Posts Tagged With: confidence

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:

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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.

 

Categories: motivation, off road, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The stories we tell…counting down to Dig Deep judgement day, feeling down, but still not yet out.

Digested read: traditional pre-event whingeing and angst.  I wouldn’t read on if i were you, it’s just self-pitying, melodramatic stream of consciousness stuff, I’m sure you have something better to do.  Don’t know why I signed up for a thirty mile yomp out round the peaks.  Everything hurts, and I’m turning to lard whilst tapering.  Really doubting myself, but then again, it’s really just a long day out in the heather isn’t it?  What’s not to like.  I’m going to take a picnic, try to dust down my positive attitude and see if I can squish that into my running vest before I head out, and then I’ll just keep on putting one foot in front of another for as far and as long as I can.  If I can’t beat the fear, well I’ll just do it all scared.  Running Scared has always been my defining characteristic  from the inception of this blog after all, although granted the ‘running’ part covers quite a continuum of paces! What’s the worst….

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Only it’s not is it?  Judgement Day, not really.  It’s only a day out on the trails and moors.  It will be a challenge blah de blah, but let’s not get overly melodramatic about the whole thing.  No-one will be sitting in judgement, no-one whose opinion really ought to matter to me, the most likely outcome is no-one will notice at all one way or the other, what it all comes down to is a desire to take on a personal challenge to just see where my limits lie, it is both of as little and as much significance as that.

…. all the same, with just a few days to go ’til the Dig Deep 30/ Peak Trails 30 I am in the midst of my now traditional pre-event angst.  I learned from a fellow Graves Junior parkrun hi-viz volunteer that this is the way forward.  Don’t refer to ‘races’ anymore, instead adopt the terminology of ‘events’ or, potentially better yet – ‘challenges’.  Could work, and in all seriousness does shift the focus away from how individual performances compare with others, on to simply how it is experienced subjectively.  In a small way, it is about shifting the narrative.  At the risk of sounding pretentious, we have a choice over how we position ourselves in our own stories.  I can be a victim, blaming external factors for my failure to succeed at Dig Deep, I can be in my own tragedy, struggling against the odds but ultimately failing, or I can decide to be the protagonist in my very own adventure.  Part of the fun is not knowing how it will all unfold, and that has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I make the whole 30 mile distance on one particular day and everything to do with all I’ve undertaken in trying to get there.  It’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey, and the stories we write for ourselves might be part of how that comes to be perceived.  DIY spin maybe, but frankly dear reader, whatever it takes to start feeling positive again!

Turns out, you can learn a lot from Graves Junior parkrun hi-viz heroes.  I was discussing the weirdity (I know it’s not a ‘proper’ word, but I’ve just made it up and I like it, so what are you going to do about it?  Shoot me?)  of upping the distance when you just don’t know if it’s really fun any more with another hi-vizer.  I voiced my thought that,  in my case at least, I am starting to wonder why I’m doing it if the fun has gone out of this experiment in endurance. It isn’t compulsory, nobody is making me take on 30 miles of lonely windswept hills.  A few people I know have even proactively counselled me against it, which is understandable but not good for morale.  They haven’t actually gone for the ‘but your womb will fall out!’ argument, but are throwing a few ‘what are you thinking’, ‘you don’t have to do this‘ and ‘what if you die out there‘ grenades.  Cheers.

Anyway, fortunately for me this wise wisdom-mongerer, who is herself taking on a 50 mile challenge later in the year – Ladybower 50  (my eyes bleed at the very thought) put it very well.  A pleasing counterpoint to those (including myself) who are slightly incredulous and fearful to hear I’m serious about doing this thing.   For her, it is about finding her limit, and she’ll keep extending the distances until she does.  I get that.  It’s not that I actually want to be broken, I’d honestly rather not – though sadly not enough to train systematically enough prior to participation unfortunately.  However, I do want to find out how far I can go.  We won’t know our limits unless we test them.  I used to think going to a parkrun was an impossible dream, then later 10k seemed insanity.  There were some breakthrough events, the Round Sheffield Run will always have a special place in my heart  because entering that was something of an accident and I realised I could go a lot further than I realised.  Then there was the time me and a running buddy got lost on a 5k run and ended up being out for hours with no food, head torches or water doing 18k. It was hilarious, and whilst not recommended, again demonstrates we can all do more than we think if circumstances require. Only this week, a woman survived 10 hours in the sea after falling off the back of a cruise ship.  Well done her, though I can’t help thinking it was a tad careless to topple off one of those.  Those ships are like tower blocks.  Also, the coverage was a bit harsh I thought. Some of those experts weren’t way near impressed enough at her survival.  I was.   Anyway, the point is, in extremeis, it’s amazing what we can do – she didn’t do fitness training in preperation for her 10 hours of treading water, not unless you count mindfulness and yoga, which I don’t.  There is no reason why, if we keep on setting new goals, in my case a bit further every time, then we shouldn’t sometimes just surprise ourselves by achieving them.  I’m not expressing this very well, but what I think I’m trying to say, is simply this.  If I change my mindset from ‘what if I fail?’ to ‘so what if I fail‘ and by extension ‘let’s go find out if I can‘ it’s going to be a lot more fun on the day.  It doesn’t matter if I’m a DNF (did not finish) because I’m just testing my boundaries.  Also, what if I fly?  Metaphorically, plenty do…

what if i fly

I may yet get round, which would be grand, but if I don’t, I’ll have still learned a load from the process and can decide if my DNF is a consequence of having reached my limit, or a consequence of being a bit naive about how I approached the whole thing.  There’s always next year to fail again, fail better.

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In my heart of hearts, I do believe I’m capable of the distance, why wouldn’t I be?  As long as I’m slow enough and realistic about how I tackle it.  However, I also know in my heart of hearts I just haven’t really prepared properly.  I’ve underestimated the hills, I’ve faffed re nutrition, I’m carrying too much extra weight (round my midriff not in my pack) and I’ve not done necessary strength training or cross training that I am realising rather too late in the day is pretty much essential to avoid injury whilst training and/or undertaking an ultra, even a wee intro one.  The consequence is, instead of dreading the Dig Deep, I need to see it as just another fine day out with a picnic on the vertical learning curve that I laughingly refer to as my ‘running career’ trajectory.  I’ll either finish or I won’t but it’s just a step on the way to the next challenge.

If you are still with me dear reader, well done, but I’m really sorry that you don’t have anything more interesting and compelling to do right now as what follows will more than likely be self-indulgent taper-induced first world problemitising, you have been warned.

My last training yomp was a bit crap honestly.  Apart from the unexpected novelty of having the Queen rock up to cheer me round Bradwell, it was hard.  It was a long, lonely, hurrumphing 20 miles out.  My battery died, my legs ached, I just felt I didn’t know why I was out there.  There was nothing wrong with me physically, I don’t think so anyway, it was just like my mind had a moment of clarity that this was all quite hard actually, and completely unnecessary.  ‘You numpty, what are you doing hoiking your weary carcass through 20+ miles when you don’t have to?’  it said.  And you know what?  I had no answer.  Everyone else who I knew who was originally thinking of doing the thirty miler,  had already dropped out, there’d be no shame if I did the same.  Then I remembered that cheesy but true mantra, about run long, run short, but never outrun your love of running.  And, yes, if you want to be pedantic, I was only walking anyway at this point, but the principle stands true.  It’s one thing having a bad session, we’ve all had them, but if I was really questioning what’s the point, then there was no point.  Don’t want to piss on my own firework and lose the one thing I do that seems to free me of all of  life’s baggage because I didn’t know when to back off and take stock.

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By the time I got home, I was shattered, and demoralised.  Worse, my shin pain had returned with a vengeance.  Not good. Oh well, I made a choice.  I could still pull out from the event altogether, but that would feel like failing before I’ve tried.  I could drop back to the 12.12, but as all my ‘training’ has been walking, that would probably feel even worse as I’m not running fit, though I am more endurance fit.  The upshot is I’d get round fine, but probably significantly slower than last year and I think that would be even more demoralising.  Then I thought, in the two weeks left I can’t improve my fitness, but i could make an injury worse.  I decided to embrace a cold turkey ‘taper’, just knock all these solitary plods on the head, rest up and on event day head out with a picnic and a positive outlook and see how far I get. No pressure. The preparation equivalent of ‘turning it on and off again’ reset, start afresh, blank canvas.  I think this is a good plan. Or at least a good enough one, and once I’ve attempted or finished the route I’ll have a base line from which to plan where to go next.  I’d like to think if I went back to basics, maybe even a couch to 5k to get some running confidence back, worked at losing a bit of weight and added in some cross training I can come back stronger and wiser next year.  This is the plan as of now.

Not going out and yomping is miserable though.   Even if  I’m sure it’s a necessary strategy given that my shins have been really sore.  To be honest it’s not altogether suprprising I’ve been down.  I had a bit of shite week, sore shins, bruised morale.  My little injured dunnock, that I’ve been channelling, wasn’t attacked by a cat at all, but rather has developed full on avian pox, which is distressing to watch, though its stoicism is still remarkable.   I also found out to my absolute horror that swimming with captive dolphins is still apparently an acceptable thing.   I thought blackfish and similar exposés had put an end to that.  Heart breaking.  We really are going backwards in terms of animal welfare I think.  How is that OK?  Mind you, I am constantly horrified by many things in life, look at how pigs are farmed, yet the dominant view is celebrating bacon butties is ok, I’m a minority there too.  And really, given how people treat people there are bigger atrocities everywhere. You can’t protect Rwandan gorillas without protecting people too – genocide focuses the mind, and if I was starving and scared of venturing too far in case I’d be attacked by machete I’d probably be poaching from my nearest forest too.  Well, I’d like to think genocide and poverty and climate change etc did focus the mind, but it’s amazing how compassion fatigue or just disbelief kicks in and we all continue to stand on by. I know it’s complicated.   Even so, with the dolphins it’s such visible torture I was shocked that for some it isn’t even a dilemma, the great marketing machine has normalised this as – not just acceptable -, but desirable, aspirational even. With pigs, most people don’t come face to face with the reality of their lives and deaths, but we haven’t quite plumbed the depths of having smiling crowds gawping at them being slaughtered, though I daresay it is only a matter of time.  There are ways of seeing dolphins in the wild, why not do that?  I wonder if swimming with captive dolphins will be viewed like cock-fighting and bear-baiting are now in the UK one day.  Puzzling, distressing and anachronistic.

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A marker of a different age. I can but hope. Meantime I’ll just feel desperately sad as I acknowledge I’m seemingly in a minority on this topic too.   I’m glad to say the tide seems to have turned on the joy riding of elephants now. In my youth it was completely unchallenged, but now I think it’s wildly accepted that this is unacceptable, though you can still take tourist elephant rides in Cambodia.    I’m also very aware of my own inconsistencies in how I live, and what I do.  Wasting stuff, not making the transition to vegan blah de blah, and then I witness yet more Trumpisms being enacted that are accelerating the destruction of the planet and whether or not I recycle my yoghurt pots seems of little other than symbolic significance.  I told you tapering angst was bad.  The world just wasn’t feeling like a very nice place last week, everything was a bit much.  Maybe I just shouldn’t venture out from under my duvet at all…

I decided I wouldn’t run at parkrun as I don’t want my legs to shatter  pre the bank holiday, or ever to be fair –  so I tried to volunteer but was turned down.  (Grown up parkrun not junior) which was rubbish. Must be the only parkrun in the world that regularly turns away volunteers if my experience is anything to go by.  I wouldn’t mind quite so much but it’s now the eighth time over the years I’ve been told not to bother.  I just wanted to still be part of it, as I miss my parkrun fix otherwise  I wasn’t offering to volunteer out of martyrdom, I proactively wanted to do it to help me lift my mood.   I was going to stay away altogether in a sulk, but then found another buddy currently injured (hurrah!) who was up for walking it with me, so that’s what we did, and it was grand so all’s well etc.  It’s interesting walking at parkrun, a great way to see the whole field of runners, and put the world to rights through companionable chat.  We didn’t put the world to rights in a way that you might actually have noticed to be fair, but it was therapeutic walking and talking all the same.

