race

Dashing for DABKA, in action at the inaugural Round Donny Run

Digested read: I entered the DABKA Round Donny Run 30k event on a bit of whim, why not, wouldn’t want to miss out on an inaugural friendly distance event now would I?  It was hot, it was longer than 30k, but yep, it was well signed, it was fun and who knew about that amazing viaduct and the endemic population of pathologically friendly fellow runners and helpful marshals that are so prolific in these parts.  A few teething problems maybe, but I had fun, and loved the medal, which I think you’ll find is what running is all about.  Would recommend.

 

Now read on at your peril, this is a long one.  It’ll probably take you as long to read this as it did for me to run the blooming thing, but look at it as a test of your stamina and mental strength, these things count for distance running, trust me, I’ve googled it.  Or you could save yourself a lot of time and watch the video summary of the Round Donny run course.  Remember, the choice is yours, you read on now, it’s at your own risk, contributory negligence on your part for being sucked into a time vampire. You have been warned.  You’re welcome.

RDR viaduct

No sooner had my Smiley Buddy deposited me back on my doorstep after driving me home from the Round Donny Run, a concerned neighbour came scurrying across the road to ask if I needed any assistance.  She naturally assumed from my creaking and stiffly cautious progress towards my front door I must have experienced some sort of medical emergency and was in need of immediate help.  It possibly wasn’t the greatest testament to my athleticism that I had to admit that I was absolutely fine in a ‘but I have just run(ish) over 20 miles‘ sort of way, meaning, that whilst I was able to move immediately after the event, sitting in a car for the drive back to Sheffield stiffened me up completely.  To the point I did seriously consider just asking my buddy if I could just live in her car for a few days, until I’d regained the use of my legs.  In the end, I thought that was maybe asking a favour too far. After all, she had chauffeured me to Donny for the inaugural DABKA Round Donny Run, hung around for me waiting for me to finish, and taken me home, and to be fair, I probably wasn’t at my most fragrant post the event, and I’d have matured to an even riper pungency sat in her car for a few extra days during this seemingly endless heatwave.  Even the best of running buddy friendships need some boundaries.  By this I mean I did ask if I could, but then pretended I was only joking when she laughed in a ‘clearly that’s a joke’ sort of way.  I didn’t push the point.  Anyway, it was nice of my neighbour to enquire after my welfare, but she did look slightly horrified when I told her my temporary (hopefully) impairment to my mobility was self-inflicted.  ‘But why would you do that?  Run all that way in this insane heat?’ she queried.  I showed her my medal.

RDR medal

I think it is quite a nice one, enamel, that’s unusual, and the shoe tread design, it’s a fine bit of bling… she was unmoved, not even unmoved, completely nonplussed would be more accurate.  I concede it is hard to communicate what motivates people to run (I use the term ‘run’ loosely in relation to my own event performance) to those that don’t.  Honestly, I don’t even quite get why I put myself through these things myself, so you can’t really expect others to get it.  I speak from the heart here, as every event I enter I go through agonies of regret in the weeks and days before about whether or not I’ll actually turn up to the start.  I like lots of things about running: the people you meet; the places you discover; the post-run endorphins, coffee and chit-chat; the whole parkrun ethos; but the actual running bit…  Hmm.

Seriously, for the most part it’s fun retrospectively. I  am always astonished at races when the shout goes up ‘go’ and everyone sets to set off at a sprint and it suddenly dawns on me I’m expected to do likewise what’s more, with some semblance of enthusiasm!  My body protests as I lumber along, bits wobble, other bits threaten to chafe, and I have to contend with a noisy internal monologue berating me for turning up at all  ‘what was  I thinking?  How is this fun? It had better be a very fine medal indeed to justify all this physical unpleasantness that I’m currently undergoing.  Oh god, I think I need the loo again.  I wonder if there’ll be any loo stops.  Am I lost yet?‘ that kind of thing, hilariously, I don’t even think this experience is unique to me, there are loads of us out there enjoying our running as Type Two Fun, i.e. the fun is really only recognisable retrospectively for the most part,  such is the nature of the endeavour.  This is why the term  ‘fun run’ is often cited as the most easily identifiable and therefore obvious example of an oxymoron, pushing ‘happy Christmas’ into second place.   Me and running, well it’s sort of complicated….

The Round Donny Run is a case in point.  For those of you who like to know the blah de blah, the Round Donny Run website tells us that:

On Sunday 8th July The inaugural DABKA Round Donny Run takes place. It is a multi-stage trail race which will see entrants undertake a scenic 9 stage 30k course on footpaths and trials taking in the beautiful Don Valley Gorge, Sprotborough Flash Nature reserve, Conisborough Viaduct, Hatchell Wood, Cantley Park, Sandall Beat Woods, Doncaster Racecourse and back to your friends and family at the Town Fields during their annual Summer Gala.

The run can be done as an individual or with a friend as a pair doing the full distance or as part of a 3-person relay covering the 30k distance.

RDR event blurb

Details of the event popped up in my news feed months ago.  This is significant.  Any event that is ‘ages away’ allows me to delude myself that I will undoubtedly have put myself through rigorous training and preparation in the intervening weeks.  Also, I liked the idea of taking part in an inaugural event –  fear of missing out is a powerful thing.  It sounded as if it might be following the format brought into being by the Round Sheffield Run, which is  my favourite event of the year – i.e. friendly, sociable, inclusive and introducing participants to areas around they might otherwise never discover.  Yeah, why not, post London Marathon I’d be soooooooooooo fit, I’d romp round 30k effortlessly, you know what, I’d probably even have lost so much weight with all my training and cross training and everything I’d be OK going down a size in the tee-shirt. It would be fine.  Yeah, I’m in, it’ll be fun.  Why not?  Spoiler alert, I was delusional dear reader, but fortunately, I’m conscientious if not keen, and having entered took part anyway.  Also, it doesn’t matter that my T-shirt is a bit of a squeeze, as it’s white anyway, and therefore would be destined never to be worn even if it fitted ok.

I’m not going to lie, it did cross my mind that it might be a scam at first.  Hardly anybody entered, and it didn’t have that big a profile.  Granted, I’m over in Sheffield, but for many weeks it seemed very quiet compared to other events I’ve entered.  It’s a shame that these thoughts do crop up. There have been some scam events in recent years, night-light runs and obstacle courses being the most common contenders for fraud. I did feel though if you were going to do a scam event, you’d go for something more flashy, and frankly in support of a better known charity. I reckoned it was legit, definitely worth a punt.

This event was a fund-raiser for DABKA, which I’d never heard of before.  Oh, you haven’t either?  Erm, hang on, the RDR Facebook about section says:

DABKA; Doncaster and Bassetlaw Kidney Association helps kidney patients, their families and carers live with renal disease, from pre-dialysis through to transplant. DaBKA is run entirely on a voluntary basis for the benefit of renal patients. They provide information and support to patients, their families and carers. We are hoping that we will be able to raise some much-needed funds for them and raise awareness of the great work that they do

DABKA

The number of entrants was pretty small (but perfectly formed) for the inaugural event, and a lot of time, effort and funds went into getting the Round Donny Run up and running, so whether or not it did raise funds I just don’t know, but I’m sure it raised the profile of the charity, and I daresay as the event continues and grows it could be a money spinner for a local initiative.  Here’s hoping.

So I entered, and then largely ignored it, until a couple of weeks ago.   As the event drew near, there was a little flurry of e-mails explaining logisitics, where to park, an OS map of the route popped up on Facebook,

RDR route

this didn’t massively help me to be honest.  A Strava route would have been better.  I knew there would be different stages, but I never did work out how long each one was, and, significantly, nor did I discover the actual distance once you added in the recovery stages.  Because it was advertised as a 30k event, with the option of having relay teams of three people running 10k each, I’d imagined it wouldn’t be far off that distance.  In fact, on the day the walking sections added to the mileage quite significantly, and I’m not going to lie, that was a mental challenge of me as I found in searing heat I had literally no idea how much further there was to go, not helped by my TomTom watch expiring on my at the 18 mile mark, as if saying ‘this was what I signed up to, you are on your own now mate‘ not grand, also not strictly true as my TomTom is an inanimate object and can’t actually talk, but I’m sure you get the gist.

As the weekend drew nearer, I was half hoping they might cancel due to low numbers of entrants. It was just so insanely hot. I’d hardly been running at all, broken post London, my running mojo upped and left, I did do a few parkruns and the Round Sheffield Run a couple of weeks before but nothing since, and frankly didn’t want to venture out of the house in the heat, let alone head out for a long distance run.  As preparation for a 30k run goes I hold my hand up to being at the ‘lamentable‘ rather than ‘exemplary‘ end of the preparation continuum.  Nobody’s queuing up outside my door for running training tips.  At least it meant I wasn’t injured… little prospect of getting a running related injury if your primary state of activity is just about inert.

Still, on the plus side, I did know one other member of my Smiley Paces running club had entered, and so our fates became intertwined. I had a massive wobble a couple of weeks before hand and she talked me round pointing out it could be seen as just another training run.  Then I remembered about the bling and the t-shirt and the potential for generating amusing anecdotes etc and after some mental faffing I was back in. Also, she was up for going together and driving us both there and so that was it, destiny sealed. The thing is, there are pros and cons of jointly committing to doing a run together.  The pro is that agreeing to both go means that you are much more likely to do so, no baling or you let your running buddy down, that would be unthinkable!  By weird coincidence the con side of the equation is exactly the same thing, you have to do it now. Curses.

So the day dawned.  Hot, hot hot.  Ridiculously hot.  I did my usual faffing routine, there’d been some last-minute emails warning about the heat and saying there would be extra water stations and sponges with water along the route. I debated about whether to wear my running water belt.  I hate running with it, but being dehydrated would be worse.  I filled up my bottles with electrolyte laden fluids, stuffed some naked bars in, and some toilet paper for good measure.  I coated myself with factor 50 sunblock like a channel swimmer covering themselves with goose fat.  I was still fearful I’d sweat if off.   I have my hat and deeply unattractive but very practical freebie TomTom sunglasses and then porridge consumed and trail shoes on I was out the door and ready to go.

Disappointingly, my lift arrived soon after.  I was sweating even at 7.00 in the morning, this did not bode well.  She wasn’t feeling too good, nursing the end of a bad cold and a good night out the evening before.  I was feeling a bit guilty that she might only be coming because we’d pre-arranged it, so she felt obligated to come, but she was gracious about it.  ‘See how it goes‘, well quite.  I felt the same.

It was an easy drive out to Doncaster, but actually it’s further away from Sheffield than I thought.  It occurred to me, that I hadn’t really thought about the event very much at all apart from entering.  I don’t know the area at all.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been to Doncaster, other than passing through the railway station on a train en route to elsewhere.  Oh well, that’s the joy of trail running, you get to see new parts of the world.

We were sent directions in advance advising there’d be some parking at the Doncaster School for the Deaf, which was pretty much opposite Doncaster race course.  We round it OK, and we’d even remembered to bring our printed out car parking permit, but in fact a cheery marshal was on hand to wave us in the right direction and give us a freshly minted permit to display on the dashboard.

parking permit

We parked up near to a massive ambulance.  When you are at an event with a conspicuously high number of St John’s trained people in evidence I never know whether to be reassured that the event organisers are taking participant health and safety seriously, or terrified that it is basically thought necessary to stalk us all day with highly trained medical personnel as there could be a life threatening occurrence at any moment.  You have to question whether it’s a good idea to take part in any endeavour where ambulances follow you round as a matter of course.  Oh well.   There didn’t seem to be a massive amount of parking, but there were other car parks and roads around, and I guess locals would know other areas and maybe even walk down.

Oh well.  Parked at 8.00 exactly, we had some faffiness, sorting tops and water and what to take, other runners rocked up.  We debated with them whether or not to carry extra water, the consensus was we would.  Blooming good call, I’d never have made it round without.  Me and my Smiley buddy weren’t quite sure where we were heading, but basically followed a couple of other runners marching purposefully ahead of us, and sure enough, after a ten minute or so walk, following some yellow chalked arrows on the pavement we ended up at the Town Fields start area.

The fields were dry and the area huge.  We could see some tents at what must be the start line, but it looked like runners were congregating by a brick building in the opposite direction.  We followed the migrating lines of trainer clad people and after only a brief panic on my part, as we walked alongside what looked alarmingly like the track for a school sports day had me shuddering with unwelcome flashbacks of getting stuck in a tyre during an obstacle course race, we were at the building registration HQ.

The building was sort of the opposite of a Tardis, in that it seemed a lot smaller on the inside.  It was really well organised, with tables where you could pick up your number, another where you were issued with your dibber, an area where you got your (too small) tee shirt and could pin on your number and do all the hoiking of kit and joining queues for the loos that is a prerequisite of participation in any event.   As the numbers were small, the building could cope, but my those corridors were narrow, if there had been many more runners assembling it would have reached grid lock pretty quickly.  A large map of the route was on display, but it was hard to get to as it was up on a wall along the corridor, also, somewhat fatalistically I felt there was little to be gained by looking at the route at this point.  I was relying on the route being signed and marshalled and it was a bit late in the day for checking out the land marks to look out for along the way.   Maybe if next year, they stuck it on a board outside to avoid congestion I’d take the time to go and look.  There was a long, long queue for the loo, until someone in the know pointed out there were extra loos in the changing rooms.  A bit more signage would have been good.

Registration was speedy, and so once we’d got our numbers and had our precautionary pees we headed back across the dusty dried out grass to the start area, where the MC was practising with his mike and the start arch was speedily being inflated in front of our very eyes.

I was seriously impressed by the attention to detail in the organisation.  The place was crawling with pathologically friendly and helpful marshals (that is a compliment, in case you are wondering).   Yet more St John’s people were gathering (enough now, their extreme prevalence is starting to freak me out a bit), and the event compere was enthusiastically welcoming people as they assembled at the start, calling out the names of running clubs from vests various, and talking about the DABKA charity.

There were explanations about the dib dab dobbering. I  was quite chilled with this as it’s been a thing at the Round Sheffield Run for years, but some runners were a bit apprehensive about how they’d get on with them.  I’m probably tempting fate in saying this, but I’ve never had a problem with the technology, so it must be fairly well tested and robust, as long as you don’t do anything stupid like affix your wrist band to your ankle say so you have to do the can can at every check point in order to dab your dibber in chest high dobbing points.  Not quite sure if I’m referring to dibs, dobs and dabs correctly, but I’m sure you’ll get the gist.   There was a bag drop – big secure tent, so no worries there.  Lots of milling and chilling, all very relaxed and friendly, a really good vibe.

There was a photographer on hand, so plenty of opportunity for posing for official shots, and taking shots of each other, and making new friends, and taking photos of them too.  It’s always a good idea to get lots of snaps at the start, because you never know quite how the day will unfold.  One nameless pair shared their view that as we got given the tee-shirts on registration, and it was so very, very hot, no-one would be any the wiser if we all just went straight home now and skipped the run altogether.  Me and my smiley buddy tried to make out we were horrified by the very thought, we did the honourable thing and conceded we had nursed (and rejected) the very same thought.  Tempting though…

The organisers were having a few teething problems, so somewhat stressed, but as participants we were all tickety-boo.  Because of the heat, the event organisers had introduced a cut off time, as after that there would no longer be any first aid available on the course.  I did/do understand the rationale for that, but couldn’t get my head around whereabouts that would be as the instructions were given in relation to stage sections, but I was planning the route in miles.  Oh well, I decided que sera sera, given the heat I could only do what I could do, but I would be gutted if it was to be my first DNF, even so, a DNF is better than a DNS I figured just go with it.  We gathered, we fraternised, we checked out the different running clubs.  I found it a bit strange being out of my usual home patch, lots of new clubs were in evidence, and really none that I recognised other than Doncaster Athletics Club who were really well represented and seemed a friendly and inclusive bunch.

