Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Count Down.

Footballer hoverfly

honey bee with full pollen baskets

Meghan & Harry's wedding celebrations :o)

A Sabre Wasp (that's not a sting, it's an ovipositor, for laying eggs)


Red Hawthorn

Mullein Moth Caterpillar working his way through Buddleia leaves

Moth eggs laid on the window

Veronica Tissane White

Burnet Companion moth, a day flyer

Common Blue Damselfly eclosed from the pond

Sleepy Ted

Crab Spider with prey

Damselfly pair mating

Last Saturday, at parkrun, I was asking friends who was going to watch the royal wedding later that day. All the men said no, without exception, and all the women said yes. If my own household is anything to go by, the chaps would have changed their mind by approximately 11.45 and sat down, glass of bubbly in one hand, unable to resist the plated salmon, cream cheese and cucumber sarnies and the bag of donuts, and watched for the next hour solid.

We thoroughly enjoyed it. Gorgeous weather, beautiful setting, elegant bride and dashing groom, the odd naughty horse careering off towards the crowd and the open-mouthed wonder of the page boy. And wasn't the Bishop marvellous? I loved the barely-disguised grins on William and Camilla's faces and the increasingly frozen ones on Harry and Meghan's as everyone wondered just how long he was going to go on for. Marvellous stuff.

And then on to a busy week: sweet peas, black-eyed susans and honeywort seedlings planted out in pots and beds; a new Scabious bought for the perennial garden; an oak I grew from an acorn four years ago planted at the top of the garden; various creatures stuck in the greenhouse rescued (one of which was the marvellous Sabre wasp in the pic. She isn't dangerous, she doesn't sting, the long thing attached to her is the tube she lays her eggs through. I am puzzled why she's here in our garden, because she's a pine specialist and we don't have pines); Jays and Woodpeckers chased away from nest boxes; a blackbird who'd been hit by a car saved from the road; a phone call to the police after a tree came down in the road last night; all 48 of my couch to 5k group navigated safely through their first set of 3x 5 minutes runs. And then Ted, during a particularly violent game of football with Pop, forgot himself so far as to tear a branch off my buddleia globosa (which I had to look everywhere for and in the end order). M put it in water and two days later I realised there was a mullein caterpillar on it. I've just put him on the other buddleia outside because he's gone through all the leaves on the decapitated branch already. 
And then finally I had to help M do a time session at club on Monday night, recording the names and positions of 43 club members all running round a 5k village lane course in the heat as fast as they could.

With all that going on, I've had very little time to stop and think that I'm running a marathon at the weekend.

Three days before a marathon you're supposed to carbo load, ensuring your muscles and liver are replete with the stores of glycogen needed to power you round 26.2 miles. I would, except I've come down with a stomach bug and food is frankly the last thing I feel like. 

Poppy and I ran this morning, a careful 4.5 miles, and it was pretty horrendous. I ran on an empty stomach, which is fine, I'm used to doing that, but I still felt utterly lacklustre and walked bits of the hills. 

The forecast is for hot weather and thunder storms on Sunday. If I was of a negative cast of mind, I'd say it feels as if things are conspiring against me. Luckily, I'm not that way inclined and these kinds of travails only serve to bring out my Inner Stubborn Git. I've trained over long miles in hot weather so as long as there's some shade that won't be a problem, I'll just run more slowly.

However, I do have to be sensible. While you can run a 5k while under the weather, a marathon in hot temperatures with a stomach bug isn't going to work. So I will have to wait and see. Worse case, I'll find another one to do in a couple of weeks. I've got a list :o). Such is life. I will update you all on Saturday, by which time I hope to be feeling better and able to run the next day. If not, it's just bad timing and a case of onwards and upwards.

Hope you're all well, and GOOD LUCK to B at Coastal Ripples who is running her first competitive 10k on Sunday. I'll be thinking of you, Barbara. Go, Girl! You can do it!

