Digested read: has to be done. Percy Pud 2017, nearly bottled it, then found out about the commemorative 25th anniversary T-shirt so as I’m shallow that was me back in. Was quietly dreading the freezing start and drudgery of an icy road, but you know what, it was fab.u.lous. Of course it was, it always is. With it, the countdown for a Sheffield Christmas was properly underway, ready or not, it’s started. You might as well try to hold back the tide, way better to just go with the flow. Bravo all. Same time next year?
Whether we choose to embrace them or not, the Winterval weeks are all about traditions. Whether that is the relatively innocuous tradition of being required to don a festive Christmas jumper at work ‘because it’s for charity and you don’t want to be wearing the Scrooge placard for the rest of the year now do you?’; the more serious one of ending up in A&E on Christmas morning because you dropped a giant musical toblerone on your foot (substitute alternative injury of choice here); the massive family row/meltdown in a crowded, slush-filled supermarket car park because you’ve been clamped/ locked out of the car/ couldn’t buy sprouts because you came too late; the olfactory torture of being stuck in a store whilst a ‘christmas hits’ musak tape is on an 8 minute loop and the queue to the till is looking like a 32 minute one at least, or the seasonal tyranny of receiving an unexpected Christmas card from someone you’d completely overlooked/ thought you’d agreed not to do cards with this year when you’ve missed the last posting dates to shoot back a retaliatory missive in timely fashion. Curses, the stress of it all. The very thought of it is enough to make you implode. Still, has to be done. As sure as night follows day, some or all of the above will feature in your yuletide goings on.
Mind you, the primary school in Plymouth promoting a charity christmas jumper day in their newsletter did indeed put a smile on my face. Couldn’t make it up could you? The tensions and complexities of the minefield that is Christmas made manifest. Enjoy
Into this category of bowing to the inevitable, is the annual Percy Pud. For those of you who are predominantly moon-based dwellers, or live outside the boundaries of Sheffield, this is an annual 10k road race, organised by a local running club the Steel City Striders, for which participants are rewarded for their efforts not with a medal on completion, but with a vegetarian friendly (gluten-free option also available) christmas pudding. There are festive trimmings a-plenty with santa leading the runners out and lots of fancy dress and general count down to Christmas cheeriness. For seasoned runners, and once-a-year runners alike, the Percy Pud has become something of a Sheffield institution.
The Steel City Striders website page blah de blah blurb describes the Percy Pud thus:
We organise South Yorkshire’s most popular 10km each year which takes place on the first Sunday in December.
The event has grown in popularity from the first race in 1993 when 600 finished the race to recent years when the entry has had to be limited to around 2,200.
Such is the demand for numbers that in each of the last 10 years the race has sold out ahead of time.
The 2013 race was no exception, as the race limit was reached within two weeks of the entries opening, in 2014 this was 36 hours and in 2015 it took just 2 hours to sell 2,200 entries.
Why is it so popular? Traditionally each finisher in the race receives a Christmas pudding for their efforts. Food and seasonal music are provided after the race. Of course, the route is not bad either.
For many, the Percy Pud signals the start of Christmas.
There is indeed a massive scrum for places when they come available each year and it sells out incredibly quickly – though ironically there are always last-minute places available as injuries and illness take their toll nearer the time.
For my part – and I’m aware this is going to sound almost sacrilegious – I maintain an element of ambivalence about the Percy Pud. It is indeed a fine Sheffield institution, it does mark the start of Christmas, everyone who is anyone is there, it’s one massive reunion of not just running buddies but friends and acquaintances across the city. It’s tough to fess up to having a few reservations about taking part. The problem is, I’d twice run the Percy Pud previously, and frankly both times have been type 2 fun at it’s most extreme. Hideous and freezing at the time, but all that frost-bitten hardship and the humiliation of being overtaken by the bottle man quickly forgotten the moment a pudding is pressed into your hand. I’m sure last time I did it in 2015 I vowed never again…. Then I couldn’t do it last year because I was working away in Cambodia and so you watch it all unfold from afar on Facebook and slip into a sort of treacherous nostalgia for it all. I wasnt going to give in, too cold, too wet, too much horizontal hail and too much roadiness, nope, not for me not this year. Definitely not, I’m out, let others more committed than I take part. I don’t even particularly like Christmas pudding. Then came The Announcement and all change…
Sunday 3rd December 2017, 9:30am start.
Also, with it being the 25th running of the race, every finisher will receive a commemorative anniversary T-Shirt as well as a traditional Christmas Pudding.
Hang on a minute. Let me just allow that news to sink in for a bit. So you are saying there’ll be a T-shirt as well as a traditional Christmas PUdding? This is a game changer, only once in a quarter of a century will there be this option. Bring it on. I’m fickle, I’ll hold my hand up to being shallow, I’m so in now. I’ll run for a T-shirt, even though it will probably be deeply unflattering, a male cut and not really fit properly anyway. These are but minor consideration compared to the kudos of a trophy like that. Frankly, I’ve run for a lot less.
So, once entries opened on-line back on the 1st October I was lurking over the keyboard like the most sinister of online trolls. Waiting for my moment to pounce. Because of problems with registering in previous years the organisers brought in a new online booking system. I thought it worked well. If you logged in at or after the alloted time the system went live, you were randomly allocated a queue place in line with the number of available places for the event, you were given an estimated waiting time for when you’d be able to enter and then a 15 minute window to do so when it came around. Worked for me. There was the – also traditional – usual flack from some who seem to think what is basically a local running club should have the IT booking systems of the international olympic committee moaning about glitches, but to me that seems unfair. Most people did get through eventually, and there were still places to be taken the following day. There is no perfect system, and the event might fairly be said to have become a victim of its own success, but it seemed pretty smooth to me. Plus, it’s surely part of the Percy Pud ritual that you have to scrap to get in it. It would be like doing musical chairs without taking away a chair each time. Yes, it’s stressful, but the exasperating tension about how the challenge will unfold all part of the fun!
After the succesful entry came the waiting, and the buyer’s remorse. Life events and an annoying niggle meant I hardly did any of the training I was hoping for. In fact in the month before the Percy Pud I managed a solitary XC run and a parkrun (I think) and that was it. Fairly pitiful. To fuel my growing unease was the ever growing survivors guilt. Other runners truly gutted at having to pull out due to more obvious injury or illness. The practicalities of it started to weigh me down. What about parking? How will I get there? What if I don’t know anyone? What was I thinking? What if I fall in the ice? What if I can’t fit into my Smiley Paces running vest anymore? Also, now I come to think of it, where is my number anyway? I’ve just moved house, can’t find anything, disaster. Hang on, no found it! Phew…
Mercifully, I eventually came to my senses, reminding myself I only ever run to complete rather than compete so really it’d be fine. Then (of course) my Smiley Paces running buddies delivered up opportunities to share a lift. It’s not that I’m actually incapable of driving there, but parking is a nightmare and it’s a lot more fun going with others – apart from that one time when we arrived early to watch the pouring rain pounding the windscreen of the car and my over-enthusiastic smiley buddies announced ‘oh good, we’ve still got a good twenty minutes to warm up‘ and they weren’t even joking! I know. This is what comes of hanging out with proper runners.
This year, I headed over to join some running buddies coming from Greystones. The morning was actually pretty mild, with just a gentle drizzle in the air, pretty good for running. We were three smilies and a designated driver (thank you), and after a brief delay for finishing off of breakfast, precautionary pees (that was me, and I was really awkward about it too, insisting the bike was moved so I could shut the door of the loo before I did so, me and my bashful bladder eh, sorry guys) and general faffing we boarded our tour bus. It wasn’t an actual tour bus, but it felt like it was, what with it being a shared adventure and everything.
Knowing parking would be a challenge the plan was to park a reasonable distance away from the event and facing homewards to allow for a speedier getaway. As a consequence fo this we basically parked in Chesterfield I think. En route, we passed a couple of runners who we joked must be running to the Percy Pud, only to have our collective smiles comprehensively wiped when we later saw that indeed they were, having come across from Fulwood. I did clock that one of them was wearing a marathon kit bag, so that sort of explained their commitment to distance running. Then I felt a bit sick, as strictly speaking, that ought to be me then, but it never crossed my mind that I’d want to rack up an extra 8 miles with a race in between to get my long run in. I really need to up my game and get my injuries sorted so I can crack on with a proper training regime… if I’m ever to make it to the start line of London next year, let alone the finish.
