Wednesday 30 January 2013

Closing down.......

From last weeks snowy paths......
 ......for a few weeks while we go chasing the sun. Cases are packed, travelling clothes are washed and set out ready to put on at the appropriate hour, Euros, passport and e-ticket are tucked away safely in my wallet, car parking has been arranged at the Airport, I've had an hour long Mag Sulph soak, done a huge amount of exfoliating so my skin can breathe and hopefully soak in lots of semi-tropical sunshine and, last but not least, due attention has been given to the safe stowing of every essential item of running gear. If all goes according to plan, by Friday lunchtime we'll be stepping off the plane onto the warm, volcanic island of La Palma in the far away Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. next weeks volcanic trails.....
       After breakfast on most mornings we'll be donning our shorts, vests and trainers (and sun glasses) to run 'the route', a four mile circuit that climbs to a stunning viewpoint before the luxury of a long downhill section where sun-bathing lizards dart for cover among the bushes as we thunder past. Also, high on the agenda again is a long section of the island's Volcano Route that follows a high level path past seven inactive volcanos from El Pilar down to Fuencalliente. Running that route was one of the highlights of our holiday two years ago.
....and lizards round my feet.
      Out of interest today I climbed onto my magic body composition scales for some before and after readings, and was pleasantly surprised at what they told me. Whether it's the daily core exercises I've been doing, or whether it's due to advice given in Matt Fitzgerald's 'Racing Weight' book, I dunno, but in just three weeks my percentage of body fat has dropped from 18.4% to 13.4% which is a fantastic achievement. Weight is down from 145.8 lbs to 144 lbs and my BMI down to a more acceptable 22.5. I got to thinking, with results like this it's time I set myself up as a Personal Trainer in order to cash in on these secrets!. Or maybe I should just keep quiet in case I pile it all back on again during the course of our extravagent holiday.
      This Blog is now closing down until we return from the sunny Canaries. Au Revoir!

Sunday 20 January 2013

Running in the snow...

My snowy path through Roydhouse Wood
On Castle Hill
      I've been a bit frustrated this past week, basically because I haven't been able to run as much as I'd have liked. Once I've got my Yaktrax strapped to my trail shoes I love running in the snow, I love that virgin whiteness under the lazuline blue, I love all the intricate black and white tracery of snowy branches, I love following the tracks of hares, foxes or resident Roe deer through their wild haunts. But it's been hard work these past few days, trying to run in such a manner that doesn't affect my dodgy hamstring too much.
      Yesterday I tried to nurse it as I tripped lightly over hazardous tree roots, through frozen, ankle twisting rutted fields and up stony lanes - only to come aeroplaning down Castle Hill, kamikaze style, like some demented child revelling in the winter conditions. In her inspirational book, 'Mud, Sweat and Tears' Moire O'Sullivan says "We're all mad in our own little ways, everyone has their own passion or madness for which they are willing to go that extra mile or two". It's true. Even in our dotage there is still something of an uninhibited child wanting to be let loose to play.
Winter flowering gorse on Castle Hill
       A well dressed gentleman in his seventies, and wearing a deerstalker, stopped me the other day as I jogged up the icy lane towards Castle Hill. "Do you know that every 20 minutes of running equates to six hours wear and tear on your joints?" he asked. Apparently this information was based on something his daughter had told him, and she just happens to be a physiotherapist. Well no, I didn't know that, but informed him my 80 year old joints didn't seem to be giving me much trouble, apart from feeling a bit stiff at times, and I was still running up to 24 miles a week. Perhaps my daily dose of Cod Liver Oil has something to do with it. "Ah well, you could go four times further if you stopped running and just walked" he replied. Actually, I'm not sure I'd want to walk 96 miles a week, and I certainly wont be visiting his daughter if that's the sort of advice she gives to runners.
      I've been interviewed again, this time by a lady with the charming name of Satu Hattula who hosts a website called '' and hails from Finland. She refers to me, somewhat embarrassingly, as an exercise hero (who? me?) and, even more embarrassingly, seems fascinated by the shape of my thighs in the picture I emailed her. It's a good job I'd kept my vest on!  Click on the link and have a read.

Monday 14 January 2013

An enjoyable week.....

Shooters in the ghyll
We'd a guard of honour as we trotted up the ghyll on Saturday, or so you'd have thought. The shooters were out again, a score or so of them stationed at various points up the beck and only yards away from the track. We were totally ignored as they blasted over our heads at pheasants driven from cover thick and fast. I dared hardly look up in case I got an eye full of lead shot, but on the few occasions I did it struck me that these were indeed wise birds as they flew high and fast, mostly out of range of gunshot. I never saw one fall. Not that I'm saying 'hurrah' to this, nobody enjoys pheasant more than I do (not to mention the nice red wine that accompanies it), but just occasionally I'm on the side of the birds.
Approaching the start of our measured mile
We continued on our way, albeit a little faster, in temperatures bordering on freezing but feeling more like 3ยบ below in the nithering wind-chill. We'd set off to do a repeat of the measured mile down Moor Lane and after last week's poor performances we were determined to 'give it some welly'. The rough ground was frosted and a bit more conducive to running as I set off from our little cairn at what I considered optimum pace. I got it a tiny bit wrong and was slowing towards the finish, but that couldn't cloud my delight when I glanced at the watch and discovered I'd run the mile in 7.09 - some 43 seconds faster than last week. My wonderful partner's 8.34 was also a wee bit faster, so we jogged home happily and relaxed for the rest of the day.
On my way to a 7.09 mile down Moor Lane
Sunday dawned sunny and frosty with lots of blue sky, so whilst my wonderful partner roamed around Barden Moor on National Park duty I set off on a gentle run to Thorpe and Burnsall, returning along the river. I say 'gentle' because I was nursing a tight hamstring that was pulling a bit towards the back of my left knee, so I'd taken 75mgm of Voltarol (anti-inflammatory) before I set off. I'd noticed a slight pain three days previously while doing a a set of 200m reps on Castle Hill, but it didn't get any worse so I'd chosen to ignore it. There was little discomfort as I crossed the river and jogged uphill through frozen fields to the sleepy little hamlet of Thorpe. Of all the times I've run through here I've only once met an inhabitant, a friendly farmer who poked his head from the byre and asked if I'd like a drink of water as I sweated past. He obviously thought I needed one!
Leaving Thorpe - the lane towards Burnsall
Leaving Thorpe I'd a wonderful run past woods and mossy limestone walls, through open fields, across a stream and over a dozen stiles to the popular Dales village of Burnsall where I joined the river path towards Hebden. A young girl caught me up and I managed to stay with her just long enough to learn she'd run all the way from Silsden and heading into Grassington, a distance of around 18 miles. She was still maintaining a fast pace that I could only match for a couple of hundred metres or so before letting her go. Or maybe she was purposely showing me a clean pair of heels, not wishing to be shown up running with a decrepit octogenarian!

All in all it was a good week, 21 miles of reasonable running made all the more enjoyable by the appearance of the sun and some better underfoot conditions. But even as I write this, snow is falling quite heavily and the world outside my window has turned a deathly shade of white. Now then, where did I put my Yaktrax?

PS. I got a wee mention in Northern Runner's Guide last week - but you'll have to read quite a way down before you come to me!

Monday 7 January 2013

Testing times.....

     After Christmas and New Year indulgences I find myself in a strange situation. Instead of getting fit BY racing, I'm now trying to get fit FOR racing. I ran a couple of times last week to open my 2013 account, six easy miles on New Years day when I felt to be moving reasonably well and another six hilly miles on Saturday that had me almost on my knees. That second run was a sort of fartlek session based on something I read a few years ago in one of Joe Henderson's books - Better Runs. Joe calls it his 1-1-1 work-out, i.e. once a week run one mile one minute faster than normal training pace. When I was younger, back in my M75 category racing days, I wasn't happy just doing one fast mile. Over an 8 mile route I'd slot in three of these fast miles, most of them at sub 7 min/mile pace and odd ones at sub 6.30.      
Down the long wall .... one of my fast mile sections
      Three of my M75 PB's were 45.32 for 10K, 76.20 for 10 miles and 5.39.83 for 1500m, so I reckon those modified 1-1-1 sessions must have been doing some good. I'll admit, all three of those measured miles were predominantly downhill, one of them down the 'long wall' being completely off-road and the other two also having off-road sections. But they were most enjoyable, giving this old man a nice feeling of speed, and it became one of my favourite sessions. For a while, until I got bored!  A glance through my racing diary reveals I haven't done it any time during the last two years. Until last Saturday.
     In need of moral support I set off with my wonderful partner over a shorter course of six miles to include just two fast ones - the last two of previous years' work-outs. It was reasonably dry as we plodded steadily up Hebden Ghyll which seemed devoid of all life except a solitary red grouse that scuttled away for cover as we approached Cupola Corner. We almost crawled up Moor Lane towards the little cairn I'd erected to mark the start of our measured mile. Passing the cairn I clicked my watch and put my foot on the gas down the stony track leading to a ¼ mile of flat road before descending slightly downhill towards Grassington. As I puffed past the mile marker at Edge Lane I stopped my watch, hardly daring to look at it.  7.52 is what it said. A full minute, and more, slower than past times.
Matt's excellent book.....recommended
     After jogging another mile I half heartedly attempted a second fast one back into the village, but I lost interest when sliding all over the place down the initial muddy section, and then having difficulty opening and shutting an awkward farm gate which I'd have vaulted over not so many moons ago. At the end of that mile I stopped my watch at a lamentable 8.25 before jogging the last 200m back home to collapse on the step with hardly strength to untie my laces. Unlike yesteryear, it had not been enjoyable, Far from returning home refreshed and rejuvenated I was absolutely knackered and would have gone to bed - except I never have and never will if I can possibly help it. Not during the day. Old men and poorly people do that!
     At least I now have a bench mark to work from but will have to draw on all my 27 years of running and racing experience to get anywhere near former levels of fitness - and then some. I've already made a start, first by enlisting the help of Matt Fitzgerald's excellent book - Racing Weight - dealing with nutrition in relation to racing performance, and secondly by investing in my own set of body monitoring scales to regularly tell me how well this new regime is working, or isn't, as the case may be. Watch this space!

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Here's to a wonderful 2013....

2012 ....a lot of water under the bridge
      I don't do New Year Resolutions but, reluctantly, I feel one or two will have to be implemented if I'm to continue racing through the coming year. I'm feeling a bit ashamed of myself. After a 6 mile run on New Year's Day I decided it was time to step onto the scales to assess how much damage all the recent indulgences and scaled down exercise have wrought upon this ancient body. The answer, in a word, is considerable. I'd wondered why I wasn't running too well, why I'd been reduced to walking one of the hills in a recent road race, and why my average training pace was becoming embarrassingly slow. The magic scales gave me the answer. To my ideal racing weight of 138 lbs I've added an extra 8.60 lbs - most of which is anchored firmly round my waist. It's not nice when I look in the mirror, especially when I turn sideways. Fat percentage has risen to 19.5% (from 16.6), visceral fat to 9% (from 7.0) and BMI to 23.3 (from 22.1) - figures which might be 'normal' for the average man in the street. For an athlete they're well into the region of 'fat'.

Making haggis more palatable on New Year's Eve.....
     So what’s to be done about it? I hate the word ‘diet’. To my mind dieting, along with calorie counting and food journaling, is something women do – so I’ll not go down that road – but I’ve obviously got to make some adjustments if ever I’m to get back to my optimum racing weight. In the past I could eat or drink as much as I jolly well wanted so long as I was exercising sufficiently to burn it off, but that no longer seems to be the case. As I’ve slowed down with age, and not training as intensely, the balance has got a little upset and the calories appear to be winning.  Maybe I’m succumbing to too many ‘treats’.  I don’t buy sweets, buns, cake or biscuits but my wonderful partner invariably has jars and tins full of these calorie loaded goodies which, because she’s made or baked them, I feel obliged to eat – before they go stale.  The rest of my diet is fairly sensible, no fast food or junk food and all my meat, fish, fruit and vegetables etc. bought and eaten as fresh as possible. Never once have I darkened the doors of MacDonalds, or any other such place. So New Year resolution No. 1 is to start exercising a bit more self-control over my eating habits, though I must admit I’ll miss all those little treats if they aren’t there.

....and pouring the bubbly
     And mention of the word 'exercising', I used to have a regular short routine I practiced on most days, and always on non-running days. That was way back in the days when running and racing was serious, not just for fun. It included lunges and press-ups, crunches, plank and tricep dips – not to mention bicep curls, upward rowing and squats using mainly light weights. All that has gone by the board so I can’t remember when the weights were last rolled out from their hiding place, or when I got down to just a bare minimum of core exercises. Common sense tells me I must get back into the habit of regular exercising, stretching and lifting if I’m to carry on racing. I want no more of those embarrassing walks up poxy little hills – as in my last 10K road race. So New Year resolution No. 2 is to stop procrastinating, get out that sheet of paper with its list of exercises that take no more than half an hour to perform, and do what it says. If I fail in these two resolutions, if my body composition remains all out of proportion and I find myself moving humiliatingly even further towards the back of the field, I’ll call it a day and stop racing.  After all, I’ve had a good innings and amassed a fair number of racing trophies in various age categories. When that trend declines it will be time to move over and allow some other dog to have his day.

     Another factor I found discouraging, that frequently kept me indoors, was the appalling weather we had last year, reputedly the wettest in Yorkshire since records began.  During the day on New Year’s Eve we couldn’t run, or even walk, alongside the River Wharfe, such was the amount of water spewing across adjacent fields and paths. Trees, drowned sheep and goodness knows what else went hurtling down its swollen current. Linton Falls was a veritable maelstrom. The noise was deafening. We felt concerned for those living on flood plains farther down river, but the barriers must have held for we heard no bad reports.

Worse still, you might not even wake up...
     Later, our radio said that over 100,000 people were gathered in London (with a measly twenty portaloos between them causing hour long queues) waiting for the midnight chimes of Big Ben to herald the New Year. In Edinburgh another 75,000 were packed into Princes Street for the increasingly popular Hogmanay folk music and celebrations. Back in our cosy cottage there was just the two of us to share a traditional meal of haggis, tatties and neeps with a well chosen bottle of bubbly to help things on their way.  On the chimes of Big Ben we toasted the New Year with a delectable glass of Jura malt whisky and a warm hug, wishing each other the best of everything as fireworks exploded and lit the night sky over the village. 2013 came in with a bang. Several bangs!  Efforts to text our good wishes to friends and relations were largely unsuccessful, presumably due to lines being somewhat overloaded at that popular hour.

     So to each and everyone of those who failed to get the message – Have a Very Happy New Year and may it bring you all that your hearts desire, whether you’re a runner, or not!