Posts Tagged With: snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

strava route 21 miles monsal trail

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

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


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




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

bakewell station

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




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

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

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

Compare and contrast:

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




This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Monsal trail ice and tunnels:




This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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




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




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

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

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




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

angkor wat lego


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



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

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


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

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

Go on, you know you want to!

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

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



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

Seems I’m not as nesh as I thought – Sheffield Hallam parkrun in the snow.

Digested read: amazingly, Sheffield Hallam parkrun went ahead despite the snow. Even more amazingly, despite being a nesh southerner, I went ahead and ran it too. It was fun. Do wish I’d remembered to change into a sports bra though.

Of course anyone that takes part in a parkrun anywhere is a winner, but we all know that parkrun/walk/ joggers and hi-viz heroes that head out in rain, ice and snow are extra hardcore and even more worthy of celebration. Even so, it did seem apt that at today’s Sheffield Hallam parkrun, the first finisher was a certain Mr Frost.  No really, it was!  Isn’t that splendid?  Even if he did possibly have a slight competitive advantage given the ice and snow based elements of the course it matters not.  It pleases me and amuses me in equal measure. Here he is in action – impressive eh?  The volunteers got a bit chilly standing around as you can see.  Their hi-viz tabards didn’t make it down this week, which is why they are just in mufti in this illustration.

jack frost running

Here he is again, pretending he’s not going to be first finisher and proceeding with stealth at this stage.  Those Dark Peak Runner in their vintage homage kit are super impressive, they defy nature as they sprint across the fells, parkrun is less their natural habitat, they tend to be more creatures of the rocks and heather.  We were lucky to see one in action in the park.  Awesome.  Kudos to you Mr Frost.  Much kudos.

GC jack frost stealth finish

Not everyone was amused though. Queen Victoria looked most unimpressed, but then again, she’s been out in inclement weather since first being sited on this spot in – well, whenever that was – 1887 most probably, looking at the history of Endcliffe Park, and to think people nowadays take to twitter after but a few hours stuck on a snow bound train or motorway.  What a nesh lot we all are!


The hi-viz tabards were snowed in, all nicely laundered and no doubt smelling of lavender fabric softener in a Sheffield home. Somewhere nice and warm, but surrounded by snow drifts this high:

sheffield landscape

Fair point.  Conditions have been somewhat at the extreme end of the is it wise to run in a snow globe continuum.  An adventure in the snow is all very well and good, but sometimes a reality check is in order too.

So where was I, oh yes, Sheffield Hallam parkrun, in the snow.  Here in Sheffield, like everywhere else, we’ve had a fair old dumping of snow. The novelty of this has most definitely worn off.  I’m scared venturing out of my house even as I live on a steep hill, and loads of events have been cancelled in the last week.  I was supposed to be doing a Dark and White 10 miler in Bakewell on Sunday, but to be honest, I was relieved more than anything when that got cancelled. No idea how I’d have got there, and even if I had, as a slow runner, I’d have been hypothermic by the half way point. Good call race organiser people.  As for parkruns? Well, we are pretty spoilt in Sheffield, with a fair few in the vicinity to choose from, however, these were soon dropping like flies. Why do we say dropping like flies I wonder. … ok, I’ve just googled this so you don’t have to, and am told ‘The origin of this phrase isn’t known. It is clearly a simple allusion to the transitory and fragile nature of an insect’s life. It is known from around the turn of the 20th century. The earliest printed version I have found is in The Atlanta Constitution newspaper, May 1902‘, so there we all are, none the wiser.  Some Sheffield parkruns called early, Bakewell fell, Sheffield Castle fell, Rother Valley fell, Graves parkrun too, even Hillsborough parkrun made a sorrowful and unusual cancellation late on Saturday morning.  Concord parkrun and Sheffield Hallam though declared it to be game on!

Still quite a white out in Endcliffe park though … those venturing out would need to go prepared.


Whoa, that I was not expecting.  I was so not expecting this, that I was all kitted out in my walking gear, as I’d decided I’d do a slow, snow plod and get my 10 miles in that way.  At the last-minute though, they announced the course to be snow-covered but runnable, as long as you weren’t in search of a pb (I’ve not seen one of those in years, so no worries on my part with regard to that).  If they were going to go to all that effort of putting it on, it would seem rude not to, so I did a lightening (for me) change into running shoes and headed off.  I say ‘lightening change’ but it’s nigh on impossible to do anything in lightening speed when you are wearing as many layers as I was.  I could hardly move.  Don’t know why I’m so scared of falling over, I was so wrapped up it’s like wearing a complete protective fat suit, having said that, the real worry would be if I do fall down, how on earth would I get up again, what with having no limbs capable of reaching the ground raised up as I would be from layers of clothing.

stuck on back

So it was I stepped gingerly out of the house, and made my way to Endcliffe Park.  It takes ages trying to get anywhere in the snow, it’s ankle-deep in places.  However, mercifully, fresh snow having covered the ice, it wasn’t nearly as slippery as it has been in the last couple of days.  The roads were quite, and I didn’t see many people until I got right to the park gates. Then I espied a ladybird, honestly, they are decorative and cheery and everything, but I feel they have practically reached plague proportions in these parts lately.  She was sprinting on ahead, with her significant other – well I presume it was her significant other, does that make him a ladyboy?  I’m hoping it wasnt  some random guy she’d accosted just because he happened to have the misfortune to be wearing a red top and therefore was deemed ripe for the picking in terms of conscription into the ladybird/ ladyboy cult fold.  I went to join them in a little jog. Aaaargh. Rookie error.  In my expectation of doing a walk this morning I remembered belatedly that I was wearing a non-sports bra!  Disaster, this was very bad.  I watched them disappear off, whilst I debated what to do.  Hanging on to my assets as best I could.  On the plus side, I suppose this prooves my sports bra has been more supportive than I appreciated, I’ve been thinking for a while now it’s a bit rubbish on longer runs…

ladybird and significant other sprinting ahead

I recalled Regal Smiley sharing a tale of how she dealt with just such an eventuality by donning two bras instead. All well and good, but where was I going to source one at this late stage?  I shared my dilemma, and in true Smiley Spirit, the ladybird’s significant other immediately offered me the loan of his, but I didn’t feel able to accept, it wouldn’t be fair to simple transfer the problem to someone else, tempting as the thought was.  I’d just have to do the run of shame hanging onto my assets as best I could.  It’s been done before, it wouldn’t be a first, and maybe that would count as weight training?  A boon to my otherwise lamentable marathon training routine for this week, I’m sure upper body strength will be an asset in seven week’s time.

Still, late as I was, there wasn’t time for any alternative trouble shooting.  Rather I just joined the cheery throng.



I was only just in time for the start, we were a much reduced line-up, but an upbeat one.  Our official photographer was also in place, so that was good.  Whilst it is true that running is naturally its own reward, it’s fantastic to have unusual events like this one documented for posterity.  Unfortunately, because I’m not a very good photographer, and have failed to include any runners in this portrait of our esteemed photographer, I’ve made him look like either a stalker or a flasher in his big coat, which is a shame, he deserves better.  Oh well, too late now.

official photographer

This is what he was facing.  Brave man our George, staring this lot in the eye week after week.  Respect.  Mind you, I still think junior parkrunners are even more unpredictable, you’ve never stood in the line of fire unless you’ve braved the start line of Graves junior on a Sunday morning.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The hardcore volunteers were all assembled, one had even brought their own high viz – very proactive.  Bravo.  Great signage holding technique there.  If you have never held a sign aloft for the whole duration of a parkrun yourself, you can’t fully appreciate what a test of endurance it is to do so successfully.  Hi-viz hero, I thank you.

After a quick briefing we were off.  Amazingly, it really wasn’t too bad running on compacted snow.  I was glad of my trail shoes, but it was fine.  I’ve had way scarier runs at Sheffield Hallam parkrun on days there have been patches of ice.  Because of the much smaller turn out, it was also a much smaller field, and that created some serious novelty.  Usually I end up in quite a crowd, this time I was running on my own for some sections, to the extent that it felt that I was leading the throng at times (yes, fantasy I know),  but really and truly, if the camera never lies, and you didn’t know any better, you might think I was leading the pack, and not just left behind after everyone else had long lapped me, wouldn’t you? How else can you account for my apparent good cheer whilst running?  Exactly.

GC finally first finisher at parkrun

Plus, in other good news, as it was less crowded you could take your time and high-five marshals of your choice on the way round without fear of causing a pile up behind you.  My apprenticeship as a marshal at Graves junior parkrun has given me not only an appreciation of the art of cheering, clapping and high-fiving others, but some not inconsiderable skill at this too.  If you don’t believe me, let me tell you that only this week I was an extra on a drama series which required me to clap and cheer in a town hall audience and I was particularly singled out and complimented on set by the assistant director for my excellent cheering and clapping techniques.  No really I was! I’m not even bragging, just stating a fact.  I must update my LinkedIn profile to reflect this.  Potential recruiters will want to know.

So I plodded round. The first lap was really hard, my calves are so tight.  But the second lap was lovely, meditative and quiet.  Maybe I’m not as nesh as I think, I was fine running on compacted snow, but other routes I’ve done lately I’ve found myself sliding everywhere.   One weird thing though, I’ve not done that much running on snow, and it made my vision go a bit weird, like there was an anomaly developing in my peripheral vision, like when you look through a lens and it distorts the image. Really strange.  Is that snow blindness, or an early warning of a build up to a heart attack?  Not sure, no conclusive evidence either way as yet.  I did crack on for a boob-clutching sprint finish though.  Had to be done!  I think that the photo editing process has spared the world a picture of me running clutching my assets.  Be thankful.

GC not the boob clutching shot

This is what it looks like as you are coming in to the finish funnel, unless you are one of the front finishers, I guess for them it’s a pretty empty skyline…


I was not quite last in, but still got the lowest ever finish token number for me at Hallam parkrun, alongside my personal worst.  So that was good.  I resisted the temptation of keeping my finish token as souvenir, in favour of having my run recorded and so securing 1/250th of a milestone t-shirt.  It’s getting closer, albeit not quite within my reach for a good couple of years yet!  154 down, 96 left to go…

You know what, once I’d got over the fear factor, running on the compacted snow was a lot of fun.  Other people seemed to be having a lot of fun too.  Look at all these smiley faces out there making the most of it. What great parkrunners we all are.  I’m not sure the shorts would have been my kit of choice, but you know how it is?  That’s right people, respect the right of everyone to participate in parkrun in their own way.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In other news, some parkrunners espied the kingfisher which hangs on in Endcliffe park.  Personally, I missed it, but I think this might be he.  Photo taken today and posted on the Friends of Porter Valley Facebook page.  That’s good enough credentials for me…


Once I’d finished, just the little matter of finding a barcode scanner, harder to spot without the high vis – and then some Smiley bonding.  Also, some comparison of running footwear. Yaktrax versus nano spikes etc.  I really need to get something.  Yaktrax seem recommended, but I’m confused about the different types. The ‘pro’ ones with the velcro were most popular this morning.  The nanospikes are fantastic if really icy, but hard on the feet giving them a tenderising pummeling if the surface doesn’t require them.  I’m not sure I’m any closer to a decision about which to get, but I did enjoy making runners contort into uncomfortable balance poses under the pretext of checking out their shoe treads. Sometimes you just have to make your own entertainment, and often you’ll get away with doing this at the expense of others if you look needy enough and can think of some potential plausible albeit spurious excuse, as the photos show.

A few of us Dragonflies had made it out so in the interests of bagging Smiletastic points, we naturally had to secure a photo of ourselves together.  Posing first:



We had to enlist the help of a few non-dragonflies to get the synchronised Nazcanesque line in the snow dragonfly shape, so it may be disallowed under the rules of our Smiley Paces winter running Smiletastic challenge, but you have to admit it is a splendid effort.  We waved off our Smiley compatriot who’d obliged us by taking our team shot.  Possibly she was never to be seen again – it was looking pretty gloomy out there, but hey ho, she’d had a nice smiley morning so fond memories eh?

bye bye smiley

Ladybirds and ladyboys were also flying away home after a lovely run.  Well done all!


We then did the obligatory selfie. Obviously we were quite worried about the potential for double chins with this as taking group selfies is really hard, but we were saved by both our intrinsic loveliness (my team buddies) and the fortuitous placing of a smiley buff (me) so that was grand too.

obligatory selfie

Job done.  Just remained to get breakfast.  Only two of us, but we headed to Pom Kitchen, their vegan breakfast board is epic.  Just what is needed to provide fortification before the long uphill trudge home through the snow.  Some merriment en route was provided by watching a 4×4 sliding ever backwards as it attempted to navigate uphill. There was some injustice in this, in that the driver had been doing just fine maintaining a constant speed, but the trouble started when they stopped to give way to some elderly pedestrians. I’m sure there is a moral in there somewhere.  Something along the lines of no good deed goes unpunished.  Not the truth we want to believe in, but perhaps a truth all the same…

So, just to summarise.  Running in the snow was officially fun.  So too is sledging.  I really hope I’m still game to hit the slopes if I make it to 86!

never too old to sledge


By the way, official parkrun advice for those of you not blessed with an operational parkrun today, is to recreate your own by following these simple instructions:

‘for those that can’t attend due to bad weather – pop up parkrun in your living room. 278 laps of a standard size living room = one 5k parkrun.’

Good to know.  Looking out for each other, that’s the parkrun way.  No parkrunner wants to miss out on their weekly fix!  The parkrun cancellation map  for today suggests a fair few would have had to improvise.  That is a lot of living rooms being run around in a frenzy of parkrun re-enactment behind a closed door near you. Worth thinking about.

parkrun cancellations

Wonder what next week has in store?  Bring it on eh?  Bring.  It.  On.  We’ll be up and at it whatever the weather.  You can’t stop us now, because we’re having a good time.

penguin run

gotta love penguins running

seriously though, dont stop us now,

So don’t stop me now don’t stop me
‘Cause I’m having a good time having a good time
I’m a shooting star leaping through the sky
Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity
I’m a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva
I’m gonna go go go
There’s no stopping me

At the very least, I’m like a parkrunner yomping through the park, and I wont be stopping until I’ve found a table for post parkrun brunch.   That’s non negotiable.  Some traditions should never be broken.

So I leave you with action shots of Sheffield Hallam parkrunners running down parkrun in the snow.


Thanks George Carman for the photos – your logo hasn’t appeared on the photos this week for some reason, but the glory and acknowledgement goes to you all the same.  Ready or not!

Oh and here is regal smiley of the ‘No sports bra? No problem‘ running trouble shooting consultancy.  No idea how many bras she’s wearing here, or of what type, but she looks happy out there which is the most important thing.  And she’s not having to run clutching her boobs or anything, so she’s clearly doing something right.  Bravo.

GC bra consultant in action

Yeah, it was fun out there. Type one and Type two.  Result!

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


Categories: 5km, parkrun, running | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

There’s snow runners like Graves junior parkrunners!

… and there’s snow fun like junior parkfun!

Digested read: junior parkrun in general is lovely, Graves junior parkrun in particular is exceptionally so.  That is why it is my one misanthrope and cynicism free hour of the week.  Graves park however is a micro climate of chill and ice-age memorabilia, hence last week it snowed, and this week several hands were (nearly) lost to frost bite. Still, small price to pay for being part of something so joyful.  Are you coming to a junior parkrun near you sometime soon?  You should. Really.  parkrun fun squared to infinity and beyond.

Just got back from my weekly fix of junior parkrun.  It remains joyful, despite the challenge of the microclimate of Graves Park which has to be experienced to be believed.  Last week, it was my contributory negligence that brought about the white out.  I stood in the car park about 8 o’clock and pronounced it to be ‘unexpectedly nice albeit nippy’.  What possessed me to think I might get away with so tempting fate by flaunting such a misguided belief in front of its mocking  ever-present malign force I can’t now recall. Suffice to say that within minutes, we’d gone from bright winter sunshine to a disorienting blizzard worthy of the best winter-set horror film/ disaster films ever.  My bad.  Sorry everyone.


You can just make out the hi-vis army through those snow globules in the foreground.  There was snow way a sprinkling of the white stuff was going to stop our junior athletes battling round the hill’s of Graves.

To be fair, if it’s going to be cold, I’d rather have the high drama of a snow storm, it definitely makes for a more memorable parkrun, whilst each event is unique in its own way, this was one that will go down in the annuls of Graves Junior parkrun history as particularly epic.  Five hardy souls even made this their debut event, impressive.  The juniors on the whole are.  Little seems to deter them.  I think there are a number of possible explanations for this:

  1. They lack the imaginative foresight to realise just how horrific and cold it will be out there in the elements, with little more than a nylon t-shirt to preserve them from such inclement weather – to be fair, I do the same when entering winter races from the comfort of an armchair at home
  2. Payback time for when their parents/ responsible adults have dragged them out at an unearthly hour of a morning to do unreasonable things like go to do the supermarket shop
  3. parkrun is just really fun – you always forget the horrors of taking part as they are lost under a blanket of euphoria at completion

In any event, I overheard a couple of parents/ responsible adults commiserating with one another at the start.  One was saying ‘took one look out of the window at the weather and thought, well, parkrun definitely won’t be happening today, had pot of coffee on, and everything lined up for a cooked breakfast…. – and then junior appeared in his running kit announcing it was time to go!’  The other was commiserating empathetically. These two were well aware of the sacrifices parents sometimes have to make for their offspring, to turn their backs on a steaming hot pot of coffee to go and stand on a muddy field in the snow to cheer your junior runner round, that takes real dedication and commitment.

So too from the junior athletes themselves, storming round.  There was so much mud, and so much thrill from the sudden appearance of the white stuff, that some juniors appeared to actually run off down the hill, disappearing into the white out going completely AWOL during the warm up. The temptation to just dive right in and make the most of it being an instinct too strong to resist.  To be fair I felt a bit the same.  Snow is ridiculously fun, when you get to roll around and play in it, and cheer juniors and offer up high fives.

Look at how joyful it was….. in parts.


Still, I’m jumping ahead.  First off, there was the little matter of the course set up.  I like doing this, you get to feel busy and important, have a march around the park, and greet other park users. I’ve done the role regularly enough that I recognise some of the dog walkers now, and it’s fun just having little exchanges.   Carrying the arrows is a bit of a practical challenge, but the really hard bit is disentangling the tape we use to keep junior athletes from getting too close to the edge of the water at the point on the course when they pass between two large ponds.  Those of you who have never had to undertake this task, will have no comprehension of just how tangled up and impossible to manage a few metres of many-times-mended and string like plastic tape can be.  It’s not good for the ego.  It should be a simple thing, but it’s always a challenge.  However, successful disentangling feels great, I imagine some people would get the same buzz from completing a cryptic crossword, or doing the ridiculously tricky maths related puzzles on the Today Programme.  Aside – what are they all about?  I can’t even understand the questions.  Has anyone ever solved them other than through chance or googling?  Seems unlikely.  I don’t know if my incomprehension is a reflection of my stupidity or the fact I have a life.  Actually, on reflection, the latter seems unlikely so let’s not go there. Where was I.  Oh yes, putting up the course. That was grand, but the tape was wet and my hands got really, really cold as a result.  I was wearing gloves, but they were saturated.  By the time my arrows were out and I was back at the start, the snow had started to fall.  I nipped into the loos to use the hand dryer to try to offset frostbite, but it was only partially successful.  Even so, I think I did a grand job with the arrows on the whole.  Check this out.  You’ve got to admit, pretty darned fabulous directional pointing going on there.

great directional pointing

Hi viz heroes may have been all a-shiver, but the juniors were undaunted by either the snow, or the warnings of mud.

There was the gathering for the run briefing:

the gathering

This concluded, then the warm up commenced:

The start line up took place on tarmac rather than the grass, for fear of a mudslide.  It was really exciting, you could hardly see the youngsters through the snow as it started to really fall in earnest.  There was a sort of survivalist euphoria to it all.  Plus, cheering and clapping others is a great way to keep warm.  Plus, how could you do anything else in the face of all that collective, youthful enthusiasm.  No room for cynicism here.  Junior parkrun is my cynicism free zone for the week.  Always joyful, normal (for me) misanthropic cynicism can be resumed subsequently.  Meantime, look at them all go:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And yes, one runner was clutching a balloon, because it was his birthday, and that’s what you should do with your birthday, run round in the snow with a bunch of friends and a purple balloon and a broad smile.  Excellent decision there, excellent.

Not all were enthusiastic about coming out to witness this though, some stayed in bed, or their nearest equivalent, and who can blame them really. They did have a squint out through the windows though.  Taking an interest in their own way.  I do like goats.  Intelligent, and independent.

goats eye view at graves 11 2 18

So, as surely as junior athletes will run around.  They will ultimately finish and enter the finish funnel, all ready to welcome them into its snowy armed embrace.

finish funnel raring to go 11 2 18

So last week, as well as being busy and important with pre-course set up, I had particular shared responsibilities for the finish funnel.  I’ve not been to any other junior parkruns (I know, serious omission) so I’m not sure how it works elsewhere, but at Graves, we have a couple of people in this role. One at the entrance to the funnel to ensure 1) NO ADULTS in the finish funnel (every week they try to muscle in, every week, such is the allure of that cone lined entrance), 2) to try to ensure runners know to do two laps (really hard to tell sometimes how many they’ve done – hope over experience), and this week 3) try to ensure runners slow down so they don’t do a body-slide/ face-plant on the mud as they sprint into the finish.  Quite heady responsibilities. We also have another funnel manager to try to keep everyone moving down through, and, ideally, a third, to chivvy the lines along and encourage young runners to locate their barcodes, or attract the attention of their associated responsible adults who are supposed to be looking after it for them.  You have to multi-task in all these functions, as you must also cheer, congratulate and clap each runner in.  High fiving passing runners is also an option whilst waiting for the first finishers to complete.

finish funnel slide 11 2 18

In my defence, it was a bit of a mud slide.  Inevitably perhaps, I was an epic fail at the ‘preventing junior runners from falling in the finish funnel’ competency. I’m still very much at the ‘working towards’ spectrum there.  However, in my view, you might as well have tried to catch a speeding bullet in your teeth (don’t try that at home people), standing in front of a full pelt junior is likely to result in mutual instant death on contact, better to just shout and wave them down frantically and hope for the best.  I did feel a bit bad about the number of fallers – and not only because I feared being sent to a parkrun junior marshal re-education camp for having so erred in my duties – but then again, it all ended happily.  These young people are way more resilient than you might think.  And let’s keep this in proportion, it was in single figures!  My heart was in my mouth throughout, but if anything, the mud sliders were proud of their whole body mud-casings and wore such a coverage of dirt as a badge of honour.  I suspect those driving them home in the car afterwards would have been less impressed by the quantities of wet earth that transferred from ground to garment and garment to car upholstery.  Another volunteer reported to me (much to my relief) that as he was packing up, he overheard one junior parkrunner report excitedly to their accompanying adult that ‘the absolute best bit was when I did an amazing mud slide right through the finish!  Did you see me?  Did you?  Did you see?‘ judging by his clothing he most certainly did.  So whilst I was shamed by my inability to hold back the tide, it seems all lived to tell the tale.


So that was last week.  This was this:

18 02 18

Almost balmy comparison… you would think?  Only it wasn’t.  Still epic though.

Today we were back on the grass for the start.  108 runners lined up and came shooting down the ineffectual funnel of human cones in place to channel them onto the tarmac.

off 18 2 18

They break out like beads on a broken necklace hitting a dance floor. Chaotically shooting off in unexpected directions.  You may think watching the Winter Olympics on telly is exciting, but let me tell you, it has nothing on this.  The thrills, the spills.  I looked on in horror, as not one, but two young runners slipped over, creating a sort of domino effect as other young runners tumbled into, and on top of them.  There was quite a human pyramid formed at one point.  Various nearby adults stepped in, scooped up children miscellaneous – any child would do – and plonked them back up on their feet again, and no sooner had the pile up happened, than it was cleared away.  I don’t have children, and it is a complete mystery to me how they survive such apparently powerful collisions.  It’s like they are made of rubber, or teflon coated or something.   They just seem to be, on the whole, a lot more resilient than should be logical or plausible let alone possible.    For my part, I’m getting a little less panicked at witnessing these tumbles now.   Today though, watching the pile up pass without injury but with much excitement, I felt like I’d completed a certain rite of passage, and passed into a new realm of understanding.  I felt the same many, many years ago, when I was in an office working alongside a number of women all of whom had children.  One relatively new mother was completely distraught because she’d dropped her young child the evening before – or more accurately, allowed the infant to roll off a sofa or something, the child was not hurt but she was badly shaken by the incident – the others in the office were ‘comforting her’ in a raucous ‘is that all?’ expressing incredulity sort of way. Cue, long conversation where each colleague in turn recalled far worse accidents and incidents they had experienced,  along the lines of ‘I remember the first time I dropped my child/ left it on the bus‘ kind of tales, and there was much crying with laughter of helpless recognition.  Not that it was good these things had happened, far from it, but in a fraught, sleep-deprived world of doing your best, often on your own, no care-giver rears any child in an incident free cotton-wool encased world.  Just as well, otherwise how would the offspring in their respective charges cope with doing a mudslide at parkrun?  See, sometimes the most unexpected of things can be a boon to our life experience in the long run.  Phew.

Today I was on barcode scanning scribe duties. This is a great role, as you get to carry a clipboard AND wear a hi-viz, so you look properly busy and important.  It all goes in a bit of a whirlwind of activity. By the time you look up from writing down the ‘unknowns’ who didn’t bring a barcode, and the unscannables (barcode didn’t scan) it’s game over, and packing up underway all around you.  Within minutes it is as if we were never even there.  A.Maz.Ing.

We all had cold hands though. The race directors hands were so cold I had to help him unclip some paper from the clip board.  He was properly near having frostbite. Still, like I said to him, if he did lose both hands due to that it would have been but a small price for someone else to pay to spread so much joy in the world.   Any follow-up news article in The Sheffield Star say, could truthfully include the phrase ‘much comfort can be taken from knowing he lost his hands doing what he most loved doing‘, because they often say that don’t they?  Then we could do some crowd-sourcing to get new prosthetic limbs –  or better yet, nominate some juniors to make him some personalised parkrun one’s out of papier-mâché and half chewed sweets.  That would be touching.  I expect he’d get a thank you for your contribution to parkrun/ get well soon card from Mr S-H himself, and that would completely make up for it.  So you see, no great drama, just great opportunities.

Incidentally, papier-mâché might not be fully functional, or water resistant, but they can look pretty cool. This was what google images was made for!  You could have a hand for any occassion. Almost aspirational!

And once again, all run, all done, ’twas as if we were never there.


Love Graves park, its micro climate just adds to the sense of adventure 🙂

See you there same time, same place, some Sunday soon.

Go awn, you  know you want to.  After all, there is snow fun like junior parkfun!  Promise, or your money back!  🙂

If you haven’t signed up yet for either parkrun or junior parkrun you can sign up here

Find a junior parkrun event here

For all my parkrun related posts click here, and scroll down for older entries

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

Snow fun or it’s no fun? You decide. Nine after nine Dragonflies as the Smiletastic contest continues in the snow.

Digested Read:  nippy out, but we nine dragonflies nabbed after nine Smiletastic points.  I nearly got hypothermia and died out on them there hills, but that was but a small price to pay in the name of snow art.  Smiley solidarity saw me through.

Oh my life.  That was unpleasant.  Smiletastic has a lot to answer for.  I was practically hypothermic by the time I got home from my run last night, but needs must when the call goes out from team dragonflies. One for all, and all for one. Ours is not to reason why, it might be dark and snowing and treacherous out there, but type 2 fun is still fun after all… of a sort.

In case you are exceptionally slow on the uptake and haven’t grasped what was going on here, once again, me and some fellow Smiley Paces buddies were on Golden Segment banging duties.  The blah de blah for this in brief, is that basically, Smiletastic is a three-month team-based challenge amongst fellow members of the Smiley Paces Women’s Running Club. Smiley Elder, founder of the initiative, summarises it most succinctly as follows: ‘SMILETASTIC is a motivational challenge to help runners to keep up their running targets throughout the winter months.’ Alongside committing to doing so many runs a week, bonus points can be nabbed by entering into the Smiletastic spirit, running before 7.00 a.m. and after 9.00 p.m. at night, and also, as in this case,  for running specified Strava sections, known as ‘golden segments’ which, to be fair, makes it sound like nabbing them should be way more fun than it actually is.  There are a number of team, but I’m a dragonfly, so that’s the most important one and you don’t need to worry about those bees, grasshoppers and erm, can’t even remember the other team – oh yes ladybirds.  Those other insects are of no consequence in this context.  Generally speaking though, insects are massively important to the world’s ecosystem and should be nurtured not swatted away.

We are in week three of the Smiletastic challenge, and after we dragonflies stormed ahead in week one we were knocked into second place in week two.  Whilst we do all claim to be non competitive, nevertheless we clearly can be goaded into collective action.  Case in point.  The weather this week has been horrendous.  I mean, seriously vile.  Whilst pristine snow glittering under a starlit sky might be appealing to run in, here we have had driving bullet like blizzards and lethal slush and ice in abundance.  Being intrepid is all very well, but in honesty, were it not for the impetus of my Smiletastic team buddies I’d favour staying in and working on perfecting the art of embracing an absolute rest day, – which is actually a recognised and important yet often neglected part of any decent training programme –  rather than venturing out anywhere possibly never to return…

The ‘Golden Segment’ was announced. When it went up it sounded innocuous enough, appealing even, but that was last week when the weather was altogether more clement and less life-threatening. Smiley Elder cheerily posted:

The Golden Segment for the week beginning 15th January 2018 is slightly further afield but is one you should all know and is not too difficult to get to (unless it snows!!). The link is and its called “Ringinglow Road -going up” which just about sums it up. If you run uphill from Hangram Lane to the Norfolk Arms you’ll definitely go along it.

With a helpful Strava picture too, just in case:

ringinglow going up

Yep, that looked fine and dandy.  Bit of a hill, but nothing we Sheffielder’s aren’t all too familiar with.  Plus, classic stretch of the half marathon route, so not too complicated navigationally speaking, and it’s nice to make the effort to head out to the hills.  It would be grand.

I know it’s only 0.2 mile but remember dear reader we had to get up to it and back again.  For the record the snowy dash bit ended up at 3.1 miles plus I had to walk a bit over a mile to get down to meet my lift so I suppose I did about 5.5 miles out in the blizzard in total.  You see what happened was, the the weather changed, and every sinew in my body and brain cell in my head screamed at me to stay inside.  It went from being dank January to ‘run out of energy and supplies in antarctica‘ within a couple of hours.  No idea how that happened.  Vile is an understatement.  Don’t tell, but I was even thinking that I might duck out of this particular segment snatching session all together.  We’d prearranged to meet on Wednesday night last week, but that was before the ice storm came.  By Tuesday, there was a blizzard blowing and thick ice which meant I could barely venture out of the house on foot, let alone in a car to make the rendezvous point, and it’d be too far to run the whole way out there with my fitness levels even if I did think I’d survive the elements.  There was a bit of nervous chit-chat on our Facebook group (it’s closed, like a secret society, so don’t bother trying to find it anywhere to spy on us), but no-one really wanted to be the first to wimp out.  I think if anyone had though at this stage, there might have been an eager torrent of wussing out runners behind in tight formation.

And then.


On the Smiletastic page, those pesky bees had only gone out in a blizzard being all smiley spirited and cheery against the odds.

bee’s braved the snow blizzards tonight to run the golden segment with an after 9pm finish 💪💪 thank you ladies for a lovely hill run with a muddy off road trial section added. #Teambees🐝

What’s more, they accomplished the task all solidarity and smiles, and returned a bit bedraggled and with a hood full of snow which was inadvertently emptied onto a hall floor in one case, but fundamentally not dead.  AND they were getting an extra bang for their buck by collectively achieving post 9.00 p.m. runs.

The bees are upping their game. Their fancy dress offering was a sight to behold.  Granted they may have done a bit of tinting post run with photoshop, but I believe this is how they rocked their look on the way round Graves parkrun last Saturday. Impressive, I mean some of those deeley boppers are pretty substantial, you’d think it would alter your centre of gravity, but maybe not as much as actually having your arms bound to your sides by black gaffer tape as at least one runner had to contend with.  Respect team bees.  Loving the personalised nature of the outfits too.   Can’t wait to see them all out and about again soon!

busy bees in fancy dress at Graves

One solitary grasshopper reported mournfully that they had limped out all alone along the segment and returned sodden.  Discovering en route that even her walking boots were insufficient protection against the elements as a previously unnoticed hole let a whole glacier pass through her footwear whilst she trudged up the hill.  It is testament to her great mental strength that she was still able to see a plus side, commenting ‘On the positive side I had a free microdermabrasion facial walking through the hail on Ringinglow road this afternoon!! #newrunner #illequippedgrasshopper #justaboutstillsmiling!‘  To be fair, I think that probably did merit a bonus point.  It’s hard enough going out in this, going out all alone is tougher still.  No wonder she was hearing voices from under the snow by the end of it.  Not sure who took these photos for her, she maybe was being tailed by a drone.

Well, that’s all very impressive and all, from the bees and one grasshopper (it’s a start) and it did rally our resolve.  We couldn’t cave in now could we, seeing as how the bees had been out in a blizzard.  Besides, we’d already agreed we would go for late points, and we’d already established most of us were free in principle at least and now we’d had the standard set by those pesky busy bees buzzing about … well,  we felt compelled to follow through what we started.  We would do this. We can do this!  What’s the worst…  Cue a flurry of ‘OH MY GAWD have you seen the weather out there!?’ posts.  And checks and double checks that we were all going through with it, no-one fancied heading off out up there on their own.

So urged on by a surge of ‘I will if you will‘ promises and counter promises, 8.00 p.m. came and I headed off on foot to a rendezvous point on Ecclesall Road at 8.25.  I was cold. It was freezing.  So cold in fact, that I abandoned the plan of running in a conventional running jacket in favour of a ‘proper’ walking coat.  I had a head torch and hi-viz and a bobble hat and also brought with me a bad attitude.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t too slippery underfoot, but then I was wearing my Irock shoes which are brilliant.  I stood shivering in the vicinity of where I thought we were meeting. I was a couple of minutes early but standing still even briefly brought with it a real risk of being frozen rigid to the spot.  As the seconds ticked by I started to lose confidence in whether I was waiting in the right place, which is better than losing consciousness due to cold I suppose but not the greatest of feelings all the same.  I don’t have a smart phone, so started to imagine ending my days here, collapsed in a foetal position outside the Trinity United Reformed Church – or whatever it is – whilst my dragonfly buddies were cavorting with cheery abandon in front of a cosy open fire somewhere, ignorant of my demise.  Fortunately, just as I was at the point of wondering what to do, always a worrying trend, the other liftee appeared and we shivered together for a few minutes.  Eventually, she had the bright idea of checking for messages on Facebook, and result.  We were indeed waiting in the wrong place, and our driver was similarly fretting in their car a short distance away, lamenting our absence.  A quick scurry across the road and we were all united and lift secured we were on our way, heading on up to the Hammer and Pincers.

Coming up the hill from Endcliffe Park, it was amazing how quickly the weather deteriorated.  You could hardly see out of the car as a combination of thick sleet, hail and snow tumbled out of the sky.  The roads which had been clear just a bit lower down were now lined with slush, and then piles of snow.  By the time we got to the car park, it was feeling ominous.  Good news, our fellow running buddies were already there, some waiting inside granted, but basically raring to go.  There were nine of us.  Yay!  That was heartening, team solidarity, go us.  I nearly had a tantrum as I wasn’t going anywhere without my GPS being picked up, but disaster was averted as my TomTom bleeped its satisfaction I was being tracked.  And that was it, off we went, heading out about 8.40 ish.

I was soon at the back, I’m always at the back anyway because I’m a slow runner, but on this occasion I wasn’t feeling too confident as it was so dark, and the mix of ankle-deep snow / slush combo meant I couldn’t get a sense of what was under my feet.  The others streamed ahead and I got further behind. This was not joy-filled running.  It was head down, teeth gritted, try not to get run over venturing out.  ‘You go on without me‘ I called after them, as my voice was carried away on the wind.


There were a few cars around, most were OK, but one or two roared past, crazy.  The pavements were so deep in snow we ended up having to run on the road at some points and I felt vulnerable. This is not a run I’d have liked to do on my own.  Onwards and upwards, it was a bit of a trek to get to the segment, but then we could heave ho up from Hangram Lane to the Norfolk Arms.  We paused only when we got to the top – and then we ran on a bit just to make absolutely sure we’d gone far enough.. and then turned back again as pretty quickly, away from the light of the pub it was like we were heading into an abyss.  We bottled it. Back to outside the pub and then…  we espied virgin snow.

What can you do with virgin snow? Well, it was quite obviously still there for our merriment and as an outlet for our artistic talents.  One immediately went for a daintily drawn dragonfly in the soft white snow. I thought it looked beautiful.  Dragonflies are supportive, but we are also honest, and have integrity and are prone to giving one another unsolicited feedback.  At least you know where you stand.  ‘That looks like a gnat‘ said one of our number, who shall remain nameless.  Harsh I thought.

Meanwhile, I was engaged in my own excavation endeavour.   I was pretty pleased with it:

CM genius dragonfly

As ever, I find the non-running aspects of Smiletastic challenges play to my strengths more than the actual running challenges.  An observation which has not gone unnoticed by Smiley Elder.  Still, where would we Smiley Paces be without Smiley Spirit eh?  The thing is, genius as my creation clearly was, you couldn’t really get a sense of scale, and it was a perfectly Lucy-sized construction.  The best way to demonstrate this would be to wear the wings, a la creating a snow angel.  To be frank, I was ready for a bit of a lie down after all that strenuous running, so it didn’t seem to be such a bad idea at the time, and the dragonfly fitted me like a glove!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A couple of astonishing things though that I noticed in retrospect. Firstly, bizarrely, none of the other dragonflies wanted to have a go at lying down in 6 inch deep melt water in the interests of a photo-opportunity and the outside chance of a Smiletastic point. I know!  How strange.  Secondly, despite our shrieking, and me lying down spreadeagled and motionless with Smilies leaning in around me like they’d come across a corpse in Midsummer Murders, no-one in the Norfolk Arms pub came out to help/investigate or even point and laugh.  Missed opportunity for all of them. Still, it goes to show just how bitter it was out there, not the kind of night you’d choose to venture out for anything at all, unless it was an emergency such as the need to honour a pledge to nab a golden segment in week three of Smiletastic.

After a bit, we were bored with the photos and messing around in the snow, so we headed off again back down the hill this time.  I had a brief moment of feeling ‘oh wow, my running’s really improved now I’m all warmed up, I feel like I’m flying now we’ve done a couple of miles’ before I remembered that having gravity on your side is a real asset in this running games malarkey.  Oh well, it was still an improvement on running up hill into driving hail.  I was in the most spectacular hi-viz, that lights me up like I’m my very own solar system if headlights hit it.  I’m even spherical by way emphasis.  I therefore ‘volunteered’ to stay at the back as others in the group had less hi-viz about them.  This was a great cover story for me too, since it implied ‘well obviously I could sprint all the way home, but I’m prepared to martyr myself and jog at a leisurely pace for the greater good.‘  On a serious note though, at the back as I was, it was quite shocking how invisible the group looked, despite head torches and a few reflective strips, they just disappeared into the night sky.  It was a timely reminder that hi-viz is essential on night runs, especially when you are having to venture on to the roads because the pavements are thick with ice, snow and slush.  Scary.

We paused for photo opps by Hangram Lane to match the one taken outside the Norfolk Arms.  I concede reluctantly, the bees might have managed better with their photos, but then – and I don’t like to rub it in too much but I’m only saying what is true here – they had only seven bees to fit in the frame whereas we were nine dragonflies.  Much more challenging on the group selfie front!

By the time we got back to our starting point of the Hammer and Pincers, it was well past 9.30.  I was sodden.  I was inwardly cursing at how poor the ventilation and waterproofing was on my jacket, before it occurred to me that it might possibly be that lying in the hill-top slush earlier could be a contributing factor.  Some departed, some of us went into the pub for post run refreshments.

I haven’t been in there for ages. Some shared a bottle of wine, I opted for a lime juice and soda.  It came with a plastic straw.  ‘Oh no, why have you done that?’ I exclaimed with a bit too much passion to the bemused looking bar staff.  I tried to explain that I’d not asked for a straw, so it was complete waste, and as a non recyclable item it will probably end up in the ocean, so giving me a straw is basically like sentencing an endangered turtle to a slow and painful death. I felt a bit guilty that I’d been so abrupt, but I was hyped from running, and hypothermic from snow.   In fact, it was a good thing, as after me another dragonfly also ordered a lime juice and soda – no straw.  He asked her ‘what’s with this plastic straw thing’ and she explained in more measured tones, and afterwards he said he’ll ask customers in future if they want one or not, which is only a very minor change, but minor shifts in behaviour do add up.  Nobody really needs a straw more than the oceans need to be plastic free, and if they do, paper or bamboo straws could always be used instead.  To be fair, I think the Blue Planet series has really raised awareness on this, and that’s grand.  I just hope it isn’t all too little too late…

plastic waste

It was nice in the pub to begin with.  Despite plastic strawgate, it was friendly and welcoming with a flame effect fire and lots of places to sit.  However, quite soon I started to shake with cold.  I was quite pleased when it was time to go home.  I was dropped off by my driver at Endcliffe and by then there was a fair old blizzard going.  It wasn’t a long walk home by any means, but I was quite shocked at how much the cold seemed to take hold inside.  By the time I got to my house I could hardly hold my house keys, and once I got in my skin was burning and red as the warmth of the house hit my frozen flesh. Brrrr.  We better have nabbed both a segment, and some post nine bonus points and some smiley spirit or I’ll… well, cry probably, but at least the hot tears running down my cheeks might help my face to thaw out a bit, ill wind and all that 🙂

The things we do for Smiletastic.  It is my primary source of running motivation for the early part of the year.  Without Smiletastic, I’d basically hibernate.

So the conclusion. Mainly type two fun, but type one in parts.  Definitely worth doing, there’s no way on earth I’d have ventured out to do that on my own. I still have three more runs to do this week, and I wasn’t feeling the love for running today either, still chilled through from yesterday.  Oh well. Resting is also part of training.  At least I have that part of the regime cracked.

Oh, by the way, the grasshoppers have got as far as new book cover for their ‘grasshoppers guide to running fun’.  I like it.  I’m hoping it will include vegan nutrition ideas.

grasshopper FGR SMiley guide

No idea what the ladybirds are up to.  I think they are keeping their Smiletastic strategy under wraps.  It will all come out in the spreadsheets at the end.  The suspense is killing me!

So next week, we get to do it all again, with another segment.  I wonder where that will take us? New adventures ahead, new runs to explore.  You know what, running is fun, mostly.  Running buddies on the other hand – they are awesome always.  I thank you all, but my dragonfly comrades in particular. We can crack this!  Probably.

By the way, hypothermia in runners is no joke – this blog post by Simon Green – hypothermia as a lifestyle choice really hit home to me, even experienced runners just need one bit of bad luck and everything changes in an instant. Sobering thought.  Always pays to be prepared. Keep safe out there!

Don’t have nightmares.

Do have a nice time out running… though be prepared for type 2!

no such thing

For all my smiletastic related posts click here.  Scroll down for older entries.



Categories: motivation, off road, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Dirty Double Dispatches Direct from the DD Devastated Dropout :(

It should have been me!   I should have been here.  Curses.

Call it a ‘conscious uncoupling’ if you will, but the bottom line is I didn’t make it through the Darwinian selection process that had to be negotiated to make it even to the start line of the Lakeland Trails Dirty Double  this weekend.  You know the science, survival of the fittest and all that.  I failed. I am gutted.  Seriously gutted.  I really wanted to do this race, albeit as much for the social smiley takeover angle  as the actual running bit.  It is a measure of the extent of my mid-life crisis and/or evidence of how I must surely be a victim of alien abduction – what other possible explanation can there be as to how my sense of self has been so altered over time that I actually shed tears of frustration and disappointment about not making it away this November weekend to run around a lot in the cold.  Only a few short decades ago I went to quite considerable lengths to avoid any sporting endeavour, including regularly getting ‘lost’ between the changing rooms and playing fields whilst at school.  An act with which I can only assume my PE teacher enthusiastically colluded with, as I never once got caught.  How times change.  Now I feel deprivation and paranoia.  Why can’t I go?  It’s not fair?  Let me go and play on the fells?  Everyone else is going – why not me? Fortunately, I may be shite at running, but I can lay on a pretty darned indulgent pity party, so all was not lost!


I am fully aware of the ludicrousness of all of this.  I know other far more serious runners who have been thwarted in far more important running endeavours, but I suppose up until now I’ve been relatively lucky.  Spared injuries by my risk averse running techniques I’ve not really ever had to miss an event before, I can usually yomp round somehow.  Even if I don’t participate either with glory or dignity than at least I do so with a reasonable degree of confidence I’ll make it to the end eventually. I’m not even injured for goodness sake, just picked up some grim viral thing which has made me metamorphose from being an inspirational running blogger (ahem) into some sort of deeply unpleasant hybrid between a sweat-fountain and a phlegm factory.  One that can’t breathe to boot.  All of this is incompatible with being seen in public or walking to the chemist, let alone running anywhere or sharing a dorm.  So it is, rather late in the day and probably for the first time, I’ve come to fully appreciate it isn’t making it to the end of the race that is the real challenge, sometimes it’s just making it to the start.  For me, this weekend, in that respect, epic fail.


It seems that no sooner than I got my unlikely London Marathon Place, I’ve been plagued by illness.  This is doing nothing for my survivor guilt I don’t mind telling you.  Consequently,   I’m doing my training in reverse, almost completed my four-week taper with significant front loading in the carbing up strategy as a consequence of comfort eating.  At this rate, when my health is finally restored I’m going to have to start from scratch.  Fortunately though, today I saw by chance an episode of ‘This time next year‘ and people were telling Davina about the unlikely things they’d accomplish over the next 12 months, and what’s more apparently doing them.  (I imagine they edited out all the no-hopers/losers but let’s not dwell on that).  I hang on to the notion that I still do have time, worse things have happened to other people, especially at sea, and maybe, just maybe, this conscious uncoupling is all for the best….  It was my decision to pull out, but it was a bitter choice to make all the same.  Sometimes doing the right thing is hard, but I’m in it for the long game with my running journey (I was going to say ‘career’ but that is stretching the truth too far even for me!)

So, what is it that I’ve missed out on and why?   Are you insane?  I’m missing EVERYTHING, my life is now ruined.  I’m missing out on:

  • a fab run in the Lakes (twice – a 15k round Helvellyn and another 14 k round Ullswater);
  • a boat trip with music accompaniement;
  • hanging out with awesome women for a wise-cracking weekend;
  • the retrospective hilarity of forced communal living;
  • porridge prepared and served as if ambrosia for the gods;
  • fabulous scenery;
  • limitless amusing anecdotes;
  • carrying out ethnographic research/ method acting techniques in preparation for my forthcoming running-themed murder mystery novel;
  • pasta and prosecco parties;
  • material for my running blog post finale.  A write up of this event was to be my last post pre-departure for new lands and new adventures overseas.  Curses.  No chance that could happen now.

More specifically, for those of you who haven’t been concentrating, this is/was to be basically a weekend in the lovely Lake District that offers up a smorgasbord of trail races over two consecutive days.  You can choose from a 10k or 15/14k done as a ‘race’ or as a ‘challenge’ (same route, more time to complete).  All in an awesome location, with Saturday being based round Helvellyn, and the Sunday around Ullswater – including a boat ride with a musical accompaniment.  I don’t think there was karaoke or requests as such, but jolly appealing all the same…


An advance party of Smiley Paces scouts went off last year and had a lovely time – albeit much of the pleasure was retrospective.  They experienced apocalyptic weather conditions but pulled through with the sort of camaraderie that is only generated through shared experiences of adversity and too much prosecco (or gin).  Consequently, these pathfinders pronounced the event to be overall both anecdote generating and memorable.  A plan was hatched.  Next year (which is this, now indeed in November 2016) the whole Smiley Paces club membership should decamp en masse.  Patterdale YHA was to be commandeered, and a whole new Smiley Race Tradition born.  A Smiley Takeover of the Lakeland Trails with some considerable style and  pizzazz (a word which I’ve just looked up to check for its official definition to find it means: an attractive combination of vitality and glamour – how apt).  What could possibly go wrong?


Well, actually, quite a lot.   Despite some initial apprehension, I took the plunge and signed up months ago and had been really looking forward to this for a variety of reasons, not all related to running.  There was the whole physical challenge bit of course, the trails are set against a stunning backdrop, but more so, the appeal was for a mass outing in a gorgeous location, and a big positive and supportive Smiley Party.   I’ve only once before in my life been on a mass takeover of a Youth Hostel.  It was a New Year Party and we went to a remote loch side location somewhere in Scotland.  It was a surreal experience.  I didn’t know everyone in advance, but it made for quite an intense and memorable weekend, albeit one during which I had at times felt trapped with unstable others.  There is a reason why contemporary horror films always commence with a scene which demonstrates there is no longer a mobile signal available and you are surrounded by impenetrable forest.   It gave me the idea that it would be great sometime to write maybe a murder mystery based around such a premise – you know the type of thing, dark nights, no mobile reception; inclement weather and lost on them there hills.  Patterdale YHA and a bunch of unknowing Smilies would be the perfect way to do some background research for this project.  Jessica Fletcher does it all the time, and she’s a great role model.

Unfortunately, I’m not very good at coming up with plot, so I was thinking I’d have to adopt a method acting type approach in search of material – you know, experiencing it all for real in the name of authenticity.  Regrettably therefore, had I attended, there would have had to have been a couple of unexpected murders, or near misses at the very least, but I like to think this sort of collateral damage would have been a sacrifice worth making to help bring my best-selling page turner to fruition at some future date.  I’d donate some of the profits to further Sheffield Running initiatives in general and Smiley Paces endeavours in particular obviously, so that commitment to stumping up some blood money would make it all legitimate I’m sure.  Even if some are a bit less than sold on the idea, I’m sure slaughtering another runner in the name of art would be less anti-social than not washing for 3 months say, which is another illustration of (admittedly pointless) method acting in action.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sooo, everything to run for.  Except, as the time drew near, I was ill.  It was quickly apparent I wasn’t going to be well enough to do the 15k /14k  distances.  I began by contacting the race organisers to see if I could swap to the 10K (they said possibly, but only on the day as the participant lists had already been finalised), but as the days ticked by I realised I’d have to cry off.  Still, ill wind as the saying goes, I missed out on doing the method based research for my trail-running themed murder mystery, but on the plus side, everyone made it back alive… this time.

Nevermind, it was the only realistic option, armed with lemsip and a newly acquired inhaler, I could enjoy the event vicariously.  If I’d thought of it, I’d even have got myself a white cat to stroke whilst I observed it all unfold in front of me.  After all, it was more fun  than expected watching the olympics and Paralympics and I didn’t get my act together to enter those, so I’d just have to stalk the pilgrims that made it to the Patterdale rendezvous and experience the event through their eyes and my diseased and misinformed imaginings.

As for now not being able to do a post on the Dirty Double on account on not actually being there.  Well, sod that.  One should never let the truth get in the way of a good story, it might even be an advantage not having to nod too much to accuracy. It certainly helped with the write up of the Inaugural Doggy Dash 2017.  I’ll have a stab at it (though I’m not committing to using that as the murder weapon in the final version, running spikes or a moved checkpoint might be just as fatal when strategically utilised, you’ll have to wait and see….)

So back to bearing witness to the events of this glorious weekend as they unfolded.

It seemed as if even getting to the venue, let alone the start-line was rather more challenging than originally anticipated.   Committed participants had to battle past the four horsemen of the apocalypse to make it just to the start.   I was got by pestilence early on, but I was not alone.  Numbers dwindled.  Facebook posts increased in frequency as the event weekend drew nearer.  Wisdom was shared by previous runners, determined to help as many succeed as possible – albeit some of their words of wisdom were apparently valued as much as pearls before swine.  Incredibly complex logistical operations were mooted, negotiated, confirmed, abandoned and redrawn.   Rather than heading off in convoy, risking the whole running club membership being taken out in one act of sabotage, like the Royal Family, Smileys would travel separately.  They formed little break-away smiley groups and set off from different locations and at different times to confuse any enemies.  To ensure this cover was absolute, they also confused each other quite a lot, and there were relatively few passengers or drivers who had any concept of who they might be traveling with let alone where or when.  Bit like a secret santa.  You have a vague idea presents are to be exchanged, but don’t dwell too much on the details of their exact origins, just go with the flow, pretend to be delighted with the comedy christmas socks or thong and move on.


Packing plans were shared.  Prosecco seemingly taking priority for space over say running tights, with at least one runner only narrowly avoiding being made to run the whole two days in nothing but her school knickers.  A chilling thought – literally as well as metaphorically.  Authoritative advice to improve performance included not falling over in the shower and knocking yourself out on the morning of the race.  This sort of insight is I think particularly, helpful, because it wasn’t the most obvious, but when you come to think of it she definitely had a point there.  There was much angst over fell shoes versus trail shoes and sudden realisation that ‘essential kit’ involved hats, gloves, waterproofs, wellingtons, brrrr, it was going to be cold.  In fact it really, really was.  Early evidence showed SNOW up top.  I know it’s november, but I didn’t expect to see that.  Joyful, but slightly intimidating too!  The photo below was taken on the morning of the run, I’ve not yet seen an ‘after’ shot  – hope they aren’t still out there, disoriented by snow blindness, resorting to eating one another.  It would really mess up the Twelve Days of Smileys Christmas Challenge if loads of us are still yomping around having gone feral in the Lakes.  Oh well.


Not all made it through without incident.  Those who survived pestilence, had instead to tackle fire, as barricades of blazing lorries barred their way.  Persistence meant the occupants of the Fun Bus did make it through like fearless, invincible heroines in some post-apocalyptic road movie.  This was just as well, since without them famine would also have potentially knocked back the morale of the team. The Fun Bus occupants having been entrusted with the communal porridge provisions for the entire Smiley cohort.


Without these bulk porridge supplies, without them to prepare them, no breakfast for anyone at all!  No breakfast equals no carbing equals no racing.  FACT.  (Bit like the ‘for want of a nail’ proverb,  only MUCH WORSE!). They also were on some sort of mystery quest, having with them some magical lucky keys, that comprised (reading between the lines) a set of extra special ones namely: the key to happiness; the key to life; the key to survival and the key to running success.  Most critically of all, the key to cheetah buddy’s bike lock (I think).  There’d be no holding back those four  horsemen if the Fun Bus didn’t make it through with the keys.  They did though, so worry not.  Death and War were thwarted for now, but we haven’t had the American Election results yet so you might want to keep on working on your Anderson Shelter and get Ocado to do an extra delivery of bottled water; canned and dried food early next week, just in case….

Where was I.  Oh, so those who had evaded pestilence, and pushed through injury, assembled as planned.   Basically, it was a sort of Darwinian selection process ensuring survival of the fittest.  Only the most tenacious and hardcore would make the start, let alone the finish.   Some assembled a lot later than planned on account of leaving late, traffic jams at Glossop and the motorway burning barricades. This would have had terrible consequences in terms of encroaching on prosecco quaffing time, but bless them, the troops made the best of this.  They had other horrors to distract them. Christmas themed disposable cups adding to the nightmare journey as if it weren’t hideous enough already…  It may be wintry up tops, but it is still only November. Poor Regal Smiley, how she suffered in her quest to get there.


Whilst the Fun Bus occupants were battling fires to get to the venue, the early arrivals at the running ball were enjoying a rather civilised and scrumptious chillie feast.  Bad luck all of those of you who missed it…  This is what you could have won:


The Lakeland Trails Facebook page was thoughtfully kept up to date with photos to fan my flames of despondency and my sense of missing out…  Gawd it was looking lovely.  Just as well there was some communication here, as otherwise the Smiley Cohort were incommunicado for much of the Saturday.  I suspect this was a combination of being hungover, being out of range of any mobile signal and the Smiley elders sensible implementation of an immediate security lock-down at the event village to avoid other running clubs becoming aware of Smiley tactics –  not that these were especially opaque.  Stay up late drinking and laughing, try to remember to put on the correct running shoes in the morning and then run faster than any/all of your opponents.  Not hard really, apart from the running fast bit.

So, here are some event photos, sigh.  It makes my heart hurt to look on them…   That was there on Saturday, and where I was not. If you look carefully you can see I’m not in any of the photos by way of evidence.

One aspect I’m quite glad I missed out on (apart from the whole battle to get the best bunk bed which might have tested even the seemingly strongest of friendships and strategic alliances) is the attempt to work out which race everyone was taking part in.  This was made extra confusing because of the range of options; the complexity of the website (Dr Smiley by her own admission entered twice by accident, and a couple of others entered completely the wrong races by mistake); and changes of mind about the most suitable distances due to injury or even greater fitness than originally anticipated.  All I know is that organising Smiley went armed with spreadsheets, print outs and negotiating skills.  I have confidence she will have accomplished the extraordinary and seemingly impossible feat of getting everyone shoved into position on the appropriate start lines and at the designated times… but I don’t envy her in doing so.

After a longer than comfortable silence, at last some news.  A video showed the start of the 10k and aren’t they marvellous!

I was a bit perturbed that I couldn’t spot all the runners I thought would be heading off, but perhaps those Darwinian principles were still taking their toll.  I was as patient as I could possibly be, but as the day wore on did post on the dedicated Smiley Paces Dirty Double Facebook page noting my separation anxiety and requesting event feedback. This was a very pleasingly effective strategy.  I learned two useful and important things:

Firstly, we had a triumphant Smiley.  Hardly a surprise, but pleasing all the same.  Podium position second place, for one of our very own.  What’s more she ran the whole thing in her fancy dress Michelin man outfit, which would have been my clothing of choice had I known it was an available option.  Plus, she was wearing a very fine bobble hat in tribute to Sheffield’s lovely Jessica.  (That’s Ennis not Fletcher by the way, the Fletcher one lives in Cabot Cove, Maine).  JEH returned the compliment by  sporting a matching(ish) bobble hat at Sheffield Hallam parkrun earlier on on the same day. It’s that sort of sisterhood in the sports community of Sheffield that you can’t put a price on.   I don’t know if it was planned, or if they just have a deeply profound telepathic link… I mean the coat is a pretty good match too you’d have to agree – either explanation is not just acceptable, but veritably marvellous.  Yay.  Initially I thought this photo was the table top dancing competition in progress due to the evident animation in the hands, but I think that was to take place Saturday night after the pasta party buffet all booked up for later on.  You know what, I think it’s loads more fun writing up a blog post based entirely on randomly telegraphed photos, I can just make it up as I go along – just like I usually do, but with less of the guilt at knowing I’m ocassionaly maybe stretching a point shall we say…

Secondly, a true friend of a Smiley offered up words of personalised, unsolicited comfort.  Clearly, when I thought I’d be in attendance for the races both days, I’d naturally assumed I’d be a shoo-in for last place. The final finisher spot being rightfully mine and one I have carried off with considerable consistency if not actual aplomb over the past year.  I didn’t want to go on and on about it, but it saddened me to leave this post unfilled.  I should have credited my Smiley compatriots with more insight.  One took the trouble to let me know that she had taken it upon herself to adopt that mantle.  What can I say?  It brought a lump to  my throat that she’d do that for me, and so keep the Smiley honour in tact.  Good job, well done!  I like to think that next year I’ll be back to reclaim that position, but in the interim it is so very comforting to know that final finisher spot is in safe Smiley hands.  Well done and I salute you!*

*correction – I subsequently learned there was actually vicious jostling for final finisher post.  So coveted is this placing, it seems so low-lives (non smiley) lurked way back purely to disrupt the placings.  There were also sweepers, again messing up the final placings.  However, all was not lost, Smileys delivered final finishing placings in other events over the weekend, so I think we can all be proud of what was achieved.  Well done all.  Oh, and here are some sweepers – they’ve lost their brooms though.  Nevermind.  Personally, I don’t let the presence of tailrunners prevent me from coming last, but it does take my nigh on unique skill to achieve this.


A late addition to this blog has to be these extra photos papped by those present and in the midst of the action.  We have Smilies assembling on the front line, sprinting off, and generally spreading the joy.  It looks fabulous darlings, absolutely fabulous!  See, this is how it all starts with running.  Compelling stuff.

It must have been pretty cold out there, what with the snow on the tops.  However, trawling the event Facebook page I see that the marshals were well prepared.  Not only wrapping themselves up warm, but at marshal point 7 on the Helvellyn trail, free hugs were available.  I’m not sure if they were just optional, only given on request or mandatory issue, like having taped seams on your waterproofs, but let’s not get bogged down in detail, let’s enjoy the view instead.  Lovely.  This might have been the 15k, or it might not, don’t be pedantic.


Also, pleasingly, finally mindful of their loved ones left behind, some kind souls did get to posting some Smiley shots of the 10k participants.  Aren’t they lovely?  Warms the cockles to see them in action.  So wish I was there though, so wish I was there.   I say it warms the cockles, but it actually looks quite nippy doesn’t it. I think it would take more than a nice view to make you feel your cockles warming if you were out in situ.  Also, I think someone is over-compensating for something with their ostentatious shoe display, but I daresay they had their reasons.  Might be large, but it’s just the one, so not that impressive I venture…  It’s very tempting to Photoshop myself into the group picture, but then again, it’s probably more authentic for me not to be in it, I seem never to make the Smiley group shots.  At the end of races it’s because I never finish in time, at the beginning… well, maybe the others always see me first and  head off before I can join the line up, I’ve never dared ask.  In any event, my being omitted from the shot is no marker as to my actual presence of otherwise.  Next year though, next year will be different.   Note to self, I must email Davina in order to ‘make it so.’  That will work.

On reflection though, there don’t seem to be any ‘after’ shots.  Maybe I’ve got the details of the event all wrong.  Perhaps they just set off the 10k runners like hares, and then in the afternoon the other runners have to chase them down.  What’s that film called where a load of prisoners get put on an island and killed off one by one – like that anyway.  There’s probably a cut-off time, like for the OMM, so any 10k runners that aren’t found by nightfall are just left out there.  More Darwinism in action you see.  Plus, we know that the races are always over-subscribed, if they don’t lose a few runners on day one, there’d never be enough space on the boats to get everyone across the lakes for the start on day two. In the pictures that follow you can see some of them snaking across the hills trying (in vain) to escape their pursuers, plus some rather poignant start line selfies.  All hopeful and naively optimistic about the path that lay ahead.  Touching really.  My favourite photo below is the one of the Smiley Trio all hardcore running in their vest tops whilst other runners pass on by all roasty toasty in their coats.  These are also women with (in my view at least) admirable priorities, stopping mid-race to take a selfie knowing they’ll soon take out those other runners once the photo shoot has ended.  Respect my kindred Smilies, respect!

Obvious when you think about it… the not letting them all finish ruse,  just hope the nominated drivers got back OK, it would be a long walk back from Patterdale, though still only slightly slower than driving given the traffic congestion vehicles will experience coming back through Glossop I suppose.  I know from the pictures, that it seems a couple did make it to the finish line, but that’s consistent with my theory.  It would attract suspicion if no-one made it back, and Darwinian principles demand that some at least survive, otherwise who is around to contribute to the planned captive breeding programme to ensure a strong gene pool for future generations?  Glad we’ve cleared all that up.

These are the hardcore 15 kers prior to set-off onto them there snow-capped hills.  Personally I’m thinking it must have been mighty nippy out there, but then I’m probably just a nesh soft southerner.  I would have gone for more than just a blue morph suit and some fish net tights had I been there, I’d have gone for the full bear onesie given half a chance…  As for the sleeveless vest only option, well I shudder at the very thought.  Surely that can’t be advisory kit for such an occasion, rather a display of wanton exhibitionism?


Incidentally, why is Honey G still on the X-factor?  This is what I was having to endure as a substitute to the Lakes pasta party.  The first week it had a sort of bizarre humour, now it’s uncomfortable territory, exploitative in both the sense of cultural appropriation and mocking a potentially vulnerable, talent-less performer.  I now want it to end.  Maybe if I find the remote control I could change channels…  Oh it’s hard being me and being ill, way too much to think about in the multi-tasking departments.


So later on updates established that races having been run, gin drinking commenced at 4.00 p.m. which is in fact gin o-clock now the clocks have changed, with prosecco at 5.00 (though an eye-witness subsequently requested I amended this figure to 4.30, which on balance is a very plausible correction from one who was actually there.  Thank you Dr Smiley).  Committed lot Smilies.  There has already been some animated Facebook discussion about incorporating into future training plans building tolerance and stamina in the gin and prosecco consumption stakes.  Any serious runner will tell you, it isn’t only about the running, it’s about planning your nutrition and hydration too, and that doesn’t just mean putting it on a spreadsheet, oh no, it means putting it into PRACTICE too.  Because, practice makes perfect.  Well, Smileys are nothing if not mutually supportive, sounds like there was lots of supportive practice going on back at camp.  Go them!   Of course only the morrow would reveal if they were going for the staying up all night and blasting the run whilst still drunk on Sunday, or favouring the running off the hangover option, which seems high risk given the potential for choppy waters on the boat crossing – though there again, the emetic impact of such a passage could be potentially helpful if a therapeutic chunder was the outcome.  Oooh, I could hardly wait to see how the morrow would unfold!  Exciting spectator sport this trail running malarkey, it really is.


So then it was Sunday.  After no doubt much cavorting until the small hours, it was a simple matter of getting up and doing the whole running malarkey all over again but this time in wet trail shoes.  I posted a good luck message, then  basically had to wait it out for further information, hoping that none would either fall in or be sick on the boat crossing.  Or more accurately, hoping that if ill-fortune were to befall anyone, some splendid Smiley would have the wit to post all about it on Facebook.  Under the pretence of being supportive and wishing them well, of course, but essentially to do the social media equivalent of pointing and laughing at their expense nevertheless.  Own it people, you know what I mean…

Subsequent reports suggested my original predictions were wildly out.  The Youth Hostel was equipped with a very fine drying room, so the majority were able to set off with dry feet at least.  None however, got to try out their sea legs.  It was too windy to risk sending the boats out apparently.   Poor show by those Smilies who earlier I’m sure were talking about taking a dip in Ullswater on Sunday morning at one point.  Given the organisational flair shown with respect to getting food orders sorted, I’m sure some sort of spreadsheet could have been devised to get people over in relays, sharing the two available wet-suits that I understood made the cut in the luggage packing roulette. It’s like that story where the chicken, the fox and the grain have to be taken across the water but only two at a time will fit in the boat, and you have to work out how this can happen without someone getting eaten..  Actually, not sure what happened with that story, didn’t something get eaten anyway, wasn’t that the point?  Or was that the one with the scorpion and the frog where everyone died?  I think the picture is exaggerating a bit, I reckon it would have been doable with a bit of Smiley teamwork…  Smiley Paces members are all AWESOME they can do anything when they put their minds to it, anything at all.


To make up for missing out on the excitement of catching a steamer, the participants were given alternative excitement in the form of a sort of impromptu is the race on or off hokey cokey routine.  To be honest it seems not everyone thrived on the uncertainty.  No doubt it played havoc with their precautionary pee and warm-up routines.  Here are some Smileys on the edge of their seats with eager anticipation awaiting the official announcements of how the day might yet unfold…  They look like coiled springs ready to explode upwards and outwards don’t they.  Awesome concentrated and pent-up energy in evidence there – if you know where to look.  (Or it might be waiting for the buffet to come out on Saturday night, hard to be sure).


 Eventually though, an alternative route was  laid, and everyone got to have a bash at the alternative 10k.  The route looked beautiful, but let’s be honest, definitely nippy out there.  Fortunately there were fine marshals on hand to direct and encourage – ooh look, an especially fine one sourced from our very own Smiley Paces gene pool for example!  Plus, some awesome supporters traipsing round like Ofsted inspectors, scrutinising the action, this is the unofficial Smiley Inspectorate, whom nobody expects.  I think they should have some sort of a uniform myself, something with golden braided  cord on the sleeves for preference.  (To be fair, I have absolutely no idea if these photos were from Sunday or Saturday’s running excursions, but I say, never let the truth get in the way of a promising narrative, so let’s not explore too deeply.  Fine shots all the same.)

The multi-talented marshal was able to multi task to a high degree of competence.  Offering directional pointing, shouting support and taking photos all at once.  What I think is particularly impressive is how even though most runners were speeding past faster than the speed of light, she still managed to catch many on film, some with a clever frissance of blur to indicate speed.  Not everyone can pull this off.  When I do it, it just looks like my photos are out of focus.  Clearly not so here.  In the Smiley slideshow of delightful snaps below you can clearly differentiate between different running techniques.  There are a couple of hoppers, a few team twosomes, one or two borderline manic (but mania can be quite an engine to power you through a tough race) and my personal favourite, the jazz hands/ teapot twosome who have synchronised their movements in a way normally only seen in the opening rounds of Strictly Come Dancing.  Look and learn people, you have to work it for the camera, these shots show how and why far more eloquently than I can.  You’ve got to love a Smiley in Action shot.  Thanks Smiley Elder for sharing these.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So it seems that the Sunday run happened late, and happened short, but it did at least happen.   Running took place, and fun was had.  T shirts were earned, and how splendid they would look juxtaposed with official smiley kit:

If the gushing expressions of enthusiasm are anything to go by this weekend away was carthatic; inspirational; hilarious; joyful; lovely and basically splendid.  Whilst undoubtedly a LOT of work for our Smiley organiser I hope the forcefield of good will that now engulfs her may be some small recognition for her labours.  She shall henceforth be known a Superstar Smiley.  Let the records show that many recognise this coming together would never have happened without her vision, hardwork and enthusiasm.  All Smilies are awesome both by definition and by association, but Superstar Smiley is especially Awesome for pulling off this logistical challenge.  We thank you. All of us.  Even those that got cold out on them there hills.  Type two fun (retrospective fun) is still fun after all.


All too soon the weekend ended, the marshals and participants dispersed and doors were shut on the youth hostel dorms for another year.  Here’s hoping though, this weekend is but the origins of a new Smiley tradition, that might yet carry on for future generations.  Oh, and for the record, this is a dorm,however the occupants shown are for illustration purposes only, your actual room-mates may differ from those pictured should you choose to book in another year.  For better or worse, you have been warned.


All that was left, was to travel homewards, and then pour over the results at leisure.  The most important prize winners were those who won the fancy dress.  A tradition for the Sunday Ullswater trail apparently.  How did I not know this?  Obviously Roger wasn’t in attendance this year, so we can be gracious in applauding this crew – though I can’t help wondering if they were in fact the killer tail markers, tasked with culling any real slowbies to cut down the numbers a bit for day two. Still, I wasn’t there, what do I know?  There was a story going round that the ‘official’ tail markers had fairy lights adorning them, but that was most likely just to put people off the scent.  I don’t want to cast nasturtiums but don’t mock my conspiracy theories until we’ve counted all the Smilies back in at the next Smiley Thursday night rendezvous, OK?


Oh, and if you want the results they follow below, but really, who cares?  Everyone who took part was brilliant, in whatever capacity they took part.  Everyone who finished covered the same terrain for the same distance, it seems petty to quibble over minutes passed on the hills.  Though for the record, those who were out for the longest showed greater stamina and got more minutes for their money, so everyone’s a winner!  The marshals are of course the most glorious of all, they are out longest and in the most inclement of conditions.  Stars all of them (though as has already been established, we love the Smiley Stars best of all 🙂 ).

Helvellyn Lakeland Trails Results 2016

Ullswater Lakeland Trails Results 2016

So well done everyone, grand weekend away.  Here’s hoping to same time next year, but whether we do or whether we don’t we’ll always have our memories eh, false memory syndrome or otherwise.


Oh, and it’s not too soon to enter the Dirty Double for 2017 eek…  though there will come a time when it will be too late I suppose… I really want to, but it would break my heart if I had to duck out again.  Is it tempting fate to sign up too soon… I wonder if Jessica might be able to organise some child care and come along too?  I’d be equally happy to share a dorm with Jessica Ennis or Jessica Fletcher, both are role models in their own ways.

You can find out more about the Lakeland Trails events here – but good luck with working out which race is which, it is the most confusing event series I’ve ever seen.  Guess it all makes sense when you get there….  Just go with the flow and keep on smiling.  That will get you through most challenges in life.

So til next time happy running y’all and well done Smilies.  What larks eh?  What larks!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Corrections, clarifications, amendments and updates, added 12 November 2016:

So, using the flimsy pretext of having a leaving do prior to my imminent departure to Cambodia, Cheetah Buddy colluded with me in gathering together a group of Smiling Smilies so I could research a bit more what had really happened under the cover of Patterdale YHA whilst apparently just benignly circulating.  A bit like penguin-cam going undercover to research penguins, only marginally less ethical I imagine.  The photo below is of an actual undercover penguin by the way, not one taken at my Smiley ‘leaving do’.


So I learned explicitly, the following new things:

There was a major incident en route, but Smileys came to the rescue, at some personal sacrifice.  What happened was, depending on which version of events you believe, a fellow runner, who coincidentally ended up running sandwiched between two Smilies (not in a pervy way, but in a fortuitous one).  He took a flying tumble at one point, and then the Smiley duo, sacrificed their own race performances to come to his aid.  A fact for which he publicly thanked them on Facebook, noting that one had selflessly sacrificed her own buff in order to mop up blood spillage and allow him to continue.  This was noble… up to a point, but let the records show that it was only an innov8 buff, one relatively easily sacrificed, if she’d (unwisely) ventured out with just the one buff, and had to surrender her Smiley one instead, it might have all ended rather differently.    It’s an old ruse, one used by wily travelers, always carry two wallets with you, so should you be mugged you have one you can surrender as it is of low value, keeping your really prized of valuable possessions secure.  Even so, great PR for Smilies, and I’ve subsequently researched the photographic evidence for myself and I don’t think it’s absolutely conclusive about whether the whole thing was engineered for publicity purposes. I don’t thing the sudden braking by the front-runner and inadvertant shoving or heel clipping of the runner from behind would necessarily have resulted in tripping.  Purely coincidentally.  Besides, an independent witness, Dr Smiley, said the fallen runner kept falling over all the time anyway.  To be surrounded by Smileys on this occasion was to be flanked by guardian angels and not at all an added hazard as you can see.  Great teamwork y’all!


The mysterious key that had to be secretly recovered and returned to Cheetah Buddy was not in fact the key to immortality, no, no no no no.  It was waaaaaaaaaaaaay more significant than that.  It was the key to Cheetah Buddy’s car-roof box.  Into this was packed food provisions AND smiley running gear prior to departure from Sheffield.  En route it became apparent the key for this had got left behind.  Once again, Smilies worked together to source the key.  Someone still in Sheffield was despatched to the house to retrieve it, and then it was passed from contact to contact with a complexity only ever shown previously by the French resistance smuggling people out of occupied France, and the exact pathway of which will never be known. What is known, that the person who entered the property for the initial purpose of key removal found the house to be occupied, but was still able to help themselves to pretty much whatever they fancied unchallenged.  This is lovely and heart-warming hospitality on the one hand, but a sad indictment of the effectiveness of the local neighbourhood watch team on the other.   Let the records show the key did eventually get restored to Cheetah buddy and the contents were made available to all once again. This was good in that people got to eat, but at least one Smiley confided to me in ‘absolute confidence ‘ (a loosely interpreted principle for the purposes of this blog) that there was a bit of her that would have been quite happy to have had an excuse not to do all that running around in the freezing cold and wet.

Packing tip – the best way to pack for this weekend, is apparently to just get the biggest bag you can find (a bin bag will do) and just empty the contents of your runner drawer/ shelf or clothing rail into said bag.  Job done.  Really not a big deal.

Another thing, I don’t know whether it was peer pressure or the alcohol talking, but a Smiley Elite have invented their own new special event for 2017.  This is to be the Filthy Four (see what they’ve done there, not just Lakeland Trail people who are great with their marketing).  The (somewhat distorted) logic of this group is that if running is fun, then running more is therefore more fun. To them, this is quite obvious, and they would all run to infinity and beyond if they could, much as does Buzz Lightyear.  Getting marshals for an infinitely long run would be logistically challenging, unless the race took place on an extra-large hamster wheel, to be honest the Filthy Foursters wouldn’t be fooled but that practical approach. Rather, they have created their own kind of crazy.  They have negotiated with the race organisers to enter both the morning 10k runs AND the afternoon 15k and 14k events.    They will have to get a wiggle on for the 10k on the second day, as they’ll need to make it round in time to catch the last paddle steamer of the day across Ullswater, but apparently it is doable.  Personally, I don’t think these runners have necessarily understood that just because something is doable it doesn’t follow that it is desirable, but hey ho, it will be fun as a spectator sport, and these women are inspirational hard-core.  It will be some clash of the titans if they pull it off!  Yay.  So exciting.  If it was the alcohol talking, this was one of the contributing bottles, apparently it was jolly nice, so here it is for reference purposes:


Lots of photos were taken of Smilies in action. The Lakeland Trails people just make these shots available for free.  Isn’t that splendid?  Here are some Smilies being awesome in action to illustrate the point.  As a little teaser for you, see if you can spot the filthy four founders by their shots and check out those Smiley Smiles.  There are just a couple of preconditions of smiley membership, one is to be generally all round awesome, which is fair enough, the other is to be able to crack a smile even in adversity and even if it’s a bit fixed and crazed at times.  I think everyone acquitted themselves admirably in respect of these directives.

In other news, it was reported that there was some sort of spontaneous reconstruction of a people smuggling operation whereby an indeterminate number of smileys were bundled into the back of a petrol-fumed suffused van for the purposes of relocation from the start line on day two, back to the hostel. This was an alternative to hanging around in a chilly marquee for another two hours whilst waiting for the alternative course route to be put in place.  Water crossing being cancelled due to ill winds.  There are a lot of ill winds at present if international politics are anything to go by. Everyone survived, but had a new compassion for those whose circumstances force them into the hands of unscrupulous people smugglers, stuffed in the back of darkened vehicles, hardly able to breathe and entirely at the mercy of the vehicle drivers as to whether or not they will reach their desired destination. Fortunately, in the Patterdale context they did.  Yay.

I also learned the drying room was AMAZING and the youth hostel roasty toasty warm.  So I was wrong both about the lake crossing and the having to run the whole thing again in wets shoes.  On the other hand, it did snow over-night and it was pretty wet under foot already, so I think that whilst on a technicality I was wrong, people began the day with sparkly clean and dry feet cosseted in perfectly pre-warmed running shoes, in the facts that matter I was of course completely right.   Didn’t take long for feet to reach saturation point out there on them there hills.  So that’s good.

Next year, the even will take place earlier, mid October, 14/15th October to be precise.  Also, this year, and hopefully in subsequent years too, there were lots of spot prizes that were only awarded to people who were physically present. Thus, if you want to be in with a shot at winning say a pair of fine technical socks or a free entry to a series ultra then hang around.  If winning a free entry to a series ultra fills you with fear and precipitates an attack of nausea then maybe not.

Oh, and finally, lest you need further convincing of the generally accepted awesomeness of the Smiley Paces cohort.  We/They got a special mention on the Lakeland Trails Facebook page who noted (favourably) the fantastic Smiley turnout of fifty entrants and chose this shot using Smiley members as the poster girls for next year events.  I was going to say ‘the faces of…’ but it seems the Lakeland Trails marketing department decided these particular Smileys best side was their backsides.  Who are we to argue with such experts?


This concludes the update for the Lakeland DD, but suffice to say it is already in the diary as game on for 2017. The Smiley Paces annual migration has been set in motion. There will be no turning back the clock or stuffing these genies back in the bottle (though they may well be sinking a few).  Smiley Paces members are indeed the best thing to come out of Sheffield since Henderson’s Relish or Stainless Steel.  Life changing discoveries and exports one and all!

For all my Lakeland Trails related posts, click here and scroll down for older entries.


Categories: off road, race, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A quartet of snow angels yomping, and their dog.


Maybe not actually running, or even yomping, in this picture, granted, but that’s only because we had to stop some random guy with the most enormous extendible lens I’ve ever seen,  to get him to take a photo of us all together.   There are only so many variations of the three of us together in different configurations that a blog post will take, and we’d exhausted those, outside assistance was required (the dog was fun but rubbish operating the camera).  In the interests of justice, fairness and mutual accountability, I thought I should kick off with a group shot.  This is the one I chose.  Anyway, what I’m basically trying to say in respect of our distinct lack of any obvious movement in this picture, is that given we accosted this person who was quietly minding his own business and probably enjoying his own solitude, it would have been rude of us to have just sprinted away from him in those circumstances.  Plus, I’d then have to have sprinted back to reclaim my camera, so I’d ended up running way too far. Actually, I might have been rude anyway, because he took some, gave the camera back, but none of them had come out, so we made him take them all again. Is that inappropriate, or assertive?  I’m never quite sure.  Never mind, done now.   I quite like this photo.  You can’t tell from it, but we’d just had to wrestle the dog away from some very enthusiastic sniffing of our nether regions and crotches to avoid a somewhat more inappropriate snap. Clearly we got a lot hotter running than we felt like at the time!

So, today’s mission was another Hobbit Hash, taking in the route up the valley in hope of making the most of the snow (which is fun when it first falls) and nabbing a few sub-zero bonus points as well as some elevation kudos for the Smiletastic competition.  A flurry of recruitment messages went to and fro to see who was up for it.  Some enthusiasm the night before, some last minute checking in the morning.  Including one nameless would-be companion who ‘fessed up to being still in bed at the hour of departure.  An understandable sentiment, showed integrity in sharing, but personally I’d have stayed silent on the theme or possibly lied about my exact circumstances.

Anyway, up, porridge, heaved on thermals (not being caught out two days running without those).  There was definitely snow outside, enough to hint at a winter wonderland further up the valley, and certainly enough to demand proper trail shoes (I went for my super-treaded off roaders, which I increasingly like, they gave good grip, even in ice and snow, and have great cushioning).  Rendezvous hour was 10.00 a.m.  I made sure I didn’t leave the house too early this time (didn’t fancy standing around on a street corner in the cold again), and gingerly jogged down the slope to get there.  It wasn’t too icy, but I wasn’t super confident.  It was already fun,  I love the sound and feel of crunch of newly fallen, untrodden snow.  There were some people out and about optimistically towing sledges, and although it was gloomy, the contrast of settled snow on dark tree branches was spectacular.  I amused myself snapping away some photos of the environs, whilst waiting for first couple of Smiley Paces punters to arrive out of the gloom.  Seconds later we three were joined by another Smiley in the company of her dog.  We were keen to have this canine companion as we thought it might bring extra bodily warmth.  Lewis (that was his name) is a labradoodle apparently, though not acquired in direct homage to Barack Obama, rather to rescue a hairdresser (it’s complicated).  He was quite exuberant, but impeccably behaved, though I think he would have liked us to go quite a bit faster.

After a few social niceties of greeting, one of our group gave up the cry ‘let’s go’ and once again I remembered about the being required to run aspect of this otherwise convivial gathering.   The dog loped off, effortlessly bounding up the hill, occasionally bouncing across to greet some other dog with playful mutual bowing and then excitedly scampering off in the hope of a fun run of his own.  He had mixed success in terms of garnering others to join in, I know how he feels.

So we yomped off, the leading pair headed off with gusto, I limped afterwards wondering if I’d stay the pace.  I didn’t really to be honest, but eventually decided to just do my own thing, and although I had some guilt about the others having to stop and wait for me now and again, I rationalised that ultimately they would find this a preferable option to having to carry me back home if I collapsed in exhaustion high up on the hills later on from all that early over-exertion and/or having to witness me throwing a massive tearful tantrum because it was all too much.  I also slowed my pace still further, by having taken my camera with me (a first, I never normally carry anything with me out running – unless you count paranoia and existentialist angst as having a physical presence, which I think they can to be fair…) this necessitated lots of stops for snapping away at the scenic wilderness unfolding in front of us.  I can’t do quality, so I went for quantity, hoping that at least a few would make the cut.

I insisted on a loop past the forge dam cafe as the other week I’d noticed a tree bedecked with baubles and I thought it was worth a photo then, I reckoned it would be even lovelier all snow covered, and so indeed it was.  In fact, it is near a memorial bench, so I wonder if that is why it had been decorated.  An added bonus of this loop was that we saw a most excellent selection of mallards (go to love a duck, as you know), and some fantastic snow-covered bulrushes.  I love bulrushes, they are extraordinary plants.  All in all I call that a successful diversion, even if it did rather interrupt the running part of the run, replacing it most emphatically with a walk segment.

Onwards and upwards as the saying goes, truthfully, the others were considerably more onward than me.  I ended up behind a couple of walkers on the steepest part of the climb up the porter valley, I was too embarrassed to over-take them as I knew I’d only end up walking myself a few steps later.  The others waited for me in a shivering huddle at the top, and we even did a few staged photos of us running brilliantly… or at least amusingly.  No-one will ever know.  Might get to add them later, or might not, depends on whether or not they make their way into the public domain.

We debated about which way to go at the top.  I favoured the route across the moor as it would look lovely in the snow – we weren’t sure how wet it would be.  I wondered if the snow and ice would actually make it firmer than usual, and this did seem to be the case, it was marginally easier to negotiate than last time we were out.   The first climb over the wall into the open field, now with quite thick snow, exposed us to a truly icy blast.  How on earth do those contemporary explorers do it, let alone the earlier ones like Shackleton and others?  They headed out wearing tweed and cotton; and eating, oh I don’t know ship’s biscuits, bovril and probably rose hip syrup and raw husky-dog livers for nutrition.  (Don’t worry, Lewis was completely safe, I’m vegetarian anyway, and the other smileys were too squeamish, not hungry enough and/or sufficiently emotionally invested in our new canine friend that we’d happily have eaten each other before turning on him).  It felt like an adventure it’s true, but an adventure that wore thin after about 30 seconds, I was pleased when we got to the relatively more sheltered aspect of the moor.

To transition (is that even a word?) from the field to the moor, involved negotiating a style – the one deep in liquid mud and with an electric fence.  Much of the water had frozen, so it was possible for people in our party to get across and stay dry.  The challenge, was getting Lewis to work out how to tackle the style.  He ended up confused and a bit panicked, sprinting off up the hill parallel to the field we were actually in.  Eventually his Smiley rescuer returned and, aided and abetted by a couple of (hopefully) dog-loving walkers, physically woman/man-handled him over.  He didn’t initially look overly impressed by this approach, but leapt about with euphoria once he was successfully over the other side.  Thereafter, he seemed to negotiate each new style with ever-increasing confidence, I imagine we have effectively taught him to escape from any future attempt to enclose him with a garden fence or similar.  Not my dog, not my problem.  I helped by documenting the process from afar:

Once we made it to the heather, the landscape took on a really weird quality.  The heather sort of looked like it was in blossom with the way the snow had landed in amongst its wooded stems.  I attempted a few arty shots, trying to capture the textures of the landscape and wishing I was George.  The photos don’t come anywhere near to conveying what it was like, but I’m going to put them up anyway, out of petulance.  In the same way a small child may demand their latest creative masterpiece is taped on the fridge door for months and months.  I am minded of such an offering of  a child’s picture that was recently shared on Facebook.  It was an abstract looking set of swirls made with  dirty white poster paint on off-white paper,’hard to make out’ doesn’t quite cover it…  Someone had thoughtfully written ‘sheep’ by way of explanation on a top corner.  This was shared on social media, acknowledging the difficulty of interpreting the picture, and I learned subsequently that the child who’s art it was became indignant when they saw it, not because they had detected it was being perhaps affectionately mocked, but because their parent had uploaded it THE WRONG WAY UP!  How could they have done such a thing.  I hope that hobbit smiley is suitably humbled, she knows who she is.  Anyway, in the circumstances, I think I can be allowed to share my own atmospheric photos, you can laugh at them if you like.  You will be laughing on the other side of your face when they end up on the cover of National Geographic.

Ice rather than swamp at the top, meant I was able get across without getting any wetter than I had at the outset of the run.  Forgot to mention that within about 20 metres of heading off, I stepped in a slush swamp and got my feet comprehensively soaked.  Splash back up the legs too.  I am wondering if seal skin socks might be the way to go.  They are not made of actual seal skins as far as I know, so acceptable for vegetarians and/or ethically minded.  I need to find out.

At the top where we exited on to the top of Ringinglow Road, the snow was so deep the road was completely obscured.  It was quite fun, we felt quite intrepid.  Well I did anyway, there were some four by fours showing off on the terrain, but I wouldn’t have risked my little car up there.  It was quite slidey too, the snow compacted by these heavier vehicles, pretty treacherous.  We crossed into the plantation, where we slid trying to keep out of the way of mountain bikers (well, some of us did, the Lewis contingency within our number had fun loping alongside them), until we saw the aforementioned photographer and picked him off for our own illicit purposes.


Coming down through the plantation was fun, because the gradient was in our favour.  Running is one of the few circumstances when the phrase ‘it’s all downhill from here’ makes your heart sore, rather than sink!  I wasn’t massively confident because of the snow, but it was enjoyable yomping through.  If you looked at right angles to the path into the woods, it looked like troll or maybe bear country.  Actually, that’s really silly, we don’t have bears in the UK any more.  Trolls, definitely.  Be careful out there!  On the actual pathway through it was quite busy though, lots of dog walkers and bikes had made it up.  Exiting the wood, we found slush, and it was clear we’d had the best of the day, the temperature was rising now and snow vanishing to filthy looking messy slush for now, that will frozen again later into lethal ice.  We were nearly collectively caught out by the compacted ice just as the exit, skidding about and tumbling into one another.  One Smiley companion sheered right into me, out of control and instinctively grabbed at me for support, which was never going to work.  We both shot forwards shrieking. It reminded me of that time I’d seen some pedestrian trying to navigate the black ice of Sheffield’s streets one particularly harsh winter a few years back.  Skidding out of control down a slope, she instinctively grabbed onto a structure as she passed it, hoping for some support.  It was a wheelie bin, her hopes were dashed, and very nearly her body too, if truth be told.

We abandoned the original plan to head down Limb Valley to Whirlow instead doubling back to Ringinglow Road and then diverting down Jacob’s ladder, taking in both the curious alpacas, and getting to watch the sledgers making the most of that vertiginous slope.  Two of our number seemed to march even jog down with ease.  Me and my fellow more cautious Smiley picked our way down at a zigzag, pacing ourselves at a speed which would not have been out of place in a Noh Theatre production.  A woman watching the sledgers pointed us to what she said was a less slippery route.  We placed our trust in this benevolent stranger in the absence of other plans.  Fortunately, we both made it.

Bizarrely, coming back into the woods, we were met by a convoy of enormous off road vehicles.  Although they were courteous, and remained stationary as we tried to wriggle past them, they were quite intimidating.  It reminded me of that scene in one of the Jurassic park films, where Pete Postlethwaite is furiously driving a safari vehicle as they go off to hunt dinosaurs.  It felt like they would be getting out their big guns and skidding off as soon as we passed.  By way of contrast and loveliness, coming past Forge Dam kiddies playground, we espied a rather fine snowman. Well, a fellow smiley did, and I’ve decided to take the credit for it. We went in for closer inspection (didn’t feel too creepy or inappropriate doing so as there were no children using it at the time).  It was an excellently accessorised creation.  With jaunty hat and holly decorations.  Less politically correct, it had a cigarette as well – well I think it was representative of a cigarette, it might have been vaping I suppose, but that still normalises and legitimises nicotine use and I don’t think that’s very good really.  Might have been chewing a straw I suppose, but I don’t think so, that story would just be spin.  On reflection, I think it may have been a pipe, but point still stands, I’m sure you’ll agree.

It was getting cold now, and my legs were tiring, despite my thermal leggings under my running ‘tights’ my quads still felt frozen solid from yesterday.  Wish some of the fat laid down on my belly could seep into top front of my legs.  We collectively agreed that to incentivise us to make it back, we would now be on a quest for hot chocolate.  We eventually emerged back at the Oakbrook coffee place, and to our great good fortune were just in time to squeeze ourselves onto a vacated table.  Lewis was allowed in too.  It was lovely and cosy.  In the event, in the interests of accuracy, I should report that only one of us had a hot chocolate, one had breakfast tea and chocolate cake, one had a skinny latte and I had a full fat latte.  It was lovely and warm and consequently it took super human effort to wrench ourselves away and back to our respective dwelling places until next time!

There was some debate about whether or not we would have done better to have gone out later.  At one point forecast was for sun later on (never happened).  Personally, I think we got best part of the day when snow was still relatively untrodden.  Plus, if I’m really, really honest, I still do suffer a bit from the mentality that I need to ‘get the run out of the way’ so thereafter I can reap the benefits of feeling smug back home on the sofa drinking tea.  Which is pretty much what I did.

So another run down, on target for my contribution to the Smiletastic total for the Fighting Feathers cohort.  Thank you fellow Smileys for cheery companionship and ensuring we got out.  Collective commitment is good.   Together we are invincible!  (But let’s not actually put that to the test… just in case).

run dont hide

Happy running!


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

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: