off road

Hathersage Hurtle take two – show us your grit they said …

Digested read:  did the Hathersage Hurtle again.  It was long.  It was fun.  I reached my capacity in cake consumption.

Undigested read:

Brace yourself.  It’s a long one.

Provocative aren’t they?  These Hathersage Hurtle pictorial teasers.  All this awaits you.  The lure of the peaks, yours for the taking, if you’ll just head off from Hathersage round in a big circle for 20 miles and crack on up and over the 2,800 feet of ascent.

The event blah de blah on the Hathersage Hurtle website describes it thus:

The Hathersage Hurtle is an exciting event in the Hope Valley, covering 20 miles and 2,800 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 be hot drinks available at the start and lovely home-baked cakes at the finish.

and the strava profile looks like this:

strava route hathersage hurtle.png

The thing is, it didn’t take much persuasion to get me to enter when the bookings went live way, way back in the depths of time.  I took part in the Hathersage Hurtle last year, and it was fantastic fun.  Fabulous scenery of course, more cake than you could shake a stick at (I’ve just realised, I have absolutely no real idea what that phrase refers to, a google interlude may follow)

more than you can shake a stick at

and, best of all, super friendly and inclusive.   Yep, naturally I’d want to come back and do it all again.  Might even go for a walk run strategy this year.  What the heck, I’ll properly train.  I’ll run the whole thing, I’ll manoeuvre over boulders with agility and confidence of a mountain goat, I’ll scamper up the ascents without breaking a sweat let alone a stride, my descents will exude the grace of an ethereal being, flowing effortlessly down vertiginous drops, what’s more, I shall have flattering race photos to document the occasion at the end.  It’ll be grand, what could possibly go wrong and what’s not to like?  What an opportunity!  I will join hundreds of others on the day who get to do something amazing just by dint of signing up and taking part.  Life is great, and the Hathersage Hurtle can once again be the gateway to the peaks and get me out into that fabulous landscape right on the doorstep of Sheffield.  You’ve got to want to dive in and explore when you keep being fed with glimpses of possibility and promise like this photo – one of many that kept popping up on the Hathersage Hurtle Facebook page.  If you’ve ever reaped the benefits of forest bathing, well, you should know that that experience can be turbo charged when you find yourself leaning into the wind and looking out from the top of Stannage Edge.  The scramble to the top of is an inherent part of the experience.  A day out in the peaks is never a wasted day, rather a rich seam of micro-adventures and awesomeness.  Yay!  Bring it on!  

HH go explore

That was the feeling on entering. Which, on reflection, I probably did sitting on the sofa clutching a mug of tea, possibly eating toast as I did so.  It’s ages away…  it’ll be fine.

However, in the interests of full disclosure, as the date came closer for this year, I found that life, the universe and everything had derailed a lot of things, including running training, or indeed any exercise very much at all, I had a bit of a gulp and reality check about my experiences on the 2018 event.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I did really enjoy it.  But, it does mean I knew what I’d signed up to.  Specifically, it turns out, 20 miles is actually a really long way, and 2,800 feet is actually quite a lot of ascent.  777 metres of ascent according to my friend’s Strava of the route (which I know isn’t a direct mathematical conversion but Strava never lies).  Point is, you need to respect them there hills.   Don’t be drawn in by the old ‘it’s just an uphill flat section‘ and definitely don’t buy the well intended but misguided comments from those ‘supporting’ en route  who cheerily declare ‘all down hill from here!’  as they point the route ahead which looks suspiciously like it might be heading upwards…  You might benignly decide these are well meant motivational phrases intended to encourage you onward. That might be true.  Indeed it probably is.  However, you should be aware that I can say from direct personal experience that I do hold a sneaking suspicion that some only feel confident enough to say this to you because they judge – correctly – that once you have confirmed just how misleading their guidance was, it’s too late to do anything about it.  Be honest, who’s going to retrace their steps 5 miles just to remonstrate with them about the accuracy of their advice on the terrain and topography ahead because then they’d have to hoik yourself up those ascents and repeat those 5 miles all over again.   Not going to happen.  Then again, they could probably have another dibs at the feed stations if they did so, so not an entirely pointless endeavour…  Point is, those hills are pretty unforgiving on the untrained calf muscles.  What’s more, when you do finally get to the sections from where it is indeed ‘all down hill‘ if not from here, then at least for a fair old bit, you find that actually going down hill can be hard on the legs too…   I think signs along the lines of these are possibly the way forward.  It’s all about managing expectations.

downhill-sign-road

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a great route, but it is tough, and whereas last year I’d done a fair bit of distance running and preparation ahead of the Hurtle, this year I just hadn’t.  Oops.  I do love the route, and it was such a positive experience last time round,  but I was having a few second thoughts about rocking up and trying to blag it on so little training.  Time to withdraw, maybe defer – do they allow that?  Don’t know, that would clearly be the most sensible.

But here’s the thing.  FOMO.  Fear of missing out. It’s powerful.  Also, it slowly dawned on me, that, as previously reference, you never regret a day in the peaks.  I might be a DNF – do not finish, but even then, probably nobody would care really (in a good way) and there’d still be cake, probably.  The real deciding factor though was this woman:

Nicky Spinks from inov 8 facebook page

Yep, that would be Nicky Spinks.  Fresh from an attempt at the Barkley Marathons (now entering that is genuinely hard to see as a rational choice, not even type 2 fun surely?). I read that the weekend of the Hurtle Nicky Spinks was/is attempting a Double Paddy Buckley Round.  In case dear reader it has slipped your mind,

The Paddy Buckley Round is a gruelling 61-mile circuit of 47 mountain peaks in Snowdonia (North Wales), that includes approximately 28,000ft of ascent (a fraction less than the height of Mount Everest from sea level). It was first completed by Wendy Dodds in 1982 and the current record is 17hrs 42mins, set by Tim Higginbottom 10 years ago. Although there is no official time limit set, contenders generally aim to do it in under 24 … If Nicky is to become the first person to complete a Double Paddy Buckley Round she will need to summit all 47 peaks twice (including two visits to Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales at 3,560ft), cover a total distance of 122 miles and ascend approximately 56,000ft (almost twice the height of Mount Everest from sea level).

I couldn’t even stay awake for 48 hours, let alone climb Everest twice in that time.  I mean, she has to tackle this hill, twice.

Tryfan-Nicky-Spinks-Paddy-Buckley-Double

Anyway, it sort of put in perspective my own self-indulgent angstiness.   Granted, it isn’t a fool proof logic, I am not Nicky Spinks (in case you were wondering or confused about this matter in any way).  However, she does inspire me.  And I do wear inov-8 shoes so that makes us practically interchangeable and indistinguishable from one another.  (Though I can’t lie, I’m quite relieved that her sponsors didn’t mix us up and pick me up and cart me off to the start of the Paddy Buckley and then look at me expectantly waiting for me to sprint off just after someone said ‘go‘!) She can’t have replicated doing this challenge in her training, it would break her.  My, possibly misguided, logic, tells me if she can take on that seemingly impossible, never previously achieved feat then maybe I can do more than I realise.  I’m over thinking it.  If I go, I’ll end the day with a great sense of achievement even if that is only consuming my own body weight in cake on the way round.   It’s just a long walk really, in a spectacular location, with support, and friendly marshals and, yes, cake.

After all, longer endurance events are, it is said by some, – basically about mental resilience and correct fuelling.  That is, ultra running in particular, is essentially an eating competition, according to Sunny Blende, who it turns out is a sports nutritionist and not a type of coffee at all.  Strange but true.  She gave this

definition of an ultramarathon, “An eating and drinking contest, with a little exercise and scenery thrown in.”

Maybe it’s indeed true that ultra marathons are easier than you think... therefore, 20 miles is but a stroll in the hills by comparison.  Take it slow, take in the view.  All good.

ultra running eating contest

I’m up for that.  Besides,  I’m only walking it, that’s just one foot in front of another, and endlessly repeat.   There are limits obviously, but there was a bit of me that thought if I don’t try I won’t know, I’m not actually injured, just embarrassingly unfit.  I am tenacious, and I’ve not been out for ages, so if I treat the event like basically a day out and a picnic I can probably get around, and even if I don’t it’s not life and death is it.  A missed parkrun opportunity granted, but there are other parkruns coming around again each Saturday, I’d have to wait another year for another Hurtle, and suffer the pain of seeing everyone else posting about how fab their adventures were, and muster the good grace to post appropriately admiring and supportive comments through a veil of tears of frustration as an inner voice screams in my head that ‘that should’ve been me!’  What the hell…. I’ll just do it.

what the hell

Or possibly not.  But I would turn up, and I would start, can’t say fairer than that.  If I don’t make it round, at least I know there will be lots of cake for comfort eating purposes back at the base afterwards. They think of everything at this event, they really do. Attention to detail is one of its many selling points…

Ok then.  Eek.  I’m in.  I was looking forward to the weekend ahead now.  All good indeed.

Clangers weekend ahead

That’s what these clangers are doing, looking forward to the weekend ahead.   I bloody love the clangers, times were simpler back then when the Clangers were new to tv.  Imagine that?  The test card didn’t rock though, some things are better now.  Not Trump obvs, and climate change for starters –  but I don’t look back fondly at that scary melting clown thingamajig, made me shudder, and having to wait 15 minutes for the TV to warm up after you turned it on.  I know, I’m back doing my oral history talk aren’t I.  I’m definitely ageing fast.

test card

Just the little matter of getting organised.  The event sent good instructions out by email.   A few tweaks on last year.  They set up a car sharing database which is a great idea, although I didn’t take advantage of it because I was clueless about my times and likelihood of completing and didn’t want the stress of worrying about someone waiting around for me on top of everything else.  They were cutting down on plastic, so you needed to bring your own cup for water stations.  Grand idea, and I was already sorted on this, having secured one of those collapsible cup thingies after doing Dig Deep carrying round a ceramic mug with me for 30 miles after only realising at the last minute that I needed something.  Honestly, I had soooooooooooooo much ballast in my back pack for that event a mug chucked in alongside the kitchen sink and satellite transmitter in case of emergency, was the least of my concerns, but clearly not ideal.   Shoes, easy, always my inov-8.

The morning of the event.  Slathered my feet with vaseline, debated endlessly over what top to wear.  Long sleeve or short sleeve.  I mean I’ll get hot with my pack and going up hill and everything, definitely short-sleeved.  But then again, can be cold up there – opening window and sticking arm out there was a distinct nip in the air.  Long sleeves that’s my default.  Wear that.  … But I got so hot just doing parkrun last Saturday.  OK, go with short sleeve, that’s the default, that’s what everyone else will be wearing, and you have stuffed you long sleeve rain jacket in just in case, so that’s your back up.  Short sleeved it was, phew, always better when a decision is made.  Went with my purple volunteering one from parkrun as it has good associations.

Porridge consumed, running vest packed, shoes on. Hang on a minute.  What new horror is this?  Definite hole in the linings at the back of each shoe, right on the heel, the fabric has given way and there is a teasing glimpse of the white plastic edge within like seeing a bone protruding from through the skin after a compound fracture.  Yes, I have seen that, and it’s not a pretty sight and it did make me heave a bit.  Same here.  I know from bitter previous experience that once that plastic is fully emerged, it’s edge on the heel is like a shard of glass sawing away at your achilles, you have to hope it satisfies itself with just drawing blood and doesn’t go the whole hog and severe your tendon.  Oh crappity, crap crap.  Haven’t really got other suitable alternatives, I mean it is a fairly roady off-road course, but I do want a bit of traction on the sections that are more technical.  My Irocks are amazing for grip but have zero cushioning, so too uncomfortable to wear for the long road bits, more the go to shoe when your life depends on it because of slippery stones and bog.  I’d risk my parkclaws.  I chucked some compeed blister plasters in my backpack as an afterthought, really though that was classic hope over experience.  I’d have zero chance of getting them to stick on my vaseline slathered tootsies.  Oh well, too late now, que sera sera…

Off and out the house.  Lovely morning, what a day.  I headed off towards Hathersage, one of my favourite drives.  The route took me down Ringinglow Road and out along Fiddlers Elbow which passes between Burbage and Stannage, both edges included in the Hathersage Hurtle route.  How lovely they looked in the mist, ageless and mystical. Hang on a minute, mist.  That’s going to be cold and damp up there.  Oh crappity crap crap all over again.  I should have gone with long sleeves.  What was I thinking?  Of course it will be cold up there, and I’ll be out for hours I’m so slow, days quite possibly.  I did consider turning back for my long sleeved top, but decided against it.  I would have had time, but I was sort of committed to my journey now.  Too much of a faff.  Made me think those arm bandagey things might be a good idea though, all eventualities covered, plus, easy fancy dress costume if you ever want to have a base layer for you mummy costume otherwise created entirely out of toilet paper.  Case in point, these mummy creations would have had greater arm mobility if they’d had separately clad arms.  Also, top tip, maybe best not to get someone else to wrap the dressings round you or you will indeed end up trussed up and unable to move, winding up (pun intended) desiccated and indeed mummified over time.  All completely avoidable, if you’d gone with the running sleeve option and used the loo paper for body wrapping purposes only.

Not sure why you would wear running sleeves and not bother with a top though.  That’s curious.  Fortunately I have found a whole article on why to wear arm sleeves when running, that takes in UV protection, warmth and making it easier for your running friends to spot you if you go for something especially eye-catchingly ludicrous, particularly when paired with matching clashing calf sleeves too.  Good point, well made.  I don’t have any though, and am put off by one description of them as ‘a bit like wearing old fashioned thick tights on your arms‘ not a strap line written by a top notch advertising exec I suspect, though it resonates truth.  Handy to know.  Maybe I should save myself the bother of picking a colour off the internet, and just get busy with a pair of pinking shears and some of the scrunched up, semi-decomposed old tights that are a legacy from office work days, and are probably to be found stuffed down the back of my drawers somewhere, if I bother to excavate.  Project for another day. I’m busy crocheting a blanket at the moment (long story) and it’s a close call whether or not it will be finished before I die, so we’ll have to see.  Turns out, craft activities aren’t my forte either…

arm-calf-sleeves-combo

I arrived, stupidly early.  The site was all set up though, and high vis marshals aplenty were in situ. Big signs directed you to the car-parking field, which still had sheep in it, and the first impression – as last year – was that this was a fantastically well organised event.

After a bit of faffing, I pottered over the road to the event HQ.  It was a hive of activity, even though it was only just 7.15 a.m..  There was a registration tent, loads of portaloos (big tick) promising looking coffee and cake areas, section for children to explore caving and all sorts really.

I hung back a bit whilst the marshals were getting organised, and then joined the registration queue once a few more people had appeared.  It was very well set up, you gave your name and were then issued with a watch – like tag which they scanned to register your arrival.  I don’t know whether I have particularly sensitive hearing or am just of a nervous disposition, triggered into hyper vigilance because I knew I’d not prepared adequately for the day ahead, but, it was THE LOUDEST BLEEP IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE EVER.  Blimey, there’d be no wondering whether or not your tag had scanned in this event.  I’m surprised the scanning marshals hadn’t been issued with safety ear protecting headphones.  Maybe that will be one of the tweaks for next year.  Oh, I should say about the photos I’m using in this post.  Basically, some are mine, and some are from the various expert photographers out and about on the day – who I’ve credited at the end.  It’s not too hard to fathom which is which.  Basically, if it’s a well-framed, in focus shot, perfectly capturing a characterful face, stunning expansive landscaoe or encapsulating some quintessential atmospheric moment that communicates the very essence of the day, then it is probably not one of my mine.  If it’s a slightly blurred snapshot that has inadvertently captured someone in the background in a stage of undress, then it’s probably mine – but not always.

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Next stop, tee-shirt gathering.  I had pre-ordered one, which was good, as I couldn’t remember whether or not I had, so it was nice surprise.  I couldn’t remember what size I had ordered though.  There were a few extras for sale on the day, so once they’d put aside the pre-ordered ones, those who came early enough could swap for one of the extras up to a certain point.

I really liked the tee-shirts this year!  They  were a technical fabric, and looked like this:

Last year they were cotton and looked like this:

Now, don’t misunderstand me.  Last year’s t-shirt had a certain idiosyncratic charm, but, setting aside the fact that orange isn’t really my colour, it’s design meant that really it was so special, that it was one I opted to save to wear only for very special occasions.  Indeed, occasions so exceptional, I have yet been able to wear it at all.  This year’s offer being technical fabric, a more forgiving colour and with a fab design was more my thing.  Of course, I hadn’t seen any photos of me wearing it at that point, and wasn’t aware of just how unfortunate the combination of my body shape, choice of bra and the mushroomy colour would look captured by the camera.  I’d like to say the pics of me are particularly unflattering, but of course I may have to face up to the horrific realisation I do actually look like that.  Running vests don’t help, they are designed for, if not the absolutely flat chested runner, at very least androgynous ones.  All that squishing of boobs into a letter box shape is especially unforgiving for pretty much any female runner.  Note to self.  Never go out in public again wearing a running vest, or if you must, do so only in the hours of darkness.  Despite this, the top was comfy enough I decided to wear it there and then, embracing the t-shirt over the long sleeve option, and as there was (astonishingly) no full length mirror on hand in which I could check my appearance before heading out on the trails, I had t-shirt on and number pinned and was none the wiser.  Probably for the best.

Oh, whilst I was waiting for the start, I checked out some of the pictures school children had come up with to create posters for the event.  Epic.

I still had some time to amble about and have a precautionary pee in the changing room block. This wasn’t entirely a good move, as the loo didn’t have a lock. What it did have though, was that ‘who gives a crap‘ toilet paper that I keep seeing advertised and have been vaguely thinking of buying, but I’m not quite sure about.  Not because it’s 100% recycled, I’m sure they aren’t recycling used toilet paper to make it… well pretty sure – but because that’s a lot of toilet paper if it isn’t up to standard.  Consequently, I inspected the rolls quite carefully, only to have some poor other punter inadvertently burst in on me mid inspection.  She was mortified, I was fine, I have way more humiliating experiences to draw on than that.  She looked a bit traumatised, and when I explained about the lock being broken, headed off to the portaloos to avoid being subject to the same levels of exposure I presume.

there was time to make new friends, and enjoy the general ambience.  The official photographer was busy taking group shots and risking life and limb to do so. I failed to get a snap of him doing a comedic stumble backwards over a low wall which culminated in a fairly spectacular somersault.  His preservation instincts kicked in, and his camera was held aloft in safety throughout, like you sometimes see when people fall over holding a pint, but spill not a drop. Impressive.  I wonder if professional photographers do training in that, or whether it is just a gift?

I hooked up with two companionable women who were also walking, and we agreed we start together but feel free to separate when it felt right to do so. It’s too far a distance to commit to doing it alongside someone else in my view, unless you have compelling reasons to do so, like, oh I don’t know, you like each other and wish to spend quality time together.   You need to be confident you share the same pace though otherwise I think it’s a recipe for frustration.  One person feeling dragged along, the other feeling held back over 20 miles might not end prettily.  I feel this particularly acutely, as I’m always telling people I’m slow, and they always say ‘that’s fine’ and then they always either try to hurry me or worse still offer patronising reassurance along the lines of ‘don’t you worry, I’m feeling injured / hungover/ really pathetic today so I don’t mind staying with you!’  Top tip people, that never goes down well and is not supportive, but au contraire dispiritingly undermining. I have lost count of how many times I’ve gone home in tears from events where people have done that.  Didn’t happen today though I’m glad to report, and it was indeed really nice to start out together with a couple of awesome and interesting women.

