Tuesday 26 August 2014

A week of ups and downs....

They're off - in the U/10's fell race at Burnsall  (Click to enlarge).
No's 26 and 27 were boy and girl winners and the
little lad in red socks was first boy U/8
      Serious running last week amounted to just sixteen miles but a fair bit of walking and scrambling will hopefully have compensated for the gaps in my logbook. August Bank Holiday was spent organising, helping and encouraging other runners taking part in the annual village sports at Hebden and Burnsall, the former being the one that involves most work in marking and marshalling the varied fell race routes for U/9's, U/12's, U/14's, U/17's and Seniors on our Bank Holiday Monday fixture. Commencing at the sports field with a bag of flags, route signs and red/white marker tape, wading Hebden Beck, scrambling up the crag, climbing 6ft walls and thrashing through bracken isn't something your normal 82 year old would be expected to do, but our Sports Committee seem to think it's the best place for me to be. Out of the way? The task was completed in not much over the hour. 
      Race day was a big disappointment, mainly due to appalling weather conditions but secondly because most BOFRA (British Open Fell Runners Association) runners had chosen
Yulan Brosse, one of four U/17's in the Hebden Crag race
after competing at Burnsall two days earlier

to boycott Hebden in favour of a championship race at Reeth in Swaledale, many miles away. So our fields were somewhat depleted, to say the least, with just 39 runners in the top four categories - six U/12's, eight U/14's, four U/17's and 21 Seniors. There should have been 23 Seniors but two were still warming up somewhere when the race started a little before its scheduled time - everyone by this time wanting to get the hell out of it to escape further drenchings. After the last of the seniors had been counted over the crag you can take it from me, the course was de-flagged and cleared in record time and the rising beck allowed to go on its way unheeded....  Unfortunately, no results are available for the Hebden races.
Matt Whitfield leading the Burnsall 10 mile race from
Mike Jefferies of Billingham Marsh House Harriers
      Two days earlier, Burnsall were exceedingly lucky with the weather, warm sunshine and a gentle breeze bringing  ideal conditions  for both road and fell races. As last year, I felt more than a twinge of nostalgia as 146 runners set off in the 10 mile road race - without me. I last ran it two years ago when I was 80, the oldest person ever to have completed it and, perhaps unwisely, decided to rest on my laurels. Some of my old friends and acquaintances - M70 Bill Wade, M75 Don Stead, M65 Antonio Cardinale, to name but three - still had the guts and enthusiasm to line up and take part, making me feel a bit wimpish. Maybe next year? The race was won by Matt Whitfield of Bristol & West A.C. in a time of 54.22. I'm told Matt is a serving Squadron Leader in the RAF and, if so, lived up to his rank in leading the race from the start and opening up a gap of nearly 1½ minutes by the finish. Sarah Cumber of Halifax Harriers was an easy winner of the ladies race in 1:02:52. Full results here.
       From clapping home the road runners I set off up the fell-side to shout some deserved encouragement at juniors and
Ted Mason, local winner of Burnsall's  'Classic' Fell Race
seniors in the hugely popular fell races culminating in the Burnsall Classic. Compared to Hebden's junior entries there were 30 U/10's, 37 U/14's and 10 U/17's (results here) whilst the Classic race attracted 123 senior runners. Local farmer and Wharfedale Harrier Ted Mason scored his second win in the Classic, leading from start to finish to storm home in 15:01, 59 seconds ahead of William Neill of Mercia Fell Runners. Mel Price, also of Mercia Fell Runners, was first lady in 18:57. (Full results here). The 'Classic' race involves an initial trog up fields of reeds and rushes, a narrow stony shepherd's path zig-zagging to the top of the crag, a steep descent over heather-strewn rocks, a 9ft drop on the landing side of a wall before scurrying back down the rough fields - altogether around 1½ miles with 900ft of ascent. I was only once brave enough to pit my skills against this tough course, back in 1996, and finished 2nd M60 in 21 minutes. I vowed 'never again' and have since left it to hardier individuals....
Meanwhile, among the bracken and bog, a mini epic was unfolding...
      For fear of embarrassing my wonderful partner I'll not say too much about Sunday's six mile run when, for quite some time, we thrashed around in some boggy morass with not a clue where we were. For the very first time in our 23 year relationship we came close to arguing, me wanting to go one way and she the other! Of course, we'd no compass. Who needs one when only a mile and a half from home, if that? We did have a map, a large scale 1:25:00  marking every wall, but the walls on the map didn't match up with the walls on the ground which was odd, given how they were very old walls and our map was comparatively new. Ordnance Survey don't usually get things that wrong. Eventually, after much floundering about, we struck lucky in locating a boundary stone clearly marked on the map, so were able to pinpoint our exact location. From thereon we could confidently set off running again, laughing at our ineptitude... Back in Hebden, nothing seemed different, all the houses were still in the same place and we'd no problem finding our back door.  As I was saying, who needs a compass?