Parked up, we clambered up the hill to the start. This is when the fun commenced. Yes we were having fun already. There was not the biting chill wind of previous years more reminiscent of ill-fated trips to the antarctic than joyful sporting events. Rather there was a merry trail of trainer-wearing people, many adorned with festive trimmings and sunny smiles all ready to take the 10k on.
On arrival, there wasn’t much to do, you pre-register, so other than dumping stuff in the tent and admiring the very fine bespoke marshal tops that certain officials were sporting it was just a question of joining the queue for the portaloos and trying to see people you knew. I suppose some people did earnest warm ups, but I stuck with the spotting friends and going over for group selfies options. Well, I needed to save my energy for the actual run, plus, if it’s not on Facebook it didn’t happen. Of course it needs to be on Strava too as the gold standard of proof, but nothing wrong with belt and braces approach at an event as critical to the Sheffield running calendar as this one.
I managed to spot a couple of familiar faces, one an injured Smiley/Strider hybrid, with a knack for a fine selfie, and my new best friends forever bonded as we are through shared TNT XC exploits. It is brilliant how you see sooooooooooooooooooo many people you know from the broader running and running related constituencies of Sheffield. Loads of familiar faces from parkrun, Trust 10, The Trunce, RSR everything and anything really. All incredibly friendly and good spirited. Most people are nice you know, running people especially.
Various shots were taken to prove our individual and collective attendance, and then as time was short we joined the process to the start. While we were waiting, there was still time to practise a bit of running form to get in the mood. Remember people, running is basically a one-legged sport.
I’ve not been able to get to woodrun for a while, and I think it’s just possible it’s taken its toll, I think my form may just possibly have suffered somewhat due to my extended absence. Ooops, hope I don’t bring shame and dishonour to my accelerate mentors… I like to think they’ve seen worse, but then again, someone has to be at the bottom of the heap. I know this to my cost. I was once at a gym induction and was explaining to the pre-adolescent in charge that I struggled to use some of the weights machines as they didn’t seem to be able to adjust to my proportions ‘on no, you’ll be fine, they can do all sorts of weird shaped people‘ she cheerily retorted, attempting to put me at ease in accordance with requirement 4.7.2 of her NVQ competency recording book no doubt, only to have her face fall as I plonked myself in situ, and to blurt out unbidden ‘OMG – you really do have ridiculously short arms and legs!’ and I’m not even exaggerating for comic effect… you have no idea how hard it is to be me sometimes. I’m only surprised she didn’t call over her fellow PTs in training so they could have a gawp at my bizarre physique. That’s what happened when I had my wrist examined at a physio appointment following a savage ferret attack some weeks earlier. Suddenly everyone in the department wanted to come and have a gander at my novelty injury. They must have been disappointed that there were so little to see to be fair. Those sharp little teeth just delivered a multitude of near invisible puncture wounds, but did a lot of nerve and tissue damage in doing so. The Grundys were playing with fire when they were keeping those potentially dangerous critters in my book. Not that I approved of them being bludgeoned to death, even if Jo was down about being evicted, but I wouldn’t go near one again. A ferret that is, not a Grundy.
Where was I, oh yes, fearful on the start line. Along with everyone else.
It was a big start, over 2000 people signed up, and because the weather was mild I’d say we were pretty much all there. It was a miracle I was facing the right way when the call to start went off. It was a reasonably sedate start, it’s chip timed so no point in anyone shoving. You start on a bit of a downhill, and I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt. I was really worried due to almost total lack of running of late, but although I was slow and steady I did manage to run the whole thing (I fully appreciate for some runners this claim may sound pathetic, but I do resort to run/walking when I have to) the only time I walked was at the water station, which is allowed, definitely, though I still had hiccups for a bit afterwards.
