Thursday 29 January 2015

More snow.......

A dramatic sky greeted me....(Click to enlarge)
       There's been some contrasting weather conditions in my neck of the woods today. I struggled into my running gear at 7 o'clock this morning, made myself a cup of coffee and took a peek out the door. As I stepped from the shelter of the porch it was like someone threw a bucket of snow at me. Running, I decided, was definitely a big no no. Then, as I sat down to enjoy my coffee, a green flash of lightning lit the sky followed by a great crash of thunder. I couldn't believe it, I've never known such electricity in the air to accompany snow. It did today.  Daylight came and there was still no let-up. My neighbour swished the snow off his car windscreen and set off to work. It wasn't long before the car arrived back in the yard. There were tales of gridlocked roads around Leeds, where my neighbour works, and queues of traffic on the M62 motorway across the Pennines.
      Not having run yesterday I was desperate to get out.  I sat around, catching up with emails,  
One guy who didn't make it to the top......
posting to Facebook, drinking more coffee, having a mid morning snack, until finally around lunchtime there appeared to be a weather window, of sorts. I donned a windproof jacket, warm head band, strapped a camera to my bumbag and set off across the fields. It was hard work running in snow and I was beginning to struggle after barely ½ mile. My breathing pattern, which I like to keep under strict control regardless of whether I'm running uphill or down, was all out of kilter. In fact, I was quite breathless at times, and came to a strange conclusion i.e: when I'm running in freezing temperatures the cold air, which feels like a block of ice in my chest, contracts my lungs, so I have to breathe faster to get the requisite amount of oxygen to fuel my activity.
Spreading my wings as the sun came out....Yippee
       It wasn't long before I reached the top of Castle Hill where kids, and some parents too, were having a great time tobogganing down the slopes, compressing the snow to ice. Unfortunately, a car on its way up failed to make it to the top, collided into a crash barrier with wheels skidding and subsequently abandoned while the driver went off to fetch snow chains. A kestrel was hovering around though I can't imagine what it expected to find. Mice and voles have more sense than to poke there noses out in that stuff. Umm, maybe I should take a lesson from them! There were dark snow clouds drifting across the valley a mile or so away, but Castle Hill was mainly bathed in sunlight enabling me to have an enjoyable run. so much so that a planned four miles got extended to five. Amazingly, as I was going through my stretching routine, back home under the porch, another thick band of snow obliterated the landscape. Ha, ha, you missed me!

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Hitting the trail again.....

We'd good weather for Saturday's run....(Click to enlarge)
      After a fifteen day lay-off I managed to hit the trail again last Saturday but was far from firing on all cylinders. I'd opted for a short 4 mile run with my wonderful partner, keeping low level so as not to put undue strain on offending muscles. Apart from a slight pull in my Rt calf, which subsided before I got home, all went well and we'd a delightful run as far as Woodhouse farm and back along the riverbank where a kingfisher flashed by in the sunshine. I stretched and used the 'Stick' on calves, hamstrings and quads: the animal was happy. Until Sunday morning. As day dawned, just about every muscle in my body felt to be overflowing with lactic acid. You've heard the expression 'stiff as a board', I was a living example of it.

      I had to get out of bed because I needed the loo, but quite a lot of 'ouch's' were uttered as I shuffled all smiles
along the landing and finally made it. For a short time, the ouches changed to aaahhhs. Then I'd to negotiate the stairs because it's my job to make breakfast, but it was a slow process that incurred quite a few more 'oohs and ouches' as I forced my rickety bones downwards with very little help from gravity. (My wonderful partner attends to the stove, riddling it, feeding it and emptying the ashes, because I've some difficulty bending down at that early hour!). Then I'd to get back upstairs to change into Sunday clothes ready for the morning service, a Methodist Covenant service at which I'd been asked to read the lesson, so I couldn't very well get out of it. Thankfully, by the time I'd walked the 300m along to the Chapel I was beginning to loosen up and my 'banana back' had almost straightened. If there was any consolation, my voice was in fine fettle.....

Flying along the riverbank, trying to keep warm, on Monday
      Lots of sunshine was forecast for Monday so I opted to stay in the Dales and do a longer run - 6 miles, again avoiding hills as much as I could. Huh, I waited well into the afternoon but the promised sunshine never arrived. It was overcast with an arctic blast that brought the wind-chill factor to around freezing point as I set off along the village street to run the Appletreewick circuit. Oh, I thought, I'll just have to run faster, but it wasn't that easy against the force of the wind. Even in gloves my hands were frozen and I was beginning to experience that 'block of ice' feeling in the chest with all the cold air being breathed in. Strangely, my bare legs felt quite warm! It was a huge relief to step back into a warm kitchen for my warm-down stretches. To be honest it wasn't such an enjoyable run at all, but I was glad I'd done it. How can you appreciate all the good days if you don't have mediocre ones to compare them with? The late Mal Duff had another way of putting it - "Good days are earned by all the crap ones".  Yeah, I know what you mean Mal.....

Monday 19 January 2015

Still no running.....plenty of reminiscing.

      In a hurry to catch a train I was running from one end of Leeds station to the other when I realised my Rt leg was still in no mood to go as fast as I wanted it to go. So I reckon a few more days yet before I take
My mate Stuart Scott near Kinbreack (Click to enlarge)
off into the hills again.. In the meantime I'm in reminiscing mode, letting my mind enjoy itself roaming around some remote hills of yesteryear. And they don't come more remote than the rough bounds of Knoydart in the wild north west of Scotland where, some years ago, I spent a dry, sunny Easter bagging all the Munros with a mountaineering friend, Dr Stuart Scott, a lecturer in vulcanology and geology at the University of Plymouth. We'd parked the car at Strathan and walked up the Dearg Allt to Kinbreack bothy where we cooked a meal by the light of head torches as darkness fell.
      Next morning we awoke to brilliant sunshine, blue sky and all the mountaintops plastered with
Making myself at home by Lochan nam Breac
deep, hard packed snow. Perfect conditions for our traverse of the two eastern Munros, Gairich and Sgurr Mor before making our way past the little jewel of Lochan nam Breac en route to Barrisdale bothy where I remember there was a very smelly dog whose owner enthused all evening about the wonderful hill they'd climbed that day - Meall Bhuide.  The previous night they'd camped by the River Carnach, two in a tent with said smelly dog which, at Barrisdale, was allowed to make itself comfortable on any chair it jolly well liked. I opted to sleep outside in my wee tent, visited regularly throughout the night by a horse that must have felt a bit lonely, and wakened in the morning by an over-sexed quacking drake streaking around at great speed rounding up his harem.
      The morning had dawned grey and misty with limited visibility and there was some discussion about whether we should keep to our schedule or have a rest day. "Och, it'll clear before much longer, let's
Stuart en route to Sgurr Mor from Sgurr an Fhuarain
go" I said.  And we set off into the gloom on a rising path, over a rocky shoulder, and into a snow filled Coire Dhorcail for the assault on Ladhar Bheinn. I can't remember a path. All I remember is the snow getting steeper and steeper until we were kicking steps up a very steep wall. I was ahead of Stuart, breaking trail, when there was that dreaded sound, something like a train going past, quite close to our right but invisible through the thick clag. An avalanche.
Stuart leaving the summit of Ladhar Bheinn
      A voice from below shouted "I'm going back". Stuart was clearly not happy. But from my position above him I could see a high black wall of rock that reassured me no avalanche was ever going to displace us, so I called him up. We followed the rock wall to a break where we could climb onto the ridge to be greeted by a most wonderful sight. We'd climbed out of the clag into a cloud inversion with a cloudless blue sky above us and all the glistening white peaks of Knoydart rising around us. "Aaahhhh, Gregorlach" proclaimed an exuberant Stuart, waving his axe in the air, "this is what mountaineering is all about".  We'd made the right decision. Walking that ethereal pathway along the narrow summit ridge, marvelling at our glittering surroundings, cut off from the rest of the world, it was a scalp-tingling experience I shall never forget. I might even have shed a little tear. It was so beautiful.
      We made our way back to the bothy in Barrisdale, staying high to avoid avalanche threats, over
Contemplating Meall Buidhe
the Bealach Coire Dhorrcail, on to Aonach Sgolte then a steep drop down to Mam Barrisdale where the clag had thankfully cleared. The smelly dog had gone but left it's delightful scent on all the chairs. After refuelling I found a little loft space where I opted to sleep for the night. I'd hardly got my head down when a generator started up, just outside my window, and went on boom boom booming till one in the morning.  Barrisdale bothy is not one of my favourite places to sleep, magnificent though its situation might be.  Next time I'll stay outside with the horse. 
Enjoying a brew outside Sourlies bothy
      Next day we were away in good time re-tracing our steps part way up Mam Barrisdale to climb Luinne Bheinn via the lesser peak of Bachd Mhic an Tosaich. The freezing conditions held which meant we could walk all day and return in the evening without getting our feet wet, which can't happen very often in Knoydart. It also meant we could take more direct routes, not having to traverse the normally boggy hinterland. We were soon onto Luinne Bheinn (usually pronounced loony bin) and setting our sites on distant Meall Bhuide rising majestically in the distance at the end of a long snowy ridge. Stuart, my mountaineering partner, and I were well matched and could move at speed confidently and safely. It wasn't long before we were ascending Meall Buidhe's final rocky ramparts to lunch at it's towering viewpoint. We lingered long, savouring the situation before descending by its south east ridge to the stalker's path through the Man Meadail, down to cross the Carnach river, then continuing south to the bothy at Sourlies.
      This is another beautifully situated bothy at the head of Loch Nevis. There was not a soul there
Resting on Sgurr na Ciche after the hard climb
when we arrived so it wasn't long before I'd claimed a bunk, taken off my boots, made a brew and sat outside enjoying the late afternoon sun. Next day would be a hard traverse over three high Munros, and we'd be starting from nigh on sea level, so we got our heads down early anticipating an early start in the morning. Some time after midnight I became aware of voices and not long after the door burst open to admit half a dozen hungry Outward Bounders who set about cooking meals and making brews that lasted well into the wee small hours. It must have been 3 o'clock before silence descended upon the place. We got our own back in the morning, clattering our pots and pans to make darn sure they were all awake before we slammed the door and set off along the Finiskaig river to find a stalker's path into Coire na Ciche, then a tough slog onto the ridge leading to Sgurr na Ciche, the highest of the Knoydart Munros at 1040m.
Approaching Coireachan from Sgurr na Ciche (far right)
and Garbh Chioch Mhor

       I remember finding a map and compass in the wee shelter at the summit, so hoped the person who'd left them had a good sense of direction. I sprawled out for a while to get my breath back before the long ridge walk to Garbh Chioch Mhor (1013m) then over two minor peaks to Sgurr nan Coireachan (953m), our final Munro. It had clouded over but frozen snow still gave some ideal walking conditions along the delightful high level route. We had crampons (essential for winter mountaineering) but I can't remember ever wearing them. There was just enough give in the snow for our boots to bite, or to kick steps, that an ice axe was all we needed for protection and to move safely. As I've said, we were a perfectly matched pair who travelled fast. (In summertime we travelled even faster, often wearing no more than shorts and a sun hat, ticking off Munros in lightweight running shoes). So, it wasn't long before Coireachan was beneath our feet and we'd dropped down into Glen Dessarry for a night in the excellent MBA bothy at A'Chuil. Next morning it was an easy walk back to the car at Strathan for the long drive home. Mission accomplished. And on schedule....

Monday 12 January 2015

Run, limp, walk....... other words, something of a downward spiral from Tuesday through to Thursday, and the animal is definitely not happy. The week begun well enough with a 4 mile progression run at a manageable pace that left me feeling really good - in spite of some inclement weather. I'd been kept awake by wind moaning in the chimney and rain rattling on the windows for half the night, but both had moderated when I forced myself out of bed at 7.30am. After a quick coffee I was jogging up the road dodging the puddles and screwing my eyes against the myriad car headlights before 8am. After a comfortable 12.03 first mile I progressed to 11.34, 9.46 and finished with a satisfying 8.57 before a short cool-down jog. A nice work-out.
Why I kept on running - Wednesday's sunrise.....(Click to enlarge)
Next morning things started to go downhill. Out again before 8am I'd barely run 250 yds before I sensed a slight pull at the top of my Rt hamstring, or lower glute - somewhere in that area. I toyed with the idea of abandoning the run and walking home, but a flush of pink in the eastern sky lured me onwards with its promise of another glorious sunrise. I left the main road and diverted down a quiet lane where no-one would see me if I had to walk, something I always find embarrassing if dressed in running clothes. Although the pain was getting worse I forced myself to keep running. It didn't feel too bad on the uphills but the forward swing of the leg on the flat, and particularly on the downhills, produced a painful twinge. To lessen the pain I tried not to swing it forward so far which made my gait look a bit odd!
      As I crested the top of the hill I was almost shouting at the sun to 'gerra bladdy move on and start the day'. The sooner it rose, the sooner I could go home and start popping some Ibuprofens. Eventually, on my third circuit of the hill, it obliged and set the sky ablaze in spectacular fashion, stopping me in my tracks while I fiddled with my camera to record the moment. In recent months I've become rather obsessed with watching and recording sunrises, so my picture library is bulging with far too many crimson megabytes. I jogged home, the last mile almost two minutes slower than the previous day, gave my legs a good old stretch and popped 600mgs Ibuprofen. I've plenty to go at having ordered a new batch before setting off to Scotland with the idea I'd be unlikely to survive a week running those treacherous cliffs without some sort of accident. Best be prepared. Amazingly, I survived without even a stumble!
At Torr Point - Screel Hill in background - climbed Dec 29th,2014
      Then came Thursday. Talk about fun, it was hilarious with a howling wind hovering up the top end of the Beaufort scale and gusting to goodness knows what. On Castle Hill it was impossible to run in a straight line at the windward end, but blessed relief to jog the leeward side. The strain of battling the wind, and the curious contortions it forced me into adapting to maintain any forward momentum, did my injured leg no good at all. To make matters worse, my Rt calf muscle started to give tell-tale twinges on the run home - which reduced me to a walk, regardless of what anyone might think. I blamed that on a new pair of Inov-8 Roclite shoes I was wearing for the first time that day, though I've worn out three previous pairs of Roclites without any problems. I'll be mighty glad when New Balance re-introduce my favourite MT101 trail shoes. Shouldn't be long now.......

      So that was the week that was, 12 measly miles. At the weekend I refused to walk any farther than the coal shed, and may not venture any farther for the whole of the coming week. Calf injuries worry me and there's no way I'll run with one, so there's a possibility the blog may be suspended for a wee while. Or I may print a few recent photographs - like the one above of my wonderful partner, taken on a walk to Torr Point in southern Scotland January 2nd, four days after climbing Screel Hill in the distance. I may even introduce people to some of my favourite video clips - like this one of Danny Macaskill on the Skye Ridge. Its background music haunts me and I often find myself singing snippets of it, or hummimg them, while out running. Watch this space. Or have a good listen.....

Monday 5 January 2015

A Very Happy New Year to everyone......

Mainly because it's become far too commercialized I've begun to hate the stressful build-up to
4 miles in memory of 'Mad Dog' at 11am Boxing Day...(Click to enlarge)
Christmas and always heave a huge sigh of relief when the shopping is over, all the cards sent, presents sorted out and we can eventually get around to the actual process of celebrating; eating, drinking and being more than usually merry. Regardless of advice from my Consultant I eat and drink just about everything I shouldn't, as long as I have an adequate amount of relevant medication to bung or un-bung my stupid growling gut on the increasing occasions it starts to erupt. I really must begin treating it with a little more respect in 2015. Honest Doc!  Problem is, I've lived on steak nearly all my life and reluctant to change to something I don't really like. Besides, other menus might be a little more complicated and take longer to prepare than four minutes under the grill. Quick and easy is how I like things.

One of my many Christmas prezzies....highly recommended
And talking of meat, our last port of call on Christmas Eve was at my local butcher's where the bill came to £31.00 for a fair sized free range chicken, a large joint of pork and a joint of beef rump (both vac-packed to take to Scotland), some bacon and half a dozen pigs in blankets. That nice little parcel lasted until 4th January, the only addition being an exceptionally flavoursome haggis from a butcher in Dalbeattie for our New Year's Eve celebrations. A lady in the queue at my local butcher had paid £10.00 more than me, £41.00, for just a turkey. I wonder if that lasted her into New Year? If it did she'd be heartily sick of it's texture and taste by then. We prefer a bit more variety.

Needless to say, quite a lot of running got done over the festive period, 39 miles to be precise, over a
Sunrise over Rascarrel Bay at 8.49 on our morning run.......
variety of terrain. Mileage was a little sparse on Christmas Day and Boxing Day due to various other commitments - having to be back at 11am to uncork the champagne for the old lady next door, for one thing. On Boxing Day I'd pledged to be out running at 11am with people throughout the world in remembrance of Mike (Mad Dog) Schreiber, a legendary athletics coach, who sadly passed away in November. I'm not sure why I did this. He wouldn't coach me after I contacted him with a profile and list of M60 PB's. Maybe he thought I was an impostor, not believing my PB's, or didn't need help if I was already running sub 3 hour marathons and 60 minute 10 milers. However, he did give me a list of exercises for easing back pains, and I still use them. I also have his book, The Art of Running, duly signed by Mike and inscribed - The 'Art' is in having Fun!  I'll second that..

The bulk of our running was done in Scotland, always before breakfast, setting off in darkness in
Guess which way we went? Left, of course.......
hopes of seeing the sun rise. We hadn't realised how much later the sun rises in Scotland compared to the north of England. We set off circa 7.50am along the treacherous, icy cliff path, but it wasn't until 8.49, on reaching Rascarrel, that we caught a glimpse of the sun peeping over the horizon across the Solway. I'd been hoping to take action shots of my wonderful partner teetering along the edge of the cliff with a huge drop into the sea only inches to her left but it was still dark as we passed there. Stangely, it didn't seem to bother us in the semi darkness but when I later walked it in broad daylight I got quite a shock! Sunrise turned the sea scarlet, gulls were crying their delight and curlews called joyously. We ran easily, having reached the flat part. When alone I like to sing while I'm running, though not with my wonderful partner who, I think, regards it as a form of 'showing off'. She certainly seems annoyed if I'm whistling and running!

That shaggy stallion and his entourage.....
Temperatures got as low as 25ºF and rarely rose above freezing throughout our hoilday. Freezing fog greeted us one morning as we opened the door and stepped out. There was no wind nor any sound from the sea as we ran along the cliff top, just an eerie silence broken only by the occasional scrunching of ice beneath our feet. Loch Mackie was icebound too with hoary white shrubs bowing their heads along its banks. Further towards Airds Cottage a string of horses materialized from the fog and raised their heads to greet us, one of them a hairy old stallion with a tail that touched the ground, trousered legs, long main and masses of facial hair that covered his eyes. Sight of him inspired a quiet rendering of 'Wild Horses' - after I'd got a bit ahead of my wonderful partner! I ran that five mile circuit four times, the last time alone when, amongst the songs I sung, I even remembered a Gaelic chorus I hadn't sung for years. On a fifth bitterly cold morning we ran a slightly longer route round Auchencairn and back by Loch Mackie. I must say, I prefer the narrow cliff path with the sound of the sea crashing on the rocks, exciting situations and gulls crying. Road running is soooo boring.

Running at 25ºF by Rascarrel Bay......needed a jacket!
We returned to Yorkshire on January 3rd and were out running again on 4th to - guess what - suss out part of a route my wonderful partner is guiding a party of U3A walkers round on January 15th. It was a glorious sunny day, not a cloud in the sky and the temperature down to -2ºC. Ideal for running. It took a while to defrost and warm up the car before setting off to Grimwith Reservoir to start our five mile route. Frozen bogs are not the easiest of places to run on so progress was a bit slow until we crossed the main B6265 road and onto a gravelly track with runnels of hard ice. Leaving that we joined a grassy track, white with frost, to cross a stream that tumbles into Trollers Gill. Old mine workings and shafts dotted the landscape as we negotiated further frozen bogs before crossing New Road from whereon the going was grassy and easy all the way back to Grimwith. A very pleasant run in ideal conditions.

A phone call told me our afternoon Church service was cancelled. The minister was ill. Just as well
Casting a long shadow.......Grimwith reservoir
because we needed time to take down the Christmas tree and all the trimmings, so it's doubtful whether I'd have made it to Church anyway. With the demise of the Christmas tree the festive season is officially over and it's time to maybe consider some New Year resolutions. At my time of life I'm more likely to say 'Sod it, what will be will be' and carry on taking the medicine. But a little gremlin inside my head keeps saying "You really ought to do something about your diet, you know. Red meat isn't doing you any good at all and you might just squeeze out a few more years if you knock one or two things on the head and replace them with something more tolerable". Well yes, I know that, but getting uaccustomed to changes after 82 years isn't easy. I'm an old 'stick in the mud'. I've got used to certain tastes and textures and flavours and if I don't like what's in my mouth I spit it out. I haven't vomited in nearly 50 years (I well remember the last time, but wont go into that!)

Running down to Grimwith......
. Nowadays I can stomach anything. It's that 27ft of piping below there that gives me trouble. After seeing a wonderful photograph of a lady Vegan runner finishing all smiles at the end of a 10 mile race I tentatively looked at a list of Vegan foods but didn't recognize 90% of the names. So stuff that. (But hang on a minute while I wash down another dose of Loperamide). Anyway, I'm thinking about making changes but never in a million years will I begin eating something I don't like just because it's supposed to be good for me. If anyone can come up with an aesthetically pleasing diet that's simple to prepare and doesn't evoke Vesuvius-like eruptions in my nether regions I might give it a go.

Oh, and the only other resolution my wonderful partner and I have made is to do one or two Park Runs together. I might agree to the 'one' bit of that resolution! Happy New Year everyone.......

For anyone interested here are a couple of maps showing routes we ran over the festive period:
First up is the circular route we ran on four mornings from GR: NX 822 494, our hired cottage at Balcary Bay. Garmin said it was 4.80 miles with 755ft of ascent. The narrow cliff path from Balcary Point to Airds Point is not for the faint hearted. Better to get it over while it's still dark! 
And say 'Hello' to the wild horses after Loch Mackie.

Second up is a bit of the proposed U3A walking route (which we ran) with a Start/Finish at GR: SE 063 640, the parking lot by Grimwith Reservoir. Garmin measures it at 4.97 miles with 804ft ascent. 

Happy running everyone...