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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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…
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!
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.
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.