running

Graves Junior parkrun’s first Birthday Bash – setting the standard for pop up parkrun partying

Digested read: it was Graves junior parkrun‘s first birthday this weekend.  Hurrah!  Fancy dress, cake and brilliant sunshine – what’s not to like.  A fine time was had by all. Apart from the llamas.  They weren’t too impressed.  Same time next year?  Be there.

apricot tee

It turns out llamas don’t like unicorns.  In my defence, I didn’t previously know this, otherwise I might have chosen a different companion animal to accompany me to Graves junior parkrun’s first birthday celebrations at the weekend, but some things you just don’t know about until you experience them for yourself.  In my defence, most reasonable people would surely agree that is quite niche knowledge, obscure even for winning pub quiz teams, and I will take on board their feedback at future events I promise.

So, let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start.  Sunday 19th November 2017 marked the first birthday of Graves junior parkrun, and their fiftieth run.  I am really hoping by know everyone in the whole world knows about junior parkrun, but just in case you don’t, junior parkrun is basically spin-off from the original 5k parkrun phenomenon, which has now evolved as a force to be reckoned with in its own right.  The website blah de blah describes it thus:

junior parkrun is a series of 2k runs for children aged between 4 and 14. They are held in areas of open space around the UK. They are open to all, free, and are safe and easy to take part in. If you are not a junior please come along to one of our weekly Saturday parkrun events instead.

Registered parkrunners do not need to register separately for the junior events. However, if you are not already registered with parkrun you can do so here.

So that’s good.  It even has its own junior parkrun code. This however needs a bit more work because it doesn’t pay nearly enough attention to either the desirability of fancy dress nor the extreme abundance of hilarity at these events, and the superior cake concoctions sported by them at anniversary celebrations say.  Perhaps it is to maintain the element of joyous surprise for those new to the fold?  Who knows.

junior parkrun code

Personally, I originally got involved as a volunteer to ‘give something back’ to parkrun as I enjoy the Saturday 5k events, but the phenomenon we know and love isn’t sustainable unless runners step up and volunteer from time to time.   Getting involved in a new, local junior parkrun seemed to me a great way to salve my conscience and volunteer without forfeiting my Saturday run.  However, now I no longer give a toss about ‘giving back to anything’ I volunteer because it is a weekly fix of joyfulness that acts as an antidote to any stress or unjoyfulness which you might currently be experiencing.  Thus, my volunteering is shallow self-interest with the collateral benefit of chalking up some marshaling credits along the way.  There is no martyrdom required to sign up to volunteer at junior parkrun, more an unseemly scrabble to nab a spot so as not to miss the boat – though to be fair, ‘my’ junior parkrun never turns a volunteer away.  It’s the perfect start to any Sunday I promise.  Nothing is more hilarity inducing than an hour or so at junior parkrun, guaranteed – or your money back!*

Anyways, if there is one thing more fun than a Sunday morning at junior parkrun, it is a Sunday morning at junior parkrun on the occasion of their birthday celebrations!  Specifically, last Sunday was Graves junior parkrun’s first anniversary.   What a year it’s been.  Although I’ve not been involved from the outset, I’ve been turning up for long enough to see it grow and flourish.  A birthday party was bound to be a lot of fun. Really, a LOT.a

Naturally, there was much excitement at the prospect. Anticipation grew as the event date grew closer.  Cake was promised. Fancy dress too!  Strictly speaking, the fancy dress was optional, but in my world that’s ‘optional’ as in, ‘well you don’t have to, but I’ll be so grief-stricken and disappointed if you don’t make some sort of effort a little part of my heart will wilt and die forever‘ which translates as ‘really it is‘.  So just to be absolutely clear, whilst the fancy dress was strictly speaking not compulsory, in my world it was.  Hurrah!

The night before the run, when a reminder post went up on Facebook, eager marshals responded with enthusiastic use of emoticons and gifs by way of expressing excitement.  That was so much fun, the build up was almost (only almost) as good as the celebration itself.  We were reminded again of the promise of cake and encouraged to don fancy dress.  The photo chosen as an ideas generator has some slightly startling components, but I’m confident most people would have got the idea.

fancy dress run

I responded with, I felt, some lateral-thinking genius using a rainbow unicorn gif (thank you Facebook) as a subliminal clue as to my fancy dress intentions for the morning.  Not the most subtle of responses, but then again, perhaps not everyone is familiar with the importance of semiotics in everyday life.  Will my use of imagery be seen and understood I pondered, as I wondered if anyone had correctly interpreted this. However, the next person who did likewise put a shark gif up, which briefly raised my  hopes before I forlornly lapsed into disillusion as a quick reality check indicated that clearly such a costume would be impossible.  Unicorns may be thought to be fictitious creatures, but there are loads on the Round Sheffield Run, skipping along the arches of the rainbows that line the whole route – sharks on the other hand, well, they are marine creatures, and wouldn’t do well out of the water surely.  Oh well.  I’m sure someone will be donning fancy dress, surely not only me…

Nice gifs though..

Sorry I am too much of a cheap skate to get you a paid package that will enable the shark gif to be seen in all its glory, but you could always follow the link here and be amazed…

I barely slept on Saturday night I was so exciting.  I imagine it would be like trying to get to sleep on Christmas eve if I lived in a parallel universe where I joyfully looked forward to Christmas Day.

At last, the morning dawned.  Cold, very cold, but bright sunshine.  I wore a ridiculous amount of clothes, but needs must, and after eyeing her for a bit and wondering if her eyes were maybe just a bit sinister, I squashed my new companion animal into the car and away I went.  This was to be my unicorn’s first outing in public.  Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but I acquired her ages ago as a possible marathon running buddy.  However, even I have to concede, that whilst she may have many desirable qualities, suitability as a running outfit does not appear to be one of them.  She went back into her bag, and until now, there hasn’t seemed to be the right time to take her out and about. Graves junior parkrun birthday bash though – what could be more perfect!

DSCF0197

Hmm, I’m still not quite sure about the eyes….

Despite my apparent bravado, on arrival at Graves park  I was relieved to see the RDs out and about in fancy dress along with their child labourer assistants.  It set the mood.  Even so, I decided to have my pre-event pee sans unicorn as don’t think this magical ethereal creature particularly needed to see the interior of the Graves park municipal toilets.  Also, I have a feeling unicorns poo glitter, and I don’t want to encourage that in case it ends up in the sea. I left her in the custody of a conveniently located Pippi Longstocking, who took her unicorn chaperoning responsibilities very seriously, carefully standing over her and stroking her mane.  When I returned, she asked what the unicorn was called.  I had to admit she didn’t yet have a name, so I asked what would be a good choice. ‘Sophie‘ apparently. When I asked why that name, it was explained ‘because Sophie is a very good name for a unicorn‘.  You can’t argue with logic like that.   Thanks Pippi!

unicorn guardian

I felt much happier once Sophie was so named, we partnered up and headed off to set off the course.  It was good fun.  Even at 8.00 a.m. in the morning fancy dress can bring joy.  As I ambled down the path I came across a little crocodile of beavers all with hi-vis jackets and toggled scarves round their necks. It seems they had come en masse to take part in the Birthday celebrations.  How splendid is that.  They were really excited, and so pleased to meet my unicorn too.  This was getting off to a grand start!

 

I can’t lie though, Sophie and I didn’t meet with universal approval as we did our walk round.  As I was wrestling with the twisted plastic string that we laughingly refer to as ‘tape’ to cordon off the lake area, a very unimpressed labrador approached me with real hostility, much to the embarrassment of its owner.  I’m sure the dog wasn’t inclined to animosity in general, but it was mightily suspicious of Sophie.  It was actually quite funny, like I’d been caught out by the fashion police for some massive infringement of rules regarding what one might legitimately wear in public. This hound was NOT pleased.

The next hostile encounter was with one of the llamas.  I love llamas, alpacas too, but I have a particular soft spot for the llamas. They always look slightly horrified by human activities, and definitely give off an air of some considerable disdain even when they are really just having a good look.  However, I realised quite quickly that one that looked up from eating as I approached, and then came over to the fence to have a good stare was actually outraged by our audacity in being in the vicinity of her pen.   I started to approach to see what might happen, but got scared away but the head being drawn back and some noticeable pouting.  I decided not to stick around to be spat at – though weirdly, and just between you and me, I was quite chuffed to have got such a strong reaction.   Sophie was certainly making a stir, even if not meeting with universally uncritical acclaim!  Whilst I most definitely did not set out to alarm a llama, I was pleased to have learnt this new thing about them. Llamas do not like unicorns. Who know?  Or maybe they just didn’t like this one.  I didn’t hang around to enquire further…

alarming a llama

We carried on without much further incident.  The pig didn’t care.  It takes more than a unicorn to put this one off its stride.

By the time I got back to the starting area, loads of people had started to gather, and there was a really good vibe, lots of smileys started to appear with offspring in fabulous fancy dress or at the very least fine fettle, and you have to appreciate a Smiley.  Here’s one, with their (self-described) matching rainbow puke tops.  The thing is, I honestly don’t even think that descriptor is derogatory, just factually accurate.  If you were to ingest a rainbow and then regurgitate it, I’m positive this is exactly the effect that would be achieved. That may even be what they do as part of the manufacturing process to achieve this stylish finish.  I might google it later and see what I can find out…

rainbow puke styling.jpg

Anyway, they were pleased to see Sophie, and encouraging about her debut appearance at this auspicious sporting occasion:

Sophie funtimes

So it seems that although I’d been a bit worried she might seem a bit sinister, in fact nope, Sophie was a big hit.  Despite the placid looking labrador growling at me during set up, and a llama building up to spit at her, reactions were mostly good.  One child actually said to me (true story) and what’s more spontaneously and without any accompanying adult – ‘I just want to say to you that you are amazing because you have come to parkrun with an actual unicorn’.  Maybe I should go everywhere with a unicorn in future.  Whilst I may have little or no intrinsic merit, perhaps I can work round this to some extent by milking the glory by association angle of proximity to a unicorn. It is more achievable than having a personal daemon a la His Dark Materials, which is surely the apex of companion animaldomness.

Pleasingly, Sophie wasn’t even th only unicorn present.  We sort of found each other out, like the fellow ethereal creatures we were.  The other unicorn was on cake duty.  A very important job.

unicorns find one another

Over time more and more marshals appeared, many in fine fancy dress formations, some quality effort went into outfits for the occasion.   Frankly, I think the adults were just as immersed in the joys of fancy dress as their junior charges… self-evidently more so in many cases!  See if you can spot the family resemblance between some of those attending.

even better, amongst the arrival of the great and good was

wait for it….

A shark!

I couldn’t have been more delighted if a bare-chested Paul Sinton-Hewitt himself had rocked up astride a real unicorn of his own! (You know, like Putin is prone to doing, charging around on horseback, only marginally less ludicrous).

shark attack

More accurately, a man being eaten by a shark.  Hurrah.  He should have just swum faster (a fact he himself acknowledged whilst leading the warm up).  Great costume, though just to be clear, sharks are more at risk from us than we from them many are critically endangered, in fact.  Little known one.  Did you know the writer of jaws has dedicated much of his life trying to restore the reputation of sharks in the wake of his book/ film?

 

It was great, such a fab turn out.  Most regular volunteers had turned out, along with the core run director team, and as for the juniors, they rocked up in great, joyous hoards.   A record attendance indeed.  Fab.U.Lous!

Another happy surprise was spotting Regal Smiley and family en masse.  This was despite her having done a pre-dawn run earlier.  I’m not proud to admit that when I’d seen her post her intention to go and run 10,000 miles and then run 10,000 more at 6.30 in the morning with a fellow Smiley buddy DESPITE having previously given me her personal assurance that she’d not miss the Graves junior birthday bash for the world, I thought dark resentful thoughts.  Anticipating being stood up, my first instinct was to indulge my passive aggressive tendencies with a carefully crafted Facebook message along the lines of ‘hope you have a lovely run I’m sure it will be charming and just as much fun as a birthday party and well worth standing up your so-called friends/Smiley compatriots for and you won’t be (made to) regret your choice for all eternity at all.’  Mercifully, lack of internet access rather than self-control prevented me from commenting.  She only did BOTH the early morning run AND made it to the party.  Impressive. Thank goodness she’ll never get to know about my shallow bitterly judgemental assumptions, I couldn’t bear for them to end up in the public domain!  That was a near miss indeed and no mistake!

Regal Smiley

Mingling was fun, so many awesome people to meet and greet! Bullseye too!  Love Bullseye.   Love junior parkrun!

It was a busy morning, as I still had to go and check out the under the gazebo action.

Oh.  My. God

Best cake ever.  It comprised a model of graves park, including such details as the lakes (granted, not easy to miss) and not only some of the animals from the park, but also an aerial view of the finish funnel, complete with the Graves junior parkrun idiosyncracies of arrow shaped entrance (keeps adults from crowding the finish) Genius.  Also, HUGE.  Be amazed dear reader, be amazed.

happy birthday cake

After much mandatory milling about, eventually we were mustered to gather together for the pre-event briefing

The briefing was noisy – partly due to extra numbers, including a lot of first timers but also noisy due to general excitement levels. Super heroes whizzed among us, and tutus bobbed up and down and donkies mingled with Frankenstein’s monster.  It was fun. Fancy dress is always fun. Don’t let anyone ever persuade you otherwise.  There was much thanks to milestone volunteers and celebration of juniors reaching their marathon and half-marathon wrist band goals.  All good, much cheering and clapping.

There was indeed a record turn out of runners and volunteers, which helped fuel a great party atmosphere.  To be fair, there always is a great atmosphere at junior parkrun, but this was a high even higher than usual, I promise!

There was even a game and enthusiastic rendition of ‘Happy Birthday‘ though I have to be honest, there may have been a slight scanning issue with the ‘happy birthday dear…. graves juuuuuuuuuuu-nior’ versus ‘dear graves junior parkrun’ which was a bit of a mouthful, but all very much in the spirit of self-conscious communal singing I feel.  It would hardly have been a birthday party without all of that.

Then, quick about turn, and everyone was soon into position and whisked up into a frenzy of physical activity for the mandatory group warm up… The warm up was possibly the best ever, not only for the inherent hilarity of watching a person being eaten by a shark lead it, but for surprise addition of a music tape accompaniment AND the inclusion of a freestyle dancing section. Genius.  Also, lest we forget, the old ones are indeed always the best, so good when we did our ‘bottom kicking’ exercise, squeezed between the fast feet and the high knees, it was grand to be reminded that you were only allowed to kick your own bottom for the purposes of this exercise, however great the temptation to go off piste…  Some tellers just own their material – no-one else could ever do it justice!  All engaged with gusto, a warm up just as warm ups should be!

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From here, a count down, and then a mass migration to the start line.  Anyone else got the herding cats knack?  Just wondering…

start line

Lined up for off, human cones angles taking on a new level of interest with fancy dress options in hi-vis in abundance, but it didn’t really make us any more effective as a funnel the excited young runners ignoring us as much as always.

human cones start line

The official photographer for the day showed new levels of courage to the point of recklessness standing in the path of the runners as the shout went up to off.  I mean, photographers take their lives in their hands doing it at senior parkruns across the land, but my experience of marshaling suggests adults will on the whole take evasive action if meeting an obstacle such as a paparazzi in hi-vis.  No such instinctive avoidance reaction appears to kick in at junior events.  Those juniors will crash into anything.  The frissance of danger as you stand in formation to create a human shield lining the start funnel of junior parkrun only adds to the sense of occassion. I’m sure that adrenalin rush contributes to the post junior parkrun euphoria most marshals seem to experience as they skip away at the end of our near death experience of a Sunday morning.  I’ve survived that, I can survive anything, I am invincible!  (It fades quite quickly to be fair, but it’s fun while it lasts!)

He may or may not have been trampled, only if photos appear covering the period after the immediate start appear will I know if he survived. Still, if not, I daresay it’s what he would have wanted.  Isn’t that what you are supposed to say in such situations?  I think so. I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted to put a damper on things on our birthday after all. (Spoiler alert, he made it.  Phew.  Great shots too, thanks Dougal pics🙂 )

Finally they were off, at a fair old sprint. They were even nippier than usual, no doubt hurried on their way by the prospect of cake in abundance at the end.

As they sped off, I got my job allocation for the morning. Bar code scriber.  At this particular junior parkrun we write down the names and barcode numbers of any juniors who have brought along non-scanning barcodes, but also if someone doesn’t have a barcode with them we note the finish token number and record it as a no barcode/ unknown runner,  as this helps with processing the results.  Without wishing to go all Donald Rumsfeld on you, basically if the RD has an idea of the known unknowns there is less angst about missing places.  Apparently.

 

I love cheering round  the juniors, but it was quite challenging this week what with there being so many of them. When people have made an effort with fancy dress I always try to give them a personalised cheer ‘keep going wonder woman’ or ‘great effort donkey’ or whatever, but it was hard to keep up with so many glorious costumes resplendent in the sun.  Top effort from everyone, lots of smiles today.  Hurrah!

As the juniors strutted their funky stuff, whether or not trailing breathless adults in their wake, volunteer marshals moved into formation.  Impressive eh?

volunteers ready

The park looked magical, almost too bright.  The event seemed to go really quickly.

There seemed to be lots of unknowns – this was a shame, particularly as many of those were first timers, especially the beavers, who had come en masse but not necessarily registered.  To be fair, I was disappointed on their behalf, but none of them seemed especially bothered, then again cake is a great comforter in such circumstances, and there was indeed plenty of cake!

I can report the day had a record turn out of 188 junior participants.  Pretty fine eh?  Had the field exceeded 240 then the finish tokens would have run out although there was an emergency plan that could kick in! That would involve the scanners starting to handwrite the details of the final finishers. We were spared that today, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before that threshold is indeed crossed.  An exciting prospect, and it would be grand to share the joy even more widely.

The run/ walk/ jog concluded by all, as always, the course disassembled as if by magic.  Never was there a better manifestation of the principle that many hands make light work.  Struck in and instant.

There followed a bit more lingering than usual, enticed by cake which tasted even better than it looked.  I reckon the star baker must have been working on it the whole year, but apparently not, although it did take best part of a long, long day to concoct the extraordinary confectionary creation.

I met some beavers again, on the conclusion of their run. They were so excited, and all full of what they done and they’d clearly had a lovely time taking part, though some of the bounciness could possibly have been attributed to massive sugar highs I suppose. One wanted met to guess where he’d come ‘sixty-second’ I hazarded.  Aiming for mid-field not wanting him to feel deflated if I was too far out.   Wrong.  In fact he was first, but out of the beavers.  He seemed to have memorised where every one of them had come in relation to one another which was pretty spectacular to be fair!  I congratulated him because that is indeed great, but it’s also great to participate wherever you come in the line up I reminded him.  He didn’t believe me.  Fair enough, you have to respect everyone’s right to participate in their own way.  I might seek but to complete events, he was clearly out to compete!

As people started to disperse, a random dog appeared and kept sneaking cake bits from table.  A few minutes later a mortified owner rushed over apologetically, explaining he will always beeline for a gazebo associating them with food from camping trips. As she explained this the dog espied a jolly hat and set about savaging it and galloping away with it being ripped about in its jaws. It was too funny to mind about, reminiscent of the infamous Fenton/ Benton ill-disciplined dog in Richmond park video for them as you as can recall that epic viral display of dog-owning mortification.  Order was restored eventually, but not sure the hat made it, hope Santa has a spare.  If not, no worries, there’s probably still time for his elves to rustle up a new one.  Just as well!

happy dog

It was all good-humoured, and I think it’s fair to say a grand and glorious time was had by all.  However, all good things, and eventually party-goers and parkrunners alike dispersed our different ways. However, Graves Junior parkrun had indeed offered up a fine morning of celebrations.  We couldn’t have asked for more. Even the weather gods were kind to us.  What a great climax to an awesome parkrun year!

And so we all vanished again, into the wintry mist.  Job done.

Happy Birthday to us!

More proof, if proof were needed of how the parkrun spirit extends to celebrating in style.  Graves junior parkrun’s birthday bash was executed with considerable aplomb.  That’s the fiftieth run. parkrun/walk/jog/marshalers are good at pop up parties it seems.  If further evidence is needed, check out this Red Arrow display on the occasion of a Bushy parkrun runners 500th run, that’s pretty impressive as a way to mark the acquisition of a milestone tee…

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even so, I feel confident Graves Junior parkrun has done a fine job of flaunting its partying potential, Red Arrows are impressive certainly, but Graves has more llamas, and unicorns too apparently, so we can respect and rejoice in the right of each parkrun to celebrate their own milestones in their own ways.  Agreed?

Good oh.  So now just party on and let us eat cake!

Nom nom nom nom nom.

So, same again same time, same place next year?  Also every Sunday in-between.  Just so you don’t miss out!  See you there.  🙂

 

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

*did I mention that all parkrun events are free to participate in, just #dfyb don’t forget to bring along your printed barcode if you’d like to know your time.

 

 

 

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Making my explosive Cross Country debut with TNT. XCSYCAA Go me. :)

Digested read:  My first time XC, an adventure.  Bit intimidating initially, but you know what, it was more fun than not. Definitely would recommend.  There is always prosecco and cake if you choose your running club carefully.  Both harder and not harder than expected, but you wont lose any internal organs if my experience is anything to go by. Stay safe people. Also, happy halloween.cross country

I’m pretty sure that in life the accepted wisdom is that you should try everything once except Morris dancing and incest.  I’ve tried Morris dancing, and it wasn’t too bad to be fair, quite a laugh even, so on the whole I do try to say ‘yes’ to new opportunities.  I then spend the intervening time between agreement and surrendering to whatever experience it is wrestling with inner angst and trepidation.  Mostly, even if things are type two rather than type one fun i.e. fun retrospectively rather than at the time, worst case scenario is usually ‘I’m not sure I enjoyed myself but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it.’   Give these universal truths, it was pretty much inevitable that once I was talent-spotted and the call came to join the throng at TNT to give XC a whirl I was always going to  be so flattered and taken aback I’d be bound to accidentally accept.

I say talent spotted, but in truth, ballast spotted might be more accurate. The thing is, and it’s taken a while for me to grasp how these things work, cross-country depends on team turn out as much as talent.  Yes, yes, quality is desirable at the upper echelons of the running game, but there is also a desire for simple quantity.  If you can drag enough of your team out on the day, there will be points to be had, and what do points mean? Erm, honestly, I’m not exactly sure what points mean, never having previously acquired any for anything, but they are a good thing apparently.

To take part in cross-country or XC as we athletes refer to it, you need to be part of an affiliated running club.  Whilst of course Smiley Paces is my original and first call running club – we have shared experiences now that leave us intertwined for all eternity, Smilies are not an affiliated club.  To dip my toe in the waters – or more accurately muddied fields – of XC, I’d need to join a club that is affiliated. This feels like quite a grown up thing to do, running wise.  Even so, when Dr Smiley mentioned getting up a team with her triathlete buddies I was in a naively misguided ‘what’s the worst that could happen‘ sort of place, and so pretty much immediately said, ‘yep’.  I’d be in.  It sounded a laugh, which is my main criteria for doing new things. You get to scamper about across muddy fields in a slightly anarchic way.  The more the merrier, a bit like British Bulldog really, if I’d grasped it OK, and that was always a laugh until it got banned from the school playground for being too dangerous and we had to rebrand it as ‘sheep, sheep come home’ instead.  (True story).  I might not be able to contribute much in terms of quality, but I could certainly assist with quantity.  What could be more affirming than getting a point for your team pretty much just for turning up. Yay! This is my kind of sporting endeavour.

I had a slight wobble when it dawned on me that the TNT group are actually known more correctly as Racing TNT Triathlon Team.  Slightly daunting, but hey ho, I’d signed up by then.  As long as the requirements to ‘race’ and take part in actual triathlons remained optional, it would probably be doable.  …  I put such fears to the back of my mind.  I paid my membership, I got my England Athletics card in the post, which I think automatically endows the holder with athletic prowess if I’ve understood correctly, and wrote down the dates in my diary.  Of even more critical importance, I negotiated for the loan of a large-sized running vest.  No squelching into a children’s small size black and tan one on the day for me.  I practically felt like a sponsored athlete.  No-one has ever approached me to join a sporting team before, I was more often than not the one chosen last for the school netball team – an experience which has left me scarred, yet here I was, being scouted out and approached, invited to join others in a collective expression of sporting excellence.  I was born to do this.  My time had finally come!  I would be invincible.  It will be fine.  Competitive triathlons has probably been my spiritual home all along, doing XC will be just the beginning…

racing TNT triathlon team

It will be fine… well that was what I was thinking ages and ages again when I wasn’t going to have to do any actual running until some vague distant point in the future.  However, as the day of my debut XC run drew ever closer I was a bit worried. The unlikely issue was I hadn’t been doing very much running at all in the interim, most recently I’ve not run for a whole week, since I picked up a sporting injury at last weekend’s Sheffield Way Relay recce.  I fully appreciate this sounds unlikely, and it might even be funny if it weren’t so debilitating.  It’s a chafing one.  Chuffing chafing injuries. Specifically, a bra related chafing injury.  As if this wasn’t humiliating enough, the initial squirm inducing chafing was exacerbated to an unbelievable degree by my subsequent liberal application of sudocrem to the affected areas.  I’ve used this product for years with no problem at all, but inexplicably I got a really severe and extensive allergic reaction to the darned stuff this time round.  Acres of skin on my not insignificantly sized midriff erupted in blister like protestations that made me look like I’d been a burn victim.   I’m not even exaggerating.  I briefly wondered if I’d got or would get sepsis.   Astonishing really, and not compatible with clothes wearing in general and sports bra wearing in particular, which made me limit forays out and about as far as possible.  I did dress for these excursions by the way, just to be clear, but basically lived in the dark all week, moving in the shadows of my flat, and very definitely not doing any running at all.  I did make a brief foray to the chemist’s (twice) for supplies and advice, but basically spent the week sitting it out.  By the time the morning of the event dawned I seemed to be much better, though I am increasingly thinking a purchase for anti-chafing balms may be on the horizon despite all my previous protestations that they can’t possibly be worth the money.  I never want to undergo that degree of pain again.

So, the morning dawned, my sports bra was again donned with only minor wincing, and I would be there.  XCs was to be my new adventure for the weekend.  I had to miss volunteering at Graves Junior parkrun in order to attend so there was some pressure for it to be fun. But nothing ventured  as the saying goes…

Sporting injuries aside, I was all set.. until I crashed shin-first into a random heavy wooden box I’d left in the hallway of my flat, on the very morning of the big race. It blooming hurt, ripping the skin and creating a not-insignificant blood flow and what’s worse, it was all my fault as I’d left it there deliberately. I’d been trying to flatten out a rug I’d misguidedly tried to wash in the washing machine and which came out all bumpy, misshapen and semi-shrunk. ‘That’s an ill-advised trip hazard that needs flattening out’ I thought to myself, eyeing  it critically as it lay wrinkled and dangerous in situ in my hall.  I therefore took some care to  responsibly load it up with heavy objects in order to try to  squash said wrinkles out of it. What could possibly go wrong?  ‘I’ll just leap across the top of this major obstacle to my passing that obstructs the entire hallway, it will be good practise for the cross-country course tomorrow.’ I thought, as I headed to bed on Saturday night.  Best laid plans eh,..  I am aware of the irony of tripping over my defence strategy that was intended to prevent future trips. The humiliation is significant, so too is the pain, but worst of all, my newly washed rug now has blood on it.  I think I’ll leave it.  It will bring character to my soft furnishings, always a boon.  I was going to upload a photo of the injury, but the picture doesn’t do it justice.  Maybe I will in a couple of days time when the bruising has come out, meantime you’ll just have to imagine it as best you can for yourself.

So XC.  My weather test of sticking my arm out of my attic window suggested a decidedly nippy day was in prospect.  Good oh, I could wear my long-sleeved top and hoik the TNT vest over the top.  I headed out for my rendezvous and was swept up by a Smiley elder, who was also doing her XC debut with TNT last Sunday (though in fairness, that is where our similarities end, as  I think when she was scouted it was for quality not quantity to tell the truth, oh well, kindred spirits all the same). We then scooped up Dr Smiley who was the brains and recruitment sergeant of operations, as well as being in possession of the official TNT pop up tent (with instructions), so pretty important to have along on the day.  We headed off to Kimberworth (near Tinsley apparently, but who was listening to anyone protesting that navigational hint).

Strictly speaking, this was the second fixture of the South Yorkshire County Athletics XC season, and XC League Fixture 2, Winter hill, Kimberworth.  I couldn’t do the first on account of it being the Smiley Lakes Dirty Double trip, so my debut.  Hurrah!  En route, as we discussed the format of the day, I started to realise a bit belatedly I possibly should have given this XC malarkey a bit more planning.  I’d taken on board the mud potential, and not wanting to splash out on new shoes for spikes was going with my new favourite off-road shoes which are the Irock, and that was that.

favourite shoes irock

En route I learned that there would be multiple laps, that there would be loads of clubs, there were even different races.  It was sounding increasingly like the living hell I remember without affection as a school sports day.  ‘Didn’t you ever do cross-country at school?’  Erm, ‘nope.’  No fields surrounded my schools where I was growing up, also I put quite a lot of effort into skipping games  – more because of communal showers than anything else!  I looked at my two traveling companions with new objectivity. Hang on a minute, I’m in a car with two of the most elite Smiley runners I know, sponsored athletes, GB representatives, FGRs indeed.  How did this happen? What if the ballast requirement whilst true in and of itself, wasn’t sufficiently well used by other teams.  Would I find myself hobbling in some hours after everyone else had packed up and gone home, having only set off their most gazelle like runners as the gun went off.  Eek.

With only minor directional squabbling, we made it to the venue, and as we were early, managed to get a space in the school car park – though not before doing some impressive kerb crawling up a back lane and a nifty bit-more-than-a-three-point-turn to get out of it again.  Incidentally, and pleasingly, as you turn into the entrance to the fields and school, you pass a pub called The Colin.  This is officially the best named pub ever, not only because I say so, but also because this is a self-evident truth.  No fake news here.

The Colin

Parked up, stuff was removed from the car, including considerable provisions and the collapsible tent (note to self, bring communal provisions next time) and headed to the playing fields.  I lagged behind, my inner apprehension manifesting itself in physical form. For the record, I did offer to help carry, but was declined.  Instead I documented the labour of others, a worthy activity in and of itself I’m sure you’ll agree.

to the field

We turned the corner and the XC race HQ came into view.

Oh.  My.  Gawd.

This I had not expected!  The field was set up with an array of colourful tents and flags as each XC team had laid claim to some bit of territory. It was like a scene from a film portraying a tournament camp for gladiators, jousting or Quidditch or something.  I would have said Glastonbury, but it was a bit less muddy and more clean-cut than that.  Also, there were proper loos you could use in the sports hall, in case you are worrying about me and my need for my precautionary pee.  Some clubs were taking their emblematic presence more seriously than others.  I wasn’t sure the shield wall was entirely in keeping with the spirit of the occasion, but it doesn’t appear to be explicitly disallowed in the rules as far as I could tell.  Well, I presume not, as I gather XC is quite traditional in relation to rule book observance, so it wouldn’t otherwise have gone unchallenged.

Energetic young people were sprinting about doing elaborate warm ups.  No doubt within some of the more lavish tents, favoured athletes were being oiled and massaged by minions to ensure they’d arrive at the starting lines primed and ready to go like well oiled springs.  I stood blinking into the sun, aware of my stomach spontaneously somersaulting within….

Our tent was erected with an expert flick of the wrist by Dr Smiley, and adorned with the TNT flag.

Size isn’t everything just so you know.

size isnt everything (2)

Then it was down to business.  Running vests were provided – I’m just loaning one for now, mercifully I got first dabs and appropriated the only large one. There were two others, but they were sample sizes for display only on doll-size models as far as I could tell.  Altruism is all very commendable and everything, but I’d defy anyone to wrestle the large running vest off me. Suitably attired, it was then time for pre run drinks!  A rich red port all round to get us in the mood.  Well, Dr Smiley said it was beetroot juice, but I’m not sure.

in the XC spirit

It was a very, very beetrooty red wine to be fair, but I’m normally more of a white wine drinker myself, so not too sure what ‘normal’ port would taste like.  Anyways, now I had some dutch courage sloshing within, I went for an explore to calm my nerves.  I didn’t yet have my race number (you get allocated one to keep for the whole season), so went naked amongst the throng.

I nervously sashayed by the various other athletic teams affecting confident nonchalance.  Given my lack of a number, I was half expecting some at least of them to try to poach me for their own clubs, but astonishingly none did. They probably just knew instinctively I would be out of their league and didn’t want the embarrassment of refusal.  It’s true one club member did say to me  ‘what are you doing here?’ but I’m sure they just momentarily misspoke and weren’t incredulous at my presence at all.  Once I got over the initial terror of being surrounded by ‘proper’ athletes, in what was quite clearly a competitive set up and therefore way out of my usual comfort zone, it was quite fun seeing various runners pop up with unexpected affiliations. There’s so and so from Dark Peak – wearing a Sheffield Tri top.  Ooh, look at that frontrunner in a Totley top, get that parkrunner flaunting a Hallamshire Harrier vest and so on.  It was like all these runners have a parallel existence.  I suppose to be fair I did too. It was my first outing in a non-smiley vest.  It felt somewhat alien.  I said hello to a few people and all seemed friendly enough. Phew.

well hello

I sauntered over to the start to look at the course, which was bothering me a bit as it was apparently multiple laps, and I couldn’t fathom any obvious signage other than a big flag at the start.  There was a map it’s true, but it didn’t massively instil confidence:

 

 

I went to watch the junior women’s race.  This was for me the low point of the day. They all looked super focused, really competitive, lining up, bright-eyed, lean and hungry for the race.  It would be a race. The marshal gave some sort of briefing I couldn’t really hear, then there was an actual starting gun, and they took off, elbows out and jostling for position. This was a serious business.  No fancy dress here.  They looked amazing in their club vests, but they also looked like the kind of young women who would have massively intimidated me at school.  It was impressive.  The race started down hill so they hurtled off, not a slow runner in sight.  This did not strike me as an altogether ballast friendly undertaking, whatever the recruitment rhetoric might have implied at the time…

I made my way back to the safety of my TNT team mates.  Pleasingly, our numbers had swelled a little in my absence, although my number had yet to appear, some familiar faces had.  My new best friend from the Dig Deep 12.12 and my TNT buddy I’d met at the TenTenTen, who’d let me peer down her top for sizing purposes, phew. There were allies here.

One of the peculiarities (for me) of cross-country, is that there are multiple races taking place on the day. Different categories run at different times, that’s possibly what gives a bit of a school sports day feel to proceedings.  On reflection, I think the junior races probably attract a more self-selecting group of already sporty youngsters.  For the adult events, whilst it is true there were some formidable runners, there was also a scattering of what I would regard as the have a go participants, in which I include myself.

Somewhat bizarrely, there were different length courses not just by age, but for men and women.  The details were all on the cross country section of the South Yorkshire County Athletics Association website.  Hang on though, I’ll see if I can get a pic of some of the details just so you can share my confusion:

xc race kimberworth oct 2017

There you go.  So the men had to run three laps and just over 9000 metres, the women only just 6200 metres or thereabouts, and two laps.  I think this must be for our own protection in case our wombs fall out that was part of the problem for the legend that is Kathrine Switzer when she was wanting to run a marathon.  I wonder if the XC rule makers think women’s uteruses will fly out if they travel by train as well?   This fixture was safe as there was no railway station at the venue, but I suppose it is worth considering if future events are located at train terminuses, you’d have to do a proper risk assessment then.  Personally I worry more about sexual harassment on public transport than losing my womb when traveling at speed, but then I’m past child-bearing age so could manage without so can perhaps afford to be blasé about such risks.

Having scooped up other runners, we went again to look at the map, this time equipped with someone who knew how to make sense of the route.  I was still quite confused, there seemed to be lots of looping about, like the old Spirograph sets I so coveted in my youth, only more complex and less symmetrical.  I  wasn’t much the wiser, but I was reassured by my more experienced runners protestations that the course was well-marked and well marshalled.  That’s OK then.

now it makes sense

BAck at base camp, other TNTers had assembled, and pleasingly (I think) my number had materialised too.  Here it is, and here I am wearing it!

We even organised ourselves sufficiently for a team women’s photo, hurrah!

Team TNT XC Oct 2017

After this faffing, I discovered our race was at noon, not 12.30 as I’d thought, so I went off to the start line.  I was too hot, for the record, I should have just worn a T-shirt under my vest, but I hadn’t expected the glorious sunshine.  I lurked nervously at the back of the line up. The starter shouted out some vague instructions.  My favourite of which was the earnest direct to keep that side for this part and that side for the other. As none but the front row of runners could hear him, this seemed something of a triumph of hope over experience.  I was just hoping I’d stay in sight of the faster runners so could just literally as well as metaphorically follow their lead.

Then ‘suddenly’ there was an actual gun shot (not actual live bullets as far as I could tell,  but a starting pistol) which made me jump and then we were off!  The women started with the veteran 65+ men.  I was right at the back of the field as we stampeded off downhill.  Immediately, apart from the shock of being expected to run, which always astonishes me at running events – I felt reassured.  Unlike the junior women earlier on, this was a bit more sedate. There was quite a longish crocodile of runners, and a slightly narrow start and sharp left turn meant it was a bit congested.  It felt manageable. Watching the colourful snake of runners ahead it honestly reminded me a bit of a parkrun, albeit one on a trail. Without a doubt at the front of the field people were really pushing themselves, but at the back it was more collaborative than competitive with friendly smiles and words of encouragement.

We headed off across a field basically.  In previous years Dr Smiley has run this whole course with just one shoe. Not because  she didn’t allow enough time to get dressed at the start, but because she lost one in the mud on lap one and didn’t want to lose time or places by stopping to retrieve it.  I had explained if this happened to me I wouldn’t be continuing without first restoring my shoe to my foot.  I’m more of an ugly sister than a Cinderella at heart.  I like to have my shoes correctly adorning my person when out and about on the whole.  This year, the course was completely dry.  As we took off it turned out the route was very clear. The marshals were spread out, but the course was obvious.  There were some men warming up and running back and forth along the route, some cheery officials and even some supporters at strategic points.

The route took us up and down over hills and if you remembered to look up there were some pretty good views, it was very much more scenic than I’d anticipated, a partly urban landscape, with a housing estate at one side, but impressive all the same.   There was a heave ho up quite a steep hill, then a sort of strange loop within a loop, emerging for a bit of a downward stretch where I saw a friendly face in the form of SCS photographer who gave cheery encouragement as well as taking a couple of fine photos, having been trained up specially to delete any deeply unflattering ones I presume.  I mean, I might not be svelte exactly, but I am both airborne and smiling, for which I am most grateful! Must stop crossing those arms over when I run, inefficient use of energy and also obscures my team shirt logo!  Disaster!  Thanks Sheena Woodhead for the pic, sorry you weren’t running yourself, but good to see you all the same.  Seeing people I know definitely motivates me to run more, I feel I owe it to them to make an effort, seeing as they are making the effort to cheer us round!

SW in action in air TNT

After a bit of a down hill, and a slightly humiliating (for me) romp through race HQ where all the really good runners could watch you wobble by before they joined the start line for their own run, you went over a road and then hoiked up another steep hill. The faster runners were already looping back at this point, and it was fun to cheer some by.  I tried my best going up the hill but it was hard.  I might have walked a bit to be fair.  At this point three of us TNT runners were in a little row like flying ducks, only with less actual flight.   One of the marshals encouragingly remarked on this ‘oh look, you are three in a row!’ he said, before apparently whispering to the one in the lead ‘but you are in the front of them’.  The marshals were great all the way round, cheering us on as well as providing necessary directional pointing.

After the hill, another sharp left and then there was a properly undulating bit, narrow mud track and ditches on either side, it was fun to try to get enough momentum on the down to clamber up the hills ahead.  Like a DIY roller coaster.  Red paint like stuff was on the ground to aid navigation.  It was pretty clear, apart from at one point where I did got the right way, but one of our lead runners overshot I think.  A bit frustrating, but one of those things I suppose. Not quite as bad as the Venice marathon where the race had an unexpected previously unknown winner, Eyob Faniel after a motorcycle escort led the lead group off route, but unfortunate all the same.  Round the corner, down the hill, past the same marshal who’d earlier been urging us up hill, across the road and then back on to the edge of the HQ field, down and over a little wooden bridge.

Then just towards end of the first lap was a sculpture very similar to those we’d passed doing the SWR leg 1 recce   last week, clearly part of the same sculpture trail.  I rather like them.  Enough that I bothered to walk down and look at them properly after I’d finished running, and attempted to take some artistic shots of them and the runners juxtaposed.

That was the first lap done.  It felt manageable, and there was enough variety for it not to be boring, which was my big fear.  The hills were more challenging than I expected, but I just focused on the TNT runner ahead of me. I’ve followed her before at Carsington Water Dark and White trail event where we finished in very similar times, so I really let her do the pacing for me which is either parasitic of me or good race craft.  As we were the same team on this occasion, I am going to go with the latter!

The second lap went quickly.  The field had spread out. I was vaguely aware that the men would be heading off at 12.30, and was a bit worried about being lapped, or more specifically, where I’d be when that moment inevitably came.  I was just reaching the top of the hill within the second part of the figure of eight, when the marshal warned they were in sight. Curses. They caught me at exactly the worst part of the course where the undulations and the DIY roller coaster were in situ.  I decided it would be too antisocial to press on as there wasn’t really anywhere for the faster runners to overtake so I’d either be trampled, or really piss some runner off which didn’t seem fair.  I opted instead to stand to one side to let the first swarm pass and then periodically nipped in and out to navigate the route as best I could without getting in the way, clapping where I could.  Hang on, let me find the route map on strava, you’ll see what I mean:

route kimberworth xc

Not the most obvious of routes, but it did work, and you don’t need to navigate.  Once the majority of the men had shot by, I got sort of swept up with those that remained.  I did get quite breathless trying to hold my own. Many shouted words of encouragement as they passed, including some from TNT, it was competitive certainly but friendly still. Even so, I was quite relieved when I made it back into the HQ field, round over the little bridge and soon the finish flags were in sight. A quick burst up the hill and there were the already finished TNT women to cheer our little strung out trio of finishers in.  It was great actually.  Not too bad at all.  My womb didn’t fall out, but (shh, don’t tell) I was secretly quite pleased not to have to do a third lap.

Because the men had started at 12.30 and were doing three laps, I got a drink and then joined the others at the finish line to cheer the rest of our TNT team and other known runners home. It was quite fun.  As TNTers finished, they joined the support throng. It was like playing sardines only with less hiding in cupboards and more furious running round.  It was fun at the finish. Quite novel for me to get to cheer fellow team members home in.  Usually, I’m the last Smiley home, this format meant the men finished after me.  Something of a boon to my self-belief in future!

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Some of the men looked quite tired after all that running round in circles.  I wonder if any of them lost internal organs during the final lap?  There was a first aid tent at the finish just in case, but patient confidentiality meant those paramedics were giving nothing away.  There was also an impromptu wrestling match going on.  Fair enough.  I must have missed the sign up for that.

So Doctor Smiley counted all the TNT runners out, and then she counted them all back. Once secure in the knowledge that all were accounted for, it was back to base for compulsory prosecco.  Prosecco and cake!  Well, vegan rockie road which is basically cake.   No really. Every time apparently, and as this comes from a reliable source I have no reason to disbelieve it.  My ending up part of the TNT team offering at this event may have been through serendipity, but it seems a fitting home for me.  We were having fun.  The prosecco was even dressed for the occasion.  Marvellous.

compulsory prosecco

The prosecco was good for team morale, but maybe less helpful in terms of enhancing spatial awareness and problem solving skills as evidenced by those trying to pack up the tent.  You will note that once again I just stayed out of proceedings, leaving it to those with greater initiative than me to wrestle with the situation. Which they did.  It was touch and go, but the tent lost out in the end.  It got desperate enough that at one point the directions were dragged out and referred to.  I mean that has got to be quite a low point I’m sure you’ll agree, but desperate times do indeed call for desperate measures.

All around us tents were being dismantled and bags being packed, and pretty soon we were all trekking back to the carparks like festival goers departing after a weekend rave.  Tired and filthy but happy.   There was one anxious moment when our driver got caught up in the gate by her turtle shell, but she’s just not used to being so overtly ninja in public. She’ll get there.  You just need to own those labels sometimes.  You will from henceforth be known as Ninja Smiley to me 🙂 , which is a compliment by the way, in case that is in any way ambiguous.

 

smiley ninja

Back to the car, and homeward bound.  For our return voyage, I tried to get my head around the discipline of triathlon.  Granted, it probably takes more than a half hour car journey to truly grapple with it, but I’ve got the basics.  Three disciplines, so three lots of training, and they sort of mimic running i.e. speed, strength, endurance. That made sense until I realised I can’t imagine how you do hills in swim sessions, please not by trying to negotiate huge waves.  Also, I still haven’t quite recovered from the shock of realising that ‘proper’ triathletes don’t swallow huge amounts of water when they swim.  I’d idly mentioned to Dr Smiley previously that I couldn’t see how she could possibly  swim in the sea and then cycle or run anywhere after drinking all that salty water.  It was a complete revelation to me when she looked slightly bemused and said simply ‘but, I don’t swallow water when I swim.’  That had really and truly never crossed my mind as a possibility.  I’d always suspected triathletes to be super human, but that particular skill totally blows my mind!  Imagine that, swimming without swallowing any water let alone nearly drowning!  Amazing.  I’m more buoyant than anything though, I don’t think I’d ever sink or drown, but forward motion might be an issue, so  it would never be my thing.  Cycling stage is tough too. Have you seen how lean some of those cyclists get?

Halloween evil kneivel triathlete

So that was it.  My XC debut done and dusted.

It was definitely more fun than not.  I would – indeed will – do it all again.  The arrival at base camp was intimidating, this is probably the only running event I’ve ever done where the focus is so very clearly on competition.  It was friendly, but I did feel a bit in the way when lapped.  Having said that, how refreshing that just turning up to be counted means you have some intrinsic value for your team.  Plus, there is clearly a huge social, eating, drinking, cross fertilisation between running clubs thing going on that I hadn’t appreciated.  It’s not a just turn up and run and then depart kind of thing, it eats into the day. That doesn’t bother me, but wouldn’t be massively compatible with a family Sunday unless everyone was running.  Good though.  I’d say try it.  I was pleasantly surprised.  It was certainly doable today without spikes, and I think quite a few people do just run it in trail or fell shoes quite happily, though I suppose in serious mud you’d need to take care.

So thanks TNT for welcoming me on board and Dr Smiley in particular for guiding me  and Ninja Smiley through our debut outings.  Thank you for arranging a birthday so there was cake and prosecco, and weather so there was sunshine, and running buddies so it was fun.  It was a fine romp out, and you can’t say fairer than that.

Come on people, give it a go, and do yourself a favour, next time bring rations for your club buddies, or at the very least leaden lard cakes to feed to the opposition, that should slow them down nicely.

You’re welcome.

Just think, this time next year, you could be running in the shadow of Keppel’s Column.   Your life will be the richer for it.  Plus, could arm you with the answer to an obscure, regionally based pub quiz question in future.  Just be there.  Take responsibility for your future, and join the race.

DSCF9998

Oh the results?  If you care, the prelim results for the SYCAA XC league race two are here.  Other XC leagues are available, apparently, no idea how you find out where and when, go discover for yourself, it’s all part of the adventure.

Happy running ’til next time.  Also, happy halloween.

BOO!  Don’t look back

halloween-run runners edge 2016.png

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Sheffield Way Relay – Recce Leg 1, the sculpture trail

Digested Read:  The Sheffield Way Relay SWR is a September run that requires teams of ten people to run in five pairs, with each pair running one leg, each of which comprise a ten-mile section round the trails and roads of Sheffield.  However, the separate legs are complex, confusing even.  Hence, some intrepid Smilies plan to go off a-navigating each in turn, to check them out terrifyingly far in advance, in order to build the collective hive knowledge of the whole route in anticipation of next year’s challenge.  Today was Leg 1.  I went too. Hurrah.  Fine yomping was had.  We got lost, we had fun, there were autumn leaves, rainbows and, most importantly of all, sculptures and a pigeon loft.  Hurrah!  We shall do it all again for other legs soon.  Are you coming? The more the merrier, so please do.  Build the Smiley Hive mind and have fun on the way! 🙂

 

sculpture

I think it’s a sculpture.  It might be a fossilised high-fiving spectator from a previous Sheffield Way Relay event to be fair. Captured in time after a load of bonfire ash covered him/her in some freak accident some years ago.  It’s hard to tell.   Whatever, I’m reasonably confident it will still be in situ come next September, which may or may not be the case for all landmarks referred to in the route notes referenced today.  We clung to such notable sites today, to help us internalize the route, it’s not easy finding your way round this Sheffield Way Relay route, not easy at all.  Pressure….

It’s a very serious business running in general and doing recces for race runs in particular. That’s why it’s so important to focus, work together and not get distracted by posing for photos all the time for example, that way leads to chaos, anarchy and quite possibly the end of the world as we know it. It’s also lots of fun though, so it makes sense – in my world anyway – sometimes to throw caution to the wind, inhibitions to the wayside and jump for joy as only Smilies en masse can.  I think we need to work a bit on our synchronisation, but it’s not a bad start. That’s why these recces early on are so important, we still have time to iron out such little blips.  We’ll all be looking like a chorus line a year from now.  Riverdance will have nothing on us.  Nothing I tell you, members of the Smiley Paces Sheffield Women’s Running club are coming, and leaps and waving will occur and fun will be had, ready or not.

farewell to focus

Mind you, I really do wish I’d taken a photo of that dead rat on the bridge now.  It just took a while for me to realise that I wasn’t only at this Smiley Recce of Leg 1 of the Sheffield Way Relay to tick the ‘inclusivity’ box in relation to catering for slower runner for the club run, but also to document the route for other Smilies that might choose to come in our wake.  It was quite a responsibility really, many would have baulked at the task, but then as the saying goes, cometh the hour, cometh the woman.  Someone had to step up, and today that person was to be me. You’re welcome.  I tried to take photos of key landmarks on the route, the decaying rodent was a good one, very obvious, and judging by other directional reference points in the original instructions about the right degree of tantalizingly likely to have disappeared by next year versus could have been fossilised and become a permanent fixture.  It wouldn’t be the SWR if there wasn’t some element of tension in relation to finding your way.  In the event, the rat was decaying on a bit that wasn’t on the route at all, so it wasn’t a disaster, we were lost before we started, literally…. but I’ll come to that later.

To the uninitiated, the Sheffield Way Relay is something of a Sheffield Running institution, albeit a niche, invitation only one.  It’s a Steel City Striders club event in essence, and their website blah de blah explains:

The Sheffield Way is one of the most popular events on the club calendar and has been held every year since 1997. It is run as a team event and is open to Striders teams and selected guest teams by invitation. Since 2013, we also hold an ultra event on the same course on the same day. For details of the 2015 ultra event, have a look at the Sheffield Way Ultra page.

The race covers 50 miles, in 5 legs of approximately 10 miles each, of an off road route around the perimeter of Sheffield. Each team is made up of 10 runners, with a pair running together on each leg.

Taking place in late September each year, for the past few years Smiley Paces have also taken part, fielding a number of different teams.  However, also over the past few years there have been last minute panics as people drop out due to injury or inertia, I forget which and other runners have had to fill in at short notice. This can mean situations arise where neither of the running pair really know the route, and as this is not a mass participation event you can’t rely on following other runners, and nor are their any marshals to guide you on your merry way.  The route, whilst not exactly ‘secret’, is a bit obscure to those who have not run it before.  Instructions do exist, but they are somewhat idiosyncratic and some years’ old, not reflecting changes in infrastructure or shifting landscapes.  This is not a run to be undertaken without having previously recced it.  Indeed, this is part of the considerable appeal of taking part. What is not to like about a good yomp out with Smiley buddies (other running clubs are available)?  Quite.  Recces of the Sheffield Way Relay are just another opportunity for a grand yomp out and about.

In an ostentatious display of goal-orientation, leadership and forward planning, it was mooted (I’ve decided to give that word an airing today, as it doesn’t get out much, and seems apt if pretentious here), that it would be grand to start doing monthly recces of the various legs between now and next September so as to build the collective Smiley  hive mind in relation to knowledge of the routes. The more Smileys know the more legs, the greater number of possible teams can be fielded on the day. Plus, it’s a great way to see some different running trails and parts of our amazing city.  Speaking personally, I love the trails local to me, but there is a whole wide world out there of city and woodland running trails to explore as the outdoor city initiatives remind us.

Fired up with post Lakeland Trails enthusiasm, today was the day for Smilies in abundance to head off on a Leg 1 recce.  Fun would be had, routes would be found, friendships flourish and above all else laughter would be in abundance. There would be some running too, apparently, but I tried not to let that deter me.  You have to try these things.

The Steel City Striders webpage provides a map of sorts, and instructions, but these should be considered as impressionistic rather than literal.  We couldn’t even find the start as the Don Valley Stadium doesn’t exist any more, but hey ho, a minor detail!

Leg1-Map

So, it was a blustery, autumnal morning.  Despite the significance sacrifice of missing out on parkrun, I was nevertheless looking forward to my first proper autumnal run of the year!  Perfect running conditions were promised.  I was scooped up by  fellow Smiley who drove me and another to our woodland rendezvous point in Grenoside Woods (S35 8RS postcode for future reference). The plan was to meet there and then drive to the start at the site of the old Don Valley Stadium.  A note for future recces would be to include a statistician in the scouting party who could take the lead in supervising this part of logistical operations. Even though we were only 7 – with one in a car meeting us back at the start, we seemed to have enormous difficulties working out which cars needed to be where. In our collective defence, some Smilies were needing to rush off afterwards, some were going back for coffee, and some (me mainly) just stood blinking and confused, unable to offer sentient or helpful opinions on anything, and distracted by needing the loo. It was like those nightmare logic puzzles where you have to get a chicken, a fox and some seed across a river in a boat and only two things at a time can travel and you don’t want the passengers left unattended or they will eat each other. Apart from the seed, that doesn’t eat anything, basically I have no idea how a decision was made regarding porterage, but made it was.  My contribution was to be entirely passive, and follow instructions as best as I could.

We piled into a car and headed to Ice Sheffield  where we were rendezvousing with another Smiley who’d gone straight there. Navigation was mysterious, as I thought we’d be maybe using satnav, but instead we just headed ‘that way’ following gradients and compass points, until mysteriously we ended up where we supposed to. I love it when that happens. The overflow car park where we met was so derserted it was hard to know where to park, no white lines to aid decision-making.   We headed into the ice place to use the loos.  Oh my goodness!  I’ve never been before, I mean I’ve been to the loo before, obviously, but not into the ice place.  It was amazing. Not one, but two enormous ice rinks with skaters flying around(ish) and I had a brief moment of wondering if we could abandon the route recce idea in favour of a spin on the ice. That was before I remembered that the last time I ventured out onto ice was when I was still at junior school, and I spent pretty much the whole time clinging to the rail on the outside of the arena.  I had one brief sojourn away from the edge, only to find myself stranded in the middle of the ice, just as announcement went out to clear the ice so the pros could have uninterrupted use of the rink for the next half hour.  Complete panic ensued. It was messy.  How succesful do you imagine a ten-year old who can’t skate might be trying to get off an ice rink whilst panicking?  Well precisely.  That’s right, about that much.  Not a happy memory.  Just another to add to the list of childhood humiliations that punctuated my early years.

Eventually, I was prised away from the cavorting skaters, and we headed out from the car park along the canal.  It was all a bit sudden and frenetic and I was mightily confused. We darted along a bit of road, dived down by the canal and emerged at a sort of landing-place for boats, where the lead runner stopped.  Why?  This was the start of the SWR apparently.  Only it wasn’t.  This wasn’t the start at all. We had gone wrong already.  In fact, it was an epic fail from the off.  A shout went off and we all trailed off in the opposite direction, back the way we’d come, past the dead rat for the second time, and along until we got to a bridge, ran under that, and then, back again!  It was a bit like doing shuttle runs I imagine.  Our leader Smiley made an attempt to restore order, and showed us the point to look out for where we officially left the canal, or possibly went down onto it. I have very little idea really.

It is terrifying really, how quickly I got disoriented and confused.  It was extremely fortunate that Doctor Smiley had brought along some printed out instructions for leg 1.  Although disappointingly not on a clip board. She had also got with her a device for deterring aggressive dogs as well as potentially rounding up wayward smilies. I’d hoped it was some sort of  taser but disappointingly it was actually a humane high frequency sound emitter.  Aggressive dogs hear it, and it stops them in their tracks apparently…. In her defence, she is probably bound by the Hippocratic Oath or something.  Shame, but there you go. In a way, it shows how going for a run mirrors life in microcosm.  One disappointment follows another in sequence.  Such is the nature of our existence.  Best not to dwell on in too much, put that truth to one side, and go run in the autumn leaves instead.  Here are her accessories, for future reference.  The dog silencer is humane by the way, the leg one instructions may not be.

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We must have gone onto the canal, because that’s my main memory of the beginning, yomping along the side of the canal. It was unexpectedly pretty and calm, given that we’d just left the consumerist enclave of EIS and IceSheffield.  The sun was shining, the grass was green, the canal water still.   We jogged along and the instructions here seemed pretty accurate, if we just concentrated on what we were doing:

Continue on the left of the canal for about 1.5 miles passing below several bridges at Broughton Lane (new bridge), Tinsley Locks, Tinsley Wire Industries, Sheffield Road and Tinsley Viaduct. Continue forward on the towpath with the River Don on your left and after 2 locks cross the river by a concrete footbridge. Enter a pleasant wooded area and pass below a railbridge with a metal perimeter fence on your left. Over to your left is the hillside that you are going up and over on your way to Ecclesfield.

Pass below another railbridge where the path narrows. Continue to follow the river bank path until the river turns sharply east over a large weir. Ignore the signed Public footpath at the end of the perimeter fence and in 50 yards take the narrow concealed path sharp left.

The path rises to a footbridge across the railway and then climbs the hill up to Meadowbank Road

 

The next bit worked too:

On reaching Meadowbank Road turn left and cross over to the right hand side. In 350 yards and about 20 yards before a large advertising hoarding take the narrow path diagonally up the bank to a stile at the top. Climb, the stile and continue up the footpath and then a lane which climbs to Meadowhall Road. Cross the road and climb the bank to the left of the electricity pylon to a gap in the hedge at the top of the bank. Turn right to join a path towards the housing estate at Hill Top.

What the instructions completely fail to convey though, is how amazing the views are if you just turn and look behind you.  The juxtaposition of city and green spaces here is particularly pronounced.  One minute you might be on quite a grotty bit of road, the next you are snaking through unexpected patches of woodland rich in autumn colours, with the urban landscape stretching out behind you.  As most runners snaked ahead, this seemed to me a great place to try to coach a fellow smiley in the art of posing for jumping shots.  There’s a knack to it. The main trick is not to really care what you look like on launching, because in the early days it won’t be good.  Not a bad effort demonstrated here, somewhat balletic in parts it’s true, but almost definitely both feet off the ground third time round. So progress was made.  She showed me hers:

so I showed her mine:

CF out of the mist

So we were quits.  Nice wasn’t it?  I didn’t know any of these trails before, and it is genuinely a fantastic way to explore the city environs. We are soooooooooooooooo very lucky to have all this on our doorstep.  Delight gave way to reveal further even more delightful delights.  As we passed down a narrow track at the back of some houses at Hill Top there was even the fine sight of a full pigeon loft, with birds flapping their wings in the morning sunshine. As a nesh southerner, the sight of this fine northern cliché pleased me mightily. If only someone had come out to tend them wearing a flat cap with a whippet at his side I could have dropped dead happy there and then, sadly that was not to be, but on the plus side, it meant I was alive for the impromptu sculpture inspired group pilates and core work session out later on.

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Onwards and upwards. There was a magical moment when we espied a perfectly red apple all on its own hanging teasingly in a wayside tree.  Definitely like something out of a dark fairy tale.  I was tempted, but yomped on.  That can be an adventure into a parallel universe for another day….

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From here, we emerged again onto an unexpectedly busy road.  My running buddies were getting the hang of posing for photos to sign the way now.  Look at them smile and point here.  Like professionals. Note though, these photos are for illustrative purposes only. On the day, it is highly unlikely that there will be a line of smiling smilies like sirens calling you onward. You will need to navigate yourself, and look out for the GoLocal store and road turning all on your own.

Those yellow tees are from the Lakeland Trails Ullswater route last weekend by the way.  Good aren’t they?  We Smilies sure do get out and about.

From Poucher Street, it was indeed on to open country.  Through a little gate, then into a big field where there was a fork in the track. The lead runners headed off to the right, but, for future reference, the correct route is hugging the treeline on the left hand side.  It makes little difference in that both tracks end up at the same point, a style out into a bit of woodland, but the left hand track would be speedier and fractionally shorter.

In any event, once we got into the woods again, this is where the fun factory really picked up speed. To our amazement and joy, we met the first of our sculpture buddies.  Now I know not everyone gets my approach to ‘running’ I use the term loosely of course, some do think runs should involve extended periods of uninterrupted running say, but I defy anyone not to pause to admire this guy or guy-ess if they saw him/ her en route to anywhere.  Obviously, this required more group photos, and emulation of such magnificent core strengthening exercises.

It might have been around this point that I overheard one amongst us declaim ‘for goodness sake, this is like being at a children’s birthday party’, but I took that to be  good thing. We were having a riot out there.  In my world, running should always be fun, otherwise what’s the point.  Plus, it’s important to work on your core at any opportunity, and it is a well-known fact that running is basically a one-legged sport, so really we were just being very hard-core in undertaking spontaneous cross training here and not just messing around at all. Glad I’ve cleared that potential misunderstanding up before it went too far.  The green tee shirts are from the Lakeland Trails Helvellyn route last weekend by the way.  Good aren’t they?  We Smilies sure do get out and about. (Deja vu anyone?)

Workout session one concluded, we yomped onwards. …. only to come upon high-fiving man/man-ess.  This Leg 1 of the SWR just got better and better.  How come the sculpture trail isn’t noted in the route notes. They were awesome!  It was like stumbling across some hidden treasure:

well hello there

AFter this woodland interlude, we were spat out again onto another bit of slightly grotty tarmac road.  Depressingly, there was fly tipping here, but bizarrely, turned out the curtains were known to one of our number.  I hasten to say she had not herself been responsible for the anti-social disposal of them.  Rather she’d gifted them to a charity shop and now here they were by the road side wrapped around rubble.  It was as if they had been calling to her.  It was too big a pile for us to do more than look at dispiritedly.  We passed other examples of fly tipping in this area.  It really makes me mad, people go to some effort to drive to these places and dump waste, would it really be that much more effort to drive it to a tip?

There was a roady bit, and then we were off down a bridleway, into the woods, and looking out for rhododendron bushes along the way. Which there were.  Though as rhododendrons are a massively damaging invasive species we probably shouldn’t celebrate them, impressive as they may seem at first glance.  Probably worse for the natural habitat than fly tipping really, which is a sorry thought.  Oh well, it was still pretty in the woods.

Hilariously, (but then again I am easily amused) we reached a minor impasse at a point where the paths diverged. Which way to go?  Instinct said the wider more pronounced path, but straight on felt more in keeping.  At just this moment, having seen not a single other person out and about on the trails all morning (apart from fishermen by the river but clearly for running related anecdote purposes they don’t count), a cheery group of runners jogged towards us.  ‘Are you looking for the Sheffield Way Relay route?’ one asked, seeing us looking a bit lost.  He then cheerily directed us on our way before sprinting on to join his mates. Aren’t runners lovely?  Not just Smiley Paces runners (though we are the loveliest, naturally) but pretty much all of them. That was a happy chance and handy bit of navigational assistance. We went onwards.  Pausing to note the spectacular views along the way. Oh, actually, maybe that was just me.  Still, done now, and they did wait. Sorry smilies.  I did warn you I’m slooooooooooooooow.

You emerge onto a ‘road’ which actually isn’t. It’s the private road that leads to an extremely grand looking building which apparently (according to our Smiley historian) used to be some sort of children’s home but is now converted into Fantasy Flats. They may not technically be called that to be fair, but they should be, bet they are amazing inside.

Down to the actual road, then off again, down a less than salubrious looking turn – I have no idea how our Doctor Smiley leader was able to navigate at this point, but we followed her, sort of, in a Smiley Paces, might-as-well-try-to-herd-some-cats kind of way.  It worked mostly though, so that was good.  Maybe bring a PE whistle along next time, just as a back up…

The next memorable bit was along past a diary farm.  Nope I mean dairy, well, I presume dairy, because there was a lot of cow poo to negotiate, so presumable cattle toing and froing for milking.  There was also an unusually friendly farm dog that posed rather beautifully amongst the geraniums lining the walls of Butterthwaite Farm. All very lovely, and another completely different bit of Sheffield scenery – we’d had canal and riversides; road and back alleys; woodland and open fields; and now a working farm.  Excellent!

Somehow, through skips and runs we ended up spat out again onto a really main road, past a fitness garage, which seemed to have signage personally aimed at me, sharp right past Morrisons (opportunity to get fine breadcakes there apparently, if you weren’t having to run 10 miles instead), and then across the road into Ecclesfield Park.

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This was another place I’ve never been to. It is amazing how many parks there are around Sheffield. This one was in good use, with walkers and a football match in progress as we scampered along the tree-lined avenue that took us across the path and out onto Church street.  There was a bit of dissent at road crossing strategies, but we were more traffic aware than the pictorial record suggests.  Even so, keep safe out there people.  Whether you are a disciple of Tufty or more a Green Cross Code Man kind of road crosser, be true to your road safety guru.  Rospa will thank you for it.

From the park you are spat out into Church Street.  Here, by some extraordinary coincidence, you will eventually come upon Ecclesfield Parish Church which is just up on the right and the Ecclesfield Village centre with its old stone houses and pubs.  It was all incredibly picturesque, though for the record I had no real sense of where I was in relation to anywhere I actually knew. There was also a bit of a road crossing stand-off it has to be said. Every Smiley for themself at this juncture.  It also started to rain a bit.  ‘Thank goodness I have my waterproof with me‘ exclaimed at least one smug Smiley, clambering into her cagoule, before being shamed for her ostentatious bragging by another responding ‘well, I haven’t‘ with a just a tad of an edge in the voice.   Bit tense back there.  I did have my waterproof with me, but it seemed too much of a faff to put on .  The route requires you to continue up and just after the church turn right up Priory Road.  However, as we had historian Smiley with us, we took a short detour to admire a monument to some distant relative from way back, and pause to look at the exterior of the church, which it must be acknowledged looks very grand indeed.

On from the church, and back on track.  Down a path that took us back into woodlands, up and down, over a little bridge (that was disappointingly completely devoid of both trolls underneath and billy goats gruff trotting above).  This was a very pretty part of the route, but one that future SWR should treat with respect.  It would be really easy to be carried away literally as well as metaphorically with the lovely, bouncy, woodland trails and whizz by the turnings off to the side. Oh well. We didn’t, and we most definitely weren’t racing today, only yomping, so that was fine.  Loved that beautiful old Gatty building on the way past the church by the way, no idea what it was.  Quite some memorial though.

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Around this point, the route started to ascend again.  Eventually we came across a field with horses in it. They snorted appreciatively and came over to investigate as we trekked through, and emerged via a narrow stone style at the far end.

We emerged onto quite a wide tarmac road and found from here a rainbow guided our way. We just had to head towards the end of that, though again, maybe not a landmark to count on on the day, but never say never, hope over experience is not a bad way to pass through life. Admittedly disappointment may forever stalk you, but at least you don’t dwell on it, carrying on in the misguided belief that things are bound to get better in time. Good for you and your pointless optimism!  Bravo!  That’s rainbows for you.  Love ’em.

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Along the road, past a farm and off to the right.  I can’t quite remember why now, but I’m sure there was a really good reason why this became a designated Smiley posing point.  I’d worked out (slowly, admittedly) that some of my ‘helpful’ photos to remind us of the route were entirely pointless, because they were basically pictures of trees standign amongst autumn leaves.  They are much more useful if there is a responsible adult within the frame helpfully pointing the way. If one person is helpful, logically more people would be even more helpful, and at the very least show solidarity. So this is what we were trying to achieve. Great team work do you not agree? (This is a rhetorical question, no answers on a postcard please).

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Into the woods.  Here my compatriots warmed to their responsibilities in relation to the photo documentary of the route.  New innovations were introduced.  It was no longer enough to point the way, but others needed to ‘just say no!’ and signify a cross where there were no go areas.  I say a ‘no’ but really, I think by the end of this mornings shenanigans we all knew pretty much for certain who had the x-factor and who did not. The camera never lies. Draw your own conclusions in your own time.  Work individually, and own your decisions.  It’s a harsh lesson, but a useful one.  Well done all!

I think that’s what was happening.  Now I look again i wonder if the joke was on me. Is this perhaps semaphore?  I wouldn’t know, I don’t know any… aren’t there supposed to be flags?  Maybe that’s another advantage of wearing skorts.  Not just that they cover  up any accidents (although absolutely nobody wears them for that reason) nor even that they have lots of pockets (even though if you fill them the skorts will rapidly end up around your ankles) but also they can be whipped of in an instant to improvise a flag for either semaphore communication purposes, or to stop a train without having to take your actual knickers off a la The Railway Children. Must ask her next time our paths cross…

KN: Railway Children

There followed a TERRIFYING road crossing, a super busy road, Penistone road no less (or Penis Stone road if you are listening to sat nav), you take your life in your hands across there.

Back into the wood for serious exploration and yomping. The directions did fail us here. They sort of make sense once you’ve gone wrong a bit, but suffer significantly from new trails and loops having been constructed in the woods since the first instructions were put together.

Cross Penistone Road (EXTREME CARE REQUIRED HERE).  Just a little way to the right re enter the woods along the main path (painted SLOW on the road). Pass between a tree and some wooden poles and then in 20 yards bear right to follow a path along the edge of the wood (stone wall on the right). At the first cross path turn left to carry straight forward along the Trans Pennine Trail and in 100 yards bear right up a narrow stoney path.

The first bit was OK, we found a stone wall, albeit one that a random black horse was hiding behind.  I thought it was a wolf, which I concede is a bizarre misidentification.  However, before long, as we scampered back and forth in search of the ‘stoney path’, rejecting the signs for the ‘loop trail’ in favour of the short cut and correct route.  At some point, one amongst us spotted what I will refer to with some use of irony as ‘the path’, to be fair there was a massively overgrown footpath sign somewhere within. It was agreed this was probably the correct route, but it didn’t look like it had been used recently, not even for the September race.  We sort of bush whacked through it.  There was some shrieking.  At least one participant was heard to say ‘I’ve never spent this long on a run this distance before ever‘ I didn’t vocalise the thought in my head which was along the lines of ‘that’s strange, because pretty much all my exploratory runs follow exactly this format‘.  It wasn’t even that the other Smiley was making a complaint, it was more an observation, it’s just that when I heard it I came to reflect on whether or not my outward bound yomping excursions follow any recognised running training format at all.  Not to worry, I’m sure it means I’m a pioneer, not an oddity. Yes, that must be it! Makes perfect sense.

Another remarked ‘I feel like David Bellamy‘ I understand what she was saying, but I felt it was more Dian Fossey country  – you’ll have to go and find out for yourself.  We emerged eventually onto a trail, that looked very suspiciously like the loop trail we’d earlier rejected.  Two of us went back sheepishly retracing our steps to check.  Oh yes, that was it, you do follow the loop trail.  Note to self for next time, and helpful pointing shot by way of confirmation:

The others headed off, which created a bit of last-minute confusion, as we got to a junction where there was one path following a stone wall, and a wider path that went straight on and up ahead.  It was fifty-fifty, the instructions directed thus:

Continue on the wide path that climbs slowly up towards the road and after the wall follows a wire fence.

We went with the wider path, despite no sign of a wire fence, or fellow Smilies.  Turns out, we should have clung to the wall.  Unbeknownst to us, that’s what our running buddies had done, but as they’d not waited for us we got separated. Curses.

It doesn’t look very steep, but this was a bit of an uphill slog. I did try and run, but 10 miles in I was flagging.  I tried to explain to Doctor Smiley and we ran a bit despite me protesting I can’t talk and run at the same time, although, mysteriously, it seems I can run uphill and complain a lot really quite well.  I ran out of steam eventually though.  Doctor Smiley rang one of the others and we realised where we’d diverged paths. However, we emerged from our lane, and we were pretty much back at the car park where we’d started.

I’m not going to lie, it was a tad annoying to have gone wrong at the critical end point. This means that this recce would have to be classified as good in parts in relation to actually learning the route because both the start and finish will need to be revisited.  However, all is not lost, because I had a lovely time anyway, and surely the whole purpose of the activity was basically to provide an enrichment activity for me as I don’t get out much.  We yomped together splendidly, and as there is unfinished business with leg one, this is basically a good thing, as it means we get to do it all again another time. Everyone’s a winner.

This is what the car park rendezvous looked like in case you don’t know what a carpark looks like:

Not that special to be fair.

Smilies reunited, we scrambled back into our various modes of transport, parasitising lifts where possible (me) and back to the start to collect other vehicles.  Some Smilies were waved away, others of us went to Costa wehere you can get toast and marmite for £1.40 which I consider a boon to breakfast eating options at a venue I normally discount for being both too expensive and too corporate.  Just four of us made this final stand, but the rules are (apparently) them as that make the post run coffee option, get to decide the date for the next recce.

So smiley people, look out on our facebook page for an announcement of the Recce for Leg 3, happening on a weekend in November sometime soon.

For your infomration, despite the lack of a statistician at this point, we did collectivelyr ealise that strictly speaking SWR Leg 2 should follow Leg 1, but thats already been recced apparently, so the next collective yomp out will be for SWR Leg 3 will meet at the end of that leg i.e. the Cricket Inn, Totley, so we can go back to the Rivelin Head Dam start  and take it from there.

Be there, or miss out massively.

Oh my strava by the way (TomTom is once again functional, maybe it just wasn’t feeling it in the Lakes):

strava leg one first recce

So there we have it. Still some unfinished business perhaps, but a fine collective adventure all the same. Thank you SMiley buddies.  Let’s do it all again soon, the more the merrier.  I will try to run a bit faster and bit more continuously next time, but will also ensure inclusively is maintained but acting as a perpetual drag on the speedier runners.

You’re welcome.

🙂

 

 

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

Lakeland Trails, missed the boat, but grand day out all the same. Ullswater Emergency 10k 2017

Digested read:  well that was hilarious.  The plan was a 10k round Ullswater, starting with a boat.  Alas, no boat and a shorter alternative route, but on the plus side lots more time for Smiley mingling, impulse purchases and then the actual run was gorgeous.  All’s well that ends well eh?  Home to Sheffield with renewed running mojo and consolidated adoration and appreciation for the collective joy and fabulousness that is the Sheffield women’s running club of Smiley Paces.

So this was Day Two, of the Lakeland Trails finale weekend.  Much anticipated by Smiley Lakeland Trails veterans, this particular run involves the added novelty of a boat crossing on a steamer at the start!  I know, how cool is that!  The boat looks like this, it isn’t a scam because there is a picture of it and everything:

ullswater steamer 2012

The steamer was last sighted in 2014 as far as I know, and most definitely does exist as the 2012 picture above stolen from the Lakeland Trails Facebook page demonstrates.  Alas, in subsequent years foul weather prevented sailings.  (Do steamers sail?  Probably not, but you get the gist.  ‘Launchings’ maybe?)  Part of the problem was perhaps the November timing of the event – not the best time of year to be counting on calm waters and clear skies. This year the trail weekend was brought forward to the potentially more clement month of October.  Much excitement bubbled amongst us. This was surely going to be the year.  There was even more of a build up yesterday when the weather was gorgeous and the forecast for today, Sunday, promising too. The back marker had said so.  What could possibly go wrong? What trail running event wouldn’t be improved by a leisure boat ride across the scenic.  We were collectively beside ourselves with excited anticipation.

Oh, you need to know the basics? Yawn.  Well, if you haven’t been hanging on my every blog post since, I don’t know, ‘whenever.’ then you’ll need to know that the Lakeland Trails website blah de blah for the Ullswater 2017 described todays event as follows:

Lakeland Trails in Ullswater, Sunday 15th October 2017

Starting from the Ullswater Pier at Glenridding (CA11 OUS), your journey starts with a beautiful half hour cruise aboard the Ullswater Steamer “Raven”, which takes you to the start in the hamlet of Howtown, whilst being serenaded by singer/songwriter Pete Lashley. The 10km Ullswater Trail Run, 14km Ullswater Trail Race and 14km Ullswater Trail Challenge follow well marked and marshalled footpaths and bridleways along the lake shore, giving panoramic views of Helvellyn and the surrounding peaks, finishing in Jenkins Field, next to the Ullswater Pier. Much of the course passes through ancient woodland, which will be at its autumnal best. Underfoot conditions can be tricky at times, especially if wet.

A carnival atmosphere is guaranteed for both spectators and competitors, with live music, race commentary, food and drink all available at the start and finish. So, whether you’re new to trail running, an experienced athlete, or simply looking for an unforgettable day out in the Lake District, a family-friendly, festival atmosphere and some amazing trail running awaits you!

You can enter and find out more about each event here.

Fancy combining it with the Helvellyn event the day before? You can enter the ‘Dirty Double’ weekend.

Oh my gawd.  How amazing.  And now the day had finally dawned!

It actually dawned in the small hours.  Blinking as I lay under the duvet, fretting over how to complete morning manoeuvres in the dark without disturbing those dorm buddies who were doing the afternoon run.  Three of us in my dorm had signed up for the 10k and that was a 9.00 a.m. sailing. Registration from 7.45 a.m. Working backwards, we’d need to be up dressed, packed for leaving the youth hostel as we had to strip beds etc pre departure – but also leave food somewhere (not in kitchen) for lunch, and a change of clothes somewhere (not in dorm) for afterwards.  We had negotiated with our obliging dorm sleeping-in buddies that we’d have to set the alarm for 6.30 and we’d have to put the light on at some point, but just because we’d agreed it, didn’t mean that we’d have the absolute nerve to go through with it. I mean it seems too cruel.  Like chucking a bucket of iced water on a rough sleeper or something, to knowingly cause a slumbering Smiley to be wakened.  Cruel and unreasonable treatment at the very least!  I suppose if we did cause provocation at least there would be an added motivation to run fast afterwards…

rude awakening

I went through my preparations in my mind.  Running kit ready all folded neatly stuffed in on top of my bathroom bits, dry running shoes at the ready for grasping, a swift and silent exit should be a shoo in really cometh the hour. I got up at 6.00 as I couldn’t bear just lying there waiting for the alarm, made it into the showers, all was going well, until I realised a fundamental oversight in my kit prep.  No knickers!  How did that happen?  I’m not running commando, I don’t care what anyone else does.  Curses, all my preparations counted for nothing, as it seemed I’d have to rummage noisily through my stuff in the dark after all.  Getting up is soooooooooooooo stressful.

Amazingly, I did discover my lost knickers, eventually espying them abandoned on the floor in the middle of the dorm, right near the door, where they must have fallen from my bag as I tried to creep out of the room.  I retrieved them, remedied my dressing fail, and then decided I couldn’t inflict light on my seemingly still slumbering buddies even though I knew in my heart of hearts I must have already woken them up with all my crashing around trying to locate my M&S five to a pack cotton rich briefs.  Do M&S sell anything else I wonder.  Indeed, can knickers be purchased anywhere else?  There is Runderwear of course – but apart from there, nope, I don’t imagine they can. I decided all further preparations would be more effective post tea and breakfast sustenance.

I made for the kitchen.  Oh joy!  My other two dorm morning running buddies were already there.  Better yet, they too were clearly traumatised by the stress of pre-run preparations, and had also decided better to brave the kitchen early on before the crush. It was very comforting, we were able to share our individual neuroses with one another and then were immediately massively reassured to find we were not alone. We were all disproportionately angst ridden by the enormity of our current first world problems, which required us to get up AND get dressed; AND pack; AND forward plan lunch and later changing options; AND have breakfast; AND decide on short or long sleeved tops; AND remember our compulsory kit – and that’s not even factoring the minefield of deciding what time to leave for registration and what to do about communal food that we’d finished with but our car buddies might want later but still needed to be packed!  At least I didn’t have the added angst of wondering whether or not to run at all due to blister progression over night.  It’s so stressful all this running stuff in a communal non-home context.  Worth it undoubtedly, but stressful all the same.  Also, both of them had spotted my knickers on the floor earlier, and respectfully stepped over them. That’s nice too isn’t it.  Supportive even.

Heartened and bonded through shared adversity, we three went back to the dorm and switched on the lights with abandon, then vacated the area to sit it out until it was time for a mass exodus to the event HQ.  I was thirsty though.  I needed a glass of water.  I went up to the kitchen area but it was absolutely heaving, I stood outside the door blinking for a while as Smilies busily circled back and forth somehow avoiding collision like in that amazing video animation of extraordinarily juxtaposed happenings that I think was a Talking Heads ‘Stop Making Sense’ one, but might have been Sledgehammer – nope can’t find it.  If you know it, you’ll know it, it has one person walk across a room, then a ball bounces in through the window, new things keep being added until every inch of space is full but somehow nothing intersects with anything else.  If that image is too hard, then think about what it was like when you are a kid and two people swirl a skipping rope, and you have to run in and join several  others who are already jumping in there.  You are waiting for the right moment to run in, but you get one chance only, and if you misjudge it, everything ends.  You could ruin it for everyone. Don’t mess up! It was like that.  Only more terrifying.  Talk about a jump into the unknown…

skipping games

I stood wide – eyed and hesitating outside the kitchen door, it’s was like I was looking through a window into a parallel world.  I literally made several abortive attempts to plunge through the shifting gateway and into this alternative universe, but kept losing my nerve.  Eventually, I realised I there was a good Samaritan Smiley alert to my dilemma and looking out for me – albeit in a pointing and laughing at my ineptitude sort of way, but supportively pointing and laughing and that is a good thing.  It broke the tension and made me laugh too as I saw the ludicrousness of the situation. We talked through options, and, to cut a long story short, acknowledging the extreme pressure on facilities at just that moment of time, and the mass of people milling around I agreed that the sensible thing to do was just to take refuge under a nearby table, and emerge some time later when hopefully this crisis had passed.  Good plan.  Felt safe there.

hiding under table

Even so, I had to emerge after a bit. I got water from a downstairs bathroom, and then sat very, very still on the sofa in the foyer whilst Smilies darted back and forth and all around me like a spawning of whirling dervishes (whatever they are). They were all making the trek to the drying room and each emerged in turn exclaiming the lament that their shoes were still soaked from yesterdays paddle along the Helvellyn paths.  I was quite pleased I’d brought my Irocks as a back up plan. They aren’t massively cushioned, but they are grippy, and I’d rather start the day’s run with dry feet.  As I sat, trying to be invisible and not in the way and just blinking. Magic Making Smiley Samaritan actually came over to see if I was alright.  I must have been manifesting physical signs of shock, with which magic making smiley was very familiar after with the broken wrist incident and the woman looking grey only yesterday. I was alright, I was fine.  Lesser mortals might have accused me of attention seeking quite frankly, but I was so touched at her concern. It just shows all over again that Smilies are delightful, individually as well as collectively.   For this I thank you all.

 

At last, and thankfully, it was time to leave.  Food bags were stashed in cars, single bags of stuff heaped up in the foyer and off we went once again in a loose smiley convoy, down the road towards the start.  It seemed a bit cooler than yesterday, but calm.  Still beautiful.  Still well hung sheep about and curious locals looking on…

Got to the event HQ and it was all reassuringly familiar.  Numbers collected; tags on; baggage dumped; T-shirt of the day admired. Good oh.

It was all very efficient.  I saw a group of runners making their way across the field to the boarding point for the steamer.  I joined a Smiley crowd and together we chatted joyfully about the forthcoming boat ride.  Only, then it emerged one of our number either had taken, or was about to take an anti-seasickness tab. What?  Why hadn’t I thought of that? This was another whole area of angst I’d not previously considered.  I’m terrible on boats, but I’m also knocked out by anti nausea meds.  Better to dehydrate from throwing up than pass out comatose perhaps?   Aaargh, I don’t know.   I had not even considered this, and now I was thrown into panic. Doh.

Just as my mind was racing through the pros and cons of knocking back a pack of puke-u-not seasick pills, word got out.  No boats!

What no boats?  Really?  I’d missed the announcement, so went to ask inside.  Yep, no boats, only in fact more accurately it was possibly no boats.  They were going to wait another 15 minutes and see how it went. Fifteen minutes later the announcement came.  An announcer read out the words from the Captain verbatim from a scrap of paper – like it was a royal decree of something, which in a way I suppose it was in that it was non negotiable.  The wind picks up on the open water and it just wasn’t safe, there would be no boats today.   The emergency race plan would come into operation.  An alternative route would be offered with a mass start, a bit shorter.  Marshals would need time to get into their new positions. Sorry and all, but there you go.

To be honest, although people were disappointed, there wasn’t any massive unrest at this revelation, more a collective shrug and sigh of ‘oh well’.  To be fair, what can you do?  I’m sure the organisers were more disappointed than anyone given that whether or not the steamer tripped happened they’d still had to do all the lists of sailings and logistics of sorting runners out and everything.

In fact, the event director put it this way at the later prize giving:

We can’t change the weather. But what can we change? Our ATTITUDE to the weather.

It’s our 10th anniversary of the Ullswater Trail, and 3rd time unlucky, yet we still have an overall 70% sailing record. That’s pretty good.

After last year’s feedback from you, we decided to do four things, in case poor weather forced the Ullswater Steamers to be cancelled again :

1. Move the event three weeks earlier into October. Fat lot of good that did us!
2. Look at the Steamer Cruise in a different light, as a bonus, and not include any additional contribution towards hire of the Steamer in your entry fees. IF we sailed, we would foot the bill as a way to celebrate our Season’s Finale
3. If we had to, implement a FREE park and ride option for those wanting to use it
4. To add an additional, longer emergency route in the afternoon, so that the 10K runners didn’t have to hang around in the cold all day, and the 14K runners could run a longer course 

We’ll always listen to constructive criticism and change our plans accordingly.

So there you are.  Not sure what else they could have done.

Besides, I was quite taken with the idea of an emergency 10k eh?  I love the notion of that, being made to run 10k in a collective panic with sirens blasting and blue lights flashing overheard.  To call it a wet-weather contingency 10k may have been marginally more truthful but face it, it would also have been a lot less exciting as an abstract concept.  Post the event I noticed some Smilies had referenced the route on Strava as the ‘no boat run’ I know what they mean but that is surely tautology of sorts, well, maybe not stating the same thing twice exactly, but certainly stating the seemingly obvious.  Running races don’t generally require boats after all, so why say that.  Unless you have accidentally signed up for the Three Peaks Yacht Race of course, in which case lord help you. Does this boat ride look fun?  Would you feel like a trot up to the summits of Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis after a stint in that? Quite.

2011 three peaks yacht race

You might as well say it was the ‘no balloon’ race, though to be fair only the other week I began with a balloon and ended without one, so perhaps that would be OK. Try again ‘no bike route’ I suppose Triathletes might use that for time to time.  Oh, for goodness sake, stop going on about it, it doesn’t matter!  The point I’m trying to make is that we didn’t run the intended 10k route on account of the fact there was too much weather for us to get on the boat safely.  The organisers therefore set us off on a shorter, alternative route, implementing their ’emergency plan’ (like you have for nuclear accidents or terrorist incidents) and hence we were running the Ullswater Emergency 10k.  Hope that’s all clear.

The cancellation changed the morning’s running dynamic certainly. A few injured runners who’d been tempted to run because of not wanting to miss out on the boat ride (which to be fair is taking on increasingly mystical status) were now feeling maybe what with having only one functional leg/foot whatever perhaps they shouldn’t.  One or two decided they needed to get home more than they needed to hang on to do a shorter route.  It was all pretty philosophical, no tantrums. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a Smiley tantrum about anything to be honest.  It’s not how we roll.  We are more likely to fall out because everyone wants to do the washing up, rather than because no-one will.  Even then there would be no falling out, only a graceful withdrawal, that’s as high as the stakes go in my experience anyway.   Well it was at this point in the day anyway, how things change…

 

In fact, at least one Smiley was positively euphoric at the prospect of a shorter run.  I encouraged her to practise sounding disappointed at the news.  Or at the very least, if she was unable to suppress her joyful guffawing she should at least try and save the situation by turning it into a disappointed ‘hah! how could they?’ sort of exclamation. We got there in the end.

I didn’t have strong feelings about the distance, but I was delighted that the delay to the start meant a cup of coffee was now a possibility.  I didn’t have cash on me, but no worries, I had a woodrun buddy on hand who paid for me.   I was a bit sad I didn’t have cash for a Lakeland buff, but maybe at ten pounds they were on the pricey side anyway.   Better yet, whilst I was in the queue I explained about the new shorter route to someone who hadn’t heard and who genuinely had a look like thunder at the news and then turned away and punched the air with an audible  ‘yay’!  She’d been on some sort of masterclass on pretend disappointment.  Very impressive delivery.

I supped coffee feeling cold and admiring my shoes.  I’ve not worn them much, but they are extraordinary.  I call them my Tardis shoes, because they look really small on the outside but are bizarrely bit from within.  They are definitely wide enough, I can’t really claim they are massively comfy, because they lack cushioning, but they are roomy enough and don’t have pressure points which is usually a massive problem for me (though not with my new innov8s either to be fair).  Miscellaneous Smiley bonding and milling and chilling continued. Non-running smilies turned up to check out what was going on.  It was fine and dandy.

 

Coffee drunk, I went for an amble and I’m delighted to report the organisers had laid on some impromptu entertainment. There was a bride and groom who’d got married earlier at the lakeside, and were now going to take on the 10k with their bridal party in tow.    Impressive. There’s a whole blog post elsewhere about how they built their nuptials around the Ullswater trail. That’s commitment for you!   They were there in their wedding regalia, and we were encouraged to form a circle to congratulate the newly weds whilst the MC put on their ‘first dance’ music so they could swirl around in front of us to roars of congratulation and approval. A drone camera flew over head and a multitude of photos were taken. It was lovely actually… if a little prolonged. The ‘happy couple’ did look happy, but it was hard even for them to sustain eye-contact, and feel so lurved up that there was not a smattering of self-consciousness  as it became apparent they were being subjected to the full long play 12 minute version of the song when they’d been expecting the 3 minute dance one. Hilarious.  The tension was mercifully broken by an invitation to go in for a communal hug.  It was all delightful.  They had another impromptu communal wedding dance session at the finish apparently, but I missed that.  My usual cynicism aside there was something joyful about all that hope and optimism laid before you, and going for a run together is a great way to celebrate any occasion. Though I did feel for the bridesmaid, her outfit didn’t look altogether compatible with being expected to run atop those exposed mountains later on.  Definitely on the flimsy side, and no cagoule stashing pockets anywhere!

So watching that was a welcome distraction and a nice bit of habitat enrichment to keep us entertained whilst we waited for off.   Once that was over, I roamed around a bit more and eyed up my fellow participants for the adventures still to come, seemingly I was eyed up in return.

In the absence of alternative entertainment, and as there was still time to browse – I found myself increasingly drawn to the sports clothing stand.  I am easily seduced by running socks.  I had no cash on me yesterday either, or card, so it was easy to reject them. Today I’d brought my card with me in perhaps a subconscious acknowledgement of the inevitable failing of willpower.  I circled round a few times trying not to cave in, but really, me and running socks!  It was like Dougal on the magic roundabout encountering a pile of sugar lumps and being expected not to succumb.  I believe the records wills how that was the undoing of him in Dougal and the Blue Cat.  Like him, it was inevitable I could only hold out so long.  Socks were bought. I had a card.  My woodrun buddy who stood me a coffee earlier was complicit in the offence.  She spotted a rather gorgeous innov8 top.  We had to wrestle a little with our inner consciences, as it always feels wrong buying from anywhere other than from our local running shots, but these were such bargains. We were made dizzy by the opportunity and not thinking either ahead or straight. What would it matter that we’ll never be able to wear them in Sheffield, for fear of being outed for our consumer disloyalty, we were living in the here and now.  What can you do… Technically, it was only I who was guilty, as I made both purchases on my card so we’d be quits after coffee sub earlier on. My woodrun friend was blameless.  Good luck wearing the top on a Thursday woodrun though – at your own risk and all that.

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To be honest, this hour and a half of milling around was rather fine.  It was like being at some sort of Smiley social.  The run was almost incidental to proceedings after a bit.  However, inevitably, eventually the call went up to assemble. There was a brief anxious moment for me when I joined the start funnel facing the wrong way and was nearly expected to take off at the head of the throng!  That would have ended badly.  I nipped round to the back of the queue and then edged towards a little gaggle of smilies for reassurance.  I’ve managed to capture accurately their expressions of delight at seeing me as I joined them.  This was it, any moment now, we’d be off!

We headed out the field in the opposite direction to yesterday… and immediately hit a bottle neck as runners queued to go through a narrow gate.  Fortunately, a quick-witted marshal stepped up and waved a load of us round to a bigger gate so for the first  time in my whole life I overtook some super speedy runners still queuing by looping round ahead of them. REsult.  Then it was onwards and upwards.  A bit much road for me to be honest, but this was made more palatable by pathologically lovely cheerful marshals – also at this point I was just slightly behind the bridal party and could hear rousing cheers chorus up ahead as they passed by-standers.  This was fine!

I wonder if this is what they mean by a runaway bride?

We turned off the road onto more gravelly track, as I trotted along, a guy running alongside commented companionably – ‘so there’s a lot of you Smiley Places out and about – what sort of a club are you?‘  It wasn’t meant to be rude I’m sure, more an reflection on my less than apparent running physique – someone asked me yesterday if the Smiley Paces tops were in aid of a charity, so it seems that we aren’t immediately identifiable as a running group even when participating en masse at a running event.  ‘Erm, a running club?’ I said.  He looked mortified ‘erm, I just thought maybe… like cycling‘ he said with growing desperation, discomfort and trailing off a bit.  ‘Well we are very inclusive‘ I said, acknowledging that based on me alone it might not have been as obvious I was part of a running group as I’d have liked.  He looked relieved at this rescue ‘excellent, as it should be‘ he responded, and then dropped away.  I really wish I’d said ‘roller blading’ though or even ‘voodoo’, next time eh?

Then soon we were on an ‘undulating’ path that offered extremes of up and down.  It seemed to go on and on. The views were absolutely amazing, and the narrow paths for the main part made over-taking impossible, so it felt even more legitimate than usual to take some shots along the way.   I just felt really lucky to be out in such fantastic scenery on a blustery autumnal day, uninjured and in the company of Smilies.  What more could anyone ask for?

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The narrow paths my have limited overtaking but were great for buddying up.  Fortuitously I ended up in a gang of four Smilies caught up at the same stage.  Excellent mutual photographing action shots followed.  Team work you see. Very important, we were our very own Smiley Paparazzi Unit:

Running must be so hard if you don’t stop every five minutes to take a picture.  My way is loads better.

We inevitably reached the steep, steep steps others had warned us off.  Walking was the only option, with hands firmly planted on knees to help.   Finding myself at the end of a queue of people plodding onward and upwards I said jokingly ‘oh dear I was going to sprint ahead but my way is blocked‘ only to have horror of unnecessarily obliging runners in front offering to part like the red sea and let me through. ‘no, no‘ I insisted in a slightly too panicked toned, that was my bluff well and truly called!

After a seemingly endless climb, we were ‘suddenly’ at the top of the ascent.  Right at the highest point of the run,  a hardy (or more accurately cold) marshal was being buffeted about by the wind but still smiling and pointing us on. Marshals are always awesome at running events, but I do think at this Lakeland Trails event they really excelled themselves.  Everyone I passed was keeping up clapping and cheering throughout, many had quips in addition and some offered up visual aid (reference hi-viz sheep) or other props (reference cow bells) as well as encouragement and directional pointing on the way round.  Much kudos to all you hi-viz heroes on the day.

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Much of the terrain was technical, though nothing like as wet as yesterday, but rocky and steep.  Oh my god I lurve my irocks though.  Today was our first proper bonding outing.  I’ve only worn them out and about a few times before, this was their first race route. They make me feel invincible, they  seem tiny on the outside but astonishingly can accommodate my plate like feet.  They grip on anything, I felt safe skipping along. They lack cushioning but a necessary compromise on this route, plus they have little padding or soft stuff to get water-logged so I barely got my feet wet. Result.  No blisters either, despite fact I’ve not really worn them much at all.  I may start to sleep in them.  Then again I may not.  I have limits.

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From here it flattened out a bit.  Then soon enough, there was once again the helpful warning sign to ‘smile’ in advance of encountering the photographer ahead.  Just as well we were warned as he was crouching in a ditch this time, looking a bit sodden to be honest, but still with professional focus.  We were a veritable train of Smilies at this point, creating the teasing prospect of a Smiley group shot.  One declaimed ‘no jumping’ as we bore down on our photographer friend.  I didn’t jump (never do, in fact the photos of me apparently levitating were achieved by undertaking the whole of yesterday’s trail by zip wire, and paying the photographer to photoshop out the wires at the end.  That way, no concerns about concussion, just don’t tell anyone).  As I was in company today, and there was the unexpected route change, the zip wire option wasn’t available, so I had to resort to running on my actual legs.  Hence a lot less bounce in today’s photo. I’m relying on you my reader not to let on though.  People like mystery in their dull little lives.  They must not have cause to doubt my ability to launch myself vertically into space once in the frame of a camera lens.  Let them keep that little spark of joy….

Anyways, we didn’t co-ordinate all that well to be honest, apart from in the sense of our fine matching Smiley tops –  but the photos are nevertheless a pleasing reflection of our smiley quartet. See if you can spot the one Smiley with manifest leadership qualities from within the montage below.  You can see that I respected the ‘no jumping’ directive, opting for the slightly over-excited and maniacal stare pose instead.  Totally nailed it if I say so myself.

The photographer took some pretty amazing shots of the great and the good and the glorious and the gifted storming round.  Here are just a few of my faves of the day, from viking warrior to team jumping shots, all of running fauna was there to behold against the stunning Lakeland backdrop.  Nice out innit?

There were plenty of other Smilies snapped on them there hills too you know. Here are just a few.  We were like cockroaches swarming across a kitchen floor when the light goes on, only more immediately likeable.  Maybe more like golden fallen autumn leaves, blowing about in the sunshine and bringing joy to the world. Yes?  See for yourself:

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We pushed onwards, it was flat, and then teasingly starting to go down hill. Whilst it was tempting to take advantage of the gradient and yomp on, I found it was essential to stop to admire the scenery when we came across a wondrous waterfall.  This beauteous site had potential to get us on cover of National Geographic magazine for sure, or at the very least Life magazine (though I concede that might be a challenge given it’s no longer published) … Women’s Running at a push.  In any event, the posing was essential, even if it alas it meant we became separated from one of our number who was too focused to notice and so sped on ahead.  She mistook our amazing find for but a hobbit hole (which to be fair would have been pretty amazing too) her loss.  Besides, we really had to stop at the waterfall to cool off because we were on fire running round!  Honestly. We are hot stuff.

As we continued down hill, there were three of us now, bonding, staying together.  We had noted the absence of one, and whilst we regretted her loss, we respected her decision. Besides, we decided that regrettably, ultimately it would be her loss as we’d be having soaring stats on our Facebook pics in recognition of our en route selfies, she’d pay a high price missing out on all of that frenetic social media recognition for sure.  Life is cruel like that.  I’m not saying it’s fair or right, that’s just how it is sometimes.  Validity of one’s existence through the Facebook ‘like’ button exacerbated by the tyranny of the emoticon.  It was so much easier before all of this, when you only communicated what you did when away by a solitary uninspired postcard that reached your intended recipient many weeks after your sojourn away was long forgotten.

We went onwards, down the steep path, rock jumping, and waving overhead at the drone that mysteriously appeared above us at one point.  I did wonder briefly if this was just the logical extension of woodrun leaders ongoing surveillance operations, but tried to dismiss that from my mind.  We bounded on, waving at the householder who was leaning out to watch us go past.  Considering how exposed it is out there, there was a lot of support out and about. We continued, skipping by the friendly marshals that we’d passed on the way out who had perfected the art of perpetual motion in their synchronised support.

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Eventually, we were back on to tarmac road, and by a cattle grid we espied another photographer. The more gobby assertive member of our party berated the poor guy for apparently wasting time busying himself wiping down his camera lens when he should be photographing us.  He gestured beside him.   There was another camera set up on tripod and a drone beside him ‘they’ve been filming all the time’ he countered. Uh oh. Captured on film whether we were ready or not!

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The idea of sticking together for the finish was mooted, but I wasn’t sure.  Road was coming up.  Whilst my younger smiley compatriots would pick up speed on the more predictable terrain it stops me in my tracks as my poor feet start to shatter and I don’t have the stamina to maintain a constant running pace.  ‘You go on without me‘ I cried out, almost pleading them to do so.  They would not hear of it.  They even paused and walked for a bit to let me get my breath back.  We headed off again just as some fellow Smilies appeared at the sidelines to cheer us on.

Finally, we were back into the field, round the blooming keyhole again and then, well, we just  couldn’t help ourselves. Shout went up for a sprint finish, elbows and all. Friendly buffeting rivalry that’s all.  I can’t possibly have been in the wrong as I am middle-aged and she is but a young stripling, so let’s get that cleared up.  I have a bruise too.  It was quite a fight to the line though, and pleasingly we ended up with the same finish time exactly, and no doubt the same fear of throwing up on the marshals collecting in the ankle tags.  Fun though.  I was surprised I had that in me.

Another T-shirt, yellow this time, but not a horrible one, I haven’t tried it on yet, but it is a technical one and female fit, which is something of an innovation in running events, a pleasing one too.  All friends again for the photo anyway, that’s the main thing, keeping up appearances… 🙂

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We gathered up our bags and fellow smilies, before heading off on the migration home to the hostel.  Alarmingly, I discovered my Cheetah buddy had had to pull out early on in the 10k due to a knee niggle. That’s harsh.  Quite a few missed out on the Sunday run for diverse reasons, I suppose that’s the frustrating nature of it.

My sprint finish smiley stopped off at the medical tent for advice on her knee – well I thought it was her knee, I’m told it was actually her ankle, but hard to know with Manchuasen’s.  It’s technically true she has had an injury for ages, but personally I think she was seeking an explanation as to why she’d failed to pass me in the sprint.  The medic seemed very thorough, and the advise seemed to be every runner’s worst nightmare ‘rest and monitor’.  Noooooooooooooooo!

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Medical attention concluded, we started walking back. We thanked and said farewell to the still smiling marshals who remained at their posts.

Then, with a terrifying familiarity the woodrun surveillance team materialised in front of us.  They had some pretext of running the afternoon challenge, but well, you know.  What with the drone earlier, I’m not sure. They seem perfectly lovely, but they would, wouldn’t they, otherwise how could they move amongst us so silently and undetected?

woodrun spies

It was like being in Sheffield by the Lakes as walking onwards we picked up more and more Smilies heading back and met more and more walking out for their afternoon romp.  For our part we Smilies shared our race experiences and reassured one another there were no hard feelings left over from our hard finish.  We are all Smilies, we are bigger than that!  Probably.

It was nice to see Smilies gathering en masse.  I was a bit taken aback by the rather blatant transfusion of haemoglobin en route to give competitive advantage re oxygen levels during the race, by one of our number, but then again, it does explain her awesome finish times.  I think it was that, someone else said it was red wine in her hydration pack.  Well, whatever works for you I suppose…. you couldn’t accuse her of being underhand anyway.  Shameless rather.

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It was lovely to wave the afternoon runners on their merry way.   At this stage they were exuding hope and joy, entirely innocent of the knowledge of the mighty hill to climb ahead.  Bless.  It seemed only humane to let her carry on ignorant of what lay ahead for as long as possible.  Disillusion arrives soon enough for all of us.

happy innocence

Back to the hostel.  It was somewhat chaotic, with the YHA staff frantically hoovering around our bags in the lobby they clearly didn’t want us to hang around, that cup of tea and change of clothes I’d be hoping for wasn’t going to happen.  No worries, I changed my socks and shoes, and ate most of the contents of a crisp multi-pack which was great actually, as I was craving salt.

Then, reunited with my car-pool buddies we piled back in and off we went.  A straight and scenic run back to Sheffield by happy chance of avoiding the M6 in favour of the A66 (I think) stunning scenery and Autumn sunshine accompanied us home.

And so it ended.  With unexpected suddeness.

It was like a mini-bereavement being dropped off home.  The weekend is over, we are left with nothing but memories.  Fortunately they are all fine ones.  Wonder if we really will do it all again next year?

If we do, any more for any more?  Here are the filthy foursome – once again, in case you missed them earlier. It’s definitely doable, and some of the Smilies out there have unfinished business I know!

Filthy Foursome

They only look slightly manic in the circumstances, and not really grubby at all. I’m a little disappointed they haven’t double bagged their T-shirts – you know green from Saturday, Yellow from Sunday and Smiley Vest because – well that’s only right and proper. But hey, great pioneering work their team.  Same again next year I take it?  Or are you seeking a Fetid Five by somehow weaving in the 5k sports trail that seems to have slipped in as a Saturday special?

Oh you want to know the route?  I knew I’d forgotten something.  Hang on…

Here it is, stolen again from my woodrun buddy.  It was the wet weather route, again a bit short at 5.3 miles and just 884ft elevation, though that was pretty much up a straight rock stair case to be fair.

Ullswater non sailing route

And you want the results too?  There should be a link somewhere to all the results for the Lakeland Trails Ullswater day, enjoy, or not, as you wish.

So that’s it for now.  A happy Lakeland Adventure and Epic Smiley Tour to boot.  Thanks to the Lakeland Trails folk for organising an amazing weekend of running and providing some brilliant over the two days too.   You can browse through all the Lakeland Trails photo albums here, but it might take a while.

Here are some more of the non-professional ones I can’t bear to leave out.  It’s making decisions you see.  Hopeless quest for me.

If you just want visual snapshot of the day(s), and you don’t suffer from migraines, this video fly by is quite cool. Cheers innov8.  The longer inno8 video of the Lakeland Trails Dirty Double weekend (which is officially brilliant because I say so by the way) is here.

For the organisers summary of the event and results see the newsletter here

Just remains to say thanks most of all to my lovely Smiley co-conspirators, running buddies and friends.  I feel so lucky to have found you all, and so very proud to be part of such a supportive, funny, smart and talented lot of wonder women.  Together, we can achieve anything. Go us.

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That’s all folks.

Happy running til next time.

🙂

For all my Lakeland Trails related posts, click here and scroll down for older entries.

Categories: off road, race, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Well that was one hellofarun up Helvellyn! Lakeland Trails Dirty Double Helvellyn 10k 2017

Digested read:  my the Lakes are lovely.  My TomTom didn’t work which means no Strava so technically I suppose this entire weekend of running never happened, starting with the Saturday.  Oh well, worse things happen at the seaside.  The run was lovely but quite rocky. Smilies are lovely and they rock too.  We get to do it all again tomorrow.  Hurrah!

You can see how lovely we are here.  The shot is courtesy of the fine photographer man James who took heaps of amazing shots throughout the weekend. This is quite brilliant, as it means we can browse the photos and relive fond memories of the runs at will.  So, as I was saying, here we are:

gaggle of smileys

And that photo isn’t even half of us.  About 70 of us made it up to the Lakes for this epic running weekend put on by the Lakeland Trails team – in fact it is the weekend finale for a whole season of trail running adventures.  If you don’t know what it is, it’s basically a choice of four events over two days.  You can choose just to run one, or two – hence dirty double, or if you are a Smiley on a mission you can get really filthy and do all four. Smilies have been patronising this event for a while now, so the event organisers though perplexed, will indulge outliers by letting them enter whatever they want, after all a fool and their money are easily parted are happy to cater for bespoke arrangements given sufficient notice.   I’d like to be able to make the point that this privilege was restricted to Smiley Paces participants only as a sort of VIP service in recognition of our unique awesomeness.  Alas, I can’t really. It’s true the offer wasn’t disseminated more widely, but I strongly suspect that is a reflection on lack of other takers rather than Smiley exclusivity. Who cares. Smilies are a rare breed all the same! Go us.  Or go them, the fabulous filthy four people, not me obviously. I mean why would I?  Here they are though, for ease of reference.  Maybe a somewhat manic look in their eyes, but I don’t think the lay person could necessarily tell by looking just how suggestible they all are.  Maybe a hypnotherapist would know?  I must ask my carpet cleaner.  He did a weight-loss hypnotherapy group session and it was really good apparently, well worth the minor inconvenience of having to bring your own duvet.   Lost loads of weight with no effort since.  His insight on how it works is that hypnotherapists can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do anyway, but they can sort of help trigger the will power to do so.  Even so, it seems to me strange how this quartet was running but the person whose bright idea it was to demand such an offering was mysteriously ‘otherwise engaged’.  Definitely dark arts at work there somewhere.   Oh well, ours is not to reason why….

Filthy Foursome

I was going along for two times 10k, one on the Saturday and one on the Sunday, involving a boat, a steamer to be precise.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  As far as Saturday goes, the Lakeland Trails website blah de blah about this event says:

Lakeland Trails in Helvellyn, Saturday 14th October 2017

Starting and finishing at Jenkins Field (CA11 OUS), on the shores of Ullswater in Glenridding, the NEW! 5km Helvellyn Sport Trail, 10km Helvellyn Trail Run, 15km Helvellyn Trail Race and 15km Helvellyn Trail Challenge follow circuits along well marked and marshalled footpaths and bridleways that take you into the foothills of Helvellyn, with elevated panoramic views of Ullswater, and dramatic vistas of Helvellyn and the surrounding peaks. Underfoot conditions are generally good for those used to off road running, but can be tricky in places.

A carnival atmosphere is guaranteed for both spectators and competitors, with live music, race commentary, food and drink all available at the start and finish. So, whether you’re new to trail running, an experienced athlete, or simply looking for an unforgettable day out in the Lake District, a family-friendly, festival atmosphere and some amazing trail running awaits you!

You can enter and find out more about each event here.

Fancy combining it with the Ullswater event the day after? You can enter the ‘Dirty Double’ weekend here.

Doesn’t that all sound lovely. But first things first.  Got to get to the start line from the dorm first of all.

sleep well

To be fair. The accommodation was good, even though there were eight of us to a dorm it is spacious, but I just don’t sleep well with other people in the room.  It’s not so much that I’m disturbed by then. Quite the opposite, I seem to spend the whole night in that half-awake half-asleep twilight zone fearing dropping off too deeply in case I snore like a train and wake everyone else up. I have been told on different occasions that I’m ‘completely silent’ and ‘oops, yep, bit noisy there to be honest’, so I suppose the truth is somewhere in between.  Even so, I’d hate to be driven out of the Smilies by secret ballot for anti social nocturnal habits not of my choosing.   Or worse yet, suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, manifested in averted eyes, spotting groups whispering in corners that fall silent as I pass. The shaking of heads, the pitying looks.  Smilies are too nice to be horrible to me because of any such failing, but I’d feel the burden of shame for having let everyone down. PBs missed because of collective sleep deprivation that was all my fault.  No wonder I can’t sleep in a dorm.  It’s a nightmare.  Ironically, because even with a nightmare you’d get some kip.

Then there’s the ‘I’m bound to need to get up for  a pee‘ angst, the horror of which was massively exacerbated by being a dorm with the squeakiest and bangiest door known to human kind. FACT.  Once I’ve had that thought, speaking personally, it is just a question of how long I can reasonably hold out before giving in to the inevitable.  I did have to get up in the night twice, and yes, it was just me.  I am clearly inadequate as a human being.  And even then there is the question of are you better off fumbling in the dark and risking even more banging about or falling over and on top of a slumbering running mate or do you risk sending a shaft of torch-light onto your dorm buddies even though the beam might cause them to recoil and vaporise into dust.  I decided not to take the risk.  I was quite near the door anyway, so that was OK.

Morning came, ready or not.  I gathered up my gear and forlornly looked at my TomTom which had chosen this day of all days to go blank.  It’s never done that before, and I stupidly hadn’t brought my charger with me as it only works through my laptop – which I also hadn’t bought) and I’d fully charged it before coming.  A hard lesson to learn.  Lovely smilies various did offer up tomtom chargers, but they seem to have new models, it was to no avail.  Tragedy. La la la la, it’s a tragedy. Etc.  Naked running for me this weekend then.

 

Amazingly, even though there was only two showers for a squillion people I managed to get one.  It was hot, but only a trickle, still, at least I turned up fresh at the start, I don’t know that everyone else did. It’s not good when you have to do a DIY sniff test in the event HQ field at the start.  Fortunately, we are all too polite and comradely to draw attention to any such miscreant behaviour at the time.  Much better to passive aggressively mention it in a blog post later on say, and make out that no-one else within the Smiley tribe has ever been guilty of such an act pre or post chosing of kit for a run.  I think so anyway, and I’m sure you have no reason to doubt me.  You can see I was particularly poker faced about the whole thing at the time.  Why would I lie after the event?

RW sniff test

The shower bit was a win, but the general trauma of having to navigate a multitude of micro human interaction on waking,  including breakfast was positively terrifying.  After a number of false starts and being thwarted by the enormous pillar which takes up about 50% of the floor space in the communal kitchen and yet lacks a sign to indicate which is the correct way to go round it (I begin to understand why roundabouts in the UK are so confusing to those who are not previously acquainted with them). Eventually I found a corner on a table near another shell-shocked looking Smiley who appeared to be manifesting a similar stress response to situation. We ‘no speaking or even eye contact pre my first cup of tea’ people intuitively can recognise and find each other.  We exchanged brief knowing looks and then sat in comfortable silence at opposite ends of the table ignoring one another. That true camaraderie when you need it.

Post tea and porridge, which was OK, but not as nice as at home in my own microwave in my own bowl, back to the dorm and communal decision making procedures regarding ‘what to wear’. Long sleever or short sleeve?  Will there be a water station (nope).  Shoes, which shoes?  An extra layer of interest was the inspection of a room buddy’s blister. It’s not so much a blister in the traditional sense, in that it exceeds the surface area of a conventional compeed plaster, the large ones.  It was such a significant expanse that a veritable collage of compeeds were required to cover the area. Think decoupage, or is it décolletage, I can never remember.  It was very impressive though. But that too threw up more potential for concern. What if the extent of the plastering makes the shoes too tight?  Nightmare. I may have been without my TomTom but at least my feet were currently unblistered.  Count what blessings you can people.  Take nothing for granted. Nothing I tell you.

After communal faffing had run its course, we started to head off for the morning. Well, those of us doing the 10k did, the others who’d opted for the 15km in the afternoon, well I’m not sure what they did, just didn’t I suppose.  Not until later.  They were probably still drinking gin, or maybe foam rollering, I have no idea.

It was ridiculously exciting walking down to the start.  It was unexpectedly warm, light drizzle made rainbows over head and it was just gorgeous.  This is an obscenely beautiful part of the world, it really, really is.  There was a lot of water, flooding threatening to lap across the road in place, picturesque scenes and distinctive characters along the way.  Also, some very well hung young rams.  You couldn’t really not notice to be fair.  Rather unusual colour too I thought.  The wool that is, not the sheep’s tackle, I wasn’t going in for that close an inspection. Fixing the ‘caution runners’ sign on a bus stop struck me as a cruel irony, but there you go.

We got to registration a bit after 9.45 I think (our race started at 11.00 a.m.).  The event HQ was all a bustle and very jolly in my view.  The location is absolutely stunning, with boats in the water, fantastic mountain views all around and shafts of light coming through dramatic clouds to light autumnal trees in vivid golds and oranges was like a wonderland.

There were boards with lists of runners, and a course outline, you had to find your number and then join the relevant queue.  We picked up numbers and were issued with ankle tags.  I wasn’t clever enough to work out how to put this on unaided.  To be fair, I think it did require training to become adept at this. Once you know it’s easy enough but it wasn’t obvious immediately.  Maybe it would be to those used to being electronically tagged but that didn’t apply to me. Also I have tiny ankles.  No I really do.  I just looked needy until someone offered assistance, by which I mean they did it for me. Thanks Cheetah buddy. Then minutes later I brazenly helped someone else with what I hoped was the sort of confident and authoritative approach that suggested I’d known all the time and was massively competent at this whole race prep malarkey.  Pretty sure I pulled that off.  She had to help  me pin my number on straight though, so I it seems I am still ‘work in progress’ regarding my safety-pin use NVQ.  One day I’ll get there maybe, if I really try to apply myself…

Numbers on, baggage dropped, there was plenty of time to go for an explore. There were lots of loos, but alas they were not quite like the luxury portaloos in attendance at the Sheffield TenTenTen last weekend.  At least one Smiley, who shall be nameless was horrified by them.  It is true, it was something of an act of faith to take a pew over the open-pit below, there was no discrete barrier between yourself and the effluent of a thousand previous runners.  You do have a somewhat irrational fear of falling in, but given I can hardly climb into a hoop these days it’s fairly low risk I’ll plummet down a toilet bowl.  Brilliant for the comedic value of hearing about the outrage of an exiting Smiley declaiming at inappropriate volume ‘never have I seen so much shit!  I have had to perform on someone elses shit! Can you believe the shit in there!’ and so on. Bit of a theme there.  I’m more of a half full person myself. At least we had the loos, and to be fair they were most definitely at least half full.  Still, it’s good that Smilies speak their mind, you know where you stand then don’t you? …  Or nervously squat depending on the context.

obligatory loo shot

 

It was pretty much idyllic if you stopped looking down the loos and instead took the time to look up at the sky.  A rainbow, absent Smiley smiling down on us we like to think 🙂

Absent friends

Naturally, the setting required lots of photos and the taking of a great many selfies, as well as asking for outside assistance for group shots.  Handily, the jauntily legged photographer was obligingly taking loads of awesome photos and happy to help us too.  He took this one of me.

smiley view point

At the time I was taking this picture I think:

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He wins with his shot.  Not only because it has the captivating image of a Smiley within it.  He got my best side too.  I have a feeling he may have taken photos before.  We got him to take one of me and Cheetah Buddy, contemplating the muddy road ahead, but that is still to come, meantime here is one my Dig Deep buddy took of us instead.

get a grip eh

Nice photography man James Jumpy Kirby also had the best leggings ever.  A bespoke item of couture that is genuinely unique. I had running kit envy I will admit. Still, it’s not a look everyone can carry off, so maybe the world has been spared the sight of me flaunting them in public.

Anyways, after our private photo shoot, he said he was seeking a smiley group shot, so I undertook to try to corral as many as I could.  It’s not an easy task, but I achieved moderate success.  Unbelievably, this picture is only half of us who went for the weekend.  It is quite extraordinary when you think about it, that 75 individuals would make the collective trip from Sheffield to Glen Ridding for this weekend away.  It makes my heart swell with pride to be part of this amazing group of women. Smiley Paces solidarity and support is remarkable, infectious and life-affirming.  Go Smilies indeed.  We can be a force for good in this world collectively, we really can. Or at least have a lot of laughs along the way, which amounts to the same thing.

VP milling

It is a rare thing indeed for me to be in a Smiley group shot, as usually I haven’t got back in time from the run to join the after snaps, so this picture makes me especially happy.

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Then there was lots more chilling and milling and chatting and selfie taking as we made our own entertainment before the off.

As the starting time drew nearer the atmosphere built. There were drummers!

drummers drumming

Instant party, I’d have been up for strutting some funky stuff, but alas, didn’t realise the party was happening elsewhere until later. Still, there’s always next year I suppose….  I’ll know who to hang out with for the ‘dance like no one is watching‘ detail.   Happy to embrace being a part of that.   I really liked the drummers, I think they would be a boon at any event.  Note to self, must tell Round Sheffield Run people.  They can’t rest on their organisational laurels for ever.  A small army of drummers is clearly the way forward for future event village entertainment innovations.

party on

I’m not sure they should have been displaying this disinhibition quite so close to the baggage sign however. Bit of feedback for you for next time perhaps?

baggage

You’re welcome.

Eventually, the shout went us to get us to the start funnel, and there was a cheery count down to awf!

starting line up

It was fun yomping off across the grass. Music was playing, there were some supporters lining the route.  It was all very good-natured.  We yomped back on ourselves round the field, and then quick bolt across the road past waving marshals, and soon we were heading up hill. I don’t know why it is that I continue to be caught out ever single time I do an event by two particular things which are annoyingly commonplace, ubiquitous even. Firstly, you are expected to run! Right from the start.  No really you are.  And secondly, that it often necessitates running up hill.  Despite the alluring vision of the gorgeous mountains all around us, I still felt the element of surprise as the realisation dawned that we were being required to run up one of them.

I tried my best I really did. The surface under foot was quite hard for me.  I love my innov8 parkclaws but their cushioning is limited. The path was stones, and fractured rocks.   Often running with water.  Very little mud actually, and the first part was really a grit path.

One boon about a mass Smiley presence at an event, is that rather like rats in a city, you are never far from a Smiley on a run.  This is mostly fine, but it does mean you get caught out slacking rather quickly.  Quite a few overtook me early on, but I think I blagged it OK, but explaining I was just waiting for them to catch up with me so I knew they were ok and then I’d  let them get ahead a bit so I’d have something to chase. They are bound to have believed that line aren’t they?  A trusting lot Smilies, not infected with the bitter cynicism that generally infuses me.  I can use their good naturedness as cover for my dark inner soul, so that’s good.

The hill went up and up. One car cautiously pushed through down the road –  I think it was probably full of other runners going down to register for the afternoon race. They waved at us cheerily as they crept by.  I was naked running without my Tomtom so had no idea what was going on.  I don’t really think I look at my watch when I run, but I like to have it so I can see retrospectively the route and elevation.  However, I’d forgotten that my TomTom vibrates every mile, and that’s really good for knowing how far you’ve gone and how far you’ve still to go. It was weird having absolutely no idea of time or distance that had passed, especially on a completely unknown route.  Still, Smiley buddies in abundance helped rally the weak:

en route somewhere

There was lots to look at to distract me though. There was the cowbell ringing marshal, some random guests at a cottage en route, laughing in disbelief but cheering with enthusiasm as we sped (ahem) by.

One passer-by saw me slurping from my water bottle and thought I was having a drag on an e-cigarette mid race.  Not an easy mistake to make.  I think from his tone he was more impressed than judgemental to be fair!

Onward I went, trying not to be discouraged by sight of runners other side of gushing torrent of a stream, high up on the hill, snaking across the mountain side like a trail of soldier ants.

They looked amazing though, like a stretch of colourful bunting flags draped across the mountain side:

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We carried on alongside a bulging stream that raged past in a positive torrent. Then over a little bridge and turning back, but along the steep and rocky mountain path.  It was very beautiful, but extremely wet.  Running water basically.  As I pushed onwards, cautiously, I met a fellow Smiley turning back as vertigo had got the better of her.  A DNF is always a sad, sad thing, but we had plenty of photos early on so that’s a run really is it not?  And a DNF is way better than a ‘fell off the cliff edge’ or ‘remains frozen to the spot on a mountain ledge three days later’ which are the alternative options as I understand it.

The really narrow steep bit had to be picked through at a walk.  This was companionable, as you could chit-chat a bit with other runners as you were practically stationary anyway.  I met again the nice lady I’d been talking to in the loo queue earlier.

Then there was the super friendly marshal with his hi-vis wearing sheep who was a personal favourite of mine going round. That’s really making an effort marshaling wise isn’t it?

high vis sheep

 

It was pretty steep to be fair. Some runners ahead were holding bits of bracken for reassurance as they crept along.  Not sure that having your fingertips gripping the end of a frond of bracken would offer much in the way of brakes in the event of a fall, but it seemed to bring psychological comfort, so that’s grand!  This runner looks like he was managing without hanging onto foliage as he ran, but you can see some of the lovely colours of the burnt orange autumnal bracken, and that’s the main thing.  Obvs.

burnt orange bracken

As I yomped onwards, alas I came upon a sorry sight.  Two of the fearsome filthy foursome smilies had abandoned their run and were with an injured participant. They were walking her down, trying to cheerily chat with her having got her nicely wrapped up in a foil blanket. She’d had a bad fall and rather spectacularly broken her wrist.  I offered help but was assured there wasn’t much I could do beyond making sure the marshals ahead were aware of what had happened, which they should have been already.  It did feel wrong leaving them, but logic dictated there was no point in me staying too.  It was a harsh reminder of the need to respect the environment, and how quickly you can get cold if you  do have to slow or stop.  I decided to concentrate a bit more and left off taking so many pictures until the terrain was a bit more predictable.

Marshals came and went, views were consistently spectacular and the wind picked up and dropped. Water continued to gush from everywhere, like running across the deck of a sinking ship maybe… bolts flying out of the wood as the water pressure builds and the boards awash with white water.

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Ahead of me other running buddies were also pausing for selfies and nearly stepping backwards off the edge – how I laughed!  I shouldn’t really can end badly like that poor student at the Seven Sisters cliff edge the other week…  I did offer to take a photo for them too, before skipping onward myself, past the teasingly positioned bench placed at a handy view-point, daring any runner to stop and soak up the scene in favour or running onwards….

selfie buddies

Finally we started to descend. There was a brief interlude along a nice bit of woodland track before ae tell-tale but appreciated ‘Smile’ sign so you know what’s coming.

Quick pause to hoik my knickers and put my camera away so I could look ‘natural’ running round the corner and into frame …  I think I cracked it.  It’s all too easy for the shallow, ignorant and ill-informed to ridicule the running style of others.  I find levitating the more challenging sections of terrain reduces the chance of concussion related running injuries.  I do concede looking around seven years old as a consequence is an unfortunate side effect, but we runners are prepared to make sacrifices to achieve results.  Just so you know:

LT me levitating again

Whilst I went for the nonchalant and unaffected running look, others with more exhibitionist tendencies shamelessly played to the camera. There were a few contenders for the ‘seen a photographer’ award but these are my personal favourites.  I particularly like the departure from convention with the jumping with poles shot, the artistic challenge to conventional boundaries in personal space where the guy leans in to the photographer daring him to hold his nerve and the team shot. Glorious. Bravo all of you, and thanks to everyone who made the effort on the day.  Was great fun choosing my favourites, a fact which I’m sure will please you one day, if you ever get to give it even a moment’s thought in passing.

Obviously, Smiley Club members were all hard-core runners speeding by with awesome running form. Look at them go. It is a fact doing jazz hands makes you go faster, so does smiling and waving, that’s why we are all so awesome in our running performances:

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Run shots secured, the end of the run came quickly.  More cheery marshals and we were onto a section of road.

Up until this point I’d been running with two other women who I’d assumed to be friends what with their raucous laughter and joint selfie taking on the way round (women after my own heart).  However, as soon as we got onto the rough tarmac, one runner shot ahead abandoning her running buddy entirely calling out by way of explanation  ‘she’s a pain in the neck‘ as she did so.  I was shocked, and looked it. I mean only minutes earlier we were all looking out for each other – she even alerted me to the fact I’d got a bit of mud on my legs going round at one point.  That was sporting.

DSCF9350

She repeated ‘she’s a pin in her leg’ it means I stay with her when the ground’s uneven but she’ll be Ok now’.  Oh Ok. That made more sense.  We all found our own rhythm and were soon separated once again.

There followed a bit of road running, never my forte, but I had to abandon all hope of slacking off as I espied woodrun leaders walking in nonchalantly.  The more naive Smiley may have thought they were there to offer support, and indeed they attempted to support this cover story by clapping and cheering as I passed – but I suspect we woodrunners were just under surveillance.  Those accelerate spies are everywhere!

DSCF9324

A band of other Smilies were along the path and lined up to give me a high-five en masse.  Love Smilies.  They were horrified that I wanted to stop and photograph them afterwards though. Different priorities I suppose…

Suddenly the end was in sight. over the road, down the tunnel of innovate flags, arms outstretched for a glorious finish..,

RW me running in

What a misdirection of effort that was!  It wasn’t the finish at all, we were made to do an extra keyhole shaped loop round the field and back on ourselves which nearly ruddy killed me. I had to hide briefly behind the tree at the far point so I could get my breath back before coming back round to the finish tunnel.  I think I got away with it, phew…  That was a nasty surprise though.  I thought the hill at the end of the Wingerworth Wobble was bad, but at least we were forewarned about that! This was finish route by subterfuge.  Not good!

Oh well, it was worth it, cheered in, and into the arms of welcoming marshals to relieve you of your tag and placate you with a T-shirt.  It was green this time, different for each race.  This is an acceptable colour I think, though I have a great many race T-shirts I’ve never been brave enough to wear in public due to their fluorescent overtones. The lime green Sheffield Half T-shirt being particularly vile even amongst the vile.  TenTenTen from 2016 is probably the best.

Into the tent to get my bag and jumper and there to my surprise and delight I encountered the two saviour smilies who’d walked down with the fallen.

DSCF9332

They’d pretty much had to come the whole way down, but then were able to race to finish.  TEchnically not the intended route, but well deserved.  Hurrah!  No need to write an article for Runner’s World explaining why methinks. I was delighted because I was worried they’d still be stuck out there waiting for mountain rescue and miss out on the chance to belt round the Filthy Four.  They were in surprisingly good spirits, so that was fine.

RW smiley saviours

I commiserated with them that they maybe hadn’t had the race they’d wished for.  This got onto the topic of ‘really annoying things other people do at races’.  Apparently, one of the worst things for one of these two, is someone running with loose change in their pockets, jingling away.  Capital offence at least in terms of its annoyingness.  This neatly segued into my suggestion of cheering the mood by indulging in ‘fantasy rage scenarios’ i.e. when you fondly imagine what you would have done if only it were possible, socially acceptable and/or legal.  Or at the very least you thought you’d get away with it undiscovered.  To my extreme disappointment, they initially misjudged my suggestion, taking it to be the altogether nicer ‘let’s change the subject’ and talk of ‘Fantasy Race Scenarios’.  As if that would be any good when you need to allow a fellow human being the catharsis of expressing their rage. Besides, we already have a fantasy race in the form of the aforementioned Round Sheffield Run – though even that could be improved with more unicorns and rainbows (which I’ve fed back every year to a wall of silence) and the attendance of a band of drummers.   I soon put her right, and we had a great time thinking of appropriate ways to act out ire.  It’s not appropriate to go into them all here, but the notion that loose change in a pocket might spontaneously heat up into liquid metal, run down the legs and reform into an ankle shackles was pleasing.  It would have the added bonus of preventing offenders from running onwards, so very practical also.  I was very glad to be able to drag down my fellow smilies to my pond life levels of social interaction.   My work is done.

By now I was feeling the cold, so I just cheered a few last runners in, and then began the walk home with two of my car share buddies.   We were in dire need of coffee, but decided to walk towards the Youth hostel to find some, rather than get further away into town where to be fair the options were much better but it would take longer to get back and changed.  The options weren’t many, but we found a post office come shop that sold pretty much everything, including surprisingly serviceable coffee, which you bought in the store and sat and drank in a sort of converted garage space next door.  Not the most salubrious of surroundings but acceptable all the same.

Coffee drunk, back to the hostel where we cleaned off our shoes and left them in the ironically titled drying room. To be fair it was warm in there, but nothing really seemed to dry. I suppose it was a tall order given the number of soaked items of footwear festooned around.  Enough to cure a shoe fetishist by sensory overload surely?

KH shoes

I was very glad of a hot shower whether just a dribble or not.  Lunch was bread and cheese and peanut butter yum. Then a snooze, pleasantly interrupted at intervals by returning smilies who could regale me with their adventures from the day.  There may have been a little bit of opportunistic T-shirt stroking as well now I come to think of it.  Well, it was a Les Brutelles one, you have to don’t you?

T shirt covetousness

In the evening it was one mass communal meal.  A practical option, if not the most inspired of menus.  Then there was chatting, sharing stories and general spreading of Smiley good will.  I opted for an earlyish night and dorm chats like a sleepover for grown ups, others revelled through to the small hours having come supplied. And quite right too!  I’m sure gin counts as a carb, and carbing up was needed if you were doing it all again come the morrow.

food for weekend

So that was it for Saturday.  For the morning runners anyway.  Other runners were available, there was a veritable plague of Smilies out on them there hills at times!  Even with some disguising themselves in mufti, we were still a force to be reckoned with, although thankfully a benign one in the main.

I’m not really fussed about times but full 2017 Helvellyn results are here for those of you who mind about or even notice such details.

Oh, and as for the route?  Well, as you know I had an epic fail where route recording is concerned so I’ve had to steal a Strava screen shot from a woodrun buddy – frankly from my point of view it’s  probably a blessing not to have my noticeably less impressive rendering of the route posted on-line for posterity.  Hopefully casual readers will assume this is me. Massively improving my running recently.  Inspirational stuff even.  Go me!  Don’t let on dear reader, please don’t…

Helvellyn route Lakes Dirty Double

It was actually a bit short of 10k, coming in at 5.3 miles (don’t know what that is in kilometers and can’t be bothered to google it) with 1,074 ft of elevation. So now you know.

Run one down.  And  you know what. It was glorious.  Tomorrow, you get to do it all again.  Fabulousness upon fabulousness, how lucky are we.

So exciting.

So well done Smiley Buddies one and all.  This going en masse to the Lakes malarkey is a very fine thing indeed.   How lucky are we to have one who moves amongst us willing to put in the work to make it so.  Smiley Magic Maker – we salute you!

Smiley magic maker

Who knows what tomorrow may bring… patience people, the time will come!

For all my Lakeland Trails related posts, click here and scroll down for older entries.