Thursday, 30 March 2017

The River Calls and Shows Me Things

I am very fortunate to have access to what must be one of the most beautiful rivers in the whole world: our Very Own Chalk Stream, the Test. More so because, thanks to the River Keeper on the Mottisfont Estate, I am allowed access to the private fishing beats where there are no public footpaths.

Fly Fishing doesn't start till the beginning of May, so between now and then I am able to wander at will and soak this wonderful place up. After May 1st I can still go but it takes a wee bit more planning, so as not to disturb the fisherfellows  A huge amount of work goes in to caring for the river, and the habitat is fantastic, as evidenced by the huge range of species I recorded during an hour this morning.

Twenty-six species of birds; 3 species of Butterly; 3 Bee Flies; a Rabbit; Roe Deer slots; Buff-Tailed Queen Bumbles AND fresh Otter Spraint which must have been left in the night.

Have you ever sniffed otter poo? No? I wonder why :o) It is actually not unpleasant. It doesn't smell of poo at all; it smells of the river. If you enlarge the photo you might be able to see the fish scales which make up a fair amount of otter leavings and, together with the smell and where it's found, identify it as otter. I always get ridiculously excited whenever I find it and I'm afraid I always pick it up and sniff it :o) Were you glad you weren't with me? I take photos too....

Perhaps you'll like these ones more... 

A male Holly Blue. He's the chap in the first photo too. You can tell he's a male because the dark line along the edge of his wing (see first photo- it's clearer in that). In the female it's a lot fatter. I saw two of these beautiful flutters on the river this morning. A sure sign of summer coming.

There were two Comma Butterflies as well, basking on the warm micro-climate of some bare earth on the bank, neatly demonstrating how they get their name...

Cowslips are out, which means it won't be too long before it's time to go hunting for the elusive Duke of Burgundy fritillary. This flutter is teetering on the brink of extinction. There are two sites locally where you can see it, if you're in the know and are lucky. One memorable spring I had a Duchess sit on my finger at one of them for ages. They are unusual in that the male only has four functioning legs- the other two have shrunk so much as to be unusable.

And last but not least, a Greylag Goose.

Most Unexpected. We do have a small GB breeding population of Greylags here in the UK, but their numbers are swelled over winter by birds arriving from colder climes so it's hard to know which this is. They're just about heading back to colder places now, so this could be one about to head off. I am intrigued and have asked Alan, my Bird Expert, for his thoughts.

No Cettis Warblers yet, but it won't be long. It also won't be long before the Whitethroats and Reed Warblers return to the banks and hedges. Cuckoos too. I'm keeping an eye on the BTO Cuckoo cam which shows were five satellite-tagged cuckoos are on their journey back to Britain. I'm watching one of the Cuckoos in particular: Selborne is a New Forest Cuckoo (named for naturalist Gilbert White's home village) and as such it's not beyond the realms of possibility that I might see him, the forest being a stone's throw from here. Click here to see his journey. He's currently in Northern Spain, so it won't be long before he's back. Isn't technology amazing?

The valley where the Test runs is a known stop-over place for Osprey on their flight back to Scotland, which is just about now. Last Spring, one was seen perched in a tree on one of the other beats. I confess I indulged in a secret reverie of coming round the corner and finding one taking a trout from the river today, but alas it wasn't to be. What I did find though which is as exciting, was five fresh water vole latrines, which means the breeding females are up and active and marking the edges of their territories. We didn't see so many last year so this really is Good News. No actual voles of course, but The River and I have played this particular game many times before- I know full well she'll only let me see them when she's good and ready. I am content to wait, respectfully, of course.

It feels like life is really getting going now, Wild Life. I'm heading out to the other beats over the next few days, it would be a treat to see Water Voles, or Kingfishers or maybe even an Osprey. Or one of the Goshawks who have moved in to one of the local woods and will be displaying above them in the next few weeks. Or possibly a Peregrine or two who are also nesting not too far from here. If I'm Very Good, and patient, Mother Nature might just oblige.....

Hope all are well?

CT :o)

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Ten Miles Before Breakfast

With the Grizzly Cub ticked it's on to the next challenge. Well, several challenges as it happens. April holds a ten mile road race, an eight mile hill trail race and a 10k road race (part of Southampton Marathon weekend).

