Sunday, April 24, 2016

Show and tell and a 'no show'!

I'll get the 'no show' out of the way first so I can put it behind me. I didn't get to the St George's Day marathon that was planned for Saturday. Actually, I didn't get much further than our village because as soon as I started the car it was obvious something wasn't right - it was the shaking and spluttering emanating from the engine which was the clue!

As I had a 1.5 hour drive ahead of me I didn't really fancy breaking down on the motorway so common sense prevailed and at 5:30am I drove home and phoned the AA. The nice man from the AA arrived at around 6:30am and had a poke around under the bonnet, attached his diagnostic machine and at around 7am announced that he couldn't find out what was causing it and it needed to go to a garage. At that point I relinquished all hope of making the 8am start of the marathon and relaxed into the situation.

The car was attached to the rear of the recovery van and I sat in the cab with the driver as we headed off to my chosen garage before heading off to collect a 'courtesy' hire car. So now I just have to await the verdict which won't be until Monday at the earliest. Hey ho, c'est la vie and all that! Of course this meant that I was a marathon down for my Challenge and so I searched around until I found one which fitted in with my schedule - you'd be amazed at how many marathons there are every week just within the 3 counties around where we live.

Now for some fun stuff including Nature and some crafting.

Look who's come to live with us - some tadpoles!

I'd been for a pre-50mile massage with Mary Massage Lady and James, one of her boys, had told her she had to give Aunty Susie some of the tadpoles that grandma had brought them from Leicester - apparently grandma said that there is a shortage of frogs in Sussex which I hadn't heard but I was delighted to take some of them home in a jam jar.

I used to love watching tadpoles grow into frogs when I was a child and it took me right back to being a kid going searching for frog spawn with a net stuck on the end of a garden cane by my mum. 

I replaced some of the water in the jar with that from one of our ponds so they could adjust to it and I fished out some leaves complete with algae which they demolished very quickly. I've moved them into a larger container now and am topping up the water with rainwater from the water butts when it gets too cloudy.

James has instructed me to let him know when they start developing their legs, bless him. I love that he's so interested in wildlife and Nature - last time they came here I told him all about worms and he took home the soil from a worm cast I'd showed him & kept it on his bedside table until Mary tidied it away!

We've had more lovely weather this last week and so most of my time has been spent outdoors again. I feel blessed that we live in such a beautiful place and I never take it for granted. I am never alone outside as there are so many animal and birds friends around me. This little squirrel came to investigate me when I was having a cuppa whilst sitting on the swing:

Whilst I was down there I said hello to Treebeard who guards one of our favourite oak trees.

He's been there for years and gets battered by wind and rain so I'm amazed he's still in one piece

I've noticed that the oak trees are coming into leaf much earlier than usual and it called to mind an old country saying predicting whether we'd have a wet or dry Summer:

Oak before Ash,
In for a splash.
Ash before Oak,
In for a soak!

Now I'm not entirely sure how valid this is as a weather forecast these days as most of the Ash trees have succombed to Chalara dieback (a dreadful fungal disease which is causing the demise of many of our woodland Ash trees) and so they may not even manage to come into leaf at all.

I love spotting a spider's web covered in droplets of dew

This Starling was singing his heart out on the kitchen roof. His feathers were irridescent in the sunlight.

When I was weeding in the front garden I was followed by a dear little robin who pecked out any bugs that I unearthed. I was also aware of the ducks who were only a few feet away from me. We built this tiny splash pond as a drinking place for wildlife never really thinking that the ducks would claim it, but of course they have. On one occasion we had Mrs duck and 7 of her nearly-grown-up ducklings in there all at the same time - goodness knows how they fitted in there!

Mrs Duck snoozing in the sun

There are so many huge bumblebees around just now. They are the Queens who have overwintered and are now searching for places to nest as they are laden with fertilised eggs.

Our beautiful Pulsatilla is in full flower now and the petals really glow in the sunlight.

The seedheads are really pretty too - all soft and fluffy.

I love the acid-yellow of this sedum as it cascades over the low wall

I had to divide this Comfrey plant into several sections as it grew way too big last year

It's pretty magenta flowers are like a magnet to pollenators and the leaves help speed up the rotting process on the compost heap. I chop it down twice each season and it flowers for ages.

This is how thick the root grew in one season last year - it is really woody and measured just under 2" across!

I managed to divide it into 6 new plants

The Euphorbia Robbiae I planted last year to brighten up the area underneath this conifer has decided to take over the world! I put in 3 small plants last year and this is how much they spread.

After some drastic maintenance I unearthed several pretty Aquilegias that were being smothered by it.

As I cleared away the weeds and divided plants as necessary I put a generous layer of home-made compost on top of the soil to increase the soil fertility. I don't dig the soil over as that only uncovreed weed seeds and I let the worms take the compost down into the soil for me.

When I was collecting the compost I was aware that there were little creatures still hiding in there and I was careful to put them back into a safe place if I disturbed them. This young Devil's Coach Horse larva soon burrowd back into the heap when I put him on the surface.

Another section of the garden cleared of weeds and with a layer of compost. It always looks nice when the surface is all the same colour!

