Wednesday 28 December 2011

Christmas frolics

Carol singing round the village
     Christmas comes but once a year, and thank goodness for that a lot of us might say. Any more of them and we'd be positively obese! Things started to hot up in Hebden on the evening of the 23rd when a group of us braved the bleak mid-winter to traditionally sing carols round the village, thus proclaiming to anyone who didn't already know that Christmas had officially begun. Time for some ding dong merrily on high! Our scattered congregation were all very appreciative and a grand total of £118 was raised for Manorlands, a well deserving hospice in the West Yorkshire village of Oxenhope. The evening was rounded off with an alfresco gathering around a brazier where the stars shone brightly as we quaffed mulled wine and stuffed our faces with some rather more-ish mince pies.
     It rained most of Christmas Eve but a brief weather window around 2pm had me reaching for my studs and nipping out the door for a seasonal run up the ghyll and over into Mossdale. It was bordering on dark when I got back two hours later, but I'd packed a head torch in my bumbag - just in case. Later, it rained harder than ever, rattling the west facing windows and seeping under the back door. Outside, the wind chimes jangled madly, like some grand crescendo to a Messiaenic masterpiece, almost drowning the Church bells calling the faithful to midnight mass.

Choccies and malt whisky
     It rained throughout Christmas day too, but we didn't care. We didn't have to go out and besides, we'd a few other interesting things to do. I'll unashamedly admit that, apart from one cup of tea at breakfast time the rest of my fluid intake for the day consisted entirely of alcohol. It began before lunch when a charming elderly neighbour invited us into her cottage for champagne and 'nibbles' around her brightly decorated tree. It's essential  to have a man around on these occasions because her fingers are not strong enough to uncork the champagne. I'm more than happy to oblige!
     Then it was back home to delve under the tree and pluck out our own presents while consuming yet more lunchtime nibbles and another bottle of choice bubbly. Our many presents from many friends required many digital pictures to email to said friends displaying our ecstatic faces and exceeding pleasure at receiving such thoughtful gifts. Among mine were three bottles of single malt whisky! Also, an exceedingly expensive Paramo mountain shirt from my wonderful partner which suggests to me we might be spending less time running in 2012 and more time wandering the hills together at a more sedate pace. Curiously, I 'd been thinking along roughly similar lines when I gave her a lightweight Salomon rucksack, a lightweight waterproof jacket and lightweight headtorch. But what I had in mind was RUNNING the hills as opposed to other touristy means of getting to the top!
That bright new jacket
     A bottle of excellent Chardonnay, suitably chilled, accompanied the traditional Christmas dinner, preceded by a mouthwatering salmon and prawn starter and concluded with some rather rich Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. I barely remember washing up, or at what time we crawled up to bed, but I do remember waking in the wee small hours feeling exceedingly dehydrated and in need of some fluid other than alcohol.
     Boxing day was dull and cloudy but mercifully the rain had stopped. We ran up the ghyll together before parting company at Cupola Corner to go our different ways, my wonderful partner heading towards Yarnbury to return home by a shorter route, me continuing on an eight mile circuit of Grassington Moor and Bycliffe Hill to burn off more calories. My choice was a huge mistake. At 1,500ft the umpteen miles per hour gale was raging like a mad thing, all very well when bowling me along from behind, but sheer hell when I turned to face it on the way home. I progressed in fits and starts and a few short jogs over Bycliffe, but it was impossible to run with my eyes streaming water and the wind tearing my breath away.
Stone man - a cairn high on Grassington Moor
      It was the same for the next mile, along the Mossdale track and past the Stone Man (cairn) until I'd dropped a couple of hundred feet to the long wall below Howgill Nick where it was only slightly less exposed.  I stood for a couple of minutes beside the wall, totally knackered, getting my breath back and waiting for some strength to seep back into my old legs for the long run down.  Then, as I set off running again, an amazing thing happened. A raven cronked overhead, riding the wind majestically, perhaps showing me how clever he was at handling the maelstrom. That raven stayed with me like some guardian angel for the next three miles, almost until I was back in the village. It joined me at almost exactly the same place on a previous occasion but left me after a mile or so. On Boxing Day it stayed with me until I'd run over all the rougher, stonier parts of the ghyll, crossed the swollen beck on submerged stepping stones and all the way down to the final ½ mile of smooth tarmac where it gave a final 'cronk' and sailed away.
    I seem to recall reading somewhere (was it Gavin Maxwell?) there's something unlucky about ravens, but I've always regarded them as friendly birds and give them a cheery wave when I come across them up on the moor. They're particularly delightful in display mode, flying together at speed and flipping over onto their backs as they flash through the air like avian answers to the Red Arrows. No, I can't believe a bird that gives so much pleasure can be a harbinger of evil. Quite the reverse, I tell myself, hurtling towards my 80th birthday, occasionally flipping over onto my back as I trip over some projection and go flashing through the air.......... Ho hum!

Sunday 18 December 2011

More snow

White landscape below my house
     It snowed again this week, then the sun shone and the frozen landscape glittered like diamonds under a blue benign sky. Ice crackled underfoot as I ran through familiar fields, past holly bushes bright with Christmas berries, past horses in winter blankets contentedly scrunching dry hay from their rack in a field below the Castle. Sorry I forgot the Polos!
    On days like these it feels like running is the most natural thing to do, the easiest and most enjoyable form of exercise, energizing the body while filling the lungs with the purest of air.  In buoyant mood inspired by the weather I churned out another twenty glorious miles this week. I dread the day when I can no longer run. 
     After recent ten mile jaunts, interspersed with shorter ones of three or four miles, my old legs are starting to regain some strength and I get the feeling it will soon be time to introduce a bit of speed work again. The post Christmas period, following the inevitable wining and dining indulgences, should be an ideal time to start. Father Christmas might even have brought me some foul weather training gear, in which case I'll have less reasons to procrastinate. 
    A quick glance at ClustrMaps today revealed my Blog had visitors from all sorts of interesting places, from Spain, Austria, Australia, Taiwan and various US States - Oklahoma, Indiana and Maryland. Some are regulars and visit every week but I haven't a clue who most of them are. I wish I knew.  Anyhow, to all of you, thankyou for dropping in. I wish you a Happy, peaceful Christmas and a wonderful New Year. If you're runners, train well, enjoy your racing and celebrate lots of new PB's (or PR's if you live in the States).
     PS. There's currently a huge shambling bull in the field you see in this picture who, along with his cows and heifers, snuggles under my garden wall in the wee small hours. It took me a while to work out it's this hot-blooded bovine family that are responsible for my security light constantly switching on and off - depriving me of sleep! 

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Getting in the mood for Christmas

Christmas starts here
    The first snows inevitably turned our thoughts towards the joys of Christmas, so we've been pretty busy this past week. To set the scene, and get us into the right mood, the tree was hauled out of the loft and duly adorned with sparkly glass baubles and multi-coloured lights. Windows were polished and secondary glazing installed to keep out Jack Frost, making the cottage more cosy for forthcoming celebrations. Seasonal messages were scribbled on festive cards and sent hurtling off to friends and relations all over the world. A few presents were bought and wrapped, though many more have still to be decided upon. There is still ivy to collect, to curl around the overhead creel, and holly to brighten spare corners, but we're almost there.
The desolate track into Mossdale....
    In rare weather windows we also found time to run, over Castle Hill, around Burnsall and even through a snow dappled landscape into the wilds of Mossdale where, in no uncertain manner, the window slammed firmly shut. Rain and hail, driven by gale force wind, rattled the hood of my lightweight cagoule as I trundled along the track towards the huge bulk of Great Whernside which was totally hidden in thick, drifting cloud. The landscape was totally desolate, not a tree nor a sheep, not a rabbit or wild bird; only the bare rocks, tangled heather, mist, patches of snow, moss and weathered walls.
                          ...and the muddy way out 
    I was glad to reach the high point at four miles and 1,540ft where I'd shortly afterwards turn for home. Unfortunately I was also turning into the path of the oncoming storm that slowed my pace considerably for the next couple of miles until reaching lower ground. Near Bare House I passed Nigel, a local dry stone waller, bald headed and hatless, repairing a fair sized gap on quite a high and exposed part of the moor. A real hard man! We flung greetings through the wind, but I didn't stop. There were three more miles to go. 
    It was quite a relief to drop into the more sheltered confines of Hebden Ghyll, cross the overflowing beck and run back into the village where, naturally, I put on an extra spurt for the benefit of anyone who might happen to be peeping through their window! My Garmin registered an exact ten miles. After a few stretches while the kettle boiled I flung a couple more logs on the stove, then slapped my hands round a welcome mug of tea. The animal was happy. Very happy!

Monday 5 December 2011


Raging River Wharfe
    After a couple of short steady runs during the week, come Saturday I decided it was time to lay the ghost by repeating the 10 mile route on which I came to grief some eight weeks ago.  Time has healed the damaged ribs, the pain has gone, I can take deep breaths again, I can even sing and do press-ups - though not all at the same time, you understand.
    It was cold, windy and showery as I set off alongside a raging River Wharfe en route for the five mile turn-around point at Barden Bridge. The path was slippery and slutchy and at one point my feet went flying from under me - yet again - but luckily no harm was done. I sprang up and continued running with nothing more than a bruised ego. I was back in Hebden (just as my wonderful partner was setting out to look for me!) in two hours and two minutes. My Garmin registered 10.47 miles, so I was happy with that. After all there are 28 gates to open and shut on the path to Barden Bridge and the same to be repeated on the way back. Plus, I'd stopped to take photographs of various interesting features en route, as I do, to illustrate my Blog. I ached a little, particularly my Rt knee, but it felt wonderful to be back up to ten miles again. From henceforth it will be a matter of build, build, build all through the winter, getting strength back into the old body ready for racing again next year.
Pico Deseada, on the volcanic island of La Palma
    Talking of next year we recently decided that, God willing, we'll celebrate my 80th birthday on the beautiful island of La Palma, off the north west coast of Africa, staying at the same wonderful hotel that fed and watered us so well last February. So, we were a little concerned on reading a news report yesterday which said that just across the water beside a neighbouring island, El Hierro, a volcano has been continuously erupting under the sea for over a month. According to the report, it could even form a new island, or add new territory to the south coast of El Hierro. In spite of around 11,000 tremors over the last four months most of the islanders are not too concerned, though some have suitcases standing by the door packed with emergency food, blankets, changes of clothing, battery radios and torches. The worst scenario, one supposes, is that it could eventually rise out of the water and start spewing volcanic ash all over the place. May God forbid!
First snow of winter
    In total contrast, we awoke this morning to the first snows of winter, blizzarding across the landscape forcing sheep and other livestock to cower under walls for shelter while on the roads traffic was brought to a virtual standstill or, in the case of a local coach we suspected should be crossing the Pennines with a group of geologists, sliding backwards down the hill in front of us! Could make for some interesting running!

Monday 28 November 2011

A wild weekend

Burnsall and the River Wharfe
     Wild, wet, windy and bitterly cold would be an apt description of last weekend's weather. The storm was building up to gale force as we drove back home from Knaresborough on Saturday afternoon, bending  trees and buffeting our poor little car as we drove with dipped headlights through the misty and inhospitable hilltop village of Greenhow. It was a relief to get indoors, stoke up the stove and warm our hands around a mug of hot tea.  I couldn't help thinking about an intrepid walking acquaintance of mine, Alan Sloman, who was planning to camp with friends, and a dog, high on the slopes of Ingleborough. With winds gusting to 75mph throughout Yorkshire I somehow think there may have been a change of plan so can't wait for him to update his excellent and entertaining Blog to find out what really happened!
Riverside path - a delight to run
     We didn't sleep much on Saturday night, or Sunday morning, as rain rattled against our window like beads of slingshot. Come morning, the sky had cleared to a brilliant blue but there was still a vicious wind. Anxious to start building up mileage again I'd planned an eight mile route, half of which was on tarmac, as far as Howgill, and the rest along a very puddly riverbank back to Hebden. That way I wouldn't get my feet wet until turning for home!  I was accompanied by my wonderful partner who hates wind at the best of times but positively loathes it when it's freezing cold and gusting to umpteen miles per hour. I can tell you, this was a run she didn't enjoy!
The New Inn at Appletreewick
     There are three well known refreshment stops on this route, the Craven Arms and New Inn at Appletreewick and the Red Lion in Burnsall, which together attract hoardes of thirsty walkers at all times of year. There were no signs of life at any of them as we ran past on this wild morning, no cars or anyone sat outside at picnic tables gazing at the glorious landscape while quaffing a good old pint of Yorkshire brew. It was a good time to photograph these famous hostelries - if only I could hold the camera still enough! Even the New Inn appeared to be keeling over in the wind!
Pat Proudfoot's memorial
     Turning towards home we ran past Pat Proudfoot's memorial, an 18 year old member of Bradford sub-aqua club who saw in the year 1960 underwater in the River Wharfe but sadly died 5 months later. In the twenty or so years I've regularly passed this way her plaque has always been marked with flowers. The path through Howgill Wood required care as it was thick with fallen leaves that hid jutting rocks and raised tree roots. A shooting party was bagging pheasants across the river - or trying to. In today's wind I reckoned there might be a fair bit of deflection that would work in favour of the flushed birds.
Hebden suspension bridge
     The cold blast stung our faces and blew us about as it funnelled straight towards us down the swollen river.  In an elemental sort of way I was enjoying the experience of battling against it, though wishing I'd brought along a thermal hat and gloves. Next time! Hebden's rickety old suspension bridge was swaying a bit as we dashed across before climbing the final hill back into the village to complete a hard won but stimulating run.  I was happy to be back up to eight miles though my wonderful partner, being of slender frame and therefore buffetted around a fair bit more than me in the draughty conditions, finished quite exhausted. Hopefully the weather will be a little more clement when I go for the ten.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Brightening up my day

    Went for another good run today, a five mile frolic through Mollicar and Royd House woods, through fields of sprouting winter wheat, with a sharp climb over Castle Hill to round things off.
A pheasant came to say 'Hello'
   It was late afternoon when I set off and I'd half hoped the local badgers might be rooting about, or performing their ablutions away from their sett, but no such luck. The countryside was strangely deserted except for a large covey of partridge that flew off into the dusk. It was almost dark when I got home.
    The reason for my late departure this afternoon was this colouful visitor strutting around in my garden just as I was ready to set off. I was so fascinated that I really didn't like to disturb him, even though he was at one time feeding on some of my Spring bulbs. I've no doubt he'll be back for more!

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Autumn runs

Woodland colours en route to Castle Hill
    After six frustrating weeks the old ribs are slowly healing so that over the past few days I've managed to clock up some enjoyable miles with seemingly no ill effects. On Wednesday I set off on my Castle hill route - yet again - in some unusually warm November weather that made running a sheer joy. As I've mentioned before, towards the end of this route there are a couple of 'Watch your Speed' traffic signs which, up till now, have always been 0.27 mile apart, according to my Garmin 305.   However, for reasons best known to itself. it has decided to chop off 0.02 mile and reduce the distance to 0.25, a straight ¼ mile.  This is all very well but it means that when I run this distance in the usual 1 minute 36 seconds my pace has dropped from 5.58 to 6.18 - which does nothing for my morale. This infernal gadget is slowing me down. Next time I'll run without it!
River Wharfe on the way to Burnsall and Appletreewick
     Saturday's run was a delightful six miles along the riverbank to Appletreewick, and back. It was another clear day with extensive views and sharp imagery. Only problem was, I forgot to take my camera so was kicking myself every time a likely shot materialized - like the incredible reflections on the still waters of the river, or the dozen or so canoeists paddling downstream, or the lone goosander sunning itself in a calm backwater. The miles passed easily, running at a steady pace while marvelling at all the magic of another glorious day.
     Sunday.  After a convivial evening of wining and dining that extended long into the night it was a somewhat sluggish old Runningfox that set off for Church on Sunday morning. Things speeded up a bit when I realised I'd forgotten my collection money and had to jog back for it, only reaching my pew on the last clang of the bell. But it was worth it as my somewhat depleted batteries were recharged at the communion rail - though I'm not sure it did my knees any good!
Grassington Bridge
     Our minister, Rev David Macha, is a keen runner who completed this year's Great North Run in a respectable 1 hour 38 minutes. Next year he plans to run two of my favourite races, the Burnsall 10 mile road race and the Upper Wharfedale off-road ½ marathon, both of which are tough courses with many hundreds of feet of ascent.  If I run these two races I'll be competing as an MV80 which is off the end of the scale as far as prizes are concerned. I'll have to think about that.
     In the afternoon as mist descended into the valley my wonderful partner and I set off through the fields for a five mile circuit to Grassington Bridge, then back along the riverbank where a few faster spurts made this into a fartlek session. It brought my mileage to 14 for the week, the most I've run since my unfortunate accident. It will be ages before I'm back up to speed again.  But I'm working on it.
Running back from Grassington Bridge along the misty riverbank
     Whilst surfing the net the other day I happened to click on the Mallerstang Yomp website. The 'Yomp' takes place annually over a 23 mile route (with 4,000ft height gain) over Wild Boar Fell, Swarth Fell, Mallerstang Edge and Nine Standards Rigg before dropping down to the Start/Finish point at Kirkby Stephen Grammar School.  I ran this race way back in 1996 and, quite by accident I'd imagine, set a new MV60 course record of 3 hours 42 minutes. Understandably I've been quite proud of this record over the years, so imagine my feelings on discovering that the official website lists a certain R.Moulding of Blackburn as the current MV60 record holder with his time of 3 hours 45 minutes - i.e. three whole minutes slower than my time. Needless to say an email to the organisers, with an attachment of the 1996 results, went hurtling through cyberspace at a great rate of knots with an urgent request to rectify this mistake PDQ.  As yet, my record hasn't been restored but an email from David Prince, treasurer to the organising committee, indicates they're looking into the matter and will be in touch with me soon.  But how soon is soon?  Watch this space!

Monday 14 November 2011

Cross training

Attermire Scars
    It's more than five weeks since I hit the deck with an almighty thud and heard that ominous crack in my Rt upper rib cage.  It's much less painful now though it still hurts when I sneeze or break into loud guffaws! The swelling on my Lt elbow has disappeared completely, so I'm almost ready to start serious training again. Hope springs eternal or, as old Isaiah put it,
"Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint". I like that!
    After four days of thick mist, drizzle and semi-darkness, the sun finally broke through last Saturday to lift our flagging spirits and spur us into action. We'd chosen to do a brisk walk up Penyghent, a 2.273ft hill which, along with its two higher cousins of Whernside and Ingleborough, forms a well known Yorkshire triptych attempted annually by thousands of intrepid walkers and keen fell runners.
Woolly beasties by the Attermires 
    Driving past the Attermires the landscape was bathed in golden light. Wraiths of mist rose like phantoms from a forest of pines. Looking back, as D.H.Lawrence put it 'through the wrong end of the long telescope of time', woolly mammoths, bears, reindeer, ox and rhinocerus roamed this area and sought shelter in the various caves, mainly Victoria cave, where many of their bones were later found. Today's woolly creatures were of a much tamer variety, rain-washed sheep on the high pastures and shaggy highland cattle that lumbered along the moorland road. 
My first 'real' medal
    At such an early hour the old market town of Settle had barely woken up as we passed through, it's square devoid of bikers and Ye Olde Naked Man's door firmly shut. We drove by the Ribble with it's salmon ladders and waterfall leaps, to the village of Horton in Ribblesdale with it's squat Church looking across to the quarry scarred landscape. The Church features on a most prized medal that marks the first of my three MV60 category wins in the annual Three Peaks race, perhaps the proudest moment of my racing career. By comparison my two London medals pale to insignificance.
Penyghent comes into view - briefly
    We parked the car, donned our rucksacks, then strode past Brackenbottom and up steep pastures towards the craggy nose of Penyghent. At the Pennine Way intersection we were enveloped in swirling cloud, so thick that other walkers only metres away became nothing but voices. From here on a little care was needed as clammy moisture made the rocks precariously slippy, though in many places conservation workers have fashioned a functional flight of stone stairs to aid ascent, or descent.
Up the slippery bit
    In little over an hour we reached the shrouded summit where a kind gentleman took a picture of us both at the Trig point. This is noteworthy insomuch as it's probably only the fourth or fifth time we've been photographed together during the whole of our twenty odd year relationship!  It was too cold and windy to hang about at the summit so we descended rapidly for 3 or 400 feet until we popped out below cloud base.
Together at the Trig point
    From here on we strolled at a more leisurely pace enjoying the wild situation, miles from civilisation, with only the calls of grouse or bleating of sheep to break the silence. Black crows stood sentinel on bleak fence posts scanning the moor.      Back in Horton we spurned the delectable delicacies of the Penyghent Cafe for a more frugal snack of malt loaf and cheese - meanwhile discovering our new thermos flask had a serious leak!
    Our six mile circuit had taken 2¾ hours to complete. I find it hard to believe that 16 years ago, in the annual Three Peaks race, I completed the whole 24 mile circuit, with its 4,500ft of ascent, in just 65 minutes more!
   As light relief from running I suppose our walk could loosely be termed 'cross training', which we quite enjoyed, though a little on the slow side and hardly comparable to 'the real thing'.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Hitting the trail again

This morning's view from my window
     As I awoke this morning and gazed across the fields, another beautiful day was dawning, so I couldn't resist an early breakfast before donning my trail shoes and getting out there to do what my body is designed to do - RUN. A faint blue haze still lingered in the valley from all the bonfires and firecrackers of Saturday's Guy Fawkes night, but overhead the sky was almost cloudless. An autumn nip in the air made conditions ideal for running.
Since cracking my rib(s) the farthest I've run over the last four weeks is half a dozen 120m repetitions across a cricket field (left of top picture) to assess just how much pain levels would be affected during exercise. I found it was OK so long as I wasn't expanding my chest too much (as if I could!) by panting too heavily or breathing too deeply. 
    So off I went, somewhat nervously, for a slightly longer run over a route I often write about in this Blog, the three mile circuit of our local landmark, Castle Hill.  I reasoned that if my breathing did become laboured enough to cause distress, I could always walk a little till I was back into my comfort zone.  I was trialling a pair of New Balance MT101's that fit like gloves, superbly snug and comfortable.  
The view towards Emley Moor television mast
    Surprisingly I didn't seem to have lost any of my speed as I began the gradual ascent through a field of newly calved cows, past trees displaying their autumn dream coats, out onto the rough track along Clough Hall Lane, then up the final steep slope to the table-top summit.  I was not alone up there. The sunshine had brought out car loads of Sunday morning strollers - most of them with dogs - and all of them with cheery 'good mornings' as I loped past.  
    I stopped only briefly to drink in the gorgeous panoramic views, to Holme Moss and Emley Moor with their towering media masts and across scores of miles of urban sprawl to the whizzing wind farm by the wuthering heights of Haworth, one time home of the famed Bronte sisters.  My descent was a little cautious at first to limit any jarring to my chest but after the steepest bit I was back up to speed again. On a short road section I even managed a measured 0.27 mile between two 'Watch your Speed' signs in 1.36 which, according to my Garmin, equates to 5.58 pace. I was back home in 28 minutes, which is only slightly above average for this hilly route. The animal is happy again. Well, reasonably!!
Clogged up shoes
    Back home I removed my new Trail shoes to find both soles were totally clogged with dirt and would probably have offered no grip at all if the need had arisen. They may be comfortable but I reckon they'll have to be reserved for dryer trails. I believe this shoe was designed for New Balance by one of my running idols, Anton Krupicka, who runs high Colorado peaks like Cameron's Cone and Green Mountain before breakfast, or so I'm told. Maybe he just has a very late breakfast!  I can only assume that Colorado trails are less earthy and more rocky than here in Yorkshire. I'm not knocking the NB MT101 shoe,  for I'm sure it has it's uses in more conducive conditions, but for the coming winter I'll be turning to my tried and trusted Inov-8's, mainly Roclite 315's, or maybe Mudclaws if the ground churns up really squelchy. 

Tuesday 1 November 2011

I couldn't resist.......

Path up Castle Hill
     It was such a beautiful autumn day I couldn't resist going for a gentle walk. Wearing my New Balance 101 trail shoes for the very first time, to break them in, I walked a short route I often run, a mere three miles over Castle Hill to drink in the panoramic views and feast my eyes on the wonderful autumn tints.
Trevor Ellis running high
    Quite by co-incidence I met one of my running contemporaries, a chap called Trevor Ellis of Hartshead Running Club who was up there on a training run. In spite of having had a heart attack that slowed him down for a while, he's a long distance specialist and still planning marathons well into his seventies . Having just ascended several hundred feet he was glad to stop and chat for ten minutes in the warm sunshine. And so was I.
Bright Holly berries
    His company and conversation was most inspiring, so much so that I left him feeling a bit of a wimp. For goodness sake, if he still had the guts to get out and run following a coronary what was I doing pratting around with much lesser problems of cracked ribs and a swollen arm? 
    So, on the way home I found myself turning into our local cricket field with it's wondrous green, flat turf with absolutely nothing to trip me and send me sprawling to the ground again. Dare I risk it? Yes, I jolly well would. I wasn't exactly dressed for running but I took off my jacket, placed it on a bench with my camera, then set off for half a dozen repetition runs across it's widest point, a good 120m.
Trial run
    The first tentative run took 28 secs, the next 26, the next 25 and the last three were all 23's.  After a short warm-down jog I put on my jacket and walked slowly home as if nothing had happened! Back indoors I grabbed a handful of nuts and raisins, poured myself a glass of orange juice and sat down with a rather broad smile on my whiskered face.  The ribs had survived.  Thankyou Patti for your prayers.

Sunday 30 October 2011

The colours of autumn

As there's nothing running related to write about at the moment, and inspired by Bex, I've decided to release one of my poems into the great Blogosphere. It's called Morning mist:

From eiderdown dreams
Into tingling November
Burning bush
I slippered across to the window,
My morning ritual,
The unveiling of another masterpiece.
Strangely, nothing was there. Outside
The day was a blank page
Teetering on an easel of ivied wall.

I watched, waiting, and soon
The great artist working from the top
Swept his loaded brush across the emptiness
And with a wash of palest ultramarine
Created the sky.
A terrace of distant houses, eyes blazing
Crimson lakes of fire, hung
Autumn sunrise
Suspended in space
Whilst over there a barn
Trailing its charcoal shadow
Was a meteor defying gravity.

A leafless hedge pocked with berries
Snaked from its cotton-wool cave
To lasso a meadow of green mist
Where a blur of burnt sienna
I'd swear had moved was, of a sudden,
A steaming thoroughbred.
A tangled briar scrawled its signature
Of authenticity and in minutes
Morning mist
The canvas was complete, and lit
With glorious gamboge light.
A miracle.

Turning aside I concerned myself
With more mundane matters
Of toast and porridge.
Impressed?  Of course, but knowing too
That in the hours to come
This bright day
Like all the other days
Would self-destruct and vanish
Into lamp-black

Monday 24 October 2011

Running can seriously damage your health

The least of my worries - I clouted this too!
    Some folk may have noticed a distinct lack of activity on old Runningfox's Blog over the last two or three weeks, and with very good reason. It's supposed to be a Blog about running but the plain fact of the matter is that once again the old legs have ground to an untimely halt. "Oh my goodness, whatever has the old codger been up to now?" I hear you ask. Ah well, just when everything was coming good I went and blew it again. This time I've really excelled myself and may be out of action for quite some time. Towards the end of a wonderful 10 mile run by the River Wharfe I reckon something must have jumped out of the ground just in front of my right foot and brought me crashing to earth. There was an ominous crack at the top right hand side of my chest as I hit the deck. I got up and tried to carry on running, as I usually do, but there was no way. I could hardly breathe. 
I took the trail to Grassington Moor. At least I can walk!
    An hour later I was sat among the lame and lamenting in Airedale Hospital with a suspected broken rib - or ribs. I say 'suspected' because it's no longer hospital policy to X-ray such things being that treatment is exactly the same regardless of whether ribs are cracked, broken, bruised, or barbecued.  Come to think of it, there wasn't much in the way of treatment either, unless three days supply of painkillers and a standard sheet of breathing exercises can be descibed as such! The sheet instructed me to take a few deep breaths, holding the last one for ten seconds, then give a big cough. This self-inflicted torture was to be repeated three or four times every hour. I'll confess, I didn't even do it once! There was absolutely no way I was going to cough (or laugh, or sneeze) if I could possibly avoid it. Merely clearing my throat produced excruciating pain. In fact, the pain was intolerable if I didn't do anything at all!  "How long will it be before I can run again?" I asked the all too jovial coloured doctor. He gave me a minimum of six weeks, but added it could take longer for an elderly person. At the time I certainly felt I belonged in that 'elderly' category but, after a couple of weeks, my younger self is slowly making a return.
One of the residents - Red Grouse
    Yesterday, while my wonderful partner was far away on National Park duty, I laced up my Inov-8's and sneaked off for a most enjoyable twelve mile walk over Grassington Moor and down into the wilds of Mossdale. In the past, people have asked, "Do you take a mobile when you're running in such remote and dangerous places?" to which I've replied "Sometimes, if I can remember". Out of curiosity I did in fact take a mobile yesterday only to discover there was no reception whatsoever in those nether regions. Not one blob! So I may as well leave it at home and just rely on the whistle that lives in my bumbag (not that I'd be able to blow the darned thing with a broken rib - even if there was anyone around to hear it).
Wild Mossdale - no phone reception here.
    I'm told Mary Decker Slaney underwent surgery on about twenty occasions for running related injuries, and still came back for more. I expect to come back too, stronger, fitter and as fast as ever. Maybe this is nature's way of resting me up before nudging me gently into the MV80 category in the Spring of next year. A text I read today from 2 Corinthians 4 - 16 is rather reassuring. "Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are renewed day by day".
Watch this space. I'm not done yet!

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Bill Smith

Bill Smith
     Last Friday was a very sad day as news leaked through that a revered fell running friend had been found dead in the Trough of Bowland after he'd been missing for three weeks. I can't remember where I first met Bill Smith though it was probably at a Three Peaks race in the mid 90's. Being a pair of old codgers, and having things in common, we always struck up a conversation that invariably included stories of our latest injuries. He'd undergone keyhole surgery to cure a problem in his left knee. On another occasion he'd turned an ankle on the Tour of Pendle but his physiotherapist, a chap named Phil McAuley, had taught him strengthening exercises and methods of taping it that had him back running in no time at all. He also spoke of 'minor health problems' which he didn't elaborate on.
.    One of my first questions in those early days was always "Have you found me a copy of your book yet?" In October '97 I received a letter from him, addressed to 'Fellrunner, Hebden', telling me that Peter Knott had unexpectedly found five copies of 'Stud Marks on the Summits' and would I contact him immediately. I did and the book has become a treasured possession. Bill began writing this history of amateur fell racing in 1978 thinking it would finish up the size of a Dalesman paperback, but things got a bit out of hand. When finally published in 1985 it was quite a hefty tome with 582 pages of text, maps and photographs.
    In his younger days Bill played Sunday League football and followed Everton F.C. but also did a bit of fell walking. Long distance events like the Fellsman Hike and Todmorden Boundary walk, where runners competed too, aroused his interest in fell running and it wasn't long before he became hooked on fell racing and said goodbye to football. His interest soon bordered on obsession. If he wasn't racing or training he was either researching and writing about fell racing or marshalling at far-flung events at which he'd invariably arrived by public transport - all the way from Liverpool. His encouraging words to runners at strategic points during races have lifted many a flagging spirit, including mine.
   He'd little interest in other forms of racing though he'd run about ten road races including the Derwentwater '10', Windermere to Kendal '10' and the 22 mile Buttermere Round. The only road marathon he ever did was at Barnsley where he'd expected to finish in two hours thirty or two hours forty. "After about seven miles I lost interest and began daydreaming" he said. "I'm afraid I found it very boring after what I was used to and eventually finished in three hours five minutes". On one occasion when I broached the subject of road racing I was cut short in mid sentence with a curt "Gordon, I'm only interested in fell racing".
   He was a true gentleman, a dedicated sportsman, a talented writer and a name that will live forever in the annals of fell racing history.
Rest in peace Bill - and thanks for all the wonderful memories.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

For everything a reason

    For the serious athlete I'm told every training session should have a specific purpose relevant to the distance, or type, of forthcoming race. After five weeks of inactivity a lot of strength had gone out of my old legs so my primary purpose over the last week has been to restore some of that strength - one way or another. So, along with my wonderful partner, I took to the hills. We based ourselves at Ravencragg, on the shores of Ullswater, in a flat kindly loaned to us by mutual friends.
Approaching Sharp Edge 
   On a warm day of bright sunshine we plodded up the steep path that borders Scales Fell bound for the rocky heights of Blencathra, or Saddleback as it's sometimes called, a 2,847ft peak at the northern end of the Lake District. Passing Scales Tarn a gravelly path leads to the start of an imposing ridge. From hereon to the top we enjoyed an airy scramble, sometimes on delicate holds where the route was not always obvious.This is Sharp Edge, a name to strike terror into the minds of more timid travellers but a sheer delight for enthusiastic rock athletes. 
Climbing Sharp Edge
    At times a gusting wind threatened to tear us from the rock, making progress a little 'interesting', but it was a warm wind, blowing from the south, that helped restore our fading summer tans. Wearing shorts and a support round my injured knee, I finished up with a two-tone leg! Ravens 'cronked' their joy as they were flung hither and thither in strong updraughts, enjoying the situation as much as us. There were no flowers to be seen, yet there were late butterflies warming their delicate bodies on reflected heat in sheltered corners of the rocks. 
    On the slabby knee-wrecking descent of Hall's Fell I realised just how unfit I'd become. Not many years ago I'd have danced down here in no time at all. Now I was wincing at almost every downward step - for 2,000ft. By the time I reached the bottom my legs were crying out for more pain-killers! We returned to Ravencragg, took chairs onto the lawn and enjoyed the luxury of healing sunshine on our aching limbs.
Martindale's old Church and ancient Yew trees
   Rather disappointingly, the next day dawned cloudy with distant hills fading into a milky haze, but it was fine and still rather warm. We drove to Martindale, past the old Churches and parked at Dale Head for a walk up Bannerdale. It's a kind of pilgrimage we make every year in the season of 'The Rut' and we hadn't gone far before the sound of roaring came drifting down the dale from the direction of a high cone shaped hill known as The Nab, a designated deer forest.  Watchers were already installed with their powerful telescopes set up for long distance viewing. We continued for another mile up the dale, climbing to a high grassy platform under Heck Crag that afforded a grandstand view over the extensive deer forest.
Looking up Bannerdale - deer country
    The sun broke through, lighting up the landscape. There were deer everywhere. A herd of possibly eighty hinds grazed peacefully below us. A lone stag bellowed his territorial rights from a vantage point just below the skyline - one of very few that was actually roaring. We wondered if recent strange weather patterns had altered the time of the rut, whether it was nearing its end, or only just beginning? 
    On our side of the dale, in the broad confines of Heck Cove, another stag with a huge set of antlers was wallowing in a mud hole, usually the prelude to a fight. Instead he went stomping after his parcel of hinds, apparently with other ideas in mind. They were having none of it. "Go and get yourself cleaned up before you come anywhere near us" we could almost hear them saying!  On this occasion we saw more deer than ever before, but fewer signs of the actual rut.
Yacht race on Ullswater
    We returned to Ravencragg for a bite to eat before setting off for another relaxing walk to Auterstones and back along the track to Swarthbeck. A yacht race was in progrees on Ullswater, a mass of what looked like little paper boats, all with red sails, skimming along in a stretched out line round the spaced out buoys. A mewing cry attracted our attention to a buzzard circling above us before gliding into a nearby tree to survey his domain. By 4pm the sun had disappeared again, and so did we. Back to the comfortable confines of Ravencragg, back to our books, a beefy casserole and a fine wine to round off the day.
    The following morning, following a relaxed five mile run as far as Martindale, the weather finally broke. We loaded the car and returned home. 
John Le Mesurier as M's chauffeur on Grassington Moor for the filming
of Casino Royale. I don't think the sheep were supposed to be there!
Picture courtesy of t' internet
    Finally, to assess the effects of the past week's strengthening programme, I went for a lone eight mile run over Grassington Moor, a route that rises 1,000ft in four miles, and I was determined to run every inch of it. The turning point is on desolate moorland where the opening scenes of Casino Royale were filmed way back in 1966. Today there was only sheep for company and a fair number of Grouse that had luckily escaped the ravages of the Glorious Twelfth. 
    As I turned for home a pair of vociferous ravens circled overhead and stayed with me for almost a mile, one of them hanging virtually motionless, riding the wind. The other had a curious high pitched 'cronk' which had me wondering whether it was the female of the species or whether some stray shotgun pellet had wrought havoc in it's nether regions? 
    The last three miles were sheer enjoyment, running easily down springy turf before reaching the stony track running parallel to the beck all the way into Hebden. Old Runningfox is back in business, I think!