Thursday, 31 January 2019



So, it's pretty chilly here this morning. -5 out in the fields. Even with loads of warm weather gear on I got cold walking with the hounds a little after dawn. Looking out the window now not a lot has changed since the sun came up- everything is silver and frozen solid. It's very beautiful, but I worry about the birds who are flocking to the garden and eating like mad. We have a resident pheasant and two moorhen to add to the normal gang, as well as four stock doves. My RSPB garden bird watch at the weekend was stuffed full of species and numbers. The Hawfinch are back at the bottom of the lane but no sign of Brambling yet. If it continues this cold we may get them.

Snow is forecast later, which will be interesting because it's the Hares' training night. A bunch of Hares ran the Romsey 5 at the weekend round the Broadlands Estate. M came in under 30 mins and was first old man, somehow I managed to get a PB which, given that I wasn't sure I'd be running at all after my knee stiffened following a 14 mile run on Friday, was a surprise, and the Hares all did brilliantly on what was only their second race.

I had an interesting chat with my friend and newly qualified coach, Ian, about running goals on Friday. We talked about FOMO (fear of missing out), and how it contributes to people committing to things that aren't right for them. We spoke about how a coach's role is to help runners identify what's most important to them, and then choose one or two goals to focus on, instead of the four or five that most runners have. And to keep those goals in mind and not let yourself be pressured into doing more or different. We also talked about how, if doing the same thing nets you the same result, one that you don't want, then it's time to change the thing.

I went home with his words ringing in my ears and spent most of the next day reflecting on my own targets and approaches. M was up in London at a cross country event at Parliament Hill, L was working quietly in the study and, unusually, both the dogs were happy to sleep by the fire all day so I had time to think without interruption.

I came to the conclusion that my training plan isn't working. I had three months injury-free last year, and although I managed to do two marathons and numerous long runs in that time, having to manage stiff knees after long runs which jeopardise me taking part in shorter races afterwards is not where I want to be. So, I redesigned my plan, replacing the long runs and races with shorter ones and adding in some speed work and short recovery runs on what would ordinarily be rest days. It's completely different from the training I've done before, and in six months time I'm going to reappraise it and see what difference it has made. 

One thing I have learnt is that when you start running you are likely to go through several evolutions before you find what works for you. It is almost never a case of going in a straight line; as your muscles and joints develop, adapt and strengthen, and as hidden weaknesses are exposed, so the capacity you have for different types of running changes. Last year, I couldn't run fast without getting injured, now that seems to be less of an issue. Last year, I ran two marathons and numerous long training runs but I can't currently do that. I think it's all good learning and it teaches you to be flexible in your approach and focus.

Pop and I went out and ran a little over seven miles together yesterday round the lanes, following a new route which wound though really beautiful countryside, and returned invigorated and content and with no ache in the knee, so that's a really good start to my new plan.

Funny how often in life a simple word dropped in your ear that's meant for someone else can have a powerful and positive impact on your own thoughts and behaviours. It's nice to have a friend like Ian, an accomplished but always humble runner, to check in with from time to time. He has an ability to get to the core of an issue simply and without fuss and to shine a light on what's really important, and in so doing, to help you find a healthy new perspective. We all need friends like that. He's going to make a great coach.

Hope all is well with all of you? It's started snowing here.....

CT :o)

Friday, 18 January 2019

Ten Joyful Miles With Miss Poppy

Almost a fortnight of diligently following Physio Steve's new activation and strengthening regime and of being back out on the roads and avoiding the trails means I can run again relatively free of knee and hip niggles.

For two weeks I wasn't too bad sticking to the low mileage, I think because I was dealing with a cold and didn't really feel like running, but this week I've been like a bear with a sore head: restless, fidgety, fat and with no real appetite for food because I hadn't been using up my usual quota of run calories. I was longing to go out and get some proper miles in, so yesterday Pop and I headed off to do ten experimental miles on the understanding we would stop if needs be.

I'd recently read an interesting article about runners' mitochondria, the power-house of the cell that supply energy to the body. The more and longer you train for, the more mitochondria you have. The numbers of mitochondria fall when you don't exercise, but they don't fall as quickly in runners who've been running for a number of years as they do in those who are new to the sport. This means if you need to take a break for injury, you can get back to fitness more quickly the longer you've been running for, historically. After three years of running regularly, and the past year of running long distance regularly, I was interested to see whether I would need to follow the 10% rule coming back into training (putting no more than 10% onto your weekly run total), or whether, like M, I could go from three miles, to six, to ten without too many issues.

Ted (who at the age of ten and a half will still happily run eight miles over the Chalk but doesn't like road running), remained at home when Pop and I went out, with the important job of guarding the house. He knows his payment for this is three chews, and gets terribly excited before we go, bouncing up and down, spinning round and round and singing me the song of his people until I go into the utility room (where both dogs know the chews and salmon bones live), and emerge with them. He sits down at that point, completely still and totally silent, eyes fixed on the chews in expectation and waits until I've put them on the ground and told him he can have them before diving on them. Pop, believe it or not, would rather go running than eat treats, and she's usually bouncing up at the front door by this point, eager to be off and not remotely interested in the food on offer. At any other time this would not hold true, but her love of running is such that it trumps everything else.

We set off down the lane, past the Daphne which smells amazing, past the stream that babbles in the ditch, causing the grey wagtail who lives there to fly off, and disturbing his friend and fellow-stream hunter, the wren, who flew into the low branches of an old oak and sat there, scolding us crossly. 

I use a cheap running dog belt/ lead combo from ebay when we run together so I can be hands-free. I have to curb Pop's enthusiasm a bit at the start, because she would tear off at a great rate of knots if I let her and over ten miles you need to pace yourself. She is a complete joy to run with though, partly because her enthusiasm for life and her determination to let nothing get in her way of enjoying it is total and infectious, and partly because she runs straight ahead with no messing about, unlike Teddy who has a tendency to get distracted by interesting smells and the need to demonstrate his supremacy over all the other dogs on the lane by marking every other blade of grass as he goes.

Our local run route is very hilly. I remember three years ago when I started running it having to walk up most of these steep and longish hills and being out of breath and knackered and feeling sick at the top. These days I run up them without really noticing and my breathing doesn't change so much. Remembering how things were is a good way of judging how far you've come with training and markers like the hills are perfect.

It's a rural route, but we've been doing it so long and so regularly that we've come to know people who use it regularly in their cars and those who live in the scattered houses along the way and often exchange waves with folks as we go by. Pop draws a lot of smiles, being small, furry and determined. They aren't close enough to get a whiff of her at the moment, which is perhaps no bad thing as she hasn't had a bath in ages :o). The locals have got used to her running long distances with me so I get less of the oh my, is the little doggy alright? these days, and more of a wry she's pulling you up the hills again, eh?

it's 2.25 miles to the end of the route, so 4.5 miles in total to get back home. With the hills added, a once there-and-back again is a good workout in itself and I use it for a big chunk of my training. Four times there-and-back nets me 18 miles with very little effort and the added bonus that I'm never that far from home if I need to get back for any reason. Our lane is a mile in length, so once up and down that nets me the twenty miles I do as my long runs. 

Yesterday, I realised after a km that I'd completely forgotten to put on the knee support bandage I'd so carefully cut out that morning, and briefly wondered whether we should turn round and get it, but decided to do the first 4.5 miles without and see what happened. By the time we'd done the first half of the run I could feel some stiffness in my knee, so we dropped home, had a drink of water, said hello to Ted, put the bandages on and set off again. Ted got more chews out of it and Pop, as soon as she realised we weren't finished yet, scrabbled madly at the front door to make it absolutely clear she was coming too. 

The second half of the run was completely joyful. The day was bright, clear, sunny and cold and the flow of traffic had diminished. It was a perfect winter morning to be out in the land. I'd removed a layer when we were at home and was much more comfortable as a result. We saw a Red Kite being persistently mobbed by a much smaller crow; a kestrel hovering over a field looking for food; a mixed flock of redwing and fieldfare and heard goldcrests, bullfinches and a song thrush singing. My knee felt more comfortable and stronger with the strapping on it and I paid no more heed to it. Around 8 miles in it stopped aching altogether and the downhills also became less of an issue.

By the time we returned to the house with nine miles under our belts at an average km pace of around 6 mins- exactly what I'd hoped to do - I was feeling very happy. We carried on up the lane to get our final mile in, passing Julie walking Millie, Philip in his Landrover with his JR sitting up in the cab beside him, called out a hello to Freddie, who was barking in his garden, and waved at Tall Paul who was chatting with the postman. I could have gone further, but I am mindful that it's only two weeks since I couldn't run at all, so the sensible side of my nature won out and we stopped at ten.

A bit of stretching, a bit of ice pack followed by a nice warm bath and a big lunch of rice, tuna and peas, and all was good. It is an enormous relief to be back running decent miles again.

Hope all is well with all of you?

CT :o)

Monday, 14 January 2019

Back To Racing!

You'd be proud of me. 

I have been Incredibly Sensible for almost three weeks and done very little running while I waited patiently for a) my knee to heal and b) my cold to bugger off. I have even binned races I was looking forward to :o(. I haven't enjoyed it, but needs must.

What I have been doing instead is assiduously following Physio Steve's instructions for daily activations, stretching and strengthening, and also doing the (mainly only possible if you are a contortionist) yoga practice friend Abz sent me via youtube. I got most of the way through it by doing my versions of the Lady On The Floor's amazingly flexible routine, but I came unstuck at the one where she has her knees up round her ears while her hands are on the floor and then lifts her back leg out straight behind her. It was a stress position and more when I tried it. I kept expecting to hear something go pop! so I backed off that one and did some more gentle stretches instead until she'd moved on to downward dog and plank, with which I am much more familiar and comfortable.

I tried a gentle 6 mile run on Thursday which went a lot better than the last one on the previous Sunday (where I had to stop at three miles because my knee started hurting). The knee stiffened up on Thurs afternoon so I took Friday and Saturday off then decided to give it another whirl at a 10k race on Sunday, figuring I could stop if it hurt. The race was full and we already had entries paid up so I had nothing to lose by trying. I am not someone who worries about having a DNF (did not finish) beside their name. It seems daft to me to let that kind of thing control you and keep you running beyond what's good for you, although I understand how hard it is to admit you need to rest.

So, Sunday morning saw M and I set off for Swanage bright and early, arriving to a cold and windy carpark and a too-hot football club house where we picked up our numbers and looked in vain for a course map. The nearest we got was a previous runner's Strava record which seemed to suggest a maximum elevation gain of 50 metres. Oh how wrong they were.

The start whistle went, M up at the front in shorts and a vest top, me half way down the field in capris, thermal top, gloves and a head warmer. The first km went well, and as we headed up the first of many hills I found I was overtaking people and enjoying myself. That's more or less how the rest of the race went. A handful of people came past me, including one chap at the final hill around mile 5 who went storming past. My km times kept getting faster, dropping from 5:30 for the first couple to 5 and then 4:55. Not fast by M's standards but pretty speedy by mine. 

Running at that pace has become much, much easier over the last three months. I put it down to all the long distance training. This time last year it was really hard work: I would be breathing heavily, heart ricocheting around my ribs and feeling generally sick and faint, running at the top end of my ability and not enjoying it. This time I felt calm and in control and the whole thing was totally enjoyable.

It was a pleasant surprise when I glanced at my watch and realised I was going to finish much faster than my recent 10k times. So much so that M was heading back to the car to get a coat as I came down to the finish line because he wasn't expecting me for another 5 mins :o). The startled look on his face coupled with the astonished but you shouldn't be here yet! when I shouted his name as I approached the line will stay with me as one of my most favourite race memories (along with completing the Grizzly Cub and my first half and full marathons).

It was a great race: inexpensive at £11 entry, quirky, well-attended with some talented runners taking part and a good spread of competition throughout, and run through nice scenery. M won oldest man and got another trophy and was chuffed with his time and I was thrilled to only be 30 seconds off my fastest 10k time, which was two summers ago over a flat course and I nearly died doing it. This time, I felt fantastic as I finished: no exhaustion, no nausea, just a sense of having had a really good run. Better still: no knee pain, during or after.

I'm edging closer to a sub-51 10K time and have decided to work towards that as one of my goals this year.

Today is a day off, the rest of this week will be low mileage as a precaution, and if all continues well than next week I will start slowly upping my miles ahead of May's marathon.

Happy Days!

Hope you're all well?

CT :o)

Monday, 7 January 2019

Bosham Crusaders, Roman Bathers, A New parkrun & A Race On Epsom Downs

Roman Dog Paw Prints

And it's still the same 2000 years later

I was mystified by the addition of a beaver to this scene

Romsey parkrun test #1

I don't think curtseying is strictly necessary

Despite being plagued with a determined lurgy which has hung about rather boringly, we got quite a lot done in the first week of the New Year. We hosted our belated Crimbo dinner for grandparents and offspring on Wednesday (roast pheasant from the local estate with all the trimmings and a raspberry meringue and cream cake). The boys blew smoke rings as promised afterwards, with Grandad declaring he was going to take up cigars as a result. 
The next day we went to Bosham, simultaneously reminding ourselves of the crosses carved in the church doorway by returning Crusaders, and how jolly cold it can be there in January. I bought a mug from the local pottery to match the jug I got last time. 

The day after we had a jolly day out in lovely Bath admiring the Roman & Georgian Baths, which have benefited from a substantial expansion since we were last there which made the £14 entry fee each extremely good value. We drank the disgusting water (of course) and I put my hand in the main bath water to test how warm it was (very) having failed to read the sign warning of the direst of infectious consequences to anyone did. Needless to say I am still alive. I resisted the temptation to buy any keepsakes, as I'm on a drive this year to only buy what I need rather than what I want (with the exception of handmade pottery) and I've already saved £70 as a result.  

Having satisfied our curiosity about Roman ablutions to an extraordinarily detailed degree, we went to the Roman Baths Kitchen for lunch. I had the best BLT I have ever eaten and a delicious hot chocolate and M had soup and strong coffee. Then we had a wander round the Abbey next door. It took me three quarters of the way round for the penny to drop as to why there were so many wealthy people from all round the country/ empire buried there - they'd come to Bath hoping the waters would cure them and learnt the hard way that they wouldn't. Afterwards, we had a brisk walk up to the Circus and Royal Crescent via Pulteney Bridge in the bright sunshine, before heading back into town admiring the Georgian architecture with M pointing out various stages of the Bath Half marathon route as we went.

After a pub supper on Friday night, Saturday saw me up bright and early to funnel manage at Southampton parkrun while Martin came to fiddle with the new shower at home (again) to block up the leaks. There have mercifully been no further explosions of water through the wall, but the door needed tweaking to prevent the water running out underneath it. The new shower head is also too big for the water pressure with the consequence that taking a shower feels like standing out in a rainstorm and being hit by five drops if you're lucky. We will swap it for a smaller one, because when I accidentally turned on the handheld shower element last week the power of the water jetting out nearly lifted me off my feet while simultaneously excoriating the new faux stone wall panels.

There were over 1000 runners at parkrun, all a good deal more polite than last week when I got gesticulated at for asking someone to take their token and several of the other volunteers were sworn at. Nice. This week, everyone was in good spirits and the whole thing went off smoothly. Afterwards, I dashed quickly back to Romsey for a trial run of our new parkrun which is opening soon (ish), with various friends and club members as guineapigs trying out the new course and the rest of us doing the official volunteer management bit, warning of sticks, brambles and pot holes etc. Everyone loved it and the feedback was good. It's a technical cross country course rather than a tarmac track so not for the faint-hearted.

After another pub dinner (this time with friends) on Saturday night (where I got the giggles after discovering that the sophisticated-sounding vegetarian option I'd chosen was essentially savoury honey monster puffs with some burnt kale thrown in for good measure), Sunday morning saw us in Epsom at the racecourse for a ten mile multi-terrain race. I was in support mode because my knee has taken umbrage at a month of trail runs and I'm having a few days off to rest it (it's actually a weakness in one of my hips. I won't bore you with the details. Suffice to say Physio Steve is on the case and assures me a couple of weeks of activation and strengthening will get it working properly. I'm marathon-free till May now so there's no huge rush to be distance fit again just yet). M won his age category with a tremendous battle to the line against a chap who was right on his shoulder, and earnt himself a £70 voucher as a result, which paid for my unused race entry. Over Christmas he won another race and got a bottle of champers. Soon we'll have to start declaring his winnings for tax purposes :o).

In Rest Of The Family News, they are all fine. Ted experienced a spot of wet eczema over Crimbo and is sporting a rather fetching, albeit now growing-out tonsure as a result, and Poppy is enjoying rolling in as much FP as she can find while out of sight on walks, the little bugger. Ted also seems obsessed with M and can't stop staring at him of an evening, to the point that we're all getting a little unnerved by it. J is teaching herself Spanish and spent the time she was here wandering around uttering random Spanish words and phrases, which kept making me jump, while F, who is learning how to read bones (in an archeological as opposed to fortune-telling way), reminisced with his father about the various dead things in various stages of decay he would find in the woods and bring back to the house as a boy, usually removing plastic pots from the kitchen to keep them in. L got a steam punk top hat and cane to go with his Victoriana cloak for Christmas and can be seen twirling dramatically about the house throughout the day and I have been busy chasing round the Asda carpark in Totton looking for the non-existent Waxwings who filled the place yesterday. So everything is pretty much normal here.

How are you all?