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.
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…
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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…