Sunday, 20 November 2011

Wimpole Estate in Winter

With a free Sunday on our hands, and a desire to get out and about, we did the job properly and headed up the M11 to the Wimpole Estate. A National Trust property we were principally attracted by the chance to run around and visit the fully-working Home Farm - but it helped that the estate was also running a Christmas Fayre! However when we turned up it was to find out that the entrance fee was an arm and a leg which seems a bit rich just to go into a glorified shop. So we performed an about-face and headed off through the extensive gardens to the animal farm.

Always a popular option with Joshua and Christina the pair of them were soon up to their arms in cuddly chicks and little piggies. I don't know whether it's the illusion of control or a simple human reaction to cuteness but they weren't the only kids bouncing from one animal stall to another. This, however, was but a precursor to the scrum that developed when they brought the donkeys out for their daily cleaning! Fortunately Joshua and Christina were in the front-line and quickly set about their allotted portion of the unfortunate beast:

Don't be a horse's ass!
After this excitement we toured around the sheep and goat pens, swung a little in the adventure playground and then ended up in the cafe. How did this happen I wonder? Fortunately the farm owners are very sensible as they provide a well-stocked play-area right outside and so Mum & Dad get to relax over a piece of cake while the little ones swarm over the toy tractors. Then when the attraction of this pales (which takes a long time I have to say) there a numerous 200-year old barns full of man-traps and mysterious farm equipment to explore:

Right at home
Sadly by now it was getting dark, the farm was about to close and they were bringing the animals in from the fields. Luckily by being a bit slack and hanging around we got to see the magnificent shire-horses come clomping through the yard (and their feet really do clomp); then we got chatting to a guy called Mark Field (appropriately enough) and he told us all about the horned and horny cattle he looks after. Put it this way the bull named Juggernaut is "all bull" and make no mistake! What was also great was that Mark was keen to show off his new £70,000 tractor and we were happy to let him!

I want to be a farmer!
The farm had long since closed but Mark was up for a chat and didn't mind the kids (or me) clambering all over his mighty vehicle. Just as well really because there wasn't much that could have stopped us:

Mine. All mine.
Eventually, of course, we had to say our farewells to Mark but what a great day! On the way out we did try to talk our way into the Fayre (given that it too would close in 30 minutes) but to no avail. Oh well - you can't win them all. Either way we enjoyed a fine day out on the Wimpole Estate and I think that we'll be returning next March for the lambing season. Who doesn't enjoy bottle-feeding a little woolly lamb even if it is being bred to become a good companion to mint sauce?

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Christina's Fifth Birthday Party

The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted that Christina's birthday was actually a month ago and so we're a bit tardy with her birthday party! Well that's very true but in our defence Christina had barely started school a month ago and so we thought that it'd be nice to let her settle in and find out who here friends were - not that that particularly influenced who we put on the birthday list. As we used to do with Joshua we just invited the whole class to join us in Clown Town and let the guest-list be somewhat organic and self-selecting. It's a policy that has worked well in the past and it didn't fail us today either!

Just under twenty of her class-mates turned-up accompanied by parents (many of whom then disappeared to go shopping in Tesco) and laden with both presents and expectation. This suited us just fine as the kids all got to rush off and disappear within the extensive play-frame while we chatted and sorted out lunch for what were sure to be hungry children. They didn't disappoint us when the time came to file into the party booth and pretend like they were still at school:

And how well-behaved they all were - even the two hulking eight-year old's at the end who got to act a little like bouncers! Only the sunglasses were absent. What wasn't absent, of course, was the delightful cake - a Hello Kitty creation courtesy of our good friend Emma. Christina's face absolutely lit up when she clapped eyes on it and this wasn't just the effect of the candles:

I am this old - right?
All in all then a great two hours or so was had by all - long enough to have lots of birthday fun but not so long that anyone got over-tired and emotional (and that's just the parents). Even better we didn't have to do any washing up. What a bargain!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Osterley Park

Now that we've renewed our membership of the National Trust it's a whole lot of fun to go out to one of their parks and let the kids run wild. Somewhere that we've visited a couple of times before is Osterley Park and the reason behind this is very simple; it's not too far away and there are 357 acres of parkland to explore! So we nipped over after lunch with the idea of playing in the autumnal leaves a bit and perhaps having a bite to eat in the cafe (always a priority for the Cannon family). On the first point then I can report total success:

Anyone else for leaf angels?
Of course this innocent fun quickly generated into a spate of leaf-throwing and general running about but what can you do? It was all good, clean (mostly) fun and it seemed that there was always another tree to climb or dog to pet for Joshua and Christina. Hence we slowly made our way round the park and enjoyed the crisp winter weather; lovely in the sun but just a little chilly in the shade. We were far from alone though and along the way the children convinced another daddy to give them some stale bread for feeding the ducks, then they commandeered a ball-thrower so that they could play at making the dog swim in the lake and finally they ended up getting a bit scared by a couple of very large hounds messing about in the woods. Exciting stuff.

Happy to be out and about
I have to admit though that I had half a mind turned towards the cafe and shop in the stables; having spotted some unusual blackcurrant curd I didn't want to miss the opportunity to obtain a jar or two. Who can say when I'll see its like again? Fortunately we were in luck and we didn't even have to hurry; there was plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere and feel genuinely relaxed. The only thing that we didn't do was take a tour of the house and to be honest that's a mixed pleasure when you have little ones in tow; too much risk of breaking something irreplaceable!

Sunday and still sore

After yesterday's efforts I wasn't convinced that I wanted to repeat the experience but having mentioned to Mike that I'd be attending I felt a certain obligation; besides the rest of the family were going to be out at Joshua's church parade with the Cubs and that left me at a loose end. So I rocked up intending to pull my weight only to find myself standing on the pavement with Daniel and Darren - and no Mike! After a few minutes of hanging about we decided that we'd better sort ourselves out with a nice easy run; 10 or 11K perhaps. With no clear plan then we cut across the Heath and by chance ended up at the bottom of Swains Lane. Who'd have thought it? Still by the top we all felt properly warmed up!

Daniel's favourite landmark - the top of the climb!
From hereon it was a case of not straying too far from Highgate as we none of us wanted to turn this into some epic run but on the other hand we didn't want to come up short either. The curious side-effect of this dilly-dallying was that we ended up scaling all sorts of hills and really having quite a fun time of it; well I enjoyed myself anyway despite the mechanical limitations of my aching back. So we inched back up to the top of Highgate and then we wiggled our way across the Heath; where I failed to make a convincing case for taking East Heath Road. In the end then we retraced our steps back to the start and what do you know - we had to go uphill!

Distance: 7.3 miles
Time: 1h 04m 51s

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Friday night, Saturday morning

This has just got to the year of the injury or something very similar. This time though I wasn't even doing anything energetic or somehow out of the ordinary. Oh no. All I had was a bit of a sore back that needed stretching out and what could be more simple? So there I was lying on the floor in a nice stretching pose when, without warning, a bolt of pain blossomed from my lower back and all that I could think was: how the hell can I stop this pain? It was so bad that I could barely get off of the floor and even that took a lot of rolling over and some leveraging from a nearby bed. Not pretty.

Come on in - the water's lovely!
So this morning I wasn't over keen on going out running but on the other hand I felt rather compelled as, yet again, I haven't managed a single run in the week. This is beginning to get ridiculous. Anyway I thought that I'd better make the effort, given the blue sky outside, and so I took myself down to the Heath and managed to arrive in time for the off.

Bring on the mustache!
Happily we stuck to familiar North London streets by heading down to Hampstead Garden Suburb and around the back streets of North Finchley. Nothing too strenuous and with plenty of opportunity for conversation and general catching up; very much a classic Saturday route that caters for the broader group and ensures that no one gets left behind (except by choice). In terms of fitness I felt okay but it was pretty obvious that my style was compromised by my sore back; so I hung back and tried not to get caught up in the end-of-run sprint to the finish. No point taking chances!

Distance: 7.1 miles
Time: 1h 04m 21s

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Regents Park 10K - November (slight return)

It was a bit chilly this morning that's for sure; a real shock to the system when I stepped out to the car. By the time I reached Regents Park and headed out to warm-up I was feeling stiff, slow and demotivated. So it's not surprising that I didn't even notice that we were about to start so busy was I with chatting to Anthony; it could have been the London Marathon it took me so long to cross the start line! Not that it mattered as I felt like I was running backwards with so many people streaming past me. So I resigned myself to yet another uninspiring slog around Regents Park with very little to show for my training.

And so it went for the first lap, all 3 kilometres of it. Then, as we headed towards the drinks station, something seemed to click within me. Last week I'd been reading about this new running fad, the 100-Up technique, and I'd managed to track down a video of what it involved. It isn't rocket science, especially if you've looked into barefoot running and the pose technique, but it makes some sense as a drill and I like the fundamentals behind it. So I'd been thinking about my running form and how I'd like to try and maintain good form throughout this 10K whatever my pace. For the first lap nothing, not a flicker, but then I somehow seemed to change gear and suddenly I was running light on my feet, and quickly, for no extra effort.

At last a pace graph to be proud of!
This was great! Up ahead I could see Anthony and then in no time I'd caught and passed him; in fact throughout the rest of the second lap I just kept powering through the pack and running more smoothly than I've manged in a long time. It felt great! Coming into the third lap I still felt good, although there were fewer runners to chase, when a woman came past me quite strongly. More of a magnet than a challenge I managed to keep in touch with her as we reeled in yet more competitors. Then when she faltered at about 8K I put in a strong effort and suddenly I was alone - until about the 9K mark. Right then I noticed a heavy, laboured breathing that was pulling itself closer.

Waiting until about the 800m to go mark, where my pursuer seemed ready to make the kill, I kicked once again and surged hard. For a little while it seemed like I'd left it too late and that I was going to get taken; I didn't have anything else to give (if the pain in my legs, gut and arms was to be believed). But then I realised that he'd fallen out of earshot and maybe out of contention; although with the finish line in sight I couldn't afford to relax. So a sprint finish it was with me sprinting against a shadow, a phantom of unknown and unknowable powers. Only when I crossed the line did I chance to look round and there he was just a few seconds back; as was the lady who'd helped me - a nice symmetry being that I helped her to a PB!

In retrospect then a very solid race - although I had to work hard and my legs are feeling the effort that I made to maintain good form - and there's no doubt that thinking about landing lightly and stepping over logs as I ran made a significant difference. The results aren't out yet but with a time of around 40:39 I'm very content with my improvement over last month; long may this trend continue!

Distance: 10.0 miles
Time: 1h 14m 23s

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Mostly a pre-race warm-up

I have to admit that there's been a bit of a break in service lately; on the running front at least. Last weekend we were down in Kent and I planned to get out on at least one of the days, if not both, but that never happened. Then this week I was all set to get out on a couple of days but every time I looked at my running shoes some work took a-hold of me and the next time that I checked the clock it was too late to go; so another lunchtime wasted (from a fitness perspective anyhow). So it's been ten days since I last stepped out in anger and while I've managed to keep the jitters away with some decent cross-training I was looking forward to going out with the Running School this morning for sure.

From Jack Straws then a decent group of us (including Adam; back from illness) set off south into the back-streets of Hampstead (all very gentile) and down Rosslyn Hill towards Chalk Farm (a little less refined). With much banter we edged around Primrose Hill and into Regents Park; generally speaking we tend to circle the park and head back at this point but then someone came up with the bright idea of heading to Regent Street and the cars of the London to Brighton car rally. Sounds like a fine idea doesn't it except the event doesn't kick off until tomorrow and there were no veteran vehicles in sight!

It would have been cool to see something like this!
Suitably disappointed at taking such a diversion for no benefit we turned tail and headed directly back to Regents Park - away from the pollution and the crowded pavements. It was rather nice to return to our urban lung especially as we headed around the boating lake (though it's more full of geese than it is boats). All was fine then as we inevitably zeroed in on Fitzjohn's Avenue and its lengthy ascent - although I did have a bit of a stitch from my early breakfast and a forlorn hope that the pace might not be too aggressive.

Of course the secret when you're feeling like this is to immediately go to the front and determine a pace that suits; although when I arrived there I found that I just wanted to keep going and so I edged past Darren, Daniel, Mike and Craig and did exactly that. The nice part of this is that I could dose my effort and concentrate on my form; which went very well until Darren appeared on my shoulder with about 200m to go and made a bid for glory. I couldn't let his challenge go unanswered of course but I had to really up my game with a full-on sprint to ensure that the pecking-order remained intact. How exciting an ending!

Distance: 8.5 miles
Time: 1h 25m 00s