Digested Read: I had no idea what to expect from the VitalityMove event at Chatsworth, and initially didn’t sign up because of the hefty price tag. Subsequently got in on a freebie and ‘yay’, fantastic time, brilliant festival of running-related fun crammed with awesome people. Also, finally, got the chance of a photo-op with Sheffield idol Jessica Ennis… (fail, oh well) and that was only the start of encounters with other brilliant people I met throughout the day. Would recommend. That hill is long and steeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep though. Be warned. It was hot. This could yet turn out to be the Brigadoon of running events, a one off appearance every hundred years, so you may have missed out, but I hope not.
Longer read follows. Make a cup of coffee first, it could take a while, think more ultra-running than musical mile in reading terms.
Jessica Ennis was quite taken by Geronimo on Sunday, I’m pretty sure that was what was behind the ‘oh look Reggie, a giraffe!’ comment she made, so in my book that means she and I are now practically related. Me and Jess, I mean, not me and Geronimo, that would be stupid. I’m now looking forward to knocking out some massively improved running times and maybe even taking up some other olympic sports by way of tribute, celebration and acknowledgement of this important new development in relation to my running network. That is, I’m hoping by establishing tenuous connections to this demigod of sporting excellence (and local hero to boot) some of her athleticism will rub off on me. I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that just thinking about exercise improves your muscle tone, so if you’ve had an actual interaction with an olympian gold holder that’s got to count for something surely? If my old PE teacher could see me now eh? Actually, if she could, she’d probably asphyxiate to be fair, I don’t think running with a giraffe would have been encouraged in our cruelly and ironically named ‘games’ sessions at school. Fortunately, it seems times have changed. The VitalityMove event at Chatsworth last sunday was more a joyful celebration of family activity related fun. Giraffes and fancy dress were positively encouraged, the sun shone, and the emphasis was on having a collective go, especially getting young people running. Very young people, you know the little ones, before the instinctive joy of running has abandoned them. My kind of event really. If I’d read the event guide before rejecting it out of hand on price grounds, I might have got that in advance….
So, back to basics. Before I signed up for this, and afterwards as well to be honest, I had very little idea of what to expect. The ‘about us’ blurb on the VitalityMove website didn’t really help either.
Running is a natural activity that everyone can get involved with anywhere – it could be you run and walk the distance or train to keep going all of the way – whatever suits you, we want to cater for you. Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill is working with a team of like-minded people to create VitalityMove – two events that seek to fuse music and running and bring an energy to running that entices the reticent runner to join in. Here’s what Jessica has to say!
I have been so lucky to have got so much out of my sport – not only a career but a lifestyle. Fitness really can be enjoyable and I have teamed up with Vitality to share my passion for running and music and how the two together can make exercise fun.
We have created VitalityMove – a big day out with music and running at its heart. There will be lots of great things for families and committed runners to get involved with from 1 mile fun-runs, family relays to the more traditional 5k and 10k distances – all themed to music designed to keep you moving by DJ Trevor Nelson. Our venues are iconic; Chatsworth House and Windsor Great Park – both stunning backdrops for the event. Whether you are a first time runner or a seasoned athlete we will cater for you – and hopefully make it a day to remember.
I hope you will sign up and enjoy the journey to the events with me!
Nope, not really getting it, maybe I’m slow in processing event descriptors as I am in running. In fairness I think this is possibly the first event of its type that I’m aware of anyway, so maybe it was inevitably hard to get across what it would involve, and therefore what participants might be paying for. I got that you could pick a run distance and there’d be music, but honestly, and sorry if this is harsh, it was a whopping price for a 10k in this neck of the woods. When it was first promoted I think it was about £35, when I actually came to enter it was showing around £29 for anyone over 16 (children were always free) and about £25 for the 5k and then parking (£5) on top. It seemed a lot for a race of those distances. We are perhaps unusually spoilt in Sheffield. It is easy to access a Trust10 trail 10k race for free every fourth Sunday of the month at Longshaw; there are parkruns a-plenty offering free 5ks every Saturday five in Sheffield alone with a junior 2k parkrun each Sunday locally too (also free). Then there are a wealth of reasonably local fell races starting from £1.50 for the legendary off-road Oxspring Trunce series. Anyway, the consequence was, as soon as I saw the price tag I lost interest and didn’t bother to research the VitalityMove event any further. I think I’m not alone in having thought it bizarre to the point of incomprehensible that an event would price a 5k or a 10k at that level. We just aren’t accustomed to forking out for running events of those distances maybe, opportunities for running surround us. We are blessed! I didn’t get the USP at that point. It seemed most peculiar!
That was then. But circumstances change. At the last-minute, I was lucky enough to get wind of a code that gave me free entry (cheers parkrun), and then it became a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t want to go to a venue as lovely as Chatsworth for a 10k run and bag some fetching bling to add to their medal collection into the bargain? So I went forth and ran. Now I’ve actually been to the event, I get that the 10k and 5k runs were really just the icing on the cake for a much broader inter-generational running/sport festival. A lot of thought went into the day, the planning was meticulous, I met some great people and I had a fabulous time.
Basically, the whole day far exceeded my expectations and I think it’s a bit of a shame that (in my view anyway) the pre-event publicity didn’t really communicate what would happen on the day, and I think many may have missed out as a consequence. It would still have been very pricey, but I got the impression that the event could have managed many times the number of participants easily (apart from in the loo provision department, but then what running event has ever had enough portaloos at the critical moment). It is/was a huge venue, I’d love to see this event become a regular fixture but more modestly priced to encourage more to come along. I’m sure it would be a case of more the merrier.
Incidentally, in case you are worried about this, although the event is clearly aimed at families, I went on my own – well just me and the giraffe – and it was great. Geronimo is a handy ice-breaker it’s true, but it was such a friendly and fun day, I reckon anyone standing still on their own for more than 10 seconds would end up in cheery chit-chat with a fellow attendee soon enough. Well, unless they had seriously hostile body language. I met some fantastic people, I’ve even launched my video career now so, you know, anything is possible if you take along your running shoes, sense of humour, broad smile and an open mind, just as in life! (Giraffe/ fancy dress optional, but fabulous, so you should).
