Monday, 30 December 2013

Record Sleeve Athletics (7): Giorgio Moroder - Reach Out (1984 Olympics Track Theme)

Previously in this series we featured 'The Runner' by the Three Degrees, produced in 1979 by Giorgio Moroder. Moroder was responsible for another slice of athletics action in 1984, with 'Reach Out', the 'track theme' for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. It got to number one in the German charts.

The record sleeve for the 12" extended dance mix features an abstract design of athletes seemingly, well,  reaching out. The music is pure mid-1980s, cheesy synth sounds matched by power ballad lyrics (written by Moroder and sung by Paul Engemann): 'reach out for the medal...  reach out for the gold, Come play to win, never give in... You are standing on the edge of history,  So let the games begin,  may the best man win' etc etc.

Of course the track featured on the 'Official Music of the 1984 Games' album (thanks to 80s Soundtracks for details). There was also theme tracks for other events, such as swimming, gymnastics and the marathon.

01 Leo Arnaud - Bugler's Dream
02 Loverboy - Nothing's Gonna Stop You Now (Team Sports Theme)
03 Giorgio Moroder - Reach Out (Track Theme)
04 Bob James - Courtship (Basketball Theme)
05 Christopher Cross - A Chance For Heaven (Swimming Theme)
06 Toto - Moodido (Boxing Theme)
07 John Williams - Olympic Fanfare & Theme
08 Quincy Jones - Grace (Gymnastics Theme)
09 Bill Conti - Power (Power Sports Theme)
10 Foreigner - Street Thunder (Marathon Theme)
11 Herbie Hancock - Junku (Field Theme)
12 Philip Glass - The Olympian-Lighting of the Torch
13 Sergio Mendes - Olympia (bonus)

It was the fanfare commissioned from John Williams that was actually heard the most, his "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" being played at every medal ceremony in the 1984 Summer Olympics.

See previously in this series:

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Run Run Rudolph: a Christmas run in Hilly Fields

And lo it came to pass that in the depths of the dark midwinter, people came together and looked forward to brighter days to come. As the shortest day passed, they celebrated with their festivals of light, candles and new birth. Saturnalia, Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas... they ate, drank, gave gifts, prayed and performed their various rituals. Oh and they ran around a muddy park in South London on Christmas morning!

81 people turned out yesterday morning for a special Christmas Day Hilly Fields 5k parkrun. Santa hats and the odd set of reindeer antlers were much in evidence (as they were on the 21st December for the last regular Saturday run before Christmas).

As discussed in previous post here about running and the history of Hilly Fields park, there is a modern stone circle there which runners pass as they struggle up one of the two main hills on this circuit. In the middle of it is a stone calendar slab/sundial which marks the Winter Solstice. No doubt if future archaeologists were to come across this they would wonder whether there was some ritual significance in people running round the park in a clockwise/sunwise direction at this time of year, turning from east to west like the sun in the vicinity of a solar temple!

photo from Everything Lewisham

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Morrissey and Marr: The Running Smiths [updated - Marr in 'Hand in Glove' running injury]

Morrissey's 450+ page 'Autobiography' has a few surprizes, but the biggest revelation for me was his apparent prowess as a teenage athlete. In between seeing Mott the Hoople, David Bowie and Lou Reed, the young Stephen Patrick won medals running in the 100m and 400m for St Mary's Secondary Modern School in Manchester - although given his otherwise miserable time at the school he quips that 'I was actually running from St Mary's'.

Morrissey reminisces: 'my Saturdays are marked out by solitary excursions to woe-begone stadiums in child-gorging Gorton or dishearteningly dented Denton. I am obliged to make my own way, and I am obliged to feel honored and to dream of the 14-second dash, or the one-minute 400... Frozen amongst the pugilistic roughnecks whose kits don't fit, I await the starting pistol, always relieved to let loose on a grey granite track with its wet chalky smells'.

Unfortunately Morrissey doesn't throw any light in his book on his encounter with fellow indie athlete Billy MacKenzie of the Associates, other than confirming that they met.

In recent years it has been Morrissey's former songwriting partner in The Smiths who has been making all the running. Johnny Marr ran a  credible sub-4 hours time in the 2010 New York City Marathon

As I mentioned before, The Smiths' 'Is it really so strange' does include a lyric pertinent to running.

