running clubs

Smiley Paces, It’s Terrific Turning Ten as part of this epic running gang!

Digested read:  Smiley Paces are ten this year.  Hurrah.  So happy to be part of such an awesome running club.

smiley lakes 2017

Unabridged version:

It’s our tenth birthday this year.  Yay!  I don’t normally do birthdays, viewing them more as a cause of bitter reflection and regret about what might have been, compounded by the reality of having no-one with whom to celebrate whatever arbitrary age I may have unexpectedly alighted on.  Astonishingly tear-stained, slurring friends aren’t the best of company on their birthday or indeed any other day of the year.  However, it’s different when you are celebrating a milestone like this one. Ten years of collective and individual awesomeness from the members of the Smiley Paces running club of which I feel extremely blessed to be part.

In case you don’t know, Smiley Paces are eh hem (it’s on the website so it must be true):

The SMILEY PACES are an informal Sheffield based women’s running group.

We formed as a small group of like minded women up for a challenge and have morphed in to a large, diverse group with a wide range of ages and abilities.

and who doesn’t like Morph?  Plus Morph also enjoys running with running buddies, as do we Smilies.  Good to know.

 

So we are having a shindig of some sort at the weekend, and members have been asked to think about any little nuggets of Smiley gold they wanted to share that might go into a presentation celebrating the Smiley ethos and achievements over the years. So that got me thinking. What happened that I ended up being part of this amazing group of funny, talented, inspirational and strong Sheffield women?

I have no innate running talent, or indeed any sporting prowess.  It follows therefore that joining Smiley Paces was pretty much inadvertent, almost an accident.  I started going to parkrun, and obviously that’s a gateway drug to the ‘running community’.  There I came across members of various running clubs, but it just happened that my more immediate friends and acquaintances were Smilies.  I don’t remember making a conscious decision to join really, only that it was only £2 a year to join at that point (it’s now rocketed up to an eye-watering £7.50 a year), so I couldn’t really think of any reasons not to, even though I didn’t really know what a running club was even at that point.  I’m pretty sure meeting for coffee got mentioned more than the running before you get to drink it bit…  I think I got lucky with landing on Smilies (whether that feeling is reciprocated or not I shall not explore here).  There are loads of running clubs in Sheffield, that cater for any and all running fetishes enthusiasms. That’s great, but personally, I don’t think I’d have survived, let alone thrived in some of those with a much more competitive or ‘every runner for themselves on the hills’ ethos.  There are lots of friendly and inclusive running clubs out there I know, but I still feel quite emotional about having ended up part of the Smiley gang.  I know, I think on it and I weep.  Me and running, it’s complicated….

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not all great. For one thing, the Smiley vest is not a blessing to my particular physique, and I had to get a special size ordered to accommodate me which was pretty humiliating. However, on the plus side (in every sense) it is instantly recognisable, and whatever your take on comic sans, it has a cheery vibe.  One of the (many) best things about being a Smiley is that it is such a recognisable kit that you can take part in pretty much any event, anywhere and attract a shout of  ‘Go Smiley’, and that is super encouraging.  I remember doing the TenTenTen some years back, and seeing someone (I know now it to have been Dr Smiley) had put up some ‘Go Smiley’ placards through the woods. It was the best thing EVER.

So what’s so great about Smiley Paces.

That’s so hard!  So many things.

It’s about opening up the peak district to me as an outsider.  Stunning routes across Stanage and Burbage and further afield.  It’s about taking on challenges I never thought I’d be capable of.  It’s about having a network of hilarious, inspirational women with whom you can cry with laughter or yomp through bogs.  It’s about coming to understand that everyone has their own goals and that’s fine. It’s about feeling supported.   It’s about friendships and shared adventures.  It’s about finding your limits as well as the ultimate non-chaffing gear.  It’s about people who bring out the best in you, and yes, making a snow-dragonfly as part of a Smiletastic challenge most definitely fulfils that criteria.

 

I was so intimidated by ‘proper runners’ when I started out, I’m still in awe of them, but would say inspired rather than intimidated these days.  What has been so extraordinary to me is that even though I’m not in the same league as many Smilies, I’ve had nothing but support when embarking on new challenges.  Nobody has ever laughed in my face when I’ve dared to venture the beginnings of an idea to do something I previously considered impossible.  Instead I’ve had advice, time given, kit lent.  When I’ve been downcast and confessed in a blog post about e.g. chaffing injuries or my quest for a decent bra of how to find my way off a ridge I’ve had a little flurry of messages offering practical advice as well as empathy.  How awesome is that.  I’m grateful for all of these things, and it’s really difficult to pick a single outstanding moment because there have been so many.   For illustrative purposes:

Smiley London trip, and having my Smiley buddies not just once, but twice, interrupt their parkruns at the parkrun Mecca that is Bushy parkrun to say hello to/ high five and/or get a photo with my mum. Love you guys!

 

Smiletastic challenges – running in the snow, chasing down the alphabet in Attercliffe trying my hand legs at Strava Art.

A mass Smiley exodus to the Lakes for the Dirty Double.  My that was an adventure.  Love my Smiley Buddies.  Oh, that was the year before, but still vivid in my memory

Getting to the London Marathon, and en route, spotting Smilies shouting support from the sidelines.  Most brilliant thing EVER.

 

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The Hathersage Hurtle in a heat wave, walking it was a good move and way more fun than the collapsing with heatstroke half way round option which was also available to running smilies

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Smiley Selfie Queen, who has entirely nailed the in motion selfie, almost single-handedly creating the Smiley photo mid-race archive.  That’s class, right there:

smiley selfie queen

Bottom line is, having Smiley Paces buddies around is an asset on any occasion, running related or otherwise.  Life is always better with a Smiley on hand to share the moment.  Also, even when you go out running on your own, you are pretty sure to come across a Smiley, I keep meeting this one – she’s always covering twice the distance at four times the speed, but not too busy to stop and say hello!

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However, if you are going to make me pick just one, it would be when I embarked on what may be my first ultra, the Dig Deep 30.   I’m hoping not my last, but really, who knows?

So many memories for me from this.  It trumped the London Marathon in so many ways. All the smilies that helped me with route recces and advice, and then on the day having Dr Smiley come and wave me off.  Couldn’t believe it, best thing ever!

md starting out selfie

I was not a promising candidate for this, I had Smiley buddies out recceing sections with me, pointing out sections on maps and recommending kit in the build up to it.  On the Day of the Dig Deep 2018 itself, I didn’t even run it, just walked it for the most part, and I was out for days hours after all the other thirty milers had finished, packed up, had tea, and possibly even gone to bed.  The most amazing sight ever then, was coming back across Houndkirk and being greeted by supportive Smilies.  I honestly thought they were there by co-incidence at first, but no, they’d been out there looking for me and waiting too.  I just couldn’t believe it.  They ran with me for a bit before heading off to cheer me through the finish.  Then coming down through Limb valley in the evening dusk there were more messages of Smiley origin scrawled into the mud to keep me going til the end.  It was just astounding to me that my Smiley buddies had waited out so long and were so encouraging.  I actually feel quite emotional remembering it.  When I came through the finish to a Smiley cheer in the gloaming it was just fantastic.

 

Basically, being part of Smiley Paces is like having on tap access to a collective supportive hug. Whether that’s celebrating achievements, motivating each other to try new things; commiserating through injury or swapping tips on where to access the best coffee and cake options you can’t beat em.  Can’t beat ’em, so may as well join ’em. Glad I did.

Here are some Smiley moments. There will be more…

 

It is also about an embryonic smiley offshoot dragonfly book club, and it may even one day be about completing a crochet woodland blanket, but that chapter of this metaphorical book is as yet unfinished.

What’s more just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, we had our awards do last night and this!

smiley award

I’m an especially Smiley Smiley today!

Happy Birthday to us!

Party on.

🙂

Categories: running, running clubs | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Smiletastic 2019 – seals on a running quest in support of penguin power, penguin awareness day January 2019

Digested read: Smilestastic again, I’m not signed up, but ironically, it’s still working its magic and getting me out running more.  Penguin challenge took me to woodrun for example.  Lovely!

smiletastic 2019

Undigested read: (you may need a resolve sachet to settle your stomach afterwards)

It’s that time of year again.  This keeps happening.  What can you do to keep your running mojo during the long, dark, cold days of Winter?  Well, if you are part of Smiley Paces (lovely Sheffield-based women’s running club) then you may have previously – or indeed currently – have been seduced into signing up for Smiletastic.  A team based challenge described this year as follows:

Smiletastic  2019 RULES

The purpose of Smiletastic is to motivate EVERYONE to run throughout the winter months.  

No one is expected to do any more or less than they would usually do and if following a training plan, should use this for their pledges and only do challenges that fit in with their plans.

 •There are NO points associated with pace or distance – ie.  This is a challenge for ALL abilities and ALL runners at ANY stage of their running career.  

 •There are NO points for winning races or age categories.

 •There ARE points for keeping to your schedule and for doing the long runs you PLAN to do already.

 •There ARE points for running races and/or marshalling races

 •There ARE points for elevation, but as you live in Sheffield…..!

 •There ARE points for doing things with your team and supporting others in your team.

 •There ARE points for getting a PB in a timed run/race (only in March).

 •There ARE points for “Getting into the Smiletastic Spirit” in a variety of ways!

I’ve done it twice, and it is fantastic, but also quite stressful as the challenges build and the tension mounts, so this year I’ve decided to have a year off, and enjoy the experience vicariously.  I think that will lead to less sleepless nights, whilst also enabling me to be motivated to do extra running by proximity to those engaged in the various weekly quests.   What’s more – and this is clearly an unexpected bonus – it will be at times be most educational, even consciousness raising.  Case in point, the individual challenge that kicks off the Smiletastic season is all about Penguin Awareness Day, which fortuitously (and previously unknown to me) falls within the date bands of Smiletastic being marked as it is, on 20th January each year. I know, who knew?

The challenge is/was therefore ‘What can YOU do to be “aware of a penguin” whilst also connecting your awareness to running?… AND keeping it legal please!!’

penguin-awareness-day-fun1

Oh, and it’s probably helpful to mention that this year the teams are reindeers; penguins; walruses and seals.

Clearly, I’m just a by-stander for all of this, but it seems to me that such a challenge is likely to especially hard for seals, who are natural predators of the poor penguins.

Seems to me, it’s quite a big ask for seals to have to start embracing penguins… makes the challenge especially onerous for members of the Smiletastic Seal team.  Just sayin’.

seal penguin hug

Also, I have a dilemma, as I do really like seals – my recent sojourn out to Donna Nook with a fellow smiley is testament to that

– and I like penguins a lot too.  Split loyalties you see… Another factor, and it seems only reasonable to be transparent about this one, is that I do have a certain predisposition in favour of the seals team, since some former dragonflies (my Smiletastic team for 2018) have morphed into seals for 2019.  I’m therefore particularly susceptible to being brought on board by any former dragonfly buddies.  Not gonna be able to lie about that one.  Not saying I’m not open to other offers, I’d never want to disappoint a fellow smiley, just that you have to recognise that some ties are stronger than others.  Ask the Badgers from years back, they are bonded for life, and I think all other smilies respect and admire that.  It’s heart-warming, not exclusive isn’t it.  Friendships are I think, always inspirational when they are genuine.  Well, it’s the same with dragonflies.  One thing Smiletastic does guarantee is that you will meet fellow smilies, share adventures and make new fabulous friends, and you can never have too many of them.  Granted, some of the bonding is through shared humiliation; type two fun and extreme cold, but then again, many of the best adventures in life fall into those over-lapping categories.

So, what’s the point?  The point is dear reader.  Smiletastic has delivered again, motivating people to run, including me, and I’m not even doing it this year, because seal Smiletastic participants put out a call to p… p…. p… pick up a penguin,

and join them on the Thursday Accelerate led woodrun session in Ecclesall Woods. Well who wouldn’t jump at the chance to get on board the fun-train with that offer!  Yes, there’d be an expectation I’d have to do some running, but there would also be PENGUINS.  Actual penguins(ish) what’s not to like?  Besides, I like woodrun, just have completely got out of the habit of going, it would be my first time in ages.  Why not?  What’s the worst…. well you know the rest.

Now, it was really good we had made such a plan the day before, because overnight ‘wintry showers’ meant my car was covered with a sort of snow/hail hybrid and the ground was frozen solid.  Eeek, I am terrified of venturing out in ice.  Aaargh. Fortunately, as my regular reader knows I’m conscientious if not keen and a commitment had been made, plus, although it was bitterly cold, it hadn’t been too wet, so although there were patches of deep ice where there were old pools of water, and ponds were frozen over at the discovery centre in Ecclesall woods, the actual roads weren’t too bad.  Phew.  Hence I ventured out.

I was going to say I ventured out in arctic conditions, but actually, whilst ice is apt for penguins, the arctic reference is not. Penguins don’t live in the arctic – though other cute animals like arctic polar bears, arctic foxes and arctic reindeer do:

Penguins live in the antarctic.  Along with other remarkable creatures including minke wales, wandering albatross and leopard seals.  I know, interesting isn’t it?  Got this from this website on which creatures are where for antarctic and arctic, they are trying to sell us trips, but nice pics and most educational, so fair enough.

We therefore headed out in antarctic conditions, to assemble in a penguiny waddle at Ecclesall woods.  Did you know there are lots of different collective nouns for penguins, depending on where they are and what they are doing?

group of penguins in the water is called a ‘raft’, a group of penguins on land is called a ‘waddle’. Other collective nouns for penguins include rookery, colony, and huddle

We were waddling therefore, though it did feel like running drills at the time.  Strange but true.  It was quite exciting gathering.  There was quite an abundance of penguins on hand to join us, a veritable smorgasbord of options, catering for all penguin personality preferences.  This meant seals and non-smiletastic participants alike were able to buddy up with the one with which they felt the most affinity.

Some penguin partnerships were more ostentatious than others… I went for a more modest sized companion that would fit nicely down the front of my running jacket.   Unfortunately, with the dubious benefit of hindsight, I realise the discrete dimensions of my penguin buddy stuffed down my cleavage just makes it look like I have more ballast than usual up front and you can hardly make out my penguin pal at all, which is a shame, as I thought we really excelled in our subsequent run moves together…

I would say you’ll have to zoom in to spot it, but actually, I’d be quite uncomfortable with the notion that you dear reader are zooming in on my cleavage, so I’d rather you just took my word for it. Thank you.

So we gathered, chortling, and set about the important task of befriending a penguin and working out how best to keep our buddies about our person for the work out ahead.  We then bounded out en masse to Jessica’s corner in the woods.  So named, because one time only, when we were doing some drills there, there was a sighting of Jessica Ennis going for a walk there, and we all played it cool, but totally clocked her.   So the link is a bit tenuous, but the name has totally stuck. To be fair, I think she may have clocked us too, because she’s been sighted more recently since doing hill reps and her running form is exemplary, she must have picked up a few tips from the Accelerate team in the woods that day…

jess ennis hill rep

The penguins attracted a fair bit of attention, I don’t think it was just that those of us sporting them were showing eye-catching and astonishing running techniques. Well, it’s possible I was attracting some attention for my form, but maybe in not quite such a good way.  The penguins joined in most drills with poise and brilliance:

The thing is, sometimes you can learn about running technique by observation too, so they also formed a judging panel to analyse the running technique of each and every member of the woodrun crew for the day, and gave scores accordingly as we delivered repeated high-knee run-bys, which are a bit like fly-bys but with less environmental impact, which is important, as aircraft flights contribute to carbon footprint, a factor in global warming and climate change, which will have a catastrophic impact on penguin habitats indeed is already.  Something to ponder on penguin awareness day dear reader, I’m sure you will agree.

penguins

My penguin was quite overwhelmed by the responsibility, and isn’t sleeping through the woodrun, oh no dear reader, merely suffering temporary collapse through exhaustion.

Climate change isn’t the only thing to imperil penguins just at the moment though.  Oh no.  There was an anxious moment when some boisterous hounds came bounding by, and we feared they might make a grab the seated penguins who were at that moment unattended.  Fortunately, some people do care enough about penguins to proactively protect them, which as this incident demonstrates is much needed.  A seal duly sprang into action and sprinted over to the penguin huddle rookery, and with scant regard for either her own safety or dignity, she put herself bodily on the line, placing herself between the vulnerable penguin colony and the canine jaws and legs acock.  It was quite inspirational.  Brought a tear to the eye.  Also, fair old sprint, so definitely running and penguin awareness brought together with near poetic beauty!  Penguins are cute looking, but they are vulnerable, here was a seal, sacrificing all to show they need our help.  Awesome.  One seal, protecting all those penguins, and not because they were being eyed up as lunch either!

penguin and seal

The thing about supporting causes and standing up for what you believe in, is that not everyone will get it and be on board.  I think it’s only fair to point out that participatns in this endeavour had to endure a certain amount of ridicule from other woodrunners at first.  Only at first, because that’s the point dear reader, despite initial scoffing and inappropriate comments along the lines of ‘I wish I’d known what you were doing I’d have brought a seal along‘ (yes, potentially amusing, but not really helpful or appropriate in this context) our co-woodrunners were by the end won over by the penguin knowledge tenacity and commitment of the penguin peddling runners.  Hurrah!    Such was the conversion, by the end of an hour of running around in the woods, a communal penguin drill was incorporated into the training regime alongside the flamingo feet and bunny hopping displays.  It was a thing of wonder to behold.

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Honestly, I’m not quite sure which part of the running cycle this particular drill most closely correlates too, but I do know that awareness around penguins was truly raised.  The seals’ work was done.  Hurrah!  It was a fitting climax to the challenge and to the woodrun too.

Time then to jog back to woodrun HQ, drink coffee from the Ecclesall Woods coffee place and contemplate the joys in store at the Big Running Weekend coming to a wood near you (if you live in Sheffield and March 22-24 2019 haven’t happened yet) soon, and the fun on the trails ahead with Dig Deep Trail Races secured for September now too.  An embarrassment of running opportunities.  It isn’t just Smiletastic that will get us out and about, or Jasmin Paris who can inspire us at this time of year, it’s the incentive of getting to take part in all these fantastic peak district based running adventures.  How blessed are we.

Mind you, lets have a special moment for Jasmin all the same.  Wikipedia says, correctly:

Paris set a new race record in the 2019 Spine Race along the Pennine Way, finishing the 268 miles (431.3 km) on 16 January in 83 hours 12 minutes and 23 seconds. Becoming the first woman to win the event overall, she surpassed the previous record of 95 hours 17 minutes set by Eoin Keith in 2016 and the previous female record of 109 hours 54 minutes achieved by Carol Morgan in 2017

I mean, it is quite something isn’t it, just in case you are late to the party, or have been sleeping under a rock or something, her innov-8 sponsors Facebook page proclaimed her victory thus:

16 January at 19:22 · Ultra-running history is made!
inov-8 ambassador Jasmin Paris has smashed the 268-mile Montane Spine Race, becoming the first-ever woman to win the race outright and setting a new overall course record. She ran a time of 83hrs 12mins (TBC) to obliterate both the previous mens and women’s course records.

The Spine Race, first run in 2012, sees runners complete the full distance of the Pennine Way in winter conditions, carrying their kit throughout and sleeping only when they chose too. It is dubbed ‘Britain’s Most Brutal’ race.

35-year-old Jasmin, who gave birth to her daughter just 14 months ago, juggles ultra-running with being a first-time parent, working as a small animal vet and is currently completing a thesis!

Jasmin, who is still breastfeeding and understood to have been expressing milk at race checkpoints, was reunited with her daughter at the finish line.

Read more: www.inov-8.com/blog/spine-race-preview-jasmin-paris/

 

Her record breaking achievement has deservedly had coverage from the The Guardian the BBC ‘Nursing mother smashes 268-mile Montane Spine Race record it’s been great to see her achievement get mainstream news coverage.  I was ecstatic she made it onto Women’s Hour even… though there is a bit of me that thinks really she ought to be allowed to have a bit of a lie down and a nap after all that running around.  A wiser woman than me pointed out she’s no chance of getting that with a 14 month old anyway, so she might as well be doing the media rounds… good point, well made.

So she’s really very impressive, but wasn’t running with a penguin though was she?  Wouldn’t have got any Smiletastic penguin power points for that run.  If only she’d thought to pop a penguin bobble hat on her young daughter, that might have helped…

Which just shows, the woodrun penguin take over was indeed inspired.  Far be it for me to try and influence Smiletastic proceedings (heaven portend) but those points seemed pretty decisively earned!  What more could one do to mark the day?

The only way to top this would be maybe to secure a place for the antarctic marathon or half marathon to take place on 17/18 March this year, I think it’s safe to offer up that top tip as honestly, I think it’s now a bit late to enter that, you could have a go at getting on the waiting list I suppose but if it is anything like as popular as this year’s Round Sheffield Run I don’t reckon your chances.  That’s a shame because that would indeed (according to the event website) .face-to-face with Antarctic gems such as glaciers, icebergs, penguins, seals and whales.‘   Ooh, actually, looks like it even has penguins to marshal the event, and there’s a photo of me doing it, I must have forgotten.  One white out run merges very much into another after a bit, but that number most definitely has my name in it.  Hang on though, I forgot, I’m not doing Smiletastic this year, only penguin awareness running by association.  …

In fact, the event is sold out til 2021, so not really a goer, although I suppose were you to enter for 2021 and provide proof of entry that might get you an ‘in the spirit’ point.  Blimey, you need not so much the wisdom of Solomon as the wisdom of Smiley Elder to work out how to allocate points for these quests!

Penguins are having a tough time, along with many of the other creatures with which we share a fragile planet.  There is the occasional timely bit of good news though, check this story out! Police pick up penguins 

saved penguins

Two penguins have been found by police officers two months after they were stolen.

The pair of Humboldt penguins were taken in November last year from a zoo in Nottinghamshire.

It’s nice to get some good news, but let’s face it, that’s a rarity these days.  The point is, running and penguin awareness raising are both mightily important.  It’s a race against time to protect them all.  Will they make it to the finish?

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So dear reader, it just remains to wish you all Happy Penguins Awareness day!  Make it a good one.  Plan your celebrations for 20th January, for whatever year it comes round for you next, right now!

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For all my Smiletastic posts see here, or don’t it’s up to you, but you’ll need to scroll down for older entries.

Just remember dear reader, do what you need to do come 20th January, the penguins will thank you.

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Categories: motivation, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Now what? Hurtling on past the post marathon blues.

Digested read: since running the London Marathon I’ve been feeling a bit down, and a bit ‘ouchy’ in the shins.  I’ve only run once and demoralisation has set in.  However, panic not, I believe I’ve turned a corner, thanks to the cheery disposition of the Hathersage Hurtle organisers who offer up a distance walk, stunning views and cake.  It’s going to be just fine.

Everything-is-going-to-be-fine-in-the-end

Can’t believe that’s really one of Oscar Wilde’s quotes?  I mean, I do quite like it, but it’s not as pithy and lyrical as you might expect.  Ah well, I’ll still take it, it’s working for me.

Did I mention at all that  I ran the London Marathon last month?  Oh I did?  Are you sure?  Are you not just making an educated deduction because I still have the imprint of the medal in the side of my face from where I lay on it whilst sleeping?  Oh.

Turns out you can only trade on the London experience for so long.  Also, and this wasn’t part of the plan, post London I did feel a bit flat (not on the stomach area unfortunately, more sort of mentally).  There is a lot written about ‘post marathon blues‘ so it is a known thing, but as with many ‘known things’ sometimes you have to experience it for yourself in order to properly understand and empathise with what it might mean on an individual level.  Don’t worry, I’m sufficiently self-aware to realise how incredibly annoying, pretentious and self-indulgent that statement sounds, ‘nobody understands blah de blah‘ but also insufficiently adept as self-censorship to delete that statement.  I suppose it’s just that whilst some clichés stand others didn’t, so processing the whole London Marathon adventure is quite challenging, well it is for me anyway.

Firstly, for me at least, it was all so far outside my previous experience of anything else I’ve ever done, once back home in Sheffield, it is a bit like it never happened.  Like I’ve been returned from being abducted by aliens, and now I’m back and I’m trying to explain to people that I really and truly was snatched away and transported back, but even my closest friends are looking at me somewhat quizzically, and frankly I’m beginning to doubt it happened myself.  I mean, if I was a cow, then my abduction by aliens would be more plausible, as we all know the first thing extraterrestrials in their UFOs do when hovering over remote American farmsteads is beam up cattle with their tractor beams.  People though, harder to believe…

So too with running a marathon, it was really such an improbable thing for me to do, I can’t honestly imagine how it happened.  Nor can I imagine going off and doing another one, not yet anyway.  How people do back to back marathons or like the amazing Ben do 401 marathons in 401 days I can’t begin to imagine.  And dear reader, I have a pretty vivid imagination, so that just goes to show how hard it must be! He’s set up the 401 foundation now by the way, that’s splendid!  The upshot is, that it really is as if it never happened.  It was too unlikely, it was too surreal, I must have imagined the whole thing.

Another issue for me, is that – and shhh, don’t tell – my experience of London was ‘complicated’.  For sure it was ‘amazing’, ‘once in a lifetime’, ‘extraordinary personal challenge’ pick and mix your own clichés.  However, it was also massively over-shadowed by the lack of water throughout the route.  That, coupled with the heat, really shifted my experience.  I was quite spooked by dehydration, mile after mile with no water wasn’t good, and for the record, it was not only between miles 7-11 (water stations 8-10 equates to five miles) it was for many miles in the second half of the route too that instead of oasis deserted water stations were mirages in the desert of hot tarmac roads.  I really tried to remain positive, but it played on  my mind and knocked my confidence.  I mean if the London Marathon can run out of water, it could happen anywhere couldn’t it? This, and the fact that after the event I heard of horror stories of injured runners who did not finish (DNF) and of people who did finish, but then spent up to two hours in first aid tents after collapsing, being laid down and covered in ice whilst medics tried to rehydrate them and stabilise their heart rhythms.  To be honest, it does rather detract from the ‘isn’t this fun‘ and overall euphoric vibe I’d been anticipating.

depression ahead

Post marathon blues is also, in my case at least, tied up with having to face up to all those problems, decisions and life-choices that I’d postponed addressing thinking they’d be somehow more  manageable post the marathon, as in ‘I’ll worry about that after London’.  So now without the distraction/ focus of marathon training I need to somehow morph into  being a proper grown up, get a job, lose weight, overcome my many and varied social inadequacies, read more books, dive back into social interactions, get properly fit, whatever.  Disappointingly, taking part in a marathon, even if you complete it, does not subsequently imbue you with superhuman skills of capability, self-belief, will-power and decisiveness.  Nor does it lead you to radiate personal charisma that ensures you will never again experience social inadequacy, alienation or personal rejection.  And as if all that wasn’t disappointing enough, furthermore, it doesn’t transform the socio-political context in which we operate.   The world is still in turmoil, Trump is still president, plastic still pollutes the seas, Brexit is still happening and I still can’t find a job and my roof still leaks.  That was not what I ordered.  What snake oil is this, the notion that running a marathon will change your life?  Why haven’t I properly metamorphosed into a better version of myself?  What was that all about if I still have to be me? 😦 Crap deal.

People aren’t even that interested in the bling, and it’s harder than  you might think to lever ‘I just did the London marathon’ into every conversation ever so casually.  Example, getting on bus ‘how much is it to the city centre?  I don’t normally catch the bus, I normally walk, but as I ran the London marathon (yesterday, last week, last month) I’m giving my legs a break‘ whatever.  Not everyone is interested in running!  What!  Still, it could be worse I suppose.  At least most people in the UK have heard of the London marathon.  I’ve been reading a book Your pace or mine,  an enjoyable account of the many runs undertaken by the author, a self-proclaimed back-of-the-pack runner.  Her numerous marathon adventures are awesome, but she is from South Africa originally.  The archetypal race there is apparently  The Comrades Marathon  a gruelling 56 miles ultra marathon with a brutally enforced cut off time of 12 hours.   Thus, this is the only race  her non-running south African compatriots have heard of.  As a consequence, if you tell a South African you run, and they are not a runner themselves, their likely next question would be ‘have you run Comrades then?’ the implication being if you haven’t, you aren’t really a runner.   That would be depressing!  At least in the UK the London marathon is significantly more achievable – if you can find a way to get a place that is of course… and if you tell non runners you have done it there is usually a flicker of recognition that this constitutes an achievement, I need to hang on to that.

your pace or mine

Another challenge, for me at least, is what next and when to start running again.  I wasn’t especially stiff after London, but I did have what I’m calling ‘ouchy shins’.  I’m not sure if this is an actual medical term, but it should be.  Anyway, I’ve done loads of googling ailments and so I’m practically medically qualified now.  At the very least I can diagnose every patient/ prospective patient in an episode of Holby City by 5 minutes in.  I digress (how unusual) but I am particularly proud of having once correctly diagnosed an ectopic pregnancy practically before the opening titles had finished in an episode of Casualty many years ago. I was watching this in the presence of a senior hospital consultant who scoffed my diagnosis based on his boring years of training, experience and medical expertise (yawn).  But people, the story line proved I was right!  Fortunately, he was a haematologist so his inability to second guess the plot lines of an episode of Casualty probably wouldn’t lead to catastrophic consequences in his day-to-day work.  Probably.  I never asked.  Sometimes it’s just tactful not to isn’t it?

Where was I?  Oh yes, so basically both my shins felt really tender a couple of days after the marathon and I’ve not really had that before. Well only once, as the aftermath of an ill-judged sports massage I had about 3 weeks ahead of London.  That knocked out my last long run as I limping so much.  Who knew you had massageable connective tissue/ muscle on the front of your shins.  Or maybe you don’t and that’s why they hurt so much.  Anyways, the point is, I’m paranoid about stress fractures/ shin splints, and it made me/ makes me, quite nervous about running again.  You’d think, well I did, that successfully completing a marathon would lead to me brimming over with confidence, secure that at last, I might actually be able to call myself an actual runner.  Not so. If anything I feel even more fraudulent than before.  The conditions on the day were so random, excellent athletes ended up with DNF,  Somehow though I did finish, but many of us probably didn’t have the race we trained for.  It makes me wonder just how much success in these running endeavours is all down to luck.  I think you can ‘make your own luck’ up to the point, by doing the training say, but unquestionably luck will play a part on the day, and the nature of luck is that it is just that. Luck.  Random. It isn’t fair.   It breaks my heart to think of the DNFs I know who deserved a different outcome, and the did not starts DNSs too.  As I say, it’s complicated.  I don’t think I was any more deserving of a finish medal than many who did not get round on the day, maybe I just got lucky?

Terrified of exacerbating a pending injury, I just didn’t run at all for a couple of weeks.  One week I joined the tail walker at my local parkrun. That was an interesting experience, being at the back of the field on what I think was the biggest turn out ever at Sheffield Hallam parkrun 805 runners.  Most who passed us (erm, everyone else taking part) shouted encouragement ‘well done’ kind of things.  I actually thought at first they must be referring to me having completed the London marathon, and then I realised that in fact I am not the centre of the known universe and so they would not be in possession of this fact, they were just being encouraging and nice, which is what most parkrunners are.  The tail walker was also needing to walk post injury, so we just walked round chattering the whole way.  I felt I made a new friend.  Loads of my Smiley Paces running club buddies were out in force, completing the unfinished couple of miles of the London marathon my fellow marathoner wasn’t able to, by running parkrun in solidarity with her.  She’d crashed out at the 40km mark.  As I was still out there walking I missed the team photo of this gathering, but aren’t they splendid!  A loveliness of smilies indeed!

loveliness of smilies

The following Saturday, I volunteered as barcode scribe at parkrun.  I like volunteering, you see events from a different perspective, and see the whole continuum or participants as well.  In this role I had to manually write down the numbers of people whose barcodes fail to scan.  This is a fab job in that you get a double whammy of kudos being in possession of both a hi-vis AND a clipboard.  You do also get some grief from people who insist they have always been able to have their number written down from their mobile phone before.  Erm, don’t think so.  I am generally very averse to any kind of confrontation and will capitulate in almost every situation to avoid the hassle of an argument.   However, I feel strongly about this, parkrunners are grown ups, it’s one rule, it’s not much to ask you to bring along a printed barcode, and if you are a regular runner you will know this,  I’m a volunteer so nope, I’m not making an exception, especially not if you are going to get all insistent and arsey about it.  I will happily take time to explain things to newbies, congratulate them on having taken part, encourage them to come back, tell them how to work out their time and generally enthuse, but I still enforce the rule.  With a parkrun as big as Sheffield Hallam you can really appreciate it’s importance.  Of the 800 or so runners, only a handful did complain but I soon had huge queues of people needing their number written down as the scanners were playing up in bright sunshine. If you relented on the no barcode, not time, no exceptions rule, you’d spend all weekend manually writing down results and then the poor results processors would have to do likewise.  Not OK.   Beckton parkrun did a post about why the no barcode, no result, no exception rule applies, that I think is good.  parkrun have recently revamped the parkrun code by the way, so with this relaunch the few rules are once again clearly stated.

parkrun code

I still think the directive around dogs is confusing.  What are you supposed to do if you don’t have a dog?  Fortunately this policy isn’t rigorously enforced locally.  Mind you, if ever it were to be, I have a dog in mind…  Form a queue people, form a queue!

my fantasy running buddy

So then week three on from London, I did my first run.  Also at parkrun. Again, my local one was really busy, so busy, that there were actual bottle necks at several points on the course so I had to walk some sections, which was good, as it completely removed the pressure or temptation to run.  There was good news and bad news.  Amazingly, my lungs and legs generally felt fine, I don’t seem to have lost the ability to put one foot in front of another. My womb still didn’t fall out, and although I was definitely ‘steady’ I was actually a bit faster than the last parkrun I did pre marathon, which is truly bizarre.  However, the less good news is that a photo of me running gives me no room for delusion in respect of how much weight I’ve put on, wearing a t-shirt and not wearing a giraffe means my stomach has nowhere to hide.  Also, my shins are still tender.  Not absolutely terrible by any means, but enough that I think I do need to be a bit careful.  Losing weight would help, some strength and conditioning and general cross training is well overdue also.  Hmm.

So I was/ am feeling a bit directionless and clueless, I ought to be doing more, but I am scared of injury, and feeling a bit overwhelmed because it is like starting over with a new goal.  Then something popped up on Facebook that looked familiar.  A reminder about the Hathersage Hurtle.  What’s that then?  That sounded familiar, have I entered it?  I did a bit of rummaging around in my inbox (not a euphemism) and it seems I have indeed.  It’s next Saturday.  Blooming heck, I’m not even running again yet.  Oh well, I thought, it’ll probably be a nice gentle local trail race, it will be fun!  Perfect for getting back into it.  Not so, it’s twenty miles!  TWENTY MILES FFS!  And with significant elevation – well, not by Sheffield standards, but definitely by London ones, which is where my focus has been. What was I thinking? Well, actually, I know exactly what I was thinking!  I entered back in February, in the depths of winter, probably from the sanctuary of being under a duvet.  I was fondly imagining a future whereby at this point in time I’d have completed the marathon, had time to recover and be at my running peak in terms of both capability and confidence. I’d fly round.  How wonderful it would be to return to the joys of the peaks after the tyranny of the roads whilst training for London.  I never learn.  Can’t do this, it’s crazy.  I dug around for details and found it was a pricey one to enter £24 and there’s a technical tee at the end. Well, obviously that was a game changer, even with some uncertainty about the medal situation.

A bit more ferreting around, and I discovered there is actually a walk option as well as the run. Hmm, they do exactly the same route, but head out between one and two hours earlier.  I emailed the organisers to find out what the cut off time was for the runners and whether I could swap.

Oh my gawd. What a lovely email I got back.  So welcoming and reassuring.  It massively helped me to refocus:

Well done on the marathon. What an achievement. The Hurtle will be quite a different experience – better views and more cake for a start!  We’ve got quite relaxed cut offs. Final cut off for everyone is 5pm so that gives you a total of 7 hours to get round as a runner. Walkers can set off between 8 and 9am so that gives you an extra hour or two.  We don’t want you to feel under any pressure as our main aim is for people to have a great day. Let me know what you decide to do.

This is why I run!  Beautiful views, friendly runners and bonus cake!  I mean London has it’s merits, but is actually the worst trail run ever.  Views from the trails and cake, that’s what running is all about.  Yomping fest here we come!

mile 4 (6)

Suddenly, I felt relieved.  I have decided to drop back to join the walkers. My shins aren’t quite right, but I’ve so missed the gorgeous trails round and about, I miss the camaraderie of running out on the moors with my mates.  Training for London was relentless and lonely at times.  I missed running against the stunning backdrop of the moors and peaks – I had to focus instead on roads and flattish trails.  I can get back out into the peak district proper now.  With respect to my running buddies, I’m still too slow to keep up with them, but by starting earlier with the walkers I should have no pressure.  I’m hoping this will also remove the navigation issue as if I start at the back of the walkers I can follow them to start with, and then as runners start to overtake I can follow them too.  This gives me a sporting chance of seeing people I know en route, as they will speed pass me, instead of me just trailing behind them the whole way round, watching them disappear over the hills and far away before I’ve even fathomed out how to handle my dibber.   Arriving at the finish at dusk with no cake left and the Smiley paces group photo long since taken.  This could work.  I need to get over my weird psychological block about running again, and I think a long, beautiful walk with heaving feed stations, friendly marshals and a technical tee at the end is just the job!  What’s wrong with hope over experience dear reader?  The alternative is I’d never do anything ever again.  The heather might not be out just yet, but it’s still going to be awesome!

I think the route also covers a lot of the same terrain as the Dig Deep Ultra which is my next big goal, so good to have a bit of a recce of sections of that too.  What could possibly…

hathersage hurtle

So in terms of my experience of the post-marathon blues – which I think is what this post is sort of about, and it’s not just a rambling stream of consciousness, directionless nonsense at all – I think it’s attributable partly to a lack of direction and partly a sense of anti-climax.  Plus, anyone’s body would take a pounding, let alone my post fifty offering, so it’s not surprising I’m maybe feeling a bit battered. And I do need to somehow get my life back on track, but it was always thus, it’s just the goal of getting round London legitimised my procrastination for a few months, but it didn’t make any problems go away, how could it?

To end with positives I think I offer up two:

Positive number one: the absolutely best bit about running events in general (the ones I pick anyway) and the London marathon in particular is that supporters, random strangers who don’t even know you, when they cheer you on, are genuinely offering up unconditional, positive regard.  Usually you have to pay counsellors or psychologists or whatever  an absolute fortune at an hourly rate to give you that. And even then it will probably be given somewhat dead pan and po faced, they don’t generally wave golden pom poms at you and leap in the air in appreciation of your efforts.   In running, people will cheer you euphorically not based on your potential achievement, or any personal characteristics, or even innate worthiness – they can’t they have no idea who you are, so they are cheering you unconditionally just because you are out there giving it a go!  There is no other context in life I can think of where you get that.  This is why junior parkrun is also especially joyful.  It’s a celebration of the best in people, a temporary vision of utopia that demonstrates life is just so much better if we are kind to each other and buoy each other up rather than bring each other down.  A reminder there are more good people in the world than not, and there is not just room for diversity and laughter in the world, but also life is so much the better for it. Simple.  Cheering on others without cynicism, and unconditionally not only brings joys to others, but will leave you giddy with feelgood joy yourself.  Promise.

The second big positive: there is life after the marathon.  Just pick another goal, anything, but better if it’s one that taps into whatever it is that makes running fun.  I feel so much more upbeat now I can head out again into the hills. When I first started this running blog, such as it is, it was partly to recognise that whilst I have many and manifest limitations that might get in the way of me ever becoming a ‘proper’ runner, there was nothing to stop me enjoying doing it badly, and even celebrating that.  The whole parkrun philosophy, of just participating in my own way, not worrying too much about other people’s goals or expectations.  And you know what, that philosophy has allowed me to meet some amazing people, discover some extraordinary places, take on some unimaginable challenges and who’d have believed it, somehow progressed from having to breathe into a paper bag to calm myself before daring to turn up at my first parkrun, to completing the London marathon!  Strange, but true.

If my old PE teacher could see me know eh?  Hah!

It’s not finishing a marathon that is the hardest thing, it’s having the courage to sign up for it in the first place.  Honestly, with many of the challenges I’ve taken on I haven’t absolutely believed I could do them, but I have most fervently believed there is only one way to find out.  After all, how will I ever know my limits if I don’t test them.

she believed she could

Also, yomping the hills is fun. Whatever challenge appeals, for what it’s worth, I think it’s important to remember that for me at least, running is supposed to be fun.  How does the saying go?

Run often, run long, but never outrun your joy of running.

Easy as.

You’re welcome.

Now go find your trainers, or if you can’t run just now, go look at a favourite bit of running bling or a photo of your favourite running location and imagine yourself out there doing a virtual run.  This is what I’m going to try to do.  Saturday’s Hathersage Hurtle might be a walk rather than a run, but it’s still a step on the way to getting back on track literally as well as metaphorically, because ultimately that’s all a run is, one foot in front of another.  And increasingly the accepted wisdom is long walks can be a helpful part of a running fitness programme too.  That gets my vote.

So see you out on them there hills.

🙂

nice out

Categories: motivation, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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*.

 

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*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

Spring Equinox Dragonfly Challenge – the art of the Strava flyby.

Digested read:  Elder Smiley sent out a directive for the Smiletastic March challenge, to create a team Strava Art flyby in celebration of the spring equinox. We did. It was a contemplative silent homage to both running and the spring equinox.  We Dragonflies did good.  Hurrah.

So, in case you haven’t been concentrating, this is a continuation of the Smiley Paces Women’s Running club winter challenge.  Alongside individual challenges, designed to make you go out and run in the most inclement of weather, even when you are silently weeping within are team challenges.  We’ve already had some dragonfly team segment bagging, and team alphabet run triumphs, but for this month we were tasked with a Strava Art Homage to the Spring Equinox challenge directed as follows:

Team Challenge: I can’t resist a Strava Art Team Challenge and this year I’d like you to do your interpretation of the SPRING EQUINOX using a team Strava flyby. “Older” smilers may have to explain this to the newer members!
There were a few things we learned from last year.
• You must all have the flyby option enabled before you do it (I think you can only do this on the computer)
• You MUST synchronise your watches! Anyone who has been abroad needs to check that they’re on UK time!
One person in the team should notify me that its done and send me a link and a screen shot of the finished artwork along with names of those who took part in any way. I will award points based on my opinion of how creative you’ve been and for participation. The deadline for these is midnight Sunday 18th March

I had not the faintest idea of how to go about this, but fortunately I was able to parasitize the expertise of those who did.  One of our number, Fell Running Smiley, had a genius plan, and as a supportive team member, rather than undermine her considerable initiative by coming up with another plan, I decided to just throw my – not inconsiderable – weight behind her one.  ‘Brilliant, just brilliant, where and when, I’ll be there’ I ventured, joining the chorus of other Dragonflies on our secret Facebook group page where we plot out how such schemes can best be executed together.

But look at the genius idea presented!  No one was going to be able to top that!

strava art abbey lane cemetery

With the explanatory text as follows:

Ok so we have a spring equinox run route planned and we’re thinking of running (or walking if you’re injured) this Saturday after the Bakewell parkrun.

It’s a very simple route in a sun shape so hopefully it should be easy to do. I’m going to try to share the run from my strava on this post.

It follows a circle that is in the Abbey Lane cemetery. We’re planning to meet at the entrance to the cemetery at 11am on Saturday. If there are people using the cemetery we have a backup route using a circular housing estate at Manor fields.

Perfect!  Pleasingly simple, brilliantly apt.

The follow up conversation on line went a bit like this:

ACT I SCENE I A closed Facebook page Dragonflies – Smiletastic 2018.
[Snow and rain outside, running confusion inside. Multiple Dragonflies make themselves known on social media in response to the Spring Equinox Challenge proposal]
First Dragonfly: When shall we all meet again
In thunder, lightning, snow or rain?
Second Dragonfly: When the Bakewell parkrun’s done,
When the milestone cakes have been eaten hun.
Third Dragonfly: That will be ere the set of sun, shall we say eleven then?
First Dragonfly: Where the place?
Second Dragonfly: Abbey Lane cemetery.
Third Dragonfly: There to meet with everyone who can.
First Dragonfly: I come, great dragonfly!
Second Dragonfly: Smiletastic calls!
Fourth Dragonfly: Me too!
ALL: Fair the plan, and fine the strava art:
We will execute this flyby with all our dragonfly hearts!

Pretty much like that anyway.

So many of us made it to Bakewell parkrun for the Smiley Champs outing first off, and then, after a somewhat comedic wacky races-esque departure in a fleet of cars, headed off to the rendezvous point. Some arrived in timely fashion, some overshot and had to phone to be talked in to the location, like when the pilot has a heart attack flying a plane, and some hapless air cabin crew has to land it talked in by air traffic control.  Exactly like that.  Or possibly like being driven around by Muttley.  Maybe that.

wacky races

We met outside the Abbey lane cemetery.  It’s a rather grand and splendid place. A proper cemetery, seemingly reasonably well maintained, with many ancient gravestones and memorials amid the green space.  Some people really don’t like graveyards, but I’m fine with them. We have nothing to fear from the dead, far more from the living.  I appreciate the green spaces they permit to flourish in the most urban of areas, and they can be peaceful places.

Once we were all gathered, we hesitated outside.  We felt that what we were doing was OK, but we didn’t want it to be perceived as disrespectful, so we agreed our strategy outside, and that we would do our ‘run’ as a slow walk, and in silence as far as possible. The idea was to start off together with one small inner circle, and then peel off one by one to walk each of the radial paths before regrouping. It was a small space.  There were some people around, but they were tending far off graves.  We did have  a contingency plan just in case, but didn’t need to implement it.

Graveyards are curious places.   Caution, pretentious story alert x 2.  When I was in Cambodia, many homeless people bedded down in the tombs that surrounded many temples, and the living and the dead co-exist in quite an active way. Every home has its own mini shrine ‘to the ancestors’ who are consulted on important matters and informed about family happenings.  I thought for a long time this was just that, a shrine, but in fact I learned that quite literally people put the ashes of their deceased relatives there.  I was taken aback, as I’d been admiring a shrine and asked to photograph it at one home I visited on Silk Island outside Phnom Penh.  However, the family were completely relaxed about the whole thing, there wasn’t the same disconnect between the living and the dead. Same in Vietnam.  At Tet – New year’s day, everyone goes en masse to visit their ancestors at cemeteries, which are vast.  I was taking part in a motorbike tour from Hue, and we went roaring into one such cemetery.  The whole world seemed to be there, partying alongside their deceased relatives.  It was a place of story telling, eating and celebration, with everyone dressed up in their party finery, and all generations represented.  There was nothing sombre about it as far as I could tell.  A curious exposure to a complete different set of cultural reference points.  You just don’t know what’s OK and what isn’t sometimes, just have to be alert to what’s going on around you I suppose.  Anyway, the upshot was, that we agreed what we were doing was OK, as long as we were discrete, so in we went and off we went.

The nature of the route, going round in circles and walking out and back along the sun’s rays as they emanated outwards from the centre turned out to be quite a silently contemplative process.  It possibly sounds strange, but it was calming, mindful even (if that isn’t too pretentious). Each of us silently walking the route, lost in our own thoughts, taking in the fallen tomb stones around us, the bird song, the trees overhead, out and back, round and round, and finally rejoining.  Like a strange dance.  We moved organically and noiselessly, creating our silent homage to the Spring Equinox.  Watches stopped, we filed out and away from the cemetery, until outside we could check our stravas and marvel at this thing of wonder we had collectively created.

We couldn’t know how effective our Strava flyby was until later.  Not to worry, we could still do the compulsory group selfie – we are getting seriously good at these.  I think you can tell we are channelling our inner dragonflies here, and what’s more we have a clear queen who moves amongst us:

queen dragonfly

 

Talking of Queen.  Yes we were, we also took the opportunity to nab a  Queen tribute group selfie, Bohemian Rhapsody or Dragonfly Rhapsody, we have them both nailed.  Uncannily close to the original imagery, I think you’ll agree.  We were indeed in our own rhapsody of delight what with all our clever flybying.

Nice shoes too.  They look good in a circle of Smiley Dragonfly loveliness too.

circle of smiley loveliness

Didn’t take long, then we all departed our separate ways.  I actually felt a bit lonely saying goodbye, we’d shared a moment, we are bonded forever by our awesome flyby endeavour.  I like that.

Once home, after some angst inducing ‘usb device not recognised’ shouty warnings from my computer, I finally got my own Strava route uploaded.  It looked like this:

spring equinox run

Do you have any concept of how exciting that is?  Love it when Strava art comes good.  I’ve limited experience of strava art – previous rabbit encounter for Smiletastic 2016 being about the sum of it, therefore it was a huge relief it actually worked.  Better yet, another clever Dragonfly did whizzy things to make it display, and you know what dear reader, it was cracking!  How clever are we!

flyby

I say ‘we’ are clever, but really I mean other people were, and I got to hang out in the proximity of their cleverness and greatness.  Still, it shows good judgement on my part at least.

So there you go, final team challenge for Smiletastic done. Tick.  Phew.

Can’t wait to see what the other teams come up with, reckon we’ll be one to beat, but I genuinely don’t care about that, because we did good, and running our Spring Equinox Strava flyby was its own reward.

The official Spring Equinox is on 20th March 2018 at 16.15, which is very specific.  Right now it’s hard to believe that’s just next week, recent weather feels very much like we are still living through an eternal winter.  I wonder what running treats may reveal themselves on that time and date, hope you work out, execute and share your own homage, come on dear reader, you know you want to!  To get you in the vernal equinox mood, here are some interesting facts about the change in season, to get your going.

Goodbye winter, hello spring!

Hello-Spring

Happy equinox dear reader.   The sun will surely come out eventually….

We can run on in hope!

Categories: running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Smiley Champs with Smiley Champions – Running wobbles conquered (ish) with a little help from my Smiley friends…

Digested read: Running feels hard at the moment.  Marathon training is taking its toll. Fortunately I have Smiley Paces and I have parkrun. What more could anyone ask for to help them through their running wobbles!  It’ll be fine, probably.  Even if it isn’t it won’t matter in the grand scheme of things and there will still be parkrun the following Saturday and cake eating opportunities aplenty on the horizon ahead.  Thank you Smiley Buddies you are all wonder women.  Awesome as well as FGRs.  Hurrah!

Bakewell smiley assemblage

Mahooosive running wobbles today, for the past few days to be honest.  And I am not only referring to my midriff which wobbles most spectacularly when I run.  Point of information dear reader – in my experience it is a complete myth that marathon training will bring to you weight loss along with existential angst, au contraire.  I’ve put on a significant amount of weight partly because of being rungry to a greater extent than the calories I’ve burned, but more particularly because I’m an emotional eater, and training for a marathon, well, turns out it’s really hard, and for me, something of an emotional roller coaster.  It is the emotional wobbles that have been especially pronounced these week.  Mind games setting in along with doubts.

So, I am told at this stage in training it is normal to doubt yourself, your body is under stress.  With six weeks to go OH MY GAWD, SIX WEEKS!  KILL ME NOW! There is still much training to cram in and much to lose as well as much to gain.  Too little time to make much headway in terms of fitness (it’s really four weeks max and a two week taper), but plenty of time to blow everything with injury or over training or narcissistic melt down.  My problems have been building for a while, snow and ice have played havoc with my training plan, such as it was, and do you know what, even though the Beast from the East has affected much of the UK, they aren’t going to postpone the start date of the marathon by two weeks to compensate?  I know, outrageous.   Then I had a really terrible long run last week, wrong nutrition, felt ill, got cold and dehydrated and then spent the next two days completely wiped out.  I actually took to my bed and googled ‘is it normal to feel exhausted after a long run’, ‘heart attack early symptoms’, ‘what was I thinking?’, ‘marathon over training’, ‘marathon not trained enough’, ‘seriously, how many miles?’, ‘anaemia and running’, ‘marathon training fatigue‘ etc. You get the idea I’m sure.  Looking on the bright side, the alarming google advice in relation to the above search terms probably elevated my heart rate sufficiently to provide me with a significant work out despite my inertia.  On the whole, my findings were terrifying, and not helpful, probably not even accurate or applicable to me either.

Some training plans are saying that your ‘long run’ should be about 20% of your total mileage, but that would mean as I increased my long runs I’d be doing a massive % increase on my weekly mileage and doing 100 miles a week by the time I got up to a 20 mile run, and I don’t have the numeracy skills to work it out for a 22 mile run.  Just as well.   That can’t be right, surely? So I have been fretting about my mileage being too low. Then I wonder if I should force myself out even if I’m feeling rubbish, but then I remind myself that there’s a difference between tired, can’t be bothered and it’s raining and the total grey-faced white-gummed wipe out that I’ve been experiencing over the past few days, and on balance, it isn’t worth it.  I’m not an elite runner, I only want to get round, and actually, I don’t think that kind of mileage is either realistic or sensible for a relatively newbie middle-aged runner, that way injury and exhaustion lies, surely.  Plus,  I knew when I set out to do my 17 mile run last week I wasn’t feeling great, and I think I’ve paid the price. I am in the process of writing a misery memoir blog post about that even now, you can enjoy be dragged down by reading that account later, when I finally finish it.  Even so, whatever the intellectual, objective rationalisation of what I’m feeling, it’s not great, hence the wobbles.  I’ve felt completely drained since the 17 miler, and a bit unsure about how to move on from it.  Have a break?  Do more? Do less?  Aaaaaargh.  I’ll never be a runner, my running is getting worse and harder with this marathon malarkey not better.  I thought by now my inner athlete would have burst out, that I’d be chomping sprouting mung beans and buying progressively smaller pairs of running bottoms whilst dolling out unsolicited running advice to lesser mortals who hadn’t yet got a marathon in their sights.  On reflection, I was probably delusional right from the start.  I’m exhausted, my body is battered, my morale low, I am never running again.  Not ever.

Even so, today was a double Smiley Paces challenge. Firstly, Bakewell parkrun the first of the Smiley Champs runs for this year, and secondly a Smiletastic challenge, creating a solstice flyby.  Wouldn’t want to let my team mates down.  Aaaaaargh all over again.  Fear of missing out…  and you know what they say ‘I really regret that run said NO-ONE EVER!’

really regret

The Smiley Champs series, is basically  your best four performances out of a possible six runs in events throughout the year. They are chosen to be as inclusive as possible, taking in a parkrun like today, a shortish fell race, an off-road event with a choice of distances e.g. Dig Deep series that kind of thing.  I am never going to be a speed merchant, so don’t take part in the champs in any expectation of glory, but I do go in expectation of being able to bathe in collective Smiley loveliness; to get to be in a Smiley team shot and; last but by no means least; in the confident expectation that there will be cake.  What is a running club without communal catering?  Quite.  And if someone is going to go to all that trouble of combining their 50th parkrun with the Smiley Champs call out to hail to Bakewell parkrun, it would be rude not to go and ingest/inhale such sweetmeats as are offered up by way of recognition and appreciation and as an expression of mutual support.

Anyway, here are the Smiley Champs races for this year, 2018, in case dear reader you fancy coming along and shouting ‘Go Smiley‘ at any of us as we pass.  Or throw sweetmeats, that goes down well too, as a minimum offer up a high-five. We like them also. Just so you know.  All and any support, we’ll take it.  You’ll feel great, everyone’s a winner!

smiley champs

Like Lady Macbeth, I lost the capacity to sleep years ago (though unlike her I don’t recall being an accessory to regicide) so was awake by 4.00 a.m. anyway.    The rain was pounding down on my attic window, this was not the plan.  I lay in the dark, checking out how I felt. Yep, felt like my body had been completely steam-rolled and head was spinning.  What to do.  What will I do if I feel like this on marathon day?  I have always maintained, sometimes to my cost, that you can always push out a parkrun.  Maybe I should test that theory today.  If I didn’t get out and give it a go, I’d probably regret it right?  Plus, wouldn’t want to let my Smiletastic buddies down…  Nobody ever regrets a parkrun, ever, no-one ever regrets a parkrun ever, never ever, repeat, repeat, ad infinitum repeat…

There’s always a first time though, isn’t there…  Speaking of which, some Smileys who’d promised to turn out today were to be first timers at parkrun, can you imagine that?  Passing through the gateway to all that fun for the first time, it will be like entering Narnia for them, I should turn out to see that…

So, despite rain, and fog, and it being distinctly chilly although not actually arctic conditions, I had my porridge and I ventured out. It was a misty run out to Hassop Station Cafe where the parkrun meets on the Monsal Trail.  I was a bit apprehensive driving over, there was a lot of standing water on the roads, and I had a white van driving right up my arse which wasn’t good.  Still, I wasn’t going to be intimidated into aquaplaning off the road, intimidated yes, but not so much as to change my driving, though I did pull over where I could to let him pass.

I arrived about 8.45, and to my amazement, there was space in the car park despite a couple of spaces being out of action because of snow!  I know, I thought it had all gone by now.  There were a couple of handy – and crazily clean portaloos on hand, but many gathering Smilies had assembled in the gift shop, where there was much browsing of mother’s day cards going on in pre-parkrun preambles. There was also much Smiley meeting and greeting, and it was lovely to see not just fellow dragonflies (Smiletastic challenge team mates) but loads of other Smilies I’ve not seen all winter really.  It was an impressive turn out.

We collectively lurked inside, sheltering from the rain that was pretty much torrential, until a call went up for us to assemble at the start.   I kept my coat on.  I was not alone.  We trotted down the path a short way and there was a collective run briefing.  I did not have my camera with me, but fortunately Smiley selfie queen did, so captured the scene…  nice and casual we Smilies aren’t we.  Can you see the ladybirds?  Plague proportions I tell you, plague…  There is a hungover grasshopper in shot too, see if you can work out which one she is.  Also, at least one celebrity who doesn’t wish to be identified, her prerogative, respect the right of all parkrunners to participate in their own way.

Bakewell smiley assemblage

This was my first time at Bakewell parkun – it’s a relatively new one, with this being only its eighth run.  Normally they get around a hundred or so runners, this week the numbers swelled to some 150, Smiley Paces runners contributed largely to that rise, but there were also a fair few Steel City Striders in evidence, I think maybe they are still preoccupied with their annual parkrun cup challenge, but I’m not sure…

It is a run that is fairly light on marshals, the run director gave a cheery briefing.  Hands for first timers – loads of us; any milestones?  Yep, at least two fifties, yay!  I liked the briefing, high points included the observation that sub 20 minute runners should move to the front (there was not a stampede to reposition ourselves) and the observation that there was a tail walker (a super smiley no less) so if you saw her ahead of you, you were to shout ‘slow down!’  at her, which is a good point well made. The official Bakewell parkrun course description blah de blah states:

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

and that’s indeed exactly what it is! Look:

bakewell parkrun strava

Down the compact trail of the old railway line.  It was however very puddled – running water across the path in places which I hadn’t expected – this would be seriously icey if the temperature dropped below zero –  and had a noticeable camber, which is slightly weird, in that I didn’t notice it at all when I ran this part of the Monsal trail the other week, but then again, that day I had it all to myself.

The briefing was short and to the point, and pretty soon a cry went up and we were awf.  As predicted I found it hard.  My energy levels are completely depleted.  I struggled even though it is a straight out and back route. Weirdly though, I found it harder running this with other runners, it was sort of like being in a traffic jam as you couldn’t see much other than the back of the runner in front, and it was hard to judge distance travelled as landmarks aren’t that obvious on this route, especially for a first time. It was however a friendly cohort, and for faster runners you could definitely go for a quick time if that was your bag.  Also, as an out and back route, it was quite nice to see and acknowledge returning runners – basically the whole field in my case – as they ran back as I was running out.  Lots of mutual support, high fives, cheery ‘hellos’ and good to see familiar faces I hadn’t been able to spot in the pre-run mingling. Whether they were as thrilled to see me as I was them is a moot point, perhaps the mantra ‘don’t ask don’t tell‘ has its place in some contexts after all.

I love Smilies, all were indeed smiling as they rushed by.

The turning point was just beyond a bridge, there were two marshals to cheer you round.  There was one pleasant surprise here (well, three if you count seeing each of the two marshals as well 🙂 ), in that a solitary white cone positioned in front of the marshal was the turnaround point. This gave me a significant psychological boost, as I’d imagined the marshal was a human cone and I’d have to run round him, by running in front of him instead I saved a good 2 metres on that run.

Heading back, it felt tough, but a cheery Smiley as back marker shouted some encouragement as she was still heading out.  Ironically, our March challenge for Smiletastic is to run a Royal Flush – progressively faster miles over a long run.  My splits for this run showed I got progressively slower instead.  I tried very hard to put this in perspective, I’ve been feeling ill, I was 50:50 about coming anyway, it doesn’t matter at least I came, but I am all over the place mentally at the moment.  Who am I trying to kid I can run a marathon if I’m struggling to maintain a pace at a parkrun?  This can’t be right?

Eventually though, the end was in sight, a cheery Smiley with such perfect form that she is often wheeled out as the face of woodrun jogged out to run in with me.  As I reached the finish, there was a great wall of Smilies who gave a roar of cheers as i ran in. That was most splendid!  I felt like a super star. Sometimes it’s worth being a slow finisher as although oftentimes it means you miss the post run group photo because everyone has gone home, on this occasion it meant basically everyone else was already back and forming a cheer leading crowd to will you in.  I even did a (for me) sprint finish, so maybe my body wasn’t as broken as I thought.  Mind over matter indeed….

Super efficient funnel managers whizzed me through to the scanner.  I had a replacement barcode as one of theirs has gone walkabout, and it didn’t scan straightaway. I’m barcode scanning at Graves Junior tomorrow, hope the rain doesn’t interfere with the process too much there. The responsibility, the stress!

Thank you Bakewell parkrun marshals for the warmth of your welcome, the wit of your run briefing and the slickness of your logistics.

A couple more Smilies were cheered in

smiley coming through

And then it was to the important business of garnering Smiley team photos once the tail marker had made it through:

bakewell smiley team shot FJ

Naturally, we didn’t limit ourselves to just the one shot. We had to have all possible variants of smiley configurations.  Dragonflies, bees (genius action shot there, brilliantly choreographed by a very capable photographer who was that now?  Oh yes, I remember! Me!  Genius me!), grasshoppers, milestone 50th run – plus a few posing with the ‘caution runners‘ sign, because that’s what we are. Oh yes!  Go us!

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Running is great, gotta love parkrun!

So then cake was calling – I’d espied it earlier, it looked like this:

bakewell cake supplies

You might think that amount of cake would be daunting, but don’t underestimate the collective ability of a Smiley team to get a job done!  We focus, we can deliver!

As I was about to head back to the cafe, much excitement.  As the parkrun marshals worked their magic making all trace of the parkrun disappear for another week.   A previously anonymous Smiley came across to introduce herself.  She’s been injured forever ages, but we’ve met on the interweb so it was grand she came to say hello!  Hope you are running free again soon injured Smiley, but meantime, thanks for keeping Bakewell parkrun show on the road as a hi-viz hero.   Big virtual high-five coming right atya from here!  Til next time…

smiley injured new friends

Next stop, cafe, and queue for latte.  By my good fortune – perhaps less so for the Smiley I was alongside – I was sited next to a fellow London marathon runner for 2018.  She is a much, much more experienced and faster runner than I, so I was astonished to hear she too has been struggling a bit with fatigue in her training.  Not that I’d wish these levels of exhaustion on anyone, but maybe it is just ‘normal’ at this stage.  Interestingly, like me, she finds her legs feel strong and her aerobic capacity is fine, it’s literally ‘just’ a sense of extreme weariness, maybe this is the mental battle.

I also got to nab another experienced Smiley who was fantastically supportive and encouraging too as I lamented my lack of progress. She pointed out that actually, because of the cumulative build up of training miles there is also cumulative fatigue, so it is relatively usual (even is scary) to feel like I’m slower now than I was when I started, because you/ I/ we are making increasing demands on more and more fatigued bodies.  The benefits will only really be reaped post the taper – assuming training has gone to plan. These next 2-3 weeks are indeed the big mile weeks, and so some wobble is inevitable.  Anyway, thank you all smilies in general and those in particular for casting your pearls of wisdom and encouragement my way. It is appreciated.   Smiley Champs series is apt for us all, because all Smilies are Champions.  Even those who didn’t make the shindig today. One of those was being a hi-viz hero elsewhere.  Also champion.  Hurrah.  Top Dog for the day, I think Regal Smiley may fear her top dog position more generally is under threat. It isn’t of course, because there’s room for all.  Some can do the loving eyes routine a bit better than others it’s true, but all are super-talented, unique and valued in their own way.  New beginnings for you both. Bravo.  Let the new adventures in life begin, there will be no looking back.

It’s a weird thing this marathon training malarkey, because inevitably a lot of the training is on my own, and the run itself will be – apart from the other 49,999 other runners out there on the route of course – but I don’t think I’d have even made it to this point without the support of my running club buddies, parkrun buddies and virtual supporters I’ve picked up along the way.  I have to remember it’s supposed to be a challenge and it’s also supposed to be fun.  Of course I want to get round, but it is only a run, it’s not life and death, if I don’t it won’t matter in the grand scheme of things, what matters is that I give it my best shot and, in the words of the best advice I’ve had re running my first/ one and only marathon ‘remember to enjoy it’.  It will be an extraordinary day.  If I get round I get bragging rights on top, if I don’t I still get anecdotes and free tube travel in London for marathon day, as long as I’m still wearing my number and it hasn’t been washed away by my tears on the day.  Not a bad return on two years of angst really is it?

Is it?  Don’t you think?  Tube travel is really expensive.  And I don’t make a habit of running any distance up to 26.2 miles just to get around, so it can add up.

Lattes were drunk, cake was eaten and then it was running round two. The Spring Equinox Smiletastic challenge.  But that’s another story….

For all my parkrun related posts see here – scroll down for older entries.

Categories: 5km, motivation, parkrun, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

For the love of running in celebration of Valentine’s Day?

As if the run up to Valentine’s day isn’t stressful enough, the timing of Smiletastic (Smiley Paces Sheffield Women’s Running Club winter running challenge) overlapping with it spawns new horrors.  Our beloved Smiley Elder having incorporated a seemingly innocuous requirement ‘in keeping with the season’ to complete an individual challenge as follows:

1. Individual Challenge: By Midnight Sunday February 25th I would like each individual to submit ONE (the first one from each is the only one accepted!) run during which they celebrated valentines day. This can be by something like dressing up (easy peasy), making an appropriate Strava drawing, road signs/names, etc. Your choice! Extra spot points available for particularly inspired efforts, but everyone who submits an effort will earn points in Week 8.

This is a dilemma for me.  As with many Smiletastic challenges, I found myself going through a series of stages akin to the five stages of the  grieving process according to the Kübler-Ross model.  You know.  Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression before finally reaching acceptance.  In fact, I’d go so far as to add in the shock and testing addendums to be honest.  I do appreciate and enjoy Smiletastic, it certainly helps me get out there and run in the inclement, dark and dismal winter months, but it is at times stressful.  And although I invariably feel fantastic once the respective challenges have been successfully concluded, I usually despair at the initial seeming impossibility of every task before eventually moving on to realise I need to face up to whatever it is, come up with some solutions and ‘make it so.’

All the same, I’m not a massive fan of Valentine’s Day. It is afterall basically a commercial capitalist conspiracy to make single people feel inadequate and anyone ‘coupled up’ pressurised to buy pointless, over-priced, trashy knickknacks, knowing if they ‘fail’ the appropriate purchase test then the relationship which they hoped was burgeoning will instead be doomed, because a pink fluffy rabbit and enormous smutty card didn’t quite cut it.  Or they committed the cardinal sin of buying their partner sexy crutchless lingerie when the knickers the recipient really wanted were in fact runderwear.  Not the same people, really not the same.

In the spirit of anger and denial, I was originally thinking of just composing a treatise on why Valentine’s day is simply a cynical marketing exercise to fill the coffers of multinationals and contribute to the plastic waste in the oceans as people exchange worthless gifts that will be discarded and end up in landfill quite possibly even before the month is out.  AFter all, the rules do state that all submissions would be rewarded.  I thought I might make it a bit more palatable to the reader by decorating it in glitter or something, maybe.  But then again, glitter is really bad for the environment too is it not?  Also, could I be arsed?  It’s a dilemma.

I wanted to participate and do my bit for the team achievements, but not over-enamoured with the whole romantic love theme.  What to do? So I was stomping round the Sheffield Round Walk route yesterday (an attempt to put miles on my legs as part of my marathon training – another challenge about which I appear to be in complete denial) with this churning around in my mind.

sheffield-round-walk-outdoor-city.900x0

What could I do that wouldn’t be too saccharin, but might meet the requirements.  Well, I’ll tell you what dear reader, just look about you!  Isn’t it always the way. A run can clear your head and offer up practical solutions to seemingly impossible tasks. No really.  As I made my way out of Meersbrook Park, a vision appeared before me.  A perfect manifestation of the complexity of Valentine’s Day.  Literally rubbishing the romantic ideal. Genius. What’s not to like?

Rubbishing romance (1)

There you go people, a bleeding, broken heart, shunted out onto the cold winter street along with the rubbish.  Rarely have I been so happy to see an over-worked symbol of romantic love sprayed on a litter bin. I’d go so far as to say ‘never’ in fact! That’s the individual Smiletastic challenge in the bag, I though, I need not write my treatise now, and waste glitter, so everyone wins. Yay!

But you know what dear reader?  This part of the Sheffield Round Walk just kept on giving.  Only a little further on and even more delights were delivered up as I was musing on my good fortune.  Look what I found next.  Not just another heart, but an anagram of our Smiley Elder’s own name, with the ‘M’ preface to emphasise her marvelousness, magnificence,  majesty, and mightily magnanimous nature, to all and sundry (as if that was necessary).  Things were most definitely looking up!

But you know what?  Valentine themed sightings are like buses, they come in threes.  Just a couple of hundred metres on, and another heartfelt sighting.  Now, this may not please the grammar police of course, I feel an apostrophe is needed somewhere, and personally I favour capitalisation in these circumstances, at least at the commencement of the sign, but even so, never noticed this place before:

My fathers heart

I was happy.

From the bottom of my heart.  Hearts everywhere, feeling the Smiletastic love.  Here’s another..  No really, it was there, under the bridge, near the muse heart.  Hurrah!  Not that I approve of graffiti, obviously, but don’t see why I can’t use it to my advantage if it’s already out there.

Love

Love Sheffield

Love Smiletastic. Never said otherwise.  Honestly.  🙂

Didn’t see this one out and about today, but endorse the sentiment.

i-heart-sheffield-1

 

Categories: motivation, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Up’n’at it at Attercliffe Alphabet soup run. Dragonflies are ready to go!

Digested read: wow, the Smiletastic challenge for February was a bit daunting.  Run a street for every letter in the alphabet, seriously?  Guess what, what seems impossible as an individual is achieveable as part of a team.  Go Smilies in general and Smiletastic dragonfly Smilies in particular. We’ve got this.  Run planned, just need to execute now. Eeeeezeee.  🙂

Did you know that the Air Guitar World Championships take place each year in Oulu, Finland?   Me neither to be fair, until recently.  But some things, once you know, can never be unknown.  On my bucket list now, just saying. The rules are here – I love that your air guitar can be either electric or acoustic. Very inclusive.

The thing is, whilst not disputing that an Air Guitar World Championships would be über cool, even if it wasn’t set in the super cool location of Finland, we do have some pretty cool contests happening here in Sheffield.  I speak dear reader, of course, of Smiletastic 2018.  Our Smiley Paces Running Club winter challenge, to keep us Sheffield women up and running in the cold and dark.   This is for the most part good, but can be stressful, as some challenges require not only the inclination and ability to run about, but also initiative, team work and creativity.  Fortunately, you don’t have to find all the skills within yourself, you can parasitise harness the skills of fellow team mates.  Thus, we achieve more collectively than might be possible for us as individuals. Such is the nature of teamwork, and the awesome power of the collective endeavour of any  group of motivated Smilies.  Together we are invincible.  Eventually.  Took a while though.

So it was, the new month of February, brought with it a new challenge.  Expressed as follows:

 

2. Team Challenge: By Midnight Sunday February 25th the team who has incorporated
streets/roads/lanes/tracks in Sheffield which start with different letters of the alphabet into the shortest number of runs will earn the most points. Here’s a website to help your planning. https://www.proviser.com/regional/towns/sheffield/street_maps
(there’s no X, but I’m sure that’s no barrier to your imagination!)
• A team’s submission can be made up from a number of runs from different people or you can delegate planners and runners.
• The distance of each run can be as long or as short as you want, but each one must be continuous – ie. You can’t run along a road starting with “B”, then pause your watch, drive to another area and unpause your watch to run along a road stating with “H”. That should be uploaded as TWO separate runs not ONE. However, if there’s a tie, then the team who did it in the shortest total distance will win.
• The team’s submission should come to me from ONE PERSON in a table form as shown in the
example (obviously, you’ll need more rows than this…. or will you?)
• I’m not going to check every street or even every run – again its up to your honesty.
As the month progresses you’ll be able to refine your first “full-house” and focus your team’s runs to “collect” letters. Please don’t submit your team’s result too soon – there are no prizes for the first. If you want me to check anything, then feel free to send it to me to ask questions.
Example:

table
etc… until you’ve “bagged” every letter
Happy Running!
Smiley Elder

(She doesn’t actually sign herself off like this, as ‘Smiley Elder’, but I think she should, so editorial licence here).

So that was the requirement.  I wasn’t overly enamoured with this.  Too hard, impossible even.  I could have wept.  Fortunately, very fortunately indeed, it wasn’t all down to me.  Rather there was a mighty swoosh of dragonfly wings, and by mutual consent, we agreed to collective action and collective responsibility.  As will all such calls for action, we would commence with a planning meeting. We would do this in an evening so we could multi-task and segment bag an after 9.00 a.m run at the same time.  We were on fire, we would be invincible, we were so on this, see us visualise and so achieve our own glorious success.

