Monday 27 February 2012

Spring watch

According to Ted Hughes:
Curlews in April
Hang their harps over the misty valleys
A wobbling water-call
A web-footed god of the horizons......

    Well, this wonderful harbinger of Spring was trailing his wobbling water-call across Grimwith reservoir a couple of months earlier than that this year along with whistling Teal, a raft of bugling black necked Canada geese and the happy piping of early Oystercatchers strutting by the shore in their best tuxedos. Frogs have already gathered in a reed-bound pond for their annual orgy. Lambing fields at Bolton Abbey are heaving with new life whilst lawns and garden are bright with Spring flowers - snowdrops, crocuses and yellow daffodils. Here's a very short poem of my own that sums up this exciting change:
Sandy track for fast repetitions on Castle Hill


Silently, the world sleeps
Deep in winter hills.

Stealthily, vernal youth
Folds back her blanket.

Suddenly, earth pants, and
Ah love, Spring has come.

    From depths of winter melancholy we're suddenly reborn into another glorious new year. We come alive again. Spring is easily my favourite season for running, when each foray into the great outdoors provides a new thrill. It's a season of 'firsts' to note in our diaries - first celandine, primrose, wheatear, ring ouzel, pewit, skylark, new-born lamb - but it's always the return of the Curlew that is most uplifting for me. From mid February onwards I'll visit their wild haunts day after day to catch that first thrilling sound. For me, it heralds Spring's awakening just like the first Swallow, for many, presages the arrival of summer. 
Curlew country - Grimwith reservoir
    In other respects it's been a wild and windy week, though there were benefits to be had from this, particularly during bouts of speedwork high on Castle Hill. On my horse-shoe shaped route the wind was behind me from whichever end I chose to do my repetitions. I was experimenting with a metronome to optimise my cadence at 96 (Rt foot plants) per minute. It's not easy when doing fast reps. Sometimes I'd swear the confounded implement was slowing down whereas it was actually me speeding up and getting ahead of the beeps.
    Conversely, on a ten mile jaunt around Mossdale on Saturday an almost gale force wind somehow managed to be head on both out and back along the trail. I'm not sure how it managed that but it sure slowed me down. I didn't care. It's my longest run since December, so all is going well for my 12 mile event in two weeks time. I just hope I can get rid of this lingering cough by then.
    Just after the Curlew had called to us yesterday a miracle occurred. Last August while walking (note) through long grass high above Conistone I caught my foot in a rabbit hole, fell over sideways, and badly twisted my Rt knee. It's pained me ever since, so much so that long runs have been preceded by large doses of painkillers. On Saturday, for instance, I washed down 600mg of Ibuprofen an hour before running around Mossdale. A physiotherapist I'd visited said there was nothing he could do about it (though he still took my money) suggesting I see my doctor, get it X-rayed, and possibly be referred to our local hospital for an arthroscopy. X-rays were 'clear' so I was about to ask my doctor for an MRI scan. However, at the end of yesterday's run there was a fence to climb. As I swung my leg over I clumsily clouted the inside of that self-same Rt knee which resulted in a shot of pain that soon subsided. While preparing breakfast this morning it suddenly dawned on me I'd walked downstairs in a perfectly normal manner rather than the crab-like sideways shuffle, one step at a time, of the past six months. Jokingly, I suggested to my wonderful partner that Saturday's dose of Ibuprofen seemed to have taken a long time to work! But as I write this, nine hours later, my knee is still free of pain. Hallelujah!

Monday 20 February 2012


Up the ghyll
   I've been struggling this week. Snow that shrouded our hills last weekend quickly disappeared during a rapid thaw, but then it froze again and a biting NNE wind made running a chilly affair in the resultant wind-chill factor. For the past couple of weeks I've been running with a cold, hoping I'd sweat it out of my system. It hasn't quite worked and the freezing cold air streaming into my lungs as I ran an otherwise very pleasant 25 miles this week has left me with a barking cough. I've been advised by my wonderful partner to go to bed with a hot water bottle clutched to my chest - but I'm not very good at things like that! Anyway, it's forecast to get warmer in the next few days, up to 17ÂșC, so hopefully my chest will respond positively to that.
Flooded path by the river
    Melt-water pouring off the hills during the short thaw had raised the height of the river, flooding the path till water was lapping round my ankles on a run back from Howgill. But the sun was shining, birds were singing and all the high tops stood in bold relief in the clear air. The 8 mile route was the farthest I've run since the beginning of January and I'm pleased to say I ran it a little quicker - if only by a minute. It's a step in the right direction. By March 10th I've got to raise my game to 12 miles to take part in the Troller's Trot - an annual 25 mile event through some of Yorkshire's most beautiful countryside - though I'll only be running half of it.
Stile at Cupola Corner
    After soaking feet by the River Wharfe we decided to keep high on Sunday's run until the flood water had receded.  After morning service at St Peter's my wonderful partner ran with me for a couple of miles up the ghyll before going our separate ways, each of us on our own preferred route. I climbed the stile at Cupola Corner and ran north as far as the dam on the edge of Grassington Moor. At 1,300ft it offers spectaculer views across Wharfedale which I never tire of gazing at from this remote spot where I rarely meet another soul. Again, there was a bitterly cold wind but in sheltered hollows, or on leeward sides of rocky outcrops, sheep dozed in the sun's meagre warmth. There are places on earth we hold sacred, where God is in His heaven and all's well with the world. This is one of mine.
    I told myself I'll take things easy this coming week and cut out the running until remnants of my cold and irritating cough have totally subsided. But have I got enough will-power? Well, if it's any help, it's raining.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Ice is nice Threshfield Moor
    Last week an email arrived from a running friend I hadn't heard from for maybe a couple of years, a chap called Doug Tilly who lives in a beautiful part of the world on the edge of our English Lake Distict . "I hear you're shortly to become an old man" he said, referring to my upcoming 80th birthday in three months time at the beginning of May. People shouldn't say things like that in case I start thinking it myself and actually become an old man. So I ignored his comment.  Nevertheless, I'll shortly have to change a word in the sub-title of my Blog, from  'Septuagenarian' to 'Octogenarian'. Or maybe completely revamp it to something like 'Random jottings of a geriatric jogger'.  Or maybe not!
On a slippery slope
   It's been another productive week though mileage dropped to just 20 miles in the freezing conditions. Speedwork was out of the question for two reasons. Firstly I wasn't going to risk running fast with cold leg muscles - and in the sub-zero temperatures I just couldn't get them to what I considered warm enough: and secondly because the section of sandy path where I do my intervals had become so icy as to be bordering on dangerous at anything faster than normal cruising speed. So I chickened out and ran some easy enjoyable miles.
Some of the residents
    But we'd an exciting day on Saturday. On March 10th we've opted to run a 12 mile off-road event over some wild, boggy country so decided it might be a good idea to recce the route while the ground was frozen. Big mistake. The Yorkshire Dales were still plastered with frozen snow which, on upland trails, had been compacted to solid ice. Every wall, fence and signpost on Threshfield Moor was coated with shiny verglas and festooned with icicles. Glassy stiles had to be climbed with great care. We wore Yaktrax on our trail shoes to better negotiate the ribbon of ice that masqueraded as a path through the heather where a few sheep and grouse eked out a bare existence. My wonderful partner was not happy as she slid and twisted, struggling to maintain her balance but quite unable to run in her normal style. After a couple of miles or so the cry went up, "I want to go back", a sentiment I'd also been considering as I sensed my body temperature dropping as we ascended higher into the Arctic air.  
Try climbing over this....
    But rather than retrace our footsteps we studied the map and agreed on a shorter route that would cut out a couple of miles and get us back to our car a fair bit quicker, hopefully before we froze to death!  Strangely, from that point onwards I noticed she was running faster and more confidently although underfoot conditions were precisely the same. I must work on this!
    Sunday morning saw me honing my ice running skills on a six mile jaunt along the riverbank where weekend walkers hung onto walls, trees and fences in an effort to stay upright on sheet ice as I breezed past them. The yard at Woodhouse Farm, which the right of way passes through, resembled a vast skating rink which walkers found most intimidating . After a few tentative steps most of them retreated to find an easier route. With Yaktrax I pranced across with ultimate ease, as gracefully as Robin Cousins performing his skills to strains of Ravel's Bolero, enjoying the experience and wishing the current freeze would last a little while longer.
Enjoying myself
     On leaving Church later that day our circuit Minister, Rev Richard Atkinson, said "I don't suppose you've been out running in these conditions". After assuring him I had, his reply was a syllable less than the Bible's shortest verse - "You're mad" he said.
   So there you are, I began the week with the inference I was rapidly turning into an old man, and ended it being pronounced mad! 
   However, when I got home, another email had arrived that partially restored the status quo. It was from a Dutch running friend who lives in some unpronouncable village/town outside Amsterdam (or is it Rotterdam? I forget which). His message began with the words  "Hello youngster, I hope this finds you in good spirits.........".  Now that's more like what I want to hear. That brought a smile back to my face. Thankyou Theo, I'll buy you a pint next time you're over this way.  

Tuesday 7 February 2012

All white on the day

Galloping down Castle Hill to escape a nithering north-easterly
    Weather-wise, it's been a week of contrasts in the wilds of Yorkshire, from clear skies and bare landscapes to thick snow, misty horizons and biting winds.  I was out in all it's changing moods, savouring every minute as I romped over hills, by twisting trails, through rutted fields, silent woods and quiet riverbanks for a weekly total of 24 eventful miles. 
    Wednesday was intervals day on what is normally the leeward side of Castle Hill, but not so on this occasion. A nithering north-easterly had me donning my jacket before launching into eleven faster runs at an average 6.26 pace. They'd started off at a conservative 6.48 pace but got progressively faster as I hurried things along to sooner escape the biting headwind that was stinging my face on each run. At 900ft above sea level I call it altitude training, though that might be stretching it a bit! Eight miles away, across the valley, Holme Moss rose a thousand feet higher and was plastered with snow. In the clear air it appeared but a hop, skip and jump away.
Friday's fiery sunset - from my garden
    On Thursday and Friday the temperature hardly rose above freezing. I kept low for most of the time on gentle runs through sleepy Mollicar and Roydhouse woods, across clarty fields of winter wheat where mud built up on my trail shoes till I was almost running on stilts! Crossing tarmac lanes I was able to kick most of it off before final circuits of Castle Hill (again) to complete what were mainly pleasant, but sometimes laborious, five mile runs.
    Due to wind-chill the temperature on Saturday plummeted even lower. Getting out of the car at Keelham, a hilltop Farmer's market, to buy meat on our way back to the Dales, was like stepping into a wind blasted super-freezer. The lowering sky had turned an angry grey, presageing snow, so we drove home with all haste, fed the stove, donned our thermals and went for a swift six mile run around Appletreewick.  On the inky water of the River Wharfe a male Goosander was displaying his startling white plumage to doting crested wives while on a mid-stream stone a Dipper was in full song - each of them seemingly oblivious to the icy blasts that had us hurtling back along the riverbank as fast as our legs would carry us. The first flakes of snow came fluttering from the sky as we ran through Burnsall, a couple of miles from home, and continued throughout the day and all night. 
Sunday - running by a snowy riverbank - wearing Yaktrax
    We peered out the window on Sunday morning into a blinding winter wonderland. The snow plough and gritter had cleared main roads during the night but villages were pretty much snow-bound, including ours. I was sat by the fire, going over the lesson I'd been asked to read in Church that morning, when the phone rang. The service had been cancelled. Our Minister was reluctant to attempt the 2½ mile journey to our village in decidedly dodgy driving conditions. Just as well, for some of our congregation that live farther afield wouldn't be here either.
The Wharfe at Loup Scar
    So, for the first time this winter, we fitted Yaktrax to our trail shoes and ventured out into our other Church - that great outdoor world which, on this February morning, was dressed in all her shining white finery, like a bride ready for her groom, to borrow a biblical analogy. It was very much a stop/start affair as we ran from one vantage point to another, clicking away with our cameras, hoping for the perfect shot but, such is the contrast between black and white, modern cameras find snow scenes difficult to cope with, even on all the relevant settings.  
    After four miles we returned home, stoked up the stove, made cups of strong coffee and downloaded our pictures onto the computer. Totally disappointing!  Ah well, our digital images might turn out a bit blue and fuzzy but at least they remain sharp in our minds. Problem is, I haven't yet discovered a way to transfer pictures directly from my mind into my Blog, though an artist friend of mine with a photographic memory can recall scenes and draw them just as he saw them 20/30/40 years ago. Some people are really gifted. All I can do is run!