Orienteering A.K.A “how to get lost running round somewhere you know”

Tonight I thought I’d try orienteering, seeing as there was an event starting at my children’s school. I obviously knew the area, so what could possibly go wrong?

On a very hot evening the day after a 5K race I went to Chippenham, I got a map and a dibber, and a very nice man explained how it all works. I had to get myself from control point to control point, finding my own way, and blip* my dibber at each control. Easy peasy, right? Erm, no.  I got lost, I got hot, I got thirsty, and I managed to make the 4K route into 5.5 miles. I obviously took the scenic route. 

Photo of orienteering map
Apparently this is a map of Chippenham. I think they lied.

It WAS fun, but I hadn’t appreciated that orienteering maps are a little different to OS maps. On studying the map safely back at home, I realise that a couple of the footpaths I was trying to follow were actually contour lines. Sigh!

* blipping isn’t an official technical term, but dibber is. 

I’m back!

After many weeks of coughing and sniffling, and feeling very sorry for myself (and my poor family who had to put up with me) I’m officially back in the room. 

I ran twice last week, only slow and steady 5K each time with walking breaks and coughing breaks and taking photo breaks. 

Photo taken in a wheat field
“Doing a Theresa May” – an example of a photo break

It came as a bit of a shock to discover I had entered a 5K race for last night. Heddington 5K is run as a series of 3 races over the summer months and sells out in a matter of hours each time. This might be because the course is overall downhill, and thus practically every runner I know has run their 5K PB at this race. 

I wandered over last night, and was met by the vast hordes of Chippenham Harriers who also knew about this race’s magical ability to practically guarantee a PB. With lots of chat, and catching up with running buddies I hadn’t seen for weeks, I didn’t have time to feel my usual pre-race nerves because it didn’t feel like a race. 

As we moved to the start line I conciously kept to the back. The race starts with a mad downhill dash which means after half a kilometre you are already regretting your pace. My simple aim last night was not for a PB, but to have a steady run, with no walking / coughing / photo stops. Ideally I was hoping to try and stick to 10 minute miles but I was flexible on pace (I.e. I had no idea what to aim for!). I found myself next to another Harrier (called Nikki) who was doing exactly the same, we fell into step at the start, and ran together the whole way right up to the point where she managed a sprint finish and I managed a finish. 

Heddington 5K
Heddington 5K. Photo by Rachel Beek.
I was very pleased with my 31:04 time, which looks pretty much like spot on 10 minute miles to me, and with the fact I didn’t have to walk! Well done Calne Running Club for such a brilliant race, and especially for the chocolate at the end!

So looks like I’m back in the game again (well, I will be once my face loses this magnificent shade of puce!)

Still here!

I was very tempted to entitle this post “Still Ill” as a Smiths’ reference and truthful statement, but it’s rather downbeat so I didn’t. Last time I wrote, I was preparing for my first ever triathlon with a combination of nerves and excitement. 

5 weeks on, and I’m sorry to say I never made it to my triathlon. I’ve also missed a 10K race, and a 5K race. The reason? I’ve either been ill or working. Or both. Pah. Nothing serious by the way, just a cold that won’t clear up. And the working wasn’t serious, more “extra” work over in Wales, involving dressing up for hours on end and standing, walking, sitting and even dancing all hours of the day and night. Lots of hanging around, but lots of fun as well. Have a sneaky peak here …

Going forward I’m still recovering from this cold and have moved onto invigilating for work. This still involves lots of waiting and walking, but fortunately not so many costumes. Sticking to the movie theme, I’ll get over this cold, I’ll get running again, and … “I’ll be back”!

Peer Pressure 

“Why did you do that?”

“She told me too”

“What if she’d told you to put your hand in the fire, would you have done that as well??!!!!”

So went many tellings off when I was young, normally after having been egged on to do something by my older sister. The only heinous deed I remember subsequently regretting was letting her cut off a chunk of my hair to make a doll with. A voodoo doll, presumably.

So the moral of this story is that peer pressure is a bad thing, we should stick to our principles, and stand up for what we believe in. We should not be swayed by others’ opinions. … Unless, of course, they’re saying things we really want to hear. Things we’ve been saying to ourself in the dark lonely places when no one else can hear. Seizing the day versus missing golden opportunities. The final clincher :-  telling yourself “it’s my big birthday year – what a good excuse to do it now!”

And that, my friends, is how I came to enter a triathlon. Now I’m not totally mad, it’s about the shortest race you can do, with the shortest swim in a swimming pool. 400m, 16 lengths should be doable, and at least I don’t need armbands anymore.

The 20Km bike course wasn’t worrying me on paper, as although it wouldn’t be fast or pretty and I couldn’t promise I wouldn’t fall off, it was just a bike ride and I’d do it in my own time. Then I looked at the route and saw it goes up the beautifully named “Labour-in-Vain hill”.  Oh.

At least the 5K run should be simple. After the off-road routes I’ve run this winter it could include a section of Mount Everest and I think I’d have a go at it.

So that’s it. I’ve entered a triathlon. No biggie. No sweat. I’ve got this. Oh, did I tell you it’s in 2 weeks time?

Photo of my bike
Ah yes. I remember my bike

Confidence

is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as

.

.

.

parkrun *

After my stunning ** race last week, where I had a goal pace which I managed to stick to (below 9:30 minute miles) and even managed a sprint finish, AND felt strong going up the hill, I decided this morning was the day to try and chip away at this year’s parkrun times.

My parkrun PB is 25:52, which sounds a pie*** in the sky target at the moment and actually dates from May 2015, but if I can keep on chipping away at this year’s times who knows how close I’ll get. Current parkrun times have been around the 29 – 30 minute mark, but with my recent race times I thought SURELY I could run faster than that? Yes the course has been muddy, yes I’ve been doing a lot of chatting, but come on Lucy!

In February I finally managed to get a time under 30 minutes again. Two seconds under, but hey it all counts. 3 weeks ago, I hauled myself under 29 minutes. Three seconds under, but again, who’s counting (apart from the timekeepers and my Garmin). Last night I calculated that if I ran under 9 minutes per mile I should be able to scrape in under 28 minutes. Anything’s possible the night before parkrun!

This morning I told my friend Valerie about my plan, and she immediately said she’d run with me as she’d also love to dip under 28 minutes again. With the pride of the VW50-54 age group resting on our shoulders, we sprinted off from the start with the best of them.

Continually glancing at my pace meant I consciously overtook people when I would usually just drop in behind them (it feels like pushing in – I’m much too British to enjoy this).  Valerie stuck with me, and we even picked up her husband on the way round. Ignore all tales that this meant we forced Valerie down the middle of the path and through the splashy puddles. It was unintentional, but she definitely had the muddiest legs at the end.

As we made it to the straight that leads to the finish, Valerie told me that she was done, and to push on without her. I gasped “okay” and proceeded to overtake another couple of runners. Being so British, and disliking people who actually manage a sprint finish (despite last week’s effort), I shouted “sorry!” as I ran past.   One of them said “You look like you’ve got plenty left in the tank. Go for it!” which has to be one of the most pleasing things anyone has ever said to me when I’m running.

I was overtaken just before the line by a small child, who was being accompanied and coached by a lovely young man called Luke****. The encouragement Luke was giving him was marvellous to hear, particularly as Luke is an amazing runner who was going much more slowly than he usually would in order to pace the boy. I was trying to use some of his advice myself, but as they charged past me I felt like applauding them both! This was heart-warming, parkrun at its best, stuff.

I finally crossed the line in 27:45, with Valerie only 7 seconds behind me, as 1st and 2nd in our age group. Yay – go us! Although I was tired at the end, I was in no way completely shattered. As the nice man said, I think I did have something left in my tank after all. Just maybe this running lark just needs some confidence in your own abilities, as well as training, practise, good shoes and fab running partners (not much to ask for, really).

I was wondering what to aim for next, and then I remembered that next week is a “naked” parkrun (??!!!!!) where you have to predict what time you’ll finish in, and then run technologically naked (i.e. no Garmin!) to see who can finish closest to their predicted time. That could be very interesting!

