises yet to come!

We went to watch the parkour play area for a bit, the athleticism of those young people is amazing.  In fact, it was inspirational.  For reasons that made sense at the time, we decided to find out how hard exactly it is to do a crab as an adult.  Regal Smiley and her Celebrity Photographer have recently discovered it’s way harder than you remember from your childhood.  We decided to have a go.  My approximation at this is not awe-inspiring, but may have comedic value.  It’s so strange. Your head gets stuck, like it’s nailed to the ground, and your arms don’t quite work either.  Have a go, you know you want to, and you might amuse any young person in the vicinity more than you know.  Think of it as a random act of kindness, and maybe choose a less public place to experiment though be mindful of your safety.  Don’t lock your front door in case emergency services are needed, and keep a mobile phone in reach, even if you have to activate it with your nose or eyebrows.  Here is the experiment and the joy it brought about.  You’re welcome.

So, that was that.  Home.  Thanks all for a great day.  Well done to the race organisers.  It can be lonely at the top.  Well, so they say, I suspect this is a team effort, but I like the narrative that allows me to include this picture. Also, special kudos for matching top and shoes, that’s classy!  Thank you runners and marshals all, both are needed, there would be no event of any worth if either side of that equation was a no-show.

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On the way home I took some photos to capture the season’s colours.  Potentially pretentious granted, but why not?  I find you can still have post-run endorphins even if you haven’t actually run anywhere, it was grand!  I loved everyone, and I loved the world… well, I did until the latest news bulletin, but that was always inevitable.

Oh lawks a lordy, I almost forgot, for those of you who care, there are results available here for the tententen 2016 and 2.5km fun-run.

When I got home, I got to enjoy my top.  You get a free one for volunteering, also free entry to next year’s event, which is a very good deal really, because marshaling was no great hardship, au contraire, it was a lot of fun.  The best thing about this top is that it is flattering.  I was going to wear it forever, but unfortunately got baked beans down it within hours of this photo being taken, so that plan didn’t quite work out, you might be luckier.  Just don’t eat baked beans wearing it, or wear a bib, or learn to get food in your mouth on a fork first time.  Takes practice, but I understand it can be done.

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Same time next year? Go on, go on, you know you want to!

If you are a seasoned volunteer, you might even be wise enough to bring your own chair.  Serious pros caught in action here!

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Oh, and another thing, there are lots of photos available on facebook, though as in previous years, the organisers ask that you consider making a donation to Weston Park Cancer Charity in return for free photos – they raised £1500 last year and are hoping to smash this target this year! 🙂 https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/TENTENTEN2016

and finally, if you dont have a life, or need a procrastination tool because you are supposed to be working towards your masters or whatever, then follow this link for all my running scared posts on the ten ten ten follow this link

You’re welcome.  Happy running.

Categories: 10km, off road, race, running | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Three glorious things.

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Firstly:

I have a medal.  Bling for Hobbit Day.  This means that, reflecting back on our Hobbit Day Celebrations I must have run more than I realised, because as every runner will tell you effort on race days is rewarded by bling.  Therefore, if I am in possession of bling, logically, I must have put in some quality effort.  Yay.  Go me.  Go Hobbit Buddy also.  We are epic.  Also, my name is engraved on said medal, which, as any runner will tell you, is a service normally only offered to those in the winning line up.   I think that means I must have come either first, or possibly second, but definitely in the ‘best record for posterity‘ line up.  I wont let these accolades change me, but I will bring them up in conversation whenever possible lest we forget.  Did you know I’ve done a half-marathon as well by the way, not managed gratuitously to drop it into a blog post in days?  Thank you Hobbit Buddy, henceforth forever known as ‘bearer of the bling‘ also.

Secondly:

I had another woeful shamble round Sheffield Hallam parkrun today.  I was feeling quite demoralised at my inability to do anything beyond deteriorate in my running prowess.  However, it seems I am more easily cheered than I gave myself credit for.  My strava map for this run was hilarious.  No wonder I was slow, wasn’t aware of having gone so extensively off-piste!  For those not in the know, you are supposed to do the same loop twice.  Have a look at these two maps and see if you can spot the difference.  Doing all those river crossings was tough, even though I’ve had practise at The Trunce.  Hasn’t enamoured me any more with the notion of doing a triathlon to be honest…

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Such was the extent of my GPS/ strava improvisation of the route, I actually got a trophy for a Personal Record PR on TENTENTEN Sprint Finish which is hilarious, and impressive, as I must have done it entirely using the power of my mind as my legs didn’t go anywhere near there.  Also, leads me neatly into the third of my ‘three things’.

Thirdly:

Tomorrow I’m volunteer marshaling for the TenTenTen.  I’m quite unexpectedly excited.  I am a bit nervous in case I have some sort of disorientation episode and end up sending everyone off in the wrong direction.  This was partly brought on by my apparent lapse in navigation as evidenced above – seems I have the potential to lose any sense of direction on even the most familiar of routes – and partly brought on because loads of additional, confusing race signs have appeared in the vicinity of the TenTenTen course.  They are 10 mile markers.  Especially confusing as I saw two 10 mile markers in different locations, and also because the TenTenTen is only 10k.  Anyway, don’t worry, we have investigative researchers within the Smiley Dynasty.  Our very own Ms Marple-Morris found out it is because there is a St Luke’s Night Strider in the dark 10k/ half marathon walk  taking place tonight in the dark.  This had passed completely under my radar, hope it’s well supported.  Anyway, phew, it caused me immense confusion for quite some time.  It’s too late for me to do extra training to finesse my marshalling skills, but I plan to be as smiley and cheery as possible, and also to look busy and important.  That should cover most eventualities.  I’m wondering whether or not I should take my own clipboard to help with this aspect of the competency role play (you know, fake it to make it) but I think on balance, erm,  ‘no‘.  I will however endeavour to remember to bring my glasses, so if I have to read names off a list I can do so with an ostentatious display of literacy skills assisted by optical aids facilitating sight.  It’s going to be grand.  Otherwise, main rule pre race day is carbing up and tapering.  I’m on course for that so don’t worry on my account, but thank you for your concern.

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See you there!

Categories: running | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Packing a Punch – evaluating the Percy Pud Christmas 10K as a spectator sport.

Not standing in the hail watching it on the day, that would just be miserable.  I am, dear reader, referring to the extraordinary spectacle of watching the social media fall out as cometh the hour, crasheth the website.   5.00 p.m. today, Sunday 2nd October, was supposed to have been the moment that the proverbial launch button was pressed, the site went live, and the battle for Percy Pud Entries was on!   This is an event that seriously punches above its weight.  How else are we to account for the veritable shark feeding frenzy that is unleashed in the quest to secure a place.  Filial loyalties mean nothing, friends must fend for themselves.  Normal rules of engagement and standard moral and ethical compasses no longer apply.   It’s not so much ‘dog eat dog‘ as ‘this dog will hunt down and devour all and everything in its path leaving only the twilight aftermath of a zombie apocalypse in its wake in its quest to secure a place.‘  No really, I’m not even exaggerating (much)!  At least one member of Steel City Striders (who shall remain nameless) admitted candidly that ‘This year I will literally crawl over your lifeless bodies to get a place‘  They reinforced this message with an angry/ determined face emoticon, so they meant business!  Actually, that was relatively mild, at least they were only going to clamber over actual corpses, others would have happily ripped the hearts out of kittens to secure a place I’m sure (not explicitly stated, but definitely implied).  Trust me, securing an entry to the Percy Pud is to obtain a ticket for the hottest gig in town.  Which is ironic, as in all probability it will be the coldest and most miserable weather imaginable on the day, but it seems poor short-term memory is a pre-requisite for seeking to secure an entry to this race in consecutive years, that, and a disproportionate appreciation for Christmas Pud!

Oh hang on, I suppose I better clarify, though surely to goodness everyone knows about the Percy Pud by now don’t they?  Sigh, well for the uninitiated, the website blah de blah is basically:

We (Steel City Striders Running Club) organise South Yorkshire’s most popular 10km each year which takes place on the first Sunday in December.

The event has grown in popularity from the first race in 1993 when 600 finished the race to recent years when the entry has had to be limited to around 2,200.

Such is the demand for numbers that in each of the last 10 years the race has sold out ahead of time.

The 2013 race was no exception, as the race limit was reached within two weeks of the entries opening, in 2014 this was 36 hours and in 2015 it took just 2 hours to sell 2,200 entries.

Why is it so popular? Traditionally each finisher in the race receives a Christmas pudding for their efforts. Food and seasonal music are provided after the race. Of course, the route is not bad either.

For many, the Percy Pud signals the start of Christmas.

WHEN: Sunday 4th December 2016, 9:30am start.

