Thursday, 19 April 2018

Drama In Romsey, Life In The Garden & New Shoes

Great Drama in Romsey this week! A suspicious substance was found in an envelope in the building housing our local MP's office and the whole place came to a standstill. It was buzzing with police, fire engines, ambulances and people in chemical suits for hours. Cars were prevented from getting to the centre of town but pedestrians were allowed to walk right past the affected building! I did, and felt a little exposed I'll admit. It all came to nothing but the emergency services were lovely, keeping people informed and being jolly and approachable so we wouldn't all worry too much. First Salisbury, now this. What is the world coming to?!

In other news, all this hot weather is having a big effect in the garden. My Salvia Turks which were grown from seed last year from a plant I bought from a National Trust plant sale are sprouting up. They are such majestic plants.

The tulips I bought from Hilliers last autumn as bulbs and which promised me they were white are actually pale lemon, but I love them anyway. When it's hot they flatten right out like huge dinner plates.

The dicentra has shot up out of the earth and flowered in the space of about four days....

And have you seen the salmon shades of Black Eyed Susan available this year? They are £2.99 for eight seeds!!! They'd better all come up! You have to soak them overnight then lay them on damp compost, cover them with 1/8 cm of soil or something ridiculous and sing them lullabies. Fussy.

The bee fly has been back. Look at that proboscis! This is a dark-edged (can you tell by the wings) or common bee fly. Love them. They fly like a hoverfly so have a look out for them at flowers or on the grass. I saw one nectaring on the lithodora earlier.

I've seen my first Orange Tip flutter of the year. Well, two actually, both boys, both buzzing through the garden at high speed. They are the first real spring butterfly, having not over-wintered as an adult like the commas, brimstones, peacocks, red admirals and small torts. The swallows are back too, but I have yet to hear Whitethroats. They must be here by now so I suspect I need to go and look for them in the hedge where they can usually reliably be found.

Teddy is finding the hot weather all a bit much...

While the drone hoverflies have decided the best place to be is on the King Cups (Marsh Marigolds) up by the pond....

I sat at the top of the garden with the camera on my lap watching the various bird houses to see which ones were being used. After a while I was rewarded by several blue tits going back and forth to three of them with huge beakfulls of moss. The blue tit egg at the bottom is left over from last year.

In other news, I have developed blisters on two of my toes. Potential small disaster with a marathon looming. M said Hmm, I think you might need new shoes, so this morning I buzzed off to our local running shop and explained the problem. Kevin (proprietor and local runner) grinned and told me the shoes he'd sold me last year were aimed at 10k to half marathon distance, but for marathons I really needed something different. So I bagged a pair of Brooks Ghost 10 (in the sale, £40 off, bargain), and discovered when I got home and checked online that they come out top in a lot of distance runner's surveys. Result. They feel like gloves on my feet too. And because they have more grip than most road shoes they'll also double up as trails, which will make them ideal for my marathon which is a mix of trail and road. Can't wait to go running in them. I love the motivational words on the box...

Kevin assured me they would solve the blister problem, but just in case, I also bought a pair of anti-blister socks with my 10% running club discount. No idea if they'll work but I'll take all the help I can get right now :o). And some zinc oxide tape for good measure. The blisters don't stand a chance.

I'll leave you with a scone I've just eaten. Normally, I make them but these (there were two) looked so pretty in their little box decorated with pink and lilac flowers and they were going cheap and I did a 5 mile race with the running club last night and didn't have much tea after so I couldn't really say no. Washed down with a nice cup of tea they did not disappoint :o).

Wishing all a good weekend. 

CT :o)

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Why You Shouldn't Attempt To Give Directions After Running 19 Miles

Mmm, salt lick!
(a more enjoyable experience for them than for me, as you can see).

The unexpected consequence of running all these long miles is that if I run fewer than about 18 I don't feel I've had enough exercise. By mid-afternoon I'm restless and twitchy and the sensation only stops when I've been out and run twenty-odd miles. So yesterday I did and now I'm feeling much better.

It was, broadly, a lovely run out along country lanes into the forest, past commons where cattle, sheep, forest ponies and donkeys grazed, through woods where ancient oaks stood and streams meandered between wooded banks, and along old lanes with pretty thatched cottages and lovely gardens. 

The first ten miles were hard work though. I was tired, unmotivated and sluggish. I walked bits; I had no enthusiasm for the hills. After five miles I decided to change the route, went home, had a salt stick (electrolyte), collected Pop and headed off towards the forest where things got better. As I turned for home at around 12 miles I felt my spirits lift and picked up the pace and it all became so much easier. 

On the previous couple of long runs I've struggled with overwhelming if momentary tiredness at 16 miles and 18 miles. Pushing on through cleared the sensation but I was expecting something similar yesterday. However, 16 miles and then 18 passed without incident; I felt fine: no wobbles, no sickness, no tiredness, no wandering thoughts, no mini "wall" as it's known in running circles. I ate more on the run, which probably made a difference, to the extent that by 17 miles I was sick of the sight of jam sandwiches and jelly babies and refused to have any more (Poppy, who'd been sharing the sarnies en route, happily gobbled the remainder down when we got home, sharing one with Ted who'd been on Guard Duty). 

At 19 miles I was hailed by two women in a sports car who wanted to know the way to the church. I fell victim to inherent good manners and stopped running, even though it was really the last thing I should have done because breaking a rhythm at that stage of such a long run really isn't helpful (it's hard to get started again as you lose momentum). For a few minutes I tried to direct them, but my tired brain just wouldn't work. I was getting more and more frustrated at the interruption to my training. Running long distances is as much about your mental approach as physical fitness, you need to stay calm and be settled, and the disruption was starting to make me feel very unsteady and unfocused on the run, which is the last thing you need. A mile left to run out of 20 doesn't sound very far I know, but it is on the back of 19 when you're tired.

Anyway, they stared impatiently at me as I spouted increasingly confused nonsense. One kept repeating the same questions from beside the car which was on the other side of the road, and the other one didn't even bother to get out, just cupped her hand round her ear in a kind of you're not speaking loudly enough gesture. Suddenly, I'd had enough. I wanted to shout at them: I've just run 19 miles! I can't be expected to answer stupid bloody questions about stupid bloody directions now! I'm tired, my legs ache and I need to finish this run and get home! It's not an effing walk in a bloody park you know, running 19 miles! So I started running again, telling them to ask at the post office. 

As I ran up the hill they were looking astonished that I'd just run off and left them, but for once I didn't care: I was cross, but it felt instantly better to be running again. In seconds, everything settled down. I re-found my rhythm and my irritation subsided as I concentrated on finishing the run. We got home feeling strong and I was pleased with my time of 3:18 (to put it in perspective, my husband can run a whole hilly marathon (which is six miles more than I did yesterday) in three hours, but I'm not about speed, I just love being out for that length of time running through the land). Pop was gratifyingly tired (for all of about three minutes).

After I got home I showered and went out to collect L from the bus stop, stopping at Waitrose for some food. But here's another thing that has changed: I'm no longer starving after running long miles, nor am I overly tired. I walked the dogs for an hour in the afternoon and felt fine and I went to bed at normal time. The only difference was that I needed to eat supper at 6.30 instead of 7 and was a bit yawny in the evening. Today, I'm marginally more hungry than normal, but not ravenous. I'm hoping this means I've got the pace and nutrition right now, but I also think our bodies adapt quickly and at these kinds of distances, if you've done the build-up properly, fitness and endurance improve quickly.

By the time M got home and I relayed the story of the women in the sports car I was laughing about it. Still, another lesson learned- don't stop for people asking stupid questions when you're on a long run or are training for something specific. You won't be able to think clearly and answer coherently anyway, and the break in rhythm puts an additional challenge into a situation that is challenging enough.

M is teasing me that this need to run increasing distances is unsustainable. On Saturday, I ran 5 miles with Pop in the morning then walked both dogs for an hour. By mid afternoon I couldn't bear the lack of activity so went for another 1.5 hour walk. I think I just haven't reached my limits yet and it'll be interesting to see what they are. They might be 21 miles, they could be more. Until I try I won't know.

