Friday 4 December 2009

The Poseidon Adventure

We left home with umbrellas up on a dark, cold rainy morning en route for Leeds/Bradford airport for a flight to Alicante. For reasons best known perhaps to inmates of a local asylum we were bound for Benidorm to run in their annual International half marathon. At 9am with visibility down to around 40m we'd visions of our flight being cancelled but by 10.30 it had cleared a little and we took off at 11am, just 15 minutes behind schedule. All was well. Well, almost. Although we'd booked our flights together Jet2 had split us up so we spent the next 2½ hours in silence.
A representative (called Kipper) of 'Running Crazy' met us, as arranged, under the green flashing cross at Alicante airport and fairly soon we were whisked into Benidorm and dumped at the door of the exceedingly plush Poseidon Palace Hotel. Initially we were given a south facing room on the twelfth floor but for the last three nights we were moved to a similar room at the very top adjacent to the honeymoon suite. It afforded spectacular views towards the sea, of hills glowing red at sunrise and a kaleidoscope of multi-coloured lights as night fell. We reckoned it was the best room in Benidorm.
The race took place on the morning after our arrival when I was pretty well at my lowest ebb. In a strange bed I'd not slept very well. After strange food the previous night I woke up with tummy ache and diarrhoea (embarrassingly so). Also, my neck was playing up so I couldn't turn my head in any direction without considerable pain. I'd taken 600mg of Ibuprofen before breakfast but needed more. Four minutes before the start of the race I was still perched in the portaloo.
I charged out and joined the tail end of over 2,000 runners just as the gun went off accompanied by a noisy fireworks display. We all had timing chips so it didn't really matter how long it took to cross the 'Start' line, but I was going to have to do an awful lot of bobbing and weaving to make up time before I could settle into my race pace. I passed hordes of people in the first mile or so before drafting behind a tall fellow who was able to slow me down to a more reasonable pace. After about two miles, when I'd recovered somewhat, I left him in pursuit of a slightly faster runner wearing a buff, pirate fashion, on his head (behind me in the picture) who I managed to hang on to until the last mile or so when he sneaked away. Somehow I managed to smile and raise my arms in triumph as I crossed the 'Finish' line in 1.49.52.
It had been a very hard race but enjoyable (sort of) on an almost dead flat course in ideal racing weather. My only gripe is that veteran prizes only extended to 1st male and female Vet 60's. If a small race like our local Meltham 10K, which attracts around 250 runners, can award prizes in all the 5 year veteran categories, why can't a larger International race of 2,500 runners do the same? My wonderful partner just missed out on an LV60 prize and I was officially 45th MV60. Unofficially, in spite of my terrible time, I was 1st MV75! Results here:

Monday 19 October 2009

Richmond Castle 10K

We did it again. The intrepid duo of Longwood Super Vets ventured into the rolling hills of Swaledale yesterday and scored another impressive double in the Richmond Castle 10k. The weather was fantastic, the autumn tints at their glorious best and the field, limited to 500 runners, just big enough for camaraderie and comfort. The organisation, marshalling, prize-giving, etc. were all top class. And there was even a beer festival going on in the same hall as registration - for those who indulge in such things!
But quite honestly it was the hilliest 10K I've ever run (well, it was sponsored by the Hilly Clothing Company!). Even sixty years ago I'd have found those hills hard. But the crowd support and encouragement kept us running in places where many might otherwise have walked, particularly the last ¼ mile with 150ft of ascent from the river bridge, up tarmac, then cobbles, then grass to the finish in the grounds of Richmond Castle.
However, in the MV70 category I hung on to beat last year's winner, David Whitmore of South Shields Harriers, by around 2 mins to finish 220th from 461 finishers in a time of 50.43. And to make it an even more memorable day my wonderful partner romped home first lady in the LV60 category with a time of 1.01.59. Another good day for the Longwood Harrier Super Vets.
Needless to say, we'd a suitable celebration in the evening!
Full results here