They don’t mention that you will also get to see Santa, probably be overtaken by a guy dressed as a bottle of beer and if you are especially lucky, get to stand up close and personal to celebrity news-reader Harry Gration in the marqee at the finish.  You can’t honestly put a price on that can you.  I’ve not washed since I got a high-five from him at the start of the Sheffield Half.  It’s fine, I’ve got a healthy immune system, but thanks for your concern.

This moment, i.e. the moment when entries ‘go live’,  does indeed represent the official countdown to Christmas for every runner in the Sheffield, nay the whole of the South Yorkshire vicinity.  It was not, as you may have thought, the moment when I was in a Surrey garden centre last weekend and they were actually playing christmas songs (what fresh hell is this, we haven’t even had Halloween yet, this was still September).  Rather, it is this moment, when the final countdown has concluded, the slow hand of time finally reaches the 5.00 p.m. threshold, and the entry site goes live.  Thoughts turn to the challenge of acquiring a christmas pudding to call one’s own, the first hurdle is to secure entry, a process that for many can take considerably longer, and require rather more stamina than the race itself.  It seems the Percy Pud Christmas Puddings are to runners what catnip is to our feline friends.  They will do anything, and I mean anything to acquire a place…

Last year (2015) this race sold out in two hours, rewarding couch potatoes like me, who were sat on the sofa mainlining mars bars, whilst watching the telly, over the really committed athletes out on some epic masochistic road run that evening, who returned too late to nab a place.   Life can be cruel at times it seems, but who ever said it would be fair?

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It isn’t always the fastest runners that reach the start line, let alone finish first at the end.  I’m sure there’s a wise saying there somewhere, but I can’t be bothered to think of one right now.  There’s the old ‘slow and steady’ one of course, but I’ve recently found out that’s only half the quote!  I know, who knew?  The full one is “..slow and steady wins the race, till truth and talent claim their place.”  Apparently.  I hope it isn’t true, it messes with my mind.  In fact, it messes with my mind almost as much as the notion that given a head start, a snail could beat the most elite of runners in any race.  This was explained on radio 4 at great length in a programme on ‘infinity’ and I just thought my brain would implode, or maybe explode.  One or the other, and it would be messy.  It’s Zeno’s paradox, good luck with figuring that out.  It’s never worked for me – but then again I do always commence my runs at the back of the line up, maybe if I edged to the front of the throng at parkrun now and again my whole running trajectory would have taken on a quite different arc…  What might have been, if only I’d got a philosopher’s mind…  Oh well, here is a gratuitous snail shot in the interim.

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So, what’s my point?  My point is, that in the build up to the moment when entries went live, there was much fanning of the frenzy of anticipation.  Think of the battle for one of Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ but with higher stakes.  Erm, oh, I don’t know, maybe imagine you are not so much seeking an entry for a fun and festive 10k, more securing an organ transplant for not so much a beloved relative, but for your actual self.  It is seemingly impossible to over-state just how much these places were coveted.  Yep, think of a cross between the last available golden ticket and a new organ of choice for your person of choice and you are only getting near to understanding the desperation people felt in trying to acquire one of only 2,200 running places.  You’d think that it was the only way on earth to get a Christmas Pudding, and further more, that most people actually like them.  I know!  Curiouser and curiouser!

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Facebook posts, twitter no doubt for those savvy enough to engage with that, every running club I know of sent out reminders to ensure that cometh the hour, cometh the entrants.  Five, four, three, two one…  not so much blast off, as ‘oh blast!’  The website it seemed crasheth, and did so to spectacular effect.

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Basically, the computer said no.  A lot.  For a very long time.

Initially, there was a bit of good-natured incredulity, but, dear reader, frustration built, and the mood turned. Now this is basically where I have to hold up my hand and admit I am essentially a bad person.  I am a bad person because, as a spectator sport,  I found watching the hysteria build to fever pitch because of an IT glitch was pretty entertaining.  Granted, I can’t do Percy Pud this year, for reasons I’ll come to at a later date, maybe… so I had less immediately emotionally invested in the battle to join the starting line up, but I am sufficiently engaged in the whole Percy Pud anticipatory build up that I was interested to see how people fared in their shots at getting in.

For the record, I am sorry that I can’t run this year, because after all it is such a Sheffield Institution, but if I’m really honest, there may also be a smidgen of relief in there.  It has been sooooooooooo very cold and wet when I’ve done it.   It is fun, for sure, but I shudder at the memory of peering out of the event marquee at the start last year, watching stair rods of rain plunge down from the sky like shards of ice thrown to the earth by a vengeful god.  I did enjoy the actual race it is true, during it, because miraculously the sun came out, and indeed afterwards when I was no longer required to keep on running.  However, I cannot tell a lie, I most definitely entertained the near sacrilegious thought of ‘never again‘ whilst waiting for the off….  Even so, you can’t not be caught up in the anticipatory excitement of it all, and I was stalking various Facebook pages to see who’d get in as the countdown reached its climax.

With only 2,200 places up for grabs the competition was sure to be fierce.  Now the thing is, the thing that makes me a bad person is, that in terms of a spectator sport, it was quite hilarious watching reactions unfold on social media.  There were the nonplussed who assumed they themselves were liable due to their own deficiencies in technical understanding, those in denial, ‘it’ll be reyt soon enough‘ the incredulous ‘what, again!’ because they’d had problems with the technology last year as well, and those who used humour as the coping strategy to carry them through the torments of uncertainty.  This post is a tribute to you all.  I thank you, for providing me with a full Sunday evening of entertainment.

Reader, all of human emotion was laid bare that night.  Want to know the depths of feeling, despair, rage, disappointment, forgiveness, blame that people can display, well look no further.  I felt I was watching Armageddon itself, and this catastrophe alas did not bring out the best in all.  It doesn’t bode well if there is an actual zombie apocalypse, mob rule took over with depressing speed.

The panic hitting of the refresh buttons apparently contributed to the server meltdown.  Did potential entrants not realise that every time they hit refresh a kitten somewhere was kicked to oblivion?

Some confusion was understandable, because for a while at least it was possible to see a list of ‘entries so far’ and it seemed that one entrant had got through?  How was this possible, some held this up as a beacon of hope – if one had made it, others might follow.  Others suspected corruption and contacts ‘do they work for fr systems?’  The emerging conspiracy theories made holocaust deniers seem mild-tempered and rational by comparison. I was fearful a whole vigilante mob might yet be roused to hunt him down and take him out (not for dinner, the bad sort of being ‘taken out’, though being taken out for dinner can of course also be pretty tortuous in the wrong company). However, it seems the reality was rather more prosaic.  It was last year’s winner, the only person guaranteed an entry the following year apparently.  Personally, I’m a bit miffed this honour is not extended to the female winner as well, or maybe it is, but they haven’t been added yet.  It was quite comical seeing the reactions to this revelation though.  People doing the equivalent of screaming into the void, unheard, in outrage at this further injustice rubbing salt into their already open, sore and oozing wounds….

Some people took to the couch potato life with ease, settling down to sit it out (literally and metaphorically) too scared to leave their computers for fear of missing a window of opportunity when the server came back up.  One or two brave souls actually LEFT TO GO FOR  A RUN, figuring they’d come back later when it was all sorted.  Yes, gaining moral high ground, but whoa that was a high risk (though on this occasion successful) strategy.  The more productive elements of the running community variously did ironing, household tasks and comfort eating.  The more opportunistic broke open the wine/ beer with considerable cheer.  Others no doubt improvised by making running related purchases on Ebay or amazon.

attitude

Some became frankly petulant ‘didn’t want to do it anyway‘ (they were lying); a few resigned themselves to their fate.  Would they be the first to let go of a life raft at sea I wonder?  Others still perked up as they considered the plus side of not getting a place – you could spend that time in a nice warm pub enjoying the spectacle of the runners without any risk of having your nether regions frozen by having to run on the day.  A few lateral thinkers came up with alternative races, since they were all fired up to enter something why not an arctic ultra say.  What could possibly go wrong?  Disappointingly, at least one commentator had a somewhat (in my view) unhelpful rant about how this CATASTROPHE meant the event would be taken over by non-runners (I think he meant fun-runners, and probably people like me who are never going to break any records but want the sense of achievement to be gained from giving it a go). ‘This is disgusting … I bet actual runners don’t get in and you get loads of those WALKERS which seem to be invading RUNS these days!’  Whoa, where did that come from?  It made me sad to be honest, though I was glad that another responder calmed things down with a nice Buddha snap and a reminder that this is supposed to be an inclusive race with over 2000 entries available.  Serious runners might enjoy participating too – and there is an impressive £1000 up for grabs if anyone beats the course record, but  I find it hard to believe that really elite runners have this as their most important 10k in their annual cannon.  Also, if the race were to be over-run with walkers, wouldn’t that cancel out the effect of their slower pace?   Maybe it was drink talking.  The mood was turning though and not in a good way…  It is disturbing how quickly social media allowed a sort of mob rule hysteria to emerge!

After a bit, the servers were shut, and more speculation ensued.  I do find it extraordinary how heated people got, it was like they took it as a personal affront there had been an IT system failure.  I know it’s really annoying, I know you’d think it shouldn’t happen, but the bottom line is we’ve all experienced the extreme frustration of when the ‘computer says no‘, and at that point ranting doesn’t really help.  The organisers know, the IT people know, it will be fixed when it is fixed.  End of.

My favourite posts were the satirical ones.  They restored faith in human nature.  There was a spate of people outraged to the point of not just suing the race organisers, but threatening to pursue them for all eternity like an army of vengeful dementors, and/or demanding a pound of flesh by way of compensation with immediate effect. However, as a counter-balance to this, one poster gave details of his pooing schedule for the following day, requesting a hand-written note be delivered to him personally by a member of the organising team in the event of booking going live again when he was otherwise engaged.  Genius!  Plus, a much-needed lightening of the mood.  At least I presume that request was in jest, though with some of the remarks posted you do have to wonder…

dementors-during-prisoner-of-azkaban

Anyway, the upshot of the evening was, that there was an attempt to restart the servers and at this point a small trickle of further entrants made it through to the checkout.  Alas, then everything crashed again.  The race organisers, who must have been having the evening from hell, then decided to postpone entries entirely for a few days if necessary,  until the system has been stress tested all over again. They had already done significant stress-testing in anticipation of a surge of hits when entries opened, but even so were taken by surprise at the deluge of people all trying to enter at the same time.   Victim of its own success perhaps, but it’s not fair to make the race organisers victims of a vigilante mob as well.  I don’t think lynch mobs have a place anywhere, but especially not for a temporary delay in accessing a run on Loxley Road.  Maybe the Percy Pud will have to be renamed the ‘Angry Mob Fun Run’?  There is precedent for such an event I believe.

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So, what have we learned?

  1. The Percy Pud is really popular
  2. The only way to guarantee entry into the Percy Pud is to win in the event the year before
  3. People are very intolerant of failing IT
  4. Passions run high when there’s pudding at stake

For what it’s worth, I think its great that the Percy Pud is so popular, 2,200 places is still a lot and so I don’t see why it can’t remain an inclusive event.  However, nor do I  see a problem with say volunteers one year being guaranteed a place the following one or holding back a proportion of places for e.g. club members, and so staggering entry a bit.  However, I was pretty disgusted by how much rage was directed at the VOLUNTEER organisers.  It’s not life and death, it’s a run.  You wonder who will be willing to step up and take on these roles in future if they have to contend with that kind of abuse.  It’s an IT failure, not criminal negligence.  Or indeed criminal negligee, which I understand is something else entirely. The race team were as frustrated and disappointed as everyone else, and showering abuse on them and demanding reparations like victims of war crimes did seem a tad disproportionate.  On the plus side, there was a backlash (can you have a positive backlash) of more supportive comments, congratulating the team for what they had done.  So not everyone on Facebook was a troll, some were troll-fighters.  Yay!

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Anyway, latest is, the booking fee has been removed (good will gesture), and two days notice will be given before the site booking system goes live again (possibly next Sunday).  I hope for everyone’s sake that systems run smoothly, ruffled feathers are smoothed and IT issues forgotten. Let’s all try to be friends again.   Ultimately this is a race that is great fun, should be supported and even if it isn’t possible to run I reckon it would be a great craik just to volunteer for it and soak up all the fun. The link to the latest Percy Pud 2016 entry information is here though, in case you are wondering

Lest you think I have exaggerated the drama, let me conclude by drawing your attention to the press interest generated by the calamitous turn of events – the crashing website making The Star no less.  This would surely have secured the legendary status of the Percy Pud for evermore were it not already an integral part of the history of running in Sheffield as any local (worth talking to) would be able to confirm.  HUGE demand indeed!

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So fingers crossed, it will be a case of all’s well that ends well.  In the meantime, I spent Sunday evening on the edge of my sofa watching the drama unfold.  So I’ve already got my money’s worth from the event … though on reflection I didn’t pay anything so basically I have to hold my hand up and admit to being a rubber-necker.  Sorry(ish) about that.  And to think previously I thought GBBO was exciting! Clearly I aint seen nothing yet.  Running for a pudding as a blood sport.  Who knew?

Bring on the Percy Pud, have fun y’all – if you think you’re hard enough!

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For all my posts relating to the Percy Pud, follow this link, including an account of my 2015 Percy Pud rainbow run.

Categories: 10km, Percy Pud, road, running | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

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