Wednesday, 19 July 2017

In Which It Turns Out I'm A Closet Nerd

Image result for running geek t shirt

Something strange happens when you book your first marathon. You discover that, despite forty plus years of evidence to the contrary, you are in fact a closet nerd.

I'm sure there are people who train for and run marathons perfectly happily without assigning too much attention to them, beyond the necessary hiking up the milage over a few months on the way and the taking seriously respect that is their due. I don't seem to be able to do this, probably because I'm a planner. I like lists and schedules. I like the comfort and reassurance of seeing my training plans carefully worked out well in advance and based on   a solid amount of research and reading. I like to have time to think about things, to consider and to be prepared.

I like looking at the pieces of paper that contain my training schedules: neatly filled in boxes with dates and miles and types of runs and a space left for a tick beside each entry or (God help me) a cross. Because if there's one thing training for half marathons has taught me this year it's that things will go wrong. If you factor that in, and set aside a few weeks for injury/ illness/ life/ recovery, then it won't undo you. Planning, you see?

That's all OK. That's Good. What I wasn't expecting was the way marathon running would consume me. The stationery-lovers among you will nod when I say that I have a new notebook just for it. 

This contains notes on nutritional information: what runners need to eat, why this is so and where you can find it outside of a bottle or packet; the optimum time to refuel and the balance of proteins and carbs it takes in two special post-run windows to restock glycogen from the used-up liver and muscle stores (one at 30 mins and the second at 1-3 hours, around 100 kcals each, in case you were wondering); a section on electrolytes, what they are and why you need them, and when you should take them, and at the back, a page per run on each of my training runs. Eventually there will be a full training plan and notes on things I've tried that either worked or didn't, and doubtless a section on kit, helpful and otherwise.

The unexpected nerd in me is loving all of this. Even M, seasoned marathon runner of well over twenty years, has perked his ears up at the refuelling sections. He's a man who happily glugs down a few glasses of wine the night before a marathon and eats whatever's to hand and runs in ancient shorts and a crapy old t-shirt he's done the decorating in, getting round on a few gels and a back-pack of water and coming in somewhere near the top in super-fast time, and I respect that, I'm in awe of it, because he's tough as nails in a quiet, non-fussy, unassuming way and I like the fact he just gets on with it with no fuss and does so well. But even he is interested in the 3:1 carb and protein ratio; even he didn't turn his nose up at the raw coconut water I'm drinking right now to help put back the potassium I lost on this morning's rather painful nine miler through nettles and brambles and humid drizzle and knee pain that had me walking larger sections and hobbling about gasping back at home (physio tomorrow. And before anyone tells me running is bad for your knees may I refer you to the above husband's record?). 

Marathon running is focusing my mind, it is honing my respect, it has gathered me in and it is holding me to attention. It is supporting me and encouraging me; it is egging me on, telling me I can do more than I ever thought I could. It is making me fight, not give up, not give in. It has shone a light on my diet, my sleep, my weekly routines, my approaches to things, my health, my fitness, my strengths and weaknesses. It is testing what exactly it is about running I love (endurance over speed, it turns out), whether my mind is strong enough to cope with the endurance feat running 26.2 miles represents and whether my body will cope with it without cramping, or getting tired out, or hyperventilating or hallucinating, or blistering. It is teaching me that, if I prepare soundly and well and sensibly for it, then I have every reasonable right to expect it to.

I am consuming every running book I can get my hands on, comparing and contrasting the approaches in each. I grin when I read about how hard one very fast road runner found the switch to trail racing, rather smugly feeling that that is my natural territory and the one my running has grown up in; I nod in understanding when I read about how one runner knocked over an hour off his marathon times over the course of several road marathons and then crashed spectacularly in one where he focused too tightly on time alone; I smile when I read about how a woman who took up marathon running almost by accident never thought she could do it then got hooked and turned into an endurance athlete. I cringe when I read about how the starting pens at one city marathon were awash with pee and so tightly packed that runners were being lifted off their feet, and I gasp with respect at descriptions of fell running across breath-taking landscapes.

These are all inspiring, encouraging tales, because they are about ordinary people who just decided to try. Even or perhaps especially, the ones of woe where races went pear shaped and people had rotten times. Because in every single instance they came back. They ran another and proved to themselves they could do it. The time for many of them was irrelevant - what mattered was finishing. Marathon running is a celebration of the human spirit more than it is anything else. 