To this end we were out early this morning (although not as early as it felt, thanks to the clocks changing) doing a ten miler that starts and finishes at home. It's a challenging and technical route that goes along lanes, up and down hills, through ancient woodland, over a bit of chalk, through a couple of small bogs (!), across fields, past an Iron Age hill fort and back home through the woods.

The weather was glorious: wall-to-wall-sunshine, and the running was relatively easy (unlike the last time we did this route which was awful, so that's a ghost laid). I wasn't going fast (1:50 hours in the end) but I felt strong, finished with a sprint up the lane and haven't felt any ill effects afterwards, so I'm feeling positive about the next set of challenges. I've signed up for another Half Marathon in the Autumn. I figure if I'm putting in the effort of training for one I might as well do two :o) One is a road race, the other is on trails with some big hills so it'll be interesting to compare the two.

I've picked the first flowers from the garden today- Anemones, aren't they fabulous? - and some small daffs. It felt Rather Wonderful to bring a bunch indoors and cheer up the kitchen with them. We also went up to a local woodland to record the birds. I'm volunteering for the National Trust on an ad hoc basis, helping them keep an up-to-date record of the species on the Mottisfont estate. I got 15 species in less than an hour in the woods today, which is a good indicator of how lovely the habitat is there: Nuthatch, Robin, Wren, Blackbird, Wood Pigeon, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Pheasant, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Marsh Tit, Long Tailed Tits, Mistle Thrush, Coal Tit and Chaffinch. It was glorious in the woods, you could breath in the peace.

Back at home and my first Orange Tip of the year flew into the garden, and then I found three newts in the pond. These are Smooth Newts, two girls and a boy, and the boy is currently in his Full And Rather Splendid breeding colours (huge long wavy crest and fiery spotty tail). I might do an egg search later- the girls lay their eggs on a leaf and then very carefully fold the leaf over the egg and stick it down to keep it safe. So Clever.

Yesterday, I watched a Tree Creeper climb the house brickwork, sit under the window ledge and pick off strands of cobweb which he flew off with, evidently in mid-nest-build mode. I just love the idea of cobwebs being used to keep a nest together. Isn't nature amazing?

Hope you've all had a Good Weekend?

CT :o)

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Following The Badger Path

My Father in Law, a farmer, can reliably be heard at this time of year issuing gleeful warnings of the Blackthorn Winter. He's not wrong as it turns out, for the Blackthorn is out on the bough and this week the weather has changed. The temperature has dropped a few degrees and it's cold and raining.

Being a Hardy Outdoors type, this doesn't interfere overly with my day, whether it be dog walking or running, so this morning the dogs and I headed off to the woods through the rain for a walk. 

This is an ancient place, managed by the National Trust who've been bringing it back into coppice rotation. I haven't been for a while and right now it looks dreadful with huge tracts of trees cuts down and muddy ruts of tractor wheels digging up the earth. They have replanted new hazels and if you look beyond the mess you'll find that wood anemones are blooming in the open spaces....

and Early Dog Violets too....

You can tell these are Early Dog Violets rather than Common Violets by the pointed nature of the spur sticking out at the back of the bloom. In the Common Violet this is blunted and shorter.

Violets are the food plant for the caterpillars of many Fritillary butterfly species which lay their eggs in the trees above the violets and the pillars then pop down to munch on the plants. The Silver Washed Fritillary is a creature of ancient woodlands who needs Common Violets which grow on our lane (once an ancient woodland, many moons ago). Last summer you may remember a small success I had with our local council who agreed to delay cutting the verges until after the butterflies had pupated, sometime in July. It's really worth having a look for these violets in your local area (they'll be in flower from March to May) and seeing if you can get your council to do the same. Silver Washed Frits are primarily a South UK Species and their numbers are falling so they need all the help they can get. They are big orange butterflies with black streaks and have a beautiful gliding flight. The adults are on the wing in July and August and they do venture out of woodlands on occasion (we get them in our garden).

Both the Early Dog Violet and the Wood Anemone are ancient woodland indicators. Their presence on the woodland floor, along with primroses and dog's mercury, mean that this woodland has been here since at least 1600, and in all likelihood much, much longer. The wood forms part of the Mottisfont Abbey Estate, which is itself on the site of some ancient Springs that were once sacred to the Celts (as indeed in Romsey Abbey, a few miles away). These springs rise in what is now the Abbey grounds. The water has an other-wordliness to it: the colour is something else and whenever I stand next to the Spring I get the urge to jump in it.

