Sunday, 26 December 2010

On a day like today.

On a day like today I wish believed in an after life. On a day like today I can see why people do. On a day like today it would be hugely comforting to believe that a person 'lived on' after their time on Earth was over.

I don't believe this, so when I hear that someone has died I know that I will never see them again. There will be no sitting on clouds, looking down on loved ones and watching over them.

I heard today that an old friend of ours died on Christmas Eve. He was 48 years old. I have so many great, happy memories of times spent with him. I also have feelings of guilt. For two short periods of our friendship I was so cross with him, once for something he hadn't actually done, and once for something he did do, but who the hell am I to judge, that I was not a good friend to him. I can't do anything about that now. I'd love to offer up a 'sorry' to him, but he won't hear it. To be honest, I am not sure he was aware that I was cross, and we were on good terms again, so the guilt is just my self absorption I suppose!

Life is too short and too precious. We have one life, and one life only. Sometimes that life is far too short. There's a lot to be said for living each day as though it were our last.

RIP Nigel. I, and many, many others will miss you greatly.

What is it with me and losing things in France?

'That was the best Christmas ever!'

Not just my words, but those of all the family!

We left home at about 3pm on Christmas Eve and drove down to Maisons Laffitte to stay in Cerys & Paul's house, while they were back in England staying with their families. We didn't bring presents with us, as there would be no room in the car if we did, but Santa managed to arrange stocking presents for the children. Arriving late in the evening, the children put on their traditional new pair of PJs (from Father Christmas) and went to bed. Luckily they were all tired and didn't take long to drop off. They did wake early. Very early! I normally have to wake my children up, but they woke up at 6am French time! That is 5am UK time and far too early for me to be civil to anyone - even though Cerys had left the caffeinated ground coffee easily accessible! We managed to put them off until 7am, and then they all piled in to open their stocking presents. Sonic screwdrivers, watches, autobiographies (Keith Richards) and toothbrushes were all well received.

After a quick breakfast followed by topping up the oil in the car (pesky warning lights) we set off for Disney. I've never seen the roads as empty - it is normally stop start traffic until about 15km before you get there. I noticed that the small boulangeries, tabacs and cafés were open - even though it was only 8.30am!

Disney was chilly, about minus 4c, when we arrived, and didn't seem to get much warmer during the day. We realised that various children had forgotten their gloves, so headed into a shop to buy some more. I'd just paid and we did the normal count up of children when we realised Esmé was missing. I wasn't worried, as normally when one can't find a child they are engrossed in something on the other side of a display and you locate them a minute or so later. This didn't happen. We scooted around looking for her, having told the other 4 to stay in one place and not to move on pain of death! We started shouting her name, but still couldn't find her. We asked to speak to someone about a missing child and were asked how long she had been missing for - I said 'about 15 minutes' they told me they would file a report when she had been missing for 30! I tried to have a hissy fit in broken French, he tried to calm me down in broken English. I was torn between getting this man to do his job and running round the park looking for a small girl in a pink ski coat, and believe me there must have been hundreds of small girls in bright pink ski jackets!

Eventually, after half an hour, he took me to 'Lost Children' to fill in a report. No one would believe that she had a 'Pink hat with a pig on it!' They made pig noises at me and asked if I was sure, I said yes, and then remembered my camera and showed them a picture taken just as we arrived showing madam with her Peppa Pig hat! Forms were filled, 'phone numbers exchanged so that they could 'phone me 'if they found her' and I could 'phone them 'if' we found her! I wasn't mad on the use of the word 'if' or the suggestion that I go off and enjoy my day until she turned up again!

Luckily, just as I was finishing this process, as with all things French a lot of paperwork was involved, and about 45/50 minutes after we had first noticed she was gone, Joshua spotted her. She was chatting away to a French lady and walking back towards the shop. She'd gone out of the shop, all the way up to find the Slinky Dog ride (how did she remember how to get there? The last time she was there was September!) and then back again. She was quite bemused when I burst into tears and kept hugging her! She was very pleased with herself and had enjoyed her adventure!

The rest of the day was great fun! Lots of rides, minimal queues, and all of us knackered by about 3pm! We left Disney, stopped at a boulangerie in Maisons Laffitte to pick up some bread, and went 'home' to make supper! Pasta may not be a traditional choice for Christmas dinner, but we've had it before (by popular demand) and will probably have it again! This was followed by Doctor Who, and reasonably early nights all round!

Boxing Day followed a similar pattern, with unwrapping of presents replaced by packing of car! Disney was busier, but not excessively so. It was much colder, minus 6c when we arrived! We didn't do as much today, picking and choosing rides where we wouldn't have to wait too long and which would offer some warmth!

We are back home in England now, and will open presents tomorrow. It has been a lovely Christmas, very different to normal, but very nice all the same. We are hugely grateful to Cerys and Paul for letting us use their house as a base! I can't believe how stress free the whole weekend was (well, apart from losing Esmé!) It was far more relaxed than a weekend at home!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

I've deferred.

I deferred my entry for the Brighton marathon this morning. There is no way I can train for what would be my first marathon and do my final teaching practice. I am still debating what to do about the Bath half marathon, which is only 11 weeks away and two weeks before my teaching practice ends. I want to run this race. I've run 10 milers when unfit and unwell. I finished Paris to Versailles thinking that I could do a few more miles if no one threw another hill at me, but I really don't know how knackered I'll be in a new school. I guess I will just see how it goes and defer nearer the time.

There are other races. I will do Paris to Versailles again, there is the Alton 10 in May, and the Royal Parks Half Marathon in November, so it isn't as though this is my one and only chance to run a race, but I hate, hate, hate not doing something I have committed to do.

Went to the gym again this evening as it is still too icy outside to run. I ran for 35 minutes on the horrible treadmill, covering 6.8km. To try to alleviate boredom I varied the pace, running most of the way at 10.5kph and throwing in the odd 500m at anything between 13 and 14.5kph. My head finds it hard to work out speeds and distances in metric, as I am an Imperial girl, but I think that I averaged about 8.17min/mile. More variety was added by my accidentally hitting the 'Emergency Stop' button and wondering what the hell was going on as the treadmill stopped rather quickly! The button is large, obviously very sensitive and located in the middle of a bar directly in front of my running position, so, as I leant forward to alter the speed I think I must have knocked the button with my arm - gave me quite a shock!

After the treadmill I did a quick session on the power plates. They are great for stretching out overworked muscles, and I like to think that the strength work I do on there makes up for the fact I hate lifting weights, doing squats, press ups and sit ups!

In other news, we are cautiously optimistic about our trip to Paris. Friends have just done the reverse journey and lived to tell the tale. I've also taught my older daughter to knit! I haven't done anything 'crafty' in a long while, but a couple of weeks ago I discovered a 'new' wool shop. New is in inverted commas because it has been there for four years, and I must have driven past it hundreds of times, but one Friday evening I saw someone walking into the shop and noticed it for the first time. The Inter Knit Cafe in Farnham is lovely! A huge range of yarns and accessories and the owner was friendly and helpful. I bought a couple of skeins of yarn, some funky new needles and set about knitting a new scarf in a feather and fan pattern. Kitty has been eyeing this scarf covetously as it grows, but she is not having it! Instead I taught her to knit this afternoon. Chunky yarn and 8mm needles mean that the 25-30 rows she has completed look like she has done a lot of work! Teaching her wasn't as traumatic as I thought it would be. She picked it up pretty quickly and only came to me when she dropped a stitch or got confused. Mind you, she has only learnt to knit, not purl, and I did cast on for her! I'll try to remember to post a picture when she's finished.

I wonder if I should get the boys to take up knitting? It has to be better than a DS, but then again I am not sure if it is a good idea to give them weapons to poke each other with...

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Anyone for ice skating?

The trouble with writing something that purports to be running blog is that, when one is not running it is difficult to justify a blog entry! My children broke up in stages, the 4 younger ones, who cannot really be left home alone, finished a week before the big, supposedly responsible one. This, and a madly hectic social life, for the children rather than me, meant the I barely had a chance to run. The last time I ran outside was on 12th December!

Then, just when the child-who-is-old-enough-to-babysit-if-I-bribe-him-enough finished school, the snow hit! The photo was taken during a brief sunny spell. Since then we have had more snow, a wee bit of thawing then refreezing, resulting in very icy road and pavement conditions. I've seen some nifty looking snow chains for shoes that might help, but in common with the local council I put off buying such useful devices as we 'never get weather like this!' Cabin fever sets in if I don't get a good run every few days. I also eat more when not exercising as I get fed up and eat to cheer myself up - this is A BAD THING! I know as I snaffle down the Mars Bar from my secret stash of French Mars Bars (they are nicer than English Mars Bars and slightly smaller so therefore they are a diet food) that I don't need the calories, I know that I am just eating because if I am eating I can ignore, for a few seconds, the mountain of laundry that needs sorting, but I eat the thing anyway. And I don't really enjoy it. That's the really sad thing!

Anyway, today I decided enough is enough, and drove cautiously to the gym. I arrived just at the start of a short spinning class (20 mins spin, followed by 30 minutes of something requiring co-ordination in the studio), so I joined that. It was a good kick start, giving me the impetus to work out indoors. I followed this with a 5k run on the dreaded treadmill. Not too bad tonight as I listened to 'The Archers' whilst running - how rock'n'roll am I?! It isn't the same as being outside. I don't get the same sense of escape and I think that knowing I can hit the stop button at anytime takes the edge off the whole thing. If you are 4 miles from home and want to stop you can't, unless you want to 'phone home and ask for a lift (and I'd have to be in a really bad way to do that) you just have to keep plodding on! I normally find that, after another mile I have gotten over the 'oh my god I can't move another step' feeling and have started to enjoy the run again.

So, children are now all off school. Nativities and carol concerts have been enjoyed, pre Christmas traditions (Olympia for the horse show, visits to Santa) have been observed, a couple of shows (Armstrong & Miller and Tim Minchin) have been enjoyed. All that now remains is a bit of last minute wrapping, which will be tricky when my fingers are crossed that we won't have too much more snow before Friday because we want to go and see Mickey Mouse!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

With thanks to Woman's Hour!

The roads are still icy but my ankle is on the mend! Hurrah! I decided not to risk a run on the ice rink and stayed in the gym today. I am not really enjoying my audio book, and didn't fancy listening to music, so used the app on my 'phone to listen to the radio instead.

I love Woman's Hour! The articles are diverse and interesting. When I have been observed teaching I get lots of comments on the 'breadth of my knowledge' and my ability to 'link science to everyday events.' A lot of this comes from listening to Radio4 in general and Woman's Hour in particular. So, with my headphones on I started to run on the dreaded treadmill. I set the treadmill at 11mph and set off. I decreased the pace to 10.5kph for two 8% hills, each about 1k long, and after I had got the horrible hills out of the way I played with the speed, varying it between 12 and 15kph. I listened to articles on bathing babies with eczema, women on submarines, and Chinese Imperial robes. None of them were relevant to me, but interesting non the less. Before I knew it I had completed 30 minutes on the machine. Probably to longest I have ever survived on a treadmill before terminal boredom forced me off!

I've spent the rest of today wrapping the presents that need posting, and making a casserole. I am still waiting for several presents to arrive - if they don't arrive I'll have lots of lovely things to give as birthday presents next year. We'll be busy after school with 'Carols by Candlelight.' Hamish is in the choir, I am looking forward to it greatly, people who went last night said it was 'magical!'

I've been asked for this recipe a couple of times, so thought I'd post it here! Was going to make it at the weekend, but had run out of red lentils! Enjoy! It makes plenty, I usually make it in a stockpot, but I guess you could halve the quantities.

Lentil and bacon soup

3 Onions - the huge ones if you can get them, if not 4 or 5 smaller ones
Carrots }
Celery } you need equal quantities of onions, carrots and celery
10 rashers smoked bacon
Red and green lentils - up to the 900ml mark on a measuring jug
Chicken stock cubes
3 litres of water (adjust if using chicken stock instead of cubes)
Herbs - oregano/thyme
Tomato purée - about a tablespoon (ish)
Lee & Perrins - a good shake
Salt and pepper
Grated parmesan to serve

Peel and chop onions, carrots and celery. Snip bacon into small pieces.

Olive oil in pan, enough to thickly cover base, heat on low. Add onions, carrots, celery and bacon, put lid on and sweat for 10 - 15 minutes. Don't let them brown, they should become tender. Stir occasionally, while you are doing this fill the kettle and boil the water.

Add lentils to the pan and stir.

Put stock cubes in jug and add boiling water then add to lentils, heat rest of water (to make up to 3L) and add to pan.

Stir in lots of black pepper and a little salt, add herbs, tomato purée and L&P.

Bring to the boil. Turn heat down and simmer with the lid not quite fully on, for at least 30mins until red lentils are soft and green ones are cooked by with a bit of a bite in them. It is quite forgiving if you cook it for longer.

Check seasoning before serving.

Freezes really well!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

It is the little things that make such a difference.

I've had an eventful week. I went to visit my friend in France on Tuesday. We had a lovely couple of days mooching about, and I returned home on Wednesday evening. I should have arrived home at about 9pm, but due to snow my drive from Ashford took a wee bit longer than I anticipated, and I eventually got back home at about 1.40am on Thursday morning. I saw one articulated lorry plough through the crash barrier, then across my side of the road before coming to a stop in the ditch at the edge of the road, and while I was on the hands free, talking to Husbando, I shocked him with a stream of expletives as a BMW overtook me and then went into a spin so that his headlights were shining right at me! I knew that there was no way I could stop on the ice rink that was pretending to be the M25, but luckily I was travelling slowly and managed to drive around him.

Since then, the children have been off school due to snow days, so we spent Thursday and Friday keeping warm and sledging. I used one of the sledges on a trip to the supermarket. I was not keen to take the car out, so set off on foot with the sledge and pulled my shopping home. It was only 2 miles, but felt a lot further battling the snow and the wind!

The gym was closed on Thursday and Friday, and there was no way I was going to risk running on the roads, so I feel very sloth like this week. This morning I discovered that the gym was open! Hurrah! I changed quickly (no other way to change when it is so chilly!) and drove to the gym.

In my haste I had forgotten one little thing. I got on the treadmill and set off. After 10 minutes, including a couple of hills, my left ankle began to protest quite strenuously! I couldn't think what was wrong, I gave it another 5 minutes, but the 'niggle' didn't go away, it just seemed to get worse. I was confused, I hadn't lost my footing, gone over on my ankle or anything like that, and surely running on a treadmill was easier on the joints than running on a road. I got off the treadmill, and hobbled to the Power Plates and continued my workout, then did some time on the eliptical cross trainer. I still couldn't work out what was wrong.

I came home, had a shower, put clean clothes on, and then went to change the orthotic from my 'work out/running' trainers back into my 'everyday wear' trainers. As I fished around for the small (about 3" long, less than 4mm deep) orthotic under the insole of my trainer I realised that it wasn't there. I hadn't moved it over before I went out. Oops! I am amazed at how much difference it makes. I'll have to be more careful in the future!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

It is official...

... it is bloody cold out there!

I set off for a run this afternoon in long tights and a long sleeved running top over my t shirt. I normally have to remove the top as I get too warm, but not today. I didn't plan to run very far, but, despite the cold, it was a lovely day to be out and about. Clear skies, lovely views - when my glasses weren't steaming up as I breathed out, and barely a soul about. The roads were very icy in places, so I changed my planned route to keep on roads that stood a chance of having been gritted in living memory. There were still huge icy patches that took some negotiation - I didn't want to think what would happen if I did a Bambi impression on the ice!

As I got to about 2 miles out I decided that I would turn back at the end of the next track. Most tracks on my running playlist are about 3 or 4 minutes long, so would add about a mile to the total distance I would run. As the next track started (on random shuffle) I recognised the opening chords of 'Champagne Supernova' by Oasis and groaned. Not only is it not a great song to run to it is also over eight minutes long! The trouble with goals I set for myself is that, if I fail to achieve them, I feel like a real loser! So on I went, and then realised that the last 3 minutes of the run would take me down a really steep hill, which would mean a really steep up hill start to my return half of the run. Luckily, just as the road started to really plummet downwards I spotted a footpath to my right and veered off down there instead - virgin running territory for me! I avoided the steep hill, but will wait until the ground has thawed out a bit before running down the footpath again - it was very rough going!

I ran 7 miles today in 61 minutes - I know some of you out there will be laughing at how slow that is, but it is the best I have run in a long time! I feel as though I am gradually throwing off this awful run of chest infections and colds. I still had loads of energy left as I got home, but my thumbs were blue with cold and the children needed feeding, so I called it quits at 7 miles.

Not sure how much running I will get done this week, I'm off to Paris for a flying visit - can't remember if I left trainers in France, and don't want to pack them if I haven't as I have lots to take with me and am going on Eurostar rather than taking the car over on the train.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Road Rage!

The road through our village is being resurfaced. The old road was a bit pot holed, but I would happily have lived with it to avoid the road closures that the resurfacing has caused - and we are only on day 4 of the work.

The letter informing residents of the work to be carried out is dated 18th November, and arrived on 20th November at around 2pm as the postman couldn't get here any earlier as the road was already closed. Rather than resurfacing one half of the road at a time, and using traffic lights to allow cars to pass both ways through the village, they are doing both sides at once. A two mile drive into Sainsburys is now 6 miles on single track roads with far too many cars using them - including delivery lorries and buses. I seem to spend most of my time reversing to the nearest passing place, and several people seem to have sense of humour failures at the thought of getting their 4x4s a bit muddy!

The situation could have been ameliorated somewhat if the workmen gave accurate information when asked, and didn't make us feel as though we were unreasonable in wanting to get into or out of our houses! Yesterday evening, in a hurry to get home so I could go out again, I asked a workman if I could bypass the blockage by going up one road and down another. "Oh yes!" he said, neglecting to inform me that there was a 40 minute wait at the bottom of the other road!

Argh! It makes me realise how much I rely on being able to jump in the car and get to places quickly! At some point tomorrow I won't be able to get out at all, but I have no idea when. Let's just hope no one needs to get in or out in an emergency.

If you came here because this is a running blog then here goes! I've been a bit depressed by my speed, or lack therof, recently! I have been stuck at around 9 minute miles for ages and what ever I did this is what I averaged on most runs. I've been adding some gym workouts to my routine, and the advantage of the dreaded treadmill is that it makes speed work easier. Yesterday I ran at speeds between 10 and 14kph (machine is metric only) adding in a couple of half kilometer 7.5% hills, and while it was hard work I managed it. 'Hills' seem easier on the treadmill because you can't see them.

Today I dithered about running - I'd either have to run through construction works (the smell of tarmac gets old fast) or along very busy single track roads. I chose the latter, and ran 4 miles in just over 33 minutes - faster than I have run for a very long time. Seems that the boring gym and treadmill work may be paying off!

And now I have to set off insanely early to get to school to pick up the children..... wish me luck, I may be sometime!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

It's that time of year again!

Not only is it now dark by mid afternoon, meaning that, unless I want to go out dressed like a Belisha beacon complete with head lamp, I have to try to go running during the day, it is also starting to get a wee bit chilly.

It is not so cold that I can go out wearing a windproof running jacket, or even a long sleeved top over my t-shirt, and it isn't really cold enough for long running tights either, but it isn't warm enough not to wear them. So, I set off on my run cursing the cold, trying to warm up frozen fingers my retracting them as far up my sleeves as possible, swearing that I will turn back at the first corner as it is inhumane to expect anyone to run around in such dreich (I had to look that word up as I've never written it down before) conditions. Pretty soon, about a mile in maybe, I begin to overheat, and then have to contend with removing a layer without strangling myself on my headphone cables or accidentally removing too many layers and finding myself at the side of the road in just my bra!

To be honest, I am not sure that it has ever been cold enough for me to run in a jacket and/or long sleeved top without it being so cold and dangerously icy that I would not venture out. The roads are all beginning to get slippy with fallen leaves, no more crunching through the leaf fall, it is more a case of treading carefully to avoid falling arse over tit down a slippery slope.

Despite the cold, today's run was fun. Two and a half miles gently up hill followed by two and a half miles back home again. I almost didn't go out. I'd intended to go to the gym, but left the house on the school run without a water bottle or my headphones, so came home again, and was about to change out of my running kit when I spied my neighbour returning from her run. I was guilted into going out, and I'm glad I did!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

A surprisingly good run!

Husbando left for London at 5am this morning, and I rolled over and went straight back to sleep until about 9am. Small people may, or may not, have climbed into bed with me to try to persuade me to make breakfast, fix broken toys, sort out arguments, but I was oblivious to them all! Not sure why I am so tired at the moment, maybe it is because the weather is so dark and miserable.

When I eventually surfaced I made breakfast and supervised homework while wrapping presents. My middle child has been given some really lovely maths homework this weekend, involving making 3D shapes from card, but while he is very good at the measuring and cutting out we are rather scuppered by the sticking of the card. Pritt Stick just isn't doing the job. A trip to Waitrose later today better yield some stickier (but hopefully non messy) glue.

Up against the clock, as ever, I realised that the only way I was going to get a run in today was to go while one of the children was at a party. So, after dropping my youngest son at a party being thrown by two girls in his year at school and featuring the Animal Man, I set off.

This was new running territory for me. I know the area, but only to drive around, but I had a rough idea of where I wanted to go. I knew that I could do a nice loop, but thought that it might be a bit short on distance, so added a bit on at one end! The route I took went gently uphill for the first 2/3rds and then fairly steeply downhill. I had forgotten to put my Garmin on before leaving, so had no idea how far I had gone until I got back home, and only a rough idea of how long I had taken (about 48 minutes). I was thrilled to find I'd covered nearly 5.75 miles! It was a lovely route - despite constant rain, and I would like to run it again, but if I run that loop starting from home it is nigh on 13 miles! A little further than I need at the moment. On the other hand, parking and running is an option - and the challenge of running up the steep hill and down the gentle slope would be good.

Got to dash off now - the madly gay social whirl that is my children's life is never ending, and I need to drive my younger daughter to a party at a soft play area. What fun! Wonder what her party bag will yield? This morning's contained popping candy - I've been transported back to childhood!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Hot stuff, or how to amuse construction workers!

The weather has been against me this week. Several rainy days have resulted in my retreat to the gym. I've been elliptically cross training, power plating and treadmilling away for about as long as I can stand the boredom! I have ameliorated the dullness of running on the treadmill by whacking the gradient up to 7.5% and running up hill as fast as I can for as long as I can, which means that it is all too knackering and painful to be boring!

Today, although it was not bright and sunny after last night's gales, was at least not lashing it down, so I decided to brave the great outdoors, and intended to set out on one of my favourite routes to a neighbouring village and back. I had forgotten that we are being resurfaced! The snow last spring added yet more potholes to the already impressive collection around the village. This is going to involve the road through the village being closed for 6 days towards the end of the month, but in the build up to this the road to the neighbouring village is being resurfaced.

As I ran towards the 'Road Closed' sign I realised that I could run my favourite road without fear of death by dippy woman driving 4x4 while chatting on mobile 'phone, and checked with one of the workmen that I would be able to get past the area they were working on and then set off. I had to squeeze past a few HUGE lorries and engage in a bit of banter with the construction guys, but was soon past the area they were working on, and running down the middle of a gloriously empty road.

Coming home was a different story. By this time they had spread new tarmac on the road and were rolling it flat. Running on the freshly rolled road surface felt amazing! It was so smooth, warm and with a little bit of give in it, running on the freshly spread, but as yet unrolled, tarmac was a bit more tricky - sticky, lumpy and a lot warmer! Had to keep moving or I might have stuck to the road surface! Cheers from all the guys working on the road as I ran past them.

Back home to bake cakes for yet another school cake sale (Reception class this time), and then to ice them. I'd been icing them using a normal, fabric icing bag up until now, but Laura aka Village Wife, recommended some disposable ones from Lakeland and I have to say that I am very impressed with them. Being plastic they do
not allow all the icing to ooze through the fabric and make greasy messes everywhere. I love making cup cakes as it seems so much less hassle than having to grease or line a big cake tin and they are so much more fun to ice. The children's favourite icing is a cream cheese one (although they don't tell their friends it has cheese in until after they have tried it). Dead simple to make - 300g icing sugar, 50g butter and 125g of Philadelphia beaten together for about 5 minutes until it is all smooth and gorgeous. I think my original recipe demanded that I sieve the icing sugar, but I've never bothered. I can't stand the mess that icing sugar makes when sieved - coating everything in the kitchen with a fine dust.

Tomorrow looks like rain again, and Sunday isn't looking much more promising. I can't bear the thought of doing my long run on the treadmill, so may have to dig out my wet weather running gear!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

'Good at Games?'

Sorry to bore you with a second blog post in a day, but the thoughts are whirring around in my brain, so I thought I would commit them to virtual paper and see if that made any sense of them and whether any of you had any thoughts.

It has only taken until half term for my 11 year old daughter to declare that she 'hates PE' at school. This is from a child who previously enjoyed PE lessons at primary school, occasionally comes running with me and has taken part in a few 'Race for Life' 5k races (completing the distance in a respectable time and running all the way).

So what has changed?

At primary school, PE seems to have been largely non competitive. Yes, there were a couple of school teams, but the majority of lessons were 'fun' rather than highly technical. The children, at her old school, were taught by non specialist teachers, so although technical elements and rules of play were covered they were not the be all and end all of each PE lesson. There was more emphasis on getting outside, moving around, having a good time etc.

PE lessons at secondary school do not seem to have changed much since I was at school (although they no longer have to wear scratchy PE knickers and heavy wool jumpers that stink like a rotting wet sheep the minute they get wet). The emphasis is on skills, skills and more skills, and then selecting the girls who are 'good at games' for various teams. For most of the girls, hockey is a new game and they are having to learn it from scratch, so I do not dispute that they need to learn the skills. In cross country they are not given any advice on how to build up to running continuously, some of them will never have run 3 miles in one go before and my daughter reported that several girls were in tears as they finished.

Education has undergone vast changes since I was in school in the 1980s. The mass media frequently talks about 'dumbing down' and it has taken me getting to this stage in my teacher training to realise that although it may look this way to the casual observer, this is not the case. The way we access knowledge has changed vastly since I was at school. When I was 11 the teacher knew everything, and acted as a gatekeeper for that knowledge. If I wanted to find something out I had to find a book with that information in it or find someone who knew the answer. It made sense for us to be able to recall lots of facts. The fact that we could recall lots of facts did not mean that we understood what the facts meant - I passed Physics A'level without much actual understanding of what it was all about, but I did have the ability to remember laws, facts and equations.

Today's children can access knowledge with a few keystroke on their mobile 'phone. What the teacher has to empower them to do is to evaluate the quality of the information they have found and enable them to manipulate their newly acquired knowledge. There is little value in students memorising dozens of equations for a science exam when they will never need to remember them again - much better to provide them with the equation and then teach them how to manipulate if for their own purposes.

And so back to PE in school. The emphasis should be on teaching children to be happy and confident in their bodies, to be able to use their PE skills to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It should not all be about getting on to the school team and therefore being 'good at games' or not getting on and therefore having a miserable time as an also ran! I never thought I would be blogging about the importance of non-competitive sport as I don't have a non-competitive bone in my body, but here I am! It strikes me that the PE department is the only place in school where Darwinian rules still apply. Schools no longer post test results on a notice board for all to see who is top and bottom of the class - this has been recognised as being demotivating for those who struggle, but in PE we have those who make the team and are 'good at games' and those who, by default, are not and who then grow to resent PE lessons and whine to try to get notes from Mum to get them 'off games.'

Maybe schools should look at the gym industry and look at what 'grown ups' do when they want to get and keep fit. Pilates, yoga, spinning and aerobics would be great skills for children to learn and totally non competitive. I don't know the answer. I just know that so many children, especially girls, seem to get turned off sport by school PE lessons. If this country is to begin to tackle the growing obesity problem we should be seeking ways to encourage enjoyment of physical activity, not making it something that children endure while at school and then give up all together as soon as they leave.

Last night I did something I've never done before!

Now that I have your attention, I will begin!

Yesterday saw 80% of the children back in school, just the pesky teenager left at home on an InSET day. He'd had two friends over for a post trick or treating sleepover so none of them surfaced until mid morning. I went out leafleting for our shop, hoping that they wouldn't burn the house down while I was out.

I selected Crondall as my destination for leafleting, a lovely village with two interesting looking pubs, some very big houses and a higher than average quota of yappy, snappy dogs! It took me about two and a half hours to blitz the village, a task made slightly more pleasant by listening to Michael Caine reading his latest autobiography 'An Elephant To Hollywood' via my iPhone. His reading style is very odd. I have loved listening to Stephen Fry reading his autobiographies, to the extent that I don't think I'd want to read his work now - far better to hear the words from the man himself, but it almost seems as though Michael Caine is unsure of what he is reading. The diction is not always great, words are sometimes slurred and he seems out of breath at times. Still, it is an interesting listen, and whiles away the time.

The rest of the day was spent catching up on various things that had been neglected during half term, packing up parcels for eBay, paying bills, that sort of thing, and all too suddenly it was time for the school run again.

By the time I'd picked up all the children from school and got home again it was nearly 5pm and getting very dark. I hate dark evenings, but feel that to move away from using GMT would be sad, so can't wholeheartedly support the Lighter Later campaign.

So now we get to what I did last night that I've never done before, and this is a running blog, so you shouldn't be surprised to find it has something to do with running! I went for my first ever run in the dark! I've been out before and come home when it is getting dark, but never before have I put on a high viz (bright pink with reflective stripes) vest and set out in the dark, knowing that I will have to stick to pavements and areas with street lamps. It was an odd experience, I ran slower than I normally would - probably because I was not able to see where I was putting my feet, and there were no other runners out and about. I have a head light on my birthday wish list, and hope that this will help me see more clearly as well as being seen more easily. I am going to have to investigate new routes through the town to see if I can find some interesting and challenging routes to keep me motivated over the winter. It certainly beats running on the treadmill at the gym!

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Internet safety 101...

... if you are meeting up with someone you only know online, make sure you do so in a public place!

Today I met up with someone who feels like an old friend! Carol and I met at Running4Women about a year ago, but our efforts to meet in real life have been thwarted by logistics and illness. When Stephen had to drop out of the Festival Place 5k due to 'flu I emailed Carol and asked her if she wanted the place, after resisting for a little while she said yes and, at long last, we got to meet up!

After the Great South last week it was lovely to take part in a small race. This is the first year this race has been held, entries were limited to 350, but I don't think there were that many there today - hopefully more people will take part next year. We set off at 9am, I had positioned myself with all the scarily fast looking club runners near the front of the field, and started off much too fast - but hey, it's only 5k and I wanted to get a bit of speed at the start.

The route took us out through Festival Place shopping centre, and out and around a pond at Eastrop that I didn't know was there (to be honest I didn't know there was a place called Eastrop until this morning), back to Festival Place, passing Wagamamas, up past the Haymarket, along the road by MacDonalds (and back) then down into Festival Place again for a final circuitous route around both levels before finishing back where we had started at M&S. I am 99.99% certain that we didn't run a full 5k! I am not certain of my time, as I forgot to turn my Garmin on at the start, and then forgot to turn it off at the end - but results are being notified by post, so will have to wait and see! I did glance at the clock, but wasn't really concentrating, and the time seemed far too fast to be my time!

All in all a fun little race! Would have benefited from kilometre markers along the way, but the goodie bag is fun! The Lush bath bomb and £15 Wagamama voucher are possibly the best things I have ever had in a race goodie bag! Well done to Vicky, and everyone at Alton Sports for organising such an interesting race.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Man 'flu!

It is half term and my husband has man 'flu! He has taken to his bed or, when feeling slightly less feeble or there is something he wants to watch on TV, the sofa. From here he coughs, splutters, sighs and moans, generally making the whole household feel miserable.

To be fair, he may actually be a little unwell, but I have spent too many years living with him having dramas over every minor medical issue that I can't be sure any more. And it must be remembered that I am not the most compassionate of people at the best of times! A rainy half term with most of us coughing and sniffling is not the time for an Oscar winning man 'flu production! I think I'd rather be ill myself than live with a man suffering man 'flu!

What little compassion I do have has been sorely stretched today. On a 'quick jaunt' to the nearest TKMaxx to see if they had sheepskin boots in my older daughter's size (they didn't), younger daughter had coughing fit in the car and managed to throw up over everything she was wearing. She ended up walking around the shopping centre in big sister's ski jacket (the only item of clothing in the car) until she could be bought a whole new outfit! On removing the cover of her car seat I noticed that it was cracked - so it is probably a good thing that she was sick, as I now know I need to get her a new one.

My entire day seems to have been spent getting in and out of the car, delivering and collecting people from various places. I foolishly ate two honey sandwiches for lunch and then tried to go for a run. I didn't get very far, as my body tried to cope with the wheat and sugar overload! Such a contrast to the lovely run I had yesterday, 4.2 miles running up a couple of hills but maintaining a respectable pace overall. I've decided to try to get to grips with hills. I can keep running to the top of every hill I have met so far, but I am so slow! I am sure that if I get faster at hills it will improve my speed overall.

One side effect of the man 'flu is that my husband will not be running the Festival Place 5k with me on Sunday. I am not a huge fan of 5k races, as I am not a fast runner. Anything sub 27 minutes will be good for me, although I would be surprised to do well on Sunday as I am still full of cold. I like longer races where I can relax and run at a steady pace, rather than the mad dash that a 5k race can often be. Hopefully Stephen will be on hand to take photos as I am finally going to get to meet one of my online running friends. Carol and I have raced in the same race once before, but didn't manage to meet up, and since then events have conspired to keep us apart. I am really excited to be meeting her at last!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

How to feel really old!

Got up very early today to pick up eldest son from a sleepover in a nearby village. I needed him home to babysit for his younger brothers while I took the girls up to London. I was rewarded by a beautiful sunrise. The iPhone camera doesn't really do it justice, but let's just say that red sky at morning really is a sailor's warning - it was rainy all day!

Once in London we had a lovely stroll through Harrods, much squealing of delight by a 4 year old let loose in the toy department. She was particularly thrilled to meet Tinkerbell in Christmas World!

After a cup of tea for me, juice and dough nuts for the girls, I allowed me to be persuaded to go to Abercrombie & Fitch. I began to wonder about the so called 'dire economic climate' when we had to queue for about 15 minutes to get into the store! We walked past the same naked hottie posing for photos with the teenage, female customers and entered into a living hell! Dark, hot, really crowded, loud music and smelling like my teenage son's bedroom after he has applied liberal amounts of aftershave!

We eventually found an overpriced hoodie that madam liked, and went to find a cashier. I was stunned at the length of the queues. Teenagers were throwing piles of vasty expensive clothing at the cashiers. I would think twice about spending so much money on a sweatshirt for me. (This was a belated birthday trip for my older daughter, so she had birthday money to spend). Where do teenagers get so much money from? We queued for longer than I would consider queueing for a ride at Disneyland! The difference being that at Disney they tell you how long the queue will be and you can choose whether to join it or not, today we'd invested so much time in queueing and had no idea how long it would be until we got to the front, so we just waited and waited! Still, the birthday girl is happy with her purchase, and I will never go back in there again!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Monday, a day of rest?

Monday seems to be traditionally a day for rest for runners. We do our long, slow run on a Sunday and have Monday as a recovery day.

Or that is the theory. Today is also the first day of the school half term, so we didn't even need to get up early this morning. However, things never seem to work out the way one plans. I have spent a lot of time ferrying various children to sleepovers and parties, catching up on the laundry, which means that at some point later today I shall have to catch up on ironing and I still haven't replaced my wonky ironing board and gardening.

Those of you who know me 'in real life' know that I am not a natural gardener. I love sitting in gardens, I love looking around pretty gardens, but I am know very little about gardening and do not yet feel I am middle aged enough to take it up as a hobby! My mother-in-law assures me that I will 'grow into' gardening one day.

Because I like looking at gardens I love going to the Chelsea Flower Show and the Hampton Court Flower Show, I've been going for a few years now, Hampton Court normally sees me being soaked or surviving a mud bath, but at Chelsea the sun has always shone. Not only does one get to see beautiful gardens, look at very expensive garden furniture and gadgets, but one also has the opportunity to drink lots of Pimms or Champagne. This is dangerous! I should not be let loose near any shopping opportunity when I am ever so slightly tipsy!

At one of the shows last year I ordered 110 tulip bulbs from Bloms Bulbs! The display in the Floral Tent is always stunning, and up until this year I have managed to resist buying any for myself, but this year I let rip, filled in the order form and then went to get another drink. Not giving the matter another thought until the box of bulbs was delivered a couple of days ago!

Our garden is quite small, mainly used for playing football and drying washing! Space is somewhat limited. I scratched my head wondering where I was going to put them, and then identified a space of scrappy grass at the side of the house between the road and the pavement. I had forgotten that we have about an inch of topsoil on top of chalk, which makes digging holes, even small ones, really quite tiresome! I have spent this afternoon planting 70 bulbs in a hopefully random way. Younger daughter was 'helping' to position the bulbs, so it will be interesting to see what comes up where! I have another 40 to go, but need to find a space for them to go. I also need to get the feeling back in my hands.

Roll on April/May when my garden should have a sea of beautiful tulips and remind me not to go mad at Chelsea next year!

And now my 'rest break' is over! Got to go and pick up a child then come home and make supper.

Enjoy the holidays!

Sunday, 24 October 2010


Set off bright and early, with my neighbours, for Portsmouth today. The weather was lovely, crisp, blue skies and very little wind, ideal running conditions. The atmosphere before the race was friendly which made the wait for the start a little easier to endure. The organisation was...odd! 23,500 people were taking part, and we were split into three waves, orange, white and green. Normally these waves are organised so that the fastest runners go first and the slower runners start later, and starting waves are often sub divided so that within the wave the same thing happens. This avoids having to constantly having to change direction to avoid the slower moving person in front while at the same time trying not to get in the way of the faster person who is trying to get past you. But this wasn't the case today. I am a faster runner than my friend, but she was in the first wave and I was in the last one, and the waves were not subdivided. Unlike a lot of other races the bunching and crowding did not ease up as the race progressed: I worked my way through most of the green wave starters by about mile 3, but then I caught up with the slower runners of the white wave - so I was constantly running around people and slowing down to avoid collisions. There was no way you could pick a pace and stick to it for more than a few meters at a time.

High points of the race include running through the Historic Dockyards (I've never been to Portsmouth before, other than a shopping trip to Gunwarfe Quay), overtaking Superman and the view over the sea front for the last mile and a half. Low points include being hit by a flying water bottle on the A2030! Apparently this had been an issue in previous years, local youths think it is amusing to throw half empty water bottles (just after the water stand) back into the crowds of runners. As they are on a bank at the side of the road they have a good position to aim from. It is not so amusing when the bottle hits the side of your head when you are least expecting it! Another low was having a coughing fit so severe that I had to stop, lean on the barrier and wait until I could breath again before continuing.

I am gutted with my time. My Garmin says I ran 10.08miles in 1h 29m 54s, and I was sure that I was well and truly across the finish line before I hit 'Stop.' I was somewhat disappointed with this time as I know I could have run faster, given a clear route through the race, but at least it was sub 1h 30m, so I was utterly despondent when I found out that my official time was 1h 30m 11s!

Ho hum, there is always next year, and who knows, I may even manage to do a race next year when I am healthy! That will make a difference I hope. And it was fun, really it was! I still had plenty of energy to up the pace for the last 200m as I threw myself across the finishing line.

Friday, 22 October 2010

I've praised them before and I'll praise them again!

Back in June I was obviously feeling a bit flush and decided to splash out on a lovely Garmin Forerunner 405. I loved it to bits, I really liked being able to see where I had been, how my speed varied as I hit hills etc. On Tuesday however it decided that it had worked hard enough and died on me! Not great timing as I was hoping to have it for Sunday's race, much easier to look at my watch to see how slowly I am running than to have to do complicated mental calculations while trying not to run into the person in front of me!

I idly sent off an email to the 'contact us' button on the Harrod's Sweatshop website, explaining that the watch was dead, that I no longer had my receipt, and mentioning that I was gutted as I was running on Sunday. I didn't expect to get a reply within minutes, but I got one. The manager of the department said that they normally send gadgets away for testing to see if they can be repaired when they are more than a month old, but as I needed mine for Sunday he would make and exception and do a straight exchange. All I needed to do was pop mine back into the store and collect the one he had put to one side for me! Hurrah! Now all I needed to do was plot a trip to Knightsbridge!

I dashed up there this morning after school drop off, and once again mourned the emigration and holidays of my shopping buddies! I really do need to recruit some more partners in crime. It may be far more efficient to shop alone, I bought new over knee chocolate brown boots from Russell & Bromley, nail varnish, chocolate, socks and a high viz running vest, exchanged my Garmin and managed to get back to the car park in less than an hour, but it is no where near as much fun!

I've been home a while now and set up my new Garmin. I am going to have to leave calibration of my foot pod until after the race, as I won't run again before Sunday, and don't want to risk messing up my timing of the race by trying to do two things at once! I just need to get organised now, I have letters to iron onto the front of my running vest, I need to attach the timing chip to my trainers, find a suitable bag and label it, locate safety pins and pin number to vest, etc. etc. etc.!

If I could get rid of the cough and sore throat before Sunday, that would be a bonus!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Hail hurts!

The weather here has been beautifully sunny all day. Stephen and I set out for a short run this evening and the skies were still blue. They remained blue until we were about as far from home as we had planned to be. Then the heavens opened and within seconds we were drenched. Five minutes later the hail started! Ow, ow, ow! Thankfully I was wearing 3/4 length running tights and a t- shirt rather than shorts and a vest, but those hail stones really stung.

My beloved Garmin decided to pack in this evening - I am not a happy bunny! I went to put it on this morning and it was as dead as a doornail, refusing to charge at all. It was strange running without being able to tell exactly how far I had gone and at what pace. When I got home I resorted to MapMyRun and reckon that we covered 3.5miles at an average pace of 8mins 8secs per mile - which is much faster than normal, so maybe the hail made us run faster.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Cautiously optimistic...

The weather today is beautiful! Crisp, blue skies, with no breeze. Yes, it is a tad chilly outside, but nothing a thick sweater or a bit of gentle exercise can't deal with. The looming Great South Run has been preying on my mind. I am still coughing like mad, and was about to defer my entry (for the first time ever using a bit of common sense) when a envelope of cash was pressed into my hands at school pick up. This was the charity share proceeds of the Year 4 cake sale, 50% of the takings go to the PTFA and 50% to a charity of the year group's choice. So now I felt I had to run and raise money for CLIC Sargent who do great work with children suffering from cancer.

Just one little snag..... I haven't been well enough to run properly since Paris and, let's be totally honest about it, I wasn't really well enough to run then! I can't believe how long I've had this chesty problem for, but it is getting rather boring now! Either side of Paris I had a week off running - not so much as a gym visit, gentle jog or run for the bus, and since then I have just been going out for short runs and taking it easy. I haven't been further than 5 miles since Paris. I was beginning to worry about whether I could physically cope with a long run.

Today I decided to put myself to the test. I ran 8.5 miles (over part of the hilly Alton 10mile course) in a fairly respectable time of 1hr 16minutes. The weather was beautiful, the scenery beautifully autumnal, and I had the lovely Stephen Fry in my ears for the first 4 miles, followed by the delicious David Tennant, so the miles passed pleasantly. I only stopped to cough a few times on route, which seemed to alarm passing cyclists somewhat, and was toying with the idea of running the extra mile and a half to make up the full 10 miles (a flat stretch, past my house, through the village and back again) when I saw my children waving madly at me as they walked back from the swings. Never mind, I know I could have done the extra distance.

Now I intend to take it easy for the next few days. Some short runs on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, then nothing until the big day. I am a bit miffed that my plans for training sensibly and effectively (lots of speed and hill work, cross training etc.) have been neglected as I struggle to do the bare minimum, but at least I don't feel totally unprepared.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

First Impressions

I have a school for my final teaching practice! I'll be starting there in January, a full year after I was due to the placement at another school. The first school dropped out due to staffing issues, and finding another school within a reasonable distance has been a nightmare.

Yesterday I put on my smart shoes, smart casual skirt and jacket and pootled off for a day at the school. The school is judged to be 'outstanding' by OfSTED, and has around 1200 pupils. The buildings are a huge contrast to the last school I was in, shabby single storey blocks dotted around a campus - I shall be hoping for dry weather in January or remaining in the science block from dawn until dusk! The science department doesn't have the resources that my last school had, but achieve comparable results. The teachers I met seemed friendly and approachable, a lot less defensive than some others. The atmosphere in the staff room was relaxed. I am not sure it this is because I feel as though I am on a slightly more level playing field as I approach the final hurdle or if it is just a more friendly school!

It was good to be back in a classroom and working with children. I was working with a group of pupils and realised how my questioning technique has changed since I started training, my questions were automatically more open than they would have been at the beginning of this adventure! The deputy head (responsible for PGCE students in the school) asked me how I felt about this final placement. I said that the rational part of my brain knows I can do it, but part of my head wants to run screaming for the hills! If I didn't feel nervous then I think I would be doing something wrong. I know I have loads still to learn, but figure that I'll be learning all my teaching life.

I'm going to have to have a rethink of my working wardrobe. I felt very overdressed even after I took my jacket off! I think long jumpers/tunics and leggings may be the way to go. And I must get my own lab coat and safety goggles!

Teaching practice is going to mean a reduced running schedule, so it is probably just as well that I didn't get a place in the London Marathon, and I'll have to defer my Brighton Marathon place. I hope that I'll still be able to manage the Bath Half - I've been looking forward to that for a long time.

Training for the Great South continues.... I didn't have much time today, so did a short (3mi) run in just over 25minutes. I am still coughing for NATO, although I hope that the cough is on its way out. I have an offer of a lift down to Portsmouth with my lovely neighbour and her husband (who are both running), and my race pack arrived today which is always exciting! Bit confused about the pen allocation though. I gave a predicted finishing time based on the time I ran the Alton 10mi in (hilly race, 1hr 30mins) and have been placed in a slower starting pen than my neighbour who is predicting a time of 1hr 40mins! Ah well - who knows how they work these things out anyway!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Sunny weather!

I am still coughing, and am really bored with it now! Running is tough when struggling for every breath, but I have a race in two weeks and am stupidly unprepared for it.

After my aborted foray up Brockham Hill on Monday I decided to hit the gym on Tuesday. I wanted to do some interval training on the treadmill, but it took me so long to work out how to programme the machine that I gave up and used one of the machine's preset programmes. My idea of intervals is 40 - 60 seconds really, really fast with a few minutes of comfortable running in between each sprint to recover. This wasn't an option on the machine at the gym, but I did manage about 30 minutes before terminal boredom set in. I also did a quick session on the Power Plates, mainly squats, but throwing in some ab and upper body stuff too.

Wednesday saw me running outside again, just over 3 miles on the Basingstoke road, followed by a huge coughing fit and lunch in the garden at Bottega dei Sapori with Stephen and Dupé. We have been enjoying fantastic weather, it was really hot in the sun.

Thursday was a rest day, more because we were busy than because I had planned it that way. Stephen and I went up to London to drop off some books and have lunch with a friend. Thursday evening is quiz night at The Weybridge. We had a huge team this week, and would have come first if not for me messing up a question in a wipeout round. As it was we came second and won a £30 food voucher (first prize is £50 cash).

I ran again on Friday, trying to step up the distance a little and managing just under 4 miles. Every time I set out to run I would be full of hope that this time I would enjoy it, but Friday's run was as miserable as every other run since Paris has been. I am really worried about my ability to run 10 miles in two weeks' time.

Today it is sunny, bright and warm again. I set off for a run with The Fry Chronicles on my iPhone and a determination to take it easy and have fun! I ran a very slow 5.25 miles (9 minute miles) but did enjoy it and felt that, had I not needed to get back to look after children and make them lunch I could have gone of for a few more miles, so all hope is not lost! Maybe I'll even shift this cough before the Great South Run....

In other news.... I have a teaching placement arranged at last! I don't start until January, sadly, but at least there is light at the end of the tunnel. I am off to spend a day at the school on Tuesday and hopefully I'll be able to arrange a few more days there before my official start. I'd like to spend some time with the lab techs to see how that side of the department works, as well as making a start on some of the (many, many) tasks that the OU want completed and deciding what focus my research project should have.

In the meantime, I plan to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather, coffee with friends, being available to pick up children from school etc. All activities that will be curtailed once I am back in school.

Monday, 4 October 2010

It isn't going well!

On days like today I have to remind myself that I do love running! I may have finished the course of antibiotics with only the mild side effect of constant nausea but without succumbing to thrush, but I am not 100% better yet! Admittedly I only sound like I have a 20 a day habit now, rather than the 40 a day habit of a week ago, but things really aren't working as well as they should be.

This wouldn't be a problem if I wasn't due to run The Great South Run on 24th October. I've done two 10 mile races this year without adequate training, and was hoping that the third time would be the exception. I have less than three weeks, well two if I am to taper properly, to get myself race fit. So far it is not looking good.

On Saturday I ran two miles. It was the first time I had run since Paris to Versailles. The route was flat and although I ran it in under 17 minutes it was not a good run by any means! I had to will myself to lift my legs, my chest was screaming at me, this was a case of mind over matter to get me home.

I didn't run yesterday, instead I went out to lunch with Stephen at Côte Brasserie in Farnham, where we decided that sharing the foie gras as a starter was a diet option. It was the first time we had been there, and would recommend it. It would have been lovely to sit outside, but the rain was bucketing down.

This morning I pulled on my running shoes and headed out again. I wanted to run up Brockham Hill and back, but just could not do it! I got halfway up the hill and thought I might die, or be sick, or both. At this point, for once, I took the sensible option and decided to run back down the hill, so my planned 4 mile run was actually only 2.5 miles!

I think I am going to have to plan some nice, flat runs for the next week. Maybe throw in a bit of speed work on the treadmill at the gym (I hate speed work and I hate treadmills so that should be fun), and not think about hills until next week.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Paris to Versailles

I don't need much of an excuse to jump in the car and head off towards Paris! One of my best friends lives there for starters and, let's face it, it is Paris after all! So, when Cerys emailed me the link for the Paris to Versailles race I started planning. The race coincided with Stephen's birthday, so I paid his race entry fee as a birthday treat.

We traveled over on Saturday morning, arriving at Cerys' house at about 11.30am, in time to persuade her to abandon her children and come and join us for lunch at L'Avenue before we headed off to complete our registrations for the race at the Palais des Sports Robert Charpentier. We are getting quite proud of our ability to navigate the public transport system in Paris, but still wish that the map was as beautifully simple as the London Underground map. Retrieving our race numbers required the usual level of French bureaucracy, photo id, copies of UK athletics association membership cards etc. were required before the all important number and timing chips were handed over. Souvenir t shirts were given out at this point too, which meant that rather than a 'one size fits all' affair we actually got shirts that fit! It was rather pleasant to watch some very athletically built men strip off to try on their new shirts.

Back to Maisons Laffitte for a fabulous Coq au Vin, made by Paul, a medicinal G&T and a couple of glasses of red wine to sooth my chest, then an early night. I woke often in the night because I kept coughing, and during the night I had many dreams about the race - I figure my subconcious was making up for the fact that I hadn't run for a week due to feeling rough.

Sunday morning arrived, cold but dry. We made our way toward the Eiffel Tower joining a growing throng of people in running gear, clutching their water bottles, isotonic drinks and energy bars. The start seemed chaotic to me, after the highly organised starts of races like the BUPA 10,000m and the British 10k. Where was the luggage drop? There were no signs, no one who looked 'official' to ask, and I couldn't think what 'luggage drop' would be in French anyway! We found our way eventually, passing the open air urinals which were being ignored by most men who seemed perfectly happy peeing where they stood!

The wait for the start seemed interminably long. I was so glad Stephen was with me as there was none of the normal pre race banter. This is probably because we aren't fluent in French, so couldn't join in easily, but looking around people seemed to talk to the people they had arrived with and not chat with strangers. We were thoroughly cold by the time the race started! A good warm up was provided by trying to avoid the litter left by our fellow runners, jumpers, shirts, plastic bags and bottles filled with suspicious coloured liquid, formed a compost on the road.

There were far fewer women than I would have expected to see in a similar race in the UK. When I was waiting to start I could only see 4 other women, and there were none of the 'jolly mummies' (as Stephen calls them) who are running for fun. Another absence was the huge numbers of charity runners - I saw about 6 charity shirts during the morning and, because there wasn't a huge charity presence, there were no bands of volunteers supporting their charities' runners.

The first 3.5 miles of the race were lovely! Easy, flat roads with me keeping the pace at just under 8mins 30secs a mile, my lungs hurt and I coughed as though I had a 40 a day Gaulois habit, but I was doing OK, my legs felt fine. The only downside was the spitting! French men seem to spit while running with as much regularity as I breath while running. We became adept at avoiding flying spittle. Support was thin on the ground, until the very end of the race. A few bored looking Parisiens watched us as they contemplated how they could safely cross the road to get to the boulangerie! There were bands along the way, and if you like brass bands you'd have been happy. I am not a mad fan, and would have preferred something a bit more uplifting - but I suppose anything is better than French pop music!

At 3.5 miles we started to go up a hill that would last for two long, steep (7%) miles. This hill just went on and on. We'd go up, turn a corner thinking 'this must be the end' and see the hill stretching away ahead of us. I don't mind admitting that I really struggled here, even though I was still overtaking people I knew I had slowed right down. All that running up Brockham Hill had helped a little, but not enough. At one point I was down to 11 minutes 55 secs a mile, and worst of all it now felt as though I was drawing every breath through molten larva! It took a good 2 miles for me to recover from the hill, I normally bounce back fairly quickly, but I just could not get enough oxygen into my system to revive my legs. Stephen kept telling me not to worry, that it wasn't about the time, it was about having a good time. 'What a f*cking excellent way to spend your 44th birthday!' I grunted at him halfway up the hill. This got a laugh from a passing runner, who yelled out 'No one can swear like the English!' as he sped past me. He must have been listening as I called Stephen every name under the sun when he tried to tell me that we were on the last hill!

A brief downhill section between miles 6 and 7, and another shorter one just before 9 miles did enable me to catch my breath and regain my sense of humour! We were not going to make our target time of 1hr 30mins, but then we hadn't reckoned with me running with a chest infection, nor had either of us realised quite how long and how steep the climb would be. The last mile was a steady incline up to the finish. We ignored the last 'feed stop' which was offering wine and ploughed on to the end. Despite thinking I was all in, I did manage to dig deep and find a little more speed, but not much.

We eventually finished in 1hr 33mins 35secs. I console myself with the thought that, had there been another 3 flat miles to run (i.e. a half marathon distance) I would have been able to complete them in under 26.25mins and finished a half in 2hrs. I came in the top third for my age and gender groups. I am grateful to Stephen for sticking with me. He knows that I wouldn't have done it if the roles had been reversed - I'd have left him and run on to get the best time I could!

Amazingly my legs did not protest the next day! I thought I would be stiff and achey, but maybe my legs decided to give me the break my chest wasn't giving me! We raised over £300 for Combat Stress - there is still time to donate via Virgin Money Giving and we had fun! Yes, really we did! I may have moaned a bit at the time, but now I've got my shiny medal I am a happy girl.

Photos are on Facebook, because I am too lazy to wait for them to upload here - you'll need to be a friend to view them.

Thank you to Cerys and Paul for putting us up (and to Emily for letting us sleep in her room), it was lovely to be met at the end of the race rather than having to work out the best public transport route. Even if the end of the race co-incided with Cathedral kicking out time (do they have last orders or last rites before this?) so it took us half an hour to get out of the carpark and another hour and a half to get back to Maisons Laffitte. It might have been quicker to run....

Wednesday, 22 September 2010


I haven't run since Sunday, when I ran 8.3 miles, this being most of the Alton 10 mile road race route. I started from outside my house and just ran round the circuit, but didn't add on the extra bit to the local school and back to make up the 10 miles.

I haven't run since then because I have a cough. I feel grim, mainly because I took cough medicine that enabled me to sleep through the telephone ringing on the bedside table next to me, and resulted in me feeling hungover when I was awake.

I am really worried about the race on Sunday. I have a busy couple of days coming up, an early start on Saturday (4am), sleeping in a strange bed on Saturday evening and losing an hour into the bargain. I need to shift this cough, and the associated lethargy! I have never approached a race feeling so ill prepared!

To make matters worse, the weather is beautiful! Ideal running weather! I know I am in a bad way because I don't want to run!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!

So, in a moment of madness, I mentioned on Facebook that I would blog about boobs! This caused something of a stir, and I fear that anyone who does wander over here to read this will be disappointed!

I do love boobs! They are amazing things, they look good, feel good and mine have fed five children (just think of the money I have saved by never having had to buy formula or bottles!) I'd be lost without my boobs because all my clothes would be too big - and despite being pregnant and breastfeeding for most of my adult life my boobs have yet to sag so they still look pretty good!

But, but, but....they do need looking after. I thought I was fairly good at this: monthly checks for lumps (Stephen likes to help with this), always wearing a sports bra when running etc. But here's the thing, while I keep an eye on how many miles my trainers have travelled I haven't done the same with my sports bras. I didn't realise that they had lost a lot of their antibounce capability until I came home from a run a few days ago and as I took, or rather ripped, my bra off to get into the shower I whimpered in pain! This was not the infamous 'jogger's nipple,' my ill fitting bra had rubbed away the skin on the underside of my boob. It doesn't look much - the photo was taken a week after it originally happened - but it hurts like hell! I've taken to wearing Compeed blister plasters to stop me ripping the top off my skin every time I remove my underwear. Blister plasters are just so sexy!

So, the moral of this tale is that we girls need a good sports bra (or two) and that we need to check they still fit/haven't gone all stretchy in the wash. Blisters on your tender bits are not fun!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

I love running, really I do!

Two years ago in May I started running. I wanted something I could do that didn't take ages, and involve huge logistical machinations. Going to the gym was fine, but I resented the time taken to travel there and back in addition to the time spent exercising, and it was always quite tempting to have a natter with friends before, after and often during a session. Thirty minutes of exercise could take well over an hour to accomplish!

A friend had just started Couch to 5k, and it seemed ideal. Thirty minutes, three times a week seemed achievable and easy enough to fit in around the 5 children and husband. It did involve getting up extra early some days, or having supper a bit later on other days, but during school time I could normally run while the children were out of the house. I can still remember how hard I found that first week, 60 seconds of running, alternating with 90 seconds of walking for 20 minutes had me arriving home exhausted and covered in sweat! I loved the time alone, doing something for me, and getting some fresh air into the bargain. I did cheat the programme though - running every other day rather than just three times a week, so I completed the programme in 7 rather than 9 weeks and was soon looking for my next challenge.

I can't imagine a life without running now. Yesterday evening Stephen and I went out for a longish run (7 miles) with Stephen setting the pace. It was faster than I would normally run, so despite a longish slow haul up the hill at the start (about 2 miles where I only managed 9.04 and 11.40 mins per mile respectively) we completed the 7 miles in 60 minutes (5 minutes faster than I'd run it two days earlier). It had felt so hard, at times, while I was actually running, but the moment I stopped I was so pleased that I'd pushed myself so hard.

That's the thing about running. However much I don't want to go running (because it is too cold, too hot, raining, I've got a hangover) when I make the effort to go out there I always feel better for it - even if I overdo it and something is achey! I run for mental as well as physical health.

It is easier now the children are a little older. I can leave the little ones in the tender care of their big brother and dash out for a quick run. I always have my 'phone with me, but wonder how much use that would be if I was 30 minutes away and the children 'phoned to say that there was an emergency! I have educated them not to call me to ask if they can have a drink or an apple as that was somewhat tedious.

The only downside is that I have revolting 'runner's feet!' Last time I had a pedicure the poor girl almost passed out at the sight of them. I wish I had runner's legs to go with the feet....

Monday, 13 September 2010

What I saw on my run today...

I have spent all day feeling drained and exhausted. We'd had a lovely time in York, getting back at 11pm on Saturday evening, then we were up again on Sunday and out of the house by 6am to go up to London for the book fairs and the Help for Heroes concert at Twickenham (I pretty much agree with the review you'll find if you follow that hyperlink, so I won't say much more - other than I was glad to be there with a friend who knew who the likes of Pixie Lott, Alexandra Burke and Plan B were). I was so tired that I didn't think it was possible that I would manage a run, but I decided that I ought to make the effort.

I rewarded myself with one of my favourite routes. Not sure if that hyperlink will take you to the route, or if you'd need a password, but it is a lovely route - up the long (over a mile), steep (9%) Brockham Hill and then back through a scenic and undulating route to and through neighbouring villages. I was lucky with the weather, it only started to spit with rain when I hit mile 6. The views over the Hampshire countryside make the steep climbs worthwhile (although I wish I could run up them a bit faster).

Sadly, the route seems to have become a haven for fly tippers. I fail to understand why one would drive to such a remote location (single track road leading nowhere much!) to dump an old TV or fridge. There is a really good municipal tip in the centre of town, open all day every day! Such a hazard to wildlife to leave them lying on the side of the road (I doubt many children walk that route so probably not much risk to them), and so thoughtless and unnecessary!

Still, the run went well, I set off with an audio book (Bleeding Hearts by Ian Rankin writing as Jack Harvey) rather than music, as I knew that this would slow me down a bit, and I didn't feel like pushing it today. It is a while since I listened to a book while running, and I'd forgotten how enjoyable it is. For whole sections of the run (the downhill and easy bits!) I almost forgot I was running, and I you don't get the annoyingly up tempo song start just as you start the steepest bit of the hill! I needed a good run that didn't feel too hard. I was beginning to doubt whether I would be able to manage 10 miles on 26th September. I feel better about that now, and don't feel that I will let down the sponsors who have been kind enough to sponsor us as we raise money for Combat Stress.

Friday, 10 September 2010

In praise of good service!

We are up in York for a bookfair, staying at the delightful Middlethorpe Hall Hotel for a few nights. As ever I have my running kit with me, but realised halfway here that I had left my water bottle at home. Carrying a water bottle seems to be as much a psychological crutch now as a necessary means of rehydration! I even carry it in races where there are water stations at ridiculously frequent intervals just in case I get a bit thirsty on the way! So off I trotted to Up and Running to pick up a new bottle. Strange how the purchase of a £3.50 water bottle results in a bill for over £100 as one acquires new kit and decides to treat one's husband to new shorts (he's been wearing the current pair since the mid 1990s) and tops! The guys in the shop were great, helpful and knowledgeable. They took the time to sketch out a couple of good running routes for me around York - it makes a big difference to know roughly where one is going rather than just having to run out and back because one doesn't know where the road will end up.

Running in York has been refreshing, I did 4 miles on Wednesday and 5.5 miles yesterday. It is so flat here. That said, my run coupled with walking 2.5 miles into York, around the shops then 2.5 miles back to the hotel again yesterday meant that I could barely move last night. Today I am having a 'day off.' I may have walked into York and back, and I may well be considering a trip to the hotel gym in the next half hour, but that isn't running, so will count as a rest day.


Let us just, for one moment, ignore all my previous rants about my husband running with me and think about etiquette. Stephen has always walked on the outside edge of pavements when were are out and about together. Historically the gentleman walked on the outside to save the lady from being at best splashed as carriages trundled past and at worst being hit by a carriage (although in days when women had no property rights being widowed was probably a fate worse than death for some of them!)

When we run together, Stephen runs on the outside of me. We always run facing oncoming traffic, so my right side is closest to the hedge/house/wall. As a result I am the one who gets poked in the eye by low hanging branches and who makes close contact with nettles. I am the one with scratches down my arm where I have been attacked by overgrown brambles! Maybe we should swap places?

Then there is another thorny etiquette question... When two people run together how much effort should the slower runner make to keep up with the faster, or should the faster runner moderate their pace? I hate hills and am slower on them than my husband. I am happy for him to run ahead but hate it when he is STANDING at the top waiting for me to catch up! I do keep telling him to 'just run on!' We are running the Paris to Versailles road race 'together' and he has said that he will run with me, even though he is faster than me. I know that, were the roles reversed, I would not do the same! I am happy to start a race with anyone, but want to run in my own time, to the best of my ability to get the best time I can on the day. Maybe that makes him a better person than me....

And etiquette for non runners: if you see a runner pounding the pathway, sunglasses on, earphones stuffed in ears they are sending a pretty clear message that they are busy and do no want to stop to tell you what the time is or where the nearest public library is! And dog owners, for the love of God PICK UP AFTER YOUR DOG! My trainers cost a fair amount of money and are not easy to clean - I do not like stinking of dog shit. And while on the subject of dogs, I'm not too keen on the game some dog owners think we runners want to play... we do not want to play jump rope with your dog's lead! Keep that lead short please - this has the added benefit that your dog will have fewer chances to try to use my calves as a chew toy.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Holiday highs and lows!

It has been so long since I wrote anything here that I hardly know where to start!

I've been to Volonne in Haute Provence for two weeks, sandwiched between staying in Maisons Laffitte. 18 nights with five children and no husband is somewhat of a challenge - I don't think I'd have survived without the company of some good friends (and their three children). The drive from Maisons Laffitte to Volonne took 8 hours one way and 10 hours coming back!

Once there, a great time was had by all! Most of the time, I think! There were the normal alarms and altercations that occur when you have 8 children of varying ages and temperaments to accommodate. Water slides were slid down, pools were swum in, trees were swung through, sun was sat in, beers and wine were drunk. We were so lucky with the weather - hot and sunny every day apart from one - where we had 5" of rain in as many hours, but they were early in the morning, so the only person who got wet was me as I was out running.

Running at 1500' is very different to running at 300'! On my first morning I thought my chest was going to explode and my legs felt like lead. Normally when I run uphill and feels the build up of lactic acid in my leg muscles I know that this will dissipate very quickly when I hit a flat stretch or downhill. This didn't happen in mountains - I was hitting the next incline with legs still heavy from the previous one. The scenery, however, was stunning!

My school girl French was woefully inadequate to cope with a tyre blow out on a bendy road through the Alps! I was rescued by a passing tow truck, with two very good looking 'boys' driving it, and towed to the nearest garage for a mere €40 - waiting at the side of that road with a car full of children didn't appeal! But I do wonder why I was taught to tell people that my aunt's pen is on my uncle's desk, that the monkey is in the tree and to list the contents of my bedroom! I can't imagine when I would use such phrases. Meanwhile it would be nice to have learnt how to explain that the tyre has exploded (and that is why you are on the other side of the road because the steering went a bit do-lally), that you need to call your friend to come and pick you up (and help translate) etc.

Much wine and food was needed to calm me down after this incident. I am hugely grateful to my friends for looking after me, and especially to Paul for cooking such fabulous meals almost every evening.

The rest of our stay in Volonne was relatively peaceful. I ran most mornings, enjoying a bit of solitude while every one else snoozed. Most mornings I returned via the site shop, so returned back laden with croissants. We had trips to Sisteron, Gap (where there is no Gap!), Moustiers Sainte Marie and Aix en Provence, but we were really very lazy. It was too hot to sunbathe until about 5pm most days, but the children had a whale of the time in the pools and on the water slides.

Back in Maisons Laffitte for two days before returning to England, I took the children into Paris for a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower. One of the little darlings said that it looked as though the tower was swaying - this panicked Esmé (my diminutive 4 year old) and she fussed and whinged in the lift. At one point a stranger started to pick her up - I rushed to grab her back and, in retrospect I realise, this is when someone, most probably a friend of the woman who picked Esmé up, took advantage of the fact that I was distracted and extracted my wallet from my bag!

Being stranded in the middle of a foreign city with 5 children and no money is not a situation I would recommend to anyone! Luckily my friend was able to come in and rescue me. The police were not friendly. My wallet was stollen at 11.30am, I left the police station at about 6pm. They knew I had no money, that I was sitting there with 5 children who hadn't eaten since breakfast, and we were not offered so much as a glass of water while we sat waiting on plastic chairs.

Our final day was a trip to Disneyland, but to be honest, none of us were really in the mood. We had to fight our corner to be allowed in as our annual passes were in my wallet, we were tired, missing home, and Disney was very crowded. We did a few rides and left at 3pm for the long journey home.

We had a great trip, but it is lovely to be home. My lovely husband had cleaned the house beautifully and we were all thrilled to be home in our own beds.