Sunday, June 17, 2007

The day before, the day itself and the day after

15th June - The Day Before

When Mrs Duck lays her eggs you never know how many, if any ducklings will make it. Her first nest by the garage contained 16 eggs, all of which were devoured by something (fox/badger/rat/magpie) after 12 days of her sitting on them. Undeterred she set off to make a new nest but we didn't know where so we were very pleased when she came to show off her brood this morning before taking them to the pond for their first dip.

We counted 9 ducklings and hope that they all make it through.

Here they are sampling some grain with the big boys outside the barn.

In the evening we went to a party at our neighbour's home. Don is 93 and Grace is 91 and they still manage to care for themselves at home (with a little bit of help from others). Mike took the last photo of me in my 40s!

16th June - The Day Itself

I'd worked out that it would take me about 2 hours to drive to the South Downs marathon and as I had to get there by 8am to park at the finish and catch the bus to the start, I had to be up bright and early - 4:15am to be precise! Inevitably I woke Mike up too. I fed the animals, had my brekkie and prepared all my things (making sure I had some dry clothes for the finish as the weather forecast was not good). Their wasn't much traffic about and my journey was pleasant, but the weather was very changeable - sun one minute then torrential rain the next. Guess what it was doing when I parked the car up and made my way to the coach? - yes, that's right, it was pouring with rain and I got soaked to the skin!!!

By the time the coach dropped us off at the start the sun had come out again and there were lots of people milling around. I headed off to the portaloos (I always have to visit the toilet several times before a marathon, "just in case"!) then I headed off to the snack bar to get a cup of coffee. The first person I met was 'Birdypie' from the Runner's World forum I'm sure she's lost weight as I didn't recognise her at first! She had intended to take part in the marathon relay by running one of the sections but had pulled a calf muscle the day' before so had to drop out. Then I met Carol (aka 'OneBlueLeg') and her friend who I'd last seen at the Steyning Stinger in March. They have done 31 marathons so far and are trying to get to 100 so they can join the 100 marathon club

Coffee in hand, I set off to see if there was anyone else I knew to chat to. That's when I came across Ruth (aka Plodding Hippo who is well on her way to joining the 100 marathon club with over 60 marathons under her belt) and Jo (aka Limper because she's got a sore leg) who were clutching a balloon saying '50th birthday' for me. How very sweet of them! I was really touched that they'd gone to the trouble of bringing it for me. I attached it to my belt and it blew around in the wind. People stared but I didn't mind as it made me feel nice. More of that later. Here I am with Ruth and my balloon.

Then we were off. A short circuit around the woods at start area then out towards the South Downs Way We started near Arundel and were crossing the hills to Petersfield and it was a very scenic route so I took lots of photos so that Mike could get a feel for what it was like. Here's a link to the course route

First we passed along a single-file track alongside a field of barley.

Then it widened out into a track of flint and chalk.

The black clouds were gathering but it was dry and warm so far. The first real climb came around the 4 mile mark at Bignor HIll and we started to get some good far-reaching views. I was amazed at the variety of crops that were growing on such difficult land.

Here's a photo I took further on showing just how inhospitable the soil is - it's just a mass of flint boulders! Some sections of the route were difficult underfoot because of the loose flints, chalk and tree roots all of which conspired to trip you up.

A view from the top.

A stone memorial to a dog named Toby who must have accompanied his master on many a walk across the Downs.

More dark clouds looming and obscuring some of the views which were amazing when it cleared. What was really nice was that every time I passed runners, walkers or mountain bikers they all called out "Happy Birthday' to me when they saw the balloon so I was very grateful to Ruth and Jo as it really helped to make my day special.

And so it continued........

Up hill and down hill...........

Up hill and down hill.............and the weather got hotter and hotter. The wind across the high points was most welcome to help cool us down.

We passed an area of woodland where the trees had been felled and I just had to take this photo of the beautiful foxgloves that had sprung up as soon as the light had reached them. I wondered how many years their seeds had lain dormant - rather like Sleeping Beauty!

At the top of the next hill I paused to take this photo showing the path snaking up the next hill. It was really hot now and I was wishing that I had put my sun cream on and worn my sunglasses (both of which I'd stashed in the boot of the car as the weatherman said it was going to be very wet). What do the weathermen know, I thought to myself!

On the next descent, the cows decided to run alongside us and I tried to take this photo whilst running.

At the bottom of the hill I was passed by a young American couple. They wished me many happy returns (thanks to the balloon) and the girl said she couldn't believe I was 50 and it must be the running keeping me young, which made me feel nice. I had to hold onto that thought as just then the black clouds descended and the rain came down and the wind whipped up. It was really heavy and it was hard enough walking in it let alone running.

Then the rain eased off and the cloud lifted a bit. Phew. Here I'm looking back to where I've just been. You can see the last of the black clouds and you can just make out the path we followed.

Some of the paths were quite slippy now though and I had to be a bit careful on the descents as I'd worn my road shoes (the soles fell of my trail shoes after the Steyning Stinger and I haven't replaced them yet).

I saw lots of cows and sheep en-route and I always stopped to have a little chat with them. These heifers were particularly friendly and kept licking me! Then all of a sudden we were a couple of miles from the finish and leaving the Downs behind and entering the Country Park. The tracks were through woodland and were a bit muddy plus you had to watch out for tree roots which can trip you up when your legs are tired and you aren't lifting your feet as high as usual. Amazingly I didn't fall over.

Then I was running back through the car park towards the finish line and Carol and her friend were there singing Happy Birthday to me as I went past. As I crossed the finish line the MC noticed my balloon and asked if my birthday was today. When I signalled that it was, everyone gave me a cheer and a big round of applause. It was a lovely welcome.

One of my fellow forumites from Runner's World measured the ascents and descents using his Garmin GPS device and found there were 4583 feet of climb and 4608 feet of descent. Crikey!

I got a nice tee shirt and a lovely medal, both of which I wore all the way home and throughout the evening. I phoned Mike straightaway to let him know I'd finished in one piece. He'd been phoning me at 2 hourly intervals to check on my progress and was very pleased that I'd finished in around 5hours 50 minutes 34 seconds. Then I got changed and headed home, which took a bit longer than in the morning. No worries though as Mike had been busy all day cooking me a special vegetarian meal (chick pea and coriander soup, followed by non-meat meat loaf with Rosemary potatoes and broad beans then a lemon chiffon pie that I'd made the day before). It was scrummy!

We opened a bottle of champagne and drank it whilst I opened my cards and presents. I'd asked people to make donations to my charity rather than buy me a gift but Mike wanted me to have something special just for me. After much thought, we decided it should be something I've always wanted to do but have never had the opportunity and 2 things sprang to mind - welding/metalwork and willow weaving (I've always wanted to try my hand at sculpure). I contacted West Dean College and they had 2 Summer Schools in these subjects. Fate took a hand in the proceedings as the metalwork course was full but there was a place left on the Willow workshop. So, in about 6 weeks time I shall be heading off for a self-indulgent week of crafting whilst Mike takes care of himself and the animals. Now that is one heck of a present and I feel like the luckiest birthday girl in the world!

17th June - The Day After

The day after I felt fine (well, maybe just a teeny-weeny hangover!) so in the afternoon we decided to go for a walk up to Great Dixter and round the gardens which was 6.5 miles. We walked through our village then followed the footpath through the apple orchards and then through a field of linseed. I took this photo because there was a beautiful pale blue haze from the linseed flowers and a pinky/purple haze from the long grass in the next field.

Mike strode ahead through a field of oats. You could barely see the footpath because the crop was so tall.

In parts, it came up as high as my chest!

There are some fantastic views from the top of Dixter Hill - looking across to Bodiam....................

.......and looking over towards Sandhurst. You can just make out the white windmill which was restored a few years ago.

The first thing we did when we reached Great Dixter was head off to the cafe for a tub of ice-cream and a drink of water. We were joined by a very friendly old cat who enjoyed both my lavender ice-cream and some of Mike's toffee flavoured ice-cream too.

Great Dixter was the home of the late Christopher Lloyd, an innovative plantsman for whom I had a great respect. He famously ripped out the rose garden and replanted it with tender exotic plants which caused a furore at the time but was enormously influential in garden design and planting.

There are always lots of pots dotted around containing interesting and unusual plants.

The house from behind showing one of the many wildflower meadows pioneered by Christopher Lloyd's mother.

Part of a mosaic in the 'Sunken Garden' showing one of Christopher Lloyd's beloved dachshunds.

After we'd had a good look round we headed for home, tired but happy. I found that the walking seemed to have loosened my groin and it wasn't anything like as uncomfy as it had been.

In the evening, Barney enjoyed the box that had contained a bottle of champagne from my sis-in-law and her family and he and Mike had great fun chasing around with the balloon!

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