teamwork

Wait – there’s a hill? small park BIG RUN also penguins for Palestine, no really :) *

*Also gratuitous use of emoticon in title of this blog post

small park BIG RUN

Digested read:  took part in the small park BIG RUN again, in the early hours.  It was fun.

Undigested read:  It’s extra nice, when you get to do something that you allegedly like (ableit often in a type two fun sort of way)  – in this case running (badly), as part of an event that is aligned to your values.  Even better when it’s local, community based and gives you the chance to do a fun new thing.  That is, running round in big circles in a park in the middle of the night, which granted, doesn’t sound like an enormous amount of fun to the uninitiated, but it turns out it really is, especially if you get lucky with the company you keep on the way round. Oh, and another thing which adds to the fun, it’s also a ‘running’ event which doesn’t actually require you to run if you don’t want to.  Excellent.   Walking is fine, also uni-cycling and stilt-assisted circuits, though I’m inclined to think both of those approaches might have presented a few extra challenges along the way.  Possibly a case of ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ Still, nothing ventured eh? Or you could juggle, you might need to learn first though as I think that’s probably not intuitive either, but basically each to their own, that’s the main thing.

 

The event is proactively set out to be as inclusive as possible, and quite right too!  It actually put on a couple of  ‘Assisted Hours’:

ASSISTED HOURS During the hours of 4pm to 5pm on Saturday and 11am till noon on Sunday we will be offering help to anyone who would like to participate, but feels they need some support to make this happen. We want to help. Please contact us and together let’s try to work something out!

Genius!  There were times up that hill that I’d have quite appreciated some assistance too to be fair, but I never thought to get in touch in advance.  Looks from the photos that plenty did though and had a hoot going round.  This is such a good idea, parkrun in particular is waking up to doing a lot more to facilitate inclusion through e.g. promoting walking, training up guides for visually impaired runners and offering more signed run briefings at its events, but this is the first time I’ve been aware of an organised run proactively offering assistance as opposed to reacting positively to requests for adjustments.  It gives such a different feel.

trev run for all

Oh, what’s that, you have no idea what I’m talking about?  I do do that sometimes, get ahead of myself.  To be fair, I had no idea what small park BIG RUN was until about this time last year, so it’s fair enough if you don’t know what it is.  Erm, well it’s small park BIG RUN and it’s becoming an annual event for Sheffield.  According to the website blah de blah:

A 24-hour group challenge raising funds for Palestinian women and children Midday Sat 15 June – Midday Sun 16 June 2019 Meersbrook Park, Sheffield.

In 2018 we raised £7,000 the Khuza’a Children’s Play and Heal project and the Sheffield Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund. Can we do better this year?

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, wheel, jog, walk, hop(!) shifts from 30 minutes upwards. 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 16th we complete the 24 hours with a free Community/Family Fun Run of one lap. ALL WELCOME.

So it’s a fund-raiser for Palestine on one level, but it’s much more than that, because as the event happens in Meersbrook park, parallel events are taking place in Palestine, so there’s a bit of symbolic solidarity there.  As the organisers said: ‘several runs are being organised in Palestine: In Gaza, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Nablus. … It is so exciting to think that whilst we are running here in Sheffield there will be hundreds of people in Palestine running too! In some small way these runs can help bridge the gaps that are put between people.’

The event is definitely about raising awareness of serious inequalities and injustices too.  It treads an elegant line between holding a positive and joyful event in Sheffield, whilst keeping the politics of Palestine central in the breadth of activities that happen alongside the event.  That included a photo exhibition : ‘building bridges’ photos from Sheffield and Palestine and an opportunity to contribute to a ‘wall of words’

There was also communal poetry writing – a high risk activity in my experience, but conducted with enthusiasm and talent here I’m sure.   I just struggle with this idea and need to qualify why… as I’m not just being rude, I’m processing previous trauma.  I think I’m over influenced by formative experiences in respect of this. I’ve never quite recovered from attending a ‘hard-hitting’ poetry reading that was to raise awareness around the horrors of and damage caused by drug addiction.  Which included the climactic conclusion of a rhyme that was…

wait for it….

‘Youths clad so you cannot tell their sex

and smelling all of cop-y-dex’

It was read out in a particularly laboured way to get the rhythm and rhyme emphasised to best effect by a woman with a completely deadpan expression.  I have never been in such pain drying to suppress laughter.  I applaud the earnest endeavour of the writer(s), but it didn’t for me at least, conjure up a vision of brutal realism and horror, thereby eliciting the intended response of shock and repulsion that would motivate me to action!  It wasn’t just the laboured rhyme, it was that I associated copydex with primary school and smearing it on your hands so you could peel it all off again – that worked on tables too by the way – very therapeutic – and not a glue you can readily associate with the worst ravages of solvent abuse.  That recitation has a lot to answer for.  Poetry can indeed have punch, but my first thought now is always of crying with suppressed laughter at the back of a freezing cold community hall, horribly traumatised by the realisation that my corpsing was massively inappropriate but completely beyond my control.  Nobody likes to be powerless… that’s why what is happening in Palestine matters.

copydex

There were also as plenty of pithy information posters around the course that gave a snap shot of the reality of life in Palestine.

And alongside that, during the daylight hours there was live music along the course, a community choir for the final flourish.  No, it isn’t Garfield’s choir, though I’d love to see that there too next year if there is such a thing, which there really should be if there isn’t already.

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Some took on the running challenge to extreme, treating the endless circuits – it’s  a one kilometre loop but involves a steep hill – as punishing hill reps. One hardy soul kept going for the entire 24 hours, doing a personal ultra.  Some just did one loop for fun, others carried flags or banners along the route, keeping the politics central to their participation.  You can run as an individual, you can run with friends, you can be part of a 24 hour relay, passing on a baton, or sash or just a winning smile as you hand over to the next participant.   You can run/walk/jog/juggle  for just one half hour slot or as many as you like; you can chat your way round or use the time for silent contemplation. ‘The choice is yours’ as Our Graham would say…

So basically, you can engage with event as you choose.

Imagine a Venn diagram, and the outer circles are politics; running; community; festival; solidarity with Palestine; music; craft; personal challenge; team challenge; bunting; lanterns; inclusivity and lots more probably, and where they all overlap with one another in the middle, that’s small park BIG RUN.  Oh hang on, forgot one of the most important circles of all – no, not the circle of life, the one with cake.  There was lots of cake too, apparently, but a daylight thing I learned too late!

trev cake

So are we all on the same page now, in terms of understanding what it’s all about?  Hope so.  I took park in small park BIG RUN last year, entering at the last minute on something of a whim having been very confused about exactly what it was.  I enjoyed it a lot, and resolved to come back and do a night time spot this year.  So that’s what I did, and no regrets… oh, well that’s not strictly true, it’s a lovely event, but it would be so much better if it didn’t need to exist wouldn’t it?  That aside though, very nice indeed thank you for asking.  This is little gem of an event, and it seems to be growing organically.  It was noticeably much bigger this year compared with last, and slicker with the organisation too – not that it was bad last year, it just has evolved more since.  Run by a team with principle and passion and it shows, in the friendly vibe evident on the day  even in the middle of the night.  And what’s more, that was also all going on in real time in Palestine.  I know, how cool is that.  small world BIG RUN to borrow a phrase.  Here are smiles from Ramallah, that’s pretty amazing is it not.

Palestinian runners

And here are some pictures from Nablus – looks like they  had serious fun day and night too!

So that’s the background.  What, do you mean, you are horrified that’s only the background?  Are you implying I’m going on a bit?  Don’t get all accusatory with me! I never claimed to be concise, you could have stopped after the digested read, if you are still here, even if only lured on by the photos, then that’s contributory negligence.  Fact.

So onto what happened next.  I’d have got to this point a lot quicker if we hadn’t had that little squabble about how long I was taking by the way … just sayin’.

What happened next is that a few months back, small park BIG RUN came up again on the Sheffield running community’s radar.   Last year only a couple of groups got it together to organise relays of runners to cover the full 24 hours, so there would always be someone on the course from their team throughout.  This year  there was a positive flurry of team entrants, including…. drum roll… one from my very own Smiley Paces.  Yay!  Go us!

Of course, teams don’t just materialise by magic, sadly.  It takes a fine organisational mind to step up and show leadership.  Cometh the hour, cometh the smiley, I give you exhibit a), our leader.

cometh the hour

Now there’s a look that oozes leadership and inspires confidence if ever I saw it!  Hurrah!

I say ‘leader’ but really that might be pushing it a bit.  A leader only if you believe in the ability of a leader to herd cats.  A leader in the sense of being a facilitator, enthusiasm generator and clearer up of confusion perhaps, but not really in the sense of being able to influence the direction of travel of any individual member, or being worshipped by followers.  We are an idiosyncratic lot we Smilies.  And all the better for it I’m sure.

So the gathering of a team began with a shout out for anyone interested, and then evolved into the creation of a shared google doc on which people could sign up and bagsy preferred time slots.  Now, not going to lie, this was problematic.  Problematic for all sorts of reasons.  Firstly, Smiley Paces members are all lovely, so there was a lot of unhelpful politeness.  ‘No you take that slot, I really don’t mind’, ‘don’t worry, I’ll take whatever slot is left over, so I’ll not sign up til everyone else has‘, ‘you first’, ‘no you first’ and so on. Resulting in a collective holding back and indecisiveness that took a while to be overcome. Then, there was the information technology divide between those for whom a spreadsheet acts as an erotic stimulant in much the same way as catnip does to cats, and those for whom the very thought of a spreadsheet brings on cold sweats and shudders.  For the former it is a case of ‘Bring it on!’  Because spreadsheets means super-charged fun, and that reminds me, must start an excel sheet on how to prepare for the party to mark International Spreadhseet Day‘ – which is 17th October for 2019 by the way.

spreadsheet day

For the latter, being expected to contribute to a shared spreadsheet engenders much the same horror as if they were being told they’d have to perform open heart surgery on a loved one without so much as access to a YouTube video in order to advise them how!  It seems that, magnificent as my fellow Smilies are, in some respects it is a miracle that they are able to pursue challenging careers and indeed, even live independently and dress themselves if the messages following this post were anything to go by.  ‘How do I open the document again?’  ‘I’ve accidentally signed up my dog for 12 hours can you edit it?’  ‘ooh, I think I’ve signed up twice by accident’, ‘well I thought I signed up, I definitely signed up for something, wasn’t it this – oh crap’.  You get the idea I’m sure!  This is where leadership was needed, in the sense that ‘you’re the leader you have to sort it for me‘ not so much in the ‘you’re the leader, it’s fine to delegate’.  Still, all worked out in the end, somewhat amazingly. All slots covered, and eventually the penny dropping that this was but the first stage in the process, you were also required to enter the event online as well.  We were all set.  Hooray!  We got there in the end.  Only a couple of people signed up without having bothered to check out the route.  There was one comment along the lines of ‘what there’s a hill?’ the night before, which turned out to be a serious enquiry and not a hilarious and spontaneous spew of sarcasm.  Ooops, oh well, you live and learn eh?  Not just any old hill either.  One well worth of the descriptor of ‘hill’, and one which rewards the upward climb with a fantastic panoramic view of Sheffield at the top – if you can but see it through your still bleeding eyes after making the effort to run up it…

I enjoyed the event last year, but this year decided I fancied doing a night time slot, as I wanted to see the beautifully crafted lanterns created to light the course in all their glory.  I also wanted to see the sun rise over Meersbrook park.  That would be glorious.

I will admit though, the day before my enthusiasm was waning a bit.  Partly because in Sheffield we’d had a solid few weeks of rain of near Biblical proportions.  Not so much ‘singing and dancing in the rain’ rain, as ‘we’re all going to die’ rain.  Didn’t honestly fancy running in that.  Then I also had a bit of a wobble, when I spotted through a handy ‘heat map’ of volunteers and runners for the event, that for the 3.30 a.m. slot there were likely to be very few people about.  I suddenly thought maybe running in the dark in a park I don’t really know, on my own might not be so appealing after all.  Oh well, committed now.  Alarm set for 2.20 a.m. and early to be I went.

What the f*** was that!’  It was my alarm going off at stupid o-clock.  I don’t know if anyone is able to quite explain this to me.  But how come, whilst I’m a perpetual insomniac who makes Lady Macbeth look like she suffers from narcolepsy I still managed to be sound asleep at the moment my dual alarms starting screaming at me.  Being woken in this way wasn’t good.  It didn’t feel like I was about to embark on a grand adventure, it felt like this was a terrible idea.  I didn’t dare go back to sleep again, so got up and then blinking into space realised I had no idea what to do next. Normally, if I was pre-run I’d have something to eat and some tea, but my body clock was having none of that.  I had a quarter of a cup of coffee and felt sick.  How do those all-night ultra runners do it.  I can’t even dress myself at that time of night it turns out.  No really, top went on inside out at first attempt.  How the Nicky Spinks of this world navigate the Lakes on no sleep is beyond my comprehension.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to navigate the fells of the Lake District, I just had to navigate the registration process for small park BIG RUN.

No traffic on the roads, I found easy parking right next to the park, and through the railings could see Meersbrook Hall brightly lit up and all inviting. A short walk down the drive and there were welcoming folk around and in the reception area of the hall collapsed runners who’d finished their rounds as well as suitably appointed loos (i.e. toilet paper in evidence) so no fretful angst about accessing the necessary facilities for my precautionary pee.  Also, and this is VERY important, I learned from one of the posters on display there that it turns out, the land at Meersbrook belonged to the Gotham family in medieval times.  No way.  The actual Gothams of Gotham City for sure – you don’t know any other Gotham’s do you?  Well then, it must be so.  Without Gotham there would have been no Batman – unimaginable, so it must be that Meersbrook Hall is ground zero for super heroes.  What could be a more apt venue for this event showing solidarity with Palestine.  Everyone involved a hero today!  And just shows, getting up in the middle of the night can be most educational.  Hurrah!

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So it was, I arrived at about 3.15 a.m. announcing to the impressively WIDE AWAKE night-time marshals, that I was there for the 4.30 a.m. slot.

They blinked back at me, unsure how to break the news.  ‘Erm, you are actually quite early‘ one ventured.  I looked back confused.  ‘Ah, no I meant 3.30‘ I said.  Having identified that not only was I unable to dress myself, or drink I had lost power of rudimentary cognition as well.  Oh well, hopefully my legs would still work.  Sighs of relief all round.

I was furnished with the Smiley baton – a thing of beauty, and personalised for smilies in perpetuity by dint of being infused with the perspiration from the palms of each previous runner.  Not just our running memories, but our actual sweaty DNA is held within that twig.  A heart warming thought if ever there was one.  Shame it got lost at one point and so was bereft in the registration tent awaiting a new claimant.  Actually, that baton had quite a few adventures over those 24 hours, but more of that later.  Let’s just say though, like the ravens in the tower of London, we now dare not lose it ever again…

It was pretty dark, but not pitch.  I had my head torch with me, and could see runners’ head torches bobbing about in the gloaming.  Eventually, I espied my team buddy, Smiley Elder, desporting herself with a headlong sprint downhill to the finish as she completed her 90 minute slot at full tilt, shin splints notwithstanding.  Honestly, it’s a complete mystery why her injuries persist so unreasonably.  Some people are just unlucky I guess.

Not seen her for far too long, and it was nice to have a quick hello and photo op before she trucked on back to Wolverhampton.  There’s smiley dedication for you.  Right there.

And that was it, I was launched, onto the 1km circuit.  You know what, the park felt lovely and calm.   There was no rain, and there were people around, not many, but enough not to feel spooked.  Volunteers walked the course in reverse whilst runners ran round.  I half wondered if some of the volunteers might have ended up doing more laps than those allegedly running, as I only ever broke into a jog when I saw the photographer up ahead, it was hard enough being awake at that hour, let alone actually sprinting about.  Also, it was quite meditative doing some solitary laps.  The lanterns were plentiful and gorgeous, it does create a magical feel.  It was also quite exciting spotting the imaginative creations from the solitary (I think) penguin to the impressive prehistoric looking fish – it reminded me of what I think an angler fish looks like, though I’ve never actually met one.  With each circuit I noticed different creatures. I was also very taken with the pig.  Pigs are one of my favourite animals ever, well warthogs specifically, but I’ll still always perk up at the sight of a pig.  Brilliant creatures. … well I think it was a pig.  It might have been a dog actually, oh well, it was a pig to me in the moment.  So be it!

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I kept my head torch on for the first lap, but really there was a surprising amount of light in the park.  There was a noisy chorus of birds, I mean like REALLY LOUD, and the place looked gorgeous.  I exchanged pleasantries with other participants and marshals.  Agreeing with one at least that we should promise ourselves to be out in the open and see this time of day in a park or rural space at least once a month from hereonin. You know, I might actually try to do that.  It was pretty special.  The sun started creeping up and reflected back off buildings or back lit the tree line.  The early hours weren’t spooky at all, rather quietly meditative.

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I say ‘quietly meditative’ but actually, after the first couple of laps, which went quickly, what with all the marshals to greet and sights to see, I was joined by another fellow Smiley for the sunrise stint.  Here we are together:

dawn runners

No, not just out for a stroll, actually power walking for Palestine very purposefully up a steep hill.  I can’t remember exactly why I’m gesticulating wildly, I like to think I was waving at someone not annoyingly emphasising a point, but I am known for my delusional tendencies.  What we can be confident about, is that as endurance events go, I think we did pretty well, managing to talk without pausing for breath for the next hour at least.  It was sort of like simultaneous broadcasting, which is a bit like circular breathing.  To the untrained ear we might have seemed to be talking over each other, but actually it’s a time efficient way to communicate if you can speak and listen simultaneously, and we had a lot to cover what with pond talk, gardening and running related topics to catch up on.

Lots of lovely marshals, and lots of lovely views:

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 And then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any better.  Another Smiley!  Honestly, we are like buses, suddenly three at once, and with what joy!

So then we had even more walking and talking and the route got busier and there was even an official photographer about.  Also, to my enormous joy, a couple of party goers, giddy from a night out were making their way home through the park.  One wearing vertiginous silver platform shoes, and both clutching tinnies and sporting slightly slurry, but warm and open grins.  They were fascinated by this spectacle of runners in the park in the small hours, and plonked themselves down on a bench to cheer us all by as they finished their cans and enjoyed the view.  It was brilliant, a really encouraging and mutually unexpected encounter.  So much good will in the middle of the night.

Some running occurred, but also quite a bit of important peer networking.  Also, a debate on how easy it was to convince smallish children who’d been ‘made’ to marshal the day before in torrential rain that type 2 fun does still constitute fun, and whether or not it is quite fair to explain to them the full horror of life in the Gaza strip as an example of what some children have to contend with.  It’s complicated….

My favourite shot of the night though is this one:

trev because hills are fun

We all know the camera never lies, and clearly this photo shows me cheerily sprinting up that hill, leaving our leader – and one might have thought the more resilient runner for dust. She maintains she has only been stopped by an over-riding compulsion to guffaw, brought on by my shameless ‘look, there’s the photographer‘ alarm call, which as all runners know, is a cue for making it look like you are really going for it.  Irrespective of who you choose to believe, I still think even if her version is true, she had fair warning and despite this instruction didn’t follow it, so, whilst I’m not entirely unsympathetic, sometimes it’s important for individuals to just own their actions, don’t you agree?

Also, that hill though, it’s ridiculously steep.  Some people got more representative shots than me, hang on, I’ll see what I can dig out:

If you are a Sheffield local, it’s the one your run down like pyroclastic flow as part of the Round Sheffield Run.  Yep, but going upwards this time, that is against gravity and, I would argue, defying the laws of nature too!

So a few laps as a cheery threesome, and then one peeled off to go home, and our leader decided to up her game and do some running, so I finished with a couple more laps on my own, just enjoying being alive and out on a beautiful morning, and enjoying a rare moment of positivity and calm in troubled times.  Basically dear reader, it was reet nice out.

I tried to get some atmospheric photos, they don’t really do it justice, but here they are for posterity in case of interest.

And then, after a couple of hours, I decided that was me done, though really, it does have a meditative quality, and it isn’t boring at all, I could imagine doing more laps, and – though I reserve the right to change my mind – at that moment, I had a brief fantasy of thinking how fab it would be to do as one did and just start at noon on Saturday and keep on going as long as you could.  So much to see and think about, it would be quite amazing.

Then again, the prospect of a cup of coffee was also quite amazing so back to the support tent where we’d been ticking off our team laps – as had other teams, Good Gym for one, and Striders for another – others too – and said my farewells and home I went.  Past the slumbering supporters and newly arrived, admiring the huge flag that had appeared – or maybe just come into view with the dawn – whilst I’d been out running on the course.

It was a bit sad leaving, as the fun was continuing. I actually felt really wide awake as well, which was strange, but also cold, despite my fleece, so time to go home. However, my leaving didn’t mean the event was concluded, oh no, Sunday morning was one big crescendo to the grand finale.

People gathered for a communal final lap, and for a link up with Palestine, and songs, and cake, and choirs, and poetry reading and basically a bringing together of all involved. Thankfully the weather was fair, and the mood buoyant.  It looked great in the pictures which I pored over afterwards.  Look how much fun they had!  Serious fun though, in every sense. This is fun in a serious cause.

and here are some stills of fun being had at the opening of the event, as well as the final fun run lap:

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Basically, a grand event, in a fine cause.

Alas, inevitably there were a few quibbles. I could of course let these go, but then again, wouldn’t want resentment to build up over the next year for things unsaid.  Firstly, never got to see these:

JB rewards

Now don’t get me wrong, obviously, participating was it’s own reward, but for those amongst us who need a bit of external motivation, cake promises and subsequent placement (or absence thereof) is a serious matter.

Gripe two.  Who nearly lost the Smiley baton?  I know it all ended happily in the end, but to think it was abandoned in the park and a party of small children had to be despatched to retrieve it cannot be Smilies finest hour.  No worries, we can learn from this, and we shall never speak of it again.  That seems fair.

Otherwise, all pretty much perfect in every way.  Hurrah!  So all signing up for next year yes?  And remember, marshalling is fun too – even in the rain – especially so, extra kudos to those that do!

So thanks to everyone who made this happen, and for keeping the message alive year on year.  Putting on the event was a labour of love, and very worthwhile, I’m already looking forward to next year.  It may only be a relatively localised initiative, but it matters, and the power in linking up with parallel events in Palestine is for me at least, genuinely thought provoking and moving too.

Oh, and for the record, the 24 hour smiley team clocked up approximately 269 laps.  Not everyone recorded every lap, and you’d be amazed how hard it is to count and run.  No really it is!  I’m not even exaggerating for comedic effect!  Not that the numbers matter, it was the opportunity to maximise participation that was the main thing, and a fine bonding experience it was too!  Special thanks to our great leader, who made it so!

laps

Lots of ace photos from the day by the way.  Many are brought together on the small park BIG RUN Facebook page under albums.  I’ve borrowed freely from them, alongside using some of my own.  Thanks for everyone who came, and snapped and shared.  Special thanks to Trevor Pollard for the atmospheric black and white ones, and to Kev Donnington for his colourful capturing of a fab event.  Cath Ager took loads too, thanks all for documenting the day(s).   If anyone spots a photo on this post they want removed, let me know and I’ll do so.  🙂

I’ll end it there.  Same time next year?

trev how to finish

For all my small park BIG RUN posts see here.  You’ll need to scroll down for older entries.

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Rocking the context appropriate look. Snow plogging microadventures r us.

Digested read: went plogging on the Sheffield Half-Marathon route.  It snowed.  It was still fun.

litter picking white out

Undigested read: I can hardly run a bath at the moment, let alone a half marathon.  This is a shame, because we are fully into not so much the run up (see what I did there?  Hilarious) as into the actual tapering period for the 2019 Sheffield Half.  This time last year I was well into my distance runs and used the Sheffield Half as a training run for the London Marathon. That seems like a life time ago. The past is another country I did things differently there.  Now, for various reasons, I’ve had my running goals for this year well and truly scuppered.  It is a source of much squirm-inducing regret that when my lovely running club asks us each month to volunteer our achievements and post them on Facebook for each return period that I find myself racking my brains trying to think of something to say.  Something – anything?  Nope, just an echoing void up there at present.  Nothing to report.  I blagged it the last two months, by explaining February was pretty much taken up with my merchandise testing commitments (Brooks Juno Bra thank you for asking) and then March brought with it my media commitments, culminating with my companion animal finding herself the poster giraffe for the Sheffield Half.  She was thrilled!  I got glory by association.  I might not make the start of the half this year, but hopefully the 5-10% of the population who are apparently particularly susceptible to hypnosis and suggestion will come to believe I was there just because they have seen this image circulating about the right time. I like to believe so.

sheffield half picture

Anyway, irrespective of whether or not I’m running, this is my blog, my rules, I can plog if I want to, however tenuous the theme in terms of its relationship to running.  Today’s theme is litter picking on the Sheffield Half Marathon loop, so that’s almost exactly the same as going for a run yes?

The background is that a group of us did this half marathon litter pick last year, after a last minute ‘who else is up for it’ Facebook post put out by a local running shop.  A fair few of us were, and rocked up, and it was fun. We got to dress up like Nemo and everything, though the amount of litter on the route was dispiriting.  It came about because those of us who’d been using the route for long run recces couldn’t help but notice the litter that had accumulated along the way, and it seemed a poor advert for our beloved Sheffield.  Instead of waiting around for some vague ‘other’ to take the initiative ‘somebody should do something’ Front Runner took the initiative, and put out the call. Seems that hit a nerve, and people came indeed.  Litter picking in general and plogging in particular is increasingly a thing – check out Runners Against Rubbish – which is good because it has to be done and bad because it shouldn’t be needed. Plogging runs featured at the Big Running Weekend a couple of weeks back too.  Anyway, pleased to report, they did the same again this year, suggested a group litter pick along the Sheffield Half-marathon route, and there was an even bigger turn out, this year than last.  yay!  Perhaps this will become an annual tradition.  Hope so.

shef half litter pick

So you see, whilst I might not be up to much running, I can still have running related fun times scrabbling about in mud and heave-hoing unsavoury discarded bits of rubbish out of polluted ditches with my running buddies.  We are hard core we Sheffielders, and we know how to make our own entertainment!  Plus, plogging in a ditch is pretty light weight compared to fell running which to the untrained eye might seem to stretch the definition of ‘fun times’ yet looks like great larks compared to the Barkley marathon.

You do know about the Barkley Marathons yes?  In case not – you might have just blocked the very thought as a subconscious protective reflex – this is a 100 mile plus suffer fest.  It has five laps, each lap of 20-plus miles in distance and includes about 12,000ft of brutally-steep, obstacle-laden, muddy mountain ascent through thick woodland.  That’s like climbing Everest twice, apparently,  which is another thing on my list of activities I have zero desire to undertake.  Just to be completely clear, I don’t even want to climb Everest once.  In conclusion, I think it’s fair to say that the Barkley Marathons stretches the definition of ‘fun’ a tad too far for even type two fun* recognition. Just saying.  Well done Nicky Spinks for giving it a go all the same.  Shame it meant you missed the first Trunce of the year but understandable in the circumstances.  Epic.  No-one came close to finishing the Barkley Marathons this year by the way.  I’m not surprised.  Nicky looks hard core yes, but she doesn’t look like she’s particularly having any real=time fun now does she?  It’s cool she’s wearing a dark peak fell runners bobble hat though.  Respect.  She’s still beyond awesome.

