Friday, 26 September 2014

Friday photos (13): Happy Birthday Ron Hill.

Happy 76th birthday (yesterday) Ron Hill, long distance running legend. According to Wikipedia 'He was the second man to break 2:10 in the marathon... In 1970, Hill won the 74th Boston Marathon in a course record 2:10:30. He also won gold medals for the marathon at the European Championships in 1969 and the Commonwealth Games in 1970... Hill held world records for 10 miles (16 km) (47:02, Leicester, April 1968; 46:44, Leicester, November 1968); 15 miles (24 km) (72:48.2, Bolton, July 1965); and 25 kilometres (16 mi) (75:22.6, Bolton, July 1965)'. 

Famously he has run every day for nearly 50 years - I believe the anniversary is actually on 20 December 2014. Runners everywhere though can thank him for his off track achievements - Dr Hill the textile chemist was one of the pioneers of using nylon and other synthetic fabrics in running wear, liberating us from the chafing nightmare of soggy cotton. The sportswear company he founded makes the running vests for my club, Kent Athletic Club and many others. Cheers Ron!

Ron Hill in 1962 in the Inter-Counties
Six Miles
(from excellent Ron Hill profile at Racing Past)

Ron Hill after winning  the Commonwealth Games Marathon in Edinburgh, 1970 
- and below, running during the race.

Winning the 1970 Boston Marathon
Ron Hill running in 1972 Olympic Marathon in Munich
Ron Hill, 27 Oct 1973, AAAs Marathon Championships Harlow
Ron Hill at the Enschede Marathon in Holland, 1975

Hill (right) with Bernie Plain (1976)
- from Run and Become

At the street in Accrington named after him in 2014  (from Athletics World)

Ron Hill at Heaton parkrun, Saturday 27 September with Danny Norman, right, and Steve Way, left
(photo by parkrun Danny Norman)

Previously in the Friday Photos series:

Anita Neil - Britain's first female Black Olympian?
Running with Madonna

On Google Image Search...

Google Image Search has a long way to go  - using 'search Google for this image' for one of the Ron Hill pictures, Google came back with eight models and a horse as 'visually similar'!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Peckham Pioneer Centre: 1930s swimming pool

As part of the Open House London weekend, I went on a tour this morning of the former Pioneer Centre in St Mary's Road, Peckham. The building opened in 1935 as part of a radical public health initiative known as the Peckham Experiment. Rather than offering medical treatments, the emphasis was on keeping people healthy - the building included a gym, swimming pool and dance hall, among other facilities for local families. It closed in the 1950s, and after a period as an adult education college, was converted to private flats in the late 1990s.

The original pool from the 1930s is still there, though it's diving board is no longer in use as the depth of the pool at that end was reduced during the conversion of the building

Swimmers at the pool when it was part of the health centre

An exercise class on the roof of the Pioneer Centre

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

'A delightful spin': Cycling and Running in Herne Hill & Blackheath 1893

From the South Wales Daily Post, 3 August 1893, an interesting account of a combined cycling and athletics event at Herne Hill stadium ('the famous South London track') organised by the Blackheath Club. These were big spectator sports at the time, as shown by the fact that a crowd of 1500 was described as a 'poor attendance' and 'a modest array of spectators'

London Polytechnic seem to have done well in the cycling, including their A.J. Watson who won the half-mile scratch event. Winners in the running events, which included a 300 yards and one mile handicaps, came from Goldsmiths Institute (H.C. Hart) and Highgate Harriers (A. Grubb). Putney AC and Spartan Harriers are also mentioned.

The fact that cycling and running events featured in one programme reflected the fact that some of the clubs also combined both sports. Blackheath was both a cycling and athletics club, not to mention rowing, swimming and water polo. The article mentions that 'the Heathens' were also prominent in cross country: 'it is a gladdening sight to stand outside the Green Man hotel at Blackheath when the members of the Southern pack are just starting for a delightful spin o'er field and fallow'. I believe this is a reference to the Blackheath Harriers, founded in 1869 as Peckham Hare and Hounds, and who changed their name when they moved to the Green Man in Blackheath in 1878. The club continues today as Blackheath and Bromley Athletic Club

A.J. Watson, mentioned above, photographed c.1900

The article mentions that 'At one time the famous W.G. George held the [Blackheath] club's 4¾-mile challenge cup'. Walter George (1858-1943) set a record for the mile of 4:12¾ in 1886, which remained the world's fastest recorded time until 1915 (when the USA's Norman Taber ran 4:12 3⁄5 at Harvard).