* Apologies to Blur
** hem hem
*** mmmmm pie
**** yes I know that makes me sound SO old

And so the Road Race season begins

Since my last post, I have been a little busy. There was “that” large birthday to celebrate, a new age category to rise up* into, a parkrun that I dragged family and friends along to, many presents, delicious food, and cake. Much cake. So much cake.

After all that  carb loading I’ve staggered around a few runs, and also managed my first road race of the 2017 road racing season. The Highworth 5 was on Sunday 19th March 2017, and before we go any further I should clarify it was a 5 MILE race, not 5 kilometres. The poor chap I spoke to in the first mile was wishing there’d been some clarification – he’d turned up to his first ever road race, after a longest run of 3 miles, thinking he was in a 5K race. It was a simple loop around the roads and lanes, with a sneaky hill at 4 miles. How the organisers had arranged for gale force headwinds for the last 2 miles (including the uphill section) was a puzzle to all of the runners. I have included an informative slide explaining my pace vs. conditions:-

Love a good mug

What was also a puzzle was why a runner thought it was okay to shadow me all through the windy section, thus using me as a windbreak. I could hear her behind me, and as I glanced behind could just see the red of her top. As we entered the playing field for the hated “rounding up to 5 miles” section. I could still hear her behind me, and had a horrible premonition that she was about to sprint past me and finish in front of me. Now I don’t do fast finishes, I am the runner people love to catch on the line, but the bit was firmly between my teeth now. I was seeing red, not just the red of her top,  and thinking of our club’s Tuesday nights Efforts sessions I sprinted for the line. The satisfaction of beating her by a second will last for quite some time. As will my delight in my race momento.

* I’m choosing to think of it as a promotion

I’m a Wiltshire Off Road League Champion!

So I managed it. I’m the 2016 – 2017 Ladies V40 Age Group winner of the Wiltshire Off Road League. Phew! The prize will be presented in June, so I’ve a while yet to clear a space on the mantlepiece. To celebrate, thanks to a friend’s suggestion I’ve pulled together a collection of my “most attractive race faces pulled whilst winning this category”.  Enjoy!

Starting in brilliant sunshine was the Marshfield Mudlark. Hiding at the back in this team photo, confusingly I’m not the one with “Lucy” on her vest.

Marshfield Mudlark

Next up was the White Horse Gallop. We got up close and personal with the Westbury White Horse, and I got possibly my most favourite race photo ever.

White Horse Gallop Face
White Horse Gallop. The photographer said “Smile!”

Keeping to the horsey theme, the Wickstead Wander involved horse jumps, ditches, a large amount of water, a rosette and an inflatable dolphin.

Elegance at the Wickstead Wander
Elegance at the Wickstead Wander

The tri-county XC race at Bath University was a scary, serious race. Not only was I last Harrier home, I was the last person home in my race. No race face, but a great warm-up skipping photo.

Coach was there, so we warmed up
Coach was there, so we warmed up

Next up was the big one, the Lungbuster, which unexpectedly had “the hill” twice.

Lungbuster finish stagger
Lungbuster finish stagger

Rounding it all off, the SMaRTT Smasher 10K :-

Where's the finish line?
Where’s the finish line?

After the Smasher, they handed out the team prizes, and I got to stand in for our Men’s team captain who was ill and collect the trophy with Julia, our Ladies’ captain. I wasn’t letting go of the trophy once I got my hands on it!

Wiltshire Off Road League Team prize goes to Chippenham Harriers
Wiltshire Off Road League Team prize goes to Chippenham Harriers

That was quite a season, more so because I accidentally entered the League as an easy way back into racing. I’ve always preferred off-road running, as it’s much easier than all that tarmac and no one minds if you walk up the hills*. There’s mud to mess around in, water to jump into and more often than not cake at the end. Have I sold it to you yet? You also get the usual assortment of goodies at the end.

Swag!
Swag!

Give it a try next season. It makes you feel like a badass – who else runs around in shorts and vest in the middle of winter? (Anyone answering”an idiot” is just being rude.)


*Except in the XC race. No one walked the hill. I think it meant instant disqualification. Or something like that.

