Digested read: I felt the fear and did it anyway. Venturing out into the dark and unknown I joined a new off-road running group for the first time, in an attempt to locate and reboot my running mojo. I had a running buddy to hold hands with though, I’m not that brave. And you know what, it was grand. Really glad I went. Thanks Accelerate Trail Runners new beginner group. Hope to be a regular, my natural southerner nesh tendencies permitting. You hardy northerners will venture out on days I’m too scared to even look out the window after all. Even so, in future, I’m going to try to remember to just give it a go more than not.
I’ve actually been eyeing the Accelerate Trail Runners Facebook page for a while. They have been meeting for evening trail runs over the summer months along the lines of woodrun except that the runners are more hardcore.
The website blah de blah states:
Welcome to Accelerate Trail Runners. We’re a trail running group in Sheffield that meet in Low Bradfield every Tuesday at 6:50 pm for an evening of led trail runs. There are several groups suitable for beginners and seasoned runners alike.
We normally meet at 6:50pm at the cricket pavilion in Low Bradfield for a 7:00 start. Occasionally, we may start from another location so check the announcements on this page to make sure. Parking can be found at the public car park behind the cricket pitch.
I like this idea in principle, but honestly, my perception has been that this group of runners are a bit hard-core for me, whatever the blah de blah may say about all levels being welcome. I imagined a crowd of elite athletes, fleet of foot and fearless of demeanor, they sprint off up mountain paths like goats on speed – or like I think goats on speed would look if they ever slowed down enough for you to be able to catch a glimpse of them. To be fair I’ve not knowingly personally witnessed either the runners or speed-fuelled goats in action, which is a limitation of my comparison for illustrative purposes. Still, I’m pretty confident I’m right…. They are great climbers too, just like those Accelerate whizzy fell running types who can ascend and descend vertically. Impressive certainly, but not really relatable to.
Back to the topic in hand: I was in Accelerate the other week – getting my innov 8 parkclaws if you must know – and asked about the trail runs then. At that time the candid feedback was that truthfully, yep at the moment the group composition was catering for speedier runners, as that’s how it had evolved with people getting fitter together over the summer, but there was talk of starting up a beginners group, so you never know… I was torn. Some disappointment at it not being suitable on the one hand, but this was counterbalanced on the other by huge relief that I wouldn’t therefore have to romp too far out of my comfort zone by running off-road in the dark. That was me off the hook then. Better yet I can truthfully claim to have tried. Not my fault.
On the other hand, my running mojo has gone awol. I have been fretting a lot about the legitimacy of my claim to be even a very peripheral member of the running community, whatever the motivational posters have to say on the topic of what constitutes a ‘real runner’. There have to be some limits. Leaving the house with your trainers on might be one reasonable criteria for inclusion for example. Not even having to run in them, just getting out and about in my active wear. And weirdly, I do like running, I like the social things that surround it and the post running high, and sometimes, astonishingly, I’ve even liked running at the time. The problem is that if I don’t run for a bit, I lose confidence, I remember how little aptitude I have and frankly I feel embarrassed at running in public again. It’s hard when you keep sinking back to square one…
Sometimes dear reader, fate lends a hand. Not that I really believe in fate, but hey ho, it was a timely coincidence. Not a week later, Accelerate Trail Runners ‘suddenly’ pronounced they were indeed recommencing a beginner group for their off-road runs round Low Bradfield on a Tuesday night, and that set in motion an almost inevitable chain of events. Afterall, I have said for a while if they had a beginner group I’d be tempted, and so it would be rude not too when they said this:
New beginner group!
New for Tuesday evenings with Accelerate Trail Runners – a complete off-road beginner group. Nothing demanding. All very easy going. Emphasis on fun, safety and building confidence before joining the more demanding groups if so desired. Alternatively, for those already completing tougher, longer trails in general, a chance to wind down and enjoy a simple recovery run once in a while.
If not now, then when? This was my big deciding moment. Maybe….
