Saturday, 25 March 2017

The Lark in the Morning - running over Blow's Downs in Dunstable

'In the golden lightning 
Of the sunken sun, 
O'er which clouds are bright'ning, 
Thou dost float and run; 
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun'

(To a Skylark by Percy Bysshe Shelley)

I went for a run last week at Blow's Downs nature reserve, a hilltop unimproved chalk grassland 'site of special scientific interest' overlooking Dunstable in Bedfordshire. I say overlooking but on this particular morning there was nothing to be seen in all directions but fog, making superfluous the sign at the top pointing out other landmark hills which are normally visible including Luton's Warden Hill (which I wrote about here previously).

If the town was invisible there was the odd trace of nearby urban reality as a reminder, like the carving on this fallen tree...

Blow's Down, at the northern end of the Chiltern Hills, is known for its wildlife with its information board mentioning ring ousels, redstarts and wheatears. I had hoped that I might see something interesting – the day before I had watched a red kite circling over nearby down Dunstable Downs. On this morning though the birds too were hidden in the mist.

But I could still hear their songs - one in particular as a skylark floated overhead uttering its 'silver chain of sound, Of many links without a break, in chirrup, whistle, slur and shake' (George Meredith, The Lark Ascending, 1881). Yes the skylark is the poet's favourite bird, and maybe every runner too aspires to 'float and run... like an unbodied joy' as Shelley puts it.  Though while running in limited visibility on uneven ground the runner must not lose themselves too much in ethereal thoughts - there is a steep quarry on the hill, and last year a dog walker broke his leg falling down the slope. 'The lark in the morning she rises from her nest', but s/he never loses sight of the ground.

'Alas! my journey, rugged and uneven,
Through prickly moors or dusty ways must wind;
But hearing thee, or others of thy kind,
As full of gladness and as free of heaven,
I, with my fate contented, will plod on,
And hope for higher raptures, when life’s day is done'
(To a Skylark by William Wordsworth)

The Luton - Dunstable busway runs along the bottom of the downs, a bus only route with a track alongside it that is great for runners and cyclists.

(The Lark in the Morning is of course an Irish folk song, I used to be part of a folk music session that performed it every Sunday afternoon in a pub near Elephant and Castle back in the 1990s)

Sunday, 12 March 2017

English National Cross Country Championships 2017 in Nottingham

The 2017 English National Cross Country Championships took place on Saturday February 25th at Wollaton Park in Nottingham. I took part in the senior men's race, one of nearly 1800 who made it round the 12k course.

Front of senior women's race on first lap
The course itself was decidely 'interesting', a spiralling series of four loops each slightly longer and different from the previous. There were a number of photogenic water and mud features, a longish sticky patch on last lap being particulary tough, but provided you negotiated these without falling or losing a shoe you always knew that you would soon be on a long runnable stretch. In that respect I found it a lot more pleasant than the Parliament Hill course where the mud can sometimes seem to stretch on forever (the English nationals will be returning there for 2018)

The U20 men hit the mud - I think the guy falling is Ellis Cross who nevertheless went on to win for the second year in a row (photo from English Cross Country Association gallery)
There were two main uphill sections on the course- one just before the descent to the finish line (which the senior men covered four times), and one climbing up to towards Wollaton Hall (a feature of three of the men's laps - the women's course was shorter).  Trudging up that hill put me in mind of the old folk song 'In Nottingham town, not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down'.

The tail end of the senior women's race enjoying the hill
Wollaton Hall features in The Dark Knight Rises as Wayne Manor, but there were no batman costumes in this race - it was no fun run!

'there's a storm brewing Mr Wayne'

It was my third National and I improved slightly on last year at Castle Donington, finishing 28 places ahead in a similar sized field - making me in the 79th rather than 83rd percentile with a mere 1395 runners in front of me!


Obligatory Nationals muddy legs shot

As for the club, Kent AC finished 11th in the senior men's competition and 12th in the senior women, a good result. Well done to Tonbridge AC and Aldershot, Farnham & District AC for winning the men's and women's champs respectively.

Kent AC changing trains at Tamworth station.
A big group of us travelled up from London, with 40 runners competing across the various races, most of whom stayed over for post-race celebrations in Nottingham. We ended up in Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (pictured below) built into the rocks by Nottingham Castle and purportedly the oldest pub in England. I'm sure it has seen worse than a few rounds of jager bombs with South London's finest. Hangovers were cleared with some early morning runs before heading home, I did 12 miles along the canal and the River Trent, passing near to Trent Bridge cricket ground and the City Ground of Nottm Forest.

End of the season

So that was the end of the cross country season, for me at least. The month before I ran in the South of England Cross Country Champs at Parliament Hill, finishing five minutes faster than at the Southerns last year on the same course - but it must be said conditions this year were a lot less wet and muddy than in 2016 (me below at end of first lap, didn't look quite so spy after nine miles).

Also last month I ran in the last fixture of the 2016-17 Surrey League, at Wimbledon Common on February 11th. I hotfooted there from Farthing Down near Coulsdon where South London Harriers hosted the final D1 women's race of the season on a snowy course along Happy Valley.

Surrey League women's race in the Coulsdon blizzard micro-climate, 11 February
Must admit I was a bit disappointed that there was no sign of snow at Wimbledon, though picturesque conditions aren't everything and Kent AC won the men's title for the 5th year in a row.

Start of Surrey League Division One Men's Race, Wimbledon Common, 11/2/2017
(photo by Pete Lighting)

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Norman Cook/Fatboy Slim runs Brighton Half

photo from Run247

Norman Cook aka DJ Fatboy Slim was the official starter at Brighton Half Marathon a couple of weeks ago (27 February 2017). After blowing the klaxon to set more than  8000 runners on their way, Norman ran the race himself, finishing in 1.49.22

Cook is a keen runner and has been a regular at the event in the past few years, think this was a PB for him, with previous times including:

2016 2.02
2015 1.53
2014 1.56

He's also run Royal Parks Half a couple of times to raise money for Young Epilepsy

There's always been a sporting side to Norman, I saw him DJ at Brixton Academy in 1999 when he and Armand Van Helden staged a soundclash from a boxing ring in the middle of the dancefloor

See previously:

Musicians in Motion -