Monday, 22 June 2020

Virtual Running in the Time of Covid-19

This weekend I ran on a track for the first time in months. Dulwich College has a 300m track which is currently open to the public so I cycled down to take a look. I wasn't feeling particularly fit, but I enjoyed the feeling of just going round and round...

Dulwich College running track

The track at Ladywell Arena used by my club Kent AC remains closed for now, but as with many tracks across the country plans are being made for how some running could start again within the current Covid-19 restrictions of no more than 6 people taking part in exercise together and 2 metres distancing. I joined an England Athletics webinar a couple of weeks ago all about doing risk assessments for re-opening tracks. Some have already opened based on zoning so that two or three groups can use space at same time - for instance at Milton Keynes Athletic Club's Stantonbury track they have been  experimenting with having one group in lanes 1-4 and another in lanes 5-8, with the in-field area used by throwers.  I would say it's fairly easy to keep a safe distance on track if numbers are low, although a strict 2 metres separation at all times is more or less impossible as people will pass each other.

I also went for a run last week around the Royal/Victoria Dock in East London, including passing the Excel Centre. I usually go there for the  annual London Marathon expo but this April of course it was cancelled and the Excel converted to a temporary Nightingale Hospital. With numbers hospitalised by Covid-19 declining the hospital has been mothballed. Still with at least 42,000 deaths in the UK so far and the pandemic still raging across the world we should be cautious about rushing back to 'business as usual', including in running.

Victoria Dock
In the mean time many of us have got used to different kinds of virtual running, including combining our solo efforts online through OpenTrack, Strava etc in a semblance of racing and social running.

On the day that the London Marathon was due to take place, 26 April 2020, I took part in the 2.6 Challenge. The idea was to do some 2.6 themed activity and then donate to one of the charities who had lost out on fundraising due to the Marathon not taking place. For my challenge I ran up and over the hill in Nunhead Cemetery 26 times. I also did a  2.23 mile run in the same place in May as part of 'I Run with Maud'. Runners across the world took part in honour of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery,  killed in an apparent racist murder while running in Brunswick, Georgia on 23rd February (hence 2.23).

Kent AC has arranged and been involved in a number of virtual races. At the end of May there was a competition between some of the clubs from the Surrey League and Met League cross country competitions, involving club members running five miles each with the team result based on top 12 scorers. I knew I wasn't going to be anywhere near the scorers, so I decided to run a proper undulating cross country course rather than worry too much about the time.  I did my five miles around one of my favourite places - Ashridge on the Herts/Bucks border near to Berkhamsted. This is a large National Trust woodland estate where I once worked on an archaeology project, famous for its bluebells and deer among other things. Definitely recommended for a run if you are ever in the area.

Ashridge
A couple of weeks previously there was 'Kent does Comrades'. Basically loosely seeded teams of  eight had to each complete the 55 mile distance of the iconic South African ultra-marathon. Around 120 people from Kent AC took part, my modest contribution being a 3 mile leg around Burgess Park following the parkrun course. Other virtual races in the club have included a UTMB challenge,  with teams having to reach 32,939 feet of elevation - but mostly on the hills of South London rather than Mont Blanc (Hilly Fields, Greenwich Park and the infamous Canonbie Road in Forest Hill were popular destinations, and my friend Adrian Dracup did 50k around Blythe Hill Fields as his contribution). I missed that one.

I also did a 5k in Peckham Rye in a Louise Michel Sports Club virtual race at the beginning of May.

Of course in all this virtual racing, the running is as real as ever. The virtual racing element does make a real difference though, it's amazing how knowing that your time is contributing to a team - albeit scattered far and wide in time and space - makes you push that bit harder. It's like having somebody at your shoulder encouraging you on. Running in a physical crowd of a couple of hundred bodies, as I usually do every Saturday morning, seems unimaginable right now. But hopefully it won't be too long in coming back.


Sunday, 12 April 2020

'A Monstre Cycling Social' - Blackheath 1886

Continuing my research on SE London sporting history, I came across this report of  'A Monstre Cycling Social'  held at the Green Man Hotel in December 1886. The Green Man stood at the top of Blackheath Hill (left hand side if you are going up it) for three hundred years before being demolished in 1970. It played an important social and cultural role, being at various times the HQ of England's oldest golf club (Royal Blackheath) and a significant folk, jazz and R&B in the 1960s (Paul Simon and Manfred Mann among the performers).

