Friday 30 August 2013

Winding down, psyching up....

      It's hard to concentrate on blogging when the old brain is focused on more important things. Throughout a
Yorkshire mountaineer - Alan Hinkes OBE
busy weekend in the Yorkshire Dales, I couldn't help thinking I'd have been better employed preparing for our imminent camping holiday which, at the moment, is only three days away. Flights are booked, Swiss Cards bought for half price travel, travel insurance purchased and, well, nothing much else really. (oh, excuse me while I go and stick some clothes in the washer). Some people would be starting to panic but, thank God, I'm not into such things. Well, not yet! The only thing that slightly puzzles me is how to fit half a wardrobe of clothes, boots and shoes, tent, sleeping bag, thermarest, stove, billies, first aid, water bottles, torch, and other odd bits of camping gear all into one small rucksack to carry on my back. Time to put my magician's hat on!
Old Runningfox - in his element.....
August Bank Holiday began with a Friday morning visit to the Royal Infirmary after an eagle eyed dentist discovered something in my mouth she thought shouldn't be there. After all of a ten second examination of the offending object the Consultant likewise decided it shouldn't be there, described what he thought it was, and recommended a course of action to remove it. Whilst busy scribbling notes into the necessary heap of documentation he peered at me over his spectacles and said...."My God, eighty one? I'd have put you at around sixty. In fact, you'd pass for a rough fifty year old". Hilarious!!  I was chuckling all the way back to the Dales.
      After a quick lunch we set off to run and
Another fine sadistic route.....
explore another of those sadistic routes my wonderful partner is ever inventing for her group of U3A walkers. It wasn't easy, as usual, but took us into wild and beautiful places where soft breezes stirred the heather, where plovers piped their plaintive notes and startled grouse sprang from almost under our feet with their raucous cries of 'go-back, go-back, go-back'. I hope they keep a little farther away from those people who'll shortly be taking to the moor with their slaughtering guns. A large bird of prey with swept back wings, possibly a peregrine, circled the air over Priest's Tarn Hill, the first we've seen for quite some time. We thought they'd all been annihilated along with the ravens, foxes, stoats and weasels. With numerous photographic interludes our 8.22 mile route took an hour and fifty minutes and has been duly inserted into the latest U3A programme of events.
MV70 runner, Don Stead, finishing Burnsall 10
Saturday was Burnsall Feast Sports but sadly I took no part in it this year. Having been officially acknowledged as the oldest person ever to have run the 10 mile road race last year, I rested on my laurels and went along as a mere spectator. It wasn't easy. I've never been very good at spectating and when Alan Hinkes OBE fired the gun to start the road race I was inwardly kicking myself for not entering. Amongst the pictures I took of runners filing past was one of my old antagonist, Don Stead, whose smiling face made me feel thoroughly ashamed of myself for not being with him. He was stll smiling when he crossed the line an hour and a half or so later. Well into his seventies he still loves to run and race.
      Sunday was spent flagging the various fell race routes
Fell race winner Simon Bailey tackling Hebden Crag...
ready for Hebden Sports the following day.  We must have done a reasonable job as only one runner managed to get lost. Maybe his specs got steamed up, or he found the rocky crag or high walls a bit daunting and decided on a detour. On an exceptionally sunny Bank Holiday Monday, our Sports meeting was a huge success and attracted large crowds, although many of our elite fell runners were attending a championship race some miles away at Reeth in Swaledale.  But we still had a pretty good turnout, among them Simon Bailey of Mercia Fell Runners, and you can hardly get more elite than him. He led the race from start to finish, as he had done at Burnsall two days before and at Kilnsey Show the day after. Sandwiched between Burnsall and Hebden he'd also run third in the senior Guides race at Grasmere. He won the Hebden race in 11.05, about the time it would take me to climb over one of the walls. Kirstin Bailey of Bingley Harriers, a multiple winner of the BOFRA championship, won the ladies race.
      Mileage-wise I've been winding down this week with nothing whatsoever entered in the training diary, and only fifteen miles last week compared to twenty five the week before. However, a heap of running gear is laid out on the spare bed ready to stuff into my sack for the trip to Switzerland. Not that we know exactly where we're going yet, but I've a feeling the Eiger Trail Run could feature fairly high on the agenda. Watch this space!

