Monday 28 October 2013

Happy feet.....

    Early last week an email arrived and went straight into my Trash box. I decided to fish it out and have a look at it anyway, and I'm very glad I did. It was from Runner's World and contained a discount code offering 30% off New Balance shoes from a shop called Rat Race Adventure Sports in York. It must have been my lucky day because all I could find that interested me, some Minimus Trail shoes, already had a 40% discount - from £70 down to £42 - so the Runner's World discount code would further reduce them to £29.40. Better still, they offered free postage - not to mention a free poly bag to return them if they weren't suitable. You can't get better than that.  After a quick phone call to confirm my 30% discount was valid on top of their 40%, I couldn't get my order away quick enough!
Light and flexible..The New Balance Minimus MT 10 GY
   I love New Balance trail shoes and their MT 101's have long been my favourites but, for reasons best known to themselves, NB have phased them out. All five pairs were comfortable straight from the box. I must easily have run a couple of thousand miles in them over some rough terrain with no problems whatsoever. But the two remaining pairs are now showing considerable signs of wear so it's become necessary to replace them soon with something similar - or better. The New Balance Minimus MT 10 GY will hopefully fit the bill.  I believe they were designed by one of my mentors, Anton Krupicka, whose antics I may well have tried to emulate if only I'd  discovered the joys of trail running a little earlier in life. I reckon if these shoes were good enough for him to hurtle up and down mountains in, they should be good enough for me! However, they arrived with a cautionary note saying "This product increases strain on the foot, calf and achilles tendon......should be introduced SLOWLY into a running exercise routine.....initially limiting use to just 10% of overall running workouts".   

These shoes are made for running...and that's
just what I'll do.....
They're incredibly flexible and while slipping them on I couldn't help thinking it felt very much akin to pulling on a sock. They're designed to be worn with or without socks but they didn't feel quite right without, so opted for the thinnest pair I could find. They felt snug and comfortable as I set out for a short three mile run, intending to keep close to home in case of problems. There weren't any. The Vibram soles took everything in their stride over bits of tarmac, field paths, tracks of gravel and mud, or climbing steeply to contour round Castle Hill side. It was a beautiful autumn day and I didn't want to go home. Three miles got extended to four, then five until, by the time I'd done half a dozen fast repeats across a local cricket field, my watch was reading 6.09 miles with 641ft of ascent. I was happy with that and could have kissed those shoes as I slipped them off!  It later struck me that 6 miles is perhaps a little more than 10% of my 20 mile running week. I never was very good at maths!

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Slow runs and salmon runs......

Worth stopping for - autumn tints along the Wharfe at Hebden...
I was glad of my camera for company last week as I snuffled and sneezed my way through seventeen assorted miles over a seven day period. An intended five mile tempo run became very much a stop/start affair as riotous autumn tints provided the perfect excuse for numerous random stops to shoot scenes I always imagine are going to be unrepeatable whilst, in truth, they'll return year after year long after I've faded into oblivion. Another five mile run with my wonderful partner ended with me walking up the final hill after puffing our way through two miles of fartlek along the riverbank. Neither of us were at our best.
      Amazingly, the session that felt easiest was a
Wet through, but happy.... Theo and me
four mile road run around Burnsall in pouring rain with three friends from Papandrecht in the western Netherlands. Stefan and Jerome were undoubtedly the greyhounds of our intrepid quartet whilst Theo and I, dare I say, of a more mature vintage, lumbered along at talking pace sharing all the latest news. On being reduced to a walk up the final hill Theo casually remarked he'd have to go for another injection as soon as he got home. It seems every now and again when his knees give trouble his doctor injects a kind of gel straight into the joint to free things up.  Strange, that. My wonderful partner often says that when God invented the human body he made a major design fault by not placing grease nipple alongside major joints. Theo appears to have found the next best thing!

The Ribble in spate,,,but it didn't stop the salmon...
     A forecast of heavy rain on Sunday was all we needed to abandon any ideas of running and go for a pleasant walk instead. We made our way to Stainforth Foss on the River Ribble to watch the annual migration of salmon to their upstream breeding haunts. After much heavy rain the river was in spate, a roaring torrent of brown, peaty water thundering through the narrow strait and over the triple falls. Surely, nothing can get up there, we thought. But we were wrong. It seems nothing can stop a salmon on its way to spawn and breed. At first there was little activity. Maybe they were resting awhile in the deep pool below the falls after a few failed attempts. They never give up. One by one, they hurtled skywards to disappear into the pool above where they'd further rest before attempting the next cataract. They'd get there in the end. They always do.
      Among many bits of memorabilia adorning the walls of my study is a framed certificate for achieving 1st place in an Open Poetry competition way back in 1989. It was the centenary year of this prestigious event which made its winning even more memorable. I reckon the adjudicator, a gentleman called Norman Howlings, was likely very pro-Scottish, and most probably a fisherman, which contributed to my success. In fact, I can think of no other reasons! As I read each line I could tell by expressions on his face, and by his audible "Yes" at the final stanza, that the poem had found favour. For what it's worth, here it is:


Late July, the parched hills
If at first you don't succeed......
Flickering in the heat,
The Sealga burn a cobbled gash
Scarring the strath from An Teallach
Past brooding Shenaval.
Beyond the rowan tree a mossy step
Seeps the last dregs of the last storm,
Damping the scales of a migrant salmon
Stranded, a drip from death.

      His red back is all too conspicuous
      On the granite pebbles
      As he arches and bends,
      Thrashes and thrusts,
      Eyeballs out and mouth agape,
      Striving with resolute fecundity
      To gain some high predestined pool.

I can picture him days ago,
This ecstatic rainbow torpedo
Ripping through the flash flood,
Bending against the cataracts,
Then the long grovel
Through receding shallows
To the final emptiness
Of this dank, desolate spot.

      Even now he would climb
      If he could, his compass set
      To seasonal bearings of A to Breed.
      No devil-fish could lure him back
      To enticing estuary
      Or bright, gleaming loch.
      He would swim through fire,
      He would die for love.

But here on the moor
Outside Shenavall
My cold knife
Grallochs the silken belly
Onto bleached stones.
Let the world mourn
While the king dines.

      That's enough of the serious stuff. To end on a much lighter note click on this Fellraiser link for a very amusing video which Fellephant describes as 'an off the wall take on fell running' accompanied by his own music. Some people are very clever! 

Monday 14 October 2013

Slowing down fast.....

   I reckon Mister Garmin must have been spying on my Blog posts. The day after I'd told the world about a recorded 58.3mph maximum speed, on foot around the base of Ingleborough, a message came on the screen advising me to attach my Forerunner 10 to the computer, go to Start, Programs, Garmin, and click on Webupdater to upgrade from Version 2:20 to 2:30.  Compliance with that instruction had the soul destroying effect of erasing 47.4mph from that original figure, thereby reducing my top speed to a mere 10.9mph - or 5½min/mile pace. I'm sure I can run faster than that.  I wonder if there's some way of reverting back to Version 2:20?
   With the onset of winter I'll be doing less running and slowing down even more. My north facing town
Exposed - my north facing town house....
house sits in an exposed position 645ft up in the Pennine hills. When it's cold and windy, pouring with rain, or snowing, and many of my preferred off-road routes are oozing water and mud, you'll most likely find me festering indoors where it's cosy and warm, my nose in a good book and the central heating thermostat turned up to Max. It's sad, I know, but nowadays I probably spend more time reading about running than actually getting out there and doing it. Since turning 80 my interest in racing has diminished, mainly because very few races have an MV80 category. With no goals to aim for, there's little incentive for serious training. In my dotage I run mainly for fun and pleasure, and neither of those are possible if I'm wet through and frozen to the marrow.
Looking down on things....
No longer do I read all available running literature in hopes of it making me faster, but rather that I'll discover some secret that will make running easier. Last week I read Joe Henderson's short booklet 'Long Slow Distance' (available free as a pdf file if you send an email to: in which he extols the advantages of running long distances at talking pace - and with little or no speedwork. Amongst six profiles, one of which is his own, he sites that of Amby Burfoot (a Boston winner with a best marathon time of 2:14:28) whose only speedwork consisted of 'a small amount of fartlek on grass'. That last bit is what I like to do, but think I might struggle with his long, slow 150 miles per week at 6.45 - 7.15 pace!
   Another guy who genuinely runs long and slow is Ed Whitlock, a contemporary of mine who has amassed
Unlike Ed, I like to view the views...
world records in his age group from 1500m to the marathon. He doesn't like hills so all his training is done in a local cemetery, a couple of minutes from home, where he runs gentle 5 minute loops for anything up to three hours. So far as I know he does no speedwork at all but, this coming weekend (October 20th), he's guessing he'll run around 3:25 in the Toronto waterfront marathon. At 82 years old!  When out training he has no interest in nature, or viewing the views, he runs only to race and will stop running, he says, when he can no longer race. Well, I can scrap Ed's idea too. I could no longer run 5 minute loops round my local cemetery for three hours than emulate Amby on his slow 6.45 minute miles.
   So it looks like it's back to the drawing board.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Watch out Bolt....

   After a couple of easy weeks the latent fitness generated during a strenuous holiday in Switzerland seems at last
Another of those wild places...
to be taking effect. Over the past seven days I've run a total of 25 miles, 17 of them at a sedate pace with my wonderful partner, but on odd occasions when I put my foot on the gas I was pleasantly surprised how good it felt. Out of curiosity I took an infrequent glance at my biorhythm chart to see whether the mystical or magical circadian rhythms had anything to do with my current feelgood factor. Apparently not, for on the very day I was revelling in a speed session along the riverbank I was bang in the middle of a 'critical' phase. More about this later. Meanwhile, must make a note to plan any future races to coincide with these critical points.
Upwards, into the gathering gloom.....
After two days of easy running, putting miles in the bank, we drove to Clapham at the weekend, supposedly taking advantage of balmy autumn weather, colourful tints and hopefully dry conditions, to re-acquaint ourselves with an area of bleak moorland within Ingleborough's National Nature Reserve to suss out yet another route for one of my wonderful partner's planned U3A walks. Things didn't quite go according to plan.  Opening the car door and changing into running shoes was just the cue for the fickle sun to immediately disappear behind lowering clouds and plunge much of our route into semi-darkness. Undeterred, we set off into the gathering gloom, jogging steeply uphill at a steady pace. The wind got up and a smirring of rain greeted us on the approach to Nick Pot at 1,350ft. Simon Fell and Ingleborough were shrouded in claggy wet mist, so not much in the way of views to stand and stare at.
   Down Sulber Nick most of our attention was focused on where to put our feet amongst the
The sun came out down Moughton Scar
many muddy hazards and slippery limestone rocks. Conditions improved as we turned south to Moughton. Golden plovers piped their welcomes and on reaching the steep ramp leading down off the scar the sun came out and did so sporadically for the rest of our run. After dropping 400ft we left the limestone clints, crossed over the beck and made our way down into Austwick over rough pastures where hardy upland cows and suckling calves didn't bat an eye as we brushed past. I'd a twinge of nostalgia running through the village of Austwick, a village where I lived and worked way back in the late 1940's.

Clapper bridge over Austwick beck....
It was here, in the Game Cock Inn, at the tender age of 15, that I was weaned off many thitherto bland liquids and introduced to Yates & Jackson's Nut Brown Ale - a delectable brew unfortunately no longer available. However, judging by the number of cars parked outside, it seems the 'Cock' has lost none of it's popularity. It recently won a top award for 'Best Dining Pub' and I can vouch for the fact that on the brewing side Thwaites are a very worthy successor to Yates & Jackson. Alas, neither of us carried any money so were unable to poke our noses through the door to sample its current delights. We stepped over a stile in the main street and jogged the two mile field path back to Clapham where we lunched in the car before a sunny drive home.  10.75 miles with 1.400ft of ascent had taken 2 hours 14 minutes. I trust my wonderful partner has memorized every twist and turn before leading her group of intrepid walkers along it in what could be a cold and bleak November.
   The following day, while my wonderful partner was cavorting around Skipton (aka Scottish Country
Autumn colours along the riverbank
dancing), I set off for a very gentle five mile run by way of a 'loosener' after the previous day's activities. Once again, it didn't quite turn out like that, not after the first 2½ miles, that is.  At Grassington Bridge I got 'the urge' for a bit of speedwork on a two mile stretch of reasonably flat path along the riverbank. One of my favourite sessions is a Fartlek ladder: 10 paces fast, then jog or walk or stand and take a photograph, or whatever: 20 paces fast, jog: 30 paces fast, jog - and so on up to a 100 fast Rt foot plonks when I'm fit enough - then back down again, increasing speed as the fast runs get shorter. It's great fun and can brighten up an otherwise routine run on a dull day.
Here's the proof....
Running back from Grassintong Bridge I decided to go up to 60 and set off on what turned out to be a most enjoyable session.  Up the ladder to 60 fast paces came easy, I wasn't even breathing hard and needed hardly any rest before launching into the faster 50. By the time I got down to 30, 20, and lastly 10, I was absolutely flying and felt extremely pleased with myself as I jogged home. After a quick shower I plugged my watch into the computer to read the details in Garmin Connect - and couldn't believe my eyes. And neither will anyone else! Somewhere in one of those speed sessions along that two mile stretch I recorded a speed of - wait for it - 36.7mph!!!
   Now I reckon that's considerably faster than world and Olympic record holder Usain Bolt was travelling when setting his 100 and 200m records.
Another riverbank scene...
Unfortunately, I don't click my watch at the start and finish of each speed run (but I will next time) so haven't a clue where that phenomenal time was recorded. However, unlike the incredible Usain Bolt, who managed to maintain 28mph over a whole 100m, I rather suspect my unbelievable time occurred over as many millimetres when my Lt wrist wearing the watch moved involuntarily at the speed of light for reasons best known to itself, maybe to swat some pesky fly, or something like that.
   Anyway, it made a cracking story that put us all in good humour before the start of our church council meeting later that afternoon. Unfortunately, one of those present was an HGV and PSV driver who knows exactly what 36.7mph feels like and, by the look on his face, plainly didn't believe it achievable by a balding octogenarian and furthermore thought that, amongst the wealth of information churned out by my Garmin, the main thing it's trying to tell me is that I need a new watch.
There's always a spoilsport....