Friday, 30 August 2013

Friday Photos (2): Alan Turing the Runner

Alan Turing (1912-1954) was a mathematician and computer science pioneer, famous for his 'Enigma' code breaking work during the Second World War and his postulation of the 'Turing Test' for artificial intelligence. Recently he has been the focus of a campaign to posthumously pardon him of his conviction for 'indecency' at a time when gay sex was illegal.  The conviction blocked his career and prompted his presumed suicide.

Turing was also a keen long distance runner, running for the Walton Athletic Club in Walton, Surrey. In 1947, he competed for Walton AC in the Amateur Athletic Association Championships marathon in Loughborough, finishing in 4th place in 2 hours 46 minutes and 3 seconds. In doing so he narrowly missed qualifying for the 1948 Olympics - his time was less than 12 minutes behind the finishing time of the1948 Gold medallist, Delfo Cabrera. One of his last runs for Walton was in the London to Brighton relay race in April 1950.

The photo below shows Turing running in December 1946, coming second in a race on National Physical Laboratory Sports Day (Turing worked at NPL at the time).  NPL is based on the edge of  Bushy Park (Teddington), and the NPL Sports Club has had its own grounds there since 1912. So it seems very likely that this race took place there. In addition it is recorded in biographies that he sometimes ran to work meetings while based at Bushy Park, so it's almost certain that he ran in the park. Bushy Park today is of course very popular with runners as the place where parkrun started out in 2004 - and where up to 1,000 people still run every Saturday morning.

In recent years, Ely Runners have held a Turing Trail Relay  - the 'six stage relay event is run on mainly opposite riverside footpaths from Ely to Cambridge (Jesus Green) and back to Ely... These attractive and interesting footpaths were once used for running by Alan Turing, founder of computer science, whilst at King's College, Cambridge'.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

South London Running News (1): Summer 2013

A round up of running things going on round my way:

Your Pace no Race in Burgess Park

I took part in the 5k parkrun in Burgess Park (Camberwell/Walworth) last week, which like all UK parkruns takes place every Saturday at 9 am. Something slightly different coming up in the park next month though:

'Fancy a running event where no one comes last? Are you new to running and want an achievable goal? Not ready for a 5k or 10k race yet? "Your pace no race" is a running event were no one comes last. You can choose from two, three or four kilometre runs, with no timer, no top three prizes and no race numbers. Just you, your challenge distance and a fun, friendly, no pressure event.

Sunday 22 September 2013, 11am to 1pm. £5 entry for all distances Register on the day and arrive by 10.15am to pay and sign in. Free tshirt for all participant All events are wheelchair and pram friendly.

Southwark Park

Meanwhile elsewhere in Southwark, Rotherhithe's Southwark Park is re-emerging as a running venue with a new parkrun starting there on Saturday September 7th. I went for a run there today, nice flat course with tarmac path so should be good for those chasing a 5k PB.

This month London City Runners have started a weekly Thursday training night in the park (7 pm start) , using the nearby Seven Islands Leisure Centre to leave belongings. London City Runners was established in 2010 and has quickly grown to over 2000 members. The club currently train twice a week from Bermondsey Square, but due to restrictive space have been looking to expand the number of sessions they offer each week.

There's also a 10k fun run in the park on 12 October. Details from Southwark's RUN! London Activator David White (

Other Parkrun News

Bromley Parkrun are celebrating their 4th birthday on 31st August 2013, and will be running their usual course backwards - that is running in the opposite direction to normal, not actually running backwards!

My home Hillyfields Parkrun in Lewisham will be having its first birthday on 14th September with cake and prizes. They will also be reversing their normal direction so those dreaded uphill stretches will now be a doddle, and those downward slopes... well you do the math. Check their facebook page for updates on what's planned..

Athletic Clubs

There's lots of running clubs locally, most of which cater for all levels from beginners to elite runners (including in some cases international athletes). South London Clubs include:

- Croydon Harriers - based in South Norwood.
- Kent Athletic Club - based in Ladywell/Lewisham
- Dulwich Runners - have a 10k charity run coming up on 6th October, starting and finishing in Dulwich Park.
- Dulwich Park Runners
- Herne Hill Harriers - actually based in Tooting Bec, not Herne Hill.
- Beckenham Running Club
- Blackheath and Bromley Harriers
- Petts Wood Runners
- London City Runners. (see above)
- Clapham Runners
- South London Harriers - based in Coulsden, but also training at Crystal Palace
- Cambridge Harriers - based in Bexley, also train in Eltham

Monday, 26 August 2013

Running History (4): The Women's 800m - 1928 and today

The Women's 800m final at this month's World Championships in Moscow was one of the highlights of the competition. After leading for much of the race, Alysia Montano was overtaken in the final strait by Kenya's Eunice Sum (Gold), Russia's Mariya Savinova (Silver) and her USA team mate Brenda Martinez who secured Bronze after an incredible finishing burst on the inside. Nobody watching this display of speed and power would believe that for much of the 20th century the athletics establishment believed that women couldn't handle the 800m!

The 800m final in Moscow, August 2013
Women's Athletics were first included in the Olympics at the 1928 games in Amsterdam, and the 800m was the longest race for women.  German runner Lina Radke  (below right) won in 2 minutes 16 seconds - a new world record (compared with Sum's 2013 time of 1 min 57.38sec). She beat Kinue Hitomi (left) of Japan and Gentsel of Sweden, with Canadians Jean Thompson and Bobbie Rosenfeld finishing 4th and 5th.

Reuters, 2 August 1928
Bobbie Rosenfeld, who came fifth in 1928

Media reports immediately afterwards suggested that several women had collapsed during or after the race, and this led to calls for them to be banned from long distance running. Here's a particularly ludicrous example from an Australian newspaper which suggests that women exist to give birth but paradoxically are incapable of strenuous effort:

Collapse of Women at Olympic Sports: Doctors Condemn their Participation 
(The Mail, Adelaide, 4 August 1928)

'Several women athletes in the final of the 800 metres race at the Olympic sports at Amsterdam fell by the side of the track, apparently suffering from the dangerous strain. This has aroused adverse medical comment here. One specialist declares that women are not built physically to undergo the strain of races. Nature made them to bear children. They cannot rid themselves of fat to the extent that is necessary for the physical fitness demanded for feats of extreme endurance.

Sir Percival Phillips, in describing the scene after the race at Amsterdam, says that Miss Thompson, a pretty Canadian girl with fair, bobbed hair, lay with her face down and her head on her arm, sobbing convulsively.  Three of her companions tried vainly to console her. She appeared to be in acute pain in addition to suffering from the disappointment of defeat.

Miss Hitomi, the Japanese girl who was second, had to be massaged before she was able to leave the trade. She limped to her dressing room, too exhausted even to put on her shoes. One physiologist declares that woman has a layer of fat; round the heart that makes attempts to emulate men positively dangerous. All women must realise that no amount of training will ever alter their physical condition.

'It is true,' says this specialist, 'that we are getting a race of women who are half men, but they can never compare with men physically.' Another points put that after generations of soft living civilised women have become congenitally unfit for such strenuous effort. Women of this kind are not likely to
become mothers. Therefore races do not serve any useful purpose. Men athletes, on the contrary, have children of an improved standard, which is all to the collective good'.

The start of the 1928 800m race in Amsterdam
A week later there were calls at an International Athletic Federation meeting to stop women's track and field events altogether. Although this was rejected, the 800m was dropped and proposals to extend the list of women's events were also voted down. A German doctor told the meeting that there was really nothing to worry about - 'Frau Hadke, world champion, cooked, sewed and kept house like any other woman, and competition had not affected her system'!

Canberra Times, 9 August 1928
It was not until 1960 that the 800m race for women was reinstated, and the Women's Marathon was not included in the Olympics until 1984. The facts of exactly what happened in 1928 remain contested. It would not be surprising if some of the athletes were tired, as they had already competed in several events. Hitomi for instance had already taken part in the 100m, discus and high jump and decided to enter the 800m at the last minute despite never having taken part in a race over that distance. Roger Robinson suggests though that it is a myth that several women collapsed during the race: 'There were nine women in the race, not 11. All nine are recorded as having finished. None dropped out. Film footage shows only one woman falling at the finish' ("Eleven Wretched Women": What really happened in the first Olympic women's 800m, Running Times, May 14 2012).

In any event, today we would think it perfectly normal for an athlete (male or female) to collapse at the end of a race and maybe get emotional after giving their all - just as Montano did in Moscow this month.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Art of Athletics (2): 'For the Unknown Runner' by Chris Ofili

A number of British artists were commissioned to design posters for the 2012 London Olympics, including Chris Ofili who came up with 'For the Unknown Runner'.

Chris Ofili designed it in his studio in Trinidad. In an interview with film maker Tracy Assing at the time he said that the runner wasn't supposed to represent anyone in particular but 'just the idea of somebody running from something or to something'.  He did though say that he was inspired by an image of Usain Bolt and another of a trophy vase from the ancient Olympics.

Ofili reflected in the film on the connection between running and making art: 'the 100 metre sprint is like flight I suppose, trying to launch yourself into that series of moments but essentially living in the moment where it's one step after the next, and trying to get some way beyond that moment so you are completely free of what you've done at any given instance... I think sometimes trying to make art's a bit like that where you're basically letting go, where you're offering something for that moment and trying to let go and move forward and not be burdened by your own accumulations'.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Great running beards

Lots to talk about from last week's World Championships in Moscow, but global athletics style spotters can't help but comment on the ongoing bearded runner revival.

Or course Mo Farah's been sporting a beard for ages.

But it was down to the GB men's 400m relay team to really fly the facial hair flag  - or the South London team as I like to call them as Conrad Williams is from Lewisham and Martyn Rooney from Thornton Heath.

Williams (right) and Michael Bingham (left below) both sported some finely crafted minimalist beards.

But it was down to their team mate Martyn Rooney to introduce the full on beard into the championships, until recently confined in London to post-folkies and Shoreditch hipster types.

Rooney in Moscow - image grabbed from Flotrack

So how do they compare to the great 1970s and 1980s running beards? David Bedford is of course a legend, even if now when people see this photo they probably think it's got something to do with 118 118.

Then there was Finnish long distance champion Lasse Viren.

 But sorry Martyn, Conrad and all, if you really want to be the coolest beard of all time in athletics you're up against Ed Moses (1976 & 1984 Olympic Gold Medallist in the 400m hurdles). It's not just what you do (or don't do) with your razor - you've got to be able to carry off the glasses and the necklaces too.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Running on Screen (3): Top of the Lake and The Fall

It seems like the process for commissioning top notch BBC drama series goes something like this:

'We're going to need an American actress to play a kick-ass detective'
'No problem we've got Gillian Anderson lined up for The Fall and Elizabeth Moss (you know from Mad Men) for Top of the Lake'.
'Nice one, how about some creepy murderous blokes abusing women?'
'How about the running scenes?'
'Yeah, you've got to have running, runners are a key demographic'.

Well maybe not, but the biggest two BBC dramas this year do in fact both feature running. The Fall, broadcast in June 2013, is the tale of a psycho killer bereavement counsellor who stalks the streets of Belfast killing women. How does he get away with spending so much time away from his rather credulous family? He just pops out for a run of course!

Jamie Dornan check his watch while running in the middle of the road  in Belfast city centre -
'must be time for another rather exploitative rape porn scene'
Then there's Top of the Lake.. This time the runner is on the side of Good rather than Evil. Premise is similar, specialist woman detective in town, shaking up the local corrupt and clueless cops. And she loves a run, which comes in handy for running round the lake and finding a body washed up on the shore. Or even some trail running through the woods to visit the house of a heavily armed suspect. On her own. At night. As you do.

Robin Griffin (played by Elisabeth Moss) leaves her once and future boyfriend behind
after uttering the immortal chat up line 'you run?'.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Friday Photo: Marilyn Monroe the Runner

This week's Friday photo shows Marilyn Monroe in Santa Monica in 1951.  In an interview the following year, she 'reported that she went for a “jog-trot” every morning dressed variously in blue jeans and a T-neck sweater or a brief suntop' . She commented, “The small boys stare at me and shout, 'Who's chasing you?' but I pay no attention to them"' (Marilyn Monroe: Cover the Cover by Clark Kidder, 2011).  Monroe was a long distance runner at school in North Hollywood, and later incorporated running into her regular exercise programme.

'Marilyn could be seen jogging through the service alleys of Beverly Hills each morning - an activity (like weight lifting) not commonly undertaken by women in 1950'  (Marilyn Monroe: The Biography by Donald Spoto, 2001).
'Running wild, lost control.
Running wild, mighty bold.
Feeling gay, reckless too,
Carefree mind all the time, never blue.
Always going, don't know where,
Always showing..I don't care!
Don't love nobody, it's not worthwhile. 
All alone, running wild!'
(Running Wild, as sung by Monroe in Some Like it Hot)

More in the Friday photos series:

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Save Don Valley Stadium

Talk of the Olympic Legacy will ring somewhat hollow if the second largest athletics stadium in the UK is allowed to be destroyed.  Don Valley Stadium was originally built for the 1991 World Student Games, and has hosted numerous sporting and cultural events since. Most famously it is the home track of Olympic heptathlon winner Jessica Ennis-Hill. She was discovered there on a children's athletics scheme and has trained there for all her big events.

Jessica Ennis-Hill training at Don Valley (photo from Huffington Post)

Sheffield City Council announced earlier this year that the Stadium would be closed in September 2013 and then demolished as part of a cost saving exercise, following massive government funding cuts to local authorities. The Save Don Valley Stadium Campaign is mounting a last ditch challenge to the planned closure, including trying to get it listed as a 'community asset' (where the Council would transfer ownership to a community organisation). As Ennis said earlier this year, '"It's a huge shame. To see it demolished would be a massive, massive disappointment... We've achieved so much as a country in the London Olympics, so to lose some great facilities sends out the wrong message, really. I understand budgets and costs, but I think we need to find a way to keep it."

Another Sheffield facility, Woodbourn Road athletics ground, is being revamped and will be run by Sheffield Hallam University, though clearly it won't be on anything like the same scale as Don Valley.

Really it shouldn't be down to one local Council and/or group of local people to take sole responsibility for keeping a facility going that has wider regional and indeed national significance. It is true that there is now the Olympic Stadium in London for international athletic events, as well as the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham, among others. But the vision should be to translate the growing enthusiasm for running into more people wanting to come and see top level athletics, and to have a a network of decent stadiums around the country where big events can be held and young athletes can get experience of running in this kind of environment.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Running London (2): Richmond Park 10k

In between watching Mo Farah and Tirunesh Dibaba  win their respective 10,000m events at the World Championships in Moscow, I went for a not quite as quick 10k myself in Richmond Park (where Farah once regularly trained). The event on Sunday 11th August was organised by Nice Work for Capital Runners.

315 runners took part, a mixed ability field with finishing times ranging from 34:52 to 1:33:07. (results here). Winners were Adam Kirk-Smith for the men's and Deirdre McDermot (Tonbridge AC) for the women's race, the former a couple of minutes ahead of the rest despite having to rerun the final section after a misunderstanding about the route at the end. 

The finishing line on Sunday
Richmond Park is a huge expanse, it certainly feels like you are deep in the countryside rather than in a London park, albeit one in the leafy South Western suburbs.  At 2500 acres it is the largest enclosed space in the London area. 

photo from Sunday's race by Scrimpledore
And of course it has what few other parks in London have - more than 600 red and fallow deer. On the first lap on Sunday I spent some time gazing at a herd of red deer across the road from the running track, not so much on the second lap when I was more staring at the ground through gritted teeth.

Feeding deer in Richmond Park in 1928
Until the 17th century most of  what is now the Royal Park was common land. Then King Charles I put a wall around it to the dismay of those who had previously used it for grazing animals and gathering firewood: 'A resort of royalty and nobility, attempts were made to keep out the commoners, to lock the gates, to provide the favoured few with keys or tickets of entry' (E.P Thompson, Whigs and Hunters, 1975). In the 18th century there was a bitter fight to regain public access to Richmond Park after further restrictions had been imposed. One of the leaders in that struggle, local brewer John Lewis, is commemorated on a plaque at Sheen Gate, near to where the race started at the weekend. So thanks to him and all the others who made it possible for us commoners to run around the park!

 The route: the run on Sunday was two laps of a 5k course in the north of the park, starting out near Sheen Gate, with a long stretch along Sawyers Hill. With numerous roads, paths and trails crossing the park, any number of other routes are possible.

Terrain: on this route a mixture of gravel paths and grass tracks.

Hazards: the deer aren't threatening unless you get too close to a stag during the rutting season, or come between a mother and her baby deer. But a deer did once steal my sandwich while picnicking in the park! An additional hazard for this particular race was the queue for the public toilets at the gate just before the race - you might want to go somewhere else or get there early.

Getting there: If you are not driving or cycling, Richmond rail station is about 1.5 miles away (details of walk to park here)

Opening times: opens  7:00 am to 9:30 pm in summer, shorter hours in the winter (check website for details

Post-run refreshments: within the park there is a tea room at Pembroke Lodge, lots of places to eat and drink in East Sheen if you are at that end of the park.

The next Capital Runners 10k race in the Richmond Park Series is on 8th September, followed by 27 October and 24th November 2013. Richmond Parkrun follow a very similar 5k course there every Saturday at 9 am, though they start near Bishops Gate.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Running History (3): a London 'Foot-Match' in 1736

I came across this fragment in Southwark local history library, a press cutting from the Universal Spectator and Weekly Journal, 21 August 1736:

'a Foot-Match was run in White-Conduit Fields, between the Son of one White, a Smithfield Drover, and the famous Boy belonging to Glass-house in Southwark, both about 14 years of Age: They started a little before Twelve, the Ground was mark'd out for one Mile, which they run round four times, and perform'd in 22 Minutes; the Stakes were 20 Guineas on a Side, which was won with great Difficulty by White's Son. The Odds at starting were six to four on White, but the other leading him for three Miles, brought it to even Betts'.

It's interesting how much historical information can be packed into a short piece like this. Among other things it tells us:

- there was organised running in London in the 1730s, and it was big enough news to be reported in the press;

- races were sometimes known as 'Foot matches';
- races like this were run for a cash prize, with people betting on the outcome;
- even at this early stage of timekeeping, the time of the race, as well as who won, was seen as significant;
- in this case, the race was over four miles - four laps of a one mile course.

Interesting too to see the concept of personal identity at this time - neither of the runners is named, as young people what is seen as more significant is that one is the 'Son of one White' and the other 'belongs' to the Glass-house. Glasshouses were glass-making factories, and there were several in Southwark in that period

The venue, White Conduit Fields, was in Islington (north London) and was also used for early cricket matches at this time. The White Conduit House was originally a 17th century tavern, with adjoining gardens. An advertisement from 1754 promises 'Hot loaves and butter every day; milk directly from the cows; coffee and tea and all manner of liquors in the greatest perfection...  Bats and balls for cricket, and a convenient field to play in'.

White Conduit House in 1731
(illustration by C.Lempriere sourced from London Gardens)

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Record Sleeves Athletics (3): The Associates

Some more record sleeve Athletics - this one suggested to me by the excellent Run Don't Run blog. The Associates' first album The Affectionate Punch (1980) features the Scottish post-punk-pop duo - Alan Rankine and Billy Mackenzie - on the starting line.

 MacKenzie had been a short distance runner, and frequently returned to Athletics imagery in interviews. In a 1982 NME interview, MacKenzie told Adrian Thrills:  "The better shape I'm in physically, the better I feel I am musically... As I've said before, I relate music and emotion to athleticism. Athleticism is really important. The cover of our first LP 'The Affectionate Punch' was a way of saying that, with the two of us hunched together at the start of a running track'.

In an interview with Paul Morley in the same year, he drew an analogy between inspiring people with his singing and relay running: 'It makes me feel real good. Cos you feel as if someone's along beside you, sharing things. You could do everything for yourself. but ultimately that's no good. Going back to the athletics thing, which I can relate strongly to: you could do the 100 metres like I used to do and then run wi' the relay team, and you could get even more pleasure from that. Cos you helped and elated four people instead of one'.

The combination of MacKenzie's gorgeous soaring voice and Rankine's musical arrangements gave the band some unforgettable hits in the early 1980s, notably Party Fears Two and Club Country. Legend has it that The Smiths 'William it was really nothing' arouse from an encounter between Stephen Patrick Morrissey and MacKenzie - certainly MacKenzie later wrote a song 'Stephen, you're really something' (see 'The Smiths: Songs that Saved Your Life' by Simon Goddard, 2006).

MacKenzie had a history of mental health problems, and committed suicide in 1997. As a tragic footnote to Billy's sad story I note that his sister died earlier this year after falling from a block of flats in Dundee.

Billy MacKenzie, 1957-1997

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Running London (1): Nunhead Cemetery - Life's Race Well Run

Nunhead Cemetery in South London is a pleasingly decaying Victorian burial ground, first opened in 1841. At one time it was quite the place to be buried, but by the mid-20th century the burials dried up and the company running it went bust. It quickly became overgrown and by the 1980s the trees that had sprung up had matured into a fine woodland. Since then the combined efforts of Southwark Council and the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery have tried to prevent further damage to the graves and monuments, and make it accessible as both a wildlife reserve and a place of remembrance.

It's a popular spot with runners, as well as dog walkers, as it offers the experience of running through the woods in a place only a short distance from urban inner London. On hot days like we've had recently, it's also cool in the shade of the trees. And the angels and other monuments undoubtedly add an atmosphere of sweet melancholy.

You won't be able to do much reading of the gravestones while you're running, but it's always interesting to have a walk around before or after. Don't get too gloomy, but it does function as a kind of memento mori - one day your running days will be over. As the grave of Hannah Frisby (d.1921) says: 'Life's race well run, life's work well done, life's crown well won, now comes rest' (a verse by Edward  H. Parker that was used on the 1881 funeral casket of assassinated US President Garfield, and then became a Victorian/Edwardian favourite). 

Is it actually OK to run around cemeteries? If Martin Creed is right that running 'is the exact opposite of death' might it offend some people? Maybe I would think twice about running around a modern cemetery full of the recently bereaved, but in a place where most people have been dead for over a hundred years it feels more like an affirmation of the continuity of human existence. The torch has been passed on, and will be passed on again.  'A dreaded sunny day, So let's go where we're happy, And I'll meet you at the cemetery gates'

First World War Australian War Graves in Nunhead

Route: the most straightforward route is round the main pathway. Come into the cemetery from main entrance on Linden Grove SE15, take the track to the left and keep taking left forks at junctions until you are back where you started. One circuit of this is 1.5 km, and includes a good steepish uphill stretch where you are rewarded at the top with a view of the distant St Pauls Cathedral  through the trees. JMW Turner painted from here before it was even a cemetery.

There are other smaller paths and you can create your own longer routes by using these in various combinations. One route I have used is to do the basic loop once, as described above, and then at the end of first lap turn right up the central avenue towards the chapel. At the top turn left, then take the left where the path forks. Turn left again at the bottom and you are back at the start. Carry on towards the Scottish Martyrs memorial, take the left here where the path forks and follow track back round to the chapel. Turn left here and go back down the avenue towards the starting point. That route comes out at 2.4 km.

Terrain: mainly gravel paths, some larger stones underfoot in stretches to watch out for. Paths can get wet/muddy in autumn and winter.

Hazards: Lots of dogs being walked, but most of them friendly!

Getting there: 2 minutes from Nunhead train station; buses 78, 343, 484, P12 all go nearby

Opening times: check the Southwark Council website for details. At present it opens at 8:30 am throughout the year, but closing times vary from 4 pm in the winter to 7 pm in the summer.

Post-run refreshments: Dish and the Spoon on Cheltenham Road (near to back entrance of cemetery) and Bambuni on Evelina Road both do really good coffee etc. If a fry up's more your thing, Crossway Cafe (also on Evelina Road) is the place to go - they do a formidable vegetarian breakfast.

The Scottish Martyrs Memorial - commemorating radicals transported to Australia in the late 18th century.
In my romantic way it reminds me that freedom is a precondition for running free.
They didn't have that option on a prison ship!
See also:

Oh and here's a song made up of lines taken from Nunhead graves (including 'life's race well run):

Sunday, 4 August 2013

The Art of Athletics (1): Martin Creed's Work 850

Tate Britain in London is currently featuring Phantom Ride, a video work by the artist Simon Starling that digitally recreates some of the iconic art works that have featured in the Duveen galleries - the central space that visitors enter when they come through the riverside entrance (though due to building works that entrance is not in use at the moment). At one moment in Phantom Ride, a figure appears and runs down the empty gallery.

This alludes to a work that was performed in the gallery in 2008 - Martin Creed's Work 850. If we want to talk about art and running, where better to start than with a work that solely features just that: people running, in an art gallery. For eight hours a day, every day, from July until November 2008 Creed arranged for runners to sprint the 86 metres of the gallery. After a 15 second pause, another runner would appear and do the same.

Runners, many of them recruited through Athletics magazines and clubs, were paid £10 an hour to work in teams over a four hour shift, with sprints interspersed with rests. Interviewed at the time, Creed explained: "As soon as I was asked [to tackle the Duveen Galleries] I immediately thought of people running through them.. I wanted to use the whole space, instead of putting an object in it. The runner is like a guide showing you the whole space... Running is a beautiful thing. You do it without a pool, or a bike; it is the body doing as much as it can on its own'.

He also said: “I like running. I like seeing people run and I like running myself… running is the opposite of being still. If you think about death as being completely still and movement as a sign of life, then the fastest movement possible is the biggest sign of life. So then running fast is like the exact opposite of death: it’s an example of aliveness.” (Tate Press Release, 30 June 2008).

The piece provoked predictable 'but is it art?' outrage in the Daily Mail. But that gallery has always featured statues and other representations of the human form, so why not actual humans engaged in another fine art, the art of running?

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Running on Screen (2): The Running Man

Running Man (1987) is a film based on the Stephen King novel of the same name (actually written under the pen name Richard Bachman). The film, directed by Paul Michael Glaser, is set in the unimaginably distant science fiction future of 2017 - only a few more years to wait now to see if it comes true!

The plot is helpfully spelt out in the film's opening titles which tell us: 'By 2017 the world economy has collapsed, food, natural resources and oil are in short supply. A police state, divided into paramilitary zones, rules with an iron hand. Television is controlled by the state and a sadistic game show called "The Running Man" has become the most popular program in history. All art, music and communications are censored. No dissent is tolerated and yet a small resistance movement has managed to survive underground. When High-Tech Gladiators are not enough to suppress the people's yearning for freedom... more direct methods become necessary'.

In other words it's a similar plot to Rollerball (1975) and The Hunger Games (2012) - a future police state where the the masses are kept in line with a mixture of brutal repression and the spectacle of deadly televised games. In this instance, the premise of The Running Man show is that prisoners and other enemies of the state are let loose to run for their lives and hunted down.

Ben Richards (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) is an ex-cop jailed for refusing to open fire on civilians during a food riot. After a prison breakout he is head hunted by the TV programme's producers who think that his biceps will boost ratings.

Arnie and the other spandex clad runners have to run through the city chased by the murderous Stalkers aiming to catch and kill them on live TV. Arnie has other plans, outrunning and outfighting his pursuers before joining with the rebels to storm the TV studio. Oh and - spoiler alert - he gets the girl. To be honest there's more fighting than actual running - Arnie/Ben's not a running away kind of guy - but of course he manages to run faster than any pursuing vehicles can manage.

Strangely despite being set in the future, the music, computers, hair and dance routines are pure 1980s!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Running History (2): Hare and Hounds

Hare and Hounds or Paper Chase is a running game that seems to have been particularly popular in 19th century English public schools, and indeed many of the modern athletics clubs that developed later in the century grew out of Hare and Hounds clubs (see for instance the still-extant Thames Hare and Hounds cross country club, based at Wimbledon Common, which dates back to the 1860s).

Here's an explanation with illustration from 'Every Boy's Book: A Complete Encyclopædia
of Sports and Amusements' (1869), edited by Edmund Routledge. Did they really run up to 15 miles in blazers and ties?

'This is perhaps the very best game that can be introduced into a school. The principle of it is very simple, that one boy represents the Hare and runs away, while the others represent the Hounds and pursue him. The proper management of the game, however, requires some skill. When we were at school in the north, this game was extensively played; and in more recent times, when we ourselves were masters instead of scholars, we reduced the game to a complete system. The first thing to be done is to choose a Hare, or if the chase is to be a long one, two Hares are required. The Hare should not be the best runner, but should be daring, and at the same time prudent, or he may trespass into forbidden lands, and thereby cause great mischief. A Huntsman and Whipper-in are then chosen. The Huntsman should be the best player, and the Whipper-in second best. Things having advanced so far, the whole party sally forth. The Hare is furnished with a large bag of white paper torn into small squares, which he scatters on the ground as he goes. An arrangement is made that the Hare shall not cross his path, nor return home until a certain time; in either of which cases he is considered caught. The Hounds also are bound to follow the track or “scent” implicitly, and not to make short cuts if they see the Hare. The Hare then starts, and has about seven minutes’ grace, at the expiration of which time the Huntsman blows a horn with which he is furnished, and sets off, the Hounds keeping nearly in Indian file, the Whipper-in bringing up the rear. The Huntsman is also furnished with a white flag, the Whipper-in with a red one, the staves being pointed and shod with metal.

Off they go merrily enough, until at last the Huntsman loses the scent. He immediately shouts “Lost!” on which the Whipper-in sticks his flag in the ground where the scent was last seen, and the entire line walks or runs round it in a circle, within which they are tolerably sure to find the track. The Huntsman in the meanwhile has stuck his flag in the ground, and examines the country to see in what direction the Hare is likely to have gone.When the track is found, the player who discovers it shouts Tally ho! the Huntsman takes up his flag, and ascertains whether it is really the track or not. If so, he blows his horn again, the Hounds form in line between the two flags, and off they go again. It is incredible how useful the two flags are. Many a Hare has been lost because the Hounds forgot where the last track was seen, and wasted time in searching for it again. Moreover, they seem to encourage the players wonderfully. We used often to make our chases fourteen or fifteen miles in length; but before such an undertaking is commenced, it is necessary to prepare by a series of shorter chases, which should however be given in an opposite direction to the course fixed upon for the grand chase, as otherwise the tracks are apt to get mixed, and the Hounds are thrown out. The Hare should always carefully survey his intended course a day or two previously, and then he will avoid getting himself into quagmires, or imprisoned in the bend of a river. A pocket compass is a most useful auxiliary, and prevents all chance of losing the way, a misfortune which is not at all unlikely to happen upon the Wiltshire downs or among the Derbyshire hills'.