Friday 28 December 2012

A Very Merry Christmas.......

There's more to life than running.....
    The weather did it's level best to dampen our spirits over the Christmas period with lashings of rain, high winds, flooded fields, muddy paths and mist enshrouded hills. Our Christmas Eve carol singing around the village was cancelled on account of us not having enough hands to hold a lantern, an umbrella and turn the pages of flapping hymn sheets all at the same time! So in lieu of the usual mince pies and mulled wine to conclude the evening we retired to our own warm stove, had a wee dram and went early to bed.
    We'd intended having a short run on Christmas morning but the day dawned dark and diabolical. The farthest we ventured out was precisely one metre, as far as our elderly neighbour's front door - conveniently next to ours. She'd a wonderful antidote to the climatic conditions in the form of a fine selection of festive elevenses - on condition that yours truly used his considerable strength to dislodge the cork from a very fine bottle of champagne. We returned home at lunchtime leaving her in a rather convivial mood - and with an almost empty bottle!
Aladdin's Cave - the larger prezzies are in the annexe......
    Santa Claus had been rather generous. We suspect his sack felt rather heavy as he staggered around after all the sherry and mince pies, so had dumped most of it's contents under our tree. By the time we'd unwrapped everything the house was beginning to look like Aladdin's cave. So a huge thankyou to the legion of friends and relatives who gave Santa all those wonderful ideas! We're not sure where we'll put everything - apart from the Laphroaig and Damson Gin. I've already thought of a good place for those!  As darkness fell we drew the curtains, shut out the weather and celebrated in style, a full Christmas dinner with all the trimmings and a nice Chardonnay to put us in mellow mood. It was a Very Happy Christmas.
A damp run by the river on Boxing Day
    The sun shone for almost an hour on Boxing Day morning, chance for a longish run if we hadn't had to drive to Austwick to visit an old friend and deliver prezzies. By the time we got home in the early afternoon the weather had deteriorated, but we managed a short four miles around Burnsall, returning along the riverbank as it started raining again. A dipper in best bib and tucker curtseyed to the Queen on a mossy stone before plunging into the watery depths in search of his own ideas of turkey and mince pies - or even Brussel sprouts!
    There was more socializing, more eating, more drinking, more laughter and conviviality in the company of some running and mountaineering friends before a line was finally drawn under the protracted Christmas festivities on Thursday night. I'm ashamed to admit that running over the festive period amounted to a  mere ten miles, not nearly enough to burn off the thousands of excess calories consumed in that short space of time. And there'll be more to come when we've shot the haggis and marinated it according to a delightful Scottish recipe to celebrate Hogmanay.  Bring on the New Year - not least of all for me to enjoy a well deserved rest!

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Traveller's 6

   Talk about winding down for the festive season, I did so little in the early part of last week that I may as well have stayed in bed! Apathy (which I'm neither for nor against!) plus some diabolical weather resulted in just two entries in my running diary amounting to a pathetic nine miles, the lowest since an enforced rest with a broken rib fourteen months ago. Tuesday's planned 5 mile tempo got shortened to a bumbly 3 miles of scary running over frosted pavements and trails. It was one of those days when there was insufficient ice to wear Yaktrax but a little too slippy in places for safety. As I'm very prone to falling  (I can even fall off my own doorstep) I erred on the side of caution, what with Christmas coming up and a booked holiday early in the New Year. 
Route and course profile
   By the time I'd got round to thinking about running on Thursday the day had deteriorated from sunny and cold when I walked to the village in the morning to thick freezing fog an hour later. I decided that keeping warm and reading a book was the better option. Friday was diabolical. Overnight drizzle had frozen into treacherous black ice causing chaos on the roads and an abundance of extra work for Accident and Emergency Units. I didn't even venture across the garden path to put bread on the wall for the birds but flung it onto the lawn from the safety of the porch. Since acquiring a bread maker the birds have benefited greatly. My loaves rise so much that full slices wont fit into the toaster so friendly blackbirds, robins and dunnocks thank me for the excess. If greedy magpies haven't got there first!
L65 category winner, at the prize-giving.......
   It wasn't until Sunday that the weather relented and gave us a decent day for running, which was just as well because we'd entered a local race - the Traveller's 6 - that started and finished at the Denby Dale Pie Hall. The hall was built using funds from the sale of a giant meat pie back in 1964. Altogether, eleven of these giant pies have been baked, the first one in 1788 to celebrate George 111's recovery from mental illness! One baked in the year 2000 to celebrate the millennium reputedly weighed an incredible 12 tonnes. The latest, baked earlier this year, weighed a mere 3 tonnes and supposedly copied the exotic recipe of the original one. I'd have loved a plateful of that. There were no such delicacies on offer for Sunday's race but there were masses of other culinary delights piled on a hall full of tables to feed ravenous runners as they staggered back from the hills. It was a gradely do, all for a nominal race entry fee of £6.00, but blimey, we'd to work hard for it.
....and an 80 year old fun runner.
   The route is officially described as 'challenging' which for us decrepit old wrinklies can better be interpreted as bl...y hard! A local runner was mortifying a visitor by telling him it had eleven climbs along its 6 mile length. Thankfully my little brain translated that as eleven enjoyable downhills. I positioned myself at the back of the start line-up and set off at a comfortable pace, undulating uphill for about 1½ miles before I could take a short breather. It seemed an awful long way to the 2 mile marker which I passed in 20.03. The third mile went by in 8.52 but a steep climb to the fourth mile, and beyond, actually reduced me to a walk for a short distance resulting in a slow 9.48. An unattached runner, Karen Thrippleton, had unknowingly become my pace maker for most of the race. We'd been side by side in the early stages but she'd opened a slight gap towards the end and crossed the line 6 secs ahead of me.  And unbeknown to me a 76 year old orienteering acquaintance, galloping Guy Goodair, was tracking me down and closing the gap behind, but I managed to hold him off by 9 secs to finish in 58.08 - 173rd of 202 finishers. Full results here:
   I was happy to finish in under an hour considering my Garmins 552ft of ascent and 6.10 miles (878ft and 6.23 miles according to Anquet) but a little puzzled regarding the strange distribution of Vets prizes. My wonderful partner was lucky enough to be awarded a rather nice New Zealand white wine (though we've no idea why) whilst male veterans pre-entered in the upper age categories apparently just ran for fun and don't qualify for prizes at Denby Dale.
   Ah well, Father Christmas will soon be here!

Monday 10 December 2012

Dancing on ice.....

Ice all down the lane on my run to Grassington......
Over the past week Christmas drastically interfered with running. What with writing and sending zillions of cards, shopping for all the right presents, not to mention an inordinate amount of time spent 'chatting' with Dell reps about computers and being blinded with science. Hence my brain, rather than my feet, has been almost stretched to the limit. I had to laugh, every time I surfed the Dell website a little box came floating down with a picture of a rather attractive white lady asking "How can we help you today? Chat now". But each time I clicked on it I was connected to gentlemen sounding of Indian or Bangladeshi origin with mainly unpronounceable names. They did help, and I went through the motions of placing an order but wont know for sure whether I succeeded until my 'basket' (as they call it) actually arrives - hopefully before Christmas.

and everywhere by the river on my way back....
I did get out running, I had to, if only to clear my befuddled brain. And boy, did I enjoy it. On Saturday conditions were similar to the previous week - wall to wall ice in the lanes and fields like skating rinks. For the first time this year I donned my Yaktrax Pros and went dancing across the ice with all the confidence of a latter day Robin Cousins. So if anyone is out walking in the frozen Yorkshire Dales and sees an ancient bearded figure racing gleefully towards them performing triple axels to the strains of Ravel's Bolero on his mp3 player, give him a big round of applause. It might be me!

...and what I wore to cope with it.
Sunday was going to be a more leisurely day but my wonderful partner decided otherwise. "I'm going to do some of those things you showed me, ten seconds fast, then twenty, then thirty....up to a hundred, then back down again". All done with a jog recovery - a sort of pyramid fartlek session. It had very much been a case of 'do as I say, not as I do' for I hadn't personally done that routine for goodness knows how long, but as I'd promised to run with her I felt obliged to give it a go. In spite of the hilly route around Burnsall it went rather well and I was pleasantly surprised how easily I concluded with the final 30, 20 and 10 sec sprints back up the steep slope into the village.  My mileage last week amounted to a mere 12 miles but it all felt so easy and enjoyable. Perhaps I should keep it at that for a wee while before gradually building up again for the Spring.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Winter fun and frolics....

Winter arrived with a vengeance last week, nipping all the remaining leaves from the trees and leaving but a tracery of bare branches etched against the sky. The previously sodden landscape developed a thick, hard, slippery shell of vicious ice - which made running a little more interesting. In fact, I went sledging last Thursday, quite unintentionally, and without the actual use of a sledge.
Bare trees and a winter sky around Castle Hill
Having awoken to a glorious sunrise I couldn't resist a run up Castle Hill for a bit of 'altitude training'. Near the top I'd to cross the road on a steep bend which overnight had been transformed into a ribbon of treacherous ice. I knew I was going to go down so prepared myself to land as gently as possible. Bang, straight onto my backside and sliding merrily downhill as I simultaneously crabbed my way towards the side where I wanted to be. Fortunately, I got away with no more than a wet bum and freezing wet gloves. Shortly afterwards a local Ranger, who's become familiar with my antics over the years, arrived on the scene to sand and salt the offending stretch of road. I could tell by his face he was plainly of the opinion that geriatric joggers shouldn't be frollicking around in such conditions.
Undaunted, I continued my training (if you can call it that) with 16 x 200m reps at a comfortable pace, clicking my watch at the beginning and end of each run without actually reading what it said. Rather than give myself a set time for each rep, I ran within my comfort zone, listening to my body. I'd guessed I was clocking around 48 seconds for each rep - with the exception of one much faster effort when I was spurred on by a yapping dog that decided to join in the fun - and got shouted at! Both the dog and its owner must have sensed my annoyance and disappeared smartish before my next rep! On downloading the information from my watch onto the computer I was pleasantly surprised to find I'd been averaging fairly consistent 45's.  I was happy with that. On Friday, the last day of the month, I ran a gentle three miles to bring my total for November to a straight 100 miles.
Ice all the way on Saturday's run
Saturday's run turned out to be a bit of an epic. I'd set off up Hebden Ghyll for a measured 8 miles to bring my total for the year to exactly 1000 miles.  My intention was to cross Grassington Moor before taking the narrow, almost invisible sheep trod over Bycliffe Hill, then a nice downhill run back to the village - one of my favourite runs where I can guarantee to be absolutely alone. But I was well and truly stymied in the arctic conditions and reached a point when I wished I wasn't alone.  Before I'd even left the village I was struggling to avoid widespread ice. It continued all the way up the ghyll and onto the moor where I ran into an additional hazard - a biting northerly blast that had the temperature plummeting way, way below zero. Picking my way across the moor towards Bycliffe, dodging the ice, I sensed my body temperature was dropping rapidly towards danger levels. I'd climbed to around 1,350ft and Bycliffe was still another 150ft higher. And probably a lot colder. 
The village of Hebden - nestling under the hills
All of a sudden I felt very vulnerable, not to mention quite frightened, as the freezing mass gripped my chest and penetrated my ears. I pulled on a jacket, turned around and descended as quickly as glassy underfoot conditions would allow. Fairly soon I'd started to get warm again so I detoured into Yarnbury, ran down Moor Lane towards Grassington and back along Edge Lane (which had wall to wall ice) before dropping into the village to complete an exciting 8 miles. The thermometer outside the back door was recording 26ºF (-4ºC) so I shudder to think what it must have been 700ft higher up on the open moor with that numbing wind-chill factor. I stoked up the stove, moved my chair a bit closer and, apart from attending Church on Sunday morning, stayed within spitting distance for the next two days. Maybe that Ranger on Castle Hill was right!    
Anyway, after achieving both targets over the weekend, 100 miles for November and 1000 miles for the year, I reckon it's time to take it easy for a few weeks now, rest on my laurels, relax and enjoy the festive season, recuperate and regenerate before coming back with all guns blazing again in 2013. Well, that's the plan!

Monday 26 November 2012

Rain, rain, go away....

The Wharfe in spate - yet again.....
   Over the past few days the country has taken an awful battering as severe storms and torrential rain turned low lying floodplains into vast muddy lakes. Hundreds of homes have been flooded with evil smelling water, cars swept away, major roads made impassable, many trees brought down and, sadly, two people are reported killed. As I write this, heavy rain is still splattering against my study windows and the surrounding landscape has disappeared into a misty gloom. It's almost dark outside though it's still only early afternoon. All very depressing.

   Reading various Forums, it seems there are runners who actually enjoy being out in wind and rain. Some more macho types even prefer it, or so they say. I'll freely admit, I'm not one of them. The type of terrain I run over can be dangerous enough without the further hazard of rain spattered, steamed up spectacles. Many's the time I've kitted up ready for a run, only to notice splashes of rain on the stone flags which has rapidly made me change my mind. As I've got older suchlike 'exhilarating' conditions no longer appeal to me and I've become very much a fine weather runner.

...but some early blossom in Burnsall
   Anyway, in spite of all the elemental chaos throughout the country I managed to find enough weather windows to churn out another 24 miles - though the squelchy, energy sapping conditions have left me feeling totally knackered! On Friday an alternative way home after a set of intervals on Castle Hill turned out to be far worse than the normal route, an ankle deep muddy morass for the total length of quite a large field. I'll swear the cows were laughing at me as I dragged my feet from the glutinous mire to get past them. I wont go that way again!
   While driving to Hebden on Saturday morning the temperature gauge registered a chilly 0°C. Black ice made walking hazardous across the car park outside the Farm Shop where we stopped for meat. Thick fog blanketed all the low lying land but on the hills above Haworth wind turbines were turning majestically against a glorious blue sky. Perfect weather for running - so long as we stayed high. 
Why I'd difficulty finding the trod across Grassington moor on Saturday
After two cups of strong coffee and a couple of calorie filled buns I plodded up the ghyll, where a line of shooters by the beck blasted pheasants out of the air above me, and upwards to the welcome silence of Grassington Moor.  I'd difficulty following a faint 'trod' that has almost disappeared as it threads its way across the boggy landscape to Bycliffe Hill. Either the sheep are not doing their job properly or I'm not running it often enough. A huge shakehole I passed still has a colony of rabbits living in its subterranean passageways, which I was glad to see. The sky darkened and storm clouds appeared on the horizon as I bombed down the long wall back into the ghyll. A couple of young lads on a quad bike, checking traps for our local keeper, shouted a greeting and told me I was looking good, which was heartening. Back in the ghyll I found myself racing another quad bike, this time a shepherd and his young son, who provided a rare bit of competition as I sped ahead of them down the rocky track to open gates. Back home my Garmin registered 7.94 miles with 898ft of ascent - so quite a good work-out before the rains came.

Stirring the Christmas puds..... 
   On Sunday I'd an easy run around Burnsall to see how high the river had risen before attending Church in hopes of acquiring some badly needed God-given strength to help me through the coming week!  In Anglican Churches the last Sunday before the season of Advent, as everyone knows (?), is Stir-up Sunday, traditionally a day when we mix our Christmas puddings, make secret wishes while stirring them and hide coins in the mixture to bring good fortune to anyone who happens to crack their teeth on one. Maybe our Minister was unaware of this for there was no mention of it at our afternoon service. He arrived a little late and treated us to a stirring rendering of Zadok the Priest from his CD player whilst leant on a warm radiator probably pondering the finer points of the sermon he was about to deliver. Back home, my wonderful partner knew all about Stir-up Sunday and dutifully mixed the twelve calorie filled ingredients, with a generous fortifying splash of rather nice cognac, which we stirred in turn while making our wishes.  Christmas can't come soon enough.

Monday 19 November 2012

A bit under the weather......

Top in three out of four 2012 British Track rankings
   With another 26 miles in the bank last week I'm now only 40 miles away from that 1,000 mile target I set myself for the year, and there are still six weeks left to achieve it. Not that I'll stop running on reaching the magic figure but if I can resist the lure of faraway hills I'll cut back on mileage and settle for a few shorter, sharp runs over the festive period to draw this year to a close.  I'm reasonably happy with performances since turning 80 - being top, or close to the top, of British 2012 rankings over most distances I've run - so I reckon it's time for a recuperative rest period before hopefully winding things up again next year.

   Since last Friday I've been a little below par and feeling under the weather. I'm not absolutely sure why but I'm blaming a flu jab - though it's never affected me before in all the years I've been having it. Perhaps this last one was a particularly powerful strain they pumped into me, a combination of bird flu, piggy flu and maybe rhinoceros flu for all I know. There was something fishy about it too. When I rang for an appointment there was a lot of hesitation at the other end of the phone before I was eventually given a date and time.

Where I ran on Sunday - over the top of this Flue to the Chimney.......
   When I arrived, at 8.40 in the morning, I was the only one there, so it wasn't your normal flu clinic where people are nipping in and out, one every few minutes. I'd been conned! Besides my annual flu jab I suspect the nurse had been instructed to corner me for a routine blood pressure check, something I'm reluctant to have done and usually refuse. My BP is invariably sky high. The nurse gets twitchy and consults the doctor. Between them they try to put me on some form of medication - which I always refuse. "I'll go for a run" I tell them, "that'll bring it down". In spite of this constant refusal to take medication, they never stop trying. It's their job, I suppose.

   Luckily, I'd clocked up 19 miles before the weekend so it didn't really matter that I hardly moved out of my rocking chair for the whole of Saturday, except to make endless cups of tea or coffee to flush the system - which they certainly did!  It was well into Sunday afternoon before I forced myself out of the house for a steady run up onto Grassington Moor. If you could call it a run, more of a jog really - taking over 80 minutes for the seven mile circuit. But half of it was uphill. And I was taking photographs, of nice things and nasty things.

past Coalgrove reservoir...... 
   My bumbly route took me through the relics of old lead mine workings as I ran along the top of an old flue leading to the tall chimney that once released fumes from the smelt mill, past Coalgrove reservoir whose water was used to turn a 15m diameter water wheel, then farther onto the moor where I peered into the remains of an old building I've often passed on my way to Blea Ghyll. From henceforth I shall refer to it as the Charnel House for a corner of it was heaped with rotted down corpses of various birds and animals that had most likely met their doom by the slaughtering guns or myriad traps of our local gamekeepers. Along with plastic bags of other corpses, spent cartridges, empty cans and food wrappings, it was a most unpleasant place and I was glad to get back into the fresh air of the open moor. the Charnel House.
The sun was setting as I left the moor and ran back down the ghyll at a leisurely pace. A cloud of jackdaws had returned from their wanderings and were wheeling over Hebden Crag, sounding to be having a good old blather before settling down to roost. They'd spent all day feeding in faraway fields whilst I was eagerly looking forward to a veritable feast of succulent roast lamb and vegetables, bakewell tart with lashings of cream - not to mention a glass or two of choice Australian Shiraz - before settling down for the night. Every now and again I try totting up all my blessings, but whether it's an age thing, or whether there are just too many, I'm not sure, but I'm forever losing count!

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Lest we forget.......

Castle Hill dominating the horizon on my Thursday run
   Each year, around November time, I make a mental note to stop running the fields around my home until March winds and Spring sunshine have dried out the muddy paths to make them more runnable. And each year I find myself going back time and again to suss out its current state - for in truth I love this wild landscape - but invariably I return in an incredibly filthy state vowing, for the umpteenth time, never again! 
   Last Wednesday was another such day when I took the shortest route to Castle Hill for a bit of 'altitude training' as I call it - because it's 900ft above sea level. By the time I'd dragged my sliding feet through the churned up morass my enthusiasm for hard repetitions had begun to wane a little. Nevertheless, 16 x 200m is what I'd planned so that's what I'd jolly well do, even if it meant dropping down a gear. The first rep running into a biting wind took 48 seconds and the second 46 before levelling off at 45's and finishing with a 42.  It was a tired old Runningfox that jogged home after a strenuous eight miles, but feeling quite chuffed with myself for accomplishing what I set out to do.
Running towards the Cracoe War Memorial
   On Thursday I opted for a gentle five mile tempo run, half of it on tarmac, circumnavigating the scene of the previous day's activities. The sun shone benevolently as I rustled through fallen leaves amid glorious autumn scenery with Castle Hill dominating the horizon for much of the way. In spite of some long hills and heavy breathing my spirits rose to well over 90% on the feel-good factor scale and, for a nice change, I got home positively clean.
   Sunday's ten mile saunter, reccying a wild route round Barden Moor that the Skipton branch of U3A planned to walk four days later, was the hardest thing I've done for quite some time. It was cloudless and sunny with the temperature hovering around freezing when we parked the car in the quaint little hamlet of Thorpe around 10am and set off running southwards up a steep stony lane onto the open moor. After following a wall westwards, climbing all the time, we cut off left up a shallow gully to the top of Rolling Gate Crag.
Listening to the silence.....
   The great Obelisk of Cracoe War memorial came into view a mile ahead over shining bogs and still a couple of hundred feet above us. It was the eleventh day of the eleventh month and I'd hoped we'd reach it around the eleventh hour. We failed by only a few minutes. Not surprisingly perhaps, no-one from the village of Cracoe, a thousand feet below, had braved the boggy ascent to honour their dead on this remote, rocky outcrop. We were alone among the poppies, the names of the dead and a murmuring wind that made the long silence the more profound.
   We climbed back over the wall and ran as best we could, dodging hither and thither among slimy pools, jumping from one raised clump to another so as not to sink too far into the mire, following the long wall to Rylstone Cross. In my mounting exhaustion it seemed much further than the mile or so on the map and I breathed a sigh of relief when the Cross eventually came into view silhouetted against the green landscape on a high rocky spur. 
Rylstone Cross
   I'm not sure whether it was the spiritual significance of the Cross or the knowledge that the route became easier after joining a bridleway half a mile ahead, but from henceforth my legs found new life as they launched into a steady rhythm past Rylstone Out Fell and across the moor towards Upper Barden Reservoir. We decided it was time for lunch in a wall corner by the reservoir but a cold wind that ruffled the water had us quickly moving again. We crossed the weir and jogged over Standard Hill, past the wee tarn where Canada Geese nest in Springtime, then left up the steep track to the prominent shooting hut high on Thorpe Fell. From hereon it was a 750ft, mainly grassy, descent to the stony lane back into Thorpe - a place which always seems strangely deserted and void of life.
   Back home it took a long time to clear away the peaty evidence of our activities. Between the top of my trainer socks and the bottom of my running tights a black band had formed round my ankle and all my toenails were stained black. My feet tingled as a result of all the scrubbing in the shower. Socks had totally disintegrated and were no longer wearable. My New Balance trail shoes had changed from their striking black and green colour to a uniform peaty brown - and were reluctant to change back!
The descent from Rylstone Cross
   After all the enforced cleaning duties there was no time to feed the inner man before dashing off to the afternoon service at 3pm.  Although I'd had nothing to drink since breakfast my singing voice was remarkably clear and strong for Remembrance Day hymns - which was just as well for our organist seemed intent on pulling out all the stops! A two minute silence after the Roll Call sent my mind floating back to that Obelisk high on the moor, to names engraved on the faded plaque, those initials carved later into weathered stone, the dutifully placed poppies, a little note wrapped in plastic and pushed into a little niche where it wouldn't blow away. But most of all I remembered the sweet and incredible silence of that desolate place, that long, long silence - of eternity.

Monday 5 November 2012

Always remember that night in November.....

Running towards my pot of gold
    The thermometer registered a nithering 1ºC as we drove into Hebden on Saturday morning. Early mist blanketed the Wharfe valley and frost was nipping any remaining leaves from village trees. First priorities were stoking up the stove and getting the coffee pot on - if only to warm our hands round steaming mugs before changing into running gear and taking to the hills. During another cold, wet week I'd only ventured out once for a quick five mile tempo run between showers, so a couple of longer runs was called for over the weekend to restore the status quo.
That raven - my guardian angel?
    Mossdale was my first objective, a ten miler with 970ft of ascent to give the old legs something to think about. I'd hardly got into my stride before the first icy shower had me fumbling in my bumbag for a waterproof top. I recently became the proud owner of an OMM Kamleika smock which keeps me dry and warm in the nastiest of conditions.  Thus protected I sloshed along the boggy track towards a tantalizing rainbow with its proverbial pot of gold.  I didn't find it!  Running up the long wall I was greeted once again by a friendly raven that for some reason seems to welcome my company. This time it was joined by its mate and the pair of them performed aerial acrobatics in the wind while shadowing me for nearly four miles, over into Mossdale and right round to Kelber pasture. I've no idea what it is about me that attracts them. They can't possibly be as friendly with everyone else or they'd have come to grief long ago, victims of our local gamekeeper who shoots or traps all predatory birds and animals that dare to venture onto his grouse moor. Obviously they don't fly as close to him as they do to me. 
Nasty weather over Mossdale on Saturday
   It was snowing on Great Whernside and a heavy shower of sleet battered me as I ran down into Mossdale. Further along I sheltered for a couple of minutes by the wall as our local shepherd and his dog herded an enormous flock of Swaledale ewes towards Kelber pasture where I'm guessing they'll be introduced to the tups for the beginning of their annual breeding season. November 5th has long been the traditional date in the Yorkshire Dales for the start of this activity, for lambing to start around April 1st when the worst of the winter weather is hopefully over. But weather patterns have changed over the years. April often produces icy rain and bitterly cold winds that wreak havoc with lambing time, so many farmers start the season earlier, bringing sheep indoors to have their lambs, some as early as January, then turn them out when lambs are stronger and more able to withstand any harsh conditions.
Brighter weather down our frosty lane
    On several occasions after 90 minutes of running I've experienced a noticeable drop in energy levels, especially when I've been battling against the elements, and I finish very heavy legged over the remaining distance. Saturday was yet another of those occasions and it was a tired old Runningfox that tottered back into Hebden, badly in need of fluid and sustenance. In bygone days the Mossdale circuit rarely took more than 90 minutes to run, so never a need to carry food or water. Nowadays it can take anything up to two hours - so I must get into the habit of carrying a couple of mini Mars Bars, or suchlike, to boost the sugar levels to end my runs with a flourish - and maybe impress any villagers that might happen to be watching down the lane!
Galloway's book, which I choose to ignore
    Sunday's run was an easy six mile dawnder down the riverbank. After all, what's the point in trying to run fast when there are 43 gates and stiles to negotiate?  It gently brought my weekly total of miles to 21, and 911 for the year so, all being well, I'll chalk up my planned thousand by the end of December.  It's enough, or maybe too much if Jeff Galloway is to be believed. In his book 'Running until you're 100' a runner of my ilk should only be doing three sessions per week - one long run, one short run and one long walk. Also, something I can never agree with, though he's probably right, runners of my age and pace should alternate every 2 minutes running with 30 seconds of walking. As far as I'm concerned, I'll only walk when I can no longer run.  I'd hate my brain to finally acknowledge I'm becoming an old man!
    It wasn't my wonderful partner's birthday yesterday but it was getting close, so we decided to celebrate anyway with a romantic meal together at a local hostelry. Did I say romantic? The place was absolutely dead. Not another soul to be seen as we chose the warmest corner by the fire. Even the barman was absent most of the time, we'd to poke our noses in and drag him away from the waitress in the kitchen to refill our empty glasses.
That romantic meal
Many moons ago a famous landlord of ours had the unenviable reputation of being the most miserable in the Dale, though he did have a wry sense of humour. The thought struck me that last night's young barman could well have served his apprenticeship under him, though still sadly lacking in the latter quality. By way of a change we ordered gammon and eggs, which, I kid you not, arrived not on a plate but looking rather lonely on something resembling a large breadboard - oh, and with chips in a silver basket. See the picture if you don't believe me. Admittedly, all was cooked to perfection, as always, but we're not used to that sort of thing in down to earth Yorkshire. It may be some time before we set foot in there again. Anyhow, the frosty night sky was sparkling with stars when we left - so that was quite romantic.  As was the wee dram of delectable amber nectar round a warm open stove when we got home. I'm sure my wonderful partner will find it all quite unforgettable - though I'm rather glad it wasn't really her birthday. We may have give it another go!

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Eight miles, three villages

Me....many moons ago in the Fannichs
Over the last seven days the pageant of Autumn has passed it's best. On Saturday, as I ran between avenues of trees and along the River Wharfe, leaves were gently parachuting down, littering the ground or twirling downstream like fleets of tiny coracles. After a disastrous summer, the worst most of us can remember, a couple of weeks of autumn sunshine went some way towards restoring our flagging spirits before, once again, we're plunged into the gloom of winter. Many moons ago, in common with other outdoor friends, I looked forward to winter with mounting excitement. Snow and ice was an added challenge to our mountaineering skills, elements to be enjoyed as we cramponed over snowy summits, chipped our way up icy gullies, camped  by frozen rivers or shared the sparse comforts of remote highland bothies. My blood was thicker then, my joints more supple, my bones less sensitive to arctic temperatures, and I'd far more strength to withstand the buffetting blizzards that would sometimes blow me off my feet.
Appletreewick with Simon's Seat rising in the distance
Now, in my dotage, I'm ashamed to admit that winter has become a mostly unwelcome season of the year. The change likely coincided with the installation of central heating in my humble cottage about ten years ago. My old bones have grown accustomed to the soothing warmth so that now I can no longer function properly without it. However, there are usually a few enjoyable spells when I'll strap on my Yaktrax to run icy trails or hurtle down snowy slopes, generating enough heat to maintain body temperature for a few hours, but it always feels nice to creep back into my cosy cottage. (Not that it's very cosy at the moment. A new central heating boiler installed four days ago lasted all of five hours before deciding to go on strike. It still hasn't been fixed).
To get back to the present, I've been taking it easy this week, a gentle 25 miles over four days, trying to hone my uphill technique with a view to running a couple of very hilly races early next year. My longest run, an eight miler on Saturday, linked three of Yorkshire's prettiest villages, Hebden, Appletreewick and Burnsall. It was warm enough for customers to sit outside the Craven Arms quaffing pints of fine ale while watching the world (and me) go by. A party of girls taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme marched along the riverbank towards Howgill, heavily laden with large rucksacks but all smiles and chattering away happily in the marvellous conditions. They always seem happier than their male counterparts!
Squirrel at Burnsall - probably no more!
While running through Burnsall it occurred to me that the population of squirrels had decreased somewhat in recent times. In fact, I only saw one whereas usually there are quite a number flitting among the branches of riverside trees. A few years ago one of them was tame enough to leap onto people's shoulders as they passed by, frightening the life out of more timid walkers.  On mentioning this current dearth to a local lady she said most of them had been trapped, and killed, by someone in the village 'playing at God' - deciding what can live, and what can't. The poor lady seemed quite distraught, not to mention annoyed, as if she'd lost some cherished pets. I could sympathize with her, I missed them too.
Back into Hebden
On Sunday we awoke to grey skies, mist and dampness, but we managed a steady six mile run before the threatened rain arrived with a vengeance later in the morning.  I couldn't help feeling a little sorry for our minister, Rev David Macha, who'd be running in the rain after sneaking away for the weekend to take part in a two day mountain marathon among the rolling Howgill Fells between the Yorkshire Dales and Cumbria. I wasn't sure who'd be suffering most, David or his stand-in, Rev Fiona Jenkins who'd already conducted three services before arriving to take ours in Hebden. Understandably, she was a little hoarse and could find no kind words for David's fondness for hill running which she referred to as a form of self abuse. I kept my mouth firmly shut!

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Whatever happens...let me run

Autumn tints at Burnsall
      Every now and again, for want of something better to do, I flip through my running notebooks and tot up the total mileage amassed since I began running way back in April, 1986. I'm always amazed, or even astounded, at the incredulous figure that comes up. When I began jogging, to hopefully lose a bit of weight and get myself back into shape after three years on the dole, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that in the next 26½ years I'd clock up 35,250 miles. That's 1.4 times round the earth - if I could stick to the equator. It's also 1.2 miles for every day of my life. I've absolutely no idea how many pairs of shoes I've worn out, or at what cost, but there could be a good argument in favour of barefoot running.
Misty morning - fishing for trout by Hebden suspension bridge
      Being long since retired I've maybe got too much time on my hands, which causes me to delve into phenomena I wouldn't otherwise entertain - like biocharts. I've always regarded them as a load of bunkum but a short study of mine the other day came up with some interesting data. For instance, a couple of those bad runs I mentioned in recent Blog postings occurred on so-called critical days of the physical cycle when I'd have been better off staying in bed. Conversely, some of my better runs occurred during the plus side of the cycle, days 2 - 11 when physical work is said to be easier. Last week's activities all took place in the 'recuperative' or recharging state (days 13 - 23) when exercise can apparently cause tiredness.  Ah, so that's what it is.  All this sleepiness is nothing at all to do with my eighty and a bit years, just that I'm doing things on all the wrong days!
The nifty Nederlanders, Theo and Stefan
      Last week was a wonderful time for running, or anything else. Red, russet and gold tints, woodland aromas, misty mornings, frosty filigree on plants and trees, robins returning to gardens for winter hand-outs, spider's webs like beaded netting, holly berries and strings of gossamer were all part of another 22 glorious miles. With my mind thus pre-occupied with this annual unfolding pageant running was easy. The watch was totally forgotten as legs and body surreptitiously adjusted to their optimum rhythms as I jogged through a kaleidoscope of abstract colour. All very relaxing - regardless of what the biochart would have me believe. And as if to verify this statement, my resting heart rate has dipped to 38bpm. Perfect.
Theo and me by the River Wharfe approaching Appletreewick
      Mostly, I run alone, engrossed in my own thoughts, stopping every now and then to point my camera at striking features along the way, but yesterday I was accompanied along the riverbank by a couple of nifty Nederlanders, my friends Theo and Stefan, who are regular visitors to the Yorkshire Dales. Theo has dodgy deteriorating eyesight (a bit like mine!) so I was a little worried about the many hazards lurking under the carpet of fallen leaves, like protruding rocks, tree roots and suchlike, but he took his time, lifted his feet and thoroughly enjoyed our relaxed canter to Appletreewick and back. Maybe it was a bit too relaxed for the younger Stefan whose 'Runkeeper' was shouting at him to go faster, faster, but we took no notice of the over enthusiastic gadget!  It was good to have company, for a change, and look forward to their next visit - especially if they bring another packet of those rather nice biscuits!
Stefan and Theo running the Autumn riverbank
      All in all, it's been another great week and, let's face it, each one is a bonus at my time of life. I dread the day I can no longer go out and enjoy such things. To reiterate a phrase I came across in one of my midweek readings, written maybe 28 centuries ago: "Whatever happens.....let me run"  (2 Samuel, Chap 18, v23 - NKJV). I can empathize with that young son of Zadok the Priest but for vastly different reasons - except one: his apparent desire to outrun that guy who set off before him. We've something in common there!

Monday 15 October 2012

Reasons to run faster...

In my dreams!
Last week was reasonably good, weatherwise, some beautiful frosty mornings  developing into warm sunny days. I took advantage of four of them to clock up a fairly respectable 26 miles, my highest mileage for many a week. For the first couple of runs I discarded my old trail shoes in favour of road shoes to run a five mile circuit I haven't used for years. Living on the 645ft contour most of my town runs start off X-country onto Castle Hill, up to 900ft, before descending back home by devious routes. I couldn't face those uphill starts through muddy fields last week so opted for a road run that drops 250ft to Low Common in the first mile, giving me time to catch my second wind, before rising steeply for 490ft to the village of Farnley Tyas in the second mile. The next three miles are mainly level and downhill with some glorious views across the valley to distant hills and bleak moorland. But it can be quite frightening at times. Some lunatic drivers obviously imagine themselves to be Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton practicing for their next Grand Prix. The roads are narrow, some of the bends are littered with debris from crashed cars and the fastest section has no footpath. I tend to run faster past these blackspots in order to be out of danger that little bit quicker.
Approaching Mossdale on Saturday with Great Whernside in sunshine
At the weekend I was looking forward to getting back to the sanctuary of hills above Hebden, but there were a couple of dicey moments there too. On Saturday morning my wonderful partner accompanied me for the first three miles of a ten mile run around Mossdale. Running up Hebden Ghyll we suddenly noticed a large shooting party spanning the whole of the horizon ahead of us, walking up game towards us and all of them with guns - and dogs.  We kept going, straight through the middle of them, all the while hoping no rabbit, grouse or pheasant would raise its head between us and them. Graciously they stayed low until we'd passed, though guns were blazing away behind us shortly afterwards.
Prime beef on the hoof. Wonder if I could outrun him?
Later, running on my own, I encountered the same great herd of cows and calves that normally graze wild across the wide open Kelber pasture. They never bother me, usually scampering away if I get too close. On this occasion they stood their ground, maybe, I thought, because they've got used to 'that mad runner' tootling past. I veered a little to avoid one munching its way towards me when it struck me this was no cow but a huge Aberdeen Angus bull I hadn't seen for a couple of years, or more. On the last occasion I met him he wouldn't let me pass, running to left and right 20 yards or so ahead of me to block the path.  Luckily I was near to a stile which I was able to climb over and circumnavigate his stomping ground. This time, he raised his head, studied me for half a minute as I sped by with increasing speed, then carried on grazing. Great relief! Although I've worked with farm animals, so don't fear them as much as some people do, it's still a bit of a shock to encounter a strange bull in the middle of a desolate moor a long way from the nearest wall and with nowhere to hide. Moreso when I was wearing my usual bright red running strip! You'll notice, in my picture of him, I didn't go back to the front of that menacing head.
A touch of frost on Sunday morning
On Sunday we awoke to a frosted landscape that had us scuttering around with our cameras to capture the beautiful sights before they melted away in strengthening sun. On a subsequent run to Appletreewick in the afternoon I passed our local artist, Rosemary Lodge, with a very evocative painting of Burnsall in all its Autumn glory nestling on her easel. Much as I admire Rosemary's work I didn't stop but continued my six mile tempo run to get home, shower and cool off before Church in the early evening. After all, I'd a lot to be thankful for, divine deliverance from kami-kazi drivers, slaughtering guns and beligerent bulls, amongst other things......  Such things give my Blog title - 'Run for your Life' - a whole new meaning.

Monday 8 October 2012

Autumn of my life

Cotoneaster - lighting up the ghyll
With hindsight four races on the track, and all in the space of three hours, wasn't one of my better ideas, especially at my time of life. A week has passed and my resting heart rate still hasn't returned to it's normal 42bpm. It's dropping, slowly, but not sufficiently for me to resume an average weekly mileage. Two of my runs got drastically curtailed last week. A six mile recovery run on Wednesday just didn't feel right and I jogged home after only four. A planned ten miler on Saturday, in beautiful weather, got cut down to six as my old legs struggled to maintain any sort of decent pace or rhythm. Nothing niggles me more than failing to achieve what I set out to do.
The Scar, bright in Autumn sunshine....
Maybe tiredness or staleness has something to do with it. Yesterday evening I happened to mention to my wonderful partner that, except for one or two enforced lay-offs due to injury, I haven't had a real break from running or racing in all the 26 years I've been doing it. I pointed out that in his book, 'Running for Fitness', Seb Coe mentions that after his racing season finished in September he'd often spend October by the sea, preferably somewhere sunny and warm, for a complete break from running, when only walking and swimming interrupted his relaxation. In his words "Mental refreshment is more important than the physical relief from hard training". My wonderful partner had a very short answer to this idea. Over another sip of wine she replied "You're not Seb Coe".
Up onto the moor - with its remnants of lead mining
Anyhow, after Church on Sunday I lowered my sites a little and set off on one of my favourite seven mile runs onto Grassington Moor. It was a glorious morning with a slight frost silvering the grass, limestone outcrops shining white under a cloudless sky, bright red berries lighting up the ghyll and leaves turning yellow and russet in the crisp Autumn air. My legs felt recharged as I sprinted up a steep and narrow cutting where a car had stopped at the top to let me by. I passed a  mixed bunch of 'Duke of Edinburgh' award scheme teenagers strung out ahead of me, toiling and sweating under their heavy loads. They must have felt envious of me jogging past with just a miniscule bumbag.
Scattering grouse on Bycliffe Hill
After a couple of miles civilization was left far behind as I climbed onto high open moorland with mainly wild red grouse and grazing sheep for company. A raven circled and cronked a greeting and I wondered whether it was the same bird that had shadowed me for almost a mile on one of my previous runs in that area. It was good to know it had so far been clever enough to escape being shot, trapped, or possibly poisoned by our over-zealous gamekeeper who aims to keep his grouse moor totally free of predators and vermin.
Back down by the river.....
An old sheep trod through whispering grass led me to the high point on Bycliffe Hill before descending to Howgill Nick and a wonderful fast run down the long wall on springy turf, back into Hebden Ghyll. A group of walkers were purposefully plying pairs of trekking poles up the Yarnbury zig-zags while others were picnicking in warm sunshine beside the beck. It's naughty of me, I know, but my old brain invariably feels a little superior at the sight of younger people with trekking poles who, to my mind, have succumbed to a brilliant marketing ploy that persuaded them they needed sticks long before such aids actually become necessary. Or have I just been lucky?
.....and early Autumn tints
Back in the busy village of Hebden I wasn't even panting which suggests either the old body is getting back to form or I hadn't run hard enough, or far enough. So, after a bite to eat and a couple of mugs of tea, I spent the afternoon walking by the river looking for big fish, feeling the sun on my face, feasting my eyes on early Autumn tints - and casting silent aspersions at people with trekking poles!