You head down and quickly there are undulations – who put the sneaky uphill bit in? Then you are over the dam bridge with the reservoir. There were cheery supporters lining the route. For some unknown reason, there was a noticeably thicker density of crowds in proximity to the pubs en route, I wonder why/ There was also some enthusiastic householders our front cheering runners on. It’s such a good atmosphere. Who doesn’t love being cheered on by complete strangers, it makes you feel great, even if the generic cheering isn’t particularly aimed at you, you will nevertheless get glory by association as other runners alongside you experience unfiltered adulation.
Sometimes more organised marshals/ supporters gave personalised shout outs ‘Go Smiley’ (other running clubs are available) this guy with a megaphone was working hard at that as I went out and still hard at it when I returned back later. Impressive.
Then there were the groupings of festively clad children. They were brilliant, ecstatic if you returned their high-fives and keeping up vocal encouragement all morning if my experience was anything to go by. I’m glad Santa took time to acknowledge their services, I think that’s what he’s doing. Hope he’s not stealing from them, the body language is somewhat ambiguous, looks suspiciously like he’s asking for contributions, or looting their festive red bag, rather than passing out presents, but appearances can be deceptive I suppose.. Thank you nice Accelerate people for the use of photos.
I’m not quite sure if he was the real santa, it’s so hard to know these days, and he wasn’t using the traditional form of transport which might mean he must be the real one as he has nothing to prove and can ride in whatever conveyance he so chooses, or could be proof positive he doesn’t know his Rudolph’s from his Blitzen or Buxom or Dunder or whoever it is. Here are some other contenders, take your pick:
It’s basically an out and back course. Generally speaking I don’t like those so much as circular routes. However, for the Percy Pud, one of the great joys of the course is that as a relatively slow runner, whilst heading out you get to see the front runners storming back, led by Santa in his sports car. There were marshals on hand also warning us ‘keep left, first man coming’. The first man was extraordinary, so far ahead of the field, he must have run the whole thing on his own. I gather last year’s winner arrived late so had to catch up which meant there wasn’t an opportunity for a direct sprint battle between the two. Mind you, can’t remember where I read that now, so maybe I’ve imagined the whole thing. I’m writing this up a couple of weeks after the event (no internet, long and dull but painful story) so that moment has passed.
A few minutes later, another shout went up ‘first woman coming’, I was a bit surprised to be honest. I mean there are some awesome women runners, but that front guy was super fast, and usually the strong men athletes are ahead of the first women, much as I’d love it to be otherwise. But no, it was true. Storming through was the first woman with a little entourage of the elite men, it was really amazing to see them full on sprinting. As someone who’s usually at the back I don’t often get to see that kind of action and focus, it was amazing, quite inspirational. Inspirational rather than aspirational I concede, but stunning all the same. I stole this photo from somewhere, thanks AB for sharing.
Not only did I see the great and the good, the fictional and the real, and fellow smilies aplenty, you also get to appreciate those who have made an effort on the costume front.
I was a bit under dressed this year I felt, but fortunately others compensated for my short comings with their grand designs. I also think I had a pudding like silhouette by way of tribute to the occassion. Channeling my inner pudding if you like, method acting at it’s best.
Although costumes and fancy dress in particular are always a welcome feature of the Percy Pud, I feel a special mention needs to go to two of the fancy dress stalwarts without whom the Percy Pud would presumably be unable to take place. It would be like having no ravens at the tower, catastrophe of unknown but epic proportions would inevitably follow. It’s just not worth the risk. I give you, in second place – the Christmas Tree. I mean, what could possibly go wrong if you run dressed in a tree costume? How hard can it be?
However, I think we all know the winner in the sense of being a quintessential part of the Percy Pud running experience, is the obligatory bottle of beer. It’s not just sighting this which is critical for enjoyment on the day, for many it is being over-taken by it en route in all it’s glory. There is no shame in that people, just another Christmas tradition at the Percy Pud. On this day in Loxley, many will be outrun by a 7 foot beer bottle, you aren’t special.
An honourable mention should also go to the bin man, fast on his way to being a PP institution too I’d say. It’s good when people make an effort. Fancy dress is always an option in my running world. He looks very happy to have got his pudding at the end doesn’t he?
