Monday 29 February 2016

A great weekend.....

The Lesser Celandine
There is a Flower, the Lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain;
And, the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun himself, ’tis out again!
Harbinger of Spring?  (Click to enlarge)
....and true to form he was out again all weekend, his little face turned toward the sun - just like us. Primroses are bursting forth too, spotted half hidden amongst other vegetation across Hebden beck. Together with coltsfoot and a solitary kingcup flowering by Loup Scar, we're hoping they herald the arrival of Spring. But as more snow is forecast for the coming week, they could be a bit premature.
Happy to run on smooth trails - sans specs
Oystercatchers were flying around Grimwith reservoir during our Saturday run, though we couldn't get close enough to photograph them. A cacophonous bugling across the water came from the resident flock of Canada geese. A wildlife conservation unit were scything the reeds by the waters edge "to make it safer for nesting birds to avoid predators" they said. We couldn't quite work out the logic of that. They were sailors too and in return for their work they'd been granted all year round sailing on the reservoir.  Sounds like a good arrangement.

Back o' Grimwith
One particular bird whose arrival back onto our moors always lifts our hearts, and helps us change up a gear, is the curlew. Most years they arrive before the end of February but we never know where we're going to hear one first. On Sunday we set off hopefully past Mossy Mere, Blea beck and a remote area of rough pasture they favour for their nest sites. But as we climbed the crag we were thrilled to hear one in a totally opposite direction, down by the river which birds often use as a navigation channel to guide them inland to their territories.

Wildlife conservation workers clearing the reeds
We never heard it again. A small flock of greylag geese were swimming among the reeds at Mossy Mere though we haven't known them nest there. Perhaps they will this year?  Black headed gulls once nested there in hundreds but a local character objected to 'the screaming sods' and destroyed as many of their nests as he could each year until they eventually deserted the place.

Counting greylags at Mossy Mere
Apart from an odd grouse calling, Blea Ghyll was as quiet as the grave - and a lot colder. A nithering north easterly reduced the wind chill temperature to well below zero. Icicles dangled under the banking. My new eye was none too happy and, I'll swear, retreated farther into its socket. Strangely, neither of my deep set eyes are visible in any pictures taken. I'm not surprised my Consultant finds them difficult to work with and shudder to think how he draws them from their sockets. But I trust him....

A couple of Blea Ghyll residents in their warm fleecy jackets
   A pair of plovers were calling in the ghyll and a small flock had gathered quietly behind an old byre that years ago was temporarily transformed into a church during a filming of Wuthering Heights. It wasn't a very successful version. Back in the sheltered village it was heaven to walk into a warm kitchen after our six mile walk, to stoke up the stove and get our hands round a warming mug of tea, or coffee in my case.

First primroses
Sunday evening brought more delights, and more of my favourite things. We'd been invited by the lovely Linda to dine in her beautifully refurbished home, formerly Hebden's village shop and Post Office.  First on the menu was venison cooked in a mouth-watering sauce with wonderful vegetable accompaniments and a delectable red wine to help things on their way. Apple pie with hints of cinnamon, ice cream and trifle followed before sinking into a comfy sofa with a large dram of Bruichladdich in hand to while away the evening in convivial company.
   Thankyou Linda. It was a perfect ending to a great weekend. 

Thursday 25 February 2016

Getting there...

Yorkshire weather has been beautiful all week, cold, crisp and clear. It brought on a nasty bout of gardening, spreading compost, scarifying lawns, pruning holly and cotoneaster, clearing away dead wood, hoeing and silly things like that. And all the time yearning to be off into the hills, running the trails, wallowing in the wonderful conditions.
One of my gardening friends   (Click to enlarge)
Regardless of better judgement telling me running isn't a very good idea with eyes in their present state, I'm afraid temptation got the better of me this morning. I'd set the alarm for 5.55am to allow time for a quick swill, a cup of coffee, loo stop and out running before 6.30.  Brilliant moonlight lit the frozen landscape as I jogged through silvery fields under a star studded sky. I'm told five planets are currently spanning the heavens but afraid I couldn't identify them - especially as I wasn't wearing glasses.
Dawn breaking on an icy moonlit trail
Dawn was breaking as I crunched up an icy trail onto Castle Hill serenaded by an early thrush and chirpy little robins. The cloudless sky lightened and stars disappeared as I ran around the rim gazing expectantly at that wonderful orange glow lighting all of the eastern skyline.
First spine-tingling run over the Castle this year
I'll guess it was 7.05 when the little ball of fire peeped over the horizon, transforming the landscape with its blazing light and sending a little tingle up my spine as the pageant unfolded. Moments like these are to be treasured and savoured for, who knows, at coming up 84, there may not be many of them left!

Wednesday 17 February 2016

Valentine daunders...

The thermometer on the dashboard read 0ÂșC as we drove back to the Dales and it was snowing heavily at Keelham where we stopped to buy our weekend meat.. But after morning coffee the sun came out so no excuse for staying indoors. "Where would you like to go?" my wonderful partner asked. "Somewhere short and vicious" I replied. So it had to be Hebden Crag. The idea was to get my old legs synchronised with my new eye, to get them co-ordinated and singing from the same hymn sheet again, something I'd been finding a bit tricky over rough ground sans glasses.
Saturday's daunder - setting off to Hebden Crag    (Click to enlarge)
Things went better on this occasion as we climbed steeply to the top of the crag, past Patrick Stewart's old house at Scar Top, across a short section of moor to Hedgehog House, then veered right to descend back to the village through tussocky rough pasture and part of the fell race route. Success. OK, it was only a short walk but I was happy to have done it without tripping or falling.
Half way up...and OK so far
Cards and boxes of chocolates adorned our breakfast table on Sunday. It was Valentines Day, in case anyone forgot, and we like to keep up with tradition. It keeps us young at heart - if nothing else.
Ooh yummy, chocolates..
 It was another clear, sunny day but bitterly cold. My wonderful partner wore as many layers as an onion as we set off up the ghyll on a longer walk than the previous day - around six miles farther. I was dressed in lightweight running gear but was very soon dragging a jacket from my bumbag to counter the wind chill.
Approaching the flagged area - and motor cycle trials
 As we crossed the stepping stones below Bolton Ghyll we noticed scores, nay, hundreds, of little flags positioned all over the place. We'd hit upon the day of the annual motor cycle trials that take place every February. Very soon the silence was shattered by the revving of two stroke engines as brightly clad riders surmounted obstacles no-one would dream possible.
Making the impossible possible...
Ice crystals and the odd sprinkling of snow sparkled in the grassy turf as we left the bikers behind and rose higher onto the moor. Instead of the whirr of engines only the call of an odd cock grouse broke the silence as it broke cover from its heathery home. At around 1,400ft we were walking into an Arctic wind that lowered the temperature to below freezing point and I'd to draw my buff down to protect my new eye.
Dressed for the Arctic weather up the long wall
We made our way towards the site of Ghyll House where only a few stones remain after builders have utilised the rest for new properties - one appropriately named Ghyll Stones. A few tall trees mark the area where kestrels might be seen hovering against the blue in search of prey. The whole area once teemed with rabbits - until the lurcher men discovered it. In Springtime it resounds to the plaintive calls of curlews and wheeling pewits.  It's a place I love to run and feel part of.
Feeling the cold at 1,400ft, but happy to be there.
We paused for a while to soak up the atmosphere and photograph a distant Great Whernside topped with snow. Nostalgia occasionally distances me from the present as I'm transported back to marathon training days when Great Whernside was a regular run, both on balmy summer days or winter blizzards when farmers were rounding up sheep to get them down to safer pastures.
Trees marking site of Ghyll House and snow capped Great Whernside
A couple of new fences across the ghyll gave us problems to work out but we were soon down to the rocks and craggy ramparts of ring ouzel country and, soon after, the ever increasing sound of motor cycle engines as scores of trialists performed their set routines. We watched for a wee while, amazed at their skills, and chatted to a knowledgeable bystander who told us one of the riders who'd just negotiated a tricky section in the stream bed was only 11 or 12 tears old.
11 years old? A very brave lad....
But it was too cold to linger. We descended quickly to escape the nithering wind and boy, it was sheer bliss to step back into a warm kitchen with, soon, the wonderful aroma and luxury of a good strong coffee.
I like Valentines  Day. It should come more often.

Wednesday 10 February 2016

I can see clearly now......

......if I take my specs off. My new eye is as good, or perhaps better, without specs as my other eye is with them. But things wont be entirely right until both eyes have been operated on and I've new prescription lenses in my spectacles.
My only fear before last Thursday's operation was that my blood pressure would be sky high, though I'd taken a ton of medication, Lercanidipine and Indoramin, in an attempt to lower it. It worked before - but not this time. I'd been told they wouldn't operate if the diastolic bit was above 90. It was 106. "Don't worry, it will come down" the nurse said. In the two hour interval before plodding off to the theatre Nightwish - a Finnish symphonic metal band - kept me relaxed and entertained with their 'End of an Era' album.
I hope it wasn't a portent!
From my window - the Hospital where I'm spending too much time. (Click pictures to enlarge)

   I was first on the afternoon theatre list, scheduled for 2 o'clock but running a few minutes late, as they do. Karen, the anaesthetist, was instantly reassuring and I'd every faith in the surgeon, Mr Musa, so no fears as I shuffled my head into a comfortable position on the operating table. Until nurse said "I'll just wrap this round your arm to monitor your blood pressure". But it was OK, Nightwind had done their job. Nurse later told me it was down to 85 which was quite acceptable. The last thing I remember was chatting to Karen about running....
Then a voice said "You've had your operation Mr Booth".
 "What time is it?" I asked. 
"Quarter to five" the voice answered. 
Gosh, had I been out all that time? 15 minutes later I was wheeled back to the ward where my wonderful partner came to join me, somewhat agitated and wondering why things had taken so long. I'd a sore throat. "Perhaps you're starting with a cold" some dumb male nurse had opined in Recovery. Sorry, but he should have known about cuffed tubes...
Looking across the valley to the wilds of West Nab
"Get dressed when you're ready, but we can't let you out until you've been to the bathroom" nurse said.  I'd had nothing to drink since 7.30 in the morning, so nothing to go to the bathroom for. What's more, my legs felt to be buckling whenever I tried to stand, let alone walk. I eventually managed to shuffle across the ward and back singing a chorus of Summer Wine (honestly) but not quite as elegantly as Lana del Rey dancing on that beach. By 6.15 I was on my way home - but far from rejoicing. I felt absolutely terrible.
I can see clearly now, the rain has gone
 My sore throat wouldn't let me eat anything so I'd three glasses of chocolate milk, then off to bed. I'd to be up at 7am next morning for another appointment with Mr Musa who was dumbstruck to learn I'd been discharged from Hospital with no drops or medication. He shot out of the consulting room like Usain Bolt starting a 100m race and hurtled up to the ward to give Sister a severe reprimand. Due to lack of medication, pressure had built up overnight in my eye and had to be released.

Alright for some - my physio out for a run
  Anyway, things are looking up, so to speak, and I've managed to type all this without wearing specs, which would have been impossible before. I met my physio, Ian Sinicki, while out for a walk today. "Where's your glasses?" he asked. I told him I could see more clearly without them, albeit a little disorientated, "The ground seems to be in a different place" I said, "and my feet have difficulty finding it". It was frosty too and I went crashing to the ground in one spot, going back down the hill. For the life in me, I daren't run....
But I will, one of these fine days!

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Three books...

Over 30 years of running and racing I've amassed a great many books on the subject, more than fifty, most of which I'd periodically dip into in a constant search for more speed, more endurance, more ways to outfox the opposition, strategies to ensure a place on the podium. Never content to just run, or race, my brain was always programmed to win. If there were doubts, due to recent illness or injury, I wouldn't run if I couldn;t give my best.

While racing seriously 'Daniels' Running Formula' was the book that most influenced me to train mainly injury-free, to run sub 3 hour marathons in my 60's, regularly top the British Rankings in various age categories and set the odd course record. Some of those records have stood the test of time and remain intact, notably the 1996 M60 Coniston 14 miles (87.42), 1996 M60 Mallerstang Yomp 23 miles (3hrs 42mins) and Northern Veteran's M65 10,000 track record (39.31). I rate Jack Daniels the most athlete friendly coach of all time. But I don't train any more, so have no need of all that technical data.The days of VDOT's and scientific training are long gone.
My redundant library   (Click to emlarge)
Now, well into my 80's, the urge to outrun contemporaries is no longer there. I'd rather run leisurely with them than battle against them. All I want now is to stay fit enough to enjoy running until the day I can no longer put one foot in front of the other, to embrace the great outdoors, flowers and birdsong, magical sunrises and sunsets, and that exhilerating feeling of exposing limbs and torso to wind and sun by sea breeze shorelines, rocky trails, riverside paths, grouse haunted moors and chattering mountain streams. Not much to ask in my dotage, is it?

Most of my running library has become redundant. Preference now is for biographical books written mainly by runners who share my passion for the great outdoors. Lizzie Hawker, author of the book 'Runner', has a natural affinity with mountains that lured her to run the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc race in 2005 with little or no experience of such things but merely as 'a last bit of fun' to conclude a two week climbing holiday in the Alps. With none of the usual technical clothing or equipment, she borrowed a wee rucksack from a friend, stuck a couple of bottles of juice in it and set off to run the 158km with its 8,600m of ascent - scared witless. She finished 1st lady - and subsequently won it a further four times. Read her book and be totally gobsmacked, particularly by her 320km run from Everest base camp to Katmandu with 10,000m ascent and 14,000m descent.
Books past and present
Kilian Jornet seems more at home in mountains than most of the animals that live there, and could probably outrun them. He too is a three time winner of the prestigious UTMB, the first time in 2008 at the tender age of 20 years, and has since set himself a quest of setting records over the highest peaks of every continent. Presumably that includes Everest. His book 'Run or Die' reveals much of his Catalan character, his deep love of nature, his appreciation of all things beautiful, his affinity with the mountain environment that enables him to run tirelessly and fearlessly over frozen snow or knife-edge ridges whose exposure would frighten the life out of most mortals. His Matterhorn run from the Italian village of Cervinia to the summit and back in 2 hours 52 minutes, is truly mind-blowing.

Prior to her visiting the UK in 2011, to take part in a 24 hour Commonwealth Championship road race (in which she set a new women's world record of 247.07 kms), a message from Lizzie Hawker said it would be nice to meet up for a chat. I let that opportunity pass, frightened I'd be way out of my depth in the presence of such a high profilke athlete and possibly scared more witless than she was on the start line of her first UTMB! 
 I know when I'm beat!