Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud: Hursley 10k

Sunday was Hursley 10k race day. A nice, off-road 6 miles through forest and field. I'd planned to take it steady and use it as a test run to see how the knee would hold up to the distance, it being only a fortnight since I'd limped the last mile home in tears at The Beast. The intervening fortnight has been spent doing daily muscle-strengthening exercises working primarily on lateral muscles (glutes) which the physio tells me are working. Once those muscles are properly up to speed they should do a better job of supporting the knee, meaning I shouldn't get any more pain in it.

Dire warnings about horrendous conditions had been issued all week by the race organisers, culminating on Saturday afternoon with one that read: conditions are so bad we've had to alter the course because one section has become too dangerous to run through. PLEASE take care when running! I went for trail shoes because my mudclaws were stiff as boards after the soaking they got on The Beast. M, rather more sensibly, plumped for his fells.

When we arrived with F and J as the cheerleading party in tow, the first people we saw were Mike and Sue with whom we'd travelled down to The Beast. Once we'd picked up numbers and t-shirts (stopping to speak to friend Amanda who, as one of the organisers, confirmed that the course was now largely mud after all the rain that's fallen recently) we found a whole host of Romsey Road Runners at the start in their blue-and-yellow race tops. We huddled in for a club photo.

More and more running events are offering a pre-race mass warm-up to music. These are invariably led by Sergeant Majors disguised as lycra-clad fitness enthusiasts who take everyone through a brisk ten minutes of marching, star jumps, side steps, arm waving etc with no time left between movements for actually breathing. I get hopeless giggles whenever we do these as M's co-ordination leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, most of the chaps gamely bouncing about in the field to moves like jagger looked like everyone's idea of Dad Dancing, while the ladies made it look effortless and elegant. F was busy videoing M who was gamely jiggling about and managing to stay at least two seconds behind everyone else. I could see F laughing so hard at this he was crying. 

We funnelled into the start area, Ray and I discussing how much the conditions would affect peoples' times, and then we were off. The first section was over the field. The grass was long and wet so we were all soaked within seconds. Then it wound up a lane a short way before peeling off into the woods. Cue the mud. The base here is clay so you can imagine what it was like. By the time 500 runners had gone through it was a quagmire. I was in the top 200 and it was pretty boggy by the time I got into it. You could tell who was used to off road running and who wasn't just by watching how people tackled the mud: those of us who run off road went straight through the middle of the mud and the puddles, no messing about, and remained on our feet as a result- those who weren't used to it tried their very best to edge around it. A hopeless cause; they were slipping and sliding and falling over all over the place.

I overtook more people by running through the middle of the mud than at any other time on the course. The same thing happened on the downhills- people were being so cautious they ended up walking (and sliding shrieking) so by sailing through (reasonably confident that my shoes and taking the direct route would keep me upright and it did) I made up some time on an otherwise fairly steady race. On one stretch I edged past a chap who was clinging to the fence in an effort to avoid getting muddy. The ground sloped down into the mud and as I went by he plopped straight over into the thickest bit of gloop around. I asked him if he was OK as he righted himself and he said in a very sad voice this is the third time I've fallen over. Bless him, he looked so comical with mud entirely plastering one side of his body that I had to run on quickly so he didn't hear my giggles.

Eventually, we came out of the mud and back onto forest tracks. I fell in with a couple of guys for the next mile. One of them was running his first 10k and I congratulated him on choosing a particularly tough off-road race to start with. His friend, an experienced triathlete  was coaching him round and doing a brilliant job of encouraging and keeping him steady pace-wise. As we ran down the hill a horse and rider appeared to our right. The horse took one look at the runners and bolted along beside them, the rider bouncing about in such a way I was convinced she was coming off. Luckily she managed to regain control and disaster was averted. She peeled off into the trees and we carried on.

I'd set an approximate time target of an hour to get round, taking into account the conditions and my knee and was pleased to see that I was going to beat the time. The knee was aching mildly but nothing horrendous and I decided to see if I could pick up the pace a little and overtake the three people ahead of me as I came down the final grassy stretch. I like the feeling of accelerating to the finish, it's exhilarating. I got past the three ahead and crossed the line in under an hour, pleased with the way the race had gone. My lower legs from knees down were more caked in mud than they have ever been. You should have seen the state of the shower later! But my knee held up well and as there's still a fortnight till the Clarendon half marathon I remain hopeful that I'll be able to get round, even if it means doing it slowly.

Today, a three miler round the fields. It was Hard Work all the way. Ironically, having managed to stay on my feet in far worse conditions on Sunday, today I tripped over a flint on the relatively dry Chalk and sprawled onto the ground at the 2nd km. Ted came back all anxious to see if I was OK while Pop just looked over her shoulder as if to say what are you lying on the ground for? 

Hope you're all well.


Saturday, 16 September 2017

Field Walking With An Archeologist In The Making

F is home this weekend (before he heads off to uni) and this afternoon we went hedgerow harvesting up on The Chalk. He's always had an eye for things that other people miss, we've called him F the Finder for as long as I can remember. When he was a little lad it was bones, then as a teenager he got a metal detector and spent hours scouring the fields in all weathers for all sorts of things. He was eventually rewarded for this dedication with an Edward III gold nobel, which had lain in the earth undisturbed for seven hundred years. It was perfect and utterly beautiful.The agreement he had with the farmer who owned the land was that any finds would remain the property of the farmer. When F showed him the nobel, the farmer asked him what he would do with it if he had a choice. F said I'd keep it and the farmer gave it to him. 

It was perhaps unsurprising that this childhood hobby eventually developed into an all-consuming passion for archeology. It's been all he's wanted to do for the last four years and next weekend sees the start of his formal training.

You can't walk in the country without F going off, head down, over the fields, looking for pottery and bits of bone and flint. This morning, after he'd helped me pick two boxes of haws, he wandered off to roam the flint-chipped fields and came back with the above, which he tipped into my hands and explained as the off-cuts of prehistoric flint works. 

The right side has a flat end, where the flint has been deliberately struck off, then there's a lump (bulb) followed by the concave shape. All these show it's a worked piece of flint and not something that's been chipped by the plough. He reckoned they were neolithic or possibly bronze age, because of the style. 

They aren't the first ancient objects found in these fields. The farmer, who is a friend of ours, found an axe head that has been dated to before the last ice age and has a whole shoe box full of bits of flint and arrowheads and bones that have been butchered using flint tools.

Wandering back homeward, I was pleased to see that the ivy mining bees are back. They were busy buzzing about and clambering into and out of their holes in the sandy soil.....

As I was crouching down watching them, F called out that he'd found a bit of pottery. Closer examination revealed it was Iron Age. Roman pots have a different shape to the lip.

He's given the bits from today's field walking to me and I shall treasure them, along with the three flint arrowheads he found several years ago and also gave to me. That lad has a bright future ahead of him. I'm quite in awe of his knowledge.

Hope you're all having a good weekend? Parkrun went well this morning. I ran a steady 26 mins and coached a friend in to the finish, which was fun.

CT :o)

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Running Update

I managed not to do any running for five whole days last week, then physio Steve ruined it all by declaring me fit to run, and telling me he wanted me to get back out there. So, on Saturday I went out for a very cautious one mile trot up and down the lane. No knee pain, which made it tentatively OK to unexpectedly run in walking boots and jeans around the New Forest on Sunday morning chasing our friend Old Richard (as opposed to our friend Young Richard), who was running the NF Half. He wasn't expecting to see us and his face was an absolute picture when we popped up at mile 6 as he was trudging wearily up a forest track with hundreds of other runners towards the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive. We yelled and cheered and I bounced up and down doing my best, most enthusiastic, Tigger impression, and he went on with more of a spring in his stride. 

Hurtling back to the car, we realised if we zoomed across the forest we could meet him again at mile 10, so we did, dodging the full marathon runners who by then had clocked up 22 miles and were looking like they had. We arrived with seconds to spare. Mile ten can be a bit of a killer on a half marathon, and sure enough Rich was plodding a bit at that stage but he looked good and gave us a huge grin and thumbs up when he saw us and once more picked his pace up. We stayed for a bit to cheer on the other runners through the drizzle, one chap came over for a high-five (happens a lot in races), before heading home. M got a text later to say that Rich had set a new PB and how much it had helped him seeing our faces en route. Excellent.

I did a slow 6 mile run with our Club on Monday which went fine, and then took the dogs out for a 5k around the fields this morning. Knee was a bit achy but essentially OK and there was no pain or stiffness afterwards.

Judy B, ace sports massage therapist and general wonder-woman (she's a caver who crawls through the tiniest subterranean tunnels to reach magnificent chambers where rivers run, she used to run ultra marathons of 80 plus miles, and last week she and her hubby decided to cycle to Lulworth (6 hours), go for a swim, have a few nights there to walk the coastal path from dawn to dusk and cycle home again- I am in total awe of her), gave my leg a thorough going over on Tuesday and couldn't find anything that suggested a permanent knee problem. She did say that the muscle definition around the knee is weak compared to the rest of it, which backs up Physio Steve's assessment.

So, I've got the go-ahead to run the Winchester Half in a fortnight (which you may remember was the race that started this running malarkey back in September last year), but.....drum roll please......and brace yourselves for a shock at how sensible I'm being......I've decided not to do it.

This was partly down to driving the route this morning and realising what interminably long, dull, never-ending stretches of unforgiving tarmac it's comprised of (I would find this mentally a killer to run), and partly because I feel in my gut it's too soon to be doing another HM.

My knee is progressing well and the daily exercises are strengthening the muscles that support it (by God they hurt so they must be working), and I can now hold plank for two full minutes without my arms shaking like they're made of jelly or my back collapsing- this is a big improvement as when I started I lasted all of ten seconds before my entire body was wobbling desperately- but despite Steve's assurances that I need to test it, I just feel running 13 miles on tarmac in 10 days time is too soon.