I started off following the human path through the woods on our walk this morning, but as so often happens found after a time that I was pulled to the Badger Paths that criss-cross the understory. Badgers find much more interesting places to walk than humans. They meander and amble and trundle through their woods. I am never bored when following a badger track. And I am always surprised at where they lead me. In the past I've found Orchids in these woods because the Badger Track ran past them. Thanks to the badgers, when it came to coppicing that area of the wood I was able to tell the ranger that the orchids were there, and this morning I see that they've coppiced that area and left the section where the orchids are alone. Coppicing is a winter occupation so any and all trace of the orchids would have vanished long before it began, so had the badgers not shown me the plants were there the habitat for the plant would have been lost and there would have been no more Orchids.

Here is Pop helpfully pointing out where the Badger Path runs between the conifers. Incidentally, although I am generally not a fan of conifers, it is worth noting that Sparrowhawks will choose them over broad-leafed trees to nest in, so perhaps they are more worthwhile than we sometimes give them credit for. This is especially true of young (under 50 years old), conifer plantations with open paths between them. I've seen Sparrowhawks in this wood before. Last summer a male nearly flew in to me, so intent was he on exploding out of the undergrowth with his prey clutched in his talons. Those yellow eyes. They are something else up-close. I got out of his way fast :o).

This morning, I followed the Badger Paths for a while then thought to turn off them and head back to the main path, but I got a very strong sense that I was meant to continue on it, so I did, and I found sulphur tuft mushrooms growing out of a tree stump....

As well as the Early Dig Violets and a patch of Wood Anemones. I wouldn't have found them had I been on the People Path. When you see a woodland from the eyes of the Wild Ones who inhabit it you get a very different view. All the people-related stuff falls away and what's left is the Land, pure and simple, as it has always been.

Hope you're all well? I'm going to embarrass B from Coastal Ripples now by saying a HUGE WELL DONE on running her first twenty-minutes-non-stop section of the Couch to 5K programme. It's a great achievement and she's a fab example to us all.

CT :o)

Friday, 17 March 2017

Ted's Diary

Greetings Friends.

It's been a while, I know, but I've been very busy with various things that have required my full attention. You know how it is.

Before I go any further, I should explain that the chequered ball above Poppy's head in the photo above isn't a disciplinary measure for naughty dogs or children, or a hankie wrapped around someone who's about to leave home's possessions  It's the banger for a dinner gong Mum got Dad for Christmas. The gong is huge and ancient and boy does it make a noise when it's walloped. It reverberates through the air and our ears for hours afterwards. The humans with their under-developed ears only hear it for about five minutes and they think that's amazing. I ask you! It talks back whenever Dad says anything too, but Mum's voice must be too high for it to hear I think because it never says anything when she speaks.

About a week ago, Pop and I had hair cuts (and baths, but we won't dwell on that). We hadn't seen Mrs Danning for ages, it having been winter and our mother deciding (for once) that fur was Quite Useful in the cold, but last week off we went to her house and when we came home we were sans quite a lot of fur and quite a lot of mud. I was silver (again. Sigh) and we rediscovered Poppy actually has two round eyes. Also, that she is Quite Small without her fur. And that my ears are pink, not grey.

Mum snuggled Poppy for ages when she got back from Mrs D. She has to, to make the most of a short window of opportunity. Pop can make herself smelly in a hermetically sealed room. It takes her approximately one hour to get rid of the clean smell and long before then standing in the same room as her makes your skin gently steam, your eyes water and your nose run. I don't know how she does it but I take my hat off to her.

Then last Sunday, we were abandoned. I ask you! I really thought we'd had this conversation and I'd made my feelings plain and that no further abandonment would occur, but there you go! Hopeless parents left us alone ALL DAY. Even the boys went, and they only stir from their rooms to go to the kitchen for food or to play on the computer, so I knew it was serious. I was convinced they weren't coming back, so we rationed our biscuits and tried not to be too frightened until thankfully we heard the key turning in the lock some time after lunch. Pop didn't ration her wee though- she spent a huge penny on the kitchen floor which Mum had to clean up when she got back :o)

Things improved during the week when Dad took a delivery of poo and spread it all around the garden. Apparently, it was from the Young Farmers who delivered it in their trailer. I can't understand why they don't use their own instead of flushing it away and paying for someone else's. So much for human intelligence. Anyway, it turned out not to beYoung Farmer's poo, but cow poo, mixed in with an awful lot of straw. We'd barely been allowed to sniff it before mum removed it all, muttering under her breath about husbands giving flower beds second rate muck whilst prized vegetable patches got finely sieved poo from the garden centre. To be honest, I don't think cow poo is as good as fox or badger anyway, but for some reason they don't sell that in shops.

Today, we've been out running round the Pig Fields only there were no pigs because they've moved somewhere else. There was some mud, but not much. I kept up all the way. Not bad for someone who's seven and a half, or fifty in human years. I am considered 'senior' on the pedigree website (just wish Poppy would take note of that).

We came home starving and ate a late breakfast while Mum had a shower.

After that there was just about time to bark ferociously at the postman who was too scared to come in the gate and threw the post in the general direction of the house instead (job well done there, eh?) before sleep overcame us. 

You won't be surprised to learn that Poppy is responsible for the ruined bed area. For some reason her favourite game in the whole world (next to football) is to tear in from the hall at a furious speed and launch herself onto the beds which then skid into the wall with her flying along on top of them. The result is they get all rucked up like this and I barely have space to make myself comfortable. Sigh.

Poppy declined the beds (no surprise, considering what a mess she'd left them in), preferring to snooze on the back of the sofa while Dad is away at work and therefore couldn't tell her off and Mum was pretending she couldn't see her.

I hope all is well with all of you? I will try not to leave it so long before my next diary entry. It will soon be full Pigeon Watching time afterall and I really hope those of you who have yet to join the Pigeon Watcher's Club will do so this year.

With very best regards,


Wednesday, 15 March 2017

A Word Of Encouragement

I've been reflecting this week on my participation in the Grizzly. I've been going down to watch that race and support M in it for eight years now. It always filled me with awe, that people were capable of taking on that particular challenge: the hills, the pebble beaches, the distance, the weather. I loved watching the runners gather at the start and come back after a couple of hours and more out on the hills, covered in mud, sweating, red faced, some looking completely knackered but everyone with a real feeling of achievement about them. But I never, in a million years, ever thought it would be me doing it.  I simply didn't think I had the capacity, the strength, the fitness or the ability. 

And then, a few weeks ago, we were talking about me maybe doing it next year, or trying to find a ticket no-one wanted for this year, and M suddenly said there's an obvious solution- you take my place. And that was that. Without me really making a decision about it, it was decided. I still wasn't sure I could do it but I didn't want to let him down. Knowing how much he loves that race, I didn't want to make his sacrificing his place in it to me a waste.

So I trained. I focused. I set aside all the niggly worrisome voices that undermine confidence and chip away at strength and resolved I would do it. I put together a training programme and stuck to it. And then my knees threw up a problem that put my training schedule into complete disarray. For a while I wasn't sure I'd be able to run the race at all, and only then did I realise how important it had become. I felt gutted at the thought and realised I was completely invested in it. 

The knees improved, slowly, and with the right treatment, but by then my training schedule was completely to pot and I worried that I wasn't going to be able to put in the miles or the hills or the intervals I'd planned. My careful preparation was in tatters. There was, by that time, absolutely nothing I could do about so I decided to pull myself together, put all that negative nonsense to one side and stop worrying about it. I had to trust that I'd done enough, that six months of solid training and significantly improved fitness would stand me in good stead for nine hilly miles. I made my mind up that I would finish the race come hell or high water by crawling round it if I had to.

I had no expectations of it going the way it did. It was, unbelievably, an easy run. Obviously it was tough, but I loved every single second of it and wished it had lasted longer. It was well within my capacity and comfort zone and everything on the day worked. I had no pain afterwards and although I was in bed and asleep by 9pm on Sunday night I woke up feeling great and (much to M's disappointment) wasn't hobbling about like an old lady when I got up the following morning :o) I ate masses on Monday to replace used up calories, but other than that I have felt no after effects at all. I've been out for a run this morning and feel really good on it.

So what I want to say to anyone who feels life could do with a shake up, that they'd like a focus, a challenge or something to work towards, or they've seen something they want to do but don't think they can: YOU CAN IF YOU CHOOSE TO.

If I can run a tough race well that I've spent eight years being in awe of and believing was way above my capability then you can do whatever you set your mind to too. All you need is someone who believes in you to tell you it's possible and not to make a big fuss about it. M did that for me, and I'd like to do that for you. So go for it. You really don't know until you try just what you're capable of. And don't let anyone ever tell you different. 

With that in mind I'll leave you with one of the quotes out on the Grizzly course which to me says it all: "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference." 

It's a mantra I'm sticking to.


Sunday, 12 March 2017

Race Report: The Grizzly Cub 2017

Last night was Conqueror Of Mountain's John's 60th birthday party. There were a lot of runners there, several of whom were running the Grizzly or Cub today. You could tell who they were straightaway by the enormous plates of food they were consuming, the fact they were only drinking water and that they all left by 10pm! It was a great way to spend the night before the race.

We woke a little before six to rain, left at seven in rain and arrived in Seaton a little before nine in rain. A familiar story for race mornings. We went to race HQ and I got a Grizzly beanie which has an embroidered Bear's Claw (the emblem of the race) on the front, and by the time we met our friends in a cafe the rain had stopped. We sat and ate toast and drank tea, chatted over race strategy and watched Seaton fill up with people in lycra and running shoes.

By ten I was back at the car changing, putting on the race number, filling my pocket with jelly babies and stretching. By 10.20 everyone had gathered around the start and the Town Crier was giving his traditional address. M did a fab job of the video, but I haven't uploaded it because it's quite long and I can't work out how to edit it!

Here are some photos of the start instead...

Over 2000 runners waiting to go
Where's Wally
everyone running along the beach before coming back through the start
the lead runners coming off the beach and through the start for the second time

I thought the beach would be horribly hard work, but actually it was fine, a little unsteady beneath the feet but as long as you adjusted for this you weren't in danger of turning an ankle and I came off it back onto the road feeling strong.

We ran through Seaton town front and up on the road to Beer where the first big hill had everyone walking. Then we came down into Beer town where the crowds were fab, cheering, waving, yelling encouragement, offering the runners sweets. There's another hill out of Beer which I ran about 2/3 of the way up before taking M's advice and walking to save energy. The hills are just too steep for any but the fittest to run all the way up, and even they would struggle with some of them. 

We turned left off the road at the top of the hill and ran down through the Caravan Park and then up another enormous hill (more walking and a drink of water here for me) before we breached the top and were out onto green fields above the cliffs and the most beautiful views of the sea. Here I ran some of the way with a man dressed as a Mexican who was mourning the loss his false moustache and who may, or may not, have come with Donald Trump and his wall, both of whom were also running :o)

At this point my precise recollection of the race falters slightly. I think we ran some distance across the cliffs before coming down off them into Branscombe beach- the path was steep, muddy, slippery, rocky, full of roots and narrow. I had my beloved Fell shoes on and as a consequence had no problem at all navigating the path at a steady trot, but many other runners were slipping, sliding, squeaking and squealing their way down.

We eventually came out onto Branscombe beach and here the Grizzly runners separated from the Cubs. We headed left over more pebbles but luckily, the tide was out so I headed down to the water and ran along wet sand. On the whole preferable to pebbles.

By now I was into my stride and running well. I had started to over take rather than be overtaken at around km7 and I continued to go past people on the beach. My energy suddenly surged and I was flying along and really enjoying it. I knew, however, that the Stairway To Heaven was waiting for me at the end of the beach, so I pulled back to conserve some energy for that.

My goodness, that is one steep path. It starts out OK and then it grabs you by the wotsits and doesn't let up for ages. It just gets steeper, and steeper, and steeper. There was a man in a wig wearing long flowing robes half way up declaiming questionable wisdom from a book while taking a slug every now and then from a hip flask, and then further on one of the Wise Signs the Grizzly is known for, which alternately inspire and make you ponder. I think this one read: "attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference." It is a bit of a Cult Race and I can really see why so many people love it.

