Posts Tagged With: fifty something

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!

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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!

funny-cat-mistake-swimming-water-pics

 

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…

funny-rhino-unicorn-treadmill

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

Well that was intense… First Half-Marathon

Spoiler alert.  I did it.  Yay me.

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So if that’s all you want to know, you don’t need to read on.  However, if you are seeking a minute by minute account of the day, quite possibly in real time (and bearing in mind I’m a plodder not a runner), feel free to read on at your own risk.  Nobody is making you continue with this post, it is a choice you are quite at liberty to make, no-one will judge you.  But, if you are curious enough to stick with me, personally I’d get a mug of tea or something first, as I think this will be a long one, even by my standards.  You have been warned.

So, inevitably, the night before the race – that critical time when you need to get the proverbial ‘good night’s sleep’ – I tossed and turned in between: waking up to go to the loo, getting up again to replenish liquid lost with glasses of water, and lying awake blinking at the ceiling.  I did all of those things several time.  It did not make for a restful night.  I felt like I didn’t sleep at all, but of course I did, surrendering to a deep, deep slumber minutes before the first of my alarms screamed me into consciousness about 6.00 a.m.. Wow, that was literally and metaphorically alarming, but worked.  It was really cold, even looked like a frost outside, and despite the gnawing fear that gripped me, I found I was really quite excited, and/or scared.  It is surprisingly hard to differentiate between these two states I find.  My arm out of the window test suggested a very cold, crisp morning, but the sun emerging also promised a glorious day.  Bring it on.

The early alarm was so that I could have a coffee and my porridge breakfast, hours before the race, and also to coincide with the early morning drama on Radio 4 Extra, (which was the L-shaped room thank you for asking).  Despite having decided on exactly what I would eat and wear before hand, it is amazing how mind games creep in.  Maybe liquidised kale, linseed, dishwater and beetroot juice together with a coffee enema would be a better bet after all?  I’m sure I’ve read that on-line somewhere…  Fortunately, my dip in confidence and self-belief about my plans was massively outweighed by the effort involved in having to do anything differently.  Plus my cupboards hold basically porridge as a breakfast option, so I did stick with my original dietary plan.   I drank loads of water though, but then I always do.

I was very worried about chaffing.  I always am.  I have a theory that; if my skin isn’t completely dry before dressing; something, somewhere will rub.  I therefore decided against a morning shower (I’d washed my hair and had a bath last night anyway, so pretty squeaky clean anyway), in favour of just doing my necessaries with a bit of a splash and soap.  Inexplicably,  I don’t have a standing army of eunuchs (or indeed minions) on hand with specially warmed, fluffy white towels to perfectly dry me after bathing and before dusting me with fine powder applied with dove wings.  If I did, I might have made different decisions, but (top tip alert) you have to work within the resources that are available to you, even if that means the occasional compromise.  As it was I had to make do with my usual (for me) weird rituals like blow drying my feet with a hair drier prior to putting my socks on.  Works for me.  I did have a last minute panic about whether my new socks were in fact thick enough.  In the end I did put some blister plasters on my heels, but I think that was paranoia.

Despite having laid my kit out a couple of days before, I still had some unexpected issues arising.  Specifically, turns out that my fudgy wudgy’s (I wonder how the grammar police are coping with that apostrophe), whilst they do fit in my sleeve pocket, are quite hard and very rustly – as in rustling a lot due to their packaging.  It is an annoying noise, but more seriously a chaffing risk.  Could it be I was at risk of being the only participant in the Plusnet Yorkshire Half Marathon in Sheffield to have to withdraw due to a fudge related injury?  Not the claim to fame I was aiming for to be honest…  I decided to risk it anyway.  My poorly knee was also trying to attract my attention, but it seems that it is true that adrenalin (that’s another word for ‘panic’) does indeed distract you, and I was so fretting about every other little detail that I wasn’t overly worried about it.  More worried about ‘other little details’ such as inadequate training, not having walked let alone run for over a week, never having done a half marathon before, and things like that.  I did find time for a moody portrait of me and Roger.  See what I’ve done with the mirror there?  Clever, eh?  NO, not pretentious, inspired.  Takes a fellow artist to appreciate it.

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I was also worried about whether the buses would be running as normal, it being Sunday, and city centre roads being closed for the half, so I ventured out ridiculously early to the bus stop.  I did feel self conscious in my fleece, trainers, and with Roger slung over my shoulder.  It was nippy but sunny out.  The roads were deserted, but a bus was supposed to be coming according to the timetable.  I was relieved when another woman turned up, and then a bit later a man in running gear resplendent with his number. He was slightly breathless, turns out the bus he’d intended to catch doesn’t run on a Sunday, so he’d had a one mile sprint to get to this stop.  Not quite the warm up routine he’d planned for the day.

The bus came, and boarding it became apparent that this was like a shuttle bus for athletes.  (I use the term loosely in reference to myself).  Plenty of race numbers in evidence, and luminous trainers together with the giddy aroma of deep heat.  At every subsequent stop other runners boarded.  It was quite exciting.  Some looked even less likely completers than me… until it dawned on me that the ones with crutches were actually boarding from outside the Hallamshire Hospital and so possibly had different objectives for how they were intending to spend their day.  It was fun though.  Definitely a growing sense of occasion.  This is real, the day has come, we are actually going to do this, all of us, in our own way!  There was a moment of rising collective panic when the bus deviated from its usual route, and everyone started looking around at each other anxiously.  A more assertive American woman had a discussion with the driver about where the drop off would be, and a few stops later we all disembarked, a bit off from where we expected to be, but a short walk to the start.  It was weird.  The only other people around were runners.  The city looked beautiful.

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I was really early, but didn’t know quite what to do.  I decided to get my bearings, and wandered around for a bit.  I found the baggage drop, signage for various starting points, the charity village (something of an overstatement but I get their point).  Toilets, I decided to postpone my precautionary pee until the last possible moment.  I also was reassured to see an abundance of water, as well as plenty of marshals and volunteers.  Good oh, bodes well.

I didn’t really want to take off my fleece too soon either.  So sort of soaked up the ambience.  Mostly people looked like ‘proper runners’ (no, I don’t really know what that means any more) but I was relieved to see some busy bees so I wasn’t the only member of the fancy dress contingent.

After a bit, I squashed everything in my backpack, strapped on Roger, and, after depositing my backpack with lovely friendly people at baggage drop, headed off to the Peace Gardens which seemed to be the hub of the action.  Despite the cold nip in the air, it was warm in the sunshine, and I was getting into the whole experience a bit more by now.  I was delighted and amused by some of the event innovations. Specifically, the buckets of safety pins in evidence.  Also very visible, but for no apparent reason, was a large pink cut out cow (also en route – nope, absolutely no idea why) and some similarly unexpected, but very delightful bright pink ducks. They had taken over some of the fountains like a particularly successful invasive species.  You couldn’t fail to be impressed by them, but really, should they be there?  I feel the same about the parakeets in Bushy park.

There was one potentially awkward moment, when one of the plusnet marketeers tried to give me one of those pink oblong balloony things that spectators wave and bang together as runners pass by.  I had to explain about being an actual participant, though to save his blushes I did concede I wasn’t an obvious contender.  I took one anyway.  I’m glad I did.  I now know from their packaging that these are in fact called ‘Noise Sticks’, and the wrapper includes instructions for their use, and indeed re-use. If I can be bothered I may take a photo of this later, because it pleases me.  Did you know for example that they are to be inflated with straw that is supplied especially for this purpose?  No?  Me neither.

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More positively, I was stopped by a photographer who encouraged me to pose for shots, I’m guessing I was the first pony he’d seen that day, and with the Grand National still in people’s minds from the day before perhaps there is a topical reference.  I have no idea who he was.  Therefore, whether I will see these pictures or not ever is debateable, but it was fun to think that Roger was getting the reception he deserves.  Shortly afterwards, at long last, some friendly faces!  My endurer buddies.  I couldn’t have been happier to see anyone.  They are a really supportive crew, and collectively they have physically carried me round obstacles at not one, but two successive Endurer Dashes, for which I am eternally grateful.  As we whooped in acknowledgement and took some snaps, it was brilliant, I started to relax into the idea of it all a bit more.   They reminded me that this would be basically easy, because you wouldn’t be expected to climb over anything, crawl under or through anything, nor jump off anything.  They had a point.  It’d be fine…  I can’t find a photo of all of them together, but here are some, aren’t they lovely?   Thank you guys, you are AWESOME and ninja, as are we all:

So after mutual greeting of these guys and others.  Hello Rustlings Runners Founding member, great lift to spirits to see you too.  I decided to head off for that precautionary pee.  Oh dear, talk about queues.  They were insane.  Why so few cubicles I just don’t know, but pretty poor provision I thought.  Never mind, there was still half an hour to go.  I picked a queue where I could stand in sunshine, and got chatting to another runner who was encouraging.  We had a good natter, so that made the time pass, thanks Charlie – hope you got the result you hoped for.  It was a bit ‘Deal or No Deal’ wondering which of the four boxes would vacate first, but one did eventually.  Roger wasn’t altogether an asset in the portaloo to be honest, but we managed.

From there I joined the crowds milling at the collection point.  There were some marshals standing in the yellow zone where we were supposed to be assembling.  I went to ask them which way the runners would head out, but they confidently said in unison ‘absolutely no idea‘. They then both speculated the various options, reaching no obvious let along definitive conclusion.  It reminded me of that riddle where you ask two gate keepers which door to go through, and one always lies, and the other always tells the truth.  I could question as much as I wanted, but the logical processes defeated me, so I just shared a laugh and then melted back into the crowd.

Lots of hanging around on the cobbles now.  Some pacers appeared, lots of Striders, none of whom would be pacing slow enough for me, but impressive scope of times though, and I understand they all did good.  I will shortly be moving into the realms of photos begged, borrowed or lifted from others, so thanks to all who’ve let me use them.  This is Dan Lilley’s work:

DL steel city striders

After a bit, music started, and a muffled commentary boomed out from somewhere or other.  With 10 minutes to go an earnest looking gym instructor clambered on to a raised platform and started clapping her arms, and whooping, and I realised to my absolute horror we were being expected to do a communal warm up!  In theory of course a warm up is a brilliant idea, but frankly this was looking less ‘warm up’ and more ‘work out’ potentially crossing over into ‘burn out’.  I did a bit of half-hearted waving, but drew the line at joining in with squats.  I found myself gravitating towards two silver foxes – let’s say ‘senior men runners’ one of whom I overheard saying to the other ‘it’s alright for her, she can go and have a coffee and cake afterwards, whereas we’ve all got to go and run over 13 miles!‘  I felt a silent kinship with them.  Then joined in.  ‘I thought we were allowed to taper before the event?’ They were really helpful, being more experienced runners than me.  ‘Actually, you not only taper before the event, you are supposed to rest afterwards, so if you enter enough races you never have to make yourself go out and run at all in between, just once out every fortnight and you’re done!’  Or words to that effect.  These people are part of my tribe.  I thought.  I felt better for shunning her efforts.  Elsewhere, photographers were also catching candid shots of the lead up to off.  These ones are Ian Fearn, Finish Line photography.  Thanks Ian :-).

IF Finish Line pre startIF Finish line spectators

Mercifully, the clock hands moved onwards, and we started to gravitate towards the start.  The crowds got denser, and the sense of expectation grew.  The tension was tangible.  We could hear a commentator giving a rousing build up, but through the echoey streets where we were mustering couldn’t really make out what was being said.  We could however make out the count down.   From Ten, Nine, Eight – I won’t list all the numbers, as I’m going to put my neck out and reckon you can count down from Ten – and eventually GO!  I think the honey monster is also a fancy dress outfit, rather than a stray from a Fathers for Justice protest demonstration taking place on the same day, but how can you tell?

IF Finish line start

Can you see me in the line up?  I’ll give you a clue.  No.  Because at this point, where I was we were so far back that basically nothing at all happened.  There was a pause, then a gradual shuffle forwards.  As we approached the start, some keener souls put on a bit of a jog, but I held back, I wasn’t moving faster than a shuffle for anyone until my chip was activated. Teasingly though, the commentator was calling out for people to ‘high five Harry as you pass‘.  Now, regular readers will know that Harry Gration (BBC news presenter for Look North, though I really can’t believe I needed to explain that – the man is a LEGEND!) is basically my secret celebrity crush.  I can’t explain it, he probably wouldn’t be flattered if I gave my reasons why.  It’s sort of because of how he endures. He turns out for the Percy Pud year in year out, and does his epic sponsored 3-legged walks, looking a wreck, but smiling through it.  You have to admire that.  This was my big chance to get up close and personal with The Harry Gration. That high five was within reach.  I manoeuvred myself into position at the right hand side of the throng, and heart in my mouth reached upward and…

Harry Gration Star video

 I DID IT, I made contact.  I can die happy.  I began my first ever marathon with a high five from Harry Gration.   The shot above is stolen from The Sheffield Star video of the sheffield half marathon day, I don’t think they’ll mind too much.  Anyway, back to me.  I think this contact makes me practically a Look North sponsored athlete, well, I’m not sure the BBC are allowed to do sponsorship, but at the very least I must now be an endorsed one, surely?  I am so proud.  The fact that three strides after starting, my half-marathon was nearly ended by a collision with a minion is neither here nor there.  I’d made it over the start line, nothing else would matter for the rest of the day!  To be fair, it was quite a large minion, so more of an obstruction than you might think.  These photos are from Tim Dennell by the way, thank you!

So, under way.  Eeek.  I couldn’t really believe I’d got to this point.  I still had no idea if I was going to get all the way round, but I was going to give it a go.  I started off really slowly.  It was immediately hard.  The start isn’t the most scenic bit of Sheffield.  It was very urban, very roady – because it is essentially a road race after all – and although the crowds were impressive it was a little disorientating and unsettling.  I sort of loped onwards wondering how the day would unfold.  It wasn’t too crowded, and I was glad I was far back in the line up so I didn’t have a sense of a crush that I sometimes get at some of the more competitive parkruns.  The turning point for me though was at Waitrose.  Not in the way you might expect.  I mean I appreciate for many Waitrose is indeed a shopping wonderland, but that isn’t the point.  There were loads of people outside, cheering the runners by.  At least I think that’s what their placards were about.  I presume it was not an improvised plea for assistance because they’d found themselves trapped inside the store car park following unexpected road closures.  These being put into place whilst they’d just nipped in to get some organic mung beans or ironing water (they really do) from the ‘Waitrose Essentials‘ range or whatever, and so caught unawares…

Anyway, I digress (unusually), what happened next was I saw them!  I didn’t think anything could top my moment of snatched  intimacy with Mr Gration but it could.  I spied Smileys!  Out in force, supporters with placards and cheers and broad smiles.  It was FANTASTIC!  Also only the beginning of the tsunami of support all the way round!  Thank you – you made me go faster!  Well, maybe not faster, but further, definitely…

It was sensory overload from then on.  Everyone running will have had their own experiences of the day.  For me though, it was just awesome.  I know it’s really boring and trite when other runners say meaningless clichéd things like ‘if I can do it anyone can‘ or ‘the crowds are amazing and they will carry you along‘ but guess what?  It turns out these statements are actually true!  It was pretty much a wall of noise turning up into Ecclesall road.  I also realised that Roger was turning quite a few heads!  Fancy dress is the best idea ever.  People do respond, I don’t flatter myself they are relating to me because of my irresistible personality and legendary communication skills (thankfully), but a cuddlesome pony?  Well, that’s another thing altogether.  Lots of shout outs with quips including ‘the Grand National was yesterday‘ and ‘that’s cheating‘ but also real delight from some of the children spectating.  I wasn’t over-keen on the ‘donkey-woman‘ and ‘why is she riding a camel?‘ comments, but you have to take the rough with the smooth.  It did mean I got extra claps and cheers going round, which must have been quite annoying for anyone running along with me, but top tip for next time guys, get yourself an outfit before you get to the start!  Endless high fives, and an unbroken line of proferred jelly babies along the route.  No-one could complain of being unsupported on this road race!  Here are some photos from the Radio Sheffield people, they got some good ones of crowds armed with helpful placards and supplies:

The next moment of raw excitement was seeing a whole wall of support, and more Smiley Paces clan.  They were a bit set back off the road, so I hear the shout of ‘go smiley‘ before I saw them, that was so exciting.  Huge display of waves, and roar of cheers.  You’d think I was leading the liberation of a city that had experienced decades of living under siege.  I was for that moment a super-star.  I totally appreciate we were probably all a bit giddy with the sense of occasion, and I know myself from watching the Tour de France that you can psyche yourself up to such a frenzy that you will cheer a paper bag blowing by in your enthusiasm, but I don’t care.  It feels great to be on the receiving end of such external validation.  I’ll be shallow if being shallow makes you feel that good!  Here are the supporters captured in a more thoughtful moment, the calm before the coming of the Smilies perhaps?  (Thank you lovely George Carman for these and subsequent glorious Smiley shots).

GC wall of support

Seconds after the shouts of support a friendly face behind a lens.  Oh good and oh no!  He was supposed to be running, but had to pull out at the last minute gutted for him.  But from a selfish perspective, it was fantastic to see another friendly face.  Also, Glorious George got my favourite photo of the day of me and Roger, you can see just how delighted we were to hear and see Smiley support.  I think this is the expression I pretty much kept up all day to be honest, and who can blame me, when I was having so much fun out there.  Roger was so happy I think he’s put in a bit of a flying change going round there, first of many…

GC so pleased to see you

So whatever was ailing our photographer friend, he was well enough to operate his camera buttons, and got some awesome shots of passing Smilies, and apparently, most of us were similarly over-joyed to see him.  On the way out anyway, some of the people coming back were looking perhaps a tad jaded.  You get sense of occasion though – great spot for spectators it seems.

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So, the good news is, that even though I’d been dreading the first couple of miles they passed really quickly, the atmosphere and distractions speed you on your way.  There is so much to see, and I felt compelled at first to acknowledge every cheer and return every high five, which involved quite a lot of zig zagging and very little running in a straight line.

I had a pre-arranged rendezvous with hobbit buddy at Rustlings Road, but as we passed Hunters Bar, felt a bit panicky, because I wasn’t quite sure where she’d be.  Hunter’s bar for future reference, looks a good place to be.  Some great shots taken there which I found on Steel City Striders Facebook page, thanks Sheena Woodhead.

SW Hunters bar

Around Hunter’s bar, you know the hills are coming, I was in need of a friendly face.  I was ecstatic therefore to see some stealth Smiley support.  A whole family cheering on Smilies, with palms lined up like dominoes so I could nab a load of high fives in one sweep.  It was so good to see them, even better for being a surprise.  The only down side, curiously, is that every time you get that push of support, you put on a spurt of speed, and ironically, I was worried as I whizzed (well, sort of) away, that if I kept going this fast too early on I wouldn’t make it round.

I was keeping an eye out for hobbit buddy, and spotted her in full cheer, as promised.  I insisted on hugging her, because by this time I was so brim full of bonhomie or whatever it is called, that I loved everyone. Next year I’m going to take a clicker with me and keep a tally of the hugs exchanged on the way round.  It’ll be absolutely loads and loads.  Anyway, she captured the moment of joy I experienced when I saw her.  This is what ecstasy looks like:

a friend in the crowd

I was never going to push myself too fast up the hills early on, but I kept moving.  I was amused by people coming out of their houses, and staring out of windows.  Occasionally you’d see a scattering of jelly babies in a gutter where they had been perhaps inadvertently jettisoned due to over-enthusiastic grabbing of goodies by passing runners.  Absolute carnage at times, and quite disturbing.  Their frail little bodies sacrificed at the altar of running.  Oh well.

So continuing to Banner Cross, and again friendly faces to cheer me on.  Injured cheetah buddy and breakfast buddies, shouting support.  They too had some good photo opps, not only of my disappearing posterior (does my bum look big in this?) but also bin man, elite smiley and someone who seems to be late, late, for a very important date!

Onwards and upwards.  I was steady, but kept going.  There were so many little moments of joy on the way round (not a euphemism).  There was the salvation army band, playing.  The church which had refreshments laid out and toilets available for runners.  They also had a brass band, which happened to be playing Jerusalem as I passed by, concluding just as I came parallel to them.  I paused to applaud their efforts.  It was the least I could do.  I mean, running the half is hard for sure, but clapping, shouting and playing brass instruments for 4 hours solid (or whatever they did) is quite a test of endurance too.  Volunteers, photographers, spectators, performers and marshals everywhere I salute you.

There were bemused students clutching cans of lager standing at the end of their garden paths and blinking in something between astonishment and disbelief.  Whole families settled outside with deckchairs and picnics.   Banners for particular people, generic signs of support for everyone.  Children holding Tupperware containers of jelly babies in outstretched hands, longing for a runner to grab one in the way that you might try and tempt a rare bird to your hand with some dainty delicacy in a rainforest crammed full of gorgeous, yet elusive, wildlife.  They would contort with delight if one ‘bit’ it was so sweet and such fun to watch.

I was really glad (despite everything) for Smiletastic, because those running club challenges set by Smiley Elder Super Geek for Smiley Paces members during the winter months had given me a good idea what to expect.  I knew the hills that were ahead, and I knew I could do them because I’d done them before.  Also encouraging, were so many familiar faces amongst the runners.  The miles were ticking by and  periodically my watch pulsed to tell me another mile had gone. I didn’t work out how to pace properly, but each time it vibrated I had a little look, and had a sense I was doing OK.  Heading up towards Ringlinglow, I was really glad to have in sight a friendly face from parkrun, she always smiles.  How does she do that?  Later on I spotted another fellow Smiley/ Monday mobster too.  All very inclusive and encouraging though.  You are never alone in a Sheffield half-marathon it seems.  Or only alone with your inner demons anyway….

TD smiles all round

I think we sort of tagged each other going up that hill. I didn’t run all the way, but I seemed to be struggling a lot less than some of the others around me who were heads down and panting. At one point everyone was walking and I realised that was why I stopped so, (GET ME), I thought, but I can run, so I did.  But very, very slowly.

As you go up the hill, you pass the entrance to a riding school, Smeltings.  A lot of girls who obviously help at the yard had traipsed outside to see what was going on.  They were completely ecstatic to see Roger.  They clearly know their equine blood lines, no question of them thinking he was either a camel or a donkey.   From some distance away I could hear them shrieking with delight and recognition, and pointing furiously.  Obviously I felt compelled to milk this as much as possible, so moved into position for a whole sequence of high fives and giddy upped a little as I went on my way.

I was thirsty by now, I had drunk quite a bit at earlier water stations, and was worried I’d get a stitch if I drank much more, but mindful that it was hot, and I really shouldn’t allow myself to dehydrate, especially as not even at the half way point.  I knew a Monday Mobster was waiting at the top near the Norfolk Arms, and in my head, before the race I’d visualised myself getting to her.  Not in a particularly pretentious way, more a pragmatic one.  I knew once I saw her I’d done the really tough bit mentally, and ahead it would be undulating, but it would be beautiful views and a lot more downhill for the return.  Even so, I greeted her like a dog with abandonment issues.  Rushing over and grabbing her in an unusually-huggy-for-me expression of enthusiasm and affection.  She looked a bit alarmed, and who can blame her?  She said all the right things though, gave me a bottle of water and shooed me on.  It was all over a bit quick.  Also at the summit, were the crew from Accelerate, I didn’t see them actually,  but they posted some photos afterwards.  They captured some of the sense of it, but maybe not the incline of the hills quite as much as I’d hope for.  The way to really get a sense of those hills is through Velo Viewer pretty astonishing graphical representation of gradients. I’d love to pretend this image is from my time (1 hour 29 minutes?  That would take some blagging…), but it plainly isn’t.  I still did this route though, so you can still be impressed if you like!

Veloviewer half marathon hills

Back to the Accelerate photos, they do show how lovely the weather was though.  Also the Strideout Supporters, who I shamelessly appropriated as my own when I passed them.  They too had lots of youngish girls amongst them, which seem to be the demographic who are was most appreciative of Roger’s unique qualities, and were only too pleased to cheer me by.

Incidentally, somewhere on that hill I saw an enormous banner proclaiming ‘LUCY’ and thought it was only fair that I cadged some support by association from them.  I ran up to them asking ‘will I count?’ breathlessly, but they looked really confused, and slightly scared, so I don’t think they got the point.  I ran quite fast for a bit after that interaction to be honest.  It’s surprising I know, given what I’ve been seen wearing in public you might think it would take more than that to embarrass me, just shows, you should assume nothing, question everything.  Anyway, here are some Accelerate photos. Thank you!

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So, I was clutching my water bottle at this point, and planned to walk for a bit, but immediately I hit a wall of supporters, crowding in as you turn left and head towards Sheephill Road.  They were smiling and cheering, it was amazing.  I felt it would let them down if I didn’t put in a bit of an appreciative jog, so I kept going.  No sooner was I out of sight of them, than a young earnest guy, wearing a huge smile and clutching a furry microphone pulled in alongside me.  He was from Radio Sheffield, ‘can I chat to you whilst you run?’ ‘Of course!’ I said, now fully possessed by runner’s brain and no longer able to think rationally.  I think he’d assumed because of my outfit I must be running for charity.  He also made the error of saying ‘What is that?’  ‘A horse!’  I said, in slightly hurt turns.  ‘Obviously a horse, he’s called Roger‘  (tell me honestly, does that make me sound a bit odd?  Actually, no, don’t tell me honestly, in fact, don’t tell me at all…)  Anyway, as we talked, or I just monologued actually, (oh dear), and he asked me about who I was running for etc, I explained that I wasn’t running for charity because I was too scared I wouldn’t have finished it, but that loads of people were and that was great la de la.  I also explained my choice of fancy dress as being motivated partly by the fact it was the one that best hid my stomach rolls, so that was no doubt a good image for the radio.  I did give a plug for Smiley Paces though, and as I did so, on a verge as I cornered I saw an injured Flying Feather!  I shouted over to her and her accomplices, probably going off the scale for the sound sensors on his radio mike system.  Hope I didn’t burst his ear drums.  I did also a bit of a spiel about great atmosphere, wonderful support, and I had a brief moment of unwelcome self-awareness when I realised I sounded like those slightly desperate vox pox bits they do with finalists on the X-factor or the Voice or whatever, when they thank everyone they’ve ever met for getting where they are today.  It sounds so cheesy, but in the moment it is true.  I promise you. All that support, from Smiley club members to get me to the start line to all those crowds en route to keep me going on the day.  I’d like to think I was running too fast for the reporter to keep up, but more likely he cut his losses and peeled away with a cheery goodbye.  Still, it was another example of an unexpected bit of novelty that kept me going.  I found I could run and talk, and it took me round an uphill bend and onto Sheephill Lane.  These photos from Robert Scriven capture the crowds at the turn really well.

RS from norfolk armsRS getaway from norfolk arms

This next bit was my favourite part of the run. We were a bit more spread out now, lots of runners in sight ahead and behind, but  more in your own thoughts.  Fewer spectators, but some chalked messages on the road, aimed at Steel City Striders, but for all to benefit from.  They proclaimed ‘all downhill from here’ which wasn’t strictly true, and rang increasingly hollow as more and more banners and signs promised the same further down the route, but fun for now.  You get the most glorious views on this part of the trail, heather and moor beyond the stone walls to the right of you, city views beyond the countryside to the left.  So the road shot is from Mick Wall, and the others, Andy Douglas, thanks photographers, lovely shots!

I was so glad I’d recced this part, as it definitely made it easier.  I was alert to the undulations so they didn’t catch me out.  There were a few female marshals along this part who were especially enthusiastic.  I have a feeling they may have been international students doing events management or something, because they were just so apparently enthused by being there.  All cheered my costume more than was strictly necessary which was wonderful, and all of them were incredibly pleased to exchange high fives.  I was very, very glad of their interactive support on what was a relatively quiet part of the route.

The runners out on the course were fantastic too, the hard core, the glamorous, the quiet, the noisy, the fancy dress and the fancy footed.  All shapes and sizes, no really.  These photos are from Tim Dennell, and a lovely glimpse of the great and the good and the ‘goodness me’ going round:

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I kept going, and the next big crowd of people was on the outskirts of Dore.  I’d been hoping to see a former work colleague here, but she either didn’t make it, or did and  a) I failed to see her, or b) she saw me first and thought the better of acknowledging me in public.  However, an unexpected bonus was that I saw a different former work colleague with whom I exchanged violent hugs, that sent me on a trajectory for even more violent hugging with a guy who recognised me from a former incarnation when I worked up at the Alpaca farm.  Which was nice actually, though afterwards I did wonder if it was entirely appropriate.  We didn’t hug in that other context.  Oh well, the sense of occasion got us all a bit carried away, and I think that’s good thing.

Leaving that crowd behind, it was a bit of a plod towards Whirlow.  However I got chatting with some other runners.  The woman who shared a loud guffawing laugh with me as we saw yet another banner proclaiming ‘all downhill from here’ I muttered ‘do they think we were born yesterday‘ at the same time as she exclaimed ‘well we’ve heard that before today‘ and we had a moment of mutual sympathy and amused recognition at our self imposed plight.  Another friendly runner trotted alongside me for a bit.  She was aiming to match her time for last year of 2 hours 40 minutes.  I hadn’t even thought about times up until that point, I’d got a vague sense of liking to finish in around 3 hours, but now I realised all being well I might even finish well within that… though with 5 miles ahead I was by no means complacent.  After a bit I couldn’t keep talking and running at her pace, so I wished her well and she went on her way, though we kept in sight, and in the end she only finished a couple of minutes ahead of me.

It was another quiet stretch.  So quiet in fact I noticed one male runner disappearing into a wooded area for a comfort break.  Irritatingly they are rather better accessorised than their female counterparts in this respect.  Though I’m not sure how the guy in the minion costume would have coped (I’m assuming it wasn’t an actual minion running but you never know…) However, I can report there were actually some loos scattered at intervals (and signposted in advance) along the way.  This was a mixed blessing for me, as I am programmed to ‘go while you have the chance‘ as you never know when the next opportunity will arise.  It took nigh on super-human effort for me to resist this impulse, but even I knew that getting into the habit of stopping for just-in-case pit stops is probably ill advised. It’s bad enough that I am so devoted to my ritual of the precautionary pee, I don’t want to start thinking I need to stop en route as well!

There was one moment of gloom ahead.  There was a bit of activity at the side of the road.  Some police, an ambulance response vehicle, and lots of high viz marshals on walkie talkies.  I was vaguely aware of a foil-blanket covered figure lying on the pavement of a side road, but didn’t stop to look.  I wasn’t overly concerned, because people pull out of races for lots of reasons.  I also know from the annual gymkhana where I used to ride, how keen bored St John’s Ambulance people are to intervene at the first sniff of injury.  Any fallen child would be stretchered off and used to practise on, so such intervention isn’t necessarily bad.  However, a few minutes after I passed them, a blue light ‘proper’ ambulance was speeding back towards them.  Later, still with flashing lights it sped past in the other direction.  It does focus the mind I hope they were OK.  It might not even have been a runner, it could have been anything, but sobering.

The route went onwards, it’s a bit of a blur recalling it now, but I do have some shout outs, even if people never hear them.  The supporters who, recognising me and Roger from our outward journey whooped in recognition at seeing us again. That was so awesome, I did have brief moments of feeling like a celebrity.  Really, I had done nothing to merit such adulation, but it was glorious.  I don’t care that I am not worthy, I was at least appreciative.  I even got a shout out from the Radio Sheffield Man who was by his van again having somehow relocated.  Shouts of ‘its donkey woman!’ are welcome in the right context!  I’ll take my fifteen minutes thank you very much.  I was also really taken by a couple who had music blaring out that just happened to be playing that song with a clear lyric

On and on
I just keep on trying
And I smile when I feel like dying
On and on, On and on, On and on On and on, On and on, On and On, On and on, On and on, On and on

just as I passed.  How apt was that?  Now, whether they had had this song on a loop deliberately, because of it’s content, or whether it was chance I know not and care less, it was brilliant.  I’ve looked it up, its a Stephen Bishop song I find.

This part of the course had a lot of music, drums, sound systems, all sorts.  However, my favourite was a troupe of dancers.  I’m so disorientated by now I couldn’t honestly tell you where they were, but they were really going for it, dancing in unison as runners ran by.  I thought that rude – (the running by bit, not the dancing).  I tried to join in from my position on the road, and gyrated badly, but with enthusiasm which is an accurate description of my dancing, and I was overjoyed that they started to mirror my inexact efforts.  I was so delighted I thought I’d burst.  Thank you dancers you were beyond fabulous.  This link is a clip someone took of them presumably before the runners came on by, I love your work Sheffield half dancing troupe, hope you are an annual fixture!

I’ve been pondering my half marathon experience, and I’m starting to get it a bit more I think.  I got enormous support and pleasure from spectators going round, and appreciated all their efforts: singing; dancing; quipping; cheering; clapping; high fiving; offering water; sweets; taking photographs; looking on in either disbelief, incredulity or awe – and I suppose it must be fun for them too if a runner now and again acknowledges that with a cheer or a wave.  They’ve gone to all that trouble, not for me personally, but to be part of an event, part of a sense of occasion, so it is mutually fantastic when that relationship between the runners and the supporters is acknowledged.  The event just wouldn’t be the same if one part of that equation was missing.  There is no way on earth I’d have been able to trudge round for 13.1 miles if there hadn’t been a new adventure in human experience awaiting me with every step.  And, to be fair, there’d be little point in standing at the end of your road with a tub of jelly babies and a flag if there isn’t going to be something to gawp at, even if that isn’t necessarily 7,000 runners pouring by.  Reciprocity, that’s what it’s all about.  It’s fun. You should try it – whether as spectator or runner – in some event to come.

Homeward stretch, I was really delighted to see some hardened Smilies had stuck it out, and were still there to cheer me on my return route.  I also got a really random shout out from someone I didn’t really see and therefore didn’t recognise who seemed to call behind me ‘you made it, you’ll be able to write about it now‘ so that must be my reader!  Thank you, it was a surreal moment, but a really good one, I never know who or indeed if anyone reads my ponderings, but it’s nice when they say they do.  I thank you my anonymous dear reader, I thank you !  I was still running too, and I really don’t know how.  I was thinking that’s just a Longshaw 10k, now it’s just a parkrun and so on.  But the novelty of it all and the encouragement from the sidelines really helped.

Also brilliant was right towards the end.  Some Smilies who’d actually finished and were now disguised in their luminous lime green finishers shirts shouted encouragement and even ran with me a little,  one even describing the contents of the finisher’s goody bag ‘there’s a twix!’ (she didn’t qualify this by mentioning it was a mini twix though, but I forgive her).  As I reached the final roundabout towards the finish (near Debenhams, don’t know what it’s called) a poor woman runner was crumpled on the side, clutching her ankle.  I didn’t stop as she had other runners and a first aider/ marshal with her, but I felt her pain.  ‘The finish is literally just around the corner‘ she was saying/wailing ‘I can’t believe I’m not going to make it after all those miles‘.  I couldn’t believe it either, not only the injustice that she’d hurt herself when the end was so nearly in sight, but that apparently the finish was indeed just around the corner and I was more than likely now going to make it too!  It felt really strange, it was round the corner that I met the Smiley of the twix motivating technique with her squeeze (no longer a new squeeze, now quite an established one), they were both wearing their finish medals with pride.

I could see the finish.  There were people ahead of me, but I thought ‘bugger this, I’m going for it‘, and embarked on a final sprint to the line.  I’m not sure why, and it might be ill-advised as it meant I sort of landed on top of a couple of runners in a passionate post race celebratory hug, probably simultaneously photo bombing their finish shot and ensuring there won’t be one of me.  I don’t care, my personal photographer Mr Carman took best shot of me ever going round, so that’s fine.

The moment coming up to the finish, and knowing I had made it was extraordinary.  Other runners who have done this will know the feeling, and may now even take it for granted.  I hope not, I hope they haven’t forgotten what it was like.  It was the briefest of moments really, a fraction of a second perhaps.  But I was suspended in time.   I knew then that I was invincible, I had done this impossible thing, I can therefore do anything, I’d bloody done it! This must be the runners high of which I have heard told but never really felt until now.  It won’t last I’m sure, but it was like a glimpse into a parallel universe where I have the confidence to believe in myself a bit more.  I really and truly never thought I could do this, and yet I have, ergo, what other impossible things should I now set about tackling?

I was a bit dazed then.  Runner’s high, morphing into runner’s fog.  An Endurer buddy said he saw me at this point but couldn’t attract my attention which is a darned shame because I’d have loved to have shared that moment with someone.  Instead I limped onwards down the funnel, got my medal, scooped up a goody back (only extra small or extra large T-shirts left) I went for small, misguided optimism induced by runner’s high no doubt.  Realistically though, I don’t know how wearable lime green is really, especially fluorescent, so perhaps not such a loss to my wardrobe choices.

I downed two bottles of water, declining the isotonic wotsit option.  Then wandered across to the baggage claim in a daze. I was towards the back of the finishers, so no queue, and the staff there warmly welcomed me, recognising me and Roger from earlier in the day.  I am so always going to run in fancy dress, it really makes a difference to the support you get.  I thanked them for their labours and had some chit chat, and then went to join the queue to get your medal engraved.  A rather optimistic attendant was handing out pens and paper so you could write down what you wanted on your medal before you got to the front of the queue. This was hilarious, as most of the runners in the queue had lost the ability for coherent speech or thought and the act of writing anything down was really challenging.

Also at this point, I saw another Endurer buddy, who’d had an awesome run.  I utilised their assistance to take my ‘after’ photo.  That was harder than you might think, it involved putting my bag down and then picking it up again.  Bending and stretching it turns out are contraindicated at this point in the race.

DSCF9401

Although there was a long queue for the engraving, it was free, and it was sunny, and I got lucky standing next to a really nice couple who were good company.  One had run for charity and her partner (husband?) wasn’t able to run any more due to injury, but they were planning to do the Hathersage Triathlon in a couple of month’s time.  I was trying to persuade her to join Smilies, I wonder if she will.

By the time I got to the front of the queue I’d had my time texted through to me so that was fun.  The guy doing the engraving was quite jolly, but I interrupted his flow of thought, and so he nearly tried to set the engraver going on the wrong side of the medal which was entertaining, but averted.  I like my medal a lot:

So I waved goodbye to my new best friends, and disrobed myself of Roger, slinging him over my shoulder again.  Then I heard a voice ‘and why would anyone even do that?  Have a pony as a backpack‘.  I couldn’t help myself ‘It’s not a backpack and it’s not a pony, he’s a horse‘.  Well you have to don’t you, educate your public?  With great celebrity comes great responsibility.  Anyway we had a chat.  They were event marshals and it was all very friendly.

My final destination, was to the massage tent.  Massages by Sheffield Hallam physio students in return for a donation… except their benefiting charity had removed their bucket.  The woman in charge said to just make a donation to one of the other charities, which I agreed to do.  Physio was great, mainly because you get to lie down.  A bit odd, because I had two people working on me in tandem, one on each leg.  They just did my calf muscles really, and a bit all over my legs, and then I flipped over and they worked on the fronts a bit.  It makes a hell of a difference, I mean I’m not exactly skipping about today, but I’ve only got a bit of soreness, no real cramping at all.

The only charity people left in evidence were Breast Cancer Awareness and MacMillan, I went for the latter, because of the legend that is shopping trolley charity collector man in his distinctive green wig.  I told this to the people in the tent.  ‘Ah, well you shouldn’t give the fiver to us then, you should give it to his grandson round the corner‘ my five pound note was retrieved from the collection bucket and I was escorted round the corner and introduced to the grandson.  There is a family resemblance, something about the hair maybe?

So that was that, pretty much.  It was like a party I didn’t quite want to leave, I wended my way to the bus stop between the people packing up the barriers.  I never thought I’d be at the other side of this challenge.

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Home, foot inspection.  Couple of blisters, not too dire, injury free.  I’m not posting a photo of my feet, because it’s not that sort of website, I understand there are other service providers who cater for such interests.  So, dear reader, I have completed my first half marathon (that was another top tip from a different athlete, once you’ve done one you can always refer to it as ‘my first’ and just be a  bit vague about plans for any future ones).  I didn’t cry, and I wasn’t sick.  Amazing.

Now, it’s a question of feeling the love, and processing the memories. It still doesn’t entirely compute, I don’t know at all how I got around.  It seems unimaginable today, and it all only happened yesterday.  Don’t worry, grateful as I am, normal malevolent service will be resumed shortly.  For now, though, I love all my running buddies, half-marathon supporters, event organisers, volunteers and photographers – god darn it the whole wide world.  Thanks especially to Smiley Elder Super Geek for sending the spreadsheet with the pacing and nutrition.  It was a vote of confidence as much as anything, I hope you’ll forgive me for not quite seeing it through in relation to the post race ice bath.  Consider me to still be work in progress…  My free love philosophy however is definitely a time – limited offer.  Don’t worry, cynicism will be restored imminently.  I’m sure you wouldn’t have me any other way?  (Rhetorical question).

 Would I do it again?  Well, never say never…

But before I think about that, let’s just check out a few more photos – my they keep appearing!  If ever there was a case for joining a local running club, and running wearing their vest in a local race this is surely it.  Loads of local supporters turned out to take photos, some were runners injured or focusing on other events so free to click away, others are enthusiastic sports photographers happy, apparently, to keep taking photos in pursuit of that perfect action shot.  Some even sit pleasingly within that overlap in the ven diagram of talent, skill and running insight.  The consequence is I keep finding MORE photos.  This is just as well to be honest, as I got the official ones via a link.  They are broadly shite.  The takers have not understood that you need a ‘power behind the lens’ person, to vet them all and delete the horribly unlfattering ones before letting a poor vulnerable runner be exposed to them.  Also, they have take ‘portraits’ I sort of do understand why, but for me at least, the consequence is a) I look bad in close up, and b) I could be running anywhere.  I like the to see the atmospheric crowd shots too, more of a sense of occassion.  Anyway, here are some more, this time from Alex Harding, another photographer to thank for his contributions.  Three cheers for our photographer friends.  You are all generous as well as talented, public spirited and generally awesome.

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AH photography en route

AH running on

Categories: half marathon, motivation, race, road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Still sitting on the half-marathon fence

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Splinters in your arse are just the start.  It is amazingly and tortuously uncomfortable to be sat on a fence for any length of time, and I’ve been astride these metaphorical railings for far longer than is healthy.  It goes right back to that first decision ‘to run or not to run‘ when I sort of ended up entering the Sheffield Half Marathon by accident back in the mists of time. Technically it’s the Yorkshire Half Marathon I think, but I don’t really care about nomenclature here, much more worried about the distance.  It is a long way.  Too long for a hobbit, probably.  All those weeks ago I think my reasoning went along the lines of ‘what’s the worse that can happen?‘, ‘it’s ages away, I might even train a bit‘ and ‘as long as I don’t inadvertently blurt it out and tell anyone, I don’t have to actually turn up at the start line on the day‘.  The clincher was that old ‘what the hell…’ philosophy, even though I’m not completely sure it’s actually true.  It’s not my immaculately manicured thumb in the photo incidentally, just in case your judgement, senses and all capacity for reason had temporarily abandoned you and you thought it was.

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So, having worked on the basic, unfailing principle that if you ignore something for long enough it might just go away, time has passed, and I have come to realise that the principle is not as unfailing as I had first thought.

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The marathon is now just a few weeks away, and inexplicably, I have not transformed myself into a lean, mean, muscled running machine, I have instead rather hung on to my hobbit like physique and fundamental tendency towards inertia.  I know it’s a myth about ostriches burying their heads in the sand by the way, and if I was an ostrich, I don’t think I’d be worrying so very much about having to run a half-marathon, they are awesome athletes.  If I had legs like that I’d certainly leave the rest of the field for dust AND probably get my own spin off reality TV series  as well, so no need to ignore anything very much then.

Running last week was particularly dire.  I only made it out for one run, and due to being away from home and other stuff, my diet consisted largely of digestive biscuits and chunks of cheese.  Whilst such cuisine was not inherently unenjoyable (au contraire), it was also not conducive to achieving a svelte waistline and athletic frame.  I don’t think Mo Farah would eat like that training for an event.  In fact,  I think he mainly eats Quorn.  Actually, so do I, but I haven’t turned in to him either.  Strange, but true.  The prospect of even starting the half marathon, much less finishing it, seems to be ebbing ever further away.

On the other hand, if I don’t do the Sheffield half this time round then realistically I never will do it, and there is that irritating FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) echoing in my head all over again plus the unhelpful ‘conscientious if not keen‘ gene, that makes me feel obligated to go through with things that I have made a commitment to do, however unwisely.  Also, (touch wood), I am miraculously still uninjured.  Apart from my crumbling arthritic feet, which isn’t really an injury just a perpetual state of being, I’m basically OK.  A lot of my fitter, more committed running club friends, gurus and competition goddesses (Smiley Paces members I salute you all) have been pushing themselves through the winter months and, whilst they did some awesome running times, some are now limping about, nursing strains and pulls and even stress fractures.  Mind you, Dr Smiley can still go faster with a pot on her leg and on crutches than I can in a sprint, but I won’t draw undue attention to that…  I feel I sort of owe it to those who can’t now take part, to give it a go and to at least show willing by turning up on the day.  Plus I have promised Roger an outing, and that bit at least I’m looking forward to – showing off my very own pony after a half century wait for an equine of my own!

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So why am  I posting this now? Maybe, because at this precise moment I have no idea whether or not I am going to run, and it might be interesting to look back and see what was happening with my motivation once Half Marathon Day has been and gone. Exciting isn’t it?  Which way do you think it will turn out?

When I was down South last week, I walked into Kingston and found I was crossing over the bridge over the River Thames,  just as a stream of runners was emerging from the tow path, whizzing round the corner (some runners were more ‘whizzy than others to be fair’) and dipping back into Home Park from, where they’d run on to Hampton Court Palace.  It was a clear but cool morning, there was a cheery band by the riverside that burst into energetic songs as groups passed, and loads of Hi Viz marshals on hand to clap them round.  Turns out, this was the Hampton Court Half Marathon confusingly, there is another event called the Original Hampton Court half which happens in February, but this is a different one, very bizarre.  Anyway, that wasn’t the point, the point was, watching all those runners, pounding onwards I found I felt quite emotional. They all had looks of grim determination about them as they were entering mile 11 (or thereabouts).  They weren’t finding it easy, but they were doing it.  At that moment I felt a wave of not only admiration, but a sense of really wanting to be a part of something like that.  ‘That looks great!  That would be amazing!  I’d love to be part of that!’ I thought, probably erroneously.  As the conductor waved his choir into a rousing chorus of approval, and the rhythm of so many tiring feet thudded their trainers on the ground it all seemed perfect…

I kid you not.  Almost as a reflex response to my having this thought enter my head, the next runner I saw came round passed me, then lurched into a fence at the side of the pavement, grabbed hold of it, and promptly threw up.  Hmmm, maybe not quite such a great advert for running, and also a much needed reality check… or not. That’s the point, I really don’t know!

Hours later, I was in the car, driving back to Sheffield, and I went past the finish area for the event.  It was on the Hampton Court Green for those of you that know the area.  It had that post-event/ post-festival air.  The finish funnel was empty, there were a few stragglers hanging around, and walking away from the event some limping, but smiling runners wearing the biggest and best medals I have EVER seen.  No really, these give the Percy Pud Christmas Pudding a run for best prize ever…. Then I spotted a woman walking towards the finish. She was really struggling, sweat pouring down her face, she wasn’t having a good time, but, and this is the point, the end was in sight and she was bloody well going to finish what she started.  I didn’t think that was weak to be coming in so late, possibly even last, I thought that was strong.  She was awesome, every step was an effort but she had that medal in her sights.   Yet again, I find that it isn’t always the strongest runners that really inspire me, but the unexpectedly resolute against the odds.  Swift runners impress me certainly, they are awesome, but they impress me like a cheetah does.  They show extraordinary running prowess, but they are also an entirely different species to me. I might as well compare myself to them as reach out and touch the moon (I’ve tried that, it didn’t work). That woman showed serious resolve, if anyone or anything can get me to that start line it will be the image of her, putting one foot in front of another, persevering with gritted teeth.   I know she got there, I just know she did.  What’s more, she wasn’t even in fancy dress – I’ll have an advantage over her with that alone.

So, whilst I’m still not saying ‘yes’ I’m not saying ‘no’ either.  I like to keep my reader on their toes.  On balance, I think if I don’t try, I’ll never know, and that will be really annoying.  If I do try, and it’s terrible, I don’t have to ever do it again.  Admittedly, sloping off undetected by abandoning the race half way round might be a challenge with Roger accompanying me, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.  Walk of shame could be a tad conspicuous in the circumstances.   As for coming last, I’ve done that before, it’s fine, as long as there is an anecdote in it, it really shouldn’t be a deciding factor.

As things stand, if I stay injury free, and unless Roger trots up lame on the day of the race, I think I’d like to give it a go more than I’d like to risk missing out.  This is highly likely to end up as one of those ‘I’m not sure if I enjoyed myself, but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it‘ sort of occasions. We shall see.  Also, I blame Eddie Izzard. That man is a machine.  Twenty-seven marathons in as many days (double marathon on last day due to logistic problems – seriously?).  And all to mark Nelson Mandela’s period of imprisonment, one marathon for each year.  Now, I’m honestly not putting myself in the same category as either Eddie Izzard or Nelson Mandela, just in case you were wondering, but I am thinking it does rather put in context my angst over tackling a measly half within staggering distance of my own home.  Lawks a lordy, I can walk it.  They are doing a series about Eddie Izzard Marathon man by the way, must get round to watching that some time.  He does walk/running too apparently, so it must be a legitimate tactic.  Also, he looked like he was about to die at the end, and that part I’m really confident I can replicate, I look shite on finishing too!

So there are some positives here after all.  Some bits of marathon running I have nailed… as for the rest?  Let’s just say I’m working towards excellence in the bits relating to the actual running part, but everyone starts somewhere, why not me?

route-map sheffield half

Categories: half marathon, motivation, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Working towards friskiness – family friendly woodland frolics

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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!

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

Mud, mud, glorious mud – the trials and trails of Longshaw Trust 10

This is another long one, make yourself a pot a tea or crack open the wine, and then you can be multi-tasking by drinking and reading at the same time so it won’t feel like such a waste of time.   (Though maybe not the wine if you are sneakily reading this at work in your lunch break or something).

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I hate getting up in the dark.  Fortunately, I do like a good yomp in the mud, so today these two opposing forces sort of cancelled each other out.  Today was Trust10 day – the now monthly off-road 10km run held at the Longshaw Estate, and other National Trust properties too. Frankly though, I’m shallow and self-centred, so I really only care about the one that is local to me, and it is that one, at Longshaw, that had me up and about today.  I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to head off – my enthusiasm for running is always much greater at the end of a run than at the beginning of it, but it was enough to get me out from under the duvet, which was a start.

Truthfully, I was a bit torn about running venues for today.  It was the Longshaw 10k, but also today was one of the monthly off-road runs for my running club (drum roll) The Smiley Paces!  My dilemma is that I’ve struggled to keep up with the last couple of Smiley off-roaders, and whilst they are inclusive events, I still think I’ll get more out of them if I’m a bit speedier, I decided to work on my fitness for a bit before rejoining them.  I am comfortable with this decision, apart from the fact that today was/is also my buddy Cheetah Smiley’s birthday, so I did have a sense that it would have been fun to join them on a Smiley yomp for the day.  As a compromise I headed off to hers to drop off a card for her birthday en route to picking up my another companion Smiley for the morning, who I’d lured into joining me in doing Longshaw.  She is coming back into running so just building up her distances at the moment, so also cautious about joining a longer off-road until she’s got a few more miles under her proverbial belt.  She doesn’t actually wear a belt as far as I can see.  We shared a quick ‘Happy Birthday’ hello, which is very much like a normal ‘hello’ but with more hugging and expressions of effusive good wishes.  Then I headed off, having wished her well, really hoping that the other runners would remember to sing her happy birthday at some point on the run, so that she could experience that exquisite discomfort of being simultaneously massively embarrassed and secretly pleased.  In fact, I gather this is indeed what happened, though from the Facebook posts I think there was more than one birthday celebrant present.  Smiley twins how very splendid!  So I was sorry I missed out on the cake, sorry, I mean celebrations, obviously, but pleased the occasion was suitably marked.

Smiley birthday

I chugged my little fiesta up the steep hills of Sheffield to pick up my other Smiley companion who was game to tackle the 10k with me. I took a spare Smiley vest so we could fly the flag together so to speak.  It is definitely more fun doing these events in Smiley kit, and also more fun doing them with other Smilies, the more the merrier generally speaking

I am always paranoid about being late to thing, so have a tendency to get places ridiculously early.  My Smiley buddy hadn’t been before so would need to register, and you can hang about in the warm so I hoped it wouldn’t be too bad to be early.  In the event it was just as well we did.  We got to Longshaw about 8.30 a.m. (registration is from 8.15) and on arrival, we found the car park uncharacteristically full, in relative terms.  There were still plenty of parking spaces though.    I did that thing (that I have a horrible feeling might be almost unique to me) of becoming almost paralysed by indecision about where to park because of the vast array of options still on offer.  How are you to choose?  Near the start?  Less far to get back to the car at the end of the race when stiffness has set in, but might be a bit congested trying to get out later.  Near the pay machine?  Less far to walk to get your ticket.  Avoiding a slope, easy to exit?  In the end I just opted for any old one, but only after some unnecessarily indecisive circling around in the car first.  We then checked out the parking costs and opted for the £2.60 for four hours offer, we were hoping we wouldn’t need all that time to get around, though to be honest, with the queue for coffee at the end of the run it was touch and go at one point.  I think it’s a fair bet the turn out took the organisers by surprise – I hope in a good way, but who knows.  Here is a picture of the car park, filling up, in case you don’t know what that looks like.  All my pictures today seem to be blurred by the way, I’d love to pretend this was deliberate, either to protect the identities of the subjects of my photos, or to create an impression of casual artistry.  Actually, it’s just because I’m not a very good photographer, and my camera only allows me to point and push, performing all focusing and light adjustments as if by magic.  Magic that doesn’t always work very well, maybe they’ve changed the magic word.  I have no idea really.

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In the short time it took to faff around with parking tickets and what to wear, the car park became absolutely packed.  I couldn’t say why (New Year resolutions, deliberately widened publicity, or just word of mouth) but clearly the news is out, this is a great run, and a good example of ‘if you build it, they will come‘ (I know it’s a misquote, but I’ve never actually seen the film, so I honestly don’t care).  It was most definitely a great deal fuller than on the previous two occasions when I’ve done this run.  People were coming from all around.  Thinking about it, we’d even seen some hardy souls running up as we drove to the venue.  Impressive, they were mud-splattered and sweaty before they even got to the start line, proper hard core.

It seemed really dark, and a bit drizzly, but fairly mild.  I decided it would be a coat off run.  Though for the records, I did start off wearing gloves, which I took off half way round.  We found a Rustling Runner to take our photo as evidence of Smileys on tour again.  We also need the documentary evidence to be kept in reserve for the Smiley Paces Running Club spring challenge (points available for turning out to timed events).  There were loads of people milling around, it was quite a scrum to get your numbers, albeit a very polite one.  As a returner (or did they say repeat offender?) I was already on their records.  I just had to help myself to a number, then find my name on a sheet and write the number next to it, this was neither complex nor arduous.  My buddy had to supply basic details (email, emergency contact number), but its really not much to ask is it for a free event?  I squished my fleece, and phone and car keys and everything else into my backpack and abandoned it in a general pile of stuff which looked like a creative cross between a sports-specific jumble sale and a lost property box.  I have become quite relaxed about leaving stuff unattended in this way when I run, maybe too much so.  I’ve got used to the idea from doing parkruns, and I think runners are an honest lot on the whole.  I do periodically wonder if I should take more care, and then I realise all over again I can’t really be bothered.  I’d change my tune pretty quick though if I ended up having to walk all the way back to Sheffield without my fleece at the end of a run though.  This is despite the fact that I met someone whose partner had apparently voluntarily run from home all the way to Longshaw, from an address not 100 yards from my house. That’s ridiculous, it’s MILES!  Here are people gathering for the start of a running event, in case you don’t know what that looks like either.

I quite like having an official number, it makes you feel important, like you are taking part in a serious running endeavour rather than a hobbit yomp (much as I love them as well).  I did struggle with the pinning on though, why is that so hard?  I’d brought my own safety pins with me, which was a good move, as they only had a limited supply on hand which quickly ran out.  I don’t quite know how the National Trust are funding this initiative, numbers and extra staff and safety pins and all, it isn’t cost free, though I dare say runners storming the Longshaw tea rooms afterwards helps generate something in the way of  collateral takings.  I heard later that 180 of us yomped round today, their previous maximum attendance was 120, quite a jump in numbers.  I hope it doesn’t get too popular for its own good…

Although promoted as an event for all, the Trust10 at this venue at least, seems to have been embraced primarily by the running community (if there is such a thing). I couldn’t help but notice there were lots of ‘serious’ runners present, notably the Steel City Striders were out in force, and some of them are brutal (and quite possibly lethal) lean, mean running machines.  I’m not going to say they are using performance enhancing drugs, because I don’t believe they are, but I do wonder about genetic engineering of some sort, or at the very least their runners out today are the progeny of some sort of secret captive breeding programme that must have been going on for decades.  They are a well-established club, so this seems to me to be an entirely possible even probable scenario.  They are all pretty friendly, but they most definitely take their running seriously.  They are also very well organised, they had their own photographer capturing the occasion, and so thanks to Steel City Striders’ Douglas Douglas as I’ve used a couple of his shots to make this post more visually impressive.  Basically, if the shot looks like it’s on a quality camera and in focus, it’s probably one of his.  Also if it is of runners, running, it’s his, because I wouldn’t have got back ahead of those runners.  You’ll see what I mean…   I saw one lovely cani-cross runner with an amazing looking dog, but not so much (no) Nordic walkers, or people with buggies.  I think you have to go with the flow a bit here, I’m not sure it would be quite accurate to describe this as anything other than a ‘run’ now, it would be quite scary if you tried to just complete it at a leisurely stroll, you might get trampled by a stampede of runners coming up behind if you didn’t start right at the back of the pack.

There was a friendly start line briefing, warning of the mud and potential slipperiness of the route, especially in the tree root section of the wooded areas.  You were asked to alert a marshal if you saw someone fall – they didn’t actually say whether you were expected to stop and help the fallen or just laugh and point on your way past kicking mud in their face and shouting ‘see ya, loser’, so I presume that would be down to individual discretion.   Repeat runners were reminded that the route involved two complete laps, first timers that there were two laps – I think the inference was that you might be forgiven for cutting a few corners first time out, but that would be cheating yourself really if you’ve been before.  I’m not so sure, I didn’t spot any short cuts – if you randomly started heading off cross country you’d be just as likely to end up at Surprise View or in Manchester airport as back at the start, and that strikes me as a high risk approach to running to say the least!  I started towards the back of the start ‘funnel’ (actually it was just a huddle of people on a tarmac path behind a red flag) I didn’t want to get caught in the frenzy of more competitive runners sprinting off right from the start.  There was time to exchange pleasantries with other runners, and then I could hear a distant and faint voice counting down to the start and then we were all off.  Tomtom on, and we started to move.  First of the Steel City Striders shots – The Start:

and theyre off SCS shot

Because of the massive turn out,it was a crowded start, quite quickly bottle necks formed and you had to pause to walk through gates and to go single file over styles.  I don’t mind that too much, it’s part of what it is, the tracks are narrow, and if you are that bothered about speeding round you either need to be at the front or recognise maybe this isn’t the event for you.  I found it all very friendly, and a chance to talk to some of the marshals on the way round, who did sterling work of smiling and clapping continuously for over an hour and a half as far as I could tell!  I suppose maybe they could look at organising the start a bit, so they encourage faster people to be nearer to the front of the people train at the start and slower ones to position themselves further back, but I also think that will naturally happen as people become more familiar with what to expect.  Here is another SCS shot of the start heading off -you can just make out two Smiley Paces vests (me and my buddy) heading off:

smiley paces in the throng from SCS

I love this route.  The varied terrain takes you on some firm almost gravel paths; woodland tracks; muddy cut-throughs; spongy mossy areas; bogs; a couple of streams to leap (or scramble) and steep uphill climbs.  You have to remember to look up, because the views are great.  I’m not wild about the steep hills, but there is some satisfaction in having got up them without being sick or crying.  The scenery is absolutely stunning.  My photos are from afterwards, but you get the idea-ish.  No substitute for doing it yourself though!

Early on once we left the track and got to proper off road mud, a young girl a bit in front of me landed sprawled face first in a puddle. I was worried about her, but undaunted, she just instantly sprung up again as if she was doing some sort of off-road parkour trampolining trick, it was astonishing!  Her accompanying adult checked she was OK to continue, which apparently she was.  They are hardier than they look these child runners!

In one muddy section where I sort of hopscotched through from foot to foot rather gingerly, I could hear little squeaks and clicks of exclamation behind me – it was like I was being pursued by an over friendly dolphin!  I offered to let this runner pass, but she said she was actually following in my footprints quite literally and that was her tactic, a concept I found to be both astonishing and rather alarming!  Anyway, that was OK… except I almost immediately heard her give out an actual shriek as she clearly took a stumble, and I sort of felt responsible, I didn’t dare look back….  She must have been OK though, because once we’d emerged from the mud of the wood she quickly overtook me going up the killer hill which is quite exposed and involves stream jumping.   I asked if she’d repay the favour of me having provided her with a lead through the mud by dragging me up the hill in return.  Inexplicably she declined with a ‘maybe next time‘ as she sprinted off like a hare onwards and upwards into the distance.

This is the route by the way, it look so innocuous viewed from above…

Towards the end of the first loop I ended up naturally falling in step with my Rustling Runner buddy who’d taken the photo for us earlier on.  I used to join her for runs on a Monday night that met where – you guessed it – Rustlings Road in Sheffield, but they got too fast for me (spot a theme here yet?) so I’ve not been for ages as I can’t keep up.  It’s a shame really, because they are a friendly and small bunch. Anyway, she was encouraging me to think about giving them another go.  Temporarily having lost the capacity for clear thought, on account of running and talking simultaneously (which I can’t really do) I found myself saying that I would indeed do so, perhaps in a couple of weeks’ time, once my fitness levels have picked up.  It dawned on me afterwards, as she sprinted on and away, that this concept is essentially flawed.  Even allowing for the possibility that I do pick up fitness over that time scale, the problem is so will they, they have upped their training regime for the new year too!  I will no more catch up with them in turns of my fitness training, than I will catch up in age with someone who is older than me, or catch the moon.  (This picture a) doesn’t count and b) isn’t me, but I quite like it, so it gets included).  Anyway, I did feel dumb, it was a hard lesson to learn!

catch the moon

For the second loop, the field spread out more, I found it better and less tiring, because you could go at your own pace, not have it dictated by having to stop and slow for other runners, or feeling pressurised to speed up because of heavy breathing on your collar from behind.  There were some cheery families offering support from the sides which was good.  I don’t know if they had expected to be caught up in the run or not, but they seemed happy enough to be so.  I paused to get a couple of high fives from toddlers as I passed, they may not have actually turbo charged my running (I told them it would help me go faster) but it did cheer my spirits on the way round, I felt like a celebrity some of them were so chuffed at this interaction!

More photos of general loveliness: Thanks Douglas Douglas, whoever you are.

We need to give a heartfelt, albeit virtual, cheer for the marshals at this point.  I think most were volunteers, and the were a mix of National Trust volunteers and some with links to running or runners.  They were all however, fantastic. Positive, cheerful, encouraging and clapping every time I passed them.  Apologies if they don’t all get a mention, but those that stuck out today included:

The woman holding the gate open as you came out of the woods, she had a huge smile and words of encouragement as you passed.  Actually, I really hope she was a volunteer, and not some poor random walker, who had courteously made a call to just wait and let a few runners through, before attempting to go through the gate herself and ended up stuck behind the gateway right until I passed her for the second time.  She did look a bit trapped to be honest, now I come to think of it.  Would be a terrible thing if she got punished for being nice and giving way.  Trapped for all eternity by a constant stream of runners, destined never to pass through the gate herself…

Then there was the guy at the top of the killer hall, stood on the stone wall, watching us creep up the hill like a chain of soldier ants from a distance probably.  He was very cheerful too – mind you, I’d have laughed at the sight of us negotiating that hill, especially second time round, when you couldn’t help but notice how many more of us had slowed to a walk.  He was all smiles and positive thinking, ‘all done now‘ at the end of the first time, and then the second, acknowledging the slower pace he gave a wry get out ‘too churned up to run up now is it?’  Genius!  Of course that was my reason for going slowly, not apathy, mud!

There was man with bike and pointing arm at a junction point, who encouraged us not to cut the corner.  Thanks for that… I think!  I was pleased I’d done it all ‘properly’ when I finished, less so at the time. He also hailed us with good wishes as we limped (in my case) on by.

Then there was the amazing clapping marshal, who honestly just appeared to smile and clap the whole time.  There was a long haul of incline getting up to where she was standing at a sort of hole in the wall (not one of the ones that give money out, there are no cash points in the wilds of Longshaw, in case you were wondering), but she clapped every single runner from the moment they came into sight, to the moment they disappeared from view.  I commented to her as I passed her after lap one ‘I hope you’ve got the energy to still clap me round lap two?’ ‘Of course‘, she responded brightly ‘and I hope you have the energy to still be running’, she seemed more able to carry out her side of the equation than I.  Great clapping on her part!

At the finish line, there was a fair cluster marshals who were sporting bright pink National Trust 10K bobble hats and armed with clipboards and stop watches. The hats were completely fantastic, made them stand out certainly, and probably necessary to prevent freezing as well.  It didn’t seem too cold running round, but I imagine if you had to stand still in the wind for a couple of hours it would be quite a different experience

With the size of the turnout I have no idea how they will manage processing the results.  As an aside, I think if you are really bothered about an exact time, you need to take personal responsibility for that.  Personally, I was just delighted to have made it round.  Just seconds behind me was my Smiley compatriot, that was nice and companionable, and confirmation that we are well matched running buddies –  for now at least – I know she is definitely going to out pace me once she’s got back to running fit.

Having finished, we recovered our coats, and as the queue was so massive for coffee, I pottered back to the finish to watch some others coming back and take some snaps.  Don’t worry too much, I’ll get bored of all this photography soon enough.  It’s dawning on me increasingly that I will never be able to capture images in the same league as that of our ‘official’ Smiley photographers (they know who they are) but I keep hoping that the law of averages demands I’ll surely eventually get at least one half decent one if I take enough –  Even though experience suggests otherwise.  We did find someone who could take an ‘after’ shot of us running, for the record.  So the aftershock after shot looks like this – you can see what I mean about me finding the pinning on of the number a bit challenging, definitely lopsided!

Post run January 2016

I also got chatting to another runner who has apparently been contemplating joining Smilies for some time, but was worried about being too slow.   I gathered that she had taken heart on witnessing my own less than intimidating performance in my Smiley vest, so made first contact. We had a good chat, and so we shall see what unfolds.  She sounded to me like she’d done a fair bit already, parkruns, night torch runs, Bolsover 10k for a start.  It’s amazing how many people will talk to you if you don the Smiley vest, it makes us look highly approachable, it must be the comic sans typeface…  Here are some of the late finishers fighting their way home, and the lovely marshals cheering them back.

Having waited for the massive queue to subside we ventured into the tearooms and had latte (me) and pot of tea (Smiley compatriot).  We joined another fellow Smiley and her friend from parkrun.  They had come along together.  Only it turns out this Smiley isn’t one at all.  I was amazed, she knows all the Smileys, turns out at all the same races as Smileys (though admittedly now I come to think of it I’ve never seen her in the Smiley gear), she has to be an honorary Smiley of sorts.  I’m going to call her the non-Smiley Smiley, which will become confusing at some point if she follows through on her professed intention to get around to joining Smilies at some point.  I’ve seen her around so much I just assumed she was, but apparently not.  She’s another one that’s naturally gregarious and appears to be pathologically friendly too, so would fit in just fine.  Still, we had a very happy chat.  Though I did wonder if outward appearances could be deceptive when she ‘fessed up to having gone out with one of our Smilies yesterday, but broken her.  Our poor Smiley friend had turned quite badly on her ankle, triggering an old injury, so now out of running for a while.  Not only was she too damaged to run Longshaw today as planned, she wasn’t even up for marshalling.  I’d have been even more concerned about this had I not deduced that said injured Smiley is not in my Smiletastic team (Smiley Paces winter challenge) so sad as it is every cloud eh, every cloud.. (Get well soon though, all the same, we Smilies need to look out for each other when push comes to shove).

There was also the curious incident of the disappearing top.  It had vanished from the unofficial bagdrop area (sports-jumble/ lost property), I was pretty confident that if it had been taken, it would have been by mistake.  Runners are a trust worthy lot, and even if they weren’t they hate carrying more than they need. That is why post run everyone pays with a £10 note they’ve been carrying for emergencies, who wants to run with heavy change jingling and bouncing around?  Anyway, I can report the missing top was successfully retrieved, it had indeed been handed in. So you don’t have to worry, you can just admire the Smiley Non-Smiley heading to the finish (thanks SCS).  Can’t help noticing SCS finish shots are rather classier than mine.  Oh well, I suppose it’s because my focus is my running…

smiley non smiley SCS shot

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After a good old natter, which was lovely.  We got up to depart, and I realised that stiffness was most definitely setting in.  Oops.  We passed new groups arriving for various organised walks, cycles or clean ups.  It’s a busy place at the weekend Longshaw it seems. We waved goodbye to the organisers who had done a great job and were still smiling, pretty impressive eh?  Thank you nice National Trust Longshaw team for doing such an awesome job.  It is a hard job, but I hope not a thankless one, your efforts are most definitely massively appreciated!  Sorry it’s blurred (did warn you) I think you get a sense of the hats though don’t you.  Fabulous, absolutely fabulous!

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I realised I was actually very stiff getting up to walk back to car.  My new best friends, Non-smiley, Smiley (I’ve just realised that makes her sound like a sort of Grumpy Smiley, maybe I should call her Smiling Non-Smiley instead?), and her parkrun pal also made a move.  They practically skipped off ahead as me and my official Smiley buddy laboured our way back up the track to the car.  Also, just to rub it in, did my eyes deceive me, or did I see her jogging up the road later, apparently merrily running home to Dore?  She’s a machine!  Of more concern, I couldn’t help noticing her parkrun friend was no longer with her…. It makes you think doesn’t it.  To lose one running companion may be regarded as a misfortune, but to lose two looks like carelessness…  I hope it was just carelessness, and nothing more sinister still, there is certainly a pattern of mysterious disappearances correlating with person last seen with.  Makes you think doesn’t it?  This might be the last image of that woman, leaving apparently willingly enough in the company of the Smiley non-Smiley…  I shall be watching Look North all week most avidly, just in case of any ‘missing persons’ reports.  Better safe than sorry…

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We drove back, chatting about the run, how brilliant it was, how brilliant we were, usual post-run endorphins fuelled euphoria.  It is so true what they say about the addictive nature of that buzz.  (Though I have to concede I find the new evidence from boffins that ‘runners high’ is actually caused by smugness escaping from the body rather than endorphins to be entirely plausible) I’m sure it’s just as great for me with my time as for the more elite runners who whizzed round in a fraction of our times.  Slightly disquieting though was that on the way back, mysterious noises of something rolling around in the boot of my car became more and more obvious.  Eventually I felt compelled to tell my running buddy that I didn’t have a body in there.  Or at least, I certainly couldn’t recall putting a corpse in the back, and I’m sort of counting on the likelihood that I’d have remembered if I had.  I shouldn’t have worried, she was fine about it actually, basically taking the line that as long as it wasn’t anyone she knew personally, it wasn’t any of her business.  That’s what friends are for.  Anyway, let’s be honest, a body wouldn’t roll around that much, on reflection, a much more likely explanation is that someone must have dumped a decapitated head in the boot of my car whilst we were out running round.  After all, I had left my car keys unattended whilst I was out for a run.   I forgot to check the boot when I got home, and I can’t be bothered to go back outside to look now.  I’ll try and remember to peak in tomorrow.  It’s so easy to forget though isn’t it.  Cheetah buddy left some running leggings in the boot of her car for so long that all the reflective strip came off, they were fine otherwise though after a whiz through the washing machine.  I think a detached head might not fare so well if left undiscovered for months and months, but maybe we’ll find out.  I’ll keep you posted.

Phew that was a long one.  Didn’t realise there was so much to comment on.  No wonder I’m stiff, despite the hot bath earlier.  I’m wondering if I ought to finally do something about that by getting out the foam roller.  I found out quite recently that apparently they don’t in fact work by osmosis.  It is not enough to just have the in the same house/ flat or room as you, you are supposed to actually use them in an interactive and considered way!  I suppose that means I’ll have to take off the polythene wrap.  I thought it was like joining a gym, once you’d paid your membership fee for the year that was a sufficient commitment to getting fit to start to see results.  I attributed the fact my foam roller wasn’t really getting results was because it was a cheap and cheerful purchase got in a sale from an already discount sports shop. You get what you pay for sometimes.    Now I find out otherwise, truth hurts almost as much as using the darned thing probably will.  Maybe I’ll have a go  later, or maybe not.  Perhaps it’s time to follow the best possible advice for avoiding running injuries that my very own Cheetah buddy shared with me today.  It was an image on one of her birthday cards, awesome choice!

how to avoid running injuries

For now, pot of tea I think and maybe some Sunday night telly.  Perfect end to perfect day.  Thanks running buddy, thanks National Trust, thanks other runners, and thanks especially marshals.  Goodnight y’all.  Over and out…

getting ready jan longshaw 10k

Categories: 10km, motivation, off road, race, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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)

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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.

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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.

s-VEGEMITE-MARMITE-large

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

Monday Mob Muster

This post will be photo free.  There is a very good reason for this.  The Monday Mob are essentially an underground secret society.  They have been around for quite a while, years in fact, lurking in the shadows, furtively whispering messages to one another to agree a rendezvous.  They emerge from winter shadows at the designated time and place, head out for their companionable slow and steady run, and then once again disappear into the mists and trees of Sheffield.   That’s what I’d heard anyway.  A mysterious gathering, other runners would speak of them, but no-one seemed to have actually seen them or run with them.  Like a sort of benign urban myth, you know the kind of thing, a friend of a friend met someone whose neighbour’s hairdresser’s post-person had seen them out running together… once… allegedly.

There was little to go on quite frankly, until, unexpectedly, back at Halloween parkrun at Sheffield Hallam they seemed to quite deliberately out themselves.  Admittedly they were disguised to look as inconspicuous as possible, wearing lime green witches hats, and rattling collection tins in aid of parkrun as they gamely sold cake (good call) to the runners of Sheffield.  To be completely fair, they may not have intended to be publicly identified and outed in this way.  What happened, was that the race director alerted parkrunners to the Monday Mob’s fund raising initiative, and that was that, cat out of the proverbial bag, not going back in not for anyone.  The group now had  a name, and members of the group had recognisable faces.  They were well and truly in the open and in the public domain, ready or not!

cat-out-of-the-bag warning

Clearly, I did make a donation and have some cake (just to be polite) and so put some faces to some at least of this elusive gathering.  They all had big smiles and a welcoming demeanour.  I also recognised at least a couple as regular parkrunners, and more importantly, parkrunners of about my speed and running temperament.  That is, happy with the slow and steady complete rather than compete approach.  Got me thinking.

So it was a couple of weeks ago, having done some shark like circling of those I recognised back at parkrun for a few weeks before,  I approached one of the Monday Mob directly, and asked if they were up for a fresh face.  The person I spoke to was incredibly friendly and welcoming, and immediately gave me her contact details, perhaps it wasn’t going to be quite as hard to infiltrate this group as I’d first imagined, would there be a catch?  Apparently not.  Upshot of all this shenanigans is that tonight, I headed off to join them.  Venturing out in the dark and cold to embrace whatever initiation may await me.  How I levered myself off the sofa I’m not entirely sure, but I’m very glad I did.

I strapped on my TomTom and again by jogging to the rendezvous point in an attempt to up my mileage, was ridiculously early, and had to hang around feeling self-conscious in the dark wearing my builder’s tabard (all reflective stripes and luminous yellow in extra extra large).  Eventually another runner appeared and was really encouraging.  Others emerged from the gloom, and all were so friendly it was like being swamped in a really sincere (but not inappropriate or claustrophobic) hug.  I was made to feel really welcome, it was genuinely lovely.   I’m not sure how many of us there were, maybe 8 or so?   I was a bit worried that by prostituting myself around other running groups in this way I might be being a bit disloyal to Smilies, and come across as flaky and/or disloyal to this new group, but actually at least a couple were also Smilies, and many do parkrun and other stuff too.  The woman I paired up with said on one occasion only a couple of them turned up, and they ended up hooking up at the back of a Frontrunner escorted run which had coincidentally just headed out from their shop.  Wow, Monday nights are positively congested around Hunters’ Bar!

I’m coming to the conclusion that the running community in Sheffield is really a complicated Venn diagram or spirograph of overlapping circles.  Lots of us toy with a variety of groups, and I think maybe it doesn’t matter too much – we can simultaneously embrace multiple identities without developing multiple personality disorders as such.

I will always be primarily a Smiley, but I think there’s room to be a Marshal Mudder at an Endurer Dash; an Accelerator on a Thursday wood run; a Hobbiteer out in the woods with my yomping buddies; a parkrunner on a Saturday; an intermittent Rustling’s Runner (if I ever get fast enough to keep up with them) – so why not a Monday Mobster now and again too?  I guess if I was out their winning national or international races it might be a bit more complex, but I can’t see clubs fighting to retain sole rights to sponsor me.  All good.  One day if I can be bothered I might do an actual Venn diagram of Sheffield running clubs, but I have a feeling it will always be a project for tomorrow, mañana, as the saying goes.

I wanted to join the Monday group because I think the steadier pace will suit me, the Rustling Runners who also head out on a Monday, but a bit later are way too fast for me to keep up without feeling like either my chest will burst or I will cry, possibly both.  Also, although I have significantly upped my running mileage in the last couple of weeks, I haven’t been doing any road running at all, because I don’t like it frankly, but it will do me good to get some miles on the clock on tarmac, how else am I ever to even get to the start of the Sheffield Half?  The Monday Mob do road running at this time of year.  Most importantly, they seem a companionable and friendly group, what’s not to like?

So greetings were exchanged, introductions made.  I couldn’t believe quite how nice and inclusive everyone was, really encouraging and apparently genuinely pleased to have a newcomer join in the fun (though I know from personal experience, that the novelty of having me in the  midst may wear off quite soon, I’ll enjoy the honeymoon period whilst it lasts…)  I found out a bit of history of the group, it started as part of an Active Sheffield (or something) initiative, and that meant led runs for a few months.  Once the funding dried up, the group continued under its own steam, which is a pretty impressive example of sustainability and capacity building of which any public health initiative should be proud.  It was great.  There was a bit of discussion about where to go, and then we headed of towards town (Waitrose to be precise), I never run that route, it was reasonably lit, and we did go at an easy pace, I was able to chat away with my running buddy.  A fellow Smiley I recognised her, but haven’t really spoken  at length before.  It was really nice and companionable.  We swapped tales of how we got into running and why we do it, most bonding, and inspirational too – for me at least.  She is coming back after a pretty major injury, such tenacity to get fit again is very impressive.

It was quite an urban run (though not exactly parkour to be fair, in my head this is sort of the stuff we were doing-ish), and it made a change.  We even went under an underpass at one point and  alongside the dual carriageway before we turned back towards are starting point at the Hunters’ Bar roundabout.  I really enjoyed it, much more than I’d hoped, it was a comfortable pace, atmosphere and welcoming group.  I’m sure I’ll be back.

So I thanked my new Best Friends Forever, and after hugs of farewell and promises to do it all again soon (although not next week as they’ll all be at the pub instead – this group gets better and better)  we dispersed through the park.   They were a little apologetic about this ‘not running’ aspect of their running diary, but personally, I think team bonding, and group nurturing is fantastically important and a very sensible approach to maintaining motivation in my book.  It may take cake to entice a Smiley (or prosecco), the Monday Mob are apparently more hot chocolate/ pub people.  It’s good to do cross training, I think my running Venn diagram will find room for both!

why are you running

We said our proper goodbyes by some of the cars parked in Endcliffe park, and  I set off at a gentle jog to go home.  I didn’t have a head torch, so bottled out of running through the park itself, instead heading off down Rustlings Road.  I found myself at the corner just in time for the rendezvous with the regular Rustlings Runners Monday group.  It was a bit surreal, as they at first assumed I’d come to join them, whereas I was actually all garlanded in smiles because I’d got endorphins flowing post run, and because I knew I would not have to do any more running until tomorrow,  they on the other hand, being stronger runners than me were all garlanded in smiles at the prospect of being just about to embark on a run in the cold and dark right now…  I had been caught red-handed, moonlighting with another group.   Uh oh…  Even so, it was really nice to see them, and we ran together up Rustlings Road where we paused for a quick catch up before they sprinted off up the hills in the darkness and I loped home at a rather more sedate pace.  I am very fond of these running buddies too, but I am not in their league, I was puffed just doing the 1 km or whatever it is,  up Rustlings Road to the corner, though it probably did me good to have to push on a bit.  Definitely at a speed where I could no longer comfortably talk and run though.  There was plenty of time however to identify future running challenges.  Longshaw next weekend is a possible, though clashes with the Smiley off-road, the half-marathon coming up too of course.  Get me and my running calendar insights!   I did my usual thing of being really enthusiastic as post run I feel invincible, it is sometimes hard to recapture this enthusiasm the following morning…

monday mob initiation run

So, this is what I ended up doing despite myself, once again a triumph for my ‘conscientious if not keen’ gene.  I said I’d go, and go I did, and that ended up being a respectable extra 5.6 miles on the mileometer, and my first road run in months.  I don’t really count parkrun, as those footpaths are a bit more forgiving than the pavement slabs of the roadside.  Hooray!  All in all, a very positive Monday Mob initiation.  Also a great end to the day which started catastrophically.  Oh, why was that I hear you say?   Well, I wouldn’t want you to think I’m being a drama queen or attention gaining or anything, but it was pretty dire I can tell you.  I’d woken early, and had a blast of energetic hoovering, washing up and tidying, before settling down at my laptop to do some writing work I’ve been putting off for some time.  To reward myself for my domestic goddess like achievements, I made myself a really perfect cup of coffee.   As I sat down and put the mug down beside me, by some freak of gravity, combined with the ill-judged juxtaposition of my over-full desk tidy to the mug, I somehow knocked not one, but two permanent marker pens.  They sort of catapulted out of the desk tidy in a perfect arc, landing upside down right in my mug of coffee.  I was really, really displeased.  I wish now, I’d had the foresight to take a snap shot of this accident, it was rather newsworthy after all.  However, at the time, I was way too upset.  Not only was my caffeine fix ruined, I had to do quite a lot of both mopping up and pen salvage.  Those permanent marker pens cost more than you think – or would do, if they hadn’t mysteriously found their way back to my house from an unspecified work place some years ago.

My desk tidy is fabulous though, I made it myself hoping to submit it as a ‘top tip’ to Take-a-Break magazine as it’s made out of an old poster tube, decorated with the cover of take-a-break and then sticky backed plastic.  I made a set, one for me, and one for each of my most favourite work colleagues, four in total.  I’ve had mine nigh on 15 years I should think, and it’s still quite as lovely as the day it was created.   I like to imagine my friends/colleagues have similarly treasured theirs for all these years, but then again, I harbour a lot of misjudged fantasies.  Don’t we all?  You know what, I’m going to go and photograph it now to share with you – I won’t do an absolute dramatic reconstruction of the incident itself, but you will get to see the desk tidy, and the ceramic coaster that was the landing point for my  mug.  I fully accept I could probably have done a better risk assessment in advance of this manoeuvre, but I need your support with this, not your contempt.  I did submit this brilliant and practical idea to Take-a-Break as intended by the way, but for some bizarre reason they never snapped it up for their top tips page.  Their loss.

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So that’s my running done for another day, thank you Monday Mob for the welcome, I’ll be back, yes indeedy I will!  Now I just have to review the Smiletastic stats, the highlight of my week for the first quarter of the year.  This is living, it really is, here is an upbeat motivational quote to prove it!

dude run run

 

 

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

Making the big time – meet The Poster Girl for the Round Sheffield Run

round sheffield run 118 in the woods

It’s not that I’ve got a poor body image exactly, it would be more accurate to say I have a realistic understanding of my body’s human frailties, and it’s a poor body indeed.  Mine, for all its idiosyncrasies is what defines me whether I like it or  not.  Whilst it is hardly true to say ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way’, it has served me well, I should take care of it, and not berate my genetic inheritance, after all, it allows me to put one foot in front of another, repeat, and so on – that’s all that was needed to access the complicated and ambivalent joys of running!  Bizarrely, through running I’ve become sort of habituated to the horrors of being caught on film.   It’s not made me body confident, but it possibly has made me body-resigned.   I’ve never been so snapped in my life since I started running. There are photographers everywhere at events, parkrun, sharing on Facebook.  The photos are great, yeah, yeah, we all may wince a bit at ones of ourselves, but on balance they are really fun.  Individual flattering photos are few and far between, rare treasures indeed.  However, I think maybe this is an example of how individual sacrifices have to be made for the greater good.   I cannot begin to explain how much joy photos of other people running have brought to my life.  Very few people look unconditionally fabulous in such circumstances, but a great many look hilarious.  There are websites devoted to unflattering running photos and some voluntarily upload their own corkers – I’ve included a few of my own on this blog.

Some runners look determined, or with a good photographer framing them (and we are blessed with fine photographers in these parts) can look like art works, captured in a moment in time.  You can observe people’s technique, relive races as you lament the puddles and bow waves generated by runners passing through liquid mud.  Having experienced the run first hand in inclement weather, you can now enjoy it again this time from the comfort of your sofa.  Photos allow you to see into other runners’ souls, pain written on their faces.  I love the shots of people apparently levitating, captured in the moment when both their feet were off the ground.  The fancy dress offerings, family outings with all generations represented.  The fast, the furious, the good, the bad and the ugly.  Everything in between. Even the worst of shots can be reclaimed with a good caption competition.   How about this (you might take as your inspiration the guy on the extreme left of the photo, giving me the evil eye).  Worst case scenario, at least they show you were there, taking part in something unexpected and maybe bigger than yourself.

victory finish smile unflattering

The point is, I’m never going to look like I’m running with the grace of a gazelle, lightly bounding through the grasslands of the Savanna.  If I’m to continue to risk being seen in public and head out the door to ‘run’, I guess I just need to develop a thick skin, a sense of humour to deflect the worst of the pictorial atrocities and sort of embrace the concept of the ‘unfortunate snapshot’, as an inevitable part of the running experience.  As surely as I have become interested in running socks; developed an unexpected curiosity for both foam rollers and the road less travelled, I will find myself now and again caught on film, captured for all eternity in a less than flattering pose.  Same things happens to celebrities, ultimately, nobody cares.  OK, maybe celebrities get a few more fringe benefits by way of compensation, but let’s not get picky.  Basically, what I’m trying to say is don’t let a poor body image get in the way of running… you probably are doing just fine.

Over time,  I have come to realise that actually, when you are running, this is honestly true.  Really, nobody cares.  They might possibly be amused, but they are unlikely to be judging in harsher terms, and those that are judging are most likely doing so from the sidelines.  We should feel sorry for them as they are missing out on all the fun, no wonder they are small-minded, bad-tempered and have to plump their own egos by being derogatory about others.  (What do you mean defensive?).  As for the really fast runners, or being self-conscious about my body as a middle aged, past fifty female being lapped by lithesome young men I’ve learned a few things since I started running, which I will share here, you might want to write them down, or at least bookmark this page:

  1. We aren’t so much being lapped we are ‘active spectators’ who can simultaneously watch and admire the front runners, whilst participating in the event ourselves, perfect example of multi-tasking.  A cause for celebration, not shame.
  2. Whilst I absolutely deplore the objectification of either sex, focussing on an Adonis like form ahead can help you in your quest for a PB, where is the shame in that?  And incidentally, I’ve had at least one short sighted runner (straight man) admit to me they had their eye on a particularly delightfully contoured bottom for almost an entire parkrun, really pushed themselves to keep it in sight, and it was only at the end they realised it belonged to a gender other than the one they had been pursuing in their imagination!
  3. Most importantly, I now realise that the ‘serious’ runners, are so focused on their own performance, that I could be running ahead of them naked, bar my shoes, and they wouldn’t even notice me unless my spikes were superior to theirs.  Fact.

MDF-NoMatterHowSlow

Honestly, nobody cares.  Having said that, I’m not so completely liberated that I’m going to now upload all my really dire offerings, there are options enough within this blog already for anyone who wishes to ruin me.  I’m quite happy to post funny and unflattering photos of others though, they are already in the public domain, so I reckon it’s a fair cop.  Note, all of these people are in great shape, they ought to look absolutely fabulous in photos, but guess what, if you are running, chances are you’ll be snapped in less than poised perfection at some point in your sprinting, trailing and jogging career.

Even so, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that now and again I’ve dreamt about being a bit more in tune with the fantasy image of the streamlined runner.  You know, those runners that look strong, confident, streamlined and are eating up the miles with effortless long athletic strides.  They never have to worry about bounce, and drag, and pelvic floor.  They won’t fall over half way round, end up face first in the mud or be last home at the end of an event.  Sigh, imagine what that would be like.  To be The Poster Girl* for a running event, then you’d know you’d really arrived.

So I like to think it isn’t entirely hypocritical and inconsistent of me to harbour a dream of one day being that Poster Girl.  To find myself chosen as the singular image that will epitomize and encompass all the that the organisers wish for in promoting their running event.   Now, wouldn’t that be something?  However far fetched.  What is it they say ‘you gotta have a dream, cos otherwise how you gonna have a dream come true‘ (sorry, Americans and their cut short English, not exactly RP I’m afraid, but you know what I mean.)

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If I’m really honest, I’ve been angling for such an opportunity for some time, albeit going for the ironic rather than serious approach.  I had really hoped to be snapped up by the Wingerworth Wobblers for the poster for their 2016 Wingerworth wobble.  I’m not ashamed to admit I’d more than hinted at this possibility, perhaps even pro-actively lobbied for it in an earlier blog entry (bringing ballast to the back). After all, if you see me in action, compared with the poster advertising the 2015 event (profound contrast between the rhetoric of the promotion and reality of participation you will agree) I think you can see that replacing the current image with one of me in action instead would have a profound impact on the appeal of the race.  Widening participation is terribly important in this day and age, and surely I could be the face of inclusivity for them if not exactly aspiration and excellence?  To be fair, I don’t think the committee for this year’s event have yet agreed their publicity strategy for the 2016 Wingerworth Wobble so there is still time for them to consider.  What do you think, am I in with a chance?  The photo’s already good to go, just a bit of photo-shopping to complete the picture

Reader, I am toying with you.  I’m here to tell you that dreams really can come true, I am the living incarnation of this!  Earlier this week I was stalking the Round Sheffield Run Facebook page for updates on how entries were going. This is absolutely my favourite event of the year.  Friendly, local, beautiful location, leafy trails and glorious views.  It has everything, lovely route, pathologically friendly marshals, great stop start/ format so you never have to run more than 3 km maximum.  Lots of spectator support – look out for the pirate in the woods (or was that the TenTenTen?).  It is clearly a run/race designed by people who love running, and have thought about the ideal components for a perfect event, and then made it so.  It is unusual, and possibly unique, in that the way it is structured allows elite runners and novices to run in the same event.  They use the terrain in a fun way.  So there are prizes for King/Queen of the mountain for those who are super-keen and want to sprint up the killer hills, but places where it is beyond imagining (and/or too dangerous) to run, like up some steep slippery steps going into one of the woods, become untimed zones so you can saunter up, eating your body weight in jelly babies as you do so, and exchanging pleasantries with other runners or marshals en route.  What’s not to like?

Fast runners can treat it as interval training, mere mortals like myself can enjoy the unpressurised approach.  Jelly babies in abundance (bananas as the vegetarian option), nice bling.  Different waves of start times mean, if you go early you get to see the faster runners pass you by, whereas in other events you just trail home behind them never getting to see the elite runners.  This was the first time ever I’d actually enjoyed the experience of running at the time, as opposed to feeling smug on completion, and given that the route is 24 km or thereabouts (only 20 km is timed), that’s pretty much a miracle.  I also made the rookie error of taking the advice about ‘suitable for all abilities’ quite literally, and from having only really done parkrun and a slow and laboured 10 km before (well over an hour and on a tedious flat course Varsity 10K), entered the RSR without realising  quite how far it was.  I’m so glad I did, I would have missed out massively otherwise, and once you’ve done that distance once, albeit as a walk /run (it wasn’t so much of a miracle that I could actually run the whole thing – what do you take me for?) – then it follows you can do it again.  Hooray!  So, another learning outcome for you from today dear reader, don’t be afraid to give the RSR a go. What’s the worst that can happen?  (Actually, scratch that bit, that sounds like tempting fate).  Maybe think in terms of if you can walk this distance, then why not enter anyway, and just put in the odd gentle jog en route.  You’ll be fine, it’ll be fun, think of the bragging rights on completion.  And trust me, I went to complete rather than compete, and it was a great way to go.  More time on the course, better value for money, that’s how I see it, and the queue for coffee is shorter by the time you get back to Endcliffe Park.

Did I not mention they even have proper coffee at the end?  Also sports massages in return for donations.  Photos for ‘free’ – donations encouraged,only cheapskates fail to cough up.  Honestly, the only thing that would improve this event would be an archway of rainbows lining the entire course, and compulsory fancy dress for competitors.  Oh, actually, that reminds me.  First year I entered this as a pair with my Cheetah Buddy and we found our numbers were 118 118.  No really!  We were over-joyed, we hadn’t known in advance unfortunately, so had to resort to post event fancy dress via a bit of cunning tampering with the image.  You get the idea though.  Shame we couldn’t find a way to make our legs look longer with the image tampering, but we look happy enough all the same, and that was for real!

So, I’m really building up to the climax now.  Guess what?  No, go on, see if you can guess!  No, not that.  Oh, no, not that either – what do you take me for?  Perhaps I should… yes, I’ll just tell you.  LOOK.  It’s me.  I am The Poster Girl for a running race.  Not just any running race by MY FAVOURITE RUN OF THEM ALL.  I can now die happy (though hopefull not as an immediate and direct consequence of all this excitement).  I could burst I’m so chuffed I don’t mind telling you.  In the circumstances they could have picked a picture as unflattering as hell and I wouldn’t have cared, but actually, they’ve done pretty well AND I’m wearing my Smiley Vest.  This means a perfect trinity of delight – I get to be The Poster Girl (point one)  for my favourite run (point two) and do so sporting my treasured (but rather unflattering) Smiley Paces vest (point three).  Weirdly, it’s also a picture I’ve not seen before so double bonus points for that:

RSR poster girl

Now, pedants amongst you might notice (so I’ll get in there first), that strictly speaking this isn’t an actual poster, and nor is it the only image being used to promote the event on Facebook.  It is but one post of many on their Facebook page, bigging up the occasion and trying to get people to sign up.  You know what.  I don’t care.  I have had my five minutes of glory, and the opportunity to get a screen dump of that moment so it is now true for all time.  I was the runner they chose for that moment on that day, even if it was just a joke or because of my Smiley vest.  It even looks like I’ve over-taken some of the other runners, as long as I don’t draw attention to the fact that their different coloured bibs are indicative of a later starting wave, so actually they’ve well caught me up.  It can be our little secret, yes?

The fact that the use of my image was but fleeting, sort of echoes with the nature of both a dream-like state (who knows what is real and what is not in that magical land of limbo and semi-consciousness) and that running requires a fleetness of foot.   Or in my case, at least to be game.  Yay, get me, I’m a Poster Girl for the running community.  It is only a matter of time before if you Google my name it will come up as ‘runner’ for the top hit.  If my old PE teacher could see me now!

I’ll try not to let this unexpected moment of celebrity change me, instead I’ll use my influence for the greater good.  Ideally, I’d like to travel the world and meet people, be an ambassador for world peace and rescue animals.  Fortunately I have friends to help keep me grounded; eminent Smiley Paces athletes who have been proper celebrities before me (by say actually winning championships whilst representing the UK in running and triathlon for example. as opposed to having their picture randomly chosen for a facebook post) who can advise; and also actual ground beneath me.  Muddy and undulating, ultimately, it is that uneven  terrain which will bring me back to earth.  I fully expect to be face planting or arse sliding at some point on the Round Sheffield Run 2016, but you know what, it will be soooooooooo worth it.  Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait.

So dear reader, on dark days when life’s challenges may seem to overwhelm you, I’m here to tell you dreams can come true.  If it can happen to me it can happen to anyone.  I may even come to build a career as a motivational speaker, touring the country with my rousing and uplifting talk on this very theme, coming to a village hall near you any time soon.  Look out for the posters!

(* In this instance it is OK to use the term ‘girl’ because the whole point is that a poster girl is an artificial one-dimensional construct that just doesn’t really exist, trust me on this).

****STOP-PRESS***

OMG – have found I’ve practically gone viral – see runABCnorth Kandoo attitude for Sheffield Trail Run article  it just gets better, I get to be associated with a pun as well, who doesn’t love a fun pun for a fun run?

ABC north running feature

Categories: motivation, off road, race, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Chimp down and Tiger up – running techniques and other shenanigans

Yay, time for the hobbit harriers to reconvene.  I do wonder if anyone out there has been googling ‘hobbit’ and ended up at my blogsite.  That would be really annoying wouldn’t it?  Sorry about that.

Anyway, it being Tuesday, communications having been furtively exchanged and once again we hobbits buddied up for a running rendezvous.

The plan was to go for a long slow route.  I wanted to check out bits of the Round Sheffield Run (my absolutely favourite race of the running calendar – though on reflection, as I’ve only run in about half a dozen organised events in my whole life that might not be such an amazing endorsement, but trust me, it is fun!).  When I last went out with Cheetah Buddy we decided against taking the route down to the Limb Valley from the Norfolk Arms because we thought it might be beyond muddy, and we were wet enough already. Well, one of us was,  (mostly me).  Today then, the objective was to check out those parts of the Round Sheffield Way and see what the trails brought us.

It was fun to meet up again, we chatted quite a lot.  Some might say more chatting than running went on, but I say it is important to concentrate on breathing when you run, and anyway, if you can talk and run it shows you are actually really fit.  We will start with improving our chatting, and then we can add in the running bit later, once we’re more established in walking and talking simultaneously.  Also, without wishing to sound defensive, a lot of what we talked about was running related.  In particular, the importance of a good sports bra and the difficulty of finding one.  Even more difficult is being parted from a good bra once it is past its prime, because of the fear factor that you’ll never be able to build another relationship as good as this ever again.  We actually spent quite some time debating the perils of ill-fitting bras and contingency plans to prevent blistering.  Remarkable results can be achieved with strategically positioned soft felt apparently, something to think about.   We also had a bit of a confessional about the dilemma of spending an absolute fortune on running shoes, only to find out after a couple of weeks that they really aren’t quite right.  We’ve all done it, hung onto trainers, willing them to suddenly be comfy next time we wear them, wondering how it is possible that they were fine in the shop, on the treadmill, round the house – and yet on real mud and roads suddenly the rub and blister and pinch, and just aren’t fit for purpose.  If you are me, you remove them, put them somewhere where they are in constant sight, an ongoing reproach of your poor purchasing decision and a silent rebuke to you for having stupid hobbit plate feet.  After a bit, you try again, same result.  Blisters.  It seems criminal that these lovingly fitted trainers just wont squelch on, and in your heart of hearts you know that it’s too late to return them, best to just get them out of your life.  Like ending a toxic relationship, you will only really appreciate how dire it has been when you experience the relief of letting them go.  Fortunately, there are increasing options for unwanted but good condition shoes.  As well as the obvious charity shops, or offering to other members of our very own running club, there are now better options too.  There is a charity a mile in her shoes, which takes good quality kit, and uses it as part of a volunteer led initiative to get women affected by homelessness up and running.  I wish I’d known about them the first time I had to jettison some expensive hardly worn trail shoes, they ended up at Oxfam, I’m sure whoever got them was pleased by the bargain, but I’d rather they’d gone to a runner.  For tatty shoes I now know some running shops will recycle them too, though I’m not quite sure what happens to them.  Still, the point is (top tip even) it just isn’t worth hanging on to shoes that don’t fit.  You can’t wear them, and if you do, you’ll regret it.  Much better to let go, and free up the physical and mental space for a new better fitting pair.  Yes, it is like burning money, but once the money is burnt, it isn’t going to magically reconstitute, you have to learn to move on.

Anyway, after being distracted by earnest conversation, now and again we loped on upwards.  We weren’t in especially agile form.  In any case it was way too slippery for running in many parts, and quite undulating.  Emerging at the top of the valley, we jogged past the Alpaca place (brrrr it was cold up there, the wind shoots through you) and found the footpath down to the Limb Valley.  It was lovely to do a route I’ve not trod in ages, but in truth it was way too wet to do any actual running, we were skidding about all over the place.  We did manage to pause for our very own photo shoot though, got to get our priorities right after all!

We decided there wasn’t time to go down to Whirlow Hall, so instead took a stile and ran past a field of curious horses, through the mist, and out back onto Ringinglow Road.  More footpaths took us a zig zag route in the general direction back to where we started.  It was good fun exploring, but ridiculously slippery.

We seemed to be constantly battling with some pretty steep up and down bits.  We raided our memory banks for running techniques.  hobbit buddy believed she’d heard a mantra about ‘chimping downhill’ and ‘tiger uphill’.  Short little steps and an upright posture going down, more attacking going up, I think.  Essentially, it became apparent neither of us really knew what this meant.  However, undeterred, clearly the idea necessitated a great many animal impressions as we experimented with the general concept.  This included mimicking ape-like gaits down hill (more effective than you might think) and making roaring tiger impressions that were more fun to aim at each other what with using hands as attacking claws and needing to work on our vocals and everything, rather than to try using actually running up any hills.

An unfortunate side-effect of making our own entertainment in this way was that we inevitably lost concentration and slid about even more than we had to begin with.  I managed to stay on my feet (new trail shoes with thicker grips perhaps?) but my partner did a pretty good tumble, though disappointingly this was onto her knees rather than an actual slide on her rump.  Lots of mud though, so that was good.

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We made it back in good spirits.  We didn’t go as far as we’d hoped, but we had a lot of fun charging about the countryside, and maybe it’s best to finish whilst we still wanted to do some more.  Can’t wait to get back out there again.  This is going to be grand, than you hobbit buddy!  Now if we could just find  a way to perfect our selfies…

unfortunate close up

 

 

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

Bouncing Back to Bushy, parkrun ponderings – in it for the long run?

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So far, in relation to my half-marathon training, I’ve mainly focused on stock piling the rest days.  My stealth training regime is going so well and being conducted in such secrecy that even I have not managed to spot any suspicious changes in behaviour suggestive of extra running sessions in preparation for my forthcoming hypothetical half marathon.  I do have some legitimate reasons for my tardiness (dodgy hip, being away la de la blah etc), but it does not bode well.  Today therefore, I returned to parkrun, parkrun tourism it is true, but parkrun all the same.  It is a start.

Attendance at parkrun is pretty much preprogrammed now, I can’t imagine doing anything else on a Saturday morning, but if I had planned on slacking, and slipping under the radar by dint of being off my home patch this weekend, I had a rude awakening this week that made me realise I do actually need to do something other than browse running magazine articles from the safety and comfort of a sofa if the half-marathon distance is ever to be in reach.

But why so Lucy?’ I hear you cry. Well, let me explain…

I’m not sure if it was a set back exactly, but I certainly had a reality check this week.  Visiting a friend with two young boys, she told them that I was planning to run a half marathon.  They are at that sweet age of innocence, completely disinhibited and as yet unaware of the requirement to pretend approval or admiration – rather than state the uncomfortable  obvious truth –  if social etiquette requires it.  This is either refreshing or demoralising depending on whether or not you are planning to take on the Yorkshire Half Marathon,  – Sheffield, in a few months time.  Their immediate response to this news was to, quite literally, roll around on their backs, clutching their sides, laughing with uncontrolled hysteria.  One on his bed, the other on their bedroom floor, they cavorted like lion cubs, playing and laughing and writhing around.  The very idea of me undertaking such a physical challenge had them exploding with not just giggles, but cackles of bottomless mirth, that are probably still echoing across the universe even now.  My friend corrected them ‘no she really is, it isn’t a joke!‘  The younger one continued laughing (in his world this was clearly a double bluff, and one he could see straight through, he wasn’t to be fooled that easily!).  The older sibling however stopped laughing, and sat up on his bed, staring at me directly in the face.  Examining my expression for clues as to whether or not this might actually be true.  As I returned his eye contact I could see his incredulity morph into horror.  ‘Oh my god, she’s serious‘, he said not a word more.  He didn’t have to, he clearly recognises such a feat to be not only impossible, but the very idea is insane.  He is a well brought up young man, teetering in his early teens, he knows it isn’t nice to laugh and point at the insane, but he doesn’t have words to communicate any more about this.  To him I at fifty years old, must seem beyond ancient, I am the physical manifestion of decrepitude.   He blinks, and stays silent.  This silence speaks volumes.  His younger brother picked up on the mood, and also sat up suddenly, staring at me impassively. After a silence that stretched seemingly to eternity, he said ‘but that’s miles and miles‘  ‘13 miles,’ his brother chipped in eventually.   They looked genuinely concerned.   As has previously been established in this blog, I am very suggestible.  I could feel my fragile confidence not so much wavering, as vaporising.   Their concern was quite sweet to be honest, but also quietly (literally) mortifying.  Oh dear, here’s hoping I can prove them wrong.  I can feel a knot in my stomach though, what is it they say about ‘from the mouths of children?’  They have an insight, and honest integrity others do not.  The truth can hurt…

truth

The weather has been like the end of the world this week, flooding and pooling water creating impromptu lakes everywhere.  I took to stalking the Bushy parkrun facebook page as I’d heard a rumour that it might even be cancelled if the mud was too bad (fears of churning up the iconic Chestnut Avenue) it is true, a thousand plus runners will leave a bit more than the odd footprint on saturated ground.  Some wags on the Bushy parkrun facebook page have been teasing the run director about ensuring the weather fairies were benevolent.  Prayer was mentioned, and the challenge this might present what with his dodgy knee and everything particularly referred to.  As it happened, all was well, after an unpromising start, the skies stayed dry.  Whether this was as a direct result of interceding prayers I have no idea.

So, I was heading back to Bushy, I decided to try and up my mileage a bit.  It might be my first run in a  week, but I can still make this half marathon deadline… maybe.  I latched on my Tomtom, and headed out the door. Ironically, I found this initially had a demotivating effect.  I couldn’t get a satellite positioning, and found myself thinking ‘well there’s no point in running just yet, it wont count’  which is ridiculous!  Fortunately/ unfortunately, it did eventually lock on (or whatever it is it does to make sure stalkers can find me) and so I stumbled into a wobbly trot.  It is true, if somewhat infantile, that wearing the Tomtom did make me run for most of the way to the start, albeit reluctantly and half-heartedly.  I was quite pleased though to find it’s about 1.7 km from where I was staying to the start.  This once again suggests that if I get into the habit of jogging to and from parkrun I will build my distance and stamina too (hopefully) without noticing too much.  It was nippy out though, I wore my running coat, and didn’t even feel guilty.  I’d had a panic because I was unable to locate, and therefore could not wear, my running buff.  I feel naked without it.  Ironically running without my buff feels like running in the buff.  Do you see my point?

white stag bushy park

Inevitably, I got distracted en route though.  Bushy park was gorgeous today, I saw a white deer, not sure if it was actually albino, but it was definitely distinctly different from any others I saw, like something out of a fairy tale.   In fact, professor Google tells me that fallow deer do have a natural colour variance from white to brown, so maybe not as rare as all that.  Magical all the same though… I’m still holding out for a unicorn sighting there one day.  As I dawdled, I also fell into wondering whether in the future archaeologists will think we live in a time when excrement was worshipped?   This is no more bizarre than believing in a dog poo fairy.  There is NO DOG POO FAIRY, s/he does not exist.

dog poo fairy never comes

This thought came from seeing a bag of dog poo, abandoned.  If there is one thing worse than  coming across random dog faeces, it is dog shit in a bag, suspended from a tree as if it were some sort of decorative bauble.  Who are these dog walkers kidding?  They never come back for them whatever they tell themselves at the moment of hanging up so prominently.  If they aren’t going to clear up properly, I’d rather  the deposit in question was left in situ to biodegrade, rather than displayed in all its glory at eye level.  There they stay for months or years, swaying in whatever wind that blows, until the bag becomes tatty subjected to the elements, shredded by tree branches.  Eventually, with awful inevitably it’s contents will spill downwards like a deeply unpleasant hatchling emerging from its egg,  leaving the discarded pooh bag swinging shredded and vile in the shrubbery.  It isn’t even just dog poo bags.  What about all those disposable nappies in landfill, infant poo, wrapped in cotton wool, sealed in plastic and buried deep in the earth.  If dug up at some later date it will look like these faeces have been lovingly preserved for future generations and to ensure their passage to the afterlife.  We aren’t exactly offering our descendants the same rewards for exploration and excavation as the ancient Egyptians did are we?

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The jog to the start, not only made me feel a bit smug, but also made me feel quite snug and warm.  I was wearing my ‘proper’ running jacket, which was quite expensive, and so I didn’t want to just leave it at the start.  Fortunately, it sort of packs down into its own pocket so you can wear it round your waist.  Unfortunately, this then bounces up and down on you as you jog round, and is quite unflattering too (then again, so is my whole running outfit).  Even so, I disrobed, and joined the thousand strong throng (which is quite hard to say out loud actually, strong thongs magically appear through the tongue twisting effects of it all).  There was a great run briefing.

First timers were warmly welcomed, there was a shout out for some expected New Zealanders, who delightedly identified themselves; the usual call to parkrun tourists to identify themselves (I didn’t this time, as I now view Bushy as sort of my second home, as I’ve racked up a fair few runs here now).  There were congratulations to people who had just achieved landmark Tees.  A novelty call out for Happy Wedding Anniversary wishes from parkrun as a surprise to one lucky wife.  Her husband had requested this as a romantic surprise, which it probably was, shame he didn’t actually tell them what her name was, so she was just Mrs ‘whoever’, no identify of her own at all, only an adjunct to him. Still, they do say it’s the thought that counts, and this was indeed a good thought.  I like this aspect of Bushy a lot.  This parkrun has somehow managed to maintain an intimate and friendly field, despite an enormous field week after week, it’s very impressive.  I had a warm glow of inclusiveness as I clapped away as seemed appropriate.

The course was muddy, and very slippery in parts, I was pleased I’d had the foresight to put on my trail shoes.  The bits on tracks are fine, but the grass had almost turned to fiendishly slidey mud in parts.  I set off a bit confused.  I somehow was a bit in the middle of things, and there were so many people there, I couldn’t really manoeuvre.  Navigating the ant hills was quite comical, loads of us bobbing up and down on the uneven terrain like, well I don’t know what really.   Panicking picnickers running away from a wasps’ nest in all directions in ungainly arm-flapping abandon perhaps?

I didn’t try too hard today, just felt pleased to be running at all after an unpromising week.  I made a point of thanking all the marshals as I passed and got some cheery responses, which was fun.  Plus, I do love that little ricochet effect of ‘thankyous‘ that sounded in my wake…  My hip, which was better for not being run on was complaining a bit again.  Small strides seem to help.  I was beaten home today by a huge lumbering dog and his rugby player physiqued human companion, even though he’d stopped for a ‘motion’ en route.  (The dog, not the human  – as far as I could gather anyway) .  There was also a speed walker very  much ahead.  I hope he was a  speed walker, I wasn’t having a great running day, but I’d like to have kept pace at least with someone strolling along.  He had a T-shirt on Richard Walks London so I think it was this guy, surely there aren’t two of them, leaving parkrunners for dust as they do that weirdly effective walking gait thing.  I’ve just seen he describes himself on his facebook page as ‘New Zealand ultra-distance race-walker and multiple record holder’, so actually, that makes me feel loads better.  I was within touching distance of a record holder, not in the wake of a walker at all!  I wonder if he spotted me?  I was certainly a sight I can tell you.

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I was in reflective mood again today, I did notice the most amazing skies going round.  The park was extraordinarily beautiful, I felt lucky to be experiencing it.  Approaching the finish line, I thought I saw someone I knew clapping me home, I picked up speed in anticipation, and slapped on my cheeriest smile and most gazelle like bouncy stride.  Neither saved me, but on the plus side, it wasn’t him at all.  Maybe the parkrunner in question is still injured after that freak, who-could-possibly-have-anticipated-it tumble he took the other day?  This is someone who has clearly never watched the opening credits of Casualty.  Alone in his flat, he decided to use a folding chair to stand on to reach up to a top shelf (what was the worst that could happen).  It did not end well, a near death experience apparently, when he had time to imagine he would be taking his last breath, he shouted out instinctively.  As he stared death in the face, it is unclear whether he found himself getting a glimpse of a bright light, or the flames of hell in the moment.  He did survive, and now has a brilliantly impressive bruise.  Shame it isn’t mankini weather, such war wounds should be on display.  It looks like a shark bite, no really, it does.  I was actually slightly jealous.  I mean my dodgy  hip has nothing visible by way of stimulating the sympathy impulse in others, more like repulsion, as I’d have to move a roll of fat out of the way to expose it.  I shan’t be doing that.   His bruise was epic, and no doubt will get bigger and bolder and bluer over the next week or so.  Spreading like an oil spill outwards until the entire available surface area is covered in a great slick of blackened, blooded skin.

On entering the finish funnel, the great boon of having worn my jacket round my waist, was that I was able to put it on straight away and stay warm.  However, within a few seconds, a cheery funnel marshal teased me for wearing it.  ‘You must be hot, what are you doing running in that?‘ he queried.  I over-explained that I’d only put it back on after I’d finished.  Defensive, moi?  My cheetah buddy clearly has spies everywhere.  Even here, hundreds of miles away from our home run at Sheffield, she has found a way to call out the mantra ‘walk away from the fleece‘.  She can’t seriously have outsourced this activity, can she?  It seems extraordinary, impossible even, but then again….

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Still debating this, I made it out of the funnel.  There was a good turn out today.  Despite the inclement weather threat, it stayed dry overhead, if wet underfoot, and the sky was beautiful.  We nearly had a triple funnel moment, but due to cunning marshalling this emergency procedure was averted.  I was a bit disappointed, it would have been quite something to behold.  I gathered later that apparently, for those statisticians out there, this was the fourth EVER biggest attendance at Bushy.  I’m surprised, because I reckon numbers will have been down because of the cold, and wet, and general grimness of the morning at about the time you’d need to set off to participate.  However, it did seem crowded I suppose, and I got quite boxed in.  Mind you, I didn’t try at all hard to escape those limiting factors in order to stretch out for my run.   Slow and steady wins the race, they say, sometimes. Anyway, as we all know, it isn’t a race it’s a run.  Here are the stats, just because really, I think its wondrous that Bushy parkrun publishes this sort of detail, plus you get a sense of how fast those fingers are moving on the clicker coming through.  Ooh, the pressure on the timers, I’d find that way too stressful to volunteer for myself!  The final total was 1214 participants – the biggest parkrun attendance in the UK today, hooray – I helped make it so!  Amazing really isn’t it?  All those people coming together from nowhere, and then vanishing afterwards, for a shared experience of running in a park on a Saturday morning.  How can anyone not love park run.  The continuum of times was spectacular too, fastest home 16.31 and final finisher 1.08.41.

Jan 2016 fourth largest attendance apparently

Exiting the tunnel (which was very busy this week – New Year’s Resolutions in action perhaps) a little crowd was chanting my name which was rather paranoia inducing ‘Lu-cy, Lu-cy, Lu-cy!’  Of course it wasn’t for me, it was for some other imposter Lucy, very alarming though, I felt I was under surveillance everywhere today!  The way they cheered my namesake home was however, quite something to witness!  It should’ve been me!

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Walking away, it was fun to cheer the final finishers home.  There were a few coming back well post the one hour mark today, but that is awesome to behold.  Two women in particular caught my eye as they neared the last 600 metres or so to the finish line.  They had slowed to a walk, but were grinning broadly, and holding hands, determined to finish together.  It was brilliant.  They were a distinctive pair, and I really wish I was going to be at Bushy next week as I bet they’ll be back. I clapped what I hope was encouragement and shouted ‘the end is in sight, I promise, it will be worth it when you finish’, they smiled back.  I reckon their endorphins had kicked in early!  I love parkrun, what’s not to like – oh, apart from the being expected to run bit, obviously…

tribesport jan running 2016

Just the little matter of the jog home – it gave me a running total of just under 10km in terms of distance, in terms of time per mile, well, that’s not the point is it, arguably, the slower you go, the more you prolong the pleasure of parkrun, no point in rushing round, you’d miss out on all the fun – parkrun parkfun indeed!

 

 

Categories: 5km, half marathon, motivation, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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