Tuesday 28 July 2009

Strayed over to Harrogate.

Generally speaking, I enjoy my running, otherwise why would I keep on doing it? But racing is a different matter. It hurts, so apologies to my longsuffering partner if I wake up a bit crabby on race days. As I got out of bed on Sunday and drew back the curtains it didn't augur well for the Harrogate 10K race at 10.30 that morning. The weather was diabolical driving over Greenhow (often is) but appeared brighter over towards the golf balls. By the time we parked up by Valley Gardens, behind a white Porsche, the rain was reduced to a very slight drizzle which thankfully stopped altogether during the race.
It's a popular race and possibly attracted more runners this year with the modified course that cuts out the long climb up Penny Pot Lane. While noseying round the Entries table we noted that race numbers had exceeded the 700 mark. A girl called Ali from one of the Running forums came to introduce herself before the start, one of those rare runners who doesn't possess a runner's watch to time herself. She had a running bottle she didn't drink out of very much. "It's just that I have to have something in my hand" she said.
There were an awful lot of people lined up in front of the 35 minute marker, so thought I'd join them! Consequently, I was off to a good start when the hooter sounded and ran a quickish first mile (for me) before settling into my race pace. This was my first 10K race since Meltham in January where I'd run a pathetic 52.24, and I was determined to get inside the 50 minute mark to restore my confidence and move up the MV75 rankings for the year. The two lap course was slightly undulating, as opposed to hilly, so suited me fine, and I was able to maintain a regular eight minute mile pace throughout. And unlike the Meltham race I still had a bit in hand for a flying finish. I crossed the line in 48.05, so was happy with that. Also, for the first time in a while, I managed to sneak into the top half of the field, 259th from 606 finishers, to take the MV70 prize. My partner was 3rd Lady over 60 (of 12) a full 16 minutes behind Carol Wolstenholme of Hallamshire Harriers. Full results here.
There was one drawback. Although it felt perfectly OK during and after the race, my Rt calf muscle woke me up at 3 o'clock in the morning with a series of nasty little twinges. After lathering it with Arnica and popping an Ibuprofen I later went for a very steady 4 mile jog to see how it reacted. It twinged a few times around the two mile mark but felt mainly OK, but I'm going to have to nurse it a bit before the 13½ mile Lowther Run in two weeks.

Thursday 23 July 2009

Altitude training

According to Google Earth my town house stands at an altitude of 645ft but most of my training, if you can call it that, involves running even higher. About a mile and a half away is a flat topped hill beloved by traction kiters, dog walkers (who mostly drive to the top) and more energetic people who stroll up to admire the wonderful panoramic views. It's encircled by a newly laid sandy path about half a mile in length that roughly follows the 900ft contour around the perimeter This is where I do most of my training when I'm away from the Dales. I call it altitude training, and that's where I was today.
I allowed my breakfast a whole hour to settle before lacing up my shoes and jogging gently upwards through the fields to commence my session around 9.30. The weather was beautiful and I had the hill to myself. Well, almost, after I'd scattered the rabbits and an odd pheasant, though one of the local Yellow Hammer population persisted throughout with his 'little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese'.
Two marker posts are conveniently situated about 180m apart on a bit of path that is slightly uphill and it's here I do my faster reps. My Garmin said I'd run exactly two miles when I set off on the first of 9 x 180m reps, lengthening my stride over the first half and accelerating over the last 80m or so. Nine reps gives me just over a mile of fast running, which is quite enough for me at my time of life! I always finish with a circuit of the hill to cool down before jogging back home. But this morning I still felt fresh with energy to spare and my 'jog home' incorporated 8 x 20 seconds acceleration runs. I just hope I can muster the same sort of energy when I run the Harrogate 10K!

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Stepping up - and up

With the Lowther Trail only three weeks away it occurred to me I haven't done much in the way of training for the up and down bits of it. OK, I managed the Burn Valley ½ marathon without too much hassle a couple of weeks back but that was mainly on tarmac. The Lowther is more of a fell race so I reckon I ought to polish up on my hill work. For 10K's I train over longer distances, for 800 metres I train at a faster 200 metre pace, so for Lowther's 1500ft of ascent I ought to be climbing in excess of that.
With this in mind I set off from Hebden on Saturday along a route I haven't done for years, and very pleasant it was. The first four miles along the road past Burnsall, on through Appletreewick to Howgill were reasonably flat. But towering ahead of me, inky black against the lowering sky, was my intended destination, Simon's Seat. There's an awkward little bit up a wall side through a plantation that was no problem fifteen years ago. I could jog all the way up. This time, rather ignominiously, I found myself reduced to a hard hands-on-knees walk. Fortunately it didn't last long and I was soon back on a good track and heading upwards at a steady pace. "Nice day" I said to a lone walker I passed plodding towards the cairn. I'd hardly got the words out when we were hit by a heavy shower. That'll teach me to keep my big mouth shut! Since conservation work took place on the path leading off Simon's Seat towards Dale Head, nature seems to have taken a hand. The huge boulders that originally formed nice level steps have now settled at some very jaunty angles that call for a considerable amount of care when descending. Beyond, over the next stile, the rough path was pouring with water after the previous day's deluge. I cut across fields to Skyeholme and up the delightful Troller's Ghyll, singing a Leona Lewis song as I went, but hoping no-one was listening. The dulcet tones faded on reaching the steep exit path at the top but re-commenced as I jogged happily down Appletreewick Pasture, the local cows and their calves looking somewhat bemused:
Light up, light up
As if you have a choice
Even if you cannot hear my voice
I'll be right beside you dear,
Louder, louder,
and we'll run for our lives......
........and I was certainly enjoying life on the run as I reeled off the miles back along the riverbank to Hebden.
The only trouble was, I hadn't informed my partner where I was going. I'd passed her half a mile into my run and she believed I was doing quite a short route that would get me home in time to get the kettle on ready for a cup of tea when she got home shortly afterwards. Wrong. She was home long before me and soon started to panic in case I'd had one of my regular 'splats' and was lying injured somewhere. After half an hour or so she decided to get out the car and start searching for me. She was mighty relieved to find me trotting happily back into the village having run 'halfway round the world', as she put it!
My Garmin registered 3,223ft of ascent, so that's the up and down bit of the Lowther training in the bag. To try and generate a bit of speed (ha-ha, that'll be the day) I've sent off an entry form for the Harrogate 10K race next weekend. Watch this space!
Picture shows Simon's Seat in the distance, taken from Hebden.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Shame on me

I bought a Garmin!
Running is a simple matter that boils down to just two things, stride length and stride frequency. No-one poo-pooed the use of a Garmin more than I did, arguing that it made running obsessional rather than something to be enjoyed. When I run I need to be aware of my surroundings, flowers, birdsong, deer, badgers or foxes that cross my path, the wind on the moor, the surge of the sea, the stoop of a peregrine, etc. etc...
A Garmin, I thought, would be a gross distraction from things that matter more. I don't want to be constantly glancing at my wrist to see whether I'm ahead or behind my 'virtual running partner', or be annoyed by little beeps telling me my pace has dropped. I run at a pace my body, and the terrain, allow me to run at. My one ruling has always been that I NEVER train at 100% effort. At any stage of a run I like to think I have that little bit in reserve that will enable me to run faster if I want or need to do. That way I've kept reasonably free of injury or burn-out. And it got me into the world rankings.
So, I can only think it's because what an acquaintence said, about 'boys must have toys', that a few weeks ago I bought a Garmion 205. It was reasonably cheap and I liked the idea of it measuring routes and ascents quite accurately, instead of me having to work these things out with my Anquet mapping system after every new run. I've also used it in fell races and find it disputes the stated mileages and ascents given by race organizers. As yet, that's all I've used it for (perhaps because my decrepit old brain hasn't yet figured out how to do anything else with it!) so it sits there on my wrist throughout my runs without even a glance from me. I get home, plug it into my computer and Voila, it tells me all the information I want to know for my running diary, and I can even have a look at my route on Google Earth if I want. It's very clever.
I haven't yet considered it as a coaching aid, and it certainly couldn't be regarded as an artificial aid as someone described it, but watch this space. If the Ginko Biloba does its stuff I might one day figure out all its other wonderful functions and hopefully remember which buttons to press.

Monday 6 July 2009

Scorching round the Burn Valley - a ½ marathon race..

It was one of those days when I really felt it's time I took up some more leisurely pursuit, like fishing, when I could sit in the shade by a kingfisher river with a couple of cans of lager in a cool bag and a few salad sandwiches, contemplating my navel and hardly expending any energy at all. But yesterday I was in Masham for the 19th running of the Burn Valley ½ marathon and the more tales of horror I heard about this 'scenic but demanding course', the more I wondered what the heck I was doing there.
"It's basically uphill for the first 9½ miles, after that it just undulates a bit" someone said. Another friend (I think) said "There's a nasty hill around the six mile marker that goes on for 1½ miles. Then it drops down into the valley past a farm before climbing steeply out the other side". Just the sort of thing I wanted to know. Nothing like a bit of mental preparation. I was plainly going to have to raise my sites. The pre-race weather forecast was for thundery showers but, instead, we got 24°C of searing heat. As we assembled for the start in the market square it was like standing in an oven. Good job I'd lathered my neck and shoulders with Factor 30.
Five, four, three, two, one, ZEERRROOOO - and we were off, the leaders as if they'd been shot from a catapult, myself at a more sedate shuffle as befits a septuagenarian gentleman with legs like road maps. After a circuit of the town we set off to cross the River Burn for the first time and made our bumbling way to Swinton Castle where lots of photographs are shot annually to make it look like a posh race in next year's advertising campaign. We re-crossed the river and ran west through the village of Healey where an old running friend of mine, Eric Nutter, is buried in the churchyard. He would have loved to be matching strides with me as I took off towards yet another river crossing before the long uphill climb up Breary Banks and past the memorial to the highest point.
At some stage in a race I usually manage to lock onto someone whose pace is roughly the same as mine and this time was no exception. I passed a tall, lithe, fair haired girl, a Harrogate Harrier, on a downhill section about two miles from the start. But she was having none of my tricks and came bouncing past me at the next uphill section. "I'm used to running at a faster pace, so have the oxygen" she said. Really? What fascinated me most about her was that her heels never touched the ground. I count myself as a forefoot striker but my heels do in fact kiss the ground lightly before take off. In her case there was always a gap between her heel and the tarmac. I'll admit, there were other sun-kissed curves and contours that caught my eye too!
The afore mentioned drop into the valley and up the other side duly arrived but it was no hassle. I'd got the pace exactly right and was moving comfortably at all times. We crossed the river for a fifth time before the long stretch back, past my old mate in Healey churchyard, on to the village of Fearby where some kind lady gave me a jelly baby that lodged in my mouth for the next two miles. There was supposedly a fast downhill section from Fearby Cross, down to the penultimate river crossing, but I didn't rate it as very fast. Or my legs didn't.
Shortly afterwards, on the run back to Swinton Castle, I spotted an old rival running 20 or 30 yards ahead of me. From the final entry list I'd been led to believe I was the only person over 70 in the race, and there were no entries on the day. Yet here was this guy, the Yorkshire MV70 half marathon champion, plodding along in front with a number on. Time to change gear. Time to speed up. I ranged alongside with a cheery "Alright there Don?", but he didn't look too happy to see me. I moved ahead to the noise of his feet slapping behind me. I powered up the next hill. The noise became fainter. A little further and he'd gone off the radar. On reaching the Castle the Harrogate girl came past again, to some rude calls of "Bouncy, bouncy" from roadside yobs. She'd scented the finish and had also changed gear. I latched on behind, allowing her to pull me along, but there was no way she was going to let me catch her again. She crossed the line in 1:56:55, 22 seconds ahead of me. I was pleased at breaking the two hour barrier, particularly as I hadn't run a half marathon on the road since 1998. My MV70 friend finished a few places behind but disappeared quickly before I'd chance to talk to him. His name never appeared on the results sheet so it's obvious he'd naughtily run the race using someone else's number. So, as the only official MV70 I was awarded a snazzy little boxed medal and £20's worth of vouchers. All finishers received a small glass memento but I'm quite puzzled as to what to do with mine!
In all fairness I should add that my wonderful partner ran this race too but would be horrified to think her name might appear in an internet diary. I should also add she too was first in her age category although she'd never run a road ½ marathon in her life before, which, I think, makes her rather special.
The race was one of the best organised I've ever attended. There were at least six drinks stations en route in addition to three places where sponges were available. The post race meal was a revelation, like the feeding of the five thousand, with a surfeit of most excellent food. The good people of Masham really did us proud - and made this old man very happy indeed. Huddersfield Examiner report here.
Postscript: The following Sunday we were in Masham again, but this time as tourists, exchanging our £20 Black Sheep race vouchers for exceedingly smart royal blue hooded tops at the Brewery Visitor Centre. Then we drove to Fearby for our 'two lunches for the price of one' at the Black Swan. My partner chose traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding whilst I opted for the sea bass. It was all very relaxing. Quite a change from the rigours of the previous Sunday.