Monday 19 August 2013

Fartleking about.....

......that's what t'owd fella was doing last week. Or maybe it's just a euphamism for being lazy and taking it
Small tortoiseshell on buddleia
easy. Common sense tells me that after the RunSunday event I should have rested for more than just one day, but I've never been very good at resting. So out I went last Tuesday, mixing it up - running a bit (on the flat), walking a bit (mainly uphill), sprinting a bit (love the feeling of speed) then maybe jogging a bit to get my breath back. Before I knew it I'd covered over 5 miles and sweat was dripping from me in the humid conditions. Back home a bottle of cold High 5 mixture went down a treat as I sat watching a small cloud of peacock, painted lady, white and tortoiseshell butterflies fluttering around the garden and feeding on the buddleia. Most enjoyable. So much so I repeated the session on Thursday, enjoyed it just as much and decided I ought to fartlek about a bit more often!
Caroline and Julie
Sometime on Friday I happened to log in to a running forum and the word 'Grassington' jumped out and hit me in the face. As it's only 1½ miles down the road from my weekend retreat I wanted to know what was happening and learned that 'LittleMissSmiley' was planning to run from there with three other forumites the following day, none of whom I'd ever met. It was only after I'd cheekily invited myself along, whether they wanted me or not, that 'Fattofit' sent a copy of their planned route.  Drat, it was all on roads. I don't do roads and wondered whether to hastily uninvite myself using some fabricated excuse - the dog's eaten one of my shoes and we've got to take him to the Vet. But we haven't got a dog and I couldn't think of anything else so decided I'd better go along.
   I'd been informed what time they'd be passing through our village and
Dan and John - the likely lads...
sure enough, at the appointed hour, four figures came galloping into view, two six foot likely lads leading the way and two charming ladies bringing up the rear. With a minimum of pleasantries I tucked in behind them at the foot of a rather steep hill, 225ft inside ½ mile, and pleaded with them "be gentle with me up here".  And very gentle they turned out to be, so much so I amazingly found myself with enough breath for some introductory talk. Though they looked rather similar I could soon differentiate between Dan and John.  'LittleMissSmiley' had become Caroline, though still very much resembling the former, whilst Julie, her friend, in no way resembled the first bit of her Forum name, 'Fattofit', so the transition had obviously been successful.

Mushrooms - straight from the field....
It was wonderful to be running with different people. Dan and John kept introducing bits of speedwork. Once when they sprinted past on a steepish incline I tucked in behind them for 150m or so, just to see if I could stay with them. I did, but felt a slight twinge in my left calf muscle so didn't go after them again. Trouble was, not having any road shoes I was wearing minimalist low drop trail shoes with no cushioning, shoes that weren't at all suitable for running on tarmac. But I couldn't help thinking how good it would be to have training partners like Dan and John to really stretch my old legs and help me reach my full potential - again - but only if I was wearing the right shoes. We parted company after 4 miles, them with three more miles to run to Grassington and me with just another mile back home across the fields. We'd all enjoyed putting faces to names and indulging in our common interest, so much so there might even be a repeat performance! To round off the day I went out and collected a nice bag of field mushrooms which my wonderful partner fried in butter with lashings of garlic to eat as a 'starter'. Good job that was after our earlier run or my new found friends might never have come near me again.
   For next day I'd planned a 10 mile circuit around Mossdale, one of my favourite wild haunts. I was about
Wild garden - heather at its purple best on Grassington Moor....
to set off when the heavens opened - though the forecast had said it would be mainly sunny. I fixed another cup of coffee and made myself comfortable until the perishing forecast sorted itself out. It was 11am before the sun played peepo again, at which point I strapped on my bumbag and set off up the ghyll. Grouse shooting had begun 6 days earlier, on the so-called Glorious Twelfth, and a sizeable shooting party and their dogs had gathered on the moor, right beside where I was running. "We'll give you a head start" one of them shouted. That was good of them, wasn't it?  After a reasonable distance I phoned my wonderful partner, who just happened to be on National Park duty on that very same moor, to inform her I thought 'Harvey's lot' were breaking the law by shooting on a Sunday. I thought she might want to go and sort them out but she declined, not wishing to mess with 'that lot' who seem to be a law unto themselves. Her fellow Ranger suggested they might ask them to keep their dogs on a lead - which I thought was hilarious!  I carried on, sloshing into the jaws of Mossdale, past all the inquisitive beasties and out the other side. 

Where I love to run - the track into Mossdale
   Two elderly walkers held the gate open for me. "Are you practicing for the Fellsman" the gentleman asked. "No, no, just amusing myself" I said.  "Looks more like abusing yourself to me" was his cheeky reply. Fortunately there's no law against wit on a Sunday, which is just as well.  Later that evening I was in Church - recovering and re-charging my batteries. Our Minister, Rev Janet Clasper, had based her sermon on Hebrews 11, v32. 'And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, David and Samuel.....'.
Looking round at us all she launched into her theme... "What do we know about Gideon...... and what do we know about Barak?" she asked. And I was sat there thinking "Well, Gideon and his gang went around sneaking Bibles into hotel bedrooms and Barak became President of the United States".  Ooh, er, I'd better shut up before I'm excommunicated. I've just remembered, her husband sometimes reads my Blog....

Monday 12 August 2013

Run Sunday.......

   It's funny how one thing can lead to another. In October last year I paid one of my infrequent visits to a Fell Running Forum and came across the following message that had been posted for my attention several weeks (or maybe months?) previously....
 "As a new VW70 (d.o.b.1942) I was pleased to discover you (as VM80) on the Forums. I very much hope to be still running & racing in 10 years time. At present I'm trending towards 5k Parkruns. I'd love to read your news. Best wishes, Alexandra".
Alexandra.....who started all this....
And so began a chain of occasional correspondence exchanging news, views and ideas amongst which came Alex's recommendation of a series of 5K Sunday morning runs in the Otley Chevin Forest Park - RunSunday. Her idea appealed to me for several reasons; (a) because unlike our local Park Runs they begin at a more civilised time, 10.30am rather than 9am and on Sundays rather than Saturdays: (b) they're far less crowded, up to 40 runners as opposed to 400: (c) the rough undulating forest trails are preferable to the manicured tarmac paths around Greenhead Park. So yesterday, after a nine month incubation period in my none too fertile brain, the idea at last became reality and I set off, along with my wonderful partner, to take part in Run No 50. The run starts where two trails cross at a height of 800ft just over a kilometre into the forest. There are no 'facilities' but, as the organiser told me, there are plenty of trees!  Baggage with spare clothes, etc. can be left at the Start/Finish area where there is always a marshall to keep a watchful eye on things. 

All smiles with an MV80 course record after the run......
  After a short briefing and description of the course by the Starter we were sent on our way, my wonderful partner and I taking up the rear. But not for long. After an easy week of training I was feeling quite fresh and soon began to move through the field at what felt like a good maintainable pace. It was, for 1¼ mile until the 'killer hill' which had only been mentioned to us a few minutes before the race began. We'd toiled up this hill on our way to the Start thinking "surely, we wont have to run up here". But we did - to the tune of around 100ft of ascent in ¼ mile - and that's steep! I changed down a gear and felt quite chuffed after keeping the rhythm going and emerging at the top barely out of breath. I now knew what to expect second time round and it held no fears. The second lap was a shorter one throughout which I still felt fresh and comfortable, particularly during a brief rain shower that cooled me down nicely. It wasn't a race, as such, so I wasn't pushing it as hard as I might. Alex, who'd planted this idea in my head the previous year, was marshalling at a bend in the trail and called encouragement as I passed. Then it was along the fast level straight and up the 'killer hill' for the final time and into the Finish funnel. 
   My watch said 27.57 which was 17 seconds slower than the time I'd predicted in my diary - undoubtedly
New LV65 record holder - by 26 seconds....
because of that killer hill no-one had cared to mention until just before the Start!  But I was happy with that. It gave me a benchmark, something to work on, encouragement to train harder and hopefully improve. So far as I know, no man over 80 has ever run this before, so I automatically became their first MV80 course record holder. And to make our journey even more worthwhile, my wonderful partner became the new LV65 record holder on this new course, having finished just 26 seconds ahead of Lyn Eden, a previous course record holder. So thanks for the tip off Alex, and for your company in the Cheerful Chilli after our run. All in all, it was a pretty good day that called for a wee celebration later that evening. But as for that other idea of yours, the one about alcohol free wine, I reckon that's pretty much a non-starter!

Monday 5 August 2013

Most meaningful medals......

   A South African blogging acquaintance, a runner called Karien, recently posted an article featuring her five favourite race medals. Quality and design-wise they are each very exotic and far outshine any of those in my collection. In fact, her five least favourite medals - her subject for another posting - also put the majority of mine to shame. Don't believe it Karien when you say that South Africa must be the 'original home of the crappy medal' for I can assure you England produces some pretty cheap and ugly ones. Only a couple of weeks back, a medal I received belatedly, for an MV80 victory in a 1500m track race last September, was so tatty compared to others I'd won the same day that it was only fit for the trash can. Anyhow, a seed was sown so here are some of my personal favourites, not because of their quality or appearance but for the memories they revive.  I have many more.
The 'Peaks' medal - my favourite one of all...
   First: From the day I discovered I could run (June 5th 1987 when I had my first ever win of any description in the Pennine Marathon) my mind became focused on the one race that has always been my favourite in the racing calendar - The Three Peaks of Yorkshire - a fell-running classic over 24 miles with 4,500ft of ascent. I'd watched it from various viewpoints on many occasions and marvelled at the skills and stamina of my super heroes, never dreaming I'd one day be joining their ranks and running alongside them. But in 1993, a week after running sub 3 hour in the London Marathon, and against everyone's advice, I lined up with 447 of Britain's best fell runners and stormed round in a cracking 4:09:27 to finish 193rd overall and easily take the MV60 title. The boxed medal awarded to me, with its image of Horton Church and suitably engraved 'Veteran over 60 Winner' on the reverse, is the one I cherish most in my whole collection. I subsequently won two others in the 'Peaks' but they mean little by comparison to that first one.
   Second: I'm a bit reluctant to put it so high in the list but I
Cheap London Marathon medal - not even engraved...
suppose London's 1993 marathon was a huge milestone in my racing carreer because it was my first sub three hour. As I said in the paragraph above, it took place only a week before my 'Peaks' triumph but was far less meaningful. I'd been cajoled into running it by a Sikh friend, Ajit Singh, who'd finished second to me in the 1992 Pennine marathon. "You must run London with me" he insisted, "you'll beat them all". Meaning all runners over 60. I eventually gave in to pressure, travelled down to London with Ajit on Saturday morning, stayed with his friends overnight and lined up with all the 'good for age' veterans at the Red start on Sunday morning. Being but a dozen yards from the Start line I was away in seconds and through the first mile in little over 6 minutes. I didn't quite get it right (that would come two years later) and was slowing down towards the finish, but still crossed the line in a creditable 2:54:18 - good enough to take the MV60 title. Ajit was right. However, the winner's medal didn't arrive until some weeks later after they'd checked all the cameras and decided I had in fact gone through all the mile markers! It isn't even engraved and merely a larger version of the one all finishers received. Other than that I got nothing - unlike the previous year's MV60 winner, Derek Turnbull, who'd been flown over from New Zealand and put up in a posh hotel, all expenses paid, and awarded prize money for winning his category. Or so I'm told.
M70 Fell Championship medal - 2004
Third: In 2004 the Fell Runners Association introduced an MV70 category into their English Championship series. It involved running two short and two medium races with 12 points for the winner of each race, 9 for second and down to 1 point for tenth place. I'm not sure why I entered for there were some very good MV70's running regularly at that time - Barry Thackery, Colin Henson, Derek Clutterbuck, Bill Gauld - to name but a few. I was 72 that year and hadn't run a race of any description over the past four years, the last being a flat 10K road race where I'd finished 3rd MV60 at Leeds in 1999. But, as the saying goes, 'cometh the hour, cometh the man' - though I was plagued with calf muscle problems throughout the series. By some miracle I won the first two races, Noonstone (9 miles/2,300ft ascent) and Buckden Pike (3¾ miles/1,580ft ascent), both after hard fought battles with the on form Barry Thackery, thus gaining 24 points, but tore my calf muscle again in the third race, Kentmere Horseshoe (12 miles/3,300ft ascent), and could only finish second there to the Durham Harrier, Alex Menarry. The last two miles, limping to the finish off Kentmere Pike, were sheer agony but luckily the 9 points I gained gave me an unassailable lead in the Championship so I didn't have to run the final qualifying race at Shelf Moor.  My Championship medal was engraved - English Championship, Mens V70, Gordon Booth, Longwood, 1st 2004. I'm proud of that!  But it was eleven months before my calf muscle allowed me to race again.
   Fourth: I'd been searching the calendar for an interesting race to run on the occasion of my 75th birthday in
75th birthday medal - 2007
2007, preferably one my wonderful partner could run too. We eventually decided upon the Great East Anglia Run, a popular 10K road race with chip timing at King's Lynn in Norfolk - an area that is notoriously FLAT.  Never having visited Norfolk before we set off a few days prior to the race and camped along the coast to explore, and run, and maybe do a spot of bird watching.  Come race day I'd almost to work myself into a frenzy, knowing that in order to win I'd have to beat all the MV70's. There was no MV75 category. Although flat the course had many twists and turns (not to mention bollards) but I whizzed round in 45:32 to indeed beat all the MV70's and come away with a marvellous glass trophy engraved with the date 6th May, 2007 - my birthday - and 1st male veteran 70+. The medal too has the date inscribed upon it, though it's difficult to see in the picture. To add icing to the cake, my wonderful partner finished second in the LV60 category and also came home with an engraved glass plaque.

M55 10,000m Track Championship - 1990
Fifth: I've never felt quite comfortable when Track racing, feeling a little bit nervous of all the protocol, frightened of moving in the 'set' position or, God forbid, getting a false start. But not long into my racing career one of my Longwood team mates, Peter Dibb, introduced me to track racing by persuading me to compete in the Northern Veterans 10,000m track championship held that year at Blackpool's Stanley Park stadium. "How are you going to run it?" he asked as we drove down the motorway. He smiled at my rookie reply. "I'm thinking to put in a fast mile at the start to break up the field, settle into my race pace, keep ahead of the field and hopefully have enough left in the tank to outrun anybody that might try to come with me at the finish". The smile was on my face as I crossed the Finish line to win the race outright to much applause in 37:43 - just as Peter was beginning his final lap with the rest of the field strung out all over the place behind him. That was my first ever Track Championship and it had gone exactly according to plan. The medal was nothing to write home about though it was suitably engraved on the reverse marking my MV55 victory. There were more track championship medals to come but don't get me started or I'll finish up writing a book!