Posts Tagged With: Ecclesall Woods

Best laid plans… long run thwarted but feeling the running lurve, besides, tomorrow is another day and we runners, well we can do anything!

Digested read: fairly mundane running reflections, didn’t manage to get out for my run today, that’s all really. Still some running related ponderings though, supplements, running fatigue, Big Running Weekend, subjective stuff, maybe just best to skip this post and instead just scroll down to the end to see the best parkrun fancy dress photo ever.  Personally I think historical re-enactment themes have hitherto been under represented at parkruns across the UK.  Time for change people.  Time for change!

Today was supposed to be my long run, 18 miles, and I was all set up and ready – if not exactly raring – to go.  Water bottles filled, route mapped (to be fair, that wasn’t too complicated, as I was planning on just heading out to the Monsal trail again); naked bars stowed, porridge consumed, and then my entire day just got hijacked.  My free day to head out and run in a teasing gap between a stretch of seemingly endless torrential rain and the threat of snow to come later in the week disappeared over the horizon.  It was really frustrating.  In  case you think I was just looking for an excuse (and to be fair, sometimes I am) this was not the case today.  I had a major leak last night, the fourth since I’ve moved in to my new home.  The apocalyptic weather was without mercy.

storm cloud

However, despite my initial despair, virtual if not actual sun was shining on me, and the good news is that not only was I able to get in touch with the builder, but his representative on earth appeared, tooled up to fix it.  Trust me, you don’t stand up a builder ever.  FACT.  Unfortunately, every silver lining has its cloud, and the presence of said builder involved a certain amount of being in and hanging around.  Then more people were doing landscaping work out the back, which was more accurately an homage to hysterical historical re-enactment of life in the trenches.  Never seen so much mud and water, and not in a good way. Bogs when you want the fun of scampering through them on the hills is one thing, but trench-foot inducing crumbling pits swallowing up any mortal who dared to brave them is another thing altogether.  Also, my car got blocked in by skips and vans and although I could have got them moved, it would have interrupted multiple building projects as by coincidence neighbours up and down the street are also having building work done. It seems the recent snow and epic amounts of rain have tested the housing structures nearby to breaking point, remedial work all round.

Eventually, I was freed up to go out, but by that time it was mid afternoon, and for me (don’t laugh superior runners) I felt it was realistically too late for me to fit in a really long run.  I considered doing a shorter one, maybe the half marathon route, but then I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough left in the engine to do my proper planned one tomorrow.  I feel so clueless, maybe it would have been good to do another longish run, but then again, the whole point of my running goals for this week is to try to go slow and steady but consistently, and I’d like to start the run feeling OK not broken.  Tomorrow looks like it’s the only other weather window where I can rearrange things so I can get out for a decent length of time.  I’ll have to, or I’ll end up doing my long run in the dark, rain or snow, none of these options appeal to me.

Much as it goes against the grain, I’m trying to put a positive spin on this interruption. I have been feeling absolutely dreadful for nearly a week – ever since my miserable long run down in London.  Just exhausted, weak, sore throat, no energy blah de blah.   Today for the first time I’m feeling a bit brighter. I genuinely don’t know if this is because I have in fact been ill with a low-level virus and now I’m better, if it just takes me a long time to recover from my long runs or if it is a placebo effect because I have dear reader, caved in and started taking an iron supplement.  Whatever the reason, I’m  hugely relieved and actively looking forward to heading out on a run without having to fight back the impulse to cry through sheer fatigue.  One positive I have hung on to though, even when feeling really, really rough, is that at no stage have I felt like pulling out of London.  I most definitely want to get there, it isn’t a case of not being committed, more the mind and heart are willing but the body is weak.  I wouldn’t mind having been so exhausted if I looked like this when fatigued, but unfortunately I don’t.  Not to worry, maybe I will after running the London Marathon, because that is the inference in the Daily Mirror article it is used to illustrate.  Now that would be a win…


Oh, re the supplement, I’ve only been taking it a couple of days, so I don’t believe it can possibly have made a difference already, but I suppose if I have been really depleted that might be so.  For your information – I know how you are probably hanging on my every word for top tips on nutrition as I’m such a running role model in these parts – I’ve gone for Floradix.  It was eye-wateringly expensive, I actually wonder if the shock at the price tag basically reboots your metabolic rate, and any temporary boost in perceived energy levels has nothing to do with the intrinsic contents of the bottle at all, but rather is just your body implementing fright and flight mode.  Frankly, I don’t care how it works, whatever it takes.


I’ve gone for a liquid iron supplement because at last weekend’s Accelerate Big Running Weekend I learnt, amongst other things, that liquid iron is easier to absorb and less likely to cause digestive issues. Also, that it’s apparently very common for long distance runners (yes, like me) or people in general who are upping their running regimes, to become depleted in iron, and as I’m a vegetarian who does far too much meal planning by gazing in the fridge to see what’s lurking at the back and not enough actual working out a balanced food diary a week ahead, I know I more than likely am not following an ideal diet.  Maybe now I’m doing significantly increased mileage by my reference terms I just can’t get away with it any more.  It will be genuinely interesting to see if I do notice a difference over the coming weeks.

