Monday, March 7, 2016

Catching up a bit

There is so much going on at the moment it's hard to find the time to update my poor blog.

The weather during the last couple of weeks was fine for a while which saw me spending all my time outside trying to get the garden into some sort of order. Then came the rain/sleet/gale-force wind which forced me back inside and then there was another marathon. Now where do I begin…….the garden I think.

It's tidying time again which means cutting back the shrubs and grasses ready for new growth to come through.

This Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' and it is a really good doer, remaining upright even in gale-force winds. It's important to cut down the old dry stems before the new ones start coming through or you end up chopping them off as well.

Tilly wanted to help too.

She decided to chew the leaves of this grass that needed repotting to save me some work. Thanks Tilly!

All the Buddleias need cutting back to rejuvenate them and keep them in check

I cut them back to between 12" and 18"

Most dogwoods produce their best colour if pruned heavily each year. However, this is 'Mid-Winter Fire' which requires a slightly gentler touch so I just pruned about 1/3 of the growth form last year.

I left the stems of some bronze fennel overwinter as the small birds used them as a staging post whilst they waited their turn at the feeders. These hen pheasants soon learned to sit under the feeders to catch any spillage.

They were soon joined by this cock pheasant who puffed himself up to twice his normal size

Here you can see the new growth starting from the base of the fennel. I use the woody stems as plant supports.

There was a glorious smell in that area courtesy of this little Sarcocca Confusa (sweet bay)

This honey bee was delighted to find some early nectar too

Other things I needed to chop down were the Cardoons. Their towering silhouettes have looked amazing all through the Winter but had to be removed to make way for new growth. Their woody stems were so thick I had to use a saw to cut through them. I chopped some up to use as stakes, left some of them on the ground with their seedheads intact so the pheasants could pick them over for the seeds and placed another stem by the compost heap so that  birds could use the soft down to line their nests.

You can see how huge the flowerheads were against my hand

Annoyingly, all this pruning played havoc with the arthritis in my hands and so I had to do it in short bursts. Plus it meant that knitting hurt as well so progress on that front has been delayed. It seems like a balancing act of all my favourite things as it's no longer possible to do them all at once. Hey ho, I'm sure I'll find a balance but I do find it frustrating!

Elsewhere in the garden things are blooming beautifully.

Snowdrops are always a welcome sight

It was nice to see this female Bumblebee busy gathering nectar from this Hellebore (Helleborus foetidus - Stinking Hellebore) a native to our woodlands

The buds on this Rhododendron seem to swell by the day

I love looking at the inside of this Hellebore flower as the pale yellow anthers and stigma contrast so beautifully against the mauve petals.

Notice my hand in that photo. I'm wearing disposable gloves which I put on underneath my gardening gloves in cold weather for extra protection. I use them for running to as they are lightweight and really help to keep my fingers toasty warm without adding either weight or bulk. Plus, when running in cold and wet conditions they keep my hands dry too.

Marathon 70 - The Steyning Stinger

So much for the fine and bright weather though as ahead of my latest marathon the heavens opened and deposited rain, hail, sleet and then a few days beforehand we had a dusting of snow and heavy frosts. I took these 2 photos, from the comfort of the music room, as I liked the patterns the sleet made on the windows - it looks like lace doesn't it.

We had been warned that conditions underfoot were going to be a challenge and so I was prepared for lots of power-walking on the slippery bits as this course has some treacherous downhill sections. Given that I can trip over my own shadow I know instinctively that I need to just slow right down and descend those bits with great care! 

The day before that area had rain and sleet so I was not at all hopeful for the day itself but I was pleasantly surprised when I set out (at silly o'clock!) as it was fine and dry with only a bit of frost en-route. When I arrived there was a long queue for registration.

This lady was making announcements about conditions on the route and asked us to display our numbers at each checkpoint to make it easy for the marshalls to keep track of us. The beauty of this event is that slower runners like me and walkers are allowed to set off earlier than the mass start so that's exactly what I did.

The map showing the route - a series of loops with 3 'stings' (ie UPhill sections) as this is not a marathon for anyone averse to hills!

I was delighted to see a few people I knew at the start, especially Bryan who uses parts of the route for his training runs as he lives nearby.  He told me that the first 3 miles were really muddy but that it wasn't too bad after that - but it jolly well was, just a different sort of mud!

I started in one of the early waves of slower runners/walkers and the first few miles were really a gentle climb to get you up into the Downs. It sounds wrong to say "up into the Downs" but I can't think how else to say it. After a short while came the first mud, nice dark brown exceedingly squelchy mud which you had to pick your way through carefully:

As we passed through the wooded area we came across some fabulous views:

We ran past this lovely old church dating from around 1146 (although restored in 1866). It is St Mary's Church in Washington, just north of Worthing in West Sussex situated about a mile away from Chanctonbury Ring, an Iron-Age hill fort.

As we climbed ever higher there was still a bit of mist about:

The lovely Ant and his team were out taking photos and at least it wasn't pouring with rain this time (which makes a pleasant change). Ant had positioned himself on a nice dry slope around mile 5:

Nice to see I was still running up the slopes at that point!

See my plastic gloves around my waist. I was grateful for them for the first few miles until I warmed up.

There were some fabulous views from the high points but I don't know exactly where I was when I took most of them.

It was the light glinting on the sea in the distance which attracted me to this view

A big sky and dried grasses

Heading towards Chanctonbury Ring

Views over Steyning village

Stripey fields

Some of the trails were quite narrow with grass on the sides and a rut in the middle with loose flints. 

That section was lovely and dry but some of the other sections had really claggy chalk plus flints and you'd put one foot down and then when you put your other foot down it would slide away from you and you'd skate around like Bambi! The other thing about those sections was that the mud pulled at your shoes and I could feel my shoes being sucked off my feet sometimes. Thankfully I managed not to lose a shoe and I even stayed upright, although many people didn't. I saw a few people fall over on the downhill sections too.

There were lots of checkpoints en-route and you had to make sure that the marshalls recorded your number. This is a safety precaution in case anyone becomes lost or injured but should also serve to stop people cheating by missing out sections of the route (sad that anyone would do that but they do sometimes).

The last loop we ran was around Cissbury Ring and I was shocked to see a massive chalk access road had been carved out of the hillside:


It stretched for miles and miles and I found this sign explaining that it was part of a wind farm project. I was amazed that this had got through the Planning process as the South Downs have National Park status which means that they are protected from development, or so I thought.

You can see how flinty the soil is and it's amazing that anything grows up there, but it does

I was taking this next photo to show the extent of the access road when I noticed the sheep in the foreground:

I thought they looked like giant flint stones lying on the soil. The patch of green between them looked like something called 'double-turnip' a fodder crop which they enjoy in the winter months

At one point just after this I saw 2 men sitting in the St John's Ambulance and they looked really fed up and who can blame them, it must be really boring sitting around for hours on end just in case someone needs assistance, so I gave them a thumbs up and a big smile and thanked them for waiting around for us and their faces lit up which really made my day. I always thank all the marshalls as well because without their hard work we wouldn't have these events.

After this loop we were on the homeward stretch with a couple more short uphill sections and then the journey down to the finish. I have to confess that I preferred the uphill bits as I knew what the downhill bit through the woods was like - a mixture of deep ravines (with a sheer drop on one side) with loose flints, tree roots and very slippery mud for about 3/4 mile. I do not like that section at all and there was no way I was going to run down it so I picked my way down carefully and chuckled at the signs which read "WARNING, deep ravine" and "Slippery surface & Loose flints" (or something like that).

I managed to reach the bottom of it in one piece and the remainder of the route was nice and flat all the way to the finish. In the last 2 miles I was surprised to pass someone I knew had been behind me at the start and who hadn't gone past me during the race and when I asked they told me they'd taken a short cut at mile 19 so I hope they didn't claim it as a marathon finish.

As I headed towards the finish line I spotted Ant doing his comedy commentary for me whilst snapping away (I look as if I'm wearing a bowler hat 'cos I've got my earflaps up!):

I crossed the finish line in 6:18:08, which is 20 minutes faster than the first time I ran it back in 2007, then headed back to Race HQ to collect my medal (which is rather nice and I prefer it to the shot glasses they used to issue). Unlike Traviss's events they don't issue a goody bag but they do offer a cooked breakfast and even do a vegetarian option.

Not all race medals are as big as those from Traviss's events but they're all well earned and just as precious

Next I have the Book Day Challenge on wednesday which is apparently going to be very, very muddy with what's described as a 'cardiac hill' which we have to run up 9 times. Deep joy!


Old Runningfox. said...

It amazes me where you get all your energy from for all the things you do. You may well ask "Where do I begin?"
Congratulations on completing yet another marathon. In spite of the muddy morass in parts there were some great views - and another nice medal for your collection.
Gardening is a necessary evil for me. I don't really enjoy doing it, but love to lie there in the sunshine when all is neat and tidy and the bees are doing their work.
Carry on running - or gardening - or knitting - or whatever! Gordon

Susie Hewer said...

Thanks Gordon. I've just bailed out of my Wednesday marathon as each lap was 2/3 un-runnable mud (for a marathon it was 9 laps). Having fallen over on my 2nd lap and tripped over tree roots buried in the deep mud on lap 3 I decided to call it a day rather than risk injury!

Lowcarb team member said...

Love those last photo's of you - what a brilliant smile.

I did read your Margate post too, and yes, sad to see some seaside places not quite looking as good as they used. Many years ago, growing up we enjoyed many holidays in Broadstairs, which is a little way along the coast from Margate - I haven't visited in years, so have no idea what it is like now. I know we used to enjoy playing on the beach ... happy memories!

Great to read and see all your photo's, I think you do so well to fit everything into a 24 hour day!

Happy running - keep well

All the best Jan

Susie Hewer said...

Thanks Jan! Broadstairs is very trendy these days and but has retained it's charm thank goodness. Susie x