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?

Monday 25 November 2013

Slowly, slowly catchee monkee.....

       I don't normally shop at LIDL but about ten years ago they happened to be selling items of running gear,
On trial   my new coach
so I had to poke my nose in. Even though I didn't really want one, I found temptation hard to resist at sight of a Runtec Heart Rate Monitor for only £15.95. It seemed like a bargain to me, and it might have been if ever I'd figured out how to use it. I wore it maybe half a dozen times before hanging it over the back of a chair and virtually forgetting about it - until a couple of weeks ago when Dr Maffetone's book inspired me to take another look at it. Not surprisingly, after a decade of inactivity, the watch required a new battery. I kid you not, two CR2032 batteries through Amazon cost 0.59p - postage paid!  The chest strap still functions OK, but even if it had died I now have a spare battery for it.

Saturday's slowly, slowly route....
     The only thing I ever learnt from this HRM in that dim distant past was that my maximum heart rate, taken after three back to back miles, flat out with 10 minutes jog recovery, was 161. I never did get around to figuring out how to set working or recovery heart rates. I seemed to be running quite well without such knowledge - listening to my body, as they say. After all, not many other M70's at that time were running sub 44 minute 10K's or winning National Fell race championships with or without HRM's, so why should I alter anything?  Now, climbing into my eighties, things are different. I'm sliding down the Rankings, currently No.12 on the Park Run 5K list, and that's no good to me. There are names above me that never used to be. The animal is not happy.
      So, for a short trial I've appointed Dr Maffetone as my coach - though he doesn't know it! Sometime this

Approaching the hidden village of Thorpe....
week I'll do a stress test to assess my current maximum heart rate. The popular calculation of 220 minus age seems way out for me given it was above 139 for the whole of an eight mile tempo run last week. It reached 152 in the first mile, probably par for the course every time I run that particular bit of route which is near enough every week. Once a working heart rate has been established I suspect the majority of my running is going to be a lot slower - initially at least - and with that in mind I've been practicing a bit over the weekend.

Yellow landscape by the river -  kingfisher country.
     Using neither watch nor HRM we loped easily along 2½ miles of riverbank to Linton Falls before climbing towards the picturesque little village of Thorpe. From there it was mainly downhill through sunlit fields into Burnsall and back along the river to Hebden. A few winter thrushes were chacking away in the treetops beneath which we ran through a yellow landscape of fallen leaves. There was a joyous shout as a kingfisher flashed past and alighted briefly on a bare branch above the water before disappearing up the shallow valley towards Seven Sisters. It proved a delightful seven miles on a beautiful frosty day, so enjoyable in fact that I repeated it after Church on Sunday while my wonderful partner was attending a neighbour's 80th birthday party.
      Whether doing the majority of running at a slower pace in training will eventually produce faster race times remains to be seen, but that's the theory. There'll still be speedwork to do, of course, but maybe I'll feel fresher and enjoy that all the more. I'll give it a try, anything to get some of those names currently above me in the rankings back into their proper places...

Monday 18 November 2013

Call it play, or call it a day....

Fun and frolic......Munro-bagging in Glencoe
      I had to laugh on Sunday. After a week when I'd really felt the weight of my 81 years and struggled to maintain any momentum in my running, our Circuit Superintendent, Rev'd Richard Atkinson, based his message on an amusing text from Malachi that had me snorting an audible "Huh".  'You will go out and frolic like well-fed calves' he repeated several times, as preachers and public speakers do to emphasise a salient point. Oh yeah, me? At my time of life? And I bet I wasn't the only one thinking that. All but one of the congregation was over 60 and three of us are in our eighties. 
      Admittedly, when it comes to running, I've always tried to look upon it as fun and frolic, disregarding most of that serious scientific stuff that's become part and parcel of the modern movement, where every step is timed and every run fed into the computer for analysis. Regrettably, I've been drawn into much of that stuff too and quite a few running days end with me sat by a computer recording the bare bones of what I've done, then fleshing it up for a half decent blog posting.
      In early years I'd a simple Seiko stopwatch; no metronome, no apps to tell me when to walk and when
on this year's Eiger Trail run.....
to run, no beeps to warn me if I was a fraction off pace, no virtual partner, no horrible music jangling in my lug 'oles, nor even a computer to store all the data. Each run was roughly recorded in one line of an A6 notebook - the first of which lasted for seven years. The majority of entries were simply logged as 'X-Country' because that's always where I preferred to run, communing with nature in wide open spaces, over moors and mountains - far from the madding crowd. 
      I wasn't exactly 'frolicking like a well-fed calf' in those early days, but running became the most exciting thing I'd ever done and dearly wished I'd discovered it long before my mid fifties. Ticking off Scottish Munros, jogging long, high level routes in the Cairngorms, testing our studs over the Great Lochaber Traverse, hurtling down the snow fields from Ben Nevis or running the heathery hills of home was never anything else but play. It was also excellent training for races of all lengths and types I chose to run. New PB's, course records, championship wins, creeping into national and world rankings were all complementary by-products of the wonderful game I was playing.  It really was all play. And I didn't need a Garmin to gauge how much I was enjoying it.

beach running from a wild camp in the Hebrides....
     Things have got more serious in my dotage, I've become more self critical and running times have suffered because of it. Hours before Rev Richard released us from his 20 minute diatribe and sent us out rejoicing, I'd been in Skipton squelching my way round Aireville Park in one of those nationwide 5k Park Runs. Far from frolicking like a well-fed calf I lumbered round like a knackered old bull put out to grass in a very squidgy field. For the life in me, I couldn't get out of 2nd gear. Each of four circuits began with an 85ft climb, three of them on a narrow, muddy woodland path that sapped so much strength from my old legs that I couldn't get going on the down bits. There weren't any flat bits. I reckon the soles of my shoes were an inch thicker when I crossed the Finish line due to all the mud caked on them. I finished 55th (of 83) in the lamentable time of 30.59. Even more sickening was my age grading of 69.55%, perhaps the lowest I've recorded over any distance in the last 20 years.

      So what to do now?  Maybe another visit to my favourite Isle of Iona to bathe high tops in the Canary islands. It was all play.
in its wonderful 'Well of Eternal Youth' again? A Super Vitamin? Or the latest go-faster drug to add to all the other medication I swallow to keep me alive and kicking. One thing's for sure, I'm not done yet and Aireville Park will soon be receiving another visit from Old Runningfox to hopefully erase the nasty memories of that first one. Well-fed frolicking calves indeed. I'll do my best Richard. Honest. But if ever it comes to that story of Abraham getting his wife pregnant when he was 99 years old, just go and preach it somewhere else!

Monday 11 November 2013

Running up that hill....

Intervals on top Thursday, Tempo run round it Sunday...
    Every now and again, though admittedly not as often nowadays, I feel the need for some speed. Sometimes it just feels good to be floating along in sun and wind at a faster than usual pace. Not flat out and not for very far, but at a speed one can comfortably maintain for 12 - 16 reps over 200m or so, and ideally maintaining the same pace throughout.  If you're struggling towards the end it means you've started off too fast. Better to start off a little conservatively and be accelerating slightly for the final few. And that's what I set out to do for an interval session last week. 
  16 x 200m @ 45 secs is what I'd planned (6
So true....
min/mile pace) but as I ascended 300ft or so to my normally sheltered training area on Castle Hill the wind got stronger and the air got colder - particularly so as the sun disappeared behind gathering clouds. I wouldn't normally complain about 40° but when it's blowing full frontal at 20mph, and me in shorts and Helly Hansen Lifa, I felt I hadn't really warmed up as I set off on the first test run into the wind. 49 seconds the watch said, so decided to run the rest in 48's and cut the reps down to 12. They felt comfortable enough except for a penultimate 50 when a playful dog decided to dodge between my legs, so finished with a 46 to compensate. Back down off the hill I turned into the local cricket field for a few shorter but faster reps before jogging home after a fairly satisfactory 7 miles.

Wonderful running country, in the Yorkshire Dales near Austwick....
   Tempo runs are my least favourite discipline, especially those that involve 660ft of climbing, but that's what I decided to do on Sunday. Don't ask why! It was a cold crisp morning with glorious sunshine and a cloudless sky as I locked the door and padded off down the road. Note that word 'down' - the one redeeming feature - but only for the first ¾ mile, then it rose relentlessly for the next 1¼ miles to the village of Farnley Tyas. With the exception of one brief stop to take a photograph (top) all went well and I completed the five miles in 48.58. I was happy with that. Then, as I stopped my watch, it came up with another of those funny messages saying 'New Record'. It seems to think that somewhere along the way a new 5K record of 30.14 was established which isn't bad, I suppose, for a decrepit old octogenarian.That run brought up 18 miles for the week, which is hardly enough if I want to start racing again. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I do...

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Old man winter....

Falling leaves unveil our Church again.........
   I'm not sure when winter officially begins but over the past week or so I reckon it whispered an audible 'Hello'. Umpteen mile an hour winds cleared most of the leaves from the trees. Bird feeders have re-emerged from the laburnum's thinning foliage, which means it's time to start filling them up again. The first Scandinavian thrushes arrived, chakking across the morning sky on their way to whitebeam berry breakfasts in the wood below. Pretty soon, they'll be attacking the holly bush where my winter robin shelters, waiting for the remains of my toast!  Cars parked in the street a couple of mornings ago all shared the same colour, a frosty white, as temperatures sank below zero. A ragged skein of geese were heading south. Today, as clammy clouds brushed the roof-tops and a nasty north easterly blew icy horizontal rain across the waterlogged landscape, winter's whisper became more of a shout. Back home, I donned a thicker thermal, turned up the central heating and hunted in the cupboard for some Vitamin D3 capsules I suddenly remembered. Sad, I know!
     After parting with nearly half an armful of blood for all sorts of tests prior to my annual MOT last Thursday, I was
After the jab, a cold day on Castle Hill last Thusday....
happy to learn I'd passed them all with flying colours. Even my rampant blood pressure was down to an acceptable 134 over 76, much to the amazement of cuddly Nurse Jenny who usually sends it sky high. Maybe I'm getting old!  Prescribed statins appear to be doing their job too, winning the war over frequent fry-ups, nightly chocolate and lashings of full cream (much nicer than yogurt). Isn't science wonderful? The only mistake I made was in consenting to have a flu jab before leaving the surgery. I could almost hear the nurse thinking "This'll slow you down, you old b----r".  Well, it sure did.

Bare branches along a flooded River Wharfe....
My last couple of runs felt as if I was running in treacle. Jeff Galloway and Joe Henderson, who've long been proponents of the run/walk system, would have regarded me as another convert. In truth, it was difficult to run even half a mile without slowing to a weary walk. I felt absolutely knackered! An awful lot of it was uphill - 755ft in the second 6 mile run - which obviously slowed me down a bit, but on the flatter parts I forced myself to keep running a little longer, on principal.. So imagine my amusement when, on stopping my recently acquired Garmin, the words 'New Record' appeared on its tiny face. Apparently I'd run one of the six miles in 7:44 - which might be a new record for my Garmin but pretty pathetic for me - and a far cry from that 6:36 pace throughout the London marathon.  Without walking, I hasten to add.
     As my previous blog headline intimated, the ancient marathoner is slowing down fast. Ripe autumn with all its dazzling colours and luscious fruits is slipping away as winter advances inexorably from misty horizons. I can bear its soft whisperings, I hate it when it shouts.......

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....

Monday 30 September 2013

Mists and mellow fruitfulness....

That blue/green jewel - the Oeschinensee
Running-wise, September has been a pretty lean month with a bare 38 miles logged in the training journal. But two of those runs accounted for 15 glorious miles, one under the shadow of the mighty Eiger's north wall and the other to that breathtaking blue/green jewel of the Oeschinensee, one of the prettiest places in the whole of Switzerland. So I've a bit of catching up to do if I'm to achieve a respectable mileage by the end of December.  In all my years of running I've never clocked less than a thousand miles but I'm in danger of doing so this year. Not that it will worry me if I don't. I'm very aware of the fact Anno Domini is beginning to cramp my style, that much of my get up and go has got up and gone, and my little legs can no longer travel as fast or as far as they used to do. I accept that, albeit a little grudgingly, just so long as I can still get out in sun and wind to enjoy all those wild and beautiful places that have become so important to me in the autumn of my life.
    Talking of autumn, it's easily the most colourful season of the year, a season to richly enjoy before it fades 
Autumn fruits...
into the bleak black and whites of winter. In order to capture this annual pageantry I've been experimenting with a new camera. Whilst on holiday in sunny Switzerland I became so impressed with results our friend Paul had achieved with his Canon whatever it was that I was seduced into buying one of the same make to replace my old Panasonic Lumix. If I needed further encouragement the one I chose, a Canon Powershot SX40, had been reduced from its recommended retail price of £299.00 to a more inviting £129.99 on Amazon.  As yet, I haven't really got the hang of it, given that the online manual runs to 241 pages - and I'm a very slow reader - so it's likely to spend the next few months stuck in 'automatic' mode. One disadvantage I've found, which wasn't mentioned on Amazon, is that although little different in size to my old camera, it weighs considerably more. I haven't quite got used to the lop-sided feeling when running with it on my belt.
Test run - for camera and new shoes...
   One of the first running photographs I took with it features something else quite new. Have a look at what I'm wearing on my feet in the photograph and try not to be dazzled. The shoes, a pair of Saucony Fastwitch lightweight racing flats, aren't exactly new but it was the first time I'd worn them and, to tell the truth, I felt a bit embarrassed. Fluorescent green might well pass unnoticed in a big race situation, but on quiet roads and trails they stick out like a sore thumb. A very big sore thumb. Fortunately the ground was bone dry when I took them for a test run so was able to cut across country, avoiding public rights of way and all known dog walking areas. First impressions are quite good so I'll have to be sorting out a nice 10K race to give them a proper whirl.   
   I'd bought these shoes using a £20 voucher awarded to 1st MV80 in the Kilburn 7 mile race, thus reducing their
Autumn tints by the suspension bridge, Hebden....
cost from £55 to £35 - a bargain, I thought.  They're intended to replace an ancient pair of Asics DS trainers I've used for racing and the occasional tempo run for goodness knows how many years. Given there's only a 4mm drop from heel to toe I wondered how they'd perform, so limited my run to around 4 miles in case of problems. There weren't any.  On stony paths, contouring across Castle Hill side, dodging between exposed tree roots down through the wood and across a bit of rough ploughland, they felt really comfortable - almost as cosy as my favourite MT101's that also have quite a shallow drop, but which New Balance have frustratingly phased out.  My only fault with them, so far, is the glaring colour which may blend well with the riotous autumn tints, but is most unfitting to a gentleman of mature years!