Monday 26 March 2012

Almost like summer

Blackthorn blossom
     Strewth! I've been writing about Spring but here in Yorkshire temperatures have been more akin to summer this past week. Unbelievably, I've lain in the garden wearing nothing more than shorts and sunglasses while bees went about their business among the flowers and birds sang their warm little hearts out.
    Runningwise, it's been shorts and vest weather as I trotted through dried out fields and sussed out new (unofficial) paths through local woodland where buds are beginning to burst and various feathered songsters are already proclaiming their territorial rights, amongst them an early chiffchaff. A pair of buzzard entertained me for a while as they circled overhead and a woodcock shot off at great speed from almost under my feet. 
I frequently run past Jean-luc Picard's house, currently available
for rental at a mere £2,500 per calendar month - but you may have
to be beamed up in winter!
      It's amazing how much better we feel with the sun on our backs. On Sunday it even inspired a little speedwork over a couple of measured miles. The fastest according to my Garmin was 7.05 which, if my maths are correct, equates to 6.36 over 1500m. That's interesting because the British MV80 record currently stands at 6.39.  OK, I'm not 80 yet but, God willing, I will be in another six weeks and my form usually improves as summer approaches. 
Frost on the grass by the riverbank - before the heat of the day
      Problem is, there's nearly always someone else at the British Master's Track & Field Championships with the same idea as me. In 2007 I totally anihilated the MV75 1500m record only to finish 10 whole seconds behind a guy called Brian Ashwell who'd reached his 75th birthday a couple of weeks before the race. There was some bittersweet compensation the following day when I took gold in the 800m.  However, being the length of the finishing straight ahead of the second runner I foolishly slowed approaching the line to finish in 2:46:71 - less than one second outside the British record of 2:45:82. Ah well, that's life!

Monday 19 March 2012

More signs of Spring

Daffodil haven near Appletreewick
    After each dreary winter, nothing is so heart-warming as sights and sounds and scents of the onrushing Spring. It's like a drug. I can't get enough of it, especially as I get older. I have to be out there running new paths and seeking out odd corners where I suspect something exciting might be happening. In dark days of winter it's very easy to procrastinate, staying within confines of my cosy cottage when weather is inclement. Invariably my weekly mileage falls below average but status quo is quickly restored as days lengthen, stimulating body and soul to join that colourful unfolding pageant.
Spring lambs
   During the past couple of weeks events have rapidly accelerated. Daffodils and primroses have burst into bloom, lapwings are whirling out their joy over the high pastures, goosanders are paired and seeking out nest sites by the riverbank, bumble bees are feeding happily on my flowering currant, a trio of gaudy bullfinches brightened up a woodland glade, new-born lambs sprawl in sunlit fields and frog spawn is floating in many a pond (not to mention in an old bath used to store water on a nearby allotment).
Pair of goosander on the Wharfe
    In this vernal landscape running is pure joy, besides being a most natural and wonderful form of exercise. My philosophy dictates that I get out there and 'just do it'. Former Olympian, Catherina McKiernan said ‎"Running is meant to be enjoyed, not endured" and I couldn't agree more. Run easily. Ignore the figures on the watch. To us ordinary runners it doesn't matter if we're a few seconds off the pace (what pace?), we don't have to run once more round the block to make up a pre-planned mileage. It's not against the rules to stop and admire the view from some vantage point or watch a peregrine falcon soaring against the boundless blue. For me, there are no hard and fast rules other than that most important one - enjoy it!

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Troller's Trot

Ready for the off
     The Troller's Trot is organised by the Long Distance Walkers Association, but don't be fooled by that word 'Walkers'.  By far the biggest percentage of entrants are runners. The event is mainly off-road over some wild, rough country and as such attracts some of our top fell runners, both male and female. It's a Challenge, rather than a race, but nevertheless it invokes a keen spirit of competition among participants who either want to better last years time or beat familiar rivals.  Walkers can set off as soon as they've collected their tally cards at 7.30am and are well on their way by the time runners line up for a mass start at 9am.
    It was drizzling with rain as I left the dining hall in Threshfield School at 8.55am, fortified with an extra jam butty and two cups of well sugared tea. Thick mist shrouded the hills and a sneaky wind was blowing from the south west. I pulled on a baseball cap to shield my specs and donned a lightweight jacket. I made the mistake of lingering at the start, taking photographs of other runners, quite forgetting the various spots where hold-ups would occur along the way. After climbing high into the mist and dancing across the oozing black bogs of Threshfield Moor the worst snarl-up came at the first checkpoint where I found myself queueing for seven whole minutes to clip my tally card.
Route map
    Of the 400 or so entries for the 20th anniversary of this event, only about fifty were entered for the 12 mile half Trot and I'd no idea how many of them were runners. I suspected most of them, as in the full 24 mile Trot, and had a sneaking suspicion all would now be ahead of me after that checkpoint fiasco.  The next four miles were mainly downhill and easier running so I'd time to get some sort of rhythm going while ticking off as many runners as I possibly could. The mist had lifted, sunshine shafted through the clouds, curlews called and larks were singing as we ran to the 2nd checkpoint near Winterburn reservoir. In just over two miles our routes would split, the 24 milers to the right and the 12 milers to the left. That's where my race would begin. I made good progress though I was flagging a bit on a mile or so of tarmac to the 3rd checkpoint at Rylstone Church.
Disappearing into the mist on Threshfield Moor
    Although the route had otherwise been well marked there was no sign to point the way of the shorter route from the Church and I finished up getting hopelessly lost in a sprawling farmyard where cows eyed me curiously as I ran hither and thither, frantically trying to find a way out. To make things worse a brief glimpse along the lane I should be running along, but couldn't get to, revealed a runner disappearing into the distance. And who knows how many were ahead of him? I retraced my steps, climbed through a gap in the wall and tore down a short grassy slope onto the lane. I was back on route.  
Running over Boss Moor
    Things were getting serious now. I rolled up my jacket and tied it round my waist, replaced my cap with a headband and rolled up my sleeves ready for action. That guy who'd long since disappeared into the distance just had to be caught in the next five miles before the finish. After a series of zig-zags through the back lanes of Cracoe the route came out onto a long straight bit where it was possible to see quite a way ahead. There was no sign of the runner. The next section was a twisting roller-coaster of a lane with little chance of seeing any distance ahead but, after a couple of miles, just past Far Langerton, the guy suddenly appeared about 300m in front of me. In a mile I'd caught him, quite by surprise as he slowed to take a drink.
    "Come on" I shouted in mock encouragement as I slid past.
    "I needed that drink, I'll be with you in a minute" he replied.
   "Oh no, you jolly well wont" I muttered to myself. I was on home ground now. My old legs found new life over the last two miles down steep fields, back along the familiar riverbank, across Grassington Bridge and up the hill to the deserted finish area outside the school. I was the first runner home. A couple of minutes later the second runner arrived, offering his congratulations, and after that a steady trickle of runners including my wonderful partner alongside the lady who'd inspired us to enter and train for this cracking day out.
    As we regrouped in the dining hall for an excellent post-race meal and more reviving cups of tea we couldn't help but sing the praises of all concerned with the brilliant organisation of this wonderful event. All being well, we'll be back next year when hopefully they'll have signposted the way out of that perishing farmyard!

Tuesday 6 March 2012

To Chi, or not to Chi

    One way or another, things didn't go well last week and I failed miserably to run my planned mileage. A persistent chesty cough has been sapping my strength resulting in stop/start runs and inability to maintain any sort of pace, no matter how slow, without regular breaks to regain my breath. I managed a grand total of just 14 miles - barely ticking over - but it's better than nothing, I suppose. At least, I tried, but it felt hard. 
    And because running has recently started to feel harder I've been poking my nose into Danny Dreyer's book on 'Chi Running' and trying to learn the technique he describes so well. According to the hype it enables one to run faster, farther and with much less effort at any age. Baron Baptiste says, "This programme will totally revolutionalize the wau you run". In theory I've got to admit it all sounds very feasible and those who practice it give glowing reports, but so far it's done nothing for me.  Maybe I haven't got it quite right though I seem to be doing things according to the book. I just wish there was a qualified teacher in the vicinity to check what I'm doing and make any necessary corrections. But as yet I certainly aint running faster or farther, quite the reverse, and the little that I am doing at the moment seems to require more effort. Of course, I refuse to accept it's anything to do with age!
    I may be slowing down but still enjoy running the hills and wide open spaces and hate to think there might come a time when I'm no longer able to do it. For the past 26 years life has revolved around it. No week has been complete without it. To the amusement of family and friends, annual holidays to places like Cornwall or the Canary Islands are regarded as warm weather training. Even in Scotland or the Alps running gear forms a large part of the luggage. It's kept me slim and trim, though not without a few aches, pains and injuries along the way - par for the course, I suppose. 
    Anyhow, regardless of current fitness, in a few days time I'll be running with a number pinned to my vest again. It's a very low key event but no doubt the adrenalin will start to flow and anyone in front of me will be regarded as fair competition. Hopefully it will kickstart this lethargic body back into racing mode. But whether it does, or not, I'll enjoy the day, the run and the company of like-minded people.

Thursday 1 March 2012

Spring has definitely sprung

Warm enough for shorts
   In spite of annoying snuffles, sneezes, persistent cough, snow, ice and gale force winds, I seemed to get quite a lot done during February. Mileage-wise I topped the 100 mark for the first time since last June, most of it at a very steady pace, but with some good bouts of speed-work thrown in to liven the old legs up a bit. 
Gorse in flower
    However, for reasons I don't fully understand I don't seem able to maintain a decent pace for any length of time now. I mentioned this to one of my running contemporaries who suggested I return to the track this year and attack some of the British MV80 records over 400m, 800m and perhaps 1500m - distances I know I could run comfortably, but not necessarily at speeds I'd like. We'll see. One thing's certain, I wont be running marathons any more, though with 7 category wins from 8 starts, plus two British Championships, I've nothing really to come back for.
Crocuses - loving the sun
     To say I'm a little rusty is a gross understatment. I haven't raced since the Arncliffe 4 miler way back in August. Hopefully, the Troller's Trot a week on Saturday will whet my appetite and get my decrepit brain back into racing mode. It's a 12 mile off-road event over wild moors, steep hills and slutchy bogs. Should be just up my street!
    Today, the 1st March, is what many consider the first day of Spring and it showed all the signs of it. From the moment I got out of bed and stepped out the door into glorious sunshine I was flowing with energy. After a great bowl of banana porridge, toast with marmalade and the odd cup of tea I set about vaccing all the rooms, sweeping the stairs and cleaning the kitchen floor before hanging out a line of washing.  
And just look at that blue sky
   Then I went for a run, in shorts, through woods that filtered the sunlight, across wide open fields, then went swirling round the top of Castle Hill before dropping down home to complete a refreshing 5 miles. 
    As if that wasn't enough exercise for the day I set about tidying the garden, getting rid of all the dead wood, hoeing, raking, scarifying the  lawn and straightening the edges before sweeping all the rubbish from the path. I reckon it must be time for bed!