Monday 26 November 2012

Rain, rain, go away....

The Wharfe in spate - yet again.....
   Over the past few days the country has taken an awful battering as severe storms and torrential rain turned low lying floodplains into vast muddy lakes. Hundreds of homes have been flooded with evil smelling water, cars swept away, major roads made impassable, many trees brought down and, sadly, two people are reported killed. As I write this, heavy rain is still splattering against my study windows and the surrounding landscape has disappeared into a misty gloom. It's almost dark outside though it's still only early afternoon. All very depressing.

   Reading various Forums, it seems there are runners who actually enjoy being out in wind and rain. Some more macho types even prefer it, or so they say. I'll freely admit, I'm not one of them. The type of terrain I run over can be dangerous enough without the further hazard of rain spattered, steamed up spectacles. Many's the time I've kitted up ready for a run, only to notice splashes of rain on the stone flags which has rapidly made me change my mind. As I've got older suchlike 'exhilarating' conditions no longer appeal to me and I've become very much a fine weather runner.

...but some early blossom in Burnsall
   Anyway, in spite of all the elemental chaos throughout the country I managed to find enough weather windows to churn out another 24 miles - though the squelchy, energy sapping conditions have left me feeling totally knackered! On Friday an alternative way home after a set of intervals on Castle Hill turned out to be far worse than the normal route, an ankle deep muddy morass for the total length of quite a large field. I'll swear the cows were laughing at me as I dragged my feet from the glutinous mire to get past them. I wont go that way again!
   While driving to Hebden on Saturday morning the temperature gauge registered a chilly 0°C. Black ice made walking hazardous across the car park outside the Farm Shop where we stopped for meat. Thick fog blanketed all the low lying land but on the hills above Haworth wind turbines were turning majestically against a glorious blue sky. Perfect weather for running - so long as we stayed high. 
Why I'd difficulty finding the trod across Grassington moor on Saturday
After two cups of strong coffee and a couple of calorie filled buns I plodded up the ghyll, where a line of shooters by the beck blasted pheasants out of the air above me, and upwards to the welcome silence of Grassington Moor.  I'd difficulty following a faint 'trod' that has almost disappeared as it threads its way across the boggy landscape to Bycliffe Hill. Either the sheep are not doing their job properly or I'm not running it often enough. A huge shakehole I passed still has a colony of rabbits living in its subterranean passageways, which I was glad to see. The sky darkened and storm clouds appeared on the horizon as I bombed down the long wall back into the ghyll. A couple of young lads on a quad bike, checking traps for our local keeper, shouted a greeting and told me I was looking good, which was heartening. Back in the ghyll I found myself racing another quad bike, this time a shepherd and his young son, who provided a rare bit of competition as I sped ahead of them down the rocky track to open gates. Back home my Garmin registered 7.94 miles with 898ft of ascent - so quite a good work-out before the rains came.

Stirring the Christmas puds..... 
   On Sunday I'd an easy run around Burnsall to see how high the river had risen before attending Church in hopes of acquiring some badly needed God-given strength to help me through the coming week!  In Anglican Churches the last Sunday before the season of Advent, as everyone knows (?), is Stir-up Sunday, traditionally a day when we mix our Christmas puddings, make secret wishes while stirring them and hide coins in the mixture to bring good fortune to anyone who happens to crack their teeth on one. Maybe our Minister was unaware of this for there was no mention of it at our afternoon service. He arrived a little late and treated us to a stirring rendering of Zadok the Priest from his CD player whilst leant on a warm radiator probably pondering the finer points of the sermon he was about to deliver. Back home, my wonderful partner knew all about Stir-up Sunday and dutifully mixed the twelve calorie filled ingredients, with a generous fortifying splash of rather nice cognac, which we stirred in turn while making our wishes.  Christmas can't come soon enough.

Monday 19 November 2012

A bit under the weather......

Top in three out of four 2012 British Track rankings
   With another 26 miles in the bank last week I'm now only 40 miles away from that 1,000 mile target I set myself for the year, and there are still six weeks left to achieve it. Not that I'll stop running on reaching the magic figure but if I can resist the lure of faraway hills I'll cut back on mileage and settle for a few shorter, sharp runs over the festive period to draw this year to a close.  I'm reasonably happy with performances since turning 80 - being top, or close to the top, of British 2012 rankings over most distances I've run - so I reckon it's time for a recuperative rest period before hopefully winding things up again next year.

   Since last Friday I've been a little below par and feeling under the weather. I'm not absolutely sure why but I'm blaming a flu jab - though it's never affected me before in all the years I've been having it. Perhaps this last one was a particularly powerful strain they pumped into me, a combination of bird flu, piggy flu and maybe rhinoceros flu for all I know. There was something fishy about it too. When I rang for an appointment there was a lot of hesitation at the other end of the phone before I was eventually given a date and time.

Where I ran on Sunday - over the top of this Flue to the Chimney.......
   When I arrived, at 8.40 in the morning, I was the only one there, so it wasn't your normal flu clinic where people are nipping in and out, one every few minutes. I'd been conned! Besides my annual flu jab I suspect the nurse had been instructed to corner me for a routine blood pressure check, something I'm reluctant to have done and usually refuse. My BP is invariably sky high. The nurse gets twitchy and consults the doctor. Between them they try to put me on some form of medication - which I always refuse. "I'll go for a run" I tell them, "that'll bring it down". In spite of this constant refusal to take medication, they never stop trying. It's their job, I suppose.

   Luckily, I'd clocked up 19 miles before the weekend so it didn't really matter that I hardly moved out of my rocking chair for the whole of Saturday, except to make endless cups of tea or coffee to flush the system - which they certainly did!  It was well into Sunday afternoon before I forced myself out of the house for a steady run up onto Grassington Moor. If you could call it a run, more of a jog really - taking over 80 minutes for the seven mile circuit. But half of it was uphill. And I was taking photographs, of nice things and nasty things.

past Coalgrove reservoir...... 
   My bumbly route took me through the relics of old lead mine workings as I ran along the top of an old flue leading to the tall chimney that once released fumes from the smelt mill, past Coalgrove reservoir whose water was used to turn a 15m diameter water wheel, then farther onto the moor where I peered into the remains of an old building I've often passed on my way to Blea Ghyll. From henceforth I shall refer to it as the Charnel House for a corner of it was heaped with rotted down corpses of various birds and animals that had most likely met their doom by the slaughtering guns or myriad traps of our local gamekeepers. Along with plastic bags of other corpses, spent cartridges, empty cans and food wrappings, it was a most unpleasant place and I was glad to get back into the fresh air of the open moor. the Charnel House.
The sun was setting as I left the moor and ran back down the ghyll at a leisurely pace. A cloud of jackdaws had returned from their wanderings and were wheeling over Hebden Crag, sounding to be having a good old blather before settling down to roost. They'd spent all day feeding in faraway fields whilst I was eagerly looking forward to a veritable feast of succulent roast lamb and vegetables, bakewell tart with lashings of cream - not to mention a glass or two of choice Australian Shiraz - before settling down for the night. Every now and again I try totting up all my blessings, but whether it's an age thing, or whether there are just too many, I'm not sure, but I'm forever losing count!

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Lest we forget.......

Castle Hill dominating the horizon on my Thursday run
   Each year, around November time, I make a mental note to stop running the fields around my home until March winds and Spring sunshine have dried out the muddy paths to make them more runnable. And each year I find myself going back time and again to suss out its current state - for in truth I love this wild landscape - but invariably I return in an incredibly filthy state vowing, for the umpteenth time, never again! 
   Last Wednesday was another such day when I took the shortest route to Castle Hill for a bit of 'altitude training' as I call it - because it's 900ft above sea level. By the time I'd dragged my sliding feet through the churned up morass my enthusiasm for hard repetitions had begun to wane a little. Nevertheless, 16 x 200m is what I'd planned so that's what I'd jolly well do, even if it meant dropping down a gear. The first rep running into a biting wind took 48 seconds and the second 46 before levelling off at 45's and finishing with a 42.  It was a tired old Runningfox that jogged home after a strenuous eight miles, but feeling quite chuffed with myself for accomplishing what I set out to do.
Running towards the Cracoe War Memorial
   On Thursday I opted for a gentle five mile tempo run, half of it on tarmac, circumnavigating the scene of the previous day's activities. The sun shone benevolently as I rustled through fallen leaves amid glorious autumn scenery with Castle Hill dominating the horizon for much of the way. In spite of some long hills and heavy breathing my spirits rose to well over 90% on the feel-good factor scale and, for a nice change, I got home positively clean.
   Sunday's ten mile saunter, reccying a wild route round Barden Moor that the Skipton branch of U3A planned to walk four days later, was the hardest thing I've done for quite some time. It was cloudless and sunny with the temperature hovering around freezing when we parked the car in the quaint little hamlet of Thorpe around 10am and set off running southwards up a steep stony lane onto the open moor. After following a wall westwards, climbing all the time, we cut off left up a shallow gully to the top of Rolling Gate Crag.
Listening to the silence.....
   The great Obelisk of Cracoe War memorial came into view a mile ahead over shining bogs and still a couple of hundred feet above us. It was the eleventh day of the eleventh month and I'd hoped we'd reach it around the eleventh hour. We failed by only a few minutes. Not surprisingly perhaps, no-one from the village of Cracoe, a thousand feet below, had braved the boggy ascent to honour their dead on this remote, rocky outcrop. We were alone among the poppies, the names of the dead and a murmuring wind that made the long silence the more profound.
   We climbed back over the wall and ran as best we could, dodging hither and thither among slimy pools, jumping from one raised clump to another so as not to sink too far into the mire, following the long wall to Rylstone Cross. In my mounting exhaustion it seemed much further than the mile or so on the map and I breathed a sigh of relief when the Cross eventually came into view silhouetted against the green landscape on a high rocky spur. 
Rylstone Cross
   I'm not sure whether it was the spiritual significance of the Cross or the knowledge that the route became easier after joining a bridleway half a mile ahead, but from henceforth my legs found new life as they launched into a steady rhythm past Rylstone Out Fell and across the moor towards Upper Barden Reservoir. We decided it was time for lunch in a wall corner by the reservoir but a cold wind that ruffled the water had us quickly moving again. We crossed the weir and jogged over Standard Hill, past the wee tarn where Canada Geese nest in Springtime, then left up the steep track to the prominent shooting hut high on Thorpe Fell. From hereon it was a 750ft, mainly grassy, descent to the stony lane back into Thorpe - a place which always seems strangely deserted and void of life.
   Back home it took a long time to clear away the peaty evidence of our activities. Between the top of my trainer socks and the bottom of my running tights a black band had formed round my ankle and all my toenails were stained black. My feet tingled as a result of all the scrubbing in the shower. Socks had totally disintegrated and were no longer wearable. My New Balance trail shoes had changed from their striking black and green colour to a uniform peaty brown - and were reluctant to change back!
The descent from Rylstone Cross
   After all the enforced cleaning duties there was no time to feed the inner man before dashing off to the afternoon service at 3pm.  Although I'd had nothing to drink since breakfast my singing voice was remarkably clear and strong for Remembrance Day hymns - which was just as well for our organist seemed intent on pulling out all the stops! A two minute silence after the Roll Call sent my mind floating back to that Obelisk high on the moor, to names engraved on the faded plaque, those initials carved later into weathered stone, the dutifully placed poppies, a little note wrapped in plastic and pushed into a little niche where it wouldn't blow away. But most of all I remembered the sweet and incredible silence of that desolate place, that long, long silence - of eternity.

Monday 5 November 2012

Always remember that night in November.....

Running towards my pot of gold
    The thermometer registered a nithering 1ÂșC as we drove into Hebden on Saturday morning. Early mist blanketed the Wharfe valley and frost was nipping any remaining leaves from village trees. First priorities were stoking up the stove and getting the coffee pot on - if only to warm our hands round steaming mugs before changing into running gear and taking to the hills. During another cold, wet week I'd only ventured out once for a quick five mile tempo run between showers, so a couple of longer runs was called for over the weekend to restore the status quo.
That raven - my guardian angel?
    Mossdale was my first objective, a ten miler with 970ft of ascent to give the old legs something to think about. I'd hardly got into my stride before the first icy shower had me fumbling in my bumbag for a waterproof top. I recently became the proud owner of an OMM Kamleika smock which keeps me dry and warm in the nastiest of conditions.  Thus protected I sloshed along the boggy track towards a tantalizing rainbow with its proverbial pot of gold.  I didn't find it!  Running up the long wall I was greeted once again by a friendly raven that for some reason seems to welcome my company. This time it was joined by its mate and the pair of them performed aerial acrobatics in the wind while shadowing me for nearly four miles, over into Mossdale and right round to Kelber pasture. I've no idea what it is about me that attracts them. They can't possibly be as friendly with everyone else or they'd have come to grief long ago, victims of our local gamekeeper who shoots or traps all predatory birds and animals that dare to venture onto his grouse moor. Obviously they don't fly as close to him as they do to me. 
Nasty weather over Mossdale on Saturday
   It was snowing on Great Whernside and a heavy shower of sleet battered me as I ran down into Mossdale. Further along I sheltered for a couple of minutes by the wall as our local shepherd and his dog herded an enormous flock of Swaledale ewes towards Kelber pasture where I'm guessing they'll be introduced to the tups for the beginning of their annual breeding season. November 5th has long been the traditional date in the Yorkshire Dales for the start of this activity, for lambing to start around April 1st when the worst of the winter weather is hopefully over. But weather patterns have changed over the years. April often produces icy rain and bitterly cold winds that wreak havoc with lambing time, so many farmers start the season earlier, bringing sheep indoors to have their lambs, some as early as January, then turn them out when lambs are stronger and more able to withstand any harsh conditions.
Brighter weather down our frosty lane
    On several occasions after 90 minutes of running I've experienced a noticeable drop in energy levels, especially when I've been battling against the elements, and I finish very heavy legged over the remaining distance. Saturday was yet another of those occasions and it was a tired old Runningfox that tottered back into Hebden, badly in need of fluid and sustenance. In bygone days the Mossdale circuit rarely took more than 90 minutes to run, so never a need to carry food or water. Nowadays it can take anything up to two hours - so I must get into the habit of carrying a couple of mini Mars Bars, or suchlike, to boost the sugar levels to end my runs with a flourish - and maybe impress any villagers that might happen to be watching down the lane!
Galloway's book, which I choose to ignore
    Sunday's run was an easy six mile dawnder down the riverbank. After all, what's the point in trying to run fast when there are 43 gates and stiles to negotiate?  It gently brought my weekly total of miles to 21, and 911 for the year so, all being well, I'll chalk up my planned thousand by the end of December.  It's enough, or maybe too much if Jeff Galloway is to be believed. In his book 'Running until you're 100' a runner of my ilk should only be doing three sessions per week - one long run, one short run and one long walk. Also, something I can never agree with, though he's probably right, runners of my age and pace should alternate every 2 minutes running with 30 seconds of walking. As far as I'm concerned, I'll only walk when I can no longer run.  I'd hate my brain to finally acknowledge I'm becoming an old man!
    It wasn't my wonderful partner's birthday yesterday but it was getting close, so we decided to celebrate anyway with a romantic meal together at a local hostelry. Did I say romantic? The place was absolutely dead. Not another soul to be seen as we chose the warmest corner by the fire. Even the barman was absent most of the time, we'd to poke our noses in and drag him away from the waitress in the kitchen to refill our empty glasses.
That romantic meal
Many moons ago a famous landlord of ours had the unenviable reputation of being the most miserable in the Dale, though he did have a wry sense of humour. The thought struck me that last night's young barman could well have served his apprenticeship under him, though still sadly lacking in the latter quality. By way of a change we ordered gammon and eggs, which, I kid you not, arrived not on a plate but looking rather lonely on something resembling a large breadboard - oh, and with chips in a silver basket. See the picture if you don't believe me. Admittedly, all was cooked to perfection, as always, but we're not used to that sort of thing in down to earth Yorkshire. It may be some time before we set foot in there again. Anyhow, the frosty night sky was sparkling with stars when we left - so that was quite romantic.  As was the wee dram of delectable amber nectar round a warm open stove when we got home. I'm sure my wonderful partner will find it all quite unforgettable - though I'm rather glad it wasn't really her birthday. We may have give it another go!