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Happy New Year!

So it’s 2022. Yay! And traditionally it’s the time to look back on the last year. I do wish I had managed to write a few more blog posts, but I have been so busy, and at times quite unmotivated if I am honest. But there have been many good things this year. I managed two trail runs which were a lot of fun. And I also did the wonderful Ealing half marathon, as well as the Ealing parks challenge which was wonderful – getting into all the corners of Ealing borough that I would never normally go to.

A corner of Acton I probably won’t ever visit again! 🤣 (shame about the graffiti…)

As always I feel grateful to live in an area where there are so many nice places to run that are in green spaces – right on the doorstep!

Sunrise over the river Brent and the allotments

I was very lucky to be able to get away to the beautiful Isle of Arran in July for a walking holiday. I feel so grateful that my friend and I were able to do that, given the horrible winter we seem to be having lately. Thinking about all the lovely things that happened in 2021 certainly picks me up when things feel hard.

Lochranza on the Isle of Arran.

I also had a holiday in Suffolk, and ran some familiar routes there. The weather was good, and it was lovely to be by the sea with good friends for a few days.

The old lifeboat station in Aldeburgh

I have not done so much baking this year, or perhaps I just haven’t written about it as much! I’ve made some nice things and some not so nice (!). Highlights were the apple buns and the magic custard cakes!

My husband’s (the love of my life) 60th birthday cake – a truly scrumptious chocolate layer cake – the filling is like a chocolate mousse.

In May all the family managed a few days near Buxton in Derbyshire when the babies – my beautiful grandsons – met for the first time since being born on the same day in 2020!

They’re walking and talking now! (And they have hair.) Love them so much.

Today was the first day of a new year, so time to start as you mean to go on – a nice easy 6km run around one of my favourite parks – Pitshanger Park. It was so warm I went out in shorts and a t-shirt and was still too hot!

On my run today – a photo of one of my favourite oak trees, that lost a major branch in a storm a couple of years ago.

I haven’t yet decided on any ‘challenges’ for 2022… right now there’s enough going in my life without any more challenge thank you very much!

The medal haul from 2021 – plus that ridiculously massive one that hangs from a hook out in the garden!

I am hoping to write a bit more regularly – I’ve been sharpening the pencils and filling the inkwells in readiness.

Happy New Year to all my readers! Wishing you all good health and happiness. 😊

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7 Runs in 7 Days – Christmas Week!

At the beginning of December I was feeling quite unmotivated when it came to running – it’s hard to get out there on a dark, cold and sometimes wet morning/evening. So what better incentive than a virtual challenge set by the inimitable Phoenix Running. I have done this challenge before – you can read about it here – but it was in the summer, when it’s easier to feel that motivation to go out.

But there’s something about signing up and committing yourself to something that’s really highly motivating. Why should that be? Usually I am intrinsically motivated to go out for a run, knowing that I will always feel better for doing it. But sometimes I need a little nudge to keep me going in the right direction. Real in person runs/races are probably the best kind of extrinsic motivation, but it’s not always possible to find a convenient race to enter. So the next best thing is a virtual run or challenge. Here’s a link to an article about motivation that explains a bit more.

So in the week up to Christmas I ran every day (7 days) plus an extra run on Christmas Day itself just for good measure. All the following photos were taken during or at the end of the seven runs.

Winter tree silhouettes
Front door wreath
Early morning mist on the canal

The next photos were taken in Olde Hanwell of the Advent Windows. Local residents decorate their windows for each day of Advent. Last year was impressive and this year did not disappoint!

This is my friends Tim and Elaine – who have a very furry cat!

And then I ran a 5km on Christmas Day just because why not?!

And finally – in case you think it’s all running and no baking – there have been plenty of these Best Ever Mince Pies coming out of the oven!

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Look back – look forward – here comes 2021!

It’s come around again – the end of the year, and a time to reflect.

This time last year I was celebrating having achieved 12 half marathons (or the equivalent averaged out..) one per month. This year I am amazed that I have in fact done 2 actual real life, real time races! The first was in January, and I was hoping to do it again in 2021 to start the new year as I mean to go on, but it ain’t happening.

I have done quite a lot of running in 2020 even though I haven’t been able to take part in events with other runners as planned. I’m especially disappointed that two trail runs were cancelled, but hey, we all know why that was don’t we?

According to my Garmin stats I’ve run 1,171 km (727.6 miles). I think it’s a bit more than that as there were a few times when either I couldn’t locate my watch or it wasn’t charged! On Strava it’s 1,228 km but that includes a couple of bike rides. Whatever it is it’s quite a lot and I’m happy!

These 2 medals were the only ones for actual races. Both half marathons, one in January and one in August.
Two virtual runs. The first completed in January – 26.2 miles (42km) in January in aid of refugees. And another in June – running 50km in 7 days. That was tough.
Two more virtual runs, organised by the fabulous Phoenix Running. I did a half marathon on the day that would have been the London Marathon in April. And the other one was running every day for 7 days in July, which is not something I would usually do!
Three virtual runs with the truly wonderful Ealing Half marathon crew. I really loved all of these runs especially the parks one (Queen of the Suburbs) when I got to visit new places and wave at fellow participants!
And finally – a virtual Christmas Day run.

So what next for 2021? The two cancelled trail runs with Maverick have been postponed until spring, and we’ll see what happens. But next on the horizon – in fact starting tomorrow – is a whole month of Running Every Day (RED)!! Yes I decided that a week of running every day in the height of summer was not enough, and I must do it for 31 days straight. And for extra punishment 😉 I must do it in the coldest, darkest month. Hahaha, I hear you laughing!

I will be documenting this as an incentive to actually do it. I may not (almost certainly won’t) write a post every day but I will of course take lots of photos and let you know how it’s all going.

In the meantime – Happy New Year to all my lovely readers around the world. May 2021 bring us all peace and health. I shall continue to run and bake, and maybe occasionally post about some of the other things I like doing in my spare time.

Buttered popcorn cookies – and Sunday run day

WordPress is the blog platform I use, and while it’s only one of many of course, the variety of blogs on it is vast. Sometimes I like to browse around them, and occasionally I find one that seems interesting, and then I follow it! Just like many of my lovely readers have done with my little blog – thank you!

This recipe came from one such blog, GreatEightFriends. As the name suggests it’s a blog written by a group of friends who entertain amongst themselves and share their recipes. This recipe sounded so straightforward I thought I had to try it. I’ve never thought of popcorn as a cookie ingredient before, but it really works! You can find the recipe by clicking here.

I did make a little adjustment- as usual! I added about half a cup of chopped toasted pecans. I think it was definitely an enhancement, but I’m sure the cookies are also delicious without them.

When I added the four cups of popcorn to the cookie mixture, plus the chopped nuts, I did wonder whether I’d overdone it and the mixture would actually hold together. But a determined bit of spatula work and it did all stick together. Using a scoop (like an ice cream scoop) made it easy to get the cookies the same size, and also helped to keep them in a round shape.

Dough mixture – crammed with popcorn and nuts!

The salty sweet flavour traditionally associated with popcorn is really yummy, and the soft cookie with the crunchy texture of the popcorn and nuts is a fab combination. They look attractive too with the bits of popcorn poking through the tops.

Altogether a very easy recipe with great results.

As today is Sunday I went out for a longer run this morning as I usually do. My run today was a virtual 10k for the Osterley 10k (organised by Ealing Half marathon) which would normally have been yesterday at Osterley Park. Of course that was cancelled for 2020 which is sad, but we seem to be getting used to all that now. For me the Osterley 10k has been the real start to the Christmas season in the last few years. I’ve done the run with friends from Quit the Gym in the morning – and then rushed home to get changed for a Questors choir dress rehearsal for our Christmas concert in the evening. Both events cancelled for this year. Let’s hope that things are back closer to normal in 2021.

This year the virtual run is raising money for the Ealing Food Bank. More and more families and individuals in the UK are living with food insecurity, or food poverty. I am thankful that my family have enough to eat, and I don’t have to worry about whether I can afford the heating and the food bills. Especially at this time of year, when everyone is thinking about spending money on special food and gifts, it is very hard for those families on the brink. If you can maybe try and support your local food bank if you don’t already?

Virtual race report – (not) the Ealing Half Marathon!

The second September challenge organised by Ealing Half Marathon was a virtual half marathon. Usually the Ealing half marathon takes place on the last Sunday of September. But as that cannot happen this year the challenge was to run or walk the distance in the week running up to 28th September. The distance did not have to be completed in one go, but I decided that I would do it as one run. It is four weeks since the last time I ran this distance, and the conditions today were a far cry from that day!

I’m back in Suffolk this week, a week in Thorpeness postponed from summer. I love it here, I love the big skies and sea, the old fashioned feel of the houses and the peacefulness of the countryside. What better place to run the not-in-Ealing half marathon? And it was a wonderful run, even if the weather could have been kinder, and by the end I could hardly move my frozen soaked feet, and my hands were so cold I could hardly take off my shoes and socks!

This morning it was all about water. Rain, sea, puddles, river, lake, boating pond. Water, and wind. Yes the weather was a prominent feature of today’s running adventure.

It was all about the weather today.

I started out at about 7.30 before the worst of the forecasted rain and wind. The relatively light rain became heavier quite quickly however, and then it was just non stop heavy rain with accompanying wind whenever I was out in the open. After a while my fingers were so cold and wet I could no longer operate my phone, and so photos were nigh on impossible. And anyway it would be yet another picture of endless East Anglian grey skies and rain.

My run started from the Airbnb house where we are staying and I headed towards Aldeburgh. Just before the town on the shingle beach is Maggi Hambling’s (controversial) sculpture of a scallop shell called A conversation with the sea, dedicated to Benjamin Britten. The words are from his opera Peter Grimes:

I hear those voices that will not be drowned.

It’s an interesting sentence to reflect upon.

Personally I love this sculpture, and find it hard to believe that some people still want it removed…

In Aldeburgh there’s a boating pond where, in good weather, lots of children (and a few adults) love to spend a happy hour sailing toy boats looked over by the faithful dog Snooks.

Snooks – kitted out for Covid-19 🙁

I headed through town in back streets to avoid the wind, and then got blasted at the estuary, with its wide open space. Past the allotments, now looking very autumnal, with dahlias and chrysanthemums, sodden in the rain but still bright and cheerful.

The river Alde estuary. Bleak today.

Next was the railway path. The railway was dismantled in the 1960’s. During ‘lockdown’ I came across a beautiful soundscape of the railway path by sound recordist Chris Watson which you can listen to by clicking here. Put your headphones on, shut your eyes and relax. It really is wonderful.

I’ve run along this path so many times! I think this has to be the wettest though. I wasn’t even half way through yet… 😂

I did a loop off the railway path that took me round the marshy area and through the woods. Seriously wet now and long past trying to avoid any puddles, my feet were completely soaked. In fact everything was soaked. I cheered myself up by thinking that at least it wasn’t hail. (When training for the London marathon in 2016 my longest training run ended with rain that turned to hail about a mile and half from home. Never forgotten.)

I was then back in Thorpeness, but still had about 7 km to go before the distance was complete, so I headed for the coast path. An obstacle lay in the way – flood alert! It really was beginning to feel like Britten’s Noye’s Fludde!

I did manage to find a relatively dry way round this the first time round, but when I came across it a second time just metres from the ‘finish line’ I couldn’t be bothered and just sploshed through ankle deep in icy water.

On I went along the coast path, past the place where the sandy cliff has recently collapsed onto the beach, and then down onto the beach itself running towards Sizewell. Everywhere seemed deserted. Sensible people staying indoors.

Finally, after another little lap of Thorpeness to complete the 21 km, I got back 2 hours 15 minutes later – drenched. To be honest I did not feel good at that point! Pleased, but not exactly happy! However after a warm shower, bacon and egg sandwich and a cup of coffee I felt a great deal better!

Not exactly smiling am I?!

Thank you Sandra and Christine at Ealing Half Marathon for organising two fab events. I have loved these September challenges. Even though it was a completely different experience from previous Ealing half marathons I still got that #ealingfeeling here in rainy Suffolk!

Running tales from Ealing – Queen of the Suburbs Challenge

September is usually the month of the Ealing Half Marathon, which takes place on the last Sunday of the month. But of course sadly this year it won’t be happening. At least not in its traditional form.

Starting and finishing in Lammas Park: 2017 Ealing Half Marathon – oh happy days!

However the lovely people who organise the Ealing half marathon have turned their hand to organising a couple of virtual events this month. First: the Queen of the Suburbs Challenge. For this challenge you have to run or walk in or to 13 of the many parks in the borough of Ealing. They have picked parks right across the whole borough from Northolt, to Southall, to Ealing to Acton. One of the best things about living in Ealing are the parks. I love the fact that from my house I can access so many different open spaces within 1km. I have already been to many, but this challenge has introduced me to some that I have never visited, and some that I didn’t even know existed.

It’s a a challenge that’s flexible – as long as you complete it within the month of September. So some people have done all the parks in one go – a run of approximately 20 miles (32km). Others are walking them with their families. My plan evolved – I decided I was definitely not going to attempt all parks in one go. I started with two that were nearby, and then another couple, and then decided that I would try and do them all on consecutive days…

But how do the organisers know that you actually did do the runs? For this challenge we had to upload our Strava data for each run to show that we had been to each place, and on which date. (Strava is an activity tracker with GPS for those that are puzzled.) Another aspect was taking selfies at each park and sharing them on social media. One of the things that I think most people really miss about doing ‘proper’ organised runs is that sense of community, and lots of people being together for a focussed activity. Sharing stories on social media has really helped bring back a little of that feeling. I don’t like taking selfies at the best of times, and I don’t think many people look their best when out running, but hey – I’ll do my bit!

Trees in Montpelier Park. It’s not a large park, but it’s very pretty.

Day One – Thursday

I ran before work to Montpelier Park and Pitshanger Park. It was a beautiful early autumn morning, cool and bright. I’ve been to Pitshanger Park countless times but although I’ve run past Montpelier I’ve never actually been in it. There are many mature trees making it shady and pretty. Pitshanger was lovely as usual, beginning to look quite autumnal.

The first park I visited.

Day Two – Friday

On Friday I ran after work, through the Bunny Park, which is officially called Churchfields Recreation Ground, to Southall Park. I have walked in Southall Park lots of times as it is quite near one of the places I work from sometimes, and is a good place for a lunchtime stroll. However I have never run there before, and my route took me through a new place that I had never heard of – Dormers Wells Moated Manor.

Dormers Wells Moated Manor – not officially on the list, but I would never have known about it if not for the challenge.

Dormers Wells Moated Manor is now a fairly wild space given over to nature. Five hundred years ago there was a manor house complete with moat, and a well was recorded as early as the 13th century.

Day Three – Saturday

On Saturday afternoon I drove over to Acton for the two parks over in the east of the borough. I felt a bit bad driving over there, but I calculated that running there and back would be over nine miles, and to be honest that sounded like a bit too much! North Acton playing fields were new to me, and so I ran right round them. It’s basically what it says on the tin – playing fields. There are some tennis courts, five-a-side football pitches, a large open air gym, and a big children’s playground at the southern end. And then the rest of the space is playing fields. A lovely wide open space in a built up area close to a major road, with some old oak trees and a wildflower meadow space along one edge.

One of the wildflower areas in North Acton playing fields.

Acton Park is more familiar because it’s another space for lunchtime walks when I’m working in Acton. Acton was opened as a public park in 1888, which must make it one of the oldest in Ealing. It has lots of trees, and a very classy mini golf place, which was packed on Saturday. I keep meaning to book to go there – it looks like a lot of fun!

You can see from the map on the sign that Acton Park is quite big. It is a lovely space for a walk. Or a run!

On the way back everyone had to stop at the level crossing to wait for the train to go by. I have been wearing my Ealing Half 2020 t-shirt for all the runs so it’s pretty clear I’m doing the challenge, and next to me was another runner also doing the same thing! We had a chat about which parks we had done already. And just before I got back to the car I managed to persuade a very drunk person lying on the ground to at least get his legs out of the road and onto the pavement – it’s a very different experience going for a run on Saturday afternoon compared to early in the morning!

Day Four – Sunday

Originally this was going to be a classic Sunday long run (15km) taking in four parks on the west and north of the borough. However, by Saturday evening I seemed to have developed a bit of a left glute strain and was almost limping. Yikes! I think this may have been precipitated by some over enthusiastic ‘donkey kicks’ at my outdoor gym class in the morning, and then running in the afternoon. So I decided to slightly change the plan.

The plan still included four parks, but I drove to each one, and ran at least 2km in each. This meant that I covered just under 10km altogether but had a a short break between each section. In fact it was better, because I actually had an opportunity to do proper circuits of the parks, instead of just arriving and leaving.

First was Spikes Bridge Park, which I have never been to before, although I now realise that I have passed it a few times on my runs down the canal. It was very busy considering it was only just past 8 on a Sunday morning. Lots of people walking and running, and a group of young people getting ready for a cricket match. As I was leaving children started arriving for another sporting activity- football maybe? There used to be a running track here, which has been converted to a path, with 5 a side football pitches in the middle. It felt like a friendly park, people smiled and said hello as they went by.

Lovely countryside views at Spikes Bridge Park.

Next was Northala Fields, which I’ve written about before here. It was also very busy, people walking, running, doing a very jolly outdoor exercise class, boxing practice on the top of one of the hills, fishing, cycling. I saw another runner in an Ealing Half 2020 top in front of me, but I couldn’t catch up with him to say Hi! Looking on Instagram later I think there were quite a lot of us out running in the parks on Sunday!

View from the top!
I love that spiral pattern!

The third park was Islip Manor Park, which I’ve never been to before. It’s quite small, only just over 1km all round, but that meant I could do a couple of circuits and have a proper look around. There are mature trees, including a yew walk. Islip Manor has its origins in the 14th century, but the grounds as they are now were laid out in the 19th century, and were opened as public gardens in 1929. As I went round on my second circuit I spotted someone taking a selfie at the park sign – none other than Sandra from Ealing Half Marathon herself! She was doing the rounds on her bike, and said she had already seen lots of people out and about doing the Challenge!

There are still signs of a more formal garden/ park at Islip Manor Park. This group of trees are quite striking.

Finally I went to Ravenor Park in Greenford. I used to live in Greenford, and go to this park fairly regularly. If I’m being totally honest I find it quite a boring park. There is a meadowy bit which is nice in the summer, and a large multi use games area, where people were playing basketball. In the spring there are very pretty displays of flowers. But overall it’s quite uninteresting really. (Sorry to those who love it!)

Maybe if I run more round Ravenor Park I’ll get more inspired by it!

Day Five – Monday

Well, if the challenge began with a cool autumn feel it ended feeling like high summer! For the last run the temperature went up to 29 degrees C. It was so hot! I’m not a fan of running in warm temperatures – give me a cool, crisp morning any time, but once I started thinking that I would do it on consecutive days I felt I just had to get out and run the last three parks.

First was Walpole Park. As it was such a beautiful afternoon the park was busy, and most people were obeying the new Rule of Six, although I did see one group of about twelve…I have written before about the park here, so I won’t go into details in this post.

This photo was taken on 1st April 2019 in Walpole Park.

Next was Lammas Park. This park is the centre of the Ealing Half Marathon. The starting pen forms down the avenue of horse chestnut trees. And the finish line comes after a loop of the west side of the park. It’s not particularly hilly, but after 13 miles the last gentle slope feels like a mountain!

Two years ago in Lammas Park – sub 2 hour half marathon! I don’t think that’s going to be repeated any time soon!

The next and final park was a Blondin Park, which I have written about here. I really like this park, it’s a shame it’s not nearer to where I live. Especially on such a hot day, when I had to run another 4km home. In the end I walked/slowly jogged back, and by the time I got home I was as red as a tomato!

The Final Park! Done!

Total distance covered = 38.4 km/ 23.8 miles. In five days. I’m very happy with that!

This challenge has been a lot of fun. I have really enjoyed having a reason to explore some new places, and re-visit some others that I haven’t been to for a while. I could have spread it out over more days, or not done so much each time, but I am very happy that I’ve finished it now! I can have a bit of rest before part two – running 13.1 miles in the last week of September.

Thank you Ealing Half Marathon for organising such a brilliant challenge – I loved it!

Summer solstice challenge: 50k in a week! Day One

With no races on the calendar due to COVID 19, I have been looking at virtual running events. Virtual events have to be a bit special to make it worth it, otherwise you might as well just call it a long run that you’ve paid for. And that doesn’t really make sense. I was originally going to do two trail runs with Maverick this year, but they have been postponed to next year now. So when I saw this virtual one that they are organising I thought it looked a bit different. A challenge but doable (hopefully).

The challenge is running 50km in 7 days between 20 -27 June, any combination of runs you like. So some people have already done the full 50km! Others have just done a few. I have decided to do five 10k runs through the week, with 2 rest days. The total is about twice what I would normally run in a week. The standard advice is to increase weekly mileage by about 10%. Whoops!

Summer solstice – perfect June day

Day One

I don’t usually go for a run on Saturdays. I do a circuit type class in the morning with Quit the Gym. The last few weeks we’ve been doing it on Zoom from our living rooms. But last week we were back outside! Yay! So much more fun. So this morning I did half an hour of pretty tough circuits in Lammas Park (Ealing). Then I decided to get cracking on the 50k challenge. So after a suitable interval post breakfast off I went for the first 10k.

Wildflowers in Pitshanger park

I am not used to running in the middle of the day, and it was pretty hot! And busy too. In fact it’s lovely to see so many people out enjoying the parks, lots of families out on their bikes, friends playing tennis and golf.

I did my go-to 10k that I don’t have to think about – I call it the 3 parks route as it takes me through Pitshanger Park, Perivale Park and the Bunny Park.

The stars of the show today are the linden trees (or lime trees as they are commonly known) especially those in Pitshanger Park. Every year I look forward to running beneath these pretty trees, and breathing in the beautiful scent as I go. The great thing about running a familiar route is that you get to know the plants and trees along it. Through the year I can anticipate what’s to come, and these trees are a highlight.

Linden trees in blossom – Pitshanger Park

Last year I collected the flowers and dried them. They make a lovely tea. Apparently they are traditionally used to treat coughs and colds, migraines and nervous palpitations. But of course there’s little evidence.

Anyway I am pleased I have got started on this challenge, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow and the second 10k. Check back for an update!