At the time of writing this, it is Saturday 10th July. Two weeks before parkrun restarts in England.
I should be excited. I should be very excited, but…with the prospect of my home parkrun not being able to find a venue in two weeks’ time, then there is a cloud looming on the horizon.
OK, so…Time to edge back from the abyss of self-pity and list some reasons to be cheerful. After all, every cloud has a silver lining…
Reason to be cheerful #1:
Today is my Wedding Anniversary. YAY. Thank you Mrs Bish for saying “yes”, some Summers’ ago, and for being my soul mate and best buddy ever since and for introducing me, some six years’ ago to parkrun and running in general.
Reason to be cheerful #2:
Just as parkrun is not about the running, parkrun coming back is not just about me or even my home parkrun, it’s about so many other people up and down this green and pleasant land who will, very soon, be able to meet up again outdoors, in a COVID-safe way. I am so pleased for the welcome relief and the mental refreshment this is going bring to so many Lockdown-weary folk. So maybe I am getting a little bit excited after all, even if it is by proxy.
They say good things come in threes so…
#Reason to be cheerful #3:
Two weeks’ ago, I took part in, and successfully completed, the Round Sheffield Run (RSR) which was my first longer-than-10K organised event. I am so chuffed with myself and grateful to friends and family who believed in me, even when, at times, I had wondered whether I was in danger of biting off more than I could chew.
When I signed up for this, back in early 2020, I had already realised that any trail of more than a few km in any direction around Sheffield wasn’t exactly going to be flat! This is what RSR’s website says about the course (note the euphemistic “unique character” epithet):
- 11 timed stages with unique character totalling 20km of great trails & Parkland.
- 9 Liaison stages in between timed stages that allow recovery – 100m-750m in length
- 600m of total vertical elevation.
That 600m ascent seemed daunting however I reasoned that, having ran exactly 100 times at my home parkrun at Tring, (rated in January 2019 as being the 17th hardest parkrun out of 580 parkruns in the UK ) this would stand me in good stead as I embarked upon the training for my Sheffield adventure. My training consisted of a series of long flat runs to extend my range from pre-existing 12k to just over 18k, alternating with shorter runs on the hilliest routes I could find locally.
And so it was…to cut a very long story short (about the ups and downs to my running mojo during Lockdown) that RSR day arrived, as did my wife and I, at Sheffield’s Endcliffe Park, (RSR’s start and finish point) ready to embark upon Sheffield’s first biggest outdoor event since Lockdown started.
It was great to be at a running event once more, after so many months of parkrun pause. Exciting. All inclusive. Covid-safe but sociable. A sort of parkrun on steroids. And best of all, we were greeted at the registration desk, by our best parkrun-buddy-from-the-north, and genial host from the previous evening’s Eve of RSR slumber party: Lucy Marris. (It’s not what you know but who you know that counts. After all, Lucy’s Mum is (parkrun Queen) Elizabeth of Elizabeth Corner at Bushy parkrun).
I had run at Endcliffe Park parkrun (then “Sheffield Hallam” parkrun) just before lockdown, so in a sense I was starting from the familiar. I was nonetheless a little nervous about the distance and terrain ahead of me. It was either going to be awesome or awful. As I set off, I was determined that it would be the former rather than the latter, helped by the atmosphere and camaraderie of fellow runners around me, the novelty of the new challenge that lay ahead and, last-but not-least, the lovely wooded trails and fast tarmacked paths in open parkland of Sheffield. Oh what sights were in store! ( “I’ve seen it in the (RSR) movies so let’s see if it’s true”) Who, (outside of Sheffield) knew, that the city and its suburbs had so many trees per square mile?!
I should say, at this point, that I had also given myself permission not to care (too much) about the (chronological) run time. I was minded instead to focus on staying within my ability, having a good time (in the non-chronological sense) and actually finishing the distance. In any case, I was going to have to take it easy, as I was nursing a minor ankle sprain sustained the week before whilst walking (not fell-running) down a mountain in the Lake District. I therefore resolved not to throw caution to the wind whilst tackling the uneven ground in some of the wooded sections, out of deference to my reduced agility. I didn’t want to have to retire hurt, but I certainly did want to run and finish the race, ideally in one piece.
I knew that the first two sections were going to be relentless ascents. Stage one didn’t seem to feel quite as bad as expected, so I was lulled into a false sense of security as stage two started. Yes, that was beginning to feel like hard work, but I wasn’t aiming to break any records (or my ankle for that matter) so I plodded onwards and upwards with the encouraging thought that, at this stage at least, the terrain was not any harder that the unique character-building hill in the first kilometre of Tring parkrun. I also had the downhill of stage three, prefaced by the first feeding station, to look forward to. (I was blissfully unaware, at this point, of what was in store for me on the ascent from Dore Station nor the guiles of the Brincliffe Edge stage).
With jelly babies gratefully devoured and sufficient water taken on board at the first feeding station, I embarked upon the downhill stage (three) with all the glee that my inner-child could muster; waving at photographers and drones along the way. I was just a bit wary, however, as to why this section was dubbed the Limb Valley Descent. (Segue to a trailer for the horror film: Descent into the Valley of Limbs). I certainly hoped that it had nothing to do with broken limbs sustained by previous RSR runners incautiously hurtling down the slope 😉
I won’t, you will be glad to read, give you a puff-by-puff commentary of the rest of the race. Probably not a good idea in any case, to be puffing in your face, dear reader, in these Covid-anxious times since, as you will have noticed, I am not wearing a mask on the run.
Suffice it to say that I soon settled into a comfortable rhythm of running and fast walking (or “Jeffing” to the initiated) in the timed sections. I also resolved to keep my pace fairly brisk during the liaison sections as well. I was worried that, if I let my heart rate get too low in the recovery stages, my body might start letting my brain know that I was getting tired and that would never do. Plenty of time for that self-talk post-race, quaffing a Thornbridge brew and munching on a bacon butty.
Anyway, I digress… Back to the summary of the middle sections…
After a while, I noticed that I had somehow kept up with a mini cohort of the same runners from various clubs, including two from Smiley Pacers (love that name!). And there was me, expecting that I would slowly see the whole of the first non-elite wave cruise past me and into the distance. But that was not to be. The RSR Guardian Angel was clearly watching over me and keeping me motivated.
The quasi leap-frog sequence of passing runners and being passed by the same runners ensued thus:
I’d set off on a particular stage and, mid-section, certain runners would gradually overtake me, sometimes after a brief spell of keeping the same pace. Then, when I’d arrived at the end of the timed section and duly “dibbed-out”, I recognised a few of the afore-mentioned runners still lingering between stages or slowly (by my way of thinking) making their way to the next set-off point. I would reach the next timed section and set off before the others had got there; only to be gradually overtaken once more. And so, the process repeated and before I knew it I had reached the head of Stage 8!
WOW. How did that happen! Where was that proverbial wall I was nervously expecting to hit, as recompense for my naïve folly in thinking I could do (almost) half-marathons!
The next two stages were a complete delight being mostly downhill. Stage 9 (Meersbrook Park) entices you to career downhill. However, it’s maybe worth relinquishing some of the potential runners’ high at this point, just to take in the view of part of Sheffield in the valley below.
Riding on the crest of a runners’ high at this point, coupled with the growing realisation that I was going to finish my longest (distance) race ever, I was distracted from spotting the dibbing-in point for Section 10!!. The following wise words from the RSR website should have been etched into my brain or at least written on a piece of paper and tied round my neck:
...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.
Mmm… Not sure why I didn’t spot the dibbing-in points by the mirror shop. I had been warned, but somehow my brain was looking out for a Marshall just next to an entrance to a wooded bit or a park, as most of the other stage starts had been so far. I’m sure the Marshalls next to the corner shop must have noticed my mistake and tried to attract my attention, but somehow I didn’t notice. (My fault).
Whilst I was walking up the hill, blissfully unaware of my error, one of my afore-mentioned accidental running buddies jogged past me with “Are you OK?”. I thought, “Well that’s kind (and very much in the Zeit Geist of the event) but why the concern? It’s not that I should be running at this point, surely!”
And then a little further on, I passed a Marshall who jovially greeted me with the following quip: “I see most things in this role, but I can’t see you walking!” ( Gotta say, I’m coming to appreciate Yorkshire humour. It takes a while but then, like an acquired taste, you come to appreciate the finer things of life, and Yorkshire humour is certainly one of them. With hindsight I am wondering if this Marshall could have also been the one at RSR6 who coined the phrase “Sheffield-flat” to describe the ascent from Dore station! Anyway..once more I have digressed….)
By the time I had got to the top of the hill and ducked into the wooded bit of Brincliffe Edge noticing the distinct absence of a dibbing point, it was then that the sickening realisation sunk in.
Dilemma!! Turn back to the dibbing-in point at the bottom of the road I had just come up or, press on to an inevitable “DNF”.
Decision! Press on! There’s a beast of a hill still to conquer. No sense in wasting energy with a U-turn at this late stage. Press on! Finish the race and resign yourself to a technical DNF. I know that I have stuck to the course. I know/reasonably expect by this stage that, ankle permitting, I am going to cross the finishing line with something vaguely resembling a sprint and a smile on my face, and a sense of achievement. And so it was, in the parkrun spirit of “my run – my way” and with almost a spring in my step, I eventually “dibbed out” at the end of stage 10, looking forward to running the last 400m back to where the day had started. Which I duly did, welcomed back by my best-parkrun-buddy-from-the-north; slightly emabarrased to admit my technical fault at gate 10, but nonetheless chuffed with getting this far without collapse or injury.
Thanks, dear reader, for joining with me on my RSR. I hope that you have enjoyed it. I certainly enjoyed your company. Maybe I will see you on the course, in person, next time.
Would I do it again? You bet! If for no other reason I want to get a proper official time. Maybe Winter RSR? The jury is still out on that one. After all, I am a nesh southerner!
Till my next blog. Stay safe. And, if you happen to be excited about the 24th July ( I know that I am) then enjoy your parkrun wherever you are. It’s your parkrun. Run it your way. And it is, not just about the running.