Friday, 17 November 2017

A Brambling in the garden, Little Miss Sunshine & Why Positivity Makes All The Difference

The morning light here is magical- glowing golden and copper. The leaves are all ginger and cinnamon spice, with the odd stroke of bright yellow splashed in the hedgerows from hazel and willow. The temperature was 2 degrees at first light. There was ice on the car and the bedroom was freezing. The dogs stayed in their beds until I turned the heating on and haven't strayed far since. 

As soon as I refilled the bird feeders, the garden was a-buzz with whirring wings as hungry birds of all shapes and sizes appeared to refuel after the chill of night. Coal tits, Long tailed tits, Great tits, Blue tits, Dunnocks, Chaffinches, Starling, Nuthatch, Robin, Marsh tit, Blackbird, Jackdaw, Goldfinches, they were all there. And then, unexpectedly, among them a little bird I've never seen in the garden before. One I've never seen at all.

A Brambling! 

Also known as the Chaffinch of the North, which is very apt because she's in the company of three Chaffinches. Lovely, no? This, added to the fact that our empty grey wagtail niche by the stream has now been filled (since the Sparrowhawk took the last one) and that a Tawny Wol flew over my head hooting softly at dusk the other night, and I've also just seen my Heron swooping low over the lake, and the Lapwings are back in the pig fields and the Starlings are starting to mumur down the lane (three huge flocks flew whispering over our heads just before dusk yesterday while I was out walking the hounds so I reckon I'd just missed the mumur - there are notes all round the house saying: "3:30pm MURMUR" incase I forget), means I've had several special bird encounters this week, making for Happy Days.

The bird encounters cheered me up because we're full of sickness here which means no running has happened for two weeks. To cheer myself up Even More, I've bought a new pair of Comedy Running Leggings....

Little Miss Sunshine.

I forget I am 44 and not 8.

I've been working with a new Sports Therapist. He is doing a lot of marathon training groundwork. I felt I'd gone as far as I could with the physio and decided it was time to see someone who was trained specifically to work with runners. 

The first question he asked me was has anyone ever looked at your feet?
No, I said, wondering why they hadn't because now he mentioned it, it seemed rather an obvious place to start.
What's the one bit of a runner's body that comes into contact with the ground, over and over? he asked.
Your foot, I said, feeling decidedly stupid now that I hadn't been suspicious when previous treatments had ignored my feet entirely.
So let's see what's going in with your feet.

After an hour and a half during which my left foot felt supple as a willow while my right was like bending concrete, he concluded that the bones in my right foot and ankle are so seized up that I am pronating (fancy runner parlance for turning my foot in and collapsing the arch), twisting my knee and hip inwards, hence the pain when I run anything over ten miles. To correct this, I have exercises to do twice a day which involve getting the ankle to flex and the heel to bend. In a fortnight, my ability to anchor myself and remain upright while standing on my right foot has really improved, as has the bend in the foot. What I haven't done yet is try running on it.

Runners are impatient folk. 

How long will it be before I can start marathon training? I wanted to know. 
He grinned. A piece of string, he said, you know? It might be a week, it might be three months.
You'll be surprised to hear I am focusing on the week rather than the three months. But I have until January before I need to really start upping the miles, and that's almost three months away :o)

I have noticed this year how mentioning injury and running in the same breath prods awake the Prophets Of Doom (usually these are non-runners, who seem an odd demographic to be advising runners on the effects of running). People fall over themselves to gleefully tell you about people they know who've ruined their joints running and now can barely walk, or who died running a marathon. I don't know anyone personally who's died running a marathon, but I know plenty who've run them time and time and time again. Of course, it's utterly tragic losing a loved one during or after a race, but I suspect if you asked them they might just say popping off doing something you cared about wasn't a bad way to go. I know I would.

It's an interesting insight into the human psyche that no-one screams Don't for God's sake get into that car! every time we approach a vehicle, and yet driving is far more dangerous than running, and most of us do it several times a day. Life is not risk-free, but paradoxically, the fewer risks we take the more our fears of their power over us seems to distort from reality. A view highlighted by the statistic about more kids being admitted to A&E with sofa-related accidents instead of falling out of trees- a fall carries risk, wherever and however you do it, and while not everything that carries a risk in life will kill you, the mind-numbing boredom of living entirely risk-free might.

