Tuesday 31 May 2016

Eye of the beholder.....

    Last Thursday I paid a rare visit to the bright lights and, for only the second time in over 25 years, had the dubious pleasure of sleeping with another woman.  My wonderful partner not only condoned this liaison but actually drove me there on the understanding the experience might somehow benefit our relationship.
Apple blossom on Castle Hill  (Click to enlarge pictures)
The experience lasted a bare (!) half hour but unfortunately I remember very little about it for the lady in question was Dr Karen Bartholomew, an anaesthetist at Calderdale Royal Hospital in Halifax where I was undergoing a cataract operation on my Lt eye - under general anaesthetic.  All went well but it may be some time before I'm able to read clearly again, or share car driving on long journeys.

Gorse flowering by my path up the hill
I was out running on two mornings last week, before the operation, but not sure when I can start again on a regular basis.  I forgot to ask the surgeon but, so far as Karen was concerned, I should give it two or three days. I can't wait......
May is out, but few clouts cast.....
Next best I suppose, though it's rather boring, is walking.  So that's what we've been doing over the May Bank holiday. May blossom is out but we've hardly cast a clout because up here in Yorkshire there's still a nithering wind and the temperature drops dramatically when the sun goes in. But we bared our legs and donned shorts on a couple of days.

Walking in Wharfedale...
One day we went up the dale in search of orchids, also hoping to hear a cuckoo calling, but we saw or heard neither.  However, the sun shone, Wharfedale was clothed in her glorious best, swallows and martins zipped across the sky at Yockenthwaite, primroses smiled from shady spots under the trees, sheep grazed contentedly with their lambs, curlews called and the world was a wonderful place.

Lots of Mountain pansies in the ghyll   
On another day I was taken up the ghyll to view and experience this year's profusion of mountain pansies. A red grouse was in attacking mode when we got too close to its fledglings. We discovered a crow trap we'll be keeping an eye on as we pass by on future occasions to make sure nothing illegal is being caught.
We don't trust our gamekeeper!

Also bluebells......
It was mainly sunny but again there was a biting wind that necessitated our wearing fleeces and hats as we wandered off road by rough pastures and ruffled waters.  
Rippling waters at Yarnbury.....
In spite of such beauties it felt good to step back into a warm kitchen with all thoughts of sunbathing in the garden with spritzer to hand flying out the window.
A lush and peaceful scene on our way home.....
 It might be June but summer isn't quite here yet, not in Yorkshire.....

Sunday 22 May 2016

La Palma and the Curate's egg......

      Just got home from a wonderful/terrible holiday on the Canary Island of La Palma, reputedly the most mountainous island in the world relevant to its size. It was our 5th visit to a place we've loved since first discovering it in 2010. For runners who love mountainous, volcanic trails and sunshine, this is a good place to go.
The beach at Los Cancajos  (Click to enlarge pictures)
We'd two reasons for going there this year, first to celebrate my 84th birthday and secondly to watch the Transvulcania race that takes place on the first Saturday each May. My birthday on May 6th was the day before the race, so a very subdued affair, a gentle 4 mile run in the morning, swimming and lying in the sun for most of the afternoon, very little to drink in the evening and early to bed.
Birthday swim
Our strategy next morning was to hire a taxi to Roque de los Muchachos, the highest point of the race at around 8,000ft, watch the leaders come over the summit then jog down 6,000ft to Mirador El Time, all the time photographing fantastic scenery and the incredible runners as they tore past us. And that's what we did - sort of.
At the windy summit we'd to put on jackets
We arrived at the summit around 10.15am with time to spare before runners came through. We were above the usual cloud inversion, bathed in glorious sunshine but with a sneaky wind that forced us to don jackets.
Astronomical telescopes along the ridge
On a long ridge fourteen silvery astronomical telescopes glinted in the sun. Below us a mass of cloud swirled around in the huge crater of Caldera Taburiente. Way across the sea Mount Teide towered above the clouds on Tenerife. We were in our element.
Sage Canaday was first to the summit
Excitement grew as the first runners were spotted snaking along the rising trail, tiny dots still far below. First to reach the aid station was Sage Canaday, always brilliant on ascents, with a previous winner, Luis Alberto Hernando close on his heels. I suspect Luis was too close for Sage's comfort for the latter is an equally brilliant descender.