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Stars of Track and Field are Beautiful People

I went to see 'God Help the Girl' last week at the Barbican, the new film directed by Stuart Murdoch - lead singer/songwriter of Belle and Sebastian. Unsurprisingly it navigates a similar emotional and physical geography to his songs - music-obsessed troubled teenagers/twenty somethings stumbling through love - requited and unrequited - while getting the band together in Glasgow, particularly its western parts. All with a soundtrack of sweet melodies and intelligent lyrics, and indeed at one point the lovely baritone of Neil Hannon. It stars Olly Alexander, Hannah Murray (Cassie from Skins) and Australian actress Emily Browning.

Well that certainly pushes all my buttons, Belle & Sebastian are one of my all time favourite bands, I am partial to musicals (even 'Sunshine on Leith' brought a tear to my eye), and I have this romantic thing about Glasgow despite never having lived further north than Luton. On family holidays as a kid we always stayed with my auntie in Easterhouse, but my dad lived in Dowanhill Street in the city's west end while doing his shipwright apprenticeship at Alexander Stephen's on the Clyde in the 1950s. Oh and it wouldn't be a Stuart Murdoch project without at least a nod to running -  the film shows Emily Browning briefly running in a retro-styled Glasgow University runners vest.

The tune of the title song apparently came to Stuart when he was out running, something he has done a lot of. In fact I would go so far as to say that he has probably been one of the most dedicated runners in music. Others have done a lot of running to keep fit, or have taken up running to try and get healthy after too much rock'n'roll lifestyle. But Murdoch was running marathons when he was a teenager, and kept up running through years with the band, albeit with a period dealing with M.E. when he could barely face leaving the house. According to the band's biography:

'Something of an athlete in his youth, a still-spry Stuart can often be glimpsed today sprinting determinedly around Glasgow...."I think I'm just naturally quite good at [running]" he shrugs. "If my thing was knitting.. or swimming, which it isn't, I would pursue it. It's just the one particular pursuit that I'm quite good at. So it becomes a kind of meditation. When I run I can pretty much forget everything that has gone before. It's a little gap between the day and the night. I particularly love running around five or six o'clock, you can pass the day out of your system' (Paul Whitelaw,  Belle and Sebastian: Just a Modern Rock Story, Helter Skelter, 2005, p.11).

Stuart Murdoch crosses the line in the 1986 Glasgow Marathon,
aged 17 and a sub-3 hour time

His 2001-2006 journal, published as the Celestial Cafe (2011), recounts tales of running in various cities while on tour: 'My chief joy and escape is running... My energy has been pretty good of late. I've run in Paris, Brussels, Cologne, Malmo, Mainz, Berlin, Zurich. I saw a wild boar in the woods on the outskirts of Zurich at night. That was nice, running through the warm woods at night with just enough light to follow the path'. He describes running through London's Hyde Park in the dark, and in Sheffield the night before a gig, 'a great town to run around on account of the hills and the plentiful network of meandering river and canals, and quiet industrial roads'.

With all these running miles under his belt, Murdoch is something of the bard of the long distance. A 2004 poem, Milano 6 pm, reflects:

'I know this town
The runner sees everything
It his privilege to stagger
Through the six o'clock stroll
Picking up a scent from families
Leaning on the warmth of lovers
Stealing day-end joy from workers

I think I know this town
The runners sees everything
Thinks geography is power...'

Then there's the songs. The Loneliness of the Middle Distance Runner includes the line 'Have you seen the loneliness of a middle distance runner, As he stops the race and looks around?', plainly referencing the Alan Sillitoe story/film but perhaps also a reflection on the experience of finishing a race surrounded by loads of people but really having been lost inside your head/body/pain for that final stretch.

'The Stars of Track and Field', from the  great 1996 'If you're feeling sinister' album, manages to make athletics training sound sexy, and is also very funny:

'...Have you and her been taking pictures of your obsessions?
Because I met a kid who went through one of your sessions
In his blue velour and silk
You liberated
A boy I never rated
And now he's throwing discus
For Liverpool and Widnes
You liberated
A boy I never rated
And now he's doing business

The stars of track and field, you are
The stars of track and field, you are
The stars of track and field are beautiful people

Could I write a piece about you now that you've made it?
About the hours spent, the emptiness in your training
You only did it so that you could wear
Your terry underwear
And feel the city air
Run past your body

Could I write a requiem for you when you're dead?
"She had the moves, she had the speed, it went to her head"
She never needed anything to get her round the track
But when she's on her back
She had the knowledge
To get her into college
But when she's on her back
She had the knowledge
To get her into college'

The video for 'I'm a cuckoo'  (2004) features an actual Scottish star of track of track and field:  Allan Wells, who won gold in the 100m at the 1980 Moscow Olympic games.

