Digested read: still got lost on Dig Deep Recce Second Attempt, but some improvement. Brooded moodily as I ran, nursing murderous thoughts about sports bra manufacturers. What’s wrong with this world? Saw a water vole! All is well with the world! Was mistaken for a fell runner. Fake it to make it may be the way forward. I’m not through with this running malarkey yet.
I’m not sure what my running-related forte is to be honest, or even if I have one at all. Perhaps ‘hope over experience‘, in continuing to pull on my running shoes at all, which can be viewed either as ‘admirable tenacity’ or ‘doomed-stubborness-that-can-only-end-in-tears’ depending on your point of view/ commitment to realism. Whatever my running related talent may or may not be, I think it’s safe to say it isn’t navigation. In my defence, the map I have to work from may have cost me £3.50 but it’s rubbish. It doesn’t give enough detail to be any practical use unless you are already familiar with the Dig Deep route. I am somewhat peeved. On the other hand, it is the prospect of supposedly undertaking this 12+ mile route in a few weeks time that is motivating me to get out and about and explore the trails of Burbage and Houndkirk so that’s good. Whether I actually make the start line or not, at least I’ll have learned some new and especially gorgeous routes. That has to be a boon, and I do like a good boon when I’m out and about.
So, today was my second attempt at doing a recce for the 12.12 route, I had renewed confidence that, since I knew where I’d gone wrong last time, I’d get it cracked this time out. I didn’t. Close, but no cigar. Nevermind, I don’t smoke. I am getting closer though. That’s the good news, the bad news is that I don’t really know where exactly I went wrong this time, no idea at all where I should have gone and so that isn’t looking promising if I was hoping for third time lucky next time out. Curses. Also, a fellow Smiley, who knows the route, pointed out to me that I’d gone up the top of Burbage edge, whereas, she reckons the route is the lower path, a lot less challenging and technical, which might be better on the day, but shows even the bit I thought I’d got right I didn’t. Oh well.
Not only is the shape most definitely not quite right, but also I ended up practically abseiling down some cliff side at one point, clambering over boulders using hands and feet, and negotiating quite long sections by arse. I am well-equipped to do this, and it felt safe, but I’m inclined to think it can’t have been the preferred route for an organised event. Think of the paper-work involved if you lose half the field over a rock face just after the half way point. Nightmare. My conclusion is, yep, definitely lost, not just experiencing the more technical section of the course.
It’s not all bad news though. I’ve discovered a few things since my last post. Firstly – and this might be most importantly – a fellow Smiley Paces member, an eminent gin-soaked one no less, has advised me the 12.12 route incorporates sections that make up her regular mutt trot. This is a huge relief. It means we have been able to agree that if I expire on the trails that she will probably come across my abandoned corpse sooner or later. She seems happy to do me the kindness of rolling my expired carcass off the main path and into an adjacent bog or heather patch (whatever, I’ll leave that to her discretion). I wouldn’t want to lie there until mummified like those unclaimed cadavers on Everest, gaining an unwanted celebrity as runners get used to stepping (or bounding) over my slowly decomposing body as they continue along the path. You know, like that long identified dead climber who came to be known only as green boots, because this part of his attire remained visible even in the deep snow. Only in my case, my nickname would be due to my clearly ill-fitting sports bra probably. The shame dear reader, the shame. I dread to think what the wits of the hills might come up with for me by way of a nickname for ease of reference. I might need to get back to gin-soaked Smiley, and make sure she dumps me face down….
In other good news, I did a bit of cunning sleuthing to see who else I know might be up for entering the 12.12. It’s inconceivable anyone else will be anyone slower than me going round, but knowing there are friendly others out there somewhere ahead of me on the trails is weirdly reassuring. Anyway, success! My endurer buddies are also taking part. Hurrah! Better yet, they are doing some insane long-distance masochistic mud, ice and fire challenge the day before. (It’s not called that, but you get the idea, it will be some sort of event aimed at people deep in the mires of mid-life crises who have come to enjoy putting themselves in painful personal jeapordy in return for a towelling headband. OCRs have a lot to answer for.) Hopefully, from my point of view, this means they’ll be pretty much physically broken, as well as sleep-deprived, by the time they get to the start of the 12.12, that should slow them down a bit. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even get to reel them in from behind, one by one (well, I can dream can’t I). Upshot is, there are a few positive runes relating to disposal of my remains if necessary, and knowing other runners out there on the day. Hence, whilst I’m not completely convinced I’ll make it to the start myself, I am going to behave as if I will for now, and see where my recces and training take me. I wonder if they’ll be an inflatable mammoth at the event rendezvous this time? Always an asset at any gathering I’d say. It was there last year when I did the Dig Deep Whirlow 10k 2016. A highlight for sure. I don’t know why the one long arm – never asked, and to be fair never really noticed before looking at this picture, maybe both his arms are the same length, just his left one is really stretchy?
Back to my recce. I headed out in cooler weather than last time. Perfect running weather in fact, though I didn’t let that trick me into the rookie error of setting off too fast! I drove up to the Norfolk Arms again, and romped along, stopping for photos on the way. There weren’t many people out at all, though a few cyclists passed me. I passed a white, fluffy dog, whose coat was thick with sticky, clay-mud and who was sporting a mightily chuffed expression as it’s hapless owner stood by lamenting her hound’s skill in locating such mud baths in the most unlikely of settings. From having done this part of the route just once before I was amazed how much more quickly I negotiated it all this time around. I stopped for photos. You don’t need all the details, enjoy the slide show summary. It is breathtaking. I don’t know why I haven’t explored more before. Well I do, it’s because I’m cautious on my own, but with long days and plenty of water on me, it was fine. It’ll be even more spectacular in a couple of weeks time when the heather is out.
So there I was, pounding the trails. As I did so though, I was a bit grumpy pants to be honest. Not about my actual pants, because I was wearing my runderwear, which makes me happy, but about my recent foray into the world of sports bras. Here follows a bra-related rant. You will either get it or not. Skip it if you want.
Bra related rant starteth here:
For my whole life, I’ve struggled to get a decent bra to fit me. The opening of Bravissimo in what was then my home town of Leamington Spa was a day of celebration for me. A bra company that caters specifically for women D cup and above. It is an absolutely mystery to me why it took so long for someone to provide this. We can put people on the moon it seems, but manufacture well-fitting bras for those with anything other than an ‘athletic’ frame, apparently not. I was so delighted when Bravissimo came on the scene, that I chose this company as an example of local start-up that achieved massive success when required to give a careers talk about entrepreneurship to a room full of about 400 youthful undergraduate engineering students at Coventry University. Bravissimo began as the idea of two women who themselves couldn’t get a bloomin’ bra to fit their assets, saw a gap in the market and filled it – in every sense. Their story is fine, inspirational even. They started as mail order only, and now have some 26 stores, and deliver worldwide. With hindsight though, maybe explaining the company’s success in finding a USP using the phrase ‘by catering for bigger busted women such as myself‘ to a group of 380 male undergraduates (don’t get me started on gender representation and inequality in STEM courses and careers), awash with the hormones typical of men in their late teens, wasn’t my best-judged moment. It would have been fine if they’d all laughed, acknowledging the in advertant humour of the situation – which is what I wanted to do as I realised what I’d said. What made it deeply uncomfortable was the awkward silence as I felt the newly attentive room of blinking acne-faced young men appraise me with snatched side-long glances. It gives a whole new resonance to the phrase ‘making a tit of yourself‘. On the other hand, it illustrated a point, and maybe we should shout about this problem more. It’s a real one. Silence on the topic isn’t helping.
The cause of my brooding dark mood was another epic fail in my quest for a decent sports bra. If there is one thing harder than finding a bra, it’s finding a sports bra. Increasingly, it is recognised that along with running shoes, for women a bra is their most crucial bit of kit. Running magazines are full of advertorial features on the damage you can do to yourself if you persist in running without adequate support – and they don’t just mean black eyes. Tissues will rip, boobs will sag, stretch marks will line your body. This may all be true, but for me the reality is much more prosaic, it’s just uncomfortable running without a decent bra, and too much bounce makes you (me) really self-conscious. I don’t need to be ‘persuaded’ to buy a decent sports bra, what I do need is for some f$£%ing manufacturer to come up with one in my size and fit. I’ve spent too much time surrounded by piles of discarded different branded sports bras that I ordered online to try on, only to find not one of them will fit. Some of them I will never know if they fitted because it is beyond human contortion to clamber into them unaided. I don’t know if all men fully appreciate the torment this can cause. Some do. I had a great conversation about chafing, blisters and swing with a guy I met on a boot camp once who pointed out that his moobs were even less well catered for than my boobs, probably true. However, although we cried with laughter as we validated each others experiences, the misery of being stuck with our inadequate kit sadly stayed with us after our laughter had faded away.
The in-shop experience of trying to buy a sports bra has often been worse. I do think sports shops are getting better, but in the past I have entered sports shops asking about bras only to be handed a bit of postage stamp sized lycra and waved vaguely towards a single changing room with those saloon doors that offer no privacy at all. This is disheartening in the extreme and leads to a rapid about turn and out of the shop. Not unreasonably, sports shops tend to be staffed by sporty, svelte people from generally a younger demographic than mine. I understand why this is, but I don’t feel such staff necessarily quite ‘get’ what the issues are for the fuller-figured, older runner. One of the particularly welcome innovations of Bravissimo is that many of their staff wear the products they sell, they do get it, absolutely. I know my current bra’s fit is rubbish, but it is the only one I’ve got that I can at least put on by myself and it is the least worst of the other options I tried at the time. I have a few sports bras, and they are all equally bad in their own unique ways. I am beginning to think the perfect sports bra is just as much a mirage as the proverbial gold at the end of the rainbow, constantly moving out of reach. I have wasted a lot of my life in a quest for this seemingly unattainable goal, maybe time to compromise, move on and accept that at times I will have to run with one boob in each hand to minimise bounce in extremity. Even so, I keep a weary, wary eye out for new developments. Hope over experience all over again. So it was I was ecstatic, when a recent promotion invited women to a bra trying evening at a local running shop. I signed up immediately. I am held back in my running because of discomfort and embarrassment, this might be the answer to my prayers! I don’t need a hard sell on this, give me a bra that fits and I will gladly empty my bank account into your lap. If you can offer that and clown shoes too, to accommodate my wide feet, then I’ll throw in my car and all my worldly goods. I’m not a reluctant purchaser, I am an increasingly desperate one.
As the day got closer, my nerve wavered. What if this was going to be humiliation all over again. Like the time I won a set of lingerie in a competition in a local newspaper only to find their range ‘didn’t accommodate this lady winner’ when I went to be measured for and to collect my prize (true story, scarred for life). I rang ahead, I explained as candidly as I could short of emailing them an inappropriate picture that I was ‘not an athletic frame’, that I’d had bad experiences of sports bras only being suitable for women with smaller cup sizes and that I didn’t want to waste time going to an event if this was going to be the same. The person I spoke to reassured me that many of their customers are that sort of client. fuller figures, older women runners. He told me that the Brooks ambassador who was organising the event would have ‘the whole range of sizes’ and it would all be very discreet and respectful.
Well, I should have trusted my instincts. It was my worst nightmare. Let me be clear, I am in no way blaming the shop staff for this, they were courteous and helpful and doing their best. However, it was exactly as I feared. A young, svelte, athletic woman eyed me as I stood in my bra in a cubical feeling self-conscious and vulnerable and pronounced my current bra to be worse than useless, which I KNOW, that’s why I went. She then went on about all the damage it would do. Which I ALSO KNOW, that’s why I keep subjecting myself to these humiliating fittings, and trotted off to bring me some bras in the new Brooks range. They looked great. Unfortunately, they only go up to an E cup, not even close to my size. Given that we’d already been told the average woman (whatever that is) is a D cup in the UK, that’s hardly an impressive range they cater for. In desperation she offered up an underwired bra that allegedly might approximate a fit, but a) seriously, run in an underwired bra, lacerate my boobs with projecting metal on top of everything else and b) I kid you not, I couldn’t work out how to get the darned thing over my head, let alone put it on properly. I was frustrated, defeated and felt utterly humiliated. I abandoned it as hopeless, and whilst not having anything to fit me, she kept going on about ‘you really do need to get a proper bra, it will make such a difference‘ which I KNOW! I asked again about fit, and she said, well we’ve got the fit of the under band perfectly. Seriously? The cup has to fit too.
On their website Brooks say ‘Our sports bras are designed to move with you comfortably, regardless of shape or size.’ They lie. Clearly they believe only a certain physique is acceptable in a runner.
My mood and self-esteem were not helped by then sitting through a talk about how critical it is we should all have a well-fitted bra whilst being encouraged to have a good grope of what looked like two stress balls, but were actually representations of a ‘typical’ woman’s boobs by way of visual aid. I know the rep was well-meaning but please feedback to the company that it doesn’t matter how technologically advanced your bra is if you are only catering for women in smaller cup sizes. Great if you’ve come up with a product for them, but don’t add insult to injury lecturing me on my irresponsible breast care if you aren’t going to manufacture anything close to a bra size that will fit me. I’m not a freak of nature, even though I was made to feel one, and even if I was, wouldn’t I deserve a comfy bra as much as anyone else? There must be a huge potential market out there. Who is making bras for us. Bravissimo do up to a point, but I’ve not had success with their sports bras either to be honest, though others in their range are great. Also, just so you know, most women don’t have an entourage of dressers to help them put on a bra in the morning, so how about coming up with a design that doesn’t require either hyper mobility/contortion, or a team of minions and dressers at your disposal to help you clamber into it? Just a thought.
Incidentally, whilst I’m having a rant from the more curvaceous end of the spectrum getting a bra to fit seems to be a universal challenge for female runners. A fellow runner commented to me only the other day the importance of ensuring you tried to ensure you were on the ‘upswing’ as you move into frame of the course photographer at a race. That made me spit my tea out in laughter I don’t mind admitting. It’s true! When I’m not being depressed about my body it does make me laugh, the whole ludicrous impracticality of how it operates at times, and yet I persevere. You have to laugh or…
So I sat on the bench for the post bra-fitting lecture trying not to cry. We then went out for a run ‘to try out the bras’ one other woman also couldn’t be accommodated. Others liked the bras, but one at least rejected hers because even though it was really comfy, and supportive, she felt she’d never be able to put it on without help. This is basic stuff. Wanting to be independent enough to dress yourself. As we ran, a rep took a video of us in action, no doubt to show immoveable assets all round by those wearing the Brooks bras, hopefully not periodically focusing in on my bouncing boobs by way of contrast, in a ‘what not to do‘ if you like. It was mortifying.
I still stayed for the post run prosecco and brooks goodie bag though, I thought of it as a consolation prize – booby prize if you will. It had a frisbie (odd but welcome) and a rather fine buff, amongst other things. I’m still not saying the people I dealt with were at fault, they tried to be encouraging, but the evidence of my being ‘abnormal’ in the minds of the manufacturers was patently obvious in the lack of any available product to meet my needs. It’s soooooooooooooooo depressing in its inevitability.
I enjoyed my prosecco, then went home and wept. My body-confidence isn’t great anyway. It takes courage to get out and run when you don’t look like what others might expect a runner to look like. I don’t mean in environments like parkrun, which are inclusive, but heading out on your own, or in unfamiliar settings. Mostly I just put those thoughts to one side, and head out anyway, but this bra-fitting experience really knocked my confidence. It feels so unfair, I’m trying to get fit, I know I’m over-weight, but it feels like the very organisations that could make it easier for me, and others like me, to join in (e.g. sports-bra manufacturers) are actually reinforcing the sense that we don’t belong, running is not for the likes of us, but rather for an elite breed of 0% body fat athletes to be culled once they reach the age of 25 (or whatever). That is why sports tops for women are all in pink lycra size 8-10 and technical tees given out at races only ever made in men’s styles as standard issue. Women aren’t supposed to run at all in races it sometimes seems. It’s just so frustrating. Aaargh. I could scream.
All of this was going through my mind as I pounded the trails. You’ll understand why I was not in the best of moods. Just as well I didn’t really see anyone for this part of the trail, I wasn’t the ideal contender for ‘the friendly face of Sheffield ambassador’ competition. I’m not sure there is a competition for that to be fair, but it doesn’t matter, as I wasn’t entering anyway.
Bra-related rant endeth here
Weirdly though, even though my thoughts were almost entirely consumed with the ‘you don’t belong in the running community‘ narrative brought on by the trauma of an abortive bra fitting evening the night before, running helps. You can’t be out on the moors, looking at those views, and breathing that air and not feel better. Almost without realising, I became increasingly absorbed with the terrain, the lichen on the rocks, the craggy features, and forgot about everything else. I didn’t really see anyone. I had one anxious moment when I saw four pairs of hyper-vigilant eyes on me from a pack of Alsatian dogs. They must have been with an owner, but I couldn’t see anyone, perhaps they were sitting down. The dogs’ eyes locked on me and their heads followed my movement across the tops. I tried not to look at them in case that antagonized them, but it took super human strength not to speed up as I ran by, I was scared if I changed my pace they’d give chase, and I’d have no chance. I lived to tell the tale though, so I’m guessing curious canines, rather than aggressive ones.
Eventually I came to the little streams that pass under the road at Upper Burbage. According the map this is called Fiddler’s Elbow. I thought navigation would be straightforward from here, there are two footpaths fractionally diverging from one another, I took the upper one, that went up towards Higger Tor, and then onwards to Carl Walk.
