Monday, 10 June 2019

Marathon #3 Yeovil

5 minutes to go to the start!

23 miles in and the end is in sight

It's ten months since my last marathon. A combination of injury and illness has meant I've had to miss five in the intervening months, so Yeovil yesterday was an important one for several reasons: 1) to put the missed ones behind me, 2) to see whether I could run a sub 4 hour time (my previous best was 4:11) and 3) because I really enjoy the challenge/ sense of achievement/ bliss of a long distance run when there's nothing to do but keep going till you've finished. The simplicity of running is a good thing in a busy and complex world.

It wasn't a massively early start to get there, which was a good thing because M had got up at 4am to cycle 80 odd miles with Tall Paul on Saturday. We left the house at 6:45 and were in Yeovil soon after 8 (incidentally travelling along part of the Harrow Way - a section of the A303 - to get there). The race started at 9 so there was plenty of time to get ready without rushing. At 8:40 I pinned my number on, put on the vest containing the bladder which had my hydration, nutrition and electrolytes in (essential for running a marathon because you can't fuel 26.2 miles on body reserves alone) and started some gentle warm ups. At 8:50 I pulled the hose of the bladder (the bit you drink from) over my shoulder to hook it under the front straps of my vest ready to use and wondered why it had suddenly grown in length. I pulled it a bit more and the whole thing came away in my hand. Unzipping the pack I realised that it had detached itself from the fastening. No amount of force, asking politely, pleading or swearing at the bloody thing would get it to go back in. 


With ten minutes to go I suddenly had no means of supplying myself with the water/ carbs/ salts I would need to fund the four hours of running I was going to be doing. There was water on the course and I always have an emergency pack of sweets just in case, but these would not be enough to get me round the distance at the pace I had trained for.

I had packed one emergency 500ml soft bottle that fitted in the front of the vest, so I tipped the water out of that and poured some of the carb mixture in it, but that wasn't going to be enough for the whole 26.2 miles- usually, I get through 2 ltrs on that distance. With the clock now really ticking and everyone else gathering at the start for the off while I was still in the carpark, I improvised by tipping another 500ml into one of the dogs' water bottles that I keep in the car for their hydration emergencies and stuffed that in the other pocket :o). It barely fitted and would be a pain to get out to use, but it would have to do.

Yeovil is a small, low-key but well organised and very friendly marathon. About 190 people were running, one of whom was a friend who has run over 100 marathons. I fell in with her and we did the first 3 miles together. She was pacing her friend to 4:20, so once I had warmed up I left them after 3 miles and picked up my pace to where I needed to be.

As well as the virus which had scuppered three of the last four weeks of training, I'd also had a dodgy stomach all week after a BBQ last weekend so had no idea how this run would go. Not to over-share, the lack of loos on the course was a worry! I was running well pace-wise but I was not feeling great. My stomach was griping and my energy felt low. Normally, 13 miles is a breeze for me but mentally, the whole first half felt like a struggle and I found myself thinking if it didn't get better I would stop at the half way point - the course was two laps which would make that easy. 

I'd rung M from mile 4 to ask him to empty another dog water bottle and refill it with the carb/salt/ water mix so at least I would have another 500ml for the second half. The plan was to swap it as I ran past him so I wouldn't need to stop. As I approached the 13 mile mark there was M looking ashen-faced holding out a bottle of fruit juice and saying: I'm so sorry, I dropped the rest of the tailwind! I've got water or fruit juice? It really wasn't my day for fuelling! As I still had 500ml left from the start I told him not to worry. I still wasn't feeling great, but by the time you've run 13 miles on a marathon there is little to be gained from stopping, so I carried on, telling myself I was still on target for a sub 4 time and all I needed to do to get it was maintain the steady pace I was currently running at. Surely things would start to improve soon?

By 16 miles I was feeling really rough. My stomach wasn't happy, my head was switching off and I was feeling the pressure of running faster than I wanted to. All I wanted to do was have a short walking break, but I knew the minute I did that the sub 4 time would disappear. I'd had enough. I wasn't enjoying it, I didn't care about the time, I wanted to walk, have something to eat and refocus. 

Marathons are not easy runs, but neither are they impossible. They deserve respect because I've seen them chew up even the most accomplished runners, spit them out and stamp on them, but they don't deserve reverence. They are perfectly doable if you get your preparation, pace, fuelling, hydration and mental approach right. This one was slipping away from me mentally and I knew I had to do something quickly or I would be stopping altogether.

So I took some time out. I walked a bit, I ate some sweets, I considered what my goal with these long distances really was- where my joy in doing them lay. And I had an epiphany: it really wasn't about time. What I wanted was to feel I'd run strong. The sugar kicked in soon after and I started running again. I felt better, my stomach settled down, the grip of the sub 4 released me and I settled down into enjoying the run.

I fell in with a nice chap and ran the next couple of miles with him, chatting. This evened out and slowed my pace and made it more regular and comfortable so before I knew it I was at 18 miles and feeling fine. I slowed down for another short walk and was surprised to feel dizzy. Luckily I was near a water station so I took a bottle and a handful of pretzels, and soon after it passed and I was able to run again.

Now I was approaching the fabled 20 mile marker, which is where I had felt exhausted on my previous two marathons. People say a marathon is two races in one- the first 20 miles and the final 6 and I was prepared to find the last six really tough, but nothing happened. I ran on, feeling fine. The next stage where it can really bite is 23 miles- the final three can be really hard. I braced myself, but again, nothing. I was running steady and feeling good. At mile 24 I decided to up the pace and see what happened. I went from 6 min/ km pace to 5 and ran the final two miles at that pace, pretty comfortably.

M was waiting near the finish and at that point my watch was saying I only had a few more metres to go, but the marshals were turning us away from the finish to run round a sodding playing field! It really messed with my head. My pace dropped by a few seconds and the old voice telling me I'd had enough and needed to walk was back. I ignored it. Ahead, the entire path was taken up with four half marathon runners who looked completely exhausted. I had no energy to run round them so I called out asking them to move, which they very kindly did. I caught up with the lady in front as the wretched path turned us again away from the finish and moved us back into the middle of the playing field. Then it swerved again to take us round the edge of an athletics track. My watch pinged at this point, telling me I'd run a marathon, but the finish was another 200m ahead! Summoning up every last ounce of strength I possessed I pushed on so I would cross the line with a PB, and made it over finally in 4:09, knocking 2 mins off my previous PB. If you go by the actual marathon distance recorded by my watch it was 4:08, so I was pretty pleased.

This marathon was definitely an exercise in running faster, resetting the goal mid-race and regrouping mentally with a new focus. Marathons are great teachers and I learnt a lot on this one. I was very happy with how I'd run and with the pacing, I felt strong despite everything, but it did bring home to me that I don't like running road marathons to chase a time- it's relentless and a little bit joyless and the pressure is constant. Back to the trails and a slower pace for me next time I think. Despite everything, I was extremely pleased with how strong I felt on the race and afterwards- I even jogged over to the athletics track to watch my friend come in. I'm toying with the idea of doing a 30 mile run later in the year and this marathon was the first time I've felt like I could have gone on and done more miles, so lots of positives to take from it.

A lovely race, through lovely countryside with super marshals and great fellow competitors- thanks Yeovil! And thanks Ted and Pop for saving the day with your water bottles!!

Hope all are well? CT :o).

Thursday, 30 May 2019

London Vitality 10k, Moths, Beetles and a Water Shrew

Monday saw us in London for the Vitality 10k, a race through central London on closed roads. 20,000 people took part. It was quite something. We were up at 5:30 and on the train by 7:30 and got into London with plenty of time to walk to Green Park and sort out the bag drop and a meeting place. A number of the Hares had come with us and, as with the London marathon, the organisers had handily had alphabetic meeting places put up, so we plumped for H of course.

The start was outside Buck Pal and it was arranged in waves to manage the relative speeds of the runners. M was in the top wave just behind Mo Farah and I was in the third. It was well managed and ran smoothly so we weren't hanging about for ages BUT as always happens, some people had been over-ambitious in their predicted times and there was a fair amount of dodging slower runners who had put themselves at the front then run out of steam after a mile. Grrrr.

My race went well, given that I'd been off for a week with a virus, then done a reasonably fast parkrun on the Saturday and a long ten mile run on the Sunday. I managed to knock 2.5 mins off my PB and come in at 47 minutes, which I was thrilled with. Some of the credit for this has to go to a lovely chap whom I ran most of the way with. After the first couple of miles we realised we were about the same pace and stuck together for the remainder of the race. Sometimes I went ahead, sometimes he did, but we always managed to join up again. We had this kind-of unspoken accord that happens sometimes in races where you don't say a word to each other but you just know you're keeping one another going. Anyway, we got to the final 100m marker and I said to him come on buddy, let's sprint, so we did, and we crossed the line together. We shook hands at the end and thanked one another - he was chuffed because he hadn't managed to go under 48 minutes before and I was obvs thrilled with my time. Then we went our separate ways. I do think running brings out the absolute best in people- complete strangers helping one another out in a kind of silent support. It's brilliant.

So now I'm on marathon taper, which I do not enjoy- not enough running, too much eating. It messes with your head and you feel fat, slow and slothful. I shall be very glad when the weekend after next rolls round and I can get on with it!

So on to the other part of the post, which is about moths! I don't put the moth box often these days because I worry about the collateral damage, but the other night I decided to and see who came visiting....

scorched wing

alder moth


white ermine

poplar hawk


broken barred carpet moth

silver ground carpet

orange footman

white banded carpet

light brocade

shoulder-striped wainscot

pale tussock

mocha moth


The rose chafer has been back three times....

And I'm not sure what this is. Any ideas??

I have also been very lucky this week to see a water shrew hunting in our stream for the first time in my life. They are normally shy, nocturnal creatures so it was an absolute treat. Hard to spot in the photo below unless you know what you're looking for but I promise he is there. Magic!

Hope all are well?


Tuesday, 21 May 2019

All The Small Things

I'm still fighting through the tail end charlie of this viral thing, so no running for a week :o(. Hoping to get back to it soon. Poppy is desperate! In the mean time, as soon as I was well enough to get up and out, I've been enjoying pottering around the garden seeing who I can find. May is a wonderful month for life in the land, and the garden gets better every year as it matures into it's home for wildlife role.

The chap in the photo above is a red cardinal beetle. He looks fearsome but he's very friendly. There are two of them sharing the nettle patch by the compost heap and I'm hoping they're a pair.

As I was chatting to the beetles, a flit of something small caught my eye and a butterfly alighted on the dogwood. The wings immediately snapped shut to reveal the spots and dots of a blue butterfly, probably a common blue. I got a surprise when she opened them to reveal not the blue I was expecting but chocolate brown. A female common blue, freshly minted...

The honeybees continue to gorge on the ceonothus while avoiding the crab spider who lives there. We usually get a swarm in May but so far nothing.

In the pond, large red damsels continue to eclose. Their colours are dimmed for a day or so after emerging before they mature into a deep ruby red colour with flashes of burnished gold on their tails.

And here are some shots of the common/ azure which I'm hoping Mr Tense will ID for me :o)

These two little chaps are tiny micro moths. They are very endearing and waggle their antennae at me whenever I go to see them. They are on the marsh marigold leaves on the pond at present.

 And this is a bee species unknown to me. Any thoughts?

And another bee I don't know...

The first green shieldbug of the year is living on the roses...

Docks bugs are everywhere in the vegetable patch, along with a female nurseryweb spider who will have her babies there later in the summer....

I counted three 22-spot ladybirds yesterday which I was pleased about as we get hundreds of harlequins...

And this rather handsome hoverfly who I think is xanthogramma pedissequum, who has the rather marvellous common name of superb ant-hill hoverfly because the larvae feed on aphids within the nests of ants...

And this one is a footballer hoverfly...

Ted is busy keeping a weather eye on everything.


There are three Brians on the cuckoo flower. Slightly worried about this as they are close together and orange-tip larvae are cannibalistic. They grow enormously everyday, putting on a couple of mm at least between measurements. At the moment, they are pretty well camouflaged.

I'm building my strength back before I go running again by gardening- this morning's labours were potting out the seedlings. Does anyone else have trouble growing sweet peas from seed? I have a grand total of 4 plants :o(. And don't get me started on black-eyed susans!

The blue tit chicks have fledged from sparrow terrace, but there are still babies in the roof nest and in the house on the wall. The woodies have left them alone this year. Mrs GSW paid a rare visit to the feeders this morning and for once allowed photos....

The second and much smaller crab spider, misumena vatia, is still on her oxeye daisy, having miraculously survived middle son back from uni for a flying visit over the weekend and playing violent croquet in the garden with his father. I shouted mind the spider! every few minutes :o).

I've saved the best till last. As I was typing this post, a loud buzzing came towards the open door. Not looking up and assuming it was a hornet I told Pop to leave it be and carried on typing, only for a large green person to fly in through the door, circuit the room noisily and fly out again. Now, I am very partial to beetles, and it's impossible to have favourites among them, but rose chafer beetles are one of my most favourites among the favourites I don't have. 

I darted outside and watched her bimble about the patio. She's looking for somewhere to lay her eggs, I thought, grabbing hold of Pop's nose to stop her snapping as the beetle came in low. She flew away over the trees and I thought that was that, but a few minutes later she was back, and this time she landed on the Brians' flowers where she remained for a good twenty minutes eating pollen and nectar before flying over to the sage pot which has fibrous chunks of rotted manure in it (exactly what a rose chafer likes) where she burrowed down to lay her eggs. Magic. I took 56 photos, but managed to whittle them down. It's not everyday your quite possibly favourite beetle comes to visit.

Just imagine, baby beetles will soon be in the sage pot!

Hope all are well and enjoying the lovely weather if you currently have it, as we do here. We are one A Level down, several to go.