Monthly Archives: March 2018

On a quest to catch pearls of running wisdom … mingling with the stars and the onset of maranoia.

Digested read: time is running out now.  Mistakes are being made. Went to Nicky Spinks talk. Sigh, she is such a legend, that helped me believe (temporarily) that of course I can run a marathon.  Had a sports massage.  Ouch. That made me lose some training and with it confidence in myself that I can do this thing. Then I read a book and tapped into support from friends and got some motivational running bling, and well, who knows?  I’m beginning to think the actual marathon will be the easy bit, if I make it to the start, it’s all these mind games and faffing about in advance that is the real challenge.  Oh well, I am where I am, and only time will tell how this will  unfold. Did you know there is an alternative definition for maranoia by the way?  See if you can work it out for yourself!

I’ve contracted maranoia now.  I’m becoming so risk averse it’s a miracle I can even venture out of the house.  My London marathon virtual running buddies (there’s a group of us spread around the UK who met at a London running weekend and now share a Facebook group) seem to be similarly suffering.  Whatever the scope of our London marathon training programmes to date, as the countdown to London seems to be speeding up, so too our individual and collective anxiety seems to be increasing.

As I understand it, with about 4 or 5 weeks to go, you probably can’t do all that much to increase fitness in the time remaining, but there’s plenty of time to jeopardise everything through injury, illness or an over or under enthusiastic taper.  Of course I don’t feel I’ve done enough training.  Constantly rubbish weather has really not helped, I’m so over snow now, can’t believe there was ever a time when I enjoyed the beauteous novelty of it all.  The point is, I can’t change what’s happened up until this point, so instead I’m becoming totally obsessed with controlling those things I can. With this in mind, I’ve reluctantly pulled out of a Smiley mass trip to take part in a running event in the Lakes the week before London.  A mass cohort of us went to the lakes over the summer, and that was epic taking on both Helvellyn and a route round Ullswater.  At the time of booking I was thinking it might be good to hang out with Smilies whilst tapering, and a 10k is modest enough to keep the legs moving.  Now though, I’m fearful of falling on unfamiliar ground, but more so, the thought of two sleepless nights in a dorm, and not being able to control what I eat and drink and I think it’s just not worth it.   This London Marathon is a once in a lifetime opportunity, being a Smiley is a permanent state.  Not just for Christmas, but for life indeed.  It’s like joining a (hopefully) benign cult.  Once touched by its embrace, you can never leave.  I was a bit sad about pulling out of the Lakes, I may have got something in my eye whilst typing the email cancellation note out – but having seen some photos of the terrain it does look gorgeous but treacherous.  Those are ankle breaking stones I’d say.  Normally love a good trail run, but not with this timing.  Also, part of the route is known as The coffin trail.  Not a moniker that instils a runner with confidence about taking on the path with vigour…  Having made the decision, I actually feel quite relieved, so that means it must be the right thing for me anyway.  Looks lovely though doesn’t it?  Fortunately there is always next year…


I’m also seeking advice from all over the place.   I don’t know if this is actually helpful.  The problem is a lot of advice is contradictory or relates to faster, fitter runners with different goals.  There is also a huge temptation to just keep asking loads of different people what they think I should do until I land on the person who tells me what I want to hear.  Maybe that’s what we all seek ultimately, some external validation of our thoughts and experiences.  Fragile creatures aren’t we?

Anyway, in the spirit of advice seeking, and also finding things to do which might help my running without actually having to put myself to the trouble or unpleasantness of actually running, I got wind of the chance to go to a talk by the living legend that is Nicky Spinks. She of the double Bob Graham challenge.  Hosted by Kim Baxter physiotherapy it had the promising title of ‘how to stay injury free and run further with Nicky Spinks‘  The blah de blah said:

Nicky Spinks is a British long distance runner, specialising in fell running, who set women’s records for the major fell running challenges the Ramsay Round, the Paddy Buckley Round and the Bob Graham Round. She is the holder of the overall record for the double Bob Graham Round.

She returns to talk for the third time due to popular demand. This time her talks takes on a new theme and focus – she will be giving you her best tips and advice on how to run longer distances and train for ultra marathons whilst staying injury free.

A great informative informal evening for those who like to run, thinking of upping their distance or for those who just want to be inspired!

Nicky left us truly inspired last time, and we cant wait to see and listen to her again.

Though frankly she could talk about anything at all, just to be present within her orbit would surely be enough to gain endurance by association?  She exudes such straightforward positivity that I reckon it would just radiate outwards from her and so anyone in her vicinity would benefit.  Unless you were wearing lead underwear that prevented the rays from reaching you I suppose.  Lead underwear is more a diving thing than a running thing though, so I reckoned it’s be ok.

I stomped up to the venue which is up Ecclesall Road.  I’d forgotten just how long that road is.  I mean it’s only about a two-mile walk from where I live, but what a trudge.  It occurred to me that I’m going to have to run up this route – and back down again – in a couple of weeks time for the Sheffield half.  I loved the Sheffield Half marathon when I ran it two years ago, but for the life of me I was struggling to remember why that was as I walked upwards and onwards.  Hope I feel a bit livelier on the day.

A fellow smiley had prompted me to go, and got a ticket for me.  She rang me as I was making my way up, and said I just needed to mention her name to gain entry.  I joked that I was rather hoping that mentioning her name and mine too would lead to a plush red carpet being rolled out and a glass of chilled champagne being pressed into my hand.  Oh how we laughed.

So I arrived at the place up at Parkhead shops (entry round the back) and gave my name and… guess what!  No really, guess.

That’s right! We were indeed given a glass of prosecco on arrival.  This was great news.  It’s the first drink I’ve had in months too, I’ve been completely abstemious during training.  I wasn’t about to turn that down though, and it went straight to my head, I’ve got a low tolerance to alcohol anyway, but the benefit of that is just a single prosecco  bubble up my nose and my body thinks it’s an instant party.  The downside of this is that I crash and burn quite quickly, but then again, no hangovers.  It was great arriving, an intimate sort of space, nicely set out and welcoming, and the place was packed out with people I knew.  People from woodrun, people from Smilies, people from parkrun. This is most excellent.  I saw some I’d hardly seen all winter the weather has been so grim, so it was good to catch up on people’s running goals.  A fair few are taking on the Sheffield half.

Eventually, we were called to order and Nicky was given the stage. I’ve seen her Double Bob Graham film ‘Run Forever’ before, and heard her speak before as well, but I enjoyed this event the most. It was very informal, and Nicky (yes, I feel we are on first name terms now) comes across as very genuine and ‘grounded’.  Her physical achievements and mental fortitude are astonishing, but even so, she admitted to at times being intimidated by other people’s strava records, and harbouring self-doubt.

There are too many points to summarise, but a few things stood out for me/  For example,  how relatively low her mileage was given the ultra challenges she takes on. Hence, train smarter not longer seems a wise mantra.  On an easy week she might just be doing 24 miles, up to say 45-50 on a hard week (though of course she is working from a base line of phenomenal endurance and experience already banked).  Some things sounded like common sense when she said them out loud, even though they went against some accepted wisdom.  I’m thinking of her observation that you should train to what your body needs and responds to and not just blindly do things because a training plan says you should even though you are exhausted and your body is crying out for a break.  She also tends not to ever do three hard weeks in a row (lots of training plans advocate three tough weeks, then pull back for the fourth).  She showed us some of her plans, and indeed it was true, only ever two or three at a push hard training weeks consecutively.

She told us that ultra marathon running is more an eating contest than a running one.  She recommended learning to eat at weird times, sharing how a breakthrough moment in her training programme was waking up in the middle of the night and feeling peckish. Result, her body was getting used to shoveling down food in the small hours. Staying awake all night and dealing with sleep deprivation goes with the territory of being a farmer, she seemed to be able to cope with that with at least resignation if not enthusiasm.  The main thing though that I got from her talk was a sense that you don’t know your limits unless you try things, and you shouldn’t assume things are impossible from the outset.

It astonishes me really, that you can come away thinking you can do anything after a talk from Nicky Spinks because she is clearly super human.  However, there was something in her demeanour that made the likes of me believe that there is certainly no harm in giving things a try.  When it comes to covering distance, you might surprise yourself with your endurance potential.  You don’t have to train insane distances, you don’t have to slavishly follow programmes that don’t work for you, but you do have to have an inner quiet tenacity and for endurance at least, a team to support you.

Inevitably, there was a fleeting moment of disillusion.  I’ve always been particularly impressed with her ability to down chips and curry sauce mid the double Bob Graham round.  Alas, today she revealed the devastating news that she is apparently ‘known’ for being sick on her runs!  Turns out it’s not just an eating competition, eating is only the first part of the dual challenge, you have to keep it down afterwards for long enough to gain some nutritional benefit, the initial ingestion is just the start.  She went on to explain that initially this used to bother her, now she’s learnt to just have a little gander at what’s come back, and from that revise her nutrition planning according to what may now need replenishing!  I’m never sick, well, hardly ever, consequently I don’t think I could be that laid back about the whole thing, but good to know that there are strategies to be deployed should the situation arise.

The talk went quickly, and afterwards, a few of  us shamelessly asked for a photo.  In my defence, I thought we were all supposed to be doing The Cabaret Pose, I hadn’t understood the whole thing was a set up.  Oh well.  At least I have a celebrity picture.  I still have a gap where I want one with Jessica Ennis, (oh the photo that got away) but what with this of Nicky Spinks and the one of us Smilies with Paul Sinton-Hewitt I’m doing OK.

hanging out with the great and good nicky spinks

We left bubbling over with enthusiasm about the talk and feeling inspired.  Somebody, I can’t remember who, said ‘she’s the sort of person you just want to go up to and say please let me be your friend‘. I know what they meant.  However, I’d be happy just to follow her around gazing on her from afar, and being allowed the honour of passing her her sick bag for review when the occasion required it.

Despite being inspired to do loads of ultra-runs in future, clearly it is tremendously important to pace myself properly, so I availed myself of a lift home.  Tomorrow is another day after all..

One consequence of going to this talk, was that everyone who attended got a voucher towards either a physio session or a sports massage.  I’ve been wondering about getting a sports massage pre the marathon, so took the opportunity to sign up for one the following Monday.  I did check first that I’d still be able to run the next day.

Well, I duly went for the massage.  There were good points to this, the high point being when I asked the physio if she could feel anything untoward in my legs.  I don’t think there is anything, though my calves are really tight, I’m not aware of anything sinister.  Well dear reader she just said – unprompted – ‘no they’re fine, they just feel like runner’s legs‘.  Get in!  Get me and my ‘runner’s legs’ not a label I ever expected one of my body parts to be prefixed with.  This was very exciting indeed.   It also turned out that she’d done the London marathon herself, so loads of me downloading everything in her brain to learn from her experience.  Fortunately, she was massively positive about the whole thing, and about my capacity to complete it – albeit based only on what I said about my preparation, and really who knows until they do it.

Then the actual massage.  The thing is, I’ve not really had one before, not a full one hour massage.  I’m sure it was ultimately beneficial, but oh my it was like doing a legs workout.  I expected to feel it a bit at the time, and to be a bit spacey in the evening afterwards. What I hadn’t expected, was to feel completely wiped out for the next two days.  I was supposed to be doing a long run, but I just didn’t feel my legs had it in them, and reasoned it would be foolish to head out if I was in trouble just walking around the house.  It took a few days for them to settle.  So frustrating.  I can’t regret the massage entirely, because it was reassuring that there are no niggles there, and probably the deep tissue massage did make them loosen up a bit by the end of the week.  However, I am most definitely not taking the chance of having another one between now and London.  I hope it wasn’t a mistake, it has cost me one long run, but then again it’s done now.  I suppose if I was used to having them regularly then it might be different.  Oh well, not being able to tolerate them will save me a fortune in my future ultra running career.


I tried to keep my running spirits up by reading inspirational literature, and by sharing needy messages to my London marathon superstars Facebook friends.  Interestingly, a lot of us seem to be struggling this week with cumulative fatigue and drop in confidence.  The end is so near yet so far I suppose.   The thing is, I look at all they’ve done and its ‘easy’ for me to see that for them, of course they are exhausted, they’ve trained really hard, they’ll be fine after they’ve tapered.  I on the other hand, well, obviously my fatigue is entirely different.  In my case it’s my body saying best not bother, I’m way out of my depth and this is not ‘fatigue’ it is my body actually disintegrating in protest in a last-ditch attempt to thwart my intention to get to the start of London Marathon.  It will do whatever it takes to prevent me joining the line up.  It’ll probably find a way to hide my photo id if I make it as far as the expo, no photo ID no race number.  The pre-registration email instructions are adamant on this point.  I need to watch out…

Happily I got this book in the post the same day I had the sports massage.

running the smoke

It was recommended to me as something of an emotional read.  I don’t know what I was expecting quite.  I mean the accounts are impressive, but honestly, I didn’t find them all that relatable. I was explaining this to a fellow Smiley ‘the thing is, I just can’t directly identify with the woman recounting how she felt after winning London‘,  ‘well of course you can’t!  she quipped back ‘you haven’t run it and won it yet so you can’t know!’  Good point well made.  Joking apart though, I was hoping for less heroic recovery stories, and more, well middle-aged women, who’d come to running late who were just going to give it their best shot to find out if they could get round and then they found out they could and they did.  The stories were amazing, how these people overcame adversity of the most extreme situations imaginable (surviving genocide, losing your hands and feet to frost bite and/or terrorist attacks) to get to London, but it catapulted the tales into the ‘extraordinary’ category,  we are not sharing the experiences of mere mortals in this  compendium of collective London marathon experiences.  Hang on – here’s some of the blah de blah:

Running the Smoke tells the story of what it’s like to take part in the London Marathon in the most enlightening and enriching way possible: from the perspectives of twenty-six different runners who have been there and done it. Michael McEwan delves to the heart of these runners’ stories, discovering their reasons for running and revealing the drive that has seen them cross the finishing line. From global superstars Sir Steve Redgrave and Michael Lynagh to legends in the running world such as Liz McColgan and Dick Beardlsey, from fun-runners like Lloyd Scott who ran the 2002 race in a deep-sea diving suit, to heroes of a different kind in multiple amputee Jamie Andrew, 7/7 terrorist attack survivor Jill Tyrrell, or Sadie Phillips who has twice defeated cervical cancer, Running the Smoke lifts the lid on an array astonishing stories that are often heart-breaking, always heart-warming – and endlessly inspirational.

See what I mean?  Just to be clear, running in a diving suit doesn’t sound like a ‘fun run’ to me either, and Lloyd Scott who did this, was actually a professional footballer at one point, so not really starting off with a C25K (Couch to five k) fitness baseline.

lloyd scott marathon

Impressive yes, but not an account that helps me believe I could do that too.  I’m going to put it out there and say that I’m confident I most definitely couldn’t.  Some challenges cannot be achieved by positive thinking alone.  Fact.  Consequently, right now I want to hear stories from the more seemingly mundane end of the spectrum of human experience.  Of the apparently ordinary people, who stepped out of their comfort zone and found they could take on London too.  People who might actually make me believe I have the capacity within me to get round also.  I think it’s still an achievement to get round even if you didn’t have to triumph over adversity to get to the start line.  Plus, actually, I believe that most people have their own remarkable stories that might not be quite so immediately headline grabbing, but are truly inspirational nevertheless.  Everyone I know who runs, runs for a reason.  The book also has a strong focus on elite athletes, again, their achievements are impressive but way out of my league in terms of providing personal inspiration.

The book also has a disappointingly high proportion of accounts from  men, it’s not that I’m not interested in their stories, but it wasn’t very inclusive, and I need to hear women’s voices right now. It made me wonder what the gender split is for London.  I asked Google and haven’t tried that hard to research it, but it seems there is most definitely a majority of men who take part, around two thirds of marathon runners are male according to this Guardian report from 2015.  I think it’s shifting though, interestingly, there is a suggestion that women do better with endurance events – though that may be they are less likely to take them on unless they’ve trained adequately in advance.   I think only five or so of the 26 runners stories were from women, not very inclusive.  Having said that, it did make me want to get there. It also made me want to redress this imbalance.  I wonder if I could somehow gather together all the women I know who have run marathons, and get their stories.  Most people I know who run, run for a reason, some are indeed amazing athletes, but others have achieved great things through sheer bloody minded tenacity.  Juggling running goals alongside a myriad of other practical demands (work, family, physical and mental health) and physical as well as mental challenges.  Those are the stories I want to hear and share. We should celebrate the achievements of those within our own running communities, there is just as much tears, tenacity, triumph and talent closer to home as further afield.

I also note increasingly how runners, well, the women I know anyway, support one another hugely, we are back to external validation perhaps?  I have found I really need people around who tell me this is achievable for me.  I don’t care if they are crossing their fingers behind their backs as they say so, I need to hear this.   Thank you everyone, from the bottom of my heart who has not laughed in my face when I have outed myself as attempting to tackle this, and more thanks a-plenty to those who’ve nurtured me along the way.   Running a marathon isn’t as much of a solo endeavour as you might think.  Maybe on the course, but getting to the start, that’s a different thing altogether.  For me, training for this marathon has been contradictory.  In some ways it is by its very nature isolating, especially if like me you can’t find a runner of a similar pace to train with, and ultimately, only I can get out the door and do the training runs myself.  On the other hand, I’ve been astonished by the generous support, advice and encouragement others have freely offered up.  It is an amazing thing this marathon voyage, it seems so many of the clichés are true.  It is indeed a journey.  It will be an emotional roller coaster, and yes, I will probably cry all the way round. That’s the annoying thing about clichés though, they become clichés for a reason, because they do reference common truths.  Oh well.  I’m happy to embrace any number of clichés or motivational phrases if that’s what is needed to get me round!

believed she could

Speaking of which, a gift came in the post from one of my London marathon superstar buddies, and it gave me a fantastic and timely lift.  I won’t be running London alone at all, I’ll have my running buddy with me every step of the way!

support every step of the way

Not long now.  I need to channel all the positivity I can.  Guess I have to train my mind to be positive as much as train my body to keep moving forward.  In the meantime, I leave you with some alternative definitions of maranoia.  Maranoa is also a region of south-west Queensland in Australia. That could get confusing, they don’t seem to have a running club there.  Coincidence?  I think we all know otherwise.


You’re welcome.

Counting down now, counting down.



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In it for the long run? The parallel worlds you encounter whilst running.

Digested read: back on the Monsal trail for a 21 mile long run.  Oh my, you should have seen the ice formations in those tunnels, it was a spectacle of wonders indeed.  Still not sure how best to train for this London marathon business though.  It’s a mystery.  Glad to have that run done, hoping for one more long one before the Big Event.  Aaargh.

If you asked me to provide any kind of rationale for my London marathon training plan, I’m not altogether sure I could do so.  From the outset I had the idea that it would be important to crack the 20 mile boundary, but I’m not sure now quite why.  There is accepted wisdom that you should be increasing the length of your long run week by week, and that if you can get to 20 miles in training then on the day the crowds and atmosphere will carry you through. Then again, I’ve heard repeatedly that it’s after the 20 mile mark you might encounter ‘The Wall’ – balanced against this is the very sensible observation that really, if you train and fuel your body properly this should by no means be seen as an inevitable part of the marathon event.

More recently, I’m reading articles that question the wisdom of doing really long runs unless you are a sub three-hour runner.  Spoiler alert.  I’m not. I don’t know if this is because now I’m in the final stages, and I’ve had to miss out one of my long runs I’m seeking retrospective justification that this won’t be ruinous to my London sojourn.  Runners’ World put together an article ‘in the long run‘ back in 2002, that says, amongst other things:

2. What is the best long-run training distance for marathoners?

In short, there is no perfect distance. We have seen marathon-training schedules which never take you further than 13 miles and ones that suggest you run the complete distance or further in training.

In our marathon training schedules the longest distance we ever suggest is 22 miles for the sub-3:00 group, other groups don’t go quite as far because they’re running more slowly and consequently will be on their feet longer.

What you find is that many marathon schedules don’t go further than 20 miles, although that’s probably more because 20 is a nice, round number than anything more concrete. In countries that use the metric system, 30K (18.6 miles) is equally round and frequently used.

Most coaches feel that once you reach 16 miles, you’re in long-run territory. That’s the point where the psychological and physiological changes start to take place. Some coaches prefer to keep track of the long run by time rather than distance, which is the approach we generally recommend for the slower groups in our marathon schedules.

Your time goal for your longest run should approximate the total length of time you expect to run in the marathon itself, without worrying about the distance or the speed. For example, if your marathon time goal is three hours, you should probably do at least one long run of close to three hours. The exception: If you’re a first timer with a goal of four hours or slower, you shouldn’t do a long run of that length. It’s too risky. Instead, do one long run of at least three hours, but no more than 3:30.

I don’t know what to make of this.  I have found from experience that I’m out for so long on my long runs (I’ll be ecstatic if I get round in 6 hours) that it does take me a couple of days to recover from these.  But if I only ever went out for three hours max in training then I think I’d just die of shock when out for twice as long on event day.  Another article in a different source suggests slow runners do two three hour runs on the same day, to cover the distance but minimise the risk of injury. Well that’s never going to happen in my world. I do enjoy going out for lengthy yomps for the most part, but once I’m home and dry I’m done.  It would take a great deal to have me had out again on the same day.  Anyway, for my part I decided early on,  almost unilaterally, to go with the mantra of ‘time on my feet’.  I don’t care if it’s running or walking, I will just cover the distance.  I’m hoping I will have built sufficient stamina and gained sufficient confidence if I’ve come close to the full distance, but it is a balancing act.  Oh lawks a lordy I hate my cumulative ineptitude.  I suppose nobody has a perfectly executed preparation for a marathon, and few are blessed with a genetic inheritance that enables them to blag it on the day.  I’ll just have to join the start and take my chances along with everyone else.  I have tried to prepare as far as my own limitations and the weather has allowed.  … even so, I am pleased to report that I did achieve one 21 mile run in my training.  Strictly speaking 20.85 miles, but I stopped my Strava before wandering around in car park and general post run faffing, so I’m happy to call it 21.  I fully appreciate that logic won’t help me if I bow out of London at the 26.05 mile mark, but I’m hoping that situation won’t arise.

As usual, I’m playing catch up with my blog, so writing this post on 3 April with less that three weeks to go and in the grip of major maranoia.  However, the run in question was actually on 20th March.  It turned out to be my last long run, and a bit earlier in my training plan than I’d have liked, but then again, at least I’ve done it. I met another runner recently who is training for Brighton. She’d been wiped out with a flu type virus and missed 4 weeks training and only managed to get in two 18 mile runs, albeit closer to the event.  She had banked some 20 milers earlier on though.  Aargh, I don’t know whether to stick with my taper, or get one more long one in.  Hard to know.  Thankfully though, my last long run went really well. Unexpectedly so.

It was cold, I’d wanted to go out the day before but snow and ice had made it impossible.  Blooming beast from the east.  I’m not impressed.  My regular reader will know however that I’m conscientious if not keen.  I’d committed to doing this longer run, so I headed out anyway.  Back to the Monsal Trail. The novelty of this route is definitely wearing off, but, on the plus side it is flat, with even terrain and good facilities.  The predictability of the terrain has massively helped me get into a rhythm with my running.  When London is finally over, I might try to make an effort to get over there every six weeks or so to do a long flat run, I think it would significantly help me run more consistently.

So headed out.  Brrrrr.  I wasn’t feeling the lurve, but I was feeling committed to doing this thing.  My last long run, 19 miles, at Monsal had been OK, more than OK, it went well, and I reckoned by just adding a tad of distance at either end I’d be able to ramp this route up to 20+ miles easily enough without any navigational challenges.  I was a bit on edge.  I wanted to bank another positive experience of a long run, but each time the distance extends, I’m inching into unknown territory.  The Strava of the route is hilarious.  Nothing to see people, nothing to see, I guess you had to be there:

strava route 21 miles monsal trail

I’m going to try to exercise restraint in logging a post about this run. After all, I’ve banged on about the Monsal trail quite a bit of late, I don’t want to alienate my only reader.  However, there were some sightings I want to document for posterity. Also, I like to think if I ever do look back on my marathon preparation it might be helpful to be reminded of how I felt and what I did at the various stages of my training.  Hindsight is after all a wonderful thing, and I am not immune to re-writing history once I get to the other side of this challenge, better to nail down a more honest account here and now.

First things first.  Turned left from the cafe and trotted down to the trail end.  This time though I paused to photograph the llama – only it was too far away.  I had to make do with a snapshot of an alpaca.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m very fond of alpaca, but it’s not the same.


If you are ever in doubt about how to differentiate between the two, the secret is all in the ears.  Llamas have much more banana shaped ears, alpaca ears are shorter and more spear-shaped.  Granted, there are loads of other differences too, but the ears are easy if you only have one of them in view. Here is a handy summary of other distinguishing characteristics in case of need.  I don’t agree with the negative comments about Llamas by the way, they are unkind and unnecessary.  In fact, I may try to find an alternative more respectful guide.  Llama and alpaca identification is quite an art. There are two different types of alpaca as well you know, huacaya and suri – that’ll come in handy at a pub quiz some time some place somewhere.  You’re welcome.




I also took a photo of the old Bakewell railway station, just because.  Still haven’t ventured as far as Bakewell itself, another destination for another time.

bakewell station

And ventured down the muddy path beyond the trail end.  Lots of inviting paths headed off in all directions.  From this lower level you can look up and appreciate the amazing bridge construction.  I was going to explore a bit further, but thought the better of it.  I didn’t want to get too side-tracked off my route, and also who knows what was going on inside the parked cars in this remote spot.  Probably nothing, but I’ve developed a wariness based on experience.  Once years ago I was with a friend and we got lost on some country roads in Warwickshire.  We pulled up into a layby thinking to ask directions from the occupants of a car parked up ahead.  I clocked the steamed up windows and rocking before my companion, who was initially a bit nonplussed at my insistence we fend for ourselves and pass on by!




Back on the literal track, it was cold so I pressed on.  I’d made an inward resolution to try to focus on this run, and capitalise on the lessons learned last time out by trying to run consistently and slowly and minimise the stop start faffiness.  I kept to this reasonably well, running purposefully (by my standards) from the start.  The only problem with this is that I was somewhat paranoid that this might constitute starting off too fast in my world, and I wouldn’t make the distance.  Then again, I reasoned best to try this out in training than save it for the actual day.

It was freezing, so not many people out and about at all.  The run has a meditative quality when it is so deserted.  I never listen to music when I run, actually, I never listen to music at all anyway, another on the long list of my many peculiarities eccentricities.  Usually I find my surroundings are more than enough to occupy me when I’m on the trails, other times I like to just use the time for thinking things through, but I do concede on these long runs, it can be a bit dull potentially.  It just feels like a slog.   Doubling back to the cafe, I just had some water and made the call the hat was staying on, and off I trotted.

The tunnels were as ever a high point. Which is ironic, as really strictly speaking they are low points, burrowing through the base of the hills through which the original railway passed.  I love running through the tunnels, the other-worldliness of it, but today they offered up something even more impressive and spectacular.  It truly was like entering a parallel universe.  The recent icy blast had obviously swept down the tunnels, significantly lowering their temperature within.  The corresponding micro-climate created arctic like conditions, and the tunnels were full of ice.  Not just little bits here and there, but great structural crystals in shards like fallen masonry on the ground or clinging like icy stalagmites from the ceiling.  It was absolutely amazing.  I reckon this is the nearest you can come to recreating experiencing the geology of superman’s birth planet Krypton, with all its huge crystals and weirdly compelling crystalline structures within the boundaries of Derbyshire.

Compare and contrast:

Planet Krypton – or possibly fortress of solitude but the comparison stands:




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Monsal trail ice and tunnels:




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I know!  Uncanny.  Practically indistinguishable.   It was completely brilliant.  Yet another reminder that there is always something to see on a run. I’d expected to be bored rigid by this route, trotting down it all over again in its entirety so soon after my other long run, but it was amazing.  Unexpected and surreal.  You should have been there.  No really, you should.

I didn’t actually see superman, but I think he died a while back anyway didn’t he?  Also he is a fictitious character, so that would have been a stretch.  I did see other things though.  Particularly notable was a group of primary school children heading out on bikes and each wearing giant-sized cape like cagoules, accompanied by two teachers.  This added a certain frisson to proceedings as periodically the children would stop and regroup, I’d lope past and then they’d be released behind me in a torrent of spinning wheels and billowing coats excitedly pedalling furiously along somewhat random directional lines. Fortunately, volunteering at Graves junior parkrun has equipped with the skill of taking evasive action when a small child comes bowling towards you at speed.  It isn’t a question of who has right of way, it is a question of survival.  I shared a greeting with the teachers and pressed on.  Pausing to satisfy myself that the instructional signs are indeed as gendered as I suspected.  Yes they are.




I carried onwards, through the tunnels, and to the far Buxton end of the trail.  This time I carried on as far as I could.  I had to remind myself to eat a naked bar, I wasn’t really hungry, but I’m trying to eat before I feel my energy levels are depleted.  I picked my way  gingerly down some snow-covered steps, past the pretty stream which was crisscrossed by amazing arching bridges, and then beyond through a car park until I was spat out at the end onto quite a busy road overlooked by a weird stone structure on top of a hillock.  What is that?  A question to be answered another time.




I felt I’d reached a natural turning point, so started to head back.  Trot, trot, plod, plod.  I’ve definitely turned a corner in my running.  If I can hit the right pace it seems I am able to maintain it, as long as I manage not to draw attention to the fact that I’m doing so.  I think it’s like riding a bike maybe, if you consciously tried to think about how you balance it would be impossible, but if you just trust the muscle memory of your body away you go.  I mean, I’m slow obviously, and I wouldn’t say it was easy exactly, but it is achievable.  If it weren’t so cold I’d be tempted to one day just run as far as I could just to see how far that is.  I guess I may find out at London, fingers crossed it extends as far as 26.2 miles – and a bit, to account for having to walk a way to get to the start line!

There were a few more out now it was a bit later.  I’d been ages of course, so hilariously, I came across the teachers and their primary school charges all over again – only this time it was another group. This meant in the time it had taken me to do this distance, the teachers had been able to finish off one group, return them to Sheffield for lunch and come back out with their second lot of young riders.  It made me feel a bit pathetic truth to tell.  However, then the teacher back marking stopped on her bike, recognising me from earlier in the day and asked ‘What on earth are you doing?  How far have you run‘ I blurted out apologetically and a bit embarrassed that I knew I was really slow but I was trying to get to 21 miles.  I thought she’d be nonplussed and unimpressed, but in fact she was so encouraging.  Even though she’d seen me walking sections earlier, she was really positive.  Turns out she runs too, though only on her own  – I tried to recruit her to join me and my fellow Smilies at Smiley Paces, as she’d come across from Sheffield Primary School, but I don’t know if she will.  It helped rally me though, I yomped onward and homewards.

I took a few minutes to explore the weird lime-kiln (I think) construction.  It seems this was my day for exploring parallel worlds.  It is an extraordinary feat of construction.  It does remind me of wandering through temples of Angkor Wat, no really, the doorways you pass through, the way each opening frames and then reveals unexpected structures. There was one flooded subterranean section, I took photos just so my flash would allow me to see what was there.  This would be an amazing film set for something, or a pop video (do they even do them any more) but you’d have to wear wellington boots or at the very least sensible shoes, and other than The Wurzels, I’m not sure many youth bands rock that look these days.  See reference above, I’m not big on listening to music, so not my area of expertise.  At least I don’t try to pretend otherwise.




Impressive isn’t it.  Why they haven’t put out a series of Lego models based on these Lime Kilns – or Angkor Wat for that matter I can’t imagine!  Or maybe they have.  I can’t be bothered to look.  Oh hang on – I can, someone has –  made a lego model of Angkor Wat (and Stonehenge and the Niagara falls) apparently, but strangely enough not of the Monsal trail lime kilns.  Project for the next snowed out bank holiday people.  Go on, you know you want to..

angkor wat lego


Now you might think that I’d crammed in quite enough excitement and parallel worlds for one run, but not so. The finale of my run was feeling like an extra in Apocalypse Now.  I was plodding along in silence, minding my own business, when suddenly there was unmistakable ear-splitting roar of military helicopter blades closing in.  I was just approaching one of the bridges, and this monstrous metal mosquito swooped upwards, out of the valley and over the bridge, hovering for a bit and then disappearing from view.  I presume it was practising some low flying technique, exploiting the bridges, valleys and geography of the place to take on technical challenges.  They are intimidating things.  I can’t imagine the fear they must induce in war zones and the horrors they unleash.  Makes me shudder.



I ran on, and found myself back at Hassop cafe at almost exactly 21 miles.  I did feel a slight drop in sugar levels about half a mile before the end, but basically all good.  I think I might carry glucose tablets with me just in case at London.  I was fundamentally fine, but with still 5 miles to go, probably wise to have a contingency plan.

I treated myself to chips and a sandwich, with ridiculous amounts of added salt.


I felt relieved as much as pleased.  I’m happy that the run went well, I still felt like I could have carried on at the end of it.  Also, and this is weird, when I uploaded my run on Strava, I found that my average minutes per mile for this 21 mile run was within 2 seconds of my average minutes per mile for my shorter 17 miler.  I don’t run even splits, but it seems I’m really right when I insist I seem to have just one pace.  Maybe, as long as I’m sensible and hold my nerve, I really can sustain that for longer.  Plus, I significantly picked up speed after mile 5, so again, it seems it takes me a while to hit my stride.  I kept that up for about 5 miles and then relapsed to be fair, but it’s still a noticeable pattern I can maybe play to.

And that was that dear reader.  21 miles done.  Yay.  I’d never say I was feeling confident, but I did feel hugely better for having achieved this distance however slowly.  Plus, I was delighted by the mini-adventures and glorious sights this potentially unprepossessing route offered up.  Also, next day, felt fine, legs feeling good.  Tired yes, bit of stiffness, but nothing felt sinister which can only be good.  Never regret a run. So true.  Just need to step outside and make it so.

Go on, you know you want to!

Here’s hoping your next run takes you to unexpected wonderlands of your own. It will.  Even if only in the mind.  Unless you are running on a dreadmill. Then you are on your own.

The real challenge for me now though, is what and when and how far to run in the last few weeks.  I think I spent so much time agonising over how on earth I’d ever get to the distances required for the long runs, or to this stage in the build up without injury, I never consider how to approach the taper.  Turns out, that last push, the taper, could be the biggest challenge yet.  Make or break.  Aaaargh.



Categories: off road, running | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Panic over, long run done and dusted! All good, not just movement, but, at last, progress!

Digested read:  I did manage to get out and do my long run, it was supposed to be 18 miles, but I banked 19.63, and I feel fine.  A psychological breakthrough at last.  Not just movement, but progress.  Maybe I have got this after all.  Monsal trail tunnels are still fun, but I wouldn’t want this as my only available running option, it is basically an open air treadmill running in a long straight out and back, but punctuated with views of loveliness along the way. Even so, the novelty is wearing off a bit now.  I’m temporarily happy now, well maybe not completley happy, but I am most definitely releived.  Hurrah!

