Shackleton weather this week at Parkrun. That is, arctic conditions, those rising to the weekly challenge of the 5km jog out, would not just be running in the wet carrying a barcode and wearing deely-boppers (optional). Instead, they (that is I) would be navigating the ice, dragging negative thoughts round the route with them/me (what was I thinking? why am here? Will I ever feel my hands or feet again?), definitely a test of tenacity to turn up at this week’s Parkrun….
Wet is one thing, snow and ice quite another. My relationship with snow is complex but perhaps familiar. Yes, yes, it is very inconvenient and cold and all of that, but the first snow of winter is completely brilliant. The possibilities for sledging and snow angels, and the sheer breath-taking loveliness of it all means at first you forget about the no public transport and ample chilblains aspects of it all. Well, I do anyway. Being in an attic flat with insufficient insulation meant it was absolutely freezing on Friday night. True, the temperature had plummeted anyway, plus I’d just come back from a trip to London for a couple of weeks, so returning to Sheffield I did indeed find as a soft southerner that it is a bit grim up North just now – (temperature wise, not local temperaments). And, it happened that snow was forecast, and snow came!
I was so cold in the night I couldn’t really sleep, and in the small hours detected that change in sound that can only mean one thing, SNOW! That was enough to get me out from under the duvet, first trying to peer through my Velux windows and excitedly realising I couldn’t see anything because they were completely obscured by snow. This meant I had to resort to opening blinds and looking out properly onto the snow-scape outside. Not an entirely poetic sight, as mainly from my bedroom window I can see a car park, but the cars were most definitely covered in a good couple of inches of snow, and the garden at the back (yep, I had to check out every possible window view in the house) was more working towards winter wonderland status with trees having a good covering and grassy areas obscured with a blanket of snow. I was so excited. This completely put paid to any further sleep, and I spent the rest of the night, blinking, getting up periodically to look out of the window and check that the snow was still there, whilst listening to Radio 4 Extra.
By morning, some of the snow had disappeared, though I can’t fathom why as there was an icy blast that made it feel way below freezing. I was quite taken with the idea of running in freshly fallen snow, but in the cold (literal and metaphorical) light of day, Parkrun was seeming a bit less appealing if I’m really honest. It was very icy, and nippy even by northern standards. Maybe not enough for wearing a coat on a night out, but cold enough to remark on it whilst waiting at the bus-stop say.
People often say to me ‘what possesses you to run?‘ I tell myself this is because they are in awe of my obvious commitment to the pursuit of athletic endeavours. If their intonation has a slight tang of incredulity, it is surely that they are incredulous at my tenacity, not at all that they are incredulous that I bother to venture out at all given my physical limitations which are many and manifest. Running motivation is different for all of us, so I can only speak personally. On this particular day it was largely on the basis that the worse the weather, the greater the bragging rights post run, so the misery of running in the cold and wet is cancelled out by the joy of going on and on about it later on. This though, alas, is only partially true. Because you can’t win a bragging contest with other runners who are out there running too anyway, and you can’t win a bragging war with non runners, because they just think you are stupid for going out in the first place. What you can do though is generate a healthy glow, burn some extra calories and enjoy breakfast more than is entirely decent. Plus, a handy motivational picture on the Graves Parkrun facebook page reminds us that –
‘It’s only cold if you’re standing still.’ This is sort of true, but little comfort to the volunteers, who for all I know are still standing in their fluorescent jackets immortalised in ice around the route at Sheffield Hallam because even extreme commitment to clapping runners en route wouldn’t do much to keep the cold at bay. Maybe as the winter finally draws in, we need motivational posters for the volunteers specifically as much as the runners. There’d be no Parkrun without them after all…
Venturing out of the house, it’s a lot harder to get about than I’d imagined. Black ice, thick ice, icy ice. I nearly went arse over tit (and not in a glamorous way) just going down the front steps. My route to the park takes me down a really steep hill. It didn’t look too bad, but was adrenalin inducing treacherous to negotiate. Quite quickly I was skidding out of control, and for quite a distance. It was that thing of being too scared to try and stop the skid, because I thought I’d end up falling backwards and cracking my head open. In my third skid, I built up such momentum that I saw my life flash before me. I ended up bending my knees and adopting a sort of skiing posture. (Well, what I think might be a ski posture but I’ve never been skiing so who knows? I have though met a fortune teller who told me I’d meet a ski instructor one day who will take me to Switzerland and teach me for free, so I’m rather hanging on for that. I’ve been waiting a quarter of a century so far, so I’m hoping it will happen quite soon now.) In fact, this change in posture, just created extra acceleration, and in desperation I did a sort of slalom into the stone wall of one of the front gardens that I was otherwise whizzing past en route. The good news was that this did bring me to a halt. The bad news was that in grabbing the top of the wall it began to crumble under my weight, and then I realised the house owner was watching me from her car. She was very nice actually, asking me if I was alright as I sheepishly tried to nonchalantly re-erect her garden wall. It is just as hard as you might think to reassemble a stone wall without drawing attention to yourself and the damage you have caused to it, especially when you have just that moment been witnessed crashing into it. I made the rest of the way down the hill clinging to the walls at the side of the way down.
I did start to wonder if Parkrun would be cancelled, but figured that if so, the worst that might happen in that event would be breakfast, but without the running first bit, which would be OK. Actually, that’s not entirely true, the worst thing would be being made to run it anyway, but without it ‘counting’ towards milestone T-shirt. This happened last New Year’s day. I headed off to Graves Parkrun, in fancy dress, and it was cancelled due to ice. My over keen friends insisted on running it anyway, and because I never really got the hang of being assertive, and I don’t like to miss out, I traipsed round too, it was terrifying ice and hills, not a great combination … but then again, strangely pleasing at the end. It seems when it comes to my motivation for running, it is sort of complicated and hard to explain. I do think though that there is one line that is not to be crossed. I have recently become acquainted with a new running buddy who has floated the idea of possibly coming and doing Parkrun but without doing the breakfast bit afterwards. This is surely a precedent not to be set. I’m letting it go at the minute, because she’s new, but it may yet have to be tackled, we shall see… That would be the absolutely worse scenario. Run in ice, unofficially so no time, and then NO BREAKFAST either. Disaster.
Because it took ages to get down to the start, I was quite late on the scene, and quickly joined the huddle of starters. We were like penguins, in constant motion trying to get in the centre of the throng so others would shield us from the arctic wind. It is one of those rare occasions when I don’t mind too much about my personal space, hell I’ll cuddle up to anyone when it’s this cold, could be a good opportunity to get to know some of my fellow runners a bit better.
So this is what it looked like basically. The penguins on the edge are the hardy (or noble and self-sacrificing anyway) volunteer marshals and run-director. You can see what I mean about how cold they must have got. Shame.
The pre-run briefing warned of ice en route. Now, I figured I’d already had quite enough near death experiences for one day, so I made a really conscious decision, to go for just keeping safe, and see whether I might achieve a PW (personal worst). I would put myself under no pressure at all, it was quite liberating in a way. For clarification, you might not think it to watch me run, but slow and steady as I am, I do try… not as hard as others granted, but in my own special way, it was quite nice to just decide to pootle round gazing about and trying not to skid around to much.
In such a mind set, running became an exercise in mindfulness. The shout for ‘off’ went and I shuffled out. The first patch of ice was within the first loop, and I gingerly picked my way through letting most of the field stream ahead of me. It was good taking in the white hues of ice and frost in the park. I was a bit unnerved at one point by an unpleasant grunting behind me. This can happen, noisy breathing runners just at your shoulder can be unsettling. Well I find it so, I’ve been on the receiving end of a few near miss spitting incidents, and those sounds were suggestive of an early warning indicator that a trajectory of phlegm could be in the offing. In the event, it turned out to be a dog hauling round a more hesitant owner. Generally speaking having a dog is an advantage at Parkrun, but I wouldn’t fancy being dragged headlong over the ice by a hyper excited and super-animated canine in these conditions. However, for future reference, you may be interested to know that at Graves Parkrun they occasionally auction the opportunity to run with their resident whippet Lily, so that you can achieve a personal best .. presumably as long as your nerve holds being hauled round. Oh, and before you ask, in the picture on the right Lily is in fancy dress for Halloween as a Mummy Dog, it isn’t a case of dog-abuse, no need to get Alan Davies round to check it all out.