Halfway up the Stairway to Heaven I asked a marshal who was a coastguard where the next water station was and he replied that he had some water if I wanted some. I declined but there then ensued a conversation between me and the chaps behind me about whether or not the marshal had anything stronger in his bag. We all agreed an ice cold G&T would have worked wonders at that point!

Finally we reached the summit and all my energy came rushing back and I found myself flying down the hill back towards Beer. I could see Seaton in the distance and realised we'd only got about 3 miles to go and I felt a pang that the race was nearly over, I was having such a good time.

Beer however sobered us up (sorry about that) with another hill which nearly did for me. Here I ate one of the jelly baby family and the sugar pick-me-up really worked as I was able to run on again.

The path meandered along here, flat, uphill, downhill, until eventually we came out back on the road to Seaton. I was more or less on my own now and really enjoying the rhythm of running. I was feeling fresh and in control. Then they turned us off the road across country and back up another hill! Only a short one this time and then we were off again, turning right onto the main road back to Seaton. I knew from my GPS it was less than a mile to go to the finish and also that I was on target to significantly beat my estimated time so I picked up the pace, stretched my legs out and went for it. I overtook the man in front but couldn't reach the three ahead of me. I flew across the gardens and down the road to the finish where I could see M with the video yelling and waving. I sprinted to the end, past the crowds and the clock that told me I'd shaved 20 minutes of my estimated time, a ridiculously huge grin on my face and was met by my two boys who were also grinning and waving.

Honestly, what a brilliant race! I buzzed for about an hour afterwards and just wish it had gone on longer. I will definitely be back next year.

Happy Days!

CT :o)

Friday, 10 March 2017


I think I've got everything. Frankly, if I haven't it's too late now!

Following everyone's advice, The Kit consists of:

1. x2 pairs of running shoes, (Fell and Trail)
2. Shorts (with zip pocket at the back- this is meant for keys but mine will be housing a small family of jelly babies who may not live to see the end of the race. Their brave sacrifice will be duly honoured)
3. Long leggings (ditto zip pocket)
4. 3/4 length leggings (also with zip pocket)
5. Waterproof (from Ultimate Direction, extremely light, breathable and with properly sealed seams. Probably more than I'll need but I'm erring on the side of caution)
6. Vest top
7. Short-sleeved T
8. Long sleeved T
9. Thermal T
10. Race Number (and the all important x4 safety pins!)
11. Pack of Jelly Babies
12. GPS
13. Patella Bands
14. Hat
15. Gloves

Needless to say I won't be wearing all of this :o) At the mo the forecast is for mild weather with a few rain showers, so it'll likely be shorts or 3/4 leggings with a t-shirt and waterproof just-in-case. I'm thinking Fell shoes, because the fields here are very soggy and I don't fancy slipping off any cliffs! Thoughts from the runners among you please? There is some road, but most of it is off road. And I do love my Fell Shoes :o)

M is under strict instructions as regards recording the start (with around 2000 people taking part all crammed into the seafront it's quite a spectacle) and taking some photos to illustrate the race. He is Most Amused about the specific nature of the instructions but having experienced his videos before I am taking no chances. He keeps asking me whether I want an Interesting And Knowledgeable Voice over. I have said no, but I am very much afraid that he will do it anyway. 

The boys are aware they need to get up/ be hoiked out of bed in time to leave by 7 (L: What? on a Sunday?), and that they'll be out on the seafront to see me off and back again, regardless of the weather (L, with a mixture of hope and suspicion: Exactly how close is that to the cafe?), and the dogs know they are on Guard Duty at home.

There have been various manifestations of encouragement from friends. The nature of this divides broadly according to whether they are male or female. Shauna sent me a lovely encouraging email; Jo sent me some special muscle-recovery gel; M's friend Rob keeps teasing me about getting to Branscombe (4 miles in and where the Cub divides from the Grizzly) and deciding to run the Grizzly instead (at 20 miles and through various bogs he clearly has a higher opinion of my fitness than I do, either that or he's suffering from running-induced delirium); Lovely Matt has regailed us with stories of the first time he ran the race a few years back when he made himself so sick with nerves beforehand by looking at youtube videos he almost didn't run it, and Mike has said if he can run it, anyone can. Several of my friends have said I am mad, but I'm more than used to that :o)

Other than that there isn't much more to say. I ran a gentle three miles on Wednesday and had the last Physio session that afternoon and, apart from a few aches and pains, The Knees have been given the all-clear to run, so, baring any last-minute sick children or other disasters over which I have no control, we're all set to go.

I will report back afterwards....

Wishing you all a great weekend, whatever you are doing,

CT x

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The World Turns

Photos from top:
1. Badger hair caught on barbed wire
2. Badger Paw Print
3. Buff-Tailed Queen Bee on Wild Daffodil
4. Engrailed moth
5. Carpet of Wild Narcissus in the woods

There are signs of Spring across the land now. At the Badgers' Wood carpets of wild narcissus bloom, sparking across the woodland floor and spilling out over its margins into the field edges. Once a common sight, these beautiful wild flowers are now a rarity thanks to habitat loss. The insects are stirring with the warmer weather and longer light: Queen Bees buzz close to ground level seeking holes to nest in and honey bees fill their pollen baskets on the flowers that are blooming.

Although there is still some cackling going on in the trees, the large flocks of Fieldfare I've been watching all winter are departing and my ears are now set for White Throats, Swallows, Cuckoos and Blackcaps.

The Dawn Chorus is growing in richness as the light seeps back into the world around 6am, and the dusk chorus at about the same time on the other side of the day is also thickening, with the beautiful, liquid voices of the male Blackbirds often the last to fall silent as they usher in the night. This morning, as I lay awake listening to the birds a little before 6, the voices of Blackbirds and Robins were mixed in with the low hoo, hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo of a male Tawny returning to his bed after a night's hunting. Great Tits and Blue Tits are investigating the nest boxes on the walls of the house (which got a good scrub and clean out a fortnight back, so just in time) and in the trees Greater Spotted Woodpecker boys are busy drilling to detail their territory.

A couple of nights ago an Engrailed moth (the first biggy of the year) arrived on the window. I went outside and put my hand out and he deigned to settle there for a moment before fluttering into the house. I transferred him into a pooter and took the photo. For anyone newish to the blog, I am Rather Fond of moths and they tend to feature Quite Heavily here, especially during the summer moths :o)

The weather has warmed here the past few days with 14 degrees forecast today. We've been keeping beady eyes on the forecast for Devon for the weekend. So far, so good: mild with a few rain showers. I can live with that. 

Hope all are well?


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Last Race Before The Cub

We headed off to Berkhamsted this morning (get up 6.15, set off 7am, brief detour to take into account the M3-M25 slip road being closed, arrive 9am, warm up, then run the HM at 10 (M and my sister-in-law) and the 5M at 10.30 (me and my niece).

It was pouring when we woke up, pouring when we left and pouring when we arrived. Cue more dithering from me about what to wear (this is becoming a habit, no?). In the end it proved a useful trial run for the Cub, in that I went for 3/4 length leggings (good call, Small P), t-shirt and tied a water resistant/ wind proof jacket round my waist because, having jogged the mile to the start through drizzle and sharpish wind, as my niece and I waited at the start of the 5mile the skies cleared, the sun came out and it became decidedly warm. Good Old England, she knows how to throw several different types of weather at you over the course of a single hour in March :o).

I ran a fast-ish Parkrun yesterday so was planning on taking it easy on the 5m, bearing in mind the need to exercise a little caution Knee-Wise still. It was a nice course winding along roads and lanes through the woods and countryside around Berko and it finished by going past the ruined castle, possibly the most romantic setting for a race finish I've yet come across.

It was mostly flat but with one steepish hill lying in wait giggling behind a bend in the road at around 2miles. This hill pretended to be Quite An Innocent Hill, assuring us several times that it levelled out just round the next bend, when in fact it went on for about a mile and contained some reasonably steep bits. It claimed casualties, but luckily through grim determination and literal teeth-gritting, I was not among them. It did take it out of me a bit though. My time slowed from 5.20 mins per km to 6.10. But my breath came back reasonably quickly once it was behind us and, (I kept telling myself), it was good practice for the cliffs that lie in wait next Sunday. More good Headology stuff too when I was running past people who'd run out of steam and were walking.

One thing that always surprises me on these races is how well the kids do at them. I was overtaken at several stages by little chaps who can't have been more than ten or eleven zooming along with their Dads. Good Effort, eh? 

The final mile was all downhill and I decided to give The Knees a bit more of a test by stepping up the pace from 5.20 to 4.20 mins per km. The Knees held up well and I finished strongly, sprinting to the finish line (although less adroitly than last week's 10k, which I put down to having run a fast 3miles yesterday. Although looking at my average km times later I was faster overall than last week). The finish time took 3mins of my previous 5m best, so I was pleased. My niece knocked a couple of minutes of her previous best, M finished his HM in a good time and my sis in law finished hers well too, so everyone had a good run. All in all a lovely race (and a well-earnt burger and chips and chocolate fudge cake with cream in the pub afterwards) and a good prep for The Cub next Sunday.

Thank You All for all your advice, support and encouragement over these last couple of weeks- it does make a difference and I hear various of your words in my head at different times when I'm running which spur me on. You're a Great Bunch! I feel you'll all be running The Cub with me next weekend, which will be useful if I get blown off a cliff or my legs stop working altogether :o)

Hope you've all had a good weekend?

Seven Days to go.....Not that I'm getting nervous or anything.....

CT :o)

Thursday, 2 March 2017

What To Wear?

Homemade Liberty Running Kit Bag (see below- I am Currently Clothes Preoccupied)

The dogs and I went for a 5k run round the fields first this morning in the wind and mud :o) I was slow and it was a tad heavy going because of the state of the ground and the wind nearly blowing me off my feet, but The Knees were fine. I heard a Yellowhammer singing. First one this year. All these Heralds Of Spring, eh?

I'm dithering about what to wear for the Cub. M rolls his eyes at this. His standard kit for all runs, regardless of time of year, weather and duration is shorts and a t-shirt. He may (occasionally) make a brief nod to extremely inclement weather by putting on a long sleeved tee or a light-weight waterproof, but I can't remember him ever not running in shorts. 

I don't like being too warm when I run. I'd rather be a fraction too cold than too hot. So I'm thinking shorts and a tee and take a waterproof to tie round my waist. BUT, I've known the weather for the Grizzly/ Cub to be horrendous. And I mean horrendous. One year we had biting hail, another, friend Louise and I sat in a cafe waiting for our men to finish the run watching bins throwing themselves down the street and signs, uprooted from outside shops, tearing past the window. The year after that it poured with rain the entire time, and another time, Lynne and I sat on the sea wall with the kids sunbathing. 


And then there's the question of footwear: Trail shoes or Fells? It all depends on how wet it's been. There is some roadwork but most of it is off road. I'll take both and decide when I get there.

I'm expecting to be out running 1.5-2 hours, depending on the conditions. If it was 45 mins I wouldn't trouble myself worrying about getting the kit right, I'd go in minimal stuff and put up with it if I got wet and cold, but running for 2 hours is different. Friend Peat (experienced ultra-runner) once came as close as you'd want to be to hyperthermia running a Half Marathon in bad weather. I saw him a few minutes after he'd finished and he really didn't look good, so this isn't an idle preoccupation. The Grizzly website is also very blunt and no-nonsense about the need to respect the terrain and the weather and to come prepared for everything the exposed coast in early March can chuck at you. The last thing they need is to be pulling idiots who've not trained enough or got the right kit on off the hills. Given that this will be my first experience of the Cub I want to take it seriously.

So what do you all think? What would you wear for a nine mile, fairly tough course in the south of the UK in early March?

I've nearly got the all-clear from the Physio. Yesterday's session of Thumb Of Death in the tendons was only very slightly painful- a big improvement from a fortnight ago when I was climbing the walls sweating at how much it hurt to have a thumb stuck in it. The acupuncture needles only produced a mild grumble and The Knees themselves barely ached after the treatment. I can now do yoga on my knees, which I couldn't two weeks ago. I had no trouble from The Knees after Sunday's 10k either. There was no pain at all afterwards, and I'm fine after this morning's run too and I'm no longer wearing the patella bands during the day, so I think they're healing up. I've got a 5 mile race this weekend while M does a Half Marathon, then I'm planning one more 5k mid-week before resting up Thursday, Friday and Saturday and then it's race day on Sunday. Cautiously, I think we're on for The Cub!

Just the question of what to wear remaining...... (how very female of me).

Hope you're all well?

CT x