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Soggy Bottoms at the Slog!

It has to be said that neither Amanda nor I can really claim to be hip and happening and with the zeitgeist and all that, seeing as we are not Bake-Off junkies. But even so, we are not ignorant of the Soggy Bottom, existential nightmare to pemmaphile and pemmaphobe alike!

['Pemmaphobia' appears to be at least a semi-real word for "fear of cake", according to Google that is, although it's not in my old printed Chambers. It's derived from a plausible ancient Greek word, though, 'πέμμα', meaning a cake, pastry, sweetmeat, etc. And it would seem the Romans simply transcribed it straight into Latin, 'pemma', so it has the rare distinction of being a word that one can argue is simultaneously both etymologically pure and an unspeakable mixed Latin/Greek bastard neologism of the sort that undoubtedly caused the downfall of the British Empire! [cf: 'television' and other such horrors]. 'Pemmaphilia' is even less well attributed in the literature — not at all that I can tell — but if the one exists, then logically so must the other.]

Oops... My point was going to be that the forecast suggests that the Surrey Slog is going to have soggy bottoms, tops, and everything in between if we're unlucky. Compare with other years where heat exhaustion has been the risk!

Let's see: 2011, Amanda's first, mostly sunny; 2012, hot and sunny; 2013, weren't there; 2014, warm but very humid; 2015, blazing sun; 2016 mixed sun and cloud; 2017, again mixed; 2018, definitely very hot; 2019, probably would have been nice if we'd been there; 2020, what 2020?!

Gosh, I hadn't realised quite how many Slogs we'd done until I went back to check.

But to the present!

The Duke of Kent School seems to have acquired a herd of wicker deer. They definitely weren't there last time.

Yes, that is a rather empty looking field below. In a normal year, it would be pretty much full of cars, but Covid-related uncertainty about whether the race was going ahead meant that the advance publicity was little and late. The weather forecast won't have encouraged anyone who was uncertain either, although right now it's dry if very dull. We did get some rain as we drove here, but not that much, so let's be hopeful.

Dave Porter tells me that when they were setting out the signs this morning, it was surprisingly warm up on the hill, much more so than down here. He reckons that it's re-emitting heat absorbed earlier in the week when the sun was shining.

The start is going to be in waves based on estimated finishing time, with the idea being that the fastest people go first so that the field will spread out rather than bunch up. Technically, we've been more or less free of Covid restrictions since the start of the week, but most event organisers are still being relatively cautious. Mind, yesterday we restarted parkrun and Bushy Park had well over a thousand participants, few of whom were thinking much about social distancing rather than the sheer joy of being back!

Anyway, here's the first wave — more a ripple really — being briefed by Ken before the start.

The 2021 Surrey Slog is go!

Phil waves from his wave.

As I take this picture I'm wholly unaware of the fact, but the chap behind him, whose name we presume is 'Tim' because that's what it says on his shirt, will feature again later.

Amanda and Claire start their race a bit later.

As those who have previously slogged (or just read previous blogs) will know, the start is a bit of a loop round the school grounds, so in the background we see earlier starters coming back in preparation for crossing over the road into the main area of the Hurtwood Estate where most of the race takes place.

The path leading up to the first mile, though, is very narrow, and in normal years very clogged up. I have to either head straight up before any of the runners get there, or wait until the last ones are clear if I'm not going to get in people's way. With today's small spread-out field, I should be fine behind the early runners but ahead of Amanda and Claire. Phil, I'm not sure about, we'll see.

So I'm just behind this woman, who seems to be at the back of her wave because there's nobody behind me that I can see for now.

Aha, I was ahead of Phil. It's easy not to block anyone when there's plenty of time to look back for approaching runners and stand aside if necessary.

A bit further along and here's Amanda. Technically, Claire is in this picture too, but she's completely obscured by the bloke in front of her. Amanda will later tell me he was very chatty and she thought he wanted to overtake, but there's a decent gap between them so I don't think he could have done.

Claire, on the other hand, was right behind him, but narrow paths and obstacles like kissing gates mean it's pretty much single file unless there's a huge mismatch in speeds.

The one-mile mark is where the trail starts to open out a bit.

It's very muggy, and the route has been and remains pretty much all uphill, so it's not exactly time to put on a spurt, even so.

Dave was going to be tail walker, but unfortunately for him, there are no properly slow entrants this year, so the poor boy is having to run.

Me, I'm definitely walking, because although we've got a bit of drizzly rain now, I've had to stop and take my waterproof off to cool down! It's not really that warm, but it's so humid that the first mile ascent had me sweating in my jacket and getting as wet as I would without it.

And before too long, it's absolutely tipping down. I think I might benefit from standing under a tree, but it doesn't really work. I'll just get soaked like everyone else. Fortunately, even though I'm not running, I'm still wearing tech fabric that doesn't get heavy and sodden. Jeans and a cotton T-shirt would be pretty horrible.

Here's a couple of Stragglers: despite the club not actually being part of the Mabac League (under whose auspices this race is run), they are apparently the largest team contingent. Initially Amanda was planning to run in a different shirt, and it was pretty much sheer dumb luck that she had her Stragglers shirt to change into at the last minute. (All her previous Slogs have been run as an independent.)

In years gone by, with the sun shining brightly on the purple heather, this has been a gloriously scenic moment. Ok, maybe not so beautiful if you have to run up it in the burning heat, but great for the photographer!

Phil manages to get his hat on before I can take a picture of him bare-headed. What's his problem with that? How should I know?!

Claire runs past one of the six water stations. Six? That's an impressive number for a half-marathon, some might think. But it can be counted differently: one. The runners pass through this general area half a dozen times from different angles, so the marshals just move their table slightly a few times and Robert's yer proverbial!

You can see another runner coming towards us just to illustrate the point.

Just up that rise is the Holmbury Hill viewpoint where I'm going to take pictures and set up Steve's Caff: water, energy/electrolyte drinks and flapjacks, but only for a very exclusive clientele. First, though, I need to avoid impeding another Straggler who's fairly close to the sharp end.

(I will find that I don't have any pictures of the winner apart from right at the start. Serves him right for running too quickly.)

Hmm... I'm at the viewpoint, but I don't think the runners are going to be distracted by the view today. At least the rain has stopped.

Some stop to admire it anyway. Or maybe just each other? That's Tim that I mentioned at the beginning, and Rowena who was the woman I followed down the dark alley. They started in different waves, but have been running together for most of the time now. One thing about the small field, you do get to notice people as you see them on multiple loops.

And here are the aforementioned exclusive clientele!

Amanda's got a problem with one of her shoes causing her severe pain. She's on the verge of tears and says she's on the verge of DNF-ing. Somehow I doubt it, though. She's a runner. Runners are not the kind of people who think, "this is a bad idea, I'd better stop". Lordy no!

[At a local event some years ago, I was standing by the Thames near a marshal, waiting for Amanda, when a woman taking a walk asked what was happening. "It's the <whatever> race", replied the marshal. "But why are they doing it?" she asked. The marshal was a bit flummoxed by this, to put it mildly. I explained: "There is a sensible part of the normal person's brain that runners simply don't have. That's why they do it." This was an entirely satisfactory answer to her.]

Ok, now the way the route works, I can't realistically see them again if I want to get back to the finish before them, though I can still take a good few pictures first. I therefore get a few more here and then head back to the 6=1 water station area.

I'm in time to catch Phil as he heads towards the return trail.

Soon I will need to do likewise.

I let this chap pass me, then as it's downhill and he claims to be bad at downhills, I run along with him for a bit, chatting. It's his first time, he's absolutely loved it, and is a bit surprised never to have heard of it before. I believe the Windmilers are the second-biggest club turnout, and ironically they are members of Mabac despite being notionally further away than the Stragglers who aren't.

As soon as the path stops being downhill, I let him pull away. My excuse is the weight of all my kit, of course, although I think it's a fair bet that I will win the 'fastest photographer of the day' prize.

It would not be a Slog blog without the cows. Amanda tells me she didn't even see them, but their field is where the narrow rutted path with barbed-wire fences runs, and a bit of tunnel vision is definitely advantageous.

In the past, we have often had big bunches here, and as they are released from the single-file track, there's a frantic last burst of speed to the finish. The problem with staggered starts is that you don't really know who you're racing with. This guy is on his own entirely, so does he need a final go-for-broke effort or doesn't he? At one point I do see a woman putting on a last-minute spurt to sucessfully pip another at the post, but was she 'really' ahead in the final analysis? Who knows....

Well anyway, Claire's happy!

And a little behind her, but not much, what did I tell you, it's Amanda. Death is (I think) acceptable as a legitimate excuse for DNF, but not much less.


The shoes are in the bin. Apparently they were "this year's model" of a shoe that worked well for her in the past. This seems to be something of a regular complaint amongst runners: "I bought XXX and it was great. This year it's XXX+1 and it's horrible!"

This surprises me, because it's a bit the way that people often respond to software: "Why has Windows X+1 changed from Windows X in this totally useless and annoying way?!" But in that case, there's actually a reason. Not a good reason from your point of view, but a reason nevertheless. You see, software doesn't wear out. If you buy something that does what you want, and what you want doesn't change, it will literally last forever. That's not such a good thing for anyone trying to sell software, because it means they never get any new business. So to make new sales, they have to have new 'features': something that will make their past customers into present customers again. That gets difficult if the original product basically met people's real needs, so you have to try and invent imaginary needs that you can convince people they have, and that only the latest and greatest version can satisfy.

Yes, it's bollocks, and it really annoys a lot of people, but it works well enough overall that it keeps happening.

But running shoes? Totally different! If you really like a pair of shoes, you'll wear them out in no time and be keen to buy exactly the same again.

So why does this not appear to be the case? I wish I knew. Well, maybe I do...

Back to software, in this case simply because it's my field, not because it's different.

I'm a techie. I want to do new things, ideally things that haven't been done before, and best of all things that nobody has done because nobody else has figured out how to do them. If what excites me happens to solve somebody's real-world problem, that's great, I'm delighted, but that's not the motivation. If somebody's real-world problem is solved by something that (from my POV) is really boring, that's not great. Yeah, up to a point I'll do it, but if it happens too much I'll start looking for another job.

I don't think of shoe design as cutting-edge engineering, but maybe that's my mistake. It would certainly explain the observed phenomenon of shoes being 'improved' in a negative way if the shoe companies' managements were making the same mistake.

Oops: </rant>, I think.

Almost last but not least: the final finisher (though not last by time when we get the results). She's still too fast for Dave to have kept up!

And talking to her later (her car is parked right next to ours) she says that she too is a first-timer who thought it was brilliant but more or less discovered it by accident.

The race is over, but we seem to have some gatecrashers!

It's a public footpath, of course, so we can't entirely control who makes use of it.

Well that's the 2021 Slog. Small but perfectly formed, I think one could say, and let's hope for a better 2022.

Now, many times after the Slog, we've been to the Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden, but this time we're going a little further afield, to the Sculpture Park near Thursley. We've been there before and would rate it as "good, but Hannah Peschar is better", but Claire's never been so that's our choice. First though, we need some lunch, and therefore a spot to have said lunch. We've been asked to leave the school grounds as quickly as possible, though, so not there.

We're not sure where, so we just head for our destination (ignoring Google's suggestion that going back on ourselves for nearly twice the distance would still be quicker) and before long find a small green on the outskirts of Ewhurst vilage.

We'll set up by the bus shelter-cum-library!


Despite the fact that there have been a few hints of improvement in the weather, indeed, almost a bit of sun for a couple of moments, we haven't finished eating before the heavens open again. Our waterproof picnic blanket helps to keep the ground dry, which is rather the opposite of what it's supposed to do.

So it's coats back on for the sculpture park. Everything is for sale, of course, but most of it is one or more of: too big, too expensive, too ugly. The bubbly glass globes, though, fit the bill nicely. We might have one or two of these.

These are definitely too big, and we would assume too expensive, but all three of us are rather taken by these deer made from random bits of tree branch. Kind of like the big brothers of the wicker deer at the Duke of Kent School now I come to think about it.

The rain continues unabated, and although we've not seen everything on show, it's time to call it a day. Hey, it gives us an excuse to go back again in better weather!

So on that soggy sloggy note, I bid you farewell.

Love to all,


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