Sunday, 28 July 2013

Basingstoke Half Marathon: Training Post #2

This evening was only our second training run. I know I posted about excuses for not exercising a few months ago, but I have been exhausted this week. However, today we ran a longer route; a lovely, scenic 4.5 miles around Old Basing in Hampshire.
We ran the first stint, 1.4 miles, in 13 minutes, which equates to around 9 minutes per mile. I'm happy with this because it's not a bad speed; whenever I start running after a period off, I come back at 10 minutes per mile. I attribute this to my boyfriend naturally having a faster pace than me, and perhaps me being more in shape than I realise. Also, our first running stint during training run #1 was 10 minutes, so that's already a 3 minute increase.
The second stint was 15 minutes, during the end of which it began to rain. GLORIOUS, although Maxx didn't think so (he likes the heat... weirdo). The final stint, which had an uphill start, was 10 minutes. The incline was really hard, but I pushed through by looking slightly ahead of me at different markers, for example: a house, a pile of horse poo, a distinctive shrubbery. Then it got harder so I stared at my feet! This method is not the most highly recommended, but sometimes you just don't want to know how long you've got before you reach the top. It was cute because Maxx congratulated me on reaching the top, after a particularly strange and pained noise by me upon finishing the incline (I'm supposed to be the runner, waaaa why is he finding it so easy?).
We had two 5 minute walks, making 38 minutes of running. I am very satisfied with our run today, although my pacing was quite bad and Maxx is still conscious of breathing correctly. However, it definitely felt easier already to run for longer, and having a running partner who naturally runs faster than me helps to push me further.
Monsieur has new running shoes, which were worn for the first time today, so I will see if he wants to do a guest post next week!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Basingstoke Half Marathon: Training Post #1

Finally got my bottom into gear and entered the Basingstoke Half Marathon; Maxx is doing it with me, yaaaaay. Even though he hates running?
On Sunday we began our training in full force. Well, we went for a three-mile run:
10 minutes running
5 minutes walk
10 minutes running
5 minutes walk
and finally 5 minutes running to finish, with a short sprint. Which Maxx obviously won. Not that it's a competition...
As of Sunday 21st, we have 77 days (11 weeks) to prepare. Having run it last year, I know we have a lot of work to do, especially getting fit for running up Cliddesden hill! But, I am looking forward to getting out again and running for longer distances.
Last year I ran for Wimbledon Greyhound Welfare, which was excellent motivation, however this year I have a slightly different (and much more superficial!) approach: having run a half marathon and a few shorter races, people describe one of my activities as running. And, after the New Forest Festival of Running, my dad bought me two lovely t-shirts: I <3 Running, and Keep Calm and Go For A Run. But I feel like a fraud wearing them! However, now I'm training again, I can start wearing them with pride.  
I will upload our "before" photos once I'm home.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Book review: Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks

Happy Monday! I've just returned from a wedding in France. I can't believe it's come around so quickly; we received the invite last year and now it's all done!!
Although, I'm a bit (a lot) disappointed because I didn’t reach my 18% body fat goal. I know I’m the only one accountable, so I’m just going to work a lot harder. I don’t want to disregard my hard work so far, as I have reduced my b.f from 25% to 21%, but my next aim is 20% for my birthday in August.
Enough of that. To celebrate the lovely weather we’ve been having, here is a book review of one of the saddest and most moving novels I've ever read.
This book was tragic, moving and surprisingly educational, given I have read and studied a lot of World War One literature. 
The story begins in Amiens in 1910, and quite quickly an affair develops between Stephen Wraysford, the main character, and Isabelle Azaire. The love story between them is initially driven by lust, but as the novel progresses their relationship becomes more complex and encompasses Isabelle’s sister, Jeanne, who I believe is the true heroine of the story.
One of the elements I particularly liked is that neither Stephen nor Isabelle are particularly likeable; they are not typical heroes or heroines, but written with all the foibles and inconsistencies of the human character. I also admire how Faulks has inextricably woven their story and the consequences of their affair into the greater narrative.
Jack Firebrace is another main character, whose personal story is also saddening. He is the more typical hero because when he suffers personal tragedy, the reader feels a desperate sadness for him, whereas Wraysford is a much harder character to develop a fondness for. I found his narrative educational because I didn’t previously have much knowledge of the soldiers who worked underground. The danger is made apparent and Faulks is successful in creating the claustrophobia of the tunnels.
The only element I disliked was the story of Elizabeth Benson, Wraysford’s granddaughter. The novel clearly moves between the war and Benson’s story, set in the 70s, however I felt her interest in Wraysford’s experiences unconvincing and forced. It felt like a convenient way to connect their lives and thereby reveal to the reader the consequences of Wraysford’s and Isabelle’s affair.
As a character, I strongly dislike Benson because she is an adulteress who suffers no remorse for her actions. Compared with Wraysford, who does the same thing, she is selfish and driven only by her own desires. Wraysford’s affair seems to reveal a different world to Isabelle, one of affection and passion, and while I don’t believe she is truly set free, I think this is because she is a character who never truly knows what she wants.
However, one useful element of Benson’s story is that we meet one of Wraysford’s comrades as an old man. It is uncomfortable and sickening to learn that this brave young soldier is reduced to a helpless, incomprehensible invalid because of his experiences. It is a poignant and continual reflection of the devastation caused by the war.
The novel is, of course, bleak, and the violence is uncensored; the description of the injuries, deaths and dead bodies is sickeningly acute, yet I felt this was the second most convincing portrayal of the war I’ve ever read (second only to Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet On The Western Front; Remarque actually was a soldier on the German side during the war, and the book is based on his experiences).
Although I have criticised Benson’s story, I still rate this as 5/5 and think this is a must-read, especially for those with an interest in WWI. The desperation to stay alive is so real that when one of the most likeable characters dies, I won’t reveal who, it feels like a personal loss, and the reader finally begins to comprehend the brevity of 1914-1918.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Sparsholt Festival of Dressage

If this was a meeting, I would apologise for any absences, so I apologise for my absence. But I would like to announce my trio of good luck:
  1. I got a first in my degree, and a first for my dissertation! Yaaaaay.
  2. Ernest and I came first in our competition last Sunday (more details to follow).
  3. I have work experience as a Publishing Assistant in October with 3PM Magazine Subscriptions.
You can't see it but on the serviette is the word "First" :)
Now let me tell you all about The Festival of Dressage at Sparsholt, Hampshire. Ernest and I haven't competed since November, so I was super excited to get out there again. The Festival took place from Friday 28th June to Sunday 30th June, with both affiliated and unaffiliated competitions, ranging from Prelim to Advanced Medium and beyond. There were also dressage to music classes.

We competed in Prelim 19 and Novice 22. It was really nice weather, which was lovely, but it meant we couldn't warm up for too long.
Now, my first dressage test (P19) was AWFUL. I rode really badly: long reins, flap flap flap. I missed marks on accuracy because my reins were too long, so I didn't have a good contact; this is important because if your reins are too long in dressage, you can't really steer properly or contain all the energy as you push the horse forward. Which also helps to explain why me flap-flapping was useless; it's not giving Ernest any accurate signal as to what I want him to do. Go faster? Flap flap. Go slower? Flap flap.
However, we still managed to get 64.09%, and earn an 8/10 for our entry down the centre line of the school to start the test, and 8/10 for our final centre line and halt, which was square!
This means that all four feet were nicely in a square, without one slightly in front or behind.
All marks are out of 10 in dressage, except free walk on a long rein and the collective marks, which include paces, impulsion, submission and rider, which are worth double. So if you are joint with someone, they look at your collective marks to see who has the most marks.
When I upload the videos, look out for the world's worst canter transition, and the nice square halt at the end.
I'm glad I rode this awful test, because when I was warming up for Novice, I remembered all the things I did wrong previously and tried to correct them. So my reins were shorter and I became much more effective with my leg, asking Ernest for a lot more impulsion - this is not speed but energy - and thereby getting a nicer contact.
A nice contact means when the horse or pony is rounder, instead of the neck being all long like a dinosaur.
The warm up was miles better, and we even got some steps of medium trot, which is what we'd been working on in preparation for the competition. Funnily enough, Ernest doesn't have a problem with medium canter!
Medium trot is when the stride covers more ground, so is effectively bigger, but not faster. The stride is lengthened and the horse really has to have the back end engaged, to have the impulsion to move forward.
I was really chuffed with our Novice. I rode much better, and as a result he moved a lot better. I missed some accuracy because I didn't quite hear my caller, but she couldn't exactly bellow because there were lots of other tests happening at the same time. However, I was much happier with this test and came out feeling like I'd ridden to an acceptable level for a Novice test.
The levels are Prelim, Novice, Elementary, Medium, Advanced Medium, Advanced, and beyond that you really are hot stuff.
We got 62.41%, and came joint 10th. I didn't get any medium trot in the test, it was really pleasing to get a few strides in the warm up, so I can learn what a medium trot should feel like.
 Ernest chilling after his dressage.
We did Novice 22 again on Sunday, but were inside this time. There was decorative shrubbery around the outside of the white markers, which Ernest kept spooking at, so I felt a little annoyed because normally he doesn't spook at anything.
However, taking what I'd learnt from yesterday, we had an effective warm up so I was ready to ride properly. I felt like I was fighting him around the test, and in the top corner you can see on the video I'm having to be quite firm with my hand to stop him messing around.
I came out of this test feeling frustrated, because I felt I'd had to fight him around the arena, but upon watching the test back (my mum videos my tests - invaluable), I was pleased to find that you really can't see it. My friend, and trainer, pointed out that rather than "fighting" him, I was actually having to ride him to a more effective level.
And, to my astonishment, we actually won the test with 66.90%!
To my surprise, we also won a lot of cool prizes, as well as a really big rosette:
  • A photo shoot worth £100 from Centaur Photographic
  • A £10 voucher from Wish Bands
  • Equilite's Sore No-More "The Sauce", for equine hoof and skin conditions
  • A full initial assessment and treatment by a chiropractor or hypnotherapist, worth £60, from Your Mind Your Body
  • A Don Harry browband
  • A £40 gift certificate from The Balanced Rider
Another bonus from Sunday was meeting Dickie Davies, former TV presenter on ITV's World of Sport. I was standing Ernest in the shade after our Novice, and he came over to talk to me about Ernest's colour. He was really friendly to both me and my friend, and very complimentary about Ernest, so that was a cool addition to the good luck of the weekend.