Afterwards, cheered by the presence of other parkrun buddies and post parkrun coffee I may even have made a pact with another to enter the ballot for the Great North Run 2019. Well, it has been on my bucket list a while, and falls clearly into the category of being a challenge so far in the future I need not worry my pretty little head about how on earth I’ll take on the practicalities of training just now.  Nothing ventured eh?  It’ll be a hoot!  Red Arrows, that would be super cool.  I’m sure they do something to offset the carbon footprint of those flights. Plus seaside!  Always a boon.  The only other event we discussed was the Marathon des Sables and I surely would have had my wits about me sufficiently not to accidentally have agreed to that.  What’s more, whilst I wouldn’t claim to be pain free, my shins are definitely a lot better, resting was definitely the right call.  Things are looking up.

In another effort to settle my nerves and build my confidence I did some googling of Dig Deep ultra tails from the trails.  As is traditional when I use internet search engines, I just keep on searching until I find a version of events that corresponds with the answer I am seeking.  Alternative facts if you will.  Guilty as charged.  On this occasion I hit the jack pot.  Sandbach Striders did something called the OMM Dig Deep Intro Ultra way back in 2013.  Three of them went round together. From the video they’ve produced of the event it looks like the same route I’ll be tackling and do you know what, it really cheered me.  Not because they made it look easy, but because they made it look hard. They have a clip they filmed of themselves coming up Win Hill, which is basically one long expletive interspersed with expressions of disbelief, and then another section up to Rebellion Knoll, the Jurassic Section I’ve heard it described as elsewhere on account of tall vegetation and viscous biting local wildlife.  Insects the size of your head that kind of thing.  At the top of the second climb, one of them is just lying in a star shape, refusing to get up whilst his ‘mates’ are prodding him, and trying to persuade him to get up for long enough to at least dab his dibber.  It suddenly dawned on me that everyone finds those sections hard.  Even these fit ‘lads’.  I’ve been despairingly trudging up on my own imagining everyone else traversing these sections like mountain goats on speed or warthogs on a mission.  In fact, spoiler alert – the majority simply won’t.  I find this perversely reassuring.  I’d even venture I looked a bit less almost-dead at the top of Rebellion Knoll than the grey-faced guy on the ground in the video clip.  They got round, maybe this isn’t out of the question after all.  Things were looking up.

Unfortunately, things were also looking down. Such is the yin and yan of the tapering experience.  The last-minute race details were emailed through.   They were comprehensive and helpful, including a photo of each of the dibbing points.  I thought I knew the route, but the race map was in such poor detail that I hadn’t realised you have to climb up Carl Wark to get to the dibber.  I thought you just skirted round the bottom like for the 12.12 last year.  Curses.  It’s really not far, and I’m thankful to know ahead of time so I don’t miss it, but, and this is a BIG BUT, you have to climb up another hill to get there, at a stage in the it’s-just-not-that-funny-any-more-now game that is the Dig Deep 30/Peak Trails ultra.

carl wark checkpoing

The view from up there had better be good, and the marshal willing to give hugs of reassurance if required.  It would be even better if they’d nip down the hill, remove your dibber nip back up the hill and do the dibbing for you, and then return your dibber back to you for safe keeping.  Still, if they did I’d only be cheating myself, and also they’d probably have to take my whole arm off to do so, those dibbers really don’t budge easily.  That would be inconvenient, possibly painful and probably lead to a major arterial bleed which would seriously mess up my hydration strategy for the final section.  On balance, I’m going to be running up that hill, well, maybe not running as such, but crawling, most definitely.

I’m telling myself by the time I get here the end is in sight(ish) at the very least I’m on familiar ground and the heathery bits, and the downhill from Lady Cannings are my favourite parts of the route, so I’m sure it will all be fine in the end, and as a wise woman once said, ‘if it isn’t fine, then it isn’t the end‘ so that’s good to know!  I think I’m OK with the location of all the other dibbing points, but the Bradwell one I don’t quite recognise, though I’m hoping it will be obvious on the day, if not, I’ll just follow the crumbs from the spinach and filo finger food and I’m sure I’ll make my appointment for a faceplant into the restorative buffet before I have to wrench myself away again and trudge on.

So the upshot of all this, is that it’s all been a bit swings and roundabouts these last two weeks, but without the unadulterated joy that comes with being on either actual swings or actual roundabouts – rather these have been substituted self-loathing, self-doubt, self-pity and self-absorption.  Not a good look.  I’m not proud of this, not proud at all.  No wonder I hardly dare venture out in public at the moment.   Carousels though look lovely, let me see if I can find a cheery picture of one of them, it’ll help shift the mood!

fairground horses

There you go!  That feels better already.

So I’ve been down, but I’m still not out.  If I make the start, that’s the first big challenge done and dusted, and then, well we will all just have to wait and see won’t we.  I’m taking money for the bus fair home with me though, better safe than sorry eh?

Just a few days to go, my story isn’t over yet!  No idea how it will end, but that’s good isn’t it?  Where’s the fun and adventure in a predictable outcome after all.  Let’s embrace the joy of the unexpected …

Surprise

Granted not all surprises are good, but we are all familiar with type two fun now I think.  Fun retrospectively. Alternatively, I’ll settle for the well at least I didn’t miss out option, as in, ‘I’m not sure if I enjoyed myself but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it‘.

Time will tell… and then so will I, my own story.  With the narrative I choose, consciously or otherwise.

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

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Digging Deep by Royal Appointment

Digested read: Dig Deep prep continues blah de blah.  Hard today, did a circular route from Burbage taking in Stanage., Win Hill, Rebellion Knoll, Clamber up hill to Hathersage. It was really, really hard.  I think I temporarily forgot this is supposed to be fun. So I did it, but not with much grace.  However, still got to see unexpected wonders, and gained royal approval for doing so. Day not wasted then.  Good to know.  Didn’t get lost, didn’t get hurt, didn’t bonk.  So that’s all good then.  Hurrah!  I’m sure this will console me hugely when neither of my legs appear to be working in the morning.

I’m not much of a royalist truth to tell, but even so, our current monarch did go up in my estimation when I discovered that so keen is she to support the Dig Deep Ultra events taking place over the bank holiday weekend that she’s already bagsied her spot to watch it from in Bradwell.  That shows a not insignificant commitment to supporting the endeavour.  I didn’t stop to talk to her – too busy running really fast (cough) but she did wave at me in her inimitable as I sped past.  (Not really inimitable though is it, really very imitable I meant to say).  It did make me think if I was Australian I’d definitely be in touch with my MP for a free portrait of the Queen though, maybe I’d go wild and blag one of the Duke of Edinburgh as well.  Freebies always welcome!

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I’ve not had my assumptions so challenged since I found out Theresa May regularly marshals at her local annual Maidenhead Easter 10 charity race, a 10-mile course – has been doing so for years.  I know, messes with your head doesn’t it.  She’s actually very good at directional pointing, and that’s not as easy as it looks.

 

Anyway, Theresa wasn’t out and about today, not on the section I was yomping round anyway. Perhaps she favours hanging out near Whirlow – or somewhere on the 60 mile route perhaps, I wouldn’t know.

I really had to psyche myself up for today – which might be why I struggled to be honest.  I think it made more of a big deal of it than it should have been.  When all’s said and done I’m just putting one foot in front of another, admittedly a lot, but nobody will really care whether I stop or not.  However, I am really unsure how I’ll cope with so much elevation over that many miles.  Distance per se doesn’t particularly phase me, but have you ever been up Win Hill?  The thought of tackling that when I’m already knackered and then having to do loads more going up unnecessary slopes is more than a little daunting.  I decided I really don’t want to have to face that challenge for the first time on race day.

Oh for goodness sake.  Do you seriously not know what I’m on about?  Have you not been concentrating?   Edited version, I’ve accidentally (long story, long way) signed up to do a 30 mile ultra ‘run’ this August bank holiday.  It’s one of the Dig Deep run series –  the Dig Deep 30 now renamed as Peak Trails 30 Challenge (annoying isn’t it, like with those chocolate bars which will always be marathons for me).  Apart from it being an awfully long way, I’ve been angst ridden about finding my way, and horrified now I’ve been doing recces at how much undulation it embraces along the way.  I think I may have over-reached myself.  Not hard, as I do have quite unusually short limbs.  No really, I was told this at a gym induction once, when I explained I couldn’t reach some contraptions gadgetry.  The 12-year-old introducing me to the equipment explained it was because it hadn’t been adjusted properly for me yet, and then tactfully (not), exclaimed ‘oh my god, you have got really , really short arms and legs. They are so short!  That’s really odd!  Do you know how odd that is.  Seriously, it’s on the most extreme settings for short people already!  I can’t believe it‘.  I wonder why I don’t like gyms?  It’s a mystery.  Point of information, this was a different adolescent youth to the one who believed me when I said I had a biological disorder which meant I didn’t have any stomach muscles and who told me therefore to just skip the crunches when prescribing a personally tailored get fit regime!  Different gym too.  It’s not my natural habitat.  The trouble is, I’m not sure that the wild peaks are either, though I can but dream…

Where was I?  Oh yes, so I decided enough of this out and bad shenanigans, time I went for a circuit.  I decided to start at Burbage car park, head over Stanage and to Yorkshire bridge.  Up Win Hill.  Gulp.  Down to Hope.  Pause, reset and then onwards through Bradwell up Rebellion Knoll (hate that climb too) down to Shatton, up to Gritstone pub and back to car park circling base of Higger Tor.  This would take in a few of the most dreaded climbs, and be a reasonable marker of where I’m at fitness wise.  This was the theory at least.

First the good news.  It was a lot cooler than it has been.  Hurrah!  So cool, I’d even go so far as to say it was a bit nippy out first thing. I had to wear my waterproof to begin with.  Note to self, maybe don’t store it all squished up in its own pocket.  It was a bit stale smelling and claggy, not actually rank, but less than fragrant.  Oh well, I’ve experienced worse.  Doing a circular walk is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than out and back. I know running is inherently pointless, but out and back emphasises this especially.  Circular routes bring adventures and feel like you are out exploring.  Some things though were epic fail, specifically, I wasn’t organised about ‘nutrition’, I just stuffed a couple of the ‘not very nice’ oat and honey biscuity things in my back pack, filled my arctyrex bladder with electrolyte water and was ‘good to go’ only I wasn’t really.  Hadn’t considered properly how long I was going to be out for, probably I was in denial.  Just not organised really.  I planned on stopping in Hope for something, which I did, but wasn’t best strategy for optimum performance.    Also planned to turn off tomtom in Hope whilst I took sustenance, in the hope it might extend the battery life a bit longer.  Oh and I took these with me too, because I had an idea…  cowrie shells, obviously.

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Arriving at Burbage car, there was no-one about, practically had the place to myself.  The skies were a bit moody and there was a chill in the air.  It surely wasn’t actually going to rain?  Wasn’t sure how I felt about that.  We need rain desperately, and I do want it to bucket down for days now, but honestly, I’d prefer it not to rain down on me mid-trudge.  I put on my jacket, yep, bit whiffy, but hey, who’d know.  It’s not as if anyone will ever know.  Note to self, how should I clean it without losing waterproofing.  I had all my maps with me, but wasn’t reckoning on needing them, so strode off with purpose.

Part one of the route was from Burbage car park to Hope, taking in my Nemesis which is Win Hill, but motivated to keep putting one foot in front of the other partly by necessity, and partly by the reward of a pit stop at the Adventure Cafe in Hope.  It felt like a marathon, but Strava, which never lies, tells me it was only 8.3 miles (seriously, that can’t be true) and 1,313 ft which is weird, because it’s a lot less elevation than I did for the second half, but felt like a lot more.  Psychologically, Win Hill is the top I need to summit, after that, for me at least, the worst is behind me.  That ascent feels near vertical.

strava part one

Off I went.

A few sheep blinked at me, the rocks looked awesome against the grey skies. The bees were silent.  I wondered if I might find a body out today.  It was the sort of day when you’d imagine if there were a cadaver about that you’d find it.  Alone, and probably when you were without a phone signal.  How annoying it would be to have to retrace my steps to get emergency services to sort that, and I wondered if that were to happen, would I be able to motivate myself to carry on and do the rest of my loop?  I figured though, realistically, an earlier dog-walker would be more likely to have already made any such discovery, so I’d be in the clear.  Actually, the first person I saw was quite a way along Stanage Edge, a solitary guy with a load of climbing gear.  Blimey, that seems high risk activity.  (Not sorry).  Quite relieved I’d trotted on by before I witnessed any dangling off the edge on a thread and, as the sole witness, was obligated to intervene and save the day.  I was running so hard I even had to take my jacket off.  On and off with the waterproof was very much a theme of the day.  incidentally, it’s not that I’m against helping as such, is just that I’m not first aid qualified and wouldn’t fancy my chances trying to haul someone back from a precipice, not least on account of my unexpected oddly short limbs as already referenced.  I did even trot by the way, I feel I ought to try a bit harder with the running aspect, now I’ve got the route sorted.  I’m not exactly storming round, but with it being a lot cooler I was pleasantly surprised how much easier it felt.  I wasn’t even thirsty.  Paused for a few views, and to swap stares with some sheep.

 

Maybe because it was overcast and cooler I made reasonably progress, but I didn’t see a soul.  The long tarmac trudge down off Stanage and on New Road was mentally tough.  I just felt like I had such a long way still to go, and was dreading the climbs.  This is the downside of now being reasonably familiar with the route.  Instead of just enjoying the scenery and sights in the moment, I was stressing about what lay ahead.  I need to calm those demons.  They don’t help.  They don’t make the climbs any easier when they come and fretting spoils the moments you are in.  I decided to distract myself with a bit more of a job as it was a downhill bit.  By some miracle, it was at exactly this moment a car came alongside, driven by a fellow Smiley.  She was off for a walk with a friend round Fairholmes.  I was so excited to have been spotted actually running(ish), this makes a change, normally people see me only when I’m stopped by the side of the road blowing my nose, or lying in a ditch in a foetal position as other race participants stream by.  I was offered a lift to the base of Win Hill, tempting, but would rather defeat the object of getting miles on my legs.

Eventually, I was there, at the base of Win Hill.   Why so many locks on that gate I wonder.   I braced myself and then began my ascent.  It was loads better than I’d feared, it made such a difference that it was cooler, I wasn’t even thirsty!  I think also weirdly doing it on my own removed my angst that I always get when comparing myself unfavourably with others.  I did pause for the view and did struggle a bit.  Can it really be true that the Dark Peak runners do training sessions involving going up and down Win Hill 6 times consecutively?  I mean, it could have passed into folklore with some exaggeration, but it wouldn’t surprise me, they are hardcore those guys.  Definitely not beyond belief.  It was a bit stop start. One thing I still find messes with my head though is that Win Hill is like watching The Lord of the Rings.   Not only because of the hobbit-esque landscape with gnarled tree roots and a tangle of ferns, but also because you constantly think you’ve reached the end (dear god surely this time?) and then find there is yet another bit to endure enjoy.  Then, to add to the trauma of the whole thing, when you finally finally are at the end of the thing, you discover there are a whole load of sequels still to come, and will be for all eternity.  Not good for morale.

 

I found it hard.  Hard, but not impossible, and once you do make it to the top, there are some fantastic views.  It was actually quite crowded up there, which was weird as I’d not seen anyone very much up til this point.  I took some photos of various people posing by the trig, declining their offer to return the favour.  I’d already taken a glamorous selfie coming up Win Hill, that would suffice.

 

Sadly, and worryingly too, the heather is almost over, scorched off.  That was a short-lived display.  Maybe there’ll be a second bloom if there is a really significant downfall, but I doubt it.  It’s hard to remember now how cold and wet it was in spring, let alone the snow and ice of winter.  It seems like another world.

The bit coming off Win Hill was quite fun, gentle slope, runnable, if you are careful with the scree bits, and pretty soon you are in Hope. Hurray!  Lunch stop.

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I stopped my watch as I headed into the Adventure Cafe or cafe adventure more accurately, for lunch.  I realised I’d not really drunk or eaten anything, and although I wasn’t consciously hungry, or even thirsty I knew I needed something.  I went for a large glass of water, a latte and some soup.  An enormous bowl of carrot and something soup came with a pint glass of water and a mug of coffee.  All of which I consumed.  Hmm, maybe I was thirstier than I thought.  Now this was ‘fine’ in that I enjoyed it, and didn’t get an upset stomach or anything, but it isn’t optimum as a strategy for feeling bouncy and light when you have to get going again afterwards.  I really do need to up my game.  Naked bars are boring me, I should maybe take some peanut butter and Marmite sandwiches along with me, nice and salty to consume en route.  Little and often would be better than inhaling 3 pints of liquid all in one go at the half way point.  Then again, good to know that in principle, I could do exactly that on race day if I’m feeling overcome…

Off again.  Marching purposefully off. Feeling confident, watch set off and stage two here we go.  Part two of the route was from Hope back to Burbage, 10.49 miles… until my watch battery died, I reckon I had maybe another mile to go, probably a bit less, but can we compromise and call it 11 miles please?  That would make my mileage for day 19.3.  The elevation is interesting, because it was a respectable 1,965 ft, but it didn’t feel as brutal  as the near vertical ascent of Win Hill. I’m not saying there wasn’t a lot of inward hurrumphing and outward muttering of curses at times, but I didn’t feel a need to stop, lie down and die at any point, which is progress, believe me.

strava part two

I say I started purposefully, but maybe a bit too purposefully, I had a mental block.  Hang on, was I supposed to go straight down this road, or should I have taken that turn off to the left.  I’m sure I’m right, wont give in to looking… then I decided even though I was pretty confident I was going the right way, it would be very demoralising to go too far the wrong way, so I stopped, emptied out my running vest, checked on the map and… yep, I was right.  Everything back in, off I went.  Hang on. Where’s my hat?  Curses.  I had to backtrack to retrieve it, this was a low point, I still had a long way to go and didn’t want to be doing any more doubling back than I had to.  The animals I passed in fields were all lying down.  Was that a spot of rain I felt?  I wasn’t sure, it’s been promised before.  I saw an abandoned walking stick by a bench at one point just outside Hope, that was tempting, but I left it where it was, hope the owner came back for it ok.

 

Onwards, down the path to the cement works.  Recent activity had covered the site with a thick layer of grey dust, it made it seem even more other worldly than usual, like ash debris that had fallen post a nuclear attack.  Maybe a mushroom cloud over Sheffield had sent ash out this far. It’s possible.  A van with a red flag on a long pole attached to it was driving round the site, but peculiarities of the undergrowth and the location of the road meant I couldn’t see the driver.  It felt weird. Unsettling even. It is a strange place.  Lights were flashing on a sigh somewhere, don’t know if that was because of some earth works in progress or if it was a Geiger counter of some sort, screaming a warning that the place was rife with radiation.  Maybe I should get myself my own advice to check I didn’t pick up any contamination en route. I found a 100% reliable portable radiation detection device on eBay for £29.99, I’m sure there’s absolutely no reason not to have complete confidence that that will be an accurate and potentially life saving purchase.  I might be tempted were I not currently saving up for my new long-life strava watch.

 

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Out of the cement works passing by the teletubby residences on the right.  Teletubby or hobbit, not sure, probably cater for both.  It was definitely starting to spit now.  I wasn’t sure if it absolutely constituted rain, heaven knows it’s been so long since we had any I can’t quite recall what it looks and feels like.  Even so, I began the first of many on, off dances with the waterproof.  Blimey it’s a faff, taking it on and off again. How people cope with the faff of kit changes in triathlons I can’t imagine  Such a pain. On the other hand, what a boon to have a waterproof running vest. Yay!  Everything nice and dry within.  Result.

The next notably exciting thing was the community orchard:

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I didn’t drop by today, because I was too excited about my next stop.  The rock shop.  This is where the cowrie shells came in.  I had in mind it would be fun to leave something in the tin like hidden treasure.  I was pleased to see the enterprise was still in business:

I was less pleased to see that other people had beaten me too it with the interaction with the hidden sales team.  I wanted to be the person who had the grand idea.  On the plus side, what a tin of bounties would await the young entrepreneurs when they next inspected their stall, that was more important I suppose.  Bit of an anti-climax though, I had been looking forward to implementing my plan all morning.  I added my shells to the tin, noting the pile of coins left by the Duke of Edinburgh group earlier on did look much more appealing.  Oh well, I’ll have to think of something else for race day.  I do have a back up plan, but not ready to reveal it just yet…

I hope they don’t shake the tin vigorously to see whether there’s anything in it,  on picking it up, or they’ll just get dust and coins, like the ash debris from the fallout has travelled further afield.  It’s getting sinister now… I ambled on, bit downcast.  Disappointed by the thwarting of my plan, also bit miffed, that the DoE group will probably get the credit for the cowrie shells as well. I wanted it to be an anonymous mysterious offering.  Thwarted indeed.

Into Bradwell.  More taking coat on and off.  As I approached, bunting was everywhere!  Like those Tibetan prayer flags you see photos of, against a dramatic leaden sky.  What’s this all about?  Am I hallucinating?  Have I entered some parallel universe?

Whatever, definitely lifted my spirits.  More so, when I happened upon the green with a sort of petal picture, which turned out to be part of the recent Bradwell well-dressing festival which must have just taken place.   Well dressings are a bit of a Derbyshire Peaks thing, but I’ve never been proactive enough to seek them out before.   Check this out – they’ve used sheeps’ wool for the hair of the people in the audience, horse hair too I think, or just scalped an unwary visitor by sitting behind them on the bus and cutting off their ponytail.  Whatever it takes, I imagine it gets pretty competitive.  The detail was really impressive.  I wasn’t tired anymore I was enchanted!

I scampered on through the village, ignoring the bus that was there to tempt me to take a shortcut home, in favour of exploring the village in search of other well dressing offerings.  It was a veritable smorgasbord of delights dear reader.  No wonder our monarch has chosen to place herself here to watch the Dig Deep Races come the august bank holiday weekend.  As said before, I didn’t linger to chat, but nodded an acknowledgement to her wave.  I know what it’s like cheering on runners from the sidelines.  You don’t expect to be seen or acknowledged as they have other priorities, but a bit of interaction is always fun.  It’s all happening here!  Bradwell is quite the hub it seems.  Be amazed, be very amazed and look on in wonder at the visions of creativity that unfolded before me:

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These wondrous sites were a welcome distraction.  I forgot my weariness, and how over this whole running idea I was and approached the base of Rebellion Knoll with a bit more, well if not exactly enthusiasm, pragmatism.  Is that rain, or is that not rain.  More waterproof on off malarkeys before heading on up the slope.  I decided to stick to the path to the right throughout this time, in case that is the ‘official route’ wouldn’t want to do it for the first time on race day and get confused.  Actually, there wasn’t much to it, it takes you out and up to exactly the same point as I’ve come out at all the other recces.  However, I did get to see what looked like a head on a spike, which turned out to just be a baseball cap without a head in it on a fence post, not the same thing at all. Also saw a big stone which looked like it had a face on it.  That would be super creepy to view by headtorch at night.  Better hope I’m not doing this section in the dark then…  Nice views too, those clouds are most atmospheric.

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Weirdly, it was much quicker today.  Maybe I went a more direct route, maybe it’s being familiar with it, maybe it was being cooler, but it really wasn’t that bad.  Progress.  Out onto Brough Road (I think that’s what it is, can’t be bothered to check on map) and even braved a little downhill scamper.  It started spitting as I ran.  I was trying to get to turn down the tree-lined path that leads into Shatton before the rain proper came.  It wasn’t cold, but I didn’t want to get too soaked as still a few hours out left.

Made it to the track, evidence of both rainfall and solitary leaf cutter bee activity.  Isn’t it amazing, how they do those perfectly round holes?  I think it is.

And yes, those are actual water droplets on the leaves.

Through Shatton, out the other side.  The drag along the riverbank was rather a lot further than I remembered.  The troll proof bridge is still quite fun – it has chicken wire across the bottom to stop trolls from being able to rush out and grab you or any of the other billy goats gruff that may be passing.  I noticed the fallen tree that was blocking the stepping-stones – how have I missed that before.  You can tell that the rain was a bit of a novelty.  I don’t normally stop to take photos of water droplets on five bar gates.  The path was more uneven than I remembered, I didn’t feel like running at all.  I felt like giving up.  I honestly don’t know quite why.  I wasn’t injured, my legs and lungs worked, it’s just it had been a long day, and I wasn’t enamoured of many more hours still to do.  There was that steep bit up past the railway line still to go, that’s practically a crawl and what if the cows are there, only lying down this time.  How will I get past them then?  What is it with those really narrow wall gaps, bit of a squeeze with my vest at times.  Was a relief to get to the bridge and the river point in Hathersage all the same…

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Just up the hill and to Ringinglow, then I’m practically home.  Battery was waning though… how VERY ANNOYING.  I’m telling myself it will be good for me to do some naked running, just take it all in, not obsess about pace and time, run by feel blah de blah, but that’s all just white noise in my head. I’d actually quite like to get this run on Strava to be honest, I am shallow I want evidence and who knows, maybe even recognition of where I’ve been.

Up the hill.  That was hard. It was sticky again.  The views though.  Wow, those dark skies that promised rain did give the scenery a stunning light.

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or do you like this photo better dear reader?  I’m not sure.  It was dramatic though, fair took my mind off the unpleasant business of having a lot more ground to cover before tea time.

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Soon I was back onto Little Moor and back onto a stretch of heather.  the moody skies were impressive.  Oh, meant to say, one of the gardens coming up from the railway tracks had this amazing plant growing out of the wall.  Keep meaning to find out what it is, would love to try to grow it in my garden wall.  Looks impressive en masse I think.

This last bit for today is fortunately, a stretch I like.  It’s beautiful, and quiet.  I was ready to finish off, but I do believe if I can get to this point I will get to the end.  I got to where I think the dibbing point will be between Higger Tor and Carl Wark and then took a more direct line back to the carpark.  Inevitably my watch packed up, despite my best efforts in stopping it earlier on.  Yep, it’s definitely not going to last the course.

Eventually, I was back at the car.  Maybe my energy supplies were a bit depleted, because I didn’t feel relief or anything other than exhaustion.  I could feel  my legs seizing up and I was really ready for some sort of comfort food.  Oh for someone to have handed me a baked potato and veggie stew right there and then, or a proper mug of yorkshire tea (unsweetened soya milk for preference please) that would have gone done a storm.  Inexplicably, noone was on hand to offer this service, so I had to make do with relief that I was able to locate my carkeys and so didn’t have to retrace my steps to find them.  Maybe Lizzie would have picked them up and kept them for safe keeping?  Anyway, didn’t arise, so I just made my way home.

So what of today?  I think I’m going to go with ‘good in parts’.  It just seemed a long time out there and very slow progress. I’m doubting why I’m trying to do this, what am I tryng to achieve?  Nobody will care one way or the other, and even if I do get round it will be at such a crawl that might call into question whether its worth all the effort and drama queen dramatics of doing recces and agonising over kit. This endeavour is supposed to be fun, and it still can be.   I think I just want to get to know the peaks and see if I can. It’s that’s simple and that hard.  I’m just over complicating it with all the existential angst.  It comes down to the same thing I’m finding. It is mentally challenging, more so than the London Marathon, because I am expecting it to be a solitary endeavour and it turns out, its quite hard being out for hours alone with your thoughts in them there hills.  It’s maybe not got very much to with running at all.  Just like the ultra runners in the know keep saying.  Trouble is, some things you have to discover for yourself.

running arguments

Maybe I need to channel my inner dunnock.  No really.  Hear me out.  For the first time this year, I’ve had my own garden. I’ve been feeding the birds and love watching them. There are goldfinches and blue tits, and coal tits and magpies and crows and wood pigeons and sparrows and blackbirds – a solitary green finch, occasional robin and yes, dunnocks.  I’ve only recently noticed them as distinct from the noisy sparrows.  The dunnocks are ground feeders, always busy fossicking around in the undergrowth, and surprisingly tame, or at least not bothered by human activity.  Not quite up there with robins but unconcerned by my comings and goings.  A couple of days ago though, one of the dunnocks appeared really injured.  Bloody cats. It’s clearly broken its leg, hobbling about sticking one wing out for balance, and (this is a bit gross) it looks like one of its eyes has literally popped out, either that or it has a massive haematoma on the side of it’s head.  I didn’t rate its chances.  Not much you can do is there. Trying to catch it would be impossible and traumatic, best let nature take its course. Though I did make a point of putting out a shallow bowl of water for it, and putting more seed on the ground than normal.  I didn’t really expect for it to survive.  But you know what, four days on, it’s still eating and drinking, it even had a go at a bath.  It can fly and it seems to be using its leg a bit more.  I have no idea how it’s doing it, but that is one feisty little bird. If it can keep going in those circumstances, I need to get a grip and get on with it.  Of course it will be demoralising if I now find its little sad corpse on the floor between now and the race, but I think it’s got a sporting chance, as long as it doesn’t get an infection.  Amazing.

Dunnock-min

So, thinking more positively, my successes for today:  I didn’t bail, I did get round and I do know the route.  I might even decide not to wear my prescription glasses and instead wear my tomtom sunnies on the day, they stay put whatever I do, and are much more comfortable for running in as they stand proud of your face.  They look stupid, but I can do that anyway without them, so would be unfair to rule them out on that account..  That could knock whole minutes off my finish time.  The sights were stunning, I met the queen and marvelled at the well dressings.  The soup was good too.

Not so good, it was blooming hard, and I can’t lie I was mightily unenthusiastic at points.  It’s the going up hill, and down hill and the bits in between that are especially hard.  The gazing around parts looking at the view and discovering new things are fine.

Learning points, I’m faster when I don’t stop and take loads of photos, when I try and put a little jog on and it’s cooler running when it’s cool (though the latter is not in my control).

Today’s total around 19.5 miles (yes, I’ve upped it a bit, I think that’s fair.  Elevation  3,278 ft.  The requirement on Dig Deep Day and the Peak Trails 30 is a crappity, crap crap 30 miles and 1388 metres of ascent, which is 4,553.8 feet.  Hmm.  Not quite a walk in the park then.  Oh well, a Smiley Ultra Runner who has been an unofficial mentor for me with this dig deep endeavour told me ‘remember – in the words of Ernest Hemingway – “only those who are prepared to go too far can possibly know how far we can go”’  She said Hemingway, but it might have been TS Eliot according to Google, doesn’t really matter though does it, it’s the sentiment that counts.

Let’s find out then shall we?

Oh, and for future reference, I’ve been googling How to wash your running kit – really?  It says follow manufacturers instructions!  Who knew, life is so easy if you google it. I’m now going to eat everything in the house that isn’t nailed down and google ‘how to complete your first ultra’ and all will be well with the world.

Done that.  And dear reader, I now have ultra running sorted.  Why didn’t I think of  doing that before!  Too knackered to share more ideas right now, but will do in due course.  You’re welcome.  🙂

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

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

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

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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

Finding riches within the Dig Deep landscape… literally, no really!

Digested Read: more recceing of the Dig Deep 30 route. This time Win Hill to Shatton.  I don’t care what the course organisers say, Win Hill and the hoik up Rebellion Knoll after Bradwell sure feel like monster climbs to me.  Found abandoned riches en route, and a rock shop.  Who knew?

This was the recce where I had to take a deep breath and face my nemesis.  This would be the day that I’d do a recce encompassing both Win Hill, which most definitely constitutes ‘undulating’ territory and also return for round two with Bradwell and the long hot haul up to Rebellion Knoll before descending into Shatton, which appropriately on this day had indeed been copiously shat on, by passing cattle.  I know.  My hallway still  has a distinctly rural aroma a couple of days on.  I will get bored with writing blog posts about the Dig Deep eventually, but fully appreciate you might already be bored of reading them.  Remember though, you don’t have to.  You could just log off, and go and do something more interesting instead, like removing hair from the shower plug hole, washing up or playing spider solitaire on your phone, whatever grabs you.  If you choose to read on I take no responsibility for you wasting your life away with such pointless procrastination when you could be proactively engaging in exciting and stimulating activities including the illustrative (but not exhaustive) list of suggestions above.  Take some personal responsibility, make a choice, choose …. life.

Yes dear reader.  I am talking again about a recce of  a section of the Dig Deep Intro Ultra/ Peak Trail 30 .  In case you lost concentration in an earlier post, or a newbie to my blog, this is a 30 mile ultra that according to the website blah de blah

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!

The Route
The route has been chosen because of its stunning scenery and the tough nature of the route. Whilst developing the race we have worked closely with local landowners and the Peak District National Park Authority to ensure that the race is sustainable and avoids sensitive areas. For this reason there are some strict route restrictions in place on some areas of the race. Please follow these wherever indicated.

The route will be partially marked but navigation may be necessary. Sport ident dibbing stations will be in place along the route – each of these must be visited.

The race will form part of a festival of running to be held at Whirlow Farm Hall in Sheffield (camping available). As well as the 30 mile race there will be several other races starting and finishing over the weekend

I accidentally entered yonks ago in a fit of ‘what the hell‘ thinking and now I am thinking What the hell? indeed.  It’s over the August bank holiday so but a few weeks away, and my fitness is lamentable.  I am desperately trying to recce the route in advance to help prepare me for what lies ahead, but mainly it’s making me appreciate the enormity of the challenge and the gap between the ideal fitness levels for a potential participant and my actual ones.  Hint, it’s quite a big gap. Way bigger than even the gaps at the London underground station that disembodied voices are always warning you about as you disembark.  I don’t really know if I’m even going to make the start, but I haven’t yet withdrawn or transferred to another distance.  My only objective is to get around, it was originally to get around without crying, but I’ll settle for just finishing before the cut offs.  The cut offs are the same as for the 60 mile hard-core ultra taking place on the same Saturday, so it should be possible even if I walk the whole thing.  Actually, I have even calculated that if I take longer, I might just get caught up in the 10k participants yomping home on the Sunday morning, so might still be ok.   The recces are therefore continuing to advance, even if my confidence in my abilities retreats in direct relation to the amount of recces I do.  Ah well, it’s my home patch, I can always catch the bus home.

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This day’s recce was to start at Win Hill, what better way to start a race recce than with a vertical climb through gnarled tree roots after all, to Hope and  then through Bradwell finishing at Shatton.  I had a recce buddy again. Hooray!  It does help morale, and is navigational support too, although, as previously established, I have now discovered that navigation is within reach of anyone with suitably corrected vision, as long as they have a decently scaled map.  It’s taken me a while to come to this conclusion, but it’s been a game changer.  I’m way more confident out and about, naturally I have retained the ability to get lost, and of course I do have to continually spin the map until it’s orientated the same way as the landscape around me to find where I am, but I still feel much more in control of where I’m putting my footsteps than I have ever been before.

I say we started at Win Hill, but actually, we rendezvoused with the cars in Shatton, then drove in one to the base of Win Hill – a side track just before the Yorkshire Bridge pub. The forecast was rain, and it was a lot cooler than last time I tackled the hill.  We’ve had some rain, and it made a huge difference. The water was flowing more quickly, and everything freshened up.  We had a bit of preparatory faffing before heading off.  My recce buddy was chatting away to me companionably as I dived behind a bush to reduce my load for the forthcoming ascent. When I emerged she looked confused.  Seems we had both been in full flown simultaneously, and she hadn’t immediately spotted my absence.  Oops, sorry about that.

Suitably prepared, we eyed the forest ascending above us.  I don’t care that the race blah de blah says there are no ‘monster climbs’ I think Win Hill is.  Think Jack in the Beanstalk, and you get the general idea.  It was a bit skiddy because rain had settled on dry earth.  Lose earth had been washed away, so the path, such as it is, was even more deeply rutted than usual.  Bits of it are, for me at least, full on climbing, as I grabbed exposed tree roots to haul myself up.  Progress was slow.  In my defence, I was battling through another recently acquired injury.  Admittedly one acquired in a residential muesli-belt context rather than a hard-core tough mudder one.  Specifically, earlier in the day I had thwacked the side of my knee on a coffee table that mysteriously launched towards me as I was exiting a room.  You can smirk all you like, but it blooming hurt, both at the time and subsequently.  A few days later and i still have quite an impressive bump, though the bruising hasn’t come out to anything like the extent I might have hoped.  Being injured is hard enough, but it is indeed to add insult to injury to have an injury that doesn’t colour up nicely in order that you can show it off coquettishly to other athletes (ahem) as a badge of honour.

 

I’ll say one thing though, if you stop now and again, which I did often, and look back, the views were gorgeous.  The woodland is lovely too, because the ascent is so steep, you feel like you are in the tree canopy of a rain forest.  It’s extraordinary.  I freely admit I wouldn’t have voluntarily clambered up here but for the necessity of doing this race route recce, and I made heavy work of ascending, but the rewards in terms of views are lovely.  I tried to take comfort in the knowledge that I doubt very much even experienced ultra runners would waste energy running this section, I don’t think it would be possible, and if it were, it wouldn’t be an efficient use of limited reserves to do so.  I think though their power walks might leave my crawling progress for dust, oh well, we all still make the same elevation I suppose, which was a lot.

Look from whence we came though:

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As we clambered, I was trying to articulate to my companion, what misguided logic makes me think this event ought to be doable.  I explained I’d been examining the results of Dig Deep events for 2017.   Finish times of the slowest 30 milers last year 2017, final finisher came in at 10.43, whereas the fastest 60 miler was – unbelievably fast – at 9.27.  The final finisher for the 60 miles was out a staggering 22.07 hours, respect.  Allowing for the 30 mile starting 2 hours later, if the cut offs are similar, I’d have 20 hours to get around, and I really don’t want to be out that long, if it looks like I will be, I’d retire, or, pause for a nap and join the 12.12s coming back on Sunday morning the next day (joke).  I was saying all this out loud in an attempt to persuade myself as much as my recce companion.  I mean really, I have no idea what I’m letting myself into, or who long it might take, but I keep telling myself, if I don’t test my limits how can I ever know what they are.  Also, this is local, worst case scenario I can get a bus home, and we shall never speak of this again, and it will be as if this whole thing ’twas but a dream.  It never happened.  Never.  Fact.

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So we took a couple of steps; paused, looked back at the view, stepped on.  Paused, chatted, took a few steps.  Paused, mopped our liquid brows, stepped on… you get the idea.  On one such power pause (I think that’s a thing, if power naps are, I don’t see why power pauses shouldn’t be, they are in my world now though) I espied and claimed a 5p piece.  Riches dear reader riches!  I took this to be a fine omen, but then again, I am easily pleased.  Obviously, if you are reading this post, and you believe this 5p piece to be yours, feel free to get in touch with a description and I will return it to  you.

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Eventually, the steep slope opened out onto a gentler terrain, a ‘proper’ fell runner skipped past, heading downward – and we could see where we were heading.

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Eventually, you emerge onto a ‘proper’ path and can continue up Win Hill to the Trig point.  About here, we met another runner.  She too, it turned out, was training for an ultra in Edinburgh later in the year. She was staying at Castleton YHA hostel, and aiming to do 21 miles today. She’d got lost, so we walked together for  a bit to get her back on track, and shared stories as we did. She was quite well-travelled, and though born in Hungary had lived and worked all over the world.  These facts are important for later dear reader, so concentrate!

 

We got to the intersection where we were descending through a gate, and left her trekking on along the roman road.  At this point, I glanced at my watch as it vibrated to indicate we’d covered another mile.  Want to know our progress rate dear people?  You’ll be amazed, I was.  We hadn’t covered another mile, we’d covered one.  One solitary mile and it had taken a WHOLE HOUR.  That is ridiculous.  One mile an hour?  What happened there?  We had stopped to chat and send our new friend on her way, I’d had my al fresco comfort break earlier on, there was a lot of faffing on the way up, but even so.  I can’t spend 30 hours doing this ultra, blimey, at that pace I’d miss even the 12.12 finishers, I was going to need to up my game.

We did speed up a bit, descending Win Hill is lovely actually.  Apart from the sight of the dead and mangled stoat/ weasel.  Now, I accept that photographing dead animals isn’t the most universal of hobbies – though I daresay there are niche sites out there dedicated to roadkill across the globe – but I am interested in whether this is in fact a stoat or a weasel, as I still haven’t positively identified whatever it was I saw on the looping the loops recce of the other week.  So here it is, dog kill (presumably) but what is it?  I’ll return to this another time. Sad, but surely interesting too, to know what wildlife is lurking in all that purple haze.

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The view above was better than that at our feet:

 

We scampered down through the heather, into a field, green grass

 

and then, winking up at me from the ground, a pristine bank card, dropped recently by some poor walker or other.  The name was quite unusual.  We decided it must belong to our Hungarian friend.  The logic was, novel name, correct gender, recently dropped and we knew she’d come up this path earlier because it was from here she overshot and went the wrong way.  Upshot was, we agreed to stop in Hope, ring the Youth Hostel and see if we could return it to her there.  Good excuse for a latte also.  We were moving at glacial pace, maybe not even as speedily as that, with climate change and ice caps melting, I imagine some glaciers are moving positively speedily, albeit receding backwards rather than advancing.  In the circumstances, a lunch and latte stop would make little difference  to anything other than our morale.

On our way down to Hope, we passed the best no parking sign ever.  Raises the tone, don’t you agree?

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and there were white doves massing.  In a good way, not like Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’.

 

We were distracted by conversation, and nearly over-shot the official route down Farfield Farm. In fact, my recce buddy did an official recce of this section a few weeks back, and also overshot. In case you care, it doesn’t actually matter if you overshoot and hit the main road and go right later on, you’ll end up in the same place without missing the dibber point and the distances are pretty similar. Even so, we went the ‘proper’ way, because hey, I have navigational super powers and chose to conform, so we took in the pretty little bridge.  We also passed a small forested cemetery where an intimate burial was taking place.  It was a lovely spot to say goodbye to someone, we tiptoed past.

 

Into Hope, and straight into cafe adventure – a lovely intimate cafe with great food and a warm welcome for cyclist and walkers, and bank card couriers.  Knowing our Hungarian friend was out for hours there was the option of using her contactless card for a slap up meal, but we rose above that temptation.  Latte for me and tea for my buddy, and I had courgette fritters with salad, because, well it was lunch time now, and we’d given up any pretence of a purposeful power walk morphing our adventure into a leisurely meander populated with micro adventures along the way.

I didn’t take a photo of the cafe, but previously Phil Sproson has taken this rather fine artistic one that I got off their Facebook page.   Thanks both 🙂

phil sproson photo

We got the number for the YHA, well my buddy did, because she has a smart phone, I don’t, but I had a companion who did which amounts to the same thing.   The number puts you through to a central switchboard.  I explained the situation, in what I hoped was a non stalkery way, as I didn’t know whether they’d be able to confirm so and so was staying at the hostel without breaching confidentiality  I had that once before, trying to return a purse and id card to a school as I’d found it right outside the school gates.   They wouldn’t confirm the person was there, so I ended up having to return it to a police station elsewhere, and then heard that when the police phoned them, they moaned about having to go and collect it.  There’s gratitude.  Not. I hoped the YHA contact might be more pragmatic. I  spelt out the name, a lot, and after a few permutations as many and manifest as I seem to encounter when trying to put in my upper and lower case and multi digit 1000 digit wi-fi access code – he said he’d see if he could get in touch with Castleton Youth Hostel and phone me back.

We ate.  I over ate.  It was very nice though.  Some people have huge problems with eating on ultra challenges.   They end up throwing up copiously to the point that even flat coke re-emerges through their nostrils I understand.  This is why you are supposed to practise what you are going to eat on long challenges before the day.  One friend of mine who did a team  ultra at Dig Deep last year, was berated by another team member when they arrived at the Bradwell feeding station.  It was a full on wedding buffet, as she face planted into the feast she was dragged away ‘never eat anything new on race day!’ her running buddy reminded.  I get this. But then again, I figure I’ve had a life time’s experience of practising eating things, I  think I’ll be OK.  In all seriousness, I think with the speed I’m going at, it is less likely to be an issue, although there was a lesson today in that I ate too much just because it was there, and although I wasn’t ill for the second part of our adventure, it did slow me down sitting on my stomach like ballast and telling me really I should be lying down and surrender to postprandial somnolence that’s food coma to you and me.

As we were sat there, my phone rang. It was very surreal.  The nice man from the YHA had spoken to the bankcard holder, they were back in London.  Uh?  In one of those bizarre coincidences, it was indeed someone who had stayed at Castleton YHA, but it was a few days back.  I don’t know what nationality they were though.  Still, what were the chances eh?  Quite high obviously, but I found this novel.  Then again, as you know already dear reader, I am easily entertained.

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Bye bye cafe, off we went again.

This time though, we – or more accurately my Brutelles recce buddy, spotted this interesting sign:

 

How did we miss this before. There is still the high walled corale very much in evidence.  I think that’s interesting.  I wonder when it was last used, looks useable still, but only for sheep say, as the entrance was low.

Trotting on, through the brutalist industrial features of the Hope Cement Works. I rather like the incongruity of this landmark.  It is like you imagine a soviet era Russian factory to be.  Would be a great film set I think.

 

Emerging, we had two more discoveries. Firstly, the bee hives.  If you have been concentrating dear reader, you will know that on a previous Dig Deep recce we discovered a hidden community orchard, but couldn’t be bothered to walk to the end of it to check out the hives.  This time, we espied them through a gate.  They were really active, loads of bees buzzing around industrially.  All about collectivisation of the workforce here too…

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As well as the collective industries though, there was also a free trade initiative a bit further up the lane.  This was I think, one of my favourite ever things to come upon on a walk.  Some local children had set up a rock selling initiative.  Choice stones were displayed on a wooden plank, with an honesty box for payments.  50p a stone.  At first I thought they would be painted stones, as I’ve come across these before, but no, they were stones.  Ostensibly similar to those on the path all around, but no doubt hand picked for having some uniquely attractive characteristic that, whilst it might not be immediately obvious to the casual observer or the untrained eye, was unmissable to a true rock connoisseur.  Impressive eh?

 

Yes, I did rattle the tin, no, there wasn’t any money in it.  I did briefly wish I’d got some change on me, as I like to imagine the budding entrepreneurs finding it, but I didn’t and also, adding rocks to my load was maybe not the best of ideas.  And yes, you could leave the money and just not take a rock, but I felt that would not be in the spirit of the endeavour.  If you are passing, and don’t have another 20 miles still ahead of you, you could maybe chip in though.  Just a thought.

On to Bradwell.  We took the triangle ‘properly’ this time, to check out where the feed station would be.  From there, we looked up and saw the summit of Rebellion Knoll, it is indeed steep, no wonder it’s such a drag to get up there.

 

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Past the fire station and church, over the little bridge and its pretty stream, past the flower bedecked houses of Bradwell.  Emerging the other side and this is my least favourite part of the whole route.  A long hot tarmac road stretches upwards.  It maybe didn’t help morale that as we tackled this part we were discussing toxic work environments, how being trapped in such contexts seems endless, hard, demoralising and pointless.  All adjectives that were especially resonant right there and then.   Eventually, you get to the end of the road and it’s the climb up.  Although this is a short section, both times I’ve done it the route has been really exposed.  The sun beats down on you, and it’s a grim climb up.  The path isn’t particularly attractive, unless you stop and look backwards at the view.  The highlights are marvelling at the water content of a random slurry pit, that must be on the top of a spring of some sort surely, otherwise how is there a puddle there despite weeks of no rain?

 

It was a lot speedier this time than last though, as we didn’t get so confused about the route, though we still took a wrong path once.  Doh. It’s confusing.  It was great to reach the top though and the gate that would take us to the next dibber point and the gravel road.

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and it was pretty speedy after that.  Recces definitely make the route feel shorter.  Gravel path and our wall man friend

 

Down, little bit along, and pretty soon we had descended and taken a right into the village of Shatton.  It seemed a ‘sudden’ conclusion to our walk.  This section was notable mainly for the copious amounts of lose cow pats we encountered along the way.  I don’t mind this particularly, it is a rural location after all, but out of context back home in my hallway it was clear that I’d not circumnavigated the little land mines of excrement as cannily as I might have hoped.

Drove round to pick up the other car at Yorkshire Bridge, and that was that, another recce down. So this was the recce that took in the riches of a found 5p piece, a lost bank card, a dead stoat (or possibly weasel), brutalist architecture of Hope Cement Works, bees, a pinfold and an improvised rock shop.  That’s not a bad return on a few hours yomping.  I wonder what my next Dig Deep recce adventure will reveal…  Always something, don’t get that on a treadmill now do you.

strava route

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

Categories: motivation, off road, running | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Setting forth in hope… Dig Deep recce Hope to Hathersage

Digested read: still recceing for the Peak Trails 30.  Hope to Hathersage, blimey that was heavy going on the hottest day of the year to date.  Some getting lost, much getting dehydrated, but the restorative powers of a recce buddy with Les Brutelles credentials and a chip butty ensured all ended happily.  Still project in progress though, no idea whether or not it will be game on just yet.  Map still works. Hurrah!

Well, setting forth from hope, strictly speaking, but I didn’t think that was such a good title, so go on, sue me.  Good luck with that.  You might think from the photographic record, that the objective for the day was to get a panoramic perspective of the Hope cement works, viewing from on high from all conceivable angles, with the cement works being celebrated as the glorious epicentre of the known universe, but actually, that was but a happy bonus from this day’s travels.  Though quite apt as me and my recceing buddy cemented our technique and our mutual support tagging along the way.  See what I did there?  Not contrived at all.  High five to me! (Also no mean feat, it’s really hard to give yourself a convincing hi-five, it’s basically rather affected clapping, not recommended at all, this is why most organised running events have cheery race marshals to oblige.)

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Now I have discovered my new super-power of navigation, I’m trying to work out how best to harness it for good.   I guess all superheroes have a few teething problems whilst they are trying to work out the extent of their abilities and how to utilise them, and I’m no different.  Still, the plan was to do another recce of a section of the Dig Deep 30 Ultra/ Peak Trails 30 Challenge this time from Hope to Hathersage.  Here’s the map so you can see where I mean…

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only of course you can’t because the map is crap.  Fortunately, as you my regular reader already know, I am now in possession of a new, bigger, better map – this, coupled with my prescription glasses, means I have a sporting chance of finding my way.  Even so, I’m new to this map-reading, authoritative pathfinder/ lead orienteer role, so I took the precaution of having a buddy come along too.  More specifically, a buddy whose idea it was to do the recce in the first place, as she  had already recced this part of the route before, but got a bit lost so suggested a second attempt and the meet up as she had an uncharacteristic day off.  Basically, it wasn’t my idea at all, I was parasitising someone else’s initiative as passively as ever.   Well, I can only take leadership and my new-found resolve to be more proactive so far.   I was mightily relieved and grateful she was up for this – more so when we were actually doing it.

We had all day, so agreed on a leisurely start at 10.00 ish, and to meet at Hathersage public car park, then we’d drive in one car to Hope to start our walk from there so we could do a straight leg of the route rather than an out and back.   I got to Hathersage a bit early.  It was already blisteringly hot.  Maybe the leisurely start idea was not one of our best.  We were going to be out in the midday sun for sure and I loathe this heat.  On the other hand I suppose the likelihood is that I’ll be doing this section around noon, so perhaps it’s as well to practise at the same time.

My micro adventure started early on.  I found a parking place no problem but then found the ticket payment machine wasn’t working.  It was a great exercise in people watching.  If I could only find a job opportunity based on this I’d be giddy as a piglet with joy.  A free range, not-bred-to-be-eaten piglet obviously.  Maybe a wart hoglet them, they know how to have good time.  Great runners too – they have purpose and attitude.  Also, did you know if you scratch a wart hog under it’s belly it makes its hair stand on end?  Also useful for pub quizzes in the future.  Unfortunately, I’ve not yet sourced one – a job based on people watching that is, not a juvenile wart hog as a running buddy that is –  they have CCTV for that these days. Anyway,  we all took it in turns to approach the machine, try to use it, look puzzled and then inwardly debate what to do.  It was like watching squirrels try to negotiate a baffle on a bird feeder.  We were individually non-plussed.  This must be possible?  But no.

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Eventually we decided to talk to one another about it, and the consensus was that if we all left the same note on our dashboards with a time we’d be OK.  I don’t know if we were all necessarily particularly law-abiding, I think we were rather more fearful of being landed with a fine, a less noble but more authentic sentiment.  The feeling was that the machine was full after the weekend (wasn’t it the Hathersage Hilly Tri only the day before) so the fear was that is someone came along and emptied it, it would start working later on in the day, and all those of us without tickets would be landed with mahoosive fines.  A life lived in fear is a life half-lived as we all know, so once there was consensus we all collectively breathed  a sigh of relief.  Pens and paper scraps were shared amongst us – one person even went the extra mile and left a note on the machine as well, just wow!  Then we all went our separate ways with a bit more of a spring in our step.  Especially in my case because that saved me over five quid in parking.  Yay!  As I waited, eventually a man in a white van appeared and prodded the machine, some new potential car parkees had appeared by this point and I watched from afar as some pointed at the machine and it was explained again about it not working, and then the white van man said something and everyone dispersed smiling.  Apparently white van man had proclaimed ‘it’ll be fine‘ and everyone believed him.  If that man had a hi viz and a clipboard too he could have set up his own cult.

 

I tried to find some shade whilst waiting for my running buddy.   She was delayed and sent me a message via Facebook, but as I am the last person in the known world not have a smart phone I didn’t get it. It didn’t matter, she arrived explaining she’d had to go back for something or other, but figured it wouldn’t matter too much as we were up for a leisurely morning out.  Morning!  Blimey, how fast was she reckoning on tackling this route?  At least one of us was going to be in for a shock.

We agreed as we drove over to Hope that I’d route find and she’d only intervene if I was going to take us a bit too far off piste for comfort.  We had a plan people!  It dawned on me as we motored over that this felt like a long way, and yet was barely a third of the distance we’d be required to tackle on the day.  Gulp.  No point in dwelling on that for now.  One foot in front of another and see how we go.  Parked up, and we alighted from the car, and got our bearings.  It immediately became apparent that we have rather different approaches to this sun.  I am loathing it.  I’m pale skinned and blue-eyed and, erm, in possession of a silken layer (euphemism for extra packing of sub-cutaneous fat dear reader, what did you think I meant).  I don’t like the temperature, but I also recoil from the actual bright sunlight too, I must have vampire heritage.  Not in the blood sucking or avoiding garlic traits mercifully (a vegetarian that doesn’t eat garlic would have a dull gastronomic time indeed) but I’ve definitely got the genes for cringing and recoiling in the light.  I’m not good with crosses and organised religion either to be fair, but that’s a post for another platform another time.

vampire light

The only way I can cope with it is by covering up.  Unflattering hat?  Check.  Sunglasses?  Check.  Full length leggings?  Check.  I was basically wearing a ghillie suit with a duffle coat over the top for good measure.  She on the other hand was all minimalist and light and loving it.  We must have looked an ill-matched pair!  Mind you, to be fair I was so well camouflaged you possibly couldn’t make me out, I am in the photo too you know!

 

The first challenge was navigating my way out of a paper bag getting my bearings in Hope, but after a brief episode of constantly rotating my map and staring around me vacantly, I was on it.  Off we trotted.   Well, not really trotting as such to be fair, we needed to conserve our energy, away we went.

Pleasingly, my first observation is that the start at least is/was quite straightforward.   Also, without wishing to sound too like I’m giving into negative thinking, as the route passes through the village there is the option of taking either a snack detour, a loo break, or even abandoning the endeavour altogether and getting a bus home.  As this will be a step into the unknown for me, if I do embark on it, it’s reassuring to know that at the half way point I can buy an ice cream rather than lie down on an exposed mountain face to die if it’s all been a bit too much.  Carry cash as well as a compass for this one people.  Incidentally, I have now bought a compass as it is part of the kit requirement.  The irony of having to carry a bit of kit I don’t really know how to use does not escape me, but show willing eh. I mean obvs I’d be able to work out where north is, but then what.  I know which way is the sky and which way is the earth too but that doesn’t necessarily help me stay upright, I’ve fallen over a fair few times running despite that insight.  Maybe it’s my centre of gravity rather than orientation that is the issue.  Incidentally, top tip, in an avalanche scenario (not that I’m expecting that in the environs of Hope in August to be honest) after all that tumbling around in the snow you can tell which way is up by spitting and seeing which way the saliva runs down your face, works with blood too, then you can dig your way out.  Obviously if your air pocket isn’t big enough for you to spit in you will die of oxygen deprivation anyway, and if the snow has set around you like concrete you wont be able to dig either, so which way up you are is the least of your worries. Might help you out at that pub quiz sometime though.  You’re welcome.  I have a feeling knowing which way is north will be of similar practical use when lost, but you never know.  I am enjoying having it all the same.  Makes me feel hardcore.

So, waving goodbye to the coffee shop we frequented last time we were in these parts, we hooked right and back on the Peak Ultra  30 route, or whatever it’s called now – Peak Trails 30 Challenge I think…  I forget.  As long as I haven’t accidentally entered the 60 miler it’ll be fine.

 

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This first section of our recce was roady and unremarkable, and very straightforward to navigate to be fair.  I got disproportionately excited when I realised we were going right past the entrance to the cement works.  I was even giddier later when we transversed it from within…

You pootle along, past an outdoor pursuits centre and campsite where a cat was snoozing contentedly on a bird table.  There is no way of knowing how many birds it had scoffed, but it was quite squashed into the space so I’m guessing quite a few.

 

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Shortly after Pindale Farm you get to a turn in the road where there was a fairly obvious left turn through a gate and along a trail that went through the cement works.  It was a shaded track, but the humidity as well as heat was building, we’d hardly gone any distance at all and I was flagging already, this does not bode well…

The route took in a DANGER sign, which I enjoyed.  A frissance of risk is always an asset on a micro adventure.  There were a couple of footpaths dissecting the path now and again, but essentially you just follow the trail ahead.

 

Eventually we emerged onto first a more pronounced track that took us past a rather quaint community orchard.  Here we had a brief detour just to see what it was all about, though we did obey the directive to ‘stay away from the hives’ not because we are risk averse, but because we couldn’t be bothered to walk all the way to the other side of the orchard.

 

After a little distance more, we emerged onto road and the edge of Bradwell.  Now, here we need to be canny on the day.  There is a check point, but to get to it, you have to go along two sides of a triangle, instead of straight ahead.  This is not a complicated manoeuvre, but it’s one to be mindful of.   The more obvious route is straight ahead.  We decided not to add on that extra bit as it would surely be unmissable on the day… only I subsequently found out that last year’s ‘winning’ runner, actually ran on by this check point and in missing it, incurred a penalty and so missed out on the top spot.  So it’s worth noting people.  Personally I doubt I’ll be running so fast at this point I’ll speed on by, especially if this could even be a feed station.  We’d hardly gone any distance at all and I was already fighting the urge to ask ‘are we nearly there yet?’

 

Through the village, and very soon you get to a pub on the right and there’s a mini green and some steps up to the left, and there you go, next bit, this navigational malarkey is a breeze!

 

Uh oh.  Things started to unravel.  I don’t know quite how, but it got really confusing from hereonin.  Maybe we were distracted by the loveliness of Bradway/ Bradford/ Bradwell, wherever it was we were.  I had a mental block about the name of the place which created some confusion.  The village itself though was a little nest of quaint buildings with elaborate flower arrangements and lots of little run throughs and alleys all over the place.  It reminded me a bit of  Portmeirion, but without the prisoner running through all over the place.  Well not when we were there, though it was pretty deserted to be honest…

 

I’m not absolutely sure how we went wrong here but we did, taking a premature right hook through the village, and ending up in what was obviously the wrong spot as a path headed out of the settlement in completely the wrong direction.  My heart sank a bit as we had just hoiked up a long hot hill to get there, and the temptation to try to get back to where we were supposed to be without retracing our steps was strong. If you are looking at this view, you are off course my friend…

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Fortunately we managed to hold out and follow reason, and duly went back to the steps to try again.  This time we went right through the village, which is what we should have done in the first place.  We met a friendly man with a blue van who explained the path ahead, basically head on up to Rebellion Knoll.  It sounded straightforward.  I don’t know if there will be another man with a differently coloured van there on the day, but I do rather hope so.

We headed up, oh my goodness, after the road bit it got really steep.  There seemed to be some ground works going on, so there wasn’t really a single obvious path, just rutted, very rutted steep narrow and overgrown tracks heading skyward, and wide tracks made by vehicles crossing traversing them. It was very confusing and didn’t correspond obviously to the map at all.  Not even when my buddy got her OS map out and even tried finding our location using the mysterious magic of her phone tracking system.  I was getting distinctly hot and bothered now, and were we not in this together, would have been sorely tempted to abandon the endeavour and put the whole thing down to sorry experience.  We went up and down, and out and back along various tracks, hitting dead ends or high bracken.  Eventually, we used logic just to head upwards and in the vague direction of the knoll we could locate on our map due to our fantastic map reading skills.  Also, because as already identified, I know which way is up, didn’t even have to spit, which was lucky, as we needed to preserve all the fluid we could.

 

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On the plus side, when we stopped to draw breath, we could see new views of the cement works and down over Bradford, I was so shattered by heat at this point, it was easy to think we had indeed walked from there.  The Portmeirion analogy seemed even more plausible from on high..

 

Finally we came out and hit an obvious path at the summit of our climb!  Hurrah, this must be it… my recce buddy cautioned me that on her previous recce it all went wrong here too.  I couldn’t see how, there was literally nowhere else to go, so we turned left and followed until… we hit a fence, there was no way the path was continuing.  It did not compute, I  thought my brain would implode, we couldn’t see where we’d gone wrong.  We went back to where we’d emerged from the undergrowth.  This was another bit where you really can’t improvise as there was supposed to be a checkpoint somewhere.  Curses!  Eventually my buddy had a moment of genius inspiration, and suddenly all the neurons – or whatever they are in her brain – fired off, and she saw where we needed to be.  Long story short, we’d over shot on our exit point, so had to go back a couple of hundred metres to where there was an obvious footpath and gate.  We just had to cross a field and ended up on a really proper, proper road,  It was dry and dusty, but where we needed to be.  We wasted an age though.  I’m hoping on the day they’ll have put up something in the way of markers as it was very confusing, on the other hand if they don’t I suppose that’s the point of the recce.  You are going to end up somewhere along that ridge, and it’s just a question of finding the main gate once at the top, who knows, on the day I might even get lucky and come up the intended path! Still, let’s not get too carried away with delusional thinking.

 

So we ended up on this long, dry, downhill path.  On the one hand we were quite pleased to have got back on track.  On the other hand this wasn’t the nicest of routes on a hot dry day.  The surface wasn’t that great, contrary to expectations.  It was downhill, which ought to have been a boon, but covered with a loose, dry gravel, which made it slippery. I’d be scared to run down that, I don’t know quite how speedier runners do it, it can’t just be fearlessness, maybe they are literally running so fast, they have moved their feet on before the stones beneath them have a chance to slide away?  Whatever, I can see some limiting factors to my participation in this event, running wise.   Aside from the obvious issues around lack of training, fitness and inherent disinclination to run, there is the little matter of I can’t run up hill because it’s too hard and the inclines are too steep, and I can’t run down hill because it’s too skiddy and scary and I don’t want to do a face plant, and there aren’t really that many unflat bits as such, and I wont be able to run them because it turns out I’m not massively enamoured with running after all.  Oops.  I’m beginning to think there might be a problem with this event.  Oh well, they say at distance it’s more a mental game than a physical one, have to say, that’s just as well in my case, because I think I’ve already capitulated in relation to embracing the physical part of the challenge.

It wasn’t all bad though.  We chatted companionably.  We realised we were on Hathersage Hurtle territory, we were very relieved we’d not gone all the way over to Abney, which is where by buddy had ended up on her earlier recce.  Also, some high points, more views of the cement works – I am beginning to think these are to the environs of Hope as the Christ the Redeemer statue is to Rio de Janeiro.  Best bit though, was the fine face in the wall.  What act of anonymous creative genius was this?  So impressed, completely unexpected.  Thank you whoever you were:

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that, and the rather cute baby pheasants, hiding on their mum’s back.  Cute eh?  Shame they’ll all be shot in due course no doubt…

 

So these sights cheered us as we trudged onward, marvelling at how little distance we had actually covered and how long it had taken us to do so.  I suppose this is the point of doing recces, we won’t waste so much time next time, this is the theory – I suppose I have to accept I’ll need to do a recce of this section again, can’t say I relish the thought, oh well.

After this though, it was straightforward.  The landscape seemed dry, and I struggled to link it with the Hathersage Hurtle views from a few weeks ago.   Even Shatton didn’t raise a giggle this time – we were both feeling the heat by now and water was running low, though we weren’t yet at the point where we were each eyeing up the other with a view to sating our hunger… that time could come though, it could….

 

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Navigationally, it was all easy enough, there was a bit where you have to dodge through a narrow set of gate posts – very narrow, bit of a squeeze if you didn’t watch what you were doing with your back pack, and ducked down along the river for the final haul to Hathersage.  Even here it was dry, but there was some shade from trees, and the water looked nice.  We passed the stepping-stones which looked incredibly tempting, but which were fully occupied by playing families so we didn’t feel we could plunge right in.  Not that we had the energy to do so.  And then after miles and miles – trottable miles if you had the energy and inclination to do so, you ‘suddenly’ emerge onto the road, cross a bridge, and on the day this is I think another marshal/ dibbing point.

 

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For now though we are done for the day!  Hurrah!  We made our way wearily up back into Hathersage, having long since left Hope behind.

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Fortunately, refreshments awaited us in the form of a chip butty – paid extra for an egg, and gallons and gallons of water, which you could replenish from the outside tap.  I had an unguarded moment of manifest eccentricity by choosing to eat my chip butty with a knife and fork, yes I know it’s mad, but my hands were grubby and they are on the small side for wrestling with a butty of the dimensions I was faced with, didn’t want to do a public battle with it in the circumstances.  I can’t help my southern foibles, I’ll own them.

And then, restored and revived that was it.  Job done, we did about 9.5 miles, not even a third of the route, and it took forever.  My verdict, well apart from the notable exception of Bradwell, where I did very nearly lose the will to live, this is a very straightforward leg, but some of the uphills were brutal.  I was astonished how little ascent we did on this stretch according to Strava as it felt unforgiving, but I wonder if that was perhaps partly because of the heat on the tracks and tarmac radiating back up at you.  It’s not as scenic as the earlier sections, but interesting enough, and I’ll be so relieved if I make it to that point that should be its own reward.  Today’s effort hasn’t give me confidence in terms of my ability to complete the challenge, but I do feel increased confidence I can find my way.   And not just because the Dig Deep Races event organisers offered reassurance to another nervous navigator entrant that they’d help her find her way by sellotaping arrows on to the backs of faster runners, so she’d be fine following them as long as she didn’t get over-confident and try to overtake.  It’s a thought.

I’m still a bit hey ho about it all though. Then again, the organisers are on record as saying this is a good one for first time ultra ‘runners’ as the cut offs are the same as for the 60 milers, so you should be able to do the 30 mile at a really slow walk and still make it.

Cut offs:
Yes, and no! The cut offs which are in place for the Peak Trails 30 are based on the Ultra Tour of the Peak District. So, in order to have any chance of being cut off you would need to walk (slowly) all the way!

That’s all well and good, but I’m not sure what my crawl pace actually is.  One to test for next time.  Oh, and I’m reminded of the vital stats – Distance: 30 miles, Ascent: 1388 metres.  Note to self, sort anti – chafing options.

I drove us back to Hope, in order that my Les Brutelle companion/ recce buddy could pick up her car.  She once again proved herself to be an asset on any occasion by pointing out to me how the air con in my car works.  I honestly had no idea I had any, wow, what a revelation. It’s been one discovery after another the last couple of weeks, mind-blowing doesn’t begin to cover it.  I’ve only had the car 3 years though, so you mustn’t judge me…

Oh, here’s where we went:

hope to hathersage strava

Distance 9.5 miles and ascent 1387 ft.  That’s pretty pitiful isn’t it really.  Ah well, work in progress, and I’m sure it’ll be speedier next time round.

Or not.

Eek.

Crap.

Etc.

 

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

Categories: off road, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Digging deep in search of my running mojo I discover I have a previously untapped super-power! Who knew?

Digested read: lost my running mojo, but acquired a super-power. Who knew my geography O-level would turn out to be such a boon later in life?  Also, realisation has dawned that the way to get ready for a long distance run is to do some long-distance running. Fortunately, the views are lovely.  It’s true you know, don’t wait, just step out, it’s all out there ready for us to dive into.   It’s been one revelation after another this week, really it has!

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Why has nobody mentioned this before?  I mean, well really, this discovery is an absolute game changer.  I’d always thought people who could navigate were endowed with some kind of a super-power, but I discovered today what they are actually in possession of is a suitably scaled and detailed OS map.  Plus, if not actual twenty twenty vision, then some sort of correctly prescribed and adjustive corrective lens: be it in the form of monocle; spectacle; magnifying glass; periscope; pince-nez; opera glasses or whatever. Well, maybe not an actual periscope, that’s probably more a triathlon than running thing, but essentially, whatever works for you.  A rusty geography O-level has also helped me out, but no doubt other rudimentary qualifications are available that will serve just as well.  I’ve not been so amazed since I realised that you don’t need to be able to cook if you know how to shop.  Some discoveries are indeed life changing.

I’ve always categorised myself as rubbish at navigation. It’s true I have zero sense of direction, and a possibly unique ability to not be able to retrace routes alone that I’ve done dozens of times before in the company of others, but I am now wondering if I simply haven’t given myself a chance to find out otherwise.  I’ve allowed this self-perception to fester unchallenged.  When I first moved to Sheffield, in late Autumn, I went off on my own along a footpath from the Snake Pass and terrified myself by getting completely disoriented up on a moor somewhere with dusk drawing in.  I decided it was irresponsible to head off alone again, I just couldn’t make sense of the unfamiliar landscape and had no idea where I was.  So now, my default position when I want to discover new routes is to try to find someone to guide the way, or if I have to do things on my own, to do endless out and back recces until through trial and error I do learn an area, but it isn’t very efficient.

My lack of navigational competence and/or confidence is starting to be a barrier to my running progress.  To be fair, there are quite a few barriers to my running progress, not least of which is my fundamental reluctance to run.  However, the focus here is on being able to find my way on longer routes.  I have zero aptitude for shorter distances where there is an horrifying expectation that participants will run at speed (apart from parkrun, gotta love parkrun), but I do seem to have a certain tenacity which means I can endure over distance, as long as my default speed is what many might regard as pointlessly slow.  For my part, I try to just thing that forward is still progress.  It’s a start.

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Even two steps forward, one step back is still progress.  Unfortunately, running round in circles is not.  I have my eye on doing longer trail events, but they inevitably require navigation, because you can’t really marshal or tape off courses of more than a few miles, unless it’s a road race like the London marathon.  Even marathon runners have been signed the wrong way to be fair – Venice 2017 marathon anyone? so nothing’s a given.  I want to do longer distances, so I need to crack this navigation malarkey.

Last year, my favourite event turned out to be the Dig Deep 12.12.  I know!  I amazed myself, it was just super friendly, gorgeous course, and for me, challenging, as I hadn’t done that distance on a ‘proper’ trail route before.  I resolved to come back the following year, which is now this year.  (Concentrate dear reader) and what’s more, I’d have a bash at the intro ultra.  Thirty miles!  Well, I did my usual thing of entering ages ago, thinking I’ll have lots of time to train.  I’ll have done the London Marathon by then so I’ll have morphed into a practically super-human finely tuned distance runner by then, it’s only a couple of miles more!  Whilst most many of these thoughts were always going to be entirely delusional, I did do some proactive preparation.  I cajoled everyone I knew to see if others might be up for the challenge.  A few were in a ‘we’ll see’ sort of way, and I started up a ‘Dig Deep and Dig Deep Curious’ private Facebook group to try and build some solidarity amongst us so we could motivate each other and … this is where I get to the crux of things … do joint recces.  We could learn the route together.  It would be grand!  I never planned on running with others during the event, that way tears and tantrums and a growing sense of personal inadequacy and failing lies (for me anyway).  But the preparation would be half the fun. If I’m entirely honest I suppose I was hoping to parasitise the navigational skills of others, but it was also about joint yomping out and discovering new trails on our doorstep.  It was going to be joyous!  Scampering about in the wake of  my navigationally gifted running buddies we’d avoid the dragons and learn the trails. How fantastic would that be!

here-be-dragons

I’m a bit phobic about finding my way, not only metaphorically in life generally, but literally, heading out on the trails.  My confidence in my navigational skills has not been helped by my acquisition of the route map for the Dig Deep race series.  I actually got it last year for the 12.12, bought of the website, but it’s just rubbish.  Beyond rubbish.  The scale is small, and the route so heavily marked you can’t work out which trails are which anyway.  Last year I felt stupid because I couldn’t make sense of it.  I must have done a squillion recces before I cracked the 12.12 mile route.   I ended up constantly calling on Smiley buddies for assistance in deciphering the code, and my local running shop even used google images of Higger Tor from above to help me find the path off the blooming thing.  In the event, I’m really glad I did the recces, but the route was pretty well marked, so I would have been alright without.   This year, if I do go through with it and do the thirty mile intro ultra, I’ll definitely need to find my own way round.   Marshals will be few and far between, and going the wrong way could add unwelcome elevation as well as miles to the distance.   I can’t see how they can mark out the whole route that far.   Crap.  The 30 mile route is unchanged from last year, which means I can still use last years map but it remains about as illuminating as last time around.  Crap again.  All the paths looked blurred, no idea where you are supposed to go. This does not bode well.

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So this year, I might be doing the Dig Deep 30 mile intro ultra.  I mean, I have entered it (what was I thinking) but it’s still in the balance whether I’ll make it to the start.  Loads of reasons why.  Too slow, not fit enough and not trained enough for starters.  Then there is the issue that my entourage of running buddies who were possibly going to enter, and were part of the ‘Dig Deep and Dig Deep Curious’ band of buddies,  have now pretty much all fallen by the wayside.  Legitimate reasons, going away; injury; not trained; realised that thirty miles is actually quite a long way and might not be fun to run if this heat continues blah de blah.   I understand their reservations and view points, heavens, if I’m honest, I share them.  The thing is though, if I do decide to withdraw, I want it to be because I don’t want to try not because I can’t find my way around on my own.  I was hoping running buddies meant recceing buddies.  We’ve had a few days out – thank you those who have shepherded me round to date, but I’m nowhere near knowing the route, and it is so much easier to recce a long race in sections if you pair up. then you can have a  car at each end of the segment so you don’t have to constantly retrace your steps.

I tried to console myself.  I reminded myself I was never going to actually run the route on the day with anyone anyway – waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too stressful.  No-one runs as slowly as me so buddying up to make a running pair isn’t an option.  If I did, either my eyes would pop out with the strain of trying to keep up with them, or they’d become  frustrated to the point of apoplexy by having their natural running speed constantly curtailed.  You can only push running friendships and challenges so far.  I know.  I’ve come home from plenty of group runs and had a quiet cry at my enduring ineptitude.  There is nothing to be gained from comparing yourself to other runners, and therefore, by extension, from trying to run alongside any particular individual runner for prolonged periods,  that way madness lies.

madness

Not that sort of madness, that would be quite novel…  might risk a pairing for that.

Even so, irrespective of whether or not you actually run together,  it’s reassuring at a new event to have buddies out on the course, if only so they’ll notice if you don’t make it back before nightfall.  Psychologically, others pulling out of the Dig Deep Intro Ultra now Peak Trails 30 Ultra has been tough for me.  Especially, because without exception, they all seem fitter, stronger more capable runners, I’ve been feeling a bit crushed.  What’s the point of even trying…  I don’t know the route, even if I could drag my weary carcass round the distance, I felt like I had zero chance of knowing which way to go. You have no idea how hard it is to be me.  And don’t get me started in terms of what’s happened to my running mojo.  I have no idea what it looks like, and no, I can’t remember when I last had it.  Crap. Crap again.  It’s all crap.  I hate running.  I hate not being able to run even more.  My relationship status with running is kind of complicated.

lost mojo

I had a mini meltdown earlier in the week.  It all seemed a bit ludicrous to have ever signed up for the thirty miler in the first place.  I did make it out with my Smiley Paces buddies for an off-road Thursday night run for the first time this year.  As usual I trailed at the back feeling hot, clumsy and useless.  Other bright young things fitter of frame and fleeter of foot sprung ahead, hopping across the rocks like mountain goats as a glorious sunset bathed the peak district in spectacular evening rays.  I try to tell myself that I have endurance, so speed doesn’t matter, but it still messes with my head.  How can I even entertain the idea of doing long distances if I can’t even keep up with others on a barely 5 mile social run?  Still, it was scenic out, this is still something I’d like to crack….

I decided it is/was not yet game over.  I still have some time.  It is dawning on me that it’s not altogether surprising I’m making no progress with my running as I’m not regularly training if I’m honest.  Yes, yes, it has been crazily hot, but even so, I’m not going to magically get fitter if I don’t do anything at all.   What I need, is a cunning plan.

cunning-fox-quote

So, I did my usual thing, indulged in a brief pity party, and then decided to be a bit less defeatist. I will try to crack this navigational thing myself.  How hard can it be?

I actually went out and invested in a proper scaled map, oh my gawd!  It was like discovering the gateway to Narnia.  Did you know, that if the scale of a map is big enough you can actually work out where you are and where to go next by looking at it!  It’s remarkable.  Obviously a 1:1 scale would be ideal, then I’d just lay it over the peak district and walk over it like a map carpet, but they weren’t available in store so I’ve gone for the more conventional Peak District Central 1:25,000 Harvey superwalker map.  I think it’s the map which is being referred to as ‘superwalker’ not the user of the map which in this case is me.   I got it from my local running shop, which was also a good plan, as they checked to make sure I bought the right one for the ultra route – insider info people, it’s what you need.  Cheers nice Front Runner people.

YHSWPEC

I’m practically a sponsored athlete now I’ve had so much advice, though it’s come from so many different sources I’ll need bespoke kit to acknowledge all the many who’ve contributed to my running ‘journey’, mind you they perhaps wont all want their brands associated with me, so that’s a win.

I then laboriously marked out the route from the shite map onto the bigger scaled one.  It took a bit of deciphering, but I got there in the end.  It was both fun and a revelation. Fun, in the way that when I was at junior school I remember there was a time when every new bit of written work began with writing your name neatly at the top of the piece of paper, and then you could decorate the borders of the page however you wanted before you did any actual writing as such.  Tongue stuck out the side of my mouth, it was undemanding and even relaxing.  I imagine those adult colouring in books serve much the same purpose, though it would feel like surrendering to a slow death to go and purchase such an item.  Once I’d accomplished this task though, the revelation came –  the route actually made sense!  Oh my goodness, with this map, I’ll be able to find my way without having to chase round after faster runners or memorise the route from begged recces with other runners who already know where to go.  Couldn’t believe it.  There is a slight fly in the proverbial, in that I find I do need to wear my prescription glasses to decipher this navigational aid, but this seems but a small price to pay to avoid getting lost out there in the peaks.  My new map looks like this:

DSCF3485

Looking a lot more manageable on this scale.  Maybe I can find a way to do this, literally as well as metaphorically.  Yay!  At the very least, solo route finding has to be worth a punt.  I can still duck out of doing the Dig Deep for lack of fitness; finesse; training or inclination, but let me not duck out from not being able to find my way.

My next decision was to try and be a bit less passive.  I’ve relied too much on others to plan routes.  Really though, there is no reason why I can’t do sections on my own if I keep them short enough that I can do out and back.  It is probably good to do this anyway, as it’ll give me a better appreciation of the whole area, and the more I do, the more hours on my legs, who knows, it might even help me recover some fitness, though I concede there may be an element of hope over experience and delusion