So as these runners were heading homewards, I was still heading outwards. It was all friendly and companionable. I didn’t particularly chat to anyone, but pleasantries were exchanged. Some expressed sympathy to me for being a member of a club with a name that put so much pressure on its members to maintain a smile whilst running at all times. In fact it’s true, we do. All smilies smile all the time. Not sure what would happen if you didn’t, it’s never arisen. Worth thinking about though, if you can’t maintain that outer countenance, you’ll need to find or found another club ‘grumpy gallumphers’ or similar I suppose. Marshals merrily cheered us by, they were an exceptionally jolly lot this year, though I wasn’t going to be so easily fooled by the ‘nearly home‘ shouts as I was in my rookie Percy Pud years. I’ve still not recovered from the shock of my first year of participation when someone shouted to me ‘100 metres to go‘ and I believed them, taking their call as my cue to launch into a sprint, it was more like 500 metres, I nearly died. Some of the naive innocence within me died then also. I do of course appreciate marshals still, but I am more wary and cynical about whether or not to take their protestations of either proximity to the finish (‘keep going, you’re nearly there!’) or course flatness/ terrain (reference Sheffield half marathon ‘all down hill from here‘ remarks). I don’t wish to sound ungrateful, and of course I know such shouts are well-meaning and intended to be motivational but dear reader, don’t be too shocked to learn they are not always exactly true…. Trust is a precious thing, once it’s shattered, it’s hard to rebuild.
Thank you marshals though, you were all awesome, I did try to splutter thanks as I passed, but I know it can come across as being sarcastic when I’m struggling to breathe. Glad Santa stopped off to see you all, you were definitely all good this year if your excellent delivery of Percy Pud support services was anything to go by.
After the half way point it’s a u-turn and back to the start. The route seemed shorter this year, instead of icy wind scraping away my face as I ran, I actually felt a bit too warm. It was lovely coming back over the bridge to see a friendly face – sorry you were injured running buddy, but thanks for the encouragement in the final stages. The photo has the advantage of making it look like I must be so far in the lead there is not another runner in sight, it also has the disadvantage of making it look like I only just made it back before darkness fell. As is often the case with these things, the truth lies somewhere in between!
Over the dam, round the corner, up the hill. There was still a fair old crowd as I approached the finish line. Just a bit ahead of me there was another runner who seemed to be slowing, for reasons which now entirely escape me, I saw my moment and dug deep for a sprint finish. It was really fun, I thought I’d snatched ahead, but I think as I ‘overtook’ she heard me and put up a mighty fight.
In our own small way, we were just as competitive as the first woman crossing the line, though she was marginally more photogenic at her moment of triumph. This was the winning picture in the 2017 Percy Pud photo competition by the way. You can see why, could have been me(ish). I’m sure our reception was just as celebratory, I can still hear the cries of congratulation ringing in my ears even now!
So that was that. Spat through the finish and slammed into the back of a very, very long queue of people waiting for T-shirts and puddings, because that was basically what the whole thing was about. Patient marshals proffered puddings, and your number had a cross put on it to stop you turning round and coming back for more. Only, there was a flaw in the system, as I went to chat to a marshalling Smiley buddy, and by crossing my tracks in this way found myself to be the recipient of another cross leading to false accusations of pudding hoarding. I wouldn’t mind so much but I don’t even like christmas pudding particularly, even if I did, there is only so much christmas pudding one can consume!
Even more exciting than the pudding, was the first sighting of the proffered tops. ‘What size do you want?’ asked a marshal. Another corrected, loudly ‘irrelevant, what size did you order?’. I didn’t like to let on I really had no idea, so I just opted for a medium. Initially I was a bit hesitant about the muddy brown look of it, but you know what, this T-shirt has really grown on me. It’s not muddy brown, more plum pudding coloured. To be worn with pride by many and for years to come I’d say. It could yet be one of my very few (two) running event tops that I’m actually minded to wear from time to time, this is high praise indeed. There follows a sequence of happy smilies with puddings and T-shirts and ‘been there, done that, got the T-shirt‘ smiles of yuletide joy.
Then, in keeping with another long-held smiley tradition, which extends to Christmas, I found I missed out on the semi-official Smiley group shot. I’m always back too late for these after race picture. Oh well. They are still lovely though, even without me. To be fair, this can’t have been the full Smiley contingent, there were loads of us out and about causing merriment.
Never mind, there is a photo of me with my car share buddies post run. I don’t know why it looks like I’ve photoshopped on the T-shirt, I did honestly get given it fair and square, but I concede the photographic evidence may plant a small seed of doubt in your mind dear reader. I can only say come on dear reader, it’s Chriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiistmas, show a bit of generosity of spirit and give me the benefit of any such shadow of doubt.
And that was pretty much that. Just the long walk back to Chesterfield to retrieve the car. The sun was out, the scenery was stunning, I doubt my photos will do it justice but hey ho. Thank you carpool buddies for the solidarity, co-conspiratorial companionship and the free ride. Yay us! What larks eh? What larks.
And that was that, all over for another year. Another event triumph. It always delivers the Percy Pud, it has a rightful claim to be known as a Sheffield institution. Same time next year? More than likely, I enjoyed it, despite my bursting calf and lack of proper preparation, it’s a feel good event. I keep forgetting it’s basically a road run, as I don’t really like road running, but this is fun, it seems to have become an almost tribal gathering of Sheffield runners at a given time in a given place, to miss out on it, is to miss out on some of the annual bonding rituals that brings runners together. If you can just make it through the stress of the entry system, it’ll be worth all that angstyness on the day!
Oh, almost forgot, for those of you who need to know, because I do have to concede it’s a race not a run – the results for the Percy Pud 2017 event are here. To be fair, even though I’m not generally especially interested in the results, this year they were very exciting. This is because:
Breaking news is that for the second year in a row both male and female course records were broken today and the club handed over £1000 cheques to each of the winners.
Local runner from Hallamshire Harriers Andrew Heyes took 15 seconds off last years course record winning in a stunning 29:42.
In the ladies race, Rio 2016 Olympic 5000m finalist Eilish McColgan of Dundee Hawkhill Harriers broke her own course record by 10 seconds by finishing in 32:32. She also finished 2nd overall behind Andrew highlighting her dominance today. Her time was the second best 10k time in the country this year.
That’s pretty impressive is it not, on all counts. Wow. Her performance even made a write up in The Star last year (2016), which is basically the Sheffield equivalent of winning sports personality of the year, pretty impressive, but not enough to merit a golden pillar box a la the lovely Jessica. Good effort though. Jolly well done.
And maybe, just maybe, despite my protestations to the contrary, sometimes my inner competitive spirit will make an unexpected lunge outwards in a desperate bid for freedom! It does wear off quite quickly though.
And if you need to know the route, it’s here, prettier than you might think, with winter sunshine lighting the way. Don’t worry about getting lost though, even if you are in the lead it’s still just a question of keeping santa in your sights and you’ll be reet. Enjoy.
So there you go. If you want to know any more about the legendary event that is the Percy Pud, you’ll have to sign up next year and do your own primary ethnographic research. You won’t regret it.
See you there! 🙂
With thanks to all who shared photos including ste Smith, Sheena Woodhead, Carol Speight, Accelerate, and fellow Smilies and the many nameless others who took photos on the day. It’s always fun looking back through them and reliving the day. Some professional photos are availabe for a fee from Mike Hall photography. The Star did a medley of Percy Pud photos as a video, complete with annoying background music. And a late last minute find, I stumbled across this one from Mark Walton of the passing masses en route posted on the ‘Pictures of Sheffield old and new Facebook page. Grand is it not? This is what running always looks like to me at organised events. A sea of the backs of people speeding away from me into the distance. Sigh. Memories eh?
For all my Percy Pud related posts see here. Scroll down for older entries.
Merry Winterval until next time.
PS bit of a cheat this one, am publishing backdated to 3 december 2017 but actually did the write up today, 18th December. Life in general and lack of internet access in particular getting in the way of my blogging career at times, would you credit it? Some think such extended silence from me is a blessing. You have to decide for yourself.