So what to do instead? I've an off road 10k (6 miles) this weekend, another the weekend after and if they go well, the weekend after that it's the Clarendon Half, which, being hilly, off road and through some really beautiful countryside is much more my cup of tea than pounding long grey roads with three thousand others.

It's a funny thing when you decide to let a goal go that you've had as a focus for months. I thought I would be gutted, but instead I feel empowered by the decision. My running means much more to me than the completion of one half marathon (probably helped by the fact I've done four this year) and I don't want to risk the recovery of my knee by running longer distances than it can yet cope with. Gosh, how sensible I am becoming in my old age :o)

So that's the news from here. I am persevering with the exercises and very grateful to be able to be back out running again, but I'm taking it steadily.

In other news, L is enjoying his first week at sixth form college. He's up at 7 (unheard of) and out the door for the bus at 7.20. This means I also have to be up earlier than normal and three days in it's catching up with me. Both my men fell asleep on public transport yesterday, M coming home from London and L on the bus. Perhaps I need to start travelling on buses and trains so I can also have a nap during the day and then not be knackered by nine pm?

I got L a set of lock-picks (his suggestion) for his 16th. He has taken them in to college and apparently everyone on his tutor table is very interested in them. I've had a go- it's not as easy as it looks. This is probably a good thing, because while he's occupied with figuring out the padlock they came with my front door remains safe and unpicked. He's been threatening to take his hip flask in but I think we've managed to persuade him that pretending cranberry juice is red wine in your first week might be a joke too far for the college authorities.

Hope you're all well?

CT :o)

Sunday, 10 September 2017

A Week In The Country

We're just back from lunch in an ancient flint-walled pub deep in Chalk country, where we helped my in laws celebrate their wedding anniversary. I was driving and everyone else fell asleep on the way home; the journey back through the drizzle and low clouds obscuring the Coombes soothed by the sound of gentle snoring. I felt tired myself: it was the most enormous meal and I have a slight food hangover as a result. I had wild boar pie with apricots, roast taters and veg and very nice it was too. I was a little less keen on all the ancient metal traps hanging from the walls of the pub. 

There were an awful lot of pristine green wellies and country-checked shirts that had never seen a working day on a real farm in their life on display, but once they'd eaten and left, the real old country boys arrived: a quartet with bailer twine for belts whose shoes were taken off to reveal holey socks. Elbows and pints were propped on the bar and the conversation turned from feeding cattle to the possibility that a wild puma was busy savaging sheep up on the hills. The conclusion was eventually reached (after much sniggering) that it was probably a rabid dog that someone would have to go out and shoot, sooner or later.

I've been immersed in the countryside this week. The seasons are turning and the hedges are thick with berries (sign of a bad winter to come?). The dogs have switched from running mode to nose-on-the-ground-exploring-interesting-smells-while-mum-picks-berries mode. I've made rosehip, bullace and bramble jelly (heavenly), and hawthorn jelly (smokey and perfect with cheese).

Bullace, a plum hybrid of wild cherry and damson, are to be found in the hedgerows at this time of year. Lots of folk confuse them with sloes. Any fattish purple berry/ small plum-like fruit you've picked recently and thought was a sloe is all in likelihood a bullace. Sloes are still small and pretty rock hard in September. Country Lore states they shouldn't be picked until after the first frost, which breaks down the bitter chemical in them making them palatable for humans. My experience is if you leave it till then many of them have already been eaten by our wild cousins. I pick mine in October and freeze them.

Anyway, back to bullace. This is what they look like: 

The addition of rosehips (shown here with a Robin's Pincushion gall which is home to a tiny wasp and is often found on wild rose bushes)... 

and blackberries has made for the most delicious jelly. I've only made one pot so far but can't stop eating it. It's a rich, dark damson colour.

Hawthorn jelly is a new one on me, suggested when M asked why I never made jelly with hawthorn berries. I took the dogs out in bright sunshine yesterday to pick some, after we got back from Romsey's Country Show, at which the heavens opened and turned the tracks to mud pits, but we got a giant basket for logs and some handmade goats milk soap, saw the cattle and sheep parading in the arena and walked through the cattle tent admiring the Dexters and Charolais (which were behind huge signs warning you on pain of death not to touch the animals incase they transmit germs. And there was me thinking the human race has been living cheek-by-jowl with germs for the last quarter of a million years and we're still all here).

It was whilst we were picking berries that we got caught in another torrential rainstorm. I felt the air tighten and cool and the wind begin to stir and knew what was coming. We watched it coming towards us across the valley, a huge grey curtain of water blurring the trees and smudging the land. We took shelter in a hedge for a while, but it was the kind of downpour that was going to get you one way or another, so after ten minutes of being poked by thorns we made a run for it and got predictably soaked. We'd got enough berries to make the jelly with though so it didn't really matter...

