Monday 30 December 2013

Christmas comes but once a year.....thank goodness!

Here's a brief synopsis of our geriatric activities over Christmas'13 when, in spite of all the extra ballast, we managed to run a total of 24½ miles with 1,529 ft of ascent over five good days..
Gathering clouds before sleet and hail, Christmas Eve
      24th. We were up and breakfasting by 06.15 in order to pick up our Christmas meat order before a queue outside the butcher's stretched half way down the street. A few early risers had beaten us to it but we'd paid up, exchanged greetings and on our way to Hebden by 07.30 with enough beef, pork, poultry, bacon and pigs in blankets to last us until the haggis flies in on New Years Eve.  The temperature had dropped to 0ÂșC under a cloudless sky and with no wind conditions were ideal for a six mile run round the sleepy little village of Appletreewick. But we dawdled too long over cups of reviving coffee and by the time we set off some clouds were gathering, the sky darkening and a band of rain mischievously turned to sleet, then hail. Dunno whether I'm a masochist or just becoming more senile, but strangely enough I rather enjoyed it - though I didn't envy Father Christmas having to work through that lot, especially in the dark!
Burnsall bridge on Christmas day.....
25th. Each Christmas morning some wonderful aromas pervade the Hebden household - from things like bacon, egg, tomato, mushrooms, black pudding, toast, coffee and the like. Not that I'm complaining about muesli for the rest of the year, but it might entice me out of bed a bit quicker if it smelt more like bacon frying.  After our early morning fry-up we just had to go for a run to get things moving through the system before another salvo, scheduled for lunchtime, was forced upon us by our generous neighbour. And there's another thing, I wouldn't normally touch alcohol before the sun drops below the yard-arm, but there are a couple of exceptions to this rule, Christmas is one of them, the other is funerals.  I've never been invited to a wedding......
      We limited our run, or bloated jog, to just 4 miles around Burnsall where, along the riverbank, we met
A favourite tree along the riverbank...
local artist Rosemary Lodge, out gathering holly and ivy to decorate her studio. It was so nice to see her back on her feet after a nasty accident when she was trampled on by a horse. It was her right cheek she offered me as I gave her a warm Christmas hug. The left side of her face, she said, was held together with nuts and bolts and still felt very tender. Most of Rosie's evocative paintings are of Romany scenes and one of them is hanging not five feet away from my head as I type. I love her work.
      After a table-load of our neighbour's hospitality, helped on it's way by the obligatory bottle of bubbly, all I wanted to do was sleep - and I probably did - while my wonderful partner tripped off down the road to yet
Late dinner, Christmas Day
another festive gathering, leaving me to guard the house!  I can't quite remember what time we started to open our own presents, but it was coming dark and instead of our customary bubbly to accompany this ritual we both opted for strong coffee!  After puzzling over some of the many presents, what they actually were and how they worked, you'll not be surprised to hear that Christmas dinner came rather late, but it was cooked to perfection and you can't really improve on that. The wine was rather good too, courtesy of our retiring postmistress.  Cheers Linda!  I don't really remember going to bed but I suppose I must have done because that's where I woke up.
Daughter Sue, at Feizor village pump 57 years ago, or thereabouts...
      26th. At some point, don't ask me which, of the Christmas activities I'd phoned an old friend (88) to ask if it was convenient to visit him and exchange presents on Boxing Day. It was. Herbert has been virtually housebound for quite some time, hardly able to walk without crutches or by hanging on to furniture. The next day he was booked into Airedale Hospital for a hip operation and was a bit worried in case the surgeons and nursing staff were still a bit tipsy. And after recent stories of a surgeon alleged to have branded his initials on patient's livers, who could blame him? However, we found him quite cheerful and chatty, resigned to his fate, and reassuringly shouted "See you...." as we left.
...and the manicured ornament today
      Herbert lives in a Dales village called Austwick where I used to live and work in the late 40's, and where I  first met him, so decided it would be a good idea to have a run round some of my old stomping grounds. It was bordering on freezing and quite misty as we jogged through fields and over stiles towards the tiny village of Feizor.  Years ago these fields, known as Feizor bottoms, teamed with rabbits and a local character known as 'Rabbity Dick' used to set dozens of snares at night-time, then pick up his catch the following morning. Occasionally another local character got there first.....   Feizor has since been spoilt with monstrous stock sheds and silos that totally ruin its previous olde worlde character. It used to be one of my favourite places on earth. Now I'm not so sure. We looked for the village pump, once so very functional, and eventually located it, painted and reduced to a mere ornament.

Flascoe clapper bridge, near the end of our run at Austwick
     We left and ran slowly up the hill between Feizor Wood and limestone outcrops to Higher Bark, then Lower Bark before turning downhill and crossing the ford to Jop Ridding, another old farmstead tucked away in the hills. In a field just beyond it is an ancient hollow tree where I used to hide a 12 bore shotgun because the chap I worked for (a farmer called William Hird) wouldn't allow firearms on his property. In those dim distant days rabbits would sell for four shillings and sixpence each (22½p) which contributed nicely towards my almost nightly consumption of Yates & Jackson's nut brown ale at the Game Cock Inn. As we continued our run to Austwick a host of memories came flooding back, all of them good. I cannot recall one bad one. Back at the car Mr Garmin told us we'd run exactly 5 miles with 477ft of ascent. That should have blasted a good few calories off.

Another favourite tree, I call it the bunny tree...
    28th. The 27th was pretty much a non-day as storms and torrential rain battered the house. We battened down the hatches and stayed where it was warm - until the sun peeped out again and invited us for another run on 28th. Some years ago my wonderful partner and a chap called Alan Dawson, now deceased, used to race each other round a little switchback circuit to Burnsall and back which, according to Anquet, is 2.65 miles with 308ft of ascent. Alan always won and prided himself on once getting round in under 20 minutes. After 20 odd years my wonderful partner still runs this circuit, as part of a longer route, and is delighted if she gets below 30 minutes. So she was all smiles on Saturday when, with me acting as pacemaker, she cut it down to 28 minutes. I'm not sure I shared her joy, bearing in mind I once tore round in a little under sixteen minutes and had ambitions to break fifteen. I never did and it's far too late now.
A beautiful day - running round Fewston reservoir.....
      29th. Another beautiful day so, for something a little different we motored over to Timble for a run round Swinsty and Fewston reservoirs, a delightful 6½ miles with a mere 300ft of ascent. That's flat, compared to most of our other routes, and a runner's paradise. It was gloriously sunny and we needed sunglasses to absorb the reflections from the water. The track around Fewston was fairly quiet, mostly runners, but the smaller Swinsty reservoir was heaving with weekend walkers - and their dogs - taking short strolls from their cars. We were round in a moving time of 77 minutes which isn't bad for a pair of old codgers bloated with Christmas fodder. We enjoyed it so much that there's talk of going again...
      Now, I'd like a few hours rest before the haggis, tatties and neeps is wheeled in for Hogmanay, then..... oh heck, we've Linda's retirement party to attend on 2nd January. There's no rest for the wicked! Good job I'm a runner.......
        A Very Happy New Year to all my fellow bloggers and readers....

Sunday 15 December 2013

We are in love with you....

Where I run...the weirs on the Wharfe at Grassington
my heart and I.....
     Recently, for a number of reasons, slow motion has set in. I'd started to get a bit stale,
A pleasant bit of road to the hidden village of Thorpe
running at my usual pace resulted in breathlessness so, for the next couple of months or so, I'm concentrating on rebuilding an aerobic base with the least amount of effort; i.e. doing most runs within my working heart rate. The main problem has been trying to establish exactly what is my 'working heart rate'? Or what is my maximum heart rate?  Of all the books I've read, none of their authors ever deal with runners at my end of the age scale. The popular method of calculating a mans maximum heart rate is 220 minus chronological age which, in my case, equates to 139.  85% of that, to determine working heart rate, is a mere 118 which I'll usually exceed in the first 100 metres of a run. By the time I reach the top of the hill it can be in the 150's.

     There is absolutely no way I can keep within 118bpm without taking frequent walks, not even on the flat, let alone during the hundreds of feet of ascent I usually encounter.   So stuff that!  Likewise Dr Maffetone's formula of 180 minus one's age for maximum aerobic heart rate results in no more than walking pace for me. The formula that best suits me is the Karvonen calculator based on a person's age and resting heart rate. It still gives me a maximum HR of 139 but the training zones are worked out a little differently by what he calls the heart rate reserve method.  85% allows me 124bpm whilst 95% allows me 134bpm. That upper limit sounds nearer the mark for me. 

across the bridge at Linton Falls...
After experimenting with different formulas over various routes, and failing miserably to complete any run without having to walk parts of it, I decided it was high time I got back to self-coaching which hasn't done too badly for me in the past.  Those formulas may work on flat routes, or on the track, but are totally useless in hilly terrain with umpteen gates and stiles to negotiate. According to Garmin my last five runs included 457, 683, 1084, 338 and 980 feet of ascent, resulting in almost as much walking as running - which is not my style! Walking destroys any semblance of rhythm. After a walk the start of each run is back to square one sending heart rate back up to maximum in no time at all. There's no way I can keep a steady HR by including walks.

     Today I closed all the books, stuck them back on the shelf and did it my way. I called it a slow tempo run,
into Mossdale...
keeping the same cadence over an undulating 4.29 mile route with 398ft of ascent while staying within my comfort zone. After pressing 'Start' on the Garmin I hid it under the sleeve of my running top so I couldn't see or consult it for the duration of the run. "This should make interesting reading when I feed it into the computer" I thought. And it did. By keeping a steady running pace with no walks the HR graph was far less erratic than on occasions when I'd tried to keep within Maffetone and Karvonen parameters.

..and over the Suspension Bridge back to Hebden
The little dip at the 3 mile mark was where I stopped for a call of nature!  Naturally, the line rose and fell a wee bit on ascents and descents, but never was I struggling, or out of breath, although the average (133) and maximum (142) heart rates were above the recommended aerobic training limits for my age.  But most importantly, I finished the run feeling good. Towards the end of it, turning into our narrow lane, a car drove up behind, prompting me to sprint for home with an effortless turn of foot I hadn't experienced for some time. I really enjoyed that and can't wait for it to happen again. Which is how it should be....
                               PS. Click on the photographs for full screen images.
Graph with ascent, descent and corresponding heart rate...and that tell-tale dip at 3 miles

Monday 9 December 2013

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly....

The Good, or as good as I can make it... Since childhood days, after finding out I actually was Father
Christmas is coming.....
Christmas, the festive season has always been a stressful occasion. For most of the year I go shopping knowing exactly what I want and where to get it, then back home on the very next bus. Come Christmas I spend hours wandering around town looking hither and thither, not knowing what presents to buy for who, always hoping the right ones will magically jump out and choose themselves. I'm useless at matching the right gift with the right recipient. This year I haven't done too badly, though most presents are still in a hidey-hole waiting to be taken out, wrapped and labelled ready for dispatch. In addition, all cards have been written, calendars designed and printed, overseas items sent merrily on their way, my wonderful partner's Christmas tree installed and decorated, secondary glazing screwed to windows and doors to keep out Jack Frost - so Father Christmas can come just as soon as he jolly well likes. Though I should warn him, the chimney needs sweeping....Ho ho ho.
Brother Billy  1936 - 2013
The Bad news... A voice on the phone last Saturday was my sister whose faltering two words said it all, "He's gone" - then a poignant pause before elaborating. Another of our siblings, the third one now, had just passed away. It wasn't unexpected, Billy had been suffering the last twelve months from a virulent bowel cancer that reduced him to a skeleton. I thought my urgent prayers for remission had been answered when Avastin, a very expensive so-called wonder drug, was added to his treatment. Wrong. All it did was prolong his pain and suffering for a few more months. Billy dismissed all our prayers as 'a load of mumbo jumbo' and maybe he proved himself right?  I'll admit, it's shaken my faith and made me a little angry. I so much wanted to prove him wrong.
Of seven siblings, Billy was the one I was closest to, spent most time with, had most in common with. Many were the times we'd be out poaching together at break of dawn with guns and dogs, and returning home with 'one for the pot' before most local farmers or gamekeepers had stirred from their beds. People jokingly ask "Is that when you learned to run?" and I jokingly tell them "Yes". But I never saw Billy run for any distance in all his life, though he was built for it. He would stand his ground. He was Mr Fight while I was Mr Flight.
In those days Sunday morning bells summoned us not to Church but to dog racing. Maybe dogs could read
My type of dog, a lurcher for hunting and racing...
our minds for mine always knew when it was Sunday morning and trembled with anticipation. Like a lot of us humans, as I later discovered, they were born to run. And they loved it. Billy never had a running dog, though he had others, but always came to our meetings to socialize and share the excitement. And it was strange how the final race always seemed to coincide with opening time at the Spangled Bull just up the road where, over the years, Billy and I surely sank enough beer to float the Queen Mary. In later years, unlike me, he became strictly teetotal. I don't think it was a casual suggestion by his wife - "Darling, I think you ought to stop that silly drinking" - there was a bit more to it than that!
But what moves me most is remembrance of him finding me in an emaciated state, lying with the dogs and barely able to walk, having lost 1½ stones in a very short space of time when diverticulitis flared up, and rushing me to hospital where I was put on drips in a side ward and fed all the right things until I recovered. In that respect I maybe owe my longevity to Billy. It's ironic therefore, and doesn't seem fair, that the elder sibling survives whilst the younger one has passed away. So Rest in Peace Billy, and thanks for enriching our lives and leaving us with so many wonderful memories.
Ugh...what I have to run through
The Ugly... Well, it isn't much really, and I shouldn't complain under the circumstances, but the photograph will show you what I mean. I'm heartily sick of returning home from runs plastered with mud and having to dump everything into the washing machine, including shoes. I cannot understand why local farmers still have their beasties churning up fields and gateways when their barns and silos are bursting with fodder after one of the best haytime harvests on record. It's enough to stop me from running - though I'm sure I'd suffer painful withdrawal symptoms if I did. People might say "Think yourself lucky you're still able to do it" - and I do - but at this time of year, between summer sunshine and winter snow, such slushiness only adds to the misery of raw winds and driving rain. It's almost enough to drive me back to the treadmill. Now there's an idea, why didn't I think of that before?