There was a bit of a briefing, not sure if the event director was taking on liquid pre or post briefing, but you do need to keep your vocal chords well lubricated to perform properly in that role, and they would have been up from stupid o’clock getting everything ready so 8.00 a.m. was probably practically supper time for the organising team:

and then off!  A fairly sedate start, as we all waited patiently to be bleeped LOUDLY through the gate

You do warm up pretty quickly, so you know what, the t-shirt option was fine.  The route was really well marked.  I was a bit unsure on that point, because last year I just trotted along with someone else (which worked well, because it was negotiated) and didn’t really notice the signage one way or the other.  You start by crossing the road, and it’s an uphill through fields, the photographer already in position to snap walkers heading out at first, and then later the runners, who start en mass at 10.00.  Walkers can begin anytime between 8.00 and 9.00.  All very civilised.

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You start up the hill, and quite quickly you can look back and admire the view, and then you get onto more obviously pathy part, and then tarmac, and then, I’m not gonna lie, an almost 3 mile climb upwards.  It was great that the weather was so much cooler than last year, but I think you’d have to have put in some serious hill training to sprint up that incline the whole way – though judging by the times of the first few runners who finished, they must have done just that, but then again, they are probably super human.  My photos inevitably don’t do the scenery justice, but they will give you the general idea.

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We walked and talked and tried to blag a piggy back from faster walkers passing us – or was that just me?  It was amazing hearing about what other participants had done, running wise or life wise.  One had worked in international aid in conflict zones.  Rwanda and the Congo I think.  It was great sharing stories.  One of the things I really like about running events (yes, I’m counting this as one) is that it reminds me of travelling in a way.  In that I mean, you meet people fleetingly, possibly only once – though it’s amazing too how familiar faces will keep popping up again at events if you but choose to look.  Anyway, what this means, is that sometimes you cut to the chase and have more intense, interesting and even personal conversations than you’d perhaps ever risk having with someone you might work alongside and see everyday.  I think it’s something to do with the productive cocktail of firstly, sharing an experience; secondly being with people who realistically you might never see again so there is no jeopardy if the conversation goes awry and thirdly the compression of time – there isn’t the time to build a relationship as such, so you may as well just get in there!  There is also something inherently therapeutic and open about walking alongside someone  in step that is conducive to talking.  It’s not potentially confrontational like a face to face exchange, and not impossible like if you are running and can’t spare the breath.

So, for the record, my conversations throughout today included the following illustrative but not exhaustive topics: global inequalities; nature of identity; qualities of endurance runners; the scenery; best place to get a coffee in Nether Edge; aphantasia  (the inability to conjure images in your minds eye); synesthesia (the phenomenon of e.g. tasting words or associating colours with numbers); the difficulty (inability) to read analogue clock faces which is apparently a form of dyscalculia; community theatre; complexity of global aid; burn out in the work place; nature of trauma; experiences of travel; difficulty of getting running kit to fit; self-confidence; the frustration of trying to help individuals when actually what is needed it societal/ political change or even revolution; self-consciousness; multi-faceted nature of homelessness and poverty; other running events; cake choices; why we run – timely article on ‘what does running do to your brain‘ here;

what does running do to your brain

mental health; the weather; safety implications of running wearing nail varnish.  No really, but I’ll come to that in time.  Favourite Sheffield trail race – the Round Sheffield Run; Red Bull Steeplechase experiences; gardening blogs; wildlife ponds; Nicky Spinks; Jasmin Paris;  and littering.  I didn’t talk about Brexit with anyone.  I mean, you don’t want to push things that far… and anyway, I can’t walk and weep.  It was much like having radio 4 on all day to be honest, but without the torture of ‘just a minute’  – surely that’s long past its ‘best broadcast before’ date?  One of the great advantages of being at a slower pace is that you can walk and talk, the faster runners are epic, but I’m guessing they don’t chit chat the whole way round, missing out on those random interactions as well as the full repertoire of cake choices at the feed stations, another great loss…

The photographer had relocated to the top of a hill by the time we got there.  I had already previously contracted with my new best friends forever  – or until our paces were no longer compatible – that unflattering photos wouldn’t make this blog post, unless their comedic element outweighed the impulse to censor. Case in point, here I am with my temporary besties, working on, if not our running technique exactly, then our ‘seen the photographer’ one.  Good work!  By the way I never said, if you are reading this 766, and need a place to stay pre Round Sheffield Run, message me, I’ve lots of room!

HH PS bit manic

They really are unforgiving those running vests are they not?

We weren’t the only people who saw the photographer out there though, there are some classics, here are just a few of my favourites from the day, also look out for inadvertent undressing person in the background shot, just to show it isn’t only me:

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Actually, on reflection, I reckon those two in their orangey yellow tops hadn’t seen the photographer at all, but went round the whole route like that from the look of things… oh well, still great photos.  And they look like they are having a lovely time, maybe that running style could yet catch on.  Plus, levitating for the most part has got to be kinder on the knees hasn’t it?  We can all learn from that.  Might give it a go for next time.

So onward and upward as the saying goes.  As I find myself falling further and further to the back, one bonus is that you get the glorious sight of the line of runners and walkers streaming ahead like a line of bunting.  All very picturesque.

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Reet nice views along the way, I kept being distracted by them, and stopping to take pictures, consequently we three who’d started off together naturally separated as our different hill strategies kicked in.  Two of the trio striding up rather more purposely than the third, ehem:

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Nonplussed sheep observed our progress.  Did I already tell you that one of the junior parkrunners who takes part in the Graves junior parkrun is convinced the black and white lambs in the animal park are actually baby pandas?  Wouldn’t that be great!

Marshals were at strategic intervals to bleep you by.  There is a map somewhere that marks all the check points, but I really don’t see how you’d miss them, as they tended to be positioned where paths were narrow and there was only one route, like at a gate or just before a feed station say.

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By this stage in the game, the walkers were strung out, and the runners had yet to lap us,  It was a long and lonely road, but in a good way. This path is very familiar from my Dig Deep recces, and I was glad to see a familiar face en route too.

DSCF0331t

You get some good views up here.  The Hope Cement Works may not exactly be a thing of beauty, but it is a landmark in it’s own right, and curious to see it from this vantage point.

DSCF0330

Views aside, it is a bit of a trudge this road.  The surface has quite loose chippings in places too, so although after a stretch of up you do get a descent, you’d need to be quite careful running down it. I did a bit of a jog, but wasn’t overly confident.  Oh yes, and also not overly motivated to do so.  Eventually, as the road curves, a marshal is on hand to direct you into a tree lined path to the right, it was nice to get a change of scenery.  I like the way a pink arrow on the road seemingly identifies the marshal for you, in case the wearing of a luminous vest was an insufficient clue!

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I picked up some new walking companions along the way for a bit here, and that was fine.  It was interesting doing this route a year on, when there’s actually been some rain, and the landscape looked lush and green.  Last year it was scorched and brown, quite depressing really, a relief to see it recovered and verdant.  With this couple I discussed relocating to Sheffield and new and pleasing eateries that are popping up all over.  Why have I not yet been to the cutlery works.  Need to moving it back up my ‘to do’ list.

Where was I?

Oh yes, en route of the Hathersage Hurtle.  Emerging from the paths, there was a little cheer squad proferring high fives, and then it was across the road to the first of the feed stations.

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There was an abundance of cake.  Vegan options also available, also bananas and bear gums and water in jugs.  It worked well with the no plastics rule.  You could buy a collapsible cup at the start if you didn’t have one with you by the way, and it looked like most walkers and probably runners too, were carrying their own hydration packs as well for the most part.  I had a sort of fruit cake but with bits of ginger in it. Yum.  I probably didn’t really require it for refuelling purposes at this point, but rude not too, and also, opportunism kicking in.  Why wouldn’t I?

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More leapfrogging (not literally) of walkers, and the start of speculation as to when we might be passed by the runners.  I also picked up a new bit of event terminology from some fellow participants when discussing the the pleasing proliferation of marshals on the course.  ‘Oh the custards!’  What?  ‘or lemonades‘, this it seems is their terminology of choice for the marshals in their yellow high viz.   I can see what they are doing there, and I quite like it in a way.  Mind you, as I was mulling this over later, after our paths had once again diverged, I couldn’t help thinking those aren’t quite accurate colour chart wise, maybe pineapple cubes would be more representative. Do you remember them?

pineapple cubes

A friend of mind used to sometimes by them from the newsagent on the way to junior school – surprised she had any teeth left at all, maybe she doesn’t now – in a little white paper bag full of the cuboid rocks for 1d.  She’d share them out occasionally at morning break, and the cubes would scrape the roof off the inside of your mouth, and the shock of the concentrated sugar would make your teeth vibrate.  My, we knew how to make our own entertainment back then.  Colour wise though, basically fluorescent.  They were probably infused with uranium radium to achieve that intensity of colour.  I wonder if you can still get them, or if, not unreasonably, they’ve been withdrawn from sale to minors on account of being basically a concentration of toxins, now available only on request in a brown paper bag from under the counter.  Only thing more destructive to the teeth and roof of the mouth than them was pear drops.  I can feel my mouth beginning to disintegrate just at the memory of consuming them.  Pineapple cubes were – possibly still are – the oral equivalent of stepping on a lego brick in bare feet.  I have no idea what possessed us to attempt to consume them.  Children are clearly more resilient than you might expect.   Anyways, whether the marshals were custards, lemonades, pineapples or hi-vis heroes, they were all fab.

Incidentally, that reminds me, I’ve been meaning to ask was PPAP a thing over here?  The Pen Pineapple Apple Pen song?  When I was teaching in Cambodia, my students were completely obsessed by the hilarity of it.  They would therefore probably implode with explosive laughter if I was to refer to a marshal as a pineapple.  You don’t know it? Consider yourself blessed, a lucky escape… What, you are intrigued?  You want to know more you say? Do you know what an ear worm is?  Well, just saying, if you click on this link and watch the PPAP video you will be pursued with this as the inner soundtrack in your head from hereon-in. I really wouldn’t…

PPAP song

I’m guessing you just couldn’t help yourself.  I’m so very sorry.  Have to say though, contributory negligence, if you won’t abide by the health and safety warnings there’s little I can do to save you from yourself.  I do understand the temptation though, and it is  bizarre.  Travel is all about cultural exchange isn’t it.  I’d never have encountered this song had I not been working in Cambodia. Strange but true.  For the record, that wasn’t the most significant element of cultural exchange, but it was the most relevant here.

So the Thornhill path section heading towards Yorkshire Bridge. I was alone with my thoughts for this section.  Admiring the wild flowers, and mulling things over.

Highlights, in chronological order included the following:

A tractor!  I like to think this was laid on especially for me by way of compensation for the disappointment of this year’s Hathersage Hurtle failing once again to clash with the vintage tractor run.

I paused to let it pass, and turn down the lane ahead of me. Bad move, turns out, tractor fumes aren’t the best to walk behind.  I should have hitched a ride instead.  Nevertheless, I have a soft spot for tractors so all good.

Then there was a reappearance of the cheer squad, who seemingly had teleported from their previous position to this new spot.  They were looking out for another participant with whom I must have been currently in step, I parasitised the ginormous high five inflatable, obvs.  I think on a run route any proffered high five is fair game.  Also, every high five received boosts you for the mile that follows, guaranteed.  Excellent work with the cow bells there too.  Respect.

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Nice views:

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Next exciting sighting, was some of the event team, mustered all together at a marshal point.  Now, I don’t want to create dissent, but, in the interests of transparency, I will admit to taking advantage of the fact that we’d had got acquainted earlier on.  I like to think this is best thought of not as shameless nepotism, but proactive networking. Sometimes you have to just make your own luck!   I paused to be scanned, and then to my delight, based on this most tenuous of relationships, I was able to secure preferential treatment in relation to their dispensing of gummy bears.   I was offered my pick from a brand new pack of sugar fixes, instead of having to run the proverbial gauntlet of the jelly baby container being made available to the rest of the walking and running hoi polloi,  awash as it was with sweat, phlegm and an assortment of running related bodily fluids added by the many sticky hands of runners that had been diving into the mix before I arrived.  Same principle as contaminated ice cubes in pubs I suppose, best not to think too much about that to be fair. I felt blessed indeed.  It also gave me first dibs on the colour choices.   Thank you lovely event team.  All about who you know sometimes!  … of course it may have been a coincidence of timing and them being mid replenishing of stock, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story eh?

Here they are snapped together, this wasn’t the only photographer I papped en route incidentally, keep your eyes peeled for the other one later.

Aren’t they clever to line up so well in height order, I wonder if that happens instinctively.  The familial version of Ant and Dec, whereby identification by the casual observer is aided by everyone always standing in the same place.  Mind you, I still don’t know which is which from Ant and Dec, it’s not noticeably disadvantaged me in life to date, but it’s not game over yet, so who knows… I may yet come to rue the day.   The way things are going it may well be that being able to correctly identify TV celebrities becomes a necessary life survival skill in future, perhaps after all it is not a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’.  Shudders.  And I thought the mandatory ‘popular culture’ questions in pub quizzes was torture enough.  Enough of Ant and Dec, we are wasting time, we’ll never complete the route if we keep getting distracted.

So waved on my way, the next stretch took me down to Yorkshire Bridge.  You cross that, and then after a bit of an uphill, friendly marshals guide you across the road and then you get the long, long slog up New Road.

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Now, the good thing about going up New Road, is that you start to get the teasing view of Stannage Edge ahead.  It is however I think one of the toughest sections of the hurtle, because I find tarmac hard on the legs, and that road just goes on an on.  Never mind, views were great, and I was able to distract myself by trying to spot an online acquaintance with red hair, who would have set off behind me, but was run/walking so would catch up and overtake at some point. This meant, I basically propositioned all female redheads, who, it turns out, are like buses.  Because I did literally have three turn up at once.  Two were not my target, but the third saw me first and we were able to get the obligatory selfie before she strode on off ahead.

Found her

It’s great when things work out.  I had a similarly magical experience at Sheffield Half this year, I was only spectating, but did manage to finally meet in person a fellow runner who I’ve been communicating with online for a while after finding we were both running the London Marathon in 2018.  I was giddy with excitement to meet in the flesh.  (Companionable virtual wave just for you, if you are reading now – that was indeed a grand moment – next time, let’s see if we can manage an actual coffee as well as a catch up eh.   Your parkrun or mine?).

half marathon meet up

And then, amazingly, the front runner came through!  He was romping up that hill with an even stride, seemingly barely breaking a sweat.  He was significantly ahead of all the other runners, and looking strong.  I wondered if he’d be able to maintain that pace and length of lead.  Spoiler alert, he did, and what’s more, was snapped looking effortless in his running along the route, amazing running.

The next runner to pass was a woman, and again, so far up the field, and looking so fresh, that, to my eternal shame, I thought she must be a run / walker.  She just looked so relaxed.   If I’d known she was lead woman and ended up coming in second finisher and first female I’d have given her a mahoosive cheer, and set off a load of party poppers were it not for the fact that a) I didn’t have any with me and b) I wouldn’t want to litter our beautiful hills.  Fantastic running though.

HH PS epic run

I enjoyed the views:

and I made more new transient friends.  Now, I now you shouldn’t really have favourites, but I have a special place in my heart for this trio, who actually stopped for a picnic on a bench on the way round, just at the point when the trickle of runners coming through had become a stream.  Classic.

 

as they chomped on their sandwiches, runners hurtled by:

Check out the Dark Peak Fell Runner’s vest in action there, another record was being set by a DPFR elsewhere today…

I tried to get a few atmospheric shots of the stream of runners ahead.  I know, I know, you need super human vision to spot them, but please do try to remember it’s the thought that counts, and sometimes, you really do just have to be there to experience things for yourself. Think of this as but a teaser to encourage you to enter yourself next year if you haven’t already done so.  Yep, those microscopic dots, they are actual runners.  I will concede that if I had the memory space in my blog that would allow me to upload a higher resolution picture then my claim might be more convincing, but I don’t, so you’ll just have to take it on trust.  Or not.  Up to you.

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Here are more random pics, because it’s just a place I can share them really, good in parts.  I cheered club runners with shirts I recognised, and I can confirm, that it remains true that Barnsley Harrier runners are particularly friendly and likely to respond positively to random shout outs from along the way. I mean, obviously Smiley Paces runners are the best, but we know one another, so that’s a given!

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New Road goes up and up, but eventually goes down, and takes you to Dennis Knoll, the second feed station and the dusty incline that takes you finally up to the Edge.  It was at this last section of the road that I was blessed with my most treasured memory of the entire day.  I glimpsed the Event Director from Graves Junior parkrun, being dragged around at full speed, compelled methinks, to keep stride for stride with his running buddies for the day.  I don’t think I mispeak if I observe he definitely wasn’t having type 1 fun at that moment.  Seeing me, he cried out ‘save me Lucy, save me‘ as he swept on by, his desperate call for an intervention being carried off in the breeze. He barely paused for long enough to scan his tag let alone face plant into the cake table at the feed station as he ran on through.  Well, his type 2 fun, was my type 1, hilarious.  Gift of a memory. This is what happens to runners when their competitive instincts kick in, fabulous running yes, but maybe not 100% fun within each moment. I applaud it, but don’t imagine myself ever embracing such run strategies myself. There is probably quite a strong correlation between my inability to push myself to my limits and my ever slowing event speeds.  Oh well, each to their own.  Great running though Graves junior friend, and you gave me a good laugh for which I thank you!

Whilst hard core runners sped on by, I was happy to pause at the feed station and take it all in.  It was a nice social spot, and I notices here, as elsewhere en route there was a lot of child labour support which was good to see.  I picked up another chunk of fruit cake the size of my head, which was a case of my eyes being bigger than my stomach.  Turns out I quite like fruit cake, I didn’t know I did.

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Even though this is a fair old up hill stretch, it felt like a relief to finally be approaching the edge.  The sun had come out, so it was hot, and the route was pretty social.  I had a slight panic on seeing this sign, just a bit on from the feed station:

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Wait, what?  This is the official start of the Hathersage Hurtle?  What were those previous 10 miles about then?  I know you can’t always get parked up close to a start line, but I’m pretty confident they could have done a bit better that that?  Oh hang on.  A vague memory formulated in my minds eye – because I don’t have aphantasia  I was able to do that – something in an email. Something about a designated Strava section to test speed across that chunk of the course.  Well, good luck to them.  They picked a brutal part of the course to make people run up.  And many did. Go them.  Respect.  A fair number of other participants took the strategic power walk option, saving their energy for the fun, flat bounce across boulders at the top of Stannage Edge.

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Once again, I feel the need to point out those are not soldier ants in search of new territories, but tiny runners.  Not really small of course, but far away.  You follow yes?

small v far away

I even started to see some familiar faces on the course about this point. That was fun, even though I was only walking, one of the real joys of this event is that it mixes together the runners and walkers in a companionable way, and that makes it quite social.  If you want to go for it as fast as you can, you are able to do so, but there is space too for more interactions along the way if you choose to have them.  Top sightings included my Smiley Buddy who I always seem to meet whenever I go out running in this part of the world, whatever day of the week or time of day.  She must be there all the time, like a heather sprite, scampering about, there can be no inch of that terrain across which she has not run!  Go you!  Well met Smiley, well met indeed.

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Also on this section, I was spotted by, and duly spotted in return, an off-duty, on-running photographer.  Normally, he’s the other side of a telephoto lens – not in a creepy sense, lurking behind a tree (as far as I’m aware) but at a vantage point to snap runners at local events.  Nice to get exchange a cheery wave before he too disappeared up and over the horizon.  Hope you had a grand run.  How could you not?