I am astonished to be quite honest.  It’s the morning after the day before and I feel absolutely fine.  Tickety-boo (now there’s a word that doesn’t get nearly enough air time) in fact.  I actually feel like going for a run again today because I’m feeling really strong, the only side effects from yesterday’s outing being slight chafing in the undercarriage area due, presumably, to failure to re-align knickers properly following an early on pit stop, and swollen feet.   Maybe I have been ill and am not any more, maybe the iron supplement has kicked in, or – though this seems maybe a stretch too far – maybe finally the benefits of what I laughingly refer to as my training plan are finally kicking in.  Who knows.  What I do know, is that I did 19.6 miles yesterday – more than I’d planned due to calculation rather than navigation error, and I’m not even stiff.  Result!  I feel absolutely fine.  I’m however going to resist the temptation to run today so I can recover properly.  I’m not worried too much about my lungs or legs, the weakest link in my running chain – leaving aside the ill-fitting bra issues – is most definitely my feet.  Crumbling and arthritic, they don’t like this running thing at all.  They are making their feelings known.

So, what happened was this.  I’d had to postpone my long run earlier in the week, due to flooding/ roof leaks/ life/ all sorts and so felt like it was uber important that I bagsied a good one yesterday.  My last long run down by the Thames just a week ago was not a triumph.  Much as I know in my head everyone has bad runs, I really felt I needed my next one to go better in order to shore up my collapsing confidence before it slid, irretrievably, into the swamp of despond.

Yesterday morning, everything went according to plan.  Liquid iron early on; porridge for breakfast, running belt packed, running shoes on, the day was dry (this innovation was nigh on miraculous to be fair given recent inclement months) and I made it over to Hassop Station Cafe for just after nine.  I was feeling apprehensive. Is it just me?  Whenever I am about to embark on a run I have this moment of absolute clarity where it dawns on me that this endeavour is ultimately optional.  I question whether it is desirable, let alone possible to undertake the activity of ‘running’.   Especially at the lamentable pace at which I cover the ground.  My little legs are quite happy as they are, my body is not a temple to athleticism, it would be just fine with remaining sedentary. If I head out to hit the trails with any pretence at so much as a little jog it will just lead to unpleasantness.  My nose will run, my wobbly bits will wobble, if it’s cold, I’ll get a perfect outline of frost on my upper lip where my moustache rests, fetchingly drawing the attention of anyone I meet to it in all it’s unaesthetic glory.  Other ‘proper’ runners will see me, but I’ll be leaning against a tree heaving, or walking, or just standing still gazing about whilst they spring by gazelle like, thus I will be forced to face up to the ludicrousness of ever thinking I could do this.  Why oh why?

Oh well, I’m here now.  Much of life is filled with petty humiliations, embarrassment and an over-powering sense of impostor syndrome why should running be any different.  So off I went.

I say ‘off I went’ but more accurately I did quite a lot of faffing about.  To hat or not to hat?  Quite nippy, but then I might warm up. I also had to nip into the cafe to use their amenities and mess about with my watch.  It’s become very iffy about uploading my runs, and prone to going blank.  If I had unlimited means I’d replace it, but it limps onward, and anyway, I don’t want new technology pre London.  Eventually, I decided I’d head out from the cafe towards Bakewell, I reckoned that would add about 3 miles to my distance from last time, also, by doing the shorter section of the trail out and back first I wouldn’t have the mental challenge of doing it at the end of the run when I would be tired, and, in a rather splendid manifestation of genius, I reckoned I could use this distance as a warm up and then jettison unwanted clothing, have a pit stop and carry on with renewed vigour for the proper part of the run still remaining. The plan was to do 18 miles.  Last time at Monsal I did just under 15 miles, so I thought adding on the extra bit would probably work.  Not sure what to make of the conspicuously located defibrillator I passed en route.  It is good it is there of course, but important not to take it as a personal omen methinks.

I trotted out really slowly, just finding my legs.  I was here just a few days ago for Bakewell parkrun, then it was really busy with people, it was strange seeing it empty today.  The parkrun goes in the opposite direction, so it was quite fun exploring new territory.  To be fair, the novelty of running the Monsal Trail could wear off, but for now, it was good.  Heading towards Bakewell the scenery is a bit different from the path to Wyedale.  There were more buildings, a camper van graveyard; some sheep. There were even some llamas, but I didn’t take a photo of them.  An omission I now regret.

I was particularly struck by a hillside densely covered with grassy domes – ant hills maybe?  Sort of like a grassy version of the Bungle Bungles*, though possibly on a rather more micro scale.  Bonsai even. Weird. This is what is good about going out and about you see some really remarkable things. Then again, it has been noted that I’m rather too easily entertained, so you may not think so.  I’m going with thinking the likeness was uncanny, you can think what you like!  If those grassy domes are ancient ant hills, those Australian ants must have been ginormous.

After a mile or so, maybe less, you arrive at the old Bakewell Station, it’s another beautiful building, well-preserved, and it looks like there’s a car park there as well, though I didn’t go and investigate particularly, maybe once this marathon training is finished, I’ll use my runs for more exploratory, rather than functional purposes and go check it out.  After the station was another bridge, where the path was completely flooded, not even with standing water, a veritable river ran across the track.  Oh well, splish, splosh and ever onward.

The track narrowed after the station, and it felt a bit more ‘proper’ off roady.  One of the reasons I’ve opted for the Monsal Trail for marathon training purposes is that the terrain is fairly road like, a hard surface and even terrain.  I fear my feet will actually disintegrate and shatter if I do too much road running in training, so the compromise is to find compacted trails where I can run in my road shoes, without entirely surrendering to the asphalt.  I’m resigned to the fact my feet my be annihilated round London, but I see little to be gained by knackering them in training first.  You can’t habituate your feet to being damaged, alas, hence I take the literal path of damage limitation.

I continued on, trot trot, taking in the scenery…

until I got to the end of the trail.  There is a helpful sign that alerts you to this. It’s always good to know when you’ve really and truly reached the end of the road.  I wish such signage was available in other contexts to be honest.


I turned around and trotted back to Hassop Cafe.  I didn’t really see very many people out and about.  Only one other runner, who acknowledged my presence with a friendly, conspiratorial smile and uttering the words ‘couch to five k‘ as we passed one another.  I couldn’t help noticing she looked a lot stronger than me, bounding along with a winning smile and good form.  I chose not to ‘fess up with a response  ‘marathon training‘ as it would have sounded absurd.  Absurd and/or potentially undermining.  I mean, I thought she looked a strong runner, but if she’s just starting out who knows where her confidence is?  If I’d shared my run schemata for the day it might have come across as patronising rather than a cry for help – I went with a reciprocal encouraging smile and a merry ‘have fun!’ rather than making her stop so I could explain all about my running insecurities and tendency to over-share.  Good call I think!  Isn’t C25K amazing though?  That and parkrun together seem to have engaged so many new runners.  Anyway, slow and steady may yet prove to be the way to go, my marathon isn’t a DNF just yet….  Besides, I’ve just read an article that explained all about why sprint runners are inefficient, and distance runners are way more efficient at running a long way.  To quote:

distance runners are more efficient running slow. It should be noted that this occurs even with distance runners who violate every known mechanical prophecy known to man (i.e. horrible heel strike, etc.).

Yes, the gangly looking distance runner slamming his heel into the ground is more efficient running slow than Usain Bolt.

Thus, leaving aside the, in my view, unhelpful and unnecessary reference to being ‘gangly’, I’m basically more efficient at running slow than Usain Bolt.  If I ever catch him up running I’ll let him know.  I expect he’ll be gutted.   Once you know what you are looking for you can see the difference can’t you?  No point in stating the obvious about who’s running most efficiently here.  We are both having fun, and checking out what’s going on around us, so it’s a completely fair comparison in my view.

The point is, as ever, I need to stop comparing myself with other runners, focus on my personal goal (please just let me get round in time for a medal) and everything will be so much easier.

I ended up back at the cafe, and this was a good move.  I was really thirsty, so drank loads of their water, used their loo (I didn’t drink water from the loo, they leave a glass water jar and some glasses out in the cafe area for that) and then dumped my woolly hat in the back of the car as the sun was coming out and after this faffing, headed out for my run proper, having first paused to admire a very fine tricycle waiting outside.  Now that would be a grand way to progress down the Monsal Trail.  Almost as appealing as a sedan chair.

‘Proper’ runners will be appalled, but I didn’t really have a strategy for this run.  I planned just to see how I felt, try to push on a bit maybe, but my priority was to do the distance, not burn out trying.  I wonder sometimes if I do hold back too much on my running.  I’m so afraid of falling over or running out of steam altogether it is extremely rare for me to do an all out sprint.  I only ever sprint at the finish of parkrun and memorably at the Lakeland Trails Ullswater 10k event where I went in for a most enjoyable elbow shoving sprint finish with a fellow Smiley.  This would suggest I can if I want to enough.  What’s that about?  Oh I know, that point about running being a mental challenge, if we want to do things enough, then oftentimes we can.  Well, we’ll see about that, won’t we?

Off I went.  A few things I noticed about today, the main thing was I just felt physically so much better than I have in ages.  There weren’t many people about at all, so I had the route very much to myself for the first couple of hours. Because I’ve done the trail before, I wasn’t so distracted by the scenery, and didn’t keep stopping for photos.  I mean, obviously, progress was still slow, still walk/run, but I was conscious I was definitely covering the ground more purposefully than ever before.

The tunnels are still fabulous though. What killjoy requires you to enter these slowly, the only way to tackle them is as fast as you can.  I wonder if this is what gets some dogs excited in dog agility.  There is something joyful about being encased in the dark, pounding along, and then exploding out the other side into daylight.

I could maybe have done without the odd significant splosh of cold wet water landing on my now bare head now and again, but a small price to pay for the on-trail entertainment of tunnel running.  Try it sometime.

One thing though, there are lots of rules about what you can and can’t do in the tunnel.  But judging from the pictures, only white men have to abide by them, as only they are featured in the instructional signage.  So that’s good.


Women can run free and run amok should they wish to do so.  Hurrah!  Running amok is always fun, that’s why we have events like The Trunce.  I believe there are some road races along these lines as well, but clearly fell races are the best for wildly heading out en masse and scattering in all directions over the horizon and over the hills.

run amok

I have been toying with having a ‘proper’ run walk strategy for the marathon, but I don’t really like obsessing about my watch.  At the moment, it’s set with one mile for one lap, so it vibrates on every mile, and that seems a good marker for me.  I vaguely had in mind that I should keep running until the watch vibrated and then I could walk for a bit, take a drink or whatever, but in fact I just ran as I felt, and honestly, I think that might yet be my best bet.  I just kept seeing a landmark, like a bridge ahead, or a tree, and I’d think ‘I’ll just run to that such-and-such a point’ and then when I got there if I felt like I could keep on going I did.  Sometimes I told myself I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to stop until I’d finished a mile. Occasionally my inner pride would kick in and I’d think ‘I won’t stop running until I’m out of sight of whatever walker I’d just passed’.  I think I was just a lot more ‘on task’ than I have been for a while.  I exchanged pleasantries with people I passed, and I didn’t stress if I felt like walking, but I did a lot less stopping for photos and general faffing than is usual for me.  Having said that, some views you just have to pause and take in, rude not to.  That’s quite some flood plain is it not?


My favourite interaction of the morning was with a woman who had one of those arm extender things that you can use to launch tennis balls for your dog to chase.  Her companion canine was beside himself with excitement, scampering back and forth ecstatic every time the ball flew through the air, he fair flew after it.  ‘I wish I had that much energy and enthusiasm when I’m out running‘ I remarked as I approached.  ‘I could always throw the ball for you if that would help at all?‘ she replied without missing a beat. Just goes to show, support and encouragement comes from the most unexpected places!  I was quite tempted to take her up on her offer, just to see, but it wouldn’t have been fair on the dog so I trundled on.

Although the Monsal Trail has it’s limitations as a run route – I wouldn’t want it to be my only running option, at times along the way there are the most spectacular views, and helpful signs give a bit of the local history and geography too.  Abseilers were out in force, dangling from the designated bridge.  In other spots bridge swingers were warned away by threat of steel wires across the arches.  Decapitation by taught wire seems a little extreme as a sanction for rule breakers, but then again, frustration will build.   Actually, on closer inspection, I see it is not wire but ‘bars’ so more a question of getting splattered on impact I’m guessing….  Personally though,  I am getting increasingly annoyed and outraged by poo bags not just hanging from trees, but hurled into the undergrowth. What is that about. As the daily mash inform us ‘man picks up warm dog shit, seals it in a bag then leaves it in the hedge‘.  Just why?   If I thought stringing taut wires across the Monsal Trail and elsewhere would put a stop to that I’d be tempted.


Fortunately, other views were more scenic. I spoiled one such view with a gratuitous selfie. Well why not.  I need to practise doing those ahead of London too. You don’t honestly expect me to resist the temptation of snapping a few of those en route on the big day do you?

I did a little detour at one point, because a bridleway looked especially inviting.  It will be good to come back when I don’t have to focus on just bagging a certain mileage, and try some of these routes that crisscross the Monsal Trail and discover paths less travelled across Derbyshire.

Eventually, I once again reached the end of the trail.  This is where I had a maths fail.  I really, really, didn’t want to have to run past the cafe again to make up miles on the way back, but I wasn’t 100% sure if I’d done enough.  I decided to be on the safe side, I’d do a mini extension, and so headed past the trail end


It was fun heading down some steps, you end up by a quite impressive river, fast flowing under a series of bridges, giving stunning views. This is an area seriously worthy of future exploration, which is just as well, as I need to up my mileage again over the next couple of weeks.  Nice to know there is an easy and inviting way to do this.  I think that circular mirror makes me look more rotund than I actually am by the way, just saying…

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I didn’t venture too far, as I thought I’d probably done enough, and so i turned around and after a restorative naked bar, headed homeward.  It was much colder running back. The sun had vanished, and I seemed to be going into a headwind.  I don’t know if the naked bars are quite doing it for me.  For the first time ever, towards the end of my run I did feel a bit of an energy dip that made me actually crave sugar.  I was fine, as I was within a mile of my end point, but it made me think perhaps I should carry some fudge or something in case I get that feeling again.  More people were out and about, but no runners, groups of walkers, and a gang of women all purposefully pushing buggies at one point, some cyclists but it remained fairly quiet.


Then, because it was cold perhaps, and because my legs felt fine, and my lungs felt fine, but I was just getting a teeny bit bored of the grey flatness of it all, I found I just started running spontaneously, without forcing myself to start up again after a walking section I mean, and for possibly the first time ever I hit a bit of a rhythm. It took my about 12 miles to get to that point which is a downer, but I finally hit The Zone.  Where running felt, if not exactly easy, automatic, like walking is for me, where I never, ever think I can’t take another step, my legs just move because that is what they are programmed to do.  It seems rather late in the day of my marathon training to have discovered this pace, but  do feel it may yet turn out to be something of a breakthrough.  If I can find that comfortable place and pace where my legs can propel me forward without me having to  constantly consciously berate them to do so, this whole running malarkey will be so much easier.  The next few miles seemed to pass quickly.  I started fretting a little because I didn’t know how far I’d got still to go, 16, then 17, then 18 miles came and went.  I was trying to spot the Bakewell parkrun turnaround point, as that would tell me I had just under 2.5 km to go, but I couldn’t recognise it, which I admit is somewhat observationally inept.  I clearly have a ‘follow the herd’ mentality.  I can cope just fine on my own, but if others are around who clearly know what they are doing, I’m inclined to just tag along and defer all responsibility for decision-making – including bothering to independently notice the route just travelled apparently.  Oh dear.

What I did notice though, was some brightly coloured broken red plastic things by the side of the path.  What on earth?  I went to investigate, and found it wasn’t brittle, broken plastic at all, but a bright red fungi.  No idea what it was, I’ve never seen anything like it before, remarkable.  Fergus the forager has found these too, because he has them on his website, he may even eat them, as they were in a basket.  Eventually, through googling I found a UK fungi identification website, and dear reader, let me introduce to you the other worldly looking Scarlet Elfcup.  Brilliant name.  Well worth taking the time to find out.  My world feels the richer for it, I hope yours will too!  It might be a ruby elfcup to be fair, but unless you are an elf, AND CAN PROVE IT, I’m not processing your complaint.  Just to be extra clear, the identification website states apropos of this that ‘to be anywhere near certain which of the two red elfcup species you have found, microscopic study (unless you are equipped to carry out DNA analysis!) is probably the only option.’ so think before your issue your grievance.

weird red fungi

19 miles came and went, I had started walking again by this point, but that was fine.  I’d exceeded my 18 mile target and was feeling pretty good.  A bit cold, a bit peckish, and my feet were a bit aaaargh, but able to continue.  Definitely energy in the tank.  What a relief.

Finally the cafe came into view.  My watch proclaimed I’d covered 19.63 miles, which is teasingly close to breaking the 20 mile mark, but also  pleasingly within Smiletastic long run tolerance limits.  For the Smiley Paces, running club winter challenge we have to pledge a distance for our long runs, but are penalised if we deviate from that more than 10%.  I mean, marathon training is all very well, but I wouldn’t want it to mess up my Dragonfly team mates points due to my run route calculation errors!  I’d only pledged 18 miles, my upper safe distance was but 19.79 miles.  Did you know you can make dragonflies out of origami by the way?  I found a YouTube link explaining how.  One of our group has even done this.  Amazing commitment. Gotta be worth a Smiletastic bonus point.  I mean she should get one for implementing the idea so brilliantly, obviously, but as the brains behind the endeavour I ought to be a shoo-in for a bonus point too, for inspiring such a creative tour de force?

origami dragonfly because.jpg

I dumped my running paraphernalia in the boot of the car, donned my fleece and stumbled into the cafe.  I had a latte, some really good mushroom soup and a not very exciting egg mayonnaise roll.  It was expensive, but the sustenance was much-needed and most welcome.  Good to warm up a bit before heading back home.  I took a picture of lunch.  It looks terrible, but honestly, don’t be put off by the grey and beige presentation, the soup was delicious.  It had truffle oil drizzled on it, which I didn’t know was a thing, but was jolly nice.


