Saturday, 25 January 2014

Joe Strummer: Marathon Runner

As several other running bloggers have noted before (including Run Dangerously and Run and Jump), the late great Joe Strummer of The Clash apparently ran several marathons.

According to Chris Salewicz in 'Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer' (2006), in April 1981 'wearing a "Clash Take the Fifth" T-shirt, Joe Strummer, the man who as a boy had been his school's cross-country running champion, ran the London Marathon. He took Gaby [Salter, his then girlfriend] with him - she made it halfway before dropping out. "He hadn't even trained. He just bought some shorts and said, "let's run a marathon". Even in personal relations Joe played his cards close to his chest: he never mentioned to Gaby that he had been the top runner at his school'.

Salewicz also says that in May 1982 Strummer ran in the Paris Marathon (as did Gaby Salter) during a short period when he was hiding out in the city while 'missing' from the band.

Another blog has queried whether this is true, pointing out that there's no photographic evidence of Strummer running in Paris and that in the 1981 picture (above), he hasn't got a bib with his number on it. The picture looks like it was taken at the Marathon or a similar event though (note police and crowd barriers)- maybe he wasn't an official entrant and sneaked in to run all or part of the race in this first year of the event.

There can't be any doubt about the 1983 London Marathon though. 'Like Punk Never Happened' has recently scanned in the whole of 'Smash Hits' magazine from April 28th 1983, and it includes the following piece. This states that Strummer ran in aid of Leukemia research with runners from 'The Sun' newspaper team,  with a finish time of four hours and 13 minutes.

'Mohican beginning to wilt a bit'

Sunday, 19 January 2014

#Megsmiles and the joy of living

Last Monday (13 January 2014), 34 year old Meg Menzies was tragically killed by a driver while out for her morning run in Hanover County, Virginia. Meg, a mother of three children, was a member of the Richmond Road Runners Club and Boston marathoner. The driver has been arrested and charged with drink driving.

A monument close to where Meg died made up of running shoes

On Facebook, Meg's friend and fellow runner Brooke Roney suggested that people might want to run this weekend in memory of Meg and to raise awareness of road safety for runners and cyclists:

'In her honor, our hope is to raise awareness of drunk driving, texting and driving, and overall safety of runners and cyclists everywhere. This Saturday, January 18, 2014, no matter what your distance, no matter where you live, run for Meg. Take in the fresh air, be aware of your surroundings, keep your headphones on low, feel the heaviness in your lungs, the soreness in your legs, and be grateful for it - for all of it. The sweat, the pain, the wind, the cold…everything. Be grateful for that moment'.

The response has been incredible with more than 95,000 runners across the world committing to take part. Some organised special runs, some had a pause for silence before their runs, others (including me on my weekly 5k parkrun in Hilly Fields) just told people about it or thought about how we take for granted the fact that we can breathe and put one foot in front of the other.

The reaction reminded me of the outpouring of grief and anger following the deaths of cyclists in London, including last November when over 1000 cyclists lay down in the road outside the Transport for London  HQ (pictured above). I also thought of my friend Paul Hendrich, who was killed while cycling in London six years ago this week.

Paul Hendrich

If Paul H. was here today, I would like to talk to him, as we used to do, about Paul Gilroy. In the latter's book 'Between camps: nations, cultures and the allure of race' (2000) he ponders how human beings can develop what he calls a 'planetary humanism' based on what we have in common rather than what divides us in terms of race, country and culture. He grounds this notion in the shared experience of suffering:  'The recurrence of pain, disease, humiliation and loss of dignity, grief and care for those one loves can contribute to an abstract sense of a human similarity powerful enough to make solidarities based on cultural particularity appear suddently trivial'.

But there is also a positive sense of commonality based on the things many of us enjoy to do. 'Megsmiles' is an expression of the fact that we all grieve, but that we can also all celebrate the joy of living, and those of us who take part in the very simple human movement of running share something that is bigger than what divides us.

Faced with a tragedy like this we can think about some of the things that governments, road planners and drivers could do to make the world safer for cyclists, runners and walkers. But most of all we can be reminded of the simple fact that as millions of us rush around every day we need to look out for each other.

Meg Cross Menzies

'Days in the sun and the tempered wind and the air like wine
And you drink and you drink till you're drunk
On the joy of living'
(Ewan McColl)

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Running London (6): Dulwich Park

I saw in 2014 with a New Year's Day 5k Dulwich parkrun. It was wet and windy, but 172 runners decided to get cracking on their New Year resolutions early.

