Tuesday 28 August 2012

Burnsall 10 mile road race - and other things

   At times last weekend one could be forgiven for thinking Hurricane Isaac had lost its way to America's Gulf Coast and come rampaging through the Yorkshire Dales. In the hour prior to the start of the Burnsall 10 mile race on Saturday we sat in the car unable to see out of the windows for the amount of rain sluicing from the sky. Nearing the appointed hour we trundled our way through puddles, huddled under umbrellas, to the sanctuary of a gazebo conveniently placed by the Start/Finish line. Then miraculously, as we were called to the start, the rain gods mercifully relented and reduced the deluge to a mere trickle. At 2.30pm prompt we were on our way.
The Burnsall 10 mile race route
   Many consider Burnsall a hard race with its undulating roads and 1,028ft of ascent spread out over its 10 miles of challenging Dales landscape. Local and unattached runners seem somewhat daunted by it whilst many club runners tend to avoid it because there's little or no chance of posting a PB (Personal Best) time. A note on the entry form says an approximate time for the race is 50 to 75 minutes - which is a joke. Nowadays, only about half of entries are capable of achieving this.  Sadly, I'm no longer one of them.
   As in the Arncliffe race two weeks ago I was one of the last to set off. I've an aversion to being passed. If anyone is going to do any passing, it's me!  Besides, it's uphill from the start so I wanted to control the pace until such a time when the going got easier. In my visualization of the race I'd planned to run within my limits to the top of the second last big hill at 5½ miles, then step on the gas. In the absense of a suitable female pacemaker I latched onto Ged Peacock of Otley A.C. to pull me along from the 2 mile marker in Hebden for the next 3¼ miles to the steep pull out of Threshfield where he seemed to fade a little. I was on my own after that. After a few seconds walk to take on water at Linton I set off to tackle the steepest bit of the course, a nasty hill rising to the highest point at the picturesque village of Thorpe which is hidden from the world in a fold of grassy hills.
   Here I got a bit annoyed. A girl in front, who shall remain nameless, was running bang in the middle of the narrow road, earplugs jammed in her luggoles and totally unaware of a car cruising just behind her, wanting to pass but unable to do so until reaching a wider bit of road ¼ mile farther along. I'd let the car pass me OK and she could have done too. The driver was very patient, I think I'd have blasted her to the side, out of the way!  Whatever runners do in training they shouldn't use mp3 players, or whatever, while taking part in races, and with total disregard of things going on around them. I'd disqualify them!
Easing into gear (No 17) at the wet start of the race
   Leaving Thorpe the route is all downhill or flat, the fastest bit of the race, and my legs still felt strong as I stormed in my geriatric fashion towards the Finish line which, to my amazement, was still there!  I say this because usually, 90 minutes after the start of the road race, the finishing funnel is reversed for the use of fell runners who complete their races from the opposite direction - if that makes sense! My finishing time was 92.04, a couple of minutes outside the changeover mark, so I was lucky. Some runners finishing behind me (aye, there were one or two) didn't have their times recorded correctly. Full results here:  Amazingly, I was once again awarded a prize for 1st local finisher, the only other being Peter Hodge, another 'mature' runner and father of Andy Hodge who recently put our village on the map again when winning Olympic Gold for a second time in the men's coxless fours. 
.....and cruising to the Finish  92 minutes later
   I don't think I'll run Burnsall again, but you never know.  I just wanted to post a fairly good M80 time for future octogenarians to have a go at. According to Jim Maxfield, the Entries secretary, I'm the oldest person ever to have run it, but I reckon they'd attract more Super Vets if they extended the prize list which currently only extends to M60 and L40. Problem is, they'd maybe have to start the road race ½ hour earlier, at 2pm, so as to finish before the start of fell races at 4pm. They'd be most reluctant to do this as rules for these village events were set in stone many generations ago.

   Thankfully, rain cleared away overnight and Sunday dawned bright and clear. Which was fortunate because as fell race stewards my wonderful partner and I, along with Jacqui Todd, had to spend the day marking and flagging various fell race routes in preparation for Hebden's Village Sports on Bank Holiday Monday. After a ten mile run the previous day the old legs were a bit stiff for clambering over high walls, flagging the route on Hebden Crag and wading the swollen beck. But all went well and by late afternoon everything was in place and ready for action.
With Andy and that precious Gold medal
   Evening found us all gathered at the village pub, the Clarendon, to greet and congratulate our local hero, Andy Hodge, for his incredible Olympic rowing success at Eton Dornay.  Along with his charming wife, and mum and dad, a meal had been planned for 6.45pm, but he was still signing autographs and posing for photographs with all and sundry when I arrived from Church at 7.30.  Of course, I had to grab hold of that shiny Gold medal with its purple ribbon, perhaps hoping some of its power would suffuse into me and boost future performances!  But in holding it I tried to imagine what Andy must have felt like when it was hung around his neck for the very first time on that Olympic podium. Words failed me, as they must have done with him. On such esoteric occasions, only tears can adequately express the fullest meaning of that sublime experience.
   Such times have passed me by. I don't believe there's such a thing as re-incarnation but if there was it would be wonderful to come back to Hebden as yet another victorious Olympic medallist to be greeted and applauded by highly appreciative villagers, amongst them, perhaps, an active octogenarian Andy Hodge still flushed with pride after being crowned first local in the Burnsall 10!  Dream on!

Tuesday 21 August 2012

"My strength is made perfect in weakness"

Running up Mastiles Lane on the way to Malham Moor
One of my  'secret paths' through the wheat field
A slight obstacle while we were running down Conistone Dib
  A comment posted by a Facebook Friend on the occasion of my birthday keeps popping into my mind.  She said "Happy Birthday young man, God must have been in a great mood the day you were born!"  Isn't that wonderful?  I love such positive thoughts, and the more I think about that particular one, the more I'm inclined to agree.  Admittedly, the old body has acquired a few irritating imperfections over the years, particularly in the eyesight and waterworks departments, but nothing that has so far prevented me from getting on with the manifold things a human body is designed to do.  I can still run, though occasionally suffering the inconvenience of cuts, bruises - or the odd broken bone - when I trip and hit the deck.  And not to mention the ignominy of running partners streaking away into the distance whilst I whistle in the bushes or behind some convenient wall.
   Yet I'm sure these wee problems of mine are as nothing compared to the vast variety of physical and mental disabilities in the hundreds of brave paralympians currently gathering for their own version of the Games in London next week, athletes who will indomitably rise  above their disabilities to give Gold medal performances. We're not told what the apostle Paul's particular 'thorn in the flesh' was, but it sure didn't stop him from fulfilling the work he was destined to do. As the saying goes...where there's a will there's a way.
    My Friend's comment came to mind again today when I was almost run down in the Supermarket by a smiling gentleman on a mobility scooter. There were elderly ladies too, nipping around with their zimmer frames, so I reached the conclusion Tuesday must be a day designated to disabled or arthritic shoppers. And I couldn't help thinking, I'm either exceedingly lucky or God was indeed in a very good mood when I came slithering into this wonderful world over eighty years ago. Similar thoughts spring to mind on bright mornings when, after a hearty breakfast, I can still lace up my trail shoes, step out the door and run 10 miles at a respectable pace through some of the most gorgeous countryside in the world. Which is what I did this last week, amongst other things.
Taken during a refreshing run past these two weirs on the Wharfe
     In the run-up to a local 10 mile race next Saturday I've been taking it comparatively easy, not that Britain's humid conditions allowed me to do much else. Bumbling is a word that best describes it, through waving woods, fields of golden corn, by badger setts and fox coverts, Dales pastures, rocky ravines and wild, sweeping moorland. I call some of my routes 'secret' insomuch as they're not legally accessible to the general public, only to local farmers, gamekeepers and landowners. I feel extremely privileged to be able to run freely in such a beautiful environment where I rarely meet another soul. Those who only churn out their miles on a conveyor belt in the sweaty, unhealthy confines of noisy gymnasiums don't know what they're missing. But please stay there!
   Steak and wine will be high on the menu this week, but very little running, in order to be in tip-top condition for the weekend race. Just hope it works!

Monday 13 August 2012

Arncliffe Fete 4 mile race

    Over the past month I've reduced my number of training runs to three per week, or just two if racing at the weekend.  The two main sessions have been a set of 200m repetitions, with jog recovery, incorporated into a six mile run, and a long (for me) off-road run up to 10 miles at the weekend. The third is usually an enjoyable six miles through local woods, fields, fells or riverbank - taking my camera along as an excuse to occasionally stop and stare while taking pictures for my Blog. My old knees have thanked me for this change of regime, I've felt less tired and been better able to cope with the next session. Repetition runs have increased from 12 to 16 without any loss of speed. I might even be slightly faster. So the animal is happy.
The Arncliffe 4 mile race route
    Highlight of the past week was the Arncliffe Fete 4 mile road race, a low key event that annually attracts around a hundred runners. This year we were down to 80 which is a shame because the number of prizes diminishes with the drop in entries. It's all about budgetting.
   The race is suitable for all grades of runners, many unattached locals lining up with top class club runners. The route is an undulating out and back circuit through beautiful Dales scenery following the right bank of the River Skirfare down to Hawkswick where it crosses the bridge and returns to Arncliffe by the opposite bank. Overall ascent is about 140ft - which is negligible spread out over 4 miles. This year's winner, Alan Buckley of Leeds City, kept just inside 5 minute mile pace to clock 19.59. The race takes place on the second Saturday of August, and there's a campsite nearby if any of my Blog readers should wish to take part in future years.
Starting near the back (313) so I can't be passed!
Photo courtesy of Dave Woodhead
    I'd spent a lot of Friday night visualizing just how I was going to run this race, which probably robbed me of a few hours sleep! My tactics were to start from near the back and gradually wind up to optimum pace over the first mile. That way I reasoned no-one was going to overtake me, but I'd have a succession of pace-makers to pull me to the Finish. It worked to a T, as they say. Glenis Speak of Northern Vets pulled me along for the first ¾ mile until I set my sites on an unknown runner who stopped to stretch against a wall when he heard my footsteps behind him. After the drinks station at two miles I caught Caren Crabtree of Wharfedale Harriers who said she was also entered for the Fell race later in the afternoon, so was keeping a bit in hand! In the last ½ mile I managed to catch the unattached Paul Stephenson and race him to the finish. I was happy with my time of 33.40, over 7 minutes inside the previous MV80 course record, and surprised to discover I'd beaten everyone over 65!   Full results here:
A smiling LV65 winner
     My wonderful partner considered she'd had a bad race and was anything but happy with her time of 40.49, but cheered up immensely on being presented with a £12.00 voucher as winner of the LV65 category. She later learned she'd also won a raffle prize valued £25.00 for a meal at a trendy local restaurant.   So a good time was had by all.  Roll on next year!
    Finally, I'm indebted to Karien, a South African runner who's been kind enough to feature my geriatric exploits in her very readable Blog entitled Running the Race. Whilst feeling slightly embarrassed I do hope her band of readers may draw inspiration from it and encourage them to run for longer and maybe rise to greater things. Thanks Karien.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

All about Andy

A few anxious faces watching the race in the village pub
(photo courtesy of Viv Dawson)
Most other happenings related to our North Yorkshire village paled to insignificance in the light of what happened last Saturday morning at the Olympic rowing venue of Eton Dorney. Our local hero, the blonde haired Andy Triggs Hodge, brought home the bacon when he and his team mates in the men's coxless 4's once again beat the Aussies to strike Gold - just as they did in Beijing 4 years ago. However, there were some tense moments for the crowd of spectators gathered in the local pub to watch proceedings on the large television screen. 

Our Andy (right) and the victorious crew
Towards the end of the race the camera angle made it appear that the Aussies had inched ahead, and looks of concern spread over anxious faces glued to the screen.  But screams of joy broke out as the camera levelled on the Finish line to record our crew winning by half a boat length. Four years ago Andy fell back in the boat totally exhausted after his epic row but this time he punched the air in triumph. We've never seen him look so ecstatic but, judging by the raucous reactions of everyone back in Hebden, filmed by a local TV station, his joy was well matched by us all. 

That Gold letter-box
Less than 24 hours after his great victory the village letter-box had changed colour - from red to gold - and on Monday morning postage stamps were on sale with a picture of the four winning crew members in their boat.  I've no doubt there'll shortly be a big celebratory gathering and a meal to welcome Andy and his Gold medal back to Hebden - just as there was four years ago. Bring it on!

Out of the bloomin' way, and let somebody run that can run.....
My own puny efforts this week are hardly worth mentioning; nothing quite so exciting has happened to this old codger but I keep myself reasonably fit in hopes that it might.  Obviously the Olympic selectors haven't heard of me yet but I'm sure they'd have been pencilling in my name if they'd seen me racing a herd of cows and their calves around Mossdale last Monday - and beating them - midway through a ten mile training run!  Cows can become mighty frisky when running loose on open moorland in all weathers, besides being naturally protective of their calves, but they seem to know when they've met their match.
And where was Seb Coe, or any of his scouts, to witness my blinding speed while streaking past a young lady cyclist (with a Jack Russell in a basket) up a steep hill back into the village at the end of yet another ten mile run?  They're never there when it matters. Ah well, I can live in hopes!