Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Running on Screen (10): Stick Man's Christmas Running Adventure

I've done plenty of running over Christmas, including parkruns at Hilly Fields on Christmas Day and at Peckham Rye on Boxing Day (incidentally there's a good article in today's Independent about parkrun, which features Hilly Fields and mentions my friend, chief cheerleader and Kent AC runner John Barron. See How parkrun became a global phenomenon: The free activity that has changed millions of people's lives by Genevieve Roberts).

Obviously there's more to Christmas than running - there's eating, drinking and watching TV to do too! Not too much athletics on TV at the moment, but there was one excellent running programme on British TV. I refer of course to the film version of Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler's children's book, Stick Man.

Truly a cautionary tale for runners everywhere, it starts:

'Stick Man lives in the family tree 
With his Stick Lady Love and their stick children three.
One day he wakes early and goes for a jog
Stick man, oh stick man, beware of the dog'

You see Stick Man and family are sentient beings just like you and I, but out in the world they get mistaken for mere lengths of wood. Stick Man suffers the indignity of a dog playing with him, a swan building her nest with him, being thrown into the river as a pooh stick and put on a fire. Worse still the narrator seems to think he is just jogging, when actually it was a threshold run. Will he ever make it back to the family tree? Thankfully (SPOILER ALERT) Santa comes to the rescue. But he could have saved his family a lot of grief if he'd taken his mobile phone with him when he left for a run.

Previously in the Running on Screen series:

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Winter Solstice 2015: running in with the sun

In London the sun rose at 8:04 am this morning on the Winter Solstice, marking the turning point in the year when the days start getting longer. I marked this seasonal festival with a run at a stone circle in Hilly Fields, a South East London park I have run round hundreds of times during Hilly Fields parkrun and training sessions.

The monument, made up of 12 boulders, a central flatstone, and two standing stones forming a gate outside the circle, is not as ancient as it looks. In fact it was built in 2000, with the grantite boulders being transported to the site from Mount Struie in the Caledonian Mountains, and the other stones being quarried at Weydale, Caithness at the north east tip of Scotland.

But the relationship between stone, soil, grass, tree and sky is as real there as at any ancient megalithic monument, and people have been gathering there to mark the seasons since it opened. This morning there were a couple of drummers welcoming the sun and a handful of other sunrise watchers. I did a clockwise circuit of the park (about 3k), starting and finishing in the middle of the circle, and coming back in via the stone pillar gate which faces east towards the sunrise. If I was running in with the sun it didn't actually show its face on this cloudy morning, though the sky did brighten shortly afterwards.

It was noted that the gps map of my run generated the shape of a mushroom [insert dubious theory about Hilly Fields as cult centre of fly agaric chomping shamans!]

See previously:

Monday, 21 December 2015

South of the Thames Cross Country Championships 2015: 7.5 miles at Somerhill

The 2015 South of the Thames Cross Country Championships took place on Saturday 19th December, hosted by Tonbridge Athletic Club in the grounds of the schools at Somerhill, outside of the town.

242 runners completed the tough 7.5 mile course, with the men's and women's races taking place together. The men's winner was Kent A.C.'s John Gilbert in 42:29. For much of the race he was neck and neck with Tonbridge's Max Nicholls, the 19-year-old Team GB junior mountain runner, but Gilbert pulled away on the last lap and Brighton and Hove's Stephen Ferroni squeezed past Nicholls on one of the final hills to take the silver ahead of Nicholls in third place.

Amy Clements (Kent AC) won the women's gold in 50:40, twenty seconds ahead of Nicole Taylor (Tonbridge AC), with Sammi Amend (Belgrave Harriers) in third. In the veterans categories Kent AC's Chris Greenwood and Cath Stibbs won the M40 and W40 medals, Tunbridge Wells Harriers' Alex Howey and Dulwich Runners' Clare Elms won the M50 and W50, with the M60 and W60 won by Michael Thompson (Tunbridge Wells Harriers) and Maggie Statham (Holland Sports AC) respectively.

