Tag Archives: Running

Could try harder

The blog has suffered because I’ve gone back to school.  I’m doing a Masters in Philosophy in Coaching (MPhil means you do a significant research piece, that’s for next year).  Weeks like this one, spent at the business school, are intensive and in between there’s lots of study and lots of writing.  Along with launching my new business there’s just about time to run but not much time to write about it.

One of the subjects I was thinking about tonight on the run was the challenge of confidence and humility in business leaders, and specifically in myself as a leader and a coach.  I’d say I don’t have enough of either.  Confidence isn’t too hard to think about.  I don’t want to waffle on so in a nutshell, in many ways confidence is everything, it allows you to be grounded and forget yourself so that you can immerse yourself in the flow of whatever it is you are doing.  Lacking an edge of confidence might not be a bad thing though.  In my case it’s the endless “could try harder” I got as a child instead of positive reinforcement in the form of praise.  Yet it gives me an edge, makes me work a bit harder.  I’m a bit of an Avis type: I may not be No 1 but I try do harder.

Humility as a notion is altogether more difficult.  I’m trying to uncouple the notion from the famous role models like Mandela, Ghandi and Mother Teresa.  They may be shining examples of humility but it’s a public and political humility.  The kind I’m trying to understand is a humility that a great business leader or star sportsman or woman can epitomise.  Utterly genuine, held in a context of great work or great sporting success.  How can you develop and encompass that humility?  Indeed what is it?

These are the questions the study leads me to consider…

The evening was mild with heat from the warm day beating up into the cooling air and as we ran along the path at the very top of the farm we came across one of my favourite flowering bulbs, the gold and brown Gladiolus maculata.  Elegant and queenly, the flower heads arched into the path in front of us.

The Eriocephalus africanus is early this year compared to last – as are many flowers – the warm wet autumn must have a lot to do with it.

As we ran down the mountain Maebh paused and the last rays from the west caught the ghostly tips of her coat, illuminating her in the evening light.

image

I have so many other flowers to post, but this magical evening run deserved a blog to itself.

 

Writer’s block

For several weeks now I’ve been wondering why I haven’t written a blog.  After all I’ve been running on the mountain, in fact my fitness is pretty good. The dogs and I have had several splendid morning and evening runs.  The weather is fabulous for us – this has been the coolest summer we’ve spent on the farm and dogs and humans have relished it.  We love the sun, but extremes, often as high as 40 degrees, can be harsh.  I did go to Europe for work a couple of weeks ago – to a freezing cold and rather depressing Paris, a city I dearly love but which was in mourning not only for Charlie Hebdo but for the loss of freedom that accompanies terrorism.  The weather was as bleak as the mood although a cancelled meeting meant some rewarding shopping and one or two excellent dinners helped cheer me up.

So why no blog?  The question resolved itself yesterday when I was running on the top road.  At this time of year the flowers die back – the middle of summer here is like the winter elsewhere, with little new growth.  The point of this blog is to share the amazing beauty and variety of flowers that grow here on the farm.  And the flowers hide from the heat and the harsh sunlight.

Then yesterday I saw a splendid flash of pink at my feet.  An Erica had burst into flower.  Of course there are 660 fynbos subspecies of Erica, so they are not always easy to identify, and lots of them have pretty pink bells like this one.  Given the season and the dark pink flowers this could be Erica pulchella.  Tiny and absolutely lovely.

The other flower that is in full bloom is this yellow pea called Aspalathus divaricata Subs divaricata (Franschhoek form).  A long name to describe a pretty rambling Cape Gorse that flowers in the driest period of the year.

Although there are few flowers, there is plenty of life stirring and getting going.  The Leucadendron salignum which lights up the mountain on dark winter days with it’s lime green colour is putting out new reddish pink growth at the moment.  And the Protea repens, the most common Protea on the farm, are covered in sticky buds, just about to flower – indeed the very first flowers have just emerged.  Could it be a sign of early rains to come?  They always flower before the first rains.  We had a cloudy morning the other day – it’s rare and pleasant at this time of year, and the new growth coloured the mountain.