Friday 9 October 2009

Gone.......but not forgotten

It's nice to see a church full to capacity with standing room only for late-comers, and that happened in our little village of Hebden last Monday (Oct 5th). But it's a shame it's mainly weddings and funerals that attract so many people. Yesterday's occasion was for the funeral of an old running friend of mine, Peter Wilson, of whom I have many fond memories. It was Peter who first introduced me to all the wonderful wild running routes around Hebden some 18 years ago when I became known as 'the new runner in the village'.
I say 'around Hebden' but in fact we ran far and wide, over Great Whernside, Simon's Seat, over the border into Nidderdale - anything up to 18 miles - for Peter was a long distance specialist. He'd run the Dales Way, 81 miles of rolling countryside from Ilkley to Windermere pacing his good friend Frank Milner and supported by Guy Goodair. He ran the Three Peaks of Yorkshire (24 miles/4,500ft ascent) on several occasions finishing well up in the field. He squelched his way round the 32 miles of the Haworth Hobble. But his most oft-recounted story was of friendly rivalry with another local runner, John Ely, in the classic Borrowdale Fell race, a favourite route over 17 miles and 6,500ft of beautiful Lakeland terrain.
In training, for important races like the London marathon or Three Peaks, I ran hundreds of miles with Peter in all seasons and all weathers. He was a jocular giant whose wry humour and 6' 4" frame made the going so much easier as I trotted behind him through Mossdale monsoons and Barden blizzards. And towards the end of a run, when he thought I was tiring, he'd say "C'mon you bugger" and set off like a bat out of hell, careering down some long slope with me trailing in his wake. "By 'eck, I enjoyed that" he'd say as he mopped copious sweat from his brow.
After his funeral, his burial in the churchyard, and after a delectable funeral tea in a packed Clarendon, I went for a run in his memory. "This one's for you Peter" I silently intoned as I ran up the cutting in Hebden Ghyll. Strangely, for the words were still in my mind, there came a weird response. Lying in the road was a £5 note. It was as if he were saying "And this is for you, have a drink on me". He was with me in spirit for the rest of the run, through Yarnbury and on past Bare House. And as I ran down the wonderful springy turf towards Grassington at full speed ahead I shouted "C'mon you bugger". And I'm sure he did.
Rest in Peace Peter. You were a great guy.

