running

small park BIG RUN 2018, an exercise in hope, or maybe exercise and hope…

Digested read:  I couldn’t really understand the logistics of this small park BIG RUN event so never made it last year, and only really went on a whim this time round.  So glad I did.  A relaxed, worthwhile event for a good cause, just rock up and run whenever within a 24 hour period, laps of 1k.  It really isn’t that complicated.  No, it wasn’t boring, surprisingly enough.  At the end I got a high-five from the mayor, an unexpected ice pop and best of all, did 10 k without my leg falling off even a bit. Yay.  Maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Also, Meersbrook park is actually really lovely, hidden gem, and there were some sound people out and about.  You could be too this time next year!

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small park BIG RUN took place for the first time last year (2017) but at the time I couldn’t really get my head around quite what the event was, so somehow, life got in the way and I never went, which was a shame.  I did want to go, but, well you know… didn’t really understand how it worked and was too lacking in initiative to find out, and too lacking in bravado to just go along and brazen it out.

It seemed to be some sort of a fund-raising run, and all night (24 hour) team challenge.  I thought you needed to be organised enough to be part of a team, get sponsorship for taking part.  The latter case being a nightmare scenario for me, even if I do support a cause.  Frankly, I don’t have that many friends anyway I don’t want to give those I do have more reasons to avoid me.  Also, most of them are awesome runners, I couldn’t look them in the eye and beg them to fund my shambling efforts, pottering round a local park whilst they are busy ascending vertiginous mountain ranges in nothing more than some grippy fell shoes and a technical tee (and shorts probably to be fair) or cycling into biblical storms for miles on end.  The shame.  Also, you are basically asking people to pay you for doing something you supposedly do for ‘fun’, though I think many of us who run for fun would recognise this to be a thoroughly contested concept.  For the record, I recognise my inconsistency on the sponsorship thing, when I sponsor people, it’s generally because I want to support them in whatever endeavour they are undertaking and I don’t care about the cause, or because I am happy to donate to whatever charity it is they are supporting. There are limits to this, I won’t pay people to go on holiday (no horse riding round Mongolia or cycling round Vietnam challenges will entice me to part with my cash, you can pay for your own adventure holiday and donate to a linked charity if you wish) and I’d draw the line at forking out for the ‘Pro Trump Alliance’ or whatever, but otherwise I don’t insist people seeking sponsorship put themselves in personal peril or horrific discomfort or even complete said challenges as a prerequisite for supporting them. Obviously it’s more fun if they do, particularly when they have the foresight to record such occasions on camera but I don’t wish to be too pedantic on such matters.  Or at least, I don’t want to get caught out being so anyway…  Oh, and I do feel uncomfortable about giving money to ‘charities’ that are doing work that ought really to be a government responsibility or are too focused on the self-aggrandisement of the donor rather than addressing the causes of need or inequality so best not get me started on that.  The business of charity is complicated… Nevertheless, sometimes giving to a cause is important as an act of recognition and validation as much as it is of practical help.  And yep, it often is just a sticking plaster, but if you are the person in need of that, then you’ll still want it, even if it isn’t a permanent and all encompassing solution.  You surely know how the starfish story goes:

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Then the team thing.  How to organise a team, I don’t have the necessary charismatic leadership qualities to rally others, if I had, by now I’d already have either organised some sort of self-serving cult or harnessed my powers for good and brought about world peace starting with a resolution for Palestine.  I haven’t done either, so draw your own conclusions.

Then the 24 hour thing,  can I do more than one slot?  Do you have to pay for every hour you do?  How do you choose what time to go, what if you are on your own, can you still do it?  The on-line entry was asking a lot of questions that weren’t catering for the pathologically indecisive such as myself.

Upshot was, that confusion led to inertia, and an ‘oh well, I can always go next year, I’ll worry about it then.’  As I write this, I do fully appreciate how inadequate as a human being this makes me sound, but on the plus side, I do this so you don’t have to, so now I’ve sussed it, you can be all smug and wise after the event, and join the fun next year with a clarity of vision and purpose that will make you scamper round the 1km route in Meersbrook park with an extra spring in your step and an extra wide smile on your face.  Hurrah!  Because, it is now next year, and I did go.  So now I know.  And look at these smiling faces from the fun run start in 2017 – who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

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Because, well, dear reader, turns out all my confusion was misguided errant nonsense.  It’s like The Trunce, seemingly all a bit confusing if you’ve not been before, but in reality, just rock up on the day and go with it, you’ll be fine.  It all makes perfect sense, nothing complicated at all.  No really, there isn’t.  Let me explain.

The official blurb on the small park BIG RUN website says:

small park, BIG RUN
A 24 hour group challenge for Palestine
Midday Saturday 16 June – Midday Sunday 17 June 2018
Meersbrook Park, Sheffield 

We will run continuous circuits of Meersbrook park over 24 hours with at least two people on the course at all times. Entrants will be able to run, jog or walk shifts. You can choose how long and at what time you would like to run when you enter. You can run as an individual or as part of a team. At 12.15pm on Sunday 17th there will be a free Community/Family Fun Run of one lap. ALL WELCOME.

In 2018 we will be raising funds for the Khuza’a Children’s Play and Heal project and the Sheffield Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund.  More here

Palestinians do not enjoy freedom of movement. Journeys we take for granted, like going to school or work, visiting friends or family or trips to hospital can be much more demanding or even impossible for Palestinians faced with the ever-changing restrictions on movement imposed by the Israeli security forces.  Our event will draw attention to the situation and raise funds for two Sheffield based projects in aid of Palestine

Some groups – Goodgym for one, did put together teams to cover the whole 24 hours (noon Saturday to noon Sunday) in one hour slots.  Some people probably did get sponsorship for taking part.  This is an event which attracted non-runners and local activists who care passionately about the cause, but might not care quite so passionately for hoiking up that mahoosive Meersbrook park hill over and over again.  Kudos for them for fundraising on that basis.  But if you a local runner, who wants to take part but is also something of a commitment phobe and so doesn’t want to sign up in advance, you can just turn up on the day, pay your £12 entry fee (£5 non-waged) and then just join whatever time slot is coming up next – and they seemed to be every half hour not just on the hour for the record.  So it really was that simple, and that is what I did. Obviously I’m not going to leave my account there though, so get yourself a cup of tea and come and join in the fun vicariously…  I’m not saying you’ll enjoy reading this account, but if you are trying to procrastinate because of some other even more undesirable activity, then this blog post might be just the thing.  It might not though, so continue at your own risk.

So I did go, but it wasn’t a given. Truth to tell, I’ve been really down about my running lately.  Lost my running mojo entirely.  This is largely due to an insane number of niggles – shin pain, patella tendinopothy (overuse of the knee, not glamorous at all) which means I basically can’t really run at all.  However half-hearted my running might typically be, not being able to do it cuts out my entire social network and I feel like I’ve missed out on loads of stuff, from the Smiley solstice run to the Dig Deep Recce I was signed up for on Sunday.  Even parkrun seems to have faded to black and white I’m so far away from what I want to do.  It’s partly because I’d fondly imagined post the London Marathon (did I mention that at all?) and after a couple of weeks for recovery I’d be at the apex of my physical fitness.  Lean and toned, a coiled spring of muscle and mighty marathoner mania,  I’d be romping round trail ultras dishing out high-fives to passing walkers; bestowing pearls of training wisdom to anyone in earshot; allowing junior parkrunners to hold my medal  and, best of all, finally be able to keep up with the crowds enough to join the Smiley off-road monthly runs.  Alas, It was not to be, and not only because all of those thoughts were delusional in the first place.   Instead I find I am a physical wreck, the heaviest I’ve ever been and frankly lost running wise.  I seem barely able to get off the sofa, let alone head off for a run, and when I do, I’m in pain.  It’s not fair.  Even my beloved tomtom watch has stopped working.  Woe is me.  I’m not gonna lie, I may have had a bit of a pity party.  Conceding I’d never make it up Win Hill for the planned Dig Deep recce even if I crawled, let alone attempting to run up it, I pulled out of that.  I’d never have kept up, and my knee was hurting after parkrun on a flat 3 miles, so yomping off up and over 10 miles of hills wouldn’t be helpful – I was supposed to be joining an organised recce on Sunday, small park BIG RUN-day.  I’d left it too late to volunteer for Graves junior parkrun, well I could have rocked up but they had a full roster, and also it was father’s day and I didn’t really want to be reminded of that and family fun at Graves seemed likely to feature that prominently.  Sunday run plans were officially aborted…

Soooo, what to do instead?  Stay under the duvet all day was obviously one option, but that is never as enjoyable as you might think… then I remembered about small park BIG RUN.  I’d said last year I’d try to go to this.  Nothing to lose.  It was only 1km laps, I could walk it and test out my knee, it might be entertaining, it is in a good cause, no harm in rocking up and seeing how the day unfolded.  Plus, what better way to put my first world problems into some sort of perspective.  My decision was made.  small park BIG RUN it would be.  So that’s what I did.

Here’s the route by the way – that’s quite some hill, it really is!  Also another thing, disappointingly, it isn’t Garfield’s Primary School.  Shame.  Maybe in a parallel universe somewhere?

strava small park BIG RUN route

The event was taking place over 24 hours.  I knew there was a lantern workshop on the Saturday, so it would be lit up overnight, I toyed with the idea of going Saturday night to enjoy that, but that was before it started to rain.  In the end, I opted to head over on Sunday morning and see how things unfolded.  I got there around 8.30 ish.  There was a fair bit of parking around near the park at that time, and the first thing I noticed in the Sunday morning quiet is just how lovely Meersbrook park is. I’ve only ever passed through it before when either doing the Round Sheffield Walk route or participating in the Round Sheffield Run. As I typically start that in Endcliffe Park, by the time I make it to Meersbrook park my eyes are usually bleeding with fatigue and I’m too exhausted to focus on my surroundings, I just want the run to end.  Whizz down that hill hoping not to somersault like the most reckless of cheese rolling chasers, and out past the playground area barely registering the location at all.  Seeing it whilst positively lively by comparison was a revelation. It’s a lovely mature park, the views are stunning, and there are whole sections of it I’d never seen before – specifically the community hall which was where you went to register – how have I missed that?

AD community hall

and there were some hidden away walled gardens. where later on there was cake.  Who knew?  Turns out, the Round Sheffield Walk is lovely, but it’s worth deviating from the route now and again to explore the environs it passes through a bit more thoroughly.

I could see a high-vis marshal stationed on the course, and made out a solitary runner pounding round through the iron railings.  Suddenly I felt quite excited. I do like a micro adventure, this was just the job, it was going to be grand!

The event was well signed, with a huge banner outside proclaiming what was happening, then I could see some colourful bunting and various tents.  I don’t know why, but I’d been half expecting the place to seem a bit deserted at this time, but actually there were a fair few around, organisers, runners and volunteers, all friendly, and committed to the endeavour.  It all oozed positivity and optimism.

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I wasn’t joking (although I may have been punning somewhat) when I said this was an exercise in hope.  Although this is an inclusive run/ walk/ jogging event it is first and foremost a fund-raiser.  The organisers  identify themselves as:

… a broad based group of people from Sheffield Palestine Cultural Exchange, Sheffield Palestine Solidarity CampaignSheffield Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund and from the local Heeley and Meersbrook communities in Sheffield.

Sheffield Palestine Cultural Exchange is a group of people committed to ensuring exposure of Palestinian culture in Sheffield and to putting on events where it is possible to make live links with Palestinians. In this event we hope to ensure a run in Gaza and the West Bank at the same time.

The Scholarship Fund is a UK based charity and was set up in 2007 following an International Women’s Day Conference in 2006, where a call was made to support women into education in Gaza. The Fund raises money for scholarships to pay the university fees of Palestinian women into higher education in the Gaza Strip.

Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign has been active in Sheffield since 1990s. It is made up of a group of people committed to highlighting injustices suffered by Palestinian people.  SPSC supports children’s projects in Gaza and has funded better play facilities and a mobile library. More recently we have funded a trauma centre to help recovery from the psychological impact of war.

It was appropriate therefore that there were various stalls connected to these issues around, and many of the volunteers I spoke with were passionate campaigners for the cause.  It took me back decades to when I was a teenager, first hearing about the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the early eighties, which a google search tells me must have been when it just started in 1982.  It is depressing, but also a triumph of hope over experience in that although if anything things have got very much worse since then, nevertheless impassioned people still campaign for the cause.  It’s easy to turn away in despair, which is why, in my opinion anyway, events like small park BIG RUN are important to keep reminding us of what is going on as well as being a gesture of solidarity as much as anything else.  Like I said, hope over experience.  It reminded me I’ve lost touch with my inner activist to some extent.  It just seems to me that so many campaigns I’ve given energy and time too have been exhausting and futile.  I just got disillusioned and burnt out, it’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I feel powerless.  The current political climate doesn’t help.  Those dizzy days when me and my next door neighbour endlessly replayed the ansaphone message from Tony Benn when he’d called us to say he couldn’t talk at our Stop the War meeting but wished us well seem but a memory. Never been so star struck.  It was heartening to see people who are still fighting the fight, and it isn’t futile, it makes a difference for some individuals at least.

I pootled around, peering into the various tents. There was a registration tent, a massage tent, a run director/ organisers tent, an open gazebo for I know not what (shelter from the rain) tent.  I was expecting runners to head off on the hour, so felt an explore was in order as time was on my side.

Pleasingly, there were some running romping, and as it is only a 1km route, they trotted by with reasonable frequency.  Even more pleasingly, turned out there were a couple of fellow Smilies already on the cause, as with all good members of Smiley Paces, they were able to interrupt their circuit for a huggy photo.  I didn’t wear my Smiley top, I wasn’t sure it would be appropriate to do so at what is more a community event than a running club one, club vests were a minority overall.  It didn’t matter too much.  A fair few were sporting the official small park BIG RUN tops, which were rather fabulous and clearly the best choice, but my budget didn’t stretch to that.

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I registered, which took about a millisecond.  You have to fill in a form with your contact details and emergency contact, in return for which you get a number (pins provided).  It was very relaxed, frankly although I’m sure it would save organisers a lot of stress if you sign up in advance, the reality was I just paid my money and then you could set off whenever at the next half hour point.  Once you’ve done one slot, no-one was going to forcibly prevent you notching up a few extra laps if the mood took you – it was hardly the Boston Marathon circa 1976 with over zealous officials trying to wrestle  Kathrine Switzer from the course.   Nor did anyone call out your number and require you to leave the field, which I seem to remember being a thing if you hired a boat by the hour on a boating pond back in the day. Maybe that’s still a thing?  I really have no idea.  Here is my number, I got one all of my own, later on in the day they actually ran out, and had to improvise, writing on the back of previously issued ones. That’s good really, shows the event was well supported – better than anticipated even.

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I then had my obligatory precautionary pee (proper toilets people) and dumped my stuff in the community hall, the reception are of which was doubling as an unsupervised bag drop, then I decided to just walk a loop and take some pictures and see what the lie of the land was.  It was nice just ambling through the park.  There were lots of lanterns around, one or two with still flickering tea lights within, it must have looked lovely in the dark with the paths all lit up.  I paused to say hello to all the marshals, and admired the views.  I also puffed at the steepness of The Hill. What is it with Sheffield hills?  They are brutal.

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As I was walking round, some marshals were walking in the opposite direction, having harvested the lanterns now it was daylight again.  It turns out carrying a load of lanterns is a lot harder than you might expect.  It was quite joyful to witness though!  They were quite smart those marshals though, walking the route anti-clockwise, they got to come down the extra steep hill.   This is what happens if you have initiative.  Result.

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There were lots of things to behold.  At intervals around the course, the organisers had put up placards detailing aspects of life in the Gaza strip.  It was sobering to read these, and as well as being educated about the plight of Palestinians over there, you could also take a bit of a breather on the way up the hill whilst taking it all in.  Look up, and there was an amazing view back across the city.  I do love Sheffield, it’s taken me a long time to find it, but it is an extraordinary place.

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As I was taking this lap at a leisurely stroll, I also noticed things in the park I’d not seen before, including some rather fine wood carvings.  Running round later I also spotted an amazing hare, set back off the path, but I cannot lie, I couldn’t be bothered to go back and photograph it, maybe next year…  wish I’d made the detour now, it was class, right there.

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I also took some shots of runners, running, or yomping or jumping for joy.  There were a fair few out and about.  I took my time walking round as I’d got aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaages until the 9.00 a.m. next start up.

I got back to the start/finish, just as another Smiley arrived.  Hello!

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I went to ditch my camera and then returned to the start – to realise I’d cleverly just missed it.  The run director had disappeared.  I stalked him, and basically it was fine, he gave me a quick ‘look out for hazards’ sort of briefing, and then off I popped.  There was no chance of me keeping pace with fellow Smiley anyway, and I figured she’d lap me eventually, which indeed she did, although it took me longer than expected.

Generally speaking I’m really not a fan of multi-lap courses, due to tedium and the inherent pointlessness of it. However, on this occasion I was willing to give it a go.  The low/no pressure element suited me because I knew I’d have to walk up all the hills because of my knee injury, and I could pull out at any time if it was all too painful and the way the event was set up no-one would care how many laps I’d done even if they noticed at all (in a good way).  Trotting round though, was surprisingly OK.  Meditative even.  The marshals were all super friendly – a couple I recognised which I suppose isn’t altogether surprising given how the Venn diagrams of Sheffield communities interconnect all over the place.  It was weirdly reassuring having them come round back into view every few hundred metres.  Because people were setting off at different times, running at different paces and doing different numbers of laps, it was quite social too.  Particularly going uphill when I was not alone in dropping back to a walk.  I got snatches of others conversations, and involved in some too.  I met a woman who I’d previously come across whilst overwhelmed in a plant nursery (which is not the same as a garden centre apparently) I was overwhelmed, she rescued me.  It was nice to catch up!  There were families taking part, I couldn’t help noticing one dad (I think) punching the air (ironically) and proclaiming to the applauding marshal ‘I’ve just beat a seven year old!’ as he summitted (is that a real word? Sorry grammar police, but if sort of feels like the right one) The Hill.  Honestly, I think that would justifiably have been a cause for real – not ironic – celebration – have you seen how fast those junior parkrunners can go!  These photos were taken by Alan Dalton, and are throughout the 24 hours I think, but they give a real flavour of the participants in all their glory.  Special kudos to the guy in the Sheffield half marathon purple tee.  He lapped me countless times and I swear he ran every step of the way up that hill, super human.  If I’d ever caught up with him I’d have told him so.

The marshals offered encouragement and quips.  I wasn’t inclined to believe the ‘down hill all the way‘ now comment though, I mean strictly true if it was your final lap, but the odds were against that being so!  I liked pausing to read the signs, and the people watching element of it all.  There were non-runners, waving flags as they walked round with determined expressions as they ploughed up the hill. There was the guy who collected two greyhounds from some people sitting on a bench and did a round with them attached cani-cross style around his waist.  If he was banking on them to haul him up the hill it was a miscalculation.  I noticed them trotting round ahead of him on the downward and flat sections very happily, but he was in front tackling the hill.  I think he returned them to the custody of their carers after that.   Occassionally, as I was trudging up hill, a runner would come sprinting down, I recognised most – looked like people doing recces for next week’s round sheffield run to me.  I’m supposed to be doing that.  I’ve picked my number up, but not sure if I’ll make it, could be over-ambitious what with my knee and running inertia and all….

There was a photographer positioned right at the top of the hill, where, granted the views were fab but the challenge to try to be running for the photo was also great.  I put on a bit of a sprint at the last possible moment and was rewarded with these pictures, I’m not sure how I feel about them, they are action shots, the view is stunning, but I really do need to get fit again.  Eek. Even so, good to have. Maybe I can learn to Photoshop more quickly than I can lose that weight?