The knotted skipping rope of disaster

Anyone who has had to sit with me through our respective children’s school sports day knows the story about me and the skipping rope. It’s a sad tale going back I guess 41 years, so sit down, make yourself comfortable and I’ll begin. Unless I’ve already unburdened this story onto you, in which case feel free to skip to the bit where I try and link it to my current situation.

At school, I wasn’t one of the sporty ones. I was more of a nerdy, glasses-wearing bookworm. One year in primary school I was given the chance to represent my ‘house’ in the Obstacle Race. This was it! My big chance! I frantically grasped the opportunity with both hands (much in the way I had to use both hands to catch anything). I practised throwing strangely smelling square canvas beanbags into plastic hoops. I was small and skinny, so wriggling through said hoops was fine. I skipped as though my life depended upon not catching a foot in the rope and tripping up. My preparation was impeccable.

Come the day, I was primed and ready. As ready as a NHS-glasses wearing klutz standing on a start line can be. The whistle blew, and I threw those beanbags. I shimmied through the hoops. I ran towards the waiting skipping rope and realised that, amazingly, I was in the lead! I simply had to untie the skipping rope, and skip to the finish line, just as I’d practised for the last few days.

I excitedly picked up the skipping rope to untie the knot, and unti-…. and unti… and nnnnnnnnghf!

and realised the rope was tied too tight and I simply couldn’t untie it. As I stood in my lane struggling, everyone else caught me up, easily untied their rope, and skipped off into the sunset. I came last.

Have I had a complex about this incident? Deep emotional trauma?* Well as I said, I’ve retold it many times and I can still feel the mix of fury and frustration that I felt on that day. So, why the need to unburden myself now?

It struck me that I am currently in the same position as I was on that day standing on the start line. As I have mentioned once or twice I am on course to win my age group in the Wiltshire Off-Road League – I just need to complete the final race, which is on Sunday. If I don’t finish (or don’t start) then my friend will win instead. Obviously I’d far rather my friend won it than someone from another running club but equally I’d rather I won it than her (I knew I had a competitive side deep down), if only because I’ve never won anything like this before.  I’m also unlikely to ever be so close to winning it again. It’s so close I feel a little bit sick.

So on Sunday morning, if I make it to the start line, think of me and make sure my skipping rope is loosely tied, and my shoelaces are tightly knotted.

*Yes I do, as with so much to do with PE in school. Have I told you about the hockey lesson? Well maybe that’s for another day.

Lungbuster 2017

Another cold foggy morning, another off-road race. After much research (i.e. Strava stalking and run club chatting) I’d discovered this 9 mile race was actually 8 and a half and there was only one steep hill on the course (which everyone walked). So far so good. I also heard that last year someone fell into a waist-deep puddle and the farmyard at the start was a slurry-slick which one runner fell face first into after just a few hundred metres. Not so lovely.

The reality was a wet farmyard but no slurry and on the course sticky, slide-y but not waist-deep mud. The pre-race briefing surprised us with the news that this year’s race was a new course which was 9 and a half miles long and sent us up “the hill” twice. With this joyous news still ringing in our ears (or it could have been the noise of numerous sets of teeth chattering and knees knocking) we set off.

At the start. Running and smiling.

The route didn’t sound thrilling, mostly around the edges of fields, but in reality it was lovely. We started in fog, but by the second loop this had lifted and we could see views right over Wiltshire which emphasised how high we were. We ran on a mixture of concrete farm tracks, fields, woodland and paths – the woodland was beautiful and I would run through there again in an instant. The hill was steep and short, but everyone walked up it to the loud encouragement of a marshal. I say encouragement, it was part heckling, part harassing, and mainly shouting. How she had any voice left for the second loop I don’t know.

The hill. Walking but still smiling.

By the second loop, I needed every once of help I could get. Around mile 7 I got a stitch, caused by scoffing a veggie Percy Pig and then glugging my water  too fast.  I had a little walk and stretch to ease it out, but after that my legs just said “No”. They’d had enough, but there was still 2 and a half miles to the finish, so I just had to pull up my big girl pants and get on with it. 

At the finish. Running again, but no longer smiling.

These were some of the hardest race miles I’ve ever run. You know that bit in a marathon where you just have to ignore what your legs are telling you, and get them moving automatically? Well that’s what these miles were like.

Of course I finished, but phew was I glad to see the finish line, and also the cakes back in the village hall. Oh and the medal! Off road races seem to pride themselves on how low key they are. No goody bag at the end for these bad boys (and girls)! Just a cup of puddle water and if you’re lucky you can buy some cake. At the end of Lungbuster, as I staggered over the finish line unable to even smile, a lovely lady put this gorgeous hunk of metal around my neck. I’ll even forgive them the pink ribbon. 

In other news, the running club that put on this race must have the longest name of any running club. Just have a look at my race number – the random letters on the bottom are the initials of the club, the “Royal Wootton Basset Hounds Runing Club”.

In summary, a really good race with great marshals and a good varied route, but it is a proper hard off road race so make sure you’ve done some long runs beforehand.

Neville. 29th March 2015 – 10th January 2017

I was about to apologise for a self-indulgent blog posting, but then I figured that all blog posts by their very nature are basically saying “me me ME!”, so I won’t. However I will say if you’re not a fan of cats, nor of blog posts about cats, then look away now. This is a large post about a big cat.

Neville was a sturdy cat. To say he was fat would be rude and untrue – he was large of frame, width, hat size, and also personality. He was large, dependable, chunky even, but definitely sturdy. On hearing of his death my brother-in-law referred to him as a “stout fellow” which was most definitely true.  Of all the cats I’ve lived with over the years, Neville was the friendliest. Whereas most cats would run away at the sound of the doorbell – someone was going to invade their territory! – Neville would run towards the door to see who was coming. We said he was our “meeter-greeter”, and as guests came in he would run ahead of them as if to say “you can put your coats here, the toilet’s on the left if you need it, straight on through to the kitchen!” You know the safety announcements they make on airplanes when they have to point out the emergency exits “here, here and here”? Well Neville would have excelled at that.

As with every part of him, Neville had a big meow and a big appetite. On the morning he died, as I was talking to his brother Luna in the garden, I could hear a foghorn-type cat cry coming from beyond the garden behind us. A cry of dismay, the cry of a cat stuck or trapped somewhere? I did not panic, I simply called his name and lo and behold with a loud and untidy scramble, Neville eventually appeared over the back fence. He wasn’t stuck, he wasn’t trapped, he was just shouting.   This was a regular occurrence, although in a “boy who cried wolf” moment I always had at the back of my mind the time when, as a very little kitten, he got completely stuck in our tall leylandii hedge and I had to rescue him whilst balancing on a ladder. Not his finest moment. He would often appear when I was out in the garden, and seemed to enjoy the company. Luna as well often mysteriously appears from the shadowy depths of the borders and hedges, just to check on what I’m doing in their garden. Neville’s finest hours in the garden came when the pond froze. It’s a fairly small pond, he was a big cat, but as the temperature dropped to 0C he would transform into Christopher Dean and slip and slide at speed. He obviously would have loved Luna to be his Jayne Torvill. However to be honest Luna’s extra-fluffy paws have zero friction on the wooden floors indoors so on ice he didn’t stand a chance. Neville would sniff and lick the ice, and chase frozen leaves around and around the icy surface whilst Luna watched on with mournful eyes. Neville was so disappointed each time the ice melted (or became so thin it couldn’t stand his weight).​​ 

​We would know when Neville was happy, because he would purr. Loudly. Like everything else he did, Neville put all of his effort into purring. Not for him the calm, effortless rumble of other cats. When Billy Tibbs sits on my knee and purrs, it’s a warm, quiet, calm vibration deep down in his tummy. When Neville purred, it was all in the throat with a loud raspy exhalation interspersed with a gulp of air back in ready for the next purr.

Neville loved his food. It was quantity rather than quality that interested him, and the sheer speed he could put away a bowl of food left Billy Tibbs astounded, horrified, and growlingly protective of his own (still full) bowl. Neville would eat anything. I’m struggling to think of anything he turned his nose up at. His love of food led him to the depths of his wickedness. The time he unwrapped a jumbo hotdog roll and ate half of it. (It was after this we decided he was gluten intolerant, judging by the litter tray the next morning). The time my daughter threw a party, and after greeting all the guests (naturally), Neville was later found on the kitchen table tucking into a slice of pizza whilst a bemused guest watched him helplessly. The time my daughter left her advent calendar on the table overnight, and like a small(ish) furry tornado he tore through the cardboard and the foil to eat the chocolate underneath.  He was always sneaking up onto the kitchen worktops to see if he could find anything left out. We would often hear the tell-tale “clink” as his magnet stuck to the breadbin, and the muddy paw prints on the worktops drove me to distraction. Fortunately by now we have pretty robust immune systems, but there was way more than a peck of dirt left in the kitchen by that wicked lad.

Of course, all of this snacking led him to put on extra layers of winter insulation. We liked to say that his chunkiness was due to his extra thick winter coat, and to be honest you can see the difference in photos of Summer and Winter Neville. His winter coat was so thick and so soft it was a dream to stroke and run your fingers through. If you tried to stroke Billy Tibbs as much as we did Neville, you’d lose a finger pretty rapidly. Fortunately, Neville not only put up with all of this physical affection, he seems to enjoy it too. He was the most huggy cat we’ve ever had, and was more than happy to be put on your shoulder and cuddled. With his long legs stretched straight out behind you and his head snuggling in close to your neck, I’m sure he enjoyed it as much as we did.

It wasn’t just people, Neville loved cuddling up with his brother Luna, although these cuddles would often turn into wrestling matches. Being so much bigger Neville would always win these physical games, although Luna excelled at “squeezing into the tiniest cardboard box possible”. This didn’t stop Neville from trying, and we have many memories of Neville “muffin top” Jiwa sitting in a box, maybe with one leg hanging out because there just wasn’t room. ​

​​

​Neville also loved Billy Tibbs, and would follow him around the house and garden exactly like an annoying little brother trying to join in with a much older and cooler sibling. Billy greeted this adoration with the expected hissing, spitting and swiping. However, as time went on, he did relax his guard just a little when Neville was around. When he was asleep he made an easy target, and Neville would often sneak next to him and pretend to be asleep so that Billy wouldn’t attack him. As Billy relaxed and feel more deeply asleep, Neville would ease himself closer and closer until they were touching. We have a lovely photo of Neville asleep with his head resting on Tibby’s back leg. Tibbs is way off in the land of Nod, but Neville has a thought bubble coming out of his head saying “LOOK AT ME! I’M SLEEPING ON BILLY!!!”

 

All of this fur (and insulation) didn’t stop him getting into mischief and scrapes. He would squeeze down the back of the big sofa, and we would only know about it as he pushed past the radiator and his magnet “dinged” on each of the radiator’s ridges. He would scramble up onto the roof of the house, although he did often have problems on the descent and had to be talked down on more than one occasion. As Sheni drove off back to Italy last Saturday morning, both Neville and Luna saw him off from the ridge of the roof, like a pair of furry dragons. He would climb the big tree in our garden, then look disgusted when Luna shot straight past him to swing from an even higher branch. On the morning of his death, he attempted to leap from a unit in the kitchen onto the back of one of the kitchen chairs. He never would have made it safely, but with amazingly quick reflexes my daughter managed to catch him in mid-air, much to his disgust and our relief. Fences would tremble and shake as he hauled himself over them. Plants were squashed when he slept on them. He would knock things over. I’m very glad he didn’t try and climb the Christmas tree this year, as it was wobbly enough without the addition of a large over excited cat. I’m extremely glad he didn’t chew through another brand new set of Christmas lights, and even more thankful that they weren’t plugged into the mains when he did.​

Quite quiet for Neville

I’m thankful for every minute that my son could call this large, soft, furry, naughty cat his cat, and devastated that we lost him so suddenly and so cruelly. I pray that the large (very large) Neville-shaped hole in our hearts and lives will heal quickly so that we can remember him with smiles rather than tears. I know that next time we take another cat into our lives our number one requirement will be that he or she is a huggy cat, because Neville showed us how wonderful a large armful of cat could truly be.