I'm getting fed up with hearing all this negative, fear-driven stuff, so I decided to do some research to see whether there was any truth to it. And by that I mean proper, scientific, rigorously-tested, research-led, empirical truth, as opposed to rumour, hysteria or bias. And I found none. None at all. All the research-based evidence I've seen to date shows that running is no more dangerous than anything else we do, and in fact better for you than a lot of other things. Did you know, for example, that running prevents osteoarthritis by strengthening bone? 
There is no evidence that running is worse for your body than any other physical activity. Subscribers to the Donald Trump School of Not Thinking will doubtless remain unsatisfied by that, but the rest of us will presumably be reassured to know it.

As we become ever more sedentary as a society, with many people never raising their heart rate from one month to the next, running offers a very simple and inexpensive way to look after your health and wellbeing.
Sure, if you go to a GP with a sore knee and say it hurts when I run, they will, in all likelihood, tell you to stop running. But if you see a running specialist, they will test your bones, joints, muscles and movement to work out where the weakness lies, why it's happening, how to treat it and what kind of running you are safe to do as a result.

Runners injuries are highlighted in popular consciousness, but in reality when you ask your body to step up and perform at a higher level, any pre-existing niggles or imbalances in the way you move that have been there a while are going to be highlighted. What I've learnt talking to people who've worked in this field for years is that running doesn't cause injury; it reveals it. Whether you choose to put the necessary work in to help correct it, and are then sensible about the type of running you do afterwards, depends on how important your participation in the sport is to you.

I know of three runners who use their running to help with conditions that the lay person would dismiss as sufficiently bad to make running impossible. One has a spinal condition which gives him significant pain unless he keeps his spine mobile by running, another was advised to take up running to help her control a breathing problem and she now runs marathons, and a third ran her first half marathon despite having arthritis in her knee. What these stories reveal is that it's lazy logic to apply a 'because it's happened to me it will happen to you' approach, which is a trap many people fall into.

The mind-set that automatically moves to worse-case scenarios, whether it be about injury from running or anything else, can unconsciously burden or crush the hopes and ambitions of those close to it. I've seen it myself this year: a friend who wanted to start a counselling course received a stream of negative responses from 'friends' who expressed doubt that she was the right person to do it and said that she wouldn't cope. Thankfully, she didn't let them put her off and now she's a month away from finishing the course. But her self-confidence was very fragile when she started and it certainly wasn't helped by people telling her (wrongly) that she wasn't capable.

Some people just love to tell you you won't be able to do something. The charitable view is that they don't realise how draining that is (the uncharitable one would be that they don't have the confidence to do it themselves). Not only do you have to summon up the courage to do whatever it is (which can be considerable), you also have to put energy into countering and batting away their insidious negative voice. Believe me, it's hard enough on a physical challenge to combat your own negative internal dialogue when you're tired and sore. You really don't need somebody else's neurosis making life harder than it needs to be. You've heard the expression: a marathon is run nine tenths in the head, right?

I've just finished reading an astonishing account of one woman's utter determination to overcome physical exhaustion and complete a running challenge that no-one else had ever done before. She failed the first time round and her family said don't do it again, but she was determined, and a year later she was successful. If there's one thing that running is teaching me, it's that people have hidden depths of determination inside them that make them capable of so much more than they, or others, think. And you can apply that across life. None of us knows what someone else can do until they try, but all of us know how it feels when someone pours negativity onto a dream you are nurturing. It isn't nice or helpful; it's upsetting and it's usually plain wrong too.

What I've learnt this year is this: if you want to set yourself a goal or a challenge, go for it. I guarantee you will surprise yourself with how much you can achieve and the satisfaction you get from it could well be life-changing. If you aren't getting support to do this from the people who should support you, drop me a line in the comments and I'll give you the support.

If the negativity of the people around you is eroding your confidence, consider joining a group of like-minded souls who will support you, understand your ambition and help you achieve it (running clubs are great for this if it's a running-related goal). If you give something a go and fail at it and you want to try it again, then give it another go. Failure once does not equal failure forever. Every single competitive runner I know has a story about at least one race that was a complete and utter unmitigated disaster. My own was the Beast this year where I limped the last mile home in the pouring rain, frozen stiff and utterly miserable, being overtaken by everyone, sobbing all the way, in pain, and then breaking down when I saw M at the finish. But I tell you what- I shall be back at that bloody race next year and it won't beat me again. Even if I have to walk the whole way round.

Failure is NOT about weakness, you see. Contrary to what many of us have been told it's about learning, and you should never, ever, be embarrassed by it.

If someone you care about wants to try something amazing, and you're a little worried about it, please think about supporting them instead of voicing your fears. You might just be the little bit of sparkle that keeps them going when the going gets tough.*

There's a lovely saying I carry with me: worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, only saps today of its strength. It's a keeper, I think.

Hope you're all well, and have a lovely weekend.

In positivity,

CT :o)

*of course, if you're already a can do person who's there on the sidelines in all weathers cheering and shouting and jumping up and down yelling enthusiastically for your friend/ family member, telling them they can do it and you're proud of them: Thank you! Good on you! Keep it up! You're a complete star, and you will already have made more of a difference than you know :o)

Friday, 10 November 2017

Ted's Evening In Pictures

After a busy day (I ran ten miles with Dad and Poppy through the forest in the morning. There were bogs. Right up to my armpits. And a river, although not enough of one to wash the mud off. I came back covered in the black stuff, even my face was dirty. Mum said: how did you manage to get mud between your eyes Ted?), I felt I'd earnt a nice lie down between mum and dad in front of the fire last night. Just me, Mum and Dad......

Ah, this is the life. It is nice and cosy. Poppy is no where to be seen.

Oh no, I tell a lie. There she is. On her own bed by the fire. I am pretending I am not here, so she doesn't come over and annoy me. If I just tuck my head down and flatten my ears, I'll look like a bit of Mum's jumper....

I think it's working. Although she's looking worryingly like she might leap up and come and investigate at any second.

Nope. She hasn't. I'm getting away with it. How peaceful this moment is. I wish I could bottle it.

Uh oh! She's up. If I just keep my head down and flatten my ears a bit more, maybe her scratch will keep her so busy she won't come over to investigate...

If I just keep pretending I'm not here....

I've got a bad feeling my plan isn't working. Where is she, mum? Is she still by the fire?

Oh NO! Poppy alert!

It's OK. She's gone off somewhere with mum......hope they're not having squid chews in the kitchen...back to snoozing for me.....happy days.....just me and dad by the fire.....

Ted x

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Running Book Reviews

I'm laid up with a strep throat. It's very boring. And painful. Although today the soreness has gone thank goodness. Luckily, I have a mountain of desk-based work to get through so don't need to be flying about outside (which I'd much rather be doing). Anyway, no running at the moment so I'm reading about it instead.

I've gone through several running books this year, all of which take a different approach to the activity, from the uber competitive side to those who run for pure pleasure. You don't need to be a runner or to be interested in running to enjoy them as they're all inspiring and funny in their own way, and I've learnt something from all of them.

Lisa Jackson's book will have you smiling throughout, and at times giggling out loud. Her approach is refreshing as she's not bothered about the time she finishes her races in, instead she focuses on going out there, having fun and meeting lots of lovely folk along the way. She once had a man ask if he could photograph her bottom on a race, because she carries chocolate bars, bags of peanuts and sandwiches on a belt round her waist and he'd never seen anything like it before (most marathon runners have gels, little plastic sachets of sugary-sweet goo which they use to refuel in one quick gulp, rather than real food that you have to stop and chew). One chapter details her experience of a naked running competition, so you can see she doesn't take herself too seriously. Despite her humorous and light-hearted approach, she is a woman who has run Comrades more than once (widely regarded as the world's toughest ultra marathon) and at one point was running a marathon a fortnight in order to clock up 100 and so become a member of the illustrious 100 marathon club. She overcomes injury along the way, doubts that she'll ever make it as a marathon runner and eventually learns that running at your own pace is the way to go. She makes running accessible for everyone, whatever your pace, age or ability, and as such she's a great ambassador for the sport.

Ira Rainey is an ordinary man (although when he was a child he believed he was bionic) who decided to undertake an extraordinary challenge- to stop drinking and eating junk food, lose weight and get fit enough to complete the 46 mile Greenman path around Bristol. This is the story of his training, the ups and downs, the day of the event itself, and the aftermath. It's honest and told with great humour at times. If you're considering running an ultra marathon, or you want some inspiration to change elements of your life, it's worth a read.

Long recognised as the book on running mechanics, Tim Noakes covers all aspects of running from starting, to training programmes designed to minimise injury potential, to psychology to injury and treatment. One for your library.

Alexandra Heminsley wasn't a runner. Her dad had been, but she'd barely noticed his marathon achievements when she was growing up. This is the story of how she became one. It wasn't a straightforward transformation and there are lots of funny insights throughout where things didn't go according to plan, the times when she just wanted to give up, but there's also plenty of inspirational stuff about the joy she experiences when it starts to come together and she realises that, despite everything she thought, she can actually do this. 
Her description of her first marathon is an honest account of how it feels for the average person to run 26.2 miles- she captures the exhaustion, the aching muscles, the mental doubts and then the absolute elation when she finally crosses the line and knows she's done it. Be warned: it'll have you reaching for a pair of running shoes....

Phil Hewitt is a local boy (Bishops Waltham) who likes running marathons. While the other books I've been reading fit my ethos of enjoying running and seeing what I can do with it, Phil's approach is the opposite: his motivation is about shaving first minutes and then seconds off his marathon PBs (personal best) to run 26.2 miles as fast as he can. The book is really the story of that pursuit, with each chapter detailing his training and the different marathons he runs around the world (including a few on my doorstep). Most of them are road marathons because you don't get PBs out on the trial, so in almost every way his running is diametrically opposed to mine, yet I loved the descriptions of his races, and his thoughts as he prepared for and ran them. He conjured the sense of place and his own feelings as he went along well. My one criticism is that he comes across a little dismissive of anyone not running a full marathon, which I think is a shame because a) we all have to start somewhere and few people run marathons without coming up through the ranks of shorter distances, and b) there is nothing wrong with concentrating on a 5k, 10k or half marathon distance and running it well. An interesting insight into a mindset very different from my own, showing that there is ample space in the sport of running for all sorts of approaches. 

The definitive book on Fell running, Richard Askwith's Feet In The Clouds is close to a classic in my view. It's beautifully written, an homage to the outdoors and the wild. On the surface, it is the story of a season of Fell running, culminating in Askwith's attempt to run the Bob Graham Round (42 peaks of the Lakes in 24 hours- friends of ours have done this and it's not for the faint hearted). But it's also a tale of learning humility and respect for nature while being out in some of its fiercest environments, and of what the human spirit is really capable of. 

It underlines how it's all too easy in modern life to get swept up with the next big thing and lose sight of the value of simplicity. Through Fell running, he learns to be grounded and not take himself too seriously, while at the same time pushing himself to his limits. There's a lovely bit in the book where he has stopped to refuel on a long run through the hills. He has his expensive trainers, silver foil emergency blanket, optimally-balanced, science-led nutrition for refuelling when along comes an old guy in shorts and plimsoles who sits down, drapes a woolly blanket round his shoulders, has a cup of tea and a bacon butty, nods to Richard and then carries on running over the hills. There's a lesson in that for all of us.

I'm still reading this one and my goodness, Moire O'Sullivan is one impressive woman. She starts mountain running knowing nothing about it (having jogged around the park in Dublin a few times), to fulfil a need to have something challenging to do after returning to Ireland from living in Africa. She then has a go at Adventure Racing, a kind of extreme triathlon that's run through mountains, lasts for seven days and involves miles of kayaking, mountain biking, mountain running, abseiling and, at one point, leaping off a cliff into a lake, at the same time as carrying all your kit with you: food, clothes, tent. During the course of one race (the World Championships in Scotland), people get medi-vacced off with hypothermia, hallucinations, broken bones, sleep deprivation, and she finds herself slowly disintegrating and being forced to withdraw after about five days. Ashamed that she's let her team mates down, she concludes that Adventure Racing isn't for her and returns to her real love of mountain marathons.
She teams up with Andrew, and they run a 24 hour mountain competition where they agree to eat on the hoof and not sleep. Largely thanks to Andrew's impressive navigational skills, which enable them to get their card punched at all the checkpoints (they're given a set of co-ordinates at the start that they have to mark on their map and then work out the quickest routes to them all) they win the event. They then look for a new challenge and decide to have a go at the Wicklow Round (Ireland's version of the Bob Graham). The only problem is, no-one's ever done it before and there are no paths through the mountains to follow and the strict cut-off to do it is 24 hours.... A cracking read from a truly inspiring woman who makes you realise that most challenges are ultimately a question of believing you can do it. If you think you can't, think again.

And to finish off, one that has nothing whatsoever to do with running, but I enjoyed it....

Set in 1727, this is the story of Tom Hawkins who ends up in the Marshalsea, the notorious London debtor's prison, where conditions are beyond horrific. It's a murder mystery that conjures the atmosphere of the time perfectly, with some of the characters based on real people. It's well written and worth a read. It had me going off to look up the details of the prison and the terrible conditions suffered by the inmates. The wall of the Marshalsea is still there, in London, near a block of flats.

Hope you're all well,


Sunday, 5 November 2017

Meon Valley Half: Poppy's First Half Marathon!

Poppy ran her first half marathon with me today: the Meon Trail Half. It was a last minute decision to take her (at 8am this morning- we left at 8.15!) and I'm so glad I did. It was such a fun race, 13.1 miles across the Chalk hills of the beautiful Meon valley in Hampshire in the autumn sunlight with 250 other runners. My friend Kate was there and a few other runners we knew (mainly people M has competitions with!). It was all very low-key and friendly. The race director's briefing ran along these lines: and now I come to a word I don't like: retirement. Basically, put a don't in front of it. If your leg falls off, obviously we'll come and get you, but otherwise, try and finish....

I couldn't resist the race t-shirt...Badgers!

We had a bit of a warm up in the sunshine then we all headed off down the lane and onto a bridleway for the start. The first couple of kms were slow while everyone got into position and there was a fallen tree to navigate which slowed us all down a bit, but after a while the race spread out and it was lovely, lovely, lovely.

Quite hilly in places, but nothing Pop and I couldn't handle...

And the views from the ridge tops were beautiful, which always makes climbing the hills worthwhile....

Pop was a complete star from start to finish. Plenty of people expressed astonishment that such a tiny wee doggy would make it round in one piece, with more than one runner telling me she'd sleep well afterwards. After a while I stopped explaining about her running prowess- we all know how fit she is and what she's capable of :o) If anything I think I slowed her down! But she was very kind and didn't say anything to me about it.

It was very companionable having her with me. We stopped at puddles so she could rehydrate but otherwise she just kept on running. We fell in with a couple of lovely chaps from West Wight Runners about half way round at the top of a steep hill and they were full of praise for how well she was doing. I didn't like to say she ran 19 miles with M last month marathon training so 13 was no big deal! Anyway, they were lovely and gave her a big cuddle at the end (after we'd sprinted past them at the finish, of course!).

The course was a mixture of trails, tracks and country lanes with some hills and lots of mud thrown in, what's not to like? I honestly think it was one of the nicest races we've done. M was waiting for us at the finish, having zoomed round in about an hour and half, as was Kate who'd come in three minutes ahead of us. Pop and I finished in a time of two hours, sixteen minutes (Pop was second dog home), she was barely out of breath and I felt pretty good too, and Kate's friend Sarah came in not long after. The organisers had laid on hot soup and bread in the village hall which we ate while the prizes were given out (M scooping fastest old man), before heading back to the car and driving home.

A top morning out.

And One Very Clever Little Dog. I am SOOOOOO proud of her....She's definitely earnt her first medal, (which we are sharing) :o)

M's homemade sausage pie and bread n butter pud for tea tonight. Yum!

Hope you've all had a fun weekend too.

CT :o)

Saturday, 4 November 2017

The Fruits Of My Labours

We go through phases in our house of favourite things to eat. At the moment, it's scones and jam tarts and a new chocolate brownie recipe I found which produces confections of  proper gooeyness in the middle with contrasting thin wisps of paper on the top. We literally can not get enough of these at present. I blame the cooling weather; L blames being a growing teenager and M blames cycling to and from work every day. Whatever the reason, by today we had run out so I spent a couple of hours replenishing the tins this afternoon. I couldn't find room for the final tart on the cooling tray once they'd come out of the oven, so I was forced to eat it. I forgot, until I took a bite, quite how hot jam gets when it's been cooked. 

It was our running club's AGM and skittles night last night- 85 of us crammed into the local golf club eating, drinking, chatting, playing skittles and discussing 2018 running goals. They're a lovely bunch and it was a super evening. 

This morning, M and I went off to help out at parkrun, as we're both doing a hilly half marathon tomorrow. It's up on the Chalk, so I am especially looking forward to it. My knee has been much much stronger over the past fortnight with no pain in it at all, so I'm hoping to get round the race with no issues, in which case it will be full steam ahead for marathon training.

