Posts Tagged With: sheffield half marathon

Rocking the context appropriate look. Snow plogging microadventures r us.

Digested read: went plogging on the Sheffield Half-Marathon route.  It snowed.  It was still fun.

litter picking white out

Undigested read: I can hardly run a bath at the moment, let alone a half marathon.  This is a shame, because we are fully into not so much the run up (see what I did there?  Hilarious) as into the actual tapering period for the 2019 Sheffield Half.  This time last year I was well into my distance runs and used the Sheffield Half as a training run for the London Marathon. That seems like a life time ago. The past is another country I did things differently there.  Now, for various reasons, I’ve had my running goals for this year well and truly scuppered.  It is a source of much squirm-inducing regret that when my lovely running club asks us each month to volunteer our achievements and post them on Facebook for each return period that I find myself racking my brains trying to think of something to say.  Something – anything?  Nope, just an echoing void up there at present.  Nothing to report.  I blagged it the last two months, by explaining February was pretty much taken up with my merchandise testing commitments (Brooks Juno Bra thank you for asking) and then March brought with it my media commitments, culminating with my companion animal finding herself the poster giraffe for the Sheffield Half.  She was thrilled!  I got glory by association.  I might not make the start of the half this year, but hopefully the 5-10% of the population who are apparently particularly susceptible to hypnosis and suggestion will come to believe I was there just because they have seen this image circulating about the right time. I like to believe so.

sheffield half picture

Anyway, irrespective of whether or not I’m running, this is my blog, my rules, I can plog if I want to, however tenuous the theme in terms of its relationship to running.  Today’s theme is litter picking on the Sheffield Half Marathon loop, so that’s almost exactly the same as going for a run yes?

The background is that a group of us did this half marathon litter pick last year, after a last minute ‘who else is up for it’ Facebook post put out by a local running shop.  A fair few of us were, and rocked up, and it was fun. We got to dress up like Nemo and everything, though the amount of litter on the route was dispiriting.  It came about because those of us who’d been using the route for long run recces couldn’t help but notice the litter that had accumulated along the way, and it seemed a poor advert for our beloved Sheffield.  Instead of waiting around for some vague ‘other’ to take the initiative ‘somebody should do something’ Front Runner took the initiative, and put out the call. Seems that hit a nerve, and people came indeed.  Litter picking in general and plogging in particular is increasingly a thing – check out Runners Against Rubbish – which is good because it has to be done and bad because it shouldn’t be needed. Plogging runs featured at the Big Running Weekend a couple of weeks back too.  Anyway, pleased to report, they did the same again this year, suggested a group litter pick along the Sheffield Half-marathon route, and there was an even bigger turn out, this year than last.  yay!  Perhaps this will become an annual tradition.  Hope so.

shef half litter pick

So you see, whilst I might not be up to much running, I can still have running related fun times scrabbling about in mud and heave-hoing unsavoury discarded bits of rubbish out of polluted ditches with my running buddies.  We are hard core we Sheffielders, and we know how to make our own entertainment!  Plus, plogging in a ditch is pretty light weight compared to fell running which to the untrained eye might seem to stretch the definition of ‘fun times’ yet looks like great larks compared to the Barkley marathon.

You do know about the Barkley Marathons yes?  In case not – you might have just blocked the very thought as a subconscious protective reflex – this is a 100 mile plus suffer fest.  It has five laps, each lap of 20-plus miles in distance and includes about 12,000ft of brutally-steep, obstacle-laden, muddy mountain ascent through thick woodland.  That’s like climbing Everest twice, apparently,  which is another thing on my list of activities I have zero desire to undertake.  Just to be completely clear, I don’t even want to climb Everest once.  In conclusion, I think it’s fair to say that the Barkley Marathons stretches the definition of ‘fun’ a tad too far for even type two fun* recognition. Just saying.  Well done Nicky Spinks for giving it a go all the same.  Shame it meant you missed the first Trunce of the year but understandable in the circumstances.  Epic.  No-one came close to finishing the Barkley Marathons this year by the way.  I’m not surprised.  Nicky looks hard core yes, but she doesn’t look like she’s particularly having any real=time fun now does she?  It’s cool she’s wearing a dark peak fell runners bobble hat though.  Respect.  She’s still beyond awesome.

 

 

 

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, having running related fun in the great outdoors.  So it was that last night I scooped up a friend and together we chugged up to the Norfolk Arms rendezvous for the collective litter picking endeavour.  Tooled up with our heavy duty gloves, we sat in the car, admiring the moody sky and dramatic clouds.  About five minutes ahead of our rendezvous time, heavy drops started to land on the windscreen.  ‘I hope it’s not going to rain’ remarked my litter picking buddy.  We laughed nervously.  It would only be a couple of hours.  We exited our vehicle and joined the gathering by the van, joining the queue for bin bags, struggling into our junior sized high-vis and delightedly welcoming our parkrunning buddy, Regal Smiley who’d rocked up to join the fun=fest and frolics in the name of keeping our run routes litter free. Yay!

As we greeted one another, the rain stopped.  That sounds good doesn’t it, except it wasn’t because there was no longer precipitation, oooooooooooooooooh no.  It was because it transmogrified into fat flakes of snow. Proper snow.  Full on white out, snow snow. It settled on our hats, and snowed with an intensity and density that is usually reserved for the closing climactic sequence of cheesy American films set against the backdrop of Christmas holidays. You know, where every problem is overcome, every misunderstanding cleared, and loving couples or families rush out red cheeked, starry-eyed and bobble hatted through a forest of Christmas trees already laden with snow, or along a city street with shop windows a-bling with Christmas lights as fresh snow falls and the credits roll.  Like that. Exactly like that, only colder and wetter and with less joyful cavorting on our part.  We did laugh though.  A lot.  And to be fair, if the weather was going to be dramatic, I’d sooner take the apocalyptic drama of unexpected decent snow over the soul-sapping water torture of horizontal rain.  Also, definitely better than having a helicopter induced storm hurl roadside barriers at you mid-marathon in China.  It happened.  It really did… quite relieved I didn’t bother entering that one now, especially after learning I wouldn’t get away with taking along the bike for part of the route after all.

chinese-marathon-helicopter-1554308675

Besides, we were here now, committed.

We took our bags, our gloves, out litter picker and our resolve and off we went, a trio of awesomeness, to take on Sheephill Road.  Time for a quick selfie first though…  Just for clarification purposes, that’s the start of the snow you can see in the flurry of white flakes, not a severe dandruff episode by a fellow litter picker just out of shot.

what larks eh

We bagsied the upper end of Sheephill Road from the Norfolk arms downed.  I thought we might have to fight for it – I feel a tad territorial for this section because it’s the same bit I did last year, which is ridiculous, but true.  As it happened, we three got it all to ourselves, and off we went.  We were an awesome team, covering both sides of the road like police forensic investigators seeking out clues in a finger tip search.  Litter picking is disturbingly surprisingly addictive.  No fag end is safe, no bottle too remote to be hunted down and caught bang to rights and bagged – probably to end up in land fill which is depressing, but preferable to choking wildlife at least.

There aren’t any whales in Sheffield, so I don’t think we were saving them particularly from consuming plastic on this occasion but then again, who knows where discarded plastic can end up.  No really, I spent some time volunteering at a wildlife centre in Zimbabwe and one day found myself removing plastic wrap from cucumbers flown in from the UK – probably grown in a poly tunnel, that were past their sell-by date and so were discarded from the shop and were now being used as animal food. How many countries had that plastic wrap visited in its single use lifetime? What is that about?  Crazy.  That’s why 44 kg of plastic was found in a dead whale only last month.  No fun to be had in that story, none at all.  Don’t need to be Hercule Poirot to work out contributory factors for cause of death for that one.  Or even James Herriot, or whatever the marine biology veterinary equivalent for that might be… This is plastic that emerged from a whale gut, I couldn’t be more astonished if it was a picture of Jonah himself bursting forth.

plastic in dead whale guardian

It was surprisingly companionable yomping along plogging and picking our way through the undergrowth with varying degrees of concentration. We evolved a system whereby Regal Smiley/ bicentennial woman who was in possession of the grabber (well, she does command natural authority, plus she was the one who had the foresight to bring it with her) responded to a sort of directional pointing system whereby we other two, lacking her reach, would get the bits we could and then point out to her the more elusive finds.  She would do well in the opal mines of Coober Pedy as once she was convinced of the presence of something, in this case litter, nothing would deter her from ferreting it out. Together, we were invincible.  That dear reader, is what team work is all about.

coober pedy

‘This image is courtesy of John Park, who you can follow on instagram at  https://www.instagram.com/parky.au/  if you fancy some virtual travel browsing through some stunning pictures of the great land down under and beyond!’

We didn’t find any opals, but we did find some vintage crisp packets, they don’t have the same market value though, well, not as far as I can tell anyway.  I didn’t research it all that conscientiously, I’ll be kicking myself when a vintage salt’n’shake crisp pack suddenly appears on eBay, with the faded lettering being described as ‘adding authenticity and character’ … I can feel my blood boiling at the very thought!

The weather did crazy things.  At times there were blizzard conditions, at times bright sunshine broke through, and there was the most extraordinary rainbow that seemed to arch across the whole city, I wished I’d got my camera with me, but then again it probably wouldn’t quite have done it justice, plus, I was able to delegate photo duties to Regal Smiley who did a fair enough job in the circumstances!

Here is the snow:

reet nice out

Well, some of it, and here is the rainbow. Also just some of it…

rainbow road

We were merry in our labours.  Also, encouragingly, the litter situation was way better than last year, and although there was still plenty, we made speedy progress.  No especially epic finds – well, apart from the almost buried plastic Christmas Tree and associated baubles, really people?  There was inevitably, lots of plastic, haylage bags, fast food polystyrene wrappers, huge amounts of cigarette ends, discarded bottles, one solitary gel pack wrapper. and debris from miscellaneous road accidents.   Had we but the time and inclination – oh yes and skill too – we could quite possibly have built our own vehicle with the bits of body work accrued along the way.  Some duct tape would have helped maybe, but then you can do anything with duct tape and imagination!  After all, if it can be used to fix a plane after a bear attack, I’m sure it could assemble some discarded car panels without too much difficulty.

 

After an hour or so, there was the pitter patter of tiny feet behind us.  Breathless, and inappropriately dressed for the inclement weather was a trio of youths.  I must be getting exceedingly old, because when they introduced themselves, still wet and shivering as ‘students’ my immediate thought was they were a detail from a local school sent to join the community initiative, but no dear reader, they were actual university students, doing a journalism course and in search of a local story.  Mind you, I do find increasingly I have become that person who notices that my GP and other officials look alarmingly youthful.  The logical conclusion of this I am actually old, not just old before my time.  I don’t know quite how to process that thought, so now I’ve shared it, I’ll ignore it and move one… Anyway, where was I, oh yes, clearly, we were the most newsworthy thing going on at the time, and so we were within their grasp. Also, I secretly suspect they’d got wind of my recently acquired poster girl status so perhaps were hoping for some sort of celebrity coup to boot, though they were far too professional to let on to that insider knowledge, didn’t want to seem all giddy in my presence I expect… So, what they wanted to do was a little piece on the community litter pick for one of their assignments. Fair enough, sounded entertaining.  ‘We are like the wombles!  You know “underground, overground, wombling free“‘ I half-said half (badly) sung, being met with looks of confused incomprehension, oh gawd, I really am old, surely they haven’t been forgotten – I had their LP at one point, ‘wombling free’ it’s a tragedy if that cultural heritage has now been lost, we do indeed need the Wombles more than ever!

wombles

We continued our litter pick, whilst they found a suitable lay-by to set up their gear.  To the casual observer they would have looked like spectacularly well equipped doggers.

They wanted some litter picking shots, featuring the grabber in action and in close up.  This required quite a lot of practise, and hilariously (well I thought so) the initial actual litter that was being used for the shot just didn’t cut it as camera eye candy.  Fortunately, one of the trio had brought along her own, more photogenic litter just in case.  This was in the form of a bottle of lucozade sport (I like to think, as the ‘sport’ reference seems especially apt, but I might have imagined the whole thing just because I wished it so), which she downed in one, so that she could jettison the bottle on the verge where it could be picked up and popped in a black bin bag on endless repeat until caught from all possible angles and the perfect shot, like the discarded bottle, was safely in the bag.  (Honestly, I’m on fire tonight!)

Then we stood in a slightly self-conscious line and the director said he was going to ask us each a question to camera as a sort of vox pox segment (well, what with my work as a supporting artist elsewhere, I have all the media lingo down to a tee). Now, this is where we approach the comedy climax of the evening…  but to fully appreciate this, you need context.

The thing is Regal Smiley has many talents.  Epic runner, parkrun run director blah de blah, but one of her most public-spirited duties is linked to her being the power behind the photographic throne occupied by Mr Carman.  Yes, yes, he takes squillions of pictures week in, week out, selflessly giving his time for the running community of Sheffield, but it is Regal Smiley who acts as upholder of human dignity and public decency, acting as censor to any shot that might unduly humiliate or embarrass the subject of the photo.  Obviously due humiliation is a different thing altogether, and comedic value can outweigh an unflattering shot, but even so, she has much respected form in saving us runners from the brutal reality of seeing in high-definition our true running likenesses if that truth might mean we never left the house again.  She is the guardian of our individual and collective self-esteem, for this we should all be grateful.  Therefore, it was not unreasonable, that before consenting to our vox pox section she politely enquired

Do we look OK?‘. I know what she meant, save us from the spinach caught in our teeth or the inside out jacket or the river of snot that I’ve failed to notice because my face is too numb from the stinging hail. It was self-evident to all.

You look great!’ he said confidently.   The reassurance he gave us was to be short lived.

It wasn’t self-evident to all.  I know this, because he added with a bit too much enthusiasm in his voice ‘being bedraggled and cold and windswept and filthy is exactly the appropriate look for this piece when you’ve all been out litter picking in the snow!’  Oh how we laughed!  I’m paraphrasing only slightly, we rocked our context specific look, it is fortuitous that these clips will never see the public light of day.  Well, unless one or more of us was to go missing on the way home and they had to play that snippet of us on Look North as the last sighting of us for identification purposes, oh the shame.  And that nearly happened to be fair, but more of this later.

We did our slightly stilted commentary on the community cohesion of litter picking, and love of the peaks and running, and how we met through parkrun and all of that. Then, in a moment of clarity me and Regal Smiley realised this could be our running related achievement for April when reporting back to our Smiley record keeper, so more photos of us all together and separately in all possible permutations were taken. The sun came out, rather spoiling our hardcore claims.  I think it’s fair to say the weather was changeable.

 

 

 

We left them doing there final ‘to camera’ summary and continued our meander back along the verges.  It started snowing again, we were on a mission.

snow

It’s amazing how you see missed bits of litter when you view the landscape through a different angle.   We’d already done this section on the outward march.  Regal Smiley was emboldened to scamper over walls and criss-cross wobbly stones to reach tantalizingly placed litter the other side of walls.   There was definitely more than one point when I thought we might lose her over a crumbling dry stone wall. We discussed this possibility.  I was thinking at first we’d get away with pretending we’d never seen her, there weren’t many cars about and nobody was taking much interest in us… as long as we other two stuck to our story we’d be fine – then we remembered the cursed vox pox sequence, and if those keen journalism students got wind of her disappearance they’d be like the blooming Scooby Doo team, endlessly screening their now highly marketable footage as they tried for a ‘true crime’ documentary full length feature on ‘what really happened’. We’d never have got away with it.  So all in all, it was very fortunate, that we were able to haul her back roadside, and make it back safely!  No search team required…. this time.

scooby doo

Pleasingly, just as we returned to the corner of Lady Cannings plantation entrance, where we’d piled up all our bags, the Front Runner white van appeared to gather up our rubbish offerings.  It was a leaky, sodden and unsavoury mess of stuff, I wouldn’t have wanted it in the back of my car.  Above and beyond I’d say.  You can get Sheffield City Council to pick up bags from organised litter picks if you let them know in advance, but there was a different plan at work here.

And that was that, we said goodbye and went our separate ways.

I feel however I need to add this postscript.  As me and my tail walking buddy – did I mention that already?…

53036219_318839055650700_8263248491724144640_n

were derobing and clambering back into my car, we got chatting to a guy in the vehicle next to us.  He hadn’t been litter picking with us but he does solitary litter picks around his road all the time.  I mentioned to him that there is the Sheffield Litter Pickers Facebook group if he wants help.  He brooded on this point for a bit and then said words to the effect of he quite liked the cathartic effect of doing it alone and raging at the awfulness of mankind with every bottle plucked from a hedge or broken glass from the gutter he weirdly liked finding justification for his misanthropic view of the world.  I rather respect that.  It made me laugh.

And so dear reader, it was but two sodden hours on an April evening, but it was crammed with hilarity and micro-adventures a-plenty. Sometimes, it is worth just stepping outside the front door and seeing what unfolds.  Just be wary of cameras unless you are dressed in a context appropriate way. Oh and also, I feel a  need to share that really, in our own way, we three, and indeed all the other litter pickers out there last night, were tackling the same elements as the Barkley marathoners, because they too started their quest in sunshine, only to be caught out by wintry conditions and snow.  I may not quite be in Nicky Spinks’ league just yet, but I am somewhere on the continuum of weather she has experienced in her running challenges, and that’s a start.  Also, other litter pickers took independent initiative to play their part in an afternoon pick as they couldn’t make the evening one, ploggers are everywhere it seems, how splendid is that!  See them rock their context appropriate hi-vis too.

independent action litter pickers

Heart warming isn’t it?  And we could all do with a bit of good news in these dark times I’m sure.

You’re welcome.

*type two fun – things that are fun only when viewed retrospectively, from a very safe distance.

Categories: off road, teamwork | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

Having a giraffe at the Sheffield half 2018

Digested read:  Did the Sheffield half-marathon at the weekend, strictly speaking it’s the Yorkshire half I think.  Which is confusing.  The crowd support was grand, Geronimo my companion giraffe was a hit, and I got to meet the Terrific Tilly along the way.  What’s not to like?  My last long run pre London Marathon.  Now I have maranoia and post event blues.  These emotions are unhelpful, but apparently not uncommon.  Oh well.  Still love Sheffield running and Sheffield runners though.  Hope you get to run here too dear reader, you’ll love it!

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt and medal!  Hurrah.  What’s more, had a giraffe doing so.  Literally, as in I did have a giraffe with me for the Sheffield Half Marathon, and in the not exactly metaphorical, but certainly more obscure British street speak ‘having a laugh‘ sense.  My (and your) appreciation of this dual meaning clearly demonstrates my hip and street wise credentials despite the apparently uncool choice of running with an African even-toed ungulate as my companion animal of choice for the event.  Life in general is full of such apparent contradictions, but sometimes, somehow, the unlikeliest of juxtapositions will work, thus, see below, evidence of having a giraffe in both senses.

Running can be fun dear reader, or at least seeing people you know whilst out running most definitely is, and this can delude you into thinking it’s the running bit which is fun by association.  On reflection, the whole thing is probably one big delusion, like clicker training for dogs.  The poor creatures learn to associate a click with a food reward or other treat, until eventually just hearing the click is its own reward, the food treat being withdrawn.  Oh my gawd!  Suddenly the penny drops.  Maybe running isn’t fun at all?   it’s the positive reinforcement from my running buddies that has led me to believe otherwise!  Cripes.  Let’s not go there. Hang on while I just breathe into a paper bag for a bit.   Hey ho, bear with me, let’s just continue to imagine running is intrinsically fun shall we?  Otherwise a whole house of cards will come tumbling down, and none of us want that, surely?  Look, here’s the very proof that running is fun!  I like this picture, top of the hill, top of the world, and just had the good fortune to see the fine folk of Accelerate proffering encouragement and water and all sorts of other positive reinforcement, plus they took this photo, I believe I claimed a hug at this point too, because that’s what the people who line the route of the course are there for, to provide healing hugs on demand to runners in need.  A very fine job they do of it too.

acc seen my friends

I’m running ahead of myself though – not something that happens very often when I’m literally as opposed to metaphorically running.  Let’s get back to basic chronology.  So last Sunday was the 2018 Sheffield Half.  I didn’t run it last year, when there was sudden unexpected scorching heat, but did the year before in 2016.  I really enjoyed it, it was my first time over that distance, and the support en route was astonishing.  I ate my body weight in jelly babies and had a lifetime’s supply of high fives over the duration.  I felt invincible at the end.  Even though generally I’m not a fan of road running, this year it was definitely in the diary.  It would be a good last long run pre-London (have I mentioned recently that I’ve got a ballot place for the London marathon this year?), and I’ve run the Sheffield half route a fair few times in training to get the miles in, so I was hoping it would seem straightforward by comparison to doing a full marathon.  Familiar territory, shorter route, blah de blah.

The preparation started the day before, laying out my kit, ironing my name onto my Smiley shirt, agonising over which of my many pairs of socks to wear.  It was important to me to replicate the kit that I’ll be wearing at London.  I did wonder if the name thing might be something of an overkill for Sheffield, plus there was the fear that my amazon iron on letters might not stay put in the wash.  Nevertheless, this was the plan, I would stick to it, and I did, and so did the letters. They even stayed on after washing.  Phew.  Bargain buy actually.  Less than £4 including postage got me these and some!

I had some additional angst when I wasn’t sure if the centre of my body that I laughingly refer to as my ‘waist’ could still accommodate Geronimo. Not only am I the only person in the history of marathon training to put on weight during training, but also I hadn’t fully factored in that I need to wear my running belt with water, and naked bars and other running essentials underneath.  It was a bit snugger than I’d have liked, but doable, ‘this is why I’m having a practice run‘, I tried to remind myself, whilst inwardly weeping at my less than athletic frame.  Also, Geronimo has quite a severe neck curvature, I improvised with garden twine but not sure this is entirely humane.  I managed to get her number on OK, but then had a wave of panic about whether this is allowable under race rules.  I don’t approve of running under other runners bibs.  It’s not fair on race organisers and it does have safety implications – though I can see the temptation if events don’t allow transfers even weeks ahead.  Is it therefore OK for Geronimo to wear my number?  Should we each have had our own?  Am I guilty of race-craft hypocrisy on this score?  It’s an ethical minefield!  Oh well, committed now and at least it means I get company on the way round.  I decided not to share my pre-race angst with Geronimo – no point in stressing us both, and just left her to carb up, whilst I did likewise.

I actually had a friend visiting, which was really nice, but I ate more than I should have the night before a run, and later than was ideal, although it was all very lovely at the time.

I got up crazily early and sleep deprived on the morning of the event, couldn’t sleep anyway.  I am still fretting about being one long run down in my training plan, so decided to lengthen this half marathon distance by walking down to the start.  That added about an extra 3 miles.  This was a fine plan, apart from the fact I stupidly didn’t take it into account in my fuelling scheme, and realised once in the start pen, and just before the official ‘off’,  I was suddenly ridiculously thirsty.  I also discovered accessing my water bottles beneath Geronimo’s midriff is not that straight forward. Consequently, I started the half dehydrated and never really made that up.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  Then again, that’s why I was doing a dummy run in the kit I suppose.  Doh.

The walk down to the start was, erm, well let’s go with ‘interesting.’ Contrary to appearances, I do feel an acute sense of embarrassment in fancy dress other than during the actual event.  It was hard to affect a look of nonchalance as I made my way down to the city centre start. To be fair, I didn’t see many people out and about other than dog walkers, and all were friendly, if bemused/amused.  One guy with his beagle was going to be running later anyway, another walker asked cheerily ‘oh, are you up for the fun run then?’ I didn’t like to admit i wasn’t sure it would be all that much fun actually, but thank you for asking.  One asked if I was ‘planning to run with that?’ meaning Geronimo.  This did strike me as odd.  I mean surely, if it strikes you as bizarre that someone would run a half marathon in fancy dress, would it not strike you as even odder if they wore fancy dress on a three-mile walk to the start line of said event, but  with no intention of actually running in it, rather just for the gloriousness of flaunting their outfit?  No?  Just me then.

We took in some sights on the way.  It was fun meeting the lion.  And excitement started to build as we saw the road closure signs nearing the start.   Geronimo hasn’t seen this side of Sheffield before so I was worried she’d be spooked, but she was fine, curious even.  I think she may have been wondering about whether the bus or bike would be the most practical option for the return leg, but we didn’t really discuss it.  Because she can’t talk, and I can’t hum at a low enough frequency. It doesn’t seem to matter too much, we muddle along just fine.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was quite fun as I neared the event village, there was that growing sense of anticipation as people arrived, and I got to see the finish arch for the first, but hopefully not last, time.  I nipped into Costa to use the loo, fearing a portaloo would be too much of a challenge.  Strictly speaking you need a code to access this, but loads of runners were using the facilities – and buying pre-event coffee and muffins to be fair – so we just held the door for one another.

I paced about a bit, and found a few familiar faces, so that was good.  I was quite early, and alarmingly, there were relatively few people in fancy dress of any sort.  In fact, at this point in proceedings I’d not seen anyone.  Because of this, I had a brief period of being a media sensation.  I was away chatting to a Sheffield runner / parkrunner who I keep bumping into out and about, and who I discovered is in fact also going to be running London, for charity, and I was mid-way through downloading all her previous knowledge and experience when we were interrupted.  Hilariously, someone from run for all wanted to do a video clip of me and Geronimo.  Unhilariously, the result is painful for me to watch – is my voice really that bad?  (Rhetorical question).  Oh well.  Then someone from polar watches wanted a photo too, (no, I didn’t get a complementary watch for my services, which is a shame as my tomtom is getting increasingly temperamental about synching these days – apparently the manufacturers aren’t supporting their running watches updates any more.  Curses.  I will have such a tantrum if it doesn’t load London) and then a guy from The Star.  I was basically my very own media sensation. Well, Geronimo was, and I got glory by association.  Form a queue paparazzi people, form a queue!  Not seen the other photos, but here is the front of the Instagram video one and my newly identified fellow London marathoner…

Once I’d fulfilled my media responsibilities, good preparation for when I’m an international sporting celebrity which I’m sure is only a matter of time, I went in search of Smilies.  Found some!  Specifically, I found my very favourite Smiley cheer leading squad, tooled up and ready for action.  They were apparently there to support their dad running too, but clearly taking their Smiley support role very seriously too!  Yay.  I explained to them how they were my favourite thing at the 2016 marathon, and this year seeing them cheering wildly en route was a highlight all over again.  Yay!

smiley cheer leaders

No rain, uncharacteristically mild.  I was feeling OK about wearing a t-shirt for the first time this year.  Not even exaggerating for comedic effect.  I went in search of Smilies, as there’d been talk of getting a team photo on the steps of the Winter garden overlooking the Lyceum.  I dumped my bag and joined the assembly.  By and extraordinary co-incidence, other running clubs had had the same idea!  Who’d have thought it?  We briefly considered photo-bombing the Totley AC group shot, but couldn’t really be bothered.  Anyway, I was distracted by a) the presence of other Smilies, and b) another request for a film, this time by someone from The Star with a video camera, and by other Smilies.  With the benefit of already having had one go at being the subject of a vox pox, I went on a different tack this time.  Explaining, I was in fancy dress because at the time of signing up my running club buddies had assured me that this was a compulsory part of the occasion, and that they would all be donning their own African mammal of choice for the event as well.  Which they clearly weren’t!  I gestured towards them as they doubled up behind me laughing as I went on to reiterate that consequently I was feeling most aggrieved.  It was very entertaining  – to us.  So entertaining, that the camera operative wanted me to ‘spontaneously’ repeat the account all over again.  That would have been very funny to see, we were most conspiratorial, but possibly also came across as sharing our own joke, which to be fair, we were.  Oh well, it passed the time before the mandatory group shots.

CS smiley group shot

As is also traditional, some Smilies were gathered in the wrong place, or stuck in a loo-queue, so not everyone made it.  Other sub-group shots were taken instead.

So more faffing, found another loo stop, then into the Winter gardens for some warmth, some posing for photos in front of the elephant in the room and some stretching (not by me).

Finally, time to get to the start line.  There was a delay in setting off due to a ‘police incident on the course’ apparently.  I was completely oblivious to this. I was distracted by meeting some camel women – first proper fancy dress contenders of the morning, and they’d upped the ante going for a double act.  Then I was distracted by meeting a fellow Smiley in the line up.  The Sheffield half- marathon is basically one big post-winter reunion for everyone you know in Sheffield who runs.  If they aren’t running the event themselves, chances are they will either be supporting it en route, or volunteering. There is no escape!

The actual start, unless you are a speedy runner in the front pen, was pretty stop start.  Some people did try to jog on, but as  a point of principle I wasn’t planning on running anywhere until my foot went over the starting mat.  I was aware of being really thirsty suddenly, but bit late to do anything about it, and a bit faffy to access my water bottle.  I hadn’t factored in the time and effort it had taken me to walk down to the start.  Must make sure I consciously drink something whilst waiting on the start at London.

We weaved over the cobble streets, and eventually the start came into view.  I didn’t think anything would top the experience of getting a high-five from Harry Gration in 2016, but the organisers had upped the ante this year with green wig pram man. The legend that is  the fund raiser John Burkhill!  No wonder I was so excited heading through the start.  Yes, I did get a high-five, thank you for asking.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Apparently the front runners don’t avail themselves of this opportunity!  They are in such a rush to get round.  They miss out on such celebrity encounters.  It’s a shame.

I somehow found myself alongside the 2:20 pacers, both striders I knew, so that was cool, I waved them on though, my race plan wasn’t going to reach that speed.  Early excitement was indeed from seeing familiar supporters early on.  I wasn’t lying when I told you I got excited by the pro-smiley mob just near Waitrose!

RW so excited

The next bit of excitement, was getting to overtake someone.  Admittedly, it was someone carrying a solid oak anchor, but it was a start.  How he made it round I have no idea, that was a seriously heavy bit of luggage.  Maybe he was planning to leave it at the bag drop, but it exceeded their size criteria?  I didn’t stop to ask.  Photo nabbed from Steel City Striders Facebook page – hope that’s OK.  Sharing the running love is all for the greater good after all…

SCS anchor man

Onward and upward.  Well, to be fair, that’s the only available option for the Sheffield half, unless you inadvertently run in completely the wrong direction at the start.  By my standards, which are modest, I was reasonably consistent. Swept along by the crowd I did my slow plod, but kept my rhythm and ran pretty much the whole way up until I got to Knowle Lane. Well I say I kept on running, but clearly there were distractions along the way.  There were many supporting Smilies, and I couldn’t run past them without stopping and claiming a hug, despite one at least telling me I wasn’t supposed to. Well sod that for a game of soldiers, that’s one of the whole points of undertaking this running malarkey. Whilst, naturally, it was grand to see everyone, a particular thrill was meeting this gorgeous trio:

This necessitated not just a photo stop, but a selfie-stop with more than one attempt. Thing is, Tilly the puppy and I have connected on-line, but not had the opportunity to meet in dog and person yet.  I was so thrilled to see her I wasn’t going to turn down that opportunity.  She was fantastically well-socialised and greeted both me and Geronimo warmly . So soft and cuddlesome!  I say she was well-socialised, and that’s true, but I like to think the warmth and enthusiasm of her greeting was because we have special spiritual connection that is unique to ourselves.  I’m practically a puppy-whisperer, and very blessed what with our special relationship.  Hoping this will be but the first of many future encounters.

Onwards.  Hello Runderwear ambassador of Valley Hill Runners.  Had to stop and tell her about meeting Tilly for the first time – only to find she’d beaten me to it the day before.  Fair enough, this was important news, serves me right for not making it to Sheffield Hallam parkrun when Tilly was having her coming out party.  Miss parkrun, miss out.  Fact.  Greetings exchanged, she cheered me on, I could hear her shouts of positivity carrying on behind  me as I ran off.   I’m glad someone was feeling confident on my behalf!

tilly and VHR

Sometimes it was a bit confusing there was so much support.  At one point at Hunter’s Bar there was a smiley contingent proffering high-fives on both sides of the road, so obviously I had to zig-zag across to take up all available options.  I wonder if the lead runners did this too?  Then a shout out from the 50% of the Front Runner team who was out supporting the other 50% of the Front Runner team who was chasing a podium place and probably didn’t therefore double back insisting on a high-five.  There was further confusion, because I forgot that I had my name emblazoned all over my top and my race number, and some random supporters called out my name, which was great, but it took me a while to realise I didn’t know these people.   Didn’t matter, all support greatly appreciated!  Some supporters I missed, but they got Smiley action shots en route all the same.  Hurrah!

The support going out is pretty amazing.  It was an OK day, perfect for running, but not overly warm for spectating but the road was lined with children holding out trays of jelly beans, or lining up hands poised for high fives.  I got some shouts for ‘go giraffe’ which was grand – though later in the race I started to protest a bit because people weren’t sufficiently acknowledging my own contribution to Geronimo getting round.  At one point a cyclist in high viz came tearing down the hill shouting out ‘Go Geronimo!’ which made me feel like a proper celebrity with my own support team.  Loads of signs offered encouraging support – I was quite taken by one that was ‘go random stranger!’.  It was all very positive and affirming.

I learned the lessons from last time out and desisted from taking jelly babies I didn’t want for fear of disappointing small children.  What I didn’t do though, which was dumb, is stop and drink enough.  I wanted to, I was so thirsty, but with so many people yelling support I was a bit embarrassed to pause and rummage around for my water bottle.  The irony of not being embarrassed to run with a toy giraffe strapped round my midriff but fearing humiliation if I paused to drink is not lost on me. I  was very grateful when outside one of the shops up at Banner Cross some random table was set up offering water.

So many sights and sounds.  The crowds thinned a bit as I headed up towards Ringinglow road, by the time we got to the king of the hill section, I wasn’t feeling very regal.  I was really, really thirsty now, and had a knee niggle coming on which I’ve never had before.  I did a sort of mental check about how I felt, and thought ‘you know what I’m fine, but I need to walk and drink and eat something’ so I did that, whilst plodding up the hill, and it was the right thing to do, just to get some equilibrium back.

Nearing the Norfolk Arms the crowd got denser, ‘is that the finish ahead?’ I shouted, ‘yes, yes,’ mischievous supporters shouted back, lying, but the interaction was fun.   Less fun when people tell first timers it’s ‘downhill all the way’ from the Norfolk arms, because it really isn’t, but that’s OK if you are in the know…  Then there was the Accelerate team out in force.  Hurrah!  I can’t tell you how good it is to see people you know out en route, it’s amazing.  It’s all the fun of socialising with friends, without any of the pressure or awkwardness of having to maintain a conversation for longer than you have anything interesting to say.  The Accelerate people got some good shots of the atmosphere of the half in general and of woodrun folk in particular.  Incidentally, woodrun folk are not really like woodcraft folk at all, but I can understand why you might think they are,  some of whom had made a real effort to scrub up for the occasion.  I do appreciate it when people put the time in to choose the perfect outfit for such an auspicious day.

I claimed my hug and ran on.  Round the corner onto Sheephill road and SURPRISE!  My London Marathon buddy was in situ, fantastic to see her, clearly another stop for a selfie and hug was called for. Weird to think next time I see her could well be in London. Aaargh.  Very affirming to get that support mid way through my last long run.

The next section is definitely my favourite bit, although you aren’t yet half way round, the hard bit is behind, the views are stunning and there is still support around.   Shout out for North Derbyshire runners who had their official photographer out and about taking photos too.  I opportunistically capitalised on the proximity of that lens too – thanks Robert Scriven for use of these photos.  I’m such a natural in front of the camera.  No wonder I could barely move for paparazzi at the start.  Some great shots of other runners though, I’m liking the political satire. Check out that name label  – who’s riding Donald Trump eh?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Steel City Striders were out in force, and there were some motivational words for them too, but I don’t think they’d begrudge sharing.  Plus they had their official photographer stuck in a ditch as per usual.  You might think they’d show a bit more respect as he takes some grand photos, but then again, maybe it’s a camouflage thing?

On and on and on.  This section was a bit quieter, quite a lot quieter than in previous years.  I wondered if I was just really slow, but I didn’t feel slow particularly.  Granted I’d stopped for a fair few hellos along the way, but in between I felt I’d run more consistently than the first time I ran this route.  Granted, I possibly pushed myself more then, but I finished with less in the tank also.  I paused for the loo, there was a queue, a couple of pink geared runners ran up behind me ‘we’ve been chasing you since the start as our pacer‘ they said. I was again astonished, I never imagine anyone would find merit in aiming for me, but it was good.  After Dore, there were sections where I felt like I was running pretty much on my own, I couldn’t really see anyone ahead, and wasn’t aware of anyone behind.  I saw one collapsed runner lying on the verge, but St Johns were in attendance, so I jogged on by.  I don’t like seeing that though, you always wonder if they’re going to be OK.

The participants had definitely thinned out by the time I was back on Ecclesall Road, so had the supporters.  However, the upside of this, is that those who were waiting were pleased to interact with me in order to alleviate the boredom whilst hanging around waiting for the people they actually were out to support.  I had some hilarious interactions.  People toasting me with prosecco from outside their houses (which I must admit looked way more fun than doing what I was doing); a queue of children who sprang into an orderly line when I said I couldn’t complete the course if I didn’t get any more high fives, and at one glorious point a band of about 15 or so supporters with huge ‘go go go’ signs.  ‘You’ve got this‘ they shouted as I approached ‘I’ve so got this!’ I echoed back and soon they were all running alongside me, punching the air and shouting ‘you’ve smashed it‘ and other such motivational stages laughing uproariously as they did so.  It was great. Not only did I feel like a celebrity (in a good way) but also it was joyful. It was just playing really, like we don’t get to do nearly enough spontaneously as adults.  A sort of shared understanding of the ridiculousness of it all, and the kindness of strangers. What’s not to like?

It was about this stage I started to believe in myself.  ‘You’re the first giraffe‘ someone shouted, others joined in ‘first giraffe, first giraffe’ in a great chorus of recognition.  I could do this.  Finally, I’d win a category in a running event.  Dreams CAN come true!

Onwards I yomped, there was one moment of shallow irritation.  There is a timed 10k section which is marked out.  About this point, three children aged 8 or so, decided to join in, and ran holding hands in a line in front of me, stop, start, stop start.  I kept having to run round them, and as soon as I overtook,  they sort of leap-frogged round me again, determined to stay ahead of me seemingly, and it was quite tiring.  They were there for ages, until I finally put on what for me was quite a considerable sprint to get away.   A few minutes later a police car pulled up and i overheard a conversation about three missing children.  I froze.  I felt so stupid, I’ve got so used to seeing kids running at junior parkrun it never crossed my mind that maybe three young kids running unaccompanied down the half marathon route wasn’t the best idea.  I stopped to talk to the marshal, but it was fine, they’d picked the kids up and all was well. They’d have had their own mini adventure.  To be fair, although they shouldn’t have run off like that they were being quite sensible staying together, looking after each other and having running fun, just not the best time to do so.

Coming back into Banner Cross and then Hunters’ bar, I was amazed to see Smiley supporters a-plenty still out in force. ‘we were waiting for you’ they called out.  I couldn’t believe it.  I mean, it was practically the next day by the time I was coming back through, but smiley solidarity was still in evidence. Plus new faces of people I’d missed first time round. Smilies are fabulous, there is a lot of support for runners in Sheffield, a legacy of parkrun too I’m sure, but it is quite something to be part of a club that genuinely encourages both ends of the running ability spectrum with vocal enthusiasm.    I felt very lucky.  Can’t see how London crowds will be able to top that. Nothing beats the shout of ‘go smiley’ as you pound a race route.  Even Tilly had waited for me.  Honestly, I don’t think it was just that I was still lead giraffe at this point.

Nearing the city centre once again, there were more opportunities to share greetings as people who’d already finished were now lining the route, supping their non-alcoholic pints, so I had lots of reunions with other runners I’ve not seen in ages as I yomped to the finish.

Coming down the finish line was hilarious.  Even if I have a selection of the most unflattering official race photos ever to hit an in-box in the history of digital photography, I had a glorious finish.  Almost as glorious as the first man and woman across the line.  The officials had mislaid the first giraffe banner apparently.  I won’t bear a grudge.

People whooped me and Geronimo in, and as pretty much everyone else had finished by this point, the announcer was able to call my name and acknowledge Geronimo too as I crossed the finish.  Even better a smiley was on hand to greet me – she’d run with a friend for charity and finished hours before, but it was still lovely to see her as I wandered off to claim my medal and finisher’s tee.  Should have stayed with her really though, they knew how to celebrate another run done!  That’s the after party that might have been …

NF half after party

Medal in hand, I wandered round to baggage drop and then joined the queue to get my medal engraved.  Had a bash at doing my own post race selfie…  ho-hum:

post run selfie sheffield half

I was a bit slower than last time, but happy with the run over all.  Whilst waiting for my engraving I was blessed by the sight of Smiley selfie queen materializing alongside me.  Excellent, guaranteed a decent finish photo that way!  Slightly sinister character lurking in the background aside – is that Darth Vader do you think?

CS smiley after shot with smiley selfie queen

Oh, you want the results of the Sheffield Half Marathon 2018?  For me, that genuinely isn’t the point of running, though I daresay I’d feel differently if I was fighting for a podium place at the front like these guys, every one of them seemingly levitating the whole way round (Photo courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/jamierutherfordphotography):

running for it

Bravo!

I was still definitely first giraffe home though, even if, disappointingly, they haven’t yet updated the results to capture that category.  I may have been fastest African mammal too, but I never did find out what happened to the camel…  also, and I accept this may be a technicality which perhaps the race organisers are having to investigate prior to publishing the final outcomes – it depends whether the camel is deemed to be a dromedary (one hump) or Bactrian (two) as that might dictate the region of origin.  I thought dromedary to be fair, so that is direct competition.  Anyways, according to Wikipedia so it must be true:

The dromedary (C. dromedarius), also known as the Arabian camel, inhabits the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, while the Bactrian (C. bactrianus) inhabits Central Asia, including the historical region of Bactria. The critically endangered wild Bactrian (C. ferus) is found only in remote areas of northwest China and Mongolia. An extinct species of camel[6] in the separate genus Camelops, known as C. hesternus,[7]lived in western North America before humans entered the continent at the end of the Pleistocene.

First giraffe though, for sure, so definitely a win in that category.  Just sayin’

Then it was of course something of an anticlimax.  I was tempted to get a bus home, but actually I couldn’t because the roads were closed due to some stupid running event or other.  Ultimately this was a good thing as it forced me to walk back and it meant I did 18 miles on my feet in the end, which isn’t equivalent to a long run I know, but is a reasonable compromise.  I haven’t got time to squeeze in another long run pre- London anyway.  I was relieved to be traipsing home uninjured – apart from that weird knee thing, where has that come from?

Walking back, I bumped into people who’d cheered me round on course. One woman on Cemetery Road rather sweetly explained she’d been shouting for me, but her husband had missed me, and could they come and say hello to the giraffe!  It’s very sweet.  Geronimo, like Tilly, seems to be able to inspire instant respectful adoration.  Turns out I don’t need to have any social skills, I can just use proximity to a stuffed toy as an ice breaker in all future interactions.  Result. I  mean it might not quite wash in a job interview I suppose, unless it was say an audition for a ventriloquist, but it’s a start.  Perhaps I should start taking her everywhere, like a vegetarian friendly companion emotional therapy animal, only with less chance of having to flush her down the loo if I need to take an international flight say?

And the next day?  Erm, stiff, but not broken.  However, very tired, on a serious note, it is clear I did let myself get really dehydrated.  Still better to learn from that now, than crash out at London in less than a fortnight.  LESS THAN A FORTNIGHT DEAR READER OH MY GIDDY HAT!

Not going to lie, the screaming humiliation of the official race photos was a bit of a downer too.  Oh my gawd – did I really allow myself to go out in public looking like that?  I take some small comfort that this is a phenomenon sufficiently well recognised that there are apparently whole forums dedicated to uploading runners ‘worst ever race photos‘, where we can presumably take solace by howling with empathetic laughter at the shots of other runners who have suffered worse photographic misfortune than ourselves.  Small comfort say I.  Particularly as I thought the majority were relatively innocuous compared to the horrors that found their way into my own inbox.   They may be funny, but inside we’d all secretly prefer to be outed as our own gender equivalent of the ridiculously photogenic running guy, who you may recall ended up as something of a meme a few years back.  How can I rid myself of all my extra chins and chisel my cheek bones between now and London?  Is a water and cayenne pepper fast for the next fortnight compatible with carbing up during my taper?  It’s just Not going to happen is it.  Sometimes there are no words, I’m never going out in daylight again.  Not going to lie, I did weep at the sight of some photos, but then I have to step back from it and recognise that objectively the shot is indeed hilarious.  This isn’t even the worst one, but it does communicate quite well the full horror of the unflattering race photo as you embark on your sprint finish:

Then, for authenticity, in terms of treating this event as a practice run for the London Marathon, post the Sheffield half marathon I got full on post-event blues.  I am probably somewhat guilty of contributory negligence here, because I stumbled across an article by the New York Times on ‘Plodders have a place, but it isn’t a marathon‘ which ironically, I couldn’t even access as it’s pay to view, but of course i had to torture myself by googling the topic and came across much hate filled rhetoric condemning plodders (anyone slower than a 10 minute mile apparently) for clogging up marathons and so debasing such events.  In my rational moments I believe this to be nonsense, I will be slow, but I’ve worked hard to get to London, maybe put even more hours in for training than some of the runners who are fleeter of foot,  because it takes me so darned long to finish those long runs. Even so, it’s horrible to read such toxic negativity.  Especially, when I’m tired from Sheffield and currently cultivating maranoia – that knee niggle is definitely worse now, and I’m sure I’m getting a sore throat too.

For the record though, even elite runners sometimes have to crawl  across the finish line, and if that’s inspirational, which it clearly is, then my shambling efforts should at least be seen as legitimate too!

Michael-Kunyuga crawling into second

Oh well, still going though.  And I’m going to keep on running. Hope you will too! We’ve got this people, nailed it. Totes.

 

Thanks to all the photographers who have generously allowed me to use their photos, I’ve tried to get permission when I know who they are, apologies if I’ve missed you.  Any objections to use of photos then please let me know.

You can enter already for next year 14th April 2019, just saying.

Oh, the Sheffield half-marathon route – blimey, nearly forgot, here you go:

yhms-route-map

Looking for a challenge? Our Asda Foundation Sheffield Half Marathon’s demanding terrain will provide you with just that! Don’t worry it’s well worth your hard work. The course rewards you with spectacular views of the Peak District and various City landmarks.

Starting on Arundel Gate, in the heart of the City Centre, runners are instantly hit with the euphoria that surrounds this fantastic event. Runners then travel down the much loved ‘Eccy’ Road and take in its selection of bars, restaurants and independent shops.

From there on, they are treated to picturesque views of the Peak District, passing Encliffe Park and Sheffield Tigers Rugby Club. Those views are then left behind as the course heads downhill to the outskirts of Dore and back to ‘Eccy’ Road. Eventually reentering the City Centre, runners finish in front of the Town Hall and an adoring crowd!

Naturally, to take advantage of the best of the Peak District’s incredible views, there will be an uphill ‘King of the Hill’ section.

Here is the course profile:  

Profile - YHM

Just gentle undulations really, in Sheffield terms, nothing to fret about, nothing at all!

Thanks photographers, supporters, marshals, race organisers and fellow runners all.

Special thanks to Robert Scriven who has a flickr feed of the Sheffield half as well as a good eye for a shot, some hilarious photos as well as a welcome supportive shout on the way round.  Thanks to Accelerate for sharing their pictures and providing a timely embrace as well.  I’m grateful of course to the numerous smilies (you know who you are) for support as well as photos in this post and others, and thanks too, to the many anonymous others from SCS and elsewhere, the official photographers and last, but by no means least Ian Fearne, Race Image photography, who attends events and provides photos in exchange for an optional, modest donation.  Many of his are inspirational portraits of runners giving their all, and captured at their best.  Some pictures from the Sheffield Half 2018 are here so dig deep and consider donating here  https://www.raceimage.co.uk/donations

 

Categories: half marathon, race, road, running | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Because binners are winners! Plogging the Sheffield half-marathon route

Digested read: runners recceing the Sheffield half have been noticing a depressing amount of rubbish along the route.  The nice people at Front Runner decided to suggest a meet up to do something about it.  Lots of people went, me too, it was really good.  Litter picked, communal plogging engaged in.  All done and dusted within a couple of hours.  Hurrah.

Nobody wants to see Skip upset.

be like skip

But Skip the running dog is upset though, because of all the rubbish he keeps seeing out running.  Anyone who has recced the half marathon route of late – which is basically the entire running population of Sheffield – must have felt their heart sink at the sight of some of it.  The problem is, its quite tricky to pick up rubbish whilst running on your own.  I do always make a point of picking up at least one bit of rubbish every time I’m out.  I mean, it’s not much, but it’s better than nothing, and frankly, anyone who runs any route regularly must have experienced that thing where you keep passing the same bit of rubbish every day.  Case in point, there is a bus-stop at Broomhill – just outside the Guitar Shack, it has a couple of empty spirit bottles on the roof there that have been there ever since I moved to Sheffield 7 years ago now, granted, they are not that easily accessible and only visible from the top deck of the bus but it illustrates a point. Rubbish stays where it is unless someone, maybe you or me, picks it up and disposes of it in a responsible and appropriate manner.

Anyways, in a fit of initiative and pro-activity the good people of Front Runner, under the direction of the senior management (Skip) decided to take action on this point.  Noticing a ridiculous amount of rubbish along just a short section of the Sheffield half-marathon route  whilst leading a group recce up there, they spontaneously collected a good bag full of rubbish over just 100 metres.  Figuring that other runners would similarly be dismayed by this, they put a call out for other runners – or indeed ‘normal’ people, to come join them for a communal litter pick yesterday evening.  Keeping it simple it was a question of basically turn up at 6.30 pm outside the Dore Garden Centre and take it from there.

Pleasingly, the post got quite a positive response straight away.  It’s heartening, people do want to do something about their local patch, but sometimes it takes someone to be a catalyst to harness that general sense of ‘someone ought to do something‘ and turn it into ‘we could do something ourselves‘.   It’s true that plogging has become a new and welcome trend, albeit one with a stupid name. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to describe it thus:  Plogging: the fitness craze that’s sweeping the streets,  but the enthusiasm for this apparently the Scandinavian trend for picking up litter while jogging is surely a good thing. Though it’s hardly new.  We have Runners against Rubbish locally – you can join here for just £2 and make the pledge:

The Pledge:

  1. I will never drop any rubbish and will always take my rubbish to a bin
  2. I will encourage others not to drop rubbish
  3. I will pick up rubbish when I see it and am able to do so

I must admit, I’ve not paid up my £2 yet, but I will do so.  I thought until today it was just a concept and a Runners Against Rubbish Facebook page, but it seems it is evolving further.  Hurrah.

RAR

Hurrah, because rubbish not only looks awful, it can be catastrophic for local wildlife too.  Plastic straws up turtles noses is bad, but rubbish isn’t only devastating in the oceans, it does damage on our streets too.

 

 

 

and David Sedaris has been on a solitary endeavour of picking up litter during his epic walks in Sussex for years and years.  He’s even got a bin lorry named in his honour!

US-author-David-Sedaris--014

Still, it would be unwise to pick up litter in the hope of getting a bin lorry named in your honour, picking up litter is rather its own reward.  Upshot is/was there was a little flurry of enthusiastic interest, and it seemed a fair few runners, myself included were totally up for this.  It was a great idea.  A perfect example of many hands making light work, it would be soul destroying and impractical to head out solo and litter pick a 13 mile route, but with a good gang of people, armed with bin bags, gardening gloves and enthusiasm, we’d be able to split up and cover a reasonable stretch quite quickly.

The hour came, and people did indeed gathered.  I’m not good at counting, and also I forgot to do so, but I’d say maybe ten of us or so.  Skip personally welcomed everyone with a sniff and then left his minions to action his plan.  50% of the Front Runner team explained it was all really quite disorganised and clueless, and they hadn’t got much further than setting a time and place to meet and dragging some bags along.  The other 50% of the Front Runner team quickly interjected the correction that this should be seen as an informal approach to the collective endeavour, with all participants being recognised as having equal value and therefore able to make their own decisions about where to go and start plucking litter from the trashed verges along the route.

Despite the ‘informal’ approach, actually there was organisation.  Loads of rubbish bags- proper heavy-duty ones which was just as well, some of the rubbish was pretty substantial.  Someone had brought along a load of extra gloves for others to use, one was tooled up with a proper extension picker thing (I nearly gave in to some litter picker tool envy there) –   plus, there were plenty of hi-viz to go round. Good idea, as dusk was falling.

I was the first to don one. In my defence, this is a lot harder than you might think. this particular vest was the fabric equivalent of super-glue infused mercury.  Mercury, in that it just wanted to reform with itself, and super-glue in that in then wouldn’t detach from itself.  It was like trying to clamber into spandex spanx pants by hauling them over your head.  Not that I’ve tried this, but I’m confident the comparison stands.  Did you know that you can get different discomfort levels?  Everything from ‘smooth’ (they lie) to shaping level 3 ‘sculpt – a super firm hug’.  That is a hug, but from an abusive partner or one with little understanding of the concept of personal space and/or robotic limbs which are incapable of interpreting feedback from the hug-ee, such as when they start gasping for breath and their eyes start trying to escape from their eye sockets.  Less bear hug, and more Heimlich manoeuvre.

Shaping Level 3

It wasn’t altogether supportive that those around me were scrambling for their mobile phones to capture my writhing distress rather than stepping up to assist me, but I took enormous comfort from noting that the next person who tried to don one found the process similarly challenging.  I think it’s because they are small and designed to stretch, which they do, but string vest like there are too many holes to work out which one is for your head and which one is for you limbs.  However, more pleasingly, once someone else was wearing one, you are basically camouflaged as a clown fish.  No really.  I have no idea when Ronhill took over Pixar Animation or if it was the other way round, but anyone wearing the kit was essentially dressed up as Nemo.  Making him easier to find in terms of all round visibility, and harder to find in that they probably weren’t going to be looking for him in Sheffield and there were quite a few decoy hi-viz wearers.  The clown fish kit though was not a bad idea given how much water was sloshing around everywhere.  I didn’t actually fall into any ditches, but it was a close run thing.  I daresay those Ronhill vests would be buoyant in water too.

 

 

I think it was making the connection between wrestling with this hi-viz garment and string vests, that led me at least,  on to the obvious next topic of crocheted swimming trunks.  Disappointingly, the youthful contingency that surrounded us took this to be a jump into surreal humour, not understanding that the concept is not funny at all.  They were indeed a thing, back in the day, and a splendid garment in which young bucks and silver foxes alike could pose on yachts or whatever with far more style and class than could ever be achieved with budgie smugglers. This is no doubt why you can still get the vintage men’s swimwear patterns here,  though to save you the arduous task of clicking on the link, here are some highlights I’ve found especially for you dear reader.  Not that I need to prove my point exactly, but I do feel some sense of responsibility for educating the younger generation coming through.  Terrifying to think this sort of fashion knowledge is at risk of being lost for ever.  We can start the restoration of this garment in Sheffield, and from there it can once again spread out across the world!  That’s stirring stuff.

 

 

In the swim indeed!  And why stop at just knitting your own trunks?  Back in the 1920s I see there was an early prototype of the onesie tri suit that’s just crying out for a come back. I’m sure it would look absolutely fabulous, custom made in club or Front Runner colours.  For some reason I’m thinking the Dark Peak runners vintage hues would be especially magnificent in this style!

crochet tri kit

The possibilities are endless, knitted or crocheted trunks are endlessly versatile and practical too.  Perfect for a snow run for example, the evidence is out there, I mean, granted, he might not have the most efficient running form, but looks fabulous. These ideas could be a game changer once the new tri season gets properly underway:

 

 

Whilst waiting for others to assemble, the chit-chat covered nutritional tips for fuelling marathons, though unfortunately at that point I hadn’t uncovered this helpful bit of research into identifying the best cake for runners.   On the plus side, I was also at that moment in time, unaware of the new fad of using baby food to fuel long runs, so that was some small blessing.  I do accept it comes down to doing whatever works for you, but why not have proper food?  I’ll concede these are a much better option than gels in terms of ingredients, but I think I’d struggle with the texture.  Also, I’m so slow I can take my time a bit more when fuelling on longer runs.  I’m never running with that much speed or urgency.  Plus, all that packaging and waste, it’s terrifying.  Ironically, I picked up some of these baby food wrappers along Sheephill lane.  Maybe it is becoming an adult ‘thing’, it can’t all be recalcitrant children hurling spent wrappers from their buggies as they are pushed along.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We were surprisingly focused.  Some people had come on their own, others in couples or pairs.  With relatively little faffing, we sort of spread out.  I went with two others (hello :)) who drove us up to the far end of Sheephill Lane where we parked by Lady Cannings Plantation and basically worked our way down the hill.  It was noted that passers-by seeing us in our combos of hi-viz and track suit bottoms and hoodies might have assumed we were out there doing community service. That’s fine, as long as they didn’t run us over.

It was quite bright sunshine when we headed out, so I was wearing dark glasses, which no doubt looked increasingly ridiculous as dusk fell.  Mind you, I have plenty of experience of looking ridiculous whilst engaged in running related activities so that was OK, and also I was frankly quite glad of the eye protection as I dived into hedgerows to retrieve wedged in bottles from prickly undergrowth.

A few things you need to know about litter picking.  It’s strangely satisfying and compulsive, once you eyeball a shiny degraded and discarded crisp packet it’s surprising what acrobatic challenges you will take on in order to seize it.  It’s also harder work than you might think, all that squatting and stretching, and even ‘clean’ litter is surprisingly gross.  A lot of the stuff I scooped up out of ditches was full of stagnant water or worse, and even though you shake out what you can, there is definitely a residual ‘ugh’ factor.  On the plus side it’s rewarding to see instant improvement, and sometimes it’s quite fascinating.  Yes there are sweet and crisp wrappers and discarded gel packets and other unremarkable stuff, but can you explain the seemingly empty jam jar apparently placed on a wall.  One section I cleared seemed to have a significant part of the front of a car – including a number plate – I had a momentary fear I was inadvertently clearing up a crime scene and there was bound to be a body submerged in the ditch alongside.  Although to be fair, we sort of agreed really big stuff, like fly tipped goods or indeed corpses we wouldn’t be able to move so I suppose it didn’t matter all that much.  There was a ceramic bowl that was a bit random.  I wonder if someone was carsick into it and just threw the whole lot out some time. We may never know.  The items that enraged me most included banana skins, that I think people deliberately threw into the hedges because they are biodegradable, but without removing those little yellow stickers; and piles of cigarette ends where I think motorists must have just opened their car doors and emptied their ashtrays onto the road.  Top tip, if it’s too gross to want to keep in your car, then it’s also too gross to discard on a public highway.

I was complaining about this to one of my fellow pickers, he said he didn’t think it was necessarily always motorists to blame, could just as easily be cyclists or anyone else, but personally I’ve never seen a bike with a built-in ash tray so I remain unconvinced.

In fairness, not all littering and destruction is intentional.  Some items may have been carelessly blown away out of the grasp of someone and ended up on the route.  Who amongst us has not had a littering accident of their own. I  still feel awful about losing a helium balloon at a birthday parkrun, and have vowed never to run with a balloon again.  Knowing how bad I feel about that, we should all spare a thought for the hotel guest who inadvertently drew a flock of seagulls into his hotel room, where they completely trashed the place.  “The result was a tornado of seagull excrement, feathers, pepperoni chunks and fairly large birds whipping around the room. The lamps were falling. The curtains were trashed.”  As a result of this mishap, which honestly could have happened to anyone who absent-mindedly laid out a whole suitcase of pepperoni on the windowsill of the seaside establishment at which they were staying – he was subject to a lifelong ban from the classy hotel.  Though got pardoned on appeal after 17 years.  Quite right too.  You have seen the Hitchcock film The Birds right?

 

Anyway, pleasingly, just as I had nearly filled my second bag of rubbish, I met other litter pickers who’d come up from the bottom of Sheephill Lane, thus we did indeed do that whole section.  There was however a bit of confusion at this point.  I opted to continue onwards so I could leave my bag with the Front Runner vehicle which I could see up ahead pulled over in the huge external driveway of a rather grand house up there.  My two litter picking compatriots would return the other way, picking up the full rubbish bags we’d left en route and pick me up in their vehicle as they passed.  Unfortunately, the Front Runner vehicle sped away before I could catch it. Then when my litter picking buddies appeared in their very fine souped up mini, they didn’t have room for my bag along with the other three already stowed in their boot. We agreed I’d stay with the bag whilst they went to dump the others and they’d come back for me.

I waited.  It was quite peaceful standing there, watching the dusk.  Various half-marathon runners had constantly jogged past as we were plogging away, but now there were fewer, just one or two, who offered weak smiles as they trudged by.  I waited some more.  It wasn’t an especially long wait, but long enough for me to entertain the idea that if my compatriots were to suffer some freak accident, or indeed just get bored and decide to ditch the plan of returning to collect me I could be out there for days.  At what point would I leave my post.  Should I take the bag with me?  To leave it might just constitute fly-tipping anyway, the very anathema of what I’d set out to achieve.  Also, it was actually pretty isolated up there, peaceful even. There might be a Zombie global apocalypse just starting out from the epicentre of the Sheffield peace gardens RIGHT NOW this moment, and there was I, oblivious, standing in my inappropriate shades and clown fish hi-viz, next to a bag of rubbish. Maybe, though I didn’t know it yet, my future survival would depend on how I utilised the contents of that bag as the only resources available to me to defend myself.  Waiting, waiting, little knowing what tsunami of horrors was about to unfold.

That didn’t happen though.

Fortuitously dear reader, they did return, my bag went in the boot, and I went in the front as the boot wasn’t big enough for me too. We returned to the Dore Garden Centre and found everyone else gone, just three bags of rubbish and some returned borrowed gloves.  We weren’t sure what to do with all this rubbish, it wasn’t stuff you would really want in a car interior.  I reckoned we might be able to sweet talk the pub to let us use their bins, especially as the plan was to have a drink in there afterwards.  I did ask, and to be fair the guy behind the bar was really good, and I was thinking I’d definitely be able to get signed off for my NVQ competency relating to ‘negotiation skills’ as I asked so sweetly if we could avail ourselves of their bins what with having done a local litter pick and being all so public-spirited and everything. Plus I was wearing my hi-viz albeit my companion was in her community service trackies, so we looked like we’d definitely been doing something worthwhile and important.  Alas, it was not to be, turns out they have a strict recycling policy for their bins and so if we put random rubbish in it they could end up being fined, which was disappointing but fair enough.  Instead we divvied up the seeping bags between us, and realising no-one else had lingered for a drink and that we were also now in need of decontamination ourselves, made do with some mutual air-hugs and went our separate ways.

The whole thing only took a couple of hours tops, but between us we got loads of rubbish.  I mean, it’s depressing all that garbage was out there in the first place of course, but heartening that you can make such a difference relatively quickly, and now none of that rubbish is there any more.  That’s good. This picture is not even a third of the total bags gathered up. Bravo.

waddaloadarubbish

So all in all, that was pretty darned satisfying I’d say.  Thanks Skip for taking the initiative to set the plan in motion.  A very fine plan it was too.

Afterwards, I was able to wrestle out of my Nemo outfit in the privacy of my own home.  Result.

So there you go collective plogging comes to Sheffield.  No reason we can’t all do it on our own too. The best bit of this evening was realising that other people care too, and saccharin as it may sound together we can make a difference.  In a world where often times I feel quite powerless, that makes for a nice change.

Hurrah!

So how about you?  Have you joined in the RAR roar yet?  Go on, go on, you know you want to!

BIN_IT_WITH-TAG_CMYK-min

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

Maranoia mended? Running fun rediscovered, but it took a while to come into view…

Digested read:  wasn’t feeling the running lurve today, too cold, too lethargic.  Then I went to Graves junior parkrun and bathed in the parkrun love and then I went for a run which started badly and ended well, and I made a new friend, and I found a running pace and you know what?  Running is fun again!  Yay.  My maranoia might not quite be mended, but it is most definitely in remission, for today…  No doubt normal service will be resumed shortly.

What a difference a day makes eh?  First thing today I was staring into a void of disillusion and despair. If I thought running a marathon seemed an impossible dream 16 weeks ago, roll forward to today and I felt a pang of nostalgia for those dizzy days of rose tinted positivity that induced me to commence training in the first place. Honestly, what was I thinking?  This marathon malarkey is never going to happen.  I have no idea what I’m doing.  The regime I laughingly refer to as my ‘training plan’ appears to have a) led to zero improvement to my running  – in face I’ve got progressively slower, and b) I lost my long run last week due to the aftermath of an ill advised sports massage.  It’s all going horribly wrong!  Woe is me.  I am a failure as a runner, as a human being, in life – the only thing I’m really good at is personalised pity parties.  Bring on the bulk buy hot cross buns and find me a sofa on which to lie and weep the hot, not-very-healing tears of self-indulgent self-pity.  At that at least I may excel…

 

and then …   lots of running related fun came my way, and now I’m fine and tickety-boo.  No physically  fitter than I was this morning, but a lot more mentally positive.   And they do say a lot of running is in the mind, albeit not all of it unfortunately.   I’m thinking now that I’m just experiencing ‘maranoia‘ the paranoia that I’ll ruin everything in these last few weeks, and probably not even make it to the start of the London Marathon, let alone the finish.  I reckon my maranoia is reasonably severe when it flares up, but I have the kind that goes into occasional spontaneous remission, for this I am thankful.  It is still unpleasant and debilitating though, but hopefully survivable…  Personally, I find what lifts my mood is basically being in complete denial about having to run a marathon, and just doing running related fun things.  One of the saddest Facebook posts I ever read was on some discussion forum somewhere where someone posted that training for London had ‘killed the joy of running’ for them.  I don’t want that to happen to me.  I reckon I’m pretty safe on that score though, I can but dream of being over-trained!

So up early, Easter Sunday and April Fool’s day.  Hurrah.  Grapes disguised as mini creme eggs anyone?

_100652416_easteraprilfool's

My roof is leaking again.  That’s not funny.  Seventh leak now since I moved in.  Not a happy bunny.  In fact, not a bunny at all, and not for lack of trying.  It being Sunday, it is of course, junior parkrun day, and it being Easter Sunday I was hoping to rock some bunny ears whilst on marshalling duties.  I tried moderately hard to source some, but to no avail.  The closest I got was in one shop where they said in response to my request ‘no, but we stocked loads of those last year‘.  Not helpful  Really not.  I thought about repurposing my dragonfly wings, but in the end made do with sticking some undersized Easter chicks onto my hat.  It was a start.  Not quite a full on Easter bonnet, but a nod to fancy dress all the same.

Off to Graves park, oh my, how cold was it up there.  I mean, I know it’s a micro-climate of apocalyptic ice-age proportions, but it’s not funny any more.  The return of the Beast from the East isn’t supposed to be until tomorrow.  Fortunately, despite cold weather there were warm hearts.  I trotted off round with a fellow volunteer to set out the course, and that is my favourite job.  It feels purposeful, plus you get a bit of stomp about to get warm, and you can check in on the animals.  I couldn’t help noticing that most of these weren’t game for venturing out, they aren’t stupid, but I still find it calming being in the vicinity of them all.  I mean obviously it would be better if there were goats and warthogs, but the donkey is vocal and entertaining and on dry days the porcines are always up for a companionable scratch.  Not today though.  Having a duvet day.  Those animals that did make it outside weren’t looking overly impressed.  I take their point.

En route with the flags I came across another marshal who was quick enough to not only notice, but also appreciate my Easter chick efforts.  I feel such observational skills should be rewarded, so reached into my pocket to supply her with one of her own, on the understanding it should be sported throughout the run. Dear reader, I’m happy to report she carried out this promise with considerable aplomb.  She is clearly a natural at having a plastic bird sit on her head.  An important life skill I’m sure.  Well, to be fair, it served me well at parkrun today for starters, so you never know when such capabilities may be drawn on.

Once I made it back to the start, which is also the finish

finish funnel

oh joy.  International parkrun celebrities in evidence, all the way from the legend that is Tralee parkrun, and sporting a most excellent array of bunny ears.  My hat chicks were a gesture I suppose, but definitely more minimalist than was appropriate for the occasion.

Tralee parkrun incidentally is quite possibly the most friendly parkrun in the entire world, pathologically so. They have also taken parkrun to tourism to new heights as they head out across the globe, not as little ambassador / special envoys to other parkruns, but en masse.  They quite literally took a plane load of 80 parkrunners to go on pilgrimage to Bushy parkrun back in January – that’s an impressive percentage of their parkrun regulars – their stats as of today say the average number of parkrunners each week is 169 – so that’s half of them.  More really, as numbers fluctuate.  What’s more this wasn’t even a one – off more a trial run.  Next stop Germany.  Plus, they did a Copacabana song and dance tribute to one of their runners / hi-viz heroes on the occasion of his 100th parkrun.  That’s a service not all parkruns are able to offer.  Impressed?  I am.  Let’s hear it for the World’s Best parkrun ambassador indeedy!  They don’t skimp on balloons there either.  Respect.

Anyway, was grand to meet up with the Tralee contingent once again, and swap a few parkrun tales before I headed off to my marshal point.  I was in a different spot to usual, but it was just as much fun.    I got to see the warm up and the start funnel of volunteers all lined up like a human pin ball machine from afar, and watch the runners stream off like ball bearings pouring out of a jar as they scattered down the first hill.

High fiving the runners storming by as they passed by the ponds on the way to the rear entrance to the animal park. There was a respectable turn out of bunny ears, and familiar faces.  Hail fell at one point, but these juniors are made of stern stuff, they stormed round for the most part.

Only glove less accompanying adults looked close to tears…  The official photographer had most definitely lost the use of his  hands by the time he made it back to base, but I consider that to be a sacrifice well worth him making for capturing such glorious shots of our worthy juniors and esteemed visitors alike.  His hands were always at risk of dropping off with frostbite eventually, so it’s just basically grand he got his shots off first.  (Not a euphemism).  There were some fine portraits available for download after today.

As the tail walker traipsed on by, all a-grin, I wandered back to the start in reverse, picking up another bunny eared volunteer en route.   Turns out, a lot of us volunteers were rocking matching looks today, with blue under our hi-viz.  A lack of consistency in head gear perhaps, but individual expression is important too.

We were in time to see the final finishers bombing down the mudslide into which the finish funnel had morphed.  There was a lot of mud.  Soft landings I suppose.  There was some dissent about how many face plants there’d been at the finish, but most estimates were around the five mark, though no tears apparently, so that’s impressive.  My favourite interaction of many this morning though, was when a young runner finished and the scanner asked for her barcode but her parent explained she didn’t have one as she’s currently too young to register being only three!  We were all a bit surprised as she was tall for her age and physically had made easy work of the run.  ‘When will you be four?’ enquired one of our hi-viz number, figuring it couldn’t be that many more weeks away.  Well,  without missing a beat she responded ‘at my next birthday‘  which is quite clearly a genius response with all its unintentionally withering accuracy.  That told him. What a stupid question.  Much hilarity ensued. Grown ups can be so dumb sometimes.  She was very polite to give a civil response at all in the circumstances! Ha-de-ha indeed.

The course was dismantled as if by magic, and soon there was nothing but memories and muddy footprints where once the parkrun had been.  I was lured to the cafe by the promise of latte and a final chance to debrief with our lovely Irish visitors.  I was supposed to be heading out for a long run later – the forecast for tomorrow being heavy snow I really did have to get out today, but I figured there was time.  But the cafe was cosy, the company fine. The tales varied.  The Tralee junior tourists really made me laugh by telling me that their mum was so passionate about parkrun that any potential partners would have to pass the ‘but do they have a barcode’ test.  If they did, a criminal record or similar misdemeanours would be no barrier, but no barcode, well, no result.  We regular parkrunners all know that!  Sounds a fair enough criteria to me!  We had to talk about Lily the wonder dog, we had to pose for every possible variant of selfie and group photos.  Those pictures won’t take themselves.

tralee parkrun team

Then there was other chat about Bob Graham plans.  There is a reason why this should be run in a clockwise direction I now know.   Not that I’m likely to have to try this out for myself, but it’s nice to keep informed on such matters.

Upshot was, I didn’t get back until almost 12.

Now what.  I needed to get out, but it was arctic blast cold.  I wanted to do 10 miles at least, I thought maybe I should eat something first as a latte might not be enough.  Channelling my inner wannabee millennial hipster chick vibe I had avocado and tofu on toast.  I thought that would be healthy and delicious.  It probably was, well definitely delicious, but also a bit much to eat just before a run, and now it was midday and I didn’t want to leave it two hours before I went out. The skies were darkening, the elements promised inclement times ahead.  What to do?  I did briefly consider abandoning run altogether, but in an uncharacteristic display of mental fortitude I rationalised I’d really regret that.  Plus I was doing a virtual Easter Sunday run to nab some bling like this:

As a friend of mine had the genius idea of sending these out to people who do an Easter Sunday run in return for a £10 donation to the charity she is/was running the London Marathon for.  Great idea.  You make your donation, do your run, send proof, get sent medal.  Nice.  I like to think I’m not shallow, but basically I clearly am.  Who doesn’t appreciate running bling, even if they claim otherwise, and I want to support my running buddy/ new running best friend acquired on a January trip to London.

is there a medal

I decided to be brave, strap on my shoes with my motivational bling:

motivational bling

and head out.  I did head out.  Oh.  My.  Gawd!  That’s so cold.  I actually (shhhush, don’t tell) put on my fleece and contemplated going out in that, but then the hail started, and although my fleece would have been roasty toasty, it isn’t waterproof, and to be fair, even I recognise I can’t run London in a fleece.  Running coat it was, and multiple buffs, and pissed off expression. The chickens were coming too.  Here is the unimpressed before shot for ease of reference:

before

I set off.  Aaaargh, it was hard.  My legs feel strong, my lungs are fine, but eating that close to a run. Terrible idea. What was really annoying, is that I knew that, before I even ate.  What was I thinking.  I mean if I was mid run I wouldn’t have bolted all that down.  I was kicking myself for not just having had a naked bar and heading out earlier.  Plus I was thirsty, because I hadn’t drunk enough, and cold, because I had to walk a fair stretch and wasn’t moving fast enough.  I started to panic.  This is NOT WORKING.  Self doubt started screaming at me.  So stupid, is there any point?  I honestly didn’t know.

I am struggling a bit with what I’m supposed to be doing at this stage.  Really I think I need one more long run – but then I’ve got the Sheffield half next weekend, so when can I fit it in?  Plus, I’ve heard recently, and no, annoyingly I can’t remember where, that if you go out for longer than three hours at a stretch at this stage, you aren’t giving your body enough time to recover. This directly contradicts other advice about just reducing your mileage gradually down.  Truth is, if I did the latter, I’d still be going out for 5 hour runs, and that is a long time on the feet, and it does take its toll.  I just decided that some time on my feet was better than no time on my feet.  I’d not beat myself up, just do what I could.  Heading off on the ‘nice bit’ of the Sheffield  half there was an element of verisimilitude in the experience as there were so many other runners out doing the same recce.  I was constantly either being over-taken, or spotting runners on the return leg sprinting down the hill towards me.  Oh joy.

At one point a driver stopped and asked me for directions, which I gave, at length, having forgotten all about the chickens on my head.  She passed no comment.  It reminded me of an interaction years ago when I was out riding with a friend.  We’d taken horses down a track to a beach, and found perfectly grown wild garlic in abundance.  We had no means to carry it but wanted it for cooking – I was working for her at a veggie B&B.  We gathered up huge armfuls of it, and then basically stuffed it in our every pocket, tied around our waists with scarves, shoved it into the top of our boots, tucked it under the front and back of our saddles and stuck into the elastic bands around our hard hats. We must have looked like we were carrying out our own Green Man homage, plus we smelt to high heaven.  As we did it, we were of course mindful of the comedic value of how stupid we must look, but after a bit, gently walking our horses home some hours later we’d forgotten.  An American tourist drew up alongside us in his hire car to ask for directions.  As my friend gave them, I watched his expression change as his eyes widened in disbelief.  We were practically encased in this wild garlic, and he had no idea what to make of it. Was it some strange Welsh ritual?  Was it a festival that he knew not of.  My friend was completely oblivious to his increasing discomfort, as he was clearly beginning to fear what closed community he may have happened upon like in The Wicker Man for example.  I wasn’t, but was enjoying observing his incredulity at what he was witnessing. I could imagine him once safely back at home trying to relate this story of the wild women he’d encountered on his trip with the wild-eyed passion of those who insist they have been abducted by aliens.  Few if any would believe him, over time, he might not even believe this had happened himself.  He’s probably still researching this phenomenon to this day.  Maybe he thought we were just really scared of vampires.  This is the destiny of those who bear witness alone.  I found it hilarious though, so that was the main thing.  My  chicks were more understated and more easily explained, but I like to think they played their part in this mid-run interaction too.

wild garlic

It was something of a labour trudging up hill, feeling bloated.  On the plus side, there were some cute spring lambs in abundance

I kept finding excuses to grind to a halt.  It was very, very muddy going up along Ringinglow road and my road shoes were slipping all over the place.  I really don’t want to be injured at this point so picked my way through gingerly, blaming the mud for my lack of speed, whilst inwardly thanking it for being their and legitimising my lard-arsed tardiness.

Crossing the road opposite the Norfolk Arms, there were so many cyclists and walkers around I couldn’t run either on the road or pavement.  But my walking meant I did get to see this adorable little bird’s nest from last year, exposed in a hedge that had shed its leaves over winter.  How completely perfect is this?  I briefly considered putting one of my chicks in it as a sort of visual gag, but then thought the better of it as it could equally be perceived as littering.  Took a photo though.  You can’t see the scale here really, but it was tiny, the size of half a tennis ball maybe.  Just adorable

DSCF1899

At long last, I was on Sheephill road.  I genuinely love this bit of the route.  Finally, I started a bit of a trot, and found my rhythm and just loped along admiring the city-scape views.  For a city marathon it’s pretty spectacular.  It was cold, but the wintry showers had abated, and after a bit of undulation it started to slope downwards towards Dore. The route is increasingly familiar and I hit my stride, belatedly perhaps, nearly 4 miles in, but I felt strong and like I could have kept that up indefinitely.  I know I wasn’t doing a long run, but it helped my confidence rally a little to feel that yep, my legs have remembered what to do. The secret really is to slow down, and not to worry that ‘proper runners’ might guffaw at me for imagining my sloth like movements constituted sufficient action to create forward motion, let alone merit the descriptor ‘running’.  Mental strength people remember, mental strength.

My feeling of being strong was marred slightly by being constantly overtaken by speedy other runners, but hey ho, that is inevitable in my universe.  Some of them were in shorts for goodness sake!  Little wonder they were in such a hurry to get home.

Plod plod, trot trot.  I felt good.  Maybe I should have added on more miles, but I decided instead to just keep up a constant run for as long as I could.   The miles ticked by, I’m starting to think it does take me about 4 miles to find my pace, which might be partly why my parkrun times are so increasingly lamentable these days.  I suppose if I seriously wanted to improve them I could warm up before hand say, but that seems somewhat extreme.  For today, I decided to just make myself keep on running, for as long as I could, and it was a lot longer than I expected.  I am not sure I entirely welcome the findings of my increasing self awareness running wise, it seems that if I desist from pausing to take photos, and remind myself to keep on running up that hill as Kate Bush would have it, then I can go on and on like the Duracell bunny.  I don’t tire, I just give up.  It’s like my body cottons on to what i’m doing and draws my attention to the fact that all this exertion is entirely avoidable and unnecessary, and it would be so much more pleasing to just stop and gaze about. If I don’t give into that urge, it will reluctantly press on, until it becomes a  habit.  Cue sound of penny dropping – maybe this is what my marathon pace is supposed to feel like?  I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s slow, very slow, some people can power walk faster, but it’s still faster than me walking and if i could maintain it for many more miles I’ll definitely be getting round London a lot more quickly than if I stop start with the frequency of an over-sensitive car alarm.  Knowledge is complicated, with it comes responsibility.  I genuinely have absolutely no idea how I’ll fare in London, but this slow pace running might actually be an option if the course is as flat as I’m led to believe.

I had to stop to cross roads though, and you no what, that got to be quite annoying.  Though the spring flowers were nice.  Shame about the dead badger(s) though. I  suppose it shows there must be a population out there which is good, but sad to see not one, but two, taken out by cars.

Trot trot, plod plod.  Through Dore, off down whatever road it is that takes you off Hathersage road, off on an almighty diversion and then rejoining the road couple of hundred yards later – one downside of becoming increasingly familiar with the route, is I’ve started to notice all the potential short cuts available, that call out to you on the way round.  I want to run the distance, but presented with a way shorter route home it does seem pretty dim to deliberately add miles to an outing when that time could be reclaimed and channelled into sofa sitting time for example…  I mean just look at it, definitely not the most direct route out and back is it?

strava route

It defies reason – no wonder even Strava gives the strava art thumbs down to that unnecessary triangle into Dore!

Eventually I was on the homeward straight, Ecclesall Road South and downward towards the city.  A couple of miles from home another runner appeared alongside me.  Oh my, that was fantastic.  I normally hate running with other people, but it was a running miracle.  She was quite genuinely running at my pace, having seen me a good mile or so back and really cracked on to catch up with me (that’s a first, me being the target for a faster runner) now she was tiring and nearing the end of an 18 mile run asked if we could run together for a bit to help the miles pass and – you won’t believe this – it actually worked.  I have randomly found someone who runs at exactly my pace.  It was great, no huffing to keep up and resenting being dragged round whilst my sense of personal inadequacy grows to the point it overwhelms me and I not only decide to give up running, but to never leave the house in daylight hours again, EVER.

We chatted, we swapped running stories. She’s preparing for Brighton but has previously done London, albeit a decade ago. She was still buzzing with memories and positivity though.  Top tips from her, don’t worry about being slow and steady, it pays off.  Apart from finding herself running between a pepperoni and a rhino at one point, she also noted that she ended up passing ‘faster runners’ who’d basically set off too fast at the start and blown up.  I don’t think she meant literally as in spontaneously combusted, I think we’d have heard about that, but as in just burning out way too soon.  There is something to be said for slow and steady where marathons are concerned.  Other helpful comments included a warning that it is a stop start frustrating first 4 miles or so before people spread out enough you can actually run. Weirdly, that might favour me, as it takes me an age to get started anyway.   It was really heartening.  I started to believe again that I might actually do this, my maranoia seemed to lift.  She also described the final stretch down the mall really vividly.  Even though it was a decade ago the memory was still strong.   There are no crowds on the Mall – I hadn’t twigged that point, anyway, it means it’s suddenly relatively quiet and contemplative, and she found herself reflecting back on all the things that had brought her to that point.  Oh my god. It was so what I needed to hear.  I can’t wait to experience that for myself.  I think finally, it’s going to be such an amazing experience it shouldn’t matter how fast or slow I am, I’m just so very lucky to be able to go there at all.  If I get to the start, I should get to the finish.  Lucky me!  Best marathon advice ever?  Just enjoy it.

I left my new best friend heading off to Hunters Bar as I swung up towards Brincliffe Edge, but we have promised to meet up post our respective marathons to show off bling and share running tales.  What a turn around from the start of my run, when I could hardly imagine setting foot out of the door, and now I’m all skippy and happy and Bring.  It. On.

Don’t worry, the feeling will wear off pretty soon I reckon.  My lobster red legs were not a pretty sight as they incubated chilblains, and my running chick buddy passed out on completion.  Still, a run’s a run.  10 miles is better than no miles, and once again, my legs and lungs are feeling fine.  There are worse ways to prepare for a marathon. The snow may come tomorrow, I would like to get one longer run in if I can, but then again I’ve already banked a 21 miler, and although that was two weeks ago now, I do believe I can do the distance actually, I just need to hold my nerve and not allow myself to turn to lard too quickly.  Some people apparently climb the walls during the taper, all that pent up energy needing an outlet.  I fear I rather embrace the resting and carbing up. Show me a sofa, I can lie on it eating donuts no worries. Trouble is, annoyingly, I’m coming to understand tapering is a tad more sophisticated than that. Shame.

Still, I’ve lived to run another day.  Unlike chick buddy here.  At least s/he saw something of the world before turning toes up.

after

Love running.  Love running related fun.  Love parkrun, Love my running buddies old and new and not yet met.  Hoping I’ll love London too, at the very least it will be an adventure, and adventures are what make life interesting, so I’ll have a few of those please, if I can. So the final words of wisdom in terms of the best advice I’ve had so far with respect to tackling a first time marathon remain:

Just enjoy it.

I finally think I will!  🙂

 

 

 

Categories: marathon, motivation, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Well that was intense… First Half-Marathon

Spoiler alert.  I did it.  Yay me.

DSCF9409

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

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

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

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

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

DSCF9355

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

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

DSCF9378

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

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

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

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

DSCF9387

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

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

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

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

DL steel city striders

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

IF Finish Line pre startIF Finish line spectators

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

IF Finish line start

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

Harry Gration Star video

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

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

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

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

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

GC wall of support

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

GC so pleased to see you

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

SW Hunters bar

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

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

a friend in the crowd

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

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

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

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

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

TD smiles all round

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

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

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

Veloviewer half marathon hills

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

RS from norfolk armsRS getaway from norfolk arms

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

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSCF9401

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSCF9405

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

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

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

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

AH hunters bar

AH photography en route

AH running on

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

Oh crap. This is real. Race pack has landed.

It has come.  More accurately, I have been reunited with my number for the Yorkshire/ Sheffield half-marathon.

DSCF9334

It dawned on me a while ago that my number hadn’t reached me.  Although many of my running buddies were excitedly posting pictures of their newly arrived race packs, ripped open after tumbling through letter boxes.  I wasn’t overly concerned, I quite liked the comforting perpetual sense of denial associated with lack of physical proof that the Half Marathon is drawing ever closer.  Then I saw a post somewhere that said if you’d entered pre 22nd Feb then you should get your packs by such and such a date (early in March and long since passed).  I finally I realised that maybe, just maybe, I should be a bit proactive about things, and see what might have happened to it en route to my residence.

I emailed the nice people at the Yorkshire Marathon team, and explained my dilemma.  I was now panicking about the non-receipt of my race pack, and would like to replace that current state of panic, with a new existential terror about having to run the darned thing instead.  They responded pretty swiftly, I should indeed have received it by now.  However, they could reissue, if I’d just confirm again I hadn’t received it.  So that was fine.  Except I had a thought.   I wonder?

I live in a building converted into flats.  People come and go, junk mail accumulates like snow drifts in the hallway, and former residents who either never used redirection services or whose arrangements have long since expired, continue to get post for years and years after moving out.  Periodically, mail fairies jettison some of this excess.  There is a large plastic box that appeared by magic in the hall way some years ago, and it is there for the express purpose of dumping unwanted or unhomed mail as a temporary holding pen until someone works out what to do with it all.    I myself have even been known to forage through this box now and again.  Sometimes to retrieve and forward on or return to sender items that look important.  Sometimes out of nosiness.  Why lie?  Of course I do – though I have been well brought up and never open anything, I have been known to hold things up to the light – well you have to don’t you, to see if something needs to be returned to sender or can reasonably be jettisoned.  I do this for the public good…  Sometimes, this mining is actually  necessary to see if something I was expecting has in fact been misdirected into this sink hole for unclaimed post.  The sink hole looks a bit like this, only with more postal items and junk mail occupying the space, so it’s quite an operation to excavate it.

130301152623-10-sinkholes-0301-horizontal-gallery

Yesterday was such an occasion.  I wonder…

I emptied the post pile onto the communal hall floor and went through every single pizza delivery service flier, Christmas cards from Nick Clegg, free newspaper and TalkTalk bargain price offers.  Like an archive historian I marvelled at this documentary record of former tenants who have long since been and gone.  It felt a bit hopeless as I excavated each successive layer unearthing earlier and earlier eras of residence  However, eventually, and remarkably, I did eventually hit the dubious jackpot.  It was there!  Against the odds, I had located it.  Hooray.  A thin looking envelope, albeit a large one.  I can see why it might have been categorised as junk mail by a neighbour in my absence.  I ripped it open and OMG (get me and my text-speaking yoof jargon), there it was. My race number.  This is real.

I replied to the nice people at Yorkshire Marathon (thank you Elliott) and said that I’d now been reunited with number.  I might have glossed over the ‘it was here all the time’ aspect of it all, didn’t want to draw attention to my own stupidity, but all’s well that end’s well eh.  Now I really don’t know what to do.  To run, or not to run, I have no idea, after all this faffing, and so late in the day.  It’s ridiculous.

The problem is, I have this poorly knee still.  I’ve never had knee problems in my life before (apart from breaking one years ago by running into a brick wall, but that was different and also the other knee).  My head tells me I probably shouldn’t run.  My heart tells me ‘what the hell‘.  I am completely resting at the moment, but this path leads to mind games and mental torment.  Too much time to think?  I seem to wake up every morning with a new niggle, ailment or cause of panic.  I really don’t know if I’m becoming a hypochondriac, or whether I’m just hyper aware.  Maybe I’m resting too much?  Shoulder’s hurting, the calf in my other leg is all stiff now and this morning I was just exhausted for no reason at all.  Is this normal?  Is this part of the taper experience and why tapirs are better role models than actual athletes as a spa and (another) nap might help more than worrying about having to run all the time?  I honestly feel like my body has started to fall apart since I stopped running.    According to Run Britain (What Could Possibly Go wrong) a good taper allows you to arrive at the start line feeling ‘fresh and feisty‘.  I know, sounds great.  But also right now completely implausible. I just feel sluggish and slack.  Surely not how it’s supposed to be?  I found this, apart from the Americanisms (for which I apologise to my British reader ‘sneakers’ are not a real thing, not in the UK) this looks a bit of a familiar check-list.  So maybe all that I describe is normal and proportionate after all.

runner in denial

I can’t right now imagine walking to the corner shop without a limp, let alone voluntarily running for miles and miles more than seems sensible.  Plus it is currently hailing outside (no really, it is) what if it does that on Sunday?  I’ve supplemented my training and tapering regime with Googling race tips.  A whole new source of angst.  Chaffing and nipple blisters are only the start of it.  Add in falling over, being sick, getting the runs (but not in a good way).  What was I thinking when I entered?  I have absolutely NO IDEA!

Another cause of angst is race nutrition.  I never eat when I run, never ever, and because I’m so slow and do a lot of walk/running, I’m often out for up to 3 hours and haven’t had problems before.  However, a few wiser runners far more experienced than me have advised that if you are going for more than 90 minutes (and I will be out for a lot more than that) it is a good idea to have something.  Also, even if I don’t feel like I need it, the psychological lift of ‘rewarding’ myself with something when I reach say the Norfolk Arms (round about the half way point and  at the top of the Killer Hill) would be good.  The problem is what to take?

Bit late in the day to practise with gels.  I am vegetarian, so don’t really want to opt for jelly babies.  I have been known to eat them (Round Sheffield Run had them at feed stations, and I did need something then – I even enjoyed them, but then felt really guilty afterwards).  I’m not a total purist, and would eat jelly babies in a survival situation, post an apocalypse or indeed at point of collapse on a run say – but I don’t feel comfortable using them as my default energy plan.  I scoured supermarket shelves for alternatives/.  I can’t cope with the nutrition bars mid run, and some of the sweet options looked like they’d just be a congealed mess by the time I got to them on a run.  Melt in heat, dissolve in ran, too hard to open, too unfamiliar.  This was way harder than I thought.  Bananas were offered on the Round Sheffield Run feed stations, but I can’t digest these, also can’t imagine how you’d carry them whilst running, nor the consequences of discarding the peel en route (actually, I can imagine that bit very well, slapstick running humour in the extreme, but not public spirited)…

In the end I came across these.  An extreme sugar hit, not seen them before, but they look relatively innocuous – as far as uber refined sugar can ever be called innocuous I suppose.  Not so tempting I’ll eat unless I need them, but will do the job.  Also, small enough that they will go into my sleeve’s zip pocket, which is only carriage option unless I put a saddle bag on Roger, which I don’t want to do.  I probably ought to try one of them prior to Sunday, but can’t face it.  Contrary to public opinion, I don’t have a really sweet tooth, carbohydrate definitely, cake now and again certainly, but pure sugar?  The thought makes my teeth vibrate.  Still, they look jolly, and I think the cow is for decorative purposes, not to indicate that the package contains beef.  (In Vietnam you see shop fronts adorned with happy looking healthy dogs… these are not poodle parlours, but restaurants where dog is the speciality, so I now regard packaging as always potentially open to more than one interpretation…  Be careful out there).

DSCF9335

So in terms of pre-race check list I have the following:

  • All pervading sense of being woefully ill prepared?  Tick
  • ‘Nutrition’ fix for en route sustenance? Tick
  • Race number? Tick
  • Horse for assisted passage? Tick
  • New injuries?  Tick
  • Running Club vest? Tick
  • New sports bra?  Tick

Think that covers it….  Just remains to be seen if I have the nerve and audacity to turn up on the start line.  Jury still out on that one.  We shall all find out together.

Categories: half marathon, race, road, running | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Never under estimate the importance of a good Tapir

Tapirs should be taken seriously I’m told.

Personally, I still haven’t made a definite decision about the Sheffield Half, but I see no reason why that should prevent me from putting some unsolicited second-hand advice out there for those of you who are.  The week before a big race, especially for a first timer, is always going to be stressful.  I think it’s fair to say the accepted wisdom is to be resting up during this time in order to ‘preserve your fitness‘ (Thanks Smiley Elder Super Geek).   Let’s face it, at this stage it’s a bit late to imagine you are going to magically metamorphose into an upgraded runner version of yourself within the next 6 days .  However, that means that all the time that might normally be spent running around, can now be spent surfing the internet for random advice to get you to the start line in peak physical condition.

As a running blogger (I’ve decided that for today that’s what I am) I feel confident you will be anxious to hear my own Top Tips on the thorny subject of the perfect tapir.  Only the other day a running companion gave me a serious look and remarked that ‘one should never underestimate the importance of a good tapir‘, and it occurred to me that this is all well and good and easy enough to say, but what does it actually mean?

For a start, what makes a good tapir?  Which ones in particular are relevant here?  There are lots of different versions – who knew?  At least four distinct species according to this wikipedia page about tapir, so that must be true.  I’ll be honest, I was a bit vague about what a tapir is exactly, but I’ve googled them, and they are pretty attractive – especially the calf, but not noticeably aerodynamic or athletic in form. It did make me a bit doubtful about the extent to which an appreciation of these pig like, trunked creatures will enhance my running performance, but on the plus side, they do offer a great photo opportunity – look:

The lying down looks good, and they are probably triathletes too, as they are ace swimmers, though it was a bit more challenging to find any photos of them on bicycles, not that I care about that too much to be honest, this is after all a running blog, not a cycling one, we all have our particular areas of expertise.  Actually, I suppose I did find one of a tapir on a bike, colour co-ordinated and everything, but, whilst I’m not a qualified cycling or triathleting official, I doubt this would have been waved through as legitimate competition.  I mean, say what you like about cycling, but I think it’s learned its lesson from the Lance Armstrong scandal, and they are a lot tighter with rules and regulations these days…  That flamingo is definitely giving some outside assistance don’t you think?

tapir on a red bike

 So here is a photo of a tapir swimming really well, it’s not drowning, and it’s not hydrotherapy either.  Well I sort of assumed not, because of all the pond weed round about, but then again, loads of spas do expensive algae wraps and things these days don’t they, so maybe it is just doing that.

hydrotherapy

In fact, I think I’m beginning to see the point.

If you look at google images of tapir, then there are many shots of tapirs variously lying about not doing very much,  and flailing around in an algael swamp, apparently enjoying a spa. This does sound like it could be the way to go in relation to easing back on the running prior to a big event.  Seems my running buddy’s Top Tips (thanks 007) have more insight than I first credited them with.

So, if you are now scared about your impending half marathon, if you are experiencing all sorts of emotions from the aggravating existential angst to a zillion permutations of unease along the continuum, worry not.  Just think about the tapir.  What I have learned from them is the following key points:

  • Sleep a lot
  • have an algae bath
  • don’t try cycling, not even if you have a flamingo to help it wont work.

Also (and this is my own non-tapir based tip) try to keep stress levels as low as possible by avoiding all the road closure signs and notifications that have started to spring up all over the place.  The sight of them will make you feel sick, and this is contra-indicated at this important time.

Also, eat cake, but not too much.  And lay out your running kit a lot and keep looking at it admiringly if possible.

I think that just about covers the tapir.  If you want alternative tapir tips, then maybe my blog wasn’t the best go-to website for running insights.  You could also try runners world on tapering or wikipedia on tapering – works for me, though I think I can confidently say my article illustrations are rather more appealing.  Each to their own though I suppose.

Plus, keep checking the post, only when your race pack finally arrives will the absolute terror show itself, and then you will know what real fear feels like.  Just a week to go the Sheffield Half and mine has yet to land.  I’m quite relieved really, it means I can continue in denial for a little longer.  Periodically I have a little wave of panic that I wont be able to run if it doesn’t arrive in time, but this is probably nothing compared to the tsunami of panic that will engulf me if and when it does land on my doormat, and I come to realise this challenge is real, and I will be expected to run it after all!

So, be careful what you wish for.

be careful

Whether running or not, I recommend that over the next week you indulge all and any impulses to sleep, eat and see if you can blag a bubble bath/ hot spa or whatever equivalent is within your budget range.  So go wild, indulge yourself, give yourself some sofa time, find your inner tapir, and let’s see what the results have to say about that tactic a week from now.

You’re welcome.

 

Categories: half marathon, race, road, running | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Still sitting on the half-marathon fence

dont-sit-on-the-fence

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

what the hell card

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

ostrich-clip-art

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

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

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

DSCF8916

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

route-map sheffield half

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

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

24189973701_acdf90b079_b

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

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

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

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

truth

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

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

white stag bushy park

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

dog poo fairy never comes

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

Egypt.Giza.Sphinx.01

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

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

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

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

richardwalkslondon

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

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

Jan 2016 fourth largest attendance apparently

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

cheerleaders

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

tribesport jan running 2016

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

 

 

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

To run or not to run? That is the question…

To run or not to run?  Whilst generally speaking  I agree that you don’t regret the runs you do, only the runs you didn’t, it is also surely true that it is easy to romanticise the runs that never were.  If I’d only done the ultra to the stones, I’d have skipped sprite like the whole way, arriving as fresh and lovely as I was on the start line.. Know what I’m getting at?

So it is, I’m agonising over what to do for the best.  The ‘To run or not to run‘, question relates to whether or not I should bite the proverbial bullet, and commit to doing the Sheffield Half Marathon on 10th April 2016.   Strictly speaking it is now the Yorkshire Half Marathon – Sheffield, following a bit of strategic re-branding following the no water malarkey of a couple of years ago.  For the record though, I always felt really sorry for the volunteer organising committee about  that, they didn’t deserve the witch hunt that followed.  Yep, it went horribly wrong, but they put in so much work, and were devastated, it’s not like they messed up deliberately.  In any event, it seems a horrible way for them to finish their years of service in setting it up many times before.  Who’d be a volunteer after that?

Anyway, enough of them, and their grief, back to me, and my self-centred angst of indecision.  So thinking about ‘to run or not to run’ I try and talk myself down a bit, breathe deeply, and calm down.  Ask myself, seriously though, what’s the worst that could happen?  Well, quite a lot it seems, when I come to think of it, hence this could be both the best of ideas, and the worst of ideas.  Oh the agonies of not knowing which way to jump.

trouble with jogging

I’d only nipped round to Cheetah buddy’s house so I wouldn’t die intestate.  Been meaning to write a will for ages, and having reached my half century in life, felt I couldn’t put this off any longer.  Will drawn up thanks to the nice people at the co-op, just a matter of getting my signature witnessed.

So round at her place, sat at her nice kitchen table, sipping steaming coffee (that trick with shaking the hot milk in a jam jar is genius – instant froth) and enjoying the relaxing  atmosphere where positivity  penetrates every corner like steam in a sauna (hmm, might need a better analogy than that – creosote in a fence maybe?  I’ll come back to that).  In this cocoon of warmth and calm, everything seems possible.  I do have to be careful though, she is a svelte and enthusiastic runner, who has been on a meteoric rise in relation to her running performance, I am… well not, and mainly embrace my inner hobbit.  I need to be on my guard, but it is slipping.

Innocently enough, I start asking about her ‘half marathon training plan’ which has been cut out from some magazine or other, or downloaded from a website, and secured to the wall.  Paper I can relate to (you’ve perhaps already heard of my passion for stationery shops).  It looks innocuous enough, a list of dates, with suggested activities.  Two days out of each seven are designated as rest days.  Well that’s OK, in the bag for a start.  At least one day is allocated for cross training.  Yep, I’m up for that – oh is it supposed to be cardio cross training – I’ll ignore that for now.  The ‘long run’ though, for week one is just 5km.  That’s just a parkrun!  Suddenly this doesn’t seem impossible…  I regularly go out for longer than that, I don’t necessarily run it continuously (actually, I never run it continuously) but the distance doesn’t particularly scare me.  I need to give this some thought..  Maybe there is time to up my distances between now and April?

Time to think it through – so running a half marathon is the best idea and the worst idea because…

The best of ideas because:

  • Unimaginable smugness on conclusion
  • Loads of Smileys doing it – don’t want to miss out – I get to wear my Smiley vest with pride, and cash in on Smiley supporters going round
  • Being part of a Sheffield institution
  • The support is supposed to be amazing going up and back, that would be extraordinary to experience for myself
  • It’s local, if I am ever to do a half marathon, this is the one to do, I can train on my home patch for goodness sake
  • If I don’t think about the time, I know I can walk it, there is no shame in that, I often walk/run on trails anyway.   Surely I wont be last, and if I was, that wouldn’t be the first time it had happened to me (ref Wingerworth Wobble) and there is a certain 5 minutes of fame in being in the  frame for that as last one home…
  • Tapering the last week before hand would be amazing licence for carbing up  (I know it’s more complicated than that, but I’ve just listened to the radio 4  food programme special on diet and running, and people used to run on pork pies pre performance and shandy to replenish things after – how hard can it be)
  • Might give a focus for more running – plus I get to play with my Tomtom loads (MASSIVE plus)
  • Participation will be like ethnographic research, I can be an active spectator – as I never run with headphones, there will be loads of eavesdropping potential on the way round
  • Bragging rights – though only to non-runners, most of the runners  I know have already done loads of half marathons already
  • Plenty of Smilies are doing it, there should be support along the way
  • It’s far enough away in the future that it seems a distant hypothetical goal rather than imminent threat
  • If I do die as a consequence of either training or participation, I won’t die intestate any more, so that’s good

route-map sheffield half

The worst of ideas because:

  • You have to run, a lot, in training as well as on the day
  • You have to run a half marathon
  • It’s on roads, I hate running on roads, the arthritic bones in my feet may actually shatter
  • Humiliation if I don’t finish – more than if I just never start
  • You have to train for it for ages
  • I’m worried about getting injured during the training
  • You have to run the outward bit ALL UP HILL
  • You have to run the return bit ALL DOWN HILL
  • The genie doesn’t go back in the bottle, once I say I’m doing this, I might have to go through with it (see earlier references to being conscientious if not keen, it’s my cross to bear)

Hmm, it’s difficult, but a couple of recent happenings may yet sway me.  I was reading another runner’s blog, talking about anxieties she felt in advance of running her first marathon (I know, there is a limit to the comparisons I can make between her and me and the extent to which I can honestly relate to her as a fellow runner), but one thing she said did stand out.  Nearly every runner who has ever done a marathon probably thought at the start of their running exploits ‘I could never do that‘, yet they could and they did.  What’s more, I even contacted the original poster, and said I’d found her perspective encouraging in that even ‘proper runners’ are riddled with self-doubt.  Her reply was hilarious, spluttering incredulity – as far as it is possible to splutter and be incredulous in writing –  ‘I can’t believe you think I’m a proper runner‘ she said.  This the woman who has now done loads of marathons!  Now on a good day, this tells me that because everyone is always battling with themselves, few people ever feel complacent or confident in their running abilities.  My doubt is therefore proportionate and normal, it will be challenging for me, but that doesn’t mean it is actually impossible.  On a bad day, i think ‘blimey, if even multiple marathon runners suffer performance angst, how can I as a leisure parkrunner even contemplate upping my distance?  Much better to watch a film on the telly on a dark wintry day, and maybe have a cocoa.

I thought I could never do a parkrun, but I do that every week now, reluctantly sometimes, but I hate to miss it.  I thought I’d never do 10 km, but although I find it harder, I don’t feel it’s beyond me any more.  Now, I’m mindful that the gap between running a 5 km and a 10 km isn’t so great – it really does seem to be true that you double that distance, you double your time.  This makes no sense to me at all, but seems to be the case.  It is  a very much bigger challenge to go from a 10 km up to a half marathon.  Then again, I’ve done the Round Sheffield Run twice (24 km – of which only 20 km is actually timed) , and it’s my favourite run ever… but you do get built in breaks for that.  Still, as far as  I know there are no marshals on the sidelines of the Sheffield Half Marathon route, armed with flame throwers to get you moving again if you slow to a walk on the way round, so who cares if I stop for a chat and a sit down en route.  Maybe it’s just about positive thinking and making the choice (below is stolen from getgoing-getrunning.com – copying is the ultimate form of flattery I’m told):

get-running-flowchart

The clincher may be thanks to an article in The Guardian last Saturday, can’t even remember who wrote it, but the gist is, stop caring about things you don’t care about. – or as they put it, just ‘stop giving a damn!’  What does it matter what other people think (as long as I don’t turn into a cruel psychopath) , honestly, will anyone even notice, let alone care if I’m slow going round or have to have a lie down mid-way, or cry at some point?  Afterwards, there will be a lot of cake.

Maybe it’s true what they say.  Running is more in the head than in the legs.

Train-your-brain

I think maybe the only way to do this, is quietly.  I will enter, but I just won’t tell anyone. I can see how the training goes, and make a last minute call on the day or day before.  That could work..

So, my motivation for running will boil down to these key points:

  1. Fear of missing out
  2. If I don’t try I’ll never know

My strategy will be to train with stealth, shussh, don’t tell a soul, it can be our little secret.  Then I can explode from the start line on the day, and I’ll metamorphose from hobbit into hare just like this woman here.  It could be me!

to run or not to run

 

Categories: half marathon, motivation, road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: