Posts Tagged With: strava

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

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

Bakewell smiley assemblage

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

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

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

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

really regret

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

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

smiley champs

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

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

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

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

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

Bakewell smiley assemblage

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

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

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

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

bakewell parkrun strava

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A couple more Smilies were cheered in

smiley coming through

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

bakewell smiley team shot FJ

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

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Running is great, gotta love parkrun!

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

bakewell cake supplies

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

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

smiley injured new friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southwark parkrun mainlining mood-setting magic and kicking off marathon mania. Yay!

Digested read.  Runners are awesome. The marathon weekend in London is lots of fun.  Parkrun is awesome.  Southwark parkrun laid on a marathon-themed event today.  Awesome plus fun plus awesome means it was great.  Thank you 🙂 Job done.  We’ve had today, who needs tomorrow?

marathon mood

This is the problem with pre-emptive strikes.  It’s honestly not that I want to be  a doom-monger, but I’m just a bit worried now, that tomorrow will be an anti-climax.  The thing is, Southwark parkrun today was epic beyond awesome!  With their special Southwark parkrun marathon-themed event they managed to recreate all the fun of participation at the London marathon without the annoying hardship of having to run a bit over 26 miles and get chaffing to boot.    Through their innovative and inclusive approach they provided all the cheers, camaraderie, landmarks – even a feed station with a complementary banana at the finish for goodness sake – under the literal and metaphorical parkrun banner, which means dear reader FOR FREE!  Gotta love parkrun.  It was such a good event, that as someone purely down to support the marathon runners this year, far from having an underlying sense of potentially missing out on the actual running part of the occasion tomorrow, I feel I’ve experienced all the excitement of having done so, and still made it back to the hotel in time for a decent brunch with the afternoon free for extra sight-seeing to boot.  It’s true they were not able to deliver on the medal front, but hey it’s still a credit towards your next milestone Tee (worth the wait I promise) and memories as they say, are priceless.  Thank you Southwark parkrun team, you gave such a welcome, I loved it.

It was all a bit of a blur at times though, it was so exciting, so that’s why some of the photos which follow are a bit hazy.  Think of it not as an indictment of my photography skills, more as a practical alternative to putting vaseline on the lens in pursuit of a flattering shot.  Vaseline is in short supply at present, I think there may have been a run on it what with the run round scheduled for tomorrow.   Whatever, make of it what you will.

DSCF6926

I even made a new best friend!  Endorphins can be like that I know, but really,  I felt like I discovered a kindred spirit and have the photos to prove it.  More of this later.

So first things first.  It did take some effort of will to get to Southwark.  Once I knew I’d had to defer my own London Marathon entry and decided to volunteer instead, I was looking out for a local parkrun to grace with my presence for the day before.  Thanks to the parkrun discussion group I got a tip-off that Southwark parkrun were going to be pulling out all the stops to put on a marathon themed event. This was a brilliant bit of insider info, as frankly I’d earlier ruled out going to Southwark as it is a three-lap route and I think of Southwark as being frankly very urban, so it wasn’t really on my radar.  However, any opportunity for a pop-up parkrun party and I’m in.  Especially as their lovely volunteer team even replied to my lowering-the-tone Facebook enquiry about the pre-run facilities.  I am (over) reliant on my precautionary pee, and figured forewarned is forearmed. Worry not dear reader, there may be nothing in Southwark park itself, but I was speedily advised there are a couple of options near at hand (Seven Hills leisure centre for one).  Astonishingly, I didn’t in the end avail myself of these, and coped OK.  Good to know I can, without tena lady sponsorship to boot!  So warm welcome, and lots of fun.  Decision made.

So, I was all set to go, and had worked out tube routes, and even squashed Roger into my luggage for the outing. What is a marathon themed event without fancy dress I figured?  Plus I had planned to do the marathon with him, it would be rude not to include him in this equivalent event.  This was my theory. The reality of donning my smiley vest and strapping on my horse (that came out a bit wrong, oh well) was a bit different.  In the silent isolation of my hotel room (and is a hotel posher than I am) my nerve failed me a bit.  It was the thought of having to walk along those long corridors with the risk of another ‘proper’ runner emerging from behind the rack of anonymous looking doors at any moment. Plus the thought of trying to be nonchalant walking the streets and negotiating the barriers at the tube.  Maybe this wasn’t after all up there with my top ten best ideas I’ve ever had. …. On the other hand, surely other people would make an effort, and it would be really stupid to have brought him all this way and then abandon him to the four walls of my hotel room at the final hour.  That would be shamefully disloyal.

I did peer out through my little eye-hole to check the corridor was clear first, and then stepped out.

The worst bit was leaving the hotel for sure.  Picking my way through the lobby, an over-attentive concierge smiled a good morning greeting ignoring the fact I was probably in direct contravention of their dress code in a way that I imagine a skilled butler would feign ignorance of inadvertently observed proof of infidelity in the presence of his employers. Quite a skill, it made me feel even more self-conscious.  My breach of etiquette was so extreme, it could not even be joyfully acknowledged.  Oh well, I made it out, I’ve done scarier things than this.  Once on the street it was weirdly completely fine.  Surprise surprise, this is London, they’ve seen way weirder, nobody cares.  I was genuinely ignored on the tube.  It was even fun, the stations that were so heaving yesterday were pretty deserted pre 8.00 a.m. on a Saturday morning (yes I was way too early to parkrun), and I could even take time to appreciate the architecture of the stations.  They have this futuristic alien film set feel, well, the one on the jubilee line did at least..

I was a bit vague about how to get to the actual park once I got to Canada Water.   However, with the wit of Jessica Fletcher, I used my initiative and espying some people in running gear ahead, trailed them at what I hoped was a respectable distance.  I was still feeling a bit shy about turning up in fancy dress and didn’t want to attach myself to other runners who might not embrace the opportunity to be associated with Roger and I.  Leaving the station, I continued my pursuit, other runners started to emerge from side streets and other station exits, and soon there was quite a merry trail of us following on behind the unwitting leaders.  We had to hope that they were indeed parkrunners, not bound elsewhere. I mean I could cope with ending up at a boutique coffee shop say, but I’d be less impressed if I accidentally had to do a British Military Fitness Bootcamp say.  I just don’t feel burpees and Roger are natural bedfellows.  Not that I’ve tried to be fair, but it’s an educated guess.

Eventually, I was swept up in the increasing mass of runners, and struck up a conversation with one – along the lines of – hope we are all following the right person, and the proverbial ice was broken and it was all fine.   Lots of tourists, plenty of people supporting or running the marathon tomorrow, a growing sense of excitement.  Phew.  It was going to be fine.  The only slight potential problem, was that having abdicated all sense of responsibility for navigation, and being highly suggestible, I didn’t want to abandon the herd and get lost.  I therefore walked on by the Seven Hills Leisure Centre and Peeing Point without making use of its facilities.  I figured we were ridiculously early, it would be OK to pop back later, and I’d rather find out where the start was first.

Well, dear reader, the park itself is unexpectedly large and glorious.  Mature trees, great signage, immaculately maintained with mowed areas and mini-wildernesses of bluebells and cow parsley in full flower.  I was really impressed.  It was nothing like I expected.  One of the great joys of parkrun tourism is that it takes you to places you might otherwise overlook.  Granted, the sun helped, but honestly, it was gorgeous, and,  it even has its own athletics track!  Who knew?

Now, parkrun is incredibly friendly, and you are guaranteed to have something in common with everyone there, obviously.  However, I was lurking a bit at the perimeter, acutely aware of being the only one in fancy dress, despite the increasing volume of people closing in on the rendezvous point like the cast of extras in Close Encounters drawn to the mysterious site where UFOs are to land.  It’s really quite hard to look nonchalant in such circumstances.  Fortunately, this is where my new best friend came in.  I think it was she who initiated first contact with a photo-op and well, it sort of grew from there, due to our mutual awesomeness I imagine.  She is, like me, gifted in the art of simultaneous broadcast, so we pretty rapidly downloaded each other’s stories and found common ground.  I felt vindicated in bringing Roger along too, whether or not some may espy him and regard it as an assisted run. They obviously haven’t been paying attention to his leg length, which does not work in my favour to be honest.  The thing is, we may have been in splendid isolation, but were it not for Roger, she might not have struck up in conversation with me and the world would be a duller place, so Roger is staying. He will continue to run with me in future, and one day, when I’m race fit, I might even be able to reduce the length of the added panel that allows me to accommodate him round my ample frame!  (I can but dream).

Key points, she totally gets fancy dress, and recently herself sported a giant daffodil at a Macmillan support run cavorted with grace as an escort to the final finisher. Respect.  She has a highly developed appreciation of running for fun, enjoying the moment kind of experience.  However, importantly tomorrow she is running for Pancreatic Cancer UK raising funds and awareness for a brutal and too often over-looked cancer with particularly grim stats linked to it. So big shout out for Pancreatic Cancer everyone!  Well, not to encourage it obviously, that would be ethically dubious, but for getting the information out there, and encouraging people to keep it on their radar.  There are lots of worthy causes represented tomorrow I know (I’m cheering Shelter, but I’m delighted that mental health has finally come onto the agenda with Heads Together as the official charity for the 2017 London marathon even if not everyone can carry off a blue headband with elegance and grace ) but nevertheless, I urge you to  have a shout out ready for any in this particular purple army should you see them along the way.   We do not have a finite number of cheers, the more we chorus, the more others join in and raise the volume!  Despite the photo below, don’t count on there being angels dancing attendance to help the charity runners round either.  I have a feeling that ultimately the London Marathon will be a personal journey for all who embark on it, but oh my, those crowds will surely be willing them round and no-one, but no-one should lack a multitude of cheerers to provide virtual wings when needed to help every runner dig ever deeper as the going gets tough.  It’ll be fine, it’s just one foot in front of the other at the end of the day…. (eek).  And just so you know (I didn’t) there is a cut off time for the London Marathon, this means that those who complete outside that time don’t get an official time (I do sort of get that) nor do they get a medal.  This latter point seems harsh to me, when people who are taking part are doing so in the face of enormous personal physical, practical or emotional challenges, surely a medal can be put aside for them and held by the relevant charity for issue on completion of the distance?  It’s not like they’re trying to get qualifying times for Boston or anything.  So, extra credit for any participants who embark on this challenge knowing they probably won’t make the cut off, especially as it is from the gun time start not chip time start which loses you a chunk of time too.  That really requires mental as well as physical fortitude and resolve. Respect.  I’m volunteering cheering for Shelter at mile 25 until three officially, but I’m going to try to stick it out as long as I can to cheer as many of the final few back as I can.  It might be a bit tiring standing around cheering and clapping but hey, compared to the effort of running 26 plus miles, that’s pretty small-scale hardship in the grand scheme of things surely?  I know when I’ve finished last at fell races (which has happened more than once) I’ve really appreciated being cheered in.  Payback time.

pancreatic cancer uk

We were distracted by the need to take lots of selfies, until we were interrupted by the first of two first-timer briefings. The Southwark parkrun course was explained, three laps is the main thing, and expect business, so many newbies perhaps a bit of confusion so might not be a PB day. Oh you want to know the course – well, it’s on their website, but to save you the arduous task of following the link the blah de blah follows:

We are a flat 3 lap course run entirely on tarmac.
The first section of the lap approaches the art gallery and then navigates around the children’s play area before circling the duck pond. The route then continues with a 300 meter straight under the canopy of large oak trees. The final third of the lap follows the perimeter of the park past a nursery school and a running track before re-joining the route back at the start line.

I just follow though, so really just blinked through the briefing in relation to that bit, and then I concentrated on practising counting to three, as it’s a lot harder than you might think to keep count when running laps.

More people gathered, there was another first timers briefing, and then the actual race briefing during which we learned exciting new things. Such as, present today was another celebrity, world record holder for fastest marathon runner in a spider man suit no less.  I’m impressed.  He was giving out finish tokens so we’d all get a moment of celebrity endorsement of our own at the finish.  We heard that runners and volunteers had gathered from all over the world and it was looking like a record turn out.   There were a couple of milestone runners, but also, and this especially pleased me, some absolute first timers to parkrun. What an introduction!

We also discovered that this parkrun has taken to setting up it’s very own cheer station along the route for the marathon and today was an opportunity to practise encouraging techniques.  Oh my, they so have it nailed!  I was especially taken with the morphing of the tail runner into a sweeper bus.   Clearly genius. Also, as it was recognised that this would be the day before a not insignificant run for some, walking along the bus route was positively encouraged for any who needed to save energy and legs for their big day.

I got distracted taking my blurry photos.  It’s a new camera I hope it is user error not machine error.  I’d rather I was crap than the camera to be honest.  I’ve already had to ask for a replacement battery as the one sent with it was a dud.. hmmm.  Oh well, who cares, more important things happening today.   Not least admiring the ever swelling crowd at the start. This was going to be epic!

As often happens when I am over-excited and distracted, I nearly missed the start.  All that companionable chit-chat and I was faffing as the countdown completed.  Didn’t matter, today was never going to be about whizzing round for me anyway.

We set off, at more of a lumbering trot than a gallop, but underway.  In fact, the pep talks from yesterdays expo, were pretty apt even here. You do get swept up, it would be easy to push off too fast just with shere joy at being there, even for me at Southwark parkrun I had a bit of an extra spring in my step, it’s amazing what a bit of collective mutual affirmation can do.  Life felt good, people are great, fancy dress and Roger’s company was a brilliant idea once again.  If it’s good enough for Spider man, it’s good enough for me!

Well, dear reader, the course did not disappoint.  Quite apart from the unexpected loveliness of the park with mature trees, blossom, its own lake resplendent with water fowl, there were hoards of enthusiastic marshals.  Not only were they very good at directional pointing and clapping (core skills for the role to be fair) they also had a fine selection of motivational signs and strategies.  Offers to stop your Garmin in the event of collapse (always a boon), power boosts (surprisingly effective) and even a dance station were available to the runners:

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Added in, were handy milestone markers and critical landmarks en route. This was way better value than the hop on /hop off buses which may be ubiquitous in these parts, but remain eye-wateringly expensive.

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It was all awesome.  I did stop and start quite a bit, because those photos won’t take themselves, but  today wasn’t about speed for me (who am I kidding, it never is) it was about taking it all in, loving and living the moment.  Having said that, my strava says otherwise.  I actually got a PR for fastest 1km EVER today.  Impressive I think.  Albeit it was because I kept it going whilst in the tube.  Had I but thought to book to spend some time on the London Eye later, the elevation would have been even more spectacular.  Memo to self for next time.

One thing though which was unique to this parkrun for me anyway, was because of the three loop model, you get extra shout outs when people lap you.  I can report that even here, miles away from our mother city, the Smiley Paces vest worked its magic.  I got some ‘Go Smiley’ shout outs.  How awesome is that.  It was worth squeezing into after all despite the less than flattering silhouette.  I also got some recognition from fellow Sheffielders who had also made this London pilgrimage.  It was just brilliant.  There were a couple of Sheffield half finishers T-shirts from different years.  In fact, I’m sure this parkrun was proof of that six degrees of separation thesis or whatever it is.  My new best friend used to share a house with (or work together or  something – on reflection, I was probably too self-absorbed to be listening properly, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story after all)  a Steel City Strider, and she’s an American living in Belfast, so there you go.  Spooky!

I also got some shout outs of camel woman.  Less brilliant. Especially now I know camel toe is a thing, which I didn’t until relatively recently.  As an aside, did you know in Cambodia you  can buy undergarments to replicate this look.  Why indeed? I don’t understand this world I really don’t.  All in all though, maybe I have to accept I need to do something about Roger’s forelock, it doesn’t do him any favours, and I do think it is lack of this that creates the animal identification confusion.  I wonder how he’d feel about hair extensions?  We shall see.  One for another time.

Even though I was slow, there were some speed merchants optimistically haring round, I would have thought the crowds would have worked against that, so many of us doing the course for the first time, but it was fun to watch them shoot past.  I’m not a fan of multi-lap routes, but one bonus is seeing the elite athletes in action, and on this route, on occasion you could even high-five other runners coming towards you.

The course completely disoriented me, but towards the end I ended up alongside a Southwark regular and we chatted for a bit. He was telling me more about their cheer station and how the parkrun has grown, also more about their very own superhero spiderman, of who they are rightly proud.  He also said that apparently a big group from Sheffield was down the other week en masse, celebrating a wedding I think.  I wasn’t sure who they were, but my money is on Graves parkrun, I just think from other parkruns people might identify themselves by running club allegiances rather than parkrun attendance, unless it was the Monday Mobsters.  Aaargh, I don’t know, I daresay I can find out, there are ways and means after all…  Ooh, and better yet, I got an extra selfie shot, this is what happens if you parasatise someone elses pacer.  Result.  Hope you have a great time on SUnday guys.  I’m sure you will continue as team awesome.  Just shows, everyone needs a trusty running buddy eh?

team awesome

We finished in a sprint towards the funnel to great cheers (not me in particular, everyone finishing got huge support) then into the finish funnel and our celebrity greeting.  Perhaps I should have felt a bit sheepish (in an equine-related way) me and Roger clip-clopping in to be faced with a ‘proper’ celebrity, spiderman.  Indeed, there he was, the world record holder for the fastest marathon in a sprayed on lycra spiderman suit.  I was impressed, obviously, but less so now I’ve discovered we in Sheffield have our own record-breaking ghillie suit runner.  It puts things in perspective.  Naturally I got a selfie though, spurred on by missed opportunity to get one yesterday with mankini marathon man.  I know, you had to be there – I’ll blog about that later, I’m behind, but talking about behinds, this was his. For the record, I did ask about where the number goes, but never got a satisfactory answer.

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I was emboldened by post running endorphins and also my new best friend’s ability to negotiate these with calm.  I offered to take one of her with him too, and because I have no idea how to operate a smart phone asked her to check I’d captured something useable. Well, my reader, you will be delighted to know that through happy accident and my near-terminal ineptitude I’d actually taken several hundred inadvertently, so capturing a really good one. This is apparently the secret of good photography, just shoot at everything and the occasional inspirationally pleasing shot will rise to the top.  Excellent!

I lingered a bit at the end, and it was fantastic to catch up with some Sheffield migrants.   So shout-outs to Graves parkrunner, yay; friend of fellow Smiley (Wingerworth Wobble RD, you know who you are) and those who donned half marathon tees.  Great to see the Steel City Spirit made it to Southwark.  More (blurred) selfies followed.  I even had a couple of shout outs by name, which was truly bizarre and unexpected.  Maybe my new best friend had given a tip-off elsewhere on the route to other runners, I was pretty distinctive to be fair.

By the time I came through the funnel, what with having to stop and take photos en route and everything, the volunteers had run out of finish tokens. By an extraordinarily smart bit of initiative, they were instead giving out raffle ticket numbers. You took these to the volunteer scanners, and one was on hand with a sheet of barcodes so they could scan the corresponding one, really clever.  The organisers were apologising for this, but really, they did an extraordinary job in the face of a tourist take-over, and mingling afterwards is part of the fun. Well it is on a sunny pre-marathon day at least, less so in horizontal hail to be fair, but that was not the case today!  I enjoyed the mingling, seeing some of the coveted cow buffs was a pleasing boon. They wear them like a (not very) secret sign to other 20+ tourists, sort of like a benign variant on the freemasons I think, well, I hope they’re benign, I guess from the outside there is no real way of knowing, we have to take these things on trust.  Turns out this group included run directors and parkrun ambassadors, all in all, quite a glitzy gathering at Southwark today it would seem!

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There was no formal prize for the raffle tickets, but it did entitle you to a fruit of your choice from the feed station, so I had a banana.  Great innovation too.  Generous lot at Southwark.  Hope we haven’t bankrupted them all for their generosity.  It was appreciated though.  A lot, by me certainly, but others too I’m sure!

I joined the finish funnel to cheer the final few back.  It was a glorious sight.  Bringing up the back was the sweeper bus.  Brilliant.  I really hope that particular innovation catches on.  And shortly afterwards a declaration of what had indeed been a record field of 475 I think.  There was brief speculation about rounding up ‘a few randoms’ to get them through the finish to break the 500 mark, but that didn’t happen.  It’s only a matter of time though. Could double again this time next year with the good press and good will generated from today I’m sure!

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So it was one big party really.  I said thanks to the run director and left a bit forlornly, after this morning, I feared everything else will be an anti-climax.  The rest of this London Marathon weekend will be experienced in black and white after the full (unexpected) 3D colour of Southwark parkrun.  Sort of a reverse principle of the original Wizard of Oz film.  If you are old enough to remember that film you will understand the reference, if not, just know there was a time when films were made in black and white.  Only to morph into colour half way through as confidence in the film soared led to a similar soar in budget. Really, go watch it for yourself and see….

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I left all a marvel at the park, and as I peered back through the railings for a final farewell, there were my fundraising buddies waving goodbye.  Next time I see them, hopefully it will be in the final miles of the marathon.  Wow. That’s quite something..

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So many runners, so many stories. ‘Just’ 475 here today, multiply that to get to 39,000, that’s a lot of tales to be told.

On departure I somehow got a bit disoriented.  I lost my nerve as everyone else seemed headed in the opposite direction, though on reflection, maybe they were heading to the cafe whereas I was heading to the tube.  Long story short, I ended up hooking up with some hapless Southwark parkrun locals who misjudged the situation by making eye contact with me.  Emboldened by this,  I asked them for directions and it turned out they were heading to Canada Water tube too, so I asked if I could walk with them if I promised to keep a respectful distance.  I concede though it is a bit hard to look inconspicuous when you are wearing  a pony, but they were gracious enough to make the best of it, and you know what, I don’t think it was even remarked upon. We spoke instead of parkrun and expo and marathons. They weren’t running in fact, though as London locals had been to the expo, and one of them had recently done the Manchester marathon so awesome runners also.  It’s extraordinary who you can meet along the way at parkrun.

Tube ride home was fun.  I had completely forgotten about Roger by that point, but he led to me striking up a conversation with a  lovely father and son combo on tube en route to the Natural History museum to see dinosaurs, which coincidentally I did later too.  Londoners have a reputation for being less than friendly, that wasn’t my experience today, though it may be that most of the people I spoke to were tourists to be fair, but hey ho, let’s not quibble. The Southwark parkrun team weren’t tourists and they get ten out of ten for friendly, fun-filled hospitality.

I made it back to the hotel in time for an enormous brunch.  Opportunism played a part there.  Note to self, never eat again.  I’m not even carbing up! Well I am, but don’t need to, and probably actively shouldn’t.  My hotel room I found had already been made up in my absence.  Truthfully I was a bit disappointed by this discovery, as I hadn’t yet had a shower, and this meant I’ll shower now and then again tomorrow morning pre marathon cheering duties, and I’ll have to do so without having had my bathroom serviced in between!  I know, what hardship.  I’ll have to fold the end of my toilet paper into a triangle all by myself!  Seriously, what hardship indeed?  It’s ridiculous, nobody services my bathroom for me at home, ever, I only do it myself in extremis.  It will be fine. So  I’ll have to hang up my own towels, people running tomorrow for all their myriad of reasons will face moderately bigger challenges than that and overcome them.

So that was that. Southwark parkrun done and dusted.  Thank you awesome parkrun people.  Don’t worry too much though people.  You can re-live it all through flickr account of the Southwark parkrun marathon mania here.  I’ve stolen these shots just for starters:

So now, are we ready 4 London?

Get Ready…

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Steady ….  (see what I’m doing here?)

GO!

Categories: 5km, parkrun, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Three glorious things.

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Firstly:

I have a medal.  Bling for Hobbit Day.  This means that, reflecting back on our Hobbit Day Celebrations I must have run more than I realised, because as every runner will tell you effort on race days is rewarded by bling.  Therefore, if I am in possession of bling, logically, I must have put in some quality effort.  Yay.  Go me.  Go Hobbit Buddy also.  We are epic.  Also, my name is engraved on said medal, which, as any runner will tell you, is a service normally only offered to those in the winning line up.   I think that means I must have come either first, or possibly second, but definitely in the ‘best record for posterity‘ line up.  I wont let these accolades change me, but I will bring them up in conversation whenever possible lest we forget.  Did you know I’ve done a half-marathon as well by the way, not managed gratuitously to drop it into a blog post in days?  Thank you Hobbit Buddy, henceforth forever known as ‘bearer of the bling‘ also.

Secondly:

I had another woeful shamble round Sheffield Hallam parkrun today.  I was feeling quite demoralised at my inability to do anything beyond deteriorate in my running prowess.  However, it seems I am more easily cheered than I gave myself credit for.  My strava map for this run was hilarious.  No wonder I was slow, wasn’t aware of having gone so extensively off-piste!  For those not in the know, you are supposed to do the same loop twice.  Have a look at these two maps and see if you can spot the difference.  Doing all those river crossings was tough, even though I’ve had practise at The Trunce.  Hasn’t enamoured me any more with the notion of doing a triathlon to be honest…

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Such was the extent of my GPS/ strava improvisation of the route, I actually got a trophy for a Personal Record PR on TENTENTEN Sprint Finish which is hilarious, and impressive, as I must have done it entirely using the power of my mind as my legs didn’t go anywhere near there.  Also, leads me neatly into the third of my ‘three things’.

Thirdly:

Tomorrow I’m volunteer marshaling for the TenTenTen.  I’m quite unexpectedly excited.  I am a bit nervous in case I have some sort of disorientation episode and end up sending everyone off in the wrong direction.  This was partly brought on by my apparent lapse in navigation as evidenced above – seems I have the potential to lose any sense of direction on even the most familiar of routes – and partly brought on because loads of additional, confusing race signs have appeared in the vicinity of the TenTenTen course.  They are 10 mile markers.  Especially confusing as I saw two 10 mile markers in different locations, and also because the TenTenTen is only 10k.  Anyway, don’t worry, we have investigative researchers within the Smiley Dynasty.  Our very own Ms Marple-Morris found out it is because there is a St Luke’s Night Strider in the dark 10k/ half marathon walk  taking place tonight in the dark.  This had passed completely under my radar, hope it’s well supported.  Anyway, phew, it caused me immense confusion for quite some time.  It’s too late for me to do extra training to finesse my marshalling skills, but I plan to be as smiley and cheery as possible, and also to look busy and important.  That should cover most eventualities.  I’m wondering whether or not I should take my own clipboard to help with this aspect of the competency role play (you know, fake it to make it) but I think on balance, erm,  ‘no‘.  I will however endeavour to remember to bring my glasses, so if I have to read names off a list I can do so with an ostentatious display of literacy skills assisted by optical aids facilitating sight.  It’s going to be grand.  Otherwise, main rule pre race day is carbing up and tapering.  I’m on course for that so don’t worry on my account, but thank you for your concern.

carb-diem

See you there!

Categories: running | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Round Sheffield Run 2016? Neigh Worries!

Reading this is optional.  Could be a time-vampire, but then again, so is daytime TV.  Scrolling down to look at photos also an option.  If you are hardcore, then this account is a bit like a TV box set binge, just so you know.  Maybe get some Pringles in just to be on the safe side.

Digested read:  I like the RSR.  It is even more fun in fancy dress.

RSR 2016 logo

Magic Realism I think it’s called.  That is, the acceptance that magic can exist in a rational world (not that the world feels particularly rational right now, but let’s not go there).  It might of course be false memory syndrome or just general common or garden personal delusion, but when I think of the Round Sheffield Run (RSR) I just feel a little warm wave of happiness pass through me as I take the opportunity to indulge in some temporary escapism by filling my mind with memories of the event 🙂 it really is magical.  To recall it in your mind’s eye is to give yourself a virtual hug.

RSR shot

For me, the RSR has a personal symbolism and significance.  I entered it the first year it took place from a foundation of complete ignorance.  I had only ever done a parkrun 5k before, and took very literally the blurb about it being an all-inclusive race for all abilities.  I figured you only ever had to run about 2.9 km in one go, so that should be fine right?  It never really dawned on me that you end up doing near enough 25 km and there is more than a smidgen of hill to negotiate.  But you know what, I’m so pleased I was that naive, because if I had thought about it too much I’d have concluded it was way beyond me, not been brave enough to enter,  and I’d have really missed out.  This event was just brilliant from the outset.  The route and location are fabulous of course, but it is the organisation, attention to detail and friendliness that makes this trail run,  in my experience at least, a really social and inclusive event.  2014 was my first time tackling anything like that distance, and my first experience of running and enjoying the experience of doing so actually at the time, (no really), instead of just retrospectively when awash with a post runner’s high and feeling smug afterwards.  You know, that Goldilocks zone, when the endorphins have kicked in but the stiffness has not?  So what is this darned race then?  I hear you cry.  For any still uninitiated, I shall try to explain.

Firstly, here is the course profile (thanks veloviewer sponsored athlete for sharing) it is from last year, but hey.  It isn’t my time either, but maybe I won’t draw attention to that and so some reader, somewhere, will be left believing it is.  (I was way faster, obviously).

veloviewer route map from 2015

The official blah de blah on the Round Sheffield Run‘s website reads thus:

The Round Sheffield Run, trail running enduro is a unique creative “multi-stage” running event following the beautiful Round Sheffield route, a superb running journey linking some of the best trails and parkland. It would be a tough task to find anywhere in the UK that showcases these kind of trails & scenery within its city limits.

The 11 timed stages make up 20km of the 24.5km route.

The unique format breaks the route down into stages. Each stage being raced, and competitors receiving both results for each stage as well as a combined overall result.

Competitors have the opportunity to relax, regroup with their friends and refocus before the next stage begins. Competitors are allowed to walk or jog in between stages. The unique concept creates a special and unique social vibe.  The race format also opens up the course to all abilities.

Personally, I think they deliver.  In the first year, there were just 600 runners, last year probably double that number.  I don’t know exactly,  I didn’t count, though I could have done had I taken a clicker with me, as pretty much all of them overtook me at some point on the course.

Why so brilliant?  It might not entirely sound fun to the uninitiated.   I excitedly told a non-running friend of mine about having done it before and that I was doing it all again this year (‘it’s really great – pretty much all off-road; lots of mud and hills and 24 km of running all at one go!’) and she said ‘oh poor you‘, so maybe there are gaps in my communication skills. You’ll have to draw your own conclusions.    It helped me, that the first year I ran as a pair with my  Cheetah Buddy, and we got the most brilliant number EVER by chance.  It is true that we missed out on the comedic potential of the  best fancy dress opportunity of all time by not realising it was in our grasp until we got there, but this was at least partially rectified by Photoshop afterwards:

Last year (2015), as far as I remember it delivered all over again.  The trails were paved with gold.  A continuous archway of rainbows lined the course, and at intervals unicorns appeared in the woods to silently guide our way.  The unicorns in this part of Sheffield actually crap golden nuggets so you could gather those as you passed if you wanted, though most favoured the jelly baby alternative option for ongoing sustenance.  Tables groaned under the weight of jelly babies, bananas and water at the feed stations, and every marshal applauded each runner as they approached them, and then hugged them as a long-lost friend once you reached them.  Volunteer marshals are always intrinsically, probably even pathologically brilliant, but in many races you pass them breathless and faint and don’t get to interact with them all that much beyond a slightly strangled ‘thanks’ as you pass.  The RSR is different, loads of opportunities for hugging and chatting. What’s not to like.  All very nurturing and moving.  I found this account from a marshal’s perspective from a previous RSR, they seem to have had a fun time too!

To turn my head even more with regard to the RSR, I cannot tell a lie, later on I had a brief period of fame (ish), as their unlikely poster girl to promote the 216 RSR so get me and my running fame.  Naturally I am a massive fan of this event.  All in all, I was looking forward to doing it all again on 26 June 2016.  Yay, bring it on.

RSR poster girl close up pos

When I say ‘bring it on‘ I do of course mean that there was a bit of pre-event apprehension this time.  It is weirdly a bit more daunting if you know what you’ve signed up for.    I’d fondly imagined that by the time RSR 2016 came around I’d have lost weight; trained loads; perfected my gazelle like bounce for bounding up the hills.  Best laid plans eh…   These things did not happen.  I have however, learned a little from experience.  My regular hobbit running buddy and I agreed to run together but not as a formal pair.  The idea of running as a pair is great in theory, but in practice I think it’s quite hard to get someone who really is the same pace as you, and if one of you gets injured and has to drop out, well la de da.  It seemed less pressurised to enter as individuals and run together anyway if that seemed to be working out on the day.  I may be deluded in many respects, but not so deluded I was expecting to be in the running (great pun there) for any prizes.  I suppose for competitive dudes out there, the pairs option does give the chance to clean up in a different category, but dear reader, this did not apply to us.  We also were completely committed to the fancy dress option, and that was going to be AWESOME.  We even had a trial run out together in fancy dress to check it out, that was hilarious.  I’d run in fancy dress every day if I thought I’d get away with it!

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My Sheffield half-marathon experiences have convinced me that fancy dress is always the way to go if you want to harness the maximum fun and comedic potential of any event (other than job interviews possibly but never say never).  Fancy dress brings you extra crowd support, reduced expectation from  others about your running prowess AND people assume the costume must slow you down.  ‘Naturally, without the 250 gram drag of Roger and Ginger we’d have been way quicker‘ we can say afterwards, should we feel the need to justify our run times at any point.  Secretly, (see magic realism reference above) I was rather hoping the equine assistance would speed us up those hills, that didn’t happen either.

The pre-event recce:

What did happen, is that we went on a recce the week before.  I figured it would help us psychologically if we familiarised ourselves again with the route.  Afterwards we’d know better, where we could push on (yeah right) and where we might best conserve our energy.  This was  a mixed hobbit hashing shared experience truth to tell.  Less team bonding and more team incredulity.  High points were giving parsley to a goat (Betty I think she is), low points were about 7km in when my running buddy stated ‘so, that must be about half way now yeah?’ This was followed by a long pause from me whilst I processed her statement – maybe it was her dry wit?  She was probably being sarcastic.  Careful scrutiny of her face suggested otherwise. ‘Erm, no….’  It took her a while to fully absorb the enormity of this statement.  It wasn’t so much that she was whingeing, more that she was utterly incredulous.  I felt awful, and completely thrown.  It was like I’d broken it to her about the tooth fairy, and knew that shortly I’d have to explain about Father Christmas too.   I wasn’t sure how she would take it, well, I knew it wouldn’t be well, and we were rather a long way from outside assistance…  I thought it was going to be OK at first, as I saw she had slowly registered the logic of my account of the course.  I also pointed out (perhaps cruelly) that there was a tad of contributory negligence at work here, because she had actually run the RSR before in its first year, so it wasn’t entirely unreasonable of me to think that she knew how far it was.  She made a conscious effort to think positively ‘oh well‘ she replied, ‘at least we’ve still got a few weeks to get ready! ‘  This was a bit trickier ‘Erm no.  You know how tomorrow is Saturday?’ I said.  Slowly and deliberately, to avoid any possible further ambiguity.  ‘Yes.’ She said confidently.  ‘And you know the day after that is a Sunday right?’  ‘Yes.’ she replied again.  ‘Well, it’s a week after that‘.  Pause.  ‘Oh.’ I think it would be fair to say morale dipped a bit after that, we made it round, only squabbling mildly as we found ourselves lost coming out of Brincliffe Edge.  A passer-by intervened and pointed us in the right direction so we didn’t have to retrace our steps right back to where we had started from fortunately.  Even so, not quite the confidence giving romp of the  circuit we’d maybe anticipated.  I’m not telling you how long it took, but let’s just say it’s lucky we were still pretty near the summer solstice.  Nice goat though:

betty

The build-up

So, once the awful reality of the distance we would be required to run and the time we had left to us before we joined our start wave had sunk in, we decided that best option was just to do one more joint jog out to pick up our numbers, and thereafter just focus on our tapering.  (I am particularly good at this). We met the Wednesday before the run and did a gentle jog down to Frontrunner to pick up our race numbers.  Even this task turned out to be a bit beyond us as we didn’t know it only opened at 10.00 o-clock.  Never mind, we had a nice detour browsing in a local antique shop, we could have added a bit of extra onto our run instead I suppose, but one should never under-estimate the importance of a good taper, so not worth the risk…  At five past 10.00 we were back trying the door of the shop, and bouncing on one leg the lovely staff member opened up to us.  A cruel and judgemental customer might have thought he was still getting dressed and had been caught in the act of hauling his shoes and socks on, but an experienced runner would instantly recognise he was just doing some one-legged running drills.  After all, everyone who knows anything at all about running, knows it is really a one-legged sport, improved by practising hopping at all and any opportunities (you can thank accelerate Thursday morning breakfast woodruns for that insight!).  He didn’t actually laugh in our faces when we explained about coming in to pick up our race numbers in advance of the RSR.  But then we got in first about perhaps not looking like we’d realistically make it round, but contrary to appearances we would be  giving it a go.  (I bet we were the only two of the hundreds of people who went into Frontrunner to collect their numbers who made such hilarious quips and original observations whilst being horribly over-excited… yes?)   To be fair, he was very encouraging.  We said we’d done a recce, but acknowledged there might have been a bit more walking and talking than actual running going on (we didn’t mention the squabbling) and he said that was the whole point of the RSR so that was fine!  We were  a bit giddy with excitement of pre-race anticipation, and also our 10% discounts.  I bought a new pair of running socks (which are blissful) and my hobbit friend got a visor.  I now have visor envy, but tried to be pleased for her outwardly at least.  I did contemplate going back later and buying one of my own, but then she probably would have noticed if I’d turned up wearing with it on Sunday and I’d look like a stalker.  We also got our numbers and felt VERY EXCITED.  Big up for Frontrunner, they are always really helpful in there and trust me, I’m very needy when I nip in, I’m like a nightmare mystery shopper on acid or something, self-parody is my speciality when it comes to acting the part of the clueless beginner runner to test their customer service.  They’ve done alright so far, though I will always be a bit scared of running shops I think.  They are also good at taking selfies which include a reflection of the RSR venue in their cool shades apparently, so that’s good to know.

face of front runner

With just a few days to go, most important activity was weather-watching.  Mainly it was torrential rain.  It wasn’t entirely heartening to see periodic film clips of flooded crossing and quagmires from the event team.  Participants also helped by supplying snaps of fallen trees blocking the way.  Still, there was a sense of an atmosphere building, and what’s the point of going off-road without extra mud and additional un-mapped river crossings?  The yin of encouragement to the yang of fear was periodic postings of  event T-shirts, water in bottles (as opposed to falling from the sky) and stock piles of jelly babies and post-run refreshments.  All good!

The video clip of a raging river more suited to white water rafting that the organisers thoughtfully uploaded on Facebook the day before helped clinch any indecisiveness about footwear.  No question, rather than debate between trail or road shoes, the jury was definitely decisively in favour of Wellington’s, so that was one less decision to have to wrestle with on the day.  Good oh.

So before I go on, can I just say I’ve used photos from RSR Facebook page as well as friends and fellow Smilies.  The RSR organisers (rather brilliantly) and as in previous years, make the photos freely available, but ask for a donation in lieu.  Good plan and fair enough.  I donate each year, and would encourage others to do likewise.  Bargain I reckon, and a good local cause.

All the event pics are being uploaded to Facebook for all competitors to enjoy for free! The page we are using for donations to Weston Park Cancer Hospital is https://www.justgiving.com/rsr16 in lieu of any good photos! Last year we raised over £1500 lets see if we can beat this target this year!! smile emoticon

Race day rendezvous

Always good to wake early on a race day, need to get that breakfast down nice and early.  Thus I was naturally really thrilled at being woken by a 4.00 a.m. torrential downpour.  Oh well, at least I could listen to the early morning radio play whilst I had my breakfast porridge.  Played Facebook messaging tag with my running buddy over what to wear (Smiley Vest over T-shirt, tick); when to don/ mount horse (last-minute) and moment of leaving house.   This was early morning view from my window by the way.

DSCF9978

Who wants to hang around on a street corner with their pony all alone like nobby no-mates for longer than they absolutely have to?  Anyway, all went according to plan, 7.45, slightly over-excited, we two hobbits met with our respective steeds, rearing to go rather than raring to do so (see what I’ve done there?)   We are lucky in being walking distance from the Endcliffe Park starting point, so spared the horrors of driving and parking, so the plan was to meet a short distance away and stroll down together.  opportunities for some early morning mutual photographing were exploited before we cantered down to the start all frisky with excitement.  Maybe our horses were a bit fresh, there might have been some giddy-upping, and whinnying and maybe some bucks and bolting off out of control going on.  Possibly we should have tried to save some of that exuberance for once we were actually underway, but where would be the fun in that?

 

The gathering

So off we trotted to the park.  Once we’d got our steeds under control (Hobbit buddy is on Ginger, and I’m on Roger – see what we’ve done there), we were able to shriek delightedly in recognition as the first person we espied in full marshalling gear was one of our own.  Ready in place, it was fantastic to see a friendly face and get some Smiley motivational pep talk from our expert running club compatriot.  Big shout out to all the marshals, I mean, all of them were fab, but obviously known marshals are even more cause for whooping with delight and recognition. She was positioned at the first critical dibbing point too, an important location, and good to know we’d have sympathetic assistance to call on there in case of need.  She was also sporting a RSR tee – rather good this year I think, though I have a feeling that the white will look less good on me, but we’ll see…  Presume the ‘M’ stands for ‘Marshal’ in case of any ambiguity about her status.  Attention to detail you see – that is what the RSR team have become known for.  Similarly they have carefully erected those railings as a  crowd control barrier to avoid her being trampled in any stampede inadvertently generated as each wave of runners comes past.  Genius.

Smiley Marshal stage 1

Once we entered the park, I immediately spotted a group of people ahead of us who were all dressed up as pirates.  Oh good, people in fancy dress!  Except they weren’t, as we got closer, we realised they’d maybe just got a bit carried away with the matching bandanas.  Oh well, easy mistake.  I wonder if people might think we were in fancy dress and not riding actual horses?  Or worse still, think we’d done that really embarrassing thing of doing the race equivalent of turning up to a posh party and finding you were wearing the same outfit as one of the other guests!  Oh the shame!

We arrived pretty early to be fair. We already had our numbers, so just a question of picking up our dabbers, getting a t-shirt (I found I had actually bought one in advance, which I’d forgotten, so it felt like a freebie).  They were £9 in advance £10 cash on the day.  Very cheery T-shirt sales volunteers I felt.  Then there was baggage drop, also well organised, and a Frontrunner stall for emergency purchases.  Deck chairs and various tents and awnings scattered about, music playing, all great for building atmosphere. It has a sort of festival vibe, even more so afterwards when the sun came out.  We started to spot other runners we knew and fellow smilies from our smiley paces running club too.  One big love in basically.  Thought I might have spotted a potential cani-cross entrant, so reckon that vindicated us in going for the equine-assisted passage.   Turned out not to be so, this isn’t a cani-cross friendly event.  Roger and Ginger were made very welcome though.  Rules are made to be broken I guess. Loads of marshals were assembling, and there was a sense in general of the event being made ready for off. All very exciting.

 

The recognition

So we had some mutual ‘hellos’ and a bit of posing:

pre run smiley shot

Hobbit buddy, Ginger, Roger and I were trying to play it cool, but it was always inevitable that we’d get spotted by the paparazzi at some point.  (Honestly, this is for real, magic realism aside, this genuinely happened).  Just as we’d finished posing for our own Smiley assembly shot, a guy with a camera approached us.  He was from Runner’s World magazine (he said, we didn’t ask for ID because we were too star-struck), obviously he saw our cover potential immediately and so asked us to pose for  a picture.  We dutifully posed, asking that our fellow smilies could flank us.  Even if the photo is never used, we have our memories, even if it is, with the caption ‘If they can, anyone can!’ with the strap line ‘trail running just got truly inclusive‘ I don’t care, it felt like external validation.  It also occurred to us, that even if we didn’t finish now, the possibility remained our faces would smile out of some future edition of Runners World for all eternity, forever linking us with running excellence and the sporting elite.  This notion pleases me.  I don’t need to be confronted with the awful truth, the truth at the moment is all horrible, let’s stick with the magical side of the coin rather than the real one.  Pick the version of the story you prefer as in The Life of Pi, that’s my advice.  I haven’t got the Runner’s World shot, but handily, an RSR photographer also got us posing, so here we are again.  Don’t Ginger and Roger make a lovely duo?  How can ignorant people confuse them with camels?  Even one of our own?  I won’t name names though, but I hope they know who they are… ‘I thought they were camels and you were the humps‘ indeed! What was she thinking?

Ginger and Roger at the start of something

The reckoning

So, because it was all running quite smoothly (even managed to fit in a precautionary pee which was more challenging than you might think as it involved taking a horse into a portaloo) we were all ready to go.  To be fair, we Smilies were split in 8.30 and 8.45 start waves, but a call went up for red, orange and yellow (I think) numbers to assemble, and we got ourselves into the line up – towards the back so the faster runners could charge off unimpeded) and were able to depart together.  This might have been a bit sneaky, but we took the view we’d hold back if we were in the way, but go with the flow otherwise, and that seemed acceptable if not exactly to be condoned.  You have to individually dib your dabber (or should that be dab your dipper, or maybe dip your dibber, who knows?) through the timing thingamajig as you set off, so we probably looked like bees exiting a hive, one by one, but tightly behind one another till a great swarm was heading off down the route.  Here are some Strideout folk demonstrating nicely.  Thank you, good team showing there.  Also my endurer buddies later on, sorry I missed you.

So we were off. Stage one!  You get a handy little race card (not the same as a dance card) that tells you how long each of the 11 sections are.  Bit of feedback for the race organisers, not such a good quality print run as last years, this paper version was in danger of disintegration (last time it was a good quality card, more like a business card kind of thing). Didn’t rain this year, so got away with it, but high risk decision with the paper choices there I feel.

race card

So anyway, even though we’d given one copy to the Runner’s World photographer, we were still equipped with a version for our own reference.  It was well signed as well, and of course we’d done our recce, you’d be unlucky to get lost on this route. One year they even put signs up where you could go astray saying ‘Not this way, turn back/ here be dragons‘ kind of thing, which is another RSR innovation I like.  Didn’t see that this year, but then we didn’t get lost.

Stage 1   :  2.9km Endcliffe Park to Forge DamA pleasant gradual ascent leaving Endcliffe Park, up through Bingham Park and Whiteley woods, a stage to take nice and steady through the paved and dirt tracks up to Forge Dam.

Liaison between 1-2  A short walk / jog up past the Cafe to the start of the next stage

We headed out up Endcliffe Park, and espied some super-heroes just arriving coming towards us in the other direction which was good to know.  Presumably to replace the need for any St John’s Ambulance folk.   They are an impressive quartet on the local running scene and a distinctive look to them I think you’ll agree.

competition for fancy dress

We shot off pretty fast (by my standards) there is definitely a buzz from being at an event and being underway.  In next to no time we’d waved in recognition at our Smiling Smiley marshal buddy, and dibbed in and out for the zebra crossing (they are called zebra crossings because of the stripes – who knew that hobbit buddy?  Pelican crossings are weasily distinguishable because of the stuffed pelicans at the side of the road.  There is actually a very useful guide to the five types of pedestrian crossing you might encounter here.  You’re welcome.)  Off up through Bingham park there was a photographer here, but not sure we got snapped (we did pose a lot though, so give it time).

seriously smiling

Here is a shot of one photographer who forgot his camera and so was made to run the whole event instead. This is some sort of racing equivalent of forgetting your gym kit at school and being made to do PE in your knickers I think. He seems OK with it though.  Stormed round.

must have forgotten to bring camera

Hobbit buddy and I had agreed to take it easy, but we were in good spirits, and kept our yomp going pretty much up to Forge Dam.  It is fun that, because the race is split into different sections, you get to sprint finish 11 times.  They thoughtfully put 100m to go signs up at the appropriate spot to motivate you to do so.  We took advantage of the breathers at each stage.  Bit of foot massage when needed for rearrangement of bones and muscles in feet, and general chit-chat.  I’d been meaning to ask about what had happened with regard to that outstanding gym membership for ages… plus, was keen for hobbit to come up with some ideas for names for guinea pigs that another friend of mine has just acquired.  Some nice action shots of other runners at this point on the route.  It is possible there was some posing at this point, and some horseying around too:

At one of the other road crossings en route, it was great to see another familiar face from parkrun, Trunce, anywhere and everywhere to be fair (though not a Monday mobster apparently, she is otherwise very well-connected on the local running scene).  Great encouragement, and also a supportive enquiry on the state of our chaffing, and a recommendation for runderwear as the ultimate non-chaffing technical underwear option from wiggle as we passed.  Must look into it.  This kind of expertise and advice is priceless.  I thank you.  I don’t have a marshal shot of her, but I do have one of her running at Sheffield Hallam parkrun the previous day, so here she is, salute our runderwear ambassador if you will.  Looking a confident runner there, no chaffing distractions impeding progress there I’d venture!  Anyways, runderwear is ‘the ultimate chafe-free running experience for committed athletes‘, so clearly right up my street.  I’ll admit I’m tempted.  Though for the record, got away with my M&S standard issue ‘lord-knows-how-old-they-are’ pants today.

marvelous marshal wunderwear ambassador

Stage 2   :  2.5km Porter Valley Ascent – Up from the Forge Dam Cafe this stage leads us up the porter valley and away from town towards the Peak. The gradual ascent becomes slightly more aggressive half way up leading up. This is possibly the toughest part of the course, a good one to get under the belt early on.

Liaison between 2-3 The “Recovery” Stage along Fulwood road sticking to the trail on the left past the Alpaca farm to Ringinglow road, this stage is nice and flat and will allow for nice recovery after the endeavours of the previous two.

Local knowledge definitely helped for the Forge Dam ascent, it’s our patch, we run it every week (albeit not always with that much emphasis on the ‘run’ aspect of the outing).  I think if you didn’t know the area, it would be a bit of a shock.  We’d already agreed we’d just take it easy-going up and save ourselves for the long haul and whizzy down hill bits later on.  In fact, we got loads of encouragement from other runners.  We did a sort of companionable leap-frog with some other runners who were at a similar pace to us.  And inevitably, at some point the faster runners from the following wave came through so we let them pass and cheered them on.  A few were familiar faces who called encouragement to us too.  Plus there were a few complaints about our unfair advantage what with having six legs each to their two, but most accepted our point that we’d not really thought this through and as Roger and Ginger were more feet or even ‘airs above the ground‘, rather than kicking their heels behind us to give us added forward thrust, they weren’t massively or noticeably contributing to our success.  Nobody really quibbled with that argument.  How could they?  The cafe wasn’t open, so no detour for that.  We didn’t run the whole thing, but we had a reasonable stab at most of it, some bits were really, really muddy, I was very glad of my super expensive but good investment trail shoes.   Hobbit buddy was similarly very glad of her decathlon specials, which astonishingly, though second-hand and cheap to begin with, are the only ones in which she can run with comfort.  Takes all sorts I suppose.

Just as you think the uphill section is starting to take the piss, there is a handily positioned bloke with a pirate flag to call you in.  He was there last year too, same place exactly.  Maybe it’s a variation on Brigadoon, I don’t see him during the rest of the year, but he appears out of the mist at significant times.  HUGE flag, very impressive dimensions, and the flag waver managed to shout individually tailored words of encouragement to each runner.  In our case, he picked up on our team logo ‘Go Smilies’ that’ll do!  So a final scramble up the muddy steps, and that was the worst climb of the run done and dusted, now we met with the feeding station, water, first of many photo stops.  I mean honestly, how cool is it to do a race where it’s not just legitimate to linger at water stations taking photos of each other but positively encouraged.  There were jelly babies a-plenty, mountains of water (mysteriously it did run out briefly later on but was rapidly replenished, but in defence of the organisers it did look like they’d made good provision at the outset, so not sure what happened there).  There were banana halves and trek bars, which looked tempting, but I didn’t risk because I’ve never had them before.  I did gulp down water (mistake, drank too fast) and had jelly babies which I feel really guilty about as I am supposed to be vegetarian.  In my defence as a vegetarian for the past 33 years, the only time I’ve lapsed is by eating jelly babies both whilst running the Sheffield half marathon and the RSR because I can’t seem to find a suitable alternative, and these are so freely available at both those events.  I know, it makes me a terrible human being.  If only I could run fast enough to catch up with one of those vegan runners, I’d quiz them for better options.  Maybe it was bad karma that uncharacteristic jelly baby consumption gave me a stitch for the next section…  who knows.  Maybe the jelly babies were sacrificed for the greater good, or maybe they took their revenge at the shallowness of my conviction by endowing me with instantaneous belly ache.

So, after  the feed station you get a walk to recover and chat down past the alpaca farm (hello Betty, hiya Bamm Bamm and Pebbles).  You pass some cottages in Ringinglow, where when we came through there was a family cheering and clapping next to the Norfolk Arms.  We thanked them for their brilliant clapping, and even put on a bit of a half-hearted jog by way of appreciation even though technically it was a non-running section!  That’s the kind of crowd-pleasing mentality that characterised our efforts all the way round.  They were pleased we were pleased, and shared they’d actually been told off by one of the house-holders for waking them up what with all their loathsome noisy cheeriness and good-humoured public-spirited clapping (bah humbug etc.)!  This kind of censure seems a bit mean to me, it wasn’t that early, and it is only once a year.  I’d be pleased to find some sort of event happening outside my front door of a morning.  Plenty to look at and laugh at with a cup of coffee in your hand without the stress of even having to get dressed and leave your own house.  Oh well, maybe they’ve not seen ‘A Christmas Carol’ yet, they’ll learn…

Stage 3   :  2.5km Limb Valley Descent – Wide open grassy trail, leading into windy, flowing single-track down through the Limb Valley, a real nice downhill section that everyone is bound to enjoy. Our personal favourite.

Liaison between 3-4 – A short walk / jog across the main road and down onto the playing fields to the start of the trailhead.

Next, hiya and thanks to the marshal who pointed us over the style and down Limb valley.  yep, this is a favourite section.  Or would have been if I didn’t have a stitch and increasingly need a pee.  It was still good fun though, a bit squelchy, but also some novelty value at the top as we espied a mystery man with a remote control and realised he’d got a drone overhead to capture us in action.  To be fair, I don’t think it was only us he was hoping to get on film, but we still enjoyed our moment of movie stardom.*  I don’t feel a pressing need to source an agent just yet… though we did speculate on possible sponsorship deals as we ran on.  On balance it’s probably the ride on horse costume manufacturers that would be our best bet to access any funding, we did get quite a bit of interest from other runners in our equine companions, but we don’t want to rule any other options either in or out at this stage.

This bit ended more quickly than I remembered, so we must have been practically ON FIRE.

Stage 4   :  1.8km Ecclesall Woods having crossed Eccleshall road south on the liaison between stages, we are into Eccleshall woods, a favourite with locals. The first section stretches through pine, skipping between roots and pine needles, then up onto the main trail and down through to Abbeydale Road.

Liaison between 4-5 – Along the road past Dore Station and the a left up over the railway and up to the next trailhead, up the stairs to the start of the next stage. We were kind enough not to make the stairs part of the timed section.

I can’t lie, lovely as this section is, I was becoming increasingly preoccupied with bladder issues at this point.  Pelvic floor exercises can only do so much.  Yes, yes, trees, lovely, was this the bit with the miniature railway alongside?  Can’t even remember.  I do remember, that at the first appropriate opportunity I left the path and did the necessary, my mood improved after that.  I’d got to the point where I figured nobody would see me because they’d be too focussed on running ahead, and even if they did, they’d just think ‘oh, there is a runner needing a pee‘ and it’s not like anyone would recognise me, they’d be too busy admiring Roger, in the event, I got away with it.   Phew.

So this recovery section takes you up quite a steep hill, and then massively steep steps.  Somewhat cruelly, the dabber in which to dib at the start of the next stage was right at the top of this muddy vertical challenge. I’m sure in previous years it was further along the woodland track. We joined a couple of other runners who we’d been leap-frogging earlier on (metaphorically, not literally, that really wouldn’t have helped us to progress at all) and stood slightly to one side of the top of the stairs so we could get our breath back before cracking on.  We made a big show of ‘waiting for another runner behind us‘ which hilariously the guy who was waiting took seriously enquiring what they looked like so he could hep spot them whilst the woman who was with him laughed in appreciation of our subterfuge, and explained with a knowing wink that by complete coincidence they were doing the same – they were stuck with a real slow coach apparently, and might be there for absolutely ages!  After a bit, we gave in to the inevitable and on we went…

Stage 5   :  2.5km Beauchief Golf Course – Undulating Single track up and over lady woods, until Beauchief golf course can be seen on the left, the track then hugs the course through the woods popping out onto the road down to the beautiful Beauchief abbey, back into the woods continuing on next to the GC eventually coming out onto the road.

Liaison between 5-6, A short walk across the main road and up the pavement and down into the next set of woods.

In the photo below these aren’t THE Tough Steps by the way, they are a little sneaky run of steps that appeared later on. Truthfully, in terms of my course description, it’s all starting to be a bit of blur about what was when and where.  But this is a nice photo, and it was on the route somewhere.  Be reasonable, it’s not like I’m trying to describe a route to law enforcement officials so they can rescue a kidnap victim or anything, I’m just trying to give you an illustrative vision of a trail race.  If you really want to know what it’s like, don’t waste time reading about it, just go and do it.  It will be better exercise and probably a lot more fun.

hobbit land

Hmm, tricky section to describe this one, as this bit is definitely hobbit country.  In fact, it might have been just as we went into the woods here a kindly participant warned us to be careful as it was bear country too.  The warning was really helpful, we didn’t see any bears at all, because we knew to pass through noisily to keep them at bay. Without such a warning who knows what might have happened.  Although the track is called ‘undulating’ it was quite narrow, early on, though once you’d pulled away from the narrow bit, it opened up quite markedly, lots of room for overtaking and things without having to dive into nettles or risk tumbling down an escarpment down to the railway line for example.  To be fair, we had no problems with other faster runners.  Most just called ‘coming through on your left‘ or something and that was fine.  Did have one moment of hilarity with a runner telling off a group of us for not being in single file, but as it was at a later point in the course when there was a FIELD alongside the wide path, so plenty of room for all of us, we felt she was being somewhat precious.  Making a point about being a ‘proper’ runner to us ‘have a goers’ perhaps?  Well, wait til she sees the next copy of Runner’s World that’s all I’m saying… we’ll see who the proper runners are then won’t we!

Some people have fed back frustrations about having to negotiate with other runners out on the course.  Fast runners feeling blocked and slower ones feeling shoved, but with 2000 runners out there I thought it was pretty good.   Part of the fun is all these interactions in my view.   If you really want an unimpeded run, then I reckon you need to get yourself in the first wave, or accept that this particular event is all about inclusion, and that means there will be slower runners, and it does have a social aspect so be prepared to compromise a bit on times or think again about whether you’d prefer a more out-and-out competitive event.  It’s hardly rocket science…  Personally I love the chattyness of it all.  However socially phobic I normally am, for the duration of the RSR I feel like I have loads of friends. Granted, most of them are closing down on me menacingly from behind initially and then subsequently running away from me again as fast as they can, but that’s understandable.  Anyway, with Hobbit Buddy beside me and Ginger and Roger too, I was never alone on this journey.  If you haven’t ever done it, you can never know how comforting the view through a horse’s ears can be.  The reassuring bob of head going up and down in front of you is very lovely to behold.

Stage 6   :  0.9km Chancet Woods  A cheeky fast short section of flowing undulating singletrack.

Liaison between 6-7, Across the busy A61 and along the pavement up to the entrance to Graves park. The stage starts a little further in.

 Stage 7   :  1.4km Graves Park,  gradual ascent through the mature woods of Graves park, this is another stage to take at a steady pace, up and over right across the park popping out at the main car entrance.

liason between 7-8, Following the main road on the tarmac path up around 500m to the New Inn Pub, turn left onto road here, following to the start of the next trail.

OK, so stages 6 and 7.  Chancet woods, quick sprint through (ish) can’t remember, probably muddy, might have been quite narrow actually now I come to think of it.  I did dive into some nettles at one point to give way, but that was fun because a heap of Smileys and other known runners came hurtling through.  During the liaison bit, we met another runner, who came up with the brilliant suggestion that in subsequent events we do more to pimp our rides.  A bit of cunning disembowelment of Roger and Ginger, and we could maybe have opened up say the legs, and replaced the stuffing with other supplies (gin, chocolate, clean pair of knickers whatever).  I took the point, but he hadn’t factored in that our ponies were real, and so we wouldn’t dream of mutilating them in such a way.  Food for thought though….

The Graves Park section I found a slog.  You are back onto tarmac, and although generally speaking I really like Graves Park (the Graves parkrun is always a hoot),  the RSR doesn’t take in the best bits of this park (apart from one rather dramatic rocky bit that I have never got around to photographing, it looks suddenly prehistoric with dramatic ferns and the vertical rock face with trees precariously on top of it).  Also, the surface of the tarmac felt really slippery.  I don’t know why, I mean obviously there had been loads of rain, but so many runners had been through you’d think any algal bloom might have been worn away by the time we got there.  I even wondered if I felt I was slipping because the tread on my trail shoes was giving a false surface, but I was knackered and not confident to run much (any) of this bit. I did slow hobbit buddy down here, and gave her the option of going on alone, but she heroically refused.  Start together, stayed together (apart from my pee point – which on reflection could have accounted for her mysteriously faster time) and finished together.

Coming out of Graves Park was where I’d got lost on an earlier recce, but this time it was OK.  It is a bit of a walk to the feed station.  (Weird phrase that, sounds like either a bird table or like you’re going to be tube fed, but neither of those options were actually available).  This was a great gathering point.  Like animals in Africa gathered around a water hole.  Loads of people were milling around, and there were plenty of impromptu reunions taking place.  Highly sociable.  More like a drinks party than a race.  Here hobbit buddy and I had some fellow smilies catch up with us.  Cue, massive photo opportunities.  Again, how brilliant to be at a race where you can stop for photos, chat, even ask other runners to take photos for you AND try different location options to create the right ambience.  So it is we ended up with a group photo of all of us together, and some Ginger and Roger  shots re-enacting coming out of the woods and actually ‘in action’ running despite it being a non-running section.  So easy to make your own entertainment in such situations, and indeed to be disproportionately amused in doing so.  I shall let the evidence speak for itself.

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 We were a bit over-excited and quite possibly also on a sugar high by this point.  Maybe that’s why we thought it would be really hilarious to fool another runner into thinking we knew them by all as one shouting ‘hiya David’ to some random runner on the spur of the moment.  This seemed like a good idea at the time.  It arose from us remarking how you forget you have your name on your number, and how disconcerting it therefore is if people suddenly call your name.  We tested this at the next person that passed.  He did look at first, confused, then horrified, and then relieved and amused in equal measure as the sight of us rolling around laughing with our ponies revealed our cunning jape as innocent mischief.  We surely don’t look all that threatening.  He did take off at quite a sprint at the first possible opportunity afterwards though, but probably just competitive runner, not at all that he was trying to escape from us or anything…  Anyway, good to meet you David, or ‘Dave’ as I like to think we are on more informal terms now.  Thanks for being a sport.

Just to break up the text a bit more, here is a gratuitous shot of a tooled up smiley ready for action.  We may look Smiley on the outside, but it seems none of us are to be messed with…  For the record she galloped past us at one point, definitely well in touch with her inner pony, shouting the motivational cry of ‘prancercise, prancercise’ at us in her wake.  I felt a bit emotional on hearing that.  I like to think in my own small way, by spreading the prancercise word, I’ve enabled her to access her own inner equine strength and performance potential.  Roger and Ginger were hobbit buddy and mine outer ponies perhaps, but tooled-up regal smiley has her own pony prancercising within.  It was a timely reminder that if we accessed our inner, as well as outer ponies we would have double the horse-power, genius!  It is a coincidence by the way, that she was already a very capable runner before, I feel confident she would be the first to admit that now she has embraced prancercise (entirely thanks to me), it has allowed her to grow and gallop ever onwards and upwards.  Inspirational running and steeplechasing, I applaud you gunner/ ghost-buster smiley, oh, and you’re welcome!

tooled up ready

Hobbit buddy (whilst happily married to her imaginary partner) meanwhile speculated that for running singletons RSR must have pick up potential because of this social side. I’m not sure.  Firstly, I think you’d need some sort of signifier that you were potentially interested and available (but not actually desperate) for opening dating negotiations, and I’m not sure how easy that would be to achieve (tattoo on the forehead perhaps, if that space was not already taken up with a running club buff?) Secondly, I don’t know if flushed, grubby and sweaty from a run is necessarily the best pulling look for all of us.  Still, another one to feedback to the RSR team I think.  They are described as ‘very responsive’ on their Facebook page, so I’m sure they’ll give it some thought in order to keep their 4.9 star feedback rating.

Revitalised with laughter and Smiley smiles, we were off again.  Nearly home now.

Stage 8   :  1.3km Lees Hall Golf Course – This is an exciting fast, flowing trail down between Lees Hall Golf course, down past the academy playing fields, opening up to some great urban views and then diving round to the left and back up towards Meersbrook.

Liaison between 8-9, Along the road in a straight line for about 500m, past the row of shops joining the main road and up to Meersbrook park entrance.

Stage 9   :  0.8km Meersbrook Park – This stage is extremely fast, bearing left along the paved path and hooking right down to the far corner of the park. One for the short distance specialists. Do take care, and don’t go too fast

Liaison between 9-10 Out the park across the A61 following the permanent signs, across to Abbeydale rd and Edinburgh Cycles, turn left onto Abbeydale Rd, and then turn right by the mirror shop for the start of the next stage. Marshalls will be in key positions for this slightly tricky liaison.

The Lees Hall section is fun, pretty much exactly as described, and with a good enough path that you can pick up some speed without wanting to cry with fear.  This photo is within those sections and I picked it because it features one of our temporary running companions en route.  Hello!

temporary running buddy

Quite a few good snaps from this point too.  Including capturing some of the one-legged running club contingent.  Amazing.  They hopped the whole way round as far as I can see.  Whereas me and hobbit, we just screamed and adopted unflattering gurning facial expressions throughout. Also no mean feat to keep up for 15 miles.

Also, another segment where we seemed to see familiar faces.  I also got to be a bit smug, because turns out I did navigate correctly on our recce.  I just knew that hobbit buddy would be thrilled to be reminded of this quite frequently as we went round.  There were people various enjoying the park, so that was good.  A few shouts of appreciation and recognition from children at our ponies.  Some spectators on a bench who must have been there all day clapping and offering jelly babies who were caught on camera by the drone too.

As Smileys, we also had had a heads up about an official supporters contingent who were on hand in Meersbrook park, supplied with not only a sustaining picnic but also an assortment of children who were particularly excellent at shouting support.  Possibly, some more competitive runners might view this as an unwelcome distraction that might impede their times. However, hobbit and I are sufficiently confident in our athletic prowess that we have nothing to prove.  We therefore felt able to stop and chat, hug, give thanks for support, meet the children and ask about other runners who might have been seen going around before we went on our way.  As we ran off, we agreed that it would be only fair to knock say, half an hour, off our official time to get a true sense of our performance.  We know, don’t need to go on and on about it in a blog or anything…..

someone fell over

Some people really hurtled down this section, we were possibly a bit more cautious.  Above is a photo of someone hurtling, who I can’t help noticing may also have hurtled a bit too horizontally earlier on in the course, but such mud-sliding antics don’t appear to have marred his game.  Saw him at the end too actually, with runderwear ambassador, he had some minor war wounds but will live to run another day.  Good job, well run!

Can we have another marshal thank you interlude?  The support going round the whole way was great.  One shot is of an esteemed Sheffield inaugural Strider I think, on marshal duty, flanked by two other marshals wearing possibly the finest millinery accessories I saw sported all day.   Later on, another Sheffield Hallam parkrun regular, and my buddy on the monster hill for the Sheffield half gave huge encouragement as we approached the streets of Netheredge.  Aw, she is so encouraging.  Thanks for the hug, and for disposing of my empty water bottle for me.  I’m really sorry about your injury, but can’t wait to see you hurtling round the RSR yourself next year.  (Marshals get free entry the following year for either the RSR or the TenTenTen just so as you know).  When you finally get to do the run yourself, you will be carried round on a wave of good wishes, positive vibes and good karma from this year’s runners.  Awesome support all round.  Thank you.

So, where next.  Oh yes,

Stage 10 :  2.2km Brincliffe Edge –  The end is getting close, this urban stage takes you up the road on a gradual climb to Brincliffe edge, keep going up the road and then duck into the woods onto the trail, contouring round, then up and down into Chelsea park, popping out in quiet suburbia on the other side. A few quiet wide streets to negotiate on the pavement before finishing just before Psalter lane.

Liaison 10-11, A nice gentle trot down the hill to Hunters bar roundabout and the entrance to Endcliffe Park saving those legs for the final push knowing the end is in sight.

Now, to be honest, when I was thinking back to last year, with the rainbows, and unicorns and everything I think I must have just completely blanked out this section.  Even when we recced the whole route, I had it firmly in my head that we walked all the road bits.  Alas, not so, outrageously we were required to continue running. I hated this bit.  I’d have cried were it not for the rallying support from our parkrun kindred just at the beginning of this segment to wave us on our way.  Also, didn’t want to let Hobbit, Ginger or Roger down at this point.  It was a trudge though.   It seems that even inwardly reciting (I don’t think I was doing it out loud) the lyrics for ‘horsey, horsey don’t you stop‘ will only encourage you to a certain extent.   Plus, as Roger and Ginger’s hooves were airborne rather than in touch with the ground, it was a challenge for them to ‘Just let your feet go clippety-clop’ homeward bound or otherwise.   Also, they are unshod.  Barefoot horses don’t make clippety-clop noises all that well.  The sun was out, which ought to have been nice, but just made it hot and a slog.

Some faster runners tried to encourage us with a ‘giddy up’ but it was only marginally affective.  There was a ‘caution runners’ sign, but I couldn’t work out if that was to warn other road users about us or vice versa.  One guy went past contorting himself and clutching his inner thighs.  ‘How can you get cramp here‘ he was pleading to anyone who would listen.  I felt like we’d left someone dying of thirst in the desert, but we felt helpless to assist.  It’s true what they say.  You learn about yourself when you run, just remember you might not always like what it is you find out about yourself.  We (or perhaps I should own my statements and say ‘I’) walked on by…  Actually, that last statement is really for dramatic effect.  Pained as he was, he was still making faster progress than me and Hobbit and our equine companions.

Chelsea park was a relief because it meant we were near the end.  Also, good to notice how well the grass there always bounces back after the Fireworks Display each bonfire night.  Excellent ground management.  I’d forgotten though that we had to keep running on the roads afterwards. This bit I did not like.  It’s unavoidable though, but I can quite see why I had entirely erased it from my memory.  I will again in time for next year.

The final liaison bit, we drifted into complete idle chit-chat about whether or not hobbit buddy should invest in a T-shirt and if so, whether to stop at a cash point somewhere en route to facilitate this purchase.  Then she had to phone her imaginary husband to arrange a rendezvous time and point for when we got back.  Very practical and helpful for childcare purposes these recovery sections.  We ended up doing a detour in Hunters Bar to find one (a cash point, not an imaginary husband).  Hilarious really, a running race event where you can do this.  Some kindly runners called after us, thinking we were lost, but we weren’t, just distracted.  Money was taken out of the cashpoint and we rejoined the route for the final bit.

Stage 11 :  0.4km Endcliffe Park Finish – A final flourish, starting at the park entrance up onto the park itself where you will join the marked course for the dash for the finish outside Endcliffe park cafe. You will be greeted by fellow competitors, adulation from the crowd and if you wish a cold beer!

Now, I can’t help but notice this blurb mentions a ‘flourish’.  Hmm, depends what you mean by flourish.  I’d already done some negotiation with my hobbit running buddy, and we’d agreed on a half-hearted jog to show willing once we entered the final section, but that I wouldn’t manage to sprint the whole 400 metres.  We did want to cross the line together, that was important.  Anyway, we did our dib dab thing, and trotted off for a bit.  Then reason got the better of us.  No-one was watching.  We decided to just walk for a bit, as nonchalantly as is possible when you have a pony strapped round your waist, and only started running once we rounded the corner of a hedge that had previously hidden our progress, and saw the crowds lining the last few yards of the finish line come into view.  It was great that last bit.  There aren’t many spectators going round, so when you suddenly see the crowds at the finish it really makes your heart race.  We picked up a bit of speed and enjoyed the applause and shouts of recognition as we headed under the glorious inflatable arch.

Job.  Done.  Yay!

One final dab out, and a medal each, we weren’t sure whether it should go to our horses or to ourselves.  Mine went on Roger for a bit, but did end up rather a lot round my neck later.  You can then pick up an instantaneous print out of your times as you return your dib dabby thing, and fall into the arms of your Smiley compatriots, all of whom finished hours ago, but who was noting that?  Incidentally, other running clubs and familial/friendship options are available, but if you don’t have those, most members of Smiley Paces are free and easy with congratulatory hugs in case of need,  just ask. There was an official photographer, though he missed our crossing the finish line.  Never mind, we could do our mandatory post-run selfies anyway.  Hobbits are brilliant, hobbits on horses? Better still!  I’m still nursing some poorly repressed visor envy though, hope it wasn’t too obvious…

mandatory post run selfie

The aftermath:

So this is what we ran round according to strava, 14.9 miles in total and 1684 ft elevation, which is quite a lot actually:

strava RSR 2016

More of a rhombus than a circle some would say.  Good route though, really nice.

The goodie bag

So you get a plastic co-op bag (that’s worth 5p now for a start) and can join the queue to sweep the goodie bag table.  On offer was water, banana halves, trek bars (definitely energy bars, made my teeth tingle and I couldn’t eat it, I’m sure they would be really good for ultra-runners who needed a calorie fix though) and this weird drink thing.  I had an iced coffee one.  Really liked it, quite a thick consistency, and it might be that it was just perfect for after a run and less desirable in ‘real life’ (like a wine you love on holiday and find out to be truly disgusting if you try it at home out of context).  Great recovery gloop drink though.

Post event festival

So job done, there was a lot of gathering around in the sun.  Because the weather was so good, loads of people lingered soaking up the atmosphere in deck chairs and making the most of the pizza and beer tent options.  This made it a bit harder to regroup in terms of spotting people in the crowd, especially as we hadn’t made a Smiley post-run rendezvous plan.  Other local running clubs pulled this off with greater aplomb and could be seen cavorting with one another in Dionysian post-run revelries.  Good for them.

Truthfully, I was feeling stiffness setting in, unlike my hobbit buddy who was behaving like a hobbit possessed, feeling not just fresh, but up for going round all over again.  Runners high is one thing but she seemed to me to be oxygen-deprived delusional quite frankly, but in a good way.  I declined the offer, but am up for next year.  I took in the atmosphere for a bit, and then headed home for a bath and a lengthy appointment with my sofa afterwards.  Wish now I had stayed for a bit longer as I missed out on an impromptu reunion with my Endurer Dash buddies  Love you guys, sorry I missed you, I expect it was just that we whizzed round so fast with Ginger and Roger we left you for dust, nothing to do with the fact that you started 2 hours after us.

ocr finish buddies

In conclusion:

Once again, a fab day out.  A few niggles for some this time, but I think that’s inevitable as the event has grown and I’m really confident the organisers will look at feedback and sort anything that needs sorting.  Thank you RSR team, marshals, fellow runners one and all for restoring faith in human nature at a time when restorative powers are very much needed.  Thank you especially those out and about who gave equine related puns by way of encouragement, and laughed at our somewhat lame (gettit) return quips too.  Thank you for the prancercise shout out, and the ‘go hobbit’ cries too.  All the interaction helped get me round.   Also, seemed to be a bit of a thing today about coming to the event in matching outfits.  Who thought of that?  Loads of runners did that, never seen so many colour coordinated teams, running club team vests en masse are a glorious thing to behold!  Special thanks to hobbit buddy.  We did it, we are awesome.  Full trail marathon next I reckon!

and so it ends

Oh, and in case you were wondering, she did make her rendezvous, so happy families all round, even able to take advantage of Mr Pullins very splendid inflatables.  Endcliffe Park has everything it really does.  I do like happy endings.

DSCF9981

I shall leave you with a smorgasboard of atmospheric photos to browse and enjoy.  Well, that’s the plan anyway, I’m going to add to them as more and more photos become available.   I love looking through photos post an event from the comfort of my sofa.  You can relive all the thrills and spills without having to do any actual running in the cold and wet.  Genius.  Have you made your donation in lieu of RSR photos yet?  Hope so:

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What a day eh, what a day.  The only thing that would improve this event for me would be mandatory fancy dress, but then again, that would only add to the competition for coverage by Runner’s World, so sometimes it really is best to stick with the status quo.  Don’t you think?   More unicorns would be good though.  Just saying.

As for the morning after the day before?  Well, we have our memories, and some also have extra straw for their allotment, so I say, everyone’s a winner!

the morning after the day before

 Same time next year everyone?  Good oh! 🙂

*UPDATE:  So, we didn’t make the final cut for the film version of the RSR (too expensive probably) but there is a very fine  video of the RSR 2016  made possible ‘thanks to JS Collective – Video/Photo & Orbit Media Ltd’ apparently.  Great capturing of the occasion, and a stunning showcase for Sheffield to boot. Aren’t we lucky?  Hope we are still the greenest city in Britain when Amey have finished with their chainsaws.

Categories: off road, race, running, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Fell Frolics – Bamford Sheepdog Trials 2016

And they say the camera never lies?  Well, it’s not that I’m not grateful to generous George for being there, but really, it’s more complicated than you might at first fully appreciate …

GC maintained my position the whole way round

So, let’s think about it a bit shall we?  This candid action shot appears to show a moment of running ecstasy.  A happy athlete approaching the finish tape (that red and white bit of plastic in the foreground is surely it).  You might reasonably assume from her expression of ungoverned joy that she’s almost certainly in uncontested first place, romping home after a nigh-effortless gazelle-like sprint across the hills.  You might think that… It would be wrong.

So dear reader, I cannot tell a lie, ’tis  I myself in this shot!  It is true, in that moment I am truly ecstatic, but it wasn’t so much joy at what I was experiencing, but the other sort of fun. You must know the kind?  The sort of fun that is really only evident retrospectively, or, as in this case, the sort of joy that manifests itself when a moment of hell is about to end.  You thought you were going to die (even actually rather wished you would but a moment earlier), but instead ‘hooray‘ you have survived this feat of endurance, the end is in sight.  You can see relief and support ahead, all things come to an end and this will too.

This snap has captured the very moment of survivor’s euphoria as I came in not in fact first (try not to be too surprised) but last, at the Bamford Fell Race.   You can possibly just make out the people in green in the background of the shot.  They were the St John’s Ambulance crew at the ready at the finish, probably specially called in to place in case I didn’t quite make it.  In truth,  I am still processing this event, I think it does fall broadly into the category of ‘I’m not sure if I enjoyed myself but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it.‘  In case you are thinking of taking this challenge on for yourself, my highly subjective and slightly traumatized account follows…  read on at your peril.  First though, let’s calm it all down again with a nice sheep.  Got to love a nice sheep, especially when there are no mallards handy, then sheep are a reasonable calming substitute.

GC sheep shot

So the basics, this was Bamford Sheep Dog Trials Fell Race, late May bank holiday monday 2016.  Not to be confused with the Bamford Carnival Fell Race, which is mid July-ish.  These are apparently COMPLETELY DIFFERENT events, even though they both start at the Thornhill Recreation Ground and go up to the top of Win Hill and back.  They do take different routes though, so I am told. Though each take on just over 1000 feet of ascent, cover 4.5 miles and involve downwards bits that have been described as ‘death-defying descents‘, so maybe I should have done a bit more research in advance before rolling up on the day …  Wise after the event, I can provide strava proof that it is actually like this, which is very steep indeed going up thank you for asking.  I don’t understand why the elevation stats in my split thing doesn’t add up to 1014 feet, because that is the total on my strava summary and what the event is described as, it will have to be another mystery:

route map

  So, let’s rewind shall we, and try to bring about some chronology to this event.

It all started with an innocent enough post on the Smiley Paces Facebook page.  Who fancies joining me for this little innocuous sounding fell race, said Fell Flying Smiley.  Well, I think I was momentarily distracted by the prospect of going to a Sheepdog Trials, fond memories of ‘One Man and his Dog’ and my Aunt Elisabeth who, alone, ran a small sheep farm in Northumberland and could still vault a five bar gate at the age of seventy. Small country shows.  Surely there would be hand carved sticks, a cake stall, maybe even a small hen show alongside?  I took in the distance (4.5 miles is definitely manageable) but on reflection, I was a bit vague about the more critical details around ‘elevation’ and possibly the word ‘fell’ as precursor to the word ‘race’.  Basically, I was expecting the sheep dogs to be subjected to trials not myself.  A few other keenies piped up and before long ‘hooray’ we have a smiley outing.  Some nay-sayers predicted torrential rain, but I was optimistic.  It might well be a may bank-holiday monday fixture, but I was banking on benign weather on the day, and even if it did rain, it wasn’t going to be cold.  Bring it on!

 DSCF9895

 So, on the appointed morning, I cadged a lift from a fellow Smiley, who kindly scooped me up en route.  We found our way to Bamford, and despite a brief dip in confidence as to whether or not we’d find the venue as we sailed through the village with not a scrap of bunting in sight, we eventually saw a painted sign directing us off to the right and to a hidden flat field and tennis club (bizarrely) which was the event venue.  A smiling aide directed us to where to park, and another had to run after us to tell us ‘not there’ as we found we both failed to assimilate the original instructions and circled into the ‘presidential parking’ area as if we were born to it.  A few spins round the grass later, and we came to a stop.  It was a bit over-cast, not warm, and I was glad of my long-sleeved top.

 It was a short stroll from the car parking area to the event entrance.  It was £5 entry, but this includes FREE entry to the Fell Race as a given.  A snip I felt.  You could if you wished fork out an extra £1 for a programme, but I found it worked pretty well just to wait for my accompanying Smiley to purchase one, and just appropriate it for my own personal use at the first possible opportunity.  It was a good programme actually, including details of entrants for the various Sheep Dog Trials, a picture of the obstacles sheep had to be guided through, and times of various classes – hand sheep shearing amongst others.

DSCF9911

We got a raffle ticket by way of admission, and we were directed to go off and register for the fell race clutching this as proof of payment.  There was already a little gathering of other runners (ooh, actually they did look like ‘proper runners’ not so much turning up in their jeans and wellies as ‘have a go runners’ which was what I’d imagined…).  It was explained you just fill in a little form (name, categories, emergency contact) and then joined the queue to collect a number.  We did join this queue, even though this was a tad optimistic as there was no-one staffing the table at the front of it.  Just as we were contemplating coming back later, an elegantly coiffed and smartly turned out in tweed woman appeared and carefully took our forms and gave numbers in exchange.  Yes there were safety pins.  There was also a loo, with NO QUEUE.   However, word of warning, the interior bolt appears to work but doesn’t.  I managed to do a big reveal on one woman whilst she was enthroned (that made her precautionary pee more adventurous and fast flowing than she’d originally planned I bet) so good idea to have an exchange lookout system. I had to fight off at least one other trying to get in and surprise my Smiley soul mate.  The problem was the loo was just a solitary cubicle but it was within what looked like a festival set of cubicles, so sort of invited others to climb on board. Anyway, you have been warned.  We milled about a bit, watching others registering, and reviewing the map.

We got to have some chit-chat with other runners who had done it before.  Belatedly the penny was dropping.  This fell race would involve going up a lot of hill, it was going to be steep.  ‘Will I need to navigate?’ I asked a runner who was back again for another year ‘oh no, not at all‘ she gushed reassuringly.  Before adding ‘oh actually, one person did get lost one year, but they turned up after only a couple of hours so that was ok – gave the organisers a bit of a panic though!’  She skipped away contentedly, I stood blinking less enfolded with contentment, and more engulfed with a growing sense of I’d not really thought this through.

Oh well.  Plenty of time (the race didn’t start til 1.00 p.m. and it wasn’t even noon).  We pinned on our numbers and went for an explore.  There was the obligatory cake stand; a poster competition – school children’s collages for the event; a honey related stand; a sheep related stall; ice cream; burgers; some hand hewn wooden furniture – usual suspects.

That was all background noise though, for the main event!  There was a massive flat field with a gorgeous wild rural backdrop, which was the venue for the sheep dog trials.  We settled ourselves on some handily vacant orange plastic seating, and watched the dogs being put through their paces.  Not really understanding what was going on was probably a bonus.  That way we could use our imagination to try to fathom what the objectives were.  Also I managed to blag to some extent based on my childhood holidays in Northumberland which did involve local shows and sheep related activities.  (We stayed in a tied cottage next to the resident shepherd on a larger farm, and he used to take me out on the moors with him from time to time, plus I’d ‘helped’ with sheep dipping on my aunt’s farm so that makes it practically genetically inherited knowledge surely? My aunt had a small holding with sheep that she ran on her own, she was an amazing woman, could still vault a five bar gate at the age of seventy.   I’ve never been able to do that in my life!).  Anyway, I could feign a marginally more authoritative tone than my knowledge strictly merited when my only audience was a total rookie to sheep keeping circles.  It was great that, quite compulsive. The challenge for one dog to move three sheep through an assortment of gates was testing indeed.  I don’t think any achieved this whilst we were watching, not within the allocated time.  There was a shift for paired dogs to show off their skills, also hard.  Amazing to watch, the dogs keenly tuned in to their herders, the sheep nowhere near as compliant as the film Babe would have you believe.  The way the dogs crawled on their bellies or shot of rocket like across the field in response to mysterious dolphin whistles or clicks was astonishing.  You can see the inner wolf though, those stalking dogs looked controlled, but still predatory.

I enjoyed this bit.  Watching the sheep and the dogs and the people.  It was fantastic for people watching all together.  It was a snap shot of a very different way of life.  The weather was gorgeous. After a while, other familiar faces appeared.  Some more Smileys (Yay, can never have too many of them); pretty big turn out for other clubs too.  I misjudged this event really.  I thought it would be a bit of a laugh with yes, some people doing it seriously, but a large of tail of ‘just the once  a year’ typr runners.  Not so, this was a fell race that clearly features in some people’s annual racing calendar.  That’s not to say it wasn’t welcoming, it was, but I had that sinking feeling early on, that I was not going to acquit myself with glory…

So inevitably, the hour drew near.  All too soon, a commentator encouraged fell runners to assemble on a road adjacent to the recreation ground.  I slotted myself in towards the back.  The sun came out, and suddenly, I went from being just right, to knowing I was going to be waaaaaaaaaaaaaay to hot.  I felt a moment of absolute empathy and communion with the heavily fleeced sheep who were romping around unshorn, in anticipation of the hand shearing contest later on. Except in my case, contributory negligence had me decked out in my  long-sleeved top and smiley vest over it.  There was some sort of briefing, nope, no idea what that comprised.  There was the usual clapping, with which I joined in, clueless.  Eventually, the cry for ‘awf’ went up and each and all set off their GPS devices and off we swarmed.  It was a sort of Mexican wave, which was a race start variant new to me. We surged forward, then halted, then surged for again.  It didn’t feel unsafe exactly, but it did feel strange.  I wondered if someone had fallen over, but no sign of it. Within seconds I was overtaken by almost everyone (flashbacks to the start of Wingerworth wobble).  On the plus side I was still in sight of the pack.  On my  shoulder was a friendly guy who identified himself as the tail marker.  Oh well, at least I didn’t have to worry about getting lost, though I was a bit worried about maybe having to make conversation… on the way round.

The start of the race was flat pretty much, and on solid road, turning off onto a pretty permanent compacted path.  It was very pretty actually, and there were some supporters at the send off, including our bespoke Smiley photographer Mr Carman.  I’m happy to report he snapped me – and indeed other runners at this juncture.  You might make out that I’m just ahead of the guy in the green shirt.  Yup, he’s the tail marker, and, for your information, I maintained that position without deviation for the entire duration of the run.  So, whatever else may not have been up to par on this occasion, running wise, you have to give me credit for the consistency of my pacing.  How many other runners out there that day could make the same claim I wonder?  Not many!  There is also an incredibly rare shot of my back disappearing into the distance.  Very, very few runners have ever seen the back of my Smiley vest as usually it is me bringing up the rear.  One day when I get my fifteen minutes of fame this picture could be worth a bit to be honest.   To be clear, the copyright is with Mr C, in the meantime you saw it here first.

So off we yomped, cheery enough to start.  Cow parsley in abundance, shade of the woods, and easy under foot.  The route was about 1 1/2 miles of gently undulating trail.  I was in fear of the climb ahead.  The sweeper behind me was very kind and supportive.  I explained about not being able to talk and run at the same time and he was understanding about that.  He was a local, and said he was happy to lope round slowly.  He didn’t crowd and kept a bit behind which was good.  I did wonder if he had either incredibly poor balance, or some issue with bladder control, as behind me at periodic intervals I could hear him randomly crashing into the bushes on either side of the path.  Eventually, (rather later in the run than I like to admit here), I realised that he was simply deviating from the path to rip down and retrieve the red and white tape that was marking the route. This was good actually, as this meant it slowed him a bit behind me.  There were a few marshals along the way too, the first of which appeared to completely block a rather charming path ahead instead directing runners by pointing menacingly up a near vertiginous slope towards Win Hill.  Gulp. This is where it started.

This bit was seriously steep.  It wasn’t much of a path, it was dry, so not too bad in that respect, but you did have to pick your way up, in my case hanging on to the odd protruding tree route to avoid sliding back.  I really don’t know if or how lead runners navigated this. Surely everyone would have to walk?  It was clambering territory.  I might have enjoyed this on a hobbit yomp, but in the race context, right at the back, even though the tail marker was lovely, I did feel under pressure.  To add to my predicament, at intervals there were walkers who politely gave way to runners – usually I’d bank on being able to use the old ‘no no, you first‘ ploy to bagsy a brief interlude when negotiating such challenging such steep terrain.  I was way too hot, and quite thirsty too.  The back marker did say I could strip off if I wanted and he’d carry anything which was incredibly kind, but a whole new area of angst to negotiate so I figured I’d just press on rather than disrobe whilst clinging on to what seemed to be essentially a cliff.  In reality, I don’t think the other runners were all that far ahead, but they were out of sight.  The climb went on for ever.  Eventually we reached a point where it flattened out and a road crossed.  ‘Well done, we’re nearly half way‘ said the tail marker cheerily.  ‘Kill me now‘ said my inner voice, surely we had conquered more than that?

Eventually though, we did reach the end of the really steep bit.  It levelled out, and it was beautiful.  Towards the end of the path was another marshal calling encouragement.  ‘You are nearly there, hurry up!‘  (I wasn’t altogether keen on the ‘hurry up‘ comment to be honest, but I accept the sentiment behind it…).  You then emerge from a wooded path, and looking up to the left you could see a final steep haul to the summit of Win Hill.  There were some runners still negotiating this, at a walk in some instance, (yay, these are my people) and I could make up at least one Smiley vest just ahead too.  At the top of the hill were a trio of volunteers/ supporters furiously ringing cowbells, which they did for every runner, not stopping until I too had made it.  That was pretty darned good to be honest, I think you for your efforts.

I tried to linger a bit as I wanted to turn around to take in the stunning view of Ladybower reservoir, but another marshal was now on my heels.  However, I did manage a brief pause as a camera wielding ally called ‘go smiley’ and her companion golden retriever dog gazed at me adoringly.  I paused for a doggy cuddle.  On reflection, fell flying smiley has previously told me a tale of how mid run she was in need of a restorative hug, and unable to muster the confidence to demand one from a random marshal, she found instead a bouncing dog which showered her with ecstatic and boisterous affection at just the moment it was needed.

I haven’t found a photo of me at the top, but there are plenty of stunning shots of other people to give you an idea.  It is a gorgeous route, no question.  Actually, I wonder if I could find a way to Photoshop that other Smiley vest wearer to incorporate a black long-sleeved look and blag it as me in the light of a flattering filter?  Or maybe I could persuade you I did disrobe on the way up and that’s actually me?  It is certainly how I wished I looked at this point in the event, I have a feeling the camera might say otherwise…  Also being ahead of other runners could call into question the legitimacy of my claim.  Oh well next time maybe…

So I did a solitary lope to the marker at the peak of Win Hill, whilst the tail marker bounded from side to side gathering more markers which had (rather cleverly) been tied around various stones and rocks to guide the way.  You’d think at this point the knowledge that it was now downhill all the way might have been restorative.  In fact, the immediate challenge was to pick down the dusty, slippery and stony path, and I was not courageous enough to run that, though I’m sure some did.  Then there was heather, with hidden knotted roots, and chasms in amongst the peat which I took carefully.  It was fun though, it felt like ‘proper’ off road’.  After not too much longer, another marshal pointed me towards a downward grassy path.  That was my favourite bit.  The tail marker was further back, chatting to the marshals, this was a steady surface where you could confidently run, and the down hill gradient gave me the illusion of being super-speedy.  Plus you had fabulous views still, and a warm sense of relief that the upward bit was now truly behind.  Here by way of illustration is an action shot of my chauffeur buddy smiley at this very juncture.  Looks fun eh?  (Thank you Jeffs for your shots, I’ve used them freely here, but I promise I did make a donation too 🙂 ).

SNJ flying home

I did at one point espy another photographer at a point I was definitely cautiously negotiating heather ‘I hope you know how to Photoshop to make me look like I’m running‘ I exclaimed ‘I do, but no need‘ she replied ‘you will be soon‘ and she waited for me to build up some momentum before taking her snap.  Not the most flattering of shots perhaps, but as with the opening number in this post, it has the ring of authenticity catching me apparently screaming all the way down…  In fact, I have a horrible feeling that if you put all the photos snapped of me en route in sequence, I would have apparently screamed continuously up, along the top, down and through the finish without pausing for breath. Thank goodness I didn’t get lost up there. Imagine having to have all these ‘last seen’ or ‘have you seen this woman’ images broadcast on Look North as people were asked to look out for a screaming banshee on the hillside in an attempt to find me before it was too late.  What would my celebrity crush Harry Gration make of it?  Doesn’t bear thinking about…  I’d never be able to high-five him at the start of a half-marathon again – even if I did get rescued.

SNJ running scared

The downward route was lovely, grassy fields where other runners were made to look like they were recreating a timotei ad followed.  Then, narrow woodland tracks that would be muddy in winter but on this day were dry so you could skip over the little streams of water which were guided across the path with some lovingly laid stone drainage systems.

After a bit you ended up rejoining the outward track, and probably it was just another half a mile or so on the flat to cover before you returned to the start.

The end was a sort of hobbit appropriate one.  Have you ever seen any of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films?  Well, I can’t remember which one it was.  But there was one that went on and on and on, and then just when you thought you’d reach the climactic finish you realised it wasn’t yet, there was another climactic bit, and then another… endless apparently.  To be fair, this Bamford Sheep Dog Trials fell race was way better as an experience overall, but, there was a false ending.  As you got back to where you started there were a couple of marshals holding some tape across the road, and I took this to be the end point.  WRONG.  Epic fail.  Instead you had to make a sharp right and rejoin the flat green field of the Thornhill recreation ground, sprinting (I use the term loosely) past some attending St John’s Ambulance people, who were sat in canvas chairs by their emblemed vehicle soaking up the rays and the scene.  I was so relieved at this point I cornered (captured by the Divine David  there especially to record the moment – Mr Carr I thank you):

.. and still screaming, and still maintaining that coveted last place, I espied a swarm of supporters. The great, the good, the curious and the just happened to be there, but it was fantastic. Even a not-seen-for-ages Wingerworth originating Smiley, so that was a nice and unexpected reuinion!   Cheers went up, the camera clicked with that opening shot above, Established Squeeze was standing by to offer reviving water, and all the torments of half an hour before were entirely expunged from my memory.  I did remember to breathlessly express my appreciation to the attentive tail marker before he disappeared into the crowd.

Maybe this is an opportune moment to say thanks to the whole organising team, all of them.  The people who plotted it in advance, the marshals on the day, photographers, supporters, timers and finish line cheerers.  The cake bakers, the planners, the route finders, the bell ringers – one and all!  You are all awesome and worthy of recognition.

before and after

We joyfully regrouped, shared running tales, and made our way to the – well I was going to say pavilion, but really it was more of a shed, where awards were given.  There were loads and loads of prizes.  I do wish I’d taken a proper shot, as there was a table utterly laden with lavish home-made cakes each wrapped in colourful blue cellophane.

Prizes for fastest men and women runners in various age categories.  Prize for fastest local runners.  However, most excitingly for our gaggle, a spot prize for the runner whose race number corresponded with their finish position!  Reader, it was one known to us.

The prize was a bottle of Rose, which put me in mind of an occassion when a friend and I went out for a meal.  We were thinking of sharing a bottle, but then it emerged I only drank white wine and she only red.  The waitress, trying to be helpful suggested rose as a compromise.  We both glared at her like she was mad.  ‘Why would we do that?’  So both of us were equally miserable with the choice of wine presumably.  Anyway, good he got a prize for both awesome running and awesome counting too perhaps.  On reflection, if I’d known about this I should have registered late and I’d have been a shoo-in for that award, still I don’t really like rose.  I reckon the rule for that prize should be that you still have to try in order to gain the award, and although I was definitely last, I did genuinely do my best, which is a bit sad really, but also true.  In the circumstances had I claimed it that would be legitimate.  I also think if you deliberately got number one with the intention of winning and claiming that prize it would be well deserved too, so that covers both extremes of the continuum.

The sun was out, so we queued for and consumed ice creams.  Whisky and ginger was one option, I went for more traditional rum and raison the blackberry having sold out.  We had a bit more milling around, including watching some hand sheep shearing which was interesting if a bit rough around the edges at times.

It was good for people watching and run debrief.  I am glad I did the event, but I wish I’d understood a bit more what I was taking on as it was more fun in retrospect than at the time, and I had way too many clothes on.  Friendly though, very beautiful, and I absolutely lurrrrrrrved the surrounding sheep dog trials, even though I don’t know which of them were acquitted or otherwise, nor indeed why?  Though I presume these ones were found guilty:  (stole the joke, but it’s worth the rerun surely?)

guilty dogs

Nor have I worked out if sheepdog is one word or two… who knows?  Life would be dull if we knew all the answers though wouldn’t it?  By the way, if you look at the photos that follow carefully, you will spot that the one with two be-vested Smileys in the foreground has a guy behind them who looks like he’s wearing the yang vest to go with the Smiley yin.  No really, look carefully!  Clue – juxtaposition of red, black and white stripes along the side…

Eventually, sated with ice cream we wended our way back to the car park, and dispersed our separate ways home.  A succesful outing I’d say, and one to do again, but with a bit more respect for the fundamental concept of Fell running, which is that you will be required to run up, a lot, and then run down again.  It really isn’t that hard an idea to grasp if you just open your mind to it.  Actually, don’t listen to me, just  believe the evidence of your own eyes!  Through the wonders of veloviewer I bring you a graphical representation of each little detail of the gradient for the 2016 Bamford Sheepdog Trials.  Hmm, impressive eh? No wonder I felt sick going up!  I feel better now, for seeing  that!

veloviewer profile

 Learn from me…  It was also pointed out to me that I might have finished a bit faster if I hadn’t stopped to greet dogs and look at the view on the way round.  Worth thinking about I suppose.  I’m also though wondering if I should just accept my fate, and see if I can go for a fell racing hat trick by coming last at my next race outing as well.  Also, I have just found out that in cycling coming last is known as ‘lantern rouge’ which actually sounds classy.  Plus being last is an important role which someone has to take on.  In fact there is a website dedicated to the stories of runners who came last at various events.  Unfortunately, I can’t find that right now, but I have found a Runners World forum for Last Finishers Lounge, which is a start.  A fairly exclusive group I’d say…. Goals should be realistic after all, and that one is certainly teasingly within my grasp…  Watch this space.

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And finally:

Photo credits to the The Jeffs who ask for donations in return for their photos to the Buxton Mountain Rescue.  (Does anyone else remember Dougal and The Blue Cat?  Wasn’t their a King Buxton The First in that).  Their photos were put up on the Fell Runners Association Facebook page.   Thanks also to the Mr Carr (or David the Divine as we like to call him) for sharing the sights seen down his telephoto lens at the Bamford Sheepdog Trials, our Generous George celebrity photographer Mr Carman for his offerings and anonymous others from whom I have borrowed or stolen with appreciation, if not always recognition.  I do try and acknowledge photographers where I can, so apologies if you have been missed.  You can tell some photos are even my own, they are the blurry ones with poor composition for ease of reference.  Many other photos have ended up on the Bamford Sheep Dog Trials facebook page, but it seems a little visited resource.  Go on, have a look, boost its visitor numbers, you may even see a snap of yourself if you were there!

If you are very lucky you may even have one with as much oomph and Chutzpah as me!  Thanks Mr Carr…

DC b&w

Categories: fell race, motivation, off road, race, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Well that was intense… First Half-Marathon

Spoiler alert.  I did it.  Yay me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DL steel city striders

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

IF Finish Line pre startIF Finish line spectators

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

IF Finish line start

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

Harry Gration Star video

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

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

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

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

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

GC wall of support

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

GC so pleased to see you

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

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

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

SW Hunters bar

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

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

a friend in the crowd

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

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

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

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

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

TD smiles all round

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

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

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

Veloviewer half marathon hills

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

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

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

RS from norfolk armsRS getaway from norfolk arms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AH hunters bar

AH photography en route

AH running on

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

Happy Hobbit’s Birthday Bounding

Spring has sprung.  Hobbits will spring also.

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Today was a special day.  A birthday for an Old Bird (Smiletastic moniker, not me being rude) and so we had a Birthday Bound up the Porter Valley, with a happy hike up the woods to the view point at the summit.  Really this is one of my very favourite local runs, the view up the top, back across the city is quite something.  No wonder this old bird looks so happy!

birthday bird

She wasn’t only happy to be at the top. We had a nice time getting there.  It wasn’t the most promising of mornings to begin with. I’d already been out for a dawn rendezvous with my Fighting Feather buddies and had a poorly leg.  Also, it was raining hard immediately before our 9.30 meeting time, and it was cold, and our other hobbit buddy had had to stand us up.  (Get well soon hobbit buddy, we missed you, won’t detail your symptoms here!)

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Despite all this, as if by magic, when we met on a chilly street corner, set off our GPS devices and headed off the sun came out and all was well with the world.  I was in extra slow mode trying to preserve my burning calf muscle, I have it on great authority that my priority should be to ‘preserve your fitness’ at this stage – assuming I’m still keeping the Sheffield Half in my sights.  However, I also wanted to nail my 6 mile pledged run today if possible, and my running companion for the morning had the Smiletastic runs the Porter Valley segment to take on today, so it was always going to be a busy morning!  Lucky we went out prepared:

We took it slowly, admiring the views, and in the case of Old Bird, pausing now and again to check out the myriad of ‘Happy Birthday’ messages firing in on her phone at intervals.  It sounds a bit cheesy, but really, today felt like the first day when spring was really bursting through.  Buds on the trees, birds singing their hearts out, and bright sunshine forcing it’s way through the trees to give great illuminating shafts of light at intervals in the woods:

There were some big fat drops of rain now and again, but actual torrential rain held off, in fact the rain and the sunshine created an enormous arching rainbow.  I tried to photograph it, but it doesn’t do the vision justice.  You will just have to use your imagination to see it in its full glory in your mind’s eye at least.

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I wonder who lives in that house by the way… we had mini adventures as always, mud slides and a tree blocking the path at one point, but our tenacity paid off, there was no barrier we could not overcome in our determination to make it to the peak!

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At the top, we admired the view, posed for photos, and felt lucky.

Back down the valley once we started to feel cold.  We loped down, taking advantage of gravity and the ability to breathe to catch up on small talk.  Running may be therapy but talking is too!  Once we got to the segment section, I waved my Old Bird off, she sprinted into the distance, and I followed behind, dog dodging.  We then regrouped, and took it slowly to the finish to preserve my leg.  Also, there were distractions along the way.  A guy way up high in a tree, doing a bit of maintenance, it looked death defying, and was a great source of joy to some passing children who couldn’t have been more excited if they’d seen a fire engine, which most people would assume to be the highest currency thing to spot out walking under normal circumstances!

So that was it, run over.  We did a bit of an extra detour to get the distance up to the requisite 6 miles pledged for Smiletastic by each of us.

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Then to Oakbrook coffee house, where we played table roulette as we did a sort of musical chairs trying to sensibly seat the maximum number of people as the place filled up with new groups just after arrival.  Large lattes and celebratory Victoria Sponge all round.  The latter being unexpectedly good, an under-rated cake perhaps.  Taking advantage of the cafe wi-fi, Old Bird could check out her Strava segment progress.  She’d knocked about 45% off her time!  Blimey.  We had  a suspicion that maybe the only other time she did it we’d been walking down because of ice, but hey, who cares, it’s a fabulous result and an amazing time too.  Whoop whoop, this Old Bird can still strut her stuff flying down hill.  Yay, go you Birthday Bird, sign of hidden strength still to come!

So thank you birthday bird for letting me join your celebratory run.  You were glorious.  May you achieve all your running goals for the coming year!

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Home, and I can report that I found my shoe horn.  Yay, no idea how I lost it, or how handy it was until I did so, but we are reunited now, and all is well with the world.  Be happy y’all, and run wild, run free!

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

We meet at dawn…

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In pursuit of Smiletastic (running club challenge blah de blah) we Feisty Fighting Feathers will do whatever it takes.

  • Dodgy pre dawn rendezvous in car park?  Tick
  • Dubious aliases courtesy of technically literate child gaining temporary possession of fellow Fighting Feather’s phone?  Tick  (wonder if that might be why that particular associated adult/parent ended up with alias of Poohead?  I don’t want to jump to judgement, but you have to concede I may have a point at least…)
  • Charging around a park in the dark?  Tick
  • Anticipatory giggling?  Tick

Reader, we Fighting Feathers had signed up to it ALL.  We are awesome, we are ninja, we are possibly marginally over-competitive and maybe even have lost all sense of reason or perspective.  Also, there was bait.  Hare to our greyhound selves if you will.  Not that I approve of blood sports, or greyhound racing, but the analogy yet seems fitting.

greyhound hare

Let me explain:  The final Smiletastic challenge is to improve speed times over certain Strava segments.  Our cunning ploy of talking to other members of our Fighting Feathers  team (via Facebook messenger, not in real life, obviously, why risk spoiling things by being faced with the awkward physical reality of actually meeting up in person) revealed that a number of us still had to take on the segment in Graves Park.  This segment is basically one of the Graves parkrun loops and involves a big hill.  It is a steep but short section, and I hoped that now I’ve conquered (sort of) the hill up to Ringinglow, this will seem positively tame by comparison, though I fear not.  At least there is some down hill running too to make up for it…

graves segment strava

Speaking personally, it’s a bit of a annoying one to get to, as if you do it as part of parkrun and you are slow like me, you are going to get blocked by other runners ahead of you on th first circuit, and will be to knackered to do it justice on the second, thus, for Smiletastic purposes, completion of this segment requires a special trip out.  It’s a bit too far from where I live for someone of my fitness level to run over to and still have enough energy in my tank to run the segment with any particular turn of speed, so that means driving over.  Seems a faff to drive for such a short run… However, the collective enthusiasm (if not wisdom) of my Fighting Feathers compatriots was such that we cunningly outed each other  in terms of who had this loop outstanding.  Soon enough, we had been named and shamed.   Before I knew it Super Spy 007 Smiley Half Pint had suggested a pre 7.00 a.m. run – last chance to nab the bonus point for early or lates in this the last week of the Smiletastic challenge after all –  and I’d accidentally somehow agreed to be there.  Pre 7.00 a.m. starts aren’t the best, even though I wake early venturing outside and running about at that unearthly hour is another thing altogether.  Also, the clocks have just changed, so essentially we were signing up to get up in the middle of the night.  Nevertheless, I do like a group outing/ project, and one for all and all for one etc.  So I was in.  So were four others.

UndercoverRunner

By the way, in case you’ve been wondering, Super Spy 007 has recently returned from her overseas mission in the US of A, and hence is available to provide in country support and mission leads back in Sheffield now.  Her cover story for her 7 week sojourn was an extended ‘holiday’, but really she did it to ensure no rival members of other Smiley Paces Smiletastic teams would be able to get to the same timed runs as her.  She doesn’t even like Florida, she was honestly martyring herself by staying there just so she could grace Clermont parkrun with her presence.  It’s that willingness to make sacrifices for the team and all pull together that has kept we Fighting Feathers up at the top of the leader board.  We have the end in our sights, we must make one final push to the finish and then our work will be done.

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Inevitably, there was quite a lot of planning, not least working out who would be in attendance, whether or not fancy dress was required (the consensus was not for this one, concern about drag effect of bunny ears within onesies for a start – no monkeying around appropriate here).  Also a particular cause of anxiety was how on earth we four details were  to be expected to run round any part of Graves Park without Dr Smiley (aka broken jelly baby) present to hurl jelly babies for instant energy/ nutrition purposes/ psychological support purposes.  For those of you who haven’t been concentrating, Dr Smiley is a regular participant at Graves parkrun, and when unable to run due to injury or tapering – she always turns up to volunteer, and lobbing jelly babies at runners as they reach the half way point has become her signature dish of support.  Alas, at present she is in injured mode, and hence largely non operational for running purposes.    We did try and persuade her that she needed to come join us anyway, but were left with impression – as far as it is possible to glean an impression through the medium of Facebook messenger –  that she was laughing in our faces at the very idea of voluntarily getting up at that unseemly hour when she can’t even run at the moment.  Some people have little commitment, Fighting Feathers aren’t normally put off running rendezvous by having a leg in a pot and requiring crutches to move about on.  It’s only a broken foot for goodness sake…  In fact, I don’t think it was that which put her off coming, I think it was the early start.

Still, it’s amazing what a bit of collective emotional blackmail on Facebook messenger can do (and actually, it is completely different from cyber bullying, so I’ll thank you to take your unseemly accusations and protestations elsewhere) and soon enough we running quartet were not only pacified, but fired up by a turn of events (is that an oxymoronic description to give?  Half-hearted apologies if so).

Our very own Dr Smiley/ Broken Jelly Baby Dr Smiley is not completely without a heart.  At the very least she can be manipulated by others.  She may need her beauty sleep (don’t we all) but it seems she is also able to fully appreciate the importance of her motivational role, as trainer, coach, mentor, role model etc etc pot or no pot (medical not hallucinogenic variety).  So it was that the day before our morning rendezvous she  whet our appetite and sharpened our resolve with the following poetic treasure map, a pen portrait that would surely lead us to a sweet bounty – things were looking up:

Betwixt the car park and the cafe
Awaits a treat for those who run
A bonus point for fighting feathers
In the hail or snow or sun
Look to the left from on the path
Beside a shocking grey construction
Amongst our Jenny’s lovely flowers
Find the baby sweet confection

jelly babies

This last minute revelation was SO EXCITING I was worried I wouldn’t be able to sleep the night before.  Plus, there was always the awful possibility that this motivating tactic could backfire if we spent so long milling about the park trying to find them that we missed the crucial pre 7.00 a.m. cut off time and started too late for our bonus points.  We Five Fighting Feathers would need to be highly disciplined, as well as early risers and elite runners to take on this challenge, the stakes were high indeed!

Incidentally, the jelly baby photo above is stolen from the Round Sheffield Run people, they won’t mind, they are lovely, and they have done a great job in documenting the progression of jelly babies running the trails of Sheffield over the last couple of years.  Mind you they are not alone in so doing – below is a Fighting Feathers image by our very own Elevation Queen, she does like her jelly babies.  I fear it may not have ended happily for those pictured below, Elevation Queen and Maths Geek of the FFs together gorged on these and their kindred I believe, but all for a good cause eh?

jelly babies on high

We Fighting Feathers are focused and strong however, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, the other thing I was fretting about whether, post clocks changing, we might actually have to do this run in the dark! Uh on, that wasn’t part of the master plan.  Still, it was 007s fault, sorry ‘idea’ that we’d try and nab the pre 7.00 a.m. run bonus points for the last week of challenge, so I guess that did mean it was only fair that she would call the shots.

Mercifully dear reader, the BBC weather forecast (which never lies) assured us that the sun will rise at 6.45 a.m.  what could be more perfect?  Also, rain due to hold off until 10.00 a.m. and I’m hoping as my previous time was around the 9 minute mark, I should be done within 3 hours time band – hopefully even before 9.30 when car park charges kick in.  Actually, I was a bit fretful about whether the car park would be open pre 7.00 a.m. but one can only fret over so many topics at one time I find.  Probably a blessing.

sunrise and weather

 

So, after much, squawking, clucking and prior preparation, the plan emerged. 06.45 hours, Tuesday 29th March 2016 the Fighting Feathers detail of five runners would rendezvous in Graves Park car park.  There to warm up, and then take on the Smiletastic Graves Strava Segment.  Mission accomplished, a jelly baby hunt would follow.  We had nothing to lose and all to gain.  How exciting!  We would indeed meet at dawn!

I was secretly hoping a Clucky Duck would come across us unexpectedly, for them to witness yet another display of our team work in action like a well-oiled machine would freak them out entirely.  Mean-spirited perhaps, yet true.  I cannot tell a lie…

So it was this morning dear reader, I found I woke up spontaneously about 5.30 a.m.  rather than risk falling back to sleep I made a coffee, and peered out of the window.  It was still dark, and decidedly nippy, but I was still up for it.  I headed off pretty early, and found I had to scrape some low grade ice of the car which was a bit unexpected.  I got to the park entrance about 6.35 a.m. to find the entrance had a massive gate across it. Uh oh, needed to find somewhere to park.

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Mercifully, there was a handy road just opposite, a little cul de sac with lots of space to park.  More of concern to me was that this might also impact on my fellow FFs, what if this made us late and we missed our bonus points?  I walked up the short distance to the car park.  I had the place to myself, apart from a couple of dog walkers.  The animals in the animal park were pretty noises, and the hens and other birds waking up made quite a din.  I wandered over to have a snoop, and came face to face with an owl.  It took one look at me and dive bombed the chicken wire that separated us exactly where I was standing.  It was magnificent, and I couldn’t work out whether it was attacking me or maybe had been hand reared and was trying to get close.  I do know I felt sorry for it.   It doesn’t matter how big the aviary is, and to be fair this one isn’t too bad, I don’t like seeing birds in cages.  Hypocritically though, it was amazing to be so close to it, even if it was a very pissed off owl indeed:

The owl and other animals distracted me for a bit, and then I made my way back to the car park.  At this point it was dawning on me that time was ticking and I was all alone in a deserted car park with a distinct lack of other FFs to join me for our fun running plans:

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So, just as my nerve was failing, an FF came into view.  My I was relieved, two others followed, and we did some enthusiastic mutual and relieved greeting of each other, whilst debating where our 007 Smiley half pint was?  We did some running round the carpark, partly to keep warm and partly to make sure our run would pass the 2 mile minimum run length threshold once we finally got underway.  Not the most imaginative of running drills, but an efficient one!  She eventually materialised, rather appropriately apparently appearing out of thin air in keeping with her strictly undercover modus operandi.  She had the gall to question whose stupid idea it was to do this ‘er, that would be you?’  We others were willing to plead guilty to the charge of contributory negligence for agreeing, collusion even, but initiators of this idea we most definitely were not.  Anyway, pre-run shots were duly taken.

So, let the records show that:-

At the appointed hour, those present and correct (if not exactly bright-eyed and bushy tailed) were:

  • 007 Smiley Half Pint
  • Hobbit – myself
  • Fighting Feather Elevation Queen
  • Fighting Feather currently incognito 1
  • Fighting Feather also incognito 2

Apologies (I use the term loosely in relation to Mountain Goat) were received from:

  • Dr Smiley/ Broken Jelly Baby – injured, but sterling work in hiding jelly babies so we love her best
  • Mountain Goat – she apparently isn’t aware that there are early morning options for hours such as 5.30,  6.30 etc.. as opposed to pm. variants.  She has a point, though I don’t entirely feel describing her fellow team makes as ‘crackers’ for coming up with the plan in the first place was quite in the spirit of comradely support we had been hoping for  – though granted it was a completely authentic response…
  • Poohead – sleeping as rest is just as important as running. Also didn’t need to do this segment, already done, very good point, very well made.  At least that is what I was led to believe… maybe I’m too gullible
  • FF nameless – away skiing (probably not absolutely sorry not to be joining us then, felt ‘apology’ might be stretching it)
  • FF playing away in Saltburn – North Yorkshire seaside basically, very nice, and probably not entirely compatible with nipping back to Graves for a dawn death run round a Smiletastic segment

Other FF members are available, but unaccounted for.  Some injured it is true (cheetah buddy, your running regeneration will happen, give those calves time), some not on the segments anyway so thereby exempt, as for the others.  I like to believe they will have slept soundly as a deliberate strategy and so conserved their running talents to turbo charge other outstanding segments later in the day.   They may of course just have had better things to do than be on Facebook messaging other Flying Feathers on Easter Monday and therefore known nothing of the plan, but I always prefer a good conspiracy theory given half a chance…

We checked our watches, we agreed our game plan and headed off. Gentle romp down to the start point and a final pre-run shot

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After not nearly enough faffing for my liking, we were suddenly off.  The others shot ahead, I lumbered up the rear.  It is undoubtedly motivating having other Fighting Feathers flying ahead.  I was never going to keep up with them, but it was reassuring to keep them in sight, and fun to watch too.  The sun was breaking through, the park looked lovely.  My leg was really hurting, I have definitely knackered it somehow, it’s the speed running that’s done for me, but I didn’t want to give up, and I was pretty confident I’d still be going faster than last time I did this loop which was with a streaming cold at a particularly congested parkrun in the rain.  Head up, arms pumping I just ran as fast as I could.  There was an anxious moment when just before the steep killer hill a dog walker with a mass of half a dozen mutts appeared.  She carefully waited for the other four to pass her before letting them off their leads.  They were polite dogs, but curious canines and I was a bit worried they were going to chase me up the hill.  They didn’t. Onwards and upwards, at least I didn’t break my stride.  Then sharp right turn and slightly uneven path which eventually turned down a steepish hill.  Recent rain had scoured the surface of this and it was wet and gravelly and I did consciously brake, I did want to improve my time, but more than that I wanted to stay vertical.  I soon enough joined the others, and before we knew it we were whooping in mutual celebration and posting for ‘after shots’.  We even found a conveniently located passer by who took a snap for us.  The jelly babies were courtesy of our Elevation Queen Fighting Feather by the way.  A precautionary measure in case we were unsuccessful in the later hunt for goodies courtesy of Dr Smiley/Broken Jelly Baby.

We look pretty pleased with ourselves yes?  Alas, short lived.  One of our number had a calamity befall her.  Despite wearing not one, but two recording devices, neither had logged her run.  Uh oh.  There was no alternative, she would have to run it all again!  Well there would have been another option in my world, I’d have just thought, ‘shame’, and gone home annoyed, she is made of sterner stuff.  A plan was devised.  One would run with her, the other three of us would just gently jog the loop in reverse and cheer her round the last bit.  Also, this meant I could gaze about for a bit and take some photos of the park.  I concede, I’m distracted way too easily.

So, we applauded and cheered our Feisty Fighting Feather on her way, and she went off like a rocket.  It was so impressive it was a bit unsettling.  The rest of us got into position, and then we waited for our compatriot to come into view. When she did, the effort that showed on her face was humbling.  I was once again reminded that maybe the reason I don’t ever get any better is I just am not willing to try that hard and put my body through that.  It is fair to say that some people look elegant and gazelle like running.  Some people. I have a bit of a dilemma here, as generally speaking I avoid putting unflattering photos of other people in this blog as it seems unfair.   On the other hand it seems a shame to miss out on comedic potential when offered up on a plate.  Also, ‘unflattering’ is maybe not the right word to use, I was just capturing the reality of the pain she was experiencing at the time. It is not therefore an unflattering photo, so much as an authentic one.  Should really be on the cover of ‘Time magazine’, or at least ‘Women’s Running’.  See what you have done to us Smiley Elder Super Geek? see what lengths your disciples will go to to make you happy?

So the FF’s in waiting scooped her up and ran with her for the final few hundred metres, even though she was weakly protesting that she could run no more.  I waited for the other FF who’d helped pace her out at the start, and joined her for the final fling. It was fun.

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I slowed again on the downhill gravel path finish.  My bloomin’ leg, it’s not right.  And by the time I caught up with my FF friends, they were in self-congratulatory mood.  They seemed completely unconcerned that our Feisty FF who’d just been compelled to run it all again at high speed was collapsed on the concrete at their feet.  Oh well, all in a good cause I suppose, plus she’s made of strong stuff.  Anyone who admires the FF Team Spirit should look at this photo, it sort of encapsulates what we are all about… for better or worse!

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So, Fallen Fighting Feather was revived, and we hared off for our final challenge, the search for jelly babies.  The clues were pretty fab, and we quickly located the grey man made bin in ‘Jenny’s flowers’ – daffodils, and were rummaging around in the foliage.  I espied the Jelly Babies eventually, but not before having a too close for comfort encounter with dog poo in the bush above them.  I think the legacy of one of those biodegradable dog poo bags being hung in a tree.  The bag had decomposed and a rock of dog poo is now forever welded into place in that bush.  Honestly.  Still, didn’t put us off finding our treasure though.  Dr Smiley/ Broken Jelly Baby, we salute you!

How happy we were.  Final photo session to record our success, whilst our poor Fallen Fighting Feather ran backwards and forwards like a caged wolf pacing, trying to capture the necessary missing mileage to avoid having to go out running all over again.  Suddenly, it was mutual farewells, and scattering to the four winds as we exited the park.  Tired, but happy, and pre 7.00 a.m. bonus points bagged, along with new PRs all round for our Strava segments.  Yay, go FFs!

Mission accomplished, dawn raid paid off.  We shall miss these Smiletastic gatherings in a way, but when it comes to an end we will have memories, and our injuries too, to keep reliving the extra special moments…

 

Categories: motivation, running clubs, teamwork | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hobbit Hashers Hurrying Headlong

Is it blood?  You know, that metallic taste you get in the back of your throat after you’ve run ’til you thought your lungs had burst?  Well I think it probably is, and that mine probably did, but it was all in the fine cause of Smiletastic betterment.  Let me try to explain…

WomanPostRun-660x506

So for the uninitiated firstly, where have you been?  Secondly, Smiletastic is a series of running challenges, designed by the All-Seeing, All-knowing, All-awesome, Smiley Elder Super Geek of the fabulous Sheffield Women’s running club Smiley Paces, to keep club members running throughout the dark and dank winter months.  Split into teams by date of birth – or witchcraft, I forget which – we individually and collectively have to complete various tasks month by month.  You might think this would be for some reward, but apparently not, running is its own reward.  (I know, not the most convincing of incentives, but stick with me).  The challenges have been unrelenting, strava art; timed races; long runs; monkeying around.  Imagine a running enthusiast with exceptional creativity, a slightly too keen interest in spread sheets and with a penchant for organising runners and you’ll get the general idea.  Be honest, if you had a group of 60 plus runners willing to carry out your every command and indulge your slightest whim, wouldn’t you start pushing out the boundaries as far as you could and then sit back and watch the fall out unfold?

Despite my initial grumpiness at being required to run, it has been fun on the whole, and whilst when each new challenge is unveiled my default reaction is despair, my more considered response is that you do get a sense of not inconsiderable satisfaction once they are achieved.  Plus it has definitely got me out and running loads more than I ever imagined possible, or possibly desired, but hey ho, serves me right for not reading through the small print in the terms and conditions when I signed up for Smiletastic in the first place.  Plus I have become a convert to Strava, though I did rely on a local running shop to set it all up for me.  I was a bit dubious at first, never needed it before blah de blah, but now I fear I have a growing addiction to its delights.  If it ain’t on Strava it didn’t happen, and it seems, that is never truer than when trying to bag some Smiletastic segments…  oh haven’t I said yet?  Well, this month’s challenge (apart from the Strava Art Easter Bunnies) was to re-run five selected Strava segments, but way faster than previously, to sort of measure progress over the year I suppose. Well, that was the official reason given, really I think it was the ultimate spreadsheet challenge, five segments, 60 plus runners, endlessly shifting times and alteration of table rankings, it’s a Geek’s paradise, surely?   Did you know that last year there was a Spreadsheet Day by the way?  I hope there is one this year too, I’ll look out for it.

Spreadsheet Day is usually in October apparently and in case you can’t summon the energy to follow the link because inexplicably you don’t really care about spreadsheets, let me enlighten you as to the history of this day with the following short but pleasing extract:

A holiday sure to appeal to some people more than others, Spreadsheet Day commemorates the date that VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program for personal computers, was released – October 17th, 1979. Since its beginnings, Spreadsheet Day has grown to become a day for celebrating both the advantages and the aggravations of working with spreadsheet software.

History of Spreadsheet Day
The idea for spreadsheet day came about on February 2010, when the importance of spreadsheets in day to day business operations, and in fact living, became apparent to its creator. By the following October, celebrations were underway…..

How to Celebrate Spreadsheet Day
It all begins with recognizing how ubiquitous spreadsheets are in modern life. Every business uses them to manage their books, and data for everything including names and numbers of members and much more. Following on the heels of that, you could take the time to learn how to use spreadsheets and design them for your own lifestyle….

They’re surprisingly easy to use, and can help you balance your budget, prepare shopping lists, keep track of important dates and people, and just about anything else your imagination can come up with. So take Celebrate Spreadsheet day as an opportunity to get your life organized!

A holiday sure to appeal to some more than others indeed, as they say… and plenty of time to plan for celebrations if it is essentially a winter festival.  Could do it instead of Halloween, swap favourite spreadsheets door to door instead of going out trick or treating perhaps?

Anyway, up shot of all this was that for today’s hobbit hash, me and fellow hobbit decided we’d have a bash at a couple of the segments and take a bit of a detour from our normal yomp up the valley.  We had ground rules of course.  NO TALKING during the segment runs, (LOTS OF TALKING between them).  As much energy conservation as possible coming up to the segments, shuffling half heartedly up to the start points, then regroup before turbo charging off to Take Them On.  (In our dreams anyway).

We met at 8.30 a.m. in our usual spot, actually a bit before because we saw each other approaching it and got into step with each other lamenting the morning’s news (bombs in Brussels, blimey).  We were so absorbed in conversation that we headed off up the hill and then I nearly had a panic attack as I hadn’t set my watch.  I turned it on, and then it wouldn’t pick up a signal.  I actually retraced my steps in the interests of exactitude, and then floundered about waving my arm like a drowning Tai Chi practitioner’s last gesture manifesting the art, I was increasingly desperate.  It did eventually register with a pleasing buzz, and we could recommence our yomp with a more regular heart beat!

As always, we started up the hill with some aplomb, before recognising defeat and falling back into a walk with a half-hearted shuffling run in it now and again to show willing.  To a spectator, I wonder if we would have looked like those much reviled badminton teams at the Olympics 2012, who worked out that they’d do better in the event by losing their heat.  Both teams deliberately tried to do so, resulting in pitiful performances that rather brought the sport into disrepute.

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Similarly, we were doing just enough to persuade ourselves, and maybe the casual and ill-informed viewer that we were trying to run, but not enough to convince a more critical eye.  Still, we needed to keep that fuel in the engine if we were to take on those Strava segments and smash our former times!

It was jolly enough to begin with, we shuffled upwards and onwards, putting the world to rights, eventually though, and with awful inevitability, we approached the mile long up hill stretch towards Ringinglow.  Eek.  It was almost comical really how we slowed as we approached the start point.  Our nerve failing us.  We stood on a corner in advance of the segment eyeing it with suspicion.  We each listed our various ailments and all the reasons why this would be really hard.  We also gave each other pep talks.  It wouldn’t matter if we were slow as it would only pick up any improvements, slower running could be our little secret.  No, it wasn’t a legitimate tactic to stop the watch en route and have a little breather before restarting – besides which that probably wouldn’t work.  We faffed about for ages.  It was a bit like waiting at the water edge before jumping into a cold sea.  You know it has to be done, and once you commit to the idea it probably won’t be as bad as you think, and also that ultimately, you just have to take the plunge and if you enter tentatively it will be way worse.  Three, two, one, we’re off!

taking the plunge

Unusually, and unexpectedly, I took the lead.  It was a bit alarming to find myself running alone, and up front as fast as my little legs would carry me with no-one to follow and nothing but a hill ahead.  On the plus side, I didn’t have to worry about navigation, it was basically a straight line, and although I was slightly unsure of the exact segment end, I figured we’d have it nailed.  Knowing my hobbit buddy was right behind me was quite motivating, as I was desperate not to let her overtake, and when we got to the only road crossing I took the opportunity to glance behind me and she was on my shoulder which gave me the motivation I needed to keep on moving.  Left to my own devices I’d have caved in and walked at that point for sure.  It seemed a long, long way up that hill, though actually I think it is pretty much exactly one mile, we finished in a heap, breathless, just ahead of the Norfolk arms.  I knew it had to have been faster than first attempt as we’d also done that together a few week’s back, and we’d been able to chat together whilst doing so. This time we couldn’t even talk at the end of it, legs a-wobble and panting hard, but we felt chuffed.  Neither of us knew how to extract that time from our watches, so we’d have to wait until we got back to check for sure, but we were confident we would have smashed our original Smiletastic times.  Yay, segment one, tick!  I will overlook the fact that we are on different teams so in some ways our efforts cancel each other out, we still did it, and we are therefore awesome, ninja etc.  Also, it suggests I do have another gear in my repertoire of speed, albeit one I intend to save strictly for emergency purposes.  Definitely felt the high on completion, definitely don’t want to have to run that segment at that pace ever again!

Smiletastic Ringinglow Segment – looks so innocuous does it not?  Ho hum.  Let the records show that I improved on my previous time by 25% whoop, whoop.  I will gloss over the fact that some of this remarkable increase is made less than remarkable if you knew how slowly I’d lumbered up it in the first place, nevertheless, progress has been made, let’s celebrate that!

smiletastic 2016 ringinglow segment

So, once we had recovered our breath enough to mutter mutual congratulations at each other, we turned back down the hill, along the footpath that cuts through the alpaca place (gawd how depressing that place is, collapsed shelters and over-grazed paddocks – lovely alpaca though who come across to check you out).  We recommenced our chit chat, loping along down the valley.  We noted the last lot of dumped rubbish had been collected and sighed with inward relief that for now at least there was no more. Oooh, how I’d love to put a camera trap up there and catch the perpetrators, I’m sure it’s the same people every time, it infuriates me the fly tipping.  It’s bad enough to put litter and rubble, but last time out it was detergent chemicals and sump oil that was perilously close to the stream.  Makes me mad, it really does.

Soon we found ourselves approaching Forge Dam, and so the next segment was in our sights.  My hobbit companion was asking me where it was, and I had to say that whilst I was really confident I knew exactly where it was she would have to understand that running based on my recommendation was entirely at her own risk for Smiletastic points, and also, at the end of the day we are in different teams.  She being a Rowdy Rooster and me a Fighting Feather, so each to their own eh?  On this understanding, we identified the start of the run – it was just adjacent to a higher route that was temporarily blocked off – we did briefly consider running our segment, then nipping back to move the diversion signs to prevent any other Smiletastic runners from coming after us subsequently and also improving their times. We abandoned this idea quite quickly.  Partly we thought we’d never get away with it, partly it would potentially disadvantage our own respective team mates and partly that we conceded hilarious as the idea was it might be deemed a tad anti-social in respect of other users of the Porter Valley footpaths. Plus, we couldn’t really be bothered.  What run full pelt and then voluntarily retrace our steps so we’d have to then run it all again?  I don’t think so!

We lingered at the start, each willing the other to take the initiative.  It was ridiculous how we had to somehow pluck up courage to do a section of run that we normally do pretty much every week.  Somehow though, the pressure was on.  Eventually, I took the metaphorical plunge and headed off, with hobbit two in hot pursuit.  This is a joyful part of our regular runs.  A gentle down hill gradient, lovely woodland location, pretty firm path (icy in winter sometimes) – I was a little hesitant about running it in my road shoes (which I’d put on in deference to the first smiletastic segment which was all on road) – but it had been dry and in fact I felt pretty confident haring off.  Well I say ‘haring’ that’s a relative thing, obviously.  I led the way and felt strong, it was further than I remembered, there’s a sort of false finish, when you can see some houses through the trees and I always think that means you are about to hit the road, but in fact it weaves away from you rather than across the track.  I/we had two points where we had to almost stop due to erratic passage of small dogs.  One forced me to brake suddenly as it looked scared and I thought it would be anti-social to storm by, so I jumped sideways and walked a couple of steps before picking up speed again.  Honestly, hard to know if that really will affect my time or whether the brief pause gave me new momentum afterwards.  I might try again next week just to see.  I finished and seconds behind was hobbit hasher buddy.  We both found a suitable stone to sit on for a bit, instinctively putting our heads between our knees for a bit, grimacing smiles at each other, but not able to speak.  When we did, we were truly proud of ourselves.  We’d done, it, really pushed ourselves, and we weren’t obviously broken and nor had we either fallen over or been sick – all of which had felt like very real perils as we ran.  We felt awesome.

We got our breath back and continued homewards at a gentle self-congratulatory jog.  We said our goodbyes at the corner of the road where our paths diverged, and jokingly quipped how annoying it would be if the runs didn’t show up on strava after all our efforts! Ho ho ho, oh how we laughed!  As if that would ever happen!

Porter brook smiletastic segment

Hobbit buddy made it home before me, so as I fired up my computer and was waiting for my Tomtom to do its mysterious syncing, updating and transferring of data, a message pinged up to me through Facebook from my buddy?  ‘What happened to segment two?’  Uh on, this is more than a little ominous….  surely a wind up?  I anxiously uploaded my run – for me, result.  Phew, both segments recording,  both showing a significant improvement (25%) – there is some weirdery at work.  Specifically, although the time is correct for my Ringinglow segment it doesn’t say it’s a PR (no big crown/ medal thing alongside the time by way of celebration).  On reflection, I think it might be because it has recorded a PR for a longer section that subsumes the shorter bit within it.  However, hobbit buddy, though her run is shown as taking place with me on Strava, hasn’t had her Porter Brook segment recorded.  To us, and our collective brains this seems unfair, inexplicable and wholly mysterious.  We consult with others, we learn of new phenomena such as satellite drift, we try to think up options.  We may feel small in the great universe, but we have a strong sense of justice and an internal streak which is either annoyingly stubborn or impressively tenacious, depending on your perspective.  This situation does not compute, how can the run be visible on the Strava map, but not appear within the relevant segments section?  In the end, I discover a help link for Strava  which covers exactly this scenario Strava Segment Matching Issues  – better yet, there is a link to get support.   An email is sent, and within an hour, no really, incredibly quickly, all is not only explained but resolved:

Miko Tron Chase (Help Center) Mar 22, 12:58 PM

Hobbit (actually, they did use her proper name, but I’m protecting her identity for security and confidentiality reasons),

Sorry for the trouble. I’ve corrected the minor gps tracking error that caused the mismatch. Take another look over things to make sure it looks right.

Best, Miko Strava Support Team

This lifted our spirits.  Better yet for hobbit buddy, the correction actually brought her down the valley faster than me  … no worries, I’ll get it back off her next time…. and we were deliriously and quite possibly disproportionately delighted at how it all unfolded.  Thank you Miko at Strava, you can never know the joy your tweaking efforts (no, not twerking) have brought to we two in the age of Smiletastic.  How amazing for you to be in a job that is so transformative to the lives of others.  You must sleep well at night thinking of the good you have spread through the world…

So, as the bard himself reminds us ‘All’s well that ends well‘.  It ended well for us.  Segments smashed AND recorded as such.  Plus, we discovered our inner strength both literally and metaphorically.  After all, who would think two hobbits could overrule a satellite and influence Strava?  Shows that through the Smiletastic challenges we have come to understand that we can do anything, we are invincible, we have grown as runners and as human beings.  Today Strava, tomorrow (or thereabouts) world peace… we can but hope… meantime we would all do well to remember, we are more capable than we know!

more capable than you know

 

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

Hopping Mad? Run Rabbit, Run.

I want it to end now.  The challenges are getting more and more extreme, but we have become so conditioned by our Smiley Elder Super Geek that we can’t even entertain the idea of failure.  The only option is to rise to face the new dawn and find out what it is we are really capable of. Of course, I’m back to Smiletastic, will it never stop?

So it seems our hearts are not enough. We are now required to conjure up a vision of an Easter Bunny for, well, Easter actually – you might have been ahead of me there.  I thought a heart was hard enough, but a rabbit?  Seriously?  I turned to Strava art to get some ideas:

They didn’t really help to be honest.  I think an element of lateral thinking will be required to execute this command on the streets of Sheffield.  I briefly considered submitting one of the above rabbit offerings as my own, but whilst I’m confident I could blag the creativity aspect in terms of shape, I don’t think our judge and jury Smiley Elder Super Geek will be buying the 63.1 miles in distance covered in 4:22:23 of  moving time along with 2,285 feet of elevation.  I may have improved somewhat during Smiletastic, but I have to concede Super Geek might consider that to be a statistically significant jump in performance and promises to take our Strava submissions on trust on the whole, might be tested…  I needed a better plan.  The better plan, was to have first a minor tantrum about the intrinsic hardness of it all, then a major meltdown because there are absolutely NO RABBIT shapes to be found in the whole of Sheffield.  Then finally, the germ of an idea….  Rabbits are shy creatures, even an Easter Bunny  needs to be given some sort of an incentive if it is to make an appearance.  The solution, when it came to me, was actually exquisitely simple.  I would lay bait.  First option, carrots.  All rabbits like carrots right?  Admittedly, it is a somewhat mis-shapen one, but that is because it is organic, which makes it both healthier, and hopefully more appealing too.  What do you think?  Personally, I think it is a respectable enough offering, if a little lacking in symmetry at the top, it nevertheless has an appetising chunkiness.  A reasonable start I’d venture…

rabbit lure

I also figured, possibly with naive optimism that would soon be knocked out of me, that by laying out my bait early on in the challenge, I could thus lay claim to any rabbits – be they Eater Bunnies or March Hares or otherwise, that subsequently appeared within a say ten mile radius of the epicentre of said organic carrot within the month of March.  This could conceivably give the Fighting Feathers a needed competitive edge, it’s all feeling a bit precarious what with various members of our team selfishly breaking body parts through stress fractures of the ankle or exploding calves and such like, thereby diminishing our collective resources.  I don’t mean cattle that explode by the way, that would be silly, I mean calf muscles as in back of the leg, just for clarification.

CowLogo

So, after much agonising poring over Google maps on an over-heating laptop, I finally had a cunning plan!  It would depend on being able to access inaccessible areas, it will also require an appreciation of what may loosely be termed ‘primitive art’ on the part of our arbitrating Smiley Elder Super Geek – but these are desperate times, desperate measures are called for.  Reader, meet my bunny:

Genius rabbit

It was quite hard coming up with this genius creation. I think it might be true that Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  After getting into the zone by bunny hopping drills with Accelerate as part of their Ecclesall Woods session earlier on, I decided to act whilst the muse was upon me, and headed off to Crookes post session to execute my plan  I maintain that even carrying a map around these Strava Art projects are really challenging. You (or I do at least) get really confused as you have to sort of back track on yourself, it’s quite disorientating.  It is also quite anti-social/ somewhat embarrassing to execute.  Now this is saying something as I have developed quite a high tolerance level to social embarrassment due to having over half a century’s worth of experience of being seen in public despite my many and manifest physical inadequacies compounded with my highly advanced and honed tendencies for more general social ineptitude.  However, even I have found this tough.  It seems it is indeed true one must suffer for one’s art…

genius quote

The problem is once you set upon a path, you need to stick to it, so social niceties like say, giving way to people pushing buggies, or smiling to drivers who are gesturing to give way so you can deviate from your route and cross the road in front of them for example, are abandoned.  No.  I DO NOT WANT to take up your offer of crossing the road.  NO!  I will not step aside and spoil my Strava line, even though I can see you are a loved up couple holding hands (well, especially then to be fair), and NO!  My bunny demands I must shun the etiquette book that suggests it is polite and indeed usual to give way to the OAP shopping group all clutching their sticks or gripping the bars of their zimmer frames.  It is  a tricky one.  Yet, I must keep my resolve, undaunted that people are surprisingly unsympathetic and uncomprehending when you try and explain about Smiletastic and Srava Art and the burning necessity of creating a rabbit just now, but last time it was a heart.  People are strange aren’t they?  I’ve since Googled ‘etiquette’ and it seems that I’d have been OK if I’d been wearing a bustle, as people tend to give way to women so attired.  Seems I need to invest in some new running kit for future Strava art challenges, will check out wiggle just as soon as I’ve finished this post:

street etiquette

The hardest bit, but also the least effectively executed in the resulting Strava shape, was the eye of the bunny.  Which is a bit like the eye of a Tiger only not the same thing at all.  I turned off my TomTom, went to the middle of the road in the face shape, turned it back on  and ran backwards and forwards loads of times in the same spot to try and create the eye.  Then turned it off, returned to the outer perimeter of the face, TomTom back on, and continued.  It just didn’t work, for some reason the Strava trace has linked that all as one bit.  I wouldn’t mind so much, but there was a woman carrying shopping who walked really, really slowly by as I was executing this particular bit of art work, and she was definitely looking at me askance throughout.  Oh well, I still think the effect was a gesture in the right direction, and I’m not putting myself through that again, especially when the forecast is for heavy snow and also I want to drink tea now and not go out again until I’ve warmed up at least.

Anyway, I’m feeling pretty confident, compare and contrast, my Strava Art rabbit, and an actual rabbit. My Strava Art is the one on the right, just so you know:

You’re welcome.

 

 

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

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