Would you like to know about the Big Running Weekend?  If you don’t already know about it, you’ll be really annoyed because you’re too late now, you’ve missed it.  Oh well, hopefully it will come round again same time next year.   Or maybe it will be more like Brigadoon, and only appear once  Basically, this was a sort of weekend festival of running, organised by a local to Sheffield independent running shop Accelerate, and held at the rather fine venue of the Woodland Centre in Ecclesall Woods.  For but a tenner, you got a fetching wrist band, just like at a proper festival, which allowed access all areas for the duration of the event.  There were loads of things to dip in and out of: guided runs; running shoes to try on; talks and films; a whole weekend trail school (there was an extra charge for that) led runs; Q&A sessions.   Really though, and this is a complement not a criticism, the absolutely best bit was being able to hang out with running buddies and talk about running related things with like-minded people who not only don’t back away when you try to talk to them about blisters, trainer grip or running technique but actively engage with you and offer useful tips!  Amazing.  Plus there were other helpful things like pizza (vegan options available); coffee and cake.

big running weekend

More specifically, there were guided runs deliberately at night, they weren’t just running in the dark because they couldn’t find their way home.  There were woodrun drills, which are actually useful and not only a means of manipulating others for the personal amusement of the running coaches (though clearly that is a pleasing additional benefit) and much inter-disciplinary networking fuelled by caffeine and cake.  Hurrah!  Great photos too, actually – hang on, I’ll go nick a few, so you can also enjoy them. Thanks nice people at Accelerate in general and Ben Lumley photography in particular.  Some of these photos are really crying out for a caption competition, but that’s not in my remit.  Create your own dear reader, create your own.

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As previously reference, my energy levels have been non-existent of late, so I wasn’t up for any of the runs, I barely dragged my weary carcass around Bakewell parkrun on Saturday morning, but I did get along to some of the talks, and you know what they were great!  Not just engaging, but inspirational too.

I went on the Saturday night, pizza first, then into the woodlands meeting room which was roasty toasty warm and all invitingly lit up with fairy lights and a room full of both familiar faces from the Sheffield running community (yes there is) and friends you haven’t made yet.  All good.

As is often the case, I’d rolled up with little idea of who the speakers were going to be, I enjoy the element of surprise, the pleasure of a lucky dip.  Anyway, I have to admit I didn’t know either of the speakers before, but now I am going to stalk them both.  First up was Damian Hall:

Damian Hall
7pm, Saturday 10th March 2018, Sycamore Suite (Main Building).

Fresh from his win at the multi day Ice-Ultra  and author of the book, ‘A Year on the Run’, Damian takes centre stage.

Damo is an outdoor journalist and ultra runner.  Like Ben, he too has represented Great Britain and last finished 1st Vet at the infamous Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc. He has also placed on the Spine Race and holds the odd long distance running record.
As to his talk, Damian describes it as, “A midlife-crisis, a toilet and the power sob : what running long distances has taught me about life, the universe and everything”.

He looks like this:

What to say about his talk? I don’t know it’s hard to summarise because it wasn’t so much the anecdotes about the races impressive as they were; the self-deprecating humour at the photos of him running in with ecstatic happy children at the climax of the UTMB where he sheepishly pointed out his wife pushing a buggy behind and the time it took for his children to revert to calling him poo-head; nor the amazing photos of the roads less travelled he’d run across, nor even the extraordinary lengths – literally – he’d run.  I honestly think it was the positivity, the idea you won’t know you limits if you never try to find them.

dh and kids

and, best of all these three key take-away points that spoke as if directly to me:

  • Ultra running is as much an eating competition as a running one, you need to fuel loads. (Tick).
  • No-one can run that far, so you are better of training by going on a hiking holiday and carrying a pack and doing lots of walking (result, I don’t even have to carry a pack because my own supplies of adipose layers provide my own bespoke weight belt at all times).  (Tick).
  • ‘We all know that we could cover 100 miles if we really had to, if our children’s lives depend upon it say, or the house is burning down’ (I guess that would depend how much you like your children or house, but I take the general point) so of course a marathon should be doable for pretty much anyone, if your mind is focused enough on doing it. He used the analogy of how people can often put on a sprint finish when they see the finish line even if one hundred metres before they thought them self to be well and truly spent.  It should be doable, if you want to.  (Tick).
  • You don’t necessarily need to do crazy mileage in training, what you do need is hours on your feet to build endurance without risking injury – walking is your friend (tick).  For ultra runs you can’t possibly run a 100 mile plus ‘long run’ each week, so cannier regimes are needed.  Excellent news.

The second speaker was Geoff Cox.  He looks like this:

big run running legend

What a legend!  In his sixtieth year, he set himself the challenge of running three named Lake District fell running rounds, Bob Graham, Joss Naylor lakeland challenge and the Gerry Charnley Round, which I’d not heard of before but links three youth hostels so is doable over three days with comfy night stops for the less adventurous explorers out there.  Don’t tell anyone, but I might be a little bit in love with Geoff, he seemed to have just decided to do it and so he did. That is remarkable enough – though it wasn’t from a base of nothing, he’d done football and things before.  However, the real tour de force was how he described what being out on the fells meant to him. After he’d completed this challenge, he tried to process all his thoughts by writing it down.  However, he found he just couldn’t, not in prose, so he just wrote it as a poem.  A love poem to the land in a way, and this got picked up and made into a film, and it’s just joyful.  It reminded me of all that draws me to the hills.  However badly I run, when my little legs have taken me up through the heather and on to the peaks, and I can finally look across the landscape opening up before me and feel the wind rush through me and everything falls into perspective.  The earth solid beneath me, the elements wild around me, yep, this is worth it, you don’t have to run well to reap these rewards, just put one foot in front of another and look about you.  He gave only a brief introduction and then let his film, Trailpike, speak for itself, and it did.  The Trailpike film is here, it’s amazing, go on, have a look, it’s only 11 minutes of your life.  I don’t know what was more inspiring, the physical challenge, or the way he suddenly, and unexpectedly embraced poetry as a vehicle to communicate what the running challenges meant to him. What’s more, in case you are worried, it isn’t cringy poetry of the ‘oh bless’ type, it’s genuinely using language in a way that I think transports you to that parallel world of the long and lonely trails.  Epic.  Oh and did I mention that he found out recently he’d been running a while with a busted carotid artery, the man is a medical marvel!  Wonder if he remembered to mention that on his disclaimer prior to taking part in the woodrun drills earlier…

geoff cox

I say, ‘lonely’ trails, but for the record, all the speakers had teams around them, the camaraderie of the fells and mountains being a recurring theme. As Damo said (well, everyone else seems to call him that, why shouldn’t I feign a personal connection now we’ve been in the same room together for over 60 minutes) ‘there are people I know from running that would do anything for me and me for them, we might not know the names of each others partners or children, but if asked to be on a stormy mountain side in the snow at 2 in the morning with coffee and cake for each other, we’d be there in a heartbeat‘.  I paraphrase, but I think we all get the gist.  He also spoke of hallucinations brought about by sleep deprivation, but they seemed largely benign.. flying lanterns anyone?

Then, even though you might have thought the room was so jam-packed with good will, mutual supportive appreciation and all round huggyness that it could stand no more, extra feel good fell factor was generated by showing the Nicky Spinks film of her extraordinary Double Bob Graham triumph.  I thought I’d seen this account of how on 15 May 2016, Spinks completed a double Bob Graham Round in 45 hours 30 minutes, beating the previous record set by Roger Baumeister in 1979 by more than an hour.  He was from Sheffield by the way.  Turns out I hadn’t.  It’s such a feel good film.  Again, there is the triumph over adversity theme as it interweaves the story of her cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment and recovery.  It is most certainly a tale of individual tenacity, but again the outpouring of support from her crew, family and friends and indeed Joss Naylor himself.

Nicky Spinks is extraordinary.  I’ve sort of met her, in that I gave her my £1.50 for the Truncerace where she was collecting entry money the DAY AFTER her double Bob Graham success.  I was too star struck to say anything other than ‘thank you’, as she told me my number, but I still felt the aura of her presence.  The main thing from her film though, was an observation she made early on.  She’d been half thinking of maybe doing the double Bob Graham, and not really ‘come out’ and told anyone of her idea.  She seemed to be saying that absolutely critical to her success was that when she did, she told Joss Naylor I think, and he basically said ‘of course you must!  You can absolutely do this!‘  and so she did!

After the film when we doing some mingling and chatting – much as after any run, only on this occasion without having run anywhere first, we pondered this point in particular.  My running buddies and I agreed that a large part of us achieving our running goals, admittedly more modest ones, but even so – was seeing that when we tested the idea on other better/ more experienced runners they didn’t laugh in our faces, they just said ‘why not?’  We are but fragile creatures, but give us a shove in the right direction, thrust us upwards, and we might yet fly!  I remember mooting the idea of doing the 12.12 to the guys at Frontrunner, and they were so supportive, I was astonished, and you know what, the Dig Deep is my new favourite event now, so there you go.  I don’t know about track running at all, but in terms of the off-road runners hereabouts, there is very much a give it a go attitude and plenty of really talented people around who are generous in sharing their insights and expertise.  Sort of restores your faith in human nature really, and there is a sense of some shared values too, an appreciation of the wonders of the natural world laid out before us, and maybe some basic humility that goes along with the territory for off road runners, who amongst us has not done a face plant in a bog, got lost in heather or cried with gratitude when a marshal has freely given of a hug when most needed.  Even the mighty Damo is an advocate of the power cry after all, we are all vulnerable out on them there hills.

So talking of generous sharing of expertise, I went back for more on Sunday afternoon.  I mean, obviously I went to marshal at Graves Junior parkrun first, because there is no greater feel good factory in the whole of Sheffield:

and then it was back to the woods for the women’s Q&A session.  A wide circle and a simple to and fro contemplative, supportive dissemination of running wisdom from some formidable but approachable women athletes, all local.  How fabulous is that.  Answer, pretty fabulous, but it would have been grand to give each of these women an individual platform to share their stories too.  The event brought us a panel comprising:

  • Jen Scotney: Jen has recently completed the Spine Challenger coming 3rd lady in a distance of over 100 miles — non stop! This is not even the longest run she is planning this year. Jen, is a vegan runner and happy to answer questions on her running nutrition too.
  • Laura Inglis: Accelerate Performance Centre coach. Laura has coached beginners to high performance club athlete’s and through determination and continued learning is making rapid progress as a coach. She is also an ultra runner and last year won the Ladybower 50.
  • Margo Duncan: Wood Run leader and family GP who is a very experienced runner. Having turned her attention to triathlon she has since competed for GB within her age group. She also has a wealthy of experience at trail and road racing.
  • Debbie Smith: Climber, turned Adventure Racer turned ultra distance mountain biker and then runner. Few will know that Debs has won every UK Adventure Racing title and was consistently in the top 3 for 24Hr mountain biking. In turning her attention to Ultra running she has completed the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc, taking a top 10 spot in her age category. In Mountain Marathons, such as the OMM she has also been a regular winner or podium finisher.

That’s quite a lot of running expertise in anyone’s estimation!

q and a panel

Again it’s hard to pick highlights because so much got covered in such encouraging terms.  Two of this epic panel are vegan runners, which is encouraging, it rather exposes the tedious lie about not being able to have proper nutrition on a plant-based diet.  I’m only vegetarian (vegan-curious) and have felt under pressure from some quarters to re-evaluate that.  Not negotiable by the way…  The mood was supportive.   The discussion moved through nutrition; cross training; hormones; impact of menstruation on running (not much research, but nobody fancied doing an ultra with a period even if some evidence suggests you might be stronger then – maybe mooncups are the way to go – woman’s hour had a great feature on these a while back by the way); goal setting; ‘fitting it all in’; supplements; fatigue; female running idols (Jasmin Paris came up amongst others, not least for her capacity to run at a high level, throughout her pregnancy)  – anything and everything really.

The panel shared memorable moments, and again, the sense that goals can motivate you, and if you want that goal enough you can make time to prepare for them. Having said that, there was perspective here too, ‘it’s not open heart surgery, you are just putting one foot in front of another so just try it’.  Enjoy it, was a theme.  Anecdotes about hallucinations were quite graphic, but not necessarily unpleasant, almost a boon you might think!  I learned that greater love hath no one for their running partner than offering up their own dry sleeve in lieu of a hanky when all the runner’s clothing and tissues are too saturated to offer service.   I’m not really sold on triathlon though, call me lightweight by all means (that would be a first to be fair) but I don’t want people swimming over me and elbowing me in the face before I have to ride and then run for a very long way!

Favourite moment. Question from an awesome veteran runner who moves amongst us within the smiley pack  ‘I’d like to do some of these challenges, but how do you get a team, what about the logistics, how to make it happen?  Who can support me, how can I learn by supporting others?‘  and this triggered a collective communal outpouring of the running equivalent of ‘I am Spartacus‘ as each person in the room rose as one and volunteered to support any such venture.  The running hive will make it so, you have only to believe and it can happen.  I felt quite emotional.  Together anything is indeed possible, this can happen.  Just name the day and bring it on!


These women all had innate talent for sure, but they also oozed constructive support, it made me believe that whilst not exactly anything is possible, we most certainly won’t know our limits if we don’t try, and really why not try?  With a bit of common sense and commitment we can probably achieve more than we think, especially if we utilise the support and expertise that surrounds us.  I suppose maybe I just needed to be reminded of what I said about myself, some years ago when I started keeping this blog.  I made then, and make now, no claim to be a ‘proper runner’ I hardly run at all, what’s more, if anything my running has got worse since I started, but ultimately, for me running has never been important because I can be good at it, rather it is important because I can learn to enjoy doing it badly.  It has linked me to some extraordinary, awesome and amazing people and taken me to unexpected places and on unexpected adventures, and anything else is frankly a bonus.

So you see, it was all lovely.

The afternoon ended with a warm glow of optimism and appreciation for all things runners and running related.  This weekend was timely for me, I’ve had a rubbish couple of weeks.  The enthusiasm and practical positivity of those around the run HQ brought a bit of perspective to things.  Running is supposed to be fun, challenges are best when self-selected and can help you stretch and grow they offer the chance to succeed not fear of failure.  With regards to this London Marathon malarkey, I don’t know if I can do it, but I do know there is nothing to be lost by giving it my best shot. Yep, training hasn’t gone how I hoped, but this is the first – possibly only – attempt, I’m bound to make mistakes.  The fact I’m making loads merely demonstrates how resourceful and experimental I am.  My goal remains to get around, and that should be completely realistic, if I can get to the start uninjured, I do believe I can get to the end, and whatever happens it’ll be an adventure, what more could I wish for.  I will be one of the lucky ones for even being able to embark on this adventure.  Hurrah!  Everything’s grand.

So cheers Accelerate. I know it took a team of people working really hard to pull this off, but for what it’s worth, i thought it was an informative, enjoyable and inclusive event.  A running tonic on my doorstep. How blessed am I.  🙂

Oh, you want to know what the best parkrun fancy dress photo ever is?  It’s from Ormskirk parkrun, in honour of International Women’s Day, a re-enactment of Emily Wilding Davison’s  protest at the Epsom Derby in 1913.  The verisimilitude is uncanny.

I find this effort heartening.  The timing of this homage to past protest seems especially apt as university staff have just voted to continue in their own strike action centred around pensions entitlement today.  The power of protest can deliver, but sometimes you do have to fight for what you believe in.

That fight might of course be in your head.  Running is in the mind, believe you can, and you will.

between the ears

That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.

A lot of hoping.  I might have to do a bit of training too though, just to be on the safe side.

Fingers crossed for a long run triumph tomorrow.  Think of me!  🙂

Over and out.


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Type two fun, and tackling running mind demons.

My running credentials speak for themselves.  Unfortunately.  One issue I do not face when running is the burden that elite runners routinely have to carry, that is, the burden of expectation that they will perform well every time out.  This worry I am free of.  However, this does not mean I am free of running angst.  Ooooh no.  You must know what I mean unless you are either supremely well endowed with self-belief and/or running talent combined with an unbleamished injury record.  For the rest of us mere mortals, it seems running is a mental challenge as much as a physical one.  Whether it is a chimp on your shoulder (which makes for a very asymmetrical running technique) or that all too common sense of imposter syndrome we all have our mental demons to battle with.  For me, it’s a constant voice in my head.  You might hear it too ‘I’m not a real runner, everyone must know I’m not a real runner, those few who don’t know yet will find out soon, then I will be exposed and – ironically – run out of my running club, humiliated by exposure of the truth I can no longer hide…‘  Sound familiar?  I hope not, but I suspect for many  it will be.


It is it seems, an extremely common affliction.  I finally made it back to woodrun today after a summer recess that would put any sinecure holder to shame.  It was nice to be back in Ecclesall woods, it definitely had a slightly different pre-autumnal feel to it.  It was also a bit like first day back at school after the summer holidays, with a few of us trooping in after a summer absence.  Some of us instantly started to get our apologies and excuses in first, out competing one another in respect of our woeful fitness levels/ innate (in)ability etc.  Many of us feeling somehow unworthy of the ‘runner’ moniker.   Why do we do this?  Talk ourselves down?  It may or may not be true that we are not at the top of our game, but does it really matter.  It’s not how fast we go, it’s that we go at all isn’t it?  The thing is, I can recognise this phenomenon in other people. I look at them in disbelief and awe at what they can achieve and see that it isn’t all that helpful or even relevant.  Lawks a lordy, it isn’t even true!  Of course they are ‘real’ runners. There is no exam, no certification required (although some of us at least should perhaps be certified)  how could they not be the real mckoy.  Owning the label for myself is another story, I need to keep chanting the mantra – you just have to leave the sofa and put one foot in front of the other, that’s it.  However slow I am going, I’m still lapping the alternative version of me that woud have stayed on the sofa…


It’s partly ,my fear of what ‘other people’ must think.  I know I’m not exactly poetry in motion out running, but I am at least giving it a go.  In my head I recognised that in most situations the mysterious  ‘other people’, whose judgement we, ok, well me, I am so in fear of,  really aren’t judging at all, they don’t care what we/I do. Firstly, I am not that important to merit being the centre of attention, most people wont even notice.  Secondly, even if people did steal a glance, it doesnt follow they are that interetsed about what anyone else is doing – people are thinking about their own goals at that point.  I’ve often thought at the start line for a race, or even a parkrun, you could turn up naked (apart from your trainers) and people would be far too focused on their own paranoia and performance to notice.  Obviously, this statement doesn’t apply if you happened to be wearing a more technical brand of running shoes then they were, in which case they’d be wanting to know all about the tread and drop and other stuff to do with running shoes that ‘proper’ runners are interested in, and fair enough.  Ostentatiously showy running shoes (and/or active wear gear) are always going to operate as attention magnets, so if you wear them, then you have to concede a degree of contributory negligence on your part  if you then attract the odd, covetous, sideways glance…. Posing in active wear will inevitably turn heads.  (Please, click on the video link, it just tickled me – how can you not want to sing along to the catchy line of ‘smoking on the streets in my active wear‘?, though I am a bit too easily entertained I know, it’s been pointed out to me before).


Even so, when it comes to myself, I still feel that it’s somehow different.  In my case I’m not so much talking myself down, just being realistic, managing expectations blah de blah.  No point in taking unnecessary risks out there…  Some smug person has produced a poster showing the limitations of this stance, ‘path to mediocrity..’ etc.  Well, I concede that might be true, but it is also annoying to have this pointed out to you in motivational poster format.  I prefer a bit of cynicism in my motivational phrases and posters to be honest.  So let’s balance it with the whisky advice one shall we?  That I can work with.  I’m also persuaded by that ubiquitous quote ‘whether you think you can or think you can’t you’re right‘.   Seems we all have the innate gift of personal prophecy.   It’s certainly the case if you don’t give things a whirl then you will never find out what you are capable of, just have to trust that it won’t be too terminal a lesson in your absolute limitations I suppose…

So, what’s brought all this on?  Well, it’s The Dirty Double coming into view all over again.  This is a two-day Lakeland running festival.   I booked in ages ago, near as dammit a  year ago to be precise.  With a whole 11 months stretching ahead before I’d be required to run anywhere up and down hills in torrential rain, I’d fondly imagined that by the time the event came around, I’d have lost 30% of my body weight (by losing body fat, not through amputating extraneous limbs), done weekly hill-reps and generally metamorphosed from relatively inanimate grub to speedy running and flying beetle or whatever.  Are there beetles that run?  Cockroaches I suppose, but they don’t go through  metamorphosis properly though do they?  That’s a rhetorical question by the way as  I’ve just looked them up, they go through incomplete metamorphosis apparently, just so as you know… Actually, this analogy doesn’t entirely work does it?  As with much in life, I am finding myself really wishing I hadn’t gone down this particular route.  My entomological knowledge is not all that detailed, and, apart from insects I can only think of amphibians that undergo metamorphosis, and, much as I genuinely like frogs and toads, I can’t really stretch that to regarding them as perfect exemplars of aspirational running form.  When I was thinking of undergoing metamorphosis it was by way of transformation from earth-bound hobbit yomper to graceful, leaping fell runner.  Ironically, and coincidentally ,the  possibility that I have metamorphosed into a toad seems a rather more  apt analogy for my current state of physical readiness in respect of running round lake land trails in November, but it really wasn’t what I was aiming for when I signed up last November….


Oh for goodness sake, stop hassling me!  Surely you get my point!  No?

Well, it’s basically this:  I entered into this demanding trail race (Helvellyn Trail 15km Race + Ullswater Trail 14km Race on two consecutive days) basically through fear of missing out and the lure of having a boat trip out to the start of one of the races.  I overlooked the ‘running’, ‘inclement weather’ and ‘steep off road gradient’ elements of the events.  Also the ‘race on two consecutive days’ aspect.  I suppose I thought by then I’d have trained, or at least hung out with better runners than me so my own form and endurance would improve by osmosis, and that basically ‘it’ll be fine on the day(s)‘.  Now though, it’s just a few weeks away, and starting to feel a bit real.  Fellow Smilies are posting about it, and it’s slowly dawning on me that this may not be a completely blaggable event.   There is/was also the option of doing the same routes as a challenge (you get more time to finish), or doing a 10k on each day instead.  Those other options are looking ever more appealing.  It hasn’t helped all that much that hobbit buddy responded with ‘yikes’ when she realised I’d entered the longer race classes instead of the two 10k.  Oh here we go again with the peer pressure.  I don’t mind being slow going round, but I do want to finish before the cut off point so I don’t get left out there on the mountain long after all the marshals have packed up and gone home, and have to swim back to the hostel because I’ve missed the last boat ride home to boot!  Maybe I should swap…

However, I do expect this weekend away to meet the criteria of generating a few anecdotes, although possibly ones that are only hilarious and enjoyable in retrospect.  This brings me to the central point of this post (yes there was one), which is about understanding (and implementing) The Fun Scale.


The Fun Scale apparently originated in the climbing community, but as with many sports, there is a cross over to running.  Type One Fun is basically ‘fun at the time’.  You are consciously having a good time whilst doing it.  Personally, I’d put the Round Sheffield Run into this category. Then there is Type Two Fun.  This is the sort of fun which is only really fun in retrospect.  You do not get any inherent joy out of it at the time, but when you look back on it and laugh, it does seem in fact to have been incredibly joyful.  You forget how hideous it was at the time, and enter the same event again next year.  Personally, I think I’d put Percy Pud into this category.  Freezing cold, icy rain, road surface battering my arthritic feet and seeing returning runners speeding towards me on their way home before I was even half way out did not make this an unremittingly joyous occasion for me.  However, when you finish and get given a vegetarian Christmas Pudding at the end, you come to believe it was actually fun.  Other runners oozing endorphins reinforce this sensation, so each runner colludes with the others until there is a shared collective belief that the Percy Pud is brilliant fun.  Which it is, apart from when you are actually running the darned thing.


According to The Fun Scale for climbers at any rate, the third type of fun is basically no fun at all.  ‘Shoot me if I try to do it again’ sort of thing.  I appreciate what they are getting at here, but I think there’s a category missing.  I’d put this ‘truly, never again’ as Type Four Run  myself, and insert what I consider to be the missing third category here instead.  This is the sort of fun me and my erstwhile flat mate used to experience after attending an angst ridden studenty party in our youth.  (Yes, I was young once).  You must know the kind of thing.  Agonising social interactions at often dingy and dodgy locations, for long nights of excruciating ‘fun partying’, where you only went in the first place out of peer pressure, didn’t believe you’d come out alive, and spent the entire time wishing you at least knew where you were so you had a sporting chance of getting home.  (Actually, I have unconsciously described a fair number of my running experiences out on the hills in that statement).  Anyway, these were unrelentingly hideous occasions,and for that, you might reasonably assume they would be in the category of ‘never again’ but not so.  Whatever their inherent and known horrors, they would still score as Newly Calibrated Fun Scale Three for me because, when debriefing after the event we would have to concur that whilst we were ‘not at all sure I enjoyed myself’ we were nevertheless absolutely confident ‘ but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it‘.  Thus, whilst knowing to repeat the experience would be hateful and possibly dangerous, you are compelled to return to it again and again, like a moth to a flame (until I can think of a better analogy anyway, analogies are not going well today I know).


I think the Dirty Double, may well be lining up as Newly Calibrated Category Three Fun Scale score.  It has all the elements there.  Bit far, bit wet, bit hilly, fear of missing out.  Lure of the landscape.   How will it end? Well, we are all going to have to just wait and see..


I suppose I could try training a bit in advance, or is that taking it all a bit far?  I could start posing in my active wear out and about a bit more I suppose.  That would be a start… or is it really and truly a case that running this double is all in the mind.  A virtual run if you will.  High risk strategy to take that as a literal truth, but it might yet be worth a go.  I suppose the bottom line with my running journey is ‘must try harder’ not as in undertaking masochistice punishing workouts that would end up with me hating running for ever, but in not giving up too soon.   Hmm, we shall see.




Categories: motivation, off road, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Talk it up – top tips for improving running technique

How did you come to run like that?’ people sometimes ask me with a note of barely concealed incredulity in their voices.  It’s been brought to my attention that I’ve eased off my Top Tips in relation to developing running techniques lately.  This is not in the spirit or ethos of the running community, and this post is an attempt to address that by sharing some of the expertise I’ve gleaned during my almost a year on the run.  You can take notes if you like, but feel free to just bookmark this page and come back any time for a refresher.

Top Tip No. 1:  Incorporate Cross Training into your schedule

spontaneous cross training

It’s all too easy to get into a fitness rut and lope out running at the same old speed doing the same old things.  To help you really improve you need to be sure to include some strength training.  As Runner’s World reminds us

Cross-training … refers to combining exercises of other disciplines, different than that of the athlete in training. In reference to running, cross-training is when a runner trains by doing another kind of fitness workout such as cycling, swimming, a fitness class or strength training, to supplement their running. It builds strength and flexibility in muscles that running doesn’t utilize. It prevents injury by correcting muscular imbalances. And the variety prevents boredom and burnout.

This can be achieved in a variety of ways, not just by enduring the tedium of the gym.  You might pause to do some squats during your run (not just the once because you need a pee); some Trunce runners or triathletes like to incorporate an open water swim somewhere en route.  My advice though is to use your imagination, why not plan a running route around bits of discarded sports equipment and just leap on for a bit of a workout before continuing on your way?


Top Tip No. 2: Set a personal goal – and share it!


I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it hard to motivate myself to run at times.  If you find your enthusiasm flagging now and again it might help to have a specific target in mind.  The conventional wisdom is that this should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.) or even SMARTER for the more competitively minded ((Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time bound, Evaluate, and Re-Do). That is goals should be precise and clear, rather than overly broad or ambiguous, and also personally relevant.  For example, some elite runners might aim for, oh, I don’t know, being a European Standard Distance Duathlon AG Champion 2016 say, for me my goal is to secure a flattering photo of myself out running.  I was chatting about this with a qualified run trainer only today, and they were able to offer some really good advice.  Apparently you still do need to work on running form for this, as that is how to be snapped at your most gorgeous.  It seems that if I only work a bit on my technique, it is only a matter of time before those photos are utterly transformed.  Here you can see a photo of how I currently look whilst running, and a photo of how I’d like to look when framed by the lens in future.  I have in the past been depressed (as well as amused) by this pic, but now I look at it again with fresh eyes I see that we would be pretty much indistinguishable as runners if I’d just been a bit more upright in my stance.  Good to know!


Top Tip No. 3: Positive Self-talk

You know those voices in your head?  Not the ones that churn out stuck tapes about all the excruciating things you have either done or left undone from the age of three, but the assertive positive thinking ones.  Come up with a mantra that is meaningful to you and use it to your advantage.  It really does work apparently.  Some suggestions include ‘This is what I trained for‘, ‘I am strong‘ or, for me, ‘run now, carb later!’  Pluckier runners might even go for ‘I AM an elite runner, I CAN do this‘, personally I’d be a bit scared of the fall out in case I accidentally shouted this out loud, but you’d probably be OK yomping cross-country out in the peaks somewhere.

I can and I will

Top Tip No. 4: join a group!

There is nothing quite like the support and solidarity you can glean from other like-minded people.  You will be able to share expertise and buddy up for more challenging training sessions.  Ideally, this would be some sort of a running group, but this morning I joined up with this newt spotting one in Ecclesall Woods and honestly, the people were really lovely!  We even ended up going for a run together afterwards!  Who’d have thought it?

Top Tip No. 5: have some fun with Fartlek or Speed Play

So stop sniggering at the back.  Fartlek is not synonymous with flatulence (though to be fair there may be a correlation in some runners), and anyway you shouldn’t worry too much about spectacularly farting away when running, as hopefully you’ll be moving away from the evidence leaving any unwelcome odours in your wake and may even benefit from some helpful jet-propulsion as you do so.  However, this is not what I’m talking about here…

flatulence fun

Fartlek is also sometimes referred to as ‘speed play’, again, don’t get too excited, this is NOT an open invitation for experimentation with illegal drugs.  Rather, fartlek is a gloriously helpful way to improve the effectiveness of your work outs by incorporating a change of speed. The idea is that instead of just staying endlessly in your running comfort zone – to which your body will inevitably adapt and plateau, you mix it all up a bit.  Simply put, you mix up faster and slower periods of running, interval training really.  It’s a Swedish word originating from the experience of shoppers in IKEA.  A typical couple or group of friends navigating the store will have different priorities, but will have to follow the projected pathway dictated by the store layout.  To speed the passage through the store one half of the couple (or member of the group) will try to push on as fast as possible, the more enthusiastic shopper will continuously pause, leading to a stop/start or (more advanced) fast/slow progression through the maze of IKEA pathways.  Exactly the same principle can be applied to long runs.  If you like a spreadsheet, you could plan this and work out exactly where and when you will pick up your pace en route.  Alternatively, you could draw on your natural environment to help.  Running ‘as fast as you can’ to the next tree or suitable landmark for example and then slowing down a bit to the bench before picking up again.  I must be quite an intuitive runner, as turns out I’ve been doing this unknown for years. Basically I always run at my slow and steady preferred pace (walking) and then pick up speed if I:

  • spot a photographer at a race
  • see another runner coming towards me
  • stumble going downhill and gather a bit too much momentum
  • feel like someone is about to overtake me towards the end at parkrun (I don’t like to think of myself as competitive, but sometimes I am)

Anyway, that works for me – why not think about what works for you?


Top Tip No. 6: learn from others, don’t be afraid to ask for advice!

Now, obviously, you shouldn’t just believe any old nonsense you might pick up on a running blog say, but advice from trusted friends and experts is another thing altogether.  So for example, the other week I was discussing triathletes with some more experienced athletes (represented GB  that sort of thing) as you do.  I’m not currently considering this as although extremely buoyant I never seem to be able to propel myself through the water, just bob about cork like.  I’d never drown in open water (I don’t think) but unless towed wouldn’t make it to any particular end point either.  However, this isn’t what really puts me off, the main issue for me (apart from the exercise aspect) is how on earth could you get on a bike and run after swallowing all that sea water and pond weed?  Surely  you’d be all dehydrated and sodden and feeling a bit nauseous from all you had unwittingly imbibed.  Well, turns out (who knew), that experienced triathletes don’t really swallow water when they swim!  They are in fact confident enough, strong enough and sufficiently advanced with their technique that this isn’t an issue!  Well, respect.  These kind of insights are surely worth their weight in gold!  So this tip is about keeping an open mind and getting chatting with others, you might surprise yourself with what you pick up!



Top Tip No. 7: Think about your kit.

Having the correct running gear is really important.  You will get away with some clothing choices, but you do need to invest in appropriate running shoes; a decent sports bra (gender appropriate); lucky pants (optional – well the lucky bit is, but probably best to wear something that covers your nether regions unless you can run really, really fast).  These aspects of kit seem to be pretty obvious.  However, an often over-looked aspect of serious running is the necessity of auditioning any prospective running clubs in terms of their designated kit.  I love my running club I really do.  But the white vertical stripe which stretches across my sides emphasising my less than svelte form is not the most flattering.   Similarly the comic sans font splits opinion amongst my running friends. At this point I was going to upload a couple of deeply unflattering shots of me in my running vest to illustrate the point, but you know what, I’ve decided not to.  It’s my blog I’ll lie if I want to.  I’ll just go for the generic group shot of slim line runners if it’s all the same to you, and you can use your imagination as to how this seemingly innocuous enough vest looks on being relocated to a more rotund body shape.  Clue: not like this.

Smiley kit

Even so, I love my running club, go Smiley Paces, you do get great recognition and  support out running, so the advantages of sporting it definitely outweigh the disadvantages but the vest has been a wake up call.  If you have a choice of clubs to join do give this some thought.  There is a local fell running club with extraordinarily talented and awesome runners, but those brown horizontal stripes.  Well, it’s a shame, that’s all I’ll commit to…  If you are new to running, or indeed any other sport, maybe invest in a ‘colour me beautiful’ or similar colour consultation and choose a discipline and group which has a kit design that will flatter your skin tone.  It will make a massive difference to how you appear on digital photos that are ubiquitous on Facebook pages for events these days.

Top Tip No. 8: Focus on Nutrition

You can’t run without proper fuel.  Different elite athletes have different approaches to nutrition.  Nicky Spinks can pack away chips and curry sauce on her endurance runs apparently, and European Duathlon champ Kate Morris is on record as using gels for refuelling though after a bit she did adopt an alternative nutrition strategy which avoided some gel cons such as ‘stomach cramps…. sticky stuff smeared across my face, dribbled down my front and snail trails down my legs from where I’d stuffed the gel wrappers up my shorts‘.  Note, this is also another pertinent example of how much we can learn from the elite athletes who are generous enough to share their wisdom with us mere mortals.  I have learned from my Smiley Paces compatriots that when planning longer runs, it is of vital importance that you always conclude with a suitable cake-eating rendezvous, and for myself, no parkrun is complete without a breakfast club gathering afterwards.  Some sports events are wising up to this more than others.  Team AO have organised a pie themed event for a few years now, there is also a different events company offering a beerathon described as ‘a five mile slobstacle course, after each mile you have to neck a great British pint and chomp some great British fodder‘ addressing both nutrition and hydration in their logistical planning.  This also illustrates the importance of finding out what works for you.  However, if you want to avoid hitting the proverbial wall, then consider what you will do to refuel if running for any longer than around 90 minutes is the accepted wisdom.

Top Tip No. 9:  Think Big!

You can probably achieve more than you realise.  Nicky Spinks started her record-breaking running achievements with a 4 mile fell race, The Trunce.  Don’t limit yourself, if you don’t stretch yourself you’ll never know!  Surely it is better to fall from a great height than … oh hang on, maybe not the best analogy. I’m sure you know what I mean…


and finally…

Top Tip No. 10: Remember, it’s supposed to be fun!

Yes, yes, I know we run because we want to get fitter; or work through our mid-life crises.  We run to meditate; we run for ‘me‘ time; we run to socialise; we run ‘to be alone‘; we run to exorcise our inner demons as well as exercise our outer shell.  We all run for different reasons.  However, surely the unifying principle is that it is supposed to be fun (even if sometimes only in retrospect).  So whatever it is you are doing, don’t forget to feel the lurve.  It’s true, there will be days when ‘fun run’ is the ultimate oxymoron, but hey ho, they just help you appreciate the good runs even more. So heave on your trainers, slap on a smile and head out the door. That’s the hard bit done and dusted.  Have you honestly ever regretted a run?  Thought not, so get out there.. I’m right behind you.

This concludes my Top Tips and words of wisdom for today.

You’re welcome. 🙂

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

Birthday celebrations running on and on…

birthday run april 2016

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

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

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


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

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

discovery centre ecclesall woods

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

group runs cheap therapy

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

death reborn

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

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

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

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

burbage skyline

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

Working towards friskiness – family friendly woodland frolics


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

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


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

woodland centre accelerate photo

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

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


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

give it to me straight

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


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

DSCF8755 - Copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

accelerate post run coffee

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

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



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

Feathers will fly, taking Smiletastic into the woods

too cold for a run running bible

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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




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

Accelerating into the woods


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


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

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

discovery centre winter

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

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

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


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

ecclesall woods sign

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

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

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

this girl can logo

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

ecclesall woods

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

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

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

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

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

just run

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

ecclesall woods 14 jan 2016

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

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

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