Digested read: your personal running mojo can be elusive, but you’ll get by with the help of your friends. You might get wet as well though, so go out prepared. That’s my experience anyway. Running buddies are awesome. Just go run.
You’ll have to wait for the visual punchline to fully understand and appreciate the ‘getting stylish’ reference of the heading. I’m not suggesting by the way, it will necessarily be worth the wait, only pointing out that the delay is unavoidable. It’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Proverbially that is, there are no actual cookies available to readers of this post unless you have taken the precaution of sourcing your own. Which would be sensible to be fair, but is beyond my area of control or influence.
So. I’ve been feeling really wobbly about what I euphemistically refer to as my ‘running’ of late. This isn’t only in the literal sense. Whilst it is true that I increasingly find it impossible-to-ignore the independent motion of my extra layers of adipose tissue that jiggle unbidden whenever I attempt any turn of speed. I swear parts of my anatomy have developed a life of their own, whole colonies are boiling beneath. I refer also to my metaphorical negative and wobbly state of mind. I’m currently in utterly disheartened mode, my ‘running career’ (if that isn’t the ultimate oxymoron of all time) braked completely in Cambodia, and since I’ve returned to the UK I seem to be slower and more lumbering than ever before. My running mojo has evaporated. I am too shamed to show my face at running club, and feel more intimidated than ever by ‘proper runners’ bounding by at organised events, or ostentatiously stretching and warming up at the startlines. To be fair, this latter issue is I know mine not theirs. In the main ‘proper runners’ have only ever been supportive and encouraging to me. Perhaps it is just human nature. Whether or not it is a universal truth, it’s definitely an individual one. Whatever, my personal paranoia, ensures it is only ever the notable exceptions whose actions and voices spring into my mind. My negative self-talk hardly needs a mocking chorus of others to reinforce it. I can be loud enough all on my own. This dear reader, is how negative running cycles start. Not in the ‘now I must undertake a duathlon as this cycle is so compelling and it’s all running round me as well‘ sense, more in the ‘this sofa is a way preferable option to humiliating myself in public by running‘ one. Only, with great irony, it usually isn’t. The sofa I mean, really being the better option. There is no great mystery to running, the only way to get back into it (injuries and over-training aside) is to get back into it. That is, to go out and run. Stop/start slow/ fast or otherwise. It remains true that once completed, I have never regretted a run ever (though I will concede that I have sometimes deeply regretted undertaking a run at the time). Short term memory failings, brought about by post-run endorphins are in this respect the runner’s friend.
So it was, that feeling really crap about life the universe and everything in general and running in particular, when a suggestion of hooking up with some slow and steady trail explorers popped into my inbox I hesitated before swiping left. What if?
In the end, I decided not to over-think it, just go out and try. After all, it was a lovely day, full of promise for evening sunshine in verdant countryside. What’s the worst? ‘Yes please‘ I said, adding a ‘Simon’s Cat’ emoticon for good measure and hitting send… and then I did my research….
So the plan was to do a recce for the Grindleford Fell Race. I’ve not actually entered this year, well not yet anyway. But lots of lovely smiley-by-name and smiley-by-nature smiley paces comrades have. It’s 15th June this year, and not many spaces left at the time of writing. I know nothing about this event. I decided to have a little look at the route. This induced near apoplectic paralytic panic, as I inadvertently happened on the route for the Grindleford Gallop instead. The Grindleford Gallop is 21 miles and 3000ft of ascent, and requires navigation. Not at all the gentle confidence-building romp out I’d fondly imagined I’d signed up to. Cripes! Fortunately, once I’d mopped up the puddles of tea spat out in shock and disbelief earlier, I was able to find the actual fell race route. That was much more encouraging. 4.5 miles, and ideal for newcomers. The Grindleford Fell race website tells us that:
The Grindleford Fell Race takes place over a 4.5miles route starting on the playing fields. The route takes you up through Hay Wood, the Longshore Estate and back through Padley Gorge. The celebrated river crossing within site of the finishing line offers excellent spectating opportunities (!).
The route is well marshalled and partially taped.
This race is suitable for newcomers to fell racing and requires no local knowledge or navigational skills.
Phew, that’s OK then.
So it was, at the appointed hour, I stood outside waiting for my pick up just as the heavens opened and freezing torrential rain started to pour out of the sky. This was not the plan. However, dear reader, this is also a learning point potentially. For the conscientious-if-not-keen runner such as myself, making an agreement to meet is half the battle. I’d never have gone out for a run in my own in the face of such inclement weather, but we’d agreed, so what can you do? You have to turn out don’t you.
Thank you running buddy for sweeping me up and out of the rain. We peered through the rain beating down on the windscreen and squinted through the mist as we headed out to Grindleford. The rendezvous point was at the Cricket Club Pavilion, where at 7.30 on a Tuesday evening there was ample parking. We sat waiting for our other Smiley compatriots to appear. We didn’t risk venturing out the car. Who’d want to step out into that? Besides, seated where we were, we had a great view of a rather intrepid ground maintenance guy. He was mowing the near vertiginous slopes of grass that were alongside and behind the clubhouse with what looked alarmingly like an electric powered lawnmower. I seem to remember something in my science O levels about the perils of eletricity and water mixing in the proximity of a person. Or was that Frankenstein? Anyway it was pretty impressive. It seemed to me reminiscent of that sport of extreme ironing. You know where people take ironing boards to remote and inaccessible places and then iron random items of clothing. To be fair, this extreme mowing looked more hazardous. Wet slippery slope, and storm overhead. High adrenalin inducing activity I’d say. There are no photos of the extreme mowing in action, so here is an extreme ironing one instead. Enjoy.
After a bit, four of us assembled, and we had to leave the sanctuary of the car. Fortuitously, we had all got some sort of wet weather gear with us, even though we’d all been caught out by the elements. Beyond my running jacket, I rather stupidly hadn’t brought anything else. I know it’s summer but it got darker than I expected and with hindsight a head torch, whilst not necessary this time, would probably have been sensible just in case. I hadn’t even worn my fell shoes. This is my problem. Hope over experience. I have done a few fell races now, but I still am astonished to find that they all involve rough terrain and… a hill! Why is that always such a surprise? I think I just block out the bad memories otherwise I really would never venture out in the peaks again.
This run was no exception. We set off at a steady pace down a little road, over a wooden foot bridge and then almost immediately off down a footpath into the woods. I say down a footpath, but you know what? It was definitely UP. A lot of up. I was puffing and feeling hopeless in next no time, just like I was doing a ‘proper run’. Fell races have hills, there is a clue in the name. To be fair, in the grand scheme of things this was by no means the steepest or longest of available hauls heavenwards. But, it was enough of a challenge to me, trying to drag my weary carcass contrary to the pull of gravity that I was seriously wondering if this ‘joyfully venturing out with others’ was just romantic nonsense. Running uphill is hard, and this wasn’t the most auspicious of starts. One of our quartet sped by like a little rocket. Impressive. I caved in and started walking. I will concede it was beautiful though. The rain was heavy enough that it penetrated the tree canopy, but it was so green. Full of moss and ferns, and, unsurprisingly perhaps, we had the place to ourselves.
As we reached the top of the path, I realised I’d made the rookie error of not having started my tomtom, so all that elevation was completely wasted on me. It wont be on strava so it never happened, whatever my calves might be telling me the day after. Oh well. I had no idea of the route, seeing my role here as follower rather than leader. The consensus of those in the know was that the fell race would probably carry on through the woods for a bit, but that might take us into private land and no-one was really confident about the exact path. Instead, we headed off through a little gate and along a path in green, green fields. Heading towards Longshaw. To my embarrassment, I didn’t realise how these paths all connect together. It’s in fact ridiculously close. The fields were beautiful, and this was a gentler gradient albeit still uphill. I can’t really talk and run, which, made me feel as if I was being a bit antisocial. On reflection though, it was – and indeed perhaps always is – probably a blessing for those compelled to run alongside me!
I don’t really know where we went exactly, but we did end up at Longshaw, and seeing spring lambs cavorting and staring cattle and calves silently observing our progress. It was a gorgeous route. With a good flat section on fairly solid paths for those who wished to stretch out. Hang on, I’ll get the strava route for you. It’s incomplete, but you’ll get the idea. See if you can spot the missing section? Not exactly a mensa challenge is it?
We emerged and crossed a road towards Padley Gorge, where we thought we’d have to paddle across a stream, but were able to pick our way across on stepping-stones staying pretty dry. Into more lovely woodland. Maybe because the uphill bit was now behind me, or maybe because my legs were warmed up by now, or maybe I’d just settled into the new running company this was bit was the most fun. We hopped and picked our way over the bouncy woodland tracks, and tried to remember to look up and around us not just down at the tree roots and random stones. We took time to pose for selfies (very important) and agreed how lovely it was to be out and about. We weren’t out for very long really, but it does transport you to a seemingly parallel universe. The rain had stopped. The gradient was in our favour, as the paths ahead led down, ironically, things were looking up.
We emerged, more road. And then I got very confused about where we went. We sort of cut across what must have been a very over-grown footpath, alarming various sheep that were clearly unused to pathfinders emerging from the nettles and thistles at all, let alone at seemingly superhuman (er hem) speed. We ended up on a lovely green, flat flood plain, alongside the river. My faster companions sprinted ahead. I take seriously my role in life as ballast at the back, so didn’t deviate too much from that. I caught them up as they stopped, staring at the alarmingly fast flowing river. We had to cross it. The irony that we’d endeavoured to stay dry up top, only to now plunge in water and get completely soaked was striking. Even so, there was little alternative. Our pathfinder leader espied some steps on the opposite bank, that she declared to be ‘familiar’. Good enough for the rest of us.
Like the billy goats gruff, we took it in turns to wade across. It wasn’t massively deep, though a lot deeper than I’d anticipated for sure, well over my knees. It also felt pretty firm underfoot – but what was more disconcerting was the current. I don’t know how experienced fell runners sprint through such crossings. I’m built for solidity, but I felt like my legs were going to be swept from underneath me. It was fun though. You feel kind of intrepid, but it’s actually pretty tame in the grand scheme of things. Even so, I did rather regret my choice of shoes. Inexplicably, despite the fact this was a fell race recce, as referenced earlier, I hadn’t thought to wear my fell shoes, but instead was wearing my new hoka trail ones. I do really like them, but my fell raisers would have been better. Water went into my hokas alright, but doesn’t drain out in the effortless fountain I’ve come to expect as the standard response from my fellraisers. Ah well, we live and learn I suppose. I may be slower than others on the uptake at time, but I daresay I’ll get there eventually.
The river crossing complete, there were a few short steps and then, the moment you were waiting for, a style! We aren’t completely stupid, the style was padlocked, necessitating a clamber over. I’m not sure quite why. We weren’t doing it just for fun or ostentatious ‘tough mudder’ training. Probably we had committed an inadvertent trespass, but there was no-one standing with a gun making us retrace our steps so that was OK. Rather just our lovely pathfinder with her phone to capture the exact moment of our stylish exit from the trail. You can judge for yourself exactly how much the camera loves us! I know. A thing of wonder indeed!
Inevitably, as I’d spent the whole run completely clueless as to our exact whereabouts, I was a bit surprised to find we were pretty much back where we started. Just the playing fields themselves to cover with an optional sprint finish. In the middle of it sat a somewhat incongruously placed mandarin duck. It pointedly ignored us I felt. This was a duck that would not be moved. It sat motionless, and fearless as we ran by. I don’t have a picture of the actual duck, but here is one for illustrative purposes, they can sort of make themselves all small and tucked up. Amazing creatures really. Gotta love a duck.
And that was it. Run over. Game over. We were back with the cars. Grindleford yomp concluded. By the way, the extreme mowing cycle had been completed in our absence. I must say the ground looked splendid. The mower operative was pushing his mower across the car park and both appeared intact. On this occasion at least it seemed he had survived the challenge and neither tumbled in front of the roaring blades of his run away mower at any critical point, nor been struck by lightning. He lives to mow another day….. this time.
The conclusion dear reader? Despite my initial reluctance, poor shoe choice and the inclement weather you know what. It WAS fun. My running buddies were supportive, encouraging and great company. And you know what – sometimes they have running demons to wrestle with too! Who knew. I’m not the only person in the world ever to be riddled with self-doubt over running, or to have misplaced their running mojo.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say my confidence to get out and get running has returned. But I would say that my desire to try to find my running mojo again has. It is true it seems that: ‘I really regret that run’ said no-one ever.
So if your running mojo currently seems AWOL. Worry not, like a long forgotten missing sock, it is probably still out there somewhere, and you can expect to be unexpectedly reunited in time. No-one expects the unexpected of course, so you won’t believe me. I’m not sure I do myself. But in the meantime, surely there is no harm in yomping out in search of it. The search is part of the fun.
So thank you for the unexpected yomp out and about Smiley running buddies. You are smiling, shining stars indeed. Go you! Go us! Go everyone! Don’t think, just run. There will be cake!