Monday 20 December 2010

Runningfox routes (3)

Along the Wharfe.

Due to treacherous icy conditions on the hills in and out of Grassington we'd to abandon the car three miles from home on Saturday morning and walk the rest of the way on untreated roads.  After half an hour two snow ploughs came hurtling by, as if they were racing, but neither was salting or gritting. That came later. We got our car home around mid-afternoon. A bottle of neat Concentrated Screen Wash buried under our shopping in the boot had frozen!
Snow ploughs - at speed
Sunday was a truly magnificent day when we couldn't resist going for a run. With a covering of snow and temperatures down to -10ºC the landscape glittered like diamonds under a mainly cloudless sky. We opted for one of our regular runs along the River Wharfe where long flat fields are ideal for fast repetitions or fartlek sessions. Each of us wore Yaktrax to ensure we stayed upright.
Leaving the village on a slippery road
Winter wonderland by the River Wharfe, though a bit cold for the
resident Goosanders, Mallard, Heron and Little Grebe
Striding out towards Linton Falls in her Yaktrax
Feed my sheep.......
Linton Parish Church, St Michael and All Angels,
 a place of worship since the 12th century
Gulls on the river by the old corn mill at Linton
The 'Tin bridge' over Linton Falls
The weir above Linton Falls - the farthest point of our run today
Mist rising from the river by Hebden suspension bridge
Stepping stones for those who prefer not to use the bridge
Nearly home after a stonking good run!

Monday 6 December 2010


Last year when people were crawling across the streets of Huddersfield on hands and knees, terrified of standing up on the treacherous black ice, my wonderful partner's Canadian sister-in-law sent me a pair of Yaktrax to hopefully keep me upright. Typically, there was an instant thaw! 
Sunset by Victoria Tower, Castle Hill
So it wasn't until the recent freezing conditions that I was able to give them a test drive. On a day when temperatures plummetted to -18ºC in Yorkshire I strapped them to my Trail shoes and set off across the gleaming white landscape bound for the highest point on the horizon, a place called Castle Hill which, at 900ft above sea level, is where I do most of my repetition runs. I call it altitude training.
I must say the Yaktrax performed far better than I'd expected considering that under my feet was nothing but rock hard shiny snow/ice. I didn't slip once. I was a little frightened they might spring off my Trail shoes when I moved fast but the rubber bindings never moved.
It was wonderful to wander in sub zero temperatures on top of the world, in the shadow of Victoria Tower, with absolutely no fear of slipping or sliding. Whilst many elderly people were afraid to venture outside their warm homes this happy septuagenarian was marvelling at the breathtaking sunset as the great ball of fire gouged a great hole in the western horizon. I like my Yaktrax.

Saturday 4 December 2010

A bit of ice

We drove 'goodness knows how many miles' to Thirsk last Sunday only to be told their 10 mile North of England, Yorkshire and Yorkshire Veterans Championship race had been cancelled. Spit!  I'd rung the organiser on Saturday evening to ask if the course was runnable. He assured me it was and said he'd just run round it to check it out. Furthermore he said it was a good forecast for Sunday in his neck of the woods. And he was right, it was good. There was no more overnight snow, Sunday dawned absolutely beautiful, cloudless skies and roads perfectly clear all the way to the race venue in Thirsk. Perfect racing weather. All systems go, or so we thought....
Some time after I'd phoned it seems the organisers had spotted a bit of ice on some part of the course and the consensus of opinion was that it was too dangerous to race. To say I was livid was an understatement, I'd to drag myself away before I exploded. I'd trained hard for this race, intent on consolidating my position at the top of the 2010 MV75 British 10 mile road race Rankings.  Admittedly, I'm a fell runner so a a few patches of ice might add to the excitement but in no way keeps me from doing what I love doing. Were they frightened of being sued in the event of an accident? Surely not because at the bottom of the Entry Form we all had to sign this:

A bit of ice - up Hebden ghyll
"Declaration – Please enter me for the race as indicated above. I agree that the race organisers will in no way be held responsible for any injury or damage caused to me during the course of the run, and that I am fit and healthy to run".

A much better solution would have been for the organisers to warn runners of any possible danger at whatever point on the course, then left it to the runner's discretion whether to run, or not. Well, that's the way I see it. I certainly would have run.  We drove home disgruntedly, to say the least, and went for a long run up the Ghyll where it was REALLY icy, then out onto the moor before a fast mile down Moor Lane to work things out of our system!
Latest news is that the race date has been re-scheduled to March 20th, 2011. Hope I'm still around to run it!

Wednesday 17 November 2010

On the dangers of talking to the Press

 I was rather proud of my Derwentwater 10 mile road race result and thought it merited a paragraph in the Athletics column of our local newspaper so I sent a brief email to them because I’d also found out that beating nearly half the field in 1.21.21 had taken me to the top of the official British MV75 Road Race Rankings which means I'm currently the fastest man of my age in Britain over ten miles and I enclosed a picture of the legendary Kenny Stuart presenting me with a prize for this achievement which I was also very proud of because it isn’t very often someone who’s 78 years old is honoured in this way and the Prats Press must have thought so too because they wanted me to ring this man of theirs with more details so he could do a story about this but I said I didn’t want to talk to this man because I’m not very good at talking to people so I sent a link to my Blog from which I said he could glean as much information as he needed for a cracking good story but he didn’t think that was a very good idea and insisted I phone him because it was urgent and there was nothing to be frightened of so very reluctantly I did phone this man and he asked me all sorts of questions but my answers obviously weren't very important or newsworthy because when the story came out the following day he’d written a whole lot of nonsense that was totally different from things I’d told him and which said I was the top fell runner in Britain after running very fast round Derwentwater but that race wasn’t a fell race at all because I’d run all the way on the road and haven't actually competed in a fell race for over twelve months and he also said I’d won countless fell championships in the past but that was a load of tosh because I’ve only ever won one Fell Championship and that was in 2004 when I won the inaugural English MV70 Fell Racing Championship and to rub more salt in the wound he printed a five year old picture of me running in the World Masters Mountain Running Championships instead of the one I was very proud of with Kenny Stuart who really was a top fell runner and King of the Mountains so all in all I was made to look a right silly old fool among fellow athletes who know exactly what I've run and won but maybe thought I’d actually fed this duff information to the Prats Press in which case I'm probably regarded now as a stupid self-opinionated liar who ought to be having psychiatric treatment in an old peoples home to stop me having delusions of grandeur or dreaming up make-believe stories and pretending I'm still a champion fell runner when all I really am is a geriatric top of the pops over ten miles on the road.

Monday 8 November 2010

Derwentwater 10 and a birthday weekend

Saturday, a birthday walk.
      Awoke to clear skies and a touch of frost that brought leaves shuttering from the trees. The earth under the Maple was blood red, the driveway under the limes a brilliant yellow akin to that road in the Wizard of Oz.  After a hasty breakfast we hit the trail bound for Steel Knotts, with its castellated rock tower of Pikeawassa, planning to return by the silence and solitude of lonely Fusedale. Ullswater was smooth as glass reflecting trees, high hills, rocky promontories and the deep blue of an almost cloudless sky.
      After recent heavy rain the pier at Howtown was inaccessible. A steamer approached, circling to view the situation, then quickly retreated the way it came. The skipper no doubt realised that under current conditions no could either board or disembark - unless they were prepared to swim!
Birthday girl on Pikeawassa
      Thankfully the steep and slippery path up Steel Knotts was mainly in shade but we still sweated profusely as we toiled to its high point at 1,414ft.  After recent heavy rain sheep basked in the welcome sunshine, loathe to move as we puffed past. The views were clear, sharp and utterly breath-taking. High in the stainless air a hunting Kestrel hovered on trembling wings. From high on the Nab came the distinct roaring of a Red Deer stag in the last stages of the Rut. We posed together for a birthday picture by Pikeawassa's rock tower, regarded as the sharpest summit in Lakeland.
      After ogling the panoramic vistas we descended into the higher reaches of Fusedale. A lone Buzzard dropped silently from the sky onto some unsuspecting prey. The only sounds were of distant streams and the occasional bleating of sheep.  We crossed Groove Gill by the old ruin and descended parallel to Fusedale beck.  High on the hillside towards the upper reaches of Dodd Gill we spotted two Red Deer stags with half a dozen hinds, all being friendly to each other. Their Rut was over. Time to build themselves up again ready for the rigours of winter.
Keswick and the Moot Hall
      We passed Cote Farm, gleaming white among magnificent Larch trees, crossed the bridge and took the path below Bonscale Fell to our base at Ravencragg. Here, after the obligatory cups of reviving tea, my wonderful birthday partner put her cards on display and set about opening her many delightful presents. I'm not allowed to say how old she's become, but suffice to say in tomorrow's run around Derwentwater she'll no longer be racing in the LV60 category!

Sunday, the Derwentwater 10
      Everything went right and I was ready for this race, but still felt nervous going to the start line. We'd driven to Keswick early after a good breakfast of muesli - fortified with a few grapes and half a banana - followed by toast with lashings of my wonderful partner's home made marmalade. The start near Moot Hall in the town centre was half a mile from the changing area at Keswick School, so we walked there and back to loosen our legs and locate the nearest toilets. Back at the school runners were arriving in their hundreds to record the highest number of entries in the race's 51 year history.
2nd LV65
      Lakeland was lit with brilliant sunshine under cloudless skies but there was a cold nip in the air that  prompted me to wear a thermal top under my racing vest as we jogged to the start. And for the first time ever, regardless of how I looked, I wore tight shorts (or are they short tights?) to protect my quads and hamstrings. They were a great success.  
      I placed myself in the middle of the pack and at 12 noon we were away, charging up the main street past Moot Hall bound for the jaws of Borrowdale. The first 5 miles, as far as the bridge over the River Derwent at Grange, are gently undulating so I was able to maintain a fairly even pace as far as the drinks station near Manesty. Then the climbing began, but nothing too viscious and with level bits in between where I could get my breath back before the next gradient. There were notices at the steeper bits saying 'SMILE, CAMERA AHEAD' so we all tried to look as cheerful as humanly possible as we toiled upwards with Catbells towering above and Brandelhow Park in all it's dazzling autumn glory below us. 
Last Maple leaf - waving goodbye
      The views across the lake were positively stunning with the great bulk of Skiddaw silhouetted against the sky ahead and the serrated slopes of Blencathra to the north east. There can be no more scenic race than this. Another hill towards Portinscale slowed me down a bit, then it was a flat, fast mile to the finish by Keswick School. My watch registered 1.21.21 - in 321st place from 585 finishers - which was faster than I'd anticipated so over the moon with that, and delighted to score another MV75 victory after my defeat at Richmond three weeks earlier.

With 'King of the Mountains', Kenny Stuart
Mile splits, according to my Garmin  were:
1.   8.14
2.   7.53
3.   7.44
4.   8.10
5.   8.16
6.   9.31
7.   7.58
8.   8.08
9.   7.53
10.  7.09
       To make it an even more memorable day I was photographed receiving the MV75 prize from that legendary 'King of the Mountains', Kenny Stuart.  I shall cherish that photograph. Well, I would if I could find some way of luring it from Keswick A.C.'s website into one of my picture folders, then into this report!
       Unfortunately, there was a slight problem with later results when the computer went on strike - as they do - so it was not possible for LV65 and LV70 prizes to be awarded until the results can be ratified. Nevertheless, my wonderful partner was highly delighted with her time of 1.39.14 but the second lady in the LV65 category was close to that time too. Time will tell - so to speak - as we eagerly await the final results.
ADDENDUM. Time has now told (!) and in the final results my Longwood partner finished 34 seconds and just seven places behind the LV65 winner, Liz York, but quite happy with her 2nd place performance.  Full results here.

Monday 18 October 2010

Richmond Castle 10K

The day dawned clear and frosty with brilliant sunshine. A distinct nip in the air prompted many runners to don leg warming tights, rather than shorts. I'd driven into the market square early in order to secure a sunny parking spot adjacent to all that was going on, and where I could stay warm until the very last minute. For more freedom I'd opted to wear shorts.
Shortly before 11am the flow of traffic ceased, the square blocked by hoardes of runners and their supporters.A hooter sounded and the chattering heaving mass surged forward, gathering momentum down the ridiculously steep cobbled hill towards the river.We turned sharp right, off-road through a grassy section called 'The Batts' where we'd hopefully get our second wind before crossing the river and beginning the long uphill section towards Catterick Garrison.We rustled through fallen leaves with sunlight shafting through the trees onto a kaleidoscope of multi-coloured vests and gaudy T-shirts. "See on the polished stones it danced, like childhood laughing as it went" (Shelley) was an apt description of the River Swale flashing blue and white with diamond glints between its grassy banks.
As we began to climb, the early race banter faded away, turning instead to heavy breathing and rasping grunts. Some who'd sprinted off too fast were already reduced to a walk as the field began to spread out. We reached the high point around 4km where we could briefly enjoy the luxury of some level running to stabilize our breathing before the next inevitable undulations.
"I thought there must be some bloomin' downhill somewhere" I remarked to fellow runners on a short descent after the welcome water station, but there was another nasty little climb to the 8km marker where, again, many were reduced to walking. Those I spoke to were unanimously agreed that this course has a lot more uphill than downhill, or so it would seem, with an absolutely soul destroying 'coup de grace' over the last ¼ mile up steep cobbles to finish in the Castle grounds. A lady said "I'm a fell runner but in all my races I've never known a finish as hard as that".  I had to agree but, the more challenging the course, the greater our satisfaction in its completion, a fact borne out by hoardes of jubilant runners expressing their joy to all and sundry in the Finish area.  It was a truly wonderful atmosphere.
Based on recent performances I'd calculated that 52 minutes would be an achievable target to aim for, an average of 8.22 per mile. But how do you strike an average on a course with more ups and downs than a fiddler's elbow? A pace bracelet suggested by Westie in a Runner's Forum with my predicted mile times of 8.22, 16.44, 25.06 - and so on - would be fairly useless on any course other than flat (and even more useless at Richmond where I discovered the course was marked in kilometres!). So, what to do? The only solution for me was to plant the figure 52 into the recesses of my racing brain and run to the limits of my current ability. It seemed to work for I crossed the line with 17 seconds to spare in 51.43 - placing 232nd of 452 finishers. 
On a course with over 700ft of ascent I was happy with that - until I saw the results! It transpired that two inconsiderate and over zealous 70 year olds had sneaked home ahead of me and robbed me of a prize! Being officially recorded in the Results as 1st MV75 was little consolation given that I was the only MV75 which realistically meant I hadn't actually beaten anybody! But seriously, the MV70 winner, George Buckley, an unattached runner from Nottingham, is quite phenomenal though his time of 47.04 is some way behind that of the amazing Harold Dobson who finished 69th overall in 2007 to set an MV70 course record of 43.52. The 2nd placed MV70, Ian Barnes of Darlington Harriers had previously beaten me by 2mins 47secs at Kilburn, but I'd reduced that lead to 1min 20 secs in this race. I'm working on him!
So what now? Well, back to the bloomin' drawing board, of course, but not before I've given my old legs a jolly good talking to!
Full results here:

Wednesday 6 October 2010

September's running

To summarise, September was a good month running-wise although, largely due to a two week vacation in Switzerland, my actual mileage was only half that of the previous month, a mere 64 miles over nine days. But amongst it was some quality stuff, long altitude runs, fast miles, fartlek sessions, even faster 120m repeats and a hard half marathon at Great Langdale in the Lake District.
The weather was kind too, mainly dry with sunny days and not too cold. Only once, running at 6,000ft round the Daubensee in Switzerland, did I have to wear winter tights to protect my old legs. With lots of strenuous high level walking too in Switzerland I managed to shave off a bit of belly fat too and get back to my best racing weight of 9st 12 lbs.  My pulse, which generally hovers around 44bpm, was down to 38 at the last count which is a sign of reasonable fitness.
People sometimes ask "Do you take  any supplements?" and I have to reluctantly confess that I do, mainly for joint health and more specifically for my knees. One, which I've taken for many years and swear by, is a combined capsule containing 500mg Cod Liver oil and 500mg of Evening Primrose oil.  High strength Glucosamine is something else I've taken for a number of years although not convinced it does any good! Lastly, to control my cholesterol levels, my doctor insists I take statins which, I'm told, inhibit the production of Co-enzyme Q10, so I take a daily capsule of Co-enzyme Q10 to restore the status quo (though I'm not sure whether the latter is actually a supplement, or medication). So that's it. I reckon all other required vitamins, minerals and nutrients are there a-plenty in my varied fresh food diet. Well, that and the occasional glass of Shiraz for the stomach's sake!

Monday 27 September 2010

Great Langdale ½ Marathon

Friday night camp
On the day before the race we camped in the Langdale Valley at a beautiful, well hidden spot we haven't used for years and were pleased to find it hasn't changed one little bit.  The site is not on any map, nor is there any sign at the entrance. Even when you drive into the yard scattering the geese and assorted poultry there is no evidence of anywhere to camp. To find it you have to pass through another two gates into an east facing field that catches the early morning sun.  The sum total of facilities amounts to two loos and one very cold water tap. The cost is £3 pppn.  What more could we want?
The afternoon was spent walking one of the hillier parts of the race route, returning past a tranquil tarn dotted with waterfowl against a backdrop of  towering Langdale Pikes. Dusk fell as we fuelled our bodies with a delicious chicken risotto. Soon, a full moon was sailing across the sky, the Plough stood upright against the dark wall of night pointing to the Pole star, an owl hooted in the distance and the campsite dissolved into eerie silence.

Hard work up the 1 in 3 hill to Blea Tarn
We rose at 7.30am to find the field covered in white frost, but the sun was soon on our tent imparting a cosy warmth. Breakfast was a huge pan of porridge laced with sugar and sultanas for both instant and slow release energy. By 9.30 the tent was packed and we were on our way to the race venue outside the New Dungeon Ghyll hotel in Great Langdale where crowds were already gathering. We had two hours to psyche ourselves into a positive frame of mind to tackle the strenuous course, perhaps the toughest but most scenic ½ marathon road race in all England. At such times I gaze at the friendly hills and tell myself this is where I belong, this is my stage, this is where I was born to be, this is where I perfom.
We were surrounded by tall, craggy monoliths many of which I'd climbed on, or raced over, in bygone years - such giants as Raven Crag, Pavey Ark, Pike o' Stickle, Harrison Stickle, Bowfell, Pike o' Blisco, Gimmer Crag and Lingmoor - names that read like a litany to dedicated mountaineers and fell runners. Conditions were absolutely ideal for running, cloudless skies, brilliant sunshine, clear views and just a hint of cooling breeze - but not quite matching the organiser's description as rivalling the Atacama desert for one of the driest places on the planet!  Shortly before 12 noon nearly 550 runners crowded the narrow road for the start of the race, 385 of them in the ½ marathon, the brave remainder set to complete two circuits of the course for a full marathon. After a brief pep talk, which nobody heard, a whistle blew and we were on our way.
Having been officially named as 'the oldest runner ever to run this race' I settled into a steady pace near the rear of the field trying to establish a regular rhythm over the first flat mile. For many of the newcomers who didn't know the route the next ¾ mile of 1 in 3 ascent to the head of the Pass into Little Langdale came as a severe shock and generated one or two choice expletives! I alternated little runs with fast walks and made it to the top feeling reasonably fresh.
My wonderful partner finishing 1st LV60
Descending the other side I found myself running beside a man I vaguely recognized but didn't speak as we were both in the process of getting our second wind. The road here was pleasantly undulating and I was moving fairly easily, perhaps a little too easy, but I was very much aware of another challenging hill I'd sussed out the day before, one that went on for 1½ miles from Skelwith Bridge to High Close Youth Hostel, and also with a 1 in 3 gradient at the start. However, I'd tackled much nastier hills than this in my fell running days so, apart from the initial steep 50 metres or so, I managed to run the rest of it and emerged at the top feeling good and strong. All that was left now was a steep downhill mile and an undulating 2½ miles along the delectable Langdale valley. This area is one of the most popular in the Lake District so there was quite a lot of enthusiastic encouragement and support over those last miles.  Such was this race's reputation that I'd felt a little nervous about running it, wondering how I'd cope with the 2,000ft or so of ascent en route, but I was still feeling strong as I switched into overtaking mode to move up the placings over the finishing stages. I wondered whether I'd taken it too easy at the beginning, whether I could have run it faster if I hadn't been frightened by the race's reputation? Maybe not, for if I'd pushed it earlier I'd probably be wilting towards the finish. I like to think I judged it just right!
The dynamic Longwood duo after the race
I crossed the Finish line feeling quite happy with my time of 2.01.56 - 213th of 385 finishers. My Garmin watch registered 2,888ft of ascent - but I don't believe it! My Anquet mapping system is perhaps nearer the mark with 2,276ft. One of my prizes, a book, accidentally got left on top of the car while the wine was being stowed safely away. So if anyone found it lying in the road somewhere in the Langdale valley, it's mine! Oh, and to crown a truly magnificent day my wonderful Longwood partner completed a memorable double as she duly romped home 1st LV60 in 2.23.35 - thus further boosting our stores of wine!  It had been a very memorable day indeed when both of us were magically 'raised to more than we can be'.
N.B. The chap I vaguely recognized descending into Little Langdale was, as I thought, Andrew Edwards of BBC Radio Leeds whom I'd corresponded with in the past but never met. It's nice to put faces to names. We'd a brief chat at the Finish during which I was introduced to his attractive wife and a friend of theirs, Annette Fraser from 'flat as a pancake London', who'd tackled the hills bravely to clock a creditable 2.05.51.  The long-legged Andrew in his trademark yellow shorts was just behind in 2.07.10.
Full results here

Friday 17 September 2010

Running high

Eiger - the smoking mountain
Switzerland has not had the best of weather this summer, which was bad for the tourist trade, but it turned good for us at the beginning of September. Except for one night of heavy rain that continued until lunchtime the next day we enjoyed warm sunny days for forays into the high mountains of the Bernese Oberland.  Farmers and shepherds were all busy cutting grass and there was a constant smell of new mown hay drying in the sun. But after sundown at 6.30pm it was bitterly cold, particularly at Kandersteg where we camped at 3,500ft above sea level.
Running the Eiger Trail
At Grindelwald we camped at the Eigernordwand site directly under the Eiger's towering and foreboding north wall.  We ran the Eiger Trail again as far as the glacier, trundled down a rough path to the tourist trap of Kleine Scheidegg, then swept gloriously back downhill to Grindelwald. Four American paragliders came floating down from the Eiger under their multi-coloured canopies, skimming the tree-tops and landing on the trail ahead of us.  "How the heck did you get up there" I asked.  "We climbed up!" was their simple answer.
At the Bachalpsee
We walked a circular route from Bussalp to the top of the Faulhorn and back via Bachalpsee and the rocky trail through Feld and Uf Spitzen. Marmots shrieked at us, black butterflies danced about our path, Alpine Choughs jostled for scraps at the Faulhorn restaurant and Ravens cronked across the craggy heights. Back at Bussalp cows and their calves mingled with tourists queueing for the postbus.
Top of Mannlichen with Jungfrau behind
We couldn't understand why we'd never been up the Mannlichen before on the longest gondola cableway in Europe, possibly the world.  It took half an hour to reach the 2,229m summit from which the views were truly breathtaking, particularly of the Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau and the Schilthorn with its panoramic revolving restaurant featured in the James Bond movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  Six handicapped people in motorised wheelchairs were racing towards the viewing area, one of them accompanied by a wee terrier determined to get there first.  We haven't a clue how they got up there! We returned to Grindelwald by the Romanticaweg, a winding path through heather, juniper and tall pines where woodpeckers were feeding on the open cones. Grasshoppers rasped in the warm sunshine while Marmots proclaimed their territorial rights from the shadowy slopes of Tschuggan.
The Gallihorn
Kandersteg is a little higher than Grindelwald. It doesn't have the Eiger towering over it but is surrounded by a host of other tall mountains, First, Stand, Bunderspitz, Gallihorn, Bire, Blumlisalp, Frundenhorn and Doldenhorn, so its hours of sunshine are somewhat limited.  Normally, while camping, I'm up making breakfast at first light but there's little incentive to do that when the temperature is down to zero and the flysheet is dripping with condensation. On the only wet and windy night some hungry animal, most likely a fox, put three small holes in the tent in its quest to get at our food.  It failed.
Phallic rock tower on the Doldenhorn
The signpost at the start of the steep climb to the Doldenhorn hutte said '2 hours' but we did it in 1½, so reckoned we must be getting fitter.  We climbed way beyond the hut to get good pictures of a snowclad Blumlisalp and the leaning phallic rock tower on the Doldenhorn ridge. A falcon flashed past in pursuit of some smaller bird until the two became one.  Other birds, like large grouse with lighter bars on their wings, flushed from the scrubby scree ahead of us.  But strangest of all was something we 'thought' was a large bird travelling at great speed parallel to a high cliff on our way down. As it sped past we realised it was making a peculiar humming noise and was in fact some kind of missile.
Signing the visitor's book on the Gallihorn
On a day of nasty gripes and diarrhoea, and after a certain amount of washing, we climbed the Gallihorn, an impressive looking 2,284m peak directly overshadowing the town of Kandersteg. Emerging from a very narrow and rocky woodland path onto a wider trail we were confronted by a large flock of sheep about to be herded down that very path we'd just vacated.  Ahead were warnings of stonefalls and a diversionary path had been created. We ignored the diversion. A Marmot scurried to safety under a huge boulder.  The path rose to an exposed grassy tongue where a signpost said 'Gallihorn 30 mins' but it took us but 20 to stride onto its summit.  A cross had been erected alongside a huge cairn with a recess containing a visitors book.  Cloud drifted around us, intermittently clearing to give magnificent views of the great cleft of the Gasterntal valley, with the Bahnhorn towering over it, and the frightening vertical drop down thousands of feet to the town below.
On the Alpschelehabel
Though somewhat reluctant, in view of continuing nasty squitters and not being able to sleep in fear of further spasms, we set off next day to climb the Bunderspitz, a 2,546m peak over which the sun said goodbye to us each evening.  It was another gloriously sunny day so it was warm work toiling up its flanks.  Two hunters crouched quietly behind a large boulder were presumably waiting for the appearance of Steinbok. Eight other people had beaten us to the summit, including two small children! Since last year a new cross has been erected at the summit so, of course, it had to be photographed. Returning, we traversed round by the Bunderschrinde, onto a lofty lookout called Alpschelehabel where we ate lunch, then descended to the valley floor by the Allmenalp cable car.
Running round the Daubensee
On our final day of activity we decided, in view of an impending half marathon in the Lake District, that it was time to do a serious high level run.  We opted for a figure of eight route that included a circuit of the Daubensee, a lake who's surface is around the 2,224m contour.  To start this 11 mile run we took the cable car to Sunnbuel (1,934m) and in ½ hour were passing a deserted Schwarenbach Berghotel where a French waiter bid us a hearty 'Bonjour'. In another ½ hour we were commencing our run round the Daubensee passing richly clad tourists, mostly Germans, invariably clicking along with a pair of trekking poles.  I'll admit, I've never come to terms with trekking poles which, for the majority of people, are totally unnecessary and little more than a gimmick.  At an exposed section a couple hanging onto a wire cable for support seemed quite shocked when I slid past them on sloping rocks without breaking stride!  At that height it was bitterly cold so it was imperative, wearing only minimal running clothes, to keep moving.  Pretty soon, the circuit of the lake was complete and we were heading back to Sunnbuel by a much less used, but longer, trail. We missed our scheduled cable car by a mere minute but luckily the sun was at its height, warming our bodies and drying sweaty clothes.
Bums and Blumlisalp
There were other things we did in Switzerland and other places we went.  I haven't worked out how many thousands of feet we climbed but it must have been one heck of a lot, all in the most breathtaking scenery and mostly in warm sunshine. On reaching home my scales told me I'd shed 5lbs of blubber but whether this was due to much increased activity or problems with my plumbing I'm not sure. Probably a combination of both.
At current exchange rates it was a fairly expensive holiday but for outdoor enthusiasts who love the high places it's as good value for money as you'll get anywhere.  Roll on next year!

Wednesday 1 September 2010

August bank holiday

Hebden from the crag

It's almost time for our Swiss holiday so this will be my last post for two or three weeks.  On Thursday we're flying to Zurich then catching the train to Grindelwald where we'll camp in the shadow of the Eiger.  Hopefully, weather permitting, we'll run the Eiger Trail again, climb a few mountains, refresh ourselves at some choice Alpine Club huts and enjoy all the wonderful country has to offer. 
Knock down Ginger

But in the meantime we've been going through the motions of getting ourselves fit.  During the August Bank Holiday another twenty four miles went into the running bank, four of them at sub seven minute mile pace, so the old legs are beginning to move a bit quicker again.  Also, my running diary tells me I've clocked up 124 miles during August, an average of 4 miles per day, so hopefully some stamina should be coming back too.
The barbecue men

Hebden Sports took place on Monday but I was a mere spectator whilst my wonderful partner dispensed gallons of tea to thirsty spectators and competitors. This annual event attracts visitors from far and wide, amongst them an enormous number of children who have a whale of a time competing in the various novelty and fell races roared on by enthusiastic parents.  There are games and side shows for parents too, and much local produce to be bought, but the highlight of the day, for me, is the senior fell race that takes place in the late afternoon. It's a mere 1½ miles, to the top of the crag and back, but involves a couple of high walls with deep drops on the landing side. 
Climbing the crag

This race is a little beyond my septuagenarian capabilities but invariably I'm there taking photographs of runners toiling up to the white stone that marks the summit. This year I was given the job of counting competitors off the crag so I'd to concentrate a bit - not easy when plagued by millions of man-eating midges and trying to take pictures of specific people! When the last runner passed I couldn't get off the crag quick enough, beating them back to the field and clapping them across the finish line.  Maybe I will do the race one day - if a couple of gaps can be conveniently arranged in those intimidating high walls!

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!

Monday 26 July 2010

Comings and goings

Knee deep in heather at Wig Stones
My twenty three miles of running last weekend revealed a couple of premature happenings. One of the many things I look forward to at the onset of Autumn is heather coming into bloom as I run the high moors above Hebden and Grassington. The change is usually quite sudden: one week the landscape is a uniform, dullish brown. Next it's transformed into a vast expanse of mauve/purple that exudes a wonderful scent as my feet brush through it in sun and wind. Mid to late August, around the time of Hebden Village Sports, is the time normally associated with this annual display. This year, things are different.  As I ran towards Mossdale last Sunday (July 25th) I was amazed to find patches already in full flower.

And heather isn't the only thing ahead of schedule this year. Something else stopped us in our tracks as we sped through our fartlek session along the riverbank on Saturday. Mushrooms, those tasty, irresistable bright fungi that were sadly missing from our fields and menus last year are back in abundance. So, as soon as we'd showered and changed we were out foraging for more and came home with two or three pounds to make into lunchtime soup or to fry, with copious amounts of garlic, as a starter to our evening meal.

On the debit side one of our much loved Methodist ministers, the Rev Graham Kidman, preached his last sermon in Hebden on Sunday evening before his retirement.  He is one of that delightful breed of orators one always feels enriched for having listened to. He walks with a stick, slowly and awkwardly, and sometimes appears to have difficulty climbing the steps into the pulpit. But once there his deliberate, wisely chosen words and appropriate messages keep his congregation enthralled - for as long as he cares to preach. On Sunday I counted it a privilege to read the New Testament lesson for him, a passage from Paul's letter to the Philippians - that book that has us 'running towards the line for the prize of our high calling', an appropriate text for runners, and everyone else! We wish Graham much joy and happiness in his well earned retirement.