Digested read: a guffaw of Smiley Paces went on tour to Twickenham for a weekend of running related coaching and fun. We spent Friday night running round in circles at the Mo Farah athletics track. I found out that Charlie’s Angels wasn’t a fly on the wall documentary after all. I was allowed to wear a fleece for some of it. There were photo opportunities. I now think track sessions are potentially fun, but very disorienting. Wouldn’t say never again, but don’t think I’ll be heading off to train at one on my own.
FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out essentially. That’s what keeps me engaged in running, and as a consequence of that, signing up to do unlikely and possibly unwise running-related activities, just so I can tag along with fellow Smilies and get glory by association with some awesome women who are also awesomely good runners, which is why our strap line acronym is FGR (work it out people.)
Last weekend was a case in point. I found myself on a London-based running weekend, organised by fellow Smiley and running coach Run With Karen.
For those of you with the misfortune not to come from Sheffield and not to engage in running related exploits, Smiley Paces us a Sheffield based women’s running group. A group I feel genuinely privileged to be a part of. It is an inclusive, supportive and hilarious guffaw of brilliant women, with members ranging from the ‘recreational runners’ like me, who yomp round at the back with a perpetual feeling of disbelief that they have found themselves out there running because of some dreadful misunderstanding, to GB triathletes, A-class fell runners and everything in between. It isn’t only the activity of running that brings us together, in some ways over time that has become for me almost incidental, albeit it is the glue that sticks us all together. For me Smiley Paces is also an endless fountain of life affirming smiley support and solidarity that give you hope for the world, as well as, – in my case at least – the startling revelation that running can be fun. Who knew? What’s more, you don’t have to be an elite athlete to enjoy it. Even if statistically some of that fun will inevitably be ‘Type 2 Fun‘ and therefore only identifiable after the event when safely back home tucked up on the sofa under a duvet. Anyway, the essential point is, hanging out with other Smilies is always fun, even if sometimes of the type 2 variant, and so when news breaks of the possibility of a Smiley adventure whether that is a mass exodus to the Lake District for a running weekend at the Lakeland trails or rocking up at a fellow Smilies milestone parkrun we do all like to join in.
I am thinking about putting on a training weekend for those doing a spring marathon or half marathon (or any road event really) in early January but it would be down in Twickenham staying at St Marys University which is where Mo Farah used to train and has a brilliant athletics track. It is also a short jog from Bushy Park, home of the first ever parkrun – so you’d have the chance for some parkrun tourism on the Saturday morning. Would be a good way to kick off training in the new year too. So would include a track session on the Friday evening, parkrun on Saturday morning, perhaps a yoga for runners class, technique session and some classes around training and programmes for marathon and half marathon …. Then long-ish guided run Sunday morning in Richmond Park (tailorable based on pace and distance).
An offer like this is akin to bringing a tray of oven-fresh brownies to any Smiley gathering. Heads turned, interest was stirred and enthusiasm for the idea conveyed. So it evolved to:
Back to my earlier stated FOMO, and fast forward to the inevitable. It was Friday 12th January, and there I was in Twickenham, surrounded by an assortment of Smiley buddies plus some lovely London locals drawn in for the occassion and from further afield but darn south, a virtual coachee who was using the weekend to finally meet her distance coach and bag some quality running miles into the bargain (hello new friends).
After a not-too-bad-considering-I-dont-really-like-driving-all-that-much trip down, we rocked up at our accommodation for the weekend. The Waldegrave Park house was a stunning building, beautifully warm, with huge spacious rooms.
So first impressions were good. We we were yet to encounter the comedy beds with which we were supposed to tussle in order to achieve sleep. These featured plastic coated mattresses which were both super-conductors of heat AND super slidey to the point that teflon coating has nothing on them. Basically, designed to be entirely incompatible with so much as a sniff of slumber. For the record, I don’t think any one of us survived the night with the sheets and the person remaining in situ… clearly, sleeping on these beds requires a specialist and minority skill set none of us possessed. Nevertheless, with the sleeping challenge still to come, we were all bright-eyed and optimistic in the early evening as we gathered at the athletics track just behind the residence in which we were staying.
This wasn’t just any old athletics track though. This was the Mo Farah Athletics track. Astonishingly, despite his obvious disadvantage in not being a member of Smiley Paces, Mo Farah is really a jolly good runner. Like me, and many other Smilies, he appreciates his running bling. In that respect we are practically identical.
Another thing me and Mo have in common, is that we are both doing the London Marathon this year. (AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH). And also, the focus on marathon running is a relatively new departure for both of us. We’d be perfect running mates. As one of the attractions this weekend was that it might help to kick-start marathon training for those among us who are wanting to do one in 2018 I was a bit surprised to find that Mo himself wasn’t joining us for the track session, even though the actual track is named after him! I think maybe he was a bit intimidated by the prospect of being faced by so many awesome Smilies all at once. I do get that, I was intimidated at the thought of joining a running club, or even going to parkrun before I did it, but once done it’s fine. More than fine it’s brilliant! You just have to get over it and take the plunge. It’s lovely once you’re in… you never look back. Which coincidentally is also good advice when running. Look where you are going, worry about what’s ahead not what’s behind and all will be well. I think he’d have enjoyed hanging out with us. Maybe next time. We could have shared anti-chafing tips. Did I mention I’ve finally caved in and bought some body glide? Vaseline can only do so much for so long it seems. I got the blue one though, I can’t bring myself to get the pink, and I think the only difference is one is scented. Can you guess which. The other is made of slugs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails , so not really vegan friendly to be honest, but needs must…
So we arrived at the track. Did I mention we were brimming over with enthusiasm? No? That’s because we generally weren’t. It was freezing, it was dark, it was cold. I for one had no idea what to expect, but feared being required to sprint and therefore getting injured. I’m also more of an off-road ‘runner’ (I use the term loosely) and so although I was game to give it a go I wasn’t overly keen on the running round in circles aspect of it all.
Apprehension aside, we chattered cheerily as we assembled. It is/was quite cool to be on a flood lit track. It does make you feel instantly like a pro. Go us!
As we stepped onto the track, my first impression was slight disappointment that the surface wasn’t actually super springy. I think maybe with hindsight my expectations weren’t entirely realistic. The surface is forgiving, but not actually bouncy all the way along like you are running on those jumping stilts. Oh well, I’ll just have to buy a pair of those to experience that degree of bounding another time. Did you know that pro-jump stilts can enable you to jump 6ft high and to run 25mph+. I’m surprised I’ve not thought of getting hold of some of those before quite frankly. What could possibly go wrong?
Once I got over the initial shock of finding we weren’t going to be bounding round a giant size trampoline, there was some better news. Two lots of it to be precise. Good news one, we were encouraged to keep our fleeces on during the warm up. Result! Good news two, we were expected to chat to each other for the first part of the session, to avoid heading off too fast. Now, I’m never guilty of the latter point, but happy to go along with the chit-chat option. We Smilies always have loads to catch up on when we rendezvous, plus, on this occasion there was the extra enrichment and potential offered up by new running buddies a-plenty. A few of whom were also doing, or had done, the London marathon. Great opportunity for me to stalk them, and then groom them into downloading all their skills and experiences for me so I can learn from them. Things were looking up.
So we did some general ‘gentle jogging’ round the track. I got disoriented immediately. I have zero idea of how people who regularly do track work keep count of how far they have travelled. I mean, we had someone to direct us, but I couldn’t imagine doing this session on my own, helpful as it was.
The next part of the session involved various running drills. It’s always interesting doing these. On a serious note, I rarely think about my running technique unless someone actually makes me, or I espy a particularly horrific running photo where my twisted torso and earthbound running style are hard to ignore. It definitely makes a difference if I consciously improve my form, not only to speed, I am genuinely unconcerned about that, but also, and more importantly to injury prevention. Some of the drills were familiar from the Accelerate woodrun sessions in Ecclesall Woods (guilt, not been for ages, note to self go back and soon), others were completely new. Although we only did the various drills for short bursts, it was surprising how strenuous they were. I suppose that demonstrates how rarely I run with good form. Sad but true.
I enjoyed some unfamiliar running drills too. Some were to illustrate the impact of poor form alongside others to try to get us to experience the feel of flow when you are doing it right. So for example, if you run with a stiff frame (firm core I think more technically expressed) it is actually more energy-efficient and easier than if you are all floppy. It was good to demonstrate this, but honestly, I was quite smug on this point as I already knew all about this because of sheep.
