Soooooooo, not sure if I’m exactly back in the zone, but I was back at my home turf of Sheffield Hallam parkrun today. I have decided to embrace the ‘fake it to make it’ philosophy. Wrist parkrun barcode donned, fixed grin in place, road shoes heaved on (hybrids still soaked from yesterday) and off out the door with a promptness that might have been misconstrued as enthusiasm unless you were in the know about the erratic nature of my running mojo at present…. I think though that this approach might actually work. Look a photo of me running and smiling simultaneously! A first in my running career (I use the term loosely), Mr Carman, I salute you and your skills with the tools of your trade…
Pleasingly, as I did my last-minute through the window weather check, a rainbow arching across the sky suggested it might not be just torrential rain all morning, and in fact so it turned out. It was a pale and tastefully under-stated rainbow it is true, but a rainbow nevertheless, and you’ve got to appreciate a rainbow, just as surely as you have to always stop and admire a duck (or is that last one just me?) A bit of light drizzle maybe, but no actual soaking. If anything a tad on the warm side for running I’d say.
I was ‘punctual’ rather than early today. There was a good swarm of fluorescent jackets as people various had turned out in response to the last-minute Facebook appeal for more volunteers. People are good like that, they came even though you are only guaranteed a hi-viz jacket and have to bring your own hat. Some I think are seduced by the power rush you get from having a clipboard, but that’s a responsibility that has to be earned, it’s not a given. Anyway, thanks volunteers one and all for turning out.
So, I arrived at the start, dumped my bag by the equipment store wheelie bins and joined the scrum of the start funnel. Pretty good turn out this week 466, with, what seemed to me, to be an exceptionally large first timer’s briefing. It seems like a while since I’ve been at Hallam. I’ve been away, it’s been cancelled a couple of times, I’ve been away, anyway, upshot is it was first time in ages that I’d seen a fair few of my running comrades. Some were familiar faces others less so. My first sighting was of a Monday Mobster who disappointingly was not wearing her new green hoody. They have just invested in some rather fine kit. It was she, not I who referenced the possibility that it made them look like some gnome homage collective, I hesitated a bit too long before denying this, before adding that the gnome referencing is not necessarily a bad thing, and anyway it was more echo of gnome than re-enactment of the same. They do need to avoid wearing red conical hats with these though, that would be very high risk. Oh, and also avoid fake beards, as long as they follow those simple precautions I think they’ll be OK.
I asked hopefully of the Monday mobster if she was doing Whirlow tomorrow, she wasn’t. She also offered up the returning comment ‘oh that’s the one that starts up hill isn’t it‘. Seeing my crestfallen face, she said ‘well, think of it as undulating‘. I appreciated the sentiment, but she didn’t sound very convincing. It was worse when she commented that other people doing it would most probably be tapering today, so not likely to see them. I weakly said my piece about as I only run at one speed anyway, tapering seems a bit pointless for me – though I would be taking it easy on the way round today. I was beginning to wonder if it was such a good idea though. I shared my angst. ‘Oh don’t worry‘ she enthused, encouragingly ‘at least you’ve made it to the start line, that’s better than many of us, good for you!’ Well, you know that scary phrase ‘tempting fate’? Well, I suddenly had visions of doing a faceplant in Endcliffe Park and being trampled by the parkrunners behind them – my only consolation being that the speed I go at, there wouldn’t be all that many trailing in my wake to squash me in a stampede of continuing runners!
Amongst the familiar faces was an unfamiliar but recognisable one. A former work colleague, I didn’t know he was a parkrunner. I’d seen him at Endcliffe once before, could be as long as two years ago, he was supporting a friend who was visiting and had wanted to do parkrun. Turns out that a year or so later this colleague had a go at parkrun himself, and now, some two years on, he was doing his second one. Still, good to build up slowly when you try new sports isn’t it, don’t want to risk injury eh?
Next in the line-up was regal Smiley, complete with speedy child. They were both wearing waterproof jackets. Lightweight ones granted, but jackets none the less. I explained to them about it being a rookie error to wear these, and that it would slow them down as they over-heated. I’m sure patronising more experienced runners in the start funnel of parkrun is a great way to build popularity and impress other participants with your superior knowledge. Only joking, obviously. The Top Tip here really is that by alienating other stronger runners early on, you can end up improving your own performance. Mortified by your own mistake, you will subsequently be too embarrassed to make eye contact with them, so put on a massive turn of speed in order to avoid them. Voila, new PB! Equally, you are doing them a great service too. Likewise they wont want to acknowledge you in public again either, so will access a similarly previously undiscovered gear that can drive them on to running excellence. Everybody wins! Yay!
Starting off happened a bit suddenly, but we were slow across the start line. Lots of friendly marshals in evidence today. Even the dog-poo bin had its own allocated staff member to stand by it this saturday. I found myself running for a bit with Regal Smiley, I couldn’t help but note she had followed my expert advice and her jacket was removed and squished up into a fabric ball, As we ran on she pointed out another runner who seemed glued to his phone and moving somewhat more erratically in his path through other runners than might be reasonably accounted for by the distribution of people. ‘He’s doing Pokemon go!‘ I wasn’t sure whether to be impressed or horrified, I hardly know what it is, and have commented previously on the seeming similarity between bladder control product advertising and one of the Pokemon figures:
There followed some discussion about the relative merits of the game, which concluded with Regal Smiley saying she wouldn’t particularly encourage her children to do it before she squished her jacket into a makeshift ball – and with NOT A HINT OF IRONY nor ANY AWARENESS OF HER OWN HYPOCRISY – lobbed it at George, our very own parkrun photographer! If that wasn’t her own reality version Pokemon go I don’t know what is. I was shocked, not least, because I’m not sufficiently versed in the various pokemon characters to know which one George was. Perhaps wiser readers/ parkrunners/ pokemon go players can enlighten me. For now I’m going with magneton, because the picture looks like it might be some sort of camera thingy, but as I don’t play I apologise in advance if that’s an offensive assumption. You can take your pick from this chart if you prefer:
Anyway, this whole episode left me aghast. I was particularly worried as Regal Smiley and our official parkrun photographer were to be hosting an annual BBQ event in the afternoon. To be honest, I didn’t expect them to be at parkrun today as I thought they’d be at home grating cabbages for coleslaw or shooting squirrels for the BBQ from their back window or whatever. If this display of target practice was anything to go by, then there was an element of real jeopardy re whether domestic relations would be maintained with sufficient decorum for the event to go ahead at all. Oh well, I probably get things out of proportion. To be honest, neither party behaved as if the lobbing of soft spherical items at one another was in any way out of the ordinary, so I think their social event was probably going to be OK, but you never can tell can you. Each to their own though, each to their own… Regal Smiley is a very good shot though, and our parkrun photographer had to take evasive action as the projectile arced towards him. Bet he was really proud of her hand eye co-ordination display there and not in fear of his life at all.
So going round, I saw one Smiley Vest, donned by a Rustling Runners Founder – there were other Smileys, only one in the kit. She is still hard in training for a triathlon overseas in a couple of months time, and breezed by. I was particularly slow and steady today, and so was lapped by faster runners quite early on. I found myself alongside another familiar face as I approached the end of the first lap. We contemplated staging a sprint finish together, to make it look like we’d both finished our second lap and were fighting out for the finish line. It was a nice thought, but the problem with being at your home parkrun is that it wasn’t very likely we’d get away with it. Still, it was nice to have a chat for a bit, and compare head injury anecdotes as we romped round. I’m not sure how we got onto mountain rescue, but she it seems had been rescued by helicopter on a skiing holiday after banging her head in a skiing accident. Apart from the unfortunate necessary pre-requisite of having to badly hurt yourself half way up an inaccessible mountain somewhere, the rescue sounded very James Bond. She was suspended on a wire beneath the helicopter apparently, as it couldn’t land in the narrow path she was in. How exciting! Her postcards home would have been rather more interesting than the usual ‘wish you were here‘ level that year!
She too is running tomorrow, but doing the 12.12. (I wonder what the significance of 12.12 is, it’s such a weird distance). She was also a bit apprehensive, more about the navigation than anything else. Once again, I was able to offer up unsolicited advice to help her back on track. ‘If you get lost, you might end up doing a short-cut‘ I helpfully pointed out. I was quite proud of my new upbeat positivity in relation to running. This ‘fake it to make it’ strategy might just work! Thinking about it, it was shortly after this she broke with me as she wanted to stay with her son as it was his first parkrun. I nodded with understanding, and glanced behind me expecting to see some infant struggling. Instead there was a towering male, who looked far too old to be her son (or she looked too young to have a son that age), it’s funny the assumptions you made. For the record, at the post-parkrun breakfast, I learned of another running tapering term. Strong fast runners, in order to discipline themself to run more slowly prior to an event, will take with them a human anchor to parkrun the day before. Hence their strava updates are full of comments along the lines of ‘parkrun prior to ultra with son/ wife anchor’. It made more sense when explained to me. I thought they meant sun anchor, which is a harder and more mystical idea to grasp you’ll agree.
Also in the flood of runners passing me was my running buddy who has let me use her Whirlow place. I felt a bit guilty, if she was doing parkrun faster than me anyway, maybe she should be doing the 10k herself after all. She was most generous though, saying definitely not up to it. She nearly wavered a bit when I suggested we split it doing 5k each, and my cheetah buddy (currently injured but volunteering with a clipboard today) suggested the ultimate team effort would be to offer a piggy back. I nearly choked, and countered that this contribution to our negotiations was at best unhelpful. She disputed this, pointing out that au contraire, a piggy back would be enormously helpful when trying to run up a steep fell side for example, and I was somewhat flawed. She has a point. Definitely a point…. I’m still not up for giving a piggy back though – wheelbarrow race, well possibly. Wait and see.
Second loop nailed, I did a minor sprint finish towards the end of the pack. I caught up with chats with a few people, needed to touch base with the runderwear ambassador for a start – her running seems to be on form at the moment, definitely no chaffing interrupting running action today! And then there were waves of recognition to other random runners as is always the way.
Quite a few milestones today – I found out too late one runner had completed his 200th run today, that’s pretty darned impressive. He must have been very fast because I didn’t see anyone running with 200 balloons attached to them as is traditional. I hope he went on to eat much cake and then rest on a huge pile of laurels with a smug expression for a bit. That’s what I’ll do if and when I ever achieve that degree of parkrun awesomeness. I then went to the end of the park to cheer the absolute final finishers home round the final loop. Some parent and child pairings I think, who were pleased to have me whooping them from the side-lines, well appeared to be anyway! It was fun, I enjoy that bit. It is really inspirational. There was a look of steely determination on the young runners as they completed their final few hundred metres to the finish. I must be hormonal, I felt quite tearful watching them, in a good way, but slightly disproportionate. The same unsettling effect can happen with certain TV commercials if you are particularly unlucky (John Lewis Christmas one or Andrex puppies for example) that emotional manipulation I resent, this slight lump in my throat felt rather more justified and wholesome. Yay, go them! Parkrun is great isn’t it, awesome runners, free to enjoy it in whatever way they will.
So that was that, parkrun done, slightly worried I’ll be stiff tomorrow, but at least I didn’t do a face plant and it was good for morale to see some friendly faces again. Back to Jonty’s for first post parkrun breakfast in ages (not too busy today, friendly service, but those portion sizes keep diminishing) then home for copious cups of tea and strategy planning for tomorrow. Well, maybe not strategy planning if I’m completely honest, but I did put my running kit through the wash which is essential pre-race preparation I’m sure. I may not be speedy going over those hills tomorrow, but at least I shall have aroma de Bold all-in-one, rather than aroma de left-it-too-late-to-wash-my-kit. You have to do your bit for the public good when out and about running I feel, especially if you are intending to wear your running club vest as a torso compression garment for the duration. You have to think of the community you are representing at times like these!
Oh hang on, you are probably wondering about the ‘record-breaking’ reference earlier on. I know, I’m such a tease! Well, I have exaggerated a little in my heading, but not overly much. Today was a near record breaking performance for me at parkrun. It was, dear reader, wait for it, my third most worst performance at parkrun. That’s a bronze in Olympian terminology for personal worst run since I started. Surely worth a mention! I think that conclusively prove you can fake it to make it, just there is not absolutely certainty in which direction in relation to ‘making it’ (towards or away from) that the pendulum will swing. Still, that’s part of what makes running interesting surely? The element of the unknown. Anyway, as we all know, I was tapering, so naturally I could have run faster had I wanted to, I just didn’t feel the urge… Even without trying, I still got my bronze. I can do anything! Hey look – the image on the bronze medal even looks like me, it must have been fate that got me to this point!