off road

Blowing hot and cold about running? Beware both ice and fire on the Sheffield trails.

Digested Read: still doing my long walk for endurance, round Sheffield walk take two, augmented by a golden segment, ice and fire.  Unaugmented by litter and the casual misogyny of youth.  Progress is slow, marathon training wise, but I suppose slow progress is still progress.  Here’s hoping.  Hope over experience is sometimes the only hope you have to hang on to.  Also #votesforwomen still work to be done.

When I say todays’ yomping out on the Round Sheffield Walk involved encounters with both fire and ice, I am not referring to my tendency to blow hot and cold about what I laughably call my ‘running’ exploits, but I mean today I quite literally came across both.  Look:

Sheffield’s answer to a volcano erupted through snow.  All the spectacular scenery of Iceland, but none of the sulphuric gases and unpronounceable names.  See, practically indistinguishable.

holuhraun-volcano-eruption-guide-to-iceland

Though to be fair, both represent sub-optimal running conditions. Just as well it wasn’t really a running day as such. Also, I’m hard core, so lived to tell the tale.  Plus, I set out on my Round Sheffield Walk route march a bit better prepared than last week.  Every little helps.

Oh, you don’t know what I’m talking about?  That’s not a first. Well, I’m allegedly in training for the London Marathon, but not so as you’d really notice.  Because I’m a run/walker/yomper rather than an actual runner, I’m building up my distances through long walks to build stamina, and adding in the running as a greater proportion of each walk, rather than doing continuous long runs of ever increasing mileages.  It’s not maybe a conventional training plan, and it remains to be seen if it will work.  All the same, I think it’s my best bet to avoid injury and get me round.  I’m not seeking a podium place, just to get round with my dignity in tact. Actually, I don’t really care about retaining my dignity, as long as I finish before the cut off point and get the bling and therefore associated blagging rights. This may sound shallow, but it is at least honest.  All this being so, you’d think it would be a commitment to my marathon training plan that got me out the door today to do my 15.7 mile route march, but honestly, it was probably more Smiletastic.  You know, the Smiley Paces running club winter challenge.  Soooooooooooooooo stressful you have no idea.

It wasn’t supposed to have worked out like this.  Today shouldn’t have been my long run day.  However,  I’d pledged to do a 15 mile long run this week for Smiletastic, so mission critical that I achieve this or my whole Dragonfly team suffers (and I thought collective punishment was clearly defined as a war crime under the Geneva Convention). The fact that I’m allegedly in training for a marathon so need to rack up the distances for that as well is almost incidental.  I keep forgetting.  I think I’m in denial about the whole thing.  Anyways, the point is,  I only have a limited repertoire of long runs on which to draw, and also very limited ability to run any long distance at all. However, not to worry, I had a cunning plan.  Unfortunately, as Baldrick  himself would vouch for me, the best laid plans don’t always quite turn out as anticipated, irrespective of the quality of the turnips used in their execution.

cunning plan

The cunning plan, such as it was, was brilliant in it’s simplicity.  One of the great boons of being part of a fine and friendly running club, apart from the access to a gang of awesome, funny and smart women with whom to eat cake obviously, is the access to a wide network of amazing runners. Not just any old runners (even the old ones are young at heart) but ultra-runners.  Excellent. All I had to do, was befriend a couple, throw myself at their individual and collective mercy, and parasatise all their run routes.  I worried a bit about exploiting their good will, because anyone who is willing to run with me, will end up doing a lot of walking.  I wasn’t entirely sure what I could offer in return for their time and navigational insights.  You might like to think it was the pleasure of my company, but that’s a completely implausible explanation.  Maybe they’ll get credits for their Duke of Edinburgh gold badge or something.  Or maybe they’ll agree by accident because of my grooming skills, be instantly consumed with regret,  and subsequently be motivated to join up for assertiveness classes. That would benefit them in the long run, (pun intended), so they’d not be entirely wasting their time acting as guides for me if it led to such important personal skills development.

Point is, I reeled a couple of them in, and we were going to go off and do a 14 mile explore round the reservoirs at Derwent and Howden and have a chat along the way and coffee on conclusion.   It was all set for Friday. Then (cue dramatic music) disaster!  One of my guides was declared ill with unknown affliction, and only able to venture out with an accompanying drip (awkward for walking long distances, those drip stands are rarely all terrain) and the other incapacitated due to foot injury, which turned out to be a stress fracture. She would therefore only be able to venture out if carried the whole way round in a sedan chair.

sedan chair

That’s fine, and I’ve even found a suitable one on ebay or whatever which is a snip at £9,900 but I just don’t think it would have arrived in time for our sojourn. Also, bit nippy out for minions to be carrying you round shirtless.  I wonder how you sourced sedan chairs before the arrival of the internet?  It’s a mystery.

sedan for sale

The upshot was, I’d have to motivate myself to go out, and once again the weather has been shocking, cold, snow, ice.  I decided to take the easy option, and just do the Round Sheffield Walk route again today instead, with the added literal and metaphorical bonus, that I could take in this week’s Smiletastic golden segment whilst I was about it.  I could still meet with my ultra running buddies to check if they are really incapacitated or just in cahoots to avoid going out with me just for coffee and a catch up. Granted, this is a slippery slope, as recently, when parkrun was cancelled due to ice I found you can still have a post parkrun brunch without doing parkrun firsts if you are all there anyway.  If I learn this latte minus the pre-run option is effective and available everywhere and in all circumstances, well, let’s just say it will be elasticated waists for me in perpetuity thereafter.  No Friday run, but Friday coffee, that’s not so bad.  My running tights have an elasticated waist anyway, so I can go prepared…

In the meantime, today was Round Sheffield walk, incorporating a new golden segment.  What could possibly go wrong?

clough lane smiletastic segment

As I cannot be trusted to run segments on my own (last week I had to go  back and do the golden segment round Chelsea Park all over again after inadvertently cutting off the beginning of it, mightily displeased about that) I took the precaution of enlisting the help of another dragonfly to pick up en route, so we could do the segment together.  Mind you, I felt I was being unnecessarily cautious in this respect. I knew exactly where this was and no mistake.   Just up from Endcliffe Park.

It was bitterly cold on waking, but mercifully dry, so as I picked my way down to the park rendezvous the pavements weren’t slippery at all, the sun shone, and my sandwiches bounced up and down in my backpack with a pleasingly reassuring thud as I went down.  I was first to the rendezvous point by the café, so sat in the sun watching the world go by, and marvelling at the Endcliffe Park Independent Café’s moss-covered roof. It is really stunning.  Should have taken a photo for illustrative purposes really.  Never mind, here is a parkrun one from the week before. You’ll get the idea.

epic cafe 27 jan

I did have the foresight to take a photo of the frog, or possibly toad.  I like this wooden sculpture a lot, it’s time it got a showing.  It wasn’t tremendously interactive to be fair, I think it might be hibernating, or if not actually hibernating, being dormant, which I think is more accurate in the UK context.  I’m sure Frog Life know their amphibians.

frog or toad

I think toad actually, frogs are more smooth-skinned.  Let’s go with toad.

So I’m sat in the sun, watching the world go by, and eventually my dragonfly buddy appeared.  We marched up to forge dam putting the worlds to rights, and then at the forge dam café, decided to get some take away lattes because we’d walked all of a mile and a bit by then, and were having a nice morning out so why not. The lattes were really good actually, and would have been improved only by our admitting to ourselves that it would have been nice to sit down and drink them at leisure, rather than carrying them round with us.  We asked not to have lids, in an attempt to reduce plastic a bit, but a sit down would have been more eco-friendly still, as well as more enjoyable.

We reached a bit of road where we thought the segment might start. Complete confusion.  My eyesight wasn’t good enough to read the map I’d printed out, and now we were actually there I was confused as to whether or not it was the right place. Critically, I’d also been planning to run it in completely the wrong direction.  After much dithering, picking our way through ice patches to read road signs (did I mention that as we ascended, there was a lot of thick and treacherous ice patches along the way) we reached agreement as to which way to go. Worse case scenario, we’d upload it immediately afterwards to check, and then run again if necessary.  I was so relieved I didn’t risk heading off on my own.

The first part was absolutely fine, but when we turned into Mark lane we hit a comically extreme patch of ice.  Even in broad daylight it was a nightmare to negotiate.  No chance of heading out after dark to bagsy this one without fear of instant death.  Water was still streaming under the ice, and adding to it, if the temperature dropped again, as forecast, it would practically be it’s own glacier, probably visible from space.  Or would be, were it not for the tree cover thereabouts.

I’m a bit disappointed by the ice photos, it looks less hazardous than it was.  The weird nondescript photo is of beautiful icicles that had formed where water ran out of a dry stone wall, so there are my photography credentials exposed for all to see, no wonder I have to borrow freely from others for so many of my blog posts.  Oh well.  You get the idea.

With all the faffing and chatting, the 1km loop took blooming ages to get round, but we had a nice time, so that’s the main thing. Then we said our farewells, as dragonfly buddy had important things to do and I had another 10 plus miles to tick off and (unfortunately) those miles weren’t going to walk themselves now were they.

I was in quite good spirits heading up the valley.  I think having a latte before I’d even really started was good for morale. The sun was bright, the air crisp, and the scenery gorgeous. Very few people were out and about.  I went a slightly different route, clambering up what I call Jacob’s Ladder, but which might not be. It’s a steep hillside clamber that takes you on the footpath through the alpaca farm (gawd those fields and field shelters look a mess and you emerge a bit below the Norfolk Arms.  I marched past there, and then crossed the road to head down Limb Valley. There was less snow, but a fair bit of ice.  I rather regretted not having nipped into the pub for a precautionary pee – maybe having a latte wasn’t such a good idea after all, so went slightly off piste for a  – well you get the idea.  This brought a new discovery. How have I not see this leaf man before?  A creature from the undergrowth.  I like it.  It’s sort of hidden, so not too intrusive, and the art work sufficiently impressive that I’d call this urban art rather than vandalism or graffiti, though perhaps strictly speaking it is both.   Actually, not really ‘urban’ either, so I suppose that makes me wrong on all counts…  Not a first.

You see this is what happens.  I head out on a Sheffield yomp, convinced I won’t do a blog post this time because it will all be a bit samey, and the Sheffield Round Walk, lovely as it is, has been done to death by everyone, and yet you only have to venture a few metres off the track to discover new hidden treasures.

Look how lovely it is out there.  Cold yes, but picturesque certainly. And this was just ice, not come across the fire yet!

Down through the valley, the ice was really bad. There were was one section where a couple of walkers from amongst a larger group had managed to traverse and ice patch, but those behind them were thwarted. It was like one of those action adventure films where the rope bridge has fallen down the canyon leaving some of the hapless adventurers stranded on the wrong side.  One older man tentatively stepped on the ice patch and we all looked on in horror as he slid helplessly in slow motion down the slope with gathering momentum.  I can’t have been alone in thinking he’d end up plummeting onward into the stream at the bottom of the vertiginous hill.  Somehow he used his walking sticks to brake, but the randomness of this approach did not inspire confidence in those behind.  In the end, I clung onto a nearby tree as sort of ballast, and linked arms with each of the walkers in turn so they could pass.  A bit like this, only I was clinging to a tree not a mountain side.

clinging on

It was all very companionable and community initiative based.  It was treacherous out there though.  I’d half wondered if I should don the running shoes this week and build my speeds, but there’s no way I’d have felt safe running this route again today.  I’m going to have to bow to the inevitable and find some lower level and even  –  heaven portend – road routes even, if I’m ever to pick up the pace.   Still, worry about that another day.

I emerged through Whirlow, which again was looking picturesque, and then stopped for sandwiches at the bench at the entrance to Ecclesall Woods.  Point of information, that I think is interesting, because this is all about me, even though I was out for ages today, my stamina was way better for having some snackettes on the way round. Who knew nutrition was an asset for endurance?  Granted, you probably aren’t supposed to actually stop for a picnic en route at a marathon (though wouldn’t it be lovely if you could) but keeping my blood sugar levels replete stopped mid-excursion grumpiness for sure.  Anyway, it meant I was having a nice enough time that I felt no need to abort my romp out and catch a bus instead, rather carrying on to explore the delights of Ecclesall woods and the secrets it had yet to reveal.

Through the woods, sharing hellos and greeting with the few others I came across.  After that blooming climb in Ladies Spring Wood (which did not feel any easier at all this time)

Fuelled as I was with my humus and watercress in pitta super food, I even had sufficient surplus energy to go and finally take a detour to look at Beauchief Abbey, which I’ve never bothered to do before. I couldn’t go in, which was disappointing, but I could admire the mossy grounds, golden weather vane and immaculate architecture, and try to memorise the guide board that was helpfully in situ.  It’s an impressive history to be fair.

The most amusing sighting of the day however, if by ‘amusing’ you mean jaw-droppingly outrageous, was on the Beauchief golf course.  I refer to the tees.  Initially, there was the simple disappointment of the misleading signs.  I didn’t get so much as a sniff of a cup of Yorkshire tea at any of the tee signs, let alone the fourth tee, and don’t get me started on their spelling!  But the real shocker was this:

It took me a while to comprehend this.  I note as usual the men are on top and the women covered in mud and being asked to go to the side whilst the men can crack on straight ahead.  Ladies and mens golf tees. What the? Has the world gone mad? Is this a known thing?  Do the men hang out smoking cigars, drinking brandy and guffawing at misogynistic jokes whilst the women pose on their tee eating lady-friendly crisps and discussing what to cook their husbands for dinner later on whilst trying to avoid getting their kitten heels caught on either their crinoline petticoats or worse still the green?  Or is this actually a progressive innovation, and the eleventh tee has extra toilet facilities for the ladies, who are usually ill-served in relation to such provisions at sporting events?  Is it that men running golf courses, like those organising cross-country events, fear women’s wombs will fall out with the exertion, or do they just fear women? It’s a mystery.  Some are campaigning for change in the XC running different race lengths ‘norm’  though the reasons some give against change are toe curling in their ludicrousness.  Marshals out for longer?  Seriously?  Apart from the fact it just depends how you time and order events, and that women marshal too, and many marshals are more than happy to support runners who finish at different times, have they not come across the phenomenon of super speedy women runners who can run the arses off their male counterparts.  Would that not add interest to the event. Percy Pud 2017 anyone?

First woman flying round AB

I have no idea why there are different tees, the Beauchief Golf Club website offers no clues. Though the ladies course is shorter than the men, and they refer to ladies and men as opposed to women and men which I find bizarre. They do have a very fine 1951 course map though, which we can all agree is quite splendid.

courseplan1951

So I pondered this as I plodded on in the sunshine.

Subsequently I would be informed, to some disappointment, that this is apparently accepted practise because the average woman cannot hit as far as the average man – I don’t know if that’s true.  I’m dubious, but it’s possible I suppose.  Fortunately sexism in golfing remains rampant in other respects, even if that particular example may have some basis in logic.  The world is mad.  Bro-go areas still exist though.  And it’s been said golf’s biggest problem is sexism however, I enjoy the reasoning given for in the Womens Golf Journal article Gentlemen Only which reports that – admittedly back in the 19th century.

a certain Lord Moncrieff who, would you believe, decreed that women should not hit the ball any further than 60-70 yards.
“Not because we doubt a lady’s power to make a longer drive but because that cannot well be done without raising the club above the shoulder,” he wrote. “Now we do not presume to dictate but we must observe that the posture and gestures requisite for a full swing are not particularly graceful when the player is clad in female dress.

Remind me again why adherence to ‘tradition’ is seen as a legitimate justification for discrimination, abuse, pretty much anything quite frankly.  It isn’t immediately clear…

The next cause of excitement was I think when I encountered a youth and his dog in I think Chancet wood, but actually I have no idea now. Could have been any one of the woodland trails with a steep slope towering overhead on one side, and plummeting down beneath me on the other.  Anyway, initially unseen, they lost their footing and tumbled down a bank and nearly landed on top of me. Oh dear. We all lived to tell the tale. I managed to embarrass myself by inadvertently shrieking as honestly, it was like he fell from the sky and caught me unawares. (Not like that). He was mortified at having so somersaulted, and in his anxiety to remove himself from the awkward social situation, promptly slipped again, arse first, down the remainder of the bank, shouting up behind me that he was ‘absolutely fine’, while his companion canine was having the most fun out on a walk EVER, as it jumped and barked around him as he continued his descent.   I think not, but on balance, was happier to be left to attend his own wounds, than have a middle-aged Smiley fussing round him.

The latter part of the walk, after Graves Park is not as interesting, and doesn’t really improve with familiarity. This time, as I was going down litter lane.  I don’t know whether to call it litter lane or dog poo pass.   I coincided with school children bolting out of the rear entrance of Newfield School at the end of the school day. The litter and dog shite in bags hanging from trees are really bad here.   One thing of interest though, just as I was getting really cold, was a sudden blast of heat coming from a huge but orderly bonfire.  It was extraordinary, like walking past a great furnace, so you see I wasn’t lying when I said today’s effort was about ice AND fire.  Unlikely as it seems, both were present.  If it hadn’t been behind a locked gate, I’d have lobbed some of the rubbish on it.

I noticed there is a particular accumulation of rubbish by the school gate, and I can’t lie, it does make me think that maybe a major source of the littering has to be from pupils making their way to and from school along this path.  Not exclusively, but it created a really bad impression.   I’d be ashamed if I was in the management of that school and pathways around it were knee-deep in litter.   Whoever is responsible, surely you’d want to clear up your own back yard, and you could involve the school community in it, as they would be obvious beneficiaries as many of them no doubt walk it every day. Some of that trash is faded and half buried in the ground, it’s been there for a long, long time.  Many months, maybe even years.

The children coming out were in big groups and boisterous, releasing pent-up energy, shoving each other as they negotiated the paths.  It was pretty unpleasant. I found my mindset shifted.  Only last week when I did this route I thought I’d come and litter pick it myself in better weather, but now I strongly suspect the culprits are some of the pupils and their littering is compounded by general apathy from the school in not clearing up even outside their own gate, I felt a bit differently.  Nursing  fantasy rage scenarios of strongly worded letters to the school. At the same time I recognise it might have been in part that I felt quite intimidated by the large groups yelling at each other, and as I passed by the co-op heading into Meersbrook Park, I witnessed some ‘friends’ shouting ‘bitch, bitch, ugly bitch’ at one of the girls who’d had the misfortune to stoop to tie a shoelace just where there was a dog typing up ring outside the shop.  It was a large crowd, and my perception was boys shouting ‘bitch’ at a girl, and encouraging others to do the same.    I lingered for a bit to see if I should intervene.  The language calling was certainly inappropriate, and I found it offensive, but the ‘victim’ did appear to taking it all in her stride and so I thought the better of it.  It troubled me though.  In a way it’s worse she appeared OK with it, is that sort of behaviour so normalised at that age?  Ganging up against a young woman just because you can, and it makes you feel powerful, and what can she do about it because you are ‘only larking about’.  Gender based assault masquerading as ‘just a bit of fun’ between school children?  Lawks a lordy we need MeToo.  Might yet contact the school.  Children can be cruel, but they can also have a wicked shared sense of humour, from the outside you can’t always tell.   Upshot was it did spoil my mood and my walk and I made a mental note to run round faster next time so as not to get caught up in Newfield School pupils pouring out the school and swarming the streets around on their way home.  That and raged at the injustice of the world.  I did quite a lot of the inwardly raging.

Not all were riotous of course.  There were some children rather sweetly gathering up tree branches in the wooded areas just playing.  Just ahead of me, two firm friends, one really tall, and one significantly shorter, walked purposefully along, deep in conversation.  I wondered if they were the same year, or neighbours perhaps of different ages.  I’ve worked in schools, and one thing that really struck me, especially with the boys, was how young people of the same age could be so physically different depending on when puberty hits.  Some clearly young men, others pre-pubescent and awkward.  Adolescence is a challenging time. Even so, maybe a strongly worded email, just to make the point.  I might start it with ‘Why oh why oh why‘ that would definitely add impact.  I won’t at all come across as a mad middle-aged woman with an axe to grind.   Even so, might just give my axe a good old grind, could come in handy, and you have to do something to bring about change sometimes.  Those suffragists and suffragettes did a bit more than a letter writing campaign to get the vote. Hurrah for them! One hundred years on from getting the vote for women, I do celebrate and acknowledge that, but I despair at how far we still have to go.  People don’t like to surrender privilege without a fight.  Then again, I do want to say about the rubbish and the ‘bitch’ comments, but I don’t want to either have to go on hunger strike or be force fed, which was basically state torture of women campaigning for the vote. It’s a dilemma.

political prisoners

Male and female tees

Men and ladies different XC courses

Calling your female class mate a ‘bitch’

Characterising women who raise their voices as frustrated, ugly, middle aged – not much changes does it?

Sound familiar anyone?

Everyday sexism, everyday misogyny.

I’m properly depressed now.  The walk that was to clear my head started well, ended badly.  My mood sure, took a nose dive after the school.

Oh well, I must think instead of the women who went on campaigning, in spite of the resistance, the hardship and the unknown outcomes.  They showed physical and mental endurance, as such, they too can be my marathon training role models.  If I can just channel my inner suffragette, I can nail this.  Maybe I should ditch Geronimo as my running companion for London and go as a suffragette.  Did you know that at the time a photographer Christina Broom documented a lot of their actions.  Me neither til just now, but any one of these outfits in Green, White and Violet would be splendid.  Now, who do I know with a sewing machine who might help.  I’m sure there must be a broken-toed Smiley somewhere willing and able to step up to the task..

and I do like a fine hat, so there’s a thought.

A thunk indeed.

So there you go, that was my endurance test for the week done and dusted. It was physically much easier than last time, having food on the way round helped.  The weather was better. The ice is an issue though.   I still haven’t done anything like enough actual running, but I tell myself the elevation and uneven terrain must help a bit from a cross training point of view. Also, it remains reet nice out, so all is not lost.  Yet.  Plenty of time to lose it before April.

Yep, I am confident I will definitely have lost it by then.  Definitely.

So that’s alright then.  Yes?

Oh, and this is the route, my slowest ever rendition of the Round Sheffield Walk, but hey ho, that’s more hours on the legs isn’t it, good for endurance.  15.78 miles and 2003 feet.  That’s good to know.  Not necessarily helpful or relevant, but the numbers please me.

strava route

So that’s still alright then.  Yes?

Hello?

Anybody there?

Hello….

 

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Marathon Madness? Taking on the long and lonely trails. Reet nice out though. :)

Digested read: my marathon training preparation may be lamentable in conventional terms, but I’m trying.  I did a looooooooooong walk of the Sheffield Round Walk yesterday and it was reet nice out (get me and my Sheffield riff).  We are so lucky to have all this on our doorstep in Sheffield.  Get out and make the most of it people, you will not regret it.  I promise.

It occurred to me dear reader, that you might have been wondering how my marathon training has been going.  I know I have.  It’s quite a worry.  Can’t lie.  I’m scared.  Terrified even.  I have spectacularly failed to get into any kind of running routine, which I’m pretty sure is the key to any consistency in training and getting close to achieving this goal.  I’ve been thwarted to some extent by ice, snow, house move related annoyances (who knew you have to waste whole weeks of your life waiting in for people various who may or may not come), and my confidence has taken a knock.  I have difficulty even in saying out loud ‘I’m doing the London Marathon this year‘ in case people openly laugh in my face.  I need to do so though, to make it real.  I suppose inside I must believe this is possible, or I wouldn’t be putting myself through it, but a huge cloud of self-doubt hovers overhead. I wish that would go away, it isn’t really helping, and maybe it’s that black cloud that is lowering the temperatures to such an extent that black ice makes even stepping outside the front door too hazardous to contemplate let alone venturing further afield.  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.

There have been some minor steps in progress along the way.  I got a London Marathon place, that’s a biggy, with the ballot odds as they are for the London Marathon.  I am not starting from nothing. I have to keep reminding myself of this.  I may be a slow runner, and generate a reaction of incredulity rather than admiration in those that see me out and about training, but I have got round a fair few events now.  Including the Sheffield Half and the Dig Deep 12.12, both of which I was pretty sure were almost impossible before I actually did them. The almost is critical here.  I knew they’d be hard, but deep down inside I thought sheer bloody-mindedness should see me through.  However, with an actual marathon I’m not so confident.  I fully appreciate that the jump from a half to a full marathon is a huge one.  I won’t be able to blag it, and I have to recognise that whilst I’ll give it my best shot, I can’t possibly know how I’ll cope until I’m doing it.   Preparation is key, but oh my, how much does life/ the elements/ injury get in the way of it.  I suppose if it wasn’t a challenge there wouldn’t be much point in doing it, but aargh, I wish I was further on that I am as we enter February.

What I did do, just before Christmas, was see a physio because I was angsty about miscellaneous niggles and stiffness, and I didn’t know if I was developing hypochondria, Munchausen’s or whether my body was actually disintegrating by the hour.  On balance, I was pretty sure it was the latter.  Whilst I didn’t want to give up before I’d started, I wasn’t over keen on having body parts fall off either on the way round the London route or during training.  I thought a check up might help.  On a serious note, my real fear at my age (50+) and with no natural sporting aptitude whatsoever, is getting injured in training.  In my heart of hearts I think if I make it to the start of the London Marathon uninjured, I’ll make it to the end.  However, I didn’t fancy embarking on a training plan when my calf was all exploding with cramp and my legs wont bend properly.  It’s no an auspicious start is it, when your body is in constant protest if you try to run, it’s hard enough overcoming my mental reluctance to set foot out of the door.

Well dear reader, the visit to the physio was a great move.  Apart from the mysterious ability of physios to do magic mendy things with their bare hands, it was very reassuring. So I went to see a local physio who I picked because I’d previously been to their ‘preventing running injuries’ workshop, and that was really good, and for me, relatable.  I’m a recreational runner, not part of a sporting elite, and I felt it had a lot of realistic, ‘common sense’ type information and advice I could understand and implement.  Probably.  So I made an appointment just before Christmas and on a chilly day limped over and then spewed out all my concerns at the feet of the poor physio.  In essence, I’m supposed to be doing the London marathon, but my knee niggles, my calf complains, my legs laugh at me, my back aches, and I’ve hardly run for a month due to, well life basically, getting in the way. Oh yes, and due to me being generally a bit crap. That too.  And I keep seeing other people posting their Strava triumphs and I’m way behind them and… well ‘what am I thinking? Who am I trying to kid?  What should I do?’  That kind of thing.

So her first question was:

Do you actually want to run the London Marathon?’

This was in fact a really good question.  Because I absolutely do, but I get that maybe some people, on receiving a ballot place that they never seriously thought they’d win, panic and feel obligated to go through with something for which they never had any real serious intent.  I’m not in that category.  I really, really want to do this.  So much so, that I can hardly breathe (and not only when I’m trying to run), but I am scared of not doing it justice and I don’t really know how to go about it. Well I do in theory I suppose, but doing it for real is another thing altogether!  Anyway, the sincerity of my response told me, as much as her, that yep, I’m absolutely up for this, but I want to avoid injury in training at all costs.  I believe if I start, I’ll finish.  Probably, well I hope so.  My main challenge is to keep injury free so I can do the training.

Yes I do!  I really do, but I just want to get around, I’m not fussed about time‘, I practically wailed.  Hopefully, she’ll have seen all this before, and I didn’t scare her (too much).  She did move offices quite soon afterwards though I noticed, but I expect that’s just a coincidence.  Anyway, her reply was quite reassuring:

That was my next question. Are you aiming for a particular time?  Because if not, then it’s completely doable, you could do it tomorrow, it might not be pretty and it might break you afterwards, but it is doable.  So right now, we just need to get you back to running regularly and build up from there

Easy.  Logical too I suppose.  It is nonsense to compare myself to other people, especially when they are inherently fit and 25 years junior to me.  I have to start where I’m at, and not be deflected too much by training schemes that aren’t relevant to me and might actually be detrimental.  So instead, she did her magic physio fairy dust and healing hands and tweaked and shifted muscles and limbs so I left with them functioning OK, and I re-set my running aspirations more realistically, and left with a plan to build up miles on my legs with walking, and just start doing what I can regularly, because frankly anything is better than nothing, and procrastination is not my friend.  Turns out I’m not broken, though I am stiff, and there is no reason why I can’t run apart from previously referenced innate inability and lack of personal motivation.  Which is what I said, not her by the way, I think most physios are trained not to pass judgements as harsh as those we pass on ourselves, even if they are true.  Well not out loud anyway.

So I need to get going, and I need to remind myself why I want to do this, and it’s actually hard to articulate without resorting to memes or clichés. What the hell, let’s use those:

 

See.  Nothing like over-worked clichés to put you back on track!  What none of these cover though, is the fear of failure.  If I blow this chance… well I shudder at the thought.  I need to hang on to the ‘why’ as that may help motivate me.  Even so, with all the motivation, and all the help at hand, I’m still struggling to put together a workable plan and put it into action.

So, my plan, such as it is, is to acknowledge, I’m not going to be able to run the whole thing, so I need to accept that, and pace myself accordingly.  It also means, there is little point in me doing ever longer long runs in my training, lengthening the distance by 10% each week (though I now know that’s an over-ambitious figure anyway) as if I waited until I could continuously run the required distances before extending, I’d never get beyond 10k.  Instead, I’m going to do some Lucy style training.  This is idiosyncratic I know, but I’m hoping not entirely without merit.  So, the plan is, accept my limitations, but put a lot of focus on miles on the legs and hours on my feet.  I am resigned to the fact it is going to take me a loooooooong time to get around the London course, well, I want to get my monies worth by being out as long as possible, obvs.  Hence, that’s what I need to replicate in training.  I’ll keep my staples, my weekly parkrun, and two other runs a week.  However, once a week, I’m going to go out and do a really long walk, the plan is just start by walking, literally, because I know I can do that. As my fitness improves, I’ll start running sections, and, the theory is, over the coming weeks, the percentage time I spend running as opposed to walking will increase, so I might not be extending my runs in the conventional way, but I will extend my running time and at the same time clock up distances without risk of injury from over-training.

It helps that I have the Sheffield Round Walk (about 15 miles) right on my doorstep. This takes in some lovely views, its a fair old hike, so that’s miles on the legs, and there’s some respectable elevation too, about 1,864 ft.  That’s got to help with cross training, surely?

sheffield round walk map

Here it is again, I give you the Round Sheffield Run Route via Strava.   Lovely 🙂

strava round sheffield run sheffield round walk route with elevation

There is a really good outdoor city guide to the route but weirdly, and I speak as someone who has done the run/ walk many times, it seems that it is only signposted if you do it in an anti-clockwise direction.  The signage is patchy to be fair, and I doubt you could to it ‘in reverse’ if you didn’t already know the route.  Anyway, I digress, the point is, I decided I needed to just test my fitness, and head out and do the 15 mile (ish) walk.  So that’s what I did.

First though, I googled ‘can I train for a marathon in 12 weeks’.  Astonishingly, google was not all that conclusive or personalised in its advice. Though I did come across a hilarious training programme that basically started from zero, assuming three runs a week.  And the first long run was 6 miles, and you kept adding 2 or 3 miles each week, until you got to 22 miles and then climaxed with the actual marathon. So that’s very easy.  Looks good on paper indeed.  I conceded, not without some reluctance, that browsing hypothetical training plans was less helpful than actually going out and getting some miles on my legs.  The day before had brought with it blizzards and biting sleet, not so much ‘wintry showers’ as shards of glass, flying at you through the sky, from all directions!  Yesterday though, there was something of a break in the weather. This was the day.  I will do this.  I deliberately wore walking rather than running shoes, so there was no pressure or temptation to run.  I’d actually been ill earlier in the week.  Properly, in bed with a temperature, so I didn’t want to overdo it, but I did want to head out.  I wrapped up in warm clothes, and took water and some cash and off I went.  Beginning with a  march down to Endcliffe Park.

It was reet nice out!  Bit nippy, but bright sunshine, some ice. Endcliffe park café was mysteriously surrounded by thick-set security guards in hi-viz and what looked like an ambulance response unit.  Also the café was shut.  Turns out they were filming something, I don’t know what, but hey ho, that was novel.  I made my way through the park and up towards forge dam and beyond up to Ringinglow. And do you know what. It was gorgeous. My legs felt strong, the air was fresh, the few people around friendly.  I feel so lucky that we in Sheffield have all this on our doorstep.  Underfoot, the terrain wasn’t great. The higher up I got, the thicker the ice and/or mud. There were some cheery exchanges with other walkers out and about debating whether or not we’d make it up or down depending on which direction we were heading off in.  I wouldn’t have felt confident enough to run in this, even if I’d been wearing my fell shoes.  Not so much the mud, but the ice, I just don’t know if my shoes would cope.

Plus, I wouldn’t have fancied getting ankle-deep in icy mud early on, on a 15 mile route march, cold feet are grim.  Wet cold feet are grimmer still!  But you know what, it was glorious.

Look at this:

reet nice out

Actually, I’m not sure the photo does it justice, but you get the general idea.

Down through Limb Valley, where tree-lined banks loom up beside you. There was no-one about, but it was truly spectacular.

tree line

Coming down towards Whirlow the light made some of the trees take on amazing silhouettes.  Check out this giant rhinoceros beetle!  I know.  Huge.

and then you are in Ecclesall woods, and there were mysterious hidden dens and some stunning pine trees. The sound of this wood is different from the march up through Whitely woods.

Emerging from here, you cross Abbeydale road, and encounter the killer steps.  Even though this is a walking section for the Round Sheffield Run, they are not for the faint hearted.  I felt my energy levels subsiding, I promised myself a drink of water when I got to the top and wished I’d brought some food with me as well.  It’s astonishing how long it takes to walk this route. Even though my ‘running’ is comically slow, it is still apparently, a lot quicker than walking the same distance. It was lovely out, but I was beginning to nurse dark thoughts. I’d not even walked 10 miles yet and I was flagging, how am I supposed to run 26 plus miles!  I tried to remind myself that I’ve still got time to train, London is flat, game’s not over yet, but the enormity of the challenge is pretty clear.  I gave a hollow inward laugh as I wondered if with training I’d find myself scampering up these same steps a few weeks from now.. Doubtful  But you know what’s really, really annoying?  It’s that in photos the steps look completely innocuous. Inviting even.  How the camera lies.

Like I said.  Really annoying.

The temperature started to drop, and truthfully, I started putting my head down and just marching through, there were fewer photo stops, and more inward cursing my lack of fitness.

On the plus side, I could still put one foot in front of the other, I would do this, and next time will be lots easier.  There were still lovely surprises to take in along the way. Catkins, I defy anyone to look at a catkin and not feel joy.

Even on the grimmest, litter strewn part of the walk, just after graves park when you go down alongside a school I think and down a steep narrow path where discarded syringes play for space alongside cans, crisp packets and other rubbish there were little moments of joy.  Like this bench, which I’d never noticed before has little carvings on it. How lovely is that.  And the bright yellow gorse, that doesn’t just attract rubbish onto its thorny foliage, but was full of bright flowers.

I’d like to think that maybe in the summer I’ll come back to this path with a bin bag and gloves and do a litter pick, it was pretty bad.  Looks like a rat run for the school perhaps, or maybe it’s just the way the landscape funnels the wind so rubbish from everywhere gathers. Depressing though.

Not depressing, was the group of walkers I found at the bottom of the hill. Raucous, not particularly appropriately dressed for the elements but having a ball.  One had lost his shoe in the mud and, to much hilarity, others were shouting advice but offering little in the way of practical assistance.  A micro adventure in the moment. That is what happens if you head out and about, running or walking or otherwise.

I can’t lie, I nipped into the co-op on my way to Meersbrook, but I was starving.  I remembered I needed to buy some loo paper too, but decided that even though the large packs were on special offer, carrying a 9 pack of toilet rolls for the remaining 3 miles of my walk might not be the best of plans, even by my low standards!

Quick check of the Bishops House, and the amazing view, which in the winter sunshine gave all the building really clear outlines.  It was like looking at a painting.  You could even see the snow on the hill tops beyond the city buildings.

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Then as I left the park, there was a curious lost creature.  I thought it was a teddy at first, but it was sort of pig like.  Very peculiar.  I hope it found its way home. The temperature was plummeting, and globules of icy rain spitting down on me.  Not nice to be out and about.

lost creature

There followed my least favourite bit of the Round Sheffield Run/ Sheffield Round Walk.  Quite urban, and something of a shock to find yourself in amongst houses and shops and the paraphernalia of daily life after the relative solitude and loveliness of being up on them there hills.  However, on this occasion, things were looking up.  I’d been inwardly debating what to do for my Smiletastic ‘find something appropriate for Valentine’s Day on your run’ in order to bagsy my individual bonus point for the w/c 12 February.  Being somewhat cynical about the whole idea of Valentine’s Day, my original idea was to write a pamphlet on why it’s a cynical capitalist construct and be done with it, but I wasn’t sure that would be accepted as being quite within the spirit of the challenge.  Imagine therefore my delight at seeing this, a symbol of the disposable nature of romantic love if ever I’ve seen one. Brilliant:

Rubbishing romance (1)

There followed more hearts, bringing new gloriousness to this part of the route.  How have I previously missed these I have no idea.  I’m quietly confident my Valentine’s Day Smiletastic claim is in the bag.  Hurrah!

I had a bit of a spring in my step after that.  Maybe because of that, I was feeling the Smiletastic love, so noticed with new eyes the colourful mural on the back of B&M.  It’s an area of Sheffield where a group have worked really hard to create a garden of sorts and a colourful picture of native wildlife – albeit not entirely to scale.  Although the grasshoppers were not evident in the picture, other Smiletastic 2018 teams (dragonflies, ladybirds and bees) are represented.  Surely a symbol of our collective endeavour?  Do you think it would be better if the hedgehog is the size of a ladybird or the ladybird is the size of a hedgehog?  I’m not sure. I’m thinking a dinky little hedgehog would be rather delightful, but a giant ladybird somewhat terrifying.   Especially if it was an invasive harlequin ladybird. They aren’t good news.  This looks like a proper native one though, so that’s OK.

From there, that was it, nearly home.  15 and a bit miles later, weary feet, but job done.

What I’ve learned.

  1. I need to do more long outings to get miles on my legs, it has to help with stamina and cross training, those hills are killers.
  2. My base line of fitness isn’t great, but nor is it the worst in the world.  I just need to stick with it and not get disheartened too quickly.
  3. Foam rollering afterwards did genuinely help with my calves.  Note to self, need to read up how to do this properly so I don’t just slide about/ off the foam cylinder, but at least I’ve now got it out of its wrapping and created a space for foam rollering. It’s only taken me two years to do this.  Progress.
  4. Food would have been a good idea, I was out for ages.  I didn’t feel weak exactly, but I think I’d have been more cheerily disposed to the second half if I’d taken some peanut butter and Marmite sandwiches with me.
  5. Sheffield is ace.  The Sheffield Round Walk is full of surprises, worth doing a bit more slowly than usual
  6. Why do the Sheffield Round Walk signs only direct you one way round? I’d like to do the route in reverse, but I think I’d get lost, the signage is pretty rubbish.
  7. At some point, I am going to have to do some actual running on my training runs.  A harsh but incontestable truth.

So, I think from yesterday’s excursion all is not completely lost in relation to the London Marathon, but I do have a very long way to go.  In summary,  this is what have I done towards the marathon so far:

  • Secured a place – that’s quite a biggy actually, and I know against the odds I have been incredibly lucky
  • Booked a train ticket and accommodation
  • Been to see a physio
  • Googled training plans ‘is it possible to train for a marathon in three months?’
  • Gone for a very long walk
  • Got angsty about what other people are doing
  • Signed up to do Smiletastic

Well, it’s a start, a small step along the way, and you know what, that’s how every journey and every run starts.  One foot in front of the other.  Then repeat.  How hard can it be?*

I hope a few short months from now to look back on this post and laugh with joy at having achieved the seemingly almost impossible.  I recognise I may have to face an alternative truth, wehre I look back on this post and laugh at my naivity for even thinking I could try.  No worries.  I’m not going to predict the outcome now and make it into a foregone conclusion. Other people have done this, why not me.  Plus, think of the bragging rights, and the getting to feel invincible, even if only for a moment. That’s some runners’ high to hold out for.

What are the odds? Who knows.  I don’t believe anyone can run a marathon, let’s face it, not everyone would even want to –  I’m not sure I even believe I can, but I do believe I can give it a darned good shot, and find out by trying.  I also know from watching the London Marathon that the people who finish aren’t necessarily those you think will.  It’s a mental strength and tenacity that carries people through. Why me?  Why should I get around? Well, why not me?  Let’s do this.  Here’s holding out for the time I can say, been there, done that got the t-shirt.  Now wouldn’t that be something…  Just so you know, if I do, this wont be me:

told noone

Run a marathon without talking about it!  Pah.  On the plus side, I’ll be way too self-absorbed to notice if you aren’t listening, even if you have your fingers in your ears shouting ‘don’t care, don’t care‘, so nothing to worry about on that score.  Plus, I’ll probably be unable to walk for months after, so you’ll have no worries getting away from me.

Also, it’s only a marathon. Not like an ultra on the Dig Deep weekend or anything.  Now that really would be a tale to tell….

*Rhetorical question.  I know the answer. I am just not ready to hear it spoken out loud.

 

For all my Round Sheffield Run related blog posts see here, scroll down for older entries.

For all my London Marathon related blog posts see here, scroll down for older entries.

Categories: motivation, off road, physiotherapy, running | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Snow fun or it’s no fun? You decide. Nine after nine Dragonflies as the Smiletastic contest continues in the snow.

Digested Read:  nippy out, but we nine dragonflies nabbed after nine Smiletastic points.  I nearly got hypothermia and died out on them there hills, but that was but a small price to pay in the name of snow art.  Smiley solidarity saw me through.

Oh my life.  That was unpleasant.  Smiletastic has a lot to answer for.  I was practically hypothermic by the time I got home from my run last night, but needs must when the call goes out from team dragonflies. One for all, and all for one. Ours is not to reason why, it might be dark and snowing and treacherous out there, but type 2 fun is still fun after all… of a sort.

In case you are exceptionally slow on the uptake and haven’t grasped what was going on here, once again, me and some fellow Smiley Paces buddies were on Golden Segment banging duties.  The blah de blah for this in brief, is that basically, Smiletastic is a three-month team-based challenge amongst fellow members of the Smiley Paces Women’s Running Club. Smiley Elder, founder of the initiative, summarises it most succinctly as follows: ‘SMILETASTIC is a motivational challenge to help runners to keep up their running targets throughout the winter months.’ Alongside committing to doing so many runs a week, bonus points can be nabbed by entering into the Smiletastic spirit, running before 7.00 a.m. and after 9.00 p.m. at night, and also, as in this case,  for running specified Strava sections, known as ‘golden segments’ which, to be fair, makes it sound like nabbing them should be way more fun than it actually is.  There are a number of team, but I’m a dragonfly, so that’s the most important one and you don’t need to worry about those bees, grasshoppers and erm, can’t even remember the other team – oh yes ladybirds.  Those other insects are of no consequence in this context.  Generally speaking though, insects are massively important to the world’s ecosystem and should be nurtured not swatted away.