In case you care, here is the route.  Not much to look at in Strava terms to be fair, just a line out and back, but also a big tick, in terms of my marathon training run.  26.2 miles seems a lot more manageable now.  I’m not underestimating it, and I know many would find my pace aspirations laughable, but hey ho, it’s my own goal.  In every sense.

strava route

So here’s hoping the next long run is as positive.  I’m going to try to build on this one, do more actual running, and try to get into the zone a bit more. I’m not sure about my nutrition and hydration is quite working though, I need to play around with that still – I ran out of water on this route.  To be honest, I could really do with some better weather so I can run without a jacket and get used to that, but even so, at last some progress.  Progress makes a change from just movement, which is what I’ve sometimes been guilty of.  Sometimes it is all too easy to confuse the too.  That’s what Alfred A Montapert tells us – or possibly Denzel Washington, depends which google search stream you choose to believe. Ernest Hemmingway and Mark Twain are contenders too – so basically everyone seems to agree on this point, we just need to recognise how it relates to each of us personally.

You’re welcome.


So that’s all for now.  Don’t worry, normal pessimism will be restore shortly.  But for now.  All good.

Own goals, that’s what it’s all about.  Own goals.

ed balls own goal

So keep on running.  We’ve got this.  What could possibly go wrong now?



*This one is for you EWFM – remember, we owe our knowledge of the Bungle Bungle range entirely to episodes of Neighbours back in the eighties.  This just goes to show, TV soaps can be most educational and lead to curiosity about the world and cultural exchange.  Not sure the world needed the Scott and Charlene wedding song, but those eighties outfits are truly a sight to behold.   Those of us who have lived through shoulder pads, can probably survive anything. Even London Marathon running…

Categories: off road, running | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Best laid plans… long run thwarted but feeling the running lurve, besides, tomorrow is another day and we runners, well we can do anything!

Digested read: fairly mundane running reflections, didn’t manage to get out for my run today, that’s all really. Still some running related ponderings though, supplements, running fatigue, Big Running Weekend, subjective stuff, maybe just best to skip this post and instead just scroll down to the end to see the best parkrun fancy dress photo ever.  Personally I think historical re-enactment themes have hitherto been under represented at parkruns across the UK.  Time for change people.  Time for change!

Today was supposed to be my long run, 18 miles, and I was all set up and ready – if not exactly raring – to go.  Water bottles filled, route mapped (to be fair, that wasn’t too complicated, as I was planning on just heading out to the Monsal trail again); naked bars stowed, porridge consumed, and then my entire day just got hijacked.  My free day to head out and run in a teasing gap between a stretch of seemingly endless torrential rain and the threat of snow to come later in the week disappeared over the horizon.  It was really frustrating.  In  case you think I was just looking for an excuse (and to be fair, sometimes I am) this was not the case today.  I had a major leak last night, the fourth since I’ve moved in to my new home.  The apocalyptic weather was without mercy.

storm cloud

However, despite my initial despair, virtual if not actual sun was shining on me, and the good news is that not only was I able to get in touch with the builder, but his representative on earth appeared, tooled up to fix it.  Trust me, you don’t stand up a builder ever.  FACT.  Unfortunately, every silver lining has its cloud, and the presence of said builder involved a certain amount of being in and hanging around.  Then more people were doing landscaping work out the back, which was more accurately an homage to hysterical historical re-enactment of life in the trenches.  Never seen so much mud and water, and not in a good way. Bogs when you want the fun of scampering through them on the hills is one thing, but trench-foot inducing crumbling pits swallowing up any mortal who dared to brave them is another thing altogether.  Also, my car got blocked in by skips and vans and although I could have got them moved, it would have interrupted multiple building projects as by coincidence neighbours up and down the street are also having building work done. It seems the recent snow and epic amounts of rain have tested the housing structures nearby to breaking point, remedial work all round.

Eventually, I was freed up to go out, but by that time it was mid afternoon, and for me (don’t laugh superior runners) I felt it was realistically too late for me to fit in a really long run.  I considered doing a shorter one, maybe the half marathon route, but then I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough left in the engine to do my proper planned one tomorrow.  I feel so clueless, maybe it would have been good to do another longish run, but then again, the whole point of my running goals for this week is to try to go slow and steady but consistently, and I’d like to start the run feeling OK not broken.  Tomorrow looks like it’s the only other weather window where I can rearrange things so I can get out for a decent length of time.  I’ll have to, or I’ll end up doing my long run in the dark, rain or snow, none of these options appeal to me.

Much as it goes against the grain, I’m trying to put a positive spin on this interruption. I have been feeling absolutely dreadful for nearly a week – ever since my miserable long run down in London.  Just exhausted, weak, sore throat, no energy blah de blah.   Today for the first time I’m feeling a bit brighter. I genuinely don’t know if this is because I have in fact been ill with a low-level virus and now I’m better, if it just takes me a long time to recover from my long runs or if it is a placebo effect because I have dear reader, caved in and started taking an iron supplement.  Whatever the reason, I’m  hugely relieved and actively looking forward to heading out on a run without having to fight back the impulse to cry through sheer fatigue.  One positive I have hung on to though, even when feeling really, really rough, is that at no stage have I felt like pulling out of London.  I most definitely want to get there, it isn’t a case of not being committed, more the mind and heart are willing but the body is weak.  I wouldn’t mind having been so exhausted if I looked like this when fatigued, but unfortunately I don’t.  Not to worry, maybe I will after running the London Marathon, because that is the inference in the Daily Mirror article it is used to illustrate.  Now that would be a win…


Oh, re the supplement, I’ve only been taking it a couple of days, so I don’t believe it can possibly have made a difference already, but I suppose if I have been really depleted that might be so.  For your information – I know how you are probably hanging on my every word for top tips on nutrition as I’m such a running role model in these parts – I’ve gone for Floradix.  It was eye-wateringly expensive, I actually wonder if the shock at the price tag basically reboots your metabolic rate, and any temporary boost in perceived energy levels has nothing to do with the intrinsic contents of the bottle at all, but rather is just your body implementing fright and flight mode.  Frankly, I don’t care how it works, whatever it takes.


I’ve gone for a liquid iron supplement because at last weekend’s Accelerate Big Running Weekend I learnt, amongst other things, that liquid iron is easier to absorb and less likely to cause digestive issues. Also, that it’s apparently very common for long distance runners (yes, like me) or people in general who are upping their running regimes, to become depleted in iron, and as I’m a vegetarian who does far too much meal planning by gazing in the fridge to see what’s lurking at the back and not enough actual working out a balanced food diary a week ahead, I know I more than likely am not following an ideal diet.  Maybe now I’m doing significantly increased mileage by my reference terms I just can’t get away with it any more.  It will be genuinely interesting to see if I do notice a difference over the coming weeks.

Would you like to know about the Big Running Weekend?  If you don’t already know about it, you’ll be really annoyed because you’re too late now, you’ve missed it.  Oh well, hopefully it will come round again same time next year.   Or maybe it will be more like Brigadoon, and only appear once  Basically, this was a sort of weekend festival of running, organised by a local to Sheffield independent running shop Accelerate, and held at the rather fine venue of the Woodland Centre in Ecclesall Woods.  For but a tenner, you got a fetching wrist band, just like at a proper festival, which allowed access all areas for the duration of the event.  There were loads of things to dip in and out of: guided runs; running shoes to try on; talks and films; a whole weekend trail school (there was an extra charge for that) led runs; Q&A sessions.   Really though, and this is a complement not a criticism, the absolutely best bit was being able to hang out with running buddies and talk about running related things with like-minded people who not only don’t back away when you try to talk to them about blisters, trainer grip or running technique but actively engage with you and offer useful tips!  Amazing.  Plus there were other helpful things like pizza (vegan options available); coffee and cake.

big running weekend

More specifically, there were guided runs deliberately at night, they weren’t just running in the dark because they couldn’t find their way home.  There were woodrun drills, which are actually useful and not only a means of manipulating others for the personal amusement of the running coaches (though clearly that is a pleasing additional benefit) and much inter-disciplinary networking fuelled by caffeine and cake.  Hurrah!  Great photos too, actually – hang on, I’ll go nick a few, so you can also enjoy them. Thanks nice people at Accelerate in general and Ben Lumley photography in particular.  Some of these photos are really crying out for a caption competition, but that’s not in my remit.  Create your own dear reader, create your own.

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As previously reference, my energy levels have been non-existent of late, so I wasn’t up for any of the runs, I barely dragged my weary carcass around Bakewell parkrun on Saturday morning, but I did get along to some of the talks, and you know what they were great!  Not just engaging, but inspirational too.

I went on the Saturday night, pizza first, then into the woodlands meeting room which was roasty toasty warm and all invitingly lit up with fairy lights and a room full of both familiar faces from the Sheffield running community (yes there is) and friends you haven’t made yet.  All good.

As is often the case, I’d rolled up with little idea of who the speakers were going to be, I enjoy the element of surprise, the pleasure of a lucky dip.  Anyway, I have to admit I didn’t know either of the speakers before, but now I am going to stalk them both.  First up was Damian Hall:

Damian Hall
7pm, Saturday 10th March 2018, Sycamore Suite (Main Building).

Fresh from his win at the multi day Ice-Ultra  and author of the book, ‘A Year on the Run’, Damian takes centre stage.

Damo is an outdoor journalist and ultra runner.  Like Ben, he too has represented Great Britain and last finished 1st Vet at the infamous Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc. He has also placed on the Spine Race and holds the odd long distance running record.
As to his talk, Damian describes it as, “A midlife-crisis, a toilet and the power sob : what running long distances has taught me about life, the universe and everything”.

He looks like this:

What to say about his talk? I don’t know it’s hard to summarise because it wasn’t so much the anecdotes about the races impressive as they were; the self-deprecating humour at the photos of him running in with ecstatic happy children at the climax of the UTMB where he sheepishly pointed out his wife pushing a buggy behind and the time it took for his children to revert to calling him poo-head; nor the amazing photos of the roads less travelled he’d run across, nor even the extraordinary lengths – literally – he’d run.  I honestly think it was the positivity, the idea you won’t know you limits if you never try to find them.

dh and kids

and, best of all these three key take-away points that spoke as if directly to me:

  • Ultra running is as much an eating competition as a running one, you need to fuel loads. (Tick).
  • No-one can run that far, so you are better of training by going on a hiking holiday and carrying a pack and doing lots of walking (result, I don’t even have to carry a pack because my own supplies of adipose layers provide my own bespoke weight belt at all times).  (Tick).
  • ‘We all know that we could cover 100 miles if we really had to, if our children’s lives depend upon it say, or the house is burning down’ (I guess that would depend how much you like your children or house, but I take the general point) so of course a marathon should be doable for pretty much anyone, if your mind is focused enough on doing it. He used the analogy of how people can often put on a sprint finish when they see the finish line even if one hundred metres before they thought them self to be well and truly spent.  It should be doable, if you want to.  (Tick).
  • You don’t necessarily need to do crazy mileage in training, what you do need is hours on your feet to build endurance without risking injury – walking is your friend (tick).  For ultra runs you can’t possibly run a 100 mile plus ‘long run’ each week, so cannier regimes are needed.  Excellent news.

The second speaker was Geoff Cox.  He looks like this:

big run running legend

What a legend!  In his sixtieth year, he set himself the challenge of running three named Lake District fell running rounds, Bob Graham, Joss Naylor lakeland challenge and the Gerry Charnley Round, which I’d not heard of before but links three youth hostels so is doable over three days with comfy night stops for the less adventurous explorers out there.  Don’t tell anyone, but I might be a little bit in love with Geoff, he seemed to have just decided to do it and so he did. That is remarkable enough – though it wasn’t from a base of nothing, he’d done football and things before.  However, the real tour de force was how he described what being out on the fells meant to him. After he’d completed this challenge, he tried to process all his thoughts by writing it down.  However, he found he just couldn’t, not in prose, so he just wrote it as a poem.  A love poem to the land in a way, and this got picked up and made into a film, and it’s just joyful.  It reminded me of all that draws me to the hills.  However badly I run, when my little legs have taken me up through the heather and on to the peaks, and I can finally look across the landscape opening up before me and feel the wind rush through me and everything falls into perspective.  The earth solid beneath me, the elements wild around me, yep, this is worth it, you don’t have to run well to reap these rewards, just put one foot in front of another and look about you.  He gave only a brief introduction and then let his film, Trailpike, speak for itself, and it did.  The Trailpike film is here, it’s amazing, go on, have a look, it’s only 11 minutes of your life.  I don’t know what was more inspiring, the physical challenge, or the way he suddenly, and unexpectedly embraced poetry as a vehicle to communicate what the running challenges meant to him. What’s more, in case you are worried, it isn’t cringy poetry of the ‘oh bless’ type, it’s genuinely using language in a way that I think transports you to that parallel world of the long and lonely trails.  Epic.  Oh and did I mention that he found out recently he’d been running a while with a busted carotid artery, the man is a medical marvel!  Wonder if he remembered to mention that on his disclaimer prior to taking part in the woodrun drills earlier…

geoff cox

I say, ‘lonely’ trails, but for the record, all the speakers had teams around them, the camaraderie of the fells and mountains being a recurring theme. As Damo said (well, everyone else seems to call him that, why shouldn’t I feign a personal connection now we’ve been in the same room together for over 60 minutes) ‘there are people I know from running that would do anything for me and me for them, we might not know the names of each others partners or children, but if asked to be on a stormy mountain side in the snow at 2 in the morning with coffee and cake for each other, we’d be there in a heartbeat‘.  I paraphrase, but I think we all get the gist.  He also spoke of hallucinations brought about by sleep deprivation, but they seemed largely benign.. flying lanterns anyone?

Then, even though you might have thought the room was so jam-packed with good will, mutual supportive appreciation and all round huggyness that it could stand no more, extra feel good fell factor was generated by showing the Nicky Spinks film of her extraordinary Double Bob Graham triumph.  I thought I’d seen this account of how on 15 May 2016, Spinks completed a double Bob Graham Round in 45 hours 30 minutes, beating the previous record set by Roger Baumeister in 1979 by more than an hour.  He was from Sheffield by the way.  Turns out I hadn’t.  It’s such a feel good film.  Again, there is the triumph over adversity theme as it interweaves the story of her cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment and recovery.  It is most certainly a tale of individual tenacity, but again the outpouring of support from her crew, family and friends and indeed Joss Naylor himself.

Nicky Spinks is extraordinary.  I’ve sort of met her, in that I gave her my £1.50 for the Truncerace where she was collecting entry money the DAY AFTER her double Bob Graham success.  I was too star struck to say anything other than ‘thank you’, as she told me my number, but I still felt the aura of her presence.  The main thing from her film though, was an observation she made early on.  She’d been half thinking of maybe doing the double Bob Graham, and not really ‘come out’ and told anyone of her idea.  She seemed to be saying that absolutely critical to her success was that when she did, she told Joss Naylor I think, and he basically said ‘of course you must!  You can absolutely do this!‘  and so she did!

After the film when we doing some mingling and chatting – much as after any run, only on this occasion without having run anywhere first, we pondered this point in particular.  My running buddies and I agreed that a large part of us achieving our running goals, admittedly more modest ones, but even so – was seeing that when we tested the idea on other better/ more experienced runners they didn’t laugh in our faces, they just said ‘why not?’  We are but fragile creatures, but give us a shove in the right direction, thrust us upwards, and we might yet fly!  I remember mooting the idea of doing the 12.12 to the guys at Frontrunner, and they were so supportive, I was astonished, and you know what, the Dig Deep is my new favourite event now, so there you go.  I don’t know about track running at all, but in terms of the off-road runners hereabouts, there is very much a give it a go attitude and plenty of really talented people around who are generous in sharing their insights and expertise.  Sort of restores your faith in human nature really, and there is a sense of some shared values too, an appreciation of the wonders of the natural world laid out before us, and maybe some basic humility that goes along with the territory for off road runners, who amongst us has not done a face plant in a bog, got lost in heather or cried with gratitude when a marshal has freely given of a hug when most needed.  Even the mighty Damo is an advocate of the power cry after all, we are all vulnerable out on them there hills.

So talking of generous sharing of expertise, I went back for more on Sunday afternoon.  I mean, obviously I went to marshal at Graves Junior parkrun first, because there is no greater feel good factory in the whole of Sheffield:

and then it was back to the woods for the women’s Q&A session.  A wide circle and a simple to and fro contemplative, supportive dissemination of running wisdom from some formidable but approachable women athletes, all local.  How fabulous is that.  Answer, pretty fabulous, but it would have been grand to give each of these women an individual platform to share their stories too.  The event brought us a panel comprising:

  • Jen Scotney: Jen has recently completed the Spine Challenger coming 3rd lady in a distance of over 100 miles — non stop! This is not even the longest run she is planning this year. Jen, is a vegan runner and happy to answer questions on her running nutrition too.
  • Laura Inglis: Accelerate Performance Centre coach. Laura has coached beginners to high performance club athlete’s and through determination and continued learning is making rapid progress as a coach. She is also an ultra runner and last year won the Ladybower 50.
  • Margo Duncan: Wood Run leader and family GP who is a very experienced runner. Having turned her attention to triathlon she has since competed for GB within her age group. She also has a wealthy of experience at trail and road racing.
  • Debbie Smith: Climber, turned Adventure Racer turned ultra distance mountain biker and then runner. Few will know that Debs has won every UK Adventure Racing title and was consistently in the top 3 for 24Hr mountain biking. In turning her attention to Ultra running she has completed the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc, taking a top 10 spot in her age category. In Mountain Marathons, such as the OMM she has also been a regular winner or podium finisher.

That’s quite a lot of running expertise in anyone’s estimation!

q and a panel

Again it’s hard to pick highlights because so much got covered in such encouraging terms.  Two of this epic panel are vegan runners, which is encouraging, it rather exposes the tedious lie about not being able to have proper nutrition on a plant-based diet.  I’m only vegetarian (vegan-curious) and have felt under pressure from some quarters to re-evaluate that.  Not negotiable by the way…  The mood was supportive.   The discussion moved through nutrition; cross training; hormones; impact of menstruation on running (not much research, but nobody fancied doing an ultra with a period even if some evidence suggests you might be stronger then – maybe mooncups are the way to go – woman’s hour had a great feature on these a while back by the way); goal setting; ‘fitting it all in’; supplements; fatigue; female running idols (Jasmin Paris came up amongst others, not least for her capacity to run at a high level, throughout her pregnancy)  – anything and everything really.

The panel shared memorable moments, and again, the sense that goals can motivate you, and if you want that goal enough you can make time to prepare for them. Having said that, there was perspective here too, ‘it’s not open heart surgery, you are just putting one foot in front of another so just try it’.  Enjoy it, was a theme.  Anecdotes about hallucinations were quite graphic, but not necessarily unpleasant, almost a boon you might think!  I learned that greater love hath no one for their running partner than offering up their own dry sleeve in lieu of a hanky when all the runner’s clothing and tissues are too saturated to offer service.   I’m not really sold on triathlon though, call me lightweight by all means (that would be a first to be fair) but I don’t want people swimming over me and elbowing me in the face before I have to ride and then run for a very long way!

Favourite moment. Question from an awesome veteran runner who moves amongst us within the smiley pack  ‘I’d like to do some of these challenges, but how do you get a team, what about the logistics, how to make it happen?  Who can support me, how can I learn by supporting others?‘  and this triggered a collective communal outpouring of the running equivalent of ‘I am Spartacus‘ as each person in the room rose as one and volunteered to support any such venture.  The running hive will make it so, you have only to believe and it can happen.  I felt quite emotional.  Together anything is indeed possible, this can happen.  Just name the day and bring it on!


These women all had innate talent for sure, but they also oozed constructive support, it made me believe that whilst not exactly anything is possible, we most certainly won’t know our limits if we don’t try, and really why not try?  With a bit of common sense and commitment we can probably achieve more than we think, especially if we utilise the support and expertise that surrounds us.  I suppose maybe I just needed to be reminded of what I said about myself, some years ago when I started keeping this blog.  I made then, and make now, no claim to be a ‘proper runner’ I hardly run at all, what’s more, if anything my running has got worse since I started, but ultimately, for me running has never been important because I can be good at it, rather it is important because I can learn to enjoy doing it badly.  It has linked me to some extraordinary, awesome and amazing people and taken me to unexpected places and on unexpected adventures, and anything else is frankly a bonus.

So you see, it was all lovely.

The afternoon ended with a warm glow of optimism and appreciation for all things runners and running related.  This weekend was timely for me, I’ve had a rubbish couple of weeks.  The enthusiasm and practical positivity of those around the run HQ brought a bit of perspective to things.  Running is supposed to be fun, challenges are best when self-selected and can help you stretch and grow they offer the chance to succeed not fear of failure.  With regards to this London Marathon malarkey, I don’t know if I can do it, but I do know there is nothing to be lost by giving it my best shot. Yep, training hasn’t gone how I hoped, but this is the first – possibly only – attempt, I’m bound to make mistakes.  The fact I’m making loads merely demonstrates how resourceful and experimental I am.  My goal remains to get around, and that should be completely realistic, if I can get to the start uninjured, I do believe I can get to the end, and whatever happens it’ll be an adventure, what more could I wish for.  I will be one of the lucky ones for even being able to embark on this adventure.  Hurrah!  Everything’s grand.

So cheers Accelerate. I know it took a team of people working really hard to pull this off, but for what it’s worth, i thought it was an informative, enjoyable and inclusive event.  A running tonic on my doorstep. How blessed am I.  🙂

Oh, you want to know what the best parkrun fancy dress photo ever is?  It’s from Ormskirk parkrun, in honour of International Women’s Day, a re-enactment of Emily Wilding Davison’s  protest at the Epsom Derby in 1913.  The verisimilitude is uncanny.

I find this effort heartening.  The timing of this homage to past protest seems especially apt as university staff have just voted to continue in their own strike action centred around pensions entitlement today.  The power of protest can deliver, but sometimes you do have to fight for what you believe in.

That fight might of course be in your head.  Running is in the mind, believe you can, and you will.

between the ears

That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.

A lot of hoping.  I might have to do a bit of training too though, just to be on the safe side.

Fingers crossed for a long run triumph tomorrow.  Think of me!  🙂

Over and out.


Categories: motivation, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Spring Equinox Dragonfly Challenge – the art of the Strava flyby.

Digested read:  Elder Smiley sent out a directive for the Smiletastic March challenge, to create a team Strava Art flyby in celebration of the spring equinox. We did. It was a contemplative silent homage to both running and the spring equinox.  We Dragonflies did good.  Hurrah.

So, in case you haven’t been concentrating, this is a continuation of the Smiley Paces Women’s Running club winter challenge.  Alongside individual challenges, designed to make you go out and run in the most inclement of weather, even when you are silently weeping within are team challenges.  We’ve already had some dragonfly team segment bagging, and team alphabet run triumphs, but for this month we were tasked with a Strava Art Homage to the Spring Equinox challenge directed as follows:

Team Challenge: I can’t resist a Strava Art Team Challenge and this year I’d like you to do your interpretation of the SPRING EQUINOX using a team Strava flyby. “Older” smilers may have to explain this to the newer members!
There were a few things we learned from last year.
• You must all have the flyby option enabled before you do it (I think you can only do this on the computer)
• You MUST synchronise your watches! Anyone who has been abroad needs to check that they’re on UK time!
One person in the team should notify me that its done and send me a link and a screen shot of the finished artwork along with names of those who took part in any way. I will award points based on my opinion of how creative you’ve been and for participation. The deadline for these is midnight Sunday 18th March

I had not the faintest idea of how to go about this, but fortunately I was able to parasitize the expertise of those who did.  One of our number, Fell Running Smiley, had a genius plan, and as a supportive team member, rather than undermine her considerable initiative by coming up with another plan, I decided to just throw my – not inconsiderable – weight behind her one.  ‘Brilliant, just brilliant, where and when, I’ll be there’ I ventured, joining the chorus of other Dragonflies on our secret Facebook group page where we plot out how such schemes can best be executed together.

But look at the genius idea presented!  No one was going to be able to top that!

strava art abbey lane cemetery

With the explanatory text as follows:

Ok so we have a spring equinox run route planned and we’re thinking of running (or walking if you’re injured) this Saturday after the Bakewell parkrun.

It’s a very simple route in a sun shape so hopefully it should be easy to do. I’m going to try to share the run from my strava on this post.

It follows a circle that is in the Abbey Lane cemetery. We’re planning to meet at the entrance to the cemetery at 11am on Saturday. If there are people using the cemetery we have a backup route using a circular housing estate at Manor fields.

Perfect!  Pleasingly simple, brilliantly apt.

The follow up conversation on line went a bit like this:

ACT I SCENE I A closed Facebook page Dragonflies – Smiletastic 2018.
[Snow and rain outside, running confusion inside. Multiple Dragonflies make themselves known on social media in response to the Spring Equinox Challenge proposal]
First Dragonfly: When shall we all meet again
In thunder, lightning, snow or rain?
Second Dragonfly: When the Bakewell parkrun’s done,
When the milestone cakes have been eaten hun.
Third Dragonfly: That will be ere the set of sun, shall we say eleven then?
First Dragonfly: Where the place?
Second Dragonfly: Abbey Lane cemetery.
Third Dragonfly: There to meet with everyone who can.
First Dragonfly: I come, great dragonfly!
Second Dragonfly: Smiletastic calls!
Fourth Dragonfly: Me too!
ALL: Fair the plan, and fine the strava art:
We will execute this flyby with all our dragonfly hearts!

Pretty much like that anyway.

So many of us made it to Bakewell parkrun for the Smiley Champs outing first off, and then, after a somewhat comedic wacky races-esque departure in a fleet of cars, headed off to the rendezvous point. Some arrived in timely fashion, some overshot and had to phone to be talked in to the location, like when the pilot has a heart attack flying a plane, and some hapless air cabin crew has to land it talked in by air traffic control.  Exactly like that.  Or possibly like being driven around by Muttley.  Maybe that.

wacky races

We met outside the Abbey lane cemetery.  It’s a rather grand and splendid place. A proper cemetery, seemingly reasonably well maintained, with many ancient gravestones and memorials amid the green space.  Some people really don’t like graveyards, but I’m fine with them. We have nothing to fear from the dead, far more from the living.  I appreciate the green spaces they permit to flourish in the most urban of areas, and they can be peaceful places.

Once we were all gathered, we hesitated outside.  We felt that what we were doing was OK, but we didn’t want it to be perceived as disrespectful, so we agreed our strategy outside, and that we would do our ‘run’ as a slow walk, and in silence as far as possible. The idea was to start off together with one small inner circle, and then peel off one by one to walk each of the radial paths before regrouping. It was a small space.  There were some people around, but they were tending far off graves.  We did have  a contingency plan just in case, but didn’t need to implement it.

Graveyards are curious places.   Caution, pretentious story alert x 2.  When I was in Cambodia, many homeless people bedded down in the tombs that surrounded many temples, and the living and the dead co-exist in quite an active way. Every home has its own mini shrine ‘to the ancestors’ who are consulted on important matters and informed about family happenings.  I thought for a long time this was just that, a shrine, but in fact I learned that quite literally people put the ashes of their deceased relatives there.  I was taken aback, as I’d been admiring a shrine and asked to photograph it at one home I visited on Silk Island outside Phnom Penh.  However, the family were completely relaxed about the whole thing, there wasn’t the same disconnect between the living and the dead. Same in Vietnam.  At Tet – New year’s day, everyone goes en masse to visit their ancestors at cemeteries, which are vast.  I was taking part in a motorbike tour from Hue, and we went roaring into one such cemetery.  The whole world seemed to be there, partying alongside their deceased relatives.  It was a place of story telling, eating and celebration, with everyone dressed up in their party finery, and all generations represented.  There was nothing sombre about it as far as I could tell.  A curious exposure to a complete different set of cultural reference points.  You just don’t know what’s OK and what isn’t sometimes, just have to be alert to what’s going on around you I suppose.  Anyway, the upshot was, that we agreed what we were doing was OK, as long as we were discrete, so in we went and off we went.

The nature of the route, going round in circles and walking out and back along the sun’s rays as they emanated outwards from the centre turned out to be quite a silently contemplative process.  It possibly sounds strange, but it was calming, mindful even (if that isn’t too pretentious). Each of us silently walking the route, lost in our own thoughts, taking in the fallen tomb stones around us, the bird song, the trees overhead, out and back, round and round, and finally rejoining.  Like a strange dance.  We moved organically and noiselessly, creating our silent homage to the Spring Equinox.  Watches stopped, we filed out and away from the cemetery, until outside we could check our stravas and marvel at this thing of wonder we had collectively created.

We couldn’t know how effective our Strava flyby was until later.  Not to worry, we could still do the compulsory group selfie – we are getting seriously good at these.  I think you can tell we are channelling our inner dragonflies here, and what’s more we have a clear queen who moves amongst us:

queen dragonfly


Talking of Queen.  Yes we were, we also took the opportunity to nab a  Queen tribute group selfie, Bohemian Rhapsody or Dragonfly Rhapsody, we have them both nailed.  Uncannily close to the original imagery, I think you’ll agree.  We were indeed in our own rhapsody of delight what with all our clever flybying.

Nice shoes too.  They look good in a circle of Smiley Dragonfly loveliness too.

circle of smiley loveliness

Didn’t take long, then we all departed our separate ways.  I actually felt a bit lonely saying goodbye, we’d shared a moment, we are bonded forever by our awesome flyby endeavour.  I like that.

Once home, after some angst inducing ‘usb device not recognised’ shouty warnings from my computer, I finally got my own Strava route uploaded.  It looked like this:

spring equinox run

Do you have any concept of how exciting that is?  Love it when Strava art comes good.  I’ve limited experience of strava art – previous rabbit encounter for Smiletastic 2016 being about the sum of it, therefore it was a huge relief it actually worked.  Better yet, another clever Dragonfly did whizzy things to make it display, and you know what dear reader, it was cracking!  How clever are we!


I say ‘we’ are clever, but really I mean other people were, and I got to hang out in the proximity of their cleverness and greatness.  Still, it shows good judgement on my part at least.

So there you go, final team challenge for Smiletastic done. Tick.  Phew.

Can’t wait to see what the other teams come up with, reckon we’ll be one to beat, but I genuinely don’t care about that, because we did good, and running our Spring Equinox Strava flyby was its own reward.

The official Spring Equinox is on 20th March 2018 at 16.15, which is very specific.  Right now it’s hard to believe that’s just next week, recent weather feels very much like we are still living through an eternal winter.  I wonder what running treats may reveal themselves on that time and date, hope you work out, execute and share your own homage, come on dear reader, you know you want to!  To get you in the vernal equinox mood, here are some interesting facts about the change in season, to get your going.

Goodbye winter, hello spring!


Happy equinox dear reader.   The sun will surely come out eventually….

We can run on in hope!

Categories: running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Smiley Champs with Smiley Champions – Running wobbles conquered (ish) with a little help from my Smiley friends…

Digested read: Running feels hard at the moment.  Marathon training is taking its toll. Fortunately I have Smiley Paces and I have parkrun. What more could anyone ask for to help them through their running wobbles!  It’ll be fine, probably.  Even if it isn’t it won’t matter in the grand scheme of things and there will still be parkrun the following Saturday and cake eating opportunities aplenty on the horizon ahead.  Thank you Smiley Buddies you are all wonder women.  Awesome as well as FGRs.  Hurrah!

Bakewell smiley assemblage

Mahooosive running wobbles today, for the past few days to be honest.  And I am not only referring to my midriff which wobbles most spectacularly when I run.  Point of information dear reader – in my experience it is a complete myth that marathon training will bring to you weight loss along with existential angst, au contraire.  I’ve put on a significant amount of weight partly because of being rungry to a greater extent than the calories I’ve burned, but more particularly because I’m an emotional eater, and training for a marathon, well, turns out it’s really hard, and for me, something of an emotional roller coaster.  It is the emotional wobbles that have been especially pronounced these week.  Mind games setting in along with doubts.

So, I am told at this stage in training it is normal to doubt yourself, your body is under stress.  With six weeks to go OH MY GAWD, SIX WEEKS!  KILL ME NOW! There is still much training to cram in and much to lose as well as much to gain.  Too little time to make much headway in terms of fitness (it’s really four weeks max and a two week taper), but plenty of time to blow everything with injury or over training or narcissistic melt down.  My problems have been building for a while, snow and ice have played havoc with my training plan, such as it was, and do you know what, even though the Beast from the East has affected much of the UK, they aren’t going to postpone the start date of the marathon by two weeks to compensate?  I know, outrageous.   Then I had a really terrible long run last week, wrong nutrition, felt ill, got cold and dehydrated and then spent the next two days completely wiped out.  I actually took to my bed and googled ‘is it normal to feel exhausted after a long run’, ‘heart attack early symptoms’, ‘what was I thinking?’, ‘marathon over training’, ‘marathon not trained enough’, ‘seriously, how many miles?’, ‘anaemia and running’, ‘marathon training fatigue‘ etc. You get the idea I’m sure.  Looking on the bright side, the alarming google advice in relation to the above search terms probably elevated my heart rate sufficiently to provide me with a significant work out despite my inertia.  On the whole, my findings were terrifying, and not helpful, probably not even accurate or applicable to me either.

Some training plans are saying that your ‘long run’ should be about 20% of your total mileage, but that would mean as I increased my long runs I’d be doing a massive % increase on my weekly mileage and doing 100 miles a week by the time I got up to a 20 mile run, and I don’t have the numeracy skills to work it out for a 22 mile run.  Just as well.   That can’t be right, surely? So I have been fretting about my mileage being too low. Then I wonder if I should force myself out even if I’m feeling rubbish, but then I remind myself that there’s a difference between tired, can’t be bothered and it’s raining and the total grey-faced white-gummed wipe out that I’ve been experiencing over the past few days, and on balance, it isn’t worth it.  I’m not an elite runner, I only want to get round, and actually, I don’t think that kind of mileage is either realistic or sensible for a relatively newbie middle-aged runner, that way injury and exhaustion lies, surely.  Plus,  I knew when I set out to do my 17 mile run last week I wasn’t feeling great, and I think I’ve paid the price. I am in the process of writing a misery memoir blog post about that even now, you can enjoy be dragged down by reading that account later, when I finally finish it.  Even so, whatever the intellectual, objective rationalisation of what I’m feeling, it’s not great, hence the wobbles.  I’ve felt completely drained since the 17 miler, and a bit unsure about how to move on from it.  Have a break?  Do more? Do less?  Aaaaaargh.  I’ll never be a runner, my running is getting worse and harder with this marathon malarkey not better.  I thought by now my inner athlete would have burst out, that I’d be chomping sprouting mung beans and buying progressively smaller pairs of running bottoms whilst dolling out unsolicited running advice to lesser mortals who hadn’t yet got a marathon in their sights.  On reflection, I was probably delusional right from the start.  I’m exhausted, my body is battered, my morale low, I am never running again.  Not ever.