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I think this is my favourite part of the course, well it’s one of my favourite places, so it would be.  I just love that you can see so far, and that the landscape is so spectacular.  Usually, when I’m on this path I see no-one other than my ubiquitous smiley buddy who pops up everywhere, heather sprite smiley – but today obviously it was like a commuter belt.  Walkers and runners taking part in the Hurtle adding to the boulderers, rock climbers, solo runners and independent walkers, dog walkers all making the most of a glorious day.  Just as I got to the top of the edge, I espied the red heads I’d talked to earlier, paused for a picnic too.

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There aren’t many events that facilitate the picnicking on the way round option.  Way to go Hathersage Hurtlers!  I guess, the only way to improve on that would be to have a bespoke butler service on request, whereby you are met at the top with a white table clothed spread with the contents of a wicker basket and with champagne in a bucket of ice on hand to revive you before you complete the hurtle circuit.  Lest you think this might impede athletic performance, I’ll have you know that in 1908 athletes used Champagne as an energy drink to get them round the London Marathon (apparently).  Here is a picture of a competitor Dorando Pietri being helped across the finish line while holding a cork in his hand according to the caption in the article.  Splendid!

champagne runner

Mind you, they also imbibed rat poison on the way round, so I think I’d draw selectively on the history of nutrition for running if I were you…

For a badly needed boost, a number of competitors turned to unlikely, but common-at-the-time sources: brandy, glasses of bubbly, and strychnine (best known now as rat poison). … Wild as it may seem today, people once believed alcohol and strychnine cocktails were performance enhancers. The drinks were doled out like Gatorade or energy gels to endurance athletes.

so now we know.  And I thought energy gels were toxic.  Actually, I think they are, I strongly suspect strychnine would be easier to keep down for me at least.  Also, much more decorative packaging don’t you agree?

strychnine

At last, on the edge.  Love it up there.  My though, it was heaving up there.  You have to pick your own route, but there’s lots of space. I suppose it’s vaguely technical, but I’m relatively sure footed along this section because it’s so familiar.   It’s also beautiful, no wonder so many people were wearing broad smiles along with their running gear.

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Somewhere along this edge I picked up a new temporary best buddy, who shall be known as kiltman.  He was great companion, full of good stories. He’d done some seriously hard core stuff, including completing the Red Bull Steeplechase when it was held in the peak district.  Just 500 start and then only a certain number are allowed to continue on through each of three checkpoints so only 40 get to the end of the 21 mile course.  It’s brutal.  I marshalled it once, and nearly collapsed with exhaustion just walking up to the marshal point, got a very nice hoody out of it though, so well worth the exertion.  Despite his obvious ability, he seemed happy to chill and go slow and soak up the atmosphere.  In fact, he said he likes sometimes to start at the back and pick off and pick up people as he passes.  The event photos suggest he made loads of friends on the way round!

He litter picked as we went, and also sported an awareness raising sign to check yourself for cancer.  All very public spirited, but that isn’t his unique selling point as a hurtle companion, no sorreeeeey.   What made our shared time together especially epic was one particular anecdote. Now this is where, dear reader, if you’ve stuck with me for the long run (or walk in my case) you are rewarded with the reason why nail varnish can be a safety hazard on a long run.  I believe the wait is well worth it, and I flatter myself that I’m not often wrong about these things.  Well, not in my world anyway.  Self-delusion is my friend.  Don’t disillusion me, everyone needs a friend.

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So the story went something like this.  He was doing some hard core, overnight challenge in the Lake District, and that necessitated using a head torch.  Personally, I’ve never really got the hang of using  a head torch off-road, possibly I need more practice, but it’s something about the way it makes tree roots and boulders cast huge shadows that makes me struggle to read the ground properly and I’m scared of falling.  Well, turns out, that’s not the only hazard they create.  So kilt-man was wearing some glow in the dark nail varnish for this particular run, and as it was pitch dark, he suddenly thought it would be good to check out how effective that was, so as he was running along he held up his finger nails in front of him to check them out, lost concentration and basically face planted as far as I can gather.  Amazingly, he wasn’t hurt, though he was soaked, but the worst of it all was that it didn’t even work.  Turns out, you have to sort of solar charge the nail varnish in sunlight for a few hours first.  Well, we all know now.  Point is, best race accident ever.  Can you imagine the incident report on Mountain Rescue’s Facebook page if they had been called out to rescue him?  I think it would have had a certain terseness in its account.  Anyway, bet they don’t cover that eventuality on the fell runners first aid courses!  Maybe they should… Thank you Kilt man, epic companion and great running tale.

More pics.  More familiar faces.  Motivational markings in the sand.  All good.   Kilt lacked stretch for the descents apparently.

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We said goodbye at the Fiddler’s Elbow/ Burbage Edge check point, I was waaaay slower than him, and coincidentally, we both saw people we knew there so it was a natural separation.

I saw my woodrun buddies, who’ve I’ve not seen in yonks, mainly because I’m not really running, it was nice to see some familiar friendly faces.  I even went in for a hug, realising too late that I probably wasn’t all that fragrant.  I don’t worry so much hugging other runners, we are mutually sweaty and dust covered, they looked a bit more freshly washed.  Still, they are runners themselves, and so forgiving.  Good to have a brief hello before heading off again.  We even bagsied another smiley, plus – though I didn’t know it yet, another online acquaintance.  Everyone (who was/is anyone) was out and about today!

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On I trotted, taking more snaps along the way.  The view is quite distracting.  Unwittingly, I see I was in the presence of the seen-a-photographer stick man.  One of my favourite photos of the day, sort of makes him look like he’s doing a hop skip and a jump a la wee willie winky or something.  In a good way, it’s a compliment not an insult just to be clear.  I think it was him…  There were some fluffy and relaxed cows too

no pandas though.  I’ve told you about the junior parkrunner who is firm in his belief that the black and white lambs in the animal park are baby pandas previously I think. I’d like to live in that world.  One where baby pandas can be seen gamboling in Graves park.  To be fair, I’d rather there were loads out in the wilds of China where they should be, but I’m sure you know what I mean…

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Best thing on this stretch though, was seeing this stupendous Smiley duo, who clearly just had a blast the whole way round.  There isn’t a single photo of them all day where they aren’t radiating joy.  They are batteries of concentrated energy, energising and enthusing all they encountered along the way I’m sure!  Love these guys!

Then a bit further along, another best bit, this route was full of them. Found another online friend I’ve not previously met.  Turns out, I also caught them at the feed station too, but didn’t make the connection.  Epic.  We walked and talked for a wee while until it was obvious their natural pace was significantly speedier than mine, and we parted company at the next feed station, which came round quickly.  No worries, we’ll reconvene at the Round Sheffield Run I’m sure!  Thanks for saying hello.

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This was another laden feed station, with smiling marshals to refuel and rehydrate you before sending you on your way.  Across the road and down through Padley Gorge.

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Last year, this event was on the day of a heat wave, and this whole section was thick with families having picnics or splashing about in the water.  This time round, the section was pretty much deserted. The temperature started to drop and I suddenly started to feel a bit of a chill, some spots of rain came, but not far to go now.  I’ve only ever come to this section as part of a run, I really should come back and explore properly some time, it’s very, very picturesque.

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Unfortunately, my camera battery then died on me.  Well, I had been snapping away with abandon, so it’s not really a surprise.  I declare this to be a shame, as this part of the route is so very different from what has come before.  You descend through woodland glades through carpets of bluebells, past the weird stump into which passers by have stuck squillions of coins, past the little path leading up to Longshaw where you can see an ice cream van calling to you from the road side.  You of course, may consider this to be something of a blessing, as I’m aware I do go on, and if a picture is worth a thousand words, well, you’ll never get your life back to do with as you will if I keep on adding them to this post and you feel somehow obligated to finish what you started.  If you are still with me now, I salute your tenacity.  Sorry if it has led you to feel consumed with regret, we are however nearly at the end now.  …. just don’t kid yourself into thinking you’ve avoided them completely though, I have other sources you know.  Like this one.  Bluebells, nice.

RW bluebell woods

Idyllic even.

There is a tree rooty, quite dark section that follows.  I was tiring now.  And on my own for the most part of this section.  I started to wonder if I had gone wrong as there were few yellow strips to mark the way (biodegradable plastic by the way, in case you were horrified by the sight of them, and I’m sure they get removed anyway).  There wasn’t anywhere you could have gone wrong, so I think it was just fatigue creeping in. Also, I was having a knicker admin issue.  A bit of adjustment was needed.  Plus, perhaps I’d overdone it at the last feed station but I’d got a bit of a stitch.  Well, I say a stitch, but I think we all know it was actually trapped wind.  The thing is, you think a route is isolated, but they never are quite enough for you to throw caution to the wind by purging your own.

It was good to see another Graves junior regular!  Yay, who paused for a brief hello before sprinting off.  I knew she had another couple of friends coming up behind, so that was good. Nice bit of needed reassurance as I ploughed on.  Definitely feeling properly cold now.

strider buddies

Pleased my blister had not come to pass, but wishing my flatulence would.  I did some knicker adjustments along the way, but seemed to make things worse.  Oh no, chaffing was becoming a real possibility, and with less than a parkrun to go, so harsh!

At some point, not sure where to be fair.  You emerge onto the last section which is a gentle grassy downward incline, that then flattens out, and it is in fact invitingly runnable unless you have become preoccupied with knicker chaffing and trapped wind.  A few runners did still pass me in this section, many actually pausing to ask if I was ok.  I appreciated that, but it was a little disconcerting, as I was actually feeling fine – well apart from the aforementioned issues – and it is a worry if I was moving as if injured to the point of requiring outside assistance!

Right to the end marshals offered applause and encouragement, and then before you know it, you are back emerging from the path just next to the finish, and it’s round the corner and down the finish funnel that sweeps round the field, past the beer tents and to a flying finish!  Even though it was a bit cooler by now, and I was amongst the last trickle of finishers, there were still cheers for me coming in, and you get swept up into the welcome of the team, who do a final scan, remove your electronic tag and thrust you towards more coffee and cake.  Job done!

There was a finish photographer who got some classic finish pics of people working their last few metres home.  Excellent 🙂  Don’t know who 165 is, but he clearly doesn’t believe in letting youngsters win, fabulous sprint from both there.  Also like the umbrella hat, genius.   It’s good to come prepared.  Plus check out the flip flop runner – worked for him!  Impressive!

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Some emotional pair hugs, group hugs and reunions at the end – those post run endorphins doing their bit.

Plenty had finished before me and been milling and chilling and had their prizes and been and gone by the time I got back.  However, I can report there was still an abundance of cake, and some really, really good vegan burgers.  Only £3 and with a good kick to them.  There was a beer tent too, and straw bales to sit on.  Jolly nice.   There had also been quite a lot of activities laid on for any young people, to keep them entertained if they were having to hang around whilst one of their parents was running say.  In fact, I gather they mainly just ran riot in the field, rather than particularly using the lovingly put together activities, but to be fair, that’s what the hurtlers were out doing all day, romping round in a great big circle for no particular reason, and having a ball working off all that excess energy.  Everyone was happy!

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It was a good atmosphere, and I sat and chatted for a wee while with my Graves junior pal as we chomped on our burgers together and debriefed about our hurtling experiences of the day.  All good.

I didn’t find out until later, but the results were phenomenal, with three women in the top six finishers and some stonking times.   How fast? Just wow!  No wonder everyone was astonished.

The Hathersage Hurtle Facebook page reported that:

Absolutely fantastic results at the Hurtle this year – in first place was Dave Archer with a staggering time of 2.14.24, and in second place, also the first woman, was Zanthe Wray with an awesome 2.29.03

Bravo.  Fantastic performances indeed.

So debrief concluded and vegan burgers consumed, legs started to seize up.  Time to go home.  Before doing so, me and my junior parkrun companion went to say thanks and congratons to the organisers.  It had been another great day.  I also mentioned how much I liked the design of the t-shirt and was told the person who came up with it was in fact there, in a blue top under her hi-vis.  Great, I’ll seek them out.  Question.  Do you have any idea how many marshals were wearing blue under their pineapple?  Answer.  A great many.  I did however seek her out eventually, because it is a good design.  I think they plan to keep it for next year, but maybe change the colours each time.  Watch this space. Thanks said, I waved goodbye only to  be offered yet more cake.  ‘Are you sure you wouldn’t like to take any away with you‘ the marshal asked.  It was then I uttered a phrase I never thought to speak ‘you know what, that’s incredibly kind, but I think I’ve actually reached capacity with cake now.  Thank you though‘.  Because I had!  Who knew.

I hadn’t quite got rigor mortis, but my body felt like it was working towards that, so I sort of unfolded myself sufficiently to stagger back to the car park where junior marshals were doing awesome work waving us off home.

Thank you fine Hathersage Hurtle team, I’m loving your work.  I still hope to actually run it one year, but I may have to think again about wearing my running vest to do so…  perhaps fancy dress is the way forward.  Thinking about it, it almost always is!  Why didn’t I think of that before.

It just remains to say thanks to the many photographers who gave of their time at the event, specifically to Phil Sproson Photography, also Lisa Daniels, Rachel Rennie Photography and Chris Dainton, all of whom gave their services all day for free and have shared some fabulous photos from which I’ve borrowed freely for this blog post.  If you want to have a browse yourself you’ll find them here:

there are squillions to browse through!  You didn’t have anything else in particular planned did you?  That’s lucky.

Here are some of the tired but happy Hathersage Hurtle people.  They rock!

HH PS high vis heroes job done

Oh, wait you want to know about Nicky Spinks before I go?  You don’t know already?  She only blooming did it, the 122-mile Double Paddy Buckley Round.  Not only is that epic and awesome and amazing and all of those things, but I love that she finished it wearing her Dark Peak Fell Runners vest.  And I thought I couldn’t love her any more…  Read all about it here.  Ooh, and is that one of her crew sporting a Dig Deep tee-shirt?  I’ve got one of those, and I wear inov-8 parkclaws for trail running so basically that means I practically did the double Paddy Buckley challenge too!  No wonder I’m a bit stiff negotiating the stairs this morning, the morning after the day before.  We are so blooming lucky in Sheffield, Dig Deep, Hathersage Hurtle, the landscape opens up ahead of us, we have but to rush in!

nicky spinks completes dble paddy buckley round

Oh, and another thing, if you want to read my other posts about the Hathersage Hurtle, click here – you’ll need to scroll back for earlier entries.  But you know what would be even better?  Enter it yourself next year and find out first hand what a fun factory it is.  If you can’t wait that long, there’s always Dig Deep… or, you know what, you could just pull on your running shoes and head out on your own, what’s to lose?

See you out there on them there hills!

🙂

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

Discovering the Dizzying delights of Disley – Lyme park parkrun

Digested read: went to Lyme park parkrun, it was delightful, thank you for asking.

Undigested read:

Yes, you do get dizzy with delight at the beauty of it all, but you might also feel a bit dizzy with less than delight if you set off too fast up that hill at the start.  More of this later. Let’s start at the very beginning, as that’s well-known as being a very good place to start.

Lyme Park parkrun has been on my parkrun ‘to do’ list for ages and ages.  I did toy with the idea of doing it for my 200th run, but didn’t in the end, for reasons I can’t be bothered to elaborate on.  I felt like it ought to be saved for a special occasion, given the rave reports that echo outwards from its epicentre of parkrun gloriousness.  It’s beauty is legendary, the steepness of its start a marvel even to those of us who hail from Sheffield and think we know all about hilly parkruns, and the post run coffee options classy – it’s hosted at the National Trust property Lyme Park after all.  Also, a one-lapper, my favourite type of run, and they are few and far between.  What’s not to like?  The only down side is that it’s also quite a long way for me, and not really a route to drive in winter, well not for the lily-livered likes of me at least, so you have to pick the right day to go.  You can do this by ripping the innards out of a chicken and consulting The Oracle – not the premier Berkshire shopping destination, but the one at Delphi, which I understand has a more reliable track record in predicting the future depending on what you make of the ancient classics.  If like me,  you don’t live in Greece and are vegetarian anyway, as an alternative you can just check the weather forecast on the BBC website.  Whatever, for me the weather forecast runes looked good.  Even so, heading off to Lyme Park parkrun this morning was a bit of a last-minute call.  My running is so lamentable at the moment I feel more comfortable heading off to new parkruns where I can run (I use the term loosely) without any pressure by being anonymous.  I did consider going to Penistone parkrun, which had its inaugural today, but then felt they may prefer a low profile start – they don’t seem to have a Facebook page as yet, so I took that to mean they might be trying to stay under the radar – also, no loos at Penistone, maybe I should work on my pelvic floor for a bit before making the pilgrimage to that one, so all in all, I’ll save that for another time. Last night, I just decided, ‘why not Lyme Park parkrun?’ and why not indeed? (rhetorical question, there is no reason why not at all that could keep me from it!)  I charged up my sat nav and laid out my cow cowl in eager anticipation.  I would make it so.

I had a terrible night’s sleep.  I have completely lost the ability to slumber it seems.  If I could choose a super power it would be to be able to sleep at will.  Oh well, on the plus side, at least I was wide awake from about 4.00 a.m. so no worries about running late in the morning, only about actually potentially being expected to run, though parkrun is for all of course, walk, run, jog or – as in my case – walk/run/gaze about taking photos – all welcome.

Up, porridge, tea, arm out of the upstairs window revealed it was blooming cold, and blinking out there was actual frost on the grass and even ice on the car’s rear windscreen!  Well, I didn’t order that.  There was also the most glorious pink sunrise and a sky full of promise for a bright sunshiney day.  Hurrah!

The drive out to Lyme Park was beyond stunning.  I’ve been away from the Peaks for a while lately, and it’s ages since I’ve headed out through Hathersage, Hope and beyond to Winnats Pass.  Before I even got that far I thought my head would explode with the fabulousness of the views.  It was just stunning, completely perfect in morning sunshine.  I couldn’t capture it on film, but that didn’t stop me pulling over and having a bash

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you had to be there really.  The light was perfect.  It was hard not to be distracted by the scenery, it made me long to get back out and explore these fantastic open spaces we are so lucky to have on our doorstep from Sheffield.  Not today though, today I was passing on through.  When I got to Winnats Pass I thought my heart would burst.  I remember the first time I discovered this place, after relocating to Sheffield and I could hardly process what an extraordinary landscape was unfolding in front of me, it’s beyond comprehension really, when you see it without any advance warning, but even now I know what’s coming it remains amazing.  When I was driving back home later on this morning along the same route, there was a car coming up the other way and whilst the driver was resolutely focused on the road ahead, the passengers were lent out of the car windows at waist height, brandishing their mobile phones like tourists on safari, compelled to remain in their vehicle but desperate to capture on film the astonishing and unbelievable vision of the landscape in front of them.  Africa may have its lions, but the Peak District has geography to make your eyes pop just as much.  Go see for yourself.

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It was a bit heart thumping going up it in my little automatic car though.  I always worry it won’t quite make it up the hill, to be fair, this wasn’t the only time today I worried my carcass would never reach the summit of a steep incline.  Worth it though, on all occasions.  And I did make it too.

I drove past the heading off point for Mam Tor – not been there since the Mend Our Mountains sojourn, must get out and do that romp again in daylight this time.  Not my picture, but if you want a taster, this is what it looked like in the setting sun – not too shabby eh?  Not my photo, obvs.  Embarrassingly, I’m not sure who took it, think it was an ‘official’ one.  Thanks lovely photographer for sharing, whoever you were.

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It was a bit over an hour to get to Lyme Park, and it was very straightforward, apart from me being a scaredy-cat on the steep hills.  I wouldn’t attempt driving there in icy conditions.  There is a sharp, but well-signed turning off the A6, and you go through some incredibly grand gates that will either make you feel you were – or should have been – born for this, or that you are trespassing. I felt like I was trespassing.

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and that pic isn’t even the proper gate, but the extra mini one after you’ve turned off.  The drive to the actual house goes on for miles and miles, literally, not just metaphorically.  Top tip, if you are being dropped off for this parkrun, don’t wave away your ride cheerily at the gatehouse saying ‘it’s fine, I’ll walk from here‘ unless you are either a speedy and experienced ultra runner, or don’t mind delaying your Lyme Park parkrun until the following Saturday, you’d never make it to the start line in time.

I chugged down the driveway, and then there’s a little hut, where, once the park is officially open, you’d presumably have to stop and pay for parking.  I’m not sure from when to be fair, but I was there about 8.30 ish and just cruised on by.  Looked like if you were paying, it was cash only and right money preferred.

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Onwards, the park is jaw-droppingly lovely.  I did pick the most gorgeous weather imaginable to attend though, the light backlit the trees and landscape spectacularly.  I kept having to pause and wave my camera hopefully through the car windows to try and get some shots.  Poor substitute for being there I know, but will give you a flavour of it perhaps?

There were hidden treasures lurking, mysterious towers on the horizon, tempting paths, weaving up through trees and over hills.  Yep, so far the reports of the loveliness of Lyme would seem not to have been exaggerated.

Finally, there is the house on the left, a kiosk, a scattering of hi-vis, and a pleasingly empty car park – though of course that meant I had to do the ‘where is the best place to park dance’ which is quite complicated and references my indecisiveness a bit too authentically.  It’s factoring in how to get out later on when it’s full, as well as which is the best space to secure when empty.  A complex equation I find.  You will either relate to this or not. If you do, then your heart will bleed for me, too much choice, too challenging to decide, if you do not, then you will have to learn to live  on with that sense of genuine bewilderment and incomprehension.  I guess it’s like those puzzles which say can you see the elephant or whatever in this image and you either can or can’t and if you can’t it’s just beyond belief anyone sees otherwise.  This isn’t an elephant though:

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Actually, strictly speaking, it isn’t a duck or a rabbit either.  You do know your art history I take it?  This is not a pipe either….

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Glad we’ve cleared that up. Anyway, need to crack on, you’ll be wanting to know about the parkrun and I’m nowhere near describing that yet.  Once parked, I went over to where the Run Director and team were gathered, adjacent to a closed refreshment kiosk and some parkrun arrows yet to be put into place  to check out what was what.

I established the star and finish were in different places, and that you could – depending on the RD – potentially leave a coat to be taken to the finish, though I decided to leave mine in the car in the end.  Most importantly of all, I was directed to the loos. Just as I had thought my heart would burst from the beauty of the landscape en route to the event, now I’d arrived I thought my bladder would burst from the litres of tea I’d quaffed pre-departure.  Fortunately, the National Trust have lots of loos. Hurrah!

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They also had helpful signage about alternative names for dandelions, who knew?  And a lake.  And a tea rooms, and a National Trust gift shop, yet to open.

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Phew, much relief.  Slight panic when I thought I’d picked a cubicle without loo paper, but worry not, it actually had not one, but two toilet roll dispensers, presumably to cater for exactly this eventuality – I do love National Trust hosted running events!  I saw there was a Trust 10k sign up by the lake, so presume there is a Lyme Park Trust10, that would be epic!

Precautionary pee satisfactorily executed, I was able to have a bit of an amble about and check out my surroundings.  Great selection of warning signs here – is it reassuring or alarming to know the tail walker has radio contact with HQ in case of emergency?  Just not sure… and don’t get me started on the BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!  It is bad for the nerves!  I nearly had to go back for a second precautionary pee because of all the anticipatory excitement!  Didn’t though.  Need to practise running with my legs crossed in case I make it to Penistone.

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There were enthusiastic – or possibly lost – runners doing warm up loops, and marshals were heading out to their designated clapping and directional pointing spots, the event team were milling and coordinating and going about the busy and important tasks that keep the parkrun show on the proverbial road.  It wouldn’t surprise me at all to hear one of them at least was in possession of a clipboard, that’s how busy and important they looked!  Friendly and welcoming too though, you’ll be glad but unsurprised to hear, it is the parkrun way 🙂 .

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As 9.00 a.m. drew near, people started to migrate towards the starting gate, which was at the bottom of a rather upward flat section.  Gulp.  The gathering commenced.

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Now would probably be a good time to describe the course to you, as it’s a well known fact I can’t talk and run at the same time, so it’ll be hard for me to properly tell you about it once I get going.  The Lyme Park parkrun website blah de blah describes the course thus:

Course Description – Breathtaking. Literally!
Lyme Park parkrun begins towards the back of the main car park – the open gate marking the start line. The first uphill section (almost exactly 800m) is tough, narrow and loose under foot, however your perseverance will immediately be rewarded as you pass through a second open gate into the woods, which is rich in colour, but more importantly, flat! As you pass under the trees and along this next section, you will reach a second open gate where you should turn 90 degrees to your left. This narrow trail runs parallel with the park wall and is gently undulated and highlighted with small crossing streams. Glance to your right and you may be treated to your first deer sighting. At the end of this section, turn left again, through a third open gate and run straight ahead, passing the archery field on your right and through the final open gate. Please take extra care at this short part of the run, as you pass the staff car park on your left. Bear round to the right and follow the road until you spot the first large stone, turning left as you reach it, and head towards Lyme Park’s Cage. This huge open space with spectacular panoramic views of Manchester and beyond, will almost certainly give you perspective, and take your mind away from any aches or pains. Pass to the right of the Cage and head downwards over a rocky path, taking care to lift your feet on this loose (and unforgiving) terrain. As the path blends into the grass, it becomes very slippery and ends with a sharp turn to the left. Marshals will be ready to catch you at the bottom! Dig deep for this last section, a gradual incline awaits up to the finish line, a few hundred feet in front of the house, and in perfect situ to head off for a well-earned breakfast at the Timber Yard Coffee Shop

and it looks like this:

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and Strava tells me that there is 496 feet of elevation, which doesn’t sound too bad to be fair, but in the doing of this parkrun, I did think I might bleed from my eyes at some point, so be warned.

Assembled, next thing was the run briefing.  Milestones various were acknowledged, this seemed a friendly parkrun with regular runners cheering each others various achievements.  There was just the one celebrity runner, the Incredible Hulk, something must have made him mad as he was in his green, bulked up form, but fair does to him, whatever else he might have to contend with, the Hulk doesn’t skip leg days when working out.  Good work.

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It was a brief briefing, and a refreshingly quiet and attentive parkrun crowd – though maybe they were saving their breath for that upward flat section starting out… and then it was awf, and awf we went, some with more enthusiasm than others!

You can’t really tell from the pictures, but the start is a bit of a shock.  It’s a steep climb upwards for about 800 metres.  You would get super fit if this was your regular parkrun.  Spoiler alert, I failed to run all the way up the hill.  I like to think this was because I was wanting to pause for photos en route, but I am well-known for harbouring self-serving delusions.  Don’t mock me, it is this delusional thinking that allows me to return to parkrun week after week.  A fair few people did opt to power walk as well, perhaps this is a known and legitimate run craft strategy and not a cop-out at all?  Yes. I like to think it is, therefore henceforth, that is what it shall be.  Strategy in action. Go us, but slowly, to save ourselves for the more forgiving inclines and genuinely flat bits!

There weren’t a massive amount of marshals on the course, it doesn’t really need that many, you can’t get lost, but the cheery support was welcome.  I’d swear some of those marshals had the super-power of teleportation though, as they seemed to Pop up more than once along the way.  Canny lot the Lyme Park parkrun crew….  Here are some, in all their glorious loveliness:

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So you go up a gravely roady bit, and through a foresty bit, and emerge onto a moorland bit and it undulates up and down and the views are a.maz.ing. FACT.  I was, as ever, in the fun factory that is the rear of the pack.  There were a fair few juniors embracing the event, which was quite motivating, as if they can do it on their little legs, I can do it on my little legs too. Granted, they aren’t carrying the same tonnage, but equally, they have less idea of what they have signed up to.  Maybe ignorance is indeed bliss sometimes, it’s so hard to be sure…

This is definitely one of the toughest parkruns I’ve done to date, but also one of the most beautiful.  It would probably be quite brutal in snow and ice, but it was blooming lovely today, despite it being pretty nippy out.  After a bit, you are directed off to cake!

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Oh hang on, no, not cake, cage.  Rookie error.  I have no idea why the folly, or castle or cage or whatever it is.  A hunting lodge according to google…. it does look a bit like the Tower or London, and to be honest, it wouldn’t have surprised me at all to learn we’d run that far as it was hard going up that hill, as well as being pretty breezy up top!  Still, you are rewarded with the most amazing views, and it’s amazing what you can put up with given an incentive like that to keep on going.

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Past the cage, and there was a lovely down hill where you could be an aeroplane if you wished on the way down.  More marshals were in position by trees and with a succession of rather cute canine companions.  There was also a high vis clad horse rider, I’m thinking that was just a coincidence, rather than a crowd control measure unique to Lyme whereby they have a mounted marshal/police presence just to be on the safe side.

The downhill bit continues, and then you have to curve round towards the left towards the final finish stretch (don’t get too excited, it goes up again before going down).  Here, I induced panic in the marshal at his station, as I veered to the right to get a shot of him in situ leading him to think there was a navigational emergency unfolding before his very eyes.  He shouted and waved at me with not a little desperation. It’s good to know marshals take their directional pointing responsibilities so seriously, thank you my hi-vis friends for your vigilance as well as diligence on course today!  Also, in my humble opinion, best bobble hat of the morning too, although that award brings with it only kudos, no other acknowledgement as such, you’ll have to make do with the warm glow of recognition I’m afraid.

Once I’d cornered successfully, it was past the plastic cone mine (or possibly resting place, I’m not sure).

On the summit behind, you could just make out the tail walkers and marshals standing down from their posts:

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ahead, parkrunners ran on, the finish funnel within their reach…

and just when your morale was beginning to sap, a further sign of encouragement, literal as well as metaphorical – I do love it when parkruns have their own personalised signs, it’s cheering!

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and even better, it was actually true!  You are nearly there, just a few metres round the corner, the finish funnel came into view, and you run into the warm embrace of a flurry of timers and funnel managers and finish token giver outers and barcode scanners.  Hurrah!

and so it ends.

I lingered to watch the tail come in – didn’t have to linger very long to be fair…

and you know what was especially heartwarming, to see the hi vis heroes jumping for joy.  And why not, volunteering at parkrun is fab fun.  Didn’t quite get him airborne, but this picture potentially has more comedic value, so every cloud eh?  Just realised, do those plastic cones match the bobble hat stripes?  Methinks they might.

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and that was that.

Lyme Park parkrun done.

I ambled back to the car, trying to get some atmospheric pics en route, along with the obligatory slightly awkward selfie.  Where is Smiley Selfie Queen when I need her?

We definitely had the best part of the day for the run, as it was getting decidedly nippy by this point.  As it was a long drive back, I stopped off at the cafe for a veggie egg and sausage sandwich and a latte.  Service was friendly but slow, presumably because they had to go and get a hen to lay an egg for me before they could cook it. However, that was fine, as queuing is an impromptu opportunity for parkrun socialising.  I met a fell devil runner who is also doing Round Sheffield Run in a few weeks time – note to self, I should train for that probably, and also was able to see the RD again, and marvel about the wonders of the Lyme Park venue, which I could confirm in person, most definitely had lived up to its most excellent reputation.  It is definitely ‘undulating’ though, and I run in Sheffield.  Just saying.

Mind you, it’s not as tough as the Marathon des Sables, and a dog just finished that, so perhaps we can all do more than we realise if we are but motivated enough, and we runners are mightily easily led by the prospect of a fine bit of bling…  This is most certainly a dog that’s finally had its day!

It really is exceedingly fine.  You should try it sometime. Best try to manage your expectations about the stately home actually levitating on the lake though, I mean it is very spectacular indeed, but there are limits.

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So once again, thank you parkrunners and parkfunners all in general and Lyme Park parkrunners in particular.  It was reet nice oot.  I’d love to come back some time soon.

For all my parkrun related posts click here.  Or don’t.  It’s up to you.  You’ll need to scroll down for older entries though.  Bit of a time vampire, if you do, you might be stuck on the sofa for a while, ‘just researching options’.  Hmm.

Happy running in general and parkrunning in particular until next time.  I wonder what parkrun delights next Saturday will bring.

🙂

Categories: 5km, off road, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , , | 14 Comments

Rocking the context appropriate look. Snow plogging microadventures r us.

Digested read: went plogging on the Sheffield Half-Marathon route.  It snowed.  It was still fun.

litter picking white out

Undigested read: I can hardly run a bath at the moment, let alone a half marathon.  This is a shame, because we are fully into not so much the run up (see what I did there?  Hilarious) as into the actual tapering period for the 2019 Sheffield Half.  This time last year I was well into my distance runs and used the Sheffield Half as a training run for the London Marathon. That seems like a life time ago. The past is another country I did things differently there.  Now, for various reasons, I’ve had my running goals for this year well and truly scuppered.  It is a source of much squirm-inducing regret that when my lovely running club asks us each month to volunteer our achievements and post them on Facebook for each return period that I find myself racking my brains trying to think of something to say.  Something – anything?  Nope, just an echoing void up there at present.  Nothing to report.  I blagged it the last two months, by explaining February was pretty much taken up with my merchandise testing commitments (Brooks Juno Bra thank you for asking) and then March brought with it my media commitments, culminating with my companion animal finding herself the poster giraffe for the Sheffield Half.  She was thrilled!  I got glory by association.  I might not make the start of the half this year, but hopefully the 5-10% of the population who are apparently particularly susceptible to hypnosis and suggestion will come to believe I was there just because they have seen this image circulating about the right time. I like to believe so.

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Anyway, irrespective of whether or not I’m running, this is my blog, my rules, I can plog if I want to, however tenuous the theme in terms of its relationship to running.  Today’s theme is litter picking on the Sheffield Half Marathon loop, so that’s almost exactly the same as going for a run yes?

The background is that a group of us did this half marathon litter pick last year, after a last minute ‘who else is up for it’ Facebook post put out by a local running shop.  A fair few of us were, and rocked up, and it was fun. We got to dress up like Nemo and everything, though the amount of litter on the route was dispiriting.  It came about because those of us who’d been using the route for long run recces couldn’t help but notice the litter that had accumulated along the way, and it seemed a poor advert for our beloved Sheffield.  Instead of waiting around for some vague ‘other’ to take the initiative ‘somebody should do something’ Front Runner took the initiative, and put out the call. Seems that hit a nerve, and people came indeed.  Litter picking in general and plogging in particular is increasingly a thing – check out Runners Against Rubbish – which is good because it has to be done and bad because it shouldn’t be needed. Plogging runs featured at the Big Running Weekend a couple of weeks back too.  Anyway, pleased to report, they did the same again this year, suggested a group litter pick along the Sheffield Half-marathon route, and there was an even bigger turn out, this year than last.  yay!  Perhaps this will become an annual tradition.  Hope so.

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So you see, whilst I might not be up to much running, I can still have running related fun times scrabbling about in mud and heave-hoing unsavoury discarded bits of rubbish out of polluted ditches with my running buddies.  We are hard core we Sheffielders, and we know how to make our own entertainment!  Plus, plogging in a ditch is pretty light weight compared to fell running which to the untrained eye might seem to stretch the definition of ‘fun times’ yet looks like great larks compared to the Barkley marathon.

You do know about the Barkley Marathons yes?  In case not – you might have just blocked the very thought as a subconscious protective reflex – this is a 100 mile plus suffer fest.  It has five laps, each lap of 20-plus miles in distance and includes about 12,000ft of brutally-steep, obstacle-laden, muddy mountain ascent through thick woodland.  That’s like climbing Everest twice, apparently,  which is another thing on my list of activities I have zero desire to undertake.  Just to be completely clear, I don’t even want to climb Everest once.  In conclusion, I think it’s fair to say that the Barkley Marathons stretches the definition of ‘fun’ a tad too far for even type two fun* recognition. Just saying.  Well done Nicky Spinks for giving it a go all the same.  Shame it meant you missed the first Trunce of the year but understandable in the circumstances.  Epic.  No-one came close to finishing the Barkley Marathons this year by the way.  I’m not surprised.  Nicky looks hard core yes, but she doesn’t look like she’s particularly having any real=time fun now does she?  It’s cool she’s wearing a dark peak fell runners bobble hat though.  Respect.  She’s still beyond awesome.

 

 

 

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, having running related fun in the great outdoors.  So it was that last night I scooped up a friend and together we chugged up to the Norfolk Arms rendezvous for the collective litter picking endeavour.  Tooled up with our heavy duty gloves, we sat in the car, admiring the moody sky and dramatic clouds.  About five minutes ahead of our rendezvous time, heavy drops started to land on the windscreen.  ‘I hope it’s not going to rain’ remarked my litter picking buddy.  We laughed nervously.  It would only be a couple of hours.  We exited our vehicle and joined the gathering by the van, joining the queue for bin bags, struggling into our junior sized high-vis and delightedly welcoming our parkrunning buddy, Regal Smiley who’d rocked up to join the fun=fest and frolics in the name of keeping our run routes litter free. Yay!

As we greeted one another, the rain stopped.  That sounds good doesn’t it, except it wasn’t because there was no longer precipitation, oooooooooooooooooh no.  It was because it transmogrified into fat flakes of snow. Proper snow.  Full on white out, snow snow. It settled on our hats, and snowed with an intensity and density that is usually reserved for the closing climactic sequence of cheesy American films set against the backdrop of Christmas holidays. You know, where every problem is overcome, every misunderstanding cleared, and loving couples or families rush out red cheeked, starry-eyed and bobble hatted through a forest of Christmas trees already laden with snow, or along a city street with shop windows a-bling with Christmas lights as fresh snow falls and the credits roll.  Like that. Exactly like that, only colder and wetter and with less joyful cavorting on our part.  We did laugh though.  A lot.  And to be fair, if the weather was going to be dramatic, I’d sooner take the apocalyptic drama of unexpected decent snow over the soul-sapping water torture of horizontal rain.  Also, definitely better than having a helicopter induced storm hurl roadside barriers at you mid-marathon in China.  It happened.  It really did… quite relieved I didn’t bother entering that one now, especially after learning I wouldn’t get away with taking along the bike for part of the route after all.

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Besides, we were here now, committed.

We took our bags, our gloves, out litter picker and our resolve and off we went, a trio of awesomeness, to take on Sheephill Road.  Time for a quick selfie first though…  Just for clarification purposes, that’s the start of the snow you can see in the flurry of white flakes, not a severe dandruff episode by a fellow litter picker just out of shot.

what larks eh

We bagsied the upper end of Sheephill Road from the Norfolk arms downed.  I thought we might have to fight for it – I feel a tad territorial for this section because it’s the same bit I did last year, which is ridiculous, but true.  As it happened, we three got it all to ourselves, and off we went.  We were an awesome team, covering both sides of the road like police forensic investigators seeking out clues in a finger tip search.  Litter picking is disturbingly surprisingly addictive.  No fag end is safe, no bottle too remote to be hunted down and caught bang to rights and bagged – probably to end up in land fill which is depressing, but preferable to choking wildlife at least.

There aren’t any whales in Sheffield, so I don’t think we were saving them particularly from consuming plastic on this occasion but then again, who knows where discarded plastic can end up.  No really, I spent some time volunteering at a wildlife centre in Zimbabwe and one day found myself removing plastic wrap from cucumbers flown in from the UK – probably grown in a poly tunnel, that were past their sell-by date and so were discarded from the shop and were now being used as animal food. How many countries had that plastic wrap visited in its single use lifetime? What is that about?  Crazy.  That’s why 44 kg of plastic was found in a dead whale only last month.  No fun to be had in that story, none at all.  Don’t need to be Hercule Poirot to work out contributory factors for cause of death for that one.  Or even James Herriot, or whatever the marine biology veterinary equivalent for that might be… This is plastic that emerged from a whale gut, I couldn’t be more astonished if it was a picture of Jonah himself bursting forth.

plastic in dead whale guardian

It was surprisingly companionable yomping along plogging and picking our way through the undergrowth with varying degrees of concentration. We evolved a system whereby Regal Smiley/ bicentennial woman who was in possession of the grabber (well, she does command natural authority, plus she was the one who had the foresight to bring it with her) responded to a sort of directional pointing system whereby we other two, lacking her reach, would get the bits we could and then point out to her the more elusive finds.  She would do well in the opal mines of Coober Pedy as once she was convinced of the presence of something, in this case litter, nothing would deter her from ferreting it out. Together, we were invincible.  That dear reader, is what team work is all about.

coober pedy

‘This image is courtesy of John Park, who you can follow on instagram at  https://www.instagram.com/parky.au/  if you fancy some virtual travel browsing through some stunning pictures of the great land down under and beyond!’

We didn’t find any opals, but we did find some vintage crisp packets, they don’t have the same market value though, well, not as far as I can tell anyway.  I didn’t research it all that conscientiously, I’ll be kicking myself when a vintage salt’n’shake crisp pack suddenly appears on eBay, with the faded lettering being described as ‘adding authenticity and character’ … I can feel my blood boiling at the very thought!

The weather did crazy things.  At times there were blizzard conditions, at times bright sunshine broke through, and there was the most extraordinary rainbow that seemed to arch across the whole city, I wished I’d got my camera with me, but then again it probably wouldn’t quite have done it justice, plus, I was able to delegate photo duties to Regal Smiley who did a fair enough job in the circumstances!

Here is the snow:

reet nice out

Well, some of it, and here is the rainbow. Also just some of it…

rainbow road

We were merry in our labours.  Also, encouragingly, the litter situation was way better than last year, and although there was still plenty, we made speedy progress.  No especially epic finds – well, apart from the almost buried plastic Christmas Tree and associated baubles, really people?  There was inevitably, lots of plastic, haylage bags, fast food polystyrene wrappers, huge amounts of cigarette ends, discarded bottles, one solitary gel pack wrapper. and debris from miscellaneous road accidents.   Had we but the time and inclination – oh yes and skill too – we could quite possibly have built our own vehicle with the bits of body work accrued along the way.  Some duct tape would have helped maybe, but then you can do anything with duct tape and imagination!  After all, if it can be used to fix a plane after a bear attack, I’m sure it could assemble some discarded car panels without too much difficulty.

 

After an hour or so, there was the pitter patter of tiny feet behind us.  Breathless, and inappropriately dressed for the inclement weather was a trio of youths.  I must be getting exceedingly old, because when they introduced themselves, still wet and shivering as ‘students’ my immediate thought was they were a detail from a local school sent to join the community initiative, but no dear reader, they were actual university students, doing a journalism course and in search of a local story.  Mind you, I do find increasingly I have become that person who notices that my GP and other officials look alarmingly youthful.  The logical conclusion of this I am actually old, not just old before my time.  I don’t know quite how to process that thought, so now I’ve shared it, I’ll ignore it and move one… Anyway, where was I, oh yes, clearly, we were the most newsworthy thing going on at the time, and so we were within their grasp. Also, I secretly suspect they’d got wind of my recently acquired poster girl status so perhaps were hoping for some sort of celebrity coup to boot, though they were far too professional to let on to that insider knowledge, didn’t want to seem all giddy in my presence I expect… So, what they wanted to do was a little piece on the community litter pick for one of their assignments. Fair enough, sounded entertaining.  ‘We are like the wombles!  You know “underground, overground, wombling free“‘ I half-said half (badly) sung, being met with looks of confused incomprehension, oh gawd, I really am old, surely they haven’t been forgotten – I had their LP at one point, ‘wombling free’ it’s a tragedy if that cultural heritage has now been lost, we do indeed need the Wombles more than ever!

wombles

We continued our litter pick, whilst they found a suitable lay-by to set up their gear.  To the casual observer they would have looked like spectacularly well equipped doggers.

They wanted some litter picking shots, featuring the grabber in action and in close up.  This required quite a lot of practise, and hilariously (well I thought so) the initial actual litter that was being used for the shot just didn’t cut it as camera eye candy.  Fortunately, one of the trio had brought along her own, more photogenic litter just in case.  This was in the form of a bottle of lucozade sport (I like to think, as the ‘sport’ reference seems especially apt, but I might have imagined the whole thing just because I wished it so), which she downed in one, so that she could jettison the bottle on the verge where it could be picked up and popped in a black bin bag on endless repeat until caught from all possible angles and the perfect shot, like the discarded bottle, was safely in the bag.  (Honestly, I’m on fire tonight!)

Then we stood in a slightly self-conscious line and the director said he was going to ask us each a question to camera as a sort of vox pox segment (well, what with my work as a supporting artist elsewhere, I have all the media lingo down to a tee). Now, this is where we approach the comedy climax of the evening…  but to fully appreciate this, you need context.

The thing is Regal Smiley has many talents.  Epic runner, parkrun run director blah de blah, but one of her most public-spirited duties is linked to her being the power behind the photographic throne occupied by Mr Carman.  Yes, yes, he takes squillions of pictures week in, week out, selflessly giving his time for the running community of Sheffield, but it is Regal Smiley who acts as upholder of human dignity and public decency, acting as censor to any shot that might unduly humiliate or embarrass the subject of the photo.  Obviously due humiliation is a different thing altogether, and comedic value can outweigh an unflattering shot, but even so, she has much respected form in saving us runners from the brutal reality of seeing in high-definition our true running likenesses if that truth might mean we never left the house again.  She is the guardian of our individual and collective self-esteem, for this we should all be grateful.  Therefore, it was not unreasonable, that before consenting to our vox pox section she politely enquired

Do we look OK?‘. I know what she meant, save us from the spinach caught in our teeth or the inside out jacket or the river of snot that I’ve failed to notice because my face is too numb from the stinging hail. It was self-evident to all.

You look great!’ he said confidently.   The reassurance he gave us was to be short lived.

It wasn’t self-evident to all.  I know this, because he added with a bit too much enthusiasm in his voice ‘being bedraggled and cold and windswept and filthy is exactly the appropriate look for this piece when you’ve all been out litter picking in the snow!’  Oh how we laughed!  I’m paraphrasing only slightly, we rocked our context specific look, it is fortuitous that these clips will never see the public light of day.  Well, unless one or more of us was to go missing on the way home and they had to play that snippet of us on Look North as the last sighting of us for identification purposes, oh the shame.  And that nearly happened to be fair, but more of this later.

We did our slightly stilted commentary on the community cohesion of litter picking, and love of the peaks and running, and how we met through parkrun and all of that. Then, in a moment of clarity me and Regal Smiley realised this could be our running related achievement for April when reporting back to our Smiley record keeper, so more photos of us all together and separately in all possible permutations were taken. The sun came out, rather spoiling our hardcore claims.  I think it’s fair to say the weather was changeable.

 

 

 

We left them doing there final ‘to camera’ summary and continued our meander back along the verges.  It started snowing again, we were on a mission.

snow

It’s amazing how you see missed bits of litter when you view the landscape through a different angle.   We’d already done this section on the outward march.  Regal Smiley was emboldened to scamper over walls and criss-cross wobbly stones to reach tantalizingly placed litter the other side of walls.   There was definitely more than one point when I thought we might lose her over a crumbling dry stone wall. We discussed this possibility.  I was thinking at first we’d get away with pretending we’d never seen her, there weren’t many cars about and nobody was taking much interest in us… as long as we other two stuck to our story we’d be fine – then we remembered the cursed vox pox sequence, and if those keen journalism students got wind of her disappearance they’d be like the blooming Scooby Doo team, endlessly screening their now highly marketable footage as they tried for a ‘true crime’ documentary full length feature on ‘what really happened’. We’d never have got away with it.  So all in all, it was very fortunate, that we were able to haul her back roadside, and make it back safely!  No search team required…. this time.

scooby doo

Pleasingly, just as we returned to the corner of Lady Cannings plantation entrance, where we’d piled up all our bags, the Front Runner white van appeared to gather up our rubbish offerings.  It was a leaky, sodden and unsavoury mess of stuff, I wouldn’t have wanted it in the back of my car.  Above and beyond I’d say.  You can get Sheffield City Council to pick up bags from organised litter picks if you let them know in advance, but there was a different plan at work here.

And that was that, we said goodbye and went our separate ways.

I feel however I need to add this postscript.  As me and my tail walking buddy – did I mention that already?…

53036219_318839055650700_8263248491724144640_n

were derobing and clambering back into my car, we got chatting to a guy in the vehicle next to us.  He hadn’t been litter picking with us but he does solitary litter picks around his road all the time.  I mentioned to him that there is the Sheffield Litter Pickers Facebook group if he wants help.  He brooded on this point for a bit and then said words to the effect of he quite liked the cathartic effect of doing it alone and raging at the awfulness of mankind with every bottle plucked from a hedge or broken glass from the gutter he weirdly liked finding justification for his misanthropic view of the world.  I rather respect that.  It made me laugh.

And so dear reader, it was but two sodden hours on an April evening, but it was crammed with hilarity and micro-adventures a-plenty. Sometimes, it is worth just stepping outside the front door and seeing what unfolds.  Just be wary of cameras unless you are dressed in a context appropriate way. Oh and also, I feel a  need to share that really, in our own way, we three, and indeed all the other litter pickers out there last night, were tackling the same elements as the Barkley marathoners, because they too started their quest in sunshine, only to be caught out by wintry conditions and snow.  I may not quite be in Nicky Spinks’ league just yet, but I am somewhere on the continuum of weather she has experienced in her running challenges, and that’s a start.  Also, other litter pickers took independent initiative to play their part in an afternoon pick as they couldn’t make the evening one, ploggers are everywhere it seems, how splendid is that!  See them rock their context appropriate hi-vis too.

independent action litter pickers

Heart warming isn’t it?  And we could all do with a bit of good news in these dark times I’m sure.

You’re welcome.

*type two fun – things that are fun only when viewed retrospectively, from a very safe distance.

Categories: off road, teamwork | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

Out of the mist, came forth sun… and runners, lots and lots of runners. Loving Longshaw Trust10 in the spring sunshine.

Digested read:  back to the Longshaw Trust 10k (Trust10).  Misty start, sunny finish.  Very nice to be back.

Undigested read:

Everybody loves Longshaw.  Well they should do. Just look at it, it’s spectacular, whatever the season.

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We all need to reboot our systems now and again don’t we?  Don’t we?  Please don’t let on it really is just me?  Oh you were kidding,  it isn’t just me who gets a bit ground down now and again and needs to be reminded to look up and out and breath in the air.  That’s good, otherwise you’ll have no idea what I’m banging on about and that will make for a very confusing mismatch in our conversation, and nobody wants that.

So, Sunday morning. Now normally Sunday is junior parkrun day, and I do really love junior parkrun, supercharged fun however you look at it, especially at my local Graves junior parkrun where you get to run through the animal farm and by the lake and everything.

However, fun as it is, I realised last year that I’d got out of the habit of going to the Longshaw Trust 10k.  This is ridiculous, because I blooming love the Trust10, it’s always super friendly and welcoming and mostly ‘proper’ off road.  I mean not completely hard-core, but enough to get your feet muddy and feel alive and a very long way from the grind of running on pavements or tarmac.

Anyway, longshaw story short, I’ve decided to try to prioritise the Longshaw 10k a bit more this year, after all I can still do junior parkrun the other three weeks of the month (the Longshaw 10k takes place on the fourth Sunday of each month- check website just in case, but that’s worked so far, snow and ice permitting).  This morning, it being the fourth Sunday of the month, Longshaw it would be.

The website says succinctly:

Enjoy a 10k run in the special surroundings of the Longshaw Estate. Free, informal and for everyone

adding

Join us on the fourth Sunday of the month for our free 10k run. Registration is on the day 8.15 in the café, and the run starts at 9 am. A number will be issued to you at your first run.

The route is two laps, and takes in some wide paths and some more technical off-road sections on grass, rocks and sometimes muddy ground. It is suitable for runners of all abilities.

Timing will be via paper and stopwatches, so if your time is important to you please use your own system.

so that’s all you really need to know, you could just finish here, I wont know, I haven’t a clue if anyone ever reads my posts or not, so no offence taken.  Also, you might have a life to lead, places to go, people to see, whatever. I don’t do concise though, so I’m not prepared to leave this account at that, read on at your own risk. Maybe have a precautionary pee first, and pour yourself a mug of tea or glass of wine in readiness. You’ll need something with which to fortify yourself if you intend to stick with me for the long run. Not that Longshaw is especially long by everyone’s standards, but I’ll make it feel long for you.  It’s a 10k route, but two 5k laps, so if you are unsure you could always do one loop and then bail finish at that point. You’ll be at the front of the cafe queue and have seen the route.  But you won’t get a time and you won’t know the fun you’ve missed out on by doing so. Your call though, nobody will judge you.   Really they wont.  In a good way, nobody cares what you do, as long as you are having a good time and stay safe.  Think parkrun, it’s that sort of ethos.   Good natured, celebrating what you do, and although there are definitely speedy runners pegging round at the front, there is nothing to stop you taking a more sedate romp round at the rear – as did I today.

Despite everything, I did feel a little disloyal to be heading Longshaw way instead of to Graves.  Also, it was freezing when I woke.  Really misty, and was that even a bit of ice on the car?  Possibly.  It was like that at Graves parkrun yesterday, so misty you could hardly see your hand in front of your face on arrival, but then it did clear enough later on the second lap for an en route selfie with highland coo.  Such selfies ought to be mandatory anyway at Graves parkrun, what’s the point of a parkrun going to all that effort of supplying highland coos if nobody bothers to do so, but it was made easier yesterday by dint of me being busy and important as tail walker for the day, no pressure to rush on by.  Oh and also having a smart phone carrying selfie wannabee to accompany me, result.  Hurrah!  Fab walk and talk yesterday.  I thank you. 🙂

Where was I?  You’ve distracted me. Oh yeah, not at Graves, but heading to Longshaw.  It was misty enough that I contemplated putting on my headlights, and cold enough that I considered wearing one of my deeply unflattering beanies.  I thought the better of it, though on reflection, my pink Trust10 bobble hat would have been OK, it’s more forgiving than my cow bob and TpoT offerings.  Too late, didn’t take one, wondered if I might regret it, blooming cold.

I won’t lie, I’ve not been feeling the running lurve lately.  My mojo has not so much temporarily departed as actually abandoned me leaving no forwarding address and only memories and dreams of what might have been.  Despite this, I do sort of miss what we had, and it is slowly dawning on me, that astonishingly, the only way to get back my running form is to actually go out and do some running. Harsh, but true.  Perhaps today would be the day.

I arrived crazily early at Longshaw, got my self parked up in ‘my’ parking spot. Yes, I do have a favourite parking spot at Longshaw, doesn’t everyone?  It was £3.50 for non National Trust members for up to four hours – was hoping that I wouldn’t take that long to get around, even allowing time for a fairly substantial cheese scone afterwards. You can park for free along the road outside the Fox House, but I suppose I feel paying for parking is a way of supporting the otherwise free event.  Also, less far to retreat back to the car on days when it is so cold your legs won’t work.  That might just be me though. You are probably so hard-core you’ll be incorporating the Longshaw Trust10 into your long run and jog out, run the 10k and run home again.  Go you!  Not me though, that wasn’t my plan, though I do have a bit of a fantasy that I might do that one day.  Maybe when the weather is a bit warmer so I don’t have to worry about getting cold in between running legs.

The air was still, the car park already beginning to fill up, and the views, as always, just breathtaking.  Of course my photos don’t do it justice, why would they? You’ll have to go check it out for yourself.

Keenie volunteers had already put the little pink flags up to mark the way.  I had my first precautionary pee of the morning.  The bolt on the toilet door wasn’t working, but that didn’t matter as the queue for the loo is always so extensive, someone will look out for you.  The gents of course just breezed past us, waving as they went to make free with their own more ample facilities.  Structural injustice strikes again.  I read a whole article about exactly this issue of why there are never enough female toilets (as in toilets for use by women, not for bathroom sanitation ware that identifies as female – I’m pretty sure most would be non-binary anyway), but now I can’t find it.  Bet you are gutted.  Worry not, I’ll add it in later if I do.  Hang on, you’re OK, I’ve found it, great article on the deadly truth about a world built for men You’re welcome.  Found this one on the American Potty Parity movement too, who knew?  Having said that, compared to other running events, the provision at Longshaw is pretty darned good.  Warm registration area, toilets- not just toilets, but ample toilet paper and hot running water too. Thrown in an informal bag drop, parking,  and post run coffee and carb options and that covers everything really.

Headed in to the cafe area to register, my camera can’t cope with interior shots, but you’ll get the gist. First timers have to complete a registration form, returners, wearing their own reused numbers have a quicker process.

It’s all very self-explanatory and pretty slick, though the volume of participants these days does make for some good-natured queuing. That’s OK though, it’s a chance to catch up with everyone you’ve ever met in the running community of Sheffield. This event brings loads out of the woodwork.  I went on my own, but bumped into many familiar faces.  Grand.

The high vis heroes were discussing tactics, being efficient and heading off to their posts, some of which are a fair old hike away from the cafe area:

Here they are en masse at the end. What a fine and photogenic lot they are. Hurrah for them.  That’s not even all of them.  It takes a lot of effort to keep the event running smoothly.  (Pun intended, I’m super quick-witted like that – less quick on my feet unfortunately.  Oh well, we can’t all be good at anything everything).

Volunteers are epic

Runners arrived and milled and chilled, some did some voluntary extra running, by way of warm up.  Respect.  Others did some voluntary extra running by way of sustainable transport options.  Also respect:

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The sun was beginning to peak through, and I started to see familiar faces from woodrun and even a few other break away-ers from Graves junior.  It was like big reunion!

It was definitely still misty, but the day seemed full of promise.  An air of eager anticipation started to build. It seemed busy to me, but then again, apart from the Christmas Tinsel Trust 10 I’ve hardly been to Longshaw Trust10 of late.  I decided NOT to wear my coat, which is quite a big deal for me, as normally I have to have it forcibly wrestled away from me pre run.  Now though, the air was still, and the runes seemed good.  It was one of those days where you really get why ancient peoples worshipped the sun, it seemed miraculous how it began to appear and burned through the fog to reveal a glorious landscape of wonder and promise. In a bit though, not straight away.

After a bit, there was a sort of collective move towards the start, as if drawn by a silent beacon, like in Close Encounters, only a lot jollier and with more visible Lycra. Honestly, I don’t know if Lycra was even a thing when the film Close Encounters came out in 1977, the Wikipedia entry inexplicably completely fails to mention it.  This is the problem with becoming over reliant on search engines on the interweb, the entirety of human knowledge becomes reduced to dust.

The Devil’s Tower is pretty much indistinguishable from Carl Wark in my view, and you can only differentiate the assembling of runners from the assembly of the alien seekers by the presence of tarmac beneath the feet of the non runners.  Spooky isn’t it?

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Once we were all assembled, more or less, bit of fraternising went on, I noticed the runderwear ambassador ingratiating herself to the tail walkers.  Well, she was trying to communicate something important anyway.  Also a few ill-advised selfies were taken alongside other reunions. You know, it occurs to me, maybe it isn’t the hats that make me spectacularly unphotogenic, maybe I actually look like this hatted or otherwise.  Horrible thought.  Oh well, this selfie is significant because the two of us have been Facebook stalking each others for some months but until this weekend never met, now two-day on the trot, yesterday Graves, today Longshaw. We’re properly best friends now!  Clearly Smiley Selfie Queen has more experience in these matters, or maybe a more forgiving filter.  I’ll never know…  I was slightly disappointed to see she was no longer wearing her sash from yesterday, when she celebrated her 100th parkrun with cakeage+, bunnage+ and a sash proclaiming her achievement.  Oh well.  At least I saw her on the day.

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there was the run briefing.

Take care, be sensible, usual information about following marshals directions, but today was special, because today was also a day to sing Happy Birthday en masse in honour of stalwart volunteer Frances, soon to be eighty.  I think it’s fair to say that on the whole attendees are better at running than singing, but the rendition that followed this announcement was full of affection and enthusiasm.  Go Frances!  Excellent hat sporting as well as time keeping. We, who are about to run, salute you!

Birthday celebrant

It’s been a week of awesome octogenarians here in Sheffield.  Tony Foulds did good too did he not, getting his fly-by and all. Maybe that’s when life begins, at eighty, I can but hope… I’m post 54 and still don’t feel like I’ve made it off the starting block…

This is what runners look like whilst singing and waving in the start ‘funnel’ there are helpful signs to suggest where to place yourself to avoid congestion once underway by the way.  Also attentive looking runners during the run briefing.

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So then, pre run socialising and communal singing satisfactorily completed, we were awf, with that Longshaw staple the wolf whistle to get us underway!  You had to be there, but trust me, it’s true and it was audible and off everybody went.  It was somewhat quirky, like lighting a cigarette to start off the Barkley Marathons, but with more attention to Health and Safety.

And off we went.  It was fairly steady start from where I was at the back.  I daresay the front runners do speed off, but the mass of the back were happy to be more relaxed as we departed.  It’s a narrow path and a bit of a dog leg, and you are just warming up so no great haste.  Not on my part anyway.  The promise of good weather had brought along a fair few spectators to cheer us off, and no doubt then nip into the cafe for reviving coffee for a bit before the faster runners were back at the end of their first lap.

There was a bit of a bottle neck through the first gate, and then onto the compressed mud track where you run perilously close to a ditch, or more accurately a ha ha, presumably called this because that is the noise your so-called friends would make if you were to tumble into it due to either ice or a lapse in concentration.  Wikipedia doesn’t say.

There are many pleasing sights on the way round, but a fine marshal with psychedelic leggings and winning smile is always going to be a hit.  What’s more, on this route, you get to see all the lovely marshals twice if you do the whole 10k.  Now there’s an incentive to keep on running round!  Isn’t she lovely. (Rhetorical question, of course she is!)  Plus, I can personally vouch for her outstanding directional pointing, clapping and generally supportive whooping.  She’s always had a talent for this, starting way back at the finish line in the early days of parkrun, but totally perfected and finessed here at Longshaw.  Thank you marshal.  Top Tip, best to shout out your thanks on loop one, as by the time lap two comes round you may well be a) breathless and b) somewhat less enthusiastic about the whole thing, it all depends.

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Off we went, runners streaming ahead and round the lake, or is it a pond?  Not sure what the difference is, but it was all very scenic. You could tell the first timers who ground to a halt at the slightest hint of mud, not having yet learned the fun is in the plunging through it.  I heard one fellow runner explain to his running mate he would have done, but was getting a lift back and didn’t want to get mud in the car!  Can’t be a proper running buddy if they object to mud surely, but each to their own.

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Usually, the entire field has run out of my field of vision quite early on, but today I seemed to stay at least in sight of people for the whole of the first lap.  Others were also being distracted by the scenery, it was lovely, and getting lovelier by the minute as the sun burst through.  Handily placed marshals held open gates and pointed the way towards Narnia, and we followed the paths with delighted eager anticipation

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Through the trees, skipping through more open spaces, mud dodging or not, as the mood took us, thanking marshals, queuing at the kissing gate – good for a regroup, catch up and reconnaissance with other runners.

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Then into the proper woody bit, which is all tree roots and hobbit country.  It was surprisingly dry, and perfect for running today, it can be muddy and slippery, but today was fab, you need to pick your way a bit, but I enjoy this section, though you are a bit restricted to single file.  I tell myself this is why I made no attempt to overtake other runners, instead preferring to pause for photo ops en route.  Ahead of me, my parkrun buddy and Runderwear ambassador had befriended another runner, she does that a lot… takes other runners under her wing, it’s a good quality, and also a super power, it’s pretty much impossible to resist her advances – only this parkrun 50 tee wearing runner had just got swept up in the event and was doing her own run.  She wasn’t persuaded to join the fun this time round, well, no number I suppose, unless she blagged the number 50 – but I’m hoping next month she’ll be back.  She’d have fitted right in!  I am proud of my moody atmospheric shots.  The sky is moody not the runners. Well they may have been moody, I couldn’t tell from my scenic shot seeking detour standing in the bog.

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You emerge from the woodland section, through a gate, scramble over some rocks and you get spat out onto the ‘proper’ trail moorland section.  Sometimes when it’s wet this is really squidgy, but today it was easy running, apart from the little matter of being expected to run uphill.  I ran a bit, but pretty soon ended up power walking. They have ‘improved’ the route to minimise erosion, so there is now a clear path and even a little bridge so you no longer get to  have to launch yourself into flight over the little stream.

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A cheery marshal directs you and offers encouragement as you look upwards to the first serious climb of the morning, up, up skyward, into the blinding light of the morning sun. You can just make out the marshal standing astride the style in the wall at the top of the ascent, back-lit, like a super hero making an entrance.  Good work there, today Longshaw marshal, tomorrow deus ex machina at a theatrical happening of your choice!

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This marshal, as others, has commandeered this as his regular spot.  He is always friendly, and up for a chat, though it has to be said I do feel he has a somewhat unfair advantage in this respect as he hasn’t just had to drag his weary carcass up a steep hill. He is supportive though, and promised to see about putting in some sort of stairlift contraption or escalator in time for the second lap.  Top tip, don’t get your hopes up, it’s like at the Sheffield Half marathon when well-meaning spectators tell you at the Norfolk Arms ‘it’s all downhill from here!’  They are all well-intentioned, but they lie.  It’s inadvertent, but good to know.

He quipped at my Runderwear buddy just ahead ‘not last today then?’ in cheery tones. She most definitely was not. My job I thought silently, and so in time it proved to be.

So after the style and the wall and the chat, you have a long straight bit on a compacted service path.  Through a gate, and on a bit more, and then, just when your homing instinct is screaming at you to go straight on as ‘cafe ahead’ cheery marshals send you off to the right and up the second hill of the day.  This I find really hard, I don’t know why it feels quite as tough as it does, but it plays mind games.  I ended up walking and feeling pathetic for doing so.  Others ahead were walking too.  Blimey I need to up my game.

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Towards the top of this hill, you emerge alongside one of the other car parks, a marshal directs you – the route used to go through the carpark, but this route is better.  About this point the front runners started to come through, lapping me.  They make it look effortless.  Very impressive, they might be great athletes, but this is a good natured event, most shouted some sort of acknowledgement or encouragement as they passed.  I was a bit disappointed that unlike at the Tinsel Ten, none of the front runners were wearing a turkey on their heads.  Not one.  There was also a distinct lack of fancy dress.  Maybe they didn’t get the memo…  The pictures don’t capture the steepness of the climb, or maybe it really is all in my head.  The run is in fact flat, the earth is flat* and I have found a sports bra that is both comfy and supportive, and can also still fit into my interview suit.  All things are now possible.

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Over the hill, literally and metaphorically, and you are out on the exposed ridge and a flat track back to the start/ finish.  It was a lovely spot today, but I have seen marshals nearly frozen to the spot in less clement weather.  The marshal is ready to stop cars running you down – always a boon, and I think furnished with a first aid kit too, or maybe a very large packed lunch, I didn’t pause to check.  I’m sure I saw a big back pack somewhere.  It’s not in the photos, maybe I was hallucinating, or maybe some other marshal had that responsibility.  I’ll try to remember to look out for it properly next time.  On this stretch, you have to remember to take in the views.  They are spectacular.  I got overtaken a lot, but there are also walkers coming the other way.  The first lap is nearly complete though, so that’s a boost.  I have this weird thing that once I’m half way through an event, irrespective of distance, I believe I will complete it because I’ve only got to do the same again. This isn’t quite logical, but positive thinking probably goes a long way so I don’t want to challenge myself on this point for fear of my self-belief coming crashing down.  It is hovering quite precariously as it is.

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There is a narrow marshal-assisted gate at the end which you pass through into the comparative darkness of the woodland area again. I once saw a runner crash spectacularly into the stone gate post here, because there is a bit of an optical illusion going on.  There was a lot of blood, and staggering about, that’s probably why it’s marshalled now.

Once you are safely through, it’s a downhill sprint to the finish, unless you are on your first lap, in which case you cruise on through. Inexplicably, no-one has ever confused me for a finisher at the end of my first lap, even though I’m still behind a good number of others who’ve completed their two.  Oh well, at least I get my monies worth for time out on the course!

So I charged through the finish and round again for lap two. I  spotted the RD and one of her noble side-kicks and called out to them to take a photograph. Confusingly, they thought I wanted them to take one of me!  How bizarre, I have a lifetime’s supply of deeply unflattering photos of myself running, no, what I was after was one of them.  After all, runners are ten a penny at events like these, but the volunteer and organising team, well, they are priceless.  It’s a shame I didn’t get a better picture, but it is the thought that counts, and I was trying to think I promise!

Round again,through the gate into the woods again, this time I felt like I was the only runner left on the course.  There was one other just ahead, but it had definitely emptied out.  A family out walking graciously moved aside to let me pass ‘as I was racing’ which was gracious of them as I’m not sure I really was worthy of such a descriptor,  back to smiley marshal still in situ, doing a double wave just for me.

DSCF7607

I usually enjoy a steady solitary second lap more than the first at Longshaw, because it can be quite meditative. Today though, I heard frantic stomping of feet and breathless runners coming up behind me, it was like being hunted down! I thought maybe it was people who’d already finished doing a final cool down lap or something, but it turned out to be the two tail runners. They’d been with some other runner who’d stopped after one lap, and were now on a mission to catch me up at the back.  They were friendly and supportive, and darted about picking up flags and trying to engage in conversation a bit, but unfortunately, as my regular reader will know I really can’t talk and run so wasn’t as much fun at the back as  if they’d had the pleasure of the company of the Runderwear ambassador who’d been cavorting with them like long-lost friends reunited earlier.  However, today she was on fast forward the whole way round, the tail runners didn’t even have her in sight. So sorry lovely tail walkers, I just can’t cope with running with other people, it is my strange way.  I did my best to romp on ahead, but couldn’t quite catch and overtake the penultimate runner, however now and again I put enough space between me and the tail to get some photos of their awesome twosome tail teamwork in action.  Enjoy!  Oh, and she’s wearing a backpack under her hi-vis, no need to stare.

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Back into the woods, and oh, it was this marshal with the pack lunch/ first aid kit.  Phew, glad that mystery is solved… also nice moss, shapely trees, no time to stop, scared of being chased down, still, my polar watch was thrilled, I exceeded my exercise goals for today apparently.  That’s smugness inducing I must concede.

back onto the open hillside

past the deus ex machina at the summit – he was offering lifts back in his truck to anyone wishing to bail at this point, but no not I!

DSCF7622

Flat bit, puff puff, up the blooming hill, more puffing, flat and fast bit, through the gate, into the woods, down the hill, people at the finish, parkrun buddies and smiley friends shouting me in, I even managed a little burst of speed to the finish flag, though that might also have been because I tripped a bit going down hill and then couldn’t stop myself with all my substantial weight behind that bit of inadvertent forward momentum!

All done.  Phew.  Drank a full litre of water once I’d been reunited with my bag, which I’d just left in the cafe, you do so at your own risk, but it feels safe to me.  My rucksack is pretty distinctive, people know it’s mine. That’s not to say it means they would stop someone else from taking it, but I’d expect them to mention it later when it was gone ‘oh, I saw someone with your backpack disappearing earlier, wondered who it was‘.  Very reassuring.  FYI, I left my backpack in Jonty’s cafe a couple of weeks ago. When I went to pick it up they asked me to describe it, ‘it’s black and turquoise‘ I said.  ‘Oh dear,’ they said ‘we do have one, but it is black and aquamarine, so cannot possibly be yours!’  I thought that was funny.  I was reunited, panic not.

Joined the very extensive queue in the Longshaw tea rooms. I’ve never seen it so long, normally, because I’m slow, by the time I’ve finished, everyone else has recarbed up and yomped off home.  Maybe the warm weather brought more people out, or perhaps there was another event.  It didn’t really matter.  When I got to the front of the queue, I asked for an extra shot in my latte, but the server queried this as it already has two shots in it.  I think it’s good.  They obviously have and enforce an ‘enjoy caffeine responsibly’ policy, and I just didn’t look like I’d be able to handle it.

Sat outside in the sun for a post run debrief. Very nice it was too.

and then cheese scone (that was sooooooooooooooooooooo nice) consumed and coffee quaffed, it was time to go home.  What a fine morning had been had by all though.

Thank you lovely Longshaw people and fellow Trust10 participants for making it so.  Hope to be more regular in my visits in the year ahead.

🙂

By the way, if you are a fan of Longshaw and want to support them a bit more, there’s currently a big push for support for their Peak District Appeal, Woods for the Future A £20 donation doesn’t quite get you a dormouse named after you, but it could pay for a nest for a whole family, so that’s even better right?

£20 could get a nest for dormice

Also, just to be clear, a few footnotes for your edification and improvement:

+cakeage and bunnage refer to the practise of bringing large quantities of cake/ buns/ muffins etc to parkrun related celebrations or running related gatherings more generally.  Bunnage refers to any quantity greater than one bun, and cakeage to any quantity greater than one person can reasonably be expected to consume unaided.  Communal baking basically, and a very fine thing it is too.  Helped this one to a pb the following day, there’s a lot to be said for carbing up, clearly.

*FYI the earth is not flat.  Definitely not.  You’re welcome

So there you go, today’s Trust10 Longshaw 10k, Trust 10, call it what you will, done and dusted.  Nice wasn’t it?

For all my Trust 10k posts, click here.  Or don’t, it’s not compulsory.  You’ll have to scroll down for older entries

For all my parkrun related posts click here.  Or then again, don’t.  It’s up to you.  You’ll still need to scroll down for older entries though.

Happy trail running ’til next time.  Hope the sun shines on you wherever you are.

 

Categories: 10km, off road, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Battling the Bluster round Bakewell, milestones aplenty at Bakewell parkrun

Digested read: I was a blow in at Bakewell parkrun today.  Hurrah.  It was very nice, thank you for asking. There were lots of milestones and therefore running plus cake. What’s not to like?  #loveparkrun

Undigested read:

Well Erik was irksome.

There were overnight gusts and gales forecast, but I was still quite aghast at just how many parkruns were cancelled the night before and on parkrun morning evening.  Still, not worth messing with Erik, you aren’t going to come off best.  Trees were down all over the place and wayward branches cracking and falling at will, tossed over parkrun courses everywhere, of course there were cancellations.  I don’t know why I was so surprised, since I can further report that my own weather analysis included being woken up in my attic bedroom in the small hours by what sounded like a wind-themed Armageddon going on outside.  That was dramatic.  Once I’d surrendered to the fact that any more slumber would be impossible with all that commotion going on outside and got up to go to the loo and look out the window, I bore witness to my wheelie bins tossed around the garden. Oh ok then, Storm Erik meant business.  Even so, there were really a lot of parkrun cancellations.  Sad for some, especially as snow and ice caused many to be called off last week too.

At least one parkrun was cancelled because of polar bears on the course, that’s right actual polar bears.  FACT.   It was Bradford parkrun, I like them, they have initiative.  They worked hard to keep the event on, even attempting to coral the polar bears into being marshals apparently, but it didn’t work out.  It’s important to remember being a hi-vis hero is a voluntary role, once mammals are compelled to do it, it just doesn’t happen in the same joyful way.    Good effort though, I’m going to try to visit you soon I think… might wait for the polar bears and low flying squirrels to move on by though.

bradford parkrun polar bears

I got lucky though.  Last week I was at Bushy parkrun which went ahead just fine – more than fine absolutely fabulous in fact – and this week, I had already planned to go to Bakewell parkrun, milestones a-plenty being marked there, so celebrations, Smiley comrades, Vegan friends oh yes and celebratory cake.  Would that be on?  Hmmm.  *Spoiler alert* yes it was!  I got lucky two parkruns on the trot. Hooray!

The cancellation list is sad, but also entertaining for how core teams choose to record their reasons for cancellations. Alongside the ‘usual’ gusts, flooding, trees obscuring the course, today Bradford parkrun reported, accurately I’m sure based on my own observations, as follows:

Bradford parkrun: Apocalypse in the park, low flying squirrels

It’s a shame they had to cancel, but I’m sure it will be a huge consolation to them all that I have chuckled at their cancellation entries on the parkrun cancellations listings.  Bradford parkrun communications officer, your talents are noted and appreciated, by me at least.

Some impressive cancellation photos doing the rounds though – check out Somerdale Pavilion parkrun course conditions, less parkrun more aquaplaning.  Didn’t happen though, can’t blame them.

Somerdale pavilion parkrun cancellation

Astonishingly, Haigh Woodland parkun went ahead despite a few hurdling/trip hazards!

haigh woodland parkrun trip hazards

Ormskirk parkrun published and shared its cancellation protocol for RDs to refer to in the event of high winds.  Most public spirited, and most enlightening too.

Ormskirk cancellation protocol

But back to Bakewell.  That was expecting to go ahead, but had to get there first though.  Oh my, they weren’t lying when they said on the news it was gusty out!  Fortunately it was mild outside my house, but whoa, hang on a minute, I could barely stand up.  I had a literal wobble in the wind, and then a metaphorical one as I wondered if it would be safe to drive.  I decided to start off and see, I’m quite high up, so if there was a problem it would be obvious and I could abandon my trip.  Off I went.  So many branches down everywhere, but the car chugged along fine as we headed out of Sheffield, once we got towards Longshaw though and the roads were more exposed it was like driving through the end of the world.  No wonder they shut the car parks at Longshaw first thing.  There was loads of debris was being tossed around and I could feel the car being buffeted about as I drove with incredible caution towards Froggart.  Fortunately, the cars behind me were being similarly careful and keeping a respectful distance, but I don’t think I’ve ever been blown around so much in a car, wouldn’t have wanted to be doing that in a high sided vehicle.

Easy run out, and I managed to park up in the free section of the Hassop station car park, coincidentally right by Smiley Selfie queen who’d rocked up for some parkrun tourism and to mark the milestones of friends various too.   I got out of the car for long enough to say hello, and establish it was blooming freezing there, and wet, with little shards of rain bearing down on me. That wasn’t expected. I’d only put my running jacket in as an afterthought.  I got back in the car for a bit, and then got out again for pre-parkrun precautionary pee and general hello saying – which took a while as a fair few familiar faces were rocking up as the start time approached.

Selfie time:

My expression on the left is because I’m cold by the way, not because that’s my intended running strategy to supplement the support offered by my current sports bra. Yep, still sporting the Juno.  I do like it more than any of my other sports bras, but I’m sure there must be one out there that is as comfortable and offers sufficient support.  My expression on the right is because it was taken within the warm confines of the roasty toasty cafe – which is open pre parkrun for comfort breaks and probably coffee too, if you don’t fancy hanging out in the wind and rain on the Monsal trail yourself of a Saturday morning (hard to imagine many would fall into that category though, with all the parkrun love being bandied around 🙂 ).

We were lucky, Bakewell was most definitely going ahead.  Hooray!  There were plenty of last-minute cancellations elsewhere, which is understandable – that happened at Graves junior parkrun once, had to cancel at about 8.50 because a branch fell down on the course just as the runners were arriving.  Not worth the risk. However, the element of surprise cancellations did seem to trigger plenty of micro-adventures around the country as parkrun plans were scratched and back up plans implemented. Some social heroics though, parkrun tourists heading to Graves this morning staying in a nearby Airbnb arrived at 8.40 to find it cancelled, but were scooped up and deposited at Castle by friendly Sheffield parkrun locals. Trust is a funny thing isn’t it, of course you’d assume an abduction by a fellow parkrunner to be benign, just a new adventure #loveparkrun!  Well done parkrun explorers.

parkrun tourist team work

Back to Bakewell.  We were assembled, parkrun was on.  Yay!

For your information Whangarei parkrun in New Zealand went ahead too, although they had ‘nice weather for ducks’ it was their 160th event, and loads of them were wearing shorts out and about on the parkrun course too, so draw your own conclusions about how they define inclement weather.  I have a soft spot for this parkrun though, because they have in the rather brilliantly, and showing initiative as well as dedication, run an extra parkrun at a time to coincide with it being run in the UK. Whangarei parkrun ran an unofficial parkrun at 9pm New Zealand time to mark international parkrun day in October 2017.  Everyone needs to be reminded of/ know about that!  So hello nice Whangarei people and high fives to your high vis heroes!  Happy Third Birthday Whangarei parkrun for next Saturday 16th Feb 2019, I’m sure you’ll party on with parkrun style!

whangarei volunteers

So Bakewell parkrun was going ahead.  That was good, obvs.  But the weather, aaaargh.  How did it get to be so cold and wet when it was all mild in Sheffield when I poked my arm out the upstairs window to do the temperature check first thing?  Me and Smiley Selfie Queen and her escort ventured to the start line.  Where we greeted by the sight of a cheery run director, wearing shorts!  What was that about?  I didn’t know whether to be impressed of horrified, in truth, I was both.  He said he is doing XC tomorrow so trying to acclimatize, fair do’s, but seemed high risk to me.  I went through a similar mental battle deciding when to leave the sanctuary of the Hassop Station cafe, head out into the cold early by way of transition, or hang on in there ’til the last moment. Tough call.

Here is the cosy interior of the Hassop Station cafe viewed from outside (thank you Denise Burden for sharing your photos, from which I’ve borrowed freely):

DB hassop cafe

and here is the cheery run director, sporting his above the knee number in the service of XC acclimatization.  I respect his position on this matter, but will not emulate.  Just to be clear.

shorts seriously shorts

The cheery run director did the first timers’ briefing.  I think we can all agree the body language in the photo from the briefees, betrays that it was most decidedly nippy out, whatever the misleadingly bright sky overhead may deceive you into believing.  Mind you, a lot of these people are sporting shorts, running briefs if you like, maybe that’s why it was called the first timers’ briefing?:

DP run briefing

I wasn’t a first timer, so went for a power walk up and down the Monsal Trail a little way to keep warm and check out the wind conditions.  To be fair, the RD did assure us that he’d sorted out the wind to guarantee it would be behind us all the way out and then helpfully reverse and be pushing us from behind all the way back too or we’d get a full refund.  It is true there was wind all around us, but not noticeably helping progress, more like whipping us up into a swirling vortex of arctic blasts.  Oh well, at least it made parkrun a micro adventure all over again, so that’s good, and the seals felt quite at home in the freezing conditions.  Smiletastic challenge people, if you don’t know, best not to ask, just enjoy speculating as to why else was this synchronised seal basking necessary post parkrun.  Has to be a Smiley Paces winter running challenge really doesn’t it?  Even if this photo isn’t really capturing the running part of the challenge, it’s getting the collective team effort bit… for better or worse!  Their likeness to actual basking seals is uncanny!  The Smiley Paces people are in the picture on the left… oh, or is it the one on the right?  One or the other though, just for clarity…

Oh hang on, you might want to know about the course.  So the Bakewell parkrun course blah de blah, describes the course as follows:

Out and back course on the Monsal Trail. Start and finish are in the same place by Hassop Station

Which is basically all you can really say about it!

It looks like this:

You really aren’t going to get lost on this course unless you set off facing the wrong way.  I just couldn’t comment as to whether or not that’s ever happened. I  have myself started a parkrun facing the wrong way before now, so it’s not inconceivable, though it may not be on record, those people could still be running now for all I know.   …. Assuming you do head off in the right direction, then cheery marshals spin you round at the turn around the point 2.5 km up the repurposed railway path.  So that’s good.  Fret not.  This parkrun has it all. Coffee and loos pre-start, easily navigable flat course, and parking.  Some free if you get there early.  What else do you need to know?  Friendly marshals and parkrun love in abundance are givens, surely?

Where was I.  Oh yes, power walk, meeting and greeting of various people as they assembled for their fiftieth runs,

not a day over 49

two hundredth run and every possible variant forward and aft of those.  At first I thought this parkrun was going to be thinly attended, but of course people were lurking in warm corners or in their cars and emerged on a just in time basis, like the most finely tuned and responsive of logistic firms, to hear the pre-run briefing

and sprint off at ‘go’!

DB start line

OK. So that picture was obviously before they set off.  Plenty of bare legs though, no wonder they are jostling to be in the front, want this pesky parkrun in the cold over and done with as soon as possible so they can get back in the warm I’m sure.  The next photos do show some parkrunners, properly underway, charging through one of the fab tunnels that adorn the Monsal trail.  I love tunnel running, but been through that already (see what I did there?  Gawd I’m hilarious sometimes, love a good pun, and so what if I laugh at my own jokes, at least someone is thereby entertained).

I started in the middle of the pack as I think it is only sporting to give other runners a target to overtake, and most did take the bait to be fair.  Oh well, lucky I don’t do parkrun to get a pb.  It isn’t the widest of paths, so it was a little crowded at the get go, but it’s all very good-natured, and you soon spread out.  It was social, I liked eavesdropping on odds and ends of conversations, and this was my favourite pooch for today, in case you are interested.

DP cute dog

it headed out at a fair old lick, despite only having erm, well let’s be honest, short legs.  Whizzed by me with abandon. Then, seconds later, stopped a la Paula Radcliffe for an emergency poo, unlike Paula, this pooch had an attendant on hand to poo pick, so that was good, and then it trotted on again, by the time it got to the turn around point it seemed to be slightly regretting the early turn of speed, and had a strategic walk for a bit before picking up the pace again.  I empathised more than I probably should, I mean, I have short legs, and have also been known to regret heading off too fast … though I didn’t need a poo stop, my toileting habits having been impeccably timed for parkrun purposes, thank you for your interest!

I’m a slow runner I know, but one advantage of doing an out and back route, is you get to enjoy the spectacle of speedy runners charging home and to high-five and cheer your mates as they pass you by in the opposite direction, so I try to see this as a good thing rather than a mind game. Depends on your mood obviously.  Today, Bakewell parkrun had a photographer to capture people on the way back, right near the finish, so here are some of those who I got to exchange greetings with as they hurried homewards.

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So the vegan runners celebrating their fiftieths (and not looking a day over 49 as they did so) were amongst those charging round with abandon. Looks like they might have fallen for that old gag about ‘it’s a two lap course’ though, as one at least of them passed me again as I was coming in and they were heading out again.  That guy on the left with his hand over his mouth – see him?  He’s definitely in on the joke, think he’s trying to suppress a chortle there for sure!

DP fell for the its two laps gag

She still finished her 10km in the time it took me to do 5km apparently. Oh well, I don’t mind, those vegans had splendid cake.  So splendid, that I had to fight hard the urge just to face plant into once it came within my reach.  And you should have seen their bat-themed napkins. Epic!  If only I’d had my camera with me I’d have taken a photo…

Anyway, I trotted along, I was so far back it was quite spread out, and running along the trail was quite meditative.  Although it was cold in the wind, the rain stopped, and shhh, don’t tell, but I actually got too hot running, I think it helps that my jacket is pretty wind proof.  I got a bit put off the Monsal Trail because I ran it endlessly for marathon training last year (no need to splutter out your tea, I didn’t say I ran it fast, only that I did it, not impossibly apparently, unlikely yes, but not actually impossible for me to do the London marathon it seems) .  It was quite nice to be back on it today, the surface is so level you can run very rhythmically, and it’s been a while since I’ve had such an even and consistent run.  Maybe I need to start bringing it back into my training, just to get the continuous running in without bailing every time there is any elevation – which is basically all the time in Sheffield.  Even so, quite nice to see the finish, and supportive friends to cheer me in.

DP end in sight

Job done, barcode scanned, thanks said.  Celebratory parkrun milestone biscuit eaten. I actually ate mine before photographing it, but here is someone else’s biscuit, who showed more restraint and had the foresight to capture a snap of it first!  And a tray made earlier. Nice!

Impressive aren’t they?

Next stop, fleece retrieval from car, and cafe.  There I got a parkrun breakfast for a fiver. This is pretty good value, a granary or white bap with sausage/ veggie sausage and optional egg plus a filter coffee or tea.  In the circumstances we can perhaps overlook that their sign proclaims Park Run breakfast offer … who is going to pluck up the courage to tell them #aowalc – All one word, all lower case?  You go right ahead, I’ll be just behind you, holding your bap.  You’re welcome.

I was a bit torn because there were just too many people to socialise with.  I played my hand strategically, joining the bicentenary celebrants first as I munched down my veggie sausage bap, and then adjourning in time for the vegan half century shenanigans.  They were so buoyed up by success they were contemplating undertaking a duathlon next, but I don’t honestly think they’ve properly understood the rules. I mean having a pacer is one thing, but I’m not sure a rickshaw would make it under the radar.  I didn’t say anything, didn’t want to take away from their celebrations:

duathlon next

Obviously I did a bit of nonchalant circling around the offerings feigning indifference to begin with until I saw my chance…

great vegan bake off

Well, I didn’t want to seem over keen, and it was only fair to let the vegang have fist dibs!  Didn’t take long for me to make my move though.  I undertook some fairly lightweight expert photography duties to capture the speedy seals as above, which you have to concede I did with considerable excellence, so maybe that was some sort of exchange.  Hospitable lot the vegan runners though… I think their generosity was unconditional.  It is true though, on reflection, it does rather look as if that small child is just carrying out a citizen’s arrest on all those seals and putting them in handcuffs.  Not sure what the implications of that are exactly… best move on.

Plus, I think they had seriously over catered!  It was basically like their very own vegan bake off.  Seriously sweet delights on offer.  Yum!  Thank you bakers, very impressive, very impressive indeed.  I had the Victoria sponge.  No, not all of it, but a hefty chunk.  An excellent choice.

So all in all, a very fine, and celebratory parkrun morning.  The fifty celebrants were rightly chuffed by their milestone, and as I said to them, assuming bicentennial woman now ceases parkrunning henceforth, in a little over three years, as long as they don’t miss a week, they’ll have caught up with her too!  Very impressive. Well done all.

It was hard to tear myself away from the bonhomie and squishy chairs, but inevitably that time came when we needed to all go our separate ways.  Quick shout out for the cafe’s outside area though, it has an undercover space with sofas and play houses and all sorts, just right for bringing your own cake and pop up party!

DP squishy chairs

Special thanks to the Bakewell parkrun hi-vis heroes who made it so.  You are awesome.  It was a blast at Bakewell, the arctic blast bit wasn’t the best but the fun blast was epic.  Thank you!

Time to go home, but it was a very jolly parkrun morning, and a bonus that we’d landed on one that went ahead.  The gusts died down, the sun came out, and I was rewarded with clear and spectacular views, and no scary being blown off the road fright moments on the drive home.  I do like happy endings.

Hope you made your parkrun too.  🙂

Happy parkrunning wherever you go, just #dfyb

dfyb

For all my parkrun related posts click here.  Or don’t.  It’s up to you.  You’ll need to scroll down for older entries though.  Bit of a time vampire, if you do, you might be stuck on the sofa for a while, ‘just researching options’.  Hmm.

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

Tinsel Ten! Totally Trust the Longshaw 10k to deliver delight and winterval wonderfulness! Trust10 December 2018

Digested read: finally made it to Longshaw for the Trust 10 this Sunday.  First and last this year.  Fabulous. What was I thinking in leaving it so long?

longshaw trust 10

Undigested read:

I really hate to concede this point, I really do, but you know what, time really does go faster as you get older.  A whole year has elapsed since I last made it to Longshaw for the monthly Trust 10, and I blooming love it there.  However, during most of 2018 I’ve meant to go, but been sucked into other things, be that a local lope at some running event or other, or volunteering at Graves Junior parkrun, which admittedly is pretty darned amazing attending there will always lead inevitably to intoxication with joy, hence it is so seductive an offering.  Even so, shame to miss out on Longshaw Trust 10. and the unintended and undesirable consequence of all this, was that I was in dire danger of letting 2018 pass Longshaw Trust 10 free.  Heaven portend!  I could not allow it to be so.  Therefore, I finally dragged my weary carcass down to Longshaw to join the festive Tinsel 10k on a morning of winterval wonderfulness. Yay, go me!  I could have been part of this:

could have been at Graves junior

Which granted, is quite fabulous, but instead opted to be part of this:

longshaw

I know, close call.

What was I thinking though in leaving it so long.  There were actual reindeer en route to the start!  Graves has llama it’s true, but reindeer!  Really and truly, you can’t get more festive than that!  Strictly speaking we’d celebrated the whole reindeer slash actual Christmas trees and  fairy houses earlier in the week, but it was still Longshaw and still there. The original plan was to do the Trust 10 and then buy a Christmas Tree afterwards.  Then it dawned on me that with me and three guests in the fiesta heading for the 10k that might not be an entirely practical idea.  Hence tree purchasing went on earlier. That was a fun day out too!  Below is a mini pictorial smorgasbord for your merriment and edification in case you don’t know what you missed out on in the immediate environs of the Trust 10 route.  Oh, and the Reindeer we couldn’t find wasn’t called Graham, and the missing letter to our O I N B + 1 quiz was not G therefore.  The last reindeer was Rudolf.  ‘What a missed opportunity is that?’ we lamented, ‘if only it had been Graham then the quiz could have made the word Bingo!  That would have been fabulous‘.  Yes we did work out the anagram was for Robin eventually, but it took a while.  Laugh if you must.  I like to think I bring Christmas cheer.

 

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So essentially, both Graves Junior parkrun and the Longshaw Trust 10k actively encouraged fancy dress and festive cheer.  In an ideal world I’d be able to teleport and time travel between the two.  Sadly, although time does travel faster as I age, I don’t.  I am no fleeter of foot than a year ago, nor have I evolved the ability to travel through time despite warming increasingly to the new incarnation of Dr Who, and taking delight in therefore the TARDIS’s improved proximity to Sheffield.  Personally, I would have hoped that as much of the series was filmed hereabouts, local residents would have absorbed the ability to time hop by osmosis, but it’s not worked for me.   Maybe I should have opted to move into the Park Hill flats after all.  I presume the guy in the blue hi-vis is an Run Director from whatever the nearest parkrun is just carrying out a risk assessment in advance of the next event.  I don’t think any Sheffield runs were cancelled due to alien invasion, which is yet another testament to the dedication of parkrun teams in ensuring that events go ahead in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

 

Re my idea that by rights I should now be able to travel in time and space because of proximity to the TARDIS I suppose I do have to acknowledge begrudgingly that this isn’t the only instance of things not working out quite as I’d hoped for.  I still clutch on to the belief in my heart of hearts, that reading about running and entering events months in advance should by default improve my fitness without me leaving my sofa.  That’s not happened yet either.  Life can be full of disappointments…

Oh well,  this day was not disappointing.  Not in any way.  It was quite marvellous in fact.  This is why!

First off, there was the frisson of excited anticipation in the build up.  Then there was the joy of chugging off with a car full of companions who would all be experiencing the Longshaw Love for the first time. Three friends joining me for winterval fun and frolics. It was an easy drive, and by the time we arrived at the car park it was already filling up. Parked up we headed to the cafe to register.

It’s been so long since I’ve been it was amazing to see just how huge the event has become.  Tables were set out for people to sign up, and a long queue was forming.  I already had my coveted 999 number, but still had to fill in an emergency contact form, my two American friends had to register anew and pick up run numbers, and our support crew, in charge of PR, bag supervision and Elf watch rose the multitude of responsibilities of her role  with considerable aplomb.

The excitement built.  It was so much fun to see friends old and new arrive.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen some, others are parkrun regulars, but bringing particular joy was the sight of a few first timers.  Hurrah!  I’m with them, on the very day of their inaugural Longshaw 10 runs, what could be better.  To be fair, not all first timers were completely persuaded of the joys of participation on conclusion of the event, but for now it was all eager anticipation, and excitement and being about to run out in a great gang of gregarious gamboling across the Longshaw trails.  Hurrah!  Time for a few group shots:

 

Oh my we are collectively and individually fabulous are we not?  Some of us look happier to be present on such a day than others.

The route?  You want to know the route?  Erm, it’s basically two laps, my Strava says it’s 6.5 miles and 665 ft of elevation.  The route is clearly marked, starting near to the cafe and finishing just at the back of it. You can bail at 5k if you want, or decide in advance to just run one lap and call it a day, but then you won’t get a time, though you will get a lot of fun and get to the cafe ahead of the queues.  You’ll win either way.

Longshaw 10k route

Result.  It’s on a mixture of compact paths, muddy tree roots, marshy hillsides and tarmac paths.  Personally, I wouldn’t run it in road shoes, and usually go for trail.  Today, because it had been raining I went for my V-rock super hard-core fell shoes which don’t offer much support, but are super grippy and make me feel really confident on rough terrain.  My American friends took it on in walking boots – impressive.  I’m sure many do run it in road shoes, but they are maybe either better at staying upright than me, or oblivious to the risk they are taking.  The more technical sections aren’t that long, but enough to have me skidding and sliding around were it not for my choice of footwear.   It is most satisfying – and unusual for me too – to be able to skip past other runners who are clinging to trees to stay upright whilst you dance from tree root to tree root or rock to rock gazelle like. Well, maybe not like an actual gazelle from to the casual outside observer of untrained eye, but in my head, definitely I’m sprite-like and gazelle like as I hop along fearlessly.  No need to tell me otherwise.  Not everyone seeks to know the truth of their situation.  Some of us choose not to know.  (‘I see no ships‘ anyone?  Precisely, this demonstrates such a philosophy is enshrined in history.  Well, granted he never actually said it I suppose, but sort of near enough surely… ‘I have a right to be blind sometimes..’ blah de blah.)

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Sooooooooooooo many people, definitely a record turn out.  People queuing round the cafe to register.  That’s good though, captive audience for me to go and talk at.

Eventually, a little later than usual, we all gathered on the tarmac path in front of the cafe for the run briefing.  It was going to be a crowded one so not really a pb course, never is for me anywhere these days to be fair, but with narrow gates in parts even more risk of bottle necks, or catch up and chat points as I prefer to call them.

Longshaw 10 start line up

Off we went, in a stream of colour.  My lovely EWFM** and personal support crew was in situ to capture the moment of us passing. Hurrah!  I am alarmed at how increasingly rotund I look in pictures these days, I either need to learn to photoshop or else I’ll have to actually do something more proactive about it in the new year.  At the very least I’m going to ‘just say no!’ to wearing a santa had and tutu for a bit.  Red does me no favours.  Still, captures the sense of occasion.

 

My loyal EWFM** support crew would undoubtedly have happily stayed out there waiting loyally for the duration, but she had guardianship of the elf, who very much insisted on going back into the cafe to keep warm and drink coffee.  What choice did she have but to join him.  She looked gutted though, at being compelled to leave her post.

 

Whilst EWFM was martyring herself in the cafe in the shadow of the Longshaw Cafe Christmas Tree, Longshaw estate was giving we Trust Tenners the run around.

Longshaw cafe christmas tree

Longshaw is lovely.  Absolutely delightful in fact.  Even though it was a bit misty to start, you still get brilliant views, there were some bottle necks on the way round, particularly near the kissing gate, which you can only pass through one at a time, but that didn’t matter.  Just en route photo ops really, thank you Smiley Selfie Queen, you never disappoint:

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It was great to be out and enjoying the company and the scenery and after far too long to have that lovely muddy ground beneath my feet.  I love this route because it takes you over a variety of terrain and reminds me how lucky we are to have this place practically on our doorstep. One day, I’d like to be fit enough to run out and do this event and run back.  That day was not today, but I can dream can’t I?

It’s so long since I’d done the route, it had changed a little.  Not the course, but there were some ‘improvements’ with the addition of a little stone bridge so you no longer have to jump over a stream going up hill, and some paths I thought had been made slightly more level with added grit, probably to protect the ground from erosion along the path rather than runners from falling!  There was a fair amount of standing water, and the tree root section was muddy as always, but amazingly, the route was actually pretty good, firm under foot, and not as off-roady as I recalled – though I was still glad of my footwear choice if only to give those shoes a run outing, it’s been far too long.

 

The first lap felt hard.  Those hills!  I’ve got horribly unfit.  I wouldn’t mind quite so much but I got lapped by the front runner wearing a turkey on his head (a turkey hat, not an actual turkey as far as I could tell) at just the moment I’d given up and was walking up hill not even trying to run, and he breezed past, seemingly still chatting to his running buddy and barely breaking a sweat.  Oh well, maybe the secret was in his choice of running gear.  Perhaps I need to source a turkey to put on my head whilst running and it will pay dividends with both my speed and endurance?  Well, it’s a thought.

At some point, Smiley Selfie Queen and I found ourselves running alongside one another – well, what better cause for a photo op than that?

 

The marshals were all unfailingly friendly and encouraging, though I’ve come to treat calls like ‘nearly there’ and ‘all downhill from here’ with caution, especially on lap one.  They are great though, and many regulars, even though I’ve not been for a whole year, I still recognised familiar faces in familiar spots, it’s like coming home!

First lap done, as I headed out on lap two, my EWFM had ditched the elf and was back in situ to shout motivational phrases and cheer me round for the second coming:

Longshaw 10 coming round

The second lap things spaced out, and weirdly, I found it a lot easier, the route is now familiar, I got into a rhythm and was less influenced by what other runners were doing around me.  Instead I could soak up the views and live in the moment. There were even moments when it seemed as if the sun might yet peep out through the clouds and all was right with the world.

After what seemed like days all too soon, I was on the final downhill sprint finish.  It’s really fun as the timers come into view, plus one advantage I have in being slower, is that other runners who have finished ahead of me were there on  hand to cheer me in.  I felt quite the celebrity!

 

I was so excited at having finished, I managed to stop ahead of the timers, and had to be reminded to go on a bit to cross the line.  Oh well, don’t suppose it made much difference.  It was great to be reunited with my buddies after such an adventure. We shared stories and I got given some chocolate on a stick for no particular reason other than maybe being one of the final finishers. Still, you never question a gift of unsolicited chocolate, not in my world anyway.  Anyway, no time for discussion, we had the important task of posing for photos of us by the Trust 10 flag in all possible character combinations thus:

 

Then, having established I wasn’t actually the last one in, we opted to stay to cheer in the final finishers which was a great deal of fun.

 

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It was even more fun when they came into view and we realised that the trio coming in included a first timer who had been quite particular to state she only intended to run the one lap but had been dragged round persuaded it was well worth doing the whole caboodle.  Bravo!  Much excitement and congratulations to all followed.  So many post run feel good endorphins you had to be there to appreciate what it was like to swim amongst them.  No really, we were actually swimming in them, that’s why we all look decidedly wet! Also, you will note, at least one of them had gone the memo about it being the Tinsel 10, and was suitably adorned as a consequence.  Pleasing indeed.

 

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As if we hadn’t already peaked for fun, there was still the lure of the warm cafe to embrace us, and hot drinks all round.  Hurrah!

More catching up of running tales and festive introductions as a number of us had brought along extras, friends or family or previously uninitiated into the Trust10 running friends.  It was all very jolly thank you for asking!  I learned there were at least 100 first timers at the event (they know, because if it is your first time you have to put a star on the side at the top of your registration form, if it is Christmas, I advise you put a Christmas Tree under the star, just because really.)  It was also an all time record turn out, with some 265 doing the whole 10k and you can add a few to that as many would have finished after the first five.

 

In terms of results, there isn’t a formal published list – this is a run not a race as such, and intended to be inclusive.  There are pretty competitive runners out there, but it is very much a fun event.  The list gives numbers not names and appeared on the Longshaw Estate Facebook page, together with a plea to remember to reuse numbers and bring your own pins if coming back in 2019. Which is fair enough. This event is free remember.  How amazing is that!

Well done to all the Tinsel 10 runners today, and thanks for your support throughout the year! Paying for parking, buying a coffee or donating to the Peak District Appeal all helps to look after Longshaw for people and wildlife. We are asking runners to make a special effort to bring back your run numbers and pins in 2019, which will help us to reduce waste. It should also help you to find your timings more easily.
Thanks as well to all the volunteers; back markers, timing team, marshals, route-markers and a special thanks to the planning team and to Lorna, our volunteer coordinator. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from us all!

So there you go. Sated with coffee and in my case a cheese scone, though there was also the option to taste a mincemeat infused chocolate brownie thing which was, erm ‘novel’, and that was that. Tinsel Ten Totally Terminated.  Hurrah!

See you the other side in the meantime:

Happy Christmas/ Bah Humbug/ yuletide felicitations/ Wondrous Winterval/ Season’s Greetings/ Wake me in 2019/ Enough now go away*

For all my Trust 10k posts, click here.  Or don’t, it’s not compulsory.  You’ll have to scroll down for older entries.

*Please delete as applicable

** Erstwhile Flat Mate.  Obvs.

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

Oh, I do like to be beside the seal side! Go have a look at Donna Nook and seal for yourself!

Digested read: went to the seal side and saw loads of seals.  Excellent!  Donna Nook certainly gets my seal of approval.  Can you seal what I’ve done there?  I know, genius!

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Unabridged version:

Do you ever let yourself get stuck into a bit of a rut?  No?  Just me then.  Well, good for you. Speaking personally, sometimes I realise I’ve got into the habit of doing the same things, the same way and forgotten somehow to embrace new experiences and new adventures.  When I have worked overseas, I’ve always made a conscious effort to try new things and take opportunities when they present themselves because that chance may never come my way again.  However, if I’m honest, latterly I’ve taken for granted some remarkable and exciting things that are practically on my doorstep. Because I could in theory go any time, I go no time, and years pass by and I’ve still not been to Heeley City Farm yet for example, or Kelham Island Museum and I’ve been living in Sheffield for umpteen years now.  That’s pretty poor.  Note to self, must be more proactive from hereon in.  Well, revitalised and reinvigorated by my recent sojourn to Berlin parkrun (which I haven’t blogged about yet but will, so try to contain yourself til then) I have a new resolve to say ‘yes’ to as many new experiences as I can.  That way new adventures lie, and oh my, talking of lying, here was certainly some massive lying around going on.  And it was brilliant. Let me explain.

Oh, and technically, this might not be a running blog post as such, more a potential run recce post, the conclusion of which is, you can’t really run there, so what are you going to do about that then?  Shoot me?  Hah!  I reckon you won’t go through with that, you’ll just roll your eyes and skip this post, and such is your prerogative. Mind you, shame if you did, you’ll miss the cute baby seals photos that come later on, but your choice, do as you will.  Plus, maybe you too should try something new now and again, like reading a non-running blog post, just because you can.  Or not, it’s up to you, obvs.  Glad we have cleared that up.

It all began with my recce buddy messaging me to say, ‘thinking about going out to Donna Nook to see the seals wondered if you wanted to come along’.  Naturally, my immediate reaction to this was incomprehension.  Where on earth can you get to see seals in reasonable travelling distance from Sheffield?  Also, isn’t Lorna Doone in Exmoor or somewhere anyway?

Google was helpful, I learned that Donna Nook is apparently well-known for its population of grey seals visiting in the winter months, as well as it’s array of bird life.  Not that well know I’d venture, I’ve never heard of it, but hey ho.  Sounded promising.  A quick search for directions would alert me to how far away it was, let me see – 27 hours if walking.  Hmm, well, my recce buddy hadn’t specified a mode of transport, but I was going to put my neck on the line and say that didn’t think an ultra walk there and back would be compatible with her work rota, so hopefully we’d be cheating and taking advantage of an internal combustion engine to facilitate our arrival.  OK, count me in!  I shall indeed take up this random opportunity that has presented itself.  It will be an adventure.  Fun will be had.  I’ll see the sea!

A brief exchange of planning emails, ‘don’t forget your binoculars‘.  I always get really excited seeing wildlife, particularly in its natural habitat, but freely acknowledge sometimes I have endured lengthy vigils with little return by way of any practical evidence of creatures in their habitat.  Squinting into distant trees wondering if that shadowy form is indeed a rare, roosting bird or just a plastic bag caught up in a tree.  I’ve been there.  Binoculars are a boon on such occasions, mustn’t forget them.

My recce guide and buddy was also transport manager (again), so I abdicated from all or any responsibility for getting there, beyond being ready (ish) at the appointed hour.  So it was at 10.35 a.m. I was scooped up from outside my house, and off we went towards Grimsby.  It took a couple of hours, and honestly, it isn’t the most interesting of drives, but fortunately, we know how to make our own entertainment and managed to talk for the entire drive, walk and drive home, and still have topics we forgot to cover.  It’s quite a skill.  Anyway, time went quickly.

We got a bit confused in the latter stages.  The landscape is flat and featureless, I might complain about the hills of Sheffield in terms of having to haul myself up them but personally I find the low-lying exposed coastal plains of North Lincolnshire, to be  borderline depressing.  I don’t know how people do their running training in such landscapes, I suppose you learn to appreciate other qualities, like the moody changing skies, or the magical network of dykes.   I also was struck by how little ground cover there was everywhere, not only does this mean the wind whipping across the land must be relentless at certain times of year, but there is no bit of modesty covering vegetation behind which a caught-short runner may hope to hide to relieve themselves.  The only option would be to launch yourself into one of the dykes, but they are deep trenches from which you more than likely would never be able to extract yourself unaided.  We didn’t see many people around at all.  My recce buddy said it was because they were all most probably at work what with it being a week day and all, but I reckon anyone who ventured out in the dark, or carelessly would end up toppling into and then trapped for all eternity in those deep, flat walled dykes, scratching at the sides, unable to escape.  Thousands of them, that’s probably what makes the land round there so fertile now I come to think about it.  And they wouldn’t mention it on their tourist guides now would they, so of course there’s no evidence one way or the other, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Anyway, after getting a bit lost, we resorted to using satnav and eventually found some signs to Lorna Doone, Donna Summer, Donna Nook and it was indeed incredibly easy to find.  Excitingly, after a bit you start to see signs which say ‘to the seals!’, encouraging you to follow a particular one way route in, which is exactly what we did.

The blah de blah, for those of you too weak or lacking inclination to click on the Donna Nook, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust link for further information is:

Donna Nook National Nature Reserve
Donna Nook covers more than 10km (6.25 miles) of coastline between Grainthorpe Haven in the north and Saltfleet in the south where it borders the Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe National Nature Reserve. Every November and December, grey seals come to the Donna Nook coastline to give birth to their pups near the sand dunes; a wildlife spectacle which attracts visitors from across the UK.

Visitors should be aware that the Ministry of Defence still maintains part of the area as a bombing target range and under no circumstances should anyone enter the bombing area when red flags are flying. However, most of the dune area is accessible at all times.

But there’s loads more information on the website so you should check it out really.

Anyway, we followed the corridor of yellow cones, and ended up in a small free car park, it was pretty full, but we managed to find a space.  There is a larger, paying car park ‘with portaloos’ which we over-shot, but is also an option.  We wrapped up warm and made our way to an information booth to check out our options.

Neither of us had any idea at all about what to expect. All part of the excitement of discovery.  However, I will admit my stomach flipped a bit when I saw there was a 6 mile stretch of seaside making up the reserve.  I was up for a walk, but hadn’t quite factored in a 6 mile out and 6 mile back.  It was quite nippy out, and it had taken a good two hours to get there.  Oh well, let’s check it out.

We turned the corner to start the walk along to the seal viewing area and within a micro-second saw this:

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Job done!  Seal spotted.  We could legitimately have turned around and gone home at that point as it was mission accomplished!

Honestly, it was hilarious, there were seals everywhere, no binoculars required.  The reserve is now long-established, and the seals who arrive from late October through to December to breed are apparently completely habituated to the humans traipsing along a fairly unsubstantial fence line that keeps people and the grey seals apart.  It is a photographer’s dream.  They are just there.  Littering the coast line like so many dumped body bags inanimate in the mud flats.

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They are absolutely gorgeous, but not the most animate of animals.  They really don’t look like they should survive out of water.  They basically loll about, the new-born pups feeding and laying down fat as their mothers sacrifice their blubber stores. The males (recognisable for being larger and uglier according to the signs) hang around ready to mate with the females as soon as they are receptive again after calving.  So you stare at these gorgeous torpedo shaped animals just lying there.  It’s weird though, because some of the young pups have made their way right up to the fence line.

There are in touching distance, although obviously you absolutely must not do that.  Mothers will abandon their young if they pick up strange smells, and you might get bitten, which would serve you right quite frankly if you did succumb to the temptation of poking a finger through.  On that subject, I spent a month working at an animal sanctuary in Zimbabwe where there was a hyena called Crunch, who twice bit off the fingers of visitors who contrary to stated advice, had poked them through the chicken wire of the not very well constructed enclosure.  I have zero sympathy for them as both were adults, and well, the hyena was called Crunch for goodness sake, what did they think might happen?  Health and safety hadn’t made it to Chipangali.  A volunteer got killed by a lion the year before, but that was different, and very sad.  The lion was shot, it wasn’t its fault. The hyena lives on as far as I know, probably keeping its eyes peeled for finger food when the opportunity presents itself.

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Anyway, same here, don’t encroach on the local wildlife’s territory – there’s a sign to warn you too:

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People are idiots tough.  At one point along the line someone had lobbed in some turnips and a cabbage which was rather random.  Who a) thinks that’s part of the diet of a seal, especially one that isn’t eating anything at all for several weeks on account of it being the calving season and b) who brings a couple of turnips and a cabbage with them along on an outing to the seaside on the off-chance they might come in handy for something?

Well, we had a partial answer, it was not necessarily people thinking that all that weight loss was part of a genuine aspiration to be ‘slimmer of the year’ and that adoption of the cabbage soup diet might help (explanation of this comes later), but it might be attributable to the fact that a local farmer has set up a turnip and cabbage stall in the larger car park with the portaloo facilities.  This shows entrepreneurial endeavour and optimism.  To be honest, I wouldn’t necessarily have thought to combine turnip shopping and seal viewing, but then again, I didn’t know it was an option, now you do, you can learn from me and bring along your re-useable turnip bag and cash for any such transaction. No, don’t try to thank me, you are welcome, I’m just happy to help.

Seriously though, just leave them be.  And keep your turnips and cabbages to yourself.

Still, you walk along the fence line, periodically pausing to gaze:

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and really, the only problem is identifying which of these slumbering seals is the most gorgeous.  You think you have seen the most wide-eyed beauteous pup imaginable, and then a few feet on is another even more appealing or beautifully patterned grey seal.  Each one has unique patterning it seems, oh, and the noises they make.  Oh my gawd, they sound human, they really do.  Slightly whiney human ‘muuuuuuuuuuuuuuum, muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum’ pleading it’s true, but astonishing.

To illustrate my point, here is more cuteness overload:

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Basically, you’ll either get it or you wont.  To the untrained eye they may look like inanimate, lumpen masses.  But to those who have but eyes to see they are captivating.  A celebration of supine gloriousness.  However, there is more to it than that.  If you stand and watch for a while, you start to appreciate there are subtle interactions going on all around.  Whilst the older pups might be left alone for a couple of hours to, well just, lard up basically – the younger ones need only emit the tiniest of squeaks and its grey seal mum snaps her head up alert and responsive to check all is well.

You can tell the newborns, partly by their proximity to bloody afterbirth, always a clue, and partly because of their yellow fur, stained from amniotic fluid, and partly because they have empty creases of skin where they have yet to fill out.  Like the aftermath of extreme weight loss, only for grey seals, you need these flaps of empty skin so they can be filled, the fat is needed, to help them on their way.  Seeing such loveliness gives a whole new perspective on fat.  Here it is glorious.  The plumper the better, a silken layer indeed.  Probably more than one to be fair….  No wonder the Victorians associated plumpness with health, attractiveness, and a happy outlook.

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It was a pretty educational walk.  There were information signs along the way.  Quite helpful ones aimed at adults (presumably) with detail about the behaviour and life-cycle of the seals.

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I was less comfortable with the child-friendly signs.  I mean, I get what they were trying to do, but really, did they need to draw pictures of the seals wearing clothes?  It was a shame as generally the guardianship of the colony was excellent, enthusiastic volunteers were on hand to answer questions as well as keep the colony safe, but I hate that sort of anthropomorphism.  There was one sign proclaiming a mother seal as ‘slimmer of the year’ a reference to how much weight they lose during these weeks of birthing and suckling when they don’t eat anything.  I was so annoyed I didn’t take a picture, and now I’m annoyed with myself because I didn’t because they I’d be able to illustrate to you what was annoying me.  How annoying.  Here are some others though. No, the pups don’t wear nappies:

Then again, I did quite like some of the quiz questions along the way, so I suppose that makes me either a hypocrite, or a complex being of hidden contradictions, I’m going with the latter.

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I know!  Funny.  Genuinely made me laugh!  Then again, I am easily amused, as well as easily annoyed.

I learned loads though.  For example, did you know there are occasionally jet black seal pups?  No?  Me neither, but we saw some, and I asked a volunteer about them and they are a thing, fairly rare, but a few each year.  They were also particularly gorgeous, albeit like black cats, quite hard to photograph well.

We saw all the stages of life, some quite graphically. The new-born who had somehow hauled itself away from the bloody pool in which it emerged: