Saturday 18 June 2011

How it all began....

     Like thousands of others I started running to lose weight and restore my neglected body to some sort of fitness. Manual work had kept me reasonably fit, together with frequent excursions into the hills at weekends, walking, rock climbing and mountaineering. When Maggie's axe fell in the early 80's I found myself with no work and no money to pursue my al fresco hobbies. My marriage broke up too, though not acrimoniously. We agreed to differ and go our different ways. It was the end of an era but, little did I know, it was to be the start of another.
     It was on April 9th, 1986 when I took my first tentative steps into the wonderful world of 'jogging', completing an off-road circuit round the fields which I estimated as one mile. On the 2nd and 3rd days I ran two miles and on the 4th day I ran three. Shortly afterwards I joined a 'jogging' class at Huddersfield Sports Centre led by a chap called Alan Taylor, a very good marathon runner. Under Alan's guidance and supervision I was transformed from a jogger into a 'runner'. It was Alan who persuaded me to run my first race, a 2½ mile fell section (with 800ft ascent) as part of a four man relay team. We came away with 24 cans of beer! In September of the same year I was talked into running two 10K's and two ½ marathons thus achieving my first ever PB's - 42.34 and 92.56. I ran eight races before the end of 1986.
      The following year I continued to improve my PB's with a 41.59 10K, 63.36 for 10 miles and 85.33 for the half marathon. 
Pennine marathon trophy, the first thing I ever won.
I reckoned it was time to have a crack at the big one, and the 'big' one' so far as Huddersfield was concerned, was the Pennine Marathon held each year on the first Sunday in July.  It wasn't a popular race. It had too many hills amounting to around 2,000ft of ascent - all very well for those of us who happened to be mountaineers!
     374 runners lined up for the start on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year. After only 15 months of running I wasn't sufficiently experienced to have a race plan. Nor had I done much training. In the twelve weeks prior to the race I'd only averaged 23 miles per week and two of those weeks were spent on a coast to coast walk across the Highlands of Scotland!  I didn't even have a watch to record my splits. Time wasn't a factor. My sole intention was to survive and, by some miracle, I did.
     I crossed the 'Finish' line in 3.30.04, in 82nd position of 316 finishers.  58 runners failed to finish due to cramp, blisters, dehydration and heat exhaustion. I was one of the lucky ones but totally knackered and quite surprised I could still walk!  "Let's get home so I can have a good soak in the bath" I said to my sister, but she wanted to stay to watch the prize-giving.  I collapsoed on the grass, wallowing in the luxury of warm sunshine on my aching muscles.
     Then something happened that changed the course of my life. My name was called out and as I struggled to my feet people were clapping, I was being photographed, almost in tears as they presented me with a silver cup and £25 gift voucher for winning the MV55 category. I was dumbstruck, just couldn't believe what was happening to me.  I'd never won anything in my life before and here I was stood on a platform receiving the adulations of the crowd for coming first of my age in a MARATHON of all things.
     I struggled to hide my emotions as my sister drove me home. When she dropped me off I went in the house, locked the door and cried like a baby, thanking God for what I considered could only have been a miracle. 
     That was 24 years ago but I remember it as though it was yesterday and still shed the odd tear of joy when I look at the trophy and remember the crowd praising my performance.  It was a humbling experience. I've never been the same person since!

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Motivation, perspiration.....

       Last week I'd a bit of a clear out. My wardrobes, cupboards and drawers have got so full I'm hanging things over the backs of chairs, dumping them in corners or up the sides of the stairs. More cupboards would solve the problem but neither Oxfam nor British Heart Foundation have yet come up with anything suitable. So I've been busy rooting out clothes and clobber that are surplus to requirements and putting them quietly to sleep.
      Among items disposed of were between twenty and thirty race T-shirts many of which had hardly been worn. Most ot them were too big. In days gone by I guess race organisers were of the opinion that most of the entries would be from fun-running rugby players. Nowadays there is usually a box to tick on the entry form to indicate what size you require.
      I've kept a few of the more meaningful ones. I don't normally train in T-shirts, preferring sleeveless vests with RUNNINGFOX emblazoned across the back, my internet name I try to live up to. However, today was an exception. From the remaining few I chose a shirt I'd been given at the 2005 Horbury 10K - where I'd also managed to wheedle a prize out of them even though there wasn't officially an MV70 category. They were agreed my 43.39 at 73 years old deserved it! This shirt is one of my favourites, (a) because it fits and (b) because of all the motivational words imprinted upon it. I needed all of them today. 
That shirt.....
      With my Rt calf muscle still playing up I shouldn't really have run, but it was such a nice day I couldn't resist. The benign sky was almost cloudless, the temperature a cosy 70ºF and the gentlest of breezes barely moved the leaves on the trees. Skylarks were singing above the fields below Castle Hill. From the gorse bushes yellow hammers were singing for lunch - 'A little bit of bread and no cheeeeeese'. Tortoiseshell butterflies settled on stone walls and dried mud wallowing in the reflected heat. The stream through Mollicar wood had diminished to the merest trickle. Bluebells have long since faded away, but under the old oaks and beech trees was a wonderful sense of quietness and calm, like in a Church. 
      Beyond the wood the path is exceedingly steep, at least 1 in 4 for around 300m. At the very top is a seat where an elderly couple sat, soaking up the sun and watching my progress. Drat!  I hate to be seen struggling so tried to keep a steady rhythm until it levelled off and passed behing some screening trees where I could ease off. I was knackered! Not to mention soaked in sweat.
      A little farther along I passed a grey hair and bearded gentleman wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, running shoes and headband. If he was a runner he must have stopped for some reason when he saw me. I glanced back later, but he was only walking, slowly.
      The light breeze became more of a wind as I ran over Castle Hill, strong enough for a traction kiter to be scurrying along at an enjoyable pace. I decided against my usual fast finish. Five miles of hilly X-country was quite enough for my gammy old leg today. Ah, if only this weather would last throughout the summer.  Then I could really knacker myself up! 

Saturday 11 June 2011

Never look a gift horse in the mouth......

      I'm not sure what to do about this confounded calf muscle that continues to ache and tighten every time I run. It's really cramping my style and making me run awkwardly. I tried three times to get in touch with Ian Sinicki, my capable Physio, to eventually learn he's on holiday in Thailand where, I've no doubt, he'll be learning new skills to add to his extensive list of treatments. I feel like a guinea pig in waiting. 
      In the meantime, to prevent the grass growing under my feet, I puffed and panted my way up Castle Hill today, keeping to paths where I'd be least likely to meet people. On good days I'll float effortlessly past neighbour's houses, wave jauntily at the same old dog walkers, local farmers and kite flyers, revelling in my fitness.           
      On bad days I'll purposely avoid everyone, sneaking out of the house when people have gone off in their cars and I think all is quiet. Instead of shorts I'll wear tracksters and take a bumbag containing  a jacket which I can slip on to rapidly change into a walker rather than be seen as a hobbling runner. At the tender age of 79 I find it most embarrassing to be seen running like an old man!  If I'm not fit I don't even want to talk about running.
....oh, and there was this letter.......(click to enlarge)
      Maybe the sub editor of our esteemed local newspaper, the Huddersfield Examiner, caught me in a bad mood when he rang one evening to tell me that I'd been nominated for their annual 'Sports Personality of the Year' award and was invited, along with two friends, to be a guest at the presentation dinner being held at the Galpharm Stadium (home of Huddersfield Town F.C. and Huddersfield Giants Rugby League Club) on the evening of June 6th. I told him I'd think about it. I suppose what I really meant was, if I can get back to running normally in the next few days then the answer will be 'Yes'. Failing that I wont be worth knowing and my reply will be a very definite 'NO'.
      Well guess what. In spite of visits to the doctor and my trusted Physio the problem to my Rt calf muscle persisted. My wonderful partner said I was 'running funny'. I was grumpy, morose and far from happy. There was no way I could remotely regard myself as 'Sports Personality of the Year' in my current state. If my old body was currently not fit enough to have this honour bestowed upon it, then I would not accept it.  I emailed the powers that be, declining the offer, saying there must be other sporting personalities in Huddersfield far more deserving than me. Predictably, they didn't reply!
PS. I subsequently found out the eventual winner of Huddersfield's 'Sports Personality of the Year' award was Robert Read, a snooker player. I wasn't aware snooker was a sport, more of a pastime, something to do in between runs!

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Another 21 miles.......

      Another week has gone by and the Old Runningfox is still some way from racing fitness.  I've missed two scheduled races so far and it looks very much like I'll miss a third - the Lanhydrock 10 mile race at Bodmin on June 26th. It's a wonderful undulating off-road course that really suits my style of running. Last year at the tender age of 78 I pulled out all the stops to strike Gold in the MV65 category! 10 miles is not beyond my capabilities now, but there's no way I'm going to race when I'm only firing on three cylinders. I might get beat!
A gradely do!
Janet & Arthur Stockdale's Golden Wedding Anniversary dinner
      On another four runs over the past seven days I churned out another 21 miles in runs of 5, 3, 6 and 7 miles. I'm still struggling to maintain any sort of speed, but I'm working on it. Between two 'Watch your speed' road signs towards the end of a regular run I can't resist accelerating to 6 minute mile pace for 96 secs over what the Garmin says is 0.27 of a mile. (Being a mainly off-road runner I like to get the boring road bits out of the way as quickly as possible!).  If I can maintain that sort of speed for another twelve months then the British MV80 400m record that currently stands at 93.26 should be within my grasp. 
    The seven mile run on Monday was to work off all the excess calories from a magnificent dinner at the 'Rendezvous' in Skipton to mark the Golden Wedding Anniversary of Janet and Arthur Stockdale, two of our village stalwarts. It was a real privilege and honour to be invited to celebrate with them. We look forward to their 60th!
Orchid on Cubert Common
    From June 19th we'll be in Cornwall for two weeks of sun, sea, sand, swimming and RUNNING. We've been returning annually since 2003 to the same quiet campsite run by John and Sue Dennett at Higher Moor where we're always referred to as 'the runners'. Each morning around 9 o'clock we set off on a scenic six mile circuit by Crantock beach and round the coast path to Holywell Bay before returning by an orchid strewn path across Cubert Common. On occasions we run in the late afternoon too, or swim, to sharpen our appetites for the barbequed treats, herb salads and choice vintages that constitute our evening meal. Life doesn't get much better.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Out again today.......

      With no pain-killers or anti-inflammatories to calm my troublesome calf muscle over the last two days I was a bit apprehensive about going for a run today. With regard to my galloping guts ache I saw my  own doctor yesterday, not the sweet young lady who rummaged around in my nether regions before - and he reckons I may be suffering from an irritable bowel following an infection. That could account for the intense pain and need to 'go' whenever I break into a trot. He handed me a prescription for a hundred 60mg capsules of Alverine Citrate and gave a reassuring nod as I left, as if to say "That'll do the trick!"
Gorse in flower on the way up Castle Hill. Yellow hammers love it.
      It was 2 o'clock when I eventually forced myself out of the house for a three mile trial run to test things out. Today's weather was beautiful, warmer than I'd anticipated in the south westerly wind, so I'd to remove my thermal after the first mile. As a result of very little running over the past few weeks I was feeling the strain up the steep sides of Castle Hill to the half way point, but I rallied and managed a faster ¼ mile burst at a downhill section on the way home. Sweat was pouring out as I stretched, trying to push the wall down, and gave my leg muscles a fair amount of Stick before knocking back 500ml of Zero Sports drink to restore my fluid levels.
      I'm happy to say that, apart from a lot more huffing and puffing than usual, the old body coped very well indeed. I returned home with no aches or pains whatsoever. The animal is happy!