Monday 30 January 2012

An excellent week

The Clarendon sign in a snowy Hebden - last winter
    For everyone involved with the organization of Hebden's annual Sports Day that takes place on August Bank Holiday Monday, a sumptuous dinner was held at the Clarendon Hotel last Wednesday night, courtesy of our genial hosts, Ashley and Hayley Crampton. This popular Yorkshire Dales hostelry has an excellent reputation for the quality and perfection of its fine menus and traditional well kept ales.  I'm afraid to say, I availed myself somewhat greedily of both and retired to bed rather late in the evening feeling considerably heavier than when I set out!
Dam on Grassington Moor with snow clouds in the distance
    I'd like to say I went for a 'run' round Grassington Moor the following morning, but that would be gross exaggeration. Floundering would be a better word. I'd made sure I took my camera to have lots of excuses for numerous stops - when I seemed to take longer than usual to focus and arrange my shots. Most of them turned out to be a load of rubbish! My six mile jaunt lasted nearly one and a half hours but I really enjoyed the laid back pace, the solitude under a dramatic sky with snow clouds in the distance, the company of ubiquitous grouse, whistling teal and the wind whispering through the rushes by the dam.
Time to stand and stare - waterfall in Hebden Ghyll
    All in all, I ran a respectable 27 miles last week, by snowy hills and slushy lanes, along sunny riverbanks and past glittering waterfalls - all at a comfortable pace with lots of time to stand and stare. After all, running is supposed to be enjoyable. The other day I came across a wonderful quote by Lucy Smith. She said:
'To be a lifelong athlete you have to, at some point, get over the need to win every race and learn to accept that the journey is the goal'. I'm beginning to understand the logic of that as I grow older.
Linton Church and sunny riverbank - Saturday's run
    Inevitably, since the introduction of a deep fat frier (or chip machine, as I prefer to call it) and breadmaker to my list of kitchen utensils, my weight has risen by nearly 4 lbs to 143.6.  Even as I type, my breadmaker is switched on and churning out another delectable wholemeal loaf. I can hardly wait to cut off its warm crust and smother it with butter and honey. At this time of year I'm not worried about being a few pounds heavier. My old bones need a little extra lagging. I feel stronger for it. And so long as my body fat percentage stays within normal limits (it's currently 17.3) I reckon there's nothing to worry about. I'm not fanatical about being as lean as possible to be able to run faster. I'm not training for the Olympics - though I wish I was.
    This coming week, chip machine, breadmaker and weather permitting, I'll drop the mileage and concentrate on a couple of quality speed sessions with a view to easing back into racing in the not too distant future. Bring it on.

Sunday 22 January 2012

January gales

In days gone by - out in any conditions
    Due to lashing rain, gale force winds and hardly any proper daylight in the the Pennines, where I live at a height of 650ft, mileage got somewhat reduced this last week. Gone are the days when I'd sally forth in all weathers, bagging Munros, stomping coast to coast across Scotland, camping in snow or front-pointing up near vertical ice in a blizzard on the Ben. It's not just advancing years that's made me soft, mainly I blame it on our local Council for installing gas fired central heating in my exposed north facing home. In wintertime the contrast in temperature on the inside and outside of my front door has to be experienced to be believed. Being on top of a hill my gable end takes the full brunt of westerly gales that do their darndest to lift the roof, roar down the chimney space and sap my energy by keeping me awake for nights on end. That's why I haven't run very much this week.
Angry sky over Castle Hill on Sunday
   Actually, I got out three times for a total of 18 miles and though lacking in quantity I tried to introduce a wee bit of quality, by way of a change! I even wore my Garmin 205 so I could load data onto my computer to find out just what I'd been up to. The results were both surprising and pleasing. I ran the same six mile route on each of three days, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. 
   On the lee side of Castle Hill there is a smooth sandy path that measures around 193m between two wooden posts. On Tuesday I ran 10 intervals between the posts @ an average of 47.4secs, on Thursday 10 @ 47.2secs, and on Sunday 10 @ 45.3secs. Jogging home I always open up between two 'Watch your Speed' signs c.402m apart. On Tuesday my time between the two was 1.42, on Thursday 1.40 and on Sunday 1.32. If my maths are correct (and they usually aren't) my speed sections amounting to 1.42 miles per day tumbled from 6mins 37secs per mile pace on Tueday to 6mins 14secs on Sunday. I'm happy with that, even if it's wrong!
For 'Diane' - R.I.P
   There was a spray of white flowers on Castle Hill in a sheltered recess among the gorse bushes overlooking Hall Bower and the vast sprawl of Huddersfield Town. Being of a curious nature, I Googled our local rag, the 'Examiner', and learnt there'd been a fatal accident on the road below. Two cars driving through sleet and snow had been involved in a nasty head on collision that resulted in the death of one woman, named only as Diane, and severe facial injuries to the lady driver of the other car. Rest in Peace Diane, and a speedy recovery to the other unfortunate lady.
   There are more cheerful flowers. Purple crocuses, trembling white snowdrops and mauve-coloured pom-pom primulas are brightening up odd corners of my garden. Best of all, every time I walk into my kitchen my nostrils are assailed by the intense fragrance of three purple hyacinths that totally over-ride other wonderful smells of freshly baked bread, Italian coffee and herby casseroles. At the moment, between runs, my kitchen is certainly a very nice place to be, and a jolly sight warmer than the weather outside. Maybe I should install a treadmill there!

Monday 16 January 2012


Track to the hamlet of Yarnbury
      For some days now the temperature hasn't risen above freezing in the Dales. Skies have been blue and cloudless with hardly a breath of wind. Days have been sandwiched between spectacular morning sunrises and gorgeous sunsets. Up on the moor bankings are festooned with icicles, the ground iron hard and pock-marked with frozen puddles.  On lower ground, in icy fields and frost-bound gardens, bushes and shrubs are stooped under grey rime, like hoary old men. But not this old man! 
Earth was hard as iron.....
     Thankfully, energy levels have risen slightly since my last posting, partly I suspect on account of all the delicious culinary delights my wonderful partner and I have been treated to by kind friends who must have thought our winter bodies looked a bit under nourished!  In fact, I'd been thinking along similar lines too, so much so that after a mounting urge for some proper chips, as opposed to those horrid oven thingies, I purchased a deep fat frier to give my old body some occasional treats. Next on the list could well be a bread-making machine to further boost the carbohydrate intake. I've yet to find a decent unsliced loaf of bread in Sainsbury's, where I do most of my shopping, so rarely eat more than one slice a day of the essential 'staff of life'. This deficit is about to be remedied.
......water like a stone
     Over the past week I've run another 21 miles, split into four runs, at a slightly faster speed and without the ignominy of having to walk the last hill back into the village. Most enjoyable was a relaxed run on Saturday afternoon with my wonderful partner who was sussing out an eleven mile route along which she's scheduled to take a party of Skipton & District U3A walkers this Thursday. We only ran a seven mile section of it to re-acquaint ourselves with the lie of the land in the remoter parts and to note any possible hazards.
Frosty landscape near Bare House
     The weather was crisp and clear with hardly a breeze as we set off from Yarnbury to run by the long wall and up onto Grassington Moor where only an occasional startled grouse exploding from the heather broke the ice-bound silence with it's 'Go-bak' cries. The only unpleasant bit occurred when once again my left foot was caught in one of our local gamekeeper's numerous fox snares, almost bringing me to earth. Fortunately, it was in an area around a stink pit where I expected snares to be, so was deliberately treading carefully. We hope none of the ageing U3A members will be so unlucky on their forthcoming walk. 
     We arrived back in Yarnbury as the sun was setting behind distant hills, colouring the evening sky with raging fire on the horizon and deepening pastel pinks extending overhead. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Monday 9 January 2012

For the record

One of the results of high winds in Hebden last week
    For some reason, since Christmas, I've not been firing on all cylinders. I've been a bit wobbly and lacking in energy which is most unlike this aspiring octagonarian. Apart from going a bit overboard with the Champagne and bubbly stuff on Christmas day there's been no more over-indulgence either food-wise or drink-wise. My weight has not risen above it's usual 140 lbs and my resting pulse remains at a constant 42bpm - so nothing wrong there. I'm hoping this is a temporary blip and not the onset of  'old age and decrepitude syndrome'!  However, although I struggled a bit in high winds and rain, and twice had to walk up a hill I normally take in my running stride, I managed to churn out another twenty miles this past week. So, the old legs are still turning over even though the engine is currently feeling a bit clapped out! On a good note, my morale was somewhat boosted this week by some news on a subject I referred to in an earlier Blog.
   In November last year, while surfing running related material on the internet, I happened to log into the 'Yomp' website where details of the Full Yomp (23 miles, 4000 ft height gain) are described thus:
'Starts at Kirkby Stephen Grammar School and heads South out of town and past Wharton Hall, continuing over Wild Boar Fell and on to Swarth Fell before swinging off the tops down to Aisgill Moor. Climbing back from the valley via Hell Gill onto Mallerstang Edge the route passes over High Seat and High Pike and drops down to the Swaledale road near the top of Tailbridge Hill. The final stage is the ascent to the Nine Standards, and then down to Kirkby Stephen'.
    It's over fifteen years since I ran this wonderful scenic route, way back in 1996 when I was 64 years old. I recall it being a glorious day with reasonably dry underfoot conditions and I was pushed all the way by my sometimes training partner and arch-rival, John Ely, who is thirteen years younger than me. I remember slowing a little as I refuelled on the ascent of Hell Gill, only to go into panic mode at the realisation John was little more than 25 yards behind me. He had a clever knack of keeping a very low profile behind clumps of heather, little protruding rocks, or hiding behind other runners as he surreptitiously crept up on people. Fortunately, the adrenalin kicked in and I pulled away along Mallerstang Edge, over Nine Standards Rigg and down into Kirkby Stephen to finish six minutes ahead of him. As fastest runner O/60 that day I was presented with the 'Nine Standards Veteran's Cup' and told, unofficially, that my time of 3hours 42minutes could well be an O/60's course record.
    Being of a certain vintage, I'd totally forgotten about this little matter of a course record until recently coming across the 'Results' section on the Yomp website where Mr R.Moulding of Blackburn Harriers was officially listed as O/60's record holder with his time of 3.45 set in 1995. Needless to say, an email went hurtling through cyber space at a great rate of knots informing the Yomp organisers that a certain member of Longwood Harriers (i.e. yours truly) had in fact run 3 minutes faster than their Mr R.Moulding.  I'm pleased to report that five days ago, on January 4th, an email from John Andrew of the Yomp Committee informed me that after fifteen years my record has finally been ratified and now appears on the list of all time records. Yippee!!!   For reasons of posterity, and before someone re-writes this record again, I thought I'd have a copy of it on my Blog page.  So here it is:
     I've always regarded this as a 'soft' record and am amazed it's stood for fifteen years when there are so many good O/60 runners around. I'd expected it to be broken long ago which, I suppose, is why I hadn't paid much attention to it, until now. The O/60's record for the Three Peaks of Yorkshire, a slightly longer race with more ascent and descent, is 3.38.33 set by Bill Fielding - 12 minutes faster my quickest 'Peaks' time. So come on, all you O/60 fell runners, the next Yomp is on June 3rd. Be inspired. Get out there and give it a go. After all, records are there to be broken.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Happy New Year

The Wharfe in spate
    The weather is still up to its old tricks. For the past couple of weeks, at least, Britain has been a drab and dreary place. And still we have dire warnings of gale force winds, torrential rain, hail, sleet and snow continuing well into the New Year. Trees and overhead power lines have been brought down, disrupting public transport, while many homes are without electricity. Water is pouring off the hills, fields are saturated, the River Wharfe is a whirling brown maelstrom. While travelling on the Ilkley bus we'd to hurriedly lift our feet when water came rushing inside as we negotiated a flooded section of road near Linton.
     A final run of the old year had me slithering all over the place during a five mile effort through quagmire fields to Grassington Bridge and back. The effort required, just to stay upright, was so exhausting that for the first time ever I'd to walk the final hill back into the village.  Glad I'm not running in the Yorkshire X-Country Championships this coming Saturday! 
Running out the old year
     New Year's Eve celebrations were somewhat subdued. A running friend who'd invited us to share 'nibbles' and drinks was struck down with a stomach bug a few hours before the chimes so, after our traditional Hogmanay supper of haggis, tatties and neeps - not to mention a wee dram - we quietly saw in the New Year alone.  How different from days gone by when we'd stream out of Gerry's hostel at Achnashellach and into the warmth of Katie Ann's cottage for untold hours of music, song and jollity at a good old Scottish ceilidh. Later, we'd finish up dancing in the road, everywhere sparkling with frost, stripping the willow in a starlit ballroom. Those were the days. I think!
     The first day of the New Year, being a Sunday, coincided with the annual Covenant Service at our Methodist Chapel, for which I was on duty both as steward and reader. It began at 9am, so it was just as well I hadn't been dancing the night away. A part of the sermon that caught my attention concerned the three wise men traversing countless miles across trackless desert, without the aid of maps or satnav, to the town of Bethlehem.  "In those dim distant days travellers had to navigate by the stars" our Minister said. On my way out I suggested if we'd had to rely on stars this Christmas we wouldn't have got very far out of the village!
The Wharfe at Linton Falls
     After the sloshing through fields fiasco of yesteryear I resolved to henceforth keep to roads and tracks until such time as the landscape has dried out. So, sensing a short weather window after Chapel, I set off on what should have been a pleasant six mile jog to Appletreewick, then back along the mainly gravelly path by the swollen River Wharfe. All was going well until, just before the suspension bridge, I was greeted by a loose dog which, by way of saying Hello, ripped a hole in my best Gore running tights at the top of my thigh. Had it's teeth struck a few inches to the right, things could have been far worse! He was a beautiful looking dog. Shame he had such an irresponsible owner. Perhaps by way of consolation, she assured me she'd have harsh words with her very naughty doggy. I departed quickly, counting up to ten, before letting out a loud stress relieving Aaaarrrggh!
     So, a bit of a curate's egg really, some good bits, some bad, which I suppose is what the rest of the year will be like. A Very Happy New Year to all my Blogger friends and visitors.