The morning after the night before


Both Daren & Nick are friends with Jamie at The Half Moon in Warninglid, so it seemed only right and proper to go and sample the fare there last night.  Jamie has apparently transformed the place in the last year or so and it’s now a real, proper gastropub.  The food was totally delicious!  I had tender liver & crispy bacon with mash potato and shredded cabbage that would have won a competition in a sculpture contest – I ate every last scrap despite the fact that it was a rather large portion.  In fact, all six plates were virtually scraped clean!  And despite having a full-on meal for six with liberal quantities of wine, yummy sticky puddings and coffees, the bill was only £25 per head.

My only beef was the fact that of the range of great bitters that Jamie serves, he doesn’t currently have any Hepworths… I can see I’ll have to work on him!

Anyway, it will come as small surprise that the 7.30am gathering this morning was slightly more muted than normal!  But it was a beautiful, brisk morning and it didn’t take us too long to get over the edge of tiredness.  Once again it was a real pleasure running with Daren (his being slightly less fit than normal) as the pace was gloriously manageable and we could all chat contentedly without running out of steam.  The Bok would shoot off every so often like a springer spaniel, egging us to join in the fun, but was eventually reigned in to enjoy the gentle run & conversation.

We headed out to the Royal Oak and round the back of the (fast becoming monstrous) St Georges Retreat, out to Hundred Acre Lane, back across to Wellhouse Lane and returned alongside the railway.  The going was firm with muddy interludes and I managed to get called rude names when I, er… missed my step and splashed in a puddle.  Twice.  I felt particularly triumphant that Nick’s trainers looked as if they had actually seen some countryside!  Mine, of course, were still dirty from last autumn and were once again dripping with mud by the time we got back: so no change there then.

We ran for one hour twelve minutes, covered 7.25 miles at an average speed of just over 6mph and used sufficient of the calorie intake from last night to be able to woof down half-a-loaf-of-bread’s worth of toast with honey & peanut butter.

The big man cometh

We had a rare treat this morning when the big man came round to take me out for a peramble.  For those of you who don’t know him, Daren is the same kind of height as Cliff, Steve or Clive, but has (ladies, look away now) another couple of inches width on each shoulder and a chest to match.  Add this to the fact that the stripes on his new running top were designed to accentuate the shoulders of people of a smaller build like me and it was like running along with Judge Dredd ambling beside!  And for those unladylike females who are still reading, the answer to the question forming in your mind is probably yes… suffice to say that I had to run with a hat stuffed down my running tights so that I could hold my head up!

We all claim unfitness on occasion and it was Daren’s turn this morning, but I reckon that we’re pretty lucky as a group because we’re really quite fit compared to your, average, run-of-the-mill bloke.  For example, despite saying that it felt like he was running through gazpacho (he said it with such conviction that I can only conclude that he often trains in cold tomato soup), he still shrugged off a 50 minute run with ease.  Okay, he wasn’t bounding along like normal, but that was the only giveaway.

We took a leisurely route out to the Royal Oak, across to Wivelsfield and along through Hundred Acre Wood, chatting all the way and catching up on news… which always slows you down.  The ground was lovely, with most of the mud ruts trampled flat and the kind of give that you normally only get on a running track.  It was so lovely that at one point I decided to take a closer look (my foot slipped out from under me on a tree root and down I went) but I just bounced gently.  Despite having my camera with me, there was no sensational headline splash of Foster mud-monster to record… I know that Nick will be disappointed!

Even with the gazpacho, we completed about 5.25  miles in 52 minutes, giving a speed of just over 6mph: pretty good going considering it was a conversational run over a bowl of soup kind of morning.

I’m so dizzy, my world is spinning, la la la

As I snuck out of bed this morning, I got the distinct feeling I’d left my personal gyroscope behind on my pillow.  Even after a banana and a generous espresso (okay, my espresso’s are always generous!) my head was still reeling.  When Kim finally appeared she suggested I call this morning’s run off.  I considered it for a nanosecond… nah!  Maybe if I wasn’t physically able to get out of bed!

Nick duly arrived and we set off into the kind of slightly frozen mist that heralds a gloriously sunny day… I say heralds, but that implies that it might have been happening shortly after, which it certainly was not.  No, the morning was misty and COLD.  Cold enough that my hands were even more painful after half an hour that my feet were after a day of ice-karting in sub zero conditions. 

