Friday, 28 November 2014

Friday Photos (17): Muhammad Ali Running

Muhammad Ali was of course a great boxer rather than a runner, but running (or 'roadwork' as boxers sometimes term it) was a huge part of his training. Hence lots of photos of him running. There is a great quote that is often attributed to him online: “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses-behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights". Unfortunately I haven't been able to find the original source of this - I hope it's not another of those endless circulating internet myths - but it tells a truth about training for any sport.

Cassius Clay (as he was then) running on the Julia Tuttle Causeway, Miami Beach 1961
(from Miami Archives)

'Ever the early riser, Clay would start each day of training at 5:00 am with roadwork. As he ran from his hotel to the gym[in Miami], police would sometimes get complaints that a young black man was running down the streets. In a southern city during the era of segregation, such a black male must obviously been guilty of something' -  Muhammad Ali: A Biography  by Anthony O. Edmonds).

Ali running in London streets, 1960s
(from Huffington Post)

Ali running in Hyde Park with Jimmy Ellis, 1966
'taken at dawn in Miami as Ali does his roadwork while training for his first encounter with Joe Frazier 1971'
(from Chris Smith Photography)

"Champ had finished his morning workout at the Fifth Street Gym when I asked him to run on the beach. He agreed and told me it would be good training for his leg strength running on the sand in combat boots. He told me he always ran in heavy combat boots so his boxing shoes would feel lighter when he was in the ring. As I took the pictures I thought of something Muhammad had said years before: “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses-behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights"."

Monday, 24 November 2014

South of the Thames Cross Country

Last week was a good one for cross country, with events across the UK on nicely watered (therefore muddy) terrain. 

Further afield, British runner Kate Avery won the US NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Women's Cross Country in Terre Haute, running for Iona College, while Paul Pollock won the Irish Inter County Cross Country Championships in Dundalk. Also last week, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) announced that the 2017 World Cross Country Championships will be held in Kampala, Uganda - the first time in Africa since Kenya in 2007.

The start/finish point for the South of the Thames cross country on Wimbledon Common
In London, more than 300 runners from 19 clubs took part in the South of the Thames 5 Mile Team Race (formerly known as the South of Thames Junior) on Wimbledon Common on Saturday 22nd November. Paskar Owor (Belgrave Harriers) came in first, followed by John Gilbert (Kent AC) in a closely contested battle for second place with third placed Dean Lacy (Cambridge Harriers). But in team terms, it was Tonbridge Athletic Club who won in the 'four to score' competition, and Belgrave Harriers in the 'eight to score'*.

John Gilbert, Kent Athletic Club, heading to second place
(photo from Kent AC race report)
In the women's competition, first scoring finisher was Stacey Ward of Herne Hill Harriers, followed by Mel Wilkins (Belgrave Harriers) and Claire Grima (Hercules Wimbledon). Belgrave Harriers won the team competition, with Kent AC coming in second and Ranelagh Harriers third.

The winning Belgrave Harriers
(photo by lovegrovec10 on instagram

Kent AC women's team, in 2nd place
(photo from Ronnie Haydon on twitter)
I ran for Kent AC, coming in way down the field but scoring for the B Team in the eight to score, which came ahead of five A teams from other clubs*, so there! In truth though, the Kent men's team missed some key runners, what with Paul Pollock - who came 2nd running for Kent in the Surrey League XC in Lloyd Park earlier this month -  off winning in Ireland (as mentioned above) and Chris Greenwood retaining his V40 title at the British and Irish Masters Cross Country International in Nottingham, finishing 2nd overall. But fair play to Tonbridge, Belgrave H., Hercules Wimbledon, Thames Hare & Hounds and Herne Hill Harriers who all put in good performances to finish ahead of Kent in the men's race.

winners medal
The course was over two laps in the wooded north west of Wimbledon Common, starting off with a long descent with all that implies for the seemingly interminable run back up again. Mud was fun, enjoyed slipping on the downhill section and having to run dangerously fast through the trees to stop myself falling over completely. An unfortunate collision with a dog at mile four made me glad to have been wearing trail shoes rather than spikes.

The course was laid out by Hercules Wimbledon, presentations afterwards (and tea, cake and showers) were at the Wimbledon clubhouse of Belgrave Harriers, while a third Wimbledon-based club, Thames Hare and Hounds ('the oldest cross country team in the world') also took part. Nobody can say that this part of London is anything other than rich in running history, as is the South of the Thames race itself.

The origins of the South of Thames go back to the class-bound and slightly stuffy world of Victorian organised athletics in England. In the early days of the 'gentlemen amateur', 'mechanics and tradesmen' were excluded from many established clubs, and these did not want to compete with the wave of newer clubs set up around pubs and other places. These latter clubs were defined as 'Junior' - in status rather than referring to age of runners. 

