Posts Tagged With: woodland run

Type two fun, and tackling running mind demons.

My running credentials speak for themselves.  Unfortunately.  One issue I do not face when running is the burden that elite runners routinely have to carry, that is, the burden of expectation that they will perform well every time out.  This worry I am free of.  However, this does not mean I am free of running angst.  Ooooh no.  You must know what I mean unless you are either supremely well endowed with self-belief and/or running talent combined with an unbleamished injury record.  For the rest of us mere mortals, it seems running is a mental challenge as much as a physical one.  Whether it is a chimp on your shoulder (which makes for a very asymmetrical running technique) or that all too common sense of imposter syndrome we all have our mental demons to battle with.  For me, it’s a constant voice in my head.  You might hear it too ‘I’m not a real runner, everyone must know I’m not a real runner, those few who don’t know yet will find out soon, then I will be exposed and – ironically – run out of my running club, humiliated by exposure of the truth I can no longer hide…‘  Sound familiar?  I hope not, but I suspect for many  it will be.

impostor-syndrome-cartoon-823x1024

It is it seems, an extremely common affliction.  I finally made it back to woodrun today after a summer recess that would put any sinecure holder to shame.  It was nice to be back in Ecclesall woods, it definitely had a slightly different pre-autumnal feel to it.  It was also a bit like first day back at school after the summer holidays, with a few of us trooping in after a summer absence.  Some of us instantly started to get our apologies and excuses in first, out competing one another in respect of our woeful fitness levels/ innate (in)ability etc.  Many of us feeling somehow unworthy of the ‘runner’ moniker.   Why do we do this?  Talk ourselves down?  It may or may not be true that we are not at the top of our game, but does it really matter.  It’s not how fast we go, it’s that we go at all isn’t it?  The thing is, I can recognise this phenomenon in other people. I look at them in disbelief and awe at what they can achieve and see that it isn’t all that helpful or even relevant.  Lawks a lordy, it isn’t even true!  Of course they are ‘real’ runners. There is no exam, no certification required (although some of us at least should perhaps be certified)  how could they not be the real mckoy.  Owning the label for myself is another story, I need to keep chanting the mantra – you just have to leave the sofa and put one foot in front of the other, that’s it.  However slow I am going, I’m still lapping the alternative version of me that woud have stayed on the sofa…

not-a-real-runner

It’s partly ,my fear of what ‘other people’ must think.  I know I’m not exactly poetry in motion out running, but I am at least giving it a go.  In my head I recognised that in most situations the mysterious  ‘other people’, whose judgement we, ok, well me, I am so in fear of,  really aren’t judging at all, they don’t care what we/I do. Firstly, I am not that important to merit being the centre of attention, most people wont even notice.  Secondly, even if people did steal a glance, it doesnt follow they are that interetsed about what anyone else is doing – people are thinking about their own goals at that point.  I’ve often thought at the start line for a race, or even a parkrun, you could turn up naked (apart from your trainers) and people would be far too focused on their own paranoia and performance to notice.  Obviously, this statement doesn’t apply if you happened to be wearing a more technical brand of running shoes then they were, in which case they’d be wanting to know all about the tread and drop and other stuff to do with running shoes that ‘proper’ runners are interested in, and fair enough.  Ostentatiously showy running shoes (and/or active wear gear) are always going to operate as attention magnets, so if you wear them, then you have to concede a degree of contributory negligence on your part  if you then attract the odd, covetous, sideways glance…. Posing in active wear will inevitably turn heads.  (Please, click on the video link, it just tickled me – how can you not want to sing along to the catchy line of ‘smoking on the streets in my active wear‘?, though I am a bit too easily entertained I know, it’s been pointed out to me before).

active-wear-being-hung-over-in-my-active-wear

Even so, when it comes to myself, I still feel that it’s somehow different.  In my case I’m not so much talking myself down, just being realistic, managing expectations blah de blah.  No point in taking unnecessary risks out there…  Some smug person has produced a poster showing the limitations of this stance, ‘path to mediocrity..’ etc.  Well, I concede that might be true, but it is also annoying to have this pointed out to you in motivational poster format.  I prefer a bit of cynicism in my motivational phrases and posters to be honest.  So let’s balance it with the whisky advice one shall we?  That I can work with.  I’m also persuaded by that ubiquitous quote ‘whether you think you can or think you can’t you’re right‘.   Seems we all have the innate gift of personal prophecy.   It’s certainly the case if you don’t give things a whirl then you will never find out what you are capable of, just have to trust that it won’t be too terminal a lesson in your absolute limitations I suppose…

So, what’s brought all this on?  Well, it’s The Dirty Double coming into view all over again.  This is a two-day Lakeland running festival.   I booked in ages ago, near as dammit a  year ago to be precise.  With a whole 11 months stretching ahead before I’d be required to run anywhere up and down hills in torrential rain, I’d fondly imagined that by the time the event came around, I’d have lost 30% of my body weight (by losing body fat, not through amputating extraneous limbs), done weekly hill-reps and generally metamorphosed from relatively inanimate grub to speedy running and flying beetle or whatever.  Are there beetles that run?  Cockroaches I suppose, but they don’t go through  metamorphosis properly though do they?  That’s a rhetorical question by the way as  I’ve just looked them up, they go through incomplete metamorphosis apparently, just so as you know… Actually, this analogy doesn’t entirely work does it?  As with much in life, I am finding myself really wishing I hadn’t gone down this particular route.  My entomological knowledge is not all that detailed, and, apart from insects I can only think of amphibians that undergo metamorphosis, and, much as I genuinely like frogs and toads, I can’t really stretch that to regarding them as perfect exemplars of aspirational running form.  When I was thinking of undergoing metamorphosis it was by way of transformation from earth-bound hobbit yomper to graceful, leaping fell runner.  Ironically, and coincidentally ,the  possibility that I have metamorphosed into a toad seems a rather more  apt analogy for my current state of physical readiness in respect of running round lake land trails in November, but it really wasn’t what I was aiming for when I signed up last November….

toad-from-geograph-org-uk

Oh for goodness sake, stop hassling me!  Surely you get my point!  No?

Well, it’s basically this:  I entered into this demanding trail race (Helvellyn Trail 15km Race + Ullswater Trail 14km Race on two consecutive days) basically through fear of missing out and the lure of having a boat trip out to the start of one of the races.  I overlooked the ‘running’, ‘inclement weather’ and ‘steep off road gradient’ elements of the events.  Also the ‘race on two consecutive days’ aspect.  I suppose I thought by then I’d have trained, or at least hung out with better runners than me so my own form and endurance would improve by osmosis, and that basically ‘it’ll be fine on the day(s)‘.  Now though, it’s just a few weeks away, and starting to feel a bit real.  Fellow Smilies are posting about it, and it’s slowly dawning on me that this may not be a completely blaggable event.   There is/was also the option of doing the same routes as a challenge (you get more time to finish), or doing a 10k on each day instead.  Those other options are looking ever more appealing.  It hasn’t helped all that much that hobbit buddy responded with ‘yikes’ when she realised I’d entered the longer race classes instead of the two 10k.  Oh here we go again with the peer pressure.  I don’t mind being slow going round, but I do want to finish before the cut off point so I don’t get left out there on the mountain long after all the marshals have packed up and gone home, and have to swim back to the hostel because I’ve missed the last boat ride home to boot!  Maybe I should swap…

However, I do expect this weekend away to meet the criteria of generating a few anecdotes, although possibly ones that are only hilarious and enjoyable in retrospect.  This brings me to the central point of this post (yes there was one), which is about understanding (and implementing) The Fun Scale.

120703-lyb-hb-funometer-2

The Fun Scale apparently originated in the climbing community, but as with many sports, there is a cross over to running.  Type One Fun is basically ‘fun at the time’.  You are consciously having a good time whilst doing it.  Personally, I’d put the Round Sheffield Run into this category. Then there is Type Two Fun.  This is the sort of fun which is only really fun in retrospect.  You do not get any inherent joy out of it at the time, but when you look back on it and laugh, it does seem in fact to have been incredibly joyful.  You forget how hideous it was at the time, and enter the same event again next year.  Personally, I think I’d put Percy Pud into this category.  Freezing cold, icy rain, road surface battering my arthritic feet and seeing returning runners speeding towards me on their way home before I was even half way out did not make this an unremittingly joyous occasion for me.  However, when you finish and get given a vegetarian Christmas Pudding at the end, you come to believe it was actually fun.  Other runners oozing endorphins reinforce this sensation, so each runner colludes with the others until there is a shared collective belief that the Percy Pud is brilliant fun.  Which it is, apart from when you are actually running the darned thing.

look-back-and-laugh

According to The Fun Scale for climbers at any rate, the third type of fun is basically no fun at all.  ‘Shoot me if I try to do it again’ sort of thing.  I appreciate what they are getting at here, but I think there’s a category missing.  I’d put this ‘truly, never again’ as Type Four Run  myself, and insert what I consider to be the missing third category here instead.  This is the sort of fun me and my erstwhile flat mate used to experience after attending an angst ridden studenty party in our youth.  (Yes, I was young once).  You must know the kind of thing.  Agonising social interactions at often dingy and dodgy locations, for long nights of excruciating ‘fun partying’, where you only went in the first place out of peer pressure, didn’t believe you’d come out alive, and spent the entire time wishing you at least knew where you were so you had a sporting chance of getting home.  (Actually, I have unconsciously described a fair number of my running experiences out on the hills in that statement).  Anyway, these were unrelentingly hideous occasions,and for that, you might reasonably assume they would be in the category of ‘never again’ but not so.  Whatever their inherent and known horrors, they would still score as Newly Calibrated Fun Scale Three for me because, when debriefing after the event we would have to concur that whilst we were ‘not at all sure I enjoyed myself’ we were nevertheless absolutely confident ‘ but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it‘.  Thus, whilst knowing to repeat the experience would be hateful and possibly dangerous, you are compelled to return to it again and again, like a moth to a flame (until I can think of a better analogy anyway, analogies are not going well today I know).

moth-to-a-flame

I think the Dirty Double, may well be lining up as Newly Calibrated Category Three Fun Scale score.  It has all the elements there.  Bit far, bit wet, bit hilly, fear of missing out.  Lure of the landscape.   How will it end? Well, we are all going to have to just wait and see..

keep-calm-wait-and-see

I suppose I could try training a bit in advance, or is that taking it all a bit far?  I could start posing in my active wear out and about a bit more I suppose.  That would be a start… or is it really and truly a case that running this double is all in the mind.  A virtual run if you will.  High risk strategy to take that as a literal truth, but it might yet be worth a go.  I suppose the bottom line with my running journey is ‘must try harder’ not as in undertaking masochistice punishing workouts that would end up with me hating running for ever, but in not giving up too soon.   Hmm, we shall see.

mind-over-running

 

 

Categories: motivation, off road, running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Longshaw Sheepdog Trials Fell Race 2016 – ewe know ewe want to…

Sub-optimal running conditions.’  That was the official comment on the event retrospectively according to the Longshaw Estate Facebook post.  I will concede that the statement is technically correct, but it doesn’t do full justice to the very wetness and persistence of the rain.  All part of the atmosphere and challenge for the hard-core fell runners out there – Dark Peak Fell Runners probably don’t bother getting up in the morning for anything less than vertical elevation and inclement weather after all.  However, for me that was a bit more of an issue.  Let me explain…

2016-09-03 22.08.44

Oh, hang on, first you want to know what it is I am talking about?  Keep up.  This was the Longshaw Sheepdog Trials Fell Race for 2016.  For the uninitiated (only me then, until yesterday), this is a Fell Race at the Longshaw estate, taking place on the same day as the sheepdog trials, which are apparently the the oldest continuous trials in the country. They have been run from 1898 to the present day, interrupted only by the two world wars.  Which is impressive, although the gap, whilst understandable, does rather stretch the definition of ‘continuous’ I agree.  The clue as to what to expect on the day is therefore in the name of the event (though I still can’t work out if sheep dog/ sheepdog should be one word or two.  They use two words but at Bamford Sheepdog Trials it was one, so die already cast with that I’m afraid).   Anyway, the website blah de blah follows, but naturally I only looked at it after the event (course outlines are scary and demoralising if read in advance I tend to think):

The Longshaw fell race is held on the Saturday morning of the Sheepdog trials.

The number of competitors at the Longshaw race has increased each year, despite competition from several other local races which are traditionally run on the same weekend.

Entries come from many miles away and occasionally we have an international runner in the field including the 2011 winner.

The Fell Race course is shown below, it covers 5 miles of varied terrain over Burbage, Higger Tor, Over Owler Tor, Owler Tor, Lawrence Field & Longshaw Pastures, including woods, rocky paths and the occasional bog.

The start field can be seen from the majority of the route and conversely the spectators can follow the runners through binoculars.

The course record is 38m 07sec and will stand for ever yes

Pay to enter the Sheepdog Trials (currently £5) and race free. Bring the family, there’s plenty for them to do whilst you run on the fells.

The map is here – incidentally, both me and my Tomtom GPS watch, and Strava thought the route was rather nearer 6 miles than 5 (came out at 5.8) but that’s just more fun on the fells isn’t it, so nothing to worry about.

Microsoft Word - Longshaw 2013.doc

So, back to all about me, and my race day experiences.  Well, my race day experiences naturally started a few days before.  The event begins at the moment you start to contemplate whether or not you intend to participate in my experience.  Note, I use the word ‘participate’ rather than ‘compete’ I do have an inner core of realism within.  Anyway,  I’d seen some nice heather out and about, I’d enjoyed Whirlow 10k a couple of weeks ago and lots of people say Longshaw Sheep Dog Trials fell race is really lovely… Hmmmm, I did what I always do on such occasions, solicit opinion.  I posted rather sheepishly (see what I’ve done there?) on the Smiley Facebook page to see who else might be up for it.   Lots of enthusiastic responses come pouring forth from various Smilies, all very clear that it would be a great idea for me to undertake this fell race, but for one reason or another none of them would.  It is only with hindsight I come to realise that many of these people cajoling me to ‘have it go it’s absolutely super!’ have gone to great lengths to avoid taking part again this year for their own part.  ‘I would have entered but I’m doing a 16k race in the Lakes that day – when is it again?‘, ‘would have entered but I’m injured‘, ‘would have entered but am marshalling instead – don’t forget to smile on your merry way past‘; ‘would love to but I live in Switzerland and I’m drinking gin that day‘ and, most tellingly of all perhaps, had I but thought it through ‘I would have entered, but my daughter has an appointment at the hairdressers‘ – this from the Whirlow 10k winning female runner.  Clue there surely, had I only been on my guard?