As I cornered to go down the hill two marshals on the bench applauded my splendid turn of speed.  ‘Wow, that was amazing‘ said one, momentarily genuinely impressed.  This was followed up with the sound of a penny dropping and a cautious ‘that wasn’t just because there was a photographer there was it?’  Erm, well yes, obvs.  I’m guessing that particular marshal was a non runner therefore not initiated into the code of conduct of how to behave when you see a camera en a race run route.

Loads of people took part over the 24 hours, from babes in arms to this fine nonagenarian.  Impressive eh?

BB 94 year old participant

It is only one kilometre, so you are quickly back where you started and off again.  Just after the start there was a sort of right-angle round the corner of the building.  Here at one point there was a small child playing football, possibly this was to recreate the authenticity of the hazards a child en route to school might face in Gaza.  Hang, on there’s a picture somewhere, not of the footballer, but of the corner, and you’ll need to remember this layout for later on mayoral hiding purposes.

AD corner shot

I took it really steady, running slowly all but the hill sections – though I was shamed into doing the final uphill sprint even when the photographer wasn’t there just because I really felt I should.  It took on a meditative quality.  Because I knew I could stop at any time, I did more than I expected.  For the record, it’s harder than you might think to count laps, even if you do less laps than you have fingers. Fortunately, I have my tomtom watch, it won’t upload anything or synch with strava, but it will record distance in real time so that enabled me to keep count.  It helped that each lap was 1km, even my maths skills can cope with multiplying or dividing by one.  Without my watch to keep track, I’d either have bailed after lap one or still be out there now, running endlessly round in circles, trying to find the exit point.  No need to chip in with your view of which is the most likely scenario of the two by the way, just so you know.

It took me ages, but I did complete my goal of 10 laps, plus the one I walked earlier.  I’m embarrassed by how slow I was, but, on the plus side, I feel my endurance is still there.  My knee did start to niggle after about 8 laps, but I did do what I set out to do, and it felt no worse afterwards, not really.  If my knee had held out I could have done longer, I wasn’t shattered or anything. I really believe the one thing to come out of my London marathon training is having found my zero effort ‘running’ pace, I feel I could keep it up almost indefinitely.  It’s true many people can power walk faster than I can run, and the down side of its inherent energy efficiency is that I probably burn zero calories doing it, but it cheered me to think I can still do distance, well, maybe not distance, but hours on my legs, which if I do enough of them amounts to the same thing, I just have to cover the miles in my own unremarkable way.   There was some water at the start/finish point by the way, and I did stop for a drink a couple of times there, but basically, round and round I went.

I was gasping for a coffee, and wasn’t sure what to do.  The event closed at noon anyway,. and there was a promise of a mayoral visit (oh my gawd,  he is such a cool dude) and a video link up with one of the projects, and a fun run (I know because someone made an announcement).  It seemed a shame to push off and miss the concluding moments of the event, just because i was craving caffeine.  I’d seen a note somewhere about a cafe nearby but I don’t know the area and didn’t know where that was. That would be my only criticism of the day really, somewhere to get a coffee throughout the day would have been fab – or signage to the nearest cafe.  I could have asked to be fair, but who wants to show initiative post a run?

I sat on the hillock by the Palestinian flag and just observed.  I had one anxious moment when a dog tried to pee on me, but I managed an agile shift at the critical moment as the leg was cocked.  Close shave though. I’m sure it was symbolic of something.  I don’t know if it makes me lucky because I avoided being pissed on from a great height, or unlucky because I was clearly identified by the dog in question as a legitimate target.  Meanwhile, a choir sang unaccompanied and rather beautifully, their performance only spoiled when I realised it was Carfield community choir.  Easy mistake.  Garfield’s choir probably wouldn’t have bothered to rehearse so seriously though.   I espied them first practising in what I took to be the walled garden, but then they performed in front of the hall as the last lappers ran round.

I did really want a coffee though.  Eventually I overheard someone in possession of a steaming mug of tea telling someone else that there was coffee and cake in the mysterious ‘walled garden’ which it turns out, is not next to the hall at all, but opposite it, over the little hill. Tip for organisers next time, a directional arrow pointing it that direction would have been a boon.  No worries, off I went, and was restored with coffee and a raspberry jam filled scone, just what was needed.  Yum.

