30 December 2014

Boot envy

It's not in the budget this year but if it was these Frye Parker lace up boots would be on my feet right now.


29 December 2014

Gotta have the good...

Gorgeous sunrise

It's a well-known saying that you gotta have the bad workouts to make you appreciate the good ones and Saturday's relay race and Sunday's longish run were absolutely fanfreakingtastic. I ran up to meet a couple of mates yesterday and we set off on a nice little romp with no set route through the snow and occasional patch of ice, chatting most of the way about how crazy we were to be out there running in sub zero temps and how beautiful a day it was--perhaps that's something only other runners will appreciate.  By the time I made it back home I had ran 12.75 miles and was rocking the runner's high.

Post run goosebump picture

After all that it should come as no surprise that today's run was less than stellar.  I couldn't find my yak trax and spent 20 minutes faffing about trying to figure out where I'd stored them before giving up and getting out the door. Oh my gosh, it felt so much colder than yesterday, my socks wouldn't stay put, a shoe came untied, my hands ached and after 2 miles I was trotting back home for a natural break (to borrow the cycling term)--all minor grumbles of course but it was adding up.  I REALLY didn't want to go back out in the cold but knew if I didn't I would be grumbling at myself all day for wimping out so after a few minutes chatting with the partner I was off again.  Marathon training (any race training actually) is as much mental as it is physical so even though today's pace was slower than I would have liked it is still going into the success category because I did get myself back out the door into the cold when I could have been curled up on the couch with a cuppa.

One result of me not being able to keep a decent pace is that I didn't mind stopping to take pictures.

Ponies in the field

I felt so sorry for the ponies but especially this one

Taking care of business

"Lady, you are one crazy runner"

Another wardrobe malfunction, perhaps I should have worn shorts and knee socks again today

Where it all began

My little obsession with visiting trees* didn't begin with discovering the list of 50 Great British Trees...It actually started last February** when I was searching for off-beat things to visit en-route to the Peak District.  It was then that I found out about a yew tree in Darley Dale that is estimated to be around 2000 years old! As an added bonus it was in a churchyard (St Helens Church)--we also tend to gravitate towards old cemeteries for some reason.

The old yew tree is MASSIVE.  I am not sure if it's the location or the River Derwent you can hear gurgling in the background but it exuded such an air of grace and peacefulness.  Major Oak seemed sort of sad with all the scaffolding having to hold it up but this tree was the opposite, the sweeping limbs made it more intriguing and full of life (yes, I realise that's an odd thing to say in the middle of a cemetery) and you could just envision all the people who had taken a rest under it.  

War and battle memorials

Wandering about the gravestones

The house next to the Church 

I wouldn't recommend making a trip out of the way to visit but if it does happen to be on your route to Bakewell or other Peak District villages then it is well worth stopping to take a look,  I do wish we had included a visit to the heritage rail station while there but that just means we need to make another trip there! 

The same day we also made a stop in Matlock for a late lunch and coffee (hey, all that tree gazing requires sustenance!) at Peli Deli.  From what I understand they are under slightly different ownership now from when we ate there but the quality remains the same and that was quite nice then. My partner opted for the Ploughmans Platter and I had the salt beef with cider and horseradish mustard, yum. My mouth is watering remembering the meal 10 months later! We definitely need to go back soon.  

Salt beef sandwich

Ploughmans Platter

*It might have really started when I visited the Redwood Forest in California when I was a child

**This is an exceptionally late blogpost even by my standards

27 December 2014

Snow and the Christmas Relays

It snowed last night! A nice fluffy snow that was absolutely gorgeous until it turned back into sleet and left a nice layer of ice on top of the soft stuff.  I was so wanting to get out for a run in it last night because for a short period of time it was wintry perfection, alas I'd committed to the Christmas relays for this morning so didn't think it would be a good idea to tire my legs out too much since I'd already ran once.

This morning when I let the dogs out in the back garden and noticed they were sliding ON top of the snow rather than sinking in I wasn't near as happy about it...it took forever to get the cars uncovered and the drive cleared (my partner took care of the latter). I wasn't even sure I would be able to make it off our street much less to Wollaton Hall but eventually me and the Mini made it there. The only mishap was when I turned into the first carpark that turned out to be full and had to stop going up the incline going up back up to the main drive...yep, had to have several people trying to push me up the icy slope (huge thank you!!!!).

Elsie checking it all out

On to the relay--this year was MUCH better than my effort last year! Thankfully the winds had died down and despite the cold it was brilliantly sunny.  I had the 3rd leg on our vets team and while I wish I could have been slightly faster at least I don't feel like I let the guys down this year.  Overall I'm pleased with my performance, only allowed one woman to pass me, I passed 2 others and almost caught a 3rd before the finish line. 

 It was slightly disconcerting about mid-way through to not be able to see any of the other runners in front of me, we are all fairly spread out by the 3rd leg and it always worries me that I will turn at the correct place if I can't see anyone else. There is also one infamous hill section where it feels like you're not moving forward at all even though you can't force yourself to go any faster! The course was more crowded than usual because of all the families being out with their sledges, can't blame them, I would have been out there as well if I lived nearer but it was a little tricky weaving my way through on the uphill back up to the Hall. As for the end, I'm all about having a downhill finish!  

My phone wasn't liking the cold so this is the best pic I have from today

Now for the boring part--the stats (per the garmin).  

2013 time 19:15, distance 2.33 miles. Mile splits: 7:59, 8:37, 2:39 (7:33 pace), overall average pace 8:11 min/mile

2014 time 18:13, distance 2.42 miles. Mile splits: 7:30, 7:41, 3:02 (7:18 pace), overall average pace 7:32 min/mile

I'm guessing that the distance discrepancy is down to where they placed the start/finish line but as you can see from the pace I was definitely faster this year.  

Well done to everyone who participated this year, our club put in some good solid performances! As always, thank you to the course marshals (especially the one who yelled at the people who were allowing their dogs to run directly in front of the runners!). 

25 December 2014

Advent Running

25/25 Done and Dusted! 

This year I participated in Advent Running, the guidelines were simple, try and run a minimum of 30 minutes every day the 1st through 25th of December and post about it on the facebook group or twitter.  Since I was already attempting to run every day (started November 8th) I thought this might be a good way to keep things fresh and stay motivated.  It has been AWESOME. There were some days when I was sorely tempted to blow off the run but then would read about someone who completed theirs that had a far less flexible schedule than mine and that would be enough to get me out the door.  There were so many amazing stories about running firsts, personal bests, struggles, and what inspired some to begin running.  

Thank you Claudia and James and everyone who participated!!! This has been one of my best months of training thanks to #adventrunning.  I have survived but I'm not so sure about my trainers! 

Merry Christmas 2014

Merry Christmas!

This year marks my second Christmas in the UK, sometimes it's still hard to believe I've had the amazing experience of living here for 15 months (and counting).  We are having a very low-key, laid back celebration of just the two of us and the mutts, it's been quite nice not rushing about trying to get things done. That meant no cards were sent out though (sorry everyone!).  I did go on a search for candy canes as treats for the Nordic Walking groups, it wasn't until after I'd handed them out to everyone the first time that I found out they are not a Christmas tradition here! No wonder I had to go on what amounted to a scavenger hunt in several shops before finding any to buy.  We also remembered to buy Christmas crackers for tonight, I'm quite looking forward to the cheesy joke and paper crown.

Can you believe the mutts stayed still for this picture? Next year we need to be better prepared and try for some Christmas themed photos before the actual day and perhaps get a picture done in time for cards...hmm, we'll see if that does happen.  

Because there are never enough cute pics of Elsie and Ben

 It's hilarious how the dogs are paying me absolutely no mind until they hear the magic word!  Just in case anyone was wondering if my accent had changed...that would be a no, I don't think it's much different if at all. The vernacular has changed of course but that southern is hard to budge.  With that, Merry Christmas y'all!!!! I hope everyone is having (or had) a wonderful day and are able to celebrate in their preferred way. Lots of love to my family and friends xx

24 December 2014

Tails from the trail

Some days you are just running along and you come face to face (or rather butt) with a cow. As you do. 

Fortunately Bessie here wasn't a complete surprise because a dog walker had warned me of her presence on the trail.  She was very friendly when I slowed to a walk to sidle by her, even came up for a quick ear scratch before we went our opposite ways.  About a half mile later I met the mystery Nordic Walker guy I sometimes encounter and did the neighbourly thing of giving him a heads up about her. He, unlike me, quite wisely asked if it was a cow rather than a bull--it's not unheard of for people to be attacked and sometimes killed by aggressive bulls on footpaths that cross through fields.  

22 December 2014

Rock on, the tourist edition

We have had a bit of oddball touristy destinations over the past year--seriously who else makes visiting a place because of a sole tree their priority? Another niche that is not so unusual is going to places because of a popular musical reference or influence.  We've done 3 guitar factory tours in the states (Gibson in Memphis, Taylor in El Cajon, and Fender in Corona, the latter was the best!), gone in search of Stevie Ray Vaughan's grave site in Dallas, visited Ray Hennig's Heart of Texas shop before it was torn down (another SRV reference) and a few other places that have yet to be written about.

An impromptu trip down to London (it still seems odd that I live only 2.5 hours away!) yesterday resulted in us ending up at another one of those locales of music history--yes, yes, I know England is so full of those that it's easier to visit somewhere that does NOT have some sort of connection but this living here lark is still sort of shiny and new to me. If you are of a certain vintage *cough, teenager in the 80s, cough* then I'm sure you have listened to Eddy Grant's "Electric Avenue" at least once (or a few thousand times).  With me being a somewhat sheltered youth I had no clue until years later that it was talking about the 1981 riot in Brixton...watching the video now I can see the anger and understand the lyrics of the song but as a 14 year old who paid no attention to the world news I had absolutely no clue. To me it was just a very catchy song that was over-played on the radio and MTV for a few years.  Cue a few decades later and I point out an Electric Avenue in a neighbouring city and start humming the song and my partner says "Hey, I will take you to the original one on our next trip south!"

Electric Avenue itself is so named because it was the first market street to be lit by electricity. The Brixton Market is still going strong and I hope to visit again when the vintage and retro market is on but even on a dark Sunday evening it was still bustling.  However it was a very pensive stroll last night because of reflecting on the history of the street.

Electric Avenue street sign

We thought we would be able to listen to a group of street buskers playing while at Brixton just in front of the Underground entrance but every time it sounded like they were going to get started they paused again. There was a large group of people gathering to listen but the crowd lessened with each false start.  We soon gave up as well. 

XMiles Christmas Competition package

Last week I was notified by XMiles that I'd won their twitter Endurance Pack Christmas competition, perfect timing for experimenting with different products for the Belvoir Challenge marathon! I am familiar with Gu and Clif Bar (no product included for the latter, just an informational card) but I've not had an opportunity to try out the remainder of the products which include a Chia Charge bar, Bounce Energy Ball, High5 Zero electrolyte tabs, For Goodness Shakes Recovery, and an NDURE Hydraflask.  The package arrived three days after I was notified that I'd won, much quicker than I expected.  Thank you XMiles, I look forward to trying everything out! 

19 December 2014


It's been a while since my last US versus UK differences post, to be honest it all (mostly) seems normal after living here for over a year! However there were a few things lately that reminded me I still have more to learn (and share!).

A recent twitter convo with Todd McCann (don't forget to check out his blog and podcast, good stuff) brought to light one of those things...it's not unusual for people who live in cities and towns here in the UK to own a few chickens if they have enough of a back garden (yard to us Americans) to allow it. Unlike most urban and suburban areas in the states, it is perfectly legal to own what is traditionally considered a farm only animal--I'm sure there are exceptions but even in London you can have chickens. Of course there are guidelines that have to be followed, proper housing and noise ordinances are at the top of the list.  You can even adopt Ex Battery* hens! Unfortunately from my experience in working at poultry farms as a teen and then at a factory of the largest poultry processors in the world, I don't think this will ever catch on in the US.

Because I don't have pictures of chickens you get to watch this video of re-homed Ex Battery hens instead :-) 

Oh dear, I've got a giggle going now because of mentioning a truck driver and chickens in the same post and I can't get "cluck, cluck, chicken truck" out of my head. A chicken truck is slang for a very shiny, chromed out 18-wheeler with lots of extra lights (aka chicken lights) on it. Unfortunately I never drove a chicken truck--was always too cheap to spend my own money for chrome and lights on a company owned truck.

*Ex Battery Hens are commercial laying hens that are re-homed instead of going straight to a poultry processing plant. Poultry Keeper seems to be an excellent resource of information about what you need to get started with learning how to keep them.

Visiting Verity

Ever since I first heard about Verity I have wanted to visit her...for some reason this statue struck a chord in my heart and I am so not an art person.  Loaned to the town of Ilfracombe for 20 years (from October 2012) she inspires either adoration or disgust, there doesn't seem to be any in between--I am obviously in the former camp.

We finally visited Verity in mid-October when my partner had arranged a meeting with a mate down in Devon and he included a detour to Ilfracombe--I think this was his way of keeping me from getting too impatient and irritable during the long car ride! She (in my very humble opinion) is well worth the visit, even seeing her from the road on the hill above the harbour she was awe-inspiring. Up close, the attention to detail was amazing, even now I don't have the words as to how much it affected me.

The above photo is why I think so many had/have a problem with Verity but I think she's beautiful. I think the majority of people would have been all right with the nudity and pregnancy but the "stripped" down profile proves to be too graphic for many.  Yes, it's disturbing but incredibly fascinating as well.  

The obligatory tourist pic

My favourite shot of the day

17 December 2014

Swinging away

My favourite strength workout move over the past year has been the kettlebell swing. So simple yet so easy to do incorrectly. Unfortunately since the last BDL cross country race I've not done many, first because of the hip and back hurting and now simply because I've gotten out of the habit! Posting these cheeky pics my partner took back in October hoping it will motivate me to start swinging the bells again.

Of course I could have been doing more press-ups once the back quit aching since no "hip snapping" is required but those have fallen by the wayside as well.  Time to quit making excuses and get back to the strength training.

Ben "guarding" me 

15 December 2014

A little confession

I have gone and done something that I swore I wouldn't do ever again...entered a marathon.  For the past 3 years it had been a case of "been there, done that, got the t-shirt, don't want to do it ever again." The first time it was because I had to do one if I wanted to become an Iron Woman in the Arkansas RRCA Grand Prix series by completing all 20 races, the 2nd time it was because the Marine Corps Marathon was my bucket list race. I'm not a Marine, none of my family were Marines (that I am aware of) but I've always had this deep-seated awe of the Marine Corps since the day I completed my physical to enter the Army Reserves at 17 years old and there was a girl only slightly older than me processing at the same time for the Marines knocking out chin-ups like a boss. Yes, that made quite an impression!

Regardless, I ended up injured with both marathons and the training made me HATE running because it became something I had to do, not something I was doing because I enjoyed it.  Everybody has those moments but for the 2 months prior to both I despised and dreaded almost every single time I laced up my trainers and one consistent thing most everybody who has met me knows is that I LOVE running! I can survive without it but it would be like a huge chunk of my being was missing if I had to give it up for good.  Races are nice but they are not something I have to do to keep me motivated, I can quite happily slog along day in and day out, both by myself and with other people (it does get boring talking to yourself so running companions are very nice to have).  Music isn't even necessary, I can count on one hand the number of times I have ran with an MP3 player the past 3 years. I just love how running makes me feel strong and free.

So why the decision to enter another marathon now? A little bit of it is to see if I can manage to get through one without injury (wishful thinking?)...I'm in a much stronger place with my running than with the other two, both mentally and physically (thank you kettlebells!)--a lot of that has to do with my time of training with Ginny back in Arkansas even if it is over a year gone since then.  There's also the pesky little issue of being frustrated with my finishing times, I'm not ever going to be a Boston Qualifier but I would like to be closer to a four hour finishing time instead of almost 5 hours.  Oh and for some reason despite my previous experiences with longer distance running I've always fancied an ultra so thought it might be a good thing to get the marathon monkey off my back before attempting one of those.

Yes, that is a look of delirium as I approach the finish line of my first marathon

There you are, my confession to giving the 26.2 distance another go. I'm two months into proper training and so far so good, I'm not ready to take a flamethrower to my trainers yet...Dare I even say that I'm actually enjoying it this time around? We'll see what I have to say on February 28th at the start line for the Belvoir Challenge* but hopefully my mental LoveLock for running will hold strong!

*Belvoir in this case is not pronounced the French way...It somehow became "Beaver" over the centuries. No, I'm not kidding nor was this a joke on the American, there's even an explanation on Belvoir Castle's site about it. 

14 December 2014

Where the apple falls...

THE apple tree

Even non-science and maths oriented people like me have no trouble remembering Sir Isaac Newton's law of universal gravitation (please don't ask me to explain it or write out the formula though!!!) so it was quite a surprise to discover that the original apple tree that inspired the law still exists! I found out about it when I stumbled upon the 50 Great British Trees list that I wrote a blogpost about back in November so we immediately started planning a road trip to visit it at Woolsthorpe Manor near Grantham.  Alas, the first trip over we neglected to check the website for the winter opening hours and arrived right when they were closing up.  I could have used my American-ness and tried to plead our way in but I was more in the mood to blend in and didn't want to keep them there for longer than necessary...besides I also discovered if we were to visit on a different day of the week that the entry fee would be less, something not disclosed online!

Woolsthorpe Manor

So cue a couple of weeks later and I've planned another interesting place nearby to go see after visiting the tree and we make the trek again.  We arrived close to shutting down time again (not deliberate timing on our part though) and we really had no interest in touring the inside of the house itself (although if you are into maths and science, the guestbook reads like a Who's Who of that world) so when I requested grounds only entry we were given even more of a discount--that southern accent comes in very handy at times! 

You can no longer get up close and personal with the original apple tree--they have erected a willow fence around it to protect the root system and there is an additional rope barrier further out but there are several other trees scattered throughout the property and there were apples galore all over the ground. One may or may not have found its way home with me! 

Only 48 more trees to go to complete the list! I have caught a glimpse of the Domesday Oak in Ashton Court, Bristol but I was there for a British Nordic Walking event and hadn't yet become aware of the list of 50 so it will require a trip back!  Expat tip: Always check websites and facebook pages for updated hours and expect unannounced closures. I've learned to be way more laid back about the times anything will be open here. National Trust and English Heritage memberships are also well worth the money if you plan on visiting lots of historical sites, right now I only have the latter but both do come in handy.