Snail Express

Posted on: 27 Jul 2016

Back from my sojourn in Sheffield, with lots to write up - not much running, admittedly, but plenty of walking. I arrived there Tuesday 21st June, J. followed 2 days later. With the Round Sheffield Run the following Sunday, we decided to give parkrun a miss for once (though not our traditional post-parkrun fish & chips!) It was seriously rainy, and I feared the worst.........

.........but in fact, it looked quite promising when I peered apprehensively out, the next morning: not only dry, but even halfway sunny. Long-sleeved tops, though, as that was the only matching pair we had with us, and I thought that as a team we should match. After a breakfast of cereal and toast and limited coffee (have I finally learnt my lesson?), we set off to walk the 2 kms down to Endcliffe Park. The sun came and went in teasing indecision, but the rain stayed away. We picked up our numbers, I took charge of the dibber, and as our allocated start time (9.30) approached, handed in our bags, except for the little rucksack we were taking with us. I kept a lookout for Smileys (and Viv), but they all had earlier start times and were already underway. There was a long queue of people waiting to set off, and after checking out the start to see how the dibber worked, we joined it, shuffling along until it was our turn. Insert dibber; a squeak and a flash; and off we went. All familiar territory here: Endcliffe Park, Bingham Park, and up the Porter Valley, dibbing out and in again at road crossings. The event's Facebook site had posted a slightly worrying video of the route here the previous day, showing the normally harmless little river racing stormily along and invading the path, but by now it had retreated again, and the way, though wet and muddy, was flood-free. I almost missed the first checkpoint, just before Forge Dam, and had to double back a few yards to dib out. (Quick recap: the race consists of 11 timed stages separated by recovery sections which can be walked; these latter are only timed in that they mustn't exceed the time allowed for them - they don't count towards the final total.) I had kept my jacket on while queuing to start, and set off still wearing it, but now it had to go.


Up to here, we had been running behind two women who had set such a perfect pace for us, I thought we might follow them the whole way. But they paused here to take photos, so we lost them. Dibbing in again after the short walk break, we now had to tackle the tough uphill section through Porter Clough to Ringinglow. There was a thoughtfully placed feed station at the top (some water, and a piece of banana), then the walk section along the road past the alpaca farm, the Norfolk Arms, and right at the Round House. By now, we were constantly being caught up/overtaken by people from subsequent start groups, but true to my intention to treat the 'race' more or less as a sightseeing tour, I didn't let it worry me. My Garmin was ticking off the minutes and kilometres on my wrist, but I barely gave it a glance all day.

Dibbed in again, and enjoyed a nice downhill along Limb Valley. After this, the geography starts to get a little vague in my mind - though I do remember vividly the extreme muddiness and slipperiness of the next section, through some tricky woodland (Ecclesall Woods), and nearly going a. over t. a couple of times.

Emerging onto a main road, the next walk section followed it past Dore station, up another road, and back into woodland again - though at least a long, steep flight of steps at the beginning of these woods was still included in the official walk break! (The organizers pointed out in the race instructions how kind of them this was!) A brief pause to catch our breath at the top of these steps (several other people doing likewise), then off again on the next run section, past Beauchief golf course. I had vague recollections of this part, and the next (Chancet Woods) from a previous Smiley run a couple of years ago. Both these sections went quite briskly, and were among our best, placing-wise; but the next, through hilly Graves Park, began to expose my recent lack of training, and I kept having to insert little spells of walking on the steeper parts. The longest of the official recovery sections followed (15 minutes, mostly along a main road, and including the second feed station at the end of it: water, bananas, jelly babies......... A cheery atmosphere prevailed here, people standing around chatting and enjoying the short break without the usual time pressures. The sun had definitively decided to shine, the early morning chill long gone - we couldn't have asked for better.

I was starting to feel mildly weary now, as we set off into the - for me - unknown territory of Lees Hall golf course. Little recollection of it, other than that it was trail, and mostly downhill. The next walk section was also quite generous (I was beginning to welcome them now!), again along road, to the top of Meersbrook Park, passing the lovely Bishop's House, an old half-timbered building, just by the start of the next run section. This was completely new to me - a part of Sheffield I had never been to before. There was a certain irony in this, in that at junior school, our 4 houses were named after Sheffield parks: Endcliffe (red), Weston (blue), Norfolk (yellow), and Meersbrook (green). Mine? - Meersbrook. The only one I had never been to. Good to put that right at last, even if it did take me over 50 years. The views over the city were stunning, as we careered down the steep hill. (Well, others careered........ I took it a little more steadily, in deference to my aged knees.) The next walk section, from the bottom of Meersbrook Park across to Brincliffe Edge, was quite a complicated one, involving crossing back over the main road again - I was glad of peolple to follow. And naturally, since in Sheffield what goes down also goes up again, a longish uphill plod through some residential roads, before more trail, and another park (Chelsea Park). A final walk section, more residential roads, down to Hunter's Bar; then the penultimate dib, and the final sprint through Endcliffe Park to the finish (not much of a sprint left in me, I'm afraid......... but I did my best), and reception of the well-earned medal.

Returning the dibber to the desk, I was impressed that they produced an immediate printout of our result (not that it made particularly impressive reading). 'Time for a Beer!' read the final instruction on the Race Card we had all been issued with - well, who am I to argue?! I thoroughly enjoyed it when I finally got it. (Long queue, on this now hot and sunny afternoon.)

Sat around on the bales of straw thoughtfully provided as seating and enjoyed the party atmosphere that prevailed in the park. I was still hoping I might see some of the Smileys (they had turned out in force for this race), but they were probably all home and showered by now. (Ditto Viv.) A louspeaker announcement reminded 'No. 2276' (oops, that's us!) that they still had a bag to collect. Poor lonely bag, all on its own........ I hurried to its rescue.......... and found it not there! Oh dear. But the lady at the adjoining tee shirt stand saw my consternation and beckoned me over - she'd rescued it and put it under her table. That reminded me I wanted to buy a tee shirt. Then it seemed like a good time to head home: another 2 kms (all uphill, of course) - making it an almost 29 km day in all. Plus all the elevation. Brilliant race format, however: some tough sections, but never too long, and always with a recovery section to look forward to. Our offical time: 2:26:00. Our 'Mixed Pairs' position.......... I will draw a discreet veil over! (but we weren't last.) Verdict: recommended. One to do again, maybe, but this time with some serious training behind me!   to see more.


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