Digested Read: in saying so, I may be officially outing my inner bumpkin, rather than channeling my lurking London metropolitan hipster, but I have to say, whilst Richmond Park is an impressive location for running certainly, it’s pretty busy out there and for me doesn’t quite give off an off road vibe. Spectacular in its way, but no glorious isolation. Also, those aren’t hills.
So this was the third day of running wonders on our Run With Karen weekend. Which focused on running. Can you see what’s she’s done there? It’s not subliminal marketing maybe, but it is fairly easy to grasp the gist of what’s on offer, and all the better for that. Anyways, a gaggle of Smiley Paces women had consequently descended on London with Day One – cavorting in the footsteps of Olympians for a track session; Day Two – hobnobbing with parkrun Royalty at Bushy parkrun and finally, Day Three – today,* romping round Richmond Park for a gentle recovery run. Hurrah!
*I say ‘today’ but actually I’m writing this up a bit later, so go on sue me. However, I like to keep my posts in correct chronological order or my brain might implode, so the posted date above will reflect the inner truth of the date written, if not the actual outward truth. Fair enough, my blog I can do what I like!
By the way – this might amuse you – I’ve just been doing a bit of idle Googling (is there any other sort of Googling I wonder, or is that tautology?) Anyway, I was looking for a gym near to where I live, as I was nursing a brief fantasy that I might do cross training indoors in inclement weather to help out with my marathon training strategy which is current at a stand still due to ice, snow and absence of any running routine. So I typed ‘gym’ into the search engine, as you do, only I didn’t! I typed ‘gyn’ by accident. The things is, that you know how if you make an obvious typo it will usually make some sensible suggestion as to what you were actually looking for, or sometimes out of sheer contrariness it will insist that you must have made a typo when ‘No, I really was looking for… whatever’. Well, on this occassion, my search engine clearly thought my request was fair enough, and I got loads of hits for gynaecological services but a stone’s throw from my current dwelling place. That’s fair enough, it is a legitimate search of course, but I’d have been so much happier if it hadn’t twigged I was after a gym it had assumed I was in need of a gin palace instead. Just saying. Maybe it’s the impact of Dry January, you aren’t even allowed to dream of alcohol until the end of the month. I wouldn’t have minded, but it took me an alarmingly long time to work out what had gone wrong. ‘Oh, my! Gyms have certainly diversified their offer since last time I looked‘ I was thinking, for a bit longer than should have been strictly necessary…
Call me super-conventional, but I thought I’d go with the gin images rather than the gyn ones. You can do your own Googling if you really feel the need.
Anyway, back to the serious business of running. Today was the final day of our running sojourn. We were happy but tired after running on the track on the Friday, running Bushy parkrun on the Saturday and running the gauntlet of our unsleepable beds on the Friday and Saturday nights. Weary, but cheery, we then gathered on Sunday morning, to head off in convoy to Richmond Park and a gentle and inclusive recovery run. Loooooooooooong and slooooooooooooooooooooooow.
There was a bit of angsty decision making, what to wear what to bring. The major crisis was first thing when a number of us were trying to secure breakfast porridge and none of us could work out how to operate the microwave. It was not intuitive. Eventually a teacher who does a lot of supply came to our aid. She’s seen more microwaves in her career than you can shake a stick at, and nothing stumped her. Have a feeling she might be handy with photocopiers and maybe even fax machines, but I didn’t like to press her on that, seemed unfair as it was her weekend break away as well.
There was some confusion about where to meet, and who was to travel with whom, but eventually we piled into separate cars and pulled off together. As we were driving down the road outside our house, we saw a little trio of road runners, pounding the pavement with some speed. One immediately did a spectacular face plant tripping over I have no idea what. We considered stopping, as it looked bad, but his mates seemed to have everything under control and the cars we were following were in danger of disappearing from sight, so we continued on our way, freshly reminded of the inherent risks of running wherever you do it. I’d expect to be wary of taking a tumble off road, or at night, but in morning daylight on a road run, that’s really unlucky. Mind you, I did have a next door neighbour once, who broke his ankle whilst out on a job because he jumped sideways to get out of the way of a blind person out with a guide dog. Does it make me a bad person that the irony of this scenario made me laugh. I did drive him to hospital though, so I can’t be a wholly bad person. Can I?
We sped off through Twickenham – I did wonder if the lead car was actually tyring to shake us off rather than pave the way – and weaved through Kingston, before arriving at one of the Richmond Park carparks.
I think we were at the Pembroke Lodge car park. Not overly sure. What I am sure about though, is that there were some handy loos, maps and a little coffee hut for later on. The loos did have a flintstones-esque look to them, but that hasn’t come out in the photos. So I’ve just got some random, rather dull shots of random people standing around outside the toilet block. Oh well, since I went to all that trouble to take them, would seem a shame not to share…
Granted, we weren’t massively early, it was maye 9.00 ish by the time we got htere, bit later even, but the car park was already pretty busy. On the way in to the park I was struck by the number of cyclists, runners and walkers already out and about with their Sunday morning constitutionals well under way. The place was heaving. We were able to park, but it was filling up. This was not a ‘let’s get away from it all’ rendezvous point, it was going to be busy.
We split into groups, speedier runners tearing ahead, I hung at the back with the slow and steadies, always a good place to be. The plan was to keep it simple, and just do a loop of the park which is around 7 miles ish I think. Quick team consultation, and then off we went, separating into separate running pods pretty organically.
Perhaps because of this choice, we ended up on the more manicured trails which also lend themselves to bikers, people with push chairs, and every other runner in a 100 mile vicinity, I found the route ridiculously busy. In Sheffield, if you run off-road you will see people of course, but you don’t generally have to duck out of each others way, and mostly you either will actually know them, or broadly recognised them from one of the parkruns or running clubs so people always swap greetings, even if only a semi-strangulated smile, but often it’s words of encouragement or a full on gossip with paused watches before you head off again. In Richmond, I found the running experience very different. It’s not that it’s unfriendly per se, just that you couldn’t possibly greet every runner when there are thousands of you, and I suppose locals have become immune to seeing such numbers of other runners out and about so are familiar with the dodging each other etiquette. I did find it a bit intimidating in parts, faster runners shoving you aside as they overtook (not all of them of course, but more than one), or thundering towards you with an expectation you’ll dodge into the ditch to avoid them. Mostly stony faced and not acknowledging others, like people on a tube train, trying to create the illusion of having their own personal space by an effort of superhuman will, and ignoring everyone else around them, even when if their nose is rammed into their armpit. If I choose not to see it isn’t there. Like ostriches with their heads in the sand. But that isn’t true people. Same here, you can try to ignore and will away your surroundings all you like, but that’s got to be stressful, and surely you shut out the joy of seeing deer and parakeets, even Smilies on tour for heaven’s sake! I can understand a Richmond Park runner wanting to run like an ostrich for sure, but to ignore what’s in front of them like ostriches don’t? Well that’s nonsensical. Just saying.
Perhaps, you get used to it, and it becomes the new normal, but honestly, I wouldn’t want to, I may be a country bumpkin but Iwill freely admit that I muh prefer the solitary peak district trails, social runners and the glory of breathing in the landscape as you romp out and about. The hills just add interest and texture to a run. You’ll never hear me complain about them when out running. Granted, that is only because when negotiating them I am too breathless to utter anything at all, but that just further demonstrates the technical truth in what I am claiming.
On the plus side, Richmond Park is absolutely gorgeous. Lovely mature trees, and plenty of deer lurking in the bracken.
Quite early on we paused for a deer in the bracken shot. This clearly required a lot of posing, and trying to mimic their camouflage. Can you spot the Smilies desporting themselves in this shot. Spookily good at feigning antlers are we not! Amazing!
As this was relatively early in our run, and the novelty of seeing deer was quite powerful, we were able to briefly muster ourselves to allow for a group shot, before everyone sped off on the relative merry ways.
My we are collectively gorgeous are we not?
As we went round, our local guides pointed out local landmarks. Who knew the famous Priory Rehab Clinic adjoined the park. There were certain spots where you got an amazing view across the London skyline, but my camera couldn’t capture that. The proximity to famous buildings is impressive though, and it was fun passing over the Thames en route to get there. You sort of have to be there to appreciate it. My photos are, I know, pretty uninspiring.
Not to worry, here is one from the Richmond Park website, view of St Paul’s cathedral from Henry’s Mound – ironically a view I didn’t consciously see, but it sort of illustrates a point all the same, in terms of the potential for panoramic London views if you but take the time to pause and look on in wonder. Oh, and it’s a different time of year too. And different weather, but essentially identical to the vista we enjoyed today (ish).
So off we yomped. Each person finding their own comfort zone. This wasn’t to be a fast one, but a genuine recreational, conversational, recovery one. That was lucky, as so very much to talk about.
Fortuitously, I happened to end up with a fellow London Marathoner for 2018, who had also run last year (both charity places, not that lucky with the ballot in case you were wondering). Best of all, I don’t think she’ll mind me saying I saw a kindred spirit in her in terms of her approach to running. Relatively new to it all, looking to complete not speed round and wanting to enjoy the experience. Obviously, it became my mission to essentially separate her from the rest of the group, groom her with cheery chit-chat and then download all her knowledge so I could shameless mine her training experiences and use them for my own ends. That seems fair. I don’t think she minded. I quickly secured her as my new best friend forever and virtual marathon training buddy. Job done. Seriously though, it made me feel so much better. To date, the people I know who are running the marathon are very much more experienced than me, and/or much fleeter of foot. In my head I know they have different goals, aspirations and potential, but in my heart it’s so hard not to compare myself to them and feel my confidence ebb away as I fall so short by comparison. It was heartening to talk to someone who has successfully nailed the London marathon with a walk run strategy.
We ran and walked and talked as we romped round Richmond. There were some cultural differences though. Two particularly struck me. One was how whenever traffic cleared, my running buddies had a tendency to gravitate back onto the road, or harder surfaces, I always favour mud. The other thing which was a moment of absolute revelation for me. Was the different perspective on hills. My yomping buddies were in favour of a walk/run strategy, which suits me just fine, I feel I can go all day like that. Anyway, we got to a bit where we were walking, and then our guide suggested it was a good part to run, as actually there was a steep hill coming up ahead, where we’d bound to want to revert to walking up. I ended up jogging on ahead, and jogged, and jogged, and it was fine, couldn’t see a hill though. I was ascending a bit of a gentle incline, and when I got to the top, I hit a literal cross roads with cars, and had to stop as I didn’t know which way to go. I paused, and looked behind me. I could see my running buddies walking up behind me.
Then it dawned on me ‘ooooooooooooh, that was what Londoners think of as a hill!’ Barely registered as an undulation by Sheffield standards. As I am a relative newcomer to Sheffield – not yet a decade – I can still be taken by surprise by how steep our hills are. When I first moved to Sheffield I’d stand looking up the hill I had to climb to get to my flat and feel like crying. It might as well have been the moon. And as for the gradients of driveways where it was considered appropriate to park a car – well, they were eye-popping! No wonder cars lose control on Sheffield streets in the snow as this dashcam footage illustrates all too scarily!
Nevertheless, it seems I have unconsciously absorbed a new reality. A new understanding of just how much gradient is required before a hill is worthy of the name. It was strange, and sort of symbolic. I hadn’t realised I’d become so habituated to a particular terrain for off-road running. In my own way, I’ve come to love our Sheffield Hills. Perhaps they will help me with my training too, they are unavoidable out and about, and surely will bring a bit of added strength training to my running repertoire, whether I want it or not.
So thing I learnt along the way about the London Marathon.
- The marathon is in fact doable. Probably. Hard, but doable. Even for me. Others have got round from a lower base point than even I am at now, and with a lot less insider information and help to get them to the start.
- I need to think about my walk run strategy. In the peaks, we have so many hills I just pause to walk up them and then run on the flatter bits. I never consciously plan this, it just evolves. The London route is a lot flatter. Maybe I need to prepare for this in a more strategic way. One person I know listens to music and her strategy is to walk one song, run the next. I don’t run with music though and don’t really want to. My new best friend ran for five minutes, walked for one – or thereabouts. That way, she always knew a break was coming, and she could sustain five minutes running. It got her round. I need to think about that, time to up my attention to my TomTom which I basically use as a post run recording device, rather than for real-time feedback en route.
- You can enjoy it, and the finish photos from the slow and steadier runners make it look like they had a lot more fun out there than some of the grey-faced collapsed speedier types who gave it their all, but then spent the aftermath in a blur of dehydrated, sugar low collapse. I’d like to still have enough in me to bear the weight of my London Bling round my neck, and remain standing for that finish photo. Eek, I wonder if it will ever really come to pass.
To illustrate the point, compare and contrast these finish photos and consider for a moment which category you think might suit my running style best.
Quite so. In my world, running should be fun. I don’t want to be one of those people you come across now and again who pronounce ‘running a marathon killed running for me’, all burnt out, angry and disillusioned. I’d like to be able to look back on the achievement and – even if only fleetingly – be able to remind myself that I am capable of more than I realise, as are we all. Not to say it won’t be hard, but I don’t want it to break me. Where’s the fun in that? Not even type 2 fun, not even close! Also, now I have secured the finish picture, I can always photoshop my face onto it post the 2018 marathon if I don’t make it across the finish line. Granted, I’ll have to change my name by deed poll to ‘Noreen’ for it to appear authentic, but I consider that to be but a small price to pay for such photographic glories.
Here is me with my new best friend. She was a legend. You have really helped to inspire and motivate me. I can’t wait to be there and share the London experience with you in April. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh. Just think, our next photo together could yet be with us posed wearing the bling! How exciting is that!
Although I was claiming her as my new best friend, in honesty, I’m not sure she actually had a vacancy. That can happen sometimes can’t it. Not to worry, I am happy to share. Also, it might be that I bagsied quite a few new best friends along the way this weekend, just spoilt for choice I guess, with so many lovely generous runners around Lots of us buddied up in various ways with our new London running friends, so plenty of permutations on running together in Richmond park friendship photos. Here are but some:
You can just feel the love oozing out.
Other sights to behold including undercarriage of aircraft overhead and horse riders. The aircrafts are much more noticeable in Bushy park and on the Twickenham track to be fair, but you are very conscious of planes in general moving around this part of greater London. I take for granted the total absence of aircraft where I live. When I was growing up I used to spend a lot of time in Bushy Park, and I remember the sonic boom as concorde passed overhead. Giddy times. That was exciting back then, now I’m glad to be free of aircraft noise. Even so, flight is pretty remarkable. I’m still somewhat sceptical as to how it’s possible, even though the evidence suggests it really truly is. I say that, and then I remember didn’t one of the last Concorde planes actually crash in France somewhere. Oh dear. Not quite the way for an iconic aircraft to bow out is it. Sad to think about, but a great deal sadder for the people who died in a fireball and never got to go on their cruise either. Insult to injury. I hope they didn’t know what was happening, makes me shudder.
That’s all a bit heavy, sorry about that. Back to the joys of recreational running! Where was I. Oh yes, we had fun. Somehow or other, we ended up back where we started pretty much at the same time. Those at the front must have added on an extra bit, and we at the rear may possibly have taken a few short cuts en route to ensure we made it to the cafe in time for the bulk latte order. Thanks cheetah buddy for treating us all. An expensive round!
At the conclusion of our run, some did stretching, some did not. I choose to be a woman of mystery, so will not reveal in which category fell I. You can’t stretch and take a selfie shot at the same time, so the absence of any photographic evidence proves nothing.
So there you go, Richmond Running Romp concluded. We were happy runners, and it was a majestic setting with fine company. however, whilst I loved my new best friends forever London running buddies, I did find the park congestion and busyness pretty overwhelming. It seems I love the loneliness of the peak moors more than I knew. I’m so grateful too that we can take on long runs without resorting to three laps of a London park, however lovely, and however handy its proximity to both the Priory and the Royal Ballet School at White Lodge!
For those of you who are interested in such things, here is the Strava map showing our run round in the footsteps of over-excited Fenton. The dog who got even more excited at seeing deer than we Smilies did. We did almost exactly 6 miles. 5.96 according to my TomTom
And that dear reader, was the end of our London running weekend sojourn. A fine way to finish it all off too, it was grand out, and a royal park is just the thing for a Sunday morning rump.
It is possible Fenton ran a lot further than our 6 miles, certainly a lot faster, as he disappeared over the ‘hill’ chasing deer. Not bad for a labrador. This incident is not funny of course, not funny at all. Not really, but sometimes you can’t help yourself.
It’s wrong to laugh, but then again, if we don’t laugh at the human condition and our ineptitude in the face of forces beyond our control, we surrender to tragedy. What kind of life is that? In the spirit of laughing in the face of horrors too great to comprehend, I’d like to conclude with a random, potentially life enhancing, but not running related, fact:
Did you know Donald Trump hates and is terrified of Sharks?. You didn’t? Well, just a thought. If you are shallow enough to want to indulge in a bit of needling you might think of donating to a shark conservation marine life charity such as the shark trust as a little act of protest. Just saying, I’m thinking it might help me at least feel a little less powerless in a crumbling world. I can’t think why this fact isn’t included in the list of top ten reasons to love sharks.
See, you can learn something new every day! Not necessarily something useful, but possibly something pleasing if you just choose to keep your curiosity alive.
So stay curious. Happy running, and don’t forget to look around and marvel at the world around you. Choose to dull your senses and you might suffer the collatoral damage of dulling your whole life. Too high a price to pay, surely.
More trite truisms are available, hang on, let me see if I can find a motivational running meme to push you over the edge.
Found one! This should do the trick:
Don’t try to thank me.
For all my Run with Karen related blog posts, see here. Scroll down for older entries.