Sunday, 31 December 2017

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Merry Christmas!

A very merry Christmas to all of you from all of us here at Countryside Tales XXX

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Christmas Thinking.

It's a very unfestive foggy, dreary sort of day here today. But for all that, the birds are singing their springtime songs, evidently more aware than we are that the light will soon be turning, and one of our toads has woken up and is singing by the greenhouse. Toads have surprisingly soothing voices: I often sit and listen to them serenading the lady toads, and end up being accidentally serenaded myself at the same time.

I popped into Romsey this morning to get a few things. What on earth was I thinking? It was gridlocked. In the end I got a half hour parking slot on the side of the road and then flew about like a mad thing doing what I needed to do. It was not an enjoyable experience. I am thinking that what we haven't got now we can do without. Less is more, no?

I don't like the consumerism of Christmas in general, but for some reason this year in particular I am coming out in hives over it. Watching the Blue Planet episode on all the plastic being dumped in the sea, and seeing with a sinking heart how the majority of weekly rubbish in our bin is plastic wrappers, despite being careful about what we buy, and then reading how many of the recycling plants in China don't recycle the plastic but instead bin it into rivers and the earth really got to me. To that end, when it came down to a simple choice this morning between sprouts wrapped in a plastic bag or the one above from the farm shop clinging to its stalk, I went for the stalky one. It was cheaper too.

I think we really have to challenge ourselves, supermarkets and other providers on packaging. Why, for example, are so many fruits and vegetables wrapped in plastic when they've got skins? Cucumbers and bananas do not need wrapping. And for those that do, surely it's not beyond our capabilities to create something that does the job and then degrades? When I was little, greengrocers had brown paper bags. Can't we get those back? 

Wherever I have looked in the shops these past weeks I have been surrounded by plastic. It depresses me beyond measure. I walked the fields this week and collected armfuls of the stuff: scraps from bags used on the farm, bottle lids dropped by walkers, a plastic shopping bag blown on the wind, a crisp packet that had been in the earth for ages and hadn't degraded at all.

We buy things wrapped in plastic then carry them home in even more plastic. I stood behind a woman in a shop this morning and watched her pay 5p for a plastic bag to put her purchases in, even though she had three half-full in her other bag. Even Christmas trees are now casually put through those little machines that wrap them in plastic netting, exactly the sort of thing that traps and kills sea life when it ends up in the sea. It's a one use and throw away product and I doubt many people even stop to think about it, so used have we as a society become to accepting the ubiquitous presence of plastic in our lives, unwrapping items and chucking out the packaging. We said no thank you to the chap who offered to wrap our tree and he looked slightly offended. His response when we explained why we were turning the netting down was that tying the branches with string as they had last year took ages. We just put the tree in the car, drove home and took it out again. It survived. No string nor plastic required.

I've been thinking about it and I think the problem is we're too removed from the rubbish we create - people don't think enough about it because they aren't responsible for disposing it and they don't see where it goes. I count myself in this too- I thought I was being mindful but recently have realised there is a lot more I can do.

So next year I am changing the way we do things. I am going to avoid plastic as much as possible and, in addition to this, challenge all purchases I am tempted to make to see whether or not we really need them. M has prompted me to do this, by a simple remark he made last week about not wanting to consume more than he strictly needed. 

I am going to write to our local supermarket and ask them what they are doing about using biodegradable packaging on the products they sell and M is going to contact the council and find out why plastic soup and ice cream pots, for example, aren't recyclable, and why the symbols that designate recyclability are so tiny on packaging you can barely read them. 

We'd already agreed not to get each other presents this year, instead we are taking one another out for a nice meal and paying for a race entry for each other for next year. No waste involved and the memories will last longer and be sweeter than any corporeal gift could. I'm not anti presents, in case you thought I'd gone all scrooge. I just wish they didn't come packaged in such horrible material.

Have you had any thoughts about what you'd like to change or do differently next year?


Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Fertile Void

Winter is a time for reflection, so I have been reflecting on everything I've achieved this year with my running. I started the year just about able to run six miles without stopping, and finished it comfortably running half marathons over hills, through muddy, rocky, rooty terrain. I wasn't especially fast (my road HM PB is 2:02, although that did include a few sharp hills), but I did get more technical, more competent and familiar with race strategy. I also made mistakes. I discovered what it felt like to experience a running-related injury; experienced the frustration of having to miss races, pull back on training, take more rest days. I experienced the support and encouragement of running friends who'd been through it all before and knew how I was feeling. I also experienced the opinions of people who told me I'd ruin my joints if I continued. Through that experience, I learnt to be aware of how my responses to people who were working to overcome obstacles or to take on challenges might make them feel, and to think about offering them support in place of judgement, because one's own experience is never going to be identical to someone else's. 

I learnt how to focus on getting over the injury, which has been chronic all summer, by putting in the work I needed to sort out the imbalance and condition muscles that haven't been tested this way in forty years. I listened to the advice of friends and experts and tried to find my way somewhere through the middle. I'm not there yet, but this is a journey that doesn't reach its destination overnight and I have learnt to accept that. I have also learnt, through it being tested by having to deal with this injury, how strong my will to run is, because of the sheer amount of support work required in order for me to do it. This has tested my commitment and I find myself a more disciplined, determined and focused being as a result.

I learnt I could focus on a goal (first to run 3 miles, then 6, then 9, then 10, then 13), and, through hard work, commitment and determination achieve it. My experience has encouraged others to take up running and I am so proud of them and what they've achieved as a result- all through their own hard work. I made friends with strangers on races who helped me through difficult times when I was tired and flagging. I helped strangers when they were tired and flagging. Competing in races with my husband has added a new and unlooked-for dimension to our experience of life together as we're able to talk about a shared experience; the thrills, spills, exhilarations and disappointments of the races we've run in together. I have a better understanding of something he has done and loved for years and years as a result.

Running has taught me so much this year, about myself and what I am capable of. But most important of all: I have loved every second of it. Even when it wasn't going well, it has been valuable as it's taught me more about myself. 

I have felt the need to pause and reflect as the season swings towards the shortest day. So I'm having a break, taking a few weeks off running at the end of a busy year to allow my body to rest; a little quiet time to experience the satisfaction of everything I've achieved. So far, I am enjoying it. I thought it would be hard- regular runners will know, we're like caged tigers or bears with sore heads if we have to miss any of our normal weekly runs. But once you make the decision to pause, and commit to it, it becomes easy. I am missing some races, and a few Christmas social runs which sound huge fun, but this is part of the discipline: not giving in to the temptation to break with what you've decided to do because a tempting offer arises. I'm thinking this might not be a bad pattern to follow every year.

In this fertile void is the satisfaction of knowing that something has been achieved through my own hard work, focus, determination and dedication. In it too, is the seed for next year's goal, which is my marathon. Something that, six months ago, I was still insisting I had no impulse to do. It is good that life is full of surprises. I like to embrace them.

I will try and post again before Christmas, but, as with everyone else, life is busy here so I may not. Similarly, I will try and get round and read all your lovely blogs.

Happy Christmas everyone, and thank you very much for reading Countryside Tales this year. It's been a pleasure and a joy to share this space with you.

Blessings on you all,

CT x

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Nature Post: Bramblings, Siskin, Long Tailed Tits and a Sparrowhawk

female brambling

male brambling

female siskin


male siskin & goldfinch

goldfinches and a blue tit's bottom

long tailed tits and a coal tit

male blackbird

It's raining here, proper, heavy, soak-you-in-seconds rain. I had neglected to top up the sunflower seeds at dawn and by the time I got back from the college run and doing the food shop there was a good deal of crossness in the garden. I refilled everything and within minutes the whole place was alive with the whirl of wings as everyone descended to refuel after the night. 

It's not particularly cold here at the moment, but as small birds store very little in the way of fat to keep them warm, after even mildish winter nights it's a case of life or death if they don't refuel quickly enough. When the temperature is close to freezing it's crucial. 