It was quite an education going round deliberately slowly I decided (uncharacteristically) to try to concentrate on improving running stride. I was listening out for my footfalls, to see how heavily I was landing. confusingly, it took a while for me to register that there was a runner behind me who was I think deliberately pacing in rhythm with me. I felt quite honoured, normally it is me parasitizing someone elses pacing.
The words of the foundation running group guru at Smiley Paces are ringing in my ears. I try to gain more speed but keep stability by taking really short strides so I can use my weight being forwards to help rotate through my foot and so quicken my pace. This is counter-intuitive, but it sort of works. Get me, working on my technique. If my old PE teacher could see me now…. and gawd help her if I saw her first to be honest, but that’s a petty grudge that’s been carried over decades longer than is probably absolutely healthy….
Going round I realised I’d left on my buff round my neck by accident. This means I am running in a scarf essentially. Actually, it’s quite comfy, but I don’t look hard core or cool donned in it. ‘How very unexpected’, I hear you exclaim!
Inevitably, I am lapped. But I am completely mystified as to how these runners have come round quite so quickly The ice was treacherous enough that I resorted to walking and picking my way over it in places. They just fly through as if the ground is utterly predictable and firm under foot. Have they been running in snow shoes? Surely I’d have noticed, though my observation skills aren’t flawless I have noticed the trees along Rustlings Road bedecked with knitted bunting (an attempt to raise awareness of their imminent risk of being untimely ripped from the earth for reasons that I absolutely cannot fathom). I notice too that leaf litter fairies have cleared some of path on the outside of the park, but as you turn into it again it has become a slushy slide of autumn leaves churned by runners into an organic orange slick of high risk terrain as you loop back in. All good practice for off-road trails of the future I suppose.
So finally finished, to my amazement, the zero effort approach has only added a minute to my usual time. This is perhaps telling. I do have a theory that when the weather is bad there are fewer runners, and those that come are typically more dedicated so fleeter of foot, and that speeds things up. Even so it is food for thought, I walked longish sections and didn’t even get out of breath, maybe if I made just a bit more effort, I could improve my speed quite significantly… it remains to be seen if I can be bothered to put this theory to the test.
Some companionable chatting at the end of the run. Catching up with fellow Smileys nursing injuries (shin splints, sprains) Some are wondering if they will have to miss the Percy Pud, which as regular readers will know is THE Event of the Sheffield Running Christmas Calendar. To pull out would be terrible, especially after such a scrap to get a slot in the first place! The fear is that running would worsen existing injuries, true of my Smiley comrades who find it hard to suppress their competitive instincts. I suggest enforced slowing by dint of wearing elaborate fancy dress. Something spectacularly unaerodynamic would work for nursing the injured home safely, maybe a Christmas Tree made of foam, or even a papier mache plum pudding would do the trick. I am not convinced my ideas were treated with the reverence and seriousness they deserved, personally, I think this idea is genius, and would save a lot of taping and ice-packing post run.
We didn’t linger too long. Four of us go heading off to breakfast we found our favourite café pretty empty. Unusually , the proprietor is waiting tables, and we take the opportunity to we complain to him about the reduced portion size for mushrooms we have noticed has crept in since they introduced a new menu. He looks crestfallen, and I feel guilty. Though it is true. I’d rather they upped the price and kept the mushroom portion size the same, but it seems it isn’t that simple. Confusingly, we then go on to order what we always ordered anyway, scrambled eggs on granary bloomer with mushrooms and a latte. Is there a different breakfast option? I can’t see the point. It is delicious, it is still our favourite café.
Buoyed up by breakfast, buzzing with extra endorphins from running in the cold, we discuss future running challenges. The further away they are in the future, the more inclined I am to imagine they will be doable, because by then I will have metamorphosed from an inadvertent runner to a toned and perfectly tuned running machine. Hope over experience triumphs again, Lakes Dirty Double? Count me in… Here is a cheesy quote to prove my current optimism, however misguided, might yet be enough to get me round. Well, it’s either the optimism, or the large glass of alcohol that also features in the image, that should keep me both dosed up and deluded enough to at least give it a go.
Seriously though, what’s the worst that could happen? No doubt I’ll get to find out in due course if my running history to date is anything to go by… we shall all just have to wait and see! In the meantime, let’s drink to over-optimistic challenges, and find out what we are really capable of.