The Grumpiest Princess

So this week we have a new face join our Saturday run. One of my friends from the University running group I belong to has decided to do the 7 Hills challenge with us and wanted to do a route reccie as she doesn’t know the route at all. She is also a speedy person, clocking in at around a 43 minute 10K which is currently 10 minutes faster than my SB. In the end we managed 12.5 miles with 3.5 hills, my legs are still tired today and I have a hacking cough which isn’t helping me to feel fighting fit.

The hills were still tough on Saturday but we were faster than last Saturday, probably helped by the fact we had run the route once before. I still needed to walk on all the hills which I am not happy with. I want to feel stronger so I am planning in some hill sessions and strength work for my legs.

I also noticed that this week my stomach felt completely empty even with the one gel I had around mile 8, I think I need to start taking more energy gels with me as you can’t keep moving once your body has used up all your energy stores. On a positive note with that my diet has been improving, I am still eating too much junk but my meals are becoming healthier. On the recommendation of one of sales people in a running shop I also tried SiS REGO Rapid Recovery in Chocolate after the run and for the first time in about a month I had an enjoyable Saturday afternoon. I still had a nap but hey it is Saturday and I was out dancing Saturday night so needed my rest 🙂

Fingers crossed but that combined with SiS GO Electrolyte in my water beforehand (I don’t work for SiS or have any affiliation but this stuff really worked this week) seemed to help with how unwell I have been feeling. It will take a few weeks for me to work out if this is helping me properly or if I just had a good day but factor in my improvement in diet and who knows?

Now last week I mentioned that when riding I am not entirely evenly balanced. I had this brought home to me in a slighly alarming manner during Sunday’s lesson. It was another windy, windy day at the stables (seriously I would like one day when it doesn’t feel like you are getting exfoliated by the dust in the school) and T was in a foul mood when I got to her hence the title that I borrowed from http://thehorsewrotehistory.wordpress.com/ (thanks – it is a very accurate description of T).

Like most recreational riders I like the interaction with the horse, sorting my stirrups, fussing about over them, grooming them after and rugging them up but with T you can’t do any of that as she kicks and bites so the instructors need to do most of it for you which is a shame. On Sunday she was in a particular grump and had made such a fuss with her saddle that she was tied up in the yard and not in her stable. I chatted away to her as I led her to the block but she seemed determined to ignore I was even there. Then as I was mounting she tried to bite my arse, not a great start.

Off we went to the school. T is great as she is a very experienced riding school pony, however this means she often does exercises correctly but not at the correct pace. I spent a lot of time trying to keep her in trot but she seemed determined to stop on all the turns. I could feel myself getting frustrated with her and that’s really not very fair.

We were once again practising our tracking-up and over-tracking then moving on to try to create ‘v’ shapes with the horses legs while in trot. We were doing this exercise one by one around the track while the others watched in the middle, this was really interesting to see the change in the horse’s movement when they began to trot with more power. Our instructor was telling us to focus on how it felt when the other members of the class told us the horse was making ‘v’s. We had to ride the full school then turn across the diagonal without breaking stride from the trot.

The first two members of the class who went both had their horses making ‘v’s almost immediately and given how T had not been responding as well as I had hoped I wasn’t expecting to be good enough straight away and neither we were. Coming up the long side of the school my instructor told me to give T a tap behind the leg with my stick as wasn’t powering from behind. The change was instant, it was if T finally understood that we had to work in this lesson and the trot was perfect she was making perfect ‘v’s and didn’t break when we turned. Her trot also felt good enough to pop her into canter which is how it should feel when we are working properly, definitely a good trot by the end. When we went back to working in open order, putting in circles of varying sizes and serpentines T was feeling a lot livelier, I need to remember to get her going at the start of a lesson. I just trust her to always be moving forward and forget that sometimes you need to ask for the power.

Next up came the call to clear the outside track for canter work. As we work in open order you are expected to continue to work your horse in order to be ready to take the outside track and canter when you are called. It has taken a while but we are all usually aware enough to ensure we are away from the track and that when we canter we need to be aware of the other horses movements.

