Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Record Sleeve Athletics (2): Marathon by Santana

Marathon was a 1979 album by Santana, and the sleeve features some ancient Greek runners. As well as a short introductory title track, the album features an equally short bass driven instrumental called Runnin'.

So was Carlos Santana a marathon runner himself? It seems not, but in the 1970s he was a follower of the Indian spiritual guru Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007), as was his wife Deborah. Chinmoy and his devotees were  very involved in athletics, and  the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team continue to organise the Self-Transcendence races across the world including in the UK.

While Santana undertook the rigorous Sri Chinmoy regime, including 5:00 am meditation, he drew the line at marathon running: 'This shit is not for me- I don't care how enlightening it is' (source). Deborah Santana did though take part in marathons and ultra-marathons. 

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Post-Olympics Coaching Crisis?

Good to see some great performances and a sell out crowd at the Olympic Stadium for the Anniversary Games/Diamond League Athletics, which as Brendan Foster noted may have been the largest ever crowd for an Athletics event in the UK outside of Olympic events (at the 1948 Olympics, Wembley held 85,000 compared with 60,000 last night).

No harm in a bit of wallowing in nostalgia for last year's Olympics either, but it was interesting to hear some of the inflated rhetoric about the Games legacy being punctured by a discussion about coaching in a BBC studio discussion last night involving Gabby Logan, Kelly Holmes, Denise Lewis, and Paula Radcliffe (pictured below, left to right).

Lewis was most outspoken, saying: 'within athletic clubs we are seeing diminishing numbers in coaching and we need to find that incentive and keep them there. And yes the Olympics has its place but lets face it people do need to be incentivised. Its time that there was a better payment structure for coaches that are spending vast amount of hours on the track'. Paula Radcliffe agreed: 'they are the gatekeepers of the sport... and they need to be rewarded'.

Similar comments were made in Sarah Shepherd's interview this week in Sport magazine with Jessica Ennis-Hill's Sheffield coach Toni Minichello. He was paid by British Athletics in lead up to the Olympics before in effect being made redundant and now says:

“Here in Sheffield, the number of youngsters getting involved in the sport has quadrupled... We’ve gone from about 200 people involved in kids’ academies here to 700, plus a small waiting list. The Olympics was a massive stimulus... We do not have enough coaches and we don’t have a professionalism of coaches. There’s always an overreliance on volunteers. I was employed for a while and am now – strictly speaking – a volunteer too. But there’s a limit to what volunteers can do. There should have been a move towards the professionalisation of coaching so that people could actually earn a living from it, or develop a career. There should also have been more of an emphasis on recruiting coaches before the Olympics, so that we could cope with this. These are the same problems we had after we won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 and the Ashes in 2005 – you just couldn’t cope with the influx afterwards. So the lessons were there, but they hadn’t been learned.”

'The man named UK Coach of the Year for overseeing Ennis-Hill’s rise to the top chuckles when asked whether the people with the power to act on his suggestions have ever asked for his views on how to secure a legacy from London 2012: “I’m the son of immigrant workers up north – what do I know? I get no kudos stood next to a minister, but if I’m Jessica Ennis, then I do. What happens in sport is that, politically, they’re obsessed with celebrity. So they’ll ask the people who perform what should happen – never the people behind them.”

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Gadgets & Gear (1): Endomondo Reviewed

Yes I know, the great thing about running is that you don't actually need any special equipment to do it. Only today I was seized with the desire to run home from work despite not having any kit with me so I headed down the Old Kent Road in my shirt and trousers. No doubt everyone thought I'd nicked something from PC World.

Still checking the odd gadget can't do any harm can it? My current favourite is Endomondo, a free phone app for tracking your speed, distance and more. Actually you can use it for more or less anything where you're moving, including walking, cycling , running or even climbing stairs. In my early Endomondo excitement I even worked out that you burn 26 kcal using the stairs instead of the lift at work - that's nearly a whole rich tea biscuit!