Still, that’s me, slow on the uptake.  Hope over experience has always served me well (not absolutely true, but don’t quibble).  There are some certainties here.  Fabulous punning potential, even though I am nowhere near the dizzy punning heights of some of my Smiley compatriots.  Some are very punny indeed.  It would be an adventure.  I might get my hat trick for final finishes (it doesn’t count if you come last deliberately by the way, you do have to actually try to run round in case anyone is planning to depose me from my rightful place).  Plus, some great anecdotes, potentially at least.  Elsewhere I heard tell of a runner who ran this event with her husband to be on the morning of their wedding day!  As I understand it, this involved charging round at the back, hugging each and every marshal en route, taking loads of selfies and pictures generally, and then getting wed in the afternoon. Back the following year (just to run, not to get married again as far as I know) she took 26 minutes off her time.  Must have been a very heavy camera weighing her down, but these photographers do like their kit do they not?

camera thats a big one

So anyway, thought basically I’d just sleep on it.  Checking out the weather forecast the day before it looked promising.  What the hell… lovely day for it, last chance to see the heather at its best and it’s on my doorstep after all.  I can walk round if it comes to it. ‘Twill be fine and dandy. Probably see some familiar faces, and it’s got such a good reputation it’s bound to attract plenty of ‘have a go’ runners romping round in wellingtons and/or flip-flops (different people obviously, that would be silly), I’ll just blend in, it will be fine.  Spoiler alert – it didn’t entirely work out like that, but I did have a good time anyway thank you for asking.

Sooooooo, day dawned.  Not looking altogether as promising out the window as I’d planned on rising.  However, I was undeterred, the morning broke like this last Sunday for the Longshaw 10k but early morning fog gave way to glorious sunshine.  It’d be fine.  Granted, teeny bit of concern about the forecast for torrential rain later, but that wasn’t until gone 12.30 and surely if the race was due to start at 10.30 I’d be back home tucked up under a duvet again by then?  Meantime, a bit of drizzle wouldn’t kill me.  Probably not.  There is that documentary though isn’t there, Sharknado, but I think that’s more an American phenomenon as far as I know…

sharknado

Anyway, donned my running gear, went for short-sleeved (don’t want to get too hot out there) and Smiley Top.  How could they not be proud to see me flying the club colours?, also, aids with identification if some mishap should befall me.  I headed off early (where are the windscreen wipers on this blue car again) and soon arrived at the venue.  It is indeed lovely.  It was all well signposted (more of this later) and a super-friendly man in a kiosk took my fiver from me and welcomed me to the venue.  ‘Aah, you are obviously here for the fell race‘ he observed.  I was a bit confused, then remembered I was wearing my club vest. He hadn’t been responding to my athletic physique after all.  Too late for me to bottle it and pretend I’d come for the doubles herding course or whatever.  I read somewhere that some runners can be intimidated by the sea of club vests at the start of a race.  I simultaneously know exactly what she means (Dark Peak vests means it’s going to be steep; Steel City Striders it’s going to be fast), and feel very confident that no runner would be intimidated by the sight of me in my vest.  Astonished perhaps.  That is different.

I gingerly manoeuvred my car up the slope and through the long grass.  It was very well organised, with cone markers and friendly folk to wave you in the direction you needed to go.  It wasn’t raining at this point, so I could still hang on to the naive misconception that it was clearly ‘brightening up’.  It was cool and a bit overcast, perfect running conditions (apart from the little matter of that large hill looming on the horizon that would have to be negotiated).  I ventured over to the registration tent.  Very simple to complete your registration (they even had functioning pens for this purpose) and collect your number from the dream-team threesome who were solemnly recording all the entries.

2016-09-04 00.55.19

I was very taken with the design of the registration form.  Look at what they’ve done there at the top – using the sheep to spell out LONGSHAW!  Genius, simply genius.  I also liked my number a lot.   22.  It pleased me.  I couldn’t remember the registration number of my car so left that blank as I didn’t think ‘blue’ would be sufficient. Then afterwards I fretted in case they thought I’d snuck in without paying and so I’d be disqualified (not too much of an issue) or worse, just left to fend for myself out there on the fell, never to experience a latte again…  I got over it though. I’m more resilient than you may think.

So that was the business done and dusted.  Time for an explore.  There was a particularly fine produce collection on sale in the registration tent by the way.

2016-09-03 21.25.46

Other runners and organisers started to assemble.  I was pleasantly surprised to see quite a few familiar faces.  I was less pleasantly surprised at the lack of fun runners.  Also, quite a male dominated race, this didn’t bother me per se, but did suggest there’d be a bit of a split in the field potentially.  Where are all the people in fancy dress?  Oh well, I expect the have-a-go contingency will turn up at the last-minute I told myself.  Turns out that this race is one of the Gritstone series sponsored by Accelerate, whilst that particular detail had previously passed me by (much as life does all too often), it did mean that there were friendly faces from the Accelerate woodrun workshops.  (Thursday mornings, Eccleshall woods £2 be there 9.15 for 9.30 start, drills and shared expertise).  Yay.  It made a lot easier the task of ingratiating myself to the event sweeper.  I could brief him on my requirements, specifically, the ‘you have to understand I can’t talk and run‘ rider.  I was a little perturbed that his hi-viz jacket seemed to say ‘fast runner’ on it, but actually it was ‘last runner’ just to be clear.  So I could be confident that slot was already taken.  Mind you, I’ve come in behind a sweeper before, so no room for complacency.

To aid identification, he was also sporting a brush on his head.  Well, I say it was to aid identification, but it might have been a display of purely gratuitous, attention-gaining, rampant exhibitionism.  Or maybe he just forgot to glance in a mirror on the way out of the house and didn’t realise it was there.  We’ve all done that.  Or maybe he tried to look in a mirror and was just too tall to do so to any good effect.  He’d be the right height for maybe checking there was no toothpaste or breakfast down his front, but not for inadvertant headwear options.  I have this situation happen to me all the time in reverse.  I’m quite, well, (spoiler alert) short, and have lost count of the number of times I’ve been in a house and can’t see into a mirror because it’s been hung too high for someone of my stature to see themselves in without the aid of a step-ladder or other outside assistance.  (So to all those people muttering behind me ‘what did she do, get dressed in the dark?’ now you have your answer.)  Maybe tall people get that in reverse?  Only ever seeing their chests or midriffs in mirrors across the world?  Like medusa, unable to ever take a good look at their faces.  Plausible I think you’ll agree.. anyway, despite this speculation, on balance, I think it was just an exceedingly good visual pun, because he was The Sweeper see.   Sweeping up at the back of the race.  More genius.  You can’t trust anyone who doesn’t appreciate a good pun in my world view.  Puns are great.   Just goes to show, there were a great many smart people out and about at Longshaw for sheepdog trial day.  Not sure you can entirely tell by looking…

Pleasingly, I then caught up with another friendly face, who acknowledged me in public despite being a Dark Peak runner, so that was good for my self-esteem.  We headed off to make use of the ‘amenities’ and I took the opportunity of the queue to do a pre-race selfie (yes it’s compulsory).  It is the only evidence I was actually at this event to be honest, so here it is:

2016-09-03 22.04.33

Still not raining, oh good.  Saw a fellow Smiley and went to say hello.  It was her first time in a Smiley Vest apparently, so quite an occassion.  Other Smilies were marshalling, so there were a couple around, but this event seemed to attract more hardcore ‘proper’ fell runners I’d say.  Not that we don’t have hardcore fell runners within the Smiley Troupe, but they weren’t particularly in attendance today.  That made me gulp a bit, to be honest.  The sweeper was explaining there is ‘at least one really tough bit‘ and he made mention of having got ‘just a bit lost‘ on the recce, and I was blinking at him thinking ‘but you’re a really awesome runner – oh crap!’  The race start time drew near, and an attempt was made to herd us towards the start field.  Rain started to fall. Then, after a bit, it fell more, and heavier.  As a bit of a light weight (running wise, not actually) I took refuge in the tent.

Peering out at the rain as it became ever more persistent.   Still, no point in bleating about that.  It was reminiscent of the start of Percy Pud last year when all I really wanted to do immediately prior to the start was go home.  Unlike Percy Pud 2015, a rainbow did not then subsequently appear in the sky just as we were required to run.   Still, not to worry, the start was delayed anyway, as the race begins in the field used for the sheepdog trials and that class was running late – one of the dogs at least wasn’t being all that co-operative, with rather more boisterous running around going on than actual herding apparently.  One runner quipped maybe we should have a go at the sheep herding and leave the sheepdog to take on the fell race instead!  How we laughed, one of us at least with a tad too much desperation and longing in their expression of ha ha than was entirely appropriate.   Anyway, seems this is a sheepdog trials with a fell race attached, as opposed to vice versa, so dogs (and sheep)  take priority.  Fair enough, every dog should have its day as we all know.  And maybe the rain would stop.  (It didn’t, just got more confident and unrelenting).

2016-09-03 22.24.19

Waiting in the tent got increasingly toasty as more and more runners sought sanctuary.  I met some nice people and some interesting people and some people I already knew and some people I didn’t.  I wont draw a venn diagram of who was who.  Chance put me the way of a very encouraging ‘proper’ runner who was unbelievably nice.  I was pumping him for advice on what to expect, and he was patient and supportive (also slightly cornered, by the increasing squash of people, but I’m sure that had nothing to do with it).  He did say that some bits would be technical and would have to be walked, and when I said I was aiming for about 90 minutes (I know, but I am slow, and I just took my trail 10k time and added a chunk), he gently suggested that if expecting to be out that long on the hills it might be a good idea to take along something to eat for sustenance.  Well, naturally I am immediately drawn to think positively of anyone who tells me I really should be eating more.  ‘You might as well if you are walking bits anyway‘ he pointed out. This was probably good advice on reflection, but a bit late. I was glad I’d found the sweeper earlier, he had already reassured me he’d got emergency rations with him enough for a faller and himself too.  Anyway, my new friend said he thought I’d do it in under that, and he’d see me at the end.  I did, but didn’t see him, I imagine he’d have been long gone by the time I got round.  Here he is in action though,  by way of example.  I think it’s a reasonable bet he was flying along a tad faster than me, but then again, I did also run this route, in my own inimitable way, so hey, go me!  Thank you for being nice  to me though whosoever you were, it was very encouraging (kindness of strangers and all that).  (Action shots courtesy of Accelerate by the way, thank you!)

Acc super friendly guy

So, after another half hour or so, we were shooed out of the tent and towards the start.  Rain was heavy by this point, I was sodden, and so were my spirits.  I’d got a bit cold, and despite my porridge for breakfast, that had been 5 hours ago and I was wondering if I would have enough fuel in the tank.  Oh joy. On a cheerier note, there was a really good atmosphere.   A very jolly compère gave a commentary as we assembled, pouncing on various participants for a quick vox pox en route.  Shout outs were given to running clubs various, and a certain ‘Stu’ identified at the front.  (I overheard another runner explain to a friend that basically when he turns out, everyone else might as well go home – though this was said in an admiring rather than begrudging tone – this fell race is his for the taking, year on year it seems).  It was all very good-natured though.  A briefing of sorts was given ‘you all know the route don’t you, that’s grand?‘ and to the uplifting (but somewhat strangled by the outdoor PA) chords of ‘Chariots of Fire’ we all took off.

Acc start photo longshaw 2016

The start was fun, definitely fun.  It was a tusssocky romp across sodden land, and with a slight downwards incline (shame this becomes an upward incline on the return, but I wasn’t thinking about that just then).  I was near the back from the off to be fair, but then again, consistency is really my thing with fell races.  Fell running is inherently hilarious by the way, whilst it is true that those at the front gracefully fly across the hills, there are still a fair few of us just blagging it with varying degrees of decorum towards the rear.  Trying to balance on tufts of reeds, and a few at this stage even trying to avoid the boggy bits. An entirely futile exercise, but all part of the challenge.  There is something joyful about a crowd heading off to the hills at speed for no good reason other than the sheer unadulterated merriment of it all.

Acc view from the back

Quick scamper across the fields, and then soon you get to the first road crossing.  This was so astonishingly well marshalled it was like there’d been some sort of national emergency declared at just this spot.  Traffic stopped, signs and hi-viz aplenty as only a well oiled machine of rapid response disaster management teams could.  It was fine going out, as a crowd of us scampered across the road like an army of soldier ants (albeit ones shrink – wrapped in colourful lycra), it was less fine coming back when I was so far behind the field I felt a fraud for holding up the traffic.  Oh well, that was still to come!

All too soon though, the upward bit comethed.  I was quickly over-taken by all but the sweeper and his running buddy (who claimed to have not run for ages, but then told tales of running conquests that suggested his legs would still very much have it in their muscle memory at the very least).  Inevitably, I found my place, at the back.  It was OK though, I’m getting used to this position.  You are allowed to come last at a fell race and not marry someone in the afternoon unless you want to I think, so keep it all in proportion if it happens to you.  Plus, you are near to the emergency supplies and don’t have to worry about navigation, or carrying anything.  All good too.

Whilst it was definitely wet, and getting wetter, it was lovely out there. It was ‘proper’ off road quite quickly.  Following sheep tracks and picking through the gritstones.  I was glad of my fell shoes, and they gripped really well, I got more confident in them as I – well, I was going to say bounded but it would be more accurate to concede – picked my way up the hill.  You could see the snake of runners way ahead (which was aesthetically pleasing if also a tad demoralising) and although the tops were shrouded in mist, the landscape is just awesome.  Heather and bracken all about, it is really beautiful.

I made what might generously be called ‘erratic’ progress, I put on a bit of a yomp wherever it flattened out a bit, or the stones gave way to more forgiving peat.  I love the springiness of running on peat, it cossets your feet, I’m very wary of falling on the stonier bits though.  I felt for the tail runners who were dutifully keeping a respectable distance as best they could, but would in honesty have liked to stretch their legs a bit more I’m sure. I gave them lots of braking practice with my stop/ start approach.  I’m sure they loved that.  It was nice for me though eavesdropping on their anecdotes with each other, and their negotiations over who would get to pick up the next bit of tape or marker.  Occasionally, when I was walking, we chit-chatted a bit, and that was fine, because I’ve always been exceedingly good at walking and talking as my hobbit buddy would gladly testify I’m sure.  Once I started running again I reminded them that I’d been serious about not being an especially communicative runner, adding that I wasn’t a particularly running communicator either.  Yin yan I suppose, yin yan.

The uphill bit did eventually pause at least, which was just as well as my vision started to be seriously impaired.  The rain was so heavy now it had washed off all my sunblock (I know, what was I thinking, to say I’d been afflicted by blind optimism in the morning seems to have been literally as well as prophetically and metaphorically  true!) into my eyes and stung like *&%+!  or, more politely ‘billy o’.  Periodically we passed marshals, some of whom must have been absolutely freezing as well as soaked through.  They’d had a long wait, not just for the start, but for me to come round at the back.  Even so, they were all incredibly encouraging and smiling.  Part of this was no doubt relief at my appearance as that meant they would now be free to abandon their posts, but it was also due to their innate positivity and cheeriness which is endemic to the run-marshalling community as far as I can determine.   Thank you all you marshals, you are STARS!   One marshal had the foresight to bring an umbrella with her.  Wish I had.  At Burbage Bridge it took me a while to identify a Smiley Elder (she of the visor self-sacrifice) as the marshal. She was comprehensively cocooned in wet-weather gear, so I had almost run past before I recognised her and I had to swivel back to exchange hugs.  I am a bit hug-orientated when running, haven’t yet dared to ask more experienced runners if that’s appropriate or bad form.  Nobody has ever refused a hug though, but perhaps that’s because they are too scared by the manic look in my eyes or caught by surprise by my embrace to do so. I might post a question about it on a running forum some day. Then again, I may not.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss.  There are truths that are better left unsaid.

After Burbage, you turn back and its downhill for a bit.  Loved this, you dip down out of some of the wind and wet, and the ground is soft and the downward incline more my thing. However, I was a bit gingery going down as it was a bit ‘technical’ to use the jargon.   The ground was very uneven and the path unclear.  I’m sure the faster runners fly round, they must do to achieve the times they get, but I wasn’t going to follow suit.  You do feel adventurous though, and sometimes I think, because I am slow and at the back, I am out of sight of other runners and it’s like I have the whole landscape to yourself.  Gorgeous.  I wasn’t even cold at this point, because I did keep moving, I think you’d freeze PDQ had you stopped though.  This might have been one of the very few events where the fleece-police would have let me wear my running jacket… maybe.  Wouldn’t bank on it though, they are very persistent.

You scramble down to a stream, and fortunately, there was a marshal positioned ‘on high’ up a ridge where he had a good view to direct you where to cross the water, which you do twice.  No stepping-stones here, you have to splosh through, but that was fun, and I was pretty water-logged by then anyway.  I don’t really mind what happens on the way home as you know at this point you are going to fundamentally be OK.  The guys at frontrunner set up my tomtom so it vibrates after each ‘lap’ of one mile ahead of the Sheffield half, so my watch had been buzzing periodically to tell me what my progress was.  I don’t ever look at my watch whilst I’m actually running, but I do like to feel the miles being ticked off.  You have at least a vague sense of being beyond half way or whatever.  So, fell shoes filled with water, I sloshed on and out of the stream.  There I saw another familiar face.  A wannabee runner who alas had missed the start, but come to walk round anyway and offer  support.  That was really nice!  Thanks for being there.  This was the really tough bit.  The hill was slippery, steep and treacherous underfoot.  I tried to keep going, but even with the sweeper, sweeper buddy, and now a marshal relieved from his post (honestly I was like the pied piper going round, only picking up more marshals in my wake with each mile of the course rather than small children) I had to stop periodically to give my legs a break.  It was more of a scramble than a walk.  I had to hang on to clumps of grass on the way up.  You couldn’t even see the top though I could hear the occasional strangled cry of a runner ahead.  I wasn’t sure if that was because they’d come to grief, fallen over a cliff edge, or were just expressing relief at having summitted (is that even a word?).  Still, it meant there were humans in the vicinity.

Eventually, like a guiding angel, Accelerate Man (yes, that is a new super-hero I’ve just invented, but it does the job, would be better if he had worn Patagonia made pants over running leggings for super-hero identification purposes, but work in progress I daresay) came into view.  Shouting encouragement, he actually offered his hand and hoiked me up the last bit.  There was another marshal at the top, who offered some water.  Unusually for me I took a slurp (I’m a bit OCD about sharing water bottles). I think I must have needed it, as I was a bit disoriented, and initially headed off in the wrong direction before being called back and being pointed the opposite way. The next bit was good, familiar yomping territory, a bit of down hill, and my tail runners were distracted by variously pulling up markers, chatting to marshals, having a picnic whatever, so they weren’t so much on my tail.  Grateful as I was for their attentions going round, it was nice to be on my own for a bit, taking it all on and in.  More marshal waving, and then as I rounded a bend for the homeward curve, there was Accelerate Man again.  I promptly nearly fell over as I felt I owed it to him to at least to pretend to be running throughout, and got distracted.  ‘Don’t look at me, look where you are going!’  It’s these sort of professional coaching tips that are worth so much in a race situation!  Here is a picture of what other runners look like when they are not falling over or gazing in the wrong direction, I have not made the cut for this album as yet…  You can also see the terrain.  Unlike these runners I got all this bit all to myself!

Acc sure it rained more than this ...

From here it was pretty much downhill, the terrain wasn’t too technical.  I had my personal coach in tow, alongside even, and got some impromptu advice on technique as we went round.  The main advice was to keep running, small steps, however slowly.  If you constantly walk, you end up just getting ever faster at walking, whereas if you run slowly, you will eventually run faster.  There is an unarguable logic in this, although I’m still going to power walk up the really technical bits.  It was good to have a bit of a chat and a catch up at this point, made me feel more confident about showing my face at woodrun again.  I’ve not been in ages because I’m so rubbish, but then again as Accelerate Man pointed out (with respect) ‘that’s bollocks‘ as an excuse, how else are you going to improve, and they are an encouraging rather than judgemental outfit.  (Incidentally, this conversation was not in violation of my ‘I can’t talk and run directive’, as I wasn’t travelling fast enough for it to apply).   Honestly, I would have got lost at this point if I hadn’t been with someone who knew the route, the markers were a bit further apart, and some of the route was properly cross-country, i.e. not on any path at all, not even a sheep track.  I have a theory that someone tall put out the markers here, as there was in fact a flag put up just over a hump in the terrain, but my eye line couldn’t see over the mound.  Hence I had a few moments of gazing around in all directions clueless until nudged in the right direction by my personal guide who knew the route.

Eventually, the marquees of the event came into view.  The course flattened out, and you could head to the finish. The advice was to keep to the trodden bit to save energy as the path is already there, walk crossing a dip in the land just ahead, then after three strides, start running again to achieve a sprint (ahem) finish. This was good advice actually, and when I write my own (best-selling) running text-book to inspire future generations I may include it.  It was thinking a bit ahead that helped,  I never do that when I run, I just run (or not), I don’t have a plan as such, but even that little bit of planning helped me keep up a pace.  Whilst I’m dolling out top tips for racecraft, I got another few bits on this yomp out.  One from the sweeper, who reminded me to push off with my feet when running (that does really help you to run more efficiently) and one from the sweeper’s buddy (I think it was him), who pointed out that if you are in danger of coming last, it’s a good idea to fall back as early on as possible, as that gives you the maximum amount of time to make up the distance during a race.  Wise words indeed.  I achieved the first bit of this advice all on my own by instinct, just got to nail the making up the distance later part.  Still one out of two aint bad.

So, I dragged my weary carcass up that final incline to the finish funnel (let’s gloss over the fact I got all confused and nearly went the wrong way round into it) and was greeted by Fell Race Compère Man (yes, another super hero in the making) who was providing a commentary as I came in.  Naturally, he was very keen to hear my thoughts on the conclusion of the race.  I gave my name and used the opportunity to vindicate myself when he asked me if I’d had fun out there.  ‘Of course I did, it was great,  that’s why I took my time out there I wanted to make the most of it!’  That’ll have fooled them.

I gave my name to the time keepers, and gave my number to a bedraggled and be-sodden hat-wearing small child who was brandishing an open bin-liner towards me for the purposes of number collection.  She’d done good work, out in all that rain collecting numbers all day.  The only people behind me were the back markers, so I waited to applaud them in, and shared celebratory hugs.  I thanked my impromptu coaching team for helping me round and then once again sought the sanctuary of the tent.

Usually by the time I’m back at a race the prize giving is all done and dusted, not so here.  I got an orange juice and lemonade from the bar, and hung on for the presentations which were imminent.  Top marks for the presentation, it was a hoot.  Total of entries was revealed as 176.  One person who entered apparently then almost immediately withdrew as the elements drew in, they were singularly unimpressed by the weather. The compère cheerfully pointed out that no refund had been given.  Fair enough, fell running is not the faint hearted.  One runner DNF.  There was a bit of a hub-bub around as people speculated what had happened to them.  Seems someone took a tumble and had been spotted considerably bloodied but unbowed, by various runners. They were sporting a nice gaping head wound according to at least one account.  ‘Are they here?  Are they OK?’ enquired the compère.  ‘They’re being stitched up at the Hallamshire’ heckled a spirited observer.  How everyone laughed.  What larks eh?  I later discovered that wasn’t so much a heckle as a statement of fact.  Oh well, where would be the fun in fell running if it wasn’t for the frissance of danger on the way round eh?

Prizes were given predominantly to Dark Peak  Fell Runners for actual running, well they are individually as well as collectively phenomenal, so not a surprise.  One category winner was absent though, but ‘not from round here so probably not daring to show their face‘ was wryly observed in jest (I hope).   Impromptu spot prizes were then handed out on something of a whim.  ‘Muddiest legs‘ nope, not enough interest ‘runner from furthest away?’  ‘Yay, get that‘, someone from New York was identified, but I suspect a scam.  Something in the intonation about having ‘travelled all the way from the great U S of A just to join us for the day‘didn’t entirely ring true, but entertained massively all the same.

Oh, you want to know the winners?  Well, if you really care, here is the link to results in full for Longshaw Sheepdog Trials 2016 .  And here is a photo of the stars of the day.  I think they win cake, worth running fast for.  Though honestly, neither of them look like they really each much cake do they?*  That’s the compère with them, not their minder.  Classy dress for the occassion don’t you think? Raises the tone of a run in my view.

Acc the winners are

*CORRECTION:  I’ve been asked to point out that there is a significant factual innacuracy here.  The Female winner does in fact eat a lot of cake, with enjoyment.  Must just run even more to burn it all off afterwards.  Unreserved apologies for that inadvertant libel.

By this time, I was getting really cold, so just time to splash out on some of the catering options and head for home.  Waving goodbye to compatriots various as I did so.  Would thoroughly recommend this event, it is a hoot, friendly, and delivered with considerable aplomb I’d say.  One of the funniest presentations I’ve been too, and I like the way they big up the whole affair.  Fiver, what’s not to like, apart from excessive rain, but don’t worry about that, it won’t rain next year, FACT.

So I headed home, negotiating  my car out the field went better than expected given the increased sogginess of the terrain, bit of a scary slide on the muddy road bit though.  Longshaw Sheepdog Trials 2016 had one parting gift for me though, the pun of the day!

On exiting I saw a sign from one of the event sponsors at the entrance of the site.  It was for an estate agent. ‘Come Buy‘ it proclaimed.  See what they did there?  Genius.  So much so, I actually went back the following day (just now in fact) to snap a shot of it, and the muddy deserted site.  All over, until same time next year.

So, are we putting your name down for 2017, or would you like to think about it?  Get your hair appointment booked in early perhaps?

For accounts of all my fell race efforts follow this link.

For accounts of my final finish position posts (that’s a not very smart euphemism for coming last by the way) use this link (content is quite similar to fell races link to be fair, but there you go!)

For another perspective on this yomp out see here Steel City Striders run report Longshaw Sheepdog Trials 2016.

Categories: fell race, off road, race, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 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!

DSCF8877

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Talk it up – top tips for improving running technique

How did you come to run like that?’ people sometimes ask me with a note of barely concealed incredulity in their voices.  It’s been brought to my attention that I’ve eased off my Top Tips in relation to developing running techniques lately.  This is not in the spirit or ethos of the running community, and this post is an attempt to address that by sharing some of the expertise I’ve gleaned during my almost a year on the run.  You can take notes if you like, but feel free to just bookmark this page and come back any time for a refresher.

Top Tip No. 1:  Incorporate Cross Training into your schedule

spontaneous cross training

It’s all too easy to get into a fitness rut and lope out running at the same old speed doing the same old things.  To help you really improve you need to be sure to include some strength training.  As Runner’s World reminds us

Cross-training … refers to combining exercises of other disciplines, different than that of the athlete in training. In reference to running, cross-training is when a runner trains by doing another kind of fitness workout such as cycling, swimming, a fitness class or strength training, to supplement their running. It builds strength and flexibility in muscles that running doesn’t utilize. It prevents injury by correcting muscular imbalances. And the variety prevents boredom and burnout.

This can be achieved in a variety of ways, not just by enduring the tedium of the gym.  You might pause to do some squats during your run (not just the once because you need a pee); some Trunce runners or triathletes like to incorporate an open water swim somewhere en route.  My advice though is to use your imagination, why not plan a running route around bits of discarded sports equipment and just leap on for a bit of a workout before continuing on your way?

 

Top Tip No. 2: Set a personal goal – and share it!

will-you-regret-it-in-the-morning-L-jJVB9S

I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it hard to motivate myself to run at times.  If you find your enthusiasm flagging now and again it might help to have a specific target in mind.  The conventional wisdom is that this should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.) or even SMARTER for the more competitively minded ((Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time bound, Evaluate, and Re-Do). That is goals should be precise and clear, rather than overly broad or ambiguous, and also personally relevant.  For example, some elite runners might aim for, oh, I don’t know, being a European Standard Distance Duathlon AG Champion 2016 say, for me my goal is to secure a flattering photo of myself out running.  I was chatting about this with a qualified run trainer only today, and they were able to offer some really good advice.  Apparently you still do need to work on running form for this, as that is how to be snapped at your most gorgeous.  It seems that if I only work a bit on my technique, it is only a matter of time before those photos are utterly transformed.  Here you can see a photo of how I currently look whilst running, and a photo of how I’d like to look when framed by the lens in future.  I have in the past been depressed (as well as amused) by this pic, but now I look at it again with fresh eyes I see that we would be pretty much indistinguishable as runners if I’d just been a bit more upright in my stance.  Good to know!

 

Top Tip No. 3: Positive Self-talk

You know those voices in your head?  Not the ones that churn out stuck tapes about all the excruciating things you have either done or left undone from the age of three, but the assertive positive thinking ones.  Come up with a mantra that is meaningful to you and use it to your advantage.  It really does work apparently.  Some suggestions include ‘This is what I trained for‘, ‘I am strong‘ or, for me, ‘run now, carb later!’  Pluckier runners might even go for ‘I AM an elite runner, I CAN do this‘, personally I’d be a bit scared of the fall out in case I accidentally shouted this out loud, but you’d probably be OK yomping cross-country out in the peaks somewhere.

I can and I will

Top Tip No. 4: join a group!

There is nothing quite like the support and solidarity you can glean from other like-minded people.  You will be able to share expertise and buddy up for more challenging training sessions.  Ideally, this would be some sort of a running group, but this morning I joined up with this newt spotting one in Ecclesall Woods and honestly, the people were really lovely!  We even ended up going for a run together afterwards!  Who’d have thought it?

Top Tip No. 5: have some fun with Fartlek or Speed Play

So stop sniggering at the back.  Fartlek is not synonymous with flatulence (though to be fair there may be a correlation in some runners), and anyway you shouldn’t worry too much about spectacularly farting away when running, as hopefully you’ll be moving away from the evidence leaving any unwelcome odours in your wake and may even benefit from some helpful jet-propulsion as you do so.  However, this is not what I’m talking about here…

flatulence fun

Fartlek is also sometimes referred to as ‘speed play’, again, don’t get too excited, this is NOT an open invitation for experimentation with illegal drugs.  Rather, fartlek is a gloriously helpful way to improve the effectiveness of your work outs by incorporating a change of speed. The idea is that instead of just staying endlessly in your running comfort zone – to which your body will inevitably adapt and plateau, you mix it all up a bit.  Simply put, you mix up faster and slower periods of running, interval training really.  It’s a Swedish word originating from the experience of shoppers in IKEA.  A typical couple or group of friends navigating the store will have different priorities, but will have to follow the projected pathway dictated by the store layout.  To speed the passage through the store one half of the couple (or member of the group) will try to push on as fast as possible, the more enthusiastic shopper will continuously pause, leading to a stop/start or (more advanced) fast/slow progression through the maze of IKEA pathways.  Exactly the same principle can be applied to long runs.  If you like a spreadsheet, you could plan this and work out exactly where and when you will pick up your pace en route.  Alternatively, you could draw on your natural environment to help.  Running ‘as fast as you can’ to the next tree or suitable landmark for example and then slowing down a bit to the bench before picking up again.  I must be quite an intuitive runner, as turns out I’ve been doing this unknown for years. Basically I always run at my slow and steady preferred pace (walking) and then pick up speed if I:

  • spot a photographer at a race
  • see another runner coming towards me
  • stumble going downhill and gather a bit too much momentum
  • feel like someone is about to overtake me towards the end at parkrun (I don’t like to think of myself as competitive, but sometimes I am)

Anyway, that works for me – why not think about what works for you?

 

Top Tip No. 6: learn from others, don’t be afraid to ask for advice!

Now, obviously, you shouldn’t just believe any old nonsense you might pick up on a running blog say, but advice from trusted friends and experts is another thing altogether.  So for example, the other week I was discussing triathletes with some more experienced athletes (represented GB  that sort of thing) as you do.  I’m not currently considering this as although extremely buoyant I never seem to be able to propel myself through the water, just bob about cork like.  I’d never drown in open water (I don’t think) but unless towed wouldn’t make it to any particular end point either.  However, this isn’t what really puts me off, the main issue for me (apart from the exercise aspect) is how on earth could you get on a bike and run after swallowing all that sea water and pond weed?  Surely  you’d be all dehydrated and sodden and feeling a bit nauseous from all you had unwittingly imbibed.  Well, turns out (who knew), that experienced triathletes don’t really swallow water when they swim!  They are in fact confident enough, strong enough and sufficiently advanced with their technique that this isn’t an issue!  Well, respect.  These kind of insights are surely worth their weight in gold!  So this tip is about keeping an open mind and getting chatting with others, you might surprise yourself with what you pick up!

funny-cat-mistake-swimming-water-pics

 

Top Tip No. 7: Think about your kit.

Having the correct running gear is really important.  You will get away with some clothing choices, but you do need to invest in appropriate running shoes; a decent sports bra (gender appropriate); lucky pants (optional – well the lucky bit is, but probably best to wear something that covers your nether regions unless you can run really, really fast).  These aspects of kit seem to be pretty obvious.  However, an often over-looked aspect of serious running is the necessity of auditioning any prospective running clubs in terms of their designated kit.  I love my running club I really do.  But the white vertical stripe which stretches across my sides emphasising my less than svelte form is not the most flattering.   Similarly the comic sans font splits opinion amongst my running friends. At this point I was going to upload a couple of deeply unflattering shots of me in my running vest to illustrate the point, but you know what, I’ve decided not to.  It’s my blog I’ll lie if I want to.  I’ll just go for the generic group shot of slim line runners if it’s all the same to you, and you can use your imagination as to how this seemingly innocuous enough vest looks on being relocated to a more rotund body shape.  Clue: not like this.

Smiley kit

Even so, I love my running club, go Smiley Paces, you do get great recognition and  support out running, so the advantages of sporting it definitely outweigh the disadvantages but the vest has been a wake up call.  If you have a choice of clubs to join do give this some thought.  There is a local fell running club with extraordinarily talented and awesome runners, but those brown horizontal stripes.  Well, it’s a shame, that’s all I’ll commit to…  If you are new to running, or indeed any other sport, maybe invest in a ‘colour me beautiful’ or similar colour consultation and choose a discipline and group which has a kit design that will flatter your skin tone.  It will make a massive difference to how you appear on digital photos that are ubiquitous on Facebook pages for events these days.

Top Tip No. 8: Focus on Nutrition

You can’t run without proper fuel.  Different elite athletes have different approaches to nutrition.  Nicky Spinks can pack away chips and curry sauce on her endurance runs apparently, and European Duathlon champ Kate Morris is on record as using gels for refuelling though after a bit she did adopt an alternative nutrition strategy which avoided some gel cons such as ‘stomach cramps…. sticky stuff smeared across my face, dribbled down my front and snail trails down my legs from where I’d stuffed the gel wrappers up my shorts‘.  Note, this is also another pertinent example of how much we can learn from the elite athletes who are generous enough to share their wisdom with us mere mortals.  I have learned from my Smiley Paces compatriots that when planning longer runs, it is of vital importance that you always conclude with a suitable cake-eating rendezvous, and for myself, no parkrun is complete without a breakfast club gathering afterwards.  Some sports events are wising up to this more than others.  Team AO have organised a pie themed event for a few years now, there is also a different events company offering a beerathon described as ‘a five mile slobstacle course, after each mile you have to neck a great British pint and chomp some great British fodder‘ addressing both nutrition and hydration in their logistical planning.  This also illustrates the importance of finding out what works for you.  However, if you want to avoid hitting the proverbial wall, then consider what you will do to refuel if running for any longer than around 90 minutes is the accepted wisdom.

Top Tip No. 9:  Think Big!

You can probably achieve more than you realise.  Nicky Spinks started her record-breaking running achievements with a 4 mile fell race, The Trunce.  Don’t limit yourself, if you don’t stretch yourself you’ll never know!  Surely it is better to fall from a great height than … oh hang on, maybe not the best analogy. I’m sure you know what I mean…

funny-rhino-unicorn-treadmill

and finally…

Top Tip No. 10: Remember, it’s supposed to be fun!

Yes, yes, I know we run because we want to get fitter; or work through our mid-life crises.  We run to meditate; we run for ‘me‘ time; we run to socialise; we run ‘to be alone‘; we run to exorcise our inner demons as well as exercise our outer shell.  We all run for different reasons.  However, surely the unifying principle is that it is supposed to be fun (even if sometimes only in retrospect).  So whatever it is you are doing, don’t forget to feel the lurve.  It’s true, there will be days when ‘fun run’ is the ultimate oxymoron, but hey ho, they just help you appreciate the good runs even more. So heave on your trainers, slap on a smile and head out the door. That’s the hard bit done and dusted.  Have you honestly ever regretted a run?  Thought not, so get out there.. I’m right behind you.

This concludes my Top Tips and words of wisdom for today.

You’re welcome. 🙂

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

Birthday celebrations running on and on…

birthday run april 2016

No, not hers, a much more important one, though less indulged by sycophantic outbursts  than HRH.  There is a lesson in there somewhere though, she did go awn and awn about hers (or her cronies did at any rate) so you couldn’t really avoid the news.  There was no escaping knowing it was The Queen’s birthday today what with all that wall to wall fawning and scraping going on as soon as the radio was on.  It’s like when Facebook tells you it’s so and so’s birthday and you feel compelled to send some emoticon laden greeting even if you can’t entirely recall who the person is, and whether or not they have actually just made it through your spam folder uninvited…

Today, was an anniversary of far greater interest.  Specifically, it was the first birthday for the Accelerate Ecclesall Woods Breakfast run.  For the record though, the celebrations and lead up for this occasion were way classier and more confident than the needy, over-communicating fanfare that was obligatory across the country for Her  Madge.  Personally, I think this approach to marking the quietly under-stated first anniversary wood run, was far more appropriate and appreciated than all that noisy superficial posturing.  In fact, this was a birthday that caught me entirely by surprise, but hey, who takes badly being surprised by cake ?

So, the chronology went something like this.  The, night before, there was some phoning around conferring between me and some of my fellow runners along the lines of ‘I’ll go if you’ll go‘ not lack of enthusiasm per se, it was more on my part at least, bodily disintegration post half marathon/ smiletastic challenges.  It might sound counter-intuitive, but I’ve found that weirdly, since doing the half marathon, my confidence in running has crashed a bit.  I did such a successful taper/recovery week that I’ve piled on weight with the gusto of a polar bear preparing for hibernation.  (Praise be for the elasticated waistband in my ronhill leggings).  I am injury free – well apart from a knee twinge, but my attempts at running have been pathetic since the half, even by my rather lack lustre standards.  It’s not that I get out of breath, or that anything hurts, it’s just my body going ‘nope, not today thank you for asking‘.  It’s on a sort of strike.  The like of which I’ve not been witness to since I was about eleven and helped my elderly aunt dip sheep. Have you ever tried to move a sheep that didn’t want to be moved?  I swear it can’t be done.

nb_sheeponheather_lf

Now, there’s a tale.  At the age of seventy, my great Aunt could still vault a five bar gate. She single-handedly ran a sheep farm in Northumberland, and in the summer, we would stay at a nearby rented holiday cottage and join her for sheep-based activities.  This included sheep dipping.  A now extinct activity, but then an annual ritual.  She was amazing at this art, and could press one ewe’s head under the liquid in the dip trough whilst hoiking two other ewes, towards the plunge pool, one under each arm.  As a child I couldn’t compel even the smallest of sheep in the direction of the dip.  Can’t say I blame them, it was a vile smelling liquid, and whether or not it was (allegedly) for their own good, they weren’t to know.   The younger sheep could be sort of wrestled in under protest as they thrashed about.  However, the really immoveable sheep were the experienced ewes.  They would simply relax into the ground and become a dead weight, just impossible to shift.  Very impressive.  You jut can’t argue with that extent of resolute immobility.  Well, that’s what my body has been doing to me of late.  No fight as such, just stubborn resistance to movement of any kind.  You can protest all you like, but know in your heart of hearts the attempt to generate fluid movement is utterly futile.  Running, as a consequence has not really been happening in my universe.

On the other hand, you have to start back somewhere, and the woods are lovely, safety in numbers and the weather boded well.  We.  Were. In.  It was nippy first thing, and personally I found the bright looking sunshine deceptive.  My arm out of my bedroom window temperature test suggested gloves and buff were still sensible precautions before venturing out.

discovery centre ecclesall woods

Headed off to the woods, and as usual arrived early, parking has been a bit of an issue there of late, but not so much today.    An innovation in car parking efficiency has been implemented since I was last there, with newly painted parking bays marked out.  Personally,  I find this a boon, I suffer agonies of indecision faced with a relatively blank canvas of tarmac to park in.  It is a relief to be freed of the burden of using my judgement in deciding where exactly to park up.  I faffed about in the car for a bit before venturing into the reception area where a few other runners had started to assemble.  Some hardy souls were even sporting shorts, and the conversation turned to comparison of injuries post the half. Pleasingly, it seems I wasn’t alone in finding my body in a state of disrepair if not absolute disintegration.  I’m feeling a bit better in this respect, I came across a number of articles recently that outlined in terrifying detail what running a marathon can do to your body, even if you feel fine…(I know I only did a half, but it blooming felt like a marathon for me).  Recovery is very important therefore.  Shame no-one pointed this out to the original marathoner.  I only found out today that poor Pheidippides, is said to have died after running the 26.2 miles in Greek mythology, presumably because his heart gave out on him.  He obviously didn’t have a network of fellow runners through Smiley Paces or Accelerate wood runs or parkrun or whatever to guide him through the process.  Also, whilst I would be the first to admit I’m not an experienced or knowledgeable runner, I do think his running form wasn’t the most efficient.  Over-striding a bit for starters, and carrying that shield around whilst wearing a stone tutu probably made it all a bit harder than it needed to be don’t you think?

Statue_of_Pheidippides_along_the_Marathon_Road

Anyway, I had arranged to meet a buddy there who was coming for the first time.  I felt positively part of the furniture as I explained about putting your two pounds in the wooden bowl, signing in and giving an emergency contact number (I always just give George Clooney’s UK agent) and putting your excess clothes/ cycle helmet whatever in the handily positioned box left out for that purpose.  This weekly run is a well-oiled machine these days, even though I felt something of a hypocrite showing anyone the ropes as I’ve not been in weeks for various reason some of which had more validity than others (tapering/ apathy/ injury/ away etc).  Anyway, it was good to be back.  Incidentally, there is an amazing wooden eagle creation that overlooks you in the reception area, it looks real, astonishing bit of craft working that.  I must take a photo of it next time I go.  After some more faffing and reunions, a few of us stormed the toilets which some workmen in high viz were trying to do some sort of maintenance work on.  Seems you can’t really hold back a tide of runners in need of a precautionary pee.

We adjourned outside to stand in the sunshine for a bit.  One of the more experienced runners amongst us explained that if you maximise the surface area exposed to the sun’s rays you can gain solar power to make you run faster.  I was impressed!  This insider knowledge might yet transform my running speeds in future.  As I stood soaking up the rays though, she added in a disillusioning rider – the sun has to actually hit your exposed skin.  My coat, gloves, leggings combo left little flesh taking a direct hit, and I wasn’t stripping off any more, way too nippy for me out there, sunshine or not.  It seems I’ll have to achieve my running goals on my own merit, no outside solar charged assistance for me! Oh well, you know what they say ‘if it sounds too good to be true, then it is.’

So eventually, we headed off into the woods with spring in the air and a spring in our step.  I started off with some enthusiasm, but all too soon gradient of a hill coupled with an over-enthusiastic start and trying to multi-task by talking and running at the same time slowed me down.  We were a biggish group, with many familiar faces and a couple of new ones.  We headed to place where a number of pathways intercept and there is  a handy triangular island very suitable for running round and round whilst performing various running drills.  At this point, we split into two groups.  I am greatly in favour of this, I always stick with the ‘bottom’ group, though we are probably referred to in slightly more respectful terms.  To be fair, it isn’t necessarily always composed of by the weaker runners, it might include some who are injured, tapering, recovering or whatever.  The more hardcore, masochistic, less able to protest, are picked off for a far more punishing workout.  Normally, the two groups stay in sight of one another, and do fairly similar drills, but the hardcore details might do them up a much steeper hill say, or for a longer distance.

On this occasion my hopes were got up as the run leaders debated what each group would do.  I picked up that the hardcore group would be doing stuff that would be great to ‘stand and watch’ I immediately piped up to volunteer to be in that stand and watch group option, but it seems that one was already full.   Eventually, we were left with Dr Smiley, who fortuitously is now pot-less, hooray, but still not running due to having broken bone in her foot.  (The physician heal thyself jibes are wearing thin by the way, best not go there).   The hardcore group sprinted off in the opposite direction, and we never saw them again. Not until we were long back at the discovery centre supping coffee and soaking up the sun. They appeared panting, breathless, sweat covered and looking ashen.  ‘Good run everyone?’ we asked cheerily, from over the top of our lattes.  I do get that if you don’t push yourself you limit your potential to improve, but they weren’t really selling it to me as an option from how they looked to be honest.  Well done though guys, good effort!

So we in the steadier group, were under the direction of Dr Smiley.  She soon enough had us running round the triangular tree island as a ‘warm up’.  I’m not sure what happened there to be honest.  Maybe she can’t count very well,  maybe she was too distracted by trying to find the perfect stick, but it did feel like rather a lot of running round and round was going on, more than was strictly desirable or necessary.  I had flashbacks to being a child playing musical chairs.  There was a corner that was the start and finish point for this run, and every time I got within sight of it I slowed, willing her to shout stop, but that seemed never to happen.  By the time it did, I traipsed in behind everyone else, suffering disbelief that this was only the start.  Dr Smiley was in a good mood though, in possession of a fine outlook and an even finer useful stick for pointing at things.  She is a good motivator and facilitator, and although she possibly takes a bit too much pleasure in commanding we her charges to perform ever more comical exercises in pursuit of running excellence, you can’t really blame her.  I would to, and it is/was hilarious to watch us in action.

Various drills were modelled and executed, with various degrees of aplomb and elegance.  We did hopping, we did hopscotch – harder than you think, I only seem capable of doing this with one particular leg leading. You try it, it’s like crossing your arms the other way round to that you normally do, it feels not just odd, but nigh on impossible.  Or is that just me?  High knee drills, heel kicks, fast feet.  It all a bit morphed into one long test of co-ordination and endurance.  We did lunging walks (basically ministry of funny walks), hopping to the left and right like we were on wobbly pogo sticks and the Morecambe and Wise run – which I think was a stretch in terms of running relevance but was happy to comply with for mutually appreciated comedic purposes.   Dr Smiley wasn’t able to participate in any of the drills due to still recovering from injury, but I can report that she sang a most glorious accompaniment to this last drill by means of a particularly tuneful rendition of ‘bring me sunshine’ so you can’t really fail to be impressed by that manifestation of willingness to motivate and inspire her running proteges.

It seems the warm weather had brought out the whole world into the woods.  Entering Ecclesall woods is a bit like exploring an underwater coral reef.  You wouldn’t believe what’s lurking if you just hang about a bit beneath the surface.  The trees are incredible on their own, and the pathways through them lovely.  The birds are positively rowdy with noise at this time of year, but there is oh so much more.  A near constant stream of dog-walkers with their canine companions provided distraction and entertainment.  There were some that just ignored us, others got really excited at seeing us (the dogs in the main, rather than their owners), one elderly one-eyed dog, just crookedly limped stoically through the whole proceedings, probably seen it all before by now anyway. One dog, but we couldn’t positively identify which, saw its opportunity, and made off with Dr Smiley’s stick which she had left on the ground in an unguarded moment whilst demonstrating some manouvre or other.  She pretended to take this in good grace and not mind too much, but I could tell she was devastated, that lower lip was definitely trembling.  Hope she didn’t cry herself to sleep that night, it’s hard losing a special stick like that.  Ask any dog that has been made to leave some treasured bit of wood debris behind at the end of a walk.  At least, I hope it was the loss of the stick that reduced her to tears, not an unwelcome moment of realisation at the futility of trying to whip us all into running shape against such impossible odds…

maxresdefault

We had an impromptu pause when some horse-riders came through, one on a nice solid looking coloured cob with a hogged mane, riding alongside a rather finer, but bit moth eaten looking dark bay.  The riders nodded acknowledgement as they rode through, then cantered off in the direction of the other group.  I hope they didn’t trample them with an unexpected stampede mid whatever running contortion they were being compelled to execute at the moment of being run down.  I wonder what they would look like?   Would it be like those figures captured in moment of time following the ash landing on pompeii?  Probably.  If that was going to happen to me though, personally I’d rather be frozen in the moment I was leaping like a gazelle skyward, than in the midst of contorting trying to kick my own bum with my heel, but each to their own.  Perhaps future generations of runners will worship any ancestors that perfected this technique, that would/will be enormous comfort to any runners so struck down I’m sure.

The final exercise had us in pairs.  Four of us had to run to a certain point, wait for another two to join us, and then two would run back to the start point ‘at 5k pace’.  Honestly, I don’t really know what that means, I’ve only got one pace.  However, my presumption was that for most people a 5km pace would be faster than say their marathon pace, so I just ran back as fast as I could, it wasn’t all that far, and it was quite fun.  I was also quite releived, as although my body has been feeling a bit croaky and out of sorts, really it responded relatively OK.  Nothing snapped or fell off, and although my stomach has a tendency to keep on moving after the rest of my body has stopped, I tell myself that’s just helpful exuberance and useful glycogen stores, not worth beating myself up over.  It was also good, because the way the exerise was configured, we could spend our recovery time standing about chatting to each other, and wondering how long it would take Dr Smiley to realise if we all elected to go and hide behind a tree somewhere.  Great team building activity!  Hide and seek in those woods would be a hoot, plenty of options!  It’s stunning the exercise avoidance techniques we all collectively come up with considering we have voluntarily signed up to do this and it is genuinely useful and fun, it’s just that it’s hard too.  It seems you don’t improve at running by osmosis, magic or by just reading running magazines, more’s the pity…

group runs cheap therapy

So, then suddenly it all ended.  We were done, no more running for that session at any rate.  Instead, a gentle lope back to the centre, and a queue for lattes. (Great coffee here by the way, huge generous glass mugs and proper caffiene fix too).  The majority of us lingered, enticed by the sunshine and fine company, but little knowing then just how our loyal impulse would be rewarded.  As with everywhere in Sheffield, there is quite a slope in the al fresco eating area, so we had a battle arranging chairs on the challenging gradient so we could all fit round.   Group two appeared as we were all settled down, enjoying our post run coffee, and feeling that post run pleasure that obscures any memory of all the vociferous complaints made whilst actually running just a few minutes before.  This motivational poster might be a bit OTT, but you get the idea.

death reborn

It was already nice and companionable, catching up with people, and finding out about others future running plans and past adventures.  However, things took an unexpectedly glorious turn when the understated announcement was made.  Our leader announced tat it was the First Birthday of the Accelerate wood runs, and so a celebration was in order.  He then produced not one, but TWO enormous, and fabulous cakes.  They were not of his making it is true, but most certainly the product of his organisational skills which amounts to the same thing in my book.  ‘Who needs to cook if you can shop?’ has long been a mantra of mine.   There was carrot cake, and there was chocolate cake, and in ample quantities.  Fortuitously, one of our number had sufficient initiative to set about carving up the cake and distributing it round the table in paper towels appropriated for this purpose.  It was absolutely delicous.  I would happily have gone for round two and gone back for a go at the chocolate cake, but felt it would be a bit indulgent, though the temptation was great indeed.  If I’m really honest, I probably would have snuck another slice had I not had so many eyes upon me, very fine cake indeed.  I have nothing but respect and admiration for the individual who, as people peeled away and said their farewells saw his opportunity.  With half a huge cake remaining he homed in, ‘room for a fourth slice then I think..‘ Personally I think this showed appropriate appreciation, you can’t be letting cake like that go to waste!

Oh and we did sing Happy Birthday too, not necessarily all that tunefully, but with gusto, and with only a slight hesitation over the name bit – I think we went with ‘deeeeeeeeeeeeee-ar wood run’ as opposed to anything else, but it was a bit touch and go.  So thanks Accelerate for cake and coaching model, and Ecclesall Woods rangers and goodly people from the council for hosting us each week, it’s all fab.  Running and cake, perfect combo.

So that was that.  It was really nice to be back, and it was great to coincide with the first birthday bash, long may it continue.  Its a great way to appreciate the woods, network with other runners, access some advice and do drills that, let’s be honest, most of us wouldn’t spontaneously do.  I also got some insider info on forthcoming runs.  I’ve been flirting with the idea of the Burbage Skyline, but don’t know if it’s  really a beginners option or not.  Others have suggested it might be, but I’m not over-confident.  The tail marker sweeper at the back has said she’s very happy to go slow.  I believe her, but have suggested she might actually want to bring along a picnic if it’s just me and her at the back, she could be in for a long one, and patience can only be tested so far.  However, I learned today from my wood run companions who have done it before, that no navigation will be required.  This is a significant issue for me based on past experience (let’s just learn from the Wingerworth Wobble) and also identified a couple of other fence-sitters who want to have a bash but aren’t quite sure.  Safety in numbers, we can make a suicide pact and do it together!  Oh, hang on, maybe not the best turn of phrase, but in it together, certainly!  I have a theory that if enough of us go along as our first ‘proper’ fell race, then we can be a mutually supportive gang and perhaps influence the mood of the event.  If there are a fair few first timers taking it slow, rather than a solitary outlier, it seems more reasonable to be spread out at the back.  We can lope along together- ish at least.

It looks so lovely, you have to want a bit of that…. nothing ventured as they say, then again, that’s a lot of climb, we’ll see.

burbage skyline

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

Working towards friskiness – family friendly woodland frolics

DSCF8762

Quite stressful today, decision wise, to be honest.  Today is Thursday, so this has become the day on which I join Accelerate for woodland drills to work on my running technique.  (Two pounds, 9.30 a.m. rendezvous in Ecclesall Woods, details on Accelerate facebook page.)  Today though, it was more complicated than that, because it is half term, and so today’s session was a ‘family friendly’ kids welcome to come and join the fun sort of event.  For me, this was a bit problematic, I’m a bit scared of small children.  I don’t dislike them.  I just don’t have enough experience with them to know quite how I’m supposed to interact with them.  I fear I may be a bad influence, and they certainly have endless capacity to lead me astray, which is part of their appeal.  Also, inevitably they will run me into the ground, my fragile self-esteem might not be able to handle that.  What to do?

I think young children in particular can be completely hilarious, I especially love their gift for speaking the truth unconstrained by social niceties even if it can get you into trouble. There is an exquisite age when they know it’s wrong to lie, and don’t get the subtlety of the qualifying rider (except when special circumstances require it e.g. politeness, self-interest or most important here self-preservation).   I’m thinking of the time me and a female friend of mine went along with her young daughter in tow,  to meet up with a mutual male friend who had just split up with his girlfriend – hope you are keeping up. Now, I’m not proud of the fact that, sisterly solidarity or not, she was someone we didn’t particularly like, though we’d always tried hard – or so we thought – to keep our opinions to ourselves.  Anyway, our disappointed-in-love male friend half opened the door looking dishevelled, red-eyed and marginally traumatised, only to be greeted by our accompanying child skipping past him into the hallway beyond, quite oblivious to his oozing angst  stating ‘mummy and Lucy say it’s really good because Cruella De Vil isn’t going out with you any more!’  There was nowhere to hide.  That was an awkward ‘consoling’ cup of coffee we all shared.  Still with the healing effect of time – some decades have passed since then – it was undeniably funny, retrospectively, but decidedly awkward and toe-curling excruciating at the time.  Talk about being caught out …. .  Definite tangible example of that old reassuring axiom ‘one day we shall look back on this and laugh‘ and so we did dear reader, but it took a while…  Maybe we should take more notice of that other wise saying: ‘if you are going to be able to look back on something and laugh about it, you may as well laugh about it now‘.  Sound advice.

Live-movies_cruella

Children also have an admirable capacity for play.   This is a wholly good thing, adults don’t play nearly enough, and when I have tried to instigate play in the workplace it hasn’t always been appreciated to the extent to which I might have expected.  Those castle fortifications around my desk made using only discarded cardboard boxes were inspired, those turrets were quite something.  Insecure colleagues just get jealous of  what they perceive to be ‘in ya face’ creative genius I suppose.  Strange but true.  The passport control area was just a logical extension of that initiative, nothing to get all touchy about.  Still, we’ve all moved on from that now, I’m sure…  Back to the Woodland Centre in Ecclesall Woods.  (Thanks Accelerate for the photo).

woodland centre accelerate photo

Anyway, some apprehension heading out to the woodland rendezvous therefore.  I arrived early (I was trying to avoid carpark bumper cars after last week’s ‘where can I park!’ shenanigans).  It was  gloriously sunny though, albeit with a cruel nip in the air.  I was first to arrive, which was a bit out of character.  I don’t like to be late, but not conspicuously early either.  This is my third Thursday of attending – possibly even my fourth – so I know the routine now.  I went to drop my £2 in the wooden bowl and sign up but DISASTER no pen!  I asked for one and was told that this week we were to sign in blood, which was fair enough, but there wasn’t a Stanley knife either, and whilst the kit requirement did recommend trail shoes, there was nothing about bringing a sharp blade along too.  We had a bit of a discussion about this, and what the health and safety implications might be of various possible courses of action.  I am of the view that it would be fine to get us to sign in blood, as long as there was a new blade for each participant, the cross contamination from blood would be a far greater risk than the actual cut.  In the event it was all academic anyway, as they couldn’t find one of those either, so we had to make do with a pencil.  Oh well, we will know for next time I suppose…

Signing in was followed by the mandatory period of self-consciously hanging around and clinging to the sides of the atrium waiting for everyone to gather.   There were a couple of first timers, and a scattering of keen looking children, with accompanying adults various.  It reminds me of playing a not very good game of wink-murder at the start.   People make sort of half-hearted attempts to make eye-contact with people they don’t know, treading that fine line between wanting to come across as friendly, whilst not wishing to appear overly desperate to engage by holding eye contact a bit longer than is strictly necessary.  It’s a nightmare, which side of the scales will you end up in?  Will you create the  impression of someone who exudes sincere, relaxed engagement or inadvertently fix someone with a psychopathic stare that seems to reach into their soul and strangle it beyond the reach of recovery for all eternity.  Or is it just me that worries about that when attending conference buffets and mingling at parties and funerals?  Actually, don’t tell me, some things are better left unsaid, even if they are funny (see Cruella de Vil reference above).

tanley-Kubricks-adaptatio-010

As well as the awkward eye-contact thing, there were a few greetings and hellos and catching up on injuries various.  Limping ‘runners’ were gamely running onward, some more delusional than others.  I am probably over-sensitive to my body telling me it doesn’t feel up to running, my default position if I have a twinge is variants on the duvet day depending on the weather.  Others have learned to overcome these messages.  I was genuinely concerned about our star Fighting Feather though who seemed to be in real pain, lawks a lordy, she’d even had a paracetamol, which would be like a normal person having morphine she’s so hard-core!  We will have to have a whip round for her emergency physio appointment or she’s never going to be fit enough to complete the Royal Flush in time to gain recognition for the Smiletastic challenge (consecutive miles run at an ever-increasing pace) it’s a worry.  Oh, that and the concern she may never walk properly again too of course, but priorities, obviously, I like to think that’s what she would want!  I tried to keep a neutral face, but she’s scared me, she really has…

give it to me straight

I digress, you are probably desperate to know what was the killer decision that nearly flawed me?  It was whether to stick with the small fry/ injured/ tapering/ can’t be arsed (is that a category?)/ slow & steady group (which included children) or go with the fast and frisky runners.  My default position is always to go with the slower group, but the presence of small children was a deterrent.  What if I fell over one, or worse, they fell over me?  I negotiated for a ‘working towards friskiness‘ category, and got a pass into the frisky group as a consequence.  I don’t know if this was a good thing or not.  It’s all a bit of a blur, still, you have to try these things, and besides things are rarely all good or all bad, there are always nuances of grey in between, always…  If you never try, you’ll never know what you are capable of, and if you don’t succeed in reaching that goal, at least you’ll be wiser, and more importantly potentially get an amusing anecdote out of it.  Failing that, sympathy and disbelief, which is something I suppose.

positive_quotes_Your_comfort_zone_143

Oh hang on, I’m supposed to be posting about running.  Got distracted, can’t see the wood for the trees – wooden you know it.  Today was another running in the woods day, and a very fine one too.  We headed off through the fallen leaves and took a different track from the other weeks I’ve been there.  Our friendly resident (I think he must live there) bearded-ranger scampered ahead seeking out mud and puddles under the pretext this was for the smalls amongst us.  Not true, I was also game for a bit of mud.  We avoided the worst of it as some amongst us having even shorter legs than me would have got a greater percentage of their height submerged by leaf litter and rushing torrents, but it was still fun to see a different part of the woods, and we got muddy enough to justify the trail shoes and feel we’d had a mini adventure.  They are lovely, the trees and the wood. Eventually, we came to a halt by a woodland path somewhere.  Truthfully, delightful as the woods are I can’t quite shake from the back of my mind the fear that this is some sort of benign – or seemingly benign –  abduction.  I would be completely unable to find my way out of the woods again.  Presumably to lull us into a false sense of security, our run leader told us the names of the trees.  The more conventional among you my readers might think this corresponds to tree identification – ‘see and marvel at the bark on this ancient oak‘, sort of thing.  That might be an option on some ranger led walks, but the tree at this spot was identified as ‘Bob’.  I took a photo under the pretext of admiration of the natural world, but really it was because I was hoping it might be a visual clue to help me navigate my way home later in case of any emergency as a result of being abandoned in the forest.  What if they all decided to sprint home and I couldn’t keep up.  I could die out there.  We did see a pair of woodpeckers though by the way, that was cool.

DSCF8755 - Copy

Later on we met Mr and Mrs Stumpy and there was a general gesturing in the direction of a tree named Merlin.  No-one was taking responsibility for the naming of that tree, nor even positively identifying which one it was now I come to think of it.  Maybe it was in hiding after seeing what had happened to Mr and Mrs Stumpy (the clue to their fate is in the name, let’s leave it at ‘cut off in their prime’).  This squabbling amongst our leaders was so misguided honestly.  It’s a rather person-centric approach isn’t it?  The tree may have named itself Merlin, and if it was anything like as large as others roundabout it has been around a lot longer than any of us…  Undeterred the children on release from school for half-term were asked if they knew why the tree was so-named and eyebrows gently raised in pseudo-mock incredulity at their wide-eyed blank expressions.  ‘Surely you’ll know, Harry Potter and all that?’  Nope, they won’t.  Trust me.  I used to be a careers adviser.  Wrong era, wasn’t the topic of a knights of the round table contemporary more a question to be aimed at 12th Century children rather than 21st Century ones?  Still, this wasn’t a literary appreciation or tree-identification session, no indeedy, it was a running one, so after a bit of a warm up (running backwards and forwards over a fixed difference on the woodland trails) thus (Accelerate photos):

we yomped onwards to another more challenging (uh-oh) spot.

So at the new spot, there were extra natural obstacles, including some or all of the following: uneven ground; various slopes (upwards and downwards);  muddy bits; tree-rooty bits; dog-walkers; non-dog walkers; knackered looking other runners; a useful bench for sitting on and/or leaving stuff on; woodland staircase.  We were quite a big group, and as I’ve been a couple of times now, I am starting to recognise some of them.  There are some really amazing runners there.  There is The Amazing Jumping man too.  I am conscious of how weird that may sound if you weren’t actually there.  If you were, you will recognise this description as factually accurate and therefore completely appropriate and not a slogan to attract viewers at a freak show, no really.  I promise.    I can’t not say how mesmerising it is to see him boing.  He seems to be able to spring vertically upwards and land noiselessly, as if he is completely weightless.  It is extraordinary, and if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I would say such a feat was impossible.  Possibly due to being a bit disinhibited due to lack of oxygen to the brain following physical exertion, I did share this observation with him.  I know that’s probably not normal behaviour, but fortunately post-fifty I don’t care so much any more about what impression I may give when compelled to say out loud what is possibly best kept silent in my head.  Anyway, I was glad I did, because he told me that some basketball players, when they similarly leap vertically upwards, have a moment at the apex of their flight when they are suspended in the air.  I possibly jumped (gettit?) in a bit too quickly protesting that he was confusing this with those cartoons when people (or road runners or cats or whatever) run off cliffs, and keep running in the air until they look down and plummet.  Disappointingly, he clarified.  It is, it seems, an optical illusion, there is a moment of stillness before they descend.  Amazing.  The human body can do extraordinary things.  Well other humans’ bodies, mine mainly expands outwards from the waist, which to tell the truth wouldn’t have been my super-power of choice, but you have to make the best of what you’re given sometimes.  Mustn’t grumble.  I (almost) never get properly cold out running, that’s got to be worth something, and I’ll survive longer on my body fat reserves than all the skinnies in a post-apocalyptic world, yay (not).  Anyway, back on topic, it seems basketball players do get frozen in time as they leap – otherwise how is a shot like this possible:

So, back to running drills.  I am still completely rubbish at these, but I’m enjoying the attempt a bit more now I feel more comfortable in the group.  We had to do sequences of: bunny hopping up hill (fail); hopping up hill (epic fail); hopscotch up hill (least worst drill for me); high knees up hill; fast feet up hill – are you getting the idea?  We were allowed to go down the hill again in between drills, so that offered some necessary respite.  It was though pretty much identical to the Redbull 400 metres uphill challenge held in Slovenia (race up a ski-slope essentially) so maybe we should have a Sheffield team enter that next year seeing as how we’ve all been practising?  I don’t mind keeping an eye on the kit whilst others have a bash at the climb.  Also, a perk of doing the routines is that you can watch other people doing them too, which is hilarious.  Yes, yes, you can pick up ideas on technique etc., which is worthwhile, but even better, you can also laugh and point at the pained facial expressions and grimaces of those also doing the task, whilst trying not to dwell too much on what you yourself must look like doing the same thing.  It is something to behold, though I’m not overly convinced that the shots taken on the day would represent a marketing opportunity for Accelerate.  Out-takes possibly, recruitment poster, never.  Mr Accelerate did snap a few shots, but maybe he thought the better of using them as not yet posted.  Or perhaps they were for his own personal collection?  Now there’s a thought!  If they do end up in the public domain I’ll add a few here… (Late addition, cheers Accelerate).  Actually, on reviewing the shots, you do have to question why it is we were all so sweetly compliant.  Is it an indictment of our weakness of will, a testament to our run-leaders powers of persuasion or what.  Dangerous cults and political regimes have been built on less, we need to take care, be careful out there, you still have free will, if only just…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Just to make for even more interest/ amusement, we then moved to the steps and tried to bunny-hop, hop etc up these. This was ridiculously hard, but surprisingly satisfying if achieved.  I didn’t manage to hop or jump up all of them, but felt positively euphoric just making it up one or two.  At least I wont get bored by a challenge that is too easily achieved….  I have also discovered an unwelcome addition to my many bodily failings.  I seem to be programmed not to ever lead with my left leg.  I did break my knee in Hastings (long story- shows worse things happen at the seaside) years ago, and I suppose I’ve been favouring my right leg ever since.  This I could understand, but honestly it’s like my leg just wont take direction.  You know how we have a way we almost instinctiely like to cross our arms, and if you try and do it the other way round it feels so impossible that even if you achieve it, it still feels wrong?  (You don’t?  Well try it now.   See?)  Anyway, it’s like that if I try and hop on my left leg, it just won’t activate.  This is worrying, I probably ought to do something about this.  Apparently running is a one-legged sport (personally, I think this is only partially true, I mean really, if it honestly was, it would actually be either a hopping event, or only open to say flamingoes or herons only activating one half of their body at a time – which I’d watch to be fair) – if I take this observation in the spirit in which it is meant, I probably do need to do something about making sure I can use both legs independently of one another.  Could take a while… don’t want to be left without a leg to stand on, in the meantime, divert yourself, who’d win a hopping race between these glorious guys do you think?

By way of diversion, some fine wood puns were also exchanged.  Puns are always poplar as yew probably know, I’m knot one to give up too easily on a punning contest generally speaking, but sometimes you have to bough to quicker reflexes.  Our run leader was annoyingly speedy with a hair twigger response to activating his punometer.  In my defence, the root of the problem for me was that our run leader had the advantage of being fitter than me, so hadn’t got my afore-mentioned oxygen deprived post-running exertion brain depleting his punning resources.  I don’t want to come across as small minded and bitter, barking up the wrong tree with a belated defence so I’ll just leaf it at that… that, and a few scavenged picture puns for future reference.  Wooden you know, there are loads out there, almost over-elming to be honest, especially if you are willing to branch out with your research.  Enjoy.

Back for coffee.  Fine latte, and I took an atmospheric shot of the reception area, which I am very proud of.  Look and be amazed:

DSCF8764

It wasn’t a very long distance session today, in fact I nearly had a panic attack as we made our way back to the base in case my run didn’t meet the 2 mile minimum distance requirement for Smiletastic purposes!  It was a close run thing, coming in at just 2.1 miles.  Eek.  Back for coffee and welcome catch up with some other Smiley Paces.  We are still all consumed by Smiletastic challenges.  It is becoming quite stressful.  Even though I am technically in the winning team at present, I am in constant fear that we will be toppled at any moment, and I will have my fickle team-mates turn on me and oust me as the weakest link, which to be fair, I probably am.

It is lonely at the top.  You can only fall from this point.  Not that I expect the other losers, sorry, fellow competitors, to fully appreciate this.  They have their own demons to conquer.  Sleepless nights over whether or not their heart shapes will cut muster, and if they are the right side of the road for their monkey runs…  It’s true what they say, running is a test of mind over body.  For our part, we Fighting Feathers have tried to keep the pressure up.  We had a light-hearted attempt at increasing our lead by getting one of our team to wear her gps watch whilst taking an internal flight in America somewhere.  Very impressive, elevation over 8,266 metres, longest run 82 mile, average pace 2 miles a minute.  Personally, I think we might have got away with it too, if she hadn’t had to go across open water for most of the flight.  We were able to blag it when discovered by spinning the whole enterprise as an hilarious jape when our bluff was called, but we aren’t even half-way through the challenge yet, so I’m sure we’ll come up with something else before the final countdown commences.  We need something to maintain our lead.  We were a bit worried that Elder Smiley Super Geek might actually have her head implode when she saw the stats, and that would put an end to all the fun of Smiletastic high jinks in perpetuity.  However, she seems to have survived the sighting of this erm, well let’s say anomalous and clearly inadvertent upload in tact, mercifully… though she has been on the prosecco since I understand…  Birthday indeed, as if anyone will believe that!  Though on reflection I think it’s true Smiletastic has aged her, so perhaps she has had an extra birthday creep in, just like the Queen.  Smiley Elder Super Geek certainly deserves her own anthem, a project for another day perhaps…

accelerate post run coffee

So latte sipped, and conversations shared.  Thanks for top tips on running jackets (montane minimus keeps being recommended) and tactics for half-marathon too.  I’ve still not quite fathomed whether or not I’m actually going to go through with this, but handy to have some hints.  Start slow, wear fancy dress (lower expectations of ‘fun runners’ may help morale) and maybe take some dextrose tablets for instant lift at half way point are the ones that stand out. Although it was sunny, it was cold sitting outside on a damp bench, and that sent me on my way eventually.  Home to dream about running, and speculate on whether or not it is true that runners who become obsessed by running clearly have addictive personalities.  This capacity to become fixated by something as intrinsically unpleasant as running could be ratcheted up to lethal levels if heaven portend they/we came across something that was actually fun to indulge in!  Interesting thought… it is very important serious runners never have the opportunity to try anything pleasant according to The Daily Mash – must be true!

I’ll leave you with that thought.  Sweet dreams.  Run onwards.  Run free!

Running_Free

 

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

Feathers will fly, taking Smiletastic into the woods

too cold for a run running bible

Whilst this sentiment may raise a wry smile of recognition more widely, for those members of the Smiley Paces running club taking part in Smiletastic, we could change the latter part of the slogan to ‘you’re obviously not signed up for the Smiletastic challenge‘.  Whilst I have nothing but admiration for our very own home-bred Super-Geek for initiating this contest in a well-meaning quest to help motivate members of Smilies to just keep on running throughout the winter months, she can little have known quite what competitiveness she had let lose in so doing…

People have been grouped into teams based on birthdays – Fighting Feathers being ‘my team’, other lesser teams being respectively the Old Birds; Squawky Chicks; Rowdy Roosters and the youthful Clucky Ducks, bless.  Points are awarded to each team each week, based on whether or not each individual within the team has completed their agreed target number of runs.  So far, so uncontroversial and all nice and amicable.  The problem has stemmed from the more contentious issue of the allocation of bonus points.  Extra points are gained from running before 7.00 a.m. and after 8.00 p.m.; doing a timed run (based on misguided notion that that means the participants will actually exert themselves in race mode – a technique I have largely resisted) and, most relevant here, for undertaking a run in sub-zero temperatures.  So today, when I woke up and it was absolutely freezing, I actually felt quite pleased.  Yes, lovely sunrise blah de blah, but more importantly, potential bonus points! Get me and my new super-competitive zeal.  (Photo is through my duplex window by the way, there are some perks to attic life)

DSCF8365

The problem is, debate over how to verify temperature claims have got a bit heated (ironically enough), you can only claim one of these points per runner per week anyway, but with the temperatures rising, there is some angst about whether or not there will be other opportunities to gain them.  The official line is that we are all adults to be trusted and our word will be taken as true – the old ‘presumed innocent until proven guilty’ adage.  All very commendable, but have you seen the gameswomanship at work amongst the Smiley cohort?  I will completely understand if things get to a point where all claims need to be externally verified by some sort of independent panel if necessary.  Anticipating such an eventuality, it seems only sensible to stack up evidence wherever possible, photos are a start, more tangible forensic evidence optional.  A runner I met today swore to me she had seen frozen dog pee out running in pursuit of bonus points yesterday.  I think it was wayward of her not to snap that up and put it in a shoebox to send off to Guru Geek Smiley for verification.  To be honest though, I don’t really care if she didn’t because she’s not a Fighting Feather, so if her bonus point is lost to eternity frankly her loss is our gain, harsh, but true.  Still, to cover my own arse, here are my photo shots (note ‘ice under foot’ evidence at Ecclesall Woods especially).

Now, my position is (apart from tail runner bringing ballast to the back); that I entered into Smiletastic in the naive belief that bonus points would land good-humouredly enough to those hardy individuals whose personal circumstances necessitated going out in inclement weather or anti-social times. It honestly never occurred to me that the battle for the bonus points would take on a strategic significance in the quest to be the best.  I certainly didn’t imagine I too would discover an inner competitiveness and find myself all too easily led over to the dark-side of plotting for points.  How little I knew myself…

Admittedly, I’m enjoying the feverish debates and pleas on Facebook where individuals plea for special consideration for bonus points because of some random set of personal circumstances.  Requesting extra points for pushing a buggy round parkrun for example.  Some baulked at this, because they felt disadvantaged that they were not in possession (are you allowed to say that) of small children, so this option would not be available to them.  Others chipped in suggesting that if you could wrestle your teenager into a buggy that would be just fine, and potentially merit even more bullet points.  Speaking personally, I would be game to be buggy ballast and get pushed round a parkrun if that would help, but it didn’t look like that particular argument was ever going to get past Elder Smiley.  A more promising try was made for gaining bonus points if you managed to persuade a teenage relative to actually run round parkrun with you – dragging by force if necessary. The clincher proof of how hard this might be to actually accomplish being how few bonus points would ultimately be claimed for achieving this feat.  Interesting idea, certainly.

One person did successful get a bonus point for having a furtive snog with a random stranger on a sub-zero run, fair enough I say, Go Smiley!  The exact circumstances are shrouded in mystery, but the official line is that this was necessary to keep warm. Basically, there are daily spurious pleading posts which are the Smiley equivalent of ‘the dog ate my homework’ for our Smiley Elder to review.  She needs not only her thick skin, but the wisdom of Solomon to maintain order here.  Still, we all keep telling her it’s much better to have to deal with so much positive and animated engagement than silence and tumbleweed echoing across her spreadsheets.  I don’t know to what extent we are believed.  Maybe it is as with many running challenges, the euphoria only really sets in at the moment of completion, whilst you are in the midst of it all, you wonder what possessed you to embark on this malarkey in the first place…

Bottom line, Smiletastic has changed my mindset with regard to running, and I find I am a willing pawn in group decisions.  If I need to travel to the four corners of the earth to nab a different timed run then travel I will!  Did I not explain you can only get one point for each separate timed run, i.e. no point in all the Fighting Feathers flying round the same parkrun, each has to attend a different venue to qualify for a point each… harsh perhaps, but opens up the gates to serious competition if you can get your act together to disperse your troops.  Honestly, why isn’t every running club in the vicinity undertaking Smiletastic, it’s oh so simple as the saying goes….

Anyway, upshot, I went outside, even though it was cold and my windscreen had frozen over.  It was turn out second time around to Accelerates woodland running session.  I don’t know if having been before makes it better or worse.  On the one hand I was now au fait with the mechanics of the set up, where to park and register, on the other I now knew what was in store, and I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d like it…

I arrived in good time, and parked up, saw various runners stripping off in the car park, always a clue to being in the right place, but really bare legs?  I’d got thermals on under my leggings.  I wandered in to the discovery centre.  It was like enrichment for caged animals.  In a break from the usual (based on my solitary previous attendance).   I noticed for the first time some fantastically sited and richly filled bird feeders the other side of a glass panel opposite the entrance, loads of birds were visiting, mostly blue tits, but I’d swear I saw a couple of nuthatches moving vertically down the trees to get to the peanut feeders.  Possibly even more excitingly, in front of this enormous glass window was a tower of boxes each filled with a different sized pair of some trial trainers.  Montrail Bajada II (or something).  Oooh, temptation.  They appealed to me some how, so in my unending search for the perfect fitting trainer I donned a pair to see how they’d go.

In order to heave on the trainers, I sat on a conveniently sited bench.   Initial impressions were very promising, they seemed to fit my foot shape pretty well, lots of room for my bunion to expand into.  Yay!  I then had the embarrassment of a fellow runner, who happens also to be a particularly awesome Smiley Elder and Guru, apologising to me because her bag was on the bench under my  bum.  It was pretty apparent that really apologies were due from me to her, as my bottom was on her bag  – this brief apologetic pantomime gave new realism to the phrase ‘bum bag’.

I digress, back to Smiletastic.  Up until a couple of weeks ago, the most devious I’d got in terms of trying to influence authority figures, was a feigned interest in West Bromwich Albion, in order to ingratiate me to my employing organisation’s CEO.  It seems that Geek Smiley Elder is a great deal harder to manipulate, but that doesn’t stop people trying….  It was apparent that there were a number of Smilies present, all of us pitching for a sub-zero point for starters.  Quickly discussion turned to how to maximise the elevation strand of Smiletastic, a sort of ski-lift in reverse was suggested, whereby you’d increase the elevation to miles ratio by reaching the top of a hill and then being driven back to the start to do it all again.  The message has come across loud and clear.  To get as many points as possible you need to head out on a literally freezing (sub-zero) night, make a perpendicular ascent, and do so after eight at night, basically – I wonder if a timed torch run across the moors might add in another bonus point too, just a thought….

Anyways, a Smiley gaggle gathered, and we talked tactics for Smiletastic.  Talk turned soon enough to weekend commitments.  As well as the many local parkruns, there is a Smiley off-road run this Sunday.  I wasn’t planning on going as it clashes with the Longshaw off-road 10k, a timed race.  Truth is I’ve struggled to keep up with the last couple of off-road Smiley runs, so I thought I’d build some stamina by putting in some extra runs on my own before trying joining them again. Anyway, turned out one of this week’s Sunday organisers was present. She was really sweet and encouraging me to come on the Smiley off-road instead.  I was almost persuaded… then I suddenly twigged.  If I go and lollop Longshaw 10k, a timed challenge, I will bag a bonus point for the Fighting Feathers.  Who is trying to dissuade me from this course of action?  Why, a Squawky Chick!  You have to be on your guard, surely a saboteur in action. She was good, but not that good, Longshaw it is, and I shall keep my wits about me.

Eventually off into the woods, it was pretty frosty underfoot, but the woods are lovely – apart from you have to cross a really daunting road to get from one side of the wood to the other.  We followed the same format as last week, gentle jog to the start point for drills.  I chatted to a few people on the way.  Other runners are a friendly lot, apart from when they are trying to trick you out of nabbing smiletastic bonus points.  A few of them ran companionably with me for a short stretch, until my slow pace got too much for them and they strode off ahead.  I couldn’t resist asking the guy in shorts how he was coping.  I loved his response.  Badly basically, he hasn’t got any longer running gear so he’d had no choice.  I suppose for him, running in his shorts was the adult male equivalent of me being made to do gym class (I can’t bring myself to call it ‘games’ it so wasn’t), in my navy school knickers – please tell me they don’t still do that in schools.  He was stoic it’s true, but not exactly celebrating his choice of kit.  He also said he didn’t mind running at my pace for a while, as if he went flat out, he’d only get cold hanging around waiting for everyone at the rendezvous point.  I love this insight.  I can use it myself.  I am running slowly as a legitimate training strategy to ensure I remain warm throughout, I could sprint easily enough, I just choose not too.  I am going to write it down, you can too, another Top Tip nailed!

So on arrival at the appointed spot we again split into two groups for different drills, the run leaders swapped groups from last week, it was unclear if this was to give them a break or us.  Some questions are best left unanswered.  Our run leader, Dr Smiley, repositioned us a bit nearer a bridge so that ‘good news’ our drills would all incorporate a bit of uphill  It is further indicative of my change in mindset that I logged almost unconsciously that this would be a good thing in that it would surely help the elevation quotient for my Smiletastic team (oh, not mentioned that yet?  Take it as a given.)

It was marginally less daunting doing the drills this time, I don’t know that I did them any better, but at least I had some sense of what I was supposed to be doing.  It did make it harder having more hill, but the group I was in was friendly and encouraging, and there were lots of explanations to help make sense of it all. The worst bit was probably the ‘warm up’ which involved running at an ever increasing speed up the incline to a signpost and then jogging back, and then doing it again, and then doing it again, and then doing it again.  I do not like running backwards and forwards in this manner.  I totally get it is good for me, but it does feel utterly pointless, I was relieved when it was finished.

We moved onto other drills with mixed success.  I am particularly poor at the hopping ones.  I don’t seem to be able to balance on one leg at all, hopping is just a constant battle not to fall over.  We were aiming for a particular rock as an end point.  I fantasised about moving that rock a bit closer, but to do so would seem like cheating.  I did wonder if we might be able to persuade one of the fleeter, more serious runners to move it for us – for them it would be cross-training (strength) and that wouldn’t be cheating on our part would it, at worse opportunism perhaps but most definitely initiative… Then there were sort of walking on your heels ones (especially hard going up a gradient) that made us look like psychedelic penguins and the goose stepping too of course. So what with Fighting Feathers and Clucky Ducks – and everything in between – doing penguins and geese that was a lot of ornithological exertions going on.  If you went down to the woods today you were certainly sure of a big surprise!

Other drills included high knees.  Well, I say high knees, but my knees can’t go up all that high because my stomach gets in the way.  I had a game go though.  Note to self, eat less, starting tomorrow (mañana).  What cannot pass without mention though, is the super charged springing drills.   Dr Smiley did a jaw dropping demonstration, honest to god she sprung twice her body height in the air.  I couldn’t disguise my amazement, but was told apparently her athleticism and spring was as nothing to another in our midst (well in other group technically, but in reeling in distance).  I asked if we could lure him across and trick him into showing us his jumpiness.  No real trickery was needed, they just asked him, and he happily obliged, launching himself heavenward after a couple of test springs, up up and away beyond the atmosphere before landing with light gently bent knees as if this was the most natural way to get around in all the world.  I was in awe!  It was like a Masai warrior or something.  I tried to take some photos, but I don’t think they do his feat justice.  You’ll have to imagine.  Also, getting extra demos this way was a great exercise avoidance technique (another Top Tip for the weary).

We did loads of other stuff, mostly involving running around.  Towards the end of the session we moved to a ‘better’ (I use the term loosely) hill, i.e. steeper, so we could try out some up and down hill strategies. This was really useful albeit brief insight into how to tackle gradients.  Accelerate do a 2 day training course on this, so our 5 minutes was only a taster really.  I learned that I should look up and over the brow of a hill, rather than plant my chin in my chest as I heave my weary carcass upwards.  This helps open your airways apart from anything else we were told, and logically I suppose directs your energy forwards and upwards rather than planting back into the ground.  Coming down hill we were encouraged to keep loose limbed (chimping?) and sort of keep your back straight and butt down so it’s your quads stabilising you – though not braking.  This is a marvel to me. I can’t say I got it completely in terms of implementing it, but got it enough to appreciate how it might in fact work. Fellow Hobbit will be awe-struck when I share it with her on our next hobbit hash!

Eventually, we all congregated at the bottom of the hill where we sort of melded inadvertently into the other group.  I was distracted by what looked like the discarded remains of a Smiley that didn’t make it – nothing left but the Smiley buff and an empty coat –  but not so distracted that I couldn’t enjoy the other more advanced group pairing up for a sprint race to finish.

My amusement was short-lived, as I found myself paired with the final runner, and accidentally agreed to a sprint up to join the others.  I enjoyed it actually, it felt like a test, even though all my flabby bits wobbled as I ran.  It sort of felt like a benign abduction, in which I was guilty of contributory negligence with respect to my fate.  This has actually happened to me before.  I was backpacking in Australia, and joined some other backpackers for a cheap and cheerful snorkelling trip which involved taking a boat out to a coral cay somewhere or other.  When we arrived, there was a more upmarket group already there, I got confused about which group was my mine (trust me, all those Aussie boat trip leaders are interchangeable).  Anyway, clearly all British Backpackers look the same too, because a tour leader hailed me, and said ‘come on, you’ll be late’.  I dutifully joined him, and found myself corralled into a glass bottomed boat to explore the reef from above.  I thought it was odd this aspect of our budget outing hadn’t been mentioned before… and then it dawned on me I was with a completely different group.  I was far too embarrassed to out myself, but did wonder where we’d end up, and also, I was a bit worried the other group might think I’d been taken by a shark or something.  I did the very British thing of saying nothing, and just trying to make myself invisible.  Besides, it was fun seeing coral and octopuses and stuff.  Eventually we were landed back on the little island and I rejoined my original group.  They were seriously impressed ‘wow, you must be a strong swimmer‘ they said, ‘you’ve been snorkeling for hours!’  ‘Yes‘, I said.  Some secrets are best kept, and I’d never see any of these people again.  In fact I am an even less strong swimmer than I am runner.  I am exceedingly buoyant it’s true, but don’t really get forward propulsion very well.

So finally, run done.  Yay!  True, we had to tackle the monster hill again on the return, but it did feel a bit more manageable this time, plus, it was quite good to try and implement my new running techniques.  Eagle eyed Dr Smiley was at the rear and periodically yelled encouragement of sorts ‘keep going‘ or ‘look up‘ which helped actually, even if I did feel there was nowhere to hide.

Back at base, shoes were removed, I enjoyed swapping bunion stories with a companionable fellow relatively newbie runner – she offered to show me her bunions, but we stuck with a mutual through the socks viewing.   She too had been trying out the new shoes and I think we were both sold on them.  They don’t perhaps have quite as much cushioning as I’d have liked, but they didn’t pinch anywhere at all, and lots of rooms for toes.  Recently (Monday Mobsters) I met a runner who was telling me she regularly loses toe nails from running, and it scared me a bit.  That is not happening to me if I can possibly avoid it. I’d definitely think about getting the Montrails, or whatever they were, as my next trail shoes.  As a back up plan, my new friend allowed me to take a snapshot of her road trainers for future reference, as she clearly has similar issues to me foot wise, and found her’s very comfortable.  Some sort of brooks I think, but I’m not sure which.  Anyway, always good to have options.

DSCF8394

FYI Australia came up again at the end of the run too.  Can’t remember how, but we were talking about how annoying it is when Australians give you Vegemite and say it is ‘just like Marmite’ when it clearly isn’t.  Oh, I know, we were talking about brand names in relation to the trial trail shoes.  I said I was completely uninfluenced by brands in relation to shoes, I just wanted comfort every time – but I did say I had very strong views on the matter of Marmite.  Supermarket’s own yeast extract is NOT THE SAME, and that led into a mutual rant on the terrible interloper down under – vegemite.  However, useful top tip again, apparently they have a supermarket chain there Coles, which has an own brand yeast extract which is a pretty good approximation of Marmite.  I remain sceptical, but have banked this information for future reference. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and in the unlikely event I ever find myself in Australia again, it will be good to have options.  I do miss Marmite on the rare occasions I am away from the UK.

s-VEGEMITE-MARMITE-large

So all done and dusted, we went off our separate ways.  I was glad I went, and not just because I’ve hopefully bagged a bonus point.  I got to see the highest unassisted jumping in the world, I’ve got a contingency plan for getting Marmite if ever I’m back down under, and people were once again friendly and inclusive.  Cheers Accelerate, and Cheers Smilies.  We are all awesome!

 

 

 

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

Accelerating into the woods

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

I wonder how many people have ended up in A&E because of beetroot?  Not so much beetroot injuries from the hardened tap root being lobbed at them in anger and landing on its target – though I imagine that could indeed do some serious damage- but from eating them and then forgetting.  On the subject of unexpectedly savage injuries though (yes we were) have I ever told you about the time I was in a cubicle in A&E with a pulmonary embolism, and overheard someone in the next cubicle being diagnosed with a possible radial fracture of the eye socket after being hit in the face with a shuttlecock?  No?  Well I was and I did. The most comical bit about the whole episode was hearing the junior doctor telephone a more senior consultant to ask if he should do an x-ray or not (not for me, but for Shuttlecock man).  Although the senior physician on the other end of the phone was obviously more experienced and better medically qualified, they were clearly originally from overseas, and had English as a Second Language, mysteriously the vocabulary acquired for medical purposes had not expanded to encompass the word for ‘shuttlecock’.  Thus, the junior doctor was trying to explain what it was ‘sort of made of feathers‘, and how it had come to cause such a severe injury.  You could almost hear the consultant the other end deeply inhale and suggest in no uncertain terms that feathers probably wouldn’t cause an injury as serious as all that.  The junior doctor renewed his explanation giving increasing detail about what exactly a shuttlecock is ‘there’s a little tough ball in the middle of it as well…’  Disappointingly, I never did find out what happened next as annoyingly I started to go into cardiac arrest at that point, life is full of such unknown endings is it not…  Incidentally, don’t you think a shuttlecock would make a great template for a dalek? I tried to Google images for shuttlecocks made into daleks and didn’t find a single one.  I’m astonished, I may yet take up the challenge myself, some things are just begging to be brought to life.

1024px-Koogan_badminton_feather_shuttlecock_01

I had very little sleep last night (excitement over being part of the Flying Feathers perhaps, or too much cheese too late – hard to be sure?)   Whatever the cause,  I was really, really drowsy when I had to get up.  I must have dropped back off to sleep again after hearing all about the terrorist attack in Indonesia just being reported, because I finally woke disorientated and late, radio still on, having slept through my actual alarm.  Attending to my toileting I got a great shot of adrenalin though.  I didn’t need Doctor Google to know I was dying, and wondered whether or not I’d be needing to use my sick note for the Smiletastic challenge in what for me is week one.   This would be a very bad start indeed.   (The rules stipulate that you can play one sick card during the 12 week series, which means your runs get credited for that week, after that, you are on your own).  It took a few seconds to realise it was just my impulsive new healthy eating regime making itself known.  Beetroot eh. I do love it, but it gets me every time.  Big relief, not least because I didn’t really fancy having to take a selfie of me and the contents of my toilet bowl alongside a copy of today’s paper and my synchronised watch to send to Geek Guru Smiley just to qualify for a  sick note.  I like think that my relief at this turn of events will be as nothing to hers.  I wonder what other treats she has been getting in her inbox since initiating this challenge?  Unintended consequences are always the worst.

Still, on the plus side, got me into active mode.  Just as well as really dark and dismal out, but today was to be a new challenge.  Today I was to take to the woods, and discover running in a new regime.  No idea what to expect.  It was absolutely bloody freezing.  Surely it was sub-zero?  I don’t have any means of gauging this, but if the state of my pert nipples protruding through my running top was anything to go by this was a seriously cold day.  I thought they might fall off, and I didn’t fancy having to go to A&E with those in a sandwich bag in hopeful anticipation of surgical reattachment either.  Wind chill, sleet, even though I headed off about 9.10 a.m. it was so dark outside it was like we’d entered an eternal night, had dawn really come?  I was heading off to the Woodlands Discovery Centre in Ecclesall Woods, for a running drill session put on by Accelerate.  It takes place every thursday at 9.30 a.m., cost £2 and is ‘suitable for all’. Hmm, well I’d find out.  It was so cold, there is no way on earth I’d have gone through with this were it not for my ‘conscientious but keen’ mode being fully operational.  Two-fold motivation to get there today, 1) Smiletastic, need to bag those runs, and 2) I’d rung up the shop yesterday about recycling my old running shoes.   I’d heard that they collect them up and recondition them to send to Africa or something, and I’d said I’d take them along to today’s run.

discovery centre winter

So driving down to the woods it was so murky outside I had my headlights on.  Sleet spat down on the windscreen, and the traffic was pretty heavy.  I saw one car with a good couple of inches of snow on its roof and bonnet, it must have come from a bit higher up.  It seems there is indeed ‘proper snow’ not too far away.  I arrived at the discovery centre which I’ve never  visited before.  It’s an impressive development.  I parked in the car park in what turned out to be at right angles to the intended parking places.  Oh well.  I hovered about self-consciously, but then a fellow Smiley spotted me and I her.  She is a regular at this Thursday session apparently, and pointed out the rendezvous point which is lovely and warm inside.  There were a fair few runners already there, most were taller than me and looked fitter.  I recognised many Smilies and a few from parkrun too, plus one person who I’d swear was a doppelgänger for a friends’ son from years ago but can’t have been, because that was when I was working in Anglesey.   There was one other complete newbie who’d been brought along by a friend.

I basically copied the others.  You sign in with an emergency contact number, always a challenge for me, I’ve really no idea who should be contacted in a scenario serious enough that I can’t communicate options for myself.  I just put in my default number which is for George Clooney’s UK agent.  Don’t know if it would actually work, but worth a try.   You then toss your two pound coins (or equivalent currency) into a tasteful wooden hand-crafted bowl put out for the purpose.  Cold and disorientated I nearly threw in my car keys as well, as it looked very similar to a turned rustic wooden bowl I have at home for just this purpose.  Fortunately, I didn’t follow through with this impulse, I don’t think a swinging party was quite the appropriate way to go.

I couldn’t quite fathom who was ‘in charge’ so to speak, as everyone looked more competent and confident than me.  I knew it was a guy leading the session though and that did narrow the options down quite considerably, of the 18 or so of us there, only three were men.  I chose the wrong one to approach, proferring my old trainers in a plastic bag (worth 5p alone), he was friendly, but pointed me at the run leader, who, understandably looked slightly horrified, like I’d just regurgitated some food up for him to eat or something.  I had cleaned them, more than I ever did for my own usage (discovered sports shoe cycle on my washing machine bizarrely) just I think the offering was unexpected.  He didn’t really want them before the run, and I stood a bit embarrassed, feeling this was just the first of many faux pas which I had still to make.  The first guy though rescued me.  Turns out he is a ranger who works at the discovery centre.  Escorting these weekly runs comes under the mysterious job description bullet point of ‘any other duties’ it seems.  He relieved me of my shoes and put them in his office for later collection.    As everyone had assembled by now, he also had to lock his office, which seemed to involve basically walling himself in with wooden panels.  Then he magically reappeared at another entrance.  It was like a magic trick.  Da na!

giphy

So, all assembled, next stop, ironically was go – i.e. physical activity.  Tomtom on, and off we went, through the woods, for a gentle 1.5 km or so jog.  It was quite companionable, although there was only one other newbie there, the other runners seemed friendly. One I struck up a conversation with commented on my trail shoes because she had the same pair at home and was running in her fell shoes today.  I glanced across and realised I’ve got the same fell ones as her too. Spooky.  It was nice running in a new location, the paths were pretty good, it was off-putting that it was quite so cold though.  There also seemed to be a ridiculous amount of large dogs about.  Alsations and huskies, I’m usually OK with dogs, but in these numbers they were a bit intimidating.  We had to cross the road at one point, and just where we emerged from the woods there was a group of small-ish children all in hi-viz.  Some were sitting in a small wooden cart which an adult was towing along, and the older ones were in a sort of fluorescent crocodile.  As we approached their accompanying adult said ‘ooh look a race!’ and urged the children to clap us enthusiastically as we scampered by, it was rather sweet, and also encouraging, you can’t really stop in such circumstances, whatever it takes to keep me moving..

ecclesall woods sign

So we ran on, until we reached the designated drill place.  Here we split into two group to undertake various running routines.  I was in the beginners group, the advanced group looked brutal.  We started in the same place, by a handy memorial bench bestrewn with flowers, but ran in opposite directions.  They had to do all their drills running up hill.  We had a flatter section.  I was a bit dubious about some of the drills to be honest.  I wasn’t entirely sure if they were to improve our running techniques or just for the merriment of our run leader.  I do know they were way harder to execute than they should have been.  Mutant bunny hops, reverse spotty dogs; high knees (done that before); fast feet; hopscotch (but without the stone throwing) all sorts really.  Interspersed with explanations and a few pointers on technique.  The run leader did offer up some particularly impressive demos of the drills.  When he did one of the legs-together jumping ones it was like watching a human pogo stick.  Quite amazing, how did he get up so high?  I have no such spring, and my body seems to cling to the earth no matter how much I try to project it upwards.  Still, good to know it’s hypothetically achievable, even if only by other people.

Technique was things like working your arms so that they are parallel with your body, rather than elbows sticking out to the side so you end up twisting and wasting energy… this I already knew, the extra bit of of bonus technique, was learning that if you feel crowded at the start of a run, then elbows out is the way to go.  Sharpened elbows twisting sideways can clear you a phenomenal amount of space it seems on a start line.  Runners will part like the  Red Sea for Moses so you can just run right through.  Worth knowing.  One eminent Smiley elder is especially gifted in this technique apparently,but I wont name her, she wasn’t there to defend herself in any case, so especially unfair to draw attention to this sportswomanship… though actually, I think she would most likely rightly own it as a badge of honour and a legitimate technique, and frankly if she is as good at doing it as they were saying, who would challenge her?

From the session I found that I can’t really balance on one leg; I can’t really run in a straight line; I can’t really get airborne in any jumping exercises; my toes hurt with on tip toe exercises and my calves hurt with the on heel ones.  I also found I winced more than a bit at being collectively referred to as ‘girls’ we really aren’t.  Other people don’t seem to mind the use of this word like I do, I just find it incredibly patronising and annoying, even when women use it referring to themselves.   It just seems to infantalize us, I’m fifty, I’m really not a ‘girl’.   I fully appreciate it is intended to be friendly, and many women find it perfectly acceptable, like it even, I really hate it though.  For me it actually spoils otherwise worthy campaigns such as ‘this girl can‘ I applaud the sentiment, but my how I hate that slogan, I’d never wear the T-shirt.  Rant over.  Temporarily.  It’ll annoy me again pretty soon I should imagine.

this girl can logo

 I also learnt that maybe it’s time to get some tena lights as my pelvic floor wasn’t really up to all that jumping around.  Apart from these minor details covering about 85% of the activities I was quite brilliant at everything.

ecclesall woods

It was nice being in the woods, apart from the cold and sleet, and I did enjoy watching others and you can learn from this too.  A favourite moment was glancing round and seeing the advanced group effectively in formation goose-stepping up a hill (only the legs though, not the arms).  It’s a good idea to take this kind of activity into a hidden woodland glade if you are planning to use it as a training device.  It was funny to observe, but definitely had the potential to be misconstrued.

So lots of running around, some standing around, a bit of chit chat, and then finally, session ended and so we had a final jog back to the start. This involved a pretty brutal up-hill run, but I took it steady, and although it was hard, Porter Valley has habituated me to the necessity of up hill running, I know in my heart of hearts I’ll only get better by doing more.

Suddenly we were back, and it was all over.  Our run leader mentioned a more specialised gait analysis session happening at the Sheffield shop on Saturday.  This does sound good, but clashes with parkrun and although no doubt good value at £20  I can get cake and run for free at parkrun.  I did ask if it was really suitable for all-comers though, as I’m never entirely sure whether to believe this.  The response confused me, ‘absolutely’ and then our run leader listed off all these very famous running champions who’d attended such sessions and perhaps missed my point.  I don’t want to know Jessica Ennis or whoever has been to these sessions, I want to know if people like me can turn up and not be laughed out of the place.  Hey ho.  I think the point being made was anyone can learn from such sessions whatever level they are currently at.  I still feel out of place though, even whilst I recognise the problem is in my head, not in how other more experienced runners are behaving towards me.  Sigh, it’s hard being me, all those neuroses to contend with, you have no idea…

So afterwards, I thanked the friendly run leaders and they asked if I’d be back.  I think I will.  It was definitely useful.  It was a bit of a shock to the system as although I’ve done drills before these specific ones were new, and I did feel a bit out of my comfort zone socially.  I suppose it’s a long time since I’ve done anything like that with an entirely new group of people.  The Smileys present today were super-smiley and friendly of course, but they were all from the awesome runners end of the continuum.  I think I need to process some of what we did, so that next time I can try a bit harder.  I still suffer from this sort of denial syndrome with regards to running.  I turn up to do these things, whether that’s a training session or a run out or an actual race/event, and yet I’m always a bit taken aback when we have to actually start to sprint off somewhere.  A bit inside of me is quietly horrified at such voluntary exertion.  It always catches me by surprise.  I must be very, very slow on the uptake, as well as slow on the run.

I’m not sure if the quote below is quite right, because I’ve never to run to try and beat anyone else, but I can relate to the competition with the inner voice.  I do know that now and again I get a little glimpse of what it’s like to really run and feel free.  When you catch yourself building up momentum whizzing down hill, when you are in some glorious countryside and have the world to yourself, or when with friends, putting the world to rights jogging along, literally and metaphorically with random thought processing and simultaneous broadcasting covering topics as diverse as international politics and where to get a decent sports bra.  Those times, and the joy of running on a travelator at an abandoned airport.  I get it then, what’s not to like?

just run

On a more positive note, for next time, I now also know there is a coffee shop on site, and a post-run coffee would be fab.  Pleasingly, even though the continuous running was quite limited, the total does exceed the minimum criteria for a Smiletastic run, coming in at around 2.8 miles I think.  How I love my TomTom, I’d never have known that before.  Now I just have to worry if this drill session will lead to my being deemed a ‘sandbagger’ as I still have parkrun and long Sunday run scheduled in.  The wrath of Smiley Guru Geek is something to be feared…

ecclesall woods 14 jan 2016

So thank you nice people at the Woodland Discovery Centre for hosting and welcoming, thank you nice Accelerate run leader for sharing your expertise, thank you nice uber-runner Smiley leader for being so positive and encouraging and thank you running companions all for being inclusive and non-judgemental as I tackled it all with wide-eyed apprehension rather than through revealing previously undiscovered latent running talent. As the saying goes – I’ll be back…

Categories: motivation, off road, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: