Sunday, 24 May 2015

Night of the 10,000m PBs

Last weekend's Night of the 10,000m  PBs, hosted by Highgate Harriers at the Parliament Fields track, was a great success (Saturday 16th May). This was the third year of this groundbreaking event aiming to raise standards in the 10,000m through creating a festival of long distance running in London - and maybe even as the programme put it 'provide a platform to find the next Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe'.

After some earlier school competitions, there were six races getting progressively faster, with the final two races acting as the British and English national championships for men and women

The first race gets underway -  first woman finisher Julia Davis (Mornington Chasers)  near the front.
A feature of the event is to crank up the atmosphere and excitement, with a samba band, DJs, beer tent and the crowd encouraged to stand in lane three and give up close and personal encouragement to the runners.

Danielle Fegan (Armagh AC) - who lead the women for much of the 1st race - runs past the samba band

Runners were each asked to choose one inspirational tune for the DJ to play when they were racing -
I can report that the tracklist included Dexys Midnight Runners 'Geno' and New Order's 'Blue Monday'.
Athletics legend David Bedford (who held the 10,000m world record from 1973-1977) was on hand to give out prizes, as was snooker player and keen runner Ronnie O'Sullivan

David Bedford with winner of the 1st race, Davide Covolo
(who is also an international alpine skier)
But if the event was a lot of fun, it certainly wasn't a fun run - there were some very serious performances. The final men's race/national champs was won by Jonny Mellor (Liverpool Harriers) in 28.46.80, with the first 18 runners all coming in sub-30. In the women's champs, Jessica Coulson (Stockport Harriers) led for much of the race, before a great finish by Rhona Auckland  (Banchory-Stonehaven AC) saw the latter close a big gap in the last couple of laps to win comfortably in 32.28.32. Auckland, Coulson and third place Aly Dixon all got PBs.

The Knight of 10,000m PBs
 So Night of 10,000m PBs did what it said on the tin. Look out for it next year, it's a great event for spectators and admission is free.

Rhona Auckland being interviewed after her victory - watch the interview on Eight Lane
The latest issue of Like the Wind magazine was launched at the event, by coincidence (or was it magic?) an article on Night of 10,000 m PBs in it features a picture of a dejected looking Rhona Auckland at last year's event. What a difference a year makes.

Simon Freeman, editor of Like the Wind, at the track

Video footage on Vinco-  watch from about 1:59 to catch last few laps of women's champs, followed by men's.

Stuart Beaney, Kent AC (centre)

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Every song is about running (1): When I ran on a hilltop following a pack of wild geese

I don't listen to music while I'm running as much as I used to, but I do on longer solo runs, and one thing I notice after a while is that almost every song is sort of about running, or at least so my mind convinces me as it interprets every thing it hears in relation to the relentless activity of putting one foot in front of the other.

So to start the ball rolling on 'every song is about running', here's some lines from The Band's 'When I Paint my Masterpiece' (written by Bob Dylan) I noticed the other day:

'Train wheels a-running through  the back of my memory,
When I ran on a hilltop following a pack of wild geese,
Someday everything is gonna sound like a rhapsody
When I paint my masterpiece'.

Nice bit of mandolin, too (I occasionally play).

Monday, 18 May 2015

Running London: Victoria Park with 1. Chris McDougall and 2. 314 Assembly League Runners

I've had a couple of good runs at East London's Victoria Park in the past two weeks, one of London's great running parks.

Last night Chris McDougall was in town. The author of the influential 'Born to Run' is promoting his new book, 'Natural Born Heroes', and 'Like the Wind' magazine with Run Dem Crew arranged for a group of us to go for a run/chat with him. We met up at the Proud Archivist canalside bar in Haggerston, and ran along the Regents Canal followed by a circuit of the park.

Chris McDougall by the Proud Archivist in Haggerston
We stopped for a photo in one of these two alcoves - originally part of the old London Bridge, they were moved to the park in 1860 after the bridge was demolished (there's also one at Guys Hospital).

Chris McDougall (centre) in Victoria Park - thought I'd fly the flag for the club with Kent AC vest
(photo from Like the Wind on twitter)

After the run we headed back to the Proud Archivist for food, drink and Chris in conversation with Run Dem Crew's Charlie Dark and Simon Freeman, editor of Like the Wind (new issue just out by the way).  Looking forward to reading Chris's new book, its starting point is how anti-Nazi resistance fighters in Second World War Crete managed to survive while hiding out, leading on to discussion of human agility, parkour, fat burning running and much more besides.

Chris commented how much he had enjoyed running along the canal and into the park, where despite having to constantly dodge cyclists, walkers and bargees, runners get to see a never ending panorama of humanity.