Green Man in 1880s - image from pubmywiki
There are a few interesting points to note about this 'large attendance of cyclists and their friends'. The lists of cycling clubs represented gives an idea of the popularity of the sport in this part of London at this early point in its history. South London clubs mentioned include New Cross, Argus (who were based in Deptford), Brockley, Dulwich, Brixton Ramblers, Norwood Safety, Peckham Rovers, Pelham (Sydenham), Clapham Park, Croydon, Anerley etc. 

Present too were a few running clubs - at this period there was quite an overlap between the two. One such club was Blackheath Harriers (today Blackheath & Bromley Harriers AC), also based at the Green Man, which had moved to the area in 1878 due to urbanisation around its former Peckham home (they had previously been known as Peckham Hare and Hounds, formed in 1869). Other running clubs mentioned including South London Harriers, Brockley Harriers and Lewisham Hare and Hounds. 

As discussed in a previous post here, Catford CC itself had only been founded in April 1886, and grew out of Lewisham Hare and Hounds. The Cycling Club is still going today, and Lewisham Hare and Hounds became part of Kent Athletic Club, founded in 1898 and still running hard at Ladywell track.

Kentish Mercury - Friday 10 December 1886
 Another interesting feature of this report is that it mentions that the event included a 'Mile Open' race on a 'Home trainer' bike. I had no idea that stationary indoor bicycle trainers existed at this point, but seemingly designs based on riding on rollers or with one wheel were already being marketed. Would be interested if anybody had come across an earlier example of a competitive use of a home trainer/exercise back than this one from 1886.

The following example made by Longford Wire Iron and Steel Co of Warrington dates to 1897:

image sourced from Grace's Guide

Friday, 27 March 2020

Run fast comrade, the old world is behind you

Interesting to see that a 'Louise Michel Sports Club' has been established in South East London, a radical group based around 'solidarity through fitness' with an initial focus on running, self-defence and hiking. They are named after the famous Paris Commune revolutionary who lived in SE London later in her life (a while ago I promised to organise a walk around her old haunts, maybe it could be a radical history run some time). Anyway I am dying to get my hands on one of their forthcoming t-shirts which they previewed on their twitter feed earlier (@louisemichelsc): 


Anyway that reminds me of another idea I had for a radical running t-shirt, based around a slogan written on the walls of Paris during May 1968 - 'cours, camarade, le vieux-monde est derriere toi' (run, comrade, the old world is behind you)



or in another variation 'cours vite...' (run fast...)


Would love to reproduce one of the above on a running top some day, technical fabric of course.



Saturday, 7 March 2020

Courir ou mourir? (run or die?) - Portrait of a Lady on Fire



There is a scene in Céline Sciamma's 2019 film 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire' where Héloïse, one of the two central characters runs towards the edge of a cliff from which her sister is believed to have jumped and killed herself. As Marianne, her companion and soon to be lover, catches up with her she tells her that she has been dreaming of doing this for years. 'Dying?' asks Marianne. 'Running' replies Héloïse (Mourir? 'Courir' in the French original).

In another scene, Héloïse expresses her determination to get in the sea. 'Can you swim?' asks Marianne. 'I don't know' she responds before getting in and trying. Earlier we see Marianne plunging into the waves from a boat to rescue the tools of her trade as a portrait painter.

Héloïse has recently left a convent and is about to be married off to a man she has never met. In the brief interlude of freedom in between, running, swimming and sex represent an escape from the restraints on the female body, in this case in 18th century France. This liberty is acted out in what the director describes as a short term utopia of 'sorority', an 'all women world' of mutual support away from the male gaze - the film is set on a remote island in Brittany where for the duration of the story at least men are more or less absent.



Previous posts on Running on Screen:





Saturday, 29 February 2020

The Sporting Landscape of New Cross

Update 16/3/2020: Unfortunately this event has been postponed. The Telegraph Hill Festival has been cancelled as a result of Covid-19. We hope to rearrange once things have calmed down.

Very excited to announce this event taking place in the 2020 Telegraph Hill Festival:

The Sporting Landscape of New Cross

Tuesday 31 March 2020, 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Council Chamber, Deptford Town Hall, New Cross Road, New Cross, SE14 6AF


'Which internationally-known wrestler was said to be 'the most popular man in New Cross' in the late 19th century? Where was the country's first stock car race held? Which Goldsmiths athlete went on to coach the British Olympics team?  Which local school's playing fields were once graced by England’s greatest cricketer?

This event will include three talks on the sporting history of the New Cross area told through some of the places used to play, compete and spectate. The New Cross Stadium, the Den, wrestling and boxing gyms, horse racing and running tracks, cycling, roller skating, the New Cross Public Hall, Laurie Grove Baths, Fordham Park and more. As well as sporting venues (many now vanished) these places have been important centres of social and cultural life. 