 

 

 

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, having running related fun in the great outdoors.  So it was that last night I scooped up a friend and together we chugged up to the Norfolk Arms rendezvous for the collective litter picking endeavour.  Tooled up with our heavy duty gloves, we sat in the car, admiring the moody sky and dramatic clouds.  About five minutes ahead of our rendezvous time, heavy drops started to land on the windscreen.  ‘I hope it’s not going to rain’ remarked my litter picking buddy.  We laughed nervously.  It would only be a couple of hours.  We exited our vehicle and joined the gathering by the van, joining the queue for bin bags, struggling into our junior sized high-vis and delightedly welcoming our parkrunning buddy, Regal Smiley who’d rocked up to join the fun=fest and frolics in the name of keeping our run routes litter free. Yay!

As we greeted one another, the rain stopped.  That sounds good doesn’t it, except it wasn’t because there was no longer precipitation, oooooooooooooooooh no.  It was because it transmogrified into fat flakes of snow. Proper snow.  Full on white out, snow snow. It settled on our hats, and snowed with an intensity and density that is usually reserved for the closing climactic sequence of cheesy American films set against the backdrop of Christmas holidays. You know, where every problem is overcome, every misunderstanding cleared, and loving couples or families rush out red cheeked, starry-eyed and bobble hatted through a forest of Christmas trees already laden with snow, or along a city street with shop windows a-bling with Christmas lights as fresh snow falls and the credits roll.  Like that. Exactly like that, only colder and wetter and with less joyful cavorting on our part.  We did laugh though.  A lot.  And to be fair, if the weather was going to be dramatic, I’d sooner take the apocalyptic drama of unexpected decent snow over the soul-sapping water torture of horizontal rain.  Also, definitely better than having a helicopter induced storm hurl roadside barriers at you mid-marathon in China.  It happened.  It really did… quite relieved I didn’t bother entering that one now, especially after learning I wouldn’t get away with taking along the bike for part of the route after all.

chinese-marathon-helicopter-1554308675

Besides, we were here now, committed.

We took our bags, our gloves, out litter picker and our resolve and off we went, a trio of awesomeness, to take on Sheephill Road.  Time for a quick selfie first though…  Just for clarification purposes, that’s the start of the snow you can see in the flurry of white flakes, not a severe dandruff episode by a fellow litter picker just out of shot.

what larks eh

We bagsied the upper end of Sheephill Road from the Norfolk arms downed.  I thought we might have to fight for it – I feel a tad territorial for this section because it’s the same bit I did last year, which is ridiculous, but true.  As it happened, we three got it all to ourselves, and off we went.  We were an awesome team, covering both sides of the road like police forensic investigators seeking out clues in a finger tip search.  Litter picking is disturbingly surprisingly addictive.  No fag end is safe, no bottle too remote to be hunted down and caught bang to rights and bagged – probably to end up in land fill which is depressing, but preferable to choking wildlife at least.

There aren’t any whales in Sheffield, so I don’t think we were saving them particularly from consuming plastic on this occasion but then again, who knows where discarded plastic can end up.  No really, I spent some time volunteering at a wildlife centre in Zimbabwe and one day found myself removing plastic wrap from cucumbers flown in from the UK – probably grown in a poly tunnel, that were past their sell-by date and so were discarded from the shop and were now being used as animal food. How many countries had that plastic wrap visited in its single use lifetime? What is that about?  Crazy.  That’s why 44 kg of plastic was found in a dead whale only last month.  No fun to be had in that story, none at all.  Don’t need to be Hercule Poirot to work out contributory factors for cause of death for that one.  Or even James Herriot, or whatever the marine biology veterinary equivalent for that might be… This is plastic that emerged from a whale gut, I couldn’t be more astonished if it was a picture of Jonah himself bursting forth.

plastic in dead whale guardian

It was surprisingly companionable yomping along plogging and picking our way through the undergrowth with varying degrees of concentration. We evolved a system whereby Regal Smiley/ bicentennial woman who was in possession of the grabber (well, she does command natural authority, plus she was the one who had the foresight to bring it with her) responded to a sort of directional pointing system whereby we other two, lacking her reach, would get the bits we could and then point out to her the more elusive finds.  She would do well in the opal mines of Coober Pedy as once she was convinced of the presence of something, in this case litter, nothing would deter her from ferreting it out. Together, we were invincible.  That dear reader, is what team work is all about.

coober pedy

‘This image is courtesy of John Park, who you can follow on instagram at  https://www.instagram.com/parky.au/  if you fancy some virtual travel browsing through some stunning pictures of the great land down under and beyond!’

We didn’t find any opals, but we did find some vintage crisp packets, they don’t have the same market value though, well, not as far as I can tell anyway.  I didn’t research it all that conscientiously, I’ll be kicking myself when a vintage salt’n’shake crisp pack suddenly appears on eBay, with the faded lettering being described as ‘adding authenticity and character’ … I can feel my blood boiling at the very thought!

The weather did crazy things.  At times there were blizzard conditions, at times bright sunshine broke through, and there was the most extraordinary rainbow that seemed to arch across the whole city, I wished I’d got my camera with me, but then again it probably wouldn’t quite have done it justice, plus, I was able to delegate photo duties to Regal Smiley who did a fair enough job in the circumstances!

