Friday, 11 November 2011

Ramblings around Dent - or 'The Dentdale Run'

I try to do a little running for any number of reasons. I keep a little blog of my efforts, but usually these are no more than a few words about the weather or sore legs. Just before leaving the UK, though I wrote a longer piece about a road race. Re-reading it the other day I thought it might be worthy of a larger audience, so here it is.

"At a time of getting ready to move away it's good to visit old friends for what is at least the last time for now. So this morning I headed out to Dentdale to reacquaint myself with The Dentdale Run, an old friend I hadn't seen for 16 years - by the end of the day it was clear which of us had worn better, but whilst it tested me it didn't judge my decrepitude.

This annual event is held in aid of the lovely village Primary School and all fees , merchandise sales  ( I acquired a nice new hoodie to replace the rather vivid T, which had long gone the holey way of all frequently worn similar garments, to the rag man) etc. went to help the local school.
And boy do they need it - if the hole in the ceiling though which the days rain fell into a fetching red plastic bucket is anything to go by. Mr Cameron's ideal of The Big Society finds embodiment in places like Dent, remote communities where community spirit still lives on in truth and people gather together to help one another out, yet in a technologically complex and 'advanced' society, it patently isn't enough. There are echoes here of the same romanticism which fed John Major's vision of the reinstatement of elderly matrons cycling to Evensong being the answer to all societies ills . . . , but I digress (?)

The day's activity being for old times sake, I took a rather circuitous route to Dent which took in old haunts. Past the field in High Casterton where incipient hormones used to find an outlet in plaguing the farmer's Hereford bull, without red capes or banderillas, in acts plainly designed to arouse the admiration of the local girls.

On into lovely Barbondale - destination of many family Sunday afternoon outings to swim in the beck - and then to follow the narrow road higher and higher, hemmed in by sweeping fells down which preposterously steep limestone dry stone walls had marched for hundreds of years. An act of human 'permanence' in a wild landscape.

Finally, steeply down into Dentdale and the hamlet of Dent - still boasting two pubs, a good village shop, various establishments for tea, B+B's (although there are far fewer now, the economic climate having wiped out a huge number of these guest houses, vital in communities which cling on to life, rather like lichen on the ubiquitous limestone walls), and of course the aforementioned School.

A swift check on the entry list was followed by a last meal of bananas before the start.

Placing myself at the back, to ensure I might at least pass one or two runners :) I waited for the off. The usual inaudible instructions (inaudible at least to those of us plodders at the back to whom they were probably more pertinent!) were shouted over a megaphone - a count down from 10 and we began our journey. Setting off at the back has its problems in these low tech events - no timing tags or mats, so my final time was always going to be precious seconds wrong. However it probably beats getting stampeded over by most of the field :)

The course which lies on two sides of the dale is described as 'rolling'- I remembered well from last time and my knowledge of the area reminded me that this was rolling as in 'the rolling Sierra Nevada' - perhaps an overstatement but in the first mile some were reduced to walking up the road from Barbondale - not I  - but more of that Elsewhere. Fortunately it took a sharp right after the 1 in 4 section and the pace rapidly increased as we ran down the Dale. A brief conversation with a tall and good looking lady runner swiftly ended as she announced she was hoping to get round in considerably less time than I  - the end of an all too brief and possibly beautiful friendship as she disappeared in what would have been a cloud of dust, except that they don't do dust in Dentdale. A cloud of straw, water and mud along with bits of road surface worked loose by the hard winter? Of such transitory 'friendships' are road races made.

On past a farm - still working - the farmer and his family stood out by the gate - the harshness and economic reality of farming up here etched into their faces and clothes. It was the first time for many years I've seen a child dressed in a buttoned wool cardigan and little else. The farm advertised itself as the place which provided the milk for what we might call 'tourist cheese', of the over-priced sort designed to entice cash from visitors to Lake District grockle shops. There is little money in milk and even  less here, from what I saw. Clinging on . . .

At just past three miles the course swung to the North West side of the valley and we swung into the wind. Up to that point I'd wondered about the wisdom of running in my rain jacket - no longer. The wind swept off the fells and the lowering sky promised further meteorological 'pleasures'. The field thinned out and it was clear that I was running with the folk who one way or another would accompany me for the next ten miles. I was passed again by a couple wearing T shirts from a South African marathon - then I re-passed them, and so it went on till they left me at 7 miles, at least for then. Running on my heart rate I let them go - I guessed I might haul them in towards the end.