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Curious cows, and a load of bull....

That 'bovine bunch' - and a swallow... (click to enlarge)

With the exception of a relatively rare speed session on Castle Hill I stayed lower down for my other two runs last week due to some strong winds that brought down trees and flattened gardens. Animals got a bit frisky too, notably that bovine bunch I've usually got to barge through en route to my high level training ground, but also another great herd of cows and calves squelching around in a muddy gateway bawling their heads off as I approached. Thankfully, they allowed me through without any hassle and didn’t attempt to follow me as I trotted away up the field.  It was a calculated risk but I’d probably have made a detour if big daddy had been bellowing among them.

I was dipping into Alberto Salazar's 'Guide to Road Racing’ again last week and according to him I’ve been
On a more leisurely run....sod those repetitions
doing my 200m repetition runs a little bit wrong.  Not much, but in the past my recoveries have been a mixture of walking part of the way back then slow jogging to the start of the next fast run. Alberto says if I have to walk I’m running my 200’s too fast and I should slow them down until I can jog the whole of the 200m recovery.  So I did, and have to admit I’ve never run such an uneven set of reps in all my life. My average times for the set of 12 x 200m was an embarrassing 49secs each, possibly the slowest I’ve ever run them and a good enough reason for me to decide never to race again. The only redeeming factor was I was getting progressively faster towards the end while still maintaining a jog recovery, dropping from an initial 7.43 pace down to 5.59 at last. Anyway, it did my ego no good at all doing reps at that sort of pace so will revert back to my own method next time. Alberto can stick to training Mo Farah.
Riverside path ripped up by fallen tree....
My low level runs were much more relaxed and enjoyable, though I got the feeling I’d have been much safer braving the wind on the bare, high moors than jogging under the ancient chestnuts along the bank of the River Wharfe. Not only had branches broken off but in one place a whole tree had keeled over and ripped up the path as its roots took to the air. One way and another, towards the latter end of last week, the countryside was a hazardous place to be – which made running that little bit more exciting. It could become even more exciting when we take to high ground again as the grouse shooting season gets into full swing. Already, at times, it’s beginning to sound a bit like WW3 has begun. But it always invokes smug satisfaction when activities of the aristocratic landed gentry are brought to a halt until some wild runner gets out of the way. Not that they always stop, they’ve shot across my bows and over my head in the past. Now there's an idea to spice things up a bit, next week I might do my repetition runs on Grassington Moor...

Monday 11 August 2014

Two different runs.....

Shades of purple on the Mossdale track....(click to enlarge)
     Although the sun had stayed in bed and the forecast was dire from lunchtime onwards, conditions on Friday morning bordered on perfect for a short run up Castle Hill.  A very pleasant 63ºF, and a tolerable 8mph east wind to keep the sweat at bay, meant I stayed within my comfort zone for the whole of the run. After six hilly miles the previous day and a tough ten miler planned for Saturday, I decided a gentle four would be enough to sandwich between them. Slapping aside inquisitive cows cluttering up the field path I was running easily past Clough Hall and along the level trail to Ogley before striking uphill onto the level plateaux of Castle Hill. Maybe the forecast had kept people away for I'd the whole place to myself. Heaven. It's only 900ft high but views are so extensive, it's like running on top of the world. I never tire of the ever changing landscapes in all their seasonal moods.
      Cloud was low enough to slice off the top half of Emley Moor transmitter, Yorkshire's
....and on the moor, my wild garden
tallest building, and totally obliterate the wind farm over towards Haworth. It was one of those magical mornings when I was 'running out of myself', totally absorbed in my surroundings with little or no conscious thought of what my legs or feet were doing, my body circling the perimeter path on automatic pilot whilst my head was somewhere up in the clouds - metaphorically speaking. On the last of these circuits a glance across the valley revealed the whole of Holme Moss had disappeared under a great cloud of rain - and it was heading towards me! I free-wheeled down, passing the ever present cows, and stopped my watch on exactly 4 miles. Or so I thought. On downloading to 'Garmin Connect' I was greatly surprised to learn I'd run precisely 5 miles. I can only surmise I'd been experiencing something of a 'runner's high' during that extra phantom mile.
Atmospheric view running towards Great Whernside
      There was no such occurrence the following day on a blustery 10 mile circuit of Mossdale. The temperature was only a couple of degrees cooler but the wind had swung round to the west and increased to 17mph, maybe gusting to 20mph during the short, sharp showers that had me donning a rain jacket on occasions to maintain some body heat. But I couldn't resist. Heather is currently in full bloom and on Saturday I was determined to feast my eyes upon it, smell it, photograph it and enjoy it to the full as it lights up the moor in its brief annual display. I wasn't disappointed, though the suns disappearance each time I reached for my camera was frustrating, to say the least. I could hardly sit around waiting for the right conditions when I was supposed to be running, especially at 1,500ft where wind and rain showed no respect for my lightly clad body. It was a stop/start affair that bore no resemblance to the previous day's easy rhythm or out of body experience. But I'd done what I set out to do and jogged home contentedly with the heathery smells in my nostrils and the pictures in my camera. All's well that ends well.....

Wednesday 6 August 2014

One of those days.....

Crossing the retaining wall into wild country...(Click to enlarge)
     I shouldn't listen. I really shouldn't listen. When my wonderful partner casually mentions she's thought of another interesting route to inflict upon her U3A Walking Group I should have learnt by now to turn a deaf ear, refrain from showing the slightest interest, or feign some serious illness - a punctured lung or the onset of the dreaded Ebola virus from leaning too close to that nice African lady on the train. But I fell for it again.  "It's about 11 miles" she said, "but there's no need to run all of it, we're familiar with the last few miles". She was right about the last bit. It's on trails I still regularly run round Mossdale, but the first five miles was over wild, remote country I hadn't ventured into for many years. Ah well, in for a penny, in for a pound.
      It was cold, cloudy and blowing an 11 mph sou'westerly as we set off up the crag path, pushing aside
Through tall thistles and dense reeds
head high bracken as we laboured skywards towards Scar Top House. Unlike the previous week when I'd been running topless in 75º I'd donned tight shorts, thermal top and a buff as the temperature dropped down the scale. On the exposed open moor I was wishing I'd brought gloves too! The path along the holding wall of Mossy Mere was once a joy to run, or linger along while watching the sun set over the water, but is barely traceable now in a riot of reeds. Running was reduced to a jog, or even a walk in denser areas - a portent of things to come. After crossing the dam's outflow a machete would have been handy to hack a way through bracken, thistles and nettles to the stile beyond - the climbing of which proved to be one of the easier parts of the route so far.

The three stone men of Bolton Ghyll...and a threatening sky
     Beyond the wall we were greeted by more tall thistles and dense reeds as we began traversing the vast trackless wasteland en route to the three stone men of Bolton Ghyll. We made a slight faux pas (!) by ignoring the route I used to run in favour of what looked like a more direct route which in the end turned out to be totally impassable. We detoured back to our original route, climbed a wall in exactly the same place I remembered from long ago, and were able to commence running again towards the trio of lofty cairns silhouetted against a darkening sky. From this point we'd planned to cross the top of Bolton Ghyll and follow the Parish boundary as far as Blea Beck. No way! Covering the steep drop into the ghyll was another impenetrable jungle of tall bracken hiding dangerous rocks and goodness knows what other possible pitfalls that neither of us was prepared to risk.
      A Plan B came into operation. Or was it Plan C?  We struck N.E. running parallel to the stream
Showing the strain already - and I'd only run two miles!
that feeds the ghyll, through a vast bog known as The Wolf. I've no idea why it's called The Wolf. Maybe it was once clothed in sheep - but there were none to be seen as we battled through. I reckon they'd more sense. Due to the nature of our wild routes we're all too familiar with sphagnum moss but The Wolf has its very own variety in the form of two feet high hummocks which we'd to either circumnavigate or stride over with knees to chin. We were supposed to be running but The Wolf had other ideas.
It was fun running through these...
      I was mighty glad to climb out over the wall and head towards Blea Beck, though the reeds en route were so tall my wonderful partner kept disappearing among them. It seemed ages before we emerged into familiar territory. Well, almost familiar territory. A cloudburst and subsequent landslide of biblical proportions two weeks previously had totally transformed some areas of the landscape between Kettlewell and Grassington Moor. A sea of water, silt and debris had cascaded down the hillsides flooding becks and cave systems and shifting things to where they didn't used to be. One of the things it changed the shape of was my old crossing point over the beck so there was quite a bit of hithering and dithering before we located it. We leapt across to the far bank and hit the ground running.
      Storm debris was left behind as we climbed onto a ridge

running parallel to a beck known as the Deep Cut for a mile or so across Grassington
...and these
Moor. There was once a good sheep trod along here that was easy to run but it's totally disappeared under rampant heather and grassy tussocks that reduced us to a very slow jog. It's strange, since we fellrunners stopped using the trod, sheep have abandoned it too.  Shortly, there was yet another fast flowing beck to cross, and yet again the midstream boulders had been forced into different positions that called for some nifty footwork to gain the far bank dryshod. In my dotage I'm not very good at balancing and have toppled into the river on more than one occasion! But this time I was lucky.
Climbing onto the ridge...Grassington Moor
      A Landrover track gave easy running for all of 150m before veering right over Bycliffe Hill to allow my wonderful partner to exercise her navigational skills over some fairly featureless terrain before leading her U3A group across there later in the year, possibly in  winter conditions. She led it without difficulty in spite of more flood debris that obliterated the faint sheep trod we'd been following. As we neared our high point the wind grew stronger and colder. A heavy shower blotted out the landscape to our left as we hurried along to the stone man at 1,500ft after which we were much relieved to start our descent in the lee of the long wall. Our original intention had been to carry on round into Mossdale but we'd both had enough and were only too happy to head for home. Two hikers who'd stopped for lunch wanted to know where we'd been. It was a long story that took some explaining!
Completing her navigational exercise. Time to go home...Thank God!
      Then it rained, thankfully nothing of the magnitude of our previous cloudburst but heavy enough for us to don waterproof jackets before heading down into Hebden Ghyll, enjoying the luxury of a smoother surface under our feet to run the last couple of miles into the village. 
      I stretched, gave my legs a load of Stick before relaxing with two mugs of exceedingly strong coffee - Italian, of course - and silently vowed that next time U3A walking routes are due for submission I'll dig out my ear plugs and bury my nose in whatever book lies closest to hand. All in all we'd covered just over nine miles, with 967ft of ascent, but I'll refrain from mentioning how long it took us. It brought my total mileage for the week to around 24 which I'm completely happy with. Next Sunday my wonderful partner will be engaged in  National Park duties so no chance of being coerced into any more madcap meanderings, luckily for me.....