Haw berries are found on Hawthorn trees and look like this...

Don't pick them unless you really know what you're doing, because to the uninitiated they look a lot like these, which often grow beside them on the same hedge and because of their twisting nature can appear to be growing on the same branch.....

Black Bryony, poisonous, capable of killing a dog who eats them, so best not to make a jelly with.

Here's the finished haw jelly. I've tried a bit and it's quite a strong taste but I like it. I added some haw berries from the garden too.

After all that excitement braving rain storms and making hedgerow delights there was really only one thing to do.....Curl up under a home-knitted blanket with the latest Elly Griffiths and two decidedly sleepy and to be honest still slightly damp dogs....

Happy Days.

Hope you're all well?


Sunday, 3 September 2017

The Dorset Beast: Twelve Miles of Rain, Mud and Cliffs.

Today was Dorset Beast day: a gnarly, hilly, off-road fest of hills, mud, tree roots, nettles, cliffs, coastal paths, biting wind and driving rain. We were up early for breakfast and ready when our friends arrived to pick us up at 8.30 for the 10.30 start. There were five of us heading off for the run: two speedy-pants, me somewhere in the middle and two slower boys. The scene above greeted us as we arrived at race HQ. Oh Dear.

We traipsed across the sodden field in a downpour that was to last the entire day and collected our numbers from the tent, hovering inside it as long as possible as the combined warmth of so many bodies had momentarily stopped the shivering, then queued for the loo in the rain and started shivering again whilst wondering what the hell we were doing there.

I had my traditional pre-race tuna-mayo-with-salad-from-the-garden half pitta (in the rain) which helped me warm up a bit, then it was time to strip off and don racing kit (in the rain) before trotting down to the start (in the rain).

I elected to wear my waterproof, woolly hat and gloves for which I was teased. I did not at any point over the next nearly-three hours regret them. M headed off to the front of the field wearing nothing more than a racing vest and shorts (that man is made of steel), with Sue a little behind him and then me and the boys further back....

We couldn't hear the race director's instructions because, even with the use of a megaphone, the wind snatched his words and whipped them away before they reached our ears. All we heard was the applause and a nervous ripple of laughter. I later learnt this was caused by a warning about cows in the fields, deservedly so as it turned out: there was a small stampede when M got to them which concluded with one of the cows jumping through the hedge. Luckily, by the time I arrived at the same spot half an hour later they'd calmed down and were all standing quietly in a group sheltering beneath the trees.

We set off, 400 runners galloping down a lane jostling for position while the rain baptised us soundly. I've had a dodgy knee for the last six weeks and was therefore running the race today with caution, it being a 'test race' (according to Physio Steve) to see what was going on. It was perhaps not the best race to choose to run with a less-than-fit knee as it was all hills, and big ones at that, but I'd been wanting to run it since I first found out about it and you know there is very little that stops me. Look at the hardy souls in the pic below running in shorts and t-shirts on the most miserable day this side of last winter! Hats off to them.

On we went, over commons (can you see Corfe castle there in the distance in the photo above?), across slick wet board walks across streams, over stiles, along the railway and down along country lanes through villages heading for the sea. My knee was OK, registering 1-2 out of 10 on the annoyance scale and I was plugging on through the awful conditions relatively well, if slowly.

We took the path up to the top of the quarry, and there was the sea, spread out looking angry and agitated in front of us...

It was a grey, broiling sort of day, the waves whipped into a white-crested fury by the wind which was mercifully blowing in land, otherwise I think several of us may have done kite-impressions and ballooned out over the water. As it was I was nearly knocked over by a particularly strong gust at one point. I found myself dimly wondering just how safe it was for 400 people to bounce up and down on the cliff path in a rainstorm so close to the edge of the land. I tried not to think too much about it and concentrate on my running instead, which was more a mix of run-walk at this point because a) the path was narrow and b) it kept going up hill.

We were more-or-less at the half-way point by now, around 6 miles. Traditionally, this is where I get into my stride and start over-taking people, but the terrain made it impossible to do that and to add to my woes, my knee had started aching more. The chap in front of me was progressing through a series of slips and slides that were essentially a kind of permanently-suspened fall, and I had to bite my lip to stop the giggle that kept wanting to burst from me at the sight. I think the weather and the conditions were combining to make me a little hysterical. The wind whipped up again at that point and small needles of rain began to drive into my left cheek. 

Feeling slightly smug (and slip-free in my fell shoes), I overtook Slipping Man as soon as I could. I got into my stride as we went past the coast guard, perched high up on St Aldhelm's Head, and waved at the coast-guard chap who was warm and dry inside. He waved back, doubtless thinking what idiots we were to be running twelves miles of hideous conditions along the exposed coastal path near Worth Matravers.

And then this happened....

The path disappeared down one side of an ankle-breaking cliff that was slick with mud to reappear on the other side, where a lung-busting climb awaited......