RDR the gathering

The event was going to start a few minutes late due to, erm, actually, I’m not sure why, sorting out the dib-dobbery I’m guessing.  But that didn’t spoil the fun, beyond me wondering if they’d add that on to the cut off time consideration.  There were some novelty treats to come. The BEST BIT, was that the organisers decided to line up the slower runners at the front, so they could dib through first, and have more time on course than the speedier runners at the rear.  This was a little strange, because it did also raise the possibility that we’d all get trampled by a stampede of faster sprinters behind, but it would have been well worth it, just for the experience of starting off at the front.  An absolute first for me!

RDR start line up

As we were being briefed, a white car came speeding across in front of us, the driver leapt out, and ran across to hand something to one of the organisers, as he did so, he hadn’t put on the handbrake, and nervous laughter went round as we all watched the white car continue with it’s forward momentum, wondering if it would come to a halt or collide with the next inanimate object in its way.  Disaster was averted as the driver leapt back in, drove off at speed, then came driving at speed back towards us with a velocity that at first was entertaining and then alarming as I seriously thought he was about to ram raid the starting line up. Suddenly being at the front didn’t seem such a coveted position!

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Once the car excitement had abated, there was a count down to dibberdom, and off we went.  As you have to dib out, it was a stuttering start, but joyful to be underway.  Although I was one of the first through, naturally I was soon being overtaken by speedier souls, I cling to my belief in the validity of the fable of the hare and tortoise, it is hope over experience that often gets me through on such occasions.  Heading off felt fun. This was going to be grand, I was here, we were all doing it, the event was happening.  Yay!  Oh look! They even had a photographer to capture the off!

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So I had a very brief moment of feeling like I was leading the field, VERY brief, and then yomped on along behind pretty much everyone else.  The first leg was really short, blink and you miss it – maybe 0.5km.  Phew, that wasn’t so bad, I can do a few more legs like this.  Dib out, and onto the first of the walking/ recovery sections.

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My only real criticism of this event, was that I had no idea how long each section was.  It would have been really handy to have had a list giving distance for each running section and each recovery stage, because it made it hard to judge how to pace yourself for each bit.  This information may have been buried somewhere in the advisory notes, but I couldn’t find it, and references to places didn’t help as I’m not local.  To be fair, I think section maps did go up on Facebook in advance of the event, but that isn’t particularly user-friendly or accessible on the day.  I don’t recall seeing a summary anywhere…

Never mind, it didn’t matter much, as I just blithely followed everyone else.  I like the element of surprise out yomping, it maintains interest and distracts me from the overall unpleasantness of being expected to run.  The first walk section though seemed to go on forever, though.  It took in the delights of a Sunday morning desolate Donny town centre, and coming so early on in the event seemed a bit bizarre.  I overheard one runner remarking to another ‘this is the weirdest race I’ve ever been in – are you sure we are supposed to be walking this bit?’  Yep, we were though. Some runners, frustrated by the pace, chose to sprint on by, this might have got them round the course as a whole faster, but wouldn’t have moved them up the rankings of the actual race results.  It is a strange one to get your head around if you aren’t familiar with similarly devised events.  I was on my own, but already groups of runners were sort of finding their pace, some ahead, some behind, plenty of time to go…  Highlights included going over the railway bridge – this is the Doncaster I know!

After what seemed like miles and miles, during which time I’d already started drinking my water, this did not bode well, but it was soooooooooo hot, especially in the town centre, with light reflecting back up from the hot tarmac.

Eventually, we espied a cheery marshal just over the bridge, pointing the way down a canal path and onto stage 2.  I found the signage pretty good for this event. There were loads of marshals, a reasonable amount of red and white tape at intervals and some yellow arrows in biodegradable powder paint I think on the off roady trails.  Some of these did wear off quite quickly, but for the most part I was in sight of other runners or had some vague idea where to go because of the excellently briefed and helpful marshals.  Others I gather did not fare so well, due to vandals laying a false trail at some point which is a darned shame as it was beyond the control of the organisers, but obviously pretty devastating for those who ended up going a couple of miles awry.  The organisers were on it as soon as they heard, putting extra marshals in place, so did all they could.  From a personal point of view, I thought the markings were ok, and you didn’t need any navigational skills.  I myself have also been caught out by small minded anti-social bastard vandals pranksters laying a false trail in the past, getting so lost I came in behind the sweeper at my first ever fell race the Wingerworth Wobble –  and it’s heart breaking but really not the fault of organisers, it just happens.  I felt pretty confident on this route for the most part, just a couple of minor wobbles navigationally speaking.  Here’s the next cheery marshal with excellent directional pointing skills, I tried to stop and photograph all the volunteers I passed along the way, too often they are the unsung heroes at events.  Not sure I got them all, but I did my best.

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And suddenly, we were out of the urban, and alongside the canal.  It has been so very hot and dry, I guess it wasn’t as lush or scenic as it might have been, but it was shaded, and the dry air meant there were no midges or biting insects laying siege to runners as they passed by. It was nice, not spectacular scenery, but pleasing nonetheless.

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We hugged the canal for quite a while, and then at some point, it widened out and we moved a bit away from it, as the adjacent land opened up into farm land.  It was dry and dusty, and you could hear traffic at times. The runners space out a fair bit, and I found I ran long sections on my own. I didn’t mind this particularly, I’m so slow, I do all my long runs on my own anyway, unless I can persuade someone to come out and do a walk recce of a new route with me.  I think the event would be improved by more runners though, so you don’t feel too isolated on unfamiliar paths.  It felt safe though.  The second section was incredibly long though, and that was a surprise after such a short opening sprint (cough).

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We romped on.  Up and over bridges, under bridges, giving and receiving thumbs up to marshals and volunteers.  Occasional runners passed, I offered to give way to some as they caught me up, but many were sticking with running buddies anyway so it was all pretty friendly and supportive.  People encouraging one another and exchanging small talk about the heat, the ludicrousness of running and the unexpected appeal of parts of the route.  I have no idea what the mood was like at the front of the pack.

Note for others, up until now I’ve always been somewhat contemptuous of people who are members of the flat earth society, but here running round Donny, you begin to appreciate why the idea of the earth as a slightly squashed sphere would indeed appear to be errant nonsense.  This is a really flat route.  There are no hills.  One incline, but that was going up to the viaduct, and not really a natural geographical feature in the same way as a mountain say.  The paths were largely tarmac, or compacted mud and grit, so pretty much like road running for the most part.  If there had been loads of rain I suppose some sections might have been muddy, but not too bad I would have thought.  I wore my trusty innov8 parkclaws, which are feeling their mileage a bit now, but are my go-to shoes for unknown terrain, but really road shoes here would have been fine.  My guess is that this course would be paradise for speed merchants, they could hare round unimpeded. Less opportunity for small talk with other runners out and about though, so they’d be missing out on a large part of the run in my book, but each to their own.

At one point I noticed a load of guys lurking by a rock face to the side of the canal.  I thought they were answering a call of nature, but in fact they seemed to be about to embark on some rock climbing adventure, not quite Stannage, but did the job.

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It was peaceful by the canal, and picturesque in places.  There was a diversion across the canal at one point, and extra marshals were on hand kitted out with life jackets presumably in case sirens started singing to them from the decks of canal boats and they felt compelled to jump in after them.  I assume that runners were deemed to be moving at too great a speed to hear such voices luring them waterwards, and therefore the event risk assessment allowed us to take part without wearing buoyancy aids.  I nevertheless threw caution to the wind, stopping to both take photos and pose for them. Well, seeing as I was there, why not – and I didn’t fall in, so no fear of either sirens of Weil’s disease for me!

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There were fishermen (they were all male) fishing.  I don’t get the fishing thing, it seems pointless and cruel, but the sitting by the water thing looked appealing.  Eventually, and this was odd too, though welcome all the same, there was a water tent.  Not a tent on or in the water, that would be a life raft, but a tent with bottles of water, so you could stop and get a drink, and refuel and cool off but it was in the middle of a run section.  I don’t care about my times, I was just aiming to get round, but again I found that confusing, that the clock was still running at the refueling point – though on reflection, I suppose that’s the case at most ‘normal’ events, so maybe I’m being unfair there.  It was much-needed though, I was more than ready for something to drink.  Again the marshals were super friendly, I think there may even have been jelly babies on offer, and – brilliant idea this – a bin full of water and sponges so people could cool down but without wasting the bottled water.  I’ve not seen this before at an event, but what a great idea. High five to whosoever it was who came up with that one.  I’m genuinely disappointed I didn’t think to take a photo of a barrel full of water and floating sponges by way of illustration and emphasis of this point, but I daresay dear reader you can use your imagination and recreate the scene almost as well in your mind’s eye.  See?  Clever eh?  Genius even.  Like all great ideas, ridiculously simple to execute, just needed some bright spark to think of it and make it so.

Refueled, rehydrated and revived I romped on. One of the advantages of running in a completely new area is that you get moments of real surprise. There was some fairly impressive industrial architecture along the canal, bridge wise, but then at one point a mighty viaduct came into view, Conisbrough Viaduct to be specific, and it really is extraordinary. It loomed into view from quite a way back, and then there was a bit of hike up hill to clamber on to it. There a fearless photographer was sat on the wall in defiance of gravity, snapping pictures of runners streaming past.  I wasn’t doing all that much streaming to be honest, so paused for a chat.  Turns out she was supposed to be running, but had twisted her ankle doing The Trunce, and very sensibly decided not to risk it running the Round Donny, but to bike up and take pictures instead.  Hurrah!

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We photographed each other, then, after pausing to take in both the view from on high, and the other runners hot on my trail,  I trotted off again.

Here is a smorgasbord of her photos, they capture the event nicely do they not?  Good job.

Honestly, bit of a blur after that, more hot trails, more running, more uncertainty about when the stage might end.  I followed the other runners, fading yellow arrows and sniggered inappropriately at the gratuitous knob graffiti which also seemed to be showing the way ahead with extra enthusiasm.  Eventually, just as I’d given up any hope of the section ever coming to an end, I emerged onto a road, just over the brow of the hill was another handily pointing marshal, always good to see!  This was a dib point, and then it was but a short walk to the next water station.

which was just the other side of a cut through by some houses, that felt a little strange, but hey ho. Quick pit stop, and on again.

So I guess that must have been a walk for a bit, just a short road section, past a graveyard, which I may have just hallucinated because I was pretty sure I was dying of the heat at this point, and then another cheery marshal (where does this run source so many smiley and supportive people, it’s very impressive, I’ve rarely felt so supported and welcome on a run, even on my own turf) was on hand to direct you into the woods.

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This was a shorter by comparison shady section.  I was on my own for the whole length of it, but this was not bad thing, as it enabled me to take a wilderness comfort break without fear of interruption, it was a lot better running after that – I obviously wasn’t as dehydrated as I thought!

One option for this event was to do a sort of relay in teams of three, but it wasn’t altogether clear to me where the handover points for this were.  It didn’t matter as such, but it did contribute to my growing confusion about what the actual mileage of the event was going to be. I’d long ago clocked up 10k, but seemingly was not a third of the way through the route.  Oh well, I’m here now. I have another Smiley running buddy, selfie queen, and her philosophy on longer runs is something along the lines of, ‘well tea time is going to come round eventually, so I might as well keep moving forward and try to get back for it, I got here under my own steam, so I can get back too‘.  I find this helpful, others may not.  Basically, onwards.  It was going to be a long one though, and I was slow, even my standards, it being so hot. I was starting to fret a bit about the cut off, as I didn’t know where and when it was.  I’d be gutted to be turned back after coming so far.

Over a road, over a bridge, directed down alongside another housing estate and…

Much excitement – spectator interaction!   Some local residents were out picnicking and playing with water guns, and – by mutual consent – took aim and gave me a good soaking with their guns. It was really fun, they cooled me off, and then waved me on my way over a little bridge – which was just as well, because even though just seconds earlier a marshal had clearly instructed me to do just that, I was in danger of heading off back down the crescent to where I’d just come from, destined to repeat that loop in perpetuity like a runner caught in some weird vortex. That would have been a bad thing dear reader, not grand at all.

The next section I was pretty much on my own.  There were dusty paths, long stretches adjacent to quite busy roads, so you could hear and occasionally see traffic rumbling by.  The trail markings were clear though, so even though I was alone, I wasn’t worried about getting lost.  There was some shade along the way, but it was quite nice to come across another water stop eventually, with again, friendly marshals and this time some pleasingly interactive fellow runners too. I’d actually been stalking them on and off from afar for a while, but not caught up with them before.

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It was fun meeting them.  They were having mixed experiences, but seemed to think we should make the cut off.  Was it here that one of them pronounced she’d cracked having a pee standing up, an achievement for which I warmly congratulated her.  It’s amazing what becomes interesting and relevant chat on a run.  I was a bit worried about washing off my sun block with the cooling sponges of water, so opted instead to fill my cap and let the water just run down from my head.  My new best friend running buddy offered some sun block, but I declined, I wanted to press on and was reasonably confident my slathering in factor 50 would hold.  I left them debating whether or not they’d both continue.  I wasn’t far ahead, but pushed on.

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The next section was a bit strange, well, maybe that’s the wrong word, sort of unexpected.  We went through what looked like quite a dreary landscape, but actually there were loads of pools which I think given a bit more rain would have been quite an impressive wildlife reserve, lush and green. As it was, it seemed a little bleak, adjacent to an enormous Amazon warehouse, it seemed extremely unlikely the actual amazon being so dry, though to be fair, we know great acreages there are being turned into dust bowls through deforestation. The path sort of looped round on itself, so at one point I could make out distant runners ahead, and then saw a solitary runner behind me, so I gathered one of the two must have decided to withdraw.  I think there are times when it’s sensible to do that.  No point in risking your health for what is at heart a pointless activity, and one that is supposed to be fun.  How does the saying go?  ‘Run often, run long, but never outrun your love of running‘.  Agree.

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If I’m honest, my enthusiasm was dipping a bit by this point.  I had no idea how long there was still to run, and it was dry and dusty.  Ahead of me was a limping runner, I wanted to crack on to meet the cut off, but wasn’t sure I’d make it anyway, and she looked sore, so I stopped to check she was OK, which she was sort of.  By which I mean she was in a lot of pain, but it was a recurrence of a known injury. She’d taken a punt on whether to run or not, and as she’d been in a team of three doing the relay didn’t want to let her buddies down. She had water she said, and food, so we just walked and talked for a bit, and then satisfied she really was OK, I half-heartedly picked up my pace again, more in hope than expectation.  I didn’t think the cut off would be in reach now.  Oh well, it’ll still be an experience and miles banked, you always learn something when you go out for a run, well I do anyway, I guess I’m still quite a blank canvas when it comes to this running malarkey, everything is news to me!  Dusty paths, more road crossings, cheery marshals all a bit of a heat baked blur!

I asked the next lot of marshals about the cut off, one had no idea what I was talking about, and then another said in a kindly tone ‘you’ve missed that now love’ fair enough.  I’d plod on though, game wasn’t over yet.  Ahead of me was the big-hatted runner I’d stood alongside at the start. I never actually asked her why she was wearing a large hat, but then again the correct response to such an enquiry would be ‘why not‘ I’ve run enough times with companion animals to know you don’t need an excuse to don a different outfit for a run, it raises spirits and morale, that should be enough.  I set myself the goal of trying to catch up with her. I did, and we trotted along together for a while, sort of leap frogging each other, I got ahead of her at one point, and then she overtook me later, so we had fragmented conversations.  Enough though for me to establish she is a pretty amazing ultra runner and did a 55 mile (I think) endure 24 event just last weekend, and she told me about other ultras she’d done which were many, magnificent and inspirational.  Wow, just wow.  It’s great hearing what other runners have done.   Might even check out the White Rose Ultra some time  it’s apparently got generous cut off times and clearly marked paths, plus you get fed proper food, always a boon.  Point of information if you are thinking of doing this Round Donny Run, there aren’t really feed stations as such, there were jelly babies, but you did need to carry your own supplies – I had my trusted naked bars – I underestimated the distance here and probably should have thought a bit more about nutrition and hydration in advance.  I’ll know for next time though.  I was fine, and because it was a small field and the marshals were fantastic they’d have given you their last sandwich if necessary I’m sure, but best to be self-reliant.