I’m going to tell you all about our grand day out together by way of supporting evidence. Really you will need to triangulate my personal, and therefore subjective account, with other primary sources to be properly informed. That’s what critical analysis is all about. The best way to achieve this would be to get yourself along to the next one and see how our accounts tally… There’s still VitalityMove at Windsor Great Park to come, allegedly (date tbc), so it’s doable. Well I think it’s doable, I have a slightly sinking feeling that ticket sales have been low across the two events so it might not come to pass, but maybe lessons learned from Chatsworth will help to ‘make it so’ and so spread further running happiness.
So, the event build up started on entering with my special code via the website. That was really straightforward, I did have to pay for parking but that was fair enough in the circumstances. Only after signing up for the 10k did I look at the course, and remember there is a massive hill at Chatsworth, it’s only 759 feet of climb according to Strava, which isn’t all that much in Sheffield terms, but it is compressed into a couple of short stretches at the early part of the course. Oops. I heard ‘free’ and forgot ‘huge hill’ in all the excitement. Reading the event guide I picked up that fancy dress was ‘positively encouraged’ that’s more like it! I was going to give Geronimo a bit of a break from running, I mean we’ve had both the Round Sheffield Run and Sheffield Hallam’s birthday parkrun outings lately, I was a bit worried it might be getting tedious. On the other hand, what the hell. It would be her first 10k and as I was otherwise going on my own I thought it might be a good way to get to chat to people, she could rest up later. Plus if they are ‘positively encouraging’ fancy dress, I think it would be rude not to. Here’s the strava profile by the way – see what I mean? Yes, you can see I ended up walk/running the steep sections, so what, shoot me, I still did it.
Even though I was a late entrant, my pack (number and chip timer) arrived in the post with a few bits of other info promptly, and my car-park pass was duly emailed to me on the Wednesday before. I thought that was pretty impressive. You could also pay on the day for parking by the way, still a fiver. No free parking for Blue Badge holders though, which I thought was poor, even possibly just a complete oversight as no dedicated parking for them either. This didn’t impact on me, but it did on a fellow Smiley, and that wasn’t good. As if life isn’t hard enough sometimes if you have, or care for someone who has, limited or no independent mobility.
Then on the Sunday morning, it was sooooooooooooo hot. I wasn’t sure what to wear, I haven’t the body confidence, or indeed physique to wear my Smiley Paces running club vest without a T-shirt under it, but that would be stupid in such heat. Then I thought, well Vitality are one of the parkrun sponsors, so I decided to go with my parkrun top. Good call. I was up early, so lots of time to pin my number on Geronimo Sky, have porridge for breakfast and debate the relative merits of which running shoes to wear. I mean I love my Hokas for their cushioning, but they definitely have been giving me knee issues which may or may not be a temporary thing due to an inevitable change in running style that new trainers sometimes causes. I put them on but stuffed my more hard-core trail shoes salomon fell-raisers in my backpack just in case. Car pass printed out, water bottle filled and off I went.
It was gorgeous driving over to Chatsworth, I feel really lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world. Yes, not great for running hot and humid as it was, but indisputably a gorgeous day. I was quite excited pulling up to the grand golden gates of Chatsworth where a friendly marshal shooed me off in the right direction. It was pretty quiet when I arrived. The rolling grounds of Chatsworth were truly spectacular, sheep milled around under the trees seemingly unconcerned by the cars arriving. There were even a few lambs cavorting. Shame they’ll all end up being eaten (not by me, I’m vegetarian) but let’s not dwell on that today. I parked up, and you could see ahead bright pink flags and inflatables of the event camp. Excited others were gathering. Yep, it felt like the day was going to be fun.
I followed the pink signs to the event, I wasn’t cross at the cross point, I felt no need, but I think it is quite a good idea to have a special zone where cross people are made to gather together so they don’t spoil events for everyone else. I might start putting that in surveymonkey responses the next time I get a post-event feedback survey emailed through to me.
As I walked down a companionable fellow runner fell into step with me. It was only one of the tigger runners from the Round Sheffield Run! She hadn’t so much recognised me as Geronimo, and us fancy dress ambassadors, well, we share a bond and need to stick together. Turns out she was at Chatsworth to do some pacing but it was good to actually meet. Plus I found out the significance of her costume choice…. drum roll… it’s because her nickname is Tigger! Genius is it not!
No tigger outfit today, so I hadn’t recognised her. That’s another amazing thing about fancy dress if you are interested, you’d think it would make you more conspicuous, but it’s actually the opposite. People notice Geronimo but not me, so by simple dint of removing her (or previously Roger) it’s like I’ve donned a cunning disguise. My absolutely serious and heartfelt recommendation for self-conscious runners out there is go for fancy dress. Nobody sees you or judges your body silhouette picked out in unforgiving lycra if you have a giraffe strapped round your waist. It’s a simple distraction technique. Not that anyone actually cares what you look like when you’re running or judges you anyway, but them as share my anxiety about appearing in public wearing lycra will know what I mean. Anyway, she bounded off to do whatever it is that Tiggers do as warm up for pacing, and I had a wander round the event village. I stole this photo from the official photographers’ Facebook page, cheers AWOL event photos, I’m sure they won’t mind 🙂 It’s the view from the stage at around 8.30 a.m. on the day of the event. Impressive eh?
As I got nearer to the centre of it all I started to get a feel for the mood of the day. There were colourful tents in abundance. Areas where children could have a go at netball, or GoApe, a clearly defined food area, well signed bag-drop, registration, some event-standard portaloos set against the backdrop of the magnificent Chatsworth House.
As I approached, I had my first star-struck moment of the day. There was Jessica Ennis milling about and very graciously posing for selfies and photos with people various. On a serious note I have a lot of respect for Jessica Ennis (aside from her not having a barcode with her when she did Sheffield Hallam parkrun) and she may be an extraordinary olympian, but she is also (only) human and pregnant. Even so, she spent the whole of Sunday smiling, chatting to people and posing for photos in scorchio heat. That was impressive. Actually scrap that, she’s not human, she is indeed super-human. An amazing athlete of course, but radiates down-to-earth honest-to-goodness cheery decency and tolerance too. I wonder if she trains as hard for selfie posing as she must have done for the high jump?
Now, as my regular reader will know, the only time I felt homesick when I was working in Cambodia earlier in the year was when I missed Jess and Paul rocking up to Hallam parkrun. I was beyond gutted. Two of my absolute icons, at my home parkrun and I missed it! The pain! Anyway, here she was, in touching distance, this was my moment, the opportunity was within my grasp. I could let it pass and spend the rest of my life in sullen regret, or I could seize the moment! Reader, let me report that I did indeed commandeer a bystander to act as a photographer and approached Jess to request a photo. This was the moment when Jess complimented my Giraffe with her (unforgettable to me) ‘oh look Reggie, a giraffe‘ comment. I did some incoherent gushing about how much I admired her and how I was sorry to have missed her before when she was at Hallam. I was not cool at all, but then in my defence when have I ever been that? Anyway, she patiently stood as my nominated photographer took a few snaps. I was sooooooooooooooo happy. Alas, as I wandered off looking at them, I realised none had been taken. Curses. My camera is a bit odd, you have to push the button quite hard, and sadly, this was an epic fail. Not one shot to capture the moment. I was disappointed, but you know what, we have our memories, and I like to think we shared a moment.
Incidentally, despite my disappointment at missing my two idols Jess and Paul when they went to Hallam and I didn’t, I have subsequently ‘met’ both. At Chatsworth it was Jess, but I also shared an (awkward) moment with Paul Sinton-Hewitt, albeit a similarly tongue-tied one once I was back from my travels. I suppose I’m saying that we must never give up on our dreams, as we never know what the future holds. I was so sad to miss the hobnobbing opportunities back in February, but had my own individual encounters later on. Dreams really do come true! Also, there was an official photographer around at the same time as I was posing with Jess, and clearly Geronimo Sky is spectacularly photogenic, so I’m really hoping that a photo is out there somewhere. Even if it’s not, in the absence of any photographic evidence of the encounter I can embellish the story at will for either comedic and/or dramatic effect. Everyone’s a winner!
In a daze of celebrity awe-struckness (well it is a word now), I went to further explore my surroundings. Geronimo was taking it all in too. She’s pretty non-flighty for a prey animal.
There were huge deck chairs and tiny pink bean bags scattered around, a massive event stage, and various partnership company stands. There was a main stage at the finish, and tables groaning under the weight of frozen-themed water bottles. There was an alarming number of ambulances in evidence, but I suppose that’s sensible. I don’t know though, same with armed police officers, maybe it is a sensible precaution to have all that first aid/emergency cover on hand, but I find it unnerving rather than reassuring. There weren’t any armed police at Chatsworth though, so only had to worry about the hill, not the presence of weaponry in the vicinity.
There were some friendly looking marshals/ water station people sporting the fine grey Vitality T-shirts so I had a natter with them. They liked Geronimo too, so we played around with selfies. They encouraged me to instagram these using such-and-such movetothemusic hash tag, I think they confused me with someone with a smart phone and a basic understanding of twitter. Still, it was a friendly and fun encounter. And at least I now had a selfie by way of consolation for missing out on the one with Jess earlier. I hope their selfie technique was better than mine!
Next stop was the pledge pod. I’d done a summer pledge photo at parkrun yesterday, but hey, the pod looked fun. A maintenance guy was just getting it going so was game to talk me through using it. Apparently you are much more likely to complete a goal if you write it down and share it. I don’t think it’s a substitute for training though, which is a disappointment.
You write your goal on a dry-wipe white board and get four differently posed photos opportunities. You can then upload these to Facebook, using the touchscreen within the pod, which didn’t work for me as I obviously don’t know either my own username or log in password, on the plus side, no-one’s hacking me. However, I did get a physical print out, and that was fun.
Not wishing to diss Jess or anything, but I reckon my pledge was smarter, i.e. specific, measurable etc, than hers which was a bit on the vague side ‘as active as possible during pregnancy‘ isn’t very easy to pin down really is it? I am not necessarily pleased about this, me having a more specific goal that is – since it will make it way harder for me to wriggle out of and it’s only a few weeks away. I said ‘I will complete the Dig Deep 12.12 mile trail race at Whirlow August 2017! (Not necessarily with a giraffe).’ So we’ll see. My training to date has consisted of entering. Well, it does show willing at least. You can pledge your own goal at https://mysummergoal.co.uk/ apparently and admire Jess and Ellie and that other guy making their own here. I like Ellie Simmonds a lot too, which I’m sure would please her enormously if she but knew. It was hearing her talking on Woman’s Hour the other day about liking to have a nap in the afternoon that clinched it for me. I, like her, fear this particular penchant of mine will have to go when I next enter gainful more conventional employment. Unlike her, I don’t think opportunity providers will be queuing up to find a compromise on this point.
So more milling around. Mr Kandoo (Round Sheffield Run and Kandoo events) pitched up in a tententen T-shirt (I like those, tasteful grey with Autumn Leaves logo). Anyway, his presence gave me an opportunity to thank him for creating my favourite race of the year. It is honestly like he sat down and thought of all the things that would make a Lucy-friendly running event and scattered then kandoo magic fairy dust all over it and so it sprang into life. A bit like Frankenstein’s monster, only more user-friendly and less killing, more trail running related fun and (marginally) less existential angst. He made a cunningly ambiguous reference to Geronimo’s participation on the day, saying something like ‘so you and fancy dress‘. I respect that. I suppose just like local running shops, running event organisers have to navigate local running politics and interactions with their event participants with some care. They mustn’t appear to have a favourite running club, or get drawn into sharing potentially controversial views. Their business model rests and falls on their skills in diplomacy as much as event management. The listener can put whatever interpretation they wish on such a phrase. It might be complimentary about the wearing of fancy dress, or it might in fact be an expression of disbelief verging on horror, but the actual phrase used? Well, read it back, and you’ll see that it gives nothing away. Sort of ‘neither confirm nor deny’ when you see it written down. Hopefully the listener will hear what they want to hear rather than pick up on the inconclusiveness of the statement, everyone stays friends, everyone is happy!
It’s a bit like when you see a friend in an amateur play or performance or something and you attend it nursing and apprehension bordering on terror. You fear it will be absolutely dire and yet you will need to have some encouraging phrase to utter to them afterwards in order to maintain the friendship thereafter. Something that isn’t an actual lie but will communicate apparent enthusiasm, and stop you from blurting out that you have just sacrificed two hours of your life that you can never get back sitting through that pretentious nonsense. Hence, the wily audience member will have a reference pack of useful phrases to fall back on as they see their friend post show. Common one’s include ‘What can I say!’ uttered with gushing intonation as you pace towards them arms outstretched or ‘Amazing, you’ve done it again!’ similarly delivered or the old favourite ‘I knew it!’ The calculation being that hopefully the hearer will be too self-absorbed in their post-show bubble to request any further critique. True opinions are not required. Of course you might get lucky and see something brilliant, but still good to have a repertoire non-commital phrases at your disposal. This ‘so, you and fancy dress‘ remark had a more neutral delivery, but worked on the same criteria, so well done, nicely played. I choose to take it as endorsement. Just another of my many delusional thoughts in evidence.
Next stop, precautionary pee, then I changed into my more fell shoes after all as my knee was giving me gyp. Then to the bag drop. We’d been warned it would be really busy so best to leave bags with friends and family. As I have neither friends nor family, it was bag-drop all the way for me. At that time it was really quiet, I think my number was four, which is a clue to its busy-ness. You get a wrist tag, and a matching one was put on my bag. There was an anxious moment when I approached, and the woman seemingly in charge stopped me proclaiming most assertively (bordering on aggression to be blunt) that they wouldn’t take responsibility for any animals whilst I was running. As if I’d leave Geronimo in the charge of strangers! Even nice ones like at the VitalityMove Chatsworth event bag drop! It would be akin to leaving a dog in the car on a hot day. I blustered indignantly protesting at the very idea, but happily the confusion was swiftly resolved and we were all soon friends again.
I made my way to the music mile start, evidenced by the presence of large blue musical notes. I didn’t know what to expect, but my plan was to do a musical mile by way of warm up (er hem) and not at all because I wanted a trophy wrist band. I was curious to find out what it was about, and I reckoned that it was so hot I wouldn’t feel like running a mile once I’d done the 10k, but I knew I’d finish the 10k once started if I did it the other way around. It was a good plan.
Hanging around at the start I soon got chatting to a couple of other runners. We compared running tales. They’d done the moonwalk in London which sounded amazing. You basically do the London Marathon route overnight wearing only a bra! Brave I thought, wish they hadn’t clarified that they did actually wear jogging bottoms too. It’s an annual event ‘united against breast cancer’ the next one is 12 May 2018. It is £48 and you have to raise a minimum of £100 sponsorship, but these two had clearly had a ball.
As we were chatting, a woman waved at us, and called me over. This was my modest claim to fame for the day I suppose, as it marked my video debut. I can’t entirely take the credit, it was Geronimo who first caught their eye, but I gained glory by association, which is good enough for me. So it was that Geronimo Sky and I made the Derbyshire telegraph VitalityMove event video, it went up on their webpage, so I’m just waiting in now for a TV agent to approach me with an impossible-to-refuse lucrative sports TV presenter contract offer. The phone’s not rung yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. I’m ex-directory so they’ll have to do a bit of research to track down my phone number. You need to click on the second video down, and wait for 8.44 mark. I see us as a double act like Rod Hull and Emu only hopefully marginally less annoying, I’ll be really disappointed if she gets an offer and I don’t though. Hope she’ll remember me on the way up… Seeing the clip I do cringe at the sound of my own voice and rotund physique on the one hand, but on the other hey, local stardom! We all have to suffer for our art I suppose. Plus, it does give a fine glimpse of the goings on at the start of the day.
A scattering of us duly assembled for the 10.00 a.m. start time, but a delay was immediately announced as they needed to get the music stations out on the course. A crew of spectacularly attired dancers in impractical shoes were ushered past to be positioned on the course. I didn’t get the chance to take a photo of them until the end of the day, here are two of them by way of example. I hope they had sunblock on, that was a lot of exposed flesh to be standing out in the sun all day with.
It was fine, nobody minded. A photographer posed us for some publicity shots. Yes I did get in the frame.
Famous DJ Trevor Nelson pretended to sound the start horn. If I track any of these fine images down later I’ll add them into this post in due course. About ten minutes late, it was start time. At this moment a little girl who was the first to arrive at the start line was chosen to do the start countdown. She was duly led off to clamber up on high atop of the crowds to do the official opening from the top of a scaffolding tower. Check her out in the top left of this photo as the runners whizz away…
Now, this was a lovely thought, but I was in earshot of her mum (I think – someone who knew her anyway) who said, words to the effect of ‘oh no, that’s a shame, she wanted to be at the front of the start line, not watching it go off‘. To be fair, she didn’t look particularly upset, a little overwhelmed possibly, but then weren’t we all. We were told to look out for ‘exciting things’ and ‘join in with the dancing and enjoy the music on the course’. So finally off we went. It was a cross-section of runners, parents/carers and children, people warming up for longer events and a few ‘what the hell’ types. The one mile route was a flat circuit out towards the parking area, round by the river and back in a little loop.
It was slightly odd, because it wasn’t really marshaled as such, although the route was obvious, you just sort of romped out. As you ran, people just arriving at the event were ambling towards and alongside you. At the Cross Zone were the first of the dancing troupe, a duo stood next to speakers that were blaring out music. They were smiling and clapping, but also looking a tad self-conscious rather than encouraging dancing at this point in the day. Friendly and fun certainly, but also fairly low-key.
The official photographers were on hand to snap away. For the record, I was in about 61 different shots, so they weren’t slacking in their paparrazzi duties. The overwhelming majority of photos are one’s that do indeed capture the occassion, but also make me never want to be seen in public again. However, one or two were really fun – check out my jazz hands in homage to the occassion.
