Tuesday 24 March 2015

What a difference a day makes.......

From one day to another I never know what to wear, but usually opting for as little as possible.  On Wednesday we'd beautiful warm sunshine when crocuses in my garden opened to their fullest extent, their bright faces soaking up the life-giving sun. As was mine as I sat outside in a warm corner, reading until late afternoon.
Sun-worshipping crocuses...    (Click to enlarge)
 On Thursday I awoke to freezing smog, as our local radio station called it, which got thicker as I ascended the few hundred feet onto Castle Hill for my morning circuits. A couple of dog walkers were there before me, one of them a lady who, until recently, used to run seven circuits of the hill each morning before breakfast. She'd been injured, she said (haven't we all?), but hoped the doctor would give her clearance to start running again in the next couple of weeks or so. "Excellent" I said, "I might have someone to run with then". Thinking about it afterwards, it dawned on me she was an awful lot younger than me and probably ran at twice my speed. I don't think her old Alsatian dog would be very keen on the idea either....
It was mainly cloudy for the partial eclipse of the sun, but managed to catch this odd shot of it....
 Saturday dawned clear but bitterly cold, 3ºF but well below that in a blustery North wind. Stopping to buy meat at Keelham on our way back to the Dales we were almost blown off our feet in the car park. It felt wonderful to climb back into a warm car. Back in Hebden we lingered long over morning coffee before donning several layers to go our different ways, my wonderful partner for a sensible low level  run around Appletreewick, me for an 8 mile circuit onto Grassington Moor and over Bycliffe Hill.
Saturday's dreary scene on Grassington Moor....
Running north for the first 4 miles I would get the worst of it over with at the start, but it was like running through a wind tunnel as I set off up Hebden Ghyll and I'll admit to taking an occasional walk to get my breath back and ease my aching legs. It was heaven to reach the turn-around point at 'Casino Royale', to run with the wind and feel the sun on my frozen chest as I climbed to the high point at 1,570ft. A large bird of prey was quartering the moor to my right, in the way Hen Harriers do, but I was too cold to spend time investigating. I was hell bent on getting back home as soon as possible.
Hot soup was calling.....
Lambs enjoying the sun on appropriately called Sunday...
 Sunday was totally different. The wind had dropped and there wasn't a cloud in the sky as I walked to Chapel for the early morning service. Sitting in a warm pew I was soon regretting having donned an extra Damart layer, thinking it would still be cold, and began day dreaming about stripping down to shorts and T-shirt for a run up on the moor. To the Minister's consternation I announced the wrong chapter for my reading, but fortunately read the right verses for her sermon, much to her relief!
It wasn't long before my day dreaming became reality, for soon after the service I set off to repeat the previous day's route. 

Faster, higher, stronger - my octogenarian motto......
Gosh, what a difference. And how good it felt. I'd donned a skimpy pair of shorts, to get as much sun on my disgustingly white legs as possible, with a thin thermal under my vest that I could stuff into my bumbag if it got too warm. Or I could just roll up the sleeves.  I love to feel the sun on my body, as much of my body as is decently acceptable, though in places where I run I rarely meet anyone else. By the time I reached Casino Royale (so called because the opening scene of that film was shot there) I was over-heating and glad to find a patch of snow where I could dowse my face and neck. I lingered on Bycliffe Hill, hoping I might spot the previous day's bird of prey, but it was gone.
Cooling off at that patch of snow......
I lingered again in a particularly warm spot by Cupola Corner, sat on the mossy turf with my back against a rock, watching a pair of rabbits cavorting around, chasing each other, jumping into the air and obviously full of the joys of Spring. I like rabbits, preferably in a casserole with carrots and onions, after the first frost.  
A skylark sang, joined by all the other members of the moorland choir, clear and vibrant in the still air. It felt fantastic to just sit there, to watch, and listen and feel that delicious warmth caressing my bare legs, and arms, and face before jogging gently back home.
I'm glad I made the most of it. Snow is forecast again for Thursday of this week.....

Finally, here's an aria that wont leave me alone - Jose Cura's rendering of "I've never seen a woman like this".
If anyone should hear funny noises erupting from Castle Hill or Grassington Moor.......just turn a deaf ear while I get it out of my system.