Even so, today was a double Smiley Paces challenge. Firstly, Bakewell parkrun the first of the Smiley Champs runs for this year, and secondly a Smiletastic challenge, creating a solstice flyby.  Wouldn’t want to let my team mates down.  Aaaaaargh all over again.  Fear of missing out…  and you know what they say ‘I really regret that run said NO-ONE EVER!’

really regret

The Smiley Champs series, is basically  your best four performances out of a possible six runs in events throughout the year. They are chosen to be as inclusive as possible, taking in a parkrun like today, a shortish fell race, an off-road event with a choice of distances e.g. Dig Deep series that kind of thing.  I am never going to be a speed merchant, so don’t take part in the champs in any expectation of glory, but I do go in expectation of being able to bathe in collective Smiley loveliness; to get to be in a Smiley team shot and; last but by no means least; in the confident expectation that there will be cake.  What is a running club without communal catering?  Quite.  And if someone is going to go to all that trouble of combining their 50th parkrun with the Smiley Champs call out to hail to Bakewell parkrun, it would be rude not to go and ingest/inhale such sweetmeats as are offered up by way of recognition and appreciation and as an expression of mutual support.

Anyway, here are the Smiley Champs races for this year, 2018, in case dear reader you fancy coming along and shouting ‘Go Smiley‘ at any of us as we pass.  Or throw sweetmeats, that goes down well too, as a minimum offer up a high-five. We like them also. Just so you know.  All and any support, we’ll take it.  You’ll feel great, everyone’s a winner!

smiley champs

Like Lady Macbeth, I lost the capacity to sleep years ago (though unlike her I don’t recall being an accessory to regicide) so was awake by 4.00 a.m. anyway.    The rain was pounding down on my attic window, this was not the plan.  I lay in the dark, checking out how I felt. Yep, felt like my body had been completely steam-rolled and head was spinning.  What to do.  What will I do if I feel like this on marathon day?  I have always maintained, sometimes to my cost, that you can always push out a parkrun.  Maybe I should test that theory today.  If I didn’t get out and give it a go, I’d probably regret it right?  Plus, wouldn’t want to let my Smiletastic buddies down…  Nobody ever regrets a parkrun, ever, no-one ever regrets a parkrun ever, never ever, repeat, repeat, ad infinitum repeat…

There’s always a first time though, isn’t there…  Speaking of which, some Smileys who’d promised to turn out today were to be first timers at parkrun, can you imagine that?  Passing through the gateway to all that fun for the first time, it will be like entering Narnia for them, I should turn out to see that…

So, despite rain, and fog, and it being distinctly chilly although not actually arctic conditions, I had my porridge and I ventured out. It was a misty run out to Hassop Station Cafe where the parkrun meets on the Monsal Trail.  I was a bit apprehensive driving over, there was a lot of standing water on the roads, and I had a white van driving right up my arse which wasn’t good.  Still, I wasn’t going to be intimidated into aquaplaning off the road, intimidated yes, but not so much as to change my driving, though I did pull over where I could to let him pass.

I arrived about 8.45, and to my amazement, there was space in the car park despite a couple of spaces being out of action because of snow!  I know, I thought it had all gone by now.  There were a couple of handy – and crazily clean portaloos on hand, but many gathering Smilies had assembled in the gift shop, where there was much browsing of mother’s day cards going on in pre-parkrun preambles. There was also much Smiley meeting and greeting, and it was lovely to see not just fellow dragonflies (Smiletastic challenge team mates) but loads of other Smilies I’ve not seen all winter really.  It was an impressive turn out.

We collectively lurked inside, sheltering from the rain that was pretty much torrential, until a call went up for us to assemble at the start.   I kept my coat on.  I was not alone.  We trotted down the path a short way and there was a collective run briefing.  I did not have my camera with me, but fortunately Smiley selfie queen did, so captured the scene…  nice and casual we Smilies aren’t we.  Can you see the ladybirds?  Plague proportions I tell you, plague…  There is a hungover grasshopper in shot too, see if you can work out which one she is.  Also, at least one celebrity who doesn’t wish to be identified, her prerogative, respect the right of all parkrunners to participate in their own way.

Bakewell smiley assemblage

This was my first time at Bakewell parkun – it’s a relatively new one, with this being only its eighth run.  Normally they get around a hundred or so runners, this week the numbers swelled to some 150, Smiley Paces runners contributed largely to that rise, but there were also a fair few Steel City Striders in evidence, I think maybe they are still preoccupied with their annual parkrun cup challenge, but I’m not sure…

It is a run that is fairly light on marshals, the run director gave a cheery briefing.  Hands for first timers – loads of us; any milestones?  Yep, at least two fifties, yay!  I liked the briefing, high points included the observation that sub 20 minute runners should move to the front (there was not a stampede to reposition ourselves) and the observation that there was a tail walker (a super smiley no less) so if you saw her ahead of you, you were to shout ‘slow down!’  at her, which is a good point well made. The official Bakewell parkrun course description blah de blah states:

Course Description
Out and back course on the Monsal Trail. Start and finish are in the same place by Hassop Station

and that’s indeed exactly what it is! Look:

bakewell parkrun strava

Down the compact trail of the old railway line.  It was however very puddled – running water across the path in places which I hadn’t expected – this would be seriously icey if the temperature dropped below zero –  and had a noticeable camber, which is slightly weird, in that I didn’t notice it at all when I ran this part of the Monsal trail the other week, but then again, that day I had it all to myself.

The briefing was short and to the point, and pretty soon a cry went up and we were awf.  As predicted I found it hard.  My energy levels are completely depleted.  I struggled even though it is a straight out and back route. Weirdly though, I found it harder running this with other runners, it was sort of like being in a traffic jam as you couldn’t see much other than the back of the runner in front, and it was hard to judge distance travelled as landmarks aren’t that obvious on this route, especially for a first time. It was however a friendly cohort, and for faster runners you could definitely go for a quick time if that was your bag.  Also, as an out and back route, it was quite nice to see and acknowledge returning runners – basically the whole field in my case – as they ran back as I was running out.  Lots of mutual support, high fives, cheery ‘hellos’ and good to see familiar faces I hadn’t been able to spot in the pre-run mingling. Whether they were as thrilled to see me as I was them is a moot point, perhaps the mantra ‘don’t ask don’t tell‘ has its place in some contexts after all.

I love Smilies, all were indeed smiling as they rushed by.

The turning point was just beyond a bridge, there were two marshals to cheer you round.  There was one pleasant surprise here (well, three if you count seeing each of the two marshals as well 🙂 ), in that a solitary white cone positioned in front of the marshal was the turnaround point. This gave me a significant psychological boost, as I’d imagined the marshal was a human cone and I’d have to run round him, by running in front of him instead I saved a good 2 metres on that run.

Heading back, it felt tough, but a cheery Smiley as back marker shouted some encouragement as she was still heading out.  Ironically, our March challenge for Smiletastic is to run a Royal Flush – progressively faster miles over a long run.  My splits for this run showed I got progressively slower instead.  I tried very hard to put this in perspective, I’ve been feeling ill, I was 50:50 about coming anyway, it doesn’t matter at least I came, but I am all over the place mentally at the moment.  Who am I trying to kid I can run a marathon if I’m struggling to maintain a pace at a parkrun?  This can’t be right?

Eventually though, the end was in sight, a cheery Smiley with such perfect form that she is often wheeled out as the face of woodrun jogged out to run in with me.  As I reached the finish, there was a great wall of Smilies who gave a roar of cheers as i ran in. That was most splendid!  I felt like a super star. Sometimes it’s worth being a slow finisher as although oftentimes it means you miss the post run group photo because everyone has gone home, on this occasion it meant basically everyone else was already back and forming a cheer leading crowd to will you in.  I even did a (for me) sprint finish, so maybe my body wasn’t as broken as I thought.  Mind over matter indeed….

Super efficient funnel managers whizzed me through to the scanner.  I had a replacement barcode as one of theirs has gone walkabout, and it didn’t scan straightaway. I’m barcode scanning at Graves Junior tomorrow, hope the rain doesn’t interfere with the process too much there. The responsibility, the stress!

Thank you Bakewell parkrun marshals for the warmth of your welcome, the wit of your run briefing and the slickness of your logistics.

A couple more Smilies were cheered in

smiley coming through

And then it was to the important business of garnering Smiley team photos once the tail marker had made it through:

bakewell smiley team shot FJ

Naturally, we didn’t limit ourselves to just the one shot. We had to have all possible variants of smiley configurations.  Dragonflies, bees (genius action shot there, brilliantly choreographed by a very capable photographer who was that now?  Oh yes, I remember! Me!  Genius me!), grasshoppers, milestone 50th run – plus a few posing with the ‘caution runners‘ sign, because that’s what we are. Oh yes!  Go us!

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Running is great, gotta love parkrun!

So then cake was calling – I’d espied it earlier, it looked like this:

bakewell cake supplies

You might think that amount of cake would be daunting, but don’t underestimate the collective ability of a Smiley team to get a job done!  We focus, we can deliver!

As I was about to head back to the cafe, much excitement.  As the parkrun marshals worked their magic making all trace of the parkrun disappear for another week.   A previously anonymous Smiley came across to introduce herself.  She’s been injured forever ages, but we’ve met on the interweb so it was grand she came to say hello!  Hope you are running free again soon injured Smiley, but meantime, thanks for keeping Bakewell parkrun show on the road as a hi-viz hero.   Big virtual high-five coming right atya from here!  Til next time…

smiley injured new friends

Next stop, cafe, and queue for latte.  By my good fortune – perhaps less so for the Smiley I was alongside – I was sited next to a fellow London marathon runner for 2018.  She is a much, much more experienced and faster runner than I, so I was astonished to hear she too has been struggling a bit with fatigue in her training.  Not that I’d wish these levels of exhaustion on anyone, but maybe it is just ‘normal’ at this stage.  Interestingly, like me, she finds her legs feel strong and her aerobic capacity is fine, it’s literally ‘just’ a sense of extreme weariness, maybe this is the mental battle.

I also got to nab another experienced Smiley who was fantastically supportive and encouraging too as I lamented my lack of progress. She pointed out that actually, because of the cumulative build up of training miles there is also cumulative fatigue, so it is relatively usual (even is scary) to feel like I’m slower now than I was when I started, because you/ I/ we are making increasing demands on more and more fatigued bodies.  The benefits will only really be reaped post the taper – assuming training has gone to plan. These next 2-3 weeks are indeed the big mile weeks, and so some wobble is inevitable.  Anyway, thank you all smilies in general and those in particular for casting your pearls of wisdom and encouragement my way. It is appreciated.   Smiley Champs series is apt for us all, because all Smilies are Champions.  Even those who didn’t make the shindig today. One of those was being a hi-viz hero elsewhere.  Also champion.  Hurrah.  Top Dog for the day, I think Regal Smiley may fear her top dog position more generally is under threat. It isn’t of course, because there’s room for all.  Some can do the loving eyes routine a bit better than others it’s true, but all are super-talented, unique and valued in their own way.  New beginnings for you both. Bravo.  Let the new adventures in life begin, there will be no looking back.

It’s a weird thing this marathon training malarkey, because inevitably a lot of the training is on my own, and the run itself will be – apart from the other 49,999 other runners out there on the route of course – but I don’t think I’d have even made it to this point without the support of my running club buddies, parkrun buddies and virtual supporters I’ve picked up along the way.  I have to remember it’s supposed to be a challenge and it’s also supposed to be fun.  Of course I want to get round, but it is only a run, it’s not life and death, if I don’t it won’t matter in the grand scheme of things, what matters is that I give it my best shot and, in the words of the best advice I’ve had re running my first/ one and only marathon ‘remember to enjoy it’.  It will be an extraordinary day.  If I get round I get bragging rights on top, if I don’t I still get anecdotes and free tube travel in London for marathon day, as long as I’m still wearing my number and it hasn’t been washed away by my tears on the day.  Not a bad return on two years of angst really is it?

Is it?  Don’t you think?  Tube travel is really expensive.  And I don’t make a habit of running any distance up to 26.2 miles just to get around, so it can add up.

Lattes were drunk, cake was eaten and then it was running round two. The Spring Equinox Smiletastic challenge.  But that’s another story….

For all my parkrun related posts see here – scroll down for older entries.

Categories: 5km, motivation, parkrun, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Running London …. ish. Work in progress a horrible long run in marathon training. I so haven’t got this! Aaargh.

Digested read:  I had to do a 17 mile long run today. I did it even though I felt rubbish, and did everything wrong.  A lot of it was walking, but probably it was a good test of my mental strength if not physical prowess.  I did at least complete it.  The Thames route was scenic, the royal parks lovely.  I really hope it isn’t true about all the peeing at the Marathon.  Type 2 fun, and a learning curve.  This is scary now.  Aaaargh indeed.

This popped up on Facebook recently, and made me cry with laughter:

anyone can win the marathon

That’s right dear reader.  ‘Anybody can win the race‘, the ‘race’ in this context being the London Marathon. So says last year’s winner, who incidentally, has his family watch the ‘movie’ of the race twice a week or so.   To be fair, if I win, I will expect anyone with whom I have even the most tenuous or fleeting acquaintance to be watching the coverage on a continuous loop between now and the end of eternity.   I will nail them to the spot if necessary in order to facilitate this, but on the whole, unless an unexpected Tsunami from the Thames wipes out all 39,999 runners ahead of me and leaves me as the sole contender  I think the parkrun populus of Sheffield are safe.  And no, I’m not being unnecessarily self-deprecating in stating this.   Methinks reigning champion Daniel Wanjiru is possibly somewhat overestimating the competition across the field – or maybe elite runners never look behind them and have yet to realise the London Marathon is a mass participation event.  They see only the finish line and hear only the pitter patter of their immediate rivals alongside and behind.  It’s another world, another world entirely.

Talking about running alongside the Thames (yes I was), that was my long run venue of a week or so ago.  It was a really tough one, something of a misery to be honest, but in the interests of completeness I feel I should record it here. It can be the yin to the yan of the more positive experience of a long run a week later on the Monsal Trail.  Not sure if that’s quite what yin and  yan are, but highs and lows certainly.  My Thames side long run was more of a low.  Not that it wasn’t beautiful, and I didn’t absolutely regret it, but my goodness I felt rough before, during and for many days after.

The thing is, I was staying in London.  I’d decided I’d fit in my long run whilst I was there, partly because I needed to, and partly because the weather in Sheffield has been so dire (white out and wash out alternating to stop all running fun, races tumbling all around as they got cancelled due to arctic conditions) I figured I’d take advantage of the milder southern climes.   Plus, running round Sheffield is so hilly, I end up having to walk some sections, I thought maybe doing a flatter route would help me hit more of a rhythm and replicate the London marathon terrain.  Also, I thought maybe it would be a good mental discipline to run an unknown route and see how far my legs would carry me.

Reading that back, that rationale makes me sound super organised and equipped for running a London marathon, but I’m just not. Everything feels bumbling and improvised.  I have little idea what I’m doing, and honestly, sometimes I think I just decide what I want to do, and then think up some post activity rationalisation as to why it was a legitimate strategy or idea.  A bit like when you are trying to make a decision, and you seek advice from loads of different people, but really, what you are doing is keeping on asking everyone you meet until someone, FINALLY, gives you the answer you’ve been wanting to hear.  I actually don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing, it at least crystallizes in your mind what it is you want to do, albeit you are seeking some sort of external validation for doing so, but I do think it’s worth being self-aware about it.  Maybe even more so with a physical challenge like this, where actually, if I don’t prepare my body physically and mentally for what it’s up against, then it just isn’t going to happen, as it is, the attempt may not be pretty.  PANIC!

Point of information, as usual, I’m writing up this post belatedly – I nearly said ‘posthumously’ there, perhaps that’s apt – I’m sat at a table looking out on a snow swamped garden, lamenting the fact that this is another day when my running aspirations will not be met.  I have made it out far enough to dig out the bird feeders and put some food on the ground.  I didn’t think they’d found it, but I’ve just noticed a pigeon’s head peering up from out of the snow.

It’s head high for a pigeon. Which probably doesn’t sound all that high to be fair, but it’s high enough to mean running isn’t an option. You can’t see where your feet are landing, and it’s way over my ankles.  Deeper where it’s drifted.  Can’t make up my mind whether or not to risk venturing out.  I’ve been watching the Martin Yelling marathon talks (I’m slightly in love with him, he’s so positive and smiley) and he was saying the other week that you have to consider the risk of injury v potential training benefit and adds in ‘any run is better than no run’ but equally you shouldn’t stress niggles too much at this late stage.  I might try for a walk later.  Surely a snow trudge constitutes cross training, even if it is just to check out the interior of the nearest open cafe?  One way to find out.

Back to where I was, about a week ago, contemplating a long run.  I was aiming for 17 miles, and hadn’t honestly planned a route as such, beyond a vague idea of starting off by parking at The Pheasantry Cafe in Bushy Park.  However, this was one of those runs, where just everything seemed stacked against if from the off.  To begin with, because I was away from home I’d not eaten particularly appropriately the day before, just salad all day and where I was staying the only breakfast option was high sugar kiddies mini pack cereals.  Then I had the most terrible night’s sleep ever, even for me, and I can’t remember when I last slept through the night, and when I did finally ‘wake’ properly I had a raging sore throat and felt dire. I wasn’t sure what to do. I consumed the only available breakfast option, which was a little pack of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, which was vile, and had half a cup of not very nice coffee, which just made my insides slosh about.  I felt shattered, poorly hydrated, ill, and a bit queasy.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  It was definitely not the best preparation for the run, but then again, what if I feel like this on marathon day, I’m not going to bale then surely?  Plus, if I didn’t get my run in this day, I might end up missing it, and back in Sheffield with the weather as it is, it would be another week of really inadequate preparation.  I also needed to drive back to Sheffield after the run, if I abandoned the run and drove back early, I knew there was no way on earth I’d head out for a long run after dark.  Aaaargh.

