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Having a giraffe at the Sheffield half 2018

Digested read:  Did the Sheffield half-marathon at the weekend, strictly speaking it’s the Yorkshire half I think.  Which is confusing.  The crowd support was grand, Geronimo my companion giraffe was a hit, and I got to meet the Terrific Tilly along the way.  What’s not to like?  My last long run pre London Marathon.  Now I have maranoia and post event blues.  These emotions are unhelpful, but apparently not uncommon.  Oh well.  Still love Sheffield running and Sheffield runners though.  Hope you get to run here too dear reader, you’ll love it!

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt and medal!  Hurrah.  What’s more, had a giraffe doing so.  Literally, as in I did have a giraffe with me for the Sheffield Half Marathon, and in the not exactly metaphorical, but certainly more obscure British street speak ‘having a laugh‘ sense.  My (and your) appreciation of this dual meaning clearly demonstrates my hip and street wise credentials despite the apparently uncool choice of running with an African even-toed ungulate as my companion animal of choice for the event.  Life in general is full of such apparent contradictions, but sometimes, somehow, the unlikeliest of juxtapositions will work, thus, see below, evidence of having a giraffe in both senses.

Running can be fun dear reader, or at least seeing people you know whilst out running most definitely is, and this can delude you into thinking it’s the running bit which is fun by association.  On reflection, the whole thing is probably one big delusion, like clicker training for dogs.  The poor creatures learn to associate a click with a food reward or other treat, until eventually just hearing the click is its own reward, the food treat being withdrawn.  Oh my gawd!  Suddenly the penny drops.  Maybe running isn’t fun at all?   it’s the positive reinforcement from my running buddies that has led me to believe otherwise!  Cripes.  Let’s not go there. Hang on while I just breathe into a paper bag for a bit.   Hey ho, bear with me, let’s just continue to imagine running is intrinsically fun shall we?  Otherwise a whole house of cards will come tumbling down, and none of us want that, surely?  Look, here’s the very proof that running is fun!  I like this picture, top of the hill, top of the world, and just had the good fortune to see the fine folk of Accelerate proffering encouragement and water and all sorts of other positive reinforcement, plus they took this photo, I believe I claimed a hug at this point too, because that’s what the people who line the route of the course are there for, to provide healing hugs on demand to runners in need.  A very fine job they do of it too.

acc seen my friends

I’m running ahead of myself though – not something that happens very often when I’m literally as opposed to metaphorically running.  Let’s get back to basic chronology.  So last Sunday was the 2018 Sheffield Half.  I didn’t run it last year, when there was sudden unexpected scorching heat, but did the year before in 2016.  I really enjoyed it, it was my first time over that distance, and the support en route was astonishing.  I ate my body weight in jelly babies and had a lifetime’s supply of high fives over the duration.  I felt invincible at the end.  Even though generally I’m not a fan of road running, this year it was definitely in the diary.  It would be a good last long run pre-London (have I mentioned recently that I’ve got a ballot place for the London marathon this year?), and I’ve run the Sheffield half route a fair few times in training to get the miles in, so I was hoping it would seem straightforward by comparison to doing a full marathon.  Familiar territory, shorter route, blah de blah.

The preparation started the day before, laying out my kit, ironing my name onto my Smiley shirt, agonising over which of my many pairs of socks to wear.  It was important to me to replicate the kit that I’ll be wearing at London.  I did wonder if the name thing might be something of an overkill for Sheffield, plus there was the fear that my amazon iron on letters might not stay put in the wash.  Nevertheless, this was the plan, I would stick to it, and I did, and so did the letters. They even stayed on after washing.  Phew.  Bargain buy actually.  Less than £4 including postage got me these and some!

I had some additional angst when I wasn’t sure if the centre of my body that I laughingly refer to as my ‘waist’ could still accommodate Geronimo. Not only am I the only person in the history of marathon training to put on weight during training, but also I hadn’t fully factored in that I need to wear my running belt with water, and naked bars and other running essentials underneath.  It was a bit snugger than I’d have liked, but doable, ‘this is why I’m having a practice run‘, I tried to remind myself, whilst inwardly weeping at my less than athletic frame.  Also, Geronimo has quite a severe neck curvature, I improvised with garden twine but not sure this is entirely humane.  I managed to get her number on OK, but then had a wave of panic about whether this is allowable under race rules.  I don’t approve of running under other runners bibs.  It’s not fair on race organisers and it does have safety implications – though I can see the temptation if events don’t allow transfers even weeks ahead.  Is it therefore OK for Geronimo to wear my number?  Should we each have had our own?  Am I guilty of race-craft hypocrisy on this score?  It’s an ethical minefield!  Oh well, committed now and at least it means I get company on the way round.  I decided not to share my pre-race angst with Geronimo – no point in stressing us both, and just left her to carb up, whilst I did likewise.

I actually had a friend visiting, which was really nice, but I ate more than I should have the night before a run, and later than was ideal, although it was all very lovely at the time.

I got up crazily early and sleep deprived on the morning of the event, couldn’t sleep anyway.  I am still fretting about being one long run down in my training plan, so decided to lengthen this half marathon distance by walking down to the start.  That added about an extra 3 miles.  This was a fine plan, apart from the fact I stupidly didn’t take it into account in my fuelling scheme, and realised once in the start pen, and just before the official ‘off’,  I was suddenly ridiculously thirsty.  I also discovered accessing my water bottles beneath Geronimo’s midriff is not that straight forward. Consequently, I started the half dehydrated and never really made that up.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  Then again, that’s why I was doing a dummy run in the kit I suppose.  Doh.

The walk down to the start was, erm, well let’s go with ‘interesting.’ Contrary to appearances, I do feel an acute sense of embarrassment in fancy dress other than during the actual event.  It was hard to affect a look of nonchalance as I made my way down to the city centre start. To be fair, I didn’t see many people out and about other than dog walkers, and all were friendly, if bemused/amused.  One guy with his beagle was going to be running later anyway, another walker asked cheerily ‘oh, are you up for the fun run then?’ I didn’t like to admit i wasn’t sure it would be all that much fun actually, but thank you for asking.  One asked if I was ‘planning to run with that?’ meaning Geronimo.  This did strike me as odd.  I mean surely, if it strikes you as bizarre that someone would run a half marathon in fancy dress, would it not strike you as even odder if they wore fancy dress on a three-mile walk to the start line of said event, but  with no intention of actually running in it, rather just for the gloriousness of flaunting their outfit?  No?  Just me then.

We took in some sights on the way.  It was fun meeting the lion.  And excitement started to build as we saw the road closure signs nearing the start.   Geronimo hasn’t seen this side of Sheffield before so I was worried she’d be spooked, but she was fine, curious even.  I think she may have been wondering about whether the bus or bike would be the most practical option for the return leg, but we didn’t really discuss it.  Because she can’t talk, and I can’t hum at a low enough frequency. It doesn’t seem to matter too much, we muddle along just fine.

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It was quite fun as I neared the event village, there was that growing sense of anticipation as people arrived, and I got to see the finish arch for the first, but hopefully not last, time.  I nipped into Costa to use the loo, fearing a portaloo would be too much of a challenge.  Strictly speaking you need a code to access this, but loads of runners were using the facilities – and buying pre-event coffee and muffins to be fair – so we just held the door for one another.

I paced about a bit, and found a few familiar faces, so that was good.  I was quite early, and alarmingly, there were relatively few people in fancy dress of any sort.  In fact, at this point in proceedings I’d not seen anyone.  Because of this, I had a brief period of being a media sensation.  I was away chatting to a Sheffield runner / parkrunner who I keep bumping into out and about, and who I discovered is in fact also going to be running London, for charity, and I was mid-way through downloading all her previous knowledge and experience when we were interrupted.  Hilariously, someone from run for all wanted to do a video clip of me and Geronimo.  Unhilariously, the result is painful for me to watch – is my voice really that bad?  (Rhetorical question).  Oh well.  Then someone from polar watches wanted a photo too, (no, I didn’t get a complementary watch for my services, which is a shame as my tomtom is getting increasingly temperamental about synching these days – apparently the manufacturers aren’t supporting their running watches updates any more.  Curses.  I will have such a tantrum if it doesn’t load London) and then a guy from The Star.  I was basically my very own media sensation. Well, Geronimo was, and I got glory by association.  Form a queue paparazzi people, form a queue!  Not seen the other photos, but here is the front of the Instagram video one and my newly identified fellow London marathoner…

Once I’d fulfilled my media responsibilities, good preparation for when I’m an international sporting celebrity which I’m sure is only a matter of time, I went in search of Smilies.  Found some!  Specifically, I found my very favourite Smiley cheer leading squad, tooled up and ready for action.  They were apparently there to support their dad running too, but clearly taking their Smiley support role very seriously too!  Yay.  I explained to them how they were my favourite thing at the 2016 marathon, and this year seeing them cheering wildly en route was a highlight all over again.  Yay!

smiley cheer leaders

No rain, uncharacteristically mild.  I was feeling OK about wearing a t-shirt for the first time this year.  Not even exaggerating for comedic effect.  I went in search of Smilies, as there’d been talk of getting a team photo on the steps of the Winter garden overlooking the Lyceum.  I dumped my bag and joined the assembly.  By and extraordinary co-incidence, other running clubs had had the same idea!  Who’d have thought it?  We briefly considered photo-bombing the Totley AC group shot, but couldn’t really be bothered.  Anyway, I was distracted by a) the presence of other Smilies, and b) another request for a film, this time by someone from The Star with a video camera, and by other Smilies.  With the benefit of already having had one go at being the subject of a vox pox, I went on a different tack this time.  Explaining, I was in fancy dress because at the time of signing up my running club buddies had assured me that this was a compulsory part of the occasion, and that they would all be donning their own African mammal of choice for the event as well.  Which they clearly weren’t!  I gestured towards them as they doubled up behind me laughing as I went on to reiterate that consequently I was feeling most aggrieved.  It was very entertaining  – to us.  So entertaining, that the camera operative wanted me to ‘spontaneously’ repeat the account all over again.  That would have been very funny to see, we were most conspiratorial, but possibly also came across as sharing our own joke, which to be fair, we were.  Oh well, it passed the time before the mandatory group shots.

CS smiley group shot

As is also traditional, some Smilies were gathered in the wrong place, or stuck in a loo-queue, so not everyone made it.  Other sub-group shots were taken instead.

So more faffing, found another loo stop, then into the Winter gardens for some warmth, some posing for photos in front of the elephant in the room and some stretching (not by me).

Finally, time to get to the start line.  There was a delay in setting off due to a ‘police incident on the course’ apparently.  I was completely oblivious to this. I was distracted by meeting some camel women – first proper fancy dress contenders of the morning, and they’d upped the ante going for a double act.  Then I was distracted by meeting a fellow Smiley in the line up.  The Sheffield half- marathon is basically one big post-winter reunion for everyone you know in Sheffield who runs.  If they aren’t running the event themselves, chances are they will either be supporting it en route, or volunteering. There is no escape!

The actual start, unless you are a speedy runner in the front pen, was pretty stop start.  Some people did try to jog on, but as  a point of principle I wasn’t planning on running anywhere until my foot went over the starting mat.  I was aware of being really thirsty suddenly, but bit late to do anything about it, and a bit faffy to access my water bottle.  I hadn’t factored in the time and effort it had taken me to walk down to the start.  Must make sure I consciously drink something whilst waiting on the start at London.

We weaved over the cobble streets, and eventually the start came into view.  I didn’t think anything would top the experience of getting a high-five from Harry Gration in 2016, but the organisers had upped the ante this year with green wig pram man. The legend that is  the fund raiser John Burkhill!  No wonder I was so excited heading through the start.  Yes, I did get a high-five, thank you for asking.

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Apparently the front runners don’t avail themselves of this opportunity!  They are in such a rush to get round.  They miss out on such celebrity encounters.  It’s a shame.

I somehow found myself alongside the 2:20 pacers, both striders I knew, so that was cool, I waved them on though, my race plan wasn’t going to reach that speed.  Early excitement was indeed from seeing familiar supporters early on.  I wasn’t lying when I told you I got excited by the pro-smiley mob just near Waitrose!

RW so excited

The next bit of excitement, was getting to overtake someone.  Admittedly, it was someone carrying a solid oak anchor, but it was a start.  How he made it round I have no idea, that was a seriously heavy bit of luggage.  Maybe he was planning to leave it at the bag drop, but it exceeded their size criteria?  I didn’t stop to ask.  Photo nabbed from Steel City Striders Facebook page – hope that’s OK.  Sharing the running love is all for the greater good after all…

SCS anchor man

Onward and upward.  Well, to be fair, that’s the only available option for the Sheffield half, unless you inadvertently run in completely the wrong direction at the start.  By my standards, which are modest, I was reasonably consistent. Swept along by the crowd I did my slow plod, but kept my rhythm and ran pretty much the whole way up until I got to Knowle Lane. Well I say I kept on running, but clearly there were distractions along the way.  There were many supporting Smilies, and I couldn’t run past them without stopping and claiming a hug, despite one at least telling me I wasn’t supposed to. Well sod that for a game of soldiers, that’s one of the whole points of undertaking this running malarkey. Whilst, naturally, it was grand to see everyone, a particular thrill was meeting this gorgeous trio:

This necessitated not just a photo stop, but a selfie-stop with more than one attempt. Thing is, Tilly the puppy and I have connected on-line, but not had the opportunity to meet in dog and person yet.  I was so thrilled to see her I wasn’t going to turn down that opportunity.  She was fantastically well-socialised and greeted both me and Geronimo warmly . So soft and cuddlesome!  I say she was well-socialised, and that’s true, but I like to think the warmth and enthusiasm of her greeting was because we have special spiritual connection that is unique to ourselves.  I’m practically a puppy-whisperer, and very blessed what with our special relationship.  Hoping this will be but the first of many future encounters.

Onwards.  Hello Runderwear ambassador of Valley Hill Runners.  Had to stop and tell her about meeting Tilly for the first time – only to find she’d beaten me to it the day before.  Fair enough, this was important news, serves me right for not making it to Sheffield Hallam parkrun when Tilly was having her coming out party.  Miss parkrun, miss out.  Fact.  Greetings exchanged, she cheered me on, I could hear her shouts of positivity carrying on behind  me as I ran off.   I’m glad someone was feeling confident on my behalf!

tilly and VHR

Sometimes it was a bit confusing there was so much support.  At one point at Hunter’s Bar there was a smiley contingent proffering high-fives on both sides of the road, so obviously I had to zig-zag across to take up all available options.  I wonder if the lead runners did this too?  Then a shout out from the 50% of the Front Runner team who was out supporting the other 50% of the Front Runner team who was chasing a podium place and probably didn’t therefore double back insisting on a high-five.  There was further confusion, because I forgot that I had my name emblazoned all over my top and my race number, and some random supporters called out my name, which was great, but it took me a while to realise I didn’t know these people.   Didn’t matter, all support greatly appreciated!  Some supporters I missed, but they got Smiley action shots en route all the same.  Hurrah!