Insect feeders, such as the Goldcrest (our smallest bird), are reliant on the protection evergreen trees afford to keep them warm through winter nights. If you've got evergreens in your garden it's worth keeping an ear and eye out for these wonderful little birds. If you google goldcrest the RSPB has a video of them singing. It's a distinctive song and easy to learn, although it's high, so sadly older ears often can't hear it. At this time of the year you're less likely to hear them singing than in spring when they're marking territory. My mother found one she thought was on its last legs a week or so ago, kept it warm in her hands for a while and then suddenly it perked up and flew off up into the trees. Sometimes, it's as simple as warming little birds up and making sure there's a food supply they can then access.

I've been thrilled to have two brambling in the garden for the past fortnight. The female is much bolder than the male (I've only seen him two or three times). She arrived first, in the company of a small flock of chaffinches. I texted her photo with one word: BRAMBLING!!! to  Uncle B and got back an equally excited reply within seconds and the instruction to keep my eyes peeled for her mate. The very next morning he arrived (the male brambling, not uncle B :o)). I think they've both moved on now, but as I'd never seen a Brambling in the flesh before I've been thrilled to have them here, even if only for a few days.

Yesterday afternoon I realised the Siskin gang was back in the alder trees around the lake. They move in enormous flocks, seeking seeds inside cones, and usually turn up here at some point in the winter. In spring they disappear back up the lane into the conifer forest where they nest (and where the Sparrowhawks live). I hear them before I see them: they make a good deal of noise, all popping and whistling. Sure enough, this morning there were three on the feeders. I always admire their lime-green flecked and speckled markings. Handsome little birds.

Another sign that winter is here is the daily morning visit of the moorhen. She pops over the hedge from the lake and comes to eat the seed the other birds have spilt on the floor. I admire her elegant long green toes. She's very nervous of people so I have to creep around to get her photo :o). In springtime, she brings her children with her. Small, brown balls of unruly fluff.

We've an enormous amount of goldfinches, blue tits and sparrows here. I counted 20 blue tits yesterday, and at one point in early autumn, 50 sparrows. Not bad going when you think that eight years ago, there were no sparrows at all. It's obviously been a good breeding season.

It's tawny owl courtship season at the moment, a short burst of wooing before winter proper settles over the land and thoughts turn more to survival. Have a listen around dusk for the males who, who, whooing. They call for about an hour as it gets dark whilst the ladies keewick replies can be heard once it's fully dark. They'll fall silent quite soon, having sorted out their partnerships, and then will start up again in the spring, making sure other owls know whose territory is whose. Likewise, dog foxes are barking the bounds of their territory by day and night at present. Listen out for any rhythmic single barks repeated every few seconds. And badgers are busy digging holes for worms who go deeper in colder weather. Look out for small, conical shaped holes, often with fine threads of roots at the bottom.

The dogs and I were thrilled to find a Sparrowhawk's plucking post whilst out walking the other day. It was a fallen tree across a path in the green lane, so it was well sheltered. And covered in feathers. A pigeon, I think, which makes me think it was the female who caught it as the males usually hunt nothing bigger than blackbirds, being quite small themselves and adapted to hunt through trees, whereas the females who are bigger hunt in the open. This plucking post was also next to a field. 

Sparrowhawks will take prey to specific places where they pluck the feathers before eating. If they can't find a suitable place (called a plucking post), they'll tent their wings over the prey and pluck it on the spot instead. I once saw a female sparrowhawk hunt a pigeon, bring it down, tent her wings over it and begin to tear the feathers out. An amazing sight. Gosh, they have such fierce eyes. If you come across small, sad piles of feathers beside hedgerows in all likelihood you're looking at a sparrowhawk's supper. Foxes tend to carry their prey away to their dens or larders.

sparrowhawk plucking post

I was amused and exasperated in equal measure last week by a letter in our local paper talking about the RSPB's obsession with raptors (?) and the damage inflicted on small bird populations as a result. This person was warning people not to put food out for the birds because it would only encourage raptors and the decimation of your garden bird population and your own heartache as a result.

I found myself sighing as I read it. Food chains and trophic levels being what they are, it's impossible for nature to sustain apex predators in greater numbers than their prey, no matter how hard the RSPB or anyone else might try. It's called a Carrying Capacity. Smaller birds are adapted through years of evolution to cope with being predated. It's why many of them raise two or three broods a year of five or more chicks, and why raptors only raise one nest often with only one baby in it. It's like saying we should exterminate all small birds because they'll eat all the worms. I feed the birds here and we have a resident sparrowhawk population up the road, and sometimes one of them will come into the garden and take a bird. It happens maybe three times a year. I watch my garden bird populations very closely and record them regularly. Over the ten years that we've been here numbers of both small birds and raptors have increased. It's a healthy population balance: the sparrowhawks have not decimated it. However, the three non-native, feral and un-neutered cats who have moved in next door might very well do.

The truth is that many of our raptors were poisoned and hunted into near extermination during the last century, and until very recently have been in dire straits. Indeed, several of them are still on the red and amber lists (this means severe declines or low numbers breeding): including merlin, kestrel, osprey, honey buzzard, marsh harrier and montagu's harrier.

The same paper printed a similar letter last year complaining about the numbers of red kites and buzzards who would "clear the area for miles around of any small bird or mammal within days." Red kites and buzzards are primarily scavengers. They will occasionally take live prey but it's not what they're adapted to eat. As evidenced by the fact that when the buzzard flies over the garden here, no one dives for cover. If the sparrowhawk does they're gone in seconds. It's the same hysterical response that greeted the escaped lynx last week. They ended up shooting her because she'd moved near a residential area and people were worried about humans being attacked.The inevitability of this was depressing. Lynx don't hunt people and they don't stalk or chase prey in the way wolves, for example, do. They are ambush hunters, which means they wait for their prey to pass beneath them (they are adapted to live in forests) before dropping down onto them. They take deer, not sheep, not people. I once watched a programme on lynx conservation in Sweden. In the week or so that the British ecologist was there looking for them they didn't see one, because the lynx are scared of people and keep out of their way.

I get very frustrated with the ignorance with which so much of the natural world is greeted. Almost all of it is fear not fact based. I think most of it is because we are becoming increasingly removed from nature and have lost the knowledge, familiarity and regular observance that once allowed us to understand it. The single biggest threat to our wildlife is not other wildlife; it is us. And the biggest threat to us long-term is the loss of our wildlife, which keeps our planet in balance and alive, creates the soil we grow our food in, the water we drink, the climate we rely on, the temperature regulation we need to survive, the crops we need to be pollinated in order to produce food and so on and so on. I think the old adage about only saving what you love is probably pertinent here. So it's really a question of engaging people. We shouldn't fear our wildlife: we should look after it.

Incidentally, while looking through the red list of UK birds whose numbers are dropping and who therefore are in danger, it struck me how many of them we get here. The danger when you see something regularly is of course to assume everyone else must do too, and therefore the species is doing well. Some of these red list cause-for-concern species might shock you, too: lapwing, woodcock, curlew, marsh tit, skylark, fieldfare, starling, song thrush, redwing, mistle thrush, house sparrow, grey wagtail, yellow wagtail, linnet, yellowhammer. Thirteen of those fifteen species I see every year, some of them everyday.

We need to keep looking after them and one simple way to do that is to put food out year-round. I've heard the argument that that creates a dependancy. My reply to that is that we've removed so much of their natural habitat and intensified farming so greatly that surplus food once left out in the fields that saw them through winters just isn't there any more. So we need to replace it, and feeding them in your garden is one way to do that. In your garden, you have control over the plants you grow, the vegetation cutting regimes you employ, the chemicals you use and whether you put out water and food and provide shelter.
Sometimes, just being aware that things need our help is enough to make us shift our behaviours in subtle ways that carry big impacts. It's something that's worth thinking about.

Wishing you all a good weekend,


Sunday, 26 November 2017

Avebury 9 Mile Cross Country Race

We woke to frost this morning, which meant that my usual the-weather-has-changed-what-on-earth-shall-I-wear? pre-race dilemma ensued. I knew it would be more a case of tortoise than hare today (I haven't run for three weeks- virus), so I plumped for my new Mr Men & Little Miss capris (on the basis that they would cheer everyone up), a thermal top, hat and gloves. M eyed my get-up speculatively. You'll ditch the hat and gloves after a few minutes, he decided. I won't I said back, and I was right, because when we got to Avebury (home to an ancient stone circle that curls round the village which was built inside it and coincidentally my favourite place on Earth) it was bitter cold: windy, icy and generally shivery-making, if gloriously sunny. 

Race HQ was in the sports and social club, a two minute walk from the National Trust car park. Only it didn't feel like two minutes; it felt like a trek through the North Pole. We scurried over the frozen grass of the cricket pitch and dived for the door. It felt like all 175 runners were inside. Everyone was crammed in, unwilling to wait outside where the arctic blast was flaying skin from the bone. 

The warmth in the hall lulled us into a false sense of security as we all queued patiently for the loo before stripping off into race gear. You could tell just by looking who was planning on running fast (shorts, vest tops) and who wasn't (full length lycra, coat, hats, gloves etc).

It was a ten minute wander down through the village to the start and mercifully by then it had started to warm up a bit so when we arrived it was all golden and glowing.

Beautiful houses lined the route...

...accounting for the various no peeing here, men! signs that had been nailed to prominent gate posts...

There were autumn colours on the ground...

And soon, with very little fanfare, the race director wished us all a happy, muddy run, and we were off. 

I soon saw what he meant.

Luckily, I am not afraid of mud. 

Very luckily.

Once we'd got through that, the path opened out onto tracks which made running easier, only by then our trainers were so weighed down with mud it felt like each foot weighed an extra stone. Everyone had a good sense of humour about it though and we were all laughing. No rural running virgins amongst this lot.

However, the respite was short-lived and we were soon back to mud, and tracks that were too narrow to fit both feet.

The pay-off for all this mud was worth it though.....

After the long climb up Windmill Hill we came out on the glorious rolling chalk Downlands of Wiltshire. The sun was shining and the visibility stretched for mile upon mile upon mile...

This landscape fairly vibrates with the past. You can't go more than a few feet without tripping over a burial mound. Many of them haven't been excavated. Just think, inside the mound of earth in the picture below are the bones of people who walked this patch of earth five thousand years ago. Spine-tingling stuff.

By this point I was feeling my three week running hiatus and was walking for a breather. Ish came up beside me and asked if I was OK and we got chatting. Turns out she'd been a spectator and support crew at this race for many years with her husband, and then decided she would have a go, and now here she was, one mile off finishing. Brilliant! She told me my leggings had been keeping her going :o)

Eventually, we came off the Downs back into the valley which of course meant.....

More mud. And about seven stiles. Just what you need at the end of nine miles of challenging running :o). I was running again by this point and finished more or less where I thought I would, not super speedy but not too slow either. For the first one back after a break I'll take that.

When I got back to race HQ, I was greeted with a sight that cross country runners the world over will recognise....

Piles of muddy fell and trail shoes, left outside to preserve the sanity of the hall caretaker.

The warmth inside was once again very welcome, as was the water and cake. I changed into warm kit and collected my beautiful mug which was in place of a medal or technical t-shirt and was made at local pottery White Horse (this was quite a lot of the reason I entered us for the race). Here I am with it near one of the ancient stones that make up the outer circle at Avebury.

Another top run, which I really enjoyed, on a beautiful day in a beautiful, magical landscape in fabulous weather. What more could you want? And when we got home, what else was there to do but have a nice cup of tea in my beautiful new mug :o)

Thank you, Marlborough Running Club!

Hope you've all had a lovely weekend? It's very nice to be back running and competing again. Next up, a monstrously hilly race round the cliffs of the Jurassic Coast. Can't wait. Bring it on :o).


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,