Then there are the shining grasses.  As we drive down the road in the evening the light floods the new vines planted just below our neighbours house and the grasses literally dazzle the eye in pink and white.  I sent this photo to our neighbour and she commented that “they shouldn’t be there” so I daresay that next year the grass will be cleared and this extraordinary display of light will disapear.  For the next few months these shining grasses line the roads and catch the light in a display of pink and white luminosity;  I absolutely love them.

Other excitement included the dogs putting up a tiny duiker who shot up the mountain and then ducked behind a buchu plant.  The girls were giving chase and didn’t even glance at its hiding place and I pretended to see nothing and continued up the mountain.  Not long afterwards the girls were still gamboling in the lands and a glossy chestnut coloured rhebok jumped out in front of us.  Seamus was just ahead of me, but supervising the girls and although she was only a couple of feet from him, she looked at us in astonishment and leapt for cover so quickly that he didn’t even see her.  Or pretended not to.  So much for being a sighthound.

Maebh on the hunt

Maebh on the hunt

The sunsets are often incredible.  On that cloudy day the dying rays caught the cloud above the dam and turned it perfectly pink, which was then reflected in the water, a perfect end to another wonderful day at home in Africa.

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Back on the run

Just when all is going swimmingly, and I’m bouncing up the mountain with two in-laws who are both 20 years younger than me but not running any faster… then…. splat!  We went to a fabulous New Year’s Eve party and of course I can never resist wearing high heels at a party.  I’m not very tall, you see, which is a nuisance at parties.  And it was a farm party so I wore wedges which are comfortable on the gravel and in the grass.  Only you are not supposed to dance on unlevel fields in wedges.  The music started, a gorgeous if rather drunken German friend invited me to dance and off we went.  Then off I went, off the high wedge, over on my ankle and into the “ouch” zone.  Sprained ankles are the most common of atheletes injuries apparently, so I will just tell you that horrific though it was – incredibly painful, swollen and black and blue – I followed the rules: rest, ice, compression (ie bandaging) and ice.  And took the anti-inflamatories for the first couple of days when it was really sore.  And used a wonderful patch anti-inflamatory called “Transact”.  Finally I bought a tailor made magnetic bandage to wear at night to stimulate the healing further.

The splendid result of all that is that I’m back on the run only two weeks later, with an ankle that is almost completely back to normal.   AND, importantly, I danced with gusto at the wedding.  Ola, the new daughter-in-law was cross enough to lose her running companion; she’d never have forgiven me if I’d failed to dance at her wedding.

Meanwhile despite one lovely night of respite from the heat when it poured with rain for four or five hours the mountain is dry and not much thrives in the dry summer weather.  I can see the proteas preparing for the winter – new growth at the tips and the green buds of pinky white Protea Repens flowers already showing – they are the first to come through, before the rains.

Quite a few shrubs flower all year round and Erica abetiana is one that really seems to thrive when it gets properly hot.  This one lives on the driveway and gives us a glorious flash of coral red as we drive up.

Erica abietana

Erica abietana

Another perennial flower is the Salvia africana – the blue flowers are a delight all over the mountain and the flowering is prolific now. I keep posting it – I love Salvia’s and particularly this one that thrives in the heat and dust of the Cape summer.

Salvia africana

Salvia africana

We have migratory birds who visit the farm year after year and in particular one buzzard who likes to keep watch from the tall pine trees in front of the house.  He seems to tease the dogs when we run down the drive – as we pass his tree he drops of and flies down the valley along side us – calling in either outrage or amusement.  He is a magnificent bird and we always believed him to be a Steppe Buzzard.  We were having lunch after the wedding with Peter’s cousin, Yvonne, who is a devoted twitcher and when we pointed out a similar bird she said, “you know it could be a Honey buzzard, they are very special and I know they live around here.”  We go home and look it up – the Steppe buzzard hardly calls when he’s here, whereas our bird yells out all the time.  I play the call of the Honey buzzard and sure enough, that’s it.  I know Yvonne is good but how does she perfectly identify a bird she hasn’t even seen?  Birds are tricky when compared to Fynbos flowers. There are only about 800 to be seen in “Southern” Africa (and Yvonne has seen almost all of them) while there are 660 Fynbos subspecies of Erica alone.  Flowers however have one massive advantage; they don’t fly away just as you think you’ve got the salient features and might be able to identify them.

The dogs of course are thrilled to be back to running (and will equally be devastated when I get on a plane to Paris in a couple of days time).  Though the light was quite poor I cannot resist sharing this little gallery of Maebh on an evening hunt.  She is all power and muscle, a wonderfully fit and agile wolfhound.

Finally, appropriately, a sunset.  They are stunning at this time of year when fires rage in the Cape and the smoke diffuses the light in a wind-ravaged sky.

Fiery sunset

Fiery sunset

The result

Christmas, a wedding, and a little contemplation

Christmas and a house full of family and friends.  Running on the mountain continues with a bride (Peter’s son gets married on 8 Jan and they are staying with us) who is keen to keep her figure elegant through the Christmas indulgence so the running is serious and the opportunities to stop and take pictures infrequent at best.  We’ve been running through the pine forest that adjoins the farm; in the warm summer weather the stately silence of the trees and the dappled cool of the forest is a welcome break from the heat and the wind.  Because the dogs get protective I tend not to run in the forest except on Sunday mornings and at Christmas when the foresters take a break.

We did a farm run for a change this morning and saw this Tritoniopsis burchellii; the guests were good enough to wait while I snapped it.  I’ve been waiting for it to flower – I first saw it last year about this time.  They are an incredible shade of scarlet that seems almost surreal on this photo.

Tritoniopsis burchellii

Tritoniopsis burchellii

The Salvia africana is also in full bloom on the mountain – it flowers beautifully all year round and I can never resist taking a shot of it when the light is good.

After I posted the Gladiolus liliaceus before Christmas quite a few more came out above the waterfall and we went back up to take some photos of better flowers.  Peter came with me once again, the dogs followed.  We spent a happy half an hour finding the best flowers.  I took a shot of the same flower in the morning to show how remarkably they open up in the evening light.  The dogs of course take great delight in watching our antics.

Seamus and Maebh watching Peter as he inspects the fynbos flowers

Seamus and Maebh watching Peter as he inspects the fynbos flowers

It’s a funny time of year this.  We love it, there are great friends who come to stay and family as well.  The house is full of noise and this year, Peter’s first grandchild.  There is a tinge of sadness as well.  Most of the precious people I’ve lost have gone between the middle of December and the end of January.  It’s a well known phenomenon that people pass away at Christmas, for many reasons and all of them different.  So in the celebration and coming together there is also sadness, regret and reflective moments.  Loss.  These days are busy and full of treats and fun.  As we run on the mountain with the dogs bounding after Ola who bounces along ahead like the resident klipspringers, tiny antelopes with spongy feet that allow them to spring across the rocks, I follow and in the beauty of these mountains I think of those who have departed, and quietly remember them.  Not always sadly; there is pleasure in the memories, they are gone but they were wonderful and we were lucky to have known them.

Skipping up the mountain

After a week of howling wind that has distressed the garden and stripped the leaves and lots of baby olives off the trees, we finally had a quiet, damp, cloudy morning today.  This kind of weather is much more conducive to flower photos so we managed to capture a few we’d missed.

The Christmasberry, Chironia baccifera is in flower all over the place.  It has these pretty pink flowers now, and later in the year it will be covered in beautiful red berries.

As I’ve been running up the mountain in the past week I realised a sad truth.  We went to the bush for a few days at the end of November.  I love everything about the bush except for the fact that going running would make you a nice, easy, soft pink target for the predators.  So you can’t run.  A few years ago I realised the solution was to bring a skipping rope and this time I was quite good about skipping in the mornings.  It’s very boring, but it does work and to my amazement when I got home I ran quite effortlessly up the mountain.  Next time I’m struggling with fitness I’ll get that rope out.  Tiresome with amazing results.