A lass at our running club did a hilly 50 mile race in under ten hours last week, and three other ladies from the club did 117 miles over four days across Exmoor in terrible weather and hideous conditions. I have a friend who used to run 80 mile ultras. She tells a wonderful story of a fast marathon runner trying his hand at an 80 mile race she was doing. It was the tortoise and the hare- he shot off, at marathon pace, despite her warnings, while she went much more steadily. He lasted to about 35 miles before collapsing and withdrawing from the race, while she'd stopped for a couple of meals and some cups of tea and finished the whole 80 miles, many hours later.

Women are tough- we're built for endurance running. I'm happy just to go with the flow and see what happens (but I'll stay away from people in red sports cars asking stupid questions when I'm running from now on :o)).

Hope all are well?

CT :o)

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Wild Life

Yesterday was a Good Day for folk who like spotting wildlife. It was warm, it was sunny, there was almost no wind. In the garden here, two comma butterflies (new for the year) and a roving brimstone were about for most of the day and the cuckoo put in his first appearance of 2018 too, by singing briefly in the morning (*Selborne has also arrived back in the New Forest now). A dark-edged bee fly, he of the long proboscis who looks like a bee but is actually a fly, (and who wouldn't stay still long enough for a photo) also arrived, along with several andrena species, tiny mining bees who were sunning themselves on the evergreen leaves of the star jasmine bush. The fact that both appeared on the same day is no coincidence, because the bee fly is a parasitoid of andrenas, with its grub growing up in the bee nest and ultimately eating its host.

Before you eew too much, the life cycle of the bee fly is amazing and worthy of comment (and I think admiration). When she is ready to lay her eggs, the female bee fly dusts her abdomen with sandy soil (no one is quite clear why, my pet theory is it's to weigh the eggs down) then flies low over potential andrena nest sites, shooting her eggs towards any darker patches in the ground that look like nest entrance holes. She lays thousands of eggs a day, so can afford to be a little indiscriminate. The bee fly larva spends the winter underground in the andrena nest where it eats the host before appearing in spring as an adult bee fly. Only very healthy andrena populations can sustain bee fly populations, so if you've got bee flies in your garden it's an indication of a healthy mining bee population too. I get very disheartened whenever I hear of folk dressing their lawns with chemicals in order to produce a rich, green, even sward of grass, because essentially this sterilises the habitat, kills off other interesting plants and annihilates the species who would otherwise live there, like the andrena bees and the bee flies.

A little further up the garden, this red-tailed queen bee was enjoying having the comfrey all to herself. She's the first red-tailed I've seen this year.

The snails in the pond were being affectionate, warmed by the sun...

And the newts were finding it just too much effort to do more than float about near the surface...

Spring also arrived in the house. I discovered this beautiful male first generation engrailed moth in the shower. He's passed the winter as a pupa in a custom-made chamber underground he will have excavated as a caterpillar at the end of last summer, emerging probably only yesterday or the day before judging by how perfect he is, to look for a mate. We have a good sized population of engrailed moths here because of all the trees: oaks, sallows, hazel, birch, privet are all larval food plants for this species that grow in and around our garden.

This morning, the warm weather has gone and it's raining, but there are still things to see if you get outside and look for them. Pop and I went for an early run and saw a male kestrel, a red kite, a buzzard and some newly arrived swallows hawking hopefully for insects. I think I also saw a lesser spotted woodpecker flying away. It looked very similar to the flight pattern of the great spotted but was a much smaller bird. I can't be certain but I can't think what else it could have been. Lesser spotted are very rare (i've never seen one) but they are present in this neck of the woods. I wish I'd had my camera with me so I could know for sure.

Later, I took both dogs out round the fields where, along the old green lane, wood anemone and celandines and dog violets are now in full bloom and the odd bluebell is starting to come out too. Lots of queen bumbles were exploring the leaf litter, looking for nesting sites. We walked on up to the hedge where the yellowhammers sing in spring, but alas all was quiet there. Instead, we found these...

It's a yellow dung fly with prey. Oddly, there are no livestock in these fields and as these flies are usually associated with cattle dung I'm curious as to what it was doing here. This is the male, the females are less golden in colour.

Further along I found this. It's a song thrush egg and is the most beautiful blue, don't you think? 

Below is a song thrush egg I found last year beside a blackbird one so you can see the difference. The song thrush is on the left.