No matter how easy some folk make running a marathon look (and my own husband is one of them), they are not easy. They take over your life; they change you; they sweep you up and carry you with them until you can think about very little else. They become your focus and the centre about which you revolve. My days off running are the days when I look forward eagerly to going out again. My days of running are the days I smile most and go to bed at night with the biggest sense of achievement and personal satisfaction: simply put, tired but happy. 
And yet despite this you have to find a way to stay grounded, to not allow them to take over completely. 

It's a steep learning curve and one that I won't experience in the same way ever again, and I'm a little sad about that because if I chose to run another marathon after Edinburgh it will never be the first one again, and so I'm embracing my inner closet nerd and giving her full permission to immerse herself in reading and research and drawing up and refining plans, thoroughly enjoying the uniqueness of the experience.

Hope you're all well? Ted had huge fun but limited success repeatedly chasing the thunder out of the garden last night and M returned from shopping this afternoon with a new basketball for Poppy. It is almost bigger than she is. She is pleased and keeps wagging her tail whenever she looks at it.

CT :o)






Thursday, 13 July 2017

Running Through A Harvest Landscape





I've clocked up 31 miles in my legs in the last five days. Sunday's half marathon in the heat was followed by a 6 mile interval training run at Club on Monday, a 5 mile club race through the woods last night and a 7.5 mile cross country run with M and the dogs this morning.

I didn't enjoy the 5 mile club race last night. I good a good time and knocked twenty places off my race position but I really don't like running myself ragged at the top of my pace to snatch a good result. It's not why I run. Give me a long run that I can train for, get my teeth in to, something over 10 miles that I can plug away at and I'm happy as anything. Ask me to effectively sprint 5 miles and do reasonably well against a field of other runners and I'm not.

After race chat with club members ran along the lines of the fast pace stuff being good training for the longer runs, but only if you want to improve on your times, and races never getting easier because you're always chasing a PB. I just don't think that's me. My favourite races to date have been the ones where I felt I ran technically well and enjoyed it. The race time and position hasn't been top of my agenda. 
I'd like to be running half marathons in under two hours, and I think I'll get there next year, but it's the distance I really love, and the feeling of having accomplished something.

All good learning.

This morning we set off with the dogs for an early run across the fields and over the Chalk. I haven't been that way for weeks because the fields have been impassible, heavy with crops, and the edges haven't been much better, and I've missed it. But the harvest is in full swing now. The Rape fields have been cut and the ground swept clean of the plants so those fields were easier to run through than they have been in weeks. Wheat and Barley aren't ready yet so there we were reliant on paths cut through them. They were scratchy and I've come home with legs scratched, stung and bruised. All part of the fun. 


the giant chocolate mousse hill thick with wheat


I ended up run/ walking and Ted was Very Concerned that I shouldn't get left behind. Initially he came back for me every few minutes, after a while he just stayed with me and Led The Way to make sure I didn't vanish....





He was Quite Glad I was going slowly as it gave him the opportunity to have the odd lie down in the shade along the way...


Pop, meanwhile, raced off ahead with her Dad and then disgraced herself by disappearing first in long grass and then into the woods and not coming smartly back when called. As a result, Teddy was allowed to run along the lanes sans lead, while Pop found herself bound to M's hand on a very short lead indeed! Ted was pleased. Poppy was not!

Natural hazards along the way included.... Badger Hole...


Wild Parsnip (deadly poisonous roots)...


And some places where the path completely disappeared into a thicket of nettles, brambles, docks, thistles and other plants typical of the British Summer....


But it was a Lovely Run and I felt joyful to be back out in the fields that I love. I ran slowly, walked when I needed to and enjoyed every minute. There is something to be said for checking back in with what makes you happy every now and then, because it is easy to get swept up in the general whizz bang stuff of life and lose sight of what brings you peace in the face of other people's (kindly meant) views, advice and opinions.

At the end of the run, back at the car, both the dogs were Very Pleased Indeed to find their new portable water bottles worked and (better still) were full of water...


It was lovely to be back out running over the Land with them (and M too, of course!). 

Hope you're all well? 

CT :o)

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Second Half Marathon, This Time In A Heat Wave

We were up at 6.30 this morning in order to drive to a trail half marathon that started in a picturesque Oxfordshire village, all ancient, honey-coloured stone cottages trailed through with rambling pink and white roses....



It was hot. 26 degrees. This may not seem hot, but believe me it is hot for here in the UK, where the warmest we tend to reliably get is just-out-of-a-cardigan-if-you're-lucky-kind-of-warm. Our weather has been misbehaving this year and has blasted us with unseasonable heat of the kind that makes running trying, and running endurance distances in particular Hard Work. A perfect temperature for running is 12 degrees....