In the men's team competition the big prize  - in every sense of the word  - was the Dewar Championship Shield for the six-to-score (i.e. team with the lowest combined points for their first six finishers wins, with one point for winner, 2 points for second place etc). Kent AC won by a six point margin from Tonbridge, with Belgrave Harriers in third. In the 12-to-score competition, positions were reversed with Tonbridge AC first, Kent AC second, and Brighton and Hove AC third.

Kent AC's winning men's team - Neil Phillips (8th place), Chris Greenwood (4th),  John Gilbert (1st), Ken Pike (manager/coach), Owen Hind (9th)m Ben Harding (18th) James Connor (12th).

Detail from the Dewar Challenge Shield, presented to the South of Thames Cross Country Association by whisky magnate and MP Thomas Dewar (1864-1930). Note the image of runners heading towards a gate.
The women's race was won by Dulwich Harriers, with Kent AC in second place and Belgrave Harriers in third position.

Kent AC women scorers  with their silver medals: Cath Stibbs (7th place), Amy Clements (1st) , Kate Williams (26th), Sarah Young (31st), Victoria Buck (20th), Teresa Murphy (14th).
The course

The map and the territory

The course, which had been very well laid out by Tonbridge AC, was essentially set on one side of a large hill in the grounds of Somerhill House. Built in the 17th century, the building and its estate have a rich history including a period as a World War Two prisoner of war camp and a link to the wonderful stained glass windows by Marc Chagall in the neighbouring village of Tudeley. Since the 1990s Somerhill has been the home to several independent schools.

Somerhill was painted by JMW Turner in 1811, and the hill shown in the painting was the one we ran up, down and across at the weekend, with three significant ascents on each of the three laps. The ground was soft, and fairly muddy/slippery in places. A few tumbled and most were fairly drained by the end - I know I was, coming down with a cold I considered getting round without stopping an achievement in itself.

I bet Turner didn't run up that hill nine times in an hour


Kent AC (my club) have been doing really well in cross country in recent years,  winning the men's Surrey League and men's and women's races at last month's South of the Thames Team Race (a shorter race previously known as the South of Thames Junior race).  But the club have not won the South of Thames Championship since 1907, when the team came first in the race held at Bromley. J. Keywood won the race for Kent AC that day, followed by R.H. Backshall (Eastbourne) and J.S. Satch (Kent AC) in third place.

Kent AC's Albert Aldridge, one of the country's top distance runners of the period, won the South of the Thames in 1902, though on that occasion the club finished second to Brighton and County Harriers. The location again was Bromley - 'Mr A C Norman's park' - which as today's Norman Park Recreation Ground hosts Bromley parkrun and the running track used by Blackheath and Bromley Harriers.

See also:

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Regents Park 10k (Royal Parks Winter Series)

700 runners completed the Regents Park 10k on Sunday 13 December, part of the Royal Parks Winter Series arranged by The Race Organiser. That included eight of us from Hilly Fields parkrun/Kent AC chasing PBs before entering a season of goodwill and gluttony.

Tinsel town in the rain - the finish at Regents Park

Spanish runner Miguel Aristu was the first man home in 34:24, with Lucy Wertheim winning the women's race in 39:34. The course is generally flat (some mild slopes notwithstanding) and all on tarmac, so ideal conditions for a good time. It was cold and drizzly on Sunday, which for me is another incentive to run a bit faster.

The course has one unique feature - it passes along the edge of London Zoo, and some of the animals are visible from outside. So if you are searching for some shamanic power animal inspiration for your running look no further! Actually the most exciting animal I could see was a camel - two humps just about visible behind me in picture below. The two hump bactrian camel is not as fast as the one hump dromedary used in camel racing - and whose name is actually derived from the Greek word for running - but it has its hydration strategy sorted!

My time of 41:52 was one of my fastest, though not a PB it was enough to lift me in the Run Britain rankings to the hallowed ranks of Number One in my age and postcode category - 'He was the fastest M50 in SE14' is something I will happily have on my tombstone!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Kent Vets Cross Country 2015 at Sparrows Den

The Kent Veterans Cross Country Championships took place last Saturday (5 December 2015) at Sparrows Den, West Wickham.  The Kent County Athletics Association event was hosted by Blackheath & Bromley Harriers, who are based locally. 

There were three races - men's 40 to 49, men's 50 to 59 (both run over about 6 miles) and a third, shorter race that combined the women's competition and the men's 60+champs. In total there were 313 finishers from clubs across the Kent and South London area.

start of men's 60+/women's 35+ race


My club, Kent AC, won the men's V40-49 headed by Chris Greenwood who finished first by a 90+ second margin - he has won the British Masters V40 XC three years in a row, so no great surprizes there. Tunbridge Wells Harriers were in second place, followed by Medway & Maidstone AC.

The men's 50-59 race was won by Ben Reynolds (Tonbridge AC), whose club also won the team competition, ahead of Blackheath & Bromley Harriers and Tunbridge Wells Harriers.  With 'three to score' (i.e. results of first 3 for each club determining team score), and only three Kent AC finishers the team were dependent on me as third scorer - not a great omen - and we came in at a respectable fifth (out of 13).

The men's 60-69 race was won by Jeremy Carnell (Cambridge Harriers), with Blackheath & Bromley Harriers winning the team competition ahead of Cambrige Harriers and  Kent AC.

Vernon Thomas (Greenwich Tritons) was first home of the eight 70+ runners, including the only 80+ runner, Richard Pitcairn-Knowles (Sevenoaks AC), who incidentally I also came across running recently at Hilly Fields parkrun

The women's race overall was won by Clare Elms (Dulwich Runners), with Kent AC the winning club in the 35-44s. Runners up were Dulwich Runners with Blackheath and Bromley Harriers  in third place. 

Petts Wood Runners won the women's 45-54 ahead of Folkestone Running Club (2nd) and  Kent AC (3rd), though the first finisher was Maria Heslop of Paddock Wood AC  who unfortunately for them did not have the required three runners to feature in team results.

Barbara Wenman, Canterbury Harriers, won gold in the women's 55-64 and Anne Unseld (Bromley Veterans AC) in the women's 65+.

Winning Kent AC men's team (35-44) - Chris Greenwood, Phil Sanders, Stuart Beaney, Che Compton

Winning Kent AC women's team (35-44) - Cath Stibbs, Theresa Murphy, Victoria Buck

The course

The first part of the course was a charge into strong winds and a lap of an open field - not my favourite terrain - before heading into the woods, with a couple of fairly short uphill sections and a nice technical descent (i.e. watch your feet or fall over, or in some cases watch your feet and still fall over). Much of the woodland section is along narrow paths with limited room to pass, so runners need to pick their moments to overtake - the flat section along Woodland Way giving one such opportunity. There were only a couple of patches of serious mud, and many of the runners managed fine with trail shoes rather than spikes.

The pub

Afterwards we retired to The Swan in West Wickham for post-race refreshments and to compare medals. While some left in a worse state than they came in, I don't believe anybody did as badly as a hapless Blackheath Harrier returning from cross country here in 1896 and falling off the train at Lewisham!

Chelmsford Chronicle, 25 December 1896

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Songs About Running (5): Jogging for Jesus

You know when you are out running and some one heckles you, and of course you don't lose a step, but you spend the next couple of miles thinking about the really smart reply you should have come out with?

Last week I had my first religious heckle, with some guy shouting out that I should look to save my soul rather than my body, and that I should stop jogging. Obviously that was plain rude, I run not jog, mate!

I wasn't going to hang around to debate the fine points of theology, but first I had an anti-religious wave of anger. I could have taken him down straight away with some thoughts on 'the problem of evil' - you know, if God is all-powerful how come He allows terrible things to happen like war, famine and pumped up guys shouting at passers by.

But then as I calmed down, I thought 'hold on, surely you can take care of your body AND your soul?'. If you're of a religious persuasion, shouldn't you make the best use of the legs and lungs that the Good Lord gave you? And in fact, some of the greatest runners have been righteous believers, I mean haven't you even seen Chariots of Fire?

