Sunday 30 September 2012

A duck out of water

As someone who loves running in wild and lonely places, hills and dales, rough moorland, remote islands or mountain ridges that thrust rocky peaks into the clouds, I had to ask myself today "What the heck am I doing here?" The 'here' in question was the manicured surrounds of the Princess Mary Athletics Track where I was attending the Yorkshire Veterans Track & Field Championships. Rarely have I felt so out of place. I was the proverbial duck out of water, square peg in a round hole and other cheeky things I could think of. For starters, I hardly knew anyone beyond three members of my own club - Longwood Harriers A.C. - so unable to do much socializing.  Worse still, there were none of my contemporaries to chat to or compare notes with. I was the only MV80 so it was rather pointless me being there at all. After all, I wasn't actually going to WIN anything.  Moreover, I hadn't raced or trained on a track since the British Masters T&F Championships over five years ago so I was a little rusty - to say the least. And lastly, my charming neighbours maybe thought they were rocking me to sleep with their wild music blasting through the wall into the wee small hours. I got up at 1.30am in search of ear plugs to stifle the cacophony, but I could still feel that awful hammering beat.
Three Gold medals, another to come after engraving
I was a little nervous going into the first race over 400m but I managed to complete it in a fairly respectable  86.63, a time that would easily have won me Gold in this year's British Master's Athletics Federation Track & Field Championships in Derby.
The second race, over 800m, took place only 15 minutes later so I'd hardly chance to catch my breath before I was lining up again. My fast beating heart was not at all happy, and neither was I!  Usain Bolt doesn't have to run two different races in quick succession, let alone four in one afternoon. But when the starter's pistol went off it was as if it had fired a great shot of adrenalin into my flagging muscles and from lane No.2 I tore off round the first bend in pursuit of my pace-makers in the outside lanes, like a terrier after half a dozen bolted rats. They pulled me along well and I crossed the line in 3.25.58 - again considerably faster than the Gold medalist in the BMAF T&F Champs this year.
I wasn't at all happy about my heart rate, which was going through the roof, but I'd 1¾ hours rest before the 1500m. I reckoned the best thing to do was to keep moving, albeit slowly, and also to keep warm and re-hydrate.  My brain told me to give the 1500m a miss - but it was over-ruled! I decided to run it, if only to pick up another Gold medal, given how it had cost Yorkshire Veterans Athletics Association £297.00 to supply and engrave all the medals. From the start I took it easy, very easy, cruising along at the rear of the field with no desire whatsoever to catch my Longwood Harriers clubmate a few metres ahead. This was her last race of the day, I still had another to run. I crossed the line fractionally inside 7 minutes, in 6.59.38, which I'm told is reasonable for an MV80.
The last race, the 200m, was one in which I expected to do well - but I hadn't bargained for just how much the previous three races had depleted my energy levels. Nor did it help coming only 15 minutes after the 1500m. Given lane No.1 I'd a bird's eye view of the other runners, which is what I like, and I was off to a good start round the bend. Along the finishing straight I caught the MV65 in lane 2, Edward Wagner of Skyrac, but he was determined not to suffer the ignominy of being beaten by an MV80 and found another gear to finish a tenth of a second ahead of me. My time was 37.87 - which would only have given me Silver in the BMAF Champs. (Actually, I can run 200m faster than that - but not after three other races).
So, I came home with three Gold medals - with another to come after it's been suitably engraved. In truth, they mean absolutely nothing to me. I didn't win them because I'd no competition in my category, I merely acquired them. If I'd known there wasn't going to be any opposition in my category I wouldn't have bothered to enter. Anyhow, thank God it's all over. Now I can get back to my beloved hills - and some PROPER, more relaxed and enjoyable running. 

Monday 24 September 2012

Back to my squidgy routes....

From the cloudless, 30º+ volcanic landscape of Tenerife....
The past week with its 11º temperatures, soaking rain and NE winds blasting from Siberia proved an awful shock to my old bones after the wonderful warmth of Tenerife. After arriving home I turned up the central heating and didn't stir out of the house for two days - except to feed the birds.  But come Wednesday, with a forthcoming race playing on my mind, I reluctantly donned shorts and vest and braved the elements to go through the motions of what could loosely be called 'training'. After a two mile warm-up I launched into a set of 16 x 200m reps with 200m recovery jog. Well, that was the plan, but I aborted after 12 and ran the mile back to my warm home as fast as my little legs would carry me. I'd had quite enough. this dreary 11º waterlogged landscape outside my window today
Saturday dawned clear and fine with some warm sunshine so I set off on an easy ten mile run round Mossdale, one of my favourite routes. Usually! On this occasion I was reduced to a walk on the very first hill after only five minutes running. I don't like walking either in training or in racing; it's against my principals. But prior to this run I'd been reading an email from Joe Henderson extolling the virtues of the run/walk method of long distance or marathon running. For the first time ever I decided to give it a try and opted for 5 minutes running alternating with 1 minute walking. Goodness knows what was wrong with me but I found it extremely hard to keep it going. Five minutes walking and one minute running would have been a struggle.  I returned home in a state of collapse and promptly fell asleep in a chair for most of the afternoon! It's rained for most of the time since.
Saturday's track to Mossdale, one of my favourite routes - usually!
I donned my cagoule and huddled along, dodging the puddles, to our Harvest Festival service on Sunday evening. The Chapel had been beautifully decorated and many of our parishioners had brought along gifts of food and refreshments to distribute to the needy. Rev David Macha preached on the subject of 'coming to fruition' - which we're all in the process of doing, regardless of how old we are. We're all work in progress - which is a nice positive thought. Anyhow, it so happens that David is also a keen runner who can sometimes be seen hurtling through our village in the early morning prior to the commencement of his long day's work.  After the service I asked him "How did you get on in the Great North Run this year?".  It transpired he'd had a bad one, finishing in 1 hour 41 minutes, 7 minutes slower than a previous occasion. "I felt alright for the first ten miles but from there on I just got slower and slower. I finished absolutely knackered" he said. Ah, now there's a word that perfectly describes how I felt on Saturday, though I don't think you'll find it in the Bible.

Monday 17 September 2012

Facing El Teide

The Gran Hotel El Tope, Puerto de la Cruz
After our Tenerife flight had been delayed due to late arrivals we arrived at our gradely hotel in Puerto de la Cruz long after darkness had fallen, only just in time for a late dinner.  The charming receptionist allocated us what she considered a very special room on the 6th floor with a view mainly out to sea, but for people from remoter parts of Yorkshire the traffic noises from a busy road below were pretty unbearable.  After a mainly sleepless night we asked if we might change rooms for one on the other side of the hotel and they readily obliged. Facing south west we could still see the sea but our main view across a barranca was dominated by the towering volcanic cone of El Teide, Spain's highest mountain.
One of the barranca inhabitants
We were happy with that, and the fact our balcony caught the sun in the afternoon and evening, making it possible to dry clothes and towels in the 30º heat. However, what may have been annoying to city dwelling clientelle was the constant crowing of cockerels and clocking of hens that scratched a bare existence in the barranca immediately below us. Their raucous morning matins began at 5am. Some of the cocks resembled Old English Game, a type of jungle fowl used for fighting in days gone by. I've a sneaking suspicion such sport is still practiced in the Canary Islands for on La Palma we once came across such cocks dubbed and groomed for action strutting around in locked cages.
Hey, who's doing the talking around here??
Our hotel, the El Tope, stands at the top of a very steep hill, or 126 steps, whichever is preferred, so not the place for people with mobility problems or those with children in pushchairs. Street vendors take advantage of people resting on their way up the endless flight of steps to ply their trade. Those who deign to stop may be offered sunglasses, always 'at a very good price', or have the once in a lifetime opportunity of being photographed with a psuedo Guancho complete with a few authentic looking artefacts and a friendly wee dog to tug the heartstrings. Those who pause momentarily to admire the wonderfully coloured parrots strutting on a sunny white wall soon find themselves accosted by an opportunist gentleman who swiftly materializes from the shadows offering to take pictures of the bemused innocent with a bird on each shoulder - for a price, of course.  One up on Long John Silver!
Running happy - along the seafront
We avoided such obstacles by taking the slightly longer route up the lung-bursting hill, usually running, at the end of our three or four mile morning jaunts before it got too hot. We ran on six of our ten days clocking up a mere 22 miles mainly connecting the popular beaches along the waterfront as far as Playa Jardin, then back along the wave-splashed sea wall at a slightly faster pace. We'd intended to do more but due to densely populated thoroughfares, and the LIDL thermometer reaching 31º on some mornings, our ambitious plans got somewhat curtailed. Lounging by the hotel pool and periodically plunging into its cooling depths was more preferable than pattering around the sun traps of Puerto dodging all the sauntering gods and goddesses with far more attractive tans than ours.
Sunbathing terrapin and lily pads at the Botanic Gardens
In search of shade we strolled up the road to the Botanic Gardens with its tall Palms, Banyan trees, exotic shrubs, Birds of Paradise and other rare flowers, lily pads with resident terrapins and Koi Carp circling around. Enough to keep us occupied for a couple of cool hours - at least - and all for the cost of 3.00 €. Similarly, we nipped around to the nearby Orchid garden, a hidden gem just across the barranca, to be once again mesmerized by the vast variety of exotic multi-coloured plants, cacti, dancing butterflies, fish pond, dragonflies, bonsai trees, fountain and bird house - all grouped together in the most tranquil of settings.  The artist, Marianne North, whose collection of botanic paintings are displayed at Kew Gardens, spent some time in the big yellow house - which I believe was once a convent. Agatha Christie also stayed there and wrote a story based on the place - or so it said in the blurb.
Sock it to 'em - some of the Spanish Army on parade - La Laguna
On another day (Friday) we caught the 102 bus to La Laguna, a World Heritage site since 1999 and cultural capital of the island.  We wandered the streets, photographing baroque architecture, carved wooden balconies, churches, convents and towers, but all the while wondering why it was so quiet. Then we learned it was an official Bank Holiday so most places other than bars and restaurants were closed. Just our rotten luck. We'd chosen the wrong day. It wasn't all doom and gloom. The sound of bugles and drums led us to a packed square where a military parade was taking place following an inspection by a high ranking Officer. They paraded down the street to much applause from mainly Spanish onlookers. We never did find out what it was all in aid of. Perhaps they'd just returned from Afghanistan, or somewhere. Or maybe it was just something they did on Bank Holidays. I'll say one thing, they were all exceedingly smart and well drilled, a credit to their regiment.

A view from our hotel balcony
But the most exciting day, one I'll remember most, was a cloudless Monday when we ascended 5,000ft up El Teide from El Portillo. We called at the Information Centre, thinking we might need a map to guide us over the eight miles of inhospitable terrain. Typically, all the English ones had gone so we'd a choice of German or Spanish. We chose the latter and were urged to be on our way by the slightly bemused gentleman who plainly thought we were attempting something quite beyond our means. He was very nearly right!  It was 10.45am when we set out along the narrow Sendero No 1 with the faraway top cone of El Teide beckoning us along through the arid, desert-like sandy terrain. The temperature was in the 30's, the sky cloudless, and there was little or no shelter along the whole of the route. Our schedule was to reach the base of that top cone, then descend by the Teleferique to catch the only bus back to Puerto at 16.05.
Our objective - that wee nipple on the huge breast of El Teide
Flowerless brushwood dotted the landscape of the initial stages, unidentified birds flitted hither and thither while scores of grass-hoppers leapt over our feet as we set a cracking pace along the boulder lined track.  Sendero No ! merged into Sendero No 6 the latter of which ended at a large notice board we couldn't understand a word of. From here on the track became wider as it snaked along for almost two miles with not a sign of bird, plant, lizard or beast. It ended abruptly at a circle of stones with a large flat one in the middle that could be used as a picnic table - by those who could spare the time. Beyond that point it became the realm of the mountaineer as the rocky, sometimes indiscernable path ascended steeply through lava flows sculpted into grotesque shapes, jagged pinnacles and huge blocks (Eggs of Teide) until a building came into view - the Refugio Alta Vista, an overnight stop for weary travellers at 10,825ft. 
Getting towards the rough bit
Beyond the Refuge the climb continued relentlessly, twisting and turning, taking the line of least resistance through jutting rocks and up exposed little steps. I don't mind admitting I felt absolutely knackered. I'd not climbed to that height before, ever, not even in the Swiss Alps, and I was really beginning to suffer from the altitude. I'd be moving along quite well when all at once I'd run out of breath, as if my lungs had suddenly stopped working, or collapsed, and I'd come to an involuntary halt panting like a dog - only a lot faster. Maybe that's what they call hyperventilating. After a short rest my breathing would stabilize and I'd be able to continue until it happened again. Trouble was, we were on a very tight schedule and it was imperative to keep going in order to catch that 16.05 bus at the bottom of the Teleferique. By the time we reached the end of Sendero 7 I felt to be on my very last legs. 

At 11,708ft, at the base of that 'wee nipple'.
But there was yet another path to negotiate, Sendero No 11 which, although short, seemed to take an eternity to traverse. I shuffled along on automatic pilot as if in a trance, sub-consciously using inate fell-running skills to negotiate the rocky path until the Teleferique station came into view.  It was 15.45 and we'd just missed a descending cable car. The chap who sold us tickets could scarcely believe we'd climbed to 11,708ft in those shimmering hot conditions wearing nothing but shorts, t-shirts and Trail shoes. In order to keep on schedule we'd had no lunch stop and drunk hardly any water. According to Tranter's walking tables a very fit person would cover 8 miles and 5,000ft of ascent in 5.5 hours. We'd done it in five! The cable car hurtled us down to the car park with a few minutes to spare, time to stagger to the loo and back before negotiating those ruddy great steps into the bus. It had been a long, hard day, and I can honestly say, without fear of contradiction, there will never be a repeat!

Monday 3 September 2012

Hebden Village Sports

Hebden Crag on a better day - showing the white stone at centre
top which runners climb around before returning along the Rt skyline
The soaking wet weather we experienced at Burnsall Feast Sports on Saturday struck again at Hebden Village Sports a couple of days later on Bank Holiday Monday.  Fortunately, I'd been able to get out for a six mile run in the morning before the heavens opened. After lunch I was one of four stewards marshalling the U/12's, U/14's, U/17's and Senior fell races at three different points on Hebden Crag - in pouring rain.  For the two younger age group races, over shorter distances, we were able to shelter behind walls whilst the runners came and went, but for the latter two races we were fully exposed to horrendous conditions at the very top of the crag.

Start of U12's fell race
Not all went well. Last minute changes to plans by the Fell Race organiser resulted in some frayed tempers and flouting of the rules by senior fell runners. Adverse weather caused some of the listed events on the Sports field to be cancelled which resulted in races being brought forward. Rules stated that all entrants for fell races must be registered before the start of the first race, programmed to begin at 3.30pm. But they began earlier. Some senior fell runners turning up to register just before the deadline were told "Sorry, the first race started 20 minutes ago, you're too late, we're not taking any more entries".

Our Ted in full flight at Burnsall
Ted Mason, one of our local star runners, was one who'd been refused entry and was far from happy when he joined us at the top of the crag as a mere spectator. Had he been allowed to run he could well have won it and gained revenge on the Ilkley Harrier, Hector Haines, who'd beaten him into second place in Burnsall's Classic Fell Race two days before. Other senior fell runners who'd been refused entry stuck two fingers up at the race organiser and ran regardless. Officially, there were 39 starters but I counted 44 over the crag. There could have been more, I'm not very good at counting! 

Senior Fell Race winners Holly Page and Hector Haines with
Hebden's Golden boy, Andy Hodge, who presented the prizes
But whilst feeling sorry for refused runners who'd braved nasty conditions and travelled long distances to take part in our races, I was glad to scramble down early, taking away flags, removing barrier tape and dismantling routes as fast as my frozen legs and soddened feet would carry me. It wasn't much fun stuck 900ft in the air in a howling gale holding a king-size animated flag of St George! We breathed huge sighs of relief on getting home to strip off dripping waterproofs in welcome warmth and wrap our frozen hands round hot mugs of tea.

Bye-bye for now, see you soon
 I reckon that was the final straw after the worst summer since records began. No surprise then that over dinner that evening my wonderful partner and I unanimously agreed that a holiday in the sun was urgently needed to restore our flagging spirits. After much searching of the internet we finally booked a ten day package to Tenerife where we'll soon be running new routes around the precincts of  Puerto de la Cruz before stretching out in the sun, cooling off in the pool, sipping the odd glass of wine while 'Running with the Kenyans' on my iPad - and very little else!  Who knows when this poor old Blog will be updated again.  Watch this space!