Our bats have also survived the winter and were out flying a little before dusk yesterday.  I had the bat detector out, but despite trying both the 45 and 55 kHz frequencies used by common and soprano pips respectively, they weren't making their usual rapid clicks of sound. Instead, there was the odd loud squeak as they chased each other round and round the chimney pot. I've not heard them talk like that before, they weren't hunting noises and it's too early for mating calls (June) so I wondered if they were social calls to re-establish bonds after a winter of hibernating. Our bats are two boys in any event and they have lived together a while. Curious. If anyone knows or has any thoughts on this please let me know.

The weather is set to get hot here this week so I'm looking forward to more interesting insects emerging and a spot of butterfly seeking in some woods I know locally where orange tips and holly blues can usually reliably be found, and where yellow hammers and whitethroats both sing.

I'll leave you with Ted's favourite summer snooze point, which he took full advantage of while I was gardening yesterday... Fierce Guard Dog that he is :o)

Happy Days!


Friday, 13 April 2018

Baby Birds, Moths & A Social Run

We have blue tits nesting in the house. Well, inside the roof to be precise, in the small gap where a slate has slipped just below the apex. Aren't they inventive? I know they're there because I saw Mrs BT flying in with a beak full of nesting material (moss) yesterday. Mr BT was singing his head off on a branch nearby, which the males do while the females are nest building.

We've also got great tits nesting in one of the boxes on the garage wall. She hopped out for a wing stretch yesterday and seemed surprised to find me nearby. Quite why this should be so is a mystery to me because the nest box is very close to the house and I'm in and out past her front door all day long. I hear her tapping in there from time to time, as if she isn't fully happy with the way things are arranged.

The nuthatches are feeding babies. Both come to the garden, stock up on fallen sunflower seeds and head off back to the old oak. And the blackbirds are in and out all day grubbing up worms for their children.

The wrens have disappeared from the stream, so presumably are also nesting somewhere close by and both coal tits are back and forward from the feeders all day so must have a hole in the ground nearby where their children are secreted.

I await the return of our cuckoo. M heard one at work earlier this week, but so far, nothing here. Selborne, the BTO tagged cuckoo we follow every year who spends summer just down the road from us in the New Forest, is currently in France. But with better weather forecast this weekend he could be home any day. This year, we are resolved to see if we can go and find him in the forest, as friends of ours did with their children last year, being overjoyed to have actually heard him cuckooing! If you click his name it'll take you to the satellite map which shows where he and the other BTO tagged cuckoos currently are.

Out walking in the fields this week I came across the egg shell fragment you'll see on the book in the top photo. It's a blackbird, similar to song thrush but instead of having the specific black spots of the song thrush egg, it has a brown mottling. They are very common eggs to find at this time of the year so if you keep your eyes open you're bound to see one eventually.

Moth numbers are increasing with the warmer weather. For the past couple of nights we've had engrailed moths on the windows, quite big spring moths attracted to the light. If we get the promised warmer weather this weekend I might just put the moth box out and see what delights it attracts.

In other news, Poppy has a new boyfriend. Jim is a very handsome black spaniel who runs marathons. Poppy absolutely loved running with him this morning- the pair of them ran side by side on their leads while I, Jim's mum A and our friend L nattered. When we got off road the dogs went off their leads and had enormous fun chasing each other through the woods. Lovely. It was a nice, gentle, 5 mile run, perfect chatting speed, which was just right. Monday, another 20 miler is in the diary. After that I've got one more 20 mile run to do before the marathon, as well as a couple of competitive half marathons before I start to ease off the mileage in preparation for M Day at the end of May. Time is flowing away.....

Hope you're all well and looking forward to a good weekend,


Monday, 9 April 2018

20 Hilly Miles In The Rain

Four jam sandwiches, 2 mini sausage rolls, 8 jelly babies, 500 metres of climb, 1 litre of water and 3:39 hours later, I'd run twenty miles.

I would like to say that this makes the prospect of running 26.2 miles less of a big deal. It doesn't. I know I did a ten mile race yesterday and so running twenty today shows how my endurance capacity has improved, because even a month ago I would not have been able to cover thirty miles back-to-back in two days, but It was still a long old way today. I made it more difficult for myself because today's route was pretty hilly, but my mantra (learnt from M) is train hard, race easy and I stick to that. My marathon will have about half the elevation gain over a longer distance, so it will be much easier running, if a marathon can ever be described as easy.

I can now look forward to at least 48 hours of stuffing myself with food. Learning from last week, when I got back from the run I went to the shops and stocked up on lots of good things to eat. Pasta salads, coleslaw, bean salads, fresh pasta, cream, smoked salmon, lots of fresh veg and crisp apples and the odd bar of chocolate. Chiefly, though, I am looking forward to this....

Mmmm. A slightly battered salted caramel donut. My stomach won't notice the lack of perfection I'm sure :o)

Hope all are well? I'm now having a couple of days off to recharge the batteries, eat and sleep.

CT :o)

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Salisbury 10 Mile Road Race

This is a local race for us, Salisbury being only about 20 minutes away. Until recently, it's been a quiet, market town with a lovely Cathedral, but in recent times it's been the centre of world news, which makes all of us who know it shake our heads in disbelief, it just seems so unlikely that it could be caught up in the world of Russian spies, assassination attempts and chemical weapons poisonings.

Anyway, the Salisbury 10 is a super race run along the river valley and back with about 900 competitors. Race places go quickly as it's popular and part of the Hampshire Road Race League, so it attracts a lot of fast club runners. This year, I got in by buying my ticket on facebook from a lady who was injured and M got a last-minute place last week from a friend, who is also injured.

It was cold when we arrived, but in the way of perfect running weather- about 9 degrees with soft rain falling. A big improvement on last year when it was burning hot and I over-cooked it and found it really hard work. This year, I am much fitter and was confident it would go better because of the endurance running I've been doing.

I broke all the rules of racing by wearing my new New York Skyline running skort for the first time (ordered from America because, so far, British running kit manufacturers do largely black and boring). Luckily, it was oh so comfy to run in. I also had my club t-shirt, with the normal-for-me hat and gloves that everyone teases me for. 

The start had moved to the fire station and it was already busy when we arrived. We spotted lots of friends from our club, from work, parkrun and other fellow clubs, so it was all very sociable. I wasn't sure whether I was reassured or disconcerted by the police presence. For what is a small, local race it was unexpected to say the least, but I guess the security forces aren't taking any chances. I did amuse myself for a while imagining a Russian Assassin disguised in running kit clocking a ten mile race through quiet, rural villages in order to blend in with the scenery before carrying out his hit....

We dropped our bag off at the theatre next to the fire station, had a quick trot round to warm up then we were off. M shot off ahead, of course and I stayed steady somewhere in the middle of the field, trying hard to keep to 5:45-6:00 minute kms, with the marathon very much in mind.

I didn't much enjoy the first 3-4 miles, it takes me that long to warm up and they are usually hard work, but once I'd done them, successfully combatting the this isn't much fun, why don't you stop and walk for a bit, or even maybe go home? irritating voices that can rattle round in your head while running sometimes, I got into my stride and the miles began to flow away.

I fell in with Colin about 4.5 miles in and we ran the rest of the way together, chatting about life, our dogs and the world in general and of course running. I have made some lovely (if brief!) friendships on races. People are so generous at these events, all looking out for and looking after one another, it's one of the things I really like about runners and races. We were well-matched pace-wise and kept each other company along the long stretches of tarmac and up the couple of hills in the second half so that, with a steady stream of conversation, the miles passed by without me really noticing. As a consequence, my pace was good- not too fast, but not too slow either, and I had energy left over for a sprint to the finish.

I could hear Lovely Bex, our hugely supportive and enthusiastic club captain, yelling me on as we came onto the footpath that led to the finish. There was a lady ahead wearing a jacket and I suggested to Colin we picked up the pace to catch her, but I think I had a bit more left in the tank than he did so I went ahead, over took her, then caught up with the next lady ahead before crossing the line in a little over 1:30 hours, which I was very happy with. I felt tonnes better than last year and pleased that I'd run a better race all round.

There were surprise visitors at the finish - two camels! And a nice t-shirt, medal and goody bag with banana, a selection of Dorset Teas, muscle rub and a brownie sports bar included. The race organisation was excellent and the marshals were a super-friendly, super-organised and supportive bunch. It was a really nice morning out. Top Marks, Salisbury AC, for a fantastic event!

Hope you're all having a lovely weekend.

CT :o)