Trouble is, then the running mind demons kicked in. I’m so crap at running, and even more out of practise than usual. Also, Low Bradfield is something of a pain to get to. My car is from the south, it can’t cope with some of those steep and winding hills en route. It’ll be dark. It’ll be humiliating. Oh what’s the point in subjecting myself to yet another demoralising confirmation of my running ineptitude, as if it isn’t hard enough to muster the courage to get out the door and run when I’m on my own…
However, a particularly supportive smiley buddy had similarly expressed the sentiment of being game to ‘give it a go’ – admittedly before we knew the forecast was going to be for strong winds and torrential rain – and so somehow, we agreed we were going to go together. I can’t lie, there may have been a bit of last-minute ‘I will if you will/ are you sure? Have you seen the forecast?’ type toing and froing via Facebook messenger in advance, but we basically committed. Aren’t we lovely by the way? This is the after shot that’s why we look happy, we survived! Good to know.
Lovely or not – would we blend in with this intrepid lot? They are wearing ultra gear. Plus you can see the muscle definition on their calf muscles from here. Bet there is barely a couple of percentage body fat between them. I’ll be spotted as an imposter from half a mile a way. Oh well, one way to find out….
I was apprehensive to the point of fear, which I know is ridiculous. But my buddy scooped me up. We set off in the car peering through the torrential rain that battered down on the windscreen. I was satisfied that it would at the very least be an adventure, also, everyone knows running in the rain just makes you really hardcore and a ‘proper’ runner, however woeful that running performance might be. Running in the dark as well? Surely even more so. Also this run felt sort of symbolic, I’m not going to get any better at running if I never run. A new beginner off-road winter running group is a great opportunity for a fresh start and running reboot. There couldn’t be a more auspicious bit of timing, I must embrace this.
Mind you there are limits. Did you see the scenes in Copenhagen for the half marathon, that’s not hardcore, that’s death wish running in the raw!
I was glad my buddy did the driving as her car ate the hills and twisty roads, plus she knew how to get there. We pulled into the car park and immediately spotted sporty looking types surrounded by running shoes. In what turned out to be a mistaken belief that they knew what was going on we trooped over to introduce ourselves. Pleasingly, they had no idea what was going on either, being Scott shoes reps along to flash their merchandise. Good – oh! I’m always up for a shoe test. They even whisked a foam pouf out of the back of their white van to facilitate the shoe trying! I immediately was sat on top of the comfy cube, ripping off my innov-8 s to enable hoiking on of some new treasure. My excitement however was short-lived. The Scott shoe is so narrow I was like one of the ugly sisters trying to heave it on. I gave up rapidly, if I can’t even get my toe into it at the heel end, it doesn’t bode well for the toe box roominess test further down. It was probably for the best. I’ve bought two new sets of trail shoes in the past month, I don’t want to be tempted by any more. I’m sure their shoes would be great for others if you favour a precision fit, it is no reflection on Scott shoes they can’t cater for me, I’m very needy on the running shoe front I’m afraid. What do you think of my choice of running kit by the way? Positively understated next to the Scott shoes rep in his gold crown hat thing. I like his running cape though. That looks practical.
As we did the shoe-trying on dances, which was a team effort. Some really serious looking runners, all zero fat and wearing ultra packs cruised through the car park. Me and my running buddy exchanged a knowing glance which meant ‘wow, they look hardcore, glad we wont be expected to run with them‘ only to see them double back and enquire in a friendly tone whether we were for the accelerate run. Because, if we were, then the rendezvous point is the cricket club pavilion not the car park. ‘OK, I’m properly intimidated now‘ I said in my head or possibly out loud.
We tried to delay the inevitable by offering to help carry the box of trial trail shoes into the club house, but our services were not required. We walked with some reluctance towards our fate. Inside, the place was heaving. Lots of runners, some familiar faces, but I felt like a Lilliputian in a land of giants. Everyone seemed tall, lean and oozing athletic prowess. This was not feeling like my natural habitat. Actually, I don’t really know what my natural habitat is, but I’m pretty sure it involves me wearing an invisibility cape. Truthfully, if I hadn’t had my running buddy with me I’d have caved in and just pretended I was there for the Low Bradfield Cricket Club AGM which I think was happening later on. As it was, I said a bit too pointedly (sorry about that) to the nice accelerate person ‘you promised a beginners group! Where are the beginners?’ Sensing my rising panic she spoke soothingly, like you would to a psychotic person in possession of an axe ‘don’t worry, there will be one‘.
Temporarily pacified, I went in search of the rep from Silva head torches. To be honest, I already have a silva headtorch which I really like, I thought the ones we trialled today weren’t as good as the one I have, but I figured I’d try one anyway. Especially since I’d left my headtorch in my running buddy’s car. Turns out, putting on an unfamiliar headtorch is almost as hard as putting on a Scott shoe. On the plus side, it caused enormous merriment to my running buddy and helped to distract us temporarily from the growing terrifying and gnawing thought we might end up having to run with the elites.
