Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Marathon 47 of 60 - it's all about da bling (and cake!)

I apologise in advance for what will be a rather self-indulgent post about battling gremlins. So I think the best thing to do is to show the afore-mentioned bling so you can just skip the rest of it if you like:

How fabulous is that! To get an idea of the size,  it's 13cm top to bottom and 14cm across the CAKEATHON and weighs it at a whopping 338g. 

Right, here we go with the gory details.

First there's the cake element. This was another wonderfully creative idea for an event by Travis and Rachel, runners and race organisers extraordinare. They noticed that it was 100 years since the formation of the Women's Institute and as the WI is renowned for cake-making they decided to stage an event which included cake. They set a date for the event in August but as soon as they released a photo of the medal (with pink icing on the cakes) all the remaining places sold out within a matter of hours with a waiting list a mile long!

It had been on my to do list but I hadn't got round to entering so was disappointed to have missed out. No need to worry though as the enterprising pair then sneaked in another version, which you see above, on the May Bank Holiday and I booked myself a place pdq. Even Mike said that I just had to do it to add that beauty to my collection even though I'd already got 2 marathons soon after! 

The beauty of the event is that it's a timed event, with laps of 3.44 miles, rather than one based on distance so you could complete as many or as few laps as you liked within the 6 hour time limit and still claim that magnificent medal. I think that's a wonderful idea as it encourages new runners to see how far they can go and I had a lovely chat with one lady who wondered if she could get past the half marathon distance and see from the results that she did. At the other end of the scale there were many runners who went on to complete 9, 10 or 11 laps within the time limit.

As with all Travis and Rachel's events there was a lovely camaraderie amongst the runners and walkers.

Now about the cake. There's always cake at these events but this time they asked people to bring their own creations along. My cakes never look special but do taste good so I opted for a good old banana cake using a Nigella recipe. As I made it I pouted suggestively at the imaginary TV cameras and afterwards licked the spoon trying to look sultry. Tilly the cat was not impressed!


I added my label and hoped that people would enjoy it

The event was held at Fowlmead Country Park which I first visited last year for the Fowlmead Challenge, my 37th marathon. How fitting that this was my 47th marathon - you know how I love numbers (7 months later). It's a 1.5 hour drive each way and so I'd left bright and early but here's the thing, I was not in the zone at all. I dawdled around getting ready, lingered over silly things and when I came to say goodbye to Mike I was feeling a bit teary for no apparent reason. That really set the trend for the whole day.

I had a good journey, parked up, met lots of lovely people I've come to known well over the last few years but I felt somehow disconnected and was very inward-looking. Hmm, shake yourself out of it please Susie I thought. So I took a few photos at the start to try and snap out of it:



I forgot to mention that Rachel, on the left, and Travis had recently announced their engagement. I'd got them a card but forgot to take it with me - doh!

The start area was in a different place from last year and I was pleased that the route had changed slightly and didn't pass through the quagmire on the slag heap as it did before (who will ever trust Travis again when he says "you won't need trail shoes"?!!!). This time you really didn't need trail shoes.

The next 3 photos were taken by the start and apart from the cake stand are the only ones I took all day. I think that gives an indication of my state of mind especially as I saw so many wonderful things on each lap.



Andrew did a splendid job of manning the cake stand. After my first lap I had the end piece of my cake to try and shake off my gloom. The next time I looked 3/4 of it had gone and Andrew made me chuckle by saying mine was 'trending'. I asked him to save a piece for me to take home for Mike which he did - thanks Andrew.
I won't give a blow by blow account of my internal battle but I'll share a few bits for fellow runners who will undoubtedly identify with it.

First I have to mention the weather. Here's what the weather-forecast was for the Bank Holiday weekend together with what actually happened in brackets: Saturday, hot, best day for a BBQ with sunshine all day (cold, windy in the morning, heavy rain in the afternoon). Sunday, overcast with heavy showers (cloudy first thing but cleared to baking hot sun for the rest of the day). Monday, dull with the likelihood of showers (If only! It was hot when I left home at 6am and just got hotter throughout the day as evidenced by my sunburn and very unattractive sock, shorts and bra lines!).