In the end, I decided I might as well at least start off, worst case scenario I could cut it short.  I just thought if I didn’t try I’d regret it, and I was imagining how I’d feel the next day –  fabulous if I’d succeeded and a worthless failure if I hadn’t.  I decided I’d prefer the former scenario – though in fact it didn’t entirely work out like that.  Running when you are so depleted knocks you out for days afterwards apparently.  So now I know.  Weirdly though, I still think not running at all would have been worse, but worth noting for another time.

Belt packed, naked bars, water, and vague sense of a route.  Even the weather was against me though. The place I was staying, Bushy Park Lodge, had great views of Bushy Park.  Only the day before I’d had runner envy watching people job past in the early morning.

This day it was dark and threatening ‘proper’ rain.  I am increasingly hating this weather. I do still cope better with cold than heat running wise, but there are limits.  This is not fun.  This was the view at the start of my run out:


Joy.  Not.  Originally, I’d planned to do sort of figure of eight loops around Bushy Park, but then the ground was too saturated for that to allow for even running, besides which I thought it might get a bit dull, I hate running in laps.  However picturesque the setting.  I then hit upon what I considered to be a genius plan!  I’d start in the park, head over to Hampton Court palace, dip down onto the Canal path and then maybe loop through Home park, something like that.  This would guarantee move even terrain and a longer route, with less temptation to abandon the run when the going got tough.

Off I went.  It was sploshy, dark and pretty empty really.  Though to be fair it was a weekday. Even so, it surprises me how you can find space even in this jam-packed area of greater London.  It was wet, even the deer were lying down, trying to keep at least a small area of ground dry. There was a dramatic white stag, which I failed to photograph as I didn’t want to disturb it by going too close, and trees heavy with bright green mistletoe.  I wished my stomach wasn’t heaving so much though.  That breakfast was not a good start to the day at all.

Onwards, I decided to head straight out of the park.  On my way, just walking, trying not to heave, I found a bit of discarded steel wire, where on earth did that come from?  That could seriously damage a deer or horse in the park.  It was huge and heavy, I didn’t really know how best to dispose of it, but I did at least pick it up and put it in a bin.  A small gesture to improve the place I was running in, though not perhaps in the same league as those ploggers who in Sweden, have identified the ultimate rubbish way to get fit, but a start.

Soon, I was at the Hampton Court gate to Bushy park, that’s an impressive bit of iron work right there

and out, over the road, past the separate entrance to the old tennis courts – oh, don’t you have a separate entrance for your on site sporting facilities?


and towards Hampton Court Palace.  Even though I grew up not far from here, I’ve very rarely done the touristy things, and stopping to look at Hampton Court palace, and the grand statues on the posts surrounding it I have to acknowledge it is really impressive.  Spectacular even.  You can see why it’s such a tourist attraction with it’s grand visage and photogenically sited red telephone box just outside – even if you can’t use that for actual telephone calls any more.  It was harder than you might think to photograph those impressive statue thingies, which is why I appear to have carefully framed a shot right up a unicorn’s arse.  Perhaps this is apt, as I have a unicorn’s arse in hell’s chance of getting round the London Marathon the way my training was feeling on this day…  The selfie also tells me my outfit wasn’t offering up the most photogenic of possibilities, however practical it may have been.   I look like a badly animated lollipop my face is so round. That has to be an optical illusion.  I’ve surely not really been seen out in public looking like that.  It’s not great for my body image to be fair.   I have subsequently inadvertently shrunk my woolly hat in the wash.  Gutted, it was really good at keeping my ears warm, even if it did look like I was wearing an alpaca-fleece giant condom on my head, by choice.  Sacrifices have to be made in running, all athletes know this.  Dignity is just the first of many things that have to go if you are serious about getting out there and running, however ineptly and for however long.  Harsh but true.

I was still feeling headachey and hardly underway, but I often feel rubbish in the early stages of runs, it takes me ages to get going.  I honestly think it’s partly that my body is in denial about the whole thing, so for the first few miles I just pant, and sweat and feel every twinge and ache and find it nigh on impossible to make myself run.  It takes super human strength to force myself to propel my feet forwards.  Once I’m far away from home that carrying on with my planned route is going to take just as long as retracing my steps and going home, I seem to move into the ‘acceptance’ as opposed to ‘denial’ stage and it’s fine. Well, maybe not exactly fine, but so far, I’ve never thought I wouldn’t complete once I get to that point.

Just beyond Hampton Court Palace, there was a really clear sign onto the Thames Cycle path.  This was great, and a revelation.  The path was wide, clearly marked, not very busy and offered spectacular views.  A bit of a contrast to the industrial heritage you view from the canal path in Sheffield through to Attercliffe.  Plenty of runners do use the canal paths in Sheffield for training, but I don’t fancy them, this Thames canal path felt a lot roomier, more open and frankly safer.

Still pretty wet though – I’ve just realised, you can, in theory run this all the way to Tower Bridge!  Wow, I’d love to do that.  Or even take on the whole of the Thames Path, that would be a lovely running challenge.   Well, I say ‘run’ but might be more fun to cycle that far.  Never say never though, if I’m really a more efficient runner than Usain Bolt, and I’m allowed to walk chunks, maybe I will surprise myself one day yet.  Oooh, what’s that overhead?  Is it a bird, is it a plane?  Oh, no it’s just a cloud.  A big black rainy one…


Inevitably, it being a new route, I had to stop and take in unusual views, and admire the palace from a new angle.

And then there was a yellow submarine, and more mistletoe, and cooing parakeets

I saw hardly anyone, a few cyclists, including one with an incredibly speedy and athletic dog.  That was impressive, but somewhat intimidating, it took time out from loping alongside its cycling companion to chase down wildlife along the river, ducks, swans, geese, nothing was safe.  It annoys me when owners let their dogs do that.  It spoilt my run, plus, whilst it may be true ‘they never catch anything’ they still stress the wildlife, which have to use much-needed energy stores to get away, endless times each day, and in winter especially when food may be harder to come by and they need those reserves just to keep alive in the outdoors 24/7, whereas the dog can go home to it’s centrally heated home and automatic meal.   Then there is the risk of them chasing and stressing deer, sheep whatever to the point of death.  It isn’t funny.  I’m consistent on this, I hate it when adults allow children to chase down birds too.   What is that about?  Scaring animals for fun.  People are weird.   What with that and the bagged dog poo strung up everywhere, I’m really going off irresponsible dog owners, responsible ones are a different matter entirely.  Impressive hound though, my it could run.  It looked really fit and healthy too.  Dread to think what damage it would do in a herd of livestock though.

The path was VERY wet.  But it was also flat, straightforward to navigate and punctuated with unexpected and interesting views.  Crazy amounts of mistletoe and many delightful boats.  Not that I really knew what any of them were, but most picturesque.

I was cold, and uncomfortable, but the miles did roll by quite easily, if not exactly speedily.  I was soon approaching Kingston:

Now, this was something of a cross roads, in a literal as well as metaphorical sense.  I could have gone back through Home Park, but I decided instead to press on along the Thames Walk to Teddington Lock.  Partly as this was a more definitive destination, and partly because it committed me to doing a longer distance, and rough as I felt, I didn’t want to abandon the run just yet.  Also, I was aware I might not get a chance to do this route again, and it was enticing, even with my head aching, my stomach sloshing and temperature falling. When is the sun going to come out.  Is it ever going to come out ever again?  Is this what the end of the world feels like.

Over the bridge, then down some steps to a freezing series of tunnels alongside John Lewis where an unexpected mural cheered up the grey iciness of the route.

I was feeling thirsty by this point.  I reached for my water bottle and discovered to my horror, that I couldn’t get into it.  I washed it in the dishwasher and I think maybe I’d damaged the top somehow (though update, subsequently realised I had accidentally ‘locked it’ which I didn’t know you could do, and was too lacking in initiative to unlock it).  Fortunately I did have another bottle with so not a disaster, but food for thought.  Not great to run out of water on a long run.  I had one of my naked bars, but that just made me feel really sick, and my stomach was cramping a bit, I felt physically awful to be fair.  Light headed.  The cornflakes were too sweet but also just hadn’t provided enough or at least appropriate fuel to run on.  In better news, the sun was at least coming out periodically, and that made everything feel better.  I was astonished how deserted the route was, and how picturesque too.  My run took my past the Hawker Centre, which I think is the starting point for Kingston parkrun, there were pretty parks to pass through, some amazing trees, and at points, two paths to choose from, an upper tarmac and lower mud path. I took the mud path, more my natural habitat and definitely kinder on my feet, even if it did mean they got saturated.  Also not great on a long run, note to self, buy new socks.   I liked the stacked up rowing boats at one point, with their inspiring names upturned vigour was just the attribute I was needing to channel.

If I’d had more time, I’d have lingered more over the notices which explained the history of some of the landmarks and names along the route.  The Elm Tree – which is no longer there, being a case in point, it must have been a mighty tree indeed, as it lives on in the name of the place where it stood for hundreds of years.

Onward I went, cold, bit grumpy.  This run was only fun in parts.  I really needed the loo, but when I found one, and I did find a couple of public toilets en route, I seemed unable to er hem, ‘perform’.  I felt so sick.  I NEVER get digestive problems, so this is/was a first for me, and I really do think it was related to change in diet and too much sugar.  I just have low tolerance for that, I suppose that’s why I can’t tolerate gels, the very thought of them makes me heave.

I tried to remind myself that this run was as much about tackling mental running demons as covering the physical distance.  It didn’t matter if I was slow, what mattered was putting one foot in front of another.  I could learn from this run, however miserable and inept it was turning out to be.  It was great that I’d made so many rookie errors, as I’d learn so much more.  How genius am I for cramming so many ‘what not to do’ learning opportunities into one relatively short, ‘long run’.  Great.  Blooming great.  I had a lot of quite negative thoughts, but kept trying to bury them, and remind myself I was just doing what needed to be done.  It was normal to doubt myself.  Blah de blah.

One mantra that keeps being trotted out by those who know, is that you should try to replicate as many of the conditions of the marathon as possible in training, whether that is practising with gels, making sure your kit is comfy and appropriate, and working through the ‘mental strength’ challenges of putting in the necessary miles in training.   That’s all well and good, but should not be taken to extremes.  I found out a couple of days ago, to my absolute horror, that one dark secret about marathon running, is that you will be showered in pee en route. ‘You have got to be kidding me?’   Apparently, this is a dirty secret that isn’t widely shared but is true.  A fellow marathon runner in training was telling me about a mutual friend of ours who has run the London Marathon twice.  (You know who you are) I don’t know why this ‘mutual friend’ hadn’t thought to tell me this herself.  Perhaps she was just trying to protect me. The problem is, the truth will out. As will a build up of urine in the bladder apparently.   Both are inevitable.

She shared how her first time, a few miles in there is a part of the route where there a few less spectators and it opens up a bit.  She became aware of her legs getting wetter and wetter as she ran, and couldn’t work out at first what it was.  It turns out, it was because many male runners had used the opportunity to relieve themselves whilst running and were happily disporting their assets and in full flow, running onwards, running free.   Really not caring that basically they were pissing on all the other runners in their wake.  I was and am horrified.  I do not intend to replicate this in training by having members of my Smiley Paces running club spray urine at me as I run.  Since when has this been OK?  I really and truly didn’t know if this was a wind up, so have googled it so you don’t have to. It seems, sadly, this is indeed a thing (though be careful what your search engine will throw up – might want to hide history afterwards).  I get that you might inadvertently wet yourself through stress incontinence or just not being able to hold on, but basically peeing on your fellow whilst running as a deliberate strategy because your need to save 30 seconds on your marathon in your view over-rides other runners right not to have you urinate on them strikes me as a rather arrogant perspective.   Wet yourself by all means, but please don’t piss on me.  I don’t want my abiding memory of London to be wading through other runners’ bodily fluids.    What if I face plant in it, having lost my footing.  Lawks a lordy, if it’s so commonplace, I might actually drown.  That’s really not up there in my list of top ten ways to go.  Not even the top fifty to be fair.

Hmmm, not sure I wanted to know this in advance.  I may report back on this, and the extent to which it was an issue, and if it was, whether in all that heady atmospheric context I even cared.  However, dear reader, if you are thinking of getting your todger out for a piss, or projecting a snot rocket for that matter during the marathon, consider where it might land, please.   And if you must practise peeing whilst running (and it is recommended apparently), choose wisely where to do so.  If you pee on me I won’t be impressed, and it will put me off supporting whatever charity you may be running in support of, unless it’s for urinary incontinence support or the fistula foundation, in which case respect.  I’d even persuade every other runner to wait for you to finish so you aren’t disadvantaged by nipping in to use the loo if that’s your preferred option.  Then again, who knows, maybe I too will be the one unable to contain myself, peeing during the marathon or worse yet, crapping myself.  It’s happened to greater runners than me.  Maybe I should revisit the idea of running in skorts, they have helped many retain their dignity whilst running.  Not about making a fashion statement people, more about hiding your inability to control your bodily functions.  I know elite runners who have got sport prizes at fell races in respect of this.  FACT.  Enough of this now.  Here is a Sheffield snow shot by way of distraction.  (Stolen from Round Sheffield Run Facebook page, but I’m sure they won’t really mind…)  Looking so very pretty, and yet so very incompatible with my marathon training aspirations.

sheffield snow

So many things to fret about.  I feel very naive.  There are whole forums dedicated to peeing whilst undertaking all sorts of sports from running, through cycling and swimming.  I’m definitely not doing tri now.  I suppose though, that’s sort of the point.  I can’t really know what this is like until I’ve done it, or died trying.  What other things though have more experienced runners been keeping from me?  I dread to think.  However bad things have been in training, I’ve yet to change my mind about doing this, I still really, really want to take part, but do I really want full knowledge of what I’m letting myself in for?  Possibly not, it will only scare me, sometimes, a bit of naivety is what’s needed or I’d never do anything.

Where was I.  Oh yes, finding it hard down the Thames Path.  I made it down to Teddington Lock.  Up close, it is impressive, but really difficult to capture in photographs.  There was the option of heading across Ham common and on to Richmond Park, maybe one day, but not today. I was properly cold, and feeling a bit sorry for myself, although there was some comfort that having come this far, I was going to get a reasonable distance under my belt.   Disappointingly, you are not allowed to dive from the bridge into the churning white water and hidden under water hazards below.  No worries, as already clarified above, I’m not training for a tri.

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Having admired the view, it was a case of turning round and heading back.  It was really, really cold, and I felt drained and uncomfortable, this run seemed to be taking forever.  There had been a brief interlude of sunshine, but now the sky was dark again, and I felt like I was running into a chilling headwind.

Back past the Hawker centre, back past the river boats and house boats, pit stop in the Boaters Inn where I was able to refill my water bottle too.  Nice pub actually, and they seem to have some local agreement whereby members of the public are allowed to use their loos.  Not that this really helped me, I was feeling increasingly rough.  Eventually I was back at Kingston bridge – which does look magnificent.

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Back onto the Barge walk and heading back towards Hampton Court.  This was really, really tough.  Light relief was only available through unexpected sights.  Such as the vision of an enormous bumble bee, alongside an open winged swan on the opposite side of the river as I made my way back – Smiletastic team references get everywhere:

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To achieve my desired mileage, I’d need to double back again. There was a gate from the canal path, near to Hampton Court Bridge, where you could dodge into Home park.  I figured I could nip in there, go through Home park, come out at Hampton Wick and back into Bushy Park from there.  This is what I did, but it was really hard to make myself do it.  I just felt ultimately I’d have regretted it if I didn’t do the mileage, and also Home park is really lovely.  A bit wilder than Bushy park and generally deserted. Which it was on this day too, apart from some well-heeled golfers, availing themselves of these exclusive greens.  I’m so glad I made the effort, even if I was basically just walking by this point.  Lovely herds of deer, spectacular views of Hampton Court along the Long Water,

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and a chance to pause by a tree that is special to me.

I was pretentiously contemplative by this point.  Exhausted maybe, rubbish nutrition, dehydrated, cold, not feeling the running lurve at all.  I have been getting weepy on my long runs, I thought it was just me, but – another previously unknown revelation has been that – this is apparently quite common. What’s more, you think you’re weeping now, wait until the marathon!  Not just at the end, I have heard from others it’s quite likely you’ll be blubbing the whole way around.  Particularly if you are running for a charity that has personal meaning for you, but whether you are running for a charity or not (I’m not, I got lucky in the ballot, and besides, I don’t think I could cope with the pressure of running for a charity myself).  Oh no!  Will that constant uncontrollable sobbing cause further dehydration and electrolyte loss?  Yet another factor to take into consideration. This is proving to be ridiculously hard.

What were these abandoned wings about?  A fallen angel? Maybe it was all that was left of the bait laid for the crocodile trap.  I think that must be what the wire cage is for.  There is after all a famous crocodile alongside the stream in the Woodland gardens of Bushy park.  It’s not such a stretch to imagine a cunning saltie navigating the water courses hereabouts to end up in Home park too…

Soon, I gave up any pretence of running, and just told myself it would still be time on my legs and endurance, so I might as well check out the ice house.  Can it really have been standing since the 17th century, late or otherwise, that’s a lot of years.

The ice house is pretty near the Kingston Bridge entrance to Home Park. There was a handy cafe at the edge of Bushy park as I crossed the road.  So I nipped in to use their loo, but felt no better.  It was a slog to go on, but I had little choice at this point.  Don’t know what the London Loop is, might check that out (150 miles of London sights apparently).  I had no idea there were so many options round here.  It’s a quite different running environment from the peaks, but in inclement weather it has its advantages most definitely.