This section still needs weeding and tidying but I took this photo 'cos the sunlight was illuminating this Euphorbia (unnamed) and the stems looked beautiful.

This small bed is finished and will look lovely in a week or so when the Rhododendron flowers burst open

This Polemonium pauciflorum (centre) had seeded itself onto the compost heap. I love getting plants for free! It's a lovely form which has long yellow trumpets with deep pinky/red markings on the back.

Next to tackle will be the gravel garden which will take a lot of work because everything needs dividing!

Here's a close-up of the shrub in the background. It's Berberis Darwinii and it is a shrub I hadn't encountered until about 15 years ago and it is now one of my favourites for Spring colour. Just look at the flowers - they are very attractive to bees and other pollinators and are an important source of nectar early in the year. I could hear the buzzing when I was 30' away it was so loud!

The other interesting thing about this shrub is that the branches are bright yellow on the inside when you prune them, but you'll have to wait until next time I prune it to see.

When I came down one morning I found someone waiting for me on the sunbed:

By the time I'd finished my chores he'd been joined by another one!

I ate my breakfast looking at the view of part of the orchard. That's an early plum in flower.

I watched 3 buzzards circling high in the sky.

Esther was being groomed by this Jackdaw who was looking for bugs to eat whilst gathering some nesting material.

He flew away with a beak full of Esther's lovely warm winter coat. As I brush her I leave it out in a plant pot so the birds can help themselves.

Now for a bit of crafting. First we have some rather uninteresting but important bits of the Frida's Flowers CAL from Jane Crowfoot.

These were from Part 1 - I made 4 but might make more if I decide I want to make the piece bigger.

This is Part 2 which I started this morning.

I'm using the magic loop method (left) rather than 6 chain (right) suggested as I don't like the large hole in the centre on this occasiion - sometimes I don't mind it if it's part of the design.

I'm not sure why the parts are being released in fortnightly portions as they are very quick and easy to do. I suspect the main flowers will be more complicated so may take a while longer.

I finished my 2nd crazy quilt patch and really enjoyed it. I embellished it much more than the first one and started to experiment with different stitches which was fun. The next block uses something called 'freezer paper', whatever that is!

2 rows of blanket stitch with different stitch lengths plus 'tacked' herringbone stitch embellished with seed beads. I don't draw lines as I prefer to just do it by eye.

Some of the buttons have bugle beads, some with sparkly thread. The pale mauve 'laid' thread on the left has been couched with 3 strands of a dark green embroidery thread. I used it for the stem stitch on the line above. The stitch below the buttons is herringbone stitch again but this time with a dark green thread woven through it.

I have a lot of marathons coming up over the next few weeks so I'm really hoping I get some good news about the car on Monday!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Marathon 72 of 100

Well actually it was what's known as an ultra-marathon of 50 miles. But who's counting - me!

It wasn't my first outing at this distance but this time the cut-off time for finishing was a strict 12 hours rather than the previous one which was 15 hours and I had been worrying about that for months. I found the cut-off time more scary than the distance and so had been pushing the pace in several of my marathons beforehand to get myself into the right frame of mind. I was physically and mentally prepared for this event so whatever happened I knew I'd done everything I could for it to be successful.

There were 2 events running simultaneously - the 50 miles challenge and the Fowlmead challenge, both with a 12 hour cut-off. This meant if you were struggling with the 50 miler you could drop down to the 12 hour event and still get a medal, although not as magnificent as the 50 mile medal. Plus, some people would be experimenting with increasing the distance they ran either as a build-up to marathon distance or perhaps going that little bit further into ultra territory.

There was to be a special celebration too - lovely Lisa was celebrating her 100th marathon. Now I've seen Lisa at lots of events and each time she has been wearing a flamingo hat. (you'll see it later!). She had asked that people wear pink, black or white for her theme and so a new hat was required!

But it looked far too boring for my liking and so the day before I got out my crochet hook to embellish it.

I started with a central motif and then added squares either side

Mike suggested I should finish it with a couple of triangles at each end which really finished it off nicely

A feather boa completed my look along with black long-sleeved top, Quest for the vest tee shirt and black leggings. I also added a couple of black beads to 2 of the squares to look like Flamingo eyes.

The weather forecast looked quite promising and I was relieved that the rain, which had been torrential for a few days beforehand, had abated when I left home at silly o'clock to drive the 1.5 hours to Betteshanger Country Park where the event was being held. Several of Traviss and Rachel's events are held there so I know the route quite well now which takes the stress out of searching for the venue. I arrived safely and pulled into the car park behind Kat and Jools and we trotted off to collect our numbers together.

They've got  a new barrier-less parking system in place called Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology  so there's no barrier to go through and you don't get a ticket. You can pay at the beginning of your visit, if you know how long you're going to be there, and so we did just that as I was worried that I'd forget to pay on the way out or the next day! All you had to do was enter your vehicle registration number, then select the length of your visit and then pay the fee. I wondered how this system would be administered if someone didn't pay? Do they have some sort of arrangement with the DVLA whereby they can obtain the details of the registered owner of a vehicle in order to contact them for payment?

I was a bit nervous and so went into hyper-active mode snapping photos of people at the start to distract myself.

Liz and Somei in the pink

Maryanne and Scotty. Although this was Maryanne's first time at the distance but she had only recently completed 7 marathons in 7 days so I knew she'd be fine (but in the end she was much better than "fine"!)

Lisa battling the breeze to set-up her gazebo

Becky (James's mum) and helpers getting the aid station ready

Kat's outfits are always this jolly and colourful

We were running on the cycle track, going round and round in circles of 2 miles so that meant 25 laps for the 50 miles. When Traviss did the briefing beforehand he told us to follow the line to get the correct distance but of course that wasn't always possible and me being me (and a bit of a Nature Nerd) I deviating a bit to look at pretty flowers and fauna. More details later.

These 2 photos pretty much sum up the track. Not glamorous, so you needed to adopt the right mindset, buckle down and just grind out the miles making sure you just keep moving forwards.

Here's Lisa in all her sparkly flamingo-pinkness! She had to run slightly more than marathon distance to claim her 100th marathon and then there was a presentation and celebration after the event. She had lots of friends and supporters to share the day with her and they seemed to have a fun time.

Before the run.......

.......and after (I love her flamingo hat!)

Lisa is an author and has just published her latest book entitled Your pace or mine and she'd generously brought some copies with her for us to buy at a reduced rate. She also signed everyone's copy with a personal message; here's mine:

The chocolate smear, from Lisa's fair hand, is proof that there was cake to celebrate even though it had all gone by the time I'd finished. 

Now for the running part. I mentioned earlier that I was worried about the cut-off and my training had been geared towards finishing in 11 hours although I hadn't shared this with anyone in case I jinxed it (yes, I know that's silly but that's how it was!). I was aiming to get to 25 mile mark in 5 hours or less as I would be slower in the second half.

We all had a card with 24 numbers on and each time we did  a lap it was punched through to show that we'd completed that lap. It looked quite daunting at the start but became easier when you'd got a few holes punched.

It was rather cool when we set off and I had my feather boa wrapped around my neck to keep me warm. However, I seemed to be losing quite a few feathers leaving a trail  behind me and I kept seeing fluorescent pink feathers blowing away! There were several people wearing them and so more and more feathers escaped into the wild so after 5 laps I took it off and stuffed it into my bag. I tried to pick up as many as I could on my last lap but I'm sure some must have escaped into the wild.

There was plenty of banter en-route but people were mostly in their own personal zone as you really needed to focus on getting the job done without too many distractions. Mike phoned me after 4.5 hours to see how I was getting on and he was amazed and delighted that I was  feeling strong and  approaching the halfway point. I reached halfway in 4:45 and marathon distance in just over 5 hours. My Garmin at this point was showing and extra mile and Traviss told me off for deviating from the line. In my defence I had spotted a grass snake taking advantage of a bit of sunshine and there had been a couple of interesting flowers to investigate and I was powerless to resist.

James was on a roll and was knocking out the laps at an amazing rate. His target was to finish in 7.5 hours and he was so far ahead of schedule, and well in the lead, that he jogged alongside me and we chatted for a while. As we we were heading up the slope at the end of his last lap there was a shout from behind and the runner in second place was catching us up so James put on a sprint finish and beat him by 8 seconds. Phew. His time was a stonking 7:20:39. That boy's on fire at the moment! He's such a lovely person and has some fantastic personal challenges going on this year and I feel privileged to share some miles with him.

Mike phoned me again mid-afternoon and was very pleased at my progress. We didn't chat for long as I didn't want to lose momentum but it was lovely to hear his voice and it gave me a nice boost.

The weather was mostly kind to us, overcast with bursts of sunshine but with a slight breeze. In the later stages the wind got a bit stronger and on one section, before the end of each lap, we were running into it. I noticed that my breathing was getting a bit laboured and I developed that stupid dry cough that fellow asthmatics know only too well. I decided to walk that section on the remaining 5 laps which didn't really make much difference to my time as I'd slowed down by then anyway. There was a short rain shower at one point which had me reaching for my jacket but it didn't last long. Overall we were very lucky with the weather.

On my last lap I decided to walk more just to soak up the atmosphere. My Garmin beeped at 50 miles and when I looked it was showing 10:17. Oh my goodness, I was so excited I forgot to take a photo of it but managed this shot at 50.50:


My final time was 10:39:53 and my Garmin told me I'd completed 51.37 miles. Oh my goodness, that was a pb by 2 hours 40 minutes. Not only had a smashed my previous time but I was comfortably under 11 hours. I never expected to do quite so well and I'm absolutely over the moon.

There were many outstanding performances on the day but inevitably some people didn't achieve their goals and were disappointed which is always a shame. It's wonderful to see everyone pushing themselves to do better and forcing themselves to carry on even when they're nursing an injury which would have most people sitting at home resting (Philip!!!).

This fabulous medal has been given pride of place in my ever-growing collection of medals. Thank you to everyone for sharing some of my journey to 100 marathons.

How's that for an awesome chunk of metal!

Now I've got a few days rest until my next marathon.