Digested read: lost my running mojo, but acquired a super-power. Who knew my geography O-level would turn out to be such a boon later in life? Also, realisation has dawned that the way to get ready for a long distance run is to do some long-distance running. Fortunately, the views are lovely. It’s true you know, don’t wait, just step out, it’s all out there ready for us to dive into. It’s been one revelation after another this week, really it has!
Why has nobody mentioned this before? I mean, well really, this discovery is an absolute game changer. I’d always thought people who could navigate were endowed with some kind of a super-power, but I discovered today what they are actually in possession of is a suitably scaled and detailed OS map. Plus, if not actual twenty twenty vision, then some sort of correctly prescribed and adjustive corrective lens: be it in the form of monocle; spectacle; magnifying glass; periscope; pince-nez; opera glasses or whatever. Well, maybe not an actual periscope, that’s probably more a triathlon than running thing, but essentially, whatever works for you. A rusty geography O-level has also helped me out, but no doubt other rudimentary qualifications are available that will serve just as well. I’ve not been so amazed since I realised that you don’t need to be able to cook if you know how to shop. Some discoveries are indeed life changing.
I’ve always categorised myself as rubbish at navigation. It’s true I have zero sense of direction, and a possibly unique ability to not be able to retrace routes alone that I’ve done dozens of times before in the company of others, but I am now wondering if I simply haven’t given myself a chance to find out otherwise. I’ve allowed this self-perception to fester unchallenged. When I first moved to Sheffield, in late Autumn, I went off on my own along a footpath from the Snake Pass and terrified myself by getting completely disoriented up on a moor somewhere with dusk drawing in. I decided it was irresponsible to head off alone again, I just couldn’t make sense of the unfamiliar landscape and had no idea where I was. So now, my default position when I want to discover new routes is to try to find someone to guide the way, or if I have to do things on my own, to do endless out and back recces until through trial and error I do learn an area, but it isn’t very efficient.
My lack of navigational competence and/or confidence is starting to be a barrier to my running progress. To be fair, there are quite a few barriers to my running progress, not least of which is my fundamental reluctance to run. However, the focus here is on being able to find my way on longer routes. I have zero aptitude for shorter distances where there is an
horrifying expectation that participants will run at speed (apart from parkrun, gotta love parkrun), but I do seem to have a certain tenacity which means I can endure over distance, as long as my default speed is what many might regard as pointlessly slow. For my part, I try to just thing that forward is still progress. It’s a start.
Even two steps forward, one step back is still progress. Unfortunately, running round in circles is not. I have my eye on doing longer trail events, but they inevitably require navigation, because you can’t really marshal or tape off courses of more than a few miles, unless it’s a road race like the London marathon. Even marathon runners have been signed the wrong way to be fair – Venice 2017 marathon anyone? so nothing’s a given. I want to do longer distances, so I need to crack this navigation malarkey.
Last year, my favourite event turned out to be the Dig Deep 12.12. I know! I amazed myself, it was just super friendly, gorgeous course, and for me, challenging, as I hadn’t done that distance on a ‘proper’ trail route before. I resolved to come back the following year, which is now this year. (Concentrate dear reader) and what’s more, I’d have a bash at the intro ultra. Thirty miles! Well, I did my usual thing of entering ages ago, thinking I’ll have lots of time to train. I’ll have done the London Marathon by then so I’ll have morphed into a practically super-human finely tuned distance runner by then, it’s only a couple of miles more! Whilst
most many of these thoughts were always going to be entirely delusional, I did do some proactive preparation. I cajoled everyone I knew to see if others might be up for the challenge. A few were in a ‘we’ll see’ sort of way, and I started up a ‘Dig Deep and Dig Deep Curious’ private Facebook group to try and build some solidarity amongst us so we could motivate each other and … this is where I get to the crux of things … do joint recces. We could learn the route together. It would be grand! I never planned on running with others during the event, that way tears and tantrums and a growing sense of personal inadequacy and failing lies (for me anyway). But the preparation would be half the fun. If I’m entirely honest I suppose I was hoping to parasitise the navigational skills of others, but it was also about joint yomping out and discovering new trails on our doorstep. It was going to be joyous! Scampering about in the wake of my navigationally gifted running buddies we’d avoid the dragons and learn the trails. How fantastic would that be!
I’m a bit phobic about finding my way, not only metaphorically in life generally, but literally, heading out on the trails. My confidence in my navigational skills has not been helped by my acquisition of the route map for the Dig Deep race series. I actually got it last year for the 12.12, bought of the website, but it’s just rubbish. Beyond rubbish. The scale is small, and the route so heavily marked you can’t work out which trails are which anyway. Last year I felt stupid because I couldn’t make sense of it. I must have done a squillion recces before I cracked the 12.12 mile route. I ended up constantly calling on Smiley buddies for assistance in deciphering the code, and my local running shop even used google images of Higger Tor from above to help me find the path off the blooming thing. In the event, I’m really glad I did the recces, but the route was pretty well marked, so I would have been alright without. This year, if I do go through with it and do the thirty mile intro ultra, I’ll definitely need to find my own way round. Marshals will be few and far between, and going the wrong way could add unwelcome elevation as well as miles to the distance. I can’t see how they can mark out the whole route that far. Crap. The 30 mile route is unchanged from last year, which means I can still use last years map but it remains about as illuminating as last time around. Crap again. All the paths looked blurred, no idea where you are supposed to go. This does not bode well.
So this year, I might be doing the Dig Deep 30 mile intro ultra. I mean, I have entered it (what was I thinking) but it’s still in the balance whether I’ll make it to the start. Loads of reasons why. Too slow, not fit enough and not trained enough for starters. Then there is the issue that my entourage of running buddies who were possibly going to enter, and were part of the ‘Dig Deep and Dig Deep Curious’ band of buddies, have now pretty much all fallen by the wayside. Legitimate reasons, going away; injury; not trained; realised that thirty miles is actually quite a long way and might not be fun to run if this heat continues blah de blah. I understand their reservations and view points, heavens, if I’m honest, I share them. The thing is though, if I do decide to withdraw, I want it to be because I don’t want to try not because I can’t find my way around on my own. I was hoping running buddies meant recceing buddies. We’ve had a few days out – thank you those who have shepherded me round to date, but I’m nowhere near knowing the route, and it is so much easier to recce a long race in sections if you pair up. then you can have a car at each end of the segment so you don’t have to constantly retrace your steps.
I tried to console myself. I reminded myself I was never going to actually run the route on the day with anyone anyway – waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too stressful. No-one runs as slowly as me so buddying up to make a running pair isn’t an option. If I did, either my eyes would pop out with the strain of trying to keep up with them, or they’d become frustrated to the point of apoplexy by having their natural running speed constantly curtailed. You can only push running friendships and challenges so far. I know. I’ve come home from plenty of group runs and had a quiet cry at my enduring ineptitude. There is nothing to be gained from comparing yourself to other runners, and therefore, by extension, from trying to run alongside any particular individual runner for prolonged periods, that way madness lies.
Not that sort of madness, that would be quite novel… might risk a pairing for that.
Even so, irrespective of whether or not you actually run together, it’s reassuring at a new event to have buddies out on the course, if only so they’ll notice if you don’t make it back before nightfall. Psychologically, others pulling out of the Dig Deep Intro Ultra now Peak Trails 30 Ultra has been tough for me. Especially, because without exception, they all seem fitter, stronger more capable runners, I’ve been feeling a bit crushed. What’s the point of even trying… I don’t know the route, even if I could drag my weary carcass round the distance, I felt like I had zero chance of knowing which way to go. You have no idea how hard it is to be me. And don’t get me started in terms of what’s happened to my running mojo. I have no idea what it looks like, and no, I can’t remember when I last had it. Crap. Crap again. It’s all crap. I hate running. I hate not being able to run even more. My relationship status with running is kind of complicated.
I had a mini meltdown earlier in the week. It all seemed a bit ludicrous to have ever signed up for the thirty miler in the first place. I did make it out with my Smiley Paces buddies for an off-road Thursday night run for the first time this year. As usual I trailed at the back feeling hot, clumsy and useless. Other bright young things fitter of frame and fleeter of foot sprung ahead, hopping across the rocks like mountain goats as a glorious sunset bathed the peak district in spectacular evening rays. I try to tell myself that I have endurance, so speed doesn’t matter, but it still messes with my head. How can I even entertain the idea of doing long distances if I can’t even keep up with others on a barely 5 mile social run? Still, it was scenic out, this is still something I’d like to crack….
I decided it is/was not yet game over. I still have some time. It is dawning on me that it’s not altogether surprising I’m making no progress with my running as I’m not regularly training if I’m honest. Yes, yes, it has been crazily hot, but even so, I’m not going to magically get fitter if I don’t do anything at all. What I need, is a cunning plan.
So, I did my usual thing, indulged in a brief pity party, and then decided to be a bit less defeatist. I will try to crack this navigational thing myself. How hard can it be?
I actually went out and invested in a proper scaled map, oh my gawd! It was like discovering the gateway to Narnia. Did you know, that if the scale of a map is big enough you can actually work out where you are and where to go next by looking at it! It’s remarkable. Obviously a 1:1 scale would be ideal, then I’d just lay it over the peak district and walk over it like a map carpet, but they weren’t available in store so I’ve gone for the more conventional Peak District Central 1:25,000 Harvey superwalker map. I think it’s the map which is being referred to as ‘superwalker’ not the user of the map which in this case is me. I got it from my local running shop, which was also a good plan, as they checked to make sure I bought the right one for the ultra route – insider info people, it’s what you need. Cheers nice Front Runner people.
I’m practically a sponsored athlete now I’ve had so much advice, though it’s come from so many different sources I’ll need bespoke kit to acknowledge all the many who’ve contributed to my running ‘journey’, mind you they perhaps wont all want their brands associated with me, so that’s a win.
I then laboriously marked out the route from the shite map onto the bigger scaled one. It took a bit of deciphering, but I got there in the end. It was both fun and a revelation. Fun, in the way that when I was at junior school I remember there was a time when every new bit of written work began with writing your name neatly at the top of the piece of paper, and then you could decorate the borders of the page however you wanted before you did any actual writing as such. Tongue stuck out the side of my mouth, it was undemanding and even relaxing. I imagine those adult colouring in books serve much the same purpose, though it would feel like surrendering to a slow death to go and purchase such an item. Once I’d accomplished this task though, the revelation came – the route actually made sense! Oh my goodness, with this map, I’ll be able to find my way without having to chase round after faster runners or memorise the route from begged recces with other runners who already know where to go. Couldn’t believe it. There is a slight fly in the proverbial, in that I find I do need to wear my prescription glasses to decipher this navigational aid, but this seems but a small price to pay to avoid getting lost out there in the peaks. My new map looks like this:
Looking a lot more manageable on this scale. Maybe I can find a way to do this, literally as well as metaphorically. Yay! At the very least, solo route finding has to be worth a punt. I can still duck out of doing the Dig Deep for lack of fitness; finesse; training or inclination, but let me not duck out from not being able to find my way.
My next decision was to try and be a bit less passive. I’ve relied too much on others to plan routes. Really though, there is no reason why I can’t do sections on my own if I keep them short enough that I can do out and back. It is probably good to do this anyway, as it’ll give me a better appreciation of the whole area, and the more I do, the more hours on my legs, who knows, it might even help me recover some fitness, though I concede there may be an element of hope over experience and delusional thinking in operation here.
In other news, I also had a reminder moment about how confidence works. It’s so easy to wait to do things until we are stronger; cleverer; more experienced; fitter; have more time; thinner; when it’s warmer/ colder; whatever. The reasons for perpetual procrastination based on a toxic cocktail of inertia combined with a lack of self-confidence are many and manifest. Sometimes though, our – perhaps that should be ‘my’ – belief that things that seem beyond my reach will be doable ‘if only’ I’d passed some particular milestone or situation and so boosted my confidence are based on a misconception about how these things work. You don’t do things because you are confident, you become confident by doing things which take you out of your comfort zone. If we wait, we might miss out entirely.
For the most part, fear of failure is irrelevant, most challenges aren’t life or death, they aren’t even risking humiliation. Speaking personally I fear doing lots of running stuff because I’m not ‘good enough’, I don’t fit the ‘idealised runner’ stereotype. I know this is irrational. Very few people do fit the idealised runner look and performance, and those that do are probably equally riddled with self-doubt – unless Donald Trump takes up running, in which case he would be the best, greatest of the great runners of all time, (obvs, in his head), as he is on record as being the fittest president in the history of the universe ever. I think the pictures speak for themselves…
I’m not going to advocate harnessing your inner Trump, clearly there are always exceptions that prove the rule, but I do advocate just getting over your/ myself and if necessary feigning self-belief enough to give things a go. Spoiler alert, running wise, mostly, nobody cares. A few track athletes maybe, in competitive arenas, but on the hills and trails, at parkrun or participating in your local friendly neighbourhood running club nobody gives a toss what anyone else is doing. So whatever other real barriers might exist, don’t let the demons in your head add to them.
What’s the worst… A few of my Smiley compatriots are adopting the ‘JFDI’ mantra – just jolly-well do it, and quite right too! I jolly well will.
Well, I’ll start with a solo recce at least. If I don’t try I’ll never know if I could…
So that’s what I did. I know the first part of the route pretty well from my 12.12 reccces last year, so I decided to just do a 6 mile chunk from the ice-cream van carpark, which is officially the Burbage/ Fiddlers Elbow carpark, and head out across Stanage to the base of Win Hill. I’d just walk, I’d take my time, and check out my map reading skills.
It didn’t start brilliantly, I managed to get confused just exiting the car park, as there is a path at the back you can take, but my ‘instinct’ was telling me to stride off towards the edge. In fact, I did the sensible thing though, and relied on what the map said, rather than what i thought I was supposed to be doing, and you know what, it works! It actually blooming works! There were a few technical issues like now I need to pack my reading glasses in my kit along with water and naked bars. Also, the route is annoyingly just on the edge of the map so requires using both sides. However overall, all good. Hurrah!
The weather was cooler than of late, and the paths for the first part of the morning were pretty much deserted. It is unbelievable how lovely it was out, I feel so lucky to have this just a few miles from where I live. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I found my running mojo, that has most definitely gone AWOL for now, but I definitely tapped into my inner ‘it’s reet nice out‘ because it was and it is. The paths are inviting, the heather is just at the stage of promising a purple bloom in a few weeks’ time. A scattering of rain the night before had even freshened everything up, though it is still pretty scorched out there.
It was pretty roady to begin with, there are more direct paths, but the race route takes you along the tarmac and official routes with firmer terrain, and probably they are quicker as the terrain is more stable than the scampering over the rocks options. However, after a bit, you head up off the tarmac, and approach Stanage and then up top, where it was surprisingly breezy, I was rewarded with the trig point and stunning, if somewhat hazy views. I had it completely to myself, it was astonishing really. Where is everyone? They couldn’t all be at Sheffield Hallam parkrun, as that was cancelled because of tramlines this week.
I did get chaperoned around this route a few weeks back, by Smiley buddies who did the Intro Ultra last year as their ultra debut as part of a trio of lovelies. That definitely helped, but I do find that if others are ‘in charge’ of navigation, I tend to follow, gazing about and not really notice where we go. This time with the map I was pleasantly surprised to be able to find my way relatively easily, and what’s more, finally identify what some of those rocky outcrops are actually called. Well, I think I did, my O-level geography is a bit rusty, though I could probably still do a presentation on glacial erosion and a representational picture of frost shattered mountain peaks. I used to love doing all those drawings in physical geography. I wonder if school children still do, or is it all print outs now. shame if so. My pictures of glacial erosion were good enough to be stuck to the front of a fridge, not that they ever were, but frankly they ought to have made the cut. Perhaps I should have sent them in to Vision On for the gallery now I come to think of it? Imagine if I’d had my talent for O-level physical geography drawings spotted way back then, how different my life might have been. Sigh. We’ll never know.
Coming down off Stanage, resisting the temptation to do a quick detour to the pole first (focus Lucy, focus, you are supposed to be learning a course !) I found I was walking a section of the Hathersage Hurtle route in reverse. It’s brilliant doing recces as it helps me work out how all these places fit together. I know, I’ve been slow on the uptake, but be patient with me, I’m not a Sheffield local, it’s taken me a while. As well as the fine sight of the cement works, I had the pleasing bonus of espying a fellow Smiley, also out recceing an ultra route, but a Dark Peak 30 miler in October that seems to cover similar territory, albeit in the opposite direction. her endeavour sounds more hardcore though, ‘Described by the elite field of runners as one of the hardest and most beautiful 30 mile races they have ever done!! With soaring ridges and technical descending, you will gain over 7000ft of vertical gain!!‘ That’s a lot of exclamation marks and a lot of elevation. Mind you, on reflection I have no idea how much elevation there is in ‘my’ ultra – not sure if I want to find out, blind naivety has worked for me before, no point in scaring myself unnecessarily…
Here are some more pictures.
See, reet nice out indeed! There was even some unfamiliar standing water on the path at one point, I thought it was a mirage at first.
I came out just along from the Yorkshire Bridge Inn, and then trotted over the road, across the mini bridge which went over a surprisingly picturesque bit of running water
Quick right and down the no through road to the base of my nemesis… Win Hill.
I did briefly consider going on as far as Hope, but then the lure of a latte at the Yorkshire Inn got the better of me. In my defence, I did still need to retrace my steps back to the car, and I had planned to do shorter, more frequent recces. Yorkshire Bridge to Hope will be another good section to crack, and I can save it for another day. Yep, latte:
And then back up that hill and as the sun came out scorching again, homeward bound. At first I just met one or two other walkers or runners, all were friendly. I always feel a kindly disposition towards other people I meet out and about, I have a working assumption that they will be sound people and not mad axe murdered. It occurs to me that this assumption is not evidence based, it’s just what I choose to believe. I do feel safe in the peaks. Apart from anything else, in this heat even a mad axe man wouldn’t want the hassle of lugging his axe up the hill, you can be weighted down enough just with your cheese and pickle sandwiches, packet of crisps and bottle of water. Perhaps it’s like with adders, the snakes and psychopaths alike are more scared of me than I am of them. I’d love to see an adder in the heather one day. I remember seeing them basking in the sun on holiday in Northumberland as a child, but haven’t seen one in decades. They are out there somewhere though. So it’s a ‘yes’ from me for spotting an adder and a ‘not today thank you’ from me in terms of meeting anyone unstable and armed. Just to be clear.
For my return up on Stanage Edge, the route was packed, loads of climbers up top, and puffing cyclists en mass on the roads, some having noticeably more fun than others. Some plucky opportunists had managed to lasso and capture a rock, no idea how they were planning to get it home. I didn’t think you were allowed to help yourself to things from the peaks, but who knows… Was it intrusive of me to photograph the bikes having a private moment of coupledom? Hope not.
And then finally, I was nearly back to base. On the last stretch I heard and saw a fire engine speeding by, I really hope there wasn’t a fire anywhere on the moors, it would all go up like a tinder box at present, which is not to be confused with the tinder app, that’s a different sort of sparks flying scenario altogether.
My favourite sighting of the day though was right at the end. I passed a grey-haired couple sitting in their car, admiring the view. I can’t be sure, but I got the impression that one of them at least wasn’t that mobile. It was no obstacle to peak based fun. They were sat there in the front seats, half way through a bottle of rose and having a blast. Watching the world go by and marveling/ laughing at the panting cyclists and runners who were struggling up the hills so they didn’t have to. That’s the way to do it!
So, all in all, navigation wise, that was a pass. Didn’t catch sight of my running mojo, but to be fair, I set out to do a walk and that’s what I did. It was only about 12 miles, which isn’t much mileage given the distance I’m aiming for, but it was a respectable start, and it’s helped my confidence massively that I am capable of working out where I need to go. 1665 ft elevation, but obviously as I went out and back that doesn’t necessarily correspond to elevation over that distance on the day. Whether I can do so at the speed that might reasonably be expected is another question all together, but that’s for another day. This is where I went, in case you care:
Even if you are not in possession of Geography O level, you might be able to spot my latte detour if you examine the route really, really carefully.
So job done. It’s not much, but it’s a start. I’ve still got at least one joint recce pending, so will be cool if I can test out my new super-power map reading skills there, but I feel a bit more in control of things. It’s by no means a given that I’ll make it to the start of the Dig Deep 30 miler, but I’ve been checking out the results from last year, and we do get the same length of time to get around as those doing the 60 mile course, as there are shared checkpoints, that makes the cut offs generous, as long as I can make the early ones in time.
Que será, será dear reader, que será, será Doris could be wise at times you know, very wise indeed.
So running ups and downs continue. On the plus side, I have discovered how to harness the super power of navigation, on the not plus side I’m still not doing an awful lot in the way of running. But I’m showing willing, and you know what they say, the longest of journeys starts with a single step. I’m stepping out. You could too!
For all my Dig Deep Series related posts, click here, and scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you
And this link is for my mum to find. Hello mum ! It’s a headcam video of Bushy parkrun where she is honorary marshal at her very own Elisabeth’s corner. Hurrah! Kudos to her and all the hi-vis heroes! You can catch a sneaky peak of her in situ between 10 minutes 24 – 26 seconds – blink and you’ll miss it!