And then I realized something else, that while he had included me in his line of fire and brimstone as I ran past  him, his rant had first been directed at a woman running towards him. So really it was the old old story of some shouty bloke hiding behind religion to tell women what to do with their bodies.

By the time I'd worked all this out, the miles had ticked by, it would have been much quicker if I'd simply retorted - you need to get Jogging for Jesus!

Jogging for Jesus is a fine slice of gospel funk by Leslie Harris and the House of Fire from 1980, a time when at the height of the 'jogging boom' in the USA there were many running-related songs. But unlike, say, the similarly themed The Jogger by Bobby Bare from the same period, this is actually a great piece of uplifting music. 

'Early one Sunday morning, Jesus came into my room
He woke me up saying, we're going to have a run
I jumped out of my bed, put on my jogging shoes,
My wife woke up saying, what are we going to do

I told her I'm jogging for Jesus
I am running with the Lord'

Sunday, 29 November 2015

First Aid Training, Running and Resusci Anne

2015 started for me with two consecutive New Year's Day parkruns. I ran 5k at Peckham Rye then made my way to Hilly Fields for another 5k. Quite a few other runners also did the double, including 34-year-old Neil Cole- a regular at Dulwich parkrun with more than 50 parkruns completed. 

After crossing the finish line at Hilly Fields, Neil collapsed and lost consciousness. He was obviously very seriously ill, and to be honest I went home thinking that he had probably died - the ambulance had arrived but hadn't moved him and the police had taped off the area around where he was lying. But in fact Neil, who had had a cardiac arrest, survived and has made a full recovery, returning to run at Dulwich parkrun in August (read his story here). As he says,  Neil 'was incredibly lucky to be quickly surrounded by some amazing people… my fellow parkrunners came to my rescue and went into life-saving mode.  A team of four of them administered CPR for nearly 15 minutes while we waited for an ambulance. They somehow kept my blood (and crucially, oxygen) pumping round my body, which meant that when the ambulance arrived they were able to 'shock' my heart back into a normal rhythm and keep me alive'.

I think New Year's Day made a few of us think much more seriously about first aid and running. Hillyfields parkrun soon secured a defibrillator, which is now kept in the park's cafe. A group of volunteers were trained in its use by London Ambulance Service.  I promised myself that I would get some proper first aid training, and I finally got round to it last week with a three day course with St John's Ambulance. 

Hopefully I will never need to use the skills I learned (including CPR), but the more people learn this stuff the better. I did the course through work, employers have a duty to make sure that they have trained first aid trainers on site so are usually happy for any volunteers to put themselves forward. But if anybody were to be in trouble while I'm out running I hope I would be able to be of some use. It's not that running is particularly dangerous, but in any activity where large numbers of people are moving around there is some risk. 

Resusci Anne

During the course, like millions before me, I practised my CPR on a dummy based on a mannequin developed for this purpose in the 1950s by Asmund Laerdal in Norway - known as 'Resucsi Anne'.  He modelled the face on a cast popular from the late 19th century purporting to be the death mask of an unknown young woman who drowned in the Seine - the face of 'L'inconnue de la Seine' that has featured in the work of Rilke, Aragon, Man Ray and other writers and artists. The trainer repeated the tale of the drowned Parisian last week, but there now seems to be some doubt that the original 'death mask' was actually from a dead woman at all. Contrary to the romantic ideal, people don't generally drown with a smile on their face. But the face mask, and later the CPR dummy, was surely based on an individual who is now dead and there is something poetic about the facial features of the unknown departed being used to teach the kiss of life over a century later.

L'inconnue de la Seine

Resusci Anne

Monday, 23 November 2015

South of the Thames Team Race 2015 - five hilly miles at Polesden Lacey

The venerable South of the Thames Cross Cross Country Association 5 Mile Team Race took place last Saturday at Polesden Lacey, a National Trust estate near Dorking, Surrey. It was a magnificent setting, with the start/finish near to a grand Edwardian house (and of course NT tea shops) and its fine views over a valley on the North Downs. I  say views, though of course the 284 runners from 21 clubs were soon doing more than looking at it...