Parkrun had a ukulele band playing in the rain this morning to celebrate race director John's 250th run. They were great, really energetic and had everyone dancing and singing along to some cracking tunes.

Despite this morning's rain, the weather this week has been really beautiful at times, golden autumn days, and I've had some lovely runs and walks out through the fields at dawn and dusk and enjoyed them all....

The dogs have new beds (half price at Scats). M (who feels we have too many already) returned from work, took one look and exclaimed: Thank God we've got two more dog beds!  Because six shared between two small dogs really isn't enough. I love the casual way Pop has her back paws crossed in the photo. Ted is on the old beds, which have been piled up one on top of the other in preparation for washing. His expression, however, seems to be daring anyone to remove them :o)

Hope all are well?


Sunday, 29 October 2017

Breamore House 10K

I'm just back from the inaugural Breamore 10k. Breamore is an Elizabethan manor house completed in 1583 that sits on a hilltop north of Fordingbridge, on the edge of the New Forest.

M had gone off to a race in Dorset, so for the first time I was going to a race on my own. I like to arrive an hour before the race starts, just to be on the safe side. All was going well until I realised I'd turned left instead of right at Fordingbridge and so ended up in Ringwood with only half an hour to go before the race started. The forest has strict speed limits so I couldn't whizz the nine miles back to Breamore, which in any event is tucked down a little-signposted narrow and ancient country lane. I turned round and tried to stay calm as I went back up the road I'd just driven down, arriving with ten minutes to spare and a heart rate elevated before I'd even run a step. I parked in the field, pulled off my warm layers and hurtled round to the registration tent to collect my number and tie the timing chip round my ankle.

The race director was in full pre-race briefing mode by the time I got there. I spotted my friend Anna so made my way over to her and asked if I'd missed anything important. Only a word of warning about pheasants loose on the course, she whispered back, grinning.

We walked to the start, up a small hill incline, and waited five minutes or so in the cold wind for ten o'clock to chime, discussing how ill-prepared we were for the race. I'd had no time to warm up and hadn't even glanced at the course map; Anna had last run on Monday at Club and was feeling under trained.

We were in mid-chat when a horn sounded and suddenly everyone was running. The start took you up a reasonably significant hill which after a few minutes had some people walking. I said goodbye to Anna and surged off, feeling relatively fit and strong despite a fast parkrun yesterday. I'd put in an 8 mile training run over some hills with the hounds on Wednesday and could feel the benefit of it in my legs.

I got past a few folks and tried to settle into a rhythm, but soon realised this race was either up hill or down; there were relatively few flat bits. After a couple of miles the competitors were pretty spread out, with the same four or five people up ahead and one lady running with me. I'd get ahead on the hills; she'd whoosh past me on the downhills. She was a triathlete, about twenty years older than me and fit as a flea. I knew I was going to have to work hard not to let her get ahead of me.

One long hill half-way round bit, and lots of people were walking. I was dead chuffed to run the whole way up, even if it was snails-pace running. The downhill reward was short lived though- we rounded a corner in a field and were faced with a long, steep hill that wound up into woods. I ran about half way then decided walking was a better option. 

Once at the top I picked up the pace again as a nice downhill carried me back to the start. Here the 5k runners finished and the 10ks went round the loop again. Sometimes laps can be helpful- you know what's coming and you can prepare, but on this race we all knew that it was hills, and more hills ahead. I got half way up the next one (on gravel tracks) and decided to pull back some energy by walking. Anna was coming down the hill so we waved and consoled each other about the gradient.

The walking break worked; feeling restored I pushed on and managed to overtake a couple of people ahead, including the triathlete lady. She stayed just behind me though; hearing someone breathing on your shoulder puts the pressure on and I was waiting for my breath to come back so I could put a bit more distance between us.

The huge hill came round again before I knew it and this time I knew I wouldn't be able to run up all of it. Just as we came out of a farmyard and started the ascent, the lady I'd run past moments before suddenly tripped and fell, flat on her face; a swan dive onto the ground. I stopped and helped her up. Luckily she was OK but I expect it shook her up.

I carried on, the triathlete ahead of me again. I was on her heels though and as she was by now walking she kindly moved to one side so I could get past. Then I needed to walk and she got past me again. Cat and Mouse.

Down the hill, along the hedge line, round the corner, back up the big steep hill, another lady in her 60s ran past me. I congratulated her, then she started to flag so I ran by, then I needed to walk again. The tri lady was hot on my heels, I glanced at my watch and told her we'd only got a km to go. Her watch had stopped working so she was pleased to know that. There was a guy standing at the top of the hill who knew her: less talking, more running! he said, grinning as we trotted past him.

Once at the top I knew the final km was all downhill. There was no way I was going to let her overtake me on the final stretch so I pushed on, trusting that the improvements in my knee over the past fortnight particularly would carry me safely down the steep, pebbly track. It did and I flew, resolutely refusing to think what would happen if I tripped....It was my fastest km of the race: 4.34, I was chuffed. I am getting faster again after a summer of nurse-maiding an injured knee and not really being able to compete and that feel's good.

I got back just under the hour, which shows how steep the race was as I can usually do a 10k comfortably under 53 mins, and if I'm pushing it, closer to 50. I got my medal, grabbed a bottle of water and then chatted to the tri lady who came over to congratulate me and to say thank you for helping her get round. I grinned and told her she'd made me fly down the last hill because I knew if I hadn't, she'd have come past me.

Then I went to wait for Anna. She wasn't far behind and I cheered and clapped as she ran down to the finish, looking elegant as usual. The organisers had put on tea and cake for everyone, so we sat in the sun-dappled courtyard while the prize-giving happened eating the most delicious stodgy, gooey, chocolatey fudge cake and drinking tea from china cups, nattering about the race and about her daughter, who is an ultra marathon runner and has a second attempt at a 100 mile race coming up.

It was a top race, which I really enjoyed, and a lovely setting too.

Hope you're all well?

CT :o)

The only flat bit - the car park!

Breamore House

Monday, 23 October 2017

Blenheim 10k

It was another early start on Sunday to get to Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, near Oxford, for the rotary 10k. I had gone prepared with woolly hat and gloves (much to M's amusement), but I had the last laugh because it was bloomin' freezing when we arrived. I'd just furnished us both with padded jackets to wear before and after winter races (cue much resistance from M who tends to eschew warm layers in favour of shorts and t-shirts in a hard-man sort-of way, regardless of the time of year, but I was fed up with worrying about him turning blue after races), and boy did they come into their own yesterday. The remnants of Storm Brian was making itself known and everyone was shivering and jumping up and down to keep warm.

I'd not been to Blenheim before; the house is a wonderful, honey-coloured Cotswold stone creation, home to the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill. The park, which we ran through, was created from 1763 by Capability Brown, including the marvellous bridge above, which we ran over.

200 or so runners gathered at the start and set off at 10am towards the house. I was being cautious with my knee, so ran the first couple of kms on the grass either side of the metalled estate roads. After a while of this I got fed up with the number of people who were overtaking me, so decided to push on. It was a decision I did not regret- my knee was fine throughout and I have no pain, stiffness or discomfort in it today, so it was the right thing to test it a bit more.

The first hill bit and the people around me began to drop back. I caught up with the back runners of the lot who'd streamed past me over the first 2 kms and managed to hold my position once we'd reached the top of the hill. I don't think many people do hill work; it's the one area of a race I'm pretty much guaranteed to over take (my peers - not the speedy guys out front) and as such makes a difference to my mental approach when I'm racing. 

Anyway, we went on, me chasing a lady way ahead in a silver jacket whom I'd set my sights on. She was running really strongly so I figured it was going to take me a while to catch up with her. In the mean time I caught up with a much older lady who'd zoomed past me at the start and was pleased when I got past her. Then came a tubby chap who was puffing and heaving away. I got past him and ran on to catch the next person on my list: another bloke, this time one who tried to speed up as I drew level. I could tell from his breathing he was working quite hard and was pretty sure he wouldn't keep up the increased pace and I was right. After struggling to stay with me for a few paces he dropped back too. 

Next I was overtaken by a young woman in full-length running tights and a full-length top with a pony tail that swished back and forth as she ran. Too many clothes, I thought, she'll never keep that pace up, and I was right: no sooner had the second hill bit than she slowed right down and I sailed on past. 

The lady in the silver coat was still too far ahead and I didn't seem to be gaining on her. I prayed silently for a proper hill and one appeared. I made up a few more places there and gradually, gradually, began to catch up with her. She looked a very proficient runner with a strong, economical, competent style and an elegant stride- she was fast and she made it look easy. As we came to the top of the long hill my lungs were aching fit to burst and my legs felt like someone had superglued a pair of irons to my feet, but I'd closed the distance between us to a few metres and there was no way I was going to let her extend it again. I pushed on, and, as the land did me another favour by sweeping downhill for the next km or so, I decided it was worth quickening my pace more in order to catch and go past her. 

This is where training helps. My fitness has got a lot better over the past couple of months of concentrating on competing at 10k level most weekends (these races are faster than half marathons), and I was able to draw on that, accelerate and go past her. I called out a well done! as I went, which she called back. Then I felt a moment's panic that I'd gone past way too soon in the race because I knew she'd be chasing me and I wouldn't be able to see how near she was. There were still about three miles to go. If I'd worked too hard too quickly I'd soon run out of energy and she'd get back in front. Grimly, I ran on, trying to get my breathing back under control without slowing down.

It didn't last long; as the land levelled out she drew alongside and sailed past, looking strong and serene. Her breath was steady and rhythmic too. Hmmm. The battle was on, clearly. I decided to let her do the work for the next couple of kms and slotted in behind her for a rest, trying to not let her get too far ahead of me. 

At the start of the race I'd done my usual, breezy: oh, I'm not competing today; my knee isn't quite there yet. I'm just going to enjoy a nice trot round. I think M has stopped bothering to contradict this as he didn't say anything. Of course, it's complete rubbish: I simply can not run in a race and not find at least one person I want to come in ahead of. So it continued; the lady in silver effortlessly sweeping on ahead and me running determinedly behind.

Another hill; I overtook her; another levelling out; she sailed past me. I hung on grimly to her heels as we turned into the final 2km of the race. I felt she was stronger and I was tiring. The path turned off the metalled roads at this point and onto rough stones. Yipee! I thought this is my kind of terrain! Maybe it gave me a mental boost, knowing how much other runners detest grass and stones. 

A little further up I could see a grey-haired man walking. As we drew up beside him I asked him if he was OK. I glanced at him and could see he looked a bit pale. He said yes then a minute later appeared at my elbow, running once more. Thank you so much for checking I was OK, he said, I was actually just being lazy, although I do have to watch my heart rate doesn't get too high. We fell in beside one another and started chatting, and before I knew it, because I'd stopped concentrating on catching the Silver Lady, suddenly we'd gone past her. She picked up her pace to catch up and the three of us ran the next half kilometre together, talking about the course, the winds that had been a struggle to run against and how pretty a setting this was for a race. 

As the course turned left off the grass and back out onto metalled roads, a km from the finish, she said she was going to try for the finish, and off she went. I stayed with the grey-haired chap, who had told me he'd wanted to get round in under 60 mins as he'd just turned sixty. I told him we'd run together and each make sure the other made it. Silver Lady was now some way ahead but I was having such a nice chat with the grey-haired chap, who told me he wouldn't have started running again if I hadn't asked how he was, that I thought well, I'll just stay with him and make sure he gets back under his 60 mins. I'd had a great run, felt I'd run strongly and had no knee pain, I didn't really need to get in ahead of Silver Lady.....did I?

A short while on there was M with the camera, waving and yelling. We were now only a hundred metres from the finish. Do you want to sprint? I asked the grey-haired chap, but he waved me on: No, you go for it.  So I did. Silver Lady was close to but not yet over the line. I wonder, I thought to myself. I went for it (of course). I ran as fast as I could, to the point that my legs stopped feeling like they belonged to me and I was convinced I would either a) fall over or b) not be able to stop.

I caught her with seconds to go before the line and zoomed over it just ahead of her. Woo Hoo!

I turned back to see her finish and we grinned at each other. She came up to get some water and I told her I'd been chasing her the entire race and thanked her for making me up my game. She was lovely, congratulated me on pipping her to the post and told me she'd been training for a flat (and therefore fast) half marathon, which was presumably why she looked so competent in the 10k. M appeared and then shortly after that my grey-haired friend crossed the line. I introduced him to M, and he said your wife got me to the finish line, which I thought was very nice of him. He'd beaten his 60 minute time comprehensively.

The new puffy jacket went on and I felt warm as toast as we headed back to the car, another great race under our belts.

Onwards and upwards, eh?

CT :o)