We are in week three of the Smiletastic challenge, and after we dragonflies stormed ahead in week one we were knocked into second place in week two.  Whilst we do all claim to be non competitive, nevertheless we clearly can be goaded into collective action.  Case in point.  The weather this week has been horrendous.  I mean, seriously vile.  Whilst pristine snow glittering under a starlit sky might be appealing to run in, here we have had driving bullet like blizzards and lethal slush and ice in abundance.  Being intrepid is all very well, but in honesty, were it not for the impetus of my Smiletastic team buddies I’d favour staying in and working on perfecting the art of embracing an absolute rest day, – which is actually a recognised and important yet often neglected part of any decent training programme –  rather than venturing out anywhere possibly never to return…

The ‘Golden Segment’ was announced. When it went up it sounded innocuous enough, appealing even, but that was last week when the weather was altogether more clement and less life-threatening. Smiley Elder cheerily posted:

The Golden Segment for the week beginning 15th January 2018 is slightly further afield but is one you should all know and is not too difficult to get to (unless it snows!!). The link is https://www.strava.com/segments/14206248 and its called “Ringinglow Road -going up” which just about sums it up. If you run uphill from Hangram Lane to the Norfolk Arms you’ll definitely go along it.

With a helpful Strava picture too, just in case:

ringinglow going up

Yep, that looked fine and dandy.  Bit of a hill, but nothing we Sheffielder’s aren’t all too familiar with.  Plus, classic stretch of the half marathon route, so not too complicated navigationally speaking, and it’s nice to make the effort to head out to the hills.  It would be grand.

I know it’s only 0.2 mile but remember dear reader we had to get up to it and back again.  For the record the snowy dash bit ended up at 3.1 miles plus I had to walk a bit over a mile to get down to meet my lift so I suppose I did about 5.5 miles out in the blizzard in total.  You see what happened was, the the weather changed, and every sinew in my body and brain cell in my head screamed at me to stay inside.  It went from being dank January to ‘run out of energy and supplies in antarctica‘ within a couple of hours.  No idea how that happened.  Vile is an understatement.  Don’t tell, but I was even thinking that I might duck out of this particular segment snatching session all together.  We’d prearranged to meet on Wednesday night last week, but that was before the ice storm came.  By Tuesday, there was a blizzard blowing and thick ice which meant I could barely venture out of the house on foot, let alone in a car to make the rendezvous point, and it’d be too far to run the whole way out there with my fitness levels even if I did think I’d survive the elements.  There was a bit of nervous chit-chat on our Facebook group (it’s closed, like a secret society, so don’t bother trying to find it anywhere to spy on us), but no-one really wanted to be the first to wimp out.  I think if anyone had though at this stage, there might have been an eager torrent of wussing out runners behind in tight formation.

And then.

This.

On the Smiletastic page, those pesky bees had only gone out in a blizzard being all smiley spirited and cheery against the odds.

bee’s braved the snow blizzards tonight to run the golden segment with an after 9pm finish 💪💪 thank you ladies for a lovely hill run with a muddy off road trial section added. #Teambees🐝

What’s more, they accomplished the task all solidarity and smiles, and returned a bit bedraggled and with a hood full of snow which was inadvertently emptied onto a hall floor in one case, but fundamentally not dead.  AND they were getting an extra bang for their buck by collectively achieving post 9.00 p.m. runs.

The bees are upping their game. Their fancy dress offering was a sight to behold.  Granted they may have done a bit of tinting post run with photoshop, but I believe this is how they rocked their look on the way round Graves parkrun last Saturday. Impressive, I mean some of those deeley boppers are pretty substantial, you’d think it would alter your centre of gravity, but maybe not as much as actually having your arms bound to your sides by black gaffer tape as at least one runner had to contend with.  Respect team bees.  Loving the personalised nature of the outfits too.   Can’t wait to see them all out and about again soon!

busy bees in fancy dress at Graves

One solitary grasshopper reported mournfully that they had limped out all alone along the segment and returned sodden.  Discovering en route that even her walking boots were insufficient protection against the elements as a previously unnoticed hole let a whole glacier pass through her footwear whilst she trudged up the hill.  It is testament to her great mental strength that she was still able to see a plus side, commenting ‘On the positive side I had a free microdermabrasion facial walking through the hail on Ringinglow road this afternoon!! #newrunner #illequippedgrasshopper #justaboutstillsmiling!‘  To be fair, I think that probably did merit a bonus point.  It’s hard enough going out in this, going out all alone is tougher still.  No wonder she was hearing voices from under the snow by the end of it.  Not sure who took these photos for her, she maybe was being tailed by a drone.

Well, that’s all very impressive and all, from the bees and one grasshopper (it’s a start) and it did rally our resolve.  We couldn’t cave in now could we, seeing as how the bees had been out in a blizzard.  Besides, we’d already agreed we would go for late points, and we’d already established most of us were free in principle at least and now we’d had the standard set by those pesky busy bees buzzing about … well,  we felt compelled to follow through what we started.  We would do this. We can do this!  What’s the worst…  Cue a flurry of ‘OH MY GAWD have you seen the weather out there!?’ posts.  And checks and double checks that we were all going through with it, no-one fancied heading off out up there on their own.

So urged on by a surge of ‘I will if you will‘ promises and counter promises, 8.00 p.m. came and I headed off on foot to a rendezvous point on Ecclesall Road at 8.25.  I was cold. It was freezing.  So cold in fact, that I abandoned the plan of running in a conventional running jacket in favour of a ‘proper’ walking coat.  I had a head torch and hi-viz and a bobble hat and also brought with me a bad attitude.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t too slippery underfoot, but then I was wearing my Irock shoes which are brilliant.  I stood shivering in the vicinity of where I thought we were meeting. I was a couple of minutes early but standing still even briefly brought with it a real risk of being frozen rigid to the spot.  As the seconds ticked by I started to lose confidence in whether I was waiting in the right place, which is better than losing consciousness due to cold I suppose but not the greatest of feelings all the same.  I don’t have a smart phone, so started to imagine ending my days here, collapsed in a foetal position outside the Trinity United Reformed Church – or whatever it is – whilst my dragonfly buddies were cavorting with cheery abandon in front of a cosy open fire somewhere, ignorant of my demise.  Fortunately, just as I was at the point of wondering what to do, always a worrying trend, the other liftee appeared and we shivered together for a few minutes.  Eventually, she had the bright idea of checking for messages on Facebook, and result.  We were indeed waiting in the wrong place, and our driver was similarly fretting in their car a short distance away, lamenting our absence.  A quick scurry across the road and we were all united and lift secured we were on our way, heading on up to the Hammer and Pincers.

Coming up the hill from Endcliffe Park, it was amazing how quickly the weather deteriorated.  You could hardly see out of the car as a combination of thick sleet, hail and snow tumbled out of the sky.  The roads which had been clear just a bit lower down were now lined with slush, and then piles of snow.  By the time we got to the car park, it was feeling ominous.  Good news, our fellow running buddies were already there, some waiting inside granted, but basically raring to go.  There were nine of us.  Yay!  That was heartening, team solidarity, go us.  I nearly had a tantrum as I wasn’t going anywhere without my GPS being picked up, but disaster was averted as my TomTom bleeped its satisfaction I was being tracked.  And that was it, off we went, heading out about 8.40 ish.

I was soon at the back, I’m always at the back anyway because I’m a slow runner, but on this occasion I wasn’t feeling too confident as it was so dark, and the mix of ankle-deep snow / slush combo meant I couldn’t get a sense of what was under my feet.  The others streamed ahead and I got further behind. This was not joy-filled running.  It was head down, teeth gritted, try not to get run over venturing out.  ‘You go on without me‘ I called after them, as my voice was carried away on the wind.

mawson-wind1

There were a few cars around, most were OK, but one or two roared past, crazy.  The pavements were so deep in snow we ended up having to run on the road at some points and I felt vulnerable. This is not a run I’d have liked to do on my own.  Onwards and upwards, it was a bit of a trek to get to the segment, but then we could heave ho up from Hangram Lane to the Norfolk Arms.  We paused only when we got to the top – and then we ran on a bit just to make absolutely sure we’d gone far enough.. and then turned back again as pretty quickly, away from the light of the pub it was like we were heading into an abyss.  We bottled it. Back to outside the pub and then…  we espied virgin snow.

What can you do with virgin snow? Well, it was quite obviously still there for our merriment and as an outlet for our artistic talents.  One immediately went for a daintily drawn dragonfly in the soft white snow. I thought it looked beautiful.  Dragonflies are supportive, but we are also honest, and have integrity and are prone to giving one another unsolicited feedback.  At least you know where you stand.  ‘That looks like a gnat‘ said one of our number, who shall remain nameless.  Harsh I thought.

Meanwhile, I was engaged in my own excavation endeavour.   I was pretty pleased with it:

CM genius dragonfly

As ever, I find the non-running aspects of Smiletastic challenges play to my strengths more than the actual running challenges.  An observation which has not gone unnoticed by Smiley Elder.  Still, where would we Smiley Paces be without Smiley Spirit eh?  The thing is, genius as my creation clearly was, you couldn’t really get a sense of scale, and it was a perfectly Lucy-sized construction.  The best way to demonstrate this would be to wear the wings, a la creating a snow angel.  To be frank, I was ready for a bit of a lie down after all that strenuous running, so it didn’t seem to be such a bad idea at the time, and the dragonfly fitted me like a glove!

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A couple of astonishing things though that I noticed in retrospect. Firstly, bizarrely, none of the other dragonflies wanted to have a go at lying down in 6 inch deep melt water in the interests of a photo-opportunity and the outside chance of a Smiletastic point. I know!  How strange.  Secondly, despite our shrieking, and me lying down spreadeagled and motionless with Smilies leaning in around me like they’d come across a corpse in Midsummer Murders, no-one in the Norfolk Arms pub came out to help/investigate or even point and laugh.  Missed opportunity for all of them. Still, it goes to show just how bitter it was out there, not the kind of night you’d choose to venture out for anything at all, unless it was an emergency such as the need to honour a pledge to nab a golden segment in week three of Smiletastic.

After a bit, we were bored with the photos and messing around in the snow, so we headed off again back down the hill this time.  I had a brief moment of feeling ‘oh wow, my running’s really improved now I’m all warmed up, I feel like I’m flying now we’ve done a couple of miles’ before I remembered that having gravity on your side is a real asset in this running games malarkey.  Oh well, it was still an improvement on running up hill into driving hail.  I was in the most spectacular hi-viz, that lights me up like I’m my very own solar system if headlights hit it.  I’m even spherical by way emphasis.  I therefore ‘volunteered’ to stay at the back as others in the group had less hi-viz about them.  This was a great cover story for me too, since it implied ‘well obviously I could sprint all the way home, but I’m prepared to martyr myself and jog at a leisurely pace for the greater good.‘  On a serious note though, at the back as I was, it was quite shocking how invisible the group looked, despite head torches and a few reflective strips, they just disappeared into the night sky.  It was a timely reminder that hi-viz is essential on night runs, especially when you are having to venture on to the roads because the pavements are thick with ice, snow and slush.  Scary.

We paused for photo opps by Hangram Lane to match the one taken outside the Norfolk Arms.  I concede reluctantly, the bees might have managed better with their photos, but then – and I don’t like to rub it in too much but I’m only saying what is true here – they had only seven bees to fit in the frame whereas we were nine dragonflies.  Much more challenging on the group selfie front!

By the time we got back to our starting point of the Hammer and Pincers, it was well past 9.30.  I was sodden.  I was inwardly cursing at how poor the ventilation and waterproofing was on my jacket, before it occurred to me that it might possibly be that lying in the hill-top slush earlier could be a contributing factor.  Some departed, some of us went into the pub for post run refreshments.

I haven’t been in there for ages. Some shared a bottle of wine, I opted for a lime juice and soda.  It came with a plastic straw.  ‘Oh no, why have you done that?’ I exclaimed with a bit too much passion to the bemused looking bar staff.  I tried to explain that I’d not asked for a straw, so it was complete waste, and as a non recyclable item it will probably end up in the ocean, so giving me a straw is basically like sentencing an endangered turtle to a slow and painful death. I felt a bit guilty that I’d been so abrupt, but I was hyped from running, and hypothermic from snow.   In fact, it was a good thing, as after me another dragonfly also ordered a lime juice and soda – no straw.  He asked her ‘what’s with this plastic straw thing’ and she explained in more measured tones, and afterwards he said he’ll ask customers in future if they want one or not, which is only a very minor change, but minor shifts in behaviour do add up.  Nobody really needs a straw more than the oceans need to be plastic free, and if they do, paper or bamboo straws could always be used instead.  To be fair, I think the Blue Planet series has really raised awareness on this, and that’s grand.  I just hope it isn’t all too little too late…

plastic waste

It was nice in the pub to begin with.  Despite plastic strawgate, it was friendly and welcoming with a flame effect fire and lots of places to sit.  However, quite soon I started to shake with cold.  I was quite pleased when it was time to go home.  I was dropped off by my driver at Endcliffe and by then there was a fair old blizzard going.  It wasn’t a long walk home by any means, but I was quite shocked at how much the cold seemed to take hold inside.  By the time I got to my house I could hardly hold my house keys, and once I got in my skin was burning and red as the warmth of the house hit my frozen flesh. Brrrr.  We better have nabbed both a segment, and some post nine bonus points and some smiley spirit or I’ll… well, cry probably, but at least the hot tears running down my cheeks might help my face to thaw out a bit, ill wind and all that 🙂

The things we do for Smiletastic.  It is my primary source of running motivation for the early part of the year.  Without Smiletastic, I’d basically hibernate.

So the conclusion. Mainly type two fun, but type one in parts.  Definitely worth doing, there’s no way on earth I’d have ventured out to do that on my own. I still have three more runs to do this week, and I wasn’t feeling the love for running today either, still chilled through from yesterday.  Oh well. Resting is also part of training.  At least I have that part of the regime cracked.

Oh, by the way, the grasshoppers have got as far as new book cover for their ‘grasshoppers guide to running fun’.  I like it.  I’m hoping it will include vegan nutrition ideas.

grasshopper FGR SMiley guide

No idea what the ladybirds are up to.  I think they are keeping their Smiletastic strategy under wraps.  It will all come out in the spreadsheets at the end.  The suspense is killing me!

So next week, we get to do it all again, with another segment.  I wonder where that will take us? New adventures ahead, new runs to explore.  You know what, running is fun, mostly.  Running buddies on the other hand – they are awesome always.  I thank you all, but my dragonfly comrades in particular. We can crack this!  Probably.

By the way, hypothermia in runners is no joke – this blog post by Simon Green – hypothermia as a lifestyle choice really hit home to me, even experienced runners just need one bit of bad luck and everything changes in an instant. Sobering thought.  Always pays to be prepared. Keep safe out there!

Don’t have nightmares.

Do have a nice time out running… though be prepared for type 2!

no such thing

For all my smiletastic related posts click here.  Scroll down for older entries.

 

 

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

Realising the Riches of Richmond Park with a Recreational Recovery Run

Digested Read: in saying so, I may be officially outing my inner bumpkin, rather than channeling my lurking London metropolitan hipster, but I have to say, whilst Richmond Park is an impressive location for running certainly, it’s pretty busy out there and for me doesn’t quite give off an off road vibe.  Spectacular in its way, but no glorious isolation. Also, those aren’t hills.

So this was the third day of running wonders on our Run With Karen weekend.  Which focused on running. Can you see what’s she’s done there?  It’s not subliminal marketing maybe, but it is fairly easy to grasp the gist of what’s on offer, and all the better for that.  Anyways, a gaggle of Smiley Paces women had consequently descended on London with Day One – cavorting in the footsteps of Olympians for a track session; Day Two – hobnobbing with parkrun Royalty at Bushy parkrun and finally, Day Three – today,* romping round Richmond Park for a gentle recovery run.  Hurrah!

*I say ‘today’ but actually I’m writing this up a bit later, so go on sue me.  However, I like to keep my posts in correct chronological order or my brain might implode, so the posted date above will reflect the inner truth of the date written, if not the actual outward truth. Fair enough, my blog I can do what I like!

By the way – this might amuse you – I’ve just been doing a bit of idle Googling (is there any other sort of Googling I wonder, or is that tautology?) Anyway, I was looking for a gym near to where I live, as I was nursing a brief fantasy that I might do cross training indoors in inclement weather to help out with my marathon training strategy which is current at a stand still due to ice, snow and absence of any running routine. So I typed ‘gym’ into the search engine, as you do, only I didn’t!  I typed ‘gyn’ by accident. The things is, that you know how if you make an obvious typo it will usually make some sensible suggestion as to what you were actually looking for, or sometimes out of sheer contrariness it will insist that you must have made a typo when ‘No, I really was looking for… whatever’.  Well, on this occassion, my search engine clearly thought my request was fair enough, and I got loads of hits for gynaecological services but a stone’s throw from my current dwelling place.  That’s fair enough, it is a legitimate search of course, but I’d have been so much happier if it hadn’t twigged I was after a gym it had assumed I was in need of a gin palace instead.  Just saying.  Maybe it’s the impact of Dry January, you aren’t even allowed to dream of alcohol until the end of the month.  I wouldn’t have minded, but it took me an alarmingly long time to work out what had gone wrong.  ‘Oh, my! Gyms have certainly diversified their offer since last time I looked‘ I was thinking, for a bit longer than should have been strictly necessary…

Call me super-conventional, but I thought I’d go with the gin images rather than the gyn ones.  You can do your own Googling if you really feel the need.

Anyway, back to the serious business of running. Today was the final day of our running sojourn. We were happy but tired after running on the track on the Friday, running Bushy parkrun on the Saturday and running the gauntlet of our unsleepable beds on the Friday and Saturday nights. Weary, but cheery, we then gathered on Sunday morning, to head off in convoy to Richmond Park and a gentle and inclusive recovery run.  Loooooooooooong and slooooooooooooooooooooooow.

There was a bit of angsty decision making, what to wear what to bring.  The major crisis was first thing when a number of us were trying to secure breakfast porridge and none of us could work out how to operate the microwave.  It was not intuitive. Eventually a teacher who does a lot of supply came to our aid. She’s seen more microwaves in her career than you can shake a stick at, and nothing stumped her.  Have a feeling she might be handy with photocopiers and maybe even fax machines, but I didn’t like to press her on that, seemed unfair as it was her weekend break away as well.

There was some  confusion about where to meet, and who was to travel with whom, but eventually we piled into separate cars and pulled off together. As we were driving down the road outside our house, we saw a little trio of road runners, pounding the pavement with some speed.  One immediately did a spectacular face plant tripping over I have no idea what.  We considered stopping, as it looked bad, but his mates seemed to have everything under control and the cars we were following were in danger of disappearing from sight, so we continued on our way, freshly reminded of the inherent risks of running wherever you do it. I’d expect to be wary of taking a tumble off road, or at night, but in morning daylight on a road run, that’s really unlucky.  Mind you, I did have a next door neighbour once, who broke his ankle whilst out on a job because he jumped sideways to get out of the way of a blind person out with a guide dog.  Does it make me a bad person that the irony of this scenario made me laugh.  I did drive him to hospital though, so I can’t be a wholly bad person.  Can I?

We sped off through Twickenham – I did wonder if the lead car was actually tyring to shake us off rather than pave the way – and weaved through Kingston, before arriving at one of the Richmond Park carparks.

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I think we were at the Pembroke Lodge car park.  Not overly sure. What I am sure about though, is that there were some handy loos, maps and a little coffee hut for later on.  The loos did have a flintstones-esque look to them, but that hasn’t come out in the photos.  So I’ve just got some random, rather dull shots of random people standing around outside the toilet block.  Oh well, since I went to all that trouble to take them, would seem a shame not to share…

Granted, we weren’t massively early, it was maye 9.00 ish by the time we got htere, bit later even, but the car park was already pretty busy. On the way in to the park I was struck by the number of cyclists, runners and walkers already out and about with their Sunday morning constitutionals well under way. The place was heaving.  We were able to park, but it was filling up. This was not a ‘let’s get away from it all’ rendezvous point, it was going to be busy.

We split into groups, speedier runners tearing ahead, I hung at the back with the slow and steadies, always a good place to be.  The plan was to keep it simple, and just do a loop of the park which is around 7 miles ish I think.  Quick team consultation, and then off we went, separating into separate running pods pretty organically.

Perhaps because of this choice, we ended up on the more manicured trails which also lend themselves to bikers, people with push chairs, and every other runner in a 100 mile vicinity, I found the route ridiculously busy.  In Sheffield, if you run off-road you will see people of course, but you don’t generally have to duck out of each others way, and mostly you either will actually  know them, or broadly recognised them from one of the parkruns or running clubs so people always swap greetings, even if only a semi-strangulated smile, but often it’s words of encouragement or a full on gossip with paused watches before you head off again.  In Richmond, I found the running experience very different.  It’s not that it’s unfriendly per se, just that you couldn’t possibly greet every runner when there are thousands of you, and I suppose locals have become immune to seeing such numbers of other runners out and about so are familiar with the dodging each other etiquette.  I did find it a bit intimidating in parts, faster runners shoving you aside as they overtook (not all of them of course, but more than one), or thundering towards you with an expectation you’ll dodge into the ditch to avoid them.  Mostly stony faced and not acknowledging others, like people on a tube train, trying to create the illusion of  having their own personal space by an effort of superhuman will, and ignoring everyone else around them, even when if their nose is rammed into their armpit.  If I choose not to see it isn’t there.  Like ostriches with their heads in the sand.  But that isn’t true people.  Same here, you can try to ignore and will away your surroundings all you like, but that’s got to be stressful, and surely you shut out the joy of seeing deer and parakeets, even Smilies on tour for heaven’s sake!  I can understand a Richmond Park runner wanting to run like an ostrich for sure, but to ignore what’s in front of them like ostriches don’t?  Well that’s nonsensical. Just saying.

Perhaps, you get used to it, and it becomes the new normal, but honestly, I wouldn’t want to, I may be a country bumpkin but Iwill freely admit that I muh prefer the solitary peak district trails, social runners and the glory of breathing in the landscape as you romp out and about.  The hills just add interest and texture to a run.  You’ll never hear me complain about them when out running. Granted, that is only because when negotiating them I am too breathless to utter anything at all, but that just further demonstrates the technical truth in what I am claiming.

On the plus side, Richmond Park is absolutely gorgeous.  Lovely mature trees, and plenty of deer lurking in the bracken.

richmond running

Quite early on we paused for a deer in the bracken shot.  This clearly required a lot of posing, and trying to mimic their camouflage.   Can you spot the Smilies desporting themselves in this shot.  Spookily good at feigning antlers are we not!  Amazing!

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As this was relatively early in our run, and the novelty of seeing deer was quite powerful, we were able to briefly muster ourselves to allow for a group shot, before everyone sped off on the relative merry ways.

richmond team photo

My we are collectively gorgeous are we not?

As we went round, our local guides pointed out local landmarks.  Who knew the famous Priory Rehab Clinic adjoined the park.  There were certain spots where you got an amazing view across the London skyline, but my camera couldn’t capture that.  The proximity to famous buildings is impressive though, and it was fun passing over the Thames en route to get there.  You sort of have to be there to appreciate it.  My photos are, I know, pretty uninspiring.

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Not to worry, here is one from the Richmond Park website, view of St Paul’s cathedral from Henry’s Mound – ironically a view I didn’t consciously see, but it sort of illustrates a point all the same, in terms of the potential for panoramic London views if you but take the time to pause and look on in wonder.  Oh, and it’s a different time of year too.  And different weather, but essentially identical to the vista we enjoyed today (ish).

St pauls cathedral from henrys mound

So off we yomped.  Each person finding their own comfort zone. This wasn’t to be a fast one, but a genuine recreational, conversational, recovery one.  That was lucky, as so very much to talk about.

Fortuitously, I happened to end up with a fellow London Marathoner for 2018, who had also run last year (both charity places, not that lucky with the ballot in case you were wondering). Best of all, I don’t think she’ll mind me saying I saw a kindred spirit in her in terms of her approach to running. Relatively new to it all, looking to complete not speed round and wanting to enjoy the experience.  Obviously, it became my mission to essentially separate her from the rest of the group, groom her with cheery chit-chat and then download all her knowledge so I could shameless mine her training experiences and use them for my own ends.  That seems fair. I don’t think she minded.  I quickly secured her as my new best friend forever and virtual marathon training buddy.  Job done. Seriously though, it made me feel so much better.  To date, the people I know who are running the marathon are very much more experienced than me, and/or much fleeter of foot.  In my head I know they have different goals, aspirations and potential, but in my heart it’s so hard not to compare myself to them and feel my confidence ebb away as I fall so short by comparison.  It was heartening to talk to someone who has successfully nailed the London marathon with a walk run strategy.

We ran and walked and talked as we romped round Richmond.  There were some cultural differences though.  Two particularly struck me.  One was how whenever traffic cleared, my running buddies had a tendency to gravitate back onto the road, or harder surfaces, I always favour mud.  The other thing which was a moment of absolute revelation for me. Was the different perspective on hills.  My yomping buddies were in favour of a walk/run strategy, which suits me just fine, I feel I can go all day like that.  Anyway, we got to a bit where we were walking, and then our guide suggested it was a good part to run, as actually there was a steep hill coming up ahead, where we’d bound to want to revert to walking up.  I ended up jogging on ahead, and jogged, and jogged, and it was fine, couldn’t see a hill though.  I was ascending a bit of a gentle incline, and when I got to the top, I hit a literal cross roads with cars, and had to stop as I didn’t know which way to go.  I paused, and looked behind me.  I could see my running buddies walking up behind me.

surely not a hill

Then it dawned on me ‘ooooooooooooh, that was what Londoners think of as a hill!’  Barely registered as an undulation by Sheffield standards.  As I am a relative newcomer to Sheffield – not yet a decade – I can still be taken by surprise by how steep our hills are.  When I first moved to Sheffield I’d stand looking up the hill I had to climb to get to my flat and feel like crying.  It might as well have been the moon.  And as for the gradients of driveways where it was considered appropriate to park a car – well, they were eye-popping!  No wonder cars lose control on Sheffield streets in the snow as this dashcam footage illustrates all too scarily!

Nevertheless, it seems I have unconsciously absorbed a new reality. A new understanding of just how much gradient is required before a hill is worthy of the name.  It was strange, and sort of symbolic.  I hadn’t realised I’d become so habituated to a particular terrain for off-road running.  In my own way, I’ve come to love our Sheffield Hills.  Perhaps they will help me with my training too, they are unavoidable out and about, and surely will bring a bit of added strength training to my running repertoire, whether I want it or not.

So thing I learnt along the way about the London Marathon.

  • The marathon is in fact doable.  Probably.  Hard, but doable.  Even for me.  Others have got round from a lower base point than even I am at now, and with a lot less insider information and help to get them to the start.
  • I need to think about my walk run strategy.  In the peaks, we have so many hills I just pause to walk up them and then run on the flatter bits.  I never consciously plan this, it just evolves.  The London route is a lot flatter.  Maybe I need to prepare for this in a more strategic way.  One person I know listens to music and her strategy is to walk one song, run the next.  I don’t run with music though and don’t really want to.  My new best friend ran for five minutes, walked for one – or thereabouts.  That way, she always knew a break was coming, and she could sustain five minutes running.  It got her round.  I need to think about that, time to up my attention to my TomTom which I basically use as a post run recording device, rather than for real-time feedback en route.
  • You can enjoy it, and the finish photos from the slow and steadier runners make it look like they had a lot more fun out there than some of the grey-faced collapsed speedier types who gave it their all, but then spent the aftermath in a blur of dehydrated, sugar low collapse.  I’d like to still have enough in me to bear the weight of my London Bling round my neck, and remain standing for that finish photo.  Eek, I wonder if it will ever really come to pass.

To illustrate the point, compare and contrast these finish photos and consider for a moment which category you think might suit my running style best.

Quite so.  In my world, running should be fun.  I don’t want to be one of those people you come across now and again who pronounce ‘running a marathon killed running for me’, all burnt out, angry and disillusioned.  I’d like to be able to look back on the achievement and – even if only fleetingly – be able to remind myself that I am capable of more than I realise, as are we all.  Not to say it won’t be hard, but I don’t want it to break me.  Where’s the fun in that?  Not even type 2 fun, not even close!  Also, now I have secured the finish picture, I can always photoshop my face onto it post the 2018 marathon if I don’t make it across the finish line.  Granted, I’ll have to change my name by deed poll to ‘Noreen’ for it to appear authentic, but I consider that to be but a small price to pay for such photographic glories.

Here is me with my new best friend. She was a legend. You have really helped to inspire and motivate me. I can’t wait to be there and share the London experience with you in April. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.  Just think, our next photo together could yet be with us posed wearing the bling!  How exciting is that!

my best friend

Although I was claiming her as my new best friend, in honesty, I’m not sure she actually had a vacancy. That can happen sometimes can’t it.  Not to worry, I am happy to share.  Also, it might be that I bagsied quite a few new best friends along the way this weekend, just spoilt for choice I guess, with so many lovely generous runners around Lots of us buddied up in various ways with our new London running friends, so plenty of permutations on running together in Richmond park friendship photos.  Here are but some:

You can just feel the love oozing out.

Other sights to behold including undercarriage of aircraft overhead and horse riders.  The aircrafts are much more noticeable in Bushy park and on the Twickenham track to be fair, but you are very conscious of planes in general moving around this part of greater London.  I take for granted the total absence of aircraft where I live.  When I was growing up I used to spend a lot of time in Bushy Park, and I remember the sonic boom as concorde passed overhead. Giddy times.  That was exciting back then, now I’m glad to be free of aircraft noise.  Even so, flight is pretty remarkable.  I’m still somewhat sceptical as to how it’s possible, even though the evidence suggests it really truly is.   I say that, and then I remember didn’t one of the last Concorde planes actually crash in France somewhere.  Oh dear.  Not quite the way for an iconic aircraft to bow out is it.  Sad to think about, but a great deal sadder for the people who died in a fireball and never got to go on their cruise either.  Insult to injury.  I hope they didn’t know what was happening, makes me shudder.

That’s all a bit heavy, sorry about that.  Back to the joys of recreational running!  Where was I.  Oh yes, we had fun.  Somehow or other, we ended up back where we started pretty much at the same time.  Those at the front must have added on an extra bit, and we at the rear may possibly have taken a few short cuts en route to ensure we made it to the cafe in time for the bulk latte order.  Thanks cheetah buddy for treating us all. An expensive round!

At the conclusion of our run, some did stretching, some did not.  I choose to be a woman of mystery, so will not reveal in which category fell I.  You can’t stretch and take a selfie shot at the same time, so the absence of any photographic evidence proves nothing.

So there you go, Richmond Running Romp concluded.  We were happy runners, and it was a majestic setting with fine company.  however, whilst I loved my new best friends forever London running buddies, I did find the park congestion and busyness pretty overwhelming.  It seems I love the loneliness of the peak moors more than I knew.  I’m so grateful too that we can take on long runs without resorting to three laps of a London park, however lovely, and however handy its proximity to both the Priory and the Royal Ballet School at White Lodge!

For those of you who are interested in such things, here is the Strava map showing our run round in the footsteps of over-excited Fenton. The dog who got even more excited at seeing deer than we Smilies did.  We did almost exactly 6 miles. 5.96 according to my TomTom

richmond park strava run

And that dear reader, was the end of our London running weekend sojourn. A fine way to finish it all off too, it was grand out, and a royal park is just the thing for a Sunday morning rump.

It is possible Fenton ran a lot further than our 6 miles, certainly a lot faster, as he disappeared over the ‘hill’ chasing deer.  Not bad for a labrador.  This incident is not funny of course, not funny at all.  Not really, but sometimes you can’t help yourself.

It’s wrong to laugh, but then again, if we don’t laugh at the human condition and our ineptitude in the face of forces beyond our control, we surrender to tragedy.  What kind of life is that?  In the spirit of laughing in the face of horrors too great to comprehend, I’d like to conclude with a random, potentially life enhancing, but not running related, fact:

Did you know Donald Trump hates and is terrified of Sharks?.  You didn’t?  Well, just a thought.  If you are shallow enough to want to indulge in a bit of needling you might think of donating to a shark conservation marine life charity such as the shark trust as a little act of protest.  Just saying, I’m thinking it might help me at least feel a little less powerless in a crumbling world.  I can’t think why this fact isn’t included in the list of top ten reasons to love sharks.

the-eights-orders-of-sharks

See, you can learn something new every day!  Not necessarily something useful, but possibly something pleasing if you just choose to keep your curiosity alive.

So stay curious.  Happy running, and don’t forget to look around and marvel at the world around you.  Choose to dull your senses and you might suffer the collatoral damage of dulling your whole life.  Too high a price to pay, surely.

More trite truisms are available, hang on, let me see if I can find a motivational running meme to push you over the edge.

Found one!  This should do the trick:

be awesome

Don’t try to thank me.

Really.  Don’t.

 

For all my Run with Karen related blog posts, see here.  Scroll down for older entries.

 

Categories: off road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The misterious pleasures of running round Longshaw…

Digested read: I went a-yomping round Longshaw with two running buddies.  It was very misty, but fantastic to get out on the moors damp as they were.  Wet feet all round, and some minor near death experiences.  Still, we all made it back safely. Note to self, learn to navigate.  Second note to self, make the effort to get out more on them there hills. Always fabulous.

seriously misterious

See what I did there?  Genius I know.  I wouldn’t go so far as to describe myself as a stable genius, that would be the declaration of only the most narcissistic idiot, but I’m happy with being a self-declared genius when the evidence of appropriate punning is so incontrovertible.  Misterious instead of mysterious.  I am ON FIRE!

So the deal was this. Yesterday morning I  rendezvoused with two running buddies, one previously unknown to me, to have a romp round the Longshaw 10k route.  There was a small flaw in the plan, well a couple of small flaws to be fair, maybe even several. For starters, firstly, I don’t think any of us had reckoned on such thick mist – you could hardly see your hand in front of your face at times.  Secondly, not having done the route for ages it’s amazing how different it all looks in a different season and without hi-viz marshals doing helpful directional pointing at key junctions and thirdly, we were all a bit at crossed purposes.  One set on doing the actual route, another on just an ‘in the general vicinity run‘ and another on the let’s go out yomping elsewhere and have an adventure.  Finally, we were all a bit ‘no, no, whatever way you think‘ with no-one really being assertive about the route or their plans. In the circumstances it’s a miracle we made it out at all, let alone back, yet out and back we did, and it was grand!

The day dawned.  Well, I say dawned, not much sun in sight, just dank and dismal mist.  We rendezvoused in the Fox House car park which was pretty deserted first thing.  Inevitably I arrived first (I’m invariably early because I’m paranoid about being late).  As I sat in the car waiting my compatriots I was feeling a bit less than committed to the prospect of running. Honestly, is there anything more depressing than rain beating down on a car windscreen which you can barely see through because of a near impenetrable fog outside, knowing that sooner or later there will be an expectation you venture out into the cold and gloom and voluntarily engage in physical exertion?  Not much I think.

Since I was early.  I used the time alone with my thoughts to consider whether or not rather than ploughing on with this ludicrous plan of running a marathon, I should rather be ending my running career on a high, and be announcing my retirement. The thing is dear reader. Something unlikely, unbelievable even and amazing has happened. Smiletastic results for week 1 have inexplicably placed me at the top of the leaderboard for individual performance!  I know, who knew? Who saw that coming?  No-one is more astonished than I. For clarification, it is the case that all my individual points were for timed runs, and week one of January offered up two parkruns on New Year’s Day, then the saturday following ‘usual’ parkrun  – other Smilies took advantage of all of these  – but where I snuck in an extra critical 5 points was by marshaling at Graves Junior parkrun, hardly a hardship. I love volunteering there.  Because Smiletastic is designed to be inclusive, you get points for marshaling/ volunteering at organised events, thus, on a technicality, it could be argued that my ‘winning’ status has little to do with running and rather more to do with boisterous high-fiving and directional pointing.  I concede this point entirely, but then again, it is precisely because of this I am most unlikely ever to equal let alone exceed this sporting triumph, greater athletes than I have quit whilst they were ahead.  If I did announce my retirement, I could avoid going out in the wet and cold and spend the morning with dry feet. Worth thinking about.  On the other hand, I do have my Dragonfly team-mates to consider, ‘one for all and all for one’, wouldn’t really want to turn my back on them now…  Only the day before we had been out in force, we mighty dragonflies, segment bagging again, this time round Millhouses park.  It was crazily busy.  Like Piccadily circus with runners hurtling round in all directions, with just as much in the way of illumination as the neon lights of the titular location.  Me and fell-flying Smiley who’d gone down together nearly ended up gate crashing a Totley AC run. Then when we were er hem debriefing afterwards in the Wagon and HorsesWagon and Horses there was a constant to and fro of I think hi-viz Steel City Striders doing intervals on the road outside.  A veritable plague of runners, I wonder how many of them are genuinely hardcore and how many are starting out with the outward confidence of  a newly forged New Year’s Resolutions albeit an inward shudder at the cold?

piccadily circus

Anyway, enough of my digression from the theme … in the event, I couldn’t announce my retirement, because I don’t have a smart phone, and also you can’t really announce anything unless people are listening, and/or are moderately interested in what you have to say and I’m not sure these particular pre-requisites applied in my case.  Maybe it’s like the tree falling in the forest and no-one hearing, does it make a noise dilemma, don’t think that’s been settled yet has it?  Maybe it has.  If only I could be bothered to google it, I’d be so much better informed. Sigh.  Here is a tastefully photographed fallen tree we saw out today at Longshaw (spoiler, you can see I did get out the car), in case you aren’t quite sure what a fallen tree looks like.  I’m going to put it out there that I believe this tree did make a noise when it fell, even though I personally was not on hand to hear it do so.  Not sure if that supports or counteracts my ‘I’m a genius‘ claim earlier.  Oh well.  I’m prepared to risk it.

artistic tree shot

Bottom line.  I’d be running. No retirement yet.

The others arrived, and had soon bounced out of their car, and our designated photographer for the day had us organised us into our ‘before’ selfie.

before shot

Although obviously it was a bit of a worry that this implied there’d be an ‘after’ shot, so we were expected to get out there and run, on the plus side, this recent photo might prove handy for identification persons if any of us were to get lost on them there hills.  Off we went.

I am so used to parking in the Longshaw car park, I headed off down the road leading the others through the fog, dodging cars as best we could. (Yes we were facing oncoming traffic, but it was so foggy).  Our designated photographer jokingly queried whether I was trying to kill her off as she’d done this route with someone else last week, and they took her a different entrance into the estate avoiding the road.  I jokingly brushed it off, inwardly cursing that this perceptive Smiletastic bee had unwittingly seen through my ruse.  Oh well.  There are still 11 weeks to go, and I have to concede she is a companionable running buddy and queen of the collective selfie so worth hanging onto … for now.

We set off (after our precautionary pees without which no run in my training calendar can be undertaken), and our initial plan was to follow the Longshaw Trust 10k route, which I’ve done loads of times before, albeit only once this year.  We started confidently, but very quickly got confused about whether we turned off quite so soon. Maybe it’s because of having to take important phone call on the way round.  Threw me.  Busy, busy, busy.

day at the office

scampering past the lake – it was surprisingly ice-covered, it didn’t actually feel too cold once we were out.

by the lake

Confusingly (for me, but then it doesn’t take much) they have greatly ‘improved’ signage at Longshaw.  I mean they really have, but the proliferation of previously  lacking signs threw me a bit, as they have a pink signed 5k route and I started to wonder if this was the 5k loop for the 10k.  No, none of us had a map, or had thought about the actual route much in advance. Turns out, if there is no marshal doing their directional pointing, then I don’t know where to go, particularly when there are three of us with varying degrees of confidence about the route.  It also shows how I abdicate responsibility for navigation at a marked event.  Not sensible really.  Part of how I managed to come in behind the tail-marker at my first fell race, blithely following signs.  Mind you, gotta love a Wingerworth Wobble, I’ll always have a soft spot for that crowd, go wobblers!

One of our number enthusiastically pointed ahead, we could embrace the adventure, we could head off up them there hills.  It would take us up high, we could yomp, what’s not to like!

Off we went.  Quickly we were out across the road and heading to new horizons, or what might have been new horizons if we could actually see anything very much, which we couldn’t.  However, you know what, it was completely brilliant. Despite my initial apprehension it is always fantastic to get out in the peaks. The area around Longshaw is gorgeous, it’s a different kind of atmospheric beauty in the mist, but you get to feel intrepid and hardcore venturing out and clambering over boulders when it’s like that.  Actual running was a bit tricky because the terrain was rough, the path unclear and it was really slippy in parts – I was wearing my innov8 parkclaw, which are my go-to trail shoes (size 5 if you’d like to sponsor me nice innov8 people), but actually I was wishing I’d got my Irocks on.  Oops, guess that’s blown the free pair of trail shoes from innov8 now, oh well, I daresay it’ll be their loss.  (Slight cough moment).

The thing is, you go out, and you get to see amazing things within just a couple of kilometers, if anything, the mistiness just made everything even more dramatic.

We even stumbled across this mahoosive rock formation which I like to think of as Longshaw’s Uluru (though it’s OK to climb this one, whereas you really, really shouldn’t be scampering around on the Australian original) but think it might actually be Mother Cap at Owler Tor.  Great opportunity for more exploring, scampering, gratuitous photographing and, inevitably, some very fine photobombing.  Had to be done.

Obviously we ran really, really hard in between times, but you can’t take photos when you are pushing yourself that hard, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.  It was an amazing spot. Check out these photos around Owler from a late summer photographer James Grant, pretty impressive are they not?  Any time is a good time to be out there and up high, you feel like you have the whole world to yourself.  Amazing. What the heck, here’s one of his photos, so you get the idea, it’s almost as good as our very own official photographer’s ones I’m sure you’ll agree.

Over-Owler-Tor-Sunset-Peak-District-Photography-1024x684

We found ourselves at one point with a choice between plummeting over the edge of the earth, which must therefore be flat after all, or going off-piste.

over the edge

We went off-piste.  Much scampering, a bit of hesitance, some shrieking, a few near misses and a bit of toing and froing. This is what makes off-road fun.  One of we three amigos was the official photographer (not me), one was our pathfinder and navigator (not me) and then there was me.  I’m not entirely sure what my role was.  Is ballast a role as such or just a state of being.

I did have one anxious moment when, simultaneously, both of my running companions took a tumble.  That raised the horrific possibility for the briefest of moments that I’d have to be the ‘responsible adult’ whilst my broken, fallen, crumpled and unconscious running buddies lay contorted in a heap together.  I did at least have a phone with me, and I know to call mountain rescue, but I don’t think I’d have been too good with instructions.  ‘What can you see?’ they might say ‘mist‘ I’d reply.  ‘Anything else?’ they’d prompt hopefully ‘ice-covered puddles and rocks‘ I’d add.  I was minded of a time (true story) when I worked in an open plan office.  A young recruit was driving to a venue she’d not been to before with a colleague, pre sat nav, they were lost on a motorway so rang the office for help with directions. As they had no idea where they were exactly, the person taking the call asked ‘what can you see?’ the reply they got ‘We’re following a volvo and there’s a lorry on the inside lane‘  I have never heard the team of an open plan office guffaw as one so loudly before or since.  It was quite a moment.  Even better, the caller heard us, and added ‘what are you laughing at?’  I reckon all those swivel chairs had to be professionally cleaned after that…

Anyways, panic over, they were fine, we ran onwards:

I tried to trick my buddies into a dragonflies wings pose, but it didn’t quite work, it’s hard this stealth dragonfly insertion strategy.  Surely some credit for effort.  The mist started to lift and as we descended the scenery changed again.  It was still a bit treacherous underfoot, with some ice patches.  I did slide about a bit, but as I explained to the others I’d be fine about my moment of demise being up there, and more than content to be just rolled into a ditch or whatever.  The timing would guarantee that my obituary could truthfully state that I was leading the field for the demanding Smiletastic challenge giving a huge implied truth that it was inevitable I’d have won it overall had I but lived, plus, I’m already on record as wanting the Khmer version of achy-breaky heart played at my funeral, or if I don’t have a funeral, at any associated wake.  It’s not so much of a niche offering as you might think. Very popular at the Olympic Stadium early morning workouts in Phnom Penh.  I know, educational this blog post is it not?

We descended, back onto the road, we didn’t hitch a lift, even though that’s what it looks like we were trying to do.  I’m not sure about my hat?  It’s a trust 10 one, but maybe a bit much other than for when actually doing the Longshaw 10k do you think?  Comfy, and stays put.  Very pink though.  Why is everything pink?

hitching a ride

Across the road, back into the Longshaw estate, where there was a fine waterfall.

Bit of a heave-ho in parts, but I was after miles on the legs rather than speed. I’ve only just got back into running (I use the term loosely) after various niggles and lack of routine) so I have a terror of getting injured.  Walking is grand for getting strength back. Apparently, if you run the load on your calves is about 8 – 12 times your body weight, but if you walk it’s just about twice.  To be fair, I have no idea if these figures are correct, but they ring true. My calves are the Achilles heel of my running, which is weird, as the achilles is somewhere else entirely. Still, you get my point I’m sure, or wont especially care if you don’t.  Bottom line, I want to take it slowly, and build up my distances without breaking anything other than involuntary wind during my training regime.  Any runner who claims never to have broken that when running is either a medical curiosity who should be euthanized and dissected for the greater good, or lying. You choose. Anyway, it wasn’t only me walking, though I do concede the hands on hips pose is somewhat petulant…

where now

We ended up looping round and coming in near to the fox house pub.  We still hadn’t done the 10k route though,  even though we’d been out ages, so after much debate, we agreed we’d add that on.

any which way you can

We had one wrong turn – oops, but got there in the end.  It was grand.  It is really remarkable how the landscape changes in what is a relatively short route.  We had woodland bits, and heather bits, and boggy bits, and heather bits.   All good.  You can see we were all complete naturals in front of the camera.

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I took a pause for dry-stone walling tutorial. There is a team doing amazing work rebuilding these, some of the walls on the estate go back about 400 years apparently, though this one is ‘only ‘ about 150 years old.  Looking good.   Repairing them is most definitely a labour of love, but imagine the satisfaction of getting those walls back up for maybe another 150 years of service. Quite a legacy.

dry stone walling tutorial

Also on our ‘to do’ list for the day. Yes we did have one. Was to go up the steps spotted on a previous run, and check out the view from the top. The steps are towards the end of teh 5k lap of the Trust 10k.  Embarrassingly I’d not particularly noticed these before – obviously running too fast and too focused on the finish.  But they are enticing… steep but with a pretty little tree towards the top.

steps gorgeous

Up we went.  You basically hit the road the other side, but turn around and look back from whence you came, and you get this:

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Really stunning. Also good for posing for shots so brace yourself people, here we are doing are very own version of the Barbary Lane steps of San Francisco.  Oh and a random non step photo just because I like it. See if you can tell which one it is.

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And so after the steps, it was back onto the main path, through the gate and we were soon back at Fox House.  Yomping concluded. The original plan had been to have a coffee here afterwards, but time ran out so we will have to save ourselves for next time. This is where we went by the way, about 12km in total I think, just under maybe:

misty longshaw strava route

Not strictly speaking a recreation of the Trust 10k, but pretty darned fabulous, and way better for achieving both a spontaneous bit of exploration as well as near enough one 5k loop of the 10k which is all that was required really.  Great to be reminded of what is on our doorstep, must make the effort to get out exploring it more all over again.

Oh yes, nearly forgot, here is the mandatory ‘after’ shot.  We did it, we ran, we conquered, made it onto Strava as well, everyone’s a winner.

after shot

So back on it.  I need to embrace those trails.  I recognise I will get wet feet, and never again see the natural skin colour around my toes, or for quite  a way up my legs too if you take the real extent of peat-stained splash back into account – but I consider this but a small price to pay for such adventures in the mist.

There you go, misterious joys of running demystified.  You’re welcome.

See you on the moors.  Unless you see me first.  Obviously.

 

 

Thanks Carol Speight for the photos, and thank you running buddies both. We are all awesome.  Evidently!

Categories: motivation, off road, running | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Running for gold! Smiletastic 2018 has begun.

Digested read: smiletastic got us dragonflies out and running. There was a bit of moaning, what with the inclement weather and torrential rain,  but we still did it, and got our golden segment.  Now we feel awesome.  Storm Eleanor was not to be messed with though.   Breezy out.

You wouldn’t believe the state of my wheelie bins this morning!  They were in absolute turmoil.  I imagine the scene that greeted me through my window was pretty much identical to that which would greet me post the apocalypse. Bins heaped up in a cowering pile where they’d been blown across the paving into a convenient wall. Bird feeders empty. The end of the world to be sure.  This, dear reader, as perhaps you know already if you so much as peeked out from under the duvet, or listened to the screaming wind battering your place of dwelling last night, was the aftermath of Storm Eleanor which swept through the UK last night.   It brought those who ventured out in it, not just grazed knees and bad hair experiences, but for us Smiletastic Dragonflies, a display of running guts and glory.  Because we are hard-core, dedicated and awesome, we went, we conquered, we will crack this!

So for those of you who need to be brought up to speed Smiletastic 2018 is an annual three-month team challenge, for members of the Smiley Paces Sheffield Women’s Running Club who choose to opt in.  The idea is it motivates you to get out and run even when the weather is less than clement, and as a pleasing side-effect you get to know other club members you might not have met before and also to laugh together to such an extent your knickers may never dry, but it won’t matter, because mostly you’ll be running in a deluge anyway so no-one will notice.  As well as laughing ’til you either wet yourself or cry, you can also do some actual crying, as it can get more stressful than you might think, being amongst a scrum of motivated runners.

For a three-month period we pledge to do so many runs each week, and a longer run.  A ‘run’ can be anything from 2 miles upwards, and, to avoid people doing too much when injured, you can ‘run’ at any speed, walk if you must.  You get points according to how well you stick to your own pledges, not for just doing lots of runs.  So you set a goal that is individual to you. So far, so dull. The exciting/extraordinarily stress inducing bit, is that there are lots of potential for extra team and individual points.  These are awarded for e.g. attending timed runs parkrun, Longshaw 10k or other organised running events), getting together as a group, creativity and ‘team spirit’ and, teasingly, for picking off specified strava segments as they are revealed week by week.  Plus, we are hoping that as in previous years they will also be awarded for shameless sycophancy, expressions of adoration via strava outlines or original poetry for example.  Did I mention that in some ways, Smiletastic is also an emergent cult of personality, and none the worse for that say I!  Here are some still-to-be-topped offerings from 2016:

This year the best team is the Dragonflies. Because I am in this team, and we are individually as well as collectively brilliant.

dragonfly

There are some gaps in the scoring, you seem to able to get points by wearing down the Smiley Elder who founded this Smiletastic movement with pleading emails on spurios tenuous grounds of demonstration of smiley spirit. To date there are no points awarded – or indeed deducted – for the spread of misinformation to rival teams.  And quite right too. ‘ It is the chequered flag that’s at the start of a strava route people isn’t it?  Yes, that’s right, I’m sure, now off you go team bees, ladybirds and grasshoppers, I know we dragonflies ran it the other way round, but for us it’s the taking part not the winning that’s important, so we feel no need to run it again the other way.  Have fun fellow insects, flutter by!’

So, let me explain.  Smiletastic commenced on 1st January this year, was that only a couple of days ago? It seems like a lifetime.  Already we dragonflies have tried to co-ordinate ourselves. We are all quite a nurturing, ‘don’t want to pressurize anyone’ sort of lot, but we also apparently have inner competitive instincts, tempered only by a reluctance to go out in the cold and wet.  In a fit of post-run / pre challenge euphoria, we agreed we’d all meet early in the New Year – or as many of us that reasonably could – at the Greystones pub to bond, do a little gentle run out, talk tactics, and who knows, maybe accidentally do the pub quiz at the same time…. We’d already fixed a date for this when the news broke, basically, there was a golden ticket that was ours for the taking!

golden ticket

Smiley Elder announced that ‘for one week only’ points could be nabbed for those amongst us who managed to run this particular strava segment – pronounced as ‘The Golden Segment’ before the week ended.  Oh. My. Gawd!  It was a gift, so near to the Greystones, and we were meeting there for a run and team talk anyway, it was meant to be!

golden segment

I think it’s fair to say we were feeling pretty darned pleased with ourselves, possibly even marginally smug. And then the day dawned.  Eleanor started weaving across.   The day darkened, the wind picked up, the rain fell. I for one felt my enthusiasm not so much waning as nowhere to be seen. Whose idea was this? Do we really need to obsess about this so early on?  It’s only one little run? Then again – and this is where Smiletastic kicks in, I’d already promised (being conscientious if not keen is a heavy burden to bear) and I didn’t want to let my team members down. They’d be chaffing at the bit to get out there.

I arrived first, and stood in the doorway of the pub, in my hi-vis, shivering, and looking pitifully out at the torrential rain.  After a while, another Dragonfly Smiley put in a somewhat dishevelled appearance.  ‘Are we seriously going to do this?’ she ventured.  We commiserated with one another, hardly able to hear one another over the howling wind, secretly hoping no-one else would show.   We could then occupy the moral high ground by dint of having shown up, but bail because of  ‘safety’ – don’t want to be out on the roads other than in a larger group when it’s so dark  Then another put in a less than half-hearted appearance: ‘I was really hoping someone would post on Facebook to suggest we’d rearrange‘ she said ‘then I was planning to be all supportive and say, “of course, I would have gone, but quite understand, happy to be flexible and rearrange blah de blah if you feel you don’t want to”‘.  The next dragonfly to show up wasn’t even wearing her running gear and was astonished we were.   I think it would be fair to say we weren’t visibly oozing the enthusiasm we voiced when the run was just a theoretical future possibility rather than a near present unpleasant reality….  Just as we were pooling our reluctance and on the cusp of activating our ‘mutual permission to opt out’ exit plans in bounced another senior Smiley, with smile, head torch and a ‘shall we go then!’ exclamation, and before we knew what was happening, we were all changed into running gear, armed up with head torches and on the street outside.  Moaning.   ‘This is actual sleet!’ ‘We will get a bonus point for doing this won’t we’ and such like.  ‘Someone better get a photo.’  ‘Wait, wait, my watch hasn’t picked up my GPS’  Usual pre-running laments.

We headed off, it was OK, little bit of road, down through to Bingham Park, and although it was really, really dark, we had a bit of a boost from collective smugness, marveling at our ability to get 8 of us out together on a dark and stormy night. It was good bonding. Down, down we went, and then off to the left and into the woods. We were a bit nesh, well I was, but I was not alone in putting on the brakes at the edge of the ocean, ther was something of a collective emergency stop when we reached not so much as a puddle, but a dark muddied lake crossing the whole path. It was so dark, you couldn’t see the other side of it, and it was daunting.  To be fair, it was HUGE, I reckon, were it not for the dark, this mass of water would have been visible from space.  No really, it would.   In your head you know it’s tarmac underneath and it can’t be that deep, but in my heart it looked like we were being asked to place our trust in fate and step out into an endless ocean.  I got wet feet, but we all made it to the other side, proving, if proof were needed, that we dragonflies are invincible.

We trotted on, wondering if eight dragonflies running would be apt for the eighth day of Christmas.  To be fair, it may well have been, but unfortunately I’ve since found out it was the ninth day of Christmas so that doesn’t work quite so well.  Eventually we reached the point where we thought the strava section commenced. Everything was on the line here.  We had 200 metres of running ahead, but which path to take?  Given that the whole point of Smiletastic is to get us all running, the irony of the fact that we all stood around for an age debating in the dark whether we were at the right point and right side of the river over what was just a short segment was not lost on me. We agreed eventually that we were pretty sure, but worse case scenario we’d run up it, then back and up again the other side,  after all, an extra 400 metres probably wouldn’t actually lead to our early demise.

So, we trotted on, and when we got to the end, hung around, whilst those with superior eyesight and better hi-tech equipment pored over their strava uploads until they were able to pronounce that we had indeed nailed it.  Whoops and high fives followed.  Plus, pleasingly, we had run exactly a mile, inadvertently it’s true, but it meant that by the time we got back to the pub we’d have done 2 miles, making this a permissible claim as one of our pledged runs if needed.

On the way back, we felt fantastic.  Apart from when we had to climb back up the hill. We had the wit and foresight to pose for a photo, because what could better communicate our awesomeness and commitment than a poorly framed composition of bedraggled barely recognisable faces than this one of we eight dragonflies going for gold:

dragonflies golden segment

So by the time we were back at the pub, we were feeling extremely pleased with ourselves.  More logistical challenges followed, ordering a jug of soda and lime juice is way harder than you might think, and somehow we ended up talking up the price of it, which seems less than financially prudent.  We then sat and shared running tales, and with our post run glow all thoughts of how but 30 minutes earlier we’d all been trying to wriggle out of it were gone. ‘Nope, I don’t remember that, was always totally up for running in torrential sleet in the dark and open swimming through the impromptu lakes, awesome outing, totally love running‘ we chorused as one.

So conversation turned to new challenges, new glories and best of all, fancy dress options. But I don’t want to spoil that. Suffice to say that sparkly tights could yet turn out to be an asset to my wardrobe, memo to self, hit those redundant Christmas wear sales ASAP, there could be a run on iridescent tights in the Sheffield area.

So thank you dragonflies, it bodes well. We were on fire last night.  Fireflies rather than dragonflies, with our torches and high vis lighting the way in the dark.  Day two of Smiletastic, done.  Golden segments secured, and we’ve barely started…  One day all dragonflies will come together and that will be even more awesome.  I know, hard to imagine. Oh, here’s another group photo of us all running, amazing aren’t we.  Whitely woods isn’t looking too shabby either.

fireflies in the forest

And you want to know the best bit?  The best bit, was waking up this morning to the sound of the elements crashing about outside, and knowing I’d already planned today as a non-running day, I can stay inside not only with an easy conscience, but with the warm glow of self-righteous satisfaction, that my golden segment for this week at least, is already in the bag…. strava permitting.  That feels good.

Result.

Hope you reach your running goals too, but remember people, it is supposed to be fun!

As a reward for making it to the end of this post, here is a picture of a puffling, running.    I don’t believe it is possible to look on this without smiling.

puffling

You’re welcome.

 

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

Making my explosive Cross Country debut with TNT. XCSYCAA Go me. :)

Digested read:  My first time XC, an adventure.  Bit intimidating initially, but you know what, it was more fun than not. Definitely would recommend.  There is always prosecco and cake if you choose your running club carefully.  Both harder and not harder than expected, but you wont lose any internal organs if my experience is anything to go by. Stay safe people. Also, happy halloween.cross country

I’m pretty sure that in life the accepted wisdom is that you should try everything once except Morris dancing and incest.  I’ve tried Morris dancing, and it wasn’t too bad to be fair, quite a laugh even, so on the whole I do try to say ‘yes’ to new opportunities.  I then spend the intervening time between agreement and surrendering to whatever experience it is wrestling with inner angst and trepidation.  Mostly, even if things are type two rather than type one fun i.e. fun retrospectively rather than at the time, worst case scenario is usually ‘I’m not sure I enjoyed myself but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it.’   Give these universal truths, it was pretty much inevitable that once I was talent-spotted and the call came to join the throng at TNT to give XC a whirl I was always going to  be so flattered and taken aback I’d be bound to accidentally accept.

I say talent spotted, but in truth, ballast spotted might be more accurate. The thing is, and it’s taken a while for me to grasp how these things work, cross-country depends on team turn out as much as talent.  Yes, yes, quality is desirable at the upper echelons of the running game, but there is also a desire for simple quantity.  If you can drag enough of your team out on the day, there will be points to be had, and what do points mean? Erm, honestly, I’m not exactly sure what points mean, never having previously acquired any for anything, but they are a good thing apparently.

To take part in cross-country or XC as we athletes refer to it, you need to be part of an affiliated running club.  Whilst of course Smiley Paces is my original and first call running club – we have shared experiences now that leave us intertwined for all eternity, Smilies are not an affiliated club.  To dip my toe in the waters – or more accurately muddied fields – of XC, I’d need to join a club that is affiliated. This feels like quite a grown up thing to do, running wise.  Even so, when Dr Smiley mentioned getting up a team with her triathlete buddies I was in a naively misguided ‘what’s the worst that could happen‘ sort of place, and so pretty much immediately said, ‘yep’.  I’d be in.  It sounded a laugh, which is my main criteria for doing new things. You get to scamper about across muddy fields in a slightly anarchic way.  The more the merrier, a bit like British Bulldog really, if I’d grasped it OK, and that was always a laugh until it got banned from the school playground for being too dangerous and we had to rebrand it as ‘sheep, sheep come home’ instead.  (True story).  I might not be able to contribute much in terms of quality, but I could certainly assist with quantity.  What could be more affirming than getting a point for your team pretty much just for turning up. Yay! This is my kind of sporting endeavour.

I had a slight wobble when it dawned on me that the TNT group are actually known more correctly as Racing TNT Triathlon Team.  Slightly daunting, but hey ho, I’d signed up by then.  As long as the requirements to ‘race’ and take part in actual triathlons remained optional, it would probably be doable.  …  I put such fears to the back of my mind.  I paid my membership, I got my England Athletics card in the post, which I think automatically endows the holder with athletic prowess if I’ve understood correctly, and wrote down the dates in my diary.  Of even more critical importance, I negotiated for the loan of a large-sized running vest.  No squelching into a children’s small size black and tan one on the day for me.  I practically felt like a sponsored athlete.  No-one has ever approached me to join a sporting team before, I was more often than not the one chosen last for the school netball team – an experience which has left me scarred, yet here I was, being scouted out and approached, invited to join others in a collective expression of sporting excellence.  I was born to do this.  My time had finally come!  I would be invincible.  It will be fine.  Competitive triathlons has probably been my spiritual home all along, doing XC will be just the beginning…

racing TNT triathlon team

It will be fine… well that was what I was thinking ages and ages again when I wasn’t going to have to do any actual running until some vague distant point in the future.  However, as the day of my debut XC run drew ever closer I was a bit worried. The unlikely issue was I hadn’t been doing very much running at all in the interim, most recently I’ve not run for a whole week, since I picked up a sporting injury at last weekend’s Sheffield Way Relay recce.  I fully appreciate this sounds unlikely, and it might even be funny if it weren’t so debilitating.  It’s a chafing one.  Chuffing chafing injuries. Specifically, a bra related chafing injury.  As if this wasn’t humiliating enough, the initial squirm inducing chafing was exacerbated to an unbelievable degree by my subsequent liberal application of sudocrem to the affected areas.  I’ve used this product for years with no problem at all, but inexplicably I got a really severe and extensive allergic reaction to the darned stuff this time round.  Acres of skin on my not insignificantly sized midriff erupted in blister like protestations that made me look like I’d been a burn victim.   I’m not even exaggerating.  I briefly wondered if I’d got or would get sepsis.   Astonishing really, and not compatible with clothes wearing in general and sports bra wearing in particular, which made me limit forays out and about as far as possible.  I did dress for these excursions by the way, just to be clear, but basically lived in the dark all week, moving in the shadows of my flat, and very definitely not doing any running at all.  I did make a brief foray to the chemist’s (twice) for supplies and advice, but basically spent the week sitting it out.  By the time the morning of the event dawned I seemed to be much better, though I am increasingly thinking a purchase for anti-chafing balms may be on the horizon despite all my previous protestations that they can’t possibly be worth the money.  I never want to undergo that degree of pain again.

So, the morning dawned, my sports bra was again donned with only minor wincing, and I would be there.  XCs was to be my new adventure for the weekend.  I had to miss volunteering at Graves Junior parkrun in order to attend so there was some pressure for it to be fun. But nothing ventured  as the saying goes…

Sporting injuries aside, I was all set.. until I crashed shin-first into a random heavy wooden box I’d left in the hallway of my flat, on the very morning of the big race. It blooming hurt, ripping the skin and creating a not-insignificant blood flow and what’s worse, it was all my fault as I’d left it there deliberately. I’d been trying to flatten out a rug I’d misguidedly tried to wash in the washing machine and which came out all bumpy, misshapen and semi-shrunk. ‘That’s an ill-advised trip hazard that needs flattening out’ I thought to myself, eyeing  it critically as it lay wrinkled and dangerous in situ in my hall.  I therefore took some care to  responsibly load it up with heavy objects in order to try to  squash said wrinkles out of it. What could possibly go wrong?  ‘I’ll just leap across the top of this major obstacle to my passing that obstructs the entire hallway, it will be good practise for the cross-country course tomorrow.’ I thought, as I headed to bed on Saturday night.  Best laid plans eh,..  I am aware of the irony of tripping over my defence strategy that was intended to prevent future trips. The humiliation is significant, so too is the pain, but worst of all, my newly washed rug now has blood on it.  I think I’ll leave it.  It will bring character to my soft furnishings, always a boon.  I was going to upload a photo of the injury, but the picture doesn’t do it justice.  Maybe I will in a couple of days time when the bruising has come out, meantime you’ll just have to imagine it as best you can for yourself.

So XC.  My weather test of sticking my arm out of my attic window suggested a decidedly nippy day was in prospect.  Good oh, I could wear my long-sleeved top and hoik the TNT vest over the top.  I headed out for my rendezvous and was swept up by a Smiley elder, who was also doing her XC debut with TNT last Sunday (though in fairness, that is where our similarities end, as  I think when she was scouted it was for quality not quantity to tell the truth, oh well, kindred spirits all the same). We then scooped up Dr Smiley who was the brains and recruitment sergeant of operations, as well as being in possession of the official TNT pop up tent (with instructions), so pretty important to have along on the day.  We headed off to Kimberworth (near Tinsley apparently, but who was listening to anyone protesting that navigational hint).

Strictly speaking, this was the second fixture of the South Yorkshire County Athletics XC season, and XC League Fixture 2, Winter hill, Kimberworth.  I couldn’t do the first on account of it being the Smiley Lakes Dirty Double trip, so my debut.  Hurrah!  En route, as we discussed the format of the day, I started to realise a bit belatedly I possibly should have given this XC malarkey a bit more planning.  I’d taken on board the mud potential, and not wanting to splash out on new shoes for spikes was going with my new favourite off-road shoes which are the Irock, and that was that.

favourite shoes irock

En route I learned that there would be multiple laps, that there would be loads of clubs, there were even different races.  It was sounding increasingly like the living hell I remember without affection as a school sports day.  ‘Didn’t you ever do cross-country at school?’  Erm, ‘nope.’  No fields surrounded my schools where I was growing up, also I put quite a lot of effort into skipping games  – more because of communal showers than anything else!  I looked at my two traveling companions with new objectivity. Hang on a minute, I’m in a car with two of the most elite Smiley runners I know, sponsored athletes, GB representatives, FGRs indeed.  How did this happen? What if the ballast requirement whilst true in and of itself, wasn’t sufficiently well used by other teams.  Would I find myself hobbling in some hours after everyone else had packed up and gone home, having only set off their most gazelle like runners as the gun went off.  Eek.

With only minor directional squabbling, we made it to the venue, and as we were early, managed to get a space in the school car park – though not before doing some impressive kerb crawling up a back lane and a nifty bit-more-than-a-three-point-turn to get out of it again.  Incidentally, and pleasingly, as you turn into the entrance to the fields and school, you pass a pub called The Colin.  This is officially the best named pub ever, not only because I say so, but also because this is a self-evident truth.  No fake news here.

The Colin

Parked up, stuff was removed from the car, including considerable provisions and the collapsible tent (note to self, bring communal provisions next time) and headed to the playing fields.  I lagged behind, my inner apprehension manifesting itself in physical form. For the record, I did offer to help carry, but was declined.  Instead I documented the labour of others, a worthy activity in and of itself I’m sure you’ll agree.

to the field

We turned the corner and the XC race HQ came into view.

Oh.  My.  Gawd.

This I had not expected!  The field was set up with an array of colourful tents and flags as each XC team had laid claim to some bit of territory. It was like a scene from a film portraying a tournament camp for gladiators, jousting or Quidditch or something.  I would have said Glastonbury, but it was a bit less muddy and more clean-cut than that.  Also, there were proper loos you could use in the sports hall, in case you are worrying about me and my need for my precautionary pee.  Some clubs were taking their emblematic presence more seriously than others.  I wasn’t sure the shield wall was entirely in keeping with the spirit of the occasion, but it doesn’t appear to be explicitly disallowed in the rules as far as I could tell.  Well, I presume not, as I gather XC is quite traditional in relation to rule book observance, so it wouldn’t otherwise have gone unchallenged.

Energetic young people were sprinting about doing elaborate warm ups.  No doubt within some of the more lavish tents, favoured athletes were being oiled and massaged by minions to ensure they’d arrive at the starting lines primed and ready to go like well oiled springs.  I stood blinking into the sun, aware of my stomach spontaneously somersaulting within….

Our tent was erected with an expert flick of the wrist by Dr Smiley, and adorned with the TNT flag.

Size isn’t everything just so you know.

size isnt everything (2)

Then it was down to business.  Running vests were provided – I’m just loaning one for now, mercifully I got first dabs and appropriated the only large one. There were two others, but they were sample sizes for display only on doll-size models as far as I could tell.  Altruism is all very commendable and everything, but I’d defy anyone to wrestle the large running vest off me. Suitably attired, it was then time for pre run drinks!  A rich red port all round to get us in the mood.  Well, Dr Smiley said it was beetroot juice, but I’m not sure.

in the XC spirit

It was a very, very beetrooty red wine to be fair, but I’m normally more of a white wine drinker myself, so not too sure what ‘normal’ port would taste like.  Anyways, now I had some dutch courage sloshing within, I went for an explore to calm my nerves.  I didn’t yet have my race number (you get allocated one to keep for the whole season), so went naked amongst the throng.

I nervously sashayed by the various other athletic teams affecting confident nonchalance.  Given my lack of a number, I was half expecting some at least of them to try to poach me for their own clubs, but astonishingly none did. They probably just knew instinctively I would be out of their league and didn’t want the embarrassment of refusal.  It’s true one club member did say to me  ‘what are you doing here?’ but I’m sure they just momentarily misspoke and weren’t incredulous at my presence at all.  Once I got over the initial terror of being surrounded by ‘proper’ athletes, in what was quite clearly a competitive set up and therefore way out of my usual comfort zone, it was quite fun seeing various runners pop up with unexpected affiliations. There’s so and so from Dark Peak – wearing a Sheffield Tri top.  Ooh, look at that frontrunner in a Totley top, get that parkrunner flaunting a Hallamshire Harrier vest and so on.  It was like all these runners have a parallel existence.  I suppose to be fair I did too. It was my first outing in a non-smiley vest.  It felt somewhat alien.  I said hello to a few people and all seemed friendly enough. Phew.

well hello

I sauntered over to the start to look at the course, which was bothering me a bit as it was apparently multiple laps, and I couldn’t fathom any obvious signage other than a big flag at the start.  There was a map it’s true, but it didn’t massively instil confidence:

 

 

I went to watch the junior women’s race.  This was for me the low point of the day. They all looked super focused, really competitive, lining up, bright-eyed, lean and hungry for the race.  It would be a race. The marshal gave some sort of briefing I couldn’t really hear, then there was an actual starting gun, and they took off, elbows out and jostling for position. This was a serious business.  No fancy dress here.  They looked amazing in their club vests, but they also looked like the kind of young women who would have massively intimidated me at school.  It was impressive.  The race started down hill so they hurtled off, not a slow runner in sight.  This did not strike me as an altogether ballast friendly undertaking, whatever the recruitment rhetoric might have implied at the time…

I made my way back to the safety of my TNT team mates.  Pleasingly, our numbers had swelled a little in my absence, although my number had yet to appear, some familiar faces had.  My new best friend from the Dig Deep 12.12 and my TNT buddy I’d met at the TenTenTen, who’d let me peer down her top for sizing purposes, phew. There were allies here.

One of the peculiarities (for me) of cross-country, is that there are multiple races taking place on the day. Different categories run at different times, that’s possibly what gives a bit of a school sports day feel to proceedings.  On reflection, I think the junior races probably attract a more self-selecting group of already sporty youngsters.  For the adult events, whilst it is true there were some formidable runners, there was also a scattering of what I would regard as the have a go participants, in which I include myself.

Somewhat bizarrely, there were different length courses not just by age, but for men and women.  The details were all on the cross country section of the South Yorkshire County Athletics Association website.  Hang on though, I’ll see if I can get a pic of some of the details just so you can share my confusion:

xc race kimberworth oct 2017

There you go.  So the men had to run three laps and just over 9000 metres, the women only just 6200 metres or thereabouts, and two laps.  I think this must be for our own protection in case our wombs fall out that was part of the problem for the legend that is Kathrine Switzer when she was wanting to run a marathon.  I wonder if the XC rule makers think women’s uteruses will fly out if they travel by train as well?   This fixture was safe as there was no railway station at the venue, but I suppose it is worth considering if future events are located at train terminuses, you’d have to do a proper risk assessment then.  Personally I worry more about sexual harassment on public transport than losing my womb when traveling at speed, but then I’m past child-bearing age so could manage without so can perhaps afford to be blasé about such risks.

Having scooped up other runners, we went again to look at the map, this time equipped with someone who knew how to make sense of the route.  I was still quite confused, there seemed to be lots of looping about, like the old Spirograph sets I so coveted in my youth, only more complex and less symmetrical.  I  wasn’t much the wiser, but I was reassured by my more experienced runners protestations that the course was well-marked and well marshalled.  That’s OK then.

now it makes sense

BAck at base camp, other TNTers had assembled, and pleasingly (I think) my number had materialised too.  Here it is, and here I am wearing it!

We even organised ourselves sufficiently for a team women’s photo, hurrah!

Team TNT XC Oct 2017

After this faffing, I discovered our race was at noon, not 12.30 as I’d thought, so I went off to the start line.  I was too hot, for the record, I should have just worn a T-shirt under my vest, but I hadn’t expected the glorious sunshine.  I lurked nervously at the back of the line up. The starter shouted out some vague instructions.  My favourite of which was the earnest direct to keep that side for this part and that side for the other. As none but the front row of runners could hear him, this seemed something of a triumph of hope over experience.  I was just hoping I’d stay in sight of the faster runners so could just literally as well as metaphorically follow their lead.

Then ‘suddenly’ there was an actual gun shot (not actual live bullets as far as I could tell,  but a starting pistol) which made me jump and then we were off!  The women started with the veteran 65+ men.  I was right at the back of the field as we stampeded off downhill.  Immediately, apart from the shock of being expected to run, which always astonishes me at running events – I felt reassured.  Unlike the junior women earlier on, this was a bit more sedate. There was quite a longish crocodile of runners, and a slightly narrow start and sharp left turn meant it was a bit congested.  It felt manageable. Watching the colourful snake of runners ahead it honestly reminded me a bit of a parkrun, albeit one on a trail. Without a doubt at the front of the field people were really pushing themselves, but at the back it was more collaborative than competitive with friendly smiles and words of encouragement.

We headed off across a field basically.  In previous years Dr Smiley has run this whole course with just one shoe. Not because  she didn’t allow enough time to get dressed at the start, but because she lost one in the mud on lap one and didn’t want to lose time or places by stopping to retrieve it.  I had explained if this happened to me I wouldn’t be continuing without first restoring my shoe to my foot.  I’m more of an ugly sister than a Cinderella at heart.  I like to have my shoes correctly adorning my person when out and about on the whole.  This year, the course was completely dry.  As we took off it turned out the route was very clear. The marshals were spread out, but the course was obvious.  There were some men warming up and running back and forth along the route, some cheery officials and even some supporters at strategic points.

The route took us up and down over hills and if you remembered to look up there were some pretty good views, it was very much more scenic than I’d anticipated, a partly urban landscape, with a housing estate at one side, but impressive all the same.   There was a heave ho up quite a steep hill, then a sort of strange loop within a loop, emerging for a bit of a downward stretch where I saw a friendly face in the form of SCS photographer who gave cheery encouragement as well as taking a couple of fine photos, having been trained up specially to delete any deeply unflattering ones I presume.  I mean, I might not be svelte exactly, but I am both airborne and smiling, for which I am most grateful! Must stop crossing those arms over when I run, inefficient use of energy and also obscures my team shirt logo!  Disaster!  Thanks Sheena Woodhead for the pic, sorry you weren’t running yourself, but good to see you all the same.  Seeing people I know definitely motivates me to run more, I feel I owe it to them to make an effort, seeing as they are making the effort to cheer us round!

SW in action in air TNT

After a bit of a down hill, and a slightly humiliating (for me) romp through race HQ where all the really good runners could watch you wobble by before they joined the start line for their own run, you went over a road and then hoiked up another steep hill. The faster runners were already looping back at this point, and it was fun to cheer some by.  I tried my best going up the hill but it was hard.  I might have walked a bit to be fair.  At this point three of us TNT runners were in a little row like flying ducks, only with less actual flight.   One of the marshals encouragingly remarked on this ‘oh look, you are three in a row!’ he said, before apparently whispering to the one in the lead ‘but you are in the front of them’.  The marshals were great all the way round, cheering us on as well as providing necessary directional pointing.

After the hill, another sharp left and then there was a properly undulating bit, narrow mud track and ditches on either side, it was fun to try to get enough momentum on the down to clamber up the hills ahead.  Like a DIY roller coaster.  Red paint like stuff was on the ground to aid navigation.  It was pretty clear, apart from at one point where I did got the right way, but one of our lead runners overshot I think.  A bit frustrating, but one of those things I suppose. Not quite as bad as the Venice marathon where the race had an unexpected previously unknown winner, Eyob Faniel after a motorcycle escort led the lead group off route, but unfortunate all the same.  Round the corner, down the hill, past the same marshal who’d earlier been urging us up hill, across the road and then back on to the edge of the HQ field, down and over a little wooden bridge.

Then just towards end of the first lap was a sculpture very similar to those we’d passed doing the SWR leg 1 recce   last week, clearly part of the same sculpture trail.  I rather like them.  Enough that I bothered to walk down and look at them properly after I’d finished running, and attempted to take some artistic shots of them and the runners juxtaposed.

That was the first lap done.  It felt manageable, and there was enough variety for it not to be boring, which was my big fear.  The hills were more challenging than I expected, but I just focused on the TNT runner ahead of me. I’ve followed her before at Carsington Water Dark and White trail event where we finished in very similar times, so I really let her do the pacing for me which is either parasitic of me or good race craft.  As we were the same team on this occasion, I am going to go with the latter!

The second lap went quickly.  The field had spread out. I was vaguely aware that the men would be heading off at 12.30, and was a bit worried about being lapped, or more specifically, where I’d be when that moment inevitably came.  I was just reaching the top of the hill within the second part of the figure of eight, when the marshal warned they were in sight. Curses. They caught me at exactly the worst part of the course where the undulations and the DIY roller coaster were in situ.  I decided it would be too antisocial to press on as there wasn’t really anywhere for the faster runners to overtake so I’d either be trampled, or really piss some runner off which didn’t seem fair.  I opted instead to stand to one side to let the first swarm pass and then periodically nipped in and out to navigate the route as best I could without getting in the way, clapping where I could.  Hang on, let me find the route map on strava, you’ll see what I mean:

route kimberworth xc

Not the most obvious of routes, but it did work, and you don’t need to navigate.  Once the majority of the men had shot by, I got sort of swept up with those that remained.  I did get quite breathless trying to hold my own. Many shouted words of encouragement as they passed, including some from TNT, it was competitive certainly but friendly still. Even so, I was quite relieved when I made it back into the HQ field, round over the little bridge and soon the finish flags were in sight. A quick burst up the hill and there were the already finished TNT women to cheer our little strung out trio of finishers in.  It was great actually.  Not too bad at all.  My womb didn’t fall out, but (shh, don’t tell) I was secretly quite pleased not to have to do a third lap.

Because the men had started at 12.30 and were doing three laps, I got a drink and then joined the others at the finish line to cheer the rest of our TNT team and other known runners home. It was quite fun.  As TNTers finished, they joined the support throng. It was like playing sardines only with less hiding in cupboards and more furious running round.  It was fun at the finish. Quite novel for me to get to cheer fellow team members home in.  Usually, I’m the last Smiley home, this format meant the men finished after me.  Something of a boon to my self-belief in future!

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Some of the men looked quite tired after all that running round in circles.  I wonder if any of them lost internal organs during the final lap?  There was a first aid tent at the finish just in case, but patient confidentiality meant those paramedics were giving nothing away.  There was also an impromptu wrestling match going on.  Fair enough.  I must have missed the sign up for that.

So Doctor Smiley counted all the TNT runners out, and then she counted them all back. Once secure in the knowledge that all were accounted for, it was back to base for compulsory prosecco.  Prosecco and cake!  Well, vegan rockie road which is basically cake.   No really. Every time apparently, and as this comes from a reliable source I have no reason to disbelieve it.  My ending up part of the TNT team offering at this event may have been through serendipity, but it seems a fitting home for me.  We were having fun.  The prosecco was even dressed for the occasion.  Marvellous.

compulsory prosecco

The prosecco was good for team morale, but maybe less helpful in terms of enhancing spatial awareness and problem solving skills as evidenced by those trying to pack up the tent.  You will note that once again I just stayed out of proceedings, leaving it to those with greater initiative than me to wrestle with the situation. Which they did.  It was touch and go, but the tent lost out in the end.  It got desperate enough that at one point the directions were dragged out and referred to.  I mean that has got to be quite a low point I’m sure you’ll agree, but desperate times do indeed call for desperate measures.

All around us tents were being dismantled and bags being packed, and pretty soon we were all trekking back to the carparks like festival goers departing after a weekend rave.  Tired and filthy but happy.   There was one anxious moment when our driver got caught up in the gate by her turtle shell, but she’s just not used to being so overtly ninja in public. She’ll get there.  You just need to own those labels sometimes.  You will from henceforth be known as Ninja Smiley to me 🙂 , which is a compliment by the way, in case that is in any way ambiguous.

 

smiley ninja

Back to the car, and homeward bound.  For our return voyage, I tried to get my head around the discipline of triathlon.  Granted, it probably takes more than a half hour car journey to truly grapple with it, but I’ve got the basics.  Three disciplines, so three lots of training, and they sort of mimic running i.e. speed, strength, endurance. That made sense until I realised I can’t imagine how you do hills in swim sessions, please not by trying to negotiate huge waves.  Also, I still haven’t quite recovered from the shock of realising that ‘proper’ triathletes don’t swallow huge amounts of water when they swim.  I’d idly mentioned to Dr Smiley previously that I couldn’t see how she could possibly  swim in the sea and then cycle or run anywhere after drinking all that salty water.  It was a complete revelation to me when she looked slightly bemused and said simply ‘but, I don’t swallow water when I swim.’  That had really and truly never crossed my mind as a possibility.  I’d always suspected triathletes to be super human, but that particular skill totally blows my mind!  Imagine that, swimming without swallowing any water let alone nearly drowning!  Amazing.  I’m more buoyant than anything though, I don’t think I’d ever sink or drown, but forward motion might be an issue, so  it would never be my thing.  Cycling stage is tough too. Have you seen how lean some of those cyclists get?

Halloween evil kneivel triathlete

So that was it.  My XC debut done and dusted.

It was definitely more fun than not.  I would – indeed will – do it all again.  The arrival at base camp was intimidating, this is probably the only running event I’ve ever done where the focus is so very clearly on competition.  It was friendly, but I did feel a bit in the way when lapped.  Having said that, how refreshing that just turning up to be counted means you have some intrinsic value for your team.  Plus, there is clearly a huge social, eating, drinking, cross fertilisation between running clubs thing going on that I hadn’t appreciated.  It’s not a just turn up and run and then depart kind of thing, it eats into the day. That doesn’t bother me, but wouldn’t be massively compatible with a family Sunday unless everyone was running.  Good though.  I’d say try it.  I was pleasantly surprised.  It was certainly doable today without spikes, and I think quite a few people do just run it in trail or fell shoes quite happily, though I suppose in serious mud you’d need to take care.

So thanks TNT for welcoming me on board and Dr Smiley in particular for guiding me  and Ninja Smiley through our debut outings.  Thank you for arranging a birthday so there was cake and prosecco, and weather so there was sunshine, and running buddies so it was fun.  It was a fine romp out, and you can’t say fairer than that.

Come on people, give it a go, and do yourself a favour, next time bring rations for your club buddies, or at the very least leaden lard cakes to feed to the opposition, that should slow them down nicely.

You’re welcome.

Just think, this time next year, you could be running in the shadow of Keppel’s Column.   Your life will be the richer for it.  Plus, could arm you with the answer to an obscure, regionally based pub quiz question in future.  Just be there.  Take responsibility for your future, and join the race.

DSCF9998

Oh the results?  If you care, the prelim results for the SYCAA XC league race two are here.  Other XC leagues are available, apparently, no idea how you find out where and when, go discover for yourself, it’s all part of the adventure.

Happy running ’til next time.  Also, happy halloween.

BOO!  Don’t look back

halloween-run runners edge 2016.png

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Sheffield Way Relay – Recce Leg 1, the sculpture trail

Digested Read:  The Sheffield Way Relay SWR is a September run that requires teams of ten people to run in five pairs, with each pair running one leg, each of which comprise a ten-mile section round the trails and roads of Sheffield.  However, the separate legs are complex, confusing even.  Hence, some intrepid Smilies plan to go off a-navigating each in turn, to check them out terrifyingly far in advance, in order to build the collective hive knowledge of the whole route in anticipation of next year’s challenge.  Today was Leg 1.  I went too. Hurrah.  Fine yomping was had.  We got lost, we had fun, there were autumn leaves, rainbows and, most importantly of all, sculptures and a pigeon loft.  Hurrah!  We shall do it all again for other legs soon.  Are you coming? The more the merrier, so please do.  Build the Smiley Hive mind and have fun on the way! 🙂

 

sculpture

I think it’s a sculpture.  It might be a fossilised high-fiving spectator from a previous Sheffield Way Relay event to be fair. Captured in time after a load of bonfire ash covered him/her in some freak accident some years ago.  It’s hard to tell.   Whatever, I’m reasonably confident it will still be in situ come next September, which may or may not be the case for all landmarks referred to in the route notes referenced today.  We clung to such notable sites today, to help us internalize the route, it’s not easy finding your way round this Sheffield Way Relay route, not easy at all.  Pressure….

It’s a very serious business running in general and doing recces for race runs in particular. That’s why it’s so important to focus, work together and not get distracted by posing for photos all the time for example, that way leads to chaos, anarchy and quite possibly the end of the world as we know it. It’s also lots of fun though, so it makes sense – in my world anyway – sometimes to throw caution to the wind, inhibitions to the wayside and jump for joy as only Smilies en masse can.  I think we need to work a bit on our synchronisation, but it’s not a bad start. That’s why these recces early on are so important, we still have time to iron out such little blips.  We’ll all be looking like a chorus line a year from now.  Riverdance will have nothing on us.  Nothing I tell you, members of the Smiley Paces Sheffield Women’s Running club are coming, and leaps and waving will occur and fun will be had, ready or not.

farewell to focus

Mind you, I really do wish I’d taken a photo of that dead rat on the bridge now.  It just took a while for me to realise that I wasn’t only at this Smiley Recce of Leg 1 of the Sheffield Way Relay to tick the ‘inclusivity’ box in relation to catering for slower runner for the club run, but also to document the route for other Smilies that might choose to come in our wake.  It was quite a responsibility really, many would have baulked at the task, but then as the saying goes, cometh the hour, cometh the woman.  Someone had to step up, and today that person was to be me. You’re welcome.  I tried to take photos of key landmarks on the route, the decaying rodent was a good one, very obvious, and judging by other directional reference points in the original instructions about the right degree of tantalizingly likely to have disappeared by next year versus could have been fossilised and become a permanent fixture.  It wouldn’t be the SWR if there wasn’t some element of tension in relation to finding your way.  In the event, the rat was decaying on a bit that wasn’t on the route at all, so it wasn’t a disaster, we were lost before we started, literally…. but I’ll come to that later.

To the uninitiated, the Sheffield Way Relay is something of a Sheffield Running institution, albeit a niche, invitation only one.  It’s a Steel City Striders club event in essence, and their website blah de blah explains:

The Sheffield Way is one of the most popular events on the club calendar and has been held every year since 1997. It is run as a team event and is open to Striders teams and selected guest teams by invitation. Since 2013, we also hold an ultra event on the same course on the same day. For details of the 2015 ultra event, have a look at the Sheffield Way Ultra page.

The race covers 50 miles, in 5 legs of approximately 10 miles each, of an off road route around the perimeter of Sheffield. Each team is made up of 10 runners, with a pair running together on each leg.

Taking place in late September each year, for the past few years Smiley Paces have also taken part, fielding a number of different teams.  However, also over the past few years there have been last minute panics as people drop out due to injury or inertia, I forget which and other runners have had to fill in at short notice. This can mean situations arise where neither of the running pair really know the route, and as this is not a mass participation event you can’t rely on following other runners, and nor are their any marshals to guide you on your merry way.  The route, whilst not exactly ‘secret’, is a bit obscure to those who have not run it before.  Instructions do exist, but they are somewhat idiosyncratic and some years’ old, not reflecting changes in infrastructure or shifting landscapes.  This is not a run to be undertaken without having previously recced it.  Indeed, this is part of the considerable appeal of taking part. What is not to like about a good yomp out with Smiley buddies (other running clubs are available)?  Quite.  Recces of the Sheffield Way Relay are just another opportunity for a grand yomp out and about.

In an ostentatious display of goal-orientation, leadership and forward planning, it was mooted (I’ve decided to give that word an airing today, as it doesn’t get out much, and seems apt if pretentious here), that it would be grand to start doing monthly recces of the various legs between now and next September so as to build the collective Smiley  hive mind in relation to knowledge of the routes. The more Smileys know the more legs, the greater number of possible teams can be fielded on the day. Plus, it’s a great way to see some different running trails and parts of our amazing city.  Speaking personally, I love the trails local to me, but there is a whole wide world out there of city and woodland running trails to explore as the outdoor city initiatives remind us.

Fired up with post Lakeland Trails enthusiasm, today was the day for Smilies in abundance to head off on a Leg 1 recce.  Fun would be had, routes would be found, friendships flourish and above all else laughter would be in abundance. There would be some running too, apparently, but I tried not to let that deter me.  You have to try these things.

The Steel City Striders webpage provides a map of sorts, and instructions, but these should be considered as impressionistic rather than literal.  We couldn’t even find the start as the Don Valley Stadium doesn’t exist any more, but hey ho, a minor detail!

Leg1-Map

So, it was a blustery, autumnal morning.  Despite the significance sacrifice of missing out on parkrun, I was nevertheless looking forward to my first proper autumnal run of the year!  Perfect running conditions were promised.  I was scooped up by  fellow Smiley who drove me and another to our woodland rendezvous point in Grenoside Woods (S35 8RS postcode for future reference). The plan was to meet there and then drive to the start at the site of the old Don Valley Stadium.  A note for future recces would be to include a statistician in the scouting party who could take the lead in supervising this part of logistical operations. Even though we were only 7 – with one in a car meeting us back at the start, we seemed to have enormous difficulties working out which cars needed to be where. In our collective defence, some Smilies were needing to rush off afterwards, some were going back for coffee, and some (me mainly) just stood blinking and confused, unable to offer sentient or helpful opinions on anything, and distracted by needing the loo. It was like those nightmare logic puzzles where you have to get a chicken, a fox and some seed across a river in a boat and only two things at a time can travel and you don’t want the passengers left unattended or they will eat each other. Apart from the seed, that doesn’t eat anything, basically I have no idea how a decision was made regarding porterage, but made it was.  My contribution was to be entirely passive, and follow instructions as best as I could.

We piled into a car and headed to Ice Sheffield  where we were rendezvousing with another Smiley who’d gone straight there. Navigation was mysterious, as I thought we’d be maybe using satnav, but instead we just headed ‘that way’ following gradients and compass points, until mysteriously we ended up where we supposed to. I love it when that happens. The overflow car park where we met was so derserted it was hard to know where to park, no white lines to aid decision-making.   We headed into the ice place to use the loos.  Oh my goodness!  I’ve never been before, I mean I’ve been to the loo before, obviously, but not into the ice place.  It was amazing. Not one, but two enormous ice rinks with skaters flying around(ish) and I had a brief moment of wondering if we could abandon the route recce idea in favour of a spin on the ice. That was before I remembered that the last time I ventured out onto ice was when I was still at junior school, and I spent pretty much the whole time clinging to the rail on the outside of the arena.  I had one brief sojourn away from the edge, only to find myself stranded in the middle of the ice, just as announcement went out to clear the ice so the pros could have uninterrupted use of the rink for the next half hour.  Complete panic ensued. It was messy.  How succesful do you imagine a ten-year old who can’t skate might be trying to get off an ice rink whilst panicking?  Well precisely.  That’s right, about that much.  Not a happy memory.  Just another to add to the list of childhood humiliations that punctuated my early years.

Eventually, I was prised away from the cavorting skaters, and we headed out from the car park along the canal.  It was all a bit sudden and frenetic and I was mightily confused. We darted along a bit of road, dived down by the canal and emerged at a sort of landing-place for boats, where the lead runner stopped.  Why?  This was the start of the SWR apparently.  Only it wasn’t.  This wasn’t the start at all. We had gone wrong already.  In fact, it was an epic fail from the off.  A shout went off and we all trailed off in the opposite direction, back the way we’d come, past the dead rat for the second time, and along until we got to a bridge, ran under that, and then, back again!  It was a bit like doing shuttle runs I imagine.  Our leader Smiley made an attempt to restore order, and showed us the point to look out for where we officially left the canal, or possibly went down onto it. I have very little idea really.

It is terrifying really, how quickly I got disoriented and confused.  It was extremely fortunate that Doctor Smiley had brought along some printed out instructions for leg 1.  Although disappointingly not on a clip board. She had also got with her a device for deterring aggressive dogs as well as potentially rounding up wayward smilies. I’d hoped it was some sort of  taser but disappointingly it was actually a humane high frequency sound emitter.  Aggressive dogs hear it, and it stops them in their tracks apparently…. In her defence, she is probably bound by the Hippocratic Oath or something.  Shame, but there you go. In a way, it shows how going for a run mirrors life in microcosm.  One disappointment follows another in sequence.  Such is the nature of our existence.  Best not to dwell on in too much, put that truth to one side, and go run in the autumn leaves instead.  Here are her accessories, for future reference.  The dog silencer is humane by the way, the leg one instructions may not be.

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We must have gone onto the canal, because that’s my main memory of the beginning, yomping along the side of the canal. It was unexpectedly pretty and calm, given that we’d just left the consumerist enclave of EIS and IceSheffield.  The sun was shining, the grass was green, the canal water still.   We jogged along and the instructions here seemed pretty accurate, if we just concentrated on what we were doing:

Continue on the left of the canal for about 1.5 miles passing below several bridges at Broughton Lane (new bridge), Tinsley Locks, Tinsley Wire Industries, Sheffield Road and Tinsley Viaduct. Continue forward on the towpath with the River Don on your left and after 2 locks cross the river by a concrete footbridge. Enter a pleasant wooded area and pass below a railbridge with a metal perimeter fence on your left. Over to your left is the hillside that you are going up and over on your way to Ecclesfield.

Pass below another railbridge where the path narrows. Continue to follow the river bank path until the river turns sharply east over a large weir. Ignore the signed Public footpath at the end of the perimeter fence and in 50 yards take the narrow concealed path sharp left.

The path rises to a footbridge across the railway and then climbs the hill up to Meadowbank Road

 

The next bit worked too:

On reaching Meadowbank Road turn left and cross over to the right hand side. In 350 yards and about 20 yards before a large advertising hoarding take the narrow path diagonally up the bank to a stile at the top. Climb, the stile and continue up the footpath and then a lane which climbs to Meadowhall Road. Cross the road and climb the bank to the left of the electricity pylon to a gap in the hedge at the top of the bank. Turn right to join a path towards the housing estate at Hill Top.

What the instructions completely fail to convey though, is how amazing the views are if you just turn and look behind you.  The juxtaposition of city and green spaces here is particularly pronounced.  One minute you might be on quite a grotty bit of road, the next you are snaking through unexpected patches of woodland rich in autumn colours, with the urban landscape stretching out behind you.  As most runners snaked ahead, this seemed to me a great place to try to coach a fellow smiley in the art of posing for jumping shots.  There’s a knack to it. The main trick is not to really care what you look like on launching, because in the early days it won’t be good.  Not a bad effort demonstrated here, somewhat balletic in parts it’s true, but almost definitely both feet off the ground third time round. So progress was made.  She showed me hers:

so I showed her mine:

CF out of the mist

So we were quits.  Nice wasn’t it?  I didn’t know any of these trails before, and it is genuinely a fantastic way to explore the city environs. We are soooooooooooooooo very lucky to have all this on our doorstep.  Delight gave way to reveal further even more delightful delights.  As we passed down a narrow track at the back of some houses at Hill Top there was even the fine sight of a full pigeon loft, with birds flapping their wings in the morning sunshine. As a nesh southerner, the sight of this fine northern cliché pleased me mightily. If only someone had come out to tend them wearing a flat cap with a whippet at his side I could have dropped dead happy there and then, sadly that was not to be, but on the plus side, it meant I was alive for the impromptu sculpture inspired group pilates and core work session out later on.

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Onwards and upwards. There was a magical moment when we espied a perfectly red apple all on its own hanging teasingly in a wayside tree.  Definitely like something out of a dark fairy tale.  I was tempted, but yomped on.  That can be an adventure into a parallel universe for another day….

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From here, we emerged again onto an unexpectedly busy road.  My running buddies were getting the hang of posing for photos to sign the way now.  Look at them smile and point here.  Like professionals. Note though, these photos are for illustrative purposes only. On the day, it is highly unlikely that there will be a line of smiling smilies like sirens calling you onward. You will need to navigate yourself, and look out for the GoLocal store and road turning all on your own.

Those yellow tees are from the Lakeland Trails Ullswater route last weekend by the way.  Good aren’t they?  We Smilies sure do get out and about.

From Poucher Street, it was indeed on to open country.  Through a little gate, then into a big field where there was a fork in the track. The lead runners headed off to the right, but, for future reference, the correct route is hugging the treeline on the left hand side.  It makes little difference in that both tracks end up at the same point, a style out into a bit of woodland, but the left hand track would be speedier and fractionally shorter.

In any event, once we got into the woods again, this is where the fun factory really picked up speed. To our amazement and joy, we met the first of our sculpture buddies.  Now I know not everyone gets my approach to ‘running’ I use the term loosely of course, some do think runs should involve extended periods of uninterrupted running say, but I defy anyone not to pause to admire this guy or guy-ess if they saw him/ her en route to anywhere.  Obviously, this required more group photos, and emulation of such magnificent core strengthening exercises.

It might have been around this point that I overheard one amongst us declaim ‘for goodness sake, this is like being at a children’s birthday party’, but I took that to be  good thing. We were having a riot out there.  In my world, running should always be fun, otherwise what’s the point.  Plus, it’s important to work on your core at any opportunity, and it is a well-known fact that running is basically a one-legged sport, so really we were just being very hard-core in undertaking spontaneous cross training here and not just messing around at all. Glad I’ve cleared that potential misunderstanding up before it went too far.  The green tee shirts are from the Lakeland Trails Helvellyn route last weekend by the way.  Good aren’t they?  We Smilies sure do get out and about. (Deja vu anyone?)

Workout session one concluded, we yomped onwards. …. only to come upon high-fiving man/man-ess.  This Leg 1 of the SWR just got better and better.  How come the sculpture trail isn’t noted in the route notes. They were awesome!  It was like stumbling across some hidden treasure:

well hello there

AFter this woodland interlude, we were spat out again onto another bit of slightly grotty tarmac road.  Depressingly, there was fly tipping here, but bizarrely, turned out the curtains were known to one of our number.  I hasten to say she had not herself been responsible for the anti-social disposal of them.  Rather she’d gifted them to a charity shop and now here they were by the road side wrapped around rubble.  It was as if they had been calling to her.  It was too big a pile for us to do more than look at dispiritedly.  We passed other examples of fly tipping in this area.  It really makes me mad, people go to some effort to drive to these places and dump waste, would it really be that much more effort to drive it to a tip?

There was a roady bit, and then we were off down a bridleway, into the woods, and looking out for rhododendron bushes along the way. Which there were.  Though as rhododendrons are a massively damaging invasive species we probably shouldn’t celebrate them, impressive as they may seem at first glance.  Probably worse for the natural habitat than fly tipping really, which is a sorry thought.  Oh well, it was still pretty in the woods.

Hilariously, (but then again I am easily amused) we reached a minor impasse at a point where the paths diverged. Which way to go?  Instinct said the wider more pronounced path, but straight on felt more in keeping.  At just this moment, having seen not a single other person out and about on the trails all morning (apart from fishermen by the river but clearly for running related anecdote purposes they don’t count), a cheery group of runners jogged towards us.  ‘Are you looking for the Sheffield Way Relay route?’ one asked, seeing us looking a bit lost.  He then cheerily directed us on our way before sprinting on to join his mates. Aren’t runners lovely?  Not just Smiley Paces runners (though we are the loveliest, naturally) but pretty much all of them. That was a happy chance and handy bit of navigational assistance. We went onwards.  Pausing to note the spectacular views along the way. Oh, actually, maybe that was just me.  Still, done now, and they did wait. Sorry smilies.  I did warn you I’m slooooooooooooooow.

You emerge onto a ‘road’ which actually isn’t. It’s the private road that leads to an extremely grand looking building which apparently (according to our Smiley historian) used to be some sort of children’s home but is now converted into Fantasy Flats. They may not technically be called that to be fair, but they should be, bet they are amazing inside.

Down to the actual road, then off again, down a less than salubrious looking turn – I have no idea how our Doctor Smiley leader was able to navigate at this point, but we followed her, sort of, in a Smiley Paces, might-as-well-try-to-herd-some-cats kind of way.  It worked mostly though, so that was good.  Maybe bring a PE whistle along next time, just as a back up…

The next memorable bit was along past a diary farm.  Nope I mean dairy, well, I presume dairy, because there was a lot of cow poo to negotiate, so presumable cattle toing and froing for milking.  There was also an unusually friendly farm dog that posed rather beautifully amongst the geraniums lining the walls of Butterthwaite Farm. All very lovely, and another completely different bit of Sheffield scenery – we’d had canal and riversides; road and back alleys; woodland and open fields; and now a working farm.  Excellent!

Somehow, through skips and runs we ended up spat out again onto a really main road, past a fitness garage, which seemed to have signage personally aimed at me, sharp right past Morrisons (opportunity to get fine breadcakes there apparently, if you weren’t having to run 10 miles instead), and then across the road into Ecclesfield Park.

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This was another place I’ve never been to. It is amazing how many parks there are around Sheffield. This one was in good use, with walkers and a football match in progress as we scampered along the tree-lined avenue that took us across the path and out onto Church street.  There was a bit of dissent at road crossing strategies, but we were more traffic aware than the pictorial record suggests.  Even so, keep safe out there people.  Whether you are a disciple of Tufty or more a Green Cross Code Man kind of road crosser, be true to your road safety guru.  Rospa will thank you for it.

From the park you are spat out into Church Street.  Here, by some extraordinary coincidence, you will eventually come upon Ecclesfield Parish Church which is just up on the right and the Ecclesfield Village centre with its old stone houses and pubs.  It was all incredibly picturesque, though for the record I had no real sense of where I was in relation to anywhere I actually knew. There was also a bit of a road crossing stand-off it has to be said. Every Smiley for themself at this juncture.  It also started to rain a bit.  ‘Thank goodness I have my waterproof with me‘ exclaimed at least one smug Smiley, clambering into her cagoule, before being shamed for her ostentatious bragging by another responding ‘well, I haven’t‘ with a just a tad of an edge in the voice.   Bit tense back there.  I did have my waterproof with me, but it seemed too much of a faff to put on .  The route requires you to continue up and just after the church turn right up Priory Road.  However, as we had historian Smiley with us, we took a short detour to admire a monument to some distant relative from way back, and pause to look at the exterior of the church, which it must be acknowledged looks very grand indeed.

On from the church, and back on track.  Down a path that took us back into woodlands, up and down, over a little bridge (that was disappointingly completely devoid of both trolls underneath and billy goats gruff trotting above).  This was a very pretty part of the route, but one that future SWR should treat with respect.  It would be really easy to be carried away literally as well as metaphorically with the lovely, bouncy, woodland trails and whizz by the turnings off to the side. Oh well. We didn’t, and we most definitely weren’t racing today, only yomping, so that was fine.  Loved that beautiful old Gatty building on the way past the church by the way, no idea what it was.  Quite some memorial though.

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Around this point, the route started to ascend again.  Eventually we came across a field with horses in it. They snorted appreciatively and came over to investigate as we trekked through, and emerged via a narrow stone style at the far end.

We emerged onto quite a wide tarmac road and found from here a rainbow guided our way. We just had to head towards the end of that, though again, maybe not a landmark to count on on the day, but never say never, hope over experience is not a bad way to pass through life. Admittedly disappointment may forever stalk you, but at least you don’t dwell on it, carrying on in the misguided belief that things are bound to get better in time. Good for you and your pointless optimism!  Bravo!  That’s rainbows for you.  Love ’em.

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Along the road, past a farm and off to the right.  I can’t quite remember why now, but I’m sure there was a really good reason why this became a designated Smiley posing point.  I’d worked out (slowly, admittedly) that some of my ‘helpful’ photos to remind us of the route were entirely pointless, because they were basically pictures of trees standign amongst autumn leaves.  They are much more useful if there is a responsible adult within the frame helpfully pointing the way. If one person is helpful, logically more people would be even more helpful, and at the very least show solidarity. So this is what we were trying to achieve. Great team work do you not agree? (This is a rhetorical question, no answers on a postcard please).

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Into the woods.  Here my compatriots warmed to their responsibilities in relation to the photo documentary of the route.  New innovations were introduced.  It was no longer enough to point the way, but others needed to ‘just say no!’ and signify a cross where there were no go areas.  I say a ‘no’ but really, I think by the end of this mornings shenanigans we all knew pretty much for certain who had the x-factor and who did not. The camera never lies. Draw your own conclusions in your own time.  Work individually, and own your decisions.  It’s a harsh lesson, but a useful one.  Well done all!

I think that’s what was happening.  Now I look again i wonder if the joke was on me. Is this perhaps semaphore?  I wouldn’t know, I don’t know any… aren’t there supposed to be flags?  Maybe that’s another advantage of wearing skorts.  Not just that they cover  up any accidents (although absolutely nobody wears them for that reason) nor even that they have lots of pockets (even though if you fill them the skorts will rapidly end up around your ankles) but also they can be whipped of in an instant to improvise a flag for either semaphore communication purposes, or to stop a train without having to take your actual knickers off a la The Railway Children. Must ask her next time our paths cross…

KN: Railway Children

There followed a TERRIFYING road crossing, a super busy road, Penistone road no less (or Penis Stone road if you are listening to sat nav), you take your life in your hands across there.

Back into the wood for serious exploration and yomping. The directions did fail us here. They sort of make sense once you’ve gone wrong a bit, but suffer significantly from new trails and loops having been constructed in the woods since the first instructions were put together.

Cross Penistone Road (EXTREME CARE REQUIRED HERE).  Just a little way to the right re enter the woods along the main path (painted SLOW on the road). Pass between a tree and some wooden poles and then in 20 yards bear right to follow a path along the edge of the wood (stone wall on the right). At the first cross path turn left to carry straight forward along the Trans Pennine Trail and in 100 yards bear right up a narrow stoney path.

The first bit was OK, we found a stone wall, albeit one that a random black horse was hiding behind.  I thought it was a wolf, which I concede is a bizarre misidentification.  However, before long, as we scampered back and forth in search of the ‘stoney path’, rejecting the signs for the ‘loop trail’ in favour of the short cut and correct route.  At some point, one amongst us spotted what I will refer to with some use of irony as ‘the path’, to be fair there was a massively overgrown footpath sign somewhere within. It was agreed this was probably the correct route, but it didn’t look like it had been used recently, not even for the September race.  We sort of bush whacked through it.  There was some shrieking.  At least one participant was heard to say ‘I’ve never spent this long on a run this distance before ever‘ I didn’t vocalise the thought in my head which was along the lines of ‘that’s strange, because pretty much all my exploratory runs follow exactly this format‘.  It wasn’t even that the other Smiley was making a complaint, it was more an observation, it’s just that when I heard it I came to reflect on whether or not my outward bound yomping excursions follow any recognised running training format at all.  Not to worry, I’m sure it means I’m a pioneer, not an oddity. Yes, that must be it! Makes perfect sense.

Another remarked ‘I feel like David Bellamy‘ I understand what she was saying, but I felt it was more Dian Fossey country  – you’ll have to go and find out for yourself.  We emerged eventually onto a trail, that looked very suspiciously like the loop trail we’d earlier rejected.  Two of us went back sheepishly retracing our steps to check.  Oh yes, that was it, you do follow the loop trail.  Note to self for next time, and helpful pointing shot by way of confirmation:

The others headed off, which created a bit of last-minute confusion, as we got to a junction where there was one path following a stone wall, and a wider path that went straight on and up ahead.  It was fifty-fifty, the instructions directed thus:

Continue on the wide path that climbs slowly up towards the road and after the wall follows a wire fence.

We went with the wider path, despite no sign of a wire fence, or fellow Smilies.  Turns out, we should have clung to the wall.  Unbeknownst to us, that’s what our running buddies had done, but as they’d not waited for us we got separated. Curses.

It doesn’t look very steep, but this was a bit of an uphill slog. I did try and run, but 10 miles in I was flagging.  I tried to explain to Doctor Smiley and we ran a bit despite me protesting I can’t talk and run at the same time, although, mysteriously, it seems I can run uphill and complain a lot really quite well.  I ran out of steam eventually though.  Doctor Smiley rang one of the others and we realised where we’d diverged paths. However, we emerged from our lane, and we were pretty much back at the car park where we’d started.

I’m not going to lie, it was a tad annoying to have gone wrong at the critical end point. This means that this recce would have to be classified as good in parts in relation to actually learning the route because both the start and finish will need to be revisited.  However, all is not lost, because I had a lovely time anyway, and surely the whole purpose of the activity was basically to provide an enrichment activity for me as I don’t get out much.  We yomped together splendidly, and as there is unfinished business with leg one, this is basically a good thing, as it means we get to do it all again another time. Everyone’s a winner.

This is what the car park rendezvous looked like in case you don’t know what a carpark looks like:

Not that special to be fair.

Smilies reunited, we scrambled back into our various modes of transport, parasitising lifts where possible (me) and back to the start to collect other vehicles.  Some Smilies were waved away, others of us went to Costa wehere you can get toast and marmite for £1.40 which I consider a boon to breakfast eating options at a venue I normally discount for being both too expensive and too corporate.  Just four of us made this final stand, but the rules are (apparently) them as that make the post run coffee option, get to decide the date for the next recce.

So smiley people, look out on our facebook page for an announcement of the Recce for Leg 3, happening on a weekend in November sometime soon.

For your infomration, despite the lack of a statistician at this point, we did collectivelyr ealise that strictly speaking SWR Leg 2 should follow Leg 1, but thats already been recced apparently, so the next collective yomp out will be for SWR Leg 3 will meet at the end of that leg i.e. the Cricket Inn, Totley, so we can go back to the Rivelin Head Dam start  and take it from there.

Be there, or miss out massively.

Oh my strava by the way (TomTom is once again functional, maybe it just wasn’t feeling it in the Lakes):

strava leg one first recce

So there we have it. Still some unfinished business perhaps, but a fine collective adventure all the same. Thank you SMiley buddies.  Let’s do it all again soon, the more the merrier.  I will try to run a bit faster and bit more continuously next time, but will also ensure inclusively is maintained but acting as a perpetual drag on the speedier runners.

You’re welcome.

🙂

 

 

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

Lakeland Trails, missed the boat, but grand day out all the same. Ullswater Emergency 10k 2017

Digested read:  well that was hilarious.  The plan was a 10k round Ullswater, starting with a boat.  Alas, no boat and a shorter alternative route, but on the plus side lots more time for Smiley mingling, impulse purchases and then the actual run was gorgeous.  All’s well that ends well eh?  Home to Sheffield with renewed running mojo and consolidated adoration and appreciation for the collective joy and fabulousness that is the Sheffield women’s running club of Smiley Paces.

So this was Day Two, of the Lakeland Trails finale weekend.  Much anticipated by Smiley Lakeland Trails veterans, this particular run involves the added novelty of a boat crossing on a steamer at the start!  I know, how cool is that!  The boat looks like this, it isn’t a scam because there is a picture of it and everything:

ullswater steamer 2012

The steamer was last sighted in 2014 as far as I know, and most definitely does exist as the 2012 picture above stolen from the Lakeland Trails Facebook page demonstrates.  Alas, in subsequent years foul weather prevented sailings.  (Do steamers sail?  Probably not, but you get the gist.  ‘Launchings’ maybe?)  Part of the problem was perhaps the November timing of the event – not the best time of year to be counting on calm waters and clear skies. This year the trail weekend was brought forward to the potentially more clement month of October.  Much excitement bubbled amongst us. This was surely going to be the year.  There was even more of a build up yesterday when the weather was gorgeous and the forecast for today, Sunday, promising too. The back marker had said so.  What could possibly go wrong? What trail running event wouldn’t be improved by a leisure boat ride across the scenic.  We were collectively beside ourselves with excited anticipation.

Oh, you need to know the basics? Yawn.  Well, if you haven’t been hanging on my every blog post since, I don’t know, ‘whenever.’ then you’ll need to know that the Lakeland Trails website blah de blah for the Ullswater 2017 described todays event as follows:

Lakeland Trails in Ullswater, Sunday 15th October 2017

Starting from the Ullswater Pier at Glenridding (CA11 OUS), your journey starts with a beautiful half hour cruise aboard the Ullswater Steamer “Raven”, which takes you to the start in the hamlet of Howtown, whilst being serenaded by singer/songwriter Pete Lashley. The 10km Ullswater Trail Run, 14km Ullswater Trail Race and 14km Ullswater Trail Challenge follow well marked and marshalled footpaths and bridleways along the lake shore, giving panoramic views of Helvellyn and the surrounding peaks, finishing in Jenkins Field, next to the Ullswater Pier. Much of the course passes through ancient woodland, which will be at its autumnal best. Underfoot conditions can be tricky at times, especially if wet.

A carnival atmosphere is guaranteed for both spectators and competitors, with live music, race commentary, food and drink all available at the start and finish. So, whether you’re new to trail running, an experienced athlete, or simply looking for an unforgettable day out in the Lake District, a family-friendly, festival atmosphere and some amazing trail running awaits you!

You can enter and find out more about each event here.

Fancy combining it with the Helvellyn event the day before? You can enter the ‘Dirty Double’ weekend.

Oh my gawd.  How amazing.  And now the day had finally dawned!

It actually dawned in the small hours.  Blinking as I lay under the duvet, fretting over how to complete morning manoeuvres in the dark without disturbing those dorm buddies who were doing the afternoon run.  Three of us in my dorm had signed up for the 10k and that was a 9.00 a.m. sailing. Registration from 7.45 a.m. Working backwards, we’d need to be up dressed, packed for leaving the youth hostel as we had to strip beds etc pre departure – but also leave food somewhere (not in kitchen) for lunch, and a change of clothes somewhere (not in dorm) for afterwards.  We had negotiated with our obliging dorm sleeping-in buddies that we’d have to set the alarm for 6.30 and we’d have to put the light on at some point, but just because we’d agreed it, didn’t mean that we’d have the absolute nerve to go through with it. I mean it seems too cruel.  Like chucking a bucket of iced water on a rough sleeper or something, to knowingly cause a slumbering Smiley to be wakened.  Cruel and unreasonable treatment at the very least!  I suppose if we did cause provocation at least there would be an added motivation to run fast afterwards…

rude awakening

I went through my preparations in my mind.  Running kit ready all folded neatly stuffed in on top of my bathroom bits, dry running shoes at the ready for grasping, a swift and silent exit should be a shoo in really cometh the hour. I got up at 6.00 as I couldn’t bear just lying there waiting for the alarm, made it into the showers, all was going well, until I realised a fundamental oversight in my kit prep.  No knickers!  How did that happen?  I’m not running commando, I don’t care what anyone else does.  Curses, all my preparations counted for nothing, as it seemed I’d have to rummage noisily through my stuff in the dark after all.  Getting up is soooooooooooooo stressful.

Amazingly, I did discover my lost knickers, eventually espying them abandoned on the floor in the middle of the dorm, right near the door, where they must have fallen from my bag as I tried to creep out of the room.  I retrieved them, remedied my dressing fail, and then decided I couldn’t inflict light on my seemingly still slumbering buddies even though I knew in my heart of hearts I must have already woken them up with all my crashing around trying to locate my M&S five to a pack cotton rich briefs.  Do M&S sell anything else I wonder.  Indeed, can knickers be purchased anywhere else?  There is Runderwear of course – but apart from there, nope, I don’t imagine they can. I decided all further preparations would be more effective post tea and breakfast sustenance.

I made for the kitchen.  Oh joy!  My other two dorm morning running buddies were already there.  Better yet, they too were clearly traumatised by the stress of pre-run preparations, and had also decided better to brave the kitchen early on before the crush. It was very comforting, we were able to share our individual neuroses with one another and then were immediately massively reassured to find we were not alone. We were all disproportionately angst ridden by the enormity of our current first world problems, which required us to get up AND get dressed; AND pack; AND forward plan lunch and later changing options; AND have breakfast; AND decide on short or long sleeved tops; AND remember our compulsory kit – and that’s not even factoring the minefield of deciding what time to leave for registration and what to do about communal food that we’d finished with but our car buddies might want later but still needed to be packed!  At least I didn’t have the added angst of wondering whether or not to run at all due to blister progression over night.  It’s so stressful all this running stuff in a communal non-home context.  Worth it undoubtedly, but stressful all the same.  Also, both of them had spotted my knickers on the floor earlier, and respectfully stepped over them. That’s nice too isn’t it.  Supportive even.

Heartened and bonded through shared adversity, we three went back to the dorm and switched on the lights with abandon, then vacated the area to sit it out until it was time for a mass exodus to the event HQ.  I was thirsty though.  I needed a glass of water.  I went up to the kitchen area but it was absolutely heaving, I stood outside the door blinking for a while as Smilies busily circled back and forth somehow avoiding collision like in that amazing video animation of extraordinarily juxtaposed happenings that I think was a Talking Heads ‘Stop Making Sense’ one, but might have been Sledgehammer – nope can’t find it.  If you know it, you’ll know it, it has one person walk across a room, then a ball bounces in through the window, new things keep being added until every inch of space is full but somehow nothing intersects with anything else.  If that image is too hard, then think about what it was like when you are a kid and two people swirl a skipping rope, and you have to run in and join several  others who are already jumping in there.  You are waiting for the right moment to run in, but you get one chance only, and if you misjudge it, everything ends.  You could ruin it for everyone. Don’t mess up! It was like that.  Only more terrifying.  Talk about a jump into the unknown…

skipping games

I stood wide – eyed and hesitating outside the kitchen door, it’s was like I was looking through a window into a parallel world.  I literally made several abortive attempts to plunge through the shifting gateway and into this alternative universe, but kept losing my nerve.  Eventually, I realised I there was a good Samaritan Smiley alert to my dilemma and looking out for me – albeit in a pointing and laughing at my ineptitude sort of way, but supportively pointing and laughing and that is a good thing.  It broke the tension and made me laugh too as I saw the ludicrousness of the situation. We talked through options, and, to cut a long story short, acknowledging the extreme pressure on facilities at just that moment of time, and the mass of people milling around I agreed that the sensible thing to do was just to take refuge under a nearby table, and emerge some time later when hopefully this crisis had passed.  Good plan.  Felt safe there.

hiding under table

Even so, I had to emerge after a bit. I got water from a downstairs bathroom, and then sat very, very still on the sofa in the foyer whilst Smilies darted back and forth and all around me like a spawning of whirling dervishes (whatever they are). They were all making the trek to the drying room and each emerged in turn exclaiming the lament that their shoes were still soaked from yesterdays paddle along the Helvellyn paths.  I was quite pleased I’d brought my Irocks as a back up plan. They aren’t massively cushioned, but they are grippy, and I’d rather start the day’s run with dry feet.  As I sat, trying to be invisible and not in the way and just blinking. Magic Making Smiley Samaritan actually came over to see if I was alright.  I must have been manifesting physical signs of shock, with which magic making smiley was very familiar after with the broken wrist incident and the woman looking grey only yesterday. I was alright, I was fine.  Lesser mortals might have accused me of attention seeking quite frankly, but I was so touched at her concern. It just shows all over again that Smilies are delightful, individually as well as collectively.   For this I thank you all.

 

At last, and thankfully, it was time to leave.  Food bags were stashed in cars, single bags of stuff heaped up in the foyer and off we went once again in a loose smiley convoy, down the road towards the start.  It seemed a bit cooler than yesterday, but calm.  Still beautiful.  Still well hung sheep about and curious locals looking on…

Got to the event HQ and it was all reassuringly familiar.  Numbers collected; tags on; baggage dumped; T-shirt of the day admired. Good oh.

It was all very efficient.  I saw a group of runners making their way across the field to the boarding point for the steamer.  I joined a Smiley crowd and together we chatted joyfully about the forthcoming boat ride.  Only, then it emerged one of our number either had taken, or was about to take an anti-seasickness tab. What?  Why hadn’t I thought of that? This was another whole area of angst I’d not previously considered.  I’m terrible on boats, but I’m also knocked out by anti nausea meds.  Better to dehydrate from throwing up than pass out comatose perhaps?   Aaargh, I don’t know.   I had not even considered this, and now I was thrown into panic. Doh.

Just as my mind was racing through the pros and cons of knocking back a pack of puke-u-not seasick pills, word got out.  No boats!

What no boats?  Really?  I’d missed the announcement, so went to ask inside.  Yep, no boats, only in fact more accurately it was possibly no boats.  They were going to wait another 15 minutes and see how it went. Fifteen minutes later the announcement came.  An announcer read out the words from the Captain verbatim from a scrap of paper – like it was a royal decree of something, which in a way I suppose it was in that it was non negotiable.  The wind picks up on the open water and it just wasn’t safe, there would be no boats today.   The emergency race plan would come into operation.  An alternative route would be offered with a mass start, a bit shorter.  Marshals would need time to get into their new positions. Sorry and all, but there you go.

To be honest, although people were disappointed, there wasn’t any massive unrest at this revelation, more a collective shrug and sigh of ‘oh well’.  To be fair, what can you do?  I’m sure the organisers were more disappointed than anyone given that whether or not the steamer tripped happened they’d still had to do all the lists of sailings and logistics of sorting runners out and everything.

In fact, the event director put it this way at the later prize giving:

We can’t change the weather. But what can we change? Our ATTITUDE to the weather.

It’s our 10th anniversary of the Ullswater Trail, and 3rd time unlucky, yet we still have an overall 70% sailing record. That’s pretty good.

After last year’s feedback from you, we decided to do four things, in case poor weather forced the Ullswater Steamers to be cancelled again :

1. Move the event three weeks earlier into October. Fat lot of good that did us!
2. Look at the Steamer Cruise in a different light, as a bonus, and not include any additional contribution towards hire of the Steamer in your entry fees. IF we sailed, we would foot the bill as a way to celebrate our Season’s Finale
3. If we had to, implement a FREE park and ride option for those wanting to use it
4. To add an additional, longer emergency route in the afternoon, so that the 10K runners didn’t have to hang around in the cold all day, and the 14K runners could run a longer course 

We’ll always listen to constructive criticism and change our plans accordingly.

So there you are.  Not sure what else they could have done.

Besides, I was quite taken with the idea of an emergency 10k eh?  I love the notion of that, being made to run 10k in a collective panic with sirens blasting and blue lights flashing overheard.  To call it a wet-weather contingency 10k may have been marginally more truthful but face it, it would also have been a lot less exciting as an abstract concept.  Post the event I noticed some Smilies had referenced the route on Strava as the ‘no boat run’ I know what they mean but that is surely tautology of sorts, well, maybe not stating the same thing twice exactly, but certainly stating the seemingly obvious.  Running races don’t generally require boats after all, so why say that.  Unless you have accidentally signed up for the Three Peaks Yacht Race of course, in which case lord help you. Does this boat ride look fun?  Would you feel like a trot up to the summits of Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis after a stint in that? Quite.

2011 three peaks yacht race

You might as well say it was the ‘no balloon’ race, though to be fair only the other week I began with a balloon and ended without one, so perhaps that would be OK. Try again ‘no bike route’ I suppose Triathletes might use that for time to time.  Oh, for goodness sake, stop going on about it, it doesn’t matter!  The point I’m trying to make is that we didn’t run the intended 10k route on account of the fact there was too much weather for us to get on the boat safely.  The organisers therefore set us off on a shorter, alternative route, implementing their ’emergency plan’ (like you have for nuclear accidents or terrorist incidents) and hence we were running the Ullswater Emergency 10k.  Hope that’s all clear.

The cancellation changed the morning’s running dynamic certainly. A few injured runners who’d been tempted to run because of not wanting to miss out on the boat ride (which to be fair is taking on increasingly mystical status) were now feeling maybe what with having only one functional leg/foot whatever perhaps they shouldn’t.  One or two decided they needed to get home more than they needed to hang on to do a shorter route.  It was all pretty philosophical, no tantrums. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a Smiley tantrum about anything to be honest.  It’s not how we roll.  We are more likely to fall out because everyone wants to do the washing up, rather than because no-one will.  Even then there would be no falling out, only a graceful withdrawal, that’s as high as the stakes go in my experience anyway.   Well it was at this point in the day anyway, how things change…

 

In fact, at least one Smiley was positively euphoric at the prospect of a shorter run.  I encouraged her to practise sounding disappointed at the news.  Or at the very least, if she was unable to suppress her joyful guffawing she should at least try and save the situation by turning it into a disappointed ‘hah! how could they?’ sort of exclamation. We got there in the end.

I didn’t have strong feelings about the distance, but I was delighted that the delay to the start meant a cup of coffee was now a possibility.  I didn’t have cash on me, but no worries, I had a woodrun buddy on hand who paid for me.   I was a bit sad I didn’t have cash for a Lakeland buff, but maybe at ten pounds they were on the pricey side anyway.   Better yet, whilst I was in the queue I explained about the new shorter route to someone who hadn’t heard and who genuinely had a look like thunder at the news and then turned away and punched the air with an audible  ‘yay’!  She’d been on some sort of masterclass on pretend disappointment.  Very impressive delivery.

I supped coffee feeling cold and admiring my shoes.  I’ve not worn them much, but they are extraordinary.  I call them my Tardis shoes, because they look really small on the outside but are bizarrely bit from within.  They are definitely wide enough, I can’t really claim they are massively comfy, because they lack cushioning, but they are roomy enough and don’t have pressure points which is usually a massive problem for me (though not with my new innov8s either to be fair).  Miscellaneous Smiley bonding and milling and chilling continued. Non-running smilies turned up to check out what was going on.  It was fine and dandy.