Posts Tagged With: body image

Brooking at Bushy parkrun and seeing what comes out in the wash…

Digested read: test run for the Brooks Juno Sports bra at Bushy parkrun.  Hmm, some promise, but I’m reserving judgement until I’ve done a longer and more strenuous run. For now, good in parts.  Which is still significant progress in my world.  🙂

This is the bra I was wearing (not the actual bra, but a stock image of one)

brooks bra front

and this is the actual parkrun on the actual day I was running in it.  A view from the back of the early stages of the course.  I might even be in this photo, in fact I most definitely am… it’s just I’m not quite sure where.  I’ll be wearing a bright orange beanie hat and my purple running coat.  Good luck spotting me!  Nice though, isn’t it?  #loveparkrun #bushyparkrunisepic

MDH parkrun start

I’m taking my product review responsibilities extremely seriously. If Brooks ill-advisedly want feedback on their bra, than I’m up for it, and not just on any old run either.  This brasserie brassiere would have it’s debut outing at that iconic site of pilgrimage for parkrunners everywhere, Bushy parkrun.  Where it all began.  This is the narrative I’m going with anyway, even though it is stretching it a bit.  The truth is since collecting my sample bra I’d not really been able to face the workout of putting it on again, but fair dos, there’s no point in having it if I don’t give it a whirl, and given I was to be at Bushy parkrun this weekend anyway, why not.  One should never get the absolute truth get in the way of a good story.  Besides, I’m not sure there is any such thing as objective truth, though I do think the claim of ‘alternative facts’ in some quarters is cynical and tenuous at the very least.  Anyway, bottom line, or more accurately top line on this occasion is that my Brooks Bra was in situ at Bushy parkrun last Saturday.

It was pretty cool at Bushy parkrun, but that’s another (long) story, however, suffice to say it was brilliant winter sunshine, ice underfoot but the warmth of a mass descent by Tralee parkrunners on Tour was surely enough to warm the cockles of anyone’s heart.  As part of their migration to Bushy parkrun, they were going to greet my mum – celebrity honorary parkrun marshal of Elisabeth’s corner fame – and that point is significant later on, because it meant that I maybe didn’t test my bra to its full workout potential, don’t worry though, there’ll be other runs.

Anyway, you are distracting me. Where was I?  Oh yes, Saturday morning, and I eyed my Brooks bra with some suspicion.  It has considerable heft, and even looks like some sort of alien life form all of its own.  After the heave ho shenanigans whilst trying the darned thing on I was hoping I’d allowed enough time to wrestle my way into it and still make the start line in good time to greet my Irish friends.

In case you haven’t been concentrating, this is the Brooks Juno Sports Bra, it is available in different colours apparently, but I was given the one in black as a sample to try. Frankly though, I’m so desperate for a decent sports bra, if and when I find one that does the job, I don’t care what colour it comes in. It could have sequins and pom poms and a guard of honour of a hundred unicorns escorting me at all times whilst wearing it and I wouldn’t even notice, let alone query it, I’d be so transfixed by its supportive and cosseting properties.  To be fair, if I did notice, that would be quite a cool range of accessories though I don’t know if that’s in Brooks production plans just at the moment.  If I can’t have a hundred unicorns I’d settle for one, or maybe a pair of dragons. Either would be fine…  I suppose if it went for branding along the lines of ‘Make America Great Again’ that would be taking things a bit too far and I’d have to bow out at that stage,  but I’m going to stick my neck out here and say I don’t think that’s a planned initiative either.  Really hoping not.

This is how the Brooks Juno gets described on their website:

Juno £40 – £5040.00GBP
High Impact
For women who prefer a controlled fit, our best-selling racer back powerhouse has it all — it’s the ultimate in support and shape with a customizable fit

Now normally, I’d run a mile (ironically) from a racer back, because unless you have staff on hand to assist you daily I can’t imagine how anyone can get into them.  This bra has a cunning design though,  so that  although the racing back style is present, you still have a bra strap to do up to the correct tightness after you’ve got the darned thing over your head, so that requires considerably less contortion than the ‘usual’ racer back.  You pull it over your head, do up the underband and then finally lob the shoulder straps, which are loose, over your shoulders a few times until you’ve succesfully wrangled them, and then you just slip them through a hole at the front and can tighten them to the required tension.

The wrestling the bra over my head bit was way less stressful this time out.  Turns out, it’s a hell of a lot easier to achieve this physical feat when you have a whole room to thrash about it, as opposed to the rather restrictive confines of a bijou running shop changing room.  Basically, you just hoik the underband into position and then do up the catch as you would on a conventional bra.

 

 

So far, so good.

Of course that is only half the battle.  Then you have the straps flailing about.  It is a genuinely good idea that these are hanging loose, as it does make it a lot easier to get into the darned thing. However, a consequence of this design decision is you have to work out a way to propel the straps back over your shoulder to the front so you can slip them through the hole and fasten the little velcro strap to the appropriate tightness to give the security required, thus:

front strap

I suppose there is a knack to this too, albeit one I have yet to acquire, I basically let gravity do the work and leaned forwards until I had the straps dangling to my prow and then you can reach for them and loop them through.  It was easier than I remembered.  I’m not sure what my actual maximum heart rate was whilst dressing, as I had forgotten to set my Polar watch going, but you know what, I’m going to do that next time just to see, it can be incredibly stressful getting into a sports bra unaided, would be interesting to see if that does typically end up being the most strenuous part of any work out.  We’ll all have to wait and see.  Actually, getting off a sweaty sports bra is even harder, I know of at least one friend who confided in me that they had a brilliantly supportive bra that they’d ended up jettisoning, because after they ran in it they were trapped in it mid removal, helpless until someone (I can’t remember if it was a fellow runner, passer by, known family member or a paramedic) came and offered outside assistance to free them.  That ended up in the bin.  It just seems ridiculous that, for better or worse human kind has put people on the moon and into space, yet for many of us a functional sports bra seems to remain elusive.   …  This bra, does pass the putting it on unaided test, which is a good thing.  I don’t know if that design is unique to Brooks, but I hadn’t seen it before.

Just in case you are in any doubt. These photos are not of me.  It’s much more of a performance and test of character when I’m getting ensconced in my breast armour than these models seem to be experiencing.  I have always had the good foresight not to allow photographers to be present whilst I’m dressing, but strongly suspect my expression would be somewhat other than serene during my attiring manoeuvres.  That model does look extraordinarily pleased with herself for being able to successfully operate a velcro fastening though does she not?  I can’t make up my mind whether I find that annoying, and patronising because being able to dress yourself independently is quite a modest life goal and the picture suggests this woman is pleasantly surprised to find herself smart enough to operate velcro without outside help, or whether it reflects accurately the degree of challenge presented by most sports bra, so hence her relief and delight is not only palpable but proportionate in this instance. You’ll need to decide for yourself.

Once on, I remain somewhat undecided about what to make of the bra.  It feels erm, rather substantial.  It claims not to be padded, but rather ‘cushioned’ I don’t know what the difference is.  Because it doesn’t have differentiated breast cups in the way say my current shock absorber does (it describes itself as ‘unicup’ a bit of vocab that is new to me) it is comfy, but I didn’t feel all that supported.  Now this might be a question of what you are used to.  I’m used to feeling a bit more squished in.  My initial reaction to being less squished is that surely this bra would allow for too much movement for comfort.  Granted, bras that squish you in aren’t comfortable, but you do at least feel like nothing is going to shift.

crush your boobs

Actually, it can be positively uncomfortable in honesty, but less movement. The Brooks is much more comfortable than my current shock absorber, but I’m not sure I felt really held in place.  Maybe I’m not used to the style, maybe the cup size isn’t quite right for me. Hmm.

Anyway, off I trotted to Bushy parkrun with my perforated unicup design purporting to give me shape and modesty.  It definitely gives modesty, I felt like I had a futon strapped to my front, and it does give shape, just not necessarily a desirable one. However, I am at the point I don’t care too much any more about whether a bra is flattering or not – won’t lie, it would be great if it was  – but much more precious is whether it is functional for sporting use.

What I would say is that I very quickly forgot I was wearing it. If  I consciously thought about the bra, I did feel that it was still allowing a bit too much jiggling for my liking, but in truth whilst I was running, I wasn’t aware of any excessive movement at all and it is definitely a comfy bra, and I like the racing strap for security.  I was also a bit dubious about whether a velcro fitting would be strong enough to stay in place once I got going, but that didn’t move at all once fastened, and the velcro strip is long enough you have quite a bit of choice as to your preferred fitting.  Result.

In terms of my ‘run’ well, it was a bit of a special day at Bushy parkrun, because a huge contingent had come over from Tralee parkrun in Ireland and they had kindly brought some birthday cards for my mum in recognition of her recent ninetieth birthday, which they gave to her mid run. She is an honorary marshal/ parkrun celebrity who sits and cheers parkrunners at the 2.5 km point on the course.  Obviously, I stopped to say hello, and then got chatting with other parkrunners of all possible running clubs and parkrun event denominations as they too paused for selfies, birthday wishes whatever.  The upshot was I ended up pausing here, and only starting up again to finish off the route with the tail walkers, which was highly social and a lot of fun, but not really a proper test of my Brooks bra.

Nice selection of parkrun pics though:

 

 

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You can see why it took a while… paused there.

So basically, I only really ran 2.5 km and then just did a stop/ start walk /run to the finish.  I had a lovely time, which was fine and dandy, but got an all time pw (personal worst) and record breakingly high number finish token to boot!  Yes, I do indeed belong to parkrun. Isn’t that lovely!

DSCF7399

But it wasn’t a proper full on run test.  I did power walk about 7 miles in total, and the bra was comfy for that. It claims to have ‘breathable cups’ with (warning, another made-up word fast approaching) ‘drilayer fabric’ and ‘chafe-free bonded seams’.  Now, you need to put this in context of it being  a minus a squillion degrees out there, however I was wearing a lot of layers.  It didn’t chafe, and yeah, maybe I didn’t run all that much, but another professionally fitted underwired sports bra I tried onec had my boobs bleeding, literally, within 30 minutes of first wearing, so full marks for this one for not only not drawing blood, but also for leaving no permanent scaring and even being seemingly comfy.  Not a bad hat trick to pull.

Further more, this bra did indeed feel like it stayed pretty dry, so maybe the breathable unicup drilayer fabric thing has some merit despite its stupid pseudo scientific nomenclature –  and I basically forgot all about the trauma of trying out a new bra. So, my intermediate impression is that this is a bra that merits being worn again, and on a ‘proper run’ which is way further up the food chain than most bras I try get to venture.  It’s still in the running (see what I did there) as a potentially really good sports bra.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say I love it, yet, but I am open minded about it, and it could yet be a significant improvement on my Shock Absorber which I wear because it fits basically, but feels like the least worst of available options rather than an item I would evangelise about or actively like.  My plan is, to do a proper long run in the next couple of days and see if I can properly put it through it’s paces.  Before that though, there was another big test for this asset protector to pass.  The Wash Test.

One problem, I am no domestic goddess.

Now, I want to be really, really clear about some things.  Two things actually:

First, I’d never deliberately put an octopus through a wash cycle, not only because it would be a catastrophe for my smalls but also because octopuses are beautiful, intelligent and curious creatures, that can escape aquariums, use jets of water to short circuit light switches and open jars .  They have even been reported undertaking trekking holidays in Devon.  Though, for the record, I don’t believe they can forecast the result of international sporting fixtures. Well, they probably could, but why would they be interested in doing so?  Just too smart to take an interest I say.

 

 

Second: I have better things to do with my life than hand wash sports bras, yeah, yeah, I get that I’m supposed to but life is too short and used sports kit too potentially rank for me to faffing about with warm basins of gentle bubbles every time I need clean gear.  Anyone who claims religiously to do so, either has someone else to do this for them, or is lying.  All my clothing has to take it’s chances in the same wash cycle.  Even so, I concede I probably do need to refine my technique if this Brooks Bra and I are to have any conceivable future together.

So what happened is this:

Bra got chucked in with everything else on usual wash cycle, but then my wash emerged in one huge knot, not dissimilar to a rat king in fact, though with less animal matter and more polyester and spandex.

rat king

Basically, if you chuck this bra in your wash without a bit of prep then you realise too late, that basically it’s all tentacles that twist and clutch.  To be frank, I might as well have lobbed a couple of octopuses and a giant squid in with my leggings and sports tops for the Gordian knot of intertwined fabric that came out in one enormous clump at the end of the spin cycle.  Oops.  The problem is, you have not only those two loose straps each with velcro fastenings, which have enormous potential to appropriate any other items of clothing they share a washing machine drum with, but also the two loose ends of the hook clasp function as well.  What with that, and my running leggings, and my thermal tights, and my long sleeve thermal jumper and my long sleeve running top it was just one huge knot-tying party in there.  Terriffic,  NOT.  Or Terrific knot more accurately…  Very tempting to get the scissors out, or at least have a major tantrum.

This is an actual picture of my wash:

cutting the gordian knot

I was miffed with myself, although I was able to disentangle all garments eventually, it took an age.  Reluctantly, I have to concede that it would have made life a lot easier if I’d taken the precaution of re-securing the straps and doing up the back clasp before tossing it in the wash, I could even have put the boat out, and kept it separate in one of those net delicate wash baggy things.  Exasperatingly, I’m sure I’ve got one somewhere, no idea where though. Considering how expensive sports bras are, it would probably be a good investment for me to get a couple more.  Maybe, canny sports bra manufacturers would like to start giving these away as freebies to accompany a bra purchase instead of running buffs, which I’ve had as freebies over the years. I’ve got loads of running buffs now, and I do like them, but some bra wash bags would be fab.  Thank you for asking.  I’m not proud, I’d welcome a freebie! Send lots.john lewis brabantia wash bags

So I spent hours of my life I’ll never get back disentangling the contents of my wash,  so be warned.  I’ve sacrificed my time so you don’t have to.  The result was OK, but not as rewarding as rescuing squirrels from tail entanglement and super frustrating because it could have been avoided.

 

 

Afterwards, because I like to torment myself in this way, I did read the actual washing instructions. Now fair play to Brooks, they do concede that you don’t always hand wash your bras.  Hallelujah, some basic pragmatism, they suggest the following:

Care Instructions
Hand washing is ideal, but not always possible. Fasten all hooks and straps, place in a lingerie bag, and use the gentle or delicate cycle. Always line dry, and never use dryer sheets or fabric softeners—they can clog the fabric and shorten the life of the bra.

Whatever, hindsight.  Thanks.

Despite its ordeal by rat king and octopus tentacle, the actual bra seems to have emerged relatively unscathed.  I’m torn between feeling a bit guilty if I’ve trashed it through not observing the washing instructions correctly and thinking you know what, the reality for this sports bra is that’s how it’s going to be treated if it shares a life with me.  For my road testing to have any merit, I should replicate my honest care routine otherwise what’s the point.  Precisely dear reader.  None whatsoever.

The plan now is to let it air dry, and then I’ll don it again for a long and harder run as soon as I get a day when I don’t have to stay in for hours waiting for builders or painters or whatever it is.  It will be genuinely interesting to see what I make of it second time out.

So in conclusion?

I’m reserving judgement, I can put it on unaided, it’s comfy when worn and seems to have survived my less than idealised laundry routine.  It didn’t get me a PB at parkrun, but I suppose I might have to meet my bra half way and actually make an effort to try to run a bit faster through voluntarily moving my legs more quickly to make that a thing in my world again.  The bra hasn’t caused any chafing as yet and it shows promise.  On the less positive side, it seems very bulky, isn’t very flattering and I don’t quite feel supported. … then again the only times I ever do is if I run with one breast cupped in each hand, and I have resorted to that technique on occasion.   I am not alone in this.  FACT.

running bust

Maybe if I could have some sort of genetic modification to enable me to  sprout a couple of extra arms purely for boob holding purposes whilst running – detachable ones would be even better – then that would be fine and dandy and problem solved.  Alternatively, it may be I need to tweak my cup size, though I don’t think so, the fit is good.  Maybe it’s a question of racheting up the tightness on the shoulder straps instead.  Upshot, I’ll stick with it for now and keep it all under review.  Watch this space, or not, it’s up to you.

Also this, can’t resist:

The ladies’ bras – not yet something to sing about, but one day… meantime, who can forget this mesmerising top of the pops number?

 

That’s right.  Everyone, but not any more, it’ll stay with you for days now!

You’re welcome.

I wonder if they could do a follow up on sports bras specifically, if I do get one that truly works, I’ll definitely be up for singing about it!

‘Til next time, hold onto your assets and run, run I say!  And don’t forget to report back with your experiences.  This woman’s bra seems pretty solidly in place, but I can’t help thinking she should maybe look where she’s going a bit more.  Then again, maybe she’s running away from someone playing a medley version of The Ladies’ Bras on a mouth organ or accompanied by ukuleles or something, and you’d need to keep your wits about you and your eyes on your pursuer to stay safe in those circumstances.  This is why we should support one another, and respect each others running choices, you never really know someone’s circumstances do you. So don’t judge, just run!