As explained at the South of the Thames Cross Country Association site, these newer clubs started their own South of the Thames Second Class Inter-Club Race with a race on Wandsworth Common in 1888. That was the start of the South of Thames, open not just to South London clubs but to any in an 'area bounded by the River Thames in the north, the south coast, the county of Kent in the east and as far west as a team might be prepared to travel' (SoTTCA). Most of the older established clubs ended up joining in eventually.

The Lister-Western-Munroe Shield won by Tonbridge Harriers in the men's race this week

(well done to Tonbridge Athletics Club for posting film of the race here)

(Full results here)

* in this race, prizes are awarded for both 'four to score' (i.e. based on the best four runners from each team), and  'eight to score' (based on the first eight runners from each team).  In the 'four to score', the A team are the club's first four finishers, the B team, their next four finishers, and so on. Same only with multiples of eight for the 'eight to score'. Still getting my head around all the technicalities of scoring.

See also:

Forward to Farthing Downs - start of Surrey League Cross Country (October 2014)

Friday, 21 November 2014

Friday Photos (16): Ladywell Running Track, 1950

Ladywell Arena running track, near to Lewisham Hospital, is the home of Kent Athletic Club whose runners can be seen charging around it at various speeds on Tuesday and Thursday nights. These photos (from Lewisham Council's photo site) are of an event at the track back in 1950 , held to mark the 50th anniversary of the Metropolitan Borough of Lewisham (the Council was established in 1900).

 'Ladywell Fields Start Of The 80 Yards Flat, Ladies 14-16 Race At Ladywell Track Jubilee Celebrations 23 Sep 1950'. That corner of the track is still used for sprints, though it now has a high fence around the arena. According to a commenter to this post, the starter here is Fred Lane, who was Kent AC president in the 1950s.

'Ladywell Fields The Pavilion & Spectators at The Ladywell Track Jubilee Celebrations 23 Sep 1950'. The building's still there, now housing a gym as well as changing rooms (see Ladywell Arena for more details)

The 16-18 men's mile race

'The mayor Alderman. S W Moys JP presenting prizes to a member of the Kent AC'
Lewisham Council Minutes 28 June 1950 report plans for the Jubilee Celebrations, which included the sports meeting at Ladywell Recreation Ground organised by the Borough of Lewisham Sports Association, and a swimming gala at Downham Baths:

(post updated with additional information March 2018)

See previous posts on Kent AC and its history:

Previously in Friday photo series:

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Marathon Medals from China - delayed by California truckers strike

The strike by workers at a major running shoe factory in China earlier this year, supplying Adidas and Nike, showed how the relatively low-tech sport of running is nevertheless linked to global supply chains of labour and money. I guess everyone knows that most running shoes and clothes are made in China, or elsewhere in Asia. Must admit though that I hadn't considered that the same applies to running medals, but of course it does.

As Runners World reports: 'Though marathoners travel 26.2 miles to earn their finish medals, the medals themselves often have a much longer journey to the finish line. In the case of the  Santa Barbara Veteran’s Day Marathon, the race medals were shipped from China to California’s Port of Long Beach, where ongoing labor disputes have caused backups. As a result, there were no race medals to be presented as runners crossed the finish line November 7'.

Getting the medals to races requires not just the work of people in the medal factories but of those transporting them from the place they are made to the finishing line. The ongoing dispute at the ports in Los Angels and Long Beach, which has involved strikes and slow downs,  relates to the working conditions of truck drivers. According to one report: 'The three transport companies—Total Transportation Services Inc. (TTSI), Pacific 9 Transportation, and Green Fleet System—classify drivers as “independent contractors” and “business owners” in order to skirt wage, hour and collective bargaining protections provided to most regular employees. The companies also sharply reduce their costs by foisting the expense of fuel, truck maintenance and health insurance onto the drivers themselves, who, to add insult to injury, are forced to pay the companies fees to lease the trucks they drive'.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Friday Photos (15): Magic Lantern slides of London running, 1909

Before the cinema there was the magic lantern show, featuring the public projection of slides.  Lucerna is an archive of  magic lantern images, including some interesting early 20th century London running shots from Walter Tyler Ltd., based in Waterloo Road

This first one is of the start of a 10 mile Amateur Athletics Association race at Stamford Bridge on 17 April 1909:

'Poly. Sports, Stamford Bridge - Yeatman winner of 440 yards race':

According to a report in the Daily Mail, 15 May1909, 'In an international contest at Stamford Bridge the Polytechnic Club beat the Stade Francais by three points to one' with 'J.R. Yeatman (Polytechnic)' winning the quarter-mile in a time 52.4 seconds.

Final one, from April 1909 is entitled 'South London Harriers finish of 100 yards final, Connolly (no.25) wins'.

Previously in Friday photo series:

Monday, 10 November 2014

Save Athletics at Tooting Bec

Fresh on the heels of the news that Crystal Palace athletics is under threat from the Mayor of London, concerns have been raised about another South London track. Tooting Bec Athletics Track has been a feature of running in that part of London since the 1930s, with the current synthetic track being opened in 1985. Today it is the home of Herne Hill Harriers, among other users.

Wandsworth Council, which currently runs the track, has announced that as part of its budget cuts it is 'exploring possible new management proposals for the Tooting Bec athletics track in a bid to secure its long term future. Next month councillors are likely to consider proposals that could involve seeking expressions of interest from local sports clubs, voluntary groups, charities and health and fitness professionals who could take over the day-to-day running of the track and all its amenities'.

While the Council is presenting this as being about 'safeguarding the future' of the track, they have refused to guarantee that it won't close down if nobody else steps forward to take over running it. There also worries that if it is privatised the costs of using the facilities could increase. A campaign to save the track has been launched, with a petition and a rally yesterday. More than 200 people turned out at the track with banners reading 'Keep it Open and Affordable'.

(photo from HHH Triathlon on twitter
Wandsworth Council has also been criticised by runners recently for refusing to allow parkrun events in its parks without charging a fee. Other London councils are not charging because they recognise that these free, volunteer-led runs are attracting people to the parks at relatively quiet times of day and bring health and social benefits to the local community.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

First World War: Remembering the Runners who Died

Last weekend my club's long Sunday run took us through the Greenwich foot tunnel round the Isle of Dogs and on to the Tower of London where we paused to view Paul Cummins and Tom Piper's installation 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' - 888,246 ceramic poppies filling the Tower’s moat to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War.

The installation has been incredibly popular, and also prompted some healthy debate. Maybe it doesn't show the full horror of the carnage - what could? - and it can be a fine line between remembrance of the dead and glorifying war and militarism.  But the main sense conveyed at the Tower of London is the sheer scale of the loss with each of the poppies representing a life cut short (and even the 888,246 British and Colonial military deaths make up only part of the 16 million dead on all sides).  I suspect that most looking at it would see this simply as a terrible waste which they hope will never be repeated - though sadly people are still dying in wars in too many places.

The impact of the First World War is really brought home when you look at war memorials with their long lists of names and reflect on what they mean. They show how in any community, workplace or social group almost everybody would have been personally affected by the deaths of friends and relatives. Athletics clubs were no exception and thousands of runners were killed or injured. At the South London Harriers club house in Coulsdon for cross country last month, I noticed a memorial plaque listing 40 members of the club who died in the First World War. 

'in glorious memory of the South London Harriers who gave their lives in the Great War 1914-1919'

Lewisham War Memorials, which lists many memorials in my local area, also records that there is a plaque in Catford  for the 'Private Banks Cricket and Athletic Club' Roll of Honour 1914-1918. This is believed to commemorate 53 members of the sports club linked to the financial institutions which owned and used the sports ground on Canadian Avenue, SE6.

The 'Private Banks Cricket and Athletic Club' memorial
in Catford, South East London

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Save Athletics at Crystal Palace

The athletics stadium at the National Sports Centre in Crystal Palace park was until recently the Wembley of British track and field, where large crowds gathered to watch big international events. Many of the greatest athletes in the world ran in the London Grand Prix events held there between 1953 to 2012 (though the park's association with athletics goes back much further - see this race report from 1873).

 Yohan Blake, Usain Bolt, Conrad Williams and Tyson Gay at Crystal Palace in 2007
(photo from Conrad Williams on Twitter
Now the fight is on to save any athletics provision in the park as a result of changes proposed by the Greater London Authority, which is currently responsible for the National Sports Centre site.

Under proposals being consulted on by the Mayor London, the 17,000 capacity stadium would be demolished entirely. While a swimming pool would be retained, barely any consideration has been given to the future of athletics. The indoor track would be 'permanently removed', while the possibility of retaining an outdoor 'community athletics track' is unpromisingly described merely as 'currently under review'.

The stadium itself is arguably surplus to requirements since the opening of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. There is a broader issue of how poorly sporting authorities promote athletics as a spectator sport, and I am sure there is sufficient interest in London to get good crowds for more than one event every year or two (the frequency of Diamond League events at Stratford). But it is undeniable that at present Crystal Palace is under-used as a stadium - although a smaller pavillion/stand would be quite feasible as long as a track continues.

The loss of track(s) would be much more catastrophic, effectively ending any use of the park for serious athletics. A community track would be a great asset to the new school(s) planned to replace the stadium, as well as to the local clubs and others who use the current facilities, including South London Harriers and Crystal Palace Triathletes.  

If athletics is going to flourish in this country we need mass participation and a network of good, accessible clubs and tracks across the country that can sustain a vibrant running culture at all levels - as well as enabling the next generation of potential elite athletes to be engaged, identified and supported. The mass participation side has really taken off through parkrun, and an increasing number are taking the next step on to the track to train with their local running club. The so-called Olympic legacy is looking very fragile if this progress  is going to be undermined by losing facilities in places like Crystal Palace and elsewhere (this year we have already lost the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffiled despite a campaign to save it)

A campaign to save athletics in the park has been launched, spearheaded by well-known coach John Powell. Please do go and sign the petition as well as responding to the consultation (which runs until 16 November). The petition states: 

'Save Athletics - and sport - at Crystal Palace. Current plans threaten to bulldoze the iconic athletics stadium and indoor training track, and rebuild sporting facilities in the glass recreation centre building. The impact of this on track and field in London, let alone other sports could be disastrous. What IS the Olympic Legacy for South London?! The Crystal Palace Sports Partnership (CPSP) is a group of stakeholders who are combining to form one unified voice representing all interests in the future of this historic site. Our mission is simple: 

......We support a mixed-use sports and leisure centre at Crystal Palace - a sustainable facility that is shared by the local community, schools, clubs and aspiring athletes at all levels.  It should be a resource that caters for the needs of recreational users as much as it provides for and supports the development of the next generation of Olympic athletes. We are concerned that the consultation by the GLA for repurposing the current National Sports Centre is way too short and has failed to identify and consider the needs and views of existing users.  We request that user groups and local stakeholders are more thoroughly engaged in shaping the outcome of this process.

For further information please contact The CPSP Chairman, John Powell MBE, via' 

Mo Farah (left) in the 5000m in the London Grand Prix/Diamond League
at Crystal Palace, July 2012.
South of England Athletic Association speaks out

In their response, the South of England Athletic Association (SEAA)  says:

'The South of England Athletic Association (SEAA) represents and provides competition for all the athletes and athletic clubs within the whole of the area.  We have considered the outline proposals and condemn any plan that removes the athletic facilities.  We accept that the Olympic Stadium provides a fitting setting for televised major meetings but it is inappropriate for the many lower level meetings and is certainly not available as a training venue.  Track and field athletics is a summer sport with all year round training needs so an indoor track is essential in winter.  Crystal Palace fulfils the requirements for track and field athletes from both clubs and schools.  As a facility that has been regularly used for training, local club and school meetings and SEAA Championships over many years any redevelopment should take account of these needs.  As a major competition provider we believe that complete removal of this facility would be severely detrimental to athletes and athletics in London and the surrounding areas.

We propose that the following would ensure the centre meets those needs:

- A full 8 lane track is maintained together with all field event facilities such as long jump pits and pole vault bed.
- A new up to 1000 seat stand is built incorporating changing rooms, equipment stores and administration areas.
- A photofinish “tower” is appended to the stand to allow meetings up to national level to be accommodated.
- At least a 100m indoor straight and field event facilities should be incorporated in the design of one of the new buildings.  This may be an opportunity to build a full 200m indoor track for the whole of London south of the river' (3 November 2014).

Crystal Place Park - the wider picture

One of the ironies of the Crystal Palace proposals is the role of one time runner at the track, Sebastian Coe - he ran his final UK competitive 800m there in 1989. Coe is now Executive Chairman of sports management consultants CSM Strategic, and they have been paid to conduct the consultation on the future of the site. Coe was a great runner, and a competent sports administrator, but lets not forget he is also a Conservative politician (as MP and now Lord) and businessman...

...And there are some very big business interests involved in the future of Crystal Palace. As Inside Croydon has documented, the plans for the sports stadium are strongly influenced by plans by billionaire developer Zhong Rong to build a replica of the original Palace on the terraces at the top of the park, complete with hotel, shops and conference centre. A GLA document  on the sports centre states that “The success of the proposed new Palace is inextricably linked to its wider landscape" and demolition of the stadium would open up the sightline from the planned development.

The sphinx looks across at the floodlights of the Crystal Palace stadium

For many of us the melancholic terraces with their lonely statues looking out across the park are one of the best parts of Crystal Palace, and keeping them as they are is certainly preferable to the kitsch monstrosity proposed by the developers and championed by Johnson. If the 'new Palace' goes ahead it will not only grab public land for private profit but also damage sports and other provision in the wider park. It is not just the running tracks that are under threat in the long term - the Crystal Palace parkrun route, and the perimeter road used for triathlon and cycling events, both enter into the part of the park most affected by the planned development, and new access roads could also disrupt these routes. The park itself risks becoming reshaped as a back garden for a commercial enterprise rather than continuing as a multi-use space at the heart of South London sports and athletics.