Parkrun has been taking place in Dulwich Park since April 2012. It is one of the smoother, faster parkruns in London, with three circuits of the park on tarmac all the way round, mostly fairly flat (runners sometimes complain about the slight gradient on part of the course, but there's certainly no hill).  Sarah Watson is currently the fastest female finisher with a time of 17:31, Thomas Payn holds the men's record with 15:01 - getting on for a minute quicker than the best time at my really hilly home run at Hilly Fields.  So yes, the course does make a difference, though I have run faster times at Hilly Fields than I managed at Dulwich Park on New Year's Day. Then again I had been up drinking and dancing into the early hours the night before.

Dulwich parkrun, New Years Day 2014

There's nearly always people running in the park, and the area boasts two local running clubs in addition to the weekly parkrun - Dulwich Park Runners, based at the Trevor Bailey Sports Club on The South Circular opposite the park and Dulwich Runners AC, who have their main club night at The Edward Alleyn Club in Burbage Road, SE24. There are also various other running events in the park - such as the annual Cystis Fibrosis Dulwich Park Fun Run (next one on May 31 2014).

Back in October, I took part in the Dulwich Runners Charity 10k, with 213 runners starting off and finishing in the park, but also taking in a section of the South Circular Road and Dulwich Village (all photos in this post except the top one from New Years Day are from that race). A PB for me, but  I strained a muscle in my thigh and ended up out of action for a month. In fact I was relieved to come away from the park on New Year's Day uninjured as on my previous parkrun there in June my vision started to blur and by the end of the day I was in Kings Hospital Accident and Emergency with a temporary loss of vision (seemingly related to damage from my contact lenses).

The park holds many happy memories for me, wandering through the Rhododendrons with my kids, seeing a great outdoor performance of Alice in Wonderland from Bubble Theatre, cycling over from Brixton the first time I stumbled across it. It has a good cafe, and just outside the various food and drink establishments of Dulwich Village. And yes it does feel a bit like a rather posh Surrey village, though sometimes this is overstated. Once I overheard a shopkeeper say 'there's a lot of outsiders in the village today'- well it is in one of the world's biggest cities and just down the road from Peckham and Brixton!

The finish in Dulwich Park for the Dulwich Runners 10k,
Sunday 6 October 2013

The park itself was opened in 1890, on former farm land and meadows that had belonged to the Dulwich Estate before they donated it to the Metropolitan Board of Works (later London County Council). The origins  and wealth of the Dulwich Estate go back to Alleyn's College of God's Gift, founded  by Edward Alleyn, the Shakespearian actor who made his money from playhouses, bear pits and brothels on the South Bank of the Thames. He set up the charity for the benefit of poor scholars, though the main beneficiaries seem to have ended up being the associated elite fee-paying schools of Dulwich College, Alleyn's School and James Allen Girls School. Oh well at least the rest of us got a park out of it to run around!  Dulwich College, once attended by the likes of Raymond Chandler, P.G. Wodehouse and more recently Chiwetel Ejiofor, is another part of the running mix in the area. It has a strong tradition of cross country running and its own running track - also used for training sessions by Dulwich Runners.

The nearby Dulwich and Sydenham Hill Woods are also popular with runners, offering a woodland trail within easy reach of inner South London (well for me a run from New Cross to the woods, round them and back again is a good 10k run).

Dulwich parkrun route - the run starts 9 am every Saturday from Queen Mary's Gate (the entrance on South Circular)

Previously in the Running London series:

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Running History (7): Cross-Country Running: 'sport of the masses' (1898)

Extracts from an article on  'CROSS-COUNTRY RUNNING' by R.R. Conway, published in 'The Badminton magazine of sports and pastimes', May 1898. Interesting 'classes' versus 'masses' angle in opening paragraph - assume by 'classes' the author must mean the 'respectable/better' classes.

'Cross-country  running is essentially the sport of the masses. The classes either pass it contemptuously by on the other side, or judge its votaries by the attenuated and lightly clad specimens of humanity who may be seen scampering round suburban roads in the gathering darkness of a winter Saturday afternoon. But we cannot help regarding it as a most important branch of athletics. Nearly all our best distance runners train regularly across country in the off season, and while our sprinters go down before the flying Americans, and our jumpers are outdone by the nimble Gael,  we can still claim an undisputed supremacy at the longer distances, and it is across country that the majority of such contests are decided.

A late prominent paper-chaser, at Cambridge, has rather happily described the sport as ‘a man
running as nature made him', for the description is just. Nowhere will you see such absolutely natural style (much of it I regret to say bad) as at the end of a long and punishing cross-country race. In many cases it is simply a man's own pluck and strength that carry him home. and it is only in very exceptional cases that we see a pure stylist shine ‘over grass and plough.’ But of this more anon.