Saturday 12 September 2009

Running high in the Swiss Alps

We're back, after a wonderful two weeks of good weather, good walking and scrambling - and even a day or two of good running. It was 29ºC when we arrived in Geneva but a tad cooler as we rose a couple of thousand feet to our first camp at Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland. A sign said 'Campsite Full' but it was night-time so we sneaked in anyway and put up the tent in our usual spot in the shadow of the Eiger while everyone slept. Around 2am something smashed into the side of the tent, hitting me, jolting me awake and putting a hole in my forehead. A huge dog fox was silhouetted against the light outside. Was this some special greeting for Old Runningfox? Or a warning to stay out of his territory? During our stay we heard several foxes calling throughout the brilliant starlit nights.
When we arose in the morning quite a few people were in the process of packing up to leave, so we didn't really feel guilty about having sneaked in. We signed the book and planned our itinery. The Eiger Trail was one of the highlights of our five days in Grindelwald. The blurb said 'For well equipped and experienced mountain walkers' and there were plenty of these in evidence leaving the train at Alpiglen, attired in expensive clothing, with bulging rucksacks, boots and trekking poles for the 2,000ft of rocky ascent under the north wall of the Eiger as far as the Eigergletscher. With 140 years between the two of us we didn't know whether to feel chuffed or embarrassed as we tootled past them in our shorts, running vests and trail shoes! After a brief rest by the glacier we trotted down to Kleine Schiedegg, zig-zagging our way through hoardes of spellbound tourists gazing towards the shining triptych of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, before jogging gently back to our base in Grindelwald. We showered, had a late lunch and spent the rest of the day basking in glorious sunshine. It might seem strange to some but, old as we are, we prefer such activities to lounging around on beaches!
Of course, we did other things from Grindelwald, like walking the high level route from Schynige Platte (an Alpine botanical garden with around 600 different species) amidst breathtaking panorama, then over the Faulhorn and down past the Bachalpsee to the Gondola station at First. And we plodded our way up to the Baregg hutte, built to replace the old Stieregg hutte which was demolished in a landslide, for a most enjoyable lunch of tagesouppe mit brot. On our way down we passed an elderly grey haired gentleman in a collapsed state who'd had a nasty fall on a rocky part of the trail and badly gashed his head. Other walkers were attending to him, mopping up the blood and trying to stop the bleeding, but we felt quite embarrassed as neither of us had any first aid. With such confidence in our own mountain goat abilities we'd never bothered to carry such things. We do now. That sight taught us a lesson.
Oh, and I seem to recall we did another run before leaving Grindelwald, just a short affair after the rain cleared one day, but around a thousand feet of ascent!
Then we moved to Kandersteg, another favourite haunt of ours with a variety of exciting walks we never tire of repeating. Instead of carrying food we often climb to one of the Swiss Alpine Club huts in the area to enjoy an al fresco meal, or a mug of hot chocolate. Among our favourites are the Doldenhorn Hutte (1915m), the Frundenhorn Hutte (2562m) and the Blumlisalp Hutte (2778m). As we set off to the Doldenhorn hutte we met a man of 87 years old, Dave Williams of Derby, who'd never been there and asked if he might go with us. We'd no idea of his capabilities or whether he could manage over 2,000ft of rough ascent that involved a cable assisted scramble at one point. We reluctantly agreed and the chap was absolutely amazing. OK, he rested a couple of times on seats placed at intended viewpoints, but he hardly got out of breath in spite of a constant stream of chatter relating his life history. Then lo and behold if he didn't try chatting up the charming young girl in charge of the hut, who'd served our meal, and insisted on having his photograph taken with her!
I've no idea how many thousands of feet we climbed during our eight days at Kandersteg. The sky was mainly cloudless and I was jolly glad I remembered to take my sun glasses. Marmots screamed their disapproval as we intruded into their territory, Alpine Choughs formed little black clouds against the intense blue, Steinboks lounged in the sun high above the Oeschinensee, para-gliders sailed back and forth under their multi-coloured canopies, cows, sheep and goats jangled their bells as they munched their way through alpine meadows, deep purple gentians and pale astrantias dotted our various routes whilst a myriad butterflies of yellow, blue and almost black were our constant companions but too frenetic to remain still and be photographed. We were also treated to the spectacle of cows being brought down from the high Alpine meadows and paraded through the main street of Kandersteg clanging their huge bells, their heads decorated with spray of leaves and bright flowers. A girl on the Geneva train told us the Swiss people have a great passion for the mountains and feel compelled to spend time there every year to restore their souls. I know exactly what she means.
We'd an airy sort of day climbing the Jegertosse, a high altitude viewpoint overlooking the Gasterntal with the ice-clad Bahnhorn dominating the view. There is a wooden cross and a steel box containing a visitors book where I logged our names and commented on the wonderful situation. We spent another day locating a high lake called Talaseeli which we'd failed to find on a previous occasion. This time we found it and lunched above it in scorching sunshine. We climbed the twin mountains of First and Stand which treated us to an adrenalin ridge and an exciting bit of scrambling (cable assisted) between the two.
And of course, we ran, a delightful route with around 1500ft of ascent starting from our campsite, dropping down to the Frutigen road, then rising steeply up through the forest to the Oeschinensee, a green lagoon in a bowl of towering rock - a route we ran several times in our build-up to the World Masters Mountain Running Championships in 2007 where my wonderful partner finished first Brit in her category. I haven't quite got over that. I could only finish second in mine!