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We jogged along to catch up with a small group of runners ahead. I  had a theory, based on nothing other than wishful thinking, that if we were a big enough group close to the cut off, they might take pity on us and let us finish.  My watch was at 16 miles, so it seemed bizarre if they wouldn’t let us continue just another couple of miles.  Of course I now know we had another six to go at least, which is quite a different distance.  As it happened, when we arrived at the next water station, which was also a dibber point and should have been the cut off, we were told that the St John’s ambulance people had agreed to stay on a bit longer, so we were ok to continue!  Hurrah.  I didn’t want to go home with unfinished business, not when I was feeling ‘fine’ just slow, but I knew I’d be able to finish if they allowed the time to do so.

I’m so glad we were able to continue, because the last section was my favourite one.  We started in shady woodland, the pathways of which concealed marshals ready to ambush you if you were in danger of going the wrong way and who called encouragement.  This was one bit of the route that I didn’t feel entirely comfortable running on my own. The psychology of this is inconsistent.  I run on my own in woods and across fells all the time on my own patch, and never give it a moments thought. I didn’t really like being a lone female in dense wood where I didn’t know where I was.  Again, a few extra runners taking part would help, and maybe in future years participants won’t lament the isolation of the path, but the difficulty of overtaking others on congested narrow routes… here’s hoping!

It was a short section, then you emerged at the back of some houses, through a gunnel at the back.  There was another roady bit, I think this was another walk section, but to be fair, by this point the distinction was academic, as I’d given up any pretence of trying to run anymore, it was just so hot, and now I knew I was going to make the finish I sort of stopped trying. That’s sounds really bad actually doesn’t it, when I say it out loud.  I’m just being honest, I can’t be the only person in the world who undertaking a running event in that heat starts to think as long as I’m moving forwards that should be good enough.  Oh well.  Given that left to my own devices my natural state of motion would be inert, it’s pretty remarkable I was hoiking myself Round Donny at all, be it running, or otherwise.

go slowly

For those who need external motivation to help them pick up speed, there is always the jurassic run, that might help me put a wiggle on…  I think that would be the Round Dino Run though – do make sure you book into the correct event next year or you could be in for a surprise in the wooded sections…

running with dinosaurs

There was a mischievously positioned photographer in a collapsible chair sitting the opposite side of the road from one of the marshals who was offering up jelly babies as sustenance to the weary.  I snapped him snapping me, maybe we can do swapsies later?

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A strategically placed marshal stopped runners from continuing down the road, and waved us back to a cut through that took us past the most enormous and well manicured grounds of what looked like a stately home estate of some sort.  Not a clue where it was, but it was a completely unexpected landscape. I  wished I was a bit fitter, as this part would have been lovely to run through, wide fields on either side, and easy flat terrain.  About this point, my TomTom spluttered and gave up the ghost.  It had recorded 19 miles which was a puzzle, but my watch won’t upload at the moment – long and boring story.  I thought once the memory was full, it would ditch earlier runs, but no, it just turned itself off like it was having an almighty sulk.  I wouldn’t have minded quite so much, but a few minutes earlier it flashed a ‘memory nearly full’ warning, but I couldn’t work out how to delete any previous runs so it was just basically shouting ‘panic, just panic!’ at me in a really unhelpful way before completely refusing to engage with me. Blooming great.

I emerged at the end of this section, to be greeted by the sight of a quartet of St John’s people, I say St John’s but they looked more like ghost busters, all tooled up and ready to go.  They smiled encouragement and pointed the way to the next tent.  I don’t know if they were going to assist someone, or just standing down as the end was very nearly in sight.

My only real hiccup of the day followed shortly afterwards.  I made my way down to the next marshal point, where there was water and melted jelly babies and a cheery marshal again

The route went across an open field, and then into woodland beyond. There was a group of young lads, some on bikes, who were curious about what I was doing and what the event was. They started chanting ‘Smiley Paces’ and taunting me for being a slow runner, ‘well you try running with me then’ I said, one did, another on his bike, I protested that using the bike was cheating, so he ditched that and ran instead, not for very long, as I’d correctly assessed that despite their youth and my fatigue they wouldn’t actually be able to run more than a couple of hundred metres, so I put on a sprint and they peeled off.  It felt really uncomfortable though, they were being overly interactive rather than deliberately harassing me, but I guess groups of youths just don’t get what it’s like to be a lone female runner.  I was mightily relieved to shake them off before I got into the woods.

The woods were cool and it was a relief, but I felt like I’d gone miles by now and still had no idea where the finish was.  I had one moment after I clambered over a bridge when I couldn’t see any more tape and my heart sank.  There was only a fifty-fifty choice of direction though, and I took a punt which was correct, as some guys on a bench had been watching other runners go through and asked me what the event was and where we’d been. It was hard to respond to the latter question as I didn’t really know, I recalled the viaduct, and the canal and the amazon lakes, and they nodded, saying I was definitely nearly back now, just about to emerge at the back of the racecourse.   Which indeed I did!

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The school for the deaf where we’d parked up was bang smack opposite the Doncaster Race Course, so I felt like I was indeed nearly home when I saw the familiar white rails which instantly signify a race track.  Only who knew a race course covered such an extensive area.  It was a straight line to the exit point, but it was blooming miles.  I passed posh stable blocks with hundreds of immaculate wheelbarrows all lined up ready for use.  The grandstand was there, and a little dot in the distance was a hi-vis marshal ready to receive dibbers.  I caught up with my behatted buddy here, but her walk pace was phenomenal, but it was company for a welcome while, before she marched off into the distance with me scuttling along in her wake!

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Finally, we were spat out and it was the last few hundred metres back to the start.  I’m not gonna lie, the novelty of the event had rubbed off a bit by now and I was looking forward to finishing.  As I wended my way back, I passed other runners who’d finished and were sporting their bling. That was nice actually, as it included runners I’d met at the start, and it’s always good to know how things unfold.  I’d say they were pretty happy with how it all worked out.

More marshals were there to make sure I’d not overshoot the final turn:

At last, the end was literally in sight.  As I was one of the last few stragglers, I had the undivided attention of the compere who called my name and I got a huge cheer from the remaining few bystanders as I loped in, which was lovely if not entirely merited.  I dibbed in, was handed my medal, which we have already established as being both fine and original bling that quite cut the proverbial mustard. I have no idea where that phrase comes from or what it quite means, but who cares.  I surrendered my dibber in return for which I got an instantaneous print out of my times by section, the compere announced my finish time for all to marvel at, whether they were astonished by my speed or by my sloth was not a question  I pursued.

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Erm, nothing to write home about perhaps, but then again, they’re all going to be PBs by definition as first time out, and if I do make it back next year, it’ll be fun to have a base line from which to improve.  I was reunited with my bag and got a paper goodie bag which had water, a banana, I think and some fliers for local physio deals.  Best of all, there was my Smiley buddy on hand to greet me home.  Hurrah!  I earned that white tee.

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Alas my Smiley Buddy hadn’t had such a good time. She’d fallen foul of the misdirected course, and after a 2 mile detour, what with her cold and failing morale decided to withdraw.  It was the mental blow of doing so many extra miles early on that was impossible to overcome.  It’s true what they say, running can be much a test of mental strength as physical sometimes.  So, she made a good decision, particularly as she wasn’t well to begin with, but disappointing all the same, and I did feel a bit bad that she’d consequently had to hang around for me for three hours or so.  Oops.  I owe her, big time.  Thank you Smiley buddy.   A few didn’t make the cut off, which did happen, but later, some withdrew and some didn’t make the start.  Lots of these guys were sacrificed and harmed in the running of this race, they all most definitely didn’t make it through to the end of the day.  However things may unfold in Russia at the weekend, these guys will not be coming home. Sad but true…

RDR AJ jelly babies didnt make it

Still, we got to debrief on the way home as I stiffened up nicely as already described.  by now I’d forgotten how dispirited I’d felt once my TomTom abandoned me and I moved into limbo land, and instead was feeling encouraged and inspired by having had another micro adventure.

Oh, by the way, whilst it’s true that my TomTom gave up the ghost, but others did manage to Strava the route, so I’ve basically stolen another runner’s version in the interests of the greater good.  According to their gps, the distance was in fact 21.96 miles, which I think we can safely call 22 miles, and elevation of 802 feet, which is basically mill-pond flat and smooth by Sheffield standards.  Here’s the route, enjoy:

RDR strava

It’s also worth mentioning that whilst I thought it was hot out there in Donny and was quite chuffed relieved just to make it round before the cut off and indeed at all.  It was sobering as well as exciting to hear later that whilst I was hulking my weary carcass around the dusty Donny trials, Kilian Jornet was on target to complete a record breaking Bob Graham Round and in fact smashed Billy Bland’s long-standing record by 1hr in a totally amazing run.  That’s 106km  across the Lake District with an 8,200m ascent over 42 fells, which must be done within 24 hours.  How is that even possible?  Respect.  Mind you, I reckon I felt like I’d done something pretty similar, so that practically amounts to doing the same thing doesn’t it?  Well it should, just saying.   Trail Running magazine, amongst others, has done a write-up – about Kilian, not about me, just to be clear.

kilian-jornet-record-bob-graham-round1

Oh, nearly forgot, for those of you who are more interested in the arrival than the journey to get there, here are the DABKA Round Donny Run 2018 results, for me though, that really isn’t the point, but stats geeks out there, get stuck in, loads of numbers to crunch and pore over.

So, if you are still here and still reading, well done you.  You have proven yourself capable of acts of endurance too.  Either that, or there is some horrific task that you really, really don’t want to do.  You do know you are going to have to tackle it eventually don’t you, this blog post really is nearly at an end now, and that’ll be that.

So conclusions, this event had a lot of merit.  It was the inaugural so there were a couple of teething issues – for me the critical one is knowing the length of each section and recovery stage in advance in km would have been helpful. I thought the organisation was great, the team worked really, really hard to pull it off.  Some sort of coffee or refreshments available at the end would have been good, but hard to justify for such a small field. There was a gala event going on the other end of the fields and for those with any energy left I guess you could have foraged there.  I’d recommend it though, you see parts of Donny you don’t expect, it’s extremely flat so potentially fast for speedy runners, and doable for non-speedy ones like me who to be blunt are somewhat portly in the midriff and struggle up the hills.  It was really friendly, with a supportive ethos and I’d really like to see the event continue and grow.  Local(ish) events like this are most welcome and need support if we want them to carry on.  Fingers crossed it was worth all the hard work and will be the first of many.  Look out for it people, and yeah, give it a go.  It is almost a marathon at the end of the day, but felt doable, because of the friendly and supportive vibe along the way.

So thank you everyone who made it so, especially the cheery marshals for being awesome, and my fellow runners for being encouraging and funny and of course to Tony Vout for having the vision and getting it off the ground in the first place, no mean feat!  Job done.

RDR lovely marshals

See you same time same place next year?  It’ll be even bigger and better and the weather gods will be more benign. Probably.  Possibly, well, it’ll be what it will be, but you wouldn’t want to miss out two years on the trot now would you?

Quite.

RDR logo

Categories: off road, race, running | Tags: , , | 25 Comments

Round Sheffield Run 2018. Five out of five runs, and five out of five star rating too. Hurrah!

Digested read:  Round Sheffield Run fifth time round.  Still fun.  Would recommend.

You could read on, or you could save yourself a lot of time and trouble and just watch the RSR 2018 film of the day.  They aren’t mutually exclusive of course, but the choice is yours….

Oh, and thanks to everyone who made the RSR what it is and was.  I’ve used lots of photos from lots of sources, the RSR ones are freely available, but they do ask for a donation if you use them. They are hoping to raise some more funds for the fantastic Weston Park Cancer Charity – so if the photos please you, consider making a donation at  www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rsr18  Are you not entertained – I repeat, ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?  Those photographers work blooming hard, check out this perspective from Steve Frith, on his experience of the RSR waves of runners turning into a tsunami of potential picture subjects.  Sounds quite stressful!  Thanks Steve, and all the other snappers out and about.  You were/are awesome.  On a serious note, we are quite spoilt in Sheffield, loads of fabulous photographers document our every run.  We should never take this for granted.

Do I really need to explain what the Round Sheffield Run is?  For pities sake people, where have you been!  Hiding under a rock?  It’s half a decade old, surely it’s a given that this is a Sheffield running institution by now? Come the Summer solstice weekend – the Sunday to be specific – runners from near and far take on their annual migration to Endcliffe Park.  There is always early morning sunshine magically illuminating the event hub.  Rays of light giving dappled patterns to the paths as they shine through the trees.  Eventually about 1500 people will so gather, all to run round in a huge great circle together sharing thrills, spills (quite a few got spilled en route this year judging by the post run selfies of cuts and scrapes) and running bonhomie, before rejoicing together in the post event festival as they sit on hay bales, quaffing ale and regaling one another with tales of their micro adventures along the way.  What’s not to like.

YM smiley chilling

By the way, be careful not to mix up ‘bonhomie’ with ‘bon ami’, I nearly did, very embarrassing.  Whilst the former is a generic expression of exuberant friendliness and oozing good will, the latter is, of course, a household cleaner.  Good to know.  That reminds me, must have a go at being a domestic goddess later and tackle my household chrome…

Even so, in case you have been on the moon or something, or are just generally slow on the uptake (which to be fair is often my default position, still haven’t seen ‘The Wire’, but to be fair, I got scared off cult viewing after being erroneously sucked into ‘Lost’ what a lot of wasted hours of my life that turned out to be!  Once bitten, eh?) anyway, stop distracting me,  here’s the event blah de blah from the Round Sheffield Run website for those in need.

Described (correctly) as an ‘Epic *Multi-Stage* Trail Race’ through ‘The Parks and Trails of Sheffield’ on Sun 24th June 2018.  Not sure what the asterisks signify, probably referencing some sort of running masonic code, like the all-seeing eye, or maybe just for dramatic effect and emphasis,  anyways:

The Round Sheffield Run, trail running enduro is a unique creative “multi-stage” running event following the beautiful Round Sheffield route, a superb running journey linking some of the best trails and parkland. It would be a tough task to find anywhere in the UK that showcases these kind of trails & scenery within its city limits.

The 11 timed stages make up 20km of the 24.5km route.

The unique format breaks the route down into stages. Each stage being raced, and competitors receiving both results for each stage as well as a combined overall result.

Between Stages competitors have the opportunity to rest, relax,  and regroup with their friends and refocus before the next stage begins. Competitors are allowed to walk or jog inbetween stages. The unique concept creates a supportive and unique social vibe.  The race format also opens up the course to all abilities. 

A festival atmosphere at the end with draft ales, tasty food, and great DJ to ensure that everyone can celebrate in style.

 Run as an Individual, Pair or even a Team see the prizes and categories tab for further details on the prizes and how each category works.