First lady, Swedish runner Ida Nillson
In the gap before the next runners came we began our 6,000ft descent, gently of course as befits a couple of old crocks boasting 154 years between them. It wasn't long before the first lady past us, Salomon runner Ida Nillson of Sweden, a comparative newcomer to the sport of Skyrunning, but way ahead of following ladies.

Anna Frost tootling down into the misty forest section
Some way behind her were two more Salomon team runners, previous winner Anna Frost of New Zealand and Mira Rai of Nepal, the pair subsequently finishing 7th and 8th.
Jogging gently down at our own pace, enjoying the incredible scenery
We were enjoying watching the race unfold and wallowing in that dramatic environment. I think I'd got to the singing stage. Until disaster struck. My Lt knee gave way on a particularly rocky section.
My leg somehow bent beneath me as I crashed to the ground letting out an almighty yell.  It's not often I worry about anything but will admit to some negative thoughts passing through my head as I struggled to get up. My leg was completely dead, like I'd just had an epidural, and I couldn't even wriggle my toes. Furthermore, we still had five miles to go, over equally rough terrain with no escape routes, so hanging around was not an option.
It does get a bit rocky!
Eventually I forced myself upright, shouting "Come on you stupid leg", shaking it hither and thither, massaging it and telling it to get moving again. Life slowly returned and I hobbled off with a gnawing pain in my Lt foot. I'm not sure where the will power came from to cover those last few, rocky miles but a certain amount of prayer was involved. I fell time and again as my old legs gave way, once into a prickly pear cactus, and twice, at least, being helped up by passing runners. Very embarrassing..
Getting going again - refusing an offer of wine or beer
At an aid station I was offered wine, or a can of beer, but I declined. I could have murdered one but all I wanted to do was get to El Time to maybe phone a taxi for we were convinced the two hourly bus we'd planned to catch would have long since gone. But, miracle of miracles, on the final steep descent to the Mirador my wonderful partner spotted the bus, held up by runners crossing the road, and sprinted down to hold it up while shouting to me to get a move on. We reckoned it was running at least ½ hour late.
Truly, a Godsend.
Runner high fiving at the Finish
With ¾ hour to spare in Los Llanos before the next bus back to our hotel we wandered up to the Finish area to enjoy the incredible race day atmosphere. Runners were coming in thick and fast, high fiving the crowds lining the red carpet, and every one of them shouted home by the race commentator. In the background loud music, and drums, whipped up a tremendous atmosphere. The whole town had turned out. We learned that Luis Hernando had won, for the third time, and later that Ida Nillson had won the ladies race by 15 minutes.
Lots of Physios working at the long line of massage tables
Runners finished with glee on their faces though afterwards many had great difficulty making the few metres to the massage tables, many of them collapsing before they got there and having to be stretchered away. It brought tears to my eyes. The pain in my legs and Lt foot was really put into perspective by the tortures those runners had endured over 75km and 4,350m of ascent. They have my greatest respect, they really are incredible. Many of them stayed in our hotel. We reckoned that when they left the average age of people remaining went up by at least 15 years and weight by around a stone and a half!
The painters have arrived
That bit of an accident was a none too happy part of the holiday. But only one of them. A couple of days later we became aware of scaffolding poles being taken through the room next to ours with a certain amount of clunking and banging. Then the phone rang. It was Hotel Reception telling us painters had arrived to paint the exterior walls, so were moving us to a much better room that caught more sun. Like hell. It was a newly decorated room that faced south but an overhead balcony blocked out all overhead sunlight.
A bit of demolition going on across the pool area
There was worse. Not many metres away, just across the pool area, workmen were smashing slates off the roofs of Costa Salinas Apartment block and sweeping away the flying dust. A generator was put-putting all day long, until 8pm, possibly to drive the screaming masonry saws cutting away parts of the building. There was no escaping the hammering and banging, either on our balcony or anywhere by the pool. We had to go out. Most of the time.
At the Mirador del Barandas
We walked into Santa Cruz and caught a bus for an airy ride to Los Sauces from where we'd planned a walk to Mirador del Barandas. The guide book had a picture of the fantastic view from the mirador. The 3,000ft climb was good exercise for my old legs but when we got there the viewpoint had become so overgrown with trees and shrubbery we could see little beyond. A con.
Looking down to Puerto Tazacorte from the cliff path
On another day we revisited El Time specifically because I wanted to experience the sensational 2,000ft drop of a winding path down an almost vertical cliff to Puerto Tazacorte.

There were some little moany songs on the way down
There were some little moany songs from my wonderful partner whom I captured on video making her way down ever so carefully, clearly not enjoying the tremendous exposure or the sight of dinky restaurants and buildings hundreds of feet immediately below her.
Had we really just come down there?
We were hungry after that and chose a restaurant with wonderful grilled fish on a menu that included wine. After the trauma of her descent my wonderful partner had most need of the latter! Behind the restaurant was a great tank of huge terrapins (?) resembling aquatic tortoises and we wondered if these were on the menu. Are they edible?
Some of those 'aquatic tortoises'
I didn't mention it but my eye was playing up badly on a morning we'd planned to do the classic Volcano route and I wasn't seeing very clearly at all. However, when we reached the taxi stand it appeared like the whole route was in thick cloud whereas on the opposite side Pico Bejenado rose majestically into a clear blue sky. We opted for the latter.
Tree-covered Pico Bejenado bathed in sunshine
At a height well over 6,000ft the trail goes on a bit to the lofty summit. With limited vision I could cope with narrow, rocky paths, tree roots etc. on the way up but I wasn't looking forward to the descent when my knees have a nasty habit of giving way unexpectedly - as on the day of the Transvulcania race.
Summit of Pico Bejenado
 It was another day of cloud inversions with a view to die for from the airy sunlit summit. A lone swift darted around at great speed - catching butterflies. Lizards scuttered away, which is odd as they usually arrive on the scene when there's biscuits around.
A Bejenado lizard. It ran away...
After a ½ hour or so, savouring the situation, we carefully made our way down passing lots of walkers labouring upwards in the increasing heat of the day. At the end of the forest we were lucky enough to thumb a lift down the long stretch of road back to the Visitor Centre - and the bus stop.
Setting off down - "mind that hole on your left"
My eye was aching and somewhat bloodshot next day giving me cause for concern. We located an optician who referred us to the local medical centre (Centro de Salud) where I was examined by a doctor and given a presciption for dispensing at a local chemist (Farmacia). Using my EHIC card (for the first time ever) it cost me the grand sum of 2.06 euros.

Strange structure near the beginning of the Volcano route
The penultimate day of our holiday was our last chance to do the classic Volcano Route (Ruta de los Volcanes), the island's most renowned walk and one of the most popular in all the Canaries. We took a taxi, driving through swirling mist and clag as we gained height to the start point at El Pilar. A cold wind greeted us as we stepped from the car prompting a quick donning of fleeces and jackets before starting my Garmin and setting off into the gloom.
A natural rock garden on the way to Hoya Negra
We passed a dithering couple who seemed undecided about going further, then another couple who trailed us for a short while before disappearing from the radar. In 20 minutes we rose above the clouds into glorious sunshine with extensive views of all the wonderful sights unfolding before our eyes.

At the Hoya Negra
With only 500m of ascent and 1,600m descent (according to the guide book) the route is not so strenuous as the guide book would have people believe. C'est un bleedin' doddle is a phrase I'd have used in younger days and, compared to some Scottish mountain routes I've done, I reckon it is. Good walking boots are recommended and plenty of water. We set off in running shoes, just one small bottle of juice and food we never ate. But we did carry emergancy gear and first aid, just in case.

Holding on to my hat for a photo on Volcan Deseada
  The hardest part was the steep, sandy and loose ascent onto the rim of Volcan Deseada, the highest point that had us struggling in a fierce wind. It was gale force on the tiny summit with a terrifying drop on one side.  We'd great difficulty standing up and balancing to take photographs while holding on to our hats!

Starting a run from the summit to escape the wind
It was such a relief to leave there that we began to run, and me to sing, all the way down to the crossed trails where, amazingly, there's a water tap. An appropriate place for a swig of juice and to top up our bottle.
Here she comes....
When setting off to do the 11 mile route at 10am from El Pilar we'd planned to take it easy and finish at Los Canarios in time to catch the 16.50 bus back to our hotel. But more and more I was enjoying the running and inevitably it became a race against time to catch a bus two hours earlier - at 14.50.
Once a runner.......

...and there she goes
There were a few rocky bits through the wood but mainly a sandy path led gently downward to a short tarmac section, then more woodland before crossing a road and down steep cobbles to the fleshpots of Los Canarios. A signpost said 0.8km and we'd exactly 4 minutes left to catch the bus. We almost sprinted along the main street to arrive at the bus stop just as the bus appeared. Mission accomplished......
My Garmin recorded 11.01 miles, 2,284ft of ascent, 4,724ft of descent in 4 hours 45 minutes.  Quite a difference to figures given in the guide book......
Cheers! It wasn't all bad...
We were back in our hotel by 4pm with filthy legs and shoes full of enough black sand to grow potatoes. The chambermaid wouldn't appreciate the state of our balcony when she arrived to clean the place next day. But we'd never know. We were leaving after something of a Curate's egg experience - good parts which will ever remain in our memories and bad parts I for one will be happy to forget.
Cheers everyone!

Monday 2 May 2016

I will lift up mine eyes to the hills.......

      Fast uphill walking and downhill jogging, amounting to little more than ten miles, is all that got done in the way of energetic pursuits last week.  In truth, a lot more time was spent watching others rather than doing anything worthwhile myself.
      The inaugural Tour de Yorkshire was a damp squib so far as I was concerned. We’d walked a mile towards Greenhow to a place we thought would be a good vantage point and sat on a cold mossy wall for around an hour - waiting.  It was a spot where we’d see them coming in the distance and have plenty of time to focus our cameras and get some good shots as they zoomed past.  A good idea, but it became a little boring after countless Police outriders flashed by intermittently with no sign of the actual peloton of international riders.
The breakaway leader approaching Hebden. I've no idea who he was!      
 (Click on pictures to enlarge)
A helicopter eventually heralded their arrival - ¾ hour behind schedule. I focused my camera upon them but – sod’s law - the video mode failed to function and I got nothing! For me the event went by unrecorded. Fortunately, my wonderful partner sensibly shot one or two ‘stills’ – if you can call them that of riders sweeping past at over 40mph!  In seconds they were gone and we recognised not one of them.  A waste of time really.
The peloton. It was all over in around 5 seconds...
After all the waiting in arctic conditions we were frozen to the marrow, my bum was soaking wet from damp moss on the wall, and we’d to run home as fast as we could to get changed and thaw ourselves out.  Most sensible people in the village watched the race on telly with a reasonable commentary to explain all that was going on. They knew exactly where the riders were so could nip out into the road just minutes before the peloton swept through. Next year, I wont bother. And telly is not an option... I rated it 1/10      
Feeding time for sheep and lambs by Horton in Ribblesdale
Saturday was far more interesting. We set off early to Horton in Ribblesdale to watch the 62nd running of the Three Peaks race. We arrived 1½ hours before it was scheduled to start at 10.30am, so had time to walk up Penyghent - the first and lowest of the Three Peaks before Whernside and Ingleborough - and hopefully get there before the runners.
Penyghent - first of the Three Peaks, but the only one for us..
It was sunny but bitterly cold as we set off up the stony track towards the snow capped towering giant in the distance. A local farmer was feeding a noisy flock of hungry sheep and lambs.  A large party of friendly, enthusiastic Sikhs were on their way down having conquered the first obstacle of their annual Three Peaks Challenge.  Race marshals were already manning their stations to open and shut gates and direct runners as they came through.
Well togged up nearing the slippery, freezing summit
Inevitably, as we rose higher, the weather deteriorated. Wind increased, snow swept across the hill, then it hailed and the temperature dropped noticeably. Very noticeably! We’d maybe walked a little too fast to get to the top before the runners, so spent quite a lot of time hanging around before they came. A bit like in the Tour de Yorkshire.     
Walking in the Air - with the snowman
Snow was around 10” deep in parts so a couple of younger generation girls passed the time building a snowman. Older people took cover behind a wall, rubbed their hands and stamped their feet.
Marshals waiting for runners.  Ingleborough, the third summit, in background
Marshals in all their winter gear gazed expectantly for race leaders emerging from fast moving snow showers to materialise on the summit.   Eventually, they came.
Ricky Lightfoot shadowed by Swiss orienteer, Marc Lauenstein
Salomon runner Ricky Lightfoot was in the lead, just, from another Salomon runner from Switzerland competing for the first time. In shorts and vest I reckoned Lightfoot was a little under dressed for the conditions.  He’d no doubt be carrying full body cover, in accordance with the rules, but maybe felt he couldn’t waste time putting them on with such a slender lead. After winning the previous two Peaks races there was a £500 bonus on offer if he could make it three in a row.     
First lady to the summit, Victoria Wilkinson of Bingley Harriers
First lady to pass the summit was our own Victoria Wilkinson, English fell running champion and former British champion. I say ‘our own’ because she once lived next door but one to my wonderful partner and we’ve watched her grow up from school days into the very impressive runner she is today.   
The Nepalese runner, Mira Rai, chasing Victoria
Just behind her was a real threat in the form of Mira Rai, a Nepalese runner from the Salomon team who’d been first female finisher and set records in many long distance races and Sky Running Championships. She’d feel at home, we thought, in the snow and icy conditions of the past few days.
Bleak conditions for the back markers
Once again frozen to the marrow we began our descent – running - long before the 800 runners had snaked over the summit, passing many concerned looking back markers on our way down. Around a hundred failed to finish, many being timed out at various check points, others finding it all too much.
A very happy Marc Lauenstein leading the field home
Arriving back to the Start/Finish area we had lunch and a hot drink in the car while sheltering from the freezing rain that began to fall. We didn’t envy the scantily clad runners who’d be slipping and sliding over icy Ingleborough as we sat snug.  At around 1.15pm we strode across to the finishing funnel to cheer in the winners.

