Digested read: went plogging on the Sheffield Half-Marathon route. It snowed. It was still fun.
Undigested read: I can hardly run a bath at the moment, let alone a half marathon. This is a shame, because we are fully into not so much the run up (see what I did there? Hilarious) as into the actual tapering period for the 2019 Sheffield Half. This time last year I was well into my distance runs and used the Sheffield Half as a training run for the London Marathon. That seems like a life time ago. The past is another country I did things differently there. Now, for various reasons, I’ve had my running goals for this year well and truly scuppered. It is a source of much squirm-inducing regret that when my lovely running club asks us each month to volunteer our achievements and post them on Facebook for each return period that I find myself racking my brains trying to think of something to say. Something – anything? Nope, just an echoing void up there at present. Nothing to report. I blagged it the last two months, by explaining February was pretty much taken up with my merchandise testing commitments (Brooks Juno Bra thank you for asking) and then March brought with it my media commitments, culminating with my companion animal finding herself the poster giraffe for the Sheffield Half. She was thrilled! I got glory by association. I might not make the start of the half this year, but hopefully the 5-10% of the population who are apparently particularly susceptible to hypnosis and suggestion will come to believe I was there just because they have seen this image circulating about the right time. I like to believe so.
Anyway, irrespective of whether or not I’m running, this is my blog, my rules, I can plog if I want to, however tenuous the theme in terms of its relationship to running. Today’s theme is litter picking on the Sheffield Half Marathon loop, so that’s almost exactly the same as going for a run yes?
The background is that a group of us did this half marathon litter pick last year, after a last minute ‘who else is up for it’ Facebook post put out by a local running shop. A fair few of us were, and rocked up, and it was fun. We got to dress up like Nemo and everything, though the amount of litter on the route was dispiriting. It came about because those of us who’d been using the route for long run recces couldn’t help but notice the litter that had accumulated along the way, and it seemed a poor advert for our beloved Sheffield. Instead of waiting around for some vague ‘other’ to take the initiative ‘somebody should do something’ Front Runner took the initiative, and put out the call. Seems that hit a nerve, and people came indeed. Litter picking in general and plogging in particular is increasingly a thing – check out Runners Against Rubbish – which is good because it has to be done and bad because it shouldn’t be needed. Plogging runs featured at the Big Running Weekend a couple of weeks back too. Anyway, pleased to report, they did the same again this year, suggested a group litter pick along the Sheffield Half-marathon route, and there was an even bigger turn out, this year than last. yay! Perhaps this will become an annual tradition. Hope so.
So you see, whilst I might not be up to much running, I can still have running related fun times scrabbling about in mud and heave-hoing unsavoury discarded bits of rubbish out of polluted ditches with my running buddies. We are hard core we Sheffielders, and we know how to make our own entertainment! Plus, plogging in a ditch is pretty light weight compared to fell running which to the untrained eye might seem to stretch the definition of ‘fun times’ yet looks like great larks compared to the Barkley marathon.
You do know about the Barkley Marathons yes? In case not – you might have just blocked the very thought as a subconscious protective reflex – this is a 100 mile plus suffer fest. It has five laps, each lap of 20-plus miles in distance and includes about 12,000ft of brutally-steep, obstacle-laden, muddy mountain ascent through thick woodland. That’s like climbing Everest twice, apparently, which is another thing on my list of activities I have zero desire to undertake. Just to be completely clear, I don’t even want to climb Everest once. In conclusion, I think it’s fair to say that the Barkley Marathons stretches the definition of ‘fun’ a tad too far for even type two fun* recognition. Just saying. Well done Nicky Spinks for giving it a go all the same. Shame it meant you missed the first Trunce of the year but understandable in the circumstances. Epic. No-one came close to finishing the Barkley Marathons this year by the way. I’m not surprised. Nicky looks hard core yes, but she doesn’t look like she’s particularly having any real=time fun now does she? It’s cool she’s wearing a dark peak fell runners bobble hat though. Respect. She’s still beyond awesome.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, having running related fun in the great outdoors. So it was that last night I scooped up a friend and together we chugged up to the Norfolk Arms rendezvous for the collective litter picking endeavour. Tooled up with our heavy duty gloves, we sat in the car, admiring the moody sky and dramatic clouds. About five minutes ahead of our rendezvous time, heavy drops started to land on the windscreen. ‘I hope it’s not going to rain’ remarked my litter picking buddy. We laughed nervously. It would only be a couple of hours. We exited our vehicle and joined the gathering by the van, joining the queue for bin bags, struggling into our junior sized high-vis and delightedly welcoming our parkrunning buddy, Regal Smiley who’d rocked up to join the fun=fest and frolics in the name of keeping our run routes litter free. Yay!
As we greeted one another, the rain stopped. That sounds good doesn’t it, except it wasn’t because there was no longer precipitation, oooooooooooooooooh no. It was because it transmogrified into fat flakes of snow. Proper snow. Full on white out, snow snow. It settled on our hats, and snowed with an intensity and density that is usually reserved for the closing climactic sequence of cheesy American films set against the backdrop of Christmas holidays. You know, where every problem is overcome, every misunderstanding cleared, and loving couples or families rush out red cheeked, starry-eyed and bobble hatted through a forest of Christmas trees already laden with snow, or along a city street with shop windows a-bling with Christmas lights as fresh snow falls and the credits roll. Like that. Exactly like that, only colder and wetter and with less joyful cavorting on our part. We did laugh though. A lot. And to be fair, if the weather was going to be dramatic, I’d sooner take the apocalyptic drama of unexpected decent snow over the soul-sapping water torture of horizontal rain. Also, definitely better than having a helicopter induced storm hurl roadside barriers at you mid-marathon in China. It happened. It really did… quite relieved I didn’t bother entering that one now, especially after learning I wouldn’t get away with taking along the bike for part of the route after all.
Besides, we were here now, committed.
We took our bags, our gloves, out litter picker and our resolve and off we went, a trio of awesomeness, to take on Sheephill Road. Time for a quick selfie first though… Just for clarification purposes, that’s the start of the snow you can see in the flurry of white flakes, not a severe dandruff episode by a fellow litter picker just out of shot.
We bagsied the upper end of Sheephill Road from the Norfolk arms downed. I thought we might have to fight for it – I feel a tad territorial for this section because it’s the same bit I did last year, which is ridiculous, but true. As it happened, we three got it all to ourselves, and off we went. We were an awesome team, covering both sides of the road like police forensic investigators seeking out clues in a finger tip search. Litter picking is
disturbingly surprisingly addictive. No fag end is safe, no bottle too remote to be hunted down and caught bang to rights and bagged – probably to end up in land fill which is depressing, but preferable to choking wildlife at least.
There aren’t any whales in Sheffield, so I don’t think we were saving them particularly from consuming plastic on this occasion but then again, who knows where discarded plastic can end up. No really, I spent some time volunteering at a wildlife centre in Zimbabwe and one day found myself removing plastic wrap from cucumbers flown in from the UK – probably grown in a poly tunnel, that were past their sell-by date and so were discarded from the shop and were now being used as animal food. How many countries had that plastic wrap visited in its single use lifetime? What is that about? Crazy. That’s why 44 kg of plastic was found in a dead whale only last month. No fun to be had in that story, none at all. Don’t need to be Hercule Poirot to work out contributory factors for cause of death for that one. Or even James Herriot, or whatever the marine biology veterinary equivalent for that might be… This is plastic that emerged from a whale gut, I couldn’t be more astonished if it was a picture of Jonah himself bursting forth.
It was surprisingly companionable yomping along plogging and picking our way through the undergrowth with varying degrees of concentration. We evolved a system whereby Regal Smiley/ bicentennial woman who was in possession of the grabber (well, she does command natural authority, plus she was the one who had the foresight to bring it with her) responded to a sort of directional pointing system whereby we other two, lacking her reach, would get the bits we could and then point out to her the more elusive finds. She would do well in the opal mines of Coober Pedy as once she was convinced of the presence of something, in this case litter, nothing would deter her from ferreting it out. Together, we were invincible. That dear reader, is what team work is all about.
We didn’t find any opals, but we did find some vintage crisp packets, they don’t have the same market value though, well, not as far as I can tell anyway. I didn’t research it all that conscientiously, I’ll be kicking myself when a vintage salt’n’shake crisp pack suddenly appears on eBay, with the faded lettering being described as ‘adding authenticity and character’ … I can feel my blood boiling at the very thought!
The weather did crazy things. At times there were blizzard conditions, at times bright sunshine broke through, and there was the most extraordinary rainbow that seemed to arch across the whole city, I wished I’d got my camera with me, but then again it probably wouldn’t quite have done it justice, plus, I was able to delegate photo duties to Regal Smiley who did a fair enough job in the circumstances!
Here is the snow:
Well, some of it, and here is the rainbow. Also just some of it…
We were merry in our labours. Also, encouragingly, the litter situation was way better than last year, and although there was still plenty, we made speedy progress. No especially epic finds – well, apart from the almost buried plastic Christmas Tree and associated baubles, really people? There was inevitably, lots of plastic, haylage bags, fast food polystyrene wrappers, huge amounts of cigarette ends, discarded bottles, one solitary gel pack wrapper. and debris from miscellaneous road accidents. Had we but the time and inclination – oh yes and skill too – we could quite possibly have built our own vehicle with the bits of body work accrued along the way. Some duct tape would have helped maybe, but then you can do anything with duct tape and imagination! After all, if it can be used to fix a plane after a bear attack, I’m sure it could assemble some discarded car panels without too much difficulty.
After an hour or so, there was the pitter patter of tiny feet behind us. Breathless, and inappropriately dressed for the inclement weather was a trio of youths. I must be getting exceedingly old, because when they introduced themselves, still wet and shivering as ‘students’ my immediate thought was they were a detail from a local school sent to join the community initiative, but no dear reader, they were actual university students, doing a journalism course and in search of a local story. Mind you, I do find increasingly I have become that person who notices that my GP and other officials look alarmingly youthful. The logical conclusion of this I am actually old, not just old before my time. I don’t know quite how to process that thought, so now I’ve shared it, I’ll ignore it and move one… Anyway, where was I, oh yes, clearly, we were the most newsworthy thing going on at the time, and so we were within their grasp. Also, I secretly suspect they’d got wind of my recently acquired poster girl status so perhaps were hoping for some sort of celebrity coup to boot, though they were far too professional to let on to that insider knowledge, didn’t want to seem all giddy in my presence I expect… So, what they wanted to do was a little piece on the community litter pick for one of their assignments. Fair enough, sounded entertaining. ‘We are like the wombles! You know “underground, overground, wombling free“‘ I half-said half (badly) sung, being met with looks of confused incomprehension, oh gawd, I really am old, surely they haven’t been forgotten – I had their LP at one point, ‘wombling free’ it’s a tragedy if that cultural heritage has now been lost, we do indeed need the Wombles more than ever!
We continued our litter pick, whilst they found a suitable lay-by to set up their gear. To the casual observer they would have looked like spectacularly well equipped doggers.
They wanted some litter picking shots, featuring the grabber in action and in close up. This required quite a lot of practise, and hilariously (well I thought so) the initial actual litter that was being used for the shot just didn’t cut it as camera eye candy. Fortunately, one of the trio had brought along her own, more photogenic litter just in case. This was in the form of a bottle of lucozade sport (I like to think, as the ‘sport’ reference seems especially apt, but I might have imagined the whole thing just because I wished it so), which she downed in one, so that she could jettison the bottle on the verge where it could be picked up and popped in a black bin bag on endless repeat until caught from all possible angles and the perfect shot, like the discarded bottle, was safely in the bag. (Honestly, I’m on fire tonight!)
Then we stood in a slightly self-conscious line and the director said he was going to ask us each a question to camera as a sort of vox pox segment (well, what with my work as a supporting artist elsewhere, I have all the media lingo down to a tee). Now, this is where we approach the comedy climax of the evening… but to fully appreciate this, you need context.
The thing is Regal Smiley has many talents. Epic runner, parkrun run director blah de blah, but one of her most public-spirited duties is linked to her being the power behind the photographic throne occupied by Mr Carman. Yes, yes, he takes squillions of pictures week in, week out, selflessly giving his time for the running community of Sheffield, but it is Regal Smiley who acts as upholder of human dignity and public decency, acting as censor to any shot that might unduly humiliate or embarrass the subject of the photo. Obviously due humiliation is a different thing altogether, and comedic value can outweigh an unflattering shot, but even so, she has much respected form in saving us runners from the brutal reality of seeing in high-definition our true running likenesses if that truth might mean we never left the house again. She is the guardian of our individual and collective self-esteem, for this we should all be grateful. Therefore, it was not unreasonable, that before consenting to our vox pox section she politely enquired
‘Do we look OK?‘. I know what she meant, save us from the spinach caught in our teeth or the inside out jacket or the river of snot that I’ve failed to notice because my face is too numb from the stinging hail. It was self-evident to all.
‘You look great!’ he said confidently. The reassurance he gave us was to be short lived.
It wasn’t self-evident to all. I know this, because he added with a bit too much enthusiasm in his voice ‘being bedraggled and cold and windswept and filthy is exactly the appropriate look for this piece when you’ve all been out litter picking in the snow!’ Oh how we laughed! I’m paraphrasing only slightly, we rocked our context specific look, it is fortuitous that these clips will never see the public light of day. Well, unless one or more of us was to go missing on the way home and they had to play that snippet of us on Look North as the last sighting of us for identification purposes, oh the shame. And that nearly happened to be fair, but more of this later.
We did our slightly stilted commentary on the community cohesion of litter picking, and love of the peaks and running, and how we met through parkrun and all of that. Then, in a moment of clarity me and Regal Smiley realised this could be our running related achievement for April when reporting back to our Smiley record keeper, so more photos of us all together and separately in all possible permutations were taken. The sun came out, rather spoiling our hardcore claims. I think it’s fair to say the weather was changeable.
We left them doing there final ‘to camera’ summary and continued our meander back along the verges. It started snowing again, we were on a mission.
It’s amazing how you see missed bits of litter when you view the landscape through a different angle. We’d already done this section on the outward march. Regal Smiley was emboldened to scamper over walls and criss-cross wobbly stones to reach tantalizingly placed litter the other side of walls. There was definitely more than one point when I thought we might lose her over a crumbling dry stone wall. We discussed this possibility. I was thinking at first we’d get away with pretending we’d never seen her, there weren’t many cars about and nobody was taking much interest in us… as long as we other two stuck to our story we’d be fine – then we remembered the cursed vox pox sequence, and if those keen journalism students got wind of her disappearance they’d be like the blooming Scooby Doo team, endlessly screening their now highly marketable footage as they tried for a ‘true crime’ documentary full length feature on ‘what really happened’. We’d never have got away with it. So all in all, it was very fortunate, that we were able to haul her back roadside, and make it back safely! No search team required…. this time.
Pleasingly, just as we returned to the corner of Lady Cannings plantation entrance, where we’d piled up all our bags, the Front Runner white van appeared to gather up our rubbish offerings. It was a leaky, sodden and unsavoury mess of stuff, I wouldn’t have wanted it in the back of my car. Above and beyond I’d say. You can get Sheffield City Council to pick up bags from organised litter picks if you let them know in advance, but there was a different plan at work here.
And that was that, we said goodbye and went our separate ways.
I feel however I need to add this postscript. As me and my tail walking buddy – did I mention that already?…
were derobing and clambering back into my car, we got chatting to a guy in the vehicle next to us. He hadn’t been litter picking with us but he does solitary litter picks around his road all the time. I mentioned to him that there is the Sheffield Litter Pickers Facebook group if he wants help. He brooded on this point for a bit and then said words to the effect of he quite liked the cathartic effect of doing it alone and raging at the awfulness of mankind with every bottle plucked from a hedge or broken glass from the gutter he weirdly liked finding justification for his misanthropic view of the world. I rather respect that. It made me laugh.
And so dear reader, it was but two sodden hours on an April evening, but it was crammed with hilarity and micro-adventures a-plenty. Sometimes, it is worth just stepping outside the front door and seeing what unfolds. Just be wary of cameras unless you are dressed in a context appropriate way. Oh and also, I feel a need to share that really, in our own way, we three, and indeed all the other litter pickers out there last night, were tackling the same elements as the Barkley marathoners, because they too started their quest in sunshine, only to be caught out by wintry conditions and snow. I may not quite be in Nicky Spinks’ league just yet, but I am somewhere on the continuum of weather she has experienced in her running challenges, and that’s a start. Also, other litter pickers took independent initiative to play their part in an afternoon pick as they couldn’t make the evening one, ploggers are everywhere it seems, how splendid is that! See them rock their context appropriate hi-vis too.
Heart warming isn’t it? And we could all do with a bit of good news in these dark times I’m sure.
*type two fun – things that are fun only when viewed retrospectively, from a very safe distance.