Torches on, we signed our names and put our £1 coins in the tin – you give a £1 donation which goes towards putting runners through run leader courses and other similar costs. There was quite a buzz. Mercifully, our cheery ‘beginners’ run leader appeared, and another woman – who was by chance a one-time smiley – also identified herself as a beginner. The group was brought to order by the esteemed proprietor of Accelerate (harder than it sounds, runners are not naturally compliant it seems) and a briefing given. There seemed to be four groups tonight. Super speedy, doing reps and awesome stuff. Speedy runners, moderately speedy and then the beginner group.
A little pep talk for our beginner group – we had a Scott shoe rep along with us too. The plan was to take as long as it takes to do a circuit ’90 minutes if necessary’ on a 6 mile loop. That was fine, distance is never an issue with me (not so far anyway) it’s the speed that scares me. 90 minutes was clearly being given as an unimagineably slow time, a sentiment I appreciated whilst inwardly wincing as I knew with me along for the yomp it was quite likely to be needed. I was a bit surprised though it was that far for a beginner group. I don’t know why, I suppose I’d not thought it through. I’d imagined a more parkrun type entry-level distance.
Pretty soon afterwards, everyone scattered with their respective leaders. We five went running in the woods. Heading off through the car park and … yep, my twin nightmares, up hill and on a road. I was barely 50 metres in when I thought I’d break. The first mile was really tough, partly because as with all new endeavours, we hadn’t worked out our team dynamic. I was acutely aware that with exquisite form our leader was running in what for him must have felt like slow motion, meanwhile, all the blood vessels in my head were popping in unison. It seemed a bit soon to bail, it always takes me a while to get going, you’d think I’d know this by now. I was very definitely at the back.
A mile or so in, it levelled off, we dipped down through a gate and onto softer, wooded trails. This was way better for me. A combination of flatter, softer ground and being warmed up meant I got a brief moment of thinking ‘maybe I can do this, maybe this will be fun?’ Ahead of us our run leader was wearing some super-bright turbo powered silva head torch offering. It was pretty impressive, which is good, because it was like being led by someone brandishing a search light, and bad, because from henceforth all other head torches will be a disappointment.
I was glad of my running buddy for reassurance though. She knows me and was able to vouch for my character. At some point we paused and there was an attempt to evaluate how we were getting along. Acknowledging I was way back tactics were discussed. I explained that I was actually fine (which was true) it’s just that I’m always slow. I know from bitter experience if I try to sprint out of my natural rhythm on unfamiliar terrain I’ll probably either fall over; or over-stride and get injured and/or end up in tears of frustration. The alternative is to leave me be, and I’ll eventually find a yomping rhythm and all will be well. My buddy had to affirm that I spoke the truth when I explained about being completely unable to talk and run, so my silence shouldn’t be taken as hostility. Equally, my grumpy face doesn’t necessarily mean I’m actually grumpy, but sometimes, just to keep everyone on their toes it might mean I am indeed grumpy as well, so you have to take your chances on that one. As it was getting dark though, you couldn’t really tell, so that was fine.
It was better after this mutual pep talk. I was given the opportunity to run ahead, but expressed a preference to being at the back, partly because I had no idea where we were going, and partly because if I feel like I’m being chased I find running especially stressful. Over enthusiastic sweepers jollying me along are the stuff of nightmares for me. I appreciate it may be unnerving for run leaders if I am out of sight behind them, but honestly I’m careful and safe at the back, everyone’s a winner. Better a slow runner than a fallen, injured, angry spitting and hissing one. Yep, that was the choice. Fortunately most run leaders are receptive to such incisive logic. Good to know.
As we ran, the rain started to fall. Under the cover of the trees it got darker. It was fun! There is something sort of exciting about being out in the countryside in the dark. Shapes and shadows keep you alert, the ground under you seems to shift, everything looks different. There was some irony in being completely unable to see where we were. One of my motivations for wanting to join this trail running group was to learn some new routes. I hadn’t factored in the ‘you are running in the dark’ aspect. Not great for orientation purposes, though rather fine for sensory stimulation.
I did do a run round here earlier in the year. Here it is in daylight:
Nope, didn’t see anything like that.