For the record, it is a race not a run, but I like it because it feels like a run not a race, just to be clear.  Elite runners head off ahead of everyone else so they can run so fast their eyeballs spontaneously pop out of their sockets without being impeded by other runners along the way.  Everyone else heads off after them in waves, to avoid the crush of a mass start.  That’s not to say people in later waves aren’t fast and competitive, but the probability is they are more likely to embrace (or at least tolerate) the social side of things, and be accepting of differently paced entrants.  What I love about this event is that it feels to me to be genuinely inclusive.  People like me can lope around at a sedate trundle if we wish, but enjoy being part of a run that includes a continuum of runners.  It’s like a mahoosive parkrun in some ways, except instead of post parkrun breakfast and cake there’s a post run huge great festival with pizza, and beer and artisan coffee.  Oh, and it is a bit further to be fair, but as it’s broken up into sections, the longest one of which is just 2.8 km, it feels doable.  You can always knock out a parkrun yes?  So if you overlook the fact this is basically five in a row, it’s very accessible.  Hang on a minute, I’ll find the hand instruction card –

RSR instruction sheet

See? It looks pretty innocuous doesn’t it, in terms of distance.  Especially if you are like me inclined to skimp a bit on the details and not inclined to do any voluntarily mathematics.  It’s easy to overlook the minor detail of having to add up all these distances that you are expected to run so you are able to comprehend the full horror of what you are embarking on.  All the better for that say I!  In fact, I honestly believe (albeit delusionally) that this event was created especially for me.  It encompasses all the things I like about running (beautiful scenery; camaraderie of being with like-minded people; different terrain; post run smorgasbord; medal at the end; cheerful marshals who give out hugs as well as jelly babies; friendly organisation; near enough to walk to venue; welcoming of all abilities; tolerant of fancy dress) and removes all the stresses like being intimidated by faster runners. Or, my speciality, being angst ridden about either getting lost (no navigation required), or limping in hours and miles behind everyone else only to find the event hub abandoned as everyone else has long gone home. All that remains as dusk falls is tumbleweed and overflowing bins.  The contents of which (pizza boxes, banana skins; jelly baby wrappers and plastic beer glasses mainly) serving as testimony not only to the tragedy of the extent of single use plastics and lack of recycling options; but also to the joy of the run’s after party which  have missed on account of not being able to run fast enough to make it back in time for all the fun.  My life in a nutshell.  Almost got to be part of the adventure, but didn’t quite make it. Shame.  Not so with the RSR!  I shall go to the ball!  This event welcomes all-comers.

Don’t get me wrong, it is challenging, many people actively train for it for quite a long time, but it is also doable. The stop start format which might be an anathema to other participants fleeter of foot is fab for me.  You can get your breath back, have a bit of a chit chat with fellow participants whilst having a drink/ banana or whatever before you rock on.  The social element means you get lots of encouragement along the way.  As a slower runner I especially benefit from this as practically the entire field overtakes me at some point, and for the most part they offer cheery motivational phrases or friendly greetings as they whizz by.  My only gripe is they still haven’t made fancy dress compulsory and it was a bit thin on rainbows and unicorns again this year, but I daresay it’s only a matter of time before these brilliant ideas are implemented.  Rome wasn’t built in a day – well, so they say.  Nor is much flat pack furniture, so we have to give the organising team the benefit of the doubt.  Much as I’d like to see these enhancements made, I concede I’m pleased they focused instead on shifting the cows.  Not all bovines are as docile as Ferdinand.  Fact.

The_Story_of_Ferdinand

So, you will understand why I still get excited about the RSR, it was the first ‘proper’ event I ever did – apart from a few parkruns and a truly lamentable Women’s Running Nottingham 10k which remains 5 years on the most dull and uninspiring event I’ve ever entered had the misfortune to enter, godawful route running backwards and forwards on tarmac whilst tantalisingly close to what looked like a perfectly nice park to run in.  Anyway, hence therefore, I inadvertently entered the RSR in its first year, before it was a thing, and when you didn’t have to fret about whether you’d manage to get a place before it all sold out.  I did so because I took very literally the blurb about this being an inclusive event suitable for all comers hence failing to notice the details re distance and ‘undulations’ and stuff like that. I’m so glad I was that naive, I’d have been way too scared to have entered otherwise.  Since then, it’s grown to be the ‘must do’ trail run for Sheffield.  Well, I think it has.  Not just because it’s inherently a lovely route, but because of the whole running carnival that goes along with it.  You will see everyone you know (running wise) at this event, whether you want to or not.  Consequently, there is not only fun to be had at the event, but also all the anticipatory build up.  Hurrah!

The build up, like the route, comes in waves.  It starts way back in February I think, when you have the first challenge of remembering to enter on the day registration opens.  Places go fast.  In previous years, people that weren’t lucky could be reasonably confident of picking up a place nearer the time as others drop out because of injury, or maybe having a life outside of running or whatever, but in recent years less so.  You can arrange to swap your number up to about a month in advance of the run, after that too late.  Once the event is full, there is a plethora of ‘oh no, I missed it‘ followed by emoticons indicating heart break and grief, or alternatively the ‘whoop whoop, I’m in‘ exchanges on various Facebook pages as people share news of their entry attempt fortunes for better or worse.  Then it all dies down for ages, apart from the odd post on the Round Sheffield Run facebook page reminding us all they exist, which is obviously good to know.

Wow, after the weather at the solstice weekend, it’s hard to imagine Endcliffe Park under a foot of snow.   These pics are proof positive though of the year round loveliness of the Round Sheffield Walk which, (in case it isn’t a self-evident truth), is basically the Round Sheffield Run Route.

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Then, in the final few weeks, the anticipation builds up like magma beneath a volcano, ready to erupt in a glorious and breathtaking display, which will be magnificent to behold but could result in injury and pain if you misjudge how you approach it.  We are drip fed newsworthy milestones.  The arrival of the jelly babies; the coming of the numbers (oh, they did take note of the request for more rainbows!  See what they’ve done there with the colours for the starting waves); a big reveal of the bling and wow, some seriously good tankards with the route engraved on for the various category winners.  Even I’d put a bit of a wiggle on if I was even so much as in shouting distance of getting my hands on that!  Fortunately, I’m not, so my usual trotting rhythm could prevail.

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The next stage of the anticipatory journey is the traditional skip round to Front Runner to pick up your race number in advance of the day.  It is part of the whole ritual, much like buying a Christmas tree or having a family row/ meltdown in the car park of Tescos is part of the whole yuletide tradition.  For authenticity, this should really be done after completing a Sheffield Hallam parkrun, so you can be slightly sweaty and flushed with that giddy mix of post-run endorphins and caffeine when you pop in.  You will meet loads of people you know there doing the same thing.  You are supposed to remember your race number to speed up the collection process, but tradition demands that many don’t.  I have a feeling it’s also an established tradition that it is mandatory to make slightly risque quips about the latest 60 second Front runner on line product review whilst you are in their getting your number if you can.  Hmmm, actually, I’m not absolutely sure about that one, could be a more recent thing, like slime.  That never used to be a thing you know, no idea why it is now. Sometimes this is hard, the quipping, not the slime, and sometimes it’s basically shooting at an open goal – a most appropriate metaphor given that we are amid the world cup football season.  I submit the Saxx Underwear Kinetic Boxer Briefs by way of evidence.  Really, how is anyone supposed to hear the phrase ‘famous for its ball park pouch‘ and not snort with laughter and demand the ritual humiliation of the salesperson for the merriment of the merciless hordes in consequence.  I’m pretty confident no-one else has ever suggested that the product should have been modelled for the purposes of the review though.  I got there first.   That’s me, both innovative and uniquely hilarious!  Laugh?  Thought my knickers would never dry!  They say you shouldn’t laugh at your own jokes, but if I didn’t who would?  Shouldn’t always listen to what they say anyway, that way madness lies.

Where was I?  Oh yes, digressing.  So went in to get my number, and whilst there marvelled at these.

Pictures by running ink – I lurve them!  He’s done some other prints of Hallam parkrun and Sheffield half.  They are in my view, genius.  Somehow they manage to capture both the spirit of the events and locations perfectly.   Christmas presents sorted for Sheffield runners/ parkrunners everywhere say I.  Well I say that, the Limb Valley one lacks verisimilitude due to the absence of aggressively stampeding cattle taking down the runners, then again, it does picture race day, and in fairness the cattle were moved to facilitate that this time around anyway.  Joking apart, the cattle in that particular field coming down the Limb are a bit scary.  I’m usually fine with farm animals, but I wouldn’t mess with them.

cattle down the limb

There have been a few incidents involving the same herd over the years, leading to runners or walkers being hospitalised by the cows, two in the last few weeks; as well as a marshal kicked at the RSR only last year.   For reasons I don’t fully understand despite the right of way going through it, the farmer apparently isn’t obliged to keep his stock clear of the path, it is farmland after all and animals have to graze somewhere. However, it seems logic is prevailing, it’s in everyone’s interests to get this sorted, and there is a plan afoot to crowdfund for a decent fence to keep cattle and people apart.  Hope it comes off, the farmer has I think agreed to maintain and in effect surrender a strip of land for this, if others pay for the actual fence, I don’t know really, something like that – but it essentially sounds like a grand plan.  I’m in.  Hope you are too.  Great good people, the greater good.  Mind you, can’t really blame the cattle for being a bit mardy, when you think how they end up being eaten.  The truth will out.

had a farm

So entry made, number collected, training either done or not done, and all too soon it was the evening before the morning after.

RSR event village night before

And so it begins!

The morning dawned. I know, you are still stuck here reading and I’ve not even made the start line yet. Sorry(ish) about that, but if you are still with me at this point you are either guilty of contributory negligence (you could have walked away at any point, reading this is not compulsory) or, you are carrying an unwanted childhood legacy of believing that once you start reading something (book, article whatever – not the actual phone book) you are somehow, for some unknown reason obligated to finish it.  Or is that just me? Either way, can’t help.  Sometimes people need to own their own decisions, your ability to ‘just say no’ lies within you, and you alone.  Just so you know.

Anyway, hurray RSR day!  I was a bit dejected that I wasn’t facing the day all fit and lean and fired up post my first every marathon. Have I mentioned yet in this post that I ran London earlier this year?  I struggle to believe that is possible too if it’s any consolation.  I was unsure whether or not to take Geronimo with me.  She was a star last year, but since London she’s been carrying a quite severe neck injury.  Not so much lopsided, but actually broken, I know some run brilliantly with a brace, but I don’t feel a neck brace would be appropriate for her just now, she’s earned her retirement.   Whilst I have had some physio for my poorly knee (I have patella tendonopathy apparently, which is why I’m not really running much at the minute, it’s got nothing to do with running apathy, although it’s easy to see how the confusion arises) she’s basically been resting…. in the back of my wardrobe.  It looks quite bad, and it was going to be a hot day anyway, too hot to take her out injured and untrained, don’t want to find myself featuring in the next series of Animal Rescuers SOS UK on Quest Red/ Animal Planet or whatever, I decided this year I’d be running naked.  Here’s a shot from last year though, looking fabulous!  Wow, she looks so much younger then, a fair few miles on the clock since, sigh.  What adventures we’ve had…

go geronimo 2017

Not that sort of naked.  Honestly, how childish.  You are the sort of person who is probably still sniggering about the saxx ball park pouches!   Grow up!

I was up ridiculously early because I couldn’t sleep.  Also I have my pre-run rituals, like eating porridge, and slathering my feet with Vaseline which is messy, but amazingly does keep my twinkle toes* miraculously blister free.  Then I was distracted because there was a rather cute mouse scavenging under the bird feeder.  I like having wildlife in the garden, it makes me feel special that they have chosen to co-exist with me somehow.  This meant I actually left later than planned, but it’s only a short hop, skip and a jump from my house to Endcliffe park. I did have my TomTom watch on, it’s basically a really expensive watch at the moment as it won’t upload anything, but it does still record what I’m doing and vibrate after every mile which I find pleasing.  I’m quite low maintenance in some respects.  I was dithering about whether or not to wear my ultimate direction waist pouch. It was going to be hot, hot hot, but one of the rare pleasures of doing a long run at a race is that you have water stations along the way and don’t need to lug everything along with you.  I took it anyway, preferring to wait and see what happened in the way of peer pressure when I got there as that’s always a deciding factor.

Look!  They were expecting me:

RSR starting pen ready

As I got nearer to the epicentre of the event, I exchanged nods with fellow runners making their way down.  Once in the park I met a spectacularly smiley smiley, who was all set to run in a pair with her other half.   Because she is pathologically good humoured and smiley she was beaming as she explained that they’d only managed one practice run together at Longshaw, the Trust 10 – he’d abandoned her after one 5k lap, in favour of a coffee at the National Trust cafe whilst she completed the second lap…  ‘but it’ll be fine‘ she grinned.  And it was.

RSR they did fine

I find the concept of running as part of a pair terrifying and hilarious in equal measure.  I did it as a pair in the first year – not realising until too late we were 118 118 and so missing out on a fabulous fancy dress op – and it was comforting having a running buddy at the time, but never again.

The problem with being a pair is that unless you are identical twins, and face it, most pairs are not – particularly the mixed pairs – one person is either being constantly held back and the other dragged along.  Although I suppose we might like to think the shared struggle might bind people closer together it can also fracture friendships and probably marriages too, as previously hidden tensions are exposed and exploded messily outwards for the duration of the route.   It’s pretty much make or break for relationships I reckon.   I know some pairs have worked out that it’s best to give the slower runner control of the dibber (you have to dib in and out of the various stages and pairs need to be within a few paces of one another) that way they get to dictate the pace.  The rumour mill has it that sometimes the faster runners sprint ahead and dib in then wait for their partner, but I’ve never seen that, I have seen faster runners sprint ahead and then wait for their partners cajoling them to ‘move their blooming arse‘ by way of encouragement.

Other practical suggestions for ensuring pairs stay as pairs include shackling runners together, or going with mandatory pantomime cow/ horse outfits- clearly my preferred option.  I mean it’s been done before, so there is precedent.  Newcastle race course I thank you… honestly, wouldn’t it gladden your heart to see this at the RSR as the elite pairs wave takes off?  It’s like my idea for more unicorns, you just know it would win hearts and minds if they’d only bite the bullet and make it so!

So I dithered, exchanged pleasantries.  Drank most of the water I’d carried down with me, and then decided I’d not bother with my belt as I’d drunk most of the water I had with me anyway.   There were two water stations en route I knew, and I knew a couple of marshals, I decided instead to carry money so if I was really desperate I could take a detour and go buy some.  In the end I found I didn’t need to.  I collected my timing device, dibbery thing, from the dib dabbery dispensing team

RSR collect dib dob

deposited my bag in the bag drop and then set about mingling on my way to the loos, which had already gathered quite a queue.  I can think of no event which has cracked the algorithm for calculating the appropriate number of loos for an event.  The RSR is no exception.   I did make it though, although my cubical was without toilet paper even at 8.00 a.m. I have a strong suspicion it had never been in possession of any.  I was OK as it was only a drip dry visit, I can only hope other takers were not caught unawares.

I was in the 8.35 wave, so early and it was relatively cool.  Loads of Smilies were about (other running clubs are available) so good to catch up with a few.  I ditched my camera with my bag so didn’t get many shots before that, but maybe there’ll be others later, or maybe there wont. Either way is fine, we have our memories.

It all went pretty quickly, we waved off the elites.  Fun watching them kick off at a sprint – they had to pause to dib in first though…

They are amazing. The first guy home did the route in 1 hour 10 minutes.  I mean that’s crazy fast!  I’m glad I wasn’t in their way.

The waves are organised by colours – colours of the rainbow in fact, isn’t that lovely.  So the elites were red, and my wave was orange. Once the reds were off, we oranges ambled into the starting funnel, and then sent on our way, you  have to dib your dibby thing in as you pass the start, so it isn’t a mass stampede, more like shaking tic tacs out of one of those dispensers.  Coming across in ones and twos.  Although there were loads of people I knew in my wave, I didn’t particularly run with anyone, and it was surprising how quickly we all spread out.  No worries, you are never alone at the RSR, always running buddies around to interact with as the mood takes you.