The origin of the sport is, of course, to be traced to the old game of Hare and Hounds, more particularly as followed at Rugby... Before the days of universal football and golf there was very little for a man who had not means for hunting and shooting to do during the winter, and just thirty years ago the first  cross-country club sprang into being. Mr. Walter Rye, the father of paper-chasers, aided by a few kindred spirits, formed the Thames Hare and Hounds Club, which still lives and flourishes... The Thames certainly possess the most genuine and sporting course near London, and the finish over Wimbledon Common cannot be surpassed...

Next in order of seniority come the Blackheath Harriers, who sprang into being in 1869, under the title of the Peckham Amateurs...  The other metropolitan club which calls for special notice is the South London Harriers, both on account of its age and its record. The S. L. H. preserves its youth in a wonderful manner, and encounters its friends from Blackheath in every imaginable sport. It must not be forgotten that the big cross-country clubs do great service to the cause of athletics generally, and the sports held under their direction rank among the biggest events of the year... The race par excellence of the year in the eyes of all metropolitan athletes is the 'Southern Counties’ at present decided over a terribly stiff course round the Watkin Tower at Wembley...

When we consider the sport itself, the reason of its popularity, especially in the metropolitan district, is not hard to find. The cost is trifling, the outfit of the simplest, and it can be pursued at an hour which would render any other outdoor sports impossible. It is difficult to overestimate such advantages to the average Londoner who cannot call his time his own. There is no more delightful sensation than that of a good stretch over a sporting course,  when wind and limb alike are in good condition, and one can stride out right through from end to end. Much senseless rubbish has been talked about the dangers of cross-country running; but these are incurred only by the foolish. In the first place, let no one make the attempt who is not absolutely sound. A collapse which, on the running-path within reach of the friendly pavilion, is trifling, becomes a very different matter five miles from anywhere, in a strange country, and with the nearest man's back fast vanishing through the gloom. Never shall I forget the unpleasant sensation of hunting for a lost Blackheathman in the November blizzard of 1893, when every turnip seemed to take the shape of a senseless corpse! The gentleman in question still lives, however, and blesses the name of the eminent physiologist against whose hospitable door he stumbled. Secondly, I must strongly advise all beginners to wear jerseys and shorts of sufficient thickness. Silk and gauze, which is all very well in the summer, gives very scant protection when the temperature nears the twenties, and the slight increase of weight is amply compensated by the security from chill and cramp. A great safeguard. too, comes from the use of woollen gloves and mittens protecting the wrist and forearm. These should be always worn on a really cold day.

The only proper shoes are those made for the purpose by the leading makers. They should be provided with a broad heel-strap, very low heels, and a steel plate protecting the foot from the jar of a spiked sole on a hard road. The one thing to do is to pay a good price to a good maker, and that will be found the truest economy.

The best training for cross-country running consists of lots of walking, steady work over the most varied country to be found, and once a week a good fast spin on the cinder path. This is absolutely necessary to a team that means to shine in a punishing race; practice on the path gives just the right amount of dash and finish to carry one home in the last mile. During the last fortnight of training once a week across country is all that should be attempted.

As regards style, men run well across country in all shapes and aim. While in a race on the track between picked men one general principle seems to inspire them all, in the ‘illegitimate sport’ the case is very different. The reason is to be found in the varying nature of the ground covered. While A rejoices in the strength which carries him through the mud, and revels in the most sticky and holding plough, B is a natural stylist, a
pretty jumper. and a flyer over the portions of grass and road which are beneficently placed in his way; thanks, however, to  the variety of a representative course very few seconds will separate the rivals in ten miles'.

Previously in this series:

- 'The Evil of Athletics' (1868) 
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

Friday, 3 January 2014

Audrey Hepburn running, cycling and swimming

Audrey Hepburn would have been 85 today (she was born on 4 May 1929 and died on 20 January 1993). Judging by these photos of her running, cycling and swimming perhaps she could have been a triathlete if she hadn't made it as an actress- though perhaps a rather languid, unhurried triathlete!

(Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly  , Breakfast at Tiffany's -
these lines are actually spoken to her by the 'Fred' character, played by George Peppard)

Audrey Hepburn running with dog (guessing she didn't run too far in those shoes)

Audrey Hepburn running with deer

(more Audrey Hepburn cycling photos at Adventure Journal)

Hepburn in 'Two for the Road' (1967)

During the filming of 'Two for the Road'

[actually posted this on 4 May 2014, but as I'd started a draft earlier, Blogger published it as 3 January 2014]