off road

On Mam for Mom Mom purposes. Mend Our Mountains, Make One Million, seeing the light.

Digested read:  headed up to Mam Tor with a headtorch with hundreds of other people to get my photo taken.  A grand adventure, to help Mend Our Mountains.   Really hope that works.

Well that was weird.  Good weird, but definitely weird.  I wonder if we had a glimpse of what it will be like when the world ends.  People bumbling about in the dark, desperately seeking a leader, but finding everyone else equally clueless about what to do for the best.  Still, more of that later.

BMC MOM image

Yesterday was most educational. For a start, do you know what BMC stands for?  That’s right, The British Medical Council!  Only it doesn’t you muppet. That’s actually the GMC, and this explains why it was not so strange to find the BMC supporting this Mam Tor skyline event.  Because, people, the BMC is actually The British Mountaineering Council which you probably already knew all about, but was a complete revelation to me.  Just in case you are also in that minority that didn’t know any better, according to their website:

The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) is the representative body that exists to protect the freedoms and promote the interests of climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers, including ski-mountaineers. The BMC recognises that climbing, hill walking and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions. 

So I suppose the reference to risk of injury and death might potentially overlap in a venn diagram of common features between the GMC and the BMC but otherwise clearly not the same thing at all actually, so glad we have cleared all that up.

That’s all very well, but what has this all got to do with the price of eggs you are probably wondering.  I’ll refrain from lamenting the welfare of chickens for now, and try to fill you in.  So, a few weeks back, I saw some random Facebook post, seeking volunteers/ participants, to sign up for an initiative that is part of an apparently nationwide campaign ‘Mend Our Mountains.’  Despite  the absence of either a medal or T-shirt for those who take part – which is becoming my standard expectation if I’m to be persuaded to venture out these days – it did look interesting. It was free to take part, but you did have to register in advance.  The idea was to basically light up the Mam Tor skyline by packing it with lots of people wearing head torches.  This all to raise awareness of Britain’s amazing landscapes, and the challenges they face.  Raising funds too – Mend Our Mountains, Make One Million to help maintain and preserve some of the pathways that give access to such stunning locations.

Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million is a call to action to everyone who values the hills, mountains and landscapes of Britain. It aims to galvanise mass support for things we all use: the paths, bridleways and bridges which underpin our experiences in the great outdoors. Through a year-long appeal we aim to raise £1 million in total for a range of vital projects within the UK’s entire family of 15 National Parks. Navigate our website to find out more.

Volunteers needed

The event is inspired by events like the Lakeland Festival of Light (coming up on May 5) and the lighting up of the Matterhorn.

To fully illuminate the Great Ridge, we need hundreds of volunteers to turn out on the night and pack the length of the route, from Mam Tor (the ‘Shivering Mountain’) on the western end of the ridge, all the way across to Lose Hill at the eastern end. Headline sponsors Cotswold Outdoor and Snow + Rock will be helping us drum up support in-store and online.

A combination of head torches worn by the volunteers and high-powered lanterns will create a snaking line of light across the route which will then be captured on camera. The resulting publicity will give a big boost to the BMC’s Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million appeal, as well as highlighting National Camping and Caravanning Week.

Not sure about the caravan thing, but a romp up Mam Tor on a summer’s evening sounded fun, yeah, that’ll be fine, sign up, don’t really think about it, wait and see how things unfold.

Mend our mountains logo

So finally the day dawned. The Light Night 22 May 2018.  I’d got an email giving some details of the event, but despite its length it lacked basic details. Embarrassingly, given that I live in Sheffield in close proximity to Castleton and Mam Tor I don’t really know the area at all.  I ventured up Mam Tor once, on a winter day, within weeks of relocating to Sheffield.  I was practically blown off the top by horizontal wind and rain, it was an entirely unpleasant wasn’t an entirely pleasant experience to be fair, though it was memorable.  ‘Nippy out’ doesn’t really cover it.  Parking was described as being in ‘Goosehill’ and the email gave a link that presumed you had a smart phone, which I don’t and said vague things referring to marshals as being around to direct you, and it being a 30 minute walk to the Mam Tor control point where you had to meet.  Oh well, how hard can it be to find?  I thought to myself, as I squished a headtorch, a water bottle, loads of clothes and some naked bars into my battered backpack. It’ll all be clear in the end.

I was hoping to go with other Smilies, as a fair number had planned on going.  Then, due to communication failures, my paranoia, extenuating circumstances, confusion and no doubt contributory negligence on my part, many bailed, and long story short, I ended up going on my own.  Oh my life, the scenery heading out was absolutely stunning!  I am so lucky to live in this part of the world where on my doorstep is such stupendous beauty.  As is always the way, I inwardly berated myself for not heading out further afield more often.  It was breathtaking out there.  Perfect views across the moors and mountain.  I’m not going to lie, my enthusiasm waned somewhat as I headed to Goosehill, using a postcode scavenged from the internet, and ended up in a cul-de-sac, totally lost.  I then headed off towards the peak caverns – or whatever they are called, again, absolutely stunning, and I found the Devil’s Arse car park, but remembered vaguely reading somewhere that this was not where to park.  I didn’t see a single sign anywhere, I asked loads of random people if they were heading to the Mend our mountains event and got blank uncomprehending looks back in return.  This did not bode well.  I headed up through the extraordinary landscape scouting for clues.  It was certainly picturesque, but I had no clue where I was supposed to be, and there was zero signage, and no Close Encounters style gathering in progress that I could see.  I was torn between annoyance and disappointment.  If hundreds were out to support this that would be magnificent, but it would be such a shame if like me, wannabe participants were just aimlessly driving around tantalisingly close to proceedings but might as well be diving a coral reef in the antipodes as with no sense of where to rendezvous there seemed little chance of anyone getting to take part in this noble endeavour.  I wanted the event to succeed, but was massively frustrated that it was so hard to locate it.

Eventually, in desperation I used the postcode on my event ticket.  I know, I know, you are probably thinking why didn’t I use that in the first place.  OK wise arse, well the thing is, that postcode didn’t correspond to the other directions we’d been given, and wasn’t a ‘proper’ carpark such that 800 participants might reasonably gather there.  S33 8WA is in fact the point nearest the paths that lead to the Broken Road. I  know this now, I didn’t last night.

I arrived at a pretty much deserted dead-end, from where you could see Mam Tor above but it was not at all obvious how to get to the check point from here.  There was a camper van, and two other vehicles.  In a last-ditch attempt to salvage things i asked some walkers who were donning walking boots if they were here for the Mend Our Mountains thing. They were!  Hurrrah!  They too were a bit discombobulated (I just really wanted to use that word today to be honest) as had seen neither any other potential participants, signage or marshals. However, they did know the area, and were confident that from where we were parked, we could walk up to the Mam Tor control point via the broken road.  Nope, no idea what they were saying, white noise basically. They offered to let me walk up with them, but there was another new arrival who was just getting sorted, so I opted to follow them up with her, as they were confident it would be pretty much impossible to get lost.

We duly pootled on behind them. It was quite a haul.  I didn’t put my watch on which is really annoying, as it would be interesting to see where we actually went. However, I can report that it was a long, hot, uphill trudge.  Significantly further than I’d expected to walk.  I was already fretting a bit about how on earth I’d find my way back again in the pitch dark.  Particularly as the broken road – which it turns out, is exactly that, a broken road!  Involved a fair bit of clambering as it just plummets away vertiginously.  I learned later that this was at various times the Mam Tor Road was intended to be quite a major roadway, but the shivering mountain kept producing landslides that made it completely nonviable, and attempts to keep maintaining it were officially abandoned back in the late seventies. It was amazing though to look at, so unexpected in that landscape.  Learn something every day. Sometimes lots of things!

Having hoiked our weary carcasses up the broken road, and past some cavern or other we were soon confused all over again.  We kept asking people if they knew about the event, but nobody did. Eventually, we struck lucky and some walkers also participating in the event directed us to a patch of woodland, within which is the car park from which you can access Mam Tor. We got there eventually, but even when you were right on top of it there was not a solitary sign.  Only the glimpse of hi-vis reflective clothing through the trees gave any clue that we were in the right place. This did not bode well for people finding the rendezvous point unaided, even if they set off intending to come….

Once in the car park, there was a jolly registration desk, with BMC bunting, and a big sign up saying ‘Mend Our Mountains’.  A gaggle of marshals wearing hi-viz were mid-briefing with the organisers.  The gist seemed to be that there was a super-race of senior marshals who would head off first and be placed at 300 metre intervals all along the ridge top.  These were generally mountain leader qualified or equivalent.  Other marshals would lead participants off in groups of ten, and then the idea was one head-torch donned participant would be placed at every 10 metres along the ridge.  Then, to capture photos, participants would have to walk forward for about 5 metres, and then walk backwards over the same distance?  Eh?  Long exposure photography would then be able to capture the image of a line of light, as opposed to loads of little dots I think.  The aspiration was something like this:

Lakeland festival of light

this was taken at The Lakeland Festival of light, and is pretty cool.  Well, we’ll have to wait and see won’t we.

Part of the briefing included a plea to preserve such spaces.  Brexit means there is no European funding for such projects; austerity has resulted in a loss of public funding it seems the fate of many such places could come down to private individuals, or organisations such as the BMC that try to fundraise to maintain access paths and similar.  There was also general safety points about if there is an incident on the mountain, basically, call 999/ mountain rescue as you would in any ‘real’ emergency, though obviously there was an event HQ to assist.  Particular mention was made of the importance of NOT SMOKING.  There have been some devastating fires in the peaks in recent days.  Some from BBQ kits but possibly some deliberately started too.  Heartbreaking. One fire on the Eastern Moors covered around 45 hectares and will have had a severe impact on wildlife is believed to have been started deliberately.  How crap is that.

 

The registration area was well organised, a long list of printed names of participants so we could be ticked off an issued with a wrist band as we arrived.  There were collection buckets for change, and some merchandise.  The mood was upbeat, and there was considerable optimism from the organisers that hundreds would be coming.    Personally I was a bit dubious.  So many I knew had dropped out and finding it was a challenge worthy of The Today Programme’s current penchant for setting a fiendish puzzle for today. I can never even understand the questions.  Starting the day feeling inadequate is no fun at all.

Still, things were looking up, I espied a Smiley after all.  Hurrah, there would be companionable yomping after all.  As we were amongst the early arrivals, we were herded together in a group of ten, and started the trek across the ridge.  Mam Tor to lose hill. This was most educational for me, as I’ve never known what all the various bits are called.  We had the furthest to walk, as we’d set off early, so plenty of time to get to Losehill.  It was quite a trek.  It was gorgeous as we headed off, the sun slowly falling.  It was still warm and the views were just stunning.  My camera can’t do it justice, but you’ll get the idea maybe.

 

My camera might not have done it justice, but fortunately Phil Sproson’s did – check this image out, just wow!  He is seeking donations for the cause so click on the link and donate to show your appreciation.  And I was there people!  You can just make out some people gathering in the distance.

PS light up the mountain shot

The path is pretty clear, but quite scrambly in parts.  I was increasingly doubtful about how I’d cope with the return leg in darkness.  Oh well, in for a penny…

 

It was good fun really, being out in the landscape, chit chatting with other participants.  I was reunited with the couple who I’d met parking up earlier. I  was relieved, I was banking on them to get me back to my car later.  We all chit chatted merrily.  One had been to try to watch the flyby of the Lancaster Bomber at Derwent Dam to mark the Dambusters 75th anniversary.  This entire event passed me by, I’d heard of it, then forgot, and because I’m essentially shallow, was almost pleased when it was cancelled because this removed my otherwise insurmountable fear of missing out.  I accept it makes me a terrible human being that even if I may try to pretend otherwise, I was secretly momentarily relived the wind got in the way of everyone else’s fun because if I couldn’t enjoy it why should they. How terrible am I?  A typhoon went instead, but was so much later than expected many of those who rocked up to see it missed that as well.  Instead the Lancaster fly by took place later, unexpectedly, so everyone got to miss it basically.  Oh well. Good that Johnny got his flight in the end I suppose.

battle of britain memorial flight

Our companions turned out to be something of a media sensation.  One having recently been featured in some cycling magazine.  I know!  The other had links to radio so we were mingling with the stars indeed.  Mind you, everyone out and about on the ridge is now essentially a sporting superstar, as this event was graced with none other than Julia Bradbury!  Oh my gawd, contain yourself people.  Also, someone from Made in Chelsea, which none of us had ever seen, so, nope, no idea.   So we all get to be TV superstars by association now.  Mind you, whilst I don’t like to brag, I would like to point out that my own media career began with a BBC appearance whilst an audience member for the original Sooty and Sweep show.  Just sayin.

Apparently, you can sometimes see the Aurora from Mam Tor.  Wow, didn’t know that.  We wondered whether we might see them, and whether we did or not we should just tell everyone we had, just because.   We didn’t though, and we didn’t.

northern lights from mam tor

We tramped on and up, past many a senior marshal sat back and enjoying the views, often smiling broadly and/or munching on their sandwiches whilst waiting for the evening to unfold.  It was all pretty relaxed and very, very spectacular.  Here I am, trudging… thanks Smiley Buddy for the photo.

IE trudging up hill

Eventually, we arrived at Losehill, which initially was to be our designated base camp.  My smiley buddy settled down with her coffee flask for the duration.  Almost immediately we were advised that we had to trek onward, to the next base camp. Just like an Everest expedition I imagine, where different satellite camps bring you ever closer to your final destination.  Actually, it turned into a bit of a theme for the evening.  Every time my Smiley buddy settled, unpacked her back pack and made herself comfy, we were shunted onward.

 

It was certainly picturesque, but it was also a bit confusing.  We were all shooed up to the far end of the ridge, and looking back you could see that basically there were loads of us all squished up in one place, and a noticeable sparsity of any headtorch wearing walkers below.  It seemed stupid that more walkers were being sent to join us, but there was this great gap of path with no-one on it.  We all started speculating on what the plan was?  Was there even a plan?  If there was a plan, who was in possession of it?  Nobody knew. This is where I started to wonder if this is what it will be like when the world ends.  Loads of us stumbling around in the dark, clueless, asking each other what we should do, but nobody really showing any initiative. Wearing a  hi-viz didn’t seem to confer any particular knowledge advantage either, and having a walkie-talkie didn’t necessarily help as not all were working.  Oh dear.   Dusk started to fall. The temperature dropped, plummeted even.  I was glad of all my extra layers.  It’s astonishing how the wind picks up and the sun goes in, and suddenly you realise just how exposed it is up there.  It was positively nippy all over again.

Despite the confusion, it was quite jolly surrendering to the event and shunting back and forth up the mountain.  At one point a red light appeared in the sky like a monitoring UFO, which is basically what it was, in the form of a drone.  After this, frantic chit-chat ensued, and, as some of us had predicted, we were instructed to head back down the trail, back towards Mam Tor, to spread out more and infill the gaps. As little ants on the landscape, whilst important for the overall implementation of the vision, it was actually incredibly hard to judge where we should be.  I got lucky at one point, finding myself on nice even path protected by a wall, but subsequent juggling meant I ended up on an exposed high point with a wind chill that was more than bracing as it whipped up my layers of clothing like a ferret on heat up a pair of trouser legs.  Probably, I don’t really know from personal experience to be honest, but the analogy pleases me nevertheless.

 

Astonishingly, facilitated by much running to and fro from a particularly long-legged marshal, we did end up sort of in place, with head torches on.  I started to believe that this might actually work, as we could see the lights way, way back on Mam Tor.  Headtorches give off an incredible amount of light it seems.  Because it was now dark, we had to communicate with shouts.   But of course, every time someone turned their head to hear the instructions over the rush of wind and considerable distances, it meant their torches were facing the wrong way.  Eventually, we were told to just face towards first Losehill, then Winhill (I think) where there was small beacon of white light we had to look at, and finally to stare ahead at Mam Tor itself for about 4 minutes, and then we all had to move as automatons, slowly walking forwards, I think that is where they hoped to get The Shot.  According to the original briefing, we were then expected to walk backwards over the same distance.  Mercifully, this plan was abandoned, it would have been impossible on that terrain.  I’d love to have seen the paperwork for the risk assessment of that idea!

Suddenly, it seemed we were done!  Oh!  Is that it then?  More confusion, but mainly a trail of people, like a great human caravan of migrants crossing a desert in search of water, we all started to file back off the hilltop.  Four of us in our group of ten decided to take the ‘short cut’ off the mountainside, to take us more directly back to our cars, rather than go all the way back to the Mam Tor check point and then back down the broken road.  To do this, we first had to surrender our wrist bands to our marshal so she could henceforth relinquish all responsibility for our safety.  I say we all did, but actually the other three did, but my wrist band had mysteriously disappeared, much to my horror.  Surely I’d not inadvertently dropped it and so littered the very terrain I was hoping to protect?  Aaargh.

Having so signed our lives away, we headed off through a gate, over a style and plunged down the mountain.  Ooops.  Maybe this wasn’t the best of ideas.  It was very steep, and very rough ground.  The headtorches did illuminate the path, such as it was, but they also cast shadows, it made the grass look like it was three D film seen without the necessary special glasses.  The ground seemed to move and it was all a bit out of focus.  I was really picking my way down.  Some bits required going on my arse to negotiate steep bits.  I wasn’t having fun really.  At one point I felt a bolt of pain go through my knee.  Oops.  It did pass, but that wasn’t good.  Our guides though were incredibly attentive – the two walkers i met earlier who offered to guide me back were thoughtful and discrete.  One went in front, and one behind at a tactful distance and carefully slow pace, for which I was very grateful.  It’s ages since I’ve been out with a headtorch, and not ever over such unfamiliar terrain.  It was quite lose shingle in places, and felt precarious.  Then, just to keep you on your toes, periodically there’d be a really boggy patch – which I preferred as I’d rather have wet feet than go flying over the rough stones.  Even so, I did some unscheduled fast bits as I stumbled on the slopes. There were some high points though, like the comedy style, which some of us clambered over, before reealising it had literally no purpose, being a style without a fence.  Also, you could see the head torch lights of other walkers snaking down various paths, it was quite impressive.

After a mile or so of scrambling, we came across a fallen walker.  She was trembling with shock, and I thought at first she might have broken an ankle.  She was with calm friends, who were reassuring her, and encouraging her to take her time, but she was most insistent she wanted to get up. We sort of hovered at a distance in case help was needed, but her friends got her up and helped her, and we all walked on together for a bit, until we reached a sign that was the parting of the ways. They dropped down onto a tarmac road that would take them to Castleton, we headed back up for some reason, alongside a farm in darkness, and ending up back on the broken road.  I had absolutely no idea where I was, and was very grateful that it wasn’t some ghastly orienteering challenge where we’d all have to take turns in leading the route or we’d still be out there.  Slowly dying.

Whilst walking back, I learned that Julia whatsit is bivvying on Mam Tor with the Made in Chelsea chap.  They must be mad, freezing out there, and there are some lovely B&Bs locally.  Oh well, each to their own.

We didn’t die slowly though.  Oh no.  We ‘suddenly’ emerged at the turning point ahead of where we’d parked our cars.

This is how we got there – forgot to turn on my tomtom for first part.  Doh:

strava mend our mountains

There was one car lurking with headlights on.  My Smiley Buddy confidently pronounced this to be her lift.  I was more cautions, much more likely to be a mad axe murderer in my book, why else would you be parked up on a remote hillside near midnight other than to lie in wait for returning lost walkers I ask you?  Still, she went calmly to her fate.  We all said our farewells, and I clambered back into my car, discovering my lost wrist band stuffed up my sleeve as I delayered to allow sufficient movement to operate my car controls for the journey home.

It was now about 11.30.  You know what, it was a really good event.  The organisation wasn’t great, well not unless you already knew the area, but it was probably good enough. The cause is really important though, and I’m genuinely excited at the prospect of seeing the photo, which I think we will get to do.  I understand some prints are being sold off, but presumably the photo itself is for publicity purposes.

IF I GET IT, IT WILL GO HERE!  And I did, and here it is, one of them anyway

MOM official photo

Yep, pretty good – you can buy quality prints too from the BMC shop.  They say ‘All profits from sales of the prints will go towards the Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million appeal, and help to repair exponentially worsening erosion damage in some of our most treasured landscapes.’ and I’m sure they will.  Some pictures on the BMC Facebook post about the event too.

So, the goal of the event for them, was to get that winning night light shot along the ridge and so to help raise a million, and raise awareness of the issues facing our open spaces along the way too.  If you’d like to donate to the Mend Our Mountains appeal, you can do so here.  I hope they achieved that.

My goal was to have a micro adventure and explore an area of outstanding beauty that despite being on my doorstep I just haven’t really got out to see very much.  I think I met my objective for the occasion too.  It was grand.

Today is the day after.  Tomorrow if you will.  I’m sorry to say my knee is sore and my shins ouchy again too.  Maybe just ignoring this and hoping it will go away isn’t working any more.  I think the Hathersage Hurtle, lovely as it was, has taken a bit of a toll.  Oh dear.

Anyways, that was  my Mom Mom night out on Mam.  Very fine it was too.  Reet good even.

I’m very excited about seeing the photo now.  We didn’t have to wait very long for that!  There wasn’t a lot of other coverage about the event, though I did find a very grand BBC video of Light Up the Mountain later on.  The link is below.   Meantime though, check out this epic photo from Phil Sproson photography I love his photos from events all over, but this one is especially awesome!  You can see a lovely black and white version and donate to the cause by way of appreciation here.  Go on, go on – you know you want to!

PS photo make our mountains

Oh, and the pretty cool video the BBC did about Lighting up the peak is here.  Wow, we were ‘absolutely fantastic’ apparently.  Go us.  As well as being like something out of a science fiction movie and being a great thing to do on a Tuesday night!  Hurrah.  It’s nice to be absolutely fantastic I find, especially on a Tuesday.

Night y’all.

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Hathersage Turtle or Hathersage Hurt? Run it, walk it, love it! Hurtling through the peaks.

Digested read: Last saturday, I hurtled round Hathersage.  I say ‘hurtled’ but what I actually mean is I walked, but for 20 miles (ish), and you know what, it was lovely!  Corker of an event with fabulous views and the option of eating your body weight in cake (vegan options available).  Pathologically friendly organisers, cheery marshals, good parking, guaranteed sunshine* and you can either run or walk depending on your preferences – though you do need to decide in advance.  What’s not to like?  Fun** guaranteed!  Miss it, miss out.  You have been warned.

*maybe not that

**type two fun also available

HH shot

Saturday 19th May 2018 will be immortalised in history due to event memorabilia.  Quite right too, mementos of special events are to be treasured.  I went home after this one with one of these:

Whilst I’d be the first to concede orange isn’t really my colour, I still consider this vestment infinitely more wearable than the alternative event’s souvenir clothing options.

royal wedding swimwear

Apart from anything else, I don’t know where you’d be able to pin your race number?  There is a bikini option available as well to be fair, but I doubt that it would provide the same level of support as a proper sports bra, so that’s a definite ‘no’ from me.  I’m sure the merchandise marketers will be devastated to hear this.  Still, I care little for their feelings, I knew where I’d rather be.

So, on this auspicious day t’was the Hathersage Hurtle.  It’s only the second time this even has taken place, so I reckon I can be forgiven for being a bit vague about what I’d signed up for in advance.  I signed up for it back in February sometime, blooming ages ago, without particularly concentrating.  In the way that many of us do sign up for events in the midst of winter, fondly imagining by the time they come round we will have trained to a peak of fitness that was previously beyond our wildest imaginings.  ‘Oh that’s ages away’ I must have thought, ‘I’ll have smashed the London marathon   by then’ I must have elaborated, ‘recovered from it too!  Yep, go me and a 20 mile trail run with 2,500 foot of ascent.  What could possibly go wrong? It need hold no fear for me.‘  What actually happened was I completely forgot I entered.  I did get around London, but it was very hot, and afterwards my shins were very ouchy (which for the record might not be an official medical term, but most certainly should be).  Consequently, I’d only really done a parkrun in the weeks that followed, and then when I vaguely registered that I had entered this Hathersage Turtle thingamajig, I initially fondly imagined it would be just a nice little trail trot round some picturesque paths somewhere, 4 miles tops.  I nearly had heart failure when a bit of research told me that I’d actually signed up for this:

The Hathersage Hurtle is an exciting new event in the Hope Valleycovering 20 miles and 2,500 feet of ascent, a challenging course that you can run or walk. It will start and finish in Hathersage with walkers setting off before a mass start for the runners at 10am. There will behot drinks available at the start and lovely home-baked cakes at the finish.

Ooops.  Then again, there was a walking option.  I decided running wasn’t really on the cards for me, ouchy shins and all,  so got in touch with the organisers, who for the record are absolutely lovely.  Well the one who wrote to me was, I suppose I should treat that as illustrative evidence not necessarily conclusive proof that they all are.  … anyway, she basically told me that London was all well and good, but this event would have better views and more cake, plus, no problem with joining the walkers if I wished. Hurrah, that’s what I’d do then.  Plus, I’d get my t-shirt.  That’s the thing about knowing which events to sign up to, it helps if you have sufficient insight to understand what motivates you. Failing that, it helps if the organisers use their skill and judgement to lay on the most populist lowest common denominator to draw participants in, which increasingly – I’m glad to say – has been shown to be cake.   The only downside of all this was that the event takes place on a Saturday, so that would mean sacrificing parkrun, but hey ho, parkrun is here to stay, and I can get my fix again next week.  Bring it on.

The day dawned, glorious sunshine.  It was going to be a scorcher.  It was a bit weird going to a run event as a walker, but good weird.  Zero pressure, in fact, I was a bit too chilled about it, and on the morning suddenly realised I’d not packed up my running belt.   I had no idea about water stations, or kit.  I was expecting it to be hot out there, but equally, it’s exposed and conditions can change quickly.  At woodrun on Thursday, where I joined runners for coffee without having done the run bit first, we were talking about risks on the fells.  Only a couple of weeks ago a Polish runner died doing a recce for the Bob Graham, despite being an experienced runner who’d set off with a companion, but they’d got separated.  I wasn’t expecting this scenario to unfold on Stanage Edge, but I did think it was only fair to respect the kit requirements. So I filled up my water bottles, stuck in some naked bars, dug out a whistle, and dredged out my windproof jacket just in case.  So equipped I headed off in time to register ahead of the 8.00 a.m. walking start.

Oh wow.  Even the drive over to Hathersage lifted my spirits. It was just breath-taking scenery along the way.  What with all my London Marathon training (have I mentioned at all that I did that this year?  Oh I have.  Really?)  I’ve been concentrating on flatter routes, specifically the Monsal Trail.  I’ve missed being out in the peaks proper.  Yes, it’s a challenge dragging my weary carcass up them there hills, but the views that reward you are truly spectacular.  Not going to lie though, it is a lot easier driving up to the high points than it is making your way up on foot.  This was just taken en route to the meet up point:

off to hathersage hurtle

I got a bit lost on the way, as the instructions had only given a grid reference, and not a post code.  I used the sat nav and the postcode S32 1BA  to get to the David Mellor Cutlery Factory instead, and arrived just about 7.15.  – the event HQ was just adjacent.  There were people milling about in high viz and a huge orange banner up proclaiming the event. The car park was in a field, still occupied by cows.  Some marshals shooed them gently to the other end of the field, and then opened the gate to let me in –  I was the first person to park up.  The cows just ignored us, which was good. There have been a series of recent attacks on runners and walkers by cattle turned out in the Limb Valley which has made me a bit wary.  I know they are protective of their young, but it’s not a great mix having aggressive cattle grazing where footpaths pass through. Still, no point in fretting about leg three of the Round Sheffield Run just yet, plenty of time for that later…  These bovines were fine and dandy.

cattle companions in car park field

I sat in the car faffing for a bit, and soon a few other early birds rocked up.  The two next to me were brandishing nordic walking poles, and they were clearly quite a boon, as they powered by me later on when the event was underway.  After a bit I crossed over the road to register.

over the road to sign in

There were lots of marshals to assist you over the road.  There wasn’t much traffic.  I wistfully wished they’d had proper lollipop sticks for the occasion, but alas, that was too much to hope for.  Maybe an innovation for next year. Not because it’s actually necessary, but because the notion pleases me.  I’m thinking more giant actual lollipops a la Willie Wonker, rather than the traditional ‘lollipop lady’ offering, but either would do.

This event was incredibly well organised.  There was an army of pathologically friendly marshals and helpers to get you registered. This involved having your name ticked off an alphabetical list, and being issued with a wrist band with inbuilt dibber oojamaflip.  Then you could go to another marshal, who was responsible for issuing of t-shirts to those who had pre-ordered them.  There were loads though, so you could buy one if you wanted to afterwards.  The shirts weren’t technical, but they were unique.  The back having been designed by a presumably local, child.  ‘Keep running’ indeed!

It was all very efficient.  There was a women’s changing room, and presumably a men’s too somewhere.  There was no officially supervised bag drop, but you could leave your stuff in the changing area which I did.  It didn’t look like anyone else had, but to be fair the car park was so near, if you were worried, you could have easily left things in your vehicle if you’d driven or been driven by your chauffeur if you are the sort of runner who has staff.  Though I suppose logically, if in the latter category, your staff would watch your bag anyway?  I don’t know.  Look, just stop fretting about the bag issue, it was fine. There were also portaloos for those of us who require a precautionary pee, and with the walkers as there was a leisurely starting window (you could head off anytime between 8.00 and 9.00) there were no queues at this stage either which was a first.  Later I think for the runners there was more of the traditional queuing.  However, I always think that’s a grand opportunity to make new friends via idle running chit-chat, and part of the traditional build up to any event.

PS traditional loo queue

Putting on my number was a bit of a trauma.  They were ENORMOUS.  Trying to find a space to accommodate it what with my running belt and my jacket round my waist as well was a challenge.  A few people, with higher IQs than me, thought to fold it down to size and my walking buddy for the day pinned it on her shorts, that was smart.  I have no idea why they were so spectacularly super-sized, perhaps they are still experimenting with what is to be their USP for this event.  Last year I understand it was a vintage tractor display en route in the form of the Annual Castlegate Tractor Run, but they weren’t able to pull that off again this year for some reason.  I think seeing all those machines chugging by would have been splendid, but apparently it was less so for runners trying to manoeuvre around them.  Light weights!  Part of the joy of trail running is the encounters with the unexpected surely…

All sorted eventually, I figured I might as well head off at 8.00, which is when the walkers were officially allowed to start.  By happy coincidence another injured smiley was also walking, so we agreed to pootle round together, by which I obviously mean ‘stride out purposefully’. I was a bit worried I’d hijacked her planned contemplative walk, but she seemed not to mind, and it was good fun having company on the way round.  Walking this distance is very different from running it though. Apart from the very obvious ‘not being required to run’ element, the interactions along the way are different.  When I run, I tend to find I strike up brief conversations with other similarly paced runners as we sort of leap-frog each other on the way round.  (Just to be clear, I mean metaphorically as in shifting our positions relative to one another, not literally as in seeking a competitive advantage by bounding over their bent backs).  This means that, in theory at least, you should never be stuck with a runner or they with you other than by choice.  You can strategically sprint off, or, if that is beyond your physical capabilities, drop back and let them stream ahead to allow a tactful parting of the ways.  Walking is different, because once you are with a walker of a similar pace, you are likely to stay with them throughout, depending on either your luck or judgement, you may find yourself in for a very long day.

Another friendly marshal (honestly, friendly marshals were ten a penny at this event, and that’s not even counting the cake wielding ones we encountered en route) mustered the walkers that were ready for off, and we after being dibbed out (which I nearly forgot to do which would have been a catastrophe as it’s a well-known fact that if you didn’t dib it didn’t happen) we were led across the road again and waved off on our way.

It was a very sedate start.  Maybe because of this, I completely forgot to turn my tomtom on, until about a mile in, which was irritating, as it is another well-known fact that if a run/walk isn’t on Strava then it didn’t happen either.  Oops.  Walkers sort of drifted off whenever they wanted, which is quite unlike the mass start the runners had later.  The photos for that looked fab!

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It felt really odd walking.  To be honest, initially I felt a bit of a fraud wearing a race number ‘just’ to walk.  However, I got over that pretty quickly.  It was really nice to just be able to walk and enjoy the views.  Being amongst walkers was a very different experience.  Many seem to do a lot of these long distance walking challenges and were kitted out with walking boots and backpacks as opposed to our rather lightweight running gear.  Some had come from quite far afield to attend. I’m sure someone said they’d come from Wales, but maybe I imagined that.  People did most definitely stride out.  Some had donned their orange tee-shirts.  There were a fair few couples holding hands.  Well, I’m assuming they were couples, maybe they’d just got on really well after bumping into one another at registration and were just going to see how it went from there.

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It was rather sweet, the amount of unashamed hand holding going on, don’t tend to see that at running events, unless it’s a trail race and a running club member has paused to try to haul a fellow runner out of a bog say, but that’s not really the same. Also, I think we all know that the first reaction to seeing a fellow runner face plant into a bog is to laugh and point and then maybe take a photo or two before proffering a hand of support.  It’s what we runners expect, it’s fine, all part of the fun.  You must have seen the belly laughs that go on when runners fall in the rivers at the Trunce say?  They look like they are laughing and pointing, but they are doing so supportively and with affection.  Honestly.

supportive laughter at the trunce

As always, I had no idea where we were.  I did print off a map, but honestly, it wasn’t all that detailed, though  it gave a general idea of the places we’d pass through.

HH map

Having a map with me was all very well, but I hadn’t brought my prescription glasses with me, so it was more cosmetic than practical assistance.  Not to worry though, I basically outsourced navigation.  By keeping other walkers in sight, we didn’t really have to navigate as such at all.  There were marshals at key junctions, and on the rare occasions where we didn’t have anyone to follow because we’d stopped for a natter with marshals and lost sight of others ahead say, there were red and white ties to follow.  I gather a few people did do unplanned detours, but one of those was due to someone deliberately laying a false trail.  I’ve got caught out by that at my first ever fell race.  Came in behind the sweeper at the Wingerworth Wobble!  Oops.  It happens.  As a walker finding your way was fine, as a runner if you ended up on your own I’d say it was still probably fine.  Which is good enough, you only really need to worry if you are in the lead I reckon, which has never happened in my universe.

It was a hot, hot day.  This route is definitely lovely, but somehow achieves what should logically be impossible, it appears to be almost all uphill.  True to terrain, we therefore immediately started onward and upward.  I was very relieved not to be running.  We were heading out just after 8.00 and it was already pretty warm, by the time runners left at 10.00 ish it would be a lot less fun in soaring temperatures.  For we walkers though, this was ace.  We could stop and admire the view, we could take pictures.  Excellent.

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Although we were but walking, we didn’t miss out on the official photographer.  As my running buddy observed we tried to finesse our shot with mixed success, resulting in an image that was both hideous and awesome – I think that is fitting, as this is what much of running feels like to me as well.  Others did rather better at nailing their race photo poses.  I consider our effort to be very much work in progress.  Can you guess which is which of these two offerings?  One features more experienced photo posers, the other me and my Smiley compatriot…

I know – easy to tell the shots apart really because of the Smiley Vest!  Outed.  You get the idea though.

So we headed out, and we basically walked and talked.  Topics of conversation were many and varied.  Of particular interest to you as a fellow runner dear reader, was the one about missing toenails. I’ve never lost a toenail through running.  I don’t care that apparently it doesn’t really hurt.  The very idea horrifies me.  However, I had a rare moment of insight on our walk.  Maybe I don’t lose toenails, because the arthritis in my feet means my toes don’t bend and flex properly. Thus, they can’t rub against my shoes the way ‘normal’ feet do.  I wonder if this is true, or Lucy Logic, a phrase which encompasses things I believe to be true based on my subjective experience.  Theoretically, I understand that these things may not be, but I will hang onto these views until I receive absolute evidence to the contrary.  I believe most people have their own variants of this outlook, irrespective of whether or not they choose to ‘fess up to it.  Another Lucy Logic view, I may yet be sucked into a vortex of my own self-perpetuating logic if this continues.  Well, you have to go somehow.

It was so nice to be out and about, and without the angstyness of trying to run when the body protests.  Our nordic walking friends powered past us at one point, despite being delayed at the start because one of them had left their dibber in the car.  They were a good advert for trying these.  I’m beginning to wonder if I ought to start to experiment with the now I have ouchy shins and a new pained knee to match.

PS way to do it

To be perfectly honest, for me the main difference between walking at an event and running at an event, is that I got to do all the things I normally do: pause to admire the view; stop to chat to marshals; stop to take photos; stop because I’m tired; chit-chat to passers-by; chit-chat to other runners; stop because I’m having a drink – you get the idea – but whereas when in a running event I feel bad because I ‘shouldn’t’  do these things, when you are walking it’s considered completely legitimate.  It’s basically a pass to enjoy yourself, and not feel like every step taken at a walk marks you out as a failure as a runner and therefore as a human being.

We got official stops too. Like when we got dibbed by marshals.

All the marshals were fantastic.  Soooooooooooo friendly and encouraging. Granted, it probably helped that it was a gloriously sunny day, but I do think that either they were a product of some captive breeding programme whereby they’d been selectively chosen for friendly temperaments, or at the very least they all went through some sort of vigorous recruitment programme to check they could do jovial small talk, clapping, cheering, congenial laughter and directional pointing.  Basically, all those I met would be great as marshals at junior parkrun, and I can give no greater compliment or vote of confidence in their skills than that.  Thank you all.

They were indeed stationed at strategic points, let the records show extra blue arrows were in place to assist with navigation. These were a bit like the red arrows, only with less ability to fly and a bit quieter, but otherwise indistinguishable.  Despite this large blue arrow, and the presence of two smiley marshals, me and my Smiley compatriot did try to head off down the hill and had to be called back and waved down the narrow path in the right direction.  A good example of user error to be fair.  It’s obvious now, but I could well imagine romping on down that hill had the marshals not been in place, despite the clear marking!  I’m glad we were put back on track, because this particular shaded path led to the first feed station.  It was indeed laden with more cakes than you could shake a stick at.  Carefully labelled, and with vegan options too.  From memory there were also bananas and of course, lots of water.  It was amazing, like turning up at the cake table at a school fete.  Loads of options.  Granted, a bit more tray bake (think brownies and flapjacks) rather than multi-tiered iced ones, but certainly a few with sprinkles on top.  You had to resist the temptation to consume your body weight in cake before moving on.  I’ve never seen so much.  Extraordinary.  Top work Hathersage Hurtle bakers.

Taking note of some curious features en route, we walked and talked on.  The next surprise was a check point with a Smiley in situ.  She’d pretty much put together a bespoke pack of goodies.  We could pick and choose – there were crisps there was fruit.  We lingered and ate satsumas. Well, probably not actual satsumas, but some sort of sweet citrus fruit that was lovely.  There was also a really nice dog.  Took time to say hello to s/he too.

I didn’t really know where we were, but fortunately my walking mate was game to get out the map periodically, peruse it and report back to me.  Is it bad that I giggled at the news we’d just been (in) Shatton at one point?  Yep, probably, but hey ho, I’d never heard of it.  We wandered over a bridge, some lovely marshals helped direct us over a road and waved us on, and then, oh good!  More going up hill!

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Honestly, because it was 20 miles, it’s all a bit of a blur. Don’t really know where I was when various photos were taken, but I do know that it all went quickly.   There were some official ones of me and my buddy – photos were made available for free on the Hathersage Hurtle Facebook page after the event, and they were good too, not necessarily flattering of course, that would be too much to hope for, but taken by professionals who’d given up their time to do so, and some other injured runners who’d been out supporting on the way round and also captured the occasion.  I love that.  I love reliving events by browsing all the photos after the event.  It’s probably a runners equivalent of watching daytime TV, but feels more justifiable somehow. Lucy Logic I daresay.  This snap shows the number issue though, I could have learned from my partner had I but realised it at the time!  Also, check out our jazz hands.  I know, epic.

ZA jazz hands

We were on a road section, going up hill when some of the lead runners started to storm past us.  A few had the grace to look like they were really digging deep, but others looked fresh as anything, with lovely relaxed form as if they’d only just started out.  I like watching faster runners, I don’t often get a chance to do so.  We stopped to clap them on their way, and the overwhelming majority thanked us or at least nodded acknowledgement, it was all very friendly.  One thing I did notice though, is how few of the runners I recognised.  Normally there are many familiar faces from Sheffield parkruns or local races, but this event, maybe because of its distance, or maybe because it’s relatively new, or maybe because it’s a bit further out (not much though really) seemed to draw on a different area. There was good contingent of Porter Valley Plodders, a few Smilies of course, inevitably some Striders, but lots of other club represented that I didn’t recognise. Barnsley Harriers were there too.  This club is well-known for being lovely.  It’s a Lucy Logic thing again, but definitely FACT.  There were a lot of runners not wearing club vests too, which was rather refreshing actually.  I tried to snap some photos of runners flying past.  They aren’t great, the photos I mean, not the runners, the runners were all exceedingly great,  but I was showing willing.

After what seemed like near endless hot tarmac, we finally got to head out onto the moors and via a feed station positively groaning with cake, on and up to the first of the edges.

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It was blooming lovely.  I felt a bit sorry for the actual ‘proper’ runners who had no time to linger and debate which of the many and varied items of confectionery they wished to indulge in.  I also felt quite excited, because this part of the route is so spectacular.  Again, because we were walking not running, instead of feeling the pressure of a hill, it was just the challenge of going up in the knowledge that you’d be rewarded with stunning views ahead.  What’s more, as walkers we’d be able to stop and admire them. Runners, even if they stopped, probably wouldn’t be able to see as their eyes would be stinging with the sweat that’s run off their fevered brows, and the exertion would have had their eyes bulging out of their sockets as well, so they’d have to shove them back in again before they could even begin to focus. I’ve decided I’m quite a convert to this walking malarkey, way less stressful!  Some people opted to sit at the side of the roads to cheer runners by.  I’m not sure if they actually knew participants, or were just soaking up the mood in the sun. Either is possible, both desirable.

So finally we were up top.  How gorgeous was that!

We were just calculating when the first Smiley runners should be coming through, right on cue, one appeared.  We distracted her to the point she stopped, but she was fairly sprinting until we interrupted.  Go Smiley!

Other runners started coming through fast and furious.  It’s a fantastic run route on Stanage Edge, it made me realise I really must make the effort to get out and explore it again.  It’s technical enough to be fun boulder hoping without being terrifying, this can be a tricky balance in seeking trail routes hereabout in my experience.

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It was extra fun when we espied people we knew, and even more fun, when I got one doing a star jump en route.  Result!  She’s not known as a running super star in these parts for nothing!

super star

Excellent and effortless fell running technique there.

Onward we went, and eventually a bit of down to get to Burbage Bridge.  Here there was an unofficial water station as some enterprising marshals had got out an extra-large water bottle to draw on.  It was most welcome.  This was back on familiar ground, so the miles passed quickly.  It felt to me like we were nearly home, though to be honest we weren’t really.

So you emerge the far end of the path, cross a road, and then into some welcome shade skirting the Longshaw Estate and taking in Padley Gorge.  Astonishingly, I’ve never actually done this path before.  It was pretty heaving with picnickers and families splashing about in the water.  It was green and glorious.  I hope the litter got taken away afterwards though, there have been some grim posts showing the litter left after hot days in our local beauty spots.  Sad but true.  For me, one of the best things about the Hathersage Turtle – as I’ve decided to call the walk option, is that I began to appreciate how various parts of the area link up. I’ve done separate smash and grab walks from say Burbage, or Longshaw, or even Hathersage, but hadn’t appreciated how close they all are to each other.  It was most educational.  It was also astonishingly picturesque.

Stunning as it was, and nice as you might think it would be to go downhill, the mottled light effect through the trees, coupled with the gnarly tree roots, made for ankle breaking territory.  Although some did come through pretty fast, rather more reeled it back a bit.  We did see one runner take a tumble, though they seemed to get up again, not just a Chumbawamba tribute act but a way of living.  Gorgeous out though.

Out again onto road, then off again past an abandoned, but very beautiful stone building.

Nope, can’t remember what it was called, even though there was a sign, and I made a conscious effort to try to remember.  Can anyone explain why I can recall in infinite details moments of excruciating embarrassment at primary school, but can’t tell you what this mahoosive stone building is that I saw but a couple of days ago?  Actually, maybe don’t explain why, I might not like what you have to say.

Anyways, past there, with its fine door, and then into more woodland, with the end of bluebells carpeting the floor, and sploshes of a beautiful white woodland flower interspersed amongst them.    This route takes in everything.  We emerged into a field with some fairly nonplussed looking sheep. I think the expression was nonplussed, to be honest I find sheep expressions quite hard to read.  They can be quite enigmatic, don’t you agree?

Pretty much the end in sight now!  We saw one runner seated with a foil blanket round them, she looked OK, but obviously wasn’t carrying on.  A marshal/ medic was sitting alongside murmuring soothing words, so no extra help was needed.  Just a bit of road, and suddenly we were back where we’d started, having had a lovely time walking round in one ginormous 20 mile(ish) – slightly under in fact – circle. This is a lot more fun and a lot less pointless than I am perhaps making it sound!  I paused to say hello to a run director from junior parkrun who was there supporting her partner, go him.  Also, took the opportunity for a Boris hello, because you can’t not really.  The thing is, I don’t consider myself a ‘dog’ person as such, but I do know one or two canines I hold in high esteem.  Obviously Tilly is top dog, but Boris is a fine pooch too.  Not just puppy love.

Hilariously, as we entered the football field event HQ, we did a sort of emergency stop at the lined red and white taped finish funnel.  I don’t know what was going through our minds, but I think it was because we were walking not running, it didn’t feel right to go into it, so we got thoroughly confused about where to finish and ended up wandering over to the run director/ finish timer, who was mortified to have missed us coming in… erm, think I might know how that happened.  Gutted to have missed out on a sprint finish.  Oh well, there’s always next year…

All done, there were lots of options.  More cake, in case you weren’t already caked out as well as flaked out.  Tea/ coffee for participants, water, obviously, ice cream for sale.  Also there were burgers, including veggie options and even beer!  It was lovely and sunny, and it had a sort of festival feel.  It was lovely.  I had water, and coffee and then bought an ice cream, and we sat and watched other runners coming in.  We were wandering where our smiley runner friends were, as we’d expected them to overtake us on the way round, but they never showed.  On the plus side though, this meant we got to cheer them in.  Hurrah!  One scooped up one of her offspring for an emotional run in, isn’t that lovely?

DSCF2629

They came in looking really strong!  They’d clearly romped round effortlessly!

Only they hadn’t.  Debrief people, debrief!

Long story short, the heat had taken its toll.   Still, lessons were learned, maybe don’t try electrolytes for the first time on race day, and also, it’s true, sometimes you will feel better after throwing up your entire stomach contents on Stanage Edge, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best idea to press on.  I think it was tough out there.  I empathised.  London marathon (did I mention I did that at all? Oh I did already?  OK) was crazily hot with no water for miles and miles, and that did mightily impact on the fun quotient of the day.  Even so, they got round, but I sensed a sentiment of ‘unfinished business’ for some.  The thing about running is, well you know, it’s complicated.  We were unanimous in our praise for organisation, friendly marshals, stunning locations.  Think with the heat though, the walkers had type one fun and the runners would be experiencing type two.  It happens.  Lots of smiley faces in the post run chill zone though.  Happy people.

It was nice sitting and chatting, and watching the runners come in.   At one point the run director came over to check out everyone was OK and was sharing thoughts about the day.  Apparently they got a bit caught out with the dibbers, because they hadn’t anticipated that some of the people who headed out with the walkers were intending to run/walk, and so they got to the first check point ahead of when expected and before the marshals were in place.  I can completely understand that.  The run director was most accommodating about this, and I got the impression they might even add this in as an option for next year which, from a selfish point of view would be great.  This is quite a tough course, very tough, I don’t know that I’d ever be fit enough to properly run it, so a nice chilled run/walk option would be grand. Having said that, the 7 hour cut off time is generous.  Walking it with my Smiley walk and talk buddy took about 6 hours 20 and we were pretty leisurely to be fair.  Mind you, there’s always that angst in my head anyway, what if I don’t make the cut off.  Leaves me fretting.  Oh course elevation and route hang on, it’s here.  For the record, that’s a lot of climb.

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There was an extra loud cheer for the final finisher, and also a rather fine alpkit spot prize!  The third finishing female got an ice-cream, this top was way better!

And that was that, event over.

So, in conclusion, this was a fantastically friendly, well organised and welcoming event.  It was a tough course for runners, but surely worth the effort to take on the challenge of such spectacular routes.  Personally, I was pleased I went for the walking option, and would thoroughly recommend it.  It meant I got to take part despite my ouchy shins, so avoiding for the most part that fate worse than death, the Fear Of Missing Out.  However, no question the runners look a bit more impressive in the photos, flying across the gritstone, mustering for the mass start and whooping through the finish.  And it felt weird.  So I would recommend it, like I said, but next time I’d love to try running – though if it was as hot as this year again then maybe not so much…

For some reason, I think this event went a bit under the radar.  It could handle more entrants, and was so friendly and relaxed delivering also in bucket loads with both views and cake.  In the case of the cake quite literally.  There was no reminder email sent out, which might possibly have contributed to what seemed to me to be more than the usual number of DNS (no shows), but who knows.  It is a long way, but the walk option makes it doable for a wider range of people.  And walking was still a challenge. It is still a long way and with a lot of up.  I found to my cost that my residual fitness levels post the marathon were not as high as I might have wished.  Definitely some stiffness the next day, but also that warm glow of satisfaction for having got out and done it, plus I had a good night’s sleep for the first time in months.  Can’t put a price on that!

So time to depart, the sun still shining and the mood still high!  First to park and one of last two to leave.  I do like to get my monies worth at an event clearly.

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Oh you want to know the results. Yawn, why are people always so interested in these I wonder.  For me it really isn’t about the times, it is about the experience, the people you meet, the micro adventures en route and for this event in particular the astonishing views, super friendly volunteers and astounding quantities of cake!  But if you do want to know – maybe to encourage you that this is an inclusive event that embraces the super-speedy at one end of the continuum but celebrates the slow and steadies at the other just as enthusiastically, the Hathersage Hurtle 2018 Results are here.  Though to be on the safe side, I reckon they are more likely to exist in perpetuity on the Hathersage Hurtle’s own website, so maybe check in there too.  Even so, blooming impressive runner to finish in first place with 2 hours 21 minutes 34 seconds, and bravo to the final finisher walker who got their monies worth for time on the trails in 7 hours, 10 minutes and 38 seconds.  What’s more, there was still cake left at the finish line for them too.  So maybe, if you are thinking about it, this will encourage you to sign up and take to the trails.  See what their banner slogan is?  Walk it, run it, love it!  This means you!

PS run it walk it

Thanks to the amazing photographers who turned out on mass to supply loads of high quality and atmospheric photos which you can find under the relevant Hathersage Hurtle albums on the Hathersage Hurtle Facebook page. Thanks to (drum roll of support and expectation followed by sleeve rolling up because there are quite a few to acknowledge)  by Phil Sproson Photography,   Peak photography project Chris Nowell, Zaf Ali and everyone else who turned out with a camera, and shared their images with such excellence and grace.  Love a good race photo, love a bad one too in fact, they are always a great way to relive events afterwards! I say that,  but I’m not gonna lie, there are one or two that make me feel like I shouldn’t really venture out in daylight again ever, because it’s just too humiliating to be seen in public. But that’s ok, not long til the summer equinox, and thereafter it’s a well known fact that the nights are drawing in. See you again when the clocks change.   I’ll look forward to it.

Thanks everyone, who put in the hard work to make it so!  Really hope this gets to be an annual fixture, I’m sure it will, the runes look good…

Same time, same place next year?  Would recommend.  Be there, or miss out massively, which is the worst feeling in the world ever.  This could be you…

So I headed home, and then just as my heart was lifted by the glory of the landscape ahead of me, it was crushed by the sight of not just litter but three, yes THREE discarded BBQ kits by the road side. It makes me so mad.  I stopped to clear them up, well, they weren’t going to miraculously disappear otherwise, and it made me feel like I earned my Runners Against Rubbish badge (always a worry).

Why do people do this, and what is it with the fire thing.  Especially heartbreaking given how we now know that fires all over the place have killed amphibians, ground nesting birds, all sorts.  So depressing.  What’s worse is that some fires have been started deliberately, though leaving one of these BBQ trays behind – let alone using them in the first place – seems criminally negligent to me.  Check out the Longshaw Estate post about the impact of fire on the landscape and weep.

Gawd, I hate people sometimes, I really do.  The damage we do.

Still, let’s not end on a downer.  I don’t hate the Hathersage Hurtle people!  Au contraire, they were collectively and individually lovely.  This was a grand event, and whether you would be going for the Hathersage Turtle option at a more measured pace, or the Hathersage Hurt which requires you to hurl yourself ever upwards to get round as fast as you can, you are sure of a great adventure.  Plus, there will definitely be views and cake, I think should cover the most frequently asked questions.

Keep an eye on the Hathersage Hurtle facebook page for more information, so as soon as we have a date you can save the day.

Fun will be  had, I promise.  It might of course be type two fun, but none the worse for that I’m sure!

See you there!

🙂

 

 

Categories: off road, race, running | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

On a quest to catch pearls of running wisdom … mingling with the stars and the onset of maranoia.

Digested read: time is running out now.  Mistakes are being made. Went to Nicky Spinks talk. Sigh, she is such a legend, that helped me believe (temporarily) that of course I can run a marathon.  Had a sports massage.  Ouch. That made me lose some training and with it confidence in myself that I can do this thing. Then I read a book and tapped into support from friends and got some motivational running bling, and well, who knows?  I’m beginning to think the actual marathon will be the easy bit, if I make it to the start, it’s all these mind games and faffing about in advance that is the real challenge.  Oh well, I am where I am, and only time will tell how this will  unfold. Did you know there is an alternative definition for maranoia by the way?  See if you can work it out for yourself!

I’ve contracted maranoia now.  I’m becoming so risk averse it’s a miracle I can even venture out of the house.  My London marathon virtual running buddies (there’s a group of us spread around the UK who met at a London running weekend and now share a Facebook group) seem to be similarly suffering.  Whatever the scope of our London marathon training programmes to date, as the countdown to London seems to be speeding up, so too our individual and collective anxiety seems to be increasing.

As I understand it, with about 4 or 5 weeks to go, you probably can’t do all that much to increase fitness in the time remaining, but there’s plenty of time to jeopardise everything through injury, illness or an over or under enthusiastic taper.  Of course I don’t feel I’ve done enough training.  Constantly rubbish weather has really not helped, I’m so over snow now, can’t believe there was ever a time when I enjoyed the beauteous novelty of it all.  The point is, I can’t change what’s happened up until this point, so instead I’m becoming totally obsessed with controlling those things I can. With this in mind, I’ve reluctantly pulled out of a Smiley mass trip to take part in a running event in the Lakes the week before London.  A mass cohort of us went to the lakes over the summer, and that was epic taking on both Helvellyn and a route round Ullswater.  At the time of booking I was thinking it might be good to hang out with Smilies whilst tapering, and a 10k is modest enough to keep the legs moving.  Now though, I’m fearful of falling on unfamiliar ground, but more so, the thought of two sleepless nights in a dorm, and not being able to control what I eat and drink and I think it’s just not worth it.   This London Marathon is a once in a lifetime opportunity, being a Smiley is a permanent state.  Not just for Christmas, but for life indeed.  It’s like joining a (hopefully) benign cult.  Once touched by its embrace, you can never leave.  I was a bit sad about pulling out of the Lakes, I may have got something in my eye whilst typing the email cancellation note out – but having seen some photos of the terrain it does look gorgeous but treacherous.  Those are ankle breaking stones I’d say.  Normally love a good trail run, but not with this timing.  Also, part of the route is known as The coffin trail.  Not a moniker that instils a runner with confidence about taking on the path with vigour…  Having made the decision, I actually feel quite relieved, so that means it must be the right thing for me anyway.  Looks lovely though doesn’t it?  Fortunately there is always next year…

 

I’m also seeking advice from all over the place.   I don’t know if this is actually helpful.  The problem is a lot of advice is contradictory or relates to faster, fitter runners with different goals.  There is also a huge temptation to just keep asking loads of different people what they think I should do until I land on the person who tells me what I want to hear.  Maybe that’s what we all seek ultimately, some external validation of our thoughts and experiences.  Fragile creatures aren’t we?

Anyway, in the spirit of advice seeking, and also finding things to do which might help my running without actually having to put myself to the trouble or unpleasantness of actually running, I got wind of the chance to go to a talk by the living legend that is Nicky Spinks. She of the double Bob Graham challenge.  Hosted by Kim Baxter physiotherapy it had the promising title of ‘how to stay injury free and run further with Nicky Spinks‘  The blah de blah said:

Nicky Spinks is a British long distance runner, specialising in fell running, who set women’s records for the major fell running challenges the Ramsay Round, the Paddy Buckley Round and the Bob Graham Round. She is the holder of the overall record for the double Bob Graham Round.

She returns to talk for the third time due to popular demand. This time her talks takes on a new theme and focus – she will be giving you her best tips and advice on how to run longer distances and train for ultra marathons whilst staying injury free.

A great informative informal evening for those who like to run, thinking of upping their distance or for those who just want to be inspired!

Nicky left us truly inspired last time, and we cant wait to see and listen to her again.

Though frankly she could talk about anything at all, just to be present within her orbit would surely be enough to gain endurance by association?  She exudes such straightforward positivity that I reckon it would just radiate outwards from her and so anyone in her vicinity would benefit.  Unless you were wearing lead underwear that prevented the rays from reaching you I suppose.  Lead underwear is more a diving thing than a running thing though, so I reckoned it’s be ok.

I stomped up to the venue which is up Ecclesall Road.  I’d forgotten just how long that road is.  I mean it’s only about a two-mile walk from where I live, but what a trudge.  It occurred to me that I’m going to have to run up this route – and back down again – in a couple of weeks time for the Sheffield half.  I loved the Sheffield Half marathon when I ran it two years ago, but for the life of me I was struggling to remember why that was as I walked upwards and onwards.  Hope I feel a bit livelier on the day.

A fellow smiley had prompted me to go, and got a ticket for me.  She rang me as I was making my way up, and said I just needed to mention her name to gain entry.  I joked that I was rather hoping that mentioning her name and mine too would lead to a plush red carpet being rolled out and a glass of chilled champagne being pressed into my hand.  Oh how we laughed.

So I arrived at the place up at Parkhead shops (entry round the back) and gave my name and… guess what!  No really, guess.

That’s right! We were indeed given a glass of prosecco on arrival.  This was great news.  It’s the first drink I’ve had in months too, I’ve been completely abstemious during training.  I wasn’t about to turn that down though, and it went straight to my head, I’ve got a low tolerance to alcohol anyway, but the benefit of that is just a single prosecco  bubble up my nose and my body thinks it’s an instant party.  The downside of this is that I crash and burn quite quickly, but then again, no hangovers.  It was great arriving, an intimate sort of space, nicely set out and welcoming, and the place was packed out with people I knew.  People from woodrun, people from Smilies, people from parkrun. This is most excellent.  I saw some I’d hardly seen all winter the weather has been so grim, so it was good to catch up on people’s running goals.  A fair few are taking on the Sheffield half.

Eventually, we were called to order and Nicky was given the stage. I’ve seen her Double Bob Graham film ‘Run Forever’ before, and heard her speak before as well, but I enjoyed this event the most. It was very informal, and Nicky (yes, I feel we are on first name terms now) comes across as very genuine and ‘grounded’.  Her physical achievements and mental fortitude are astonishing, but even so, she admitted to at times being intimidated by other people’s strava records, and harbouring self-doubt.

There are too many points to summarise, but a few things stood out for me/  For example,  how relatively low her mileage was given the ultra challenges she takes on. Hence, train smarter not longer seems a wise mantra.  On an easy week she might just be doing 24 miles, up to say 45-50 on a hard week (though of course she is working from a base line of phenomenal endurance and experience already banked).  Some things sounded like common sense when she said them out loud, even though they went against some accepted wisdom.  I’m thinking of her observation that you should train to what your body needs and responds to and not just blindly do things because a training plan says you should even though you are exhausted and your body is crying out for a break.  She also tends not to ever do three hard weeks in a row (lots of training plans advocate three tough weeks, then pull back for the fourth).  She showed us some of her plans, and indeed it was true, only ever two or three at a push hard training weeks consecutively.

She told us that ultra marathon running is more an eating contest than a running one.  She recommended learning to eat at weird times, sharing how a breakthrough moment in her training programme was waking up in the middle of the night and feeling peckish. Result, her body was getting used to shoveling down food in the small hours. Staying awake all night and dealing with sleep deprivation goes with the territory of being a farmer, she seemed to be able to cope with that with at least resignation if not enthusiasm.  The main thing though that I got from her talk was a sense that you don’t know your limits unless you try things, and you shouldn’t assume things are impossible from the outset.

It astonishes me really, that you can come away thinking you can do anything after a talk from Nicky Spinks because she is clearly super human.  However, there was something in her demeanour that made the likes of me believe that there is certainly no harm in giving things a try.  When it comes to covering distance, you might surprise yourself with your endurance potential.  You don’t have to train insane distances, you don’t have to slavishly follow programmes that don’t work for you, but you do have to have an inner quiet tenacity and for endurance at least, a team to support you.

Inevitably, there was a fleeting moment of disillusion.  I’ve always been particularly impressed with her ability to down chips and curry sauce mid the double Bob Graham round.  Alas, today she revealed the devastating news that she is apparently ‘known’ for being sick on her runs!  Turns out it’s not just an eating competition, eating is only the first part of the dual challenge, you have to keep it down afterwards for long enough to gain some nutritional benefit, the initial ingestion is just the start.  She went on to explain that initially this used to bother her, now she’s learnt to just have a little gander at what’s come back, and from that revise her nutrition planning according to what may now need replenishing!  I’m never sick, well, hardly ever, consequently I don’t think I could be that laid back about the whole thing, but good to know that there are strategies to be deployed should the situation arise.

The talk went quickly, and afterwards, a few of  us shamelessly asked for a photo.  In my defence, I thought we were all supposed to be doing The Cabaret Pose, I hadn’t understood the whole thing was a set up.  Oh well.  At least I have a celebrity picture.  I still have a gap where I want one with Jessica Ennis, (oh the photo that got away) but what with this of Nicky Spinks and the one of us Smilies with Paul Sinton-Hewitt I’m doing OK.

hanging out with the great and good nicky spinks

We left bubbling over with enthusiasm about the talk and feeling inspired.  Somebody, I can’t remember who, said ‘she’s the sort of person you just want to go up to and say please let me be your friend‘. I know what they meant.  However, I’d be happy just to follow her around gazing on her from afar, and being allowed the honour of passing her her sick bag for review when the occasion required it.

Despite being inspired to do loads of ultra-runs in future, clearly it is tremendously important to pace myself properly, so I availed myself of a lift home.  Tomorrow is another day after all..

One consequence of going to this talk, was that everyone who attended got a voucher towards either a physio session or a sports massage.  I’ve been wondering about getting a sports massage pre the marathon, so took the opportunity to sign up for one the following Monday.  I did check first that I’d still be able to run the next day.

Well, I duly went for the massage.  There were good points to this, the high point being when I asked the physio if she could feel anything untoward in my legs.  I don’t think there is anything, though my calves are really tight, I’m not aware of anything sinister.  Well dear reader she just said – unprompted – ‘no they’re fine, they just feel like runner’s legs‘.  Get in!  Get me and my ‘runner’s legs’ not a label I ever expected one of my body parts to be prefixed with.  This was very exciting indeed.   It also turned out that she’d done the London marathon herself, so loads of me downloading everything in her brain to learn from her experience.  Fortunately, she was massively positive about the whole thing, and about my capacity to complete it – albeit based only on what I said about my preparation, and really who knows until they do it.

Then the actual massage.  The thing is, I’ve not really had one before, not a full one hour massage.  I’m sure it was ultimately beneficial, but oh my it was like doing a legs workout.  I expected to feel it a bit at the time, and to be a bit spacey in the evening afterwards. What I hadn’t expected, was to feel completely wiped out for the next two days.  I was supposed to be doing a long run, but I just didn’t feel my legs had it in them, and reasoned it would be foolish to head out if I was in trouble just walking around the house.  It took a few days for them to settle.  So frustrating.  I can’t regret the massage entirely, because it was reassuring that there are no niggles there, and probably the deep tissue massage did make them loosen up a bit by the end of the week.  However, I am most definitely not taking the chance of having another one between now and London.  I hope it wasn’t a mistake, it has cost me one long run, but then again it’s done now.  I suppose if I was used to having them regularly then it might be different.  Oh well, not being able to tolerate them will save me a fortune in my future ultra running career.

The-Sports-Massage-1

I tried to keep my running spirits up by reading inspirational literature, and by sharing needy messages to my London marathon superstars Facebook friends.  Interestingly, a lot of us seem to be struggling this week with cumulative fatigue and drop in confidence.  The end is so near yet so far I suppose.   The thing is, I look at all they’ve done and its ‘easy’ for me to see that for them, of course they are exhausted, they’ve trained really hard, they’ll be fine after they’ve tapered.  I on the other hand, well, obviously my fatigue is entirely different.  In my case it’s my body saying best not bother, I’m way out of my depth and this is not ‘fatigue’ it is my body actually disintegrating in protest in a last-ditch attempt to thwart my intention to get to the start of London Marathon.  It will do whatever it takes to prevent me joining the line up.  It’ll probably find a way to hide my photo id if I make it as far as the expo, no photo ID no race number.  The pre-registration email instructions are adamant on this point.  I need to watch out…

Happily I got this book in the post the same day I had the sports massage.

running the smoke

It was recommended to me as something of an emotional read.  I don’t know what I was expecting quite.  I mean the accounts are impressive, but honestly, I didn’t find them all that relatable. I was explaining this to a fellow Smiley ‘the thing is, I just can’t directly identify with the woman recounting how she felt after winning London‘,  ‘well of course you can’t!  she quipped back ‘you haven’t run it and won it yet so you can’t know!’  Good point well made.  Joking apart though, I was hoping for less heroic recovery stories, and more, well middle-aged women, who’d come to running late who were just going to give it their best shot to find out if they could get round and then they found out they could and they did.  The stories were amazing, how these people overcame adversity of the most extreme situations imaginable (surviving genocide, losing your hands and feet to frost bite and/or terrorist attacks) to get to London, but it catapulted the tales into the ‘extraordinary’ category,  we are not sharing the experiences of mere mortals in this  compendium of collective London marathon experiences.  Hang on – here’s some of the blah de blah:

Running the Smoke tells the story of what it’s like to take part in the London Marathon in the most enlightening and enriching way possible: from the perspectives of twenty-six different runners who have been there and done it. Michael McEwan delves to the heart of these runners’ stories, discovering their reasons for running and revealing the drive that has seen them cross the finishing line. From global superstars Sir Steve Redgrave and Michael Lynagh to legends in the running world such as Liz McColgan and Dick Beardlsey, from fun-runners like Lloyd Scott who ran the 2002 race in a deep-sea diving suit, to heroes of a different kind in multiple amputee Jamie Andrew, 7/7 terrorist attack survivor Jill Tyrrell, or Sadie Phillips who has twice defeated cervical cancer, Running the Smoke lifts the lid on an array astonishing stories that are often heart-breaking, always heart-warming – and endlessly inspirational.

See what I mean?  Just to be clear, running in a diving suit doesn’t sound like a ‘fun run’ to me either, and Lloyd Scott who did this, was actually a professional footballer at one point, so not really starting off with a C25K (Couch to five k) fitness baseline.

lloyd scott marathon

Impressive yes, but not an account that helps me believe I could do that too.  I’m going to put it out there and say that I’m confident I most definitely couldn’t.  Some challenges cannot be achieved by positive thinking alone.  Fact.  Consequently, right now I want to hear stories from the more seemingly mundane end of the spectrum of human experience.  Of the apparently ordinary people, who stepped out of their comfort zone and found they could take on London too.  People who might actually make me believe I have the capacity within me to get round also.  I think it’s still an achievement to get round even if you didn’t have to triumph over adversity to get to the start line.  Plus, actually, I believe that most people have their own remarkable stories that might not be quite so immediately headline grabbing, but are truly inspirational nevertheless.  Everyone I know who runs, runs for a reason.  The book also has a strong focus on elite athletes, again, their achievements are impressive but way out of my league in terms of providing personal inspiration.

The book also has a disappointingly high proportion of accounts from  men, it’s not that I’m not interested in their stories, but it wasn’t very inclusive, and I need to hear women’s voices right now. It made me wonder what the gender split is for London.  I asked Google and haven’t tried that hard to research it, but it seems there is most definitely a majority of men who take part, around two thirds of marathon runners are male according to this Guardian report from 2015.  I think it’s shifting though, interestingly, there is a suggestion that women do better with endurance events – though that may be they are less likely to take them on unless they’ve trained adequately in advance.   I think only five or so of the 26 runners stories were from women, not very inclusive.  Having said that, it did make me want to get there. It also made me want to redress this imbalance.  I wonder if I could somehow gather together all the women I know who have run marathons, and get their stories.  Most people I know who run, run for a reason, some are indeed amazing athletes, but others have achieved great things through sheer bloody minded tenacity.  Juggling running goals alongside a myriad of other practical demands (work, family, physical and mental health) and physical as well as mental challenges.  Those are the stories I want to hear and share. We should celebrate the achievements of those within our own running communities, there is just as much tears, tenacity, triumph and talent closer to home as further afield.

I also note increasingly how runners, well, the women I know anyway, support one another hugely, we are back to external validation perhaps?  I have found I really need people around who tell me this is achievable for me.  I don’t care if they are crossing their fingers behind their backs as they say so, I need to hear this.   Thank you everyone, from the bottom of my heart who has not laughed in my face when I have outed myself as attempting to tackle this, and more thanks a-plenty to those who’ve nurtured me along the way.   Running a marathon isn’t as much of a solo endeavour as you might think.  Maybe on the course, but getting to the start, that’s a different thing altogether.  For me, training for this marathon has been contradictory.  In some ways it is by its very nature isolating, especially if like me you can’t find a runner of a similar pace to train with, and ultimately, only I can get out the door and do the training runs myself.  On the other hand, I’ve been astonished by the generous support, advice and encouragement others have freely offered up.  It is an amazing thing this marathon voyage, it seems so many of the clichés are true.  It is indeed a journey.  It will be an emotional roller coaster, and yes, I will probably cry all the way round. That’s the annoying thing about clichés though, they become clichés for a reason, because they do reference common truths.  Oh well.  I’m happy to embrace any number of clichés or motivational phrases if that’s what is needed to get me round!

believed she could

Speaking of which, a gift came in the post from one of my London marathon superstar buddies, and it gave me a fantastic and timely lift.  I won’t be running London alone at all, I’ll have my running buddy with me every step of the way!

support every step of the way

Not long now.  I need to channel all the positivity I can.  Guess I have to train my mind to be positive as much as train my body to keep moving forward.  In the meantime, I leave you with some alternative definitions of maranoia.  Maranoa is also a region of south-west Queensland in Australia. That could get confusing, they don’t seem to have a running club there.  Coincidence?  I think we all know otherwise.

 

You’re welcome.

Counting down now, counting down.

Eek.

 

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

In it for the long run? The parallel worlds you encounter whilst running.

Digested read: back on the Monsal trail for a 21 mile long run.  Oh my, you should have seen the ice formations in those tunnels, it was a spectacle of wonders indeed.  Still not sure how best to train for this London marathon business though.  It’s a mystery.  Glad to have that run done, hoping for one more long one before the Big Event.  Aaargh.

If you asked me to provide any kind of rationale for my London marathon training plan, I’m not altogether sure I could do so.  From the outset I had the idea that it would be important to crack the 20 mile boundary, but I’m not sure now quite why.  There is accepted wisdom that you should be increasing the length of your long run week by week, and that if you can get to 20 miles in training then on the day the crowds and atmosphere will carry you through. Then again, I’ve heard repeatedly that it’s after the 20 mile mark you might encounter ‘The Wall’ – balanced against this is the very sensible observation that really, if you train and fuel your body properly this should by no means be seen as an inevitable part of the marathon event.

More recently, I’m reading articles that question the wisdom of doing really long runs unless you are a sub three-hour runner.  Spoiler alert.  I’m not. I don’t know if this is because now I’m in the final stages, and I’ve had to miss out one of my long runs I’m seeking retrospective justification that this won’t be ruinous to my London sojourn.  Runners’ World put together an article ‘in the long run‘ back in 2002, that says, amongst other things:

2. What is the best long-run training distance for marathoners?

In short, there is no perfect distance. We have seen marathon-training schedules which never take you further than 13 miles and ones that suggest you run the complete distance or further in training.

In our marathon training schedules the longest distance we ever suggest is 22 miles for the sub-3:00 group, other groups don’t go quite as far because they’re running more slowly and consequently will be on their feet longer.

What you find is that many marathon schedules don’t go further than 20 miles, although that’s probably more because 20 is a nice, round number than anything more concrete. In countries that use the metric system, 30K (18.6 miles) is equally round and frequently used.

Most coaches feel that once you reach 16 miles, you’re in long-run territory. That’s the point where the psychological and physiological changes start to take place. Some coaches prefer to keep track of the long run by time rather than distance, which is the approach we generally recommend for the slower groups in our marathon schedules.

Your time goal for your longest run should approximate the total length of time you expect to run in the marathon itself, without worrying about the distance or the speed. For example, if your marathon time goal is three hours, you should probably do at least one long run of close to three hours. The exception: If you’re a first timer with a goal of four hours or slower, you shouldn’t do a long run of that length. It’s too risky. Instead, do one long run of at least three hours, but no more than 3:30.

I don’t know what to make of this.  I have found from experience that I’m out for so long on my long runs (I’ll be ecstatic if I get round in 6 hours) that it does take me a couple of days to recover from these.  But if I only ever went out for three hours max in training then I think I’d just die of shock when out for twice as long on event day.  Another article in a different source suggests slow runners do two three hour runs on the same day, to cover the distance but minimise the risk of injury. Well that’s never going to happen in my world. I do enjoy going out for lengthy yomps for the most part, but once I’m home and dry I’m done.  It would take a great deal to have me had out again on the same day.  Anyway, for my part I decided early on,  almost unilaterally, to go with the mantra of ‘time on my feet’.  I don’t care if it’s running or walking, I will just cover the distance.  I’m hoping I will have built sufficient stamina and gained sufficient confidence if I’ve come close to the full distance, but it is a balancing act.  Oh lawks a lordy I hate my cumulative ineptitude.  I suppose nobody has a perfectly executed preparation for a marathon, and few are blessed with a genetic inheritance that enables them to blag it on the day.  I’ll just have to join the start and take my chances along with everyone else.  I have tried to prepare as far as my own limitations and the weather has allowed.  … even so, I am pleased to report that I did achieve one 21 mile run in my training.  Strictly speaking 20.85 miles, but I stopped my Strava before wandering around in car park and general post run faffing, so I’m happy to call it 21.  I fully appreciate that logic won’t help me if I bow out of London at the 26.05 mile mark, but I’m hoping that situation won’t arise.

As usual, I’m playing catch up with my blog, so writing this post on 3 April with less that three weeks to go and in the grip of major maranoia.  However, the run in question was actually on 20th March.  It turned out to be my last long run, and a bit earlier in my training plan than I’d have liked, but then again, at least I’ve done it. I met another runner recently who is training for Brighton. She’d been wiped out with a flu type virus and missed 4 weeks training and only managed to get in two 18 mile runs, albeit closer to the event.  She had banked some 20 milers earlier on though.  Aargh, I don’t know whether to stick with my taper, or get one more long one in.  Hard to know.  Thankfully though, my last long run went really well. Unexpectedly so.

It was cold, I’d wanted to go out the day before but snow and ice had made it impossible.  Blooming beast from the east.  I’m not impressed.  My regular reader will know however that I’m conscientious if not keen.  I’d committed to doing this longer run, so I headed out anyway.  Back to the Monsal Trail. The novelty of this route is definitely wearing off, but, on the plus side it is flat, with even terrain and good facilities.  The predictability of the terrain has massively helped me get into a rhythm with my running.  When London is finally over, I might try to make an effort to get over there every six weeks or so to do a long flat run, I think it would significantly help me run more consistently.

So headed out.  Brrrrr.  I wasn’t feeling the lurve, but I was feeling committed to doing this thing.  My last long run, 19 miles, at Monsal had been OK, more than OK, it went well, and I reckoned by just adding a tad of distance at either end I’d be able to ramp this route up to 20+ miles easily enough without any navigational challenges.  I was a bit on edge.  I wanted to bank another positive experience of a long run, but each time the distance extends, I’m inching into unknown territory.  The Strava of the route is hilarious.  Nothing to see people, nothing to see, I guess you had to be there:

strava route 21 miles monsal trail

I’m going to try to exercise restraint in logging a post about this run. After all, I’ve banged on about the Monsal trail quite a bit of late, I don’t want to alienate my only reader.  However, there were some sightings I want to document for posterity. Also, I like to think if I ever do look back on my marathon preparation it might be helpful to be reminded of how I felt and what I did at the various stages of my training.  Hindsight is after all a wonderful thing, and I am not immune to re-writing history once I get to the other side of this challenge, better to nail down a more honest account here and now.

First things first.  Turned left from the cafe and trotted down to the trail end.  This time though I paused to photograph the llama – only it was too far away.  I had to make do with a snapshot of an alpaca.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m very fond of alpaca, but it’s not the same.

alpaca

If you are ever in doubt about how to differentiate between the two, the secret is all in the ears.  Llamas have much more banana shaped ears, alpaca ears are shorter and more spear-shaped.  Granted, there are loads of other differences too, but the ears are easy if you only have one of them in view. Here is a handy summary of other distinguishing characteristics in case of need.  I don’t agree with the negative comments about Llamas by the way, they are unkind and unnecessary.  In fact, I may try to find an alternative more respectful guide.  Llama and alpaca identification is quite an art. There are two different types of alpaca as well you know, huacaya and suri – that’ll come in handy at a pub quiz some time some place somewhere.  You’re welcome.

 

 

 

I also took a photo of the old Bakewell railway station, just because.  Still haven’t ventured as far as Bakewell itself, another destination for another time.

bakewell station

And ventured down the muddy path beyond the trail end.  Lots of inviting paths headed off in all directions.  From this lower level you can look up and appreciate the amazing bridge construction.  I was going to explore a bit further, but thought the better of it.  I didn’t want to get too side-tracked off my route, and also who knows what was going on inside the parked cars in this remote spot.  Probably nothing, but I’ve developed a wariness based on experience.  Once years ago I was with a friend and we got lost on some country roads in Warwickshire.  We pulled up into a layby thinking to ask directions from the occupants of a car parked up ahead.  I clocked the steamed up windows and rocking before my companion, who was initially a bit nonplussed at my insistence we fend for ourselves and pass on by!

 

 

 

Back on the literal track, it was cold so I pressed on.  I’d made an inward resolution to try to focus on this run, and capitalise on the lessons learned last time out by trying to run consistently and slowly and minimise the stop start faffiness.  I kept to this reasonably well, running purposefully (by my standards) from the start.  The only problem with this is that I was somewhat paranoid that this might constitute starting off too fast in my world, and I wouldn’t make the distance.  Then again, I reasoned best to try this out in training than save it for the actual day.

It was freezing, so not many people out and about at all.  The run has a meditative quality when it is so deserted.  I never listen to music when I run, actually, I never listen to music at all anyway, another on the long list of my many peculiarities eccentricities.  Usually I find my surroundings are more than enough to occupy me when I’m on the trails, other times I like to just use the time for thinking things through, but I do concede on these long runs, it can be a bit dull potentially.  It just feels like a slog.   Doubling back to the cafe, I just had some water and made the call the hat was staying on, and off I trotted.

The tunnels were as ever a high point. Which is ironic, as really strictly speaking they are low points, burrowing through the base of the hills through which the original railway passed.  I love running through the tunnels, the other-worldliness of it, but today they offered up something even more impressive and spectacular.  It truly was like entering a parallel universe.  The recent icy blast had obviously swept down the tunnels, significantly lowering their temperature within.  The corresponding micro-climate created arctic like conditions, and the tunnels were full of ice.  Not just little bits here and there, but great structural crystals in shards like fallen masonry on the ground or clinging like icy stalagmites from the ceiling.  It was absolutely amazing.  I reckon this is the nearest you can come to recreating experiencing the geology of superman’s birth planet Krypton, with all its huge crystals and weirdly compelling crystalline structures within the boundaries of Derbyshire.

Compare and contrast:

Planet Krypton – or possibly fortress of solitude but the comparison stands:

 

 

 

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Monsal trail ice and tunnels:

 

 

 

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I know!  Uncanny.  Practically indistinguishable.   It was completely brilliant.  Yet another reminder that there is always something to see on a run. I’d expected to be bored rigid by this route, trotting down it all over again in its entirety so soon after my other long run, but it was amazing.  Unexpected and surreal.  You should have been there.  No really, you should.

I didn’t actually see superman, but I think he died a while back anyway didn’t he?  Also he is a fictitious character, so that would have been a stretch.  I did see other things though.  Particularly notable was a group of primary school children heading out on bikes and each wearing giant-sized cape like cagoules, accompanied by two teachers.  This added a certain frisson to proceedings as periodically the children would stop and regroup, I’d lope past and then they’d be released behind me in a torrent of spinning wheels and billowing coats excitedly pedalling furiously along somewhat random directional lines. Fortunately, volunteering at Graves junior parkrun has equipped with the skill of taking evasive action when a small child comes bowling towards you at speed.  It isn’t a question of who has right of way, it is a question of survival.  I shared a greeting with the teachers and pressed on.  Pausing to satisfy myself that the instructional signs are indeed as gendered as I suspected.  Yes they are.

 

 

 

I carried onwards, through the tunnels, and to the far Buxton end of the trail.  This time I carried on as far as I could.  I had to remind myself to eat a naked bar, I wasn’t really hungry, but I’m trying to eat before I feel my energy levels are depleted.  I picked my way  gingerly down some snow-covered steps, past the pretty stream which was crisscrossed by amazing arching bridges, and then beyond through a car park until I was spat out at the end onto quite a busy road overlooked by a weird stone structure on top of a hillock.  What is that?  A question to be answered another time.

 

 

 

I felt I’d reached a natural turning point, so started to head back.  Trot, trot, plod, plod.  I’ve definitely turned a corner in my running.  If I can hit the right pace it seems I am able to maintain it, as long as I manage not to draw attention to the fact that I’m doing so.  I think it’s like riding a bike maybe, if you consciously tried to think about how you balance it would be impossible, but if you just trust the muscle memory of your body away you go.  I mean, I’m slow obviously, and I wouldn’t say it was easy exactly, but it is achievable.  If it weren’t so cold I’d be tempted to one day just run as far as I could just to see how far that is.  I guess I may find out at London, fingers crossed it extends as far as 26.2 miles – and a bit, to account for having to walk a way to get to the start line!

There were a few more out now it was a bit later.  I’d been ages of course, so hilariously, I came across the teachers and their primary school charges all over again – only this time it was another group. This meant in the time it had taken me to do this distance, the teachers had been able to finish off one group, return them to Sheffield for lunch and come back out with their second lot of young riders.  It made me feel a bit pathetic truth to tell.  However, then the teacher back marking stopped on her bike, recognising me from earlier in the day and asked ‘What on earth are you doing?  How far have you run‘ I blurted out apologetically and a bit embarrassed that I knew I was really slow but I was trying to get to 21 miles.  I thought she’d be nonplussed and unimpressed, but in fact she was so encouraging.  Even though she’d seen me walking sections earlier, she was really positive.  Turns out she runs too, though only on her own  – I tried to recruit her to join me and my fellow Smilies at Smiley Paces, as she’d come across from Sheffield Primary School, but I don’t know if she will.  It helped rally me though, I yomped onward and homewards.

I took a few minutes to explore the weird lime-kiln (I think) construction.  It seems this was my day for exploring parallel worlds.  It is an extraordinary feat of construction.  It does remind me of wandering through temples of Angkor Wat, no really, the doorways you pass through, the way each opening frames and then reveals unexpected structures. There was one flooded subterranean section, I took photos just so my flash would allow me to see what was there.  This would be an amazing film set for something, or a pop video (do they even do them any more) but you’d have to wear wellington boots or at the very least sensible shoes, and other than The Wurzels, I’m not sure many youth bands rock that look these days.  See reference above, I’m not big on listening to music, so not my area of expertise.  At least I don’t try to pretend otherwise.

 

 

 

Impressive isn’t it.  Why they haven’t put out a series of Lego models based on these Lime Kilns – or Angkor Wat for that matter I can’t imagine!  Or maybe they have.  I can’t be bothered to look.  Oh hang on – I can, someone has –  made a lego model of Angkor Wat (and Stonehenge and the Niagara falls) apparently, but strangely enough not of the Monsal trail lime kilns.  Project for the next snowed out bank holiday people.  Go on, you know you want to..

angkor wat lego

 

Now you might think that I’d crammed in quite enough excitement and parallel worlds for one run, but not so. The finale of my run was feeling like an extra in Apocalypse Now.  I was plodding along in silence, minding my own business, when suddenly there was unmistakable ear-splitting roar of military helicopter blades closing in.  I was just approaching one of the bridges, and this monstrous metal mosquito swooped upwards, out of the valley and over the bridge, hovering for a bit and then disappearing from view.  I presume it was practising some low flying technique, exploiting the bridges, valleys and geography of the place to take on technical challenges.  They are intimidating things.  I can’t imagine the fear they must induce in war zones and the horrors they unleash.  Makes me shudder.

 

 

I ran on, and found myself back at Hassop cafe at almost exactly 21 miles.  I did feel a slight drop in sugar levels about half a mile before the end, but basically all good.  I think I might carry glucose tablets with me just in case at London.  I was fundamentally fine, but with still 5 miles to go, probably wise to have a contingency plan.

I treated myself to chips and a sandwich, with ridiculous amounts of added salt.

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I felt relieved as much as pleased.  I’m happy that the run went well, I still felt like I could have carried on at the end of it.  Also, and this is weird, when I uploaded my run on Strava, I found that my average minutes per mile for this 21 mile run was within 2 seconds of my average minutes per mile for my shorter 17 miler.  I don’t run even splits, but it seems I’m really right when I insist I seem to have just one pace.  Maybe, as long as I’m sensible and hold my nerve, I really can sustain that for longer.  Plus, I significantly picked up speed after mile 5, so again, it seems it takes me a while to hit my stride.  I kept that up for about 5 miles and then relapsed to be fair, but it’s still a noticeable pattern I can maybe play to.

And that was that dear reader.  21 miles done.  Yay.  I’d never say I was feeling confident, but I did feel hugely better for having achieved this distance however slowly.  Plus, I was delighted by the mini-adventures and glorious sights this potentially unprepossessing route offered up.  Also, next day, felt fine, legs feeling good.  Tired yes, bit of stiffness, but nothing felt sinister which can only be good.  Never regret a run. So true.  Just need to step outside and make it so.

Go on, you know you want to!

Here’s hoping your next run takes you to unexpected wonderlands of your own. It will.  Even if only in the mind.  Unless you are running on a dreadmill. Then you are on your own.

The real challenge for me now though, is what and when and how far to run in the last few weeks.  I think I spent so much time agonising over how on earth I’d ever get to the distances required for the long runs, or to this stage in the build up without injury, I never consider how to approach the taper.  Turns out, that last push, the taper, could be the biggest challenge yet.  Make or break.  Aaaargh.

🙂

 

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

Panic over, long run done and dusted! All good, not just movement, but, at last, progress!

Digested read:  I did manage to get out and do my long run, it was supposed to be 18 miles, but I banked 19.63, and I feel fine.  A psychological breakthrough at last.  Not just movement, but progress.  Maybe I have got this after all.  Monsal trail tunnels are still fun, but I wouldn’t want this as my only available running option, it is basically an open air treadmill running in a long straight out and back, but punctuated with views of loveliness along the way. Even so, the novelty is wearing off a bit now.  I’m temporarily happy now, well maybe not completley happy, but I am most definitely releived.  Hurrah!

I am astonished to be quite honest.  It’s the morning after the day before and I feel absolutely fine.  Tickety-boo (now there’s a word that doesn’t get nearly enough air time) in fact.  I actually feel like going for a run again today because I’m feeling really strong, the only side effects from yesterday’s outing being slight chafing in the undercarriage area due, presumably, to failure to re-align knickers properly following an early on pit stop, and swollen feet.   Maybe I have been ill and am not any more, maybe the iron supplement has kicked in, or – though this seems maybe a stretch too far – maybe finally the benefits of what I laughingly refer to as my training plan are finally kicking in.  Who knows.  What I do know, is that I did 19.6 miles yesterday – more than I’d planned due to calculation rather than navigation error, and I’m not even stiff.  Result!  I feel absolutely fine.  I’m however going to resist the temptation to run today so I can recover properly.  I’m not worried too much about my lungs or legs, the weakest link in my running chain – leaving aside the ill-fitting bra issues – is most definitely my feet.  Crumbling and arthritic, they don’t like this running thing at all.  They are making their feelings known.

So, what happened was this.  I’d had to postpone my long run earlier in the week, due to flooding/ roof leaks/ life/ all sorts and so felt like it was uber important that I bagsied a good one yesterday.  My last long run down by the Thames just a week ago was not a triumph.  Much as I know in my head everyone has bad runs, I really felt I needed my next one to go better in order to shore up my collapsing confidence before it slid, irretrievably, into the swamp of despond.

Yesterday morning, everything went according to plan.  Liquid iron early on; porridge for breakfast, running belt packed, running shoes on, the day was dry (this innovation was nigh on miraculous to be fair given recent inclement months) and I made it over to Hassop Station Cafe for just after nine.  I was feeling apprehensive. Is it just me?  Whenever I am about to embark on a run I have this moment of absolute clarity where it dawns on me that this endeavour is ultimately optional.  I question whether it is desirable, let alone possible to undertake the activity of ‘running’.   Especially at the lamentable pace at which I cover the ground.  My little legs are quite happy as they are, my body is not a temple to athleticism, it would be just fine with remaining sedentary. If I head out to hit the trails with any pretence at so much as a little jog it will just lead to unpleasantness.  My nose will run, my wobbly bits will wobble, if it’s cold, I’ll get a perfect outline of frost on my upper lip where my moustache rests, fetchingly drawing the attention of anyone I meet to it in all it’s unaesthetic glory.  Other ‘proper’ runners will see me, but I’ll be leaning against a tree heaving, or walking, or just standing still gazing about whilst they spring by gazelle like, thus I will be forced to face up to the ludicrousness of ever thinking I could do this.  Why oh why?

Oh well, I’m here now.  Much of life is filled with petty humiliations, embarrassment and an over-powering sense of impostor syndrome why should running be any different.  So off I went.

I say ‘off I went’ but more accurately I did quite a lot of faffing about.  To hat or not to hat?  Quite nippy, but then I might warm up. I also had to nip into the cafe to use their amenities and mess about with my watch.  It’s become very iffy about uploading my runs, and prone to going blank.  If I had unlimited means I’d replace it, but it limps onward, and anyway, I don’t want new technology pre London.  Eventually, I decided I’d head out from the cafe towards Bakewell, I reckoned that would add about 3 miles to my distance from last time, also, by doing the shorter section of the trail out and back first I wouldn’t have the mental challenge of doing it at the end of the run when I would be tired, and, in a rather splendid manifestation of genius, I reckoned I could use this distance as a warm up and then jettison unwanted clothing, have a pit stop and carry on with renewed vigour for the proper part of the run still remaining. The plan was to do 18 miles.  Last time at Monsal I did just under 15 miles, so I thought adding on the extra bit would probably work.  Not sure what to make of the conspicuously located defibrillator I passed en route.  It is good it is there of course, but important not to take it as a personal omen methinks.

I trotted out really slowly, just finding my legs.  I was here just a few days ago for Bakewell parkrun, then it was really busy with people, it was strange seeing it empty today.  The parkrun goes in the opposite direction, so it was quite fun exploring new territory.  To be fair, the novelty of running the Monsal Trail could wear off, but for now, it was good.  Heading towards Bakewell the scenery is a bit different from the path to Wyedale.  There were more buildings, a camper van graveyard; some sheep. There were even some llamas, but I didn’t take a photo of them.  An omission I now regret.

I was particularly struck by a hillside densely covered with grassy domes – ant hills maybe?  Sort of like a grassy version of the Bungle Bungles*, though possibly on a rather more micro scale.  Bonsai even. Weird. This is what is good about going out and about you see some really remarkable things. Then again, it has been noted that I’m rather too easily entertained, so you may not think so.  I’m going with thinking the likeness was uncanny, you can think what you like!  If those grassy domes are ancient ant hills, those Australian ants must have been ginormous.

After a mile or so, maybe less, you arrive at the old Bakewell Station, it’s another beautiful building, well-preserved, and it looks like there’s a car park there as well, though I didn’t go and investigate particularly, maybe once this marathon training is finished, I’ll use my runs for more exploratory, rather than functional purposes and go check it out.  After the station was another bridge, where the path was completely flooded, not even with standing water, a veritable river ran across the track.  Oh well, splish, splosh and ever onward.

The track narrowed after the station, and it felt a bit more ‘proper’ off roady.  One of the reasons I’ve opted for the Monsal Trail for marathon training purposes is that the terrain is fairly road like, a hard surface and even terrain.  I fear my feet will actually disintegrate and shatter if I do too much road running in training, so the compromise is to find compacted trails where I can run in my road shoes, without entirely surrendering to the asphalt.  I’m resigned to the fact my feet my be annihilated round London, but I see little to be gained by knackering them in training first.  You can’t habituate your feet to being damaged, alas, hence I take the literal path of damage limitation.

I continued on, trot trot, taking in the scenery…

until I got to the end of the trail.  There is a helpful sign that alerts you to this. It’s always good to know when you’ve really and truly reached the end of the road.  I wish such signage was available in other contexts to be honest.

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I turned around and trotted back to Hassop Cafe.  I didn’t really see very many people out and about.  Only one other runner, who acknowledged my presence with a friendly, conspiratorial smile and uttering the words ‘couch to five k‘ as we passed one another.  I couldn’t help noticing she looked a lot stronger than me, bounding along with a winning smile and good form.  I chose not to ‘fess up with a response  ‘marathon training‘ as it would have sounded absurd.  Absurd and/or potentially undermining.  I mean, I thought she looked a strong runner, but if she’s just starting out who knows where her confidence is?  If I’d shared my run schemata for the day it might have come across as patronising rather than a cry for help – I went with a reciprocal encouraging smile and a merry ‘have fun!’ rather than making her stop so I could explain all about my running insecurities and tendency to over-share.  Good call I think!  Isn’t C25K amazing though?  That and parkrun together seem to have engaged so many new runners.  Anyway, slow and steady may yet prove to be the way to go, my marathon isn’t a DNF just yet….  Besides, I’ve just read an article that explained all about why sprint runners are inefficient, and distance runners are way more efficient at running a long way.  To quote:

distance runners are more efficient running slow. It should be noted that this occurs even with distance runners who violate every known mechanical prophecy known to man (i.e. horrible heel strike, etc.).

Yes, the gangly looking distance runner slamming his heel into the ground is more efficient running slow than Usain Bolt.

Thus, leaving aside the, in my view, unhelpful and unnecessary reference to being ‘gangly’, I’m basically more efficient at running slow than Usain Bolt.  If I ever catch him up running I’ll let him know.  I expect he’ll be gutted.   Once you know what you are looking for you can see the difference can’t you?  No point in stating the obvious about who’s running most efficiently here.  We are both having fun, and checking out what’s going on around us, so it’s a completely fair comparison in my view.

The point is, as ever, I need to stop comparing myself with other runners, focus on my personal goal (please just let me get round in time for a medal) and everything will be so much easier.

I ended up back at the cafe, and this was a good move.  I was really thirsty, so drank loads of their water, used their loo (I didn’t drink water from the loo, they leave a glass water jar and some glasses out in the cafe area for that) and then dumped my woolly hat in the back of the car as the sun was coming out and after this faffing, headed out for my run proper, having first paused to admire a very fine tricycle waiting outside.  Now that would be a grand way to progress down the Monsal Trail.  Almost as appealing as a sedan chair.

‘Proper’ runners will be appalled, but I didn’t really have a strategy for this run.  I planned just to see how I felt, try to push on a bit maybe, but my priority was to do the distance, not burn out trying.  I wonder sometimes if I do hold back too much on my running.  I’m so afraid of falling over or running out of steam altogether it is extremely rare for me to do an all out sprint.  I only ever sprint at the finish of parkrun and memorably at the Lakeland Trails Ullswater 10k event where I went in for a most enjoyable elbow shoving sprint finish with a fellow Smiley.  This would suggest I can if I want to enough.  What’s that about?  Oh I know, that point about running being a mental challenge, if we want to do things enough, then oftentimes we can.  Well, we’ll see about that, won’t we?

Off I went.  A few things I noticed about today, the main thing was I just felt physically so much better than I have in ages.  There weren’t many people about at all, so I had the route very much to myself for the first couple of hours. Because I’ve done the trail before, I wasn’t so distracted by the scenery, and didn’t keep stopping for photos.  I mean, obviously, progress was still slow, still walk/run, but I was conscious I was definitely covering the ground more purposefully than ever before.

The tunnels are still fabulous though. What killjoy requires you to enter these slowly, the only way to tackle them is as fast as you can.  I wonder if this is what gets some dogs excited in dog agility.  There is something joyful about being encased in the dark, pounding along, and then exploding out the other side into daylight.

I could maybe have done without the odd significant splosh of cold wet water landing on my now bare head now and again, but a small price to pay for the on-trail entertainment of tunnel running.  Try it sometime.

One thing though, there are lots of rules about what you can and can’t do in the tunnel.  But judging from the pictures, only white men have to abide by them, as only they are featured in the instructional signage.  So that’s good.

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Women can run free and run amok should they wish to do so.  Hurrah!  Running amok is always fun, that’s why we have events like The Trunce.  I believe there are some road races along these lines as well, but clearly fell races are the best for wildly heading out en masse and scattering in all directions over the horizon and over the hills.

run amok

I have been toying with having a ‘proper’ run walk strategy for the marathon, but I don’t really like obsessing about my watch.  At the moment, it’s set with one mile for one lap, so it vibrates on every mile, and that seems a good marker for me.  I vaguely had in mind that I should keep running until the watch vibrated and then I could walk for a bit, take a drink or whatever, but in fact I just ran as I felt, and honestly, I think that might yet be my best bet.  I just kept seeing a landmark, like a bridge ahead, or a tree, and I’d think ‘I’ll just run to that such-and-such a point’ and then when I got there if I felt like I could keep on going I did.  Sometimes I told myself I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to stop until I’d finished a mile. Occasionally my inner pride would kick in and I’d think ‘I won’t stop running until I’m out of sight of whatever walker I’d just passed’.  I think I was just a lot more ‘on task’ than I have been for a while.  I exchanged pleasantries with people I passed, and I didn’t stress if I felt like walking, but I did a lot less stopping for photos and general faffing than is usual for me.  Having said that, some views you just have to pause and take in, rude not to.  That’s quite some flood plain is it not?

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My favourite interaction of the morning was with a woman who had one of those arm extender things that you can use to launch tennis balls for your dog to chase.  Her companion canine was beside himself with excitement, scampering back and forth ecstatic every time the ball flew through the air, he fair flew after it.  ‘I wish I had that much energy and enthusiasm when I’m out running‘ I remarked as I approached.  ‘I could always throw the ball for you if that would help at all?‘ she replied without missing a beat. Just goes to show, support and encouragement comes from the most unexpected places!  I was quite tempted to take her up on her offer, just to see, but it wouldn’t have been fair on the dog so I trundled on.

Although the Monsal Trail has it’s limitations as a run route – I wouldn’t want it to be my only running option, at times along the way there are the most spectacular views, and helpful signs give a bit of the local history and geography too.  Abseilers were out in force, dangling from the designated bridge.  In other spots bridge swingers were warned away by threat of steel wires across the arches.  Decapitation by taught wire seems a little extreme as a sanction for rule breakers, but then again, frustration will build.   Actually, on closer inspection, I see it is not wire but ‘bars’ so more a question of getting splattered on impact I’m guessing….  Personally though,  I am getting increasingly annoyed and outraged by poo bags not just hanging from trees, but hurled into the undergrowth. What is that about. As the daily mash inform us ‘man picks up warm dog shit, seals it in a bag then leaves it in the hedge‘.  Just why?   If I thought stringing taut wires across the Monsal Trail and elsewhere would put a stop to that I’d be tempted.

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Fortunately, other views were more scenic. I spoiled one such view with a gratuitous selfie. Well why not.  I need to practise doing those ahead of London too. You don’t honestly expect me to resist the temptation of snapping a few of those en route on the big day do you?

I did a little detour at one point, because a bridleway looked especially inviting.  It will be good to come back when I don’t have to focus on just bagging a certain mileage, and try some of these routes that crisscross the Monsal Trail and discover paths less travelled across Derbyshire.

Eventually, I once again reached the end of the trail.  This is where I had a maths fail.  I really, really, didn’t want to have to run past the cafe again to make up miles on the way back, but I wasn’t 100% sure if I’d done enough.  I decided to be on the safe side, I’d do a mini extension, and so headed past the trail end

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It was fun heading down some steps, you end up by a quite impressive river, fast flowing under a series of bridges, giving stunning views. This is an area seriously worthy of future exploration, which is just as well, as I need to up my mileage again over the next couple of weeks.  Nice to know there is an easy and inviting way to do this.  I think that circular mirror makes me look more rotund than I actually am by the way, just saying…

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I didn’t venture too far, as I thought I’d probably done enough, and so i turned around and after a restorative naked bar, headed homeward.  It was much colder running back. The sun had vanished, and I seemed to be going into a headwind.  I don’t know if the naked bars are quite doing it for me.  For the first time ever, towards the end of my run I did feel a bit of an energy dip that made me actually crave sugar.  I was fine, as I was within a mile of my end point, but it made me think perhaps I should carry some fudge or something in case I get that feeling again.  More people were out and about, but no runners, groups of walkers, and a gang of women all purposefully pushing buggies at one point, some cyclists but it remained fairly quiet.

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Then, because it was cold perhaps, and because my legs felt fine, and my lungs felt fine, but I was just getting a teeny bit bored of the grey flatness of it all, I found I just started running spontaneously, without forcing myself to start up again after a walking section I mean, and for possibly the first time ever I hit a bit of a rhythm. It took my about 12 miles to get to that point which is a downer, but I finally hit The Zone.  Where running felt, if not exactly easy, automatic, like walking is for me, where I never, ever think I can’t take another step, my legs just move because that is what they are programmed to do.  It seems rather late in the day of my marathon training to have discovered this pace, but  do feel it may yet turn out to be something of a breakthrough.  If I can find that comfortable place and pace where my legs can propel me forward without me having to  constantly consciously berate them to do so, this whole running malarkey will be so much easier.  The next few miles seemed to pass quickly.  I started fretting a little because I didn’t know how far I’d got still to go, 16, then 17, then 18 miles came and went.  I was trying to spot the Bakewell parkrun turnaround point, as that would tell me I had just under 2.5 km to go, but I couldn’t recognise it, which I admit is somewhat observationally inept.  I clearly have a ‘follow the herd’ mentality.  I can cope just fine on my own, but if others are around who clearly know what they are doing, I’m inclined to just tag along and defer all responsibility for decision-making – including bothering to independently notice the route just travelled apparently.  Oh dear.

What I did notice though, was some brightly coloured broken red plastic things by the side of the path.  What on earth?  I went to investigate, and found it wasn’t brittle, broken plastic at all, but a bright red fungi.  No idea what it was, I’ve never seen anything like it before, remarkable.  Fergus the forager has found these too, because he has them on his website, he may even eat them, as they were in a basket.  Eventually, through googling I found a UK fungi identification website, and dear reader, let me introduce to you the other worldly looking Scarlet Elfcup.  Brilliant name.  Well worth taking the time to find out.  My world feels the richer for it, I hope yours will too!  It might be a ruby elfcup to be fair, but unless you are an elf, AND CAN PROVE IT, I’m not processing your complaint.  Just to be extra clear, the identification website states apropos of this that ‘to be anywhere near certain which of the two red elfcup species you have found, microscopic study (unless you are equipped to carry out DNA analysis!) is probably the only option.’ so think before your issue your grievance.

weird red fungi

19 miles came and went, I had started walking again by this point, but that was fine.  I’d exceeded my 18 mile target and was feeling pretty good.  A bit cold, a bit peckish, and my feet were a bit aaaargh, but able to continue.  Definitely energy in the tank.  What a relief.

Finally the cafe came into view.  My watch proclaimed I’d covered 19.63 miles, which is teasingly close to breaking the 20 mile mark, but also  pleasingly within Smiletastic long run tolerance limits.  For the Smiley Paces, running club winter challenge we have to pledge a distance for our long runs, but are penalised if we deviate from that more than 10%.  I mean, marathon training is all very well, but I wouldn’t want it to mess up my Dragonfly team mates points due to my run route calculation errors!  I’d only pledged 18 miles, my upper safe distance was but 19.79 miles.  Did you know you can make dragonflies out of origami by the way?  I found a YouTube link explaining how.  One of our group has even done this.  Amazing commitment. Gotta be worth a Smiletastic bonus point.  I mean she should get one for implementing the idea so brilliantly, obviously, but as the brains behind the endeavour I ought to be a shoo-in for a bonus point too, for inspiring such a creative tour de force?

origami dragonfly because.jpg

I dumped my running paraphernalia in the boot of the car, donned my fleece and stumbled into the cafe.  I had a latte, some really good mushroom soup and a not very exciting egg mayonnaise roll.  It was expensive, but the sustenance was much-needed and most welcome.  Good to warm up a bit before heading back home.  I took a picture of lunch.  It looks terrible, but honestly, don’t be put off by the grey and beige presentation, the soup was delicious.  It had truffle oil drizzled on it, which I didn’t know was a thing, but was jolly nice.

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In case you care, here is the route.  Not much to look at in Strava terms to be fair, just a line out and back, but also a big tick, in terms of my marathon training run.  26.2 miles seems a lot more manageable now.  I’m not underestimating it, and I know many would find my pace aspirations laughable, but hey ho, it’s my own goal.  In every sense.

strava route

So here’s hoping the next long run is as positive.  I’m going to try to build on this one, do more actual running, and try to get into the zone a bit more. I’m not sure about my nutrition and hydration is quite working though, I need to play around with that still – I ran out of water on this route.  To be honest, I could really do with some better weather so I can run without a jacket and get used to that, but even so, at last some progress.  Progress makes a change from just movement, which is what I’ve sometimes been guilty of.  Sometimes it is all too easy to confuse the too.  That’s what Alfred A Montapert tells us – or possibly Denzel Washington, depends which google search stream you choose to believe. Ernest Hemmingway and Mark Twain are contenders too – so basically everyone seems to agree on this point, we just need to recognise how it relates to each of us personally.

You’re welcome.

hamster-wheel-03-600

So that’s all for now.  Don’t worry, normal pessimism will be restore shortly.  But for now.  All good.

Own goals, that’s what it’s all about.  Own goals.

ed balls own goal

So keep on running.  We’ve got this.  What could possibly go wrong now?

🙂

 

*This one is for you EWFM – remember, we owe our knowledge of the Bungle Bungle range entirely to episodes of Neighbours back in the eighties.  This just goes to show, TV soaps can be most educational and lead to curiosity about the world and cultural exchange.  Not sure the world needed the Scott and Charlene wedding song, but those eighties outfits are truly a sight to behold.   Those of us who have lived through shoulder pads, can probably survive anything. Even London Marathon running…

Categories: off road, running | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Running London …. ish. Work in progress a horrible long run in marathon training. I so haven’t got this! Aaargh.

Digested read:  I had to do a 17 mile long run today. I did it even though I felt rubbish, and did everything wrong.  A lot of it was walking, but probably it was a good test of my mental strength if not physical prowess.  I did at least complete it.  The Thames route was scenic, the royal parks lovely.  I really hope it isn’t true about all the peeing at the Marathon.  Type 2 fun, and a learning curve.  This is scary now.  Aaaargh indeed.

This popped up on Facebook recently, and made me cry with laughter:

anyone can win the marathon

That’s right dear reader.  ‘Anybody can win the race‘, the ‘race’ in this context being the London Marathon. So says last year’s winner, who incidentally, has his family watch the ‘movie’ of the race twice a week or so.   To be fair, if I win, I will expect anyone with whom I have even the most tenuous or fleeting acquaintance to be watching the coverage on a continuous loop between now and the end of eternity.   I will nail them to the spot if necessary in order to facilitate this, but on the whole, unless an unexpected Tsunami from the Thames wipes out all 39,999 runners ahead of me and leaves me as the sole contender  I think the parkrun populus of Sheffield are safe.  And no, I’m not being unnecessarily self-deprecating in stating this.   Methinks reigning champion Daniel Wanjiru is possibly somewhat overestimating the competition across the field – or maybe elite runners never look behind them and have yet to realise the London Marathon is a mass participation event.  They see only the finish line and hear only the pitter patter of their immediate rivals alongside and behind.  It’s another world, another world entirely.

Talking about running alongside the Thames (yes I was), that was my long run venue of a week or so ago.  It was a really tough one, something of a misery to be honest, but in the interests of completeness I feel I should record it here. It can be the yin to the yan of the more positive experience of a long run a week later on the Monsal Trail.  Not sure if that’s quite what yin and  yan are, but highs and lows certainly.  My Thames side long run was more of a low.  Not that it wasn’t beautiful, and I didn’t absolutely regret it, but my goodness I felt rough before, during and for many days after.

The thing is, I was staying in London.  I’d decided I’d fit in my long run whilst I was there, partly because I needed to, and partly because the weather in Sheffield has been so dire (white out and wash out alternating to stop all running fun, races tumbling all around as they got cancelled due to arctic conditions) I figured I’d take advantage of the milder southern climes.   Plus, running round Sheffield is so hilly, I end up having to walk some sections, I thought maybe doing a flatter route would help me hit more of a rhythm and replicate the London marathon terrain.  Also, I thought maybe it would be a good mental discipline to run an unknown route and see how far my legs would carry me.

Reading that back, that rationale makes me sound super organised and equipped for running a London marathon, but I’m just not. Everything feels bumbling and improvised.  I have little idea what I’m doing, and honestly, sometimes I think I just decide what I want to do, and then think up some post activity rationalisation as to why it was a legitimate strategy or idea.  A bit like when you are trying to make a decision, and you seek advice from loads of different people, but really, what you are doing is keeping on asking everyone you meet until someone, FINALLY, gives you the answer you’ve been wanting to hear.  I actually don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing, it at least crystallizes in your mind what it is you want to do, albeit you are seeking some sort of external validation for doing so, but I do think it’s worth being self-aware about it.  Maybe even more so with a physical challenge like this, where actually, if I don’t prepare my body physically and mentally for what it’s up against, then it just isn’t going to happen, as it is, the attempt may not be pretty.  PANIC!

Point of information, as usual, I’m writing up this post belatedly – I nearly said ‘posthumously’ there, perhaps that’s apt – I’m sat at a table looking out on a snow swamped garden, lamenting the fact that this is another day when my running aspirations will not be met.  I have made it out far enough to dig out the bird feeders and put some food on the ground.  I didn’t think they’d found it, but I’ve just noticed a pigeon’s head peering up from out of the snow.

It’s head high for a pigeon. Which probably doesn’t sound all that high to be fair, but it’s high enough to mean running isn’t an option. You can’t see where your feet are landing, and it’s way over my ankles.  Deeper where it’s drifted.  Can’t make up my mind whether or not to risk venturing out.  I’ve been watching the Martin Yelling marathon talks (I’m slightly in love with him, he’s so positive and smiley) and he was saying the other week that you have to consider the risk of injury v potential training benefit and adds in ‘any run is better than no run’ but equally you shouldn’t stress niggles too much at this late stage.  I might try for a walk later.  Surely a snow trudge constitutes cross training, even if it is just to check out the interior of the nearest open cafe?  One way to find out.

Back to where I was, about a week ago, contemplating a long run.  I was aiming for 17 miles, and hadn’t honestly planned a route as such, beyond a vague idea of starting off by parking at The Pheasantry Cafe in Bushy Park.  However, this was one of those runs, where just everything seemed stacked against if from the off.  To begin with, because I was away from home I’d not eaten particularly appropriately the day before, just salad all day and where I was staying the only breakfast option was high sugar kiddies mini pack cereals.  Then I had the most terrible night’s sleep ever, even for me, and I can’t remember when I last slept through the night, and when I did finally ‘wake’ properly I had a raging sore throat and felt dire. I wasn’t sure what to do. I consumed the only available breakfast option, which was a little pack of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, which was vile, and had half a cup of not very nice coffee, which just made my insides slosh about.  I felt shattered, poorly hydrated, ill, and a bit queasy.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  It was definitely not the best preparation for the run, but then again, what if I feel like this on marathon day, I’m not going to bale then surely?  Plus, if I didn’t get my run in this day, I might end up missing it, and back in Sheffield with the weather as it is, it would be another week of really inadequate preparation.  I also needed to drive back to Sheffield after the run, if I abandoned the run and drove back early, I knew there was no way on earth I’d head out for a long run after dark.  Aaaargh.

In the end, I decided I might as well at least start off, worst case scenario I could cut it short.  I just thought if I didn’t try I’d regret it, and I was imagining how I’d feel the next day –  fabulous if I’d succeeded and a worthless failure if I hadn’t.  I decided I’d prefer the former scenario – though in fact it didn’t entirely work out like that.  Running when you are so depleted knocks you out for days afterwards apparently.  So now I know.  Weirdly though, I still think not running at all would have been worse, but worth noting for another time.

Belt packed, naked bars, water, and vague sense of a route.  Even the weather was against me though. The place I was staying, Bushy Park Lodge, had great views of Bushy Park.  Only the day before I’d had runner envy watching people job past in the early morning.

This day it was dark and threatening ‘proper’ rain.  I am increasingly hating this weather. I do still cope better with cold than heat running wise, but there are limits.  This is not fun.  This was the view at the start of my run out:

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Joy.  Not.  Originally, I’d planned to do sort of figure of eight loops around Bushy Park, but then the ground was too saturated for that to allow for even running, besides which I thought it might get a bit dull, I hate running in laps.  However picturesque the setting.  I then hit upon what I considered to be a genius plan!  I’d start in the park, head over to Hampton Court palace, dip down onto the Canal path and then maybe loop through Home park, something like that.  This would guarantee move even terrain and a longer route, with less temptation to abandon the run when the going got tough.

Off I went.  It was sploshy, dark and pretty empty really.  Though to be fair it was a weekday. Even so, it surprises me how you can find space even in this jam-packed area of greater London.  It was wet, even the deer were lying down, trying to keep at least a small area of ground dry. There was a dramatic white stag, which I failed to photograph as I didn’t want to disturb it by going too close, and trees heavy with bright green mistletoe.  I wished my stomach wasn’t heaving so much though.  That breakfast was not a good start to the day at all.

Onwards, I decided to head straight out of the park.  On my way, just walking, trying not to heave, I found a bit of discarded steel wire, where on earth did that come from?  That could seriously damage a deer or horse in the park.  It was huge and heavy, I didn’t really know how best to dispose of it, but I did at least pick it up and put it in a bin.  A small gesture to improve the place I was running in, though not perhaps in the same league as those ploggers who in Sweden, have identified the ultimate rubbish way to get fit, but a start.

Soon, I was at the Hampton Court gate to Bushy park, that’s an impressive bit of iron work right there

and out, over the road, past the separate entrance to the old tennis courts – oh, don’t you have a separate entrance for your on site sporting facilities?

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and towards Hampton Court Palace.  Even though I grew up not far from here, I’ve very rarely done the touristy things, and stopping to look at Hampton Court palace, and the grand statues on the posts surrounding it I have to acknowledge it is really impressive.  Spectacular even.  You can see why it’s such a tourist attraction with it’s grand visage and photogenically sited red telephone box just outside – even if you can’t use that for actual telephone calls any more.  It was harder than you might think to photograph those impressive statue thingies, which is why I appear to have carefully framed a shot right up a unicorn’s arse.  Perhaps this is apt, as I have a unicorn’s arse in hell’s chance of getting round the London Marathon the way my training was feeling on this day…  The selfie also tells me my outfit wasn’t offering up the most photogenic of possibilities, however practical it may have been.   I look like a badly animated lollipop my face is so round. That has to be an optical illusion.  I’ve surely not really been seen out in public looking like that.  It’s not great for my body image to be fair.   I have subsequently inadvertently shrunk my woolly hat in the wash.  Gutted, it was really good at keeping my ears warm, even if it did look like I was wearing an alpaca-fleece giant condom on my head, by choice.  Sacrifices have to be made in running, all athletes know this.  Dignity is just the first of many things that have to go if you are serious about getting out there and running, however ineptly and for however long.  Harsh but true.

I was still feeling headachey and hardly underway, but I often feel rubbish in the early stages of runs, it takes me ages to get going.  I honestly think it’s partly that my body is in denial about the whole thing, so for the first few miles I just pant, and sweat and feel every twinge and ache and find it nigh on impossible to make myself run.  It takes super human strength to force myself to propel my feet forwards.  Once I’m far away from home that carrying on with my planned route is going to take just as long as retracing my steps and going home, I seem to move into the ‘acceptance’ as opposed to ‘denial’ stage and it’s fine. Well, maybe not exactly fine, but so far, I’ve never thought I wouldn’t complete once I get to that point.

Just beyond Hampton Court Palace, there was a really clear sign onto the Thames Cycle path.  This was great, and a revelation.  The path was wide, clearly marked, not very busy and offered spectacular views.  A bit of a contrast to the industrial heritage you view from the canal path in Sheffield through to Attercliffe.  Plenty of runners do use the canal paths in Sheffield for training, but I don’t fancy them, this Thames canal path felt a lot roomier, more open and frankly safer.

Still pretty wet though – I’ve just realised, you can, in theory run this all the way to Tower Bridge!  Wow, I’d love to do that.  Or even take on the whole of the Thames Path, that would be a lovely running challenge.   Well, I say ‘run’ but might be more fun to cycle that far.  Never say never though, if I’m really a more efficient runner than Usain Bolt, and I’m allowed to walk chunks, maybe I will surprise myself one day yet.  Oooh, what’s that overhead?  Is it a bird, is it a plane?  Oh, no it’s just a cloud.  A big black rainy one…

Pigs-might-fly

Inevitably, it being a new route, I had to stop and take in unusual views, and admire the palace from a new angle.

And then there was a yellow submarine, and more mistletoe, and cooing parakeets

I saw hardly anyone, a few cyclists, including one with an incredibly speedy and athletic dog.  That was impressive, but somewhat intimidating, it took time out from loping alongside its cycling companion to chase down wildlife along the river, ducks, swans, geese, nothing was safe.  It annoys me when owners let their dogs do that.  It spoilt my run, plus, whilst it may be true ‘they never catch anything’ they still stress the wildlife, which have to use much-needed energy stores to get away, endless times each day, and in winter especially when food may be harder to come by and they need those reserves just to keep alive in the outdoors 24/7, whereas the dog can go home to it’s centrally heated home and automatic meal.   Then there is the risk of them chasing and stressing deer, sheep whatever to the point of death.  It isn’t funny.  I’m consistent on this, I hate it when adults allow children to chase down birds too.   What is that about?  Scaring animals for fun.  People are weird.   What with that and the bagged dog poo strung up everywhere, I’m really going off irresponsible dog owners, responsible ones are a different matter entirely.  Impressive hound though, my it could run.  It looked really fit and healthy too.  Dread to think what damage it would do in a herd of livestock though.

The path was VERY wet.  But it was also flat, straightforward to navigate and punctuated with unexpected and interesting views.  Crazy amounts of mistletoe and many delightful boats.  Not that I really knew what any of them were, but most picturesque.

I was cold, and uncomfortable, but the miles did roll by quite easily, if not exactly speedily.  I was soon approaching Kingston:

Now, this was something of a cross roads, in a literal as well as metaphorical sense.  I could have gone back through Home Park, but I decided instead to press on along the Thames Walk to Teddington Lock.  Partly as this was a more definitive destination, and partly because it committed me to doing a longer distance, and rough as I felt, I didn’t want to abandon the run just yet.  Also, I was aware I might not get a chance to do this route again, and it was enticing, even with my head aching, my stomach sloshing and temperature falling. When is the sun going to come out.  Is it ever going to come out ever again?  Is this what the end of the world feels like.

Over the bridge, then down some steps to a freezing series of tunnels alongside John Lewis where an unexpected mural cheered up the grey iciness of the route.

I was feeling thirsty by this point.  I reached for my water bottle and discovered to my horror, that I couldn’t get into it.  I washed it in the dishwasher and I think maybe I’d damaged the top somehow (though update, subsequently realised I had accidentally ‘locked it’ which I didn’t know you could do, and was too lacking in initiative to unlock it).  Fortunately I did have another bottle with so not a disaster, but food for thought.  Not great to run out of water on a long run.  I had one of my naked bars, but that just made me feel really sick, and my stomach was cramping a bit, I felt physically awful to be fair.  Light headed.  The cornflakes were too sweet but also just hadn’t provided enough or at least appropriate fuel to run on.  In better news, the sun was at least coming out periodically, and that made everything feel better.  I was astonished how deserted the route was, and how picturesque too.  My run took my past the Hawker Centre, which I think is the starting point for Kingston parkrun, there were pretty parks to pass through, some amazing trees, and at points, two paths to choose from, an upper tarmac and lower mud path. I took the mud path, more my natural habitat and definitely kinder on my feet, even if it did mean they got saturated.  Also not great on a long run, note to self, buy new socks.   I liked the stacked up rowing boats at one point, with their inspiring names upturned vigour was just the attribute I was needing to channel.

If I’d had more time, I’d have lingered more over the notices which explained the history of some of the landmarks and names along the route.  The Elm Tree – which is no longer there, being a case in point, it must have been a mighty tree indeed, as it lives on in the name of the place where it stood for hundreds of years.

Onward I went, cold, bit grumpy.  This run was only fun in parts.  I really needed the loo, but when I found one, and I did find a couple of public toilets en route, I seemed unable to er hem, ‘perform’.  I felt so sick.  I NEVER get digestive problems, so this is/was a first for me, and I really do think it was related to change in diet and too much sugar.  I just have low tolerance for that, I suppose that’s why I can’t tolerate gels, the very thought of them makes me heave.

I tried to remind myself that this run was as much about tackling mental running demons as covering the physical distance.  It didn’t matter if I was slow, what mattered was putting one foot in front of another.  I could learn from this run, however miserable and inept it was turning out to be.  It was great that I’d made so many rookie errors, as I’d learn so much more.  How genius am I for cramming so many ‘what not to do’ learning opportunities into one relatively short, ‘long run’.  Great.  Blooming great.  I had a lot of quite negative thoughts, but kept trying to bury them, and remind myself I was just doing what needed to be done.  It was normal to doubt myself.  Blah de blah.

One mantra that keeps being trotted out by those who know, is that you should try to replicate as many of the conditions of the marathon as possible in training, whether that is practising with gels, making sure your kit is comfy and appropriate, and working through the ‘mental strength’ challenges of putting in the necessary miles in training.   That’s all well and good, but should not be taken to extremes.  I found out a couple of days ago, to my absolute horror, that one dark secret about marathon running, is that you will be showered in pee en route. ‘You have got to be kidding me?’   Apparently, this is a dirty secret that isn’t widely shared but is true.  A fellow marathon runner in training was telling me about a mutual friend of ours who has run the London Marathon twice.  (You know who you are) I don’t know why this ‘mutual friend’ hadn’t thought to tell me this herself.  Perhaps she was just trying to protect me. The problem is, the truth will out. As will a build up of urine in the bladder apparently.   Both are inevitable.

She shared how her first time, a few miles in there is a part of the route where there a few less spectators and it opens up a bit.  She became aware of her legs getting wetter and wetter as she ran, and couldn’t work out at first what it was.  It turns out, it was because many male runners had used the opportunity to relieve themselves whilst running and were happily disporting their assets and in full flow, running onwards, running free.   Really not caring that basically they were pissing on all the other runners in their wake.  I was and am horrified.  I do not intend to replicate this in training by having members of my Smiley Paces running club spray urine at me as I run.  Since when has this been OK?  I really and truly didn’t know if this was a wind up, so have googled it so you don’t have to. It seems, sadly, this is indeed a thing (though be careful what your search engine will throw up – might want to hide history afterwards).  I get that you might inadvertently wet yourself through stress incontinence or just not being able to hold on, but basically peeing on your fellow whilst running as a deliberate strategy because your need to save 30 seconds on your marathon in your view over-rides other runners right not to have you urinate on them strikes me as a rather arrogant perspective.   Wet yourself by all means, but please don’t piss on me.  I don’t want my abiding memory of London to be wading through other runners’ bodily fluids.    What if I face plant in it, having lost my footing.  Lawks a lordy, if it’s so commonplace, I might actually drown.  That’s really not up there in my list of top ten ways to go.  Not even the top fifty to be fair.

Hmmm, not sure I wanted to know this in advance.  I may report back on this, and the extent to which it was an issue, and if it was, whether in all that heady atmospheric context I even cared.  However, dear reader, if you are thinking of getting your todger out for a piss, or projecting a snot rocket for that matter during the marathon, consider where it might land, please.   And if you must practise peeing whilst running (and it is recommended apparently), choose wisely where to do so.  If you pee on me I won’t be impressed, and it will put me off supporting whatever charity you may be running in support of, unless it’s for urinary incontinence support or the fistula foundation, in which case respect.  I’d even persuade every other runner to wait for you to finish so you aren’t disadvantaged by nipping in to use the loo if that’s your preferred option.  Then again, who knows, maybe I too will be the one unable to contain myself, peeing during the marathon or worse yet, crapping myself.  It’s happened to greater runners than me.  Maybe I should revisit the idea of running in skorts, they have helped many retain their dignity whilst running.  Not about making a fashion statement people, more about hiding your inability to control your bodily functions.  I know elite runners who have got sport prizes at fell races in respect of this.  FACT.  Enough of this now.  Here is a Sheffield snow shot by way of distraction.  (Stolen from Round Sheffield Run Facebook page, but I’m sure they won’t really mind…)  Looking so very pretty, and yet so very incompatible with my marathon training aspirations.

sheffield snow

So many things to fret about.  I feel very naive.  There are whole forums dedicated to peeing whilst undertaking all sorts of sports from running, through cycling and swimming.  I’m definitely not doing tri now.  I suppose though, that’s sort of the point.  I can’t really know what this is like until I’ve done it, or died trying.  What other things though have more experienced runners been keeping from me?  I dread to think.  However bad things have been in training, I’ve yet to change my mind about doing this, I still really, really want to take part, but do I really want full knowledge of what I’m letting myself in for?  Possibly not, it will only scare me, sometimes, a bit of naivety is what’s needed or I’d never do anything.

Where was I.  Oh yes, finding it hard down the Thames Path.  I made it down to Teddington Lock.  Up close, it is impressive, but really difficult to capture in photographs.  There was the option of heading across Ham common and on to Richmond Park, maybe one day, but not today. I was properly cold, and feeling a bit sorry for myself, although there was some comfort that having come this far, I was going to get a reasonable distance under my belt.   Disappointingly, you are not allowed to dive from the bridge into the churning white water and hidden under water hazards below.  No worries, as already clarified above, I’m not training for a tri.

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Having admired the view, it was a case of turning round and heading back.  It was really, really cold, and I felt drained and uncomfortable, this run seemed to be taking forever.  There had been a brief interlude of sunshine, but now the sky was dark again, and I felt like I was running into a chilling headwind.

Back past the Hawker centre, back past the river boats and house boats, pit stop in the Boaters Inn where I was able to refill my water bottle too.  Nice pub actually, and they seem to have some local agreement whereby members of the public are allowed to use their loos.  Not that this really helped me, I was feeling increasingly rough.  Eventually I was back at Kingston bridge – which does look magnificent.

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Back onto the Barge walk and heading back towards Hampton Court.  This was really, really tough.  Light relief was only available through unexpected sights.  Such as the vision of an enormous bumble bee, alongside an open winged swan on the opposite side of the river as I made my way back – Smiletastic team references get everywhere:

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To achieve my desired mileage, I’d need to double back again. There was a gate from the canal path, near to Hampton Court Bridge, where you could dodge into Home park.  I figured I could nip in there, go through Home park, come out at Hampton Wick and back into Bushy Park from there.  This is what I did, but it was really hard to make myself do it.  I just felt ultimately I’d have regretted it if I didn’t do the mileage, and also Home park is really lovely.  A bit wilder than Bushy park and generally deserted. Which it was on this day too, apart from some well-heeled golfers, availing themselves of these exclusive greens.  I’m so glad I made the effort, even if I was basically just walking by this point.  Lovely herds of deer, spectacular views of Hampton Court along the Long Water,

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and a chance to pause by a tree that is special to me.

I was pretentiously contemplative by this point.  Exhausted maybe, rubbish nutrition, dehydrated, cold, not feeling the running lurve at all.  I have been getting weepy on my long runs, I thought it was just me, but – another previously unknown revelation has been that – this is apparently quite common. What’s more, you think you’re weeping now, wait until the marathon!  Not just at the end, I have heard from others it’s quite likely you’ll be blubbing the whole way around.  Particularly if you are running for a charity that has personal meaning for you, but whether you are running for a charity or not (I’m not, I got lucky in the ballot, and besides, I don’t think I could cope with the pressure of running for a charity myself).  Oh no!  Will that constant uncontrollable sobbing cause further dehydration and electrolyte loss?  Yet another factor to take into consideration. This is proving to be ridiculously hard.

What were these abandoned wings about?  A fallen angel? Maybe it was all that was left of the bait laid for the crocodile trap.  I think that must be what the wire cage is for.  There is after all a famous crocodile alongside the stream in the Woodland gardens of Bushy park.  It’s not such a stretch to imagine a cunning saltie navigating the water courses hereabouts to end up in Home park too…

Soon, I gave up any pretence of running, and just told myself it would still be time on my legs and endurance, so I might as well check out the ice house.  Can it really have been standing since the 17th century, late or otherwise, that’s a lot of years.

The ice house is pretty near the Kingston Bridge entrance to Home Park. There was a handy cafe at the edge of Bushy park as I crossed the road.  So I nipped in to use their loo, but felt no better.  It was a slog to go on, but I had little choice at this point.  Don’t know what the London Loop is, might check that out (150 miles of London sights apparently).  I had no idea there were so many options round here.  It’s a quite different running environment from the peaks, but in inclement weather it has its advantages most definitely.

Into Bushy park, and I found myself on part of the Bushy parkrun course.  This was good for morale.  Because, it is a well-known fact that you can always push out a parkrun, no matter how rubbish you may feel.  I made a rather half-hearted attempt to jog on a bit, but it was tokenistic, if not actually non-existent.  I pressed on:

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The final bit of mind over matter, was about 15 miles in (is that all) I realised I still needed to add on another couple to meet my target. It would have been so easy to finish as I neared the Pheasantry, but I went on.  Fortuitously, at exactly this moment, I got a text message from a Smiley friend, I told her I was crawling my way round 15 miles into a 17 mile ‘run’, she sent much virtual support, and because I’d ‘fessed up to what I was doing, I felt motivated to finish what I’d started.  Back round the park.  Brief nip in to see my mum – who is nearby – and a final farewell, back at last to the woodland gardens with the Pheasantry cafe within.

and the crocodile without:

They are indeed still and log like.

Into the cafe.  I had the most fantastic soup ever (tomato and red pepper I think) and sweet potato fries with more salt than I care to admit.  I sat shattered and teary.  Everyone else was on a table a-buzz with friends, with one solitary exception. An older man, sitting alone.  That made me feel a bit sad.  And then I thought of me all wet, and broken and also sitting alone and over-emotional and I just thought how ridiculous this whole thing is.

It was not a good run.  The 17.3 mile route looked like this:

strava long run london

I like that Strava helps you get a sense of where you went, so many other possibilities – ham common and on to Richmond park another time maybe…

I’m really glad I did it, but it wasn’t fun.  Possibly type 2, I saw some amazing things.  And I did learn a lot, albeit about what not to do in training.  I followed the run with an epic 7 hour drive back to Sheffield,

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which I don’t mind telling you is most definitely contraindicated after a long run.  I spent the next few days practically unable to move I was so wiped out.  I could not longer tell if such fatigue was a ‘normal’ response to being out for so long, a result of over-training (by my terms, doing too much too soon) or actually being ill. Maybe though, going out when I felt crap to begin with wasn’t the best idea, though I did subsequently bag a really good long ‘run’ along the Monsal Trail   (run walk) which restored some small measure of self-belief.

It’s hard this marathon training thing.  Really hard.  The actual marathon should be a breeze if I survive the run up!

And that was that.  Long run.  It was progress, but still need to add another 10 miles on.  I don’t understand how that is possible.  I do want to break the 20 mile barrier in training.  Oh well.  I’m not going to be a speed merchant, and this run did leave me drained and crap, but I suppose there’s a little bit of me which was chuffed I’d drawn on mental strength to complete what I set out to do, even though this was probably my most miserable run out to date.

Oh well, that’s past now, new runs and adventures lie ahead.

Bring them on.

Eek.

Don’t even ask about times, it’s not the point and also it depresses me.  In all the uncertainties about what will happen in London, I’m going to put it right out there, that I don’t think Daniel Wanjuri has anything to worry about from me.

PS I wrote this on 18 march, but it relates to a run on 7th March, so I’m going to post it retrospectively.  Think of it merely as a form of time travel, don’t worry about inconsistent chronology within my references, they matter not.  It’s the broad sweep of time that is the important thing, and how insignificant we all are in the grand scheme of things.  I at least find that ultimately comforting.  Nothing matters nobody cares, kind of liberating.  Same with the marathon.  I’ll do it, or I won’t do it, it shouldn’t matter that much, the journey getting there is the thing.  The marathon itself just the icing on the cake.  I like being reminded of how small and insignificance we are in the universe, it means I no longer need to burn up with embarassment at the memory of my many social faux pas.  Nothing really matters.  Not even being peed on whilst runing a marathon.  Hurrah!

dr who title sequence

Categories: motivation, off road, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Well stone me! Unexpected treasures on the Round Sheffield Walk. Rock on runners, eyes peeled and best foot forward.

Digested read: out and about and I found a stone in Graves Park!  I know, extraordinary, there were trees too, but all worth seeing in a new light. Get out there and look about you, there are mysteries waiting to be discovered all over the place if we but keep our eyes open to that possibility.

In desperation, I have taken to googling ever more obsessively about London Marathon training plans. It’s not particularly enlightening, more confusing.  However, naive as I am, I do think that my training priorities remain miles on legs and getting to the start line uninjured.  In  my heart of hearts, even on low morale days, I still think if I make it to the start line I’ll make it to the finish.  It might not be pretty, and their may be tears and tantrums along the way, but I will get round by sheer act of will. This is my theory.  Long may it sustain me.  The upshot of this is that today, I decided that I’d up my mileage even if only walking.

Yesterday, I took on the Monsal Trail and experimented with my walk run strategy (you might call that a ‘fail’ I prefer to think of it as a learning opportunity).  I did about 15 miles near enough, about half of which was running, which isn’t great at this stage in the game, but is a barometer of where I’m at for better or worse.  Unexpectedly, I got a blister.  This is unusual for me, but I think it might have been the sameyness (is that a word?  It is now) of the terrain, pound, pound, pound on the feet with no change in stride, it wasn’t a catastrophically bad blister, but I wasn’t going to wear the same shoes again for a few days.  Today therefore, I resolved to get back out there and try doing a distance on tired legs and see how I went. Round Sheffield Walk all over again.

I wasn’t going to do a blog post on this, as much as I love this route (apart from that bit with the steps up through the wood, how is it possible for them to be soooooooooooooo steep and never get any easier to negotiate I just don’t know) I fear that you dear reader might be a bit on the ho hum/ I’m actually really bored of hearing about this now cusp of interest, and I don’t want to alienate you any further.  Lawks a lordy I struggle enough with finding people to talk to, I’m already in an agony of awkwardness after inadvertently breaching use of skip/ cardboard recycling etiquette in my new neighbourhood. I mean, I think I’ve basically weathered the storm, but I’ve probably had my probationary period extended, but that’s another story for another time. The thing is, that something particularly unexpected occurred on the Round Sheffield  Walk route today.  Plus a few just generally nice things actually, things worth remembering, just to appreciate the moment and distract me from tired legs and blistering feet.   Specifically:

There were these lovely lichen and moss-covered trees, and that one as you go up to Ringinglow through Whiteley Woods and up Porter Valley, the one that has red baubles every Christmas, today it had a heart on it.  I don’t know who it is that adorns this tree over the seasons, but I noticed the decorations the very first year I moved to Sheffield, and that’s nearly a decade ago.  Whether the additions are in memory of someone, or because the tree has a particular significance I don’t know, but the changes in offerings are relatively frequent, and sufficiently discreet for me to see them as interesting additions rather than vandalism of the woodland.

Then there was the bit of the walk where the slopes are steep and the trees take on other worldly shapes in defiance of the wind and gravity, it is spectacular, couple of photos of that wouldn’t hurt I thought.

And then I wasn’t going to take any more photos because, well, what was I going to do with them all? But then, when I got to Graves Park I found a proper treasure, no really I did. This was the remarkable gift for today.  I found this!

whats that lurking

It caught my eye as it was the wrong colour for the spot it was lurking in at the base of a tree.  I was doing a sort of half-hearted litter pick.  I don’t pick up as much as I should, but I try to just pick up a couple of bits of litter every time I go out running, if we all did this, it might eventually make a difference.  Quick shout out for the Runners Against Rubbish crew, which focuses the mind on the difference runners can make.

I was tired, but I decided to go investigate, as it was a little off the path, and I found, to my delight, this was not rubbish, it was a gift for the observant, all smiles and good will.  Look:

smiley stone

How exciting!  Further investigation revealed this to be a special painted rock from Chesterfield UK rocks.  Gussies.

chesterfield uk rocks

How cool is that!  I found a rock, hidden in the woods, on my birthday!  I wasn’t sure of the rocking it etiquette, should I keep, re-hide, what?  I don’t have a smart phone so the googling option wasn’t available to me there and then.  I decided to enjoy the moment, take a photo, and leave it where it was for another to find.  It was great though.  Maybe during the next cold snap I should start painting my own stones and scattering them in hidden places for others to experience the joy of discovery. so me and Gussies stone, we shared a moment, and then I said farewell and skipped on down the path wondering whether to alert others to the find or let it take its chances… I opted for the latter.

So dear reader, I’ve since come home, done my research, and this is how it works people person!  You find the rock, keep it if you want, or re-hide, but to make it more fun for whoever hid it in the first place, take a picture and post it on the relevant rock facebook group. Such simple pleasures.

Chesterfield UK Rocks expresses it like this:

A Guide to ‘Chesterfield UK Rocks’

The idea of this project is to spread some simple joy around our county by painting or drawing pictures or simple positive messages on stones.

If you’re on a rock hunt and come across a lot of rocks, please don’t take them all home with you because there will be no rocks for others to find. By all means take a couple but please rehide as much as possible. More rocks = more finds 😀

but there are UK rock groups all over, including one in Sheffield, Sheffield UK Rocks, this pleases me, perhaps it will you too?

It fair made my day.  Rock on people.  Although it was a close call between that, and having a fellow Dragonfly Smiley catch me up on my traipse round the Round Sheffield Walk – she was running to my walking – and we stomped along together companionably for a fair old chunk, which was really nice and much appreciated.

I was flagging by the end though, the temperature plummeted, and was that a blister on my other foot now?  Weirdly, my actual legs felt pretty strong, it’s my feet that were complaining.  I decided to cut off a bit of the walk (I know. lightweight, not listening) and headed out of Graves along the Derbyshire Lane route, which takes you past Norton cemetery. The wintry light made for some spectacular skylines.

norton cemetery

and again, another cityscape as I made my descent:

cityscape

and you know what, wherever you go in Sheffield you’ll see something new and unexpected.  Some messages are subliminal, some are in your face. Any guesses on what these two finds are trying to communicate:

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So keep your eyes peeled out and about. Every outing, every time, new delights are out there waiting to be discovered.  If you can’t find them, you could always lay some for others to discover, or just make the world a better place with a mini litter pick for an extra feeling of inner warmth to match the outer warmth once you get back home.

So, people (and google) keep telling me that what will get you through a marathon in general and London in particular is mental strength as much as physical aptitude and preparation (though I think it’s only fair to point out there is probably a minimum base line of fitness which you ignore at your peril).  I can see this, but I also wonder if as a supplement to mental fortitude is an imagination and an appreciation of the moment.  Back to basics, my parkrun running buddy who in response to my question: ‘what advice would you give me for my first ever one and only  marathon?’ was, after something of a pregnant pause – ‘just enjoy it, enjoy every moment!’ and you know what, I think she’s probably right, and that that advice will get me through my long runs too. There is always something to wonder at on a run, walk jog out and about even if it is only to wonder ‘what was I thinking?’.

What adventure awaits you next on your doorstep I wonder… go find out… go now!  Running is supposed to be fun remember.  Really and truly it is.*

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Rock on.

Also, Happy Birthday to me.

That’s all.

*ok, well, maybe mostly fun.  But sometimes you have to be willing to make your own fun, just so you know.

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

Taking running underground – tunnel vision on the Monsal Trail

Digested read: change in strategy.  Instead of long and hilly, I went for long and flat, first time out on the Monsal Trail.  It is indeed long and flat, but it has loads of fabulous tunnels.  Tunnels are fun.  I’m still scared of this marathon malarkey, but slow progress is still progress, and I can’t change how much preparation I’ve done to date, I can only make the remaining weeks count.  More running, fewer donuts. That’ll work.  All the same aaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.  I think that’s normal though.  Probably.  Eek.

Yesterday, I ate five doughnuts, pretty much in one go.  In my defence, they were proper ones, by which I mean jam donuts (all other types are in my view an abomination against nature), and also, it was an accident. I’d been to the gym – I think dear reader you know how much I love doing that – and then went food shopping afterwards when I was feeling rungry.  Big mistake, but I hadn’t expected to walk past a bakery counter with a special offer at 45p for a big pack of warm donuts, it was a temptation too far. Of course I succumbed.  I didn’t feel guilty eating the first one, and then the second didn’t really hit the sides, and then once you’ve had three in a row, you have to concede that’s your healthy eating plan for the day jettisoned, so you may as well write the rest of the day off and start again tomorrow, best course of action is to remove the temptation altogether by polishing off the lot.  It’s frankly a miracle I didn’t just inhale them sitting in Sainsbury’s car park, the fact I made it home in the car before ripping open the pack should be seen as a mitigating factor.

rungry

Despite this attempt at justification, it wasn’t the best of nutritional choices I’ve made in recent times, and naturally I was full of self-loathing afterwards, and felt a failure not only as a runner but as a human being.  Fortunately, I have a little Facebook messenger group thing going with some other people I met at a London Running Weekend a while back. These are new buddies,  who are also doing the London Marathon in just a few weeks time.  Aaaargh. This meant I was able to share my panic at having so spectacularly failed at my nutrition control, and feeling down about my marathon training progress, which is lamentable. Sharing is good.  Though over-sharing of course isn’t, and sometimes it’s a fine line.  On this occasion however, my virtual running buddies scooped me up in a collective cluck of reassurance.

Since knowing I was going to be running London (gulp, still struggle with putting that out there!) I’ve read loads about marathon running through the medium of the oracle which is google.  I have searched every conceivable variation on the term ‘marathon’ including, as an illustrative not comprehensive list, the word streams: ‘first marathon’; ‘top tips for crap runners’; ‘how to complete a marathon’; ‘how to start a marathon’; ‘how far is a marathon again’; ‘why would anyone want to run a marathon’; ‘who’s idea was it to run a marathon anyway’; ‘what was I thinking when I entered the London ballot’; ‘why didn’t that Pheidippides just do a relay and call it a day at 5 miles‘ – and every variant question you might think of in between.  I find googling about running a pleasing substitute for actual training in general and running in particular, but it isn’t always good for nerves.  I only found out today that blooming Pheidippides dropped dead at the end of it! WTF?  I thought he was lauded and got a medal, this is not as planned…  Not such a brilliant role model and running target after all is he?  … Are we seriously emulating someone who drops dead at the finish without getting their bling or a selfie next to a national monument/ reality TV celebrity at the end?  I clearly should have researched this marathon malarkey thing a bit more before signing up for it…  So easy to get caught up in the hype isn’t it, and look where that leads.

why didnt he die at 20 miles

Leaving aside the ‘whose stupid idea was this in the first place?  Oh, mine, OK then‘ factor, one constant theme in the marathon advice is that it’s a really hard thing to do on your own.  The training is potentially isolating, there are a lot of hours running on your own, and your mind messes with you a lot.   Well, mine certainly does, it just won’t SHUT UP!  Now, some people have friends and family on their doorstep to rally round, and that’s great if you have, but you know what, the support I’ve had from my Facebook friends has been amazing.  Scooping me up with a rush of positivity and empathy, that helped me through a really tough few days.  So thank you virtual marathon running buddies.  You are appreciated.   I still don’t know if I can get round this marathon or not, but I do feel somewhat more chilled about giving it my best shot.  Also, it just really helped to hear their own horror stories about the challenges they are facing in their training.  It’s hard this Marathon training thing, however hard you think it’s going to be, it’s much harder.  There are so many elements outside your control – and I don’t only mean the allure of freshly baked doughnuts.  Even those elements inside your control aren’t that easy to deliver because (who knew) heading out on your own for 15 miles in the cold isn’t as instantly appealing or rewarding as you might think.  Delayed gratification is massively over-rated.  You don’t have to be a psychopath to think so.  Even so, perspective check,  there are a couple of things I do want to remember about running:

  1. it’s supposed to be fun,
  2. I remember being really sad at seeing someone, somewhere comment on a discussion thread, that running a marathon had killed their love of running.  To me that seems to be not only a sacrifice too far, but also an unnecessary one.  I don’t want that to be me. I’m never going to impress anyone with my running, not even myself, but I do want it to continue to be a part of my life that gives me joy.

Run often, run long, but don’t outrun your joy of running as the saying goes.

38514-Julie-Isphording-Quote-Run-often-Run-long-But-never-outrun-your

Maybe also try not to run to the point you drop dead at the end of it.  Just a thought.  But if you must, make sure the on-site artist captures your best side at the moment of collapse.  Also, maybe think about wearing some pants.  Maybe our mum’s had a point about having to wear clean knickers every day in case you get run over by a bus.  Or was that not a general thing?

Though, don’t tell anyone, but I’ve never been massively sold on the ‘clean pants in case you get run over’ scenario, as surely in that eventuality you’d wet yourself or worse.  Wouldn’t it be better to carry a spare set of underwear with you, along with Kendal mint cake and a toothbrush at all times, and then you’d be sorted in any number of scenarios? Oh I don’t know, I seem to be losing confidence in my decision-making capabilities in every context, not just running.  It’s like low self-esteem and poor self-confidence is self-perpetuating.  It’s so hard being me right now, you have no idea….

So, what I’m basically saying is, yesterday was a bad day.  Running a marathon feels impossible, I’d binge eaten doughnuts without even really taking pleasure in them and was really doubting what ever made me think I could do this. However, after a collective pep talk/ group hug from my virtual London marathon running buddies, I decided to stop comparing myself to other people, and just crack on.  My mantra is along the lines of ‘if I make it to the start uninjured, I’ll make it to the finish‘.  I know I’m behind where I’d ideally like to be with my training, I ‘should’ be running much further by now, but I also know that if I try to skip a week, and start suddenly doing loads of extra stuff, it’ll probably lead to counterproductive injury.  Slow and steady now is better than did not start.    Even so, time for a bit of a change in tactic.

I’ve been doing the Round Sheffield Walk fairly regularly as a training route to up my mileage, but its combination of steep terrain and ice and snow means it’s been basically just that, a walk.  That may be good for strength and miles on the legs, but it’s nowhere near good enough to replace actually running. Today therefore, I headed to the Monsal Trail. As super flat as flat can be.  For the uninitiated, it is described thus:

What is the Monsal Trail?

The Monsal Trail is a traffic free route for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and wheelchair users through some of the Peak District’s most spectacular limestone dales.

The trail runs along the former Midland Railway line for 8.5 miles between Blackwell Mill, in Chee Dale and Coombs Road, at Bakewell.

Most of the route was opened to the public in 1981 but four former railway tunnels had to remain closed due to safety reasons, with public footpaths taking people around them. From 25 May 2011 the four railway tunnels – Headstone Tunnel, Cressbrook Tunnel, Litton Tunnel, Chee Tor Tunnel – will also open for trail users. Each tunnel is about 400 metres long and will be lit during normal daylight hours.

Two shorter tunnels – Chee Tor No.2 and Rusher Cutting – already formed part of the Monsal Trail.

The public can now experience the full length of the former railway route at their own pace and see breathtaking views at places like Water-cum-Jolly Dale that have remained hidden since the railway closed in 1968.

As a former railway line, it is basically, long, flat and even.  Like an outside treadmill, also fortuitously furnished with a cafe AND of a good length for my long runs.  I decided I’d head there, and play around with my run walk strategy, and try to do a greater percentage of actual running than I have for a while.  I tried to keep my expectations realistic, this would be a learning experience, I’d try not to be over ambitious, but just get a sense of my baseline of fitness as of now, and build it from there.  This was the theory.

It’s about a 13 mile drive from where I live to the Hassop Station Cafe and car park on the Monsal Trail.  Despite my best efforts at keeping positive, treating today as a fresh start etc etc, I found my mind demons had clambered in the car and come along for the ride too. It was a cold day, but basically dry – perfect for running really – but as I drove out towards Bakewell I became preoccupied with just how far it was to get to Hassop, and how long it was taking EVEN IN A CAR, and how once I arrived I’d be setting out to run even further than I’d just driven.  Yikes.  This is what they mean when they say running is mostly in the mind.  I need to find a way to bury such negative thoughts, they don’t help.  There is that truism that if you don’t believe in yourself you are making it twice as hard to achieve any goal, and that’s probably true.  How does the saying go? She thought she could so she did?  The opposite is also a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Aaaaargh.

I want to believe but… even so I have deliberately picked an image with the robin on it, as that is the sort of robust body shape I can relate to.   If a robin (or indeed a bumble bee) can fly, then why shouldn’t I run? (No answers on a postcard please, today is about positivity not realism, you have been told).

I arrived early.   There is a pay and display car park, but also a free one for customers of the cafe.  I was planning to have lunch afterwards in the cafe, but I knew I’d be out running for blooming ages so I wasn’t sure of the etiquette.  In the end I nipped across to ask a bored looking staff member if I was OK to do a run and then come back later.  She was friendly and completely unconcerned.  I suppose if it was a busy weekend it might have been more contentious, but as it was, I was practically the only car there.

I headed off.  I had decided I’d play around with my run/walk strategy.  To be fair, I had no idea what I was doing.  I decided as the received wisdom is not to set off too fast, I’d walk a mile then run a mile.  This had the advantage of being simple to follow as my tomtom watch is set to vibrate every mile and the disadvantage of being completely crap as a strategy.  It was too much walking so I got cold.  As a learning curve though it was useful, in that I realised I don’t know all the functions of my watch well enough to use any other strategy. Time?  Shorter distances?  Well I could, by looking at my watch every 20 seconds, but that’s not great either.  I need to wise up to other approaches.

I haven’t ever been down the Monsal Trail, which is something of an omission.  I’d been warned it is a mighty dull route, but I didn’t find it that.  I mean, I wouldn’t want it as my only running option, but there was something quite hypnotic about the even terrain.  There was hardly anyone out and about, and I see the potential for the path to have a therapeutic feel to it, plus I liked all the paths that cut across offering promise of new places to discover, and there was some awesome views. Plus, it starts and finishes at a cafe.  BIG tick!

Once on the trail, there was a handy directional sign:

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and that’s it, you take your pick, and off you go. You can’t get lost, but you can have micro adventures along the way. I had lots.

For example, who knew that tunnels were so much fun?

I mean, I got excited at the first one.  Which frankly, is like thinking a speed hump constitutes a hill, which is pretty much what I thought until I got to Sheffield, well, Monsal Trail does tunnels really well. First off though, a gentle contemplative trot, gazing ahead at the long open road and marveling at the moss-covered trees along the way.

It was OK to begin with.  I felt quite unexpectedly strong.  The route was quite sheltered, so that was good, and although I felt under pressure at needing to bank a good one, I felt at least I was doing something positive in being out and about.  Amongst other advice, I have been picking up that those most likely to complete the London Marathon do quite whopping mileage (by my terms) of around 37 each week. This kind of whisper is really difficult. It might be true, but that doesn’t take into account those who get injured doing that sort of mileage without a proper training base.  I think the conclusion I’ve come to is that for me, more miles will help me be strong and build endurance, but I have to be realistic, I wont be able to do that many as running miles. If the Monsal Trail is OK, this could be a great weekly addition to my training plan.  Somewhere to get flat running miles in, whilst keeping the elevation mileage in with my long weekly round Sheffield Walk. We shall see.

DSCF0927

 

 

The route for me today had a certain novelty value.  You notice things first time round, especially at slower speeds.  I was fascinated by the sound of water trickling first down the sides of the embankment and then later within the tunnels.  Early on in my run, when I was feeling upbeat and invincible the musical tone was enchanting, later on, it felt like the haunting sound of better runners than I,  who’d missed out in the London ballot, weeping in sorrow as they watched my piteous attempts at running and could not hold back their tears of frustration as they nursed the jealous knowledge ‘it should’ve been me’.   Maybe it should, that’s the thing about a ballot, it’s random, it isn’t based on merit or worth, just on luck, or not, on the day. Sad but true.

Pretty though, freezing water trickling through that glorious green wall of moss.

DSCF0929

Picture doesn’t quite do it justice, you’ll have to use your imagination, or better yet, go check it out for yourself.  Shortly after the first of the whispering water, there was the first of the amazing tunnels.

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Quite aside from being a great feat of engineering, and offering stupendous as yet unfulfilled potential for a film set, this was super fun.  I was a bit perturbed by the sign saying WARNING, do NOT touch the sides of the tunnel.  I was fixated with what might happen if I did. Would the whole structure come tumbling down like dominoes or jenga blocks, or would I maybe get stuck to the walls as if by some invisible force, like people who end up stuck to random objects after poor choices relating to superglue use.  Inevitably, I also had to really, really fight the urge to go and plant my maximum possible body surface against the Victorian bricks just to see what might happen. I held off though, I’ve seen what happened to Father Dougal with the Red Button.  It didn’t end well.

red button

It was weird being in the tunnel, it sounds different, not so much echoey as slightly disembodied.  Other worldly even.  I was impressed by this first tunnel, but I ain’t seen anything yet I later realised.  Once you get spat out the other end I seemed to have a greater appreciation of the views and the skill of the construction team that made it so.  It really is quite something.  I mean, I know I must be getting old to officially find Victorian industrial heritage so fascinating, but honestly, it is remarkable.  Go check it out!

Out of the tunnel and on to a bridge, and you are so high up, amazing views.

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I didn’t know it at the time, but the other hilarious/ pleasing thing about doing this route, is that Strava doesn’t know you are on a long flat route. Thus, you go under a mountain in a tunnel, Strava thinks you have womanfully sprinted up one side of the mountain and down the other side. Similarly, you go over a bridge, Strava believes you have slid down the slope to the river on your arse (presumably, it’s too steep to traverse it any other way) and clambered up the other with your bare hands, clinging to tree roots for whatever traction you can to get back up onto the path.  This may mess with your head, because you know it can’t be true, but I won’t like it felt good at the end of the run to think, ‘wow, I actually took on 3,173 foot of elevation over those 15 miles, no wonder I’m tired, I’m awesome’.  I find self-delusion a boon to keep my running demons at bay.  A short live boon, but I’ll take what crumbs of comfort I can.

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It was quiet out, I saw hardly anyone.  A couple of cyclists whizzed by as I was heading out, went to the end of the trail, and came back again whilst I was still heading out.  There was some intrepid walkers I met as I exited one of the tunnels, they actually had hand-held torches with them, which at first I thought was over kill (the tunnels are lit during daylight hours, and they are not so long you’d be very likely to find yourself inadvertently trapped in them overnight, even if you only yomp round at my speed). Then I found my mind preoccupied with wondering what secret mission they had planned that might require them.  Perhaps it was like their own personal Count of Monte Cristo – they’d be taking their lives in their hands and counting and touching bricks until they found the treasure map, or blue diamond, or hidden corpse or whatever it was with no price too high or sacrifice too great to make in pursuit of their end goal.  But what was it?  I may never know.  Or maybe I do know, but choose to keep this to myself as a great secret and source of mystery I will take to me to the grave….

Onward I went, there were catkins and signposts and weird abandoned bunkers that reminded me of pictures of deserted and crumbling settlements in Chernobyl.  I wonder if radioactive mutant animals and people emerge from dark corners hereabout after dark.  Probably.

Some nice remainer graffiti was politely hidden within.  This is what contemporary social history looks people.  And quality urban art with a correctly used apostrophe to avoid antagonizing the grammar police which is always good to see.

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I didn’t find the route too samey.  There was lots of interest.  There were clockwork information points at intervals that you could wind up and listen to explanations of what you were looking at. There was even an old railway station – incorporating decent loos and an adjacent ice-cream van for the seriously hardy in search of something cold to ingest to match the cold of outside.  There were moss-covered rocks, and soaring embankments, even a rainbow, but i think you’ll have to squint a bit to see that in my photo, though I did try to capture it just for you.