Rather, we started imagining it as the set for horror films. Trying to pretend scare one another for good measure. Was that a shadowy figure lurking behind, or just an optical illusion? Great for team building, raw fear. Hurrah! This is not a run I would do on my own. I inadvertently contributed to the scream quotient by steadily dropping back silently to such an extent that at one point they thought I’d actually disappeared. Like those oh so predictable plot lines where the protagonists start to go missing (minor characters first), unobserved one by one. If only I’d realised the disquiet I was causing I’d have found a way capitalise on this for comedic purposes by somehow overtaking them and reappearing on the trail ahead of them wide-eyed and manic to completely freak them out.
As we traced our way round the reservoirs other runners cheerily pointed out sections of the route they recognised. ‘Here’s where I saw an abandoned child’s bike‘ quipped one, ‘this is where triathlete buddy lost two teeth doing a face plant onto a rock‘ that kind of thing. It’s good to note recognisable landmarks on the way round, makes it easier if you have to retrace your steps. Except, this wouldn’t have worked at all as basically it was dark,so everywhere just looked, well dark.
At some point we came upon other runners one in a group jogging in formation up the road towards us like well-drilled fire flies. Another group were pausing before no doubt doubling back on themselves for more tough hill reps.
It was nice, sort of companionable within our little gang of five, but with a sense of a wider community of runners in the vicinity. I’d like to get better at this. Inevitably, my problem was not with distance, nor even terrain, although I was a bit cautious as it was my first head-torch run of the year – it’s maintaining a pace. It is fantastic to get to run with others who have such good form, our run leader was like a human metronome running, and looked like it was entirely effortless he was so energy-efficient, but I just can’t maintain a constant speed, well not that one anyway, and especially not if there is the slightest sniff of an uphill gradient. It’s because that’s how I’ve taught myself to run I suppose. I walk / run always. My only continuous running is parkrun, but left to my own devices I doubt very much I run even 5k continuously in training which is pretty pathetic now I come to write it down. I mean, it is obvious isn’t it, if I can do 5k at a parkrun I should be able to do that distance whilst running on my own, if I stay steady enough. It stands to reason. Maybe running is indeed mostly in the mind. Though I still maintain at some point you will actually be required to run, and that sure as hell feels like a physical process to me.
In any event, the group paused for me to catch up from time to time so we could regroup, and then there was one bit when I did express a desire to walk for a bit. Which was apparently ‘fine’ except that then we walked for ages, and I wasn’t sure if I should have said ‘I’m ok now’ to enable running to recommence or whether that was interfering with some broader plan. I fear my fellow runners felt the cold. Oh well, I guess the more we run out together the more we will come to understand one another’s preferences and foibles.
Then, almost suddenly, we were nearly back where we started. A fellow woodrunner was driving homeward and paused in his car to shout support through his window which I appreciated. Then we were back into the warmth of the club house for a run debrief.
A time for candour. I’m really glad I went. I did more than I thought I would, and it is most definitely good for me to pick up the pace. Our run leader was supportive and encouraging, there is definitely a desire to get a beginners’ group up and running. For my part? Well, I’m just so acutely aware that I’m the weakest link. I do slow things down. Upshot is, I think we agreed that I do want to come regularly (snow and ice and scary drive there permitting) but if there comes a point where I’m impeding the progress of others, then by mutual agreement I’ll cease. I don’t think I’m generally believed when I say I have only one pace, but it’s true. With training I can go longer, but I’ll never be a sprinter. Then again, if I can reduce my walking time then I will end up covering distances faster, and I don’t need persuading I can learn a lot about improved technique by association with this knowledgeable lot. If I run more efficiently, that should not only help to keep me injury free, but also I’ll surely pick up a fraction more speed along the way as well? So it seems that, ironically enough, running in the dark literally, has maybe lifted me out of my metaphorical patch of running in the dark. Temporarily at least.
This is where we went by the way. I’m chuffed. 6.5 miles is quite good for me on an evening run. Plus, there is no way on earth I’d have headed out and done that on my own. So thanks Accelerate and thanks even more so in buckets to my running buddy for getting me there. I can only be brave on my own up to a point. I’ll go to a race event on my own because that’s not much of a commitment is it. Going to a group in anticipation of a long-term relationship? Now that’s frightening.
