Tuesday 26 July 2011

Harrogate 10K road race

     There wasn't a cloud in the sky as we set off to run the Harrogate 10K road race on Sunday. The lightest of breezes was struggling to turn the lofty turbines as we passed the wind farm near Kettlesing. We parked by Valley Gardens, resplendent with summer flowers, where runners were already beginning to warm up though the race was still more than an hour away.
     We walked to the Start/Finish area to view the list of runners and assess the opposition. Was the speedy Ian Barnes entered - the MV75 Darlington Harrier who beat me at Kilburn? No. Was Barbara Robins there, the LV65 Bridlington Harrier who beat my wonderful partner at Kilburn? Yes, drat! However, we discovered it didn't really matter for either of us when we read the Prize list pinned to the notice board. Although both the Entry Form and Harrogate Harrier's website said there were prizes in ALL VETERAN CATEGORIES this was simply not the case. We were a little annoyed to find there was neither an MV75 or LV65 category. Another lady was complaining there was no LV55 category - not that she'd any chance of winning it, she said, but chance would be a fine thing!  The race director apologized when I had a word with him and intimated an MV80 category might be introduced next year! Perhaps they might also print a true list of prize categories on their entry forms. 
Old Runningfox - storming home
     However, we were there, it was an absolutely beautiful day, so we might as well make the most of it. As we jogged to the Start a gentleman from the Harrogate Advertiser insisted on taking our photograph for publication in his paper. We can't imagine why.
     With over 500 runners crammed into a narrow street things were a bit congested so I stationed myself just behind the 40 minute marker to get a reasonably good start. I'm not sure why because the first two miles are predominantly uphill so I couldn't run very fast anyway, but at least I could get into my race pace sooner.
     Whether it was the heat or my lack of fitness, I was struggling so much on those first two miles I was wondering however I'd repeat them on the second lap? Thankfully, on turning into Cornwall Road I was able to recover on the gentle downhill back into the Town centre where there was a welcome drinks station. I knew without looking at my watch that I was slowing down the second time around but, strangely enough, I was beginning to pass some very weary looking runners a few of whom were taking walk breaks. I breathed an audible sigh of relief as I turned down Cornwall Road for the last time, knowing it was downhill, with the exception of the last 80 yards, all the way to the Finish. 
     How is it, in the last couple of hundred yards of a race, I seem to change from a clapped out old Morris Minor to a sleek supercharged Porsche? As I lengthened my stride to ease past the flying Emma Prentis of Edinburgh University the race commentator shouted my name, announcing me as the oldest man in the race, and invoking loud applause as I stormed over the line in 51.47 - 298th of 541 finishers. On a demanding course, and on a hot day, my wonderful partner was quite happy with her 62.32 in 484th position overall.
     Unofficially (because there isn't a category) I 'think' I hold the MV75 course record at Haroogate - 48.04 set in 2009 - but I'm sure the incredible Harold Dobson, who took the MV70 prize in 48.19 on Sunday, will have something to say about that when he moves into the MV75 category this September.
     Most unusually, we didn't stay around for the prize giving. Although it would have felt great to lie on the grass in that wonderful atmosphere we made our way home to soak up the sun and re-hydrate in our own garden. 
     The Harrogate 10K is a wonderful race, excellently organised and well marshalled, one we shall undoubtedly run again when, hopefully, they'll have the courage to abide by what they proclaim in their advertising material - prizes in ALL veteran categories.
Full results here:

Tuesday 19 July 2011

A very special day...

Together after the Langdale ½ marathon, 2010
    Last weekend marked a very special anniversary. In July 1991 I received a note from a casual acquaintance, a friend of a friend, asking if I'd like to accompany her to the Lake District and help devise a route she was planning to do with her mountaineering club a few weeks later. The plan was to camp in Eskdale for a couple of nights, reconnoitre the route on our first day to ascertain whether it was feasible, then do our own thing on the second day.  "I'll bring all the food and cooking gear" she assured me, "just bring your sleeping bag".
   As she opened the boot of her car to unload our gear at a campsite in the wilds of Eskdale a curious look of concern spread over her face. 
Wild camp in the Western Isles, 2009
    "Where's your tent?" she asked. 
    "Er...I didn't bring one, you told me to just bring a sleeping bag" I reminded her. The rest, as they say, is history. 
    Last Sunday we awoke together after twenty glorious and unforgettable years. Curiously, we've never been back to that spot in Eskdale though we've since camped in wilder and equally beautiful places; by otter-haunted shorelines on remote Hebridean islands, by laughing rivers and sparkling waterfalls in deserted glens, beneath the Eiger and other Alpine giants where, amongst other things, we've run the Eiger Trail and climbed the Schwartzhorn during our annual jaunts to Grindelwald and Kandersteg. 
Climbing on the Schwartzhorn, 2008
    We've raced together on British roads and Spanish promenades, through Swiss forests and manicured vineyards in the World Masters Mountain Running Championship, waded rivers and run the high hills of energy-sapping fell races and tough off-road Trails in the Cumbrian hills.
    We've talked and run with 'Island Parish' celebrities in the Scillies. We celebrated my 70th birthday at a wild camp in Glen Shiel while walking and running some rough miles to complete the last 23 of 284 Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000ft) when many of the high tops were swathed in snow and ice. Many of our exploits and victories have been chronicled in the local press. We even appeared, albeit briefly, in 'Calendar Girls'' a popular film that swept the nation.  
After The World Masters Mountain Running
Championships, Switzerland, 2006
   We've run the hills and shorelines of Crete, Grand Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and La Palma.
    On annual Great Outdoor Challenges we've backpacked our way through some of Scotland's most spectacular scenery from Strathcarron and Lochailort in the west to a seemingly faraway Montrose on the eastern seaboard. 
    Remarkably, in all those years there has never been a raised voice, argument or cross word between us.  We've learned to accept each other just as we are, warts and all.
Here's to the next 20 years - La Palma, 2011
   I didn't hear very much of the sermon in Church last Sunday, in fact I couldn't concentrate much on anything at all. "What page are we supposed to be on?" I'd to ask the person behind me. My mind was too busy reminiscing about those twenty action-packed years and privately thanking God for all the manifold blessings bestowed upon us since that fateful day, July 17th 1991, after we'd eventually come to terms with having just the one tent. Judging by our amazing experiences since then, I reckon God has either long ago forgiven my frivolous misdemeanour or, what is more likely, He jolly well arranged it!.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Kilburn Feast 7 mile race

Bee orchid
     It's been a relaxing weekend of walks by the Wharfe, bee and butterfly orchids, strawberries and cream, raspberry meringues, roast pork and crackling, wines from France and Portugal, bimbling through Burnsall.....and a scenic seven mile race thrown in for good measure.
     It felt good to be back racing again after three months on the sidelines with a dodgy calf muscle. Our recent two weeks holiday in the slightly warmer climate of Cornwall apparently worked wonders, though I must admit to feeling a little anxious, wondering how the affected muscle would react to the stress of racing.  I needn't have worried. All went well.
     It was raining heavily as we arrived in Kilburn. The main street was deserted, stalls were covered and the Start/Finish line across the road was in danger of being washed away. We sat in the car hoping it would abate.  Shortly before the race gaps appeared in the clouds, the sun broke through, the road steamed and runners arrived in their hundreds. After a short warm-up we lined up for the 2 o'clock start. 
At the Start/Finish line on a deserted wet street
     My usual tactics are to set off towards the front of the pack so as not to lose time at the start, then settle into my race pace as the pack thins out before winding things up towards the finish. At Kilburn I started farther back and ran a slower than usual first mile to monitor my recovering calf muscle.
     The route is quite hilly (though the race organiser calls it 'undulating') so my mile splits were rather erratic: 7.52, 8.22, 8.14, 9.12, 8.57, 9.16, 8.08 and 55 secs for the last 351yds. Guess where the hills were.
     I finished in 61.01, about ¾ minute faster than last year, and in 171st place of 308 finishers. After the race we all congregated at the Village Hall for our free sandwiches, cake and tea as we waited for the race adjudicators to compile the results.
Runners passing the White Horse
     Unfortunately, in the MV75 category I was beaten by the same person who beat me last year, the speedy Ian Barnes of Darlington Harriers who also ran a faster time than last year. The good news is, when I run this race next year I'll be competing as an MV80, a category above Ian, so will have two or three years respite before he catches up again.
     In the LV65 category my wonderful partner's 74.56 was only good enough for second place against the excellent 71.07 of Barbara Robins running for Bridlington Road Runners. However, there was consolation for both of us as all finishers over 65 years of age were awarded a free bottle of wine to either celebrate or drown our sorrows, as the case may be. 
     There was a humorous end to these proceedings when, by some oversight, my name failed to appear on the list of twenty nine eligable recipients. 
Courting couple
    "Hey" I shouted as he was about to wrap things up, "I'm 79 so surely qualify for a bottle".
      "Blimey, at your age it's not wine you want mate, it's Sanatogen" he quipped and winked as an excellent bottle of Portugese red was slipped into my hand! According to Stuart Pailor, the race organiser, all their wines are recommended by Jane McQuity of The Times. None of your 3 for £10 rubbish!
    I can highly recommend Kilburn, famous for it's 150 year old White Horse and Mouseman associations, to all who live within travelling distance. The race is run in conjunction with the Village Feast incorporating a hog roast, crockery smashing, children's face painting, a hole in one game, various stalls, a clown and stirring music from a Thirsk band. There is also a quality gift shop and tempting cafe at the Mouseman Centre.  
     Interestingly, according to the race instruction leaflet, car parking depends on the silage harvest!
Full results here:

Sunday 3 July 2011

We're back.....

The seven mile route that decided I was fit to race again.
  ...after our annual camping holiday at Higher Moor in beautiful Cornwall where the weather once again did us proud.  I'm privileged to have a partner who not only shares my passion for running but actively encourages it. This year she ran on all fourteen days and managed to clock up more miles than my own 63! Mind you, I was nursing a persistent calf injury at the start of our holiday but, after a lot of Stick and stimulating massage, it came good again during our second week. So good, in fact, that I allowed myself to be talked into running the Kilburn 7 mile race on July 10th which will be our first race since Arkendale back in April.  Prior to giving consent I'd to satisfy myself I could actually get the distance so, armed with my Garmin, I set off running and didn't stop until the infernal instrument had registered more than seven miles. In spite of undulations amounting to nearly a thousand feet of ascent I felt reasonably good so our Entry Forms were duly posted. I can't wait to race again.
Can't see the grass for flowers
     We share other passions too, mostly connected with the great outdoors.  Strangely enough we sometimes walk (!) usually ladened with camera and binoculars to observe and photograph flowers, butterflies, birds and other creatures of the wild. One of our missions this year was to go seal hunting to a little island off Kelsey Head where we'd seen odd ones on previous visits. We chose a time when the tide was ebbing and revealing rocky skerries that appeared to rise out of the sea. We watched, fascinated, as the seals homed in and eased themselves onto these rocks soon to be left high and dry in the sun's heat as the tide receded. On one occasion we counted nineteen, some of them huge bull seals that voiced their disapproval to any others trying to share the same rock.
Friendly lizard
     We found fields, bordered with wild roses, where you could hardly see the grass for masses of blood-red poppies, white and red campion, blue scabious and others I couldn't put a name to - but I've no doubt my wonderful partner could.  Red and white lily pads floated on the fisherman's pond whilst round the edges purple loosestrife, fragrant water mint and giant Chilean Gunnera grew in rich profusion.  Wild thyme and yellow bedstraw cushioned the edges of turfy paths we ran on each morning whilst a myriad butterflies danced on the scented breeze. We almost trod on a green lizard sunning itself unconcernedly on the path though resident adders were keeping a low profile.
Ready for the morning run
     We also share a passion for such delicacies as local Cornish steak pasties piping hot from the Treago Farm shop, for Rodda's Cornish cream on freshly baked scones with strawberry jam, for tasty barbequed chickens served with mixed herb salads straight from the garden of John and Sue Dennett at Higher Moor where we camp. For an extra special treat before returning home we trot along to the Cosy Nook tea garden and restaurant in Crantock, usually for a mouthwatering steak, but on this occasion we opted for grilled lamb cutlets with a viscious nut chocolate sundae to round things off. This establishment is unlicenced but welcoming staff encourage diners to bring their own tipple. Glasses are provided and there is no corkage charge.
      So that's what we did for a whole two weeks - ran in the morning, stuffed ourselves silly to replace all the calories we'd burned, imbibed just sufficient wine to help things on their way and repeated this each day till it was time to come home. If this is what's called a catch 22 situation, bring it on!