Sunday 23 August 2009

A good day at Burnsall

It was touch and go whether or not to run Burnsall. It's a tough 10 mile race with a strength sapping hill around the eight mile mark, just where you don't want it. The previous weekend I was starting a 7 day course of antibiotics (2,700mg a day and strictly no alcohol) to treat another flare-up of my dreaded Diverticulitis. So, on Monday I went for a ten mile jog around Mossdale to determine whether the old system was in a fit state to race. I decided it was, so filled in a form and, being unable to find his letter box, stuck it through the cat flap of Jim Maxfield's (Entry Secretary) door. I was glad I did.
Race day turned out gloriously sunny, perfect for spectators strolling by the river with an ice cream or bottle of beer in their hands, but a little on the warm side for runners. Ian Fisher led the stampede from the village green with the multi-coloured mass trailing behind like the tail of a comet. It's my local race so there was much calling of my name as the people of Hebden shouted encouragement. Approaching Grassington I tagged onto a purple vested girl called Tania from City of Hull A.C. Due to some neurological problem in the past she'd lost the use of both her legs but was now sufficiently recovered to set just the right pace for yours truly. We ran together until we'd climbed out of Thorpe.
"There's none for you" shouted Little Ken as I approached the water station, but gave me a cup all the same. And I needed it. Shortly afterwards Sarah King of Skipton A.C. rode past on her bike shouting encouragement. She's a far better runner than me so I called after her "Oi, you ought to be in this race" - to which another voice from the side of the road replied "Save your breath yer daft old b-----r". It was my old friend Eric Smith from Otley A.C. who has a habit of using choice language when he sees me. Perhaps it's something to do with me breaking his Northern Vets MV65 10,000 metre track record which he'd proudly held for ten years. I knocked a minute off it! I left Tania in Thorpe, telling her it was now all level or downhill to Burnsall. Her legs were beginning to tire but mine still had sufficient strength to run down an Otley vest I'd focused on some way ahead. I crossed the line in 81.36 - my slowest ever ten mile race but I was quite happy with it considering my poor condition and the fact I'm now the oldest I've ever been!
Runningbear in full flight
For the fifth (or is it sixth) time I was awarded the prize for being the first local to finish the race. Considering the 'local' area stretches from Bolton Abbey to Littondale it seems ludicrous that a 77 year old man is still allowed to lift this trophy in view of the wealth of young talent available. But I'm not complaining. Their loss is my gain.
After the race I had the pleasure of meeting the amazing Runningbear (aka Sarah Jarvis of Bingley Harriers) who'd finished 7th overall to create a new lady's course record in an incredible 59mins 58secs. - a time to be really proud of in this demanding race. I declined the invitation to warm down with her on the grounds my old legs had done quite enough thankyou!
Right, I must start to focus my mind on the Alps. We're flying to Geneva on Thursday and will be camping under the Eiger by nightfall. My Trail shoes are washed and ready!
Full results here:

Postscript.. It later transpired my time of 81.36 was the fastest run by an MV75 throughout the whole of 2009 and put me top of the British Rankings.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Lowther, Lowther, and we'll run for our lives.....

Gosh, that was a hard race for geriatrics, but enjoyable in a masochistic sort of way. After a cosy night at Ravencragg on the shores of Ullswater it was but a short drive through Celleron and Askham to the start of the race with its gaunt backdrop of Lowther Castle. Although we'd run this race before my wonderful partner had been worrying about this race for days (and nights) on end, ever since she'd read about them revamping the route to cut out a lot of the tarmac and include some rougher terrain, a river crossing and a 600ft climb to make it more interesting. She's very wary of that word 'interesting'.
In the race pre-amble those with dogs were told to keep them strictly on leads and not to interfere with other runners - to which one of the well trained dogs duly barked its acknowledgement. At 12 noon we were off to a flying start down a bumpy field where I twice turned my ankle before limping out onto the short tarmac strip through the village of Askham. Fortunately, 600mg of Ibuprofen I'd taken beforehand kept the offending appendage numbed for the next six hours. It seemed an awful long way to the first checkpoint on Heughscar Hill, reached in 31.47, punctuated by one of my regular 'splats' where I picked up various handicaps like gravel in the palm of my hand, half a cowpat on my knee and mud in my beard. My partner says I'm hardly fit to be let loose in the hills any more, and I'm beginning to believe her.
It was a wonderful run down to the Cockpit and on to the first drinks station where, for the first time in my life, I washed down one of those sticky gel things. Then it was into the bogs, getting our feet wet as we followed the profusion of red and white tapes through the otherwise trackless terrain towards the cheering people of Butterwick. One of the obstacles my partner was dreading, the wide crossing of the River Lowther, was quite a tame affair really, the water being placid and little more than knee deep. I expected a bit more fight from a Lakeland river!
Back on terra firma I glanced ahead to see tiny figures, way ahead of me, zig-zagging up through the bracken onto the heady heights of Knipe Scar. After 9 miles of hard running a 600ft climb was just what my ancient legs didn't want. But I was inspired by the fact that a chap in a blue vest, who I thought was Peter Taylor of Cumberland Fell Runners, my closest rival, outright winner of the very first Lowther race, and who'd galloped past me somewhere near the Cockpit, was slowly coming back to me. Softly, softly, I reeled him in and managed to put a good chunk of daylight between us before the next checkpoint (reached in 1.32) at the SE end of the Scar. It's a good job I did. In the last mile and a half the dreaded cramps started to set in, first in my Rt groin, then in the left. The purpose of the painkiller I took prior to the race was to hopefully ward off such discomforts. It didn't work!
I forced down a Mini Mars Bar while walking and stretching before easing back into a gentle run. I crossed the Finish line in 2.06.27 to win the MV70 race, five minutes ahead of my rival. My wonderful partner battled round to take the LV60 prize in 2.35.16 and make it a notable double for the Longwood Harrier Super Vets. We were both awarded Cumbria Crystal glassware and useful vouchers. So there was cause for celebration, a gradely meal and a nice bottle of wine when we arrived back at Ravencragg, tired, but very happy. It later transpired, according to Hayfella, that after major redesigning of the route the total ascent is now in the region of 2,300ft as opposed to the 1,500ft published in the FRA Calendar.
PS. Apologies to Leona Lewis for distorting the words of her song, 'Run', in the title of this piece.
PPS: I must try to stop thinking about Leona Lewis!

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.

Monday 29 June 2009

Clotted Cream and Coast Paths

It took six hours to drive from Yorkshire to our much loved campsite at Crantock in Cornwall. We arrived at John's door at Higher Moor spot on noon to be allotted our pitch in a delightful position that caught both the morning and evening sun. We'd asked for the 'Asparagus field' but it was fully booked by a group with enormous tents, big cars, over-proportioned bodies and inflated egos. I couldn't even get a 'good morning' from them! By one o'clock our tent was up and we were enjoying a much needed brew in body-hugging sunshine and a pleasant breeze.
Two hours later, when all our gear was sorted out, we set off on the first of our daily runs around the Common, four miles of undulating paths lined with orchids and a myriad other flowers, where skylarks sang joyously in a cloudless sky and quivering kestrels hovered. In the twelve days that followed we ran another 86 miles, mostly in the early mornings before the heat of the day, and all but one in similar sunny conditions when the whole of nature was bursting into an extravagant fullness of life. Of course, with a combined age of 140 years, we bumbled along at a fairly sedate pace whilst other runners, mainly women, showed us a clean pair of heels, amongst other well shaped bits and pieces!
While washing up one evening I got chatting with a lady called Sue who, it transpired, lives less than seven miles away in Yorkshire. She said her sixty year old partner, Eddie, is also a runner and often runs one of the same routes as me over 'Castle Hill' back home. So I went for a word with him, inviting him to join me on one of my morning runs round the coast path. Whether he'd seen my extra spurt as I re-entered the campsite at the end of one of my runs, I don't know, but he was having none of it. "There's no way I could keep up with you" he said. It was disappointing in a way but, being seventeen years older than him, I took it as a compliment.
By way of training for a half marathon at Masham in North Yorkshire on July 5th I'd worked out a twelve mile route predominantly along the south west coast path but which later veered off through Ministry of Defence property and back by inland paths. It looked feasible on the map. My partner and I were jogging along very nicely over two miles of dunes when we came to a locked gate with razor wire across the top barring admittance. But the funny part was, we were on the INSIDE and couldn't get out. We'd somehow wandered onto a vast Army firing range with the added danger of unexploded shells, bombs and goodness knows what besides. We couldn't retrace our steps quick enough, and very light ones at that!
Our ears pricked up when a motor cycle drove onto the campsite one evening. A glance out of the tent revealed it was drawing a huge six foot strawberry shaped trailer. It stopped, the driver lifted the lid and almost disappeared inside the darn thing, his legs flailing the air like some clown as he delved in to dish out its luscious cargo of Cornish strawberries and clotted cream. We couldn't resist and willingly handed over our £3 for this special treat. They were some of the most flavoursome we've ever tasted and a welcome change from cheese and biscuits to finish our evening meal.
Although we recognize most of the common butterflies around home we're not familiar with some we encounter elsewhere. But we did manage to identify the beautiful Painted Lady that joined the Red Admirals, Tortoiseshells, Heath Fritillaries and Common Blues which brightened up our walks and runs. My partner returned all excited one morning after seeing a fox calmly strolling back to his den in a thicket by the beach before the tourist hordes arrived. Apparently a fox regularly crosses the campsite at night (maybe hunting for scraps), as do four or five badgers which often make an awful mess as they rip up the grass in search of worms. Since a top Government Vet told him they carry all sorts of diseases, John says he'd shoot all the badgers if only it was lawful! Buzzards once nested every year in an enormous pine tree, the young of which used to drink at a fountain in the garden on leaving the nest. Alas, they've been driven away by crows, magpies and marauding gulls. Thankfully, the Buzzards' lesser cousins, Kestrels, still hover around the campsite and over the Common, hanging in the air almost motionless.
For some inexplicable reason the Methodist Chapel was shut when I went to worship at the advertised time on Sunday morning. So I hurtled a quarter of a mile down the hill to the beautiful old church at Crantock and got there as they were singing the first hymn. I fumbled with the door and shortly a steward let me in. I assume the door is normally locked against visiting tourists and sight see-ers while services are in progress so I felt honoured to be allowed in whilst others, later, were turned away. Compared to Methodist services it was quite 'High Church' with much waving of incense and tinkling of bells during the Communion service, but very enjoyable and easy to follow on the printed sheets. So I felt quite at ease. But I gave my knees a nasty bashing when I flopped down all too hard at the altar rail to partake of the bread and wine. Unlike the comfortable cushions in churches back home there was just a thin layer of carpet on a stone step! The Minister was a lady of Dawn French proportions, but of somewhat different intellect, who preached a creditable sermon on the Storms of Life. The stewards, and everyone else, were extremely friendly and welcomed me heartily. I'll go there again. It was collection money well spent!
After being kept awake until midnight by four giggling girls, then by two guffawing cider-quaffing couples till one in the morning, I suggested to John he place notices in all the toilets stating 'STRICTLY NO NOISE AFTER 11PM' - explaining that we geriatric runners have to be up in the morning, so need our beauty sleep. "Who are they? he asked. When I told him he simply said "Well, they're going this morning." The toilet walls remain unadorned.

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Upper Wharfedale off-road half marathon run on Saturday, June 6th, 2009

It was cold, heaving down with rain and blowing a gale for the start of the Upper Wharfedale ½ marathon so I waited until the very last minute to decide what I was going to wear. In the end I opted for running tights rather than shorts because my old legs are subject to cramp when they get cold. A thermal top, running vest and lightweight Paramo rainsmock proved an ideal choice for my upper body whilst for footwear I wore my trusty old Inov-8 Roclites. Suitably dressed I didn’t mind the elements at all. Throughout the race I was running at exactly the right temperature.
The first ½ mile from the start at Threshfield is flat or downhill but I resisted the temptation to push it at that stage knowing the next 3¼ miles rises 680ft to the first checkpoint. I settled into a steady rhythm that I managed to maintain for most of the race. A Rotherham Harrier came alongside, chatted briefly and went slightly ahead. At some point I got ahead of her and pulled her along. She was determined she wasn’t going to lose touch!
From the 1st checkpoint the route drops 500ft in the next 1½ miles, crossing the river Wharfe at Conistone before the next 2½ mile/780ft climb to the top of Mastiles Lane. A Cuckoo was calling and I'm sure it was mocking me! The Rotherham girl was ahead of me again at this point, intent on running all the way to the top if it killed her. I must admit to walking the last 100 yards or so up this 1 in 4 to give my running muscles a few moments rest. I was mighty glad to get to the juice stop at the next checkpoint.
The next phase was one of the easiest, about 1½ miles to the third checkpoint at Bordley with only 90ft of ascent. Here I declined the offer of water, thus getting ahead of my Rotherham companion, and plodded on through the rain. Beyond Bordley there’s a steep downhill with a 250ft climb out at the other side. Here I must admit to walking again (only because I couldn’t run!) and by the time I’d got to the top my shadow was just behind me again.
The next checkpoint was unmanned so we’d to click our dibbers in an electronic timing device fixed to a gatepost. The guy in front missed it so I’d to shout him back – thus gaining a place! After an initial 80ft or so of climbing towards the next checkpoint, also unmanned, the rest of the route was all level or downhill. It was also quite boggy and for the first time in the race the mud was above my ankles.
By this time the rain had stopped, the sun was trying to get out and Skylarks were singing. I took off my rainproof smock, which took a bit of controlling in the nasty wind, and eventually got it rolled up and tied round my waist. Meanwhile the Rotherham girl was streaking away down the field ahead of me, passing a Clayton-le-Moors harrier who impeded my progress at the next stile, complaining how slippy it was. Over the stile I surged past him, gathering speed now, and closing the gap on the black vest ahead of me. All at once she bent down to tie a shoelace and I almost collided with her. From there to the finish it was me doing the pace making, crossing the line a few seconds ahead of her. But we’d helped each other a lot so mutual congratulations were due.
My official time was 2:17:54 which I was quite happy with given the nasty, wet conditions for three quarters of the race. Annoyingly, the prizes finished at the MV65 category but, at 77, I was awarded a prize for the oldest finisher. I enjoyed the day immensely and was delighted with my level of fitness off a crash training programme. Alison (Hargreaves) was there, clocking a time of 2:41,:37, but husband Andy was in the Outer Hebrides, sailing to St Kilda as part of his Sailing Proficiency Certificate. Gilly was there too - winning the LV50 race in 2:09:02, so she's considerably faster than me now. "Aye, but it's taken me thirty years to do it" she said.
I celebrated in the evening with a choice piece of rump steak and half a bottle of 14% Rosemount Estate Shiraz. Roll on the next half marathon at Burn Valley in early July.

Wednesday 3 June 2009

Cooling down.....

According to Look North's Paul the weatherman yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far with temperatures reaching 26ºC in the shade. Today is grey and overcast, 10º cooler, and much pleasanter for my 4 mile morning run to Farnley Hey and back. This will be my last run before Saturday's Upper Wharfedale half marathon where I hope to give a good account of myself. As yet there's only one other runner in my age category, a guy called Robert Hall, who I've never heard of. I'm looking forward to more friendly rivalry with Andy Hargreaves, Alison and Gilly, not to mention the post-race banter!
As promised by Gareth Sear at my new sleeping bag duly arrived at 11am. It felt very light when I took delivery and I couldn't wait to unpack it and slide inside to make sure it was the right size for me. It's perfect! It's a smaller, womans, bag so not as much spare room in it as there is in my Marmot, and should keep me warmer. It's also lighter, 850 grams compared to the Marmot's 1,100 grams. I'm looking forward to snuggling into it in Switzerland.
There's an interesting article called 'A Runner's Plate' in the current issue of 'Running Free' magazine. It mentions the Harris-Benedict principle for assessing the amount of calories required daily according to age, height, weight and the amount of exercise we do. Based on my statistics, I require 2,145 calories per day consisting of 59 grams of fat, 134 grams of protein, 134 grams of carbohydrate and 76 grams of alcohol. So that's where I'm going wrong, I'm not drinking enough wine with my meals!

Tuesday 2 June 2009

The runs.......

I awoke this morning with the galloping trots so didn't get out for my morning run as early as I would have liked. Just as I was about to set off a visitor came, Dave Watson, telling me his tale of woe about how he'd torn a calf muscle in the Leeds 10K race. He repeated this story several times, presumably to make sure I understood all the agony he'd gone through, not just at the time of the actual tear, but all the torture he subsequently went through at the hands of the physio. By the time he left I was ready for the loo again.
It was 8am when I locked the door for a second time and toiled up the road to Castle Hill where I'd planned twelve hill repeats. In the heat I only managed six. My mouth was parched and I wished I'd taken some water. I think the diarrhoea may have been partially responsible for my lack of fluid. I trotted down to the cricket field for some faster reps but, again, I only managed six, watched rather disdainfully by two guys who've recently had a new house built and who's patio looks straight down the wicket. They were lounging in the sun, one rather obese, the other smoking, as if they were in Tenerife. I spoke as I passed them, trying to be sociable, but all I got back was a grunt! My Garmin said I'd only done 5.35 miles - in 53 minutes. I'm sure it tells lies.
After morning coffee I replied to Markus's email, with it's wonderful pictures that brought on a severe bout of nostalgia, taking me back to my final Munro, the Mamores and wonderful wild campsites. Then I searched the running forums for anything interesting, or any replies to my posts, but nothing exciting was happening. One post about the Halifax 5K race confirmed my belief that the chap who calls himself Epocian is in fact Guy Goodair, a friend of Peter Wilson.
Then the post arrived with a package to sign for. It was my replacement Anquet mapping for Great Britain North, plus a 1:25:00 section of the Crantock area. I uninstalled the old Anquet maps and loaded the new ones. At first glance I don't think the new Great Britain maps are any different from the old ones, so I could have wasted money there. But I do like the larger scale Crantock map. The interface for these newer versions is quite different from the older edition and it's taking a bit of sorting out and understanding - for my old brain. Unlike the old system it wipes any routes from the map when you log out - unless you save them, which I still haven't figured out how to do. I must learn, quickly.
My partner rang at 2pm, as she has almost each day since she arrived in Canada. She sounded a bit weary, or perhaps a little tired of the necessary routine of daily hospital visits to her sick brother, taking the dog for walkies, watching videos and spending time alone. I do hope there's good news of his progress before she leaves on Sunday. She'd apparently had a rather stressful day yesterday when taken for a meal out with an old friend of hers who now lives in Canada. There journey was blighted by road works and long diversions, not to mention her friend's 80 year old husband who was driving!
An email from Gareth at informed me my Women's Rab Quantum 400 sleeping bag will arrive before lunch tomorrow. I hope it's the right size for me, unlike the walloping great thing it's replacing which would fit two of us inside.
The weather deteriorated this afternoon, clouds blotting out the sun, but it's still very warm. According to Paul the weatherman, today has been the hottest day of the last few good ones. It was certainly very warm when I was trying to run this morning. However, there was a glorious sunset tonight but whether it presages another good day tomorrow remains to be seen. Sunset? Good grief, it must be time for bed!

Monday 1 June 2009

First writes

This is Old Runningfox's first attempt at blogging and not at all sure how to go about it. Most of what I write will be about running or training, or travel to exciting places - like our recent visit to the Outer Hebrides. Regarding the latter I made the mistake of emailing a friend and including photographs of the dazzling white beaches where we'd camped wild on Barra, Eriskay, Harris and North Uist. He was most impressed and wanted a list of their locations which I refused to give him. I hope he wasn't offended, but I tried to explain that such sites are to be kept to ourselves. Those wonderful places wouldn't be the same if all and sundry were wild camping there. Neither would the locals like it, though most of them welcome responsible overnight campers and are very helpful and hospitable.