When we set off I was feeling fine physically and soon settled into a decent pace. I wasn't aiming for a time as I've got another marathon on Saturday so just wanted to enjoy the day. My mind, however had a different plan. I knew it was going to be difficult one when I heard someone ring the bell after their first lap and thought 'well, I don't HAVE to do the full marathon distance if I don't want to'. This set in motion a battle of wits I haven't engaged in for some time. 

I'll share a small portion of my internal dialogue so you can see what I mean: 

Gremlins: "It doesn't mater if you don't do the marathon distance as you've got contingency in place". 
Me: "Yes it does, 'cos people have sponsored me for this event".

Gremlins, "No-one cares if you do it or not".
Me: "I care!"

Gremlins: "You're overheating.  Just stop and go home". This was actually true as I was starting to feel a bit grotty.
Me: "No, I'm doing this to push myself to the limit so that people understand how important it is to invest in dementia research".

Gremlins: "You really are slowing down now. Just give it up and go home".
Me: No answer, just got a bit teary.

I think that's quite enough of that nonsense thank you very much, suffice to say that I kept smiling throughout and chatted with lots of fellow runners which really helped me keep going. I doubt that anyone would have guessed quite how much I struggled yesterday and I'm really glad I kept going as I'd never have forgiven myself if I'd pulled out. I saw so many beautiful things en-route and although I'm cross with myself for not stopping to take photos I know that if I had then I'd have struggled to get going again.

I finished my 8th lap, marathon distance, in 5:25:09 and Travis presented me with my huge medal complete with special badges and the usual wonderful goody bag. I love the badge at the top which is for completing over 200 miles in their events.



I can safely say that was my hardest marathon in ages and just shows that no matter how many marathons you run they don't get any easier. I'm hoping that the Kent Roadrunner marathon on Saturday isn't as tough!

When I arrived home I got a big hug from Mike which made everything better. He declared that it was my best medal yet and it now has pride of place in my collection.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Nature in all its glory

I've tried to whittle my photos down to the ones I just can't miss out but there were still far to many so I tried again and these are the ones that made the list. They are from the last few weeks and have been taken on my training runs along the lanes and across the rolling Sussex countryside.

I was taking this shot because I'd spotted the seagulls following the plough, the herd of deer was a bonus! I ran across the same field on my way back via the public footpath and I had a look at what they were eating and all I could see was stubble from the previous crop which looked as if it might have been wheat.

Another herd peeping out from behind the trees

The next few photos show a favourite flower of mine, Cow Parsley. But despite it's beauty there is an issue; it is dominating our hedgerows nowadays and forcing out other native species.  Apparently I am not alone in thinking this and on checking the Countryside Survey I've found out it has increased by 53% over the last 30 years.

Why? Because of the way we manage the grass verges now. One reason is that years ago the verges would have been grazed by livestock, thus reducing the fertility of the soil but now the verges are mown by the local council and the clippings left in-situ which increases the fertility of the soil making it too rich for many of our native flowers. The other reason is the increase in the use of fertilisers by farmers which inevitably leaches into the verges. This means that the flowers which prefer an infertile soil are struggling whilst Cow Parsley, Nettles and brambles are loving it.

But it's so pretty so why does this matter? It matters because we are losing the diversity of flora and possibly fauna and our verges are turning into a monoculture. I'll climb down off my high horse now!

The wonderfully frothy flowers of Cow Parsley, Anthriscus Sylvestris, are almost obscuring this footpath

Here it is seen dominating the riverbank

It is what's known as an Umbellifera, which is its family name, and is related to carrots. I love it's other common name which is 'Queen Anne's Lace'.


Who can resist telling the time by blowing the seeds of the dandelion? I always chuckle at the French name for it; pis-en-lit (wet the bed!) which must surely have been invented to stop children from picking it?!

The flowers of Ribwort Plantain, with it's white anthers, look so pretty close-up

Running along the riverbank yesterday I spotted Equisitum Arvense, aka Mare's Tail or Horsetail. It is an invasive weed and is really hard to eradicate as it is deep-rooted with roots spreading to 7ft underground. Not something you'd want in your garden but looks pretty in the wild with drops of rain on it!

I love the look of the Horse Chestnut when it's spikey flowers are out. A native of the Balkans it was introduced into the UK in around 1600. In the US I believe it is known as the 'Buckeye'.





This beautiful orchid is one of a small colony I've been protecting on a verge near our house

I was, therefore, delighted when we cleared a large area of brambles by one of our ponds and these beauties appeared this year!

This tree looked surreal with its trunk bent over. It must have been knocked over when it was young and pliable and has just continued to grow like that.

I was fascinated by the reflection of this small bridge over the storm ditch

The new growth of these Willow trees stand out in the sunshine

The jam jar hanging from this cider apple tree in an orchard had me scratching my head for a moment until I spotted the tealight inside. It must have been left behind when the Bonfire Boyes were wassailing a few weeks ago. This kind of wassailing is quite different from the Christmas version when people go from door to door singing Carols. This is where people visit the orchards and sing to the trees to awaken them and drive off evil spirits by clattering pot and pans.

What's that Susie? It's an experiment! I found this pretty mitten at the side of the lane back in November 2014. It seemed a shame that it should lie in the gutter covered in mud so I put it on this branch in the hope that if it's owner came looking for it or if they passed by they might spot it and they would be reunited.

See, it's a pretty motif

As no-one seems to have claimed it I am using it as an experiment in decay. It seems to be made of a cotton mix so it will be interesting to see how long it takes to rot down or become inhabited by insects or whatever. There is already  some rather vivid green algae growing happily in the dampness. It amuses me anyway!

I could hardly make a post without the additon of our wonderful native bluebells and Wild Garlic so here they are:


I wish you could smell their scent, it's intoxicating





I love the smell of Wild Garlic too although it's too strong for some tastes


This splash of yellow from Broom shone out in the verdant hedgerow

A few snippets from home


I have more than enough to share in another post but I'll just show a few bits for now. 

Strawberry flowers hiding in the herb beds
The beginnings of the strawberry fruit. Isn't that pretty with the calyx like a ruff around the emerging fruit

This large dog fox has been a frequent visitor to the garden recently

This hen pheasant is unusually tame and will take grain from my hand. When she first arrived her right eye was very red but it's better now. It's usually the cock pheasants who will come so close and it's been fascinating to see the patterns and colours of her feathers close-up.

Here she is, standing on one leg with her feathers all puffed up against the wind. More about the wind next time as it's wreaked havoc in the garden recently.
  
Tilly has found her inner lion and is much braver now although I don't think she'll ever wander too far from home (unlike our previous cats who wandered far and wide).

We have had so many different visitors to the birdbath outside the kitchen window, goldfinches, magpies, wood pigeons, sparrows, dunnocks, pied wagtails, robins, starlings to name a few, but this pair of collared doves win the prize for cuteness. They must have a nest nearby as I've seen them chasing away the magpies (who would steal their eggs if allowed near the nest).


Oh no, not the compost heap again! Yes, but don't worry, I just wanted to show the potatoes that have sprouted right at the back. There must have been some small bits left and they've sent up shoots so I'll leave them there and see what develops.

Whilst I was admiring the compost heap something flashed across my peripheral vision. On closer inspection I found this grass snake hiding in an old rotting stump. I must have disturbed his sun-bathing!

As I sat on the swing the other evening I spotted this rabbit hopping alongside the pond.

He headed straight towards me……….

……….and stopped for a quick wash less than 6' from where I was sitting!

Some marvellous molehills keep appearing in 2 of our fields at the moment. The ones in the middle of the photo made me chuckle as they follow the path of an animal track. Now any gardener knows that the soil thrown out to form a molehill is fabulous as it's broken into a fine crumb by the mole's digging. You can use it as the base for  a potting compost or, as I did, as a soil conditioner to break down the heavy clay we have in our garden. You can't really get the scale of them from the photo but some of them are about 10" high and 2' across and we managed to get 4 wheelbarrows worth of beautiful crumbly soil from them.

Crochet blanket update


I've very nearly finished the Sophie blanket with just the border to make. I'll be sad when its over as it's been a most enjoyable journey. Not much to show from last time but here's where it was at a few days ago:

Experimenting with colours for the next round.

Thankfully I remembered that this yarn bleeds like mad and so I soaked the skein in cold water then added salt and vinegar to act as mordants to hopefully set the dye. I have had problems of bleed with several Rowan yarns in the past so I'm always cautious, especially with reds.




Which pink to use next? The one on the right won and is now complete so just the final few rows of the border to do. Watch this space.