We set off, a fairly small field, and trundled round a playing field then out into the village past the church. Reaching the top of the road up a slight hill, we ran on into parched fields where horses swatted lazily at flies while sensibly standing beneath the shade of huge oak trees and then slowed down for the first of several stiles.

While not as hilly as The Ridgeway, there were nevertheless two or three substantial hills on the course which were particularly taxing in the heat. I ran up half the first one then decided to walk the rest. At that point my phone buzzed with a text from friend Saz who's just started the couch to 5K programme, telling me she'd been out for her second run, a cool one along the river. Struggling up the hill at mile 5 in the full blast of the frying sun I tried not to think longingly of cool runs by rivers, and instead texted her a well done and an update on my race progress and then concentrated on getting up the hill and enjoying the beautiful countryside.



I fell in with an endurance runner who'd done a 54 mile run in 11 hours two weeks before. We chatted for a bit then I decided I needed to put some effort in or I'd be out there all day, so I left him behind and ran on to overtake the next chap along.

The course ran along a main road for a bit then dived off back into countryside. My blister-plastered black toes started to hurt at this point (around mile 6). It was an exercise in putting your attention elsewhere. Luckily at that point the path turned downhill so I made up some time with the help of gravity and ignored the throb in my toes.



I ran the next 2 miles alone, but by that point I'd got into the run, knew I was coping with the heat and I imagined Pop running with me to spur me on. It worked, the loneliness disappeared and my rhythm picked up. It was so easy to imagine her there I could almost see her, little ears flying along out in front. I did wonder briefly if the heat was getting to me. Possibly because friend Sue had recently told me about how an endurance runner she knows hallucinated an entire conversation with the Letter P whilst tackling the end of a particularly gruelling run. He was very specific about which letter P it was too (capital, sans serif, in case you're wondering). This is what running long distances can do to you! Sue herself once thought the boulders she was running past were bunnies, both stories that the children in her class love ;o)

On I went, up another hill along a lane where flax fields bloomed sky blue and a friendly Marshal at the top waved encouragement. 



I cracked on as the course twisted along paths and through fields, feeling the heat but ignoring it, glad of the hydration vest and the jelly babies, glad too that my toes had by now gone numb so I couldn't feel them aching any more. Finally I saw a runner ahead: he'd stopped at the St John's Ambulance and I fell in step with him when he started again. I checked to see if he was OK. He told me he'd stopped to get some tape put over his nipples which were rubbing raw. 

Am I selling this whole distance running thing to you? 

We carried on together for the next couple of miles, both glad of the company as there were no other runners in sight. He knew the course well so gave me some useful info on what was coming up, and we chatted over marathon ambitions.

As we ran downhill and reached mile 10 we were greeted with two stiles, one after another, and then a long climb up another hill. I got over the stiles OK, ran half way up the hill then strode the second half at a fast walk, because, although I'd set off determined to abandon the idea of time entirely in deference to the weather and told myself I'd just be glad to get round in hotter conditions than I've ever run before, glancing at the GPS had told me I was in fact on track to get a new half marathon PB, if I could do the last three miles in under 30 mins. I can usually do that comfortably, but asking your body to step up at the end of a long run in heat is something else and I knew it was touch-and-go.



The final three miles were littered with stiles, which slow you down at the best of time but at the end of running 13 miles are just no fun at all. I climbed each one with increasing labour but a steely determination to grit my teeth and get the job done. The second to last km was along a burning hot field in full sun, it felt like it went on for ages. I knew I was stumbling one foot in front of the other and slowing down. There are times on runs when it sounds so easy to say: just go faster, but you really can't. 

I thought in despair: I'm not going to make it. Then I remembered the jelly babies I'd stuffed in my pocket. I chewed one and gulped down some water and seconds later felt the injection of carbohydrate in the form of sugar shoot through my system.

The effect was marvellous. My knees lifted up, my feet stopped dragging, my gaze lifted from the floor and I was off. I caught the lady in front just after the next stile and was off after the next one, just visible as she ran past some horses. The gate swung open and we were back out on the lanes, lined with ancient stone walls. I glanced at the GPS. Half a km to go and I thought I'd worked out that I had three minutes to do it. For speedy runners that is so doable, but for me, at the end of 13 miles on a boiling hot day and feeling it, it was touch and go.

I overtook the lady I'd been chasing and that gave me a boost. I tore down the hill, hearing everyone at the finish and praying that my legs would hold up long enough. I came round the corner onto the playing field and saw the finish, enticingly near but still with a quarter of a field between me and it, and, seeing the minutes ticking down on the GPS tried to speed up but the sun was hammering down on my shoulders and the Jelly Baby Effect appeared to have run out. 

I could hear M yelling and then saw him jumping up and down at the finish. He was roaring encouragement and for some reason the lady next to him was also screaming my name and yelling me in, although I didn't think, in my sun-addled brain, that I knew her. M told me later that she'd asked him my name so she could cheer me in. The kindness of strangers. I ran as fast as I could, stopping the GPS as I hit the chip timing mats under the finish and grinned the biggest grin when I realised I'd knocked 4 minutes off my PB!

I did have to collapse on the ground under the shade of a tree for a while after, and one of the children who were handing out medals tracked me down and hung mine about my neck with a smile. I wasn't too coherent until I'd glugged down a bottle of water and then sufficient energy returned to tell M about my time :o)

I feel I've banished some serious demons today- I'd been worried about running in the heat for days, obsessively checking the weather and feeling more and more concerned as the temperatures rose instead of falling. I was especially worried about running in heat over what is for me still a substantial distance, but the best way to banish demons is to conquer them, and now I know I can run a HM in hot weather it will hold no fears for me. Another Great Race!

Hope you're all well?

CT :o)


Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Butterflies Of Summer & Seeking Iris


Those kind souls among you who have stuck with C Tales these past few years may remember that I have a dear friend called Dave (also known in our house as Uncle B - Uncle Bulgaria from the wombles, I'm not sure why-) who is something of a Wildlife Expert (believe me, he deserves the capitals).

I have leant so much from Uncle B over the years, particularly in the field of birds, butterflies and wild plants. He has taught me to tell a White Throat's song from that of a Goldcrest; he has walked me up ancient Chalk Downs and shown me where the rare Bird's Nest Orchid blooms; he took me to a colony of the rare Adonis Blue flutter and showed me how to tell them apart from the other blues, and it was in his company that I saw my one and only Brown Hairstreak butterfly (another rarity). Over the years he has patiently answered my "I found this, what it is?" emails and has steered me in the direction of interesting wildlife-related courses. The only area I know more about than he does is moths, and then it's quite a pleasure when he sends me a photo to ID!

Every summer, Uncle B and I make our annual pilgrimage to Bentley Woods in Wiltshire, strong hold of that other rarity, the Purple Emperor. Purple Emperors hold Rock Star Status among butterfly enthusiasts. No other species pulls folk into the woods to sit beneath oaks and sallows for hours on end in hot sunshine awaiting the appearance of this extraordinary flutter. I've met people who have searched for the Emperor for a lifetime and never seen one.

For four summers now we have trudged the trackways of the woods during the end of June and the start of July staring up into oak trees or on lumps of poo on the ground, for the Emperor loves mineral salts and doesn't much care where he gets them. For four summers we have returned un-Emperored, yet every year the hope returns refreshed and undimmed that this summer will be the one when His Imperial Majesty (as the Emperor is known in flutter circles) will grace us with his company.

We saw all kinds of wonderful this morning as we wandered down the sun-dappled paths....

black-and-yellow longhorn beetle

female Brown Argus butterfly (orange dots go all the way up the wings- in the male they only go half way up)

female Emperor Dragonfly patrolling the rides (the males have less green on their bodies)

Lots of Marbled Whites

Lots of Meadow Browns

Lots of silver washed fritillaries. This is a male- the black streaks are longer on the boys

And this is the girl. She is more spotty than streaky. Small P is this what you saw?
But no Emperors. And then the first of some extra-special things appeared.....this pic below is also a female Silver Washed Fritillary, but a rare colour aberration called Valezina. I've never seen one before and it was Uncle B (of course) who spotted her. It made my day and went some way to making up for the lack of Emperors. Valezina's are a soft brown instead of a vibrant ginger/ orange, and they have a green shade to the underside of their wings instead of the creamy silver that's more common.

Valezina Silver Washed Fritillary

Mother Nature hadn't done with us, because we then saw a White Admiral. Like the Emperor whom it closely resembles, a flutter of ancient woodlands. Majestic, graceful, elegant and often the species we have to content ourselves with when we draw the usual Emperor-Blank....

White Admiral
We'd reconciled ourselves to drawing another blank, Emperor-wise, today, although we had seen record numbers of Purple Hairstreaks dotting about high up in the oak canopies, and these are like little Emperors, when two chaps appeared asking if we'd seen anything. Seconds before, an Emperor had swooped over our heads and flown up into the top of an oak, so I told them about it and they replied that there was an Emperor back at the carpark sitting on people.

We were a long way from the carpark and assumed it would be gone by the time we got there and sure enough, when we arrived, no Emperor, just lots of people telling us about it. We agreed to give it twenty minutes before calling it a day. The heat was rising and flutters don't like it too warm.

Then suddenly, a shape glowing purple as the light bounced off its wings swooshed down out of the oak and fluttered around us, eventually landing on the cap of a nice lady called Lynne.

male purple emperor
We all started taking pictures and chattering excitedly, then the Emperor took off and flew round us in a loop before flying around right in front of me. He really checked me out, as they are known to do. The noise of those wings! I honestly thought he was going to land on my nose. I could feel the air he was creating as he buzzed around my head and wondered whether this was what I'd read about: a male emperor telling someone to get off his patch. In the end he decided I was worth sitting on, rather than chasing off, and plumped for my cap, but only briefly, before flying off and alighting on Lynne's husband's shoulder, and then his leg, where he stayed for ages licking the salt off his skin.....





a small crowd of excited Purple Emperor Worshippers- one had been waiting SEVEN YEARS to see one!
Finally, the light changed enough to afford us a glimpse of the amazing purple sheen the male Emperors are known for. Only a glimpse mind, but it was enough. It made my day!

tiny speck of purple visible bottom right of wing. Just :o)

So, the motto of that story is: if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. I shall be holding on to that thought for the next ten months because I've just entered the Edinburgh Marathon which happens next May. Yikes! There is no turning back now, eh?

Hope you're all well. 

CT :o)



Sunday, 2 July 2017

Running Five Miles Through The Forest


We set off bright and breezy this morning after a family party last night to run the Sway 5, a cross country race through Wilverley enclosure in the New Forest. The Sway 5 is part of Sway village's carnival week and as we arrived the kids' fun run was starting- the first group of small people went storming off round the plains followed by the second lot, even smaller (about four and five years old) who took a slightly shorter route. It was Very Serious, judging by the looks of determination on the young faces, and the exhausted puffing of their parents who were trying to keep up with them. They each got a medal at the end which were immediately hung proudly round necks. Lovely.

The oldies set off at 10.30, by which time the heat was building. Luckily we went straight into the trees and shade, where we followed gravelled forest tracks up and down hills for about four miles. I set off too fast and paid for it, struggling to keep up for two and half miles before giving myself a stern talking to and pulling back, letting the two guys who'd vied for position with me over the last mile go ahead. 

Immediately I felt more comfortable, although today the energy just wasn't there in my legs. We came out of the forest at mile four onto the pony-cropped short grass of Wilverley Plain. I set my sights on two New Forest Runners who were a couple of hundred metres ahead and slowly worked off the distance between us until I'd caught up. Then I had a small dilemma- did I go past and risk them overtaking me or did I sit on their heels until the finish was in sight and then kick on?

The decision was taken out of my hands when I realised they were running too slowly for me to pace them comfortably, so I went past, trotted down the hill, crossed over a wooden bridge and was then faced with a small but sharp hill. A kindly marshal was waving us on from the top where the path turned sharp right apparently into a gorse bush. A tiny wee pony path opened up through the holly and gorse bushes, this is typical of the new forest and many of them are not to be trusted as they have a tendency to peter out with no warning. This one went wavering along up hill for most of the final mile. Sometimes it split in two, one taking higher ground and one dipping lower. I plumped for the more direct lower path the first time and ended up jumping over a muddy puddle. The next time I took the more uphill track through the sandy forest soil.

I could hear someone behind me for the final mile but couldn't judge how far away he was. This kept me going even though it was hard work and to be honest I felt like walking! I gave myself a stern talking to, while the sun beat down on my head, reminding myself that I'd run 13 miles last week over much tougher hills than these and there was no way I was going to allow 5 miles through the forest to beat me.

It worked. I kept going and no one over took me.

Eventually we rounded a corner and the finish was in sight. There was a man in a triathlon all-in-one suit ahead of me so I picked up the pace to see whether I could catch him, but he was just that bit too far ahead and my legs were just that bit too knackered. M and F were at the finish roaring me in, so I put on a sprint to keep them happy but I was very glad when I crossed the finish line and could stop running.

Having expected to have done badly, given how much hard work the race had felt, I was surprised to see I was only 20 seconds off my 5 mile PB.

How has your weekend been? Hope you've all had a lovely one.

CT :o)