Here is the snow:

reet nice out

Well, some of it, and here is the rainbow. Also just some of it…

rainbow road

We were merry in our labours.  Also, encouragingly, the litter situation was way better than last year, and although there was still plenty, we made speedy progress.  No especially epic finds – well, apart from the almost buried plastic Christmas Tree and associated baubles, really people?  There was inevitably, lots of plastic, haylage bags, fast food polystyrene wrappers, huge amounts of cigarette ends, discarded bottles, one solitary gel pack wrapper. and debris from miscellaneous road accidents.   Had we but the time and inclination – oh yes and skill too – we could quite possibly have built our own vehicle with the bits of body work accrued along the way.  Some duct tape would have helped maybe, but then you can do anything with duct tape and imagination!  After all, if it can be used to fix a plane after a bear attack, I’m sure it could assemble some discarded car panels without too much difficulty.

 

After an hour or so, there was the pitter patter of tiny feet behind us.  Breathless, and inappropriately dressed for the inclement weather was a trio of youths.  I must be getting exceedingly old, because when they introduced themselves, still wet and shivering as ‘students’ my immediate thought was they were a detail from a local school sent to join the community initiative, but no dear reader, they were actual university students, doing a journalism course and in search of a local story.  Mind you, I do find increasingly I have become that person who notices that my GP and other officials look alarmingly youthful.  The logical conclusion of this I am actually old, not just old before my time.  I don’t know quite how to process that thought, so now I’ve shared it, I’ll ignore it and move one… Anyway, where was I, oh yes, clearly, we were the most newsworthy thing going on at the time, and so we were within their grasp. Also, I secretly suspect they’d got wind of my recently acquired poster girl status so perhaps were hoping for some sort of celebrity coup to boot, though they were far too professional to let on to that insider knowledge, didn’t want to seem all giddy in my presence I expect… So, what they wanted to do was a little piece on the community litter pick for one of their assignments. Fair enough, sounded entertaining.  ‘We are like the wombles!  You know “underground, overground, wombling free“‘ I half-said half (badly) sung, being met with looks of confused incomprehension, oh gawd, I really am old, surely they haven’t been forgotten – I had their LP at one point, ‘wombling free’ it’s a tragedy if that cultural heritage has now been lost, we do indeed need the Wombles more than ever!

wombles

We continued our litter pick, whilst they found a suitable lay-by to set up their gear.  To the casual observer they would have looked like spectacularly well equipped doggers.

They wanted some litter picking shots, featuring the grabber in action and in close up.  This required quite a lot of practise, and hilariously (well I thought so) the initial actual litter that was being used for the shot just didn’t cut it as camera eye candy.  Fortunately, one of the trio had brought along her own, more photogenic litter just in case.  This was in the form of a bottle of lucozade sport (I like to think, as the ‘sport’ reference seems especially apt, but I might have imagined the whole thing just because I wished it so), which she downed in one, so that she could jettison the bottle on the verge where it could be picked up and popped in a black bin bag on endless repeat until caught from all possible angles and the perfect shot, like the discarded bottle, was safely in the bag.  (Honestly, I’m on fire tonight!)

Then we stood in a slightly self-conscious line and the director said he was going to ask us each a question to camera as a sort of vox pox segment (well, what with my work as a supporting artist elsewhere, I have all the media lingo down to a tee). Now, this is where we approach the comedy climax of the evening…  but to fully appreciate this, you need context.

The thing is Regal Smiley has many talents.  Epic runner, parkrun run director blah de blah, but one of her most public-spirited duties is linked to her being the power behind the photographic throne occupied by Mr Carman.  Yes, yes, he takes squillions of pictures week in, week out, selflessly giving his time for the running community of Sheffield, but it is Regal Smiley who acts as upholder of human dignity and public decency, acting as censor to any shot that might unduly humiliate or embarrass the subject of the photo.  Obviously due humiliation is a different thing altogether, and comedic value can outweigh an unflattering shot, but even so, she has much respected form in saving us runners from the brutal reality of seeing in high-definition our true running likenesses if that truth might mean we never left the house again.  She is the guardian of our individual and collective self-esteem, for this we should all be grateful.  Therefore, it was not unreasonable, that before consenting to our vox pox section she politely enquired

Do we look OK?‘. I know what she meant, save us from the spinach caught in our teeth or the inside out jacket or the river of snot that I’ve failed to notice because my face is too numb from the stinging hail. It was self-evident to all.

You look great!’ he said confidently.   The reassurance he gave us was to be short lived.

It wasn’t self-evident to all.  I know this, because he added with a bit too much enthusiasm in his voice ‘being bedraggled and cold and windswept and filthy is exactly the appropriate look for this piece when you’ve all been out litter picking in the snow!’  Oh how we laughed!  I’m paraphrasing only slightly, we rocked our context specific look, it is fortuitous that these clips will never see the public light of day.  Well, unless one or more of us was to go missing on the way home and they had to play that snippet of us on Look North as the last sighting of us for identification purposes, oh the shame.  And that nearly happened to be fair, but more of this later.

We did our slightly stilted commentary on the community cohesion of litter picking, and love of the peaks and running, and how we met through parkrun and all of that. Then, in a moment of clarity me and Regal Smiley realised this could be our running related achievement for April when reporting back to our Smiley record keeper, so more photos of us all together and separately in all possible permutations were taken. The sun came out, rather spoiling our hardcore claims.  I think it’s fair to say the weather was changeable.