Restored by caffeine, I had a look around the exhibition and wandered round the gardens too.   There was a separate marquee up (I always want to say marquis, but that’s different isn’t it?) where they did the lantern making and community poetry writing (no really) workshops earlier on.   I had no idea this space was all here in Meersbrook park, really impressive.  What a revelation, and how great to see it being used by the local community in such a positive, proactive and inspirational way.

Back to people watching.  Just as I was getting a bit bored, the mayor rocked up.  Can’t lie, I was a bit star struck.  In an age where it feels all news is bad news, the election of Magid Magid – a Somalian born refugee as Sheffield mayor aged just 28 is blooming great.  Maybe there is room for hope after all.   I did vote for him, but hadn’t met him before, so I am relieved as well as pleased to report he came across really well. Affable, committed, principled and just a very nice thoroughly cool dude.  A good speaker also, he spoke about the importance of the day and came across as genuine and well-informed. Plus, he was game to run the final slot of the event, and turned up wearing very impressive bling, and we runners do know how to appreciate bling!

Off he went, I think then the choir sang actually, can’t remember now.   A group read the poetry they had composed inspired by the event and by running.  Think more community event than running event, and enriched by that ethos I think.  A departure from the usual race vibe.

Eventually, it was noon again, and the final runners romped in to loud cheers of support.  Top tip, if you are thinking of coming next year and can make the final 11- or 11.30 a.m. to noon slot, pick that, you’ll get loads of support, whoops and high fives, you’ll feel awesome.  Other time slots offer different rewards, the lantern walkers,  the night runners lit by lanterns and hearing the disembodied voices of the choir on the hill had their own unique experiences too.

the lantern walk:

PR lantern walk

night-time runners:

Final slot runners being cheered in:

Then there was some speechifying, which was important.  It contextualised the event.  People spoke with poignancy and passion.

After many aborted attempts, there was even a live link up with the children’s project in Gaza over a mobile phone!   We all crowded round in an anticipatory circle as eventually the connection was made.   Even the challenge of getting this to work was a reminder of what a scarce resource electricity is for the people over there, 2 hours a day perhaps, maybe 4 if really lucky.  Through a speaker system the children shouted greetings, and we assembled in Meersbrook park roared back in return.  It was quite unexpectedly moving and made the purpose of the event feel very real.  Real people being encouraged because others far away in a city they will probably never visit and might never have heard of, are trying to help them.  I think they were also doing some sort of run of their own over there too, but that bit got a bit lost in translation to be fair.

This was a good launch for the final fun run lap, which was basically a mass anarchic roar round the loop for all and sundry, whatever they were wearing and whatever demographic they fell in to.  It’s worth noting that the fun run in particular, and the whole event in general was a sort of symbolic celebration of the right to free movement.  I presume this informed the decision to built a fundraising event around running.   See what they’ve done there?  It’s easy to take the ability to move freely in the place you live for granted.  Not everybody can.  Hence…

The Fun Run will take place at 12.15pm on Sunday 17 June after the small park BIG RUN finishes. It will be celebration of our own right to free movement; we will be running at the same time as a tandem run in Palestine. There will be a live telephone link up – be sure to make some noise!

A tape was drawn across the start, and the mayor cut it with due solemnity

PR fun run

and the children at the front tore off, scooping up Magid with them in the tide of people.  This is where you need to refer to the previous photo of the corner shot.  As I turned the corner the mayor was crouched hiding behind a wall.  I wish I’d thought of that!  To be fair, he’d ducked out at the first sensible opportunity, after having been swept up in the stampede of the mass start to enable him to backtrack so he could be at the finish (which was also the start) to greet incoming runners as they completed their circuit.  Glad to have cleared that up.  It was hilarious though, well in my world, he did rather have the look of someone trying to get out of a mandatory cross-country run!  Personally,  I did head out and complete the final lap, and I’m glad I did, it was joyful.