Onwards and upwards, it was beautiful. However, when you get up high it was pretty exposed, even on a relatively nice day. Also, on the tops the path sort of disappears. Instead you are clambering over an expanse of boulders. I tried to find a route, but in the absence of any clear path ended up practically abseiling and scrambling down. I nearly wet myself with fear sliding arse first down a grit side at one point, but that’s ok, I survived. I think maybe a childhood spent hiding behind cushions at the sight of the Daleks, has made me more resilient than I fully know. Jon Pertwee helped me learn to feel the fear and do it anyway. I met a couple of people, father and adult son and agile dog coming upwards, and that gave me a possibly misplaced confidence there was surely a path there somewhere.
Spotting a break in the bracken I found a sheep trail that took me towards Carl Walk, but again, once up on high, I couldn’t find the path off. I thought I saw it below me, and scrambled down a flat sided boulder onto what turned out to be just a narrow ledge. I had visions of lying there unfound for months, or until the RSPCA called out mountain rescue to find out from what animal such mournful bleating was issuing, and attempted a rescue. Runners have rescued cute lambs before too. Maybe some passing athlete would rescue me. I might not be ‘adorable’ in quite the same way, but I could still be piteously needy. In the event, gravity was my friend and I made it down unscathed. It was an adventure, that’s OK. On the other hand this ‘path’ couldnt be right. I continued to follow it, until it seemingly disappeared altogether, into bog and then finally ended up at a stream. Not a major river crossing, but I didn’t expect it, and I’m sure you wouldn’t send a race route this way. I went across a little gingerly. Some rocks had been put there to make sort of mini stepping-stones, but they were rather wobbly. Some other walkers appeared out of the bracken behind me and pronounced this was indeed a path, but I wasn’t too sure.
I paused to take it in and try to make sense of the map. Then, out of corner of my eye I saw …. (drum roll) ….. a water vole! Much excitement. I haven’t seen a water vole in decades, literally. I didn’t even know they lived out on the moor, I’ve only ever seen them in canal banks to be honest. I sat myself down on a handy boulder and waited and watched for a good 20 minutes. Periodically it swam back and forth from bank to bank. It was a little distance away, and I tried to get a photo. The good news is that I did, the bad news is that I’m not a contender for wildlife photographer of the year, but I did get a video that I don’t how to upload onto WordPress so is lost to the world. Here though, for your delectation, amazement and edification is my portrait of a water vole and its habitat:
Maybe you just had to be there. Perhaps it will make you happy just to know it is out there, apparently happily doing its own thing. I hope so.
I had no chance of joining whatever the official path was I was supposed to be on, but I recognised where I was and eventually romped onwards. After a little while, I met the two men with their dog again who were clearly circling round the other way. This time we paused and chatted a bit, well, rude not to, seeing how we had met before. ‘So you’re a fell runner too?’ said one, companionably as an opener. I was confused. Oh! Turns out I was wearing my Dig Deep Blue Tee-shirt from last year. Well, whilst on the one hand I am peeved as it is inevitably a men’s fitting, on the other, it is the same Tee for the ultra 60 mile, 30 mile, 12.12 mile and 10k runs. Whilst I got it for the 10k, this chap had no way of knowing which one I’d done, and so had just assumed I was a ‘proper’ fell runner. I thought nothing could top the water vole sighting quite honestly, but this interaction did. It was a much-needed reminder that, whatever self-doubt I am experiencing, to the outside eye I’m just another runner out there, and in context (fells) therefore a fell runner. People are a lot nicer and less judgemental than I (we) sometimes give them credit for. We chatted about fell running, laughed about the joyful leveling anarchy of a run out in the great outdoors with all the dizzying cocktail of unpredictable terrain, inclement weather, death-wish runners and vertical slopes all for £1.50 – £5 a throw. It was affirming. Maybe if I just get in the habit of running in my blue dig deep top people will continue to assume I’m an ultra-runner out there on the hills and I’ll fake it til I make it as the saying goes…
We said our farewells, and I jogged onwards, in a much better mood when I finished than when I started. So it seems, whilst I finished the recce, my running’s not quite finished yet, even if my quest for kit continues.
It’s complicated this running malarkey, but it is worth sticking with. How does the saying go? “‘I really regret that run‘ said no-one ever.” Not even me.
I still hate sports bra manufacturers though.
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