Saturday, 18 February 2017

Tendonitis 0, Parkrun 1

Just a quick update, as you were all so lovely about my knee problems yesterday. Parkrun went really positively this morning. My Physio had told me as long as the pain remained about 3-4 on a scale of 10 I was good to keep running. Any higher would have meant a fortnight off training. As it was, it stayed at about 1-2 most of the way round which was far better than he or I had expected, and disappeared completely after the run. 

I ran with patella bands on, goodness those things are amazing! They support the patella, the tendon below it and the muscles above, so lift all the pressure away. I'm wearing them constantly for a week and so far so very good. As a small aside, I learnt an interesting knee fact during my physio session yesterday. Many people associate running with bad knees and blame the increased force passing through the knee. Your knee experiences twice the force of walking going through it when you run, but it has evolved to cope with five times the force of walking, so running alone is not what causes bad knees. The culprit is usually upping distance and/ or speed too quickly and not giving your body sufficient time to rest, recover and adapt between sessions. I think my problem has been upping the distance too quickly, because I felt so good on it. Anyway, lesson learnt.

I was eminently sensible and jogged round the three miles very slowly this morning (as per strict and stern Physio-Steve instructions) and came in in a little over 29 mins, about 550th of 870. Normally I'm around 23-24 mins and in the top 200. I found running at that pace quite tough. It took all my self-control not to pick up the pace and crack on. It was a good test of discipline I guess. Luckily I had the iPod with me and contented myself timing the pace to the music. The result was I wasn't remotely out of breath at the end and didn't really feel like I'd had a run, but it's what the knees need at the moment so I'll stick to it until the Physio gives the thumbs up for picking up the pace and distance again.

At the moment (cautiously), next weekend's 10k is looking like a goer, as is the Cub, but we'll wait and see. I'll probably bin the 5 mile road race that's on between the two, just to be on the safe side. Today I am feeling MUCH happier about the whole thing. The breathing, core stability muscle work, acupuncture, ultrasound, massage and ice packs all seem to be doing what they should.

Finger's Crossed, eh? :o)

Friday, 17 February 2017

A Kingfisher Comes

I've lived in this house by the lake ten years and I've seen the kingfisher who lives here with us twice. Once, in a flash of blink-and-you'll-miss-me electric blue flying fast and low across the water about eight years ago, and once for a handful of seconds perching beside our Robin on the garden fence three summer's back. 

This morning, as I was getting ready for the Physio I became aware of an unusual, out-of-place colour and shape in one of the trees by the lake. I grabbed the bins, already knowing what it was and drank in the sight of her. She sat there for half an hour, preening, looking at the water, occasionally turning her beak to stare at me. I was utterly spell-bound and very nearly late for the appointment. You can tell this is a female because of the orangey red lower bill (the boys' beaks are all black). Kingfishers can live for up to twelve years and they pair off in Feb/March, laying eggs in April so hopefully there will be a Mr KF around somewhere nearby. Their numbers and ranges were dropping thanks to water pollution, but since the 1980s they've recovered a little. They take insects including dragonfly larvae as well as small fish so I'm wondering whether we may see them in the garden up by the goldfish and wildlife ponds at some point. Magic, isn't she? And ever-so-slightly woodpecker-like - or is that just me?

After a slightly gloomy-in-the-not-running-department week, seeing her cheered me up no end, a feeling enhanced by my Physio Steve, who declared himself pleased with knee progress and wants me to try a small, sensible, slow Parkrun tomorrow with the patella braces I've got for tendonitis on. The difference they make is amazing. If running is very painful tomorrow then I'm off games for a fortnight, but still in with a chance of doing the Cub. We just have to wait and see. After acupuncture and ultrasound today it's feeling pretty good and I'm walking without any pain at all. Here's to the power of a good Physio and plenty of positive thinking.

Hope you're all well? The sun is shining here and it's Half Term as of four o'clock. We are definitely ready for it.

CT :o)

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Parkrun In The Snow and Injury, with Only 26 Days To Go!

I've had four days off running, nursing my left knee. The timing is bloomin' annoying as it's now only TWENTY SIX DAYS till the Cub and I really could be doing without running-related knee pain restricting my training when a nine mile cliff run is looming in less than four weeks' time.

I'm having treatment for it. We've worked through a diagnosis (certain muscles not firing properly and putting strain on others which are doing extra work as a result, as well as core muscle strength needing some attention and belly breathing for the whole lot), and the lovely Viv (runner and sports therapist extraordinaire) is confident I'll be OK to run the race, provided I take it easy until then. Those of you who run will understand that, while I know I am nine mile fit and reasonably hill-proof (to a point!) and I can get round based on the training I've done to date, I really want to run it well and I'm frustrated at the curbing of my training.

On the plus side, I don't know a single runner who hasn't had to cope with injury at one time or another. We have lots of friends who are ultra endurance runners and they just take it as part of the sport. You just have to factor it in and be sensible about rest and getting treatment. There are two races before the Cub, a 10k and a 5 mile, both on roads. They may end up being sacrificial victims if I decide my knee isn't strong enough to do all three. It's interesting how some races mean more to you than others. I'll be sad to miss the other two, but I'd be absolutely gutted not to run the Cub. If I have to I will be crawling round it on my hands and knees, face set in Grim Determination :o)

I didn't do Parkrun on Saturday as a result and to be honest I was rather glad not to: it blew a blizzard and it was freeeeeeezing. M ran it in shorts (!) but most others were in head-to-toe thermals. I volunteered instead and was helping out with the funnel. Persuading exhausted runners to keep moving along to the token point and to keep in their race positions was an interesting experience! I met a lovely Czech lady called Varma (I think- we were so muffled with layers it was hard to hear her name properly). She's a maths lecturer. My maths is crap not very good so I was keen not to get into too deep a conversation about fractions and formulas lest I betray my ignorance  We did flamboyant and giggling star jumps together instead to keep warm until the first runners appeared (in a little over 15 mins, which for a three mile run is just rude, no?) :o)

I did get out for a 2.5 mile trot round the fields with the doggy folk this morning. As an experiment. The knee help up until the last half mile and now its aching again. So more half clams, plank, belly breathing and various other abdominal, glute and quad exercises for me, plus another session with Viv on Friday. On the plus side it was lovely to be running again. We had a close encounter with a buzzard who wasn't at all bothered about us running past him while he stood on the ground, and two skylarks who rose into the air trilling. They've just started again so that means Spring is definitely on the way.

Hope you're all well?


Friday, 10 February 2017

February, Iron Clad Among The Birds


Pink Punk-Rocker Female Hazel Catkins are out on the bough now

Male and female hazel catkins together

February has settled in with iron. It is freezing here at present. The temperature may say three degrees but I think someone's forgotten to tell the air. It's flowing straight down from the North East and it feels colder than it has in ages. It is Proper Winter; I've been smelling snow on the air since last night and this evening, while walking the hounds through the fields around the time of the gloaming, it came; a flew flakes floating down out of the clouds, speckling the air around us.

The birds are flocking to the garden at the moment, making sensible use of the energy-giving fat sources they know are always available here. Keeping up with demand has been a full time job these past few days. They're getting through a suet-filled coconut half a day, as well as peanuts, fat balls and seeds. Whenever I look outside there are woodpeckers, great tits, blue tits, robins, dunnocks, blackbirds, collared doves, chaffinches, long tailed tits, pigeons, coal tits, nuthatches, sparrows, goldfinches, a marsh tit, a song thrush and a moorhen all clustered round the feeders hungrily eating up whatever they can get their beaks on. The lawn heaves as if it is a feathered thing.

This afternoon I discovered a little Dunnock lying stunned and disoriented on the patio beside the greenhouse. Pop was keen to investigate closely but I managed to persuade her it was better to let the little feathered friend be and give it time to gather its senses, which it did, eventually flying off into the hedge. I was glad. I am very much concerned for them all in this cold snap and losing your life after an altercation with a greenhouse, having survived December and January, seems most unfair.

There are siskin about this week, in great numbers. I hear them all whistling and popping in the trees that line the lake near the house, although we rarely see them. Occasionally a Brave Male will venture into the garden and everyone else is very accommodating and shares the feeders with him, eyeing the colourful speckled green plumage enviously (apart from the goldfinches, obviously- after all, if you've got red and yellow on you what's a bit of lemony-green?). 

We had a Tree Creeper pay us a visit this week- I saw him crawling up the trunk of the willow as I lay in bed looking out of the window at the cold, grey sky summoning the courage to get up. I tried to point him out to M, but of course they are so perfectly blended with tree trunks that he couldn't see the little one at all. It's only the second time I've seen one in the garden so I was thrilled.

When I did get up, it was to see the Heron fishing on the edge of the lake. He is huge and very mistrustful of people. He will just about tolerate me, as long as I don't make a noise or move, but anyone else comes near and he's off, great wings open to the air and feet trailing behind him. I see him most days - he is my new avian love :o)

Further out, beyond the boundaries of the garden into The Wild that surrounds the house, heard but not seen, are greenfinches, bullfinches, green woodpeckers, a little grebe, a kingfisher and a pair of stock doves. The stock doves have a kind of revving purr, like an engine getting going. They've been at it for a while now, sorting out their territory. The Kingfisher, (who once sat beside one of our Robins on the garden fence!) whistles. The bullfinches utter soft, single 'boos' year round, and the greenfinches make a trilling sound, like rolling your r's with your tongue. I hear far fewer of them and I worry that their numbers are down. The green woody yaffles as he flies, predicting rain, and the little grebe calls only once Spring has really got going. He doesn't let up for the summer then but falls silent again as the light fades from the year.

Out in the fields the calls are different still: the cackling of huge flocks of fieldfare (who are sensibly staying put in Hampshire while their Scandinavian homelands are deep in colder winters than we get here) greet me whenever I venture out into the land. A few redwing are mixed in with them but they are almost always silent, distinguishable at a distance by the fetching Adam And The Ants eye stripe they wear, as opposed to the creamy grey tail base of the fieldfares. Starlings still cling together in sizeable flocks, whistling and sliding up and down the scales in very un-birdlike ways. Rooks gather, settling in the tops of winter roosts like ragged black hankies, cawing as we pass beneath them, the odd jackdaw or three thrown in beside them for good measure. The Ravens come in from the fields to cross over the house most days, groinking. There is something ancient and wonderful about a Raven's call. I find I am smiling and my heart surges whenever I hear it. They love to play in the sky, as if for the pure joy of being able to. You can almost hear them sigh with pleasure as they stretch wings and twist and turn and tumble effortlessly through the air.  
I watched one this week doing just that, turning somersaults with such abandon that you find yourself rushing forward with arms outstretched and your breath caught in your throat, anxious to catch him, certain he will fall out of the sky, so little attention does he seem to be paying to the way the land is rushing up to meet him. But of course, he knows exactly what he's doing. A Raven would no more fall out of the sky while turning somersaults than a flying bat would get caught up in your hair. 

Possibly my favourite call of winter is the 'chiswick-chiswick' of the Wagtails. Greys and Pieds are still out in the fields and occasionally I get them at home too. Once you've heard the call it's very easy to distinguish so go out and have a listen for them if you're UK based.  They too are guaranteed to make you smile. Such dear little birds. 

My bird friends do not withdraw and fall silent with the darkness; on clear, frosty, moonlit nights such as the one's that's brewing outside now, the Tawny Owls wake and call to one another. The females' 'kee-wick' answered by the familiar 'hoo. Hoo, hoo, hoo, hooooo' of the male. Once or twice they have been kind enough to answer me as I hung out of the bedroom window calling to them. Once, I got the shock of my life when one floated on silent wings out of the night and landed on the fence a few feet away. I nearly fell out of the window when he replied. M of course found the whole thing very funny. In the morning there was an owl pellet left for me by the gate, the tiny bones of voles twisted through it a network of shards of black glass. 

Are you feeding the birds where you are? Every little helps :o)

Have a good weekend all,


Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Fell Shoes 1: Muddy Fields 0

In anticipation of running nine miles across muddy cliffs and over ankle-zapping pebbly beaches in a little over a month's time, I've been getting used to training in fell shoes. Sparer than either road or trail shoes, fell shoes are more versatile than cross country spikes in that you can run on roads in them, while still having the benefit of nobbly bottoms (don't say a word), that afford grip in boggy conditions. 

M won an age category at a marathon last year and was given a fifty quid voucher for a local running shop as a prize. He kindly donated it to me so I could get the fell shoes. With all the rain we've had here these past ten days they have come into their own and I am flying with confidence down muddy, slippery slopes where previously I trod with caution.
I think it probably says something about me that my favourite and most treasured shoe collection has little to do with kitten heels or expensive leather boots and instead consists of brightly coloured gor tex in various grades of cushioned sole :o)

The cold bug is still lurking so, mindful of that and the knees (which are improving with the right exercises- the culprit is the gluteus medius- you'll find me doing lots of corrective half clams throughout the day), I've been keeping training steady with regular three mile sessions during the week as well yoga, Parkrun on a Saturday and a long run on Sundays. I'm averaging 15-20 miles a week with some hills thrown in for good measure, which I reckon is about right.

This Sunday I decided to take the phone with me so I could show you what the Chalk runs we do locally are like. This one is an eight miler that goes across some lovely countryside through woods and valleys, over parkland and up along the top of a huge Chalk escarpment. It includes the Famous Chocolate Mousse Hill, although I'm not convinced you get much of a sense of scale from the photos.

The dogs know the way and set off ahead up the track, an old Green Lane that escaped the embrace of tarmac and as a result retains echoes of the way-farers of the past.

This is a view I am very used to... M and dogs out in front. Much of our long runs follow this pattern :o)

The way leads across fields through an old farm yard where geese wander and ducks waddle...

Then it's down a deceptively steep claggy hill, across a lane, through some woods, up a hill, over a stile and out onto a private drive, climb over a gate into parkland where Curious Cows graze, over another stile, down a footpath and out onto a lane where Ted is sometimes allowed to remain off the lead because he stays at heel. Pop, to her indignation,  remains on the lead because she's naughty :o)

A quarter of a mile along the lane a hole opens in a hawthorn hedge. The path beyond snakes up through fields high onto The Chalk. There are lumps of flint and the ground is hard here, glassy when it rains. A kestrel flew over my head as I navigated my way through the hedge. It lacked the silver head of the male so must have been a female: I watched it soar above us for a moment before turning to climb up on to The Chalk. Steadily, steadily, ever up. Pop likes to quarter pheasants in the wood on the right. You can gauge her progress from the position of the indignant squawks. Ted stays on the field side, keeping a wistful eye on any birds that explode out of the trees. 

At the top of the climb a stile leads into a beech wood....

And on the other side another stile, which Ted always finds hard to navigate. He whimpers, worried that we'll leave him behind. I show him where badgers have nudged the fence up and made a respectable Ted-sized hole through which he wriggles, clearly relieved, while Pop waits impatiently on the other side having long since leapt over the stile with her Pa...

Stopping to take photographs to document the run means I fall further behind than normal, and while Pop is happy to run on ahead, implicitly trusting that I'll catch up eventually, Teddy is anxious if we're not all in sight at the same time. He does not like his family to be too far apart. I hear him before I see him, as I emerge from the wood out onto the Chalk, high above the rest of the world. He has a particular bark he does when he's worried: it's mid way between an instruction and a plea to catch up. He finds me coming out of the trees; there is a worried look on his sweet face that catches at my heart.

His relief when I put the phone away and start running again is evident. He stays just a little in front of me, turning his head every now and then to make certain I am following. We soon catch up with the others and enjoy a half mile or so of flat ground before the land dips again, this time tumbling away down the Chocolate Mousse Hill which is heavy-going after the rain. It isn't long before the base of my fell shoes are thick with mud, the added weight of it tugging at knees and ankles. M and the dogs become specks in the distance as they disappear down the gradient.

I run all the way down and all the way up, which is an improvement. At the top the path snakes between two fields passing gates gloopy with mud where horses gather to watch us, and on into the woods where a cinder track winds through the trees. It's pockmarked with puddles. I run through them, washing off the mud. Ted skirts around them; M jumps over them and Poppy aquaplanes through, her vigorous shake afterwards scattering hundreds of droplets of muddy water in a brief, rainbow-shimmering arc.

It's another mile or two back to the car over the fields. By now we're in a steady rhythm of running, side by side and chatting, turning over the week that's been; our achievements and the things we want to work on; the children and how they're getting on; friends; colleagues; irritations and joys; what the week ahead brings. The dogs know the route well and settle into a different rhythm themselves: Ted's labour-saving economical trot, shaving the corners off so he can catch up without exerting himself  Pop still surging ahead, racing off, circling back. The GPS attached to her collar switched itself off at 4k, but we reckon she must run a good mile further than the rest of us.

We reach the car in about an hour twenty, which is not fast but not too bad given the terrain, the cold bug and two sets of aching knees (M managed to slip on ice last week and has wrenched something. It's all about the knees in our house right now). 

All my focus now and for the next month is on finding and understanding that steady rhythm that will carry me round the Cub. All thoughts of hitting time targets have ebbed away, although I'm sure they'll be back once the Cub is done. The discipline of running has become the glue that holds my days together. I'm not sure where I'd be now without it.

Certain folk were gratifyingly sleepy that night. There's nothing quite so cosy as a dog stretched out asleep in front of a fire after a long day, eh?

Hope all are well?

CT :o)

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Training Resumes

I got up this morning, looked outside at the pouring rain, the heavy, grey clouds, the torrent of water sluicing down the middle of the lane turning it into a small river, the standing pools of water that had collected in the garden overnight and my first thought was: excellent, the cold feeling has gone, I can go out for a run!

There is nothing like an upcoming competition only five and a half weeks away to focus the mind. I did a steady three miles this morning, as a nod to the recent cold bug, and it went well. No complaints from lungs, no heavy, tired limbs, quite happy in fact splashing through puddles and sliding across soggy fields with two wet and muddy dogs. It rained the whole way round but at ten degrees it was quite warm and perfectly fine t-shirt weather. I can't stand feeling too warm when I'm running and any discomfort experienced in the first five minutes soon goes once you've warmed up. It's worth putting up with a little unpleasantness at the start to be the right temperature for the bulk of the training. 

I kept both dogs on leads once we got into the fields because Pop has rolled in FP twice this week already (yesterday I put my finger in it, thinking she'd got a blob of mud on her collar- absolutely disgusting) and I couldn't face another stinky dog day. Ted is definitely more of a fair weather runner and hung back slightly to make the point he wasn't wholly chuffed at being out running in a storm, but Pop runs gamely on whatever conditions you throw at her. We sunk into some sandy mud at one point. Bearing in mind her little legs are only a few inches long this had much more of an immediate impact on her than either me or Ted, and yet she just shook herself vigorously afterwards and carried on regardless. Pop's attitude to life is a real tonic. 

Once we got back out onto the lanes I smiled at a car who kindly stopped beside an enormous lake of water that had gathered right across the tarmac, clearly worried about not splashing us. By that point though we were wet through and my legs looked like I'd been through a bog so there seemed little point in being ladylike about it- we ran through the middle of the lake (added bonus of washing my trail shoes clean) causing the man in the car to stare at me with what I translated in my head as admiration but was probably horror. A little later on I glared at a woman in a very expensive-looking sleek sports car who nearly ran us over, so intent was she on not scratching her paintwork by pulling over nearer the hedge to give us room not to be squashed.

By the time we got home half an hour later we were all cheerfully muddy and dripping with rain. After I'd refilled the bird feeders (startling the male Great Spotted Woody who was nibbling peanuts and is allergic to anyone even glancing at him), and stretched out in the garden (watched from indoors by two solemn-looking doggies), I decided to give both the dogs a warm shampoo in the bath. Ted submitted with a sigh while Pop (who went second) legged it when she saw me coming and dived under the table. I retrieved her (much to her annoyance) and she stood in the bath shivering and throwing reproachful glances at me from under dripping eyebrows as the water ran brown with silt and mud. Drying Poppy with a towel after a bath is like rubbing down a recalcitrant, slippery child. I managed about four seconds before she slipped out of my grasp and took off down the stairs at break-neck speed. She took the final four steps in one great impossible flying leap, skidded to a halt at the bottom, and then, knowing I couldn't reach her, shook herself all over the walls. Sigh. I had a nice warm shower. There is nothing like a hot shower after a cold, wet run (even if the dogs don't appreciate it).

I do have an ache on the inside of my left knee when I run at the moment, which is a nuisance, but I'm on it, having some treatment and working on strengthening the muscles in that area and my balance, which my sports therapist tells me often impacts on knees. I sometimes get headaches after I've run too, I think from neck and shoulder muscles tightening, so next week I'll get some treatment for that too. You just have to be sensible about maintenance with these things. I want to run so I do all the necessary looking after to enable that.

It's All Good Stuff.

Hope you're all having a Good Day, wherever you are and whatever you're doing.

Happy Days, eh?!

CT :o)

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Running The Cub, RSPB Bird Watch and Free Speech, Anyone?

It's a gloomy day here: wet, misty, dull and murky. I have a cold which has stopped play as far as running goes (for the moment) and as a result I'm feeling a bit grumpy about the enforced inaction. I felt rubbish with it yesterday but it's already lifting a little so I'm not planning on sitting still for much longer.

I can't even if sitting still for lengthy periods were in my nature because I have a new running target in my sights. Every March a race called The Grizzly takes place in Devon. It goes along twenty miles of cliffs, rivers, streams, bogs and beaches around Seaton, Beer and Branscombe. M has done it many times and got his place for this year in the ballot last September. A scaled-down version called The Cub runs alongside The Grizzly, comprising nine miles over the same cliffs and beaches. Places for both are hotly contested and around this time of year a frenzy of swapping tickets goes on, with people who weren't lucky in the ballot desperate for the tickets of those who were, but are now unable to run for whatever reason. You can change your Grizzly ticket for entry to the Cub and that is what my dear husband has done. He'e given me his Grizzly entry so that I can run The Cub. He's planning to take his bike so he can cycle out to strategic places on the course and shout me on (or possibly pick me up and cycle me home if I've collapsed!).

Setting this week aside for getting rid of colds gives me five weeks to train. It will mainly be about getting hill fit as the distance shouldn't be a problem. I ran 12k at the weekend (7.5 miles) with some hills thrown in for good measure and was fine. The Cub will be about 15k and the terrain is tough. I'm under no illusions: I know it will be a challenge and I'm by no means taking getting round in one piece for granted, but as you'll have realised by now I like having a tough goal to work towards so I'm looking forward to the training and to the race.

I did my RSPB garden birdwatch on Monday and had good results. More or less everyone who should have showed up did so I returned entries for Robins, Dunnocks, Blue tits, Great tits, Blackbirds, Nuthatches, Wood Pigeons, Collared Doves, Great Spotted Woodies, Siskin, Starling, Jay, Magpie, Sparrow, Coal Tit and Moorhen.

Last week the dogs and I watched a Barn Owl hunting along the hedges a little before dusk. We were out for an end-of-day walk and he just appeared, floating above the field maple and hazel. It was magical. He was mobbed by two indignant crows who took exception to his presence, and ended up sitting in a tree a few feet away from where we were standing, entranced. I'd forgotten how small they are. They look huge when flying.

I have so far refrained from mentioning the new American President on my blog, but yesterday I was sent a petition from which I want to share with those of you who haven't seen it yet.

On Mr Trump's Inauguration Day, at least six journalists were arrested for covering the protests held in response to his becoming President. The petition states that they were there in a recording capacity only, that they had their ID documents with them stating who they were and that they showed these to the police. They were arrested anyway, and charged with felony rioting, which carries a maximum prison sentence of ten years and a $10,000 fine. Three have since been released but the others haven't. The petition was at 20,000 signatures when I signed it last night: this morning it stands at 74,000.

I haven't signed the petition calling for Mr Trump's state visit to the UK to be cancelled, because I am holding to the hope that we can lead by example and show him how mindful, decent people behave and also because I would like him to have to confront the peaceful demonstrations that will inevitably occur here as a response to his presence in our country, demonstrations he won't be able to dismiss as fake news or an over-exaggeration of the press. But I have signed the petition calling for the release of these journalists. Once you start locking up reporters for covering news in order to control what's reported about you you're on your way to dismantling the fabric of the democracy that got you elected in the first place. For me, this is an outrage and a disgrace.  Heres the link if you want to sign it.

On that happy note, I'll bid you all good day. I'm off to feed my cold some chocolate truffles I made yesterday :o)

CT :o)