Another tiresome thing is that I’ve missed some flowers.  I caught these comb flowers, Micranthus alopecuroides at the beginning of their flowering and this morning caught the end of the flowering, they are a little tatty but still very pretty.

Something happened while we were in the bush and it was funny enough to be worth the telling.  We came back from a game drive and I did my skipping, followed by a lovely brunch.  Tired from the early morning start, the exercise and the indulgent brunch, I decided to go for nap.  Off I went to our room, the last little cottage along the river, and lay on the bed.  It was hot; at this point I have to admit I was naked.  I duly fell asleep. A noise woke me.  I looked up.  Sitting on the balcony, lined up in rows as if in a cinema, the babies sitting on the shoulders of the adults, staring in at me through the huge windows, was an entire troop of baboons.  Just watching me sleep.  It was the most bizarre feeling.  I sat up.  They didn’t move, just stared.  It was rather unnerving.  Then quite quietly I said “go away” and equally calmly they all left.  I watched them go, en famille, off along the river bed.  We didn’t see them again for a couple of days.

Back to the flowers.  I have no idea what this pinky red pea is.  I’ll post it on ispot and see if we can find out.

Unidentified pinky red pea

Unidentified pinky red pea

These are an old friend, Selago corymbosa, quite common and very charming.

I went for a walk the yesterday evening.  I’d missed the morning run and when the wind dropped in the evening I thought the dogs would like a walk.  They certainly did and I took a couple of beautiful photos of Maebh.  The focus isn’t perfect her coat looks great in the evening light.

One of the first things to flower at the end of summer is the Protea repens and I think this might be a second flowering, it’s unusual to see them at this time of year.

Protea Repens

Protea Repens

I think this one is a Crassula but I’m not sure which one so once again I will ask the iSpot experts to identify it for us.

Diet and Exercise – The Truth of the Matter

I reached a target today.  This weekend I’m riding in a competition and I really wanted to lose the extra couple of kilos before the show.  I weighed myself this morning.  Wow, I actually made my target!

And as I was out running this morning it occurred to me that I’ve never talked about diet.  Or, let’s call a spade a spade, dieting.  This blog is about the run and the flowers.  But why run at all?  I saw a brilliant ad once, for Reebok shoes called “Belly gonna get you!”  A man was chased around New York city by the fat belly he’d have if he didn’t run.  That’s why I run; I’m afraid that belly will get me.  I run away from the fat person I don’t want to be.  The trouble is, I like to eat.  Not in an unconsidered full fat sugar chocolate driven way, more a fine dining, excellent and delicious food kind of way.  And as Peter said when I mentioned that his daughter complains that we don’t keep treats in the house, “our treats come in bottles”.

Perhaps it’s time for a flower, captured on this morning’s run, before I continue this little dietary indulgence.

This is an absolute favourite, if only for its splendid name.  Not the best photos, they were captured early this morning and I was more focused on the run and my thoughts about weight and fat than flowers.  There will be a few of them to come all over the farm and I’ll capture a better shot of this lily named Wachendorfia paniculata.

Back to the diet.  All my life I have struggled.  My family, on both sides, survived the Irish Famine in the mid-19th century for a reason.  If we were horses we’d be called good doers.  We do terribly well on terribly little.  Most of my cousins have struggled as I have.  If you stop the struggle, woah, clothes sizes accumulate with terrifying speed.

So I run away from the fat person I don’t want to be.  And as I was running away down the drive this morning I couldn’t resist a shot of this Leucospermum lineare, the Vulnerable, from a baby plant on the drive.  This endangered and quite rare member of the protea family is thriving here on the farm.

Leucospermum lineare

Leucospermum lineare

Here in Cape Town everyone is Banting. This is the name a doctor called Tim Noakes has given his diet which is a kind of super-powered Atkins.  High fat, medium protein, very low carb.  I think it’s rather revolting but I do have to admit that people who stick to it, really stick to it, religiously stick to it, do lose weight.  Some of them have got quite thin.  But as he says in his book, if you don’t stick to it, you’ll balloon.  Now I’ve tried most diets; I really mean that, you name it I’ve done it; a lifetime of diets.  It’s been my constant, rather boring obsession.  But one thing I know is that if I’m required to cut out major food groups, I’m not happy.  I might lose weight, but I’m not happy.  I can tell you from experience that the best diet is abject misery, really proper, grieving kind of misery, like after a break up, or when someone you adore dies.  That’s no way to live but unfortunately being happy makes you fat.  I believe certain drugs can be fabulous, but again, not a way to live.  Smoking was marvellous, but… once again, not a great option for life and I gave it, and control over my weight up when I was 28.  I put on that stone that I’ve never really lost.  I’ve lost weight on Weightwatchers and on the Dukan diet, but not really on any other, until now.  Running is great for controlling weight, but not so much for losing it.  Every holiday, every time I travel on business, a sneaky kilo or two is gained and oh, the dread of getting it off.   Yet I’m not interested in never having another slice of bread, never baking a cake again, never eating an amazing dinner, all five courses, with absolute pleasure.  And I do like a vodka and soda with a splash of Campari after a long day as I make dinner, usually a very healthy dinner during the course of a normal week.  And a glass of wine, or two.

So I run.  Three times a week, pretty much every week.  Sometimes four times.  If I run at the weekend I’ll do 5K or 6K, but otherwise it’s 4K.  And I do Pilates twice a week.  Vainly hoping that I may have my cake and eat it too, with a glass of champagne.  Worrying about my weight has probably occupied more of my waking hours than any other single subject.  You’d think that all that worry would mean I’d take control and just eat less, but it doesn’t seem to work like that.  Those famine genes want feeding, but the famine’s over, so delicious things preferred, please.

In August 2013 I picked up a book, rather randomly, in an airport and read it on the plane.  A colleague I’d been working with in Qatar was looking fantastic and told me about this diet.  It is called 5:2 and I immediately knew it was for me.  The logic is divinely simple.  Two days a week you eat 500 calories, that’s 2000 kilojoules.  The rest of the time you eat normally.  And where before you might slightly overeat on a weekly basis and gradually gain weight, by cutting out 1500 – 2000 calories a week, every week, you gradually lose weight.  I’ve always found it easy not to eat for a day, it’s following dietary restrictions day after day after day that I struggle with, especially with a lifestyle where we travel a lot, socialise a good bit and love to eat out. Never mind the “treats in a bottle”.  The book also described huge health benefits that the diet provides – when your body doesn’t have to worry about digesting food, it finds all sorts of useful repair jobs to do instead.  Intermittent fasting turns out to be amazingly good for you.

Peter doesn’t do it with me and is kind enough to fend for himself on my “2” days.  He doesn’t love it, but he loves the result.  It works.  I haven’t become skinny but my average has come down.  It’s not a totally steady loss.  The closest way I can describe it is if you look at a one year chart of the FTSE, the London Stock Exchange.  Take out the big plunge this October and that’s been my dieting year.  In line with the FTSE, except we want the FTSE to go up and the weight to go down!  The point is, the peaks don’t go up and up and the control has been stable.  A trip, or a heavy social agenda, a kilo creeps on here and there.  With the regular “2” days, once normal eating and exercise are established, off it comes.  If I make a bit more effort, it comes off quite easily, never quickly, about 250g to 500g a week.  But off it does come.  And I don’t have to think about it.  Just do it.  It took me a while to get used to eating so little so little in a day, but now I enjoy it – I just don’t have to think about food.  As for being hungry, that’s ok, for a day.  Tomorrow I can have what I want.  It’s no longer a diet, it’s a way of life.

I’ve told all my friends about this wonderful diet and only one has really got it, loves it and does it as a habit as do I.  I don’t know why, everyone wants to lose, or at least control their weight, and this is the easiest, most pain free way I’ve ever found that achieves just that.

We went out one evening this week to run up the mountain and saw the glory of another sunset.  The light in the olive groves, the view of the sun setting behind Paarl Rock with Table Mountain in the background.  I may only be running away from my genes but at least I get to run here, on the mountain, with the wolfhounds, in the glory of the light.

Windy Mountain

Spring is turning into summer on the mountain and the wind is howling at night and most of the day.  There is an afternoon lull but already, at 7 o’clock in the evening, I can hear it picking up outside the office and later it will whip around the house and rattle the roof.

I spent the weekend in George, along the famous Garden Route at a Horse Trials, the Western Province Championships.  We had fun, didn’t win any big prizes, but spent the weekend with our friends and got to gallop fast over solid fences which is the most fun you can have on a horse.

On Friday morning I went for a run in the suburbs of George and enjoyed sightings of fynbos flowers that have adapted to the urban environment.  Here on the farm I know only of one place where the Gladiolus maculatus blooms and that’s in July.  Looking at the book I see they are winter flowering but I saw them, or something very similar, in a spot of suburban wasteland as I ran past.  Perhaps I should have taken a closer look.

When I don’t take them running often enough the dogs get bored and take themselves off for their own runs.  Sometimes they are gone for hours and we get increasingly worried about them until they come home, panting and joyful, terribly pleased with themselves and usually soaking wet as they’ve stopped for a cooldown in the dam on the way back to the house.  Several dogs have disappeared on the mountain that we know of and we worry and worry when they are gone, we go looking for them and calling them for hours and never see a sign.  Last time I checked there was no tracker available that would work here in South Africa but recently I heard of one, so I searched again and found it in Germany.  It arrived today and has now been attached to Maebh.  She and Jemima Chew often go for a quick hunt in the evening, and sometimes Maebh and Seamus go off together, but for some reason, never the three together.  If Maebh has a tracker, we’ll know where to find them.

I know better than to think I will get any photos in this wild wind, but I’ll see what’s there and where to go when the wind drops.  They say in Cape Town that if you don’t like the weather today, don’t worry because it will be different tomorrow and the change in weather is heralded by the wind dropping to that incredible stillness on the mountain that I’ve so often written about.  When that happens we will pick a moment of good light to catch the latest spring flowers. In the meantime there is much to catch up on.  Last year I failed to name this blue flower so I posted it on ispot.  The experts suggest it might be Aspalathus cephalotes subspecies obscuriflora.

Another pretty thing I couldn’t identify is this white “flower” which is tiny and turns out to be the seedhead of Ursinia anthemoides which I photographed in August but hadn’t posted, much more interesting to post the two together now.

I love these fluffy heads that must be Stilbe, I think vestita.

The other fluffy flowers that I photographed some time ago and never posted are the wild buchu plants that grow on the farm.  Our crop is buchu, Agathomsa crenulata and hybrids thereof, and Agathomsa betulina.  These are used medicinally and in the food flavouring and perfume industries because of the powerful essential oils that have an intense note of blackcurrant.  I occassionally post photos of the buchu we farm which is indigenous to the area.  This is a genuinely wild buchu, probably either Agathomsa imbricata or capensis.

As I was running down one of the roads I noticed that it was bordered by shrubs of Salvia africana all in flower and would make a wonderful photo.  Being in a hurry I put it off only to find when I returned that a spring wind had blown the flowers to shreds.  They are tough and they flower all year but the best display is in a wet spring.  They are stalwart friends on the mountain with an exceptional colour and fortunately enough remained for me to capture some of the flowers.

Summer is Helichrysum season and it begins with this Helichrysum patulum.  We have several subspecies of this wonderful and resilient plant on the farm and they deserve a page of their own.

Helichrysum patulum

Helichrysum patulum

Along the drive the Crassula fascicularis has come into flower.

Crassula fascicularis

Crassula fascicularis

Finally, one of my top favourite flowers has emerged, the lovely spikes of Aristea capitata, unmistakable and one of the first flowers I identified when we bought the farm and I started running here.  These are prolific in damp areas and I hope they will be spectacular this year after the wet winter.  We’ll have more photos of them over the next month.

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