So far so good, but to be fair, but this is why I won’t wear strings of pearls.  Not only when running, but in life generally as a rule.  I think it’s a good one.  I was reminded of the wisdom of this at the Round Sheffield Run.  It’s the dib dobbery thing that they issue, it’s on a lanyard.  Wearing it gave me flashbacks to working in an office and having to be permanently sporting my id on a similar lanyard.  They aren’t the most elegant of accessories.  Essentially, unless you physically strap your boobs (or moobs) down to achieve a twenties  flipper flapper girl flat line silhouette the thing is in perpetual motion.  It bounces from one boob to the other before swinging up to hit you in the face periodically just to make sure you are concentrating.  It was a tad annoying, but you do sort of get used to it. It’s amazing what you can get used to, that’s why some frogs end up being boiled alive, albeit only very unlucky ones that are subjected to pointless experiments by sadistic scientists.   Unless that’s a myth, it’s probably a myth.  I don’t know.  Prefer the stories about the crabs and crayfish that escape though, even if they are the minority.  Those flappers though, didn’t they have a blast with their Charleston routines, no fly away beads were going to be cramping their style!  I’m expecting this image to be spookily similar to my action running shots.  I am also prepared to be disappointed, so all bases covered there.  My shoes will be a tad different for a start.  I was rocking my trusty innov8 s even though they are developing an annoying hole at the side.

charleston

Anyway, for better, for worse, I was underway.

Stage 1   :  2.9km Endcliffe Park to Forge Dam

A pleasant gradual ascent leaving Endcliffe Park, up through Bingham Park and Whiteley woods, a stage to take nice and steady through the paved and dirt tracks up to Forge Dam.

 Liason between 1-2

A short walk / jog up past the Cafe to the start of the next stage

I’m always taken aback at being expected to run at these events, and after 100 metres in I was quite relieved to see an early get out.  There at the sidelines was Smiley Selfie Queen – just arrived as she was in a later wave than me.  It is a rule that you can’t not have a selfie with Selfie Queen so naturally I departed the course to sort one – and very fine it is too!  Well, I thought it was at the time, but now I can’t find it, so I probably imagined the whole thing, still nice to see a buddy early on.  Oh, hang on, it’s been reissued, hurrah!  Here you go, yep, I do like it, happy days 🙂

selfie queen and me at start

I headed on with a new spring in my step, and it was only another couple of hundred metres to the end of the park and the first crossing point. I was a bit confused to find the ‘usual’ marshal wasn’t in situ, not that her replacement wasn’t totally delightful, but there are some traditions that I irrationally expected to be repeated year on year.  Over the road, along past the Shepherd’s Wheel, and up towards Forge Dam, where, much excitement, I took advantage of the first of the official recovery sections to avail myself of the loo, for which there was no queue, and there was toilet paper.  I would be able to concentrate now for the rest of the run.  Insider knowledge you see, helpful for race-craft planning on the day.

There was a stealth photographer lurking somewhere in the woods in Stage one or two, not entirely sure which as I didn’t spot them, fab pics though.  Nice to see a photographer the other side of the lens for a change too.  Thanks RSR for supplying these each year in return for donations to raise funds for the fantastic Weston Park Cancer Charity – you too can make a donation at: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rsr18

Somewhere around here, a fellow runner was asking how hard the uphill section really was compared to say the Graves park uphill bit.  She wasn’t that familiar with the route, despite being a Sheffield local, and was wandering whether to save herself or just go flat out as much as she could from early on. Tricky one. The uphill to Ringinglow is most definitely the hardest part, steep and tree rooty. The problem is, that then there are other parts which turn out also to be the hardest part later on – Graves park and Brincliffe Edge spring to mind, though spookily they are then immediately erased from it post race, so you forget how hard it all is and naively put yourself forward for it all over again the following year.  More than one female friend has compared the RSR experience to childbirth, by which I presume they mean agony at the time with a lot of pushing through to get the job down, rather than actually going home with an addition to the family.  Also, and I am just getting here, rather less cards on the mantle piece and bouquets of flowers subsequently.  On the other hand, after the RSR there is beer and bling, so it’s really swings and roundabouts.  Anyways, always good to make a new friend along the way.  Happy running new best friend!  Somewhat excruciating photo of me but hey ho, good to be snapped with a chit chat buddy along the way.

RSR new best friends

I love the social atmosphere of this event, it’s all pretty conversational at my level, and the camera never lies, lots of buddied up runners were out in force:

It was in this section that cheery marshal/ Hallam RD was in situ to dib us out and cheer us on.  I do like to see a known marshal, it’s very encouraging.  What’s more, somewhere around Quiet Lane there there was even our very own rock’n’roll Smiley.  She wasn’t doing the RSR as still recovering from the Liverpool Rock’n’Roll marathon from a few weeks back, but had planned her morning run to take in the atmosphere of the RSR. It was sooooooooooooooooo exciting to see her.  We exchanged sweaty hugs and went on our respective ways in opposite directions with shouted promises to meet again at the festival hub later on. Hurrah!

BA quiet lane crossing

Stage 2   :  2.5km Porter Valley Ascent

Up from the Forge Dam Cafe this stage leads us up the porter valley and away from town towards the Peak. The gradual ascent becomes slightly more aggressive half way up leading up. This is possibly the toughest part of the course, a good one to get under the belt early on.

 Liason between 2-3

The “Recovery” Stage along fulwood road sticking to the trail on the left past the Alpaca farm to ringinglow road, this stage is nice and flat and will allow for nice recovery after the endeavours of the previous two

Imaginatively, stage one, is followed by stage two.  They don’t miss a trick at the RSR!  For the competitively minded, this also incorporates the King / Queen of the Hill section, so a fair few would have put a sprint on up here.  Not me though. It’s been very dry, so no mud, though there were a few tree roots and scrabbly bits towards the top. I like this part of the route, is very familiar, but it must come as a shock to those who aren’t used to running it, it’s pretty darned steep.  This section is often referred to as ‘the hardest’ part of the course.  It is, whilst you are doing it, then you get to other ‘hardest’ sections and your perspective shifts. It is however picturesque, and there is much wildlife to enjoy.  Or more accurately, much wildlife to enjoy you, you could here the insects chomping down on flesh all around – I was spared to some extent by wearing full length leggings (on a serious note I like to protect my milky limbs from tics, nettles and bites alike) and also by having doused myself in jungle insect repellent, which is probably carcinogenic, but long term death wish aside, it’s use did spare me to some extent in the short term from the biting insect plague that surrounded us.

I can’t lie, I may have walked a bit here.  More than a bit, but I did also get some welcome encouragement as I did so.  A fellow parkrunner from Hallam stormed past ‘you’ve done London you can do this‘ he called out – I was both chuffed and touched.  And yes I did and yes I can.   Thanks for the support cardiac parkrunner super hero , appreciated 🙂

MH cardiac runner hero

It’s easy (for me) to feel defeated before I’ve even really started when running, I’m not a natural (in case you hadn’t already worked that out for yourself), but I can still crack on and participate in my own way.  At least I always get my monies worth at events in terms of time spent on course, practically mates rates costings the length of time I’m out and about.  Encouraged I put on a bit of a spurt, until the thundering of feet behind me led me to dive into the bushes and let a load of other runners come past.  I didn’t mind, I wasn’t going for a time, and so I do try to give way when I can, also it’s an excuse for a pause, and you can marvel at the speedos (not the shorts, the fast runners) as they effortlessly pass by.

It is steep that hill though.  I mentioned to a runner behind me who was similarly lamenting the gradient that it’d be a whole lot easier if someone would just give you a good old shove from behind.  Astonishingly, she obliged.  Now, I’m aware that retrospectively that might sound a bit weird, maybe even a little too intimate, but in the moment it was actually fabulous, and what’s more, it even works. It is way easier to get up hill if someone is pushing you.  If I’d bothered to notice who she was a bit more I’d have booked her again for next year. She did rather sprint off ahead though, once we got to the top, so unlikely as it might seem, it seems possible she isn’t holding out for a repeat booking.  Oh well, I still got the benefit this year.

At the top of the hill, you get the first of the two feed stations, groaning under the weight of jelly babies and water, staffed by happy looking marshals.  I reached over to get a bottle and managed to pretty much topple the entire table’s worth as they tumbled like dominoes.  My ineptitude was noted, but laughed off and forgiven, phew. Imagine the shame of being disqualified for messing with the water.  Still, it can happen to the best of us.  Me and Mo, indistinguishable in this respect, losing our bottles inexplicably.

mo bottle

This is the first major social stop though, you see loads of people you know as there was 12 minutes recovery before heading off down the limb, so plenty of time to chit chat to new arrivals or wave off those marching on to section three.  I found I met up with a Smiley buddy I’d bonded with first last year, at this very event I think, when I demanded to see inside her TNT top for sizing purposes.  Or it might have been at the TenTenTen, doesn’t matter, point is, we were able to have a catch up and companionable walk and talk to the start of Stage 3, where she left me for dust, obviously.   We have bonded through my short-lived foray into cross country running, I shudder at the memory, but hey ho, more new running buddies, and you can never have too many of them can you?  Like running shoes, always room for another pair, all have their own unique qualities, and idiosyncrasies, and you lay down running memories together for better or worse!  He she is, on the way to catch me up  – not that hard for her it seems…

RSR right behind me

However, I was then joined by Smiley selfie queen ensuring suitable photo ops at the top of Limb valley before our speeding descent.

Stage 3   :  2.5km Limb Valley Descent

Wide open grassy trail, leading into windy, flowing singletrack down through the Limb Valley, a real nice downhill section that everyone is bound to enjoy. Our personal favourite.

Liason between 3-4

A short walk / jog across the main road and down onto the playing fields to the start of the trailhead. 

Sadly I missed these tooled up smiley supporters at the Norfolk Arms area, but I’m confident they were there and doing sterling work!  Thanks guys!

CH aw missed this

There were a few people sat in chairs at the Ringinglow turn though, clapping us as we trudged past. They were most cheery, though to be fair they must have thought we were the least motivated and slackest runners ever, what kind of a race is it where everybody walks?  I wonder if anyone paused to tell them it was an official recovery stage.  Not that it really mattered, they seemed to be enjoying the sense of occasion, and smiled back as we greeted them on passing.

Time for a pair shot, courtesy of a multi-tasking marshal:

CS top of limb valley

and we headed off down together. She is a faster runner than me, but even I can enjoy a bit of a romp downhill.  We espied a photographer and it was our big moment, I say ‘our’ but actually, I was beaten at my own game.  No wonder Smiley Selfie Queen can run faster than me if she basically hover glides round the whole course on a wave of air like pyroclastic flow!  That’s my ‘it should have been me’ face.  I’ll own it.

limb valley descent jump

There were loads of other epic running down the valley shots – and not a stampeding cow in sight!  Thanks Mark Havenhand, the pictures make me happy, as does running down hill.  Go Monday Mobsters!  Go small park BIG RUN.

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We didn’t fall out over her high jinks, but she just out paced me and sped off, once we got to the style at the bottom of the descent.  Another photographer was handily positioned there and got some great atmospheric shots (thanks Steve Frith) I particularly like the black and white portraits, but there are some crackers in this set, including a few levitaters and jumpers.  One woman was clearly expecting the doggy dash, not sure that was quite within the rules…

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I loped onward, down through the woods.  I love this bit.  It was strange to think that last time I ran this path it was treacherous because of inches thick ice and snow. That doesn’t seem possible now!

Some shouted out as they raced by.  I wasn’t going that fast they couldn’t, only fast for me, which is different, everything is relative you know.  A few asked after Geronimo, I was slightly regretting not bringing her, she’d have enjoyed it, and would definitely have been first giraffe home this year.  If I get in for 2019  I think I’d like to run with a companion animal again, they are a reassuring presence, might see if I can even blag it as an emotional support animal and have one with me at all times, after all, they also cover a multitude on the tummy front, and sides also.  So we’ll see.  It’s nice that people cared though.  I kept forgetting I had my name on my shirt still, so some who greeted me by name I maybe really didn’t know,  hard to tell, they whizz by in such a blur, I can but dream of covering the ground so fast …

Down until spat out around Whirlow, a bit of concentration was required for the road crossing and onto stage four.

Stage 4   :  1.8km Ecclesall Woods

Having crossed Eccleshall road south on the liason between stages, we are into Eccleshall woods, a favourite with locals. The first section stretches through pine, skipping between roots and pine needles, then up onto the main trail and down through to Abbeydale Road.

Liason between 4-5

Along the road past Dore Station and the a left up over the railway and up to the next trailhead, up the stairs to the start of the next stage. We were kind enough not to make the stairs part of the timed section. 

There was a ‘regular’ marshal here, in  his usual spot, apart from one year when he missed it for some unspecified reason. It was a good one, with nice views, handy bench, before you turn into the cool calm of Ecclesall Woods.  I had a few speedy runners tear by me here.  They are fearless, I’m still cautious with all the tree roots, but they seem to be able to pick their way through like mountain goats.  Maybe not mountain goats, they do more hillsides don’t they, wood sprites then, yep, they sprinted through like wood sprites, they’d have given Puck girdling the world a run for his money, and he can put a girdle round the world in forty minutes.  Really, he can!  I think Puck might be more into OCR events though, he’s on record as being especially scathing about road runners I understand…

In the second part of the woods – the bit before you emerge onto Abbeydale Road and Dore Station, I spotted a doubled up runner ahead.  At first I thought she’d maybe got a stitch, but she’d fallen and was holding a pad against her bloodied knee to try and stem the flow a bit from what looked like quite a nasty gash.  I stopped and offered help, but as I had no first aid kit, and no medical insight, all I could really offer was companionship and helpful phrases such as ‘oh no, it must be awful for you’.  Other runners also stopped, until there was a little huddle, one of whom actually had some plasters.  I offered to stay but was assured there was no need, so I went ahead to let the marshals know.

The next marshal was an ally!

DW happy marshal

Hurrah!  Not running himself due to injury, he was nevertheless offering cheerful support and, on request, access to a stash of water.  I wasn’t too bad, but didn’t want to let the opportunity to rehydrate a bit pass me by knowing the killer steps that were just ahead.  I mentioned about the injured runner, but he didn’t have a first aid kit either. She emerged whilst I was chit chatting, no idea if she continued or not, I’m guessing not, but then again, these trail runners, they are a hardy breed.

So spat out the woods and on past Dore station, phew, it was hot now…

DW road trudge

and the next challenge was The Steps.

CS those steps

This is also ‘the hardest’ section of the RSR, even though they are no longer part of the actual run, they are brutal.  Even when they end and the next stage starts the incline is more than just ‘undulating’ and the paths narrow.  So we were into Stage five.

Stage 5   :  2.5km Beauchief Golf Course

Undulating Single track up and over lady woods, until Beauchief golf course can be seen on the left, the track then hugs the course through the woods popping out onto the road down to the beautiful Beauchief abbey, back into the woods continuing on next to the GC eventually coming out onto the road.

 Liason between 5-6

A short walk across the main road and up the pavement and down into the next set of woods.

I love this stretch if I’m running alone, but it is quite challenging within the context of the RSR.  To be fair, many walk sections of this, it’s deceptive as the uphill goes on and on, but of course some do want to speed by and the narrowness of the path, and steepness of the hill makes it hard to move out of the way.  It was all good natured though.  I jumped off the track where I could, and put a wiggle on in other areas to avoid slowing up others too much.  Came across some woodrunners, and I told them how useless I’d felt when trying to help the fallen runner earlier. They ventured that they’d got a foil blanket which would have been of almost as much practical support as my offer of companionship – though I did point out they might have fashioned it into a cloak so they’d take at least the look of superheroes saving the day.  How we laughed.  …

a bit later I came across them, tending to one of their number who’d got something in his eye I think ‘what not using the foil blanket‘ I quipped as I sprinted shuffled on by.  In my defence, I still have a dodgy knee, so I’m supposed to be extra careful going up hill.  I meant to get that excuse in earlier to be fair, still, better late than never!  Soon enough she leapfrogged me again (not literally, I mean overtook me) and couldn’t see the injured party anymore. Presume the group cut their losses and left him for dead. It happens, it’s the way of the trails….

… not really though – in fact, post the event there were quite a few appreciative posts on Facebook from runners who’d fallen along the way, but been helped up and on by other participants who’d stopped to offer assistance.  The ethos of the event definitely encourages that, though I think it helps that Sheffielders are, on the whole, pathologically friendly anyway, or at the very least inquisitive enough to stop and find out what’s going on.  Plus maybe parkrun has helped build a sense of a supportive running community as well.  This will henceforth be known as a ‘Lucy fact’ that is, something I believe to be true, but am completely unable to evidence.  I daresay I hold a fair few delusions thoughts as a consequence, you just have to hope and trust that for the most part they are benign…

Some clearly whizzed through the road with the golf course on either side:

DW storming through golf course

The scattered trio?  Snapped together again later, so all good, well good-ish, looks like a bit of navigational negotiation is going on here, or at the very least something’s been spotted hiding in the woods.  We may never know 🙂

RSR caption contest

Time for some more official photos that pleased me.  Check out the woman who has totally nailed the ‘seen the photographer look’ one to beat surely?   I’m liking the pairs action shot too though.  The high-fiving smiley; the jolly orange team mates and, in the interests of random questions, did anyone else spot the Byzantine Pottery Club contingent?  Got to be a story behind those runners in red… or maybe they just really like Byzantine Pottery and associating with like minded people.  Much like members of Chorlton runners like chortling and running I suppose. That makes sense…

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Stage 6   :  0.9km Chancet Woods

A cheeky fast short section of flowing undulating singletrack.

Liason between 6-7

Across the busy A61 and along the pavement up to the entrance to Graves park. The stage starts a little further in.

Yep, did that, nothing to report, crossing the road was a bit of a mare.  I had fell-flying Smiley join me on the walk section.  She was all smiles and storming it in a mixed pair too.  We were able to compare notes about who we’d seen where on the course, to get a steer on who else would be coming up behind me anytime soon.

Stage 7   :  1.4km Graves Park

A gradual ascent through the mature woods of Graves park, this is another stage to take at a steady pace, up and over right across the park popping out at the main car entrance.

Liason between 7-8

Following the main road on the tarmac path up around 500m to the New Inn Pub, turn left onto road here, following to the start of the next trail.

Maybe it’s because I’m always tiring by the time I reach this section, but I think this is also the hardest part. It just goes on and on, deceptively tough.  There are a few bystanders to gaze at you in bemusement, or proactively cheer you on, depending largely on the luck of the draw.  You know what, it’s well worth clicking on the thumbnail pictures on the description of the stages section of the website, you can see the elevation there, it’s brutal!  No wonder it’s hard going.

You bypass the back of the Rose Garden Cafe and exit the park at the bottom, then there’s another walkie talkie bit, before you end up at the second feed station, which was heaving.  Well maybe not when this photo was taken, those resplendent in their red numbers were the elite wave, by the time I rocked round it was ten deep at the water station – but good natured bustling rather than elbowing each other out the way vibe.  This was no open water swim at a triathlon, room for basic courtesy.

DW feed station

Just before we got to it, there was a woman standing by some recycling bins near to the pub car park in the shade of a tree. She had a few bottles of water and was clapping everyone with enthusiasm ‘hats off to you, don’t know how you can manage this in all this heat’ she was saying, apparently genuinely impressed.  Again, this was a walking session, but her enthusiasm was appreciated by me at least and others too I’m sure.  I wonder if over time this will become an event more people come out and support.  I mean it’s a trail race, so you’ll never get absolutely loads, but it did seem to me that there were far more spectators in the public areas (Graves, Meersbrook, Ringinglow village) than in previous years.  Who knows, it might yet become a thing, like the Sheffield half even, now that would be a.maz.ing!

It was like being at a party, with everyone jostling for the buffet in a good humoured way.  Jelly babies were piled high, the good gym team had a big banner up as they were staffing it.  There were also some novel proteiny snack pyramidy things.  Trek chunks I think?  Vegan and gluten free, and with 12 g of protein, which is a lot isn’t it.  In the interests of being able to accurately report back, I tried both types.   The chocolate and peanut one, which I thought vile  not to my taste, – though others reported preferring them, and some toffee and something ones which I really liked.  I do wish there were savoury options too though, that seems to me a gap in the protein/ energy bar market.  I saw smilies, Monday mobsters in their team sloth incarnation – always a treat, it was grand.  I’ve stalked you to get this shot people, is that weird?  Is it very wrong?  Any objection to its inclusion let me know.

team sloth

Any amongst the assembled scrum of runners with a penchant for squeam-inducing reality TV shows focused on blood and gore from gruesome accidents or DIY surgery say, were in for a treat!  This seemed to be an impromptu gathering point for people with bloody gashes, and there were some pretty impressive ragged-edge gouges being sported, and in one or too particularly spectacular cases prodigious amounts of blood.  Maybe I just got lucky but I was witness to more seeping, or even gushing wounds than I anticipated.  Astonishingly, nobody seemed to be complaining (though some were most definitely limping), injuries were more being worn as badges of honour – all smiles at the finish by the walking wounded – maybe they were just mightily relieved to have made it.  The nipple chafing sights were more evident on the finish line.  That’s got to hurt hasn’t it, imagine the screams of pain issuing out of the shower once the water gets turned on with them.  I’ve spared the blushes of those who didn’t adequately lube up pre race here, and resisted the temptation to include pictures of them without consent, they know who they are, crossing the line looking like they’ve survived being shot in the chest, not once but twice.  Not just hardcore, but apparently immortal… or maybe just mean with the sticking plasters/body glide purchases pre run.

But honestly, I’ve not seen so many skinned knees, grazed elbows and bloodied clothes since I was at junior school and the marbling craze coincided with the skateboarding one.  I think there were three concussions in one week before both were banned.  This was back in the seventies, and I don’t think my school was progressive enough to imagine that one day skateboarding would become an Olympic sport.  No really, it is, from 2020 according to the Skateboarding wikipedia entry.  I really hope marbling also becomes an Olympic sport one day, I don’t see why not, bowling is under consideration.  I’d like to see conkers feature too, but I recognise there are both seasonal considerations with that one, plus conkers is incredibly open to cheating.  I had fine conkers of mine taken out but others that I swear had been hardened by being dried in an oven or soaked in vinegar.  It would be a minefield to referee.  Still, point is, many gashes on show, if that’s your thing, I can’t absolutely guarantee you’ll be witness to this, but I’d say there’s a reasonably high probability you will.

After this feed station, you are nearly home really, though unfortunately the last bit of the run – with one notable exception as you whoop your way down Meersbrook park – isn’t my most favourite.

Stage 8   :  1.3km Lees Hall Golf Course

This is an exciting fast, flowing trail down between Lees Hall Golf course, down past the academy playing fields, opening up to some great urban views and then diving round to the left and back up towards Meersbrook.

Liaison between 8-9

Along the road in a straight line for about 500m, past the row of shops joining the main road and up to Meersbrook park entrance.

Stage 8 is a downhill stretch, but couple of issues with it.  Every single year, I’ve downed a whole bottle of water immediately before tackling it, so it sort of sloshes around and ends in if not quite the exact sensation of water boarding then most definitely hiccups. Also, there’s a lot of rubbish on this route, which is depressing.  This is also the stretch where bladder control fails runners, so you are treated to the sight of sheepish looking fellow participants going through the charade of trying not to be seen as they dive in and out the undergrowth in desperate search of a hidden spot in which to releive themselves.  Spoiler alert dear reader, there are no such spots, however, running etiquette demands that we all pretend not to notice, so that’s OK then.

Maybe it’s because people are tiring now, but I also seem to always see runners take a tumble here, I think the surface is not as reliable as it seems, it’s quite scree like when dry, not conducive to running headlong down in my view, though many do.

Some aren’t afraid to charge down through the undergrowth though, go them!

DW downwards

Not to worry, it is followed by…. drum roll… stage nine!

Stage 9   :  0.8km Meersbrook Park

This stage is extremely fast, bearing left along the paved path and hooking right down to the far corner of the park. One for the short distance specialists. Do take care, and don’t go too fast!

Liason between 9-10

Out the park across the A61 following the permanent signs, across to Abbeydale rd and Edinburgh Cycles, turn left onto Abbeydale Rd, and then turn right by the mirror shop for the start of the next stage. Marshalls will be in key positions for this slightly tricky liason.

Because Stage nine is Meersbrook park, past Bishops House

and into the park proper – which is where you get the now iconic views of Sheffield, they really are breath taking.  No wonder people were leaping for joy as the city skyline came into glorious view!

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You also get to run down hill, which is fun, and if you are a Smiley, you get to see and potentially hug at least one Smiley and often more, as this is a favourite picnicking and spectating spot.  I was bit puzzled as to why this particular smiley wasn’t running herself but it turns out it was her turn for childcare duty whilst her partner was running.  Inexplicably, you apparently aren’t allowed to put your children voluntarily into temporary care to enable you to participate in the RSR,  Like the situation with the cows in Limb valley this makes no sense to me, but fair enough, I’ll accept it as true.  On the plus side, it was nice to get some Smiley support.

There is  a drone video taken during the event from above Meersbrook, that’s fun.  Everyone gets to hurtle headlong downhill it’s weird to think only last weekend I was endlessly trudging up this very same hill for small park BIG RUN, don’t mind admitting coming down it is a lot more fun. Really, a LOT.

At the base of the hill was a glamorous looking photographer resplendent in floaty clothes, over-sized shades and a fabulous floppy hat.  Consequently, I completely failed to register her as a Smiley at the time – well she was practically in disguise.  Others were quicker off the mark, and she got some great coming down that hill shots.  Hurrah!

See nay sayers.  Running is super fun!  You just have to pick your trails and races carefully.

This section is all over a bit too soon, and is followed by, can you guess?  Stage ten.  Are you spotting the pattern yet?  Bravo!

Stage 10 :  2.2km Brincliffe Edge

The end is getting close, this urban stage takes you up the road on a gradual climb to Brincliffe edge, keep going up the road and the duck into the woods onto the trail, contouring round, then up and down into Chelsea park, popping out in quiet surburbia on the otherside. A few quiet wide streets to negotiate on the pavement before finishing just before Psalter lane.

Liason 10-11

A nice gentle trot down the hill to Hunters bar roundabout and the entrance to Endcliffe Park saving those legs for the final push knowing the end is in sight.

This section is also the hardest section.  I am not a fan.  Every year I forget just how joyless the urban trudge section is, I swear I blank it from my mind –  plus more uphill, savage up hill that makes you taste blood in your mouth as your lungs explode with the effort of dragging your carcass in defiance of gravity.  Worse still, as I moved house a few months back, the route now takes me past the end of my actual road, the temptation to nip home for a lie down is pretty strong, but my house keys were in my bag at the RSR bag drop, so I was going to have to retrieve them from Endcliffe park anyway, might as well run on.

One improvement for this year though, was prefacing the section  – which shall henceforth be known as the vile section – with a friendly familiar marshal and Sheffield Hallam parkrun stalwart who was conveniently positioned adjacent to a handy mirror, so you could check your look,  and smooth – or coquettishly ruffle – your hair, depending on your preferences and density of mane, before approaching the finish.  She was also game for restorative hugs, which, trust me, are much needed at this stage. Plus, it was mighty hot.  Phew what a scorcher some would say.  Lucky I have endured worse at London – did I mention that I ran that in record breaking heat this year yet?  Oh I did, just checking…

FM marshall spot mirror check

The liaison section before Stage 11 turned out to be unexpectedly jolly though, as I buddied up with another smiley for the walk down to Hunter’s Bar, and then finally back in to Endcliffe park, for the concluding stage.

Stage 11 :  0.4km Endcliffe Park Finish

A final flourish, starting at the park entrance up onto the park itself where you will join the marked course for the dash for the finish outside Endcliffe park cafe. You will be greeted by fellow competitors, adulation from the crowd and if you wish a cold beer!

Tradition requires a sprint finish here.  Top tip though people if you are that rare breed who hasn’t done this event before and is thinking of doing it for the first time in some future year, you can’t be seen by the crowd until after you’ve passed the hedge line.  Unless you are going for the fastest sprint prize (I wasn’t) you might as well pootle that first last bit, and then only once you round the hedge and are in view of the finish funnel and adoring crowds, put on your sprint.   No-one will be any the wiser. Well, I say that, but this year I did get ever so slightly rumbled by Swiss Smiley who is over for the summer and was positioned next to the children’s playground so could espy me sneaking in.  No worries, I’m sure she won’t judge, rather she enthusiastically high fived me, so that was good, and I ran in. The finish stretch is quite a sight.

DW and so it ends

Inevitably, practically every smiley in the world had finished before me, but on the plus side they were lining the finish with beer glasses in hand, quaffing and cheering, so you do get a sense of achievement coming to the finish as fellow club runners cheer, and other randoms do also, just because.  I mean do, I always cheer other runners coming in, whether I know them or not.  I’m programmed to do so, partly I think it’s an inherent genetic trait, and partly because it’s been brought to life and honed by many a Sunday at Graves junior parkrun, which is the most joyful thing in the world ever.  Fact.  No inhibitions about whooping or cheering or high-fiving there!

The atmosphere at the finish is great, the support as you come through, the pop-up festival going on in Endcliffe park, and the broad smiles and air punching of runners as they complete their sprint finishes flushed with endorphins, what’s not to like?

and then suddenly it’s over.  That’s actually quite sad.  You dib your final dib as you come through the finish.  A marshal loops a medal (which doubles as a bottle owner as has become tradition with the RSR bling) over your neck and you stagger to the dibber dabber control laptop area where in return for your dib dab thingy, after a few seconds of angst in case you haven’t dibbed properly throughout, a little print out of your splits is spat out.

DW results processing

The technology is amazing.  Then you join the orderly queue for your goody bag.  Glad to see this year it was held together by a paper bag.  You get a banana, a choice of crisps (I draw the line at monster munch, others did not, maybe as a parent you get desensitised to such things and are able to regard them therefore as a legitimate food source?  I can think of no other explanation).  I think there was a trek bar, can’t really remember.  There was a bottle of water, and a chance to sign up for an organic veg box delivery service – the display ones did look really nice, but it wasn’t really the interaction I was anticipating, so I didn’t really engage.  Sorry about that.

I did however get chatting to a woman in the queue who it turns out ran the Hathersage Hurtle a couple of weeks back, in even greater heat than today, so kudos to her.  You can’t  move for making new running friends at the RSR, another reason for its complete fabulousness, or for needing to relocate to another galaxy if you do anything really shameless en route, there is nowhere to hide.  NOWHERE.

I said goodbye to my new friend as various Smilies appeared over the horizon, and I was distracted by the important mission of getting into as many post race photos as possible.  Always a challenge. Normally, I’m back so long after everyone else has finished I miss out on these. The RSR offers a rare exception, as the different timed start waves means I can actually be back ahead of a few and alongside many. Hurrah!

We actually managed to muster a fair few smilies for a group shot, and even commandeered a bystander to snap us.  Hilariously, one photo was taken with one of our number arse uppermost.  Not entirely inappropriate that she was facing the wrong way, as she had also done the whole event wearing her vest back to front . I’ve done that before truth to tell, it’s easily done – but you can’t pass over an opportunity like that to roll around laughing can you, albeit I like to think we did so in an empathetic and supportive way.  Who knows?  Can you spot the difference between the two shots though – go on, give it a go!  Herding cats springs to mind…

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Unusually for me, I was tempted by the post run beer offer.  I don’t normally ever drink beer, and I don’t drink alcohol much either anyway, especially not after a run.  However, on this occasion, due to a fortuitous cock up (ill wind and all that) which was basically I think a failure to secure an alcohol licence in a timely fashion, all race participants got a free bevy or either full strength of 0.5% alcohol beer.  Why not.  No queues, and at last, the I espy the mysteriously missing (in my view) marshal.  Worry no longer, she is not mislaid or a victim of misadventure, au contraire, she has been promoted to bar staff!  Phew.  She had a marker pen and struck through your race number as you passed through the barrier to secure your drink. An important job, and one she did with good humour and aplomb!  Didn’t even need to brandish a clip board to maintain authority – that’s leadership skills for you.  All’s well that ends well.

For the record, and to my complete shock and astonishment, the low alcohol beer was absolutely delicious, really light, and refreshing with a sort of elderflower tone I thought, though as I know next to zero about such matters I wouldn’t put too much store by my critique, nevertheless, I’d definitely have it again, which is high praise indeed from me as I’m more of lime juice and soda or possibly G&T kind of gal.  I think it was called Big Easy or something, which sounds weird actually, I’ll have to check it out next time I can be bothered.   Oh yes, it was, found a picture – also, is it just me who noticed the woman on the label seems to be pulling a Mo Farah pose?  Good choice Thornbridge people, good choice!

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Cheers though, great innovation. Here’s hoping they continue to mess up the licence plans so we can quaff at the expense of Thornbridge Brewery year on year.  Every cloud people, every cloud.  It certainly helped the post run party go with a swing.  Also, no queue for the bar as only runners got to quaff, which might well have been a shame for everyone else, but was very fine for me.  Hurrah!

Equipped with my Big Easy, or whatever, I positioned myself on the grass alongside my Smiley compatriots.  As a welcome bonus, we were even joined by some Smilies who hadn’t been able to run due to injury/ recovery but who came along to join in the fun, and very fine to was to see them too, even if it was a bit strange to see them in non-running attire, who knew they had parallel non-running related lives and wardrobes to dress them accordingly? I thought everyone just lived in their active wear.  It was lovely sat on the grass, chillaxing I think is the correct term.  I also got free pizza, by dint of my proximity to another smiley who was offering some around. Oh my god, that was good, thank you so much Dig Deep buddy, very welcome sustenance.  Incidentally, I can’t promise all runners will get free pizza, but I will say this is the second year running I’ve pulled off this coup of freeganism, another runner freely offered it last year too (thanks regal smiley), I must have sort of ‘feed me’ eyes.

I say it was lovely sat on the grass, and it was mostly, it’s just that sooner or later the realisation hits you that getting up from the ground has become unexpectedly challenging. All too soon I realised when I tried to get up periodically that I was no longer as agile as I had been on waking.  Still, it was companionable, and we got to cheer others in as they came tearing down the tunnel all smiles.  I actually felt quite emotional watching some of the finishers. There were teams tackling it en masse; a few walking wounded; some sprinters to the line and a fair few who, once they came into view were joined by family members, children or running club buddies who ran in with them.  I like that, I know in some events it’s disallowed, but it’s fun to watch and as long as it doesn’t impede other runners I don’t see the problem.  I tried to take some photos, but what with the struggling to get up from the ground and my innate inability to take a decent photo my offerings are limited, but they are well intentioned, so there you go.

Eventually, one among us with initiative and a grasp of time, registered that there would be a prize giving shortly.  I got up, and as I’d made that effort anyway, went and got a coffee (another RSR innovation, proper coffee available post run, and this year I didn’t even have to queue for it!), and made our way to a different set of grass to witness the awards ceremony.  This was pretty entertaining, though I don’t get out much and am known to be easily entertained.  It’s just nice to see who the winners were, and there were team prizes as well as pair prizes this year.  I have no idea how they were calculated, but why not.  There were loads of official photos taken, but they’ve not been uploaded yet, I might add some in later, or I might not, depends whether I maintain interest in this blog post, or must move on to the next shiny thing I espy in my line of vision.

It was impressive to hear the times of the fastest runners, but I can’t help feeling they didn’t really get their monies worth in terms of time on the course.  Mind you, loved the tankards.  The times for the fastest man (David Addenbrooke Sheffield Running Club 01:10:1)  and the fastest woman (Lauren Davies-Beckett in 01:20:31) are pretty stunning though.  How is that even possible.  I suspect they chat a bit less and do less sight-seeing on the way round, though I suppose they still get the recovery stages, so do get to pause for a jelly baby en route if the mood takes them.

Most prize winners were there to collect their trophies and goodies.   Pleasingly, in an act of complete spontaneity, that wasn’t at all staged for the forthcoming film of RSR the fourth sequel, which is coming to a Facebook page near you soon – the male category winner used his medal bottle opener to take the top off his Thornbridge bottle of beer, decant it into his etched tankard, downed the beer in one and then upturned the empty vessel on to his head in triumph and proof the feat was complete. It was pure chance that a whole paparazzi crew were on hand at the time to capture the occasion. The ease with which this sequence was executed garnered real respect from the race organiser, I mean, just look at his face – he was in awe

DW caption contest

and once he’d managed to compose himself once again, observed that this performance  boded well if ever the runner in question fancied his chances in the beer mile challenge, which is another relatively recent addition to the Sheffield running calendar, though I’m not entirely sure how you get to take part – maybe through being talent spotted at outreach events such as this Round Sheffield Run. Wow, I wonder if the whole event was not in fact put together especially for me, but is a recruitment drive for the beer mile?  I don’t feel too used though, it’s still fun.  And it isn’t humiliating like the X factor auditions, they don’t show you failing on national prime time TV being crap, you just don’t get the surreptitious tap on the shoulder. I can live with that.

So event run, medals bagged, beer and coffee drunk, pizza eaten and winners applauded it was time to depart for another year.  A few scattered people were still lounging around on straw bales or snoozing in a deckchair under the still scorching sun, but most went off, maybe to watch football, or to check the functioning of their bottle opener medal, count how many RSR medals they have now amassed in their collection or just to lie down and reflect on another fine day.

RSR medal set

So there you go wasn’t that just dandy and fabulous.  Hope we all get to run it again next year, but if you don’t fancy the actual running bit, and it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, you can always inhale the intoxicating vibe by partaking as part of the RSR event team volunteers! Go awn, go awn, go awn, go awn.  You know you want to!

Results?  You care about the results, anyone would think this was a race not a run.  For those who need to know RSR 2018 results were streaming live on this link, but historic results are on the main RSR event website here.  Go on stats geeks, knock yourselves out – that’s half a decades worth of data you can swim around in, and counting! 🙂

And if you want to relive other years of the RSR, you can find all my posts here – scroll down for older entries.  Don’t have nightmares

*I say twinkle toes, but it’s an open secret I actually have hobbit feet, even so, they are, for the record, blister free.

 

Oh and photos, loads of photos, squillions in fact.  If running the RSR doesn’t make your eyes bleed, then checking out all the pictures afterwards definitely will.  Actually, I’m not entirely sure what constitutes a squillion but I’m fairly confident that this number of photos would meet the criteria.  Anyways, they are freely available on the ROUND Sheffield Run Facebook photo page, you can scroll through albums of previous years too if you don’t mind been swallowed up by a time vortex and spending the rest of eternity gazing at race photos.  It might not be such a bad way to end your days, some of the pictures are epic, and whilst not universally flattering (though some are fantastic portraits) they offer up hilarity or caption competition potential by way of consolation.  Always a boon.

 

In any event, browsing squillions of  race pictures whilst reliving the RSR has got to be more than one up from gazing at you own reflection Narcissus like.   I can’t imagine any race/ run participant being so delusional as to be consumed and overcome by their own beauty on sighting themselves in a running photo if my own experience is anything to go by, but the law of averages requires there must be at least one participant taking part snapped en route with an Adonis like physique or Helen of Troy like captivating attractiveness.  Other genders and cultural reference points for beauty are available of course, but I’m sure you know what I mean.  The point is, speaking personally, I’ve never found myself unable to leave the beauty of my reflection, or unable to tear myself away from a digital image or me running captured on camera, to such an extent I’ve lost the will to live. Weirdly though, I have frequently lost the will to live mid-way through a run.  So maybe it’s true, that we do indeed have More in common with one another than we realise…

However many photos or albums you choose to browse, be aware that in return, the RSR are politely requesting you consider making a donation to the Weston Park Cancer Charity, as in previous years, by way of recognition.

Remember people, the request is photos from ‘the gloriously Sunny Round Sheffield Run on Sun 25th June. We are hoping to raise some more funds for the fantastic Weston Park Cancer Charity – if you do use any of the images do consider a donation at: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rsr18

Right, roll up the sleeves and here we go thanks to:

Same time next year people?

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

Hathersage Turtle or Hathersage Hurt? Run it, walk it, love it! Hurtling through the peaks. Hathersage Hurtle 2018

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

*maybe not that

**type two fun also available

HH shot

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

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

royal wedding swimwear

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

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

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

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

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

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

off to hathersage hurtle

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

cattle companions in car park field

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

over the road to sign in

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

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

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

PS traditional loo queue

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

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

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

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

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

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

supportive laughter at the trunce

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

HH map

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

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

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

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

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

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

PS way to do it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZA jazz hands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

super star

Excellent and effortless fell running technique there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSCF2629

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

Only they hadn’t.  Debrief people, debrief!

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

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

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

And that was that, event over.

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

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

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

DSCF2665

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

PS run it walk it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you there!

🙂

 

 

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

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. London Marathon 2018 done and dusted. #SpiritOfLondon

Digested read:  did it.

done it

Brace yourself.  It’s a long one.  Then again, if running a marathon is considered a test of endurance, I see no reason why reading about it shouldn’t also be a test of resolve.  You can always scroll down to be fair, whereas it’s a lot harder to fast forward on the roads of London, so be gracious before your judge me too harshly!  All the same maybe fuel yourself before settling down to read this, and make sure you stay hydrated, or you’ll be wobbly and light headed before you even reach the half way marker.  You have been warned.  If you choose to read on and then get bored or annoyed, then you are at the very least guilty of contributory negligence.  Much as if you go for a recovery run when your toenails are black, blistered and bruised and then find they all fall off.  You will get no sympathy or truck from me.  So we are clear about all that then?  Good.  I thank you.

So here I am, out the other side. Stormed it!  Sort of, I maybe wasn’t quite the storm the warrior claimed, but was tenacious enough to make it round.  Somewhat shell-shocked.  It’s so hard to process all that has happened over the last 48 hours, or whatever it is.  It feels unreal.  I think that must be why they give you a medal at the end, so you can remind yourself it all really happened. Unfortunately in my official photo you can’t see my medal as I was too disoriented to hold it up, don’t panic though, there are plenty of other photos so you can relive the experience with me whether you want to or not!

There are already a plethora of London Marathon accounts out there, it’s a cliché but it’s true nevertheless that each of the 40,000 or so of us at the start would have had our own unique experiences.  Don’t worry, if you meet any of the other runners they’ll tell you about their marathon run in their own words too.  Aren’t you lucky?  This is the thing about running marathons.  Apparently 1% of the population have run a marathon now, no idea where that figure comes from, but I daresay it’s no more made up than the Lehman Brothers accounts and considerably less likely to lead to catastrophic collapse in the global economy, so let’s just go with that.  1% of the population is actually quite a lot of people, and all but one of them will tell you about it at length whether or not you have the slightest interest in their, sorry ‘our‘ endeavour.  There is only one person in history who has run a marathon without telling anyone and even then her friends felt compelled to remark on this so you’d still have got to hear about it.  Arguably, in the future, one of the most compelling reasons to run a marathon – apart from to prove your womb won’t fall out on the way round – is to enable yourself to get a word in edge ways when you encounter other people who have.   I think the belief your womb will fall out if you run too far mainly applies to men, but whatever.  It’s a thought, can’t beat ’em, join em. That’s the way it goes.

ran and didnt tell

If for whatever reason you don’t want to run a marathon, but would like to get those who have to shut up about it, here follows in microscopic detail my memory of my marathon adventure such as it was.  Truthfully it’s all a bit of a blur, some of the details are foggy, the chronology will be all over the place, but that will only add authenticity if you choose to tell my story as your own.

First things first.  I’d set my alarm for 5.00 a.m..  In fact I got a text from Virgin London Marathon at 5.02 anyway, so clearly early starts are the order of the day.  I was sweating already in the humid hotel room. It reminded me of when I was working in Cambodia, you know it’s going to be hot, hot, hot.  No question. The text said:

Today’s forecast is for hot weather with possible wet conditions early on. Temperatures may rise to 23C.  Adapt your goal, slow down& listen to your body.  Drink when thirsty. Take only one bottle at water stations & remember to Drink, Douse, Drain, Drop.  Good luck & enjoy the #SpiritOfLondon

Two things.  The temperature actually got to 24.1C (75.3F) –  recorded in St James’s Park, the Met Office said.  Also, why oh why did they tell runners to drain their bottles?  That’s rhetorical by the way, I know it was to assist with recycling, but when I was scrabbling around in the gutter trying to find any water left anywhere I was inwardly cursing that directive.  More of that later.

I was up, had a shower. Not going to lie, pretty gutted at the temperatures in prospect, but also feeling fatalistic in a positive way (is that a contradiction in terms). I suppose I mean it was like waking up on exam day.   You are at the point it’s now or never, you can either rail against the world screaming futilely into the wind at the injustice of the extreme heat of the event after training in the extreme cold, snow and ice, or accept it is what it is, and you have to get on with it.  In a way, it was a relief. I  wasn’t really believing it, but I told myself this heat would remove all expectations on me running wise, at least if it was a ‘record-breaking marathon’ because of this I’d get to be a record breaking marathoner by association, and anyway que sera sera.

I had a shower, and my first big triumph of the morning was – and I make no apologies for too much information because any fellow runner will know how much this can soothe both body and soul – a successful and significant poo!  Don’t be shy people, there are whole articles dedicated to perfecting this art of ;how to poop before a race’. Please note, I do however apologise for the use of the word ‘poop’ in the headline for the article, but that’s American journalism for you.  Hurrah, that was my first pre race angst vanquished.  They say don’t make any sudden changes to your diet in the run up to event days, but a big pasta meal recommended for carb loading the night before was to me exactly that. I knew I’d need the energy stores, but I’d been worried it would just sit there, like I’d swallowed a rock, weighing me down.  Instead, result! This was a good omen.

I put on my running kit straight away.  I went for vest only – on the top I mean, obvs I wore leggings and trainers and socks and runderwear knickers and an industrial sports bra as well – but before donning any garment, I squelched almost a whole tube of factor 50, once only application, water-resistant sunscreen everywhere that might be exposed. Arms, neck, arm pits, face, nose, ears, everywhere.  My skin hasn’t seen the sun all year, and is so white it might even reflect sunlight back to the sky and reverse global warming, but I wasn’t taking the risk.   I also put body glide on my inner arms, and legs – though I’ve never previously rubbed there but I thought I may as well.  I’ve also got another anti-chafing product, lanacane which I think is amazing, but it is expensive and I seem to get through loads of it, but I used that under my boobs because I know from bitter experience that needs special attention. I filled my two water bottles on my ultimate direction running belt with water and dissolved electrolytes in them.  THANK GOODNESS!  Other runners were going to rely just on the water on course, but I’d decided I’d drink the water en route, and then in the later stages drink my electrolyte laden water to stop me cramping or getting dehydration related salt imbalance.  I put in far more naked bars than I could possibly consume, and added in as an after thought some straight glucose tablets – again these turned out to be a life safer.

Down to breakfast.  The hotel was serving from 5.30, I’d imagined it would be a reduced offering for runners, but in fact a full buffet was out. That was hard.  Normally the opportunist in me would have made merry and cavorted with abandon amongst the hash browns, scrambled eggs and croissants.  However, I was disciplined, I stuck to my game plan of just a cup of horrible coffee – it wasn’t my plan that the coffee would be horrible, it just was – and some porridge. The porridge was not good.  It was nothing like the porridge I make myself.  It was mostly milk, with the odd porridge oat floating in it as a possible choking hazard.  I would have had it much thicker and packed with seeds and things.  I was worried I wouldn’t have had quite enough fuel, so I broke with my plan and had a banana as well.  I figured it would be a good 5 hours before I even crossed the start line, so probably not too high risk, though I have suffered before eating bananas too close to or mid event at the Round Sheffield Run.  On a more positive note, I was quickly joined by other runners.  One was from Denmark I think, and a veteran marathoner.  Another first time marathoner who has been a poster girl for the British Heart Foundation as she has a pace maker and spent many, many months in hospital having multiple surgeries, so the BBC are following her round.  Then there was another runner, more of my ilk. Got a ballot place and knew she had to do it, so here she was.  We were a mixed bunch, but excitedly chatting together about the day ahead. Another runner joined us…. with two tags on her shoes!  Immediate panic, why had she got two tags? Were we supposed to have two tags too? Turns out she was an elite runner taking part in some championship or other, she even had a striped back to her number.  I was too relieved that I was properly equipped to notice her name or number, but her physique suggested a professional, or near enough, athlete was walking amongst us.

We scampered to our respective hotel rooms for final teeth cleaning and trainer donning, and more poo stops, poo two from me, could things get any better in terms of pre race protocols?  I drank loads of water and put a litre or so in one to take with me to the start.  I do drink loads anyway, especially when I was sweating this much at 7.00 a.m..

A coach was going from the hotel to the start.  Some preferred to go planned routes via tube, but I wanted to make as few decisions as possible and stay off my feet so opted for that.   I waited outside with my other new best friends in our marathon gear, feeling somewhat self-conscious about both my upper arms and Geronimo, but also sort of enjoying the unlikely continuum of runners we collectively represented.  The sun was bright, and there was a breeze, it felt almost tropical.  It was a gorgeous morning, just not one you’d want before say having to run a marathon.  We got someone to take a photo. The first photo was into direct sunlight, so we got another facing the other way, just because.  Aren’t we lovely?

The coach pulled up just after 7.00 a.m. and set off promptly at 7.15.  Our elite runner was asking earlier whether we trusted the coach to come. Apparently a friend of hers at the Boston marathon got a package coach and it got lost en route to the start, for hours.  Not sure if the runner even made the off.  I had complete confidence in the organisation of the London marathon though, because this was before Watergate, and anyway, there was so long before start I figured even if it broke down there’s still be time to clamber on a tube and get to Blackheath.

The coach trip was quite exciting. Coach trips, whilst they always make me feel a bit queasy also have that sense of anticipation as you are being transported to a new destination.  Even more so when you are surrounded by other awesome runners.  I was feeling a bit nervy, but mainly just wanted to get there. It was amazing being driven through the streets of London, extraordinary landmarks all around.  At one point someone pointed out the start and parts of the route – oh my, it looked a long, long way.  The charity runners were comparing details of post race arrangements.  Both of the two I was near said their hospitality finished at 5.00 p.m, when realistically, particularly considering they might not even cross the start until 11.00 they would probably still be out on course. One had queried the wisdom of this, being a new runner and recognising her goal was to get round before cut off and was told that the hospitality was for friends and family too. ‘But I expect my friends and family to be out on course supporting me not quaffing free coffee at the charity’s expense‘ was her point.  I thought it was interesting that they did finish so early, particularly with charity places where you might expect people who were/are not natural runners, but passionately wish to support a cause for personal reasons to be well represented amongst their marathoners.  Some runners had also had to raise huge sums, those in ear shot had achieved this, but I’d have found that hugely pressurised.  I only found out recently that apparently charities pay a significant premium for their race places, and risk losing a lot of money if they misjudge who their share their places with – it is hard not to see an element of cynicism in how that plays out…  that discussion though is for another time.

We were deposited at Blackheath about an hour or so later.  Just as we got to the common I espied a whole load of the rhino fancy dress costumes all laid out on the side of the road. They are HUGE.  We disgorged from the coach, and immediately were amongst throngs of runners, streaming across wet grass towards the respective starts. If you are thinking of doing London and worried about the logistics of finding your way around don’t be. There were huge signs up everywhere indicating the respective start areas for red, blue and elite.

this is real

The grass was soaking wet with dew, and I remembered belatedly vaguely that Martin Yelling had advised having plastic bags to put over your trainers at the start so you don’t get wet feet from the off. To be honest, the sun was so strong it was pretty clear we’d dry up soon anyway.  There was also quite a breeze.  Perfect for eating ice creams in the shade sort of weather! I joined the migration pack of runners to the blue start, my eyes popping out on stalks at the spectacle all around.

Finally, I made it under the blue inflatable arch into the collecting ring. It reminded me very much of a festival, albeit a rather healthy lifestyle one.  There was lots of space, and music playing.  A huge screen relayed messages of support to runners, and some coverage of the marathon from different areas of the course.  There were loads of toilet cubicles, the famous female urinals, that didn’t have queues but I didn’t fancy using for the first time pre event.  There were instructions in our goody bags from the expo but frankly they’d left me none the wiser, and I didn’t fancy embarking on my marathon adventure with both me and Geronimo doused in my own pee.  Also, I wasn’t entirely trusting my digestive tract at this point in time either, and let’s not entertain the idea of that calamity before set off.

It was HOT. There was no shade. I have never been more grateful for an impulse buy of my cap, and the addition of my tomtom sunglasses.  I got them as a freebie at a Vitality 10k at Chatsworth earlier in the year.  They might not be flattering, but they are effective, they sit proud of your face so you don’t get rubbing and sweat on your cheeks and air can circulate.  Plus they are slightly turned down at the ends so wont fall off.  I’d never run in either before, but both were completely brilliant on the day – apart from not being especially photogenic, but then neither was I, so who cares.  I scanned my kit bag and decided I didn’t really need any of it other than sunblock and water so deposited it at the baggage drop so as not to have to worry about that again.  The baggage drop people were great, asking me to check I’d not left critical things and posing indulgently for photos.  The guy on the lorry was attached by a hook and wire to the vehicle, it wasn’t clear if this was to stop him escaping for the purpose of my health and safety and for the protection of the general public, or to stop him falling for the purpose of his own health and safety. He didn’t look like a wild axe murder, but I understand most wild axe murderers never do. Good bye kit bag.

I went for a wander around.  It was so tempting to just go exploring, and I did for a bit, then thought that was probably unwise as it was so hot and it was all time on my legs and it would be 2 hours before I crossed the start.  Even so, it was extraordinary soaking it all up.  A few people asked for selfies with Geronimo which was cool.  There were hardly any people in fancy dress that I saw at that stage, though chilled groups hung out on reflective sheets.  Any scrap of shade be it by a toilet or bin was crowded with runners desperately trying to avoid the sun.

I was a bit worried that I’d not quite reached all my bits that were susceptible to sunburn.  I didn’t really want to ask another runner, I don’t know quite why, people were friendly, but it was all overwhelming. Instead I drank my water and headed to the first aid station.  They were functional rather than welcoming, but the woman I asked did help.  To be fair she was distracted by her walkie-talkie.  Gist of the conversation as that a runner had fallen somewhere outside the elite start pen and was asking for first aid assistance.  However the person concerned was saying they still intended to run.  The senior first aider was insisting that if they wanted to run, then they needed to present in person at the first aid tent which was only 200 or so metres away if that. I  could sort of see her point.  If the person concerned couldn’t manage that, they clearly weren’t going to manage 26.2 miles were they?

I found a patch of shade and got chatting to loads of people really.  Experienced marathoners shared top tips, with others we just traded nervous energy.  I was hoping I’d see a familiar face, or at least a running club top that I recognised from Sheffield.  In fact, the only close encounter I had, was whilst I was in the loo queue.  A welcome shout and embrace from a friendly Dark Peak Runner – I can’t tell you how heartening that was.  Plus he is a seriously awesome runner, the London marathon is amazing like that, that people like me who try hard but are never going to set the world alight with our athletic prowess can participate alongside hardcore runners like he.  So thank you my friend, best hug of the day.  Actually, maybe second best, the hug at the end just after the finish line from a kindred from way back was better, but that’s a high standard to have to meet!

dark peak hero

In the waiting area there were heaps of official photographers taking snaps.  They were less in evidence on the course, but I had a fair few shots taken at this point, in all of which I look flabby and rather posed, which is probably an accurate representation of my outward manifestation unfortunately.

801492_273868355_Medium

Then the big screen started showing the various starts.  In the pre event information we’d been warned that it could take up to 45 minutes to cross the start, but even so the loo queues were now absolutely monumental.  I decided to join one.  10 o’clock came and went, but I was in pen 8, the final one.  The good news was that this gave me the confidence to hang on in the queue whilst others abandoned it wrestling with twin worries of full bladders and blind panic.  The less good news was by the time I’d relieved myself I was literally at the very back of the starters.  This did cause me some problems as although I’d be the first to acknowledge I’m slow, I was behind people who weren’t planning on running at all, and that did hamper me increasingly round the route, although I suppose you get the morale boost of over-taking many, it is hard work to do so.  I did an extra half mile at least just weaving around en route.

loo queue

It was clear nothing was moving anywhere, so I sat about a bit, then went to see what the fuss was and discovered the lung costumes.  These were extraordinary creations, light weight they ought to have been perfect for running in, except that unfortunately there was quite a strong breeze which would be a nightmare.  There was one man and the other turned out to be being worn by Katie Price, so there was a little media flurry around her.  I looked on with another runner who was hilarious and who I subsequently ran with for part of the course, if by ‘running with’ you mean ‘we took it in turns to over take each other’.  She gave a running commentary on the shenanigans, as Katie Price was crawling about on the ground apparently trying to put on her timing tag which was a not insignificant challenge wearing a fancy dress lung.  Earlier in the day, one of the people on the coach said that when they went to pick up their number Katie Price was next to them at the same cubicle.  She was at the wrong stand but couldn’t seem to grasp this and in the end the steward gave up trying to redirect her to the correct desk and instead went off to retrieve her pack for her. I’m torn, because I do rather enjoy that anecdote as reinforcing a certain stereotype and I do believe it to be true – it’s not something you’d make up.  On the other hand I can identify with the runners fog that descends at the expo and sometimes the dismissal of Katie Price’s achievements has a smack of misogyny.  Fair play to her, trying to run a marathon in a lung, I’m not a fan of hers especially, but that’s stepping up to a challenge, and she has completed marathons before, so it wouldn’t be fair to assume it is just a vanity project for her – though is suspect some of her endeavours may be.

Finally, about 10.45, it looked like our pen was about to be moved forwards.  I was so far at the back of the line up I wasn’t even in the pen.  The plus side of this was that I avoided the claustrophobia of being rammed up against other runners for a motionless 45 minutes, and instead had been able to amble about gawping at lung costumes and fraternising with other runners.  The down side was that this was a great many runners I’d need to pass later on.  Oh well, que sera.

The start line is weird.  We were sort of marched through the seven, now empty, pens ahead of us.  It was then I began to feel quite emotional, this was suddenly actually about to happen.  The various red-jacketed marshals who’d been staffing baggage lorries and directing runners were now free of their duties so lined the railings clapping us towards the start.  So much good will, it’s bizarre objectively, I mean on one level it is just a run which is ultimately futile, after all, we now know for sure that whilst a 5km run might add 30 minutes to your life it remains a net loss given that it can take 40 minutes to achieve by the time you’ve faffed about.  However, on another level it is this incredible coming together for a shared purpose, and people willing each other to achieve.  You know what, the London Marathon is basically one enormous parkrun on acid.  Maybe a parkrun celebrating its birthday, but essentially that.   We passed pens where you could discard clothing – thin pickings this year, nobody was wearing extra layers to keep warm at the start this year.  Worth knowing if you are running another year though. The clothing gets picked through by charities who wash and reuse where possible.

The anticipation was really building.  I struck up conversations with other runners, including a marathon veteran fancy dresser. His advice, pick a side and stay close to the crowd, smile and engage with them and you’ll get their support.  If you see someone in more spectacular fancy dress or with a more emotive back story, put space between you.  Again, and again the advice was ‘just enjoy it, soak it all up’.

Finally the start was in sight you could hear the commentary.  Oh.  My.  Gawd!

nearly across the start (2)

Oh, and those balloons I saw earlier – they were marking the start! Who knew?

hot air balloons at start

You my dear reader will know I make it a rule never to commence running until I have a foot on the starting mat, but the excitement was tangible. When the arch of the start came into view many around me broke into a full on sprint.  You can really see why the repeated advice is ‘don’t go off too fast!’ it’s oh so tempting.  Finally my foot was on the timing mat.  It was unreal.  ‘I’ve done it, I’ve done it, I’ve crossed the start of the London marathon!’ up until the heat wave, I was always quietly confident that if I made it to this point of the marathon, I’d make it to the end.  I was so excited, but also a bit apprehensive ‘please don’t let me blow it, please don’t let me blow it‘, I was thinking to myself.  On the right was the grandstand, probably packed with the great and the good but I didn’t really care about that, on my left was the band of the horse guards!  Stupidly, even though I’d seen them on the large screen TV I had absolutely no idea they were playing at the start. Astonishingly, as I’m not particularly into pomp and ceremony, I found that really moving.  There is a sense of being part of a significant national occasion, yeah, yeah as a bit part, but even so, it was a remarkable wave of emotion.  Then there was a bank of photographers, snapping us marathon runners (get me, marathon runner now) as we passed.  I wanted to freeze frame the moment on the back of my eye, I’ve never experienced anything quite like it, and after all that waiting around, despite the heat, it was fantastic to actually be running the streets of London.   I can’t find a single shot with the horse guards playing, all the photos are facing towards the grandstand, still, here are the wheelchairs screaming out the starting hatch.  Impressive.

start line

Edit – found one picture in an article ‘running on empty’ which includes lots of dispiriting shots of collapsed runners, but also one of the bank behind the mass start lead runners.  It gives you the gist…

start band

There was support right from the start, so many images, so much enthusiasm. It’s hard as I sort of wanted to take each and every moment in, but also wanted to keep moving, get properly underway and put some miles behind me.  I was very aware it was already nearly 11.00 o’clock, the heat was going to get increasingly oppressive and I didn’t know how I was going to cope with that.  I was however thinking of friends of mine who didn’t make the start, or had missed out on the ballot, and sort of locked down a promise to myself that I would do my darndest to get around this, and be sensible about listening to my body to give myself the best chance of doing so.

The first mile went past quickly, I decided I’d try to take a photo at each mile marker, to help me recall the event.  It honestly is such a blur.  This is an official photo of the mass starters at the one mile mark – it was a little less crowded when I went through!  Even now, looking back at these photos, I find it really hard to believe I was actually there.  It’s so bizarre.  At the risk of increasing the levels of irritation at my account you are probably already suffering, I can honestly confirm taking part in London seems to me to be a unique experience.  It makes it hard to process and recall, the memories are there, but elusive, trying to shape them is like trying to pick up mercury with a fork, although possibly less hazardous.  Mercury is dangerous stuff.  Stay safe people, stay safe.

first mile mark

Even though I’d consciously been slow, my first mile was a lot faster than I intended.  I felt tickety boo, yep, swept up in the occasion no doubt, but strong, hydrated, my sun hat was doing its job, my sunglasses remaining in situ, I just decided to slow a bit and try to find the trot, trot, plod, plod rhythm that I finally discovered on my last few long runs and stick to it as long as I could.  What I laughingly refer to as my training plan was, well, let’s say ‘idiosyncratic’, but oh my, I’m glad that I prioritized my long runs over everything else, if I hadn’t I would never have worked out spontaneously what that steady pace was and been able to recognise it.  The heat was building, but I knew my legs and lungs could do the distance, everything else was going to be race day management.  Not easy in unknown conditions, but not impossible either.  I tried to remember all the advice I’ve been given about coping with the first few miles of the marathon.  Pacing, all about pacing.

Mile two.