Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Memorial Day vs Veterans Day

Memorial Day sunset            
Anna asked me this weekend what the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day was. Good question I thought. A three day weekend? Barbecues? The United States is hardly dripping with public holidays, so it is a little peculiar that of the ten holidays or less observed by the working drone American, two are so similar.

Apparently Memorial Day is to observe those who died in service to their country, and Veterans Day honours all military personnel, alive or dead, active or well, passive? de-active? They both seem like good reasons for some time off and a bit of reflection if you ask me, so I hope the current administration doesn't see fit to bundle them like they did with Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays.

Lucy reflecting on our fallen heroes and Pirates Booty.
Mostly Pirates Booty.
Pirates Booty is a puffed corn snack by the way, not an actual Pirate's bottom.

Once again, it is hard to be on this side of the pond, trying to revel in a three day holiday when the UK is whooping it up with yet another Jubilee hard on the heels of a bank holiday Monday. And they call Britain the workhorse of Europe.


So what did you fill your time with this Memorial Day? Chez K we cleaned and scoured, painted and purged. We almost completed a long overdue spring clean. I have a balcony stuffed to the brim with garage sale items. I bleached and buffed the kitchen cabinets. I really, really wanted my car to get the same treatment but sadly our trusty car detailer has been deported. No bueno. I called around and got various quotes, inside only for $100 +. That coupled with the fact that I am literally too ashamed to take my goldfish and chocolate milk encrusted car to a garage meant that I spent a good chunk of my weekend cleaning my car with a toothbrush. It was like an archeological dig. Layers of matter, weeks of art projects, glitter, McDonalds happy meal toys, odd socks, half-eaten lunches, stickers, lollipop sticks. Bleurgh. I got it as clean as possible and now feel like banning the girls from stepping inside. Certainly no food. Art projects are questionable.

Despite all this Martha Stewarting - we had a brilliant Memorial Day weekend in the end. LK had a whopping two days off in a row - the weather was amazing, no May Grey in sight, and we were delighted to take our friends up on outdoor barbecues with live music, trips to the beach, and an afternoon at the pool.

It's not such a hard life out here after all is it?

Nasturtiums growing wild on the path down to the beach. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Lucy and Anna roughing it under canvas at our yearly camping trip. I say 'our' yearly trip, but this was the first time I'd bitten the bullet and decided to stay the night. Usually I hang out at the river for the afternoon then beat a hasty retreat as the sun begins to fade, back to the comfort of my own bed and exclusive use of the remote control.

I don't really know why this year was different. LK managed to score a ridiculously cheap tent at Costco, we had an inflatable mattress, and as you can see from the image above - a Pottery Barn duvet cover hardly screams pioneer woman does it?

Camping divas with a serious case of mattress-head

I was actually quite excited about sleeping under the stars. For one night and one night only. The real novelty of living in California is being able to sleep with nothing but mesh between you and the night sky. Not quite the sluicing down rain in a muddy cow-pat strewn field that I remember from camping with the Girl Guides.

LK told me it'd be the best nights sleep of my life, and I have to admit, as the girls and I snuggled down, cosy in our bed, and I watched their breathing slow and eyes close, I was having a great time.

It's amazing how noisy the wilderness can be though. Crickets and ciccadas chirped and whirred. Things rustled. Girls farted. Plus there was this queer periodic booming sound which might have been a Californian bittern, a truly giant frog, or most likely some dodgy missile testing from the Air Force Base up the road.

Then the temperature dropped. The sky exploded with stars. There seemed to be more stars than night sky. I buried myself in Lucy's monkey pyjamas trying to extract some heat as she slept blissfully. I resorted to stealing Anna's woolly hat that I'd made for our recent trip to England. Then I pulled on a goose-down gilet.

Anna sporting her handmade hat - before I stretched it over my giant melon.
The air mattress began to sag, every movement created a ripple effect like the cheesiest of 70s water beds. Somewhere across the campsite another child cried out for it's Mum. The river gurgled endlessly down the hill and I tried not to think about needing the loo.

LK finally climbed in the tent, sending shockwaves through the deflating air mattress. It got colder. Lucy kicked off her blankets as she does every night, except now they were mine too and I was freezing. I pulled them up to my face, my beanie down to my nose. The cold air night air kissing my face, babies sleeping next to me. It was - finally - a good night's sleep.

Monday, May 21, 2012

I'm Only Half Crazy

About a fortnight before the race my left knee started to hurt. It never felt right after I ran twelve miles in training, and it started to hurt on hills. Then it started to niggle when I would walk up and down the stairs, which given two children and their propensity to leave the house without; their lunch, their jacket, their knickers etc meant a lot of stair climbing. Dr. Google diagnosed me with runners knee, so for the last ten days before my race I ran only five miles on perfectly flat ground, and the rest of the time I tried to ice and elevate as much as possible. This was sadly not much. For a start the girls are obsessed with their trampoline and like a muppet I'd been joining them on it, and then the day before the race I volunteered like the *keen* mother I am to help with a school field trip to the beach. Four hours of chasing small children around in the soft sand dunes had my knee begging to go back on the trampoline.

Plus, I was hardly over-prepared for the race to begin with. I'd only run further than ten miles on two occasions in my life, so to spend the last two weeks trying to do as little as possible was really disconcerting. I could feel all my hard-earned fitness seeping in to the couch. LK was really supportive 'you're tapering' he would say, and 'what's the worst that could happen? You walk for thirteen miles and hit every water and bathroom stop along the way - that way you get your money's worth, right?'

Except I didn't want to walk any of it, I wanted to keep chugging along for thirteen miles, I wanted to feel like I ran the race. I really wanted to justify all the time and energy and jelly babies of the last six months.

The night before I was a bit of a mess  a lunatic. I panicked that we'd run out of pasta (who runs out of pasta?!) and I couldn't carbo load. LK said "I think you may be over-thinking things". Convinced my knee was going to buckle within the first five minutes, I lay awake at 11:30pm aware of my alarm set for 4:30am. I could feel a migraine coming on from lack of sleep, pretty chuffing ironic considering the reason I'd started running in the first place was to help my migraines. I kept telling myself it was good to get out of my comfort zone. You know you're getting old when you keep doing the same old stuff just to be on the safe side. Whatever happened, I was going to push myself and make some memories. Then I would think of the 7am race start, my stomach would clench and I would be back at square one.

Well, I'm a complete nutter. There, I said it. It was so much fun.

Here's my posse at the start line:

It was freeeezing cold. 6:45am with a heavy drizzle marine layer, I'm surprised Anna managed to crack a smile for this picture. The queues for the loos were pretty intimidating as well but the adrenalin was definitely flowing and people were so friendly and approachable, not the pack of uber-athletes I had supposed them to be. I think the race was over 70% female which was quite surprising, but then 99.9% of females in Santa Barbara do wear black lycra yoga pants and look like they're just off for a quick power-marathon so perhaps that explains it. 

My brother had warned me about the porta potty queues.....

I ran a lot of the race with my friend Chilly, who is definitely one of the people who inspired me to sign up in the first place. Not that we were chatting away mind you, when that race gun started I plugged in my headphones and it was Lady Gaga and Rhianna all the way, with a little 'Mull of Kintyre' because my iphone likes to keep it real.

Someone told me before I embarked on this insanity life goal, that it's the first 2-3 miles that are the hardest in running. Well I thought, that would explain it then, as that's all I'd managed to run before and I was about as far from a runner's high as I was from crossing the finish line of a half marathon. It is true though. The first 2-3 miles can be really hard, as that's when you're finding your rhythm, both pace-wise and breathing-wise. I always had trouble with the latter, but the more you train, the more your body accepts the torture you're putting it through, and you're much less likely to gasp for air like a dying cod.

The first 2-3 miles of this race were amazing, but we were running in a vast crowd of over 2500 people. The atmosphere was electric, and there was no time to think about having to run another 10 miles. Then, just as with a transatlantic flight, reality sets in when you've already done 5 and you have a further 8 to go. Plus we were running past signs advertising lavender farms, wine tasting and pick your own fruit - all the wonderful Sunset magazine-esque things that the Santa Ynez valley is famous for, and I started to wonder why I was slogging away behind a sweaty 'I'm doing it for Cherie' bloke instead of sampling the local Viognier. Just as that happened though, two of our good friends appeared like a mirage out of the early morning fog, and their cries of "you guys are awesome" and "why are you stopping!" and "really, don't stop!" were truly uplifting. Actually, at that point it was so awesome to slow down for a high-five and a brief natter, that after five minutes (actually 15.2 seconds) I was ready to keep going. Thanks Jen and Mooks!

The rest of the race was a bit of blur; rows of grapevines, people dotted along the course screaming encouragement, a random woman in purple who would break in to a run whenever I caught up with her - and then all of a sudden (not really) I only had one mile to go and I knew I was going to make it. My legs were doing a weird cartilage-less Inspector Gadget impression but my knee was holding up, and then I spent a ridiculous ten minutes being able to hear the finish line without being able to see it (we must have been turning corners every half block at that point).

I grabbed my two girls (Lucy initially reluctant) and we jogged sedately over the line where I collected my medal. Which became Lucy's medal five seconds later. She's a bit like that my youngest child.

The big question is - what next? Well, after a week off and lots of cake that is.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Half Time

I did it! My first half marathon. Two hours twenty-one minutes. 99% running, 1% waiting to go to the bathroom. 10lbs lost over six months and nearly 200 miles of training runs. It has been an amazing, exhilarating and crazy journey. 

 The icing on the cake was feeling good and being able to enjoy the whole race, having friends cheering from the sidelines, and then running across the finish line with Anna and Lucy. What a perfect way to spend Mothers Day weekend.

I'll write more when I crash-land from this cloud of endorphins.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Don't Wear A Wonder Bra To Sports Day

Anna's School Triathlon

This was the setting for Anna's school sports day on Friday. Not a bad backdrop I think you'll agree. I didn't get to participate last year, but as her school is a 'progressive' school, being an 'involved' parent is encouraged, so I was there in my standard Mum black capri yoga trousers at 8:30am looking both helpful and sporty.

That proved to be my downfall.

The first event was the run. The little kids would start first, followed by the 'big ones'. Anna's teacher was explaining the route as I sipped my travel mug o' coffee. I heard "Alison, could you do that?" and realized I shouldn't have been making a mental grocery list, I should really have been paying attention.

Turns out they needed a front marker, to stop the little darlings hurtling like lemmings off the cliff or in to traffic. I looked around me at the gaggle of under 7's, and feeling dizzy with the confidence that I'm running a half marathon in a week, I said "sure!" because at least it got me out of bathroom duty.

In hindsight, I think Anna's teacher might actually hate me.

Something I hadn't realized as the mother of two girls. Young boys are fast runners. The route was up the cliff in the photo you see above, and then for a further mile uphill until the turnaround point. As the gun went off I started jogging up the bike path surrounded by a herd of tiny boys all desperate to out-sprint each other. I kicked the pace up a notch and they stayed right with me. I looked like I was being pursued by a swarm of angry black bees. As we neared the top of the cliff I was rather hoping they'd start to slow. 'The thing with inexperienced runners' I thought to myself sagely, 'is they don't know how to pace themselves'.

In actual fact, the thing with 7 year old boys is, they don't need to pace themselves. They are bottomless pits of energy. We raced around that course like our lives depended on it. The only time we slowed was when I pretended I didn't know which path to take - but it was for the time it takes a hummingbird's wings to flap once, and then we were off again, hurtling towards the finish. I must have clocked two four minute miles.

I was gracious enough to let the leader pass me at the finish, so he could truly claim his glory, and then when the other bees in my swarm buzzed past the finish I gave them a hearty eyebrow raise, as that was all I could muster after my two mile sprint.

All I could think of was that if I'd been foolish enough to agree to the same thing last year I would very probably have died, surrounded by a gaggle of 5-7 year olds all wondering where they hell they went next.

I'm actually quite proud of myself for tearing around the course and not being bested by Skyler or Jayden or Indigo. Of course my left knee now has a worrying achy click, and I will never turn up to sports day again wearing a push-up bra, but hey, it's a small price to pay, right?

Anna crossing the finish at a much more sedate pace.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Tips From A First Time Runner

Orchard to Ocean 10k - March 2012

 It's the beginning of the month, a chance to start something new, so here's a little inspiration for any would-be runners out there (thanks to Radmegan for sending some my way!). You can do this. I started from scratch and you can too.

These are just some of the things that have worked for me in my journey towards my first half marathon. It's now less than two weeks away *yikes*!

  • Mix it up - I run three times a week. Thirty minutes twice a week with a longer run on Saturdays.  When I was starting to train I found it helpful to run different routes each time. That way you don't get discouraged if you run out of steam earlier in the run than before. No run is the same. Some days you feel sluggish, and some days, miraculously, you can jog up a hill or two, but if you mix up your routes you will make steady progress without getting discouraged by a bad day. Then, maybe a week or so later, revisit a previously run route and you'll be really pleased at how much further you can go without slowing or walking. Plus if you mix things up the FBI will find it harder to track you.
  • Treats! - Ideally, running should be a reward in itself, but for most novice runners dragging your carcass around two miles of sidewalks fails to create that elusive 'runners high' and can leave you feeling like you're two breaths short of an asthma attack. It's hard work. You need a treat. Two inexpensive things that worked for me;  
    • Treat yourself to a new music download each time you run. If you have terrible music taste like I do, most of the songs to purchase cost a measly 99c. That way you increase your arsenal of running tunes, and you have something to look forward to next time you head out of the door.
    • Second, invest in a really nice body wash that you only use after you run. My current top pick is Paradisiac Pink Pepper Pod by Molton Brown. Yes it's expensive per bottle, but if you only splash a little on after your run it will last for ages. And you smell great. And you just ran, so you're chuffing awesome. You'll be swatting the men away with a stick.

  • Complete The Course - If you set out to run five miles, cover five miles. Doesn't matter if you run, walk, shuffle or crawl. You'll feel much worse if you give up half way round, and chances are, next time you attempt five miles you'll do a little more running and a little less crawling.
  • Use Digifit - This is an exercise app from a Santa Barbara company. It's free, and if you run with your iphone it keeps track of your times, your splits, your route and all your recent runs. It buzzes you when you've run a mile, or 1/2 mile (you choose), even if you're currently listening to a different app like Pandora. I've found it really useful to track my progress, find out how fast/not at all fast I run, and to prove to LK that yes I really did just cover 12 miles, even though it took me *rather a long time*. I know Nike has a similar app, but I'm supporting our local company. Plus, it's free! What's not to love.
  • No excuses. - Fair enough, it's not often that I can't run due to inclement weather in SB, but I ran on vacation, and at 6am on the morning we were due to fly out of the country. I ran in North Yorkshire where my arms froze like armcicles in the frigid easterly wind. Fit your runs in. Otherwise you'll just make it harder on yourself next time.
  • Jelly Babies -Who knew? The girls got a lot of sweets while we were in England. It was Easter, they like candy, and quite frankly England does candy very, very well. One of my Aunties had given them both a bag of jelly babies. I offered one to my brother, and he pulled a face. Apparently he'd used them as fuel when he did his marathon with my sister in law last year. Now just the sight of them brings back hitting the wall at mile twenty (or eight?). I immediately withheld the bag from the girls and have been using them during my training runs. I don't know the science behind them - but the psychological boost of eating a jelly baby at mile six works wonders.

  •  Training Program - My friend Fluffy told me about Jeff Galloway's half marathon training and that's what I've been using to build up to the race. He breaks the schedule into weekly workouts and makes it doable. Come back in two weeks to see if it was effective!

I'd be really interested if anyone has any other last minute helpful tips. Blister prevention? Push-up running bra? All the crucial stuff.