If you look carefully, you'll see the tiny brightly-coloured dots in a wavering line to the right of the dark mass of trees in the pic above. These are runners. Here's a close-up version.

I paused briefly to gather my courage and determination and while doing so took the opportunity to take this photo. You can barely see the coastline, so bad were the conditions....

I fared better than most of my fellows scrambling down the cliff path, thanks to my beloved Mud Claws (fell shoes with grippy bottoms that chewed the mud with a kind of disdainful Huh! Take That!). The screams and yelps of those behind me told their own tale. I didn't risk looking back; I just hoped they weren't going to free-fall all the way down and take me with them :o)

The climb up was not actually too bad. I've learnt not to look up to where you're going as it's just too distressing, plus the path was littered with bodies, casualties in road and trail shoes who were slip-sliding hopelessly down and sideways as they battled the slick mud of the path and the gradient. To my surprise, I reached the top relatively quickly and in good condition (blessed be the Mud Claws) and managed to overtake about five people on the next downward stretch because I had absolute faith in my shoes to hold me up, which they did, while people all around me were sliding and falling over.

The course dipped into a hollow and then began a long, arduous climb up a surfaced track. I lost heart here: I suddenly felt very tired and very heavy in the leg department, so I walked. Then ran on once we reached the top. I knew we didn't have far to go but my knee was starting to seriously hurt and I wondered if I'd be able to run for much longer.

At 11 miles it gave out entirely and all the people I'd worked so hard to overtake began streaming past me. It was the most disheartening moment I've yet experienced on a run. I had one mile to go and I just couldn't run without it hurting. So I walked. I hobbled. I rang M to tell him I was walking the last mile, then I saw some marshals ahead and as I was by now limping quite badly they asked if I wanted a car to drive me to the finish.

Well, OK, I might be in bits unable to run anywhere even slowly, but there is no way I'm running eleven and a half miles of a really tough race only to get a lift home for the last half mile. I'd have to be dead or unconscious. I thanked them, shook my head, gritted my teeth and carried on. I turned right off the field and onto a lane which wound uphill and walked up it sobbing, I was feeling so sorry for myself. A lovely marshal asked if I was OK and when I nodded miserably and told her I was determined to finish the race, she said you've got less than a hundred yards to go. Determined to cross the line not walking, I broke into a pathetic hobbling run, crossed the line in just under three hours and promptly burst into tears. It was my worst result time-wise since I began these longer-distance runs but even worse than that I was now consumed with the thought I might never run again.

M, as usual, was my hero.You did brilliantly, he said, wrapping me in a big hug. Your knee will mend and you'll race again. He should know, as he reminded me later, he's had two enforced significant rest-periods from injury in the last ten years and came back to run a marathon in his best-ever race position afterwards. He dried my tears and gave me a bacon butty. Friend Sue collected my t-shirt (bright yellow with a red roaring lion's head) and between them they got me back to the car, wrapped a warm towel round my shoulders and helped me pull off my sodden kit and replace it with something warm and dry. The boys came back not soon after and there was just time to take a final photo before heading home to a bath and a half-hour ice pack.

So there we have it. What a day! Should anyone kind enough to read the above experience the temptation, at this point, to tell me that I'll ruin my knee if I ever run another step, please resist it. I'm afraid it will fall on deaf ears. I'm just not the glass half-empty type and I don't give up easily.

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

CT :o)

Friday, 1 September 2017

If You Want Perfect Toe Nails Don't Take Up Running

I wasn't going to show you this photo for obvious reasons, but M, who has a mischievous streak, said I should. This, my friends, is what running distances over ten miles does to your toes.....

Look away now if you're of a delicate nature or have a phobia about feet.

i've forgotten what it is to have pink toe nails. I've also forgotten that, for most people, it isn't really normal to have purple ones, unless you've painted them, and was wandering about happily barefoot the other day when my eldest niece exclaimed in horror what have you done to your toenails?!

The third one from right fell off entirely last week when I brushed against it, leaving this strange little creature underneath, a baby nail, which is already red. I know, from M and other friends who are endurance runners, that that's it now: my toe nails will never again be fit to be seen in company, unless I paint the other ones the same dark shade of purple to match.

For me, my newly en-purpled nails are a badge of honour; evidence of all the miles I've run this year, each one a memory of a half marathon or a long training run. I've got over my initial panic, fuelled by google-offered horror stories about what bruised nails mean (you'll get septicemia, you'll damage the nail bed so it will never recover and always cause you pain, you musn't run with a bruised nail and it'll take months to heal) and discovered instead that actually all you need do is stick a thick blister plaster over the bruised nail for the duration of the run and it's job done, life carries on as normal. They throb for a day or two but then you don't notice them until someone else says Oh. My. God.Your. Nails! 

I have made one concession, which is to go up half a shoe size in my running shoes, and have to say since doing that the nails haven't bruised as easily or painfully after long runs.