CT :o)

Friday, 18 May 2018

And, Breathe Out

yellow archangels in the woods

Holly Blue laying an egg by our gate

The egg is the tiny blue spot under the flower bud

While out on our run this morning

May blossom frothing in the hedgerows

Well I feel much better for that. Ten miles round the lanes with Pop through the sunshine this morning. It was easy, comfortable and straightforward: a super confidence boost ahead of the marathon in eight days' time.

I have not especially enjoyed this week. The week itself has been fine in fact: it's the reduction in running I've struggled with, or perhaps more accurately, the perceived reduction of running, because I have been doing it: Monday 6 miles with the club, Tuesday trot round with my C25Ks, Wednesday evening a 5 mile cross-country race. What I haven't had is my normal routine, or my longer runs, and that is what I have missed.

This morning's run was lovely; the weather was perfect, I felt fit and strong, had a really good pace and in fact felt I had just about warmed up and was getting into my stride when the ten miles was up and we found ourselves back at home (much to Ted's relief- he was shouting his head off in the house and sniffed Poppy all over when we got in, before bustling about in a self-important, I'm in charge, type of way).

Before we left, a small drama: the male great spotted woodpecker had got himself stuck in the greenhouse. He was not AT ALL happy at being rescued: he pecked me several times, screamed the place down and would not unstick his feet from the table leg he was holding on to. We got there in the end and he flew off into the trees by the lake looking none the worse for his human encounter. I doubt even he would have chosen living in the greenhouse over a brief few minutes being held by a human. Of all the wild animals I've had the privilege to be that close to, woodpeckers take the prize for wildness. They HATE being near people.

Are you watching the Royal Wedding tomorrow? I am, much to M's bemusement (but you don't know them. You wouldn't go to any old stranger's wedding, would you?). I've told him he's an old cynic, that there is plenty of horrid stuff in the world and this is a chance to celebrate something lovely. So I am running parkrun first thing then rushing back so I can see all the guests arrive. I love Windsor too. I am tempted to raise a glass of the ice cold bubbly stuff to Harry (I've always had a soft spot for him) and his lovely Meghan, but it would be a terrible waste to only have one glass and even I draw the line at downing a bottle of champers before midday. I might be able to inveigle M to join me, because he has said he will pop in from time to time just to see how it's going :o). Better put one on ice, just in case....

Have a great weekend, and here's to a really lovely day for the happy couple tomorrow.

CT :o)

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Of Bees, Mice & Woodpeckers

So, an eventful few days here. Yesterday, I was working at the computer (sending vital funds to middle son who is about to embark on his first house rent in London. Yikes) when a REALLY LOUD buzzing that could only be one thing came roaring towards me.

You may remember last year, and the year before that, that the bees like to move into our chimney pot at about this time of year. The first year they did it next door's workmen ran screaming for cover, leaving me grinning out in the open as the bees passed harmlessly overhead. Bees are at their most peaceful during and immediately after swarming because they feed up before leaving their old home and with their tummies full they don't feel like being aggressive.

This time, a dilemma. On the one hand, here I am half-way through internet banking at the crucial we will phone you with your one-time pass code to confirm your instructions stage, and I've already been here a while losing my sense of humour at how long the process takes, on the other, several hundred bees looking for a new home are baring down on the house and all the windows are open.

Extracting several hundred bees from the bathroom/ bedroom would have been annoying, on the other hand, spending any more time than absolutely necessary on internet banking sends me into a bad tempered spin for the rest of the day. I held my nerve, answered the phone for the code, inputted the code in the screen and calmly finished the payment. Then Poppy and I went outside into a storm of bees.

I was right- they eschewed the open windows and went instead for their favourite chimney pot. Clearly, the Queen had already made herself at home inside because the swarm was abating, settling into and onto the chimney brickwork which, for half an hour, became a moving, rippling, buzzing sea of golden brown bees.

We enjoyed the sight and sound for a while longer before going back in to text M who came back with Cool! We are an unusual family, I sometimes think. Let's just hope they don't find their way down the chimney again and out into our neighbour's kitchen, as happened last year. We had something similar with nesting Jackdaws and it can be a little unsettling :o)

The baby blue tits have hatched in two of the boxes. Supper was disturbed a couple of nights back by the most fearful hammering/ splintering noise. I thought, neighbours doing DIY, but when I went to explore I found a woodpecker attacking the nest box hole. Yikes! I know they can do this but have never experienced it here before. I shooed her away and listened for the small peeps of babies still inside. Mummy BT came back looking worried but when she went in I heard them, so all was OK.

I was woken at 6am the next morning with the same sound! Double yikes! I chased the woody off again and so far she hasn't returned. Plus we are now armed with metal plates for the holes.

The next drama was a beautiful metallic green Rose Chafer beetle attempting to fly in to the house yesterday afternoon, coming in dangerously close and noisy to Poppy's head. I NO'd! to Pop, who was poised, mid-leap ready to snap, she agreed, albeit crossly, and I shooshed the beetle back outside. Phew.

On a final nature-note, a couple of nights back I was in the kitchen when movement caught my eye on the path: a little woodmouse, helping to tidy up seeds dropped by the birds. She was there for ages.

It's all go here.


Saturday, 12 May 2018

Two Weeks To Go Till M Day....

Crab Spider

Large Red Damsel eclosing from the pond

But who is this?

It's two weeks until the marathon. I have finished all the long runs; all the significant training is behind me now. There is literally nothing more I can do now to make any difference to my fitness on race day, apart from reduce the miles right down, get plenty of rest and eat the kinds of foods that will restock my liver and muscles with glycogen. 

Sounds appealing? Not for a runner. The two-week pre-race taper is the time when most marathon runners go slowly crazy. I've been steadily building up fitness and adding on the miles over the last four and a half months to the point where I now need to run plenty of miles every week in order to feel remotely human, and now I'm staring down the barrel of relative inactivity coupled with eating what I would if I were clocking 35-40 miles a week. I'm not looking forward to it. In fact, I am hanging on to the one ten-mile run I'm allowed to do this coming week as a sort-of saviour amid a sea of not running very much at all. All the other runs I'm allowed are 5-6 milers at a slower pace than normal. And it gets even worse the following week with only two 4.5 miles and a measly 1-2 miler the day before the marathon. Expect me to be grumpy.

It's gone well though, on the whole. Considering I couldn't walk at the start of January without significant knee pain it's gone amazingly well. I've done one 18 mile run and three 20 mile runs in the past 6-8 weeks, as well as a handful of half marathons, several ten milers and a couple of 14-16 milers, which my husband tells me is very good prep. I've eradicated the knee pain which started to disappear once I hit the 18 mile runs. I've kept up the daily stretching and strengthening exercises throughout. I've varied my pace between steady, tempo and intervals. I've done plenty of hill work. I've run in boiling sun, in frosts and snow and ice, in wind and pouring rain. I've done the odd off-road race to vary the impact on my joints and muscles. I've more or less had a perfect build-up, with the odd hiccup along the way, which I have overcome (the latest being only a fortnight ago which I worried would derail the whole thing, but it hasn't). 

I did my last 13 mile run on Thursday this week and it was hard work from about mile three in. I had very little energy and finished dead on my feet. I spent some time feeling worried that 13 miles should be that tough at this stage of training and what did that mean for the marathon, then I totted up my mileage and realised I've run just shy of 50 miles in the past eight days. Reason enough to be feeling it.

I've noted shifting baseline syndrome before with running. When I started running a few years ago, half a mile was a massive achievement, then running 3 miles without stopping seemed a big deal. My first 10k felt like a long way for someone to run. The first time I did 10 miles I was ecstatic at how far it was. Learning how to run half marathons last year was a big achievement and I felt like a proper endurance athlete afterwards. 

The problem (if you can call it that) with training for a marathon is that, when you're regularly running 18-20 miles, 13 starts to look easy, a low-mileage training run, and even the 20 milers no longer feel a big deal in the way they did. You get used to whatever distance it is you're doing. Added to this, because I am surrounded by people who run marathons at the good for age/ getting on for elite end of the sport, in 2.5 - 3 hours, and ultra-marathon friends for whom a marathon is a warm-up, distance running quickly becomes normalised in a way that makes it seem no biggy. I don't, for example, now find the thought of a 50 mile run as impossible to conceive as I did five years ago. Because I know people who do it several times a year. What you do, and what the people you mix with do, becomes your new normal.

I have to remind myself that any run over 10 miles is classed as a long run and an endurance run, and takes it out of your body. I have to remind myself to respect those distances and not expect them to always be easy. Thursday's run was a reminder of that, as was M's response when he got home later and I was whingeing about how hard it had been: thirteen miles is a long run, wife. A bit of learning there for me.

I am confident about the marathon. The only thing I'm worried about is the final six miles, because that is unknown territory, I've never run more than just over 20 miles in one go before. Luckily for me, I am surrounded by experienced marathon and ultra runners and they have all told me the same thing: that the final six miles of any marathon is psychological, not physical (as long as you don't cramp up or fall over etc). Keep the pace steady, eat all the way round, drink enough fluids, take the electrolytes and trust the training and you'll do it fine, they've all said. Anything else is out of your hands so don't worry/ think about it. keep the goal simple for your first one: don't think about time, just focus on finishing.

It's good advice and I shall be drawing on it all the way round.

Hope you're all well?


ps- if anyone can ID the bee in the last two photos I would be very grateful. Melecta spp? Not sure.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Skid Row Marathon - a film we should all see

M and I went to our local Picture House cinema by the water in Southampton last night to see Skid Row Marathon, a documentary which was shown last night only on limited release at selected cinemas around the UK. I wish it had general release and urge you all, regardless of whether you run, if you get the opportunity, to go and see it.

In a world that all too often feels overwhelming with the bad stuff, this is a film that counters the all-consuming, negative, despairing view we're all fed constantly by the world's press and media channels. Instead, it shows what one person can do for the good of many, if they have a mind to.

Skid Row is a deprived area of Downtown Los Angeles where 20,000 people live rough on the streets. Many of them have addictions which have ruined their lives. Craig Mitchell is a Superior Court Judge in LA whose job frequently involves sentencing those people and others to life terms. He is also a runner. When one of those he had sentenced came to visit the judge after he was released and asked him to come to the Midnight Mission, which offers shelter for some of Skid Row's homeless, and see the work they were doing, he agreed. On the back of that visit to the shelter, he set up the Midnight Mission Running Club for the people who used the shelter.

The film charts his progress, showing the immensely positive impact running has on the lives of people who have nothing, who have lost their sense of dignity, lost a positive way of going through the world, whose lives have been torn apart by addiction, crime and loss of home and family. Judge Mitchell gets them running, often at 5.30 in the morning, and trains some of them for marathons. Through the commitment and self-discipline their lives slowly begin to turn around.

He talks eloquently about his work as a judge and how hard he finds it putting people in prison, and how the running club is his way of helping them to find rehabilitation afterwards. He is not sentimental, but he is kind and decent and honourable and reliable and determined, and you can see how those qualities begin to impact on the runners. He forms a deep friendship with a man who is on parole for murder, and wryly acknowledges how unusual the situation is, given their respective life experiences. It is a real insight into how one moment of a person's life can define the rest of it and how that person spends the rest of their life trying to atone for a single moment of horror. The man had shot a rival gang member. When he gets out of prison, twenty nine years later, he goes to find the grave of the person he killed and discovers it in a part of the cemetery where people who are too poor to afford a gravestone are buried. So he pays for a grave stone, which he maintains, cleaning it and taking flowers there. He says the person who did that terrible thing, who was angry with the world and took that anger out on someone else, with disastrous consequences, no longer exists.

The film ends with the Judge taking 25 of his runners to Rome to run the city's marathon. He raises the 70,000 dollars that enables them all to go and every single one of them finishes the marathon. 

I felt close to tears in various parts of the film and feel quite choked writing about it now. It was one of the most empowering, inspiring, moving things I've ever seen. The Judge says all the way through that his guiding principles are of support, non-judgement and acceptance, and of not giving up on people. These are principles I wish more people followed. His work is essentially about giving people back their lost dignity, and once you have that, it seems almost anything is possible.

Thank goodness for people like Judge MItchell.


Monday, 7 May 2018

Last Week :o)

Early Purple Orchid in the woods

Female orange tip 

Buff-tailed Queen Bee

Fuelling marathon training with Pop on the hoof

Making friends with a baby donkey
A Handy Puddle to cool down in at sixteen miles
Team Romsey Hardy Souls at the Marlborough Downs 20 mile yesterday

Team Romsey (including Poppy) at the Harewood Forest 10k this morning

First dog home! She got a medal and all :o)
Not to be left out of the medal action

Just making sure everyone knows who really won it
The bluebells are out here in Hampshire. We're lucky that there are several fine bluebell woods off the beaten track within striking distance of home and I've visited lots of them.

A number of these woods have connected farmland whose hedges are home to singing yellow hammers and whitethroats and I've been enjoying listening to both species all week. Our resident cuckoo is also singing most days. Last night, M and I were eating supper outside when a swallow flew over. We watched as a bigger bird, hawk-like in flight, crossed his path, causing the swallow to change direction and fly after the bigger bird, driving it away. The bigger bird started cuckooing as he flew, and we realised what we were watching: something I've certainly never seen or heard of before, a swallow seeing off a cuckoo. Why? Cuckoos don't parasitise swallow's nests. Curious.

In the woods, the early purple orchids are flowering and speckled wood butterflies are busy twirling. I'm glad to have seen a female orange tip nectaring on the white bells at home. I will start checking the milk maids soon for her eggs. The hairy-footed flower bee has been busy on the lithodora, and the honey bees are going berserk for the apple blossom which has exploded this week.

Running-wise, I did my last twenty-mile run of pre-marathon prep on Saturday. I did three fast miles at parkrun in the heat, then came home and did another 17 with Pop round the lanes. It was hot but if it's hot on marathon day I can't wimp out because of the weather, and it's as well to get some training in in tough weather so I'm prepared. I took water for both of us and there were plenty of puddles along the route which Pop drank from and wallowed in, so she was fine. I finished it feeling strong, not especially tired or hungry or sore or over-heated. I had three doses of electrolytes over the course of the three hours we were running for, which I think helped, and a few jelly babies for added sugar. I've got used to doing the long mile runs now and really enjoy them. I'm thinking I won't stop once I've done the marathon as it's easier to keep marathon fit with one long run a fortnight than it is to drop down to short runs and then have to spend five months training up for the next one again (which we've booked for October. Exciting!).

Yesterday, M ran a twenty mile race over the Marlborough Downs in blistering heat. The second half had no shade. He ran an absolute blinder considering the hilly, hot and exposed conditions and completed it in a little over two and half hours. I've never seen so many runners collapse at the end of a race before though. They looked done in. There was also a 33 mile version going on. Hats off to those who tackled it. M wasn't fully well himself for several hours afterwards, a combination of having run London in hard conditions a fortnight earlier and probably being not quite fully recovered yet, and the heat washing salts out of his system. He's fine today but wisely gave this morning's race, which was part of a local village fete, a miss.

The honour there goes to Poppy, who was first dog home over a tough, hilly, hot six mile trail run through the Chalk and bluebells woods. She was a complete star, as always. She ran straight and fast and true, overtook loads of people and psyched many of the runners out as a result :o). Several people asked me how she managed it, they were all surprised when I told them it's because she's marathon training with me and she ran 17 miles on Saturday. I think people underestimate her because of her size, but Jack Russells are as tough as old boots. Good old Poppy. Ted was Chief Spectator along with M and both the dogs helped me eat my hot dog from the BBQ at the end of the race. A lovely morning out.

So, three weeks now till the mara and I've had a last-minute change of plan. The race M did yesterday runs over similar terrain to the Neolithic and it was stoney and rough in places. We talked it over and decided that wasn't the best ground for my knee (I've also still got a niggle in my big toe joint from the boggy half mara last weekend), so I've swapped to a road marathon instead. Same day, so all fine there. Just a mental/ emotional shift re preparing for a road race instead of a trail one in a different part of the country. It's all good though and the right, practical decision.

Happy Days!

Hope you're all well?

CT :o)