Thursday, 29 January 2015

Streatham Common Cross Country

The third of this season's 2XU Surrey Cross Country League Men's Division One fixtures took place on Streatham Common on 10 January, with 177 runners from the nine competing clubs completing the (approximately) five mile race.

photo by Rayond O'Donoghue
Paskar Owor (Belgrave Harriers) finished first, followed by Chris Greenwood (Kent Athletic Club) and Ralph Street (Ranelagh Harriers). But in the team results, based on scores of first ten finishers for each club, Kent AC were victorious ahead of South London Harriers and Herne Hill Harriers. Kent now have a strong lead in the League and have a good chance of winning the title for the third year in a row with one race remaining, at Richmond Park on 7th February.

I was one of 27 in the Kent vest, finishing well behind the scorers on a deceptively challenging course. I guess I associate Streatham Common with leisurely walks and summer festivals, but running three times around it in gradually deepening mud was another story. The course started with a charge down hill and around the big open space on the west side of the common, coming back up the edge of that then plunging down a slope again before climbing through the woods.  There was no real flat section.

Streatham Common cross country course (approximate, drawn by me from memory)

By the end of it I could have done with some of the healing waters of Streatham Spa's mineral springs that attracted people to the common in their thousands in the early 18th century. Sadly they are no more. The common itself was once used by local people as a place to gather wood and graze animals, and like many such places was the scene of an ongoing conflict with landowners who wanted to enclose the common land (see Down with the Fences: Battles For the Commons In South London) - in 1794 'six men dressed in black' demolished an enclosure fenced off by the Lord of the Manor. A century later the common was secured for public access when it was purchased for use as a public open space under the powers of the Metropolitan Commons Act 1878. 

There's a long history of running in the area, as shown by this newspaper cutting from October 1880:
South London Harriers annual Ten Mile Championship and Mr J Gibbs' Challenge Cup
from the Greyhound, Streatham Common, won by G.E. Liddiard, followed by H. Burrows
(the Greyhound pub, originally a coaching inn on London-Brighton road, is still there)

See previously:

Monday, 12 January 2015

Winter running 'traditions': of parkruns, paarlauf and muddy spikes

So Christmas and New Year is well and truly over and for the (barely) gainfully employed it's back to work and marathon training. For the second year running I started Christmas Day at Hilly Fields parkrun. I was slow with a sore ankle but was the first finishing reindeer, so I will take it. It was windy and I had to hold on tight to my antlers on the faster downhill sections of the course. I rarely get lapped at Hilly Fields but on this occasion I was just coming to the top of the hill that marks the end of the second lap when I heard thunderous steps coming up behind me- national Inter Counties Fell Running Champion and GB Mountain Runner Shaun Dixon on his way to break the course record followed closely by Paul Martelletti, who ran for GB in the 100 km World Championships in Doha in August 2014.

Christmas fairy at Hilly Fields parkrun

Is Christmas parkrun becoming a new running 'tradition' over the festive period? Well at Hilly Fields there were 121 runners this Christmas compared with 81 the year before and 20 in 2012. Similarly at Dulwich parkun the numbers have risen from 56 in 2012 and 99 in 2013 to 130 in 2014.  

Then there's New Year's Day, the only day in the year in which you can record two parkruns in one day (for the rest of the year all parkruns everywhere in England start at the same time, 9:00 am). I ran at Peckham Rye at 9:00 am, and then Hilly Fields at 10:00 am, while others went from Peckham to Dulwich Park or Southwark Park. Hilly Fields parkrun ended on a sombre note with a runner collapsing at the finish line and being taken to hospital in an ambulance apparently very seriously ill, but glad to say he seems to be recovering.

As with Christmas Day, there's been a steady growth in runners, at least judging by those South London parkruns that took place on New Years Day. 

Another Christmas tradition amongst many athletics clubs is a paarlauf race. Paarlauf is German for 'pair running' but it can be run with larger teams. Essentially it's a relay race, with the difference being that it is entirely up to each team to decide how it covers the distance - there's no fixed leg. At Kent Athletic Club the pre-Christmas paarlauf at Ladywell track consisted of 13 teams of 3 running 16 laps (6400m) between them. My team ran in consecutive 200m sprints, but as we came last that might not have been the best tactic. Others were taking elaborate short cuts across the middle of the track to enable shorter legs or even having the stronger runners run longer distances. All good fun, though running 11 200m sprints with minimal recovery certainly took it out of me.

The final festive tradition must be the first cross country races of January, where many seasonal pristine presents of nice new running shoes are christened in the mud. Saw some lovely looking spikes before the start of the Surrey League at Streatham Common but they all looked much the same colour afterwards.

Oh yes they used to look like this...

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Save Crystal Palace for athletics... and popular culture

The campaign to save sports provision in Crystal Palace park at the National Sports Centre is continuing. As reported here in November, a short consultation was launched on behalf of the Mayor of London on proposals which would radically reduce facilities at what was until recently the home of English athletics: the outdoor running track, indoor track, and diving in the swimming pool are among the things at risk.

There has been a big public response, including widespread support for keeping the running tracks. Even though many reluctantly concede that the full scale stadium is no longer needed in the same way since the building of the Olympic stadium in Stratford, a good case has been made that some kind of stand for spectators should be retained with the track - rather than just shared use of a school running track with no other facilities, which is one possibility. Follow campaign updates at Crystal Palace Sports Partnership.

While the loss of running and other sports facilities would of course primarily be a tragedy for athletes young and old, lets not forget that the National Sports Centre is also an icon of popular culture!  Famously the 'You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!' scene in the Italian Job was filmed there.

Recently Danish electro-pop artist (Karen Marie Ørsted) filmed the video for her song 'Walk This Way' at the stadium.  Here she is on the outdoor track...

(see interview with video director here)
And at the indoor track...


The Chemical Brothers 'Setting Sun' video was also filmed in Crystal Palace park, but on the terraces at the top of the park rather than by the sports stadium.