Then there was a drive home debrief. Obvs. Guess what. No regrets. That irrefutable truth holds trued, no-one ever regrets a run, not ever. Not even me and not even after a bad run. My running buddy is awesome, but is also going to be away for a lot of winter, having selfishly arranged her annual travel plans with a complete disregard for my neediness! The conclusion for me is that I actually coped better with the distance than expected considering how little running I’ve done of late. I could have carried on no problem, just not at any speed. This understanding is critical, because the next race I’m eyeing is the Dark and the White. It’s on Sunday. That’s soon, but then again why not?
so-called friends smilies and others have been banging on about the Autumn series. They are apparently in amazing locations, well organised, and offer two different routes. A short and a long. There is a Dark and White race this Sunday, at Carsington Water. Three people I know are doing it – not least my running buddy for this night; we can go together. It’s just 9 miles or thereabouts, that’s the distance we’d just run and a parkrun. I mean a parkrun! You can always push out a parkrun, however rough you feel. 136 or whatever parkruns down the line I can vouch for that! I’ve run parkrun come what may, in sickness and in health, in times of adversity as well as times of joy. Granted, it’s not always been pretty, but it’s always happened whatever pitiful physical or mental state I’ve been in at the start line. Maybe it is mind over matter after all. I need to build my distances, I reckon as long as I’m slow (and that’s a given) I can do that…
I know if I commit to running with others, be that parkrun or anything else, I will turn out. I also know that if I am serious about building up to marathon distances, let alone even attempting to hold back the tide of middle-aged spread, I need to get back to into running regularly as well as more strategically. Harsh, but true. So it was dear reader, realising that I hadn’t actually committed to volunteering at Graves junior this sunday, plus my post run high, which seemingly you get even if you havent delivered the most auspicious of runs, and the fact that I was still just in time for the deadline for registering in advance for Sunday’s run I decided that was it. I was in.
So you see, that’s the power of running in general and running with supportive friends and groups in particular. Having done a run, I realised yes, I’m slower than I was, but it isn’t irretrievable. The post-run high and cheery running buddies made me remember what I was missing, and that was enough to shunt me into entering another running challenge. Possibly back on track. My running confidence might be fragile, but it is not irretrievable.
In conclusion, and at risk of stating the blindingly obvious, what I’ve re-learnt this week in relation to recovering my running mojo is this:
- Of course my running gets worse if I stop running for ages, that’s not being crap that’s not having trained, to overcome this, I should try some running, just crack on and give it a go
- If I share my running demons, other nice people will help me tackle them, because (who knew) I’m not the only person in the entire world ever to have such a complicated relationship with this running malarkey, so best just crack on and give it a go
- Over thinking for me is unhelpful, best just crack on and give it a go
- Weirdly, it is true, you never regret a run, ever. Not even the horrible ones, so best just crack on and give it a go
- Really and truly, nobody remotely cares how well or how badly I run, as long as I am not a risk to others or myself, best just give it a go
- Signing up for events does help me focus the mind, making public those entries makes it harder to bottle it and pull out later on, so best just sign up and then give it a go
- It’s fun to be challenged, pushing for harder/ longer routes is worth a shot, if you don’t try you’ll never know, worst case scenario of DNF is a lot more appealing than DNS so see if you can surprise yourself, just give it a go
- Committing to running with others works for me, conscientious if not keen, find a running buddy, agree a venue, time whatever and jointly just give it a go
- Running in the rain is a laugh, just give it a go.
So dear reader, shall we, you and me both. Just give it a go?
That’s what I’m doing anyway, which is why I have against my better judgement entered the long route for the Autumn Dark and White series at Carsington water this weekend. I’m not sure it’s the best of my ideas, especially now I realise it isn’t ‘around 9 miles’ but more like 10.5 – but you know what, fear of missing out is way worse. It’ll be fine, or not, but it will be an adventure. I’m just going to give it a go. And if it rains, the adventure will be all the greater.
Bring it on.
I will admit I do really hope that ‘The Dark and The White‘ isn’t in fact the name of a forthcoming low-budget snuff horror film location call, because it does sound like it might be. Oh crap. Nothing ventured nothing gained anyone?
UPDATE: Did it, guess what it was fine and dandy. You can read about my Dark and White Autumn Series 1 Carsington Water trail running adventure here. But I wouldn’t click on it if I were you. It’ll take ages to wade through. It’ll make you late for your run.