half marathon

Having a giraffe at the Sheffield half 2018

Digested read:  Did the Sheffield half-marathon at the weekend, strictly speaking it’s the Yorkshire half I think.  Which is confusing.  The crowd support was grand, Geronimo my companion giraffe was a hit, and I got to meet the Terrific Tilly along the way.  What’s not to like?  My last long run pre London Marathon.  Now I have maranoia and post event blues.  These emotions are unhelpful, but apparently not uncommon.  Oh well.  Still love Sheffield running and Sheffield runners though.  Hope you get to run here too dear reader, you’ll love it!

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt and medal!  Hurrah.  What’s more, had a giraffe doing so.  Literally, as in I did have a giraffe with me for the Sheffield Half Marathon, and in the not exactly metaphorical, but certainly more obscure British street speak ‘having a laugh‘ sense.  My (and your) appreciation of this dual meaning clearly demonstrates my hip and street wise credentials despite the apparently uncool choice of running with an African even-toed ungulate as my companion animal of choice for the event.  Life in general is full of such apparent contradictions, but sometimes, somehow, the unlikeliest of juxtapositions will work, thus, see below, evidence of having a giraffe in both senses.

Running can be fun dear reader, or at least seeing people you know whilst out running most definitely is, and this can delude you into thinking it’s the running bit which is fun by association.  On reflection, the whole thing is probably one big delusion, like clicker training for dogs.  The poor creatures learn to associate a click with a food reward or other treat, until eventually just hearing the click is its own reward, the food treat being withdrawn.  Oh my gawd!  Suddenly the penny drops.  Maybe running isn’t fun at all?   it’s the positive reinforcement from my running buddies that has led me to believe otherwise!  Cripes.  Let’s not go there. Hang on while I just breathe into a paper bag for a bit.   Hey ho, bear with me, let’s just continue to imagine running is intrinsically fun shall we?  Otherwise a whole house of cards will come tumbling down, and none of us want that, surely?  Look, here’s the very proof that running is fun!  I like this picture, top of the hill, top of the world, and just had the good fortune to see the fine folk of Accelerate proffering encouragement and water and all sorts of other positive reinforcement, plus they took this photo, I believe I claimed a hug at this point too, because that’s what the people who line the route of the course are there for, to provide healing hugs on demand to runners in need.  A very fine job they do of it too.

acc seen my friends

I’m running ahead of myself though – not something that happens very often when I’m literally as opposed to metaphorically running.  Let’s get back to basic chronology.  So last Sunday was the 2018 Sheffield Half.  I didn’t run it last year, when there was sudden unexpected scorching heat, but did the year before in 2016.  I really enjoyed it, it was my first time over that distance, and the support en route was astonishing.  I ate my body weight in jelly babies and had a lifetime’s supply of high fives over the duration.  I felt invincible at the end.  Even though generally I’m not a fan of road running, this year it was definitely in the diary.  It would be a good last long run pre-London (have I mentioned recently that I’ve got a ballot place for the London marathon this year?), and I’ve run the Sheffield half route a fair few times in training to get the miles in, so I was hoping it would seem straightforward by comparison to doing a full marathon.  Familiar territory, shorter route, blah de blah.

The preparation started the day before, laying out my kit, ironing my name onto my Smiley shirt, agonising over which of my many pairs of socks to wear.  It was important to me to replicate the kit that I’ll be wearing at London.  I did wonder if the name thing might be something of an overkill for Sheffield, plus there was the fear that my amazon iron on letters might not stay put in the wash.  Nevertheless, this was the plan, I would stick to it, and I did, and so did the letters. They even stayed on after washing.  Phew.  Bargain buy actually.  Less than £4 including postage got me these and some!

I had some additional angst when I wasn’t sure if the centre of my body that I laughingly refer to as my ‘waist’ could still accommodate Geronimo. Not only am I the only person in the history of marathon training to put on weight during training, but also I hadn’t fully factored in that I need to wear my running belt with water, and naked bars and other running essentials underneath.  It was a bit snugger than I’d have liked, but doable, ‘this is why I’m having a practice run‘, I tried to remind myself, whilst inwardly weeping at my less than athletic frame.  Also, Geronimo has quite a severe neck curvature, I improvised with garden twine but not sure this is entirely humane.  I managed to get her number on OK, but then had a wave of panic about whether this is allowable under race rules.  I don’t approve of running under other runners bibs.  It’s not fair on race organisers and it does have safety implications – though I can see the temptation if events don’t allow transfers even weeks ahead.  Is it therefore OK for Geronimo to wear my number?  Should we each have had our own?  Am I guilty of race-craft hypocrisy on this score?  It’s an ethical minefield!  Oh well, committed now and at least it means I get company on the way round.  I decided not to share my pre-race angst with Geronimo – no point in stressing us both, and just left her to carb up, whilst I did likewise.

I actually had a friend visiting, which was really nice, but I ate more than I should have the night before a run, and later than was ideal, although it was all very lovely at the time.

I got up crazily early and sleep deprived on the morning of the event, couldn’t sleep anyway.  I am still fretting about being one long run down in my training plan, so decided to lengthen this half marathon distance by walking down to the start.  That added about an extra 3 miles.  This was a fine plan, apart from the fact I stupidly didn’t take it into account in my fuelling scheme, and realised once in the start pen, and just before the official ‘off’,  I was suddenly ridiculously thirsty.  I also discovered accessing my water bottles beneath Geronimo’s midriff is not that straight forward. Consequently, I started the half dehydrated and never really made that up.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  Then again, that’s why I was doing a dummy run in the kit I suppose.  Doh.

The walk down to the start was, erm, well let’s go with ‘interesting.’ Contrary to appearances, I do feel an acute sense of embarrassment in fancy dress other than during the actual event.  It was hard to affect a look of nonchalance as I made my way down to the city centre start. To be fair, I didn’t see many people out and about other than dog walkers, and all were friendly, if bemused/amused.  One guy with his beagle was going to be running later anyway, another walker asked cheerily ‘oh, are you up for the fun run then?’ I didn’t like to admit i wasn’t sure it would be all that much fun actually, but thank you for asking.  One asked if I was ‘planning to run with that?’ meaning Geronimo.  This did strike me as odd.  I mean surely, if it strikes you as bizarre that someone would run a half marathon in fancy dress, would it not strike you as even odder if they wore fancy dress on a three-mile walk to the start line of said event, but  with no intention of actually running in it, rather just for the gloriousness of flaunting their outfit?  No?  Just me then.

We took in some sights on the way.  It was fun meeting the lion.  And excitement started to build as we saw the road closure signs nearing the start.   Geronimo hasn’t seen this side of Sheffield before so I was worried she’d be spooked, but she was fine, curious even.  I think she may have been wondering about whether the bus or bike would be the most practical option for the return leg, but we didn’t really discuss it.  Because she can’t talk, and I can’t hum at a low enough frequency. It doesn’t seem to matter too much, we muddle along just fine.

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It was quite fun as I neared the event village, there was that growing sense of anticipation as people arrived, and I got to see the finish arch for the first, but hopefully not last, time.  I nipped into Costa to use the loo, fearing a portaloo would be too much of a challenge.  Strictly speaking you need a code to access this, but loads of runners were using the facilities – and buying pre-event coffee and muffins to be fair – so we just held the door for one another.

I paced about a bit, and found a few familiar faces, so that was good.  I was quite early, and alarmingly, there were relatively few people in fancy dress of any sort.  In fact, at this point in proceedings I’d not seen anyone.  Because of this, I had a brief period of being a media sensation.  I was away chatting to a Sheffield runner / parkrunner who I keep bumping into out and about, and who I discovered is in fact also going to be running London, for charity, and I was mid-way through downloading all her previous knowledge and experience when we were interrupted.  Hilariously, someone from run for all wanted to do a video clip of me and Geronimo.  Unhilariously, the result is painful for me to watch – is my voice really that bad?  (Rhetorical question).  Oh well.  Then someone from polar watches wanted a photo too, (no, I didn’t get a complementary watch for my services, which is a shame as my tomtom is getting increasingly temperamental about synching these days – apparently the manufacturers aren’t supporting their running watches updates any more.  Curses.  I will have such a tantrum if it doesn’t load London) and then a guy from The Star.  I was basically my very own media sensation. Well, Geronimo was, and I got glory by association.  Form a queue paparazzi people, form a queue!  Not seen the other photos, but here is the front of the Instagram video one and my newly identified fellow London marathoner…

Once I’d fulfilled my media responsibilities, good preparation for when I’m an international sporting celebrity which I’m sure is only a matter of time, I went in search of Smilies.  Found some!  Specifically, I found my very favourite Smiley cheer leading squad, tooled up and ready for action.  They were apparently there to support their dad running too, but clearly taking their Smiley support role very seriously too!  Yay.  I explained to them how they were my favourite thing at the 2016 marathon, and this year seeing them cheering wildly en route was a highlight all over again.  Yay!

smiley cheer leaders

No rain, uncharacteristically mild.  I was feeling OK about wearing a t-shirt for the first time this year.  Not even exaggerating for comedic effect.  I went in search of Smilies, as there’d been talk of getting a team photo on the steps of the Winter garden overlooking the Lyceum.  I dumped my bag and joined the assembly.  By and extraordinary co-incidence, other running clubs had had the same idea!  Who’d have thought it?  We briefly considered photo-bombing the Totley AC group shot, but couldn’t really be bothered.  Anyway, I was distracted by a) the presence of other Smilies, and b) another request for a film, this time by someone from The Star with a video camera, and by other Smilies.  With the benefit of already having had one go at being the subject of a vox pox, I went on a different tack this time.  Explaining, I was in fancy dress because at the time of signing up my running club buddies had assured me that this was a compulsory part of the occasion, and that they would all be donning their own African mammal of choice for the event as well.  Which they clearly weren’t!  I gestured towards them as they doubled up behind me laughing as I went on to reiterate that consequently I was feeling most aggrieved.  It was very entertaining  – to us.  So entertaining, that the camera operative wanted me to ‘spontaneously’ repeat the account all over again.  That would have been very funny to see, we were most conspiratorial, but possibly also came across as sharing our own joke, which to be fair, we were.  Oh well, it passed the time before the mandatory group shots.

CS smiley group shot

As is also traditional, some Smilies were gathered in the wrong place, or stuck in a loo-queue, so not everyone made it.  Other sub-group shots were taken instead.

So more faffing, found another loo stop, then into the Winter gardens for some warmth, some posing for photos in front of the elephant in the room and some stretching (not by me).

Finally, time to get to the start line.  There was a delay in setting off due to a ‘police incident on the course’ apparently.  I was completely oblivious to this. I was distracted by meeting some camel women – first proper fancy dress contenders of the morning, and they’d upped the ante going for a double act.  Then I was distracted by meeting a fellow Smiley in the line up.  The Sheffield half- marathon is basically one big post-winter reunion for everyone you know in Sheffield who runs.  If they aren’t running the event themselves, chances are they will either be supporting it en route, or volunteering. There is no escape!

The actual start, unless you are a speedy runner in the front pen, was pretty stop start.  Some people did try to jog on, but as  a point of principle I wasn’t planning on running anywhere until my foot went over the starting mat.  I was aware of being really thirsty suddenly, but bit late to do anything about it, and a bit faffy to access my water bottle.  I hadn’t factored in the time and effort it had taken me to walk down to the start.  Must make sure I consciously drink something whilst waiting on the start at London.

We weaved over the cobble streets, and eventually the start came into view.  I didn’t think anything would top the experience of getting a high-five from Harry Gration in 2016, but the organisers had upped the ante this year with green wig pram man. The legend that is  the fund raiser John Burkhill!  No wonder I was so excited heading through the start.  Yes, I did get a high-five, thank you for asking.

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Apparently the front runners don’t avail themselves of this opportunity!  They are in such a rush to get round.  They miss out on such celebrity encounters.  It’s a shame.

I somehow found myself alongside the 2:20 pacers, both striders I knew, so that was cool, I waved them on though, my race plan wasn’t going to reach that speed.  Early excitement was indeed from seeing familiar supporters early on.  I wasn’t lying when I told you I got excited by the pro-smiley mob just near Waitrose!

RW so excited

The next bit of excitement, was getting to overtake someone.  Admittedly, it was someone carrying a solid oak anchor, but it was a start.  How he made it round I have no idea, that was a seriously heavy bit of luggage.  Maybe he was planning to leave it at the bag drop, but it exceeded their size criteria?  I didn’t stop to ask.  Photo nabbed from Steel City Striders Facebook page – hope that’s OK.  Sharing the running love is all for the greater good after all…

SCS anchor man

Onward and upward.  Well, to be fair, that’s the only available option for the Sheffield half, unless you inadvertently run in completely the wrong direction at the start.  By my standards, which are modest, I was reasonably consistent. Swept along by the crowd I did my slow plod, but kept my rhythm and ran pretty much the whole way up until I got to Knowle Lane. Well I say I kept on running, but clearly there were distractions along the way.  There were many supporting Smilies, and I couldn’t run past them without stopping and claiming a hug, despite one at least telling me I wasn’t supposed to. Well sod that for a game of soldiers, that’s one of the whole points of undertaking this running malarkey. Whilst, naturally, it was grand to see everyone, a particular thrill was meeting this gorgeous trio:

This necessitated not just a photo stop, but a selfie-stop with more than one attempt. Thing is, Tilly the puppy and I have connected on-line, but not had the opportunity to meet in dog and person yet.  I was so thrilled to see her I wasn’t going to turn down that opportunity.  She was fantastically well-socialised and greeted both me and Geronimo warmly . So soft and cuddlesome!  I say she was well-socialised, and that’s true, but I like to think the warmth and enthusiasm of her greeting was because we have special spiritual connection that is unique to ourselves.  I’m practically a puppy-whisperer, and very blessed what with our special relationship.  Hoping this will be but the first of many future encounters.

Onwards.  Hello Runderwear ambassador of Valley Hill Runners.  Had to stop and tell her about meeting Tilly for the first time – only to find she’d beaten me to it the day before.  Fair enough, this was important news, serves me right for not making it to Sheffield Hallam parkrun when Tilly was having her coming out party.  Miss parkrun, miss out.  Fact.  Greetings exchanged, she cheered me on, I could hear her shouts of positivity carrying on behind  me as I ran off.   I’m glad someone was feeling confident on my behalf!

tilly and VHR

Sometimes it was a bit confusing there was so much support.  At one point at Hunter’s Bar there was a smiley contingent proffering high-fives on both sides of the road, so obviously I had to zig-zag across to take up all available options.  I wonder if the lead runners did this too?  Then a shout out from the 50% of the Front Runner team who was out supporting the other 50% of the Front Runner team who was chasing a podium place and probably didn’t therefore double back insisting on a high-five.  There was further confusion, because I forgot that I had my name emblazoned all over my top and my race number, and some random supporters called out my name, which was great, but it took me a while to realise I didn’t know these people.   Didn’t matter, all support greatly appreciated!  Some supporters I missed, but they got Smiley action shots en route all the same.  Hurrah!

The support going out is pretty amazing.  It was an OK day, perfect for running, but not overly warm for spectating but the road was lined with children holding out trays of jelly beans, or lining up hands poised for high fives.  I got some shouts for ‘go giraffe’ which was grand – though later in the race I started to protest a bit because people weren’t sufficiently acknowledging my own contribution to Geronimo getting round.  At one point a cyclist in high viz came tearing down the hill shouting out ‘Go Geronimo!’ which made me feel like a proper celebrity with my own support team.  Loads of signs offered encouraging support – I was quite taken by one that was ‘go random stranger!’.  It was all very positive and affirming.

I learned the lessons from last time out and desisted from taking jelly babies I didn’t want for fear of disappointing small children.  What I didn’t do though, which was dumb, is stop and drink enough.  I wanted to, I was so thirsty, but with so many people yelling support I was a bit embarrassed to pause and rummage around for my water bottle.  The irony of not being embarrassed to run with a toy giraffe strapped round my midriff but fearing humiliation if I paused to drink is not lost on me. I  was very grateful when outside one of the shops up at Banner Cross some random table was set up offering water.

So many sights and sounds.  The crowds thinned a bit as I headed up towards Ringinglow road, by the time we got to the king of the hill section, I wasn’t feeling very regal.  I was really, really thirsty now, and had a knee niggle coming on which I’ve never had before.  I did a sort of mental check about how I felt, and thought ‘you know what I’m fine, but I need to walk and drink and eat something’ so I did that, whilst plodding up the hill, and it was the right thing to do, just to get some equilibrium back.

Nearing the Norfolk Arms the crowd got denser, ‘is that the finish ahead?’ I shouted, ‘yes, yes,’ mischievous supporters shouted back, lying, but the interaction was fun.   Less fun when people tell first timers it’s ‘downhill all the way’ from the Norfolk arms, because it really isn’t, but that’s OK if you are in the know…  Then there was the Accelerate team out in force.  Hurrah!  I can’t tell you how good it is to see people you know out en route, it’s amazing.  It’s all the fun of socialising with friends, without any of the pressure or awkwardness of having to maintain a conversation for longer than you have anything interesting to say.  The Accelerate people got some good shots of the atmosphere of the half in general and of woodrun folk in particular.  Incidentally, woodrun folk are not really like woodcraft folk at all, but I can understand why you might think they are,  some of whom had made a real effort to scrub up for the occasion.  I do appreciate it when people put the time in to choose the perfect outfit for such an auspicious day.

I claimed my hug and ran on.  Round the corner onto Sheephill road and SURPRISE!  My London Marathon buddy was in situ, fantastic to see her, clearly another stop for a selfie and hug was called for. Weird to think next time I see her could well be in London. Aaargh.  Very affirming to get that support mid way through my last long run.

The next section is definitely my favourite bit, although you aren’t yet half way round, the hard bit is behind, the views are stunning and there is still support around.   Shout out for North Derbyshire runners who had their official photographer out and about taking photos too.  I opportunistically capitalised on the proximity of that lens too – thanks Robert Scriven for use of these photos.  I’m such a natural in front of the camera.  No wonder I could barely move for paparazzi at the start.  Some great shots of other runners though, I’m liking the political satire. Check out that name label  – who’s riding Donald Trump eh?

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Steel City Striders were out in force, and there were some motivational words for them too, but I don’t think they’d begrudge sharing.  Plus they had their official photographer stuck in a ditch as per usual.  You might think they’d show a bit more respect as he takes some grand photos, but then again, maybe it’s a camouflage thing?

On and on and on.  This section was a bit quieter, quite a lot quieter than in previous years.  I wondered if I was just really slow, but I didn’t feel slow particularly.  Granted I’d stopped for a fair few hellos along the way, but in between I felt I’d run more consistently than the first time I ran this route.  Granted, I possibly pushed myself more then, but I finished with less in the tank also.  I paused for the loo, there was a queue, a couple of pink geared runners ran up behind me ‘we’ve been chasing you since the start as our pacer‘ they said. I was again astonished, I never imagine anyone would find merit in aiming for me, but it was good.  After Dore, there were sections where I felt like I was running pretty much on my own, I couldn’t really see anyone ahead, and wasn’t aware of anyone behind.  I saw one collapsed runner lying on the verge, but St Johns were in attendance, so I jogged on by.  I don’t like seeing that though, you always wonder if they’re going to be OK.

The participants had definitely thinned out by the time I was back on Ecclesall Road, so had the supporters.  However, the upside of this, is that those who were waiting were pleased to interact with me in order to alleviate the boredom whilst hanging around waiting for the people they actually were out to support.  I had some hilarious interactions.  People toasting me with prosecco from outside their houses (which I must admit looked way more fun than doing what I was doing); a queue of children who sprang into an orderly line when I said I couldn’t complete the course if I didn’t get any more high fives, and at one glorious point a band of about 15 or so supporters with huge ‘go go go’ signs.  ‘You’ve got this‘ they shouted as I approached ‘I’ve so got this!’ I echoed back and soon they were all running alongside me, punching the air and shouting ‘you’ve smashed it‘ and other such motivational stages laughing uproariously as they did so.  It was great. Not only did I feel like a celebrity (in a good way) but also it was joyful. It was just playing really, like we don’t get to do nearly enough spontaneously as adults.  A sort of shared understanding of the ridiculousness of it all, and the kindness of strangers. What’s not to like?

It was about this stage I started to believe in myself.  ‘You’re the first giraffe‘ someone shouted, others joined in ‘first giraffe, first giraffe’ in a great chorus of recognition.  I could do this.  Finally, I’d win a category in a running event.  Dreams CAN come true!

Onwards I yomped, there was one moment of shallow irritation.  There is a timed 10k section which is marked out.  About this point, three children aged 8 or so, decided to join in, and ran holding hands in a line in front of me, stop, start, stop start.  I kept having to run round them, and as soon as I overtook,  they sort of leap-frogged round me again, determined to stay ahead of me seemingly, and it was quite tiring.  They were there for ages, until I finally put on what for me was quite a considerable sprint to get away.   A few minutes later a police car pulled up and i overheard a conversation about three missing children.  I froze.  I felt so stupid, I’ve got so used to seeing kids running at junior parkrun it never crossed my mind that maybe three young kids running unaccompanied down the half marathon route wasn’t the best idea.  I stopped to talk to the marshal, but it was fine, they’d picked the kids up and all was well. They’d have had their own mini adventure.  To be fair, although they shouldn’t have run off like that they were being quite sensible staying together, looking after each other and having running fun, just not the best time to do so.

Coming back into Banner Cross and then Hunters’ bar, I was amazed to see Smiley supporters a-plenty still out in force. ‘we were waiting for you’ they called out.  I couldn’t believe it.  I mean, it was practically the next day by the time I was coming back through, but smiley solidarity was still in evidence. Plus new faces of people I’d missed first time round. Smilies are fabulous, there is a lot of support for runners in Sheffield, a legacy of parkrun too I’m sure, but it is quite something to be part of a club that genuinely encourages both ends of the running ability spectrum with vocal enthusiasm.    I felt very lucky.  Can’t see how London crowds will be able to top that. Nothing beats the shout of ‘go smiley’ as you pound a race route.  Even Tilly had waited for me.  Honestly, I don’t think it was just that I was still lead giraffe at this point.

Nearing the city centre once again, there were more opportunities to share greetings as people who’d already finished were now lining the route, supping their non-alcoholic pints, so I had lots of reunions with other runners I’ve not seen in ages as I yomped to the finish.

Coming down the finish line was hilarious.  Even if I have a selection of the most unflattering official race photos ever to hit an in-box in the history of digital photography, I had a glorious finish.  Almost as glorious as the first man and woman across the line.  The officials had mislaid the first giraffe banner apparently.  I won’t bear a grudge.

People whooped me and Geronimo in, and as pretty much everyone else had finished by this point, the announcer was able to call my name and acknowledge Geronimo too as I crossed the finish.  Even better a smiley was on hand to greet me – she’d run with a friend for charity and finished hours before, but it was still lovely to see her as I wandered off to claim my medal and finisher’s tee.  Should have stayed with her really though, they knew how to celebrate another run done!  That’s the after party that might have been …

NF half after party

Medal in hand, I wandered round to baggage drop and then joined the queue to get my medal engraved.  Had a bash at doing my own post race selfie…  ho-hum:

post run selfie sheffield half

I was a bit slower than last time, but happy with the run over all.  Whilst waiting for my engraving I was blessed by the sight of Smiley selfie queen materializing alongside me.  Excellent, guaranteed a decent finish photo that way!  Slightly sinister character lurking in the background aside – is that Darth Vader do you think?

CS smiley after shot with smiley selfie queen

Oh, you want the results of the Sheffield Half Marathon 2018?  For me, that genuinely isn’t the point of running, though I daresay I’d feel differently if I was fighting for a podium place at the front like these guys, every one of them seemingly levitating the whole way round (Photo courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/jamierutherfordphotography):

running for it

Bravo!

I was still definitely first giraffe home though, even if, disappointingly, they haven’t yet updated the results to capture that category.  I may have been fastest African mammal too, but I never did find out what happened to the camel…  also, and I accept this may be a technicality which perhaps the race organisers are having to investigate prior to publishing the final outcomes – it depends whether the camel is deemed to be a dromedary (one hump) or Bactrian (two) as that might dictate the region of origin.  I thought dromedary to be fair, so that is direct competition.  Anyways, according to Wikipedia so it must be true:

The dromedary (C. dromedarius), also known as the Arabian camel, inhabits the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, while the Bactrian (C. bactrianus) inhabits Central Asia, including the historical region of Bactria. The critically endangered wild Bactrian (C. ferus) is found only in remote areas of northwest China and Mongolia. An extinct species of camel[6] in the separate genus Camelops, known as C. hesternus,[7]lived in western North America before humans entered the continent at the end of the Pleistocene.

First giraffe though, for sure, so definitely a win in that category.  Just sayin’

Then it was of course something of an anticlimax.  I was tempted to get a bus home, but actually I couldn’t because the roads were closed due to some stupid running event or other.  Ultimately this was a good thing as it forced me to walk back and it meant I did 18 miles on my feet in the end, which isn’t equivalent to a long run I know, but is a reasonable compromise.  I haven’t got time to squeeze in another long run pre- London anyway.  I was relieved to be traipsing home uninjured – apart from that weird knee thing, where has that come from?

Walking back, I bumped into people who’d cheered me round on course. One woman on Cemetery Road rather sweetly explained she’d been shouting for me, but her husband had missed me, and could they come and say hello to the giraffe!  It’s very sweet.  Geronimo, like Tilly, seems to be able to inspire instant respectful adoration.  Turns out I don’t need to have any social skills, I can just use proximity to a stuffed toy as an ice breaker in all future interactions.  Result. I  mean it might not quite wash in a job interview I suppose, unless it was say an audition for a ventriloquist, but it’s a start.  Perhaps I should start taking her everywhere, like a vegetarian friendly companion emotional therapy animal, only with less chance of having to flush her down the loo if I need to take an international flight say?

And the next day?  Erm, stiff, but not broken.  However, very tired, on a serious note, it is clear I did let myself get really dehydrated.  Still better to learn from that now, than crash out at London in less than a fortnight.  LESS THAN A FORTNIGHT DEAR READER OH MY GIDDY HAT!

Not going to lie, the screaming humiliation of the official race photos was a bit of a downer too.  Oh my gawd – did I really allow myself to go out in public looking like that?  I take some small comfort that this is a phenomenon sufficiently well recognised that there are apparently whole forums dedicated to uploading runners ‘worst ever race photos‘, where we can presumably take solace by howling with empathetic laughter at the shots of other runners who have suffered worse photographic misfortune than ourselves.  Small comfort say I.  Particularly as I thought the majority were relatively innocuous compared to the horrors that found their way into my own inbox.   They may be funny, but inside we’d all secretly prefer to be outed as our own gender equivalent of the ridiculously photogenic running guy, who you may recall ended up as something of a meme a few years back.  How can I rid myself of all my extra chins and chisel my cheek bones between now and London?  Is a water and cayenne pepper fast for the next fortnight compatible with carbing up during my taper?  It’s just Not going to happen is it.  Sometimes there are no words, I’m never going out in daylight again.  Not going to lie, I did weep at the sight of some photos, but then I have to step back from it and recognise that objectively the shot is indeed hilarious.  This isn’t even the worst one, but it does communicate quite well the full horror of the unflattering race photo as you embark on your sprint finish:

Then, for authenticity, in terms of treating this event as a practice run for the London Marathon, post the Sheffield half marathon I got full on post-event blues.  I am probably somewhat guilty of contributory negligence here, because I stumbled across an article by the New York Times on ‘Plodders have a place, but it isn’t a marathon‘ which ironically, I couldn’t even access as it’s pay to view, but of course i had to torture myself by googling the topic and came across much hate filled rhetoric condemning plodders (anyone slower than a 10 minute mile apparently) for clogging up marathons and so debasing such events.  In my rational moments I believe this to be nonsense, I will be slow, but I’ve worked hard to get to London, maybe put even more hours in for training than some of the runners who are fleeter of foot,  because it takes me so darned long to finish those long runs. Even so, it’s horrible to read such toxic negativity.  Especially, when I’m tired from Sheffield and currently cultivating maranoia – that knee niggle is definitely worse now, and I’m sure I’m getting a sore throat too.

For the record though, even elite runners sometimes have to crawl  across the finish line, and if that’s inspirational, which it clearly is, then my shambling efforts should at least be seen as legitimate too!

Michael-Kunyuga crawling into second

Oh well, still going though.  And I’m going to keep on running. Hope you will too! We’ve got this people, nailed it. Totes.

 

Thanks to all the photographers who have generously allowed me to use their photos, I’ve tried to get permission when I know who they are, apologies if I’ve missed you.  Any objections to use of photos then please let me know.

You can enter already for next year 14th April 2019, just saying.

Oh, the Sheffield half-marathon route – blimey, nearly forgot, here you go:

yhms-route-map

Looking for a challenge? Our Asda Foundation Sheffield Half Marathon’s demanding terrain will provide you with just that! Don’t worry it’s well worth your hard work. The course rewards you with spectacular views of the Peak District and various City landmarks.

Starting on Arundel Gate, in the heart of the City Centre, runners are instantly hit with the euphoria that surrounds this fantastic event. Runners then travel down the much loved ‘Eccy’ Road and take in its selection of bars, restaurants and independent shops.

From there on, they are treated to picturesque views of the Peak District, passing Encliffe Park and Sheffield Tigers Rugby Club. Those views are then left behind as the course heads downhill to the outskirts of Dore and back to ‘Eccy’ Road. Eventually reentering the City Centre, runners finish in front of the Town Hall and an adoring crowd!

Naturally, to take advantage of the best of the Peak District’s incredible views, there will be an uphill ‘King of the Hill’ section.

Here is the course profile:  

Profile - YHM

Just gentle undulations really, in Sheffield terms, nothing to fret about, nothing at all!

Thanks photographers, supporters, marshals, race organisers and fellow runners all.

Special thanks to Robert Scriven who has a flickr feed of the Sheffield half as well as a good eye for a shot, some hilarious photos as well as a welcome supportive shout on the way round.  Thanks to Accelerate for sharing their pictures and providing a timely embrace as well.  I’m grateful of course to the numerous smilies (you know who you are) for support as well as photos in this post and others, and thanks too, to the many anonymous others from SCS and elsewhere, the official photographers and last, but by no means least Ian Fearne, Race Image photography, who attends events and provides photos in exchange for an optional, modest donation.  Many of his are inspirational portraits of runners giving their all, and captured at their best.  Some pictures from the Sheffield Half 2018 are here so dig deep and consider donating here  https://www.raceimage.co.uk/donations

 

Categories: half marathon, race, road, running | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Geronimo! Sky’s the limit at the Round Sheffield Run 2017

Digested read: RSR 2017 was fab.  Thank you for asking.  No blisters and knee held up.  My giraffe came too.  Roger couldn’t make it 😦

If you don’t know about the Round Sheffield Run by now, you really should.  The blah de blah from the website explains it as follows, but really it makes it sound way more complicated than it is. Just accept it’s fun, fast becoming a Sheffield trail running institution and sells out quickly.  You snooze you lose.  Alternatively, you could just spend two minutes of your life looking at the fun video of the RSR 2017 event, and you’ll get the idea…

The Round Sheffield Run, trail running enduro is a unique creative “multi-stage” running event following the beautiful Round Sheffield route, a superb running journey linking some of the best trails and parkland. It would be a tough task to find anywhere in the UK that showcases these kind of trails & scenery within its city limits.

 The 11 timed stages make up 20km of the 24.5km route.

 The unique format breaks the route down into stages. Each stage being raced, and competitors receiving both results for each stage as well as a combined overall result.

Between Stages competitors have the opportunity to rest, relax,  and regroup with their friends and refocus before the next stage begins. Competitors are allowed to walk or jog in between stages. The unique concept creates a supportive and unique social vibe.  The race format also opens up the course to all abilities. 

A festival atmosphere at the end with draft ales, tasty food, and great DJ to ensure that everyone can celebrate in style.

So, I expect you have been in an agony of anticipation wondering what happened at the RSR 2017.  Well, may your angst be herewith ended.  I did go.  It was yay.  Roger was in need of veterinary attention however, so in the end I took his sub along as my companion animal for the day.  May I introduce Geronimo Sky:

RSR Geronimo Sky effortless!

This photo is courtesy of RSR by the way, they put loads of pictures up,  available for free on Facebook – but ask that you consider a donation to the fantastic Weston Park Cancer Hospital www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rsr-wpcc-donations which seems fair. Thanks to all the photographers who turned out – I credit all those of you I was able to run down at the bottom of this post.  I can’t run that fast though, so sorry if I’ve missed anyone.

Back to Geronimo Sky.  Isn’t she gorgeous?  She did really well for her debut run.  I’d say the RSR is broadly speaking a giraffe friendly event.  I mean, you’ll understand that it can take a bit of time for running partnerships to develop, but we romped round OK.   She is a female by the way, but don’t worry if it wasn’t immediately obvious to you, giraffes can be quite hard to sex I don’t take offence at gender identification errors.  I was less impressed by the ‘go zebra‘ shout out, though I appreciated the positive (I think) sentiment behind it.  I just think it’s a shame that people aren’t sufficiently educated about the world’s wildlife these days.

Spoiler Alert – Geronimo Sky and I even won our category!  Admittedly, that was my own personal fantasy category for fastest giraffe round. I was actually hoping for fastest animal but those pesky tigers lapped me.  Oh well, at least they didn’t recognise us as prey.   If they’d been african lions it could have ended badly, tigers though, completely different continent, we were fine.  Thanks for your concern.  I hadn’t done a proper risk assessment on the possibility of being predated on the way round, I’m quite relieved I got away with it…. this time.  Next year, I’ll know better.

 

Anyway, I’m jumping ahead, don’t want to cause unnecessary discombobulation to readers who prefer a more straightforward chronology to their race reports.  You might know already that I was a tad apprehensive on Round Sheffield Run 2017 Eve, understandable, but Roger talked me round.  Consequently, as Sunday dawned I’d decided I’d be starting come what may.  My knee might shout in protest, my winded running technique might elicit more pity than respect, but I’d be there.

I woke up insanely early, by accident, but didn’t want to risk falling back to sleep and missing the start.  It was about 5.00 a.m. but on the plus side, plenty of time for porridge and precautionary pees.  Also, it gave me time to apply the learning acquired as a direct consequence of my misjudged RSR recce of a fortnight earlier.  Specifically, I was conscious this length of run might take me perilously close to the chafing zone, so I had the chance to have a bit of a go with experimental chaffing-averting lubing up. This was way harder than anticipated, and more dangerous too. I’ll try to explain, but read on at your own risk.

warning

WARNING the following paragraph might just have a bit too much information, but I’m only thinking of other runners in the future remember?  They might one day see me out running and wonder ‘what was she thinking? how on earth did she come to be doing that?’ (with not at all an incredulous intonation) so I think it’s important I tell my story fearlessly and (mostly) with honesty.  As well as my poorly knee, I got a blister on one of my toes on my recce, I always do over a certain distance on account of my arthritic and bunion bestowed hobbit feet.   I’ve tried every shoe and sock variant known to runners across the world, but to little or no avail. I really need to be able to run in clown shoes, as only they would have big enough toe box, but that wasn’t really an option for a trail race. My clown shoes just don’t have enough grip, they are more for road running I feel, and that’s not my thing at all.   Post my recce run, there were also a few erm ‘hot spots‘ suggesting chafing threat level might rise to ‘critical’ for the event day itself.  It’s the bra area basically.  I don’t care what the running mags tell you, no sports bra keeps your assets absolutely fixed.  You can get away with a certain level of erm, dynamism as you bounce along on a run, but sooner or later, just as the titular princess bothered by a pea under a stack of mattresses in the fairy tale, or Simon’s cat trying to get comfy against the odds in the laundry basket, for me, ultimately any bra is going to chafe once you start to sweat, in my world anyway.  (Don’t be shocked by this revelation, I refuse to believe I’m the only runner ever to have perspired due to the exertion of taking on the roads and trails.)

simons cat washed up

Undeterred, what I decided to do this time, was to reach for the vaseline.  A marathon running buddy had proclaimed the wisdom and effectiveness of this.  I think her approach was sudocrem then vaseline, pretty much everywhere.  I couldn’t remember which way round though, and sudocrem is something of a nightmare to work with.  It has a half-life of 30 gazillion years I think.  Also, in my experience anyway, it has a knack of adhering to every available surface apart from the actual body part to which you are trying to direct it.  I eyed my tub of sudocrem, and decided to just go straight for the vaseline. Good call.

vaseline

So, what followed was a pretty impressive attempt to apply vaseline to all high risk chafing areas.  I started cautiously, but some areas are hard to reach, so I ended up just using an aim and flick technique in the hope of firing globules in the general direction of my back bra strap area as best I could. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t even effective really.  I did get the area covered, but it was hardly a surgically accurate application, more carpet bombing.   A lot of collateral areas affected.  It doesn’t matter particularly, but it did get messy.

Applying vaseline on the feet was more straightforwards, but – and this was another area where I should have paid more attention to my personal health and safety – the vaseline just seeped through my socks effectively greasing the soles of my feet. Whereas normally the soles of my feet provide traction on floors when walking they were now rendered useless in that respect.  It seemed that the entire vicinity of my flat became a high risk skid zone, like I’d inadvertantly created my own personal curling arena.  Every floor I tried to move across seemed to stretch to infinity as cheap laminate and aging lino created a perfect storm of slipperiness when brought into contact to my grease sodden socked feet.   Inexplicably, my landlord hasn’t anticipated this scenario, I must give them a ring, see if I can have some nice engineered hard wood floorboards put down instead, that would be much safer.  There was no time to attend to this on the morning of the race though.  I had to crawl on my hands and knees in order to reach the safety of a carpeted area where I could put on my (non-clown) trail shoes.  It was touch and go for a while there I don’t mind telling you!

The other unanticipated consequence of such comprehensive lubing up, was that loads of vaseline soaked into my hands making them soft and waterproof, but also pretty rubbish as aids to dressing.  Everything I touched just slipped through my fingers, even clothing slid away from me like liquid mercury.  Doing up my bra took many abortive attempts, and at least one major tantrum.  I was on the point of leaving the flat in search of help, but I don’t know my neighbours well enough for that to be an acceptable way to behave. I understand convention requires that first introductions should be around borrowing cups of sugar say, not presenting them with the sight of your naked torso at 6.00 a.m. on a random Sunday morning. Well I say I don’t know my neighbours well enough, more accurately I didn’t back then.  Actually I’ve just got off the phone talking to a very nice woman who works at party-on in Crookes, and it turns out she lives practically next door.  I’m sure she’d help out another time!

Anyway, the important thing is, I got there in the end.  Vaseline was effectively applied in thick enough quantities that I probably had enough protection to take on a channel swim.  Even better, I had successfully wrestled into my running clothing, and my giraffe.  Result!  What’s more, I can report it all paid off.  Not a single hot spot, blister or chafing zone to report either during or post race.  I guess body-glide or whatever might be a less messy way to achieve the same result, but I’m completely sold on vaseline. As soon as I’m finished here I’m ordering a crate load on ebay.  Best be on the safe side.  I imagine I can now look forward to a chafe-free future, who’d have thought it?  What with that and my runderwear, I’m sorted.

And just think, all the time I was wrestling with petroleum jelly, these nice people were up early to catch the bus from Marple!  There’s dedication.  It’s still dark out there, surely?  Must be middle of the night!  I had no idea Marple was so far away!  I know the Snake Pass can take longer than you think to traverse, but even so…

marple runners showing commitment

You’re OK to read on now by the way, lubing strategy descriptions concluded

The next challenge was getting acquainted with Geronimo Sky – what with it being her first outing and everything – and plucking up the courage to leave the safety of my attic flat accompanied by a giraffe.  I know you can’t always tell by looking at me, but honestly I do still have some vague sense of what is considered socially acceptable behaviour and running wear.  Whilst it is huge fun to run in fancy dress, trust me it takes some neck to take that first step out into the big wide world.  You just have to brazen it out ultimately, act ‘normal’ (whilst recognising completely that this is a contested concept and probably an artificial construct too) and stride out avoiding eye contact as far as possible.  Ultimately though, I am still marginally less embarrassed by running with a giraffe (or horse), strapped around my ample midriff, than by running in unforgiving lycra in the raw.  Draw your own conclusions.

Whilst I was doing all this pre-run preparation and faffing, the RSR team (how we love you all) were labouring at the start.  It’s impressive is it not.  (Thanks RSR for these photos – don’t forget to donate people http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rsr-wpcc-donations )

 

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I say everyone was labouring, but clearly some have perfected the art of delegation better than others.  Respect!  I think we all know that Skip is the real power behind the Front Runner show.  The camera cannot lie.

frontrunner hard at it

I decided not to arrive especially early at the start this year.  This event is always extremely well organised, and I didn’t want to have to hang around too long before running when there was no need to.  It was a bit nippy early on and I didn’t want to get cold – perfect temperature for running though.  Unfortunately, I cut it a bit too fine.  I got waylaid on the way down by a super friendly marshal who was incredibly supportive of Geronimo being with me (always a worry that I’ll be disqualified either for having an assisted-run or because I should have put in a team entry, but not so).  Obviously we had to have a chat at the corner of Rustlings Road before I could enter Endcliffe Park.  She promised to look out for me as I ran by, and did (having carefully and cleverly memorised my appearance it seems), waving and cheering me on which was fab. Thank you first of many friendly and encouraging marshals of the day!  Marshals across the course were in position early, setting up and getting ready for a busy morning of high-fiving and sustenance distribution. They were certainly smiling at the start, and when I passed them, so bet their cheeks were aching with all that grinning by the time the final finisher came through.

 

Once in, and aware of the event markers (thanks Robert Scriven for these shots) it sort of dawned on me once again that this sight that normally greets me on parkrunday as the  Saturday 5k course, was actually the gateway to a rather longer challenge today.  24.5k to be precise, that’s around 5 parkruns near enough, which would usually takes me five weeks to get round therefore. Eek.  Perhaps it’s like childbirth? Afterwards you just forget all the painful, bloody and humiliating aspects of it all (so I’m told) and just remember the trophy (baby or running bling, whatever).  On the approach though, I was getting some flashbacks.  I do remember this, curses!

 

I also hadn’t factored in that now there’s an elite start group.   A good idea, the super-speedies go off on their own mass start at 8.30, so they dont have to overtake everyone else on narrow woodland tracks as happened before when they just joined in other later waves.  Upshot was, there was already quite a crowd when I arrived.  In previous years I’ve always been in the first wave (more time to get around) so fewer people had gathered by the time I headed off.  Plus, I had to say hello to loads of fellow smilies, and other familiar faces, which is great, but time-consuming.  Busy, busy, busy!

 

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I’m pleased to say that there were lots of concerned enquiries about the whereabouts of Roger, but general acceptance of Geronimo Sky. That’s what I love about my running club Smiley Paces, a friendly and inclusive bunch. It is about running, but it’s also about chatting, tea and cake (sometimes gin and prosecco) and having a shared run-related laugh whenever the opportunity arises.  Always time for a few pre-race pics too I’m glad to say – though I rarely finish events fast enough to be part of the post-event ones:

 

So it was that pre-race, I ran round with more speed and focus than I managed at any other point in the day, dropping of my bag, picking up my dibber, and joining the mammoth queue for the loo.  The queues were so bad, I missed not only seeing the elite runners head off, but almost my start pen too.  Did get a shot with a lovely backdrop of the Endcliffe park loos though, so that’s a great way to mark the occasion of a new Smiley Paces recruit’s debut run!  Welcome to the Smiley fold my friend.  All will be well!  🙂  By the way, does anyone else think these loos are the opposite of the tardis?  You know, the building looks huge, but really, just one cubicle lurking behind each door.  I really must learn to keep my legs crossed for longer, dread to think how many hours of my life have been lost to me waiting in line for a pee.

CS loo shot

Although I missed the first wave heading off, fortunately the paparazzi were on hand to capture the scene.  The elite runners must be a feisty lot, because it seems they were most definitely herded into cages under quite close supervision, and then released one at a time to run free in the wild.  I think it was sensible to send them off first, unimpeded by the masses.   They fair whizzed round.  Seriously, this did work, in previous years I’ve always had a few speedier runners struggling to pass,, and much as I do always try to give way, at parts of the trail it is genuinely impossible to dodge to the side.  This time although of course I did get overtaken (a lot) I didn’t feel I was in the way ever, which made a pleasing change. (Photos courtesy of RSR Ben Lumley and Martin James this time).

 

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I scrambled into the back of my start pen just in time to find a fellow Smiley to yomp away with.  She’s ducked behind another runner so as not to be seen in public with me in the photo below, but don’t worry, she couldn’t keep that up the whole way round, she’ll get outed soon enough!  Geronimo Sky couldn’t wait to start yomping.  It boded well.  I hope the guy just ahead who was hopping the whole course got round ok.  Ambitious, but you have to respect everyone’s right to participate in their own way.  The RSR is a bit like parkun in that respect.

RSR6 underway

Plenty of Smiley Paces were out and about today.  Some running with more focus than others.  See if you can spot the Smiley phoning ahead for a pizza so it would be waiting for her at the finish (it was quite a big queue, so that was smart) or possibly for her forgotten inhaler, I forget which.  Look on in awe at the Porter Plodder showing the grim determination of a man who has forgotten his phone, so will have to just run very fast to get to the front of the pizza queue ahead of the crowd instead.   We all have our unique approaches to getting underway.  All are valid. Don’t judge.  You may see mayhem, whereas what’s actually happening is race-technique in action. Look and learn.  You have to pace yourself properly if you are going to save something for the 0.4km sprint finish at the end!

 

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In all the excitement, I forgot to start my tomtom,  curses, not on strava, didn’t happen, thems the rules – whatever my legs are telling me.  I did realise after a bit, but still feel cheated. My Isle of Wight map is incomplete.  Sigh.

 

Never mind, worse things happen at the seaside!  (Long story).  Main thing, we were awf.  Even better, I was even running when the first stealth photographer of the day was in evidence (thanks Robert Scriven), he was actually stalking North Derbyshire Running Club, but pleasingly I was able to gatecrash their photo shoot. Job done.  It might not be on strava, but a photo never lies!   A key part of running in organised events is the ‘ooh, I’ve seen the photographer‘ pose.  It becomes a reflex over time as evidenced here.

 

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I think now would be a good time to remark on the jolly and supportive camaraderie that exists within running clubs everywhere.  So let’s have a shout out for North Derbyshire Running Club.  The action unfolded behind me but I’m really sure that what I overheard was someone being prevented from a near fall into the Endcliffe lake and early race dunking, and not at all someone being hilariously thrust waterwards as part of a merry (but high risk) jape.  Great team work NDRC.  Impressed.  It’s what it’s all about, looking after each other on those long and lonely trails!

 

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So there we go, race underway ready or not.  As in previous years, it all becomes a bit of a blur.  Although not officially in a pair, I yomped alongside a fellow smiley for a lot of the first few sections which was companionable.  (Sorry if I talked too much, but you got away from me in the end, so well done.)

The big thing about this event is that it’s set up to be highly social, more so if you are slow and people overtake you, and more so squared if you have a giraffe apparently.  People like giraffes I’m pleased to say.  Whilst some commented on the sheer neck required to bring one along with me on the trails, personally I always appreciate a good giraffe related pun  so that was fine and dandy.  For the most part people were friendly and encouraging, actually, not just for the most part, I’d say EVERYONE was friendly and encouraging, this event oozes goodwill, you practically have to wade through some of the pools of positivity in parts.  I was worried Geronimo might be a bit flighty, but she was fine.  I think when she finishes her racing career maybe she could retire and do that ‘pets as therapy’ thing. You know, when animals go round old people’s homes and the like for people to stroke and adore.  Quite a few people spontaneously reached out for a quick cuddle as they passed, it was nice.  She did feel a bit like public property though, I wonder if that is what people mean when they say people touch their pregnancy bumps uninvited.  I didn’t mind, because, well because she’s a giraffe, and people weren’t touching my stomach, they were stroking her head, and running on refreshed by her magical restorative powers apparently.  Much as I love Roger, it was also quite nice not to have a single person shout ‘go camel woman‘ at me all day.  Geronimo seems to have no such outward ambiguity relating to either her personal identity or all round loveliness, so that’s good.  Special shout out now to those who took time to admire her during the day:

 

Back to details,  hopefully you know by now the blah de blah of this event, it’s broken down into ‘epic stages‘ they each have their own unique selling point.  Personally I was only ever going to walk up some of those really steep uphill bits, but you’ve got to enjoy whizzing down Limb Valley shouting wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee all the way.  Remember to follow the green cross code at the roads, and miss a dib at your peril (friendly marshals will remind and assist).  There were some stealth photographers out and about this time, so some new takes on the classic route shots.

 

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I’m not doing a stage by stage debrief this time (no, no, don’t beg me, it diminishes us both), rather some key observations for your edification and perhaps merriment?  Oh and here’s an aide memoire of the stages for those of you with the necessary 20 20 vision that will enable you to decipher it.  Or you could try just the ‘control’ and + key instead, that works.  Don’t try control/alt/delete, that doesn’t.  Also, on balance, don’t take IT advice from me on any matter at all, it will definitely invalidate any computer-related insurance policies you have to hand.  Just so you know.

stages

The course is extremely well signed and marshaled.  A particular innovation is the inclusion of extra markers that are large crosses that are positioned to indicate where you should not go because it is the WRONG WAY!  These are designed to look like the sort of warning signs that you might reasonably expect to be positioned to keep you away from say radioactive waste, think of the no-go zones in the post Chernobyl apocalyptic woodlands and you get the idea.  No possibility for navigational error on the whole. However, I was briefly confused in Ecclesall Woods as I saw little figures in fluorescent yellow lycra popping up and down on some unexpected woodland trajectory.  Turns out each was seeking their own personal unofficial pee point, lucky I didn’t go yomping behind any of them and interrupt their flow.  I managed without having to nip behind a bush this year.  I must have either been dehydrated or perhaps my bladder control is improving.  I don’t think I wet myself on the way round which is the other possible explanation. I like to think I’d have remembered that.  Then again, it is all a bit of a blur…

One sighting worth mentioning was that of the awesome guy who actually marshaled last year, but this year was offering his services as a water carrier.  He was basically doing a series of shuttles run with a plastic jug full of water from his house, and offering it to passing runners so they could replenish water bottles if they wished. His house was just at the point you take the narrow path into I think Chancet Woods – or was it Graves?  Doesn’t matter, point is, he was there, a founder member of Striders we are told, still supporting runners, and a great ambassador for the benefits of keeping engaged and active for sure.  I didn’t pose for a photo – he was busy with his water patrol, but others did.  Look, smiles all round.

 

In more serious mode, to be true to my own integrity I do have to make one negative observation about the day.  Though I hope it will be recognised as constructive criticism.  Generally, I  don’t like to say anything bad about this event because overall it is completely glorious and takes on board feedback annually so it can continue to evolve into ever more spectacular reincarnations of itself year on year.  However, and I will say this only once, I couldn’t help noticing that I did suggest last year that mandatory fancy dress would improve the event massively and yet …. this didn’t happen!  Serious miscalculation.   I was pretty devastated to be fair.   I had naturally assumed that once this blindingly obvious suggestion for improvement had been pointed out it would be speedily implemented.  Well, disappointingly, apparently not.  I’ll try not to dwell on it, but, well, you know…  If the FRA can have mandatory kit for their fell race series, it shouldn’t be beyond the collective wit and wisdom of kandoo events to to sort out some sort of similar expectation for the RSR.

There was one bridal/hen party it’s true.  But there were only a couple of superheroes out and about.  I’m sure the quota should be more for this type of event – there were definitely more around in 2016 – I can only assume most entrants didn’t get the memo this time. There’s always next year though, so I’m going to try to keep it positive.  Point made.  (The photographers, marshals and organisers are all super heroes of course, but they don’t always reveal their identity as they move among us – notable exceptions aside…. )  Those aren’t detachable nipples by the way, well I don’t think so anyway, I assume them to be those magnets you can get to secure your number.  Some questions are best left unanswered as we all know.

 

A particular highlight for me was heading down through Meersbrook park.  Two reasons.  Three if you count the fact you get to run down a hill.  Firstly, I caught up (briefly) with some fellow smilies and we were able to take time out to do some group smiley shots.  You’ve got to love a trail event where this is recognised as a quite legitimate mid-race activity.

Meersbrook high jinks

Second reason, it was in Meersbrook (though it is all a bit of a blur, maybe it was later on in Chelsea park – somewhere with a down hill though), where there was a particularly excited and appreciative gathering of children who screamed in delight at the sight of Geronimo Sky and I strutting our funky stuff (ish) on the trails.  I took up the proffered high fives as they stood jumping up and down on a conveniently located bench.

RSR5 best support team ever

As I ran off I could hear them screaming behind me ‘Gooooooooooooo Lucy Giraffe!‘ it resonated behind me, seemingly bouncing of the hill and fair ringing in my ears as I sped (ish)  away.  It was fairly cool I don’t mind admitting.  It was pretty much identical to being Jeremy Corbyn at Glastonbury I reckon, hearing the rousing chorus of ‘gooooooooooo Jeremy Corbyn‘ and finding it both affirming and puzzling in equal measure.  I’m not going to lie though, it felt good!

The trails were pretty dry on the whole, but still sticky in some of the muddy woodland parts.  Loose gravel on the dry down hill sections was a bit of a hazard too.   I saw more people take a tumble this year, some quite nasty falls.  I don’t know if that’s because it was a faster course and people took more risks, or whether people thought they’d get away with road shoes and frankly didn’t.  Personally, on a serious note, I think this route does require trail shoes, I wouldn’t dream of doing it in roads, but then I’m quite cautious.  Oh, and also quite unbalanced,   (no quipping please, and stop sniggering at the back), hence risk averse.  Good grief, I’ve already explained about barely managing to remain upright whilst manoeuvering around my own flat – albeit due to my vaseline smeared stocking feet having to negotiate lino – (it’s hard – have you never seen total wipeout?)  – in the face of such evidence, I think I can safely rest my case with respect to my ability to remain upright for extended periods of time.

Well done though to the fallen who fell down, but got up again, albeit not in quite such spectacular fashion as bus collision survival man but kudos to you all.  Bloodied but unbowed.  Ouchy but heroic.  Smiling on through.  Awesome, always!  And you made it round so secured your bling too.  Job done!  Don’t know why, but looking at these photos makes me think detachable nipples might be quite a handy adaptation for running comfort.  I wonder if that is yet a thing?

 

In other reflections, it’s worth noting that one hilarious aspect of the recovery stages, is that for many of the more urban sections (apart from the horrific Stage 10 which I choose to erase from my mind every year) you are not only allowed to be walking, but it makes sense strategically to do so. Thus, bemused passers-by must think this is the slowest, tardiest, crappiest bunch of over a thousand runners they’ve ever seen racing.  One couple did stop us to ask what we were doing, but it’s hard enough to explain the concept of the RSR to people who actually run regularly.  I left Regal Smiley to interpret. She trotted to catch us up having done her best to convey what we were up too –  stating that she was pretty confident she’d left them with the impression it was a 13 plus mile charity walk, for some previously unheard of fund-raising initiative or other. Oh well.  Their interest was benign and the explanation close enough in a not-like-what-we-were-doing-at-all sort of way!  Still, a bit of mystery in the world is what makes life interesting.  Oh, and in other walking news, as I was walking a road section in stage 10, another cheery runner romped by waving enthusiastically – shouting out to me that we’d met at Southwark parkrun back in April!  How pleasing is that?  What a small running world it is.  Should you be reading this, hello again, sorry I was too breathless and disorientated at the time to be appropriately communicative at the time.  Fret not though, some might see that as a blessing, and it was fab to see you again.  Apart from me being caught walking in a running section, but I am seriously unimpressed by that bit, it’s hard.  You on the other hand were flying, running gazelle like ahead and waving supportively too.   I am in awe.

So we the great migrating mass of runners and walk/runners and bumble-rounders continued on our way.  The photos suggest some achieved a more elegant running look than others, but we all did the same distance in our own unique ways.  Aren’t Barnsley Harriers lovely by the way?

 

Now might also be a good time to point out I have my own awards system.  Here therefore are my chosen winners for the ‘seen the camera-guy heel click jumping award‘, and also the ‘stealth photo-bomb prize‘. There is also a ‘making it uncessarily hard‘ award, (it’s easy to get carried away by the sense of occassion I know) –  and one for ‘team solidarity to the finish line!  Congratulations everyone. Sorry there is no actual prize, only the glory of having your efforts acknowledged in a blog post no-one will ever read.  Maybe not even you.  Oh well, you won’t be the first unsung heroes to have walked the earth, and your efforts were not invisible to me.  🙂

 

Towards the end of the route there is the bit where you wander down through Hunters Bar and back to the park.  This is a good social part, as lots of people are up for a chat since the end is in sight, and most are saving their energy for the final sprint.  I got some more high-fives from a group of children on the wall at the entrance to the park, and then you have to dib in for the final stage.  Here, a marshal sat in his own personal collapsible chair was ‘motivating’ runners with tales of his best time for a 0.4km sprint giving them a time to beat. Honestly, I didn’t have that much of a sprint in me, so stuck with a sedate meander, up to the hedge (which hides you from the crowd) and then picked up a bit of (relative) speed as I cornered it coming into view myself whilst seeing  both the finish and the supporting crowds proclaiming the end.

It was good fun seeing people you know lining the finish funnel, also clearly I lack focus, as I had to stop and wave at people aplenty in preference to actually running home.  I was having so much fun out there I guess I just didn’t want it to end!  At least Geronimo Sky was looking where we going, so we finished safely.  Yay.

RSR getting distracted on the way in

The finish photos are fab by the way.  Grinning runners euphoric at coming home.  Some people were joined at the end by family members or supportive friends running them in; other club teams stormed to the finish holding hands in an ‘all for one and one for all‘ sort of way –  it warmed the cockles of the hardest of hearts to behold it all I’m sure.

 

What we will go through for a bit of bling eh?

RSR medaling

So, then it ends.  Almost suddenly.  Bling is offered up, you join a short queue to have your dibber dibbed for one last time, and you get an instantaneous print out of all your segment times.  Pleasingly, because only 20km of the route is actually timed, even though (taking my case as an example) you’ve been out on the Round Sheffield route for about 3 days, the dibber recorded time knocks off loads of sections, so you end up feeling you have run the course at super human speed.  It’s very heartening.  Less heartening is that the same print out also gives your current position, which as it’s done in real-time, means inevitably at that point in time it will tell you that you are in position one squillionth out of one squillion runners, which is a tad demotivating.  Maybe not if you are first home, then you’d be one of one – but still currently last actually, now I come to think of it.  Actually, on reflection, maybe it isn’t?  Maybe they know how many people have set out and the first person home gets a print out saying they are first out of a squillion, maybe I really was one squillionth finisher out of one squillion, and the results processing system just made a calculation that I’d still be slower than everyone else yet to finish because they’d started after me.  Oh well.  I can’t go and check my slip now as I spilt coffee over it (I know, waste of a good latte) and it isn’t really readable anymore.  Perhaps that’s a blessing!

Fortunately, this event really isn’t about placings, well not for me anyway.  Enormous respect and kudos to those who storm round at vomit-inducing and leg-cramping speeds on fearless trajectories to win their categories, or achieve new pbs.  For the record, we had some awesome Smilies who left laden with prizes at the end of the day. Can’t really say I contributed to the club triumph other than by keeping out of their way, but so proud to see them wearing the Smiley vests in the winners enclosure.  Go Smilies!

 

So race done, just a matter of queueing up for your goodie bag (wotzits, banana, water and trek bar); reclaiming your bag, and weighing up which queue to join. I opted for coffee (proper coffee, hurrah).  There was loads around though, bar, pizza, EPIC cafe of course.  Straw bales a plenty. Also deck chairs for the brave and supple otherwise surely a poor choice to sit in one of those if you’d just been running.  How on earth would you ever get up again without outside assistance?  This sort of seemingly impromptu running festival atmosphere is a massive draw of the RSR.  There were too many people to catch up with everyone, but it was just lovely and chilled to join in the general lingering and milling about. The organisers even laid on cool air for the morning, their attention to detail also including delivering some restorative cooling drizzle for the main run, and then hot rays of sun for the afternoon of loitering and lounging about.  Impressive.

So here are some of the many taking it all in.  If you were there you’ll know how much fun it was, if you weren’t, look what you missed!  These are more RSR official snaps by the way.  It’s not too late to donate to the cause if you, like me, appreciate them.  https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rsr-wpcc-donations

 

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The pizza queue was tempting, but huge, so instead I opted to join a Smiley enclave around the physio tent.  We took it in turns to lie out on slabs like the freshly deceased, and allowed the team from The White House Physiotherapy Clinic, to wok their mysterious magic with their healing hands.  All for a suggested donation of £10 which is an absolute bargain for having the ability to walk once again restored to you.    It fair feels like they have a super power.  I’m not going to lie, the massage did hurt, but then it weirdly magically feels better.  Some bits didn’t hurt and just felt great.   Thank you Ric.  I’m still not sure if he was entirely joking when he said that sports massage is a massive smoke and mirrors kind of deception. The process of being massaged is so painful that when they stop you think you are healed whereas actually they’ve just ceased inflicting unecessary pain on you and you are the same as you were at the outset.  You confuse the stoppage of pain brought about by the massage being finished with being miraculously cured.  I don’t care if it is a massive con trick to be honest, as I felt great afterwards.  Even the day after I briefly felt ‘completely fine’ until I was faced with the four flights of stairs I am required to negotiate to exit my flat.  Still would recommend though. Felt great.  And that’s another fine thing about the RSR, it’s not every event when you can have a lie down and a massage at the end.  Heaven!

RSR and finally

So that was that.  All done and dusted for another year.  Back to another 12 months of eager anticipation, still, the build up is all part of the fun is it not.  So hopefully see you same time next year.  Mandatory fancy dress for 2018 remember.

In the meantime thanks to everyone who made it so.  Organisers; fellow runners; marshals; supporters; photographers; sponsors; the weather gods; Smiley compatriots and the good folk of Sheffield too.  We are so lucky to have this on our doorstep.  Long may it continue.

Oh, and in case you do care about the full results for the RSR 2017 they are here

*This post is work in progress, any objections to use of photos or content, please let me know. Let’s stay happy!*

RSR aerial view

Closing Photo Credits:

And to help you out with the browsing the post race photos experience thanks to the following for turning out, taking fab photos and sharing freely afterwards:

Incidentally, it was nice to see some photographers got to be positioned the other side of the lens on the day.  Hurrah!

 

Oh and special thanks to the genius behind the RSR.  Good job! Those aren’t knitting he’s holding needles by the way, that would be silly.  Note the RSR logo on the side of the tinted windowed support vehicle.  You’re welcome.

RSR power behind the run

And if you want to relive other years of the RSR, you can find all my posts here – scroll down for older entries.  Don’t have nightmares

panorama

 

 

Oh, and let’s not make reference to the cows, but we can be quietly grateful to Edale Mountain Rescue all the same.  All’s well that ends well.

 

Categories: half marathon, off road, race, running | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Well that was intense… First Half-Marathon

Spoiler alert.  I did it.  Yay me.

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So if that’s all you want to know, you don’t need to read on.  However, if you are seeking a minute by minute account of the day, quite possibly in real time (and bearing in mind I’m a plodder not a runner), feel free to read on at your own risk.  Nobody is making you continue with this post, it is a choice you are quite at liberty to make, no-one will judge you.  But, if you are curious enough to stick with me, personally I’d get a mug of tea or something first, as I think this will be a long one, even by my standards.  You have been warned.

So, inevitably, the night before the race – that critical time when you need to get the proverbial ‘good night’s sleep’ – I tossed and turned in between: waking up to go to the loo, getting up again to replenish liquid lost with glasses of water, and lying awake blinking at the ceiling.  I did all of those things several time.  It did not make for a restful night.  I felt like I didn’t sleep at all, but of course I did, surrendering to a deep, deep slumber minutes before the first of my alarms screamed me into consciousness about 6.00 a.m.. Wow, that was literally and metaphorically alarming, but worked.  It was really cold, even looked like a frost outside, and despite the gnawing fear that gripped me, I found I was really quite excited, and/or scared.  It is surprisingly hard to differentiate between these two states I find.  My arm out of the window test suggested a very cold, crisp morning, but the sun emerging also promised a glorious day.  Bring it on.

The early alarm was so that I could have a coffee and my porridge breakfast, hours before the race, and also to coincide with the early morning drama on Radio 4 Extra, (which was the L-shaped room thank you for asking).  Despite having decided on exactly what I would eat and wear before hand, it is amazing how mind games creep in.  Maybe liquidised kale, linseed, dishwater and beetroot juice together with a coffee enema would be a better bet after all?  I’m sure I’ve read that on-line somewhere…  Fortunately, my dip in confidence and self-belief about my plans was massively outweighed by the effort involved in having to do anything differently.  Plus my cupboards hold basically porridge as a breakfast option, so I did stick with my original dietary plan.   I drank loads of water though, but then I always do.

I was very worried about chaffing.  I always am.  I have a theory that; if my skin isn’t completely dry before dressing; something, somewhere will rub.  I therefore decided against a morning shower (I’d washed my hair and had a bath last night anyway, so pretty squeaky clean anyway), in favour of just doing my necessaries with a bit of a splash and soap.  Inexplicably,  I don’t have a standing army of eunuchs (or indeed minions) on hand with specially warmed, fluffy white towels to perfectly dry me after bathing and before dusting me with fine powder applied with dove wings.  If I did, I might have made different decisions, but (top tip alert) you have to work within the resources that are available to you, even if that means the occasional compromise.  As it was I had to make do with my usual (for me) weird rituals like blow drying my feet with a hair drier prior to putting my socks on.  Works for me.  I did have a last minute panic about whether my new socks were in fact thick enough.  In the end I did put some blister plasters on my heels, but I think that was paranoia.

Despite having laid my kit out a couple of days before, I still had some unexpected issues arising.  Specifically, turns out that my fudgy wudgy’s (I wonder how the grammar police are coping with that apostrophe), whilst they do fit in my sleeve pocket, are quite hard and very rustly – as in rustling a lot due to their packaging.  It is an annoying noise, but more seriously a chaffing risk.  Could it be I was at risk of being the only participant in the Plusnet Yorkshire Half Marathon in Sheffield to have to withdraw due to a fudge related injury?  Not the claim to fame I was aiming for to be honest…  I decided to risk it anyway.  My poorly knee was also trying to attract my attention, but it seems that it is true that adrenalin (that’s another word for ‘panic’) does indeed distract you, and I was so fretting about every other little detail that I wasn’t overly worried about it.  More worried about ‘other little details’ such as inadequate training, not having walked let alone run for over a week, never having done a half marathon before, and things like that.  I did find time for a moody portrait of me and Roger.  See what I’ve done with the mirror there?  Clever, eh?  NO, not pretentious, inspired.  Takes a fellow artist to appreciate it.

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I was also worried about whether the buses would be running as normal, it being Sunday, and city centre roads being closed for the half, so I ventured out ridiculously early to the bus stop.  I did feel self conscious in my fleece, trainers, and with Roger slung over my shoulder.  It was nippy but sunny out.  The roads were deserted, but a bus was supposed to be coming according to the timetable.  I was relieved when another woman turned up, and then a bit later a man in running gear resplendent with his number. He was slightly breathless, turns out the bus he’d intended to catch doesn’t run on a Sunday, so he’d had a one mile sprint to get to this stop.  Not quite the warm up routine he’d planned for the day.

The bus came, and boarding it became apparent that this was like a shuttle bus for athletes.  (I use the term loosely in reference to myself).  Plenty of race numbers in evidence, and luminous trainers together with the giddy aroma of deep heat.  At every subsequent stop other runners boarded.  It was quite exciting.  Some looked even less likely completers than me… until it dawned on me that the ones with crutches were actually boarding from outside the Hallamshire Hospital and so possibly had different objectives for how they were intending to spend their day.  It was fun though.  Definitely a growing sense of occasion.  This is real, the day has come, we are actually going to do this, all of us, in our own way!  There was a moment of rising collective panic when the bus deviated from its usual route, and everyone started looking around at each other anxiously.  A more assertive American woman had a discussion with the driver about where the drop off would be, and a few stops later we all disembarked, a bit off from where we expected to be, but a short walk to the start.  It was weird.  The only other people around were runners.  The city looked beautiful.

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I was really early, but didn’t know quite what to do.  I decided to get my bearings, and wandered around for a bit.  I found the baggage drop, signage for various starting points, the charity village (something of an overstatement but I get their point).  Toilets, I decided to postpone my precautionary pee until the last possible moment.  I also was reassured to see an abundance of water, as well as plenty of marshals and volunteers.  Good oh, bodes well.

I didn’t really want to take off my fleece too soon either.  So sort of soaked up the ambience.  Mostly people looked like ‘proper runners’ (no, I don’t really know what that means any more) but I was relieved to see some busy bees so I wasn’t the only member of the fancy dress contingent.

After a bit, I squashed everything in my backpack, strapped on Roger, and, after depositing my backpack with lovely friendly people at baggage drop, headed off to the Peace Gardens which seemed to be the hub of the action.  Despite the cold nip in the air, it was warm in the sunshine, and I was getting into the whole experience a bit more by now.  I was delighted and amused by some of the event innovations. Specifically, the buckets of safety pins in evidence.  Also very visible, but for no apparent reason, was a large pink cut out cow (also en route – nope, absolutely no idea why) and some similarly unexpected, but very delightful bright pink ducks. They had taken over some of the fountains like a particularly successful invasive species.  You couldn’t fail to be impressed by them, but really, should they be there?  I feel the same about the parakeets in Bushy park.

There was one potentially awkward moment, when one of the plusnet marketeers tried to give me one of those pink oblong balloony things that spectators wave and bang together as runners pass by.  I had to explain about being an actual participant, though to save his blushes I did concede I wasn’t an obvious contender.  I took one anyway.  I’m glad I did.  I now know from their packaging that these are in fact called ‘Noise Sticks’, and the wrapper includes instructions for their use, and indeed re-use. If I can be bothered I may take a photo of this later, because it pleases me.  Did you know for example that they are to be inflated with straw that is supplied especially for this purpose?  No?  Me neither.

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More positively, I was stopped by a photographer who encouraged me to pose for shots, I’m guessing I was the first pony he’d seen that day, and with the Grand National still in people’s minds from the day before perhaps there is a topical reference.  I have no idea who he was.  Therefore, whether I will see these pictures or not ever is debateable, but it was fun to think that Roger was getting the reception he deserves.  Shortly afterwards, at long last, some friendly faces!  My endurer buddies.  I couldn’t have been happier to see anyone.  They are a really supportive crew, and collectively they have physically carried me round obstacles at not one, but two successive Endurer Dashes, for which I am eternally grateful.  As we whooped in acknowledgement and took some snaps, it was brilliant, I started to relax into the idea of it all a bit more.   They reminded me that this would be basically easy, because you wouldn’t be expected to climb over anything, crawl under or through anything, nor jump off anything.  They had a point.  It’d be fine…  I can’t find a photo of all of them together, but here are some, aren’t they lovely?   Thank you guys, you are AWESOME and ninja, as are we all:

So after mutual greeting of these guys and others.  Hello Rustlings Runners Founding member, great lift to spirits to see you too.  I decided to head off for that precautionary pee.  Oh dear, talk about queues.  They were insane.  Why so few cubicles I just don’t know, but pretty poor provision I thought.  Never mind, there was still half an hour to go.  I picked a queue where I could stand in sunshine, and got chatting to another runner who was encouraging.  We had a good natter, so that made the time pass, thanks Charlie – hope you got the result you hoped for.  It was a bit ‘Deal or No Deal’ wondering which of the four boxes would vacate first, but one did eventually.  Roger wasn’t altogether an asset in the portaloo to be honest, but we managed.

From there I joined the crowds milling at the collection point.  There were some marshals standing in the yellow zone where we were supposed to be assembling.  I went to ask them which way the runners would head out, but they confidently said in unison ‘absolutely no idea‘. They then both speculated the various options, reaching no obvious let along definitive conclusion.  It reminded me of that riddle where you ask two gate keepers which door to go through, and one always lies, and the other always tells the truth.  I could question as much as I wanted, but the logical processes defeated me, so I just shared a laugh and then melted back into the crowd.

Lots of hanging around on the cobbles now.  Some pacers appeared, lots of Striders, none of whom would be pacing slow enough for me, but impressive scope of times though, and I understand they all did good.  I will shortly be moving into the realms of photos begged, borrowed or lifted from others, so thanks to all who’ve let me use them.  This is Dan Lilley’s work:

DL steel city striders

After a bit, music started, and a muffled commentary boomed out from somewhere or other.  With 10 minutes to go an earnest looking gym instructor clambered on to a raised platform and started clapping her arms, and whooping, and I realised to my absolute horror we were being expected to do a communal warm up!  In theory of course a warm up is a brilliant idea, but frankly this was looking less ‘warm up’ and more ‘work out’ potentially crossing over into ‘burn out’.  I did a bit of half-hearted waving, but drew the line at joining in with squats.  I found myself gravitating towards two silver foxes – let’s say ‘senior men runners’ one of whom I overheard saying to the other ‘it’s alright for her, she can go and have a coffee and cake afterwards, whereas we’ve all got to go and run over 13 miles!‘  I felt a silent kinship with them.  Then joined in.  ‘I thought we were allowed to taper before the event?’ They were really helpful, being more experienced runners than me.  ‘Actually, you not only taper before the event, you are supposed to rest afterwards, so if you enter enough races you never have to make yourself go out and run at all in between, just once out every fortnight and you’re done!’  Or words to that effect.  These people are part of my tribe.  I thought.  I felt better for shunning her efforts.  Elsewhere, photographers were also catching candid shots of the lead up to off.  These ones are Ian Fearn, Finish Line photography.  Thanks Ian :-).

IF Finish Line pre startIF Finish line spectators

Mercifully, the clock hands moved onwards, and we started to gravitate towards the start.  The crowds got denser, and the sense of expectation grew.  The tension was tangible.  We could hear a commentator giving a rousing build up, but through the echoey streets where we were mustering couldn’t really make out what was being said.  We could however make out the count down.   From Ten, Nine, Eight – I won’t list all the numbers, as I’m going to put my neck out and reckon you can count down from Ten – and eventually GO!  I think the honey monster is also a fancy dress outfit, rather than a stray from a Fathers for Justice protest demonstration taking place on the same day, but how can you tell?

IF Finish line start

Can you see me in the line up?  I’ll give you a clue.  No.  Because at this point, where I was we were so far back that basically nothing at all happened.  There was a pause, then a gradual shuffle forwards.  As we approached the start, some keener souls put on a bit of a jog, but I held back, I wasn’t moving faster than a shuffle for anyone until my chip was activated. Teasingly though, the commentator was calling out for people to ‘high five Harry as you pass‘.  Now, regular readers will know that Harry Gration (BBC news presenter for Look North, though I really can’t believe I needed to explain that – the man is a LEGEND!) is basically my secret celebrity crush.  I can’t explain it, he probably wouldn’t be flattered if I gave my reasons why.  It’s sort of because of how he endures. He turns out for the Percy Pud year in year out, and does his epic sponsored 3-legged walks, looking a wreck, but smiling through it.  You have to admire that.  This was my big chance to get up close and personal with The Harry Gration. That high five was within reach.  I manoeuvred myself into position at the right hand side of the throng, and heart in my mouth reached upward and…

Harry Gration Star video

 I DID IT, I made contact.  I can die happy.  I began my first ever marathon with a high five from Harry Gration.   The shot above is stolen from The Sheffield Star video of the sheffield half marathon day, I don’t think they’ll mind too much.  Anyway, back to me.  I think this contact makes me practically a Look North sponsored athlete, well, I’m not sure the BBC are allowed to do sponsorship, but at the very least I must now be an endorsed one, surely?  I am so proud.  The fact that three strides after starting, my half-marathon was nearly ended by a collision with a minion is neither here nor there.  I’d made it over the start line, nothing else would matter for the rest of the day!  To be fair, it was quite a large minion, so more of an obstruction than you might think.  These photos are from Tim Dennell by the way, thank you!

So, under way.  Eeek.  I couldn’t really believe I’d got to this point.  I still had no idea if I was going to get all the way round, but I was going to give it a go.  I started off really slowly.  It was immediately hard.  The start isn’t the most scenic bit of Sheffield.  It was very urban, very roady – because it is essentially a road race after all – and although the crowds were impressive it was a little disorientating and unsettling.  I sort of loped onwards wondering how the day would unfold.  It wasn’t too crowded, and I was glad I was far back in the line up so I didn’t have a sense of a crush that I sometimes get at some of the more competitive parkruns.  The turning point for me though was at Waitrose.  Not in the way you might expect.  I mean I appreciate for many Waitrose is indeed a shopping wonderland, but that isn’t the point.  There were loads of people outside, cheering the runners by.  At least I think that’s what their placards were about.  I presume it was not an improvised plea for assistance because they’d found themselves trapped inside the store car park following unexpected road closures.  These being put into place whilst they’d just nipped in to get some organic mung beans or ironing water (they really do) from the ‘Waitrose Essentials‘ range or whatever, and so caught unawares…

Anyway, I digress (unusually), what happened next was I saw them!  I didn’t think anything could top my moment of snatched  intimacy with Mr Gration but it could.  I spied Smileys!  Out in force, supporters with placards and cheers and broad smiles.  It was FANTASTIC!  Also only the beginning of the tsunami of support all the way round!  Thank you – you made me go faster!  Well, maybe not faster, but further, definitely…

It was sensory overload from then on.  Everyone running will have had their own experiences of the day.  For me though, it was just awesome.  I know it’s really boring and trite when other runners say meaningless clichéd things like ‘if I can do it anyone can‘ or ‘the crowds are amazing and they will carry you along‘ but guess what?  It turns out these statements are actually true!  It was pretty much a wall of noise turning up into Ecclesall road.  I also realised that Roger was turning quite a few heads!  Fancy dress is the best idea ever.  People do respond, I don’t flatter myself they are relating to me because of my irresistible personality and legendary communication skills (thankfully), but a cuddlesome pony?  Well, that’s another thing altogether.  Lots of shout outs with quips including ‘the Grand National was yesterday‘ and ‘that’s cheating‘ but also real delight from some of the children spectating.  I wasn’t over-keen on the ‘donkey-woman‘ and ‘why is she riding a camel?‘ comments, but you have to take the rough with the smooth.  It did mean I got extra claps and cheers going round, which must have been quite annoying for anyone running along with me, but top tip for next time guys, get yourself an outfit before you get to the start!  Endless high fives, and an unbroken line of proferred jelly babies along the route.  No-one could complain of being unsupported on this road race!  Here are some photos from the Radio Sheffield people, they got some good ones of crowds armed with helpful placards and supplies:

The next moment of raw excitement was seeing a whole wall of support, and more Smiley Paces clan.  They were a bit set back off the road, so I hear the shout of ‘go smiley‘ before I saw them, that was so exciting.  Huge display of waves, and roar of cheers.  You’d think I was leading the liberation of a city that had experienced decades of living under siege.  I was for that moment a super-star.  I totally appreciate we were probably all a bit giddy with the sense of occasion, and I know myself from watching the Tour de France that you can psyche yourself up to such a frenzy that you will cheer a paper bag blowing by in your enthusiasm, but I don’t care.  It feels great to be on the receiving end of such external validation.  I’ll be shallow if being shallow makes you feel that good!  Here are the supporters captured in a more thoughtful moment, the calm before the coming of the Smilies perhaps?  (Thank you lovely George Carman for these and subsequent glorious Smiley shots).

GC wall of support

Seconds after the shouts of support a friendly face behind a lens.  Oh good and oh no!  He was supposed to be running, but had to pull out at the last minute gutted for him.  But from a selfish perspective, it was fantastic to see another friendly face.  Also, Glorious George got my favourite photo of the day of me and Roger, you can see just how delighted we were to hear and see Smiley support.  I think this is the expression I pretty much kept up all day to be honest, and who can blame me, when I was having so much fun out there.  Roger was so happy I think he’s put in a bit of a flying change going round there, first of many…

GC so pleased to see you

So whatever was ailing our photographer friend, he was well enough to operate his camera buttons, and got some awesome shots of passing Smilies, and apparently, most of us were similarly over-joyed to see him.  On the way out anyway, some of the people coming back were looking perhaps a tad jaded.  You get sense of occasion though – great spot for spectators it seems.

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So, the good news is, that even though I’d been dreading the first couple of miles they passed really quickly, the atmosphere and distractions speed you on your way.  There is so much to see, and I felt compelled at first to acknowledge every cheer and return every high five, which involved quite a lot of zig zagging and very little running in a straight line.

I had a pre-arranged rendezvous with hobbit buddy at Rustlings Road, but as we passed Hunters Bar, felt a bit panicky, because I wasn’t quite sure where she’d be.  Hunter’s bar for future reference, looks a good place to be.  Some great shots taken there which I found on Steel City Striders Facebook page, thanks Sheena Woodhead.

SW Hunters bar

Around Hunter’s bar, you know the hills are coming, I was in need of a friendly face.  I was ecstatic therefore to see some stealth Smiley support.  A whole family cheering on Smilies, with palms lined up like dominoes so I could nab a load of high fives in one sweep.  It was so good to see them, even better for being a surprise.  The only down side, curiously, is that every time you get that push of support, you put on a spurt of speed, and ironically, I was worried as I whizzed (well, sort of) away, that if I kept going this fast too early on I wouldn’t make it round.

I was keeping an eye out for hobbit buddy, and spotted her in full cheer, as promised.  I insisted on hugging her, because by this time I was so brim full of bonhomie or whatever it is called, that I loved everyone. Next year I’m going to take a clicker with me and keep a tally of the hugs exchanged on the way round.  It’ll be absolutely loads and loads.  Anyway, she captured the moment of joy I experienced when I saw her.  This is what ecstasy looks like:

a friend in the crowd

I was never going to push myself too fast up the hills early on, but I kept moving.  I was amused by people coming out of their houses, and staring out of windows.  Occasionally you’d see a scattering of jelly babies in a gutter where they had been perhaps inadvertently jettisoned due to over-enthusiastic grabbing of goodies by passing runners.  Absolute carnage at times, and quite disturbing.  Their frail little bodies sacrificed at the altar of running.  Oh well.

So continuing to Banner Cross, and again friendly faces to cheer me on.  Injured cheetah buddy and breakfast buddies, shouting support.  They too had some good photo opps, not only of my disappearing posterior (does my bum look big in this?) but also bin man, elite smiley and someone who seems to be late, late, for a very important date!

Onwards and upwards.  I was steady, but kept going.  There were so many little moments of joy on the way round (not a euphemism).  There was the salvation army band, playing.  The church which had refreshments laid out and toilets available for runners.  They also had a brass band, which happened to be playing Jerusalem as I passed by, concluding just as I came parallel to them.  I paused to applaud their efforts.  It was the least I could do.  I mean, running the half is hard for sure, but clapping, shouting and playing brass instruments for 4 hours solid (or whatever they did) is quite a test of endurance too.  Volunteers, photographers, spectators, performers and marshals everywhere I salute you.

There were bemused students clutching cans of lager standing at the end of their garden paths and blinking in something between astonishment and disbelief.  Whole families settled outside with deckchairs and picnics.   Banners for particular people, generic signs of support for everyone.  Children holding Tupperware containers of jelly babies in outstretched hands, longing for a runner to grab one in the way that you might try and tempt a rare bird to your hand with some dainty delicacy in a rainforest crammed full of gorgeous, yet elusive, wildlife.  They would contort with delight if one ‘bit’ it was so sweet and such fun to watch.

I was really glad (despite everything) for Smiletastic, because those running club challenges set by Smiley Elder Super Geek for Smiley Paces members during the winter months had given me a good idea what to expect.  I knew the hills that were ahead, and I knew I could do them because I’d done them before.  Also encouraging, were so many familiar faces amongst the runners.  The miles were ticking by and  periodically my watch pulsed to tell me another mile had gone. I didn’t work out how to pace properly, but each time it vibrated I had a little look, and had a sense I was doing OK.  Heading up towards Ringlinglow, I was really glad to have in sight a friendly face from parkrun, she always smiles.  How does she do that?  Later on I spotted another fellow Smiley/ Monday mobster too.  All very inclusive and encouraging though.  You are never alone in a Sheffield half-marathon it seems.  Or only alone with your inner demons anyway….

TD smiles all round

I think we sort of tagged each other going up that hill. I didn’t run all the way, but I seemed to be struggling a lot less than some of the others around me who were heads down and panting. At one point everyone was walking and I realised that was why I stopped so, (GET ME), I thought, but I can run, so I did.  But very, very slowly.

As you go up the hill, you pass the entrance to a riding school, Smeltings.  A lot of girls who obviously help at the yard had traipsed outside to see what was going on.  They were completely ecstatic to see Roger.  They clearly know their equine blood lines, no question of them thinking he was either a camel or a donkey.   From some distance away I could hear them shrieking with delight and recognition, and pointing furiously.  Obviously I felt compelled to milk this as much as possible, so moved into position for a whole sequence of high fives and giddy upped a little as I went on my way.

I was thirsty by now, I had drunk quite a bit at earlier water stations, and was worried I’d get a stitch if I drank much more, but mindful that it was hot, and I really shouldn’t allow myself to dehydrate, especially as not even at the half way point.  I knew a Monday Mobster was waiting at the top near the Norfolk Arms, and in my head, before the race I’d visualised myself getting to her.  Not in a particularly pretentious way, more a pragmatic one.  I knew once I saw her I’d done the really tough bit mentally, and ahead it would be undulating, but it would be beautiful views and a lot more downhill for the return.  Even so, I greeted her like a dog with abandonment issues.  Rushing over and grabbing her in an unusually-huggy-for-me expression of enthusiasm and affection.  She looked a bit alarmed, and who can blame her?  She said all the right things though, gave me a bottle of water and shooed me on.  It was all over a bit quick.  Also at the summit, were the crew from Accelerate, I didn’t see them actually,  but they posted some photos afterwards.  They captured some of the sense of it, but maybe not the incline of the hills quite as much as I’d hope for.  The way to really get a sense of those hills is through Velo Viewer pretty astonishing graphical representation of gradients. I’d love to pretend this image is from my time (1 hour 29 minutes?  That would take some blagging…), but it plainly isn’t.  I still did this route though, so you can still be impressed if you like!

Veloviewer half marathon hills

Back to the Accelerate photos, they do show how lovely the weather was though.  Also the Strideout Supporters, who I shamelessly appropriated as my own when I passed them.  They too had lots of youngish girls amongst them, which seem to be the demographic who are was most appreciative of Roger’s unique qualities, and were only too pleased to cheer me by.

Incidentally, somewhere on that hill I saw an enormous banner proclaiming ‘LUCY’ and thought it was only fair that I cadged some support by association from them.  I ran up to them asking ‘will I count?’ breathlessly, but they looked really confused, and slightly scared, so I don’t think they got the point.  I ran quite fast for a bit after that interaction to be honest.  It’s surprising I know, given what I’ve been seen wearing in public you might think it would take more than that to embarrass me, just shows, you should assume nothing, question everything.  Anyway, here are some Accelerate photos. Thank you!

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So, I was clutching my water bottle at this point, and planned to walk for a bit, but immediately I hit a wall of supporters, crowding in as you turn left and head towards Sheephill Road.  They were smiling and cheering, it was amazing.  I felt it would let them down if I didn’t put in a bit of an appreciative jog, so I kept going.  No sooner was I out of sight of them, than a young earnest guy, wearing a huge smile and clutching a furry microphone pulled in alongside me.  He was from Radio Sheffield, ‘can I chat to you whilst you run?’ ‘Of course!’ I said, now fully possessed by runner’s brain and no longer able to think rationally.  I think he’d assumed because of my outfit I must be running for charity.  He also made the error of saying ‘What is that?’  ‘A horse!’  I said, in slightly hurt turns.  ‘Obviously a horse, he’s called Roger‘  (tell me honestly, does that make me sound a bit odd?  Actually, no, don’t tell me honestly, in fact, don’t tell me at all…)  Anyway, as we talked, or I just monologued actually, (oh dear), and he asked me about who I was running for etc, I explained that I wasn’t running for charity because I was too scared I wouldn’t have finished it, but that loads of people were and that was great la de la.  I also explained my choice of fancy dress as being motivated partly by the fact it was the one that best hid my stomach rolls, so that was no doubt a good image for the radio.  I did give a plug for Smiley Paces though, and as I did so, on a verge as I cornered I saw an injured Flying Feather!  I shouted over to her and her accomplices, probably going off the scale for the sound sensors on his radio mike system.  Hope I didn’t burst his ear drums.  I did also a bit of a spiel about great atmosphere, wonderful support, and I had a brief moment of unwelcome self-awareness when I realised I sounded like those slightly desperate vox pox bits they do with finalists on the X-factor or the Voice or whatever, when they thank everyone they’ve ever met for getting where they are today.  It sounds so cheesy, but in the moment it is true.  I promise you. All that support, from Smiley club members to get me to the start line to all those crowds en route to keep me going on the day.  I’d like to think I was running too fast for the reporter to keep up, but more likely he cut his losses and peeled away with a cheery goodbye.  Still, it was another example of an unexpected bit of novelty that kept me going.  I found I could run and talk, and it took me round an uphill bend and onto Sheephill Lane.  These photos from Robert Scriven capture the crowds at the turn really well.

RS from norfolk armsRS getaway from norfolk arms

This next bit was my favourite part of the run. We were a bit more spread out now, lots of runners in sight ahead and behind, but  more in your own thoughts.  Fewer spectators, but some chalked messages on the road, aimed at Steel City Striders, but for all to benefit from.  They proclaimed ‘all downhill from here’ which wasn’t strictly true, and rang increasingly hollow as more and more banners and signs promised the same further down the route, but fun for now.  You get the most glorious views on this part of the trail, heather and moor beyond the stone walls to the right of you, city views beyond the countryside to the left.  So the road shot is from Mick Wall, and the others, Andy Douglas, thanks photographers, lovely shots!

I was so glad I’d recced this part, as it definitely made it easier.  I was alert to the undulations so they didn’t catch me out.  There were a few female marshals along this part who were especially enthusiastic.  I have a feeling they may have been international students doing events management or something, because they were just so apparently enthused by being there.  All cheered my costume more than was strictly necessary which was wonderful, and all of them were incredibly pleased to exchange high fives.  I was very, very glad of their interactive support on what was a relatively quiet part of the route.

The runners out on the course were fantastic too, the hard core, the glamorous, the quiet, the noisy, the fancy dress and the fancy footed.  All shapes and sizes, no really.  These photos are from Tim Dennell, and a lovely glimpse of the great and the good and the ‘goodness me’ going round:

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I kept going, and the next big crowd of people was on the outskirts of Dore.  I’d been hoping to see a former work colleague here, but she either didn’t make it, or did and  a) I failed to see her, or b) she saw me first and thought the better of acknowledging me in public.  However, an unexpected bonus was that I saw a different former work colleague with whom I exchanged violent hugs, that sent me on a trajectory for even more violent hugging with a guy who recognised me from a former incarnation when I worked up at the Alpaca farm.  Which was nice actually, though afterwards I did wonder if it was entirely appropriate.  We didn’t hug in that other context.  Oh well, the sense of occasion got us all a bit carried away, and I think that’s good thing.

Leaving that crowd behind, it was a bit of a plod towards Whirlow.  However I got chatting with some other runners.  The woman who shared a loud guffawing laugh with me as we saw yet another banner proclaiming ‘all downhill from here’ I muttered ‘do they think we were born yesterday‘ at the same time as she exclaimed ‘well we’ve heard that before today‘ and we had a moment of mutual sympathy and amused recognition at our self imposed plight.  Another friendly runner trotted alongside me for a bit.  She was aiming to match her time for last year of 2 hours 40 minutes.  I hadn’t even thought about times up until that point, I’d got a vague sense of liking to finish in around 3 hours, but now I realised all being well I might even finish well within that… though with 5 miles ahead I was by no means complacent.  After a bit I couldn’t keep talking and running at her pace, so I wished her well and she went on her way, though we kept in sight, and in the end she only finished a couple of minutes ahead of me.

It was another quiet stretch.  So quiet in fact I noticed one male runner disappearing into a wooded area for a comfort break.  Irritatingly they are rather better accessorised than their female counterparts in this respect.  Though I’m not sure how the guy in the minion costume would have coped (I’m assuming it wasn’t an actual minion running but you never know…) However, I can report there were actually some loos scattered at intervals (and signposted in advance) along the way.  This was a mixed blessing for me, as I am programmed to ‘go while you have the chance‘ as you never know when the next opportunity will arise.  It took nigh on super-human effort for me to resist this impulse, but even I knew that getting into the habit of stopping for just-in-case pit stops is probably ill advised. It’s bad enough that I am so devoted to my ritual of the precautionary pee, I don’t want to start thinking I need to stop en route as well!

There was one moment of gloom ahead.  There was a bit of activity at the side of the road.  Some police, an ambulance response vehicle, and lots of high viz marshals on walkie talkies.  I was vaguely aware of a foil-blanket covered figure lying on the pavement of a side road, but didn’t stop to look.  I wasn’t overly concerned, because people pull out of races for lots of reasons.  I also know from the annual gymkhana where I used to ride, how keen bored St John’s Ambulance people are to intervene at the first sniff of injury.  Any fallen child would be stretchered off and used to practise on, so such intervention isn’t necessarily bad.  However, a few minutes after I passed them, a blue light ‘proper’ ambulance was speeding back towards them.  Later, still with flashing lights it sped past in the other direction.  It does focus the mind I hope they were OK.  It might not even have been a runner, it could have been anything, but sobering.

The route went onwards, it’s a bit of a blur recalling it now, but I do have some shout outs, even if people never hear them.  The supporters who, recognising me and Roger from our outward journey whooped in recognition at seeing us again. That was so awesome, I did have brief moments of feeling like a celebrity.  Really, I had done nothing to merit such adulation, but it was glorious.  I don’t care that I am not worthy, I was at least appreciative.  I even got a shout out from the Radio Sheffield Man who was by his van again having somehow relocated.  Shouts of ‘its donkey woman!’ are welcome in the right context!  I’ll take my fifteen minutes thank you very much.  I was also really taken by a couple who had music blaring out that just happened to be playing that song with a clear lyric

On and on
I just keep on trying
And I smile when I feel like dying
On and on, On and on, On and on On and on, On and on, On and On, On and on, On and on, On and on

just as I passed.  How apt was that?  Now, whether they had had this song on a loop deliberately, because of it’s content, or whether it was chance I know not and care less, it was brilliant.  I’ve looked it up, its a Stephen Bishop song I find.

This part of the course had a lot of music, drums, sound systems, all sorts.  However, my favourite was a troupe of dancers.  I’m so disorientated by now I couldn’t honestly tell you where they were, but they were really going for it, dancing in unison as runners ran by.  I thought that rude – (the running by bit, not the dancing).  I tried to join in from my position on the road, and gyrated badly, but with enthusiasm which is an accurate description of my dancing, and I was overjoyed that they started to mirror my inexact efforts.  I was so delighted I thought I’d burst.  Thank you dancers you were beyond fabulous.  This link is a clip someone took of them presumably before the runners came on by, I love your work Sheffield half dancing troupe, hope you are an annual fixture!

I’ve been pondering my half marathon experience, and I’m starting to get it a bit more I think.  I got enormous support and pleasure from spectators going round, and appreciated all their efforts: singing; dancing; quipping; cheering; clapping; high fiving; offering water; sweets; taking photographs; looking on in either disbelief, incredulity or awe – and I suppose it must be fun for them too if a runner now and again acknowledges that with a cheer or a wave.  They’ve gone to all that trouble, not for me personally, but to be part of an event, part of a sense of occasion, so it is mutually fantastic when that relationship between the runners and the supporters is acknowledged.  The event just wouldn’t be the same if one part of that equation was missing.  There is no way on earth I’d have been able to trudge round for 13.1 miles if there hadn’t been a new adventure in human experience awaiting me with every step.  And, to be fair, there’d be little point in standing at the end of your road with a tub of jelly babies and a flag if there isn’t going to be something to gawp at, even if that isn’t necessarily 7,000 runners pouring by.  Reciprocity, that’s what it’s all about.  It’s fun. You should try it – whether as spectator or runner – in some event to come.

Homeward stretch, I was really delighted to see some hardened Smilies had stuck it out, and were still there to cheer me on my return route.  I also got a really random shout out from someone I didn’t really see and therefore didn’t recognise who seemed to call behind me ‘you made it, you’ll be able to write about it now‘ so that must be my reader!  Thank you, it was a surreal moment, but a really good one, I never know who or indeed if anyone reads my ponderings, but it’s nice when they say they do.  I thank you my anonymous dear reader, I thank you !  I was still running too, and I really don’t know how.  I was thinking that’s just a Longshaw 10k, now it’s just a parkrun and so on.  But the novelty of it all and the encouragement from the sidelines really helped.

Also brilliant was right towards the end.  Some Smilies who’d actually finished and were now disguised in their luminous lime green finishers shirts shouted encouragement and even ran with me a little,  one even describing the contents of the finisher’s goody bag ‘there’s a twix!’ (she didn’t qualify this by mentioning it was a mini twix though, but I forgive her).  As I reached the final roundabout towards the finish (near Debenhams, don’t know what it’s called) a poor woman runner was crumpled on the side, clutching her ankle.  I didn’t stop as she had other runners and a first aider/ marshal with her, but I felt her pain.  ‘The finish is literally just around the corner‘ she was saying/wailing ‘I can’t believe I’m not going to make it after all those miles‘.  I couldn’t believe it either, not only the injustice that she’d hurt herself when the end was so nearly in sight, but that apparently the finish was indeed just around the corner and I was more than likely now going to make it too!  It felt really strange, it was round the corner that I met the Smiley of the twix motivating technique with her squeeze (no longer a new squeeze, now quite an established one), they were both wearing their finish medals with pride.

I could see the finish.  There were people ahead of me, but I thought ‘bugger this, I’m going for it‘, and embarked on a final sprint to the line.  I’m not sure why, and it might be ill-advised as it meant I sort of landed on top of a couple of runners in a passionate post race celebratory hug, probably simultaneously photo bombing their finish shot and ensuring there won’t be one of me.  I don’t care, my personal photographer Mr Carman took best shot of me ever going round, so that’s fine.

The moment coming up to the finish, and knowing I had made it was extraordinary.  Other runners who have done this will know the feeling, and may now even take it for granted.  I hope not, I hope they haven’t forgotten what it was like.  It was the briefest of moments really, a fraction of a second perhaps.  But I was suspended in time.   I knew then that I was invincible, I had done this impossible thing, I can therefore do anything, I’d bloody done it! This must be the runners high of which I have heard told but never really felt until now.  It won’t last I’m sure, but it was like a glimpse into a parallel universe where I have the confidence to believe in myself a bit more.  I really and truly never thought I could do this, and yet I have, ergo, what other impossible things should I now set about tackling?

I was a bit dazed then.  Runner’s high, morphing into runner’s fog.  An Endurer buddy said he saw me at this point but couldn’t attract my attention which is a darned shame because I’d have loved to have shared that moment with someone.  Instead I limped onwards down the funnel, got my medal, scooped up a goody back (only extra small or extra large T-shirts left) I went for small, misguided optimism induced by runner’s high no doubt.  Realistically though, I don’t know how wearable lime green is really, especially fluorescent, so perhaps not such a loss to my wardrobe choices.

I downed two bottles of water, declining the isotonic wotsit option.  Then wandered across to the baggage claim in a daze. I was towards the back of the finishers, so no queue, and the staff there warmly welcomed me, recognising me and Roger from earlier in the day.  I am so always going to run in fancy dress, it really makes a difference to the support you get.  I thanked them for their labours and had some chit chat, and then went to join the queue to get your medal engraved.  A rather optimistic attendant was handing out pens and paper so you could write down what you wanted on your medal before you got to the front of the queue. This was hilarious, as most of the runners in the queue had lost the ability for coherent speech or thought and the act of writing anything down was really challenging.

Also at this point, I saw another Endurer buddy, who’d had an awesome run.  I utilised their assistance to take my ‘after’ photo.  That was harder than you might think, it involved putting my bag down and then picking it up again.  Bending and stretching it turns out are contraindicated at this point in the race.

DSCF9401

Although there was a long queue for the engraving, it was free, and it was sunny, and I got lucky standing next to a really nice couple who were good company.  One had run for charity and her partner (husband?) wasn’t able to run any more due to injury, but they were planning to do the Hathersage Triathlon in a couple of month’s time.  I was trying to persuade her to join Smilies, I wonder if she will.

By the time I got to the front of the queue I’d had my time texted through to me so that was fun.  The guy doing the engraving was quite jolly, but I interrupted his flow of thought, and so he nearly tried to set the engraver going on the wrong side of the medal which was entertaining, but averted.  I like my medal a lot:

So I waved goodbye to my new best friends, and disrobed myself of Roger, slinging him over my shoulder again.  Then I heard a voice ‘and why would anyone even do that?  Have a pony as a backpack‘.  I couldn’t help myself ‘It’s not a backpack and it’s not a pony, he’s a horse‘.  Well you have to don’t you, educate your public?  With great celebrity comes great responsibility.  Anyway we had a chat.  They were event marshals and it was all very friendly.

My final destination, was to the massage tent.  Massages by Sheffield Hallam physio students in return for a donation… except their benefiting charity had removed their bucket.  The woman in charge said to just make a donation to one of the other charities, which I agreed to do.  Physio was great, mainly because you get to lie down.  A bit odd, because I had two people working on me in tandem, one on each leg.  They just did my calf muscles really, and a bit all over my legs, and then I flipped over and they worked on the fronts a bit.  It makes a hell of a difference, I mean I’m not exactly skipping about today, but I’ve only got a bit of soreness, no real cramping at all.

The only charity people left in evidence were Breast Cancer Awareness and MacMillan, I went for the latter, because of the legend that is shopping trolley charity collector man in his distinctive green wig.  I told this to the people in the tent.  ‘Ah, well you shouldn’t give the fiver to us then, you should give it to his grandson round the corner‘ my five pound note was retrieved from the collection bucket and I was escorted round the corner and introduced to the grandson.  There is a family resemblance, something about the hair maybe?

So that was that, pretty much.  It was like a party I didn’t quite want to leave, I wended my way to the bus stop between the people packing up the barriers.  I never thought I’d be at the other side of this challenge.

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Home, foot inspection.  Couple of blisters, not too dire, injury free.  I’m not posting a photo of my feet, because it’s not that sort of website, I understand there are other service providers who cater for such interests.  So, dear reader, I have completed my first half marathon (that was another top tip from a different athlete, once you’ve done one you can always refer to it as ‘my first’ and just be a  bit vague about plans for any future ones).  I didn’t cry, and I wasn’t sick.  Amazing.

Now, it’s a question of feeling the love, and processing the memories. It still doesn’t entirely compute, I don’t know at all how I got around.  It seems unimaginable today, and it all only happened yesterday.  Don’t worry, grateful as I am, normal malevolent service will be resumed shortly.  For now, though, I love all my running buddies, half-marathon supporters, event organisers, volunteers and photographers – god darn it the whole wide world.  Thanks especially to Smiley Elder Super Geek for sending the spreadsheet with the pacing and nutrition.  It was a vote of confidence as much as anything, I hope you’ll forgive me for not quite seeing it through in relation to the post race ice bath.  Consider me to still be work in progress…  My free love philosophy however is definitely a time – limited offer.  Don’t worry, cynicism will be restored imminently.  I’m sure you wouldn’t have me any other way?  (Rhetorical question).

 Would I do it again?  Well, never say never…

But before I think about that, let’s just check out a few more photos – my they keep appearing!  If ever there was a case for joining a local running club, and running wearing their vest in a local race this is surely it.  Loads of local supporters turned out to take photos, some were runners injured or focusing on other events so free to click away, others are enthusiastic sports photographers happy, apparently, to keep taking photos in pursuit of that perfect action shot.  Some even sit pleasingly within that overlap in the ven diagram of talent, skill and running insight.  The consequence is I keep finding MORE photos.  This is just as well to be honest, as I got the official ones via a link.  They are broadly shite.  The takers have not understood that you need a ‘power behind the lens’ person, to vet them all and delete the horribly unlfattering ones before letting a poor vulnerable runner be exposed to them.  Also, they have take ‘portraits’ I sort of do understand why, but for me at least, the consequence is a) I look bad in close up, and b) I could be running anywhere.  I like the to see the atmospheric crowd shots too, more of a sense of occassion.  Anyway, here are some more, this time from Alex Harding, another photographer to thank for his contributions.  Three cheers for our photographer friends.  You are all generous as well as talented, public spirited and generally awesome.

AH hunters bar

AH photography en route

AH running on

Categories: half marathon, motivation, race, road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Distraction techniques? Kit inspection.

I’m a bit confused.  I don’t know whether my current activities are helpful distraction or going to drive me to distraction, but hey ho.  My half marathon preparation top tips are to continue, this time moving from the importance of the tapir to consideration of appropriate kit.  You do genuinely need to do this, otherwise you will be picking stuff out of the laundry basket on race morning, and may have to resort to gusset sniffing to select the most acceptable option available to wear in public.  No-one wants to be doing that on half-marathon day.  Also, and more importantly here, this is a good displacement activity.  It will divert you from having to think about all the aches and pains and mystery illnesses that are accumulating about your person during the taper.

Today, I thought I’d lay out my kit, and check I have everything in readiness for Sunday.  This is an important part of preparation for any event I am told. If you look on the internet, loads of people do this.  Problem is, most of them who document the process highlight the slipshod naivety with which I have apparently approached this task.   To give you an idea just how I compare with more experienced runners, see if you can take a wild guess about which of these three snaps is my kit laid out in readiness, and which might belong to other runners?

I’m pretty sure you will have guessed correctly, and not only because of the give away Smiley Vest in the picture.  Still, undaunted, I will talk you through some of my choices.

Socks.  I had no idea before I started running just how much interest I would take in socks.  I now have developed an almost obsessional interest in what to put on my feet.  I have tried and rejected injinji ones (too bulky between the toes for me); short cut ones (I don’t like to have a draft up my ankles); too thin (blisters); too thick (blisters); not enough cushioning (feet feel like they will disintegrate).  Forget the quest for the holy grail, the quest for socks is way more important and probably just as inconclusive in my book.  I also find I am now prepared (albeit reluctantly) to fork out ridiculous sums of money in this search for the perfect foot covering.

I used to just buy socks at the supermarket checkout in Asda in packs of three, now I consider that an affront to my most important running asset, my feet.  I decided I’d treat myself to fresh new socks for the half.  My favourite ones up to now have always been some smart wool ones, but they are wearing out at the heel.  I headed off therefore to my local running shop (hello) in search of a ‘same again’ purchase.   I still feel self-conscious going in there, and am positive I always come across to the poor guys there as even odder  than I am in real life.  I can’t express myself,  I get all tongue tied and awkward.  I still feel like I am not worthy to be in the same space as ‘proper’ runners, and that they will naturally assume I have just popped in to ask for directions or about a lost animal of some sort.  Maybe just a dog or cat, but just as likely a ferret from the look of me.  Still, I need them, and they are always generous with their time and expertise, and I have always been happy with what I’ve bought there.

Last week though, disaster struck!  I went in to make my ‘usual’ sock purchase, only to find I am apparently such a cheap skate in relation to replacement sock purchasing patterns, that the socks I so covet are no longer made.  Various smart wool options were laid before me, and I agonised over the many choices.  But, they failed.  Nothing met my Goldilocks requirements.  For me, those on offer had not enough cushioning and were in any case too short at the ankle.  Not for me.  It was good whilst it lasted, but this relationship with smartwool has now ended.  They’ll be gutted I know, but I’ve moved on.  Instead, after examining every single sock in the shop (yes, individually, not just pair by pair) I took up with some hilly socks.  I was a bit dubious, and somewhat hurrumphing about the colour.  Fluorescent pink AGAIN, really?  I’m not five.DSCF9341

I don’t like changing kit – I’ve only got two identical running tops which I alternate for goodness sake, and only one pair of wearable leggings to complement my single Smiley vest.  (I did have two, but gave the smaller one away to a more appropriately sized running club member). However, defying my inner resistance to kit change, I can report that I have come to love these socks.  I took the precaution of doing one run in them pre event, in case the padding wasn’t enough, but they seem to be fine.  Cushioning on the heel and ball of the foot, and lots of ventilation looking fabric elsewhere so hopefully won’t get too hot either.  It feels unexpectedly decadent having new socks, like having freshly laundered sheets.  I feel I have an extra spring in my step.

They handily are marked ‘L’ and ‘R’, so if you get confused about navigation on a long run say, (as long as you’d put them on the correct feet first thing on waking), you could simply stop, remove your shoes, and voila!  You will now be reminded of which way is left and which way is right!  Genius!  They also claim day and night visibility.  I probably still wouldn’t use them instead of a head torch for illumination purposes on a night run say, but good to know.  The colour certainly does have a glow like sunrise from quite a distance.  I think they might actually be radioactive, but if it makes me run faster that’s fine.  Socks?  Sorted.

The really unexpected challenge for me today was around ‘where to fix the race number’?  I’ll be honest, it never occurred to me this would be an issue, but it is. Roger will be a great comfort to me en route, but by taking him round, my number will be totally obscured if I attach it to my Smiley Faces vest. (I draw the line at attaching over my ‘Smiley Paces’ logo and bust, that would take unbecoming to a whole new level)  The only option seems to be to put the number directly on him instead.  This is what I have done.   Now of course, I’m really panicking, because I know you aren’t supposed to transfer your number.  If you do, you can be disqualified in perpetuity, so never run at an organised event again (so, silver cloud then), but I feel I have little choice.  We have discussed it, and we are in it together, so it will be fine.

DSCF9340

I’ve dug out my lucky pants (no, I don’t feel a need to post a picture of those, but Marks and Spencer’s basically – does anyone else stock knickers?) and I’ve invested in a new sports bra for the occasion.  So basically sorted in the runderwear department.

The thing that I’m now stressing about is pacing it.  A secret source (thank you Smiley Elder Super Geek) has supplied me with an interactive spreadsheet.  I can use this to enter my estimated (or aspirational/ or realistically expected) finish time, and it throws up by magic the time in which I need to complete each mile (taking into account gradient) in order to finish on target.  It is genius, and quite fun to play with.  It even tells me when I need to take on nutrition.  Problem is, I don’t really want to run with a laptop, and anyway, I don’t know if my battery would last for the length of time it will take for me to get round.  I considered a clipboard and print out, but given how hard it was to stash my fudgy wudgy’s that was never going to work.

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I do have a TomTom, but can’t work out how to programme it for cumulative miles (though nice people at the running shop showed me how to set the ‘lap’ feature to one mile to give me an idea of how I’m doing as each mile passes).  It has been suggested I just write all these figures on my arm.  This is a great idea.  Others have used similar, more committed strategies.  I’m wondering if I have got time to sort out a personalised tattoo before Sunday?  On the other hand, if I just want to complete rather than compete, maybe I can just listen to my body (but not too closely, it will whinge quite a lot) and lope around as the mood takes me.

pacing guide

The other thing I’ve been doing, is finding out (ready or not) that people I know who are not actually running, may be spectating.  They will even look out for me!   This is both encouraging and terrifying.  It will be really nice to see friends and supporters on the way round – assuming I can see anyone through the veil of sweat and tears pouring from my face – but they are asking awkward questions, like what time I expect to be at certain points.  I have no idea at all if I will even make it to certain  points, let alone what time.   The excel spreadsheet has been great for providing some guestimates of ETA, but whether or not it is complete fiction I don’t know.  On the plus side, there is a brewing sense of occasion.  People will be there to soak up the atmosphere, the crowds will not be hostile (the people of Sheffield fed and watered the masses at the waterless marathon of two years ago for goodness sake), the atmosphere will be fab.  They may draw the line at physically carrying me round, but maybe, just maybe, the buzz will emotionally and psychologically get me over the finish line – or even more importantly perhaps, over the start!

So, for the record, my knee does still hurt, but increasingly I really do want to do this, however slowly, I’m out to complete not compete.  Anyway, the slower I am, the more hours on the course, the better value for money it all will be.  Those speed merchants potentially miss out on all the fun, whizzing by, the crowds a blur, and all done and dusted whilst the likes of me are still wondering how extreme the hill ahead will be.  I also did have one small and unexpected confidence boost.  I saw on a Facebook page somewhere a non-Sheffielder asking if anyone knew if the Sheffield Half had any hills.  Oh dear.  That runner is really going to be in for a shock.  Irrespective of whether or not the hills defeat me, at least they wont come as a surprise!  Anyway, I can be super courageous when the need arises.  Only a couple of days ago I removed a spider the size of a Shetland pony from my bath. I know.  I can do anything if I really set my mind to it, anything at all…

what the hill

Categories: half marathon, race, road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Oh crap. This is real. Race pack has landed.

It has come.  More accurately, I have been reunited with my number for the Yorkshire/ Sheffield half-marathon.

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It dawned on me a while ago that my number hadn’t reached me.  Although many of my running buddies were excitedly posting pictures of their newly arrived race packs, ripped open after tumbling through letter boxes.  I wasn’t overly concerned, I quite liked the comforting perpetual sense of denial associated with lack of physical proof that the Half Marathon is drawing ever closer.  Then I saw a post somewhere that said if you’d entered pre 22nd Feb then you should get your packs by such and such a date (early in March and long since passed).  I finally I realised that maybe, just maybe, I should be a bit proactive about things, and see what might have happened to it en route to my residence.

I emailed the nice people at the Yorkshire Marathon team, and explained my dilemma.  I was now panicking about the non-receipt of my race pack, and would like to replace that current state of panic, with a new existential terror about having to run the darned thing instead.  They responded pretty swiftly, I should indeed have received it by now.  However, they could reissue, if I’d just confirm again I hadn’t received it.  So that was fine.  Except I had a thought.   I wonder?

I live in a building converted into flats.  People come and go, junk mail accumulates like snow drifts in the hallway, and former residents who either never used redirection services or whose arrangements have long since expired, continue to get post for years and years after moving out.  Periodically, mail fairies jettison some of this excess.  There is a large plastic box that appeared by magic in the hall way some years ago, and it is there for the express purpose of dumping unwanted or unhomed mail as a temporary holding pen until someone works out what to do with it all.    I myself have even been known to forage through this box now and again.  Sometimes to retrieve and forward on or return to sender items that look important.  Sometimes out of nosiness.  Why lie?  Of course I do – though I have been well brought up and never open anything, I have been known to hold things up to the light – well you have to don’t you, to see if something needs to be returned to sender or can reasonably be jettisoned.  I do this for the public good…  Sometimes, this mining is actually  necessary to see if something I was expecting has in fact been misdirected into this sink hole for unclaimed post.  The sink hole looks a bit like this, only with more postal items and junk mail occupying the space, so it’s quite an operation to excavate it.

130301152623-10-sinkholes-0301-horizontal-gallery

Yesterday was such an occasion.  I wonder…

I emptied the post pile onto the communal hall floor and went through every single pizza delivery service flier, Christmas cards from Nick Clegg, free newspaper and TalkTalk bargain price offers.  Like an archive historian I marvelled at this documentary record of former tenants who have long since been and gone.  It felt a bit hopeless as I excavated each successive layer unearthing earlier and earlier eras of residence  However, eventually, and remarkably, I did eventually hit the dubious jackpot.  It was there!  Against the odds, I had located it.  Hooray.  A thin looking envelope, albeit a large one.  I can see why it might have been categorised as junk mail by a neighbour in my absence.  I ripped it open and OMG (get me and my text-speaking yoof jargon), there it was. My race number.  This is real.

I replied to the nice people at Yorkshire Marathon (thank you Elliott) and said that I’d now been reunited with number.  I might have glossed over the ‘it was here all the time’ aspect of it all, didn’t want to draw attention to my own stupidity, but all’s well that end’s well eh.  Now I really don’t know what to do.  To run, or not to run, I have no idea, after all this faffing, and so late in the day.  It’s ridiculous.

The problem is, I have this poorly knee still.  I’ve never had knee problems in my life before (apart from breaking one years ago by running into a brick wall, but that was different and also the other knee).  My head tells me I probably shouldn’t run.  My heart tells me ‘what the hell‘.  I am completely resting at the moment, but this path leads to mind games and mental torment.  Too much time to think?  I seem to wake up every morning with a new niggle, ailment or cause of panic.  I really don’t know if I’m becoming a hypochondriac, or whether I’m just hyper aware.  Maybe I’m resting too much?  Shoulder’s hurting, the calf in my other leg is all stiff now and this morning I was just exhausted for no reason at all.  Is this normal?  Is this part of the taper experience and why tapirs are better role models than actual athletes as a spa and (another) nap might help more than worrying about having to run all the time?  I honestly feel like my body has started to fall apart since I stopped running.    According to Run Britain (What Could Possibly Go wrong) a good taper allows you to arrive at the start line feeling ‘fresh and feisty‘.  I know, sounds great.  But also right now completely implausible. I just feel sluggish and slack.  Surely not how it’s supposed to be?  I found this, apart from the Americanisms (for which I apologise to my British reader ‘sneakers’ are not a real thing, not in the UK) this looks a bit of a familiar check-list.  So maybe all that I describe is normal and proportionate after all.

runner in denial

I can’t right now imagine walking to the corner shop without a limp, let alone voluntarily running for miles and miles more than seems sensible.  Plus it is currently hailing outside (no really, it is) what if it does that on Sunday?  I’ve supplemented my training and tapering regime with Googling race tips.  A whole new source of angst.  Chaffing and nipple blisters are only the start of it.  Add in falling over, being sick, getting the runs (but not in a good way).  What was I thinking when I entered?  I have absolutely NO IDEA!

Another cause of angst is race nutrition.  I never eat when I run, never ever, and because I’m so slow and do a lot of walk/running, I’m often out for up to 3 hours and haven’t had problems before.  However, a few wiser runners far more experienced than me have advised that if you are going for more than 90 minutes (and I will be out for a lot more than that) it is a good idea to have something.  Also, even if I don’t feel like I need it, the psychological lift of ‘rewarding’ myself with something when I reach say the Norfolk Arms (round about the half way point and  at the top of the Killer Hill) would be good.  The problem is what to take?

Bit late in the day to practise with gels.  I am vegetarian, so don’t really want to opt for jelly babies.  I have been known to eat them (Round Sheffield Run had them at feed stations, and I did need something then – I even enjoyed them, but then felt really guilty afterwards).  I’m not a total purist, and would eat jelly babies in a survival situation, post an apocalypse or indeed at point of collapse on a run say – but I don’t feel comfortable using them as my default energy plan.  I scoured supermarket shelves for alternatives/.  I can’t cope with the nutrition bars mid run, and some of the sweet options looked like they’d just be a congealed mess by the time I got to them on a run.  Melt in heat, dissolve in ran, too hard to open, too unfamiliar.  This was way harder than I thought.  Bananas were offered on the Round Sheffield Run feed stations, but I can’t digest these, also can’t imagine how you’d carry them whilst running, nor the consequences of discarding the peel en route (actually, I can imagine that bit very well, slapstick running humour in the extreme, but not public spirited)…

In the end I came across these.  An extreme sugar hit, not seen them before, but they look relatively innocuous – as far as uber refined sugar can ever be called innocuous I suppose.  Not so tempting I’ll eat unless I need them, but will do the job.  Also, small enough that they will go into my sleeve’s zip pocket, which is only carriage option unless I put a saddle bag on Roger, which I don’t want to do.  I probably ought to try one of them prior to Sunday, but can’t face it.  Contrary to public opinion, I don’t have a really sweet tooth, carbohydrate definitely, cake now and again certainly, but pure sugar?  The thought makes my teeth vibrate.  Still, they look jolly, and I think the cow is for decorative purposes, not to indicate that the package contains beef.  (In Vietnam you see shop fronts adorned with happy looking healthy dogs… these are not poodle parlours, but restaurants where dog is the speciality, so I now regard packaging as always potentially open to more than one interpretation…  Be careful out there).

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So in terms of pre-race check list I have the following:

  • All pervading sense of being woefully ill prepared?  Tick
  • ‘Nutrition’ fix for en route sustenance? Tick
  • Race number? Tick
  • Horse for assisted passage? Tick
  • New injuries?  Tick
  • Running Club vest? Tick
  • New sports bra?  Tick

Think that covers it….  Just remains to be seen if I have the nerve and audacity to turn up on the start line.  Jury still out on that one.  We shall all find out together.

Categories: half marathon, race, road, running | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Never under estimate the importance of a good Tapir

Tapirs should be taken seriously I’m told.

Personally, I still haven’t made a definite decision about the Sheffield Half, but I see no reason why that should prevent me from putting some unsolicited second-hand advice out there for those of you who are.  The week before a big race, especially for a first timer, is always going to be stressful.  I think it’s fair to say the accepted wisdom is to be resting up during this time in order to ‘preserve your fitness‘ (Thanks Smiley Elder Super Geek).   Let’s face it, at this stage it’s a bit late to imagine you are going to magically metamorphose into an upgraded runner version of yourself within the next 6 days .  However, that means that all the time that might normally be spent running around, can now be spent surfing the internet for random advice to get you to the start line in peak physical condition.

As a running blogger (I’ve decided that for today that’s what I am) I feel confident you will be anxious to hear my own Top Tips on the thorny subject of the perfect tapir.  Only the other day a running companion gave me a serious look and remarked that ‘one should never underestimate the importance of a good tapir‘, and it occurred to me that this is all well and good and easy enough to say, but what does it actually mean?

For a start, what makes a good tapir?  Which ones in particular are relevant here?  There are lots of different versions – who knew?  At least four distinct species according to this wikipedia page about tapir, so that must be true.  I’ll be honest, I was a bit vague about what a tapir is exactly, but I’ve googled them, and they are pretty attractive – especially the calf, but not noticeably aerodynamic or athletic in form. It did make me a bit doubtful about the extent to which an appreciation of these pig like, trunked creatures will enhance my running performance, but on the plus side, they do offer a great photo opportunity – look:

The lying down looks good, and they are probably triathletes too, as they are ace swimmers, though it was a bit more challenging to find any photos of them on bicycles, not that I care about that too much to be honest, this is after all a running blog, not a cycling one, we all have our particular areas of expertise.  Actually, I suppose I did find one of a tapir on a bike, colour co-ordinated and everything, but, whilst I’m not a qualified cycling or triathleting official, I doubt this would have been waved through as legitimate competition.  I mean, say what you like about cycling, but I think it’s learned its lesson from the Lance Armstrong scandal, and they are a lot tighter with rules and regulations these days…  That flamingo is definitely giving some outside assistance don’t you think?

tapir on a red bike

 So here is a photo of a tapir swimming really well, it’s not drowning, and it’s not hydrotherapy either.  Well I sort of assumed not, because of all the pond weed round about, but then again, loads of spas do expensive algae wraps and things these days don’t they, so maybe it is just doing that.

hydrotherapy

In fact, I think I’m beginning to see the point.

If you look at google images of tapir, then there are many shots of tapirs variously lying about not doing very much,  and flailing around in an algael swamp, apparently enjoying a spa. This does sound like it could be the way to go in relation to easing back on the running prior to a big event.  Seems my running buddy’s Top Tips (thanks 007) have more insight than I first credited them with.

So, if you are now scared about your impending half marathon, if you are experiencing all sorts of emotions from the aggravating existential angst to a zillion permutations of unease along the continuum, worry not.  Just think about the tapir.  What I have learned from them is the following key points:

  • Sleep a lot
  • have an algae bath
  • don’t try cycling, not even if you have a flamingo to help it wont work.

Also (and this is my own non-tapir based tip) try to keep stress levels as low as possible by avoiding all the road closure signs and notifications that have started to spring up all over the place.  The sight of them will make you feel sick, and this is contra-indicated at this important time.

Also, eat cake, but not too much.  And lay out your running kit a lot and keep looking at it admiringly if possible.

I think that just about covers the tapir.  If you want alternative tapir tips, then maybe my blog wasn’t the best go-to website for running insights.  You could also try runners world on tapering or wikipedia on tapering – works for me, though I think I can confidently say my article illustrations are rather more appealing.  Each to their own though I suppose.

Plus, keep checking the post, only when your race pack finally arrives will the absolute terror show itself, and then you will know what real fear feels like.  Just a week to go the Sheffield Half and mine has yet to land.  I’m quite relieved really, it means I can continue in denial for a little longer.  Periodically I have a little wave of panic that I wont be able to run if it doesn’t arrive in time, but this is probably nothing compared to the tsunami of panic that will engulf me if and when it does land on my doormat, and I come to realise this challenge is real, and I will be expected to run it after all!

So, be careful what you wish for.

be careful

Whether running or not, I recommend that over the next week you indulge all and any impulses to sleep, eat and see if you can blag a bubble bath/ hot spa or whatever equivalent is within your budget range.  So go wild, indulge yourself, give yourself some sofa time, find your inner tapir, and let’s see what the results have to say about that tactic a week from now.

You’re welcome.

 

Categories: half marathon, race, road, running | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Still sitting on the half-marathon fence

dont-sit-on-the-fence

Splinters in your arse are just the start.  It is amazingly and tortuously uncomfortable to be sat on a fence for any length of time, and I’ve been astride these metaphorical railings for far longer than is healthy.  It goes right back to that first decision ‘to run or not to run‘ when I sort of ended up entering the Sheffield Half Marathon by accident back in the mists of time. Technically it’s the Yorkshire Half Marathon I think, but I don’t really care about nomenclature here, much more worried about the distance.  It is a long way.  Too long for a hobbit, probably.  All those weeks ago I think my reasoning went along the lines of ‘what’s the worse that can happen?‘, ‘it’s ages away, I might even train a bit‘ and ‘as long as I don’t inadvertently blurt it out and tell anyone, I don’t have to actually turn up at the start line on the day‘.  The clincher was that old ‘what the hell…’ philosophy, even though I’m not completely sure it’s actually true.  It’s not my immaculately manicured thumb in the photo incidentally, just in case your judgement, senses and all capacity for reason had temporarily abandoned you and you thought it was.

what the hell card

So, having worked on the basic, unfailing principle that if you ignore something for long enough it might just go away, time has passed, and I have come to realise that the principle is not as unfailing as I had first thought.

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The marathon is now just a few weeks away, and inexplicably, I have not transformed myself into a lean, mean, muscled running machine, I have instead rather hung on to my hobbit like physique and fundamental tendency towards inertia.  I know it’s a myth about ostriches burying their heads in the sand by the way, and if I was an ostrich, I don’t think I’d be worrying so very much about having to run a half-marathon, they are awesome athletes.  If I had legs like that I’d certainly leave the rest of the field for dust AND probably get my own spin off reality TV series  as well, so no need to ignore anything very much then.

Running last week was particularly dire.  I only made it out for one run, and due to being away from home and other stuff, my diet consisted largely of digestive biscuits and chunks of cheese.  Whilst such cuisine was not inherently unenjoyable (au contraire), it was also not conducive to achieving a svelte waistline and athletic frame.  I don’t think Mo Farah would eat like that training for an event.  In fact,  I think he mainly eats Quorn.  Actually, so do I, but I haven’t turned in to him either.  Strange, but true.  The prospect of even starting the half marathon, much less finishing it, seems to be ebbing ever further away.

On the other hand, if I don’t do the Sheffield half this time round then realistically I never will do it, and there is that irritating FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) echoing in my head all over again plus the unhelpful ‘conscientious if not keen‘ gene, that makes me feel obligated to go through with things that I have made a commitment to do, however unwisely.  Also, (touch wood), I am miraculously still uninjured.  Apart from my crumbling arthritic feet, which isn’t really an injury just a perpetual state of being, I’m basically OK.  A lot of my fitter, more committed running club friends, gurus and competition goddesses (Smiley Paces members I salute you all) have been pushing themselves through the winter months and, whilst they did some awesome running times, some are now limping about, nursing strains and pulls and even stress fractures.  Mind you, Dr Smiley can still go faster with a pot on her leg and on crutches than I can in a sprint, but I won’t draw undue attention to that…  I feel I sort of owe it to those who can’t now take part, to give it a go and to at least show willing by turning up on the day.  Plus I have promised Roger an outing, and that bit at least I’m looking forward to – showing off my very own pony after a half century wait for an equine of my own!

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So why am  I posting this now? Maybe, because at this precise moment I have no idea whether or not I am going to run, and it might be interesting to look back and see what was happening with my motivation once Half Marathon Day has been and gone. Exciting isn’t it?  Which way do you think it will turn out?

When I was down South last week, I walked into Kingston and found I was crossing over the bridge over the River Thames,  just as a stream of runners was emerging from the tow path, whizzing round the corner (some runners were more ‘whizzy than others to be fair’) and dipping back into Home Park from, where they’d run on to Hampton Court Palace.  It was a clear but cool morning, there was a cheery band by the riverside that burst into energetic songs as groups passed, and loads of Hi Viz marshals on hand to clap them round.  Turns out, this was the Hampton Court Half Marathon confusingly, there is another event called the Original Hampton Court half which happens in February, but this is a different one, very bizarre.  Anyway, that wasn’t the point, the point was, watching all those runners, pounding onwards I found I felt quite emotional. They all had looks of grim determination about them as they were entering mile 11 (or thereabouts).  They weren’t finding it easy, but they were doing it.  At that moment I felt a wave of not only admiration, but a sense of really wanting to be a part of something like that.  ‘That looks great!  That would be amazing!  I’d love to be part of that!’ I thought, probably erroneously.  As the conductor waved his choir into a rousing chorus of approval, and the rhythm of so many tiring feet thudded their trainers on the ground it all seemed perfect…

I kid you not.  Almost as a reflex response to my having this thought enter my head, the next runner I saw came round passed me, then lurched into a fence at the side of the pavement, grabbed hold of it, and promptly threw up.  Hmmm, maybe not quite such a great advert for running, and also a much needed reality check… or not. That’s the point, I really don’t know!

Hours later, I was in the car, driving back to Sheffield, and I went past the finish area for the event.  It was on the Hampton Court Green for those of you that know the area.  It had that post-event/ post-festival air.  The finish funnel was empty, there were a few stragglers hanging around, and walking away from the event some limping, but smiling runners wearing the biggest and best medals I have EVER seen.  No really, these give the Percy Pud Christmas Pudding a run for best prize ever…. Then I spotted a woman walking towards the finish. She was really struggling, sweat pouring down her face, she wasn’t having a good time, but, and this is the point, the end was in sight and she was bloody well going to finish what she started.  I didn’t think that was weak to be coming in so late, possibly even last, I thought that was strong.  She was awesome, every step was an effort but she had that medal in her sights.   Yet again, I find that it isn’t always the strongest runners that really inspire me, but the unexpectedly resolute against the odds.  Swift runners impress me certainly, they are awesome, but they impress me like a cheetah does.  They show extraordinary running prowess, but they are also an entirely different species to me. I might as well compare myself to them as reach out and touch the moon (I’ve tried that, it didn’t work). That woman showed serious resolve, if anyone or anything can get me to that start line it will be the image of her, putting one foot in front of another, persevering with gritted teeth.   I know she got there, I just know she did.  What’s more, she wasn’t even in fancy dress – I’ll have an advantage over her with that alone.

So, whilst I’m still not saying ‘yes’ I’m not saying ‘no’ either.  I like to keep my reader on their toes.  On balance, I think if I don’t try, I’ll never know, and that will be really annoying.  If I do try, and it’s terrible, I don’t have to ever do it again.  Admittedly, sloping off undetected by abandoning the race half way round might be a challenge with Roger accompanying me, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.  Walk of shame could be a tad conspicuous in the circumstances.   As for coming last, I’ve done that before, it’s fine, as long as there is an anecdote in it, it really shouldn’t be a deciding factor.

As things stand, if I stay injury free, and unless Roger trots up lame on the day of the race, I think I’d like to give it a go more than I’d like to risk missing out.  This is highly likely to end up as one of those ‘I’m not sure if I enjoyed myself, but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it‘ sort of occasions. We shall see.  Also, I blame Eddie Izzard. That man is a machine.  Twenty-seven marathons in as many days (double marathon on last day due to logistic problems – seriously?).  And all to mark Nelson Mandela’s period of imprisonment, one marathon for each year.  Now, I’m honestly not putting myself in the same category as either Eddie Izzard or Nelson Mandela, just in case you were wondering, but I am thinking it does rather put in context my angst over tackling a measly half within staggering distance of my own home.  Lawks a lordy, I can walk it.  They are doing a series about Eddie Izzard Marathon man by the way, must get round to watching that some time.  He does walk/running too apparently, so it must be a legitimate tactic.  Also, he looked like he was about to die at the end, and that part I’m really confident I can replicate, I look shite on finishing too!

So there are some positives here after all.  Some bits of marathon running I have nailed… as for the rest?  Let’s just say I’m working towards excellence in the bits relating to the actual running part, but everyone starts somewhere, why not me?

route-map sheffield half

Categories: half marathon, motivation, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bouncing Back to Bushy, parkrun ponderings – in it for the long run?

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So far, in relation to my half-marathon training, I’ve mainly focused on stock piling the rest days.  My stealth training regime is going so well and being conducted in such secrecy that even I have not managed to spot any suspicious changes in behaviour suggestive of extra running sessions in preparation for my forthcoming hypothetical half marathon.  I do have some legitimate reasons for my tardiness (dodgy hip, being away la de la blah etc), but it does not bode well.  Today therefore, I returned to parkrun, parkrun tourism it is true, but parkrun all the same.  It is a start.

Attendance at parkrun is pretty much preprogrammed now, I can’t imagine doing anything else on a Saturday morning, but if I had planned on slacking, and slipping under the radar by dint of being off my home patch this weekend, I had a rude awakening this week that made me realise I do actually need to do something other than browse running magazine articles from the safety and comfort of a sofa if the half-marathon distance is ever to be in reach.

But why so Lucy?’ I hear you cry. Well, let me explain…

I’m not sure if it was a set back exactly, but I certainly had a reality check this week.  Visiting a friend with two young boys, she told them that I was planning to run a half marathon.  They are at that sweet age of innocence, completely disinhibited and as yet unaware of the requirement to pretend approval or admiration – rather than state the uncomfortable  obvious truth –  if social etiquette requires it.  This is either refreshing or demoralising depending on whether or not you are planning to take on the Yorkshire Half Marathon,  – Sheffield, in a few months time.  Their immediate response to this news was to, quite literally, roll around on their backs, clutching their sides, laughing with uncontrolled hysteria.  One on his bed, the other on their bedroom floor, they cavorted like lion cubs, playing and laughing and writhing around.  The very idea of me undertaking such a physical challenge had them exploding with not just giggles, but cackles of bottomless mirth, that are probably still echoing across the universe even now.  My friend corrected them ‘no she really is, it isn’t a joke!‘  The younger one continued laughing (in his world this was clearly a double bluff, and one he could see straight through, he wasn’t to be fooled that easily!).  The older sibling however stopped laughing, and sat up on his bed, staring at me directly in the face.  Examining my expression for clues as to whether or not this might actually be true.  As I returned his eye contact I could see his incredulity morph into horror.  ‘Oh my god, she’s serious‘, he said not a word more.  He didn’t have to, he clearly recognises such a feat to be not only impossible, but the very idea is insane.  He is a well brought up young man, teetering in his early teens, he knows it isn’t nice to laugh and point at the insane, but he doesn’t have words to communicate any more about this.  To him I at fifty years old, must seem beyond ancient, I am the physical manifestion of decrepitude.   He blinks, and stays silent.  This silence speaks volumes.  His younger brother picked up on the mood, and also sat up suddenly, staring at me impassively. After a silence that stretched seemingly to eternity, he said ‘but that’s miles and miles‘  ‘13 miles,’ his brother chipped in eventually.   They looked genuinely concerned.   As has previously been established in this blog, I am very suggestible.  I could feel my fragile confidence not so much wavering, as vaporising.   Their concern was quite sweet to be honest, but also quietly (literally) mortifying.  Oh dear, here’s hoping I can prove them wrong.  I can feel a knot in my stomach though, what is it they say about ‘from the mouths of children?’  They have an insight, and honest integrity others do not.  The truth can hurt…

truth

The weather has been like the end of the world this week, flooding and pooling water creating impromptu lakes everywhere.  I took to stalking the Bushy parkrun facebook page as I’d heard a rumour that it might even be cancelled if the mud was too bad (fears of churning up the iconic Chestnut Avenue) it is true, a thousand plus runners will leave a bit more than the odd footprint on saturated ground.  Some wags on the Bushy parkrun facebook page have been teasing the run director about ensuring the weather fairies were benevolent.  Prayer was mentioned, and the challenge this might present what with his dodgy knee and everything particularly referred to.  As it happened, all was well, after an unpromising start, the skies stayed dry.  Whether this was as a direct result of interceding prayers I have no idea.

So, I was heading back to Bushy, I decided to try and up my mileage a bit.  It might be my first run in a  week, but I can still make this half marathon deadline… maybe.  I latched on my Tomtom, and headed out the door. Ironically, I found this initially had a demotivating effect.  I couldn’t get a satellite positioning, and found myself thinking ‘well there’s no point in running just yet, it wont count’  which is ridiculous!  Fortunately/ unfortunately, it did eventually lock on (or whatever it is it does to make sure stalkers can find me) and so I stumbled into a wobbly trot.  It is true, if somewhat infantile, that wearing the Tomtom did make me run for most of the way to the start, albeit reluctantly and half-heartedly.  I was quite pleased though to find it’s about 1.7 km from where I was staying to the start.  This once again suggests that if I get into the habit of jogging to and from parkrun I will build my distance and stamina too (hopefully) without noticing too much.  It was nippy out though, I wore my running coat, and didn’t even feel guilty.  I’d had a panic because I was unable to locate, and therefore could not wear, my running buff.  I feel naked without it.  Ironically running without my buff feels like running in the buff.  Do you see my point?

white stag bushy park

Inevitably, I got distracted en route though.  Bushy park was gorgeous today, I saw a white deer, not sure if it was actually albino, but it was definitely distinctly different from any others I saw, like something out of a fairy tale.   In fact, professor Google tells me that fallow deer do have a natural colour variance from white to brown, so maybe not as rare as all that.  Magical all the same though… I’m still holding out for a unicorn sighting there one day.  As I dawdled, I also fell into wondering whether in the future archaeologists will think we live in a time when excrement was worshipped?   This is no more bizarre than believing in a dog poo fairy.  There is NO DOG POO FAIRY, s/he does not exist.

dog poo fairy never comes

This thought came from seeing a bag of dog poo, abandoned.  If there is one thing worse than  coming across random dog faeces, it is dog shit in a bag, suspended from a tree as if it were some sort of decorative bauble.  Who are these dog walkers kidding?  They never come back for them whatever they tell themselves at the moment of hanging up so prominently.  If they aren’t going to clear up properly, I’d rather  the deposit in question was left in situ to biodegrade, rather than displayed in all its glory at eye level.  There they stay for months or years, swaying in whatever wind that blows, until the bag becomes tatty subjected to the elements, shredded by tree branches.  Eventually, with awful inevitably it’s contents will spill downwards like a deeply unpleasant hatchling emerging from its egg,  leaving the discarded pooh bag swinging shredded and vile in the shrubbery.  It isn’t even just dog poo bags.  What about all those disposable nappies in landfill, infant poo, wrapped in cotton wool, sealed in plastic and buried deep in the earth.  If dug up at some later date it will look like these faeces have been lovingly preserved for future generations and to ensure their passage to the afterlife.  We aren’t exactly offering our descendants the same rewards for exploration and excavation as the ancient Egyptians did are we?

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The jog to the start, not only made me feel a bit smug, but also made me feel quite snug and warm.  I was wearing my ‘proper’ running jacket, which was quite expensive, and so I didn’t want to just leave it at the start.  Fortunately, it sort of packs down into its own pocket so you can wear it round your waist.  Unfortunately, this then bounces up and down on you as you jog round, and is quite unflattering too (then again, so is my whole running outfit).  Even so, I disrobed, and joined the thousand strong throng (which is quite hard to say out loud actually, strong thongs magically appear through the tongue twisting effects of it all).  There was a great run briefing.

First timers were warmly welcomed, there was a shout out for some expected New Zealanders, who delightedly identified themselves; the usual call to parkrun tourists to identify themselves (I didn’t this time, as I now view Bushy as sort of my second home, as I’ve racked up a fair few runs here now).  There were congratulations to people who had just achieved landmark Tees.  A novelty call out for Happy Wedding Anniversary wishes from parkrun as a surprise to one lucky wife.  Her husband had requested this as a romantic surprise, which it probably was, shame he didn’t actually tell them what her name was, so she was just Mrs ‘whoever’, no identify of her own at all, only an adjunct to him. Still, they do say it’s the thought that counts, and this was indeed a good thought.  I like this aspect of Bushy a lot.  This parkrun has somehow managed to maintain an intimate and friendly field, despite an enormous field week after week, it’s very impressive.  I had a warm glow of inclusiveness as I clapped away as seemed appropriate.

The course was muddy, and very slippery in parts, I was pleased I’d had the foresight to put on my trail shoes.  The bits on tracks are fine, but the grass had almost turned to fiendishly slidey mud in parts.  I set off a bit confused.  I somehow was a bit in the middle of things, and there were so many people there, I couldn’t really manoeuvre.  Navigating the ant hills was quite comical, loads of us bobbing up and down on the uneven terrain like, well I don’t know what really.   Panicking picnickers running away from a wasps’ nest in all directions in ungainly arm-flapping abandon perhaps?

I didn’t try too hard today, just felt pleased to be running at all after an unpromising week.  I made a point of thanking all the marshals as I passed and got some cheery responses, which was fun.  Plus, I do love that little ricochet effect of ‘thankyous‘ that sounded in my wake…  My hip, which was better for not being run on was complaining a bit again.  Small strides seem to help.  I was beaten home today by a huge lumbering dog and his rugby player physiqued human companion, even though he’d stopped for a ‘motion’ en route.  (The dog, not the human  – as far as I could gather anyway) .  There was also a speed walker very  much ahead.  I hope he was a  speed walker, I wasn’t having a great running day, but I’d like to have kept pace at least with someone strolling along.  He had a T-shirt on Richard Walks London so I think it was this guy, surely there aren’t two of them, leaving parkrunners for dust as they do that weirdly effective walking gait thing.  I’ve just seen he describes himself on his facebook page as ‘New Zealand ultra-distance race-walker and multiple record holder’, so actually, that makes me feel loads better.  I was within touching distance of a record holder, not in the wake of a walker at all!  I wonder if he spotted me?  I was certainly a sight I can tell you.

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I was in reflective mood again today, I did notice the most amazing skies going round.  The park was extraordinarily beautiful, I felt lucky to be experiencing it.  Approaching the finish line, I thought I saw someone I knew clapping me home, I picked up speed in anticipation, and slapped on my cheeriest smile and most gazelle like bouncy stride.  Neither saved me, but on the plus side, it wasn’t him at all.  Maybe the parkrunner in question is still injured after that freak, who-could-possibly-have-anticipated-it tumble he took the other day?  This is someone who has clearly never watched the opening credits of Casualty.  Alone in his flat, he decided to use a folding chair to stand on to reach up to a top shelf (what was the worst that could happen).  It did not end well, a near death experience apparently, when he had time to imagine he would be taking his last breath, he shouted out instinctively.  As he stared death in the face, it is unclear whether he found himself getting a glimpse of a bright light, or the flames of hell in the moment.  He did survive, and now has a brilliantly impressive bruise.  Shame it isn’t mankini weather, such war wounds should be on display.  It looks like a shark bite, no really, it does.  I was actually slightly jealous.  I mean my dodgy  hip has nothing visible by way of stimulating the sympathy impulse in others, more like repulsion, as I’d have to move a roll of fat out of the way to expose it.  I shan’t be doing that.   His bruise was epic, and no doubt will get bigger and bolder and bluer over the next week or so.  Spreading like an oil spill outwards until the entire available surface area is covered in a great slick of blackened, blooded skin.

On entering the finish funnel, the great boon of having worn my jacket round my waist, was that I was able to put it on straight away and stay warm.  However, within a few seconds, a cheery funnel marshal teased me for wearing it.  ‘You must be hot, what are you doing running in that?‘ he queried.  I over-explained that I’d only put it back on after I’d finished.  Defensive, moi?  My cheetah buddy clearly has spies everywhere.  Even here, hundreds of miles away from our home run at Sheffield, she has found a way to call out the mantra ‘walk away from the fleece‘.  She can’t seriously have outsourced this activity, can she?  It seems extraordinary, impossible even, but then again….

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Still debating this, I made it out of the funnel.  There was a good turn out today.  Despite the inclement weather threat, it stayed dry overhead, if wet underfoot, and the sky was beautiful.  We nearly had a triple funnel moment, but due to cunning marshalling this emergency procedure was averted.  I was a bit disappointed, it would have been quite something to behold.  I gathered later that apparently, for those statisticians out there, this was the fourth EVER biggest attendance at Bushy.  I’m surprised, because I reckon numbers will have been down because of the cold, and wet, and general grimness of the morning at about the time you’d need to set off to participate.  However, it did seem crowded I suppose, and I got quite boxed in.  Mind you, I didn’t try at all hard to escape those limiting factors in order to stretch out for my run.   Slow and steady wins the race, they say, sometimes. Anyway, as we all know, it isn’t a race it’s a run.  Here are the stats, just because really, I think its wondrous that Bushy parkrun publishes this sort of detail, plus you get a sense of how fast those fingers are moving on the clicker coming through.  Ooh, the pressure on the timers, I’d find that way too stressful to volunteer for myself!  The final total was 1214 participants – the biggest parkrun attendance in the UK today, hooray – I helped make it so!  Amazing really isn’t it?  All those people coming together from nowhere, and then vanishing afterwards, for a shared experience of running in a park on a Saturday morning.  How can anyone not love park run.  The continuum of times was spectacular too, fastest home 16.31 and final finisher 1.08.41.

Jan 2016 fourth largest attendance apparently

Exiting the tunnel (which was very busy this week – New Year’s Resolutions in action perhaps) a little crowd was chanting my name which was rather paranoia inducing ‘Lu-cy, Lu-cy, Lu-cy!’  Of course it wasn’t for me, it was for some other imposter Lucy, very alarming though, I felt I was under surveillance everywhere today!  The way they cheered my namesake home was however, quite something to witness!  It should’ve been me!

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Walking away, it was fun to cheer the final finishers home.  There were a few coming back well post the one hour mark today, but that is awesome to behold.  Two women in particular caught my eye as they neared the last 600 metres or so to the finish line.  They had slowed to a walk, but were grinning broadly, and holding hands, determined to finish together.  It was brilliant.  They were a distinctive pair, and I really wish I was going to be at Bushy next week as I bet they’ll be back. I clapped what I hope was encouragement and shouted ‘the end is in sight, I promise, it will be worth it when you finish’, they smiled back.  I reckon their endorphins had kicked in early!  I love parkrun, what’s not to like – oh, apart from the being expected to run bit, obviously…

tribesport jan running 2016

Just the little matter of the jog home – it gave me a running total of just under 10km in terms of distance, in terms of time per mile, well, that’s not the point is it, arguably, the slower you go, the more you prolong the pleasure of parkrun, no point in rushing round, you’d miss out on all the fun – parkrun parkfun indeed!

 

 

Categories: 5km, half marathon, motivation, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

To run or not to run? That is the question…

To run or not to run?  Whilst generally speaking  I agree that you don’t regret the runs you do, only the runs you didn’t, it is also surely true that it is easy to romanticise the runs that never were.  If I’d only done the ultra to the stones, I’d have skipped sprite like the whole way, arriving as fresh and lovely as I was on the start line.. Know what I’m getting at?

So it is, I’m agonising over what to do for the best.  The ‘To run or not to run‘, question relates to whether or not I should bite the proverbial bullet, and commit to doing the Sheffield Half Marathon on 10th April 2016.   Strictly speaking it is now the Yorkshire Half Marathon – Sheffield, following a bit of strategic re-branding following the no water malarkey of a couple of years ago.  For the record though, I always felt really sorry for the volunteer organising committee about  that, they didn’t deserve the witch hunt that followed.  Yep, it went horribly wrong, but they put in so much work, and were devastated, it’s not like they messed up deliberately.  In any event, it seems a horrible way for them to finish their years of service in setting it up many times before.  Who’d be a volunteer after that?

Anyway, enough of them, and their grief, back to me, and my self-centred angst of indecision.  So thinking about ‘to run or not to run’ I try and talk myself down a bit, breathe deeply, and calm down.  Ask myself, seriously though, what’s the worst that could happen?  Well, quite a lot it seems, when I come to think of it, hence this could be both the best of ideas, and the worst of ideas.  Oh the agonies of not knowing which way to jump.

trouble with jogging

I’d only nipped round to Cheetah buddy’s house so I wouldn’t die intestate.  Been meaning to write a will for ages, and having reached my half century in life, felt I couldn’t put this off any longer.  Will drawn up thanks to the nice people at the co-op, just a matter of getting my signature witnessed.

So round at her place, sat at her nice kitchen table, sipping steaming coffee (that trick with shaking the hot milk in a jam jar is genius – instant froth) and enjoying the relaxing  atmosphere where positivity  penetrates every corner like steam in a sauna (hmm, might need a better analogy than that – creosote in a fence maybe?  I’ll come back to that).  In this cocoon of warmth and calm, everything seems possible.  I do have to be careful though, she is a svelte and enthusiastic runner, who has been on a meteoric rise in relation to her running performance, I am… well not, and mainly embrace my inner hobbit.  I need to be on my guard, but it is slipping.

Innocently enough, I start asking about her ‘half marathon training plan’ which has been cut out from some magazine or other, or downloaded from a website, and secured to the wall.  Paper I can relate to (you’ve perhaps already heard of my passion for stationery shops).  It looks innocuous enough, a list of dates, with suggested activities.  Two days out of each seven are designated as rest days.  Well that’s OK, in the bag for a start.  At least one day is allocated for cross training.  Yep, I’m up for that – oh is it supposed to be cardio cross training – I’ll ignore that for now.  The ‘long run’ though, for week one is just 5km.  That’s just a parkrun!  Suddenly this doesn’t seem impossible…  I regularly go out for longer than that, I don’t necessarily run it continuously (actually, I never run it continuously) but the distance doesn’t particularly scare me.  I need to give this some thought..  Maybe there is time to up my distances between now and April?

Time to think it through – so running a half marathon is the best idea and the worst idea because…

The best of ideas because:

  • Unimaginable smugness on conclusion
  • Loads of Smileys doing it – don’t want to miss out – I get to wear my Smiley vest with pride, and cash in on Smiley supporters going round
  • Being part of a Sheffield institution
  • The support is supposed to be amazing going up and back, that would be extraordinary to experience for myself
  • It’s local, if I am ever to do a half marathon, this is the one to do, I can train on my home patch for goodness sake
  • If I don’t think about the time, I know I can walk it, there is no shame in that, I often walk/run on trails anyway.   Surely I wont be last, and if I was, that wouldn’t be the first time it had happened to me (ref Wingerworth Wobble) and there is a certain 5 minutes of fame in being in the  frame for that as last one home…
  • Tapering the last week before hand would be amazing licence for carbing up  (I know it’s more complicated than that, but I’ve just listened to the radio 4  food programme special on diet and running, and people used to run on pork pies pre performance and shandy to replenish things after – how hard can it be)
  • Might give a focus for more running – plus I get to play with my Tomtom loads (MASSIVE plus)
  • Participation will be like ethnographic research, I can be an active spectator – as I never run with headphones, there will be loads of eavesdropping potential on the way round
  • Bragging rights – though only to non-runners, most of the runners  I know have already done loads of half marathons already
  • Plenty of Smilies are doing it, there should be support along the way
  • It’s far enough away in the future that it seems a distant hypothetical goal rather than imminent threat
  • If I do die as a consequence of either training or participation, I won’t die intestate any more, so that’s good

route-map sheffield half

The worst of ideas because:

  • You have to run, a lot, in training as well as on the day
  • You have to run a half marathon
  • It’s on roads, I hate running on roads, the arthritic bones in my feet may actually shatter
  • Humiliation if I don’t finish – more than if I just never start
  • You have to train for it for ages
  • I’m worried about getting injured during the training
  • You have to run the outward bit ALL UP HILL
  • You have to run the return bit ALL DOWN HILL
  • The genie doesn’t go back in the bottle, once I say I’m doing this, I might have to go through with it (see earlier references to being conscientious if not keen, it’s my cross to bear)

Hmm, it’s difficult, but a couple of recent happenings may yet sway me.  I was reading another runner’s blog, talking about anxieties she felt in advance of running her first marathon (I know, there is a limit to the comparisons I can make between her and me and the extent to which I can honestly relate to her as a fellow runner), but one thing she said did stand out.  Nearly every runner who has ever done a marathon probably thought at the start of their running exploits ‘I could never do that‘, yet they could and they did.  What’s more, I even contacted the original poster, and said I’d found her perspective encouraging in that even ‘proper runners’ are riddled with self-doubt.  Her reply was hilarious, spluttering incredulity – as far as it is possible to splutter and be incredulous in writing –  ‘I can’t believe you think I’m a proper runner‘ she said.  This the woman who has now done loads of marathons!  Now on a good day, this tells me that because everyone is always battling with themselves, few people ever feel complacent or confident in their running abilities.  My doubt is therefore proportionate and normal, it will be challenging for me, but that doesn’t mean it is actually impossible.  On a bad day, i think ‘blimey, if even multiple marathon runners suffer performance angst, how can I as a leisure parkrunner even contemplate upping my distance?  Much better to watch a film on the telly on a dark wintry day, and maybe have a cocoa.

I thought I could never do a parkrun, but I do that every week now, reluctantly sometimes, but I hate to miss it.  I thought I’d never do 10 km, but although I find it harder, I don’t feel it’s beyond me any more.  Now, I’m mindful that the gap between running a 5 km and a 10 km isn’t so great – it really does seem to be true that you double that distance, you double your time.  This makes no sense to me at all, but seems to be the case.  It is  a very much bigger challenge to go from a 10 km up to a half marathon.  Then again, I’ve done the Round Sheffield Run twice (24 km – of which only 20 km is actually timed) , and it’s my favourite run ever… but you do get built in breaks for that.  Still, as far as  I know there are no marshals on the sidelines of the Sheffield Half Marathon route, armed with flame throwers to get you moving again if you slow to a walk on the way round, so who cares if I stop for a chat and a sit down en route.  Maybe it’s just about positive thinking and making the choice (below is stolen from getgoing-getrunning.com – copying is the ultimate form of flattery I’m told):

get-running-flowchart

The clincher may be thanks to an article in The Guardian last Saturday, can’t even remember who wrote it, but the gist is, stop caring about things you don’t care about. – or as they put it, just ‘stop giving a damn!’  What does it matter what other people think (as long as I don’t turn into a cruel psychopath) , honestly, will anyone even notice, let alone care if I’m slow going round or have to have a lie down mid-way, or cry at some point?  Afterwards, there will be a lot of cake.

Maybe it’s true what they say.  Running is more in the head than in the legs.

Train-your-brain

I think maybe the only way to do this, is quietly.  I will enter, but I just won’t tell anyone. I can see how the training goes, and make a last minute call on the day or day before.  That could work..

So, my motivation for running will boil down to these key points:

  1. Fear of missing out
  2. If I don’t try I’ll never know

My strategy will be to train with stealth, shussh, don’t tell a soul, it can be our little secret.  Then I can explode from the start line on the day, and I’ll metamorphose from hobbit into hare just like this woman here.  It could be me!

to run or not to run

 

Categories: half marathon, motivation, road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

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