Friday, 26 June 2015

'Running Race for Young Ladies' (1828)

'Running Race for Young Ladies at Tenterden' by Robert Cruickshank is an 1828 illustration from Pierce Egan's 'Life in London or, the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, esq., and his elegant friend, Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their rambles and sprees through the Metropolis'. This fictional account of London adventures was first published as a monthly serial from 1821. 

In reality races involving women would have been a rarity in this period, though not unknown. I don't know whether Cruickshank based his illustration on any real event, but it would have been hard going too far or fast in dresses like these!

Friday, 19 June 2015

Crystal Palace Dinosaur Dash Relay

The inaugural Crystal Palace Dinosaur Dash Relay this week was a great success, with a sold out field of 82 teams of three (246 runners) taking part. The 15k relay on Wednesday 17th June, organised by Crystal Palace Fun Runners, involved each runner doing a single lap of this great London park.

An inscrutable sphinx watches the runners go past, no doubt pondering the Riddle of the Sphinx: 'What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?'  The statue has been in the park since 1854, and is a copy of an Egyptian original now located in the Louvre in Paris.
. Starting on the terraces at the top of the sloping park, where the glass building that gave the area its name once stood, the route wound down to the bottom of the hill... and all the way back up again. Of course it included a circuit of the lake and its famous Victorian dinosaur models, hence the 'Dino Dash Relay', and indeed proceeds from the race will be donated to the preservation of these  fine creatures, one of whom was represented on the event's medal.

source: wikipedia

There was a strong presence from local clubs, in particular Striders of Croydon, Beckenham Running Club, Dulwich Runners, Orpington Road Runners and Windrush Triathlon, as well as unattached runners. Many teams entered into the Jurassic theme with dinosaur-related names, and indeed the winning team in 51:47 was Striders of Croydon Velociraptor, followed by Dulwich Runners Malosaurs (full results here). I thought the best team name though was 'I thought you said RUM in the park'.

Kev Chadwick of Dulwich Runners, with the iconic Crystal Palace TV transmitter in the background

Save Athletics at Crystal Palace: update

The run showed yet again how important Crystal Palace is to the South London running community. As discussed here before, the park's athletics stadium, outdoor track, and indoor track are all under threat under proposals from the Greater London Authority. Crystal Palace Sports Partnership, which is spearheading the campaign to save athletics at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre, has warned that 'in July the GLA are looking to grant approval for funding which could decimate athletics in South London, despite a huge groundswell of public opinion'.  Under these plans, the outdoor running track could be saved as a community facility (though even this is not guaranteed)  with the loss of the indoor track and other facilities (despite the support of UK Athletics for retaining and improving current provision).

The use of the wider park for running events like the Dino Dash and the weekly Crystal Palace parkrun could also be compromised by longer term proposals to build on the site of the old Crystal Palace building, which burnt down in 1935 - near to the start and finish point for this week's race. Fortunately for now the latest folly, which would have entailed a Chinese developer backed by the Mayor of London taking over a third of the park, seems to have bitten the dust

Dinosaurs in the park AND a rainbow - it was like being in The Land Before Time!

'Hilly Fields Hardcore' - 23rd place - top third placing not bad for these dinosaurs

The start and finish point for the race was also the same place in the park where The Chemical Brothers 'Setting Sun' video was filmed in 1996. The race was pretty wild, but not this wild...

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Go Dad Run - Running to Raise Prostate Cancer Awareness

I got to meet two great athletes today, in fact I got to shake hands with the sometime world's fastest man.

 Colin Jackson and Donovan Bailey were at Southwark Council's HQ in Tooley Street (London SE1) to promote an event taking place nearby in Southwark Park on Sunday 21st June. Sanlam Go Dad Run 'is a series of 5K runs for men and boys aged 11 and over to raise awareness of and funds for Prostate Cancer UK'. 5k runs have taken part in the last couple of weeks in Worcester, Bristol, Warrington and Llangefni, with the final two of this year's events taking place on Fathers Day in London (Southwark Park) and Cardiff this weekend (further details here).