Past familiar farmsteads, derelict barns, the occasional B+B, but more private houses now. The rain began to come in - looking up I guessed, correctly as it turned out, that this was the typical hour or so of rain that would pass away leaving non hill-goers imagining the front had passed. It lasted almost exactly an hour and the weather was turning more intentionally serious  as I finally drove away, 45 minutes after the race. Glad to see my feel for weather hasn't deserted me even if the sprightly pace of younger days Has done so.

But running on heart rate is good for the soul - it gives you time to think, it is almost meditative and miles slipped by. One of a number of hardy spectators exhorted me to stick to my pace, by his gear I recognised an experienced club runner - he knew whereof he spoke and we exchanged a glance of mutual recognition - he knew what I was about and although no doubt he'd have been round a lot faster than I  - we both new that the race was not to the swift - at least for most of us it wasn't.

Just past 8 miles I slipped into a wonderful 'zone' as I climbed yet another hill in a bubble - aware that I was now beginning to leave some of my fellow runners. A steady 80% showed on the monitor and the hill slipped away. Just then a runner, who in my head became 'the Man from Bolton', (anonymity being part of modern running we never asked for names), drew alongside me and asked how long we'd been going for. We exchanged pleasantries but he was running his own race and soon moved on ahead of 'the man from Gisburn', but Dent Beck accompanied us two 'Lancastrians' - the colour of the beer from the local brewery as peat churned up by the rain added its own familiar hue.

I was glad to see the beck so close - it reminded my that the finish was downhill of me. I saw the road returning on the other side of the valley and remembered my last run on this course how I'd run down the road and waved cheerily to two friends who were about a mile behind me and still climbing where I was running now - how the mighty . . .

A turn at the head of the valley and onto the final four miles - 'downhill'. Except valley sides do not permit so easy of definition even when they follow the stream. The road, like all manmade things, wrestling as we do with thorns and briars, is condemned to take the harder course. So 'down the valley' - but with some big ups, the cruellest of which came just past the half marathon.
For a while my right adductor felt as if someone had injected me with local anaesthetic. The cold was now biting, my legs red but this felt just plain peculiar. (This and a momentary light headedness when I tried to push were the only 'distress' I registered for 14 miles. )
I'd forgotten how steep this part of the course was, and for a moment my pursuit of the 'South Africans' (my hrm now up to 85% for the last effort) halted as I walked the last few yards of the tightening hill, but the summit gained and no part of my anatomy threatening imminent collapse, I cruised past them to an admiring 'Well Run'. They of course had run well too and at the end I told them so - but for now it was the last few hundred yards, finishing with a cruel 20 yards of old style 'rough cobbles' ouch - but the pain instantly forgotten in the euphoria of the finish - there really isn't anything like it even for us plodders.

A quick word of thanks to the St John's Ambulance crew - fortunately a quiet afternoon for them - no 'blue light' dashes thank God, then after a few words with my friendly (as it turned out) 'South Africans' into the Memorial hall, past the leaking ceiling for the post race tea and the cacophony of a few hundred runners re-living it all for their friends. A Ham sandwich, a cup cake, a slab of bakers shortbread and a Bakers scone (lacking the lightness of my wife's :) ) - accompanied by a mug of tea into which for once I dropped a tablespoon of sugar - soon saw to my immediate needs.

A perch on a bench alongside another runner - clearly showered down and finished long ago - the prizegiving - the race was won by Spiderman. the first time I've ever been in a race and a costumed runner had won - mutterings of unfair advantage rose around the hall but given the conditions it wasn't really the weather for arachnids. I'm sure the all over lycra helped, but I'm still trying to work out how he breathed and ran fast (there being no mouthpiece in the mask!)

Noted how my fellow runners only truly quietened down after the speech of thanks from the school's headteacher - it is a very selfish pass-time - and also how two out of the four top female runners were 'vets' - the male vets were well out of the running for prizes . . . (enuf sed)

And so out as the first spots of the real rain began to bite, back to the car and farewell to this  special place - hidden from the sight of the world, tucked away at the head of the dale and, like the slower runners, clinging on."

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