Into Bushy park, and I found myself on part of the Bushy parkrun course.  This was good for morale.  Because, it is a well-known fact that you can always push out a parkrun, no matter how rubbish you may feel.  I made a rather half-hearted attempt to jog on a bit, but it was tokenistic, if not actually non-existent.  I pressed on:

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The final bit of mind over matter, was about 15 miles in (is that all) I realised I still needed to add on another couple to meet my target. It would have been so easy to finish as I neared the Pheasantry, but I went on.  Fortuitously, at exactly this moment, I got a text message from a Smiley friend, I told her I was crawling my way round 15 miles into a 17 mile ‘run’, she sent much virtual support, and because I’d ‘fessed up to what I was doing, I felt motivated to finish what I’d started.  Back round the park.  Brief nip in to see my mum – who is nearby – and a final farewell, back at last to the woodland gardens with the Pheasantry cafe within.

and the crocodile without:

They are indeed still and log like.

Into the cafe.  I had the most fantastic soup ever (tomato and red pepper I think) and sweet potato fries with more salt than I care to admit.  I sat shattered and teary.  Everyone else was on a table a-buzz with friends, with one solitary exception. An older man, sitting alone.  That made me feel a bit sad.  And then I thought of me all wet, and broken and also sitting alone and over-emotional and I just thought how ridiculous this whole thing is.

It was not a good run.  The 17.3 mile route looked like this:

strava long run london

I like that Strava helps you get a sense of where you went, so many other possibilities – ham common and on to Richmond park another time maybe…

I’m really glad I did it, but it wasn’t fun.  Possibly type 2, I saw some amazing things.  And I did learn a lot, albeit about what not to do in training.  I followed the run with an epic 7 hour drive back to Sheffield,


which I don’t mind telling you is most definitely contraindicated after a long run.  I spent the next few days practically unable to move I was so wiped out.  I could not longer tell if such fatigue was a ‘normal’ response to being out for so long, a result of over-training (by my terms, doing too much too soon) or actually being ill. Maybe though, going out when I felt crap to begin with wasn’t the best idea, though I did subsequently bag a really good long ‘run’ along the Monsal Trail   (run walk) which restored some small measure of self-belief.

It’s hard this marathon training thing.  Really hard.  The actual marathon should be a breeze if I survive the run up!

And that was that.  Long run.  It was progress, but still need to add another 10 miles on.  I don’t understand how that is possible.  I do want to break the 20 mile barrier in training.  Oh well.  I’m not going to be a speed merchant, and this run did leave me drained and crap, but I suppose there’s a little bit of me which was chuffed I’d drawn on mental strength to complete what I set out to do, even though this was probably my most miserable run out to date.

Oh well, that’s past now, new runs and adventures lie ahead.

Bring them on.


Don’t even ask about times, it’s not the point and also it depresses me.  In all the uncertainties about what will happen in London, I’m going to put it right out there, that I don’t think Daniel Wanjuri has anything to worry about from me.

PS I wrote this on 18 march, but it relates to a run on 7th March, so I’m going to post it retrospectively.  Think of it merely as a form of time travel, don’t worry about inconsistent chronology within my references, they matter not.  It’s the broad sweep of time that is the important thing, and how insignificant we all are in the grand scheme of things.  I at least find that ultimately comforting.  Nothing matters nobody cares, kind of liberating.  Same with the marathon.  I’ll do it, or I won’t do it, it shouldn’t matter that much, the journey getting there is the thing.  The marathon itself just the icing on the cake.  I like being reminded of how small and insignificance we are in the universe, it means I no longer need to burn up with embarassment at the memory of my many social faux pas.  Nothing really matters.  Not even being peed on whilst runing a marathon.  Hurrah!

dr who title sequence

Categories: motivation, off road, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Seems I’m not as nesh as I thought – Sheffield Hallam parkrun in the snow.

Digested read: amazingly, Sheffield Hallam parkrun went ahead despite the snow. Even more amazingly, despite being a nesh southerner, I went ahead and ran it too. It was fun. Do wish I’d remembered to change into a sports bra though.

Of course anyone that takes part in a parkrun anywhere is a winner, but we all know that parkrun/walk/ joggers and hi-viz heroes that head out in rain, ice and snow are extra hardcore and even more worthy of celebration. Even so, it did seem apt that at today’s Sheffield Hallam parkrun, the first finisher was a certain Mr Frost.  No really, it was!  Isn’t that splendid?  Even if he did possibly have a slight competitive advantage given the ice and snow based elements of the course it matters not.  It pleases me and amuses me in equal measure. Here he is in action – impressive eh?  The volunteers got a bit chilly standing around as you can see.  Their hi-viz tabards didn’t make it down this week, which is why they are just in mufti in this illustration.

jack frost running

Here he is again, pretending he’s not going to be first finisher and proceeding with stealth at this stage.  Those Dark Peak Runner in their vintage homage kit are super impressive, they defy nature as they sprint across the fells, parkrun is less their natural habitat, they tend to be more creatures of the rocks and heather.  We were lucky to see one in action in the park.  Awesome.  Kudos to you Mr Frost.  Much kudos.

GC jack frost stealth finish

Not everyone was amused though. Queen Victoria looked most unimpressed, but then again, she’s been out in inclement weather since first being sited on this spot in – well, whenever that was – 1887 most probably, looking at the history of Endcliffe Park, and to think people nowadays take to twitter after but a few hours stuck on a snow bound train or motorway.  What a nesh lot we all are!


The hi-viz tabards were snowed in, all nicely laundered and no doubt smelling of lavender fabric softener in a Sheffield home. Somewhere nice and warm, but surrounded by snow drifts this high:

sheffield landscape

Fair point.  Conditions have been somewhat at the extreme end of the is it wise to run in a snow globe continuum.  An adventure in the snow is all very well and good, but sometimes a reality check is in order too.

So where was I, oh yes, Sheffield Hallam parkrun, in the snow.  Here in Sheffield, like everywhere else, we’ve had a fair old dumping of snow. The novelty of this has most definitely worn off.  I’m scared venturing out of my house even as I live on a steep hill, and loads of events have been cancelled in the last week.  I was supposed to be doing a Dark and White 10 miler in Bakewell on Sunday, but to be honest, I was relieved more than anything when that got cancelled. No idea how I’d have got there, and even if I had, as a slow runner, I’d have been hypothermic by the half way point. Good call race organiser people.  As for parkruns? Well, we are pretty spoilt in Sheffield, with a fair few in the vicinity to choose from, however, these were soon dropping like flies. Why do we say dropping like flies I wonder. … ok, I’ve just googled this so you don’t have to, and am told ‘The origin of this phrase isn’t known. It is clearly a simple allusion to the transitory and fragile nature of an insect’s life. It is known from around the turn of the 20th century. The earliest printed version I have found is in The Atlanta Constitution newspaper, May 1902‘, so there we all are, none the wiser.  Some Sheffield parkruns called early, Bakewell fell, Sheffield Castle fell, Rother Valley fell, Graves parkrun too, even Hillsborough parkrun made a sorrowful and unusual cancellation late on Saturday morning.  Concord parkrun and Sheffield Hallam though declared it to be game on!

Still quite a white out in Endcliffe park though … those venturing out would need to go prepared.


Whoa, that I was not expecting.  I was so not expecting this, that I was all kitted out in my walking gear, as I’d decided I’d do a slow, snow plod and get my 10 miles in that way.  At the last-minute though, they announced the course to be snow-covered but runnable, as long as you weren’t in search of a pb (I’ve not seen one of those in years, so no worries on my part with regard to that).  If they were going to go to all that effort of putting it on, it would seem rude not to, so I did a lightening (for me) change into running shoes and headed off.  I say ‘lightening change’ but it’s nigh on impossible to do anything in lightening speed when you are wearing as many layers as I was.  I could hardly move.  Don’t know why I’m so scared of falling over, I was so wrapped up it’s like wearing a complete protective fat suit, having said that, the real worry would be if I do fall down, how on earth would I get up again, what with having no limbs capable of reaching the ground raised up as I would be from layers of clothing.

stuck on back

So it was I stepped gingerly out of the house, and made my way to Endcliffe Park.  It takes ages trying to get anywhere in the snow, it’s ankle-deep in places.  However, mercifully, fresh snow having covered the ice, it wasn’t nearly as slippery as it has been in the last couple of days.  The roads were quite, and I didn’t see many people until I got right to the park gates. Then I espied a ladybird, honestly, they are decorative and cheery and everything, but I feel they have practically reached plague proportions in these parts lately.  She was sprinting on ahead, with her significant other – well I presume it was her significant other, does that make him a ladyboy?  I’m hoping it wasnt  some random guy she’d accosted just because he happened to have the misfortune to be wearing a red top and therefore was deemed ripe for the picking in terms of conscription into the ladybird/ ladyboy cult fold.  I went to join them in a little jog. Aaaargh. Rookie error.  In my expectation of doing a walk this morning I remembered belatedly that I was wearing a non-sports bra!  Disaster, this was very bad.  I watched them disappear off, whilst I debated what to do.  Hanging on to my assets as best I could.  On the plus side, I suppose this prooves my sports bra has been more supportive than I appreciated, I’ve been thinking for a while now it’s a bit rubbish on longer runs…

ladybird and significant other sprinting ahead

I recalled Regal Smiley sharing a tale of how she dealt with just such an eventuality by donning two bras instead. All well and good, but where was I going to source one at this late stage?  I shared my dilemma, and in true Smiley Spirit, the ladybird’s significant other immediately offered me the loan of his, but I didn’t feel able to accept, it wouldn’t be fair to simple transfer the problem to someone else, tempting as the thought was.  I’d just have to do the run of shame hanging onto my assets as best I could.  It’s been done before, it wouldn’t be a first, and maybe that would count as weight training?  A boon to my otherwise lamentable marathon training routine for this week, I’m sure upper body strength will be an asset in seven week’s time.

Still, late as I was, there wasn’t time for any alternative trouble shooting.  Rather I just joined the cheery throng.



I was only just in time for the start, we were a much reduced line-up, but an upbeat one.  Our official photographer was also in place, so that was good.  Whilst it is true that running is naturally its own reward, it’s fantastic to have unusual events like this one documented for posterity.  Unfortunately, because I’m not a very good photographer, and have failed to include any runners in this portrait of our esteemed photographer, I’ve made him look like either a stalker or a flasher in his big coat, which is a shame, he deserves better.  Oh well, too late now.

official photographer

This is what he was facing.  Brave man our George, staring this lot in the eye week after week.  Respect.  Mind you, I still think junior parkrunners are even more unpredictable, you’ve never stood in the line of fire unless you’ve braved the start line of Graves junior on a Sunday morning.


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The hardcore volunteers were all assembled, one had even brought their own high viz – very proactive.  Bravo.  Great signage holding technique there.  If you have never held a sign aloft for the whole duration of a parkrun yourself, you can’t fully appreciate what a test of endurance it is to do so successfully.  Hi-viz hero, I thank you.

After a quick briefing we were off.  Amazingly, it really wasn’t too bad running on compacted snow.  I was glad of my trail shoes, but it was fine.  I’ve had way scarier runs at Sheffield Hallam parkrun on days there have been patches of ice.  Because of the much smaller turn out, it was also a much smaller field, and that created some serious novelty.  Usually I end up in quite a crowd, this time I was running on my own for some sections, to the extent that it felt that I was leading the throng at times (yes, fantasy I know),  but really and truly, if the camera never lies, and you didn’t know any better, you might think I was leading the pack, and not just left behind after everyone else had long lapped me, wouldn’t you? How else can you account for my apparent good cheer whilst running?  Exactly.

GC finally first finisher at parkrun

Plus, in other good news, as it was less crowded you could take your time and high-five marshals of your choice on the way round without fear of causing a pile up behind you.  My apprenticeship as a marshal at Graves junior parkrun has given me not only an appreciation of the art of cheering, clapping and high-fiving others, but some not inconsiderable skill at this too.  If you don’t believe me, let me tell you that only this week I was an extra on a drama series which required me to clap and cheer in a town hall audience and I was particularly singled out and complimented on set by the assistant director for my excellent cheering and clapping techniques.  No really I was! I’m not even bragging, just stating a fact.  I must update my LinkedIn profile to reflect this.  Potential recruiters will want to know.

So I plodded round. The first lap was really hard, my calves are so tight.  But the second lap was lovely, meditative and quiet.  Maybe I’m not as nesh as I think, I was fine running on compacted snow, but other routes I’ve done lately I’ve found myself sliding everywhere.   One weird thing though, I’ve not done that much running on snow, and it made my vision go a bit weird, like there was an anomaly developing in my peripheral vision, like when you look through a lens and it distorts the image. Really strange.  Is that snow blindness, or an early warning of a build up to a heart attack?  Not sure, no conclusive evidence either way as yet.  I did crack on for a boob-clutching sprint finish though.  Had to be done!  I think that the photo editing process has spared the world a picture of me running clutching my assets.  Be thankful.

GC not the boob clutching shot

This is what it looks like as you are coming in to the finish funnel, unless you are one of the front finishers, I guess for them it’s a pretty empty skyline…


I was not quite last in, but still got the lowest ever finish token number for me at Hallam parkrun, alongside my personal worst.  So that was good.  I resisted the temptation of keeping my finish token as souvenir, in favour of having my run recorded and so securing 1/250th of a milestone t-shirt.  It’s getting closer, albeit not quite within my reach for a good couple of years yet!  154 down, 96 left to go…

You know what, once I’d got over the fear factor, running on the compacted snow was a lot of fun.  Other people seemed to be having a lot of fun too.  Look at all these smiley faces out there making the most of it. What great parkrunners we all are.  I’m not sure the shorts would have been my kit of choice, but you know how it is?  That’s right people, respect the right of everyone to participate in parkrun in their own way.


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In other news, some parkrunners espied the kingfisher which hangs on in Endcliffe park.  Personally, I missed it, but I think this might be he.  Photo taken today and posted on the Friends of Porter Valley Facebook page.  That’s good enough credentials for me…


Once I’d finished, just the little matter of finding a barcode scanner, harder to spot without the high vis – and then some Smiley bonding.  Also, some comparison of running footwear. Yaktrax versus nano spikes etc.  I really need to get something.  Yaktrax seem recommended, but I’m confused about the different types. The ‘pro’ ones with the velcro were most popular this morning.  The nanospikes are fantastic if really icy, but hard on the feet giving them a tenderising pummeling if the surface doesn’t require them.  I’m not sure I’m any closer to a decision about which to get, but I did enjoy making runners contort into uncomfortable balance poses under the pretext of checking out their shoe treads. Sometimes you just have to make your own entertainment, and often you’ll get away with doing this at the expense of others if you look needy enough and can think of some potential plausible albeit spurious excuse, as the photos show.

A few of us Dragonflies had made it out so in the interests of bagging Smiletastic points, we naturally had to secure a photo of ourselves together.  Posing first:



We had to enlist the help of a few non-dragonflies to get the synchronised Nazcanesque line in the snow dragonfly shape, so it may be disallowed under the rules of our Smiley Paces winter running Smiletastic challenge, but you have to admit it is a splendid effort.  We waved off our Smiley compatriot who’d obliged us by taking our team shot.  Possibly she was never to be seen again – it was looking pretty gloomy out there, but hey ho, she’d had a nice smiley morning so fond memories eh?

bye bye smiley

Ladybirds and ladyboys were also flying away home after a lovely run.  Well done all!


We then did the obligatory selfie. Obviously we were quite worried about the potential for double chins with this as taking group selfies is really hard, but we were saved by both our intrinsic loveliness (my team buddies) and the fortuitous placing of a smiley buff (me) so that was grand too.

obligatory selfie

Job done.  Just remained to get breakfast.  Only two of us, but we headed to Pom Kitchen, their vegan breakfast board is epic.  Just what is needed to provide fortification before the long uphill trudge home through the snow.  Some merriment en route was provided by watching a 4×4 sliding ever backwards as it attempted to navigate uphill. There was some injustice in this, in that the driver had been doing just fine maintaining a constant speed, but the trouble started when they stopped to give way to some elderly pedestrians. I’m sure there is a moral in there somewhere.  Something along the lines of no good deed goes unpunished.  Not the truth we want to believe in, but perhaps a truth all the same…

So, just to summarise.  Running in the snow was officially fun.  So too is sledging.  I really hope I’m still game to hit the slopes if I make it to 86!

never too old to sledge


By the way, official parkrun advice for those of you not blessed with an operational parkrun today, is to recreate your own by following these simple instructions:

‘for those that can’t attend due to bad weather – pop up parkrun in your living room. 278 laps of a standard size living room = one 5k parkrun.’

Good to know.  Looking out for each other, that’s the parkrun way.  No parkrunner wants to miss out on their weekly fix!  The parkrun cancellation map  for today suggests a fair few would have had to improvise.  That is a lot of living rooms being run around in a frenzy of parkrun re-enactment behind a closed door near you. Worth thinking about.

parkrun cancellations

Wonder what next week has in store?  Bring it on eh?  Bring.  It.  On.  We’ll be up and at it whatever the weather.  You can’t stop us now, because we’re having a good time.

penguin run

gotta love penguins running

seriously though, dont stop us now,

So don’t stop me now don’t stop me
‘Cause I’m having a good time having a good time
I’m a shooting star leaping through the sky
Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity
I’m a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva
I’m gonna go go go
There’s no stopping me

At the very least, I’m like a parkrunner yomping through the park, and I wont be stopping until I’ve found a table for post parkrun brunch.   That’s non negotiable.  Some traditions should never be broken.

So I leave you with action shots of Sheffield Hallam parkrunners running down parkrun in the snow.


Thanks George Carman for the photos – your logo hasn’t appeared on the photos this week for some reason, but the glory and acknowledgement goes to you all the same.  Ready or not!

Oh and here is regal smiley of the ‘No sports bra? No problem‘ running trouble shooting consultancy.  No idea how many bras she’s wearing here, or of what type, but she looks happy out there which is the most important thing.  And she’s not having to run clutching her boobs or anything, so she’s clearly doing something right.  Bravo.

GC bra consultant in action

Yeah, it was fun out there. Type one and Type two.  Result!

For all my parkrun related posts see here – scroll down for older entries.


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