Thursday, 31 August 2017

Come to the Ladywell 10,000m

This Sunday 3rd September I will be running in the Ladywell 10000m, my first time running this distance on the track on what should be a great day out at Lewisham's Ladywell Arena.

This is the biggest event of the year for my club, Kent AC, who are based at the track. There will be six races, the first starting at 3 pm and the last at 7:30 pm, with some top club runners at the faster end chasing down times of around 30 minutes.


Highgate Harriers' Night of 10000m PBs has shown that it is possible to make watching long distance running a great day out. Seeing people giving it their all as the races unfold gradually over 25 laps, while hanging out having a drink, is a great way to spend a day. Ladywell might not be on quite the same scale as Highgate, but a lot of effort has gone in to making this a memorable event. There will be food and drink from the West Norwood based London Beer Company, and as at Highgate people will be encouraged to get close to the action to cheer on the runners.


The Ladywell 10000m represents another step forward in the revival of grass roots running in London and beyond. Following a period when some of the events organised by national bodies had become lacklustre and routine, events like Night of 10000m PBs (initiated by Highgate's Ben Pochee), Orion Harriers' Fast Friday, the Soar mile at Battersea, Hercules Wimbledon 5k night, not to mention British Milers Club events, are putting some energy and excitement back into track racing. Arguably this is a perfect time for this revival, with a new wave of people coming into club running via parkrun and looking to take the next steps on to faster times and competitive racing.


The track is behind Lewisham Hospital, come along and check it out, it's free admission. If you are a runner in SE London and looking to improve further, you might want to see the local club in action and see if it's for you- we cater for everyone from parkrun improvers to Olympians.

Check out this great short film of the Ladywell Arena, posted on twitter by Olympic 400m runner Conrad Williams, who belongs to the club:

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Running in Lisbon

Lisbon is a great city for a holiday - good food, drink, largely unspoilt old buildings and streets in the centre, great art galleries and museums, and beaches within easy reach by cheap public transport. But what's it like to run in?

Well like all hot places in the summer, it's best to run early in the morning. I found that by 7:30 am in August it was already getting uncomfortably hot to run,  but in any case in a busy tourist destination you need to be out early to avoid the crowds and traffic. As in most cities, early on the only people on the streets are runners and clubbers from the night before.

The other factor is that, like Rome, Lisbon is a city built on seven hills. As I will explain, there are some flatter runs possible, but not too many.
'Build sofas not walls' - sand sculpture

Lisbon sits on the River Tagus where it runs into the Atlantic so the most straightforward flat route is to run along the river. I started out on my first day at the riverfront in front of Praça do Comércio (a main square in the centre) and just turned right and headed west. You can stay on the riverbank for large parts of the run, in places there are docks and other fenced off places that push you away from the river, but it's easy enough to follow paths parallel to the river until you can rejoin it. If you're worried about getting lost, just wait until another runner comes along and follow them - there's a steady stream in the morning.

I ran for about three miles to the Ponte 25 de Abril (25 April bridge), a Golden Gate style suspension bridge which crosses the river  - it takes its current name from the revolt of 25 April 1974 that ended more than 40 years of fascist-style dictatorship. And no you can't run across it, it's strictly for vehicles except during the annual Lisbon Half Marathon where it forms part of the course.

Other runners take the train from Cais do Sodre train station to Belem a bit further along the river (where many of the museums/galleries are) from where you can run out beyond the city and along the coast out to the beaches to the west.




Not so flat, but not too much of an incline is the Avenida da Liberdade (Liberty Avenue), a tree lined and therefore relatively shady boulevard heading north west from Rossio square. This is a good run of over 1 km before you reach a park, Parque Eduardo VII. As with many of Lisbon's streets you are running on tiles or cobbles which are not always as even as they appear - so lift those knees up!

Avenida da Liberdade




In the park on the east side (the right side if you are coming up from city centre) is the Carlos Lopes pavillion, a  1920s building renamed in honour of the Portuguese winner of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics Marathon in 2:09:21. Apparently there is a small permanent exhibition inside including his running shoes from 1984, but unfortunately  the building was closed when I visited. 




Carlos Lopes Pavillion


Parque Eduardo VII

Getting to the highest point in Lisbon up by the castle does mean some serious step climbing - once again best earlier not just because of the heat but because heading up through the old town Alfama district means negotiating narrow streets which can get quite crowded, not to mention dodging trams. Easy to get lost but if you come up from the river front as long as you are going uphill you are going in approximately the right direction. Don't stress about losing your GPS signal amidst the alleyways, that's goes with the territory.

Above and below - climbing up through Alfama district








The Baixa district consists of a grid of parallel streets that is similar to London's West End, with lots of globally familiar high street shops. These are a godsend to runners before they get busy, fairly flat, some pedestrianised and with the buildings casting some shade. One morning I just ran up and down the grid.