Run-E-Cop-HoldingShot-920x613

For all my comments on Brooks Bras see here – scroll down for older entries

For all my parkrun related posts click here.  Or don’t. It’s up to you. You’ll need to scroll down for older entries though.

Categories: parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My I’ve been wanting to get that off my chest – the quest for a perfect sports bra

Digested read:  I’m trying out a new sports bra, a Brooks Juno to be specific, and provided as a freebie conditional on me giving feedback to them about what I make of it.  Oh don’t  fret, I will.  We only got introduced today, so it’s early days, but I will run out in hope (literally potentially, Hope isn’t that far away) and report back in due course

Undigested read: this is how it all began

I’m hardly a digital influencer, but then again, if that means I can duck the pressure and desperation that might otherwise compel me to have Harry Styles tattoed on my face that can be only a good thing.  I mean really, how desperate would you have to be?  It really is taking attention seeking to a whole new level.

kelsey harry face tattoo

So, enough about her, anyway disappointingly, she didn’t even do it, it was all just a publicity stunt – fake news, such a shame it would have been way more fun if she’d been permanently disfigured, oh well.  Anyway, let’s get’s back to all about me.  Today has been quite exciting, for lots of reasons.  Specifically:

  1. Anticipation of snow (I’ve got mixed feelings about that one to be honest, but it’s still exciting).  Mainly so far this has  taken the form of it being unbearably bitterly cold and exceedingly wet sleet under foot
  2. I am now in possession of a new polar watch which is cleverer than me, but could be a boon to my future training sessions
  3. I am officially a sponsored athlete! (sort of) – despite not being an actual digital influencer, so it just shows dear reader, that miracles can happen (but not the one about the perfect bra)

The watch thing has been brewing since last summer.  My dearly beloved TomTom just doesn’t have the battery life I need now I’m looking at longer distances.  I mean in fairness, it probably would for most people, but I’m so slow it just bales on me.  I find this quite traumatic. I’ve loved my TomTom, we’ve shared all my running milestones and adventures from early parkruns (didn’t have a watch when I very first started) to the London Marathon, and the first third of my first (and to date only) ultra.    It feels like an act of betrayal to be retiring it.  Still, it had to happen, and today was the day.  I’ve gone for a Polar Vantage purely on the battery life (30 hours), it has way more functionality than I really need, but so far dear reader, I can report that it’s a hit!  I’ve only worn it for one walk back from the running shop and I’m already alarmingly entranced by graphs about my heart rate, and somewhat miffed by it’s slightly dismissive summary of my efforts.

This watch will leave me nowhere to hide.  When I first had a go with the settings in the shop it queried whether I really wanted to record this (by implication) pitiful level of activity with the incredulous phrasing of  ‘save this short training’ ?  You can feel its contempt.  My TomTom wasn’t passive aggressive in this way, then again, it never talked to me at all.   The Polar is also lamenting the fact that I’ve not done enough today for it to really draw any conclusions about anything.  ‘not enough data to show status’ it says.  I think me and my Polar will have a more purposeful relationship, and it will probably hold me accountable which is good for training purposes, but I feel in casting aside my TomTom I’ve lost a bit of my joyful running innocence too.  My TomTom was my unfailingly supportive, shared fun times, running buddy whereas I think my Polar Vantage is more of a critical friend.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it all feels a bit more serious.  We shall see.  Exciting though…  Still, further commentary on this is for another time.

Onto item three.  Yes, that’s right!  I am officially a sponsored athlete.  Well, sort of. I’ve got a free bra to review, but you have to start somewhere.  A sports bra, specifically a Brooks Juno Sports Bra.  I got an invite to go down to my local running shop and pick one up, conditional on me giving some feedback about it…  Ha ha.   I feel a bit sorry for the Brooks rep, he has (as yet) no idea how opinionated I can be on the subject of sports bras, and how comprehensive my feedback on the topic will therefore be.   There is just sooooooooooooooooooooooo very much I want to get off my chest about bras in general and sports bras in particular.  Bring.  It.  On!  After all, it would surely constitute  contributory negligence on his part if he feels overwhelmed by it, just shows, you should be careful what you wish for and even more cautious in stating that desire out loud.

So the email came, and I’m not going to lie, my first reaction was to think ‘yay, a freebie’ and then my second reaction was to feel highly dubious there’d be anything at all I’d be able to test drive.  I went to a Brooks Bra fitting once before, a couple of years ago and at a different shop.  Despite me having said in advance that I required a larger than average cup size when I went there was absolutely nothing to accommodate me, with the biggest size available being a D cup.  A D cup FFS!  Whilst there are many svelte runners out there, there are a fair few of us with more ample assets in dire need of brassieres that will banish the bounce.  It was not only humiliating but made me increasingly angry.  I felt like a freak of nature.   And was in tears by the time I got home, of frustration more than anything else.  There was a whole presentation about how essential it was that women have proper support when exercising which I found incredibly patronising, I KNOW, this is why I am forever on the quest for a perfect bra, one that supports, doesn’t chafe and isn’t too horribly sweaty.  I’ve given up on flattering, that’s never going to happen.  Also, one that I can put on unaided.  Many sports bras seem to assume you have a team of staff on hand to dress you of a morning, FYI, astonishing as it may seem, I don’t.  So, top tip for all bra manufacturers, it isn’t giving a lecture on the importance of wearing a decent bra that will sell your product to me, it’s providing a bra that actually fits.   Why is that so hard for many bra manufacturers to grasp?  Whilst I was partially pacified by a complementary prosecco and a discount on some road shoes, I was still spitting tacks.  The average woman’s cup size in the UK is often cited as a D or double D – and if that’s the average it surely follows some will be bigger as well as some smaller.  It just seems such a cop out for sports bra manufacturers to claim they have amazing sports bras when they can only accommodate cup sizes A – C  that doesn’t seem to me to be such an engineering challenge, yet judging from the conversations I have with my female friends, a decent bra eludes us all…

sports bra problems

I feel sports bra manufacturers are decades behind what they could be offering, Bravissimo was a game changer for me and many other women I think …  what sports companies might learn from their approach.

Inspiring big boobed women to feel amazing!
Since Bravissimo was founded in 1995, our mission has remained the same: to inspire women with big boobs to feel amazing, to celebrate our figures and to offer a wide choice of beautiful styles to uplift big boobed women in every way!

Not sure that Bravissimo products actually made me feel amazing, but they did at least stop me from feeling like a freak of nature, as when they came on the scene it was the first time I’d ever had a bra that actually fitted.   I spent an absolute fortune with them the first time I visited their shop and binned every other bra I owned.  Bravissimo was a significant step in the right direction.

Every silver lining has a cloud though.  Confidence was quickly overtaken by public humiliation as is so often the way…. I was so keen on Bravissimo as a company, that I used the women who set it up and their business success as a ‘real life’ example for a lecture I was delivering on entrepreneurship to a group of about 300 undergraduate engineering students.  My logic was that it would be could to have some women to use as role models alongside the usual cliches of successful entrepreneurs like – at that time – Richard Branson and James Dyson.  Plus, I was working at Coventry University at the time, and Bravissimo started in Leamington Spa, just round the corner.  Local too.  Brilliant. What could possibly go wrong?  On reflection, uttering the phrase ‘their, genius, was in identifying and exploiting a gap in the market to cater for bigger breasted women such as myself‘ to this audience that was comprised of about 98% male youths was possibly not my wisest hour.   Still, that’s how you learn isn’t it.  Also, alas, doesn’t even close to my most embarrassing moment, not by a country mile, but those stories are for another time.

After all, even this svelte marathon runner said running for 19 miles carrying a puppy with her made running  feel twice as hard.   You missed that story?  Where have you been?  Basically:

Runner Khemjira Klongsanun was seven miles into the Chombueng marathon in Ratchaburi, Western Thailand, when she saw runners dodging a puppy. Stopping at the side of the road, Klongsanun attempted to coax the trembling puppy over to her.

With no houses nearby, Klongsanun concluded that the pup must have been abandoned. Rather than leaving it behind, she carried it for the next 19-miles, crossing the finish line with the pup in her arms.

and she added – wisely

“Running almost 20 miles carrying dog was truly a challenge. It was two times tiring than a normal marathon but I did it anyway just because he is adorable.

I’m sure it was a challenge, easily two times harder than a normal marathon. So imagine what it’s like carrying my two puppies with me on my long runs?  And they aren’t anything like as adorable as an abandoned actual puppy, so yep, it can be a problem.  Also, look at the state of the poor pup after being bounced around for 19 + miles.  No wonder many women get put off running by lack of suitable boob support.  Hence my fantasy about one day having my own bespoke sports bra that meets all my criteria, and which saves the work out for the run rather than elevating the heart rate to an alarming degree just trying to get the damned thing on!

Hmmm, I’m still not sure I ever have, but I’ll keep an open mind.

Anyway, this is why I was very keen to try out a sports bra freebie, even if I wasn’t massively confident it would be up to the task in hand.  You have to try these things.

So, went down to Front Runner.  And was greeted by the enthusiastic Brooks Bra rep.  He actually does bras and shoes, but this was a bra day.  The bra in question was the Brooks Juno, which apparently retails from £40 – £50.  It is apparently High Impact and ‘For women who prefer a controlled fit, our best-selling racerback powerhouse has it all — it’s the ultimate in support and shape with a customizable fit.’  Well, we shall see.

brooks bra front

So first things first, the rep tried to talk me through a set piece on why it’s so important for women to have a correctly fitting sports bra.  I must admit I was a bit impatient about this.  See above. I know exactly what the issues are, I am on a perpetual quest for the elusive holy grail of a well fitted sports bra.  However, credit where credit is due, after I’d rolled my eyes at this, the speech was truncated and we cut to the chase.

Now, I’m just going to be honest about this, because it is only fair to be so. The rep was very good, clearly knew his product and is sufficiently experienced to be apparently devoid of embarrassment whilst discussing cup sizes, bra fitting and the relative merits of the various options on offer.  However, I’m not sure I was entirely comfortable having a man doing the fitting.  I think it’s just that bras are an emotive issue, and I think that there is something about the lived experience of running in an ill-fitting bra, the shame of not being able to wrestle in to one, the body shaming that seems to go hand in hand with the impractical, seemingly misogynistic, styles presented so often that are literally, not just figuratively impossible to get into on your own, that I just don’t know if it is possible to empathise with if you haven’t been through it.  I did ask him if he’d ever actually tried to put on a bra.  Well he had, but only over a T-shirt and frankly, whilst I fully accept moobs are a thing he wasn’t in possession of them, barely an A cup.  Now I’m quite shallow, and also quite desperate for a bra, so I got over my concerns pretty fast as a necessary hurdle to obtain the test vehicle on offer, but there’s no doubting it could be a barrier for many.  It may be though, it isn’t even necessarily a gender thing.  I’m mindful that this experience was way more positive than my last Brooks Bra Fitting disaster which was with an extremely petite, androgynously shaped  and youthful woman, who (I’m sure unintentionally) made me feel like an entirely different life form to her.  I said I was worried about them not having my size, and she assured me they were a very responsive company catering for all sizes ‘up to a D cup even!’ and then looked horror struck and aghast when I pointed out what I’d have thought was self evident to a bra fitter worth their mustard,  that I’m often busting out of a F if it’s a mean cup fitting.  She looked embarrassed on my behalf and then frankly disgusted. It was a horrible experience.  I would credit the fitter on this occasion with being less judgmental, more sympathetic and honestly very sincere and helpful.  but I don’t think either of the fitters I’ve encountered could speak from personal experience.  Back to Bravissimo, all of their fitters are candidates for the products they sell, that inspired not only confidence, but grateful relief. Finally a fitter that understands me!  There is such a gap in the sports manufacturing market for women with any kind of curves let alone an actual rack up front.

The next challenge was being given a tape measure and heading off to the little telephone box sized changing room to measure my ‘rib cage’ (are there ribs under there somewhere?) and then the widest part of my chest.  You can measure over your current bra he said, but I’m not convinced as if that isn’t a decent fit you’ll just replicate that error surely?  In any event,  I was wearing a sports bra anyway (my current one is a rather worn out Shock Absorber) so the suggestion was to measure without anything on up top.  This is not in and of itself a challenging task, but my those changing rooms are hard to manoeuvre around in. There is a large square pouffe thing which takes up most of the floor space, and then a free hanging full length mirror I ended up squashed up against, and I seemed to keep crashing into it as I tried to get the blooming tape measure round, and I hadn’t got my glasses with me and my it was hard to read those numbers off the tape without them.  Maybe if they are going to have male sales reps, which is fair enough, and I don’t dispute they know their products, but perhaps encourage women coming for one of their mass bra fitting evenings to buddy up so they can help measure each other.  Have the prosecco first too maybe!

phone box

Interestingly, the size he came up with for me based on my measurements,  was the same as that for the Shock Absorber model I came wearing.  One was found for me in black (all the samples were black, but there do seem to be a wide range of pretty cool colours on the website which was a pleasant surprise, though I doubt the average running shop would be able to carry such a wide range.)  I liked the purple, which I was told is actually midnight blue or something.  Errant nonsense on their part obviously, but don’t worry the important thing is the colour was fab.

My first impression of the bra  though, as it was handed to me, was its heft. Although described as ‘unpadded’ – I later read they call it ‘cushioned’ it was extraordinarily thickened fabric, almost like slapping a memory foam mattress on your chest.  I’m not sure what to make of this.  I’m quite self-conscious about my bust size as it is, and this bra initially felt like I was nailing a figurehead to the front of ship with an already substantial bow!   A whole new category of buxomness was in danger of being sported here.  I mean, I know it needs to be pretty substantial to offer support, but this is fairly unforgiving in form.  Still, if it works, I’ve always known a flattering bra is a hope too far.  Maybe I need to channel my inner figurehead, these women are not apologetic about their physiques, though at least one of them is looking pretty pissed off, and clearly having similarly failed to find any suitable corselette is going commando. Good for her, why shouldn’t she, why shouldn’t we indeed, desperate times call for desperate measures..

Anyway, I was duly dispatched back to the changing room to try it on.  Oh my gawd. It has quite novel fittings, which in theory should make it easier to get on, but it was unfamiliar.  This was like doing a personal challenge on the krypton factor.  The challenge required a cool head, stamina and intelligence as well as physical agility.

This bra has a racing back, but with a twist.  The band that goes under your boobs actually includes an eye and hook fastening  on that bra strap as well, meaning it can be put on without being at maximum tightness which is very good news.  Also, the shoulder straps are unattached to the front, so you can therefore hoik the bra over your head before tightening everything up once your breasts are in situ.  Blimey, what a performance.  I’m surprised they didn’t send a rescue party in to see what had happened to me.  Bet they were thinking about it, but just probably panicking about the etiquette of who to send in first.  The problem was the dimensions of the changing room. You need quite a bit of flailing around space to get into a sports bra, and this changing room was most definitely not bigger on the inside. How superman manages to twirl round in a phone box and emerge in his cape and all I can’t imagine.  I mean it probably helps that he has super powers, but I bet he wouldn’t be able to do that if he had to include donning a sports bra as part of his wardrobe.

1940s-PhoneBooth

There was much cursing under my breath, breaking out into hot and cold sweats and crashing into the mirror going on.  Another top tip for shops selling sports bras, is have a changing room big enough for women to contort themselves into the required shapes that pulling on a sports bra necessitates.  For this one, once you have it over your head and done up (relatively OK because of the design, which yes, is innovative) the next step is to some how hurl the straps that are now dangling down your back, so they hook back over your shoulders.  Eventually I worked out the way to do this is to lean forward and reach up and grab the straps from over your shoulders and then pull them over and hook through where they fasten with velcro.  I liked the velcro fastening option by the way, it feels like it will stay put, which was surprising, and allows you to alter the strap length with ease.  I didn’t look anything like as serene as this model whilst dressing.  I was all blotchy skin, fine film of sweat, bedraggled hair and blood shot eyes by the time I was safely in.  I emerged from the changing room looking like I’d done ten rounds with a mountain lion, only with me the mountain lion won.  Good really though, got to be sad about the demise of an endangered species whatever the provocation.

_105492823_gettyimages-1061398502 mountain lion

Oh well.  Practice makes perfect possibly … perhaps …

The bra definitely has some interesting features, but I’m not yet sure the extent to which they will deliver on promises, plus it is still a ridiculous performance to get it on unaided first time of trying.  It’s no wonder so many women are put off from ever starting running.  It’s a complete fantasy that you just cheerily pull on your shoes and off you go, all carefree and at one with the world…

Once on, first impressions were, that the under strap was a good fit and overall it felt comfy.  I wasn’t sure about the level of support though.  It has a unicup rather than a separate cup for each breast, and I felt this leaves more potential for movement.  I’m used to feeling more held in place.  On the other hand, there is less extra fabric strips as in the Shock Absorber so it feels smoother against the skin. I queried the fit, but the rep said that these bras might just feel different as they are supposed to support you without squishing you, so maybe it is a question of getting used to it.  I did try a smaller cup size, which I consider was pretty tenacious of me, as getting the darned things on and off it is a mighty deterrent to trying all over again. This is why I could never do triathlon, all that faffing around and changing of gear.  Oh, yes and I’ve remembered the other reason I can’t do triathlon, I can barely swim and I have none of the required fitness, and also it has zero appeal, but other than that, it’s the faffing around with changing that puts me off.

To those who have not been through this process, it might sound improbable, but by the time I’d got the smaller cup size on and off, and back to the original again I had no idea which was the better fit. The smaller cup size was too restrictive, but the larger one has so much fabric to it.  In the end, as it’s a trial, I went with the size that is the same as my existing bra, and I’ll see how it goes.  Fair play to the Brooks rep he was very patient and did seem to understand the issues, but the real test comes when I’m out and running does it not…

First impressions then. Well, some interesting features, it was still a struggle to get into but it was doable, whereas I’ve tried other sports bras that I could hardly get over my head.  The fabric feels soft and I like that you can adjust the straps with ease.  I do find the absolute bulk of it off putting, and weirdly because it’s comfy on, it makes me doubt whether it will provide sufficient support. I think it’s fair to say it isn’t love at first sight, but then again, I’d be the first to admit that I’m so jaded by my forty plus years of trying to get a bra that fits I’m highly doubtful anything will do the job however supposedly ‘new’ or ‘innovative’.  Having said that, I am quite looking forward to trying it out on an actual run, I want to be proved wrong on this.

Calvin-and-Hobbes-Running

The good news is that the request for feedback appears genuine, and I really do welcome that.  I wonder if some sports companies are guilty of getting feedback in an echo chamber, if they only provide bras for smaller cup sizes then of course there will be no demand for larger ones, because they don’t sell them.  And I think those of us with more generous proportions are of course going to have different requirements to others.  So we’ll see.

Here’s to new bounce-free bounding across the [parkrun trails and my beautiful backyard peaks.

out on the trails

What do you reckon dear reader?  Worth a punt?  Will I end up casting off all my existing bras in favour of this new offer?

Honestly, right now I have no idea.  No idea at all.

Oh, by the way, quick plug for ‘Smalls for All‘ if you dear reader are also sorting your bras and ditching the ones you know you should never have bought in the first place, and jettisoning all that don’t fit in favour of a newly discovered comfy and practical option then why not consider gifting any that are ‘lightly worn’ to have a new life with the beneficiaries of Smalls for all.

Would be great if Sports Bra manufacturers could organise bra amnesties and collect clean lightly worn bras from their customers who are persuaded to move over to their particular products and ditch their own kits….

smalls for all

Smalls for All is a Scottish Charity which collects and distributes underwear to help women and children in Africa. We help those living in orphanages, slums, IDP camps and schools, as well as providing underwear to hospitals to help those suffering from medical conditions like obstetric fistula.

If you’d like to donate underwear, here’s the brief – All you have to do is buy a packet of ladies’ or children’s pants and send them to us. They must be new and while we collect all sizes, those we need the most are for children aged 3-15 or ladies size 8-14. And while we collect all colours, the ladies’ pants in greatest demand are black – in full brief, midi, mini or high leg (in the smaller sizes).

We also accept new or ‘gently worn’ bras which can be any size, including sports and nursing bras, but not teen, cropped-top style or bikini tops. (By ‘gently worn’ we mean bras that are in good condition and still have good wear left in them.)

Please send your smalls to:

Smalls for All
108 Buchanan Crescent
Eliburn, Livingston, EH54 7EF
United Kingdom

Please enclose your email address so that we can acknowledge safe receipt of your donation.

Or you can order online

We’ve set up an Amazon wish list for new pants, so you can order online and have them delivered directly to Smalls for All if that’s easier. Go to our Amazon wish list.

Just a thought.

So there we go. Glad to have got all that off my chest so to speak.  I did warn them I could be very opinionated and candid on this topic, I expect the nice people at Brooks will be completely thrilled!

feedback

Be careful what you ask for…

For all my comments on Brooks Bras see here – scroll down for older entries

 

 

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

Ta Da! Dig Deep Derring-Do: Dibber Dibbed, DD Dash Definitely Done!

Digested read:  been there, done that, got the Dig Deep 30 T-shirt and bling.  First ever ultra done.

dig deep 30 bling

Unabridged version:

Yes, well, I know I go on and on and on, but if you want to do an ultra, you’ve got to start building your endurance somehow, and it is all about mental strength.  Test yourself right here right now.  Or just watch Murder She Wrote, whatever, it’s up to you.

What happened there?  It’s so surreal.  I think they only give you the bling so afterwards you can feel its imprint on your forehead where you’ve slept on it by accident overnight  and know that really happened.  Like in Mr Benn, where he always got to keep some souvenir or other from whatever adventure he got up to in the fancy dress shop.  For those of you that are too young to remember, this was a TV series from my childhood, in the age before the internet, and when we had to watch a test card with a scary clown on it waiting for tv to start.  We also had to wait for the TV to warm up, an early foretaste of the subsequent frustration of watching the buffer symbol spiralling on a computer screen.   It was another age, sigh, you don’t want to get me started on slide rules.  Yes they were an actual thing.

test-card_1951702c

Where was I, oh yes, Mr Benn.  In it, our worthy protagonist, who presumably is wearing a suit and leaving the house each morning because he’s still pretending to hold down a job many months after being made redundant.  To fill his time, he has to do something.  Hence, Mr Benn, a man wearing a black suit and bowler hat, leaves his house at 52 Festive Road and visits a fancy-dress costume shop where he is invited by the moustachioed, fez-wearing shopkeeper to try on a particular outfit. He leaves the shop through a magic door at the back of the changing room and enters a world appropriate to his costume, where he has an adventure (which usually contains a moral) before the shopkeeper reappears to lead him back to the changing room, and the story comes to an end. Mr Benn returns to his normal life, but is left with a small souvenir of his magical adventure‘ without it he just wouldn’t be able to believe what he’d just experienced had really happened.

If you still don’t know what I mean, then you’ll have to get down to Frontrunner in Sheffield.  They’ve just remodelled their shop based on Mr Benn.  You choose your running shoes and kit, go and put them on in the changing room and when you emerge you find yourself on the actual terrain or at the actual event most suited to whatever tread of shoes you’ve gone for.  Choose carefully, the reality of finding yourself at the marathon des sables might be more than you bargained for, but worth a punt to save on race day entries and the faff and getting yourself there all the same.

Anyway, why are you banging on about running shops and Mr Benn?  You are distracting me.  I need to tell you all about my adventures doing the Dig Deep 30/intro ultra/ Peak Trails 30 or whatever they are calling it now.  In case you’ve not been concentrating, this was my first ever attempt at an ultra. Only just an ultra I know, at 30 miles, but with a lot of what we like to refer to affectionately as ‘undulation’.  The blah de blah on the website says:

The Dig Deep Peak Trails 30 (formerly known as the ‘intro ultra’) covers some of the most beautiful scenery in the UK. At around 30 miles the route takes in some of the finest trails in the Peak District. The route has roughly 1388 metres of ascent and whilst there are no monster climbs the continued hilly nature of the course earmarks this race as a tough one to complete. However, the distance falls just within the ULTRA category – so if you are after your first ULTRA scalp – this could be the one!

These words, and the generous cut off times (you have the same length of time to get around as the 60 milers, because the last 15 miles of the route are the same), plus the inspirational Smiley trio who ran it last year, inspired me to sign up. After all, what’s the worst…

To be honest, I just need to get it off my chest as a way of processing it, so, if you feel your eyes glazing over or are just generally bored, tired and in no way interested I won’t notice you aren’t engaged so feel free to do your own thing. In fact, I’d really recommend it, other people’s run reports can be particularly tedious if they go overboard in detail even if you are holding out to find out whether or not they successfully evaded illicit-substance testing at the end.  I won’t be offended, you won’t be bored, everyone’s a winner. Job done.

So where was I?  Oh yes, had my traditional pre-event angst during the taper so by the time it got to the day before when I had to go and register I was relieved more than anything.  Like getting to exam day, you can’t do any more, so no point in continuing to fret, you just have to get on with it or die trying. I knew I hadn’t done enough in the way of preparation through initial naivety mainly, underestimating the challenge, no idea about kit, bit directionless in training – I put the hours in for sure, but probably could have trained smarter with the benefit of hindsight – upshot,  I’d be winging it to a large extent.  Though whether or not you can actually ‘wing it’ over that distance was still to be determined.  Hence, I decided to step back a bit, treat it as a learning curve and just try to stay positive and cover the distance.  Incidentally, I’ve just googled ‘wing it, ultra’ to try to find a suitable image to break up this endless text, and got bodyform pantliners!  How pleasing, also, potentially apt, depending on the extent to which the whole endeavour triggers stress incontinence.  Gotta love Google*, full of surprises.

bodyform-ultra-towels-normal-wings

I’ve read somewhere that one way to deal with event angst is to have different layered goals.  The idea being, you can include an idealised aspiration/ best case scenario of course, but think of other secondary goals, that might be more achievable and would still be worth turning out for, so it doesn’t feel like you’ve totally bombed if you don’t hit the gold standard objective.  For some, the gold standard might be to win, or to complete within a certain time scale, or possibly to get a flattering photo of themselves en route.  Personally, I didn’t incorporated any ‘flattering photo’ objectives in my goal setting, as goals are supposed to be SMART, and that means ‘achievable’ amongst other things (Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic/ relevant, time bound).  No point in going for goals like winning or being photogenic in my case therefore.  Didn’t want to set myself up for failure.

NEW_SMART-graphic

Instead, in my case, my gold standard, number one objective was to finish without crying.  Failing that, my number two, silver standard, lesser goal was to finish with crying and my worst case scenario was to at least start out, learn what I could and come back better prepared next year even if this time round it was destined to be a DNF (did not finish).  That bronze standard would allow for full on sobbing with snot and everything and still be an acceptable outcome – a positive result even, since it was there on my unwritten staged goals in advance.  Good to know.  I wasn’t even going to think about times for this year, to just finish safely would be good.  Daylight would be a bonus.

On the Friday I headed out to pick up my number the day before race day. After a long hot, too dry summer, there’d been torrential rain.  I was so glad we weren’t out in that, although I wasn’t sure if it might make the surface slippery. Oh well, nothing to be done now other than get on with it.  I jumped over the puddle on the way to register and got my T-shirt and number OK.  I was delighted with my 202!  It has a pleasing symmetry, it is also a palindrome, and who doesn’t like one of them?  Also, it’s a bit like S.0.S, in my world anyway, and this also pleased me.  ’twas a good omen! Granted 505 would have been better – it was the height of secret messaging to put the number 0.7734 into my Casio College fx-80 scientific calculator (which I still have and use by the way), turn it upside down and pass it to a school friend.  The 202 reminded me of that.  Putting 58008 in the calculator was considered incredibly risqué – I was so anarchic back in the day!  My, we knew how to make our own entertainment.  You may scoff, but bet you go try it again yourself in a bit, just for old times sake….  and you thought no-one would ever know, but in fact I can see right into your soul!  I’m looking at you now, through your screen.  Did you know you have spinach caught between your front teeth?

Not overly convinced by the violet and orange shirt colour combo, but at least it’s distinctive.  I was also a bit overwhelmed by the responsibility of having to keep my dibber safe overnight.  That’s probably why I couldn’t really sleep much the night before.  No worries, insomnia enabled me to pack and repack my running vest a great many times, which I’m sure is a pretty much universal pre-event tradition for many runners.

It was hard for me to know what to include.  There was a kit list, and although the organisers said they’d relax it a bit because the forecast was really good (for the Saturday, Sunday was another matter) I felt as I knew I’d be slow out there I should be sensible and not cut any corners.  There was also the option of having drop bags delivered to two of the marshal points on the course, but again, this didn’t really help me as I haven’t got enough experience to know what I’d want when.  Plus I realised at the last-minute I needed to include a cup for the water stations (they are cutting back on plastic, by not providing single use cups at the water stations –  which I approve of, but this did create a need to carry something to use instead).  I didn’t have a proper collapsible one so ended up basically putting in one of those reusable coffee ones.  Not very minimalist, though it is very tasteful and robust.  Matches the event shirt even.  I may try to get round to taking a photo of it to show you if I can be bothered.  It’s a fine cup, just most definitely not designed with ultra-running (get me) in mind. Hang on – here you go:

DSCF4562

I ended up with:

Kit List (mandatory requirements)
Full body cover (windproof/waterproof)
Compass and full route map
Spare water and food
Whistle
Mobile phone

plus:

first aid kit including compeed and Vaseline
spare socks
foil blanket
toilet paper
reusable coffee mug
camera
sunglasses
peaked cap
stuff for the rock shop (more about this later)
prescription glasses
head torch
couple of breeze blocks as ballast, to stop me falling over

Oh, and extra cash in case I bail and have to get a taxi home, and extra map because the official one is too small to be any help at all.

I would have added in the kitchen sink if I could have managed to wrench it off the wall, but it was too well plumbed in.  In the morning I was hoping to include some sandwiches, but there was no room for my Tupperware set by the time I’d squished in everything else.  It was heavier than I expected when I lifted it, but hey ho, I’d least I’d covered all eventualities even if I knew blister wise, the compeed and Vaseline rather cancel each other out as you can’t get a compeed to stick on a thoroughly greased foot.  oh well, maybe I’d find another runner who needed them…  If you are thinking my packing was excessive, well at least I didn’t add in a fibreglass statue of Jesus Christ to erect at the top of Win Hill.   Some endurance runners apparently recently did exactly just that in Wales somewhere.  Even I have some limits.

I set my alarm for 5.30 I think, but was awake all  night anyway as far as I could tell.  Thanks to the Smiley buddy who reminded me via Facebook messenger that a sleepless night was probably inevitable and it would still be ok. 🙂   It was a cool morning, which was fab.  Heat is my enemy at the best of times, and I didn’t want a repeat of the London Marathon saga which was an exercise in being slowly scorched alive – from above by the sun and from below as heat came back up at you from the melting tarmac.  However, this seeming boon,  created more angst in my ‘what should I wear?’  decision making processes.  It can get surprisingly cool up the tops, and if I wasn’t sure how my body’s temperature control would be as I got more and more tired, maybe a long-sleeved top would give me more protection?  In the end pragmatism won the day,  I couldn’t physically squish any more stuff in my arcteryx running vest, I already had a waterproof jacket just in case.  I went with my parkrun volunteer 25 T-shirt, because it has good associations, and my Smiley Paces buff, because I wanted some smiley spirit along with me.  However, I did put a fleece in my backpack for the finish, which paradoxically could be left at the start, so I would be able to warm up again if need be at the end.  The forecast could not have been better, no rain forecast, some breeze and low double figures temperature all day.

I looked longingly at Geronimo Sky, my giraffe companion animal on so many running adventures.  It would have been nice to have her along, but even I baulked at the idea of mountain rescue having to come out and get me and my African ungulate.  I could see the incident report on Facebook later, about the ‘ill-prepared novice ultra runner who thought it was appropriate to take on 30 miles in the peaks in giraffe fancy dress’.  Also, she might not fit in the helicopter.  There is always next year…  what do you think?  I mean now I’ve done it, and see people are allowed to run in flip flops, I don’t see why not 🙂

geronimo at london

So getting ready rituals.  Lots of vaseline, changed my blistering life that.  Actually, I have a three-tier approach to anti-chafing products.  The expensive stuff, the lanacane anti-chafing gel – is for under boobs, I used body glide on my shoulders to stop the straps from my running vest and bra rubbing, and vaseline slathered on my feet like mulch, at least 4 inches thick to provide an effective barrier and stop weeds getting through.  At the risk of giving out an early spoiler, I can report I had zero chafing after 12 hours out.  That’s right dear reader ZERO!.  Only one tiny blister on the side of my foot which I think was where I got a bit of sand in my shoe at some point, as it isn’t anywhere I’ve ever had a rub before.  Not everyone will understand the significance of this statement, but anyone who has ever got into a shower after a run only to emerge screaming micro-seconds later as the water finds the raw patches on their skin in the most intimate of orifices, and hidden and awkward of places  will 100% recognise the importance of this revelation and what an achievement in represents.  Lanacane is amazing, my discovery of it has been almost life changing, running wise.  Actually, possibly genuinely life-changing, chafing injuries have prevented me from running before.  (Really hoping that’s not just me, if so, apologies for over-sharing).  My only blistering was of my lips, can’t believe I dragged all that stuff round with me, but never thought of lip balm.  Next time eh? I might see if I’m allowed either a pack mule or a Sherpa to help me round next year, it would make life so much easier.  Can’t imagine why no-one else has thought of this.  I can’t see anything explicitly stating you can’t,  so….

This year then, up, dressed, fully lubricated, breakfasted (porridge with added seeds – is there any other suitable pre-gig feast I wonder) and off I went.  As I’d already registered the day before I only needed to get there in time for the pre-event briefing at 7.40, but of course my fear of arriving late meant I got there just after 7.00.  Yes, ridiculously early, but also yes, there was proper coffee available.  There was event parking signposted up a little slope through the main car park.  Don’t tell anyone, but I did have a look, but I was worried my car wouldn’t manage on the slope and wet grass, and I was worried about getting my car out in the dark later.  It’s a senior, and not built for off-road.  There were very, very few cars on the hard-standing area, so I snuck into that, feeling guilty, but not guilty enough to change my plan.  The rule is to do just one thing that scares me every day, doing an ultra would tick that box, no need to traumtise myself the whole way round fretting about how I’d ever retrieve the car from a skiddy field without ricocheting into a dozen or so tents occupied by slumbering ultra-runners, probably now too stiff post-event to have any chance of making a speedy retreat to safety, even if they saw me coming.

Here I am, this is it!  Oh.  My.  Gawd.

I ventured into the farm, left my backpack for the end behind the registration desk, and had my traditional annual talk to the organiser about being really slow and was that ok. Yes it was, someone has to be last.  Yes they do, and that someone was going to be me.   As surely as night follows day.  I was going to own the final finisher slot, and not by sandbagging either.  It was mine for the taking.  Inexplicably, there doesn’t seem to be a trophy for that, but I do really like the awards for all the speedy folk. Aren’t they lovely?  Not quite in the league of the finishers ashtray for Sheffield marathoners in years gone by (1981, according to runners’ legends), but not bad at all.

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Pleasingly, I then almost immediately saw a familiar face.  One of the original Dig Deep sign ups who’d had to pull out because of injury but was still turning out to volunteer as a marshal.  What a hero!  Thanks buddy!  Not only did he sit and help calm my nerves with chit chat, but also he bought me a latte.  I haven’t had a proper coffee for weeks, this was very fine.  He was originally to be marshalling at check point one at Burbage, which would have meant I’d see him on the 30 mile route, but in fact he was now at Edale somewhere for the 50 and 60 milers, so I wouldn’t see him again.  Nice boost though.

People began to arrive.  I gulped a bit inwardly, as even though I know from bitter personal experience how unhelpful it is to compare yourself to other runners, I couldn’t help noticing they were all rather lither (is that an actual word) and more streamlined than me.  Some didn’t even let out an involuntary noise when shifting from sitting to standing say.  If you don’t know what I mean, lucky you, but you will find as you age, that stiffness does trigger such sighs and exclamations on movement.  What have I done?  They were all wearing compression socks and lean and hungry looks.  Some of them were even wearing shorts!  Lawks a lordy, they must be planning on actually running the whole darned thing!  Is that even possible?  I felt like a different species to them.  A one lesser able to tackle an ultra.  Gulp.

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Another Smiley rocked up, with dog, not just any smiley, but a Dragonfly Smiley from Smiletastic days (long story, check out the Smiletastic posts if you wish). She was out to wave off her other half, but came over to give support, which was really appreciated.

There was a pre-race briefing, which was indeed very brief.  An explanation of how to dib and what the dibbing points looked like, and a reminder that after Burbage there would be no signage so you’d be on your own.  Don’t miss out the dibbing points – especially CP3 which loads of people missed last year apparently – if in doubt dib!  And watch out for cows.  So glad I’ve done all those recces, I was confident about the route I’d be taking if nothing else.  Then, that was it, pee break and time to assemble at the start.

Then, good new and unexpected gloriousness, Dr Smiley!  She’d made the trek out especially to wave me off!  I was so touched.  I had zero expectation of being waved off by anyone, it’s not a very enticing prospect really is it.  Come and stand around in the cold at some ungodly hour on a Saturday morning  so you can be the focus of my pre-race angstiness and then ignored as soon as I go off en route.  Left desolate by the sidelines, probably in the rain. It made me really happy.  The training for this had been on the whole more solitary and demoralising than I’d imagined at the outset, it was just fantastic to have support on the day, and even better for being unexpected.  Also, this meet up necessitated a photo sequence, of course.  So here you go, happy smiling smilies:

Whether or not I’d make the finish, at least it was now an established fact on record that I’d made the start!  I chattered away about nothing, then Dr Smiley, because she’s medically qualified and also an experienced GB triathlete and mega runner in her own right asked if there was anything I needed to do, like go to the loo or something…  Oh my gawd, of course I needed the loo!  Everyone needs a last minute precautionary pee.  I sped off to attend to that.  Re-emerging into the scrum of the starting line up, I didn’t see her again, well not for a while.  I did see other runner’s footwear though. Look at these;

Wow, surely they’d rub?

As I was milling, there was a race official doing spot checks on kit bags, he took one look at my bulging sack of paraphernalia and said ‘I’m guessing you’ll be fine‘ and moved on.  I’m taking that as respect for my evident preparedness and not disbelief at the voluminous nature of my back pack.  Maybe I should have gone for a squeeze down minimalist sleeping bag on reflection, but there’s always next time.

‘Suddenly’ we were in count down mode.  Little beeps went off all around me as people fired out their watches.  I tried to fire up mine.  Nothing.  It was just searching for a satellite. I was mildly annoyed, I knew it was going to abandon me en route anyway, so I suppose it wouldn’t make all that much difference if I didn’t get the start logged from the off.  I slotted myself in pretty much at the back, and then before I knew it we were off, I was swept up in a bit of loping run too.  I was scanning the sides of the start funnel for a familiar face – the Frontrunner media team was videoing the start – I gave a wave just as he stopped filming and seemingly fell over into a hedge (don’t think there was a cause and effect there, more just correlation of events).  He didn’t see me straight away, but clocked me as I was sprinting (eh hem) off, and I heard him shout after me, I was determined to at least run until I was round the corner and out of sight.  Didn’t see Dr Smiley, but then she didn’t see me either, never mind, we’d shared a moment!  That was it, all the ultra runners through the funnel and underway, no turning back now.  How desolate the start funnel must have looked once we’d all vacated it.  Wonder what all the waver offers did next?  Coffee and leisurely breakfast if they had their wits about them.

DD start funnel

The course starts up an incline, I was a bit swept up with everyone else, so did jog along, though inevitably the few that were behind me overtook me in rapid succession.  A little further on, I found a couple stopped.  He was leaning against a fence, not good so early in proceedings.  I asked if they needed help, but they said they were ok, he just needed to regulate his breathing.  OK then, off I continued, vaguely aware of two couples still behind me, but just walking and adjusting their kit.  The race vest equivalent of hoiking your tights and knickers straight after going to the loo.  Blooming office wear, nightmare.  Tights are possibly the most uncomfortable, least practical garment in the known universe, after sports bras, though that should really go without saying.

Soon I was on Ringinglow Road, and then turning off it, and over the style and up the hill.   The weather was just stunning, and the views glorious, it was long after sunrise, but the sky was beautiful.  There was a promise of warm sun and a gentle breeze.  It felt good.  I caught up with a couple ahead who were adjusting shoe laces, and they let me pass.  I think that was the only overtake I did all day.  I offered to wait and let them go ahead as I was just on a day out, but they declined, saying they too had the same game plan and would fight me for final finisher.  I laughed politely, but  knowing inwardly they had no chance, they might battle all they wish, but that target was mine!

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This part of the route was fastidiously marked, there were even cheery marshals to point the way.  After crossing the open fields (no cows, phew) then it was a steep descent into the woods. I’m a total coward on this bit, I just find it scary descending and I was worried about slipping on a surface recently wet after so many months of dry.  I tentatively picked my way down, conscious of the couple I’d over taken now right on my tail.  We chatted a little.  I asked them if they’d done this ultra before, and then cringed, because my intonation was all wrong and it somehow came out implying ‘because I’ve done it loads of times and I can give you lots of top tips‘ whereas my intonation was supposed to be reverential, not patronising.  Intoning in such a way as to imply ‘you’ve clearly done loads of ultras – how does this one compare?’ and then I couldn’t bring myself to explain I knew I’d got the sentence stress all discombobulated, because then I’d be a) drawing attention to it; b) delaying them even more on their run and c) demonstrate I was even odder than they’d probably already worked out for myself.  It’s so hard being me, life is just one excruciating social encounter after another. You dear reader, can have no idea what this is like, being an appropriately socially-adjusted individual with recognisably effective communication skills.  Just feel my pain, that’s all I ask.  Anyway, they over-took me soon after that, so on the plus side I was again the main (only) contender for the coveted thirty mile final finisher position.  Just 29 miles to get round safely and it would be mine for the taking!  (Insert evil cackling laugh here).

Next stage, Limb Valley.  This is the first time I’ve been up since they resurfaced the path.  It is so much better.  There were cattle on either side, so they would have been lying blocking the route for sure.  A couple of walkers were watching a couple of the cattle that were wading into a bog for mud baths.  I stopped to chat to them for a bit because it wasn’t as if I had anything else to do all day.  They were the first of many to ask what the event was.  I got stopped all day by interested spectators.  Still, this first interaction was fine, and it was nice to see the cows having a good time.  Normally, I’m too wary of them to pause and just appreciate them in all their bovine magnificence.  They are lovely animals, particularly when viewed from the other side of a secure fence.

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Onwards and upwards.  Just as I was reaching the top I came across the asthmatic runner, now walking back down hill.  We spoke briefly.  He just couldn’t get his breathing right and so had made the difficult, but painfully gutting decision to withdraw.  I really felt for him, that’s tough.  He was trudging back to the start.  One of the things I do to keep myself going on difficult runs is think of all the people who’d love to be able to be out there doing what I’m trying to do but really, absolutely can’t.  I resolved to think of him when the going got tough as inevitably it would, and keep on putting one foot in front of another until I was actually definitively unable to do it anymore.

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Emerging on to Sheephill road, past the hilariously named ‘cottage’, noticed a helicopter overhead.  I saw it a few times during the day, I wonder what it was out and about for.

There was a marshal to point me in the right direction into Lady Cannings plantation, I wondered if that might be the last person I’d see all day.  The other thirty-milers had long since vanished out of sight.  Into the woods.  I had a brief moment of confusion in here, wondering if I’d got the right turning as one sign was missing, but phew, I was OK.  A good example though of the importance of recces for me at least, it just seems incredible I could lose my nerve re orientation even though I was on a really familiar patch.  How people get around without recces I can’t imagine.  I heard there was also a mix up with on the day map issues, some on the 30 mile route had a map for the 50 and 60 milers, that could have ended badly!

I was soon out of the woods, and alongside the heather.  This landscape always lifts my spirits, even if, granted, this year the heather has been short-lived and less spectacular than usual.  Even heather couldn’t hold out indefinitely in such extremes of dry and the rain came too late.  I just hope it will recover next year.

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Skipping along, across Houndkirk.  I love this route.  The views are amazing, the landscape seemingly deserted and the gradient is on your side after just a little bit of uphill.  Glorious. The photos of course don’t do it justice.  I found myself wondering if and when I’d be making the return route along the same paths, but tried not to dwell on it too much, better to just live in the moment.

On I trotted, a few walkers, one man sped past me with a fine working cocker spaniel  sprinting along behind (that will be you soon Tilly, don’t fret).

tilly

He wished me well as he disappeared over the horizon.  I emerged at Burbage at the same time as the Thai shed pulled up.  This food stall is definitely enterprising, putting itself out there, but, much as I like good vegetarian Thai food, it does seem a bit of an anomaly out there in the Peak District.  Not the sort of food I’d be thinking of mid run.  Still, it must do a roaring trade as it’s out there a lot lately.

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I didn’t wait for it to open, I had an event to run.

This was the first of the marshalled check points, check point one.  I was so relieved they were still there, I had an anxious moment when it looked from afar like they guy was packing up, but he gave me a cheery welcome.  I dug out my super-practical (not) cup for water and had a bit of a chat.  I said I was pretty confident I was the last runner through, as I was, but didn’t want to claim 100% certainty in case someone had been hiding behind a tree when I passed, maybe on their own mission to bag final finisher without me knowing.  The guy said he’d had one runner through who wasn’t expected and was missing another if that was the case.  I explained about seeing a man withdraw earlier, which might account for it, he’d got a withdrawn down as female. I  wondered if as they were running together maybe their dibbers had got mixed up or something,  No worries, or at least no my worry, I felt I could relax now, this for me was the critical check point, if they got bored waiting for me here that would be run over, but now I had loads of time to get around.  If I was outside the cut offs from hereon-in I’d be begging for someone to come rescue me!

Through the car park, along the road and heading up to Stanage.  There were a few more people now, heading up to do bouldering, or maybe just for a lie down.  Why didn’t I think to bring along a mattress for a power nap en route?  Curses.  Still, that’s what this event was all about, a learning experience, I’ll know for next year.  If I have a collapsible cup, that will leave a bit more space in my running vest for other essentials, like this.

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I got to the top, and again, the panorama opened up. It’s just gorgeous up there.  It’s weird this 30 mile malarkey.  It was definitely physically much, much tougher than the London Marathon say, for me anyway.  But mentally, I think it really helps that you just look up and around you and your spirits soar.  It is such a privilege to be out in this landscape, and were it not for having the Dig Deep series of races to aim for, I’d never have got out and explored if for myself.  There were no bees on Stanage today, but there were views to explode your mind.  I could just make out some runners in the far, far distance, I wondered how long it would be before I’d be where they were now.

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This was type one fun.  Lovely.  I even ran bits.  This might sound like stating the obvious, but I’d actually planned on only walking the first half in case I ran down my reserves too much early on, but I felt great, and it’s so rare for me to spontaneously feel like scampering I figured I might as well surrender to it, there would be plenty of time later when I’d be longing to put on the brakes.

Much excitement when I got to the first un-marshalled dibbing point.  It was highly visible. I don’t know how it compares with last year, but there was no missing these as long as you were on the correct path.  A short jog on, and there was the next one, at the junction where you take the path off Stanage.  So far so good.

I was making better progress than on any of the recces.  I wasn’t particularly pushing myself, but just trying to keep moving and minimise faffing.  Even so, I had several people stop me asking what was going on.  I must look either approachable or just unlikely – the presence of a number pinned to my front suggests I’m participating in something, but what?  No-one else in sight, and I’m not immediately identifiable as any kind of an athlete from my outward physique.  Still, those I spoke to were encouraging.  Possibly my favourite encounter though was the couple just after the cattle grid on Quiet Road.  (I think). After you’ve descended off Stanage Edge.  They’d taken a ‘short cut’ which had led to the female half of the couple waist deep in a bog, completely stuck and crying with laughter.  Her male companion was also unable to move on account of being doubled up with laughter himself.  They were having a hoot.  Being up to your midriff in bog is apparently brilliant fun, infectiously so.  Those Bovines up the Limb valley were but early adopters of a trend that is sure to catch on.  You heard it here first!

Shortly after I’d shared giggles with these two mud-hoppers, a bare-chested man ran by.  I trotted on, dropping back to a walk as soon as I hit an incline. A bit later, he came past me again the other way. This was a bit sobering, as I imagine he’d sprinted up to Stanage and back in the time it had taken me to trot just a kilometre or so.  He paused, and asked me what I was up to. I explained about the 30 mile challenge (I couldn’t bring myself to call it an ultra run because I was so self-evidently doing very little in the way of actual running) and he was really encouraging about the whole thing.  I promise you dear reader, not a word of a lie, not one person I encountered during this whole endeavour laughed in my face when I told them what I was up to.  Not.  One.  Amazing isn’t it.  People are more encouraging and supportive than you might think.  Whatever negative thoughts passed through my head later on, they were put there by me, sad, but true.  He skipped off, probably doing his own 50 mile ultra run before breakfast, but hey, good for him, we were each pursing our own goals, and that dear reader is as it should be. Thank you random runner.

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I left him running onwards whilst I turned up the road and up the hill, following on behind some horses

This road was a bit of a slog, though you do get some unexpectedly good views if you bother to stop and look at them.  Some cyclist passed, some puffing, some calling greetings as they cruised by.  After a bit, a few undulations and some twists and turns Win Hill started to come into view.  My nemesis.  Is it just me, or does it look a bit like Kilimanjaro from afar?  Certainly feels like it when you make the ascent.

