A new year brings new hope, optimism and energy. I did not make any resolutions for 2017, I was happy with how my running was progressing, and not really looking for any big changes. I had trained consistently through the first part of the winter, especially enjoying some of the lovely winter views in Clumber Park and Sherwood Forest.
Clumber Park Bridge
I love the wildlife that abounds in these places, squirrels by the score, foxes, birds hopping about in the trees and the bushes, everyone busy with feeding. One morning I came almost nose to nose with a beautiful little deer. I was running along a forest track, when I had reason to stop for a moment. I looked to my left, and realised I had almost bumped in to the pretty little creature. Just off the track, the deer stood still, rigid, staring at me. It did not appear to be frightened. I think like me, it was shocked, frozen by this intimate encounter. I could almost touch it. We stared at each other for a few moments, and then I continued with my run, not wanting to confuse the lovely creature any more than I already had done.
I was running regularly in the forest, and beginning to learn some basic trail running skills; when to jump over obstacles and when to steer around them, which surfaces are likely to be slippery and when to slow down and when to continue the current pace.
On a cold morning, I learned one lesson the hard way. Running down from Hardwick Village towards the lovely ford across the River Poulter, there were half a dozen molehills amongst the frozen grass. The frozen grass; there is the clue, which I ignored. I knew the air temperature was below zero, there was a thick frost covering the ground, and my car thermometer had been registering minus two degrees just a few minutes earlier. I admired the winter scene as I ran, and although I was aware of them, I ignored the molehills as I took in the beauty of the morning sun beaming through the scattered clouds. And then I was flying through the chilled air.
As I picked myself up from the frozen grass, I checked the damage to my arms and legs, and was satisfied that I was able to continue. The molehills were, of course frozen, solid. I may as well have run into a collection of heavy rocks, which moved not an inch when my size tens came crashing into them. I noted my mistake, but this was a theme that was to haunt me for months to come.
I did not enter any early season races, learning my lesson from last year. I trained regularly, using the pattern; two road runs of seven miles each, a longer forest run of 20 or 30 miles, one day rest, and then repeat. This plan was getting me fitter, and I was staying sound, free of injury. I varied this with a four day visit to my Dad’s every three or four weeks, where I ran nine miles alongside the Lancaster Canal, and eight miles along Morecambe prom to Heysham and back, on alternate days. With occasional short runs with Wendy, I was enjoying a sensible diet of running and some relaxation.
Before the lighter nights came, I was able to take part in a few night runs with the Lincolnshire Wolds Head Torchers. I organised an informal night run in Clumber Park, which was attended by a lovely group of people from Kimberworth, Sleaford, Scunthorpe and other Lincolnshire towns and villages. When planning the route for this run, I fell several times, sometimes getting caught up with twigs and fallen branches, but more often tripping on exposed roots and protruding stones and boulders. I escaped serious injury, but I knew I had to learn not to fall. Vertical is much more comfortable than horizontal when running, especially on hard ground.
My plan for the 2107 season was modest in terms of the number of races I planned to compete, I would run the Dukeries 40 in May, and the Robin Hood 100 in September, both races based in the forest, and organised by Ronnie Staton. That was the plan.
Somewhere, some time in the spring, I came across a race that caught my attention, The Pennine Barrier 50, planned for June. I was drawn to this partly by the offer of a reconnaissance run (“recce”), where organiser Wayne Drinkwater would lead runners around the main part of the course, the three peaks of Pen- y- ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. In terms of finding my way, this would be better than any map.
Pen- y -ghent, with Horton in Ribblesdale in the foreground.
The recce could not be missed, I had driven through the Dales countless times, and cycled toured the area on a number of occasions. But I knew that on foot across the hills, I would see sights not seen from the road.
The recce day was sublime; a lovely group of people, amazing scenery and incredible weather. It was that good, really. We ran steadily most of the day, with a couple of stops for food and rest. Wayne is an amazing runner yet a modest gent, and ensured everyone kept up, gently encouraging without patronising.
The three climbs were outrageous, especially Ingleborough, where I was frightened to look down, in case I ended up down, if you see what I mean. I did end up horizontal a couple of times, but without real injury. I must learn to pick up my feet when running off road.
Up close and personal on Ingleborough
Being a beautiful day, the best of the year so far, the track was busy with families, groups, couples and individuals, all enjoying the outdoors in their own way.
Post Pen-y-ghent Picnic
So out of the blue, I needed to practise ascents, instead of using them as convenient feeding/resting sessions. My loops around Sherwood and Clumber would never be the same again; I had suddenly discovered the two “big hills”, just before and a mile or two after Cresswell Crags were not actually hills at all. They did not require scrambling techniques, careful pacing and a complete absence of anything like vertigo to climb them. The weather was not colder and windier at the top, and you could not see the sea. They were small undulations, nothing more. At least that’s what I told myself on my next visit to the forest. But until I lose another stone in weight, I won’t be totally convinced.
The one event that transformed my running this year, was Ronnie’s “Train Like a Champion” course, focussing on injury prevention (did I need this!), but also spending some time on running technique, or as runners call it, form. How to run.
It turned out all my “common sense” ideas about running efficiency were just about as wrong as they could be. Ronnie was often telling us to do the exact opposite to what I had been doing. Ronnie coaches individuals, and tours the country with his one day course, it is modestly priced, but highly valuable to someone like me; overly enthusiastic and under experienced. My running changed, literally overnight. Months later, I am still practising the techniques Ronnie taught us, they are not yet a natural part of my running, and I have to concentrate to incorporate as many as possible as I run. But I quickly saw the benefits; faster pace, better endurance and no more running injuries. As of now, (May 2017) I am enjoying my longest ever period of injury – free running. Thanks Ronnie.