Speakers include:

Sarah Elizabeth Cox  (Grappling with History) researching Victorian wrestling and trainee Lucha Libre wrestler

Prof. Les Back (Goldsmiths), sociologist including co-author of  'The Changing Face of Football: racism, identity and multiculture in the English game'

Neil Gordon-Orr (Go Feet), local historian and member of  Lewisham's finest Kent Athletic Club 






Saturday, 18 January 2020

'Spinning Out', skating and safeguarding


Really enjoyed 'Spinning Out', Netflix's new for 2020 figure skating drama. It has a great cast, including January Jones of Mad Men fame and Kaya Scodelario (who started out as Effie in Skins) -not to mention a cameo from Queer Eye's Jonathan Van Ness. Of course it also has lots of figure skating with one of the characters being played by actual ice skating Olympian Johnny Weir. 

Kat (Kaya Scodelario) out on a training run in Spinning Out

With its speed, athleticism and elegance, figure skating is one of the most awesome examples of the human body in motion. But as the fine theme song ('In the Water' by Joy Downer) observes, 'Everything I want comes at a cost'. Of course excellence in sport always involves sacrificing huge amounts of time and energy, made more complex in the case of 'Spinning Out' as both Kat (the main character) and her mother are living with bipolar disorder.

But at what point does support and encouragement of young athletes cross over into abuse? The sexual abuse of young people by coaches and other adults involved in sport is one thing, and figure skating has had its share of that - former US skater Ashley Wagner is one of those raising this issue. But there is also emotional abuse where children are shouted at, belittled and unduly pressured. 'Spinning Out' features examples of this, including one of the characters skating on through injury and intense pain to please her family.

This kind of abuse featured in some safeguarding training I took part in earlier this week. I am one of the club welfare officers for my club, Kent Athletic Club, and the Time to Listen training arranged by England Athletics focused on the safeguarding aspects of this role. A powerful element of this was watching a video produced by the Child Protection in Sport Unit of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Entitled 'My magic sports kit', the premise is that people make allowances for children in everyday life but once they put on their sports kits to compete they can be subject to unfair or even abusive adult expectations and treatment. Check it out (and check out 'Spinning Out' too if you haven't seen it yet) 


Club welfare officers at our England Athletics 'Time to Listen' training, January 2020 - held at London City Runners fine club house/bar in Druid Street, London SE1.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

The days of empty Lidos: London Fields and Brockwell Park

I went for a swim a couple of weeks ago for the first time at London Fields Lido. I was surprised how busy it was on a cold and wet November day, even with a heated outdoor pool. Lunch afterwards from the famous Jewish Deli stall on nearby Broadway market was also excellent.




On the way out I bumped into an old friend who swims there regularly and he reminded me that the Lido had only reopened in 2006 having been left closed and empty for many years. He recalled going there when it was squatted and used for events by Reclaim the Streets and others in the 1990s. 


'In at the deep end' - Reclaim the Streets benefit at London Fields Lido, 1993
I didn’t go there then but it was a similar story in South London at Brockwell Park Lido, close to where I used to live in Brixton.  I went there occasionally when I moved to London in the late 1980s, as I recall it was as much a place to hang out in the sun (Brixton beach) as to swim, don't recall too many triathletes bombing up and down the lanes in those days but maybe I was just unaware. The Lido closed in 1990 due to Council funding cuts, but the vacant building was occupied at various points for parties and other events, and I went there a few times - I remember going to visit a friend, a German squatter, when she was living in a room by the side of the pool. A big event was the Exploding Cinema 'Dive In' festival in August 1993, where films were projected in the empty pool. The Lido reopened the following year, and I have been back and actually swum in it with water and everything! Long may it last

'Life is a swimming pool in the terminal bunker' 

Exploding Cinema Dive-In festival  at Brockwell Lido, August 1993 (more at Brixton Buzz)

Hard to believe with the current outdoor swimming revival that we nearly lost these places permanently. Others such as Victoria Park and Peckham Rye Lido were demolished in that 1980s/90s period. There were active plans too to demolish London Fields, with campaigners having to block a bulldozer at one point (see history of campaign to reopen it here). So thanks to the people who in different ways kept the buildings in use in the dark days of the empty Lidos.


The video for Serafina Steer's lovely 'Night before mutiny' (2012) was filmed at London Fields Lido. Directed by Jarvis Cocker, it features Asha Randall and Olivia Federici of the UK Olympic Synchronised swimming team