See?  Practically indistinguishable!  It’s Win Hill on the left by the way. Or maybe right, hard to say.  I met someone who’d climbed Kilimanjaro once, I was dead impressed.  ‘What was it like?’ I asked him excitedly.  He shook his head ‘hell, it was like hell, in a Scottish mist, couldn’t see you hand in front of your face and couldn’t breathe‘ hmmm, not on my bucket list any more that one then.  At least with Win Hill, even if you can’t breathe, there are fabulous views.

Though this stretch had elements of sameyness, it went quickly, and heading down New Road was unremarkable apart from rising fear at the prospect of Win HIll and the presence of a healthy looking but extremely dead mole.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mole up close before.  It made me sad, but also, bizarrely, was reassuring because it must mean there are other living moles out there.  So here is the next in my series of random dead animals/ road kill.

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Whilst we are on depressing animal shots.  This popped up in my Facebook feed today.  A friend of mine is working in China, and came across people selling live baby turtles with painted shells.  The may look beautiful, but how sad and cruel is that.  I understand in some places you can even buy turtles sealed in plastic bubbles of water, used as ‘ornaments’ for key-rings.  There seem to be no limits to what we’ll do to animals.  Messes with my head…

turtles in Yangshuo

This concludes the depressing animal strand of this blog post.  Probably.

Moving on.  ‘Suddenly’ I was at Yorkshire Bridge!  Over the road down the hill and the check point and feed station was in sight!  However, I was thwarted in my endeavours to get there.  Another couple stopped me – whilst I was actually jogging this time – I felt a tad affronted.  They then said ‘is there anything interesting down there‘ waving vaguely towards Win Hill.  Erm, I didn’t really know how to respond.   Surely that would require some deep philosophical discussion about what constitutes ‘interesting’ and could that ever be an objective standard as opposed to a subjective experience.  I didn’t really want to have that debate right there and then.  I said basically, ‘ well, there’s a stream and a footpath and a big hill which is a tough climb but great views‘.  ‘Oh,’ they replied ‘what about the other routes?’  I got a bit exasperated at this point.  I mean, I’m all for being helpful and educating the public about the sport of ultra-running (cough), but that doesn’t extend to be a roaming tourist information service!  Couldn’t they see they were blocking the path of an ultra runner!  I bet this doesn’t happen to Kilian Jornet when he’s out and about.  I mumbled something vague and trotted off to be embraced by this vision of loveliness:

Now, I know you shouldn’t really have favourites, but between you and me, I think these were my favourite marshals of the day. They were funny and helpful.  They were also a gateway to a mountain of calorific snacks.  The two women helped me with faffing with my cup, and selection of snackery.  They took time out now and again to give a running commentary on the guy who was eating a pot noodle with a twig, having failed to pack a spork apparently.  There was some banter going on (don’t worry, he could hold his own) but I felt he should be celebrated for going for the biodegradable option.  Also for holding out against the earlier suggestion that he improvise with two ballpoint pens.  Anyway, this trio was friendly and funny and fed me – and you can’t ask for more from marshals at an event really can you?  Oh, by the way, the stuff that looks like lost property is actually bags ‘proper’ ultra runners had left for use at various stages.  Just so you know how it all works.

We were debating Win Hill ahead.  I was apprehensive. I commented I’d still rather climb up it from Parkin Clough side than try to descend, I just don’t see how you can come down a slope that steep and uneven without falling. (Unless you are a member of the Dark Peak Running Club but they are surely a genetic anomaly, imbued as they are with super human skills on the hills.)   At the very moment I was stating this, probably spitting crisps out between words as I did so, two women appeared as if from nowhere, mud covered and a bit shaky.  Guess what dear reader?  That’s right!  They’d just fallen down Win Hill.   They were in search of a sugar fix and a bit of TLC.  Well, they’d stumbled into the right place.  I left the marshals tending to them – they’d already put the top back on my cup for me, refilled my 2 litre bladder in my arcteryx and allowed me to eat my body weight in sugar loaded snacks after all, I loped on.

Finally I was there, at the base of Win Hill.  This would be the real test of the day, tackling the hill with tired legs.  Psychologically, I felt if I could get to the top, I’d finish the event.

Phew though, what a slog!   There seemed to be quite a bit of traffic as well.  I got overtaken by some walkers, which made me feel a bit inadequate as they weren’t even really dressed for trekking.  Yes, they asked what was going on too.  I wasn’t really feeling the love.  At one point I suddenly felt a bit dizzy, like that sensation you get if you stand up too quickly after bending down for a while. I’ve never had that before out running.  I took a moment to think.  I’d just eaten loads, I couldn’t need fuel, but I was sweating buckets.  I stopped and drank loads, and then, feeling better went on more slowly.  I was a bit perturbed though.  I feel the hardest bit for me for this has been nutrition, I’ve put on weight in training and just don’t know how to fuel properly.  Maybe I was getting a bit dehydrated.  I drank water from my cup at the stations, but had electrolytes in my running vest bladder.  hard to know whether the difference is real or psychosomatic, but I definitely felt better afterwards.  I gave way to others coming down.  At one point, I hung on to a tree as I moved aside to let a group past.  One of them lost her footing and practically landed on top of me, that goodness for that tree, without it we’d have both been lost in the crevasse alongside the path (well, it seems like a crevasse to me).

In other news, there was a photographer, lurking!  Ooh, that was unexpected.  I’m obviously not noticeably running at this point, but I am head down and trying my best.  Until I am distracted by the sound of the camera shutter clicking and am quickly morphed into ‘seen the photographer’ pose!  I can’t run, and I can’t hide either…

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The photographer was friendly and we had a chat.  Any excuse for a break by me quite frankly.  Turns out he’d done an ultra run earlier in the year at Dartmoor. Gave encouragement, smiles and a useful top tip.  If you do feel like quitting, never do so at a marshal point, make yourself walk away and then see how you feel after 5 minutes.  Getting going again after a pause is the hardest challenge, if you can do that, you might be able to finish.  Good advice.  He also did a portrait shot of me, because I explained it was my first ultra, and I wanted a memento.  I look happy, but cringe at my physique which can only be described as buxom, but you know what, I have to own it, this body got me round 30 miles so whatever it’s shortcomings in the aesthetic front, it works for me.  I’m lucky.   Plus, it is what I look like, and how lucky am I to be able to be in a beautiful part of the world, getting pep talks from other runners to help me round my first ultra.  I therefore declare this to be a happy memory… you can see why I think there is a gap in the market for running vests that cater for the erm, ‘fuller form’ though can’t you?  No denying it unfortunately.

DD win hill still smiling

Thank you lovely photographer.  He said he’d see me again at Burbage/ Houndkirk, I was a bit doubtful he’d be out that long, but pathetically grateful he thought it was possible I’d make it round in daylight.  I continued onward and upward.  Puffing. Audibly.  Oh the shame.

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Once you emerge from the trees and start looking back, the views are amazing.  The summit was very windy and quite crowded.  I found out later in the day that Dr Smiley came up here to look for me en route, but we missed each other.  To be fair, judging from this selfie, I think I might have an inkling why.  The thought was very  much appreciated though:

breezy up win hill

I took a moment to admire the views, rude not to, seeing as I was there.  I knew I still had a long, long way to go, but that was the worst climb done.  Hurrah.

The marshal was a little down from the trig point where seemingly coach loads of people were gathered for photos

Must have been nippy out.   They are all hi-vis heroes for standing out in that.  Even more so the next day for the 12.12 when rain and wind made it feel like hail apparently, up at Burbage.  Brrrr.  Ironically, doing 30 miles in perfect weather was probably the easier option compared to that!

Coming off the summit I was in good spirits.  I met a lovely couple who again were asking what was going on.  They seemed genuinely impressed by my endeavour, which made me feel a bit better.  I don’t know what it takes to be a ‘proper’ ultra runner, but I was thinking perhaps doing some actual running during the course of the 30 mile route, and I’d done hardly any.  However, this couple didn’t care at all about speed, they were wide smiling at my attempt at the distance.  I’ll take that!  Thank you nice people.

I left them wending their way upwards, whilst I wended (is that a word?  Should be) downwards.  The next person I meant was out walking some beautiful, but rather wayward dogs that had set some sheep stampeding ahead of  him. I  wasn’t sure if he could see and didn’t know quite what to do.  Should I tell him?  They had returned to him by the time I got to him.  This walker is doing his first marathon in October, the Yorkshire Marathon so we were able to swap running training tales.   He had pulled a hamstring on a long run only a couple of days before, headed out for 20 miles but had to stop at 14.  Mind you, 20 miles seems to me to be an impressive distance this far out from marathon day, so if he does need to rest a week or so he still has time on his side.  It was a nice interlude to chat, I didn’t say anything about the dogs…

There followed one of my top three encounters of the day.  The next quartet of walkers seemed to be a family group, grown up children and their parents at a guess.  Again they stopped me to ask what I was doing – you know what, next year I might just print out some fliers to explain, it might be a lot easier and save a bit of time.  They were suitably encouraging, and impressed by how far I’d already come.  So impressed, that one of the group offered me some of his dried mango slices.  I hesitated for a moment, and then thought ‘you know what, sliced mango might be really nice‘.  ‘Thank you I will‘, I said, taking a chunk. It was posh mango slices too, high moisture content, all squishy and delicious, not over dry and chewy.  Went down very nicely.  Just as I gulped, the elder man suddenly put out his arm in horror and exclaimed ‘oh no! Are you allowed to do that?  Will you be disqualified for having had outside assistance?’  I thought a bit more.  ‘I don’t think they can test for mango, so I’ll probably be OK.  Also, between ourselves, I’m not going to be a top three finisher, I’ll chance it’.  Waving, I skipped off, chuckling.

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Hilarious, I honestly don’t know if he was joking or not.  If joking, I applaud him for his deadpan delivery.  Thank you lovely mango people, whoever you are.  Mind you, the joke will be on me if I find they do test me positive for mango at the end… I’ll be smiling on the other side of my face then!  Imagine the indignity in that.  To get round, and to indeed be disqualified for something as seemingly as innocuous as dried tropical fruit.  The perils of the event eh.  I wonder if this is the sort of conflicted temptation those misfit children experienced touring  Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, just waiting for the moment they might get offered the everlasting gobstopper the chocolate spies were prepared to pay highly for.  Take it, and pass it on, and you will be rich, but your moral compass will have imploded and you can never show your face in public again.  They didn’t know then it was but an entrapment device to test their ethical framework.  So too with mango slices, it might fuel you to the end of the ultra, but at what cost if you are henceforth shunned by ultra-runners, and worse yet, disqualified from future events.  Even if they didn’t know, I would, too high a price to pay.   I’d have the rest of the route to ponder whether and when to ‘fess up…  Surely if race officials were in the habit of using entrapment techniques to lure the weak – willed into ingesting illicit dried fruit slices I’d have picked it up on social media sometime before.

Too late now!

The next bit, trotting down to hope was pretty straight forward.  I managed to avoid the dangerous geese.

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Geese scare me.  I’ve been attacked by a gander once and it blooming hurt.  I did nearly get wiped out by a couple of cyclists.  I saw loads of other cyclists who were courteous and left me loads of space, but there were two coming up heads down just not looking, then when they did clock me, one wobbled and just veered right into me. He was apologetic, but I wasn’t impressed.  I hadn’t put that part of the route down as a dangerous section.

A scamper down into Hope.  Going past the Adventure cafe without going in for some soup was a challenge, but I headed on to the cement works.  I managed to locate all expected dibbing points, and also to avoid being hit by a train, because they are almost as dangerous as geese if the warning signs are anything to go by.

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Actually, the face of the man on the warning sign, is not dissimilar to the expression of the man worried about my mango consumption.  Doping is a serious issue!

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The next section was alongside the cement works.  I quite like the brutalist architecture of the place, it is a strange place.  You hear noises coming from it, and might see machinery turning, but I’ve never seen a human form. All very mysterious, and highly suitable as the setting for a budget horror film or indeed an actual homicide.  Just a thought.  I sped up a bit…

By dint of looking both ways, I managed to avoid being crushed by any unexpected large plant crossings within the quarry, and excitedly exited towards Bradwell.  This was another symbolic point for me, like I’d imagined myself at the top of Win Hill, I’d visualised myself here at the rock shop!  Just to help you out here, this is what the rock shop looked like last time:

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This is what it looked like today:

I can’t lie.  I was a bit gutted.  This is where the mental strength you’ve built up in training really kicks in.  The thing is, I’d especially put together something to put in the honesty box for the children who’d set up the stall to find, but now I didn’t know if they ever would.  I decided as I’d brought my little token for them, I’d leave it anyway.  I carefully slipped my good luck bringing envelope and its mysterious contents under a wooden block and hoped for the best.  I daresay someone would find it.  Maybe even the dog walker who was picking up dog poo alongside me as I carried out this no doubt outwardly bizarre shenanigans.  I will never know.

Oh well.  On the plus side, not far to the fantasy feed station now.  I’d been promised that this is practically a wedding buffet.  I was now thinking that it might not be that exactly, it’s just that you’d be so delighted to find it you wouldn’t really care if they were offering cups of cold sick as long as they had added sufficient sugar and caffeine to reboot you.

Into Bradwell and off to the left, alongside the green and opposite the pub was a sign adorned with a Dig Deep t-shirt, which was fortunate as it wasn’t immediately obvious otherwise.

As I bumbled along, I was aware of other fleeter runners closing in on me. These were the first other runners I’d seen, since limb valley, and were 50 and 60 milers romping purposefully in.  I felt like a different species. They were focused and looking strong.  I was again doubting my right to be there as they ran ahead of me to the marshal point.

This was a pretty cool stopping off place.  Great views, loos, friendly marshals and people sat outside in the sun supporting other runners or maybe waiting for their runner to come in.  Inside the hall was indeed a buffet.  It was like the weirdest village hall party ever.  I stuffed salted crisps into my mouth whilst surveying what was on offer.  There were no spinach and feta stuffed filo pastries, but there was a broad choice including falafels, sweet potato crisps, sweets, chia bars, naked bars, fresh fruit, mini cakes all sorts.  One of the marshals produced a cup of coffee in a children in need christmas themed cup.  I hovered round the buffet eyeing the serious runners outside on the grass who were taping up injuries and rummaging with kit. It emphasised how little I knew what to do, they had clear routines, whereas I was just hanging about really, contemplating whether if I sat down to drink my coffee I’d be able to get up again.  I actually discussed this dilemma with one of the marshals and they said they could help haul me up again if need be, so I presume that level of outside assistance would be ok.  It’s complicated.

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My confidence was ebbing a bit here.  I mean I was fine, physically fine, legs getting stiff but that was not unexpected, but just looking at everyone else I felt such a misfit.  These runners had done up to 45 miles already I think and were still on fire.  I’d done a fraction of that and was just pootling around in a fog of vague incomprehension.  I hid by the buffet table (always a good place to hang out) and then realised there was another runner in the corner being debriefed by a St John’s Ambulance man.  I don’t know what had happened, but I do know he had to withdraw after feeling unwell and was given a lift back to base.  Again, it was a timely reminder that I was lucky to be able to do this, it didn’t matter (or shouldn’t anyway) what other people were up to, I just had to commit to putting one foot in front of another and see where it led.   As he went off, I overheard the St John’s man say ‘it’s always a worry isn’t it, when people are taken ill, it doesn’t always end well‘.  He was talking generally, not about that actual worry, but again, I thought I just need to realise I’m lucky, I’m not ill, I’m just over weight and demoralised, and I can very much still do this. It will be slow, and may not be pretty, can’t see myself as the poster girl for any ultra running event any time soon, but my hat is still in the proverbial ring and it ain’t over yet.

I slurped my coffee, had another pee, availing myself of the quality facilities.  And off I went.  I was consciously telling myself to stay positive.  I’d made the cut off.  The organisers would let me finish the course now, I just had to make sure I did.

It’s quite pretty going through Bradwell, but then the cloud of the climb up to Rebellion Knoll was still to come.  Like in Lady Cannings plantation, I suddenly had a wobble about which way to go.  Crazy, I’ve done this section loads of times now.  Being fatigued from distance really does impact on cognition, well it does for me anyway.  Fortunately, the conveniently parked blue van was still in place, not a guaranteed landmark for the future, but it had been there on every recce.   Praise be!

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Inevitably, I got to the base of Rebellion Knoll.  It’s hard to explain why this haul is so hard.  Partly because the head high bracken means you can’t see where you are going.  It is very, very steep, and I’ve seen it referred to somewhere as the Jurassic section, which seems entirely appropriate. You do feel like a t-rex could come crashing through the undergrowth at any  time.  I didn’t see any today, but I was one of the later runners coming through, I imagine any out there would have already gorged their fill on leaner stock.  I don’t know if dinosaurs have to worry about cholesterol clogging their arteries, but if they do, they’d have had fat-free feasting for some hours.

I was very, very happy to emerge at the top.

This was the only official bit of directional signage I saw on the course all day, but it was a good call to put it here, I got hopelessly lost recceing this section the first time and lost a lot of time.

A gentle romp across a field, and you emerge again onto a hard road.  I had hoped to jog this, and I had little half-hearted bursts now and again, but then I realised my watch had bailed on me, and it was almost like a switch going off.  I felt as I had no idea what pace I was going or how far I’d still to go I might as well just take it easy.  One or two other runners past me, fleet of foot and calling encouragement as I did so. They are extraordinary athletes, all of them.  On reflection, every one of them was on their own.  I wonder if that’s how it usually is, or whether it’s because this was a relatively small field so participants got spread out. Anyway, all were friendly, and I said desperately ‘I’ll chase you now you’ve given a lead‘ or something similarly cheesy as they passed. Note to self, as well as the fliers to distribute to walkers explaining what I’m doing, I need some flash cards with motivational phrases to wave at passing runners in order that I come up with something maybe a tad less cringeworthy in future.  Big ask though I know.

Downhill to Shatton.  I was trying to calculate how far I still had to go, but I couldn’t fathom it at all.  Oh well.  It’ll be a surprise.

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You come out of Shatton, and emerge on the river bank.  It’s a narrow path, with little bridges, each of which has a resident troll underneath, that is why there is troll netting under many of them.  At this stage I found ultra runners overtaking me at speed and at regular intervals.  Many were asking ‘so are you 50 or 60 miles?’ and I had to sheepishly say ‘erm, 30‘, and they had to summon all their remaining mental strength to not look completely aghast that I was still out there.  To their universal credit (not the benefit, but the sentiment) all of them said something encouraging in response.  A couple even held gates open for me as I lumbered up behind them, which I felt a bit guilty about, impeding their progress as they were on a mission.  A couple were saying they had had the odd wobble, mainly about being able to eat, but none needed any of the provisions I had to offer.  It was quite humbling really, moving even, all this good will.  I get the sense there is really a community of ultra runners out there, they may or may not know each other, but they will look out for one another out and about.  I felt unworthy even to engage them in conversation, but everyone who I told it was my first ultra was supportive.  ‘Good on you’, ‘everyone starts somewhere’, ‘keep going’. ‘you’ve got this‘ that kind of thing.  yes, yes, they may be cliches, but it was really nice.  I felt like they wanted me to succeed.  Hard though it is to imagine, I guess they all started somewhere too.  This is an endeavour where someone else getting round doesn’t diminish anyone else’s achievement.  Plus, and I’m not being self-deprecating here, I’m just being honest, I think there was an element of cheering on the underdog. I’m not an obvious contender for this enterprise, and clearly I’d been out a long, long time, I think some were just saluting my dogged tenacity and I’ll take that.

My favourite comment though was a super speedy woman doing the 60 miler, who sped by shouting ‘you are amazing‘, and whether or not that was merited, it was most affirming.  Dear reader, find some random person today, right now if you can, and sincerely tell them they are amazing, it will make them feel good and maybe you’ll feel the radiating feelgood emanating off them and feel extra good in return!  I think she might have been the winner (first lady) of the Ultra too. What a star.  Hard to say for sure though, as she was whizzing along.  If it was you, you are a great ambassador for the sport.

Winner dig deep ultra 2018

Here are some shots of my ultra running compatriots speeding off into the distance. Thank you all, whoever you are 🙂  Oh, one of the photos is of a sheep, not an ultra runner, just to be clear.

I had one rather bizarre experience at this stage.  I got a phone call from a builder about a fence, and had to discuss that with him mid run. It did rather spoil the sense of being out in the wilds, and I felt a bit ignorant when one runner came by and I was just walking along chatting into a phone, it didn’t really feel in the spirit of the occasion, then again, needs must.  Also, and this is a useful top tip, there’s nothing like negotiating with a builder for taking your mind off a couple of miles on an ultra, I didn’t notice that bit at all, I also didn’t break out of a walk which was a bit of a missed opportunity as that was a good flat stretch. Oh well.

You emerge on a bridge on teh way to Hathersage. Here was another water station, and the same marshal who’d been at Yorkshire Bridge, only rather ignorantly I completey failed to recognise him. Then again, he was in disguise having ditched his pot noodle, hat and high-vis.  He however, recognised me… best not ask why.  There was suddenly a little rush on, as other runners descended on the boot full of snacks and replenished water.  There was a team of three using poles, ploughing on together.  I left the station a bit ahead of them and dragged myself up the hill that takes you up to the millstone pub.  Blimey, that hill is steep.  I was worried there’d be cows, but there weren’t today, thankfully.  Big relief to get to the top. I felt like I’d definitely finish now, that was all the worst climbs behind me, there was still daylight and everything was still working – though I was a bit worried if I stopped everything would set fast into position and never move again, no worries, I just needed to keep moving.  The earlier marshal had advised that from 8.30 they wouldn’t allow anyone to continue cross country, they’d have to go along Ringinglow Road instead.  That isn’t such a disastrous scenario to be fair.  Anyway, i was OK so hey, go me!

Following the signs to Ringinglow, and over the style onto the moors and that was it. Homeward bound.  It is a hike up the hill, but the sun was dropping down in the sky, the light was absolutely beautiful, and the end in sight in a ‘about 6 miles to go’ sort of way.  I was beyond running at this point and gave in to just walking for a bit, stopping to look at the views, and then walking a bit more.  A few runners came past, some heather bashing to go a direct path to the top of Carl Wark, I decided to stick to the route I knew.  Maybe they were on a short cut, but it wasn’t worth the risk of getting disorientated or going over on an ankle at this point.  I pressed on.

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Finally, I saw the flag of the marshal point at Carl Wark in the distance.  Oh joy, it wsn’t at the top of the hill as expected, but at it’s base.  A cheery and relaxed marshal was sat chilling in a chair, supervising the dibber, but also multi-tasking throwing a ball for his companion canine now and again.  We had a brief chat.  He’d been at this marshal point til one in the morning last year!  This year though it seemed most runners were now through.  He seemed relaxed about the whole thing.  Last year the weather was horrendous, but he apparently just sat it out in a tent.  Excellent.  I dibbed, and yomped on.

Now, I can’t explain why, but coming down the slope to the stone bridge, I suddenly felt my legs really stiffen.  A bit of a wobble even.  Hmm, this was unexpected and unhelpful.  I picked my way down quite gingerly.  I didn’t get the best route and consequently had to boulder hop across a stream, but my legs weren’t really reliable. I decided best course was to get on my arse and use hands and legs to cross the stream.  Sensible you might think, but once I was sitting down on a rock I had a moment of thinking that was pretty much it.  I was set solid, and would now have to end my days on this rock, gazing skyward.  The bracken was high so I’d never be found. It wouldn’t have been so bad to be fair, it wasn’t alarming or anything, just a bit inevitable.  Somehow I managed to wrench myself upright again, but doubt set in.  This wasn’t by any means in the bag just yet.  Oh crappity, crap crap. So near and yet so far….

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Fret not dear reader.  There were still good times ahead and micro-adventures to come.  As I trudged up across Houndkirk, passed some cows, there was my friendly photographer friend again.  It was genuinely nice to see him.  Plus, the sunset was providing a pleasingly flattering back light to my ultra struggle.  Anyone would think I’d deliberately stayed out that long just to guarantee this very effect.

DD over burbage

Sigh, thank you for waiting.  Turns out the photographer normally does advertising shoots, so I expect I’ll be fighting off ad agencies now wanting me to pose for them.  I’ll never forget my roots though.

He also took some good scenic shots and some others which are maybe a bit too close up for comfort, but nice to have.  Indulge me.  Actually, you don’t even need to.  I imagine you gave up reading eons ago.  If you are still here, wishing you weren’t, two words.  Contributory negligence.

So that whole interaction was a nice distraction, and I continued on, not forgetting to marvel at the view.

Then, just as I was descending onto the Houndkirk/ roman road, like a mirage in the desert two figures materialised into view.  What strange magic was this?  It looked like… no, it couldn’t be.  I must be hallucinating due to fatigue.  I waved tentatively.  The figures waved back!  Oh. My. Gawd! It was a smiley outrider team, what were they doing there?  Not just smilies but Dr Smiley and her Les Brutelles companion in arms.  Triathlete elites, out there.  ‘What are you doing here?’ I called out.  Well, you’ll never believe this, but they said they’d come to find me!  I was amazed!  How fantastic is that.  I started down the rocks towards them. Then stopped, reversed and, realising my quads were screaming in protest, came down a different route towards them.  They laughed uproariously at my exploits, apparently undeterred by my protest that once they were experienced ultra runners such as myself they’d better understand the issue.  I mean they only do epic triathlons over squillions of miles and mountain ranges in horizontal hail, what would they know?  They both did the triathlon x earlier this year which has been voted the worlds toughest iron man, and they did it in the worst conditions imaginable.  They are super hard core.   Not to be messed with, and no way was I letting bragging rights by association to go to waste here.  Of course I was going to stop to take their photos!  Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind and seize the moment.

Aren’t they lovely?  You’d have been thrilled to see them too!

This is amazing people.  Joking apart, it’s like being sponsored by Les Brutelles. Imagine if Paul Sinton-Hewitt travelled especially to cheer you down the final mile of your tenth parkrun.  It was like that.  Unexpected, and glorious.  It nearly put paid to my gold standard goal of finishing without crying, as I felt quite emotional about them turning out for me.  I said as I descended that I was really touched that Dr Smiley had turned out to see me off in the morning (that seemed like a lifetime ago).  She told me how she lost me after I went off to the loo – which was something of a coincidence as I lost her too, what were the chances?  She even filmed the start, but didn’t see me come through so went to find me thinking I must be hiding in the ladies loos.  To be honest, it wouldn’t have been the first time, but not so on this occasion.  Rewatching her footage of us thirty milers all sprinting off she glimpsed me at the far side of the mob.  How lovely that she’d been looking for me ever since though!

I mean it turned out lots of Smilies had been trying to find me all day, to no avail, I had not the faintest idea not being in possession of a smart phone I didn’t see the smiley to and froing as people tried to work out where I might conceivably be.  They probably did more miles and more elevation trying to track me than I did on the official route.   It was amazing, and overwhelming even.

Obviously, this moment required selfies in all possible permutations, we are happy!

They filled me in with their adventures, and I shared my worry about maybe testing postive for mango.  We jogged onwards together on the Houndkirk road.  I was definitely seeing things now, I could have sworn I saw my name on the road at one point, but it couldn’t have been.  The next mile flew by.  Then there was another Smiley and offspring.  They’d also been out for hours and the smiley herself conceded she’d have been ready to throw in the towel hours ago, but her son was most insistent they should hang on.  There’s a lad that will go far!  Thanks guys!

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So we all jogged on together, pausing only to cry with laughter at intervals.  I shamelessly used the moment to press my escorts on the little matter of them speaking about their own triathlete epic adventures at the next big running weekend in Ecclesall woods.  There was one last year.  There was some reluctance, so I suggested that maybe it would be less daunting if they used a different medium to communicate about it, like expressive dance say.  I had a job at as a steward at an arts centre when there was a contemporary dance festival going on.  One of the more memorable displays was an expressive dance performed by dancers naked apart from tightly wrapped cling film.  I mean it could work.  The Brutelles mad much protest about the  unflattering nature of cling film – from their vehemence it was clear they were speaking from personal experience which is somewhat eyebrow raising – but didn’t particularly kick back so much as I expected at the nudity or expressive dance parts of the idea.  As Mr Loaf says, two out of three ain’t bad.  It could happen people, you heard it here first.  I wonder if they need winged ultras at this point?  I forgot to ask.

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They left me at the top of Limb Valley, as they were taking a car back to Whirlow, I dropped down, through the cattle field, and then found myself at the top of the wooded section.  Uh oh…  Suddenly, it seemed pretty dark.  I did have my headtorch with me, but sometimes a headtorch makes the dark worse and the ground even harder to see.  Eek.

I stealed myself to go in.  It could be worse.  I have an American friend (don’t judge) who I met in Cambodia. She works as a sort of guide/ group leader in Californian woodland, camping out for weeks at a time, teaching young people how to survive in the wilderness.  She wrote to me recently telling me that she’s just been given an official ranger issue knife, to defend herself in the event of mountain lion attacks.  As if that wasn’t scary enough, she also told me how she got up in the night because she needed a pee, only to find herself accidentally face to face with a mature bear and its cubs.  She somehow managed to evade it, through a combination of stealth movement, extreme shouting and last minute sprinting away, and reports that afterwards, back in her tent, shaking with fear she no longer needed the loo.  So that’s the answer to night time incontinence people.  Surround your place of slumber with wild bears and you’ll never feel the urge to pee in the night again.  Don’t thank me.

The point is, there wouldn’t be bears.  Probably not.  I mean there were bears in Sheffield at one time weren’t there? Otherwise why have the poor creatures in the bear pits in the Botanical gardens.  There could well be a feral population right here, I mean they would stay in hiding during the day wouldn’t they.  But at dusk.  Aargh!

I’m not really a scaredy cat, but I wasn’t over keen. I ventured in.  It was dark, after a bit though, my eyes acclimatised and I started to see arrows on the ground, etched into the mud.  ‘I wonder what they are for‘.  Bit further on and – ‘I could swear that’s my name scraped into the mud‘ and a bit further on ‘go Lucy‘.  No mistaking it.  These arrows had got to be for me.  It was glorious.  It was like having a reassuring guiding hand.  I mean I do know this part of the route, but it looked different in the dark, and I really, really didn’t want to miss the turn to Whirlow.

I didn’t know who’d put the messages there until I emerged from the woods onto the field just behind Whirlow farm.  What a welcoming committee was there!

SC found me

They’d found me, after chasing me around all day, and what’s more, these are the creative geniuses behind the motivational mud arrows idea and execution.  Everyone out and about running should have a crack team to support them like that.  It was amazing to see them.  I just couldn’t believe I’d got all this support, and there was still more to come!

They jogged along with me to the back of the hall, and then left me to come through the finish funnel alone, I high-fived some random people at the corner as I passed them.  Presumably they were waiting for others from the sixty miler still to come. They looked a little taken aback – obviously not junior parkrun regulars – but gamely reciprocated as I cornered, demanding my medal.

DD official ultra finish photo

And then, the final surprise.  Another familiar face to hang my medal round my neck as a marshal removed my dibber.  A Graves junior RD no less, a hardcore runner and super supportive running mentor and enabler to boot.  She of the Ladybower fifty still to come.  I was astounded.  I mean, she did say she’d try to come, but I’d been so vague about my finish times, and it had been a lot of hanging around, really a LOT.  She’d come to register and got there around four.  Eek.  Spoiler, I was not back by five, or six, or seven or … look, you get the idea people, I don’t need to spell it out.

So can I just reiterate.  Best welcoming committee ever.

SC welcoming committee

Doctor Smiley and her GB Triathlon X compatriot had somehow magicked themselves into position as well, so I had quite a celebrity homecoming.  There was even a live stream video of the finish. This was a bit awkward, as it was let slip that they’d already grassed me up to the organisers about mangogate and everything, so I was just going to have to come clean and hope for the best as it was after all just a first offence and through ignorance rather than intent.  I was cockahoop at nailing the slowest ever 30 mile finish time, but there was an anxious moment when the finish marshals said I wasn’t last, because there were two more people out there.  That may well have been true, but there’s no way they’d have been 30 milers, hilariously by dint of my slowness, I’d now been promoted to the sixty mile route as those officials remaining were assuming I must be on the longer course.  Not all of them though, my medal definitely says thirty.  The live streaming also gave me the chance to set the record straight that I hadn’t spent the entirety of the day hiding in the loo refusing to come out.  Phew.  You have to nip these rumours in the bud.

All done.  Who’d have thought it?  After the mandatory press briefings and a group hug, I was reunited with my bag and fleece and ushered into the barn for post run recuperation.  It was like having an army of helpers dancing attendance on me.  One got me a portion of veggie stew, another hung onto my running vest.  Horror was expressed at the weight of thing.  The aghastness of the assembled company at my stupidity in lugging so much around with me was finely counterbalanced by their admiration that I’d seemingly been able to do so.

We tucked in, whilst I shared pearls of wisdom based on my learning points and adventures from the day.  They were all gripped!

As well as the feast of veggie stew in bread, which was freely available to anyone who wanted it at this stage as they’d over-catered and there was hardly anyone else to eat it; Regal Smiley and her  offspring had brought a finishers gift.  Chocolate, including a curly wurly and a bath bomb.  I haven’t had one of those in years.  They had to tell me what it was, and it was as well they did since it was fashioned into a miniature cup cake, and yes, did look good enough to eat.  A posh one too.  It was enough to incentivise me to take a bath before going to bed and enabled me to have a curly wurly for breakfast the next day, which I’m pretty sure is recommended recovery food, so that’s OK.

Sated, my brutelles buddies stood either side of me and we can-canned our way (sort of) back to the car.  I’m so glad they did.  It was pitch and I couldn’t work out how to unlock the darned thing as I kept pushing the wrong button.  If after all that I was discovered collapsed by my car in the morning, dead from having laughingly ingested spice-infused mango earlier in the day – well, oh the irony.  I clambered into the car and made it home.  Even more amazingly, I managed to negotiate my way out of the car.  Last time I did this after a long distance run – The inaugural Round Donny Run, a concerned neighbour came rushing across the road thinking I was in need of urgent medical assistance having just experienced some horrific accident or other.  Granted it was dark so she perhaps couldn’t see me extricate myself from my vehicle, and being a shorter journey there was less time to set hard!

Weird being back in the flat, much to process. But I did it, and that was unexpected.  I mean I know I’m stubborn tenacious, but I’m not super human, I just didn’t know if my body would hold out, but it did.  Hooray!

I think what really helped was Smiley support in advance, on the day, and especially at the end. It’s been a lonely old business, training for this, but the support in the last couple of miles made me really feel I had a support network rooting for me.  I LOVE YOU GUYS!  It was just extraordinary.  The next day, I even got these on my doorstep, greater love has no Smiley for another Smiley than to leave post run unsolicited gifts on your front step.

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I have lots learned and lots to think about.  But am happy to confirm that Dig Deep races are my new favourite thing.  It feels a bit sacrilegious to say it, but for me it certainly tops doing the London Marathon.  Obviously they are very different beasts, but nothing can beat the support of familiar, hilarious and awesome running buddies taking on a challenge in a place as beautiful as the peaks.  What do you mean am I still high on endorphins?  You cynic dear reader, and must experience the phenomenon for yourself.  Doesn’t have to be the ultra, the whole set up is like one big affirming running community hug, whichever event you do.  Well, that’s my experience anyway.  Plus, as a Sheffielder, there aren’t that many events you can rock up to, knowing if it’s all too much you can just wave down a bus and go home.

I have no official strava route map of my achievements as my TomTom bailed just after Bradwell, but I did find this super-cool toy on t’internet.   https://www.plotaroute.com/route/153593  all interactive and everything.  It’s from two years ago but looks accurate.  Like that you can see the elevation all squished up so it makes it look even more hardcore.  Result!  For now.  Job done.

Thank you lovely organisers, marshals, supporters, Smiley buddies, running buddies, walkers who chatted to me along the way (maybe not the one who wanted complete tourist review of the area quite so much), the photographer, fellow ultra runners (can I claim them as my tribe now or is that a tad tenuous) everyone who did a recce with me, gave advice or simply didn’t laugh in my face at the very idea of me embarking on the thing in the first place.  It’s a paradox, training has felt solitary, but there is no way on earth I’d have made it round this course without all the help I’ve had from many, many others.  I must be horrifically high maintenance, but I do appreciate it, I really do.

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Next year?  Bring it on!  Also, bring on loads of extra Smilies, I am on a mission to if not get the Dig Deep 30 onto the Smiley Championship race list, to at least recruit the more pliable and suggestible of my smiley colleagues into signing up. We will be like cockroaches across a backpackers’ kitchen worktop as we swarm across them there hills.  It will be EPIC!

For all my Dig Deep Series related posts click here, you can re-live my pre-event angst and multitudinous recces.  You’ll have to scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you.  You may have a life or something you should be out there living, or a long run pending, or tea to drink whatever – so chase that instead. Shoo, go on.  Thanks for stopping by to hear my story en route though. Appreciated.

🙂

Oh you still want the results?  How odd.  Soooooo not the point.  When you are an experienced ultra-runner(ish) like myself you’ll understand the nature of the challenge better, but I recognise your curiosity so, sigh, here you go, results from all the Dig Deep 2018 challenges for your amusement, enlightenment and edification.  Enjoy.

And you want photos too?  Blimey, some people are just all take, take take!  Here you go, feast your eyes on these from the Dig Deep Facebook photo album page.  If that doesn’t inspire you to sign up, nothing will.

 

 

*Gotta love Google* – I say you’ve ‘gotta love Google’ but clearly this is not true and besides it’s complicated.  It can’t be good for one set of algorithms to get the monopoly of accessing portals into knowledge and yet, it’s still my default search engine, guilty as charged …  So, be aware of irony dear reader, remember that.

 

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It was buzzing out there on Stanage Edge. Dig Deep Recceing continues

Digested Read: still plodding on with my recces.  This time from Lady Cannings/ Norfolk Arms to Yorkshire Bridge Inn and back.  Mentally tough today, but bees were amazing.   My battery went flat though, my watch battery literally, and my morale figuratively. Not sure I’ve got this, not sure at all…. Disaster.  Not on strava, didn’t happen, maybe that’s just as well as not my finest yomp out.  Ah well, tomorrow is another day.

Literally.  Buzzing.  Never in my life have I seen so many bees.  It was beezarre.  The bees’ knees too, as it was pretty awesome, but so strange.  The air was a-hum and the ground looked like it was moving, and it was all bees.  Who knew?  Get me the intrepid naturalist, checking out nature’s wonders out in the peaks.  More of this later, though, loads more trivia to communicate before we get to that.

In case inexplicably you haven’t already guessed.  This is another in the series of my Dig Deep 30 recce confessionals.  It was a something of a case of ‘good in parts’.  I was going to say ‘ups and downs’, but given the elevation for this day was 2178 ft, I think we can take the highs and lows as a given.  The summary is that I struggled, and found it mentally tough out there today.  Battling back to base, reserves depleted and morale already low, sun beating down on me and water supplies exhausted this happened:

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NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!  Everyone knows that if it isn’t on Strava, it didn’t happen.  Sometimes a yomp out and about is its own reward, but sometimes, call me shallow dear reader, I need the hit of subsequently seeing my stats on Strava.  Then the aching legs, coating of sweat and salt and unfortunate areas of chafing become badges of honour earned through miles on the trails.  Without the evidence, you are just a physical wreck, deluded as to both your actual abilities and future potential.  To be honest, you might as well have stayed in all day and eaten lard.

lard ad

See how persuasive the lure of lard can be?  I’d be happy if only I’d done that…. still, not an option, I’d have had to have trex instead anyway, and I don’t know if that delivers quite the same buzz.  I’m not aware of a black market in trex so I’m assuming not, but then maybe I just don’t move in the right circles.  Anyway, this is the best that Strava would offer up at the end of all my sweaty slogging, 16.55 miles and 2,178ft of elevation.  I think the elevation is probably about right, as I was descending Houndkirk Road when my Tomtom announced it was through with this whole misguided endeavour.  But I reckon the actual mileage would have been about 19 miles.  Which is still a very long way off where I need to be.  Only about half the elevation and two-thirds of the mileage.  I didn’t even do Win Hill.  Oh crappity, crap crap.  Right now, I can’t see this Dig Deep ultra malarkey becoming a reality for me, not on current evidence at least.  And I’m trying soooooooooooooo hard.

strava battery died

The only certainty about the Dig Deep, is that if I don’t try I wont know, and if I don’t get to the start I definitely wont make the finish, so I may as well behave like I’m doing it and see how within reach completion is.  Part of this has required the acquisition of new skills (get me and my self-awarded gold star sticker for navigational prowess) and part of this requires the acquisition of new kit.  I’ve already got the new parkclaw inov-8 trail shoes.  A relatively painless purchase this time as normally buying shoes requires contortions and agonies of indecision before settling on the least worse with which to swaddle my arthritic, bunion adorned plate shaped feet.  Fortunately, inov-8 have cornered the market for my niche needs as far as I’m concerned, so I’m sticking with them for their trail shoes.  However, the time had come to do something about what to carry all my gear in.

It occurred to me, that my running gear apparel is a sort of evolution of my running journey.  I started off with a miniscule bum bag for keys and hanky and an in-case-of-emergency fiver, that invariably got blown on a post run latte.  Then, with my eyes on the prize of London, and having started to do slightly longer distances with the Dig Deep 12.12 last year, I bit the bullet and bought an ultimate direction belt, which came with two water bottles and you can fit a small Shetland pony round your midriff if you pack it right.  That has been great, but… there’s always a but… for longer distances, I’m finding you need to carry more than a Shetland pony in official kit.  Waterproofs, food, maps.  Also, I have to reach around to access the bottles, and that is a pain.   Also, I’ve found with longer runs it can slip a bit and chafe, and it’s hot and sweaty too.   Time to move up the apparel ladder, and get a running vest which will take a hydration pack/ bladder thing.  I don’t really like using them, I much prefer bottles, but I think I need to get over myself, bladders definitely are easier to access, and therefore I guess you’d be more likely to drink little and often, instead of doing what I tend to do, which is stop, glug a whole bottle, and then wonder why I get hiccups or a stitch 10 seconds later. I know, a complete mystery.  Anyway, time to up my game.

First stop, local running shop.  I’ve loved my Ultimate Direction belt, and loads of my Smiley Friends have their vests so I was expecting that to be my purchase.  Still, I like to demonstrate my enthusiasm for the purchase process by creating maximum disruption and trying on everything potentially suitable in the shop and scattering the detritus of rejected items on the shop counter.  Whilst it is true that this might create many hours of subsequent work for the proprietor, sorting everything and putting it all away neatly I see this as my way of providing the shop staff with some enrichment.  How dull it would be to be stood behind the counter otherwise, dreaming of the trails you could now be running on, were it not for the inconvenient truth of needing to earn a living.

Anyway, turns out, there are loads of vests to choose from.  It also turns out that none are designed for women in possession of any kind of frontage.  It is a dispiriting experience, trying on gear.  Heart-breaking even. It does contribute to that sense that you don’t belong, you shouldn’t even try to be part of this running community.  I get for men having pouches for water bottles positioned on your chest might work, but for females of the mammal species, this is just blooming ridiculous.  Most of the vests I could reject out of hand, they barely did up, or they did, achieved this by comically framing my boobs like one of those appalling, supposedly titillating seaside postcards of old.  Please gawd you can’t still get them?  I really don’t know.  Eventually, it came down to an ultimate direction that could fit a bladder – but I’d have to buy that separately or maybe a salomon one, because that had some stretch in it, and looked potentially the least ridiculous when worn.  But they didn’t have my size.  However, being of an obliging disposition, this was duly ordered in, and when it arrived, I went to try that and compare with the UD vest.  The Salomon one was disappointingly hopeless.  I mean it’s a good vest, they all are, but none of them really cater for a more, erm, curvaceous form.  To maximise how disruptive I could be, I’d brought along all the kit I would need to stuff in to the bag, lawks a lordy, it’s quite a haul:

  • Full body cover (windproof/waterproof)
  • Compass and full route map
  • Spare water and food
  • Whistle
  • Mobile phone
  • Cuddly toy for reassurance when it all gets a bit too much*
  • Paper bag to breath in when hyperventilating, note, keep in dry bag to ensure it hasn’t disintegrated in rain/as a consequence of a leaking hydration pack or bottle*
  • Huge box of tissues for if/when quiet cry or primeval wail is called for*

Then food, water, hat, sunglasses, reading glasses, book in case I get bored.  I’d even brought a bladder with me that I’ve hardly used, but wanted to see if it would fit the UD vest.  Long story short, after much angst, whilst the Front Runner team was distracted by another customer I espied a previously unnoticed running vest an arcteryx, which is apparently a fine outdoorsy brand.  Seizing the moment, I had a rummage through and try on of them.  I thought they were all size 14, but turns out, that is the capacity which is HUGE. It came with a 2 litre bladder (big tick) and sort of fitted ok when stuffed with my kit.  The disadvantage is that it’s really just one big bag at the back, though there are various pouches at the front, but it is 100% waterproof, which none of the other vests are, and could yet turn out to be something of a boon. This is The One, I thought, starry-eyed with eager anticipation.  Like all new relationships, it’s going to take a while to get used to each others’ little ways, but hopefully we’d make it for the long haul.  I give you the arcytex Norvan 14.

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Also, because I think it’s important to learn something new every day, even it if it isn’t necessarily something particularly useful, did you know that the name and logo of Arc’teryx refer to the Archaeopteryx, among the earliest known birds?  I didn’t.  We all do now though don’t we!  Isn’t that splendid.

I left the shop feeling moderately confident.  Trying on running gear always makes me feel like a freak of nature, running vests aren’t flattering to those in possession of my physique, but I told myself that doesn’t matter, this is all about practicality, and any minor humiliations in terms of appearance are but a small price to pay for the multitude of pbs over distance that will now rain down on my Strava stats.

So, the next day, I filled up the bladder – 2 litres is a good quantity.  Added in everything I would be required to carry on race day.  They say race, I would say it’s a run not a race for me at least, though actually that’s not strictly true, more a walk than a run the way things are going, but let’s not quibble.  It seemed crazy to be piling stuff in that I wouldn’t need for today’s run, but the whole point was to replicate what I’d need to do on the day.  Quickly, I encountered some problems.  The stash bag principle is great for capacity, but not great for keeping bits and bobs separate.  The pockets on the front of the vest are hopeless for me, I’ve got more than enough stashed up front as it is.  Oh well.  The greater challenge was when I put it on with the full bladder, it completely shifts how the darned thing fits.  The tube from the bladder no longer reached up high enough, the pockets were stretched and misaligned, it looked bloody awful to be honest, and wasn’t even especially comfy.  I could have wept.  It does frustrate me.    With a bit of tweaking you could have a great running vest for women, but manufactures are only catering for a narrow range of physiques.  When I am an international sporting icon, with my own sporting range to include bespoke decent comfy support sports bras for women of substance and shoes to accommodate those with plate footed arthritic feet with a bunion on the side, I’m also going to launch a range of bespoke running vests.  Vests that you can put all your kit in without looking like you are modelling for some sort of weird bondage gear designed by a team of misogynists.  Just saying.

Unfortunately, I have yet to be discovered and launched as an international sporting icon, so the arctyrex would have to serve.  I knew none of the others would be any better, and at least this has a decent sized bladder and can fit all my gear. There was much wrestling, shoving and rearranging of water tubes.  I got there in the end.  The pouches now stretched over my bust and so anything put in there would just catapult straight out, but I could shove a couple of naked bars in the lower pockets and everything else fitted in the stuff bag so hey ho, off we go.

I headed off to the lay by opposite the Norfolk Arms car park.  Very handy for nipping in and using their loo before off.  A final wrestle with my running vest, and I was in.  Fighting back the tears a bit, nothing like finding you can’t fit into even a large without contortion for crushing morale at the start of a recce.  What are you supposed to do?  Short of breast reduction or strapping my frontage I don’t see how any running vest would ever work with my contours.   I felt such a misfit, but I’ve overcome bigger battles than this one.  As long as it’s functional when on…

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off I go.

It was a lovely morning to be fair.  Cool and breezy.  My plan was to go to the Yorkshire Bridge inn and back in one go.  It’s annoying doing out and back routes, but it is a good way to get really familiar with the course, and it is logistically the easiest way to tackle recces on my own.  It’s been grand going out with others, but in reality I need to practise solo too, I’m not expecting any company at my speed on the day.

Up the path, through Lady Cannings plantation, the heather is rapidly blooming once you get out on the moor.  There was hardly anyone about. I  was surprised, I didn’t even see dog walkers.  It was nice once I was in my stride, the vest may not be flattering but it is very comfy, and extremely light.  The only weirdness was that I could feel the bladder sticking in my back a bit where the tube joins the reservoir.  Probably need to tweak that. Also, I’ve been doing all my other recces with a much-loved old day pack.  I hadn’t realised this has got me into the habit of hanging onto the straps as I walk along.  It keeps my hands elevated and stops all the blood rushing to my finger tips. It felt weird not being able to do this.  Having the water accessible all the time is definitely much better. The only downside being that you can’t tell how much you are drinking.  I know you are supposed to drink on feel, but I also sometimes suddenly ‘notice’ I’ve drunk hardly anything on a long walk/run and so will make a point of drinking more.  Be interesting to see how I go.

I wasn’t going to take too many photos today, but look how lovely it is out there, different every day.

This is my favourite picture though:

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That was worth getting up and out for.

As I walked, I was trying to think what would be the most amazing thing I could possibly see out and about today. I’ve had a lucky run of seeing amazing things, so wasn’t expecting any particular highlights, but I decided it would be to see an adder. They are out there, but I’ve never seen them.  Maybe today would be the day!  Spoiler alert, it wasn’t, but I moved in hope rather than expectation.  It’s good to have an objective for the day.

Unremarkable first bit of walk. I  realised after a bit that I’d left my phone at home.  I’ve never really used it, oh, apart from the other week when I found that bank card – but of course sod’s law would dictate today would be the day.  Oh well, too late now.  Over Houndkirk, through the gate, and inspected ‘my’ white heather, it’s not a big patch, but it’s still there.

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Scampered onwards.  Past the cars and coaches at Fiddlers Elbow, along the road, up towards Stanage Edge.  One really good thing about today, is that I found I remembered the whole route without needing to look at the map even once.  I think I’ve also remembered where all the dibbing points are too.  Until  a couple of days ago I’d assumed all of these would be unmissable because they’d be in the company of a hi-vis marshal, but I discovered recently this is not so.  I do need to make sure I don’t get complacent on that score.  Would be really, really annoying to skip on by one and not notice it.  I’ll be slow enough without time penalties thank you very much.

So my spirits lifted as the miles rolled by.  The pack is comfy, it doesn’t do me any favours in the ‘most glamorous runner you’ll see out on the hills today’ contest, and I was wondering if maybe the UD one would have been better because it was more generously fitted over the chest and had more pockets… but then I think on balance having a pack that is fully waterproof could yet prove to be a boon, and I will get used to it I’m sure.

Eventually I found the path up towards Stanage and clambered slowly up.  The road is shorter now I know where I’m going, the weather was perfect, this was going to be fine.

So then I was on Stanage.  The clouds gave the sky a particularly spectacular look, and sort of increases the sense of space.  Every time I come up here I’m astonished at how often you have the whole skyline to yourself, especially first thing in the day. It’s extraordinary.  I think maybe there were a couple of runners who skipped by, but that was it.  Even so, I was not completely alone.  It was a little while before I properly twigged what I was hearing.  There was a fair old breeze, but caught within it was a distinctive hum.  ‘If I didn’t know any better‘ I thought to myself ‘I’d swear that was bees swarming‘.  I stepped on, listening more intently.  ‘That’s definitely bees’.  I decided, stopping for a bit to examine my surroundings.  I looked down.  Oh my!  Now, maybe you have seen this before and it happens all the time and I’ve just never noticed, but I really don’t think so.  It was absolutely amazing.  It looked the whole ground was moving, it was alive with bees.  I don’t know what they were doing quite, or what had brought them out.  It was like those rare summer days when ants fly, they are suddenly everywhere.  Here were hundreds and hundreds of bees.  Thousands of them probably.  I bent down to investigate at closer quarter.  Oh my!  Even more extraordinary.  There was a multitude of little round holes in the loose grit ‘banks’ of the path.  I don’t know if it is one colony, or a gathering of thousands of solitary bees.  There was a lot of activity.  Some bees were tumbling together – fighting?  I have no idea.  I’ve never really thought about the bees up there.  I mean, logically, I suppose there must be bees, because of the rich heather – but then again that is only at certain times of year.  For much of the year there is practically nothing to eat, and the bleak windswept more can’t be a good place for an insect to thrive.  I tried to take some pictures, but they don’t do the phenomenon justice.  I also took a video, which is ace, but which I have no idea how to upload.  You’ll have to just use your imagination, and hum along the pictures for yourself.  It was quite the bees’ knees though.

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I must google this.  Maybe they are seasonal specialist bees?  Maybe they were battling for possession of the most desirable earth hole dwellings for themselves, or for their young.  One of the most exciting battles I’ve ever witnessed was between a baboon spider (type of tarantula) and a scorpion, for possession of a hole.  The scorpion won, it was quite poignant, how they tumbled and battled to the death.  Here is scorpion in its newly acquired hole.  It used it as a base to hunt termites, ambushing them as they (failed to) pass by.  The poor spider just crept away and now destitute, died.

Don’t know what was going on with the bees though.  You should have been there!  Not just for the bees, but for the view from on high, spectacular up there:

I continued my crouched down examination of this entomological display.  I didn’t at first notice the family who had now joined me up the top.  A youngish boy stared at me, apparently looking me up and down, a thought seemingly taking form in his mind as he did so. Then he looked at his mum and said ‘mum‘ (that’s how I know it was his mum, I’m quick on the uptake like that), ‘you look stupid‘.  She replied ‘it doesn’t matter what I look like, we are out for a walk, nobody cares!’  A good sentiment, but I couldn’t help noticing she didn’t look stupid at all whereas… I have a suspicion there was a bit of transference going on there.  I may have been temporarily distracted by the bee display, but I still wasn’t really rocking the ultra runner look.

Oh well, maybe it is because I wasn’t actually running.  I stood up and sort of jogged off, bit half-heartedly it’s true, but speedily enough to put distance between me and the family walking along behind.

Carrying along the tops, the views were stunning and the weather perfect.  Oh for it to be like this come August bank holiday weekend.  I felt OK, plodding along, occasionally slurping from my water spout, I ate one of my naked bars. I’m really bored with them. I’ve not sussed the fuelling aspect of this endeavour at all.  I want something more savoury, crinkle cut crisps would go down a storm, but not very portable.  I am cutting it fine for experimenting with new things.  I didn’t put electrolytes in my water today either, I’m wondering if that could have been a contributory factor in crashing a bit later.  I know it’s pathetic, but I didn’t want to put electrolytes in the bladder because I think the tubing might be tricky to clean, but that’s crazy, it must be possible to clean it and it rather defeats the object of carrying fluids if they aren’t fit for the long-distance purpose.

More bee sightings later, again, a carpet of them buzzing around. This wouldn’t be good for bee phobics (are there such people) many a fine B movie features killer bees (the swarm dear reader), that’s why they are called bee movies.  Fact.++  What are they all doing.  And how come I’ve never noticed all those little bee homes along the ridge before.

Eventually, I descended and ended up on the undulating tarmac road that takes you to the base of Win Hill or the Yorkshire Bridge Inn, depending on how intrepid and strong you are feeling.  Being weak-willed, today my destination of choice was the Yorkshire Bridge hostelry.  One more epic thing happened en route though. It’s going to sound far-fetched, but I promise you it’s quite true.  As I was on the last bit of road towards the T-junction that leads to Yorkshire Bridge, I came across a youngish couple.  They were evidently lost, and, what’s more, didn’t even have a map with them!  Honestly, what rookie walkers were they?  I was able to get my map out for the first time that morning (did I mention enough that I’d memorised the route and hadn’t needed it at all up until that point) and show them where we were, point to the path they needed and estimate how far away it was.  I tried to appear nonchalant about my fabulous display of applied navigational skills, and suggested in what I hope wasn’t tooooooo patronising a tone, that they might like to take a photo of my map, in case they needed to reorient themselves later on. This they did, and I waved them on their way, inwardly rejoicing at this demonstration of how I’ve now moved up the navigational food chain.  Not only able to navigate for myself, but competent enough to give advice to others!  Wow, who’d have thought such a transition was possible.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’d survive very long if you blindfolded me, and dropped me on a moor somewhere unspecified with nothing more than a map and a pair of clean knickers to sustain me.  (Everyone knows you should always have a pair of clean undies on your person in case you should get hit by a bus on the way home from anywhere.  Even the most dastardly of evil villains would not deny me that surely).  Mind you, if you tried to blindfold me and drop me on a moor you probably wouldn’t survive very long either.  I didn’t spend a year doing body combat three times a week for a whole year for nothing.  Sigh, those were happy hours at the gym, with a steroid infused instructor who would stand in front of you shouting in your face with beads of sweat pouring from his forehead ‘punch me, go on, see if you can hit me‘ and I would try, and he would always dodge the hooks, but there was always that frisson of peril that one time he might not.  I’ve since discovered to my dismay, that this isn’t apparently standard practise for body combat classes.  It is not usual apparently for the instructor to say ‘for this one, think of someone you hate,  imagine you have managed to grab their head and now smash the skull down on your knee to shatter it and keep doing it til it’s completely smashed. GO!’  I was so disappointed when I changed gyms and the new instructor was all ‘now look around you everyone, we don’t want you hitting your class mates by accident, and watch out not to over extend your joints, nice and gently everyone 4 3 2 and go!’  Not the same stress busting tonic at all.  I stopped going then.  That’s years of tension I’ve been storing ever since, so BACK OFF abduction people, it won’t work!

Boosted by my ability to direct others, albeit only up the road in a straight line until they saw the gate for the public footpath, I headed to the pub. I was flagging a bit, and thought maybe a bowl of soup would be just the thing.  Unfortunately, the pub was absolutely heaving and maybe had only just started serving food as the bar was 3 deep with people placing orders, no-one actually had food in front of them and the place stunk, I mean really really stunk, of fish.  It made me heave.  I’m probably more sensitive than most to this smell as I’m actually allergic to fish as well as being vegetarian, so have never ever eaten it apart from as an infant when I went into anaphylactic shock, which I don’t remember.  Though the medication I had then explains my idiosyncratic teeth, a story for another day.

I decided to leave it, just turn on my heels and head back.  Now, with the benefit of hindsight this maybe wasn’t my best move.  I’d only got 2 litres of water with me, and two naked bars and some emergency glucose tablets.  It was hot, so I wasn’t feeling hungry, but as I started trekking back I could feel my reserves depleting.  I was really hoping there’d be an ice cream van at fiddlers elbow (there wasn’t) and losing my enthusiasm for the trek I slowed.  Why hadn’t I put electrolytes in my water?  Sooooo dim.  I didn’t really bonk as such, but I just started to feel a bit sorry for myself.  My mind crowded with negative thoughts about how crap I am at this ‘running’ malarkey, and what’s the point in entering an ultra if you are just going to walk round.  Blah de blah petulant stuff for the most part.  The bees were still in evidence once I started the ascent to Stanage Edge though, and they calmed me and distracted me. They are/ were blooming amazing.  Also, I met a couple with a strange-looking big red-eyed dog with a liver coloured coat.  It stopped and stared at me for a while then sniffed me and walked on.  It’s keepers looked on a little anxiously, which didn’t instil confidence, but then remarked ‘oh, that’s good, he barked at the last person, you must have the magic touch‘.  Being shallow, I am easily won over, ‘how lovely that I may have the magic touch’ I thought to myself.  ‘I am practically a dog whisperer.  What a slew of talents have gushed forth from me of late.  Perhaps I am finally finding myself after all these years.  Must update my LinkedIn profile, curses, I should have got their names and email addresses, they could have done me a testimonial.  Never mind, it’s a start…’ you get the idea.  Onwards and upwards until I was back up on high.  Stunning views, a lot more people, and a bizarrely flattened rabbit corpse.  How did that happen?  Don’t worry, I’m not going to make a rabbit habit of posting dead animal snaps, it’s just that this one was a bit weird.

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Just a thought. Is there some deeper significance to the proximity of dead animal carcasses and bees? You know, like the Tate and Lyle lion with its bees. Not sure why a brand would want a dead lion swarming with bees for a logo, but I’m sure google can tell me.  Oh ok, it did.  Religious imagery apparently.  Nope, wasn’t having a religious epiphany up there, though I was renewing my appreciation of bees.

tate and lyle lion

Once I descended Stanage, I took a slightly different route, though a little gate to approach the ice cream car park from a different angle.  I had it in mind that I’d try to increase my mileage a bit to make it a 20 mile recce, the outward trek had only been 9 and a bit miles so I was a bit short.  There weren’t many people about, but I did disturb a poor woman who was quite clearly trying to have a discrete pee, only drawing attention to her plans by pretending she was looking for a dropped pen or something.  I pretended that I didn’t notice, so dignity preserved all round.   The lies we all collude with to ease our way through life eh?   Lovely view though.  Not of her having a pee, but of the heather and hills.  I hadn’t seen the approach to Higger Tor from quite this angle before.

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There was no ice cream van, and it dawned on me that my water was quite low too.  Another disadvantage of the bladder, you can’t see how much you have left, I should have refilled it at the pub.

Oh well, I decided to take the upper path at Burbage, partly just for a change, I hate just retracing my steps, and partly because if there are adders about, I think I’d be most likely to see the on the less travelled path.  Didn’t find one, but it was probably good to do technical terrain whilst tired.  Suddenly it was seemingly a long, long pootle out.  I hadn’t even covered half the 30 mile distance and was flagging.  I really need to up my game.  Sometimes I think I just genuinely don’t try hard enough. I don’t push myself in case I bonk, but of course that means I never progress.  I’m running out of time to try new tactics.  I can live with ‘getting round’ but on today’s evidence even that seems doubtful. Hurrumph.  I was so hot and sweaty.  There being nobody around, I took advantage of the breeze from being up high and lifted my top to let the air onto my skin.  Lovely.

I gave myself a talking to.  You want to know what the weird thing is?  Nope, well I’m going to tell you anyway.  The weird thing is, when I went through my mental  ‘how am I feeling checklist’, I actually felt pretty OK.  For me at least, it’s a good way to test whether the challenge is mental or physical.  My legs felt fine, strong even.  No problem with breathing. I  was hot, but not especially bothered, yep, a bit thirsty, and my water had run out.  But I’ve suffered worse, and possibly peckish but not about to faint, though I was definitely at the point where I’d have liked to have had a little something left to eat and didn’t.  Conclusion.  I was fine. It was just my body pronouncing it’d been lovely, but it’d be quite good to stop now.  Stopping however, wasn’t an option.  No phone, so I wasn’t going to be calling mountain rescue, and anyway, I’m not sure they come out as a taxi service just because you can’t be bothered to walk anymore.  They aren’t a mountain side über service, contrary to what some may want to believe.  No option but to press on.  Fortunately, the views were stunning, and it is one of my favourite parts of the walk.

I trekked on, thinking of the high points still to come.  The white heather patch.  The Houndkirk road and the end in sight.  The glory of uploading a 20 mile run on Strava.  Maybe people wouldn’t focus so much on my speed as my endurance #legsofsteel might even be in order, if I could just break that 20 mile mark…  I got onto the old Roman Road really believing this, and it seemed to be at that exact moment I glanced down to my watch, which hadn’t vibrated in quite a while – it does that every mile, well, it’s supposed to.  Disaster. The battery had packed up. I could do what I wanted, but my watch had given up on me I’d be going it alone.

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This was not good. I tried to think of all those great adventurers who’d pressed on without GPS or even a watch to time themselves accurately.  I could do the last mile to the Norfolk Arms surely.

And I did.  I was too hot and tired to even go in there for a coffee, I just wanted to go home for a bath.  So I did.

Bath concluded, I’m not sure what I feel.  The upside is that I did near enough 20 miles and I’m not injured or anything – not even a blister, I’m just knackered.  I can find my way, and the new pack will be fine once I get used to it, not flattering, but for me no public appearances ever are, so the camera tells me anyway.  The downside is it’s increasingly dawning on me that even walking 30 miles with that much elevation is going to be a significant challenge, plus doing it on my own. I’m expecting to be so slow that I won’t be in sight of anyone else. Still, I’ll have the bees for company and maybe a stoat or too.  As for my watch’s battery life. That’s a problem.  I can’t bear that if I do the route my watch will give up on me half way round.  I can see only two solutions, buy a new watch, erm, nope, just bought a vest and new shoes, the watch will have to wait, and the alternative?  To speed up sufficiently that I do get round before my watch gives out.  Can’t honestly see that happening.  Maybe in a parallel universe.  Oh well, que sera.

So that was that, another day’s recce done.

I still don’t know what’s going to happen, but then again, that is what makes life interesting.  I am thinking though, next time I head out, I might try to visit the rock shop discovered on my last foray out,  and deposit some magic stones or similar in their honesty tin.  What might be a good and suitably mysterious find I wonder. ….  now there’s a project

DSCF3828

See, there’s always a reason to head out, maybe it isn’t game over quite yet…

Or maybe it is, I honestly have no idea at all.

None.

 

For all my Dig Deep Series related posts, click here, and scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you

*I might have made that up.  But they are not altogether bad ideas now are they?

++ yes, but a Lucy fact.  i.e. something I choose to believe to be true, but am unable to evidence objectively other than pronouncing ‘well it should be‘.

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

Now what? Hurtling on past the post marathon blues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

depression ahead

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

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

your pace or mine

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

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

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

loveliness of smilies

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

parkrun code

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

my fantasy running buddy

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

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

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

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

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

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

mile 4 (6)

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

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

hathersage hurtle

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

To end with positives I think I offer up two:

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

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

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

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

she believed she could

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

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

Easy as.

You’re welcome.

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

So see you out on them there hills.

🙂

nice out

Categories: motivation, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

Digested read:  did it.

done it

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

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

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

ran and didnt tell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

this is real

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

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

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

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

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

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

dark peak hero

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

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

loo queue

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

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

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

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

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

nearly across the start (2)

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

hot air balloons at start

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

start line

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

start band

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

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

first mile mark

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

Mile two.

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

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

humping marshals

Mile three.

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

Mile 4

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

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

MIle 4 vision of loveliness

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

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Into mile 5.

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

Mile 6

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

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

mile 6 done.

Into mile 7.

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

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

Mile 8

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

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

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

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

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

fire fighter

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

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

Mile 9

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

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

Mile 10 and 11

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

Mile 12