You start a 'workout' - which could be a training run or a race -  and Endomondo tracks your time and your distance covered using GPS. One of the most useful features when you're running with headphones is that a voice tells you at each 1000m how long it took you and your time for the run overall. This really helps if you are looking to improve on your Personal Best as you can check how you are doing at each stage.

Once you've finished the run, you get a summary of distance, time, average speed and calories. It can also be linked to a heart rate monitor, but think you need the paying Premium version for that.

You also get a breakdown of your split times at the end of each 1000m. The only thing I have found problematic is that unless you've got the phone in your hand as you cross the finish line you are probably going to take a few seconds to press the stop button.

Endomondo generates a map of your route. Not just a pretty satellite view - in this case of Hilly Fields Parkrun - but showing the 1k, 2k, 3k etc. points. This is quite handy when you compare it with times. For instance at Hilly Fields the first kilometre is mainly downhill/flat so you would expect it to be faster than the next 1000m which features two uphill stretches.

Inevitably the map on the phone is quite small, but you can log in to the website from laptop/PC
 and get a better image like this
There is also a whole community aspect to it which I haven't really explored yet, where people can choose to post details of their run. One aspect of that is that Endomondo uses GPS to give you maps and details of runs posted by others near to where you are at any moment.

The  paying Premium version  (£1.99 a month) has many other features which I may consider at some point, but I'm still finding my way through all the basics on the free version. The bottom line is that if you are going for a run and you want to know how far and fast you've gone, this is a great tool.

Further details at Endomondo. I am using an iphone, but looks like it will work with most smartphones

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Record Sleeve Athletics (1): Track Record and Flesh & Blood

The first in a series of posts on Athletics imagery on record sleeves... well it will probably be the first and only unless I stumble across some more (or you want to make any suggestions). But there is undoubtedly Joan Armatrading's Track Record. The compilation album was released in 1983 and features some of her best songs including Me, Myself, I and  Drop the Pilot.

Somebody got carried away with the athletics/music puns (you know, like 'Track Record', 'Track'/'Record') and decided to put Joan as a sprinter on the starting line - on top of a piano.

Well I guess we can also include the 1980 Roxy Music album Flesh and Blood with its javelin-wielding cover models.

A nod to the 1980 Moscow Olympics perhaps?

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Birdwatching and running

Assuming you don't only run on a treadmill or track, running means spending a lot of time in the great outdoors. And that means that in your running you will encounter many birds, whether in city parks or rural wilderness. Of course you might not notice them as you focus on the ground in front of you, your time, your pain, or whatever you are listening to on your headphones, but they are there nonetheless.

I have never been a proper twitcher, but a time in the RSPB Young Ornithologists Club at primary school set me up for a lifetime appreciation of birdlife. And I think that does enrich my experience of being out and about running. In my regular parkrun in Hilly Fields I see the bright green ring-necked parakeets and, at this time of year, the swifts on summer holiday in South London from Africa (OK I tend to notice them more in the post-run state of mild euphoria than when I am chasing a 5k PB). I was delighted to see a beautiful goldfinch as I was on my way to the run last week.


Running around Rotherhithe I see the waterfowl that live in the stretches of water that remain from the long-closed Surrey Docks - there are swans, ducks, coots, moorhen, and, on the nearby Thames, cormorants. I once saw a kingfisher by Surrey Docks Farm.

Running on holiday in Portugal I kept coming across a species of bird that is only found there and in Spain - the Iberian Azure-Winged Magpie. They fly and behave just like the magpies we see in this country, but as they look different I managed to break the lifetime habit of counting them ('One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, and a four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told').

Azure-winged magpie

Of course some birds are pretty good runners themselves. The roadrunner, found in the southern United States and Mexico, isn't quite as fast as its cartoon representation but can clock up speeds of 20 miles per hour. And if you should happen to come across an ostrich while running (unlikely in South London) don't bother trying to keep up. The fastest bird on land can reach speeds of up to 43 mph (70 km/h) - is using them as pacemakers the  secret of Kenyan running?!


Update, 24 July 2013:  a 10k run this week taking in Dulwich Wood/Sydenham Hill Wood, a paradise of robins, blackbirds, wrens, great tits and best of all on my run a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Also saw a heron amongst the dragonflies on  a run along the canal between St Katharines Dock and Shadwell Basin.

11 August 2013: saw a Green Woodpecker while warming up for Richmond Park 10k today. 

26 August 2013 : running by the Thames at Purley, a flight of Canada geese alongside me just above the water

22 August 2014: I was buzzed by terns running near their nests of the Isle of Islay

26 October 2014: saw two Green Woodpeckers while running over Farthing Downs near Coulsdon.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Running History (1): Gentleman Amateurs vs. Tradesmen at Crystal Palace 1872

The following is a report of a fascinating London court case from 1873 where a Mr Wheeler took legal action against Crystal Palace Athletics Club. He had  won a race at Crystal Palace but was denied the prize because he was deemed not to be a 'Gentleman Amateur'.

The amateur ethos in Athletics might have sometimes protected it from naked commercialism, but from the start  amateurism was also a means of keeping out people who needed to earn money as opposed to being independently wealthy. One thing I hadn't realized was that the 19th century notion of the 'Gentleman Amateur' was not only used to preserve privilege against people who ran for money but against working class people who worked for a wage ('mechanics and tradesmen' like Wheeler) - even if they were actually amateur athletes.

On Tuesday, 23rd January, at the Lord Mayor's Court, Guildhall, the case of Wheeler v. Hillier was heard. The plaintiff was an amateur athlete, and the defendant the secretary to the Crystal Palace Athletic Club. The action was brought to recover the value of a certain prize of the value of £10, which plaintiff said he had won at the society's sports held at the Crystal Palace on the 24th of July [1872]. 
The plaintiff was called, and said he was a member of the Victoria Club and several others, and he was in the employment of Messrs. Chaplin and Home as a collector. He saw the advertisement of the race in question in several papers, and he entered his name and paid the entrance fee of 5s. He never ran in races for money, but only for prizes, Mr. Birt was a competitor whom witness distanced and passed in the first 50 yards. After he had won he was objected to, but no ground was given for the objection. He ran in morning costume. Since his employment as a collector be had entered the Barnes Football Club and the Richmond Cricket Club. The prize he won at the Crystal Palace consisted of some fish knives and forks, which were in value about £10. 

He had had considerable experience as an athlete, and had ran several races. Cross-examined: He might have run at Beaufort House five years ago, but not for money, to his knowledge. He never ran for sweepstakes. He had run at Tufnel Park for prizes, and he had won a medal and cups. He never ran against professionals, to his knowledge. He had been objected to in other races, on the ground, he supposed, that he was not a gentleman amateur. Robert Henry Hodgkinson, an athlete, said he was present when the plaintiff won the race. A 'gentleman amateur' was one who did not run for money. 

Mr. Kemp addressed the Jury, and said the question for them to consider was, whether the plaintiff was a gentleman amateur athlete under the rules of the club. This rule was to the effect that any person who had run in a race as a means of livelihood, or who was a mechanic or a tradesman, should not be qualified, &c. The plaintiff being a collector to Messrs. Chaplin & Home, the carriers, he contended, came under this rule. Alfred Walter Hillier, the Secretary of the Crystal Palace Sports, said he was not aware what the plaintiff was when he entered to run for the race. Objection was taken to the plaintiff running. He was not a 'gentleman amateur.' Witness offered the plaintiff his 5s. entrance fee. The Judge of the race decided that he was disqualified and refused him the prize, and Mr. Birt, who ran second, was awarded the prize. In cross-examination the witness said Mr. Rye decided that the plaintiff had not started properly for the race. Before the race Mr. Birt objected to the plaintiff running. 
The advertisement stated that the race was open to 'amateurs.' The word 'gentleman' was omitted by mistake. The Deputy Recorder summed up, and told the Jury be was inclined to rule that the Committee had an absolute and incontrovertible power to decide whether the plaintiff was qualified or not. The Jury found a verdict for the defendant, and Mr.Salter tendered a bill of exceptions to the Deputy Recorder's ruling'.

