Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Clarendon Half Hanging By A Thread

It's the Clarendon Half Marathon this weekend. On the one hand, I am really looking forward to it (not least because I'm meeting up with a bloggy friend for the first time who is also running it- hello Small P :o)), on the other, my knee flared up again on Monday night after perhaps over-doing it with two races back to back over the weekend and a fast club session on tarmac on Monday. I managed two brisk kms before the knee started really complaining and I decided it wasn't worth carrying on so stopped. This has (mentally at least) thrown the Clarendon back into uncertain territory. The run up to this HM has been a real rollercoaster of emotions. I'm just very glad it isn't my first one because I think I might have collapsed under the 'will it hold up, won't it?' stress of it all by now :o)

I'm dealing with the uncertainty by doing what lots of competitive runners do, adopting a 3-point strategy for the race. 1) is the outcome you'd be thrilled with, 2) is the outcome you'd be happy with and 3) is the outcome you'd accept. 

1) for me would be getting round the whole course with no knee pain in a respectable time. 2) would be getting round with knee pain but being able to finish the race and 3) would be having to stop at some point and get a car back to the finish. Right now I'm thinking 3) is not unlikely, 2) is possible and 1) would be astonishing.

I have learnt from the awful experience that was the Beast a month ago that it's important to have your race strategy in place in your head before you start, so you're prepared for whatever happens and don't end up a sobbing gibbering mess at the end. Unlike at the Beast, I'm not planning on getting round this race at all costs and keep telling myself the sensible option of stopping means I can get straight back to running and racing the week after with no need for a week off to recover.

To distract me from all this and to focus on something more positive, I spent a chunk of yesterday working out a marathon training plan for next year which starts this November. I've earmarked three long-distance races I'd really like to do in 2018: one is the full Grizzly (20 miles of gnarly cliffs, bogs, rivers and beaches in March in Devon), one is the Neolithic marathon in April (26.2 miles between Stonehenge and Avebury, raises £10k for wiltshire wildlife trust and funds a lot of chalk-based ecological projects especially blue flutters, so that one is very close to my heart) and the other is Stroud marathon in May, which runs through gorgeous Cotswold countryside. 

But I honestly don't know whether any/ all of these will happen. The positives are that I have got the knee strengthened now to the point where it can cope with 6 mile races and three runs a week mainly off road, so the worst case scenario would be consolidating that gain by shelving all thoughts of distance running next year and spending 2018 working away at the 10ks and conditioning the muscles further. By the end of the year, the knee will either be strong enough to tolerate the move up to distance running for 2019 marathons, or it won't. Either way, I'd still be able to continue running and racing next year.

Of course, the only way to tell all or any of that is to run the Clarendon on Sunday and then start the training in November.

I am fairly indebted to friend and all-round hard-as-nails inspiring distance runner Brenda, who has emailed me regularly over the past month with tips and words of encouragement. She's currently training for Abingdon marathon and hit the wall in a half last weekend (which is where you run out of energy and fall over), so she and I were commiserating yesterday. She told me not to despair just yet, that the Clarendon could still come good, so I'm holding on to that as a mantra to at least get me to the starting line on Sunday.

I'll leave you with a text conversation L and I had earlier this week which made me smile. He has mild dyslexia which mainly effects his spelling. I first suspected this when his reading age at seven was five years above his actual age, and his writing age was three years below it. The school weren't particularly concerned about this (in fact I was told at one parent's evening I had contributed to it by reading him books that were too old for him, making him struggle with spelling complex words on paper that he knew in his head, and that I should stop and start reading him simpler texts. Grrrr. I feel vindicated now as his vocab is brilliant). We were lucky we had the resources to do the screening ourselves, and his next school were fantastic at putting extra help in place, as is his current college. 

L is the grey bubble on the left, I'm the green one on the right.

I do love his sense of humour.

Hope you're all well?

CT x

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Highclere Castle 10k

(photo off net)

Many of you will know Highclere Castle as Downton Abbey. I'd never been before, but while looking for a 10k race to replace this weekend's Winchester Half, I came across the Highclere Castle Challenge, and we accordingly spent an hour this morning racing round the park and estate with four hundred or so other runners.

It was misty when we arrived and the parkland looked very eerie and beautiful as the early morning sunshine tried to break through....

We made our way over to collect numbers and had a look at the course map (showing various hills inclines) and then went back to the car to wait for the start.

I started at the front today, because I've been getting grumpy having to wade through runners before I can get into my stride. As a result, there was a huge surge of energy as the front runners sped off down the hill.

We started out over the park, over long, wet grass which isn't the easiest surface to run on, and then turned left out along a lane that wound up and down and round about until it reached the castle. It's a very beautiful building and I had a bit of time to admire it as we ran past. I want to go back and visit when it's open to the public.

The course took us along tarmac for a mile or so (they'd put in a detour to avoid mud, much to mine and M's disappointment, although everyone else seemed relieved at this!) and then went off through pine forest along a gravel track. Once we'd done the first couple of miles I felt I'd warmed up and my pace started to flow better. I picked up some speed and started to overtake, instead of being overtaken, which always feels good. As usual, I'd clocked a few runners ahead of me who'd gone past me at the start that I knew I wanted to reel in, so I kept my focus lightly on them and gradually the distance between us began to wear down.

The hills were my friends and I overtook more people on them, then got past the people I'd had my eye on. I knew I was running faster than last week and the knee was holding up well so I decided to give it a bit of a test and kept my pace up.

A lady kept running past me, then I'd catch her on the hills, then she'd zoom past again. I suspected she was a novice runner because the more experienced ones keep an even pace and can run all the way up the hills. We fell in together at mile 5 and I congratulated her as she came past me again. She steadied her pace and we chatted a bit. This was her first 10k! I thought she was doing brilliantly and told her so. 

I knew there was a final hill to come and warned her it was ahead, but where I knew I needed to hold something back to get up it and be able to sprint the final km strongly home, she cracked on and then half way up the hill flagged so I went past.

We could see the finish about half a km away, but I knew from my watch that we were only at 8.5km and had another 1.5 to run. Sure enough, the marshals turned us away and we headed off in the opposite direction. The lady ahead of me groaned and her pace slowed. Races are so much about the mental approach. Because I'd been prepared for the extra loop it didn't effect me, but it really got to her. We ran together for a bit, and it turned out this was only her second 10k. A little ahead of us a lady in a green t-shirt looked to me catchable. I suggested we aimed to overtake her, thinking it might boost my running companion's morale, but she didn't feel able, so I went on on my own.

When I caught the lady in green I could hear she was breathing heavily. You could tell from the way she was running that she didn't have much left in the tank whereas I was feeling strong and had energy left for the finish, thanks to conserving it earlier. I drew level; she made a valiant effort to keep up but I knew she wouldn't. It felt good to run strongly past her and gave me a boost that fired more energy into my legs.

Next up was a chap I'd been running near for most of the race, only he'd gone ahead a km or two back. Now I could see he too was paying the price for having pushed too fast too soon. I suspected he was also new to running the distance, so I called out some encouragement as I went past, and he told me my footsteps behind him had spurred him on a bit but now he was fading again. Follow me, I suggested, I'll get you there. But by now we were in the final 800m and I knew I'd got energy left over to sprint, so I picked up the pace and he just didn't have the oomph to stay with me.

One of the things you fear when you're sprinting ahead to the finish is that someone will come up behind you and overtake. All the power in a sprint is with the person behind- they've got all the information and then can choose to sit on your heels and time their overtake to maximum impact, ie so close to the line you won't have time to catch them. I know- I've done this myself before :o)

I was running hard and could hear voices and footfalls behind me, so I pushed as much as I could and then risked a glance behind to see how close they were. Relieved, I realised they were too far behind to catch me. I could see from my watch I was going to beat last week's time by five minutes, so I ran as fast as I could and crossed the line feeling thrilled at the way the race had gone. Five minutes faster than last week and no knee pain.

The Clarendon half next weekend is looking healthier than it has in a while!

The race was topped off by M receiving an age category prize from Lady Carnarvon for being the fastest old man in his age group  :o)

What a fantastic race- we will be back!

Happy Days!

How was your weekend?

CT :o)

Friday, 22 September 2017

A Life In A Day

I've read a few day in a life posts recently and enjoyed them. Small snapshots into the daily lives of others that are both interesting and comforting. Here's a day in my life, chosen at random.

I am awake soon after six having had a night full of weird dreams and broken sleep. One of my toenails is in the process of falling off but it's still stuck to the base of the nail bed. I catch it as I get out of bed and squeak. It is flapping impressively but still not ready to come off entirely. No one except M is all that keen to see it, for some reason. 

I go downstairs at half past six, make L's lunch and eat breakfast (oats, blueberries, chia seeds, coconut milk) before knocking on L's door a little before seven to wake him. I go back downstairs to do my glute strengthening exercises. These take about fifteen minutes and I am trying to do them either side of the day, with some yoga stretches thrown in for good measure. It's 7.20 by the time I finish and M has already left for work, running the nine miles as part of his marathon training.

The dogs get very excited, possibly thinking we are about to go out for a run/ walk. If so, they are disappointed because what I'm actually doing is calling up the stairs for L to be ready to be leave. We're out the door on time to drive to the bus stop. This is a more peaceful and straightforward operation than it used to be as I no longer have to shoe-horn him out of bed and through the door. We arrive at the bus stop a few minutes early but the bus is late. I'm considering driving him in when it arrives. He gets out with a quick wave and I watch him cross the carpark safely and join the queue before I drive off.

Ten minutes later I'm back home. I use half an hour to do do some work on the computer then at 8.45 change into running kit and head out with Pop, because I'm planning a local run that has a lot of road work in it. Ted (not happy at running on roads) is left at home with a huge pile of squid chews and seems quite happy with the arrangement. In any event, he doesn't bark as we leave.

For once, my GPS locates the satellite quickly so there is no hanging about in the cold. Pop is Very Keen to get going so we shoot off up the hill. I didn't feel particularly motivated before we started (tired after lack of sleep) but it turns out to be a fantastic run. We do just over four miles along the lanes around home and I feel loads better for it. Reinvigorated and reenergised.

It starts to drizzle as we come back across the fields. I watch the low grey clouds close in, smudging the horizon. It's light, refreshing rain though, the sort that's quite useful as it keeps you cool when you're running. 

My knee is aching a bit but I can't tell whether it's from running or nettle stings. I sit on the sofa with a packet of peas on it for ten minutes, reading The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson. Poppy goes to lie on her bed after sniffing noses with Ted. She puts her chin on her paws and watches me solemnly, her big, brown eyes not leaving my face. Ted sits quietly by the backdoor, staring meditatively out at the drizzle. He knows there is a toad hidden somewhere among the plant pots that cluster around the greenhouse. Ted likes to lick toads, despite the fact it makes him feel sick and he froths at the mouth for hours after. It is a habit he can't quiet bring himself to break free from.

Once the knee has been suitably frozen I go upstairs and run a hot bath. I tip salts into it and add a squirt of rosemary oil for good measure. A hot bath is probably not ideal after subjecting the knee to the deep freeze, but I soak for half an hour anyway, sorting out the day's plans. At 10.15 I head back downstairs to tidy up and make a quick phone call to a shop locally that sells second hand clothes. Whilst I'm doing this I eat an apple. My stomach is rumbling after the run. I have decided to make an effort and avoid biscuits today. I fold a few old dresses and jackets into a bag and at 10:45 head back out the door, marvelling at how the morning has already disappeared.

An hour later I'm back home, one dress and one jacket for sale in the shop, two dresses and one jacket that didn't pass muster dropped off at the charity shop, and the food bought for the weekend. It is 11:50 and I'm considering getting lunch early as I'm still hungry (the apple didn't work), when L texts asking if I can pick him up as he has free periods for the rest of the day and has done all his homework. I glance at the kitchen clock which is one of those that has birds on it. It used to chime the hours in birdsong but that bit of it broke a few years ago. There is an hour and a half before yoga. If I leave now there is just time to whizz down the motorway and collect L, get home, have lunch and make it to yoga on time. I missed it last week so I don't want to miss this one.

When I get back with L at 12:45 it is still raining and the new wheelbarrow I bought yesterday is still sitting beside the huge pile of greenery I've left lying on the patio after a furious couple of hours taming the garden the day before. I decide to ignore it and heat some soup (butternut squash) on the stove, cut a chunk of bread and shove some cheese into it. I eat reading more of the Marshalsea and then L drifts in (having changed into his PJs and dressing gown), perches on the sofa and we discuss lunch and supper options. I give up on the no biscuit rule and eat two chocolate shortbreads. 

Now feeling full, I do another half hours' work on the computer, tweaking an assignment for college, then rush upstairs to throw yoga kit on before grabbing the keys and driving the ten minutes to the class, calling over my shoulder to L, who is by now in the attic, to tell him where I'm going. I ask him if he wants to come. He says no. Miraculously, there is space in the car park when I get to the studio. Helen, who teaches the class, greets me with a hello, darling! at the door. It's lovely to see everyone and to meet a new lady who has joined.

The hour's class restores me, as it always does. I nearly fall asleep during Savasana and it is an effort to pull myself out of the drowsiness and get up and on again. On the drive home I notice the colours of the trees, how the oak is tinged yellow, the maple along the main road streaked red, and the chestnut at the top of the lane bright orange. I see the rooks crossing the sky above me and note the deep brown of the earth in the fields that have already been ploughed. I don't think I noticed any of these things on the drive down. The yoga practice has stilled me and switched me back on again.

As I drive back it starts to rain again. I leave the windscreen wipers off and watch the water threading across the glass. It looks like an aerial view of a great river delta with all its interlocking flowing tributaries. 

I can hear Ted barking as I pull into the driveway. It's now 3:15. Both the dogs greet me with furiously wagging tails when I open the front door. Clearly, I've got it wrong: I haven't been away for the hour and a half that I'd thought: I've been missing for days. L is still mooching about in his PJs and asks for a fifteen minute warning so he can change before we drive over to Sutton Scotney to see my sisters' nine andrex puppies. I change out of the yoga clothes, do some more tidying in the bathrooms (towels off the floor) and kitchen (plates stacked in dishwasher) and pause in the kitchen to watch the birds (blue tits, great tits, coal tit) on the feeders. At 3:45 without needing a warning, L appears in the kitchen wearing outdoors clothes and a cap, the ubiquitous headphones draped round his neck and his kindle sticking out of his pocket. We head out the door.

I feel that all I've done today is whizz about in the car.

We arrive at my sister's house at 4.20, having stopped off in Stockbridge to buy my nieces some sweets on the way, and are greeted with a heaving, squirming, mass of white-blonde puppies. They are every bit as adorable as you'd expect. I am quite glad I haven't seen them until now- they've all got homes to go to so there's no danger of us smuggling one back with us.

We spend an hour admiring the fluffy little cutie pies who, after eating a meal, all collapse in one enormous heap and go to sleep on top of each other. L catches up with his cousin, swapping tales of A Levels with her experience of the second year of secondary, then we head home at 5:15 along the long, straight Roman road to Stockbridge. I make a mental note of the distance when we leave my sis' and clock when we've travelled 3 miles (parkrun), then 6 miles (this weekend's race distance) and finally 13.1 miles (half marathon). I feel quite chuffed at just how far 13.1 miles is. 

In Kings Somborne, the yellow Clarendon Marathon signs are up. I point them out to L who is plugged into his head phones. Cool, he says, unblocking one ear just long enough to hear me.

The sun comes out as we get home and the world looks bright and washed clean and glowing. It's 6 o'clock by now and I'm hungry again. Using all my willpower, I reassert the biscuit ban and eat a bowl of cucumber, carrot and blueberries and drink a big glass of water instead. I am looking forward to tonight's sausage, egg, beans and chips along with yesterday's baking (dorset apple and sultana cake) for pud. 

At 6.15 I switch the oven on - it takes 15 minutes to warm up. I'm so hungry by now it's taking all my effort not to have a packet of crisps. I toy with the idea of re-watching this weeks' Bake Off as M appeared in the middle of it yesterday and talked over the caramel show stoppers. Movement in the tree outside catches my eye; a chiffchaff, flitting delicately from leaf to leaf and hanging upside down on the hunt for insects. I hadn't realised they were still here.

At 6.35 M comes in. Both the dogs leap about ecstatically, Poppy telling him how I'd come home smelling of puppies. The oven hums away in the background slowly cooking the sausages and L announces he has plans for a cheese sandwich, watercress and chips.

We eat at the table talking over the day's happenings and plans for the weekend (seeing M's cousins and racing on Sunday). At 8 we move next door and watch tele for an hour. By nine my eyelids are drooping but I still have knee exercises to do. These take ten minutes, bending and stretching using the bottom stair as a drop point. I think they are getting easier. After I've done them I potter about the kitchen putting things away, straightening the house for the night. I let the dogs out into the garden for their night time wee. Ted spends ages mooching about, doubtless sniffing for toads and hedgehogs, Pop darts back in suspiciously quickly and settles herself immediately on her bed. There is an air of finality about the way she does this that suggests she won't be moving again till morning. I doubt she has been to the loo but decide to let her be, she looks comfortable. I put the chair up on the sofa to prevent Pop sleeping on it, let Ted in and lock the back door. I call out to M, who is emailing a friend the offer of a lift back from the Clarendon, that I'm heading upstairs.

I wander upstairs, checking the windows are closed, and pause outside L's door to whisper  goodnight. He is tucked up in bed reading. I brush my teeth, change into my PJs and am more or less asleep as my head hits the pillow.

Hope you're all well,


Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud: Hursley 10k

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope you're all well.


Saturday, 16 September 2017

Field Walking With An Archeologist In The Making

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CT :o)

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Running Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope you're all well?

CT :o)

Sunday, 10 September 2017

A Week In The Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Days.

Hope you're all well?


Sunday, 3 September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then this happened....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CT :o)