Well, something like that.  It was nippy, but we did gather.  It was very jolly to meet up with fellow Dragonfly team mates, but it is just possible, that our gathering together led to an element of colluding with mutual inaction in relation to go out in the cold and dark to bag a segment for example, rather than motivating us to act.  The problem was partly due to our host’s extreme hospitality.  I mean answer honestly – which would you rather do, stay inside drinking tea and gorging on giant chocolate buttons or venture out in the icy darkness and try to find a golden segment.  I mean golden segment bagging is all well and good, but the novelty does wear off.  We Smilies may love to run, but we are also mortal. Well most of us, quite clearly the ultra runners and GB triathletes, Smiley founders and Smiley elders are all basically deities in human form, speaking personally though, I am definitely mortal.   It is my job to make others look fabulous by comparison, I undertake this task quite brilliantly, if I say so myself. I’m not sure if that is quite the strategy this motivational quote is advocating, but I say, just do what works for you and yours.

be somebody

So where was I?  Oh yes, at our planning meeting which was cold and where we were not very good at motivating one another to go out segment bagging, but extremely good at eating giant chocolate buttons instead.  That, and planning fancy dress, which to be fair is very distracting, particularly when there are so many genius ideas, individually and collectively to be explored.  Mermaid leggings are a boon are they not?  How have I lived my whole life through to this point, that’s over half a century of possibilities, and not known of even the existence of these splendid clothing options?  I say ‘lived’ my whole life, but until now I had no idea what I was missing out on, now I realise I have just been barely existing, hanging on to the edges of life, moving through hours, days, weeks and years as if living in black and white.  A two-dimensional twilight world where mermaid leggings had never appeared in my frame of reference. Yet here we were, gathered in a Sheffield home gazing in admiration at this amazon acquisition made by one of our number.  We were in awe!  These were game changers.  I was seeing in 3d for the first time.  Oh brave new world that has such wonders in it.

mermaid leggings

Granted, only a doll could actually fit into them, or a particularly skinny pre-pubescent child, but even so.  Having said that, it disturbs me somewhat that infinitesimally sized metallic leggings are described as ‘sexy’.  That feels very wrong suggesting that the writer of the strap line could look at an underweight child wearing cheap see-through metallic fish scaled tights and objectify them in such terms.  Still, ignoring that, and focusing instead on the self-serving ‘oh my gawd, they are completely brilliant, let;s all splash out and buy two pairs each and wrap them round stretched out coat hangers to make dragon-fly wings‘ they were potentially absolutely fabulous purchases.  This is what eBay and Amazon were made for!  Supplying consumer items you didn’t realise you wanted, but now you know they are out there, it’s not so much a ‘want’ any more, but an actual raw raging desire. Mermaid leggings are no longer trivial fluffy take-it-or-leave-it flotsam, they have transitioned into purchases that are essential not only for mental health, but for the very continuation of life.  If we do not acquire these in bulk, with immediate effect, we will not be able to breath…

Then again, I’ve still not given up on the plan for sparkly tights and reused plastic cups to make the abdomen as an alternative fancy dress option. We still have work to do. We are working towards excellence though, for sure.  Cling film and coat hangers are always a boon too, lots of potential there.

dragonfly fancy dress sorted

So as you can imagine, despite convening at the agreed hour, it took quite a while to excitedly exchange fancy dress ideas and eat our way through the assorted snacking options.  Ultimately though, we did have to turn our hive brain to the task in hand.   This alphabet run, what are we going to do to ‘make it so’?

I had no idea.  I was feeling quite negatively inclined towards it, I’d imagined it would require trial and error, go out and bagsy as many street names as you could within our local vicinity and then add in the missing street names to fill the gaps.  In the circumstances, it was extremely fortuitous that the success or otherwise of this task did not stand or fall by dint of my efforts.  Even more fortuitously, it seems we had at least one smart, funny, creative and logical thinker in our midst.  Turns out, rather than doing the whole trial and error thing until you lost the will to live, there is a better way!  Who knew?

All you have to do, is first located the street names that begin with letters t;hat occur really infrequently, like Z say, and then look for routes near that. This took us to Zion Street, in Attercliffe, which is the single road name within Sheffield that begins with Z.  Then it was a simple matter of picking off roads in the same postcode area by simply using the street names index in our A-Zs.  It took a while, but amazingly, we found pretty much all of them. There are no streets beginning with X, but we thought maybe a trip to the cemetery would help us bagsy a cross and that would do it.  Hurrah.  In the end (spoiler alert) when we actually went out and did our alphabet run for real, we plumped for a different genius option, but that was later this was now.

I was hampered in contributing in any meaningful way to  this exercise by poor eyesight, poor initiative and, despite having had the foresight to bring along a Sheffield A-Z with me to the meeting, I spent quite a bit longer inadvertently staring at completely the wrong page  than I could reasonable explain away as a deliberate attempt at self-deprecating humour.  Once exposed as being this clueless, I subsequently limited myself to nodding earnestly at other people’s suggestions, and thrusting my A-Z under the noses of other runners with more seeing eyes. Well, sometimes it’s in the interests of the greater good to accept your limitations and instead bolster the efforts of others with more appropriate skills sets for the tasks in hand.  This is what I like to tell myself anyway.  I’m still working towards identifying and unlocking my unique skills set.  I’m really hoping I’m a late developer, and I didn’t really peak when I made that very fine caterpillar out of egg boxes in nursery when I was about three.  It was a very good caterpillar though.  Shame it fell down the back of the old Victorian radiator it had been left on to dry, impossible to retrieve, and never again to see the light of day.  I wonder if it might still be there?  Maybe future generations will some day find it, and think it was deliberately preserved because it was such a delightful and precious artefact?  If that was the pinnacle of my achievements in life, it would be quite a comfort to think that might be so.

Ironic really, I thought dragonflies had really good eyesight.  Not me though.

the eyes have it

Astonishingly, once we were focused on the task and agreed strategy, we had a list of the entire alphabet (apart from the non eXistent X) nailed!  Hurrah!  Gawd we are an awesome team!  Here are some of our workings, in case the point scoring system for Smiletastic requires this in the event of a tie. You know, like in maths exams, where you get credit for how you approach the problem even if you decimal point is a few places out at the end.  I think that’s why CEOs of major companies like BHS or Carillion or Barings Bank  get mighty payoffs despite bankrupting their businesses and running off with pension funds as long as they are able to wave some paperwork showing they were honestly trying and not at all just asset stripping and lining their own pockets as quickly as possible before doing a runner.  How otherwise did they pass their audits?  Quite.

road list

So there was an initial warm glow of enthusiasm and relief that we had our target road names in our sights, and then there was the realisation this somehow had to be converted into a runnable route.  Uh oh.  That seemed impossible all over again….  honestly (yes, I’m sorry team, I should have had more faith in our collective wisdom) I’d expected some awkward shuffling about and people avoiding eye contact, fearful that the slightest twitch might imply we’d volunteered to take on the task.  However, in fact one of our number just stepped up, immediately, with a can-do attitude and superhero cape.  Amazing.  Smilies are extraordinary.  I’d give a bonus point for that myself.

And you know what, she did exactly that, harnessing the services of bespoke technology to communicate the route intentions to us all.  Fair genius all of this.  It’s like a parallel wonderland, I had no idea you could do this. ‘You’ being the operative word, I’m still not quite sure I could, but then again, I didn’t need to, that task had been effectively outsourced, and here is the result.  Amazing.  plotaroute attercliffe alphabet run

plot a route alphabet

There remained however just one teensy issue.  Ophidiophobia.  I know, easy to say.  The thing is, none of us knew at the point of route plotting (or if they did, they weren’t letting on)  but there is a snake shop along the way.  I find this hilarious, but I’m not in the ophidiophobic category, which in some ways is a shame as it’s the most brilliant word I’ve come across in ages and ages.    On the contrary, I do positively like snakes.  I have seen some amazing ones in my time, from adders in Northumberland to snakes in Africa.  I like warthogs more though. They are the best animals in the world.  FACT.

The shop in question has an unambiguous name, so generally should be easy to avoid. However, not it seems,  if you are doing a scheduled Smiletastic alphabet run, we would be running on by.  Never mind, we dragonflies would protect our ophidiophobic comrade.  You can’t say fairer than that.  We would help her to feel the fear and do it anyway.

the snake shop attercliffe

Afterwards she would feel invincible, we would share high fives, there would probably be a group hug and everything, it would be fine and dandy.  We are so awesome.  All of us.

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As an added boon, our run would start at a running shop. Accelerate being a good location to meet up.  Unfortunately, we were going to meet on a Sunday, so we’d have to satisfy our lust for running gear by salivating on the window pane as our noses pressed up against the windows of the closed shop front.  Never mind.  There will be other days and other opportunities to splash the cash at our running shop second home.

Best of all, in a fit of synchronicity, we had near unanimous agreement to undertake the run.  All for one and one for all – well near as dammit.  We’d set about this run in two turnouts on consecutive Sundays.  We might even get a whole team turn out.  Surely, if there was any justice in the world (which alas there isn’t, see reference to CEO payouts above) we’d get heaps and heaps of Smiletastic points.

This would be greater even than The Poem.  The Poem, penned by one of our very own, in tribute to the Hill of Doom Golden Segment run, which Smiley Elder herself decreed to be – and I quote:

one of the best ever poems connecting running the Hill of Doom and Valentines Day

and we all know there are a great many poems on exactly that theme, I myself have an old compendium lurking that gathers together the many words poured out on the topic.

generate

I’ve only got the paper back, not the leather bound, gold embossed collectors’ edition.  I’m sure there will be a rush to print a new edition now, as soon as word of this new verse gets out.  In the interim here is a sneak preview, copyright of the author of course.

Hill of Doom?
Valiant and virtuous, we step out in the night
Arms feeling chilly in the waning moonlight
Legs moving slowly, then gaining speed
Energy rising at the thought of our deed
Nothing can stop us as we pound up the hill
Time becomes trivial, just driven by will
Injured ones resting, weight off their toes
Nurture recovery, no worries or woes
Elated and joyful as the end becomes near
Sophie and I, yes, we’re full of good cheer

Dragonflies, effortless, passed darkened trees
Along flightpaths of grasshoppers, ladybirds, bees
You never know what you might see, it is said
Segment uploaded, now get home to bed!

As she’s a dragonfly to the core, I expect she’ll end up using this as her author photo, isn’t she fabulous people?  Fabulous and awesome.

dragonfly to the core

Oh hang on, have I gone off topic?  I’m so sorry, I really don’t think that’s ever happened before, I just thought you might be interested.  And the hill of doom is quite steep.  You know what, in for a penny, we are on a detour anyway, so why not go the whole hog and let you see the Strava, then you can enjoy an interactive poetry experience, go run it yourself, and recite the poem in the great outdoors once you get to the highest point.