We managed quite a reasonable pace, although it was clear that Nick could have zoomed off easily at any point… that boy has FAR too much energy!

We ran a different route this morning, across Janes Lane, past Ote Hall, across to join Theobalds Lane and down to the far end (which until very recently was delightfully like going back in time to the 1920’s) and then up to Lunces Hall near Wivelsfield Church, back past Ote Halll and then home. 

It was lovely to see the investment that had been made in the properties along the route: perfect fences, fledgling hedges and even inner fences to manage livestock; refurbished houses and even one gorgeous new house where there used to be a bit of a shack; cleared undergrowth and well managed woodland.  It gives me such a warm feeling when it’s clear that people really care about their environment.

Alas, the warm feeling was not sufficient to affect the temperature of my hands, which were aching with the cold, hence taking the short route home… thanks Nick.

I don’t really understand why, but despite a similar distance at 4.9 miles, it was a slower run than Sunday at 6.8mph, the run taking 43 minutes.  Maybe it’s because we chat along the way, but mostly I think it’s because Nick drags me along faster and I then have to stop to catch my breath.

The longest stop was my sitting on the stairs when we got back, trying to get warm blood into my hands and waiting for the pain to abate!


Just a quick note to highlight the fact that I’ve now finished Nice’n icy… and added in Dessert for good measure.

And while I’m about it, can I mention that my legs are really stiff after my run yesterday?

Quick Sunday run

My neighbour told me it was going to be minus 7 last night (Saturday night) and walking outside at midnight to see the pure clarity of the sky, with its bright stars and sparkling moon, I can well believe her.

But by the time I woke up this morning, the sun had worked its magic and it was only zero in the shade and much, much hotter inside my goretex jacket in the blazing sun.

Having not run for a few weeks I didn’t try to achieve too much, but had a lovely run on some paths I’ve not used for a while.  Even the mud underfoot was satisfying, with the slightly melted top surface crunching down gratifyingly giving me the feeling that I had levelled some of the ruts!

Overall I was out for 40 minutes and covered 4.9 miles at a speed of about 7.3mph.  I reckon I would have been quicker still if I’d have gone running when we got back from skiing, but hey ho!



After all the serious fun… there was a day of ice-karting!

Last year I won the ice-karting and could have written loads of stuff about it. 

This year I came third so I’ve not much to say for myself. 

Except that I didn’t start using the brakes until we were messing around after the final.  That’s when I started to remember how to go quickly!  DUH!

Tracks in the UK would be unfamiliar with the concept of letting the punters carry on driving, round and round, until they actually get tired of driving.  Or it gets dark.  Which in our case happened around the same time!  In fact, at one point Benny even re-started us in the other direction so that it would be more challenging!

The casualty of the day was my boot, which now has a radically remodelled sole… on account of me trying to warm my feet up by putting them too close to the fire!  It actually took an hour in the jacuzzi and ten minutes in the sauna for me to feel my toes again at the end of the day.  And a large G&T, a terrific bottle of wine and another evening of hilarious conversation to stop smarting about losing!

I must work on that!

Was Dai lost?


I’m really sorry Dai… if I’d realised it was you I would have offered you a lift mate!  You must have been perishin’!

And knackered by the time you got home!

Nice ‘n icy


A couple of busy days later, I finally find time to upload a couple or three photos of the lake at Alvdalen.  But it’s time for bed so I’ll have to fill in the details later!

 And here are the details.

After another four-thirty alarm, I drove to Stansted in the pouring rain, left my car with a delighted parking attendant and checked in.  And all before coffee, which I find remarkable.  My traveling companions were Mark and Mike, both IT consultants and David, a dentist: all easily identifiable as fanatics by the stack of car mags in their bags.

We flew in to Skavsta, which is to the south-west of Stockholm and picked up our hire car: a Saab 95 2.0t estate, which by the way, is an excellent car with a whole lot of space.  With four trained drivers, the journey north to Alvdalen was very pleasant, but contrary to previous years, the roads were largely tarmac coloured.  I managed to get the graveyard shift at the end, which although only 45 minutes out of an almost six hour trip, was had by far the most interesting conditions.  Here the roads were white and it was now dark, but the car was capable and we made good progress to the hotel.

At the hotel were the other three members of our group, Simon, Richard and Victoria, but also the previous group of friends which made for an excellent evening full of discursive conversation.  Also present were our host and trainers from Volvo: Bert, Jerry and Tomas basically think we’re weird as, despite meeting a large number of highly committed drivers and test-drivers every year, we are apparently the only group that can spend the evenings discussing steering methods or the optimal order in which to train novice drivers in advanced driving techniques.

Out on the ice the next day, they were also surprised.  They expect a very high standard of driving from this group, but despite having four ‘ice wirgins’, they didn’t have to pull a single car out of the bank in the whole day. 

I should explain: we are on both a test track and a lake (with a frozen surface about half a metre thick),  which are to all intents and purposes, low grip.  Not slippery enough that you have to fight for balance (although Victoria did slip over a couple of times) but enough that you will stand stock still with your wheels spinning beneath you if you are too boisterous with the gas on take-off.  The tracks are created at the beginning of the season by compacting the snow and they are then lovingly cleared, groomed and tended-to by Benny each night, much like a piste, so that all the car makers, tyre manufacturers and test drivers using the track have optimal conditions.

The exercises we were doing were designed to challenge our control over the cars, pushing us to experience cornering, braking and avoiding obstacles at relatively high speeds.  The winter tyres that the Swedes use are studded in the main, which is a very good thing: the reason that the UK grinds to a halt in an inch of snow is because we drive on summer tyres – in northern European terms, these are the prevalent conditions that we face. 

With summer tyres, a corner that might be comfortable on studs at 40mph would only be possible at 10mph without a loss of control.  I know from experience that in very low grip conditions (on Mira wet-grip test-track) I can drive my car neatly round a corner at 10mph or slide it sideways under control at 12-15mph, but I am totally out of control at 17mph… the window is a really small one!  The problems really start to pile up for someone driving in UK snow when they think that sufficient grip extends beyond about 10mph… or beyond an almost horizontal gradient!

During the course we get to drive a mixture of front-wheel’, rear-wheel’ and four-wheel drive cars and learn how to drive each to its strengths.  The biggest grin factor for me has changed over the last couple of years.  It was always the rear-wheel drive cars that gave me the greatest satisfaction and though it was a real hoot guiding the limousine around our little track sideways (it has such a long wheelbase that everything happens really slowly, making for some really graceful arcs), this year the four-wheel drive cars got me hooked. 

Volvo’s new V70 and especially XC70 are absolutely marvellous cars and very quick with it!

But there’s a common misperception, which is that because four-wheel drive cars accelerate more quickly in low-grip conditions, they also brake more quickly and corner at higher speeds.  Alas, it’s the same old rubber at each corner whether you have the latest 4×4 or a… pedal car.  Same old limit of grip to expend on either cornering or braking, or some lessened combination of the two.  Sure, in the safety of our one-way track, we can slide the car sideways into each corner and neatly power out.  But this surface is much more forgiving than even wet tarmac… and in the dry the speed at which the car can bite back, if you get it wrong, increases significantly!

Which brings us back to steering techniques, although I don’t begin to have enough space here to even start that discussion again!



Okay okay OKAY!  I go away occasionally… and occasionally I go away again!  But I’m back now, so I’ll be running again very soon! 

In the meantime, I thought you may be interested in my latest annual Swedish pilgrimage to worship at the alter named VCDA: The Volvo Cars Driving Academy. (I hope you can read Swedish!)

I’ll write more about it later, but I just saw this photo from the route home and thought I’d whet your appetite. 

It was an interesting morning, conditions-wise with roads so slippery that at one point when I tested the brakes in a safe place, the wheels locked and we shot along like a bobsleigh.  It was so slippery that the anti-lock brakes were fooled into thinking we were stationery and didn’t kick in until we had almost slowed to a halt under our own weight.  Although we were in our Saab hire car, to be fair!

You might notice that in the photo above, Mark seems to be standing gingerly and holding on to the car… yes, it really was that slippery!  You can actually see his reflection in the road!

So I particularly wanted to thank Jerry who, on an earlier course, insisted on teaching us how to power-turn a front-wheel drive car.  At the time he described the situation we had found ourselves in perfectly: having finally run out of traction on a narrow hill.  Steering on full lock, engage reverse, let out the clutch and blip the throttle; then straighten the wheels as the car finishes a graceful pivot around its rear wheels.

Watching the highlights of that day’s Swedish Rally, it was reassuring to know that we weren’t the only ones finding the conditions challenging!