True story, My great-aunt Elisabeth ran a Northumbrian sheep farm all on her own well into her eighties and who could still vault a 5 bar gate aged 70. When I was little, we used to go on family holidays staying at a nearby cottage, and join her to ‘help’ with the August sheep dipping. This was back in the days when the poor creatures were pushed into a long trench of foul-smelling liquid organophosphates and had their heads submerged by being pushed down under the mustard coloured effluent with a big curved stick, or by my rubber-clothed covered aunt standing alongside the trough shoving them under by hand. I so wish I had some original photos of that time, but worry not, this is what google images are for, it honestly truly looked like this still in 1970s Northumberland.
Unsurprisingly, the sheep tried to resist. Now, the young sheep would spring about stiff and rigid trying to get away, but the stiff frames made it easy to grab hold of them and manoeuvre them into the trough. The experienced older ewes on the other hand had it all sussed. They would lie down and make themselves go completely limp, talk about dead weight. They were almost immoveable. Little did I know back then, that this experience of dipping sheep would be an asset to my running theory arsenal. Just shows, you never do quite know when some random bit of knowledge might come in handy. It’s only a matter of time before I am called upon to once again use a slide rule. It’s a shame I can’t remember how….
My personal favourite was when we had to try running with our arms pointing straight ahead hands locked like holding a pretend weapon. The point being you can’t really run like this, so demonstrating the importance of good arm technique when running too. I struggled with this one a bit more, because whilst the lived experience suggests that this is true and straight arms aren’t an effective way to cover the ground at speed, this was nevertheless a big surprise to me because it was clearly never a problem for Charlie’s Angels. It just goes to show you shouldnt believe everything you see on TV, even if it is a documentary.
So this track session malarkey was turning out way better than expected. I got to keep wearing my fleece, it was both informative and entertaining, there was times for a laugh and a chit-chat between the drills. Excellent. Most pleasing. I was wearing my new shoes – did I mention I also got some new running shoes? This is my other concession to marathon training, the first being body glide. I like my Brooks ghost road shoes, but fear if I use them for training they will wear out just at the point I need them for the actual marathon – hence I’ve invested in another pair so I can rotate them. Also, this new pair is wide fitting and half a size smaller, so I think they’ll be better than my original size 5s where I went up a size to get the width. Thank you nice Frontrunner people for attending to my every whim whilst I was trying on lots and lots of shoes and agonising over their fit for ages. Just think of the job satisfaction you’ll get when I’ve finally run a marathon in them and you can out yourselves as the folk who helped equip me. I expect I’ll be the runner who goes viral for ‘being plucky’ as I’m still crawling round the route trying to finish a week later. Imagine the glory of being aligned with that! You’re welcome.
Anyway, so that bit was all grand, I was feeling quite confident that I had this nailed, applying my all. Rookie error people. It then became apparent astonishingly, all these drills were just the prelude to our actual running session not the entirety of it! Phew, that was a worry. Further trials followed. We then had to finish of the first part of the session with a series of squats. All well and good in theory, but not being allowed to hold on the fence whilst executing them was a bit of a blow. I mean we were allowed to sort of ‘finger tip touch’ for balance purposes of course, but personally I’d have favoured the full white knuckled grab on technique. Shame.
Next came various actual running sessions, that were good at the time, but frankly a bit of a blur now I’m trying to recall them a few days later. It’s snowed since then, and I’ve come home to a leak in the ceiling, plus I always try to erase running memories quite quickly after the event in case I start to recall how very hard it was at the time and it dawns on me that running isn’t always intrinsically fun after all.
I have strava though! Look, this is what I got up to:
Astonishingly, nearly 4 miles of track running. I was amazed. It didn’t feel that much. Well, not until the next morning when I could hardly move, but that’s another story.
So, I think the next bit was we had to run two and a half laps of the track running as if at your 10k pace for 1000 metres. Now I struggle with this, as all the evidence suggests I really have only one running pace, and I don’t differentiate between how I run whether it’s 5k, 10k or 12.12 miles, I just pootle about as best I can, and put on a show of sprinting if there is a photographer’s lens bearing down on me. I blinked with incomprehension, as our leader clarified that this meant if you usually ran a 60 min 10k then this should take 6 minutes, and went on to expand adding ‘so this might take some of you 6 minutes, some of you will take just 5 or 4.5′ blah de blah. I was panicking inwardly as for me the numbers most definitely needed to be counting upwards in the other direction. I’ve never done a sub one hour 10k in my life. Not even close. I think honestly, this is what I find both intimidating, and potentially helpful about the track, you do feel under surveillance, and in my case, that pushes me to do more, run faster than I would normally do. I am almost invariably the slowest runner in any pack, this becomes very evident over a short distance when all the other runner have completed a their session minutes ahead of you. I felt my confidence making a run for it, which was ironic, as it was me that was more in need of the running tour de force…
Off we went. An assistant stood at the mid-point to cheer us on and presumably scoop us off the track were we to fall over, whilst our official coach was at the end, shouting our finish times so we could gauge how closely we kept to our intended pace. The results were quite interesting, as without exception, we’d all run way faster than we’d be able to maintain over a 10k. Even me. Suggesting, annoyingly, that maybe I do have another pace within me after all. Curses. I think I got away with it though, attributing my being so significantly fleeter of foot than I imagined to my transformation in running form as a result of all the insightful drills we’d just been doing. I think sycophancy is a good way to blag things on such occasions, not a technique to be over-used, but one to have in reserve for emergencies such as these. I think being on a flat surface probably helped, but it is true I had absolutely no idea how fast or far I was going. I think the idea is that it is helpful to learn to ‘feel’ your pace, and we were supposed to be at threshold, so able to maintain it for relatively extended periods.
So then we had to do the exercise all over again, only slower. It’s nice being instructed to take it easy. As I was the slowbie of the group, I had the slightly surreal experience of running alone on the track at one stage, under the floodlights. It was weird, I did sort of like it in a ‘well this is novel’ sort of way. The even terrain and surface means you don’t have to think at all, you can just get in a rhythm, and I imagine that for them as want to disconnect from their surroundings and enter a trance like state that could be almost therapeutic. On balance though one thing I learned over the weekend is that I really do run to get out in the peaks, and feel hyper alert to my surroundings, track running seems to me by contrast to be potentially a form or meditation.
Anyway, ’twas all good and interesting. I did learn a lot, but I think track will remain a novelty feature in my running regime rather than a regular fixture. Yep, I would do it again, but I’m not going to rush to find where the nearest track to me in Sheffield is. We ended the session with a sort of tag relay. We were in threes, spread around the track, and you ran to your team-mate, tagged them and they ran to the next, but I was a bit unclear about when it ended, and were it not for someone shouting out to me that I could stop now I might have ended up running to infinity and beyond. This would have been terrible, as apart from anything else it would have led to my missing out on Bushy parkrun and hobnobbing with parkrun royalty the following day. I shudder to think of how awful that would have been.
We finished with some stretches. Some undertook these with more enthusiasm and rigour than others. Then we had to do lots of posing in front of The Mo Farah Sign, which was hilarious. It was pointed out that possibly doing so in dark was not the best plan as our coach did laughingly point out we could come back and do it all in daylight tomorrow, but where would be the fun in that? Plus, Smilies aren’t great at delayed gratification. That’s why it’s easy to get us to sign up to races in the heat of a moment as I’m not the only one who doesn’t always think things through…
I got one centre stage shot
For the record, some of our number followed through with the forward planning and managed daylight selfies. I respect these people, though I cannot truthfully count myself amongst them:
So our weekend was off to a good start. That was that, session done, strava recorded, photo shoot completed and we were all crazily hyped, like infants recently gorged on sherbet lemons and red bull. Yay! We can do anything, we are invincible, we are all indeed FGRs!
Back to base for communal smiley dining and then to take on the major challenge of the weekend which was to achieve sleep on the high-slide sleeping receptacles. Not that I’d be able to sleep anyway. I was far too excited by the prospect of meeting parkrun royalty tomorrow and romping round the spiritual home of parkrun under the famous Bushy parkrun tree.
Bring it on!
Just one more sleep…
For all my Run with Karen related blog posts, see here. Scroll down for older entries.