Saturday, 31 December 2016

December Running - Kent Vets, South of the Thames and Xmas parkrun

Kent Veterans/Masters Cross Country

Kent Veterans Cross Country Championships took place on Saturday 3rd December 2016 at Central Park in Dartford. The park, which is just next to the town centre, includes the Dartford Harriers HQ and it was good to see the recently refurbished athletics track there. The cross country course was not the wildest, much of it being run around flat playing fields to the East of the River Darent interspersed with scrambling up and down a bank (as someone said, like an international cross country event without quite the same speed). Still it was a good course for spectators as the runners were never far away. Just over 300 runners took part in the different races.

Map of Dartford course (see Strava)
The men's 40-49 was probably the most exciting, with Blackheath and Bromley's Alex Gibbins hanging on to the shoulder of last year's winner Chris Greenwood (Kent AC) before overtaking him on the finishing stretch. Kent's Phil Sanders was third and  Kent also won the club competition ahead of Medway & Maidstone AC and Tonbridge AC.

Chris Greenwood, Phil Sanders and Alex Gibbins in the lead
The M50-59 race was won by Ben Reynolds whose club Tonbridge AC were also the winning team in the seven mile race. I scored for Kent AC, who came 4th.  Not for the first time I was Mr Median for age (42nd out of 84), I was pleased that overtaking two runners in the last few hundred metres moved us up a place, but also disappointed that I didn't sustain anything like the pace of the previous week's 10K PB which would have comfortably moved us into a medal position.

Alan Camp (Blackheath and Bromley) won the M60 and David Moorekite (Larkfield AC) the M70.

Start of women's and M60 race

In the women's 35-44, Hazel Behagg  (Dartford Road Runners) was first home, with Blackheath and Bromley the winning team.  Maria Heslop (Paddock Wood AC) won the W45-54 ahead of Clare Elms whose Dulwich Runnners picked up the team prize. Victoria Talbot Rosner (Invicta East Kent AC) won the W55 and Sue James (Paddock Wood AC) the W65.

South of the Thames Senior Cross Country

This year's South of the Thames Senior Race was hosted by Kent AC at Beckenham Place Park on 17th December 2016. The Park is the venue for the new Beckenham Place parkun and the finishing line for the summer Assembly League races, but it has been a while since it featured a cross country race on this scale. Sadly the golf course in the park has recently closed down, the silver lining in the 18 hole cloud being the fact that that the whole park is now available for other activities (a lottery-funded regeneration scheme for the park is due to start shortly).  And so 290 runners set off across the former fairways at the start of the two lap, seven mile course.

Men and women run alongside each other in this race, with Phil Wicks (Belgrave Harriers) winning the men's competition ahead of Owen Hind (Kent AC), back in London on a Christmas break from a year running and studying at West Texas A&M University.  John Sanderson (Guildford & Godalming) was third. Amy Clements (Kent AC) won the women's competition, with Lucy Reid (Tonbridge) in 2nd place  and Amy's Team GB 50k colleague Samantha Ahmend (Belgrave Harriers) in 3rd. 

The Colman Cup
For the second year in a a row Kent AC men won the Dewar Shield for the 6-to-score competition, and also won the 12-to-score Colman Cup. Belgrave Harriers won the women's competition, ahead of Kent AC and Dulwich Runners (full results here)

The route - see Strava for more details

I enjoyed running the course, which did feel like a proper rural run even if it was in a South London park half way between Bromley and Lewisham.  There was a substantial hill near the start, followed by a quite technical narrow woodland path with lots of tree roots, and a couple of short but very steep banks to clamber up too.  Not to mention some very fast downhill stretches.

great photo of the race by James Turner


I got in a few parkruns over the festive period, including Peckham Rye on Christmas Eve and Hilly Fields on Christmas Day where there there were running Santas and a glass of bubbly at the end. Amidst all the family and feasting it was good to also spend time with this friendly community of runners.

Santa sprints to the finish at Hilly Fields on Christmas Day

I finished off my 2016 running today with the New Year's Eve Brockwell parkrun in Brixton.

So that's the year done, hopefully plenty more running to come in 2017. Have a peaceful and fruitful New Year everybody, long may you run.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Peckham Street Art Run

Ten miles on a frosty morning, out and about in South London before the shops opened.

RIP George Michael, outside John the Unicorn pub, Rye Lane, SE15
(I was listening to George Michael's 'Listen without prejudice' LP while running)

This one, and the one below, from the courtyard outside the Bussey building, Rye Lane, SE15

Copeland Park, SE15

Prime Minister Theresa May as Star Wars villain, by Artful Dodger, outside Peckhamplex cinema

by Peckham car park

'Stay wild, stay true', on  old Surrey canal path

Friday, 16 December 2016

South of the Thames Cross Country 1903

Looking forward to the South of the Thames Senior Cross Country race at Beckenham Place Park this weekend. My club, Kent AC,  won this race last year for the first time since 1907.  The club were a dominant force in cross country at the time, thanks in particular to their star runner Albert Aldridge. He won the South of the Thames in 1902 and 1903, with the club finishing in second place on both occasions. Here's a report and some pictures from the 1903 race, which was won by Herne Hill Harriers. A few points to note: cross country at this time still featured the old hare and hounds paperchase method of marking the course, with trail layers running ahead and scattering slips of paper for the runners to follow; courses often had hurdles such as fences to overcome (in this race, one runner was reported to have been severely injured on such a hurdle); and one lesson that still applies - make sure you get there on time.

'THE SOUTH OF THE THAMES AT BROMLEY COMMON. VICTORY OF THE HERNE HILL HARRIERS' (Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News,14 February 1903)

'The ill-fortune which proverbially follows the Kent Athletic Club, at Championship time, pursued them hotly on Saturday. Scarcely had the team men recovered from the shock of hearing that H. W. Churchman was in hospital awaiting an operation, than they found themselves minus another good man in R. E. Guest. He arrived on the scene, at Oakley Park. Bromley too late to compete. Then, when the 175 runners, representing fifteen clubs, were well on their way, H. Stent injured himself so severely on a hurdle that he collapsed completely.

Finally, the Kent A.C. lost the Championship by 22 points. Last year they lost by 1 point only. They had the satisfaction, however, in both years of supplying in A. Aldridge the first man home. He beat the big field a bit more than comfortably in 41 mins. 52 3/5 secs- good running for seven and a half miles of varied going, with obstacles en route. Next to Aldridge came the Reading runner, D. G. Harris, who did wonderfully well for a man thirty-one years of age. He cut out the work for F. James, of the Herne Hill Harriers, with such determination that the latter's finishing powers were rendered less dangerous than usual. James came in third, and easily beat the Eastbourne athlete and Sussex ex-Champion, B. Sewell.

Team honours went to the Herne Hill Harriers, who were similarly successful two years ago. They ran well on Saturday to win, as they did, with their second best man, J. S. Raynor, dropping out from exhaustion, brought on by running several miles from the wrong station, at which he had alighted. F. Appleby, who has relinquished athletics, for a time, in favour of study, and A. B. Starck, who is far from well, were also absentees. The leading clubs and their points were Herne Hill, 115; Kent, 137; Reading, 142; Eastbourne, 210; Epsom, 212; and Morden, 215. The forward running of P. A. Casserley, of the last-named club, was a great surprise'.
The trail layers

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Sri Chinmoy 10k in Battersea Park

I ran in the Sri Chinmoy 10k in Battersea Park last week (November 26th 2016).  The series of races organised there by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team and associated Run and Become shop have a deserved good reputation for being friendly and well organised, and also for attracting some good club runners as well as those making their first steps at this distance. The Battersea Park course is fast and flat, and the conditions last week were perfect for speed - cold and dry, but not icy.

214 runners took part, and the first 24 were all under 35 minutes headed by Tony Payne of Wesley Harrierse in 31.47. Lisa Rooney of Collingwood AC was the first woman in 39.11 (full results here)

the start of the race - from Sri Chinmoy photo gallery
Sri Chinmoy on running

Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007) was an Indian spiritual teacher and keen runner, who advocated running and physical exercise as part of spiritual practice: 

"Running offers us the message of transcendence. In our running, every day we are aiming at a new goal... every day we are running towards a goal, but when we reach that goal, we want to go still farther. Either we want to improve our timing or increase our distance. There is no end. Running means continual transcendence, and that is also the message of our inner life."

“These long distance races remind me of our Eternity’s race. Along Eternity’s Shore we are running, running, running. We are running and running with our birthless and deathless hopes. We are running and running with the ever-transcending Beyond"

“Run and become.
Become and run.
Run to succeed in the outer world.
Become to proceed in the inner world.”

(As mentioned here before, Carlos Santana was associated with Sri Chinmoy for a while, hence his Marathon album).

You don't have to worry about being preached at on these runs though - the message is there if you want it, but the organisers are focused on putting on a good race.

As for me, I'm not sure I quite transcended my self, but judging by this picture I was fairly flying at the finish line and did get a big PB - 41:06.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

New parkrun in Beckenham

Yesterday saw 193 people taking part in the inaugural Beckenham Place parkrun in SE London. Andy Bond from Dulwich Runners set the opening men's course record in 17:34, with his club mate Selma Benattia establishing the women's record of 19:51. 

The two lap figure of eight course is pretty flat (certainly no hills), much of it on grass and the remainder on gravel. On the long lap it's certainly a relief to turn back at the furthest point and begin the run towards home, just under half a mile along the path by the River Ravensbourne, concealed among the trees. Yesterday the grass was still frosted over at the start after a cold night, so it was a little slippery. It was beginning to get muddy in places by the end, so you might want to consider trail shoes over the winter if you are really chasing a fast time. 

My main tip would be to take notice of the course directions before you get there. I know parts of Beckenham Place Park very well, with Assembly League races finishing by the mansion. I rocked up at the car park there thinking I would be bound to see some sign of the parkrun but couldn't see any trace at all. I bumped into a couple of similarly confused visitors in town from Perth and we headed off on a long run to try and find the start. The parkrun  actually starts at the Summerhouse playing fields on the other side of the railway at the East of the park. You are best coming to it from the Ravensbourne Avenue entrance, and by public transport to Ravensbourne station. There is car parking at the Old Bromley Road entrance to the park, which while not quite as near is on the right side of the railway line.

Facilities are limited at present. You can leave a bag on the grass at the start (at your own risk as per usual at parkrun), and I believe that the only public toilets are back at the old mansion/cafe/ex-golf club HQ. 

This is a good addition to the SE London parkrun circuit and should take some pressure off Bromley parkrun a couple of miles away, which regularly attracts more than 600 runners. There is a strong athletics infrastructure in the area with Beckenham Running Club based not far away (though of course if you're more in the Lewisham direction, come on down to Kent AC!) .

I will be returning to the park next month when the South of the Thames senior cross country race takes places there - though on a different, and much hillier course.

Thanks as always to all the volunteers, and for Lewisham Council in supporting the parkrun getting started.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Silence at Surrey League

I ran yesterday in the Surrey League Cross Country men's Division One at Farthing Downs outside of Coulsdon (home to South London Harriers). Before the race started there was a minute's silence to remember Lucy Pygott and Stacey Burrows, the two young runners killed this week while training with Aldershot Farnham and District AC. The driver of the car that killed them has been arrested.

Similar commemorations were held at races around the country yesterday, with many runners also wearing black ribbons. Although many of the runners would not have personally known 17-year-old Lucy and 16-year-old Stacey (left and right below), they were promising young runners who had already taken part in some of the big events of English athletics such as the national cross country championships at Castle Donington this year and the southern and national road relays.

The race started as soon as the silence finished, with 193 runners heading off on the two lap course. Kent AC (my club) won the race, regaining their place at the top of the league.  I was way towards the back in my first proper run since falling a couple of weeks ago, but did finish quicker than last time I ran that course a couple of years ago.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Gilles Peterson - PB at New York Marathon

I love Gilles Peterson as a DJ, I know if I listen to one of his mixes or radio shows that there will be lots of great music that I have never heard before - in short I trust him, he has even helped persuade me that jazz is OK, at least at the funkier end of its spectrum!

Gilles ran New York City Marathon last Sunday in a PB of 4:19:40. He ran his first marathon (London) in 2011 in 4:43:09, of which he wrote:

'Running around the streets of London yesterday made me appreciate this great city and its people – I love it here. The crowd was so encouraging – amazing… and it was funny how it changed from Greenwich to Deptford to the Isle Of Dogs – posh to chavvy – classic… the bands playing along were great – a lot of jazz funnily enough… more thoughts of Steve Reid!… and a brilliant bit about 21 miles in just before Tower Bridge on the Highway – massive sound playing – Rhythm Is Rhythm – ‘Strings of Life’… I thought I was on one in a rave on the Lee Bridge Road in ’88… I was properly tripping by then – that was my existential moment of the marathon!'

Since then he has run London Marathon three more times (2012, 2013, and 2014).  Gilles was running in New York to raise funds for the Steve Reid Foundation, a charity he helped set up a few years ago to help musicians in crisis (Steve Reid was a jazz drummer who died in 2010, unable to afford the medical treatments he needed).  After running 26.2 miles on Sunday, Peterson went on to another marathon DJ set at a fundraiser in New York at Le Bain, along with Francois K, Louie Vega and others. The flyer promised that 'his DJ set will be the length of his marathon run' and apparently he put in the full four hours.

He's already raised more than £5000 from the run, but there's still time to donate at

See previously:

Musicians in Motion -

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

River Thames Half Marathon 2016

Running conditions were good for the River Thames Half Marathon on Sunday October 30th 2016, dry and cool but not cold as the mist lifted from the river at the start by Walton Bridge. The race, organised by Roy Reeder's River Thames Running, featured a field of more than 1700 runners on a course centred around the river at Walton-on-Thames, in Surrey just to the west of London.

The first two miles of the course are on road/pavement in surrounding streets, before joining up with the river path and heading east. Opposite Bushy Park/Hampton Court across the Thames, the course turns back and follows the river bank west for a good five mile stretch before a final loop brings you back to the start/finish.  

So more than half of the route is directly on the river towpath, a mixture of tarmac and gravel, quite narrow in places which can make overtaking a challenge - or on the positive side make it harder to be overtaken. It's a nice stretch of the river, with locks, boats and lots of rowing (the route passes directly in front of Molesey Boat Club). Best of all the course is more or less completely flat, unless you count a couple of bridges.

Seven ran from my club, Kent AC, with Che Compton winning first vet prize with his 11th overall position. At least five of us got good PBs I believe, I was pleased to take more than a minute off mine, finishing in 1.37.10.

Some of the Kent AC runners at the finish

Overall winner was Bedford's James Hoad in 1.10.16, while first woman was Becky Atkinson of Clapham Chasers in  1.20.11. Both set course records, in this the third year of the event (full results here)

It would have been a perfect race but for taking a tumble at the end. I was given it my all on a final dash to the finish when I tripped and landed with a thump on the hard gravel only about ten metres from the line. I got up and finished, but with cuts/grazes to head, shoulder, knee and hand. Nothing too serious, but quite painful and enough blood to be told not to come into the ambulance as I would make too much mess!

Blood, sweat and beer - nice medal doubling up as a bottle opener, I needed a drink after that.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Walking Beinn Bheigier: Islay's highest point

Beinn Bheigier (pronounced Ben Vicar) is the highest hill on the Isle of Islay. With a height of 491m it falls short of the 600m that would make it a mountain (at least by the official UK government definition), but it is a fair height and its summit is suitably remote.

Our starting point was at the pebbley Claggan Bay, reached by following the single lane road that heads north east up country beyond Ardbeg until the road almost runs out. Just past the little road bridge that crosses the Claiggan river, there is a track on the left heading up towards Beinn Bheigier.

The Claiggan from the road bridge

The track heads from Claggan Bay - through the gate and straight on

You can follow this vehicle track as it loops around, first to the left, then to the right, going through a deer gate until it stops. Or you can take a bit of short cut across the loop - shortly after the track turns to the left, there is a gate on the other side of a ditch after which if you head north west will bring you at the same place - the deer gate in the fence before the last section of vehicle track (we went up this way, and came back on the longer but easier full track loop)

take this gate for the short cut across the vehicle track loop
The lower slope of the hill is hard work, with tussocky grass and lots of heather. You never quite know whether you are stepping on firm ground or into a bog. 

You will hopefully find a path to follow, a faintly visible track of trampled dry heather, but if not the thing to remember is that you are heading to the south east shoulder of the hill (i.e the left hand side as you going towards it).

There is a cairn at the top of this slope but that's not the top. From here there is a stony ridge and a mostly more gentle slope which heads north west for about a mile upwards to the summit.

There is a trig point at the highest point surrounded by a dry stone wall for shelter on what can be a windy exposed spot with good views across the sea to Ireland and the Mull of Kintyre.

There is an account of 'dubious veracity' of a battle between MacLeans and McDonalds at Beinn Bheigier in the late 16th/early 17th century, described by Islay historian David Caldwell as 'an unlikely place for a battle' ('Islay: the Land of the Lordship', 2008, p.93). It certainly would have been hard work fighting up here, but it's just possible I suppose that there could have been a look out point worth fighting over.

The area is used for deer stalking, and a sign back in Claggan Bay gives advice on this - essentially walkers are welcome, but look where you're going in the main stag stalking season (mid-August to mid-October). Seeing deer up on the hill, including right at the top, is one of the highlights of the walk. Of course we have plenty of deer in some London and SE England parks - stags were bellowing as we ran in the Surrey League cross country in Richmond only last week - but you don't see them in full motion in quite the same way. At the top of Beinn Bheigier we watched a young deer charge off down a steep slope like it was almost flying, It put me in mind of Nan Shepherd's observation in her great book on the Cairngorms, 'The Living Mountain': 'Bird, animal and reptile - there is something of them all in the deer. Its flight is fluid as a bird's... They seem to float; yet their motion is in a way more wonderful even than flight, for each of these gleaming hooves does touch the ground'.

As always hill walking in such areas, be prepared for changes in the weather. You can start off in bright sunshine at the bottom, and find yourself cold and lost in the clouds on the top.

it was windy up there!
The walk was just over seven miles there and back, taking us three hours. My strava route is here, I found the Walk Highlands reports useful in planning the walk - you can download a GPX file to help.

See also-

Islay running posts:

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Running on Screen (16): Fleabag

BBC's excellent (tragi)comedy 'Fleabag' features Phoebe Waller-Bridge's character running around a a cemetery in Episode 3- I think it may be Kensal Rise cemetery in West London. 

Her sister tells her 'it's really inappropriate to jog around a graveyard... flaunting your life'. That's something that I once pondered in relation to Nunhead Cemetery, but decided it was OK as long as the recently bereaved aren't wandering around. What do you think?

Previously in the Running on Screen series:

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Southern Road Relays 2016

This year's Southern Road Relays Championships took place last Sunday (25 September). Shifting from the traditional Aldershot venue, they were held at Bedford Autodrome near Thurleigh in Beds, probably as far north as you can go before you're in the Midlands region (the Midland Area Road Relays were held the same weekend at Sutton Park).

After six junior races, there were two main events - the Senior and Veterans women's competitions run together with four legs of 4500m; and the Senior and Veterans men's races starting together but with the Seniors being a six stage relay and the Vets a four stage affair,  each with 6000m legs.

start of women's race
Bedford Autodrome occupies part of the site of RAF Thurleigh, built in 1940 for RAF Bomber Command and also used by the US Eighth Air Force in the Second World War. After the war it became an aircraft research site, Royal Aircraft Establishment  Bedford, which closed in 1994. Today Bedford Autodrome, established by former Formula One driver Jonathan Palmer, is mainly used for Motorsports though it has previously hosted Duathlon events.

Jess Judd (Chelmsford) leads the first leg in the women's race
There were some justifiable gripes about facilities - portaloos were a long way from the start- and it wasn't great for spectators, with runners heading off into the distance to return twenty minutes or so later. But nobody can complain that it wasn't a suitably challenging course. The long, flat motor circuit on the wide, open expanse of an airfield was exposed to a wind which was tough to run into for the first half of the single lap course. As the field became very spread out after the first leg, it felt quite bleak and lonely out there sometimes with nobody around to judge yourself against. 

The Pits signs signalling the last few hundred metres 

Aldershot, Farnham & District AC won both the men's and women's senior champs, with their Andy Vernon and Emily Hosker Thornhill running the fastest legs on the day for men and women,

My club, Kent AC, did well. Men's A and B teams both qualified for national champs, finishing in 11th and 23rd place, the women's team  came in 9th place, the  M40 men won the vets champs, and the M60s won silver in category.

It was my first road relay, obviously my fear running the second leg was that I would be overtaken by waves of people but that didn't happen - I lost a couple of places, but overall was in pretty much the median position in age category (19th fastest time out of 36 in M50 - 24.09). In an event of this standard, I was happy enough to be Mr Average for Age.

Kent AC M40 team with vets trophy

rally handover point - Amy Clements (Kent AC) heads off

Adrian Lowther's excellent short film about Kent AC's day - in which I feature briefly:

Video of men's race from Tonbridge AC's Mark Hookway (more from other races here):