Finishing, I was welcomed by a high-five from the mayor – which is right up there with the one I got from Harry Gration at the start of the Sheffield half a couple of years back.  Maybe even better.  What’s more, there was a run organiser Smiley at the finish, dolling out ice lollies to finishing youngsters.  However, shameless nepotism secured me an orange icicle and you know what, it was really, really nice!  Sometimes it pays to have contacts!

I enjoyed it whilst cheering in the final finishers.  What a day!  It did really help put things in a proper perspective.  Me having lost my running mojo isn’t such a drama in the grand scheme of things is it.  I can move freely and have electricity for starters.

And there was more gentle milling and chilling until finally people began to disperse ….

But there was one surprise still to come.  I espied a smiley, who offered to take a photo of me so I could have a record of my own presence at the event, and did so just as our esteemed Mayor was walking on by, so we shamelessly ambushed him, and got the shot!  He was most gracious, having posed for more photos than even Jessica Ennis when she showed up at that Vitality move event at Chatsworth.  I’m pleased and proud to have this shot though, maybe it’s capturing a little moment in history, when a small green shoot of hope found a way up through the concrete politics of hate that seem all around.  Well, I did say this whole 24 hours was basically an exercise in hope, you can surely  indulge me by allowing me to belief in this hope too.  🙂

And that was that.

So in summary, just rock up, rock round and rock on.  Job done.  You don’t have to be a team – though that sounds fun; and you don’t have to be sponsored – though it is a good cause. You can even be all spontaneous and impulsive and just roll up and run on the day.  What’s not to like?  I can’t promise you’ll get an icicle ice lolly, but there will probably be a banana in it for you.  I got two.

bananas

Thanks to all those involved in organising the event, the cheery marshals, fellow participants, supporters and those who shared photos, which I’ve freely borrowed, especially Alan Dalton; Paul Ree and Cath Ager.  I’m sure there will be more photos on the small park BIG RUN website in due course.  There you go. Same time same place next year?  I think so.

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

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

*maybe not that

**type two fun also available

HH shot

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

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

royal wedding swimwear

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

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

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

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

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

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

off to hathersage hurtle

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

cattle companions in car park field

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

over the road to sign in

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

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

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

PS traditional loo queue

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

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

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

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

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

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

supportive laughter at the trunce

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

HH map

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

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

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

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

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

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

PS way to do it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZA jazz hands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

super star

Excellent and effortless fell running technique there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSCF2629

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

Only they hadn’t.  Debrief people, debrief!

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

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

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

And that was that, event over.

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

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

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

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

PS run it walk it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you there!

🙂

 

 

Categories: off road, race, running | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Now what? Hurtling on past the post marathon blues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

depression ahead

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

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

your pace or mine

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

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

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

loveliness of smilies

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

parkrun code

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

my fantasy running buddy

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

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

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

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

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

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

mile 4 (6)

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

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

hathersage hurtle

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

To end with positives I think I offer up two:

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

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

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

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

she believed she could

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

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

Easy as.

You’re welcome.

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

So see you out on them there hills.

🙂

nice out

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

Digested read:  did it.

done it

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

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

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

ran and didnt tell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

this is real

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

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

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

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

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

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

dark peak hero

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

801492_273868355_Medium

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

loo queue

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

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

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

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

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

nearly across the start (2)

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

hot air balloons at start

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

start line

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

start band

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

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

first mile mark

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

Mile two.

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

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

humping marshals

Mile three.

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

Mile 4

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

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

MIle 4 vision of loveliness

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

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Into mile 5.

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

Mile 6

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

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

mile 6 done.

Into mile 7.

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

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

Mile 8

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

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

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

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

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

fire fighter

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

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

Mile 9

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

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

Mile 10 and 11

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

Mile 12

 

Mile 12- 13 including tower bridge

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

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

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

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

Go yogi go east end road runners

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

east end runner celebrity sighting

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

Mile 14 and beyond.

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

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

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

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Mile 15 – into the tunnels

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

 

Mile 16 – emerging the tunnels

Mile 17 – Grenfell Tower firefighters

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

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

grenfell finish

End of mile 17 – supporters en route

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

walking onwards

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 21

Mile 22 – 23 -24

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

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

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

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

canary wharf

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

Mile 25 on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

got the medal

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

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

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