A not so happy Ricky Lightfoot having missed out on a £500 bonus - by 10 seconds
First into the field was the newcomer, Swiss dentist Marc Lauenstein, in a time of 2:48:58 – just ahead of his Salomon team mate Ricky Lightfoot who missed out on that £500 bonus by a mere 10 seconds. It’s unusual for a first timer to win the Peaks race for local knowledge is all important, but orienteer Marc played cat and mouse with those who clearly did know the best lines and outran them at the finish. Another Salomon runner, Tom Owens finished third in 2:52:14     
Winning lady, Victoria Wilkinson storming to the Finish
Victoria Wilkinson came storming into the field way ahead of Mira Rai to win the ladies race in an impressive 3:26:14 and 35th overall of the 703 finishers. A great result for our local lass.
Mira Rai was 30 places behind Victoria in 3:35:55.

Helen Berry in third
FV40 Helen Berry in the yellow vest of Holmfirth Harriers filled third place behind Mira in 3:37:20.
A very happy trio - Helen, Mira and 4th placed Annie Conway of Ambleside Fell Runners
All in all it had been a wonderful day when nostalgia overflowed. Memories came flooding back, as I wandered round the Sports field, seeing familiar faces, hearing old voices, looking across to that sleeping giant of a mountain dominating the eastern skyline, the first brutal climb of that challenging trio around the 24 mile circuit of the Three Peaks Race. It was always my favourite race.
That trophy - we used to put daffodils in it!
What moved me most was one of the trophies on display, the Clayton-le-Moors Rose Bowl, which has my name engraved on it three times for the years I won it.  Now, a few days away from my 84th birthday, I find it hard to believe I could have run such races over demanding terrain - in my 60's - but the proof is there on that rose bowl.
On the second leg at the Clarendon - having demolished the breast
We returned home with faces glowing and wind burnt after the icy blasts around the summit. It was a good time to celebrate 'things' past' and what better way to do it than a meal at our renowned village pub, the Clarendon. My wonderful partner chose local trout whilst I opted for pheasant. I wasn't expecting getting a whole one, but that's what it seemed like. Both choices were absolutely wonderful - but neither of us could manage a pudding.
I rated the Peaks day 10/10 - and may there be many more of them.
They can keep the Tour de Yorkshire....