Colin Jackson, world champion and 1988 Olympic silver medallist in the 110m hurdles (and lately BBC athletics presenter), founded the project after the death of an uncle. He notes that 'whilst 1 in 8 men in the UK will develop prostate cancer, that actually rises to 1 in 4 men from an African Caribbean background'. Donovan Bailey, an Ambassador for Go Dad Run,  is a double Olympic and three-time World Champion and became the fastest man in history when he set a new world record of 9.84 seconds running for Canada in the 1996 Olympic 100m final. The pair also visited Globe Academy school in Southwark today.

Jackson (above) and Bailey (below) in action

Sunday, 14 June 2015

City of London Mile 2015

The mile race has an iconic status in the history of British athletics, brought up as many of us have been on the legend of Roger Bannister and the first sub-four minute mile in 1954. Not only that but the mile itself is woven into the English language in numerous idioms - 'saw it a mile away', 'go the extra mile', 'walk a mile in my shoes' etc. (though those who want to maintain that the mile is something distinctly British should note that its name derives from the Roman unit for a 1000 paces - mīlle passus or passuum).

As most of international athletics is based on metric distances, the mile race rarely features in major events, but it is going through something of a renaissance with two big London events launched in the last few years. The Westminster Mile started in 2013, and last year was joined by the new City of London Mile

The second race of the latter took place today, in cool and slightly damp conditions (though the drizzle had more or less stopped by the time running started) . Really it was 16 races, including 12 waves plus a wheelchair race, youth race, and elite men's and women's races. The start and finish point were both in the vicinity of St Pauls Cathedral, with the course heading on roads past Mansion House and the Bank of England.

The first wave passes to the South of St Pauls - this stretch was also on the route for the 2012 London Olympic Marathon, though I think running in the opposite direction.
 It was the first time I've run a mile race, of course if you're used to running longer distances it all goes by very quickly and you certainly don't have much time to make up for any delays or slow sections. The event, which was free thanks to sponsorship of Amba Hotels, was enjoyable and well organised (OK apart from the baggage pick up which was fairly chaotic - maybe a bigger tent next year?).

After my run I stayed to watch the elite races - in fact you can manage to see the start and then cut round the back of St Pauls to see the finish. Men's race was won by New Zealand's Julian Matthews, finishing his first road mile in 4:04, ahead of Australia's Collis Birmingham (4:05) and GB's Tom Lancashire (4:05). The women's race was won by Alison Leonard in 4:40, followed closely by Jemma Simpson (4:41) and Australia's Zoe Buckman (4:43). 

All in all, a great event - look out for next year's.

5:55:32 - I'll take it.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Running to Paradise - W.B. Yeats

Happy 150th birthday William Butler Yeats... the great Irish poet was born  in Sandymount on 13 June 1865. He spent time in my South London neck of the woods, conducting occult experiments on the site of what is now the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill,  visiting Madame Blavatsky in Norwood, and speaking at Southwark Irish Literary Club. Some even claim that his spirit inspired the campaign to save Oxleas Wood - a popular spot for runners - in the 1990s!

1900 portrait by his father, John Butler Yeats
His 1916 poem Running to Paradise is (I think) a reflection on the great leveller of death and ageing. The swift 'bare heel' of youth will end up in an 'old sock'; and in death - whether you believe in the after life or a cold lifeless grave - 'the king is but as the beggar'. So, like the beggar in the poem, we might as well run like the wind.

Running to Paradise (1916)

As I came over Windy Gap
They threw a halfpenny into my cap,
For I am running to Paradise;
And all that I need do is to wish
And somebody puts his hand in the dish    
To throw me a bit of salted fish:
And there the king is but as the beggar.

My brother Mourteen is worn out
With skelping his big brawling lout,
And I am running to Paradise;
A poor life do what he can,
And though he keep a dog and a gun,
A serving maid and a serving man:
And there the king is but as the beggar.

Poor men have grown to be rich men,
And rich men grown to be poor again,
And I am running to Paradise;
And many a darling wit’s grown dull
That tossed a bare heel when at school,
Now it has filled an old sock full:
And there the king is but as the beggar.

The wind is old and still at play
While I must hurry upon my way,
For I am running to Paradise;
Yet never have I lit on a friend
To take my fancy like the wind
That nobody can buy or bind:
And there the king is but as the beggar.

More running related literature:

Sunday, 7 June 2015

All over Battersea, some hope and some despair - Assembly League Race 3

The third of this season's Assembly League races was held in London's Battersea Park last Thursday (4th June 2015), hosted by Serpentine Running Club. 318 runners from 13 clubs took part on one of the hottest days of the year so far - with heat, pollen and London air quality there were plenty of dry throats and coughs by the end.

Johh Franklin (Serpentine) was first in 15:24, followed by Chris Greenwood (Kent AC - 15:29) and Richard Kowenicki (London Stock Exchange - 15:30). Amy Clements (Kent AC) was the women's winner in 17:07- making it three out of three for her this season - with Martha Lloyd second (Victoria Park Harriers, 17:47)  and Clare Elms (Dulwich Runners, 17:58) in third place. In the club placings, Serpentine came first in both  men's A-team and B-team, while Kent AC  cleaned up in women's A-team and B-team. A-team scores are based on positions of each club's first four finishers (so Serpentine runners finished in 1st, 4th, 6th and 10th place = 21 points) with the club with lowest points winning. B-team is the same, but for the next four finishers from each club. Final results are now available here  (see also the Assembly League facebook group).

With three races still to go - Greenwich peninsula, Victoria Park, Beckenham - Lewisham's Kent AC are still ahead in all team competitions but by no means secure. Plenty still to run for.

Runners gather at the bandstand last week
The 5k course started at the bandstand in the centre of the park, before heading on a circuit and half of the park. There aren't many parks in this country where a run takes you past a Buddhist peace pagoda, but of course Battersea has one, built by monks, nuns and followers of the Japanese Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order as part of the 1984 Greater London Council (GLC) Peace Year - shortly before the GLC was abolished and the park handed over to be run by Wandsworth Council. In fact I saw The Pogues play in the park in July 1985 in one of the great farewell free festivals organised in the last days of the GLC.

Battersea Park was opened next to the River Thames in 1858 and has a long sporting pedigree. The first football match played under Football Association rules took place there in January 1864. The park was regularly used by London Olympiades Athletics Club, one of the first women's athletics clubs in Britain (founded in 1921). In fact the first women's mile race in the UK was organised by Olympiades in Battersea Park in 1932 (source), in a period when many athletics officials thought women weren't capable of running such long distances!

Margery Bennett throws the discus in a London Olympiades meeting in Battersea Park, August 1939, with a barrage balloon in the background (Leeds Mercury 15 August 1939)

The women pictured below were taking part in a May 1931 trial in the park to select athletes to run in Florence later that year.

Today the park hosts the Battersea Park Millennium Arena, with its eight lane running track, as well as other sporting facilities.

(the title of this post - 'All over Battersea, some hope and some despair' is a line from Morrissey's 1992 song, 'You're the One for Me Fatty', the video for which was filmed in the park).

Obligatory picture of some of the Kent AC runners in Battersea Park last week

Monday, 1 June 2015

Wardown parkrun... and 140 years of running in Luton

I grew up in Luton in Bedfordshire, so was delighted to hear that a parkrun was starting in the town's Wardown Park recently. Last Saturday I went along for the first time, and I'm pleased to say that it already feels like a long established event, with nearly 200 people taking part and a friendly community emerging after only 6 weeks.

The 5k course takes in three and a half laps of the lake in the park, along well-shaded tree-lined paths. Mostly tarmac, but with a nice trail section up to the finish where ducks walked in the grass alongside the runners. No real hills, but some mostly gentle slopes (full details here). People meet up by Luton Museum for the briefing, where the run finishes, before walking down together to the start at the South West end of the park (New Bedford Road side).

The start of Wardown parkrun, 30 May 2015 (from their flickr group)

All parkruns have the same format, but they also reflect the unique character not only of their courses but of their local running communities. Wardown parkrun this weekend included nearly 50 runners from the main local clubs - Luton AC, Stopsley Striders and Dunstable Road Runners. A feature of the run too was a preponderance of strong young runners up front - five of the top ten finishers were under twenty years old, led by Rhys Lewis (Luton AC) in 17:40.

A short history of running in Luton

Wardown parkrun is the latest development in a history of organised running in the town stretching back at least 140 years.

A Luton Athletic Society and Cricket Club was in existence by 1873, when the committee of the club announced that they had secured what was to become known as Dallow Road recreation ground for its use  (1). The club held an athletics meet there  in October 1873 with various track and field events (2). By the times of its 1888 athletic fete, cycling had been added to the programme (3).

Luton Times, 28 June 1873

There was also a 'Luton Hare and Hounds club', reported  in March 1875 to have run 'between 9 and 10 miles' cross country from Luton to Caddington and Kenworth and over Dunstable Downs (4).

Amateurism was a big deal in this period, with controversy over the extent of awarding prizes rather than cash to get around the rules prohibiting payment. It was presumably in this context that in 1892, Luton was expelled from the Amateur Athletics Association  'for not complying with an order re. under value prize' (5).

I assume relations must have been repaired, because in 1894 J. Daffern of the AAA was a handicapper at the club's Whit-Monday sports day. The Luton Times reported that  'The annual Athletic Sports of the Luton Athletic and Cycling Club, took place on the Dallow Lane ground, in the most delightful weather, on Monday afternoon. The many attractions offered drew together an enormous crowd numbering, it was estimated, at least five thousand persons, the largest number which has ever assembled to witness the sports of this club'. A mixture of running and cycling races drew competitors from around the country, and the event also featured a failed balloon launch and music from the Red Cross Band -  'In the evening the band played for dancing, which was largely indulged in by those present' (6).

The following Whit Monday (1895) the same event was held at Luton Town Football Ground, with a crowd of 3,000. This time the balloon ascent went smoothly.  There were Half Mile and One Mile races, the former won by C S Montague of Finchley Harriers (7). By 1899, however, the Whit Monday sports meeting had dwindled. 'Meager weather' may have been one factor in  the event at the football ground attracting less than 1,000, many of them children. The races failed to attract runners from outside the town, and the organisers made a financial loss (8).

There seems to have been a decline in athletics at this point, but a new Luton Athletic Club was launched at a meeting on 21 July 1908, held at the Central Cafe, in Cheapside: 'The need for a well-managed athletic club in the town has been keenly felt for years past. At last a move has been made (the suggestion coming principally from the employees of the Vauxhall and West Hydraulic Engineering Company)'. The club was offered the use of the Vauxhall ground in Kimpton Road. The meeting decided that  'The club is limited to amateurs, and the colours are the cardinal shirt and white knickers' (9).

A.J. Harman was elected captain at that first meeting and in the following year, in March 1909, he won what was said to be the first Marathon race in the town over 'a course of nearly 20 miles' which started in Park-square and proceeded 'via Dunstable, Houghton Regis, Sundon, Streatley and back along New Bedford Road' (at this time the Marathon distance hadn't been completely standardised). Ten of the twelve runners finished, greeted by 'a tremendous crowd' (10).

Shortly afterwards, the new club's first meet took place on a grass track laid out on People's Park, with races ranging from 100 yards to the mile. The crowd of up to 1500 in May 1909  'proved an exceedingly unwieldy handful for the perspiring committee of eight, with the assistance of one policeman' (11).

The club seems to have been renamed as Luton United Harriers and Cycling Club by the following year, perhaps as a result of a merger, with what was reported in July 1910 as  'the newly formed Luton United Harriers and Cycling Club' holding races at People's Park with 'Over 6,000 people... assembled round the track' (12). The club's Headquarters in this period were at All Saints Institute, Beech Hill, from where its cross country races sometimes started and finished (13).

People's Park is on a slope so less than ideal for athletics, and so Luton United Harriers explored other alternatives. In 1912, it  held a sports day at Stockwood Park, with running, cycling and some novelty events such as egg & spoon and sack races (14). The club also organised a one mile race at the town's American Skating Rink (15- not sure where this was in the town).

The club also lobbied the Council for the use of Wardown Park, a former private estate acquired by the Council in 1904 for development as a town centre park. After being refused permission to hold a sports day and gala  in 1911 (16) , the club applied again and a successful event was held at the Wardown Park cricket ground in May 1913 (17).

In the summer before the First World War, Luton United Harriers  (with Luton Town Football Supporters Club) held another  Whitsun Tuesday sports day in Wardown Park, where the competitors included Willie Applegarth who 'showed marvellous sprinting powers and he was warmly applauded for his success' (18). Applegarth, who ran for Polytechnic Harriers, was one of the world's fastest runners at this point having equalled the world 100m record and set the world 200 yards record.

The large industrial firms that were growing in the town in this period also entered into athletics, with their own sports clubs and grounds. In 1914 the sports day of Kent's Athletic Club included a mile relay race for local engineering firms with teams from Kent's, Vauxhall, Davis and Waterlow's ('Artisans' Athletics', Luton Times, 17 July 1914).

The war took its toll on the club, as with all parts of society. For instance, Private Alfred Smith (58 New Street), a moulder by trade and 'trainer of the Luton United Harriers', was shot dead in 1915 (19). Military personnel from all over the world were based in camps in the Luton area during the conflict, and the cricket ground in Wardown Park was used for Regimental Sports Days for the Royal Field Artillery based at Biscot. These were held in 19161917 and 1918 and races including other military units from the town, munitions workers and nurses. The 1916 event included a cross country race starting at Wardown and heading 'to the "Three Horseshoes" Leagrave, and then to Stopsley, returning by the same route. The distance was 8000 yards' (Luton News, 26 July 1916)

Regimental Sports at Wardown, 1918
(from Luton World War One- great war stories)
Athletics revived after the war and by the mid-1920s a permanent grass track had been provided at Wardown Park. The Midland Counties AAA championships were staged in 'the new sports ground at Wardown Park' in June 1928 (20). Luton United Harriers also acquired “Oxford Hall”, 2 Union Street as their headquarters in 1926 (21).

Bedfordshire Times, 15 June 1928
Women's athletics was taking off in this period. The club's first recorded female athlete, noted in 1925, was Ena Smith (Luton A.C. History).  The first ever women's national cross country championship was held at Luton Hoo Park in 1927 ('Modern Amazons Plucky Running', Western Daily Press, 14 February 1927). National cross country championships have taken place in Luton, usually at Stopsley, on a number of occasions since - including the first combined men's and women's champs in 1995. Paula Radcliffe, who  ran for Bedford and County AC, won the 1996 national students cross country champs in Luton.

By the mid-1930s, Luton United Harriers seemed to have been joined by another (new?) Luton Athletic Club. There was a Luton and District Athletic League, with four teams competing for the Walker Cup - Luton AC, Luton United Harriers, Bedford and County AC and RAF Cardington. The last match before the Second World War took place at Wardown in July 1939, with Luton AC winning the League (22). Another Luton team, Luton and District Athenians, is mentioned as competing against both in the 1934 Beds Cross Country Championship (23). The three Luton teams merged as Luton United Athletic Club in 1962/3 (24)

Wardown Park Sports Ground - where grass track was laid out in mid-1920s
(my school, Icknield High, held its sports days there in the 1970s, I believe I once ran the 800m there)

In 1952 the Bedfordshire County AAA Championships were held at Wardown, watched by '2000 people... basking in brilliant sunshine' (25). By this point though there was increasing discontent at the lack of an all-weather track in the town.  'No cinders yet for Luton's cinderella of sport', N.S. Paul noted in the Luton News on 1 July 1954, criticising the Council: 'it is a disgrace that Bedfordshre has no track or arena fit for international events...only a grass track in Wardown - when not debarred by other events going on there'.

In the post-Second World War period, Vauxhalls became increasingly important in athletics, as the company also dominated the town as its major employer. The 'first full-scale athletic meeting held at Vauxhall Motors' new ground' in 1953, included a crowd of 6,000 with a funfair and trick motor cycling as well as athletics. Teams competing in races included Vauxhall Motors Recreation Club, Luton United AC, Skefco AC (another local workplace team) and others from further afield (26).

Vauxhall sports  ground c.1980, with running track at top of picture
(my dad worked in the building at bottom when it was the engineering/design centre)
The annual Vauxhall sports day were largely based around athletics and and cycling in the 1950s but throughout the 1960s grew to a huge event, the Vauxhall Spectacular, with races supplemented with celebrity appearances, car shows, show jumping, fairground rides and more. I remember going to them as a kid, as my dad worked there. They came to an end in the mid-1980s, as the firm began to wind down its presence in the town - car production ceased in 2002. In 1998, the Vauxhall athletics club merged with Luton United to form the current Luton A.C. Some of the former Vauxhall Recreation facilities have survived as Venue 360. One of the last great triumphs of the Vauxhall Motors Athletic Club came in 1990 when a team broke the world record for a relay run from John O'Groats to Land's End.

Vauxhall Mirror, 21 June 1990
from Bedfordshire County Council Archives

An all weather track was opened at Stockwood Park in 1977, where it remains having been resurfaced a couple of times since. Luton AC's clubhouse is there too. Another local club, Stopsley Striders, was formed in 1982 by Tony Simmons - a former Luton United runner who won a silver medal in the 10,000m in the 1974 European Championships, and set a world half marathon record  in Welwyn Garden City in 1978 of 62 minutes 47 seconds. In Luton's adjoining town, Dunstable Road Runners was formed in 1983.

No Luton running history is complete without mentioning its footnote in the history of the London Marathon. In the 1970s and 1980s, long distance running legend David Bedford owned the Mad Hatter nightclub in Luton (a place I sometimes frequented). As mentioned in the 2015 London Marathon magazine, 'On a Saturday night in 1981, future London Marathon race director and former 10,000m world record holder Dave Bedford was in the Mad Hatter, the nightclub he then owned in Luton. Several beers down, he accepted a bet of £250 that he could not complete the following morning’s inaugural London Marathon. Four piña coladas, a phone call to race co-founder Chris Brasher, a king prawn curry and another pint later, Bedford finally got to bed at 04:45. Just 75 minutes later he awoke and headed to the start. Despite being spotted on BBC TV looking less than his usual vigorous self, Bedford completed the race before falling asleep in a pub'.

And on 18 April 2015, parkrun came to Luton. Long may it last.

The finish at Wardown parkrun - the stone in the foreground says 'London 31 Miles' -
no I didn't run home afterwards

(1) Luton Times, 28 June 1873.
(2) Luton Times, 11 October 1873.
(3) Bedfordshire Times, 4 August 1888.
(4) Luton Times, 20 March 1875.
(5) Manchester Courier, 19 December 1892.
(6) Luton Times and Advertiser, 18 May 1894.
(7) Bedfordshire Times, 7 June 1895.
(8) Bedfordshire Advertiser, 26 May 1899.
(9) Beds Advertiser 24 July 1908/
(10) Beds Advertiser, 19 March 1909.
(11) Beds Advertiser, 2 June 1909.
(12) Luton Times, 29 July 1910.
(13) Luton Times, 15 November 1912.
(14) Luton Times, 31 May 1912.
(15) Luton Times, 1 Nov 1912.
(16) Luton Times, 29 March 1912.
(17) Luton Times. 16 May 1913.
(18) Beds Advertiser,5 June 1914.
(19) Luton Times, 3 September 1915.
(20) Bedfordshire Times. 25 May 1928.
(21)  Luton Athletic Club History 
(22) Bedfordshire Times, 28 July 1939.
(23) Bedfordshire Times, 26 January 1934.
(24)   Luton Athletic Club History
(25) Bedfordshire Times, 23 May 1952.
(26) Luton News, 25 June 1953.

See also: 1970s Luton schools cross country at Stopsley, including programme for 1975 Luton United AC races.