The support going out is pretty amazing.  It was an OK day, perfect for running, but not overly warm for spectating but the road was lined with children holding out trays of jelly beans, or lining up hands poised for high fives.  I got some shouts for ‘go giraffe’ which was grand – though later in the race I started to protest a bit because people weren’t sufficiently acknowledging my own contribution to Geronimo getting round.  At one point a cyclist in high viz came tearing down the hill shouting out ‘Go Geronimo!’ which made me feel like a proper celebrity with my own support team.  Loads of signs offered encouraging support – I was quite taken by one that was ‘go random stranger!’.  It was all very positive and affirming.

I learned the lessons from last time out and desisted from taking jelly babies I didn’t want for fear of disappointing small children.  What I didn’t do though, which was dumb, is stop and drink enough.  I wanted to, I was so thirsty, but with so many people yelling support I was a bit embarrassed to pause and rummage around for my water bottle.  The irony of not being embarrassed to run with a toy giraffe strapped round my midriff but fearing humiliation if I paused to drink is not lost on me. I  was very grateful when outside one of the shops up at Banner Cross some random table was set up offering water.

So many sights and sounds.  The crowds thinned a bit as I headed up towards Ringinglow road, by the time we got to the king of the hill section, I wasn’t feeling very regal.  I was really, really thirsty now, and had a knee niggle coming on which I’ve never had before.  I did a sort of mental check about how I felt, and thought ‘you know what I’m fine, but I need to walk and drink and eat something’ so I did that, whilst plodding up the hill, and it was the right thing to do, just to get some equilibrium back.

Nearing the Norfolk Arms the crowd got denser, ‘is that the finish ahead?’ I shouted, ‘yes, yes,’ mischievous supporters shouted back, lying, but the interaction was fun.   Less fun when people tell first timers it’s ‘downhill all the way’ from the Norfolk arms, because it really isn’t, but that’s OK if you are in the know…  Then there was the Accelerate team out in force.  Hurrah!  I can’t tell you how good it is to see people you know out en route, it’s amazing.  It’s all the fun of socialising with friends, without any of the pressure or awkwardness of having to maintain a conversation for longer than you have anything interesting to say.  The Accelerate people got some good shots of the atmosphere of the half in general and of woodrun folk in particular.  Incidentally, woodrun folk are not really like woodcraft folk at all, but I can understand why you might think they are,  some of whom had made a real effort to scrub up for the occasion.  I do appreciate it when people put the time in to choose the perfect outfit for such an auspicious day.

I claimed my hug and ran on.  Round the corner onto Sheephill road and SURPRISE!  My London Marathon buddy was in situ, fantastic to see her, clearly another stop for a selfie and hug was called for. Weird to think next time I see her could well be in London. Aaargh.  Very affirming to get that support mid way through my last long run.

The next section is definitely my favourite bit, although you aren’t yet half way round, the hard bit is behind, the views are stunning and there is still support around.   Shout out for North Derbyshire runners who had their official photographer out and about taking photos too.  I opportunistically capitalised on the proximity of that lens too – thanks Robert Scriven for use of these photos.  I’m such a natural in front of the camera.  No wonder I could barely move for paparazzi at the start.  Some great shots of other runners though, I’m liking the political satire. Check out that name label  – who’s riding Donald Trump eh?

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Steel City Striders were out in force, and there were some motivational words for them too, but I don’t think they’d begrudge sharing.  Plus they had their official photographer stuck in a ditch as per usual.  You might think they’d show a bit more respect as he takes some grand photos, but then again, maybe it’s a camouflage thing?

On and on and on.  This section was a bit quieter, quite a lot quieter than in previous years.  I wondered if I was just really slow, but I didn’t feel slow particularly.  Granted I’d stopped for a fair few hellos along the way, but in between I felt I’d run more consistently than the first time I ran this route.  Granted, I possibly pushed myself more then, but I finished with less in the tank also.  I paused for the loo, there was a queue, a couple of pink geared runners ran up behind me ‘we’ve been chasing you since the start as our pacer‘ they said. I was again astonished, I never imagine anyone would find merit in aiming for me, but it was good.  After Dore, there were sections where I felt like I was running pretty much on my own, I couldn’t really see anyone ahead, and wasn’t aware of anyone behind.  I saw one collapsed runner lying on the verge, but St Johns were in attendance, so I jogged on by.  I don’t like seeing that though, you always wonder if they’re going to be OK.

The participants had definitely thinned out by the time I was back on Ecclesall Road, so had the supporters.  However, the upside of this, is that those who were waiting were pleased to interact with me in order to alleviate the boredom whilst hanging around waiting for the people they actually were out to support.  I had some hilarious interactions.  People toasting me with prosecco from outside their houses (which I must admit looked way more fun than doing what I was doing); a queue of children who sprang into an orderly line when I said I couldn’t complete the course if I didn’t get any more high fives, and at one glorious point a band of about 15 or so supporters with huge ‘go go go’ signs.  ‘You’ve got this‘ they shouted as I approached ‘I’ve so got this!’ I echoed back and soon they were all running alongside me, punching the air and shouting ‘you’ve smashed it‘ and other such motivational stages laughing uproariously as they did so.  It was great. Not only did I feel like a celebrity (in a good way) but also it was joyful. It was just playing really, like we don’t get to do nearly enough spontaneously as adults.  A sort of shared understanding of the ridiculousness of it all, and the kindness of strangers. What’s not to like?

It was about this stage I started to believe in myself.  ‘You’re the first giraffe‘ someone shouted, others joined in ‘first giraffe, first giraffe’ in a great chorus of recognition.  I could do this.  Finally, I’d win a category in a running event.  Dreams CAN come true!

Onwards I yomped, there was one moment of shallow irritation.  There is a timed 10k section which is marked out.  About this point, three children aged 8 or so, decided to join in, and ran holding hands in a line in front of me, stop, start, stop start.  I kept having to run round them, and as soon as I overtook,  they sort of leap-frogged round me again, determined to stay ahead of me seemingly, and it was quite tiring.  They were there for ages, until I finally put on what for me was quite a considerable sprint to get away.   A few minutes later a police car pulled up and i overheard a conversation about three missing children.  I froze.  I felt so stupid, I’ve got so used to seeing kids running at junior parkrun it never crossed my mind that maybe three young kids running unaccompanied down the half marathon route wasn’t the best idea.  I stopped to talk to the marshal, but it was fine, they’d picked the kids up and all was well. They’d have had their own mini adventure.  To be fair, although they shouldn’t have run off like that they were being quite sensible staying together, looking after each other and having running fun, just not the best time to do so.

Coming back into Banner Cross and then Hunters’ bar, I was amazed to see Smiley supporters a-plenty still out in force. ‘we were waiting for you’ they called out.  I couldn’t believe it.  I mean, it was practically the next day by the time I was coming back through, but smiley solidarity was still in evidence. Plus new faces of people I’d missed first time round. Smilies are fabulous, there is a lot of support for runners in Sheffield, a legacy of parkrun too I’m sure, but it is quite something to be part of a club that genuinely encourages both ends of the running ability spectrum with vocal enthusiasm.    I felt very lucky.  Can’t see how London crowds will be able to top that. Nothing beats the shout of ‘go smiley’ as you pound a race route.  Even Tilly had waited for me.  Honestly, I don’t think it was just that I was still lead giraffe at this point.

Nearing the city centre once again, there were more opportunities to share greetings as people who’d already finished were now lining the route, supping their non-alcoholic pints, so I had lots of reunions with other runners I’ve not seen in ages as I yomped to the finish.

Coming down the finish line was hilarious.  Even if I have a selection of the most unflattering official race photos ever to hit an in-box in the history of digital photography, I had a glorious finish.  Almost as glorious as the first man and woman across the line.  The officials had mislaid the first giraffe banner apparently.  I won’t bear a grudge.

People whooped me and Geronimo in, and as pretty much everyone else had finished by this point, the announcer was able to call my name and acknowledge Geronimo too as I crossed the finish.  Even better a smiley was on hand to greet me – she’d run with a friend for charity and finished hours before, but it was still lovely to see her as I wandered off to claim my medal and finisher’s tee.  Should have stayed with her really though, they knew how to celebrate another run done!  That’s the after party that might have been …

NF half after party

Medal in hand, I wandered round to baggage drop and then joined the queue to get my medal engraved.  Had a bash at doing my own post race selfie…  ho-hum:

post run selfie sheffield half

I was a bit slower than last time, but happy with the run over all.  Whilst waiting for my engraving I was blessed by the sight of Smiley selfie queen materializing alongside me.  Excellent, guaranteed a decent finish photo that way!  Slightly sinister character lurking in the background aside – is that Darth Vader do you think?

CS smiley after shot with smiley selfie queen

Oh, you want the results of the Sheffield Half Marathon 2018?  For me, that genuinely isn’t the point of running, though I daresay I’d feel differently if I was fighting for a podium place at the front like these guys, every one of them seemingly levitating the whole way round (Photo courtesy of

running for it


I was still definitely first giraffe home though, even if, disappointingly, they haven’t yet updated the results to capture that category.  I may have been fastest African mammal too, but I never did find out what happened to the camel…  also, and I accept this may be a technicality which perhaps the race organisers are having to investigate prior to publishing the final outcomes – it depends whether the camel is deemed to be a dromedary (one hump) or Bactrian (two) as that might dictate the region of origin.  I thought dromedary to be fair, so that is direct competition.  Anyways, according to Wikipedia so it must be true:

The dromedary (C. dromedarius), also known as the Arabian camel, inhabits the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, while the Bactrian (C. bactrianus) inhabits Central Asia, including the historical region of Bactria. The critically endangered wild Bactrian (C. ferus) is found only in remote areas of northwest China and Mongolia. An extinct species of camel[6] in the separate genus Camelops, known as C. hesternus,[7]lived in western North America before humans entered the continent at the end of the Pleistocene.

First giraffe though, for sure, so definitely a win in that category.  Just sayin’

Then it was of course something of an anticlimax.  I was tempted to get a bus home, but actually I couldn’t because the roads were closed due to some stupid running event or other.  Ultimately this was a good thing as it forced me to walk back and it meant I did 18 miles on my feet in the end, which isn’t equivalent to a long run I know, but is a reasonable compromise.  I haven’t got time to squeeze in another long run pre- London anyway.  I was relieved to be traipsing home uninjured – apart from that weird knee thing, where has that come from?

Walking back, I bumped into people who’d cheered me round on course. One woman on Cemetery Road rather sweetly explained she’d been shouting for me, but her husband had missed me, and could they come and say hello to the giraffe!  It’s very sweet.  Geronimo, like Tilly, seems to be able to inspire instant respectful adoration.  Turns out I don’t need to have any social skills, I can just use proximity to a stuffed toy as an ice breaker in all future interactions.  Result. I  mean it might not quite wash in a job interview I suppose, unless it was say an audition for a ventriloquist, but it’s a start.  Perhaps I should start taking her everywhere, like a vegetarian friendly companion emotional therapy animal, only with less chance of having to flush her down the loo if I need to take an international flight say?

And the next day?  Erm, stiff, but not broken.  However, very tired, on a serious note, it is clear I did let myself get really dehydrated.  Still better to learn from that now, than crash out at London in less than a fortnight.  LESS THAN A FORTNIGHT DEAR READER OH MY GIDDY HAT!

Not going to lie, the screaming humiliation of the official race photos was a bit of a downer too.  Oh my gawd – did I really allow myself to go out in public looking like that?  I take some small comfort that this is a phenomenon sufficiently well recognised that there are apparently whole forums dedicated to uploading runners ‘worst ever race photos‘, where we can presumably take solace by howling with empathetic laughter at the shots of other runners who have suffered worse photographic misfortune than ourselves.  Small comfort say I.  Particularly as I thought the majority were relatively innocuous compared to the horrors that found their way into my own inbox.   They may be funny, but inside we’d all secretly prefer to be outed as our own gender equivalent of the ridiculously photogenic running guy, who you may recall ended up as something of a meme a few years back.  How can I rid myself of all my extra chins and chisel my cheek bones between now and London?  Is a water and cayenne pepper fast for the next fortnight compatible with carbing up during my taper?  It’s just Not going to happen is it.  Sometimes there are no words, I’m never going out in daylight again.  Not going to lie, I did weep at the sight of some photos, but then I have to step back from it and recognise that objectively the shot is indeed hilarious.  This isn’t even the worst one, but it does communicate quite well the full horror of the unflattering race photo as you embark on your sprint finish:

Then, for authenticity, in terms of treating this event as a practice run for the London Marathon, post the Sheffield half marathon I got full on post-event blues.  I am probably somewhat guilty of contributory negligence here, because I stumbled across an article by the New York Times on ‘Plodders have a place, but it isn’t a marathon‘ which ironically, I couldn’t even access as it’s pay to view, but of course i had to torture myself by googling the topic and came across much hate filled rhetoric condemning plodders (anyone slower than a 10 minute mile apparently) for clogging up marathons and so debasing such events.  In my rational moments I believe this to be nonsense, I will be slow, but I’ve worked hard to get to London, maybe put even more hours in for training than some of the runners who are fleeter of foot,  because it takes me so darned long to finish those long runs. Even so, it’s horrible to read such toxic negativity.  Especially, when I’m tired from Sheffield and currently cultivating maranoia – that knee niggle is definitely worse now, and I’m sure I’m getting a sore throat too.

For the record though, even elite runners sometimes have to crawl  across the finish line, and if that’s inspirational, which it clearly is, then my shambling efforts should at least be seen as legitimate too!

Michael-Kunyuga crawling into second

Oh well, still going though.  And I’m going to keep on running. Hope you will too! We’ve got this people, nailed it. Totes.


Thanks to all the photographers who have generously allowed me to use their photos, I’ve tried to get permission when I know who they are, apologies if I’ve missed you.  Any objections to use of photos then please let me know.

You can enter already for next year 14th April 2019, just saying.

Oh, the Sheffield half-marathon route – blimey, nearly forgot, here you go:


Looking for a challenge? Our Asda Foundation Sheffield Half Marathon’s demanding terrain will provide you with just that! Don’t worry it’s well worth your hard work. The course rewards you with spectacular views of the Peak District and various City landmarks.

Starting on Arundel Gate, in the heart of the City Centre, runners are instantly hit with the euphoria that surrounds this fantastic event. Runners then travel down the much loved ‘Eccy’ Road and take in its selection of bars, restaurants and independent shops.

From there on, they are treated to picturesque views of the Peak District, passing Encliffe Park and Sheffield Tigers Rugby Club. Those views are then left behind as the course heads downhill to the outskirts of Dore and back to ‘Eccy’ Road. Eventually reentering the City Centre, runners finish in front of the Town Hall and an adoring crowd!

Naturally, to take advantage of the best of the Peak District’s incredible views, there will be an uphill ‘King of the Hill’ section.

Here is the course profile:  

Profile - YHM

Just gentle undulations really, in Sheffield terms, nothing to fret about, nothing at all!