The 1st canter was a left rein canter. This is my best side but unfortunately T’s worse, we had a couple of delayed transitions initially where I hadn’t been quick enough to back up my ask and she struck into canter on the straight and on the wrong leg. I ended up having ask three times which I find a little embarrassing as I feel my canter transition should be better by now! Once in the canter she was going beautifully and I easily kept her on the track and in the corners by keeping my left leg on her side. She also keep a lovely pace so when we pulled back to trot I gave her lots of praise.

Next up the right rein, after watching my friend canter B beautifully around the school it was our turn….and that’s when the fun happened. Our instructor realised we were pushed for time so shouted that we needed to canter on our first corner. Great transition from T and we even got a compliment (rare occurrence for me :)). Going up the long side I was trying to concentrate on keeping her going with my inside leg but my natural tendency to push on the left stirrup seemed to override me. All of a sudden in the corner I realised my saddle was moving to the left, my instructor was shouting to put weight in the right stirrup but by now my foot was almost at T’s shoulder. I pulled her back to trot and managed to jump off whilst she was still moving, I landed on my feet and pulled her to a halt. My saddle was now sitting pretty much 90 degrees to the left!

Everyone else was very confused, initially I think they thought I had fallen off but once I assured them I had voluntarily jumped off and I was okay. I asked what I had done wrong, essentially I had put all my weight into my left stirrup so much so I had wrenched the saddle around T’s back. I felt terrible, especially when told that it would have hurt her a lot when it twisted. I let her eat a couple of pieces of grass before we sorted the saddle and I got back on her. My instructor did say that I was also lucky as often it the saddle moves so much the horse can bolt, T was a star for listening to me and slowing when asked. There was only five minutes of so left and as the remainder of the class cantered I left T have a stretch and cool down. After the lesson I gave her back a good rub down and gave her lots of praise. I have definitely learnt my lesson on getting my weight balanced!

More exciting news as well as the beginner’s dressage lecture tomorrow night I am starting the BHS Riding and Road Safety course at the weekend! I am really looking forward to this course and have fancied it for a while. It does mean I will be at the stables twice a week for six weeks I think so I will have to plan my time wisely.

Miles run: 16

WWC Coupons left: 39 (new running trainers and a dress! -will update in the round up)

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Hills, horses and Hen-dos

Apologies for the delay in posting I have been on holiday! On the sunny west coast of Scotland.

Anyway on to the running and the riding!  I inadvertently had a bit too much to drink on Friday night for a colleague’s work hen-do so I wasn’t the freshest on Saturday’s run. I think that contributed to how difficult I found a shorter but hillier run this week. We had planned to do around eleven miles with 3 hills but we got to 9.5 miles and couldn’t face adding a horrible loop onto the end of the run to get the mileage.

It was warm on Saturday morning but I have to learn to cope with it. Being dehydrated from drinking the night before did not help and I found myself with the familiar thin layer of salt covering my face which I wasn’t happy about.

The three hills were tough but the views made up for it along with the sense of achievement from clambering up through gorse and finding new paths to the tops of the hills. I reckon that we will keep the trail running up even after the seven hills, it is great for clearing your mind and keeping you focused on your running. I need to improve my downhill running as we found better paths to get down from the Braids but I found that I couldn’t keep up with my Team Bambi team mate as she fired down the hills.

I know I keep talking about these great views and I promise that I will take pictures one of these weekends. The only annoying thing with upping the distance and hill work is that I seem to continue to lose my Saturday afternoons – I generally feel unwell, tired, headachey and very sleepy until around five/six o’clock. I am sure that this must be my diet and my lack of organisation meaning I frequently don’t eat well afterwards. I am going to try and do a small food shop on Friday night in order to ensure I can eat well after Saturday’s run – 11 miles and 3 hills this weekend – no alcohol on Friday this week!

Due to another hen-do on Sunday night I had to say no to a beach ride, I am truly gutted as I am not sure when the opportunity will come up for me again. Fingers crossed it is soon. Instead I rode in a earlier lesson, there were eight of us in the lesson and that is a large lesson for the stables. Luckily I was given Au, the small highland pony so none of the spacial issues I had last week with Ct.

I do love Au but she was in a foul modd as I tried to do my stirrups and girth trying to both kick me and bite me whcih was lovely. Eventually I decided to lead her out as she was and get someone to hold her while I sorted everything out in the yard, this seemed like a much better plan. Once on and sorted as usual she started to behave. Au has a tendency to need to be warmed up before you can expect her to work hard, which is fair enough she is a little older than some of the other ponies. But if you get her warmed up right then she can fly!

I mentioned last week about the lesson in tracking, over-tracking and under-tracking. We did more work on that on Sunday. This time we had to over-track between two barrels, trickier than it sounds. Au and I had to take two attempts as I hadn’t slowed her properly from the trot on the approach to the barrels and brief did a dignified(!) sitting trot before getting her into the walk and slowing her too much meaning she started to under-track. On our second go she was first class and we got a beautiful walk. We were then sent off to work on our trotting on the long and short diagonals, we work in open-order a lot in my classes currently so there is little to no work where we are one behind the other. It means that you have to be permanently paying attention to everything around you and when working on the diagonals with eight people in the class it became trickier but I think we all coped admirably, after a couple of people having to be told to get out of Ct’s way. Also I sometimes think people mishear the phrase ‘get-off the outside track, so and so is going to canter’ as they continue to merrily head towards the cantering horse!

We moved onto the canter and in order to let us all practise extending the canter we all parked up in a line in the middle of the school. We were trying to get ten strides of canter between the two barrels this time. When it came to our turn I already knew Au was going to fly off, she had been fidgeting in line and had turned almost sideways in an attempt to get moving. I think I got around two strides in trot then I just released her to canter, I thought she was having a great time as we flew around the school. I don’t think anyone had the chance to count our canter strides. Immediately my instructor began laughing at us, I got asked would I like to do that again and at least pretend to be in control? I pointed out Au was having a great time and I thought she had done brilliantly, do it again came the response. So off we went again, eleven strides. Apparently I needed to push on more to get her to lengthen her stride.

In the final canter I had full control but I am still finding it tricky to get her into the corners well. I find it with quite a few of the horses, I think I am balancing too much to one side and allowing them to fall in. The left rein seemed much better than the right which kind of backs this idea up.

Time was up after that and following a cool down my instructor told me I was looking far more relaxed with her than ever before, I have to say I felt it! Even when she flew around the school I felt so comfortable on her. As always she was very happy to be fussed over after the lesson and even allowed me to give her brush. She is a little star so she can be moody if she likes!

Exciting news for the summer though! We are having a lecture on beginner dressage tests next week and then we are getting opportunity to do them ourselves and be scored on them! All I can see in my head is P and I careering around the school valiantly trying to halt at the correct letters. Hmmm this will be interesting!

Miles run: 12.5

WWC Coupons left: 51

“Get that horse out of that tree”

So before I move on to discuss the horse riding lesson that inspired the title I thought I would mention my weekend run. It has been a while since I have run with my running friends, one is pregnant, one has moved to New Zealand and one hasn’t been around to run in the last couple of weeks. On Saturday she was back and wanting to run. We have been starting our training plan for the seven hills and Saturday was the first long run 9 miles and to encompass two of the hills. We decided to do the Braid Hill and Blackford Hill. It was a beautiful day and everything combined to make for a perfect run. Blue skies, sunshine and trail running through amazing scenery. We stopped at the trig points of both hills to stand and admire the views. It was tough going and we need to improve our hill fitness but it reminded me why we run. It allows you to forget everything else and certainly challenges me in a way that other things do not. I felt strong on Saturday and ended up running 11.3 miles in total and enjoying every minute, it isn’t every run that you get that – often I have to drag myself out to complete a run but when I do I always feel better. I reckon I am a runner through and through now! Although I still have to sort my diet out, pizza and chips to follow a run like that, no wonder I didn’t feel great on Sunday.

I had a week away from riding last weekend and I was looking forward to getting back. However, on Sunday morning something strange happened. I couldn’t stop focusing on my fall from a few weeks ago, each time I thought about riding I kept thinking I would get P and I would come off again. I’m not sure if it was down to the weather, which while dry was incredibly windy – always fun in the school. I genuinely have no idea what caused it, does anyone else feel like that I wonder? One of my friends at the stables did mention that following her beach ride last week that she was convinced she would fall this week so maybe it was something in the air.

When I got there and checked the diary I had been given C. I have never ridden C before! Immediately I was nervous, he is difficult to ride, you have to really work hard with him. He is absolutely huge (I was able to easily hide behind him in the yard), shies when he is hacked out and I have only ever seen experienced riders on him. Eek! Our instructor arrived and told me that I didn’t need to canter him today, instead I was to get used to him and how to handle him, she stressed that I wasn’t to feel disheartened to not canter him but rather to focus on the fact that I needed to be in control of him.

First task, get on him. For a large lad he is slightly nervy and we had a couple of moments in yard where a tarpaulin led to me having to try to calm him down while he danced around me. I thought I did quite well considering this was my first time with him and he seemed nice and responsive to me. Once on I felt like I towered over everyone else even MJ! So I led the way to the school promptly hitting myself off a gate then ending up in a tree prompting the comment that led to the title. Once in the school I felt nervous, but looked forward to being helped to get to know him and looked expectantly at my instructor. I wasn’t expecting her to give me a task ‘Steph, get to know C and figure things out yourself, if he isn’t doing something work out how to.’! Eek. That was a new one. I noticed that he seemed to fall in badly on the right rein. I worked on getting my weight down my inside leg and pressing my leg against the girth to ease him out, then I lifted my outside rein. It seemed to work, my instructor shouted ‘too subtle Steph, he is a big guy give him big movements’. It felt like I had my hand up at my face but all of a sudden we were in the corner.

The next thing we were learning about was tracking-up, under-tracking and over-tracking. Tracking-up is where during the walk the back hooves of a horse move into the imprints left by the front hooves, this is an average to good walk. Over-tracking is where the back hooves pass the imprints of the front hooves this is the best walk while under-tracking shows the horse is not using its ‘engine’ i.e. its back-end. All great stuff and we went off to practise, everyone was doing brilliantly – one of the girls had her horse tracking-up immediately. It took me a little longer with C but then he responded. I was starting to really feel he was listening to me, in trot we sped along but he would circle and halt for me when asked. At one point I thought we were about to break into canter for sure but just realised that his trot is that fast. My instructor just told me to go with him and manoeuvre him around everyone. Everyone else did a couple of canters, some beautiful transitions going on I was secretly hoping I might get to canter C but the call never came. An interesting thing to note was the bend I started to get in his neck towards the end of the lesson, apparently this was him responding to be and dropping into the correct position. It looked beautiful and with his Mohican style mane some of my fellow classmates commented on how good it looked.

All in all a great lesson. I have another favourite (I think they are all my favourites). C is a gentle giant, back in the stall he nuzzled me while I brushed him off and even allowed me to hug him (sad I know but he was a true gent with me). I did nearly crash into a couple of people today I tended to forget how big his stride was and how responsive he was, next time I will remember that. Roll on the next time with him, maybe I will get to canter him – although someone did say it feels like cantering on a giraffe 🙂

Miles run: 14.5

WWC Coupons left: 51

St Andrews – Sun, Sand and 10k Racing

Finishing Time: 54 minutes 19 seconds

Finishing Place: 85th/150

No horse riding this weekend, which I missed but to make up for it a 30th birthday to celebrate (not mine I hasten to add that milestone has passed for me). My friend decided she wanted to run a race for her birthday, she enjoys running but due to injuries and illness she wasn’t able to run the 10k as she had planned and instead she ran the 5k. A couple of her friends who hadn’t run before joined her in the 5k and they all did brilliantly! I was so impressed. I had signed up for the 10k along with two of her other friends, both of whom are experienced road runners and one of them is very fast indeed.She finished as first female home, which was brilliant. We were all dressed in neon tutus with leg warmers and face paint on, I think a few of the other runners we were passing were more than slightly amused at our appearance. A great day out and everyone did so well, here is my review of the race itself.

It was the first time this running festival had been put on and certain aspects showed that. I don’t mind delays and when you seem to be permanently late these can help however not giving out much information about when you are planning on starting or why the delays were occurring led to me starting to feel a little antsy. There is a point where I just want to run. It ended up that we started at midday, not a great time to start a race. The 5k and 10k all started together which was fine but a little congested and did mean that people were running different paces and jostling each other slightly along the first stretch.

I was also unaware that so much of the 10k was going to be on sand, the first 600m and the final 2.5k were on the sand. I am not used to running on sand and could certainly feel that in my legs during the race and after! At this point I should say having the finish line on the sand is grand but please don’t put it on the soft sand meaning my sprint finish turned into a scrambling/falling motion which felt really unsteady.

Another teething issue was a lack of timing chips, this can happen at any race and they did tell us about this well in advance but still it is a little irritating and not for the first time I was happy I had my Garmin.

I am also not a fan of routes that are a back and forth, when we came off the beach we ran up the path and road for roughly 2k then back down the same path and road for 2.5k to then turn around and head back up again before turning on to the beach for the final 2.5k. It was quite a boring route but the beach had a lovely view and it was nice as I got to see girls I was there with who were all doing well.

I felt okay for most of the race, I was trying to run a tempo run where my kilometers were to get faster over the race. I didn’t manage it but I have only recently started to try and run these style of runs and I am finding pacing difficult. It was also very warm in comparison to recently. I started in long-sleeved top and finished in my team bambi vest top (first UK outing for the vest top). 8k was terrible time-wise but the rest of the race was fine with each kilometer within 15 seconds of each other. I think my feeling of pacing can only improve with more tempo runs and hopefully my fitness can improve along with it.

A real positive point to the race was that it was great to get the bottle with high5 tablets, bananas, sweets and water once we had finished. A little bit of a shame that they didn’t have it at the finish line as I could have really done with the water when I crossed the line.

Unfortunately due to sand getting in my shoes a large blister developed on my second toe during the race which was causing me a fair amount of pain by the end. However, the blister is healing and I am now in proper training for the seven hills challenge, wish me luck!

Miles run: 17.5

WWC Coupons left: 51 (I purchased a new sports bra)

WWC March Round Up

So in March I spent four coupons on leggings from the ethical clothing company People Tree. As I mentioned previously the plain black pair I bought I put my hand straight through and when I returned them I was told that they were sold out in my size. I plumped for the dark leopard print ones instead and I am really pleased with them. A beautiful fit and lovely subtle pattern meaning I can wear them will be other patterned skirts, dresses and shorts without causing too much alarm. Not that clashing patterns has ever bothered me, I think my colleagues we certainly confused by the day I inadvertently wore stripes, leopard print and polka dots. ‘Interesting outfit’ was the comment I seemed to be getting a lot of that day!

I also mentioned last week I received 3 bags of clothes from my riding instructor. There were some great finds in there. However, I am a little worried that in my attempt at this challenge I am actually acquiring more clothing albeit from second hand sources which while coupon free perhaps not in the true spirit of the challenge? My passion lies in ethical clothing and trying to help affect change to others lives with my shopping habits, I think this is why I am uneasy about the amount of clothing I have been acquiring either through eBay or through the generous donations of others. Nik mentions the idea of vintage clothing in her blog here (http://www.littlehouseintown.co.uk/2013/04/wartime-wardrobe-challenge-march-review/) and provides a link to an interesting article which I would recommend reading

I hasten to add here that it was so nice of my instructor to give me these bags, I found a dress, two sarongs, a pair of shorts, some cropped trousers, a t shirt, a shrug and a polka dot skirt. Whew that list is pretty long.

So the plan for April? Well this month I would like to try to stop acquiring things! I am planning to use some coupons to buy a necessary but boring sports bra and if money allows I need new running trainers although I want to look into buying more sustainable footwear so I may hold off buying any until May. Also a few of my tops for work are looking increasingly shabby but okay as long as I dress them up with brooches and necklaces. As a question to any fellow ethical fashion enthusiasts what do you do with your clothing when it has become shapeless or the colour has gone? I used to put things I couldn’t donate to charity shops or swish in the recycling bins for clothing but after reading Lucy Siegle’s book the chapter regarding these recycling bins has made me question doing this but I don’t want them to go to landfill, any ideas?

An interesting side issue is that the more I discuss this challenge with people the more I find people asking questions and seeming genuinely curious about the ethical issues surrounding fashion. I particularly enjoyed the pub chat with a friend regarding fur but I do love a good debate!

The First Long Hack of the Year!

A quieter weekend this weekend. No race but there was a 2hr hack at the stables today. A tough training run yesterday, only eight miles but it showed that this was the longest run I have done since I was ill at the end of February. I signed up to the seven hills challenge at the end of last week so I am now in training mode, I want to enjoy this race and use it to make my half marathon times drop. I will put a post up about my training plans soon.

After a lovely night out with friends on Saturday it was cold but dry on Sunday for our first two hour hack of the year. My friend who I original starting riding with six (!) years ago was coming on this hack too, unfortunately we no longer ride together each week but try to ensure we ride at each others stables when we can.

When we got there we discovered it was quite a big ride, a couple of girls I didn’t know but who seemed nice. I didn’t get much chance to talk as they were on MJ and B at the front while I was to the back with Mr K. He is the horse I rode on the beach, he is brilliant on a long hack always seems to have energy to spare but nice and responsive even if you have to perhaps ask him to slow down a couple of times before he listens. I always think that if he was a person he would be a fell runner in his sixties indignant at everything.

It is lovely countryside that we have to hack in, often in the summer rather than a lesson we will just hack for the hour. In the early autumn we get to use the stubble fields to canter through, it is a great spot. We are also always getting taught about how to judge the speed that we can go on different tracks, why we would canter in particular places and not others and we are also remind about how to ride correctly on the roads and to be courteous to other path and track users. So quite often it is still a lesson!

The ground is terrible out on the tracks at the minute, there was lots of snow over the last couple of weeks which has been falling, melting then the next day the same. Our instructor had hoped that by venturing further from the stables the ground would improve but it wasn’t the case. There was sticky mud and in places we would normally trot close to the stables we had to walk through. Mr K has a good pace at walk, if you push him on he is happy to walk quickly. We just had to enjoy the beautiful day, sunshine finally returned to this part of Scotland although it was still freezing cold.

When trotting we were going through sticky, gloopy mud sucking the horses’ hooves into it. Our usual long canter track was unusable, we could trot but only in parts. Mr K was not happy, had to keep reminding him trot only. He is good if you work the reins a few times he does respond happily but he was desperate to canter and unhappy that he couldn’t in the place we normally get a brilliant long canter. All the horses were the same. Our instructor kept trying to find patches to canter but none there.

We tried to find decent canter ground in the next stretch but lead file told us ahead was too boggy. I was having to check Mr K constantly on that stretch. I did get a great trot from him though. There were some people on dirt bikes, scaring Mr K a little but mainly he seemed indignant that they were there and he wasn’t allowed to canter.

We finally found a bit under the trees after the old railway and we set off. at the speed of light! Or so it felt, all the horses were so happy to get a canter. Mr K can motor, he was brilliant. T in front kicked branches in front of us and he jumped out of the way, swerving. I had good balance on him which meant I didn’t move at all but he makes it easy then I just had to push him on to ensure we didn’t lose the others. Brilliant. That was our only canter but it was a decent length and good speed.

Homeward bound and after that canter all the horses had calmed down slightly. We had some nice trotting, using the time to practise forward seat, moving my arms in walk and getting my balance and weight down both legs.

I think I am going to have a weekend off riding this weekend as I have a 10k for a mate’s 30th. It will not be a PB but I am going to try to do consistent pace.