Digested read: runners recceing the Sheffield half have been noticing a depressing amount of rubbish along the route. The nice people at Front Runner decided to suggest a meet up to do something about it. Lots of people went, me too, it was really good. Litter picked, communal plogging engaged in. All done and dusted within a couple of hours. Hurrah.
Nobody wants to see Skip upset.
But Skip the running dog is upset though, because of all the rubbish he keeps seeing out running. Anyone who has recced the half marathon route of late – which is basically the entire running population of Sheffield – must have felt their heart sink at the sight of some of it. The problem is, its quite tricky to pick up rubbish whilst running on your own. I do always make a point of picking up at least one bit of rubbish every time I’m out. I mean, it’s not much, but it’s better than nothing, and frankly, anyone who runs any route regularly must have experienced that thing where you keep passing the same bit of rubbish every day. Case in point, there is a bus-stop at Broomhill – just outside the Guitar Shack, it has a couple of empty spirit bottles on the roof there that have been there ever since I moved to Sheffield 7 years ago now, granted, they are not that easily accessible and only visible from the top deck of the bus but it illustrates a point. Rubbish stays where it is unless someone, maybe you or me, picks it up and disposes of it in a responsible and appropriate manner.
Anyways, in a fit of initiative and pro-activity the good people of Front Runner, under the direction of the senior management (Skip) decided to take action on this point. Noticing a ridiculous amount of rubbish along just a short section of the Sheffield half-marathon route whilst leading a group recce up there, they spontaneously collected a good bag full of rubbish over just 100 metres. Figuring that other runners would similarly be dismayed by this, they put a call out for other runners – or indeed ‘normal’ people, to come join them for a communal litter pick yesterday evening. Keeping it simple it was a question of basically turn up at 6.30 pm outside the Dore Garden Centre and take it from there.
Pleasingly, the post got quite a positive response straight away. It’s heartening, people do want to do something about their local patch, but sometimes it takes someone to be a catalyst to harness that general sense of ‘someone ought to do something‘ and turn it into ‘we could do something ourselves‘. It’s true that plogging has become a new and welcome trend, albeit one with a stupid name. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to describe it thus: Plogging: the fitness craze that’s sweeping the streets, but the enthusiasm for this apparently the Scandinavian trend for picking up litter while jogging is surely a good thing. Though it’s hardly new. We have Runners against Rubbish locally – you can join here for just £2 and make the pledge:
- I will never drop any rubbish and will always take my rubbish to a bin
- I will encourage others not to drop rubbish
- I will pick up rubbish when I see it and am able to do so
I must admit, I’ve not paid up my £2 yet, but I will do so. I thought until today it was just a concept and a Runners Against Rubbish Facebook page, but it seems it is evolving further. Hurrah.
Hurrah, because rubbish not only looks awful, it can be catastrophic for local wildlife too. Plastic straws up turtles noses is bad, but rubbish isn’t only devastating in the oceans, it does damage on our streets too.
and David Sedaris has been on a solitary endeavour of picking up litter during his epic walks in Sussex for years and years. He’s even got a bin lorry named in his honour!
Still, it would be unwise to pick up litter in the hope of getting a bin lorry named in your honour, picking up litter is rather its own reward. Upshot is/was there was a little flurry of enthusiastic interest, and it seemed a fair few runners, myself included were totally up for this. It was a great idea. A perfect example of many hands making light work, it would be soul destroying and impractical to head out solo and litter pick a 13 mile route, but with a good gang of people, armed with bin bags, gardening gloves and enthusiasm, we’d be able to split up and cover a reasonable stretch quite quickly.
The hour came, and people did indeed gathered. I’m not good at counting, and also I forgot to do so, but I’d say maybe ten of us or so. Skip personally welcomed everyone with a sniff and then left his minions to action his plan. 50% of the Front Runner team explained it was all really quite disorganised and clueless, and they hadn’t got much further than setting a time and place to meet and dragging some bags along. The other 50% of the Front Runner team quickly interjected the correction that this should be seen as an informal approach to the collective endeavour, with all participants being recognised as having equal value and therefore able to make their own decisions about where to go and start plucking litter from the trashed verges along the route.
Despite the ‘informal’ approach, actually there was organisation. Loads of rubbish bags- proper heavy-duty ones which was just as well, some of the rubbish was pretty substantial. Someone had brought along a load of extra gloves for others to use, one was tooled up with a proper extension picker thing (I nearly gave in to some litter picker tool envy there) – plus, there were plenty of hi-viz to go round. Good idea, as dusk was falling.
I was the first to don one. In my defence, this is a lot harder than you might think. this particular vest was the fabric equivalent of super-glue infused mercury. Mercury, in that it just wanted to reform with itself, and super-glue in that in then wouldn’t detach from itself. It was like trying to clamber into spandex spanx pants by hauling them over your head. Not that I’ve tried this, but I’m confident the comparison stands. Did you know that you can get different discomfort levels? Everything from ‘smooth’ (they lie) to shaping level 3 ‘sculpt – a super firm hug’. That is a hug, but from an abusive partner or one with little understanding of the concept of personal space and/or robotic limbs which are incapable of interpreting feedback from the hug-ee, such as when they start gasping for breath and their eyes start trying to escape from their eye sockets. Less bear hug, and more Heimlich manoeuvre.
It wasn’t altogether supportive that those around me were scrambling for their mobile phones to capture my writhing distress rather than stepping up to assist me, but I took enormous comfort from noting that the next person who tried to don one found the process similarly challenging. I think it’s because they are small and designed to stretch, which they do, but string vest like there are too many holes to work out which one is for your head and which one is for you limbs. However, more pleasingly, once someone else was wearing one, you are basically camouflaged as a clown fish. No really. I have no idea when Ronhill took over Pixar Animation or if it was the other way round, but anyone wearing the kit was essentially dressed up as Nemo. Making him easier to find in terms of all round visibility, and harder to find in that they probably weren’t going to be looking for him in Sheffield and there were quite a few decoy hi-viz wearers. The clown fish kit though was not a bad idea given how much water was sloshing around everywhere. I didn’t actually fall into any ditches, but it was a close run thing. I daresay those Ronhill vests would be buoyant in water too.
I think it was making the connection between wrestling with this hi-viz garment and string vests, that led me at least, on to the obvious next topic of crocheted swimming trunks. Disappointingly, the youthful contingency that surrounded us took this to be a jump into surreal humour, not understanding that the concept is not funny at all. They were indeed a thing, back in the day, and a splendid garment in which young bucks and silver foxes alike could pose on yachts or whatever with far more style and class than could ever be achieved with budgie smugglers. This is no doubt why you can still get the vintage men’s swimwear patterns here, though to save you the arduous task of clicking on the link, here are some highlights I’ve found especially for you dear reader. Not that I need to prove my point exactly, but I do feel some sense of responsibility for educating the younger generation coming through. Terrifying to think this sort of fashion knowledge is at risk of being lost for ever. We can start the restoration of this garment in Sheffield, and from there it can once again spread out across the world! That’s stirring stuff.
In the swim indeed! And why stop at just knitting your own trunks? Back in the 1920s I see there was an early prototype of the onesie tri suit that’s just crying out for a come back. I’m sure it would look absolutely fabulous, custom made in club or Front Runner colours. For some reason I’m thinking the Dark Peak runners vintage hues would be especially magnificent in this style!
