road

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.

Trot, trot, feeling fine.  This was through the residential outskirts of London.  There was little shade, and it was quite quiet compared with the crowds later on, but there was still support and encouragement from marshals.  One called out when there was a little trio of portaloos for any desperate for a pit stop.  I was still a bit shell-shocked, I was aware of other runners, but it wasn’t especially chatty at this point, people were sort of trying to slot into their pace I suppose.

One particular highlight though were the humping volunteers.  I think they were a scout troop, equipped with warning signs they worked in pairs standing either side of the road at every speed hump just shouting out ‘hump’ constantly, to warn oncoming runners of the hazard. This struck me at the time as quite comical, honestly, road runners are delicate flowers!  Many miles later on though I stomped down too hard after an unseen bump and really felt it, I wished the designated humping marshals were present then!

humping marshals

Mile three.

Mile three stood out because another runner took my camera off me to take some action shots of me running.  He threatened offered to do a video but I talked him down from that rash move.  Not only because I suspect had I actually watched any footage subsequently, that would definitely have brought me face to face with an unedited version of my aesthetic awfulness whilst in running motion that would mean I’d never run again, but also because it would have drained my camera battery. I’d need some power for the finishing flourish!  The photos aren’t great, but they are authentic. At the end of mile three was the first water station.  This delivered early promise, lots of water, and volunteers holding it out.  I had drunk a good litre just in the waiting area at the start (bottles were available there and I’d taken extra with me) so I felt OK, but drank anyway.  The bottles being given out were quite dinky 250 ml ones I think.

Mile 4

I was excited going into the fourth mile.  It was at this stage in the course the blue start and red start merged, so you get a sense again of how enormous the event is.  Also, I knew at the end of this mile, all being well, I had a reasonable chance of seeing my first familiar faces en route.  And, I hadn’t yet keeled over and died, and that was one parkrun down already!  Things were looking good.  The supporting crowds were more in evidence and I was enjoying the different signs spectators were displaying.  I hijacked one ‘go Lucy’ as my own, I think that was fair game, and loved the creativity on show.

Not the most salubrious of surroundings, and quite exposed to the ever hotter sun, but still a good atmosphere.  My watch was bleeping slightly ahead of each mile marker, which was great, because it meant I knew to look out for my personal cheer squad.  My Erstwhile Flatmate and her dearly beloved daughter and sign maker extraordinaire, who had so handily relocated to London just last week, to find their new house right on the London route.  I looked about and THEY WERE THERE!  What’s more, they had a personal sign just for me!  It even had a likeness of Geronimo on it.  This was completely brilliant.  If ever you support a runner at a marathon, or indeed any race, I can promise you, you will bestow a joy you can’t imagine on your runner of choice.  It was fantastic to see familiar cheering faces.  It also made the experience seem real for the first time. Like and external validation that I was really doing this.  Plus, once hugs were exchanged and photos taken, it meant the tracking app was doing its stuff and so there was a reasonable chance I might even see others amongst the crowd as I went round  – though I did set my expectations pretty low about that, I thought better to be pleasantly surprised if I did see people rather than carry the burden of crushing disappointment if I didn’t.  It’s harder than you might think to sport people when running and no doubt for spectators to espy their runners too.

MIle 4 vision of loveliness

Buoyed up by the sight of my personal cheer team, I rushed on through the mile four arch with a new spring in my step, feeling hot, but positive.

DSCF2148

Into mile 5.

This is the point where things settled down.  I was amongst similarly paced runners.  There was a bit of gentle leap-frogging of other participants as we passed and repassed each other.  I had a bit of a chat with a guy in an old British military uniform who was running the whole thing with a back pack containing loud speakers blasting out various uplifting military tunes like the dam busters theme.  He was friendly.  Asked if I’d practised in my fancy dress – I had – he hadn’t. His view was it was going to chafe on the day whatever, so why put yourself through that discomfort twice.  One guy was holding a structure with an old-fashioned honky horn attached,  offering ‘free honks’ which I took advantage of.  We had another water station – the amount of discarded bottles was a bit terrifying.  I wasn’t desperate, but was a bit perplexed that there didn’t seem to be any water available.  Some volunteers seemed to be picking through the debris looking for bottles with some water left in.  I had a momentary wave of anxiety.  It seemed a bit off that a water station would have been drunk dry already, but I pushed that to the back of my mind. This is the London marathon, they’ll be on it. I’m not even thirsty yet and anyway there’s water every mile they said, so just rock on. It was somewhere around the mile 5 arch I took advantage of some portaloos with no queue for a quick pee, that was my only pit stop and a good call.

Mile 6

For me, this was one of the best miles of the day.  It wasn’t yet too hot, support was building and I felt strong and was actively enjoying myself.  I started to soak it all up a bit more, there was Dave the Samaritan’s phone box, one of my new buddies from the hotel breezed by looking strong.  Point of information, she’d nipped into Toni & Guy the day before somewhere in London to get her hair plaited up so it was out of the way for the marathon. They’d done it for free as she was a charity runner AND she got an upgrade on the train from Manchester.  She must have a particularly winning way about her, I got no such privileges, but I did still soak up a lot of spirit of London good will.

Best bit of this section FREE ICE LOLLIES.  Obviously when you are drilled with the warning ‘don’t do anything new on race day’ that can’t possibly apply to taking sweets from strangers or mean you would run on by a line of women waving cooling ice lollies in your eye line.  I took full advantage of that and walked for a bit. Some people high up in flats alongside the route started screaming at ‘giraffe woman’ and I waved back, we went under some sort of flyover and there was a full steel band playing in the shade, it noisy beats echoing round the concrete cavern.  I found a woman with a giraffe and requested a selfie – she looked bemused.  Maybe she doesn’t quite buy into the giraffe kindred thing?  I was feeling the heat now, well it was moving into hottest part of the day, noon ish or so if I’d hit the 10k mark, it takes me a bit over an hour to run 10k and I’d crossed the start about 10.50 a.m. I thought.  There was a rhino-suited runner keeping on putting one foot in front of another though, no idea how he was coping.  Everywhere there were high-fiving crowds, people shouting your name and punching the air screaming how amazing and awesome we all were.  Imagine the most enthusiastic junior parkrun marshals ever, cloned, multiplied and ten deep on either side of the road the whole way round.  Well the enthusiasm levels and joyfulness were akin to that.  Others in the crowds picnicked by the road side, toasting your efforts as you passed or just simply soaking up the sun and the spectacle from outside their houses.

mile 6 done.

Into mile 7.

This was a corker!  Lots of highlights.  Unexpectedly I saw – or more accurately was seen by – a full on Smiley Support team.  Complete with massively enthusiastic(ish) off spring and bespoke Smiley Paces support signage.  Again, completely brilliant, more so for being unexpected. I’d known they were down supporting another speedier runner from Steel City Striders, but because I was going to be so far behind them I honestly had zero expectation they’d still be hanging around to cheer me on afterwards.  It was just great, a real lift.  Then I unexpectedly arrived at the Cutty Sark.  I was trying to remember what this meant in terms of breaking down the distance.  Martin Yelling in one of his pep talks, described using the London landmarks to break down the run.  It is a truly amazing sight, the glorious sunshine that was making running hard, did create a spectacular backdrop to the shape of the ship.  This wasn’t a  massively congested area for spectators either, I think it would be a good place to spot runners from the comfort of a balcony bar.

A little later on another fabulous treat in the form of one of my London Marathon Superstars support-group. Armed with an encouraging smile and lots of haribos she gave me a hug and a shove, and soon I was off again.  ‘This is brilliant!’

Mile 8

At this point, things started to unravel a bit, I reached another water station that had no water.  I’ve really tried to ‘park’ my fury at this, because my experience of London was at least half the water stations had nothing left by the time I reached them.  I can cope with the idea that this was because of unprecedented heat, and that the logistics meant it wasn’t possible to restock quickly enough to cater for all runners. What does enrage me though it the official statement that declared they were aware of water running out at stations 8 – 10 as if they were the only one’s affected.  NOT SO!  I struggled to get water almost the whole way round.  I found only one snuck in reference on the telegraph news page that stated ‘They later said: “We have supplied additional water from our contingency stocks to water stations 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 23.”  My recollection is water was missing before mile 8 as well.  Not good.  Some comments on twitter in response to the London Marathon tweet on the day support my contention I was not alone in finding the route a desert at times.  Soooooo disappointing.  No idea how karaoke man – at the risk of stating the obvious, a guy who sang enthusiastic karaoke all the way round – survived with his vocal chords in tact!

I sort of did a mental calculation, I wasn’t dehydrated yet, I was carrying some water albeit with electrolytes in it that I’d intended to have later on in the course, but it meant it wasn’t game over.  I asked at the water stations if there was water ahead, but the response was vague.  To be fair, these stations were staffed by volunteers who didn’t have any overview of what was happening. I actually felt a bit sorry for them, there must have been thousands of thirsty runners behind me, and it was getting even hotter, particularly with glare back up from the road.

There were more sights and sounds to distract me from the water issue. The Wolverhampton bobsleigh team, two minnie mouse women from Sheffield who later got 15 minutes of fame helping a fellow runner across the finish who’d fractured her leg.

Then there was the first of the walk through showers.  These are actually quite discretely located by the side of the road, so you can choose whether or not to avail yourself of them.  I did.

A bit further on, the fire station had set up much more impressive cooling showers.  If you are really shallow, you might have imagined these cooling heroes would look like this:

fire fighter

The reality is way hotter people.  It was fantastic to see them out in force, soaking it all up, and giving runners and spectators alike a welcome soaking.  Rainbows and everything,  Fantastic.  It was joyful too, like when you see kids running through fountains in public spaces.  We don’t always get a chance to do that once over the age of 10!  I might have swallowed a bit of London Thames water though, I wasn’t quite so enamoured of that!

So, some definite highs.  However, then I got to a third water station with no water.  I could feel myself panicking.

Mile 9

I was starting to think that might be it now for the rest of the course.  Also, the more consecutive water stations there were without water, the more the following one was likely to be fallen on. These blooming water stations were less oases in a desert and more mirages.  A guy in a van had 6 water bottles wrapped up, I joined the queue in time to get one – only for another runner to snatch it away!  I was quite shocked.   What followed though was a moment of clarity.  I was determined to this thing.  I did have some agency here, I still had the water I was carrying, and I didn’t want to be one of those people who blamed others or circumstance for not getting round. This was not game over, but I did need to think.  I also needed to eat, but I couldn’t because I was getting too thirsty and dry mouthed to cope with any naked bars.  I sort of mentally went through my options and decided to work my way out of this. I’d done the Sheffield half marathon dehydrated, that was horrible too, but I did it.  I’d also done that awful 17 miler feeling sick and hungry early on in training.  This was where the mental challenge came in.  My legs and lungs could do this, I just had to work out how.  I stopped, decided to walk and drink my electrolyte laden water.  I couldn’t manage my naked bars, but I had some of my glucose tablets instead, and that revived me.  I made a very conscious decision that I was going to finish this, or at the very least, wasn’t going to give up with anticipatory defeat before I really could no longer put one foot in front of another.

It was galling to see so many emptied bottles.  There was not a drop left in any of them. Some children had cottoned on to what was happening and were scrabbling about trying to find traces and pour them all together to create sips of water to hand out.  however, I think the advice early on to drink, douse, drain and drop meant very few bottles had any liquid left in them.  I saw the official record attempt for armour power walking.  I told myself I was OK, it wasn’t game over yet, I’d just need to be resourceful.  Spirit of London and all that.  See what happens.

Mile 10 and 11

Still no water.  Four consecutive stations.  I began to despair if there was ever going to be water again.  I begged a sip from a first aid station, but they literally just gave me enough to wet my mouth.  Outside a pub a guy was standing with a circular tray of cups of water so I had that, and then a little later on a woman beside the road had brought a jug out.  Her children I think, had scavenged some discarded cups from somewhere and was filling them up as best she could, I tried not to think about how dirty they were I was just grateful for the liquid. Then another runner ahead of me was holding a bottle out.  ‘Are you seriously offering that?’ I asked. He was, he’d been into a shop to buy some, this was sparkling water but I didn’t care, I drank about half and then passed it on to another desperate runner.  It’s a tough one, I am sorry I wasted time and energy on this marathon of all marathons searching for water.  However, the fact it wasn’t there did bring out the best in people, it gave me more interactions with spectators and runners, and added perhaps to making this a very memorable event.  I think had I ended up as a DNF because of it I’d be taking a different line, and I was actually quite scared at points.  Maybe it’s good to be reminded that we should value clean water as a scarce and precious resource, it’s so easy to take it for granted, even though I have witnessed first hand how hard it is for communities who don’t have this ‘luxury’ in Cambodia and elsewhere.  At the end of the day this run is/was an indulgence, and lack of water is exceptional not a daily struggle in the UK.

Mile 12

 

Mile 12- 13 including tower bridge

I can’t quite remember when we finally got water again, I think it was somewhere along mile 13.  I do know I was so desperate for it I just gulped it down, but stocks didn’t look that plentiful.  It was galling that the massive Buxton water cheer point didn’t even have supplies!  Even so, at some point, I must have got water because I remember being relieved, and able to enjoy the next bit which coming towards the half way point was a highlight.  Tower Bridge!

This was an emotional moment, realising I’d made the half way near as dammit.  Plus, it’s so iconic.  You channel across the bridge and try to take it all in. It is architecturally stunning ,and it’s such a privilege to cross it as a pedestrian.  I wasn’t alone in stopping to take photos I’m sure!

I went over, and then remembered it isn’t quite the half way point after all.  Also, if you look to your left, you can see on the other side of the road, the faster runners streaming along towards the homeward stretch as you pass then going out, as they are heading back.  That is psychologically tough I suppose.  However, the plus side is that it’s quite fun watching other runners.  Alarmingly though, many of them looked absolutely terrible, stumbling about and collapsing by the wayside.  I’d seen a few fallen runners going round, but not with the density as was apparent now. It does seem that the ‘stronger’ runners who push themselves more, collapse more suddenly and more heavily, and it is quite distressing to observe.

However, the course lay out meant that spectators had two opportunities to spot any runners they were looking out for. This led to a highlight of the day for me.  No offence to my own supporters, but the prize for the loudest roar of support I hear all day goes to the East End Road Runners, who went into an ecstatic frenzy of shouting and purple pompom waving at the sight of one of their compatriots even though he was on the opposite side of the road at the time.  It was epic!  I couldn’t not stop to take a shot of them all in action, it might not be the best of photos, but it was an inspirational moment along the course.  That’s why I had to stop and snap it…

Go yogi go east end road runners

and you know what?  They snapped right back!  Go them.  Go us!  Mutual awesomeness all around!

east end runner celebrity sighting

Then through the 13 mile archway and on to mile 14, taking in the half way mark at last.  I have a strange logic when running.  Once I get to the half way point of any run, I feel like well, with every step I’ve got less far to go than I’ve already run, so I know I’ll be fine. This is illogical of course, you still have another half marathon to go, but it gave me a lift to get to this point.

Mile 14 and beyond.

It gets a bit vague here, which you are probably quite relieved about.  Things that do stand out in my mind though were NO BLOODY WATER.  Again, empty water stations for mile after mile.  Some had given up any pretence of having ever had water and were completely abandoned.  It was demoralising.  I was pretty sure I’d make it now, but it was going to be really tough, and again I consciously slowed.

One thing though, I don’t know if it was because it was hot, or because of the lack of water, or because it always happens at marathons, but from about the half way point, I found because I started so far back, almost everyone around me was walking for the last third of the marathon or so.  This mean that I had to constantly over take people, and as I was in a minority in wanting to keep trotting on, albeit slowly, it was hard to stay motivated and physically tiring to weave through the crowd.  It hadn’t been such an issue in the early stages, but it became an issue later on.  Next time (laughs and coughs to self) I’d try and start in a pen a bit further forward so I was alongside others aiming to keep on running.  Easier said than done though…

Sights worthy of note included:  well lubricated-latex gloved St John’s Ambulance staff all along the route.  They weren’t offering impromptu manual prostate tests to runners as part of a public health campaign despite appearances to the contrary. Rather, they were  proffering Vaseline to any runner in need.  They were everywhere.  It ceased to be remarkable after the first few miles!

DSCF2338

Mile 15 – into the tunnels

I am on record as someone who lurves running in tunnels.  So these were fab.  There were two subterranean sections on the course.  It was such a relief to enter the cool of being underground.  The next day a runner a bit faster than me said that when she went into this underground world it was like entering a post-apocalyptic world.  People taking advantage of the shade suddenly were collapsing with exhaustion against the cool concrete walls.  Like the battered survivors from a zombie attack of victims of an air raid who’d struggled to the tunnels for shelter, but had no notion of whether or not they would survive the night, or indeed, what horrors might be unfolding above them unseen.  One of the unexpected bonuses of being a slower runner, was that by the time I got to this point, most of the carcasses had been removed, so it was less disquieting to pass through.  Normally I like to run through tunnels as fast as I can, but on this occasion I thought discretion was the better part of valour, and walked through to try to cool off.

 

Mile 16 – emerging the tunnels

Mile 17 – Grenfell Tower firefighters

I found myself alongside the Grenfell Tower Fire Fighters running pretty much in full kit I was with them for quite a while.  That was moving. Whilst at many other points on the route fancy dress wearers were rewarded with whoops, and shouts and encouraging name calling, for large stretches these firefighters  were flanked by a standing ovation as the crowds applauded them every step of the way.  It was an extraordinary spectacle. They were really nice guys actually, constantly asking other runners if they were all right. With hindsight, I wish I’d engaged with them a bit more. What they have seen and had to deal with is beyond imagining.  From a selfish perspective though, it was hard running alongside them, because whatever effort I put in seemed insignificant by comparison, you are always going to come off worst if you compare yourself to a superhero.  I enjoyed watching how the crowd engaged with them for a while, and then when they paused at one of the fire stations I peeled ahead of them.

It must have been beyond extraordinary to watch them cross the line together at the end though.

grenfell finish

End of mile 17 – supporters en route

I was tiring again by the end of mile 17.  I must have had water again by now, but I felt exhausted by the heat, and erratic hydration had really messed up my fuelling as well as my drinking.  I started to walk.  To be fair, I ran considerably more of the marathon than I expected.  Very slowly it’s true, but it gave me some confidence that I can indeed run a lot further than my innate tendency to stop would have you believe.  Even during the event I found myself questioning how different a run it might have been if the water had been available when promised and the temperatures even fractionally more benign.  I don’t think though that I’m entirely sold on road marathons, but I do have a curiosity about what else might be achievable for me, if I committed to the correct preparation…  At breakfast one of my hotel buddies was instantly my friend when she ‘fessed up to putting on weight during marathon training – I honestly thought it was just me!  And no, it isn’t muscle, my waist bands say otherwise.  The irony of having to wait until after the marathon to get fit is not lost on me, I just didn’t see how dieting for weight loss would fit with trying to carb up in the final few weeks of marathon training.  First world problems I know….  However, I do think if I lost a bit of weight, now I know I can do the distance, I could probably improve my times a bit, I’ll never be exactly speedy, but I do think I’m capable of a faster finish time for a marathon that the one that was achieveable at London on this day.

walking onwards

and then, just as I was thinking how nice it would be to see some smiley support right now, look what appeared as a vision of loveliness in front of me.   To be fair, the photos make it look as if Geronimo saw then first.  It was great!

I gabbled on to them about lack of water and just generic nonsense.  They offered some, but actually I was rehydrated by now and although clearly in possession of runner’s fog, was doing OK.  Their hugs and sporting display of Sheffield running tops from Dark Peak and Smiley Paces running clubs gave me the necessary boost to power on.  My it was hot though.  Nearly there.  I told them I thought water situation was OK now…. it wasn’t.

Mile 18 – nope, can’t remember any salient details,  but into mile 19 and another bonus sighting of a London Marathon superstar, which was fantastic.  She was still brandishing haribos, and possibly snacking on them if the photo is anything to go by.  Well, there are plenty of terrible photos of me from today, it is in the interests of balance if I include unflattering snaps of other people too!

Very soon water stations were dry all over again.  I couldn’t believe it.  Not even staffed any more!  That was better than the false promises earlier on, also, the weather was beginning to cool, there was a breeze coming and it clouded over a bit.

Mile 20 – nearly home,  the highlight of this mile was most definitely getting a cheese sandwich.  That was somehow just what I wanted.  I was sick of my glucose tablets and sweet stuff.  Thanks to this woman for her foresight and generosity!  There were egg mayonnaise sandwiches too, but they were a much less appealing prospect.

Mile 21

Mile 22 – 23 -24

I do like it when spectators make an effort!  The crowds were thinning, but the air was cooling.  Those still watching roared appreciation at any acknowledgement.  I think I wasn’t alone in feeling my increasingly half-hearted loping didn’t really merit such appreciative adulation, but I was taking all on offer all the same.

I kept a watchful eye for the realbuzz team of virtual supporters who were near a garage after the 22.5 mark or thereabouts.  Didn’t see them, I was late though, unthinkable though it may seem, possibly the spectators got bored of standing around cheering before I was done with running.  I know.  Bizarre!

Under the bowels of canary wharf there was music being channelled through speakers and a moving light show with #spiritofLondon displayed on the walls.

Amazingly, my London marathon buddy was here too.  I feel I may have miscounted somehow, but anyway, she took a photo of me so she must have been here, I think it is framed deliberately as an act of vengeance for the photo I took of her earlier.  I think that’s fair!  We can have an understanding about it.

canary wharf

It was great to see her, but it was not all good news.  I was asking her about how she was getting on with tracking our other London Marathon superstars.   Turns out two of the four of us were safely back, I had the end in sight, but one of our number, my fellow smiley pacer, who had been really, really strong suddenly collapsed with a suspected hip stress fracture around the 40km mark, she was morphined and blue lit off to hospital.  I was stunned.  If you’d had to say in advance which of us would have the most realistic chance of getting round you’d have laughed at being asked to state the blindingly obvious in advance and pointed to her – possibly with a slightly apologetic glance in my direction which I’d return with a look of acceptance and understanding.  It was really a no-brainer.  This news shook me a bit, it just shows, even with the best of preparation, training and fitness you need to have luck on your side.  It seemed unfair if I got round when she hadn’t. I also had a moment of thinking hang on, I’ve not finished yet, and had to compose myself a bit to remind myself I was most unlikely to do a face plant into the river at this stage, and even if I did, surely at this stage only an alien abduction should stop me crawling home.  Smiley supporters at home though watched the tracker with horror as I crept up on the other Smiley and eventually over took her.  What was going on?

Mile 25 on

Pleasingly, I did know I had one more supporter to look out for.  Last year I volunteered on a Shelter cheerstation on the embankment and made a new buddy who would be there again this year and had promised to look out for me even though I’d be a long time coming round.

I romped on.  I’d slightly forgotten where the cheerstation was, and vanity meant I really wanted to be actually running when spotted, so I did run, slowly, but consistently, until eventually to my absolute delight she was there!  Hurrah!  So exciting.  It might not have been much of a run, but it was my run, and forward motion at least.

When I’d been imagining running this thing, I’d visualised this moment.  I knew, well, thought I knew, that once I was here, nothing was going to stop me finishing.  It really wasn’t far.  I couldn’t believe it.  I actually felt fine.  It hadn’t been brilliant with Watergate and all, but the #spiritoflondon part, that was cool.  The next stand out moment was int he final stages, the crowd was pretty thin now, but there was a family leaning against a low wall, and the woman shouted across ‘giraffe lady!  We’ve been tracking you!’  How bizarre, I went across and gave high fives and romped on.

Finally, the endgame. The bit you imagine from the telly.  Oh my gawd.  It felt surreal.  Because I was slow, it wasn’t crowded, and the way it’s set up it suddenly quietens. Although it isn’t very far in distance this is a contemplative moment.  I was thinking of the people who hadn’t made the start, my fellow smiley who didn’t make the finish.  I was also wondering what would happen at the end.  I wasn’t completely confident there’d be anyone to meet me because London is chaotic and it’s a big ask for friends to wait in that heat and crowds for hours and hours because you will be wrecked and over-emotional from completely self-inflicted causes.  You could forgive non-running friends for querying ‘well if it’s going to upset you so much and make you ill with fatigue why don’t you just not do it them?‘  Fortunately, my friends are better than that, running or otherwise.

There had been hardly any official photographers along the route – well not that I saw anyway, but there were lots scattered in the end stages.  It remains to be seen what their photos are like.  I did some high-five sweeps on the way in and tried to enjoy the moment whilst simultaneously knowing the euphoria of completion would all too soon become bemused anti-climax.  Blooming endorphins, they wear off fast!  The great advantage of being a slower runner, is that by the time I’d got to this part of the course the crowds had been well trained to proffer up high fives almost instinctively as you come through. Consequently it looks like I have an adoring fan base – and it felt a bit like that too – even though it is just yet another example of the #spiritoflondon and perhaps the kindness of strangers.  Go all of us!

I finally crossed the line.  It was weird, beyond the finish arch I couldn’t see anyone doing finish photos so I sort of shuffled over.  Top Tip if you run.  Charge across arms outstretched you will be caught the other side and your photo will be so much the better for it than my shambling effort.  I think I peaked too soon.

801492_274447950_Medium

You have to keep walking before you get your medal.  That’s nice, the marshals giving medals out also dispense hugs and take photos.  Multi-tasking!

got the medal

I then posed for an official finish photo – which I might add in later depending on how mortifying I find it to be once seen.

801492_273923237_Medium

and then made a dazed trek towards the baggage area and had snippets of chat with others, I’d run with.   One guy said he’d been trying to catch me for miles as he didn’t want to be beaten by the giraffe ‘but fair play to you, couldn’t catch you‘.  This pleased me.  I also coincided with the East End Road Runner with his personal purple cheer squad and told him I’d try to get him the photos I’d taken en route over to him somehow.  he was most gracious.  Everyone I meet running is fantastic, it must bring out the best in people, or maybe only lovely people do it, hard to know which is cause and which is effect.

One of the baggage marshals wanted a photo with Geronimo and me because her daughter loves giraffes, that was nice.  You can’t get lost, signs direct you towards the meet and greet area.  It’s like airports.  You think it’s going to be daunting to navigate because the area is so huge, but ultimately you just traipse along behind everyone else, and if in doubt there were huge signs telling you were to go, and loads of helpful staff to point you the right way and offer reassurance and tell you how awesome you are.  That last bit is nothing like my experience of air travel by the way. Staff at airports routinely subject you to ridicule, discomfort and humiliation, and I’ve never once been given a medal let alone an upgrade, just so you know.

I headed down to the meet and greet.  The advice for main pack runners is to agree to meet at a less popular letter x or z or something, but I just went for L as I thought, rightly, by the time I made it to the rendezvous point most people would have dispersed.  As I was investigating my goody bag and digging liquids out of my kit pack another runner appeared alongside.  Her daughter also loves giraffes, though her daughter was a grown up. So we paused and nattered and I gave her top tips about how to source a giraffe just like Geronimo and we took photos together and then, I heard a scream from the sidelines.  Oh my gawd.  My kindred.  A former work colleague from years back with whom I bonded in adversity was at the side.  She’d come all the way from Leicester to cheer me round.  We’d not seen each other en route, but she found me at the end.  We had an emotional and shell-shocked reunion. It was a bit bizarre, because 18 years ago when we worked together she was the athlete and gym bunny, I did cycle as transport and that was about it.  Again, of the two of us, she was the one who was most likely to do the marathon.  A massive fan of athletics she has a real interest in the sport and the elite women runners in particular.  It was just the hug I needed.  Also, because she is very sporty, she was one of the very few people who wouldn’t recoil at my sweaty, salty and increasingly stinky state. That’s true friendship for you people, right there!

It worked out well, because it also meant we got to spend some time catching up before we got to the rendezvous where other friends joined us.  I say ‘catching up’ but obviously what I really mean is I gabbled some sort of narcissistic self-serving gibberish all about me, and my marathon, and what I’d done in a high-speed monologue, and showed an alarming disregard for her experiences of the day.  Oh well, hopefully forgivable in the circumstances.  She also brought me exactly what I’d requested, a huge family pack of McCoy crinkle cut salt and vinegar crisps, which I pretty much inhaled, in between talking at her.

Whilst we waited at the letter L the woman and family who had earlier shouted ‘giraffe lady’ joined us.  By coincidence the person they were there to support was meeting them at the same letter.  She explained I was approximately the same speed as their runner, and the children were enjoying looking out for my giraffe – they’d actually seen me four times on the way round using the tracker.  That was so strange, it never occurred to me that random people would track me, it was nice though.  More photos.   I was even asked if I would like some prosecco, which I would have, very much, but decided against as it would have been a really terrible idea to follow through with!

After a bit, we were joined by my cheer squad from mile 4.  They were brilliant, bringing sign and logistical certainty with them.  More photos, obviously, but they decided after all not to be photographed wearing medals as ‘it just doesn’t feel right‘ OK then. Check out the graphics on that sign though people, quality work.  On closer inspection, I can’t help noticing it looks as if Geronimo dumped me before the finish arch.  Then again, to be fair, she did strictly speaking cross the line before me, though I obviously prefer to see our achievement as a team effort…

house moving cheer squad london marathon 2018

and then, just when I thought it was impossible to feel any more supported, my London marathon superstar buddy turned up exactly as promised for post race debrief.

and finally with BFF marathon running buddy

I felt truly blessed.  I think what made it special was feeling like the whole city wanted you to succeed in this endeavour and would do whatever it took to help to get you round.  Then, at the end, my friends turned out for me, just when I needed them most, and that’s awesome too.  We are not as alone in the world as sometimes it seems.  Eventually my kindred and my marathon superstar buddies went off to catch their respective trains whilst my erstwhile flatmate and daughter escorted me back to the hotel which was much appreciated and much needed. I just couldn’t think straight, and it was so nice not to have to try to work out where the nearest tube was, or worry about rummaging in my bag to find my room key.   They even whipped out a spare oyster card for me, anticipating I’d not have thought of that.  Reader, I didn’t need one!  One of the coolest things about marathon day as a participant, is that on the sight of your number the barriers at tube stations part for you as if by magic.  Smiling underground staff give you the thumbs up and wave you through as if you are a goddarn celebrity!  It’s pretty awesome. This system worked fine.  One runner who no longer had his number on was a bit worried about being turned away, but was able to blag it with his finish medal.  On arrival at Gloucester Street I had a momentary panic it wouldn’t work as I didn’t immediately spot a staff member around.  I had visions of being made to walk right back to the embankment and being made to start all over again – but it was fine, a laughing official waved me through. Phew.

Once at the hotel, in the highest act of friendship of all, they left me so I could collapse under a shower and go to bed which is all I was fit for.  The hotel had left this in my room though:

Bravo

It was very tempting, but again I resisted, indulging instead in electrolyte laden water, whilst gazing at my medal (which was rather heavy to be honest) in stunned disbelief.  I also browsed through the results to check out which of my fellow runners had made it to the end. Shout out to Cathy Bishop – we didn’t meet, but yay, saw you did it!  We rock.

What the hell happened today?  Nope, can’t really make sense that at all.  Strava tells me this happened:

London marathon strava route

and if you want more detail, there are loads of course maps in sections and as a whole picture on the spectator info section of the London Marathon website here.

Some final thoughts:

Hot runners?  I certainly was, I am a bit disappointed my hot running photo didn’t quite turn out like Sophie Raworth’s at the marathon des sables. I tell myself that even though begrudgingly I concede she ran a tad further than me, she did have the advantage of knowing in advance that she’d have to battle with the heat on the way round.  If I’d been able to do some training somewhere hot so I could acclimatised I’m sure I’d have romped round looking similarly effortless.  (Cough), can you tell which is me?

Oh, in case you care, here is the link to the 2018 results so you can endlessly search random people and see how they fared at the Virgin Money London Marathon 2018 . To save time the Radio Times has helpfully put together a guide to celebrity finishers.  Though in my world, all of us who put in the training – whether or not we made the start line let alone the end, are London Marathon Superstars!

There were loads of marriage proposals en route too, so that’s getting old hat now – no wonder one had to propose wearing a dinosaur suit to up the ante a bit again!  I saw him en route, brave man, as if running a marathon and running a marathon in a dinosaur suit weren’t quite stressful enough eh?  Oh she said yes by the way.

Oh, and there were a shed load of people who still made their Guinness World Record attempts, for the fastest marathon in whatever get up – which is extra impressive in the heat – though, alas I fear even more wouldn’t have done what they set out to achieve.  The stilts one is particularly hard to imagine – how did they get any water at water stations I wonder. Did they have a winch system?  The BBC article about the world record breakers had some fab pics of the Guinness ones, but remember dear reader, all of us who ran on Sunday are record-breaking marathoners, because we took part in the hottest London Marathon on record. Thus, I stake my claim to being not just a marathoner (go me) but a record-breaking one at that.  Yay!

_100991540_michellefrostfastestmarathononstilts

I can truthfully report that running the London Marathon is indeed an amazing experience, the crowds do carry you round. The other runners are extraordinary, and it is all emotional. Everything you have heard about the event is true.  You should wear your name on your vest, you will come to rely on the kindness of strangers, and you will see and hear things you never dreamt of.  The problem is it is so outside ‘normality’ it feels surreal. I swear, now I’m back home were it not for the comforting presence of the medal to stare at I’d think I’d imagined the whole thing.  It’s so unlikely a thing for me to have done, and so outside my other running experiences. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to do it, and slightly shell-shocked that I actually did.

So today, two days later, I can report that I feel surprisingly ‘fine’.  Zero chafing, one minor blister on my little toe, which I always get on a run longer than a half marathon for some reason, and isn’t that bad anyway. I’m a bit stiff, but by no means crippled, though I’m not planning on running for a while and venturing downstairs is not done with the graceful seamless progress and lightness of foot I might wish.  I just really hope my bannisters are pretty securely fixed.   My main aftermath was the next day feeling really wobbly and faint, in fact I did have an anxious moment on the train ride home when I thought I might pass out. I’m sure that’s to do with getting so dehydrated yesterday.  I had electrolytes and just went to bed when I got in and now I feel tired, rather than wiped out.  Also, just for the record, my womb didn’t fall out, not even once, or not that I noticed anyway, so that’s good.

Accepted wisdom about when to run again after a marathon suggests I’m in the clear for doing nothing for about a week, so that’s my plan.  Bit of walking and I’d like to get to parkrun on Saturday, though if I’m being completely honest, that’s partly so I can accidentally on purpose wear my marathon finishers t-shirt  in a ‘oh this old thing, no idea I’d put that on‘ sort of way.   Of course my parkrunning buddies will see straight through me, but you know what.  I don’t care!  I’ll never have just completed my first marathon again though will I? So that will have to be my moment.  I’d wear the medal too if I thought I’d get away with it… maybe at junior parkrun, I might need it as proof if I’m trying to blag a marathon wristband from the RD!  Besides, ultimately, what is the point of running a marathon, if not to bestow temporary bragging rights at least.  I will feel sheepish in the presence of those who ran in half the time it took me to get round, and mindful in the company of those who either did not start or did not finish, but I’m proud of my achievement all the same. Yes, I had some luck on the day, but I did put the training in too, so I like to think I gave that luck the best chance it could to deliver on the day.

So there you go, I ran a marathon and wrote all about it so you don’t have to. But you know what, I really think you should.

Go on. I’m the most unlikley marathon runner in the world, it might be more achieveable than you think, but you do have to watch out for those curve balls.  Luck plays a part for sure, but it’s true what they say if you put in the miles in training it is apparently not impossible, but the mental challenge is very real.

Ballot opens next week.  Just saying….

For all my London Marathon related posts see here

Flor all my marathon training related posts see here

I bought a photo bundle in advance.  I did get loads of photos, most of which are excruciating, but they are still good to have.  You get a load of gallery images too, which is fun, or not, depending on whether or not you have participated in the event yourself, or just been made to endure it by someone you previously thought to be your loved one, but have now gone off quite a lot because actually, them talking about shoe choices, long run challenges and nutrition angst is really boring unless  you are either planning on running a marathon yourself, or have already done so.  Sorry about that*.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*not really though

Post script:

So now we know there was one fatality at the London marathon 2018.  A young man, it seems so desperately sad.  Matt Campbell collapsed at the 22.6 mile mark, and now there is a movement to finish his missing 3.7 miles as a sort of tribute to him, and to donate to his charity of choice as well.  He was only 29 for pities sake.  You have to respect the marathon distance.  Fatalities are actually pretty rare, though I suppose as the first one was Pheidippides himself, the original marathon runner, the warning is there.  News like this brings you up short (pun unintended).  Why him?  Why anyone? What a waste.  #finishformatt

Matt Campbell finish for matt

Whilst not suggesting the two situations are equivalent, we Smiley Paces people are going to run to finish our fellow Smiley’s marathon as well, by turning out in force at Sheffield parkruns, and likewise donating to the charity she was supporting by getting sponsorship for her run.  These are small gestures, but a way to offer some solidarity to those who DNF.

It seems that whatever your level of prior fitness or preparation, you can’t really take a challenge of this distance for granted.  You need to train, you need to prepare, you need to listen to your body and you need to be lucky too.  Or failing that, at the very least not unlucky on the day.  Events can certainly unfold in  unexpected and unwanted ways, that’s what makes the challenge worth taking on…  His death is truly sad, all those who DNF I’m gutted for them, would it put me off tackling another one, honestly, not really.  I can think of worse ways to go…

 

Categories: marathon, motivation, race, road, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

What was I thinking? The road to London marathon 2018. Expo and the challenge hots up….

Digested read:  I’m in London, it’s Saturday night, tomorrow is the London marathon and the past couple of days have been an emotional roller coaster.  I’m scared of the heat, I’m overwhelmed with the challenge ahead, but I’m grateful for the support that’s got me to this place, grateful for the opportunity and although I really doubt myself right now, I’m also determined to give this my very best shot.  Tomorrow tea time will come whether I get round or not.  It’s just one foot in front of the other after all, how hard can it be?  Eek.

London bound.  Geronimo decided to stick with the daisies.

DSCF2020

The day before the morning after.  I’m writing this on marathon eve, Saturday 21st April 2018.  This time tomorrow I’ll know it I thought I could and did …. or not.  Eek

I am going to write this post, but I haven’t decided yet whether or not to actually publish it, as it may just be an indulgent pity party which you dear reader, do not deserve to be subjected to.  On the other hand, the reading  of this is not compulsory.  Also, I suppose it’s just possible that all I’m experiencing is completely normal self-doubting angst, the apex of maranoia, that many marathoners forget all about after the event and so those of us going through it imagine we are the only ones hitting this level of anguish and despair.  I will say one thing though, however events unfold, I’m still glad to have made it to this point, and I would be devastated if now something were to happen that meant I couldn’t run. As has been said before, by me very often after events and experiences that were less than joyful contemporaneously, ‘I’m not sure I enjoyed myself, but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it.’ Maybe this pre-performance angst is just part of the whole London marathon circus.  It happens hot weather has given me a particular focus on which to hang my many and multitudinous anxieties, but if we didn’t have the predicted heat wave and warnings of ‘the hottest London Marathon on record’ then I’d probably find something else to worry about.  Sock choice, or unflattering photos, or wetting myself with excitement or crapping myself through fear.  I still have all those worries for the record, it’s just they are way down the list of things that make me want to curl up in a foetal position and sob.  Right now it’s the heat.  Oh my gawd, this London heat.  Aaaargh.

Still, not all bad.  I’ve always aspired to looking hot whilst running, maybe tomorrow will be my moment?  I live in hope.

The journey to London began yesterday. I’d always planned to go down to the Expo on Friday to avoid the madness of a Saturday in London the day before an event as daunting as my first (and at this rate last and only) marathon.  I got to the station really early, time for a coffee and a read of the Metro which managed to panic me further.  Don’t even think of running in fancy dress and have you heard how hot it’ll be on Sunday the paper told me:

Happily, a quartet of us heading down for the Marathon travelled on the same train from Sheffield. Two supporters me and a fellow Smiley, but one who can run really fast unlike me who is the other end of the running continuum.  Me and my fellow marathoner (do you have any idea how strange it feels to be saying that phrase!) sat next to each other, and basically simultaneously broadcast marathon anxieties at each other the whole way down to London St Pancras. It was immensely reassuring. Even though she is a ‘proper’ athlete, she like me,  was also consumed with anxieties over everything from how to deal with the weather to how to source a bespoke breakfast and how to hydrate.  She isn’t used to drinking on runs and hasn’t been in the habit of carrying water, so that’s a biggy, I’m worried about absolutely everything, but mainly the sun. I  get nauseous and heat stroke really quickly in direct sunlight and heat.  I swear I must be from vampire stock.  I never venture out in the heat of the day.  It was basically great to spend time with someone who couldn’t escape, but also, genuinely could engage with the whole maranoia chit chat.

Top tip for anyone around people building up to a marathon, sometimes we just need to off load and voice our concerns.  We aren’t seeking reassurance or even advice (though confusingly sometimes we are just to keep you on your toes), we just want to get it out of our systems and also just articulating things can help you process strategies or just put worries in perspective.  In the presence of another empathetic angsty marathon runner no concern can be too trivial to merit many hours of earnest consideration.  Having said that, many of my Smiley comrades; parkrun people; monday mobster buddies and other runners aplenty have given bucket loads of advice, support, and inspiration, for which many thanks.  A special place in heaven must be reserved for the Smiley who responded to my panicky Facebook message on Friday morning about where Smiley Vests chafe most for people of my body shape – I’m currently thinking the unthinkable, wearing my vest without a t-shirt underneath despite being hugely self-conscious about exposing myself in that way, but I’m moving into unknown territory there.  Kit change and risk of sunburn versus risk of over-heating from too many layers.  It’s an indecisive person’s NIGHTMARE I tell you, add in running novice and it’s no wonder I feel I’m about to implode.  I’d be having a meltdown even without this heat.  The other pre-departure angst was centred around constantly packing and unpacking my stuff to check I’d not forgotten anything.  Then worrying that in the act of checking my passport and registration form and running shoes and giraffe were all ready to go, I’d taken them out and forgot to put them back.  STRESS!

It was remarkable in the circumstances I made it onto the train at all, but I did. We all did.  Me and my fellow marathoner (get me, it’s quite fun saying that actually, though it might ring a bit hollow subsequently if I’m a DNF) chit chatting away.  Sitting opposite us were two women who were lovingly colouring in a sign for some friends they were going to be cheering round on London. We didn’t particularly interact with them at first because we were too self-absorbed.  But couldn’t not join in when they realised a slight issue with their sign:

They spelt Sheffield wrong!  Hilarious, disappointingly, they chose to rectify this, and managed to fit in a sort of squashed L alongside a refashioned E, but it was a great moment.  Plus, I feel we have new friends now, I’m going to try and spot them on the way round and claim their support for me too. I  mean ‘Lisa’ is basically a misspelling of ‘Lucy’ after all is it not?  No harm in me claiming that.  I’m going to need all the support I can get and sometimes it pays to be direct and just ask for the help you need!

We arrived at  London, waved goodbye to our supporters, who were staying elsewhere and amongst other things running Bushy parkrun for a fiftieth event celebration on Saturday (today) – see how colour co-ordinated they are, how lovely!

parkrun celebrations marathon supporters

We wannabe marathoners (yep, coming more easily now) headed to the tube and joined the Piccadilly line, I headed off to check in to my hotel, whilst she went straight to the Expo.   I have no idea how Londoners cope with the underground. Whilst it is undoubtedly an incredibly efficient way to get about, it is sensory overload down there.  Super heated air, weird hot winds rushing through the tunnels, and the scream of trains compound the claustrophobia of being squashed up alongside sooooooooooo many people. On the other hand, I do enjoy how cosmopolitan it is, the multitude of nationalities, the range of types from hippies through to goths, school children in uniforms and besuited city executives all packed in the little cylindrical cans.  You can tell the city natives, as they have perfected the art of ignoring their travel companions and gazing into space.  Yet within that, there is clearly an underground etiquette, a woman with a pushchair got on and silently the carriage occupants rearranged themselves to accommodate her and her charge in an extraordinary display of collective spatial awareness.

One episode spun me out a bit though.  A youngish couple got on, doubled up in giggles over a shared joke. The woman had the most extravagant long fake silver nails I’ve ever seen – I don’t know how you could function with them, she was also sporting enormous silver hooped earrings with considerable style.  Her companion had stowed a ginormous spliff behind his ear. It was a creation of considerable skill, lovingly crafted into an even, seamless conical form, with the dry green leaves visible beneath the thin paper of the joint.  As is the way on public transport, everyone ignored this, and they were a lovely cheery pair.  But then, just after my marathon friend disembarked to go to the Expo, the woman lit up the joint and I went into complete panic mode. I’m not great in tubes, it’s like flying for me,  I don’t worry about either traveling on the underground or getting on a plane in advance, but when I’m actually in them, it seems an affront to nature to try and navigate the earth in this way.  Really claustrophobic.  I vividly remember the Kings Cross Station fire for some reason – I think that was what led to the smoking ban on the tubes, a fire started under a wooden escalator and 31 people died, horrible.  Therefore, in a completely spontaneous act, but a shocking breach of London tube-travel conventions I intervened!  ‘Please don’t!’ I cried out, my voice activating before my brain so at first I didn’t even realise it was me speaking! I added, rather pathetically ‘you’ll set the alarms off, I don’t want to be stuck down here!‘  Yes, I’m embarrassed, but I’m also default British, there’s a certain standard to be maintained.  Nobody is bothered by the illegality of the spliff, but to smoke in a non-smoking carriage!  Outrageous! The woman, who in my estimation was way too young to remember a time when smoking was the norm on the underground by many a decade was actually very sweet.  ‘It’s allright my lovely’ she said ‘there are no alarms, the train won’t stop‘ she laughed and they  tumbled out of the tube at the next station, no doubt puffing their way cheerily along the platform.  Even so, I was relieved.  It’s one thing to die from heat stroke half way round the London Marathon in a glorious but futile attempt to tick it off my bucket list, but I really didn’t fancy being burned to death in the hell of a London tube.

Just another couple of stops and then to my hotel.  My room wasn’t ready, so I just dumped my bags, refilled my water bottle and back into the horror of the tube.  Gawd, sooooo hot, I was exhausted and sticky with sweat and grime by the time I made it to the DLR overground exchange of Canning Town and boarded the crush of the DLR train heading to the Expo.  On the plus side, can I give a special shout out to the driver of the train that deposited us at Prince Regent about 3.27 p.m.  He was hilarious.  We got a running commentary en route, about the weather; how hot it would be; what fun we’d have he was great!  Plus, when we got to the first stop Custom House for the West Entrance, he advised it was a half mile walk from there to the Expo, but up to you folks – the train was so crushed, many opted to alight and do the walk to loosen up the legs, but a few of us stayed on for Prince Regent.  Our driver congratulated us for making a good call.  We’d be at the Expo way ahead of them.  Result.  It was grand, it created atmosphere and helped this whole adventure start to feel real.

Getting off at Prince Regent it is a long walk to get to the expo. I went last year 2017, and I was so glad I did, the layout and talks were seemingly identical, so it made it easy to find may way around. Even so, I was starting to really feel a rising sense of panic.  Even just travelling to the Excel arena had completely drained me, I was feeling stiff, tired, headachey and anything but springy and ‘ooh, wouldn’t it be grand to run a marathon in 25 degree heat in two days time’.  Even though many people have warned me about this pre-event panic, and doubting yourself, and worrying about losing fitness the reality of it is quite devastating and debilitating.  Looking about me there were loads of ‘proper’ runners, with athletic frames and focused expressions.  I looked sweaty, shiny, frumpy and fearful.  These are not desirable attributes on such occasions.   It was still very exciting though, and emotional too, couldn’t believe I’d made it at least to this point.  Even the ads were marathon themed!

Through the red archway:

the red archway london marathon expo 2018

Found the portal to my new identity as a marathon runner (hopefully):

portal to new me

There wasn’t even a queue.  And I was welcomed with winning smiles (I was really, the photo doesn’t do the duo justice) and handed my pack, which delivered both a number, a final instructions leaflet, a kit bag, and an overwhelming neurosis that I would lose all of these things at some point in the following 38 hours!  You pass through a little gate into the main exhibition, and as you do so there were lines of marathon makers who scan your envelope number and issue you with a shoe tag, which they place in your envelope so you can now worry about losing that as well.  I took a photo though.  This is real!  Bit too real.  Oh my gawd, why didn’t I train more, why didn’t I lose 3 stone during training; why did I tell everyone I was doing this; WHAT WAS I THINKING?!  Oh well, at least I have a magic number now.  Look!  Isn’t it a think of wonder.  Can’t believe I’ve got my hands on this. I’m so conflicted, this is amongst the scariest and most unlikely things I’ve ever done, but I know I am so, so lucky to have nabbed this opportunity.  I think a lot of my angst is to do with wanting to do the moment justice!

magic number 18590

In better news, I knew that my London Weekend running buddies were already here in force.  So I could at least hook up with some people I knew.  We met at a London Running Weekend in January and have been a Facebook self-help mutual support group ever since.  How anyone could possibly entertain the idea of running a marathon without a buddy group like that I can’t imagine.  I was soooooooooo happy to know they’d soon scoop me up.  On the way in to the expo you pass through lots of tempting London marathon themed clothing.  I wasn’t feeling confident enough about Sunday to buy any.  I was tempted, but it felt like tempting fate, as I don’t think you can wear London themed clothes if you don’t complete.  It’s weird though, as generally I’m not superstitious, but I am realistic. I  really struggle with heat, this is an eventuality that more than any other factor could literally wipe me out.  It was why I had to defer London last year, it was just impossible to train for the marathon whilst living and working in the heat of Cambodia.  I never imagined it would be an issue on marathon day, especially after hours and hours of training in ice and snow.  I didn’t buy any clothes, I did however buy a London marathon mug, after all I’m here now, however it ends.  Also, i like the mug, and you can never have too many really can you? It’s nice too. It has a rhino fancy dress costumed runner on it amongst others. I can’t be bothered to do a photo right now, but maybe I will later.

I texted my London marathoners current and deferred and established they were indeed in the Excel venue and currently watching the presentations, so I made my way to join them. En route I did buy a new, white running cap.  It is a risk, running in new kit, but I need something, and even I am realising my sun hat option might not be the best.  the new cap is exceedingly white, and, of course, deeply unflattering, but anything to keep the sun off is worth a punt at this point.  This was the other option, and I have to concede, it was probably worse:

hat option

By coincidence, I later found out my Graves marathon running friend made the same impulse buy, so hopefully we have both been wise in our choice.

I then ambled to the central area, following the sound of applause.  I was just in time to see Paula Radcliffe being interviewed.  That was great obviously, but I’m not sure her advice on what to do immediately after the marathon was entirely pertinent to my situation. Personally I’m not overly worried about factoring in all the press conferences nor prioritising getting into an ice bath, but good to know all the same.  Then Martin Yelling did his motivational chit-chat, 99% of us will finish.  The odds are in our favour, as long as we don’t do anything stupid and therefore die of either over or under hydration.  It’s curious, his optimism and positivity are indeed reassuring and inspiring, and I’m not generally that lucky to win a 1% chance of a lottery prize or whatever, then again, I got lucky with the stats on my side for this London Marathon ballot place, maybe that statistical anomaly will mean I stumble into the 1% DNF for Sunday.

The Expo experience for me was a bit mixed.  It was great to see my running buddies, it was exciting and terrifying to pick up my number and it was handy to get a running cap. On the other hand the mind games are really kicking in.  My training feels lamentable, I’ve done practically nothing the last two weeks – legitimate decision with niggles and a temperature, but as a consequence I feel lard arsed, lethargic and a complete fraud.  How on earth I shuffled round a half marathon a couple of weeks ago I can’t begin to imagine.

And the heat.  Oh my god the heat.  It was OK at the expo, but it was noisy and crowded and all a bit overwhelming.    Up until it got so hot I was quietly confident that as long as I made it to the start line of the marathon uninjured, I’d get around.  I know I’ve done the mileage and I’m tenacious, I might not get the best time, but it would be doable.  It would be an experience, I’d never considered being a DNF if I got to the start.  Now though, with this heat all bets are off.  I avoid the sun always, and feel nauseous even sitting inside in a sun spot.  If it is as hot as threatened I am really concerned I won’t make it round.  It wouldn’t be a mental battle, it would be a physical impossibility. I know how bad heat stroke can be and it comes on quickly.  There is absolutely nothing I can do about it, but it would break my heart if I don’t get round because of the temperature.  It’s made worse because as a slow runner I’ll be out for longer and I’m guaranteed to be caught up in the heat of the day.  My worse nightmare.

There are some perks, marathon support from my marathon BFF running buddy who has now sadly had to defer has now widened her remit to encompass the supply of popsicles en route.  Even if I know in my heart of heats the crowds are such I may not see her, the thought that she is out there someone with an icebox and an ice lolly just for me is massively supportive. Also, there was a last-minute email from virgin marathon today (Saturday) saying:

We have increased the number of shower units on the course to eight. They are located at Miles 7, 9, 13, 15, 17, 20, 22 and 23 – remember to run through these if you need to cool down. There will also be showers outside the London Fire Brigade stations at Miles 5, 7.5, 15 and 23. Remember that as your running clothing becomes wetter, you may experience chafing. Consider taping sensitive areas such as nipples and using petroleum jelly to help prevent chafing.

Is it wrong to be excited at the prospect of firefighters on hand to hose us down.  It isn’t clear whether they assist with taping sensitive areas or not, I’m guessing the latter would be more a St John’s ambulance remit.  St John’s staff will also supply hugs on request though if it all gets a bit much, which is very good news.  Whilst in ‘real life’ I’m not especially huggy, mid-race I’ll hug anyone, and it’s always best if they at least don’t recoil and you hit the jackpot if you get a marshal that will go with it!

We sat through some of the speakers and fraternised a bit with other people who were also there.  I felt intimidated by everyone else around me who looked even remotely equipped for Sunday by dint of wearing active wear or other ostentatious displays of sporting prowess.

Then, suddenly, I was just exhausted, teary and overwhelmed.  I was ready to go, but obviously, this was a historic occasion, I wasn’t willing to head off solo, firstly we had to get some compulsory cheesy ‘here we are at the London Marathon Expo’ photos.  Fortuitously, there were plenty of opportunities to do so with props like picture frames and huge medals to be purloined.  Unfortunately there were big queues we had to join to avail ourselves of these poses.  We queued, we conquered, here’s the proof:

Aren’t we lovely.

I was nervous about getting my number out of the envelope just in case I lost it or accidentally used it to wrap up discarded chewing gum in or something.  I remember from the Expo last year that the most common item of lost property is apparently kit bag with number in it. Can you imagine the horror of that. I think that would be worse than the other nightmare scenario I’ve imagined.  Arriving one minute past the cut off time for registrations 5.01pm.  It must happen to some people.  Indeed, I heard an account of a friend of a friend who worked at registration for the London marathon one year.  When the doors were shut apparently there really were runners outside pleading, crying and throwing tantrums, banging on the doors to get in to no avail.  Heartbreaking indeed, and  yet I can understand there has to be a cut off, horrific as it is. But that would be beyond terrible, to be turned away because of some unanticipated delay en route.  I shudder at the thought.  See, if there’s one thing worse than the apprehension of having to run a marathon the next day, it would be the horror of finding that you were no longer allowed to do what you’d trained for.  Be on time people.  Be on time!

Photos done, we traipsed to the tube together.  It was absolutely heaving, I made it back to my hotel about 7 ish, feeling overwhelmed, stressed and ludicrously tearful. I  have no idea where that came from.  I expected to feel excited at this point, nervous yes, but not like this, this was nihilistic doom laden despair.  After nearly a two-year build up, I was/ am fearing seeing this marathon moment slip through my fingers all because of the effing weather. It feels personal.  I suppose I was exhausted, but it suddenly all felt futile. Who was I trying to kid thinking I would ever be able to run a marathon.  it didn’t help that when I collected my left luggage from the concierge he accidentally rammed my case into my shins with such ferocity it broke the skin.  It bloomin’ hurt, I felt hot tears welling up at the pain, but choked them back, a bit too effectively – he didn’t even apologise, I’m not sure he quite realised what he’d done.  I hobbled off, thinking of the great irony of being the only person ever to miss the London marathon due to a suitcase related injury.  It did sort of put things in perspective again though, in that I had a fleeting moment of thinking I really wouldn’t be able to walk – like when you hit your funny bone and are completely crippled fora  few minutes – and i realised that however hot it is on Sunday I still want to be at the start!

In my hotel room I basically sweated and fretted.  I did lay my kit out and tie my tag to my shoe.

There were some social media related  perks.  Case in point.  I have a very fine friend and erstwhile flat mate of mine relocated to London literally on Tuesday this week.  She told me her new home is somewhere on the course, but as I’ve not had a chance to visit her there yet I was thinking it was pretty unlikely I’d be able to spot her en route as neither of us really know it.  However, she sent me updates indicating course setting up activity going on outside her new residence as she unpacked. The culmination of which was these two photos – from her kitchen window I think:

Is that not the most magnificent visual aid for spotting one of your supporters.  If only my other friends who intend to be out their cheering en route showed the same dedication in providing visual clues for me to spot on the way round.  This made me very, very happy.  It also made me quite determined to come and stay with her next year over London Marathon weekend so I can watch the whole thing from the comfort of her flat.  Wouldn’t that be amazing? Live action outside the window and TV coverage alongside plus no awkward loo queues and excellent catering made to individual preferences.  Note to self, try not to wipe snot on her during any mid race hug scenarios, don’t want her to shun me on future London visits.

To ease my nerves in the evening I treated myself to a night nurse capsule to help me sleep. I know I shouldn’t but I sleep so badly I thought I needed a break.

Then it was the next morning. This morning, Saturday morning.  Oh my life, I felt absolutely terrible, thumping headache, shivery like you get with heat stroke and my room was humid and horrible.  I didn’t know what to do, I had a shower and washed my hair to clear my head, then I went for breakfast, but everything was sort of ‘wrong’ somehow.  The baked beans were full of sugar, the orange juice wasn’t fresh, the coffee was rank, the scrambled eggs over cooked.  I just felt out of sorts, irritable, and again, tearful. I’m not an especially tearful person, I felt I was going mad.  I went across the road to get a paper, and decided just to try to drink lots and see if I could sleep off my headache by resting for a bit. I gave up any notion of a run.  I feel I should have tried, but I felt so bad I didn’t think I’d achieve anything beyond a further drop in confidence if I attempted to run and it went badly.

I felt foggy after a couple of hours lounging, but rejoining Facebook to about 50 missed messages from my London Marathon Superstars group was a revelation. It seemed all of us were having our own meltdowns manifested in our own individual ways.  From nearly leaving kit behind to panic over wrong shoe tags.  One of our number, the hardcore superhuman one, actually ran Brighton marathon last weekend as a warm up for London (as you do) and posted her kit with her shoe tag for London on one shoe and her Brighton one on the other. I completely panicked thinking at first maybe I should have had two tags too, but i only had one, oh my gawd, panic PANIC panic repeat – not only me, others also.  She reassured us, we laughed it was OK.  Upshot, it seems we were all quite emotionally fraught and fragile.  I’ve never felt like this before a running event. I only ever run for the experience and fun, and I’ve never considered the possibility of a dnf before.  It’s not nice, but maybe it’s not all that uncommon either.  For any runner tackling any unknown distance whether that’s a marathon or a 5k, it is the step into unknown territory, which is both the point and the source of terror.  I started to question whether I should have ‘come out’ and told people I’d be running.  I am tormented with visions of humiliation if I don’t finish, and the burden of letting down others who have supported me and urged me on.  Objectively I know this is ridiculous, it’s only a run, but I suppose the point is at this stage there is no objectivity left.

So at this precise moment, I’m sat in my hotel room, I’ve eaten a bowl of pasta and I’m fretting about whether that was wise, I may have over-indulged and now I’m worried I’ve actually inadvertently altered my centre of gravity as a consequence – will that mess up my running gait?  But you know what, I think I do realise that these are just thoughts, it will be a challenge of mind over body, the heat will slow everyone down.  Much as I fear embarrassment and shame if I don’t complete, the far greater benefit of having told people I’d be here is the support I’ve garnered.  So many messages of support I feel overwhelmed.  Granted that may not carry me round the course quite as literally as I may have liked, but it certainly helps.  I’m so grateful for all of them.  Thanks to each and everyone of you who has given encouragement, solidarity, advice or simply shown interest in my progress along the way.  I still want to do this.  The heat will slow everyone down, and there has been so much coverage about the heat I think everyone’s expectations will have shifted downwards.  It’s still going to be an amazing adventure.  Plus, at least one friend has pointed out I have to do this, so that in future she can refer to me in conversations as ‘my friend the London marathon runner‘ and my that prospect makes me chuckle.  My EWFM and daughter have promised to have photos taken wearing my finish medal if I get round and update their profile pages to make it look like they ran round too, just to see what the reaction is. That would be grand to see too.  Worst case scenario, I get to keep the London marathon trainer tag as a key ring.  That’s a start.

This time tomorrow we’ll know what a difference a day makes.  I’ll cross the start line and from thereon in we shall see if I make it out the other side. There will be tears, there may be incontinence, but there will also be glorious adventures, memories and shared stories.  Oh my gawd, despite everything I do not underestimate how very lucky I am to be here.  It will be amazing, possibly type 2 fun, but an extraordinary experience to be part of. Also, I can’t be that crap a runner can I, because they’ve put me in pen 8, the last pen, the only explanation for this being that the overwhelming majority of the other participants need a bit of a head start.  That Mo Farah must be extra slow, why else would they make him line up at the front if it wasn’t to give him a bit of an advantage over me.  I still respect him though, very smiley, I like that in a fellow runner.

It’s just one foot in front of another.  That is all!

Right now, I’m going to set several alarms for the morning,  have a shower, go mad have a night nurse and head down by 8.30 I reckon.   I’ll dream of crossing that finish to a ticker tape parade and fireworks over head.  If positive visualisation can get me round, it’s a done deal!

Thanks to everyone who has helped me on my way.  Whatever happens it’s been an extraordinary adventure, and you know what, just so we are clear about this, to the voices in my head that say I cannot withstand this storm of maranioa, running and heat I  hear you, and yet I say

I am the storm!*

Go me.

Image result for be the storm

*though I might be whispering it a wee bit tentatively ….

 

Categories: marathon, motivation, race, road, running | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Having a giraffe at the Sheffield half 2018

Digested read:  Did the Sheffield half-marathon at the weekend, strictly speaking it’s the Yorkshire half I think.  Which is confusing.  The crowd support was grand, Geronimo my companion giraffe was a hit, and I got to meet the Terrific Tilly along the way.  What’s not to like?  My last long run pre London Marathon.  Now I have maranoia and post event blues.  These emotions are unhelpful, but apparently not uncommon.  Oh well.  Still love Sheffield running and Sheffield runners though.  Hope you get to run here too dear reader, you’ll love it!

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt and medal!  Hurrah.  What’s more, had a giraffe doing so.  Literally, as in I did have a giraffe with me for the Sheffield Half Marathon, and in the not exactly metaphorical, but certainly more obscure British street speak ‘having a laugh‘ sense.  My (and your) appreciation of this dual meaning clearly demonstrates my hip and street wise credentials despite the apparently uncool choice of running with an African even-toed ungulate as my companion animal of choice for the event.  Life in general is full of such apparent contradictions, but sometimes, somehow, the unlikeliest of juxtapositions will work, thus, see below, evidence of having a giraffe in both senses.

Running can be fun dear reader, or at least seeing people you know whilst out running most definitely is, and this can delude you into thinking it’s the running bit which is fun by association.  On reflection, the whole thing is probably one big delusion, like clicker training for dogs.  The poor creatures learn to associate a click with a food reward or other treat, until eventually just hearing the click is its own reward, the food treat being withdrawn.  Oh my gawd!  Suddenly the penny drops.  Maybe running isn’t fun at all?   it’s the positive reinforcement from my running buddies that has led me to believe otherwise!  Cripes.  Let’s not go there. Hang on while I just breathe into a paper bag for a bit.   Hey ho, bear with me, let’s just continue to imagine running is intrinsically fun shall we?  Otherwise a whole house of cards will come tumbling down, and none of us want that, surely?  Look, here’s the very proof that running is fun!  I like this picture, top of the hill, top of the world, and just had the good fortune to see the fine folk of Accelerate proffering encouragement and water and all sorts of other positive reinforcement, plus they took this photo, I believe I claimed a hug at this point too, because that’s what the people who line the route of the course are there for, to provide healing hugs on demand to runners in need.  A very fine job they do of it too.

acc seen my friends

I’m running ahead of myself though – not something that happens very often when I’m literally as opposed to metaphorically running.  Let’s get back to basic chronology.  So last Sunday was the 2018 Sheffield Half.  I didn’t run it last year, when there was sudden unexpected scorching heat, but did the year before in 2016.  I really enjoyed it, it was my first time over that distance, and the support en route was astonishing.  I ate my body weight in jelly babies and had a lifetime’s supply of high fives over the duration.  I felt invincible at the end.  Even though generally I’m not a fan of road running, this year it was definitely in the diary.  It would be a good last long run pre-London (have I mentioned recently that I’ve got a ballot place for the London marathon this year?), and I’ve run the Sheffield half route a fair few times in training to get the miles in, so I was hoping it would seem straightforward by comparison to doing a full marathon.  Familiar territory, shorter route, blah de blah.

The preparation started the day before, laying out my kit, ironing my name onto my Smiley shirt, agonising over which of my many pairs of socks to wear.  It was important to me to replicate the kit that I’ll be wearing at London.  I did wonder if the name thing might be something of an overkill for Sheffield, plus there was the fear that my amazon iron on letters might not stay put in the wash.  Nevertheless, this was the plan, I would stick to it, and I did, and so did the letters. They even stayed on after washing.  Phew.  Bargain buy actually.  Less than £4 including postage got me these and some!

I had some additional angst when I wasn’t sure if the centre of my body that I laughingly refer to as my ‘waist’ could still accommodate Geronimo. Not only am I the only person in the history of marathon training to put on weight during training, but also I hadn’t fully factored in that I need to wear my running belt with water, and naked bars and other running essentials underneath.  It was a bit snugger than I’d have liked, but doable, ‘this is why I’m having a practice run‘, I tried to remind myself, whilst inwardly weeping at my less than athletic frame.  Also, Geronimo has quite a severe neck curvature, I improvised with garden twine but not sure this is entirely humane.  I managed to get her number on OK, but then had a wave of panic about whether this is allowable under race rules.  I don’t approve of running under other runners bibs.  It’s not fair on race organisers and it does have safety implications – though I can see the temptation if events don’t allow transfers even weeks ahead.  Is it therefore OK for Geronimo to wear my number?  Should we each have had our own?  Am I guilty of race-craft hypocrisy on this score?  It’s an ethical minefield!  Oh well, committed now and at least it means I get company on the way round.  I decided not to share my pre-race angst with Geronimo – no point in stressing us both, and just left her to carb up, whilst I did likewise.

I actually had a friend visiting, which was really nice, but I ate more than I should have the night before a run, and later than was ideal, although it was all very lovely at the time.

I got up crazily early and sleep deprived on the morning of the event, couldn’t sleep anyway.  I am still fretting about being one long run down in my training plan, so decided to lengthen this half marathon distance by walking down to the start.  That added about an extra 3 miles.  This was a fine plan, apart from the fact I stupidly didn’t take it into account in my fuelling scheme, and realised once in the start pen, and just before the official ‘off’,  I was suddenly ridiculously thirsty.  I also discovered accessing my water bottles beneath Geronimo’s midriff is not that straight forward. Consequently, I started the half dehydrated and never really made that up.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  Then again, that’s why I was doing a dummy run in the kit I suppose.  Doh.

The walk down to the start was, erm, well let’s go with ‘interesting.’ Contrary to appearances, I do feel an acute sense of embarrassment in fancy dress other than during the actual event.  It was hard to affect a look of nonchalance as I made my way down to the city centre start. To be fair, I didn’t see many people out and about other than dog walkers, and all were friendly, if bemused/amused.  One guy with his beagle was going to be running later anyway, another walker asked cheerily ‘oh, are you up for the fun run then?’ I didn’t like to admit i wasn’t sure it would be all that much fun actually, but thank you for asking.  One asked if I was ‘planning to run with that?’ meaning Geronimo.  This did strike me as odd.  I mean surely, if it strikes you as bizarre that someone would run a half marathon in fancy dress, would it not strike you as even odder if they wore fancy dress on a three-mile walk to the start line of said event, but  with no intention of actually running in it, rather just for the gloriousness of flaunting their outfit?  No?  Just me then.

We took in some sights on the way.  It was fun meeting the lion.  And excitement started to build as we saw the road closure signs nearing the start.   Geronimo hasn’t seen this side of Sheffield before so I was worried she’d be spooked, but she was fine, curious even.  I think she may have been wondering about whether the bus or bike would be the most practical option for the return leg, but we didn’t really discuss it.  Because she can’t talk, and I can’t hum at a low enough frequency. It doesn’t seem to matter too much, we muddle along just fine.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was quite fun as I neared the event village, there was that growing sense of anticipation as people arrived, and I got to see the finish arch for the first, but hopefully not last, time.  I nipped into Costa to use the loo, fearing a portaloo would be too much of a challenge.  Strictly speaking you need a code to access this, but loads of runners were using the facilities – and buying pre-event coffee and muffins to be fair – so we just held the door for one another.

I paced about a bit, and found a few familiar faces, so that was good.  I was quite early, and alarmingly, there were relatively few people in fancy dress of any sort.  In fact, at this point in proceedings I’d not seen anyone.  Because of this, I had a brief period of being a media sensation.  I was away chatting to a Sheffield runner / parkrunner who I keep bumping into out and about, and who I discovered is in fact also going to be running London, for charity, and I was mid-way through downloading all her previous knowledge and experience when we were interrupted.  Hilariously, someone from run for all wanted to do a video clip of me and Geronimo.  Unhilariously, the result is painful for me to watch – is my voice really that bad?  (Rhetorical question).  Oh well.  Then someone from polar watches wanted a photo too, (no, I didn’t get a complementary watch for my services, which is a shame as my tomtom is getting increasingly temperamental about synching these days – apparently the manufacturers aren’t supporting their running watches updates any more.  Curses.  I will have such a tantrum if it doesn’t load London) and then a guy from The Star.  I was basically my very own media sensation. Well, Geronimo was, and I got glory by association.  Form a queue paparazzi people, form a queue!  Not seen the other photos, but here is the front of the Instagram video one and my newly identified fellow London marathoner…

Once I’d fulfilled my media responsibilities, good preparation for when I’m an international sporting celebrity which I’m sure is only a matter of time, I went in search of Smilies.  Found some!  Specifically, I found my very favourite Smiley cheer leading squad, tooled up and ready for action.  They were apparently there to support their dad running too, but clearly taking their Smiley support role very seriously too!  Yay.  I explained to them how they were my favourite thing at the 2016 marathon, and this year seeing them cheering wildly en route was a highlight all over again.  Yay!

smiley cheer leaders

No rain, uncharacteristically mild.  I was feeling OK about wearing a t-shirt for the first time this year.  Not even exaggerating for comedic effect.  I went in search of Smilies, as there’d been talk of getting a team photo on the steps of the Winter garden overlooking the Lyceum.  I dumped my bag and joined the assembly.  By and extraordinary co-incidence, other running clubs had had the same idea!  Who’d have thought it?  We briefly considered photo-bombing the Totley AC group shot, but couldn’t really be bothered.  Anyway, I was distracted by a) the presence of other Smilies, and b) another request for a film, this time by someone from The Star with a video camera, and by other Smilies.  With the benefit of already having had one go at being the subject of a vox pox, I went on a different tack this time.  Explaining, I was in fancy dress because at the time of signing up my running club buddies had assured me that this was a compulsory part of the occasion, and that they would all be donning their own African mammal of choice for the event as well.  Which they clearly weren’t!  I gestured towards them as they doubled up behind me laughing as I went on to reiterate that consequently I was feeling most aggrieved.  It was very entertaining  – to us.  So entertaining, that the camera operative wanted me to ‘spontaneously’ repeat the account all over again.  That would have been very funny to see, we were most conspiratorial, but possibly also came across as sharing our own joke, which to be fair, we were.  Oh well, it passed the time before the mandatory group shots.

CS smiley group shot

As is also traditional, some Smilies were gathered in the wrong place, or stuck in a loo-queue, so not everyone made it.  Other sub-group shots were taken instead.

So more faffing, found another loo stop, then into the Winter gardens for some warmth, some posing for photos in front of the elephant in the room and some stretching (not by me).

Finally, time to get to the start line.  There was a delay in setting off due to a ‘police incident on the course’ apparently.  I was completely oblivious to this. I was distracted by meeting some camel women – first proper fancy dress contenders of the morning, and they’d upped the ante going for a double act.  Then I was distracted by meeting a fellow Smiley in the line up.  The Sheffield half- marathon is basically one big post-winter reunion for everyone you know in Sheffield who runs.  If they aren’t running the event themselves, chances are they will either be supporting it en route, or volunteering. There is no escape!

The actual start, unless you are a speedy runner in the front pen, was pretty stop start.  Some people did try to jog on, but as  a point of principle I wasn’t planning on running anywhere until my foot went over the starting mat.  I was aware of being really thirsty suddenly, but bit late to do anything about it, and a bit faffy to access my water bottle.  I hadn’t factored in the time and effort it had taken me to walk down to the start.  Must make sure I consciously drink something whilst waiting on the start at London.

We weaved over the cobble streets, and eventually the start came into view.  I didn’t think anything would top the experience of getting a high-five from Harry Gration in 2016, but the organisers had upped the ante this year with green wig pram man. The legend that is  the fund raiser John Burkhill!  No wonder I was so excited heading through the start.  Yes, I did get a high-five, thank you for asking.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Apparently the front runners don’t avail themselves of this opportunity!  They are in such a rush to get round.  They miss out on such celebrity encounters.  It’s a shame.

I somehow found myself alongside the 2:20 pacers, both striders I knew, so that was cool, I waved them on though, my race plan wasn’t going to reach that speed.  Early excitement was indeed from seeing familiar supporters early on.  I wasn’t lying when I told you I got excited by the pro-smiley mob just near Waitrose!

RW so excited

The next bit of excitement, was getting to overtake someone.  Admittedly, it was someone carrying a solid oak anchor, but it was a start.  How he made it round I have no idea, that was a seriously heavy bit of luggage.  Maybe he was planning to leave it at the bag drop, but it exceeded their size criteria?  I didn’t stop to ask.  Photo nabbed from Steel City Striders Facebook page – hope that’s OK.  Sharing the running love is all for the greater good after all…

SCS anchor man

Onward and upward.  Well, to be fair, that’s the only available option for the Sheffield half, unless you inadvertently run in completely the wrong direction at the start.  By my standards, which are modest, I was reasonably consistent. Swept along by the crowd I did my slow plod, but kept my rhythm and ran pretty much the whole way up until I got to Knowle Lane. Well I say I kept on running, but clearly there were distractions along the way.  There were many supporting Smilies, and I couldn’t run past them without stopping and claiming a hug, despite one at least telling me I wasn’t supposed to. Well sod that for a game of soldiers, that’s one of the whole points of undertaking this running malarkey. Whilst, naturally, it was grand to see everyone, a particular thrill was meeting this gorgeous trio:

This necessitated not just a photo stop, but a selfie-stop with more than one attempt. Thing is, Tilly the puppy and I have connected on-line, but not had the opportunity to meet in dog and person yet.  I was so thrilled to see her I wasn’t going to turn down that opportunity.  She was fantastically well-socialised and greeted both me and Geronimo warmly . So soft and cuddlesome!  I say she was well-socialised, and that’s true, but I like to think the warmth and enthusiasm of her greeting was because we have special spiritual connection that is unique to ourselves.  I’m practically a puppy-whisperer, and very blessed what with our special relationship.  Hoping this will be but the first of many future encounters.

Onwards.  Hello Runderwear ambassador of Valley Hill Runners.  Had to stop and tell her about meeting Tilly for the first time – only to find she’d beaten me to it the day before.  Fair enough, this was important news, serves me right for not making it to Sheffield Hallam parkrun when Tilly was having her coming out party.  Miss parkrun, miss out.  Fact.  Greetings exchanged, she cheered me on, I could hear her shouts of positivity carrying on behind  me as I ran off.   I’m glad someone was feeling confident on my behalf!

tilly and VHR

Sometimes it was a bit confusing there was so much support.  At one point at Hunter’s Bar there was a smiley contingent proffering high-fives on both sides of the road, so obviously I had to zig-zag across to take up all available options.  I wonder if the lead runners did this too?  Then a shout out from the 50% of the Front Runner team who was out supporting the other 50% of the Front Runner team who was chasing a podium place and probably didn’t therefore double back insisting on a high-five.  There was further confusion, because I forgot that I had my name emblazoned all over my top and my race number, and some random supporters called out my name, which was great, but it took me a while to realise I didn’t know these people.   Didn’t matter, all support greatly appreciated!  Some supporters I missed, but they got Smiley action shots en route all the same.  Hurrah!

The support going out is pretty amazing.  It was an OK day, perfect for running, but not overly warm for spectating but the road was lined with children holding out trays of jelly beans, or lining up hands poised for high fives.  I got some shouts for ‘go giraffe’ which was grand – though later in the race I started to protest a bit because people weren’t sufficiently acknowledging my own contribution to Geronimo getting round.  At one point a cyclist in high viz came tearing down the hill shouting out ‘Go Geronimo!’ which made me feel like a proper celebrity with my own support team.  Loads of signs offered encouraging support – I was quite taken by one that was ‘go random stranger!’.  It was all very positive and affirming.

I learned the lessons from last time out and desisted from taking jelly babies I didn’t want for fear of disappointing small children.  What I didn’t do though, which was dumb, is stop and drink enough.  I wanted to, I was so thirsty, but with so many people yelling support I was a bit embarrassed to pause and rummage around for my water bottle.  The irony of not being embarrassed to run with a toy giraffe strapped round my midriff but fearing humiliation if I paused to drink is not lost on me. I  was very grateful when outside one of the shops up at Banner Cross some random table was set up offering water.

So many sights and sounds.  The crowds thinned a bit as I headed up towards Ringinglow road, by the time we got to the king of the hill section, I wasn’t feeling very regal.  I was really, really thirsty now, and had a knee niggle coming on which I’ve never had before.  I did a sort of mental check about how I felt, and thought ‘you know what I’m fine, but I need to walk and drink and eat something’ so I did that, whilst plodding up the hill, and it was the right thing to do, just to get some equilibrium back.

Nearing the Norfolk Arms the crowd got denser, ‘is that the finish ahead?’ I shouted, ‘yes, yes,’ mischievous supporters shouted back, lying, but the interaction was fun.   Less fun when people tell first timers it’s ‘downhill all the way’ from the Norfolk arms, because it really isn’t, but that’s OK if you are in the know…  Then there was the Accelerate team out in force.  Hurrah!  I can’t tell you how good it is to see people you know out en route, it’s amazing.  It’s all the fun of socialising with friends, without any of the pressure or awkwardness of having to maintain a conversation for longer than you have anything interesting to say.  The Accelerate people got some good shots of the atmosphere of the half in general and of woodrun folk in particular.  Incidentally, woodrun folk are not really like woodcraft folk at all, but I can understand why you might think they are,  some of whom had made a real effort to scrub up for the occasion.  I do appreciate it when people put the time in to choose the perfect outfit for such an auspicious day.

I claimed my hug and ran on.  Round the corner onto Sheephill road and SURPRISE!  My London Marathon buddy was in situ, fantastic to see her, clearly another stop for a selfie and hug was called for. Weird to think next time I see her could well be in London. Aaargh.  Very affirming to get that support mid way through my last long run.

The next section is definitely my favourite bit, although you aren’t yet half way round, the hard bit is behind, the views are stunning and there is still support around.   Shout out for North Derbyshire runners who had their official photographer out and about taking photos too.  I opportunistically capitalised on the proximity of that lens too – thanks Robert Scriven for use of these photos.  I’m such a natural in front of the camera.  No wonder I could barely move for paparazzi at the start.  Some great shots of other runners though, I’m liking the political satire. Check out that name label  – who’s riding Donald Trump eh?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Steel City Striders were out in force, and there were some motivational words for them too, but I don’t think they’d begrudge sharing.  Plus they had their official photographer stuck in a ditch as per usual.  You might think they’d show a bit more respect as he takes some grand photos, but then again, maybe it’s a camouflage thing?

On and on and on.  This section was a bit quieter, quite a lot quieter than in previous years.  I wondered if I was just really slow, but I didn’t feel slow particularly.  Granted I’d stopped for a fair few hellos along the way, but in between I felt I’d run more consistently than the first time I ran this route.  Granted, I possibly pushed myself more then, but I finished with less in the tank also.  I paused for the loo, there was a queue, a couple of pink geared runners ran up behind me ‘we’ve been chasing you since the start as our pacer‘ they said. I was again astonished, I never imagine anyone would find merit in aiming for me, but it was good.  After Dore, there were sections where I felt like I was running pretty much on my own, I couldn’t really see anyone ahead, and wasn’t aware of anyone behind.  I saw one collapsed runner lying on the verge, but St Johns were in attendance, so I jogged on by.  I don’t like seeing that though, you always wonder if they’re going to be OK.

The participants had definitely thinned out by the time I was back on Ecclesall Road, so had the supporters.  However, the upside of this, is that those who were waiting were pleased to interact with me in order to alleviate the boredom whilst hanging around waiting for the people they actually were out to support.  I had some hilarious interactions.  People toasting me with prosecco from outside their houses (which I must admit looked way more fun than doing what I was doing); a queue of children who sprang into an orderly line when I said I couldn’t complete the course if I didn’t get any more high fives, and at one glorious point a band of about 15 or so supporters with huge ‘go go go’ signs.  ‘You’ve got this‘ they shouted as I approached ‘I’ve so got this!’ I echoed back and soon they were all running alongside me, punching the air and shouting ‘you’ve smashed it‘ and other such motivational stages laughing uproariously as they did so.  It was great. Not only did I feel like a celebrity (in a good way) but also it was joyful. It was just playing really, like we don’t get to do nearly enough spontaneously as adults.  A sort of shared understanding of the ridiculousness of it all, and the kindness of strangers. What’s not to like?

It was about this stage I started to believe in myself.  ‘You’re the first giraffe‘ someone shouted, others joined in ‘first giraffe, first giraffe’ in a great chorus of recognition.  I could do this.  Finally, I’d win a category in a running event.  Dreams CAN come true!

Onwards I yomped, there was one moment of shallow irritation.  There is a timed 10k section which is marked out.  About this point, three children aged 8 or so, decided to join in, and ran holding hands in a line in front of me, stop, start, stop start.  I kept having to run round them, and as soon as I overtook,  they sort of leap-frogged round me again, determined to stay ahead of me seemingly, and it was quite tiring.  They were there for ages, until I finally put on what for me was quite a considerable sprint to get away.   A few minutes later a police car pulled up and i overheard a conversation about three missing children.  I froze.  I felt so stupid, I’ve got so used to seeing kids running at junior parkrun it never crossed my mind that maybe three young kids running unaccompanied down the half marathon route wasn’t the best idea.  I stopped to talk to the marshal, but it was fine, they’d picked the kids up and all was well. They’d have had their own mini adventure.  To be fair, although they shouldn’t have run off like that they were being quite sensible staying together, looking after each other and having running fun, just not the best time to do so.

Coming back into Banner Cross and then Hunters’ bar, I was amazed to see Smiley supporters a-plenty still out in force. ‘we were waiting for you’ they called out.  I couldn’t believe it.  I mean, it was practically the next day by the time I was coming back through, but smiley solidarity was still in evidence. Plus new faces of people I’d missed first time round. Smilies are fabulous, there is a lot of support for runners in Sheffield, a legacy of parkrun too I’m sure, but it is quite something to be part of a club that genuinely encourages both ends of the running ability spectrum with vocal enthusiasm.    I felt very lucky.  Can’t see how London crowds will be able to top that. Nothing beats the shout of ‘go smiley’ as you pound a race route.  Even Tilly had waited for me.  Honestly, I don’t think it was just that I was still lead giraffe at this point.

Nearing the city centre once again, there were more opportunities to share greetings as people who’d already finished were now lining the route, supping their non-alcoholic pints, so I had lots of reunions with other runners I’ve not seen in ages as I yomped to the finish.

Coming down the finish line was hilarious.  Even if I have a selection of the most unflattering official race photos ever to hit an in-box in the history of digital photography, I had a glorious finish.  Almost as glorious as the first man and woman across the line.  The officials had mislaid the first giraffe banner apparently.  I won’t bear a grudge.

People whooped me and Geronimo in, and as pretty much everyone else had finished by this point, the announcer was able to call my name and acknowledge Geronimo too as I crossed the finish.  Even better a smiley was on hand to greet me – she’d run with a friend for charity and finished hours before, but it was still lovely to see her as I wandered off to claim my medal and finisher’s tee.  Should have stayed with her really though, they knew how to celebrate another run done!  That’s the after party that might have been …

NF half after party

Medal in hand, I wandered round to baggage drop and then joined the queue to get my medal engraved.  Had a bash at doing my own post race selfie…  ho-hum:

post run selfie sheffield half

I was a bit slower than last time, but happy with the run over all.  Whilst waiting for my engraving I was blessed by the sight of Smiley selfie queen materializing alongside me.  Excellent, guaranteed a decent finish photo that way!  Slightly sinister character lurking in the background aside – is that Darth Vader do you think?

CS smiley after shot with smiley selfie queen

Oh, you want the results of the Sheffield Half Marathon 2018?  For me, that genuinely isn’t the point of running, though I daresay I’d feel differently if I was fighting for a podium place at the front like these guys, every one of them seemingly levitating the whole way round (Photo courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/jamierutherfordphotography):

running for it

Bravo!

I was still definitely first giraffe home though, even if, disappointingly, they haven’t yet updated the results to capture that category.  I may have been fastest African mammal too, but I never did find out what happened to the camel…  also, and I accept this may be a technicality which perhaps the race organisers are having to investigate prior to publishing the final outcomes – it depends whether the camel is deemed to be a dromedary (one hump) or Bactrian (two) as that might dictate the region of origin.  I thought dromedary to be fair, so that is direct competition.  Anyways, according to Wikipedia so it must be true:

The dromedary (C. dromedarius), also known as the Arabian camel, inhabits the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, while the Bactrian (C. bactrianus) inhabits Central Asia, including the historical region of Bactria. The critically endangered wild Bactrian (C. ferus) is found only in remote areas of northwest China and Mongolia. An extinct species of camel[6] in the separate genus Camelops, known as C. hesternus,[7]lived in western North America before humans entered the continent at the end of the Pleistocene.

First giraffe though, for sure, so definitely a win in that category.  Just sayin’

Then it was of course something of an anticlimax.  I was tempted to get a bus home, but actually I couldn’t because the roads were closed due to some stupid running event or other.  Ultimately this was a good thing as it forced me to walk back and it meant I did 18 miles on my feet in the end, which isn’t equivalent to a long run I know, but is a reasonable compromise.  I haven’t got time to squeeze in another long run pre- London anyway.  I was relieved to be traipsing home uninjured – apart from that weird knee thing, where has that come from?

Walking back, I bumped into people who’d cheered me round on course. One woman on Cemetery Road rather sweetly explained she’d been shouting for me, but her husband had missed me, and could they come and say hello to the giraffe!  It’s very sweet.  Geronimo, like Tilly, seems to be able to inspire instant respectful adoration.  Turns out I don’t need to have any social skills, I can just use proximity to a stuffed toy as an ice breaker in all future interactions.  Result. I  mean it might not quite wash in a job interview I suppose, unless it was say an audition for a ventriloquist, but it’s a start.  Perhaps I should start taking her everywhere, like a vegetarian friendly companion emotional therapy animal, only with less chance of having to flush her down the loo if I need to take an international flight say?

And the next day?  Erm, stiff, but not broken.  However, very tired, on a serious note, it is clear I did let myself get really dehydrated.  Still better to learn from that now, than crash out at London in less than a fortnight.  LESS THAN A FORTNIGHT DEAR READER OH MY GIDDY HAT!

Not going to lie, the screaming humiliation of the official race photos was a bit of a downer too.  Oh my gawd – did I really allow myself to go out in public looking like that?  I take some small comfort that this is a phenomenon sufficiently well recognised that there are apparently whole forums dedicated to uploading runners ‘worst ever race photos‘, where we can presumably take solace by howling with empathetic laughter at the shots of other runners who have suffered worse photographic misfortune than ourselves.  Small comfort say I.  Particularly as I thought the majority were relatively innocuous compared to the horrors that found their way into my own inbox.   They may be funny, but inside we’d all secretly prefer to be outed as our own gender equivalent of the ridiculously photogenic running guy, who you may recall ended up as something of a meme a few years back.  How can I rid myself of all my extra chins and chisel my cheek bones between now and London?  Is a water and cayenne pepper fast for the next fortnight compatible with carbing up during my taper?  It’s just Not going to happen is it.  Sometimes there are no words, I’m never going out in daylight again.  Not going to lie, I did weep at the sight of some photos, but then I have to step back from it and recognise that objectively the shot is indeed hilarious.  This isn’t even the worst one, but it does communicate quite well the full horror of the unflattering race photo as you embark on your sprint finish:

Then, for authenticity, in terms of treating this event as a practice run for the London Marathon, post the Sheffield half marathon I got full on post-event blues.  I am probably somewhat guilty of contributory negligence here, because I stumbled across an article by the New York Times on ‘Plodders have a place, but it isn’t a marathon‘ which ironically, I couldn’t even access as it’s pay to view, but of course i had to torture myself by googling the topic and came across much hate filled rhetoric condemning plodders (anyone slower than a 10 minute mile apparently) for clogging up marathons and so debasing such events.  In my rational moments I believe this to be nonsense, I will be slow, but I’ve worked hard to get to London, maybe put even more hours in for training than some of the runners who are fleeter of foot,  because it takes me so darned long to finish those long runs. Even so, it’s horrible to read such toxic negativity.  Especially, when I’m tired from Sheffield and currently cultivating maranoia – that knee niggle is definitely worse now, and I’m sure I’m getting a sore throat too.

For the record though, even elite runners sometimes have to crawl  across the finish line, and if that’s inspirational, which it clearly is, then my shambling efforts should at least be seen as legitimate too!

Michael-Kunyuga crawling into second

Oh well, still going though.  And I’m going to keep on running. Hope you will too! We’ve got this people, nailed it. Totes.

 

Thanks to all the photographers who have generously allowed me to use their photos, I’ve tried to get permission when I know who they are, apologies if I’ve missed you.  Any objections to use of photos then please let me know.

You can enter already for next year 14th April 2019, just saying.

Oh, the Sheffield half-marathon route – blimey, nearly forgot, here you go:

yhms-route-map

Looking for a challenge? Our Asda Foundation Sheffield Half Marathon’s demanding terrain will provide you with just that! Don’t worry it’s well worth your hard work. The course rewards you with spectacular views of the Peak District and various City landmarks.

Starting on Arundel Gate, in the heart of the City Centre, runners are instantly hit with the euphoria that surrounds this fantastic event. Runners then travel down the much loved ‘Eccy’ Road and take in its selection of bars, restaurants and independent shops.

From there on, they are treated to picturesque views of the Peak District, passing Encliffe Park and Sheffield Tigers Rugby Club. Those views are then left behind as the course heads downhill to the outskirts of Dore and back to ‘Eccy’ Road. Eventually reentering the City Centre, runners finish in front of the Town Hall and an adoring crowd!

Naturally, to take advantage of the best of the Peak District’s incredible views, there will be an uphill ‘King of the Hill’ section.

Here is the course profile:  

Profile - YHM

Just gentle undulations really, in Sheffield terms, nothing to fret about, nothing at all!

Thanks photographers, supporters, marshals, race organisers and fellow runners all.

Special thanks to Robert Scriven who has a flickr feed of the Sheffield half as well as a good eye for a shot, some hilarious photos as well as a welcome supportive shout on the way round.  Thanks to Accelerate for sharing their pictures and providing a timely embrace as well.  I’m grateful of course to the numerous smilies (you know who you are) for support as well as photos in this post and others, and thanks too, to the many anonymous others from SCS and elsewhere, the official photographers and last, but by no means least Ian Fearne, Race Image photography, who attends events and provides photos in exchange for an optional, modest donation.  Many of his are inspirational portraits of runners giving their all, and captured at their best.  Some pictures from the Sheffield Half 2018 are here so dig deep and consider donating here  https://www.raceimage.co.uk/donations

 

Categories: half marathon, race, road, running | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Because binners are winners! Plogging the Sheffield half-marathon route

Digested read: runners recceing the Sheffield half have been noticing a depressing amount of rubbish along the route.  The nice people at Front Runner decided to suggest a meet up to do something about it.  Lots of people went, me too, it was really good.  Litter picked, communal plogging engaged in.  All done and dusted within a couple of hours.  Hurrah.

Nobody wants to see Skip upset.

be like skip

But Skip the running dog is upset though, because of all the rubbish he keeps seeing out running.  Anyone who has recced the half marathon route of late – which is basically the entire running population of Sheffield – must have felt their heart sink at the sight of some of it.  The problem is, its quite tricky to pick up rubbish whilst running on your own.  I do always make a point of picking up at least one bit of rubbish every time I’m out.  I mean, it’s not much, but it’s better than nothing, and frankly, anyone who runs any route regularly must have experienced that thing where you keep passing the same bit of rubbish every day.  Case in point, there is a bus-stop at Broomhill – just outside the Guitar Shack, it has a couple of empty spirit bottles on the roof there that have been there ever since I moved to Sheffield 7 years ago now, granted, they are not that easily accessible and only visible from the top deck of the bus but it illustrates a point. Rubbish stays where it is unless someone, maybe you or me, picks it up and disposes of it in a responsible and appropriate manner.

Anyways, in a fit of initiative and pro-activity the good people of Front Runner, under the direction of the senior management (Skip) decided to take action on this point.  Noticing a ridiculous amount of rubbish along just a short section of the Sheffield half-marathon route  whilst leading a group recce up there, they spontaneously collected a good bag full of rubbish over just 100 metres.  Figuring that other runners would similarly be dismayed by this, they put a call out for other runners – or indeed ‘normal’ people, to come join them for a communal litter pick yesterday evening.  Keeping it simple it was a question of basically turn up at 6.30 pm outside the Dore Garden Centre and take it from there.

Pleasingly, the post got quite a positive response straight away.  It’s heartening, people do want to do something about their local patch, but sometimes it takes someone to be a catalyst to harness that general sense of ‘someone ought to do something‘ and turn it into ‘we could do something ourselves‘.   It’s true that plogging has become a new and welcome trend, albeit one with a stupid name. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to describe it thus:  Plogging: the fitness craze that’s sweeping the streets,  but the enthusiasm for this apparently the Scandinavian trend for picking up litter while jogging is surely a good thing. Though it’s hardly new.  We have Runners against Rubbish locally – you can join here for just £2 and make the pledge:

The Pledge:

  1. I will never drop any rubbish and will always take my rubbish to a bin
  2. I will encourage others not to drop rubbish
  3. I will pick up rubbish when I see it and am able to do so

I must admit, I’ve not paid up my £2 yet, but I will do so.  I thought until today it was just a concept and a Runners Against Rubbish Facebook page, but it seems it is evolving further.  Hurrah.

RAR

Hurrah, because rubbish not only looks awful, it can be catastrophic for local wildlife too.  Plastic straws up turtles noses is bad, but rubbish isn’t only devastating in the oceans, it does damage on our streets too.

 

 

 

and David Sedaris has been on a solitary endeavour of picking up litter during his epic walks in Sussex for years and years.  He’s even got a bin lorry named in his honour!

US-author-David-Sedaris--014

Still, it would be unwise to pick up litter in the hope of getting a bin lorry named in your honour, picking up litter is rather its own reward.  Upshot is/was there was a little flurry of enthusiastic interest, and it seemed a fair few runners, myself included were totally up for this.  It was a great idea.  A perfect example of many hands making light work, it would be soul destroying and impractical to head out solo and litter pick a 13 mile route, but with a good gang of people, armed with bin bags, gardening gloves and enthusiasm, we’d be able to split up and cover a reasonable stretch quite quickly.

The hour came, and people did indeed gathered.  I’m not good at counting, and also I forgot to do so, but I’d say maybe ten of us or so.  Skip personally welcomed everyone with a sniff and then left his minions to action his plan.  50% of the Front Runner team explained it was all really quite disorganised and clueless, and they hadn’t got much further than setting a time and place to meet and dragging some bags along.  The other 50% of the Front Runner team quickly interjected the correction that this should be seen as an informal approach to the collective endeavour, with all participants being recognised as having equal value and therefore able to make their own decisions about where to go and start plucking litter from the trashed verges along the route.

Despite the ‘informal’ approach, actually there was organisation.  Loads of rubbish bags- proper heavy-duty ones which was just as well, some of the rubbish was pretty substantial.  Someone had brought along a load of extra gloves for others to use, one was tooled up with a proper extension picker thing (I nearly gave in to some litter picker tool envy there) –   plus, there were plenty of hi-viz to go round. Good idea, as dusk was falling.

I was the first to don one. In my defence, this is a lot harder than you might think. this particular vest was the fabric equivalent of super-glue infused mercury.  Mercury, in that it just wanted to reform with itself, and super-glue in that in then wouldn’t detach from itself.  It was like trying to clamber into spandex spanx pants by hauling them over your head.  Not that I’ve tried this, but I’m confident the comparison stands.  Did you know that you can get different discomfort levels?  Everything from ‘smooth’ (they lie) to shaping level 3 ‘sculpt – a super firm hug’.  That is a hug, but from an abusive partner or one with little understanding of the concept of personal space and/or robotic limbs which are incapable of interpreting feedback from the hug-ee, such as when they start gasping for breath and their eyes start trying to escape from their eye sockets.  Less bear hug, and more Heimlich manoeuvre.

Shaping Level 3

It wasn’t altogether supportive that those around me were scrambling for their mobile phones to capture my writhing distress rather than stepping up to assist me, but I took enormous comfort from noting that the next person who tried to don one found the process similarly challenging.  I think it’s because they are small and designed to stretch, which they do, but string vest like there are too many holes to work out which one is for your head and which one is for you limbs.  However, more pleasingly, once someone else was wearing one, you are basically camouflaged as a clown fish.  No really.  I have no idea when Ronhill took over Pixar Animation or if it was the other way round, but anyone wearing the kit was essentially dressed up as Nemo.  Making him easier to find in terms of all round visibility, and harder to find in that they probably weren’t going to be looking for him in Sheffield and there were quite a few decoy hi-viz wearers.  The clown fish kit though was not a bad idea given how much water was sloshing around everywhere.  I didn’t actually fall into any ditches, but it was a close run thing.  I daresay those Ronhill vests would be buoyant in water too.

 

 

I think it was making the connection between wrestling with this hi-viz garment and string vests, that led me at least,  on to the obvious next topic of crocheted swimming trunks.  Disappointingly, the youthful contingency that surrounded us took this to be a jump into surreal humour, not understanding that the concept is not funny at all.  They were indeed a thing, back in the day, and a splendid garment in which young bucks and silver foxes alike could pose on yachts or whatever with far more style and class than could ever be achieved with budgie smugglers. This is no doubt why you can still get the vintage men’s swimwear patterns here,  though to save you the arduous task of clicking on the link, here are some highlights I’ve found especially for you dear reader.  Not that I need to prove my point exactly, but I do feel some sense of responsibility for educating the younger generation coming through.  Terrifying to think this sort of fashion knowledge is at risk of being lost for ever.  We can start the restoration of this garment in Sheffield, and from there it can once again spread out across the world!  That’s stirring stuff.

 

 

In the swim indeed!  And why stop at just knitting your own trunks?  Back in the 1920s I see there was an early prototype of the onesie tri suit that’s just crying out for a come back. I’m sure it would look absolutely fabulous, custom made in club or Front Runner colours.  For some reason I’m thinking the Dark Peak runners vintage hues would be especially magnificent in this style!

crochet tri kit

The possibilities are endless, knitted or crocheted trunks are endlessly versatile and practical too.  Perfect for a snow run for example, the evidence is out there, I mean, granted, he might not have the most efficient running form, but looks fabulous. These ideas could be a game changer once the new tri season gets properly underway:

 

 

Whilst waiting for others to assemble, the chit-chat covered nutritional tips for fuelling marathons, though unfortunately at that point I hadn’t uncovered this helpful bit of research into identifying the best cake for runners.   On the plus side, I was also at that moment in time, unaware of the new fad of using baby food to fuel long runs, so that was some small blessing.  I do accept it comes down to doing whatever works for you, but why not have proper food?  I’ll concede these are a much better option than gels in terms of ingredients, but I think I’d struggle with the texture.  Also, I’m so slow I can take my time a bit more when fuelling on longer runs.  I’m never running with that much speed or urgency.  Plus, all that packaging and waste, it’s terrifying.  Ironically, I picked up some of these baby food wrappers along Sheephill lane.  Maybe it is becoming an adult ‘thing’, it can’t all be recalcitrant children hurling spent wrappers from their buggies as they are pushed along.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We were surprisingly focused.  Some people had come on their own, others in couples or pairs.  With relatively little faffing, we sort of spread out.  I went with two others (hello :)) who drove us up to the far end of Sheephill Lane where we parked by Lady Cannings Plantation and basically worked our way down the hill.  It was noted that passers-by seeing us in our combos of hi-viz and track suit bottoms and hoodies might have assumed we were out there doing community service. That’s fine, as long as they didn’t run us over.

It was quite bright sunshine when we headed out, so I was wearing dark glasses, which no doubt looked increasingly ridiculous as dusk fell.  Mind you, I have plenty of experience of looking ridiculous whilst engaged in running related activities so that was OK, and also I was frankly quite glad of the eye protection as I dived into hedgerows to retrieve wedged in bottles from prickly undergrowth.

A few things you need to know about litter picking.  It’s strangely satisfying and compulsive, once you eyeball a shiny degraded and discarded crisp packet it’s surprising what acrobatic challenges you will take on in order to seize it.  It’s also harder work than you might think, all that squatting and stretching, and even ‘clean’ litter is surprisingly gross.  A lot of the stuff I scooped up out of ditches was full of stagnant water or worse, and even though you shake out what you can, there is definitely a residual ‘ugh’ factor.  On the plus side it’s rewarding to see instant improvement, and sometimes it’s quite fascinating.  Yes there are sweet and crisp wrappers and discarded gel packets and other unremarkable stuff, but can you explain the seemingly empty jam jar apparently placed on a wall.  One section I cleared seemed to have a significant part of the front of a car – including a number plate – I had a momentary fear I was inadvertently clearing up a crime scene and there was bound to be a body submerged in the ditch alongside.  Although to be fair, we sort of agreed really big stuff, like fly tipped goods or indeed corpses we wouldn’t be able to move so I suppose it didn’t matter all that much.  There was a ceramic bowl that was a bit random.  I wonder if someone was carsick into it and just threw the whole lot out some time. We may never know.  The items that enraged me most included banana skins, that I think people deliberately threw into the hedges because they are biodegradable, but without removing those little yellow stickers; and piles of cigarette ends where I think motorists must have just opened their car doors and emptied their ashtrays onto the road.  Top tip, if it’s too gross to want to keep in your car, then it’s also too gross to discard on a public highway.

I was complaining about this to one of my fellow pickers, he said he didn’t think it was necessarily always motorists to blame, could just as easily be cyclists or anyone else, but personally I’ve never seen a bike with a built-in ash tray so I remain unconvinced.

In fairness, not all littering and destruction is intentional.  Some items may have been carelessly blown away out of the grasp of someone and ended up on the route.  Who amongst us has not had a littering accident of their own. I  still feel awful about losing a helium balloon at a birthday parkrun, and have vowed never to run with a balloon again.  Knowing how bad I feel about that, we should all spare a thought for the hotel guest who inadvertently drew a flock of seagulls into his hotel room, where they completely trashed the place.  “The result was a tornado of seagull excrement, feathers, pepperoni chunks and fairly large birds whipping around the room. The lamps were falling. The curtains were trashed.”  As a result of this mishap, which honestly could have happened to anyone who absent-mindedly laid out a whole suitcase of pepperoni on the windowsill of the seaside establishment at which they were staying – he was subject to a lifelong ban from the classy hotel.  Though got pardoned on appeal after 17 years.  Quite right too.  You have seen the Hitchcock film The Birds right?

 

Anyway, pleasingly, just as I had nearly filled my second bag of rubbish, I met other litter pickers who’d come up from the bottom of Sheephill Lane, thus we did indeed do that whole section.  There was however a bit of confusion at this point.  I opted to continue onwards so I could leave my bag with the Front Runner vehicle which I could see up ahead pulled over in the huge external driveway of a rather grand house up there.  My two litter picking compatriots would return the other way, picking up the full rubbish bags we’d left en route and pick me up in their vehicle as they passed.  Unfortunately, the Front Runner vehicle sped away before I could catch it. Then when my litter picking buddies appeared in their very fine souped up mini, they didn’t have room for my bag along with the other three already stowed in their boot. We agreed I’d stay with the bag whilst they went to dump the others and they’d come back for me.

I waited.  It was quite peaceful standing there, watching the dusk.  Various half-marathon runners had constantly jogged past as we were plogging away, but now there were fewer, just one or two, who offered weak smiles as they trudged by.  I waited some more.  It wasn’t an especially long wait, but long enough for me to entertain the idea that if my compatriots were to suffer some freak accident, or indeed just get bored and decide to ditch the plan of returning to collect me I could be out there for days.  At what point would I leave my post.  Should I take the bag with me?  To leave it might just constitute fly-tipping anyway, the very anathema of what I’d set out to achieve.  Also, it was actually pretty isolated up there, peaceful even. There might be a Zombie global apocalypse just starting out from the epicentre of the Sheffield peace gardens RIGHT NOW this moment, and there was I, oblivious, standing in my inappropriate shades and clown fish hi-viz, next to a bag of rubbish. Maybe, though I didn’t know it yet, my future survival would depend on how I utilised the contents of that bag as the only resources available to me to defend myself.  Waiting, waiting, little knowing what tsunami of horrors was about to unfold.

That didn’t happen though.

Fortuitously dear reader, they did return, my bag went in the boot, and I went in the front as the boot wasn’t big enough for me too. We returned to the Dore Garden Centre and found everyone else gone, just three bags of rubbish and some returned borrowed gloves.  We weren’t sure what to do with all this rubbish, it wasn’t stuff you would really want in a car interior.  I reckoned we might be able to sweet talk the pub to let us use their bins, especially as the plan was to have a drink in there afterwards.  I did ask, and to be fair the guy behind the bar was really good, and I was thinking I’d definitely be able to get signed off for my NVQ competency relating to ‘negotiation skills’ as I asked so sweetly if we could avail ourselves of their bins what with having done a local litter pick and being all so public-spirited and everything. Plus I was wearing my hi-viz albeit my companion was in her community service trackies, so we looked like we’d definitely been doing something worthwhile and important.  Alas, it was not to be, turns out they have a strict recycling policy for their bins and so if we put random rubbish in it they could end up being fined, which was disappointing but fair enough.  Instead we divvied up the seeping bags between us, and realising no-one else had lingered for a drink and that we were also now in need of decontamination ourselves, made do with some mutual air-hugs and went our separate ways.

The whole thing only took a couple of hours tops, but between us we got loads of rubbish.  I mean, it’s depressing all that garbage was out there in the first place of course, but heartening that you can make such a difference relatively quickly, and now none of that rubbish is there any more.  That’s good. This picture is not even a third of the total bags gathered up. Bravo.

waddaloadarubbish

So all in all, that was pretty darned satisfying I’d say.  Thanks Skip for taking the initiative to set the plan in motion.  A very fine plan it was too.

Afterwards, I was able to wrestle out of my Nemo outfit in the privacy of my own home.  Result.

So there you go collective plogging comes to Sheffield.  No reason we can’t all do it on our own too. The best bit of this evening was realising that other people care too, and saccharin as it may sound together we can make a difference.  In a world where often times I feel quite powerless, that makes for a nice change.

Hurrah!

So how about you?  Have you joined in the RAR roar yet?  Go on, go on, you know you want to!

BIN_IT_WITH-TAG_CMYK-min

Categories: road, running, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Chriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiistmasss. Percy Pud 2017.

Percy pud 2017

Digested read:  has to be done.  Percy Pud 2017, nearly bottled it, then found out about the commemorative 25th anniversary T-shirt so as I’m shallow that was me back in.  Was quietly dreading the freezing start and drudgery of an icy road, but you know what, it was fab.u.lous.  Of course it was, it always is.   With it, the countdown for a Sheffield Christmas was properly underway, ready or not, it’s started.   You might as well try to hold back the tide, way better to just go with the flow.  Bravo all.  Same time next year?

Whether we choose to embrace them or not, the Winterval weeks are all about traditions.   Whether that is the relatively innocuous tradition of being required to don a festive Christmas jumper at work ‘because it’s for charity and you don’t want to be wearing the Scrooge placard for the rest of the year now do you?’; the more serious one of ending up in A&E on Christmas morning because you dropped a giant musical toblerone on your foot (substitute alternative injury of choice here); the massive family row/meltdown in a crowded, slush-filled supermarket car park because you’ve been clamped/ locked out of the car/ couldn’t buy sprouts because you came too late; the olfactory torture of being stuck in a store whilst a ‘christmas hits’ musak tape is on an 8 minute loop and the queue to the till is looking like a 32 minute one at least,  or the seasonal tyranny of receiving an unexpected Christmas card from someone you’d completely overlooked/ thought you’d agreed not to do cards with this year when you’ve missed the last posting dates to shoot back a retaliatory missive in timely fashion. Curses, the stress of it all.  The very thought of it is enough to make you implode.  Still, has to be done.  As sure as night follows day, some or all of the above will feature in your yuletide goings on.

Mind you, the primary school in Plymouth promoting a charity christmas jumper day in their newsletter did indeed put a smile on my face. Couldn’t make it up could you?  The tensions and complexities of the minefield that is Christmas made manifest.  Enjoy

christmas jumper day

Into this category of bowing to the inevitable, is the annual Percy Pud.  For those of you who are predominantly moon-based dwellers, or live outside the boundaries of Sheffield, this is an annual 10k road race, organised by a local running club the Steel City Striders, for which participants are rewarded for their efforts not with a medal on completion, but with a vegetarian friendly (gluten-free option also available) christmas pudding. There are festive trimmings a-plenty with santa leading the runners out and lots of fancy dress and general count down to Christmas cheeriness.  For seasoned runners, and once-a-year runners alike, the Percy Pud has become something of a Sheffield institution.

The Steel City Striders website page blah de blah blurb describes the Percy Pud thus:

We organise South Yorkshire’s most popular 10km each year which takes place on the first Sunday in December.

The event has grown in popularity from the first race in 1993 when 600 finished the race to recent years when the entry has had to be limited to around 2,200.

Such is the demand for numbers that in each of the last 10 years the race has sold out ahead of time.

The 2013 race was no exception, as the race limit was reached within two weeks of the entries opening, in 2014 this was 36 hours and in 2015 it took just 2 hours to sell 2,200 entries.

Why is it so popular? Traditionally each finisher in the race receives a Christmas pudding for their efforts. Food and seasonal music are provided after the race. Of course, the route is not bad either.

For many, the Percy Pud signals the start of Christmas.

There is indeed a massive scrum for places when they come available each year and it sells out incredibly quickly – though ironically there are always last-minute places available as injuries and illness take their toll nearer the time.

For my part – and I’m aware this is going to sound almost sacrilegious – I maintain an element of ambivalence about the Percy Pud. It is indeed a fine Sheffield institution, it does mark the start of Christmas, everyone who is anyone is there, it’s one massive reunion of not just running buddies but friends and acquaintances across the city.  It’s tough to fess up to having a few reservations about taking part. The problem is, I’d twice run the Percy Pud previously, and frankly both times have been type 2 fun at it’s most extreme.  Hideous and freezing at the time, but all that frost-bitten hardship and the humiliation of being overtaken by the bottle man quickly forgotten the moment a pudding is pressed into your hand.  I’m sure last time I did it in 2015 I vowed never again….  Then I couldn’t do it last year because I was working away in Cambodia and so you watch it all unfold from afar on Facebook and slip into a sort of treacherous nostalgia for it all.  I wasnt going to give in, too  cold, too wet, too much horizontal hail and too much roadiness, nope, not for me not this year.  Definitely not, I’m out, let others more committed than I take part.  I don’t even particularly like Christmas pudding.  Then came The Announcement and all change…

Sunday 3rd December 2017, 9:30am start.

Also, with it being the 25th running of the race, every finisher will receive a commemorative anniversary T-Shirt as well as a traditional Christmas Pudding.

Hang on a minute.  Let me just allow that news to sink in for a bit.  So you are saying there’ll be a T-shirt as well as a traditional Christmas PUdding? This is a game changer, only once in a quarter of a century will there be this option.  Bring it on.  I’m fickle, I’ll hold my hand up to being shallow, I’m so in now.  I’ll run for a T-shirt, even though it will probably be deeply unflattering, a male cut and not really fit properly anyway. These are but minor consideration compared to the kudos of a trophy like that.  Frankly, I’ve run for a lot less.

So, once entries opened on-line back on the 1st October I was lurking over the keyboard like the most sinister of online trolls. Waiting for my moment to pounce. Because of problems with registering in previous years the organisers brought in a new online booking system.  I thought it worked well.  If you logged in at or after the alloted time the system went live, you were randomly allocated a queue place in line with the number of available places for the event, you were given an estimated waiting time for when you’d be able to enter and then a 15 minute window to do so when it came around.  Worked for me. There was the – also traditional – usual flack from some who seem to think what is basically a local running club should have the IT booking systems of the international olympic committee  moaning about glitches, but to me that seems unfair.  Most people did get through eventually, and there were still places to be taken the following day.  There is no perfect system, and the event might fairly be said to have become a victim of its own success, but it seemed pretty smooth to me. Plus, it’s surely part of the Percy Pud ritual that you have to scrap to get in it.  It would be like doing musical chairs without taking away a chair each time. Yes, it’s stressful, but the exasperating tension about how the challenge will unfold all part of the fun!

After the succesful entry came the waiting, and the buyer’s remorse.  Life events and an annoying niggle meant I hardly did any of the training I was hoping for.  In fact in the month before the Percy Pud I managed a solitary XC run and a parkrun (I think) and that was it.  Fairly pitiful.  To fuel my growing unease was the ever growing survivors guilt.  Other runners truly gutted at having to pull out due to more obvious injury or illness.  The practicalities of it started to weigh me down. What about parking? How will I get there? What if I don’t know anyone?  What was I thinking?  What if I fall in the ice?  What if I can’t fit into my Smiley Paces running vest anymore?  Also, now I come to think of it, where is my number anyway?  I’ve just moved house, can’t find anything, disaster.  Hang on, no found it!  Phew…

Mercifully, I eventually came to my senses, reminding myself I only ever run to complete rather than compete so really it’d be fine. Then (of course) my Smiley Paces running buddies delivered up opportunities to share a lift.  It’s not that I’m actually incapable of driving there, but parking is a nightmare and it’s a lot more fun going with others – apart from that one time when we arrived early to watch the pouring rain pounding the windscreen of the car and my over-enthusiastic smiley buddies announced ‘oh good, we’ve still got a good twenty minutes to warm up‘ and they weren’t even joking!  I know.  This is what comes of hanging out with proper runners.

This year, I headed over to join some running buddies coming from Greystones.  The morning was actually pretty mild, with just a gentle drizzle in the air, pretty good for running.  We were three smilies and a designated driver (thank you), and after a brief delay for finishing off of breakfast, precautionary pees (that was me, and I was really awkward about it too, insisting the bike was moved so I could shut the door of the loo before I did so, me and my bashful bladder eh, sorry guys) and general faffing we boarded our tour bus. It wasn’t an actual tour bus, but it felt like it was, what with it being a shared adventure and everything.

Knowing parking would be a challenge the plan was to park a reasonable distance away from the event and facing homewards to allow for a speedier getaway.  As a consequence fo this we basically parked in Chesterfield I think.  En route, we passed a couple of runners who we joked must be running to the Percy Pud, only to have our collective smiles comprehensively wiped when we later saw that indeed they were, having come across from Fulwood.  I did clock that one of them was wearing a marathon kit bag, so that sort of explained their commitment to distance running. Then I felt a bit sick, as strictly speaking, that ought to be me then, but it never crossed my mind that I’d want to rack up an extra 8 miles with a race in between to get my long run in.  I really need to up my game and get my injuries sorted so I can crack on with a proper training regime… if I’m ever to make it to the start line of London next year, let alone the finish.

Parked up, we clambered up the hill to the start. This is when the fun commenced.  Yes we were having fun already.  There was not the biting chill wind of previous years more reminiscent of ill-fated trips to the antarctic than joyful sporting events.  Rather there was a merry trail of trainer-wearing people, many adorned with festive trimmings and sunny smiles all ready to take the 10k on.

On arrival, there wasn’t much to do, you pre-register, so other than dumping stuff in the tent and admiring the very fine bespoke marshal tops that certain officials were sporting it was just a question of joining the queue for the portaloos and trying to see people you knew.  I suppose some people did earnest warm ups, but I stuck with the spotting friends and going over for group selfies options.  Well, I needed to save my energy for the actual run, plus, if it’s not on Facebook it didn’t happen.  Of course it needs to be on Strava too as the gold standard of proof, but nothing wrong with belt and braces approach at an event as critical to the Sheffield running calendar as this one.

I managed to spot a couple of familiar faces, one an injured Smiley/Strider hybrid, with a knack for a fine selfie, and my new best friends forever bonded as we are through shared TNT XC exploits.  It is brilliant how you see sooooooooooooooooooo many people you know from the broader running and running related constituencies of Sheffield.  Loads of familiar faces from parkrun, Trust 10, The Trunce, RSR everything and anything really.  All incredibly friendly and good spirited.  Most people are nice you know, running people especially.

Various shots were taken to prove our individual and collective attendance, and then as time was short we joined the process to the start.  While we were waiting, there was still time to practise a bit of running form to get in the mood.  Remember people, running is basically a one-legged sport.

practising running technique CS

I’ve not been able to get to woodrun for a while, and I think it’s just possible it’s taken its toll, I think my form may just possibly have suffered somewhat due to my extended absence.  Ooops, hope I don’t bring shame and dishonour to my accelerate mentors…  I like to think they’ve seen worse, but then again, someone has to be at the bottom of the heap.  I know this to my cost.  I was once at a gym induction and was explaining to the pre-adolescent in charge that I struggled to use some of the weights machines as they didn’t seem to be able to adjust to my proportions ‘on no, you’ll be fine, they can do all sorts of weird shaped people‘ she cheerily retorted, attempting to put me at ease in accordance with requirement 4.7.2 of her NVQ competency recording book no doubt, only to have her face fall as I plonked myself in situ, and to blurt out unbidden ‘OMG – you really do have ridiculously short arms and legs!’ and I’m not even exaggerating for comic effect… you have no idea how hard it is to be me sometimes.   I’m only surprised she didn’t call over her fellow PTs in training so they could have a gawp  at my bizarre physique.  That’s what happened when I had my wrist examined at a physio appointment following a savage ferret attack some weeks earlier.  Suddenly everyone in the department wanted to come and have a gander at my novelty injury.  They must have been disappointed that there were so little to see to be fair.  Those sharp little teeth just delivered a multitude of near invisible puncture wounds, but did a lot of nerve and tissue damage in doing so.  The Grundys were playing with fire when they were keeping those potentially dangerous critters in my book.  Not that I approved of them being bludgeoned to death, even if Jo was down about being evicted, but I wouldn’t go near one again.  A ferret that is, not a Grundy.

Where was I, oh yes, fearful on the start line.  Along with everyone else.

It was a big start, over 2000 people signed up, and because the weather was mild I’d say we were pretty much all there.  It was a miracle I was facing the right way when the call to start went off.  It was a reasonably sedate start, it’s chip timed so no point in anyone shoving.  You start on a bit of a downhill, and I was pleasantly surprised at how good I felt.  I was really worried due to almost total lack of running of late, but although I was slow and steady I did manage to run the whole thing (I fully appreciate for some runners this claim may sound pathetic, but I do resort to run/walking when I have to) the only time I walked was at the water station, which is allowed, definitely, though I still had hiccups for a bit afterwards.

You head down and quickly there are undulations – who put the sneaky uphill bit in? Then you are over the dam bridge with the reservoir. There were cheery supporters lining the route.  For some unknown reason, there was a noticeably thicker density of crowds in proximity to the pubs en route, I wonder why/  There was also some enthusiastic householders our front cheering runners on.  It’s such a good atmosphere.  Who doesn’t love being cheered on by complete strangers, it makes you feel great, even if the generic cheering isn’t particularly aimed at you, you will nevertheless get glory by association as other runners alongside you experience unfiltered adulation.

kindness of strangers

Sometimes more organised marshals/ supporters gave personalised shout outs ‘Go Smiley’ (other running clubs are available) this guy with a megaphone was working hard at that as I went out and still hard at it when I returned back later.  Impressive.

JC vocal support going round

Then there were the groupings of festively clad children.  They were brilliant, ecstatic if you returned their high-fives and keeping up vocal encouragement all morning if my experience was anything to go by.  I’m glad Santa took time to acknowledge their services, I think that’s what he’s doing.  Hope he’s not stealing from them, the body language is somewhat ambiguous, looks suspiciously like he’s asking for contributions, or looting their festive red bag, rather than passing out presents, but appearances can be deceptive I suppose..   Thank you nice Accelerate people for the use of photos.

Acc Santa

I’m not quite sure if he was the real santa, it’s so hard to know these days, and he wasn’t using the traditional form of transport which might mean he must be the real one as he has nothing to prove and can ride in whatever conveyance he so chooses, or could be proof positive he doesn’t know his Rudolph’s from his Blitzen or Buxom or Dunder or whoever it is.  Here are some other contenders, take your pick:

It’s basically an out and back course.  Generally speaking I don’t like those so much as circular routes.  However, for the Percy Pud, one of the great joys of the course is that as a relatively slow runner, whilst heading out you get to see the front runners storming back, led by Santa in his sports car.  There were marshals on hand also warning us ‘keep left, first man coming’.  The first man was extraordinary, so far ahead of the field, he must have run the whole thing on his own.  I gather last year’s winner arrived late so had to catch up which meant there wasn’t an opportunity for a direct sprint battle between the two.  Mind you, can’t remember where I read that now, so maybe I’ve imagined the whole thing.   I’m writing this up a couple of weeks after the event (no internet, long and dull but painful story) so that moment has passed.

Acc how to do it

A few minutes later,  another shout went up ‘first woman coming’, I was a bit surprised to be honest.  I mean there are some awesome women runners, but that front guy was super fast, and usually the strong men athletes are ahead of the first women, much as I’d love it to be otherwise. But no, it was true.  Storming through was the first woman with a little entourage of the elite men, it was really amazing to see them full on sprinting.  As someone who’s usually at the back I don’t often get to see that kind of action and focus, it was amazing, quite inspirational.  Inspirational rather than aspirational I concede, but stunning all the same. I stole this photo from somewhere, thanks AB for sharing.

First woman flying round AB

Not only did I see the great and the good, the fictional and the real, and fellow smilies aplenty, you also get to appreciate those who have made an effort on the costume front.

I was a bit under dressed this year I felt, but fortunately others compensated for my short comings with their grand designs.  I also think I had a pudding like silhouette by way of tribute to the occassion.  Channeling my inner pudding if you like, method acting at it’s best.

PH pudding run

Although costumes and fancy dress in particular are always a welcome feature of the Percy Pud, I feel a special mention needs to go to two of the fancy dress stalwarts without whom the Percy Pud would presumably be unable to take place.  It would be like having no ravens at the tower, catastrophe of unknown but epic proportions would inevitably follow.  It’s just not worth the risk.  I give you, in second place – the Christmas Tree.  I mean, what could possibly go wrong if you run dressed in a tree costume?  How hard can it be?

However, I think we all know the winner in the sense of being a quintessential part of the Percy Pud running experience, is the obligatory bottle of beer.   It’s not just sighting this which is critical for enjoyment on the day, for many it is being over-taken by it en route in all it’s glory. There is no shame in that people, just another Christmas tradition at the Percy Pud.  On this day in Loxley, many will be outrun by a 7 foot beer bottle, you aren’t special.

An honourable mention should also go to the bin man, fast on his way to being a PP institution too I’d say.  It’s good when people make an effort.  Fancy dress is always an option in my running world.  He looks very happy to have got his pudding at the end doesn’t he?

binning it CS

So as these runners were heading homewards,  I was still heading outwards.  It was all friendly and companionable.  I didn’t particularly chat to anyone, but pleasantries were exchanged.   Some expressed sympathy to me for being a member of a club with a name that put so much pressure on its members to maintain a smile whilst running at all times.  In fact it’s true, we do.  All smilies smile all the time.  Not sure what would happen if you didn’t, it’s never arisen.   Worth thinking about though, if you can’t maintain that outer countenance, you’ll need to find or found another club ‘grumpy gallumphers’ or similar I suppose.  Marshals merrily cheered us by, they were an exceptionally jolly lot this year, though I wasn’t going to be so easily fooled by the ‘nearly home‘ shouts as I was in my rookie Percy Pud years.  I’ve still not recovered from the shock of my first year of participation when someone shouted to me ‘100 metres to go‘ and I believed them, taking their call as my cue to launch into a sprint, it was more like 500 metres, I nearly died.  Some of the naive innocence within me died then also.  I do of course appreciate marshals still, but I am more wary and cynical about whether or not to take their protestations of either proximity to the finish (‘keep going, you’re nearly there!’) or course flatness/ terrain (reference Sheffield half marathon ‘all down hill from here‘ remarks).  I don’t wish to sound ungrateful, and of course I know such shouts are well-meaning and intended to be motivational but dear reader, don’t be too shocked to learn they are not always exactly true….  Trust is a precious thing, once it’s shattered, it’s hard to rebuild.

Thank you marshals though, you were all awesome, I did try to splutter thanks as I passed, but I know it can come across as being sarcastic when I’m struggling to breathe.  Glad Santa stopped off to see you all, you were definitely all good this year if your excellent delivery of Percy Pud support services was anything to go by.

After the half way point it’s a u-turn and back to the start.  The route seemed shorter this year, instead of icy wind scraping away my face as I ran, I actually felt a bit too warm.  It was lovely coming back over the bridge to see a friendly face – sorry you were injured running buddy, but thanks for the encouragement in the final stages.  The photo has the advantage of making it look like I must be so far in the lead there is not another runner in sight, it also has the disadvantage of making it look like I only just made it back before darkness fell.  As is often the case with these things, the truth lies somewhere in between!

dam improvements

Over the dam, round the corner, up the hill. There was still a fair old crowd as I approached the finish line.  Just a bit ahead of me there was another runner who seemed to be slowing, for reasons which now entirely escape me, I saw my moment and dug deep for a sprint finish.  It was really fun, I thought I’d snatched ahead, but I think as I ‘overtook’ she heard me and put up a mighty fight.

In our own small way, we were just as competitive as the first woman crossing the line, though she was marginally more photogenic at her moment of triumph. This was the winning picture in the 2017 Percy Pud photo competition by the way.  You can see why, could have been me(ish).  I’m sure our reception was just as celebratory, I can still hear the cries of congratulation ringing in my ears even now!

13-Kev-D-1000x677 winning photo

Last year’s (2016) top three are here.

So that was that.  Spat through the finish and slammed into the back of a very, very long queue of people waiting for T-shirts and puddings, because that was basically what the whole thing was about.  Patient marshals proffered puddings, and your number had a cross put on it to stop you turning round and coming back for more.  Only, there was a flaw in the system, as I went to chat to a marshalling Smiley buddy, and by crossing my tracks in this way found myself to be the recipient of another cross leading to false accusations of pudding hoarding.  I wouldn’t mind so much but I don’t even like christmas pudding particularly, even if I did, there is only so much christmas pudding one can consume!

Even more exciting than the pudding, was the first sighting of the proffered tops.  ‘What size do you want?’ asked a marshal.  Another corrected, loudly ‘irrelevant, what size did you order?’.  I didn’t like to let on I really had no idea, so I just opted for a medium.  Initially I was a bit hesitant about the muddy brown look of it, but you know what, this T-shirt has really grown on me.  It’s not muddy brown, more plum pudding coloured.  To be worn with pride by many and for years to come I’d say.  It could yet be one of my very few (two) running event tops that I’m actually minded to wear from time to time, this is high praise indeed. There follows a sequence of happy smilies with puddings and T-shirts and ‘been there, done that, got the T-shirt‘ smiles of yuletide joy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Then, in keeping with another long-held smiley tradition, which extends to Christmas, I found I missed out on the semi-official Smiley group shot.  I’m always back too late for these after race picture.  Oh well.  They are still lovely though, even without me.  To be fair, this can’t have been the full Smiley contingent, there were loads of us out and about causing merriment.

smiley team shot

Never mind, there is a photo of me with my car share buddies post run.  I don’t know why it looks like I’ve photoshopped on the T-shirt, I did honestly get given it fair and square, but I concede the photographic evidence may plant a small seed of doubt in your mind dear reader.  I can only say come on dear reader, it’s Chriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiistmas, show a bit of generosity of spirit and give me the benefit of any such shadow of doubt.

photoshopped tshirt

And that was pretty much that.  Just the long walk back to Chesterfield to retrieve the car. The sun was out, the scenery was stunning, I doubt my photos will do it justice but hey ho.  Thank you carpool buddies for the solidarity, co-conspiratorial companionship and the free ride.  Yay us!  What larks eh?  What larks.

And that was that, all over for another year.  Another event triumph.  It always delivers the Percy Pud, it has a rightful claim to be known as a Sheffield institution.  Same time next year?  More than likely, I enjoyed it, despite my bursting calf and lack of proper preparation, it’s a feel good event.  I keep forgetting it’s basically a road run, as I don’t really like road running, but this is fun, it seems to have become an almost tribal gathering of Sheffield runners at a given time in a given place, to miss out on it, is to miss out on some of the annual bonding rituals that brings runners together.  If you can just make it through the stress of the entry system, it’ll be worth all that angstyness on the day!

Oh, almost forgot, for those of you who need to know, because I do have to concede it’s a race not a run – the results for the Percy Pud 2017 event are here.  To be fair, even though I’m not generally especially interested in the results, this year they were very exciting.  This is because:

Breaking news is that for the second year in a row both male and female course records were broken today and the club handed over £1000 cheques to each of the winners.

Local runner from Hallamshire Harriers Andrew Heyes took 15 seconds off last years course record winning in a stunning 29:42.

In the ladies race, Rio 2016 Olympic 5000m finalist Eilish McColgan of Dundee Hawkhill Harriers broke her own course record by 10 seconds by finishing in 32:32.  She also finished 2nd overall behind Andrew highlighting her dominance today.  Her time was the second best 10k time in the country this year.

That’s pretty impressive is it not, on all counts.  Wow.  Her performance even made a write up in The Star last year (2016), which is basically the Sheffield equivalent of winning sports personality of the year, pretty impressive, but not enough to merit a golden pillar box a la the lovely Jessica.  Good effort though. Jolly well done.

And maybe, just maybe, despite my protestations to the contrary, sometimes my inner competitive spirit will make an unexpected lunge outwards in a desperate bid for freedom!  It does wear off quite quickly though.

having you MH

And if you need to know the route, it’s here, prettier than you might think, with winter sunshine lighting the way.  Don’t worry about getting lost though, even if you are in the lead it’s still just a question of keeping santa in your sights and you’ll be reet.  Enjoy.

The route

So there you go. If you want to know any more about the legendary event that is the Percy Pud, you’ll have to sign up next year and do your own primary ethnographic research.  You won’t regret it.

See you there!  🙂

With thanks to all who shared photos including ste Smith, Sheena Woodhead, Carol Speight, Accelerate, and fellow Smilies and the many nameless others who took photos on the day.  It’s always fun looking back through them and reliving the day.  Some professional photos are availabe for a fee from Mike Hall photographyThe Star did a medley of Percy Pud photos as a video, complete with annoying background music.  And a late last minute find, I stumbled across this one from Mark Walton of the passing masses en route posted on the ‘Pictures of Sheffield old and new Facebook page.  Grand is it not?  This is what running always looks like to me at organised events.  A sea of the backs of people speeding away from me into the distance.  Sigh.  Memories eh?

mark walton en route shot

For all my Percy Pud related posts see here.  Scroll down for older entries.

Merry Winterval until next time.

 

PS bit of a cheat this one, am publishing backdated to 3 december 2017 but actually did the write up today, 18th December.  Life in general and lack of internet access in particular getting in the way of my blogging career at times, would you credit it? Some think such extended silence from me is a blessing.  You have to decide for yourself.

Categories: 10km, Percy Pud, race, road, running | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

London Marathon 2017: recovery, aftermath and debrief

Digested read.  Phew, that was tough…. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat though!  🙂

good luck walking

To be fair, even the most elite of athletes is likely to pick up a few niggles after a marathon.  Kenenisa Bekele himself got cramped up with a hamstring injury as a result of a shoe wardrobe malfunction.  Not sure his Nike sponsors will be high fiving him for his feedback on th