The finish funnel - I wasn't too bothered by view of the mansion by this point
The course, arranged by Dorking and Mole Valley Athletic Club, was beautiful but very challenging. Recently I've been pining for some real country running - a lot of London area cross country takes place in what are effectively parks. Not dismissing the delights of Wimbledon Common or Hampstead Heath, they are large green areas, complete with woodland and hills. But its not quite the same as running a long single lap in unbounded open country. Of course you have to be careful what you wish for, out in the Surrey Hills the hills are, well, hillier. 

The final hill
In fact I couldn't quite work out how they managed to fit so many hills into a five mile course. Starting with a charge downhill I expected the steep uphill finish, but there seemed to be other hills scattered along the route.  Much of the running was through the woods, so you never quite knew when another slope was sneaking up on you, or you on it. There was also another hazard of a flock of sheep charging towards runners towards the end of the race. Still the day had started with a brief shower of snow, so it was a relief that the race took place in dry if cold conditions. 

Kent AC men's four top scorers - Neil Phillips (8th overall), Alex Yee (1st), Chris Greenwood (3rd), John Gilbert (5th)
It was a great race for my club, Kent AC, with both the men's and women's teams winning their respective competitions and the club's Alex Yee (17 year old World Youth Champs 10,000m finalist) coming in first in 25:24. First woman home was Tonbridge's Lucy Reid in 31:19, followed by Kent's Amy Clements (full individual results here)

Runner 169 - that would be me in navy Kent AC vest at the bottom of one hill and start of another
(photo from Dorking and Mole Valley AC on facebook)

Team results (four to score):


1.Kent AC
2. Belgrave Harriers
3. Tonbridge AC
4. Hercules of Wimbledon
5. Herne Hill Harriers

(Kent AC also won in the men's '8 to score' category, i.e. based on finishing positions of first 8 finishers per club)


1.Kent AC
2. Belgrave Harriers
3. Dulwich Runners
4. South London Harriers
5. Ranelagh Harriers

Individual results:


1. Alex Yee (Kent AC), 25:24.
2. Phil Wicks (Belgrave Harriers), 25:46.
3. Chris Greenwood (Kent AC), 26:07.
4. Max Nicholls (Tonbridge), 26:21
5. John Gilbert (Kent AC), 26:37.


1. Lucy Reid (Tonbridge), 31:19.
2. Amy Clements (Kent AC), 31.28.
3. Samantha Amend (Belgrave Harriers), 31:50.
4. Megan De Silva (Ranelagh),32:35.
5. Zoe Vail Smith (Belgrave Harriers), 33:29.

Team results in 'four to score' - participating clubs included Kent AC, Belgrave Harriers, Dulwich Runners, South London Harriers, Ranelagh Harriers, Thames Hare and Hounds, Tonbridge AC, Wimbledon Windmilers, Guildford and Godalming AC, Epsom and Ewell Harriers, Dorking & Mole Valley AC, Stragglers running club, Hercules Wimbledon, Tadworth AC, Herne Hill Harriers, Aldershot, Farnham & District AC, Cambridge Harriers, Reigate Priory AC, Croydon Striders, City of Portsmouth AC and Epsom Oddballs.

See also:

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Songs about running (4): Runnin' - Naughty Boy with Beyoncé

Sure running's good for your general health, but is it bad for your music taste? All I know is I've developed a soft spot for uplifting pop anthems of the kind that you hear on spotify running playlists, at the gym or the finishing line of fun runs. A classic example would be Naughty Boy's recent Runnin' (Lose it All). Well it's got Beyoncé guesting on vocals, and if that's not classy enough for a boy from Watford the video features underwater running like some crazy Alberto Salazar training session. OK maybe it's slightly faked but hey...

'Runnin', runnin', runnin', runnin'
Runnin', runnin', runnin'
Ain't runnin' from myself no more
Together we'll win it all
I ain't runnin', runnin', runnin', runnin'
Runnin', runnin', runnin'
Ain't runnin' from myself no more
I'm ready to face it all
If I lose myself, I lose it all

I've outrun the fears that chased, they're standing still
I'm running still, I'm running still'

(ok, maybe this is more in the 'songs using running as a metaphor for escape and endurance' category than actually about running as such!)


The song now soundtracks a Chanel advert (August 2017) featuring Kristen Stewart escaping from some pesky fabric and running for freedom.

Got to say Kristen shows some good running form here. She has been spotted out and about running in various places in real life, so she obviously knows the score.

More Songs About Running:

Running Up That Hill - Kate Bush
Fugazi's Long Distance Runner

Record Sleeve Athletics:

Sunday, 15 November 2015

River Runscapes

There's an interesting newish group on facebook called 'Our Runscapes' where people post photographs of where they run as part of 'an exploration of running and the landscape - where we choose to train and run'. 

Lately some of my favourite runscapes have involved meetings with remarkable rivers. When you turn up in a town that has a river running through it, you know there's a strong chance of a great run - after all there will probably be a flattish path alongside and not too many road crossings to worry about. But there's also something about the motion of a river, the steady but powerful flow onwards that every runner aspires too. Here's a few photos taken out running this year.

River Severn in  Shrewsbury

Shrewsbury is surrounded by a loop of the River Severn, with a wide tree lined path along much of its town-side bank. The suspension bridge (above) is by the Quarry, the main park in the town centre where Shrewsbury parkrun takes place every Saturday.

Statue of Hercules by the River Severn in Shrewsbury

River Cam

Staying in Cambridge for a wedding in July, I went out for a ten mile run on a Sunday morning. The River Cam has the added inspiration of serious rowing clubs out on the water from early in the morning. I ran along the south bank from Jesus Green out to Stourbridge Common, on the way back coming across people getting ready for Race for Life, where thousands of pink-clad runners traced a similar route as part of their 10k raising funds for cancer research.

ponies by the River Cam

River Lym

In Lyme Regis over the summer we were lucky to be staying in a house right next to the River Lym, and there is some great running to be had along the river and out of town to the old mill and beyond

River Ravensbourne

The River Ravensbourne runs through much of my South East London heartland, including close to my club's track, so I always seem to be running along or near to it. I will do it justice in a post of its own another time, but here it is glimpsed through the trees in Ladywell.


River Lea

The River Lea rises in Luton, where I was born and grew up. Earlier in the year on separate days I ran both its first few miles and its last, to where it joins the River Thames in East London.

The River Lea in Luton (stretch by Birdsfoot Lane)

River Thames

 Which brings us to the great River Thames itself. I guess most London runners have spent a lot of time running along, over and even under it - the latter through the Greenwich foot tunnel. The photo below was taken at the end of a long run to where the River Lea flows into the Thames by Trinity Buoy Wharf. Across the river where the cable car lands is where I ran  in the Assembly League on the Greenwich peninsula. A few miles to the West the Embankment where I ran along the river on in the closing miles of the London Marathon.  Many other memories floating off downstream.


Friday, 13 November 2015

Running on Screen (9): London Spy

As noted here before, BBC thrillers now invariably feature a running sub plot, most recently Ann Marie-Duff as the triathlete ex-cop in From Darkness. Latest is London Spy which started this week. Danny Holt (played by Ben Whishaw) is the worse for wear after a night out clubbing in Vauxhall when he encounters Alex (Edward Holcroft) who is out for an early morning run over Lambeth Bridge. Danny is so taken by him that he even tries running himself in a bit to engineer a further meeting. Eventually they get together, love blossoms, but Alex's secret life as an MI6 spy gets him into trouble... OK spoiler alert, but if you haven't guessed from the start that he's going to be dead by the end of Episode One you haven't been paying attention. Great cast also includes Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling, looking forward to more. But I'm not sure there will be much more jogging on the South Bank.

South bank of the River Thames heading west towards Lambeth Bridge

Alex crosses Lambeth Bridge

Danny (Ben Whishaw) runs in search of love.... careful what you wish for

Previously in this series: