Tuesday 31 July 2012

An interesting month

A wee dram to celebrate 21 wonderful years together
     Apart from one or two spells of atrocious weather that swamped our surrounding countryside and kept me indoors for longer than I'd like, July was a pretty good month. Best of all, it marked the anniversary of 21 glorious years with my wonderful partner. Little did we know how both our lives would change dramatically after she invited me to join her on a camping trip to the Lake District to help plan a route for a forthcoming mountaineering club meet.  I can't recall whether the route ever got planned, but do remember the lake hills and tarns being bathed in a bright new light and wild raspberries never tasted so sweet. Since that auspicious weekend we've run, walked, camped, climbed and swum together in all sorts of exotic places we'd never have otherwise visited. If ever there was such a thing as a 'born again' experience, that was it!
     Running-wise this month, I failed to reach a planned 100 miles - by just one mile, though I hadn't realized it until counting up today. After a hard ten miles around Mossdale yesterday I really don't feel like going out again today, the last day of the month, for the sake of one measly mile. However, another count up reveals I've just passed the 35,000 mile mark since my very first run on April 9th, 1986. Among that grand total are 118 category wins from 171 races - which I reckon is a fairly good ratio for a guy who knew absolutely nothing about running until the tender age of 54. Not that I know a great deal about it now!
Magic box
     Another funny thing happened in July that may or may not prove beneficial in the future. While visiting my physio for a routine sports massage I was introduced to his latest bit of gadgetry, a very clever device with the rather grand name of Cobjack Quantum Magnetic Analyzer which is all contained in something the size of an attaché case. I was linked to it simply by holding a metal cylinder in my left hand and relaxing completely for a few minutes while it collated vast amounts of data from my ancient body that hitherto only God could possibly have known about. To quote verbatim from the website:
    "This method of analysis is a rapid, accurate, noninvasive, safe, testing method and particularly suitable for comparing the curative effects of health products and for checking  sub-health conditions. There are more than 30 main analysis items, including cardiovascular and cerebrovascular conditions, bone mineral density, cholesterol, trace elements, blood lead, rheumatism, lung and respiratory tract, nephropathy, blood sugar, stomach and intestines, liver and gall bladder, cranial nerves, gynaecology, prostate, bone disease, the trace elements of selenium, iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium and more".
     I'm glad to say that after searching every dark corner of my anatomy the clever machine came up with an interesting list of facts and figures as long as my arm (both arms in fact) culminating with a 'Body form Assessment' of 92.8 which it considered 'Excellent'.  The only bad bit of news is that I'm severely short of Calcium and marginally low on Iron, Vitamin C and Folic Acid. Being somewhat sceptical by nature I've given it the benefit of the doubt and invested in a couple of months supply of high strength Calcium tablets after which I'll maybe ask for a re-test.
     What else happened in July? Oh yes, the Olympics have begun, so I'd better get away from this confounded computer and start watching the real stars of the athletics world.  Who knows, I may be inspired to rise to even greater heights.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Bentham Beagles Bash

Another quality 23 mile week culminated in an excellent 10K race inaugurated by the recently formed Bentham Beagles Running Club. Considering this North Yorkshire club only came into existence nine months ago the presentation and organization of this event was of a very high standard indeed, a real credit to members and all who turned out to help on the day.
Race route and profile
Prior to the 11am start lots of runners assembled on the sports field for some orchestrated aerobics to loosen and warm up muscles in readiness for the 'off'. It was by no means an easy race, and it began as it seemed to go on, and on - mainly uphill!  I believe I heard that dreaded word 'undulating' used to describe the course but, to my mind, anything in excess of 600ft is hilly. Moreover, the uphill bits seem to go on for most of the route whilst the downhill bit is a fast, steep descent over the last mile.
Warming up by the clubhouse
I set off as I meant to go on, at a comfortable steady rhythm I intended to maintain whatever was thrown at me.  The last three miles felt anything but steady but I was determined not to lose my placing. Cheered on by marshals and uplifted by the magnificent panorama over Wenningdale to Ingleborough, Whernside and Gragareth, I'd actually got into overtaking mode before reaching the high point at 560ft with just over a mile to go. I latched onto Julia Rolfe of Lytham St Annes for the final steep descent and we shared the pace-making to the Finish.  "Go on" I told her, "I'll follow you in". And off she went at a great rate of knots. I hadn't the heart to challenge her.  
Thankyou very much - but where's my shoe?
I finished 38th of 79 runners in 54.31 minutes with over half the field trailing behind me, including fellow octogenarians Mike Walsh of Wesham RR (61.24) and John Nettleton of Great Langdale A.C. (72.50). The animal was happy. Well, reasonably!  Most of the prize-winners were awarded an ornamental running shoe duly engraved with their category or placing, but there wasn't one for the MV80's.  They hadn't been expecting doddery old geriatrics turning up so had only ordered prizes up to MV70, or so I was told by the vivacious Valerie as she handed me a rather nice bottle of wine.  It wasn't until some time afterwards when my old brain clicked into gear, as it occasionally does, that I thought "Hang on a minute, I WAS the first MV70, so who took my prize?" Ah well, maybe next year.  Full results here:

Monday 16 July 2012

Wild runner

I'll go with that.....
The wild unsettled weather continued throughout last week producing a somewhat wild but determined runner. On Monday, a day after the Kilburn race, I dragged weary legs around the six miles of the Appletreewick circular on what was planned as a recovery run, but sloshing through muddy puddles along the riverbank and spending a long time chatting to local character Geoff Lund (whose atmospheric pictures illustrate the book 'Yorkshire Dales Stone-waller) in Burnsall. By the time I reached the swaying suspension bridge at Hebden a coach-load of hikers were lining up and crossing it - and I was at the back. My annoyance must have brought on a rush of adrenalin for on reaching the far bank all the stiffness left my legs and I absolutely flew up the steep hill back into the village. It was the best I'd felt all day. Excluding stop time I'd clocked 6 miles in 58 minutes.
Tuesday was a none-day running-wise. Part of the route has been churned into such a boggy morass by farm beasties that I was quite unable to find a way past without sinking up to my knees.  I aborted after only ½ mile, returned home and mowed the lawns instead; surely the shortest run I've done in years! 1 mile in 10 minutes
On Thursday I jogged up and around Castle Hill with the intention of doing 12 x 200m fast repetitions on the flat sumnmit, but my mind was so engrossed with the wonderful scenery illuminated by rare sunshine that I completely lost count. My Garmin later revealed I'd done fifteen reps averaging 42 seconds each. Altogether, 7 miles in 71 minutes.

Spectators on Grassington Moor
Weekends are when I run in some of the wilder, more scenic parts of the Yorkshire Dales where I rarely meet another soul. A circuit via Bare House, another seven miler, was my chosen route on Saturday. Prior to this run I'd been watching a video of Kenyans training in the village of Iten and was impressed by their relaxed easy style, keeping the same cadence throughout.  For the first three miles to the top of Yarnbury Lane, all uphill, I found it hard to emulate them, but persevered, though at times I must have sounded like a clapped out old donkey. The next four miles down springy turf, through limestone pastures and grassy meadows with panoramic views across the dale to Pendle Hill and Rolling Gate were more relaxed and it was a very contented runner that returned home after 77 minutes of delightful running.
Wild runner in a wild landscape - passing Blea Beck dams on Sunday
Sunday's run was yet another seven miler up Hebden Ghyll, over Grassington Moor, alongside Blea Beck dams, over Hebden Moor past Grimwith reservoir and Backstone Edge, then home by the fish farm in Hebden Ghyll. This wasn't a training run, just a means of getting out into the fresh air and re-acquainting myself with an area I hadn't visited for many a month. 

Grimwith reservoir

There were changes. Local gamekeepers have built three well constructed shooting butts alongside the biggest of the dams at Blea Beck, though I can't imagine why. Rarely have I seen any wildfowl in that vicinity, the odd Canada Goose, an occasional Teal nesting among the reeds, but nothing to justify the expense of that lavish equipment. Beyond the dams many parts of the track have been churned up by mountain bikers and farmers' quad bikes. My feet sank deep into saturated sphagnum moss, a quite exquisite sensation on a warm summer day though something to loathe in winter. Other parts of the track were completely flooded after heavy rainfall. After circumnavigating the worst parts, stopping umpteen times to stand and stare, or take photographs, it was 95 minutes before I eventually set foot in the house again to round off a 28 mile week. I wonder why I'm aching so much?

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Kilburn 7 mile race, 2012

Rain is alright for gardens - but not for me thankyou
A set of repetitions on Castle Hill and what should have been an easy run were my only two sessions in the seven day build-up to Kilburn's 7 mile race. The speed session incorporated into a seven mile run on Tuesday went well: 12 x 200m @ 43secs with 200m jog recovery felt fairly comfortable and I was happy with that. But after weeks of incessant rain the so-called easy run on Thursday was anything but comfortable. What's normally an enjoyable off-road route through wonderful countryside had sprouted waist high grass, nettles, brambles and various other flourishing weeds that soaked my shorts, tore my legs and covered me with mud. I stripped off in the kitchen and flung everything into the washer - including my trail shoes.
Looking good before the race
Race day dawned sunny and warm which augured well for the afternoon start. After an 80 minute drive we arrived early in Kilburn to secure a good parking spot behind the 'Mouseman' workshop where there are clean, handy loos and only yards away from the Start/Finish line. The normal parking field was soggy and unusable so scores of cars were parked along grass verges severely constricting the narrow road.
Around 265 runners lined up for the start of the race at 2pm.  Anticipating a bit of bumping and boring over the first few hundred yards of the narrow, congested street I'd lined up near the front to get an uninterrupted run from the start. It was a mistake for I got carried away a little too fast for my old legs and found myself struggling a bit on reaching the first hill in just over a mile. I kept saying to myself "slow down, relax, get your breathing back under control", but the damage had been done: I should have known better.
At least I was still running. Towards the top of the hill a girl (Helen Cowley of Kippax Harriers) was walking and sounded to be muttering words to the effect of "God, I'm hating this already" - so I offered brief words of encouragement. It must have worked for moments later she eased past never to be caught again! Unbeknown to her she became my pacemaker throughout the rest of the race.  
..and a bit embarrassed by all the fuss after the race
In the last mile she started to pull away, overtaking four or five runners and opening up a gap. I went with her but one of the group, Richard Hughes of Quakers Running Club (though he wasn't wearing their vest), decided he was having none of it and broke away with me to match strides over the next ¼ mile or so. Nearing the finish I decided it was time to cut loose but to my amazement he managed to wind me back in and beat me to the line. I believe it's only the second time I've been beaten in a sprint finish (the first being 26 years ago) and I haven't quite got over it yet.  It seems I'm reluctantly going to have to accept the fact that age is beginning to take its toll.
Having a bad day, though you wouldn't know it
After the race I'd words with the organisers who'd put me in the results as 2nd MV75 instead of 1st MV80. This was corrected in time for the prize-giving but not on the official results posted to  My time was 62.42 - a little quicker than 9 minute pace over the 7 miles 351 yds - and finished in 165th position of 261.  My wonderful partner had a bad day (she doesn't like running on tarmac) finishing 257th in 79.50, unusually out of the category prizes though she was awarded a nice bottle of Chilean wine by way of consolation.
Next up on July 22nd is a 10K road race promoted by the newly formed (October 2011) Bentham Beagles Running Club. It's described as a scenic course with stunning views over Wenningdale towards Ingleborough. If anyone is interested they can find the Entry Form here. I'll be looking for a good pace-maker @ just under 9 minute/mile pace!

Sunday 1 July 2012

Crantock, 2012

Ending an al fresco meal with clotted cream - and choice of wine
Natural arch at Park Head on a misty day
Herring gull among the thrift
Poppies and corn marigolds by Polly Joke
      Well, it wasn't the best of holidays we've had in Cornwall. I don't think we've ever spent so much time sitting in our tent listening to pattering rain, or drunk so many mugs of tea.  A silver teaspoon used to stir our tea was stained a deep mahogany brown by the end of the first week.  Our stove ran out of gas half way through cooking an evening meal. My wonderful partner's nose spent an awful lot of time buried in her Kindle whilst I ploughed through a paper version of Laura Hillenbrand's fairly disturbing but brilliantly written biography of Olympic athlete, Louie Zamperini, in her book 'Unbroken'.
      But it wasn't all doom and gloom for us.  Weatherwise, by all accounts, we fared better in the south west than people elsewhere in the British Isles who'd experienced terrible storms, severe flooding and a great deal of structural damage.  We managed to run on twelve of our thirteen days and only once got wet, though it wasn't the weather that prevented me from running on that blank day. To put it plainly I felt absolutely knackered after eleven consecutive days when I'd notched up 56 miles along five and six mile routes with a fast interval session thrown in for good measure. After a day's rest we both clocked our fastest times of all over 5.10 miles which augurs well for our next race, a seven miler at Kilburn on July 8th.
      Not satisfied with our morning mileages my wonderful partner was chomping at the bit for more action in the afternoons.  So we roamed coast paths under threatening skies, marveling at the wondrous rock formations, natural arches and nesting haunts of noisy seabirds. We searched for seals in the thrashing seas, found wild orchids raising their red/purple heads among cowslips, trefoils and yellow rattle.
      Particularly beautiful were the riotous reds and yellows of poppies and corn marigolds at West Pentire, a real feast for the eyes on a day of boundless blue sky. Carpets of pink thrift were still blooming along the coast, for some reason attracting herring gulls that spent hours picking their way amongst it, obviously finding something nutritious. Wild mountain thyme, as it's often called, seemingly isn't confined to higher hills but grows in profusion on sandy heaths where it forms divinely scented purple cushions.
Out walking on one of the few sunny days
      We stayed at Higher Moor just outside Crantock, a campsite we've used for several years because of its wonderful situation, integrated market garden that supplies delicious accoutrements to our barbecued chickens and, most of all, because it lies at the heart of some of the best running country in Britain. We call it our warm weather training camp and usually return home fitter and trimmer than when we left. This year we could easily strike out the word 'warm' though in all other respects it satisfied our needs. If the site lacks anything, it's an 11pm curfew which I once suggested to the owner but which went unheeded.  
      I got particularly annoyed this year when a group of five Italians set up camp next to us. Italians speak very loud and very fast and can be fascinating to listen to. But not when they don't settle down to sleep until dawn is breaking and birds are singing their morning matins.
Wild thyme growing by the coast
      On the very next night a group of eight boisterous children and two adults arrived on the other side of us who were also prattling away when I thought it safe to remove my ear plugs at 4am. I'd had words with the Italians, who'd apologized profusely, but who, I'm told, still yapped into the wee small hours with lights blazing away in their tents. Generally speaking, I like Italians, their food, their wine, their coffee, their land, their music and, after they'd knocked England out of the European Cup, was rooting for them to go the whole way and beat Spain in the final. I may well change my mind!
      Having reached a certain age, I find myself becoming increasingly intolerant of such behaviour and, sadly, may have to revise next summer's warm weather training plans.