The possibilities are endless, knitted or crocheted trunks are endlessly versatile and practical too. Perfect for a snow run for example, the evidence is out there, I mean, granted, he might not have the most efficient running form, but looks fabulous. These ideas could be a game changer once the new tri season gets properly underway:
Whilst waiting for others to assemble, the chit-chat covered nutritional tips for fuelling marathons, though unfortunately at that point I hadn’t uncovered this helpful bit of research into identifying the best cake for runners. On the plus side, I was also at that moment in time, unaware of the new fad of using baby food to fuel long runs, so that was some small blessing. I do accept it comes down to doing whatever works for you, but why not have proper food? I’ll concede these are a much better option than gels in terms of ingredients, but I think I’d struggle with the texture. Also, I’m so slow I can take my time a bit more when fuelling on longer runs. I’m never running with that much speed or urgency. Plus, all that packaging and waste, it’s terrifying. Ironically, I picked up some of these baby food wrappers along Sheephill lane. Maybe it is becoming an adult ‘thing’, it can’t all be recalcitrant children hurling spent wrappers from their buggies as they are pushed along.
We were surprisingly focused. Some people had come on their own, others in couples or pairs. With relatively little faffing, we sort of spread out. I went with two others (hello :)) who drove us up to the far end of Sheephill Lane where we parked by Lady Cannings Plantation and basically worked our way down the hill. It was noted that passers-by seeing us in our combos of hi-viz and track suit bottoms and hoodies might have assumed we were out there doing community service. That’s fine, as long as they didn’t run us over.
It was quite bright sunshine when we headed out, so I was wearing dark glasses, which no doubt looked increasingly ridiculous as dusk fell. Mind you, I have plenty of experience of looking ridiculous whilst engaged in running related activities so that was OK, and also I was frankly quite glad of the eye protection as I dived into hedgerows to retrieve wedged in bottles from prickly undergrowth.
A few things you need to know about litter picking. It’s strangely satisfying and compulsive, once you eyeball a shiny degraded and discarded crisp packet it’s surprising what acrobatic challenges you will take on in order to seize it. It’s also harder work than you might think, all that squatting and stretching, and even ‘clean’ litter is surprisingly gross. A lot of the stuff I scooped up out of ditches was full of stagnant water or worse, and even though you shake out what you can, there is definitely a residual ‘ugh’ factor. On the plus side it’s rewarding to see instant improvement, and sometimes it’s quite fascinating. Yes there are sweet and crisp wrappers and discarded gel packets and other unremarkable stuff, but can you explain the seemingly empty jam jar apparently placed on a wall. One section I cleared seemed to have a significant part of the front of a car – including a number plate – I had a momentary fear I was inadvertently clearing up a crime scene and there was bound to be a body submerged in the ditch alongside. Although to be fair, we sort of agreed really big stuff, like fly tipped goods or indeed corpses we wouldn’t be able to move so I suppose it didn’t matter all that much. There was a ceramic bowl that was a bit random. I wonder if someone was carsick into it and just threw the whole lot out some time. We may never know. The items that enraged me most included banana skins, that I think people deliberately threw into the hedges because they are biodegradable, but without removing those little yellow stickers; and piles of cigarette ends where I think motorists must have just opened their car doors and emptied their ashtrays onto the road. Top tip, if it’s too gross to want to keep in your car, then it’s also too gross to discard on a public highway.
I was complaining about this to one of my fellow pickers, he said he didn’t think it was necessarily always motorists to blame, could just as easily be cyclists or anyone else, but personally I’ve never seen a bike with a built-in ash tray so I remain unconvinced.
In fairness, not all littering and destruction is intentional. Some items may have been carelessly blown away out of the grasp of someone and ended up on the route. Who amongst us has not had a littering accident of their own. I still feel awful about losing a helium balloon at a birthday parkrun, and have vowed never to run with a balloon again. Knowing how bad I feel about that, we should all spare a thought for the hotel guest who inadvertently drew a flock of seagulls into his hotel room, where they completely trashed the place. “The result was a tornado of seagull excrement, feathers, pepperoni chunks and fairly large birds whipping around the room. The lamps were falling. The curtains were trashed.” As a result of this mishap, which honestly could have happened to anyone who absent-mindedly laid out a whole suitcase of pepperoni on the windowsill of the seaside establishment at which they were staying – he was subject to a lifelong ban from the classy hotel. Though got pardoned on appeal after 17 years. Quite right too. You have seen the Hitchcock film The Birds right?
Anyway, pleasingly, just as I had nearly filled my second bag of rubbish, I met other litter pickers who’d come up from the bottom of Sheephill Lane, thus we did indeed do that whole section. There was however a bit of confusion at this point. I opted to continue onwards so I could leave my bag with the Front Runner vehicle which I could see up ahead pulled over in the huge external driveway of a rather grand house up there. My two litter picking compatriots would return the other way, picking up the full rubbish bags we’d left en route and pick me up in their vehicle as they passed. Unfortunately, the Front Runner vehicle sped away before I could catch it. Then when my litter picking buddies appeared in their very fine souped up mini, they didn’t have room for my bag along with the other three already stowed in their boot. We agreed I’d stay with the bag whilst they went to dump the others and they’d come back for me.
I waited. It was quite peaceful standing there, watching the dusk. Various half-marathon runners had constantly jogged past as we were plogging away, but now there were fewer, just one or two, who offered weak smiles as they trudged by. I waited some more. It wasn’t an especially long wait, but long enough for me to entertain the idea that if my compatriots were to suffer some freak accident, or indeed just get bored and decide to ditch the plan of returning to collect me I could be out there for days. At what point would I leave my post. Should I take the bag with me? To leave it might just constitute fly-tipping anyway, the very anathema of what I’d set out to achieve. Also, it was actually pretty isolated up there, peaceful even. There might be a Zombie global apocalypse just starting out from the epicentre of the Sheffield peace gardens RIGHT NOW this moment, and there was I, oblivious, standing in my inappropriate shades and clown fish hi-viz, next to a bag of rubbish. Maybe, though I didn’t know it yet, my future survival would depend on how I utilised the contents of that bag as the only resources available to me to defend myself. Waiting, waiting, little knowing what tsunami of horrors was about to unfold.
That didn’t happen though.
Fortuitously dear reader, they did return, my bag went in the boot, and I went in the front as the boot wasn’t big enough for me too. We returned to the Dore Garden Centre and found everyone else gone, just three bags of rubbish and some returned borrowed gloves. We weren’t sure what to do with all this rubbish, it wasn’t stuff you would really want in a car interior. I reckoned we might be able to sweet talk the pub to let us use their bins, especially as the plan was to have a drink in there afterwards. I did ask, and to be fair the guy behind the bar was really good, and I was thinking I’d definitely be able to get signed off for my NVQ competency relating to ‘negotiation skills’ as I asked so sweetly if we could avail ourselves of their bins what with having done a local litter pick and being all so public-spirited and everything. Plus I was wearing my hi-viz albeit my companion was in her community service trackies, so we looked like we’d definitely been doing something worthwhile and important. Alas, it was not to be, turns out they have a strict recycling policy for their bins and so if we put random rubbish in it they could end up being fined, which was disappointing but fair enough. Instead we divvied up the seeping bags between us, and realising no-one else had lingered for a drink and that we were also now in need of decontamination ourselves, made do with some mutual air-hugs and went our separate ways.
The whole thing only took a couple of hours tops, but between us we got loads of rubbish. I mean, it’s depressing all that garbage was out there in the first place of course, but heartening that you can make such a difference relatively quickly, and now none of that rubbish is there any more. That’s good. This picture is not even a third of the total bags gathered up. Bravo.
So all in all, that was pretty darned satisfying I’d say. Thanks Skip for taking the initiative to set the plan in motion. A very fine plan it was too.
Afterwards, I was able to wrestle out of my Nemo outfit in the privacy of my own home. Result.
So there you go collective plogging comes to Sheffield. No reason we can’t all do it on our own too. The best bit of this evening was realising that other people care too, and saccharin as it may sound together we can make a difference. In a world where often times I feel quite powerless, that makes for a nice change.
So how about you? Have you joined in the RAR roar yet? Go on, go on, you know you want to!