(report from South Australian Chronicle and Weekly Mail, 10 May 1873 - the Crystal Palace Athletics Club had been formed in 1868)

Friday, 12 July 2013

Running at work by the River Thames

I went for a very pleasant run at lunchtime with a group of people from work. They run a couple of times a week, and are also preparing for the 5k Your Way event at Hackney Marshes in September. We have some great places to run near to work, today's 6k took in Southwark Park, King Stair's Gardens and various historic locations including the Angel pub on the River Thames and the Rotherhithe house where Jessica Mitford may have lived. All that and dodging the tourists under Tower Bridge.

Caryatid Statues in Southwark Park - they once adorned Rotherhithe Town Hall before World War 2 damage
(photo by Julesfoto)
It was the first time I'd done a lunchtime run at work and I wasn't sure how it would go. Well I knew the run would be fine, it was more the thought of returning to work afterwards. Usually after I've got my breath back I have a post-run feeling of deep relaxation which is not exactly consistent with being at work. I also had a potentially difficult meeting immediately after lunch, so wasn't sure whether I would be able to get back into the zone. As it turned out  my calmness and a quick shower carried me through nicely, though an afternoon of work soon put paid to that deep relaxation...

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Running on Screen (1): Muybridge's Runner, 1887

One of the earliest moving images of running comes from Eadweard Muybridge's famous Animal Locomotion series of 1887. A sequence of 12 photographs were looped to create the illusion of an endless run, with a further 12 documenting the same motion from a different angle. The still images capture the runner suspended in space, both feet off the ground.

I don't believe that the name of the runner is recorded, but it is known that these pictures were taken at the University of Pennsylvania with the encouragement of the university's provost, William Pepper. The athlete is believed to have been a student there. According to Marta Brown, 'The athletes were the product of Pepper's new system of physical education at the university, meant to develop an overall fitness and vigor, key, according to Pepper, to the "cultivation of manly and courageous qualities" that defined white masculinity... In the minds of pioneers like Pepper, the physical prowess of the university athlete would be a manifestation of the American way of life' (in 'Eadweard Muybridge' by Philip Brookman, Tate Publishing, London, 2010).

One thing that I hadn't noticed until recently is that the otherwise naked runner is wearing some kind of cap. Anybody comes across running headgear like that before?

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Barefoot on the Beach in Portugal

The day after the Summer Solstice and for once I am somewhere where the sun can be relied upon to shine on throughout these longest days.

Running in the early morning, barefoot on the beach from Vale do Lobo to Quarteira on the Algarve. Running between the Atlantic and the low red sandstone cliffs reminding me of Chesil Beach in Dorset. A housemartin swoops down and flies ahead of me, gliding just above the sand and mocking my graceless progress. 

Running like this entails a fine tuning to the subtleties of the landscape via the information passed from foot to brain. Too far from the sea and the sand is too soft, each step sinking too deep then having to lift a mass of particles ground down by an eternity of wind and wave. Too near to the sea and the waves lap your ankles - cooling and refreshing in short bursts but no way to fun for any distance. In between is the zone of harder sand best for running on,  but here too there are distinctions to be negotiated. There is a wavy line of shell and stone marking the limit of the tide. You find yourself following that line  while keeping just away from it in order to avoid the pain of treading on it. Following too the footsteps of other runners and walkers for a while, just to see if they found some better way through the terrain.

Sand is deceptive - initially it feels soft underfoot, and it does absorb some impact. But never forget that it is made up of tiny stones - the stuff they make glass out of no less. My second beach run  the next day left me with a blister on my foot. Still I did manage to avoid the beach trip hazard of the buoy lines.