Posts Tagged With: Monsal Trail

Battling the Bluster round Bakewell, milestones aplenty at Bakewell parkrun

Digested read: I was a blow in at Bakewell parkrun today.  Hurrah.  It was very nice, thank you for asking. There were lots of milestones and therefore running plus cake. What’s not to like?  #loveparkrun

Undigested read:

Well Erik was irksome.

There were overnight gusts and gales forecast, but I was still quite aghast at just how many parkruns were cancelled the night before and on parkrun morning evening.  Still, not worth messing with Erik, you aren’t going to come off best.  Trees were down all over the place and wayward branches cracking and falling at will, tossed over parkrun courses everywhere, of course there were cancellations.  I don’t know why I was so surprised, since I can further report that my own weather analysis included being woken up in my attic bedroom in the small hours by what sounded like a wind-themed Armageddon going on outside.  That was dramatic.  Once I’d surrendered to the fact that any more slumber would be impossible with all that commotion going on outside and got up to go to the loo and look out the window, I bore witness to my wheelie bins tossed around the garden. Oh ok then, Storm Erik meant business.  Even so, there were really a lot of parkrun cancellations.  Sad for some, especially as snow and ice caused many to be called off last week too.

At least one parkrun was cancelled because of polar bears on the course, that’s right actual polar bears.  FACT.   It was Bradford parkrun, I like them, they have initiative.  They worked hard to keep the event on, even attempting to coral the polar bears into being marshals apparently, but it didn’t work out.  It’s important to remember being a hi-vis hero is a voluntary role, once mammals are compelled to do it, it just doesn’t happen in the same joyful way.    Good effort though, I’m going to try to visit you soon I think… might wait for the polar bears and low flying squirrels to move on by though.

bradford parkrun polar bears

I got lucky though.  Last week I was at Bushy parkrun which went ahead just fine – more than fine absolutely fabulous in fact – and this week, I had already planned to go to Bakewell parkrun, milestones a-plenty being marked there, so celebrations, Smiley comrades, Vegan friends oh yes and celebratory cake.  Would that be on?  Hmmm.  *Spoiler alert* yes it was!  I got lucky two parkruns on the trot. Hooray!

The cancellation list is sad, but also entertaining for how core teams choose to record their reasons for cancellations. Alongside the ‘usual’ gusts, flooding, trees obscuring the course, today Bradford parkrun reported, accurately I’m sure based on my own observations, as follows:

Bradford parkrun: Apocalypse in the park, low flying squirrels

It’s a shame they had to cancel, but I’m sure it will be a huge consolation to them all that I have chuckled at their cancellation entries on the parkrun cancellations listings.  Bradford parkrun communications officer, your talents are noted and appreciated, by me at least.

Some impressive cancellation photos doing the rounds though – check out Somerdale Pavilion parkrun course conditions, less parkrun more aquaplaning.  Didn’t happen though, can’t blame them.

Somerdale pavilion parkrun cancellation

Astonishingly, Haigh Woodland parkun went ahead despite a few hurdling/trip hazards!

haigh woodland parkrun trip hazards

Ormskirk parkrun published and shared its cancellation protocol for RDs to refer to in the event of high winds.  Most public spirited, and most enlightening too.

Ormskirk cancellation protocol

But back to Bakewell.  That was expecting to go ahead, but had to get there first though.  Oh my, they weren’t lying when they said on the news it was gusty out!  Fortunately it was mild outside my house, but whoa, hang on a minute, I could barely stand up.  I had a literal wobble in the wind, and then a metaphorical one as I wondered if it would be safe to drive.  I decided to start off and see, I’m quite high up, so if there was a problem it would be obvious and I could abandon my trip.  Off I went.  So many branches down everywhere, but the car chugged along fine as we headed out of Sheffield, once we got towards Longshaw though and the roads were more exposed it was like driving through the end of the world.  No wonder they shut the car parks at Longshaw first thing.  There was loads of debris was being tossed around and I could feel the car being buffeted about as I drove with incredible caution towards Froggart.  Fortunately, the cars behind me were being similarly careful and keeping a respectful distance, but I don’t think I’ve ever been blown around so much in a car, wouldn’t have wanted to be doing that in a high sided vehicle.

Easy run out, and I managed to park up in the free section of the Hassop station car park, coincidentally right by Smiley Selfie queen who’d rocked up for some parkrun tourism and to mark the milestones of friends various too.   I got out of the car for long enough to say hello, and establish it was blooming freezing there, and wet, with little shards of rain bearing down on me. That wasn’t expected. I’d only put my running jacket in as an afterthought.  I got back in the car for a bit, and then got out again for pre-parkrun precautionary pee and general hello saying – which took a while as a fair few familiar faces were rocking up as the start time approached.

Selfie time:

My expression on the left is because I’m cold by the way, not because that’s my intended running strategy to supplement the support offered by my current sports bra. Yep, still sporting the Juno.  I do like it more than any of my other sports bras, but I’m sure there must be one out there that is as comfortable and offers sufficient support.  My expression on the right is because it was taken within the warm confines of the roasty toasty cafe – which is open pre parkrun for comfort breaks and probably coffee too, if you don’t fancy hanging out in the wind and rain on the Monsal trail yourself of a Saturday morning (hard to imagine many would fall into that category though, with all the parkrun love being bandied around 🙂 ).

We were lucky, Bakewell was most definitely going ahead.  Hooray!  There were plenty of last-minute cancellations elsewhere, which is understandable – that happened at Graves junior parkrun once, had to cancel at about 8.50 because a branch fell down on the course just as the runners were arriving.  Not worth the risk. However, the element of surprise cancellations did seem to trigger plenty of micro-adventures around the country as parkrun plans were scratched and back up plans implemented. Some social heroics though, parkrun tourists heading to Graves this morning staying in a nearby Airbnb arrived at 8.40 to find it cancelled, but were scooped up and deposited at Castle by friendly Sheffield parkrun locals. Trust is a funny thing isn’t it, of course you’d assume an abduction by a fellow parkrunner to be benign, just a new adventure #loveparkrun!  Well done parkrun explorers.

parkrun tourist team work

Back to Bakewell.  We were assembled, parkrun was on.  Yay!

For your information Whangarei parkrun in New Zealand went ahead too, although they had ‘nice weather for ducks’ it was their 160th event, and loads of them were wearing shorts out and about on the parkrun course too, so draw your own conclusions about how they define inclement weather.  I have a soft spot for this parkrun though, because they have in the rather brilliantly, and showing initiative as well as dedication, run an extra parkrun at a time to coincide with it being run in the UK. Whangarei parkrun ran an unofficial parkrun at 9pm New Zealand time to mark international parkrun day in October 2017.  Everyone needs to be reminded of/ know about that!  So hello nice Whangarei people and high fives to your high vis heroes!  Happy Third Birthday Whangarei parkrun for next Saturday 16th Feb 2019, I’m sure you’ll party on with parkrun style!

whangarei volunteers

So Bakewell parkrun was going ahead.  That was good, obvs.  But the weather, aaaargh.  How did it get to be so cold and wet when it was all mild in Sheffield when I poked my arm out the upstairs window to do the temperature check first thing?  Me and Smiley Selfie Queen and her escort ventured to the start line.  Where we greeted by the sight of a cheery run director, wearing shorts!  What was that about?  I didn’t know whether to be impressed of horrified, in truth, I was both.  He said he is doing XC tomorrow so trying to acclimatize, fair do’s, but seemed high risk to me.  I went through a similar mental battle deciding when to leave the sanctuary of the Hassop Station cafe, head out into the cold early by way of transition, or hang on in there ’til the last moment. Tough call.

Here is the cosy interior of the Hassop Station cafe viewed from outside (thank you Denise Burden for sharing your photos, from which I’ve borrowed freely):

DB hassop cafe

and here is the cheery run director, sporting his above the knee number in the service of XC acclimatization.  I respect his position on this matter, but will not emulate.  Just to be clear.

shorts seriously shorts

The cheery run director did the first timers’ briefing.  I think we can all agree the body language in the photo from the briefees, betrays that it was most decidedly nippy out, whatever the misleadingly bright sky overhead may deceive you into believing.  Mind you, a lot of these people are sporting shorts, running briefs if you like, maybe that’s why it was called the first timers’ briefing?:

DP run briefing

I wasn’t a first timer, so went for a power walk up and down the Monsal Trail a little way to keep warm and check out the wind conditions.  To be fair, the RD did assure us that he’d sorted out the wind to guarantee it would be behind us all the way out and then helpfully reverse and be pushing us from behind all the way back too or we’d get a full refund.  It is true there was wind all around us, but not noticeably helping progress, more like whipping us up into a swirling vortex of arctic blasts.  Oh well, at least it made parkrun a micro adventure all over again, so that’s good, and the seals felt quite at home in the freezing conditions.  Smiletastic challenge people, if you don’t know, best not to ask, just enjoy speculating as to why else was this synchronised seal basking necessary post parkrun.  Has to be a Smiley Paces winter running challenge really doesn’t it?  Even if this photo isn’t really capturing the running part of the challenge, it’s getting the collective team effort bit… for better or worse!  Their likeness to actual basking seals is uncanny!  The Smiley Paces people are in the picture on the left… oh, or is it the one on the right?  One or the other though, just for clarity…

Oh hang on, you might want to know about the course.  So the Bakewell parkrun course blah de blah, describes the course as follows:

Out and back course on the Monsal Trail. Start and finish are in the same place by Hassop Station

Which is basically all you can really say about it!

It looks like this:

You really aren’t going to get lost on this course unless you set off facing the wrong way.  I just couldn’t comment as to whether or not that’s ever happened. I  have myself started a parkrun facing the wrong way before now, so it’s not inconceivable, though it may not be on record, those people could still be running now for all I know.   …. Assuming you do head off in the right direction, then cheery marshals spin you round at the turn around the point 2.5 km up the repurposed railway path.  So that’s good.  Fret not.  This parkrun has it all. Coffee and loos pre-start, easily navigable flat course, and parking.  Some free if you get there early.  What else do you need to know?  Friendly marshals and parkrun love in abundance are givens, surely?

Where was I.  Oh yes, power walk, meeting and greeting of various people as they assembled for their fiftieth runs,

not a day over 49

two hundredth run and every possible variant forward and aft of those.  At first I thought this parkrun was going to be thinly attended, but of course people were lurking in warm corners or in their cars and emerged on a just in time basis, like the most finely tuned and responsive of logistic firms, to hear the pre-run briefing

and sprint off at ‘go’!

DB start line

OK. So that picture was obviously before they set off.  Plenty of bare legs though, no wonder they are jostling to be in the front, want this pesky parkrun in the cold over and done with as soon as possible so they can get back in the warm I’m sure.  The next photos do show some parkrunners, properly underway, charging through one of the fab tunnels that adorn the Monsal trail.  I love tunnel running, but been through that already (see what I did there?  Gawd I’m hilarious sometimes, love a good pun, and so what if I laugh at my own jokes, at least someone is thereby entertained).

I started in the middle of the pack as I think it is only sporting to give other runners a target to overtake, and most did take the bait to be fair.  Oh well, lucky I don’t do parkrun to get a pb.  It isn’t the widest of paths, so it was a little crowded at the get go, but it’s all very good-natured, and you soon spread out.  It was social, I liked eavesdropping on odds and ends of conversations, and this was my favourite pooch for today, in case you are interested.

DP cute dog

it headed out at a fair old lick, despite only having erm, well let’s be honest, short legs.  Whizzed by me with abandon. Then, seconds later, stopped a la Paula Radcliffe for an emergency poo, unlike Paula, this pooch had an attendant on hand to poo pick, so that was good, and then it trotted on again, by the time it got to the turn around point it seemed to be slightly regretting the early turn of speed, and had a strategic walk for a bit before picking up the pace again.  I empathised more than I probably should, I mean, I have short legs, and have also been known to regret heading off too fast … though I didn’t need a poo stop, my toileting habits having been impeccably timed for parkrun purposes, thank you for your interest!

I’m a slow runner I know, but one advantage of doing an out and back route, is you get to enjoy the spectacle of speedy runners charging home and to high-five and cheer your mates as they pass you by in the opposite direction, so I try to see this as a good thing rather than a mind game. Depends on your mood obviously.  Today, Bakewell parkrun had a photographer to capture people on the way back, right near the finish, so here are some of those who I got to exchange greetings with as they hurried homewards.

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So the vegan runners celebrating their fiftieths (and not looking a day over 49 as they did so) were amongst those charging round with abandon. Looks like they might have fallen for that old gag about ‘it’s a two lap course’ though, as one at least of them passed me again as I was coming in and they were heading out again.  That guy on the left with his hand over his mouth – see him?  He’s definitely in on the joke, think he’s trying to suppress a chortle there for sure!

DP fell for the its two laps gag

She still finished her 10km in the time it took me to do 5km apparently. Oh well, I don’t mind, those vegans had splendid cake.  So splendid, that I had to fight hard the urge just to face plant into once it came within my reach.  And you should have seen their bat-themed napkins. Epic!  If only I’d had my camera with me I’d have taken a photo…

Anyway, I trotted along, I was so far back it was quite spread out, and running along the trail was quite meditative.  Although it was cold in the wind, the rain stopped, and shhh, don’t tell, but I actually got too hot running, I think it helps that my jacket is pretty wind proof.  I got a bit put off the Monsal Trail because I ran it endlessly for marathon training last year (no need to splutter out your tea, I didn’t say I ran it fast, only that I did it, not impossibly apparently, unlikely yes, but not actually impossible for me to do the London marathon it seems) .  It was quite nice to be back on it today, the surface is so level you can run very rhythmically, and it’s been a while since I’ve had such an even and consistent run.  Maybe I need to start bringing it back into my training, just to get the continuous running in without bailing every time there is any elevation – which is basically all the time in Sheffield.  Even so, quite nice to see the finish, and supportive friends to cheer me in.

DP end in sight

Job done, barcode scanned, thanks said.  Celebratory parkrun milestone biscuit eaten. I actually ate mine before photographing it, but here is someone else’s biscuit, who showed more restraint and had the foresight to capture a snap of it first!  And a tray made earlier. Nice!

Impressive aren’t they?

Next stop, fleece retrieval from car, and cafe.  There I got a parkrun breakfast for a fiver. This is pretty good value, a granary or white bap with sausage/ veggie sausage and optional egg plus a filter coffee or tea.  In the circumstances we can perhaps overlook that their sign proclaims Park Run breakfast offer … who is going to pluck up the courage to tell them #aowalc – All one word, all lower case?  You go right ahead, I’ll be just behind you, holding your bap.  You’re welcome.

I was a bit torn because there were just too many people to socialise with.  I played my hand strategically, joining the bicentenary celebrants first as I munched down my veggie sausage bap, and then adjourning in time for the vegan half century shenanigans.  They were so buoyed up by success they were contemplating undertaking a duathlon next, but I don’t honestly think they’ve properly understood the rules. I mean having a pacer is one thing, but I’m not sure a rickshaw would make it under the radar.  I didn’t say anything, didn’t want to take away from their celebrations:

duathlon next

Obviously I did a bit of nonchalant circling around the offerings feigning indifference to begin with until I saw my chance…

great vegan bake off

Well, I didn’t want to seem over keen, and it was only fair to let the vegang have fist dibs!  Didn’t take long for me to make my move though.  I undertook some fairly lightweight expert photography duties to capture the speedy seals as above, which you have to concede I did with considerable excellence, so maybe that was some sort of exchange.  Hospitable lot the vegan runners though… I think their generosity was unconditional.  It is true though, on reflection, it does rather look as if that small child is just carrying out a citizen’s arrest on all those seals and putting them in handcuffs.  Not sure what the implications of that are exactly… best move on.

Plus, I think they had seriously over catered!  It was basically like their very own vegan bake off.  Seriously sweet delights on offer.  Yum!  Thank you bakers, very impressive, very impressive indeed.  I had the Victoria sponge.  No, not all of it, but a hefty chunk.  An excellent choice.

So all in all, a very fine, and celebratory parkrun morning.  The fifty celebrants were rightly chuffed by their milestone, and as I said to them, assuming bicentennial woman now ceases parkrunning henceforth, in a little over three years, as long as they don’t miss a week, they’ll have caught up with her too!  Very impressive. Well done all.

It was hard to tear myself away from the bonhomie and squishy chairs, but inevitably that time came when we needed to all go our separate ways.  Quick shout out for the cafe’s outside area though, it has an undercover space with sofas and play houses and all sorts, just right for bringing your own cake and pop up party!

DP squishy chairs

Special thanks to the Bakewell parkrun hi-vis heroes who made it so.  You are awesome.  It was a blast at Bakewell, the arctic blast bit wasn’t the best but the fun blast was epic.  Thank you!

Time to go home, but it was a very jolly parkrun morning, and a bonus that we’d landed on one that went ahead.  The gusts died down, the sun came out, and I was rewarded with clear and spectacular views, and no scary being blown off the road fright moments on the drive home.  I do like happy endings.

Hope you made your parkrun too.  🙂

Happy parkrunning wherever you go, just #dfyb


For all my parkrun related posts click here.  Or don’t.  It’s up to you.  You’ll need to scroll down for older entries though.  Bit of a time vampire, if you do, you might be stuck on the sofa for a while, ‘just researching options’.  Hmm.

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In it for the long run? The parallel worlds you encounter whilst running.

Digested read: back on the Monsal trail for a 21 mile long run.  Oh my, you should have seen the ice formations in those tunnels, it was a spectacle of wonders indeed.  Still not sure how best to train for this London marathon business though.  It’s a mystery.  Glad to have that run done, hoping for one more long one before the Big Event.  Aaargh.

If you asked me to provide any kind of rationale for my London marathon training plan, I’m not altogether sure I could do so.  From the outset I had the idea that it would be important to crack the 20 mile boundary, but I’m not sure now quite why.  There is accepted wisdom that you should be increasing the length of your long run week by week, and that if you can get to 20 miles in training then on the day the crowds and atmosphere will carry you through. Then again, I’ve heard repeatedly that it’s after the 20 mile mark you might encounter ‘The Wall’ – balanced against this is the very sensible observation that really, if you train and fuel your body properly this should by no means be seen as an inevitable part of the marathon event.

More recently, I’m reading articles that question the wisdom of doing really long runs unless you are a sub three-hour runner.  Spoiler alert.  I’m not. I don’t know if this is because now I’m in the final stages, and I’ve had to miss out one of my long runs I’m seeking retrospective justification that this won’t be ruinous to my London sojourn.  Runners’ World put together an article ‘in the long run‘ back in 2002, that says, amongst other things:

2. What is the best long-run training distance for marathoners?

In short, there is no perfect distance. We have seen marathon-training schedules which never take you further than 13 miles and ones that suggest you run the complete distance or further in training.

In our marathon training schedules the longest distance we ever suggest is 22 miles for the sub-3:00 group, other groups don’t go quite as far because they’re running more slowly and consequently will be on their feet longer.

What you find is that many marathon schedules don’t go further than 20 miles, although that’s probably more because 20 is a nice, round number than anything more concrete. In countries that use the metric system, 30K (18.6 miles) is equally round and frequently used.

Most coaches feel that once you reach 16 miles, you’re in long-run territory. That’s the point where the psychological and physiological changes start to take place. Some coaches prefer to keep track of the long run by time rather than distance, which is the approach we generally recommend for the slower groups in our marathon schedules.

Your time goal for your longest run should approximate the total length of time you expect to run in the marathon itself, without worrying about the distance or the speed. For example, if your marathon time goal is three hours, you should probably do at least one long run of close to three hours. The exception: If you’re a first timer with a goal of four hours or slower, you shouldn’t do a long run of that length. It’s too risky. Instead, do one long run of at least three hours, but no more than 3:30.

I don’t know what to make of this.  I have found from experience that I’m out for so long on my long runs (I’ll be ecstatic if I get round in 6 hours) that it does take me a couple of days to recover from these.  But if I only ever went out for three hours max in training then I think I’d just die of shock when out for twice as long on event day.  Another article in a different source suggests slow runners do two three hour runs on the same day, to cover the distance but minimise the risk of injury. Well that’s never going to happen in my world. I do enjoy going out for lengthy yomps for the most part, but once I’m home and dry I’m done.  It would take a great deal to have me had out again on the same day.  Anyway, for my part I decided early on,  almost unilaterally, to go with the mantra of ‘time on my feet’.  I don’t care if it’s running or walking, I will just cover the distance.  I’m hoping I will have built sufficient stamina and gained sufficient confidence if I’ve come close to the full distance, but it is a balancing act.  Oh lawks a lordy I hate my cumulative ineptitude.  I suppose nobody has a perfectly executed preparation for a marathon, and few are blessed with a genetic inheritance that enables them to blag it on the day.  I’ll just have to join the start and take my chances along with everyone else.  I have tried to prepare as far as my own limitations and the weather has allowed.  … even so, I am pleased to report that I did achieve one 21 mile run in my training.  Strictly speaking 20.85 miles, but I stopped my Strava before wandering around in car park and general post run faffing, so I’m happy to call it 21.  I fully appreciate that logic won’t help me if I bow out of London at the 26.05 mile mark, but I’m hoping that situation won’t arise.

As usual, I’m playing catch up with my blog, so writing this post on 3 April with less that three weeks to go and in the grip of major maranoia.  However, the run in question was actually on 20th March.  It turned out to be my last long run, and a bit earlier in my training plan than I’d have liked, but then again, at least I’ve done it. I met another runner recently who is training for Brighton. She’d been wiped out with a flu type virus and missed 4 weeks training and only managed to get in two 18 mile runs, albeit closer to the event.  She had banked some 20 milers earlier on though.  Aargh, I don’t know whether to stick with my taper, or get one more long one in.  Hard to know.  Thankfully though, my last long run went really well. Unexpectedly so.

It was cold, I’d wanted to go out the day before but snow and ice had made it impossible.  Blooming beast from the east.  I’m not impressed.  My regular reader will know however that I’m conscientious if not keen.  I’d committed to doing this longer run, so I headed out anyway.  Back to the Monsal Trail. The novelty of this route is definitely wearing off, but, on the plus side it is flat, with even terrain and good facilities.  The predictability of the terrain has massively helped me get into a rhythm with my running.  When London is finally over, I might try to make an effort to get over there every six weeks or so to do a long flat run, I think it would significantly help me run more consistently.

So headed out.  Brrrrr.  I wasn’t feeling the lurve, but I was feeling committed to doing this thing.  My last long run, 19 miles, at Monsal had been OK, more than OK, it went well, and I reckoned by just adding a tad of distance at either end I’d be able to ramp this route up to 20+ miles easily enough without any navigational challenges.  I was a bit on edge.  I wanted to bank another positive experience of a long run, but each time the distance extends, I’m inching into unknown territory.  The Strava of the route is hilarious.  Nothing to see people, nothing to see, I guess you had to be there:

strava route 21 miles monsal trail

I’m going to try to exercise restraint in logging a post about this run. After all, I’ve banged on about the Monsal trail quite a bit of late, I don’t want to alienate my only reader.  However, there were some sightings I want to document for posterity. Also, I like to think if I ever do look back on my marathon preparation it might be helpful to be reminded of how I felt and what I did at the various stages of my training.  Hindsight is after all a wonderful thing, and I am not immune to re-writing history once I get to the other side of this challenge, better to nail down a more honest account here and now.

First things first.  Turned left from the cafe and trotted down to the trail end.  This time though I paused to photograph the llama – only it was too far away.  I had to make do with a snapshot of an alpaca.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m very fond of alpaca, but it’s not the same.


If you are ever in doubt about how to differentiate between the two, the secret is all in the ears.  Llamas have much more banana shaped ears, alpaca ears are shorter and more spear-shaped.  Granted, there are loads of other differences too, but the ears are easy if you only have one of them in view. Here is a handy summary of other distinguishing characteristics in case of need.  I don’t agree with the negative comments about Llamas by the way, they are unkind and unnecessary.  In fact, I may try to find an alternative more respectful guide.  Llama and alpaca identification is quite an art. There are two different types of alpaca as well you know, huacaya and suri – that’ll come in handy at a pub quiz some time some place somewhere.  You’re welcome.




I also took a photo of the old Bakewell railway station, just because.  Still haven’t ventured as far as Bakewell itself, another destination for another time.

bakewell station

And ventured down the muddy path beyond the trail end.  Lots of inviting paths headed off in all directions.  From this lower level you can look up and appreciate the amazing bridge construction.  I was going to explore a bit further, but thought the better of it.  I didn’t want to get too side-tracked off my route, and also who knows what was going on inside the parked cars in this remote spot.  Probably nothing, but I’ve developed a wariness based on experience.  Once years ago I was with a friend and we got lost on some country roads in Warwickshire.  We pulled up into a layby thinking to ask directions from the occupants of a car parked up ahead.  I clocked the steamed up windows and rocking before my companion, who was initially a bit nonplussed at my insistence we fend for ourselves and pass on by!




Back on the literal track, it was cold so I pressed on.  I’d made an inward resolution to try to focus on this run, and capitalise on the lessons learned last time out by trying to run consistently and slowly and minimise the stop start faffiness.  I kept to this reasonably well, running purposefully (by my standards) from the start.  The only problem with this is that I was somewhat paranoid that this might constitute starting off too fast in my world, and I wouldn’t make the distance.  Then again, I reasoned best to try this out in training than save it for the actual day.

It was freezing, so not many people out and about at all.  The run has a meditative quality when it is so deserted.  I never listen to music when I run, actually, I never listen to music at all anyway, another on the long list of my many peculiarities eccentricities.  Usually I find my surroundings are more than enough to occupy me when I’m on the trails, other times I like to just use the time for thinking things through, but I do concede on these long runs, it can be a bit dull potentially.  It just feels like a slog.   Doubling back to the cafe, I just had some water and made the call the hat was staying on, and off I trotted.

The tunnels were as ever a high point. Which is ironic, as really strictly speaking they are low points, burrowing through the base of the hills through which the original railway passed.  I love running through the tunnels, the other-worldliness of it, but today they offered up something even more impressive and spectacular.  It truly was like entering a parallel universe.  The recent icy blast had obviously swept down the tunnels, significantly lowering their temperature within.  The corresponding micro-climate created arctic like conditions, and the tunnels were full of ice.  Not just little bits here and there, but great structural crystals in shards like fallen masonry on the ground or clinging like icy stalagmites from the ceiling.  It was absolutely amazing.  I reckon this is the nearest you can come to recreating experiencing the geology of superman’s birth planet Krypton, with all its huge crystals and weirdly compelling crystalline structures within the boundaries of Derbyshire.

Compare and contrast:

Planet Krypton – or possibly fortress of solitude but the comparison stands:




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Monsal trail ice and tunnels:




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I know!  Uncanny.  Practically indistinguishable.   It was completely brilliant.  Yet another reminder that there is always something to see on a run. I’d expected to be bored rigid by this route, trotting down it all over again in its entirety so soon after my other long run, but it was amazing.  Unexpected and surreal.  You should have been there.  No really, you should.

I didn’t actually see superman, but I think he died a while back anyway didn’t he?  Also he is a fictitious character, so that would have been a stretch.  I did see other things though.  Particularly notable was a group of primary school children heading out on bikes and each wearing giant-sized cape like cagoules, accompanied by two teachers.  This added a certain frisson to proceedings as periodically the children would stop and regroup, I’d lope past and then they’d be released behind me in a torrent of spinning wheels and billowing coats excitedly pedalling furiously along somewhat random directional lines. Fortunately, volunteering at Graves junior parkrun has equipped with the skill of taking evasive action when a small child comes bowling towards you at speed.  It isn’t a question of who has right of way, it is a question of survival.  I shared a greeting with the teachers and pressed on.  Pausing to satisfy myself that the instructional signs are indeed as gendered as I suspected.  Yes they are.




I carried onwards, through the tunnels, and to the far Buxton end of the trail.  This time I carried on as far as I could.  I had to remind myself to eat a naked bar, I wasn’t really hungry, but I’m trying to eat before I feel my energy levels are depleted.  I picked my way  gingerly down some snow-covered steps, past the pretty stream which was crisscrossed by amazing arching bridges, and then beyond through a car park until I was spat out at the end onto quite a busy road overlooked by a weird stone structure on top of a hillock.  What is that?  A question to be answered another time.




I felt I’d reached a natural turning point, so started to head back.  Trot, trot, plod, plod.  I’ve definitely turned a corner in my running.  If I can hit the right pace it seems I am able to maintain it, as long as I manage not to draw attention to the fact that I’m doing so.  I think it’s like riding a bike maybe, if you consciously tried to think about how you balance it would be impossible, but if you just trust the muscle memory of your body away you go.  I mean, I’m slow obviously, and I wouldn’t say it was easy exactly, but it is achievable.  If it weren’t so cold I’d be tempted to one day just run as far as I could just to see how far that is.  I guess I may find out at London, fingers crossed it extends as far as 26.2 miles – and a bit, to account for having to walk a way to get to the start line!

There were a few more out now it was a bit later.  I’d been ages of course, so hilariously, I came across the teachers and their primary school charges all over again – only this time it was another group. This meant in the time it had taken me to do this distance, the teachers had been able to finish off one group, return them to Sheffield for lunch and come back out with their second lot of young riders.  It made me feel a bit pathetic truth to tell.  However, then the teacher back marking stopped on her bike, recognising me from earlier in the day and asked ‘What on earth are you doing?  How far have you run‘ I blurted out apologetically and a bit embarrassed that I knew I was really slow but I was trying to get to 21 miles.  I thought she’d be nonplussed and unimpressed, but in fact she was so encouraging.  Even though she’d seen me walking sections earlier, she was really positive.  Turns out she runs too, though only on her own  – I tried to recruit her to join me and my fellow Smilies at Smiley Paces, as she’d come across from Sheffield Primary School, but I don’t know if she will.  It helped rally me though, I yomped onward and homewards.

I took a few minutes to explore the weird lime-kiln (I think) construction.  It seems this was my day for exploring parallel worlds.  It is an extraordinary feat of construction.  It does remind me of wandering through temples of Angkor Wat, no really, the doorways you pass through, the way each opening frames and then reveals unexpected structures. There was one flooded subterranean section, I took photos just so my flash would allow me to see what was there.  This would be an amazing film set for something, or a pop video (do they even do them any more) but you’d have to wear wellington boots or at the very least sensible shoes, and other than The Wurzels, I’m not sure many youth bands rock that look these days.  See reference above, I’m not big on listening to music, so not my area of expertise.  At least I don’t try to pretend otherwise.




Impressive isn’t it.  Why they haven’t put out a series of Lego models based on these Lime Kilns – or Angkor Wat for that matter I can’t imagine!  Or maybe they have.  I can’t be bothered to look.  Oh hang on – I can, someone has –  made a lego model of Angkor Wat (and Stonehenge and the Niagara falls) apparently, but strangely enough not of the Monsal trail lime kilns.  Project for the next snowed out bank holiday people.  Go on, you know you want to..

angkor wat lego


Now you might think that I’d crammed in quite enough excitement and parallel worlds for one run, but not so. The finale of my run was feeling like an extra in Apocalypse Now.  I was plodding along in silence, minding my own business, when suddenly there was unmistakable ear-splitting roar of military helicopter blades closing in.  I was just approaching one of the bridges, and this monstrous metal mosquito swooped upwards, out of the valley and over the bridge, hovering for a bit and then disappearing from view.  I presume it was practising some low flying technique, exploiting the bridges, valleys and geography of the place to take on technical challenges.  They are intimidating things.  I can’t imagine the fear they must induce in war zones and the horrors they unleash.  Makes me shudder.



I ran on, and found myself back at Hassop cafe at almost exactly 21 miles.  I did feel a slight drop in sugar levels about half a mile before the end, but basically all good.  I think I might carry glucose tablets with me just in case at London.  I was fundamentally fine, but with still 5 miles to go, probably wise to have a contingency plan.

I treated myself to chips and a sandwich, with ridiculous amounts of added salt.


I felt relieved as much as pleased.  I’m happy that the run went well, I still felt like I could have carried on at the end of it.  Also, and this is weird, when I uploaded my run on Strava, I found that my average minutes per mile for this 21 mile run was within 2 seconds of my average minutes per mile for my shorter 17 miler.  I don’t run even splits, but it seems I’m really right when I insist I seem to have just one pace.  Maybe, as long as I’m sensible and hold my nerve, I really can sustain that for longer.  Plus, I significantly picked up speed after mile 5, so again, it seems it takes me a while to hit my stride.  I kept that up for about 5 miles and then relapsed to be fair, but it’s still a noticeable pattern I can maybe play to.

And that was that dear reader.  21 miles done.  Yay.  I’d never say I was feeling confident, but I did feel hugely better for having achieved this distance however slowly.  Plus, I was delighted by the mini-adventures and glorious sights this potentially unprepossessing route offered up.  Also, next day, felt fine, legs feeling good.  Tired yes, bit of stiffness, but nothing felt sinister which can only be good.  Never regret a run. So true.  Just need to step outside and make it so.

Go on, you know you want to!

Here’s hoping your next run takes you to unexpected wonderlands of your own. It will.  Even if only in the mind.  Unless you are running on a dreadmill. Then you are on your own.

The real challenge for me now though, is what and when and how far to run in the last few weeks.  I think I spent so much time agonising over how on earth I’d ever get to the distances required for the long runs, or to this stage in the build up without injury, I never consider how to approach the taper.  Turns out, that last push, the taper, could be the biggest challenge yet.  Make or break.  Aaaargh.



Categories: off road, running | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Panic over, long run done and dusted! All good, not just movement, but, at last, progress!

Digested read:  I did manage to get out and do my long run, it was supposed to be 18 miles, but I banked 19.63, and I feel fine.  A psychological breakthrough at last.  Not just movement, but progress.  Maybe I have got this after all.  Monsal trail tunnels are still fun, but I wouldn’t want this as my only available running option, it is basically an open air treadmill running in a long straight out and back, but punctuated with views of loveliness along the way. Even so, the novelty is wearing off a bit now.  I’m temporarily happy now, well maybe not completley happy, but I am most definitely releived.  Hurrah!

I am astonished to be quite honest.  It’s the morning after the day before and I feel absolutely fine.  Tickety-boo (now there’s a word that doesn’t get nearly enough air time) in fact.  I actually feel like going for a run again today because I’m feeling really strong, the only side effects from yesterday’s outing being slight chafing in the undercarriage area due, presumably, to failure to re-align knickers properly following an early on pit stop, and swollen feet.   Maybe I have been ill and am not any more, maybe the iron supplement has kicked in, or – though this seems maybe a stretch too far – maybe finally the benefits of what I laughingly refer to as my training plan are finally kicking in.  Who knows.  What I do know, is that I did 19.6 miles yesterday – more than I’d planned due to calculation rather than navigation error, and I’m not even stiff.  Result!  I feel absolutely fine.  I’m however going to resist the temptation to run today so I can recover properly.  I’m not worried too much about my lungs or legs, the weakest link in my running chain – leaving aside the ill-fitting bra issues – is most definitely my feet.  Crumbling and arthritic, they don’t like this running thing at all.  They are making their feelings known.

So, what happened was this.  I’d had to postpone my long run earlier in the week, due to flooding/ roof leaks/ life/ all sorts and so felt like it was uber important that I bagsied a good one yesterday.  My last long run down by the Thames just a week ago was not a triumph.  Much as I know in my head everyone has bad runs, I really felt I needed my next one to go better in order to shore up my collapsing confidence before it slid, irretrievably, into the swamp of despond.

Yesterday morning, everything went according to plan.  Liquid iron early on; porridge for breakfast, running belt packed, running shoes on, the day was dry (this innovation was nigh on miraculous to be fair given recent inclement months) and I made it over to Hassop Station Cafe for just after nine.  I was feeling apprehensive. Is it just me?  Whenever I am about to embark on a run I have this moment of absolute clarity where it dawns on me that this endeavour is ultimately optional.  I question whether it is desirable, let alone possible to undertake the activity of ‘running’.   Especially at the lamentable pace at which I cover the ground.  My little legs are quite happy as they are, my body is not a temple to athleticism, it would be just fine with remaining sedentary. If I head out to hit the trails with any pretence at so much as a little jog it will just lead to unpleasantness.  My nose will run, my wobbly bits will wobble, if it’s cold, I’ll get a perfect outline of frost on my upper lip where my moustache rests, fetchingly drawing the attention of anyone I meet to it in all it’s unaesthetic glory.  Other ‘proper’ runners will see me, but I’ll be leaning against a tree heaving, or walking, or just standing still gazing about whilst they spring by gazelle like, thus I will be forced to face up to the ludicrousness of ever thinking I could do this.  Why oh why?

Oh well, I’m here now.  Much of life is filled with petty humiliations, embarrassment and an over-powering sense of impostor syndrome why should running be any different.  So off I went.

I say ‘off I went’ but more accurately I did quite a lot of faffing about.  To hat or not to hat?  Quite nippy, but then I might warm up. I also had to nip into the cafe to use their amenities and mess about with my watch.  It’s become very iffy about uploading my runs, and prone to going blank.  If I had unlimited means I’d replace it, but it limps onward, and anyway, I don’t want new technology pre London.  Eventually, I decided I’d head out from the cafe towards Bakewell, I reckoned that would add about 3 miles to my distance from last time, also, by doing the shorter section of the trail out and back first I wouldn’t have the mental challenge of doing it at the end of the run when I would be tired, and, in a rather splendid manifestation of genius, I reckoned I could use this distance as a warm up and then jettison unwanted clothing, have a pit stop and carry on with renewed vigour for the proper part of the run still remaining. The plan was to do 18 miles.  Last time at Monsal I did just under 15 miles, so I thought adding on the extra bit would probably work.  Not sure what to make of the conspicuously located defibrillator I passed en route.  It is good it is there of course, but important not to take it as a personal omen methinks.

I trotted out really slowly, just finding my legs.  I was here just a few days ago for Bakewell parkrun, then it was really busy with people, it was strange seeing it empty today.  The parkrun goes in the opposite direction, so it was quite fun exploring new territory.  To be fair, the novelty of running the Monsal Trail could wear off, but for now, it was good.  Heading towards Bakewell the scenery is a bit different from the path to Wyedale.  There were more buildings, a camper van graveyard; some sheep. There were even some llamas, but I didn’t take a photo of them.  An omission I now regret.

I was particularly struck by a hillside densely covered with grassy domes – ant hills maybe?  Sort of like a grassy version of the Bungle Bungles*, though possibly on a rather more micro scale.  Bonsai even. Weird. This is what is good about going out and about you see some really remarkable things. Then again, it has been noted that I’m rather too easily entertained, so you may not think so.  I’m going with thinking the likeness was uncanny, you can think what you like!  If those grassy domes are ancient ant hills, those Australian ants must have been ginormous.

After a mile or so, maybe less, you arrive at the old Bakewell Station, it’s another beautiful building, well-preserved, and it looks like there’s a car park there as well, though I didn’t go and investigate particularly, maybe once this marathon training is finished, I’ll use my runs for more exploratory, rather than functional purposes and go check it out.  After the station was another bridge, where the path was completely flooded, not even with standing water, a veritable river ran across the track.  Oh well, splish, splosh and ever onward.

The track narrowed after the station, and it felt a bit more ‘proper’ off roady.  One of the reasons I’ve opted for the Monsal Trail for marathon training purposes is that the terrain is fairly road like, a hard surface and even terrain.  I fear my feet will actually disintegrate and shatter if I do too much road running in training, so the compromise is to find compacted trails where I can run in my road shoes, without entirely surrendering to the asphalt.  I’m resigned to the fact my feet my be annihilated round London, but I see little to be gained by knackering them in training first.  You can’t habituate your feet to being damaged, alas, hence I take the literal path of damage limitation.

I continued on, trot trot, taking in the scenery…

until I got to the end of the trail.  There is a helpful sign that alerts you to this. It’s always good to know when you’ve really and truly reached the end of the road.  I wish such signage was available in other contexts to be honest.


I turned around and trotted back to Hassop Cafe.  I didn’t really see very many people out and about.  Only one other runner, who acknowledged my presence with a friendly, conspiratorial smile and uttering the words ‘couch to five k‘ as we passed one another.  I couldn’t help noticing she looked a lot stronger than me, bounding along with a winning smile and good form.  I chose not to ‘fess up with a response  ‘marathon training‘ as it would have sounded absurd.  Absurd and/or potentially undermining.  I mean, I thought she looked a strong runner, but if she’s just starting out who knows where her confidence is?  If I’d shared my run schemata for the day it might have come across as patronising rather than a cry for help – I went with a reciprocal encouraging smile and a merry ‘have fun!’ rather than making her stop so I could explain all about my running insecurities and tendency to over-share.  Good call I think!  Isn’t C25K amazing though?  That and parkrun together seem to have engaged so many new runners.  Anyway, slow and steady may yet prove to be the way to go, my marathon isn’t a DNF just yet….  Besides, I’ve just read an article that explained all about why sprint runners are inefficient, and distance runners are way more efficient at running a long way.  To quote:

distance runners are more efficient running slow. It should be noted that this occurs even with distance runners who violate every known mechanical prophecy known to man (i.e. horrible heel strike, etc.).

Yes, the gangly looking distance runner slamming his heel into the ground is more efficient running slow than Usain Bolt.

Thus, leaving aside the, in my view, unhelpful and unnecessary reference to being ‘gangly’, I’m basically more efficient at running slow than Usain Bolt.  If I ever catch him up running I’ll let him know.  I expect he’ll be gutted.   Once you know what you are looking for you can see the difference can’t you?  No point in stating the obvious about who’s running most efficiently here.  We are both having fun, and checking out what’s going on around us, so it’s a completely fair comparison in my view.

The point is, as ever, I need to stop comparing myself with other runners, focus on my personal goal (please just let me get round in time for a medal) and everything will be so much easier.

I ended up back at the cafe, and this was a good move.  I was really thirsty, so drank loads of their water, used their loo (I didn’t drink water from the loo, they leave a glass water jar and some glasses out in the cafe area for that) and then dumped my woolly hat in the back of the car as the sun was coming out and after this faffing, headed out for my run proper, having first paused to admire a very fine tricycle waiting outside.  Now that would be a grand way to progress down the Monsal Trail.  Almost as appealing as a sedan chair.

‘Proper’ runners will be appalled, but I didn’t really have a strategy for this run.  I planned just to see how I felt, try to push on a bit maybe, but my priority was to do the distance, not burn out trying.  I wonder sometimes if I do hold back too much on my running.  I’m so afraid of falling over or running out of steam altogether it is extremely rare for me to do an all out sprint.  I only ever sprint at the finish of parkrun and memorably at the Lakeland Trails Ullswater 10k event where I went in for a most enjoyable elbow shoving sprint finish with a fellow Smiley.  This would suggest I can if I want to enough.  What’s that about?  Oh I know, that point about running being a mental challenge, if we want to do things enough, then oftentimes we can.  Well, we’ll see about that, won’t we?

Off I went.  A few things I noticed about today, the main thing was I just felt physically so much better than I have in ages.  There weren’t many people about at all, so I had the route very much to myself for the first couple of hours. Because I’ve done the trail before, I wasn’t so distracted by the scenery, and didn’t keep stopping for photos.  I mean, obviously, progress was still slow, still walk/run, but I was conscious I was definitely covering the ground more purposefully than ever before.

The tunnels are still fabulous though. What killjoy requires you to enter these slowly, the only way to tackle them is as fast as you can.  I wonder if this is what gets some dogs excited in dog agility.  There is something joyful about being encased in the dark, pounding along, and then exploding out the other side into daylight.

I could maybe have done without the odd significant splosh of cold wet water landing on my now bare head now and again, but a small price to pay for the on-trail entertainment of tunnel running.  Try it sometime.

One thing though, there are lots of rules about what you can and can’t do in the tunnel.  But judging from the pictures, only white men have to abide by them, as only they are featured in the instructional signage.  So that’s good.


Women can run free and run amok should they wish to do so.  Hurrah!  Running amok is always fun, that’s why we have events like The Trunce.  I believe there are some road races along these lines as well, but clearly fell races are the best for wildly heading out en masse and scattering in all directions over the horizon and over the hills.

run amok

I have been toying with having a ‘proper’ run walk strategy for the marathon, but I don’t really like obsessing about my watch.  At the moment, it’s set with one mile for one lap, so it vibrates on every mile, and that seems a good marker for me.  I vaguely had in mind that I should keep running until the watch vibrated and then I could walk for a bit, take a drink or whatever, but in fact I just ran as I felt, and honestly, I think that might yet be my best bet.  I just kept seeing a landmark, like a bridge ahead, or a tree, and I’d think ‘I’ll just run to that such-and-such a point’ and then when I got there if I felt like I could keep on going I did.  Sometimes I told myself I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to stop until I’d finished a mile. Occasionally my inner pride would kick in and I’d think ‘I won’t stop running until I’m out of sight of whatever walker I’d just passed’.  I think I was just a lot more ‘on task’ than I have been for a while.  I exchanged pleasantries with people I passed, and I didn’t stress if I felt like walking, but I did a lot less stopping for photos and general faffing than is usual for me.  Having said that, some views you just have to pause and take in, rude not to.  That’s quite some flood plain is it not?


My favourite interaction of the morning was with a woman who had one of those arm extender things that you can use to launch tennis balls for your dog to chase.  Her companion canine was beside himself with excitement, scampering back and forth ecstatic every time the ball flew through the air, he fair flew after it.  ‘I wish I had that much energy and enthusiasm when I’m out running‘ I remarked as I approached.  ‘I could always throw the ball for you if that would help at all?‘ she replied without missing a beat. Just goes to show, support and encouragement comes from the most unexpected places!  I was quite tempted to take her up on her offer, just to see, but it wouldn’t have been fair on the dog so I trundled on.

Although the Monsal Trail has it’s limitations as a run route – I wouldn’t want it to be my only running option, at times along the way there are the most spectacular views, and helpful signs give a bit of the local history and geography too.  Abseilers were out in force, dangling from the designated bridge.  In other spots bridge swingers were warned away by threat of steel wires across the arches.  Decapitation by taught wire seems a little extreme as a sanction for rule breakers, but then again, frustration will build.   Actually, on closer inspection, I see it is not wire but ‘bars’ so more a question of getting splattered on impact I’m guessing….  Personally though,  I am getting increasingly annoyed and outraged by poo bags not just hanging from trees, but hurled into the undergrowth. What is that about. As the daily mash inform us ‘man picks up warm dog shit, seals it in a bag then leaves it in the hedge‘.  Just why?   If I thought stringing taut wires across the Monsal Trail and elsewhere would put a stop to that I’d be tempted.


Fortunately, other views were more scenic. I spoiled one such view with a gratuitous selfie. Well why not.  I need to practise doing those ahead of London too. You don’t honestly expect me to resist the temptation of snapping a few of those en route on the big day do you?

I did a little detour at one point, because a bridleway looked especially inviting.  It will be good to come back when I don’t have to focus on just bagging a certain mileage, and try some of these routes that crisscross the Monsal Trail and discover paths less travelled across Derbyshire.

Eventually, I once again reached the end of the trail.  This is where I had a maths fail.  I really, really, didn’t want to have to run past the cafe again to make up miles on the way back, but I wasn’t 100% sure if I’d done enough.  I decided to be on the safe side, I’d do a mini extension, and so headed past the trail end


It was fun heading down some steps, you end up by a quite impressive river, fast flowing under a series of bridges, giving stunning views. This is an area seriously worthy of future exploration, which is just as well, as I need to up my mileage again over the next couple of weeks.  Nice to know there is an easy and inviting way to do this.  I think that circular mirror makes me look more rotund than I actually am by the way, just saying…

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I didn’t venture too far, as I thought I’d probably done enough, and so i turned around and after a restorative naked bar, headed homeward.  It was much colder running back. The sun had vanished, and I seemed to be going into a headwind.  I don’t know if the naked bars are quite doing it for me.  For the first time ever, towards the end of my run I did feel a bit of an energy dip that made me actually crave sugar.  I was fine, as I was within a mile of my end point, but it made me think perhaps I should carry some fudge or something in case I get that feeling again.  More people were out and about, but no runners, groups of walkers, and a gang of women all purposefully pushing buggies at one point, some cyclists but it remained fairly quiet.


Then, because it was cold perhaps, and because my legs felt fine, and my lungs felt fine, but I was just getting a teeny bit bored of the grey flatness of it all, I found I just started running spontaneously, without forcing myself to start up again after a walking section I mean, and for possibly the first time ever I hit a bit of a rhythm. It took my about 12 miles to get to that point which is a downer, but I finally hit The Zone.  Where running felt, if not exactly easy, automatic, like walking is for me, where I never, ever think I can’t take another step, my legs just move because that is what they are programmed to do.  It seems rather late in the day of my marathon training to have discovered this pace, but  do feel it may yet turn out to be something of a breakthrough.  If I can find that comfortable place and pace where my legs can propel me forward without me having to  constantly consciously berate them to do so, this whole running malarkey will be so much easier.  The next few miles seemed to pass quickly.  I started fretting a little because I didn’t know how far I’d got still to go, 16, then 17, then 18 miles came and went.  I was trying to spot the Bakewell parkrun turnaround point, as that would tell me I had just under 2.5 km to go, but I couldn’t recognise it, which I admit is somewhat observationally inept.  I clearly have a ‘follow the herd’ mentality.  I can cope just fine on my own, but if others are around who clearly know what they are doing, I’m inclined to just tag along and defer all responsibility for decision-making – including bothering to independently notice the route just travelled apparently.  Oh dear.

What I did notice though, was some brightly coloured broken red plastic things by the side of the path.  What on earth?  I went to investigate, and found it wasn’t brittle, broken plastic at all, but a bright red fungi.  No idea what it was, I’ve never seen anything like it before, remarkable.  Fergus the forager has found these too, because he has them on his website, he may even eat them, as they were in a basket.  Eventually, through googling I found a UK fungi identification website, and dear reader, let me introduce to you the other worldly looking Scarlet Elfcup.  Brilliant name.  Well worth taking the time to find out.  My world feels the richer for it, I hope yours will too!  It might be a ruby elfcup to be fair, but unless you are an elf, AND CAN PROVE IT, I’m not processing your complaint.  Just to be extra clear, the identification website states apropos of this that ‘to be anywhere near certain which of the two red elfcup species you have found, microscopic study (unless you are equipped to carry out DNA analysis!) is probably the only option.’ so think before your issue your grievance.

weird red fungi

19 miles came and went, I had started walking again by this point, but that was fine.  I’d exceeded my 18 mile target and was feeling pretty good.  A bit cold, a bit peckish, and my feet were a bit aaaargh, but able to continue.  Definitely energy in the tank.  What a relief.

Finally the cafe came into view.  My watch proclaimed I’d covered 19.63 miles, which is teasingly close to breaking the 20 mile mark, but also  pleasingly within Smiletastic long run tolerance limits.  For the Smiley Paces, running club winter challenge we have to pledge a distance for our long runs, but are penalised if we deviate from that more than 10%.  I mean, marathon training is all very well, but I wouldn’t want it to mess up my Dragonfly team mates points due to my run route calculation errors!  I’d only pledged 18 miles, my upper safe distance was but 19.79 miles.  Did you know you can make dragonflies out of origami by the way?  I found a YouTube link explaining how.  One of our group has even done this.  Amazing commitment. Gotta be worth a Smiletastic bonus point.  I mean she should get one for implementing the idea so brilliantly, obviously, but as the brains behind the endeavour I ought to be a shoo-in for a bonus point too, for inspiring such a creative tour de force?

origami dragonfly because.jpg

I dumped my running paraphernalia in the boot of the car, donned my fleece and stumbled into the cafe.  I had a latte, some really good mushroom soup and a not very exciting egg mayonnaise roll.  It was expensive, but the sustenance was much-needed and most welcome.  Good to warm up a bit before heading back home.  I took a picture of lunch.  It looks terrible, but honestly, don’t be put off by the grey and beige presentation, the soup was delicious.  It had truffle oil drizzled on it, which I didn’t know was a thing, but was jolly nice.


In case you care, here is the route.  Not much to look at in Strava terms to be fair, just a line out and back, but also a big tick, in terms of my marathon training run.  26.2 miles seems a lot more manageable now.  I’m not underestimating it, and I know many would find my pace aspirations laughable, but hey ho, it’s my own goal.  In every sense.

strava route

So here’s hoping the next long run is as positive.  I’m going to try to build on this one, do more actual running, and try to get into the zone a bit more. I’m not sure about my nutrition and hydration is quite working though, I need to play around with that still – I ran out of water on this route.  To be honest, I could really do with some better weather so I can run without a jacket and get used to that, but even so, at last some progress.  Progress makes a change from just movement, which is what I’ve sometimes been guilty of.  Sometimes it is all too easy to confuse the too.  That’s what Alfred A Montapert tells us – or possibly Denzel Washington, depends which google search stream you choose to believe. Ernest Hemmingway and Mark Twain are contenders too – so basically everyone seems to agree on this point, we just need to recognise how it relates to each of us personally.

You’re welcome.


So that’s all for now.  Don’t worry, normal pessimism will be restore shortly.  But for now.  All good.

Own goals, that’s what it’s all about.  Own goals.

ed balls own goal

So keep on running.  We’ve got this.  What could possibly go wrong now?



*This one is for you EWFM – remember, we owe our knowledge of the Bungle Bungle range entirely to episodes of Neighbours back in the eighties.  This just goes to show, TV soaps can be most educational and lead to curiosity about the world and cultural exchange.  Not sure the world needed the Scott and Charlene wedding song, but those eighties outfits are truly a sight to behold.   Those of us who have lived through shoulder pads, can probably survive anything. Even London Marathon running…

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

Smiley Champs with Smiley Champions – Running wobbles conquered (ish) with a little help from my Smiley friends…

Digested read: Running feels hard at the moment.  Marathon training is taking its toll. Fortunately I have Smiley Paces and I have parkrun. What more could anyone ask for to help them through their running wobbles!  It’ll be fine, probably.  Even if it isn’t it won’t matter in the grand scheme of things and there will still be parkrun the following Saturday and cake eating opportunities aplenty on the horizon ahead.  Thank you Smiley Buddies you are all wonder women.  Awesome as well as FGRs.  Hurrah!

Bakewell smiley assemblage

Mahooosive running wobbles today, for the past few days to be honest.  And I am not only referring to my midriff which wobbles most spectacularly when I run.  Point of information dear reader – in my experience it is a complete myth that marathon training will bring to you weight loss along with existential angst, au contraire.  I’ve put on a significant amount of weight partly because of being rungry to a greater extent than the calories I’ve burned, but more particularly because I’m an emotional eater, and training for a marathon, well, turns out it’s really hard, and for me, something of an emotional roller coaster.  It is the emotional wobbles that have been especially pronounced these week.  Mind games setting in along with doubts.

So, I am told at this stage in training it is normal to doubt yourself, your body is under stress.  With six weeks to go OH MY GAWD, SIX WEEKS!  KILL ME NOW! There is still much training to cram in and much to lose as well as much to gain.  Too little time to make much headway in terms of fitness (it’s really four weeks max and a two week taper), but plenty of time to blow everything with injury or over training or narcissistic melt down.  My problems have been building for a while, snow and ice have played havoc with my training plan, such as it was, and do you know what, even though the Beast from the East has affected much of the UK, they aren’t going to postpone the start date of the marathon by two weeks to compensate?  I know, outrageous.   Then I had a really terrible long run last week, wrong nutrition, felt ill, got cold and dehydrated and then spent the next two days completely wiped out.  I actually took to my bed and googled ‘is it normal to feel exhausted after a long run’, ‘heart attack early symptoms’, ‘what was I thinking?’, ‘marathon over training’, ‘marathon not trained enough’, ‘seriously, how many miles?’, ‘anaemia and running’, ‘marathon training fatigue‘ etc. You get the idea I’m sure.  Looking on the bright side, the alarming google advice in relation to the above search terms probably elevated my heart rate sufficiently to provide me with a significant work out despite my inertia.  On the whole, my findings were terrifying, and not helpful, probably not even accurate or applicable to me either.

Some training plans are saying that your ‘long run’ should be about 20% of your total mileage, but that would mean as I increased my long runs I’d be doing a massive % increase on my weekly mileage and doing 100 miles a week by the time I got up to a 20 mile run, and I don’t have the numeracy skills to work it out for a 22 mile run.  Just as well.   That can’t be right, surely? So I have been fretting about my mileage being too low. Then I wonder if I should force myself out even if I’m feeling rubbish, but then I remind myself that there’s a difference between tired, can’t be bothered and it’s raining and the total grey-faced white-gummed wipe out that I’ve been experiencing over the past few days, and on balance, it isn’t worth it.  I’m not an elite runner, I only want to get round, and actually, I don’t think that kind of mileage is either realistic or sensible for a relatively newbie middle-aged runner, that way injury and exhaustion lies, surely.  Plus,  I knew when I set out to do my 17 mile run last week I wasn’t feeling great, and I think I’ve paid the price. I am in the process of writing a misery memoir blog post about that even now, you can enjoy be dragged down by reading that account later, when I finally finish it.  Even so, whatever the intellectual, objective rationalisation of what I’m feeling, it’s not great, hence the wobbles.  I’ve felt completely drained since the 17 miler, and a bit unsure about how to move on from it.  Have a break?  Do more? Do less?  Aaaaaargh.  I’ll never be a runner, my running is getting worse and harder with this marathon malarkey not better.  I thought by now my inner athlete would have burst out, that I’d be chomping sprouting mung beans and buying progressively smaller pairs of running bottoms whilst dolling out unsolicited running advice to lesser mortals who hadn’t yet got a marathon in their sights.  On reflection, I was probably delusional right from the start.  I’m exhausted, my body is battered, my morale low, I am never running again.  Not ever.

Even so, today was a double Smiley Paces challenge. Firstly, Bakewell parkrun the first of the Smiley Champs runs for this year, and secondly a Smiletastic challenge, creating a solstice flyby.  Wouldn’t want to let my team mates down.  Aaaaaargh all over again.  Fear of missing out…  and you know what they say ‘I really regret that run said NO-ONE EVER!’

really regret

The Smiley Champs series, is basically  your best four performances out of a possible six runs in events throughout the year. They are chosen to be as inclusive as possible, taking in a parkrun like today, a shortish fell race, an off-road event with a choice of distances e.g. Dig Deep series that kind of thing.  I am never going to be a speed merchant, so don’t take part in the champs in any expectation of glory, but I do go in expectation of being able to bathe in collective Smiley loveliness; to get to be in a Smiley team shot and; last but by no means least; in the confident expectation that there will be cake.  What is a running club without communal catering?  Quite.  And if someone is going to go to all that trouble of combining their 50th parkrun with the Smiley Champs call out to hail to Bakewell parkrun, it would be rude not to go and ingest/inhale such sweetmeats as are offered up by way of recognition and appreciation and as an expression of mutual support.

Anyway, here are the Smiley Champs races for this year, 2018, in case dear reader you fancy coming along and shouting ‘Go Smiley‘ at any of us as we pass.  Or throw sweetmeats, that goes down well too, as a minimum offer up a high-five. We like them also. Just so you know.  All and any support, we’ll take it.  You’ll feel great, everyone’s a winner!

smiley champs

Like Lady Macbeth, I lost the capacity to sleep years ago (though unlike her I don’t recall being an accessory to regicide) so was awake by 4.00 a.m. anyway.    The rain was pounding down on my attic window, this was not the plan.  I lay in the dark, checking out how I felt. Yep, felt like my body had been completely steam-rolled and head was spinning.  What to do.  What will I do if I feel like this on marathon day?  I have always maintained, sometimes to my cost, that you can always push out a parkrun.  Maybe I should test that theory today.  If I didn’t get out and give it a go, I’d probably regret it right?  Plus, wouldn’t want to let my Smiletastic buddies down…  Nobody ever regrets a parkrun, ever, no-one ever regrets a parkrun ever, never ever, repeat, repeat, ad infinitum repeat…

There’s always a first time though, isn’t there…  Speaking of which, some Smileys who’d promised to turn out today were to be first timers at parkrun, can you imagine that?  Passing through the gateway to all that fun for the first time, it will be like entering Narnia for them, I should turn out to see that…

So, despite rain, and fog, and it being distinctly chilly although not actually arctic conditions, I had my porridge and I ventured out. It was a misty run out to Hassop Station Cafe where the parkrun meets on the Monsal Trail.  I was a bit apprehensive driving over, there was a lot of standing water on the roads, and I had a white van driving right up my arse which wasn’t good.  Still, I wasn’t going to be intimidated into aquaplaning off the road, intimidated yes, but not so much as to change my driving, though I did pull over where I could to let him pass.

I arrived about 8.45, and to my amazement, there was space in the car park despite a couple of spaces being out of action because of snow!  I know, I thought it had all gone by now.  There were a couple of handy – and crazily clean portaloos on hand, but many gathering Smilies had assembled in the gift shop, where there was much browsing of mother’s day cards going on in pre-parkrun preambles. There was also much Smiley meeting and greeting, and it was lovely to see not just fellow dragonflies (Smiletastic challenge team mates) but loads of other Smilies I’ve not seen all winter really.  It was an impressive turn out.

We collectively lurked inside, sheltering from the rain that was pretty much torrential, until a call went up for us to assemble at the start.   I kept my coat on.  I was not alone.  We trotted down the path a short way and there was a collective run briefing.  I did not have my camera with me, but fortunately Smiley selfie queen did, so captured the scene…  nice and casual we Smilies aren’t we.  Can you see the ladybirds?  Plague proportions I tell you, plague…  There is a hungover grasshopper in shot too, see if you can work out which one she is.  Also, at least one celebrity who doesn’t wish to be identified, her prerogative, respect the right of all parkrunners to participate in their own way.

Bakewell smiley assemblage

This was my first time at Bakewell parkun – it’s a relatively new one, with this being only its eighth run.  Normally they get around a hundred or so runners, this week the numbers swelled to some 150, Smiley Paces runners contributed largely to that rise, but there were also a fair few Steel City Striders in evidence, I think maybe they are still preoccupied with their annual parkrun cup challenge, but I’m not sure…

It is a run that is fairly light on marshals, the run director gave a cheery briefing.  Hands for first timers – loads of us; any milestones?  Yep, at least two fifties, yay!  I liked the briefing, high points included the observation that sub 20 minute runners should move to the front (there was not a stampede to reposition ourselves) and the observation that there was a tail walker (a super smiley no less) so if you saw her ahead of you, you were to shout ‘slow down!’  at her, which is a good point well made. The official Bakewell parkrun course description blah de blah states:

Course Description
Out and back course on the Monsal Trail. Start and finish are in the same place by Hassop Station

and that’s indeed exactly what it is! Look:

bakewell parkrun strava

Down the compact trail of the old railway line.  It was however very puddled – running water across the path in places which I hadn’t expected – this would be seriously icey if the temperature dropped below zero –  and had a noticeable camber, which is slightly weird, in that I didn’t notice it at all when I ran this part of the Monsal trail the other week, but then again, that day I had it all to myself.

The briefing was short and to the point, and pretty soon a cry went up and we were awf.  As predicted I found it hard.  My energy levels are completely depleted.  I struggled even though it is a straight out and back route. Weirdly though, I found it harder running this with other runners, it was sort of like being in a traffic jam as you couldn’t see much other than the back of the runner in front, and it was hard to judge distance travelled as landmarks aren’t that obvious on this route, especially for a first time. It was however a friendly cohort, and for faster runners you could definitely go for a quick time if that was your bag.  Also, as an out and back route, it was quite nice to see and acknowledge returning runners – basically the whole field in my case – as they ran back as I was running out.  Lots of mutual support, high fives, cheery ‘hellos’ and good to see familiar faces I hadn’t been able to spot in the pre-run mingling. Whether they were as thrilled to see me as I was them is a moot point, perhaps the mantra ‘don’t ask don’t tell‘ has its place in some contexts after all.

I love Smilies, all were indeed smiling as they rushed by.

The turning point was just beyond a bridge, there were two marshals to cheer you round.  There was one pleasant surprise here (well, three if you count seeing each of the two marshals as well 🙂 ), in that a solitary white cone positioned in front of the marshal was the turnaround point. This gave me a significant psychological boost, as I’d imagined the marshal was a human cone and I’d have to run round him, by running in front of him instead I saved a good 2 metres on that run.

Heading back, it felt tough, but a cheery Smiley as back marker shouted some encouragement as she was still heading out.  Ironically, our March challenge for Smiletastic is to run a Royal Flush – progressively faster miles over a long run.  My splits for this run showed I got progressively slower instead.  I tried very hard to put this in perspective, I’ve been feeling ill, I was 50:50 about coming anyway, it doesn’t matter at least I came, but I am all over the place mentally at the moment.  Who am I trying to kid I can run a marathon if I’m struggling to maintain a pace at a parkrun?  This can’t be right?

Eventually though, the end was in sight, a cheery Smiley with such perfect form that she is often wheeled out as the face of woodrun jogged out to run in with me.  As I reached the finish, there was a great wall of Smilies who gave a roar of cheers as i ran in. That was most splendid!  I felt like a super star. Sometimes it’s worth being a slow finisher as although oftentimes it means you miss the post run group photo because everyone has gone home, on this occasion it meant basically everyone else was already back and forming a cheer leading crowd to will you in.  I even did a (for me) sprint finish, so maybe my body wasn’t as broken as I thought.  Mind over matter indeed….

Super efficient funnel managers whizzed me through to the scanner.  I had a replacement barcode as one of theirs has gone walkabout, and it didn’t scan straightaway. I’m barcode scanning at Graves Junior tomorrow, hope the rain doesn’t interfere with the process too much there. The responsibility, the stress!

Thank you Bakewell parkrun marshals for the warmth of your welcome, the wit of your run briefing and the slickness of your logistics.

A couple more Smilies were cheered in

smiley coming through

And then it was to the important business of garnering Smiley team photos once the tail marker had made it through:

bakewell smiley team shot FJ

Naturally, we didn’t limit ourselves to just the one shot. We had to have all possible variants of smiley configurations.  Dragonflies, bees (genius action shot there, brilliantly choreographed by a very capable photographer who was that now?  Oh yes, I remember! Me!  Genius me!), grasshoppers, milestone 50th run – plus a few posing with the ‘caution runners‘ sign, because that’s what we are. Oh yes!  Go us!

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Running is great, gotta love parkrun!

So then cake was calling – I’d espied it earlier, it looked like this:

bakewell cake supplies

You might think that amount of cake would be daunting, but don’t underestimate the collective ability of a Smiley team to get a job done!  We focus, we can deliver!

As I was about to head back to the cafe, much excitement.  As the parkrun marshals worked their magic making all trace of the parkrun disappear for another week.   A previously anonymous Smiley came across to introduce herself.  She’s been injured forever ages, but we’ve met on the interweb so it was grand she came to say hello!  Hope you are running free again soon injured Smiley, but meantime, thanks for keeping Bakewell parkrun show on the road as a hi-viz hero.   Big virtual high-five coming right atya from here!  Til next time…

smiley injured new friends

Next stop, cafe, and queue for latte.  By my good fortune – perhaps less so for the Smiley I was alongside – I was sited next to a fellow London marathon runner for 2018.  She is a much, much more experienced and faster runner than I, so I was astonished to hear she too has been struggling a bit with fatigue in her training.  Not that I’d wish these levels of exhaustion on anyone, but maybe it is just ‘normal’ at this stage.  Interestingly, like me, she finds her legs feel strong and her aerobic capacity is fine, it’s literally ‘just’ a sense of extreme weariness, maybe this is the mental battle.

I also got to nab another experienced Smiley who was fantastically supportive and encouraging too as I lamented my lack of progress. She pointed out that actually, because of the cumulative build up of training miles there is also cumulative fatigue, so it is relatively usual (even is scary) to feel like I’m slower now than I was when I started, because you/ I/ we are making increasing demands on more and more fatigued bodies.  The benefits will only really be reaped post the taper – assuming training has gone to plan. These next 2-3 weeks are indeed the big mile weeks, and so some wobble is inevitable.  Anyway, thank you all smilies in general and those in particular for casting your pearls of wisdom and encouragement my way. It is appreciated.   Smiley Champs series is apt for us all, because all Smilies are Champions.  Even those who didn’t make the shindig today. One of those was being a hi-viz hero elsewhere.  Also champion.  Hurrah.  Top Dog for the day, I think Regal Smiley may fear her top dog position more generally is under threat. It isn’t of course, because there’s room for all.  Some can do the loving eyes routine a bit better than others it’s true, but all are super-talented, unique and valued in their own way.  New beginnings for you both. Bravo.  Let the new adventures in life begin, there will be no looking back.

It’s a weird thing this marathon training malarkey, because inevitably a lot of the training is on my own, and the run itself will be – apart from the other 49,999 other runners out there on the route of course – but I don’t think I’d have even made it to this point without the support of my running club buddies, parkrun buddies and virtual supporters I’ve picked up along the way.  I have to remember it’s supposed to be a challenge and it’s also supposed to be fun.  Of course I want to get round, but it is only a run, it’s not life and death, if I don’t it won’t matter in the grand scheme of things, what matters is that I give it my best shot and, in the words of the best advice I’ve had re running my first/ one and only marathon ‘remember to enjoy it’.  It will be an extraordinary day.  If I get round I get bragging rights on top, if I don’t I still get anecdotes and free tube travel in London for marathon day, as long as I’m still wearing my number and it hasn’t been washed away by my tears on the day.  Not a bad return on two years of angst really is it?

Is it?  Don’t you think?  Tube travel is really expensive.  And I don’t make a habit of running any distance up to 26.2 miles just to get around, so it can add up.

Lattes were drunk, cake was eaten and then it was running round two. The Spring Equinox Smiletastic challenge.  But that’s another story….

For all my parkrun related posts see here – scroll down for older entries.

Categories: 5km, motivation, parkrun, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Taking running underground – tunnel vision on the Monsal Trail

Digested read: change in strategy.  Instead of long and hilly, I went for long and flat, first time out on the Monsal Trail.  It is indeed long and flat, but it has loads of fabulous tunnels.  Tunnels are fun.  I’m still scared of this marathon malarkey, but slow progress is still progress, and I can’t change how much preparation I’ve done to date, I can only make the remaining weeks count.  More running, fewer donuts. That’ll work.  All the same aaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.  I think that’s normal though.  Probably.  Eek.

Yesterday, I ate five doughnuts, pretty much in one go.  In my defence, they were proper ones, by which I mean jam donuts (all other types are in my view an abomination against nature), and also, it was an accident. I’d been to the gym – I think dear reader you know how much I love doing that – and then went food shopping afterwards when I was feeling rungry.  Big mistake, but I hadn’t expected to walk past a bakery counter with a special offer at 45p for a big pack of warm donuts, it was a temptation too far. Of course I succumbed.  I didn’t feel guilty eating the first one, and then the second didn’t really hit the sides, and then once you’ve had three in a row, you have to concede that’s your healthy eating plan for the day jettisoned, so you may as well write the rest of the day off and start again tomorrow, best course of action is to remove the temptation altogether by polishing off the lot.  It’s frankly a miracle I didn’t just inhale them sitting in Sainsbury’s car park, the fact I made it home in the car before ripping open the pack should be seen as a mitigating factor.


Despite this attempt at justification, it wasn’t the best of nutritional choices I’ve made in recent times, and naturally I was full of self-loathing afterwards, and felt a failure not only as a runner but as a human being.  Fortunately, I have a little Facebook messenger group thing going with some other people I met at a London Running Weekend a while back. These are new buddies,  who are also doing the London Marathon in just a few weeks time.  Aaaargh. This meant I was able to share my panic at having so spectacularly failed at my nutrition control, and feeling down about my marathon training progress, which is lamentable. Sharing is good.  Though over-sharing of course isn’t, and sometimes it’s a fine line.  On this occasion however, my virtual running buddies scooped me up in a collective cluck of reassurance.

Since knowing I was going to be running London (gulp, still struggle with putting that out there!) I’ve read loads about marathon running through the medium of the oracle which is google.  I have searched every conceivable variation on the term ‘marathon’ including, as an illustrative not comprehensive list, the word streams: ‘first marathon’; ‘top tips for crap runners’; ‘how to complete a marathon’; ‘how to start a marathon’; ‘how far is a marathon again’; ‘why would anyone want to run a marathon’; ‘who’s idea was it to run a marathon anyway’; ‘what was I thinking when I entered the London ballot’; ‘why didn’t that Pheidippides just do a relay and call it a day at 5 miles‘ – and every variant question you might think of in between.  I find googling about running a pleasing substitute for actual training in general and running in particular, but it isn’t always good for nerves.  I only found out today that blooming Pheidippides dropped dead at the end of it! WTF?  I thought he was lauded and got a medal, this is not as planned…  Not such a brilliant role model and running target after all is he?  … Are we seriously emulating someone who drops dead at the finish without getting their bling or a selfie next to a national monument/ reality TV celebrity at the end?  I clearly should have researched this marathon malarkey thing a bit more before signing up for it…  So easy to get caught up in the hype isn’t it, and look where that leads.

why didnt he die at 20 miles

Leaving aside the ‘whose stupid idea was this in the first place?  Oh, mine, OK then‘ factor, one constant theme in the marathon advice is that it’s a really hard thing to do on your own.  The training is potentially isolating, there are a lot of hours running on your own, and your mind messes with you a lot.   Well, mine certainly does, it just won’t SHUT UP!  Now, some people have friends and family on their doorstep to rally round, and that’s great if you have, but you know what, the support I’ve had from my Facebook friends has been amazing.  Scooping me up with a rush of positivity and empathy, that helped me through a really tough few days.  So thank you virtual marathon running buddies.  You are appreciated.   I still don’t know if I can get round this marathon or not, but I do feel somewhat more chilled about giving it my best shot.  Also, it just really helped to hear their own horror stories about the challenges they are facing in their training.  It’s hard this Marathon training thing, however hard you think it’s going to be, it’s much harder.  There are so many elements outside your control – and I don’t only mean the allure of freshly baked doughnuts.  Even those elements inside your control aren’t that easy to deliver because (who knew) heading out on your own for 15 miles in the cold isn’t as instantly appealing or rewarding as you might think.  Delayed gratification is massively over-rated.  You don’t have to be a psychopath to think so.  Even so, perspective check,  there are a couple of things I do want to remember about running:

  1. it’s supposed to be fun,
  2. I remember being really sad at seeing someone, somewhere comment on a discussion thread, that running a marathon had killed their love of running.  To me that seems to be not only a sacrifice too far, but also an unnecessary one.  I don’t want that to be me. I’m never going to impress anyone with my running, not even myself, but I do want it to continue to be a part of my life that gives me joy.

Run often, run long, but don’t outrun your joy of running as the saying goes.


Maybe also try not to run to the point you drop dead at the end of it.  Just a thought.  But if you must, make sure the on-site artist captures your best side at the moment of collapse.  Also, maybe think about wearing some pants.  Maybe our mum’s had a point about having to wear clean knickers every day in case you get run over by a bus.  Or was that not a general thing?

Though, don’t tell anyone, but I’ve never been massively sold on the ‘clean pants in case you get run over’ scenario, as surely in that eventuality you’d wet yourself or worse.  Wouldn’t it be better to carry a spare set of underwear with you, along with Kendal mint cake and a toothbrush at all times, and then you’d be sorted in any number of scenarios? Oh I don’t know, I seem to be losing confidence in my decision-making capabilities in every context, not just running.  It’s like low self-esteem and poor self-confidence is self-perpetuating.  It’s so hard being me right now, you have no idea….

So, what I’m basically saying is, yesterday was a bad day.  Running a marathon feels impossible, I’d binge eaten doughnuts without even really taking pleasure in them and was really doubting what ever made me think I could do this. However, after a collective pep talk/ group hug from my virtual London marathon running buddies, I decided to stop comparing myself to other people, and just crack on.  My mantra is along the lines of ‘if I make it to the start uninjured, I’ll make it to the finish‘.  I know I’m behind where I’d ideally like to be with my training, I ‘should’ be running much further by now, but I also know that if I try to skip a week, and start suddenly doing loads of extra stuff, it’ll probably lead to counterproductive injury.  Slow and steady now is better than did not start.    Even so, time for a bit of a change in tactic.

I’ve been doing the Round Sheffield Walk fairly regularly as a training route to up my mileage, but its combination of steep terrain and ice and snow means it’s been basically just that, a walk.  That may be good for strength and miles on the legs, but it’s nowhere near good enough to replace actually running. Today therefore, I headed to the Monsal Trail. As super flat as flat can be.  For the uninitiated, it is described thus:

What is the Monsal Trail?

The Monsal Trail is a traffic free route for walkers, cyclists, horse riders and wheelchair users through some of the Peak District’s most spectacular limestone dales.

The trail runs along the former Midland Railway line for 8.5 miles between Blackwell Mill, in Chee Dale and Coombs Road, at Bakewell.

Most of the route was opened to the public in 1981 but four former railway tunnels had to remain closed due to safety reasons, with public footpaths taking people around them. From 25 May 2011 the four railway tunnels – Headstone Tunnel, Cressbrook Tunnel, Litton Tunnel, Chee Tor Tunnel – will also open for trail users. Each tunnel is about 400 metres long and will be lit during normal daylight hours.

Two shorter tunnels – Chee Tor No.2 and Rusher Cutting – already formed part of the Monsal Trail.

The public can now experience the full length of the former railway route at their own pace and see breathtaking views at places like Water-cum-Jolly Dale that have remained hidden since the railway closed in 1968.

As a former railway line, it is basically, long, flat and even.  Like an outside treadmill, also fortuitously furnished with a cafe AND of a good length for my long runs.  I decided I’d head there, and play around with my run walk strategy, and try to do a greater percentage of actual running than I have for a while.  I tried to keep my expectations realistic, this would be a learning experience, I’d try not to be over ambitious, but just get a sense of my baseline of fitness as of now, and build it from there.  This was the theory.

It’s about a 13 mile drive from where I live to the Hassop Station Cafe and car park on the Monsal Trail.  Despite my best efforts at keeping positive, treating today as a fresh start etc etc, I found my mind demons had clambered in the car and come along for the ride too. It was a cold day, but basically dry – perfect for running really – but as I drove out towards Bakewell I became preoccupied with just how far it was to get to Hassop, and how long it was taking EVEN IN A CAR, and how once I arrived I’d be setting out to run even further than I’d just driven.  Yikes.  This is what they mean when they say running is mostly in the mind.  I need to find a way to bury such negative thoughts, they don’t help.  There is that truism that if you don’t believe in yourself you are making it twice as hard to achieve any goal, and that’s probably true.  How does the saying go? She thought she could so she did?  The opposite is also a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Aaaaargh.

I want to believe but… even so I have deliberately picked an image with the robin on it, as that is the sort of robust body shape I can relate to.   If a robin (or indeed a bumble bee) can fly, then why shouldn’t I run? (No answers on a postcard please, today is about positivity not realism, you have been told).

I arrived early.   There is a pay and display car park, but also a free one for customers of the cafe.  I was planning to have lunch afterwards in the cafe, but I knew I’d be out running for blooming ages so I wasn’t sure of the etiquette.  In the end I nipped across to ask a bored looking staff member if I was OK to do a run and then come back later.  She was friendly and completely unconcerned.  I suppose if it was a busy weekend it might have been more contentious, but as it was, I was practically the only car there.

I headed off.  I had decided I’d play around with my run/walk strategy.  To be fair, I had no idea what I was doing.  I decided as the received wisdom is not to set off too fast, I’d walk a mile then run a mile.  This had the advantage of being simple to follow as my tomtom watch is set to vibrate every mile and the disadvantage of being completely crap as a strategy.  It was too much walking so I got cold.  As a learning curve though it was useful, in that I realised I don’t know all the functions of my watch well enough to use any other strategy. Time?  Shorter distances?  Well I could, by looking at my watch every 20 seconds, but that’s not great either.  I need to wise up to other approaches.

I haven’t ever been down the Monsal Trail, which is something of an omission.  I’d been warned it is a mighty dull route, but I didn’t find it that.  I mean, I wouldn’t want it as my only running option, but there was something quite hypnotic about the even terrain.  There was hardly anyone out and about, and I see the potential for the path to have a therapeutic feel to it, plus I liked all the paths that cut across offering promise of new places to discover, and there was some awesome views. Plus, it starts and finishes at a cafe.  BIG tick!

Once on the trail, there was a handy directional sign:


and that’s it, you take your pick, and off you go. You can’t get lost, but you can have micro adventures along the way. I had lots.

For example, who knew that tunnels were so much fun?

I mean, I got excited at the first one.  Which frankly, is like thinking a speed hump constitutes a hill, which is pretty much what I thought until I got to Sheffield, well, Monsal Trail does tunnels really well. First off though, a gentle contemplative trot, gazing ahead at the long open road and marveling at the moss-covered trees along the way.

It was OK to begin with.  I felt quite unexpectedly strong.  The route was quite sheltered, so that was good, and although I felt under pressure at needing to bank a good one, I felt at least I was doing something positive in being out and about.  Amongst other advice, I have been picking up that those most likely to complete the London Marathon do quite whopping mileage (by my terms) of around 37 each week. This kind of whisper is really difficult. It might be true, but that doesn’t take into account those who get injured doing that sort of mileage without a proper training base.  I think the conclusion I’ve come to is that for me, more miles will help me be strong and build endurance, but I have to be realistic, I wont be able to do that many as running miles. If the Monsal Trail is OK, this could be a great weekly addition to my training plan.  Somewhere to get flat running miles in, whilst keeping the elevation mileage in with my long weekly round Sheffield Walk. We shall see.




The route for me today had a certain novelty value.  You notice things first time round, especially at slower speeds.  I was fascinated by the sound of water trickling first down the sides of the embankment and then later within the tunnels.  Early on in my run, when I was feeling upbeat and invincible the musical tone was enchanting, later on, it felt like the haunting sound of better runners than I,  who’d missed out in the London ballot, weeping in sorrow as they watched my piteous attempts at running and could not hold back their tears of frustration as they nursed the jealous knowledge ‘it should’ve been me’.   Maybe it should, that’s the thing about a ballot, it’s random, it isn’t based on merit or worth, just on luck, or not, on the day. Sad but true.

Pretty though, freezing water trickling through that glorious green wall of moss.


Picture doesn’t quite do it justice, you’ll have to use your imagination, or better yet, go check it out for yourself.  Shortly after the first of the whispering water, there was the first of the amazing tunnels.

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Quite aside from being a great feat of engineering, and offering stupendous as yet unfulfilled potential for a film set, this was super fun.  I was a bit perturbed by the sign saying WARNING, do NOT touch the sides of the tunnel.  I was fixated with what might happen if I did. Would the whole structure come tumbling down like dominoes or jenga blocks, or would I maybe get stuck to the walls as if by some invisible force, like people who end up stuck to random objects after poor choices relating to superglue use.  Inevitably, I also had to really, really fight the urge to go and plant my maximum possible body surface against the Victorian bricks just to see what might happen. I held off though, I’ve seen what happened to Father Dougal with the Red Button.  It didn’t end well.

red button

It was weird being in the tunnel, it sounds different, not so much echoey as slightly disembodied.  Other worldly even.  I was impressed by this first tunnel, but I ain’t seen anything yet I later realised.  Once you get spat out the other end I seemed to have a greater appreciation of the views and the skill of the construction team that made it so.  It really is quite something.  I mean, I know I must be getting old to officially find Victorian industrial heritage so fascinating, but honestly, it is remarkable.  Go check it out!

Out of the tunnel and on to a bridge, and you are so high up, amazing views.


I didn’t know it at the time, but the other hilarious/ pleasing thing about doing this route, is that Strava doesn’t know you are on a long flat route. Thus, you go under a mountain in a tunnel, Strava thinks you have womanfully sprinted up one side of the mountain and down the other side. Similarly, you go over a bridge, Strava believes you have slid down the slope to the river on your arse (presumably, it’s too steep to traverse it any other way) and clambered up the other with your bare hands, clinging to tree roots for whatever traction you can to get back up onto the path.  This may mess with your head, because you know it can’t be true, but I won’t like it felt good at the end of the run to think, ‘wow, I actually took on 3,173 foot of elevation over those 15 miles, no wonder I’m tired, I’m awesome’.  I find self-delusion a boon to keep my running demons at bay.  A short live boon, but I’ll take what crumbs of comfort I can.

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It was quiet out, I saw hardly anyone.  A couple of cyclists whizzed by as I was heading out, went to the end of the trail, and came back again whilst I was still heading out.  There was some intrepid walkers I met as I exited one of the tunnels, they actually had hand-held torches with them, which at first I thought was over kill (the tunnels are lit during daylight hours, and they are not so long you’d be very likely to find yourself inadvertently trapped in them overnight, even if you only yomp round at my speed). Then I found my mind preoccupied with wondering what secret mission they had planned that might require them.  Perhaps it was like their own personal Count of Monte Cristo – they’d be taking their lives in their hands and counting and touching bricks until they found the treasure map, or blue diamond, or hidden corpse or whatever it was with no price too high or sacrifice too great to make in pursuit of their end goal.  But what was it?  I may never know.  Or maybe I do know, but choose to keep this to myself as a great secret and source of mystery I will take to me to the grave….

Onward I went, there were catkins and signposts and weird abandoned bunkers that reminded me of pictures of deserted and crumbling settlements in Chernobyl.  I wonder if radioactive mutant animals and people emerge from dark corners hereabout after dark.  Probably.

Some nice remainer graffiti was politely hidden within.  This is what contemporary social history looks people.  And quality urban art with a correctly used apostrophe to avoid antagonizing the grammar police which is always good to see.


I didn’t find the route too samey.  There was lots of interest.  There were clockwork information points at intervals that you could wind up and listen to explanations of what you were looking at. There was even an old railway station – incorporating decent loos and an adjacent ice-cream van for the seriously hardy in search of something cold to ingest to match the cold of outside.  There were moss-covered rocks, and soaring embankments, even a rainbow, but i think you’ll have to squint a bit to see that in my photo, though I did try to capture it just for you.

There were iron bridges and there were reclaimed architectural features, re-purposed as wildlife hotels.   There were sweet little wooden sculptures and just loads to see and explore.

Now, this might just be me, but some of the soaring constructions, emerging skyward from the undergrowth really reminded of hidden Aztec cities or mayan civilisations.  Just as Mexico has it’s Chichen Itza and Cambodia has its Angkor Watt, the Peak District has its, well I’m not sure what it is, but you surely see the similarities?

Spooky eh?

There was one bit of the trail where there was a bit bridge and a separate area reserved for abseilers.  I don’t know if this segregation was for their protection or mine.  Maybe if you stand over the line you are compelled to go over the edge of the bridge whether ready or not. Harsh, but fair, you were warned.  I didn’t break protocol on this occasion, maybe next time…

There were lots of tunnels, I didn’t count them.  Sometimes there would be a gentle, hiss, growing to a crescendo behind me, like being chased by hornets, and then some bikes would appear.  Towards the end of the trail a group of four cheery runners romped on by, they were chatting companionably as I was pausing to take some photos.  I later saw only two coming back together and wondered if it was foolish to ask where their compatriots were.  I mean, if they had done away with them, then I’d drawn attention to myself as a possible witness, the last person to see them all alive, and clearly I couldn’t outrun any of them. They said though they were fine, just behind them, and I chose to believe them.  After all if you can’t trust a fellow runner out on the trails, who can you trust?

The only thing really not to like about this route if you are like me, is that it’s an out and back, rather than a circular run.  Also, the evenness of the terrain, which I thought would be easier on my feet, actually made for a more uncomfortable run as my little plate like feet had no respite from the rhythmical hammering and I did end up with a blister for the first time in my marathon training.  Ooops, not a bad one, but I need to watch out for that.

Oh actually, there was one other annoying and distasteful thing. The poo bag bauble decorators were out in force in some parts of this route. What is that about, hanging poo in bags on trees. Don’t delude yourself dog walkers, you have no intention of coming back for it, and even if  you are, why display your dog’s poop with such abandon for the duration of your walk.  You might wish to celebrate your hound’s every motion, but others do not share in your unadulterated joy.  But you know this already.  Desist dog walkers please, desist!


You know what dear reader, you may think I’m pretty unbearable already, but just you wait. When I think how exercised I am already on the matter of dog poo, it is only a matter of time before I start writing ‘why oh why’ letters to the local paper on the topic. I’ve already started emailing school principles about their students (didn’t get a reply) in a few years I’ll be openly remonstrating with dog walkers whilst out and about.  Sorry about that, but I see the signs, I’m not sure I’ll be able to contain myself.  I might not live that long though.  See reference above about side-effects of running a marathon.  I’d be OK with that, I can think of worse ways to go.

So I reached the end, peered over the rail at the icy view:


and then turned around and trotted back.

Trotting back, I was tiring and there was a headwind.  I got a bit cold, remembered I’d had nothing to eat or drink so had a naked bar and some water which sustained me en route.  I hadn’t felt hungry or thirsty, but I did genuinely notice I was struggling to remember how many miles I’d done and couldn’t work it out from the kilometres on display on my watch.  I’m not particularly numerate, I rather went off maths after we were no longer allowed to play with colour factor, but I can normally do that sort of calculation in my head.  I’d only done 15 miles and it seems brain fog had crept in.

colour factor

So what to make of today.  Well, I did my 15 miles, and although I was still piteously slow, I was a good couple of hours faster doing this flat route than doing the same distance on the Round Sheffield Walk route.  I wasn’t broken at the end of it, not physically, but mentally I felt empty and weirdly and unexpectedly emotional.  I sat drinking a latte in the cafe afterwards and found myself feeling really overwhelmed and a bit weepy. Like being hormonal only I wasn’t I was just exhausted I think.  In some ways I think I did OK, I mean I did cover the distance and learn a lot, but it’s increasingly dawning on me I have to do this distance PLUS ANOTHER ELEVEN MILES near as dammit, and I can’t even imagine right now how this is possible.

It’s tough you now, because I think I agree with those who say the real challenge of this undertaking is in the mind. You have to learn to adopt some mental mantra to keep you going.  So simultaneously you must listen to the voice in your head which encourages you onward, whilst crushing the voice in your head that is demanding you immediately capitulate to its request for intravenous doughnuts and a lie down.  It’s hard.  So many voices screaming for attention.  How can I tell which one is right?

Since writing this post I watched one of the Martin Yelling (brilliant name by the way) Virgin London Marathon live Facebook talks.  He was saying that it’s normal for your body to start protesting at this point. Of course it wants you to stop. You are asking a lot from it.  It doesn’t want you to keep on doing this.  It’s making great demands on your resources.  that doesnt mean it can’t be done, but it does mean you need mental strength to push through, not to the point that you damage yourself, but enough to silence the voice of doom that tells you it’s impossible and replace that with ‘I know it’s a challenge, but I’m sure we’ll all get through this together’.  I need to channel my inner Shackleton.  He got everyone home, and I think it’s fair to say he was having a way worse time of it.  If I don’t make it round, it’ll be sad, and I will feel I’ve failed, but I wont be made to carry a boat across pack ice for weeks and then sleep under it on an island waiting for rescue with only walrus blubber to sustain me and dreams of what might have been.  This is what endurance really looks like:

Touched Up no sharpening

Honestly, it was called Endurance.  How apt.  That sets the bar pretty high for endurance challenge purposes, a little marathon is practically a walk in the park compared to that.

Aaaargh, I still really want to do this, but I don’t know how I’ll get from where I am now to the start of London let alone the finish.  I do know though I am where I am, I just have to keep on keeping on.  Thing is, it’s hard enough running the darned thing as it is without having to battle with all the negative thoughts that consume me.

Note to self.

It’s supposed to be fun.

It will be fun.

Type two fun is still fun.

If it isn’t fun, there may still be a decent anecdote in it, and it’s still an adventure, and it would be a dull world if we stopped seeking those out wouldn’t it.

Wouldn’t it?

comfort zone



Also, if I don’t try, I’ll never know will I?  I might surprise myself….


Even so can I just say again, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.

Thank you.

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

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