 There always seems to be runners heading up and down the canal paths and into the park. Even though I live on the other side of London, I count myself  amongst them. Earlier in the year in London Marathon training a group of us regularly headed from South London, through the Greenwich foot tunnel, across the Isle of Dogs and up the canal path, pausing in Victoria Park before running home. 

And of course the park is home to a lively running club - Victoria Park Harriers and Tower Hamlets Athletics Club (VPHTH). It was thanks to them that I found myself racing at the park a couple of weeks ago.

The Assembly League in Victoria Park

The second of this year's Assembly League races was held in Victoria Park on Thursday 7th May, with 314 runners from 13 clubs completing the 3.5 mile course (see here for some Assembly League history/background).

The race was won by Chris Greenwood (Kent AC) in 17:40, followed by Mark Hall (Kent AC) in 17:50 and Alan Barnes (Stock Exchange) in 17:55. In the women's competition the winner was Amy Clements (Kent AC) in 19.22, with Clare Elms (Dulwich Runners) runner up in 20:21 and Sarah Pemberton (Serpentine) third in 20:37.

In the team competition, first three teams were as follows:

- Men's team: 1. Kent; 2. Stock Exchange; 3. VPHTH
- Men's B-team: 1. Kent; 2. VPHTH; 3. Serpentine
- Women's team: Joint first: Dulwich and Kent; 3. VPTH
- Women's B-team: 1. Kent; 2. Dulwich 3. VPTH

So after two races, Kent are leading in both men's competitions, while Kent and Dulwich are neck and neck in points in the two women's competitions (full results here)

Park and politics

It was General Election night, so perhaps appropriate to be in this historic park where Chartist and Suffragettes once assembled. Clashes at a Chartist meeting in 1848 led to claims in the House of Commons that 'certain outrages were committed on peaceable, loyal, and unoffending individuals' by the police. Suffragette protests included a 'Women's May Day' demonstration in 1913, which saw Sylvia Pankhurst arrested in Victoria Park. The Park was also the scene of the famous 1978 Rock Against Racism 'Carnival Against the Nazis' with The Clash and Steel Pulse - not to mention the scene of me dancing under a disco ball and watching Goldfrapp and Flaming Lips at the Lovebox festival thirty years later.

But for the duration of the race at least, politics and indeed  music was off the agenda. We met up at the Victoria Park Harriers clubhouse in the park, near to the start. The 3.5 mile course consisted of a short 1 mile loop, followed by 2.5 mile 'figure-of-8'. Obviously that did make the second lap feel a bit on the long side! But we all got there eventually... and back to the clubhouse and its well stocked bar. Next Assembly League race is at Battersea Park on June 4th. 

Some of the Kent AC contingent in Victoria Park

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Mental Training: Free your mind and your ass will follow

In her book 'A Life without limits',  triathlete and four times World Ironman Champion Chrissie Wellington discusses the importance of mental training in athletics: 'You wouldn't go into a race without any physical training, so why would you go in without any mental?'.

One of her recommended techniques is spending time mentally rehearsing races in advance: ''Visualisation is a hugely important tool... Close your eyes, relax, then go through each stage of the race in your mind... Visualise each situation  and rehearse your response'.

She also suggests that  you 'Develop a mind bank of positive images and thoughts - family, friends, previous successes, favourite places, a bag of chips. You need to build it up as you would any collection, but soon you will have a range of thoughts to flick through when next your body and soul are screaming out for relief'.

The latter reminds me of a meditation technique I was once taught by Adrian Harris called 'Strawberries' (I believe he picked it up from William Bloom's Core Energy Management approach): 'Your strawberries are whatever gives you a tingle of pleasure; the people you love, your favourite food or the sport that gives you a buzz. Strawberries can be activities, places, people, animals, specific moments or things'. The basic idea is that  in times of stress and difficulty you can draw on intense good memories as 'positive triggers':  And just as Chrissie suggests, this works best if we actively build up a mental library of  'strawberry moments' by savouring them at calmer times. 

When I first started long distance running I used this approach quite a lot. When it feels like the pain is never going to end it can definitely help to shift the focus from tired legs to fond thoughts of loved ones or Mediterranean sunsets. There are also a whole lot of meditation approaches that involve the visualisation of energy centres at different points in the body (e.g. chakras, the sephirot in Kabbalah, internal circulation in chi kung) and working through any of them can pass many unhappy minutes. Mind you, so can trying to remember the names of all English league football teams or going through any kind of list. Actually probably the biggest mental distraction technique used by runners is endless mental arithmetic - juggling speed, times and distances in our heads.

Others visualise images to help them run. In 'Chi Running', for instance, Danny Dreyer suggests imagining a bungee cord from your chest pulling you towards the finish.  

But there is a danger in getting carried away with visualisation while running. As Wellington also notes 'If your mind wanders, so does your body'. When your head's in the clouds your feet tend to slow down.  If you are chasing times or race positions I think you should really only be allowing your mind to be somewhere else in moments of genuine desperation - as far as possible you need to be mindfully present and making sure that every step counts. Too many distractions are... well, a distraction.

