Posts Tagged With: Dig Deep Series

Final Recce for Dig Deep 12.12.. Job done with Higger mystery solved – but beware the bogs, you have been warned!

Digested read: Be careful out there! I’ve done my final bog recce for  the Dig Deep 12.12 trail race, and can now navigate off Higger Tor!  Hurrah.  However, I’ve also found out that wet feet often occasion fatal diseases. It’s wet in those peat bogs, I didn’t fully appreciate this is what was meant by the ‘Run at your own risk’ blah de blah disclaimer you routinely sign on entry to such events.  Oh well, no turning back now. Bring it on.

Yesterday, I got an opportunity to undertake a somewhat spontaneous final circuit of the Burbage/ Higger Tor section of the 12.12 route.   Some fellow committed/potential twelve-twelvers proposed the outing just the night before, explaining they would have their canine companions with them. This meant it was a walk that was being proposed rather than a run, which for me was a bonus as I’m not doing any more (hard) runs before Sunday now.  Better yet, it offered potentially a stop off at the last chance saloon for me to finally find that elusive route off that blooming gritstone tor and onto the more obvious path below.  My regular reader will know this part of the route has repeatedly confounded me.  Despite repeated recces, my departure off the top of Higger Tor has been a literal leap of faith every time.  My fellow dig deepers have fared little better.  It seems we have all taken routes involving inelegant and life risking scrambles down near vertical rock faces into the forests of bracken below. What is so frustrating, is that the path is really obvious going up the tor, and looks as if it should be really obvious coming down too – you can even see the path from the top for pity’s sake. Even so, when you are up on high, surrounded by the flattened  expansive plain of boulders, heather tufts and mud puddles disappearing off in all directions, it’s a different prospect all together.  It is beautiful if breezy up there, the location definitely has its merits, but it isn’t quite like following the yellow brick road in terms of route finding.  I’m not worried about getting lost per se, I know I can get down safely, but it would save so much time if I could work out a neat and relatively obstacle free route for descent.  It isn’t quite ‘Touching the Void‘ territory, but let’s not take any unnecessary risks out there.  The weather can change quickly up high.  I doubt they’ll be a marshal anywhere to guide, though there could be some dibbers (or are they dabbers?)  I’m assuming nothing, taking nothing for granted.  It is the only way!

Higger tor top

So we met, in the rain, at Burbage bridge.  We headed off up the tor, heads down.  We summited at reasonable speed, and then set about a collective scamper in all directions like worker ant scouts searching for food, only looking for a better route down. Well, I can report dear reader that against all odds, the excursion turned out to be pretty educational one way and another.  Not only was this final recce in fine company. We did it!  We finally found the ‘open sesame’ boulder that marks the point for descent onto the path off Higger Tor.  Once located, it is, whilst not exactly visually obvious, quite clearly the most straightforward, quick and hazard free route off, and it does lead straight on to what is the intended path.  Result!

I cannot tell a lie, we didn’t achieve this feat entirely on our own.  We were aided and abetted by the kindness of strangers who were up top too.   They clearly knew the place really well, insisting there was a path we could find, and we were tantalizingly close.  Our unexpected guardian angel was a guy walking with a boy and a dog, who pointed out to us (the guy not the dog) that the best way to memorize route is not in fact by looking out for distinctive boulders as I was trying to do – they are all a bit samey after a while – but rather seek out a fixed feature on the sky line (not that car on the road below heading to Longshaw then?) and head towards that like a compass point.  This was a brilliant navigational top tip, and also a blindingly obvious one once pointed out.

We to-ed and fro-ed on and off the tor for a bit, trying to spot the path from further and further away.  I am not 100% I’ll find it again but at least I know it actually exists. However, as we made our final descent, I spotted some weathered lettering, scratched onto one of the gritstones just near the dropping off point.  Clearly, I don’t approve of such defacing of the landscape, however, ‘James’ and ‘Dad’ do mark the spot as clearly as the skeleton pointing the way to the treasure on Treasure Island.  If I find them again, I’ve found my jumping off point.  It has definitely helped my confidence to discover this.  I could shave a good 15 minutes off my time just by not faffing about at this turn around point.  We all felt pretty darned good about our newfound navigational prowess, and grateful to our knowing stranger for guiding us on our way.

So, that was the really good news.  Against all odds, I can now navigate off Higger Tor, well probably I can, which is way better than my previous odds.  My navigation is always going to be a work in progress, but all the same, share a half-hearted and perfunctory ‘yay’ with me, a yay is still a yay after all.  Yaysayers are sometimes needed.   How does it go? ‘She believed she could and so she did!’  It’s a start.  Fabulous, and unexpected, it can be filed with the four leaved clovers and white heather in the ‘external signs of luck’ folder for future reference and psychological support.

So that’s the good news.  However, as with all good fairy tales, there is a price to be paid for such good fortune.  On the very day I encountered the fairest of fortunes on the navigational front, I also was made aware of the dark side of being out on the fells.  It was pretty boggy out after all the rain.  There is definitely a swampy section beneath Carl Wark. Now, certainly, a big part of the fun of the run is the splish splosh splash through the soft, submerged peat.  I always do a little bog dance. To begin with I jump from reed tussock to tussock, trying to keep out of the standing water as best I can, however, it is futile. It is almost a relief at the moment you know you have misjudged, you foot sinks deep into the soft ground and icy water fills your fell shoes. Thereafter you can gallop on uncaring. The wetter the better, it makes me feel like a ‘proper’ hard core fell runner, who laughs at the element and moves through the terrain undaunted by the streams, bogs, bracken and boulders in my path.  I can bound through (ish) and celebrate the ever-changing landscape as I experience it beneath my feet.  My wet feet.  The icy water soothing my arthritic bones.  However, this dear reader, comes at a cost.  Little did I know it, but all this time I’ve been playing Russian Roulette with my life each time I dipped so much as an adventurous or wayward toe into the damp embrace of the soft, squelching peat bog out on them there moors.

The bog dancing is all very romantic sounding and everything, but I now have new information.  Information I feel compelled to share.  It’s not health and safety gone mad, it is the cumulative wisdom of centuries of medical research which I had previously inexplicably hitherto overlooked.  It was on Radio 4 as well so it must be true.   Essentially, the less good news, actually the positively bad news, is that I’ve recently found out that venturing out across those peat bogs will quite possibly kill me, and may well kill you too.  No really.

I only found this out yesterday, so I’m about 227 years slow on the uptake, which is fairly disappointing I will concede.  Anyway, turns out, that the educated amongst us have known since 1790 that wet feet often occasion fatal diseases.  So said William Buchan (M.D.) in his page turner: Domestic medicine: or, A treatise on the prevention and cure of diseases.

wet feet

By William BUCHAN (M.D.)

Thanks to Radio 4  for their ‘A nasty case of the vapours‘ for alerting me to this previously  unknown almost inevitable eventuality.   This is obviously what they mean when Fell Race organisers  blather on about ‘running at your own risk’.  I’m still going to do the 12.12 anyway, ‘I am in bog stepped so far...’ already as the saying goes so might as well carry on regardless.  Wading onwards will indeed be just as challenging as retracing my steps back to the start. Also, it might be hard, but it wont be anything like as painful as treading on lego in bare feet say, and I’ve survived that in the past,  so it’s important to keep everything in proportion.  On the other hand, treading on lego isn’t known to be the ‘occasion of many fatal diseases‘ so you pays your money and you take your chance in relation to deciding which risks you are up for and which are a step too far so to speak…


Irrespective of my decision, clearly what each of us is willing to risk is very personal.  Therefore, I feel it is only fair to those who may step in my wake to share this warning, you can then carry out your own risk assessment and make an informed decision of your own. I’m quite surprised the race organisers don’t explicitly mention this wet feet point to be honest, but they are all probably enthusiastic fell runners and therefore it is in their nature and their interests to be in abject denial of the whole thing otherwise they’d never carry on running the insane distances over the hostile country that they do.  Or maybe the danger is part of the appeal.  Feel the fear and do it anyway people, that’s the best way to feel properly alive!  Look danger straight in the face and laugh, manically, and then run on.

One final thing though, further reading of this eminent tome suggests wet feet are only the start of the risks.  I’ve not read all of his book, because I did get bored eventually, but there is a section on wet clothes too, so even if you are blasé about your feet, you better at least be confident you are carrying the FRA approved wet weather gear before you head out even if you are currently young and healthy.  You can’t eliminate all risks, but you can manage them.

wet clothes

If you are doing the ultra and might be out in the night air, well I don’t want to be alarmist as such, but…. let’s just say there’s still plenty of time to transfer to the Felly Fun Run and they have lovely medals, so you can still have all the bling and fun of the run at relatively low risk, as long as you can pass yourself off as under 16.  Food for thought perhaps?

felly fun run

So that’s my recces done.  I’ve woken up today with a mysteriously painful shoulder, so good to know I’m developing random psychosomatic symptoms in accordance with normal tapering expectations.  I am confident(ish) I shall make it to the start of this endeavour.  Then it’s just one foot in front of another and dream of glory.   Not long now before we find out if I made it to the end.  Eek.

So that’s the yin and the yan of the final recce.  I have a route off Higger Tor, but I am also in morbid fear of wet feet.  Oh well.  It’s what makes life interesting.  Just the final count down now, and endless packing and repacking of essential kit, before Whirlow Farm on Sunday.

See you there?  Everyone who is anyone will be I understand.  Can you hear the sound of FOMO calling to you?  Getting louder surely…  You need to either get with the programme and join in (you can even enter on the day for the 10k or 12.12), or see if you can find a treatment for that.  It’s amazing what you can source on ebay these days.  This is a cream, but they probably do suppositories too.  Each to their own after all.


Food for thought I hope.

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

Oh and another thing, did you hear  keep on running? Thanks Radio 4 Extra.  Seems running is increasingly ‘a thing.’  We runners are quite the zeitgeist, whatever size or shape we come in.  Hurrah!

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

Tackling the taper… Not quite textbook tactics, but you know what? I’ll be reet! :)

Digested read:  The 12.12 mile off-road trail race is a week away.  What was I thinking when I entered it?   I’m fretting now. Tried to taper with a long walk instead of run. Epic fail. Wobbly, exhausted and confidence crushed.  However, espied something pretty darned special out on them there moors.  Have a guess.  Clue.  I got seriously lucky!  Yay, go me.  It’s a sign. It’ll be fine. Or it wont, but either way, it doesn’t matter, it’s supposed to be fun, we can all run our own race, nobody cares.  (In a good way).

Dreaming of the purple hills, this is what awaits me just a week from now.  Is it possible that the heather will be even more glorious come the 20th August?  However, between me and the Dig Deep trail challenge lies one final hurdle. The succesful taper.

nice out

The Dig Deep people keep putting up motivational posts on their Facebook page counting down to the big event.  ‘Yay, just three weeks to go’, ‘great news guys, a fortnight from now we’ll be good to go’ and now ‘final countdown to fun-land – just a few more sleeps’, I’m paraphrasing a bit but you get the idea.  This is all well and good, and no doubt very well-intentioned, but it’s really rather ratcheting up my fear levels.  What was I thinking? This happens to me a lot with off-road events.  Trouble is I’m seduced by the glorious settings, the seemingly manageable distances, and don’t factor in the challenging terrain and potentially impossible elevations.  A combination of absolute denial and hope over experience I suppose, hopefully not a fatal one.

My expertise in training protocol is rather limited, but even I know that at this late stage I’ve little hope of improving my fitness levels between now and next Sunday when I tackle the 12.12 event. 12.12 miles of off-road  (see what they’ve done with the name there?  Their creative vision team must have been working overtime to come up with that) and 633 metres of ascent.  That’s not even in feet, took me a while to realise that.   I try not to get too hung up on details at the point of entering events, it only leads to despair and sapping morale.  I’m not necessarily completely delusional when I sign up to things, it’s just that I’m ill-informed.  Upshot is, if you can’t improve your fitness at this stage, what you need to do is avoid injury, maintain fitness and carb up nicely.  That is, in my book ‘yay’ time, you get to taper!

My regular reader knows I’ve cluttered up the internet by pontificating on this point before Never underestimate the importance of a good tapir but that was a while back.  I’ve got a better understanding now, so time to revisit the topic I feel.  Why keep all that disillusion to myself?   I used to think tapering meant that you got to spend a fortnight sat on the sofa eating donuts as a sort of early consolation prize for being made to run a long way afterwards. Sadly, I now know it’s not quite the case.  It just goes to show that sometimes ignorance is indeed bliss, and greater understanding does not always bring about greater happiness.

Initially my research on ‘how to taper’  suggested that it was really, really important not to be tempted to do too much during  a taper.  I  say ‘research’, but clearly what I really mean is that I did a bit of random googling, disregarding the advice I didn’t want to follow until I came up with something I liked.  I liked this sentence from Susan Paul a lot:

Doing too much during the taper period can destroy your (event) performance. Your best bet for peak performance is to resist the urge to do more. When it comes to tapering, less really is more!

Good oh, that meant a fortnight out, after my last long run (I use the term ‘run’ loosely, yomp over 14 and a bit miles is more accurate, with quite a lot of pausing and gazing about) I settled down on the sofa fully committed to resting up properly.  Granted, I’d have to get up now and again to attend to bodily functions and check out the contents of the fridge, but otherwise me and Radio 4 (TV at a push) listening to the rain beating down outside would be the way to go.  To add creativity and interest I’d also be doing my best to improvise a ta ta bra out of a pair of recycled oven gloves.  I would have bought one, but really $45 for a bit of elasticated towel does seem a bit steep, even if it is a genius creation. Plus, they don’t seem to be available in the uk, anyway,  how hard can they be to create? (Answer, harder than you think, but you’ll have a laugh trying).

Unfortunately, further research, was emphatic about the opposite.  I didn’t like this advice nearly as much – whatever you do, don’t overdo the taper, said Coach Jeff in Runners Connect, adding for good measure:

The single biggest mistake I see in (event) tapers is that people over-taper in the last three weeks leading into the race.

This leads to feeling flat and sluggish on race day and increases the chance that you’ll come down with some type of sickness as your metabolism and immune system crash due to the sudden change in activity and demands on the body

Begrudgingly, I have to concede he may have a point.  Further research suggests tapering doesn’t mean an emergency stop, more a reduction in intensity and volume, depending on what you are preparing for.  I am left with the horrifying realisation that you are only doing a taper correctly if you feel frustrated and miserable the whole time.  That is, doing the opposite of whatever it is you are naturally drawn to doing.  Let me explain…

Scenario one:  If you are the sort of person who takes a month’s bed rest if you so much as stub your toe, when you taper you need to be doing a lot more than maintaining your natural default state of inert.  Plus, you really don’t need to start carbing up with quite such gusto, quite so far ahead.  ‘Carbing up’ only needs to happen about two days before. What’s more (and I didn’t like this message very much) you don’t even need to take in any extra calories apparently, simply change the proportion of carbs in your meal, so you are having more carb less fibrous veg say. Disappointing. No midnight pizza and pasta fests after all, so said the nutrition expert at the London Marathon Expo earlier this year.

garfield taper

Scenario two:  If you are the sort of person who gets a serious stress fracture, are given a pot and told to ‘rest’ for eight weeks but still think a 50 mile bike ride won’t count because it’s just ‘gentle cross training’ then you need to Stop.  Right.  Now!

can i run

Just to be clear on this point, I tend to fall into the ‘scenario one’ camp, in danger of doing too little.  Left to my own devices, brooding on the sofa, I started to feel increasingly fretful that this 12.12 challenge is beyond me.  I am increasingly aware of way better runners falling by the wayside.  The excuses they come up with are pitiful: ‘I can’t run I’ve dislocated my shoulder and broken my arm’; ‘I can’t run, I’m away doing a hard-core mountain marathon in Norway’; ‘I can’t run, I’ve got to have an operation’; ‘it’s not that I can’t run, I just don’t want to‘.  That kind of thing.  Maybe I needed to come up with a get-out of my own.  I know – I have a cunning plan. I can’t possibly pull out, that would be to fail, but if external circumstances were to conspire together to make my participation impossible, well, I’d have to shrug in despairing acceptance of my fate.  I can help fate along a bit though, with just a tad of initiative thrown into the mix…

I sent a private message to the Dig Deep team.  ‘Eeeerm‘, I said.  ‘bit worried‘ and then basically went on to explain I am mindful of being a tardy, lard arse, and whilst I do know I can do the distance (I do really) I will be soooooooooooooooooo slow.  Is that OK, or is there a cut off time?  Annoyingly, they sent back a speedy and cheerily encouraging response.  ‘That’s fine, all welcome‘ sort of encouraging and inclusive and generally not what I wanted to hear at all.  Oh no.  No handy external factor causing me to pull out under protest from that quarter.

I decided I needed to bite the bullet.  I would cut back, but not abandon all exertion.  I decided that I’d do one more long, endurance outing, but just keep it in walk so I didn’t get injured or too knackered, but still got miles on my legs.  Oh my gawd. This was such a bad move.  I thought I’d do one final recce that is an approximation of the 12.12 route, but coming up from Whitely Woods rather than Whirlow, and going along the top rather than the bottom of Burbage. Well, it might be more technical, but it’s gorgeous and I was really hoping I might see an adder soaking up the sun on the boulders on that slightly quieter upper path.   It’s a route I’ve yomped round several times now, and just over 14 miles, seriously beautiful.  I wanted to see how the heather was as well, given all the rain and then sun, it would be at its peak surely.

So it was beautiful, I will concede that:

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but as a final long yomp, not my best move.

There was an early warning sign, had I but realised what was happening, a fallen tree crossing my path going up the Porter Valley – surely an omen.  There were lots of trees down, I think the torrential rain had washed away a lot of earth and left roots exposed and trees vulnerable:

blocked path

Then, a bit further up, there were some misplaced sheep.  No really, in the woods.   I don’t know where they were from, but they were having an adventure.   Good for them, I wonder how long they will evade capture.  Who were those escaped pigs – the Tamworth Two?  They escaped death after many weeks on the run.  I suspect there won’t be a film and book deal and a happy ending for this trio, I don’t think they’ve even got an agent.  Oh well.

The point is though, that this was the normal order of things upturned.  I should have realised, and turned about, then again, it wouldn’t be so much of a story would it if I had. Same as with all those omens in Julius Caesar or whatever.  Ides of March anyone?

I pressed on.  It was OK to start, sunny, the heather in full bloom and a-buzz with bees. Not many others about, but lots of friendly exchanges with those who were along the lines of  ‘isn’t it gorgeous’ and the more mutually self-congratulatory ‘how lucky are we to have such beauty as this on our doorstep‘ all of which was true.  The problem was, that even though I think I run really slowly (and I really do) turns out, I’m still a lot quicker running slowly, than I am when I actually walk.  14 miles takes ages to walk.  It was hard.  I got hot, I ran out of water.  I’d taken a litre with me, and although I could have drunk from the many streams I got dehydrated without fully appreciating I had, and then it’s already too late.  I ate my chia bar quite early on, and then found I did feel my blood sugar levels dropping later on, but had nothing in reserve.  I didn’t get wobbly or anything like that, but I did get achy legs, and stop enjoying the landscape. By the time I’d been out about 4 hours I was feeling it, and didn’t have the energy to run and get the whole blooming adventure over with by that point. Plus, my feet were hurting.  A lot. My arthritis was excruciating.   Not blisters, granted,  which is something, but my fellraisers (which I do like) lack cushioning,  and Strava has been on at me for weeks to change them as they have done too many miles.  They are ok-ish.  I know they do need replacing but I didn’t want to try new shoes too close to this event, so thought they could do this one last task for me as their swan song.  On this final walk recce though I really felt they are ready to be jettisoned though.  They don’t have enough support, and weren’t comfy at all – although their grip is still good.  I started to feel pretty petulant.  I was annoyed at going out so blasse, I was too hot, and I still couldn’t find an efficient route off Higger Tor.  For future reference, doing a long walk was not, for me, a helpful tapering strategy. I’d have done much better to do a gentle run, or several shorter walks on consecutive days.  I felt pretty broken when I still had about 4 miles to go.  It’s incomprehensible to me though, surely, logic says walking should be easier than running?  I suppose it’s ‘different’, didn’t do a lot for my confidence.  If I can’t walk the distance how am I going to run it?  Aaaargh, curses. Why am I not a super-fit athlete with a coach, a nutrition plan, well-fitting sports bra, cushioned trainers and a dollop of common sense?  It’s not fair!

I traipsed on, thinking dark and brooding thoughts.


Wait for it.

Something amazing!

Something I’ve never seen before, just for me!

In amongst the landscape of purple I espied a little patch of white.  At first I wasn’t quite sure if it was what I thought. But it was!  White heather. A small clump of it, but definitely there.  I like to think if the fallen tree and the lost sheep were to warn me off my adventures, the lucky heather was to reassure me there is still a place for the unexpected and seemingly impossible.  I know you can get cultivated white heather, but seeing it in the wild, just there, was pretty amazing.  Perhaps I’m too easily impressed, but it really encouraged me.  Just look on and tell me honestly are you not moved?  You can’t be that heartless surely?

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I thought it was extraordinary.  I’m not superstitious, but I do take comfort from being reminded of the gloriousness of unexpected and unlikely discoveries.  White heather is a truly rare sight, but we can celebrate its appearance on the moors.  I too, will be an unexpected participant in the 12.12, also an uncommon sighting perhaps. However, whilst it might be a stretch too far to think of my presence on the day being exactly a cause for celebration, there’s no reason to expect to be unwelcome either.  I’ll be just another unusual thing for others to come across on a run out.  No more or less than that.

I carried on with renewed effort (I was going to say energy, but that’s pushing it).  Back through the woods I saw a comma butterfly, another incredibly rare sighting.  And a lot harder to photograph than white heather it seems.  Well I thought commas were rare, but google says otherwise.  I still haven’t seen one in years though, so made me happy, which is the important thing because this blog is at the end of the day all about me!

comma butterly,

Once I got to Forge Dam cafe, I caved in and bought an ice-cream.  I felt in genuine need as my legs were shaking by then.  Of course, I then immediately bumped into a Smiley Elder, and felt like I’d been caught out on an inappropriately wild feeding frenzy, binge eating sugar when I ought to be showing off with extra press ups at the end of my run like that Isaac Makwala at the world athletics championships trial.  Instead I was like a vampire caught with blood running down their chin, only with salted caramel ice cream instead of the blood of virgins. In fairness, she seemed approving of this replenishing of energy post run.  I genuinely find it confusing though.  How can I possibly have got such a drop in my blood sugar just by walking.  I can only conclude it is indeed hours out, not necessarily absolute exertion that is to blame.  Getting the balance right continues to be a challenge.  I want to burn calories through running, that’s part of the point, to counteract the impact of post-run brunches –  but it seems I always replenish more than I use.  In my case I don’t find running is a boon to weight loss, though it has other benefits for sure!

So, I returned from my ‘gentle tapering walk’ broken, exhausted and promptly flaked out and slept for about 5 hours solid.  The next day, which was yesterday, I could barely walk!  Today, should have been parkrun, but I still feel wobbly.  I can’t understand it, running never makes me feel that bad.  I think maybe it genuinely came down to being out way longer than usual. It wasn’t physical fitness as such, but probably nutrition and hydration.  I even wondered if I am ‘coming down with something’ it seems such an extreme reaction from walking a route I’ve yomped half a dozen times before withough any problem at all.  Oh well, lesson learned.   Presume nothing, take nothing for granted.

I’ve now got exactly a week to go.  I’ve decided (rightly or wrongly) not to push myself if I’m feeling weak (as opposed to can’t be bothered) in a nod to ‘stay injury free and preserve what you have’.  Whilst I don’t think I’m ever going to be in the over-training camp, I do think there is no point in forcing myself out if I am genuinely wobbly.    I will try for a bit more ‘out and about’ but I’m not doing anything else long or involving so much elevation.

As for next Sunday, gulp.  Oh well, I think I just have to remind myself that ultimately it’s supposed to be fun.  As long as I don’t present a risk to either myself or other runners it matters not one iota how long I take or how I tackle it.  Spoiler alert – nobody cares.  Participants will be running their own race, and I know I can do the distance in daylight at least.  I will carry a bit more food though, and weather depending, might think about wearing a T-shirt as opposed to long sleeves to avoid over-heating.  Speaking of which, the t-shirts for this event look splendid. Worth turning out for for sure!

dig deep t shirt

And as far as tapering is concerned.  I don’t like it. It’s confusing.  I have no idea what I’m doing.  I liked it much better when I thought it was just about lolling around on a sofa eating pizza.  Now I find it a confidence-sapping challenge.  Still, on the positive side, as I do want to eventually get up to a marathon distance, maybe it’s good to learn some of these lessons early on, even if it is by trial and error.  I’d rather mess up my taper for the 12.12 local event, than for the London Marathon 2018.  We run and learn. So message for today?  Running is supposed to be fun. Let’s not over complicate it.  Agreed?  Also, tapering is harder than you might think, it’s OK to be grumpy.

tapering runner

The main thing is just to try not to interact with anyone during this running chapter to avoid alientating everyone you meet, and ‘tha’ll be reet’, as the saying goes.


This is what I’m going to keep telling myself anyway.  You must do as you think fit.  Also, I try to remember there is always somebody worse off than yourself, it could be worse, I could be doing the ultra.  Good luck to those that are. You’ll be fabulous, because you already are.  I believe in you, you just need to believe in yourselves as well.

The End.

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

Lessons learnt? Upping the distance on the quest to Dig Deep and getting lucky on the trails

Digested read:  I’m still scheming in preparation for the Dig Deep.  Learning the hard way about navigation, nutrition and kit, and benevolently offering up some unsolicited and potentially unhelpful and counter-productive but hard won top tips here. However, I have been getting lucky on the trails. Yay!  Are you coming too? Might be fun…

new approach

Given how long it is since I last posted about my Dig Deep recce progress, I’m a little disappointed nobody has checked in with me to see if I made it back ok from my last run out.  I wouldn’t mind quite so much, but the person to whom I’d delegated the responsibility of rolling me off the trail if I died out there, has selfishly smashed up her shoulder and hence reneged on her offer, claiming she is no longer available to fulfill that task*.  It’s a worry.  I need to feel the running community are looking out for their own, if only to ensure the obstacle created by my decomposing corpse somewhere on the path below Carl Wark does not become a hazard to other trail users.  Plus, now I come to think of it, it would be good to upload my run on strava if I’ve got my tomtom on.  Would be a shame for that last effort to count for nothing, so if you’re passing if you would? Cheers.  All and any help gratefully received.

So, back to dispensing my pearls of running wisdom.  My regular reader will be delighted to know I’ve been making heaps of rookie errors over the past few weeks, which translates into learning the hard way about running strategies. Unfortunately, I’ve really only got as far as the ‘what not to do‘ and not entirely cracked the ‘why not try this instead‘ side of things. Still, work in progress is still progress right? This is what I like to think.

Since my last post about the Dig Deep, I’ve had a few further outings.  I have decided that I’m never going to pick up speed, certainly not between now and the 20th August which is when the 12.12 is taking place.  With hindsight, I wish I’d entered the children’s 1.6 and/or 2.3km trail race instead, that sounds way more enjoyable and doable, but possibly not technically in the spirit of the Smiley Championship races.  Although in my defence, they only specify that you should do one of the Dig Deep series without explicitly ruling out the Felly Fun Run as such…  Anyways, rather than pretend I can run continuously and doing flat-out shorter runs, adding 10% a week to build up the distance, I’m just trying to get out and do longer routes of about 10 – 12 miles of walk/run cycles and increasing the percentage time I spend running based entirely on how I feel. This may not be scientific, but seems to work for me.  Astonishingly, I am getting a bit speedier, I mean not exactly breaking the sound barrier granted, but definitely breaking a sweat.  Part of this is due to not getting quite so lost and faffing about on the top of Higger Tor for ages, part of it is just feeling more confident on the terrain and part of it may even be that against all odds my stamina is improving.   Another factor is advice given and lessons learned along the way, which I shall now share.  Lucky you!

They say you should never be above asking for advice, but I’ve never had a problem that end of the continuum, I’m more at the ‘too embarrassed to ask for advice’ end of that sliding scale, though I’m overcoming it and becoming more brazen.  My local running shop are most insistent that there are no stupid questions and I’m welcome to ask whatever I like, whenever I like.  I am going to test that claim to breaking point, I’m not sure I’m going to get them to agree to a personal paging system, which would be my preferred option, but I reckon a bat phone type communication device would do the job pretty well and indisputably look incredibly cool on any running shop counter to boot.  Should be able to get that past them.  I might go and look on Ebay in a bit, see if I can put in a bulk order, I can think of a range of experts I’d love to have on standby ready to give me advice when needed…  Naturally, if they are serious about wanting to retain my custom I’d require them to wear the appropriate gear, but as it’s clearly both fetching in style and practical for running purposes I can’t see any cynical naysayers putting unnecessary obstacles in the way there.  Super cool running tights and briefs in evidence here!  Frankly I don’t know why they don’t make that the staff uniform anyway, bat phone or not.

So, my top tips for running the 12.12 are in three disctint areas, specifically: navigation, nutrition and kit.

Navigation –
This has been a real problem for me, just couldn’t fathom the route for the 12.12.  I still maintain the map supplied was rubbish.  However, Strava has come to my aid in the form of more knowledgeable running buddies, who have spotted my errors and endeavoured to point me in the literal as well as metaphorical right direction. For ages, I was constantly thwarted coming off Higger Tor, because many had told me the 12.12 follows clear paths throughout. This advice has now been amended too ‘oh, well, yes, apart from coming off Higger Tor itself, obviously, there’s no path there!’  So all those hours I spent traversing the top of the Tor seeking a path were indeed in vain.  The nice man at Front Runner brough up a picture of the Tor on Google Earth (a surprisingly good top tip that seemed blindingly obvious once he’d done so) and you see from above how a very clear path just disappears into a pile of rocks, boulders and vertiginous edges.  You can either scramble down, or step off and hope you fly, whatever works for you.  I got the photo from the interweb, thanks Fran Hansall, I added the quote.  Cheesy perhaps, but apt all the same.  Squirm if you must.

fly higger tor

Yay!  To be honest, I was a bit slow on the uptake working this out for myself.  I should have got an inkling that time I scrambled over some boulders down onto what I thought was a path but turned out to be just a random shelf.  I found myself sharing the space with some pathologically enthusiastic and helpful climbers with ropes and helmets and all the gear.  I figured they’d know the lie of the land and asked them if there was a safe route down from whence they’d come.  ‘Yeah, sure there is, you’ll be fine‘ they said confidently.  I think I am being  generous in giving them the benefit of the doubt when I say perhaps they just didn’t notice I lacked similar skill and attire.   An alternative explanation is clearly that they wanted me to die. I did make it down, but not without seeing my life flash before me en route.  Still, all’s well that ends well eh?

Another buddy offered more practical assistance, first showing me the secret weapon of The usefulness of this depends on others having uploaded routes, but there was indeed a outdoorgps version of the 12.12 from a previous year, you can zoom right in and the route became way clearer.  This is a genius tool, it opens up all sorts of other trailing opportunities.  Then she took me out under supervision. This was great actually (thank you Special Agent Smiley) as we actually went from behind Fox House, and now I’ve finally worked out how to join up some of the myriad of paths I’ve been gallumphing along without any sense of how they all inter-connected. So my top tips for navigation are as follows:

  • Get a decent map
  • Make sure the map is the right way up when you are looking at it
  • Ask lots of people so you have contradictory advice, it’s good fun trying to triangulate it all
  • Get a trusted friend to show you
  • Ask random strangers as you romp round your recce
  • Keep uploading your strava route and try to compare and contrast with the feeble route map you have already in your possession
  • Try google earth up close
  • Try
  • Get a personalised ad-hoc advice session from a GB triathlete through a car window, pre shoulder injury for preference
  • Befriend fellow Smilies (running club buddies from Smiley Paces) who go to woodrun and who have let slip that they are marshaling on Higger Tor on the day, if they aren’t able to point you the right way, they can at least scrape you up afterwards
  • Feel the fear and do it anyway
  • Maybe don’t hold out for the bat phone to rescue you, nice idea, but, well, you know.  I’m not saying they’d deliberately ignore my calls (perish the thought) but mobile reception is not guaranteed out on the moors.

Mix all these ingredients and then just head out in hope more than expectation, and voila!  Route sorted, sort of, which is probably good enough.  Tenacity not talent is what is most needed at the end of the day.

Armed with all this expertise, I have since done further romping, and it’s been grand.   I have sussed the boggy bits, had a bash at boulder bouncing, and been swallowed up by bracken taller than I am (which might not be saying much but is still pretty extraordinary to experience out in them there hills).  Every time I go out I am in awe of the Peak District, I’ve barely scratched the surface, and as I up my distances I hope more and more of it will fall within my reach.  All the muddy, moody gloriousness is out there just waiting to be discovered.

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In all seriousness, I am risk averse when I go out on my own, but this whole recceing thing (is that a word, not ‘thing’ – ‘recceing’, anyway, you know what I mean) has made me so much more confident out and about.   Those tops look miles away, but they really aren’t, and you can’t really get lost.  I mean, I get so I don’t know where I am exactly, but I know how to get home and/or to the nearest road, which is good enough. I’m further up the navigational competency chain than the first time me and Cheetah Buddy went out from the Norfolk Arms on what was supposed to be a 5k trail run. Darkness fell – impressive, as it was May, even though we had gone for an evening run, we didn’t expect our 5k route to take 6 hours. We ended up covering over 18km because we got so lost. Ultimately we found our way home by pausing in the heather and waiting until we saw some car headlights, moving towards them til they faded and waiting again, until we finally made it onto a road we recognised.  Not our finest hour. It taught me to respect the hills a great deal more, and to take seriously advice about going out with a head torch etc as you just never know do you.  Subsequently, my running buddy uploaded our route on some tracking thing she had (this was pre our ‘proper’ running watch gizmos) and we could see we’d repeatedly crossed our paths and double backed on ourselves,  but we were so disorientated we didn’t recognise where we were.  Scary really.   To be fair, we were caught out by inexperience, but better runners than me (I know, hard to believe) have been caught out by over confidence.  Hypothermia on the hills anyone?  Still, it wasn’t all bad, it was great for team building, and we had a hoot trying to take selfies before we realised we were so lost we would probably die.  We’ve improved our selfie taking skills since this shot was taken I’m pleased to say, and in my defence I wasn’t deliberately channeling the Jedward look, I’m sadly just a natural at it.  This was 2014 according to Facebook, my how time flies…  It’s me and Cheetah Buddy on the left, just to be clear.



You might think from my silhouette that I eat all the time, but in fact, I never eat when I’m out running, I’ve only recently started to carry water.  I guess I’m quite good at carrying my own supplies as subcutaneous fat.  However, as I up my distances, and in accordance with FRA regs, I recognise it is probably a good idea to find out what I can eat to help me run.  The conventional wisdom is to refuel before you need it – some say every 45 minutes.  This feels very alien to me. Even so, I have found that now I’m running a greater proportion of the route, as opposed to power walking, I do notice I tire after about 90 minutes and if I want to build up to marathons, and I do, then clearly I’m going to have to eat something.  I did try a gel once, literally, one sip (it was free in a goodie bag somewhere) and it made me retch instantly.  Too sweet and too alien.  Not trying that again.  On the Round Sheffield Run I’ve indulged in banana (stomach cramps) and jelly babies, but I felt guilty about that because they aren’t veggie but I hadn’t planned and did need something.  I took fudge on the Sheffield half-marathon, bit sweet, but did the job.   Lots of people have recommended clif shot bloks they are vegetarian, and described to me as being ‘like soft jelly babies’.  As I lack imagination and am susceptible to peer pressure, I decided to give them a go. I took one out on a recce, and once I’d heave-hoed up Porter Clough and past Lady Cannings plantation I thought I’d tuck in.

super glue nutrition

Now, I don’t claim to be much of a food critic, and I might be wrong, but essentially for me the berry choc blok was like accidentally stuffing my mouth with glucose infused super-glue.  Not in a good way.  It was so sweet it made my whole jaw vibrate whilst simultaneously coating my teeth with a seemingly irremoveable clingy ectoplasm.  This was not for me.  FAIL.  I gulped down water afterwards, which wasn’t the best idea, you are supposed to sip water at the same time as having a shot blok it’s true.  However, I was rather trying to flush out my whole system in a futile attempt to rid my mouth of the weird sweet mucous that had claimed my teeth and was threatening to set.  I got hiccups, then I got pissed off.  This alas, was not to be my magic nutrition solution of choice.

On a subsequent run I tried an alternative clif product donated by Cheetah buddy who likes them for cycling.   Peanut Butter Clif bar

real food option

That sounds delightful, and to be fair it was a significant improvement on the bloc.  It’s sort of solid biscuity/ flap-jackyish.  Tastes functional rather than fun though, and this does rather raises the question of why not eat an actual flapjack, which would be a lot nicer.  I can’t see the clif bar as being any quicker to digest (the benefit of gels is that you can access the fuel instantly).  An actual flapjack might be more palatable, and possibly cheaper – though granted scrounging off your friends is cheaper still, as long as you don’t mind too much ending up friendless and alone, screaming into a void as you rage at the futility of life and the mistakes you’d made along the way, and no-one hearing.

Next time I was in my local running shop – which was today, I went in to get some of my favourite monoskin socks as the bat phone isn’t yet operational I thought I’d ask in person for some nutrition advice.  ‘So‘ I enquired, ‘if I can’t have a gel because it makes me heave, and a clif bar is basically like eating a flapjack anyway, why can’t I just have a marathon instead, that can’t be that much slower to digest surely?‘  Well, guess what.  ‘You can!‘ the other nice man in Front Runner said.  (Regardig ‘the nice man in the shop’ I think they must take it in turns, to be there I mean, not to be nice, they do that all the time.)  Anyway, don’t distract me, the point is, it turns out, it is true that gels and blocs are easier for the body to access because (and if I didn’t like the idea of gels before I’m so never trying again with them now) they are designed to hit your stomach ready for instant use.  This was cheerily explained to me as being ‘sort of like they’ve already been partially digested‘.  What the?  How do they achieve that? Do they have whole armies of house flies regurgitating their stomach enzymes onto the raw product and then just scrape it away and pump it into sachets before the poor insect has a chance to suck it all up again, it’s proboscis waving all in vain?  Quite aside from being animal exploitation, that’s seriously gross.  Have these food technologist product development specialists never seen The Fly?


Quick, counter that image.  Here are some magical trees seen out and about on my recent trail exploits.  Phew, sorry about that.

You’ll understand then why that’s me out stepping out of the queue for energy drinks, gels and blocs.    I can’t tolerate gels now, and whilst it’s all well and good for those that do, if I ‘m having solid stuff anyway, I might as well have something I know I’ll like.  I’m worried about chocolate melting in my bum bag (the mess) but you know what, I can always bung it in the washing machine post race, so I reckon a marathon bar it is.  That’s got sugar, protein, probably unhealthy amounts of salt, just the job.  I’ll compromise and get a snickers I suppose, to keep up with the times, but my quest for energy gels and semi-solids is for now concluded.  I shudder at the thought.  If Nicky Spinks can have fish, chips and curry sauce on her double Bob Graham, then that’s a lead I’m willing to follow.  Bet she didn’t get her support team to all spit on it before she tucked in.


So the nutrition advice is, do whatever you like, just practise first, and maybe if you are time sensitive I suppose you could take into account the time it takes for your body to get a boost from whatever you are eating when you refuel.  Alternatively, to hell with the time, why not take a full on picnic and just enjoy the view from the top whilst you rest your legs before tackling the next stage.  It is supposed to be fun after all.  I expect the marshal would appreciate the company and a share of your cheese and pickle sandwiches too if asked.

There follows a gratuitous scenic shot.  I can’t wait for the heather to be out properly, it’s going to be!

look where you put your feet


Well, the good news is I  like my socks.  I’m really confident about them.  I also like my ultimate direction stereo running belt, it can take loads of stuff and doesn’t move at all.  It’s not flattering, but it’s genuinely comfy, well worth the investment.  The only problem is I keep telling people it’s One Direction and that creates entirely the wrong impression.  Strapping a boy band round your midriff would not improve running performance I’m sure. Well, I’ve not tried it, but I’m fairly confident that’s trued.   It’s hard being me, you have no idea.  Really, none.

I’m going to wear my fellraiser shoes, they are a bit narrow, but super-grippy and I’ve just got used to them even though they aren’t the comfiest and Strava keeps telling me our relationship has run its course and it’s time to move on. I’ll have to wear a Smiley vest, obvs, but with parkrun T-shirt underneath because I’m not confident enough to run bearing all that flesh otherwise.  I’ve only got one pair of running tights, so that’s easy, and my runderwear of course.  My Achilles heel, is in fact my boobs. Anatomically unlikely in literal terms, but metaphorically, absolutely so.  I have ranted about this before, at length, and I know I’m not alone in this, but I cannot get a bra to fit.  I feel I’ve tried everything. Googling trots out horror stories of ‘marathon tattoos’ and laments that chafing and bounce are unavoidable alongside upbeat marketing pieces saying PATRONISINGLY ‘any good sports shop will fit you for size’ and claiming with a bit of lube and pert physique and upward thinking running style all will be well. This is a lie.  Yesterday I tried a new tack and got a bra fitted at another sports place. To be fair, I was impressed by the woman, who did the fitting, she had assets of her own that suggested she understood the issues, and the bra (a panache sport which very specifically claims an 83% reduction in bounce though less than what I have no idea) seemed plausible at first.  It is under wired though,  which did go against my better instincts, but I was so desperate I thought I’d give it a go.  It was alright when I did a 6 mile or so run yesterday, but I did stop start. Today, I did only 5 miles but at a more consistent though slower pace  (It was flat and roady, as opposed to hilly trails – gawd how I loathe running on roads).  About 3 miles in, I suddenly had that agonising sting when you know the skin has broken, and oh joy, because it’s a new bra, with a new fit, it was in a previously unscarred area.  The underwires separating my boobs had dug in on both sides creating what is basically now an open sore.  Nice.  Ouch, doesn’t cut it, but the underwire did, both of them.  At least my scarring will be symmetrical.  Of course running any distance whilst essentially holding your assets in place with a cheese wire carries an inherent risk.  I wouldn’t mind quite so much, but the fit is so tight (to minimise movement) that the bra also makes me feel like my lungs are being held in a vice. I am not amused.  However, my Secret Agent Smiley Buddy has agreed a mission. We shall head to Bravissimo and try on every sports bra in their Leeds shop and surely there will be some joy to be had there.   I resent having my running curtailed for lack of a comfy and functional bra, running related injuries should be oh I don’t know, sore Achilles, or plantar fasciatis – I don’t want those, but they equally afflict both sexes, feeling I can’t run because my upper torso is shredded to a pulp by the very bit of kit which is supposed to help improve my performance seems unjust.  It’s not chafing, it feels like self harming to head out in such circumstances.

So, my kit advice here is essentially, drink gin, rage at the injustice in the world, and find a friend to go bra shopping with.  It may still not have a happy conclusion, but you can at least have a nice day out and a posh coffee somewhere by way of consolation….  Otherwise, just wear whatever, check it is FRA reg compliant if required, and do other runners a favour by making sure it’s been washed the night before.  No pulling it out from the rancid heap at the bottom of the laundry basket on the day of the race.  For the Dig Deep 12.12 the kit list is given as follows:

Kit List (mandatory requirements)
  • Full body cover (windproof/waterproof)
  • Spare water and food
  • Whistle
  • Mobile Phone

Please note that runners will be disqualified if they are not carrying minimum kit requirements

It sounds sort of scary to me, I’ve never had to carry kit before at an event, which is probably why I’m taking the preparation for this event a bit more seriously than some others I’ve done.  On their facebook page they do say they’ll take a ‘common sense’ approach on the day if the weather is good and drop the waterproof requirements.  I’m glad they don’t ask you to take a compass, I have no idea how to use one, I might as well bring along a slide rule and some sudoko puzzles quite honestly.

So there you go, them is my top tips in relation to Navigation, Nutrition and Kit, bet you are chuffed you stopped by this blog post to enrich your running knowledge.

There is one other thing though, I want to put in the frame.  In praise of luck.  Yesterday, when I was doing my first bra-test run I ended up in a hay-field just after heavy rain when bright sun had made the clover and grasses just burst into life.  A sea of green clover stood erect, gazing up at me.  Now, I have a residual talent. Only one, and one I haven’t utilised in years, but it is an eye for spotting a four-leaved clover in just such circumstances.  The secret is to look from above DONT TOUCH just look for a break in the pattern … and there were loads, everywhere I looked.  Well, not everywhere, but enough that I kept having to stop to find ‘just one more’ before carrying on.  It was like trying to cross the deadly poppy field in the Wizard of Oz, except it wasn’t that I was in danger of falling asleep for eternity, I was in danger of never managing to generate any forward momentum ever again.  Eventually, the sound of an approaching runner, pounding the track towards me whilst I was arse up, eyes down  for no outwardly apparent reason shamed me into abandoning my task.  I had quite a haul though.  To keep them perky I stuffed them into my water bottles – another example of why it is a good idea to always have hydration with you, and now I have them home I suppose I’ll get around to pressing them or something.  Always good to get lucky on a run.  It might happen to you!

So where am I in relation to my Dig Deep prep?

Well, I reckon I know the route.  I know I can do the distance albeit it will be a walk/run effort, I am embarrassed at how slow I’ll be, but I’ve often humiliated myself in the public domain so any shame will pass and be more than compensated for by the views and heather.  Besides, I’m not alone in this. Came across a blog post from a woman who’s come last at 20 marathons and run over a hundred or something and still feeling the lurve for running, so I’ve a way to go yet to equal that.   She favours fancy dress too, so we clearly have much in common.  I’ve got nutrition nailed(ish), and in the habit of carrying water.  I’ve bought a whistle, and I have waterproofs.  The bra, well we shall see.  When I am a squillionaire I will have all my bras custom-made out of moulded cooling gel, and if that material doesn’t yet exist, I will have a team of scientists get out there and invent it.  In the meantime, my hopes lie in Leeds and Bravissimo’s  sports bra selection.  We shall see.  I’ve not absolutely worked out the finer points of how I’m going to get to be a squillionaire, but I see that as details, I’m more a big picture sort of person, someone else can do the gantt chart.  I know, explains a lot doesn’t it.

The painful truth may be there isn’t an easy solution to that one, but the rewards will be worth hitting the trails for anyway.  Look at what awaits.

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See you there?  There’s still time, you don’t want to be left wondering  what might have been on August 21st now do you?  Enter here – at least come and cheer on the Felly Fun Run.


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

*Seriously buddy, get well soon.  I know you might not be up to moving my body this time round, but there’s always the next, and it is only you who knows how to recycle my bra appropriately, a weighty responsibility indeed.  We have agreed as a slingshot, but I trust your judgement on that one should the situation arise.  In the meantime drink gin and be awesome.  Thanks for being a super star navigator and motivator even when it was crunch time for you.  In return, I’ll look out for any bone fragments from your shoulder whilst I’m out on the hills.

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

Digging Deep all over again. The way ahead? Route Recce Round two.

Digested read: still got lost on Dig Deep Recce Second Attempt, but some improvement.    Brooded moodily as I ran,  nursing murderous thoughts about sports bra manufacturers.  What’s wrong with this world?  Saw a water vole!  All is well with the world! Was mistaken for a fell runner.  Fake it to make it may be the way forward.  I’m not through with this running malarkey yet.

DD Fine sheep shot

I’m not sure what my running-related forte is to be honest, or even if I have one at all. Perhaps ‘hope over experience‘, in continuing to pull on my running shoes at all, which can be viewed either as ‘admirable tenacity’ or ‘doomed-stubborness-that-can-only-end-in-tears’ depending on your point of view/ commitment to realism.  Whatever my running related talent may or may not be, I think it’s safe to say it isn’t navigation.  In my defence, the map I have to work from may have cost me £3.50 but it’s rubbish.  It doesn’t give enough detail to be any practical use unless you are already familiar with the Dig Deep route.  I am somewhat peeved.  On the other hand, it is the prospect of supposedly undertaking this 12+ mile route in a few weeks time that is motivating me to get out and about and explore the trails of Burbage and Houndkirk so that’s good.   Whether I actually make the start line or not, at least I’ll have learned some new and especially gorgeous routes.  That has to be a boon, and I do like a good boon when I’m out and about.

So, today was my second attempt at doing a recce for the 12.12 route, I had renewed confidence that, since I knew where I’d gone wrong last time, I’d get it cracked this time out.  I didn’t.  Close, but no cigar.  Nevermind, I don’t smoke.   I am getting closer though.  That’s the good news, the bad news is that I don’t really know where exactly I went wrong this time, no idea at all where I should have gone and so that isn’t looking promising if I was hoping for third time lucky next time out.  Curses.  Also, a fellow Smiley, who knows the route, pointed out to me that I’d gone up the top of Burbage edge, whereas, she reckons the route is the lower path, a lot less challenging and technical, which might be better on the day, but shows even the bit I thought I’d got right I didn’t.  Oh well.


Not only is the shape most definitely not quite right, but also I ended up practically abseiling down some cliff side at one point, clambering over boulders using hands and feet, and negotiating quite long sections by arse.  I am well-equipped to do this, and it felt safe, but I’m inclined to think it can’t have been the preferred route for an organised event.  Think of the paper-work involved if you lose half the field over a rock face just after the half way point.  Nightmare.  My conclusion is, yep, definitely lost, not just experiencing the more technical section of the course.

It’s not all bad news though.  I’ve discovered a few things since my last post.  Firstly – and this might be most importantly – a fellow Smiley Paces member, an eminent gin-soaked one no less, has advised me the 12.12 route incorporates sections that make up her regular mutt trot. This is a huge relief.  It means we have been able to agree that if I expire on the trails that she will probably come across my abandoned corpse sooner or later. She seems happy to do me the kindness of rolling my expired carcass off the main path and into an adjacent bog or heather patch (whatever, I’ll leave that to her discretion).  I wouldn’t want to lie there until mummified like those unclaimed cadavers on Everest, gaining an unwanted celebrity as runners get used to stepping (or bounding) over my slowly decomposing body as they continue along the path. You know,  like that long identified dead climber who came to be known only as green boots, because this part of his attire remained visible even in the deep snow.  Only in my case, my nickname would be due to my clearly ill-fitting sports bra probably.  The shame dear reader, the shame.  I dread to think what the wits of the hills might come up with for me by way of a nickname for ease of reference.  I might need to get back to gin-soaked Smiley, and make sure she dumps me face down….

In other good news, I did a bit of cunning sleuthing to see who else I know might be up for entering the 12.12.  It’s inconceivable anyone else will be anyone slower than me going round, but knowing there are friendly others out there somewhere ahead of me on the trails is weirdly reassuring.  Anyway, success!  My endurer buddies are also taking part.  Hurrah!  Better yet, they are doing some insane long-distance masochistic mud, ice and fire challenge the day before.  (It’s not called that, but you get the idea, it will be some sort of event aimed at people deep in the mires of mid-life crises who have come to enjoy putting themselves in painful personal jeapordy in return for a towelling headband.  OCRs have a lot to answer for.)   Hopefully, from my point of view, this means they’ll be pretty much physically broken, as well as sleep-deprived, by the time they get to the start of the 12.12, that should slow them down a bit.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll even get to reel them in from behind, one by one (well, I can dream can’t I).  Upshot is, there are a few positive runes relating to disposal of my remains if necessary, and knowing other runners out there on the day.  Hence, whilst I’m not completely convinced I’ll make it to the start myself, I am going to behave as if I will for now, and see where my recces and training take me.  I wonder if they’ll be an inflatable mammoth at the event rendezvous this time?  Always an asset at any gathering I’d say.  It was there last year when I did the Dig Deep Whirlow 10k 2016.  A highlight for sure.  I don’t know why the one long arm – never asked, and to be fair never really noticed before looking at this picture, maybe both his arms are the same length, just his left one is really stretchy?

2016-08-21 12.01.03

Back to my recce.  I headed out in cooler weather than last time.  Perfect running weather in fact, though I didn’t let that trick me into the rookie error of setting off too fast!  I drove up to the Norfolk Arms again, and romped along, stopping for photos on the way. There weren’t many people out at all, though a few cyclists passed me.  I passed a white, fluffy dog, whose coat was thick with sticky, clay-mud and who was sporting a mightily chuffed expression as it’s hapless owner stood by lamenting her hound’s skill in locating such mud baths in the most unlikely of settings.  From having done this part of the route just once before I was amazed how much more quickly I negotiated it all this time around.  I stopped for photos.  You don’t need all the details, enjoy the slide show summary.  It is breathtaking.  I don’t know why I haven’t explored more before. Well I do, it’s because I’m cautious on my own, but with long days and plenty of water on me, it was fine.  It’ll be even more spectacular in a couple of weeks time when the heather is out.


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So there I was, pounding the trails.  As I did so though, I was a bit grumpy pants to be honest.  Not about my actual pants, because I was wearing my runderwear, which makes me happy, but about my recent foray into the world of sports bras.  Here follows a bra-related rant.  You will either get it or not. Skip it if you want.

Bra related rant starteth here:

For my whole life, I’ve struggled to get a decent bra to fit me.  The opening of Bravissimo in what was then my home town of Leamington Spa was a day of celebration for me.  A bra company that caters specifically for women D cup and above.  It is an absolutely mystery to me why it took so long for someone to provide this.  We can put people on  the moon it seems, but manufacture well-fitting bras for those with anything other than an ‘athletic’ frame, apparently not.  I was so delighted when Bravissimo came on the scene, that I chose this company as an example of local start-up that achieved massive success when required to give a careers talk about entrepreneurship to a room full of about 400 youthful undergraduate engineering students at Coventry University.   Bravissimo began as the idea of  two women who themselves couldn’t get a bloomin’ bra to fit their assets, saw a gap in the market and filled it – in every sense.  Their story is fine, inspirational even. They started as mail order only, and now have some 26 stores, and deliver worldwide.  With hindsight though, maybe explaining the company’s success in finding a USP using the phrase ‘by catering for bigger busted women such as myself‘ to a group of 380 male undergraduates (don’t get me started on gender representation and inequality in STEM courses and careers), awash with the hormones typical of men in their late teens, wasn’t my best-judged moment. It would have been fine if they’d all laughed, acknowledging the in advertant humour of the situation – which is what  I wanted to do as I realised what I’d said.  What made it deeply uncomfortable was the awkward silence as I felt the newly attentive room of blinking acne-faced young men appraise me with snatched side-long glances.  It gives a whole new resonance to the phrase ‘making a tit of yourself‘.  On the other hand, it illustrated a point, and maybe we should shout about this problem more.  It’s a real one. Silence on the topic isn’t helping.

The cause of my brooding dark mood was another epic fail in my quest for a decent sports bra.  If there is one thing harder than finding a bra, it’s finding a sports bra.  Increasingly, it is recognised that along with running shoes, for women a bra is their most crucial bit of kit.  Running magazines are full of advertorial features on the damage you can do to yourself if you persist in running without adequate support – and they don’t just mean black eyes.  Tissues will rip, boobs will sag, stretch marks will line your body. This may all be true, but for me the reality is much more prosaic, it’s just uncomfortable running without a decent bra, and too much bounce makes you (me) really self-conscious.  I don’t need to be ‘persuaded’ to buy a decent sports bra, what I do need is for some f$£%ing manufacturer to come up with one in my size and fit.  I’ve spent too much time surrounded by piles of discarded different branded sports bras that I ordered online to try on, only to find not one of them will fit.  Some of them I will never know if they fitted because it is beyond human contortion to clamber into them unaided.   I don’t know if all men fully appreciate the torment this can cause. Some do.  I had a great conversation about chafing, blisters and swing with a guy I met on a boot camp once who pointed out that his moobs were even less well catered for than my boobs, probably true.  However, although we cried with laughter as we validated each others experiences, the misery of being stuck with our inadequate kit sadly stayed with us after our laughter had faded away.

The in-shop experience of trying to buy a sports bra has often been worse.  I do think sports shops are getting better, but in the past I have entered sports shops asking about bras only to be handed a bit of postage stamp sized  lycra  and waved vaguely towards  a single changing room with those saloon doors that offer no privacy at all.   This is disheartening in the extreme and leads to a rapid about turn and out of the shop.  Not unreasonably, sports shops tend to be staffed by sporty, svelte people from generally a younger demographic than mine.  I understand why this is,  but I don’t feel such staff necessarily quite ‘get’ what the issues are for the fuller-figured, older runner.  One of the particularly welcome innovations of Bravissimo is that many of their staff wear the products they sell, they do get it, absolutely.  I know my current bra’s fit is rubbish, but it is the only one I’ve got that I can at least put on by myself and it is the least worst of the other options I tried at the time.   I have a few sports bras, and they are all equally bad in their own unique ways.  I am beginning to think the perfect sports bra is just as much a mirage as the proverbial gold at the end of the rainbow, constantly moving out of reach.  I have wasted a lot of my life in a quest for this seemingly unattainable goal, maybe time to compromise, move on and accept that at times I will have to run with one boob in each hand to minimise bounce in extremity.  Even so, I keep a weary, wary eye out for new developments.  Hope over experience all over again.  So it was I was ecstatic, when a recent promotion invited women to a bra trying evening at a local running shop.  I signed up immediately.  I am held back in my running because of discomfort and embarrassment, this might be the answer to my prayers!  I don’t need a hard sell on this, give me a bra that fits and I will gladly empty my bank account into your lap.  If you can offer that and clown shoes too, to accommodate my wide feet, then I’ll throw in my car and all my worldly goods.  I’m not a reluctant purchaser, I am an increasingly desperate one.

brooks bra fitting

As the day got closer, my nerve wavered. What if this was going to be humiliation all over again.  Like the time I won a set of lingerie in a competition in a local newspaper only to find their range ‘didn’t accommodate this lady winner’ when I went to be measured for and to collect my prize (true story, scarred for life).  I rang ahead, I explained as candidly as I could short of emailing them an inappropriate picture that I was ‘not an athletic frame’,  that I’d had bad experiences of sports bras only being suitable for women with smaller cup sizes and that I didn’t want to waste time going to an event if this was going to be the same. The person I spoke to reassured me that many of their customers are that sort of client.  fuller figures, older women runners.   He told me that the Brooks ambassador who was organising the event would have ‘the whole range of sizes’ and it would all be very discreet and respectful.

Well, I should have trusted my instincts.  It was my worst nightmare.  Let me be clear, I am in no way blaming the shop staff for this, they were courteous and helpful and doing their best.  However, it was exactly as I feared.  A young, svelte, athletic woman eyed me as I stood in my bra in a cubical feeling self-conscious and vulnerable and pronounced my current bra to be worse than useless, which I KNOW, that’s why I went.  She then went on about all the damage it would do. Which I ALSO KNOW, that’s why I keep subjecting myself to these humiliating fittings, and trotted off to bring me some bras in the new Brooks range. They looked great.  Unfortunately, they only go up to an E cup, not even close to my size.  Given that we’d already been told the average woman (whatever that is) is a D cup in the UK, that’s hardly an impressive range they cater for.  In desperation she offered up an underwired bra that allegedly might approximate a fit, but a) seriously, run in an underwired bra, lacerate my boobs with projecting metal on top of everything else and b) I kid you not, I couldn’t work out how to get the darned thing over my head, let alone put it on properly. I was frustrated, defeated and felt utterly humiliated.  I abandoned it as hopeless, and whilst not having anything to fit me, she kept going on about ‘you really do need to get a proper bra, it will make such a difference‘  which I KNOW!  I asked again about fit, and she said, well we’ve got the fit of the under band perfectly.  Seriously?  The cup has to fit too.

On their website Brooks say ‘Our sports bras are designed to move with you comfortably, regardless of shape or size.’  They lie.  Clearly they believe only a certain physique is acceptable in a runner.

My mood and self-esteem were not helped by then sitting through a talk about how critical it is we should all have a well-fitted bra whilst being encouraged to have a good grope of what looked like  two stress balls, but were actually representations of a ‘typical’ woman’s boobs  by way of visual aid.  I know the rep was well-meaning but please feedback to the company that it doesn’t matter how technologically advanced your bra is if you are only catering for women in smaller cup sizes.  Great if you’ve come up with a product for them, but don’t add insult to injury lecturing me on my irresponsible breast care if you aren’t going to manufacture anything close to a bra size that will fit me.  I’m not a freak of nature, even though I was made to feel one, and even if I was, wouldn’t I deserve a comfy bra as much as anyone else?  There must be a huge potential market out there.  Who is making bras for us.   Bravissimo do up to a point, but I’ve not had success with their sports bras either to be honest, though others in their range are great.  Also, just so you know, most women don’t have an entourage of dressers to help them put on a bra in the morning, so how about coming up with a design that doesn’t require either hyper mobility/contortion, or a team of minions and dressers at your disposal to help you clamber into it?  Just a thought.

Incidentally, whilst I’m having a rant from the more curvaceous end of the spectrum getting a bra to fit seems to be a universal challenge for female runners.  A fellow runner commented to me only the other day the importance of ensuring you tried to ensure you were on the ‘upswing’ as you move into frame of the course photographer at a race. That made me spit my tea out in laughter I don’t mind admitting.  It’s true!  When I’m not being depressed about my body it does make me laugh, the whole ludicrous impracticality of how it operates at times, and yet I persevere.  You have to laugh or…

bra lesson.jpg

So I sat on the bench for the post bra-fitting lecture trying not to cry.  We then went out for a run ‘to try out the bras’ one other woman also couldn’t be accommodated.  Others liked the bras, but one at least rejected hers because even though it was really comfy, and supportive, she felt she’d never be able to put it on without help.  This is basic stuff.  Wanting to be independent enough to dress yourself.  As we ran, a rep took a video of us in action, no doubt to show immoveable assets all round by those wearing the Brooks bras, hopefully not periodically focusing in on my bouncing boobs by way of contrast,  in a ‘what not to do‘ if you like.  It was mortifying.

up and running

I still stayed for the post run prosecco and brooks goodie bag though, I thought of it as a consolation prize – booby prize if you will.  It had a frisbie (odd but welcome) and a rather fine buff, amongst other things. I’m still not saying the people I dealt with were at fault, they tried to be encouraging, but the evidence of my being ‘abnormal’ in the minds of the manufacturers was patently obvious in the lack of any available product to meet my needs.  It’s soooooooooooooooo depressing in its inevitability.

I enjoyed my prosecco, then went home and wept.  My body-confidence isn’t great anyway.  It takes courage to get out and run when you don’t look like what others might expect a runner to look like.  I don’t mean in environments like parkrun, which are inclusive, but heading out on your own, or in unfamiliar settings.  Mostly I just put those thoughts to one side, and head out anyway, but this bra-fitting experience really knocked my confidence.  It feels so unfair, I’m trying to get fit, I know I’m over-weight, but it feels like the very organisations that could make it easier for me, and others like me,  to join in (e.g. sports-bra manufacturers) are actually reinforcing the sense that we don’t belong, running is not for the likes of us, but rather for an elite breed of 0% body fat athletes to be culled once they reach the age of 25 (or whatever).  That is why sports tops for women are all in pink lycra size 8-10 and technical tees given out at races only ever made in men’s styles as standard issue.  Women aren’t supposed to run at all in races it sometimes seems.  It’s just so frustrating. Aaargh.  I could scream.

All of this was going through my mind as I pounded the trails.  You’ll understand why I was not in the best of moods.  Just as well I didn’t really see anyone for this part of the trail, I wasn’t the ideal contender for ‘the friendly face of Sheffield ambassador’ competition.  I’m not sure there is a competition for that to be fair, but it doesn’t matter, as I wasn’t entering anyway.

Bra-related rant endeth here


Weirdly though, even though my thoughts were almost entirely consumed with the ‘you don’t belong in the running community‘ narrative brought on by the trauma of an abortive bra fitting evening the night before, running helps.  You can’t be out on the moors, looking at those views, and breathing that air and not feel better.  Almost without realising, I became increasingly absorbed with the terrain, the lichen on the rocks, the craggy features, and forgot about everything else.  I didn’t really see anyone. I had one anxious moment when I saw four pairs of hyper-vigilant eyes on me from a pack of Alsatian dogs.  They must have been with an owner, but I couldn’t see anyone, perhaps they were sitting down. The dogs’ eyes locked on me and their heads followed my movement across the tops.  I tried not to look at them in case that antagonized them, but it took super human strength not to speed up as I ran by, I was scared if I changed my pace they’d give chase, and I’d have no chance.  I lived to tell the tale though, so I’m guessing curious canines, rather than aggressive ones.

Eventually I came to the little streams that pass under the road at Upper Burbage.  According the map this is called Fiddler’s Elbow.  I thought navigation would be straightforward from here, there are two footpaths fractionally diverging from one another, I took the upper one, that went up towards Higger Tor, and then onwards to Carl Walk.

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Onwards and upwards, it was beautiful.  However, when you get up high it was pretty exposed, even on a relatively nice day. Also, on the tops the path sort of disappears.  Instead you are clambering over an expanse of boulders.  I tried to find a route, but in the absence of any clear path ended up practically abseiling and scrambling down.  I nearly wet myself with fear sliding arse first down a grit side at one point, but that’s ok, I survived.  I think maybe a childhood spent hiding behind cushions at the sight of the Daleks, has made me more resilient than I fully know.   Jon Pertwee helped me learn to feel the fear and do it anyway.  I met a couple of people, father and adult son and agile dog coming upwards, and that gave me a possibly misplaced confidence there was surely a path there somewhere.

Spotting a break in the bracken I found a sheep trail that took me towards Carl Walk, but again, once up on high, I couldn’t find the path off.  I thought I saw it below me, and scrambled down a flat sided boulder onto what turned out to be just a narrow ledge.  I had visions of lying there unfound for months, or until the RSPCA called out mountain rescue to find out from what animal such mournful bleating was issuing, and attempted a rescue.  Runners have rescued cute lambs before too.  Maybe some passing athlete would rescue me.  I might not be ‘adorable’ in quite the same way, but I could still be piteously needy.  In the event, gravity was my friend and I made it down unscathed.  It was an adventure, that’s OK.  On the other hand this ‘path’ couldnt be right.  I continued to follow it, until it seemingly disappeared altogether, into bog and then finally ended up at a stream.  Not a major river crossing,  but I didn’t expect it, and I’m sure you wouldn’t send a race route this way.  I went across a little gingerly. Some rocks had been put there to make sort of mini stepping-stones, but they were rather wobbly.  Some other walkers appeared out of the bracken behind me and pronounced this was indeed a path, but I wasn’t too sure.

I paused to take it in and try to make sense of the map.  Then, out of corner of my eye I saw …. (drum roll)  ….. a water vole!  Much excitement.   I haven’t seen a water vole in decades, literally.  I didn’t even know they lived out on the moor, I’ve only ever seen them in canal banks to be honest.  I sat myself down on a handy boulder and waited and watched for a good 20 minutes.  Periodically it swam back and forth from bank to bank.  It was a little distance away, and I tried to get a photo.  The good news is that I did, the bad news is that I’m not a contender for wildlife photographer of the year, but I did get a video that I don’t how to upload onto WordPress so is lost to the world. Here though, for your delectation, amazement and edification is my portrait of a water vole and its habitat:

Maybe you just had to be there.  Perhaps it will make you happy just to know it is out there, apparently happily doing its own thing.  I hope so.

I had no chance of joining whatever the official path was I was supposed to be on, but I recognised where I was and eventually romped onwards.  After a little while, I met the two men with their dog again who were clearly circling round the other way. This time we paused and chatted a bit, well, rude not to, seeing how we had met before.  ‘So you’re a fell runner too?’ said one, companionably as an opener.  I was confused.  Oh! Turns out I was wearing my Dig Deep Blue Tee-shirt from last year.  Well, whilst on the one hand I am peeved as it is inevitably a men’s fitting, on the other, it is the same Tee for the ultra 60 mile, 30 mile, 12.12 mile and 10k runs.  Whilst I got it for the 10k, this chap had no way of knowing which one I’d done, and so had just assumed I was a ‘proper’ fell runner.  I thought nothing could top the water vole sighting quite honestly, but this interaction did.  It was a much-needed reminder that, whatever self-doubt I am experiencing, to the outside eye I’m just another runner out there, and in context (fells) therefore a fell runner.  People are a lot nicer and less judgemental than I (we) sometimes give them credit for.  We chatted about fell running, laughed about the joyful leveling anarchy of a run out in the great outdoors with all the dizzying cocktail of unpredictable terrain, inclement weather, death-wish runners and vertical slopes all for £1.50 – £5 a throw.  It was affirming.  Maybe if I just get in the habit of running in my blue dig deep top people will continue to assume I’m an ultra-runner out there on the hills and I’ll fake it til I make it as the saying goes…

We said our farewells, and I jogged onwards, in a much better mood when I finished than when I started.   So it seems, whilst I finished the recce, my running’s not quite finished yet, even if my quest for kit continues.

It’s complicated this running malarkey, but it is worth sticking with.  How does the saying go?  “‘I really regret that run‘ said no-one ever.”  Not even me.

not even me

I still hate sports bra manufacturers though.

For all my Dig Deep related blog posts click here – scroll down for older entries.

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

Lost in running? Dig Deep Recce freestyle.

Digested read:  I tried to do a recce of the 12.12 Dig Deep route today.  I got lost.  I had a nice time anyway.  I ran into (see what I did there) some Smiley buddies.  Yay!  The setting was beyond spectacular, ’twas fair gorgeous out.  More working towards running than actual running today, but hey ho, it was a start.

dd recce heather

Bloomin’ Vitality pledges.  It is increasingly dawning on me I have only about 5 weeks to get fit to tackle the 12.12 mile trail race that is part of the Dig Deep series taking place next month.  I did the Whirlow 10k which was part of the event last year, and that was a little toughy. However, the setting was gorgeous, gritstone trails, fabulous views, a sea of purple heather surrounding us out under the sky.    Despite a momentary doubt brought about by seeing a blood soaked fellow runner limping back as I romped out, I nevertheless fondly imagined that I’d come back the following year. In 2017, I wouldn’t be dragging my weary flabby carcass, puffing and groaning the whole round.  Rather, renewed and trained to take account of every possible variable, I’d be stunningly toned and move across the landscape like a cross between the Duracell bunny and pyroclastic flow.  So prepared, I could take on a bolder challenge.  Fast and fearless.   That bolder, boulder challenge, would be the longer 12.12 route.  It’d be fine, it’d be great!  This time I’d do it, I really would!  That was then…

This is now.  As things stand, I’m more jumblie than bionic woman.  Jumblies may or may not be endearing, that is open to debate, what is not open to debate is their aerodynamic efficiency and running technique.  Let’s just say it isn’t looking good. I’d more or less decided not to do the run, and then post our Sheffield Hallam parkrun birthday celebrations the other week I got caught up in the buzz of goal setting, and one thing led to another, public fitness related pledges were rashly made, and caught on camera and now  I’m supposed to be running this:



Not all of it, thankfully.  Only that innocuous looking bit in the bottom left hand corner. I know I can trundle round the distance in my own time, but whether or not some poor tail runner tasked with following me could cope with this duty without losing the will to live I seriously doubt.   I am soooooooooooo slow.   I am rubbish at navigating, and am assured it’s a well marshaled course, and that no such skills are needed.  Even so, I had the genius idea of purchasing a map (£3.50 pre event) so I could do a recce for myself. Today, Monday, I would take to the trails and check out the extent of my inadequacies in relation to this challenge…. It would give me some idea of what I had signed up to, what could possibly go wrong?

Spoiler alert, quite a lot went wrong actually.  The map was rubbish, it had insufficient detail,  and the marking of the route obscured the paths they were supposed to be directing me onto.  The result, epic navigational fail.  I never was ‘lost’ in that I knew how to get back to where I started, I just couldn’t fathom where I was supposed to be going for the actual race.  It was quite funny/ frustrating comparing where I actually went to where I meant to on my return as I checked out the evidence of Strava.

oops route

I know exactly where I went wrong, I will go out again in the next couple of days and try again.  Still lovely out though, and many adventures.   Apprehensive as I was about heading out, it is always worth it.  The Sheffield trails are friendly always, and not just because we have been told to be nice, but because we always are.

DD be nice

Acknowledging that I’m not fit, and it was very hot today, I drove up to the parking bay opposite the Norfolk Arms and headed off up through Lady Cannings plantation.  I was puffing from the start, but I decided not to get hung up on running, just do a leisurely walk/run recce, and see how my knee copes with the hokas.  I love their cushioning, but for whatever reason, they seem to give my knee gyp.  I do desperately need some new running shoes that don’t squash my toes and dig into my bunions and still have sufficient cushioning for my arthritic feet.  It’s a tall order.   I keep bottling it though, every pair of runners I’ve ever had has been a compromise, and whilst I’d happily fork out for some that were properly comfy and grippy under foot, I don’t want to spend £100 plus on yet another ‘not quite’ pair. I tried some altras the other week at woodrun.  They were great for roomy toe-box but I’m not sure about the zero drop thing.  Oh, who knew I’d have so much to say about shoe choices, when I can barely muster a jog out on the trails, it’s all a bit ridiculous.  I was feeling distinctly portly, and my running belt, which I’ve decided I must start using if I’m going to up my distances, was weighed down with bottles of water, my camera, a map.  Lucky I was heading out alone, wouldn’t want to be seen by anyone I knew in such unflattering attire.   You might think there are no limits to what I will where whilst running, but you’d be wrong…

Within seconds of turning into the plantation, I felt that soaring gratitude that I live in a part of the world where we can do this.  Right on my doorstep, a gorgeous and varied landscape.  It’s like entering a parallel universe.  Admittedly it’s a parallel universe populated by a disproportionate number of dog walkers, but you can see the appeal.  It’s only fair to share. There were a fair few mountain bikers out and about too.  They terrify me, not fearing for myself, they were courteous on the tracks, more I fear that they’ll come flying over the handlebars of their bikes right in front of me, and I will be the only available person on hand to provide emergency first aid.  I don’t rate their chances.  I’m not squeamish, but nor am I first aid qualified.  I did have a mobile phone with me though this time, that’s a start, I could phone a friend…


I pootled through the plantation, and emerged onto the dusty gravelly road and turned sharp left heading towards Houndkirk Moor and then right across Burbage.  It was just stunning out. The moor is thick with heather full of promise.  It’s not out yet, nor should it be til August. There were occasional bursts of heather, but it was so vibrant purple I wondered if it was an invasive heather, it seemed a bit early and impossible, but maybe just a sun-trap created a micro-climate so it could burst forth.  The roads were dusty, and pot-holed, but enticing too, you get a sense that you want to follow those roads as they will take you to adventures new.


I huffed up the hills, in the heat of the sun, but picked up a bit of a jog as the gradient helped me down. Then, joy of joys!  Ahead a glorious trio of Smileys.  If there is one thing more exciting than seeing a fellow Smiley on a run, it is seeing an unexpected Smiley, and the joy is multiplied when there is a holy trinity of awesomeness from the Smiley Paces running gene pool.  What’s more, one of them was Elder Smiley and she doesn’t even live here any more, so that was like finding a unicorn grazing on a four-leaved clover field really.  How lucky was I, here’s the proof.   Look what I found:

DD smiley celebrities

and I even took a fantastic selfie by way of proof.  I say ‘fantastic’, by this I mean I do at least have part of my anatomy within shot, which is more than I achieved when stalking Jess at the Vitality Move event the other week.

DD smiley selfie

Hilariously (but then I’m easily amused), they were also doing a Dig Deep Recce, so we had that in common. They were doing the 30 mile route though, and they seemed to be doing a lot more running as opposed to gazing around, and a little digging on Strava showed a wealth of trophies for personal bests all round as they hared over the roads turbo-charged and smiling.  I say smiling, but apparently there had been quite a lot of swearing at the hills going round.  I wondered aloud whether other more experienced runners might say (not me, of course, but running coaches) that if you have enough breath to spare to curse liberally, you probably aren’t trying enough. Then again, given we were in the presence of Smiley Elder herself at this time, I daresay she was probably just making a helpful advisory factual observation in relation to the elevation of the local terrain, not complaining about the hills at all.  It just goes to show, one shouldn’t jump to conclusions.  One should especially not jump unnecessarily, when you need that energy to get up those hills.

We shared hugs and stories and then I waved them on their way.


Once I got over the shock of having been seen in public wearing what is a strong contender for my ‘most unflattering running outfit ever’ award (it’s a close contest), it was really nice to see some buddies on the trail.  Plus, I was secretly pleased at having been caught out running, voluntarily.    It put quite a spring in my step as I headed off, with renewed confidence that I at least knew where to make the first turn off the path.  I was undeterred by the gravestone erected no doubt in memory of those that didn’t dig quite deep enough to survive the trails last year…  that’s not an abbreviation for millions is it?  Hope not.

dig deep dead tally

I headed off up through a gateway and over towards Burbage edge.  I made good progress for a while, and it was fantastic, long reaching views, head-high bracken. It was pretty uneven under foot, scrambly even in places.  I wasn’t confident enough to run, I felt I had to pick my way. Can’t lie though, I was enjoying soaking up my surroundings too.


I started off OK, but at a critical point, there was a cairn, or more accurately a rock pile rather than an official way marker.  There seemed to be a cross roads.   The map I had wasn’t detailed enough for me to fathom which way to go. I reached the cairn at the same time as a large party of DofE (probably) walkers, and it felt wrong to head off at right angles so I followed the track they’d come up. That was where I went wrong.  I should have veered right, I did for a bit, but lost my nerve and retracked.  Oops.


So what followed was sort of curious.  I knew I’d gone wrong, but couldn’t work out how to make it right.  I wasn’t really ‘lost’ as I knew how to get back, and could see the road ahead so had vague sense of location, what I couldn’t fathom was how this related to the race route map at all.  I made the mistake of asking some sensible looking walkers where I was.  They looked panicked, I think they had visions of seeing something on Look North later, an appeal for manic looking woman last seen wandering the moors delusional and raving.  They didn’t want to be the last people to see me alive.   I decided to just follow the trails, because they looked fun. There were sheep, there were cows, there were walkers.  Don’t know quite how I ended up at a Longshaw entrance though?


Oh well, at that point I decided it was prudent to head back, I glugged my water, that I’d forgotten about, but was glad of, and romped homewards.  I saw hardly anyone about on the return leg, it was like I had the whole place to myself.  I paused to take flora shots and soak it all in.  My knee seemed to be doing OK, but the heat was punishing. I did wear sunglasses, but, heaven portend, maybe I should have gone really wild and donned a hat as well!


Eventually, I was back by Lady Canning’s plantation, a polite guy on a noisy dirt bike came whizzing through the gate as I held it open for him.  A mountain biker genuinely said ‘ey up’ to me, by way of greeting.  I love a good northern cliche on a run.  A farmer was driving a bright red tractor, hay making in a hay-field.  It was all pretty goddarned idyllic.  Just as well, as so little running or navigation occurred, I shall have to do the whole thing again properly in the next couple of days. This was though always just a recce, so mission accomplished really.

DD rural scene

Just time for a sneaky selfie, and then back to the car, where I noticed a way-marker giving distance to Sheffield Town Hall, which has clearly been there for centuries, but which I’ve never noticed before.


and that was that.  Homeward bound.

I’ve felt of late I’ve really lost my way running a bit, deteriorating performance, dropping confidence, demon voices asking who am I trying to kid when my ‘running pace’ leaves me open to being overtaken by almost any animate object that isn’t actually nailed down. today I literally lost my way running too, in navigational terms.  You know what though, it was still the idea of a run that got me out the door, and I still did 7 miles and nearly 900 ft of elevation.  I found new places, met up with fellow runners, and breathed in some stunning scenery.  I even found a strange stone bowl thing that I cannot identify.  It was a mini adventure basically. Running optional.  The hardest bit of any run, is stepping out the door.  My slow and steady approach may push the boundaries of what might legitimately be called actual ‘running’ but it can tick the box of ‘working towards running’ and that ‘s a start.  Go me.  12.12 is not ruled out yet.

What is this by the way?

DD no idea

So if you go out on the trails today, or any day, prepare for a big surprise, because there are Smilies aplenty everywhere you turn. Aren’t you blessed!  And do try and get out on those Peak trails if you can, because they are there for the taking, and it would be a crying shame not to.  Just saying.

The end.

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

Winging it at Whirlow – Dig Deep 10k 2016

Accidents will happen, every runner knows this.  As my regular reader will know, entering this year’s Whirlow 10k was somewhat inadvertent on my part, but hey ho, you have to make the best of things don’t you?  As it all turned out, this event was super-friendly, very well organised, and even the sun shone (though ever so slightly not for the ultra runners the day before).  Still, those participants are no doubt all so hard-core they romped round barely noticing the inclement weather.  Go them.

The digested read is I went, I didn’t go fast, but I had a lovely time thank you for asking.  The longer read is below, it is long, it is not compulsory:

rainbow dig deep photo

So, for the uninitiated, the Whirlow 10k is part of the Dig Deep Race Series weekend in the Peak District.   For those of you who like the blah de blah, the website gives details as follows:

Whirlow Hall Farm have organised a 10K race as part of their biggest annual fundraising event, the September Farm Fayre, for over 10 years.

The route has been chosen because of its stunning scenery and the varied nature of the route. It’s also chosen to be a ‘challenge’ so it’s certainly undulating, mostly uphill in various gradients for the first half and mainly downhill for the second, with a good last push uphill! Whilst most of the route is on good tracks and Public Rights of Way it also crosses some tricky terrain. Expect to run on mostly manicured trails, grassland, field edges, some road and a little open moorland. Please be sure to study the route map before the race. The route will be marshalled at key points and well signposted, please be sure to follow the specified route exactly as we have been careful to get the relevant permissions for the areas it covers. Please take extra care when crossing roads, we will do our utmost to notify and slow traffic at the crossings using marshals and signage but it is your responsibility to stay alert and only cross when safe to do so. The race will be part of a festival of running to be held at Whirlow Hall Farm Trust in Sheffield. As well as the Whirlow Trail Challenge race there will be the 60 mile Ultra Tour of the Peak District, a 30 mile Ultra and a 12.12mile race. Camping and parking is available at the venue, please notify us in advance if you would like to camp.

Whirlow Hall Farm Trust is an educational charity based on a working farm, providing a ‘classroom in the countryside’ to children in South Yorkshire. Learn more about the Trust at

Personally, I don’t take too much notice of course descriptors before hand, as I find them demoralising.  They are often scary with way too much emphasis on having to run and there being hills.  Instead,  I had taken the precaution of contacting the organisers in advance to see if you needed to be able to navigate for the 10k and they said not, so that was good enough for me.  I’d also been stalking a Facebook conversation about the 10k which gave the route from last year, and it was basically up Porter Clough Valley, through Lady Canning and back down Limb Valley, all my home patch so I figured even if I went wrong, it would be nigh on impossible to be lost in absolute terms.  I’d be able to find my way home like a sodden homing pigeon if the worst came to the worst.

So, race morning dawned.  There was a bit of a nip in the air, which was good, as I was worried about it being sweltering. Coffee drunk and porridge consumed, I squeezed myself into my Smiley Paces vest.  Currently it does me no favours in terms of my overall silhouette, but I live in hope that one day I will wake up having metamorphosed my frame from what might be charitably termed ‘work in progress’ into ‘athletic physique’.  In the meantime, every Smiley member knows that the Smiley Vest is imbued with magical Smiley powers. You get to feel part of the bigger team, and it really and truly does seem to generate extra support on the way round.  Hoping not to bring the club name into disrepute I hauled it on.  Because of my paranoia about being late, it was ridiculously early, but I decided to head off anyway.  Even though I’m local, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been to Whirlow Farm before, and I wasn’t 100% sure where it was.  I see signs to it now and again as I roam the streets in the environs of Whirlow, but the place itself seems somewhat elusive.  It somehow seems to be constantly in your peripheral field of vision, but as soon as you turn your head to find it, it’s gone…

There was light drizzle and bright sunshine.  As I approached the venue, I saw the most fantastic rainbow over Whirlow Farm.  It was gorgeous, so much so I jumped out of the car to capture a photograph:

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I know, it looks singularly unimpressive in the shot.  My point and go camera just couldn’t do it justice.  You just had to be there really, if you weren’t, take my word for it, or not, as you wish.  Fortunately, the clever camera operative from the Dig Deep Team was in situ taking a much better shot of the/a rainbow over the heather elsewhere.  So you can compare and contrast his offering with mine.  No need to share your scores out of ten for each though, I think our respective photos can speak for  themselves.  Still, nice opportunity for me to illustrate to you that there was some dedicated event parking which was reasonably well signed once you were alongside it, less so as you approached.  It wasn’t immediately obvious from the parking where you had to go next to register.  Because I was so early, I initially went down to the ‘proper’ visitors car park to see what was going on (well, frankly it looked like a bit of a trek from the parking to what was probably the start area, and I didn’t want to get puffed and red-faced before I’d even got to registration.)  In the proper carpark, I was even more disoriented, no clear signs and I met another runner cruising around asking where we were supposed to gather.  I directed her towards the field parking and went to explore for myself.

2016-08-21 08.09.24

So, turning the corner towards the farm ‘proper’ it all started to make sense.  Firstly, can we take a moment to say this venue is simply gorgeous!  Beautiful stone buildings, with lovingly tended grounds.  Just in from the HUGE sign for registration, was a pigsty that could have come straight out of a Beatrix Potter book. Two contentedly grunting pigs in their stone-walled sty came out to have their backs scratched and check out what was going on. From their perspective the whole Dig Deep weekend of running activities was presumably put on as part of an enrichment programme purely for them.  Pigs are intelligent animals, they need stuff going on around them to sate their curiosity and keep them happy.   A two-day activity festival of this type would be just the job.

It was maybe a tad unfortunate that a bit further into the bowels of the venue was a pop-up breakfast stall doing a quick trade in bacon sandwiches.  From sty to bap in a heartbeat.  Oh well.  I’m vegetarian, and there wasn’t any veggie substitute, but fair play, it is supposed to be an educational farm and that is the reality of the farming cycle is it not, except the pig was in rather nicer accommodation than is the industry norm…

2016-08-21 08.19.30

The registration area was really well run, it was like entering a parallel universe.  A huge barn provided an under-cover space for signing up, picking up numbers etc.  There was a massive area for the pre-event briefings and even a pretty impressive seating area where  you could rendezvous with friends old and new drinking coffee or go and browse the frontrunner stall that was up and open by the time I got there around 8.30 a.m..  (Way too early, I know, but on the plus side, plenty of time for precautionary pees a-plenty, always a boon!)

Registration took seconds, there were different tables for the two events taking place today (10k and 12.12), I was handed a dibber (though I was confused about how I was supposed to put it on, and indeed where – ankle?  Wrist?), and helped myself to a technical shirt from the massive pile available.  The shirts are great, a relief to have a tasteful blue after the monstrosity of fluorescent lime that was the dubious reward for doing the Sheffield Half.  Number supplied, safety pins available, all done and dusted with nearly 2 hours to go, plenty of time for a bit of an explore…

My exploratory investigations were rewarded.  I not only found a very fine cup of coffee, but also the no doubt normally free-range resident of the barn, who had been tethered in a far corner for safety purposes for the duration of the event. I’m surprised they didn’t make more of him really, but perhaps they tacitly acknowledged that capacious as the barn was, the elephant in the room (thanks frontrunner for the video)  was really that it couldn’t possibly ever be big enough for such a fine specimen as this who by rights should be covering hundreds or even thousands of miles a year during annual migrations.

2016-08-21 08.24.11

Whilst in the queue for coffee I met a very friendly chap who it turned out had done the 60 mile ultra the day before. I thought he looked pretty fresh in the circumstances, apparently it had taken him 20 hours, and the conditions were appalling.  I sympathised.  Empathised even.  As I said to him, I myself had been caught out in a heavy shower whilst at a BBQ the day before, and taken refuge under a gazebo. That level of discomfort is no doubt identical to running 60 miles across bog, in the dark, fueled only by taking on gels in a runners variant of Russian Roulette  – never quite knowing which gel will be the tipping point that makes you heave…  His high point yesterday was meeting another runner who let him eat some of his recently acquired hot chips.  The cautious consumption of four proferred chips was as near to touching heaven as this runner had ever experienced apparently.  However, he explained that alas, he was too scared of breaking with his planned nutrition regime to risk eating any more, but I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere…  If Nicky Spinks can have chips and curry on her Billy Graham/ Double Bob Graham run, then I’m sure real food must be the way to go on other ultras.  If ever I do up my distance, I know I’ll be taking a picnic hamper with me anyway.  Still, interested as I was in his running experience, I couldn’t entirely suppress the pursuit of my own self-interest ‘ooh, did you run with a dibber yesterday?’ I enquired. Yes he did.  Long story short, I got him to put mine on for me, (onto me, not onto him) which was embarrassingly obvious once you knew how.  For the record, you wear it on the wrist, dibber downwards, and put it on fairly snug so as to avoid it falling off or moving around too much when you run.   Fair play, his had stayed on for the sub-aqua ultra marathon, so those little paper wrist bands are made of stronger stuff than you might think.

After my coffee, and having a quick cuddle with a black labrador puppy which was obviously learning to socialise and just LOVED everyone it met,  I went for an explore to see the start.  Phew, it was a bit of a puff up that hill, reality check was beginning to kick in.  It’s not good if you feel breathless just having a sneak preview at the first 100 metres.  As I walked back down to the shed rendezvous, I saw another competitor gingerly picking her way through the mud down hill.  Blimey, she’s super-cautious I thought.  Inwardly smugly congratulating myself for my more confident striding out… until it dawned on me that she’d probably also just finished an ultra a few hours previously, some people are machines to get round that distance in that weather!  On the table at the start/finish was a weird extraterrestrial multi-tentacled black and orange sea anemone like creature.  On closer inspection, this revealed itself to be a bumper crop of finish medals.  Oooh, how exciting!  I briefly wondered if it was like Jack Straws, and if I helped myself to one whether the whole lot would disintegrate, but decided to wait ’til I’d earned it at the end.

Having done some pottering about, time had passed and I started to see other people I knew which was fun.  Big shout out for my Endurer Buddies.  Yay!  I love those guys. I have done two endurer dashes with them, during which my job was to be a dead weight so they could feel hard-core by carrying me round.  I think that was it.  Anyway, they are OCR addicts, their Facebook pages a constant flow of pictures of them running through fire, and swimming through mud.  I’ve wondered for a while now if one of them is just really nifty with photoshop, but then again, here they are, looked ripped and raring to go.  Maybe it is true after all!  Frankly I’m amazed they acknowledge me in public, I must be their old lady mascot.  Still, grand to see them, plus lots of gratuitous hugs and whooping which is always a moitvational boost and positive affirmation on any occassion.  They were ‘only’ doing the 10k as a warm up for the Snowdon man v mountain rat race marathon in a couple of week’s time.  As a training exercise, they’d therefore be wearing packs to carry extra weight.  I wish I’d known, they could have just carried me round instead.  Oh well.

The sun came out.  I found the loos (very nice provision, portaloos a plenty as well as  proper toilets for the farm – though these were somewhat flooded).  I then found other Smilies, yay!  It was nice and companionable.  We sat and chatted, and people watched together.  One Smiley was recounting her experiences at the Graves 10k earlier in the year.  Don’t know quite how she ended up hallucinating, but by the end she was convinced the entire route was paved with diamonds.  It wasn’t, she was seeing reflection of discarded water bottles playing in the light in her own Don Quixote moment.  Blimey, some people really do run to their limits, that’s never happened to me…

We decided to get a pre-race picture together, and press-ganged a passing woman who made the rookie error of making eye-contact with one of us as we were trying to identify a suitable photographer.  She patiently took a few shots… and then did it all again when we (ok, well I) complained because none of the first ones came out.  It was a training error rather than an operating one.  I hadn’t explained about needing to hear not just the ‘beep’ which is putting us in focus, but the ‘click’ sound afterwards to be sure of getting a shot.  She didn’t do too badly by us in the end though.  Here are some of us Smilies, full of vim and vigour in our vests.  I think though maybe I should start to travel everywhere with a soapbox to stand on to help me out in the height stakes now and again.

2016-08-21 09.36.26

More people gathered.  Smilies in pursuit of the 12.12 had kit to consider as well as distance.  One had some inside information that there had been some mischief on the course yesterday, with a few rotated signs so it was as well to be familiar with the approximate route despite the little flag markers which were in evidence.

We dispersed temporarily to do our own various preparations.  Dump stuff in car/ have another pee/ collect dibber/ engage in vigorous strategic warm up routine.    The others did all these things.  I aimlessly wandered back into the barn where an unsuspecting pair of runners asked me if I knew the route for the 10k.  Now, in my defence, I was honest with them.  I did say ‘no‘ but then again I did also say ‘no, but…‘ and proceeded to tell them about how the organisers had said it was well-marked, but that someone who did it last year had explained the route up the porter valley blah de blah and, for good measure, I told them to look out for rotated signs.  My I felt good about myself.  That lovely feeling when you’ve been able to bestow helpful advice on other runners. Get me and my immeasureable magnificent magnanimous-ness.   Sadly, this warm self-congratulatory glow was short-lived, but it was fun whilst it lasted.

Together we waved off the 12.12 starters who sped away at 10.00 a.m. prompt. and then, shortly afterwards we were all gathered for our own pre-race briefing, and (this is when my warm smug glow evaporated, brace yourself…)  were reminded the course was completely different from last year.  Oh crap.  I spent the rest of the briefing scanning the crowd for the pair I’d so comprehensively misinformed about the route earlier.  Couldn’t see them.  OMG they might die out there because of me, how to make amends?

What with all the mingling and socializing at the start, I was a bit taken aback when we finally had to head off.  I think we departed pretty promptly, and it was indeed an instant climb.  It didn’t take too long for me to wonder what had possessed me to enter.  I was doing more puffing than running.  Only the humiliation of stopping too soon, (by which obviously I mean still in sight of the spectators at the start) and the sense of other runners around me kept me moving.  Other runners advised me not to give into the temptation of starting off too fast when you are (allegedly) feeling the strongest you’ll be all day.  Well, I can report that that particular temptation didn’t loom too large in my mind at this point!  One runner took a tumble early on, but professed herself unhurt and quickly got to her feet, I started to concentrate a bit more on picking my own feet up, and told myself not to worry about everyone else, just focus on my own run.  A fair few overtook me, but there were still a few others around me at about my pace, and some behind as well.  Whilst in theory I don’t mind being last (it’s happened to me often enough) in practice it can be a bit soul sapping if you are too far back and worrying about maybe getting lost.  I was happy to be slotted in pretty near the back.

Apart from the minor detail of there being rather a lot of uphill, it was a scenic route.  We passed through farm land, and the course was indeed very well-marked.  Loads of little pink flags on wire lined the route stuck in the earth.  I say pink, maybe coral…  Marshals were at key points to cheer you round and point the right way.  Early on, there was a sequence of styles to negotiate.  I don’t mind these at all, as they legitimise pausing on route, and admiring the view.  Some runners ahead of me took the opportunity of being slowed by the queue to pose for a variety of thumbs up selfies.   Meanwhile, I interrogated my endurer buddies about their marathon plans, we were still in reach of each other at this point.  There seemed to be some disagreement about how they’d come to register for the Snowdon adventure.  I tried to reassure one who seemed to be particularly unsure about the wisdom of signing up for this next endeavour ‘it’s so hard not to give in to peer pressure‘ I commiserated.  ‘It’s not that’ he said, ‘it’s that it was my idea in the first place!’ Oh dear.  ‘Don’t blame yourself‘ I ventured ‘you can’t possibly have expected them to have taken you seriously when you suggested it?’ but it wasn’t looking good… that has to be contributory negligence at the very least.  I didn’t mention it again.

The course is indeed undulating, so you can see the faster runners snaking ahead of you in glorious Technicolor.  I tried not to think too much about just how far ahead they were.  After a bit we got to the first technical challenge.  Some very steep, slippery steps going down into woodland.  Despite my off-road shoes I was a complete wuss here, and gingerly picked my way down, clinging to the wooden railing alongside until that too vanished, and you were on your own with the mudslide and the gradient.  Fortunately for me most of the others with me at this point were happy to exercise similar caution.  In my head I know the lead runners would have flown down these like pyroclastic flow, but I really don’t know how they do that without breaking their necks.  I fully expected to find at the bottom of the steps, a still warm heap of twitching bodies.   The pile comprised of those runners ahead of us who hadn’t quite made it, but no such mound was there.  There were some marshals at the bottom, but they didn’t look like they’d been manhandling corpses as far as I could tell, and seemed to be innocently enough pointing the way up the valley, tuned to ‘helpful’ rather than ‘cadaver concealing’ operational mode.  Always hard to be absolutely sure of course, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt, I didn’t have time to stop and ask – I had a race to run!

Onward and upward through the woodland trails.  Even though I run through Limb Valley a fair bit, these particular trails were new to me, and it was really lovely.  We are so lucky to have this on our doorstep in Sheffield.  I wasn’t entirely loving the gradient, but it does sort of go with the territory, and I was getting more into my stride. I know I’m slow, but I like to think that I get my money’s worth at every event – more time out on the hills compared to the faster runners!  However, I was still a bit taken aback when I spotted the shape of a runner powering back down the hill towards those few of us still dragging ourselves along and up the limb valley in our erratic trots at the back.  We hadn’t even made it as far as Lady Canning’s plantation, and here was the frontrunner (coincidentally from frontrunner) homeward bound.  (These photos are courtesy of Sue-Nigel Jeff in return for a small anonymous donation by the way, for which thanks 🙂 )

I moved across to the side and clapped him as he passed, apparently without effort, on his homeward glide.  It was most impressive.  There was a bit of a gap, and then a few others came in his wake, I tried to clap and say something in acknowledgement of the sporting prowess of each as they passed.  However, it got harder to talk, and clap and move aside, and run uphill all at once as the torrent of oncoming runners increased.  I abandoned this ambitious multi-tasking activity therefore, just after the style coming onto Sheephill road. Once on the road I fell back to a walk to I could blow my nose (sorry if that’s too much information) just in time to see a fellow Smiley powering down as leading woman (and indeed she was first female finisher).  She shouted encouragement to me, and I (a bit belatedly) to her. She was going so fast I barely registered her before she was gone.  I couldn’t help wishing I’d been doing a bit more of actual running as she passed.  That’s me, caught slacking…

There were some nice marshalls with cups of water a bit further ahead.  So I took advantage of that, and made the hilarious and wholly original quip of asking when the sandwich delivery was due.  Then it was onwards and upwards again.  We didn’t go straight into Lady Cannings as I’d expected, but sort of alongside it, returning runners who’d already completed that loop were flying towards us, and I got to shout out to a fair few Smileys storming back.  Then a sharp right into the plantation.  The trails were lovely and quiet and there were mossy hillocks and fern bordered paths.   This might not be the most flattering of pictures of me (well, I really hope not anyway), but you get a sense of some of the terrain here.  Plus, I’m actually giving chase to other runners at this point, surely worth recording for posterity!  I’m even ahead of some.  Yay!

These paths have a particularly inviting spring to them, perfect for my imperfect arthritic feet to bounce along on.  I was more or less on my own here, I had another runner just in sight ahead, but I’d pulled away from the back of the field.  I surprised myself by finding a running gear despite the uphill bit.  Maybe I am better running at my own pace on my own sometimes, if I stop fretting about everyone else being faster than me, I can actually go faster than I initially think.  There were a couple of cyclists on mountain bikes enjoying the trails.  One offered to give me a ride up – I think he was semi-serious, but I declined.  It would be embarrassing to break him on the way round, and anyway, I didn’t need a lift I was flying (inwardly anyway, outwardly so others could tell, probably not so much…).

Coming out of the plantation and sharp left and you are on a  hard stoney track with the plantation to one side of you and the  heather to the other.  Maybe it was the rain from yesterday freshening everything up, but it was just gorgeous.  I gave myself a Whirlow Wow moment.  Running through stunning scenery is all well and good, but really, what’s the point if you don’t consciously pause to take it in. The heather was vibrant purple, and I felt as if I had it all to myself up there.  I ploughed onward, following the path through the heather and picking up a bit of speed as after another gate, the landscape finally opened up and we got a bit of downhill gradient once again. There was a photographer positioned at the bottom of the slope just as you’d gathered up enough momentum to reach near terminal velocity, this bit was quite fun… until you heard the shout of a marshal and realised you were required to do a sharp left and back up the hill again.  Oh well, ’twas fun whilst it lasted!  Signage was good though!

Inexplicably, there doesnt seem to be a photo of me cavorting through the heather.  So instead there follows a medley of other Smileys in action instead.  This way, you get to ooh and aah at the heather backdrop, and I get glory by association with the Smiley elite.  Everybody wins!

12.12 route

Just one more plod up, and eventually the route flattened.  At one point a guy passed me at some speed dripping blood from a scrape on his back as he passed.  He looked soaked, honestly I wasn’t sure it if was sweat, bog swimming or a consequence of pouring water over himself, but it made the blood look very impressive.  I never did work out if he was a 12.12 runner way ahead of the pack or just some solo runner caught up in the Whirlow races.  For my part, I soon  I found myself to have completed the loop and heading back towards Sheephill Lane and the Limb Valley. There was a big crowd of walkers loitering at the gate I needed to pass through, but they were supportive rather than obstructive, one guy shouting encouragingly that it is ‘definitely downhill for a bit now‘  (I liked the ‘for a bit‘ qualification, no false promises from him) and a family clapping me and remarking on  my fine vest logo.  No sense of irony in the ‘smiley paces’ moniker at this stage in the run at least.  It’s much easier to be Smiley when homeward bound than when heading out.

Now I was past the half-way point, and it was familiar territory and downhill all the way I started to more proactively enjoy it.  I  always do this. I find gravity giving me a helping hand and suddenly I feel powerful and invincible in a way that normally only engulfs me when running on a travelator in a deserted airport say.  I suppose the endorphins do kick in, the weather was perfect, the trails lovely, the ground springy what’s not to like?  There were cattle about calmly observing our progress.  I knew I’d finish fine now, not in any time to write home about, but still with fuel in the tank.

Inevitably, as I reached the closing stages of the route, the first of the 12.12 finishers were loping past.  Fairplay to them, all those that passed me were incredibly courteous and encouraging calling through ‘coming by on your right‘ or whatever and exchanging greetings.  I clapped them and gave way to them all.  On reflection, being a slowbie has its advantages.  I got to see first finishers for both the 10k and the 12.12 (just realised, why is one race in km and one in miles?  Weird that.  And, come to think of it, what is the significance of 12.12 anyway?  Peculiar distance.  Just saying.)

There was a bit of a sneaky hill just before the finish, culminating in a style and then you pass through a field with cows suckling calves. If I’d been out on my own I might have avoided the field altogether, but to be fair these cattle seemed completely unconcerned.  Climbing over the style at the other end to exit the field there was one of the organisers on his walkie-talkie.  He seemed to be saying ‘yes, a couple of the first finishers on the 10k did go astray, but I don’t know how‘.  I don’t know how either, seemed OK to me…  Final haul, and I could hear the buzz from the venue, round the corner and there was a small crowd at the finish to cheer you home – including some of my endurer buddies looking out for one of their number who was just behind me, and a fair few smilies long time home.  Dibbed in, dibber was cut off by a quick acting marshal, and a medal was passed to me.

Yay, I did it.  I like the bling, but for the record, it is smaller than you might imagine.  Tastefully understated I’d say, rather than ostentatious like the olympic bling for example.  I retrieved my bag from the improvised bag drop (dumped it behind the registration tables earlier on in the day) and went in search of water.  There were cups available at the finish. Then I went to scratch the mutual congratulations itch that comes at the end of every event.  I found fellow smileys (who’d done brilliantly, got first three women’s finish places for starters).   I also located the women who I’d given the wrong route to earlier on.  They’d got back way before  me, and were coincidentally sitting alongside my Smiley compatriots.  They were relaxed and laughing ‘yep, we would have been back 15 minutes earlier if you hadn’t misdirected us‘ they said.  Fortunately, they were joking, they’d had a good run and no problems en route.  I heard later they are Graves parkrun locals so will look out for them again next time I’m there.

Next stop, endurer buddies to pose for photos.  Caption contest should rightly follow.  For the record, the reason the female of the group is lying in front of the men is because she is the only one fit enough and supple enough to be able to get up again from this position on completion of the run.  Explaining how it was she appropriated an infant is less easy.  I think I’ll leave that puzzle unanswered.  Yes, one of the group does have an incredibly long arm, but we try not to draw attention to it.  That would be rude.

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So then I settled down to join my Smiley club  mates for race de-brief.  They were all clutching Injinji visors?  Now, my regular reader will know that for some time I’ve been nursing some serious visor envy directed at my Hobbit running buddy.  She bought a great visor for the Round Sheffield Run, and I’ve been coveting it ever since.  My smiley friends advised me that an Injinji rep was roaming.  She was giving out freebies.  I went to stalk her, I was brazen.  However, alas, no more visors were available.  Not even for me a sports blogger (ahem).  She did though give me some size small green Injinji socks to try, which was a start.  She was also beyond lovely, full of abject apologies that she’d run out, and even went to double-check in her box in case an extra one suddenly materialised out of nowhere like a rabbit out of a magician’s hat.

I made my way back to my Smiley friends, clutching my green Injinjis and built up to negotiate a swap.  My first effort ended in refusal, but then, TO MY UTTER AMAZEMENT AND DELIGHT, super smiley female over 50 third place winner GAVE ME HERS for nothing. Unconditionally, no surrender of my lime-green socks (that will match my Sheffield half tech shirt so joyfully) required.  I was beyond overcome.  I am so very happy.  Also, it will be extra imbued with super-powers coming as it does from a member of the Smiley elders running elite.  I’m now wondering if I don the Injinji visor and the Injinji socks on the same day, whether or not I could truthfully describe myself as an Injinji sponsored athlete from head to toe? I don’t see why not.  I mean technically speaking I’d have a point..!

By the way, did I mention that first, second and third female over fifty finishers were all smileys? Oh good.  Maybe though I shouldn’t mention that the second placed returner might have had an even stronger finish  if she hadn’t got confused by the 10k route and double backed on herself.  Seems highly likely it was she the guy on the walkie talkie was referring too as getting lost a few minutes earlier.  Still, let’s not labour the point, don’t want to draw undue attention to it, these things happen.  Especially as she was so friendly to me when we were waiting at the start.  Can’t help wondering though if part of the reason she got disoriented was because she’d done all that running before the race to get to Whirlow from her house, she must have been exhausted by the end of the 10k.  Anyway, I digress.   The point is, I am now a person in possession of a visor.  Obviously I’ve worn it constantly ever since.  Sleeping in it is fine, as long as you stay on your back.  I was so pleased with this, and the bling, I posed for a shot.  It seems I like the medal so much I couldn’t stop looking at it, that is why the picture shows the back of the medal, it isn’t the case that I picked up a blank one by accident.

So we sat and drank coffee, and applauded the winners.  And I cuddled the lovely Zeb – companion canine to a fellow Smiley (who has the shiniest coat, the most pleading eyes and the softest chin of any sentient creature I’ve ever met ever – the dog not the Smiley).  Oh, and I must just give a mention to the compère.  Loved the way he wrote his notes on massive bits of cardboard.  Genius prompt cards, and why not.  As I get older and ever more long-sighted I’m massively in favour of inventive aids to reading.  That may not have been his motivation of course, but I’ve certainly logged it for future reference!

A fair few of the winners from yesterday hadn’t lingered for the presentations today. Can’t say I entirely blame them, after all the exertion and getting drenched and then sleeping in a tent afterwards I would imagine they’d have been pretty desperate to get back home… Having said that, some were still around, but just too stiff to make it up quickly enough to snatch their prizes before the next winner’s name was called out.  There was a wry comedic element to watching them contort themselves into walking mode as they approached the stage.  To be fair, some others looked fresh as anything and veritably skipped up as if in another cut-throat competition to grab a faberge egg or (more likely) some new innovation in trail shoes before some other off-road runner got there first!  Those runners though must be a different species from the rest of us. I mean really, 60 miles cross country and still got a spring in your step, that can’t be the basic standard that should apply to the rest of us surely?

Various smilies trotted up to collect their prizes.  A hamper of local produce, not great for vegetarians as contained meat, but to be fair, it was lovingly put together.  Also included eggs and tomatoes.  Thank you smilies for being super friendly and supportive as always.  Thanks especially for helping me through my running/not running imposter-syndrome angst.  You are all lovely, as well as super talented and FGRs* one and all!

So that was that, job done.  We are all awesome.

Oh, and I’ve stolen this photo from another Smiley, but it’s perfect.  Fellow vegetarian in reciept of hamper.  That reminds me, The Wrong Trousers was on telly when I got back from Whirlow yesterday. That was a nice way to wind down in the afternoon.

farm hamper for super smiley

Yep, I’d do it again, definitely, probably wearing my visor next time though, and maybe even with Roger too.  A few people were disappointed he wasn’t out and about.  Even though he deserves a rest up now and again, the Sheffield Half was quite a stretch for him, I think he preferred the trails of the RSR  to be honest.  Even so,   I think he would have liked this trot out a lot, so never say never.  So, hopefully, see you all again same time, same place in 2017.  More the merrier.  Oh, and don’t be put off by the ‘Dig Deep’ branding.  I think before hand I’d seen so much about the hard core ultra events I’d assumed the 10k would be undoable and need kit and navigation.  It really doesn’t.  Anyway, the hardcore events are super cool too.  Fantastic that it’s all right here in Sheffield.  No need to camp if you are a local, you can do the 60 miler and come back to the comfort of your own bed (assuming you aren’t hallucinating so much with fatigue that you can no longer either drive or work out how to use a mobile phone to summon a taxi).

You’re welcome  🙂

By the way, other accounts of these runs are available, see the Steel City Strider perspective here, and First Woman home for the Ultra, Sally Fawcett here.

Oh, and if you care about the actual results for the Dig Deep series – some people do apparently, they are here.

Thanks to the organisers, supporters, marshals, land-owners, fellow runners and photographers – named (Sue-Nigel Jeff) or otherwise, who all came together to deliver a great event.   I think Jez Malins was the official photographer.  Thanks especially to my Smiley Buddy who let me run in her stead.  Hope we can do it together next year.  Yep, I’d do it again.  Definitely.  Bit of a shame there weren’t more participants this year, I reckon it fully merits a bigger field.

Oh and here is the link to more of the Dig Deep photos for the Whirlow 10k and 12.12.  Fun eh?

*Flipping good runners, like it says on our vests.  What else?

Categories: 10km, off road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Here comes the rain again… running down but not running out

2016-08-19 10.47.58

So, the accepted mantra is that it doesn’t matter how fast you go,  if you are out running, then you are a runner.  On the one hand I do endorse this, a mile is still a mile, no matter what speed you cover it at, on the other, I have begun to wonder of late at what point should I concede that I have possibly slipped over from the outer verges of the running community into that parallel world I happily enough inhabited for many years where I could only ever truthfully classify myself as a non-runner.

A friend of mine (yes I have some, in addition to my imaginary ones) recently sent me a card.  Incredulous at stumbling across my running blog, she found me the perfect greeting:

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She said she saw the card and thought of me!  (That was a great advertising campaign was it not, very effective).  What’s more, she is spot on.  The picture could indeed be me!  It’s uncanny, the tendency to over-dress (woe betide the fellow runner who tries to free me of my fleece on a winter’s day), the ill-fitting leggings, the pony tail and  even the colour choices have an echo of my Smiley Paces running club branding.  The sentiment does remain true, I don’t really know quite how I’ve ended up being part of a running club, and doing running events over a period of time despite any evidence at all that I have any innate aptitude, skill or capacity to improve with practise.  For various reasons, I haven’t managed so much as a parkrun for the last fortnight, and so yesterday I was feeling somewhat on the cusp of my ‘runner’ and ‘non-runner’ identities.  Honestly, what is the point of this running malarkey if I never do any.  Who am I trying to kid?  I am irredeemably rubbish at it, and it’s not so much walk/run these days, as walk/stop.  Not boding well for future marathon successes.

Still, I do still seem to have the capacity to find myself caught up in events despite myself.  So it seems, I am temporarily reclaiming my tentative running identity and seeing where it leads.  Couple of things led to this, let me elaborate.

So, then a running buddy who had entered the Whirlow 10k got in touch to ask if I’d be joining her for the event.  It’s one of the Smiley Champs series, so plenty of other Smiley Paces members will be out and about, even if they are all two leagues ahead of me or long finished before I’ve made the first summit, so it is a tempting local race, lovely scenery and trail too.  It’s one of a whole weekend series of events The Peak District Dig Deep  I had a look, but baulked a bit at the cost.  It is a fundraiser I know, but it is on the expensive side for a 10k, especially as you can do the Trust10 series for free.  So, instead of saying to her ‘no, I can’t, I’m too horrifically unfit and apathetic, I’d be embarrassed to be seen running in public and doubt I can still squeeze my swollen carcass into my Smiley vest‘, I just said ‘bit pricey for me‘ (also true, but secondary), and left it at that.  This might have been an end of it, except that it wasn’t.   Same running buddy emailed again, she is, alas, poorly, she won’t be running, would I like her place?  Hmm, dilemma.  I am still horrifically unfit, but can’t use the ‘too expensive’ get out clause to good effect any more.  Not to worry, I have another opt out.  ‘Thanks, but I’m just not comfortable about running in someone else’s name‘.  This is true, but more from fear of being caught out than actually impeccable ethics, plus I’d never fit into her size small request in relation to the complimentary shirt size as part of goody bag on completion.

To seek external validation that this get out is truthful, I messaged the Dig Deep Races people via their Facebook page with a half-hearted query ‘for the 10k do you need to navigate and also is it possible to transfer entries?’  I heard back from the lovely people almost instantaneously, no navigation required, and yes, I can transfer entry if I do it today, (which was yesterday).  Objections were over-turned, and suddenly, inexplicably, in the absence of training, and without having really thought it through, I find I am indeed entered for the Whirlow 10k.  Oh great.  Just be careful what you wish for eh.  And learn to be assertive and speak the truth.  This quest for external validation is not only an abdication of personal responsibility, it is ultimately a mug’s game, it can take you in directions you didn’t intend to follow’


If you are an international athlete who lies you  might end up accidentally claiming to be robbed at gun point because you didn’t want to admit to breaking a loo door for example.  I suppose in the grand scheme of things, accidentally entering a 10k is quite a good way to miscalculate.  I’ve certainly done worse in my time.  Once I ended up spending a month’s salary on someone else’s hen do, that I really didn’t want to go to.  When the date was first mentioned for this extravagant weekend away it clashed with a pre-existing commitment.  I therefore barely twitched as I effused untruthfully how much I’d loved to have gone, but alas, what could I do, the date wasn’t free.  The bride, picking up my disappointment, rearranged the hen do so I could go.  Oh joy.  There would be no getting out of it now.  Why didn’t I just say ‘out of my price range, but have fun‘ in the first place?  I still break out in a sweat at the memory of that weekend, it cost me more than my annual holiday, and I had to share a bed with a heavily snoring and wildly gesticulating drunken hen due to a mix up in the room bookings.  Never.  Again.  Never!  I will be assertive, I will speak the truth, I will be my own person… just not about the Whirlow 10k. I’m conscientious if not keen as you know, I’m in, it’s fate, I shall run (OK walk and half-heartedly yomp) round, but I shall do it.

So, the next stage is to think, this is good!  It is an opportunity!  I am lucky!  Yay, get me and my good fortune!  I mean it’s only a 10k, that’s doable?  I need to get back into some sort of fitness regime, this will spur me on, ready or not.  My body has started to visibly disintegrate of late.  Yesterday I had to have a Skype interview and due to the unfortunately high resolution of my laptop camera every imperfect pore, wrinkle and flabby contour on my potato like face seemed to be highlighted.  I looked like a troll.  I need to reverse this.  It was lucky therefore that  I had in any event already committed to  a pre-arranged yomp out with hobbit buddy today.  Granted, this was more set up as a walk and talk rather than an actual run, but then what with my 10k on the Sunday and parkrun on Saturday I ought to be tapering now anyway, yes?  Tapering is a weird one, I suppose more conventional athletes might do a bit more training in advance of the tapering period, but I say if tapering is helpful in the days before a run, why not in the weeks before as well?  At least I should start out injury free.  That’s worth something.

So today, yomp up the valley took place as planned.  Up until today, I hadn’t done any running for a fortnight – maybe longer.  Even my tomtom GPS watch behaved as if I’d entirely retired from my running career.  It was so dead when I plugged it into my computer it was hallucinating and delusional, unable to recall the date or time.  Recharging it seemed to have a temporary ‘kiss of life’ effect, and it did get up and running again (though was sulking enough at the end of the ‘run’ that it was extremely temperamental when it came to uploading the data afterwards).  I headed out the door in weather a lot cooler than of late.  This is also good, I’m not great in the heat.  I saw my hobbit buddy waiting at the bottom of the hill, and yomped down to meet her.  This uncharacteristic turn of speed had me breathless within about 500 metres of setting off, but hey, that’s always the hard part isn’t it, starting?

It was good to be reunited.  I excitedly shared my news about the Whirlow 10k.  ‘Oh my god!‘  She said, with not entirely encouraging intonation.  ‘That’s so hilly and hard!‘  I did point out to her that this wasn’t exactly the pep talk I was hoping for, but she was going for the ‘as your mentor I owe you realism‘ angle.  She’d done it before, ‘back when I was really fit, and it took way longer than I thought‘  oh gawd, I’ll still be there at dusk.  The look on my face led her to try and backtrack, she offered up a more conciliatory  ‘it is lovely though... ‘ but I’m not stupid, the damage was done.  I will not be feeling over-confident going into this event.  Still, I will do it, and it delivers impressive bling it seems, so surely worth it in the end.  I shall work on visualising this trophy at the finish as I run, rather than imagining others spotting my less than athletic silhouette blocking out the sun as I tramp up those hills!

dig deep bling

Oh well, despite everything, it was really nice to be out for our yomp.  We did even more walking and talking than usual, but then it’s been a while since we went out and there was quite an extensive agenda of topics to catch up on, and regular readers will know I can’t run and talk at the same time, and fortunately/unfortunately nor can hobbit buddy either.  I honestly don’t know if we are a good influence on each other or a bad influence running wise.  On the one hand, the commitment to go running together does get us out more than I would do on my own, on the other, do we collude with the non running aspect by chatting a fair bit. Does it even matter if we do?  We still get the elevation, and we still cover the distance, and we get to upload on strava, which is obviously the main thing.

We had some exciting cattle encounters, we were overtaken several times by faster runners as we went up hill.  No shame in that, though speaking personally I’d have preferred it if the same runners didn’t then pass us again as they were coming back from the summit and we were still walking up, barely having progressed at all!  We eventually made it up to the view point at the top, where a deep mist enveloped the city. Rain had started falling pretty heavily just half an hour into the run.  It was pretty hard, because it pushed through the trees and drenched us. By the time we were at the highest point we were wet through to our knickers.  Getting cold we didn’t linger and as soon as we were safely past the more slippery stones on the path we broke into a jog, possibly even a run!  Hobbit buddy nearly had a disaster, screeching to a halt at one point, blinded by something in her eye. In agony, unable to see.  ‘I think it might be sweat!‘ she said, somewhat incredulously.  It’s been a long time since we ran hard enough to have sweat running into our eyes.  Quite a badge of honour.  Further reflection though suggested it was more likely to be the torrential rain washing a new moisturising product into her eyes, but I’m still going with the ‘blinded by our own sweat because we are such hard-core runners‘ version, you must judge as you wish.

it was indeed wet, wet, wet!

We loped onwards, gravity on our side, we felt quite smug as we passed some raincoat clad dog-walkers plodding up hill ‘we must look like actual runners to them‘ we said to each other with wry smiles.  We got wetter and wetter, to the point of comedic excellence.  It was fun running in the rain (a sentence I did not expect to type), and as the endorphins kicked in I started to believe maybe it wont matter if it’s a particularly slow one from Whirlow, scenery will be just as lovely, and nobody will care.  As long as no-one shouts ‘there goes troll woman‘ as I pass, that should be good enough for me!

all real runners

So, we did about 9km in a time that does not merit being put on record here, but it was fun.  It made running feel desirable again and not actually impossible.  I did get wet through to my knickers though, and have to report that I still don’t find running as a sport does me any favours.  Maybe the rain, once dried off, will make the skin on my face lovely and soft, not just give my feet trench foot as is the most obviously visible consequence at present.  I was going to post a photo of my post-run feet, but couldn’t bring myself to do so.  Here instead is the face shot.  The camera does not love me.  Oh well, when I am an internationally acclaimed sports celebrity, I’ll employ someone to do my PR and no such photos will ever again reach the public domain!  The jowls are bad though aren’t they, I need to do face aerobics to offset the damage done by this facial expression.

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So now, just a parkrun stands between me and the Whirlow 10k.  I’m not quite enthused, but I am cheered at the possibility of being greeted by this fella at race HQ, that’s got to be worth making it to the start line to see surely?  Doesn’t take much it seems really to entice me out, not much at all.


So it seems I still have a foot in the running community, tentative or otherwise, until I’m actively shunned, I shall linger a little longer…  So thank you running buddy for the Whirlow 10 place, I think, and thank you hobbit buddy for getting me up the hills in preparation today!

Happy running y’all, and if you need to, dig deep!

Categories: motivation, off road, running | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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