Update 12 March 2014:  Johnny Marr is still running, and broke his hand last week after taking a tumble and has had to cancelsome gigs as a result-  'The guitarist and singer fell while he was out running in London last week, and now has his hand in plaster (see picture above).In a statement issued to NME, Marr said: "I was running pretty fast and just went straight over. I banged my shoulder and then realised my hand was in a bad way. Obviously we’re hoping there’s no long term damage."

Marr displays his running injury last week

Update, 27 September 2014:  Johnny Marr interviewed by John Harris in The Guardian: 'What now assists his frantic work rate, it seems, is an exacting exercise regimen, built around at least four long-distance runs each week. “When I go out, I do 10 miles. If I’ve got decent time between a soundcheck and a gig, I’ll do 15, sometimes 18. I try and time my run so I finish 20 minutes before a gig, and I’m hopping around.”

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Harry Dean Stanton running with Bob Dylan

Harry Dean Stanton
Good interview with Harry Dean Stanton by Sean O'Hagan in today's Observer, recalling that he and Bob Dylan used to go running together while filming with Sam Peckinpah:

'He [Stanton] later befriended Bob Dylan during the famously difficult shoot for Sam Peckinpah's elegiac western Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid in 1973. "Dylan and I got to be very close. We recorded together one time. It was a Mexican song. He offered me a copy of the tape and I said no. Shot myself in the foot. It's never seen the light of day. I'd sure love to hear it."

... Kris Kristofferson, who played the lead in that film, recalls Peckinpah throwing a knife in anger at Stanton when the actor messed up a crucial scene by running through the shot. "As I recall, he pulled a gun on me, too. It was because me and Dylan fucked up the shot." On purpose? "No, we were jogging and we ran right across the background." The vision of Dylan and Stanton jogging together seems altogether too absurd, but I let it pass'.

Dylan in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) - not really dressed for a run

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Running History (6): The Evils of Athletics- The Spectator 1868

According to this article published in the London-based Spectator magazine, 29 August 1868, athletics is an evil because:

- it wastes the time of university students by diverting them from studying (though it does least divert some of them away from mixing with the lower orders like servants and hostlers);
- it involves training, which means neglecting the mind for the body, and acting like a 'savage';
- it is physically dangerous;
- it is spreading to the 'larger classes of society' who haven't even got the pressure to study to keep them in line.

If you think I'm exaggerating, read on... (mind you this comment is dead on and still accurate: 'How many miles he is to walk, how many hours he is to sleep, what he is to eat and drink, whether this or that food produces the maximum amount of' strength, are questions of absorbing interest which he is continually discussing').

NOT a few of those who, for the last ten years, have been asserting most vehemently that play should hold equal rank with work in the system of education, are dismayed at the success which their gospel has achieved. The old games are pursued with professional devotion. The masters of even hard-working schools declare that in the cricket season nothing else receives any real attention. Oxford heads of houses and tutors make the same complaint of the summer term, and are driven to propose an alteration of the academical year, in the hope of thus excluding an evil with which they cannot contend. Meanwhile there has risen up a more formidable and in many respects more undesirable rival to study, in the amusement, or rather pursuit, which may be described by the name of "athletics."

...a new pursuit which, like athletics, appeals to the tastes which the old sports may not have been able to attract, will be certain to withdraw from study a corresponding proportion of followers. At the same time, it is true, and in weighing the merits of the case it should not be forgotten, that for one class of so-called students this pursuit has an influence which is not other than beneficial. Any one who compares the Oxford of to-day with the Oxford of twenty years ago, will observe that one of the most offensive features of the place is at least less prominent than it was. The idlers who after a morning spent over ponderous break- fasts and in billiard rooms made their elaborate toilette, and lounged forth half-tipsy "to do the High," have many of them found occupations more healthful if not more congenial to the objects of a University. Practising the "long jump" or "the quarter-of-a-mile " is not an academical pursuit, but it is, at least, better than ogling servant-maids or talking with hostlers. As long as the University consents to receive youths who are students only in name, who come to it corrupted by the associations of wealthy uncultured homes and aristocratic schools, she must be content to welcome any influence which will counteract the evils they introduce. The "barbarized athlete of the arena" is at least a more desirable inmate than the fop and the profligate.

But in measuring the ill effects of athletics on study, there are other things to be considered besides the positive attraction which they exercise over those who engage in them. At first sight they would appear to be, as an amusement, more economical of time than that which may be called the representative game, cricket. A cricket match lasts for one, two, or even three days ; the practice which is necessary before excellence can be attained is incessant. On the other hand, a foot-race occupies but a few minutes ; nor would much time seem to be necessary for the preparation. The real state of the case is wholly different. The preparation is a most important consideration. The cricketer lives like other men; the athlete has to undergo an elaborate training. It is necessary to inquire what influence this training is likely to have upon the student, on his body and on his mind.

The physical question cannot be completely discussed except by those who are professionally qualified for the task. A great authority in surgery, Mr. Skey, has declared his belief that athletic exercises are decidedly injurious, and we are not aware that this opinion has been contravened by any competent person...  It can hardly require much medical knowledge to perceive that sudden and violent exertions which are painful to men in ordinary health are likely to be injurious in all cases, and are almost certain to be so to the unformed frame of boyhood and early youth. We say "ordinary health," for the habit of body which it is found necessary to create in order to meet the demand made by athletic exercises cannot be described by these words. It is fuller, ruder, apparently more robust, really less available for all practical purposes of life...

This habit, in fact, is little more than the imitation by civilized man of what is the normal condition of the savage; an imitation doubtless so successful for a time as even to excel the original, but which cannot be effected without a great and dangerous strain upon the physical powers, cannot be sustained for any length of time, and is probably especially perilous in the reaction which it leaves behind. It is possible, indeed, that the student may escape these dangers; it is certain that he cannot avoid the indirect effect which his training will produce upon his mental powers. It cannot but be that the intellectual vigour will be obscured by laborious and unusual processes, which are intended to develop to the utmost the bodily powers. To keep that vigour at its highest point it is necessary that the mind should be as little as possible conscious of the body. This condition it is difficult to reach, and still more difficult to retain. But the weak health with which scholars are unhappily too familiar is far more favourable to the intellectual habit than the vigorous animalism which it is the object of training to produce; and for this reason, that when it is not developed into the excess of positive pain, it makes a man turn to mental exertion as to a relief.

Training, on. the other hand, has an exactly opposite effect. The attention of the mind is continually directed to the bodily processes by which the object sought is to be attained. How many miles he is to walk, how many hours he is to sleep, what he is to eat and drink, whether this or that food produces the maximum amount of' strength, are questions of absorbing interest which he is continually discussing...

But "athletics " seem likely to become a yet more serious evil,. when they pass, as of late years they have been doing, from the precincts of the school and the university into other and larger classes of society. Where learning is the acknowledged end, they will be opposed by strong intellectual influences, and, though they may injure, it is hardly to be feared that they will dominate the prevailing tone of thought and life. It can easily be imagined that this may be the case where these influences are less potent. Sport is the natural corrective to study, and some exaggeration may be pardoned in it where study is even nominally pursued; but this exaggeration becomes an intolerable evil when we find ourselves in other scenes, and among men whom its influence is more likely to corrupt. It is evident to all who have the opportunity of observation, that pursuits which are comparatively harmless to the youth of the Universities, are most injurious to the same class when it is less favourably situated in our great cities. With these culture is continually growing rarer and more scanty'.

Previously in this series:

- Advice to Runners from 1895
Gentleman Amateurs vs. Tradesmen at Crystal Palace 1872
- The Women's 800m, 1928 and Today
- A London Foot-Match in 1736
- Hare and Hounds 1869

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Record Sleeve Athletics (6): Days in Europa

Oh dear, what were they thinking of? In 1979, Scottish post-punk band The Skids released their second album 'Days in Europa', including the hit single 'Working for the Yankee Dollar'

The cover design for the album, with its Germanic lettering and blonde maiden crowning an Olympic athlete, is reminiscent of something from Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia - the Nazi propaganda film about the 1936 Berlin Olympics. 

Flirting with fascist imagery, dumb at the best of times, was particularly stupid in in the late 1970s period of 'Rock Against Racism' and clashes between the National Front and anti-fascists. When the album was reissued in 1980 it was with a new sleeve with the offending image removed.

See previously in this series:

Friday, 1 November 2013

Friday photos (9): Anita Neil - Britain's first black woman Olympian?

In this spot a few weeks ago we featured Lilian Board, who died a tragically early death in 1970 after winning a medal in the Mexico 1968 Olympics. One of Lilian's team mates in Mexico was Anita Neil - they ran together in the  4 x 100m team in Mexico.

As a young athlete in 1966, Neil was painted by Hubert William Pack (1926-1995). The oil painting is simply entitled 'Miss Anita Neil (b.1950)' and is in the collection of  Wellingborough Museum

Anita Neil first competed for Great Britain as a 16-year-old long jumper in a competition with France in 1966 (Times 19 September 1966), but it was as a sprinter that she really made her mark.

Anita Neil in 1970
She competed for Great Britain in Munich 1972 as well as in Mexico 1968, running in both Olympics in the Women's 100m and the 4 x 100m relay. In 1969 she won a bronze medal in the 100m at the European Championships and at the following year's Commonwealth games she won a silver in the 4 x 100m relay.

Neil with her silver medal in 1970
(image from her old school's website, the now demolished John Lea School)
In 2012, she was guest of honour at the opening of an Olympics exhibition at Wellingborough Museum. The local paper reported her comment that she was 'the only Wellingborough person from the town to represent their country in athletics at the games'. But I wonder whether she also had a wider significance - was she Britain's first black woman Olympic athlete? I am happy to be corrected, but have found no record of any earlier.

Her ethnicity may not have been a big deal in her career, but she was referred to in the Times as one of  two 'coloured British athletes' (the other being Verona Bernard) who declined an invitiation to take part in a competition in South Africa in 1971.

Anita Neil in 2012

The 4 x 100m metre team in Portsmouth in September 1968, just before leaving for Mexico
(left to right - Maureen Tranter, Anita Neil, Lillian Board, Janet Simpson) 

Neil wins the 100m at athletics event in Portsmouth in 1968,
equalling UK record of 10.6 seconds

Portsmouth 1972

There's some pathe footage of the 1972 Portsmouth race here.

Previously in the Friday Photos series:

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Running and the Dream of Horses

Last night in my dream I saw several horses running on two legs - their hind ones of course. It seemed that some horses had decided to become human too - they were hard to distinguish apart from being a bit taller. There was some sense that it was a bit unfair for them to take part in races with natural born humans... clearly need a session with a therapist, some unresolved competition issues!

I guess horses are the power animals par excellence for runners. In some parts of the world, humans have been living alongside horses for thousands of years, and must have always been impressed by their speed and endurance.  As formal athletics developed in the 19th century, human races were modelled on their animal counterparts - hence we have the steeplechase, and cross country developing from 'hare and hounds'. Sometimes humans have even tried their hand at racing horses - over longer distances the horse's advantage can decline.

The Western States 100 ultramarathon in California famously traces its origins to Gordy Ainsleigh running the 100 miles alongside the horses in the 1974 Western States Trail Ride. There's even a Man versus Horse Marathon (pictured above in June 2013), held every year since 1980 in  the Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells - though it took until 2004 for a human to win the race.

On the subject of horse dreams, here's one of my favourite songs - Judy and the Dream of Horses by Belle and Sebastian. Of course the band have also some written some great songs about running.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Friday Photos (8): Why is the last mile the hardest mile? - Jim Peters Collapses in Vancouver 1954

'Why is the last mile the hardest mile? My throat was dry, with the sun in my eyes'
(The Smiths, Is it really so strange)

Hackney-born Jim Peters (1918-1999) was the fastest Marathon runner in the world for much of the early 1950s, breaking the world record four times in that decade. In 1953 he was the first runner to complete a marathon in  under 2 hours 20 minutes, setting the record in the Polytechnic Marathon from Windsor to Chiswick, West-London. He set a new record in the same race the following year, winning in 2 hours 17 minutes 39 seconds.

But probably his most famous race ended in a DNF. In the 1954 Empire Games in Vancouver, Peters entered the stadium 17 minutes ahead of the second place runner. But suffering from heat stroke and dehydration, Peters began to stagger and fall. He struggled on for 11 minutes, covering just 200 yards, before the team masseur intervened and called a stretcher. 

There is BBC footage of the Vancouver race; and Pathe News footage of his 1954 Marathon world record.

Jim Peters after setting world record in 1954

Previously in the Friday Photos series:

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Running Books: The Ghost Runner - John Tarrant (1932-1975)

'The Ghost Runner: the Tragedy of the Man they Couldn't Stop' by Bill Jones (Mainstream Publishing, 2011) is the story of English runner John Tarrant.  Fundamentally it is the rather sad tale of a talented and (obsessively) committed long distance runner failing to achieve his potential, at least partly because of class, power and bureaucracy. But it is also about a refusal to submit to other people's rules and to keep on running - whatever the cost.

Tarrant, born in Camberwell in 1932, had a tough childhood marked by the death of his mother from TB and years in a brutal children's home during the Second World War. A spell as a teenage boxer in Derbyshire brought little success and a total of £17 prize money - but under the strict rules on amateurism enforced by the Amateur Athletics Association this was enough to prevent him taking part in any mainstream athletics events. These pernicious rules not only banned runners like Tarrant who had earned pocket money in unrelated events as a young person, but also enforced a boycott of people like him by other athletes. Athletes could lose their amateur status if they were found to have taken part in any competition with somebody who wasn't  an ameteur.

Banned from officially taking part in races, Tarrant started turning up anyway and running without a race number.  Gate crashing events like the 1956 Liverpool marathon and the following year's Doncaster-to-Sheffield Marathon led to him being nick-named 'The Ghost Runner' by the press. Official results left out his name -  the AAA didn't recognise him as a runner - but his cause generated lots of supportive publicity.

John Tarrant running without a number
After a couple of years the AAA appeared to back down and allowed him to run in its events - but his hopes of an international career were dashed when they later announced that he was still banned from taking part in events outside of the UK under IAAF rules. Taking up ultra-distance running, John Tarrant set world records at 40 miles (in 1966) and at 100 miles in 1969, running 400 laps of a track at Walton-on-Thames. Tarrant won the Exeter-to-Plymouth 44-mile-race five years in a row from 1965 to 1969, as well as the London-to-Brighton 54-mile race in 1967 and 1968 (running for Salford Harriers). He had expected that winning the latter would lead to him being sponsored to take part in the Comrades Marathon in South Africa,as had happened to previous winners), a 56-mile road race, but the IAAF ban excluded him from this. Tarrant resumed his ghost runner tactics and turned up anyway to run this 56-mile race between Pietermaritzburg and Durban in 1968. He came 4th but once again was expunged from the official record.

Taking part in this event had unexpected consequences. On the day he wasn't the only unofficial runner - there were several black and Indian runners who ran but who were also denied recognition - this was a Whites Only race at the height of Apartheid in South Africa.  Under the Separate Amenities Act, it was illegal for black and white athletes to even share changing rooms and other facilities.

A Natal Runners Association had been formed in the late 1960s to fight the racist exclusion of black athletes from the Comrades race. In 1970 they decided to put on a non-segregated 50 mile race of their own, and to make it a genuinely multi-racial event they needed to attract white runners. In the 1970 Comrades Marathon, 'scores of white runners had worn black armbands in support of the black athletes competing alongside them as numberless ghosts' (Jones), but only one white runner was prepared to actually run in the non-segregated Goldtop race in 1970 - John Tarrant, who finished first that year and the following year.

Tarrant continued running until his death from late-diagnosed cancer in 1975 at the age of 42.

Tarrant (left) after winning the 1968 London to Brighton run, with runner-up T.R.Baker
(see pathe news reel of this race)

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Songs about Running (1): Fugazi's Long Distance Runner

There are thousands of songs with running in the title, but most most of them aren't really about running. More about fleeing - running from commitment, running from danger, running for the hills...

But Fugazi's post-hardcore anthem Long Distance Runner, from their 1995 album 'Red Medicine',  sounds like it was written by someone who knows what they're talking about. Not sure who in Fugazi was a runner, but pretty sure somebody must have been. I guess you could draw a link between songwriter Ian MacKaye's straight edge philosophy (no drink, no drugs) and a hardcore fitness regime. The opening line of this song would make a great name for a running blog, if anyone fancies starting another one!

The farther I go the less I know
One foot goes in front of the other
It all boils around to not hanging around
To keep moving in front of the gravity
The answer is there the answer is there
but there is not a fixed position
It keeps moving along so I keep coming along
and that's why I'm a long distance runner
and if I stop to catch my breath
I might catch a piece of death
I can't keep your pace if I want to finish this race
My fight's not with it
It's with the gravity
Long distance runner

Friday, 4 October 2013

Friday Photos (7): Lillian Board (1948-1970)

One of my earliest childhood sporting memories is the death of Lillian Board. A runner at 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m, she was only 19 when she won a silver medal running for Great Britain in the 400m in the 1968 Mexico Olympics. 

Colette Besson (left) narrowly beat Lilian Board in 400m in Mexico in a fantastic finish

The following year she won gold in the 800m at the European Athletics Championships in Athens (pictured below), and another gold as part of the world-record setting women's 4 x 400m relay team. 

 She was a massive star in Britain with a great career seemingly ahead of her, but sadly she died in December 1970 at the age of 22 from bowel cancer.

Lillian Board and team mate Janet Simpson training in Mexico in 1968

Front cover of Athletics Weekly, September 28 1968: left to right: Maureen Tranter, Anita Neil, Lillian Board, Janet Simpson - the 4 x 100m team in Mexico 1968 (they came 7th)

Lillian Board was featured on the BBC's Desert Island Discs in 1969. The songs she chose were:

Mikis Theodorakis - Title Theme (from Zorba the Greek)
Simon & Garfunkel - A Poem on the Underground Wall
Nat King Cole - When I Fall in Love
The Sandpipers - Guantanamera
Tom Paxton - The Last Thing On My Mind
Mason Williams - Classical Gas
Jack Jones - Without Her
Judy Collins - Both Sides Now

Lots more about Lillian Board here

Previously in the Friday Photos Series:

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Art of Atheltics (4): Daisy de Villeneuve's Run Colour Run

Designer/illustrator Daisy de Villeneuve has produced a series of portraits for her Great North Run Culture commission, Run Colour Run. They were inspired by photographs of people in and about the Run in 2012: 'I went around with my camera and I took photos of anyone I thought looked interesting. So, I’ve taken pictures of a whole range of people – not just the athletes and participants, but the hospitality staff, security, the Red Arrows, event organisers, people with their families, kids cheering on their dads, people in costumes, different characters that stood out to me. A lot of these will show up in my portraits.”

The portraits include Canadian paralympian Josh Cassidy, who has won the wheelchair race at the Great North Run three times (unfortunately he did not finish this year due to mechanical problems).

Josh Cassidy
Cassidy and US sprinter and Olympic silver medallist Ryan Bailey came to see their portraits at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle when the exhibition opened. It's on there until November 3rd (admission free)

Ryan Bailey
Since 2005, a culture programme linked to the Great North Run has been commissioned every year, with works linking art and sport.

See also in the Art of Running series:

Jindřich Heisler, Czech surrealist
Chris Ofili - For the Unknown Runner
Martin Creed's Work 850

Monday, 30 September 2013

Running in Another Direction: Northern Soul & Running as the new Raving

Paul Mason's excellent BBC documentary 'Northern Soul - Keep the Faith', first broadcast last week, examines its continuing appeal forty years after the first Northern Soul all-nighter at the legendary Wigan Casino. Catch it if you can, if not read his recent article for Vice magazine which explores similar territory:

'Even without speed you were able to experience the massive euphoria that was the defining atmosphere about an allnighter. I am convinced it was the product of the collective empathy that took place on the dancefloor, and not just the drugs. You could feel it kicking in outside before the Casino opened, in the two hours after midnight: people became tense, elated, subconsciously connected.

I might be the only person who’s experienced both Wigan and, say the Taksim Square occupation in Istanbul this year, so this is hard to verify: but I think these very different atmospheres shared something in common. There was something overtly rebellious and subconsciously political about Wigan. Like with a riot, or an occupation, you could tell immediately, through eye contact, who was feeling the buzz.

What we were doing, back then, was rewriting the rules of being white and working class. We knew exactly what it meant to dance to black music in the era of the National Front and the racist standup comedian. Ours was a rebellion against pub culture, shit music and leery sexist nightclubs. Our weapon was obscure vinyl, made by black kids nobody had ever heard of'.

So what's all this go to do with running? Well one thing that I've been thinking about recently is whether there is a link between the popularity of running amongst people past their clubbing peak and the popularity of dance music when these same people were younger. Marcus Ryder (Sound of Running) has recently suggested that for some of us running shops are the new record shops - well, maybe in the same way running is the new raving. 

I recently found that I had crossed paths with another blogger, Run Don't Run, on South London dancefloors in the late 1980s. I'm sure he's not the only one. By definition a large proportion of the 35-55 generation were dancers, as their (our) youth coincided variously with Northern Soul, Disco, Funk, Acid House, Rave, Techno etc. 

But I think the connection goes deeper. Running reconnects us with a sense of our bodies in motion, just like dancing. Not just in isolation but as part of a collective. There's also the endurance aspect, pushing ourselves beyond our normal boundaries and coming out the other side buzzing with endorphins - whether as a result of staying up all night dancing or running that extra mile.

Northern Soul specifically was very athletic from the start - Fran Franklin speculates in Paul Mason's film that some of the dance moves might have been influenced by the popularity of Bruce Lee's kung fu movies in the early 1970s. It also pioneered British youth culture's fascination with sports wear - Adidas was mostly associated with continental football teams like Bayern Munich before soul boys and girls started using Adidas bags to carry their gear to Wigan and wearing Adidas t-shirts.

Paul Mason and his adidas-sporting friend Kev outside Wigan Casino in 1977
Despite loving the music and checking out some Northern Soul clubs over the years, I was too young for its heyday. But its template certainly followed through to the clubs and raves of the 1980s and 1990s which were more my period. In Paul Mason's programme, Elaine Constantine (director of the soon to be released 'Northern Soul' movie) makes the running comparison explicit:

'every single person is going through every beat of that record with you, and you know that when you do that [makes clap sound] it's all going to happen at that moment... it's almost like you're all running the same race together'.

And yes I still pack talcum powder in my bag when I go out... to stop chafing on long distance runs rather than to sprinkle on the dancefloor though!

On BBC I-Player until Wednesday

Friday, 27 September 2013

Friday Photos (6): Runners in Space

This week's Friday photo appears to be an unremarkable image of four athletes running. Even the knowledge that it comes from the 1972 Olympics doesn't add very much to it. But what does make it extremely special is that this image is now travelling through space aboard the first spacecraft to leave our solar system. Earlier this month it was announced that Voyager 1, launched by NASA in 1977, had reached interstellar space. And amongst the images of life on earth included on Voyager for the benefit of any curious aliens who one day intercept it is this one. 

Voyager famously includes the Golden Record with sounds and images from our planet, selected by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan. There is music from Bach to Chuck Berry and pictures of landscapes, animals, buildings and humans engaged in various activities - including running. Despite the Cold War aspects of the space race, there is something very optimistic about this selection, a kind of planetary humanist vision that celebrates life on the third rock from the sun in all its diversity while simultaneously affirming what we have in common as a species beyond political and social divisions.

So who are the runners?  The NASA site just says that it is Soviet/Ukrainian sprinter Valeriy Borzov in the lead, and Borzov's wikipedia entry says that the photo was taken in the 200m heats at the 1972 Olympic Games (he went on to win the Gold medal in both the 100m and 200m). A look at the records of the Games, cross referenced to other photos, allows us to identify them left to right as follows:

- Su Wen-Ho, Republic of China (Taiwan) - who finished fifth in this heat;
- Motsapi Moorosi, Lesotho - who finished 4th;
- Valeriy Borzov, USSR - the winner;
-  Edwin Roberts, Trinidad - who came 2nd

(thanks to Spikes on twitter for getting me started on this by mentioning the photo)

The Golden Record

Previously in this series:

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Running London (5): Hackney Marshes 5k Your Way

The start - photo by Adnan Mohamedy (more at facebook)
Last week (18th September) I ran in '5k your way', an event on Hackney Marshes bringing together more than 800 council workers and other public sector employees to run, jog or walk for 5000m. Teams in colour coded t-shirts took part from London Boroughs including Bexley, Camden, Greenwich, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Lambeth, Redbridge, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, as well as Leyton Sixth Form College and  'Central London Finest' with people from Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea.

Team Southwark, complete with British Heart Foundation mascot
 I was definitely in the running camp, and the front was fairly fast (too fast for me anyway). Glad to report that one of my work colleagues (David White from Southwark) came first with a chip time of 16:05; fastest woman was Claire Mcmahon from Islington in 19:05. I was pleased enough to get a 5k PB, and come 2nd in age category.

With the Marshes' wide open skies and green expanses (home to 82 football, rugby and cricket pitches), you feel like you're way out in Essex rather than in London. It makes for a good scenic run - nice and flat too - with changing rooms and a decent roof terrace bar at Hackney Marshes Centre (where we retired afterwards, walking back to the station under the full moon I half expected to bump into one of the Hackney Marshes 'bears' of urban folklore renown)

Of course you are in Iain Sinclair territory there, the writer even worked on the Marshes painting white lines at one point. In his book 'Ghost Milk' (2011) Sinclair mentions a 19th century running track nearby in Hackney Wick, started by one James Baum of the White Lion public house in 1857.  It was here that 'William "The Crow-catcher" Lang came down from Middlesbrough in 1865, to take the  world one-mile record with a time of four minutes seventeen and a half seconds. Not bad for an uneven track with an uphill section and a mob pressing tight to the verge. John "The Gateshead Clipper" White established a six-mile record that stood for sixty years, before it was broken by Paavo Nurmi, the legendary Finn, in 1921'. Thousands turned out here to watch 'Louis Bennett, a Native American known as Deerfoot'.

As Sinclair also notes, round there 'Everything begins with the fact of the river. the Lea and its tributaries. Like a wig of snakes. A dark stream sidling, fag in mouth, towards the Thames at Bow Creek; foam-flecked, coot-occupied, enduring its drench of industrial pollution'. Running alongside the River Lea was very evocative for me. I spent most of my childhood living by the river close to its source in Luton, playing football and cricket on the 'Riverside Walk' green by its Birdsfoot Lane banks, and more often than not arguing about who was going to fetch the ball out of the water (there was also the time I smashed my next door neighbour's glass door after whacking a golf ball with the cricket bat, but that's another story). Like the river, my journey brought me from there to London.

Something else got me musing about Luton on '5k your way', the experience of running in work teams reminding me of all the time I spent in the late 1960s/1970s hanging out at Vauxhall sports grounds, watching my dad play football or going to Vauxhall sports day, a big annual event with fair rides and games. In those days of one big company dominating a town (my dad worked for the car firm along with many others in Luton), there would often be sports clubs and facilities linked to it - Vauxhall in Luton even had its own running track up until the 1980s. I guess most of these facilities have vanished along with the manufacturing jobs that many assumed would be 'for life' - Vauxhall, which had once employed 30,000 people in Luton, ceased car production there in 2002. Still in a small way, 800 council workers on Hackney Marshes were still flying the flag for workplace-based sports and sociability last week!

You can run a 5k on Hackney Marshes every Saturday with the parkrun there, starting from Hackney Marshes Centre at 9 am. 

Terrain: mainly on tarmac paths, with some grass.

Getting there:  308, 276, 236 and W15 buses run close to the start of the course. The closest rail stations are Homerton and Hackney Wick.

Post-run refreshments: Hackney Marsh Centre has a cafe/bar.

Previously in the Running London series:

See also Run Don't Run's report of the Hackney Marshes 5k Your Way 2013

Friday, 20 September 2013

Friday Photos (5): Tom Longboat (1887-1949): Canadian First Nations Marathon Runner

These photos are of Tom Longboat (1887-1949), the Canadian/First Nations long distance runner.

As summarised by Deseronto Archives: 'One of the most famous Canadian athletes of 1908 was Tom Longboat, a marathon runner with a string of successful races to his name. He was born in 1887 to Onondaga parents in the Six Nations of the Grand River Indian Reserve. His first major race victory was at the 1906 Around the Bay Race in Hamilton, Ontario. In 1907 he won the Boston Marathon and the following year he went to London, England, to run in the Olympic Games'. After leading for much of the 1908 London Olympic Marathon, he collapsed and did not finish. Like many runners of that time his career was bedevilled by the division between 'amateur' and 'professional' athletics, and it has even been suggested that his 1908 run might have been sabotaged by his own manager trying to fix the race for gambling interests. In 1979 a street was named after him in Toronto.

In a reversal of the Olympic outcome, Longboat won a professional track marathon race in February 1909  at New York's Madison Square Garden, beating English runner Alfred Shrubb who collapsed near the end of the race. It was big news - taking up most of the front page of the Montreal Gazette the next day (extract below from the paper, 6 February 1909):

'Tom Longboat, the Canadian Indian, tonight won the Marathon race at Madison Square Garden from Alfred Shrubb, the English long distance runner. Shrubb, after leading all the way many laps ahead, collapsed in the fifth lap of the twenty-fifth mile and could not resume running, while the Indian, who never tried to follow Shrubb's early fast pace, continued to the end'

Previously in this series: