Posted in Personal life, Travel

What’s in a Name? Plenty, When It Comes to Gloucestershire Sporting Events

Runner in the Tetbury Woolsack race
It’s an uphill struggle at the Tetbury Woolsack race (Image: http://www.tetburywoolsack.co.uk)

With the end of May heralding the Cotswolds’ most idiosyncratic sporting events – the Tetbury Woolsack Races and the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling –  I’ve been thinking about the inextricable link between event and setting. These two ancient rites would not attract the same following if removed to other places. Hefting a Woolsack the length of Chipping Sodbury’s level high street or rolling a cheese through Bourton-on-the-Water would be nowhere near as exciting. 

Artist's impression of the first every Marathon runner
The original Marathon – not a happy ending for the runner (Image: Wikipedia)

You can stage a marathon anywhere in the world, but it will never be the same race. Ask anyone who has run in London, Paris, New York, or, er, Marathon.

This fact first dawned on me when, in my pre-baby running days, my husband and I signed up to enter the Cheltenham 10K.

This will be a sedate little number, we thought, passing elegant Georgian facades and corporation planting. We warmed up with a few shorter runs: a pleasant 5K jaunt around Bourton-on-the-Water, followed by the Chippenham River Run, both events equally defined by their setting. The post-race refreshments left a bit to be desired, but we were looking forward to Cheltenham’s more genteel offering: cucumber sandwiches and Earl Grey, perhaps?

Running for Our Lives

Reconstruction of a fire service rescue scene
Where’s the fire? (Image: http://www.fireservicecollege.ac.uk)

But it was not to be. A week before the race, a letter announced that due to unforeseen circumstances (a row between the Town Council and the event organisers), the race would now take place at the Moreton-in-Marsh Fire Service College. Ok, we thought, Moreton-in-Marsh is pretty too. Not a problem.

Only on arrival did we discover that the College is set well away from the town and offers quite a different scenario: surreal mock-ups of emergencies in which firefighters may hone their skills. We ran past crashed aeroplanes, burnt-out buildings, overturned railway carriages and motorway pile-ups. It was like fleeing from the apocalypse. Well, that’s one way to cut minutes off your personal best.

Introducing the HU5K Run

Photo of the stretch of the Cotswold Way that will be part of the HU5K route (Photo: Steve Green Photography)
Follow HU5K’s Yellow Brick Road

Which is why I’m particularly pleased to be organising a race this month in a much more peaceful setting: what’s dubbed by local runners “The Yellow Brick Road” – the level stretch of the Cotswold Way that skirts Hawkesbury Upton, with fine views down to the Severn Valley. On a clear day, both Severn Bridges wink back at you in the sunshine. The HU5K Run will take place on Saturday 15th June, starting at 10am, giving woolsack-toting, cheese-rolling racers a couple of weeks to get their puff back first. All ages (7+) and abilities are welcome. Leading the way will be former Team GB Olympic runner Nick Rose, veteran of the Olympics in Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984. Now there’s a man who can tell you what a difference a venue makes.

Former Olympic runner Nick Rose and Dave of the Hogweed Trotters
Former Team GB Olympic runner Nick Rose is an inspiration to runners of all ages

Registrations in advance are preferred, to make sure we’ve got enough medals to go round. For more information, visit our the official HU5K website or call 01454 238401. I’ll race you to the starting line!

This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser’s June 2013 edition.

Posted in Family, Personal life

My New Approach to New Year’s Resolutions

English: New Year's Resolutions postcard
Gosh, what a list to remember – no wonder the Bishop had to write it down (New Year Postcard – Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love new beginnings. I love the opportunity they bring for replacing bad habits with good ones. I feel just as excited about the approach of New Year as I do about Christmas. Because for me, New Year’s Eve is inextricably linked with making New Year’s Resolutions.

That’s not the only time that I look forward to making resolutions. With the single-mindedness of a heat-seeking missile, I find other opportunities to contemplate reform all year round: the beginning of each school term, the summer solstice, the spring and autumn equinoxes.  My birthday on 18th January is perfectly timed to jump-start any stalled New Year’s resolutions before I’ve had time to forget what they were.

If I still find myself in need of prompts to change, I can always fall back on that old mantra beloved by the manufacturers of fridge magnets and bookmarks:

Today is the first day of the rest of your life

But there is such a thing as trying too hard. We could probably all come up with a huge list of things we’d like to change about ourselves: lose weight, get more exercise, eat better, drink less, keep the house/car/offspring cleaner/tidier,  keep on top of the gardening/ironing/housework, read more books/better books/less trash.

When Did Your New Year’s Resolution Last All Year?

One of the the reasons these things crop up every year on most people’s lists is that every year they fail. I can’t remember anyone ever telling me on New Year’s Eve that they’ve had to find a new resolution because they’ve kept the one they made last year.

So for 2013,  I’m going to make just one New Year’s Resolution. That way, I reckon I’ll have a greater chance of success. By choosing this resolution very carefully, I’ve stumbled on a great strategy. If I manage to keep this one, I reckon I’ll end up reforming in lots of other ways without even trying. What is this powerful resolution? It is TO GET MORE SLEEP.

Lately, I’ve got into the bad habit of burning the midnight oil. I lead a very busy lifestyle: I go out to work, I run my own business, I have family commitments including school and PTA volunteering, I’m the trustee of a local diabetes-related charity, I blog, I write books. Sometimes the only way I can come close to doing everything I need to do is to cut down on my sleep.

English: Margaret Thatcher, former UK PM. Fran...
“The lady’s not for sleeping.”  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who Needs Sleep Anyway?

Unfortunately, I’m no Margaret Thatcher. No, hang on, make that fortunately. What I mean is, I need more than the four hours of sleep per night on which our former Prime Minister governed the country. (Well, that explains a lot.) To be fully functional, I need at least 8 hours in winter and 7 hours in summer. Don’t ask me why there’s a difference but there very definitely is. When sleep-deprived, I do everything less well/less frequently/less enthusiastically/late.

An Ingenious (Re)Solution

My theory is that if I focus on getting my full quota of sleep, everything else about me will improve. I’ll be much more likely to have the energy to cook meals from scratch instead of resorting to ready-meals. With more physical energy, I’ll be more likely to go for a run. With my wits fully about me, I’ll be more productive and focused in my work. Rising earlier, fresher, in the morning, I’ll be less likely to be late for work. Going to bed earlier, I’ll find  more time to read in bed: that ‘to-read’ pile will diminish in no time.. It may seem counter-intuitive to get more done by doing nothing, i.e. sleeping, but I truly believe it could work.

So if in 2013, you see me taking forty winks at my desk or nodding off in School Assembly,  please don’t wake me up. I’d hate to break my New Year’s Resolution.

Happy New Year!

What’s your attitude to New Year’s Resolutions? Do tell!

Posted in Personal life

Changing My Spots: How I Evolved From Sloth to Jaguar

English: a 2-toed sloth at the Jaguar Rescue C...
The sloth – not going anywhere fast (or the right way up)  Photo credit: Wikipedia

In the last 10 years, there’s been a new and recurrent theme in my life: running. Mostly I’ve not run more than 5K at a time – a nice round number, long enough to impress but not far enough to exhaust. I’ve done Race for Lifes, the Chippenham River Run (no, it doesn’t involve walking on water), and a couple of 10Ks too.

My first 10K was meant to be in Cheltenham. But then the organisers had a difference of opinion with the Town Council and relocated the race to the Moreton-in-Marsh Firefighters’ Training College. Instead of pottering gently round the elegant streets of a sedate Georgian town, we were faced with a route like Armageddon. We were surrounded by fake disasters that trainee firemen use to hone their skills: derailments, plane crashes, overturned cars and burnt-out buildings. There’s nothing like fleeing disaster to make you run a little faster.

And now there’s the first ever Hawkesbury 5K to look forward to. If the sun’s shining, that section of the Cotswold Way fondly referred to by some as The Yellow Brick Road will be glinting and golden. It will be hard not to slow down to enjoy the view.

I have not always been a runner. In school, I ran round at the back on cross-country, chatting away to my best friend Elizabeth, who was equally unenthralled with running. We kept our tights on under our shorts. She was my partner in crime in Geography too. The teacher scrawled in my exercise book “Why are you and Eliz. being so slow?” The reason: we’d got carried away with our drawings of an Oil Derrick, going on to design an Oil Graham, an Oil George, and an Oil Stanley. Our hearts were simply not in it.

Yet now one of my chief pleasures on holiday is to run in new territory. Round castle walls, along seafronts, down cobbled streets – it’s a great way to unite my adult interests of running and geography. The teenage Debbie would have been astonished at what she grew into: this leopard really did change her spots.

So if you’re not a runner yet, don’t write off the prospect. The new Hawkesbury 5K on 16th June 2012 might be just the thing to convert you. One of the great things about running is that your age doesn’t matter – you can still be running marathons when you’re 90. I’ll report back on that one. See you at the 2050 Hawkesbury 5K, if not before.

Start
And she’s off… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(This post was originally written for the Hawkesbury Parish News, June 2012.)

If you’d like to read more about running in Hawkesbury Upton, try this: Running In Wonderland (You Can Call Me Alice)

Or for more nostalgia about my schooldays, how about this tribute to my former history teacher, Ms Trebst.

Posted in Travel

Wye I Run: 4 Miles Along the River Bank

My daughter and two swans on the WyeThe first sunny Sunday for weeks finds me on an action replay of one of my favourite runs, along the banks of the River Wye. We’re in Monmouth, Wales, for the Bank Holiday weekend and the sun is out in full force to remind us that it’s Spring. I don my running kit and before stepping out along the riverbank path, I retrieve my phone from my daughter, who has been snapping a pair of extrovert ducks from every angle. They are very obliging models, realising that she is the same little girl who earlier dispensed half a loaf of Hobb’s House finest sliced amongst them.

our camper van parked by the boathouse on the WyeThe path alongside the River Wye offers a varied, scenic, level route with plenty to see along the way, distracting my brain from just how far I’m running. The sky is cornflower blue, the grass a lush Granny-Smith green after all the rainfall, and the river is rushing by high and fast.

There’s surprisingly little mud along the way, considering we’ve just emerged from the wettest April on record. Eager teams of rowers are issuing forth from the boathouse, alongside which we’ve parked our camper van. They are swept along at a ferocious pace. Their return journey will tax their arm muscles, for sure.

sheep in a field by the River  Wye in MonmouthWatching the rowers is one of the great pleasures of this run. There are also plenty of creatures that are watching me. Sheep and cows turn their heads as if synchronised, as if to monitor my progress through their particular fields. Ducks and swans, gliding gently by, look slightly pityingly at my less graceful progress. Their silent sailing makes my running seem all too clumsy and energy-inefficient.

a Red Indian style tipi in a field on the River WyeI know this route well, field by field,  but, as ever, my run is not without surprises. As I enter a field that is usually empty of everything but pasture, I am startled to discover that since my last visit it’s been colonised by Red Indians. But then I spot an array of 4x4s nearby and I realise that these are not Pawnees but townies, following the latest camping trend. I wonder how they got their tent-poles in these cars.

photo with view through the gatehouse on the Monnow Bridge, MonmouthThis is indeed a timeless route, surrounded by a sense of genuine history, both cultural (I’m thinking of you, Mr Wordsworth) and imperial (pay attention,  Offa, and Admiral Nelson). I cross bridges ancient and modern, running through the narrow gatehouse on the landmark Monnow Bridge. A blue plaque informs me that the Monnow Bridge was built in 1270 and is the only medieval bridge in Britain to support its own gatetower. And, my overseas readers, I mean Britain, not England: as the Welsh translation reminds me, we are in proudly Welsh territory here. (Yes, Owain Glyndwr, I haven’t forgotten you either.)  I’m so overwhelmed that I add a few loops to my run so that I can cross this unique bridge several times more.

bilingual sign for Offa's Dyke PathBeyond the Monnow Bridge, I travel further back in time, reaching a stretch of Offa’s Dyke Path. Very loosely speaking, this is Wales’ answer to Scotland’s Hadrian’s Wall, only a few hundred years newer.

In all, I think I cross the Monnow seven times, but with hindsight I think it must have been six or eight, or else I’d still be on the other side of it.

old bridge across the MonnowIt beats me how an athletics track or treadmill can hold anyone’s interest when our countryside is awash (lately quite literally) with such scenic routes, all free to access. This run is satisfying on so many levels: luscious fresh air, stunning scenery, pensive solitude, and an inescapable feeling of being a part of national history. The whole experience is enormously life-affirming.

church near MonmouthExcept when  I’m passing the beautiful, tiny medieval church whose churchyard borders the river the other side of the boathouse. Its whitewashed walls are luminous in the morning’s brilliant sunshine. If I were an artist, I’d want to whip out an easel and capture nature’s bright blues and greens that set it off so well. But then I notice, also glinting in the sun, two shiny new gravestones at my feet: these weren’t here last time I ran this route, less than a year ago. I pick up  my pace and scarper. It feels very good to be alive.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like this piece about Running  In Wonderland or this one about our walk along more of  Offa’s Dyke Path

Posted in Travel

A Funny Thing Happens When I Run: Introducing the Reverse Raindance

Me and my daughter in a summer fun runI’m a fair-weather runner. My running shoes hibernate in the wardrobe from November to February, to spare me from running in the worst of the winter weather. But with the wettest April since records began now segueing into an equally soggy May, there’s a slim chance of dodging raindrops on the run.

Or so you might think. But in the last few days, I’ve discovered I have a King Canute-like ability to turn the tide of imminent downpours, simply by donning my trainers and hitting the road.

Raindrops falling on water
Raindrops falling on water (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last Saturday, I was scheduled to take part in a four-mile fun run in the next village. On the preceding Thursday and Friday, the rain had been falling in torrents. I wondered whether I’d be better off in a swimsuit than a tracksuit. I carefully packed a raincape for the run and a complete change of clothing, expecting to peel off sopping kit as soon as I crossed the finish line.

I drove to the starting point, windscreen wipers on full speed, headlights on, careering through puddles half the width of the roads. The race had been limited to 30 entrants, for fear of overcrowding, but thanks to the weather, only three, apart from me, turned up. The other three looked very pleased to see me. I gulped. There was no turning back.

And yet, by the time we padded off up the hill at the start of our four-mile circuit, the rain had just about vanished. We plodded on companionably, enjoying the inimitable freshness that emanates from fields after heavy rain. The weather was cool but comfortable, and when we arrived back at the village hall, we were pleasantly warm – and dry. Yet on the drive home, I had to turn my windscreen wipers on again.

Français : Temps d'orage sur la Vézère, en Dor...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then last night, I went to join the local running club’s evening run. As I drove down the hill, steely grey clouds were hanging ominously over the clubhouse. It was drizzling as I parked the car. I took this to be an overture to a drenching. But once my run began, the same thing happened as on Saturday. The storm clouds held back; there was not a drop of precipitation. On the return leg, there was even a glimpse of the sun. But no sooner had I got home and kicked off my running shoes than great sheets of lightning began to fill the sky in the direction of where I’d been running. Thunder rumbled on for some time.

So I’m coming to the conclusion that my running has the effect of a reverse raindance. This could come in very handy.

Rain dance - NARA - 285623
Rain dance in Kansas, 1920 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, I realise that by going public with my new-found talent, I’m probably going to jinx it. (First rule of Reverse Raindance Club: Don’t Talk About Reverse Raindance Club.) Expect a follow-up post from me any time soon detailing how I’ve been struck by lightning on my latest run or had to swim home through a monsoon.

But I hope not, and just for selfish reasons. Think of the public good that I could do! This Wimbledon season, the British Lawn Tennis Club could hire me to run round the courts whenever the weather looks murky. If I sprint about Lords Cricket Ground now and again, rain need never stop play. And as to the London Olympics, well, let the sun shine.

Badminton Horse Trials logo

It’s a shame I didn’t discover this talent earlier. I live near the  Badminton Estate, where the most famous equestrian event in the world was meant to be taking place this weekend. For the first time in 25 years, it’s had to be cancelled because their land is waterlogged. If they’d just let me run around their course for a bit, I could have saved them the bother. But it’s just as well they didn’t ask me – I’m not sure I’m up to the jumps.

Some of my other posts about running:

Running In Wonderland (You Can Call Me Alice)       Keeping Up With My Sporty Daughter

And if you enjoy any of these posts, please consider sponsoring my Bristol 10K run later this month! I’m raising money for research into a cure for my daughter’s Type 1 Diabetes here. Thank you!