Thursday, 8 December 2016

5 Miles Is Easy (Now).

Image result for Woman Half Marathon Running Quotes

I remember thinking, when I decided three months ago that I would do the Winchester half marathon next year, what an enormous task lay ahead. At that point, I hadn't run further than three miles and the idea of doing 13.1 was daunting. I really did doubt that I'd be able to do it. It felt like a challenge too far. But training and determination change your ability and therefore your perception of what you're capable of. They give you the confidence to have a different view so that what once appeared difficult becomes achievable.

Preparation makes all the difference. I'm now ten weeks in to my thirteen week 10k training programme (including having two out for illness) and I'm running eight miles without really noticing it. The 10k at the end of December (which was to be a staging post to judge how my running was going and whether I'd be up to doing a half marathon) I'm barely thinking about because I already know it won't be a problem, and I'm looking forward to the five mile race we're doing this weekend for the same reason. Three miles has become insufficient for my regular run, and next week I'll be extending it to six. The one ten miler I clocked up before the flu hit, although hard work for the last two miles, was doable and I know with more training I'll be able to make that a regular distance. Once you've done ten miles, thirteen starts to look within your reach, and that is a good place to be, mentally.

The point of telling you all this is to encourage anyone reading this who'd like to start running or wants to try a marathon or a half but lacks the confidence because they think they won't be good enough/ it's too hard/ they'd never be able to/ other people do it better. And also to encourage those of you who have started running but aren't sure where you're going with it. You really don't know until you set yourself a challenge what you are capable of doing. The trick is to start small and work your way up, do it steadily and don't worry if you have an off day when nothing seems to work.

And who cares what other people think? I ran past a group of workmen yesterday and one of them smirked as I went by. In the past I might have felt intimidated, but knowing you can run ten miles without collapsing in a heap at the end gives you an inner buzz of satisfaction and a certain sense of steeliness. I found myself thinking: when you're running too, buddy, then you can smirk at me, but while you're walking and I'm running, don't (he wouldn't have smirked had he been running, because runners don't do that to each other). I gave him my best Paddington Stare as I went by and he had the good grace to look down :o) Channel that my dears if anyone smirks at you when you're out running!

M has been instrumental in helping me improve, by setting tough targets and treating them as if they were not out of the ordinary, or particularly challenging. He does congratulate me afterwards by saying that was quite a tough one, or, I was a bit naughty and set that harder than it could have been, but only because I know you can do it. He doesn't mollycoddle me which is what I need. At the end of Parkrun he runs the final stretch yelling at me to push on and go faster, because I have asked him to. If he started making soothing noises and saying nearly there, love that wouldn't help at all. You need to harness aggression and adrenaline at the end of a race when you're tired and other people are trying to overtake you, and someone shouting at you telling you to keep going helps with that. I grew up riding horses and every riding instructor I ever had was tough, straight-talking and no-nonsense because you can't afford to be less than 100% committed when you're competing on horseback. I guess that approach has stayed with me and I respond well to it.

Yesterday we met up at M's office to go for a lunchtime run together. I'd just assumed it would be a three miler and was a little taken aback when he said oh no, I thought we'd do five and set off.

Anyway, we did it and it was fine and I felt good afterwards. When I was tired, I walked, when I wasn't, I ran. We got back in around 45 mins which was a lot quicker than I'd expected and works out at 9 minute miles, which is OK for off road (and for someone who was a little tired after running the day before).

And this is my point really: you can run however you want to. You don't need to run all the miles, or set a fast pace unless you want to. To be a runner and to get all the wonderful benefits that come with this free and straightforward exercise you just need to start. Who knows what you might achieve?


Monday, 5 December 2016

Winter On The Land

Yesterday, we got up early and ran eight miles through the frost across the Chalk. The landscape was devoid of people; they were only evidenced by thin twists of smoke rising vertically from chimneys in the windless air among clusters of old cottages. No dogs barked, no voices echoed out across the fields, no footprints were before us in the ice.

The grass was crisp and crunchy, the air clean and cold, and from the top of the hill the view stretched out for miles across the frozen landscape revealing ancient villages nestling in valley bottoms, their Saxon or Norman churches evident from this distance, and the occasional old manor house further out, garden encircled by rambling stone walls. They looked like figures inside a doll's house from the height of the hill, framed by the washed-pale pink sky.

Here and there on the edge of a field evidence of badgers at work: small, conical indentations in the soil with bits of vegetation, roots mainly, strewn about. Frost is hard times for badgers; the earthworms they need wiggle deep underground to escape the ice and the harder the earth becomes the more difficult it is for the badgers to dig them out. Back at home I put peanuts out for them. In the morning the empty shells back up the story revealed on the night camera, that of hungry badgers and the odd fox devouring the offering during the hours of darkness.

Past the badger holes the path takes us on into a beech wood. Old trees grow from the tops of a bank which marks the place where an ancient trackway crosses the hill. Poppy runs on a little too far ahead, knowing the way, and is scolded when she returns for Not Listening To Dad Calling. She is full of abject apologies as she prostrates herself on the ground. They last for all of five seconds before she's up and off again, scampering across the leaves.

Running through the woods the ground is softer; the trees have prevented the ice from taking hold here. The scientific explanation of why this is so washes over me as we sink a little into the leaf litter, knees (mine in particular) grateful for the respite. It doesn't last long- soon we are back out into the open, into winter, which numbs fingers, chills noses and cools cheeks. Our breath pours out like silken threads unravelling onto the air.

Coming down off the Chalk we leave the clear air of the hill and enter the really cold valley bottom. The air seems to constrict around us as we cut through it. We climb again, just a little, and eventually pick up the old hedge, which is all that is left of the ancient wood that once covered the land for miles around here. I feel a strong affinity with this hedge, call it remnant or old survivor. The wood that it belonged to can still be seen; shrinking down the valley bottom it laps timorously at the field margins, reduced and marooned. All the woodland wildlife has left now is small isolated pockets of trees: only the hedge remains as an attempt to connect up the pieces. The hedge is a testament of what was once here, I think of the old forest every time I come this way. The hedge offers a way in to read the story of the landscape. I love it.

As we trot along at a companionable pace admiring the way the light glints silver on the frosty grass we reflect on how beautiful the day is and how fortunate we feel to be out here running together through this winter land, storing up memories.

In a little over an hour after we started we are back at the car, dogs gratifyingly tired, legs suitably aching, pleased with the morning's work, and the day still young enough to contain the promise of other things.

I've had a day off running today, having clocked up seventeen miles in my first week back. Instead I've been up to the Pig Fields to watch the Starlings' murmuring. A five minute drive a little before dusk to witness one of Nature's Miracles for free.

Winter Is Good, eh?

Hope you are all well.


Friday, 2 December 2016

Type 2 Fun

Have you come across the Fun Scale? It's something we reference a lot in our house because it fits outside activities well. Type 1 fun is always fun- fun at the time of doing and fun when you look back later on it. Type 2 fun is not fun at the time but you realise it was fun later when you think about it. Type 3 fun is no fun at all. Neither at the time nor later.

Of the three types of fun Type 2 fun is perhaps the one most associated with physical exercise. I've been running for four years now and, as any runner will know, you get days that just don't work no matter how good the omens. This morning's run was a case in point. I was looking forward to it but it was hard work all the way. Definitely Type 2 Fun. My lungs were tired, my legs were tired, my energy was flat, my stomach was flat and I felt sick at the end for pushing on up a hill (and before you all tell me off, pushing on is the only way to improve your stamina and fitness and as I haven't died since it was OK to do it). I did 5k in around half an hour but it just wasn't long enough to work through the niggles and recapture my mojo. I think I needed a longer run to iron out the creases but I have a sick boy at home and couldn't stay out any longer.

When I got up this morning a note had been pinned to the bathroom door: had a nosebleed in the night, don't worry about the blood. There was a lot of it. In the basin, in the bath, in the loo and on the floor. Amazing how much blood noses can produce. M had a friend at uni who always got nosebleeds at amorous moments. Unfortunate.  

Anyway, poor old L is asleep in bed pale and listless and miserable. The A team DVDs have made a reappearance and the fire has been lit in the sitting room (the dogs can't believe their luck) ready for when he emerges. I, Meanwhile, am going slowly stir-crazy at not being able to zoom about as I like to do. Cabin fever doesn't cover the half of it. I have just about had enough of this bug, which has been stalking my family for close on a month now in inventively horrible ways. Grrrr.

It is just as well, all things considered, that Type 2 fun exists because I'm already forgetting the unsatisfactory nature of this morning's run and remembering the Lapwings who rose in a handful pee-witting into the air by the big ploughed field, the Buzzard who alighted on a lump of flint, folding his long wings to watch as we trotted by, and the small roe doe who was tucked up neatly on the ground in the middle of the kale field by the big hill and who regarded us in the silent, self-contained manner of deer. I shall call upon those memories, and the satisfaction half an hour of any running, no matter how lumpy at the time, brings, while challenged with another restricted sort of day.

Wishing you all lots of freedom and Type 1 fun today, and if that can't be had then plenty of Type 2.

CT :o)

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Frosty Early Morning Run Through The Fields & Ted Is In DISGRACE

Sticking to the mantra of Being Sensible, I only ran once over the weekend. This was partly because both my men folk decided to sport spectacular fevers on Saturday and I was in Full On Nurse Duty. I did a couple of steady miles round the lanes with the dogs yesterday with no ill effects, so decided I could do the three miler round the fields today.

We set off early, determined to make the most of the Ice World that had appeared during the night. I love a good frost: there is something energising about a land encased in ice. The stillness and the way sounds drift out across it. It feels like a secret magic world.

The temperature read -2 when we left the car. There was not a soul out, beyond the Wild Ones, which is just the way I like it. The buzzard who lives in the ash stand by the green lane floated out over the fields as we approached, creamy-brown blunt-tipped wings extended as he glided silently across the valley to the woods.

Poppy shot off to investigate a whole fortnight's worth of smells which have accrued since last we came this way, while Ted gambolled just ahead, navigating the ruts at the edge of the field carefully and glancing back now and again to make certain I was still there.

Along the valley bottom the air was freezing. It bit my skin, numbed my nose and chilled my face tight and brittle. I had invested a whole one pound in a neck warmer that came into its own today: pulled up over my face like a mask it afforded protection to my recovering lungs. 

As we rounded the corner where the land begins to climb, an enormous flock of gulls, disturbed by our approach, floated into the still air. I saw four more buzzards, one sitting on the ground calmly watching us as we trotted past, three with outstretched wings catching the updrafts above the frozen fields.

It was easier running than it sometimes is, the ice having leant the land a uniform hardness, ironing out the ruts and wheels. A small flock of fieldfare zig-zagged out of badger's wood and darted away from us, their rusty urgent tuk-tuk-tuk calls identifying them. Wagtails nipped across the surface of the field, skimming the icy blades of frosted greenery and the smooth balls of earth, their excitable skittering voices mirroring the incessant bobbing of their elongated tails.

I walked part of the hill (Being Sensible) which gave me time to study the changes in the land more closely. Pockets of yellow and flurries of russet among the trees and along the hedges marked where leaves clung on, but more and more the land is taking on the uniform brown/ purple/ grey of winter. Along the margins between field and woodland the bronze of bracken, crystallised for now by the cold of the night, lent the washed out green a fiery blaze of colour. Small birds, dunnocks and robins, hopped through the fronds dislodging slivers of ice which fell glittering like miniature daggers to the ground. They perched on low boughs and watch us, fluffed up and puffy with the chill.

The light seemed to weave its way politely through the leaves, filtering rather than forcing, as if it knew they weren't long for this world, but it hit the land hard and bounced back off it adamant and strong, perhaps making the point that ice is no match for sunlight in the long-run.

In a short time my breath had recovered and the cold in my lungs had eased and we ran on, up the rest of the hill, over the fallen stile in the hedge, past the metal gate that closes off the field from the track and down the gravelled lane that sits atop the Old Roman Road. Did you know during Roman times you weren't allowed to use their major roads unless you were an army? There were penalties. I don't suppose they were pleasant. I think on that every time I come this way, experiencing the same small thrill of exhilaration in disobedience I used to feel as a child daring a bit of mild rule-breaking. It's a small bit of defiance in empathy for the put-upon Celtic tribe whose land this once was. And it's a bit late now for the Romans to tell me off.

We leave the Roman Road and are back into fields. The sun blinks constantly through the old hedge on my left as I run, like a strobe light in a night club coming and going with annoying regularity and I end up shading my eyes with one hand in an attempt to gain more uniform vision. The track on this shady side of the hedge is silver and glittering; an ice river we skate down.

At the bottom we have the choice to cut across the fields right and head for home but I'm not ready to go back yet, so recently released from enforced indoor stillness that I want to keep running forever. We continue down towards the wood and then out into the kale field where the path runs straight through the middle of the crop. Pop, knowing the way, bounces ahead, galloping through the vegetation, ears flying. Teddy, more circumspect in all things (unless they concern pigeons, rats, squirrels or fox poo), slips in behind me: I hear his paws press against the earth as he follows my lead.

We reach the bottom of the hill and follow Pop who has already turned right and is heading up the steep incline. I tell myself I won't run it, so I select a suitable place to stop running and start walking - a slender silver birch in the wood line - and then run just a little bit further to the end of a patch of nettles beyond. This is what runners do, right? we like to go just a little bit further. It's what defines us I think, pushing on and testing boundaries.

The dogs have disappeared into the wood- I hear them setting up pheasants which erupt a few seconds later screaming out of the trees. I walk for a bit, watching my breath materialise on the air, then realising I'm actually fine, pick up the pace and run on, steady, steady, two breaths in, two out, in pace with my footfalls. I get to the top of the hill that way before I've really noticed and turn back to whistle for the hounds, but they are already coming.

Together we nip between two old oaks that stand like green sentries in the hedge line and head on to the top of the hill. We turn left towards the green lane and the final half mile home. I manage most of the homeward hill at a run and am pleased with my energy level and the capacity in my lungs as I reach the top. The sun has warmed the earth and the fields are gently steaming. It will be a beautiful day, but I feel we've had the bit with magic in.

Pop and I gallop together down the final field, free, chasing one another, laughing. After a few minutes it occurs to me that there is no Ted. Stopping, I look back and see him rolling happily on the ground some distance away. Really rolling. Not just a small rub, but a proper dig-every-inch-of-your-body-into-the-grass-thoroughly roll. Oh No. The laughter stops abruptly and my heart sinks. I know exactly what he is doing. I find some colourful and impressively inventive adjectives for him when he finally catches up with us, brown instead of the white he should be.

We get back to the car, Poppy and I congratulating one another on a lovely run. Ted, in disgrace, lifted into the boot inside a blanket in silence, because I have run out of words for him.

On the coldest day of the year so far I am forced to drive home with both the windows fully open so that the arctic blast flowing direct from the polar region freezes the sweat on my skin. My neck warmer pulled up over my nostrils makes me look like an exercise-obsessed gangster and the few people I pass quite rightly stare at me with puzzled looks of amazement on their faces.

It is my intention to administer a lesson-filled cold shampoo in the garden using the outside tap when we get home, but it seems the frost is on the side of Naughty Terriers Who Roll In Fox Poo. The hosepipe is frozen, so it's a luke-warm bucket instead.

All in all a fabulous run. I'm so pleased to be back at it.

Hope all are well?

CT x

Friday, 25 November 2016

Guess What......?

I'm back to running! I did a mile and half down the lane with the dogs just now. I went steady and it was fine! Not out of breath, not coughing like mad, not tired. I am sooo tempted to do Parkrun tomorrow, but I will be good (I expect) and take the dogs round the three mile off-road field loop instead.

I haven't had time to reply to comments from the last post, so thank you all for leaving them. Well dones are due for Leanne (regular 5 miles is brilliant, you'll smash six before you know it), Veggie Mummy (go, girl! So glad your back is better and you're back at it), CJ (woop! woop! Out running! And who cares how fast, running is the thing!), Shauna (excellent! I'm so pleased it's going well!).

I'll leave you with two things. 1) My friend Katie has got a sewing machine! She said she was inspired by the sewing sale :o). I have been through my stash and sorted her a huge bag full of odds and ends of fabric and a few zips for good measure. 2) here is a divine choc brownie recipe that I have been working on for years by refining and adding various tweaks. It's gooey and fudgey and keeps for ten days at least (if it lasts that long). Let me know what you think if you try it.

225g chocolate bar (I use milk but you could do dark if you want it richer and more bitter)
4oz butter
2 eggs
2oz plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1-2oz cocoa powder (depending how rich you like it)
4oz muscovado sugar
1-2oz chocolate drops

1. Melt chocolate bar and butter in a glass bowl over a saucepan with boiling water in it until combined.
2. Off heat stir in all the other ingredients.
3. Add the choc chips last and stir slightly to make sure they're all covered in the mixture but haven't melted.
4. Pour into a lined 22cm square tin.
5. Bake at 165 degrees for 20 mins approx. (Don't over cook. It should be springy in the middle and a skewer stuck in should come out clean).
6. Cool on a wire rack and cut into bars.
7. Gorge!

I'm a little grumpy about the changes Blogger has made to the dashboard. I can't see your new blog posts or comments without clicking through three different stages. Grrr. What does everyone else think? I suppose I shall get used to it.

Wishing you all a nice weekend,

CT :o)

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Sewing Sale And Almost Back To Running

Last night was the Sewing Sale at my friend Kate's house. She'd made some gorgeous cakes (chocolate, carrot, apple) and I'd done lemon drizzle and chocolate fudge. When I arrived, the fire was lit, the kettle was on and at 6.30 our friends began to arrive.

I've known Katie since our children were babies (they now range between 15 and 20) and we both know each other's friends and families so it was really nice to catch up with so many of them last night.

M can not understand ladies inviting one another round to their houses to buy things one of them has made/ is selling and to eat cake, drink tea and chatter, but we were all happy as bees round a honey pot. There were lots of jokes about hot flushes and poor memories and the need to do regular yoga in order to be able to get out of bed without clicking and crunching each morning, along with the wry acknowledgement that when we first all knew each other our idea of a good night out was boozing and clubbing. Sewing, tea and cake came way a long way down the list (if indeed they ever featured at all.) How times change. 

When we decided to do the sewing sale back in the summer we agreed we'd use it to support the Samaritans as I have a connection with them, but a couple of days ago Kate texted me to say a friend of hers had been killed on her way to work so we decided to split the proceeds between Sams and the Wiltshire Air Ambulance who'd airlifted her to hospital. It's so sudden, something like that, isn't it? So arbitrary. One minute on your way to work the way you've done it for years and the next, gone. We explained why we were adding the second charity and people were generous and left donations as well as buying bunting, bags and pencil cases, so we have a reasonable amount to give to each.

When I got home L asked me to make him some gingerbread biscuits. He is eating me out of house and home again (must be a growth spurt) so I've spent this morning doing that. 44. I wonder how long they will last? Bells, Christmas Trees and People. You're never too old (or too cool) for shaped gingerbreads, eh? I don't think I put enough spice in them as they're a wee bit sugary for my taste, which doubtless makes them perfect for a teenage lad :o)

I have a poorly husband at home. M, who never gets sick, came down with my bug over the weekend and has been running an on/off temperature ever since. He makes a worse patient than me as he hates sitting still. No running or cycling for him all week and he's about ready to climb the walls.

Fortunately, I think the lurgy is at long last leaving me. It's two weeks today since I started to go downhill so it's about bloomin' time. I am hoping to pick up running again over the weekend. Still coughing a bit but I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to getting back out to pounding the fields. I have my first 5 mile race coming up in three weeks and I was expressing concern to running chum Sue last night about my capacity to do it. She said I'd be fine, given where I'd got to recently. Coming from someone who does ultra endurance runs and skips round the 3 mile Parkrun in under 22 minutes barely pausing for breath and then runs home afterwards I'll take that as set in stone :o)

Hope you're all well? The weather's improved in the UK. Still windy but no longer dark and gloomy, hooray!

CT :o)

Monday, 21 November 2016

Making Night Of Day

I'm thinking it's like this right across the UK today. Grim. It doesn't feel like the sun's even bothered to rise. It's dark, gloomy, pouring with rain, cold and miserable outside. The dogs and I are not stirring foot from the house. I can hear my little Sparrows singing determinedly from inside the hedge and a couple of Colourful Characters popping by (before the rain started in earnest) proved that, despite appearances, it is actually day outside.

Green Woodpecker drilling for ants on then lawn

Male Siskin nibbling nyger seeds
I'm thinking some hoovering is going to happen because that never fails to warm me up and I'm resisting the urge to switch the heating on.

Bug-wise, I'm still laid up although better than I was. I even managed to drive L to school this morning which is the first time in ten days. He's not 100% (as I have infected the whole family) but was determined to go in because he has GCSEs looming and revision sessions have already started.
M found him curled up asleep on the sofa with Poppy on Sunday morning. His awful mother had forgotten to give him a hot water bottle before bed and by midnight it was too cold to stay in his room.  Apparently, small  scruffy dogs make marvellous (if smelly) hot water bottles, even if they do take up far more room than their size suggests and aren't supposed to even be on sofas. You can see how much notice Pop takes of this rule in the pic above. Incidentally, she's been eyeing up my Reading Chair ever since it arrived but so far hasn't actually breached it. There will be Words had if she does.

M went off to work barking and sneezing and talking like Barry White. He just rang to say he isn't feeling too clever and may come home. I've never known him come back from work sick so he must be feeling rotten. What a horrid bug!

I've made a lemon drizzle cake this morning for the sewing sale and tomorrow will follow up with a chocolate one. If no one buys anything at least I'll have presents sorted for the next ten years and can commiserate with myself by eating lots of cake :o)

Hope you're all well?