Friday, 30 December 2016

Mottisfont, Ice-Capped. Ten Miles Across The Chalk, & A Six Mile Race

Mottisfont in the Mist

Four of the Six Swans A-Swimming on the river

Ice tracery on pine needles, courtesy of Jack Frost

The Twelve Days Of Christmas Cake

Three French Hens

Those of you who've been reading for a while will know that I don't do a lot of sitting around. Christmas was no exception, thank goodness. We did Parkrun at 9am, then home for some presents, then a light lunch, a walk with the dogs, some champagne, a little light baking fin preparation for Boxing Day (stilton and thyme puff pastry pies and spiced sausage rolls) and finally Christmas roast pheasant in the evening by the fire.

L made good use of his new Air Rifle. It took him approx. 5 minutes to work out that, once he'd set up the target (which has 4 ducks either side of a circular piece of metal, all of which stick to magnets if you shoot them correctly, while the circle springs them all back up and resets the lot) in the garden, he could open the study window, prop the rifle on the ledge and shoot away from the comfort of the computer chair all day long, which he did. So much for getting him outside into the healthy fresh air.

We spent part of Boxing Day in hospital visiting Uncle Charles, who, although still on oxygen and hard to understand, was improving. He'd already made an impression on the nurses who fell over themselves to tell me how much they loved him. It's the twinkly eyes that do it. The rest of the day we spent with Uncle Charles' wife who was not in a good way at all, having come down with a bug that left her unable to get up or feed herself. She hadn't said a word about this so we were both shocked to find her in that condition. At 89 it isn't great and she's still not well now. I can't remember the last time I spent two hours cleaning, polishing and hoovering my own kitchen, bathrooms and sitting room on Boxing Day, let alone someone else's, but it sparkled by the time we'd done and made her feel better so it was worth it.

On the 27th we were up early to drive through the frost to a 10k/ 6 mile race on the South Coast. M shot off ahead at the start and came in top ten as usual in about 38 minutes, but I'd already decided to run a steady pace and use it as half marathon training, albeit under race conditions. There were over 300 runners and I came in the top third in 52 minutes, which I was chuffed with. I managed not to walk any of it too which was Good :o)

We followed this up with a ten mile run yesterday morning which took in some beautiful countryside up over the Chalk, cold, frost encased and sparkling. It went really well, I wasn't tired or leg sore afterwards so I am feeling on track for the Half Marathon in September, which I have now entered (so there is no going back). Between now and then we have two races a month booked in of various distances and terrains, so it should all help the preparation.

This morning, we took the two older children to Mottisfont, which currently has a Twelve Days Of Christmas exhibition on in the grounds and house. We got there early so not a soul was about. In the night a Hoar Frost had come down and blessed the land so everything was encased in long crystals of ice. It was freezing cold and breathtakingly beautiful- the whole place (which is special anyway) felt tinged with magic.

The other side of the day, which has been thick with fog and very chilly in a damp, unremitting sort of way we escaped out into the fields a little before dusk to walk the hounds who scampered about as if they hadn't run ten miles at all yesterday. There were Fieldfare in the oaks chattering and cackling, Blackbirds pink-pinking night-night to one another in the hedges and above it all, a Buzzard crying eerily through the gathering dark as he floated out across the fields, heading for the remnant of pink-tinged sky that indicated where the sun had set half an hour earlier.

Tomorrow, we're going running with a friend and then we're all set for a take-away from our favourite Chinese, a bottle of ice cold fizz and some homemade profiteroles to usher in the New Year (except we'll be in bed before midnight, because, you guessed it, we've got another long run planned for Sunday). Happy Days.

Happy New Year to you all, and thanks so much for following/ reading/ commenting during 2016.

CT :o)

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Early Morning Mist & Mincepies

The Marsh Tit returns

Christmas preparations continue apace here, mixed in with GCSE revision and running. Yesterday I made the mincemeat and then, when it had cooled, 46 mince pies. It took three batches of pastry (luckily I had enough eggs). We've eaten some already, they are A Bit Lovely. Made with the usual raisins and sultanas, but I add cranberries, almonds, apple, hazelnuts, various spices and a generous sloosh of brandy or two :o)

We had some bad news last night- poor Uncle Charles has been taken to hospital with Pneumonia. We were supposed to be taking them out to lunch on Christmas Eve. Hoping he'll soon be home as he's such a character and very much loved by us all.

I got up early this morning in order to run before driving down to Bournemouth. The dogs and I were out in the fields a little before sunrise, threading our way through ribbons of mist snaking in the valleys, startling the buzzard who has got used to us appearing after eight not before it, and admiring the cold pink flush of dawn smudging the skeletons of the trees. Poppy disgraced herself by running off into the wood after pheasants and not coming back until I'd roared for her for several minutes, thereby shattering both the ethereal peace of the morning and my own transcendental calm induced by running steadily through a wild landscape with no one else about, the air cold and the grass crisply frosted under my feet. I was Not Very Pleased. Fortunately, it was another mile or so back to the car and by the time we'd done that I was settled again. Teddy stayed with me the whole way, occasionally glancing up at me as if to say You see? I'm still here. I haven't been naughty and run off.

I've been doing a lot of dusk and dawn outings this week. Two walks as the light faded rewarded me with a flock of starlings a thousand strong singing in two oaks across the fields one day, and the same flock flying directly over my head the next. The collective whispering from their wings was quite something. We were also treated to dark-time flying of a small flock of Lapwing, who came unseen and unexpected out of the night and played in the air around us calling to one another. They are such acrobatic birds, far more so than their blunt-winged silhouettes suggest. It was quite eerie, watching their outlines framed against the brilliance of an indigo sky one minute, then seeing them disappear into the all-consuming identity of night the next. I heard them calling long after the light had gone.

I hope you're all well and feeling peaceful as Christmas approaches. We've got Parkruns on Christmas Eve morning and Christmas Day morning to cancel out all the feasting. Should I wear fancy dress, is the question. What do you all think? And if so, what should I wear? (fully acknowledging that I may regret asking that question!).

CT :o)

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Fame At Last

Butter wouldn't melt

A few weeks ago, our local regional news programme came to record Parkrun. I didn't notice the cameras until someone pointed them out, then one of our running buddies appeared saying he'd just been interviewed. We all had a giggle about it, the run started and apart from checking the news that night to see if we were on it, forgot all about it.

This week we had a call from Ma to say that she'd just seen me on the news, running. We watched it that night but it wasn't on, so M found it on iplayer. To our amusement, our friend's interview was screened along with a few shots of me coming in at the finish. Fortunately, I didn't look too shabby, sweaty, red faced or out of breath, which was a small miracle and frankly something of a relief.

On Saturday we met the gang at Parkrun and had a good laugh about J and my new-found fame. There was talk of signing autographs and of us being too famous to consort with the rest of them. I have to say the thought of being famous for real turns my stomach. I would hate the loss of privacy and anonymity.

The day before Parkrun I'd had some treatment with a sports therapist to switch on various muscles that weren't working properly. It was an hour of excruciation, but to my amazement I knocked another ten seconds off my PB on Saturday and shifted considerably higher up the field as a result. I could feel the relevant muscles working properly up the hills in particular and was able to overtake people there.

The treatment uses trigger points on the body that correspond to specific muscles (in my case it was hams and glutes that weren't engaging properly. The trigger point for the glutes is behind the ears and for the hams around the jaw!) to switch on the connection between brain and muscle, and the result was a faster, smoother run. Particularly pleasing was that I managed to hold off a man who tried to overtake me on the final stretch and pulled away from him to cross the finish line with a respectable gap between us. I couldn't catch the man in front however, but we had a nice chat while we waited to collect our tokens about the benefit of following someone in who's running faster than you. This is where Parkrun is great- if you get to a point where you want to compete there are plenty of people happy to give you a run for your money and a race up to the finish. This great energy infects everyone involved: one of the regular volunteers was recently handed a letter from a runner with his thanks for her help and encouragement because she always cheers everyone on. In it was a cheque for £100. I think that sums up the spirit of Parkrun perfectly- folks giving up their time for free to help encourage others to get fit and to feel better, and the people who benefit from it being genuinely grateful. 

This morning we've been out for a five mile trot round which includes a big hill up through leaf-littered woods and for the first time I ran all the way up it (slow as a snail, but running nevertheless). This is good because we've just signed up for the Stonehenge Stomp, a 20km (12 mile) run round Salisbury Plain and the Stones  in late January, which will be a noticeable step-up for me in terms of distance, but a good marker on the way to running a half marathon which is 13.1 miles. I'm now running between fifteen to twenty miles each week and feeling good on it, even if yoga brings me back down to earth with a bump because everyone else there is supple as willow wands while I feel like a stiff, weak old board in comparison :o)

Before I go I just want to draw your attention to my friend Veggie Mummy's fantastic achievement. I am SO PROUD of her, she is a perfect example of what you can do if you set your mind to it. Do pop over and have a read, and encourage her to enter a Parkrun, because she'd definitely smash it now and it would be a great thing to have chalked up before the year is out :o)

Hope you're all well? Our Christmas Tree is up and decorated, a new cushion (Guinea Fowl) has been purchased for the Reading Chair (M: but you move it away every time you sit in the chair, so why did we need it in the first place?), Ted wants me to let you know he survived a house full of hearty runners here for lunch yesterday, and Pop says she's been exceedingly well behaved all weekend and done nothing naughty at all :o). Give it time....


Thursday, 15 December 2016

Ted's Diary: Mouse Trouble

Festive Felicitations Friends.

You find us dozing by the radiator because it is a grey and gloomy sort of day here and dismal outdoors. We've been out running already (early along the lanes and through the Pig Fields- we got muddy but sadly, there was no fox poo to roll in, only pig poo which isn't the same at all, so after a sniff we decided to leave it) and now we're home for the rest of the day. We are hoping Mum will soon light the fire then we can move to the more comfortable beds for the remainder of the day.

Mum has made two cakes today, one is chocolate, one lemon, but we shan't be allowed to eat either so I don't understand why she made them in the first place. She's making a Dorset apple cake tomorrow because lots of people are coming for lunch on Saturday. I shall be hiding under the table or in the greenhouse as you know I'm not keen on company. Poppy will be showing off as usual. All the Interesting Smelling Christmas Food is out of our reach, although I think this has more to do with Recent Rodent Adventures than Dogs.


On Monday night, mice got into J's room. They gnawed a mouse-sized hole in the floor boards, Mum said it was proper Tom And Jerry (whatever that means), pulled up the carpet and shredded bits of it and then they came into the house. Mum had been keeping all the stocking fillers in bags in J's room. She thought she could smell coffee in there so she opened one of the bags to see what was going on and discovered all the food inside had gone!

The little blighters had cleaned out a packet of Guinness crisps meant for L, opened a packet of wispa bits for F, sat inside the bag and stuffed themselves with the lot, then they'd opened a bag of chocolate coins, unpeeled the wrappers and eaten all the chocolate from inside. They left some of the empty wrappers under the bed along with *ahem* other evidence. They'd nibbled the corner of a Terry's Chocolate Orange, cardboard as well as chocolate, and tried to open some other packets that had defeated them. After that they'd gone across the hallway into F's room where Dad's stocking was hidden and raided that too. Nice biscuits for cheese had been opened and nibbled and generally thrown about.

Mum was Fure-re-ous. I've never seen her so cross! I thought I'd heard giggling in the night but assumed it was Poppy being naughty. Now I know it was mischievous mice.

The mousehole in the floorboards was blocked up yesterday when Dad got back from work. Then he went up to the attic to see if any damage had occurred there. I followed him, because I am a loyal and faithful sort of dog and I wanted to offer support, but I can only think that, with his nerves clearly already on edge from the mice I must have given him a fright because when he saw me he shouted get back downstairs, Teddy! which I did (quickly). Technically, we're not supposed to go upstairs and in my eagerness to offer Solidarity In The Face Of Mice I'd forgotten this essential house rule.

When I got back downstairs I sang Mum the song of my people out of nerves for a while because I was a little flustered at having accidentally broken a rule (or technically two rules because it was two flights of stairs). Poppy (for once) didn't break a rule and I could hear her sniggering behind the door after Dad shouted, which I thought was rude and typical. I got my own back later by showing L where she had a tick attached to her shoulder. Mum came and removed it with the tweezers, only Poppy didn't really care because that sort of thing doesn't bother her so getting my own back rather back-fired.

The Rat Man has been since and sorted them out and Pop and I are being paid to Be On Mouse Duty, but they've been suspiciously quiet (probably sleeping off their ill gotten gains and waiting for their fat tummies to go down) so all we've been doing really is snoozing by the fire.

That was our bit of excitement this week. That and Poppy escaping through the hedge and being returned by the neighbour. She didn't even have the grace to look sheepish, just wagged her tail when she saw Mum and leapt down to eat some of my biscuits (Pop, not the neighbour). Poppy escaping through the hedge has become a regular event so Mum has told Dad his first Christmas Job on the list is to put a new fence up in the garden. Mum thinks Poppy's Angel must be about ready for a nervous break down after three years of running around trying to look after her, the poor woman. She said my own Angel is probably relaxed to the point of portliness in comparison. I'm not entirely sure what she means.

We hope you are all well and ready for Christmas? If you're short on ideas for any last-minute presents, I know where there's a ready supply of pet mice.

Love, Ted x

Monday, 12 December 2016

My First Five Mile Cross Country Race

Yesterday, I ran in my first cross country race. Five miles of fields, woods, mud, streams, hills, valleys and a small bog. Tadley Running Club, whose Christmas Cross Country event the race was, advertises itself as a Drinking Club with a Running Problem, so they seemed like a safe place to start.

The course was over an hour away from home so we set off early and, thanks to a pointless detour courtesy of the imbecilic Sat Nav (which took us up the road, round the round about and back down the other side of the same road so we ended up back where we started in the middle of Basingstoke), we arrived with about fifteen minutes to spare and the start still over ten minutes away on foot. We grabbed numbers, I dithered over which top to wear (long sleeved or short, went with long and regretted it *note to self remember this for next time), gulped down some water and trotted off to the start.

A hundred and twenty two competitors were gathered in the field. We set about warming up, which I always think looks ridiculous as running warm ups consist of lifting your knees up in a kind of hopping/ skipping motion one after the other, flicking your bum with your heels, running backwards and then sideways, darting forward and bending down to touch the ground, swinging your legs as high as they'll go backwards and forwards, lunging and generally prancing about. It works so it's worth doing but it always makes me smile.

I had told M to run without me as he's speedier by far so he made his way to the front while I put myself about half way down. We were counted down from three and then everyone rushed off. I was overtaken by what felt like most of the field and then got stuck behind a couple of slow people at the point the path narrowed out of the field and into woods. There was a steep downhill covered in leaves which was slippy so I went cautiously as the trail shoes I was wearing have less grip then M's fell shoes. I managed to get past two men at the bottom of the hill then settled down to watching where my feet were going avoiding roots and branches so I wouldn't trip while trying to get in to a good rhythm.

I'm used to running off road, I prefer it, so mud and water don't really faze me, but I'm not used to running competitively with Club runners who are fit as fleas and tough as old boots into the bargain. I managed not to let anyone else overtake me once the first half mile was behind us and I overtook the next man in front when he slowed up a hill, but I just couldn't gain on the lady ahead of me. I got close on the hills which are usually my friend, but on the flat she pulled away. My legs were tired and I had nothing left in the tank to do more than keep a steady pace. I couldn't have gone any faster without running out of puff completely and as I wanted to finish in under 50 mins I reckoned it was better to run steady rather than fast and risk having to stop.

Half way round there was a man stuck in a bog. Everyone else ran past him but I just couldn't, so I stopped to help then found my own ankles disappearing in the mud. I left him to it before I was also stuck fast, but during that time the bloke I'd overtaken previously had gone past me and try as I might I couldn't catch him

I ran on through the trees until I came to steep gully which was a pit of mud leading to a small river at the bottom. The Marshal told me that although it looked bad it seemed to be running fine once you got past a certain point. I was covered in mud, hot, sweaty and out of breath, but I thought what the hell, I'll give it a go so I slid down the bit he had pointed out (managing not to fall over which would have been embarrassing), and then leapt down the rest of the gully into the stream at the bottom, out over the other side and up the leaf-littered, bramble-covered hill (which was the second time we'd been up it). It was fun and I was grinning by the time I reached the top, although possibly it came out as a grimace.
I was getting tired by then with a mile still to go (thanks to the lovely marshal who was telling everyone there was only a mile left, it raised the spirits no end) and decided as it's still only two weeks since I was poorly I'd walk a few paces to get some breath back so I could finish strongly. I knew from my GPS I was on target time-wise as I'd been running 5.40 - 5.60 kms. The brief walk helped and when I ran on again I was keeping just ahead of the folks behind me. But that was until the final hill loomed. It seemed to go on and on. I ran up a third of it, overtaking a man in front, then got overtaken by someone else who was panting away on my heels. I needed to walk by then and while I was three other people ran past me. I knew I'd never catch them but by then I realised I was going to beat the 50 mins I'd set as a respectable target pace, and I was determined not to walk the rest of the hill so I trotted on again and then at the top of the hill the path emerged out of the wood back into the field where we'd started, and there was my lovely husband waiting for me, cheering and encouraging, telling me how well I'd done and how proud he was of me and that the finish was just up ahead.

Are you going to go after the bloke infront? You could catch him he encouraged as we ran the last stretch together. But I shook my head. I had nothing left in the tank and just wanted to finish as close to 45 mins as I could. The clock ahead was ticking and I crossed the line a little over 45 mins, pleased with the time but not so pleased with the position. At Parkrun I'm used to coming in the top third of 700 runners, here I was in the top section of the bottom half of 120. I mentioned this to M who grinned and told me Cross Country Club Running is an entirely different beast. People are fit, fast and used to doing these kinds of courses, he said, you should be chuffed with a really decent result for your first outing.

It was a cracking race over a really interesting and testing course. I would definitely do it again. Thank you, Tadley Running Club!

I was surprised how stiff I was when we got home an hour later, because I regularly run three miles across country and we do eight at the weekends so five shouldn't have presented any problems, and also how tired I was. I was fast asleep the minute my head hit the pillow last night. M had been saying me to all week: races are different. I know what he means now.

Our next race is a 10k (6 mile) cross country after Christmas. I'll know what to expect now so it'll be interesting to see how I do in that one. And what I'm really interested in finding out is how the Half Marathons pan out. I think they'll be easier because the really fast paced runners will have gone on ahead and I'll be left to run my own race, plugging away at the distance over a longer course which is starting to suit me. All Good Stuff

Tadley was a great place to start. We each got a commemorative mug for finishing which (rather aptly I thought) has a Bodger on it :o)

Hope you're all well and had a good weekend?