Monday 16 March 2015

A surge of Spring

My weekly mileages always tended to be higher in the longer hours of daylight, tailing off a wee bit in winter. But over the last six months, since I adopted this quite out of character habit of rising in time to watch the sun rise, summer and winter mileages have stayed more or less at the same level. Ideally, for a runner of my vintage, an average of three miles a day is about the optimum to stay fit and healthy and injury free - though inclement weather often dictates these figures average out over a month rather than a week, especially in winter. Anyway, with only a few more days to the vernal equinox, last week was probably the last time I'll be up early enough to watch the sun rise for at least the next six months.
Maybe my last sunrise picture for quite some time  (Click to enlarge)
 Getting up at 6am last Wednesday I'd all on to drink a cup of coffee then run round the other side of the hill in time to see the raging fire lighting the eastern horizon. All very dramatic. From henceforth it will be up even earlier, so I'm afraid it will have to perform without me.  Question is, will I still want to get up at 6am if there's no sunrise to watch?  Over the past six months that morning spectacle has lured me out of bed like nothing before. My cunning little brain is already suggesting it might be time to enjoy a little lie in.....and procrastinator is my middle name
I may be pumping iron, but I've a long way to go before I look like my eldest son, Alasdair, in his prime
Over the past couple of weeks I've exceeded my optimum mileages, 24 last week and 26 during Troller's Trot week, so deserve some easy ones to restore the status quo.  Besides, I've been pumping iron too, a silly thing to do on my own, I know, but I've felt a bit lacking in strength lately. Normally I use very low weights with lots of repetitions for such things as upward rowing and bicep curls, but last week I was rushing upstairs during adverts between Cheltenham Festival races to 'clean' 53lbs (2 x 20 on a 13lb bar) in sets of 5 or 6 (I didn't count them). By the end of the afternoon I'd probably done around 30 lifts, which was quite enough for starters. There's no way I'm going to add 'jerks' to all these cleans. Those days are long past!
Plodding up the long wall, well wrapped up, past the noisy frog pond
 Saturday was a bitterly cold day, particularly in the wind chill at 1,500ft, when I'd made the mistake of wearing shorts instead of lagging my legs with something warmer. My wonderful partner was far more sensible and set off up the ghyll wearing nearly as many layers as an onion. But Spring was well and truly in the air. Hebden's first new-born lambs looked sorry for themselves, tottering around on wobbly legs, keeping close to their mums, hungry for warm milk. Faint splashes of yellow among rosettes of grainy sage-green leaves heralded our first primroses sheltering by a wall near the ford. Frogs were back to their pond up the long wall, and spawning, loudly, enjoying their piggy-backs. Curlews were calling. Lapwings were wheeling around in the wind like tatters of black and white cloth.  Nearer Mossdale, golden plovers piped their notes of utter loneliness across the open moor. I love that sound.
Shooting Hut in a cold, snow dappled Mossdale
 Throughout the eleven mile run I passed but one solitary hiker, muffled up and too miserable to speak, or even grunt. Did my greeting sound a bit too perky, or was it just that he declined to speak to idiots prancing around in shorts on the moor in sub zero temperatures?  Grouse didn't sound too friendly either with their constant "go back, go back" calls.
One of the many hundred traps set by our over-keen gamekeeper
 Unknown to many there's a heathery ramp starting behind a wall to the right of the main track, leading gently down to the Shooting Hut and new bridge over Mossdale beck, far below. I call it the runner's path - because I've never seen anyone else on it - and it was down this that I swept into Mossdale on Saturday, leaving my wonderful partner to go her own slightly shorter way. Sloping northwards, parts of it were still thick with snow. Below it was a vast swamp where the beck had overflowed, helped by melt-water, which I'd to contour round to reach the bridge. Somewhere in there our local gamekeeper has a 'stink pit', surrounded by snares to trap marauding foxes, which I was going to check on, but I'd no desire to wade through all that water.
Where the beck disappears under Mossdale Scar
In the five miles back home I struggled to keep a steady rhythm. My legs can normally stand a fair amount of cold but, in the freezing north east wind chill, came close to getting cramp.  So I hurried along slowly(!), past Mossdale Scar, across Kelber and down the lane to Yarnbury, anxious to drop down into the ghyll as soon as I could, hopefully out of that vicious wind. I think I'm going soft in my dotage. Or my head is!  Morning coffee was a little late on Saturday...but getting my hands round it bordered on ecstacy.
Cold looking lambs in Hebden Ghyll. Please, send us some sun
On Sunday morning I'd great difficulty straightening enough to get out of bed, let alone hobble down the stairs.  After breakfast I was cajoled into running 4 miles around Burnsall, by way of a loosener, and asked whether I wanted to go before or after morning coffee? After swilling down 600mg of Ibuprofen to ease the pain I reckoned it best to go before and get it over with.  I changed into running gear, this time with tights instead of shorts.  On automatic pilot I couldn't possibly describe the run, what we saw or what we heard, other than it was still numbingly cold.  My feet may have been moving - just - but my old brainbox, coccooned in a thick woolly hat, was at a frozen standstill. Someone once said - can't remember who - that he'll believe running is enjoyable when he meets a runner with a smile on their face. 
Good job he didn't see me on Sunday.....

Monday 9 March 2015

Trollers Trot, March 7th, 2015

It must be a couple of years back when my wonderful partner and I came to an agreement that from thenceforth we were never going to race again over distances longer than 10K. At our time of life, we opined, any distance above that would be counter-productive to our health and fitness. Indeed, we thought it best to maybe abandon the idea of racing altogether and stick to low key Park Runs where there'd be no pressure to 'win' and no danger of over exerting ourselves. So what the heck were we doing last Saturday lining up for a 12 mile race on a cold and cloudy day through some of the best bogs in Britain?
The 12 mile Troller's Trot route.....(Click to enlarge)
 Well, enjoying ourselves as things turned out. I'm not sure what strategies my better half had in mind but I was determined not to push things to the extent it would hurt, just let it flow nice and easy, maintaining a comfortable rhythm while keeping my breathing under control. Apart from slowing to walk a couple of hills, and putting my foot on the gas pedal when in danger of being passed on the final stretch, I largely kept to my game plan. So I was rather surprised to find I was only 5 minutes slower than on a previous occasion, three years ago, when I was actually 'racing' it.

Profile with undulations amounting to 1,023ft ascent - according to Garmin
With over 400 walkers and runners taking part, car parking around Threshfield school had become something of a problem by the time we arrived, rather later than planned, and the long colourful crocodile queueing for race numbers left us little time to strip for action or visit the loo - the latter being a rather urgent necessity. Having only registered at the last minute we were surprised to find that race numbers had all been overprinted with our name and age category, something we could only remember happening once before in a World Masters Mountain Running Championship. 12 mile runners had red numbers while 25 mile runners had black numbers. It was all brilliantly organised by Paul Shack and his incredible team.
My three pacemakers pioneering the way across the bogs.......
At a little after 9am we were off, nearly 350 runners the vast majority of which were in the 25 mile race. We would run together for the first 6½ miles to the checkpoint at Rylstone Church where the long distane runners would start their climb onto Barden Moor. Thankfully, for us running the shorter 12 mile route, all the serious climbing would be over except for a final little sting in the tail just before the finish. As befits a mature gentleman I'd taken a place near the rear of the field where I soon latched on to three Ripon Runners pacing themselves nicely for the full 25 miles and travelling at the same pace as me. They were rather expert at dodging the black, glutinous bogs and I was equally expert at following them - though they somehow managed to keep their legs cleaner than mine.
Same three on slightly drier ground towards Winterburn reservoir
Threshfield Moor was alive with golden plovers, so much so I first thought their multiple pipings was someone's mobile phone ringing, or some HGV reversing. Curlews were warbling away too and a skylark joined the choir at one stage to give a heart-lifting solo performance. They cheered us on our way across the worst of the bogs until Winterburn reservoir came into view, then some easier running down to the village of Hetton where cyclists became the main hazzard, flashing past at great speed on the short stretch of road to Rylstone. They frighten me, mainly I think because I tend to run with my head down, watching my feet, and don't always see them coming, especially at that speed! Maybe they were in some sort of race too. Or they'd been taking something.....
Linton Falls at the 'Tin bridge'
I was glad to reach the checkpoint and get some water inside me. I grabbed a couple of biscuits too and munched away along Chapel Lane to Cracoe, hoping the sugar would give me a boost. From there on I was on my own with no other runners in sight, which was just as well because it could possibly have interferred with my rhythm in an effort to catch them. I passed a couple of walkers on Thorpe Lane, one of whom kept breaking into a run to improve her finishing time, but it wasn't until after I'd crossed the Burnsall road and making my way through fields to Linton Falls that I spied three runners in the distance. It was too late to try and catch them, even if I'd had the energy.
All smiles.......2nd L65 and 1st M80
Hens were clucking around on the road at Linton, being friendly.  The falls were in spate, making a fine sight as I crossed the 'tin' bridge over the Wharfe and turned left along the riverbank for home. Coming out onto the road there's another bridge to re-cross the river, then a short steep hill to the Finish in the school. Almost at the top of this hill I became aware of a voice behind me, and seeing how I hadn't passed anyone recently it didn't take long for the old brain to sense danger and switch to flight mode. For the first time throughout the race I enjoyed a brief sense of speed as I surged to the Finish a mere second ahead of Kirsty Pomfrett, 1st Female Open (non-veteran). "I've been trying to catch you for ages" she said.
...and a certificate to register the achievement
 I was 1st in the M80 category because I was the only runner over 80 (!), so didn't really win anything. I was happy with my official time of 2:23:50, and my 39th position from 55 finishers. My wonderful partner ran a great race to finish in 2:31:22 although beaten into 2nd F65 by Norma Smith of Blackburn Road Runners. All finishers were presented with a certificate, bearing the runner's name, to mark their achievement. So, a good day was had by all. The only navigational problems encountered was in finding our way to the dining hall in search of all the post-race treats. Once found we possibly did more than our fair share of carbohydrate loading. Well, I did.
Full 12 mile race results here.

Monday 2 March 2015

Racing the sun.....

For the past few months I've been racing the sun up Castle Hill, on each occasion getting to the top before the sun peeped over the eastern horizon.  As I mentioned in a previous posting, it's a habit formed last September whilst on holiday on the Mediterranean island of Menorca. With morning temperatures quickly rising towards 80º we were up at crack of dawn and out running the Cami de Cavalls, looking for wild tortoises, before the broiling sun rose over the parched landscape. In 28 years of running, prior to that holiday, nothing on earth would have lured me out of bed to go running at that unearthly hour, though my wonderful partner has been known to do so - before she met me!
Sunrise at 7am last Friday.....  (Click to enlarge)
 However. I reckon this practice may shortly come to an end as sunrise becomes progressively earlier. Last Friday, I'd hardly reached the perimeter path before the sun shed it's light upon me. It was spot on 7am. I could imagine it saying "Aha, nearly caught you that time, you'll have to get up 2 or 3 minutes earlier every day from now on if you want to beat me to the top".  It's a prospect I don't really relish, especially when the mid-summer sun is up at 4am.... 
The bridge at Howgill on Saturday's run......
Something else happened that morning that's never occurred before on the hill. I actually met a runner who was sociable enough to stop and exchange a few words before galloping off to continue his marathon training. I've met several over the years but none of them ever gave more than a grunt before going their way with hardly a glance. This latest one was different. We even got so far as exchanging names before I continued my clockwise circuits and he his anti-clockwise ones. He was being pulled along by a beautiful Alsatian dog which I suggested he should let off the lead.  "No way" he said, "he hates all other dogs, can't stand men, or my mother, or my two sons. He's not growling at you because you're dressed like a runner!"  Now, on Castle Hill that's fairly unusual too, a dog that likes runners...    
....and the path back through the wood by the River Wharfe
     Weather was pretty diabolical again last week. I managed two 5 milers, on Wednesday and Friday when it was half decent, and a cold 8 mile run to Howgill and back on Saturday morning before the weekend deteriorated. A vicious wind blasted our windows with heavy rain all Saturday night. On Sunday it turned to sleet, then to driven snow by late afternoon, turning the village a ghostly white. So, after stocking up with fuel, our hardest exercise throughout Sunday consisted of getting up from our easy chairs to throw another log on the fire. Even that proved strenuous. We both fell asleep!