Thanks photographers, supporters, marshals, race organisers and fellow runners all.

Special thanks to Robert Scriven who has a flickr feed of the Sheffield half as well as a good eye for a shot, some hilarious photos as well as a welcome supportive shout on the way round.  Thanks to Accelerate for sharing their pictures and providing a timely embrace as well.  I’m grateful of course to the numerous smilies (you know who you are) for support as well as photos in this post and others, and thanks too, to the many anonymous others from SCS and elsewhere, the official photographers and last, but by no means least Ian Fearne, Race Image photography, who attends events and provides photos in exchange for an optional, modest donation.  Many of his are inspirational portraits of runners giving their all, and captured at their best.  Some pictures from the Sheffield Half 2018 are here so dig deep and consider donating here


Categories: half marathon, race, road, running | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

New beginnings, in search of my running mojo and running in the dark

Digested read:  I felt the fear and did it anyway. Venturing out into the dark and unknown I joined a new off-road running group for the first time, in an attempt to locate and reboot my running mojo.  I had a running buddy to hold hands with though, I’m not that brave.  And you know what, it was grand. Really glad I went. Thanks Accelerate Trail Runners new beginner group.  Hope to be a regular, my natural southerner nesh tendencies permitting.  You hardy northerners will venture out on days I’m too scared to even look out the window after all.  Even so, in future, I’m going to try to remember to just give it a go more than not.

ATR team photo

I’ve actually been eyeing the Accelerate Trail Runners Facebook page for a while. They have been meeting for evening trail runs over the summer months along the lines of woodrun except that the runners are more hardcore.

The website blah de blah states:

Welcome to Accelerate Trail Runners. We’re a trail running group in Sheffield that meet in Low Bradfield every Tuesday at 6:50 pm for an evening of led trail runs. There are several groups suitable for beginners and seasoned runners alike.

About Us

We normally meet at 6:50pm at the cricket pavilion in Low Bradfield for a 7:00 start. Occasionally, we may start from another location so check the announcements on this page to make sure.  Parking can be found at the public car park behind the cricket pitch.

I like this idea in principle, but honestly, my perception has been that this group of runners are a bit hard-core for me, whatever the blah de blah may say about all levels being welcome.  I imagined a crowd of elite athletes, fleet of foot and fearless of demeanor, they sprint off up mountain paths like goats on speed – or like I think goats on speed would look if they ever slowed down enough for you to be able to catch a glimpse of them.  To be fair I’ve not knowingly personally witnessed either the runners or speed-fuelled goats in action, which is a limitation of my comparison for illustrative purposes.  Still, I’m pretty confident I’m right….    They are great climbers too, just like those Accelerate whizzy fell running types who can ascend and descend vertically. Impressive certainly, but not really relatable to.

Back to the topic in hand:  I was in Accelerate the other week – getting my innov 8 parkclaws if you must know – and asked about the trail runs then.  At that time the candid feedback was that truthfully, yep at the moment the group composition was catering for speedier runners, as that’s how it had evolved with people getting fitter together over the summer, but there was talk of starting up a beginners group, so you never know…  I was torn.  Some disappointment at it not being suitable on the one hand, but this was counterbalanced on the other by huge relief that I wouldn’t therefore have to romp too far out of my comfort zone by running off-road in the dark.    That was me off the hook then.  Better yet I can truthfully claim to have tried.  Not my fault.

On the other hand, my running mojo has gone awol.  I have been fretting a lot about the legitimacy of my claim to be even a very peripheral member of the running community, whatever the motivational posters have to say on the topic of what constitutes a ‘real runner’. There have to be some limits. Leaving the house with your trainers on might be one reasonable criteria for inclusion for example.  Not even having to run in them, just getting out and about in my active wear.  And weirdly, I do like running, I like the social things that surround it and the post running high, and sometimes, astonishingly, I’ve even liked running at the time. The problem is that if I don’t run for a bit, I lose confidence, I remember how little aptitude I have and frankly I feel embarrassed at running in public again.  It’s hard when you keep sinking back to square one…

Sometimes dear reader, fate lends a hand.  Not that I really believe in fate, but hey ho, it was a timely coincidence.  Not a week later,  Accelerate Trail Runners ‘suddenly’ pronounced they were indeed recommencing a beginner group for their off-road runs round Low Bradfield on a Tuesday night, and that set in motion an almost inevitable chain of events.  Afterall, I have said for a while if they had a beginner group I’d be tempted, and so it would be rude not too when they said this:

New beginner group!

New for Tuesday evenings with Accelerate Trail Runners – a complete off-road beginner group. Nothing demanding. All very easy going. Emphasis on fun, safety and building confidence before joining the more demanding groups if so desired. Alternatively, for those already completing tougher, longer trails in general, a chance to wind down and enjoy a simple recovery run once in a while.

If not now, then when?  This was my big deciding moment.  Maybe….

Trouble is, then the running mind demons kicked in. I’m so crap at running, and even more out of practise than usual.  Also, Low Bradfield is something of a pain to get to.  My car is from the south, it can’t cope with some of those steep and winding hills en route.  It’ll be dark.  It’ll be humiliating.  Oh what’s the point in subjecting myself to yet another demoralising confirmation of my running ineptitude, as if it isn’t hard enough to muster the courage to get out the door and run when I’m on my own…

However, a particularly supportive smiley buddy had similarly expressed the sentiment of being game to ‘give it a go’ – admittedly before we knew the forecast was going to be for strong winds and torrential rain – and so somehow, we agreed we were going to go together.  I can’t lie, there may have been a bit of last-minute ‘I will if you will/ are you sure? Have you seen the forecast?’ type toing and froing via Facebook messenger in advance, but we basically committed.  Aren’t we lovely by the way?  This is the after shot that’s why we look happy, we survived! Good to know.

running buddies

Lovely or not – would we blend in with this intrepid lot?  They are wearing ultra gear.  Plus you can see the muscle definition on their calf muscles from here.  Bet there is barely a couple of percentage body fat between them.  I’ll be spotted as an imposter from half a mile a way.  Oh well, one way to find out….

trail runners in sunshine

I was apprehensive to the point of fear, which I know is ridiculous.  But my buddy scooped me up.  We set off in the car peering through the torrential rain that battered down on the windscreen.  I was satisfied that it would at the very least be an adventure, also, everyone knows running in the rain just makes you really hardcore and a ‘proper’ runner, however woeful that running performance might be.  Running in the dark as well?  Surely even more so.  Also this run felt sort of symbolic, I’m not going to get any better at running if I never run.  A new beginner off-road winter running group is a great opportunity for a fresh start and running reboot.  There couldn’t be a more auspicious  bit of timing, I must embrace this.

running in rain

Mind you there are limits. Did you see the scenes in Copenhagen for the half marathon, that’s not hardcore, that’s death wish running in the raw!


I was glad my buddy did the driving as her car ate the hills and twisty roads, plus she knew how to get there. We pulled into the car park and immediately spotted sporty looking types surrounded by running shoes.  In what turned out to be a mistaken belief that they knew what was going on we trooped over to introduce ourselves.  Pleasingly, they had no idea what was going on either, being Scott shoes reps along to flash their merchandise. Good – oh!  I’m always up for a shoe test. They even whisked a foam pouf out of the back of their white van to facilitate the shoe trying!  I immediately was sat on top of the comfy cube, ripping off my innov-8 s to enable hoiking on of some new treasure. My excitement however was short-lived.  The Scott shoe is so narrow I was like one of the ugly sisters trying to heave it on. I gave up rapidly, if I can’t even get my toe into it at the heel end, it doesn’t bode well for the toe box roominess test further down. It was probably for the best.  I’ve bought two new sets of trail shoes in the past month, I don’t want to be tempted by any more.  I’m sure their shoes would be great for others if you favour a precision fit, it is no reflection on Scott shoes they can’t cater for me, I’m very needy on the running shoe front I’m afraid.  What do you think of my choice of running kit by the way?  Positively understated next to the Scott shoes rep in his gold crown hat thing.  I like his running cape though. That looks practical.


As we did the shoe-trying on dances, which was a team effort. Some really serious looking runners, all zero fat and wearing ultra packs cruised through the car park.  Me and my running buddy exchanged a knowing glance which meant ‘wow, they look hardcore, glad we wont be expected to run with them‘ only to see them double back and enquire in a friendly tone whether we were for the accelerate run.  Because, if we were, then the rendezvous point is the cricket club pavilion not the car park. ‘OK, I’m properly intimidated now‘ I said in my head or possibly out loud.

We tried to delay the inevitable by offering to help carry the box of trial trail shoes into the club house, but our services were not required. We walked with some reluctance towards our fate. Inside, the place was heaving.  Lots of runners, some familiar faces, but I felt like a Lilliputian in a land of giants. Everyone seemed tall, lean and oozing athletic prowess. This was not feeling like my natural habitat. Actually, I don’t really know what my natural habitat is, but I’m pretty sure it involves me wearing an invisibility cape. Truthfully, if I hadn’t had my running buddy with me I’d have caved in and just pretended I was there for the Low Bradfield Cricket Club AGM which I think was happening later on.  As it was, I said a bit too pointedly (sorry about that) to the nice accelerate person ‘you promised a beginners group! Where are the beginners?’  Sensing my rising panic she spoke soothingly, like you would to a psychotic person in possession of an axe ‘don’t worry, there will be one‘.

Temporarily pacified, I went in search of the rep from Silva head torches.  To be honest, I already have a silva headtorch which I really like, I thought the ones we trialled today weren’t as good as the one I have, but I figured I’d try one anyway.  Especially since I’d left my headtorch in my running buddy’s car.  Turns out, putting on an unfamiliar headtorch is almost as hard as putting on a Scott shoe. On the plus side, it caused enormous merriment to my running buddy and helped to distract us temporarily from the growing terrifying and gnawing thought we might end up having to run with the elites.

Torches on, we signed our names and put our £1 coins in the tin – you give a £1 donation which goes towards putting runners through run leader courses and other similar costs.  There was quite a buzz.  Mercifully, our cheery ‘beginners’ run leader appeared, and another woman – who was by chance a one-time smiley – also identified herself as a beginner.  The group was brought to order by the esteemed proprietor of Accelerate (harder than it sounds, runners are not naturally compliant it seems) and a briefing given. There seemed to be four groups tonight. Super speedy, doing reps and awesome stuff.  Speedy runners, moderately speedy and then the beginner group.

A little pep talk for our beginner group – we had a Scott shoe rep along with us too.  The plan was to take as long as it takes to do a circuit ’90 minutes if necessary’ on a 6 mile loop.  That was fine, distance is never an issue with me (not so far anyway) it’s the speed that scares me.  90 minutes was clearly being given as an unimagineably slow time, a sentiment I appreciated whilst inwardly wincing as I knew with me along for the yomp it was quite likely to be needed.  I was a bit surprised though it was that far for a beginner group.  I don’t know why, I suppose I’d not thought it through.  I’d imagined a more parkrun type entry-level distance.

Pretty soon afterwards, everyone scattered with their respective leaders.  We five went running in the woods.  Heading off through the car park and … yep, my twin nightmares, up hill and on a road.  I was barely 50 metres in when I thought I’d break.  The first mile was really tough, partly because as with all new endeavours, we hadn’t worked out our team dynamic. I was acutely aware that with exquisite form our leader was running in what for him must have felt like slow motion, meanwhile, all the blood vessels in my head were popping in unison.  It seemed a bit soon to bail, it always takes me a while to get going, you’d think I’d know this by now. I was very definitely at the back.

A mile or so in, it levelled off, we dipped down through a gate and onto softer, wooded trails.  This was way better for me. A combination of flatter, softer ground and being warmed up meant I got a brief moment of thinking ‘maybe I can do this, maybe this will be fun?’  Ahead of us our run leader was wearing some super-bright turbo powered silva head torch offering.  It was pretty impressive, which is good, because it was like being led by someone brandishing  a search light, and bad, because from henceforth all other head torches will be a disappointment.

I was glad of my running buddy for reassurance though. She knows me and was able to vouch for my character.  At some point we paused and there was an attempt to evaluate how we were getting along.  Acknowledging I was way back tactics were discussed.  I explained that I was actually fine (which was true) it’s just that I’m always slow. I know from bitter experience if I try to sprint out of my natural rhythm on unfamiliar terrain I’ll probably either fall over; or over-stride and get injured and/or end up in tears of frustration. The alternative is to leave me be, and I’ll eventually find a yomping rhythm and all will be well.  My buddy had to affirm that I spoke the truth when I explained about being completely unable to talk and run, so my silence shouldn’t be taken as hostility.  Equally, my grumpy face doesn’t necessarily mean I’m actually grumpy, but sometimes, just to keep everyone on their toes it might mean I am indeed grumpy as well, so you have to take your chances on that one.  As it was getting dark though, you couldn’t really tell, so that was fine.

It was better after this mutual pep talk.  I was given the opportunity to run ahead, but expressed a preference to being at the back, partly because I had no idea where we were going, and partly because if I feel like I’m being chased I find running especially stressful.  Over enthusiastic sweepers jollying me along are the stuff of nightmares for me.  I appreciate it may be unnerving for run leaders if I am out of sight behind them, but honestly I’m careful and safe at the back, everyone’s a winner.  Better a slow runner than a fallen, injured, angry spitting and hissing one.  Yep, that was the choice.  Fortunately most run leaders are receptive to such incisive logic. Good to know.

As we ran, the rain started to fall.  Under the cover of the trees it got darker.  It was fun! There is something sort of exciting about being out in the countryside in the dark.  Shapes and shadows keep you alert, the ground under you seems to shift, everything looks different. There was some irony in being completely unable to see where we were.  One of my motivations for wanting to join this trail running group was to learn some new routes.  I hadn’t factored in the ‘you are running in the dark’ aspect.  Not great for orientation purposes, though rather fine for sensory stimulation.

I did do a run round here earlier in the year.  Here it is in daylight:

Nope, didn’t see anything like that.

Rather, we started imagining it as the set for horror films.  Trying to pretend scare one another for good measure.  Was that a shadowy figure lurking behind, or just an optical illusion?  Great for team building, raw fear.  Hurrah! This is not a run I would do on my own.  I inadvertently contributed to the scream quotient by steadily dropping back silently to such an extent that at one point they thought I’d actually disappeared.  Like those oh so predictable  plot lines where the protagonists start to go missing (minor characters first), unobserved one by one. If only I’d realised the disquiet I was causing I’d have found a way capitalise on this for comedic purposes by somehow overtaking them and reappearing on the trail ahead of them wide-eyed and manic to completely freak them out.

As we traced our way round the reservoirs other runners cheerily pointed out sections of the route they recognised.  ‘Here’s where I saw an abandoned child’s bike‘ quipped one, ‘this is where triathlete buddy lost two teeth doing a face plant onto a rock‘ that kind of thing.  It’s good to note recognisable landmarks on the way round, makes it easier if you have to retrace your steps. Except, this wouldn’t have worked at all as basically it was dark,so  everywhere just looked, well dark.

At some point we came upon other runners one in a group jogging in formation up the road towards us like well-drilled fire flies.  Another group were pausing before no doubt doubling back on themselves for more tough hill reps.

It was nice, sort of companionable within our little gang of five, but with a sense of a wider community of runners in the vicinity.   I’d like to get better at this.  Inevitably, my problem was not with distance, nor even terrain, although I was a bit cautious as it was my first head-torch run of the year – it’s maintaining a pace.  It is fantastic to get to run with others who have such good form, our run leader was like a human metronome running, and looked like it was entirely effortless he was so energy-efficient, but I just can’t maintain a constant speed, well not that one anyway, and especially not if there is the slightest sniff of an uphill gradient.   It’s because that’s how I’ve taught myself to run I suppose. I walk / run always.  My only continuous running is parkrun, but left to my own devices I doubt very much I run even 5k continuously in training which is pretty pathetic now I come to write it down. I mean, it is obvious isn’t it, if I can do 5k at a parkrun I should be able to do that distance whilst running on my own, if I stay steady enough.    It stands to reason.  Maybe running is indeed mostly in the mind.  Though I still maintain at some point you will actually be required to run, and that sure as hell feels like a physical process to me.

In any event, the group paused for me to catch up from time to time so we could regroup, and then there was one bit when I did express a desire to walk for a bit. Which was apparently ‘fine’ except that then we walked for ages, and I wasn’t sure if I should have said ‘I’m ok now’ to enable running to recommence or whether that was interfering with some broader plan.  I fear my fellow runners felt the cold.   Oh well, I guess the more we run out together the more we will come to understand one another’s preferences and foibles.

Then, almost suddenly, we were nearly back where we started. A fellow woodrunner was driving homeward and paused in his car to shout support through his window which I appreciated.  Then we were back into the warmth of the club house for a run debrief.

A time for candour. I’m really glad I went.  I did more than I thought I would, and it is most definitely good for me to pick up the pace.  Our run leader was supportive and encouraging, there is definitely a desire to get a beginners’ group up and running.  For my part?  Well, I’m just so acutely aware that I’m the weakest link.  I do slow things down.  Upshot is, I think we agreed that I do want to come regularly (snow and ice and scary drive there permitting) but if there comes a point where I’m impeding the progress of others, then by mutual agreement I’ll cease.  I don’t think I’m generally believed when I say I have only one pace, but it’s true. With training I can go longer, but I’ll never be a sprinter.  Then again, if I can reduce my walking time then I will end up covering distances faster, and I don’t need persuading I can learn a lot about improved technique by association with this knowledgeable lot.   If I run more efficiently, that should not only help to keep me injury free, but also I’ll surely pick up a fraction more speed along the way as well?  So it seems that, ironically enough, running in the dark literally, has maybe lifted me out of my metaphorical patch of running in the dark.  Temporarily at least.

This is where we went by the way. I’m chuffed. 6.5 miles is quite good for me on an evening run.  Plus, there is no way on earth I’d have headed out and done that on my own.  So thanks Accelerate and thanks even more so in buckets to my running buddy for getting me there.  I can only be brave on my own up to a point. I’ll go to a race event on my own because that’s not much of a commitment is it.  Going to a group in anticipation of a long-term relationship?  Now that’s frightening.

low bradfield run

Then there was a drive home debrief.  Obvs.  Guess what.  No regrets.  That irrefutable truth holds trued, no-one ever regrets a run, not ever.  Not even me and not even after a bad run.  My running buddy is awesome, but is also going to be away for a lot of winter, having selfishly arranged her annual travel plans with a complete disregard for my neediness!  The conclusion for me is that I actually coped better with the distance than expected considering how little running I’ve done of late.  I could have carried on no problem, just not at any speed. This understanding is critical, because the next race I’m eyeing is the Dark and the White.  It’s on Sunday. That’s soon, but then again why not?

Various so-called friends smilies and others have been banging on about the Autumn series.  They are apparently in amazing locations, well organised, and offer two different routes.  A short and a long.  There is a Dark and White race this Sunday, at Carsington Water.  Three people I know are doing it – not least my running buddy for this night; we can go together.  It’s just 9 miles or thereabouts, that’s the distance we’d just run and a parkrun.  I mean a parkrun!  You can always push out a parkrun, however rough you feel.  136 or whatever parkruns down the line I can vouch for that!  I’ve run parkrun come what may, in sickness and in health, in times of adversity as well as times of joy.  Granted,  it’s not always been pretty, but it’s always happened whatever pitiful physical or mental state I’ve been in at the start line.  Maybe it is mind over matter after all.  I need to build my distances, I reckon as long as I’m slow (and that’s a given) I can do that…

not even me

I know if I commit to running with others, be that parkrun or anything else, I will turn out.  I also know that if I am serious about building up to marathon distances, let alone even attempting to hold back the tide of middle-aged spread, I need to get back to into running regularly as well as more strategically.  Harsh, but true. So it was dear reader, realising that I hadn’t actually committed to volunteering at Graves junior this sunday, plus my post run high, which seemingly you get even if you havent delivered the most auspicious of runs, and the fact that I was still just in time for the deadline for registering in advance for Sunday’s run I decided  that was it.  I was in.

So you see, that’s the power of running in general and running with supportive friends and groups in particular.  Having done a run, I realised yes, I’m slower than I was, but it isn’t irretrievable. The post-run high and cheery running buddies made me remember what I was missing, and that was enough to shunt me into entering another running challenge.  Possibly back on track.  My running confidence might be fragile, but it is not irretrievable.

In conclusion, and at risk of stating the blindingly obvious, what I’ve re-learnt this week in relation to recovering my running mojo is this:

  • Of course my running gets worse if I stop running for ages, that’s not being crap that’s not having trained, to overcome this, I should try some running, just crack on and give it a go
  • If I share my running demons, other nice people will help me tackle them, because (who knew) I’m not the only person in the entire world ever to have such a complicated relationship with this running malarkey, so best just crack on and give it a go
  • Over thinking for me is unhelpful, best just crack on and give it a go
  • Weirdly, it is true, you never regret a run, ever.  Not even the horrible ones, so best just crack on and give it a go
  • Really and truly, nobody remotely cares how well or how badly I run, as long as I am not a risk to others or myself, best just give it a go
  • Signing up for events does help me focus the mind, making public those entries makes it harder to bottle it and pull out later on, so best just sign up and then give it a go
  • It’s fun to be challenged, pushing for harder/ longer routes is worth a shot, if you don’t try you’ll never know, worst case scenario of DNF is a lot more appealing than DNS so see if you can surprise yourself,  just give it a go
  • Committing to running with others works for me, conscientious if not keen, find a running buddy, agree a venue, time whatever and jointly just give it a go
  • Running in the rain is a laugh, just give it a go.

So dear reader, shall we, you and me both.  Just give it a go?

That’s what I’m doing anyway, which is why I have against my better judgement entered the long route for the Autumn Dark and White series at Carsington water this weekend.  I’m not sure it’s the best of my ideas, especially now I realise it isn’t ‘around 9 miles’ but more like 10.5 – but you know what, fear of missing out is way worse.  It’ll be fine, or not, but it will be an adventure. I’m just going to give it a go.  And if it rains, the adventure will be all the greater.

give it a go

Bring it on.

I will admit I do really hope that ‘The Dark and The White‘ isn’t in fact the name of a forthcoming low-budget snuff horror film location call, because it does sound like it might be.  Oh crap.  Nothing ventured nothing gained anyone?

anyone?  😦

UPDATE: Did it, guess what it was fine and dandy.  You can read about my Dark and White Autumn Series 1 Carsington Water trail running adventure here. But I wouldn’t click on it if I were you. It’ll take ages to wade through.  It’ll make you late for your run.

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

Birthday celebrations running on and on…

birthday run april 2016

No, not hers, a much more important one, though less indulged by sycophantic outbursts  than HRH.  There is a lesson in there somewhere though, she did go awn and awn about hers (or her cronies did at any rate) so you couldn’t really avoid the news.  There was no escaping knowing it was The Queen’s birthday today what with all that wall to wall fawning and scraping going on as soon as the radio was on.  It’s like when Facebook tells you it’s so and so’s birthday and you feel compelled to send some emoticon laden greeting even if you can’t entirely recall who the person is, and whether or not they have actually just made it through your spam folder uninvited…

Today, was an anniversary of far greater interest.  Specifically, it was the first birthday for the Accelerate Ecclesall Woods Breakfast run.  For the record though, the celebrations and lead up for this occasion were way classier and more confident than the needy, over-communicating fanfare that was obligatory across the country for Her  Madge.  Personally, I think this approach to marking the quietly under-stated first anniversary wood run, was far more appropriate and appreciated than all that noisy superficial posturing.  In fact, this was a birthday that caught me entirely by surprise, but hey, who takes badly being surprised by cake ?

So, the chronology went something like this.  The, night before, there was some phoning around conferring between me and some of my fellow runners along the lines of ‘I’ll go if you’ll go‘ not lack of enthusiasm per se, it was more on my part at least, bodily disintegration post half marathon/ smiletastic challenges.  It might sound counter-intuitive, but I’ve found that weirdly, since doing the half marathon, my confidence in running has crashed a bit.  I did such a successful taper/recovery week that I’ve piled on weight with the gusto of a polar bear preparing for hibernation.  (Praise be for the elasticated waistband in my ronhill leggings).  I am injury free – well apart from a knee twinge, but my attempts at running have been pathetic since the half, even by my rather lack lustre standards.  It’s not that I get out of breath, or that anything hurts, it’s just my body going ‘nope, not today thank you for asking‘.  It’s on a sort of strike.  The like of which I’ve not been witness to since I was about eleven and helped my elderly aunt dip sheep. Have you ever tried to move a sheep that didn’t want to be moved?  I swear it can’t be done.


Now, there’s a tale.  At the age of seventy, my great Aunt could still vault a five bar gate. She single-handedly ran a sheep farm in Northumberland, and in the summer, we would stay at a nearby rented holiday cottage and join her for sheep-based activities.  This included sheep dipping.  A now extinct activity, but then an annual ritual.  She was amazing at this art, and could press one ewe’s head under the liquid in the dip trough whilst hoiking two other ewes, towards the plunge pool, one under each arm.  As a child I couldn’t compel even the smallest of sheep in the direction of the dip.  Can’t say I blame them, it was a vile smelling liquid, and whether or not it was (allegedly) for their own good, they weren’t to know.   The younger sheep could be sort of wrestled in under protest as they thrashed about.  However, the really immoveable sheep were the experienced ewes.  They would simply relax into the ground and become a dead weight, just impossible to shift.  Very impressive.  You jut can’t argue with that extent of resolute immobility.  Well, that’s what my body has been doing to me of late.  No fight as such, just stubborn resistance to movement of any kind.  You can protest all you like, but know in your heart of hearts the attempt to generate fluid movement is utterly futile.  Running, as a consequence has not really been happening in my universe.

On the other hand, you have to start back somewhere, and the woods are lovely, safety in numbers and the weather boded well.  We.  Were. In.  It was nippy first thing, and personally I found the bright looking sunshine deceptive.  My arm out of my bedroom window temperature test suggested gloves and buff were still sensible precautions before venturing out.

discovery centre ecclesall woods

Headed off to the woods, and as usual arrived early, parking has been a bit of an issue there of late, but not so much today.    An innovation in car parking efficiency has been implemented since I was last there, with newly painted parking bays marked out.  Personally,  I find this a boon, I suffer agonies of indecision faced with a relatively blank canvas of tarmac to park in.  It is a relief to be freed of the burden of using my judgement in deciding where exactly to park up.  I faffed about in the car for a bit before venturing into the reception area where a few other runners had started to assemble.  Some hardy souls were even sporting shorts, and the conversation turned to comparison of injuries post the half. Pleasingly, it seems I wasn’t alone in finding my body in a state of disrepair if not absolute disintegration.  I’m feeling a bit better in this respect, I came across a number of articles recently that outlined in terrifying detail what running a marathon can do to your body, even if you feel fine…(I know I only did a half, but it blooming felt like a marathon for me).  Recovery is very important therefore.  Shame no-one pointed this out to the original marathoner.  I only found out today that poor Pheidippides, is said to have died after running the 26.2 miles in Greek mythology, presumably because his heart gave out on him.  He obviously didn’t have a network of fellow runners through Smiley Paces or Accelerate wood runs or parkrun or whatever to guide him through the process.  Also, whilst I would be the first to admit I’m not an experienced or knowledgeable runner, I do think his running form wasn’t the most efficient.  Over-striding a bit for starters, and carrying that shield around whilst wearing a stone tutu probably made it all a bit harder than it needed to be don’t you think?


Anyway, I had arranged to meet a buddy there who was coming for the first time.  I felt positively part of the furniture as I explained about putting your two pounds in the wooden bowl, signing in and giving an emergency contact number (I always just give George Clooney’s UK agent) and putting your excess clothes/ cycle helmet whatever in the handily positioned box left out for that purpose.  This weekly run is a well-oiled machine these days, even though I felt something of a hypocrite showing anyone the ropes as I’ve not been in weeks for various reason some of which had more validity than others (tapering/ apathy/ injury/ away etc).  Anyway, it was good to be back.  Incidentally, there is an amazing wooden eagle creation that overlooks you in the reception area, it looks real, astonishing bit of craft working that.  I must take a photo of it next time I go.  After some more faffing and reunions, a few of us stormed the toilets which some workmen in high viz were trying to do some sort of maintenance work on.  Seems you can’t really hold back a tide of runners in need of a precautionary pee.

We adjourned outside to stand in the sunshine for a bit.  One of the more experienced runners amongst us explained that if you maximise the surface area exposed to the sun’s rays you can gain solar power to make you run faster.  I was impressed!  This insider knowledge might yet transform my running speeds in future.  As I stood soaking up the rays though, she added in a disillusioning rider – the sun has to actually hit your exposed skin.  My coat, gloves, leggings combo left little flesh taking a direct hit, and I wasn’t stripping off any more, way too nippy for me out there, sunshine or not.  It seems I’ll have to achieve my running goals on my own merit, no outside solar charged assistance for me! Oh well, you know what they say ‘if it sounds too good to be true, then it is.’

So eventually, we headed off into the woods with spring in the air and a spring in our step.  I started off with some enthusiasm, but all too soon gradient of a hill coupled with an over-enthusiastic start and trying to multi-task by talking and running at the same time slowed me down.  We were a biggish group, with many familiar faces and a couple of new ones.  We headed to place where a number of pathways intercept and there is  a handy triangular island very suitable for running round and round whilst performing various running drills.  At this point, we split into two groups.  I am greatly in favour of this, I always stick with the ‘bottom’ group, though we are probably referred to in slightly more respectful terms.  To be fair, it isn’t necessarily always composed of by the weaker runners, it might include some who are injured, tapering, recovering or whatever.  The more hardcore, masochistic, less able to protest, are picked off for a far more punishing workout.  Normally, the two groups stay in sight of one another, and do fairly similar drills, but the hardcore details might do them up a much steeper hill say, or for a longer distance.

On this occasion my hopes were got up as the run leaders debated what each group would do.  I picked up that the hardcore group would be doing stuff that would be great to ‘stand and watch’ I immediately piped up to volunteer to be in that stand and watch group option, but it seems that one was already full.   Eventually, we were left with Dr Smiley, who fortuitously is now pot-less, hooray, but still not running due to having broken bone in her foot.  (The physician heal thyself jibes are wearing thin by the way, best not go there).   The hardcore group sprinted off in the opposite direction, and we never saw them again. Not until we were long back at the discovery centre supping coffee and soaking up the sun. They appeared panting, breathless, sweat covered and looking ashen.  ‘Good run everyone?’ we asked cheerily, from over the top of our lattes.  I do get that if you don’t push yourself you limit your potential to improve, but they weren’t really selling it to me as an option from how they looked to be honest.  Well done though guys, good effort!

So we in the steadier group, were under the direction of Dr Smiley.  She soon enough had us running round the triangular tree island as a ‘warm up’.  I’m not sure what happened there to be honest.  Maybe she can’t count very well,  maybe she was too distracted by trying to find the perfect stick, but it did feel like rather a lot of running round and round was going on, more than was strictly desirable or necessary.  I had flashbacks to being a child playing musical chairs.  There was a corner that was the start and finish point for this run, and every time I got within sight of it I slowed, willing her to shout stop, but that seemed never to happen.  By the time it did, I traipsed in behind everyone else, suffering disbelief that this was only the start.  Dr Smiley was in a good mood though, in possession of a fine outlook and an even finer useful stick for pointing at things.  She is a good motivator and facilitator, and although she possibly takes a bit too much pleasure in commanding we her charges to perform ever more comical exercises in pursuit of running excellence, you can’t really blame her.  I would to, and it is/was hilarious to watch us in action.

Various drills were modelled and executed, with various degrees of aplomb and elegance.  We did hopping, we did hopscotch – harder than you think, I only seem capable of doing this with one particular leg leading. You try it, it’s like crossing your arms the other way round to that you normally do, it feels not just odd, but nigh on impossible.  Or is that just me?  High knee drills, heel kicks, fast feet.  It all a bit morphed into one long test of co-ordination and endurance.  We did lunging walks (basically ministry of funny walks), hopping to the left and right like we were on wobbly pogo sticks and the Morecambe and Wise run – which I think was a stretch in terms of running relevance but was happy to comply with for mutually appreciated comedic purposes.   Dr Smiley wasn’t able to participate in any of the drills due to still recovering from injury, but I can report that she sang a most glorious accompaniment to this last drill by means of a particularly tuneful rendition of ‘bring me sunshine’ so you can’t really fail to be impressed by that manifestation of willingness to motivate and inspire her running proteges.

It seems the warm weather had brought out the whole world into the woods.  Entering Ecclesall woods is a bit like exploring an underwater coral reef.  You wouldn’t believe what’s lurking if you just hang about a bit beneath the surface.  The trees are incredible on their own, and the pathways through them lovely.  The birds are positively rowdy with noise at this time of year, but there is oh so much more.  A near constant stream of dog-walkers with their canine companions provided distraction and entertainment.  There were some that just ignored us, others got really excited at seeing us (the dogs in the main, rather than their owners), one elderly one-eyed dog, just crookedly limped stoically through the whole proceedings, probably seen it all before by now anyway. One dog, but we couldn’t positively identify which, saw its opportunity, and made off with Dr Smiley’s stick which she had left on the ground in an unguarded moment whilst demonstrating some manouvre or other.  She pretended to take this in good grace and not mind too much, but I could tell she was devastated, that lower lip was definitely trembling.  Hope she didn’t cry herself to sleep that night, it’s hard losing a special stick like that.  Ask any dog that has been made to leave some treasured bit of wood debris behind at the end of a walk.  At least, I hope it was the loss of the stick that reduced her to tears, not an unwelcome moment of realisation at the futility of trying to whip us all into running shape against such impossible odds…


We had an impromptu pause when some horse-riders came through, one on a nice solid looking coloured cob with a hogged mane, riding alongside a rather finer, but bit moth eaten looking dark bay.  The riders nodded acknowledgement as they rode through, then cantered off in the direction of the other group.  I hope they didn’t trample them with an unexpected stampede mid whatever running contortion they were being compelled to execute at the moment of being run down.  I wonder what they would look like?   Would it be like those figures captured in moment of time following the ash landing on pompeii?  Probably.  If that was going to happen to me though, personally I’d rather be frozen in the moment I was leaping like a gazelle skyward, than in the midst of contorting trying to kick my own bum with my heel, but each to their own.  Perhaps future generations of runners will worship any ancestors that perfected this technique, that would/will be enormous comfort to any runners so struck down I’m sure.

The final exercise had us in pairs.  Four of us had to run to a certain point, wait for another two to join us, and then two would run back to the start point ‘at 5k pace’.  Honestly, I don’t really know what that means, I’ve only got one pace.  However, my presumption was that for most people a 5km pace would be faster than say their marathon pace, so I just ran back as fast as I could, it wasn’t all that far, and it was quite fun.  I was also quite releived, as although my body has been feeling a bit croaky and out of sorts, really it responded relatively OK.  Nothing snapped or fell off, and although my stomach has a tendency to keep on moving after the rest of my body has stopped, I tell myself that’s just helpful exuberance and useful glycogen stores, not worth beating myself up over.  It was also good, because the way the exerise was configured, we could spend our recovery time standing about chatting to each other, and wondering how long it would take Dr Smiley to realise if we all elected to go and hide behind a tree somewhere.  Great team building activity!  Hide and seek in those woods would be a hoot, plenty of options!  It’s stunning the exercise avoidance techniques we all collectively come up with considering we have voluntarily signed up to do this and it is genuinely useful and fun, it’s just that it’s hard too.  It seems you don’t improve at running by osmosis, magic or by just reading running magazines, more’s the pity…

group runs cheap therapy

So, then suddenly it all ended.  We were done, no more running for that session at any rate.  Instead, a gentle lope back to the centre, and a queue for lattes. (Great coffee here by the way, huge generous glass mugs and proper caffiene fix too).  The majority of us lingered, enticed by the sunshine and fine company, but little knowing then just how our loyal impulse would be rewarded.  As with everywhere in Sheffield, there is quite a slope in the al fresco eating area, so we had a battle arranging chairs on the challenging gradient so we could all fit round.   Group two appeared as we were all settled down, enjoying our post run coffee, and feeling that post run pleasure that obscures any memory of all the vociferous complaints made whilst actually running just a few minutes before.  This motivational poster might be a bit OTT, but you get the idea.

death reborn

It was already nice and companionable, catching up with people, and finding out about others future running plans and past adventures.  However, things took an unexpectedly glorious turn when the understated announcement was made.  Our leader announced tat it was the First Birthday of the Accelerate wood runs, and so a celebration was in order.  He then produced not one, but TWO enormous, and fabulous cakes.  They were not of his making it is true, but most certainly the product of his organisational skills which amounts to the same thing in my book.  ‘Who needs to cook if you can shop?’ has long been a mantra of mine.   There was carrot cake, and there was chocolate cake, and in ample quantities.  Fortuitously, one of our number had sufficient initiative to set about carving up the cake and distributing it round the table in paper towels appropriated for this purpose.  It was absolutely delicous.  I would happily have gone for round two and gone back for a go at the chocolate cake, but felt it would be a bit indulgent, though the temptation was great indeed.  If I’m really honest, I probably would have snuck another slice had I not had so many eyes upon me, very fine cake indeed.  I have nothing but respect and admiration for the individual who, as people peeled away and said their farewells saw his opportunity.  With half a huge cake remaining he homed in, ‘room for a fourth slice then I think..‘ Personally I think this showed appropriate appreciation, you can’t be letting cake like that go to waste!

Oh and we did sing Happy Birthday too, not necessarily all that tunefully, but with gusto, and with only a slight hesitation over the name bit – I think we went with ‘deeeeeeeeeeeeee-ar wood run’ as opposed to anything else, but it was a bit touch and go.  So thanks Accelerate for cake and coaching model, and Ecclesall Woods rangers and goodly people from the council for hosting us each week, it’s all fab.  Running and cake, perfect combo.

So that was that.  It was really nice to be back, and it was great to coincide with the first birthday bash, long may it continue.  Its a great way to appreciate the woods, network with other runners, access some advice and do drills that, let’s be honest, most of us wouldn’t spontaneously do.  I also got some insider info on forthcoming runs.  I’ve been flirting with the idea of the Burbage Skyline, but don’t know if it’s  really a beginners option or not.  Others have suggested it might be, but I’m not over-confident.  The tail marker sweeper at the back has said she’s very happy to go slow.  I believe her, but have suggested she might actually want to bring along a picnic if it’s just me and her at the back, she could be in for a long one, and patience can only be tested so far.  However, I learned today from my wood run companions who have done it before, that no navigation will be required.  This is a significant issue for me based on past experience (let’s just learn from the Wingerworth Wobble) and also identified a couple of other fence-sitters who want to have a bash but aren’t quite sure.  Safety in numbers, we can make a suicide pact and do it together!  Oh, hang on, maybe not the best turn of phrase, but in it together, certainly!  I have a theory that if enough of us go along as our first ‘proper’ fell race, then we can be a mutually supportive gang and perhaps influence the mood of the event.  If there are a fair few first timers taking it slow, rather than a solitary outlier, it seems more reasonable to be spread out at the back.  We can lope along together- ish at least.

It looks so lovely, you have to want a bit of that…. nothing ventured as they say, then again, that’s a lot of climb, we’ll see.

burbage skyline

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

Working towards friskiness – family friendly woodland frolics


Quite stressful today, decision wise, to be honest.  Today is Thursday, so this has become the day on which I join Accelerate for woodland drills to work on my running technique.  (Two pounds, 9.30 a.m. rendezvous in Ecclesall Woods, details on Accelerate facebook page.)  Today though, it was more complicated than that, because it is half term, and so today’s session was a ‘family friendly’ kids welcome to come and join the fun sort of event.  For me, this was a bit problematic, I’m a bit scared of small children.  I don’t dislike them.  I just don’t have enough experience with them to know quite how I’m supposed to interact with them.  I fear I may be a bad influence, and they certainly have endless capacity to lead me astray, which is part of their appeal.  Also, inevitably they will run me into the ground, my fragile self-esteem might not be able to handle that.  What to do?

I think young children in particular can be completely hilarious, I especially love their gift for speaking the truth unconstrained by social niceties even if it can get you into trouble. There is an exquisite age when they know it’s wrong to lie, and don’t get the subtlety of the qualifying rider (except when special circumstances require it e.g. politeness, self-interest or most important here self-preservation).   I’m thinking of the time me and a female friend of mine went along with her young daughter in tow,  to meet up with a mutual male friend who had just split up with his girlfriend – hope you are keeping up. Now, I’m not proud of the fact that, sisterly solidarity or not, she was someone we didn’t particularly like, though we’d always tried hard – or so we thought – to keep our opinions to ourselves.  Anyway, our disappointed-in-love male friend half opened the door looking dishevelled, red-eyed and marginally traumatised, only to be greeted by our accompanying child skipping past him into the hallway beyond, quite oblivious to his oozing angst  stating ‘mummy and Lucy say it’s really good because Cruella De Vil isn’t going out with you any more!’  There was nowhere to hide.  That was an awkward ‘consoling’ cup of coffee we all shared.  Still with the healing effect of time – some decades have passed since then – it was undeniably funny, retrospectively, but decidedly awkward and toe-curling excruciating at the time.  Talk about being caught out …. .  Definite tangible example of that old reassuring axiom ‘one day we shall look back on this and laugh‘ and so we did dear reader, but it took a while…  Maybe we should take more notice of that other wise saying: ‘if you are going to be able to look back on something and laugh about it, you may as well laugh about it now‘.  Sound advice.


Children also have an admirable capacity for play.   This is a wholly good thing, adults don’t play nearly enough, and when I have tried to instigate play in the workplace it hasn’t always been appreciated to the extent to which I might have expected.  Those castle fortifications around my desk made using only discarded cardboard boxes were inspired, those turrets were quite something.  Insecure colleagues just get jealous of  what they perceive to be ‘in ya face’ creative genius I suppose.  Strange but true.  The passport control area was just a logical extension of that initiative, nothing to get all touchy about.  Still, we’ve all moved on from that now, I’m sure…  Back to the Woodland Centre in Ecclesall Woods.  (Thanks Accelerate for the photo).

woodland centre accelerate photo

Anyway, some apprehension heading out to the woodland rendezvous therefore.  I arrived early (I was trying to avoid carpark bumper cars after last week’s ‘where can I park!’ shenanigans).  It was  gloriously sunny though, albeit with a cruel nip in the air.  I was first to arrive, which was a bit out of character.  I don’t like to be late, but not conspicuously early either.  This is my third Thursday of attending – possibly even my fourth – so I know the routine now.  I went to drop my £2 in the wooden bowl and sign up but DISASTER no pen!  I asked for one and was told that this week we were to sign in blood, which was fair enough, but there wasn’t a Stanley knife either, and whilst the kit requirement did recommend trail shoes, there was nothing about bringing a sharp blade along too.  We had a bit of a discussion about this, and what the health and safety implications might be of various possible courses of action.  I am of the view that it would be fine to get us to sign in blood, as long as there was a new blade for each participant, the cross contamination from blood would be a far greater risk than the actual cut.  In the event it was all academic anyway, as they couldn’t find one of those either, so we had to make do with a pencil.  Oh well, we will know for next time I suppose…

Signing in was followed by the mandatory period of self-consciously hanging around and clinging to the sides of the atrium waiting for everyone to gather.   There were a couple of first timers, and a scattering of keen looking children, with accompanying adults various.  It reminds me of playing a not very good game of wink-murder at the start.   People make sort of half-hearted attempts to make eye-contact with people they don’t know, treading that fine line between wanting to come across as friendly, whilst not wishing to appear overly desperate to engage by holding eye contact a bit longer than is strictly necessary.  It’s a nightmare, which side of the scales will you end up in?  Will you create the  impression of someone who exudes sincere, relaxed engagement or inadvertently fix someone with a psychopathic stare that seems to reach into their soul and strangle it beyond the reach of recovery for all eternity.  Or is it just me that worries about that when attending conference buffets and mingling at parties and funerals?  Actually, don’t tell me, some things are better left unsaid, even if they are funny (see Cruella de Vil reference above).


As well as the awkward eye-contact thing, there were a few greetings and hellos and catching up on injuries various.  Limping ‘runners’ were gamely running onward, some more delusional than others.  I am probably over-sensitive to my body telling me it doesn’t feel up to running, my default position if I have a twinge is variants on the duvet day depending on the weather.  Others have learned to overcome these messages.  I was genuinely concerned about our star Fighting Feather though who seemed to be in real pain, lawks a lordy, she’d even had a paracetamol, which would be like a normal person having morphine she’s so hard-core!  We will have to have a whip round for her emergency physio appointment or she’s never going to be fit enough to complete the Royal Flush in time to gain recognition for the Smiletastic challenge (consecutive miles run at an ever-increasing pace) it’s a worry.  Oh, that and the concern she may never walk properly again too of course, but priorities, obviously, I like to think that’s what she would want!  I tried to keep a neutral face, but she’s scared me, she really has…

give it to me straight

I digress, you are probably desperate to know what was the killer decision that nearly flawed me?  It was whether to stick with the small fry/ injured/ tapering/ can’t be arsed (is that a category?)/ slow & steady group (which included children) or go with the fast and frisky runners.  My default position is always to go with the slower group, but the presence of small children was a deterrent.  What if I fell over one, or worse, they fell over me?  I negotiated for a ‘working towards friskiness‘ category, and got a pass into the frisky group as a consequence.  I don’t know if this was a good thing or not.  It’s all a bit of a blur, still, you have to try these things, and besides things are rarely all good or all bad, there are always nuances of grey in between, always…  If you never try, you’ll never know what you are capable of, and if you don’t succeed in reaching that goal, at least you’ll be wiser, and more importantly potentially get an amusing anecdote out of it.  Failing that, sympathy and disbelief, which is something I suppose.


Oh hang on, I’m supposed to be posting about running.  Got distracted, can’t see the wood for the trees – wooden you know it.  Today was another running in the woods day, and a very fine one too.  We headed off through the fallen leaves and took a different track from the other weeks I’ve been there.  Our friendly resident (I think he must live there) bearded-ranger scampered ahead seeking out mud and puddles under the pretext this was for the smalls amongst us.  Not true, I was also game for a bit of mud.  We avoided the worst of it as some amongst us having even shorter legs than me would have got a greater percentage of their height submerged by leaf litter and rushing torrents, but it was still fun to see a different part of the woods, and we got muddy enough to justify the trail shoes and feel we’d had a mini adventure.  They are lovely, the trees and the wood. Eventually, we came to a halt by a woodland path somewhere.  Truthfully, delightful as the woods are I can’t quite shake from the back of my mind the fear that this is some sort of benign – or seemingly benign –  abduction.  I would be completely unable to find my way out of the woods again.  Presumably to lull us into a false sense of security, our run leader told us the names of the trees.  The more conventional among you my readers might think this corresponds to tree identification – ‘see and marvel at the bark on this ancient oak‘, sort of thing.  That might be an option on some ranger led walks, but the tree at this spot was identified as ‘Bob’.  I took a photo under the pretext of admiration of the natural world, but really it was because I was hoping it might be a visual clue to help me navigate my way home later in case of any emergency as a result of being abandoned in the forest.  What if they all decided to sprint home and I couldn’t keep up.  I could die out there.  We did see a pair of woodpeckers though by the way, that was cool.

DSCF8755 - Copy

Later on we met Mr and Mrs Stumpy and there was a general gesturing in the direction of a tree named Merlin.  No-one was taking responsibility for the naming of that tree, nor even positively identifying which one it was now I come to think of it.  Maybe it was in hiding after seeing what had happened to Mr and Mrs Stumpy (the clue to their fate is in the name, let’s leave it at ‘cut off in their prime’).  This squabbling amongst our leaders was so misguided honestly.  It’s a rather person-centric approach isn’t it?  The tree may have named itself Merlin, and if it was anything like as large as others roundabout it has been around a lot longer than any of us…  Undeterred the children on release from school for half-term were asked if they knew why the tree was so-named and eyebrows gently raised in pseudo-mock incredulity at their wide-eyed blank expressions.  ‘Surely you’ll know, Harry Potter and all that?’  Nope, they won’t.  Trust me.  I used to be a careers adviser.  Wrong era, wasn’t the topic of a knights of the round table contemporary more a question to be aimed at 12th Century children rather than 21st Century ones?  Still, this wasn’t a literary appreciation or tree-identification session, no indeedy, it was a running one, so after a bit of a warm up (running backwards and forwards over a fixed difference on the woodland trails) thus (Accelerate photos):

we yomped onwards to another more challenging (uh-oh) spot.

So at the new spot, there were extra natural obstacles, including some or all of the following: uneven ground; various slopes (upwards and downwards);  muddy bits; tree-rooty bits; dog-walkers; non-dog walkers; knackered looking other runners; a useful bench for sitting on and/or leaving stuff on; woodland staircase.  We were quite a big group, and as I’ve been a couple of times now, I am starting to recognise some of them.  There are some really amazing runners there.  There is The Amazing Jumping man too.  I am conscious of how weird that may sound if you weren’t actually there.  If you were, you will recognise this description as factually accurate and therefore completely appropriate and not a slogan to attract viewers at a freak show, no really.  I promise.    I can’t not say how mesmerising it is to see him boing.  He seems to be able to spring vertically upwards and land noiselessly, as if he is completely weightless.  It is extraordinary, and if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I would say such a feat was impossible.  Possibly due to being a bit disinhibited due to lack of oxygen to the brain following physical exertion, I did share this observation with him.  I know that’s probably not normal behaviour, but fortunately post-fifty I don’t care so much any more about what impression I may give when compelled to say out loud what is possibly best kept silent in my head.  Anyway, I was glad I did, because he told me that some basketball players, when they similarly leap vertically upwards, have a moment at the apex of their flight when they are suspended in the air.  I possibly jumped (gettit?) in a bit too quickly protesting that he was confusing this with those cartoons when people (or road runners or cats or whatever) run off cliffs, and keep running in the air until they look down and plummet.  Disappointingly, he clarified.  It is, it seems, an optical illusion, there is a moment of stillness before they descend.  Amazing.  The human body can do extraordinary things.  Well other humans’ bodies, mine mainly expands outwards from the waist, which to tell the truth wouldn’t have been my super-power of choice, but you have to make the best of what you’re given sometimes.  Mustn’t grumble.  I (almost) never get properly cold out running, that’s got to be worth something, and I’ll survive longer on my body fat reserves than all the skinnies in a post-apocalyptic world, yay (not).  Anyway, back on topic, it seems basketball players do get frozen in time as they leap – otherwise how is a shot like this possible:

So, back to running drills.  I am still completely rubbish at these, but I’m enjoying the attempt a bit more now I feel more comfortable in the group.  We had to do sequences of: bunny hopping up hill (fail); hopping up hill (epic fail); hopscotch up hill (least worst drill for me); high knees up hill; fast feet up hill – are you getting the idea?  We were allowed to go down the hill again in between drills, so that offered some necessary respite.  It was though pretty much identical to the Redbull 400 metres uphill challenge held in Slovenia (race up a ski-slope essentially) so maybe we should have a Sheffield team enter that next year seeing as how we’ve all been practising?  I don’t mind keeping an eye on the kit whilst others have a bash at the climb.  Also, a perk of doing the routines is that you can watch other people doing them too, which is hilarious.  Yes, yes, you can pick up ideas on technique etc., which is worthwhile, but even better, you can also laugh and point at the pained facial expressions and grimaces of those also doing the task, whilst trying not to dwell too much on what you yourself must look like doing the same thing.  It is something to behold, though I’m not overly convinced that the shots taken on the day would represent a marketing opportunity for Accelerate.  Out-takes possibly, recruitment poster, never.  Mr Accelerate did snap a few shots, but maybe he thought the better of using them as not yet posted.  Or perhaps they were for his own personal collection?  Now there’s a thought!  If they do end up in the public domain I’ll add a few here… (Late addition, cheers Accelerate).  Actually, on reviewing the shots, you do have to question why it is we were all so sweetly compliant.  Is it an indictment of our weakness of will, a testament to our run-leaders powers of persuasion or what.  Dangerous cults and political regimes have been built on less, we need to take care, be careful out there, you still have free will, if only just…

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Just to make for even more interest/ amusement, we then moved to the steps and tried to bunny-hop, hop etc up these. This was ridiculously hard, but surprisingly satisfying if achieved.  I didn’t manage to hop or jump up all of them, but felt positively euphoric just making it up one or two.  At least I wont get bored by a challenge that is too easily achieved….  I have also discovered an unwelcome addition to my many bodily failings.  I seem to be programmed not to ever lead with my left leg.  I did break my knee in Hastings (long story- shows worse things happen at the seaside) years ago, and I suppose I’ve been favouring my right leg ever since.  This I could understand, but honestly it’s like my leg just wont take direction.  You know how we have a way we almost instinctiely like to cross our arms, and if you try and do it the other way round it feels so impossible that even if you achieve it, it still feels wrong?  (You don’t?  Well try it now.   See?)  Anyway, it’s like that if I try and hop on my left leg, it just won’t activate.  This is worrying, I probably ought to do something about this.  Apparently running is a one-legged sport (personally, I think this is only partially true, I mean really, if it honestly was, it would actually be either a hopping event, or only open to say flamingoes or herons only activating one half of their body at a time – which I’d watch to be fair) – if I take this observation in the spirit in which it is meant, I probably do need to do something about making sure I can use both legs independently of one another.  Could take a while… don’t want to be left without a leg to stand on, in the meantime, divert yourself, who’d win a hopping race between these glorious guys do you think?

By way of diversion, some fine wood puns were also exchanged.  Puns are always poplar as yew probably know, I’m knot one to give up too easily on a punning contest generally speaking, but sometimes you have to bough to quicker reflexes.  Our run leader was annoyingly speedy with a hair twigger response to activating his punometer.  In my defence, the root of the problem for me was that our run leader had the advantage of being fitter than me, so hadn’t got my afore-mentioned oxygen deprived post-running exertion brain depleting his punning resources.  I don’t want to come across as small minded and bitter, barking up the wrong tree with a belated defence so I’ll just leaf it at that… that, and a few scavenged picture puns for future reference.  Wooden you know, there are loads out there, almost over-elming to be honest, especially if you are willing to branch out with your research.  Enjoy.

Back for coffee.  Fine latte, and I took an atmospheric shot of the reception area, which I am very proud of.  Look and be amazed:


It wasn’t a very long distance session today, in fact I nearly had a panic attack as we made our way back to the base in case my run didn’t meet the 2 mile minimum distance requirement for Smiletastic purposes!  It was a close run thing, coming in at just 2.1 miles.  Eek.  Back for coffee and welcome catch up with some other Smiley Paces.  We are still all consumed by Smiletastic challenges.  It is becoming quite stressful.  Even though I am technically in the winning team at present, I am in constant fear that we will be toppled at any moment, and I will have my fickle team-mates turn on me and oust me as the weakest link, which to be fair, I probably am.

It is lonely at the top.  You can only fall from this point.  Not that I expect the other losers, sorry, fellow competitors, to fully appreciate this.  They have their own demons to conquer.  Sleepless nights over whether or not their heart shapes will cut muster, and if they are the right side of the road for their monkey runs…  It’s true what they say, running is a test of mind over body.  For our part, we Fighting Feathers have tried to keep the pressure up.  We had a light-hearted attempt at increasing our lead by getting one of our team to wear her gps watch whilst taking an internal flight in America somewhere.  Very impressive, elevation over 8,266 metres, longest run 82 mile, average pace 2 miles a minute.  Personally, I think we might have got away with it too, if she hadn’t had to go across open water for most of the flight.  We were able to blag it when discovered by spinning the whole enterprise as an hilarious jape when our bluff was called, but we aren’t even half-way through the challenge yet, so I’m sure we’ll come up with something else before the final countdown commences.  We need something to maintain our lead.  We were a bit worried that Elder Smiley Super Geek might actually have her head implode when she saw the stats, and that would put an end to all the fun of Smiletastic high jinks in perpetuity.  However, she seems to have survived the sighting of this erm, well let’s say anomalous and clearly inadvertent upload in tact, mercifully… though she has been on the prosecco since I understand…  Birthday indeed, as if anyone will believe that!  Though on reflection I think it’s true Smiletastic has aged her, so perhaps she has had an extra birthday creep in, just like the Queen.  Smiley Elder Super Geek certainly deserves her own anthem, a project for another day perhaps…

accelerate post run coffee

So latte sipped, and conversations shared.  Thanks for top tips on running jackets (montane minimus keeps being recommended) and tactics for half-marathon too.  I’ve still not quite fathomed whether or not I’m actually going to go through with this, but handy to have some hints.  Start slow, wear fancy dress (lower expectations of ‘fun runners’ may help morale) and maybe take some dextrose tablets for instant lift at half way point are the ones that stand out. Although it was sunny, it was cold sitting outside on a damp bench, and that sent me on my way eventually.  Home to dream about running, and speculate on whether or not it is true that runners who become obsessed by running clearly have addictive personalities.  This capacity to become fixated by something as intrinsically unpleasant as running could be ratcheted up to lethal levels if heaven portend they/we came across something that was actually fun to indulge in!  Interesting thought… it is very important serious runners never have the opportunity to try anything pleasant according to The Daily Mash – must be true!

I’ll leave you with that thought.  Sweet dreams.  Run onwards.  Run free!



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

Feathers will fly, taking Smiletastic into the woods

too cold for a run running bible

Whilst this sentiment may raise a wry smile of recognition more widely, for those members of the Smiley Paces running club taking part in Smiletastic, we could change the latter part of the slogan to ‘you’re obviously not signed up for the Smiletastic challenge‘.  Whilst I have nothing but admiration for our very own home-bred Super-Geek for initiating this contest in a well-meaning quest to help motivate members of Smilies to just keep on running throughout the winter months, she can little have known quite what competitiveness she had let lose in so doing…

People have been grouped into teams based on birthdays – Fighting Feathers being ‘my team’, other lesser teams being respectively the Old Birds; Squawky Chicks; Rowdy Roosters and the youthful Clucky Ducks, bless.  Points are awarded to each team each week, based on whether or not each individual within the team has completed their agreed target number of runs.  So far, so uncontroversial and all nice and amicable.  The problem has stemmed from the more contentious issue of the allocation of bonus points.  Extra points are gained from running before 7.00 a.m. and after 8.00 p.m.; doing a timed run (based on misguided notion that that means the participants will actually exert themselves in race mode – a technique I have largely resisted) and, most relevant here, for undertaking a run in sub-zero temperatures.  So today, when I woke up and it was absolutely freezing, I actually felt quite pleased.  Yes, lovely sunrise blah de blah, but more importantly, potential bonus points! Get me and my new super-competitive zeal.  (Photo is through my duplex window by the way, there are some perks to attic life)


The problem is, debate over how to verify temperature claims have got a bit heated (ironically enough), you can only claim one of these points per runner per week anyway, but with the temperatures rising, there is some angst about whether or not there will be other opportunities to gain them.  The official line is that we are all adults to be trusted and our word will be taken as true – the old ‘presumed innocent until proven guilty’ adage.  All very commendable, but have you seen the gameswomanship at work amongst the Smiley cohort?  I will completely understand if things get to a point where all claims need to be externally verified by some sort of independent panel if necessary.  Anticipating such an eventuality, it seems only sensible to stack up evidence wherever possible, photos are a start, more tangible forensic evidence optional.  A runner I met today swore to me she had seen frozen dog pee out running in pursuit of bonus points yesterday.  I think it was wayward of her not to snap that up and put it in a shoebox to send off to Guru Geek Smiley for verification.  To be honest though, I don’t really care if she didn’t because she’s not a Fighting Feather, so if her bonus point is lost to eternity frankly her loss is our gain, harsh, but true.  Still, to cover my own arse, here are my photo shots (note ‘ice under foot’ evidence at Ecclesall Woods especially).

Now, my position is (apart from tail runner bringing ballast to the back); that I entered into Smiletastic in the naive belief that bonus points would land good-humouredly enough to those hardy individuals whose personal circumstances necessitated going out in inclement weather or anti-social times. It honestly never occurred to me that the battle for the bonus points would take on a strategic significance in the quest to be the best.  I certainly didn’t imagine I too would discover an inner competitiveness and find myself all too easily led over to the dark-side of plotting for points.  How little I knew myself…

Admittedly, I’m enjoying the feverish debates and pleas on Facebook where individuals plea for special consideration for bonus points because of some random set of personal circumstances.  Requesting extra points for pushing a buggy round parkrun for example.  Some baulked at this, because they felt disadvantaged that they were not in possession (are you allowed to say that) of small children, so this option would not be available to them.  Others chipped in suggesting that if you could wrestle your teenager into a buggy that would be just fine, and potentially merit even more bullet points.  Speaking personally, I would be game to be buggy ballast and get pushed round a parkrun if that would help, but it didn’t look like that particular argument was ever going to get past Elder Smiley.  A more promising try was made for gaining bonus points if you managed to persuade a teenage relative to actually run round parkrun with you – dragging by force if necessary. The clincher proof of how hard this might be to actually accomplish being how few bonus points would ultimately be claimed for achieving this feat.  Interesting idea, certainly.

One person did successful get a bonus point for having a furtive snog with a random stranger on a sub-zero run, fair enough I say, Go Smiley!  The exact circumstances are shrouded in mystery, but the official line is that this was necessary to keep warm. Basically, there are daily spurious pleading posts which are the Smiley equivalent of ‘the dog ate my homework’ for our Smiley Elder to review.  She needs not only her thick skin, but the wisdom of Solomon to maintain order here.  Still, we all keep telling her it’s much better to have to deal with so much positive and animated engagement than silence and tumbleweed echoing across her spreadsheets.  I don’t know to what extent we are believed.  Maybe it is as with many running challenges, the euphoria only really sets in at the moment of completion, whilst you are in the midst of it all, you wonder what possessed you to embark on this malarkey in the first place…

Bottom line, Smiletastic has changed my mindset with regard to running, and I find I am a willing pawn in group decisions.  If I need to travel to the four corners of the earth to nab a different timed run then travel I will!  Did I not explain you can only get one point for each separate timed run, i.e. no point in all the Fighting Feathers flying round the same parkrun, each has to attend a different venue to qualify for a point each… harsh perhaps, but opens up the gates to serious competition if you can get your act together to disperse your troops.  Honestly, why isn’t every running club in the vicinity undertaking Smiletastic, it’s oh so simple as the saying goes….

Anyway, upshot, I went outside, even though it was cold and my windscreen had frozen over.  It was turn out second time around to Accelerates woodland running session.  I don’t know if having been before makes it better or worse.  On the one hand I was now au fait with the mechanics of the set up, where to park and register, on the other I now knew what was in store, and I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d like it…

I arrived in good time, and parked up, saw various runners stripping off in the car park, always a clue to being in the right place, but really bare legs?  I’d got thermals on under my leggings.  I wandered in to the discovery centre.  It was like enrichment for caged animals.  In a break from the usual (based on my solitary previous attendance).   I noticed for the first time some fantastically sited and richly filled bird feeders the other side of a glass panel opposite the entrance, loads of birds were visiting, mostly blue tits, but I’d swear I saw a couple of nuthatches moving vertically down the trees to get to the peanut feeders.  Possibly even more excitingly, in front of this enormous glass window was a tower of boxes each filled with a different sized pair of some trial trainers.  Montrail Bajada II (or something).  Oooh, temptation.  They appealed to me some how, so in my unending search for the perfect fitting trainer I donned a pair to see how they’d go.

In order to heave on the trainers, I sat on a conveniently sited bench.   Initial impressions were very promising, they seemed to fit my foot shape pretty well, lots of room for my bunion to expand into.  Yay!  I then had the embarrassment of a fellow runner, who happens also to be a particularly awesome Smiley Elder and Guru, apologising to me because her bag was on the bench under my  bum.  It was pretty apparent that really apologies were due from me to her, as my bottom was on her bag  – this brief apologetic pantomime gave new realism to the phrase ‘bum bag’.

I digress, back to Smiletastic.  Up until a couple of weeks ago, the most devious I’d got in terms of trying to influence authority figures, was a feigned interest in West Bromwich Albion, in order to ingratiate me to my employing organisation’s CEO.  It seems that Geek Smiley Elder is a great deal harder to manipulate, but that doesn’t stop people trying….  It was apparent that there were a number of Smilies present, all of us pitching for a sub-zero point for starters.  Quickly discussion turned to how to maximise the elevation strand of Smiletastic, a sort of ski-lift in reverse was suggested, whereby you’d increase the elevation to miles ratio by reaching the top of a hill and then being driven back to the start to do it all again.  The message has come across loud and clear.  To get as many points as possible you need to head out on a literally freezing (sub-zero) night, make a perpendicular ascent, and do so after eight at night, basically – I wonder if a timed torch run across the moors might add in another bonus point too, just a thought….

Anyways, a Smiley gaggle gathered, and we talked tactics for Smiletastic.  Talk turned soon enough to weekend commitments.  As well as the many local parkruns, there is a Smiley off-road run this Sunday.  I wasn’t planning on going as it clashes with the Longshaw off-road 10k, a timed race.  Truth is I’ve struggled to keep up with the last couple of off-road Smiley runs, so I thought I’d build some stamina by putting in some extra runs on my own before trying joining them again. Anyway, turned out one of this week’s Sunday organisers was present. She was really sweet and encouraging me to come on the Smiley off-road instead.  I was almost persuaded… then I suddenly twigged.  If I go and lollop Longshaw 10k, a timed challenge, I will bag a bonus point for the Fighting Feathers.  Who is trying to dissuade me from this course of action?  Why, a Squawky Chick!  You have to be on your guard, surely a saboteur in action. She was good, but not that good, Longshaw it is, and I shall keep my wits about me.

Eventually off into the woods, it was pretty frosty underfoot, but the woods are lovely – apart from you have to cross a really daunting road to get from one side of the wood to the other.  We followed the same format as last week, gentle jog to the start point for drills.  I chatted to a few people on the way.  Other runners are a friendly lot, apart from when they are trying to trick you out of nabbing smiletastic bonus points.  A few of them ran companionably with me for a short stretch, until my slow pace got too much for them and they strode off ahead.  I couldn’t resist asking the guy in shorts how he was coping.  I loved his response.  Badly basically, he hasn’t got any longer running gear so he’d had no choice.  I suppose for him, running in his shorts was the adult male equivalent of me being made to do gym class (I can’t bring myself to call it ‘games’ it so wasn’t), in my navy school knickers – please tell me they don’t still do that in schools.  He was stoic it’s true, but not exactly celebrating his choice of kit.  He also said he didn’t mind running at my pace for a while, as if he went flat out, he’d only get cold hanging around waiting for everyone at the rendezvous point.  I love this insight.  I can use it myself.  I am running slowly as a legitimate training strategy to ensure I remain warm throughout, I could sprint easily enough, I just choose not too.  I am going to write it down, you can too, another Top Tip nailed!

So on arrival at the appointed spot we again split into two groups for different drills, the run leaders swapped groups from last week, it was unclear if this was to give them a break or us.  Some questions are best left unanswered.  Our run leader, Dr Smiley, repositioned us a bit nearer a bridge so that ‘good news’ our drills would all incorporate a bit of uphill  It is further indicative of my change in mindset that I logged almost unconsciously that this would be a good thing in that it would surely help the elevation quotient for my Smiletastic team (oh, not mentioned that yet?  Take it as a given.)

It was marginally less daunting doing the drills this time, I don’t know that I did them any better, but at least I had some sense of what I was supposed to be doing.  It did make it harder having more hill, but the group I was in was friendly and encouraging, and there were lots of explanations to help make sense of it all. The worst bit was probably the ‘warm up’ which involved running at an ever increasing speed up the incline to a signpost and then jogging back, and then doing it again, and then doing it again, and then doing it again.  I do not like running backwards and forwards in this manner.  I totally get it is good for me, but it does feel utterly pointless, I was relieved when it was finished.

We moved onto other drills with mixed success.  I am particularly poor at the hopping ones.  I don’t seem to be able to balance on one leg at all, hopping is just a constant battle not to fall over.  We were aiming for a particular rock as an end point.  I fantasised about moving that rock a bit closer, but to do so would seem like cheating.  I did wonder if we might be able to persuade one of the fleeter, more serious runners to move it for us – for them it would be cross-training (strength) and that wouldn’t be cheating on our part would it, at worse opportunism perhaps but most definitely initiative… Then there were sort of walking on your heels ones (especially hard going up a gradient) that made us look like psychedelic penguins and the goose stepping too of course. So what with Fighting Feathers and Clucky Ducks – and everything in between – doing penguins and geese that was a lot of ornithological exertions going on.  If you went down to the woods today you were certainly sure of a big surprise!

Other drills included high knees.  Well, I say high knees, but my knees can’t go up all that high because my stomach gets in the way.  I had a game go though.  Note to self, eat less, starting tomorrow (mañana).  What cannot pass without mention though, is the super charged springing drills.   Dr Smiley did a jaw dropping demonstration, honest to god she sprung twice her body height in the air.  I couldn’t disguise my amazement, but was told apparently her athleticism and spring was as nothing to another in our midst (well in other group technically, but in reeling in distance).  I asked if we could lure him across and trick him into showing us his jumpiness.  No real trickery was needed, they just asked him, and he happily obliged, launching himself heavenward after a couple of test springs, up up and away beyond the atmosphere before landing with light gently bent knees as if this was the most natural way to get around in all the world.  I was in awe!  It was like a Masai warrior or something.  I tried to take some photos, but I don’t think they do his feat justice.  You’ll have to imagine.  Also, getting extra demos this way was a great exercise avoidance technique (another Top Tip for the weary).

We did loads of other stuff, mostly involving running around.  Towards the end of the session we moved to a ‘better’ (I use the term loosely) hill, i.e. steeper, so we could try out some up and down hill strategies. This was really useful albeit brief insight into how to tackle gradients.  Accelerate do a 2 day training course on this, so our 5 minutes was only a taster really.  I learned that I should look up and over the brow of a hill, rather than plant my chin in my chest as I heave my weary carcass upwards.  This helps open your airways apart from anything else we were told, and logically I suppose directs your energy forwards and upwards rather than planting back into the ground.  Coming down hill we were encouraged to keep loose limbed (chimping?) and sort of keep your back straight and butt down so it’s your quads stabilising you – though not braking.  This is a marvel to me. I can’t say I got it completely in terms of implementing it, but got it enough to appreciate how it might in fact work. Fellow Hobbit will be awe-struck when I share it with her on our next hobbit hash!

Eventually, we all congregated at the bottom of the hill where we sort of melded inadvertently into the other group.  I was distracted by what looked like the discarded remains of a Smiley that didn’t make it – nothing left but the Smiley buff and an empty coat –  but not so distracted that I couldn’t enjoy the other more advanced group pairing up for a sprint race to finish.

My amusement was short-lived, as I found myself paired with the final runner, and accidentally agreed to a sprint up to join the others.  I enjoyed it actually, it felt like a test, even though all my flabby bits wobbled as I ran.  It sort of felt like a benign abduction, in which I was guilty of contributory negligence with respect to my fate.  This has actually happened to me before.  I was backpacking in Australia, and joined some other backpackers for a cheap and cheerful snorkelling trip which involved taking a boat out to a coral cay somewhere or other.  When we arrived, there was a more upmarket group already there, I got confused about which group was my mine (trust me, all those Aussie boat trip leaders are interchangeable).  Anyway, clearly all British Backpackers look the same too, because a tour leader hailed me, and said ‘come on, you’ll be late’.  I dutifully joined him, and found myself corralled into a glass bottomed boat to explore the reef from above.  I thought it was odd this aspect of our budget outing hadn’t been mentioned before… and then it dawned on me I was with a completely different group.  I was far too embarrassed to out myself, but did wonder where we’d end up, and also, I was a bit worried the other group might think I’d been taken by a shark or something.  I did the very British thing of saying nothing, and just trying to make myself invisible.  Besides, it was fun seeing coral and octopuses and stuff.  Eventually we were landed back on the little island and I rejoined my original group.  They were seriously impressed ‘wow, you must be a strong swimmer‘ they said, ‘you’ve been snorkeling for hours!’  ‘Yes‘, I said.  Some secrets are best kept, and I’d never see any of these people again.  In fact I am an even less strong swimmer than I am runner.  I am exceedingly buoyant it’s true, but don’t really get forward propulsion very well.

So finally, run done.  Yay!  True, we had to tackle the monster hill again on the return, but it did feel a bit more manageable this time, plus, it was quite good to try and implement my new running techniques.  Eagle eyed Dr Smiley was at the rear and periodically yelled encouragement of sorts ‘keep going‘ or ‘look up‘ which helped actually, even if I did feel there was nowhere to hide.

Back at base, shoes were removed, I enjoyed swapping bunion stories with a companionable fellow relatively newbie runner – she offered to show me her bunions, but we stuck with a mutual through the socks viewing.   She too had been trying out the new shoes and I think we were both sold on them.  They don’t perhaps have quite as much cushioning as I’d have liked, but they didn’t pinch anywhere at all, and lots of rooms for toes.  Recently (Monday Mobsters) I met a runner who was telling me she regularly loses toe nails from running, and it scared me a bit.  That is not happening to me if I can possibly avoid it. I’d definitely think about getting the Montrails, or whatever they were, as my next trail shoes.  As a back up plan, my new friend allowed me to take a snapshot of her road trainers for future reference, as she clearly has similar issues to me foot wise, and found her’s very comfortable.  Some sort of brooks I think, but I’m not sure which.  Anyway, always good to have options.


FYI Australia came up again at the end of the run too.  Can’t remember how, but we were talking about how annoying it is when Australians give you Vegemite and say it is ‘just like Marmite’ when it clearly isn’t.  Oh, I know, we were talking about brand names in relation to the trial trail shoes.  I said I was completely uninfluenced by brands in relation to shoes, I just wanted comfort every time – but I did say I had very strong views on the matter of Marmite.  Supermarket’s own yeast extract is NOT THE SAME, and that led into a mutual rant on the terrible interloper down under – vegemite.  However, useful top tip again, apparently they have a supermarket chain there Coles, which has an own brand yeast extract which is a pretty good approximation of Marmite.  I remain sceptical, but have banked this information for future reference. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and in the unlikely event I ever find myself in Australia again, it will be good to have options.  I do miss Marmite on the rare occasions I am away from the UK.


So all done and dusted, we went off our separate ways.  I was glad I went, and not just because I’ve hopefully bagged a bonus point.  I got to see the highest unassisted jumping in the world, I’ve got a contingency plan for getting Marmite if ever I’m back down under, and people were once again friendly and inclusive.  Cheers Accelerate, and Cheers Smilies.  We are all awesome!




Categories: motivation, off road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Accelerating into the woods


I wonder how many people have ended up in A&E because of beetroot?  Not so much beetroot injuries from the hardened tap root being lobbed at them in anger and landing on its target – though I imagine that could indeed do some serious damage- but from eating them and then forgetting.  On the subject of unexpectedly savage injuries though (yes we were) have I ever told you about the time I was in a cubicle in A&E with a pulmonary embolism, and overheard someone in the next cubicle being diagnosed with a possible radial fracture of the eye socket after being hit in the face with a shuttlecock?  No?  Well I was and I did. The most comical bit about the whole episode was hearing the junior doctor telephone a more senior consultant to ask if he should do an x-ray or not (not for me, but for Shuttlecock man).  Although the senior physician on the other end of the phone was obviously more experienced and better medically qualified, they were clearly originally from overseas, and had English as a Second Language, mysteriously the vocabulary acquired for medical purposes had not expanded to encompass the word for ‘shuttlecock’.  Thus, the junior doctor was trying to explain what it was ‘sort of made of feathers‘, and how it had come to cause such a severe injury.  You could almost hear the consultant the other end deeply inhale and suggest in no uncertain terms that feathers probably wouldn’t cause an injury as serious as all that.  The junior doctor renewed his explanation giving increasing detail about what exactly a shuttlecock is ‘there’s a little tough ball in the middle of it as well…’  Disappointingly, I never did find out what happened next as annoyingly I started to go into cardiac arrest at that point, life is full of such unknown endings is it not…  Incidentally, don’t you think a shuttlecock would make a great template for a dalek? I tried to Google images for shuttlecocks made into daleks and didn’t find a single one.  I’m astonished, I may yet take up the challenge myself, some things are just begging to be brought to life.


I had very little sleep last night (excitement over being part of the Flying Feathers perhaps, or too much cheese too late – hard to be sure?)   Whatever the cause,  I was really, really drowsy when I had to get up.  I must have dropped back off to sleep again after hearing all about the terrorist attack in Indonesia just being reported, because I finally woke disorientated and late, radio still on, having slept through my actual alarm.  Attending to my toileting I got a great shot of adrenalin though.  I didn’t need Doctor Google to know I was dying, and wondered whether or not I’d be needing to use my sick note for the Smiletastic challenge in what for me is week one.   This would be a very bad start indeed.   (The rules stipulate that you can play one sick card during the 12 week series, which means your runs get credited for that week, after that, you are on your own).  It took a few seconds to realise it was just my impulsive new healthy eating regime making itself known.  Beetroot eh. I do love it, but it gets me every time.  Big relief, not least because I didn’t really fancy having to take a selfie of me and the contents of my toilet bowl alongside a copy of today’s paper and my synchronised watch to send to Geek Guru Smiley just to qualify for a  sick note.  I like think that my relief at this turn of events will be as nothing to hers.  I wonder what other treats she has been getting in her inbox since initiating this challenge?  Unintended consequences are always the worst.

Still, on the plus side, got me into active mode.  Just as well as really dark and dismal out, but today was to be a new challenge.  Today I was to take to the woods, and discover running in a new regime.  No idea what to expect.  It was absolutely bloody freezing.  Surely it was sub-zero?  I don’t have any means of gauging this, but if the state of my pert nipples protruding through my running top was anything to go by this was a seriously cold day.  I thought they might fall off, and I didn’t fancy having to go to A&E with those in a sandwich bag in hopeful anticipation of surgical reattachment either.  Wind chill, sleet, even though I headed off about 9.10 a.m. it was so dark outside it was like we’d entered an eternal night, had dawn really come?  I was heading off to the Woodlands Discovery Centre in Ecclesall Woods, for a running drill session put on by Accelerate.  It takes place every thursday at 9.30 a.m., cost £2 and is ‘suitable for all’. Hmm, well I’d find out.  It was so cold, there is no way on earth I’d have gone through with this were it not for my ‘conscientious but keen’ mode being fully operational.  Two-fold motivation to get there today, 1) Smiletastic, need to bag those runs, and 2) I’d rung up the shop yesterday about recycling my old running shoes.   I’d heard that they collect them up and recondition them to send to Africa or something, and I’d said I’d take them along to today’s run.

discovery centre winter

So driving down to the woods it was so murky outside I had my headlights on.  Sleet spat down on the windscreen, and the traffic was pretty heavy.  I saw one car with a good couple of inches of snow on its roof and bonnet, it must have come from a bit higher up.  It seems there is indeed ‘proper snow’ not too far away.  I arrived at the discovery centre which I’ve never  visited before.  It’s an impressive development.  I parked in the car park in what turned out to be at right angles to the intended parking places.  Oh well.  I hovered about self-consciously, but then a fellow Smiley spotted me and I her.  She is a regular at this Thursday session apparently, and pointed out the rendezvous point which is lovely and warm inside.  There were a fair few runners already there, most were taller than me and looked fitter.  I recognised many Smilies and a few from parkrun too, plus one person who I’d swear was a doppelgänger for a friends’ son from years ago but can’t have been, because that was when I was working in Anglesey.   There was one other complete newbie who’d been brought along by a friend.

I basically copied the others.  You sign in with an emergency contact number, always a challenge for me, I’ve really no idea who should be contacted in a scenario serious enough that I can’t communicate options for myself.  I just put in my default number which is for George Clooney’s UK agent.  Don’t know if it would actually work, but worth a try.   You then toss your two pound coins (or equivalent currency) into a tasteful wooden hand-crafted bowl put out for the purpose.  Cold and disorientated I nearly threw in my car keys as well, as it looked very similar to a turned rustic wooden bowl I have at home for just this purpose.  Fortunately, I didn’t follow through with this impulse, I don’t think a swinging party was quite the appropriate way to go.

I couldn’t quite fathom who was ‘in charge’ so to speak, as everyone looked more competent and confident than me.  I knew it was a guy leading the session though and that did narrow the options down quite considerably, of the 18 or so of us there, only three were men.  I chose the wrong one to approach, proferring my old trainers in a plastic bag (worth 5p alone), he was friendly, but pointed me at the run leader, who, understandably looked slightly horrified, like I’d just regurgitated some food up for him to eat or something.  I had cleaned them, more than I ever did for my own usage (discovered sports shoe cycle on my washing machine bizarrely) just I think the offering was unexpected.  He didn’t really want them before the run, and I stood a bit embarrassed, feeling this was just the first of many faux pas which I had still to make.  The first guy though rescued me.  Turns out he is a ranger who works at the discovery centre.  Escorting these weekly runs comes under the mysterious job description bullet point of ‘any other duties’ it seems.  He relieved me of my shoes and put them in his office for later collection.    As everyone had assembled by now, he also had to lock his office, which seemed to involve basically walling himself in with wooden panels.  Then he magically reappeared at another entrance.  It was like a magic trick.  Da na!


So, all assembled, next stop, ironically was go – i.e. physical activity.  Tomtom on, and off we went, through the woods, for a gentle 1.5 km or so jog.  It was quite companionable, although there was only one other newbie there, the other runners seemed friendly. One I struck up a conversation with commented on my trail shoes because she had the same pair at home and was running in her fell shoes today.  I glanced across and realised I’ve got the same fell ones as her too. Spooky.  It was nice running in a new location, the paths were pretty good, it was off-putting that it was quite so cold though.  There also seemed to be a ridiculous amount of large dogs about.  Alsations and huskies, I’m usually OK with dogs, but in these numbers they were a bit intimidating.  We had to cross the road at one point, and just where we emerged from the woods there was a group of small-ish children all in hi-viz.  Some were sitting in a small wooden cart which an adult was towing along, and the older ones were in a sort of fluorescent crocodile.  As we approached their accompanying adult said ‘ooh look a race!’ and urged the children to clap us enthusiastically as we scampered by, it was rather sweet, and also encouraging, you can’t really stop in such circumstances, whatever it takes to keep me moving..

ecclesall woods sign

So we ran on, until we reached the designated drill place.  Here we split into two group to undertake various running routines.  I was in the beginners group, the advanced group looked brutal.  We started in the same place, by a handy memorial bench bestrewn with flowers, but ran in opposite directions.  They had to do all their drills running up hill.  We had a flatter section.  I was a bit dubious about some of the drills to be honest.  I wasn’t entirely sure if they were to improve our running techniques or just for the merriment of our run leader.  I do know they were way harder to execute than they should have been.  Mutant bunny hops, reverse spotty dogs; high knees (done that before); fast feet; hopscotch (but without the stone throwing) all sorts really.  Interspersed with explanations and a few pointers on technique.  The run leader did offer up some particularly impressive demos of the drills.  When he did one of the legs-together jumping ones it was like watching a human pogo stick.  Quite amazing, how did he get up so high?  I have no such spring, and my body seems to cling to the earth no matter how much I try to project it upwards.  Still, good to know it’s hypothetically achievable, even if only by other people.

Technique was things like working your arms so that they are parallel with your body, rather than elbows sticking out to the side so you end up twisting and wasting energy… this I already knew, the extra bit of of bonus technique, was learning that if you feel crowded at the start of a run, then elbows out is the way to go.  Sharpened elbows twisting sideways can clear you a phenomenal amount of space it seems on a start line.  Runners will part like the  Red Sea for Moses so you can just run right through.  Worth knowing.  One eminent Smiley elder is especially gifted in this technique apparently,but I wont name her, she wasn’t there to defend herself in any case, so especially unfair to draw attention to this sportswomanship… though actually, I think she would most likely rightly own it as a badge of honour and a legitimate technique, and frankly if she is as good at doing it as they were saying, who would challenge her?

From the session I found that I can’t really balance on one leg; I can’t really run in a straight line; I can’t really get airborne in any jumping exercises; my toes hurt with on tip toe exercises and my calves hurt with the on heel ones.  I also found I winced more than a bit at being collectively referred to as ‘girls’ we really aren’t.  Other people don’t seem to mind the use of this word like I do, I just find it incredibly patronising and annoying, even when women use it referring to themselves.   It just seems to infantalize us, I’m fifty, I’m really not a ‘girl’.   I fully appreciate it is intended to be friendly, and many women find it perfectly acceptable, like it even, I really hate it though.  For me it actually spoils otherwise worthy campaigns such as ‘this girl can‘ I applaud the sentiment, but my how I hate that slogan, I’d never wear the T-shirt.  Rant over.  Temporarily.  It’ll annoy me again pretty soon I should imagine.

this girl can logo

 I also learnt that maybe it’s time to get some tena lights as my pelvic floor wasn’t really up to all that jumping around.  Apart from these minor details covering about 85% of the activities I was quite brilliant at everything.

ecclesall woods

It was nice being in the woods, apart from the cold and sleet, and I did enjoy watching others and you can learn from this too.  A favourite moment was glancing round and seeing the advanced group effectively in formation goose-stepping up a hill (only the legs though, not the arms).  It’s a good idea to take this kind of activity into a hidden woodland glade if you are planning to use it as a training device.  It was funny to observe, but definitely had the potential to be misconstrued.

So lots of running around, some standing around, a bit of chit chat, and then finally, session ended and so we had a final jog back to the start. This involved a pretty brutal up-hill run, but I took it steady, and although it was hard, Porter Valley has habituated me to the necessity of up hill running, I know in my heart of hearts I’ll only get better by doing more.

Suddenly we were back, and it was all over.  Our run leader mentioned a more specialised gait analysis session happening at the Sheffield shop on Saturday.  This does sound good, but clashes with parkrun and although no doubt good value at £20  I can get cake and run for free at parkrun.  I did ask if it was really suitable for all-comers though, as I’m never entirely sure whether to believe this.  The response confused me, ‘absolutely’ and then our run leader listed off all these very famous running champions who’d attended such sessions and perhaps missed my point.  I don’t want to know Jessica Ennis or whoever has been to these sessions, I want to know if people like me can turn up and not be laughed out of the place.  Hey ho.  I think the point being made was anyone can learn from such sessions whatever level they are currently at.  I still feel out of place though, even whilst I recognise the problem is in my head, not in how other more experienced runners are behaving towards me.  Sigh, it’s hard being me, all those neuroses to contend with, you have no idea…

So afterwards, I thanked the friendly run leaders and they asked if I’d be back.  I think I will.  It was definitely useful.  It was a bit of a shock to the system as although I’ve done drills before these specific ones were new, and I did feel a bit out of my comfort zone socially.  I suppose it’s a long time since I’ve done anything like that with an entirely new group of people.  The Smileys present today were super-smiley and friendly of course, but they were all from the awesome runners end of the continuum.  I think I need to process some of what we did, so that next time I can try a bit harder.  I still suffer from this sort of denial syndrome with regards to running.  I turn up to do these things, whether that’s a training session or a run out or an actual race/event, and yet I’m always a bit taken aback when we have to actually start to sprint off somewhere.  A bit inside of me is quietly horrified at such voluntary exertion.  It always catches me by surprise.  I must be very, very slow on the uptake, as well as slow on the run.

I’m not sure if the quote below is quite right, because I’ve never to run to try and beat anyone else, but I can relate to the competition with the inner voice.  I do know that now and again I get a little glimpse of what it’s like to really run and feel free.  When you catch yourself building up momentum whizzing down hill, when you are in some glorious countryside and have the world to yourself, or when with friends, putting the world to rights jogging along, literally and metaphorically with random thought processing and simultaneous broadcasting covering topics as diverse as international politics and where to get a decent sports bra.  Those times, and the joy of running on a travelator at an abandoned airport.  I get it then, what’s not to like?

just run

On a more positive note, for next time, I now also know there is a coffee shop on site, and a post-run coffee would be fab.  Pleasingly, even though the continuous running was quite limited, the total does exceed the minimum criteria for a Smiletastic run, coming in at around 2.8 miles I think.  How I love my TomTom, I’d never have known that before.  Now I just have to worry if this drill session will lead to my being deemed a ‘sandbagger’ as I still have parkrun and long Sunday run scheduled in.  The wrath of Smiley Guru Geek is something to be feared…

ecclesall woods 14 jan 2016

So thank you nice people at the Woodland Discovery Centre for hosting and welcoming, thank you nice Accelerate run leader for sharing your expertise, thank you nice uber-runner Smiley leader for being so positive and encouraging and thank you running companions all for being inclusive and non-judgemental as I tackled it all with wide-eyed apprehension rather than through revealing previously undiscovered latent running talent. As the saying goes – I’ll be back…

Categories: motivation, off road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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