Monday 29 April 2013

Peaks weekend.....

Winner Joe Symonds arriving on Ingleborough
The Three peaks race over the Yorkshire hills of Penyghent, Whernside and Ingleborough is a fell running classic that attracts runners from all over Britain and many from overseas.  It was first run in 1954 when Fred Bagley of Preston Harriers beat a field of just six runners over the 23 miles and 4,500ft ascent in 3 hours 48 mins. From such humble beginnings the race has grown so much in popularity that a limit of 999 entries has now been set. Andy Peace of Bingley Harriers is the current record holder in 2:46:03 with Anna Pichtrova of Czeckoslovakia fastest woman in 3:14:43.  In my brief fell racing career I ran it five times, once in the M55 category when I was beaten by a previous outright winner - George Brass of Clayton-le-Moors - and four times as an M60, winning three of them and beaten in the fourth by Laurie Sullivan of Clayton-le-Moors. My fastest time was 3:50:44 in 1995. Since then I've attended merely as a spectator.
Skylarks were singing in the sunshine as we plodded up Ingleborough on Saturday for this years annual pilgrimage.
5th man Andrew Fallas coming off Ingleborough
It was bitterly cold in a north easterly wind that brought odd flurries of sleet and hail to keep runners cool. I was wearing a long sleeved thermal top, two fleeces, a windproof/waterproof jacket, fleecy buff and woolly hat - and still felt cold! Knowing full well the wind would be gale force on top of Ingleborough we took our time ascending so as to coincide with the arrival of the leading runners. We got it right and found a small cairn to cower behind just as the solitary figure of Joe Symonds (Salomon International Racing team) came into view below us.
1st Lady Jasmin Paris takes the lead after 19 miles
We'd watched him leading the pack of 746 runners from the Start line and by the time he reached us he'd a good five minutes cushion.  He passed the check point and went hurtling down the last five miles to the Finish at Horton in Ribblesdale before any other runners had puffed their way to the summit.  Joe, who'd competed in the Rotterdam marathon two weeks before, completed the 23 miles and 4,500ft of ascent in 2:54:39 with the bearded Carl Bell of Keswick A.C. 5 minutes behind him in 2:59:44.  Karl Grey of Calder Valley Fell Runners was the only other runner to break 3 hours with his 3rd placing in 2:59:50.
Normally we'd hang around on the summit until the
2nd lady - Oihana Kortazar Aranzeta - suspected broken arm...
first ladies passed through but it was far too cold for that on Saturday. We jogged gently back down, all the while keeping our eyes open for the ladies. The classy Spanish runner, Oihana Kortazar Aranzeta of the Salomon International Racing Team had led the ladies race over the first two peaks and up onto Ingleborough but was passed on the final descent by a smiling Jasmin Paris of Carnethy Hill Runners who was clearly enjoying her first visit to Yorkshire for this race. She won in 3:33:04 with Oihana finishing 2nd in 3:36:29.  Oihana was later taken to a local hospital with a suspected broken arm after a fall during the race. Let's hope she's soon recovered and back racing again.
Jasmin's team mates, Helen Bonsor (3:39:07) and Jill Mykura (3:46:20) filled third and fourth places for
Splosh! ...muddy conditions in Sulber Nick
Carnethy. For the first time ever we didn't stay to watch the prize giving. The parking field with its hundreds of cars was beginning to get churned up. After watching one vehicle being towed from the mud we decided it was time to go. Frankly, I was glad to leave for after battling gale force freezing winds over ten miles of the race route I felt totally knackered. And that's almost swearing! It was sheer bliss to sit in a warm car and be driven home.   Results here....
I'd had a busy week. Saturday's 5 mile jog down Ingleborough and a 6 mile circuit round
Running towards the Finish, Penyghent in background....
Appletreewick on Sunday completed a grand total of 30 miles which is the most I've run since goodness knows when. I've felt stronger too. A four mile tempo run on Thursday, using shorter strides with a faster cadence, and an easy five mile run on Friday with lots of 'floaters' went very well indeed without having to walk any of the time. Since abandoning all that fish and salad in my diet I've been topping up with a combined mineral/vitamin supplement to restore my calcium, iron, magnesium and Vitamin C levels which were all sub normal, the former having got seriously low. Common sense tells me that for runners at my end of the age scale, supplements should be the order of the day, regardless of what we eat.  But, as I heard a race commentator say on Saturday, common sense and fell runners seldom seem to go together!     

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Something fishy has been going on....

I've been a bit lacking in energy lately and a QMA test last week revealed my iron stores are becoming
rather depleted. I should know after 80+ years that I can't live without meat. I know now, because I've just tried it. On the advice of well meaning friends I've been 'existing' on a daily diet of fish, salad, fruit - and yogurt - for my main meal over a number of weeks.  I don't dislike such things but no matter what quantities I stuff down my little throat I never seem full. They're just not satisfying enough and I'm forever yearning for snacks, especially at the end of the day before I go to bed. Some folk might be happy to go to bed hungry, but I'm not one of them. If I don't feel content there's no way I can get to sleep, which results in me sneaking downstairs in the wee small hours for a bowl of muesli or thick slice of bread plastered with peanut butter.
Uphill route to Castle Hill....
So today it was back to my butcher who greeted me as if I were the prodigal son returning to the fold feeling a bit sorry for himself. "I'd like ¾ lb of braising steak for tomorrow's casserole and a nice slice of sirloin to celebrate with tonight". And celebrate I did. The deep fryer hadn't been in use since goodness knows when, but it was soon bubbling away with proper chips and battered onion rings while the mouthwatering steak sizzled under the grill to medium rare perfection. Mushrooms and tomato helped to fill a fair sized plate whilst a large goblet of Australian Shiraz helped things along their way nicely. Scottish oatcakes spread thickly with a mature Saint Agur had me lingering at the table a wee while longer - putting off the washing-up.  I was happy again. I was me again. From henceforth salad will be relegated to a take it or leave it accompaniment on a side plate - should it ever grace my table again.
Much as I hate wasting food, I'm afraid an Iceberg lettuce and various other bits of rabbit food got thrown in the bin. For the present, at least, I just can't face any more. Fruit and, surprisingly, the yogurt survived. I've tried various yogurts over the years, well aware of their probiotic properties, but could never stomach more than a spoonful before I gipped. However, on the advice of a running acquaintance, I persevered and eventually found one I liked and there's been a tub in the fridge ever since. So "Thankyou Alex, I do take note of some of the things you say"!
Anyhow, between bouts of gardening (that necessary evil) last week I did occasionally manage to get my butt out of the
Trying to maintain speed by the Wharfe last Tuesday....
chair that links me to the computer and churn out a very slow 23 miles. My heart and mind were in it but my body just didn't want to know. So much so, and I hate to confess this, there were many times I was compelled to take short walk breaks, especially on lengths of tarmac leading to my off-road routes. I was OK through fields and along river banks, springing along nicely, but soon juddered to a jog on any harder, more jarring surfaces. I'd to abort a five mile tempo circuit on the road and make a diversion back through fields from the three mile point. When I'm dressed for running I feel quite embarrassed if anyone sees me walking. On another day when I'd planned 12 x 200m fast repetitions I ran out of energy after just seven and jog/walked back home. With Spring in the air I'd normally enjoy that exhilarating feeling of speed and easily accomplish what I set out to do.  Not so on that last occasion.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.....
I'm not certain what's gone wrong, though I strongly suspect that change of diet to be mainly responsible for lack of energy and reduced spring in my step. Today, I put aside my minimalist trail shoes and wore Asics DS trainers to see if they'd give me a bit more bounce. They didn't.  Quite the reverse, in fact my minutes per mile pace was so slow I'm not even going to mention it, hoping it was just a temporary blip rather than the onset of chronic old age, decrepitude and that final sunset. Dylan Thomas wrote:
"Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light......" 
So long as I've a nice steak and a goblet of wine I'll be happy to live forever. As a sarcastic neighbour once said, "I reckon they'll have to put you down!"

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Behold, all things are become new.....

   "Flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle dove is
heard in our land; (Song of Solomon 2:12)"  
Wood anemones flowering at Appletreewick
Well, that's almost right - so long as we cross out turtle dove and substitute their noisy little cousins, collared doves and ring doves, that join the thrushes, blackbirds, robins, great tits and a raucous cock pheasant outside our bedroom window in the breaking dawn, telling us it's time to get up. I'm not complaining. It's a wonderful symphony of sound that reaches a crescendo after 30 minutes or so, before gradually dying down as they go about their morning chores - whatever they might be. Invariably, I settle down for another hours sleep until the milkman comes rattling his bottles.
Last Monday morning there were other accompanying sounds to make doubly sure we were awake, that of gale force wind roaring through the treetops while our twangling wind chimes danced themselves into a frenzied extravaganza of musical cacophony the like of which we've seldom heard. Thank goodness. The Lord only knows what the neighbours thought?  Anyhow, it certainly woke us up and, like the sunny weather, we were bright and more than a little breezy. Shortly after breakfast we donned our running gear and set off up the ghyll, with the wind behind us, for one of our longest runs of the year. Actually, it was only seven miles, but none the less enjoyable for a number of reasons.    
Triplets - and cock pheasant
We'd hardly run a quarter of a mile before we discovered our first primroses of the year flowering on a warm
east facing bank sheltered from the wind.  Nearby, coltsfoot shone like yellow stars in the grassy verges beside the rising track onto the moor. The wind blew stronger and gustier as we climbed higher but it was all in our favour. We parted company at 2½ miles, my wonderful partner branching off to Yarnbury whilst I carried on up Bycliffe Hill, climbing another 500ft to the 'stone man' a tall cairn that affords a fine viewpoint looking southwards over the Wharfe valley. It's always hazy when I reach this point and I've never yet been able to take a decent photograph of the view. Someday, I will.
Stone man at 1500ft
Revelling in the snow down the long wall from Grassington Moor
My planned descent was by a mile of glorious springy turf down what runners call 'the long wall'. I'd noted from a brief stop by the cairn that there was still some snow lingering beside the wall, but I was totally unprepared for the huge drifts and cornices lower down. Fortunately, although several feet deep in places, the snow was still compacted and safe for running. As such, it gave me a delightful descent and a fitting memento of the hard winter we've experienced this year. I returned home a very happy man, having been serenaded by skylarks and my path illumined by bright flowers and snowy descents.   Not many years ago nothing could stop me while
out on a run. I was training and every second was important. I recall my sister looking rather cross on an occasion when I ran past her with just a casual wave.  And, years later, her amazement when I actually stopped to talk and pass the time of day with her. I believe the change came about after my 2nd M60 category win in the London marathon after which I decided I'd rest on my laurels, believing I'd reached the limit of my capabilities. Many new runners set their sites on the marathon but, from the very beginning, my sites were firmly focused on a sub 3 hour marathon.
The marathon shirt I wear with pride.
In my view, anyone can 'do' a marathon. It's no big deal. I could go out and do a marathon any day of the week. The distance never frightened me. So far as I was concerned the true test was to RUN it, every stride of the way, in a respectable time which, for me, was under three hours.  I did it, twice, and after that I metamorphosed into what I am now, a zen runner who runs purely for fitness and pleasure. I may or may not race again. My runs are not seriously regarded as training any more. I run for enjoyment. Now, unlike yesteryear, I frequently stop to chat to farmers, neighbours or fellow runners, to gaze at the luscious landscape, take photographs or, like yesterday, revel in the snow with a childish delight. It suits me and I plan to go on doing it for many more years.

Monday 8 April 2013

The day I became a runner.....

  There are still a lot of dirty drifts around where I live but roads are clearing, the sun has shone, temperatures
Roads are clearing...
have risen and my old legs are slowly starting to defrost! As I laboriously trotted and slid through diminishing drifts this past week it came to mind what Rev David Macha said last week about it being 'very good training'.  I certainly felt stronger, so much so I began to toy with the idea of doing a bit of speedwork. After a three mile warm-up over Castle Hill, I turned into the cricket field for a few fast repetitions. Most of the snow had gone from the flat turf so I was able to run the longest stretch of the field unheeded - for 130m or so.  For a change I was wearing my Garmin which I clicked (without actually looking at it) at the beginning and end of each repetition. I'd planned to do twelve reps but felt another four wouldn't do any harm. I was feeling good. On reaching home I was rather pleased with what the Garmin told me when I plugged it into computer. During the 6.07 mile run with 276ft elevation gain I'd actually done 18 reps (never could count) every single one of them in 28secs. Now there's consistency for you! What I wasn't so happy about was that I'd run each rep at an average speed of only 6.52min/mile. OK, I wasn't pushing it, but when I recall running each and every mile of the London marathon at an average 6.36min/mile pace, then the cricket field session didn't look quite so rosy. Mind you, that marathon was 19 years ago so I suppose allowances must be made for old age and decrepitude.
..and so is the cricket field where I sometimes train
Come to think of it (he says with chest puffed out and broad smile) I was rather good at marathons having won an age category in seven of eight starts with an M55 course record thrown in for good measure. My baptism of fire came on a boiling hot July day in 1987 when I lined up with 373 others for the start of the notorious Pennine marathon. Never mind undulating, it had at least twenty hills which, according to Anquet, amount to 2,750ft of ascent. It roller-coasted to its highest point at 10 miles (915ft), dropped 300ft, then climbed back to 760ft at 22 miles - just where most people would likely hit the wall.  My only previous experience of a marathon had been in watching the 1986 race when a smiling Tanya Ball of Serpentine Harriers won the ladies race in a little over three hours. "Huh, I can do that" I'd thought, and the seed had been planted. 
   I'd been a jogger for only 15 months and hadn't really done much at all by way of marathon training. A few
Pennine marathon route and profile
weeks prior to the Pennine I'd been sauntering across some of the wilder parts of Scotland on a 200 mile coast to coast walk (TGO Challenge) and I'll admit to being more than a little nervous in the couple of weeks before the marathon. But come the day, the nerves had settled and I was probably as calm as any of the more experienced runners. I needed to be. Drinks stations were every three miles which some reckoned insufficient given it was the hottest day so far that year. I carried no water nor anything to eat. Approaching 18 miles I passed lots of runners who'd ground to a halt by the roadside, some just stood there, others tried to keep their legs moving, some sat with bowed heads looking forlorn and totally knackered.  Blisters, dehydration and heat exhaustion had taken their toll resulting in 58 of those stragglers failing to finish. Helpful or concerned spectators brought extra water from their houses, children offered fruit and other goodies while gardeners sprayed us with hose pipes to cool us down. I kept going, ignoring the handouts, though struggling and having to walk for a while climbing towards that 22 mile marker. I suppose I'd hit the wall but it was nearly all downhill after that.
   I crossed the line in 3:30:04 to take 82nd place of 316 finishers. Mike Critchley of Bolton United Harriers
Breaking the M55 course record in 1988
had won it in 2:34:07, a chap I've met many times since at the Arncliffe 4 mile race which he organizes each year in August. Eileen Denby of Denby Dale Travellers survived the blistering conditions to be first lady in 3:31:17. The best was yet to come. I'd wanted to go home to rehydrate and soak my aching legs in a hot bath, but my chauffeur/sister insisted on watching the prize giving before we went. I got the shock of my life when I was called to the podium as winner of the M55 category, a silver cup placed in my hand together with a voucher that would buy me a new pair of shoes and an embossed towel that has accompanied me to every race since. It was my first ever win, at anything, and it totally changed my life. That was 26 years ago but I remember details of that race as if it were yesterday. And I remember telling the race secretary, Alan Sykes, I'd break the M55 course record the following year.  Gone was the casual jogger who'd started this game to lose weight and get the old body back to some sort of shape. Things had gotten serious. A runner had been born, one that henceforth hated to lose, and God help any contemporaries that lined up beside him.

Can you tell I've just been watching  'Fire on the Track' - the story of Steve Prefontaine's extraordinary life?

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Arctic Easter....

   I'm told it was the coldest Easter Sunday since records began and the coldest March for sixty six years - just two
After shoveling a way in...
good reasons why this old codger hasn't done a great deal of running of late. Even as I write, snow is still piled a metre high in my garden, though it's beginning to thaw and I can now reach my bird feeders, much to the delight of my little feathered friends. But I'm ashamed to say that running over the past week has amounted to just 14 hard earned miles. On Thursday I donned my Yaktrax and plodded through deep snow onto Castle Hill, climbing over drifts, sinking up to my knees at times, to record just three miles. The road below Castle Hill was blocked (still is) and some local residents were unable to get their cars back home. As protection from the arctic conditions I was wearing three layers, compression top, fleece and windproof jacket (not to mention woolly hat and gloves) which was all very well when I set off but I was beginning to sweat a bit by the time I reached the 900ft contour. As I jogged across the flat summit I was amazed to pass a couple of lads doing press-ups in the snow, one of them dressed in only a T-shirt and shorts. We breed 'em tough in Yorkshire!
Sign on Castle Hill side....
   My usual route off the hill was totally impassable so I climbed a wall and barbed wire fence to wend my way through the fields - searching for a line of least resistance. All of a sudden a pair of March hares exploded from the snow and streaked ahead of me, the first I'd seen in the area since my hunting days, many moons ago. They're best seen in the early evening as they venture out to feed, or early mornings before they sink into their forms to stay mainly hidden throughout the day (which is why I don't see them very much nowadays because most of my running is done mid-day). In March they don't seem to care very much whether they're seen, or not. I love hares and have a strange affinity with these wild creatures that love to run free in wide open spaces. For what it's worth, here is one of my poems about them from a little anthology I once put together. It's called: 

That's the stile...

Couched in morning light, herb replete,
Fur feet kissed clean and dew-anointed,
A wild hare gulps one last warming draught
Of soporific sun

In splendid isolation
Of chosen solitude
He shines momentarily
Like living tourmaline
In a sea of rippled green,
Then settles in his sylvan seat,
Droops his black-tipped ears
And sinks to sweet oblivion.

Safe in his sanctuary
Beyond the death-dark door of sleep
That bars the fly fox
Or ripping stoat
He lopes through clover dreams
Where lilting larks
Pour out their paeons
On poppy fields
Of opiate paradise.

Macho guy wearing shorts in Hebden Ghyll...
   Enough of that. What else did I do? Well, together with my wonderful partner I ventured into yet more snow to churn out another eleven miles and keep the old body ticking over. For six of those miles we trundled round Appletreewick and back along a snowy riverbank where we managed to avoid sliding into the water. Funnily enough, it was sunny and lambs were snoozing in the fields, soaking up a bit of rare warmth. Around them, red-beaked oystercatchers were fraternizing with black-headed gulls, woodpeckers were hammering away at prospective nest sites and wood anemones were bursting into flower beneath the trees. A male goosander sat tight on the opposite bank, I suspect not very far from his crested mate who'd be warming a clutch of cream eggs - referring to their colour, not the Easter variety.
   On another day we donned just about everything bar fur coats to run up the ghyll for fun and games in the
All good fun.....
drifts. A macho man came running down wearing shorts, but he was running faster than we can, and better able to keep warm. It wasn't long before we'd to strap Yaktrax to our trail shoes to prevent us slithering around in the white stuff. We'd planned to run up 'the long wall' to ascertain whether frogs had returned to their breeding ground, but there was no way we could get there through huge drifts. I imagined hundreds of little Kermits frantically trying to reach their pond, leaping skywards up a nine feet barrier of snow, only to come tobogganing back down again on their cold bellies. And I could imagine the looks on their silly faces, and the daft way they talk!

Don't bother to get up...
   We turned homeward through a gateway half blocked with snow into a sheltered lane that had been partitioned off to form a sheep pen, and where dozens of hardy Swaledales browsed contentedly. They seemed happy and well fed for most didn't even bother to get up as we jogged past within inches of them. I could have stood on one to climb over the fence. From thereon drifts covered many of the stiles and gateways which made their negotiating a little more interesting, and lots more fun, though some might think we're getting a bit too old for that sort of thing.  Later, at an Easter Monday fund raising gathering in our village institute, we were relating details of our run to a Methodist minister who thought it commendable that folk of our age could still get out and do such things, though most people would say we're crackers!  His attitude was somewhat different from that of an Anglican minister I'd been talking to, who also happens to be a very good runner: "It's hard work but very good training" was his considered opinion. Now that's what I like to hear.  I might change my religion!