Monday 23 August 2010

Burnsall Feast Sports

The Mummers (the one in the brown coat is a local  GP)

The opening of Burnsall Feast Sports this year was much enlivened by the Penny Plain Theatre Company appearing in the guise of a rabble of down and out Victorian actors performing songs, dances, a hilarious Mummer's play and various bawdy sketches interacting with embarrassed members of the audience. The action took place under the shadow of a huge Wicker Man towering over the village green for the very first time at Burnsall Sports.  The flag on the fell top that normally flutters over the proceedings had blown away during the morning's high winds!

The old acknowledging the ancient!
The wind was still gusting a bit as the 10 mile road race got under way at 2.30 but it was sunny too, perfect for racing. Having suffered a hacking cough since the Arncliffe race I'd called at the chemist in Grassington in the morning and asked Sue for the most potent cough medicine available. "I'm racing the Burnsall 10 in a few hours time" I told her, so the magic fluid hadn't much time to do its job!  
With over 950ft of ascent the road race has more feet of ascent than the classic fell race which takes place a couple of hours later. It's uphill from the start but the worst bit hits you at 7¾ miles where it climbs 195ft in just over ½ mile to the village of Thorpe. Surprisingly, my old legs coped very well and I actually managed to gain a couple of places on that Thorpe section. I was 89th of 116 finishers in 87.36 which was a tad faster than I'd expected in view of my race rustiness this year. Bring on the Langdale ½ marathon!
Rob Hope winning the fell race

This years classic fell race over 1½ miles/900ft ascent marked the 100th anniversary of Ernest Dalzell's record breaking run when he completed the course in 12minutes 59.8 seconds. Special T-shirts had been printed to mark the occasion with a blank panel on the back for runners to record their own finishing time.  Nearest to Dalzell's mark, but exactly one minute slower, was Pudsey and Bramley's Rob Hope with seven times winner Ian Holmes (Bingley) in 2nd and Ilkley Harrier Tom Adams in 3rd.  Local lad Ted Mason of Wharfedale Harriers came home to enthusiastic applause in 4th place and had the pleasure of leading home the winning team.

A film crew were there throughout the day and it was rumoured the days proceedings were being filmed for an outdoor programme on Channel 4. At the traditional mass hymn singing a camera and microphone were hovering over my head as I croaked and coughed my way through 'Jesus shall Reign'. Sue's recommended cough mixture was apparently beginning to work. 

Tuesday 17 August 2010

An energetic weekend

Last half mile
Saturday. Our weekend began with a low key race at Arncliffe, an olde worlde village in the heart of beautiful Littondale.  It was Gala day.  The village green was lined with stalls, games and competition stuff while the Lofthouse and Middlesmoor silver band filled the air with mellow sounds.
The four mile road race is excellently organised by Mike Critchley who, way back in 1987, was the proud winner of the Pennine marathon, a race at that time rated one of the toughest in the country.  His time was 2.34.07 which is mighty impressive for a course with around 2,000ft of ascent. How do I remember that? Well, on that same blistering hot July day I registered the very first win of my athletics career by lifting the MV55 prize with a time of 3.30.04. It was totally unexpected and, without doubt, it changed the course of my life. Now, still going strong  after 23 years and 33,000 running miles, here I was lining up with 120 other fit looking athletes for my 286th race.
Still smiling!
At 1.30 Roger Ingham, the colourful commentator, shouted 'GO' and we were away, first through a bottle-neck where cars were queueing to get into the car park, then for two miles down the winding road parallel to the River Skirfare to cross Hawkswick Bridge. A sign said 'Drinks, 200 metres' but I totally missed seeing where the welcoming water was.  I carried on with dry throat along the undulating route back up the riverside to Arncliffe where Roger announced me as 'this 98 year old world champion' as I crossed the finish line. If my appearence in any way matched how I felt it's possible many spectators believed the first bit of that remark!
I was 84th of 118 finishers. However, my time of 32.49 was far slower than the 29.30 of three years ago which I believe is an MV75 course record. Must check with Mike about that.  But my MV70 course record (28.32) was broken last Saturday by an unattached runner from Nottingham called George Buckley who scorched round in an amazing 28.25.  Only recently I was discussing the deterioration of Veteran times and performances with someone, then up comes this guy to prove me wrong! Well done George, proud of you.
Mike Critchley & Runningbear
Other noteworthy performances were registered by the incredible Runningbear who easily won the ladies race with a time of 23.40, by my old friend Ken Chapman of Kimberworth who set a new MV65 course record when he crossed the line in 28.59, and not least by my wonderful partner who, much to her surprise, was awarded the LV60 prize (she was even more surprised to discover she's the current LV60 course record holder!).  Prizes in the form of sports vouchers were supplied by Terry Lonergan (called Lonnie Donegan by our comical commentator) of Complete Runner who also ran a creditable race to finish 2nd MV60 in 27.22.  Terry, we will be visiting your Ilkley shop shortly to redeem our vouchers. A lady from Middlesmoor who we'd never met before kindly emailed the first two action pictures featured above. Thankyou Ann. Full results here.

Sunday.  To say I was 'a bit stiff' on Sunday morning would be an understatement. I'd been called upon to read the lesson again at our local chapel and gave the minister a wry smile as he announced the chapter and verse before adding "Here is Gordon springing out of his pew to come and read it for us." He knew very well what I'd been up to the day before!  It was some time after the service before I set out for a six mile run in an attempt to loosen up.
Once I'd got them going the old legs didn't feel too bad as I climbed 600ft in the space of three miles to the old mining hamlet of Yarnbury. From just above Yarnbury I ran a measured mile down Moor Lane, towards Grassington, at slightly less than 100% effort. A glance at my watch told me I'd achieved a time of 6.45 - in spite of being harrassed by a friendly black Labrador intent on having a play.  I was quite happy with this time until I realised the incredible Runningbear had run nearly a minute faster than this for four consecutive miles in yesterday's race. That jolly well put things into perspective. Whether it was because of this, or in spite of it, an evening trip across the road to the Clarendon was called for, ostensibly to put some liquid carbohydrate back into the system, but there may have been other reasons!

Monday.  As forecast, the day dawned sunny and warm, just perfect for a long slow run across the heather moors with my wonderful partner.  We set off with juice and jelly babies to supposedly suss out a new circular route after assuming, quite wrongly as we found out, that our local gamekeeper had extended a track from Grassington Moor over into Mossdale. We put up three decent sized coveys of partridge in Hebden Ghyll and wondered if they'd strayed away from the umpteen thousand pound's worth of birds recently bought into the Grimwith shoot, just over the hill? I'm sure our local shoot will be delighted if that's the case! As we climbed onto Grassington Moor we were disappointed to find the track had not been extended after all. It ended where it always ended. So we were into rough stuff, heather, cloudberry, boggy patches and half hidden drainage ditches, so we'd to slow down and watch where we planted our feet. We didn't mind. The sun was shining, it was warm and we'd clear views of Simon's Seat, Great Whernside and all the surrounding purple moors.  Grouse clattered away almost from under our feet and the blooming heather had attracted peacock butterflies. We passed the memorial cairn, erected above the six entombed cavers in Mossdale Caverns, before crossing the fence and dropping into Mossdale  for refreshment by the recently refurbished shooting hut.  A room that was once full of junk, and an occasional dead sheep that had trapped itself there, has been converted into a rather posh loo complete with hand basin, soap and towel. That's handy to know!
The second part of our run became something of a fartlek session with a few quicker reps, uphill efforts and a faster mile down what we call 'the long wall'.  My Garmin reckoned we'd run/jogged/walked a total of 10.98 miles which, at our time of life, is far enough to be termed a 'long run'. And I'll tell you what.  We didn't half sleep after it! 

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Pure gold

Wheat fields
In the run up to Saturday's four mile race at Arncliffe I took things very easy today. A nice, slow enjoyable run through waving woods and fields of golden corn. In stubble fields that have already been harvested hundreds of wood pigeons and strutting pheasants were filling their crops with leftover wheat that had obligingly escaped the thresher. Three Roe Deer went flouncing through the corn along their own secret path to the sanctuary of nearby trees. 
Castle Hill - for my altitude training!
It was a wonderful feeling to be moving effortlessly under a benign sky with a cooling breeze through this beautiful landscape, not as 'monarch of all I survey' but an intrinsic part of it, as much at home there as the deer, the wild birds and the solitary hare that steals from his form at night.  According to this morning's newspaper a young girl just over the hill from where I was running scooped £1.1million pounds on the lottery last Saturday. If it were possible to evaluate, how would that Holmfirth teenager's new found wealth and happiness compare with that of an elderly man running enraptured through a sea of golden corn?

Monday 9 August 2010

Better runs

I'd no sooner entered the Great Langdale ½ marathon last weekend, online, than my race number plopped onto the mat along with a letter from the organiser that began "Dear oldest runner ever"..... and ended with a PS that said "even if you don't win the MV75 category you'll still get a prize for the oldest runner to finish".  Now, isn't that nice?  Thankyou Rocket Rod.  But what's the betting some gnarled octogenarian will get wind of this and crawl over the finish line into a waiting ambulance just seconds before the prize-giving to spoil my day?
Gaining height to the heather moors
Anyhow, I've stepped up my training this week, just a little. Good old Joe Henderson of 'Runner's World' fame has put me onto the 1-1-1 plan. What the heck is that, you may well ask? Well, all I have to do is run one mile, once a week, one minute faster than my normal training pace.  In his book, Better Runs, Joe relates how this plan knocked 3½ minutes off someone's 10K time after only four weeks. I doubt very much whether that person was 78 years old but nevertheless I'm giving it a go. However, to speed things up even more I modified it slightly, making it into a 1-2-2 plan by running one mile twice this week at two minutes faster than average training pace.  Watch this space!
Grassy path by Mossdale beck
The weather was kind last week, at least while I was out running. In sun and wind, with heather in full bloom, I'm always tempted to run miles farther, enjoying the heady scent for the short time it lasts. On Sunday I followed a twelve mile circuit around Grassington Moor with a cool 1,800ft of ascent thrown in for good measure.  With only four days to go until the 'Glorious Twelfth' the moor was brimming with grouse, all seemingly in prime condition.  And I saw something else I've never seen before in the twenty years I've been running up there......lizards. At Howgill Nick a small one, not much bigger than a newt, scuttled into the heather a fraction of a second before my big foot was about to land on it. Then I disturbed a larger one, perhaps six inches, sunbathing on the gravel track towards Mossdale. All in all it was a wonderful run.  I returned home a very happy man, and a very thirsty one at that!

Monday 2 August 2010


Years ago, before my wonderful partner retired from teaching, Friday evenings were rather special, a time to unwind, to put the pressures of work and cares of the week completely out of her mind, to totally relax and hopefully continue this mood throughout the weekend. Out came the red tablecloth, on went some soothing music, a candle was lit and a nice bottle of wine uncorked to accompany our evening meal. Since her retirement, five years ago, 'red tablecloth night' has shifted to Sunday. Ministers conducting the evening service are in danger of being boycotted if they habitually preach for too long, thus keeping yours truly away from his gastronomic delights - and his wine!
What's this got to do with running, you might ask?  Well, the clue is in that word 'wine'. Depending upon ones state of mind, stress levels, tiredness, or whatever, alcohol can make one do some very strange things. I can only surmise last weekend's Sauvignon Blanc was of a particularly potent vintage, much higher than the 12% it said on the bottle, for it conned us into doing something particulary odd.
Like what, you're wondering?  Like switching on the computer at way past bedtime, downloading an entry form for one of the toughest road half marathons in Britain and entering online, just like that!  What's more, there doesn't appear to be a get-out clause for people who change their minds when the effects of alcohol have worn off. It seems we're fully committed to run the Great Langdale ½ marathon on Saturday, September 25th, whether we're fit, or not. I suppose we should thank our lucky stars we didn't have a brandy to round off the evening or we may well have finished up in the Marathon des Sables!