Posts Tagged With: motivation

Tackling the taper… Not quite textbook tactics, but you know what? I’ll be reet! :)

Digested read:  The 12.12 mile off-road trail race is a week away.  What was I thinking when I entered it?   I’m fretting now. Tried to taper with a long walk instead of run. Epic fail. Wobbly, exhausted and confidence crushed.  However, espied something pretty darned special out on them there moors.  Have a guess.  Clue.  I got seriously lucky!  Yay, go me.  It’s a sign. It’ll be fine. Or it wont, but either way, it doesn’t matter, it’s supposed to be fun, we can all run our own race, nobody cares.  (In a good way).

Dreaming of the purple hills, this is what awaits me just a week from now.  Is it possible that the heather will be even more glorious come the 20th August?  However, between me and the Dig Deep trail challenge lies one final hurdle. The succesful taper.

nice out

The Dig Deep people keep putting up motivational posts on their Facebook page counting down to the big event.  ‘Yay, just three weeks to go’, ‘great news guys, a fortnight from now we’ll be good to go’ and now ‘final countdown to fun-land – just a few more sleeps’, I’m paraphrasing a bit but you get the idea.  This is all well and good, and no doubt very well-intentioned, but it’s really rather ratcheting up my fear levels.  What was I thinking? This happens to me a lot with off-road events.  Trouble is I’m seduced by the glorious settings, the seemingly manageable distances, and don’t factor in the challenging terrain and potentially impossible elevations.  A combination of absolute denial and hope over experience I suppose, hopefully not a fatal one.

My expertise in training protocol is rather limited, but even I know that at this late stage I’ve little hope of improving my fitness levels between now and next Sunday when I tackle the 12.12 event. 12.12 miles of off-road  (see what they’ve done with the name there?  Their creative vision team must have been working overtime to come up with that) and 633 metres of ascent.  That’s not even in feet, took me a while to realise that.   I try not to get too hung up on details at the point of entering events, it only leads to despair and sapping morale.  I’m not necessarily completely delusional when I sign up to things, it’s just that I’m ill-informed.  Upshot is, if you can’t improve your fitness at this stage, what you need to do is avoid injury, maintain fitness and carb up nicely.  That is, in my book ‘yay’ time, you get to taper!

My regular reader knows I’ve cluttered up the internet by pontificating on this point before Never underestimate the importance of a good tapir but that was a while back.  I’ve got a better understanding now, so time to revisit the topic I feel.  Why keep all that disillusion to myself?   I used to think tapering meant that you got to spend a fortnight sat on the sofa eating donuts as a sort of early consolation prize for being made to run a long way afterwards. Sadly, I now know it’s not quite the case.  It just goes to show that sometimes ignorance is indeed bliss, and greater understanding does not always bring about greater happiness.

Initially my research on ‘how to taper’  suggested that it was really, really important not to be tempted to do too much during  a taper.  I  say ‘research’, but clearly what I really mean is that I did a bit of random googling, disregarding the advice I didn’t want to follow until I came up with something I liked.  I liked this sentence from Susan Paul a lot:

Doing too much during the taper period can destroy your (event) performance. Your best bet for peak performance is to resist the urge to do more. When it comes to tapering, less really is more!

Good oh, that meant a fortnight out, after my last long run (I use the term ‘run’ loosely, yomp over 14 and a bit miles is more accurate, with quite a lot of pausing and gazing about) I settled down on the sofa fully committed to resting up properly.  Granted, I’d have to get up now and again to attend to bodily functions and check out the contents of the fridge, but otherwise me and Radio 4 (TV at a push) listening to the rain beating down outside would be the way to go.  To add creativity and interest I’d also be doing my best to improvise a ta ta bra out of a pair of recycled oven gloves.  I would have bought one, but really $45 for a bit of elasticated towel does seem a bit steep, even if it is a genius creation. Plus, they don’t seem to be available in the uk, anyway,  how hard can they be to create? (Answer, harder than you think, but you’ll have a laugh trying).

Unfortunately, further research, was emphatic about the opposite.  I didn’t like this advice nearly as much – whatever you do, don’t overdo the taper, said Coach Jeff in Runners Connect, adding for good measure:

The single biggest mistake I see in (event) tapers is that people over-taper in the last three weeks leading into the race.

This leads to feeling flat and sluggish on race day and increases the chance that you’ll come down with some type of sickness as your metabolism and immune system crash due to the sudden change in activity and demands on the body

Begrudgingly, I have to concede he may have a point.  Further research suggests tapering doesn’t mean an emergency stop, more a reduction in intensity and volume, depending on what you are preparing for.  I am left with the horrifying realisation that you are only doing a taper correctly if you feel frustrated and miserable the whole time.  That is, doing the opposite of whatever it is you are naturally drawn to doing.  Let me explain…

Scenario one:  If you are the sort of person who takes a month’s bed rest if you so much as stub your toe, when you taper you need to be doing a lot more than maintaining your natural default state of inert.  Plus, you really don’t need to start carbing up with quite such gusto, quite so far ahead.  ‘Carbing up’ only needs to happen about two days before. What’s more (and I didn’t like this message very much) you don’t even need to take in any extra calories apparently, simply change the proportion of carbs in your meal, so you are having more carb less fibrous veg say. Disappointing. No midnight pizza and pasta fests after all, so said the nutrition expert at the London Marathon Expo earlier this year.

garfield taper

Scenario two:  If you are the sort of person who gets a serious stress fracture, are given a pot and told to ‘rest’ for eight weeks but still think a 50 mile bike ride won’t count because it’s just ‘gentle cross training’ then you need to Stop.  Right.  Now!

can i run

Just to be clear on this point, I tend to fall into the ‘scenario one’ camp, in danger of doing too little.  Left to my own devices, brooding on the sofa, I started to feel increasingly fretful that this 12.12 challenge is beyond me.  I am increasingly aware of way better runners falling by the wayside.  The excuses they come up with are pitiful: ‘I can’t run I’ve dislocated my shoulder and broken my arm’; ‘I can’t run, I’m away doing a hard-core mountain marathon in Norway’; ‘I can’t run, I’ve got to have an operation’; ‘it’s not that I can’t run, I just don’t want to‘.  That kind of thing.  Maybe I needed to come up with a get-out of my own.  I know – I have a cunning plan. I can’t possibly pull out, that would be to fail, but if external circumstances were to conspire together to make my participation impossible, well, I’d have to shrug in despairing acceptance of my fate.  I can help fate along a bit though, with just a tad of initiative thrown into the mix…

I sent a private message to the Dig Deep team.  ‘Eeeerm‘, I said.  ‘bit worried‘ and then basically went on to explain I am mindful of being a tardy, lard arse, and whilst I do know I can do the distance (I do really) I will be soooooooooooooooooo slow.  Is that OK, or is there a cut off time?  Annoyingly, they sent back a speedy and cheerily encouraging response.  ‘That’s fine, all welcome‘ sort of encouraging and inclusive and generally not what I wanted to hear at all.  Oh no.  No handy external factor causing me to pull out under protest from that quarter.

I decided I needed to bite the bullet.  I would cut back, but not abandon all exertion.  I decided that I’d do one more long, endurance outing, but just keep it in walk so I didn’t get injured or too knackered, but still got miles on my legs.  Oh my gawd. This was such a bad move.  I thought I’d do one final recce that is an approximation of the 12.12 route, but coming up from Whitely Woods rather than Whirlow, and going along the top rather than the bottom of Burbage. Well, it might be more technical, but it’s gorgeous and I was really hoping I might see an adder soaking up the sun on the boulders on that slightly quieter upper path.   It’s a route I’ve yomped round several times now, and just over 14 miles, seriously beautiful.  I wanted to see how the heather was as well, given all the rain and then sun, it would be at its peak surely.

So it was beautiful, I will concede that:

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but as a final long yomp, not my best move.

There was an early warning sign, had I but realised what was happening, a fallen tree crossing my path going up the Porter Valley – surely an omen.  There were lots of trees down, I think the torrential rain had washed away a lot of earth and left roots exposed and trees vulnerable:

blocked path

Then, a bit further up, there were some misplaced sheep.  No really, in the woods.   I don’t know where they were from, but they were having an adventure.   Good for them, I wonder how long they will evade capture.  Who were those escaped pigs – the Tamworth Two?  They escaped death after many weeks on the run.  I suspect there won’t be a film and book deal and a happy ending for this trio, I don’t think they’ve even got an agent.  Oh well.

The point is though, that this was the normal order of things upturned.  I should have realised, and turned about, then again, it wouldn’t be so much of a story would it if I had. Same as with all those omens in Julius Caesar or whatever.  Ides of March anyone?

I pressed on.  It was OK to start, sunny, the heather in full bloom and a-buzz with bees. Not many others about, but lots of friendly exchanges with those who were along the lines of  ‘isn’t it gorgeous’ and the more mutually self-congratulatory ‘how lucky are we to have such beauty as this on our doorstep‘ all of which was true.  The problem was, that even though I think I run really slowly (and I really do) turns out, I’m still a lot quicker running slowly, than I am when I actually walk.  14 miles takes ages to walk.  It was hard.  I got hot, I ran out of water.  I’d taken a litre with me, and although I could have drunk from the many streams I got dehydrated without fully appreciating I had, and then it’s already too late.  I ate my chia bar quite early on, and then found I did feel my blood sugar levels dropping later on, but had nothing in reserve.  I didn’t get wobbly or anything like that, but I did get achy legs, and stop enjoying the landscape. By the time I’d been out about 4 hours I was feeling it, and didn’t have the energy to run and get the whole blooming adventure over with by that point. Plus, my feet were hurting.  A lot. My arthritis was excruciating.   Not blisters, granted,  which is something, but my fellraisers (which I do like) lack cushioning,  and Strava has been on at me for weeks to change them as they have done too many miles.  They are ok-ish.  I know they do need replacing but I didn’t want to try new shoes too close to this event, so thought they could do this one last task for me as their swan song.  On this final walk recce though I really felt they are ready to be jettisoned though.  They don’t have enough support, and weren’t comfy at all – although their grip is still good.  I started to feel pretty petulant.  I was annoyed at going out so blasse, I was too hot, and I still couldn’t find an efficient route off Higger Tor.  For future reference, doing a long walk was not, for me, a helpful tapering strategy. I’d have done much better to do a gentle run, or several shorter walks on consecutive days.  I felt pretty broken when I still had about 4 miles to go.  It’s incomprehensible to me though, surely, logic says walking should be easier than running?  I suppose it’s ‘different’, didn’t do a lot for my confidence.  If I can’t walk the distance how am I going to run it?  Aaaargh, curses. Why am I not a super-fit athlete with a coach, a nutrition plan, well-fitting sports bra, cushioned trainers and a dollop of common sense?  It’s not fair!

I traipsed on, thinking dark and brooding thoughts.

Then.

Wait for it.

Something amazing!

Something I’ve never seen before, just for me!

In amongst the landscape of purple I espied a little patch of white.  At first I wasn’t quite sure if it was what I thought. But it was!  White heather. A small clump of it, but definitely there.  I like to think if the fallen tree and the lost sheep were to warn me off my adventures, the lucky heather was to reassure me there is still a place for the unexpected and seemingly impossible.  I know you can get cultivated white heather, but seeing it in the wild, just there, was pretty amazing.  Perhaps I’m too easily impressed, but it really encouraged me.  Just look on and tell me honestly are you not moved?  You can’t be that heartless surely?

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I thought it was extraordinary.  I’m not superstitious, but I do take comfort from being reminded of the gloriousness of unexpected and unlikely discoveries.  White heather is a truly rare sight, but we can celebrate its appearance on the moors.  I too, will be an unexpected participant in the 12.12, also an uncommon sighting perhaps. However, whilst it might be a stretch too far to think of my presence on the day being exactly a cause for celebration, there’s no reason to expect to be unwelcome either.  I’ll be just another unusual thing for others to come across on a run out.  No more or less than that.

I carried on with renewed effort (I was going to say energy, but that’s pushing it).  Back through the woods I saw a comma butterfly, another incredibly rare sighting.  And a lot harder to photograph than white heather it seems.  Well I thought commas were rare, but google says otherwise.  I still haven’t seen one in years though, so made me happy, which is the important thing because this blog is at the end of the day all about me!

comma butterly,

Once I got to Forge Dam cafe, I caved in and bought an ice-cream.  I felt in genuine need as my legs were shaking by then.  Of course, I then immediately bumped into a Smiley Elder, and felt like I’d been caught out on an inappropriately wild feeding frenzy, binge eating sugar when I ought to be showing off with extra press ups at the end of my run like that Isaac Makwala at the world athletics championships trial.  Instead I was like a vampire caught with blood running down their chin, only with salted caramel ice cream instead of the blood of virgins. In fairness, she seemed approving of this replenishing of energy post run.  I genuinely find it confusing though.  How can I possibly have got such a drop in my blood sugar just by walking.  I can only conclude it is indeed hours out, not necessarily absolute exertion that is to blame.  Getting the balance right continues to be a challenge.  I want to burn calories through running, that’s part of the point, to counteract the impact of post-run brunches –  but it seems I always replenish more than I use.  In my case I don’t find running is a boon to weight loss, though it has other benefits for sure!

So, I returned from my ‘gentle tapering walk’ broken, exhausted and promptly flaked out and slept for about 5 hours solid.  The next day, which was yesterday, I could barely walk!  Today, should have been parkrun, but I still feel wobbly.  I can’t understand it, running never makes me feel that bad.  I think maybe it genuinely came down to being out way longer than usual. It wasn’t physical fitness as such, but probably nutrition and hydration.  I even wondered if I am ‘coming down with something’ it seems such an extreme reaction from walking a route I’ve yomped half a dozen times before withough any problem at all.  Oh well, lesson learned.   Presume nothing, take nothing for granted.

I’ve now got exactly a week to go.  I’ve decided (rightly or wrongly) not to push myself if I’m feeling weak (as opposed to can’t be bothered) in a nod to ‘stay injury free and preserve what you have’.  Whilst I don’t think I’m ever going to be in the over-training camp, I do think there is no point in forcing myself out if I am genuinely wobbly.    I will try for a bit more ‘out and about’ but I’m not doing anything else long or involving so much elevation.

As for next Sunday, gulp.  Oh well, I think I just have to remind myself that ultimately it’s supposed to be fun.  As long as I don’t present a risk to either myself or other runners it matters not one iota how long I take or how I tackle it.  Spoiler alert – nobody cares.  Participants will be running their own race, and I know I can do the distance in daylight at least.  I will carry a bit more food though, and weather depending, might think about wearing a T-shirt as opposed to long sleeves to avoid over-heating.  Speaking of which, the t-shirts for this event look splendid. Worth turning out for for sure!

dig deep t shirt

And as far as tapering is concerned.  I don’t like it. It’s confusing.  I have no idea what I’m doing.  I liked it much better when I thought it was just about lolling around on a sofa eating pizza.  Now I find it a confidence-sapping challenge.  Still, on the positive side, as I do want to eventually get up to a marathon distance, maybe it’s good to learn some of these lessons early on, even if it is by trial and error.  I’d rather mess up my taper for the 12.12 local event, than for the London Marathon 2018.  We run and learn. So message for today?  Running is supposed to be fun. Let’s not over complicate it.  Agreed?  Also, tapering is harder than you might think, it’s OK to be grumpy.

tapering runner

The main thing is just to try not to interact with anyone during this running chapter to avoid alientating everyone you meet, and ‘tha’ll be reet’, as the saying goes.

Yorkshire_THALL_BE_REET-500x500

This is what I’m going to keep telling myself anyway.  You must do as you think fit.  Also, I try to remember there is always somebody worse off than yourself, it could be worse, I could be doing the ultra.  Good luck to those that are. You’ll be fabulous, because you already are.  I believe in you, you just need to believe in yourselves as well.

The End.

For all my Dig Deep Series related posts, click here, and scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you

 

 

Categories: off road, running | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Longshaw Revisited: Resolute Romping Round the Rear

Digested read: panicked by having inadvertently entering a 12 mile trail run, I finally made it back to Longshaw for the Trust 10k to try to get some miles on my legs.  Still there, still fabulous.  Nice chit chat romping round at the back.  Cross training insights too.  You’ve got to love the Longshaw Trust 10k. No honestly, you actually really have.

Loving Longshaw

It’s been a while since I had a good romp round Longshaw.  The monthly trail run which is part of the wondrous National Trust 10k running series.  In my defence I’d been away in Cambodia for a few months when I couldn’t run at all, so lost my running mojo/ confidence entirely.  Then when I got back to Sheffield those blooming hills had grown even higher and steeper in my absence, and seemed to thwart my feeble attempts to scramble up them at anything other than a breathless crawl.  Going back to do the Longshaw 10k seemed a bit over-ambitious when I could hardly walk to the shops without risk of asphyxiation due to over-exertion on local gradients.  Also I’ve been volunteering at Junior parkrun, that is a great way to spend a Sunday morning, and then there was the Round Sheffield Run, another Longshaw 10k weekend missed.  Before I knew it, months had passed. Time moves on.

Then, the other week I thought, hang on, I’m missing out here.   I do love Longshaw, it’s a shame to miss it. Besides, as experienced runners will tell you, the only way to improve at running round trails and up hills is to actually do some running round trails and up hills by way of practice (alongside your cross training – but more of that later).  Although my fitness levels remain lamentable, the Longshaw event is friendly and fun (think parkrun, only trails and twice as long) – why not go? Also, weighing on my mind is that I’ve committed now to completing the 12.12 later next month – the Dig Deep 12 mile off-road option.  Entering seemed like a good idea at the time, in a post-parkrun euphoria of misplaced optimism.  I’ve even written my pledge down for pity’s sake, that means I have to ‘make it so‘, or risk a public humiliation even greater than that I will experience from being witnessed puffing round it, whilst any passing walkers (and make no mistake, they will be passing me) mutter to each other ‘what was she thinking?’ as they stride on by.

pledge photos

You can see what’s happening can’t you.  My confidence and enthusiasm have somewhat waned. The idea seems even less inspired now I realise I can’t navigate my way out of a paper bag, let alone off Higger Tour… Oh well.  I’ve committed now, and I remain conscientious if not still keen.  Plus, the setting will be gorgeous with the heather out, less so if there is horizontal rain and you can’t see your hand in front of your face admittedly, but that might still qualify as type two fun (retrospective not contemporaneous fun), potentially generating an amusing anecdote to boot.   Always a boon on any running related endeavour, and everyone appreciates a good boon.  However, even in my most optimistic moments, you have to respect the (to me) longer route and uneven terrain, this isn’t an event you can just rock up to on the day and hope for the best.  Well you can, but it would definitely end in tears, I do feel a need to some training in advance.  It’s a good excuse to get out in some fantastic local landscapes, which brings me neatly (if not concisely) back to Longshaw.   Time to heave on my fell shoes and get back over to join the fell-based running fun, a 10k will be a great addition to my hypothetical training plan and show commitment when added to Strava…  When is the Longshaw Trust 10 again?

PANIC!  When I went to check the date the events list seemed to have vanished from the  relevant section of Longshaw website.  What horror was this?  Had the event been discontinued?  Have I been personally blacklisted from attending and my computer hacked to prevent me researching the event and reduce the likelihood of me turning up?  Nope.  IT improvements apparently.  Much as with sports bras, no sooner you find one that fits, (which takes more than a lifetime) manufacturers will ‘improve’ that particular line thereby effectively discontinuing the only bra that ever worked for you. Adding insult to injury by giving you a short-lived glimpse of what might have been before cruelly snatching it away.  Of course I’m bitter.  Running is hard enough without being subjected to an assault on your assets each time you head out.    Anyways, same with the Longshaw IT department. the site was down, because it is being ‘enhanced’, except, in this instance the interruption in service was indeed temporary. FYI, the plan is to update the ‘behind the scenes’ IT systems so eventually people attending Trust 10 events can sign up on-line and it will all be more streamlined etc by 2020 or whenever.  Personally I shall miss the slightly Heath-Robinsonesque quality of the current set up.  However, we don’t need to worry our pretty little heads about all that right now, as recent experience suggests a lot can happen in that sort of time scale.  The sky will probably have fallen in at the very least.  Chicken Licken was right all along.  If you read the original story the world did end, they all did get eaten so no ridiculing the poor bird for being alarmist when she was right all along! Hard as it is to imagine, running Longshaw might not be a priority in that scenario.  Also, in fact the Trust 10 series are always on the fourth Sunday in the month, so you don’t need to check online each time, only to be able to refer to a calendar and count to four.  FACT.  Apart from when they are not, because of Christmas say, but you get the gist…

chicken licken

It is July.  I shall go.  So went my logic.  I was apprehensive as it’d been such a while, but I was looking forward to it too.  It could be part of my training plan, if I had a plan at all.  I would attend to the cross bits another time…. Which brings me onto some startling new insights about cross training, which recently came my way, and that I now I feel compelled to share.

The thing is, for a long time I thought cross-training was a purely descriptive term.  A variant on ‘no pain no gain’ perhaps.  That is, you improve at whatever you are doing if you are able to push through the stage when you are just really annoyed at how hard it is, hate running, hate the world, that kind of thing, basically ‘training when cross’ gets abbreviated to ‘cross training’ but put in the hours and voila!  Improvement follows.   Then, I came to realise it was a bit more sophisticated than this, runner’s world no less gave this plausible enough sounding definition:

In reference to running, crosstraining is when a runner trains by doing another kind of fitness workout such as cycling, swimming, a fitness class or strength training, to supplement their running. It builds strength and flexibility in muscles that running doesn’t utilize.

So I started indulging in my own cross training, mostly courtesy of Thursday Accelerate woodrun sessions (thank you) involving wobbling about standing on one leg (balance), bunny hopping along woodland trails (strength, but also amuses run leader I think), and, most importantly of all, working on the upper body and arms whilst simultaneously attending to hydration, by slurping on a post-run latte on conclusion of the run.  It might not technically be cross-training in the purest sense, but it is a start.  Besides, it’s surely preferable to the fate of some poor souls who inevitably take the cross training a bit far, adding in cycling and swimming resulting in becoming inadvertent tri-athletes.  It happens. Before they know it, they’re off doing Ironman events just to improve their parkrun times.  I don’t think there’s too much risk of that happening to me.

Even so, I’m always open to a bit of running related advice, so I ambled down to my local running shop for some clues on tackling the Dig Deep. Specifically re kit requirements and navigation, and also as an alternative to actually having to go out and run.  It is a well-known fact, that visiting a running shop equates to an actual run in terms of training. You improve technique and running credentials just by breathing in the air of a specialist running shop.  Anyway, turns out, this particular visit was most enlightening.  Not only did I find out that there is no path off Higger Torr, you just jump off the edge and hope you fly basically; and that skip the running dog has his own instagram account, I also got a new insight into what motivates some individuals to embrace new sporting disciplines.  Injury basically.  Cross training at its source if you will.  So, of those in the shop at the time – and I won’t name names as that’s not my style – one only took up running after a climbing-related hand-garrotting / palm-slashing injury made further ascent of rock-faces impossible, so they accidentally entered a marathon for seven weeks later instead.  What could possibly…  and the other had ruptured something crucial in a leg (their own leg I think) so started swimming and one thing led to another and they’ll probably have to do an Ironman one day now, poor thing.  Ironman completion seems to lead to obligatory tattooing as well, which is another blog post altogether.  Marathon runners are compelled to talk about their marathon running achievements incessantly, and in perpetuity – a bit like the curse of the Ancient Mariner, only running related, and they won’t be limiting themselves to just stopping the ‘one of three’.  Ironman completers on the other hand, have to get their skin inked.  Them is the rules. To be fair, if and when I do complete a marathon I will tell everyone, a lot, and maybe even get an Ironman tattoo if in a parallel universe that happened.  Not on my stomach though, brave choice I think… at least I think that’s his stomach, but he must have detachable nipples and no tummy button, so I’m fearful it may be some other body part, and I don’t wish to scrutinise further. Surely not his back?  I did get my ‘O’ Level for Biology, but it’s not helping here over much to be honest, although I could probably still explain to you about worker bee dances if you’d like.  Do your own research dear reader, I can only take you so far along the journey of discovery.

The sport you end up using for cross training purposes depends on what body part you remove from use.  I understand a dislocated shoulder leads naturally to competitive one-handed knitting, but that’s subject to confirmation.  The knack is to secure one of the needles by grasping it between your thighs apparently, great for toning an all too often ignored body part, and such a strengthening technique would undoubtedly be a boon to both your knitting post recovery and your running. Or you could take up pole dancing, you need good thigh muscles for that too.  Good to know.  As far as cross training options are concerned, the only limit is your imagination, and human dignity.

Oh, and because you’ll be fretting, my kit is OK for a fell race apparently, as they only will check the seams are taped, not that I can fit into it.  So look out for me in something like this – you must have full waterproof body cover, but I reckon I’ll carry it off.  The guy on the right of the picture is risking disqualification heading out so ill-prepared.  His look out.

kit requirements

So where was I?  Oh yes, heading back to Longshaw.  It had been raining, so I wasn’t too sure what to expect weather wise on Sunday morning, but the inclement elements meant as I drove across to Longshaw the mist was rising from the dips in the hills, it looked really spectacular.  In my absence, the car park ticket machines have been updated for the new £1 coins, which caused a few problems for me and much bag rummaging as I feared I’d only got the old ones. I also think the cost has gone up, which I don’t begrudge as the run is free and I am happy to support he National Trust but is worth noting.  I keep meaning to get around and join them, but if I do, that will definitely make me a grown up, and I’m not sure I’m quite ready to do that.

In other news, they have put in a new woodland path to the cafe.  It was really lovely, lots of signs explaining what you were looking at and pointing out where owls have nested and woodpeckers pecked.  I was a bit disappointed to have it made plain that the hobbit house is actually the old ice house, some myths should be allowed to endure…

I arrived at the cafe, and saw the volunteer team were already hard at it, flags up, war conference in session, the big sail sign being carried to the start.  At least I think that was what they were up to.  Either that, or trying to find a surfing beach somewhere, in which case they must have given up, because it would have been a very long walk indeed.  We are a long way from the sea here.

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I already had my number – 999 – because I have saved it from a previous run because it is a rather marvelous number to have and to hold on to.  Plus it saves a bit of money for the Trust 10 and time for me if you bring your number with you.  The registration system has got a bit more organised. To protect confidentiality, everyone now signs up on a separate bit of pre-printed paper and has to agree to having results shared via email (you can opt out if you wish).  I can see why they have done this, before everyone could potentially see any other previous participants email and other contact details if they had good enough eyesight to squint through the lists of entrants as they signed up.

sign up form

Once I’d signed up, I stood around awkwardly, wondering whether or not anyone I’d know would turn up in between trying not to skid on the super-slippery slate stones adjacent to the cafe.  I don’t know why they’d become so treacherous.  Previously, I’d have stated with 100% confidence that the slipperiest substance known to humankind is goose shit, but now I’m not so sure, it really challenged my assumptions there as I struggled to remain upright on the flagstones.   Eventually, a friendly face!  Yay. The Runderwear ambassador putting in an appearance.  We negotiated that we would romp round together at the back, but as both of us have had negative experiences being compelled to run with others we each reserved the right to either abandon the other, or tell them to ‘go away’ using language which would leave little ambiguity as to the strength of feeling on the matter.   I mean, we obviously weren’t going to be quite as colourful as Anthony Scaramucci, but pretty direct communication all the same.  Yay, a running buddy!  I felt a bit less uncertain about rejoining the trail running fray.  Bring it on, there will be fun to be had!

running buddy

Pleasingly, other familiar faces started to materialise, and soon there was quite a jolly crowd assembled.  We ambled down to the start, I stood right at the back, and there was the usual briefing, thanks to the volunteers; watch out for tree roots and cows (the cows may move the tree roots won’t, unless they are magic trees, but not expected today); it’s a ‘long 10k’, so expect a slower than usual time, and then, almost suddenly, we were awf!  Hooray!

It’s been a while since I’ve done a run at talking pace with a buddy. In fact, on this occasion I got two buddies for the price of one as they were both Valley Hill Runners, and also romping round together. So I guess that makes me either the gate-crasher or the gooseberry, I’m not sure. Fortunately, I didn’t have the social skills to pick up on it if I was in the way, and it was really nice.  Hilariously, (I thought) there were not one, not two, but three tail runners.  One each!  It was like we were under close supervision whilst on day-release from borstal or something except we are a bit old for that and they probably don’t call them borstals any more.  Open prison then.   Initially, it was a bit unnerving being tailed at quite such close quarters, but I got used to it.    They do this so if say the slowest runner drops out after one lap, because they are significantly behind the next slowest participant, the tail runner doesn’t have to do a four-minute mile across bog to catch up with the new back mark.  Makes sense really.  (Edit:  update, I have a witness statement advising the tail runner in question subsequently described this experience as like doing a 5k warm up with a 4k sprint followed by a 1k cool down.  I think we can conclude that was challenging!  Type two fun for sure.)  Maybe in 2020, when they have the new IT booking system and it all goes very high-tech, runners romping at the rear will each have their own electronic tag.  For now, it’s low tech, each of us had our own personal detail to trail us on our heels throughouth. Maybe that’s why it’s called a trail run?

Important things were shared as we ran.  Most important of all, unanimous agreement as to which was our favourite marshal.  We might love her, but she isn’t altogether convinced by us.  I think I might actually bring dog biscuits with me next time (for the dog, not the volunteer) and bribe her into loving me back best of all the other runners.  Shallow to need that level of approval I know, but gratifying all the same to be on the receiving end of such canine adoration I would imagine.  Only time and forward planning will tell.

everyones favourite marshal

The volunteers are great, and also always in demand. If you don’t want to run but do want to be part of the fun (and get a bacon butty or veggie equivalent and a cup of coffee in return) then get in touch with the sports development officer and you will be welcomed.  I have volunteered once at Longshaw, when I first got back from my travels, and it was really fun, you get all the fabulousness of the scenery without the sweat of actually having to run up that really steep hill.  Plus you can high-five runners and cheer on those you know as well as those you don’t.  What’s not to like?

We tried to remember to look up and look around. Longshaw was truly beautiful.  Green, lush and emerging from the mists.  It did rain a bit, well drizzle really, but it was quite hot. There were a lot of insects.  I inadvertently swallowed a few, which might be a protein boost but did nothing for my vegetarian credentials.  Nevermind, plenty bit me back.  I was slathered in ‘Skin so soft’ which does work actually, but it is pretty over-powering stuff.  I used it to rid my flat of ants in Cambodia, which it did, and which is no mean feat!

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As well as admiring the view, and swallowing insects, we were able to chat quite a lot about bra fitting, which is my current topic of choice.  We did this to such an extent that the ‘top of the stone wall’ marshal, admonished us for our chit-chat, but rather regretted doing so as we filled him in our discussion themes, which moved from bra fit on lap one, to chafing remedies on lap two.

I also got to hear lots more about the Valley Hill running club, which was rather good.  I do love my Smiley Paces, but I struggle to keep up on group runs, so am open to running with other groups too. Smileys aren’t affiliated, so lots of members do pop up in more than one running group, for a variety of reasons.  They are in a slightly different part of Sheffield so have different run routes and also different club races that feature on their annual fixtures list.   A whole load of them are heading off to do some multi-lap ultra next weekend.  Sounds tough, endless 5k laps with a bangle on completion of each.  The Manvers Dusk to Dawn, it happened for the first time in 2014, and is very much a social event.  Food available, run when you like, with whoever you like.   That year the winner completed a staggering twenty-two laps (71.6 Miles).  Quite aside from the distance, I can’t imagine the tedium of doing that, but then again, having others about probably does motivate you, and the format is great in that you are only ever a short distance from assistance should you require it, which means you can be braver in going for ‘just one more lap.’  It was  interesting hearing about new to me races, and there is clearly some cheery camaraderie in action, disguised by a continuous line of mutually abusive banter.  I like that.  Also, they have a chip butty run.  Head turning stuff.

So it was we loped round, three tail markers (one a Smiley), a couple of Valley Hill Runners, me a Smiley and another fellow Smiley in ear shot ahead.  It wasn’t a fast romp round, but it was a fun and companionable one.  It was also really good haring downhill at the end on masse, our own sports day finish, into the arms of the waiting hi-viz team. Yay. Aren’t we all great.  Longshaw 10k is super friendly, it’s a great introduction to off-road running and a very supportive environment to join.  The views are outstanding and the running buddies awesome too.  I don’t know why I’d left it so long to get back to it.

There we go, that was it.  Run done.  One of the benefits of a slow finish is no queue at the cafe.  Fine latte and a cheese scone – which I’d swear has reduced in size since my last visit.  Like Wagon Wheel biscuits, you look at them, and just know, things are not as they once was.  Nevermind.  It’s not like I’m going to fade away.  Final chit-chat, and then farewells.   A grand morning out indeed.  Thank you volunteers.

So, in conclusion, I’m very happy to be back doing the Longshaw 10k.  It’s great in its own right, as well as hopefully helping me on my way to the 12.12.  For me that Dig Deep event will be a challenge enough I think.  Others have higher goals, check out the Masochists Marathon (only $1.60 to enter, but you might die); or there’s always the Bob Graham if you want to stay closer to home, don’t get that mixed up with the Billy Graham challenge though, might get awkward.  And try to remember it’s supposed to be fun, harder than you might think when you are six seconds outside the cut off of a one hundred mile, 120,000 feet, sixty hour ultra marathon.  Do your research people, pick your challenge wisely.  If you get it wrong you might end up broken like this at the end of your run of choice:

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Whereas really you want to end up like this lot.   Some lovely Valley Hill Runners post the Longshaw 10k by way of illustration.  Not sure how many chip butties they have had between them over the years, but they’ve done a great deal of running.  Thanks for letting me tag along with you guys, much appreciated.

Valley Hill Runners

And that was it. We dispersed our separate ways into the mist, until next time.

Maybe see you there?  Fourth Sunday in the month at Longshaw.  Be there.  They put the flags out specially!

Happy running til next time.  🙂

flags out

Categories: 10km, off road, running | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Digging Deep all over again. The way ahead? Route Recce Round two.

Digested read: still got lost on Dig Deep Recce Second Attempt, but some improvement.    Brooded moodily as I ran,  nursing murderous thoughts about sports bra manufacturers.  What’s wrong with this world?  Saw a water vole!  All is well with the world! Was mistaken for a fell runner.  Fake it to make it may be the way forward.  I’m not through with this running malarkey yet.

DD Fine sheep shot

I’m not sure what my running-related forte is to be honest, or even if I have one at all. Perhaps ‘hope over experience‘, in continuing to pull on my running shoes at all, which can be viewed either as ‘admirable tenacity’ or ‘doomed-stubborness-that-can-only-end-in-tears’ depending on your point of view/ commitment to realism.  Whatever my running related talent may or may not be, I think it’s safe to say it isn’t navigation.  In my defence, the map I have to work from may have cost me £3.50 but it’s rubbish.  It doesn’t give enough detail to be any practical use unless you are already familiar with the Dig Deep route.  I am somewhat peeved.  On the other hand, it is the prospect of supposedly undertaking this 12+ mile route in a few weeks time that is motivating me to get out and about and explore the trails of Burbage and Houndkirk so that’s good.   Whether I actually make the start line or not, at least I’ll have learned some new and especially gorgeous routes.  That has to be a boon, and I do like a good boon when I’m out and about.

So, today was my second attempt at doing a recce for the 12.12 route, I had renewed confidence that, since I knew where I’d gone wrong last time, I’d get it cracked this time out.  I didn’t.  Close, but no cigar.  Nevermind, I don’t smoke.   I am getting closer though.  That’s the good news, the bad news is that I don’t really know where exactly I went wrong this time, no idea at all where I should have gone and so that isn’t looking promising if I was hoping for third time lucky next time out.  Curses.  Also, a fellow Smiley, who knows the route, pointed out to me that I’d gone up the top of Burbage edge, whereas, she reckons the route is the lower path, a lot less challenging and technical, which might be better on the day, but shows even the bit I thought I’d got right I didn’t.  Oh well.

 

Not only is the shape most definitely not quite right, but also I ended up practically abseiling down some cliff side at one point, clambering over boulders using hands and feet, and negotiating quite long sections by arse.  I am well-equipped to do this, and it felt safe, but I’m inclined to think it can’t have been the preferred route for an organised event.  Think of the paper-work involved if you lose half the field over a rock face just after the half way point.  Nightmare.  My conclusion is, yep, definitely lost, not just experiencing the more technical section of the course.

It’s not all bad news though.  I’ve discovered a few things since my last post.  Firstly – and this might be most importantly – a fellow Smiley Paces member, an eminent gin-soaked one no less, has advised me the 12.12 route incorporates sections that make up her regular mutt trot. This is a huge relief.  It means we have been able to agree that if I expire on the trails that she will probably come across my abandoned corpse sooner or later. She seems happy to do me the kindness of rolling my expired carcass off the main path and into an adjacent bog or heather patch (whatever, I’ll leave that to her discretion).  I wouldn’t want to lie there until mummified like those unclaimed cadavers on Everest, gaining an unwanted celebrity as runners get used to stepping (or bounding) over my slowly decomposing body as they continue along the path. You know,  like that long identified dead climber who came to be known only as green boots, because this part of his attire remained visible even in the deep snow.  Only in my case, my nickname would be due to my clearly ill-fitting sports bra probably.  The shame dear reader, the shame.  I dread to think what the wits of the hills might come up with for me by way of a nickname for ease of reference.  I might need to get back to gin-soaked Smiley, and make sure she dumps me face down….

In other good news, I did a bit of cunning sleuthing to see who else I know might be up for entering the 12.12.  It’s inconceivable anyone else will be anyone slower than me going round, but knowing there are friendly others out there somewhere ahead of me on the trails is weirdly reassuring.  Anyway, success!  My endurer buddies are also taking part.  Hurrah!  Better yet, they are doing some insane long-distance masochistic mud, ice and fire challenge the day before.  (It’s not called that, but you get the idea, it will be some sort of event aimed at people deep in the mires of mid-life crises who have come to enjoy putting themselves in painful personal jeapordy in return for a towelling headband.  OCRs have a lot to answer for.)   Hopefully, from my point of view, this means they’ll be pretty much physically broken, as well as sleep-deprived, by the time they get to the start of the 12.12, that should slow them down a bit.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll even get to reel them in from behind, one by one (well, I can dream can’t I).  Upshot is, there are a few positive runes relating to disposal of my remains if necessary, and knowing other runners out there on the day.  Hence, whilst I’m not completely convinced I’ll make it to the start myself, I am going to behave as if I will for now, and see where my recces and training take me.  I wonder if they’ll be an inflatable mammoth at the event rendezvous this time?  Always an asset at any gathering I’d say.  It was there last year when I did the Dig Deep Whirlow 10k 2016.  A highlight for sure.  I don’t know why the one long arm – never asked, and to be fair never really noticed before looking at this picture, maybe both his arms are the same length, just his left one is really stretchy?

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Back to my recce.  I headed out in cooler weather than last time.  Perfect running weather in fact, though I didn’t let that trick me into the rookie error of setting off too fast!  I drove up to the Norfolk Arms again, and romped along, stopping for photos on the way. There weren’t many people out at all, though a few cyclists passed me.  I passed a white, fluffy dog, whose coat was thick with sticky, clay-mud and who was sporting a mightily chuffed expression as it’s hapless owner stood by lamenting her hound’s skill in locating such mud baths in the most unlikely of settings.  From having done this part of the route just once before I was amazed how much more quickly I negotiated it all this time around.  I stopped for photos.  You don’t need all the details, enjoy the slide show summary.  It is breathtaking.  I don’t know why I haven’t explored more before. Well I do, it’s because I’m cautious on my own, but with long days and plenty of water on me, it was fine.  It’ll be even more spectacular in a couple of weeks time when the heather is out.

 

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So there I was, pounding the trails.  As I did so though, I was a bit grumpy pants to be honest.  Not about my actual pants, because I was wearing my runderwear, which makes me happy, but about my recent foray into the world of sports bras.  Here follows a bra-related rant.  You will either get it or not. Skip it if you want.

Bra related rant starteth here:

For my whole life, I’ve struggled to get a decent bra to fit me.  The opening of Bravissimo in what was then my home town of Leamington Spa was a day of celebration for me.  A bra company that caters specifically for women D cup and above.  It is an absolutely mystery to me why it took so long for someone to provide this.  We can put people on  the moon it seems, but manufacture well-fitting bras for those with anything other than an ‘athletic’ frame, apparently not.  I was so delighted when Bravissimo came on the scene, that I chose this company as an example of local start-up that achieved massive success when required to give a careers talk about entrepreneurship to a room full of about 400 youthful undergraduate engineering students at Coventry University.   Bravissimo began as the idea of  two women who themselves couldn’t get a bloomin’ bra to fit their assets, saw a gap in the market and filled it – in every sense.  Their story is fine, inspirational even. They started as mail order only, and now have some 26 stores, and deliver worldwide.  With hindsight though, maybe explaining the company’s success in finding a USP using the phrase ‘by catering for bigger busted women such as myself‘ to a group of 380 male undergraduates (don’t get me started on gender representation and inequality in STEM courses and careers), awash with the hormones typical of men in their late teens, wasn’t my best-judged moment. It would have been fine if they’d all laughed, acknowledging the in advertant humour of the situation – which is what  I wanted to do as I realised what I’d said.  What made it deeply uncomfortable was the awkward silence as I felt the newly attentive room of blinking acne-faced young men appraise me with snatched side-long glances.  It gives a whole new resonance to the phrase ‘making a tit of yourself‘.  On the other hand, it illustrated a point, and maybe we should shout about this problem more.  It’s a real one. Silence on the topic isn’t helping.

The cause of my brooding dark mood was another epic fail in my quest for a decent sports bra.  If there is one thing harder than finding a bra, it’s finding a sports bra.  Increasingly, it is recognised that along with running shoes, for women a bra is their most crucial bit of kit.  Running magazines are full of advertorial features on the damage you can do to yourself if you persist in running without adequate support – and they don’t just mean black eyes.  Tissues will rip, boobs will sag, stretch marks will line your body. This may all be true, but for me the reality is much more prosaic, it’s just uncomfortable running without a decent bra, and too much bounce makes you (me) really self-conscious.  I don’t need to be ‘persuaded’ to buy a decent sports bra, what I do need is for some f$£%ing manufacturer to come up with one in my size and fit.  I’ve spent too much time surrounded by piles of discarded different branded sports bras that I ordered online to try on, only to find not one of them will fit.  Some of them I will never know if they fitted because it is beyond human contortion to clamber into them unaided.   I don’t know if all men fully appreciate the torment this can cause. Some do.  I had a great conversation about chafing, blisters and swing with a guy I met on a boot camp once who pointed out that his moobs were even less well catered for than my boobs, probably true.  However, although we cried with laughter as we validated each others experiences, the misery of being stuck with our inadequate kit sadly stayed with us after our laughter had faded away.

The in-shop experience of trying to buy a sports bra has often been worse.  I do think sports shops are getting better, but in the past I have entered sports shops asking about bras only to be handed a bit of postage stamp sized  lycra  and waved vaguely towards  a single changing room with those saloon doors that offer no privacy at all.   This is disheartening in the extreme and leads to a rapid about turn and out of the shop.  Not unreasonably, sports shops tend to be staffed by sporty, svelte people from generally a younger demographic than mine.  I understand why this is,  but I don’t feel such staff necessarily quite ‘get’ what the issues are for the fuller-figured, older runner.  One of the particularly welcome innovations of Bravissimo is that many of their staff wear the products they sell, they do get it, absolutely.  I know my current bra’s fit is rubbish, but it is the only one I’ve got that I can at least put on by myself and it is the least worst of the other options I tried at the time.   I have a few sports bras, and they are all equally bad in their own unique ways.  I am beginning to think the perfect sports bra is just as much a mirage as the proverbial gold at the end of the rainbow, constantly moving out of reach.  I have wasted a lot of my life in a quest for this seemingly unattainable goal, maybe time to compromise, move on and accept that at times I will have to run with one boob in each hand to minimise bounce in extremity.  Even so, I keep a weary, wary eye out for new developments.  Hope over experience all over again.  So it was I was ecstatic, when a recent promotion invited women to a bra trying evening at a local running shop.  I signed up immediately.  I am held back in my running because of discomfort and embarrassment, this might be the answer to my prayers!  I don’t need a hard sell on this, give me a bra that fits and I will gladly empty my bank account into your lap.  If you can offer that and clown shoes too, to accommodate my wide feet, then I’ll throw in my car and all my worldly goods.  I’m not a reluctant purchaser, I am an increasingly desperate one.

brooks bra fitting

As the day got closer, my nerve wavered. What if this was going to be humiliation all over again.  Like the time I won a set of lingerie in a competition in a local newspaper only to find their range ‘didn’t accommodate this lady winner’ when I went to be measured for and to collect my prize (true story, scarred for life).  I rang ahead, I explained as candidly as I could short of emailing them an inappropriate picture that I was ‘not an athletic frame’,  that I’d had bad experiences of sports bras only being suitable for women with smaller cup sizes and that I didn’t want to waste time going to an event if this was going to be the same. The person I spoke to reassured me that many of their customers are that sort of client.  fuller figures, older women runners.   He told me that the Brooks ambassador who was organising the event would have ‘the whole range of sizes’ and it would all be very discreet and respectful.

Well, I should have trusted my instincts.  It was my worst nightmare.  Let me be clear, I am in no way blaming the shop staff for this, they were courteous and helpful and doing their best.  However, it was exactly as I feared.  A young, svelte, athletic woman eyed me as I stood in my bra in a cubical feeling self-conscious and vulnerable and pronounced my current bra to be worse than useless, which I KNOW, that’s why I went.  She then went on about all the damage it would do. Which I ALSO KNOW, that’s why I keep subjecting myself to these humiliating fittings, and trotted off to bring me some bras in the new Brooks range. They looked great.  Unfortunately, they only go up to an E cup, not even close to my size.  Given that we’d already been told the average woman (whatever that is) is a D cup in the UK, that’s hardly an impressive range they cater for.  In desperation she offered up an underwired bra that allegedly might approximate a fit, but a) seriously, run in an underwired bra, lacerate my boobs with projecting metal on top of everything else and b) I kid you not, I couldn’t work out how to get the darned thing over my head, let alone put it on properly. I was frustrated, defeated and felt utterly humiliated.  I abandoned it as hopeless, and whilst not having anything to fit me, she kept going on about ‘you really do need to get a proper bra, it will make such a difference‘  which I KNOW!  I asked again about fit, and she said, well we’ve got the fit of the under band perfectly.  Seriously?  The cup has to fit too.

On their website Brooks say ‘Our sports bras are designed to move with you comfortably, regardless of shape or size.’  They lie.  Clearly they believe only a certain physique is acceptable in a runner.

My mood and self-esteem were not helped by then sitting through a talk about how critical it is we should all have a well-fitted bra whilst being encouraged to have a good grope of what looked like  two stress balls, but were actually representations of a ‘typical’ woman’s boobs  by way of visual aid.  I know the rep was well-meaning but please feedback to the company that it doesn’t matter how technologically advanced your bra is if you are only catering for women in smaller cup sizes.  Great if you’ve come up with a product for them, but don’t add insult to injury lecturing me on my irresponsible breast care if you aren’t going to manufacture anything close to a bra size that will fit me.  I’m not a freak of nature, even though I was made to feel one, and even if I was, wouldn’t I deserve a comfy bra as much as anyone else?  There must be a huge potential market out there.  Who is making bras for us.   Bravissimo do up to a point, but I’ve not had success with their sports bras either to be honest, though others in their range are great.  Also, just so you know, most women don’t have an entourage of dressers to help them put on a bra in the morning, so how about coming up with a design that doesn’t require either hyper mobility/contortion, or a team of minions and dressers at your disposal to help you clamber into it?  Just a thought.

Incidentally, whilst I’m having a rant from the more curvaceous end of the spectrum getting a bra to fit seems to be a universal challenge for female runners.  A fellow runner commented to me only the other day the importance of ensuring you tried to ensure you were on the ‘upswing’ as you move into frame of the course photographer at a race. That made me spit my tea out in laughter I don’t mind admitting.  It’s true!  When I’m not being depressed about my body it does make me laugh, the whole ludicrous impracticality of how it operates at times, and yet I persevere.  You have to laugh or…

bra lesson.jpg

So I sat on the bench for the post bra-fitting lecture trying not to cry.  We then went out for a run ‘to try out the bras’ one other woman also couldn’t be accommodated.  Others liked the bras, but one at least rejected hers because even though it was really comfy, and supportive, she felt she’d never be able to put it on without help.  This is basic stuff.  Wanting to be independent enough to dress yourself.  As we ran, a rep took a video of us in action, no doubt to show immoveable assets all round by those wearing the Brooks bras, hopefully not periodically focusing in on my bouncing boobs by way of contrast,  in a ‘what not to do‘ if you like.  It was mortifying.

up and running

I still stayed for the post run prosecco and brooks goodie bag though, I thought of it as a consolation prize – booby prize if you will.  It had a frisbie (odd but welcome) and a rather fine buff, amongst other things. I’m still not saying the people I dealt with were at fault, they tried to be encouraging, but the evidence of my being ‘abnormal’ in the minds of the manufacturers was patently obvious in the lack of any available product to meet my needs.  It’s soooooooooooooooo depressing in its inevitability.

I enjoyed my prosecco, then went home and wept.  My body-confidence isn’t great anyway.  It takes courage to get out and run when you don’t look like what others might expect a runner to look like.  I don’t mean in environments like parkrun, which are inclusive, but heading out on your own, or in unfamiliar settings.  Mostly I just put those thoughts to one side, and head out anyway, but this bra-fitting experience really knocked my confidence.  It feels so unfair, I’m trying to get fit, I know I’m over-weight, but it feels like the very organisations that could make it easier for me, and others like me,  to join in (e.g. sports-bra manufacturers) are actually reinforcing the sense that we don’t belong, running is not for the likes of us, but rather for an elite breed of 0% body fat athletes to be culled once they reach the age of 25 (or whatever).  That is why sports tops for women are all in pink lycra size 8-10 and technical tees given out at races only ever made in men’s styles as standard issue.  Women aren’t supposed to run at all in races it sometimes seems.  It’s just so frustrating. Aaargh.  I could scream.

All of this was going through my mind as I pounded the trails.  You’ll understand why I was not in the best of moods.  Just as well I didn’t really see anyone for this part of the trail, I wasn’t the ideal contender for ‘the friendly face of Sheffield ambassador’ competition.  I’m not sure there is a competition for that to be fair, but it doesn’t matter, as I wasn’t entering anyway.

Bra-related rant endeth here

 

Weirdly though, even though my thoughts were almost entirely consumed with the ‘you don’t belong in the running community‘ narrative brought on by the trauma of an abortive bra fitting evening the night before, running helps.  You can’t be out on the moors, looking at those views, and breathing that air and not feel better.  Almost without realising, I became increasingly absorbed with the terrain, the lichen on the rocks, the craggy features, and forgot about everything else.  I didn’t really see anyone. I had one anxious moment when I saw four pairs of hyper-vigilant eyes on me from a pack of Alsatian dogs.  They must have been with an owner, but I couldn’t see anyone, perhaps they were sitting down. The dogs’ eyes locked on me and their heads followed my movement across the tops.  I tried not to look at them in case that antagonized them, but it took super human strength not to speed up as I ran by, I was scared if I changed my pace they’d give chase, and I’d have no chance.  I lived to tell the tale though, so I’m guessing curious canines, rather than aggressive ones.

Eventually I came to the little streams that pass under the road at Upper Burbage.  According the map this is called Fiddler’s Elbow.  I thought navigation would be straightforward from here, there are two footpaths fractionally diverging from one another, I took the upper one, that went up towards Higger Tor, and then onwards to Carl Walk.

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Onwards and upwards, it was beautiful.  However, when you get up high it was pretty exposed, even on a relatively nice day. Also, on the tops the path sort of disappears.  Instead you are clambering over an expanse of boulders.  I tried to find a route, but in the absence of any clear path ended up practically abseiling and scrambling down.  I nearly wet myself with fear sliding arse first down a grit side at one point, but that’s ok, I survived.  I think maybe a childhood spent hiding behind cushions at the sight of the Daleks, has made me more resilient than I fully know.   Jon Pertwee helped me learn to feel the fear and do it anyway.  I met a couple of people, father and adult son and agile dog coming upwards, and that gave me a possibly misplaced confidence there was surely a path there somewhere.

Spotting a break in the bracken I found a sheep trail that took me towards Carl Walk, but again, once up on high, I couldn’t find the path off.  I thought I saw it below me, and scrambled down a flat sided boulder onto what turned out to be just a narrow ledge.  I had visions of lying there unfound for months, or until the RSPCA called out mountain rescue to find out from what animal such mournful bleating was issuing, and attempted a rescue.  Runners have rescued cute lambs before too.  Maybe some passing athlete would rescue me.  I might not be ‘adorable’ in quite the same way, but I could still be piteously needy.  In the event, gravity was my friend and I made it down unscathed.  It was an adventure, that’s OK.  On the other hand this ‘path’ couldnt be right.  I continued to follow it, until it seemingly disappeared altogether, into bog and then finally ended up at a stream.  Not a major river crossing,  but I didn’t expect it, and I’m sure you wouldn’t send a race route this way.  I went across a little gingerly. Some rocks had been put there to make sort of mini stepping-stones, but they were rather wobbly.  Some other walkers appeared out of the bracken behind me and pronounced this was indeed a path, but I wasn’t too sure.

I paused to take it in and try to make sense of the map.  Then, out of corner of my eye I saw …. (drum roll)  ….. a water vole!  Much excitement.   I haven’t seen a water vole in decades, literally.  I didn’t even know they lived out on the moor, I’ve only ever seen them in canal banks to be honest.  I sat myself down on a handy boulder and waited and watched for a good 20 minutes.  Periodically it swam back and forth from bank to bank.  It was a little distance away, and I tried to get a photo.  The good news is that I did, the bad news is that I’m not a contender for wildlife photographer of the year, but I did get a video that I don’t how to upload onto WordPress so is lost to the world. Here though, for your delectation, amazement and edification is my portrait of a water vole and its habitat:

Maybe you just had to be there.  Perhaps it will make you happy just to know it is out there, apparently happily doing its own thing.  I hope so.

I had no chance of joining whatever the official path was I was supposed to be on, but I recognised where I was and eventually romped onwards.  After a little while, I met the two men with their dog again who were clearly circling round the other way. This time we paused and chatted a bit, well, rude not to, seeing how we had met before.  ‘So you’re a fell runner too?’ said one, companionably as an opener.  I was confused.  Oh! Turns out I was wearing my Dig Deep Blue Tee-shirt from last year.  Well, whilst on the one hand I am peeved as it is inevitably a men’s fitting, on the other, it is the same Tee for the ultra 60 mile, 30 mile, 12.12 mile and 10k runs.  Whilst I got it for the 10k, this chap had no way of knowing which one I’d done, and so had just assumed I was a ‘proper’ fell runner.  I thought nothing could top the water vole sighting quite honestly, but this interaction did.  It was a much-needed reminder that, whatever self-doubt I am experiencing, to the outside eye I’m just another runner out there, and in context (fells) therefore a fell runner.  People are a lot nicer and less judgemental than I (we) sometimes give them credit for.  We chatted about fell running, laughed about the joyful leveling anarchy of a run out in the great outdoors with all the dizzying cocktail of unpredictable terrain, inclement weather, death-wish runners and vertical slopes all for £1.50 – £5 a throw.  It was affirming.  Maybe if I just get in the habit of running in my blue dig deep top people will continue to assume I’m an ultra-runner out there on the hills and I’ll fake it til I make it as the saying goes…

We said our farewells, and I jogged onwards, in a much better mood when I finished than when I started.   So it seems, whilst I finished the recce, my running’s not quite finished yet, even if my quest for kit continues.

It’s complicated this running malarkey, but it is worth sticking with.  How does the saying go?  “‘I really regret that run‘ said no-one ever.”  Not even me.

not even me

I still hate sports bra manufacturers though.

For all my Dig Deep related blog posts click here – scroll down for older entries.

Categories: motivation, off road, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lost in running? Dig Deep Recce freestyle.

Digested read:  I tried to do a recce of the 12.12 Dig Deep route today.  I got lost.  I had a nice time anyway.  I ran into (see what I did there) some Smiley buddies.  Yay!  The setting was beyond spectacular, ’twas fair gorgeous out.  More working towards running than actual running today, but hey ho, it was a start.

dd recce heather

Bloomin’ Vitality pledges.  It is increasingly dawning on me I have only about 5 weeks to get fit to tackle the 12.12 mile trail race that is part of the Dig Deep series taking place next month.  I did the Whirlow 10k which was part of the event last year, and that was a little toughy. However, the setting was gorgeous, gritstone trails, fabulous views, a sea of purple heather surrounding us out under the sky.    Despite a momentary doubt brought about by seeing a blood soaked fellow runner limping back as I romped out, I nevertheless fondly imagined that I’d come back the following year. In 2017, I wouldn’t be dragging my weary flabby carcass, puffing and groaning the whole round.  Rather, renewed and trained to take account of every possible variable, I’d be stunningly toned and move across the landscape like a cross between the Duracell bunny and pyroclastic flow.  So prepared, I could take on a bolder challenge.  Fast and fearless.   That bolder, boulder challenge, would be the longer 12.12 route.  It’d be fine, it’d be great!  This time I’d do it, I really would!  That was then…

This is now.  As things stand, I’m more jumblie than bionic woman.  Jumblies may or may not be endearing, that is open to debate, what is not open to debate is their aerodynamic efficiency and running technique.  Let’s just say it isn’t looking good. I’d more or less decided not to do the run, and then post our Sheffield Hallam parkrun birthday celebrations the other week I got caught up in the buzz of goal setting, and one thing led to another, public fitness related pledges were rashly made, and caught on camera and now  I’m supposed to be running this:

PeakTrails30Map

Oops.

Not all of it, thankfully.  Only that innocuous looking bit in the bottom left hand corner. I know I can trundle round the distance in my own time, but whether or not some poor tail runner tasked with following me could cope with this duty without losing the will to live I seriously doubt.   I am soooooooooooo slow.   I am rubbish at navigating, and am assured it’s a well marshaled course, and that no such skills are needed.  Even so, I had the genius idea of purchasing a map (£3.50 pre event) so I could do a recce for myself. Today, Monday, I would take to the trails and check out the extent of my inadequacies in relation to this challenge…. It would give me some idea of what I had signed up to, what could possibly go wrong?

Spoiler alert, quite a lot went wrong actually.  The map was rubbish, it had insufficient detail,  and the marking of the route obscured the paths they were supposed to be directing me onto.  The result, epic navigational fail.  I never was ‘lost’ in that I knew how to get back to where I started, I just couldn’t fathom where I was supposed to be going for the actual race.  It was quite funny/ frustrating comparing where I actually went to where I meant to on my return as I checked out the evidence of Strava.

oops route

I know exactly where I went wrong, I will go out again in the next couple of days and try again.  Still lovely out though, and many adventures.   Apprehensive as I was about heading out, it is always worth it.  The Sheffield trails are friendly always, and not just because we have been told to be nice, but because we always are.

DD be nice

Acknowledging that I’m not fit, and it was very hot today, I drove up to the parking bay opposite the Norfolk Arms and headed off up through Lady Cannings plantation.  I was puffing from the start, but I decided not to get hung up on running, just do a leisurely walk/run recce, and see how my knee copes with the hokas.  I love their cushioning, but for whatever reason, they seem to give my knee gyp.  I do desperately need some new running shoes that don’t squash my toes and dig into my bunions and still have sufficient cushioning for my arthritic feet.  It’s a tall order.   I keep bottling it though, every pair of runners I’ve ever had has been a compromise, and whilst I’d happily fork out for some that were properly comfy and grippy under foot, I don’t want to spend £100 plus on yet another ‘not quite’ pair. I tried some altras the other week at woodrun.  They were great for roomy toe-box but I’m not sure about the zero drop thing.  Oh, who knew I’d have so much to say about shoe choices, when I can barely muster a jog out on the trails, it’s all a bit ridiculous.  I was feeling distinctly portly, and my running belt, which I’ve decided I must start using if I’m going to up my distances, was weighed down with bottles of water, my camera, a map.  Lucky I was heading out alone, wouldn’t want to be seen by anyone I knew in such unflattering attire.   You might think there are no limits to what I will where whilst running, but you’d be wrong…

Within seconds of turning into the plantation, I felt that soaring gratitude that I live in a part of the world where we can do this.  Right on my doorstep, a gorgeous and varied landscape.  It’s like entering a parallel universe.  Admittedly it’s a parallel universe populated by a disproportionate number of dog walkers, but you can see the appeal.  It’s only fair to share. There were a fair few mountain bikers out and about too.  They terrify me, not fearing for myself, they were courteous on the tracks, more I fear that they’ll come flying over the handlebars of their bikes right in front of me, and I will be the only available person on hand to provide emergency first aid.  I don’t rate their chances.  I’m not squeamish, but nor am I first aid qualified.  I did have a mobile phone with me though this time, that’s a start, I could phone a friend…

 

I pootled through the plantation, and emerged onto the dusty gravelly road and turned sharp left heading towards Houndkirk Moor and then right across Burbage.  It was just stunning out. The moor is thick with heather full of promise.  It’s not out yet, nor should it be til August. There were occasional bursts of heather, but it was so vibrant purple I wondered if it was an invasive heather, it seemed a bit early and impossible, but maybe just a sun-trap created a micro-climate so it could burst forth.  The roads were dusty, and pot-holed, but enticing too, you get a sense that you want to follow those roads as they will take you to adventures new.

 

I huffed up the hills, in the heat of the sun, but picked up a bit of a jog as the gradient helped me down. Then, joy of joys!  Ahead a glorious trio of Smileys.  If there is one thing more exciting than seeing a fellow Smiley on a run, it is seeing an unexpected Smiley, and the joy is multiplied when there is a holy trinity of awesomeness from the Smiley Paces running gene pool.  What’s more, one of them was Elder Smiley and she doesn’t even live here any more, so that was like finding a unicorn grazing on a four-leaved clover field really.  How lucky was I, here’s the proof.   Look what I found:

DD smiley celebrities

and I even took a fantastic selfie by way of proof.  I say ‘fantastic’, by this I mean I do at least have part of my anatomy within shot, which is more than I achieved when stalking Jess at the Vitality Move event the other week.

DD smiley selfie

Hilariously (but then I’m easily amused), they were also doing a Dig Deep Recce, so we had that in common. They were doing the 30 mile route though, and they seemed to be doing a lot more running as opposed to gazing around, and a little digging on Strava showed a wealth of trophies for personal bests all round as they hared over the roads turbo-charged and smiling.  I say smiling, but apparently there had been quite a lot of swearing at the hills going round.  I wondered aloud whether other more experienced runners might say (not me, of course, but running coaches) that if you have enough breath to spare to curse liberally, you probably aren’t trying enough. Then again, given we were in the presence of Smiley Elder herself at this time, I daresay she was probably just making a helpful advisory factual observation in relation to the elevation of the local terrain, not complaining about the hills at all.  It just goes to show, one shouldn’t jump to conclusions.  One should especially not jump unnecessarily, when you need that energy to get up those hills.

We shared hugs and stories and then I waved them on their way.

 

Once I got over the shock of having been seen in public wearing what is a strong contender for my ‘most unflattering running outfit ever’ award (it’s a close contest), it was really nice to see some buddies on the trail.  Plus, I was secretly pleased at having been caught out running, voluntarily.    It put quite a spring in my step as I headed off, with renewed confidence that I at least knew where to make the first turn off the path.  I was undeterred by the gravestone erected no doubt in memory of those that didn’t dig quite deep enough to survive the trails last year…  that’s not an abbreviation for millions is it?  Hope not.

dig deep dead tally

I headed off up through a gateway and over towards Burbage edge.  I made good progress for a while, and it was fantastic, long reaching views, head-high bracken. It was pretty uneven under foot, scrambly even in places.  I wasn’t confident enough to run, I felt I had to pick my way. Can’t lie though, I was enjoying soaking up my surroundings too.

 

I started off OK, but at a critical point, there was a cairn, or more accurately a rock pile rather than an official way marker.  There seemed to be a cross roads.   The map I had wasn’t detailed enough for me to fathom which way to go. I reached the cairn at the same time as a large party of DofE (probably) walkers, and it felt wrong to head off at right angles so I followed the track they’d come up. That was where I went wrong.  I should have veered right, I did for a bit, but lost my nerve and retracked.  Oops.

 

So what followed was sort of curious.  I knew I’d gone wrong, but couldn’t work out how to make it right.  I wasn’t really ‘lost’ as I knew how to get back, and could see the road ahead so had vague sense of location, what I couldn’t fathom was how this related to the race route map at all.  I made the mistake of asking some sensible looking walkers where I was.  They looked panicked, I think they had visions of seeing something on Look North later, an appeal for manic looking woman last seen wandering the moors delusional and raving.  They didn’t want to be the last people to see me alive.   I decided to just follow the trails, because they looked fun. There were sheep, there were cows, there were walkers.  Don’t know quite how I ended up at a Longshaw entrance though?

 

Oh well, at that point I decided it was prudent to head back, I glugged my water, that I’d forgotten about, but was glad of, and romped homewards.  I saw hardly anyone about on the return leg, it was like I had the whole place to myself.  I paused to take flora shots and soak it all in.  My knee seemed to be doing OK, but the heat was punishing. I did wear sunglasses, but, heaven portend, maybe I should have gone really wild and donned a hat as well!

 

Eventually, I was back by Lady Canning’s plantation, a polite guy on a noisy dirt bike came whizzing through the gate as I held it open for him.  A mountain biker genuinely said ‘ey up’ to me, by way of greeting.  I love a good northern cliche on a run.  A farmer was driving a bright red tractor, hay making in a hay-field.  It was all pretty goddarned idyllic.  Just as well, as so little running or navigation occurred, I shall have to do the whole thing again properly in the next couple of days. This was though always just a recce, so mission accomplished really.

DD rural scene

Just time for a sneaky selfie, and then back to the car, where I noticed a way-marker giving distance to Sheffield Town Hall, which has clearly been there for centuries, but which I’ve never noticed before.

 

and that was that.  Homeward bound.

I’ve felt of late I’ve really lost my way running a bit, deteriorating performance, dropping confidence, demon voices asking who am I trying to kid when my ‘running pace’ leaves me open to being overtaken by almost any animate object that isn’t actually nailed down. today I literally lost my way running too, in navigational terms.  You know what though, it was still the idea of a run that got me out the door, and I still did 7 miles and nearly 900 ft of elevation.  I found new places, met up with fellow runners, and breathed in some stunning scenery.  I even found a strange stone bowl thing that I cannot identify.  It was a mini adventure basically. Running optional.  The hardest bit of any run, is stepping out the door.  My slow and steady approach may push the boundaries of what might legitimately be called actual ‘running’ but it can tick the box of ‘working towards running’ and that ‘s a start.  Go me.  12.12 is not ruled out yet.

What is this by the way?

DD no idea

So if you go out on the trails today, or any day, prepare for a big surprise, because there are Smilies aplenty everywhere you turn. Aren’t you blessed!  And do try and get out on those Peak trails if you can, because they are there for the taking, and it would be a crying shame not to.  Just saying.

The end.

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

Geronimo’s Grand Day Out – VitalityMove event Chatsworth 10k 2017

Digested Read: I had no idea what to expect from the VitalityMove event at Chatsworth, and initially didn’t sign up because of the hefty price tag.  Subsequently got in on a freebie and ‘yay’, fantastic time, brilliant festival of running-related fun crammed with awesome people.   Also, finally, got the chance of a photo-op with Sheffield idol Jessica Ennis… (fail, oh well) and that was only the start of encounters with other brilliant people I met throughout the day. Would recommend.  That hill is long and steeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep though.  Be warned.  It was hot.  This could yet turn out to be the Brigadoon of running events, a one off appearance every hundred years, so you may have missed out, but I hope not.

Longer read follows.  Make a cup of coffee first, it could take a while, think more ultra-running than musical mile in reading terms.

sighting the start of the musical mile

Jessica Ennis was quite taken by Geronimo on Sunday, I’m pretty sure that was what was behind the ‘oh look Reggie, a giraffe!’ comment she made, so in my book that means she and I  are now practically related.  Me and Jess, I mean, not me and Geronimo, that would be stupid. I’m now looking forward to knocking out some massively improved running times and maybe even taking up some other olympic sports by way of tribute, celebration and acknowledgement of this important new development in relation to my running network.  That is, I’m hoping by establishing tenuous connections to this demigod of sporting excellence (and local hero to boot) some of her athleticism will rub off on me.  I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that just thinking about exercise improves your muscle tone, so if you’ve had an actual interaction with an olympian gold holder that’s got to count for something surely?   If my old PE teacher could see me now eh?  Actually, if she could, she’d probably asphyxiate to be fair, I don’t think running with a giraffe would have been encouraged in our cruelly and ironically named ‘games’ sessions at school.  Fortunately, it seems times have changed.  The VitalityMove event at Chatsworth last sunday was more a joyful celebration of family activity related fun.  Giraffes and fancy dress were positively encouraged, the sun shone, and the emphasis was on having a collective go, especially getting young people running.  Very young people, you know the little ones, before the instinctive joy of running has abandoned them.  My kind of event really.  If I’d read the event guide before rejecting it out of hand on price grounds, I might have got that in advance….

event guide 2017

So, back to basics.   Before I signed up for this, and afterwards as well to be honest, I had very little idea of what to expect.  The ‘about us’ blurb on the VitalityMove website didn’t really help either.

Running is a natural activity that everyone can get involved with anywhere – it could be you run and walk the distance or train to keep going all of the way – whatever suits you, we want to cater for you. Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill is working with a team of like-minded people to create VitalityMove – two events that seek to fuse music and running and bring an energy to running that entices the reticent runner to join in. Here’s what Jessica has to say!

I have been so lucky to have got so much out of my sport – not only a career but a lifestyle. Fitness really can be enjoyable and I have teamed up with Vitality to share my passion for running and music and how the two together can make exercise fun.

We have created VitalityMove – a big day out with music and running at its heart. There will be lots of great things for families and committed runners to get involved with from 1 mile fun-runs, family relays to the more traditional 5k and 10k distances – all themed to music designed to keep you moving by DJ Trevor Nelson. Our venues are iconic; Chatsworth House and Windsor Great Park – both stunning backdrops for the event. Whether you are a first time runner or a seasoned athlete we will cater for you – and hopefully make it a day to remember.

I hope you will sign up and enjoy the journey to the events with me!

Nope, not really getting it, maybe I’m slow in processing event descriptors as I am in running.  In fairness I think this is possibly the first event of its type that I’m aware of anyway, so maybe it was inevitably hard to get across what it would involve, and therefore what participants might be paying for.  I got that you could pick a run distance and there’d be music, but honestly, and sorry if this is harsh, it was a whopping price for a 10k in this neck of the woods.  When it was first promoted I think it was about £35, when I actually came to enter it was showing around £29 for anyone over 16 (children were always free) and about £25 for the 5k and then parking (£5) on top.  It seemed a lot for a race of those distances.  We are perhaps unusually spoilt in Sheffield.  It is easy to access a Trust10 trail 10k race for free every fourth Sunday of the month at Longshaw; there are parkruns a-plenty offering free 5ks every Saturday five in Sheffield alone with a junior 2k parkrun each Sunday locally too (also free).  Then there are a wealth of reasonably local fell races starting from £1.50 for the legendary off-road Oxspring Trunce series.  Anyway, the consequence was, as soon as I saw the price tag I lost interest and didn’t bother to research the VitalityMove event any further.   I think I’m not alone in having thought it bizarre to the point of incomprehensible that an event would price a 5k or a 10k at that level.  We just aren’t accustomed to forking out for running events of those distances maybe, opportunities for running surround us.  We are blessed!  I didn’t get the USP at that point.  It seemed most peculiar!

That was then.  But circumstances change.  At the last-minute, I was lucky enough to get wind of a code that gave me free entry (cheers parkrun), and then it became a no-brainer.  Who wouldn’t want to go to a venue as lovely as Chatsworth for a 10k run and bag some fetching bling to add to their medal collection into the bargain?  So I went forth and ran.  Now I’ve actually been to the event, I get that the 10k and 5k runs were really just the icing on the cake for a much broader inter-generational running/sport festival.   A lot of thought went into the day, the planning was meticulous, I met some great people and I had a fabulous time.

Basically, the whole day far exceeded my expectations and I think it’s a bit of a shame that (in my view anyway) the pre-event publicity didn’t really communicate what would happen on the day, and I think many may have missed out as a consequence.  It would still have been very pricey, but I got the impression that the event could have managed many times the number of participants easily (apart from in the loo provision department, but then what running event has ever had enough portaloos at the critical moment).  It is/was a huge venue, I’d love to see this event become a regular fixture but more modestly priced to encourage more to come along.  I’m sure it would be a case of more the merrier.

Incidentally, in case you are worried about this, although the event is clearly aimed at families, I went on my own – well just me and the giraffe – and it was great.  Geronimo is a handy ice-breaker it’s true, but it was such a friendly and fun day, I reckon anyone standing still on their own for more than 10 seconds would end up in cheery chit-chat with a fellow attendee soon enough.  Well, unless they had seriously hostile body language.  I met some fantastic people, I’ve even launched my video career now so, you know, anything is possible if you take along your running shoes, sense of humour, broad smile and an open mind, just as in life!  (Giraffe/ fancy dress optional, but fabulous, so you should).

I’m going to tell you all about our grand day out together by way of supporting evidence.  Really you will need to triangulate my personal, and therefore subjective account, with other primary sources to be properly informed.  That’s what critical analysis is all about.  The best way to achieve this would be to get yourself along to the next one and see how our accounts tally…  There’s still VitalityMove at Windsor Great Park to come, allegedly (date tbc), so it’s doable. Well I think it’s doable, I have a slightly sinking feeling that ticket sales have been low across the two events so it might not come to pass, but maybe lessons learned from Chatsworth will help to ‘make it so’ and so spread further running happiness.

make it so

So, the event build up started on entering with my special code via the website.  That was really straightforward, I did have to pay for parking but that was fair enough in the circumstances.  Only after signing up for the 10k did I look at the course, and remember there is a massive hill at Chatsworth, it’s only 759 feet of climb according to Strava, which isn’t all that much in Sheffield terms, but it is compressed into a couple of short stretches at the early part of the course.  Oops.  I heard ‘free’ and forgot ‘huge hill’ in all the excitement.  Reading the event guide I picked up that fancy dress was ‘positively encouraged’ that’s more like it!  I was going to give Geronimo a bit of a break from running, I mean we’ve had both the Round Sheffield Run and Sheffield Hallam’s birthday parkrun outings lately, I was a bit worried it might be getting tedious.  On the other hand, what the hell.  It would be her first 10k and as I was otherwise going on my own I thought it might be a good way to get to chat to people, she could rest up later.  Plus if they are ‘positively encouraging’ fancy dress, I think it would be rude not to.  Here’s the strava profile by the way – see what I mean?  Yes, you can see I ended up walk/running the steep sections, so what, shoot me, I still did it.

Strava

Even though I was a late entrant, my pack (number and chip timer) arrived in the post with a few bits of other info promptly, and my car-park pass was duly emailed to me on the Wednesday before.  I thought that was pretty impressive.  You could also pay on the day for parking by the way, still a fiver.  No free parking for Blue Badge holders though, which I thought was poor, even possibly just a complete oversight as no dedicated parking for them either.  This didn’t impact on me, but it did on a fellow Smiley, and that wasn’t good.  As if life isn’t hard enough sometimes if you have, or care for someone who has, limited or no independent mobility.

parking voucher

Then on the Sunday morning, it was sooooooooooooo hot.  I wasn’t sure what to wear, I haven’t the body confidence, or indeed physique to wear my Smiley Paces running club vest without a T-shirt under it, but that would be stupid in such heat. Then I thought, well Vitality are one of the parkrun sponsors, so I decided to go with my parkrun top.  Good call.  I was up early, so lots of time to pin my number on Geronimo Sky, have porridge for breakfast and debate the relative merits of which running shoes to wear.  I mean  I love my Hokas for their cushioning, but they definitely have been giving me knee issues which may or may not be a temporary thing due to an inevitable change in running style that new trainers sometimes causes.  I put them on but stuffed my more hard-core trail shoes salomon fell-raisers in my backpack just in case.  Car pass printed out, water bottle filled and off I went.

It was gorgeous driving over to Chatsworth, I feel really lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world.  Yes, not great for running hot and humid as it was, but indisputably a gorgeous day.  I was quite excited pulling up to the grand golden gates of Chatsworth where a friendly marshal shooed me off in the right direction.  It was pretty quiet when I arrived.  The rolling grounds of Chatsworth were truly spectacular, sheep milled around under the trees seemingly unconcerned by the cars arriving.  There were even a few lambs cavorting. Shame they’ll all end up being eaten (not by me, I’m vegetarian) but let’s not dwell on that today.  I parked up, and you could see ahead bright pink flags and inflatables of the event camp.  Excited others were gathering.  Yep, it felt like the day was going to be fun.

I followed the pink signs to the event, I wasn’t cross at the cross point, I felt no need, but I think it is quite a good idea to have a special zone where cross people are made to gather together so they don’t spoil events for everyone else.  I might start putting that in surveymonkey responses the next time I get a post-event feedback survey emailed through to me.

As I walked down a companionable fellow runner fell into step with me.  It was only one of  the tigger runners from the Round Sheffield Run!  She hadn’t so much recognised me as Geronimo, and us fancy dress ambassadors, well,  we share a bond and need to stick together. Turns out she was at Chatsworth to do some pacing but it was good to actually meet.  Plus I found out the significance of her costume choice…. drum roll… it’s because her nickname is Tigger!  Genius is it not!

MJ tiger tiger

No tigger outfit today, so I hadn’t recognised her. That’s another amazing thing about fancy dress if you are interested, you’d think it would make you more conspicuous, but it’s actually the opposite.  People notice Geronimo but not me, so by simple dint of removing her (or previously Roger) it’s like I’ve donned a cunning disguise.  My absolutely serious and heartfelt recommendation for self-conscious runners out there is go for fancy dress.  Nobody sees you or judges your body silhouette picked out in unforgiving lycra if you have a giraffe strapped round your waist.  It’s a simple distraction technique.  Not that anyone actually cares what you look like when you’re running or judges you anyway, but them as share my anxiety about appearing in public wearing lycra will know what I mean.  Anyway, she bounded off to do whatever it is that Tiggers do as warm up for pacing, and I had a wander round the event village.  I stole this photo from the official photographers’ Facebook page, cheers AWOL event photos, I’m sure they won’t mind 🙂 It’s the view from the stage at around 8.30 a.m. on the day of the event.  Impressive eh?

awol calm before the storm

As I got nearer to the centre of it all I started to get a feel for the mood of the day.   There were colourful tents in abundance.  Areas where children could have a go at netball, or GoApe, a clearly defined food area, well signed bag-drop, registration, some event-standard portaloos set against the backdrop of the magnificent Chatsworth House.

As I approached, I had my first star-struck moment of the day. There was Jessica Ennis milling about and very graciously posing for selfies and photos with people various. On a serious note I have a lot of respect for Jessica Ennis (aside from her not having a barcode with her when she did Sheffield Hallam parkrun) and she may be an extraordinary olympian, but she is also (only) human and pregnant. Even so, she spent the whole of Sunday smiling, chatting to people and posing for photos in scorchio heat.  That was impressive.  Actually scrap that, she’s not human, she is indeed super-human.  An amazing athlete of course, but radiates down-to-earth honest-to-goodness cheery decency and tolerance too.  I wonder if she trains as hard for selfie posing  as she must have done for the high jump?

Now, as my regular reader will know, the only time I felt homesick when I was working in Cambodia earlier in the year was when I missed Jess and Paul rocking up to Hallam parkrun.  I was beyond gutted.  Two of my absolute icons, at my home parkrun and I missed it!  The pain!  Anyway, here she was, in touching distance, this was my moment, the opportunity was within my grasp.   I could let it pass and spend the rest of my life in sullen regret, or I could seize the moment!  Reader, let me report that I did indeed commandeer a bystander to act as a photographer and approached Jess to request a photo.  This was the moment when Jess complimented my Giraffe with her (unforgettable to me) ‘oh look Reggie, a giraffe‘ comment. I did some incoherent gushing about how much I admired her and how I was sorry to have missed her before when she was at Hallam.  I was not cool at all, but then in my defence when have I ever been that?  Anyway,  she patiently stood as my nominated photographer took a few snaps.  I was sooooooooooooooo happy.  Alas, as I wandered off looking at them, I realised none had been taken.  Curses.  My camera is a bit odd, you have to push the button quite hard, and sadly, this was an epic fail.  Not one shot to capture the moment.  I was disappointed, but you know what, we have our memories, and I like to think we shared a moment.

Incidentally, despite my disappointment at missing my two idols Jess and Paul when they went to Hallam and I didn’t, I have subsequently ‘met’ both.   At Chatsworth it was Jess, but I also shared an (awkward) moment with Paul Sinton-Hewitt, albeit a similarly tongue-tied one once I was back from my travels.  I suppose I’m saying that we must never give up on our dreams, as we never know what the future holds.  I was so sad to miss the hobnobbing opportunities back in February, but had my own individual encounters later on.  Dreams really do come true!  Also, there was an official photographer around at the same time as I was posing with Jess, and clearly Geronimo Sky is spectacularly photogenic, so I’m really hoping that a photo is out there somewhere.  Even if it’s not, in the absence of any photographic evidence of the encounter I can embellish the story at will for either comedic and/or dramatic effect.  Everyone’s a winner!

In a daze of celebrity awe-struckness (well it is a word now), I went to further explore my surroundings.  Geronimo was taking it all in too.  She’s pretty non-flighty for a prey animal.

exploring

There were huge deck chairs and tiny pink bean bags  scattered around, a massive event stage, and various partnership company stands.  There was a main stage at the finish, and tables groaning under the weight of frozen-themed water bottles.  There was an alarming number of ambulances in evidence, but I suppose that’s sensible.  I don’t know though, same with armed police officers, maybe it is a sensible precaution to have all that first aid/emergency cover on hand, but I find it unnerving rather than reassuring.   There weren’t any armed police at Chatsworth though, so only had to worry about the hill, not the presence of weaponry in the vicinity.

There were some friendly looking marshals/ water station people sporting the fine grey Vitality T-shirts so I had a natter with them.  They liked Geronimo too, so we played around with selfies.  They encouraged me to instagram these using such-and-such movetothemusic hash tag, I think they confused me with someone with a smart phone and a basic understanding of twitter.  Still, it was a friendly and fun encounter.  And at least I now had a selfie by way of consolation for missing out on the one with Jess earlier.  I hope their selfie technique was better than mine!

Next stop was the pledge pod.  I’d done a summer pledge photo at parkrun yesterday, but hey, the pod looked fun. A maintenance guy was just getting it going so was game to talk me through using it.  Apparently you are much more likely to complete a goal if you write it down and share it.  I don’t think it’s a substitute for training though, which is a disappointment.

You write your goal on a dry-wipe white board and get four differently posed photos opportunities.  You can then upload these to Facebook, using the touchscreen within the pod, which didn’t work for me as I obviously don’t know either my own username or log in password, on the plus side, no-one’s hacking me.  However, I did get a physical print out, and that was fun.

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Not wishing to diss Jess or anything, but I reckon my pledge was smarter, i.e. specific, measurable etc, than hers which was a bit on the vague side ‘as active as possible during pregnancy‘ isn’t very easy to pin down really is it?   I am not necessarily pleased about this, me having a more specific goal that is – since it will make it way harder for me to wriggle out of and it’s only a few weeks away.  I said ‘I will complete the Dig Deep 12.12 mile trail race at Whirlow August 2017! (Not necessarily with a giraffe).’  So we’ll see.  My training to date has consisted of entering.  Well, it does show willing at least.  You can pledge your own goal at https://mysummergoal.co.uk/ apparently and admire Jess and Ellie and that other guy making their own here.  I like Ellie Simmonds a lot too, which I’m sure would please her enormously if she but knew.  It was hearing her talking on Woman’s Hour the other day about liking to have a nap in the afternoon that clinched it for me.  I, like her, fear this particular penchant of mine will have to go when I next enter gainful more conventional employment.  Unlike her, I don’t think opportunity providers will be queuing up to find a compromise on this point.

So more milling around. Mr Kandoo (Round Sheffield Run and Kandoo events) pitched up in a tententen T-shirt (I like those, tasteful grey with Autumn Leaves logo).  Anyway, his presence gave me an opportunity to thank him for creating my favourite race of the year.  It is honestly like he sat down and thought of all the things that would make a Lucy-friendly running event and scattered then kandoo magic fairy dust all over it and so it sprang into life.  A bit like Frankenstein’s monster, only more user-friendly and less killing, more trail running related fun and (marginally) less existential angst. He made a cunningly ambiguous reference to Geronimo’s participation on the day, saying something like ‘so you and fancy dress‘.  I respect that.  I suppose just like local running shops, running event organisers have to navigate local running politics and interactions with their event participants with some care.  They mustn’t appear to have a favourite running club, or get drawn into sharing potentially controversial views.  Their business model rests and falls on their skills in diplomacy as much as event management.  The listener can put whatever interpretation they wish on such a phrase.  It might be complimentary about the wearing of fancy dress, or it might  in fact be an expression of disbelief verging on horror, but the actual phrase used? Well, read it back, and you’ll see that it gives nothing away.  Sort of ‘neither confirm nor deny’ when you see it written down.  Hopefully the listener will hear what they want to hear rather than pick up on the inconclusiveness of the statement, everyone stays friends, everyone is happy!

It’s a bit like when you see a friend in an amateur play or performance or something and you attend it nursing and apprehension bordering on terror.  You fear it will be absolutely dire and yet you will need to have some encouraging phrase to utter to them afterwards in order to maintain the friendship thereafter.  Something that isn’t an actual lie but will communicate apparent enthusiasm, and stop you from blurting out that you have just sacrificed two hours of your life that you can never get back sitting through that pretentious nonsense.  Hence, the wily audience member will have a reference pack of useful phrases to fall back on as they see their friend post show. Common one’s include ‘What can I say!’ uttered with gushing intonation as you pace towards them arms outstretched or ‘Amazing, you’ve done it again!’ similarly delivered or the old favourite ‘I knew it!’  The calculation being that hopefully the hearer will be too self-absorbed in their post-show bubble to request any further critique.  True opinions are not required.  Of course you might get lucky and see something brilliant, but still good to have a repertoire non-commital phrases at your disposal.  This ‘so, you and fancy dress‘ remark had a more neutral delivery, but worked on the same criteria, so well done, nicely played.    I choose to take it as endorsement.  Just another of my many delusional thoughts in evidence.

Next stop, precautionary pee, then I changed into my more fell shoes after all as my knee was giving me gyp.  Then to the bag drop. We’d been warned it would be really busy so best to leave bags with friends and family.  As I have neither friends nor family,  it was bag-drop all the way for me.  At that time it was really quiet, I think my number was four, which is a clue to its busy-ness.  You get a wrist tag, and a matching one was put on my bag.   There was an anxious moment when I approached, and the woman seemingly in charge stopped me proclaiming most assertively (bordering on aggression to be blunt) that they wouldn’t take responsibility for any animals whilst I was running.  As if I’d leave Geronimo in the charge of strangers!  Even nice ones like at the VitalityMove Chatsworth event bag drop!  It would be akin to leaving a dog in the car on a hot day.  I blustered indignantly protesting at the very idea, but happily the confusion was swiftly resolved and we were all soon friends again.

I made my way to the music mile start, evidenced by the presence of large blue musical notes.  I didn’t know what to expect, but my plan was to do a musical mile by way of warm up (er hem) and not at all because I wanted a trophy wrist band.  I was curious to find out what it was about, and I reckoned that it was so hot I wouldn’t feel like running  a mile once I’d done the 10k, but I knew I’d finish the 10k once started if I did it the other way around.  It was a good plan.

musical mile

Hanging around at the start I soon got chatting to a couple of other runners.  We compared running tales. They’d done the moonwalk in London which sounded amazing. You basically do the London Marathon route overnight wearing only a bra!  Brave I thought, wish they hadn’t clarified that they did actually wear jogging bottoms too.  It’s an annual event ‘united against breast cancer’ the next one is 12 May 2018.  It is £48 and you have to raise a minimum of £100 sponsorship, but these two had clearly had a ball.

As we were chatting, a woman waved at us, and called me over.  This was my modest claim to fame for the day I suppose, as it marked my video debut.  I can’t entirely take the credit, it was Geronimo who first caught their eye, but I gained glory by association, which is good enough for me. So it was that Geronimo Sky and I made the Derbyshire telegraph VitalityMove event video, it went up on their webpage, so I’m just waiting in now for a TV agent to approach me with an impossible-to-refuse lucrative sports TV presenter contract offer.   The phone’s not rung yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.  I’m ex-directory so they’ll have to do a bit of research to track down my phone number. You need to click on the second video down, and wait for 8.44 mark.  I see us as a double act like Rod Hull and Emu only hopefully marginally less annoying, I’ll be really disappointed if she gets an offer and I don’t though.  Hope she’ll remember me on the way up…  Seeing the clip I do cringe at the sound of my own voice and rotund physique on the one hand, but on the other hey, local stardom!  We all have to suffer for our art I suppose.  Plus, it does give a fine glimpse of the goings on at the start of the day.

TV career launch video

A scattering of us duly assembled for the 10.00 a.m. start time, but a delay was immediately announced as they needed to get the music stations out on the course.  A crew of spectacularly attired dancers in impractical shoes were ushered past to be positioned on the course.  I didn’t get the chance to take a photo of them until the end of the day, here are two of them by way of example.  I hope they had sunblock on, that was a lot of exposed flesh to be standing out in the sun all day with.

dancing queens

It was fine, nobody minded.  A photographer posed us for some publicity shots.  Yes I did get in the frame.

musical mile not posing at all

Famous DJ Trevor Nelson pretended to sound the start horn.  If I track any of these fine images down later I’ll add them into this post in due course.  About ten minutes late, it was start time.  At this moment a little girl who was the first to arrive at the start line was chosen to do the start countdown. She was duly led off to clamber up on high atop of the crowds to do the official opening from the top of a scaffolding tower.  Check her out in the top left of this photo as the runners whizz away…

musical mile start off

Now, this was a lovely thought, but I was in earshot of her mum (I think – someone who knew her anyway) who said, words to the effect of ‘oh no, that’s a shame, she wanted to be at the front of the start line, not watching it go off‘.  To be fair, she didn’t look particularly upset, a little overwhelmed possibly, but then weren’t we all.  We were told to look out for ‘exciting things’ and ‘join in with the dancing and enjoy the music on the course’.  So finally off we went.  It was a cross-section of runners, parents/carers and children, people warming up for longer events and a few ‘what the hell’ types.  The one mile route was a flat circuit out towards the parking area, round by the river and back in a little loop.

Musical mile route

It was slightly odd, because it wasn’t really marshaled as such, although the route was obvious, you just sort of romped out.  As you ran, people just arriving at the event were ambling towards and alongside you.  At the Cross Zone were the first of the dancing troupe, a duo stood next to speakers that were blaring out music.    They were smiling and clapping, but also looking a tad self-conscious rather than encouraging dancing at this point in the day.  Friendly and fun certainly, but also fairly low-key.

The official photographers were on hand to snap away. For the record, I was in about 61 different shots, so they weren’t slacking in their paparrazzi duties.  The overwhelming majority of photos are one’s that do indeed capture the occassion, but also make me never want to be seen in public again. However, one or two were really fun – check out my jazz hands in homage to the occassion.

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I found the route incredibly hot, we were in direct sun, and although it was only a mile it was a bit of a reality check for the not flat at all 10k to come.  As we circled back along the river there were I think three more stations each with loud speakers and a couple of dancers.  One pair were up for a bit of a boogie the others less so.  I don’t normally run just for a mile so it all seemed really quick. The finish was spectacular, there was a wrist band and a huge clunking medal for everyone, which was unexpected.  Then you went up some steps which took you to the back of the huge stage, so everyone had their moment leaving via the big performance platform where you could pause for a selfie with famous DJ Trevor Nelson as you exited.  It was great, some of the children were so excited and proud of their achievements it was infectious.  Made up for missing out on the fun of volunteering at Junior parkun, this morning, seeing all those happy, joyful faces.  I don’t have any pictures of that because I didn’t have my camera but maybe some will follow. These are the medals though – different ribbon, but same bling.  Quality eh?

bling plenty of bling

Spat off the stage, you could pick up a bottle of water, and I got some sort of princess label on mine from frozen, so that was grand!  My mile done, what with the later start, the milling about etc, I took one look at the queue for the loos and decided I did have basic bladder control after all.  I wasn’t originally going to take Geronimo on the 10k, but then I bumped into familiar face (fellow Smiley and RSR recce buddy) who was there with her two daughters.  Hooray, photo op.  Aren’t we grand, this is the medal from the musical mile.  Seeing my trophy helped motivate the two young women to run and nab one for themselves.  Yay.  Whatever it takes!  Anyway, after all that chit chat, I didn’t think there was time to go back to the bag drop and leave Geronimo there, besides, given our earlier exchange it would be a bit hypocritical to dump a giraffe with them following my righteous indignation at the mere suggestion of the very idea that I would do such a thing barely an hour previously – so I just thought ‘oh well, maybe it’ll be fun doing it together‘.  And she stayed put.

friends at the start

Once we’d had a quick chat, my Smiley running buddy headed off to drop bags and check out the loos, whilst I continued my milling about.  I ended up in conversation with a couple of finely turned out TomTom pacers who were ace.  The starting point may have been mutual appreciation of dress (I don’t think that was the real hair of the guy in the kilt) but evolved into a really good chat. They had both got loads of experience of pacing the London Marathon so I basically took the opportunity to download their collective brains for top tips on how to approach it (I have a deferred ballot place for next year, which still feels unreal).  This guy is going to be one of the five hour pacers so you never know, we may yet meet again:

tomtom pacer with jess

For me, this was one of the stand out features of this Chatsworth event, I got to talk to so many brilliant people who shared hilarious and/or interesting stories, or taught me new things about running techniques and events, or simply inspired with their own efforts and motivation.  It was brilliant.  One of the TomTom guys turned out to be an olympic torch carrier no less, and promised I could go and have a hold of his big torch later!  He was nominated to carry it for a section due to charity work he has done for Barnardos.  How fabulous is that?  I did as well, go and check out his torch.  Tigger is in the shot below as well by the way, but in disguise without the outfit.  Be impressed.

There was a sort of grand warm up for the 10k led from the stage, but I didn’t want to wear myself out doing that, so I just hung out at the back and enjoyed the view.  It looked fab though, like community popmobility, something which I am inclined to feel should be encouraged at every opportunity.  Early morning (pre-dawn) moving to music happens all over the place in Cambodia by the way, it’s brilliant.  We need that ethos here too!

Grand warm up

This was much busier than the musical mile start, and ‘proper’ runners were congregated at the front.  As people moved into the start funnel there was still time to fraternise with other runners though.  I’m looking forward to seeing for myself how that sheep costume turns out at a later run event in the vicinity.  Sounds brilliant.  Jess was there to set us off.  At least I think she was, I couldn’t see what was going on, and it becomes a bit of a blur with so many different run distances and events going on almost continuously.  I do know that at some point I heard a voice put out a plea not to trample Jessica as you ran because she was pregnant.  I’m not sure if the inference that it would have been OK otherwise to trample her was intentional.  In any event, I don’t think  it is ever OK for runners to trample Jess, or anyone else for that matter, it’s easy enough to give a people a bit of a berth as you overtake, especially at an event where the focus was on fun and participation rather than flat-out racing. Because of where I was in the line up I didn’t get to high-five Jess or Trev as I was passing, but they were there, cheering us all on!  I think these photos might be of the Disney mile start, but hey ho, you get the idea.

The 11.00 a.m. 10k starting stampede was captured on film. It wasn’t a  massive turn out by local standards, but it was respectable.  The results look like there were about 1000 10k runners across the two events of the day.  ‘Serious runners’ went towards the front, there were pacers towards the back doing 60 minute and 65 minute times.

As we headed off, it dawned on me that it was indeed a long haul up that hill.  It was a steep, steep and somewhat demoralising climb.  You hoik yourself up, and after what seemed like an age, you get to the first sign (literally, it was a hi-vis poster) warning you were about to start the Ennis hill. What?  What the heck was that first killing kilometer then.  I wasn’t massively impressed.  The setting is scenic, but apart from the grassy first bit, much of the track upwards to the hunting lodge was on a sort of compressed gravel that was hot and very dusty underfoot. It wasn’t the springy woodland trail surface I’d fondly imagined and it was hard on my arthritic feet.  I did have to walk from quite early on.  I told myself this was a legitimate strategy as power walking was faster than my feeble running efforts at this point, but it did feel a bit of an epic fail to be walking so early on. I mean I can do a parkrun 5k without stopping, so I should have surely managed 2k – except it was almost vertical in ascent.  What was encouraging though, was as the tomtom pacers passed me – which inevitably they did, they shouted out cheery words of encouragement, one was playing upbeat music on some hand-held speaker, so that was fun and cheering.  Good for morale.  Another advantage of having a giraffe you see, it makes you relatively easy to spot amongst the heaving throngs!

If you like a few visuals by way of reference, then whilst we are on the theme of tenuous links (yes we were), the terrain was a bit like that at the early part of the Bushy parkrun route (you can see it really clearly from 1.45 mark). Thanks to Dean Carter for this video of his parkrun in Bushy park – the final in his epic quest to complete all 47 parkruns in the Greater London area.  (Yes, this is mainly an excuse to upload a go-pro of the iconic Bushy parkrun course, but can you blame me really?)

I’d like to say as I stormed up that hill I looked like an extra from Chariots of Fire, but unfortunately I didn’t, however, I did reach the top eventually, and then it got a lot more fun and straightforward.  Again, not many marshals, but the route was obvious, and bold kilometre markers told you how far you’d come.  I got a few cheery shouts of appreciation for Geronimo which was nice.  My favourite though was the two women running together who said the ‘you’ve got a giraffe line‘ which was fair enough, I gave my usual retort of ‘where’s yours?‘ and quick as a shot the reply whizzed back to me from one of them ‘if you’d seen me on the hill you’d know I came as a grumpy cow!’  Genius quipping there. Respect.  I like that in a fellow runner.

Here’s the route by the way – their event guide map, and my strava one, hope it helps:

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There was short part where the returning runners shared the track with those of us still heading out.  The temptation to slot in behind the front runner who I saw out of the corner of my eye was pretty strong at that point, but I had a feeling such subterfuge would not go unnoticed.  At various stages I struck up conversations with other runners, it was a very chatty event. Well it was for me, faster runners were killing themselves with different race plans.  I suspect there may have been some throwing up at the finish line by them.   I met other parkrunners, first time 10k runners, people who’d lost huge amounts of weight, charity runners,  those who’d traveled from afar, and locals too.  There weren’t many running club vests, a few I recognised, but this felt more parkrun community than race like in atmosphere and I really liked that.  Faster runners were celebrated in the prize giving at the end, but the day as a whole was inclusive.  I spent quite a bit of the route step in step with a guy in training for a marathon in a couple of months, he’d just restarted his fitness quest.  He actually did his first half-marathon as a smoker on three-weeks training, he got round, but wow, that would have been tough.  A bit of companionable chat made this part of the route pass more quickly.  I really think slower runners, of which I am one, must have more fun at longer races, whilst I can’t talk and run for a 5k, if it’s more of an endurance, then chatting to marshals or snatched conversations with other runners as you pass one another is part of the shared experience.  It’s good for morale. Those fast runners whizzing by miss out on that.   It’s all very well going for a sub two-hour marathon, but wouldn’t Eliud Kipchoge have enjoyed it all much more if he’d been able to have a natter with pacers en route.  He didn’t crack the time anyway, so he could have just had a nice morning out instead.  He seems a friendly guy, looked smiley on the telly.  I bet he’dhave  loved to have had a chat about running sock preferences on the way round – especially as his attempt was all on a track.  How dull must that be, running round in circles, much better to take your mind of it all by discussing anti-chafing strategies instead.  I might message his Facebook account and suggest it, I expect he’d be glad of the top tip.

There was a St Johns First Aid station around the 7km mark.  Hilariously, just as one of the marshals there helpfully called out to be careful of the uneven terrain, I, in turning to look at him and hear what he was saying  lost concentration and stumbled over a tree root much to the merriment of those around.  A bit further on there was a much-needed water station.  It was so hot and humid and hilly. There was only one woman tending it and she was super stressed, all the bottles she’d put out before hand had gone and she seemed a bit panicked.  It was all good-natured though.

It was a big relief to get into the shade of the trees. There are some beautiful scenic parts of the route as you are up high, you need to remember to look to the right to take in the views. We passed a water feature and a stunning cascading waterfall at one point.  I wasn’t taken with the surface under foot but that’s probably petty of me, and a reflection on my arthritic feet as much as anything.  After a while I pulled ahead of my new friend as we weren’t really pacing the same as the gradient shifted – though we did seem to leap-frog each other for a fair bit afterwards.

There were a few fun surprises en route – the unexpected steel band was completely brilliant, they were positioned so both 5k and 10k runners would pass them, but they were only in place for our return run not on the way out.  Also there were some random full fur suited chipmunks/rabbit I know not what disney-esque creatures. Clearly I thought these were great, and we shared high fives.  I wonder if a live music station at the mid point of the music mile might have been a better option than the several quieter speaker stations, but I suppose there are cost implications to doing that.  Live music was really good.  A proper party atmosphere.  If I had to choose, I’d have had them on the music mile where everyone could enjoy them even if not running, they were a hidden delight for the few up in the woods.  Grand though.  Cheers people!

Eventually we emerged from the woods onto the grass descent.  It was basically through a tall grass meadow, where they’d put a mower through to make a path for runners. The consequence was a mass of dried and drying, recently cut tall grass under foot.  Loose hay basically.  It was a timotei-esque romp through a hay field, only down a really stepp hill.  I like running through hay, kicking it up. It was fun, but also strange and unfamiliar, it felt the surface underfoot was moving, I’ve only had that sensation once before, running on a beach when a wind whipped up the sand so it was blustering round your feet and you couldn’t really see the actual ground through it – it was that same sense of your eye making you think the ground is in motion.  I liked it, surreal, but enjoyable.  Towards the end of the course there were more photographers on hand to capture the emotion of the final 1k.  Not sure what adjectives should apply here, but I’ll go with ‘determined’, and leave it at that.  In my defence, it wasn’t the easist of 10ks you know…

determination

It was still a good 2k to the end, and we ran in past newly arriving participants.  In the last 1km or so there was some tape up marking the route, and competitors who’d finished earlier or not yet run were lining the course.  I saw one Smiley who cheered me in, and a few of the people I’d struck up conversations with earlier who’d finished ahead of me also shouted out support.  It was fun. Then we veered round to the same finish point as the musical miles, so again bling (different ribbon) and onto the stage. There were photographers at the end, and a few at the early stages of the course too, so I posed appropriately.  The photographer pointed out that Geronimo had really done all the work and was the more deserving of the medal, so I repositioned it on her neck rather than mine in recognition of this.  Yay, we’d done it!  In the absence of the official photo as yet, here is my own post event selfie.  It’s a start.

And as a late addition, here are the ‘official ones’, yay!  What a team eh? What, a team?

Again there was loads of water on tables so you could help yourself (got a snowman bottle this time) also had some coconut water which was fab.  One minor gripe was that there was an enormous amount of water bottles on the day (good) but no plastic recycle bins to put the empty ones in (bad), so I really, really hope the litter did get sorted through, the thought of so much plastic ending up in landfill causes me physical pain.  Or worse, getting into our oceans – will there really be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.  I could weep.

seabird and plastic

Didn’t stop me drinking it though, and then after the run, and post-run rehydration,  I went in search of the olympic torch and copped a feel of that.  I was honoured indeed!  Just how many brushes with fame can a person manage in one short day!

having a hold

Yay, then I did some more random mingling. I sighted a few more familiar faces, but most people were on their own different trajectories so not much chatting to people I knew to be fair.  Good to see them all the same, even if at least one of them was fair sprinting away no sooner than she caught sight of me.  I cheered off the afternoon 10k people – it was even hotter then, respect to those who headed off with gusto at one o’clock in the afternoon.

I didn’t really have the energy for more running, tempting as the prospect of getting Disney mile bling was.  The musical miles went on all day, you could run as many as you liked and got a different wrist band for each themed run as far as I could tell.  Some tiny kids were romping round loads of times getting an impressive haul of wrist bands and medals.  That part of the event was pitched well I think.  Even so, I let that opportunity pass, and instead I made a new best friend.  It was an accident, I trod on her bag whilst stepping backwards trying to get this shot.   You can see why I got distracted, it being Wimbledon fortnight, I thought it would be cool to recreate that famous Athena poster again.  Definitely an eye-catching way to raise awareness for a cause!

Anyway, don’t worry, it was a happy accident, as it led to conversation. Turns out she was a marshal at the RSR and we had a fab conversation all about that, and marshaling, and body confidence issues when running, and how the ultimate aspiration is really to feel invisible when running sometimes.  As a slow runner I know others are supportive to me as they stay to cheer me through the finish when I plod home last at a fell race or whatever, and that’s great and I do really appreciate it.  However, it is possible to simultaneously hold two conflicting truths, you know nobody cares what you look like, other runners are supportive, the important thing is that you are having a go etc etc, and yet…  simultaneously you can feel self-conscious and awkward and wish yourself invisible.  I blame being picked last for the netball teams a few too many times at school to be honest.  That lingering sense of inadequacy never really goes away.   Anyway, kindred spirit, you know who you are I salute you.  See you at the TenTenTen.  We hugged, and went our separate ways.  I don’t have a photo of her, but it was like my moment with Jess, we both know what passed between us, we don’t need a  photo to prove a point!

Also, she was able to explain to me who famous celebrity DJ Trevor Nelson was, so that was good.  He did look sort of familiar, and did a great high-energy job on the day, but I’m guessing Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra aren’t really his natural habitat so we haven’t had the opportunity to get acquainted previously.  Still I know now. So that’s good.  There was also a super enthusiastic side-kick/presentation buddy Vassos Alexander who bounced about doing lots of live commentary and who is a famous celebrity sports journalist apparently.   I should not jest, as a google search tells me he writes for The Guardian, so should be taken seriously.  At this inaugural (I think) VitalityMove event you could hardly move for celebrities, it was a shame I wasn’t the right demographic to necessarily appreciate it at the time. Having said that, cynicism aside, I quite liked the way Jess, Trev, and Vasso (we are all friends now) got stuck in and engaged with everyone.  This is definitely not a conventional running event… that’s both it’s selling point and it’s problem. The razzmataz/ festival feel of it all might appeal to new groups of runners, but also might deter those expecting a more traditional event.  I appreciated it though, so that was good enough for me.  I’m self-centred in that respect.

Next, I was on a mission.  A fellow runner en route had told me how he’d blagged some giant foam hands from the TomTom stand.  Good plan.  He just went and asked for them. Basic assertiveness sometimes pays off. I’ve been searching for one of those for a while (long story for another time) and this was my moment.  I went up to the first tomtom rep who made eye-contact and used immense skill and judgement to frame the wording of my request. ‘I’d like a giant foam hand please?’  Something like that, straight to the point, no messing. He nodded, and headed towards a ball pit surrounded by children and for an awful moment I thought he was just going to take a foam hand off one of them!  My mistake, there was a whole pile of them (foam hands, not children), I got not just one hand but two!  Hurrah.

handy

It seemed only polite by way of appreciation to show that I do have a tomtom and I do really like it, even though it has a few features I still don’t know how to use. Well, this turned into another brilliant chat.  Not only is my TomTom now properly set to miles, and I understand it isn’t broken when it won’t move back from a screen straight away (that’s a protective feature to stop it being over-sensitive and stopping mid-run apparently)  but also  I also got to learn a whole load about ultra running from the Australian rep.  He himself is hoping to do the Marathon des Sables in 2019 as part of a team who were the first aboriginal participants to complete the insanely challenging 251km in six days ultrarun which is basically all across desert.  I think last year.  Exasperatingly I can’t find any references to this awesome achievement on google, there is the Indigenous Marathon Foundation, which raises funds for entries to the New York Marathon for indigenous Asutralians, and is interesting but not the same at all. However, this organisation did the Marathon des Sables as a fund-raiser for the IMF at some point so that came up at the top of all the google hits, so I couldn’t locate the aboriginal team.  Oh well.   Anyway it was so interesting hearing about that, and the inspiration this runner got from reading ‘Born to Run‘ which I keep hearing about and must actually read one day.   The book that is, not the Bruce Springsteen album, different motivational sequence altogether!  Plus we talked about what it’s like living and working in a different country. It was two and a half decades ago, but I did spend a year in Australia and it was fantastic, but I missed unexpected things like radio, a shared sense of humour – which it turns out is much more culturally specific than you may think, strange things, so it was interesting to hear what it was like in reverse, an Australian living long-term in London.  Well, I enjoyed the chat anyway.  As we said farewell, I realised I’d spent the whole conversation stood up on a mini stage whilst he was standing on the ground.  It was only departing that I realised he was very tall, but I hadn’t noticed, I wonder if he had noticed my giraffe?  Thanks tomtom people, for the nice pacers, my nice watch, the foam hands, the opportunity to hold an olympic torch and the running insights.  Good to meet you and you were all great ambassadors for the brand too IMHO for what it’s worth.  Here are all the TomTom gang.  Can you spot the Marathon des Sables wannabee amongst them?  Also foam hand.  Fab eh?

tomtom team spot the Australian

I didn’t feel like leaving straight away though I was peckish by now.  I’d had more water, some coconut water (fab freebie) and splashed out on a cup of decent coffee, but the food options were a bit out of my budget, though in line with the sort of upmarket food stands you get at this kind of event.  I decided to stay for the prize giving.  Winners for 5k and 10k morning and afternoon men and women. Quite good prizes too, tomtom watches and things.  There were some stonking times.   This celebrated the competitive part of the day.  It was good, and nice to see.  I did wonder though, if given this was supposed to be a more inclusive event if they could maybe have had some more random spot prizes so celebrating the non-speedy as well.  You know like at fell races, when they have, oh I don’t know: muddiest legs; finish position same as race number; furthest traveled entrant; most radiant smile; best face-plant of the day whatever. They wouldn’t have to be particularly expensive ones – a foam hand would have done, but something to acknowledge different ways of participating were valid too.  I suppose it depends again what the target group is for this event, it still isn’t entirely clear to me, maybe that’s why it was a hard sell… Even so, it was fun cheering the winners – it was a young girl who picked up second woman for the morning 5k, or maybe even the 10k, I had very little grasp of who got what.   Awesome achievement though, super speedy run!

Oh I nearly forgot, if you care about the actual results then they are here for the VitalityMove event.  Weirdly the results for each distance are merged into one table.  I’m not fussed about my time and can see some merit in this approach for a fun event.  However, it could be a high risk strategy as I suspect more competitive types may think otherwise, if their places in one 10k are diminished in comparison to times for the other.  It will be interesting to see what the feedback about that is.  I say ‘feedback’ what I really mean though is expressions of indignation on facebook, no way of knowing how representative that is of anyone to be fair.  Some will mind though, I’m sure of that.

Prizes dolled out, I decided it was time to go home.  As I was leaving, on a whim I decided I would actually like an event T-shirt and it seemed a way to contribute to the event a bit as I hadn’t paid.  There was no-one queuing for merchandise so it was an opportunity to have a bit of a natter with the woman selling the T-shirts.  Tenner a time.  Large sizes, I think though possible all men’s fit rather than women’s.

tumbleweed corner

Anyway, to cut to the proverbial chase, it quickly became apparent that this was yet a further celebrity sighting for the day!  After debating the relative merits of the T-shirt sizing, and breaking the ice by me wrestling in and out of various sizes whilst she provided real-time feedback on their fit (she didn’t need to say anything, you could see from her facial expressions) we got onto running related story telling. Well dear reader, she is only the current Guinness World Record holder for the Fastest half marathon running backwards (female).  I know!  How exciting is that.  I have a sort of fascination for backwards running because I only found out relatively recently that it is an actual thing and it seems to me truly remarkable.  I tried to pump her for information as much as possible before someone else turned up actually wanting a T-shirt and so she was able to break eye-contact and end the conversation, and it is just as amazing as you might think.  So, to get a few things straight:

  1. Shantelle Gaston-Hird ran in aid of an anti-bullying charity at the Wimslow half earlier this year.  Running for a cause she felt really passionately about helped to motivate her.
  2. The answer to the question ‘but how do you train for a running backwards event?’ is, remarkably enough ‘by running backwards in training.’  Who knew?  The thing is – and I speak as a fancy dress wearer of some experience – I can totally see how it’s easy enough to carry off what might be (erroneously) considered to be an eccentric approach to a running as part of an event.   Half-marathons and marathons everywhere positively welcome the fun-runners and their crowd pleasing antics, but pounding the roads in the dark of winter during training running backwards, or in fancy dress – well that’s a whole new level of dedication.  However, and it’s obvious really when you think about it, the people who live near where she runs locally are so used to it apparently they don’t bat an eyelid these days.  I love that.
  3. Running backwards uses five times more effort than running forwards, so it’s very much more physically demanding
  4. She has only ever fallen over (or was it crashed into something) once in training, and that was because she was distracted by catching her long hair in a zip in her top and didn’t stop running whilst trying to disentangle herself from this mishap.  Distraction related face plant then, we’ve all had them out running.  Haven’t we?
  5. She has a running forward guide on the day to keep it all safe.  Training is a more solitary undertaking
  6. She did it in about 2 and a half hours, that’s splendid is it not?

I was so in awe, I actually remembered to ask for a photo (I’ve so regretted not getting a selfie with the mankini marathon man at London, and I’ve learned from that).  So here it is, plus one from the Wilmslow Guardian article celebrating her world record breaking run by way of further illustration of her achievement, and in case there are still some doubters out there.  A.Maz.Ing.  Fact!  Maybe I’ll try to Photoshop me in alongside her later.  First of all I have to see if I have that on my laptop and learn how to use it, so best you don’t wait up in anticipation.

So you see, this whole event was jam-packed with awesome people.  All runners are great, you just have to bother to find out their individual stories, everyone has one. You have your own too, I’m sure.

I drifted back to the car park, snapping the dancing troupes and a couple of particularly photogenic children in the throng as I left.

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So there you go. Debut VitalityMove, yep, a grand day out indeed.  Geronimo  Sky is quite tired now though, so I think she’ll have a break from running for a bit, but her medal count is pretty good to date.  Bodes well.

For my part, I think this is a model for a running event that could indeed run and run (pun intended) but whether it is a financially viable one I’m not so sure.  I gained the distinct impression that many of the people I’d met were last-minute entries who used coupons many and various to get generous discounts.  I hope they do try to offer the  event again, with a bit of tweaking there should be room in the running calendar for more days out and about like this.  However, I do fear the VitalityMove offering may instead disappear into the mists of time like the town of Brigadoon. For those of us who discovered it and were there, it will be the stuff of joyful memories and legend, but fated not to be seen again for a hundred years.  For my part though, I had a grand day out, as did Geronimo, so thanks Jess and everyone who had the imagination to think this day up and make it happen.  It was worth doing, and I for one appreciated it, which is a start.  Cheers!

So til next time, happy running y’all.  Get out there and embrace them there hills! 🙂

 

P.S.   PHOTOS: There are/will be lots of photos – you could buy a bundle in advance for £10 which was pretty good value as there were lots  of cameras around on the day – O had 61 photos of me to browse through.  Granted about 50 of them made me want to vanish off the face of the earth instantaneously, or at the very least never be seen in public again, but some were really run.  All captured the sense of occassion.  I didn’t find the website user-friendly though, it took some tenacity to get the darned photos to download and I never worked out how to get them directly onto facebook, which in retrospect is probably a massive blessing.  Otherwise it was £25 afterwards which is a bit of a jump in price.  AWOL have some in the public domain here taken from social media sites; and Jessica Ennis put loads of vidoes up on her official facebook page on the day.  Here’s one of the general atmosphere on the stage by way of example. I’m guessing more photos will follow on both the VitalityMove Facebook page and the AWOL Facebook page at some point.

and they have!  Check out this selection from the  Chatsworth Album here from VitalityMove for a start.

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Categories: 10km, off road, race, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The glamour of Grindleford, getting stylish on the trails…

Digested read:  your personal running mojo can be elusive, but you’ll get by with the help of your friends.  You might get wet as well though, so go out prepared.  That’s my experience anyway.  Running buddies are awesome. Just go run.

You’ll have to wait for the visual punchline to fully understand and appreciate the  ‘getting stylish’ reference of the heading.  I’m not suggesting by the way, it will necessarily be worth the wait, only pointing out that the delay is unavoidable. It’s just the way the cookie crumbles.  Proverbially that is, there are no actual cookies available to readers of this post unless you have taken the precaution of sourcing your own.  Which would be sensible to be fair, but is beyond my area of control or influence.

So.  I’ve been feeling really wobbly about what I euphemistically refer to as my ‘running’ of late. This isn’t only in the literal sense.  Whilst it is true that I increasingly find it impossible-to-ignore the independent motion of my extra layers of adipose tissue that jiggle unbidden whenever I attempt any turn of speed.  I swear parts of my anatomy have developed a life of their own, whole colonies are boiling beneath.  I refer also to my metaphorical negative and wobbly state of mind.  I’m currently in utterly disheartened mode, my ‘running career’ (if that isn’t the ultimate oxymoron of all time) braked completely in Cambodia, and since I’ve returned to the UK I seem to be slower and more lumbering than ever before.  My running mojo has evaporated.  I am too shamed to show my face at running club, and feel more intimidated than ever by ‘proper runners’ bounding by at organised events, or ostentatiously stretching and warming up at the startlines.  To be fair, this latter issue is I know mine not theirs.  In the main ‘proper runners’ have only ever been supportive and encouraging to me.  Perhaps it is just human nature.  Whether or not it is a universal truth, it’s definitely an individual one.  Whatever, my personal paranoia, ensures it is only ever the notable exceptions whose actions and voices spring into my mind.  My negative self-talk hardly needs a mocking chorus of others to reinforce it.   I can be loud enough all on my own. This dear reader, is how negative running cycles start.  Not in the ‘now I must undertake a duathlon as this cycle is so compelling and it’s all running round me as well‘ sense, more in the ‘this sofa is a way preferable option to humiliating myself in public by running‘ one.  Only, with great irony, it usually isn’t. The sofa I mean, really being the better option.  There is no great mystery to running, the only way to get back into it (injuries and over-training aside) is to get back into it.  That is, to go out and run.  Stop/start slow/ fast or otherwise.   It remains true that once completed, I have never regretted a run ever (though I will concede that I have sometimes deeply regretted undertaking a run at the time).  Short term memory failings, brought about by post-run endorphins are in this respect the runner’s friend.

never run again

So it was, that feeling really crap about life the universe and everything in general and running in particular, when a suggestion of hooking up with some slow and steady trail explorers popped into my inbox I hesitated before swiping left.  What if?

In the end, I decided not to over-think it, just go out and try. After all, it was a lovely day, full of promise for evening sunshine in verdant countryside. What’s the worst? ‘Yes please‘ I said, adding a ‘Simon’s Cat’ emoticon for good measure and hitting send… and then I did my research….

So the plan was to do a recce for the Grindleford Fell Race.  I’ve not actually entered this year, well not yet anyway.  But lots of lovely smiley-by-name and smiley-by-nature smiley paces comrades have.  It’s 15th June this year, and not many spaces left at the time of writing.  I know nothing about this event.  I decided to have a little look at the route.  This induced near apoplectic paralytic panic, as I inadvertently happened on the route for the Grindleford Gallop instead.  The Grindleford Gallop is 21 miles and 3000ft of ascent, and requires navigation.  Not at all the gentle confidence-building romp out I’d fondly imagined I’d signed up to.  Cripes!  Fortunately, once I’d mopped up the puddles of tea spat out in shock and disbelief earlier, I was able to find the actual fell race route. That was much more encouraging.  4.5 miles, and ideal for newcomers. The Grindleford Fell race website tells us that:

The Grindleford Fell Race takes place over a 4.5miles route starting on the playing fields. The route takes you up through Hay Wood, the Longshore Estate and back through Padley Gorge. The celebrated river crossing within site of the finishing line offers excellent spectating opportunities (!).

The route is well marshalled and partially taped.

This race is suitable for newcomers to fell racing and requires no local knowledge or navigational skills.

Phew, that’s OK then.

So it was, at the appointed hour, I stood outside waiting for my pick up just as the heavens opened and freezing torrential rain started to pour out of the sky. This was not the plan.  However, dear reader, this is also a learning point potentially. For the conscientious-if-not-keen runner such as myself, making an agreement to meet is half the battle.  I’d never have gone out for a run in my own in the face of such inclement weather, but we’d agreed, so what can you do?  You have to turn out don’t you.

Thank you running buddy for sweeping me up and out of the rain. We peered through the rain beating down on the windscreen and squinted through the mist as we headed out to Grindleford.  The rendezvous point was at the Cricket Club Pavilion, where at 7.30 on a Tuesday evening there was ample parking. We sat waiting for our other Smiley compatriots to appear.  We didn’t risk venturing out the car. Who’d want to step out into that?  Besides, seated where we were, we had a great view of a rather intrepid ground maintenance guy. He was mowing the near vertiginous slopes of grass that were alongside and behind the clubhouse with what looked alarmingly like an electric powered lawnmower.  I seem to remember something in my science O levels about the perils of eletricity and water mixing  in the proximity of a person.  Or was that Frankenstein?  Anyway it was pretty impressive.  It seemed to me reminiscent of that sport of extreme ironing.  You know where people take ironing boards to remote and inaccessible places and then iron random items of clothing. To be fair, this extreme mowing looked more hazardous. Wet slippery slope, and storm overhead.  High adrenalin inducing activity I’d say.  There are no photos of the extreme mowing in action, so here is an extreme ironing one instead.  Enjoy.

440px-Extermeironingrivelin

After a bit, four of us assembled, and we had to leave the sanctuary of the car.  Fortuitously, we had all got some sort of wet weather gear with us, even though we’d all been caught out by the elements.  Beyond my running jacket, I rather stupidly hadn’t brought anything else.  I know it’s summer but it got darker than I expected and with hindsight a head torch, whilst not necessary this time, would probably have been sensible just in case.  I hadn’t even worn my fell shoes.   This is my problem.   Hope over experience.  I have done a few fell races now, but I still am astonished to find that they all involve rough terrain and… a hill! Why is that always such a surprise?  I think I just block out the bad memories otherwise I really would never venture out in the peaks again.

This run was no exception.   We set off at a steady pace down a little road, over a wooden foot bridge and then almost immediately off down a footpath into the woods.  I say down a footpath, but you know what?  It was definitely UP.  A lot of up.  I was puffing and feeling hopeless in next no time, just like I was doing a ‘proper run’.  Fell races have hills, there is a clue in the name.  To be fair, in the grand scheme of things this was by no means the steepest or longest of available hauls heavenwards.  But, it was enough of a challenge to me, trying to drag my weary carcass contrary to the pull of gravity that I was seriously wondering if this ‘joyfully venturing out with others’ was just romantic nonsense.  Running uphill is hard, and this wasn’t the most auspicious of starts.  One of our quartet sped by like a little rocket. Impressive.  I caved in and started walking.  I will concede it was beautiful though. The rain was heavy enough that it penetrated the tree canopy, but it was so green.  Full of moss and ferns, and, unsurprisingly perhaps, we had the place to ourselves.

grindleford moss

As we reached the top of the path, I realised I’d made the rookie error of not having started my tomtom, so all that elevation was completely wasted on me.  It wont be on strava so it never happened, whatever my calves might be telling me the day after.  Oh well.  I had no idea of the route, seeing my role here as follower rather than leader.  The consensus of those in the know was that the fell race would probably carry on through the woods for a bit, but that might take us into private land and no-one was really confident about the exact path.  Instead, we headed off through a little gate and along a path in green, green fields.  Heading towards Longshaw. To my embarrassment, I didn’t realise how these paths all connect together.  It’s in fact ridiculously close.  The fields were beautiful, and this was a gentler gradient albeit still uphill.  I can’t really talk and run, which, made me feel as if I was being a bit antisocial. On reflection though, it was – and indeed perhaps always is – probably a blessing for those compelled to run alongside me!

I don’t really know where we went exactly, but we did end up at Longshaw, and seeing spring lambs cavorting and staring cattle and calves silently observing our progress.  It was a gorgeous route.  With a good flat section on fairly solid paths for those who wished to stretch out.  Hang on, I’ll get the strava route for you. It’s incomplete, but you’ll get the idea.  See if you can spot the missing section?  Not exactly a mensa challenge is it?

grindleford recce route.jpg

We emerged and crossed a road towards Padley Gorge, where we thought we’d have to paddle across a stream, but were able to pick our way across on stepping-stones staying pretty dry. Into more lovely woodland.  Maybe because the uphill bit was now behind me, or maybe because my legs were warmed up by now, or maybe I’d just settled into the new running company this was bit was the most fun.  We hopped and picked our way over the bouncy woodland tracks, and tried to remember to look up and around us not just down at the tree roots and random stones.  We took time to pose for selfies (very important) and agreed how lovely it was to be out and about.  We weren’t out for very long really, but it does transport you to a seemingly parallel universe.  The rain had stopped.  The gradient was in our favour, as the paths ahead led down, ironically, things were looking up.

We emerged, more road.  And then I got very confused about where we went.  We sort of cut across what must have been a very over-grown footpath, alarming various sheep that were clearly unused to pathfinders emerging from the nettles and thistles at all, let alone at seemingly superhuman (er hem) speed.  We ended up on a lovely green, flat flood plain, alongside the river.  My faster companions sprinted ahead.  I take seriously my role in life as ballast at the back, so didn’t deviate too much from that.  I caught them up as they stopped, staring at the alarmingly fast flowing river.  We had to cross it.  The irony that we’d endeavoured to stay dry up top, only to now plunge in water and get completely soaked was striking. Even so, there was little alternative.  Our pathfinder leader espied some steps on the opposite bank, that she declared to be ‘familiar’.  Good enough for the rest of us.

Like the billy goats gruff, we took it in turns to wade across.  It wasn’t massively deep, though a lot deeper than I’d anticipated for sure, well over  my knees.   It also felt pretty firm underfoot – but what was more disconcerting was the current.  I don’t know how experienced fell runners sprint through such crossings. I’m built for solidity, but I felt like my legs were going to be swept from underneath me.  It was fun though.  You feel kind of intrepid, but it’s actually pretty tame in the grand scheme of things.  Even so, I did rather regret my choice of shoes. Inexplicably, despite the fact this was a fell race recce, as referenced earlier, I hadn’t thought to wear my fell shoes, but instead was wearing my new hoka trail ones.  I do really like them, but my fell raisers would have been better.  Water went into my hokas alright, but doesn’t drain out in the effortless fountain I’ve come to expect as the standard response from my fellraisers.  Ah well, we live and learn I suppose.  I may be slower than others on the uptake at time, but I daresay I’ll get there eventually.

The river crossing complete, there were a few short steps and then, the moment you were waiting for, a style!  We aren’t completely stupid, the style was padlocked, necessitating a clamber over.  I’m not sure quite why. We weren’t doing it just for fun or ostentatious ‘tough mudder’ training.   Probably we had committed an inadvertent trespass, but there was no-one standing with a gun making us retrace our steps so that was OK.  Rather just our lovely pathfinder with her phone to capture the exact moment of our stylish exit from the trail.  You can judge for yourself exactly how much the camera loves us!  I know. A thing of wonder indeed!

Inevitably, as I’d spent the whole run completely clueless as to our exact whereabouts, I was a bit surprised to find we were pretty much back where we started.  Just the playing fields themselves to cover with an optional sprint finish.  In the middle of it sat a somewhat incongruously placed mandarin duck.  It pointedly ignored us I felt. This was a duck that would not be moved. It sat motionless, and fearless as we ran by.  I don’t have a picture of the actual duck, but here is one for illustrative purposes, they can sort of make themselves all small and tucked up.  Amazing creatures really.  Gotta love a duck.

george mandarin duck1

And that was it. Run over.  Game over. We were back with the cars.  Grindleford yomp concluded.  By the way, the extreme mowing cycle had been completed in our absence. I must say the ground looked splendid. The mower operative was pushing his mower across the car park and both appeared intact. On this occasion at least it seemed he had survived the challenge and neither tumbled in front of the roaring blades of his run away mower at any critical point, nor been struck by lightning.  He lives to mow another day….. this time.

The conclusion dear reader?  Despite my initial reluctance, poor shoe choice and the inclement weather you know what.  It WAS fun.  My running buddies were supportive, encouraging and great company.   And you know what – sometimes they have running demons to wrestle with too!  Who knew.  I’m not the only person in the world ever to be riddled with self-doubt over running, or to have misplaced their running mojo.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say my confidence to get out and get running has returned.  But I would say that my desire to try to find my running mojo again has.  It is true it seems that:  ‘I really regret that run’ said no-one ever.

regret

So if your running mojo currently seems AWOL.   Worry not, like a long forgotten missing sock, it is probably still out there somewhere, and you can expect to be unexpectedly reunited in time.  No-one expects the unexpected of course, so you won’t believe me.  I’m not sure I do myself.  But in the meantime, surely there is no harm in yomping out in search of it.  The search is part of the fun.

So thank you for the unexpected yomp out and about Smiley running buddies.  You are smiling, shining stars indeed.  Go you!  Go us! Go everyone! Don’t think, just run. There will be cake!

dont-think-about-it

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

A call to capes. Let’s out our hidden parkrun superheroes. Just saying.

Capes would be good.  I mean, I do like the milestone tees, they are a unifying and egalitarian gesture.  Anyone can achieve them, if they turn out on the pre-requisite number of occasions and – in the case of runners at least – are clutching their barcodes at the finish.  This is fine and dandy and altogether delightful.  However, I was a bit taken aback recently, when I discovered what should have been obvious to any of us really,  if I’d actually thought about it for more than a millisecond previously.   I speak dear reader of those tireless few,who have almost literally given birth to new parkruns after lengthy gestation periods and sometimes bloody, prolonged and painful labour too.  All of this pre-parkrun planning goes under the radar in terms of public recognition.  A year of blood, sweat, tears and worse still – planning meetings and fund-raising too, and not so much as a single credit to bring you closer to achieving the much coveted purple volunteering tee.   Yes, yes, seeing the event come to fruition may well be ‘its own reward‘ but, hey, we can do better than that surely?

It is time we gave more public recognition to our superheroes within. Those, who having had the spark of an idea that a new parkrun is needed, actually went ahead and ‘made it so!’  They put in many months of tireless – and let’s be honest, sometimes frustrating and potentially thankless work so that we the many can get out and run.  Their efforts bring new life to the international parkrun community, be it the standard issue 5k or the glorious fun-sized 2k junior option.

It’s not that this work is unappreciated, but be honest, I can’t be alone in sort of forgetting about it over time.  I rock up at my local parkrun or a new venue as a tourist, I do thank the marshals and I do thank the run directors, I volunteer from time to time, and I am on record as being willing to bow down and worship at the feet of P S-H himself, but as to the inaugural start-up teams.  Nope, no idea who they are for the most part.  Currently, it is inevitable that years down the line I have no idea which precise individuals at the various runs I go to got down and dirty (not like that smutty-minded people) and did the hard graft to get it off the ground in the first place.  Maybe it doesn’t always matter, parkrun is a collective community endeavour at its heart and we have all seen in recent months the dangers a cult of personality can bring to the world… however, I think some sort of visual symbol to alert the many of the sacrifices of the few would be a grand thing.  We have our milestone tees, why not something for the parkrun startup teams who have laboured locally?

A symbol that would mean anyone of us could recognise and honour these individuals.  Let’s all celebrate our own Totally Awesome parkrun Startup Superheroes.  I suppose that makes them TAPS?  Well, what we call them isn’t the important thing, think of it as just a working title for now – what matters is how we celebrate their unique contribution to the parkrun family.  Just as a run that isn’t on Strava is doomed to be forever lost from the collective mind (you might as well have stayed in bed, it basically didn’t happen), so too we are in danger of overlooking the contribution of our local TAPS if we don’t set about some sort of recognition scheme PDQ.

There are accolades aplenty to choose from.  Lapel badges (yawn), sashes (bit reminiscent of school netball for me), laurels (not great for running in), bronze statues (would necessitate more fund-raising and committees), carriage clock… blah de blah, but what we need is something more distinctive, life affirming and joyful. Also something that would be absolutely fabulous when running – or for non-running TAPSS standing about in with authority or whilst generally striding about purposefully (with or without clipboard).  Dear reader, the solution is clear. What we need for these super-heroes who move amongst us are parkrun themed running capes.

SONY DSC

No really, I’ve researched it, and the idea is genius.

Think about it.  There is a reason why superheroes wear capes. They imbue authority and flourish, they are available in a variety of colours and FACT they make you run faster, or longer, depending on what you want.   What’s more, any child could tell you the donning of a fine superhero cape enables you to fly!  I think our TAPSS teams have earned that gift just for starters.  I think once we get some momentum behind the idea we can improve the offer too.  I’m thinking they could be customised to leave a trail of glitter in their wake and be accessorised to shoot off fireworks or ticker-tape for example on special occasions.  At the very least, people should be able to choose between long billowing out behind types, or short ripply ones.  I dare say there is already research out there on swishing and swooshing options according to width and length.   Right now, I’m just wanting buy in in theory.   Design specs are details really, as long as we have amazing capes for amazing people.  Just imagine the whoosh of capes as these superheroes come whizzing by or simply move amongst us.  Sigh. Glorious indeed.

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The TAPSS are already superheroes afterall, the cape is just a bit of rubber stamping by way of fabric.  What’s not to like?

Just saying.  Who’s with me?

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

Silverdale Stampede – reimagining the school run

Digested read:  Silverdale School put on an inaugural 10k trail run on 14 May 2017.  I went.  It was fun.  I went home with a pineapple!*  Will go again next year.  *Note, not everyone got a pineapple, but that’s OK because running in such a lovely setting is its own reward.

It always seems a good idea at the time, entering a trial run. To be honest, that’s how it starts. You see the innocuous looking poster for a local 10k at some vague and distant point in time.  From the sanctuary of your sofa, you imagine the joy you will experience as you cavort through idyllic fields whilst breathing in the loveliness of the local countryside.  I think it’s called positive visualisation. This leads you to believe you will romp round hardly breaking a sweat, before concluding this graceful10k trot out with a seemingly effortless sprint through a perfectly configured finish funnel.  This finale flourish of your glorious finish, will be to a chorus of congratulatory screams from an assembly of awe-struck spectators, who will be crying with admiration at your achievement and tossing victory laurels at you in between shouting your name in adulation.  You yourself will conclude your challenge with a self-deprecating wave of your hand to indicate ‘really, it was nothing‘  subtext ‘see me, super human, born to run‘.  I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Truthfully, the actual experience of participating in the inaugural Silverdale Stampede wasn’t entirely in keeping with how I envisaged it from the sanctuary of my own sitting room some weeks earlier, but it was still well worth the effort of getting my weary carcass up and out on a Sunday morning.  Hopefully it will be just the first Silverdale Stampede of many more, and next year, maybe you too dear reader will come join the fun.  Find out for yourself whether or not ‘fun run’ is the ultimate oxymoron or a cast iron guarantee of grit, glory and gratification, and yes indeed running fun!  Albeit susceptible to type one (genuinely fun at the time) and type two (only identifiable as fun retrospectively) variants, depending on your point of view.  Do your own research people, don’t rely on what others tell you, thereby lies most of the misinformation in the world. FACT.  But obviously, don’t take my word for it.  Way too ironic.

So this was the first clue – a poster proclaiming the intention to cause a Stampede at a local school.  There were some surprises in the initial publicity.  Back in my day, schools didn’t particularly encourage stampedes, for example British Bulldog was banned early on in my school career for health and safety reasons – you can have one too many unconsious school pupils on a school playground apparently –  though I’m proud to say at my junior school we continued to play it under the new branding of ‘sheep sheep come home’.  Enterprising peers I had at the time.  I don’t know if British Bulldog is still alive and kicking (literally and metaphorically) in playgrounds today, but it seems that the practise of chasing down a quarry in the name of sport at school is still alive and well.  Feel for the teachers subjected here not only to the pressures of Ofsted inspections and sats but being pursued cross county by a manic mass.  Still, whatever it takes to gather the necessary enthusiasm and momentum to get people along to the event I suppose.   Perhaps students will be lured by the opportunity to hunt down their esteemed mentors.  I expect that on catching them they’d want to thank them for all their educational labours on behalf of their teenage charges.  For me, the push to commit to entering was more the strictly-off-the-record insider information that amongst the (many) spot prizes donated that might potentially be bestowed on participating runners, was a large quantity of gin. Also, at that point in time, more prizes than runners.  Result!  I might yet be truthfully able to claim having one something at a sports day!   Where running is concerned, it really helps to think about what motivates you at an early stage in your training.  The most elite of runners will tell you so.  Check out the strap line for our very own local GB triathletes Les Brutelles for confirmation if you must, they proclaim ‘We swim a bit, bike a bit, run a bit and drink gin quite a lot‘. So fair enough to have them as role models whose lead we must follow. Surely?  Totally legitimate part of a training plan, apparently. (But see note earlier, about always checking out primary resources in research for yourself)

bargain prices

So, I set about entering…. and found to my amazement that early entries required the inclusion of a cheque.  It’s been a while since I’ve had to write out one of them. Not to worry, sourcing my cheque book in amongst the debris of my living space was  a sort of cross training exercise all of its own.  Much squatting and stretching into dark corners before it was located.  The cheque was sent, and a couple of days later my email acknowledgement was duly received.  I was in.  So ever conscientious if not keen, that meant I was going to be running in this Silverdale Stampede, ready or not.  Mostly not, but hey ho.

It has been ridiculously dry of late, so I was impressed that the Silverdale School PTA managed to organise quite a downpour overnight the day before to ensure the off-road trails would be appropriately bouncy and the vegetation newly washed and bursting out with fresh growth.  On waking there was still some rain about, but it brightened up.  In an unprecedented turn of events, my temperature testing ritual (arm out of an upstairs window) indicated it might get pretty hot out there.  Today I would run in a T-shirt under my Smiley vest, I don’t think this has ever happened to me at an organised event before – I always wear a long-sleeved top.  It offers more protection against inclement elements, allergy inducing under-growth and frankly is a more forgiving cut.  I don’t reject it lightly.  However, even I had to concede I’d probably collapse in the heat if I insisted on wearing it today. Well, I would if I was planning to wear a Smiley vest as well, and I couldn’t not wear that.  Hence, a running first in my world anyway.  I would bare my arms to the world in pursuit of glory at the Silverdale Stampede.  Two inaugural events on one day!  The planets must have aligned in some special debut inducing way.

I’d never actually been to Silverdale School before, or indeed any school for years and years, decades probably.  I expect schools to smell of cabbage and carbolic soap, be fitted with huge noisy radiator pipes that will, according to oral history, give you extensive piles for life should you risk sitting on them even for a snatched instant. Toilets will have cracked sinks and corners heaped with tapeworm eggs amongst the dust of ages.  Honestly, in ‘O’ level biology we were told that this was a common finding in the crevices of old school toilets with cracked tile floors.

I was quite taken aback then, to cruise into the car park of the school and be greeted by a grand spanking new building that was more reminiscent of a recently developed university campus than a traditional school.  It was impressive, space age, pristine buildings towering upwards – but also somewhat intimidating.  I parked over in a discrete corner (I was very early) and surveyed the coming and goings for a bit before plucking up courage to check out the registration system for the run.

Once it got to what seemed to me to be a critical mass of people in hi-vis and miscellaneous looking runners, I ventured out.  It was a really efficient set up. There were two tables, one for pre-registered keenies (er hem) like me, and one for enter on the day, fair-weather running chancers.   There was also a sea of marshals donned in epilepsy-inducing orange hi-viz, and a slightly manic looking organiser, but it would be rude to draw undue attention to that.  I’m sure these event days are quite stressful enough as it is without my adding to the trauma with pointing and laughing in a less than supportive fashion just at the point of delivery…

I got my number 303. I found the symmetry of these digits most pleasing.  Accelerate donated the race bibs, which I think you’ll agree was jolly sporting.  I was also impressed by the number of entrants… until I found out that in fact the organisers had deliberately allocated the numbers quite randomly, to avoid people being deterred by the realisation that entry levels were quite low.  It was a slow burn getting people to enter.  I think partly the ‘cheque in the post’ system was a deterrent, and some people deliberately opted to pay on the day as it was ‘more money for the school coffers’ that way.  A noble sentiment, but possibly a misguided one.  They may have felt pushing the organisers to the point of nervous collapse as they had a growing fear there would be nowt by tumble weed to be seen on the course on the day was but a small price for someone else to pay in the circumstances. Next year though people, do the right thing, sign up early.  Give the organisers the gift of sleep in the weeks coming up to The Big Day.  Best start looking for your cheque book now though, to save time.

Number collected, the next great challenge was to collect other runners I knew, and in particular herd together fellow Smiley Paces members for the obligatory pre-event selfies.  I found wood-runners, Monday Mobsters and Smiley Paces in abundance.  Quite a few local running clubs also had a smattering of attendees, but it was a pretty mixed field, which is always good.  I know I’m always going to be the ballast at the back, but I like to think I have a chance of staying in sight of the faster runners for a bit at least…

The next mission was to get an idea of the route.  There was a map of sorts on display, but as usual I couldn’t really make sense of it.  Enough to know that it was 10k, mostly off-road, involving country tracks, up through the Limb Valley woodland trails ‘undulating’ or ‘hilly’ depending on your current levels of fitness and optimism on setting out.  I did romp round wearing my tomtom watch – more for adornment than extra speed, but it means I can upload a view of the route for you here. …. inevitably, I forgot to turn it on until we were already underway, but it gives you some idea of where we went.  Also, on the plus side, it might make my finish time look less lamentable as well…  Looking at the strava map afterwards it makes it seem quite a ‘bitty’ course,  but in fact it flowed really well when running, I wasn’t aware of going round in pointless circles at the time, which is rather what it looks like with the dubious benefit of hindsight.  Does anyone else think it looks like a bad Strava art kangaroo?  No?  Just me then.

Silverdale stampede route

So, basically how it went was this.  Lots of vague milling around when people collected numbers, marshals set off excitedly to stand and point and clap where appropriate on the course.  I don’t like to label people generally, but what can you do when choose to label themselves?  One Smiley was right in the middle of  a venn diagram where ‘smilies’ and ‘teachers from Silverdale school’ intersect.  She therefore was tooled up with a ‘chase me’ sign.  Schools do have to have their targets after all, even if they are not always entirely realistic.  I am pleased to report that she took the precaution of heading off before the majority of the field, disappearing up the hill and out of sight, and from the pictures no doubt retaining that lead until the end! Go Smiley!

As she went on her way, the rest of us were shooed towards the start area.  There was a tarpaulin on which you could leave your stuff, and a bit more milling about, during which time super-keen people did stretches and Jenny drills, whilst the more nonplussed of us blinked into the sun, focusing less on warm up and more on personal energy conservation.

Eventually, aided by a megaphone – always a boon at pre-race briefings – there was the official welcome to this auspicious inaugural event… and then came the health and safety warnings. The gist of the latter was beware below for roots and above for low hanging branches, and of each other, and other route users, and the sky falling in as well I think.  Not that any of this mattered as we’d all signed away all and any liability at the outset anyway.  Yay, that’s the thrill of the chase indeed.  The other teachers to chase were hauled before the crowd for adulation and identification purposes, and sent on their way, the rest of us gathered ready to depart.

I was a bit perturbed by the presence of a beautifully marked out athletic track, but too late to pull out now.  Please don’t make me run 10k in laps!  Soon enough we were off and on our way.  Not a huge field, but a perfectly formed one. Tail marker at the back, and then, set off to chase and overtake all of us, stealth Dark Peak super-runner, picking us off one by one as she made her way through to the front.  Mostly, I got the view from the back, and why not, it was a very fine view, and anyway, I like to get my money’s worth on a race by spending as much time as possible out on the course, plus it’s good to be consistent.  I believe I was, maintaining my position in the rankings throughout.

Shortly after our departure, the fun runners were sent on their way to do the 4km route, dragging panting parents in their wake.  Some of the younger participants were also sporting local running club tops – who knew Dark Peak started them so young?  Perhaps that explains some of the single-minded resolve of those fell runners you glimpse vanishing into the hill mists in these parts, as elusive as any mysterious mountain yeti.   They are drawing on decades of self-discipline to keep them going on like the machines they are.   I didn’t see the photos of the fun-run start until afterwards, but my, they looked at the take off as if this running malarkey was a serious endeavour indeed. Go them!   Ooh – and I see a Smiley in the throng too. That’s grand!  We get everywhere.  Hallamshire Harriers too!  A veritable rash of them.  Well supported run I’d say!

dark peak starting young

Although the start makes it seem flat, in fact you immediately have to heave-ho up a hill, which wouldn’t matter quite so much if it weren’t for the fact that you are being waved off by the fun runners so have to keep running for fear of ridicule and shame if you do not. Friendly marshals did indeed line the way. Some were really communicative and encouraging, some young women early on (students I presume) were excellent ambassadors for the school with the claps, directional pointing and encouraging comments.   Their male counterparts a bit further up the gravel track didn’t do too badly either.   I do always try to thank marshals on every run I do, but sometimes I am able to communicate my breathless appreciation more eloquently than others.  May I thank all you lovely marshals here at least.  You were fab!

The route was well-marked, but the field spread out quickly.  The overwhelming majority of runners pulled out of sight from me within minutes, I had a couple of runners in view for a while, but as soon as we got to twisty turny bits I couldn’t see them any more.  A few runners behind me were soon out of earshot, so I did most of the run on my own. That was OK.  There were interactions with other people out and about. There were two women on a bench early on who, seeing I was struggling a bit,  stated emphatically ‘well, you can see we aren’t running anywhere!’ which I took as encouragement rather than rebuke as I hauled on past them with their cheery raucous (but benign)  laughter still ringing in my ears.  There were a few dog walkers, some other runners – which was confusing, as they were coming the other way.

The route went up and down, and in and out, and it was really, genuinely lovely.  I did have a couple of nervous moments navigating, one early on as I romped down a footpath that terminated at the roads near to Whirlow Hall but a marshal did appear out of the woods in my peripheral vision and sent me on up limb valley. I’ve only ever run down that before, when it is a lovely bouncy woodland trail.  It seemed a lot longer on the way up, running it in reverse, but it was scenic.   I did nearly asphyxiate it is true, but that was only because I inadvertently swallowed a larger than I’d have liked insect of some sort which got caught in my throat.  Earlier a smiley first aider had headed out clutching a first aid kit, but I reckoned I wouldn’t make it to that point on one breath, and seriously feared I’d have to flag down a walker at some point and somehow communicate to them that they needed to carry out an emergency tracheotomy with the tube from a biro.  This sounds a bit alarming, but fortunately it is such a commonplace plot device on everything from Casualty to Doctors that I reckon most of us would happily have a bash at doing a DIY tracheotomy on someone else given the chance.  Just imagine the bragging rights.  I suppose it would have to be successful if you were to dine out on the story to be fair, but you aren’t going to get good at it if you don’t take up chances to practice are you?  In the event my obstruction cleared itself, so I could spend the rest of the run not worrying about death by suffocation, but rather hating myself for inflicting death on some poor unwitting insect.  Not compatible with my claim for vegetarian credentials.  Dark thoughts can often come upon me when I run, but that’s OK, I get to work through them and replace them with jollier ones in due course.  I think that’s quite common.  Although now I write it down I have induced a wave of personal paranoia that no, it is only me on whom this tidal wave of negative thought has landed….

Up, up through the valley.   Between you and me, I might have caved in and walked for some of the uphill bits, but I think you’ll find if you walk and no-one is there to see you, it doesn’t really count.   Then, at exactly the point I most wished for it, there was a smiling marshal holding out plastic cups of water.  I never carry water when I run, and it didn’t occur to me until I was under way that there might not be water stations on this route. It was only a small event after all.  I was very glad of it at this point, and the excuse to get my breath back before heading off.  I didn’t want to gulp down too much though, so just had a few sips before handing the cup back.  Don’t want to litter these precious routes.  As you emerge from the woods of Limb valley, there was a path to the left, almost doubling back on yourself, that I’ve never noticed before.  You head off along this, over some wooden boards, and up and over a couple of styles and then  you get to green, green meadows that were like something out of an award-winning costume drama set in the English countryside. Verdant fields of swaying grasses with gamboling lambs skipping about them in all their late-spring gorgeousness.  Even better, I realised that I was in fact still in sight of other runners.  Yay, no need to navigate, only blindly follow. The views were stunning. It might not have been the best running weather in that it was a bit hot, but my it was really gorgeous, and lovely to be introduced to a local route that I hadn’t discovered before.  No particular reason, I suppose I’ve just got used to running the trials I usually run, and have become lazy about exploring new footpaths.

Joy on joy – another Smiley marshal ahead, also brandishing water and throwing out words of encouragement. Initially somewhat unnervingly even greeting me by name!  Closer inspection revealed we’d met before at a Trust 10 Longshaw 10k some months ago, yay.  Small world, Smiley solidarity goes a long way.  Mind you, I genuinely believe all local runners will support other runners, but it’s human nature to have an extra soft spot for you own running club especially one as all round awesome as we Smilies.  A group built as much around coffee and cake stops (sometimes prosecco and gin) as it is about social running rendezvous!

The woods were lovely, but pretty empty…

to the woods

At one or two points there were photographers lurking.  Mixed blessing.  At one point in the empty woods, when I thought no-one was about I resorted to hopping for quite a way. It’s a great running drill as running is basically a one-legged sport, might as well give it a go whilst no-one is watching.  Anyway, another Smiley was in situ, lurking ready to snap me in action.  It may not be an entirely graceful sight, but hopping off-road for that sort of distance is harder than you think, especially when there are loads of tree roots to be negotiated.

action shot LM

There weren’t any km markers on the route, and my tomtom wasn’t set properly due to operator error.  However, towards the end the route became a bit familiar again. Some fo this was because you do go back along partially the same tracks, and some of it is because it takes similar paths to the Dig Deep Whirlow 10k, which meant I wasn’t quite so caught out by the sneaky uphill towards the end.  You emerge from the woods to a style where the route was confusing, do you go left across to the next style or down the hill?  The path went in two directions.  There was a marker but it had clearly fallen down and wasn’t pointing anywhere.  I saw other runners ahead and decided to continue my sheep like following, it is a strategy that has served me well before.  It was a good call.  It really was nearly home now.  A few twists and turns, but lots of marshals, and soon I was back in the playing fields and could see the finish.

The last bit is all down hill and a pleasing ‘weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee’ moment.  Less pleasingly, everyone else was assembled round the little tent where the prize – giving was underway, so although the event wasn’t entirely done and dusted, there was no mistaking that I was definitely a comparatively late finisher.  I could hear the announcements, and then the presiding official espied me and encouraged everyone to cheer me home!  That was pretty cool.  I may be shallow and misguided.  In fact, I almost definitely am.  However, rather than weep at the humiliation of my slow time, I chose to celebrate and embrace the shouts that helped speed me in.  It is fun!  My five seconds of fame.  Even more pleasing, I had no sooner come through the finish, than my number was pulled out of the raffle for a spot prize!  What?

Couldn’t have timed it better if it was scripted.  I picked up the fastest turn of speed I’d managed all day and sprinted  over to the tent to choose my prize. There was a ridiculous number of offerings, eye-popping choice.  I went for the fruit and veg hamper, because that seems the sort of fell-race appropriate local produce option.  Though I don’t think Waitrose necessarily grew the pineapple in the Sheffield area.  Very fine hamper though.  Yay!

Hamper of goodies (1)

Loads of us got prizes, and we managed to gather a few Smilies for a post race shot.  Not sure why it looks like teacher Smiley has dropped her trousers especially for the photo, but I don’t suppose anyone will notice. There’s always one with exhibitionist tendencies though isn’t there?

Smiley winners all ish

The prize giving and raffle was speedily concluded, and then, right on cue, the wind picked up and icy rain started to fall. This brought about the rapid dispersal of most of the runners, whilst the many marshals huddled together for bodily warmth.  All great team building I’m sure.

seeking bodily warmth

After a few more minutes, eventually the final finisher and back marker came into view.  The timer rushed back out to put back up the funnel which had blown over in the sudden unexpected storm and those of us around got into position to cheer then home!

I’d rather ostentatiously left my hamper at the finish, as a sort of lure.  I think she earned a hobgoblin legendary ruby beer at the finish as much as I did.  Lucky there were two bottles, one each perfect.   She wasn’t immediately effusive as to the degree of fun she’d had en route, but I’m sure the post run endorphins kicked in eventually!

For my part, home, and the next project was to work my way through as much of the produce as possible starting with the new potatoes (which I did cook first) and hobgoblin beer, which was actually pretty fine.  Also, I think I have a similar profile. Perhaps it is my kindred wood-spirit finally found?  So, since I’m here drinking from the sanctuary of my sofa once again, flushed with alcohol and a post run high, no harm in having a little surf to see what other runs are out ther is there… now let me see…

So there you have it.  Inaugural Silverdale Stampede.  Done.  Only one person got lost, and they were found again so that’s fine and dandy. A grand morning out, and a fixture that I hope will run and run (see what I did there).

See you there next year?  Hope so, ’til then, we have our memories…  Didn’t we do well?  Thank you Silverdale PTA for an excellent initiative, and the just the first of many more I hope.

Happy running y’all.  🙂

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

Cease your slumber – get to Clumber! Clumber park parkrun tourists up and at it!

Digested read:  lots of inspirational running stories doing the rounds today, so great to spend the morning at parkun. New venue Clumber park, home of celebrity triathlete Bailey, glory by association. Friendly run, great coffee. What’s not to like?  🙂

I might have stolen that rallying cry from the Clumber park parkrun Run Director to be honest.  But, couple of points:  Firstly, I wasn’t the only one giving him grief during his pre-run briefing, and secondly, I think you’ll find that it isn’t plaigerism if you properly reference your sources.  Oh no, it becomes ‘modeling’ and helpful triangulation of primary sources, probably so that’s all fine.  Don’t worry about the ethics of this post on that account.  Feel free to fret about the post contents on many other areas of dubiousness if you so wish.  But on that particular point, I’m most definitely in the clear….

So, to business.  It being Saturday, it is parkrun day, obviously, but I felt in need of a bit of parkrun tourism today.  Much as I love and feel loyal to my usual Sheffield haunts, it’s good to ring the changes from time to time. And besides, keep this up, and one day there may be a cow cowl in it.  Plus, entry through those elusive wrought iron park gates into the UK parkrun tourists group.  I can but dream.  In search of a new venue, I settled on Clumber Park.  I was hopeful of a scenic route, maybe some woodland tracks, and it’s far enough away to constitute a pleasing ‘day out’ but near enough not to be a bit too extreme for an early start.  Bearing in mind that I do like to be paranoiacly early to things, especially parkrun.  Plus, free parking apparently (always a boon) and toilets for my precautionary pee.  What’s not to like?  Oh, and it’s a National Trust property, so high hopes for post run refreshment opportunities.  Also, bluebells in season, and you know what?   There were!

bluebells

So my day actually began with watching somewhat erratic live streaming of the much-hyped  sub 2 hour marathon attempt. I only watched the last ten minutes or so (I’m not that committed/stupid as to get up at 4.45 a.m. or whatever it was).  But it turned out to be surprisingly compulsive viewing.  However passing your interest in running in general and marathon running in particular, you’ve got to respect the nigh on superhuman effort that went into that.  Not just the running very fast for a very long time part, but the maintaining elegance in running form and coping with having a camera trained on your running face in high-definition colour for the duration.  No way would I subject myself to that.  Though I suppose on reflection, the fear of that image being on display somewhere for the duration of my time in motion would probably speed me up quite a bit.  The other point of interest, is that it seems – somewhat surprisingly –  that I do in fact have much in common with the last man standing.  Or more accurately running.   Because, even though I know parkrun is a run not a race, and it doesn’t matter what speed you travel those parkrun paths at, in my heart I too would have been very disappointed not to get a sub 2 hour run at my parkrun effort  today. Really, the only discernible difference between me and Kipchoge is that I achieved my time goal, but he alas missed his. Still, he did jolly well though.  Really he did.

Kipchoge

Seeing an inspirational runner first thing in the morning did put a spring in my step.  I do get motivation from seeing what limits other runners will push themselves too.  It makes me work a bit harder, and today seemed full of inspirational runners stories.  The news as also full of Mr Gorilla  AKA Tom Harrison who has raised nearly £50,000 for gorilla conservation by crawling around the 26.2-mile London Marathon course in costume over six and a half days.  Not my chosen way to move forward, but you have to admire the tenacity of that progress.   I find it hard to stand upright again after bending down to tie my shoelaces, his back must be either honed to steel or completely broken.  I fear the latter.

gorilla man

And if that wasnt inspiration enough, arrival at Clumber park brought me into the same space as another inspirational runner and celebrity triathlete in these parts.  The amazing Bailey Matthews.  I had quite forgotten this is his home parkrun, but more of that later.  The point is, that if you, like me, sometimes find your enthusiasm for running flagging, take heart, courage and inspiration from all those amazing athletes out there.  Be they Kathrine Switzer – not only first woman to run Boston marathon, despite officious man trying to drag her off the course, but also running it again, fifty years later!  Local hero Corin Leach, Fastest marathon dressed in a Ghillie suit (female): 3:58.57 (2016); the woman in this year’s marathon who attempted to break a record for the fastest tree.  (Didn’t quite make the record, but not the point, nor did Kipchoge) or Mary Keitany of Kenya who broke Paula Radcliffe’s women’s-only world record to win the London Marathon in two hours 17 minutes one second, the second-fastest time in history.  That’s really, really fast.  Or how about, Mahsa Torabi and other women, still making history by running at all in contexts where women are not supposed to be visible.  Running might feel hard, but at least we can take for granted our right to do so.  Time to get up, get out, and get running.  Yay!

So, upshot, out and at it. I drove to a friend, who drove us to Clumber park.  We were a bit confused about where to go. Turns out the park is pretty big, with multiple potential entrances and parking point. We just headed to the visitors centre, which was in fact fine, and easy to get to, with a massive car park where the main problem was which space to choose of many at that hour in the morning.  Shortly after we arrived, a couple of high vis parking attendants arrived, so I ambled across to check out whether we were in the right place, and whether or not we had to pay. Basically, I grilled them with parkrun related questions until I’d established that we were indeed in the right place, and we didn’t have to pay – as long as you display a spare barcode somewhere prominently (or are a NT member). Good to know.

Just as I turned on my heels and walked away, another potential parkrunner turned up with an identical set of questions.  I heard a brief exchange: ‘are you wanting parkrun?’  enquired the helpful parking attendant, to which the upbeat and direct response was ‘it’s not a question of want, I need to be here, because I’m fat.‘  We all have our own running motivations it is true.

So after a bit of sitting in the car, and sellotaping the barcode to the dashboard, we ventured out in search of the start.  We headed off, basically following a couple of runners ahead who looked like they were parkrunners. Soon there was another two people in our collective wake who’d made the same location finding calculation.  That is, follow others in trainers who look like they know what they are doing… However, as we seemed to be led ever further from the signs to ‘The Burrow’ me and my running buddy eventually bailed, leaving the two behind us in a state of confused indecision. For those who come after us, just follow the signs to ‘The Burrow’ not the speed merchants who are running a quick lap of the route in reverse as their parkrun warm up. Well you could follow them I suppose, but do so at your own risk.  Turns out bailing was a good move, we found our way to the cricket pitch instead, and almost stumbled across an unexpectedly huge gathering.

As we headed up the not-too-steep hill to the start area, we found ourselves at an already big, but ever-growing assembly. There is a cricket club there (which was having an open day), lots more parking (though I don’t know quite how you find it) and an extraordinary number of runners and hi-vis heroes.  I hadn’t expected this particular parkrun to be so big, I don’t know why. It was very well attended, with 334 runners this week.  As we arrived, the volunteers were in a circle formation, from afar, it looked like they were engaged in some pre-run initiation or building up to some sort of Maori haka inspired posture dance. I really hope they were.  Though if they did, I missed it, probably due to having temporarily disappeared in order to avail myself of the facilities.

volunteer haka

We managed to nab someone to take our ‘proof of presence’ obligatory team shot, though I concede it could have been taken practically anywhere.  Good to see we have mirror image people on our shoulders.  We are working towards doing a complete Zaphod Beeblebrox at some point, but I think there is still some way to go, you get the idea though.

There were indeed brick-built loos, (no need for brick s**t house puns though) and some handy parkrun innovations that may or may not be unique to Clumber park parkrun.  Like a special trolley for the safe keeping of personal paraphernalia; a Bailey Board (outlining his latest achievements); a map of the route.  All sorts.

There was an absolute first-timers briefing, and then a more generic run briefing, which was a hoot.  In my opinion it was improved by heckling of the incumbent Run Director, by the young pretender, celebrity triathlete Bailey, who had taken on the role of Run Director last week it seems.   Not content with melting hearts and defying expectations, turns out he is also a dab hand at the pre-race briefing.   The usual RD put on a good show of not minding, but clearly he’s going to have to up his game to hold onto that position.  It was less a master class in managing heckling, and more like watching an impromptu double act in the making, whilst being a little unsure who was going to be the ultimate fall guy…   There was even audience participation ‘Have you got your barcodes?‘ the RD shouted out ‘yes!’ we chorused in crazed union; ‘Will you go through the finish tunnel just once?’ ‘Yes!‘ we screamed back delightedly. I was going to call it a  ‘runner centred’ delivery, but on reflection, maybe I was experiencing the early stages of being groomed in preparation for signing up to some sort of cult of personality (I’ve already crossed over into the benign cult that is parkrun I know).  It felt inclusive rather than scary though.  I wonder if that is how these things always start?

first timers briefing

The route was run through (two laps); tourists were welcomed (Whitley Bay parkrun rather trumped our Sheffield offering).  We were reminded to be respectful of other users, though personally I never came across any cyclists, horse riders or indeed the promised naked rambler.  Maybe I misunderstood the descriptions and just didn’t recognise them as they appeared?  After these cheery formalities, we all turned around and started a migration to the start.  I was a bit confused about which direction we’d be facing, so had a brief panic I’d inadvertently find myself in the front of the pack, but that didn’t happen. I joined the mass moving to the start, which was a little round the corner from where the briefing as held, and then, soon enough (though a bit later than 9.00) we were all awf.

For those of you who like to properly know the route, the Clumber park parkrun course is described on the Clumber park parkrun page thus:

Our route is clockwise and starts and finishes close to the Burrows café.
Runners head east into woodland, then turn right following a downhill path, turning right again onto the lake shore path. You then run back towards the main carpark and turn right before the cycle hire point towards the start / finish area.
Remember it’s two laps

This doesn’t help much. It doesn’t convey that it’s quite a lovely route. The paths were mainly hardcore, with just one short bit of springy forest track.  Road shoes would have been fine, I wore my hybrid trail ones.  You run past mature trees, see bluebells, green meadows and at one point have  a great view of an artificial lake that appeared seemingly out of nowhere.  There aren’t that many marshals going round, but those that were, were very encouraging, and clapped a lot.

I’m a slow and steady runner, but even so, with a much bigger than expected turn out, I did get a bit boxed in at the start, which didn’t bother me, but faster runners probably do need to position themselves a bit further forward.  There were also lots of children around me, that rushed about like ball bearings scattered across a dodgems’ rink.  That is, somewhat speedy and erratic.  Kept me on my toes.  Incidentally, have I ever told you the story of my childhood friend’s most mortifying day on earth ever?  It was when she accidentally spilled the entire contents of a tampon packet out of her pocket whilst on the dodgems during a teenage group outing to a local fair. As they spun off in all directions she wanted nothing more than to die.  It became the stuff of legends.  Try it and find out why for yourselves.  It’s worth it.

I digress, off we went. One parkrun walker was carrying the tiniest baby imaginable, start ’em young indeed.  It was great to see!  It took a while for the field to open up, and I uncharacteristically even started to overtake a few runners ahead of me, although the novelty of that wore off disappointingly fast.   I was having a few unexpected twinges when running.  My regular reader knows I have a lot of problems with foot pain from arthritis, but today I think it was due rather to a change in gait.  I was running in some new Hoka One challenger shoes.  They have fantastic cushioning, and for the first time in years I’m allowing my toes to take the running force, and even risk bending them a bit, rather than crabbing onto the side of my feet which is what I tend to do instinctively to avoid that and to minimise pain. Ultimately, I think this will be a good thing.  However, it has shifted how I run, and I was getting some strange tugs as I moved my feet and legs in unfamiliar ways.  I am used to running in pain, but not these random ‘stop!’ signals that felt like nerves being trapped and released as I mobilised my foot in new ways.  It’s only their second time out, I probably need to get used to them.  I like them, but they require adjustment.  I still could really do with some running shoes with a really big toe box though.  I have yet to find some that properly accommodate me and my disproportionate plates.  Basically I need clown shoes, but with lots of cushioning and decent grip for off-road. Any ideas of where I can source them, please do let me know…  As of now, my quest for the perfect shoe continues, though I do rate the hokas a lot.  They feel bouncy, but in a good way, not in a ‘this bra isn’t working as I hoped‘ way.

 

A contributory factor might also be that I’ve finally made it back to the Accelerate Woodrun sessions.  (Every thursday in Ecclesall Woods – I’ve not been in months due to working away) upshot is I was trying really hard with my form.  I know that sentence will cause those who know me to spit out their tea in disbelief, as I’m not known for paying attention to my running technique, but dear reader, it is true.  I was concentrating on pushing off, and not over-striding, with the inevitable consequence of starting to over think things to the point that I couldn’t sustain it, and rapidly started falling over my own feet, and getting my leg and arm swings out of rhythm to boot.  It becomes alien.  I have started volunteering at junior parkrun recently. The way those children run, effortlessly, and with grace, charging round with an instinctive good form is extraordinary.  I wonder if I’ll ever crack doing what seemingly ‘comes naturally’ to the very young. When did we all unlearn that?  Such a shame….  I also found out recently that I skip wrong too.  Disappointing.  Discouraging even.  Oh well, best to know the worst and be able to tackle it, than run and skip on in ignorance perhaps. …

So, pain aside, good views made for a good run.  One extraordinary feature of this run, is that it appears to have more downhill than up.  I have no idea how this is possible, but it really does. There is a lovely long stretch where you run down towards the lake, and the first time I sped (cough) along there, I enjoyed it, but was a bit fearful of what uphill might come later, but it doesn’t really. There is a long gentle incline, but that held no fear for me coming from Sheffield where the word ‘hill’ has an altogether scarier meaning.   The other cheery fact about this run for me, is that I didn’t get lapped, which these days is unusual for me on a multi-lap course.  I suspect it’s because this isn’t an especially fast parkrun, and for me that is a good thing.  You get your monies worth if you are out and about enjoying it all for a bit longer!

I was able to parasitize the motivational talk other runners were shouting out to their accompanying children.  One father was saying ‘I’m so proud of you my girls, you are brilliant‘ and it put quite a spring in my step as I tried to keep up with them on the off-chance he might be up for adopting me at the end – or at least making me up a personalised compilation tape of motivational phrases.  Another runner, catching up with a young sprinter who had temporarily slowed similarly tried to encourage.  ‘Come on lad.  Imagine the shame if you let me overtake you – look at the state of me, you can’t let me get ahead!‘  It was most comical, gentle and effective.  The youth looked at the runner, assessed the situation, and set off at a sprint with renewed vigour!  Incidentally, just to be clear, I am extremely mindful that slowing and walking is perfectly fine, and nobody should be pressurised to do more than they want at a parkrun, or made to feel like slowing is failing if that is what they need and want to do – however, what I witnessed was a lot of good-natured banter.  This seemed a very friendly run.  Great atmosphere.

The turn into the finish was quite remarkable.  I’ve never seen quite so many marshals at the end. There was a whole wall of hi-vis to direct and cheer you in.  I was fast through the funnel and quickly scanned, and then I joined the cheering of some of the people coming in behind me.  I love this bit. There is something joyful about being at the finish line of parkrun, and that novelty doesn’t diminish.  Ever.  There is always drama and glory on display.   One eventful finisher was the woman with the dog who came charging up to the finish, seemingly giving his handler a running edge, until it suddenly dived to the side, dragging the woman with it as it went to greet a familiar face.  She recovered, but it was a powerful argument against those who maintain running with a dog brings any kind of an advantage!

After a bit of clapping and cheering, time to go in search of post run refreshments. There is a coffee shop right at the finish. Which includes a tempting soft play area!  Alas, the coffee machine was broken. Disaster!  However, no worries, we headed off to the visitor centre area, which was a good move.   Squishy chairs and a lake view to enjoy along with our lattes.  There might have been scones too.

Refreshments taken, we then had a wander about taking in the delights of the discovery centre (tadpoles and sticklebacks); local art exhibition (ho-hum to unexpectedly good); history of the site (genuinely interesting); garden centre and second-hand book shop.  All in all a grand day out.  With parkrun too – pretty  much a perfect saturday morning!

So there we go. Clumber park parkrun?  Tick.  A really good morning, best run briefing to date for entertainment value (which is high praise indeed, Sheffield Graves parkrun briefings are awesome always).  Nice route, super friendly, and great facilities.  Not for speed merchants perhaps, but I really liked it, worth the trip for sure.  If you want to read the official report of the Clumber park 6 May parkrun you can do here.

Thank you Clumber park parkrun lovelies for your warm welcome and slick organisation. I’ll be back!  ‘Til then, happy running y’all.

🙂

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It’s not called a marathon for nothing! Supporting Shelter runners at the London Marathon 2017

Digested read.  Running a marathon may be hard, but supporting a marathon is also an endurance test.  Want to get a flavour of what that’s like.  Read on.  There follows a marathon account of my marathon spectacle by way of illustration. You’re welcome.

No need to guffaw at my expense.  I fully appreciate that self-evidently, for runners the London Marathon was indeed always going to be a marathon, because it actually is.  They know they will have to go and run 26.2 miles either voluntarily as a chosen challenge, or as a result of a bit too much brash bravado after one too many at the pub one night.  Whatever.  They are all guilty of contributory negligence as they find themselves at the start line for the London Marathon.  It’s going to be tough out there, but it will also be glorious.  They are all superstars for being there, just for getting to the start, and over 99% will finish.  They might be broken beyond repair at the end, but hey ho, those post-running endorphins will make  it all worthwhile…. hopefully.  So the story goes.  There will be (rightly) blogs aplenty about their stories, their metaphorical and literal journey from start to finish on the day.  This is of interest to me, but not what today’s post is about.  Oh no, rather this entry is going to be all about me.   Me and my experience as a volunteer on the sidelines of this iconic event.  Let me tell you, it was tough out there.  A marathon indeed!  Unless you’ve been there and done it yourself, you can have no idea of the emotional highs and lows 8 hours of spectating can put you through. That combined with the physical challenge of craning to see people, clapping and shouting can really take its toll.  With hindsight (always a great thing) I  perhaps should have put in a bit more training before hand, but it’s always so easy to be wise after an event. It was worth it though, to be part of the Shelter cheer team, but phew, it was surely a test of endurance too!

team shelter embankment

The upshot is that in my mind I totally earned this complimentary congratulatory bottle of ‘champagne’ that awaited me on my return to the hotel at the end of the day.  I don’t feel I got it under false pretences at all.  To be fair, it probably wasn’t all that complimentary anyway, not with the price I paid for a room in Kensington whilst swept up in the euphoria of the idea that I’d actually be running the marathon myself this weekend.  It was nice though.  I’m glad I didn’t fess up that I was a marathon deferrer coming anyway  and not an actual runner anymore when I checked in, having originally booked in on a ‘marathon package’ months back.

complimentary champagne awaits

So the story is that by an extraordinary fluke I did get a ballot place for the London Marathon 2017.  I couldn’t believe my luck!  However, circumstances conspired to make training nigh on impossible as I was working overseas in Cambodia at a critical time.  I did try, really I did, but eventually bowed to the inevitable and tearfully deferred my entry.  However, I’d already booked and paid for my (non-refundable) accommodation, so I figured I might as well go anyway to watch… and then I thought well why not volunteer?  Inspirational idea.  That way I’d still get to feel part of it.  Honestly, ending up volunteering for Shelter (the housing and homelessness charity) was a happy accident.  I do think Shelter do amazing work, and it is a charity I have contributed to over the years.  However, I found the volunteering opportunity just by googling, and it came up.  I wasn’t tested as to my limits in who I would be willing to associate with just for the glory of being associated with the London Marathon.  So that’s good.  I have subsequently discovered that loads of charities seek volunteer supporters on the day, so that’s a great option for anyone who wants to get involved.  Also London parkruns are involved in running the bagdrop and collections which sounds fun too.  Parkrunners get everywhere these days.  I’ve stolen this picture from a facebook post elsewhere, aren’t these parkrun ambassadors great?  Sigh, got to love parkrun in general and parkrun volunteers in particular.

volunteer parkrunners being aweseom at VLM baggage drop

Anyway, I figured I’d be up for some volunteering.  It didn’t sound too bad.  Basically just cheer along any Shelter runners, with opportunities to moonlight by cheering other runners as you wish.  (I’d be looking out for my Smiley buddies from my Sheffield Women’s running club Smiley Paces for sure!  Go Smilies!) It was about raising the profile of the charity by branding all in the vicinity with Shelter T-shirts and then giving their runners a psychological boost by cheering them as loudly as possible on their way round the course.  I’ve volunteered as a marshal at runs before, and usually when marshaling you have to multitask with directional pointing as well as cheering.  When you factor in high-fiving and clapping as well it can get pretty busy, but it’s always been manageable.  I wouldn’t be required to point here, so just focus on cheering and clapping.  It’d be fine.

I’ve had some more stressful volunteering moments, the inaugural Run for all Sheffield road 10k got quite challenging but the tententen trail one, also in Sheffield was a lot of fun.  Parkrun volunteering is the best though, especially junior parkrun.  Those mini runners are hilarious and inspiring and amazing all rolled into one.  Not unlike the folk that turned out to the London Marathon to be fair.  You have to be a bit careful because small children can give unexpectedly ferocious high-fives in relation to their body mass, but the pay-off is the adorability quotient of some, which has caught my usual hardened cynicism off guard on more than one occasion.  My personal favourite moment was recently when at Graves junior parkrun one of the participants I was clapping round stopped as I cheered her so she could explain to me that she was taking part in a run!  I suppose she picked up I was clearly interested, so it was only polite to tell me what it was all about.  How cute is that?  One of the photos that follow is from volunteering at Sheffield Hallam parkrun recently, the other from Graves junior parkrun if you are interested.  I only have a finite number of clothing options so the presence of a near identical outfit in both pictures may confuse you, leading you to believe it is the same event,  if you are the type to both a) care at all about where the photos were taken and b) notice it is the same outfit on ostentatious display in both, despite obvious differences in location.  As to which is which?  Clue, only Graves park has its own goat(s).  Cue ‘what’s got your goat’ punning opportunities, but I think I’ll save those for another time.

I did get stressed out by an escaping lamb on the track on Easter Sunday, but it was resolved.  To be fair, the run directors can’t cover every eventuality in their volunteer briefings.   Anyway, stop distracting me with all these parkrun questions –  I need to crack on with my London marathon witness testimony … The point being,  that given my previous volunteering experiences, I was pretty laid back about the skill requirements for my role as Shelter cheerer at the London Marathon.  ‘yep, I can do that‘ I figured.  Complacent.  Guilty as charged.

It was really exciting waking up on Sunday morning.  TV coverage had started of the build up to the marathon, and I couldn’t wait to get out and at it.  Whilst some commentators might now be a bit jaded about the whole thing (seen one marathon you’ve seen them all).  I’m not.   I saw the couple who’d just got married at the Cutty Sark on the telly, watched the wheel chair athletes whizz away and that was it, I was off and out the door myself, wanting to get to my cheer point at the embankment ahead of them.

Even the tube was fun. There was one runner at least in his gear on the train – though I did wonder if he might be cutting it fine to get to the start.  Loads of people were sporting charity tops, presumably there to support friends or family running for a chosen cause today.  I was spat out at the embankment, and immediately you could feel the buzz!  There were flags all the way along where various charities had marked their pitches for the day.  Apparently it’s a bit of  a free for all just after the roads are closed, charity mobs come out and bag spots, some securing better viewing areas than others.  There was only a scattering of spectators at first, but whole armies of support crew in high viz.  Volunteers handing out programmes, marshals, paramedics and St Johns Ambulance crew in abundance.  The sun was shining, the London skyline glorious.   Definitely the capital at its best.  I’ve only ever spent time in London for frenetic work trips previously, seeing it as a tourist was amazing.  Made me appreciate London in a way I haven’t previously.

There was already some sort of race underway when I arrived, which was initially a bit confusing.  I had a brief moment of wondering if this was some secret youth cohort of Steel City Striders, sporting green and gold tops as they were. But I don’t think the striders have got a women’s junior running group. Therefore, I suppose it must have just been some opportunistic PE teacher despatching their charges along the route so they wouldn’t have the bother of getting out the gym equipment during double games.  You can understand why. PE teachers are notoriously low status in many schools – or were in my day anyway.  Of course they’d rather be smoking out the back than dragging out the coconut matting so everyone can practise their forward rolls.  Quite a temptation to send everyone out for a run when all the roads are closed, who’d know?  Really?

steel city striders youth cohort

I had a bit of an explore, then sauntered over to the Shelter pitch.  I was pretty early, about 9.30 a.m. I think.  There weren’t any Shelter reps around, but no matter.  I busied myself making friends with a couple who were already there. They’d come to watch, and were seduced by the close proximity of the Shelter flags to some decent toilets.   I suggested they just stay put and don Shelter shirts when they materialised which they were happy enough to do.  More the merrier after all, I presume what Shelter was seeking was a long flash mob of red to catch the eyes of passing runners.

It was quite sociable chatting to my new friends.  We had quite a laugh.  They weren’t really running much now apparently, but regaled me with tales of races past.  My personal favourite of their many stories, was the guy’s account of experiencing serious nipple chafing during a half (or possibly full) marathon in his first long race.  In literally bleeding agony, he espied an amply proportioned older woman brandishing a huge tub of vaseline ahead of him at the sidelines of the road route.  Now normally one might be shy of soliciting lubricants off unknown members of the opposite sex, but in a marathon, anything goes!  On this occasion he ran towards her lifting his top as he approached brandishing his bloody tits, so signalling he was a man in need.  In response,  she obligingly slathered generous amounts of vaseline all over his chest with open palms.  Blood and vaseline mixed together he ran on, comforted.    I can only presume this all happened pre mobile phones, as otherwise surely such an act of human kindness would by now have gone viral, a Brownlee Brothers moment before that was even a thing.  And  an extra element of titillation from the naked chest bearing dimension!   I don’t have a picture of nipple chafing injuries that I wish to include.  You can find your own on the interweb if you must.  Really though, don’t have nightmares, protect yourself and just don’t go look. It’s not pretty.

So after a bit, Shelter staff arrived, and we negotiated the extra tops.

cheering buddies

Other volunteers gathered too, and the crowd began to congregate. It was fun, highly sociable.  The event began to build, first to appear were the wheelchair racers.  That was impressive but over really quickly. It reminded me a bit of spectating at the tour de yorkshire.  Over 3 hours hanging off a verge-side tree awaiting the pantaloon, or pelican or peloton or whatever it’s called, and then when it came it was gone in the blink of an eye.  It was still fun to be there, but not tremendously sustained fun to tell the truth.  How they steer those wheelchairs I have no idea, they go really fast.  Also, the body posture is really punishing for some, heads down, I wonder how much these athletes can see and hear as they power round.  Are they aware of what’s around them or is it all just one big blur?  Plus, they aren’t really very well positioned for high fiving.  I’d never have made it round the Sheffield Half without plenty of them!  Wouldn’t want to participate in any event where that wasn’t at least an option.  I suppose athletes of this calibre have internal motivation to drive them instead – extraordinary!

We were all hyped and ready to go so cheered and clapped anything passing really.  However – and this is a top tip here for marathon newbies – it’s so true you mustn’t start off too fast.  Supporting the marathon is a test of endurance, you need to pace yourself.  Initially, it was obvious we had all potentially peaked a bit soon, complaining of aching hands and sore voices before even the visually impaired runners were in sight.  (See what I did there).  It was OK, we had a bit of time to regroup, breathe and recommence our support strategy before the next load of runners came through.

Some adjacent spectators similarly suffering from clapping-induced RSI  were eyeing up our shelter inflatables.  You know, the ones you can bang in appreciation that you see at lots of sporting events?  I’ve always been a bit sniffy about them previously, but in fact they are a real boon to spectating.  They are labour-saving and volume creating.  I do worry a bit about the plastic waste they must generate, but have to admit they certainly do create atmosphere and colour too. Let’s hope those recently hyped plastic-eating caterpillars can really deliver.  We need something to tackle all that post event debris.  Anyway, I soon had them kitted out in Shelter regalia too.  We were an ever-growing red swarm indeed!

We were a colourful crew craning over the barriers for the next load of runners to surge by for our amusement, merriment and indeed amazement.  I was a bit confused about what was happening – there are lots of different cohorts competing, and they all started at different times.  Fortunately my new friends had sussed out there were free programmes available if you just jumped one of the many bag wearing volunteers who were strolling around giving them out. The spectators guides are/were great.  They include maps, who to look out for, where to watch, and, crucially, what the approximate arrival times for the leaders of the various race categories would be.   I did manage to procure a programme, but to save me the arduous task of reading this myself I outsourced this particular task to one of my companion cheerers, who was periodically able to update me on who to expect to come surging by Cleopatra’s needle and so into our sightlines at any moment.

The VI guided runners were many indeed.  It was fascinating to watch them speed past.  Some were stride for stride with their guides, some used bungee cord to link together,  others seemed to be holding onto one another, lots of techniques were in evidence.  I have seen a few guided runners at parkrun and local trail running events round Sheffield.  Mostly the guides and runners I’ve seen seem to talk  to each other a lot ‘knees up’ or ‘keep left’ or whatever as they go round.  I don’t know how much you’d hear at the marathon with so much crowd noise.  I do know that we were near a sequence of three timing mats which crossed the road.  One guide raised his hand really high over this stretch, I wondered if it was to indicate the need for caution.  Or maybe the guide simply had cramp.  Who knows.  These elite VI runners are impressive, but later in the field came other non-elite VI runners, coping with the crowds of a mass start, that’s surely a new kind of awesome.  One guy ran the whole thing with a white cane. No idea how he would have navigated the crowds, but clearly successfully to this point at least.  We were standing bank on the 40km mark, so safe to say he must have pretty much perfected the technique by then!

The para-athletes having stormed through, in their wake were the elite women.  To my shame, I don’t really know what the score was here, I do know that the lead runner seemed to be essentially running solo.   She also didn’t look like she’d already run near enough 25 miles.  She was fair sprinting.  Maybe she was trying to shake off that annoying convoy of motorbikes that were apparently stalking her.  I’m sure when I’ve watched the marathon on the telly in previous years, whilst sat on the sofa eating donuts or whatever, there is usually a group of elite runners at the front. They are at least in sight of each other if not actually in a pack.  Not so for her, nor for the male lead who came behind.   It seems it is true what they say about the loneliness of the long distance runner.  Well I say that, I’ve never actually read the book or seen the film come to think of it, it could be about anything…  I’m just meaning that running a long way is always ultimately going to be a personal and lonely journey.  Less so if you are cavorting along in fancy dress with the mass start, but here, all eyes on you, wanting to win, wow, that’s mental fortitude right there!  Let me see what I can find in the way of photos.  A bit hit and miss but at least it shows I was there eh?  Think I got male lead but not the female.  Curses.  Nice shot of St Paul’s on the sky line though.  And a proper London Bus too.  Isn’t that grand?

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What this basically meant, is that we cheerers had been able to have our own warm up, putting in lots of practice by cheering the serious elite athletes  as preparation for the real reason we were there, which was to support the more fun to spectate (but just as serious to run) mass participation bit.  The elites are extraordinary, but for me at least, impossible to relate too.  It’s like watching another species to see them fly past.  How can the human body do that? However, for the record, even I noticed an anomaly at the front of the field.  ‘Look, that one’s a normal person’ I shouted out in my not-very- politically-correct way as what looked like a club runner romped by well at the front of the elite men’s group.  Later I discovered it was indeed ‘a normal person’ inasmuch as it was the unexpected first brit home and Swansea Harrier runner Josh Griffiths.  Wow, how proud his club must be of him.  I didn’t get a photo though, was too busy picking my jaw up off the road.

There were other distractions too. Due to operator error, early on in the proceedings I accidentally dropped my Shelter inflatable baton over the barricades.  Oops. I was in mortal fear that this would blow away and result in some freak skid instance, knocking out some elite athlete, who’d probably take out loads of other runners as s/he fell.  Those VI athletes would be at risk surely?  Not the kind of publicity Shelter had signed me up for when they asked us to do all we could to raise the profile of their organistion on social media during the event I’m guessing….  Fortunately/ unfortunately, other inflatable batons from other charities were also available, tumbling along in the wind, plus my particular one got scooped up by a marshal and removed from the scene.  Phew, the presence of lost inflatable batons on the courese may or may not be a lethal accident waiting to happen, but as long as I was apparently blameless in this, all would be well.

sleeping in the gutter

The next cause of excitement, albeit in an excruciating way, was that as the faster of the mass runners started to arrive, so too did the number of people who hit the proverbial wall in front of our very eyes, and went crashing down like nine pins.  It was really disturbing.  These runners were one minute racing and then next minute grey and collapsed.  The St John’s ambulance crew on hand at our spot was being pulled in all directions to attend to these people.   Sometimes rushing round unsure who to prioritise.  There was also the practical challenge of getting to runners if they were the opposite side of the road to that where the ambulance crews were sited.   By this point the runners were like a raging torrent, and so focused on moving forward that they were not necessarily aware of the need for a group of medics to cross their path.  It was nail-biting stuff.   The thing is, chances are it is ‘just’ extreme exhaustion, but some of the runners looked terrible.  Any one of them might be in their death throes, plenty of fit people have been known to have heart attacks at running events.  Then again, some that were ‘crippled’ did display phoenix like recoveries.  A bit of eccentric calf stretching sprawled out on the road and then they were up and good to go.  Gazelle like sprinting off once again. (Gazelle-ish, anyway).

There’s a lesson in their somewhere.  Personally I listen to my body a bit too well, the slightest twinge of protest and I’ll happily slow down and/or grind to a complete halt.  I have a theory that the stronger, faster runners are ‘better’ at pushing through pain in training in order to improve.  But, could it be they have learned to use mental strength to silence that inner voice when maybe sometimes they shouldn’t.   Ironically, they seemed more likely to come to grief than the long, slow travellers at the back of the field. In any event, it was heart breaking to see apparently strong athletes crumple just before the 25 mile mark.  If that’s what hitting a wall is, I don’t want that to happen to me.  Or anyone else for that matter.  Not worth it.  Just slow down and eat/drink something people, please!

Collapsed, little crowds of marshals and medics huddled round. Some were able to stagger to one side, and others were able to continue after a brief massage and roadside assistance.  Only roadside assistance was available, not relay, or at least the runners I saws hadn’t thought to pay for that upgrade ahead of the big day.   A few though, were trussed up in foil blankets like a carnist’s Sunday roast and wheeled off on little mini-wheelchair things, swaying around even in transit.  Whether or not they’d be allowed to rejoin the race after a stint in the recovery tents I have no idea, but it wasn’t looking good.  On the plus side, the way teams worked together to support the fallen was genuinely moving.  Whether that support extended to stopping the garmins of these runners I couldn’t tell.  I like to think if any of the helpers were runners themselves they would have done so.

So after the impressive bit, came the fun bit. We Shelter gang had got in the groove, and were now distracting ourselves with selfies and general whooping.  Although I did know a few people running, it was great to have the charity tops to look out for.  It gave a focus to the occasion.  You feel much more part of it.  There are so many charity runners out there I don’t know the extent to which participating raises the profile for any particular organisation, but it was good to meet like-minded others and in a small way support runners raising funds for a particularly worthy cause.  Homelessness is not glamorous, and it really can happen to anyone.  Since 1966 and Cathy Come Home, Shelter has been campaigning for affordable housing for all.  Progress has been made, and they plough on.  It doesn’t seem right to me that something as fundamental as supporting the homeless or housing vulnerable, is often left to the charity sector to pick up.  However, it’s good that Shelter do what they can for people in housing need.  Not surprising perhaps, but we cheerleaders all shared stories of how homelessness had impacted on either us directly or those we knew.  I fear in the current political and economic climate the housing situation is going to worsen still.  It may be the 21st century, but we need Shelter now more than ever.

Oh well.  In cheerier news, here are jolly support mob shots.  Surely a minion will put a smile on your face?

The next part of the day was focused on spotting Shelter runners.  This was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more stressful than I’d anticipated. You’d be astonished how hard it is to spot a particular runner in a mass of people, even when they are just a few feet away from you and even when we had fab team work. Loads of us scanning the crowd for the tell-tale red shirts.  We had some misses, and a few mis-identification.  I wonder if as many British Heart Foundation cheerers inadvertantly shouted at our Shelter runners as we did theirs!  There were a lot of red running tops out there, they aren’t as distinctive as you might think.  Even when we did see them and scream like the sky was falling in it was often to no avail, some runners were so in the zone they were seemingly oblivious to all around them.  Presumably just focused on not dying and continuing to put one foot in front of the other.  The few that did see us gave reactions which varied from euphoria, to shy smiles to ‘curses, why wasn’t I running when spotted’ type reactions.   One runner was on her mobile phone walking and talking for the whole extent of our banner.  What a missed opportunity to get some support!

It was rewarding though when they saw us and we saw them too. High fives and joyful cheers exchanged, runners sped away as if they really had been given an energy surge.    I didn’t know I had such power to motivate others within me.  Cool!  There were however some heart-breaking moments also.  The Macmillan team had a huge line of supporters, and were in great voice, but inexplicably there was one particular runner who saw them and waved and jumped around right in front of them, but they just didn’t see him.  It was awful.   That’s the thing about watching the marathon, it is such a roller coaster.  The pain, the agony, the ecstasy, the glory, the ‘what might have been’ all emotions in the raw are laid bare before you.  Running it may well be hard, but watching is not for the faint-hearted either!

I tried to snap a few Shelter runners as I passed, but it’s hard to get action shots I find:

Fortunately, the professional photographer at our cheer station captured the moments rather better than me, but hey ho, it’s the thought that counts I’m sure!  Here are some of his.  Or you can look at the Shelter facebook 2017 London marathon photos link for more.

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He wasn’t the only photographer earning his keep on the day.  We were near to a WaterAid UK cheer station. Their photographer was particularly proactive.  He must have run his own marathon on Sunday, most of it in reverse.  I don’t know how he was able to seek out his team so effectively, but he was on fire!  He was constantly scanning the stampede of runners to spot his targets, he’d then dart in amongst the throng – risking being trampled at any moment – or worse yet, getting his camera shoved.  He’d somehow alert his WaterAid runner where the cheer station was and sort of shoo them across to collect high fives, whilst simultaneously shooting off a load of shots and running backwards at speed.  I got quite fascinated by  this tour de force.  He must have got some amazing shots.  I ended up trying to get some of him in action too, which I didn’t really achieve, though it’s the thought that counts.  WaterAid also had a running camel,  which is helpful. Helpful because all those who think my running buddy Roger is a camel can see he is definitely a horse when you have an actual camel by way of comparison.  If you don’t know what I mean you’ll have to read up all about the Marathon themed Southwark parkun on Saturday, I can’t be bothered to go over it all again here.

By this point in the day hours had passed, and I was  hungry and thirsty and my neck was really hurting. The thing is though, Fear Of Missing Out, or more specifically, fear of missing a Sheffield runner in general or one of My Smiley Runners in particular, was pretty strong.  It is addictive being at the side lines.  You don’t want to lose your spot, and it doesn’t really feel right to sit down and start chomping down on a picnic lunch when weary runners are dragging themselves past you.  The only right thing to do is continue the endurance test yourself and hang on in there cheering yourself hoarse.  A random wise woman I met said to me once one day when we struck up a conversation in a park cafe ‘of course, the right thing to do is always the right thing to do.’  And you know what?  She’s absolutely right!

There was a tracking app available but as I’m the last person in the world without a   smart phone I was unable to make use of that technology.  A friend of mine on standby was unbeknownst to me texting me real-time updates, but I didn’t notice my phone messages until all but the last of the people I was looking out for had run past.  I did spot one Smiley, and screamed into her ear but she was too in the zone to notice.  Likewise I shouted out ‘Go Strider’ and ‘Go Dark Peak’ to other runners in familiar Sheffield kits,but in return got not so much as a sideways glance all day.  Incidentally, the two Dark Peak Fell runners I saw were going incredibly fast and strong, they are extraordinary runners, way ahead of the field.  Not just tackling ultra fell runs like mountain goats, but whizzing along tarmac like the great cartoon roadrunner himself.  Even without much in the way of response, it was brilliant fun when you did see someone you ‘knew’ even if only by association.   When we as a Shelter mob saw one of our own we went wild!  Who knew it could be so exciting?  However, it’s harder than you think to multi task at the side lines.  Cheering, clapping, trying to attract the attention of your designated runner etc, gets in the way of actually taking photos of them.  Probably just as well, as mine weren’t the best quality on the whole.  Still, everyone likes to see photos of themselves in action right?  It’s part of the post run debrief and reliving all the fun…  Type two fun is still fun, we all know that.

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So as I said at the start, this marathon malarkey is indeed a test of endurance.  I might have felt like my energy levels were becoming seriously depleted, but there was no thought of slacking off.  There were still so many more runners to look out for – the world record attempts to be ticked off for starters in our Marathon Bingo quest.  I’m sure there were loads more than I actually espied.  Some had helpful labels visible on them so you knew to give them an extra cheer.  Some choices of kit were more runner friendly than others.  I struggle to see how running the marathon carrying a tumble drier ever seemed like a brilliant plan, but hey ho, he was out there.  Mr Potato Head was pretty good, and then there were miscellaneous unidentified Official World Record attempt contenders.  Make of them what you will.  I never got to see the guy who was trying to run the whole thing in Wellington boots.  I don’t even want to think what that will do to his feet.  I’m very proud of the composition of my world record attempt at a tree running shot, even if it was inadvertent.  A veritable Birnam Wood on the move there methinks!

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As well as the world record attempts, there was a reasonable scattering of more modest fancy dress offerings.  Not that many though to be honest.  I’d expected loads, there are a fair few, but it’s still a minority of the participants, not too many duplicates either.  Just as well, can you imagine how annoying it would be to roll up as a sea urchin or whatever and find a whole rock pool’s worth hanging around at the start?  There were a fair few dinosaurs, but seemingly different species, plus there were some fine London landmarks too, complementing the London skyline.  You don’t see those traditional red phone boxes so much any more, great to see one at least running today!

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Then, as if that wasn’t more than enough excitement for one day, there were the mandatory naked men.  Well, part naked, fine torsos thrust forward and running strong.  This is all well and good in theory, but my fear is that all this exhibitionism will ultimately come to nothing.  Just as a run doesn’t count unless it is on strava, a race didn’t happen unless you make the official photos. Those who bravely – recklessly even – removed their tops, and with it their race numbers en route, will have no way of ever finding themselves in the official photos of the day which are searched by number.  Oh well.  Never mind, I expect it means they will be thrilled I have caught their moment of glory.  There was one notable exception to this by the way.  The global runderwear ambassador had it sussed, wearing his number as a sort of fig leaf arrangement to great effect.  Classy.  My regular reader knows we have our own runderwear ambassador at Sheffield Hallam parkrun, but dare I say I think this might be a more official rep.  (I’ve never seen our local ambassador running just in her bra and knickers.)   No wonder there is no chafing if the requirement is you wear only their pants whilst running.  I don’t recall that directive being on the operating instructions for their products – and I am an advocate and wearer of the pants myself.  Probably a blessing to the people of Sheffield to be fair…  Talking about chafing, I’m sure that heart monitor one guy is wearing is poorly positioned, it’s going to take more than an open palmed woman proffering copious amounts of vaseline to remedy that nipple chafing risk in my view…

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Then there was a scattering of bare footed runners.  Clearly however, for some running without trainers isn’t challenging enough, as one of these found a literal cross to bear and lugged timber round with him too.  Another was decked out as a mister man character… not just any Mr Man, oh no, but Mr Rush!  Genius.  There were some practical implications of the ‘no shoes’ choice though, as the VLM issue timing tag was intended to be worn on a trainer.  Mr Rush and JC has got around this with I think an ankle option, but one runner at the 40km mark, had to touch the ground three times to scan his timer as he passed over the official timer mats.   Not what you need after 25 miles running I’m guessing.

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Some people let their outfits or efforts speak for themselves.  Some were frankly showing off, but hey, you know what, some really impressed me.  Top contenders were any runner at all who took time to work the crowd on the way past (there were a few) and these two people.  The guy who leapt from timer mat to timer mat like he was taking flight, and the cool runner who appeared to be doing the whole thing whilst ‘effortlessly’ playing with his balls!  I know!  Eye catching indeed.

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Oh, and there was the  Morris Dancer.  Didn’t get a photo of him unfortunately, but when he came dancing and hanky waving down the embankment, the other side of the barrier was a whole team of Morris Men, mirroring his moves.  Hilarious.  Genius.  Inspiring.  You had to be there.  What team work too.

Ben Moss marathon morris man

And on the subject of team work, pushing a manual wheelchair round with its ‘just chilling’ occupant is no mean feat either, just saying:

Pushing on

It seems not everyone who had their assets on display did so intentionally.  So The Mirror reported.  I am not aware of any such corkers in my photo gallery.  Nor do I approve of such red top reporting.  Well, not in theory anyway, in practice of course I had a look, and as it’s in the public domain anyway, it would be hypocritical not to share….  Anyway, that’s not the only thing this guy had out to impress.  He was also second in his class so he had the last laugh for sure.

PAY-2017-London-Marathon

Heads together headband spotting was also a thing. Well it was for me anyway, but then again, I’m well-known for making  my own entertainment in unlikely ways.  My favourite sightings were where it was used as part of fancy dress. The WaterAid camel and handler combo therefore especially pleased me.  Actually, not all that many runners wore them. That may have disappointed the organisers, but personally I wouldn’t embark on a 26.2 mile run with a new bit of kit, especially something as irritating as a headband.  Still, fair play to those that sported them, looking good!

headstart headbands

Nigh on 40,000 runners took part in the 2017 London Marathon, I forgot to count, and I was also really pleased I wasn’t volunteer time-keeper for the event, imagine how stressful that would be clicking times as hordes pass under the finish arch!  Bad enough at a parkrun! After about 3.30 p.m. the field started to open out, and more elaborate fancy dress options appeared.  I was in awe of the Save the Rhino team especially.  Those costumes are quite something. Also, and I know this is shallow and possibly harsh, whilst the costumes are great for raising the profile of this important cause, (and rhino conservation is most definitely a cause close to my heart) in fact – the truth is that the runners themselves are pretty anonymous whatever the A4 sheet with the name on may proclaim  Basically it could be anyone in there.   So Rhino Runners, for what it is worth. Respect!  Hope you all made it.  I’m sure you had to dig deep in those last few miles.

rhino run

Most of the other cheerers and supporters had started to peel away from about 2.30 / 3.00 but I had made a promise.  My  new best friend (who I’d met at the marathon-themed Southwark parkrun the day before) was running and expecting to be way at the back of the field.  I said I’d stay for her, but when to expect her?  What if I missed her?  Finally, I looked at my phone, and there it was, like a gift heaven-sent, a message from Cheetah Buddy, my Sheffield friend and now my own personal London Marathon Communications Manager. There were loads of texts giving estimated times for lots of runners I knew around the course.  Curses, why had I not looked at this earlier?  Still, not to worry, the faster runners were in less need of my shouting.  There was an ETA for the purple army marathon runner, and what’s more it worked!  I was there and I saw her, and she was looking strong.  How brilliant, what a great way to end my own marathon of spectating!  Even better, I screamed loudly enough to get a sunny smile and wave.  Finally, a runner saw me too!

Hunger, thirst, a stiff neck and a need to find a loo finally conspired to make me decide to take my leave at this point, it was gone 5.30 though so that was a solid eight hours I’d been at my post.   Great though, quite an adventure.  Walking along the course a short way was good, other supporters and motivational signs were there still offering encouragement to the final finishers.

poop signs

Another Shelter cheerer stalwart, who knew London rather better than me was also departing.  Together we wandered over to Horse Guards to see the finish.  It was bathed in sunshine, still quite a bit of activity, and you got some sense of the logistics.  There were meeting areas, some loos, and a fabulous photo backdrop.  Cheery (and exceptionally tall) police were on hand to give directions.   The one I asked was worried I’d just taken a photo of him blowing his nose.  I don’t think I did, not intentionally.  I’ll have a look:

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From here, we decided to seek out the Shelter post run support.  It was in a very grand building and up a great many stairs – though I think there was a lift for the runners which is just as well because I don’t think they’d have welcomed skipping up even so much as a kerbstone after what they’d just accomplished.  The reception was winding down, so although obviously runners were the priority they’d all had refreshments and we were welcome to assist in polishing off some rather fine sandwiches and some mediocre coffee.   For future reference, for runners there was hot food and massages, as well as lots of comfy seats and areas for photos.  It was pretty good.  It made me appreciate that if you did opt to run the marathon with a charity place there are definitely some benefits in terms of the support you get as part of the deal.  Plus, you’ll more than likely get some decent action photos of your big day.   I’d consider it for sure.  There is the awkward fund-raising bit, but weirdly I think I’d be more comfortable asking for sponsorship now I’ve seen the effort that goes into it all.  It’s quite something this challenge.  Not one to take on lightly.  I dare say some will question the grandeur of the surroundings given the cause, but I’m sure that’s factored into the day, nigh on half a million pounds was raised by the running team today, it’s fair enough they get a reception area afterwards.  Loads of other charities were sharing the space by the way.  Seems to be a post marathon thing.

Replete with sandwiches I decided it was time to head off.  Departing back to the station I saw the most inspirational sight of the whole day.  It was probably gone 6.30 by now, and the roads were being swept and cleared, barriers thrown on the back of lorries, and people in hi-viz trailing off on map.  In the distance I could see a solitary runner for (I think) Children with Cancer – couldn’t quite make out the top to be fair.  Anyway, I’m guessing he wont have made the cut off, but you know what, he was still going, on the pavement now, with almost deserted roads.  He was in the distance, and with just about a mile still to go, I heard some people sitting on a wall give him a cheer and got a blurry photo of him raising his hand in acknowledgement.

Yes, it might be a cliché, so what, some people talk of inspiration fatigue, I thought that was pretty goddarned amazing.

Charity runner, whoever you are, you were not invisible to me.  You are awesome, and yes, for me inspirational.  That’s quite some marathon you nailed there, medal or not!  There is awesomeness at both ends of this running challenge.  Believe it.

Heroic and inspirational indeed

And so it ends.

Same time next year?

Categories: marathon, motivation, road, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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