Tuesday 30 October 2012

Eight miles, three villages

Me....many moons ago in the Fannichs
Over the last seven days the pageant of Autumn has passed it's best. On Saturday, as I ran between avenues of trees and along the River Wharfe, leaves were gently parachuting down, littering the ground or twirling downstream like fleets of tiny coracles. After a disastrous summer, the worst most of us can remember, a couple of weeks of autumn sunshine went some way towards restoring our flagging spirits before, once again, we're plunged into the gloom of winter. Many moons ago, in common with other outdoor friends, I looked forward to winter with mounting excitement. Snow and ice was an added challenge to our mountaineering skills, elements to be enjoyed as we cramponed over snowy summits, chipped our way up icy gullies, camped  by frozen rivers or shared the sparse comforts of remote highland bothies. My blood was thicker then, my joints more supple, my bones less sensitive to arctic temperatures, and I'd far more strength to withstand the buffetting blizzards that would sometimes blow me off my feet.
Appletreewick with Simon's Seat rising in the distance
Now, in my dotage, I'm ashamed to admit that winter has become a mostly unwelcome season of the year. The change likely coincided with the installation of central heating in my humble cottage about ten years ago. My old bones have grown accustomed to the soothing warmth so that now I can no longer function properly without it. However, there are usually a few enjoyable spells when I'll strap on my Yaktrax to run icy trails or hurtle down snowy slopes, generating enough heat to maintain body temperature for a few hours, but it always feels nice to creep back into my cosy cottage. (Not that it's very cosy at the moment. A new central heating boiler installed four days ago lasted all of five hours before deciding to go on strike. It still hasn't been fixed).
To get back to the present, I've been taking it easy this week, a gentle 25 miles over four days, trying to hone my uphill technique with a view to running a couple of very hilly races early next year. My longest run, an eight miler on Saturday, linked three of Yorkshire's prettiest villages, Hebden, Appletreewick and Burnsall. It was warm enough for customers to sit outside the Craven Arms quaffing pints of fine ale while watching the world (and me) go by. A party of girls taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme marched along the riverbank towards Howgill, heavily laden with large rucksacks but all smiles and chattering away happily in the marvellous conditions. They always seem happier than their male counterparts!
Squirrel at Burnsall - probably no more!
While running through Burnsall it occurred to me that the population of squirrels had decreased somewhat in recent times. In fact, I only saw one whereas usually there are quite a number flitting among the branches of riverside trees. A few years ago one of them was tame enough to leap onto people's shoulders as they passed by, frightening the life out of more timid walkers.  On mentioning this current dearth to a local lady she said most of them had been trapped, and killed, by someone in the village 'playing at God' - deciding what can live, and what can't. The poor lady seemed quite distraught, not to mention annoyed, as if she'd lost some cherished pets. I could sympathize with her, I missed them too.
Back into Hebden
On Sunday we awoke to grey skies, mist and dampness, but we managed a steady six mile run before the threatened rain arrived with a vengeance later in the morning.  I couldn't help feeling a little sorry for our minister, Rev David Macha, who'd be running in the rain after sneaking away for the weekend to take part in a two day mountain marathon among the rolling Howgill Fells between the Yorkshire Dales and Cumbria. I wasn't sure who'd be suffering most, David or his stand-in, Rev Fiona Jenkins who'd already conducted three services before arriving to take ours in Hebden. Understandably, she was a little hoarse and could find no kind words for David's fondness for hill running which she referred to as a form of self abuse. I kept my mouth firmly shut!

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Whatever happens...let me run

Autumn tints at Burnsall
      Every now and again, for want of something better to do, I flip through my running notebooks and tot up the total mileage amassed since I began running way back in April, 1986. I'm always amazed, or even astounded, at the incredulous figure that comes up. When I began jogging, to hopefully lose a bit of weight and get myself back into shape after three years on the dole, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that in the next 26½ years I'd clock up 35,250 miles. That's 1.4 times round the earth - if I could stick to the equator. It's also 1.2 miles for every day of my life. I've absolutely no idea how many pairs of shoes I've worn out, or at what cost, but there could be a good argument in favour of barefoot running.
Misty morning - fishing for trout by Hebden suspension bridge
      Being long since retired I've maybe got too much time on my hands, which causes me to delve into phenomena I wouldn't otherwise entertain - like biocharts. I've always regarded them as a load of bunkum but a short study of mine the other day came up with some interesting data. For instance, a couple of those bad runs I mentioned in recent Blog postings occurred on so-called critical days of the physical cycle when I'd have been better off staying in bed. Conversely, some of my better runs occurred during the plus side of the cycle, days 2 - 11 when physical work is said to be easier. Last week's activities all took place in the 'recuperative' or recharging state (days 13 - 23) when exercise can apparently cause tiredness.  Ah, so that's what it is.  All this sleepiness is nothing at all to do with my eighty and a bit years, just that I'm doing things on all the wrong days!
The nifty Nederlanders, Theo and Stefan
      Last week was a wonderful time for running, or anything else. Red, russet and gold tints, woodland aromas, misty mornings, frosty filigree on plants and trees, robins returning to gardens for winter hand-outs, spider's webs like beaded netting, holly berries and strings of gossamer were all part of another 22 glorious miles. With my mind thus pre-occupied with this annual unfolding pageant running was easy. The watch was totally forgotten as legs and body surreptitiously adjusted to their optimum rhythms as I jogged through a kaleidoscope of abstract colour. All very relaxing - regardless of what the biochart would have me believe. And as if to verify this statement, my resting heart rate has dipped to 38bpm. Perfect.
Theo and me by the River Wharfe approaching Appletreewick
      Mostly, I run alone, engrossed in my own thoughts, stopping every now and then to point my camera at striking features along the way, but yesterday I was accompanied along the riverbank by a couple of nifty Nederlanders, my friends Theo and Stefan, who are regular visitors to the Yorkshire Dales. Theo has dodgy deteriorating eyesight (a bit like mine!) so I was a little worried about the many hazards lurking under the carpet of fallen leaves, like protruding rocks, tree roots and suchlike, but he took his time, lifted his feet and thoroughly enjoyed our relaxed canter to Appletreewick and back. Maybe it was a bit too relaxed for the younger Stefan whose 'Runkeeper' was shouting at him to go faster, faster, but we took no notice of the over enthusiastic gadget!  It was good to have company, for a change, and look forward to their next visit - especially if they bring another packet of those rather nice biscuits!
Stefan and Theo running the Autumn riverbank
      All in all, it's been another great week and, let's face it, each one is a bonus at my time of life. I dread the day I can no longer go out and enjoy such things. To reiterate a phrase I came across in one of my midweek readings, written maybe 28 centuries ago: "Whatever happens.....let me run"  (2 Samuel, Chap 18, v23 - NKJV). I can empathize with that young son of Zadok the Priest but for vastly different reasons - except one: his apparent desire to outrun that guy who set off before him. We've something in common there!

Monday 15 October 2012

Reasons to run faster...

In my dreams!
Last week was reasonably good, weatherwise, some beautiful frosty mornings  developing into warm sunny days. I took advantage of four of them to clock up a fairly respectable 26 miles, my highest mileage for many a week. For the first couple of runs I discarded my old trail shoes in favour of road shoes to run a five mile circuit I haven't used for years. Living on the 645ft contour most of my town runs start off X-country onto Castle Hill, up to 900ft, before descending back home by devious routes. I couldn't face those uphill starts through muddy fields last week so opted for a road run that drops 250ft to Low Common in the first mile, giving me time to catch my second wind, before rising steeply for 490ft to the village of Farnley Tyas in the second mile. The next three miles are mainly level and downhill with some glorious views across the valley to distant hills and bleak moorland. But it can be quite frightening at times. Some lunatic drivers obviously imagine themselves to be Jenson Button or Lewis Hamilton practicing for their next Grand Prix. The roads are narrow, some of the bends are littered with debris from crashed cars and the fastest section has no footpath. I tend to run faster past these blackspots in order to be out of danger that little bit quicker.
Approaching Mossdale on Saturday with Great Whernside in sunshine
At the weekend I was looking forward to getting back to the sanctuary of hills above Hebden, but there were a couple of dicey moments there too. On Saturday morning my wonderful partner accompanied me for the first three miles of a ten mile run around Mossdale. Running up Hebden Ghyll we suddenly noticed a large shooting party spanning the whole of the horizon ahead of us, walking up game towards us and all of them with guns - and dogs.  We kept going, straight through the middle of them, all the while hoping no rabbit, grouse or pheasant would raise its head between us and them. Graciously they stayed low until we'd passed, though guns were blazing away behind us shortly afterwards.
Prime beef on the hoof. Wonder if I could outrun him?
Later, running on my own, I encountered the same great herd of cows and calves that normally graze wild across the wide open Kelber pasture. They never bother me, usually scampering away if I get too close. On this occasion they stood their ground, maybe, I thought, because they've got used to 'that mad runner' tootling past. I veered a little to avoid one munching its way towards me when it struck me this was no cow but a huge Aberdeen Angus bull I hadn't seen for a couple of years, or more. On the last occasion I met him he wouldn't let me pass, running to left and right 20 yards or so ahead of me to block the path.  Luckily I was near to a stile which I was able to climb over and circumnavigate his stomping ground. This time, he raised his head, studied me for half a minute as I sped by with increasing speed, then carried on grazing. Great relief! Although I've worked with farm animals, so don't fear them as much as some people do, it's still a bit of a shock to encounter a strange bull in the middle of a desolate moor a long way from the nearest wall and with nowhere to hide. Moreso when I was wearing my usual bright red running strip! You'll notice, in my picture of him, I didn't go back to the front of that menacing head.
A touch of frost on Sunday morning
On Sunday we awoke to a frosted landscape that had us scuttering around with our cameras to capture the beautiful sights before they melted away in strengthening sun. On a subsequent run to Appletreewick in the afternoon I passed our local artist, Rosemary Lodge, with a very evocative painting of Burnsall in all its Autumn glory nestling on her easel. Much as I admire Rosemary's work I didn't stop but continued my six mile tempo run to get home, shower and cool off before Church in the early evening. After all, I'd a lot to be thankful for, divine deliverance from kami-kazi drivers, slaughtering guns and beligerent bulls, amongst other things......  Such things give my Blog title - 'Run for your Life' - a whole new meaning.

Monday 8 October 2012

Autumn of my life

Cotoneaster - lighting up the ghyll
With hindsight four races on the track, and all in the space of three hours, wasn't one of my better ideas, especially at my time of life. A week has passed and my resting heart rate still hasn't returned to it's normal 42bpm. It's dropping, slowly, but not sufficiently for me to resume an average weekly mileage. Two of my runs got drastically curtailed last week. A six mile recovery run on Wednesday just didn't feel right and I jogged home after only four. A planned ten miler on Saturday, in beautiful weather, got cut down to six as my old legs struggled to maintain any sort of decent pace or rhythm. Nothing niggles me more than failing to achieve what I set out to do.
The Scar, bright in Autumn sunshine....
Maybe tiredness or staleness has something to do with it. Yesterday evening I happened to mention to my wonderful partner that, except for one or two enforced lay-offs due to injury, I haven't had a real break from running or racing in all the 26 years I've been doing it. I pointed out that in his book, 'Running for Fitness', Seb Coe mentions that after his racing season finished in September he'd often spend October by the sea, preferably somewhere sunny and warm, for a complete break from running, when only walking and swimming interrupted his relaxation. In his words "Mental refreshment is more important than the physical relief from hard training". My wonderful partner had a very short answer to this idea. Over another sip of wine she replied "You're not Seb Coe".
Up onto the moor - with its remnants of lead mining
Anyhow, after Church on Sunday I lowered my sites a little and set off on one of my favourite seven mile runs onto Grassington Moor. It was a glorious morning with a slight frost silvering the grass, limestone outcrops shining white under a cloudless sky, bright red berries lighting up the ghyll and leaves turning yellow and russet in the crisp Autumn air. My legs felt recharged as I sprinted up a steep and narrow cutting where a car had stopped at the top to let me by. I passed a  mixed bunch of 'Duke of Edinburgh' award scheme teenagers strung out ahead of me, toiling and sweating under their heavy loads. They must have felt envious of me jogging past with just a miniscule bumbag.
Scattering grouse on Bycliffe Hill
After a couple of miles civilization was left far behind as I climbed onto high open moorland with mainly wild red grouse and grazing sheep for company. A raven circled and cronked a greeting and I wondered whether it was the same bird that had shadowed me for almost a mile on one of my previous runs in that area. It was good to know it had so far been clever enough to escape being shot, trapped, or possibly poisoned by our over-zealous gamekeeper who aims to keep his grouse moor totally free of predators and vermin.
Back down by the river.....
An old sheep trod through whispering grass led me to the high point on Bycliffe Hill before descending to Howgill Nick and a wonderful fast run down the long wall on springy turf, back into Hebden Ghyll. A group of walkers were purposefully plying pairs of trekking poles up the Yarnbury zig-zags while others were picnicking in warm sunshine beside the beck. It's naughty of me, I know, but my old brain invariably feels a little superior at the sight of younger people with trekking poles who, to my mind, have succumbed to a brilliant marketing ploy that persuaded them they needed sticks long before such aids actually become necessary. Or have I just been lucky?
.....and early Autumn tints
Back in the busy village of Hebden I wasn't even panting which suggests either the old body is getting back to form or I hadn't run hard enough, or far enough. So, after a bite to eat and a couple of mugs of tea, I spent the afternoon walking by the river looking for big fish, feeling the sun on my face, feasting my eyes on early Autumn tints - and casting silent aspersions at people with trekking poles!