 

 

 

We left them doing there final ‘to camera’ summary and continued our meander back along the verges.  It started snowing again, we were on a mission.

snow

It’s amazing how you see missed bits of litter when you view the landscape through a different angle.   We’d already done this section on the outward march.  Regal Smiley was emboldened to scamper over walls and criss-cross wobbly stones to reach tantalizingly placed litter the other side of walls.   There was definitely more than one point when I thought we might lose her over a crumbling dry stone wall. We discussed this possibility.  I was thinking at first we’d get away with pretending we’d never seen her, there weren’t many cars about and nobody was taking much interest in us… as long as we other two stuck to our story we’d be fine – then we remembered the cursed vox pox sequence, and if those keen journalism students got wind of her disappearance they’d be like the blooming Scooby Doo team, endlessly screening their now highly marketable footage as they tried for a ‘true crime’ documentary full length feature on ‘what really happened’. We’d never have got away with it.  So all in all, it was very fortunate, that we were able to haul her back roadside, and make it back safely!  No search team required…. this time.

scooby doo

Pleasingly, just as we returned to the corner of Lady Cannings plantation entrance, where we’d piled up all our bags, the Front Runner white van appeared to gather up our rubbish offerings.  It was a leaky, sodden and unsavoury mess of stuff, I wouldn’t have wanted it in the back of my car.  Above and beyond I’d say.  You can get Sheffield City Council to pick up bags from organised litter picks if you let them know in advance, but there was a different plan at work here.

And that was that, we said goodbye and went our separate ways.

I feel however I need to add this postscript.  As me and my tail walking buddy – did I mention that already?…

53036219_318839055650700_8263248491724144640_n

were derobing and clambering back into my car, we got chatting to a guy in the vehicle next to us.  He hadn’t been litter picking with us but he does solitary litter picks around his road all the time.  I mentioned to him that there is the Sheffield Litter Pickers Facebook group if he wants help.  He brooded on this point for a bit and then said words to the effect of he quite liked the cathartic effect of doing it alone and raging at the awfulness of mankind with every bottle plucked from a hedge or broken glass from the gutter he weirdly liked finding justification for his misanthropic view of the world.  I rather respect that.  It made me laugh.

And so dear reader, it was but two sodden hours on an April evening, but it was crammed with hilarity and micro-adventures a-plenty. Sometimes, it is worth just stepping outside the front door and seeing what unfolds.  Just be wary of cameras unless you are dressed in a context appropriate way. Oh and also, I feel a  need to share that really, in our own way, we three, and indeed all the other litter pickers out there last night, were tackling the same elements as the Barkley marathoners, because they too started their quest in sunshine, only to be caught out by wintry conditions and snow.  I may not quite be in Nicky Spinks’ league just yet, but I am somewhere on the continuum of weather she has experienced in her running challenges, and that’s a start.  Also, other litter pickers took independent initiative to play their part in an afternoon pick as they couldn’t make the evening one, ploggers are everywhere it seems, how splendid is that!  See them rock their context appropriate hi-vis too.

independent action litter pickers

Heart warming isn’t it?  And we could all do with a bit of good news in these dark times I’m sure.

You’re welcome.

*type two fun – things that are fun only when viewed retrospectively, from a very safe distance.

Categories: off road, teamwork | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

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

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

smiletastic 2019

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

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

Smiletastic  2019 RULES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

penguin-awareness-day-fun1

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

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

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

seal penguin hug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jess ennis hill rep

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

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

penguins

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

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

penguin and seal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

saved penguins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digested read:  did it.

done it

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

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

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

ran and didnt tell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

this is real

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

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

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

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

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

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

dark peak hero

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

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

loo queue

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

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

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

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

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

nearly across the start (2)

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

hot air balloons at start

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

start line

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

start band

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

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

first mile mark

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

Mile two.

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

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

humping marshals

Mile three.

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

Mile 4

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

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

MIle 4 vision of loveliness

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

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Into mile 5.

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

Mile 6

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

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

mile 6 done.

Into mile 7.

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

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

Mile 8

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

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

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

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

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

fire fighter

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

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

Mile 9

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

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

Mile 10 and 11

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

Mile 12

 

Mile 12- 13 including tower bridge

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

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

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

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

Go yogi go east end road runners

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

east end runner celebrity sighting

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

Mile 14 and beyond.

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

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

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

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Mile 15 – into the tunnels

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

 

Mile 16 – emerging the tunnels

Mile 17 – Grenfell Tower firefighters

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

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

grenfell finish

End of mile 17 – supporters en route

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

walking onwards

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

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

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

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

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

Mile 21

Mile 22 – 23 -24

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

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

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

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

canary wharf

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

Mile 25 on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

got the medal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

house moving cheer squad london marathon 2018

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

and finally with BFF marathon running buddy

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

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

Bravo

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

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

London marathon strava route

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

Some final thoughts:

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

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

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

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

_100991540_michellefrostfastestmarathononstilts

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

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

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

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

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

Ballot opens next week.  Just saying….

For all my London Marathon related posts see here

Flor all my marathon training related posts see here

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

 

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*not really though

Post script:

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

Matt Campbell finish for matt

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

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

 

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

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

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

Nobody wants to see Skip upset.

be like skip

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

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

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

The Pledge:

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

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

RAR

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

 

 

 

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

US-author-David-Sedaris--014

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

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

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

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

Shaping Level 3

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

crochet tri kit

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

 

 

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

That didn’t happen though.

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

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

waddaloadarubbish

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

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

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

Hurrah!

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

BIN_IT_WITH-TAG_CMYK-min

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

strava art abbey lane cemetery

With the explanatory text as follows:

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

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

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

Perfect!  Pleasingly simple, brilliantly apt.

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

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

Pretty much like that anyway.

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

wacky races

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

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

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

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

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

queen dragonfly

 

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

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

circle of smiley loveliness

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

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

spring equinox run

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

flyby

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

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

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

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

Goodbye winter, hello spring!

Hello-Spring

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

We can run on in hope!