Chrissie recommends building this power of concentration into training:  'The best way of improving your capacity to endure boredom is to endure boredom. Spend time training on your own and challenge your mind to stay focused... You should maintain the same level of concentration in training as you would when racing. It's no use imagining you will miraculously  develop that focus on race day'. 

A few months ago I made a concerted effort over several months to reach my target of a sub-20 minute 5k. I did lots of physical training on the track and elsewhere, but in the days before the run where I hoped to do it I also did some serious mental exercise. I have studied tai chi/chi kung in the past and still practise sometimes, and on the night before the run I made myself hold a static chi kung pose for 19:50 minutes. On the run itself, I stayed as focused as I could on making sure each step was at the right pace.  It worked - 19:42 at Burgess parkrun - and I haven't done it since, partly because I immediately started playing other mind games with myself - 'well you're training for the Marathon now, don't push too hard and injure yourself' etc etc. Truly as Funkadelic once sang 'Free Your Mind... and Your Ass Will Follow'.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Junior parkrun comes to Hilly Fields

I volunteered this morning at a test run for the launch next week of Hilly Fields junior parkrun. The idea was for a group of children to try out the course and for the marshals to test the systems. It all went fine which means that the first Hilly Fields junior parkrun proper will take place next Sunday 10th May at 9:30 am, and every Sunday thereafter. All welcome and no charge, though you should register as a one off before starting - full details here.

(photo of today's test run from Hilly Fields Junior parkrun on flickr)

Junior parkrun: 2k runs for children and young people aged 4 to 14

Since it started in Bushy Park in 2004, parkrun has grown to be a massive international phenomenon. In the UK alone there are now 320 free, timed 5k runs taking place every Saturday morning. A couple of weeks ago (April 18th) a record 68,838 people took part in parkun events in the UK,and that doesn't include the thousands of volunteers who put on the events.

Many children and young people take part, but there is a limit to children's participation in the 5k events. For some 5000m  is too daunting a distance, and most importantly children under the age of eleven must be accompanied throughout the run by a parent, guardian or appropriate adult of the parent's choice. This is a very sensible rule, but it does mean that if younger children don't have a parent/carer who is also running they can't take part.

This is where Junior parkrun comes in - over the last couple of years, parkrun has been developing a series of events specifically for children and young people aged 4 to 14. The runs are for 2k rather than 5k and a higher concentration of volunteers - with every child visible at all times to at least two volunteers - means that it is safe for children to run unaccompanied by adults (and run directors are subject to all the usual safeguarding checks).

London junior parkruns

There are now 43 junior parkruns in the UK, with more in the planning stage (for a full list see here) . In London there are currently ten:

- Barking and Dagenham (Central Park);
- Brockwell Park;
- Bushy Park;
- Harrow Lodge;
- Highbury Fields;
- Hilly Fields;
- Lesnes Abbey Woods;
- Mile End;
- Pitshanger Park;
- Wimbledon Park.

The next generation of runners

The development of Junior parkrun is being spearheaded by Chrissie Wellington, four times World Ironman champion and author of 'A Life Without Limits' (great book - I've just read it). She has explained: 'the dream was to provide an opportunity for children across the UK to participate in free physical activity, on a regular basis. We wanted to give them the chance to experience open space, to enjoy the natural environment, to be with their friends and make new ones, to challenge themselves, to keep fit, to laugh, to smile and to have fun'. Who knows, getting larger numbers of children in the habit of taking part in organised running might also throw up some of the great runners of the future.

Junior runners are awarded coloured wristbands according to  how far they have run - a blue wristband for a cumulative ‘Half Marathon’ (11 junior parkruns), a green 'Marathon' band for 42 cumulative kilometers (21 parkruns) and an orange 'Ultra' band for those who have clocked up 100km (50 runs).

Not quite so Hilly Fields

Hilly Fields, in the London Borough of Lewisham, has a well established parkrun on Saturday mornings. It has grown steadily since starting in September 2012 and now regularly attracts well over 100 runners. The junior parkrun on Sundays will cover some of the same course but will be two laps instead of three, and will avoid the big hill beloved of Saturday runners. It starts and finishes by Pistachios, the cafe in the park.

Update (10 May): the first Junior parkrun at Hilly Fields today was a great success, with an incredible 119 children and young people taking part - including a contingent of over 40 who came up together from John Stainer Primary School. Oliver Bright (Kent AC) set the boys' course record in 7m 19s, Amelia Middleton did the same for the girls in 8m 42s, but there were great performances from everyone. Race report and results here, photos at flickr (from where the following two were sourced).

Lots of John Stainer red t-shirts at the start

Ollie Bright flying towards the finish line