On a connected but somewhat healthier subject, I've discovered the 100 Marathon Club: run a hundred marathons and you get club membership, a special t-shirt and a medal. I spent an hour or two yesterday pouring over their website writing down the races that count and loving the fact that the majority of them are off road, trail marathons through spectacularly beautiful countryside. I was toying with the idea of running a half marathon each month next year and writing a book about it, HMs being an accessible distance for everyone with not a huge amount of training, but the idea of running a hundred marathons instead has fired my interest a lot more.

M has around 17 marathons to his credit, all of which count towards the 100, but because he trains hard for them and completes them in spectacularly fast times, he has no interest in doing more than two a year. I'm not Mrs Speedy Pants, so my training would be steadier (run slower, or walk/ run = it takes less out of you and the recovery time is quicker). Of course, I may run Edinburgh next year and say never again, but either way it's on the list of accepted marathons so it will count as number 1 of 100.

I've been inspired by two runners whose books I'm currently reading. Lisa Jackson, whose brilliant book your pace or mine demonstrates how it's possible to clock up a couple of marathons a month if you're not flying along at a tremendous pace. She's often the last runner home after taking 6 or 7 hours, but you would never call her unfit or incapable. She's run Comrades three times (a very tough ultra run of 50+ miles in South Africa that frequently breaks people, including friend B who trained for it for 6 months and found, when she got there, that her muscles seized up and she couldn't compete), and she's also run naked in a couple of naturist races, so she's not a lass who takes herself too seriously. She's now an official 100 marathon club member. And then there's Ira Rainy, who went from (in his own words) fat man to ultra-marathon runner. His story is piquing my interest in long-distance running.

These two runners have one thing in common and it's this: they both thought they could and so they did, which leads me to my current fave quote, attributed to Henry Ford but actually coming initially from Virgil: whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right. I'm going to pin it up in the kitchen.

Lisa's book has a list of favourite t-shirt sayings she's seen in races. I liked: I have to keep going...I parked at the finish best, but the one that made me stop and think most was: I'm over here doing what you say is impossible.  

In 1967 Katherine Switzer ran the Boston Marathon when it was illegal for women to take part in races (1967!!! Can you believe that??) because it was believed that a) they weren't capable and b) they would damage their fertility. The deputy race director was enraged and lunged at her, intending to physically remove her from the race. Her boyfriend at the time, an olympic hammer-thrower, pushed him away and her coach who was on the course with her bellowed RUN! so she did, beating many of the men in the race. Interestingly, her fellow (male) competitors, supported her, but she wasn't given an official finish time. She had proved that not only were women capable of running a marathon, but that they were capable of running it well. But it would be another five years before women were officially allowed to compete (in 1972). And it wasn't until 1984 that they were allowed to enter the Olympic marathon. I feel a huge debt of gratitude to the trail-blazing women who paved the way for the rest of us to take part in a sport that gives us so much. The fact that these rules were changed within my lifetime means I feel it all the more keenly.

Hope you're all well?

CT :o)

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Portishead Half Marathon

Last Monday, at ten o'clock at night, I decided I fancied running a road half marathon this weekend. Such is the brilliance of the internet on phones that, half an hour later after a little searching, I had found one that fitted the bill in Portishead, Bristol and had entered it. So this morning, the alarm went off at 6.30 and we headed off down the M4 to get there in time for the 10.15 start.

M, who is training for the Clarendon Marathon, drove us and was Support Crew as he and Poppy did a 19 mile run yesterday (we all agreed it was the most quiet we'd ever seen Pop afterwards, although it didn't last long and by afternoon she was bouncing around annoying Ted).

The weather was hot and sunny, but after Adderbury a few weeks ago where we ran in 28 degree heat (hot for the UK!), a mere 24 wasn't going to put me off. It was a Festival Of Running weekend, with various races taking part on both days, culminating in the Half this morning, so there were lots of folk gathered at the start and the tail end of the 5k was coming to a close as we arrived.

I got my number and pfaffed about for a while as usual trying to pin it on without attaching it to my skin....

The start was delayed by fifteen minutes for the kids' mile race to finish and then we were off, heading out into the streets of Portishead.

Neither of us had been to Portishead before. It's a small coastal down just outside Bristol with views over to Wales and a lovely marina, which we ran past on the two-lap route...

The marshals and locals were great, clapping and cheering the runners and calling out words of encouragement. As is usual on these longer runs, I got chatting to some lovely people. I didn't get the name of the lady above, but we had a good natter about Portishead (she lived there) and marathons (she'd run London earlier in the year and Gloucester at the start of the month) while we ran together.

I'd decided to work on my pace for this HM, having left it to chance with the previous three which have all been hilly, off road, tough runs where time is, frankly, irrelevant. I reckoned if I could do between 5.40-6 minute kms on this one I'd turn in a respectable performance. This course wasn't without hills so it was never going to be super-fast, but I stuck to my guns and maintained a steady rhythm all the way and by the time I finished I wasn't exhausted but didn't have oodles of energy left over either, so I think I judged it about right. All useful stuff with half an eye on Edinburgh next year.

On the final 3k I fell into step with a lovely chap called David who was using the run as pace training for the New Forest Marathon this September. I was tiring a bit by then and we still had one final long hill to get up just before the finish. He was a complete star, chatting away, getting me up the smaller hill before the big one by slowing down so I could run beside him. I've written before how runners can help one another by either pacing side-by-side or by leading when one is tired, and that is what he did for me.

Soon we passed M waving and cheering and that gave me a lift. The course turned downhill and we were joined by a friend of David's as well as a lady who'd faltered on the previous hill and another chap. Our little group of five stuck together for the final KM, egging one another one, making sure we were all ok, checking it was safe for all of us to cross roads together. Runners. You won't find a nicer, kinder, more supportive bunch of people.

At the final hill there was M cheering and yelling me on so I superglued myself to David's elbow and managed to keep running up all of it, but I was flagging and then I heard David telling me push, push, push and that simple bit of encouragement helped me find some little bit of left-over energy from somewhere to get up the last bit of the hill and turn down to the finish. Here we are just reaching the top of that final hill having run 13 miles in the heat...

We were running side-by-side as we turned to the finish so I suggested sprint finish? We pelted down the hill together grinning and then he did what is quite possibly the nicest thing anyone who isn't my husband has ever done for me in a race- he slowed down so that I could cross the line first. David, if you happen to read this, or someone from Bristol who knows you does: thank you so much for getting me up that hill and being such a true gent at the finish. These races are, in many ways, made for me not by the time I run them in, but by the many examples of truly decent human beings I meet on the way round them.

Job Done. HM # 4 in the bag and at 12 minutes faster than my previous best too.

Happy Days!

Hope you're all well?

CT x

Thursday, 24 August 2017

In Which We Get GCSE Results, A Glut Of Vegetables, A Close Shave With A Mad Dog And Make Some Things

It's that time of year isn't it? When courgettes morph overnight into marrows and tomato plants go mad. I've given away seven monster courgettes at the gate since yesterday. The most pleasing of these was when of the rubbish men stopped his enormous truck mid-collection, dropped down out of the cab, seized the biggest one and told me with a huge grin I'm having this one! before calmly continuing on down the lane to finish collecting everyone's recycling.

I've made the red toms into this: 

It's from Sarah Raven's Garden Book. I left out the wine and cloves. It's lovely, really rich. We're having it tonight with jacket spuds and sausages, and these for pud....

Made with really dark chocolate. It's the first time I've managed to get the shiny thin papery layer on the top. They are very rich, to the extent that I (famous for stuffing myself with brownies) can honestly only manage one small one. M is marathon training at present, clocking up 70 odd miles this week, so food is being consumed here at a great rate of knots. I can barely keep up with demand and am cooking furiously so there's always something interesting and filling in the cupboards/ fridge/ tins. Added to this I'm also upping my distances as I've got 5 half marathons to run in the next couple of months and I seem to be visiting supermarkets and collecting free food from the hedgerows/ trees on an almost daily basis!

Last night, he ran in the last RR10 of the season, three laps of a university playing field. I didn't fancy it so ran cross country in the morning with the dogs instead and went along last night to support everyone. It makes a big difference in a race having someone cheering you along. I shouted encouragement to the twenty or so members of our club and got waves and grins back from all of them as they whizzed, trotted or trudged past. Elder Statesman Derek said afterwards it had really helped him muster the energy for the final lap. If you're ever watching a race and in doubt about encouraging the runners go for it- they will love you for it and you might make the difference between someone finishing or not.

The dogs and I were out early in the fields this morning; we hit the trail at 7.30 and it was bliss. No one about, only the buzzards and a few deer and what I think was a peregrine having a scuffle with a buzzard. The run was lovely, cool and fresh and strong. The only blip was when a big black labrador came out of nowhere (from behind us), knocked Ted flying and rushed, barking and snarling, phlegm flying from its rather large teeth, at me. It was rather terrifying as we were in the middle of nowhere and I had nothing, not even the dogs' leads, with me to swipe at it. Instead, more because I was outraged at the way it had run straight over Teddy and rolled him like a ball than because of any conscious thought process, I screamed furiously at it, waving my arms about. Fortunately, this worked and it turned round and ran back to its people who were too far away to have seen/ controlled it. It did shake me up a bit because it was entirely unprovoked. Teddy was fine, just a bit nervous afterwards. We got straight on with our run and put as much distance as possible between it and us. Luckily, for the most part, you can see for miles in those fields, so if I ever see it again I'll make sure we give it a very wide berth.

On a lighter note, I've been doing some more sewing...

And am wondering what to make with these...

Finally, L collected his GCSE results this morning. He's done brilliantly and we're all really proud of him. He took RE a year early (last year) and got an A, for which I gave him a bag of chocolate eclairs as a well done I am proud of you present. He grinned when he saw them because one of his friend's parents had forked out 400 quid for the same result. It has become a standing joke between us since then that whenever he does well I give him a bag of chocolate eclairs, so of course, you can imagine what he got this morning. He grinned even more broadly when he received them, informing me that a family he knows told their son he'd get £1000 for every A he produced. I informed him sweetly that the grades were reward enough (although there will be a small cash prize winging it's way to him shortly). We have agreed that I am a terrible mother :o)

Happy Days here (I even forgot to go to Yoga amid all the excitement).

Hope you're all well?

CT x

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Jams, Quilts & Falling Off Punts Into Rivers

There is a crab apple tree in one of the hedges on my local run. For the past week, it has been dropping its fruit on the ploughed field and I've been jumping over the tiny speckled apples thinking I really must come and collect some for winter jelly. I remembered to do this over the weekend and today I made up two kilner jars of rosehip and crab apple jelly. It tastes lovely and the colour....oh my! Next stop...tomato and courgette chutney (once I have changed the gas canister over).

I have also finished F's going away to uni quilt today, with help from Chief Quilt Overseer, Poppy...

While Deputy Quilt Overseer Ted slept on oblivious on top of a double layer of beds. Poppy grumbled it was like the princess and the pea as she lay down on the floor watching me pin layers of fabric together, ignoring the occasional gentle swear as I pinned my finger instead.

I'm pleased with the way it's turned out, and quite tempted to make an identical one for us as there's enough fabric left over. It's very snuggly and warm, thanks to the wadding which is 50% cotton, 50% bamboo, so nice and soft.

I particularly love this dove fabric which is part of the quilt. The finished product has a faintly medieval feel which is perfect as F is off to study archeology....

We spent a chunk of the weekend punting on the Cherwell in Oxford with fifteen members of the family before all heading off to a hotel in the Cotswolds for the night to celebrate M's 50th and L's 16th. The punting has become something of a summer tradition since the children were little, and it's become obligatory for the three dads (M, his brother and cousin) to "fall" in. They duly obliged in style, much to the hilarity of everyone else (including complete strangers in other punts who nevertheless hastened past, clearly keen to establish a reasonable bit of watery distance between themselves and the loons in the three punts). The littlest boys (aged 11 and 8) were in ecstasy at the dunkings, particularly as the oldest pushed M in (no photo of that as M took ages re-emerging and I was starting to panic that he'd drowned). He discovered the hard way that if you're going to shove an uncle off a punt into a river you're quite likely to find yourself being taken along with him (see third pic down) :o)

The hotel, on the edge of the Cotswolds, was lovely. A proper old-fashioned place. The rooms were huge, light and airy and we had a dining room all to ourselves (probably wise- we're a raucous bunch) with the tables set out like a tudor banquet. M, L and I sat at the head with two long arms of family stretching down either side. The food was delicious and after supper we all retired to the bar snug where whiskey, brandy, port and baileys did several rounds amid much conversation and laughter from large old leather and fabric armchairs.

The following morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we headed off en masse (complete with helium filled silver birthday balloons, one of which had found its way into my car where it proceeded to drive me mad floating about on the back seat like a disembodied head) to visit Great Coxwell Barn, a 13th century Cotswold stone barn that was once part of a monastic farm complex. M and I had been before, it is very beautiful. The last time we were there, earlier this summer, a Little Owl flew out of the barn right over my head and perched on the roof of the court house below. There are also several species of bat in the roof which has the original 13th C timbers. Master Craftsmanship, eh?

Talking of owls, last Sunday evening a Barn Owl floated down out of the gloaming and sat on our garage roof. He was there ages, looking around, peering in the window at us. Magical.

The Garden Birds are still eating me out of house and home. We now have siskins a-plenty, back in the garden much earlier than in previous years (I usually don't see them until January has stripped the cones from the trees), and the baby woodie is still around too. The Swifts have left Romsey and I haven't heard Blackcaps or Chiffchaffs for ages, so assume they've also headed off. But the Robins have started singing again and my heron has returned to the lake and the wrens are busy being bossy and scolding everyone in sight....

Great Tit

Marsh Tit

Assorted Tits in the rain

Siskins and goldfinches

Sparrows squabbling over the water

Baby GSW
Running-wise, I'm now back to under 24 minute Parkrun times and have another half marathon this weekend. A road race this time, just to try something a bit different. I'd been grumbling to M that I didn't feel like my fitness had improved recently, then it occurred to me that a month ago there's no way I would have decided on a Monday that I fancied running a half marathon at the weekend, looked one up and booked it, so I guess that speaks for itself. Measuring improvements in your ability becomes harder the longer you've been running, I'm finding. Anyway, I'm interested to see how I do as this race is completely different from my preferred off road and hilly ones. I will report back (warts and all).

Hope you're all well? We have GCSE results here on Thursday. We are not panicking. We are actually Quite Calm. I will be proud of him whatever the results as he worked his socks off so he deserves to do well. You can't ask anyone for more than that.

CT :o)