Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Running on Screen (13): A running row in Eastenders

Sonia and Tina are having relationship problems on BBC soap Eastenders. Well, in true Walford style Sonia's ex is struggling to look after the newborn baby that he wrongly believes he has fathered etc etc. But there's more - Sonia is just doing too much running! Last Thursday's episode (18 February 2016) starts with this sulky exchange:

Tina: 'Not running then?'

Sonia: 'No, not till later'

T: 'If it's not work, it's training'.

S: 'Come on, don't be like that, Kush says I'm going to be able to do 3k in under 20 minutes by next week'

T: 'You might as well be talking German'

S: 'Why don't we do something together this afternoon, come on it'll be fun'.

'Ok, as long as it doesn't involve running'.

In a bid to smooth the waters, Tina gets a secondhand exercise bike, telling Sonia:

'I got that because I thought maybe you could train at home instead of being out all the time'.

Eastenders prides itself on its well researched storylines, but would Sonia, training for the Walford Half Marathon, really have simpered 'You got that for me?'

Surely Sonia would actually have said: 'A bike? Haven't you read Pfitzinger & Douglas 'Advanced Marathoning'? 'To get a similar workout to running requires about three times as long on a bike. Because cycling is highly repetitive and uses a limited range of motion, it presents a danger of shortening your stride'. I mean what were you thinking?'

Previously in the Running on Screen series:

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Surrey League XC finale at Wimbledon Common

'Once upon a time the Wombles went to live on - or rather under - Wimbledon Common in South-west London. There may be other Womble families in different parts of the world - in fact there are - but the Wombles like to keep to themselves, so once they've made a move and built themselves a comfortable waterproof burrow they tend to stay where they are...
off went Tomsk, running across the golf course with his arms tucked into his sides and his head well back, just like a four minute miler. He vanished over the skyline' 
(The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford, 1968)

start of the men's senior race - winner Alex Yee already in front (photo from I Was or Am a Runner on facebook)

So that was this year's Surrey League cross country champs... The last race of the 2015-16 season, for the Division One men at least, took place on Wimbledon Common on Saturday. Kent AC (my club) won the match and, for the 4th year in a row, the League- headed on the day by Team GB Under-20 International Alex Yee, with club colleague John Gilbert  in 2nd place. Paskar Owor came 3rd, making him the leading runner across the season. He will be sadly missed from Division One next year as his club, Belgrave Harriers, were relegated to division two by a one point margin. Hercules Wimbledon were second place on the day and in the League overall.

The men's League includes 37 clubs across four divisions, and the women's League is also going from strength to strength. Their final match at Richmond Common had 382 runners from 38 clubs in the combined Division One/Division Two race. Steph McCall (South London Harriers) won by a 47 second margin in a field that also included the second fastest UK women's marathon runner of all time - Mara Yamauchi, running for Thames Hare and Hounds. Clapham Chasers won Division One, and of course I was delighted that Kent AC won Division Two and promotion to the top flight (full results and tables at Surrey League website)

The start of the junior race on Wimbledon Common
'Look, look, look,' shouted Bungo, running down a slope and turning to glance over his shoulder at his own prints. 'Look, look, look' called Alderney, and she put down her her head and went head over heels, leaving a funny bumpy track behind' (The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford)

Wimbledon Common - one of the birth places of cross country club running - has a number of different courses, Saturday's taking place over the one associated with Hercules Wimbledon. These trails across the common are of  course invisible in between races, but a few markers and a handful of marshals are all it takes to demarcate the route.

Conditions on Saturday were cold with light rain, spikes were essential on some of the muddier sections on the lower slopes, but uncomfortable on the harder gravelly tracks nearer the top of the hill. There is a track across the Common called Gravelly Ride and that says it all. All of this is a function of the geology of what is officially designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest on account of its varied natural habitats: 'The high plateau in the east and north of the site has a capping of glacial gravels overlying Claygate Beds and London Clay which are exposed on the western slope of the Common. The acidic soils, and poor drainage of the plateau give rise to a mosaic of wet heath and unimproved acidic grassland. Semi-natural broadleaved woodland covers the deeper, clay soils of the western slope...Several streams rise at the boundary of the gravels and clays' (Natural England). So if your spikes were crunching on the gravel, blame the ice age.

There were three narrow stream crossings (one with bridge) and a tree trunk to leap, not to mention a post which one of the Kent runners (Owen Hind) crashed into at high speed.

Into the woods - yellow Hercules Wimbledon flags mark the course

'In spite of all their training on Wimbledon Common, he and Orinoco were not nearly as fit and tough as the members of the Clan, who could scamper up and down the mountains all night without getting tired' (The Wandering Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford, 1970)

I finished towards the back end and it was a bit lonely back there wiith many of my fellow slower runners either injured or absent. Still I was pleased to have shaken off some of my sluggish recent form, and in fact my time was two minutes faster than when I ran the same course in the South of Thames XC last season.

It's really only through running that I've become familiar with Wimbledon Common in the last couple of years- this year three of the four Surrey League Division One races for men were held there. Prior to that the Common for me was simply the legendary location of the Wombles stories, the furry recyclers of my childhood. Children's author Elisabeth Beresford conceived of the Wombles while walking on the Common.  No Wombles were spotted on Saturday, though they have popped up at the Wimbledon Half Marathon in the past.

Wimbledon Common Half Marathon 2014 (photo from Runners Forum)

See also:

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Running on Screen (12): China Crisis 'Wishful Thinking' video

'Wishful Thinking' by China Crisis was the biggest hit for the Merseyside band, reaching number nine in the UK charts in 1984. It's a lovely song, quite understated in an era when many songs were ruined by instrusive production. With its lyric 'I see the likeness in his smile and the way he stands makes it all worthwhile' I assume it's about a man seeing his son but not being part of his life. I'm not quite sure where running comes into it, but the video (as my friend Paul Crompton noted on twitter) featuers a lone cross country runner - or perhaps more properly a fell runner, as he seems to be heading into the hills somewhere in the north of England.

The runner - wearing what seems to be a Ron Hill vest - is seen heading across the moor, running through a field full of sheep and falling into water. Does anyone recognise the location, the vest or even the runner?

Previously in the Running on Screen series:

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Running London: all 12 South London Boroughs Completed!

I got given the 'Runners's Guide to London' by Hayden Shearman for Christmas, with its promise of  '300 pages, over 120 runs, 100s of photos, 100-odd maps, trails, parks, canals, pathways, athletics tracks, indoor tracks, races, clubs, history, interviews with local legends ... everything RUNNING and LONDON is in this book'.

It's a well-designed book, with full colour photos and maps on every page. But for me the test for a London book is whether its coverage extends to all parts the city, not just the usual tourist areas covered by various types of guide books. In particular, the South East London area where I live is often overlooked in 'London' books other than a brief mention of Greenwich. I'm glad to say that the 'Runners Guide to London' scores very postively on this score, with a decent South East section matching those for all other parts of London, each of which includes a mixture of recommended running hot spots (such as parks, hillls and woods) with longer routes. For South East London for instance the latter includes The Green Chain and The Waterlink Way from Sydenham to Deptford Creek. There is a also a section on the capital's greatest route of all - The Thames Path.  I  recommend this book whether you are a runner living in London, or you're just visiting and want to explore the city on foot - get a copy here.

Run Every Borough Challenge

One idea in the book is the 'Run Every Borough Challenge'. London is divided into 33 local government areas - 32 boroughs plus the City of London. The challenge is simply to 'Find somewhere beautiful  to run in every borough in London', in the process maybe exploring parts of the city that even the born and bred Londoner might not be familiar with.

I quickly worked out that I had run in 16 of the 33 boroughs, including 10 of 12 located south of the River Thames. So today I decided to complete the southern part of the challenge by running in the London Boroughs of Sutton and Kingston.

In the former I went for a four mile run along the River Wandle trail, starting out in Beddington Park.

A bridge over the River Wandle in Beddington Park

In the park, the river feeds a large pond and is also diverted into a narrow stream with some picturesque bridges.

Beddington Park
 I followed the river up as far as the wildfowl-rich Waddon ponds and then headed back.

Waddon Ponds

Afterwards I headed on to Malden in Kingston, where I ran  for a bit along another London river, the Hogsmill. The run was a little disappointing, mainly because what looked on the map like a good route along the river was actually interrupted by the impossible to cross A3 road. Eventually I found a subway but I spent much of the run on suburban streets trying to find a way to the river, and the section I ran had a muddy/slippery path.  But I did my four miles on the streets of Kingston borough, so that's another one on the list. 

The Hogsmill River in Elmbridge Meadows (behind Elmbridge Avenue).
So here's my progress in the Run Every Borough Challenge so far (runs completed in each borough in brackets):

South of the River-

Lambeth  (Streatham Common cross country, Clapham Common 10k, Brockwell Park)
Southwark  (Southwark parkrun, Peckham Rye parkrun, Dulwich parkrun, Burgess parkrun)
Bromley  (Crystal Palace parkrun, start of Assembly League race in Beckenham, Kent Vets XC at Sparrows Den)
Lewisham  (Hilly Fields parkrun, Ladywell track etc)
Wandsworth (Battersea Park Assembly League race)
Greenwich  (Greenwich Peninsula Assembly League race, start of London Marathon)
Croydon (Croydon Half, Farthing Downs cross country)
Richmond (Richmond Park 10k, Surrey League cross country, Bushy parkrun)
Bexley (Sidcup 10 mile)
Merton (Mitcham Common cross country, Wimbledon Common cross country)
Kingston (Hogsmill river)
Sutton (Wandle river run)

North of the River -

City of London  (City of London Mile, London Marathon)
City of Westminster (London Marathon finish, Regents Park 10k)
Tower Hamlets  (Victoria Park Assembly League race)
Hackney (Hackney Marshes 5k)
Newham (ran to Olympic Stadium during canal runs)

Still to do (all North of the River):

Kensington and Chelsea
Hammersmith and Fulham
Barking and Dagenham
Waltham Forest

Clearly going to have to get out to the far east and west across the river. Luckily there's a good google map showing all the boundaries, not to mention some good destinations in The Runners Guide to London.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Back to Parliament Hill: South of England Cross Country Championships 2016

The 2016 South of England Cross Country Championships took place at Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath on Saturday 30th January, with 3099 runners finishing 10 races for males and females of various ages.

Headlines in terms of the results were that Jonathan Hay (Aldershot) won the men's senior title, ahead of Chris Zablocki (Chichester) and Thames Valley Harriers' Antonio Silva. Highgate Harriers - for whom Hampstead Heath is home turf - won the team competition, with Serpentine Running Club in 2nd  place and Bedford & County AC 3rd.

Senior women heading up first hill
Naomi Taschimowitz (Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers) was women's champion, with Svenja Abel (Highgate) nine seconds behind and Georgie Bruinvels (Aldershot) third. Aldershot, Farnham & District AC were winning women's team, followed by Serpentine and Herne Hill Harriers.

Good performances too from Kent AC (my club), with the men's senior team in 5th place  (out of 70) and the women's team coming 9th in our first ever year of fielding a full women's team. We also had success in the junior races with Ollie Bright coming 7th in the U13 boys and Isabel Bradley in  30th place in the Under-20s women (full results at South of England Athletics Association).

So at the front of the races there were some top athletes, but for the rest of us it was the challenge of doing our best over one of the most challenging cross country courses, in one the sport's spiritual homes.

Senior women's race start
I ran in the Nationals here last year, but found the Southerns tougher as it was over three laps instead of two - official distance was 15k (9.3 miles). Although my Garmin made it slightly less, in effort level terms it was up there with a half marathon. I love watching the races heading up from the start by Parliament Hill Lido with the city skyline behind them, but the famous long uphill start isn't as daunting as it seems when you're running. The adrenalin, the crowd and and the tightly packed field carry you up to the top.

Under-20s men on first hill
It's as the course heads downhill to the right that the going really starts to get tough with a long section of heavy, ankle deep mud that continues as the route turns and heads up the slope. There's another energy-draining section about half way round the lap, deep in the woods wading through slurry and leading straight onto a steep slippery hill. After that the rest of the lap is on relatively solid ground, albeit with some sticky patches, and rejoins the starting hill to begin  the next lap towards the top of the slope

On the third and final lap there's a long descent down to the finishing stretch, right by Parliament Hill Fields Athletics Track. Then you get to go to the pub... in our case The Assembly House in Kentish Town, not sure if it got drunk dry as it did last year after the Nationals, but they'd certainly run out of some beers by the time I left (and that was quite early on).

The course

Club banners on the hillside - pictured here include Highgate Harriers, Southampton Athletic Club, Luton AC, Herts Phoenix AC, Wells City Harriers, Torbay AC, Basingstoke and Mid Herts AC, Cambrdge and Coleridge AC and St Albans AC.

Kent AC camped out on the heath
The indefatigable Mark Hookway from Tonbirdge AC has posted videos of all ten races here. Cruelly the men's senior footage starts with the most difficult section - hell in the woods (actually this is the first lap, it got a lot worse as the mud became more churned up). My only thought at this point was just keep running, however slowly...

Parliament Hill Legends

There's a whole lot of history, folklore and legends associated with Parliament Hill. Is the mound to the north of the hill really ‘Boedicea’s Grave’? (No). Did Highwayman Dick Turpin hang out in the area? (Possibly). Is the Hill named after the Parliamentary/anti-Royalist forces who occupied it during the English Civil War? (probably).

But in athletics terms, the Hill has its own legends - Brendan Foster winning the  English National Cross Country Championships there in 1977, Mo Farah winning the Nationals Junior Men's race in 2003, and many more. 

Another legend was present on Saturday and said a few words - David Bedford, who won the National XC at Parliament Hill in 1973, as well as the London Cross Country champs there several times. There's British Movietone footage of him winning the London XC champs in 1973, crossing the line with his pet labrador, Snoopy:

... and also of another Bedford victory in the same competition, I believe from 1974:

David Bedford after winning at Parliament Hill in 1974 (?)