 Wells plays Murdoch's trainer, struggling to keep him focused in the midst of a romantic crisis that also sees Murdoch running all over Glasgow.

I should also mention early B&S song 'Lazy Line Painter Jane'  (1997) which includes the verse

'Let's see your kit for games. 
All the girls look the same. 
You are challenging styles for running miles. 
You're running miles in some boys jumper'.

I must admit I quoted the last line to my partner very recently after she appropriated my new long sleeve running top.

[update 16 May 2015]
Just noticed another one- (My Girl's Got) Miraculous Technique (2001):
'I know my legs are weak, but if I hear my baby speak, then I’ll start running.
She’s got miraculous techniques'

[update June 2017]
You can now get a rather fine 'Stars of Track and Field' sew on patch from the Belle & Sebastian shop, think I'm going to have find an old skool track suit top to put it on. 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Assembly League 2014 finale in Beckenham

The final race of the summer's Assembly League was hosted by Beckenham Running Club on Thursday September 4th, with 212 runners from 15 clubs taking part in a 3 mile road run starting out by Beckenham Cricket Club (in whose bar we celebrated the end of the season afterwards). First finisher for the men was Paul Martelletti of Victoria Park Harriers (15:01), with Amy Clements of Kent Athletic Club coming in first amongst the women in 17:10. Paul and Amy also won their respective senior competitions for the 2014 season, which consisted of six runs between April and September - three in Beckenham, two in East London's Victoria Park, and one in Battersea Park.

It was a similar result in the club competition, with Victoria Park Harriers winning the league for the men and Kent Athletic Club for the women - the latter for the first time, a sign of the growing strength of the South East London club whose men's team came third overall.

Kent AC women smiling  after their victory, with coach Adrian Musson
(photo form @ronnie_haydon on twitter)

Looking at the shield it seems that the women's competition has been won 17 out of 20 times by Dulwich Runners.

According to the Cambridge Harriers site, the Assembly League was 'set up in the mid 1970s as competition between the London Business houses, such as the banks, stock-exchange, Post Office and major local employers (many since closed) such as Molins and Johnson & Phillips at Deptford', the latter two engineering firms who at one time had big factories in South London. As industries have vanished from London along with their sports clubs, the League has shifted to consisting largely of established running clubs from the London/Kent area. Teams from Stock Exchange Athletics Club and Lloyds keep up the workplace running tradition, with other teams taking part including Cambridge Harriers, Kent AC, Eton Manor, Dulwich Runners,  Serpentine Running Club, Dartford Road Runners, Victoria Park Harriers, Petts Wood Runners, Beckenham Running Club, Eton Manor Athletics Club, Ravensbourne School, Ravens City of London Running Club and Aquila.

This was my first race since joining Kent AC, and while I don't think my time/position made any difference to the overall result it was a good run, even if the long hill leading up to the finish line in Beckenham Place Park seemed to go on forever. Good too to explore the Beckenham streets of Enid Blyton and David Bowie! (the latter once lived more or less opposite Beckenham Cricket Club on Foxgrove Road)

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Record Sleeve Athletics (9): Keep on Jumpin'

DJ and Scissor Sister Ana Matronic talked about Musique's 'Keep on Jumpin'' album sleeve on her BBC disco show this week, describing it as showing three women in different coloured running kits. While they are clearly in a studio rather than on the track, I think on the outfits alone we can include this in the 'Record Sleeve Athletics' series. 

The 1978 album, produced by disco legend Patrick Adams, includes their hit single 'In the Bush' and the great title track. Todd Terry's 1996 version of 'Keep on Jumpin'' will always remind me of dancing at Sancho Panza sound system at Notting Hill Carnival around that time.

Anyway can there be a better time to dig this one out of the bag than this week after Mutaz Essa Barshim's high jump performance in the Diamond League in Brussels. Clearing 2.43m, he is surely in reach of the world record (2.45m) set by Cuban athlete Javier Sotomayor in 1993.

'Keep on jumpin'
Let your body fly
Everybody jumpin'
'Til you see the sun in the sky'

Barshim in Brussels

See previously in this series: