Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Virtual races... why bother?

I had always been somewhat sceptical about the concept of 'virtual races.'  It seemed to me to be a bit of a con, pay over your hard earned cash, go out for a run that you were very likely going to do anyway, send your Strave/Garmin evidence to the organiser and receive a tacky medal in return.  I have enough bloody medals as it is without adding more to the pile just for the hell of it

And then Covid-19 happened.  I saw race after race that I was due to complete this year cancelled/postponed (did I mention that I qualified for Boston and London this year?) I know that there are much bigger disasters than a middle aged woman not being able to run around a city with a few thousand other people and then blog about it afterwards but I, like many others, had worked hard, planned hard and saved up the air fare for these races and they left a huge hole in my calendar.  Almost worse though was the lack of a fixed date in the future to aim for, I'm all for running for the sake of running - but it is lovely to be able to have an event that looms large that everything is building towards.

And I missed people!  I missed the sound of thousands of pairs of trainers pounding the streets, I missed listening to snatches of conversations (and making up the rest in my head) and the bizarre conversations with strangers - some of whom I would never see again and others who, via the magic of social media, would become friends who I would see again on line and at races over the years to come.

As the implications of Covid-19 became apparent the number of virtual race opportunities hitting my in box grew.  I ignored them.  For quite a long time.  Then a couple of races I was running with Phoenix Running offered me the opportunity to 'go virtual' and I thought, what the hell!  The medals are awesome, the race organiser is an utter legend (google Rik Vercoe) who really goes the extra mile for his runners and there is an excellent online community that has sprung up around his races.  Oh - and the inclusion of a Freddo or packet of Haribos with every medal has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with my desire to run his virtual events.  It still felt a bit odd to be claiming a medal for what was essentially a training run... but the chocolate Freddos are delicious!

Then a friend sent me a link about 'The Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee' - a four month long, 635 mile challenge to run, virtually, across Tennessee.  And yes, I know that it is not the same as being in Tennessee (it is flatter out there than it is where I live for one thing), but I have learnt a lot about Tennessee from people posting details in the Facebook page, runners from all around the world have shared pictures and stories about the places they live.  The basic run across Tennessee involves averaging 5 miles a day for 4 months, something that, when I started seemed manageable.  As the days went by and I logged my miles I realised that I could, if I applied myself run back across Tennessee too.  I finished my 635miles at the weekend and have started making my way back to the virtual start to look for my car in the car park, high fiving all the other runners on the way back (and there are a lot of them, over 19,000 runners entered this event, far more than Laz Lake of Barclay Marathons fame ever anticipated when he first proposed this event).

At the same time as I was finishing my trek across Tennessee I was taking part in Phoenix Running's 'P24 Longest Day' virtual event. The format was deceptively simple.  Go for a run of at least one mile on Saturday at 8am, repeat every hour on the hour for 24 hours.  This was a virtual event that felt a lot more 'real' than most.  We had a pre race briefing (in the comfort of my kitchen) via Facebook live, virtual marshals who posted messages throughout the 24 hours to keep us motivated, and runners posted updates and photos as they finished their miles.  It almost made waking up to run at 2am in the rain bearable!  

I sneakily used the miles from P24 to complete the Hampshire Hoppit marathon - normally a small, low key, trail marathon with plenty of hills!  I signed up for this one purely because I wanted to support a local business - one that would have paid out significant expenses prior to the cancellation being announced.  I think that is a pretty good reason to run a virtual too.

That said, I'm not hugely looking forward to running Boston as a virtual marathon...

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

What's in a name?

Maybe I have just been locked in my house for too long, but I really think that today's events would have angered me whenever they had happened.

It is really very simple.  Way back in April I heard that ProDirect Running were allowing people to personalise their range of parkrun apricot t-shirts.  What a brilliant idea, I thought, a way to show my support for parkrun during the lockdown closure of all parkruns and to support them financially.  I ordered a t-shirt for my 16 year old (personalisation 'I still hate running') and one for me, the personalisation is shown in the photo below 'running dick'. i.e. one of my favourite hobbies and my surname.  The shirts arrived, we loved them.  We got to thinking about how we could justify buying more.  They aren't cheap - but they are good quality, so you are getting what you pay for.

Chatting online with a running buddy one evening we were bemoaning the fact that every single race we have entered is cancelled, including the wonderful Endure24 which, having taken part in as solo runners in the past, we were entering as a pair for the first time and now won't get the chance to run until June 2021.  Our team name, because we couldn't think of anything better, was just our surnames.  Team Bigg Dick. We were talking about getting team kit organised when I had what I thought was a good idea, we could support parkrun and get good quality kit at the same time.

I did the order.  I waited a few days, far longer than I waited for my first order, but that's fine, they are busy, delivery services are working overtime at the moment.  What I didn't expect was this email:

I am contacting you today in regards to your parkrun order. 

Unfortunately, we are unable to personalize your request due to the offensive language that has been used. Can you please provide an alternative and we will be happy to update this for you.  

If you have any further queries, please feel free to contact us via Pro:Direct Live Chat or via a reply to this email.

Best Regards,


I emailed back.  I was cross. For years we have had to fight automated systems because of our surname.  My daughter was blocked from her own school's computer system for using her surname when trying to set up a folder to save her work, my oldest son was bullied at school because of his name and suffered long term consequences - but the people telling him his name was offensive were children, not adults.  I pointed out that they had already printed my name on a t-shirt, but just got a reply saying they 'were not able to personalise the item with the current choice of word.'  I realised that I hadn't actually been told which word they objected to... maybe I had jumped to conclusions... maybe it was the other shirt I had ordered for Husbando ('I'd rather be in Vegas') that was the sticking point.  So I asked for clarification.  Apparently they are not able to print 'team bigg dick' on a shirt.  Clearly they are 'able' to - they just choose not to.   ProDirectRunning  still have not explained what the actual problem is.  I have reminded them that they are simply our surnames, one of which appears on the order and which they had no problem in printing on an address label.

I am livid.  If my name was anything else it wouldn't be an issue.  And I really don't understand why my name wasn't offensive in May but has suddenly become so in June.  It is ridiculous not to allow me to have my own name printed on an item.  Probably just as well I am such a mediocre runner - imagine if I was a successful runner and ran with my name on my bib rather than a number - would I be banned from races.   I am surprised the BBC allow Cressida Dick to have her name come up on the screen... and the sci-fi author Philip K Dick ('Do androids dream of electric sheep?/Bladerunner') must worry about having his name scrubbed off his book covers.  Heck, I'm pretty sure I have name badges with my 'offensive' name on them that I've worn when dealing with the public... whatever were my employers thinking?

All we wanted was our names on a shirt and to support parkrun... instead I just feel really upset and angry.  It isn't very nice to be told that your name is offensive.  I'm a Dick and proud of it.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

What's next?

When running events started cancelling, it seemed that anyone who dared to mention that they were upset or disappointed was subject to criticism on Facebook and Twitter (and probably real life, but I don't get out much so don't get to experience that).  I can see both sides... you've trained for something, planned for something and then it is taken away.  On the other side, Covid-19 is a big deal.  I've lost count of the number of races I have had cancelled - but the only one that really matters is Boston.  Hopefully I'll get to run the rescheduled race in September.

But the cancellation of races, and today the cancellation of parkrun hits hard because it is symptomatic of the fact that so much of what we take for granted is no longer available for us.  This is happening at a time when many of us are losing our normal routine of work.

Friday will be my last normal day at work.  I don't know when we will be back at school and, if I am honest, it is a terrifying prospect.  Logistically it is going to be a nightmare delivering lessons remotely, trying to engage, enthuse and educate children via a laptop in my kitchen, while trying to chivvy my own children into getting on with their school work and not devouring the contents of the fridge within minutes of me getting back from the supermarket.  My first hurdle is getting to grips with Microsoft Team and then scanning all the material so that I can share it...

But the bigger problem is relationships.  I love the teaching part of my job - being in front of a class, doing whatever it takes to get a room full of students to understand the Krebs cycle... I love my colleagues too.  I work with a group of highly motivated professionals who are all committed to the same thing that I am committed to - educating the next generation.  Yes, we may moan about the behaviour of a certain class, whinge about the ever increasing demands from management and have collective a collective grump fest about having to write eleventy billion reports before the end of the week, but on the whole we love it... there is no way we'd do it for the money we are on if we didn't.  I made the mistake of telling a non teacher friend how much I earned the other day... after teaching for 10 years.... I think they are still laughing....

I don't know what the next few weeks will bring.  I know that I am going to miss my students, the drive to work, the routine, the banter in the staff room and the friendships. While we are all working remotely I think it is imperative that we keep in contact, I'm not sure what that contact will look like.  I am concerned that working from home will allow work to take over my life in the way it did when I first qualified as a teacher.  I must strive to remember that the kitchen is still the place where I sit with friends and family to share a few drinks and laughs, it is only temporarily my workplace.  Social isolation cannot last forever.

But first, we have two more days... two days in which we need to calm the younger children down and remind them that it is not a holiday, hold the hands of the yr11 and yr13 students as we wait to find out what will happen with regard to GCSEs and A'levels and spend hours scanning worksheets...