motivation

Smiletastic 2019 – seals on a running quest in support of penguin power, penguin awareness day January 2019

Digested read: Smilestastic again, I’m not signed up, but ironically, it’s still working its magic and getting me out running more.  Penguin challenge took me to woodrun for example.  Lovely!

smiletastic 2019

Undigested read: (you may need a resolve sachet to settle your stomach afterwards)

It’s that time of year again.  This keeps happening.  What can you do to keep your running mojo during the long, dark, cold days of Winter?  Well, if you are part of Smiley Paces (lovely Sheffield-based women’s running club) then you may have previously – or indeed currently – have been seduced into signing up for Smiletastic.  A team based challenge described this year as follows:

Smiletastic  2019 RULES

The purpose of Smiletastic is to motivate EVERYONE to run throughout the winter months.  

No one is expected to do any more or less than they would usually do and if following a training plan, should use this for their pledges and only do challenges that fit in with their plans.

 •There are NO points associated with pace or distance – ie.  This is a challenge for ALL abilities and ALL runners at ANY stage of their running career.  

 •There are NO points for winning races or age categories.

 •There ARE points for keeping to your schedule and for doing the long runs you PLAN to do already.

 •There ARE points for running races and/or marshalling races

 •There ARE points for elevation, but as you live in Sheffield…..!

 •There ARE points for doing things with your team and supporting others in your team.

 •There ARE points for getting a PB in a timed run/race (only in March).

 •There ARE points for “Getting into the Smiletastic Spirit” in a variety of ways!

I’ve done it twice, and it is fantastic, but also quite stressful as the challenges build and the tension mounts, so this year I’ve decided to have a year off, and enjoy the experience vicariously.  I think that will lead to less sleepless nights, whilst also enabling me to be motivated to do extra running by proximity to those engaged in the various weekly quests.   What’s more – and this is clearly an unexpected bonus – it will be at times be most educational, even consciousness raising.  Case in point, the individual challenge that kicks off the Smiletastic season is all about Penguin Awareness Day, which fortuitously (and previously unknown to me) falls within the date bands of Smiletastic being marked as it is, on 20th January each year. I know, who knew?

The challenge is/was therefore ‘What can YOU do to be “aware of a penguin” whilst also connecting your awareness to running?… AND keeping it legal please!!’

penguin-awareness-day-fun1

Oh, and it’s probably helpful to mention that this year the teams are reindeers; penguins; walruses and seals.

Clearly, I’m just a by-stander for all of this, but it seems to me that such a challenge is likely to especially hard for seals, who are natural predators of the poor penguins.

Seems to me, it’s quite a big ask for seals to have to start embracing penguins… makes the challenge especially onerous for members of the Smiletastic Seal team.  Just sayin’.

seal penguin hug

Also, I have a dilemma, as I do really like seals – my recent sojourn out to Donna Nook with a fellow smiley is testament to that

– and I like penguins a lot too.  Split loyalties you see… Another factor, and it seems only reasonable to be transparent about this one, is that I do have a certain predisposition in favour of the seals team, since some former dragonflies (my Smiletastic team for 2018) have morphed into seals for 2019.  I’m therefore particularly susceptible to being brought on board by any former dragonfly buddies.  Not gonna be able to lie about that one.  Not saying I’m not open to other offers, I’d never want to disappoint a fellow smiley, just that you have to recognise that some ties are stronger than others.  Ask the Badgers from years back, they are bonded for life, and I think all other smilies respect and admire that.  It’s heart-warming, not exclusive isn’t it.  Friendships are I think, always inspirational when they are genuine.  Well, it’s the same with dragonflies.  One thing Smiletastic does guarantee is that you will meet fellow smilies, share adventures and make new fabulous friends, and you can never have too many of them.  Granted, some of the bonding is through shared humiliation; type two fun and extreme cold, but then again, many of the best adventures in life fall into those over-lapping categories.

So, what’s the point?  The point is dear reader.  Smiletastic has delivered again, motivating people to run, including me, and I’m not even doing it this year, because seal Smiletastic participants put out a call to p… p…. p… pick up a penguin,

and join them on the Thursday Accelerate led woodrun session in Ecclesall Woods. Well who wouldn’t jump at the chance to get on board the fun-train with that offer!  Yes, there’d be an expectation I’d have to do some running, but there would also be PENGUINS.  Actual penguins(ish) what’s not to like?  Besides, I like woodrun, just have completely got out of the habit of going, it would be my first time in ages.  Why not?  What’s the worst…. well you know the rest.

Now, it was really good we had made such a plan the day before, because overnight ‘wintry showers’ meant my car was covered with a sort of snow/hail hybrid and the ground was frozen solid.  Eeek, I am terrified of venturing out in ice.  Aaargh. Fortunately, as my regular reader knows I’m conscientious if not keen and a commitment had been made, plus, although it was bitterly cold, it hadn’t been too wet, so although there were patches of deep ice where there were old pools of water, and ponds were frozen over at the discovery centre in Ecclesall woods, the actual roads weren’t too bad.  Phew.  Hence I ventured out.

I was going to say I ventured out in arctic conditions, but actually, whilst ice is apt for penguins, the arctic reference is not. Penguins don’t live in the arctic – though other cute animals like arctic polar bears, arctic foxes and arctic reindeer do:

Penguins live in the antarctic.  Along with other remarkable creatures including minke wales, wandering albatross and leopard seals.  I know, interesting isn’t it?  Got this from this website on which creatures are where for antarctic and arctic, they are trying to sell us trips, but nice pics and most educational, so fair enough.

We therefore headed out in antarctic conditions, to assemble in a penguiny waddle at Ecclesall woods.  Did you know there are lots of different collective nouns for penguins, depending on where they are and what they are doing?

group of penguins in the water is called a ‘raft’, a group of penguins on land is called a ‘waddle’. Other collective nouns for penguins include rookery, colony, and huddle

We were waddling therefore, though it did feel like running drills at the time.  Strange but true.  It was quite exciting gathering.  There was quite an abundance of penguins on hand to join us, a veritable smorgasbord of options, catering for all penguin personality preferences.  This meant seals and non-smiletastic participants alike were able to buddy up with the one with which they felt the most affinity.

Some penguin partnerships were more ostentatious than others… I went for a more modest sized companion that would fit nicely down the front of my running jacket.   Unfortunately, with the dubious benefit of hindsight, I realise the discrete dimensions of my penguin buddy stuffed down my cleavage just makes it look like I have more ballast than usual up front and you can hardly make out my penguin pal at all, which is a shame, as I thought we really excelled in our subsequent run moves together…

I would say you’ll have to zoom in to spot it, but actually, I’d be quite uncomfortable with the notion that you dear reader are zooming in on my cleavage, so I’d rather you just took my word for it. Thank you.

So we gathered, chortling, and set about the important task of befriending a penguin and working out how best to keep our buddies about our person for the work out ahead.  We then bounded out en masse to Jessica’s corner in the woods.  So named, because one time only, when we were doing some drills there, there was a sighting of Jessica Ennis going for a walk there, and we all played it cool, but totally clocked her.   So the link is a bit tenuous, but the name has totally stuck. To be fair, I think she may have clocked us too, because she’s been sighted more recently since doing hill reps and her running form is exemplary, she must have picked up a few tips from the Accelerate team in the woods that day…

jess ennis hill rep

The penguins attracted a fair bit of attention, I don’t think it was just that those of us sporting them were showing eye-catching and astonishing running techniques. Well, it’s possible I was attracting some attention for my form, but maybe in not quite such a good way.  The penguins joined in most drills with poise and brilliance:

The thing is, sometimes you can learn about running technique by observation too, so they also formed a judging panel to analyse the running technique of each and every member of the woodrun crew for the day, and gave scores accordingly as we delivered repeated high-knee run-bys, which are a bit like fly-bys but with less environmental impact, which is important, as aircraft flights contribute to carbon footprint, a factor in global warming and climate change, which will have a catastrophic impact on penguin habitats indeed is already.  Something to ponder on penguin awareness day dear reader, I’m sure you will agree.

penguins

My penguin was quite overwhelmed by the responsibility, and isn’t sleeping through the woodrun, oh no dear reader, merely suffering temporary collapse through exhaustion.

Climate change isn’t the only thing to imperil penguins just at the moment though.  Oh no.  There was an anxious moment when some boisterous hounds came bounding by, and we feared they might make a grab the seated penguins who were at that moment unattended.  Fortunately, some people do care enough about penguins to proactively protect them, which as this incident demonstrates is much needed.  A seal duly sprang into action and sprinted over to the penguin huddle rookery, and with scant regard for either her own safety or dignity, she put herself bodily on the line, placing herself between the vulnerable penguin colony and the canine jaws and legs acock.  It was quite inspirational.  Brought a tear to the eye.  Also, fair old sprint, so definitely running and penguin awareness brought together with near poetic beauty!  Penguins are cute looking, but they are vulnerable, here was a seal, sacrificing all to show they need our help.  Awesome.  One seal, protecting all those penguins, and not because they were being eyed up as lunch either!

penguin and seal

The thing about supporting causes and standing up for what you believe in, is that not everyone will get it and be on board.  I think it’s only fair to point out that participatns in this endeavour had to endure a certain amount of ridicule from other woodrunners at first.  Only at first, because that’s the point dear reader, despite initial scoffing and inappropriate comments along the lines of ‘I wish I’d known what you were doing I’d have brought a seal along‘ (yes, potentially amusing, but not really helpful or appropriate in this context) our co-woodrunners were by the end won over by the penguin knowledge tenacity and commitment of the penguin peddling runners.  Hurrah!    Such was the conversion, by the end of an hour of running around in the woods, a communal penguin drill was incorporated into the training regime alongside the flamingo feet and bunny hopping displays.  It was a thing of wonder to behold.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Honestly, I’m not quite sure which part of the running cycle this particular drill most closely correlates too, but I do know that awareness around penguins was truly raised.  The seals’ work was done.  Hurrah!  It was a fitting climax to the challenge and to the woodrun too.

Time then to jog back to woodrun HQ, drink coffee from the Ecclesall Woods coffee place and contemplate the joys in store at the Big Running Weekend coming to a wood near you (if you live in Sheffield and March 22-24 2019 haven’t happened yet) soon, and the fun on the trails ahead with Dig Deep Trail Races secured for September now too.  An embarrassment of running opportunities.  It isn’t just Smiletastic that will get us out and about, or Jasmin Paris who can inspire us at this time of year, it’s the incentive of getting to take part in all these fantastic peak district based running adventures.  How blessed are we.

Mind you, lets have a special moment for Jasmin all the same.  Wikipedia says, correctly:

Paris set a new race record in the 2019 Spine Race along the Pennine Way, finishing the 268 miles (431.3 km) on 16 January in 83 hours 12 minutes and 23 seconds. Becoming the first woman to win the event overall, she surpassed the previous record of 95 hours 17 minutes set by Eoin Keith in 2016 and the previous female record of 109 hours 54 minutes achieved by Carol Morgan in 2017

I mean, it is quite something isn’t it, just in case you are late to the party, or have been sleeping under a rock or something, her innov-8 sponsors Facebook page proclaimed her victory thus:

16 January at 19:22 · Ultra-running history is made!
inov-8 ambassador Jasmin Paris has smashed the 268-mile Montane Spine Race, becoming the first-ever woman to win the race outright and setting a new overall course record. She ran a time of 83hrs 12mins (TBC) to obliterate both the previous mens and women’s course records.

The Spine Race, first run in 2012, sees runners complete the full distance of the Pennine Way in winter conditions, carrying their kit throughout and sleeping only when they chose too. It is dubbed ‘Britain’s Most Brutal’ race.

35-year-old Jasmin, who gave birth to her daughter just 14 months ago, juggles ultra-running with being a first-time parent, working as a small animal vet and is currently completing a thesis!

Jasmin, who is still breastfeeding and understood to have been expressing milk at race checkpoints, was reunited with her daughter at the finish line.

Read more: www.inov-8.com/blog/spine-race-preview-jasmin-paris/

 

Her record breaking achievement has deservedly had coverage from the The Guardian the BBC ‘Nursing mother smashes 268-mile Montane Spine Race record it’s been great to see her achievement get mainstream news coverage.  I was ecstatic she made it onto Women’s Hour even… though there is a bit of me that thinks really she ought to be allowed to have a bit of a lie down and a nap after all that running around.  A wiser woman than me pointed out she’s no chance of getting that with a 14 month old anyway, so she might as well be doing the media rounds… good point, well made.

So she’s really very impressive, but wasn’t running with a penguin though was she?  Wouldn’t have got any Smiletastic penguin power points for that run.  If only she’d thought to pop a penguin bobble hat on her young daughter, that might have helped…

Which just shows, the woodrun penguin take over was indeed inspired.  Far be it for me to try and influence Smiletastic proceedings (heaven portend) but those points seemed pretty decisively earned!  What more could one do to mark the day?

The only way to top this would be maybe to secure a place for the antarctic marathon or half marathon to take place on 17/18 March this year, I think it’s safe to offer up that top tip as honestly, I think it’s now a bit late to enter that, you could have a go at getting on the waiting list I suppose but if it is anything like as popular as this year’s Round Sheffield Run I don’t reckon your chances.  That’s a shame because that would indeed (according to the event website) .face-to-face with Antarctic gems such as glaciers, icebergs, penguins, seals and whales.‘   Ooh, actually, looks like it even has penguins to marshal the event, and there’s a photo of me doing it, I must have forgotten.  One white out run merges very much into another after a bit, but that number most definitely has my name in it.  Hang on though, I forgot, I’m not doing Smiletastic this year, only penguin awareness running by association.  …

In fact, the event is sold out til 2021, so not really a goer, although I suppose were you to enter for 2021 and provide proof of entry that might get you an ‘in the spirit’ point.  Blimey, you need not so much the wisdom of Solomon as the wisdom of Smiley Elder to work out how to allocate points for these quests!

Penguins are having a tough time, along with many of the other creatures with which we share a fragile planet.  There is the occasional timely bit of good news though, check this story out! Police pick up penguins 

saved penguins

Two penguins have been found by police officers two months after they were stolen.

The pair of Humboldt penguins were taken in November last year from a zoo in Nottinghamshire.

It’s nice to get some good news, but let’s face it, that’s a rarity these days.  The point is, running and penguin awareness raising are both mightily important.  It’s a race against time to protect them all.  Will they make it to the finish?

racebanner-hmwrbczh-bxvitn

So dear reader, it just remains to wish you all Happy Penguins Awareness day!  Make it a good one.  Plan your celebrations for 20th January, for whatever year it comes round for you next, right now!

pens-day-1

For all my Smiletastic posts see here, or don’t it’s up to you, but you’ll need to scroll down for older entries.

Just remember dear reader, do what you need to do come 20th January, the penguins will thank you.

penguin_1f427

 

Categories: motivation, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ta Da! Dig Deep Derring-Do: Dibber Dibbed, DD Dash Definitely Done!

Digested read:  been there, done that, got the Dig Deep 30 T-shirt and bling.  First ever ultra done.

dig deep 30 bling

Unabridged version:

Yes, well, I know I go on and on and on, but if you want to do an ultra, you’ve got to start building your endurance somehow, and it is all about mental strength.  Test yourself right here right now.  Or just watch Murder She Wrote, whatever, it’s up to you.

What happened there?  It’s so surreal.  I think they only give you the bling so afterwards you can feel its imprint on your forehead where you’ve slept on it by accident overnight  and know that really happened.  Like in Mr Benn, where he always got to keep some souvenir or other from whatever adventure he got up to in the fancy dress shop.  For those of you that are too young to remember, this was a TV series from my childhood, in the age before the internet, and when we had to watch a test card with a scary clown on it waiting for tv to start.  We also had to wait for the TV to warm up, an early foretaste of the subsequent frustration of watching the buffer symbol spiralling on a computer screen.   It was another age, sigh, you don’t want to get me started on slide rules.  Yes they were an actual thing.

test-card_1951702c

Where was I, oh yes, Mr Benn.  In it, our worthy protagonist, who presumably is wearing a suit and leaving the house each morning because he’s still pretending to hold down a job many months after being made redundant.  To fill his time, he has to do something.  Hence, Mr Benn, a man wearing a black suit and bowler hat, leaves his house at 52 Festive Road and visits a fancy-dress costume shop where he is invited by the moustachioed, fez-wearing shopkeeper to try on a particular outfit. He leaves the shop through a magic door at the back of the changing room and enters a world appropriate to his costume, where he has an adventure (which usually contains a moral) before the shopkeeper reappears to lead him back to the changing room, and the story comes to an end. Mr Benn returns to his normal life, but is left with a small souvenir of his magical adventure‘ without it he just wouldn’t be able to believe what he’d just experienced had really happened.

If you still don’t know what I mean, then you’ll have to get down to Frontrunner in Sheffield.  They’ve just remodelled their shop based on Mr Benn.  You choose your running shoes and kit, go and put them on in the changing room and when you emerge you find yourself on the actual terrain or at the actual event most suited to whatever tread of shoes you’ve gone for.  Choose carefully, the reality of finding yourself at the marathon des sables might be more than you bargained for, but worth a punt to save on race day entries and the faff and getting yourself there all the same.

Anyway, why are you banging on about running shops and Mr Benn?  You are distracting me.  I need to tell you all about my adventures doing the Dig Deep 30/intro ultra/ Peak Trails 30 or whatever they are calling it now.  In case you’ve not been concentrating, this was my first ever attempt at an ultra. Only just an ultra I know, at 30 miles, but with a lot of what we like to refer to affectionately as ‘undulation’.  The blah de blah on the website says:

The Dig Deep Peak Trails 30 (formerly known as the ‘intro ultra’) covers some of the most beautiful scenery in the UK. At around 30 miles the route takes in some of the finest trails in the Peak District. The route has roughly 1388 metres of ascent and whilst there are no monster climbs the continued hilly nature of the course earmarks this race as a tough one to complete. However, the distance falls just within the ULTRA category – so if you are after your first ULTRA scalp – this could be the one!

These words, and the generous cut off times (you have the same length of time to get around as the 60 milers, because the last 15 miles of the route are the same), plus the inspirational Smiley trio who ran it last year, inspired me to sign up. After all, what’s the worst…

To be honest, I just need to get it off my chest as a way of processing it, so, if you feel your eyes glazing over or are just generally bored, tired and in no way interested I won’t notice you aren’t engaged so feel free to do your own thing. In fact, I’d really recommend it, other people’s run reports can be particularly tedious if they go overboard in detail even if you are holding out to find out whether or not they successfully evaded illicit-substance testing at the end.  I won’t be offended, you won’t be bored, everyone’s a winner. Job done.

So where was I?  Oh yes, had my traditional pre-event angst during the taper so by the time it got to the day before when I had to go and register I was relieved more than anything.  Like getting to exam day, you can’t do any more, so no point in continuing to fret, you just have to get on with it or die trying. I knew I hadn’t done enough in the way of preparation through initial naivety mainly, underestimating the challenge, no idea about kit, bit directionless in training – I put the hours in for sure, but probably could have trained smarter with the benefit of hindsight – upshot,  I’d be winging it to a large extent.  Though whether or not you can actually ‘wing it’ over that distance was still to be determined.  Hence, I decided to step back a bit, treat it as a learning curve and just try to stay positive and cover the distance.  Incidentally, I’ve just googled ‘wing it, ultra’ to try to find a suitable image to break up this endless text, and got bodyform pantliners!  How pleasing, also, potentially apt, depending on the extent to which the whole endeavour triggers stress incontinence.  Gotta love Google*, full of surprises.

bodyform-ultra-towels-normal-wings

I’ve read somewhere that one way to deal with event angst is to have different layered goals.  The idea being, you can include an idealised aspiration/ best case scenario of course, but think of other secondary goals, that might be more achievable and would still be worth turning out for, so it doesn’t feel like you’ve totally bombed if you don’t hit the gold standard objective.  For some, the gold standard might be to win, or to complete within a certain time scale, or possibly to get a flattering photo of themselves en route.  Personally, I didn’t incorporated any ‘flattering photo’ objectives in my goal setting, as goals are supposed to be SMART, and that means ‘achievable’ amongst other things (Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic/ relevant, time bound).  No point in going for goals like winning or being photogenic in my case therefore.  Didn’t want to set myself up for failure.

NEW_SMART-graphic

Instead, in my case, my gold standard, number one objective was to finish without crying.  Failing that, my number two, silver standard, lesser goal was to finish with crying and my worst case scenario was to at least start out, learn what I could and come back better prepared next year even if this time round it was destined to be a DNF (did not finish).  That bronze standard would allow for full on sobbing with snot and everything and still be an acceptable outcome – a positive result even, since it was there on my unwritten staged goals in advance.  Good to know.  I wasn’t even going to think about times for this year, to just finish safely would be good.  Daylight would be a bonus.

On the Friday I headed out to pick up my number the day before race day. After a long hot, too dry summer, there’d been torrential rain.  I was so glad we weren’t out in that, although I wasn’t sure if it might make the surface slippery. Oh well, nothing to be done now other than get on with it.  I jumped over the puddle on the way to register and got my T-shirt and number OK.  I was delighted with my 202!  It has a pleasing symmetry, it is also a palindrome, and who doesn’t like one of them?  Also, it’s a bit like S.0.S, in my world anyway, and this also pleased me.  ’twas a good omen! Granted 505 would have been better – it was the height of secret messaging to put the number 0.7734 into my Casio College fx-80 scientific calculator (which I still have and use by the way), turn it upside down and pass it to a school friend.  The 202 reminded me of that.  Putting 58008 in the calculator was considered incredibly risqué – I was so anarchic back in the day!  My, we knew how to make our own entertainment.  You may scoff, but bet you go try it again yourself in a bit, just for old times sake….  and you thought no-one would ever know, but in fact I can see right into your soul!  I’m looking at you now, through your screen.  Did you know you have spinach caught between your front teeth?

Not overly convinced by the violet and orange shirt colour combo, but at least it’s distinctive.  I was also a bit overwhelmed by the responsibility of having to keep my dibber safe overnight.  That’s probably why I couldn’t really sleep much the night before.  No worries, insomnia enabled me to pack and repack my running vest a great many times, which I’m sure is a pretty much universal pre-event tradition for many runners.

It was hard for me to know what to include.  There was a kit list, and although the organisers said they’d relax it a bit because the forecast was really good (for the Saturday, Sunday was another matter) I felt as I knew I’d be slow out there I should be sensible and not cut any corners.  There was also the option of having drop bags delivered to two of the marshal points on the course, but again, this didn’t really help me as I haven’t got enough experience to know what I’d want when.  Plus I realised at the last-minute I needed to include a cup for the water stations (they are cutting back on plastic, by not providing single use cups at the water stations –  which I approve of, but this did create a need to carry something to use instead).  I didn’t have a proper collapsible one so ended up basically putting in one of those reusable coffee ones.  Not very minimalist, though it is very tasteful and robust.  Matches the event shirt even.  I may try to get round to taking a photo of it to show you if I can be bothered.  It’s a fine cup, just most definitely not designed with ultra-running (get me) in mind. Hang on – here you go:

DSCF4562

I ended up with:

Kit List (mandatory requirements)
Full body cover (windproof/waterproof)
Compass and full route map
Spare water and food
Whistle
Mobile phone

plus:

first aid kit including compeed and Vaseline
spare socks
foil blanket
toilet paper
reusable coffee mug
camera
sunglasses
peaked cap
stuff for the rock shop (more about this later)
prescription glasses
head torch
couple of breeze blocks as ballast, to stop me falling over

Oh, and extra cash in case I bail and have to get a taxi home, and extra map because the official one is too small to be any help at all.

I would have added in the kitchen sink if I could have managed to wrench it off the wall, but it was too well plumbed in.  In the morning I was hoping to include some sandwiches, but there was no room for my Tupperware set by the time I’d squished in everything else.  It was heavier than I expected when I lifted it, but hey ho, I’d least I’d covered all eventualities even if I knew blister wise, the compeed and Vaseline rather cancel each other out as you can’t get a compeed to stick on a thoroughly greased foot.  oh well, maybe I’d find another runner who needed them…  If you are thinking my packing was excessive, well at least I didn’t add in a fibreglass statue of Jesus Christ to erect at the top of Win Hill.   Some endurance runners apparently recently did exactly just that in Wales somewhere.  Even I have some limits.

I set my alarm for 5.30 I think, but was awake all  night anyway as far as I could tell.  Thanks to the Smiley buddy who reminded me via Facebook messenger that a sleepless night was probably inevitable and it would still be ok. 🙂   It was a cool morning, which was fab.  Heat is my enemy at the best of times, and I didn’t want a repeat of the London Marathon saga which was an exercise in being slowly scorched alive – from above by the sun and from below as heat came back up at you from the melting tarmac.  However, this seeming boon,  created more angst in my ‘what should I wear?’  decision making processes.  It can get surprisingly cool up the tops, and if I wasn’t sure how my body’s temperature control would be as I got more and more tired, maybe a long-sleeved top would give me more protection?  In the end pragmatism won the day,  I couldn’t physically squish any more stuff in my arcteryx running vest, I already had a waterproof jacket just in case.  I went with my parkrun volunteer 25 T-shirt, because it has good associations, and my Smiley Paces buff, because I wanted some smiley spirit along with me.  However, I did put a fleece in my backpack for the finish, which paradoxically could be left at the start, so I would be able to warm up again if need be at the end.  The forecast could not have been better, no rain forecast, some breeze and low double figures temperature all day.

I looked longingly at Geronimo Sky, my giraffe companion animal on so many running adventures.  It would have been nice to have her along, but even I baulked at the idea of mountain rescue having to come out and get me and my African ungulate.  I could see the incident report on Facebook later, about the ‘ill-prepared novice ultra runner who thought it was appropriate to take on 30 miles in the peaks in giraffe fancy dress’.  Also, she might not fit in the helicopter.  There is always next year…  what do you think?  I mean now I’ve done it, and see people are allowed to run in flip flops, I don’t see why not 🙂

geronimo at london

So getting ready rituals.  Lots of vaseline, changed my blistering life that.  Actually, I have a three-tier approach to anti-chafing products.  The expensive stuff, the lanacane anti-chafing gel – is for under boobs, I used body glide on my shoulders to stop the straps from my running vest and bra rubbing, and vaseline slathered on my feet like mulch, at least 4 inches thick to provide an effective barrier and stop weeds getting through.  At the risk of giving out an early spoiler, I can report I had zero chafing after 12 hours out.  That’s right dear reader ZERO!.  Only one tiny blister on the side of my foot which I think was where I got a bit of sand in my shoe at some point, as it isn’t anywhere I’ve ever had a rub before.  Not everyone will understand the significance of this statement, but anyone who has ever got into a shower after a run only to emerge screaming micro-seconds later as the water finds the raw patches on their skin in the most intimate of orifices, and hidden and awkward of places  will 100% recognise the importance of this revelation and what an achievement in represents.  Lanacane is amazing, my discovery of it has been almost life changing, running wise.  Actually, possibly genuinely life-changing, chafing injuries have prevented me from running before.  (Really hoping that’s not just me, if so, apologies for over-sharing).  My only blistering was of my lips, can’t believe I dragged all that stuff round with me, but never thought of lip balm.  Next time eh? I might see if I’m allowed either a pack mule or a Sherpa to help me round next year, it would make life so much easier.  Can’t imagine why no-one else has thought of this.  I can’t see anything explicitly stating you can’t,  so….

This year then, up, dressed, fully lubricated, breakfasted (porridge with added seeds – is there any other suitable pre-gig feast I wonder) and off I went.  As I’d already registered the day before I only needed to get there in time for the pre-event briefing at 7.40, but of course my fear of arriving late meant I got there just after 7.00.  Yes, ridiculously early, but also yes, there was proper coffee available.  There was event parking signposted up a little slope through the main car park.  Don’t tell anyone, but I did have a look, but I was worried my car wouldn’t manage on the slope and wet grass, and I was worried about getting my car out in the dark later.  It’s a senior, and not built for off-road.  There were very, very few cars on the hard-standing area, so I snuck into that, feeling guilty, but not guilty enough to change my plan.  The rule is to do just one thing that scares me every day, doing an ultra would tick that box, no need to traumtise myself the whole way round fretting about how I’d ever retrieve the car from a skiddy field without ricocheting into a dozen or so tents occupied by slumbering ultra-runners, probably now too stiff post-event to have any chance of making a speedy retreat to safety, even if they saw me coming.

Here I am, this is it!  Oh.  My.  Gawd.

I ventured into the farm, left my backpack for the end behind the registration desk, and had my traditional annual talk to the organiser about being really slow and was that ok. Yes it was, someone has to be last.  Yes they do, and that someone was going to be me.   As surely as night follows day.  I was going to own the final finisher slot, and not by sandbagging either.  It was mine for the taking.  Inexplicably, there doesn’t seem to be a trophy for that, but I do really like the awards for all the speedy folk. Aren’t they lovely?  Not quite in the league of the finishers ashtray for Sheffield marathoners in years gone by (1981, according to runners’ legends), but not bad at all.

DSCF4298

Pleasingly, I then almost immediately saw a familiar face.  One of the original Dig Deep sign ups who’d had to pull out because of injury but was still turning out to volunteer as a marshal.  What a hero!  Thanks buddy!  Not only did he sit and help calm my nerves with chit chat, but also he bought me a latte.  I haven’t had a proper coffee for weeks, this was very fine.  He was originally to be marshalling at check point one at Burbage, which would have meant I’d see him on the 30 mile route, but in fact he was now at Edale somewhere for the 50 and 60 milers, so I wouldn’t see him again.  Nice boost though.

People began to arrive.  I gulped a bit inwardly, as even though I know from bitter personal experience how unhelpful it is to compare yourself to other runners, I couldn’t help noticing they were all rather lither (is that an actual word) and more streamlined than me.  Some didn’t even let out an involuntary noise when shifting from sitting to standing say.  If you don’t know what I mean, lucky you, but you will find as you age, that stiffness does trigger such sighs and exclamations on movement.  What have I done?  They were all wearing compression socks and lean and hungry looks.  Some of them were even wearing shorts!  Lawks a lordy, they must be planning on actually running the whole darned thing!  Is that even possible?  I felt like a different species to them.  A one lesser able to tackle an ultra.  Gulp.

DSCF4300

Another Smiley rocked up, with dog, not just any smiley, but a Dragonfly Smiley from Smiletastic days (long story, check out the Smiletastic posts if you wish). She was out to wave off her other half, but came over to give support, which was really appreciated.

There was a pre-race briefing, which was indeed very brief.  An explanation of how to dib and what the dibbing points looked like, and a reminder that after Burbage there would be no signage so you’d be on your own.  Don’t miss out the dibbing points – especially CP3 which loads of people missed last year apparently – if in doubt dib!  And watch out for cows.  So glad I’ve done all those recces, I was confident about the route I’d be taking if nothing else.  Then, that was it, pee break and time to assemble at the start.

Then, good new and unexpected gloriousness, Dr Smiley!  She’d made the trek out especially to wave me off!  I was so touched.  I had zero expectation of being waved off by anyone, it’s not a very enticing prospect really is it.  Come and stand around in the cold at some ungodly hour on a Saturday morning  so you can be the focus of my pre-race angstiness and then ignored as soon as I go off en route.  Left desolate by the sidelines, probably in the rain. It made me really happy.  The training for this had been on the whole more solitary and demoralising than I’d imagined at the outset, it was just fantastic to have support on the day, and even better for being unexpected.  Also, this meet up necessitated a photo sequence, of course.  So here you go, happy smiling smilies:

Whether or not I’d make the finish, at least it was now an established fact on record that I’d made the start!  I chattered away about nothing, then Dr Smiley, because she’s medically qualified and also an experienced GB triathlete and mega runner in her own right asked if there was anything I needed to do, like go to the loo or something…  Oh my gawd, of course I needed the loo!  Everyone needs a last minute precautionary pee.  I sped off to attend to that.  Re-emerging into the scrum of the starting line up, I didn’t see her again, well not for a while.  I did see other runner’s footwear though. Look at these;

Wow, surely they’d rub?

As I was milling, there was a race official doing spot checks on kit bags, he took one look at my bulging sack of paraphernalia and said ‘I’m guessing you’ll be fine‘ and moved on.  I’m taking that as respect for my evident preparedness and not disbelief at the voluminous nature of my back pack.  Maybe I should have gone for a squeeze down minimalist sleeping bag on reflection, but there’s always next time.

‘Suddenly’ we were in count down mode.  Little beeps went off all around me as people fired out their watches.  I tried to fire up mine.  Nothing.  It was just searching for a satellite. I was mildly annoyed, I knew it was going to abandon me en route anyway, so I suppose it wouldn’t make all that much difference if I didn’t get the start logged from the off.  I slotted myself in pretty much at the back, and then before I knew it we were off, I was swept up in a bit of loping run too.  I was scanning the sides of the start funnel for a familiar face – the Frontrunner media team was videoing the start – I gave a wave just as he stopped filming and seemingly fell over into a hedge (don’t think there was a cause and effect there, more just correlation of events).  He didn’t see me straight away, but clocked me as I was sprinting (eh hem) off, and I heard him shout after me, I was determined to at least run until I was round the corner and out of sight.  Didn’t see Dr Smiley, but then she didn’t see me either, never mind, we’d shared a moment!  That was it, all the ultra runners through the funnel and underway, no turning back now.  How desolate the start funnel must have looked once we’d all vacated it.  Wonder what all the waver offers did next?  Coffee and leisurely breakfast if they had their wits about them.

DD start funnel

The course starts up an incline, I was a bit swept up with everyone else, so did jog along, though inevitably the few that were behind me overtook me in rapid succession.  A little further on, I found a couple stopped.  He was leaning against a fence, not good so early in proceedings.  I asked if they needed help, but they said they were ok, he just needed to regulate his breathing.  OK then, off I continued, vaguely aware of two couples still behind me, but just walking and adjusting their kit.  The race vest equivalent of hoiking your tights and knickers straight after going to the loo.  Blooming office wear, nightmare.  Tights are possibly the most uncomfortable, least practical garment in the known universe, after sports bras, though that should really go without saying.

Soon I was on Ringinglow Road, and then turning off it, and over the style and up the hill.   The weather was just stunning, and the views glorious, it was long after sunrise, but the sky was beautiful.  There was a promise of warm sun and a gentle breeze.  It felt good.  I caught up with a couple ahead who were adjusting shoe laces, and they let me pass.  I think that was the only overtake I did all day.  I offered to wait and let them go ahead as I was just on a day out, but they declined, saying they too had the same game plan and would fight me for final finisher.  I laughed politely, but  knowing inwardly they had no chance, they might battle all they wish, but that target was mine!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This part of the route was fastidiously marked, there were even cheery marshals to point the way.  After crossing the open fields (no cows, phew) then it was a steep descent into the woods. I’m a total coward on this bit, I just find it scary descending and I was worried about slipping on a surface recently wet after so many months of dry.  I tentatively picked my way down, conscious of the couple I’d over taken now right on my tail.  We chatted a little.  I asked them if they’d done this ultra before, and then cringed, because my intonation was all wrong and it somehow came out implying ‘because I’ve done it loads of times and I can give you lots of top tips‘ whereas my intonation was supposed to be reverential, not patronising.  Intoning in such a way as to imply ‘you’ve clearly done loads of ultras – how does this one compare?’ and then I couldn’t bring myself to explain I knew I’d got the sentence stress all discombobulated, because then I’d be a) drawing attention to it; b) delaying them even more on their run and c) demonstrate I was even odder than they’d probably already worked out for myself.  It’s so hard being me, life is just one excruciating social encounter after another. You dear reader, can have no idea what this is like, being an appropriately socially-adjusted individual with recognisably effective communication skills.  Just feel my pain, that’s all I ask.  Anyway, they over-took me soon after that, so on the plus side I was again the main (only) contender for the coveted thirty mile final finisher position.  Just 29 miles to get round safely and it would be mine for the taking!  (Insert evil cackling laugh here).

Next stage, Limb Valley.  This is the first time I’ve been up since they resurfaced the path.  It is so much better.  There were cattle on either side, so they would have been lying blocking the route for sure.  A couple of walkers were watching a couple of the cattle that were wading into a bog for mud baths.  I stopped to chat to them for a bit because it wasn’t as if I had anything else to do all day.  They were the first of many to ask what the event was.  I got stopped all day by interested spectators.  Still, this first interaction was fine, and it was nice to see the cows having a good time.  Normally, I’m too wary of them to pause and just appreciate them in all their bovine magnificence.  They are lovely animals, particularly when viewed from the other side of a secure fence.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Onwards and upwards.  Just as I was reaching the top I came across the asthmatic runner, now walking back down hill.  We spoke briefly.  He just couldn’t get his breathing right and so had made the difficult, but painfully gutting decision to withdraw.  I really felt for him, that’s tough.  He was trudging back to the start.  One of the things I do to keep myself going on difficult runs is think of all the people who’d love to be able to be out there doing what I’m trying to do but really, absolutely can’t.  I resolved to think of him when the going got tough as inevitably it would, and keep on putting one foot in front of another until I was actually definitively unable to do it anymore.

DSCF4324

Emerging on to Sheephill road, past the hilariously named ‘cottage’, noticed a helicopter overhead.  I saw it a few times during the day, I wonder what it was out and about for.

There was a marshal to point me in the right direction into Lady Cannings plantation, I wondered if that might be the last person I’d see all day.  The other thirty-milers had long since vanished out of sight.  Into the woods.  I had a brief moment of confusion in here, wondering if I’d got the right turning as one sign was missing, but phew, I was OK.  A good example though of the importance of recces for me at least, it just seems incredible I could lose my nerve re orientation even though I was on a really familiar patch.  How people get around without recces I can’t imagine.  I heard there was also a mix up with on the day map issues, some on the 30 mile route had a map for the 50 and 60 milers, that could have ended badly!

I was soon out of the woods, and alongside the heather.  This landscape always lifts my spirits, even if, granted, this year the heather has been short-lived and less spectacular than usual.  Even heather couldn’t hold out indefinitely in such extremes of dry and the rain came too late.  I just hope it will recover next year.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Skipping along, across Houndkirk.  I love this route.  The views are amazing, the landscape seemingly deserted and the gradient is on your side after just a little bit of uphill.  Glorious. The photos of course don’t do it justice.  I found myself wondering if and when I’d be making the return route along the same paths, but tried not to dwell on it too much, better to just live in the moment.

On I trotted, a few walkers, one man sped past me with a fine working cocker spaniel  sprinting along behind (that will be you soon Tilly, don’t fret).

tilly

He wished me well as he disappeared over the horizon.  I emerged at Burbage at the same time as the Thai shed pulled up.  This food stall is definitely enterprising, putting itself out there, but, much as I like good vegetarian Thai food, it does seem a bit of an anomaly out there in the Peak District.  Not the sort of food I’d be thinking of mid run.  Still, it must do a roaring trade as it’s out there a lot lately.

DSCF4336

I didn’t wait for it to open, I had an event to run.

This was the first of the marshalled check points, check point one.  I was so relieved they were still there, I had an anxious moment when it looked from afar like they guy was packing up, but he gave me a cheery welcome.  I dug out my super-practical (not) cup for water and had a bit of a chat.  I said I was pretty confident I was the last runner through, as I was, but didn’t want to claim 100% certainty in case someone had been hiding behind a tree when I passed, maybe on their own mission to bag final finisher without me knowing.  The guy said he’d had one runner through who wasn’t expected and was missing another if that was the case.  I explained about seeing a man withdraw earlier, which might account for it, he’d got a withdrawn down as female. I  wondered if as they were running together maybe their dibbers had got mixed up or something,  No worries, or at least no my worry, I felt I could relax now, this for me was the critical check point, if they got bored waiting for me here that would be run over, but now I had loads of time to get around.  If I was outside the cut offs from hereon-in I’d be begging for someone to come rescue me!

Through the car park, along the road and heading up to Stanage.  There were a few more people now, heading up to do bouldering, or maybe just for a lie down.  Why didn’t I think to bring along a mattress for a power nap en route?  Curses.  Still, that’s what this event was all about, a learning experience, I’ll know for next year.  If I have a collapsible cup, that will leave a bit more space in my running vest for other essentials, like this.

DSCF4338

I got to the top, and again, the panorama opened up. It’s just gorgeous up there.  It’s weird this 30 mile malarkey.  It was definitely physically much, much tougher than the London Marathon say, for me anyway.  But mentally, I think it really helps that you just look up and around you and your spirits soar.  It is such a privilege to be out in this landscape, and were it not for having the Dig Deep series of races to aim for, I’d never have got out and explored if for myself.  There were no bees on Stanage today, but there were views to explode your mind.  I could just make out some runners in the far, far distance, I wondered how long it would be before I’d be where they were now.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This was type one fun.  Lovely.  I even ran bits.  This might sound like stating the obvious, but I’d actually planned on only walking the first half in case I ran down my reserves too much early on, but I felt great, and it’s so rare for me to spontaneously feel like scampering I figured I might as well surrender to it, there would be plenty of time later when I’d be longing to put on the brakes.

Much excitement when I got to the first un-marshalled dibbing point.  It was highly visible. I don’t know how it compares with last year, but there was no missing these as long as you were on the correct path.  A short jog on, and there was the next one, at the junction where you take the path off Stanage.  So far so good.

I was making better progress than on any of the recces.  I wasn’t particularly pushing myself, but just trying to keep moving and minimise faffing.  Even so, I had several people stop me asking what was going on.  I must look either approachable or just unlikely – the presence of a number pinned to my front suggests I’m participating in something, but what?  No-one else in sight, and I’m not immediately identifiable as any kind of an athlete from my outward physique.  Still, those I spoke to were encouraging.  Possibly my favourite encounter though was the couple just after the cattle grid on Quiet Road.  (I think). After you’ve descended off Stanage Edge.  They’d taken a ‘short cut’ which had led to the female half of the couple waist deep in a bog, completely stuck and crying with laughter.  Her male companion was also unable to move on account of being doubled up with laughter himself.  They were having a hoot.  Being up to your midriff in bog is apparently brilliant fun, infectiously so.  Those Bovines up the Limb valley were but early adopters of a trend that is sure to catch on.  You heard it here first!

Shortly after I’d shared giggles with these two mud-hoppers, a bare-chested man ran by.  I trotted on, dropping back to a walk as soon as I hit an incline. A bit later, he came past me again the other way. This was a bit sobering, as I imagine he’d sprinted up to Stanage and back in the time it had taken me to trot just a kilometre or so.  He paused, and asked me what I was up to. I explained about the 30 mile challenge (I couldn’t bring myself to call it an ultra run because I was so self-evidently doing very little in the way of actual running) and he was really encouraging about the whole thing.  I promise you dear reader, not a word of a lie, not one person I encountered during this whole endeavour laughed in my face when I told them what I was up to.  Not.  One.  Amazing isn’t it.  People are more encouraging and supportive than you might think.  Whatever negative thoughts passed through my head later on, they were put there by me, sad, but true.  He skipped off, probably doing his own 50 mile ultra run before breakfast, but hey, good for him, we were each pursing our own goals, and that dear reader is as it should be. Thank you random runner.

DSCF4353

I left him running onwards whilst I turned up the road and up the hill, following on behind some horses

This road was a bit of a slog, though you do get some unexpectedly good views if you bother to stop and look at them.  Some cyclist passed, some puffing, some calling greetings as they cruised by.  After a bit, a few undulations and some twists and turns Win Hill started to come into view.  My nemesis.  Is it just me, or does it look a bit like Kilimanjaro from afar?  Certainly feels like it when you make the ascent.

See?  Practically indistinguishable!  It’s Win Hill on the left by the way. Or maybe right, hard to say.  I met someone who’d climbed Kilimanjaro once, I was dead impressed.  ‘What was it like?’ I asked him excitedly.  He shook his head ‘hell, it was like hell, in a Scottish mist, couldn’t see you hand in front of your face and couldn’t breathe‘ hmmm, not on my bucket list any more that one then.  At least with Win Hill, even if you can’t breathe, there are fabulous views.

Though this stretch had elements of sameyness, it went quickly, and heading down New Road was unremarkable apart from rising fear at the prospect of Win HIll and the presence of a healthy looking but extremely dead mole.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mole up close before.  It made me sad, but also, bizarrely, was reassuring because it must mean there are other living moles out there.  So here is the next in my series of random dead animals/ road kill.

DSCF4361

Whilst we are on depressing animal shots.  This popped up in my Facebook feed today.  A friend of mine is working in China, and came across people selling live baby turtles with painted shells.  The may look beautiful, but how sad and cruel is that.  I understand in some places you can even buy turtles sealed in plastic bubbles of water, used as ‘ornaments’ for key-rings.  There seem to be no limits to what we’ll do to animals.  Messes with my head…

turtles in Yangshuo

This concludes the depressing animal strand of this blog post.  Probably.

Moving on.  ‘Suddenly’ I was at Yorkshire Bridge!  Over the road down the hill and the check point and feed station was in sight!  However, I was thwarted in my endeavours to get there.  Another couple stopped me – whilst I was actually jogging this time – I felt a tad affronted.  They then said ‘is there anything interesting down there‘ waving vaguely towards Win Hill.  Erm, I didn’t really know how to respond.   Surely that would require some deep philosophical discussion about what constitutes ‘interesting’ and could that ever be an objective standard as opposed to a subjective experience.  I didn’t really want to have that debate right there and then.  I said basically, ‘ well, there’s a stream and a footpath and a big hill which is a tough climb but great views‘.  ‘Oh,’ they replied ‘what about the other routes?’  I got a bit exasperated at this point.  I mean, I’m all for being helpful and educating the public about the sport of ultra-running (cough), but that doesn’t extend to be a roaming tourist information service!  Couldn’t they see they were blocking the path of an ultra runner!  I bet this doesn’t happen to Kilian Jornet when he’s out and about.  I mumbled something vague and trotted off to be embraced by this vision of loveliness:

Now, I know you shouldn’t really have favourites, but between you and me, I think these were my favourite marshals of the day. They were funny and helpful.  They were also a gateway to a mountain of calorific snacks.  The two women helped me with faffing with my cup, and selection of snackery.  They took time out now and again to give a running commentary on the guy who was eating a pot noodle with a twig, having failed to pack a spork apparently.  There was some banter going on (don’t worry, he could hold his own) but I felt he should be celebrated for going for the biodegradable option.  Also for holding out against the earlier suggestion that he improvise with two ballpoint pens.  Anyway, this trio was friendly and funny and fed me – and you can’t ask for more from marshals at an event really can you?  Oh, by the way, the stuff that looks like lost property is actually bags ‘proper’ ultra runners had left for use at various stages.  Just so you know how it all works.

We were debating Win Hill ahead.  I was apprehensive. I commented I’d still rather climb up it from Parkin Clough side than try to descend, I just don’t see how you can come down a slope that steep and uneven without falling. (Unless you are a member of the Dark Peak Running Club but they are surely a genetic anomaly, imbued as they are with super human skills on the hills.)   At the very moment I was stating this, probably spitting crisps out between words as I did so, two women appeared as if from nowhere, mud covered and a bit shaky.  Guess what dear reader?  That’s right!  They’d just fallen down Win Hill.   They were in search of a sugar fix and a bit of TLC.  Well, they’d stumbled into the right place.  I left the marshals tending to them – they’d already put the top back on my cup for me, refilled my 2 litre bladder in my arcteryx and allowed me to eat my body weight in sugar loaded snacks after all, I loped on.

Finally I was there, at the base of Win Hill.  This would be the real test of the day, tackling the hill with tired legs.  Psychologically, I felt if I could get to the top, I’d finish the event.

Phew though, what a slog!   There seemed to be quite a bit of traffic as well.  I got overtaken by some walkers, which made me feel a bit inadequate as they weren’t even really dressed for trekking.  Yes, they asked what was going on too.  I wasn’t really feeling the love.  At one point I suddenly felt a bit dizzy, like that sensation you get if you stand up too quickly after bending down for a while. I’ve never had that before out running.  I took a moment to think.  I’d just eaten loads, I couldn’t need fuel, but I was sweating buckets.  I stopped and drank loads, and then, feeling better went on more slowly.  I was a bit perturbed though.  I feel the hardest bit for me for this has been nutrition, I’ve put on weight in training and just don’t know how to fuel properly.  Maybe I was getting a bit dehydrated.  I drank water from my cup at the stations, but had electrolytes in my running vest bladder.  hard to know whether the difference is real or psychosomatic, but I definitely felt better afterwards.  I gave way to others coming down.  At one point, I hung on to a tree as I moved aside to let a group past.  One of them lost her footing and practically landed on top of me, that goodness for that tree, without it we’d have both been lost in the crevasse alongside the path (well, it seems like a crevasse to me).

In other news, there was a photographer, lurking!  Ooh, that was unexpected.  I’m obviously not noticeably running at this point, but I am head down and trying my best.  Until I am distracted by the sound of the camera shutter clicking and am quickly morphed into ‘seen the photographer’ pose!  I can’t run, and I can’t hide either…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The photographer was friendly and we had a chat.  Any excuse for a break by me quite frankly.  Turns out he’d done an ultra run earlier in the year at Dartmoor. Gave encouragement, smiles and a useful top tip.  If you do feel like quitting, never do so at a marshal point, make yourself walk away and then see how you feel after 5 minutes.  Getting going again after a pause is the hardest challenge, if you can do that, you might be able to finish.  Good advice.  He also did a portrait shot of me, because I explained it was my first ultra, and I wanted a memento.  I look happy, but cringe at my physique which can only be described as buxom, but you know what, I have to own it, this body got me round 30 miles so whatever it’s shortcomings in the aesthetic front, it works for me.  I’m lucky.   Plus, it is what I look like, and how lucky am I to be able to be in a beautiful part of the world, getting pep talks from other runners to help me round my first ultra.  I therefore declare this to be a happy memory… you can see why I think there is a gap in the market for running vests that cater for the erm, ‘fuller form’ though can’t you?  No denying it unfortunately.

DD win hill still smiling

Thank you lovely photographer.  He said he’d see me again at Burbage/ Houndkirk, I was a bit doubtful he’d be out that long, but pathetically grateful he thought it was possible I’d make it round in daylight.  I continued onward and upward.  Puffing. Audibly.  Oh the shame.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Once you emerge from the trees and start looking back, the views are amazing.  The summit was very windy and quite crowded.  I found out later in the day that Dr Smiley came up here to look for me en route, but we missed each other.  To be fair, judging from this selfie, I think I might have an inkling why.  The thought was very  much appreciated though:

breezy up win hill

I took a moment to admire the views, rude not to, seeing as I was there.  I knew I still had a long, long way to go, but that was the worst climb done.  Hurrah.

The marshal was a little down from the trig point where seemingly coach loads of people were gathered for photos

Must have been nippy out.   They are all hi-vis heroes for standing out in that.  Even more so the next day for the 12.12 when rain and wind made it feel like hail apparently, up at Burbage.  Brrrr.  Ironically, doing 30 miles in perfect weather was probably the easier option compared to that!

Coming off the summit I was in good spirits.  I met a lovely couple who again were asking what was going on.  They seemed genuinely impressed by my endeavour, which made me feel a bit better.  I don’t know what it takes to be a ‘proper’ ultra runner, but I was thinking perhaps doing some actual running during the course of the 30 mile route, and I’d done hardly any.  However, this couple didn’t care at all about speed, they were wide smiling at my attempt at the distance.  I’ll take that!  Thank you nice people.

I left them wending their way upwards, whilst I wended (is that a word?  Should be) downwards.  The next person I meant was out walking some beautiful, but rather wayward dogs that had set some sheep stampeding ahead of  him. I  wasn’t sure if he could see and didn’t know quite what to do.  Should I tell him?  They had returned to him by the time I got to him.  This walker is doing his first marathon in October, the Yorkshire Marathon so we were able to swap running training tales.   He had pulled a hamstring on a long run only a couple of days before, headed out for 20 miles but had to stop at 14.  Mind you, 20 miles seems to me to be an impressive distance this far out from marathon day, so if he does need to rest a week or so he still has time on his side.  It was a nice interlude to chat, I didn’t say anything about the dogs…

There followed one of my top three encounters of the day.  The next quartet of walkers seemed to be a family group, grown up children and their parents at a guess.  Again they stopped me to ask what I was doing – you know what, next year I might just print out some fliers to explain, it might be a lot easier and save a bit of time.  They were suitably encouraging, and impressed by how far I’d already come.  So impressed, that one of the group offered me some of his dried mango slices.  I hesitated for a moment, and then thought ‘you know what, sliced mango might be really nice‘.  ‘Thank you I will‘, I said, taking a chunk. It was posh mango slices too, high moisture content, all squishy and delicious, not over dry and chewy.  Went down very nicely.  Just as I gulped, the elder man suddenly put out his arm in horror and exclaimed ‘oh no! Are you allowed to do that?  Will you be disqualified for having had outside assistance?’  I thought a bit more.  ‘I don’t think they can test for mango, so I’ll probably be OK.  Also, between ourselves, I’m not going to be a top three finisher, I’ll chance it’.  Waving, I skipped off, chuckling.

DSCF4404

Hilarious, I honestly don’t know if he was joking or not.  If joking, I applaud him for his deadpan delivery.  Thank you lovely mango people, whoever you are.  Mind you, the joke will be on me if I find they do test me positive for mango at the end… I’ll be smiling on the other side of my face then!  Imagine the indignity in that.  To get round, and to indeed be disqualified for something as seemingly as innocuous as dried tropical fruit.  The perils of the event eh.  I wonder if this is the sort of conflicted temptation those misfit children experienced touring  Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, just waiting for the moment they might get offered the everlasting gobstopper the chocolate spies were prepared to pay highly for.  Take it, and pass it on, and you will be rich, but your moral compass will have imploded and you can never show your face in public again.  They didn’t know then it was but an entrapment device to test their ethical framework.  So too with mango slices, it might fuel you to the end of the ultra, but at what cost if you are henceforth shunned by ultra-runners, and worse yet, disqualified from future events.  Even if they didn’t know, I would, too high a price to pay.   I’d have the rest of the route to ponder whether and when to ‘fess up…  Surely if race officials were in the habit of using entrapment techniques to lure the weak – willed into ingesting illicit dried fruit slices I’d have picked it up on social media sometime before.

Too late now!

The next bit, trotting down to hope was pretty straight forward.  I managed to avoid the dangerous geese.

DSCF4408

Geese scare me.  I’ve been attacked by a gander once and it blooming hurt.  I did nearly get wiped out by a couple of cyclists.  I saw loads of other cyclists who were courteous and left me loads of space, but there were two coming up heads down just not looking, then when they did clock me, one wobbled and just veered right into me. He was apologetic, but I wasn’t impressed.  I hadn’t put that part of the route down as a dangerous section.

A scamper down into Hope.  Going past the Adventure cafe without going in for some soup was a challenge, but I headed on to the cement works.  I managed to locate all expected dibbing points, and also to avoid being hit by a train, because they are almost as dangerous as geese if the warning signs are anything to go by.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Actually, the face of the man on the warning sign, is not dissimilar to the expression of the man worried about my mango consumption.  Doping is a serious issue!

DSCF4420

The next section was alongside the cement works.  I quite like the brutalist architecture of the place, it is a strange place.  You hear noises coming from it, and might see machinery turning, but I’ve never seen a human form. All very mysterious, and highly suitable as the setting for a budget horror film or indeed an actual homicide.  Just a thought.  I sped up a bit…

By dint of looking both ways, I managed to avoid being crushed by any unexpected large plant crossings within the quarry, and excitedly exited towards Bradwell.  This was another symbolic point for me, like I’d imagined myself at the top of Win Hill, I’d visualised myself here at the rock shop!  Just to help you out here, this is what the rock shop looked like last time:

DSCF4106

This is what it looked like today:

I can’t lie.  I was a bit gutted.  This is where the mental strength you’ve built up in training really kicks in.  The thing is, I’d especially put together something to put in the honesty box for the children who’d set up the stall to find, but now I didn’t know if they ever would.  I decided as I’d brought my little token for them, I’d leave it anyway.  I carefully slipped my good luck bringing envelope and its mysterious contents under a wooden block and hoped for the best.  I daresay someone would find it.  Maybe even the dog walker who was picking up dog poo alongside me as I carried out this no doubt outwardly bizarre shenanigans.  I will never know.

Oh well.  On the plus side, not far to the fantasy feed station now.  I’d been promised that this is practically a wedding buffet.  I was now thinking that it might not be that exactly, it’s just that you’d be so delighted to find it you wouldn’t really care if they were offering cups of cold sick as long as they had added sufficient sugar and caffeine to reboot you.

Into Bradwell and off to the left, alongside the green and opposite the pub was a sign adorned with a Dig Deep t-shirt, which was fortunate as it wasn’t immediately obvious otherwise.

As I bumbled along, I was aware of other fleeter runners closing in on me. These were the first other runners I’d seen, since limb valley, and were 50 and 60 milers romping purposefully in.  I felt like a different species. They were focused and looking strong.  I was again doubting my right to be there as they ran ahead of me to the marshal point.

This was a pretty cool stopping off place.  Great views, loos, friendly marshals and people sat outside in the sun supporting other runners or maybe waiting for their runner to come in.  Inside the hall was indeed a buffet.  It was like the weirdest village hall party ever.  I stuffed salted crisps into my mouth whilst surveying what was on offer.  There were no spinach and feta stuffed filo pastries, but there was a broad choice including falafels, sweet potato crisps, sweets, chia bars, naked bars, fresh fruit, mini cakes all sorts.  One of the marshals produced a cup of coffee in a children in need christmas themed cup.  I hovered round the buffet eyeing the serious runners outside on the grass who were taping up injuries and rummaging with kit. It emphasised how little I knew what to do, they had clear routines, whereas I was just hanging about really, contemplating whether if I sat down to drink my coffee I’d be able to get up again.  I actually discussed this dilemma with one of the marshals and they said they could help haul me up again if need be, so I presume that level of outside assistance would be ok.  It’s complicated.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My confidence was ebbing a bit here.  I mean I was fine, physically fine, legs getting stiff but that was not unexpected, but just looking at everyone else I felt such a misfit.  These runners had done up to 45 miles already I think and were still on fire.  I’d done a fraction of that and was just pootling around in a fog of vague incomprehension.  I hid by the buffet table (always a good place to hang out) and then realised there was another runner in the corner being debriefed by a St John’s Ambulance man.  I don’t know what had happened, but I do know he had to withdraw after feeling unwell and was given a lift back to base.  Again, it was a timely reminder that I was lucky to be able to do this, it didn’t matter (or shouldn’t anyway) what other people were up to, I just had to commit to putting one foot in front of another and see where it led.   As he went off, I overheard the St John’s man say ‘it’s always a worry isn’t it, when people are taken ill, it doesn’t always end well‘.  He was talking generally, not about that actual worry, but again, I thought I just need to realise I’m lucky, I’m not ill, I’m just over weight and demoralised, and I can very much still do this. It will be slow, and may not be pretty, can’t see myself as the poster girl for any ultra running event any time soon, but my hat is still in the proverbial ring and it ain’t over yet.

I slurped my coffee, had another pee, availing myself of the quality facilities.  And off I went.  I was consciously telling myself to stay positive.  I’d made the cut off.  The organisers would let me finish the course now, I just had to make sure I did.

It’s quite pretty going through Bradwell, but then the cloud of the climb up to Rebellion Knoll was still to come.  Like in Lady Cannings plantation, I suddenly had a wobble about which way to go.  Crazy, I’ve done this section loads of times now.  Being fatigued from distance really does impact on cognition, well it does for me anyway.  Fortunately, the conveniently parked blue van was still in place, not a guaranteed landmark for the future, but it had been there on every recce.   Praise be!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Inevitably, I got to the base of Rebellion Knoll.  It’s hard to explain why this haul is so hard.  Partly because the head high bracken means you can’t see where you are going.  It is very, very steep, and I’ve seen it referred to somewhere as the Jurassic section, which seems entirely appropriate. You do feel like a t-rex could come crashing through the undergrowth at any  time.  I didn’t see any today, but I was one of the later runners coming through, I imagine any out there would have already gorged their fill on leaner stock.  I don’t know if dinosaurs have to worry about cholesterol clogging their arteries, but if they do, they’d have had fat-free feasting for some hours.

I was very, very happy to emerge at the top.

This was the only official bit of directional signage I saw on the course all day, but it was a good call to put it here, I got hopelessly lost recceing this section the first time and lost a lot of time.

A gentle romp across a field, and you emerge again onto a hard road.  I had hoped to jog this, and I had little half-hearted bursts now and again, but then I realised my watch had bailed on me, and it was almost like a switch going off.  I felt as I had no idea what pace I was going or how far I’d still to go I might as well just take it easy.  One or two other runners past me, fleet of foot and calling encouragement as I did so. They are extraordinary athletes, all of them.  On reflection, every one of them was on their own.  I wonder if that’s how it usually is, or whether it’s because this was a relatively small field so participants got spread out. Anyway, all were friendly, and I said desperately ‘I’ll chase you now you’ve given a lead‘ or something similarly cheesy as they passed. Note to self, as well as the fliers to distribute to walkers explaining what I’m doing, I need some flash cards with motivational phrases to wave at passing runners in order that I come up with something maybe a tad less cringeworthy in future.  Big ask though I know.

Downhill to Shatton.  I was trying to calculate how far I still had to go, but I couldn’t fathom it at all.  Oh well.  It’ll be a surprise.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You come out of Shatton, and emerge on the river bank.  It’s a narrow path, with little bridges, each of which has a resident troll underneath, that is why there is troll netting under many of them.  At this stage I found ultra runners overtaking me at speed and at regular intervals.  Many were asking ‘so are you 50 or 60 miles?’ and I had to sheepishly say ‘erm, 30‘, and they had to summon all their remaining mental strength to not look completely aghast that I was still out there.  To their universal credit (not the benefit, but the sentiment) all of them said something encouraging in response.  A couple even held gates open for me as I lumbered up behind them, which I felt a bit guilty about, impeding their progress as they were on a mission.  A couple were saying they had had the odd wobble, mainly about being able to eat, but none needed any of the provisions I had to offer.  It was quite humbling really, moving even, all this good will.  I get the sense there is really a community of ultra runners out there, they may or may not know each other, but they will look out for one another out and about.  I felt unworthy even to engage them in conversation, but everyone who I told it was my first ultra was supportive.  ‘Good on you’, ‘everyone starts somewhere’, ‘keep going’. ‘you’ve got this‘ that kind of thing.  yes, yes, they may be cliches, but it was really nice.  I felt like they wanted me to succeed.  Hard though it is to imagine, I guess they all started somewhere too.  This is an endeavour where someone else getting round doesn’t diminish anyone else’s achievement.  Plus, and I’m not being self-deprecating here, I’m just being honest, I think there was an element of cheering on the underdog. I’m not an obvious contender for this enterprise, and clearly I’d been out a long, long time, I think some were just saluting my dogged tenacity and I’ll take that.

My favourite comment though was a super speedy woman doing the 60 miler, who sped by shouting ‘you are amazing‘, and whether or not that was merited, it was most affirming.  Dear reader, find some random person today, right now if you can, and sincerely tell them they are amazing, it will make them feel good and maybe you’ll feel the radiating feelgood emanating off them and feel extra good in return!  I think she might have been the winner (first lady) of the Ultra too. What a star.  Hard to say for sure though, as she was whizzing along.  If it was you, you are a great ambassador for the sport.

Winner dig deep ultra 2018

Here are some shots of my ultra running compatriots speeding off into the distance. Thank you all, whoever you are 🙂  Oh, one of the photos is of a sheep, not an ultra runner, just to be clear.

I had one rather bizarre experience at this stage.  I got a phone call from a builder about a fence, and had to discuss that with him mid run. It did rather spoil the sense of being out in the wilds, and I felt a bit ignorant when one runner came by and I was just walking along chatting into a phone, it didn’t really feel in the spirit of the occasion, then again, needs must.  Also, and this is a useful top tip, there’s nothing like negotiating with a builder for taking your mind off a couple of miles on an ultra, I didn’t notice that bit at all, I also didn’t break out of a walk which was a bit of a missed opportunity as that was a good flat stretch. Oh well.

You emerge on a bridge on teh way to Hathersage. Here was another water station, and the same marshal who’d been at Yorkshire Bridge, only rather ignorantly I completey failed to recognise him. Then again, he was in disguise having ditched his pot noodle, hat and high-vis.  He however, recognised me… best not ask why.  There was suddenly a little rush on, as other runners descended on the boot full of snacks and replenished water.  There was a team of three using poles, ploughing on together.  I left the station a bit ahead of them and dragged myself up the hill that takes you up to the millstone pub.  Blimey, that hill is steep.  I was worried there’d be cows, but there weren’t today, thankfully.  Big relief to get to the top. I felt like I’d definitely finish now, that was all the worst climbs behind me, there was still daylight and everything was still working – though I was a bit worried if I stopped everything would set fast into position and never move again, no worries, I just needed to keep moving.  The earlier marshal had advised that from 8.30 they wouldn’t allow anyone to continue cross country, they’d have to go along Ringinglow Road instead.  That isn’t such a disastrous scenario to be fair.  Anyway, i was OK so hey, go me!

Following the signs to Ringinglow, and over the style onto the moors and that was it. Homeward bound.  It is a hike up the hill, but the sun was dropping down in the sky, the light was absolutely beautiful, and the end in sight in a ‘about 6 miles to go’ sort of way.  I was beyond running at this point and gave in to just walking for a bit, stopping to look at the views, and then walking a bit more.  A few runners came past, some heather bashing to go a direct path to the top of Carl Wark, I decided to stick to the route I knew.  Maybe they were on a short cut, but it wasn’t worth the risk of getting disorientated or going over on an ankle at this point.  I pressed on.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Finally, I saw the flag of the marshal point at Carl Wark in the distance.  Oh joy, it wsn’t at the top of the hill as expected, but at it’s base.  A cheery and relaxed marshal was sat chilling in a chair, supervising the dibber, but also multi-tasking throwing a ball for his companion canine now and again.  We had a brief chat.  He’d been at this marshal point til one in the morning last year!  This year though it seemed most runners were now through.  He seemed relaxed about the whole thing.  Last year the weather was horrendous, but he apparently just sat it out in a tent.  Excellent.  I dibbed, and yomped on.

Now, I can’t explain why, but coming down the slope to the stone bridge, I suddenly felt my legs really stiffen.  A bit of a wobble even.  Hmm, this was unexpected and unhelpful.  I picked my way down quite gingerly.  I didn’t get the best route and consequently had to boulder hop across a stream, but my legs weren’t really reliable. I decided best course was to get on my arse and use hands and legs to cross the stream.  Sensible you might think, but once I was sitting down on a rock I had a moment of thinking that was pretty much it.  I was set solid, and would now have to end my days on this rock, gazing skyward.  The bracken was high so I’d never be found. It wouldn’t have been so bad to be fair, it wasn’t alarming or anything, just a bit inevitable.  Somehow I managed to wrench myself upright again, but doubt set in.  This wasn’t by any means in the bag just yet.  Oh crappity, crap crap. So near and yet so far….

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fret not dear reader.  There were still good times ahead and micro-adventures to come.  As I trudged up across Houndkirk, passed some cows, there was my friendly photographer friend again.  It was genuinely nice to see him.  Plus, the sunset was providing a pleasingly flattering back light to my ultra struggle.  Anyone would think I’d deliberately stayed out that long just to guarantee this very effect.

DD over burbage

Sigh, thank you for waiting.  Turns out the photographer normally does advertising shoots, so I expect I’ll be fighting off ad agencies now wanting me to pose for them.  I’ll never forget my roots though.

He also took some good scenic shots and some others which are maybe a bit too close up for comfort, but nice to have.  Indulge me.  Actually, you don’t even need to.  I imagine you gave up reading eons ago.  If you are still here, wishing you weren’t, two words.  Contributory negligence.

So that whole interaction was a nice distraction, and I continued on, not forgetting to marvel at the view.

Then, just as I was descending onto the Houndkirk/ roman road, like a mirage in the desert two figures materialised into view.  What strange magic was this?  It looked like… no, it couldn’t be.  I must be hallucinating due to fatigue.  I waved tentatively.  The figures waved back!  Oh. My. Gawd! It was a smiley outrider team, what were they doing there?  Not just smilies but Dr Smiley and her Les Brutelles companion in arms.  Triathlete elites, out there.  ‘What are you doing here?’ I called out.  Well, you’ll never believe this, but they said they’d come to find me!  I was amazed!  How fantastic is that.  I started down the rocks towards them. Then stopped, reversed and, realising my quads were screaming in protest, came down a different route towards them.  They laughed uproariously at my exploits, apparently undeterred by my protest that once they were experienced ultra runners such as myself they’d better understand the issue.  I mean they only do epic triathlons over squillions of miles and mountain ranges in horizontal hail, what would they know?  They both did the triathlon x earlier this year which has been voted the worlds toughest iron man, and they did it in the worst conditions imaginable.  They are super hard core.   Not to be messed with, and no way was I letting bragging rights by association to go to waste here.  Of course I was going to stop to take their photos!  Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind and seize the moment.

Aren’t they lovely?  You’d have been thrilled to see them too!

This is amazing people.  Joking apart, it’s like being sponsored by Les Brutelles. Imagine if Paul Sinton-Hewitt travelled especially to cheer you down the final mile of your tenth parkrun.  It was like that.  Unexpected, and glorious.  It nearly put paid to my gold standard goal of finishing without crying, as I felt quite emotional about them turning out for me.  I said as I descended that I was really touched that Dr Smiley had turned out to see me off in the morning (that seemed like a lifetime ago).  She told me how she lost me after I went off to the loo – which was something of a coincidence as I lost her too, what were the chances?  She even filmed the start, but didn’t see me come through so went to find me thinking I must be hiding in the ladies loos.  To be honest, it wouldn’t have been the first time, but not so on this occasion.  Rewatching her footage of us thirty milers all sprinting off she glimpsed me at the far side of the mob.  How lovely that she’d been looking for me ever since though!

I mean it turned out lots of Smilies had been trying to find me all day, to no avail, I had not the faintest idea not being in possession of a smart phone I didn’t see the smiley to and froing as people tried to work out where I might conceivably be.  They probably did more miles and more elevation trying to track me than I did on the official route.   It was amazing, and overwhelming even.

Obviously, this moment required selfies in all possible permutations, we are happy!

They filled me in with their adventures, and I shared my worry about maybe testing postive for mango.  We jogged onwards together on the Houndkirk road.  I was definitely seeing things now, I could have sworn I saw my name on the road at one point, but it couldn’t have been.  The next mile flew by.  Then there was another Smiley and offspring.  They’d also been out for hours and the smiley herself conceded she’d have been ready to throw in the towel hours ago, but her son was most insistent they should hang on.  There’s a lad that will go far!  Thanks guys!

DSCF4541

So we all jogged on together, pausing only to cry with laughter at intervals.  I shamelessly used the moment to press my escorts on the little matter of them speaking about their own triathlete epic adventures at the next big running weekend in Ecclesall woods.  There was one last year.  There was some reluctance, so I suggested that maybe it would be less daunting if they used a different medium to communicate about it, like expressive dance say.  I had a job at as a steward at an arts centre when there was a contemporary dance festival going on.  One of the more memorable displays was an expressive dance performed by dancers naked apart from tightly wrapped cling film.  I mean it could work.  The Brutelles mad much protest about the  unflattering nature of cling film – from their vehemence it was clear they were speaking from personal experience which is somewhat eyebrow raising – but didn’t particularly kick back so much as I expected at the nudity or expressive dance parts of the idea.  As Mr Loaf says, two out of three ain’t bad.  It could happen people, you heard it here first.  I wonder if they need winged ultras at this point?  I forgot to ask.

DSCF4543

They left me at the top of Limb Valley, as they were taking a car back to Whirlow, I dropped down, through the cattle field, and then found myself at the top of the wooded section.  Uh oh…  Suddenly, it seemed pretty dark.  I did have my headtorch with me, but sometimes a headtorch makes the dark worse and the ground even harder to see.  Eek.

I stealed myself to go in.  It could be worse.  I have an American friend (don’t judge) who I met in Cambodia. She works as a sort of guide/ group leader in Californian woodland, camping out for weeks at a time, teaching young people how to survive in the wilderness.  She wrote to me recently telling me that she’s just been given an official ranger issue knife, to defend herself in the event of mountain lion attacks.  As if that wasn’t scary enough, she also told me how she got up in the night because she needed a pee, only to find herself accidentally face to face with a mature bear and its cubs.  She somehow managed to evade it, through a combination of stealth movement, extreme shouting and last minute sprinting away, and reports that afterwards, back in her tent, shaking with fear she no longer needed the loo.  So that’s the answer to night time incontinence people.  Surround your place of slumber with wild bears and you’ll never feel the urge to pee in the night again.  Don’t thank me.

The point is, there wouldn’t be bears.  Probably not.  I mean there were bears in Sheffield at one time weren’t there? Otherwise why have the poor creatures in the bear pits in the Botanical gardens.  There could well be a feral population right here, I mean they would stay in hiding during the day wouldn’t they.  But at dusk.  Aargh!

I’m not really a scaredy cat, but I wasn’t over keen. I ventured in.  It was dark, after a bit though, my eyes acclimatised and I started to see arrows on the ground, etched into the mud.  ‘I wonder what they are for‘.  Bit further on and – ‘I could swear that’s my name scraped into the mud‘ and a bit further on ‘go Lucy‘.  No mistaking it.  These arrows had got to be for me.  It was glorious.  It was like having a reassuring guiding hand.  I mean I do know this part of the route, but it looked different in the dark, and I really, really didn’t want to miss the turn to Whirlow.

I didn’t know who’d put the messages there until I emerged from the woods onto the field just behind Whirlow farm.  What a welcoming committee was there!

SC found me

They’d found me, after chasing me around all day, and what’s more, these are the creative geniuses behind the motivational mud arrows idea and execution.  Everyone out and about running should have a crack team to support them like that.  It was amazing to see them.  I just couldn’t believe I’d got all this support, and there was still more to come!

They jogged along with me to the back of the hall, and then left me to come through the finish funnel alone, I high-fived some random people at the corner as I passed them.  Presumably they were waiting for others from the sixty miler still to come. They looked a little taken aback – obviously not junior parkrun regulars – but gamely reciprocated as I cornered, demanding my medal.

DD official ultra finish photo

And then, the final surprise.  Another familiar face to hang my medal round my neck as a marshal removed my dibber.  A Graves junior RD no less, a hardcore runner and super supportive running mentor and enabler to boot.  She of the Ladybower fifty still to come.  I was astounded.  I mean, she did say she’d try to come, but I’d been so vague about my finish times, and it had been a lot of hanging around, really a LOT.  She’d come to register and got there around four.  Eek.  Spoiler, I was not back by five, or six, or seven or … look, you get the idea people, I don’t need to spell it out.

So can I just reiterate.  Best welcoming committee ever.

SC welcoming committee

Doctor Smiley and her GB Triathlon X compatriot had somehow magicked themselves into position as well, so I had quite a celebrity homecoming.  There was even a live stream video of the finish. This was a bit awkward, as it was let slip that they’d already grassed me up to the organisers about mangogate and everything, so I was just going to have to come clean and hope for the best as it was after all just a first offence and through ignorance rather than intent.  I was cockahoop at nailing the slowest ever 30 mile finish time, but there was an anxious moment when the finish marshals said I wasn’t last, because there were two more people out there.  That may well have been true, but there’s no way they’d have been 30 milers, hilariously by dint of my slowness, I’d now been promoted to the sixty mile route as those officials remaining were assuming I must be on the longer course.  Not all of them though, my medal definitely says thirty.  The live streaming also gave me the chance to set the record straight that I hadn’t spent the entirety of the day hiding in the loo refusing to come out.  Phew.  You have to nip these rumours in the bud.

All done.  Who’d have thought it?  After the mandatory press briefings and a group hug, I was reunited with my bag and fleece and ushered into the barn for post run recuperation.  It was like having an army of helpers dancing attendance on me.  One got me a portion of veggie stew, another hung onto my running vest.  Horror was expressed at the weight of thing.  The aghastness of the assembled company at my stupidity in lugging so much around with me was finely counterbalanced by their admiration that I’d seemingly been able to do so.

We tucked in, whilst I shared pearls of wisdom based on my learning points and adventures from the day.  They were all gripped!

As well as the feast of veggie stew in bread, which was freely available to anyone who wanted it at this stage as they’d over-catered and there was hardly anyone else to eat it; Regal Smiley and her  offspring had brought a finishers gift.  Chocolate, including a curly wurly and a bath bomb.  I haven’t had one of those in years.  They had to tell me what it was, and it was as well they did since it was fashioned into a miniature cup cake, and yes, did look good enough to eat.  A posh one too.  It was enough to incentivise me to take a bath before going to bed and enabled me to have a curly wurly for breakfast the next day, which I’m pretty sure is recommended recovery food, so that’s OK.

Sated, my brutelles buddies stood either side of me and we can-canned our way (sort of) back to the car.  I’m so glad they did.  It was pitch and I couldn’t work out how to unlock the darned thing as I kept pushing the wrong button.  If after all that I was discovered collapsed by my car in the morning, dead from having laughingly ingested spice-infused mango earlier in the day – well, oh the irony.  I clambered into the car and made it home.  Even more amazingly, I managed to negotiate my way out of the car.  Last time I did this after a long distance run – The inaugural Round Donny Run, a concerned neighbour came rushing across the road thinking I was in need of urgent medical assistance having just experienced some horrific accident or other.  Granted it was dark so she perhaps couldn’t see me extricate myself from my vehicle, and being a shorter journey there was less time to set hard!

Weird being back in the flat, much to process. But I did it, and that was unexpected.  I mean I know I’m stubborn tenacious, but I’m not super human, I just didn’t know if my body would hold out, but it did.  Hooray!

I think what really helped was Smiley support in advance, on the day, and especially at the end. It’s been a lonely old business, training for this, but the support in the last couple of miles made me really feel I had a support network rooting for me.  I LOVE YOU GUYS!  It was just extraordinary.  The next day, I even got these on my doorstep, greater love has no Smiley for another Smiley than to leave post run unsolicited gifts on your front step.

DSCF4561

I have lots learned and lots to think about.  But am happy to confirm that Dig Deep races are my new favourite thing.  It feels a bit sacrilegious to say it, but for me it certainly tops doing the London Marathon.  Obviously they are very different beasts, but nothing can beat the support of familiar, hilarious and awesome running buddies taking on a challenge in a place as beautiful as the peaks.  What do you mean am I still high on endorphins?  You cynic dear reader, and must experience the phenomenon for yourself.  Doesn’t have to be the ultra, the whole set up is like one big affirming running community hug, whichever event you do.  Well, that’s my experience anyway.  Plus, as a Sheffielder, there aren’t that many events you can rock up to, knowing if it’s all too much you can just wave down a bus and go home.

I have no official strava route map of my achievements as my TomTom bailed just after Bradwell, but I did find this super-cool toy on t’internet.   https://www.plotaroute.com/route/153593  all interactive and everything.  It’s from two years ago but looks accurate.  Like that you can see the elevation all squished up so it makes it look even more hardcore.  Result!  For now.  Job done.

Thank you lovely organisers, marshals, supporters, Smiley buddies, running buddies, walkers who chatted to me along the way (maybe not the one who wanted complete tourist review of the area quite so much), the photographer, fellow ultra runners (can I claim them as my tribe now or is that a tad tenuous) everyone who did a recce with me, gave advice or simply didn’t laugh in my face at the very idea of me embarking on the thing in the first place.  It’s a paradox, training has felt solitary, but there is no way on earth I’d have made it round this course without all the help I’ve had from many, many others.  I must be horrifically high maintenance, but I do appreciate it, I really do.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Next year?  Bring it on!  Also, bring on loads of extra Smilies, I am on a mission to if not get the Dig Deep 30 onto the Smiley Championship race list, to at least recruit the more pliable and suggestible of my smiley colleagues into signing up. We will be like cockroaches across a backpackers’ kitchen worktop as we swarm across them there hills.  It will be EPIC!

For all my Dig Deep Series related posts click here, you can re-live my pre-event angst and multitudinous recces.  You’ll have to scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you.  You may have a life or something you should be out there living, or a long run pending, or tea to drink whatever – so chase that instead. Shoo, go on.  Thanks for stopping by to hear my story en route though. Appreciated.

🙂

Oh you still want the results?  How odd.  Soooooo not the point.  When you are an experienced ultra-runner(ish) like myself you’ll understand the nature of the challenge better, but I recognise your curiosity so, sigh, here you go, results from all the Dig Deep 2018 challenges for your amusement, enlightenment and edification.  Enjoy.

And you want photos too?  Blimey, some people are just all take, take take!  Here you go, feast your eyes on these from the Dig Deep Facebook photo album page.  If that doesn’t inspire you to sign up, nothing will.

 

 

*Gotta love Google* – I say you’ve ‘gotta love Google’ but clearly this is not true and besides it’s complicated.  It can’t be good for one set of algorithms to get the monopoly of accessing portals into knowledge and yet, it’s still my default search engine, guilty as charged …  So, be aware of irony dear reader, remember that.

 

Categories: motivation, off road, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The stories we tell…counting down to Dig Deep judgement day, feeling down, but still not yet out.

Digested read: traditional pre-event whingeing and angst.  I wouldn’t read on if i were you, it’s just self-pitying, melodramatic stream of consciousness stuff, I’m sure you have something better to do.  Don’t know why I signed up for a thirty mile yomp out round the peaks.  Everything hurts, and I’m turning to lard whilst tapering.  Really doubting myself, but then again, it’s really just a long day out in the heather isn’t it?  What’s not to like.  I’m going to take a picnic, try to dust down my positive attitude and see if I can squish that into my running vest before I head out, and then I’ll just keep on putting one foot in front of another for as far and as long as I can.  If I can’t beat the fear, well I’ll just do it all scared.  Running Scared has always been my defining characteristic  from the inception of this blog after all, although granted the ‘running’ part covers quite a continuum of paces! What’s the worst….

just-put-one-5a678f

Only it’s not is it?  Judgement Day, not really.  It’s only a day out on the trails and moors.  It will be a challenge blah de blah, but let’s not get overly melodramatic about the whole thing.  No-one will be sitting in judgement, no-one whose opinion really ought to matter to me, the most likely outcome is no-one will notice at all one way or the other, what it all comes down to is a desire to take on a personal challenge to just see where my limits lie, it is both of as little and as much significance as that.

…. all the same, with just a few days to go ’til the Dig Deep 30/ Peak Trails 30 I am in the midst of my now traditional pre-event angst.  I learned from a fellow Graves Junior parkrun hi-viz volunteer that this is the way forward.  Don’t refer to ‘races’ anymore, instead adopt the terminology of ‘events’ or, potentially better yet – ‘challenges’.  Could work, and in all seriousness does shift the focus away from how individual performances compare with others, on to simply how it is experienced subjectively.  In a small way, it is about shifting the narrative.  At the risk of sounding pretentious, we have a choice over how we position ourselves in our own stories.  I can be a victim, blaming external factors for my failure to succeed at Dig Deep, I can be in my own tragedy, struggling against the odds but ultimately failing, or I can decide to be the protagonist in my very own adventure.  Part of the fun is not knowing how it will all unfold, and that has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I make the whole 30 mile distance on one particular day and everything to do with all I’ve undertaken in trying to get there.  It’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey, and the stories we write for ourselves might be part of how that comes to be perceived.  DIY spin maybe, but frankly dear reader, whatever it takes to start feeling positive again!

Turns out, you can learn a lot from Graves Junior parkrun hi-viz heroes.  I was discussing the weirdity (I know it’s not a ‘proper’ word, but I’ve just made it up and I like it, so what are you going to do about it?  Shoot me?)  of upping the distance when you just don’t know if it’s really fun any more with another hi-vizer.  I voiced my thought that,  in my case at least, I am starting to wonder why I’m doing it if the fun has gone out of this experiment in endurance. It isn’t compulsory, nobody is making me take on 30 miles of lonely windswept hills.  A few people I know have even proactively counselled me against it, which is understandable but not good for morale.  They haven’t actually gone for the ‘but your womb will fall out!’ argument, but are throwing a few ‘what are you thinking’, ‘you don’t have to do this‘ and ‘what if you die out there‘ grenades.  Cheers.

Anyway, fortunately for me this wise wisdom-mongerer, who is herself taking on a 50 mile challenge later in the year – Ladybower 50  (my eyes bleed at the very thought) put it very well.  A pleasing counterpoint to those (including myself) who are slightly incredulous and fearful to hear I’m serious about doing this thing.   For her, it is about finding her limit, and she’ll keep extending the distances until she does.  I get that.  It’s not that I actually want to be broken, I’d honestly rather not – though sadly not enough to train systematically enough prior to participation unfortunately.  However, I do want to find out how far I can go.  We won’t know our limits unless we test them.  I used to think going to a parkrun was an impossible dream, then later 10k seemed insanity.  There were some breakthrough events, the Round Sheffield Run will always have a special place in my heart  because entering that was something of an accident and I realised I could go a lot further than I realised.  Then there was the time me and a running buddy got lost on a 5k run and ended up being out for hours with no food, head torches or water doing 18k. It was hilarious, and whilst not recommended, again demonstrates we can all do more than we think if circumstances require. Only this week, a woman survived 10 hours in the sea after falling off the back of a cruise ship.  Well done her, though I can’t help thinking it was a tad careless to topple off one of those.  Those ships are like tower blocks.  Also, the coverage was a bit harsh I thought. Some of those experts weren’t way near impressed enough at her survival.  I was.   Anyway, the point is, in extremeis, it’s amazing what we can do – she didn’t do fitness training in preperation for her 10 hours of treading water, not unless you count mindfulness and yoga, which I don’t.  There is no reason why, if we keep on setting new goals, in my case a bit further every time, then we shouldn’t sometimes just surprise ourselves by achieving them.  I’m not expressing this very well, but what I think I’m trying to say, is simply this.  If I change my mindset from ‘what if I fail?’ to ‘so what if I fail‘ and by extension ‘let’s go find out if I can‘ it’s going to be a lot more fun on the day.  It doesn’t matter if I’m a DNF (did not finish) because I’m just testing my boundaries.  Also, what if I fly?  Metaphorically, plenty do…

what if i fly

I may yet get round, which would be grand, but if I don’t, I’ll have still learned a load from the process and can decide if my DNF is a consequence of having reached my limit, or a consequence of being a bit naive about how I approached the whole thing.  There’s always next year to fail again, fail better.

beckett_ever-tried-ever-failed

In my heart of hearts, I do believe I’m capable of the distance, why wouldn’t I be?  As long as I’m slow enough and realistic about how I tackle it.  However, I also know in my heart of hearts I just haven’t really prepared properly.  I’ve underestimated the hills, I’ve faffed re nutrition, I’m carrying too much extra weight (round my midriff not in my pack) and I’ve not done necessary strength training or cross training that I am realising rather too late in the day is pretty much essential to avoid injury whilst training and/or undertaking an ultra, even a wee intro one.  The consequence is, instead of dreading the Dig Deep, I need to see it as just another fine day out with a picnic on the vertical learning curve that I laughingly refer to as my ‘running career’ trajectory.  I’ll either finish or I won’t but it’s just a step on the way to the next challenge.

If you are still with me dear reader, well done, but I’m really sorry that you don’t have anything more interesting and compelling to do right now as what follows will more than likely be self-indulgent taper-induced first world problemitising, you have been warned.

My last training yomp was a bit crap honestly.  Apart from the unexpected novelty of having the Queen rock up to cheer me round Bradwell, it was hard.  It was a long, lonely, hurrumphing 20 miles out.  My battery died, my legs ached, I just felt I didn’t know why I was out there.  There was nothing wrong with me physically, I don’t think so anyway, it was just like my mind had a moment of clarity that this was all quite hard actually, and completely unnecessary.  ‘You numpty, what are you doing hoiking your weary carcass through 20+ miles when you don’t have to?’  it said.  And you know what?  I had no answer.  Everyone else who I knew who was originally thinking of doing the thirty miler,  had already dropped out, there’d be no shame if I did the same.  Then I remembered that cheesy but true mantra, about run long, run short, but never outrun your love of running.  And, yes, if you want to be pedantic, I was only walking anyway at this point, but the principle stands true.  It’s one thing having a bad session, we’ve all had them, but if I was really questioning what’s the point, then there was no point.  Don’t want to piss on my own firework and lose the one thing I do that seems to free me of all of  life’s baggage because I didn’t know when to back off and take stock.

run long

By the time I got home, I was shattered, and demoralised.  Worse, my shin pain had returned with a vengeance.  Not good. Oh well, I made a choice.  I could still pull out from the event altogether, but that would feel like failing before I’ve tried.  I could drop back to the 12.12, but as all my ‘training’ has been walking, that would probably feel even worse as I’m not running fit, though I am more endurance fit.  The upshot is I’d get round fine, but probably significantly slower than last year and I think that would be even more demoralising.  Then I thought, in the two weeks left I can’t improve my fitness, but i could make an injury worse.  I decided to embrace a cold turkey ‘taper’, just knock all these solitary plods on the head, rest up and on event day head out with a picnic and a positive outlook and see how far I get. No pressure. The preparation equivalent of ‘turning it on and off again’ reset, start afresh, blank canvas.  I think this is a good plan. Or at least a good enough one, and once I’ve attempted or finished the route I’ll have a base line from which to plan where to go next.  I’d like to think if I went back to basics, maybe even a couch to 5k to get some running confidence back, worked at losing a bit of weight and added in some cross training I can come back stronger and wiser next year.  This is the plan as of now.

Not going out and yomping is miserable though.   Even if  I’m sure it’s a necessary strategy given that my shins have been really sore.  To be honest it’s not altogether suprprising I’ve been down.  I had a bit of shite week, sore shins, bruised morale.  My little injured dunnock, that I’ve been channelling, wasn’t attacked by a cat at all, but rather has developed full on avian pox, which is distressing to watch, though its stoicism is still remarkable.   I also found out to my absolute horror that swimming with captive dolphins is still apparently an acceptable thing.   I thought blackfish and similar exposés had put an end to that.  Heart breaking.  We really are going backwards in terms of animal welfare I think.  How is that OK?  Mind you, I am constantly horrified by many things in life, look at how pigs are farmed, yet the dominant view is celebrating bacon butties is ok, I’m a minority there too.  And really, given how people treat people there are bigger atrocities everywhere. You can’t protect Rwandan gorillas without protecting people too – genocide focuses the mind, and if I was starving and scared of venturing too far in case I’d be attacked by machete I’d probably be poaching from my nearest forest too.  Well, I’d like to think genocide and poverty and climate change etc did focus the mind, but it’s amazing how compassion fatigue or just disbelief kicks in and we all continue to stand on by. I know it’s complicated.   Even so, with the dolphins it’s such visible torture I was shocked that for some it isn’t even a dilemma, the great marketing machine has normalised this as – not just acceptable -, but desirable, aspirational even. With pigs, most people don’t come face to face with the reality of their lives and deaths, but we haven’t quite plumbed the depths of having smiling crowds gawping at them being slaughtered, though I daresay it is only a matter of time.  There are ways of seeing dolphins in the wild, why not do that?  I wonder if swimming with captive dolphins will be viewed like cock-fighting and bear-baiting are now in the UK one day.  Puzzling, distressing and anachronistic.

wild dolphin.jpg

A marker of a different age. I can but hope. Meantime I’ll just feel desperately sad as I acknowledge I’m seemingly in a minority on this topic too.   I’m glad to say the tide seems to have turned on the joy riding of elephants now. In my youth it was completely unchallenged, but now I think it’s wildly accepted that this is unacceptable, though you can still take tourist elephant rides in Cambodia.    I’m also very aware of my own inconsistencies in how I live, and what I do.  Wasting stuff, not making the transition to vegan blah de blah, and then I witness yet more Trumpisms being enacted that are accelerating the destruction of the planet and whether or not I recycle my yoghurt pots seems of little other than symbolic significance.  I told you tapering angst was bad.  The world just wasn’t feeling like a very nice place last week, everything was a bit much.  Maybe I just shouldn’t venture out from under my duvet at all…

I decided I wouldn’t run at parkrun as I don’t want my legs to shatter  pre the bank holiday, or ever to be fair –  so I tried to volunteer but was turned down.  (Grown up parkrun not junior) which was rubbish. Must be the only parkrun in the world that regularly turns away volunteers if my experience is anything to go by.  I wouldn’t mind quite so much but it’s now the eighth time over the years I’ve been told not to bother.  I just wanted to still be part of it, as I miss my parkrun fix otherwise  I wasn’t offering to volunteer out of martyrdom, I proactively wanted to do it to help me lift my mood.   I was going to stay away altogether in a sulk, but then found another buddy currently injured (hurrah!) who was up for walking it with me, so that’s what we did, and it was grand so all’s well etc.  It’s interesting walking at parkrun, a great way to see the whole field of runners, and put the world to rights through companionable chat.  We didn’t put the world to rights in a way that you might actually have noticed to be fair, but it was therapeutic walking and talking all the same.

Afterwards, cheered by the presence of other parkrun buddies and post parkrun coffee I may even have made a pact with another to enter the ballot for the Great North Run 2019. Well, it has been on my bucket list a while, and falls clearly into the category of being a challenge so far in the future I need not worry my pretty little head about how on earth I’ll take on the practicalities of training just now.  Nothing ventured eh?  It’ll be a hoot!  Red Arrows, that would be super cool.  I’m sure they do something to offset the carbon footprint of those flights. Plus seaside!  Always a boon.  The only other event we discussed was the Marathon des Sables and I surely would have had my wits about me sufficiently not to accidentally have agreed to that.  What’s more, whilst I wouldn’t claim to be pain free, my shins are definitely a lot better, resting was definitely the right call.  Things are looking up.

In another effort to settle my nerves and build my confidence I did some googling of Dig Deep ultra tails from the trails.  As is traditional when I use internet search engines, I just keep on searching until I find a version of events that corresponds with the answer I am seeking.  Alternative facts if you will.  Guilty as charged.  On this occasion I hit the jack pot.  Sandbach Striders did something called the OMM Dig Deep Intro Ultra way back in 2013.  Three of them went round together. From the video they’ve produced of the event it looks like the same route I’ll be tackling and do you know what, it really cheered me.  Not because they made it look easy, but because they made it look hard. They have a clip they filmed of themselves coming up Win Hill, which is basically one long expletive interspersed with expressions of disbelief, and then another section up to Rebellion Knoll, the Jurassic Section I’ve heard it described as elsewhere on account of tall vegetation and viscous biting local wildlife.  Insects the size of your head that kind of thing.  At the top of the second climb, one of them is just lying in a star shape, refusing to get up whilst his ‘mates’ are prodding him, and trying to persuade him to get up for long enough to at least dab his dibber.  It suddenly dawned on me that everyone finds those sections hard.  Even these fit ‘lads’.  I’ve been despairingly trudging up on my own imagining everyone else traversing these sections like mountain goats on speed or warthogs on a mission.  In fact, spoiler alert – the majority simply won’t.  I find this perversely reassuring.  I’d even venture I looked a bit less almost-dead at the top of Rebellion Knoll than the grey-faced guy on the ground in the video clip.  They got round, maybe this isn’t out of the question after all.  Things were looking up.

Unfortunately, things were also looking down. Such is the yin and yan of the tapering experience.  The last-minute race details were emailed through.   They were comprehensive and helpful, including a photo of each of the dibbing points.  I thought I knew the route, but the race map was in such poor detail that I hadn’t realised you have to climb up Carl Wark to get to the dibber.  I thought you just skirted round the bottom like for the 12.12 last year.  Curses.  It’s really not far, and I’m thankful to know ahead of time so I don’t miss it, but, and this is a BIG BUT, you have to climb up another hill to get there, at a stage in the it’s-just-not-that-funny-any-more-now game that is the Dig Deep 30/Peak Trails ultra.

carl wark checkpoing

The view from up there had better be good, and the marshal willing to give hugs of reassurance if required.  It would be even better if they’d nip down the hill, remove your dibber nip back up the hill and do the dibbing for you, and then return your dibber back to you for safe keeping.  Still, if they did I’d only be cheating myself, and also they’d probably have to take my whole arm off to do so, those dibbers really don’t budge easily.  That would be inconvenient, possibly painful and probably lead to a major arterial bleed which would seriously mess up my hydration strategy for the final section.  On balance, I’m going to be running up that hill, well, maybe not running as such, but crawling, most definitely.

I’m telling myself by the time I get here the end is in sight(ish) at the very least I’m on familiar ground and the heathery bits, and the downhill from Lady Cannings are my favourite parts of the route, so I’m sure it will all be fine in the end, and as a wise woman once said, ‘if it isn’t fine, then it isn’t the end‘ so that’s good to know!  I think I’m OK with the location of all the other dibbing points, but the Bradwell one I don’t quite recognise, though I’m hoping it will be obvious on the day, if not, I’ll just follow the crumbs from the spinach and filo finger food and I’m sure I’ll make my appointment for a faceplant into the restorative buffet before I have to wrench myself away again and trudge on.

So the upshot of all this, is that it’s all been a bit swings and roundabouts these last two weeks, but without the unadulterated joy that comes with being on either actual swings or actual roundabouts – rather these have been substituted self-loathing, self-doubt, self-pity and self-absorption.  Not a good look.  I’m not proud of this, not proud at all.  No wonder I hardly dare venture out in public at the moment.   Carousels though look lovely, let me see if I can find a cheery picture of one of them, it’ll help shift the mood!

fairground horses

There you go!  That feels better already.

So I’ve been down, but I’m still not out.  If I make the start, that’s the first big challenge done and dusted, and then, well we will all just have to wait and see won’t we.  I’m taking money for the bus fair home with me though, better safe than sorry eh?

Just a few days to go, my story isn’t over yet!  No idea how it will end, but that’s good isn’t it?  Where’s the fun and adventure in a predictable outcome after all.  Let’s embrace the joy of the unexpected …

Surprise

Granted not all surprises are good, but we are all familiar with type two fun now I think.  Fun retrospectively. Alternatively, I’ll settle for the well at least I didn’t miss out option, as in, ‘I’m not sure if I enjoyed myself but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it‘.

Time will tell… and then so will I, my own story.  With the narrative I choose, consciously or otherwise.

For all my Dig Deep Series related posts, click here, and scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you

Categories: motivation, running | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

It was buzzing out there on Stanage Edge. Dig Deep Recceing continues

Digested Read: still plodding on with my recces.  This time from Lady Cannings/ Norfolk Arms to Yorkshire Bridge Inn and back.  Mentally tough today, but bees were amazing.   My battery went flat though, my watch battery literally, and my morale figuratively. Not sure I’ve got this, not sure at all…. Disaster.  Not on strava, didn’t happen, maybe that’s just as well as not my finest yomp out.  Ah well, tomorrow is another day.

Literally.  Buzzing.  Never in my life have I seen so many bees.  It was beezarre.  The bees’ knees too, as it was pretty awesome, but so strange.  The air was a-hum and the ground looked like it was moving, and it was all bees.  Who knew?  Get me the intrepid naturalist, checking out nature’s wonders out in the peaks.  More of this later, though, loads more trivia to communicate before we get to that.

In case inexplicably you haven’t already guessed.  This is another in the series of my Dig Deep 30 recce confessionals.  It was a something of a case of ‘good in parts’.  I was going to say ‘ups and downs’, but given the elevation for this day was 2178 ft, I think we can take the highs and lows as a given.  The summary is that I struggled, and found it mentally tough out there today.  Battling back to base, reserves depleted and morale already low, sun beating down on me and water supplies exhausted this happened:

DSCF3946

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!  Everyone knows that if it isn’t on Strava, it didn’t happen.  Sometimes a yomp out and about is its own reward, but sometimes, call me shallow dear reader, I need the hit of subsequently seeing my stats on Strava.  Then the aching legs, coating of sweat and salt and unfortunate areas of chafing become badges of honour earned through miles on the trails.  Without the evidence, you are just a physical wreck, deluded as to both your actual abilities and future potential.  To be honest, you might as well have stayed in all day and eaten lard.

lard ad

See how persuasive the lure of lard can be?  I’d be happy if only I’d done that…. still, not an option, I’d have had to have trex instead anyway, and I don’t know if that delivers quite the same buzz.  I’m not aware of a black market in trex so I’m assuming not, but then maybe I just don’t move in the right circles.  Anyway, this is the best that Strava would offer up at the end of all my sweaty slogging, 16.55 miles and 2,178ft of elevation.  I think the elevation is probably about right, as I was descending Houndkirk Road when my Tomtom announced it was through with this whole misguided endeavour.  But I reckon the actual mileage would have been about 19 miles.  Which is still a very long way off where I need to be.  Only about half the elevation and two-thirds of the mileage.  I didn’t even do Win Hill.  Oh crappity, crap crap.  Right now, I can’t see this Dig Deep ultra malarkey becoming a reality for me, not on current evidence at least.  And I’m trying soooooooooooooo hard.

strava battery died

The only certainty about the Dig Deep, is that if I don’t try I wont know, and if I don’t get to the start I definitely wont make the finish, so I may as well behave like I’m doing it and see how within reach completion is.  Part of this has required the acquisition of new skills (get me and my self-awarded gold star sticker for navigational prowess) and part of this requires the acquisition of new kit.  I’ve already got the new parkclaw inov-8 trail shoes.  A relatively painless purchase this time as normally buying shoes requires contortions and agonies of indecision before settling on the least worse with which to swaddle my arthritic, bunion adorned plate shaped feet.  Fortunately, inov-8 have cornered the market for my niche needs as far as I’m concerned, so I’m sticking with them for their trail shoes.  However, the time had come to do something about what to carry all my gear in.

It occurred to me, that my running gear apparel is a sort of evolution of my running journey.  I started off with a miniscule bum bag for keys and hanky and an in-case-of-emergency fiver, that invariably got blown on a post run latte.  Then, with my eyes on the prize of London, and having started to do slightly longer distances with the Dig Deep 12.12 last year, I bit the bullet and bought an ultimate direction belt, which came with two water bottles and you can fit a small Shetland pony round your midriff if you pack it right.  That has been great, but… there’s always a but… for longer distances, I’m finding you need to carry more than a Shetland pony in official kit.  Waterproofs, food, maps.  Also, I have to reach around to access the bottles, and that is a pain.   Also, I’ve found with longer runs it can slip a bit and chafe, and it’s hot and sweaty too.   Time to move up the apparel ladder, and get a running vest which will take a hydration pack/ bladder thing.  I don’t really like using them, I much prefer bottles, but I think I need to get over myself, bladders definitely are easier to access, and therefore I guess you’d be more likely to drink little and often, instead of doing what I tend to do, which is stop, glug a whole bottle, and then wonder why I get hiccups or a stitch 10 seconds later. I know, a complete mystery.  Anyway, time to up my game.

First stop, local running shop.  I’ve loved my Ultimate Direction belt, and loads of my Smiley Friends have their vests so I was expecting that to be my purchase.  Still, I like to demonstrate my enthusiasm for the purchase process by creating maximum disruption and trying on everything potentially suitable in the shop and scattering the detritus of rejected items on the shop counter.  Whilst it is true that this might create many hours of subsequent work for the proprietor, sorting everything and putting it all away neatly I see this as my way of providing the shop staff with some enrichment.  How dull it would be to be stood behind the counter otherwise, dreaming of the trails you could now be running on, were it not for the inconvenient truth of needing to earn a living.

Anyway, turns out, there are loads of vests to choose from.  It also turns out that none are designed for women in possession of any kind of frontage.  It is a dispiriting experience, trying on gear.  Heart-breaking even. It does contribute to that sense that you don’t belong, you shouldn’t even try to be part of this running community.  I get for men having pouches for water bottles positioned on your chest might work, but for females of the mammal species, this is just blooming ridiculous.  Most of the vests I could reject out of hand, they barely did up, or they did, achieved this by comically framing my boobs like one of those appalling, supposedly titillating seaside postcards of old.  Please gawd you can’t still get them?  I really don’t know.  Eventually, it came down to an ultimate direction that could fit a bladder – but I’d have to buy that separately or maybe a salomon one, because that had some stretch in it, and looked potentially the least ridiculous when worn.  But they didn’t have my size.  However, being of an obliging disposition, this was duly ordered in, and when it arrived, I went to try that and compare with the UD vest.  The Salomon one was disappointingly hopeless.  I mean it’s a good vest, they all are, but none of them really cater for a more, erm, curvaceous form.  To maximise how disruptive I could be, I’d brought along all the kit I would need to stuff in to the bag, lawks a lordy, it’s quite a haul:

  • Full body cover (windproof/waterproof)
  • Compass and full route map
  • Spare water and food
  • Whistle
  • Mobile phone
  • Cuddly toy for reassurance when it all gets a bit too much*
  • Paper bag to breath in when hyperventilating, note, keep in dry bag to ensure it hasn’t disintegrated in rain/as a consequence of a leaking hydration pack or bottle*
  • Huge box of tissues for if/when quiet cry or primeval wail is called for*

Then food, water, hat, sunglasses, reading glasses, book in case I get bored.  I’d even brought a bladder with me that I’ve hardly used, but wanted to see if it would fit the UD vest.  Long story short, after much angst, whilst the Front Runner team was distracted by another customer I espied a previously unnoticed running vest an arcteryx, which is apparently a fine outdoorsy brand.  Seizing the moment, I had a rummage through and try on of them.  I thought they were all size 14, but turns out, that is the capacity which is HUGE. It came with a 2 litre bladder (big tick) and sort of fitted ok when stuffed with my kit.  The disadvantage is that it’s really just one big bag at the back, though there are various pouches at the front, but it is 100% waterproof, which none of the other vests are, and could yet turn out to be something of a boon. This is The One, I thought, starry-eyed with eager anticipation.  Like all new relationships, it’s going to take a while to get used to each others’ little ways, but hopefully we’d make it for the long haul.  I give you the arcytex Norvan 14.

DSCF3884

Also, because I think it’s important to learn something new every day, even it if it isn’t necessarily something particularly useful, did you know that the name and logo of Arc’teryx refer to the Archaeopteryx, among the earliest known birds?  I didn’t.  We all do now though don’t we!  Isn’t that splendid.

I left the shop feeling moderately confident.  Trying on running gear always makes me feel like a freak of nature, running vests aren’t flattering to those in possession of my physique, but I told myself that doesn’t matter, this is all about practicality, and any minor humiliations in terms of appearance are but a small price to pay for the multitude of pbs over distance that will now rain down on my Strava stats.

So, the next day, I filled up the bladder – 2 litres is a good quantity.  Added in everything I would be required to carry on race day.  They say race, I would say it’s a run not a race for me at least, though actually that’s not strictly true, more a walk than a run the way things are going, but let’s not quibble.  It seemed crazy to be piling stuff in that I wouldn’t need for today’s run, but the whole point was to replicate what I’d need to do on the day.  Quickly, I encountered some problems.  The stash bag principle is great for capacity, but not great for keeping bits and bobs separate.  The pockets on the front of the vest are hopeless for me, I’ve got more than enough stashed up front as it is.  Oh well.  The greater challenge was when I put it on with the full bladder, it completely shifts how the darned thing fits.  The tube from the bladder no longer reached up high enough, the pockets were stretched and misaligned, it looked bloody awful to be honest, and wasn’t even especially comfy.  I could have wept.  It does frustrate me.    With a bit of tweaking you could have a great running vest for women, but manufactures are only catering for a narrow range of physiques.  When I am an international sporting icon, with my own sporting range to include bespoke decent comfy support sports bras for women of substance and shoes to accommodate those with plate footed arthritic feet with a bunion on the side, I’m also going to launch a range of bespoke running vests.  Vests that you can put all your kit in without looking like you are modelling for some sort of weird bondage gear designed by a team of misogynists.  Just saying.

Unfortunately, I have yet to be discovered and launched as an international sporting icon, so the arctyrex would have to serve.  I knew none of the others would be any better, and at least this has a decent sized bladder and can fit all my gear. There was much wrestling, shoving and rearranging of water tubes.  I got there in the end.  The pouches now stretched over my bust and so anything put in there would just catapult straight out, but I could shove a couple of naked bars in the lower pockets and everything else fitted in the stuff bag so hey ho, off we go.

I headed off to the lay by opposite the Norfolk Arms car park.  Very handy for nipping in and using their loo before off.  A final wrestle with my running vest, and I was in.  Fighting back the tears a bit, nothing like finding you can’t fit into even a large without contortion for crushing morale at the start of a recce.  What are you supposed to do?  Short of breast reduction or strapping my frontage I don’t see how any running vest would ever work with my contours.   I felt such a misfit, but I’ve overcome bigger battles than this one.  As long as it’s functional when on…

DSCF3886

off I go.

It was a lovely morning to be fair.  Cool and breezy.  My plan was to go to the Yorkshire Bridge inn and back in one go.  It’s annoying doing out and back routes, but it is a good way to get really familiar with the course, and it is logistically the easiest way to tackle recces on my own.  It’s been grand going out with others, but in reality I need to practise solo too, I’m not expecting any company at my speed on the day.

Up the path, through Lady Cannings plantation, the heather is rapidly blooming once you get out on the moor.  There was hardly anyone about. I  was surprised, I didn’t even see dog walkers.  It was nice once I was in my stride, the vest may not be flattering but it is very comfy, and extremely light.  The only weirdness was that I could feel the bladder sticking in my back a bit where the tube joins the reservoir.  Probably need to tweak that. Also, I’ve been doing all my other recces with a much-loved old day pack.  I hadn’t realised this has got me into the habit of hanging onto the straps as I walk along.  It keeps my hands elevated and stops all the blood rushing to my finger tips. It felt weird not being able to do this.  Having the water accessible all the time is definitely much better. The only downside being that you can’t tell how much you are drinking.  I know you are supposed to drink on feel, but I also sometimes suddenly ‘notice’ I’ve drunk hardly anything on a long walk/run and so will make a point of drinking more.  Be interesting to see how I go.

I wasn’t going to take too many photos today, but look how lovely it is out there, different every day.

This is my favourite picture though:

DSCF3892

That was worth getting up and out for.

As I walked, I was trying to think what would be the most amazing thing I could possibly see out and about today. I’ve had a lucky run of seeing amazing things, so wasn’t expecting any particular highlights, but I decided it would be to see an adder. They are out there, but I’ve never seen them.  Maybe today would be the day!  Spoiler alert, it wasn’t, but I moved in hope rather than expectation.  It’s good to have an objective for the day.

Unremarkable first bit of walk. I  realised after a bit that I’d left my phone at home.  I’ve never really used it, oh, apart from the other week when I found that bank card – but of course sod’s law would dictate today would be the day.  Oh well, too late now.  Over Houndkirk, through the gate, and inspected ‘my’ white heather, it’s not a big patch, but it’s still there.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Scampered onwards.  Past the cars and coaches at Fiddlers Elbow, along the road, up towards Stanage Edge.  One really good thing about today, is that I found I remembered the whole route without needing to look at the map even once.  I think I’ve also remembered where all the dibbing points are too.  Until  a couple of days ago I’d assumed all of these would be unmissable because they’d be in the company of a hi-vis marshal, but I discovered recently this is not so.  I do need to make sure I don’t get complacent on that score.  Would be really, really annoying to skip on by one and not notice it.  I’ll be slow enough without time penalties thank you very much.

So my spirits lifted as the miles rolled by.  The pack is comfy, it doesn’t do me any favours in the ‘most glamorous runner you’ll see out on the hills today’ contest, and I was wondering if maybe the UD one would have been better because it was more generously fitted over the chest and had more pockets… but then I think on balance having a pack that is fully waterproof could yet prove to be a boon, and I will get used to it I’m sure.

Eventually I found the path up towards Stanage and clambered slowly up.  The road is shorter now I know where I’m going, the weather was perfect, this was going to be fine.

So then I was on Stanage.  The clouds gave the sky a particularly spectacular look, and sort of increases the sense of space.  Every time I come up here I’m astonished at how often you have the whole skyline to yourself, especially first thing in the day. It’s extraordinary.  I think maybe there were a couple of runners who skipped by, but that was it.  Even so, I was not completely alone.  It was a little while before I properly twigged what I was hearing.  There was a fair old breeze, but caught within it was a distinctive hum.  ‘If I didn’t know any better‘ I thought to myself ‘I’d swear that was bees swarming‘.  I stepped on, listening more intently.  ‘That’s definitely bees’.  I decided, stopping for a bit to examine my surroundings.  I looked down.  Oh my!  Now, maybe you have seen this before and it happens all the time and I’ve just never noticed, but I really don’t think so.  It was absolutely amazing.  It looked the whole ground was moving, it was alive with bees.  I don’t know what they were doing quite, or what had brought them out.  It was like those rare summer days when ants fly, they are suddenly everywhere.  Here were hundreds and hundreds of bees.  Thousands of them probably.  I bent down to investigate at closer quarter.  Oh my!  Even more extraordinary.  There was a multitude of little round holes in the loose grit ‘banks’ of the path.  I don’t know if it is one colony, or a gathering of thousands of solitary bees.  There was a lot of activity.  Some bees were tumbling together – fighting?  I have no idea.  I’ve never really thought about the bees up there.  I mean, logically, I suppose there must be bees, because of the rich heather – but then again that is only at certain times of year.  For much of the year there is practically nothing to eat, and the bleak windswept more can’t be a good place for an insect to thrive.  I tried to take some pictures, but they don’t do the phenomenon justice.  I also took a video, which is ace, but which I have no idea how to upload.  You’ll have to just use your imagination, and hum along the pictures for yourself.  It was quite the bees’ knees though.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I must google this.  Maybe they are seasonal specialist bees?  Maybe they were battling for possession of the most desirable earth hole dwellings for themselves, or for their young.  One of the most exciting battles I’ve ever witnessed was between a baboon spider (type of tarantula) and a scorpion, for possession of a hole.  The scorpion won, it was quite poignant, how they tumbled and battled to the death.  Here is scorpion in its newly acquired hole.  It used it as a base to hunt termites, ambushing them as they (failed to) pass by.  The poor spider just crept away and now destitute, died.

Don’t know what was going on with the bees though.  You should have been there!  Not just for the bees, but for the view from on high, spectacular up there:

I continued my crouched down examination of this entomological display.  I didn’t at first notice the family who had now joined me up the top.  A youngish boy stared at me, apparently looking me up and down, a thought seemingly taking form in his mind as he did so. Then he looked at his mum and said ‘mum‘ (that’s how I know it was his mum, I’m quick on the uptake like that), ‘you look stupid‘.  She replied ‘it doesn’t matter what I look like, we are out for a walk, nobody cares!’  A good sentiment, but I couldn’t help noticing she didn’t look stupid at all whereas… I have a suspicion there was a bit of transference going on there.  I may have been temporarily distracted by the bee display, but I still wasn’t really rocking the ultra runner look.

Oh well, maybe it is because I wasn’t actually running.  I stood up and sort of jogged off, bit half-heartedly it’s true, but speedily enough to put distance between me and the family walking along behind.

Carrying along the tops, the views were stunning and the weather perfect.  Oh for it to be like this come August bank holiday weekend.  I felt OK, plodding along, occasionally slurping from my water spout, I ate one of my naked bars. I’m really bored with them. I’ve not sussed the fuelling aspect of this endeavour at all.  I want something more savoury, crinkle cut crisps would go down a storm, but not very portable.  I am cutting it fine for experimenting with new things.  I didn’t put electrolytes in my water today either, I’m wondering if that could have been a contributory factor in crashing a bit later.  I know it’s pathetic, but I didn’t want to put electrolytes in the bladder because I think the tubing might be tricky to clean, but that’s crazy, it must be possible to clean it and it rather defeats the object of carrying fluids if they aren’t fit for the long-distance purpose.

More bee sightings later, again, a carpet of them buzzing around. This wouldn’t be good for bee phobics (are there such people) many a fine B movie features killer bees (the swarm dear reader), that’s why they are called bee movies.  Fact.++  What are they all doing.  And how come I’ve never noticed all those little bee homes along the ridge before.

Eventually, I descended and ended up on the undulating tarmac road that takes you to the base of Win Hill or the Yorkshire Bridge Inn, depending on how intrepid and strong you are feeling.  Being weak-willed, today my destination of choice was the Yorkshire Bridge hostelry.  One more epic thing happened en route though. It’s going to sound far-fetched, but I promise you it’s quite true.  As I was on the last bit of road towards the T-junction that leads to Yorkshire Bridge, I came across a youngish couple.  They were evidently lost, and, what’s more, didn’t even have a map with them!  Honestly, what rookie walkers were they?  I was able to get my map out for the first time that morning (did I mention enough that I’d memorised the route and hadn’t needed it at all up until that point) and show them where we were, point to the path they needed and estimate how far away it was.  I tried to appear nonchalant about my fabulous display of applied navigational skills, and suggested in what I hope wasn’t tooooooo patronising a tone, that they might like to take a photo of my map, in case they needed to reorient themselves later on. This they did, and I waved them on their way, inwardly rejoicing at this demonstration of how I’ve now moved up the navigational food chain.  Not only able to navigate for myself, but competent enough to give advice to others!  Wow, who’d have thought such a transition was possible.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’d survive very long if you blindfolded me, and dropped me on a moor somewhere unspecified with nothing more than a map and a pair of clean knickers to sustain me.  (Everyone knows you should always have a pair of clean undies on your person in case you should get hit by a bus on the way home from anywhere.  Even the most dastardly of evil villains would not deny me that surely).  Mind you, if you tried to blindfold me and drop me on a moor you probably wouldn’t survive very long either.  I didn’t spend a year doing body combat three times a week for a whole year for nothing.  Sigh, those were happy hours at the gym, with a steroid infused instructor who would stand in front of you shouting in your face with beads of sweat pouring from his forehead ‘punch me, go on, see if you can hit me‘ and I would try, and he would always dodge the hooks, but there was always that frisson of peril that one time he might not.  I’ve since discovered to my dismay, that this isn’t apparently standard practise for body combat classes.  It is not usual apparently for the instructor to say ‘for this one, think of someone you hate,  imagine you have managed to grab their head and now smash the skull down on your knee to shatter it and keep doing it til it’s completely smashed. GO!’  I was so disappointed when I changed gyms and the new instructor was all ‘now look around you everyone, we don’t want you hitting your class mates by accident, and watch out not to over extend your joints, nice and gently everyone 4 3 2 and go!’  Not the same stress busting tonic at all.  I stopped going then.  That’s years of tension I’ve been storing ever since, so BACK OFF abduction people, it won’t work!

Boosted by my ability to direct others, albeit only up the road in a straight line until they saw the gate for the public footpath, I headed to the pub. I was flagging a bit, and thought maybe a bowl of soup would be just the thing.  Unfortunately, the pub was absolutely heaving and maybe had only just started serving food as the bar was 3 deep with people placing orders, no-one actually had food in front of them and the place stunk, I mean really really stunk, of fish.  It made me heave.  I’m probably more sensitive than most to this smell as I’m actually allergic to fish as well as being vegetarian, so have never ever eaten it apart from as an infant when I went into anaphylactic shock, which I don’t remember.  Though the medication I had then explains my idiosyncratic teeth, a story for another day.

I decided to leave it, just turn on my heels and head back.  Now, with the benefit of hindsight this maybe wasn’t my best move.  I’d only got 2 litres of water with me, and two naked bars and some emergency glucose tablets.  It was hot, so I wasn’t feeling hungry, but as I started trekking back I could feel my reserves depleting.  I was really hoping there’d be an ice cream van at fiddlers elbow (there wasn’t) and losing my enthusiasm for the trek I slowed.  Why hadn’t I put electrolytes in my water?  Sooooo dim.  I didn’t really bonk as such, but I just started to feel a bit sorry for myself.  My mind crowded with negative thoughts about how crap I am at this ‘running’ malarkey, and what’s the point in entering an ultra if you are just going to walk round.  Blah de blah petulant stuff for the most part.  The bees were still in evidence once I started the ascent to Stanage Edge though, and they calmed me and distracted me. They are/ were blooming amazing.  Also, I met a couple with a strange-looking big red-eyed dog with a liver coloured coat.  It stopped and stared at me for a while then sniffed me and walked on.  It’s keepers looked on a little anxiously, which didn’t instil confidence, but then remarked ‘oh, that’s good, he barked at the last person, you must have the magic touch‘.  Being shallow, I am easily won over, ‘how lovely that I may have the magic touch’ I thought to myself.  ‘I am practically a dog whisperer.  What a slew of talents have gushed forth from me of late.  Perhaps I am finally finding myself after all these years.  Must update my LinkedIn profile, curses, I should have got their names and email addresses, they could have done me a testimonial.  Never mind, it’s a start…’ you get the idea.  Onwards and upwards until I was back up on high.  Stunning views, a lot more people, and a bizarrely flattened rabbit corpse.  How did that happen?  Don’t worry, I’m not going to make a rabbit habit of posting dead animal snaps, it’s just that this one was a bit weird.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Just a thought. Is there some deeper significance to the proximity of dead animal carcasses and bees? You know, like the Tate and Lyle lion with its bees. Not sure why a brand would want a dead lion swarming with bees for a logo, but I’m sure google can tell me.  Oh ok, it did.  Religious imagery apparently.  Nope, wasn’t having a religious epiphany up there, though I was renewing my appreciation of bees.

tate and lyle lion

Once I descended Stanage, I took a slightly different route, though a little gate to approach the ice cream car park from a different angle.  I had it in mind that I’d try to increase my mileage a bit to make it a 20 mile recce, the outward trek had only been 9 and a bit miles so I was a bit short.  There weren’t many people about, but I did disturb a poor woman who was quite clearly trying to have a discrete pee, only drawing attention to her plans by pretending she was looking for a dropped pen or something.  I pretended that I didn’t notice, so dignity preserved all round.   The lies we all collude with to ease our way through life eh?   Lovely view though.  Not of her having a pee, but of the heather and hills.  I hadn’t seen the approach to Higger Tor from quite this angle before.

DSCF3933

There was no ice cream van, and it dawned on me that my water was quite low too.  Another disadvantage of the bladder, you can’t see how much you have left, I should have refilled it at the pub.

Oh well, I decided to take the upper path at Burbage, partly just for a change, I hate just retracing my steps, and partly because if there are adders about, I think I’d be most likely to see the on the less travelled path.  Didn’t find one, but it was probably good to do technical terrain whilst tired.  Suddenly it was seemingly a long, long pootle out.  I hadn’t even covered half the 30 mile distance and was flagging.  I really need to up my game.  Sometimes I think I just genuinely don’t try hard enough. I don’t push myself in case I bonk, but of course that means I never progress.  I’m running out of time to try new tactics.  I can live with ‘getting round’ but on today’s evidence even that seems doubtful. Hurrumph.  I was so hot and sweaty.  There being nobody around, I took advantage of the breeze from being up high and lifted my top to let the air onto my skin.  Lovely.

I gave myself a talking to.  You want to know what the weird thing is?  Nope, well I’m going to tell you anyway.  The weird thing is, when I went through my mental  ‘how am I feeling checklist’, I actually felt pretty OK.  For me at least, it’s a good way to test whether the challenge is mental or physical.  My legs felt fine, strong even.  No problem with breathing. I  was hot, but not especially bothered, yep, a bit thirsty, and my water had run out.  But I’ve suffered worse, and possibly peckish but not about to faint, though I was definitely at the point where I’d have liked to have had a little something left to eat and didn’t.  Conclusion.  I was fine. It was just my body pronouncing it’d been lovely, but it’d be quite good to stop now.  Stopping however, wasn’t an option.  No phone, so I wasn’t going to be calling mountain rescue, and anyway, I’m not sure they come out as a taxi service just because you can’t be bothered to walk anymore.  They aren’t a mountain side über service, contrary to what some may want to believe.  No option but to press on.  Fortunately, the views were stunning, and it is one of my favourite parts of the walk.

I trekked on, thinking of the high points still to come.  The white heather patch.  The Houndkirk road and the end in sight.  The glory of uploading a 20 mile run on Strava.  Maybe people wouldn’t focus so much on my speed as my endurance #legsofsteel might even be in order, if I could just break that 20 mile mark…  I got onto the old Roman Road really believing this, and it seemed to be at that exact moment I glanced down to my watch, which hadn’t vibrated in quite a while – it does that every mile, well, it’s supposed to.  Disaster. The battery had packed up. I could do what I wanted, but my watch had given up on me I’d be going it alone.

DSCF3946

This was not good. I tried to think of all those great adventurers who’d pressed on without GPS or even a watch to time themselves accurately.  I could do the last mile to the Norfolk Arms surely.

And I did.  I was too hot and tired to even go in there for a coffee, I just wanted to go home for a bath.  So I did.

Bath concluded, I’m not sure what I feel.  The upside is that I did near enough 20 miles and I’m not injured or anything – not even a blister, I’m just knackered.  I can find my way, and the new pack will be fine once I get used to it, not flattering, but for me no public appearances ever are, so the camera tells me anyway.  The downside is it’s increasingly dawning on me that even walking 30 miles with that much elevation is going to be a significant challenge, plus doing it on my own. I’m expecting to be so slow that I won’t be in sight of anyone else. Still, I’ll have the bees for company and maybe a stoat or too.  As for my watch’s battery life. That’s a problem.  I can’t bear that if I do the route my watch will give up on me half way round.  I can see only two solutions, buy a new watch, erm, nope, just bought a vest and new shoes, the watch will have to wait, and the alternative?  To speed up sufficiently that I do get round before my watch gives out.  Can’t honestly see that happening.  Maybe in a parallel universe.  Oh well, que sera.

So that was that, another day’s recce done.

I still don’t know what’s going to happen, but then again, that is what makes life interesting.  I am thinking though, next time I head out, I might try to visit the rock shop discovered on my last foray out,  and deposit some magic stones or similar in their honesty tin.  What might be a good and suitably mysterious find I wonder. ….  now there’s a project

DSCF3828

See, there’s always a reason to head out, maybe it isn’t game over quite yet…

Or maybe it is, I honestly have no idea at all.

None.

 

For all my Dig Deep Series related posts, click here, and scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you

*I might have made that up.  But they are not altogether bad ideas now are they?

++ yes, but a Lucy fact.  i.e. something I choose to believe to be true, but am unable to evidence objectively other than pronouncing ‘well it should be‘.

Categories: motivation, off road, running | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Finding riches within the Dig Deep landscape… literally, no really!

Digested Read: more recceing of the Dig Deep 30 route. This time Win Hill to Shatton.  I don’t care what the course organisers say, Win Hill and the hoik up Rebellion Knoll after Bradwell sure feel like monster climbs to me.  Found abandoned riches en route, and a rock shop.  Who knew?

This was the recce where I had to take a deep breath and face my nemesis.  This would be the day that I’d do a recce encompassing both Win Hill, which most definitely constitutes ‘undulating’ territory and also return for round two with Bradwell and the long hot haul up to Rebellion Knoll before descending into Shatton, which appropriately on this day had indeed been copiously shat on, by passing cattle.  I know.  My hallway still  has a distinctly rural aroma a couple of days on.  I will get bored with writing blog posts about the Dig Deep eventually, but fully appreciate you might already be bored of reading them.  Remember though, you don’t have to.  You could just log off, and go and do something more interesting instead, like removing hair from the shower plug hole, washing up or playing spider solitaire on your phone, whatever grabs you.  If you choose to read on I take no responsibility for you wasting your life away with such pointless procrastination when you could be proactively engaging in exciting and stimulating activities including the illustrative (but not exhaustive) list of suggestions above.  Take some personal responsibility, make a choice, choose …. life.

Yes dear reader.  I am talking again about a recce of  a section of the Dig Deep Intro Ultra/ Peak Trail 30 .  In case you lost concentration in an earlier post, or a newbie to my blog, this is a 30 mile ultra that according to the website blah de blah

The Dig Deep Peak Trails 30 (formerly known as the ‘intro ultra’) covers some of the most beautiful scenery in the UK. At around 30 miles the route takes in some of the finest trails in the Peak District. The route has roughly 1388 metres of ascent and whilst there are no monster climbs the continued hilly nature of the course earmarks this race as a tough one to complete. However, the distance falls just within the ULTRA category – so if you are after your first ULTRA scalp – this could be the one!

The Route
The route has been chosen because of its stunning scenery and the tough nature of the route. Whilst developing the race we have worked closely with local landowners and the Peak District National Park Authority to ensure that the race is sustainable and avoids sensitive areas. For this reason there are some strict route restrictions in place on some areas of the race. Please follow these wherever indicated.

The route will be partially marked but navigation may be necessary. Sport ident dibbing stations will be in place along the route – each of these must be visited.

The race will form part of a festival of running to be held at Whirlow Farm Hall in Sheffield (camping available). As well as the 30 mile race there will be several other races starting and finishing over the weekend

I accidentally entered yonks ago in a fit of ‘what the hell‘ thinking and now I am thinking What the hell? indeed.  It’s over the August bank holiday so but a few weeks away, and my fitness is lamentable.  I am desperately trying to recce the route in advance to help prepare me for what lies ahead, but mainly it’s making me appreciate the enormity of the challenge and the gap between the ideal fitness levels for a potential participant and my actual ones.  Hint, it’s quite a big gap. Way bigger than even the gaps at the London underground station that disembodied voices are always warning you about as you disembark.  I don’t really know if I’m even going to make the start, but I haven’t yet withdrawn or transferred to another distance.  My only objective is to get around, it was originally to get around without crying, but I’ll settle for just finishing before the cut offs.  The cut offs are the same as for the 60 mile hard-core ultra taking place on the same Saturday, so it should be possible even if I walk the whole thing.  Actually, I have even calculated that if I take longer, I might just get caught up in the 10k participants yomping home on the Sunday morning, so might still be ok.   The recces are therefore continuing to advance, even if my confidence in my abilities retreats in direct relation to the amount of recces I do.  Ah well, it’s my home patch, I can always catch the bus home.

Mind-the-gap-600x300

This day’s recce was to start at Win Hill, what better way to start a race recce than with a vertical climb through gnarled tree roots after all, to Hope and  then through Bradwell finishing at Shatton.  I had a recce buddy again. Hooray!  It does help morale, and is navigational support too, although, as previously established, I have now discovered that navigation is within reach of anyone with suitably corrected vision, as long as they have a decently scaled map.  It’s taken me a while to come to this conclusion, but it’s been a game changer.  I’m way more confident out and about, naturally I have retained the ability to get lost, and of course I do have to continually spin the map until it’s orientated the same way as the landscape around me to find where I am, but I still feel much more in control of where I’m putting my footsteps than I have ever been before.

I say we started at Win Hill, but actually, we rendezvoused with the cars in Shatton, then drove in one to the base of Win Hill – a side track just before the Yorkshire Bridge pub. The forecast was rain, and it was a lot cooler than last time I tackled the hill.  We’ve had some rain, and it made a huge difference. The water was flowing more quickly, and everything freshened up.  We had a bit of preparatory faffing before heading off.  My recce buddy was chatting away to me companionably as I dived behind a bush to reduce my load for the forthcoming ascent. When I emerged she looked confused.  Seems we had both been in full flown simultaneously, and she hadn’t immediately spotted my absence.  Oops, sorry about that.

Suitably prepared, we eyed the forest ascending above us.  I don’t care that the race blah de blah says there are no ‘monster climbs’ I think Win Hill is.  Think Jack in the Beanstalk, and you get the general idea.  It was a bit skiddy because rain had settled on dry earth.  Lose earth had been washed away, so the path, such as it is, was even more deeply rutted than usual.  Bits of it are, for me at least, full on climbing, as I grabbed exposed tree roots to haul myself up.  Progress was slow.  In my defence, I was battling through another recently acquired injury.  Admittedly one acquired in a residential muesli-belt context rather than a hard-core tough mudder one.  Specifically, earlier in the day I had thwacked the side of my knee on a coffee table that mysteriously launched towards me as I was exiting a room.  You can smirk all you like, but it blooming hurt, both at the time and subsequently.  A few days later and i still have quite an impressive bump, though the bruising hasn’t come out to anything like the extent I might have hoped.  Being injured is hard enough, but it is indeed to add insult to injury to have an injury that doesn’t colour up nicely in order that you can show it off coquettishly to other athletes (ahem) as a badge of honour.

 

I’ll say one thing though, if you stop now and again, which I did often, and look back, the views were gorgeous.  The woodland is lovely too, because the ascent is so steep, you feel like you are in the tree canopy of a rain forest.  It’s extraordinary.  I freely admit I wouldn’t have voluntarily clambered up here but for the necessity of doing this race route recce, and I made heavy work of ascending, but the rewards in terms of views are lovely.  I tried to take comfort in the knowledge that I doubt very much even experienced ultra runners would waste energy running this section, I don’t think it would be possible, and if it were, it wouldn’t be an efficient use of limited reserves to do so.  I think though their power walks might leave my crawling progress for dust, oh well, we all still make the same elevation I suppose, which was a lot.

Look from whence we came though:

DSCF3774

As we clambered, I was trying to articulate to my companion, what misguided logic makes me think this event ought to be doable.  I explained I’d been examining the results of Dig Deep events for 2017.   Finish times of the slowest 30 milers last year 2017, final finisher came in at 10.43, whereas the fastest 60 miler was – unbelievably fast – at 9.27.  The final finisher for the 60 miles was out a staggering 22.07 hours, respect.  Allowing for the 30 mile starting 2 hours later, if the cut offs are similar, I’d have 20 hours to get around, and I really don’t want to be out that long, if it looks like I will be, I’d retire, or, pause for a nap and join the 12.12s coming back on Sunday morning the next day (joke).  I was saying all this out loud in an attempt to persuade myself as much as my recce companion.  I mean really, I have no idea what I’m letting myself into, or who long it might take, but I keep telling myself, if I don’t test my limits how can I ever know what they are.  Also, this is local, worst case scenario I can get a bus home, and we shall never speak of this again, and it will be as if this whole thing ’twas but a dream.  It never happened.  Never.  Fact.

quote-twas-but-a-dream-let-it-pass-let-it-vanish-like-so-many-others-what-i-thought-was-a-henry-wadsworth-longfellow-358575

So we took a couple of steps; paused, looked back at the view, stepped on.  Paused, chatted, took a few steps.  Paused, mopped our liquid brows, stepped on… you get the idea.  On one such power pause (I think that’s a thing, if power naps are, I don’t see why power pauses shouldn’t be, they are in my world now though) I espied and claimed a 5p piece.  Riches dear reader riches!  I took this to be a fine omen, but then again, I am easily pleased.  Obviously, if you are reading this post, and you believe this 5p piece to be yours, feel free to get in touch with a description and I will return it to  you.

DSCF3771

Eventually, the steep slope opened out onto a gentler terrain, a ‘proper’ fell runner skipped past, heading downward – and we could see where we were heading.

DSCF3773

Eventually, you emerge onto a ‘proper’ path and can continue up Win Hill to the Trig point.  About here, we met another runner.  She too, it turned out, was training for an ultra in Edinburgh later in the year. She was staying at Castleton YHA hostel, and aiming to do 21 miles today. She’d got lost, so we walked together for  a bit to get her back on track, and shared stories as we did. She was quite well-travelled, and though born in Hungary had lived and worked all over the world.  These facts are important for later dear reader, so concentrate!

 

We got to the intersection where we were descending through a gate, and left her trekking on along the roman road.  At this point, I glanced at my watch as it vibrated to indicate we’d covered another mile.  Want to know our progress rate dear people?  You’ll be amazed, I was.  We hadn’t covered another mile, we’d covered one.  One solitary mile and it had taken a WHOLE HOUR.  That is ridiculous.  One mile an hour?  What happened there?  We had stopped to chat and send our new friend on her way, I’d had my al fresco comfort break earlier on, there was a lot of faffing on the way up, but even so.  I can’t spend 30 hours doing this ultra, blimey, at that pace I’d miss even the 12.12 finishers, I was going to need to up my game.

We did speed up a bit, descending Win Hill is lovely actually.  Apart from the sight of the dead and mangled stoat/ weasel.  Now, I accept that photographing dead animals isn’t the most universal of hobbies – though I daresay there are niche sites out there dedicated to roadkill across the globe – but I am interested in whether this is in fact a stoat or a weasel, as I still haven’t positively identified whatever it was I saw on the looping the loops recce of the other week.  So here it is, dog kill (presumably) but what is it?  I’ll return to this another time. Sad, but surely interesting too, to know what wildlife is lurking in all that purple haze.

DSCF3782

The view above was better than that at our feet:

 

We scampered down through the heather, into a field, green grass

 

and then, winking up at me from the ground, a pristine bank card, dropped recently by some poor walker or other.  The name was quite unusual.  We decided it must belong to our Hungarian friend.  The logic was, novel name, correct gender, recently dropped and we knew she’d come up this path earlier because it was from here she overshot and went the wrong way.  Upshot was, we agreed to stop in Hope, ring the Youth Hostel and see if we could return it to her there.  Good excuse for a latte also.  We were moving at glacial pace, maybe not even as speedily as that, with climate change and ice caps melting, I imagine some glaciers are moving positively speedily, albeit receding backwards rather than advancing.  In the circumstances, a lunch and latte stop would make little difference  to anything other than our morale.

On our way down to Hope, we passed the best no parking sign ever.  Raises the tone, don’t you agree?

DSCF3789

and there were white doves massing.  In a good way, not like Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’.

 

We were distracted by conversation, and nearly over-shot the official route down Farfield Farm. In fact, my recce buddy did an official recce of this section a few weeks back, and also overshot. In case you care, it doesn’t actually matter if you overshoot and hit the main road and go right later on, you’ll end up in the same place without missing the dibber point and the distances are pretty similar. Even so, we went the ‘proper’ way, because hey, I have navigational super powers and chose to conform, so we took in the pretty little bridge.  We also passed a small forested cemetery where an intimate burial was taking place.  It was a lovely spot to say goodbye to someone, we tiptoed past.

 

Into Hope, and straight into cafe adventure – a lovely intimate cafe with great food and a warm welcome for cyclist and walkers, and bank card couriers.  Knowing our Hungarian friend was out for hours there was the option of using her contactless card for a slap up meal, but we rose above that temptation.  Latte for me and tea for my buddy, and I had courgette fritters with salad, because, well it was lunch time now, and we’d given up any pretence of a purposeful power walk morphing our adventure into a leisurely meander populated with micro adventures along the way.

I didn’t take a photo of the cafe, but previously Phil Sproson has taken this rather fine artistic one that I got off their Facebook page.   Thanks both 🙂

phil sproson photo

We got the number for the YHA, well my buddy did, because she has a smart phone, I don’t, but I had a companion who did which amounts to the same thing.   The number puts you through to a central switchboard.  I explained the situation, in what I hoped was a non stalkery way, as I didn’t know whether they’d be able to confirm so and so was staying at the hostel without breaching confidentiality  I had that once before, trying to return a purse and id card to a school as I’d found it right outside the school gates.   They wouldn’t confirm the person was there, so I ended up having to return it to a police station elsewhere, and then heard that when the police phoned them, they moaned about having to go and collect it.  There’s gratitude.  Not. I hoped the YHA contact might be more pragmatic. I  spelt out the name, a lot, and after a few permutations as many and manifest as I seem to encounter when trying to put in my upper and lower case and multi digit 1000 digit wi-fi access code – he said he’d see if he could get in touch with Castleton Youth Hostel and phone me back.

We ate.  I over ate.  It was very nice though.  Some people have huge problems with eating on ultra challenges.   They end up throwing up copiously to the point that even flat coke re-emerges through their nostrils I understand.  This is why you are supposed to practise what you are going to eat on long challenges before the day.  One friend of mine who did a team  ultra at Dig Deep last year, was berated by another team member when they arrived at the Bradwell feeding station.  It was a full on wedding buffet, as she face planted into the feast she was dragged away ‘never eat anything new on race day!’ her running buddy reminded.  I get this. But then again, I figure I’ve had a life time’s experience of practising eating things, I  think I’ll be OK.  In all seriousness, I think with the speed I’m going at, it is less likely to be an issue, although there was a lesson today in that I ate too much just because it was there, and although I wasn’t ill for the second part of our adventure, it did slow me down sitting on my stomach like ballast and telling me really I should be lying down and surrender to postprandial somnolence that’s food coma to you and me.

As we were sat there, my phone rang. It was very surreal.  The nice man from the YHA had spoken to the bankcard holder, they were back in London.  Uh?  In one of those bizarre coincidences, it was indeed someone who had stayed at Castleton YHA, but it was a few days back.  I don’t know what nationality they were though.  Still, what were the chances eh?  Quite high obviously, but I found this novel.  Then again, as you know already dear reader, I am easily entertained.

DSCF3797

Bye bye cafe, off we went again.

This time though, we – or more accurately my Brutelles recce buddy, spotted this interesting sign:

 

How did we miss this before. There is still the high walled corale very much in evidence.  I think that’s interesting.  I wonder when it was last used, looks useable still, but only for sheep say, as the entrance was low.

Trotting on, through the brutalist industrial features of the Hope Cement Works. I rather like the incongruity of this landmark.  It is like you imagine a soviet era Russian factory to be.  Would be a great film set I think.

 

Emerging, we had two more discoveries. Firstly, the bee hives.  If you have been concentrating dear reader, you will know that on a previous Dig Deep recce we discovered a hidden community orchard, but couldn’t be bothered to walk to the end of it to check out the hives.  This time, we espied them through a gate.  They were really active, loads of bees buzzing around industrially.  All about collectivisation of the workforce here too…

DSCF3824

As well as the collective industries though, there was also a free trade initiative a bit further up the lane.  This was I think, one of my favourite ever things to come upon on a walk.  Some local children had set up a rock selling initiative.  Choice stones were displayed on a wooden plank, with an honesty box for payments.  50p a stone.  At first I thought they would be painted stones, as I’ve come across these before, but no, they were stones.  Ostensibly similar to those on the path all around, but no doubt hand picked for having some uniquely attractive characteristic that, whilst it might not be immediately obvious to the casual observer or the untrained eye, was unmissable to a true rock connoisseur.  Impressive eh?

 

Yes, I did rattle the tin, no, there wasn’t any money in it.  I did briefly wish I’d got some change on me, as I like to imagine the budding entrepreneurs finding it, but I didn’t and also, adding rocks to my load was maybe not the best of ideas.  And yes, you could leave the money and just not take a rock, but I felt that would not be in the spirit of the endeavour.  If you are passing, and don’t have another 20 miles still ahead of you, you could maybe chip in though.  Just a thought.

On to Bradwell.  We took the triangle ‘properly’ this time, to check out where the feed station would be.  From there, we looked up and saw the summit of Rebellion Knoll, it is indeed steep, no wonder it’s such a drag to get up there.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Past the fire station and church, over the little bridge and its pretty stream, past the flower bedecked houses of Bradwell.  Emerging the other side and this is my least favourite part of the whole route.  A long hot tarmac road stretches upwards.  It maybe didn’t help morale that as we tackled this part we were discussing toxic work environments, how being trapped in such contexts seems endless, hard, demoralising and pointless.  All adjectives that were especially resonant right there and then.   Eventually, you get to the end of the road and it’s the climb up.  Although this is a short section, both times I’ve done it the route has been really exposed.  The sun beats down on you, and it’s a grim climb up.  The path isn’t particularly attractive, unless you stop and look backwards at the view.  The highlights are marvelling at the water content of a random slurry pit, that must be on the top of a spring of some sort surely, otherwise how is there a puddle there despite weeks of no rain?

 

It was a lot speedier this time than last though, as we didn’t get so confused about the route, though we still took a wrong path once.  Doh. It’s confusing.  It was great to reach the top though and the gate that would take us to the next dibber point and the gravel road.

DSCF3860

and it was pretty speedy after that.  Recces definitely make the route feel shorter.  Gravel path and our wall man friend

 

Down, little bit along, and pretty soon we had descended and taken a right into the village of Shatton.  It seemed a ‘sudden’ conclusion to our walk.  This section was notable mainly for the copious amounts of lose cow pats we encountered along the way.  I don’t mind this particularly, it is a rural location after all, but out of context back home in my hallway it was clear that I’d not circumnavigated the little land mines of excrement as cannily as I might have hoped.

Drove round to pick up the other car at Yorkshire Bridge, and that was that, another recce down. So this was the recce that took in the riches of a found 5p piece, a lost bank card, a dead stoat (or possibly weasel), brutalist architecture of Hope Cement Works, bees, a pinfold and an improvised rock shop.  That’s not a bad return on a few hours yomping.  I wonder what my next Dig Deep recce adventure will reveal…  Always something, don’t get that on a treadmill now do you.

strava route

For all my Dig Deep Series related posts, click here, and scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you

Categories: motivation, off road, running | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Digging deep in search of my running mojo I discover I have a previously untapped super-power! Who knew?

Digested read: lost my running mojo, but acquired a super-power. Who knew my geography O-level would turn out to be such a boon later in life?  Also, realisation has dawned that the way to get ready for a long distance run is to do some long-distance running. Fortunately, the views are lovely.  It’s true you know, don’t wait, just step out, it’s all out there ready for us to dive into.   It’s been one revelation after another this week, really it has!

DSCF3563

Why has nobody mentioned this before?  I mean, well really, this discovery is an absolute game changer.  I’d always thought people who could navigate were endowed with some kind of a super-power, but I discovered today what they are actually in possession of is a suitably scaled and detailed OS map.  Plus, if not actual twenty twenty vision, then some sort of correctly prescribed and adjustive corrective lens: be it in the form of monocle; spectacle; magnifying glass; periscope; pince-nez; opera glasses or whatever. Well, maybe not an actual periscope, that’s probably more a triathlon than running thing, but essentially, whatever works for you.  A rusty geography O-level has also helped me out, but no doubt other rudimentary qualifications are available that will serve just as well.  I’ve not been so amazed since I realised that you don’t need to be able to cook if you know how to shop.  Some discoveries are indeed life changing.

I’ve always categorised myself as rubbish at navigation. It’s true I have zero sense of direction, and a possibly unique ability to not be able to retrace routes alone that I’ve done dozens of times before in the company of others, but I am now wondering if I simply haven’t given myself a chance to find out otherwise.  I’ve allowed this self-perception to fester unchallenged.  When I first moved to Sheffield, in late Autumn, I went off on my own along a footpath from the Snake Pass and terrified myself by getting completely disoriented up on a moor somewhere with dusk drawing in.  I decided it was irresponsible to head off alone again, I just couldn’t make sense of the unfamiliar landscape and had no idea where I was.  So now, my default position when I want to discover new routes is to try to find someone to guide the way, or if I have to do things on my own, to do endless out and back recces until through trial and error I do learn an area, but it isn’t very efficient.

My lack of navigational competence and/or confidence is starting to be a barrier to my running progress.  To be fair, there are quite a few barriers to my running progress, not least of which is my fundamental reluctance to run.  However, the focus here is on being able to find my way on longer routes.  I have zero aptitude for shorter distances where there is an horrifying expectation that participants will run at speed (apart from parkrun, gotta love parkrun), but I do seem to have a certain tenacity which means I can endure over distance, as long as my default speed is what many might regard as pointlessly slow.  For my part, I try to just thing that forward is still progress.  It’s a start.

CR-4U_VWsAALXIo

Even two steps forward, one step back is still progress.  Unfortunately, running round in circles is not.  I have my eye on doing longer trail events, but they inevitably require navigation, because you can’t really marshal or tape off courses of more than a few miles, unless it’s a road race like the London marathon.  Even marathon runners have been signed the wrong way to be fair – Venice 2017 marathon anyone? so nothing’s a given.  I want to do longer distances, so I need to crack this navigation malarkey.

Last year, my favourite event turned out to be the Dig Deep 12.12.  I know!  I amazed myself, it was just super friendly, gorgeous course, and for me, challenging, as I hadn’t done that distance on a ‘proper’ trail route before.  I resolved to come back the following year, which is now this year.  (Concentrate dear reader) and what’s more, I’d have a bash at the intro ultra.  Thirty miles!  Well, I did my usual thing of entering ages ago, thinking I’ll have lots of time to train.  I’ll have done the London Marathon by then so I’ll have morphed into a practically super-human finely tuned distance runner by then, it’s only a couple of miles more!  Whilst most many of these thoughts were always going to be entirely delusional, I did do some proactive preparation.  I cajoled everyone I knew to see if others might be up for the challenge.  A few were in a ‘we’ll see’ sort of way, and I started up a ‘Dig Deep and Dig Deep Curious’ private Facebook group to try and build some solidarity amongst us so we could motivate each other and … this is where I get to the crux of things … do joint recces.  We could learn the route together.  It would be grand!  I never planned on running with others during the event, that way tears and tantrums and a growing sense of personal inadequacy and failing lies (for me anyway).  But the preparation would be half the fun. If I’m entirely honest I suppose I was hoping to parasitise the navigational skills of others, but it was also about joint yomping out and discovering new trails on our doorstep.  It was going to be joyous!  Scampering about in the wake of  my navigationally gifted running buddies we’d avoid the dragons and learn the trails. How fantastic would that be!

here-be-dragons

I’m a bit phobic about finding my way, not only metaphorically in life generally, but literally, heading out on the trails.  My confidence in my navigational skills has not been helped by my acquisition of the route map for the Dig Deep race series.  I actually got it last year for the 12.12, bought of the website, but it’s just rubbish.  Beyond rubbish.  The scale is small, and the route so heavily marked you can’t work out which trails are which anyway.  Last year I felt stupid because I couldn’t make sense of it.  I must have done a squillion recces before I cracked the 12.12 mile route.   I ended up constantly calling on Smiley buddies for assistance in deciphering the code, and my local running shop even used google images of Higger Tor from above to help me find the path off the blooming thing.  In the event, I’m really glad I did the recces, but the route was pretty well marked, so I would have been alright without.   This year, if I do go through with it and do the thirty mile intro ultra, I’ll definitely need to find my own way round.   Marshals will be few and far between, and going the wrong way could add unwelcome elevation as well as miles to the distance.   I can’t see how they can mark out the whole route that far.   Crap.  The 30 mile route is unchanged from last year, which means I can still use last years map but it remains about as illuminating as last time around.  Crap again.  All the paths looked blurred, no idea where you are supposed to go. This does not bode well.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So this year, I might be doing the Dig Deep 30 mile intro ultra.  I mean, I have entered it (what was I thinking) but it’s still in the balance whether I’ll make it to the start.  Loads of reasons why.  Too slow, not fit enough and not trained enough for starters.  Then there is the issue that my entourage of running buddies who were possibly going to enter, and were part of the ‘Dig Deep and Dig Deep Curious’ band of buddies,  have now pretty much all fallen by the wayside.  Legitimate reasons, going away; injury; not trained; realised that thirty miles is actually quite a long way and might not be fun to run if this heat continues blah de blah.   I understand their reservations and view points, heavens, if I’m honest, I share them.  The thing is though, if I do decide to withdraw, I want it to be because I don’t want to try not because I can’t find my way around on my own.  I was hoping running buddies meant recceing buddies.  We’ve had a few days out – thank you those who have shepherded me round to date, but I’m nowhere near knowing the route, and it is so much easier to recce a long race in sections if you pair up. then you can have a  car at each end of the segment so you don’t have to constantly retrace your steps.

I tried to console myself.  I reminded myself I was never going to actually run the route on the day with anyone anyway – waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too stressful.  No-one runs as slowly as me so buddying up to make a running pair isn’t an option.  If I did, either my eyes would pop out with the strain of trying to keep up with them, or they’d become  frustrated to the point of apoplexy by having their natural running speed constantly curtailed.  You can only push running friendships and challenges so far.  I know.  I’ve come home from plenty of group runs and had a quiet cry at my enduring ineptitude.  There is nothing to be gained from comparing yourself to other runners, and therefore, by extension, from trying to run alongside any particular individual runner for prolonged periods,  that way madness lies.

madness

Not that sort of madness, that would be quite novel…  might risk a pairing for that.

Even so, irrespective of whether or not you actually run together,  it’s reassuring at a new event to have buddies out on the course, if only so they’ll notice if you don’t make it back before nightfall.  Psychologically, others pulling out of the Dig Deep Intro Ultra now Peak Trails 30 Ultra has been tough for me.  Especially, because without exception, they all seem fitter, stronger more capable runners, I’ve been feeling a bit crushed.  What’s the point of even trying…  I don’t know the route, even if I could drag my weary carcass round the distance, I felt like I had zero chance of knowing which way to go. You have no idea how hard it is to be me.  And don’t get me started in terms of what’s happened to my running mojo.  I have no idea what it looks like, and no, I can’t remember when I last had it.  Crap. Crap again.  It’s all crap.  I hate running.  I hate not being able to run even more.  My relationship status with running is kind of complicated.

lost mojo

I had a mini meltdown earlier in the week.  It all seemed a bit ludicrous to have ever signed up for the thirty miler in the first place.  I did make it out with my Smiley Paces buddies for an off-road Thursday night run for the first time this year.  As usual I trailed at the back feeling hot, clumsy and useless.  Other bright young things fitter of frame and fleeter of foot sprung ahead, hopping across the rocks like mountain goats as a glorious sunset bathed the peak district in spectacular evening rays.  I try to tell myself that I have endurance, so speed doesn’t matter, but it still messes with my head.  How can I even entertain the idea of doing long distances if I can’t even keep up with others on a barely 5 mile social run?  Still, it was scenic out, this is still something I’d like to crack….

I decided it is/was not yet game over.  I still have some time.  It is dawning on me that it’s not altogether surprising I’m making no progress with my running as I’m not regularly training if I’m honest.  Yes, yes, it has been crazily hot, but even so, I’m not going to magically get fitter if I don’t do anything at all.   What I need, is a cunning plan.

cunning-fox-quote

So, I did my usual thing, indulged in a brief pity party, and then decided to be a bit less defeatist. I will try to crack this navigational thing myself.  How hard can it be?

I actually went out and invested in a proper scaled map, oh my gawd!  It was like discovering the gateway to Narnia.  Did you know, that if the scale of a map is big enough you can actually work out where you are and where to go next by looking at it!  It’s remarkable.  Obviously a 1:1 scale would be ideal, then I’d just lay it over the peak district and walk over it like a map carpet, but they weren’t available in store so I’ve gone for the more conventional Peak District Central 1:25,000 Harvey superwalker map.  I think it’s the map which is being referred to as ‘superwalker’ not the user of the map which in this case is me.   I got it from my local running shop, which was also a good plan, as they checked to make sure I bought the right one for the ultra route – insider info people, it’s what you need.  Cheers nice Front Runner people.

YHSWPEC

I’m practically a sponsored athlete now I’ve had so much advice, though it’s come from so many different sources I’ll need bespoke kit to acknowledge all the many who’ve contributed to my running ‘journey’, mind you they perhaps wont all want their brands associated with me, so that’s a win.

I then laboriously marked out the route from the shite map onto the bigger scaled one.  It took a bit of deciphering, but I got there in the end.  It was both fun and a revelation. Fun, in the way that when I was at junior school I remember there was a time when every new bit of written work began with writing your name neatly at the top of the piece of paper, and then you could decorate the borders of the page however you wanted before you did any actual writing as such.  Tongue stuck out the side of my mouth, it was undemanding and even relaxing.  I imagine those adult colouring in books serve much the same purpose, though it would feel like surrendering to a slow death to go and purchase such an item.  Once I’d accomplished this task though, the revelation came –  the route actually made sense!  Oh my goodness, with this map, I’ll be able to find my way without having to chase round after faster runners or memorise the route from begged recces with other runners who already know where to go.  Couldn’t believe it.  There is a slight fly in the proverbial, in that I find I do need to wear my prescription glasses to decipher this navigational aid, but this seems but a small price to pay to avoid getting lost out there in the peaks.  My new map looks like this:

DSCF3485

Looking a lot more manageable on this scale.  Maybe I can find a way to do this, literally as well as metaphorically.  Yay!  At the very least, solo route finding has to be worth a punt.  I can still duck out of doing the Dig Deep for lack of fitness; finesse; training or inclination, but let me not duck out from not being able to find my way.

My next decision was to try and be a bit less passive.  I’ve relied too much on others to plan routes.  Really though, there is no reason why I can’t do sections on my own if I keep them short enough that I can do out and back.  It is probably good to do this anyway, as it’ll give me a better appreciation of the whole area, and the more I do, the more hours on my legs, who knows, it might even help me recover some fitness, though I concede there may be an element of hope over experience and delusional thinking in operation here.

In other news, I also had a reminder moment about how confidence works.  It’s so easy to wait to do things until we are stronger; cleverer; more experienced; fitter; have more time; thinner; when it’s warmer/ colder; whatever.  The reasons for perpetual procrastination based on a toxic cocktail of inertia combined with a lack of self-confidence are many and manifest. Sometimes though, our – perhaps that should be ‘my’ – belief that things that seem beyond my reach will be doable ‘if only’ I’d passed some particular milestone or situation and so boosted my confidence are based on a misconception about how these things work.  You don’t do things because you are confident, you become confident by doing things which take you out of your comfort zone.  If we wait, we might miss out entirely.

For the most part, fear of failure is irrelevant, most challenges aren’t life or death, they aren’t even risking humiliation.  Speaking personally I fear doing lots of running stuff because I’m not ‘good enough’, I don’t fit the ‘idealised runner’ stereotype. I know this is irrational. Very few people do fit the idealised runner look and performance, and those that do are probably equally riddled with self-doubt – unless Donald Trump takes up running, in which case he would be the best, greatest of the great runners of all time, (obvs, in his head), as he is on record as being the fittest president in the history of the universe ever.  I think the pictures speak for themselves…

I’m not going to advocate harnessing your inner Trump, clearly there are always exceptions that prove the rule, but I do advocate just getting over your/ myself and if necessary feigning self-belief enough to give things a go. Spoiler alert, running wise, mostly, nobody cares.  A few track athletes maybe, in competitive arenas, but on the hills and trails, at parkrun or participating in your local friendly neighbourhood running club nobody gives a toss what anyone else is doing.  So whatever other real barriers might exist, don’t let the demons in your head add to them.  What’s the worst…  A few of my Smiley compatriots are adopting the ‘JFDI’ mantra – just jolly-well do it, and quite right too!  I jolly well will.

Well, I’ll start with a solo recce at least.  If I don’t try I’ll never know if I could…

So that’s what I did.  I know the first part of the route pretty well from my 12.12 reccces last year, so I decided to just do a 6 mile chunk from the ice-cream van carpark, which is officially the Burbage/ Fiddlers Elbow carpark, and head out across Stanage to the base of Win Hill.  I’d just walk, I’d take my time, and check out my map reading skills.

It didn’t start brilliantly, I managed to get confused just exiting the car park, as there is a path at the back you can take, but my ‘instinct’ was telling me to stride off towards the edge.  In fact, I did the sensible thing though, and relied on what the map said, rather than what i thought I was supposed to be doing, and you know what, it works!  It actually blooming works!  There were a few technical issues like now I need to pack my reading glasses in my kit along with water and naked bars.  Also, the route is annoyingly just on the edge of the map so requires using both sides.  However overall, all good.  Hurrah!

The weather was cooler than of late, and the paths for the first part of the morning were pretty much deserted.  It is unbelievable how lovely it was out, I feel so lucky to have this just a few miles from where I live.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say I found my running mojo, that has most definitely gone AWOL for now, but I definitely tapped into my inner ‘it’s reet nice out‘ because it was and it is.  The paths are inviting, the heather is just at the stage of promising a purple bloom in a few weeks’ time.  A scattering of rain the night before had even freshened everything up, though it is still pretty scorched out there.

It was pretty roady to begin with, there are more direct paths, but the race route takes you along the tarmac and official routes with firmer terrain, and probably they are quicker as the terrain is more stable than the scampering over the rocks options.  However, after a bit, you head up off the tarmac, and approach Stanage and then up top, where it was surprisingly breezy, I was rewarded with the trig point and stunning, if somewhat hazy views.  I had it completely to myself, it was astonishing really.  Where is everyone?  They couldn’t all be at Sheffield Hallam parkrun, as that was cancelled because of tramlines this week.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

I did get chaperoned around this route a few weeks back, by Smiley buddies who did the Intro Ultra last year as their ultra debut as part of a trio of lovelies.  That definitely helped, but I do find that if others are ‘in charge’ of navigation, I tend to follow, gazing about and not really notice where we go.  This time with the map I was pleasantly surprised to be able to find my way relatively easily, and what’s more, finally identify what some of those rocky outcrops are actually called.  Well, I think I did, my O-level geography is a bit rusty, though I could probably still do a presentation on glacial erosion and a representational picture of frost shattered mountain peaks.  I used to love doing all those drawings in physical geography.  I wonder if school children still do, or is it all print outs now. shame if so.  My pictures of glacial erosion were good enough to be stuck to the front of a fridge, not that they ever were, but frankly they ought to have made the cut.  Perhaps I should have sent them in to Vision On for the gallery now I come to think of it?  Imagine if I’d had my talent for O-level physical geography drawings spotted way back then, how different my life might have been. Sigh.  We’ll never know.

Coming down off Stanage, resisting the temptation to do a quick detour to the pole first (focus Lucy, focus, you are supposed to be learning a course !) I found I was walking a section of the Hathersage Hurtle route in reverse.  It’s brilliant doing recces as it helps me work out how all these places fit together.  I know, I’ve been slow on the uptake, but be patient with me, I’m not a Sheffield local, it’s taken me a while.   As well as the fine sight of the cement works, I had the pleasing bonus of espying a fellow Smiley, also out recceing an ultra route, but a Dark Peak 30 miler in October that seems to cover similar territory, albeit in the opposite direction.  her endeavour sounds more hardcore though, ‘Described by the elite field of runners as one of the hardest and most beautiful 30 mile races they have ever done!!  With soaring ridges and technical descending, you will gain over 7000ft of vertical gain!!‘  That’s a lot of exclamation marks and a lot of elevation.  Mind you, on reflection I have no idea how much elevation there is in ‘my’ ultra – not sure if I want to find out, blind naivety has worked for me before, no point in scaring myself unnecessarily…

Here are some more pictures.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

See, reet nice out indeed!  There was even some unfamiliar standing water on the path at one point, I thought it was a mirage at first.

I came out just along from the Yorkshire Bridge Inn, and then trotted over the road, across the mini bridge which went over a surprisingly picturesque bit of running water

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Quick right and down the no through road to the base of my nemesis… Win Hill.

DSCF3535

I did briefly consider going on as far as Hope, but then the lure of a latte at the Yorkshire Inn got the better of me.  In my defence, I did still need to retrace my steps back to the car, and I had planned to do shorter, more frequent recces.  Yorkshire Bridge to Hope will be another good section to crack, and I can save it for another day.  Yep, latte:

DSCF3539

And then back up that hill and as the sun came out scorching again, homeward bound.   At first I just met one or two other walkers or runners, all were friendly.  I always feel a kindly disposition towards other people I meet out and about, I have a working assumption that they will be sound people and not mad axe murdered.  It occurs to me that this assumption is not evidence based, it’s just what I choose to believe.  I do feel safe in the peaks.  Apart from anything else, in this heat even a mad axe man wouldn’t want the hassle of lugging his axe up the hill, you can be weighted down enough just with your cheese and pickle sandwiches, packet of crisps and bottle of water.  Perhaps it’s like with adders, the snakes and psychopaths alike are more scared of me than I am of them.  I’d love to see an adder in the heather one day.  I remember seeing them basking in the sun on holiday in Northumberland as a child, but haven’t seen one in decades. They are out there somewhere though.  So it’s a ‘yes’ from me for spotting an adder and a ‘not today thank you’ from me in terms of meeting anyone unstable and armed.  Just to be clear.

For my return up on Stanage Edge, the route was packed, loads of climbers up top, and puffing cyclists en mass on the roads, some having noticeably more fun than others.  Some plucky opportunists had managed to lasso and capture a rock, no idea how they were planning to get it home.  I didn’t think you were allowed to help yourself to things from the peaks, but who knows…  Was it intrusive of me to photograph the bikes having a private moment of coupledom?  Hope not.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And then finally, I was nearly back to base.  On the last stretch I heard and saw a fire engine speeding by, I really hope there wasn’t a fire anywhere on the moors, it would all go up like a tinder box at present, which is not to be confused with the tinder app, that’s a different sort of sparks flying scenario altogether.

My favourite sighting of the day though was right at the end.  I passed a grey-haired couple sitting in their car, admiring the view.   I can’t be sure, but I got the impression that one of them at least wasn’t that mobile.  It was no obstacle to peak based fun.   They were sat there in the front seats, half way through a bottle of rose and having a blast.  Watching the world go by and marveling/ laughing at the panting cyclists and runners who were struggling up the hills so they didn’t have to.  That’s the way to do it!

So, all in all, navigation wise, that was a pass.  Didn’t catch sight of my running mojo, but to be fair, I set out to do a walk and that’s what I did. It was only about 12 miles, which isn’t much mileage given the distance I’m aiming for, but it was a respectable start, and it’s helped my confidence massively that I am capable of working out where I need to go.  1665 ft elevation, but obviously as I went out and back that doesn’t necessarily correspond to elevation over that distance on the day.  Whether I can do so at the speed that might reasonably be expected is another question all together, but that’s for another day.  This is where I went, in case you care:

strava route

Even if you are not in possession of Geography O level, you might be able to spot my latte detour if you examine the route really, really carefully.

So job done.  It’s not much, but it’s a start.  I’ve still got at least one joint recce pending, so will be cool if I can test out my new super-power map reading skills there, but I feel a bit more in control of things.  It’s by no means a given that I’ll make it to the start of the Dig Deep 30 miler, but I’ve been checking out the results from last year, and we do get the same length of time to get around as those doing the 60 mile course, as there are shared checkpoints, that makes the cut offs generous, as long as I can make the early ones in time.

Que será, será  dear reader, que será, será Doris could be wise at times you know, very wise indeed.

que sera sera

So running ups and downs continue. On the plus side, I have discovered how to harness the super power of navigation, on the not plus side I’m still not doing an awful lot in the way of running.  But I’m showing willing, and you know what they say, the longest of journeys starts with a single step.  I’m stepping out. You could too!

🙂

 

For all my Dig Deep Series related posts, click here, and scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you

 

And this link is for my mum to find.  Hello mum Image result for emoji waving ! It’s a headcam video of Bushy parkrun where she is honorary marshal at her very own Elisabeth’s corner.  Hurrah!  Kudos to her and all the hi-vis heroes!  You can catch a sneaky peak of her in situ between 10 minutes 24 – 26 seconds – blink and you’ll miss it!

mum kudos

Categories: motivation, off road, running | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

small park BIG RUN 2018, an exercise in hope, or maybe exercise and hope…

Digested read:  I couldn’t really understand the logistics of this small park BIG RUN event so never made it last year, and only really went on a whim this time round.  So glad I did.  A relaxed, worthwhile event for a good cause, just rock up and run whenever within a 24 hour period, laps of 1k.  It really isn’t that complicated.  No, it wasn’t boring, surprisingly enough.  At the end I got a high-five from the mayor, an unexpected ice pop and best of all, did 10 k without my leg falling off even a bit. Yay.  Maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Also, Meersbrook park is actually really lovely, hidden gem, and there were some sound people out and about.  You could be too this time next year!

DSCF2929

small park BIG RUN took place for the first time last year (2017) but at the time I couldn’t really get my head around quite what the event was, so somehow, life got in the way and I never went, which was a shame.  I did want to go, but, well you know… didn’t really understand how it worked and was too lacking in initiative to find out, and too lacking in bravado to just go along and brazen it out.

It seemed to be some sort of a fund-raising run, and all night (24 hour) team challenge.  I thought you needed to be organised enough to be part of a team, get sponsorship for taking part.  The latter case being a nightmare scenario for me, even if I do support a cause.  Frankly, I don’t have that many friends anyway I don’t want to give those I do have more reasons to avoid me.  Also, most of them are awesome runners, I couldn’t look them in the eye and beg them to fund my shambling efforts, pottering round a local park whilst they are busy ascending vertiginous mountain ranges in nothing more than some grippy fell shoes and a technical tee (and shorts probably to be fair) or cycling into biblical storms for miles on end.  The shame.  Also, you are basically asking people to pay you for doing something you supposedly do for ‘fun’, though I think many of us who run for fun would recognise this to be a thoroughly contested concept.  For the record, I recognise my inconsistency on the sponsorship thing, when I sponsor people, it’s generally because I want to support them in whatever endeavour they are undertaking and I don’t care about the cause, or because I am happy to donate to whatever charity it is they are supporting. There are limits to this, I won’t pay people to go on holiday (no horse riding round Mongolia or cycling round Vietnam challenges will entice me to part with my cash, you can pay for your own adventure holiday and donate to a linked charity if you wish) and I’d draw the line at forking out for the ‘Pro Trump Alliance’ or whatever, but otherwise I don’t insist people seeking sponsorship put themselves in personal peril or horrific discomfort or even complete said challenges as a prerequisite for supporting them. Obviously it’s more fun if they do, particularly when they have the foresight to record such occasions on camera but I don’t wish to be too pedantic on such matters.  Or at least, I don’t want to get caught out being so anyway…  Oh, and I do feel uncomfortable about giving money to ‘charities’ that are doing work that ought really to be a government responsibility or are too focused on the self-aggrandisement of the donor rather than addressing the causes of need or inequality so best not get me started on that.  The business of charity is complicated… Nevertheless, sometimes giving to a cause is important as an act of recognition and validation as much as it is of practical help.  And yep, it often is just a sticking plaster, but if you are the person in need of that, then you’ll still want it, even if it isn’t a permanent and all encompassing solution.  You surely know how the starfish story goes:

starfishstorycopy

Then the team thing.  How to organise a team, I don’t have the necessary charismatic leadership qualities to rally others, if I had, by now I’d already have either organised some sort of self-serving cult or harnessed my powers for good and brought about world peace starting with a resolution for Palestine.  I haven’t done either, so draw your own conclusions.

Then the 24 hour thing,  can I do more than one slot?  Do you have to pay for every hour you do?  How do you choose what time to go, what if you are on your own, can you still do it?  The on-line entry was asking a lot of questions that weren’t catering for the pathologically indecisive such as myself.

Upshot was, that confusion led to inertia, and an ‘oh well, I can always go next year, I’ll worry about it then.’  As I write this, I do fully appreciate how inadequate as a human being this makes me sound, but on the plus side, I do this so you don’t have to, so now I’ve sussed it, you can be all smug and wise after the event, and join the fun next year with a clarity of vision and purpose that will make you scamper round the 1km route in Meersbrook park with an extra spring in your step and an extra wide smile on your face.  Hurrah!  Because, it is now next year, and I did go.  So now I know.  And look at these smiling faces from the fun run start in 2017 – who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

cropped-fun-run

Because, well, dear reader, turns out all my confusion was misguided errant nonsense.  It’s like The Trunce, seemingly all a bit confusing if you’ve not been before, but in reality, just rock up on the day and go with it, you’ll be fine.  It all makes perfect sense, nothing complicated at all.  No really, there isn’t.  Let me explain.

The official blurb on the small park BIG RUN website says:

small park, BIG RUN
A 24 hour group challenge for Palestine
Midday Saturday 16 June – Midday Sunday 17 June 2018
Meersbrook Park, Sheffield 

We will run continuous circuits of Meersbrook park over 24 hours with at least two people on the course at all times. Entrants will be able to run, jog or walk shifts. You can choose how long and at what time you would like to run when you enter. You can run as an individual or as part of a team. At 12.15pm on Sunday 17th there will be a free Community/Family Fun Run of one lap. ALL WELCOME.

In 2018 we will be raising funds for the Khuza’a Children’s Play and Heal project and the Sheffield Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund.  More here

Palestinians do not enjoy freedom of movement. Journeys we take for granted, like going to school or work, visiting friends or family or trips to hospital can be much more demanding or even impossible for Palestinians faced with the ever-changing restrictions on movement imposed by the Israeli security forces.  Our event will draw attention to the situation and raise funds for two Sheffield based projects in aid of Palestine

Some groups – Goodgym for one, did put together teams to cover the whole 24 hours (noon Saturday to noon Sunday) in one hour slots.  Some people probably did get sponsorship for taking part.  This is an event which attracted non-runners and local activists who care passionately about the cause, but might not care quite so passionately for hoiking up that mahoosive Meersbrook park hill over and over again.  Kudos for them for fundraising on that basis.  But if you a local runner, who wants to take part but is also something of a commitment phobe and so doesn’t want to sign up in advance, you can just turn up on the day, pay your £12 entry fee (£5 non-waged) and then just join whatever time slot is coming up next – and they seemed to be every half hour not just on the hour for the record.  So it really was that simple, and that is what I did. Obviously I’m not going to leave my account there though, so get yourself a cup of tea and come and join in the fun vicariously…  I’m not saying you’ll enjoy reading this account, but if you are trying to procrastinate because of some other even more undesirable activity, then this blog post might be just the thing.  It might not though, so continue at your own risk.

So I did go, but it wasn’t a given. Truth to tell, I’ve been really down about my running lately.  Lost my running mojo entirely.  This is largely due to an insane number of niggles – shin pain, patella tendinopothy (overuse of the knee, not glamorous at all) which means I basically can’t really run at all.  However half-hearted my running might typically be, not being able to do it cuts out my entire social network and I feel like I’ve missed out on loads of stuff, from the Smiley solstice run to the Dig Deep Recce I was signed up for on Sunday.  Even parkrun seems to have faded to black and white I’m so far away from what I want to do.  It’s partly because I’d fondly imagined post the London Marathon (did I mention that at all?) and after a couple of weeks for recovery I’d be at the apex of my physical fitness.  Lean and toned, a coiled spring of muscle and mighty marathoner mania,  I’d be romping round trail ultras dishing out high-fives to passing walkers; bestowing pearls of training wisdom to anyone in earshot; allowing junior parkrunners to hold my medal  and, best of all, finally be able to keep up with the crowds enough to join the Smiley off-road monthly runs.  Alas, It was not to be, and not only because all of those thoughts were delusional in the first place.   Instead I find I am a physical wreck, the heaviest I’ve ever been and frankly lost running wise.  I seem barely able to get off the sofa, let alone head off for a run, and when I do, I’m in pain.  It’s not fair.  Even my beloved tomtom watch has stopped working.  Woe is me.  I’m not gonna lie, I may have had a bit of a pity party.  Conceding I’d never make it up Win Hill for the planned Dig Deep recce even if I crawled, let alone attempting to run up it, I pulled out of that.  I’d never have kept up, and my knee was hurting after parkrun on a flat 3 miles, so yomping off up and over 10 miles of hills wouldn’t be helpful – I was supposed to be joining an organised recce on Sunday, small park BIG RUN-day.  I’d left it too late to volunteer for Graves junior parkrun, well I could have rocked up but they had a full roster, and also it was father’s day and I didn’t really want to be reminded of that and family fun at Graves seemed likely to feature that prominently.  Sunday run plans were officially aborted…

Soooo, what to do instead?  Stay under the duvet all day was obviously one option, but that is never as enjoyable as you might think… then I remembered about small park BIG RUN.  I’d said last year I’d try to go to this.  Nothing to lose.  It was only 1km laps, I could walk it and test out my knee, it might be entertaining, it is in a good cause, no harm in rocking up and seeing how the day unfolded.  Plus, what better way to put my first world problems into some sort of perspective.  My decision was made.  small park BIG RUN it would be.  So that’s what I did.

Here’s the route by the way – that’s quite some hill, it really is!  Also another thing, disappointingly, it isn’t Garfield’s Primary School.  Shame.  Maybe in a parallel universe somewhere?

strava small park BIG RUN route

The event was taking place over 24 hours.  I knew there was a lantern workshop on the Saturday, so it would be lit up overnight, I toyed with the idea of going Saturday night to enjoy that, but that was before it started to rain.  In the end, I opted to head over on Sunday morning and see how things unfolded.  I got there around 8.30 ish.  There was a fair bit of parking around near the park at that time, and the first thing I noticed in the Sunday morning quiet is just how lovely Meersbrook park is. I’ve only ever passed through it before when either doing the Round Sheffield Walk route or participating in the Round Sheffield Run. As I typically start that in Endcliffe Park, by the time I make it to Meersbrook park my eyes are usually bleeding with fatigue and I’m too exhausted to focus on my surroundings, I just want the run to end.  Whizz down that hill hoping not to somersault like the most reckless of cheese rolling chasers, and out past the playground area barely registering the location at all.  Seeing it whilst positively lively by comparison was a revelation. It’s a lovely mature park, the views are stunning, and there are whole sections of it I’d never seen before – specifically the community hall which was where you went to register – how have I missed that?

AD community hall

and there were some hidden away walled gardens. where later on there was cake.  Who knew?  Turns out, the Round Sheffield Walk is lovely, but it’s worth deviating from the route now and again to explore the environs it passes through a bit more thoroughly.

I could see a high-vis marshal stationed on the course, and made out a solitary runner pounding round through the iron railings.  Suddenly I felt quite excited. I do like a micro adventure, this was just the job, it was going to be grand!

The event was well signed, with a huge banner outside proclaiming what was happening, then I could see some colourful bunting and various tents.  I don’t know why, but I’d been half expecting the place to seem a bit deserted at this time, but actually there were a fair few around, organisers, runners and volunteers, all friendly, and committed to the endeavour.  It all oozed positivity and optimism.

DSCF2914

I wasn’t joking (although I may have been punning somewhat) when I said this was an exercise in hope.  Although this is an inclusive run/ walk/ jogging event it is first and foremost a fund-raiser.  The organisers  identify themselves as:

… a broad based group of people from Sheffield Palestine Cultural Exchange, Sheffield Palestine Solidarity CampaignSheffield Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund and from the local Heeley and Meersbrook communities in Sheffield.

Sheffield Palestine Cultural Exchange is a group of people committed to ensuring exposure of Palestinian culture in Sheffield and to putting on events where it is possible to make live links with Palestinians. In this event we hope to ensure a run in Gaza and the West Bank at the same time.

The Scholarship Fund is a UK based charity and was set up in 2007 following an International Women’s Day Conference in 2006, where a call was made to support women into education in Gaza. The Fund raises money for scholarships to pay the university fees of Palestinian women into higher education in the Gaza Strip.

Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been active in Sheffield since 1990s. It is made up of a group of people committed to highlighting injustices suffered by Palestinian people.  SPSC supports children’s projects in Gaza and has funded better play facilities and a mobile library. More recently we have funded a trauma centre to help recovery from the psychological impact of war.

It was appropriate therefore that there were various stalls connected to these issues around, and many of the volunteers I spoke with were passionate campaigners for the cause.  It took me back decades to when I was a teenager, first hearing about the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the early eighties, which a google search tells me must have been when it just started in 1982.  It is depressing, but also a triumph of hope over experience in that although if anything things have got very much worse since then, nevertheless impassioned people still campaign for the cause.  It’s easy to turn away in despair, which is why, in my opinion anyway, events like small park BIG RUN are important to keep reminding us of what is going on as well as being a gesture of solidarity as much as anything else.  Like I said, hope over experience.  It reminded me I’ve lost touch with my inner activist to some extent.  It just seems to me that so many campaigns I’ve given energy and time too have been exhausting and futile.  I just got disillusioned and burnt out, it’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I feel powerless.  The current political climate doesn’t help.  Those dizzy days when me and my next door neighbour endlessly replayed the ansaphone message from Tony Benn when he’d called us to say he couldn’t talk at our Stop the War meeting but wished us well seem but a memory. Never been so star struck.  It was heartening to see people who are still fighting the fight, and it isn’t futile, it makes a difference for some individuals at least.

I pootled around, peering into the various tents. There was a registration tent, a massage tent, a run director/ organisers tent, an open gazebo for I know not what (shelter from the rain) tent.  I was expecting runners to head off on the hour, so felt an explore was in order as time was on my side.

Pleasingly, there were some running romping, and as it is only a 1km route, they trotted by with reasonable frequency.  Even more pleasingly, turned out there were a couple of fellow Smilies already on the cause, as with all good members of Smiley Paces, they were able to interrupt their circuit for a huggy photo.  I didn’t wear my Smiley top, I wasn’t sure it would be appropriate to do so at what is more a community event than a running club one, club vests were a minority overall.  It didn’t matter too much.  A fair few were sporting the official small park BIG RUN tops, which were rather fabulous and clearly the best choice, but my budget didn’t stretch to that.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I registered, which took about a millisecond.  You have to fill in a form with your contact details and emergency contact, in return for which you get a number (pins provided).  It was very relaxed, frankly although I’m sure it would save organisers a lot of stress if you sign up in advance, the reality was I just paid my money and then you could set off whenever at the next half hour point.  Once you’ve done one slot, no-one was going to forcibly prevent you notching up a few extra laps if the mood took you – it was hardly the Boston Marathon circa 1976 with over zealous officials trying to wrestle  Kathrine Switzer from the course.   Nor did anyone call out your number and require you to leave the field, which I seem to remember being a thing if you hired a boat by the hour on a boating pond back in the day. Maybe that’s still a thing?  I really have no idea.  Here is my number, I got one all of my own, later on in the day they actually ran out, and had to improvise, writing on the back of previously issued ones. That’s good really, shows the event was well supported – better than anticipated even.

DSCF3062

I then had my obligatory precautionary pee (proper toilets people) and dumped my stuff in the community hall, the reception are of which was doubling as an unsupervised bag drop, then I decided to just walk a loop and take some pictures and see what the lie of the land was.  It was nice just ambling through the park.  There were lots of lanterns around, one or two with still flickering tea lights within, it must have looked lovely in the dark with the paths all lit up.  I paused to say hello to all the marshals, and admired the views.  I also puffed at the steepness of The Hill. What is it with Sheffield hills?  They are brutal.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As I was walking round, some marshals were walking in the opposite direction, having harvested the lanterns now it was daylight again.  It turns out carrying a load of lanterns is a lot harder than you might expect.  It was quite joyful to witness though!  They were quite smart those marshals though, walking the route anti-clockwise, they got to come down the extra steep hill.   This is what happens if you have initiative.  Result.

DSCF2964

There were lots of things to behold.  At intervals around the course, the organisers had put up placards detailing aspects of life in the Gaza strip.  It was sobering to read these, and as well as being educated about the plight of Palestinians over there, you could also take a bit of a breather on the way up the hill whilst taking it all in.  Look up, and there was an amazing view back across the city.  I do love Sheffield, it’s taken me a long time to find it, but it is an extraordinary place.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As I was taking this lap at a leisurely stroll, I also noticed things in the park I’d not seen before, including some rather fine wood carvings.  Running round later I also spotted an amazing hare, set back off the path, but I cannot lie, I couldn’t be bothered to go back and photograph it, maybe next year…  wish I’d made the detour now, it was class, right there.

DSCF2971

I also took some shots of runners, running, or yomping or jumping for joy.  There were a fair few out and about.  I took my time walking round as I’d got aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaages until the 9.00 a.m. next start up.

I got back to the start/finish, just as another Smiley arrived.  Hello!

DSCF2979

I went to ditch my camera and then returned to the start – to realise I’d cleverly just missed it.  The run director had disappeared.  I stalked him, and basically it was fine, he gave me a quick ‘look out for hazards’ sort of briefing, and then off I popped.  There was no chance of me keeping pace with fellow Smiley anyway, and I figured she’d lap me eventually, which indeed she did, although it took me longer than expected.

Generally speaking I’m really not a fan of multi-lap courses, due to tedium and the inherent pointlessness of it. However, on this occasion I was willing to give it a go.  The low/no pressure element suited me because I knew I’d have to walk up all the hills because of my knee injury, and I could pull out at any time if it was all too painful and the way the event was set up no-one would care how many laps I’d done even if they noticed at all (in a good way).  Trotting round though, was surprisingly OK.  Meditative even.  The marshals were all super friendly – a couple I recognised which I suppose isn’t altogether surprising given how the Venn diagrams of Sheffield communities interconnect all over the place.  It was weirdly reassuring having them come round back into view every few hundred metres.  Because people were setting off at different times, running at different paces and doing different numbers of laps, it was quite social too.  Particularly going uphill when I was not alone in dropping back to a walk.  I got snatches of others conversations, and involved in some too.  I met a woman who I’d previously come across whilst overwhelmed in a plant nursery (which is not the same as a garden centre apparently) I was overwhelmed, she rescued me.  It was nice to catch up!  There were families taking part, I couldn’t help noticing one dad (I think) punching the air (ironically) and proclaiming to the applauding marshal ‘I’ve just beat a seven year old!’ as he summitted (is that a real word? Sorry grammar police, but if sort of feels like the right one) The Hill.  Honestly, I think that would justifiably have been a cause for real – not ironic – celebration – have you seen how fast those junior parkrunners can go!  These photos were taken by Alan Dalton, and are throughout the 24 hours I think, but they give a real flavour of the participants in all their glory.  Special kudos to the guy in the Sheffield half marathon purple tee.  He lapped me countless times and I swear he ran every step of the way up that hill, super human.  If I’d ever caught up with him I’d have told him so.

The marshals offered encouragement and quips.  I wasn’t inclined to believe the ‘down hill all the way‘ now comment though, I mean strictly true if it was your final lap, but the odds were against that being so!  I liked pausing to read the signs, and the people watching element of it all.  There were non-runners, waving flags as they walked round with determined expressions as they ploughed up the hill. There was the guy who collected two greyhounds from some people sitting on a bench and did a round with them attached cani-cross style around his waist.  If he was banking on them to haul him up the hill it was a miscalculation.  I noticed them trotting round ahead of him on the downward and flat sections very happily, but he was in front tackling the hill.  I think he returned them to the custody of their carers after that.

canicross man

Occassionally, as I was trudging up hill, a runner would come sprinting down, I recognised most – looked like people doing recces for next week’s round sheffield run to me.  I’m supposed to be doing that.  I’ve picked my number up, but not sure if I’ll make it, could be over-ambitious what with my knee and running inertia and all….

There was a photographer positioned right at the top of the hill, where, granted the views were fab but the challenge to try to be running for the photo was also great.  I put on a bit of a sprint at the last possible moment and was rewarded with these pictures, I’m not sure how I feel about them, they are action shots, the view is stunning, but I really do need to get fit again.  Eek. Even so, good to have. Maybe I can learn to Photoshop more quickly than I can lose that weight?

As I cornered to go down the hill two marshals on the bench applauded my splendid turn of speed.  ‘Wow, that was amazing‘ said one, momentarily genuinely impressed.  This was followed up with the sound of a penny dropping and a cautious ‘that wasn’t just because there was a photographer there was it?’  Erm, well yes, obvs.  I’m guessing that particular marshal was a non runner therefore not initiated into the code of conduct of how to behave when you see a camera en a race run route.

This photo on the other hand, just happened to capture a completely spontaneous moment.  No really.

Loads of people took part over the 24 hours, from babes in arms to this fine nonagenarian.  Impressive eh?

BB 94 year old participant

It is only one kilometre, so you are quickly back where you started and off again.  Just after the start there was a sort of right-angle round the corner of the building.  Here at one point there was a small child playing football, possibly this was to recreate the authenticity of the hazards a child en route to school might face in Gaza.  Hang, on there’s a picture somewhere, not of the footballer, but of the corner, and you’ll need to remember this layout for later on mayoral hiding purposes.

AD corner shot

I took it really steady, running slowly all but the hill sections – though I was shamed into doing the final uphill sprint even when the photographer wasn’t there just because I really felt I should.  It took on a meditative quality.  Because I knew I could stop at any time, I did more than I expected.  For the record, it’s harder than you might think to count laps, even if you do less laps than you have fingers. Fortunately, I have my tomtom watch, it won’t upload anything or synch with strava, but it will record distance in real time so that enabled me to keep count.  It helped that each lap was 1km, even my maths skills can cope with multiplying or dividing by one.  Without my watch to keep track, I’d either have bailed after lap one or still be out there now, running endlessly round in circles, trying to find the exit point.  No need to chip in with your view of which is the most likely scenario of the two by the way, just so you know.

It took me ages, but I did complete my goal of 10 laps, plus the one I walked earlier.  I’m embarrassed by how slow I was, but, on the plus side, I feel my endurance is still there.  My knee did start to niggle after about 8 laps, but I did do what I set out to do, and it felt no worse afterwards, not really.  If my knee had held out I could have done longer, I wasn’t shattered or anything. I really believe the one thing to come out of my London marathon training is having found my zero effort ‘running’ pace, I feel I could keep it up almost indefinitely.  It’s true many people can power walk faster than I can run, and the down side of its inherent energy efficiency is that I probably burn zero calories doing it, but it cheered me to think I can still do distance, well, maybe not distance, but hours on my legs, which if I do enough of them amounts to the same thing, I just have to cover the miles in my own unremarkable way.   There was some water at the start/finish point by the way, and I did stop for a drink a couple of times there, but basically, round and round I went.

I was gasping for a coffee, and wasn’t sure what to do.  The event closed at noon anyway,. and there was a promise of a mayoral visit (oh my gawd,  he is such a cool dude) – this topped the Miriam Margolyes was nearly with us facebook announcement made earlier on.  Granted, it was cool to see her message of support, but it was still a celebrity near miss rather than result which leaves you disappointed.  Like those game shows where they used to draw back the curtains so the losers might see ‘what you could have won!’  but absolutely didn’t.  Salt in the wound.  For the record though, her words seemed heartfelt, she said…

 “Hey guys! So proud and grateful you’re running for Palestine. I’m suffering with hip agony or I’d be puffing beside you. Much love.”

I wonder if she really would have come?  We may never know.  I like her though, would definitely have hijacked her for a pic given the chance.  Shallow, but true.

Miriam margoyles

Then there was the hope of a mobile phone link up with one of the projects pending, and a synchronised fun run with Gaza too (I know because someone made an announcement).  It seemed a shame to push off and miss these concluding climactic moments of the event, just because I was craving caffeine.  I’d seen a note somewhere about a cafe nearby but I don’t know the area and didn’t know where that was. That would be my only criticism of the day really, somewhere to get a coffee throughout the day would have been fab – or signage to the nearest cafe.  I could have asked to be fair, but who wants to show initiative post a run?

I sat on the hillock by the Palestinian flag and just observed.  I had one anxious moment when a dog tried to pee on me, but I managed an agile shift at the critical moment as the leg was cocked.  Close shave though. I’m sure it was symbolic of something.  I don’t know if it makes me lucky because I avoided being pissed on from a great height, or unlucky because I was clearly identified by the dog in question as a legitimate target.  Meanwhile, a choir sang unaccompanied and rather beautifully, their performance only spoiled when I realised it was Carfield community choir.  Easy mistake.  Garfield’s choir probably wouldn’t have bothered to rehearse so seriously though.   I espied them first practising in what I took to be the walled garden, but then they performed in front of the hall as the last lappers ran round.

I did really want a coffee though.  Eventually I overheard someone in possession of a steaming mug of tea telling someone else that there was coffee and cake in the mysterious ‘walled garden’ which it turns out, is not next to the hall at all, but opposite it, over the little hill. Tip for organisers next time, a directional arrow pointing it that direction would have been a boon.  No worries, off I went, and was restored with coffee and a raspberry jam filled scone, just what was needed.  Yum.

Restored by caffeine, I had a look around the exhibition and wandered round the gardens too.   There was a separate marquee up (I always want to say marquis, but that’s different isn’t it?) where they did the lantern making and community poetry writing (no really) workshops earlier on.   I had no idea this space was all here in Meersbrook park, really impressive.  What a revelation, and how great to see it being used by the local community in such a positive, proactive and inspirational way.

Back to people watching.  Just as I was getting a bit bored, the mayor rocked up.  Can’t lie, I was a bit star struck.  In an age where it feels all news is bad news, the election of Magid Magid – a Somalian born refugee as Sheffield mayor aged just 28 is blooming great.  Maybe there is room for hope after all.   I am a huge fan of him, but hadn’t met him before, so I am relieved as well as pleased to report he came across really well. Affable, committed, principled and just a very nice thoroughly cool dude.  A good speaker also, he spoke about the importance of the day and came across as genuine and well-informed. Plus, he was game to run the final slot of the event, and turned up wearing very impressive bling, and we runners do know how to appreciate bling!

Off he went, I think then the choir sang actually, can’t remember now.   A group read the poetry they had composed inspired by the event and by running.  Think more community event than running event, and enriched by that ethos I think.  A departure from the usual race vibe.

Eventually, it was noon again, and the final runners romped in to loud cheers of support.  Top tip, if you are thinking of coming next year and can make the final 11- or 11.30 a.m. to noon slot, pick that, you’ll get loads of support, whoops and high fives, you’ll feel awesome.  Other time slots offer different rewards, the lantern walkers,  the night runners lit by lanterns and hearing the disembodied voices of the choir on the hill had their own unique experiences too.

the lantern walk:

PR lantern walk

night-time runners:

Final slot runners being cheered in:

Then there was some speechifying, which was important.

speechifying

It contextualised the event.  People spoke with poignancy and passion.

After many aborted attempts, there was even a live link up with the children’s project in Gaza over a mobile phone!

phone linke

We all crowded round in an anticipatory circle as eventually the connection was made.   Even the challenge of getting this to work was a reminder of what a scarce resource electricity is for the people over there, 2 hours a day perhaps, maybe 4 if really lucky.  Through a speaker system the children shouted greetings, and we assembled in Meersbrook park roared back in return.  It was quite unexpectedly moving and made the purpose of the event feel very real.  Real people being encouraged because others far away in a city they will probably never visit and might never have heard of, are trying to help them.  I think they were also doing some sort of run of their own over there too, but that bit got a bit lost in translation to be fair.

This was a good launch for the final fun run lap, which was basically a mass anarchic roar round the loop for all and sundry, whatever they were wearing and whatever demographic they fell in to.  It’s worth noting that the fun run in particular, and the whole event in general was a sort of symbolic celebration of the right to free movement.  I presume this informed the decision to built a fundraising event around running.   See what they’ve done there?  It’s easy to take the ability to move freely in the place you live for granted.  Not everybody can.  Hence…

The Fun Run will take place at 12.15pm on Sunday 17 June after the small park BIG RUN finishes. It will be celebration of our own right to free movement; we will be running at the same time as a tandem run in Palestine. There will be a live telephone link up – be sure to make some noise!

A tape was drawn across the start,

PR fun run

and the mayor cut it with due solemnity,

fun run start

and the children at the front tore off, scooping up Magid with them in the tide of people.  This is where you need to refer to the previous photo of the corner shot.  As I turned the corner the mayor was crouched hiding behind a wall.  I wish I’d thought of that!  To be fair, he’d ducked out at the first sensible opportunity, after having been swept up in the stampede of the mass start to enable him to backtrack so he could be at the finish (which was also the start) to greet incoming runners as they completed their circuit.  Glad to have cleared that up.  It was hilarious though, well in my world, he did rather have the look of someone trying to get out of a mandatory cross-country run!  Personally,  I did head out and complete the final lap, and I’m glad I did, it was joyful.

Finishing, I was welcomed by a high-five from the mayor – which is right up there with the one I got from Harry Gration at the start of the Sheffield half a couple of years back.  Maybe even better.  What’s more, there was a run organiser Smiley at the finish, dolling out ice lollies to finishing youngsters.  However, shameless nepotism secured me an orange icicle and you know what, it was really, really nice!  Sometimes it pays to have contacts!