I found the route incredibly hot, we were in direct sun, and although it was only a mile it was a bit of a reality check for the not flat at all 10k to come. As we circled back along the river there were I think three more stations each with loud speakers and a couple of dancers. One pair were up for a bit of a boogie the others less so. I don’t normally run just for a mile so it all seemed really quick. The finish was spectacular, there was a wrist band and a huge clunking medal for everyone, which was unexpected. Then you went up some steps which took you to the back of the huge stage, so everyone had their moment leaving via the big performance platform where you could pause for a selfie with famous DJ Trevor Nelson as you exited. It was great, some of the children were so excited and proud of their achievements it was infectious. Made up for missing out on the fun of volunteering at Junior parkun, this morning, seeing all those happy, joyful faces. I don’t have any pictures of that because I didn’t have my camera but maybe some will follow. These are the medals though – different ribbon, but same bling. Quality eh?
Spat off the stage, you could pick up a bottle of water, and I got some sort of princess label on mine from frozen, so that was grand! My mile done, what with the later start, the milling about etc, I took one look at the queue for the loos and decided I did have basic bladder control after all. I wasn’t originally going to take Geronimo on the 10k, but then I bumped into familiar face (fellow Smiley and RSR recce buddy) who was there with her two daughters. Hooray, photo op. Aren’t we grand, this is the medal from the musical mile. Seeing my trophy helped motivate the two young women to run and nab one for themselves. Yay. Whatever it takes! Anyway, after all that chit chat, I didn’t think there was time to go back to the bag drop and leave Geronimo there, besides, given our earlier exchange it would be a bit hypocritical to dump a giraffe with them following my righteous indignation at the mere suggestion of the very idea that I would do such a thing barely an hour previously – so I just thought ‘oh well, maybe it’ll be fun doing it together‘. And she stayed put.
Once we’d had a quick chat, my Smiley running buddy headed off to drop bags and check out the loos, whilst I continued my milling about. I ended up in conversation with a couple of finely turned out TomTom pacers who were ace. The starting point may have been mutual appreciation of dress (I don’t think that was the real hair of the guy in the kilt) but evolved into a really good chat. They had both got loads of experience of pacing the London Marathon so I basically took the opportunity to download their collective brains for top tips on how to approach it (I have a deferred ballot place for next year, which still feels unreal). This guy is going to be one of the five hour pacers so you never know, we may yet meet again:
For me, this was one of the stand out features of this Chatsworth event, I got to talk to so many brilliant people who shared hilarious and/or interesting stories, or taught me new things about running techniques and events, or simply inspired with their own efforts and motivation. It was brilliant. One of the TomTom guys turned out to be an olympic torch carrier no less, and promised I could go and have a hold of his big torch later! He was nominated to carry it for a section due to charity work he has done for Barnardos. How fabulous is that? I did as well, go and check out his torch. Tigger is in the shot below as well by the way, but in disguise without the outfit. Be impressed.
There was a sort of grand warm up for the 10k led from the stage, but I didn’t want to wear myself out doing that, so I just hung out at the back and enjoyed the view. It looked fab though, like community popmobility, something which I am inclined to feel should be encouraged at every opportunity. Early morning (pre-dawn) moving to music happens all over the place in Cambodia by the way, it’s brilliant. We need that ethos here too!
This was much busier than the musical mile start, and ‘proper’ runners were congregated at the front. As people moved into the start funnel there was still time to fraternise with other runners though. I’m looking forward to seeing for myself how that sheep costume turns out at a later run event in the vicinity. Sounds brilliant. Jess was there to set us off. At least I think she was, I couldn’t see what was going on, and it becomes a bit of a blur with so many different run distances and events going on almost continuously. I do know that at some point I heard a voice put out a plea not to trample Jessica as you ran because she was pregnant. I’m not sure if the inference that it would have been OK otherwise to trample her was intentional. In any event, I don’t think it is ever OK for runners to trample Jess, or anyone else for that matter, it’s easy enough to give a people a bit of a berth as you overtake, especially at an event where the focus was on fun and participation rather than flat-out racing. Because of where I was in the line up I didn’t get to high-five Jess or Trev as I was passing, but they were there, cheering us all on! I think these photos might be of the Disney mile start, but hey ho, you get the idea.
The 11.00 a.m. 10k starting stampede was captured on film. It wasn’t a massive turn out by local standards, but it was respectable. The results look like there were about 1000 10k runners across the two events of the day. ‘Serious runners’ went towards the front, there were pacers towards the back doing 60 minute and 65 minute times.
As we headed off, it dawned on me that it was indeed a long haul up that hill. It was a steep, steep and somewhat demoralising climb. You hoik yourself up, and after what seemed like an age, you get to the first sign (literally, it was a hi-vis poster) warning you were about to start the Ennis hill. What? What the heck was that first killing kilometer then. I wasn’t massively impressed. The setting is scenic, but apart from the grassy first bit, much of the track upwards to the hunting lodge was on a sort of compressed gravel that was hot and very dusty underfoot. It wasn’t the springy woodland trail surface I’d fondly imagined and it was hard on my arthritic feet. I did have to walk from quite early on. I told myself this was a legitimate strategy as power walking was faster than my feeble running efforts at this point, but it did feel a bit of an epic fail to be walking so early on. I mean I can do a parkrun 5k without stopping, so I should have surely managed 2k – except it was almost vertical in ascent. What was encouraging though, was as the tomtom pacers passed me – which inevitably they did, they shouted out cheery words of encouragement, one was playing upbeat music on some hand-held speaker, so that was fun and cheering. Good for morale. Another advantage of having a giraffe you see, it makes you relatively easy to spot amongst the heaving throngs!
If you like a few visuals by way of reference, then whilst we are on the theme of tenuous links (yes we were), the terrain was a bit like that at the early part of the Bushy parkrun route (you can see it really clearly from 1.45 mark). Thanks to Dean Carter for this video of his parkrun in Bushy park – the final in his epic quest to complete all 47 parkruns in the Greater London area. (Yes, this is mainly an excuse to upload a go-pro of the iconic Bushy parkrun course, but can you blame me really?)
