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!