The arch at the bottom of Rua Augusta in Baixa district
As I mentioned before you can get the train - for a mere 5 Euros or so return - out the to the various beaches to the west of Lisbon. In most cases the train stops right next to the beach. We went to Estoril a couple of times, where I had a run along the front followed by swim in the sea.


Estoril

Another great thing about Lisbon is that having burnt off some calories running you can treat yourself to some of the finest pastries. Of course you can get a Pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tart) in many British cafes now. But can you buy them from places where you can choose just how burnt you want the top?!


Conclusion - go to Lisbon, and pack your running shoes.



Some of my Lisbon runs on Strava -





Thursday, 17 August 2017

The road is a strange country - Rebecca Solnit

'In motion it seems that time is not slipping away from us but we are pursuing it, measuring its passage in the rhythm of the road... Perhaps if we didn’t imagine life as a journey rather than some other metamorphosis—the growth of a tree, for example—roads would not seem like destiny itself, but we do and they do. To move along the road is to encounter all the loose elements, the dangers and possibilities, to slip out of a settled destiny in pursuit of stranger fates. The road is a promise as simple as what lies ahead, never failed and never delivered, and the road is a strange country itself, longer than all the continents and narrow as a house, with its own citizens, its own rules, a place where the solid and settled become fluid'.

 'Roads are a no-man’s-land, a leveling ground, the place where one is no longer one thing and not yet another'

'Being in motion wakes the body up. In repose one is nothing but a surface face of potential sensation, only the surface, the skin, is awake. Exertion and pain make the rest tangible— otherwise bones and muscles and organs would be little but articles of faith beneath the visible and sensible surface of skin, and so one’s own interior anatomy may be among the things explored in the course of a journey’s exertions'



(Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations, 1997 -  reflections on her travels across Ireland, including some timely thoughts on dubious notions of blood, soil and identity, and on the joys and otherwise of journeying. No running in the book, but lots of walking, and I thought her notion of the road as another country is something felt by runners, as is the experience  of getting to know our anatomy through motion and pain)

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Yoga for People Who Can't be Bothered to Do it

I've done a couple of yoga sessions this year, prompted by the fact that while I have a kind of elevated running mono-fitness I can sometimes barely move my body through any other range of motions. But the allure of flexibility has not been enough to keep me engaged and I feel very much like Geoff Dyer in his witty travelogue  'Yoga for People who Can't be Bothered to Do it' (2003). 

Recalling a stay at a sanctuary resort in Thailand, Dyer writes:

'I didn't even do yoga. I was practically the only person who didn't. A lot of people did yoga even when they weren't actually doing it. They were always stretching or bending or just sitting in quite demanding positions. Everyone had perfect posture and walked as though gravity were an option rather than a law. I wished I 'd been doing yoga for years - but I was incapable of starting...


'Kate had heard 'I was some kind of writer' and wondered what kind of things I wrote.


'I have an idea for a self help book' I said. 'Yoga for People Who Can't be Bothered to Do it'


'But you can't be bothered to write it, right?'


'You stole my punch line,' I said.


(I have seen this filed in a bookshop under heath and fitness, but it is definitely not any kind of manual!)

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Jodie Whittaker - from London Marathon to Dr Who





There's been a fair amount of nonsense over the last few weeks since it was announced that the next incarnation of Dr Who will be a woman, played by Jodie Whittaker. Not sure what the fuss is about,  if there can be a female Doctor of Medicine or Philosophy why on earth shouldn't there be a female Doctor of Time Travel in a somewhat rickety old children's science fiction series  in need of a new lick of paint - after 12 men have had a go. More to the point Jodie Whittaker does actually have a real superpower - she can run.


The power has been briefly glimpsed in Broadchurch, where she played the character of Beth over three series. In the most recent series her ex-husband tried to interrupt her seafront session with a deep conversation but she wasn't having it...






In real life, as Running is Funny reported a few years ago, Jodie ran 'the Robin Hood Half Marathon in 2004 and 2005, completing it in 2:23 and 2:13, respectively, then moved up in distance. She completed the 2007 New York City Marathon in 4:38', and ran the London Marathon in 2012 for Mencap, a British learning disability charity, finishing in 4:45:41.


Jodie Whittaker in 2012 London Marathon - running with Team Harry written on her arms. Jodie's nephew, Harry Whittaker, who had Downs Syndrome, died in 2014. He was an actor too, and appeared in Emmerdale.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Less Survivable Cancers

When I ran the London Marathon in 2015 I asked friends and family to donate to  Core – the Digestive Disorders Foundation, a cancer research charity that focuses on cancers of the digestive system including stomach cancer which my dad, Dugald Orr, died from. Thanks to everyone who donated we raised over £900 (see previous post about  my dad and my reasons for this choice).




 I was pleased to hear from the charity again recently - they told me that they sometimes use a picture of me and my dad in their presentations which was touching. Last week they invited me to the London launch of a new campaign called the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce  which they have started with a group of other charities concerned with lung, liver, oesophageal, brain, pancreatic and stomach cancer, which make up half of cancer deaths in the UK. A cancer diagnosis is devastating for anybody, but for those with these cancers the prognosis is particularly poor. They have just a 14% chance of surviving for more than 5 years, compared with 64% for more survivable cancers.



My dad's death in 1997 at the age of 61 came at the end of a period of more than six months of lost opportunities to diagnose his stomach cancer. When he started losing weight and having eating problems he was already in the system for arthritis and his symptoms were initially viewed through the lens of the rheumatology specialists he was seeing at the hospital. He then had an operation for a benign tumour on his thyroid and it wasn't until after this that he was finally given an endoscopy and diagnosed. Within a few weeks he had died -  too weak to cope well with surgery, he never fully recovered consciousness after an operation.

Nobody lives forever, and with the present stage of medical knowledge a magic bullet cure for all cancers might not be on the immediate horizon. But with timely diagnosis and treatment I'm sure my dad could have lasted a few more years, time at least to have met all his grandchildren for instance.

As I head  towards that age myself I find it depressing that in respect of these less survivable cancers there seems to have been relatively little progress in the 20 years since. Hence the need for the Taskforce with its five objectives:


1. Raise awareness of symptoms
2. Speed up paths to treatments
3. Remove barriers to treatment trials
4. Set government backed survival targets for each cancer
5. Increase investments in research

The Taskforce launch was held at Westminster's Portcullis House on Wednesday and featured contributions from people affected by these cancers whether as survivors or as relatives of those who didn't survive. The campaign seems to have some political support, such as through the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer, and with clear and achievable aims there is no reason why it shouldn't make an impact.

But improvements for people with cancer cannot be achieved in isolation from the state of health services more generally. If early diagnosis and treatment is a key factor in survival rates, then getting into the system quickly is essential. At present many people seem to be struggling to get to the first hurdle - getting a GP appointment - let alone getting referred on to appropriate specialists.


Here's a few comments from a facebook discussion last week about trying to get an appointment at my local GP practice in South London:


'I've tried every day this week and been variously: cut off after ten minutes on hold (twice); left on hold for an hour; unable to get through at all; getting a "the surgery is now closed" message for a whole day'.

 'I needed an appointment the next one is 26th august I was told Monday' [17 July]

'Few months back I couldn't get an appointment and the receptionist was asking all kinds of intrusive questions. I was in a bad situation and paid to see private at work and I needed to go to hospital for a scan... Even though I answered and told the receptionist I had lumps in my breasts she still wouldn't book me in!' 

'have just spent 38 minutes on hold again. Got through eventually and was told they are only taking emergency appointments. They could offer me a telephone appointment in 3 weeks (when I'm on holiday)...  Almost cried with frustration'.

I wish this was just a local problem at my doctors, but talking to other people this doesn't sound untypical - overwhelmed admin. staff rationing limited appointments. Knowing how hard it can be for many people to acknowledge their symptoms and seek help, anything that deters them from seeing a doctor can only reduce their chances of survival if they are unfortunate enough to be suffering from one of the less survivable cancers.


Primary care needs resources so that people can see their GP - not just money, but a supply of suitably trained and rewarded staff at all levels from receptionists to doctors. Around one in eight GP posts are vacant, and there is a national recruitment crisis: 'Almost one in five practices has had to abandon searching for a new GP as vacancy rates have hit their highest ever' (Pulse, 12 May 2017)


But I would also like to see more self-referral to cancer screening services, with more active surveillance for people at risk. One of the speakers at last week's event put his survival down to the fact that he was on a programme where he was having an endoscopy every six months, so his condition was picked up early. I fear that many, just like my dad 20 years ago, never get near such a procedure until their symptoms are too severe to treat.





Sunday, 16 July 2017

Dulwich Midsummer Relays 2017


52 teams of three took part in the Dulwich Runners Midsummer Relays on July 12th 2017, held for the second year in Dulwich Park. In previous years the club organised a midsummer 5k - I ran it in 2015 (see report here) - but with the park hosting a 5k parkrun every Saturday it makes sense to try something a bit different.


The start of the first leg
 This year I ran with people from work who I sometimes join for a Wednesday lunchtime run around the Tower Bridge area. We fielded two teams as 'Tooley Street Runners', each of us taking our turn at one lap of the park - just over a mile.


Tooley Street Runners
Finsbury Flyers were the winning men's trio in 14:52, and a team from London City Athletic Club won the women's competiion in 17:43. The mixed team prize was won by three Peckham parkrunners in 16:34. Full results here.