I’d like to say as I stormed up that hill I looked like an extra from Chariots of Fire, but unfortunately I didn’t, however, I did reach the top eventually, and then it got a lot more fun and straightforward. Again, not many marshals, but the route was obvious, and bold kilometre markers told you how far you’d come. I got a few cheery shouts of appreciation for Geronimo which was nice. My favourite though was the two women running together who said the ‘you’ve got a giraffe line‘ which was fair enough, I gave my usual retort of ‘where’s yours?‘ and quick as a shot the reply whizzed back to me from one of them ‘if you’d seen me on the hill you’d know I came as a grumpy cow!’ Genius quipping there. Respect. I like that in a fellow runner.
Here’s the route by the way – their event guide map, and my strava one, hope it helps:
There was short part where the returning runners shared the track with those of us still heading out. The temptation to slot in behind the front runner who I saw out of the corner of my eye was pretty strong at that point, but I had a feeling such subterfuge would not go unnoticed. At various stages I struck up conversations with other runners, it was a very chatty event. Well it was for me, faster runners were killing themselves with different race plans. I suspect there may have been some throwing up at the finish line by them. I met other parkrunners, first time 10k runners, people who’d lost huge amounts of weight, charity runners, those who’d traveled from afar, and locals too. There weren’t many running club vests, a few I recognised, but this felt more parkrun community than race like in atmosphere and I really liked that. Faster runners were celebrated in the prize giving at the end, but the day as a whole was inclusive. I spent quite a bit of the route step in step with a guy in training for a marathon in a couple of months, he’d just restarted his fitness quest. He actually did his first half-marathon as a smoker on three-weeks training, he got round, but wow, that would have been tough. A bit of companionable chat made this part of the route pass more quickly. I really think slower runners, of which I am one, must have more fun at longer races, whilst I can’t talk and run for a 5k, if it’s more of an endurance, then chatting to marshals or snatched conversations with other runners as you pass one another is part of the shared experience. It’s good for morale. Those fast runners whizzing by miss out on that. It’s all very well going for a sub two-hour marathon, but wouldn’t Eliud Kipchoge have enjoyed it all much more if he’d been able to have a natter with pacers en route. He didn’t crack the time anyway, so he could have just had a nice morning out instead. He seems a friendly guy, looked smiley on the telly. I bet he’dhave loved to have had a chat about running sock preferences on the way round – especially as his attempt was all on a track. How dull must that be, running round in circles, much better to take your mind of it all by discussing anti-chafing strategies instead. I might message his Facebook account and suggest it, I expect he’d be glad of the top tip.
There was a St Johns First Aid station around the 7km mark. Hilariously, just as one of the marshals there helpfully called out to be careful of the uneven terrain, I, in turning to look at him and hear what he was saying lost concentration and stumbled over a tree root much to the merriment of those around. A bit further on there was a much-needed water station. It was so hot and humid and hilly. There was only one woman tending it and she was super stressed, all the bottles she’d put out before hand had gone and she seemed a bit panicked. It was all good-natured though.
It was a big relief to get into the shade of the trees. There are some beautiful scenic parts of the route as you are up high, you need to remember to look to the right to take in the views. We passed a water feature and a stunning cascading waterfall at one point. I wasn’t taken with the surface under foot but that’s probably petty of me, and a reflection on my arthritic feet as much as anything. After a while I pulled ahead of my new friend as we weren’t really pacing the same as the gradient shifted – though we did seem to leap-frog each other for a fair bit afterwards.
There were a few fun surprises en route – the unexpected steel band was completely brilliant, they were positioned so both 5k and 10k runners would pass them, but they were only in place for our return run not on the way out. Also there were some random full fur suited chipmunks/rabbit I know not what disney-esque creatures. Clearly I thought these were great, and we shared high fives. I wonder if a live music station at the mid point of the music mile might have been a better option than the several quieter speaker stations, but I suppose there are cost implications to doing that. Live music was really good. A proper party atmosphere. If I had to choose, I’d have had them on the music mile where everyone could enjoy them even if not running, they were a hidden delight for the few up in the woods. Grand though. Cheers people!
Eventually we emerged from the woods onto the grass descent. It was basically through a tall grass meadow, where they’d put a mower through to make a path for runners. The consequence was a mass of dried and drying, recently cut tall grass under foot. Loose hay basically. It was a timotei-esque romp through a hay field, only down a really stepp hill. I like running through hay, kicking it up. It was fun, but also strange and unfamiliar, it felt the surface underfoot was moving, I’ve only had that sensation once before, running on a beach when a wind whipped up the sand so it was blustering round your feet and you couldn’t really see the actual ground through it – it was that same sense of your eye making you think the ground is in motion. I liked it, surreal, but enjoyable. Towards the end of the course there were more photographers on hand to capture the emotion of the final 1k. Not sure what adjectives should apply here, but I’ll go with ‘determined’, and leave it at that. In my defence, it wasn’t the easist of 10ks you know…
It was still a good 2k to the end, and we ran in past newly arriving participants. In the last 1km or so there was some tape up marking the route, and competitors who’d finished earlier or not yet run were lining the course. I saw one Smiley who cheered me in, and a few of the people I’d struck up conversations with earlier who’d finished ahead of me also shouted out support. It was fun. Then we veered round to the same finish point as the musical miles, so again bling (different ribbon) and onto the stage. There were photographers at the end, and a few at the early stages of the course too, so I posed appropriately. The photographer pointed out that Geronimo had really done all the work and was the more deserving of the medal, so I repositioned it on her neck rather than mine in recognition of this. Yay, we’d done it! In the absence of the official photo as yet, here is my own post event selfie. It’s a start.
And as a late addition, here are the ‘official ones’, yay! What a team eh? What, a team?
Again there was loads of water on tables so you could help yourself (got a snowman bottle this time) also had some coconut water which was fab. One minor gripe was that there was an enormous amount of water bottles on the day (good) but no plastic recycle bins to put the empty ones in (bad), so I really, really hope the litter did get sorted through, the thought of so much plastic ending up in landfill causes me physical pain. Or worse, getting into our oceans – will there really be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. I could weep.
Didn’t stop me drinking it though, and then after the run, and post-run rehydration, I went in search of the olympic torch and copped a feel of that. I was honoured indeed! Just how many brushes with fame can a person manage in one short day!
Yay, then I did some more random mingling. I sighted a few more familiar faces, but most people were on their own different trajectories so not much chatting to people I knew to be fair. Good to see them all the same, even if at least one of them was fair sprinting away no sooner than she caught sight of me. I cheered off the afternoon 10k people – it was even hotter then, respect to those who headed off with gusto at one o’clock in the afternoon.
I didn’t really have the energy for more running, tempting as the prospect of getting Disney mile bling was. The musical miles went on all day, you could run as many as you liked and got a different wrist band for each themed run as far as I could tell. Some tiny kids were romping round loads of times getting an impressive haul of wrist bands and medals. That part of the event was pitched well I think. Even so, I let that opportunity pass, and instead I made a new best friend. It was an accident, I trod on her bag whilst stepping backwards trying to get this shot. You can see why I got distracted, it being Wimbledon fortnight, I thought it would be cool to recreate that famous Athena poster again. Definitely an eye-catching way to raise awareness for a cause!
Anyway, don’t worry, it was a happy accident, as it led to conversation. Turns out she was a marshal at the RSR and we had a fab conversation all about that, and marshaling, and body confidence issues when running, and how the ultimate aspiration is really to feel invisible when running sometimes. As a slow runner I know others are supportive to me as they stay to cheer me through the finish when I plod home last at a fell race or whatever, and that’s great and I do really appreciate it. However, it is possible to simultaneously hold two conflicting truths, you know nobody cares what you look like, other runners are supportive, the important thing is that you are having a go etc etc, and yet… simultaneously you can feel self-conscious and awkward and wish yourself invisible. I blame being picked last for the netball teams a few too many times at school to be honest. That lingering sense of inadequacy never really goes away. Anyway, kindred spirit, you know who you are I salute you. See you at the TenTenTen. We hugged, and went our separate ways. I don’t have a photo of her, but it was like my moment with Jess, we both know what passed between us, we don’t need a photo to prove a point!
Also, she was able to explain to me who famous celebrity DJ Trevor Nelson was, so that was good. He did look sort of familiar, and did a great high-energy job on the day, but I’m guessing Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra aren’t really his natural habitat so we haven’t had the opportunity to get acquainted previously. Still I know now. So that’s good. There was also a super enthusiastic side-kick/presentation buddy Vassos Alexander who bounced about doing lots of live commentary and who is a famous celebrity sports journalist apparently. I should not jest, as a google search tells me he writes for The Guardian, so should be taken seriously. At this inaugural (I think) VitalityMove event you could hardly move for celebrities, it was a shame I wasn’t the right demographic to necessarily appreciate it at the time. Having said that, cynicism aside, I quite liked the way Jess, Trev, and Vasso (we are all friends now) got stuck in and engaged with everyone. This is definitely not a conventional running event… that’s both it’s selling point and it’s problem. The razzmataz/ festival feel of it all might appeal to new groups of runners, but also might deter those expecting a more traditional event. I appreciated it though, so that was good enough for me. I’m self-centred in that respect.
Next, I was on a mission. A fellow runner en route had told me how he’d blagged some giant foam hands from the TomTom stand. Good plan. He just went and asked for them. Basic assertiveness sometimes pays off. I’ve been searching for one of those for a while (long story for another time) and this was my moment. I went up to the first tomtom rep who made eye-contact and used immense skill and judgement to frame the wording of my request. ‘I’d like a giant foam hand please?’ Something like that, straight to the point, no messing. He nodded, and headed towards a ball pit surrounded by children and for an awful moment I thought he was just going to take a foam hand off one of them! My mistake, there was a whole pile of them (foam hands, not children), I got not just one hand but two! Hurrah.
It seemed only polite by way of appreciation to show that I do have a tomtom and I do really like it, even though it has a few features I still don’t know how to use. Well, this turned into another brilliant chat. Not only is my TomTom now properly set to miles, and I understand it isn’t broken when it won’t move back from a screen straight away (that’s a protective feature to stop it being over-sensitive and stopping mid-run apparently) but also I also got to learn a whole load about ultra running from the Australian rep. He himself is hoping to do the Marathon des Sables in 2019 as part of a team who were the first aboriginal participants to complete the insanely challenging 251km in six days ultrarun which is basically all across desert. I think last year. Exasperatingly I can’t find any references to this awesome achievement on google, there is the Indigenous Marathon Foundation, which raises funds for entries to the New York Marathon for indigenous Asutralians, and is interesting but not the same at all. However, this organisation did the Marathon des Sables as a fund-raiser for the IMF at some point so that came up at the top of all the google hits, so I couldn’t locate the aboriginal team. Oh well. Anyway it was so interesting hearing about that, and the inspiration this runner got from reading ‘Born to Run‘ which I keep hearing about and must actually read one day. The book that is, not the Bruce Springsteen album, different motivational sequence altogether! Plus we talked about what it’s like living and working in a different country. It was two and a half decades ago, but I did spend a year in Australia and it was fantastic, but I missed unexpected things like radio, a shared sense of humour – which it turns out is much more culturally specific than you may think, strange things, so it was interesting to hear what it was like in reverse, an Australian living long-term in London. Well, I enjoyed the chat anyway. As we said farewell, I realised I’d spent the whole conversation stood up on a mini stage whilst he was standing on the ground. It was only departing that I realised he was very tall, but I hadn’t noticed, I wonder if he had noticed my giraffe? Thanks tomtom people, for the nice pacers, my nice watch, the foam hands, the opportunity to hold an olympic torch and the running insights. Good to meet you and you were all great ambassadors for the brand too IMHO for what it’s worth. Here are all the TomTom gang. Can you spot the Marathon des Sables wannabee amongst them? Also foam hand. Fab eh?
I didn’t feel like leaving straight away though I was peckish by now. I’d had more water, some coconut water (fab freebie) and splashed out on a cup of decent coffee, but the food options were a bit out of my budget, though in line with the sort of upmarket food stands you get at this kind of event. I decided to stay for the prize giving. Winners for 5k and 10k morning and afternoon men and women. Quite good prizes too, tomtom watches and things. There were some stonking times. This celebrated the competitive part of the day. It was good, and nice to see. I did wonder though, if given this was supposed to be a more inclusive event if they could maybe have had some more random spot prizes so celebrating the non-speedy as well. You know like at fell races, when they have, oh I don’t know: muddiest legs; finish position same as race number; furthest traveled entrant; most radiant smile; best face-plant of the day whatever. They wouldn’t have to be particularly expensive ones – a foam hand would have done, but something to acknowledge different ways of participating were valid too. I suppose it depends again what the target group is for this event, it still isn’t entirely clear to me, maybe that’s why it was a hard sell… Even so, it was fun cheering the winners – it was a young girl who picked up second woman for the morning 5k, or maybe even the 10k, I had very little grasp of who got what. Awesome achievement though, super speedy run!
Oh I nearly forgot, if you care about the actual results then they are here for the VitalityMove event. Weirdly the results for each distance are merged into one table. I’m not fussed about my time and can see some merit in this approach for a fun event. However, it could be a high risk strategy as I suspect more competitive types may think otherwise, if their places in one 10k are diminished in comparison to times for the other. It will be interesting to see what the feedback about that is. I say ‘feedback’ what I really mean though is expressions of indignation on facebook, no way of knowing how representative that is of anyone to be fair. Some will mind though, I’m sure of that.
Prizes dolled out, I decided it was time to go home. As I was leaving, on a whim I decided I would actually like an event T-shirt and it seemed a way to contribute to the event a bit as I hadn’t paid. There was no-one queuing for merchandise so it was an opportunity to have a bit of a natter with the woman selling the T-shirts. Tenner a time. Large sizes, I think though possible all men’s fit rather than women’s.
Anyway, to cut to the proverbial chase, it quickly became apparent that this was yet a further celebrity sighting for the day! After debating the relative merits of the T-shirt sizing, and breaking the ice by me wrestling in and out of various sizes whilst she provided real-time feedback on their fit (she didn’t need to say anything, you could see from her facial expressions) we got onto running related story telling. Well dear reader, she is only the current Guinness World Record holder for the Fastest half marathon running backwards (female). I know! How exciting is that. I have a sort of fascination for backwards running because I only found out relatively recently that it is an actual thing and it seems to me truly remarkable. I tried to pump her for information as much as possible before someone else turned up actually wanting a T-shirt and so she was able to break eye-contact and end the conversation, and it is just as amazing as you might think. So, to get a few things straight:
- Shantelle Gaston-Hird ran in aid of an anti-bullying charity at the Wimslow half earlier this year. Running for a cause she felt really passionately about helped to motivate her.
- The answer to the question ‘but how do you train for a running backwards event?’ is, remarkably enough ‘by running backwards in training.’ Who knew? The thing is – and I speak as a fancy dress wearer of some experience – I can totally see how it’s easy enough to carry off what might be (erroneously) considered to be an eccentric approach to a running as part of an event. Half-marathons and marathons everywhere positively welcome the fun-runners and their crowd pleasing antics, but pounding the roads in the dark of winter during training running backwards, or in fancy dress – well that’s a whole new level of dedication. However, and it’s obvious really when you think about it, the people who live near where she runs locally are so used to it apparently they don’t bat an eyelid these days. I love that.
- Running backwards uses five times more effort than running forwards, so it’s very much more physically demanding
- She has only ever fallen over (or was it crashed into something) once in training, and that was because she was distracted by catching her long hair in a zip in her top and didn’t stop running whilst trying to disentangle herself from this mishap. Distraction related face plant then, we’ve all had them out running. Haven’t we?
- She has a running forward guide on the day to keep it all safe. Training is a more solitary undertaking
- She did it in about 2 and a half hours, that’s splendid is it not?
I was so in awe, I actually remembered to ask for a photo (I’ve so regretted not getting a selfie with the mankini marathon man at London, and I’ve learned from that). So here it is, plus one from the Wilmslow Guardian article celebrating her world record breaking run by way of further illustration of her achievement, and in case there are still some doubters out there. A.Maz.Ing. Fact! Maybe I’ll try to Photoshop me in alongside her later. First of all I have to see if I have that on my laptop and learn how to use it, so best you don’t wait up in anticipation.
So you see, this whole event was jam-packed with awesome people. All runners are great, you just have to bother to find out their individual stories, everyone has one. You have your own too, I’m sure.
I drifted back to the car park, snapping the dancing troupes and a couple of particularly photogenic children in the throng as I left.
So there you go. Debut VitalityMove, yep, a grand day out indeed. Geronimo Sky is quite tired now though, so I think she’ll have a break from running for a bit, but her medal count is pretty good to date. Bodes well.
For my part, I think this is a model for a running event that could indeed run and run (pun intended) but whether it is a financially viable one I’m not so sure. I gained the distinct impression that many of the people I’d met were last-minute entries who used coupons many and various to get generous discounts. I hope they do try to offer the event again, with a bit of tweaking there should be room in the running calendar for more days out and about like this. However, I do fear the VitalityMove offering may instead disappear into the mists of time like the town of Brigadoon. For those of us who discovered it and were there, it will be the stuff of joyful memories and legend, but fated not to be seen again for a hundred years. For my part though, I had a grand day out, as did Geronimo, so thanks Jess and everyone who had the imagination to think this day up and make it happen. It was worth doing, and I for one appreciated it, which is a start. Cheers!
So til next time, happy running y’all. Get out there and embrace them there hills! 🙂
P.S. PHOTOS: There are/will be lots of photos – you could buy a bundle in advance for £10 which was pretty good value as there were lots of cameras around on the day – O had 61 photos of me to browse through. Granted about 50 of them made me want to vanish off the face of the earth instantaneously, or at the very least never be seen in public again, but some were really run. All captured the sense of occassion. I didn’t find the website user-friendly though, it took some tenacity to get the darned photos to download and I never worked out how to get them directly onto facebook, which in retrospect is probably a massive blessing. Otherwise it was £25 afterwards which is a bit of a jump in price. AWOL have some in the public domain here taken from social media sites; and Jessica Ennis put loads of vidoes up on her official facebook page on the day. Here’s one of the general atmosphere on the stage by way of example. I’m guessing more photos will follow on both the VitalityMove Facebook page and the AWOL Facebook page at some point.
and they have! Check out this selection from the Chatsworth Album here from VitalityMove for a start.