Category Archives: Running

img_2875

A View From The Point

Time series of images make for interesting viewing – it is a technique that many have used, such as the Chilean-born photographer Camilo José Vergara who recorded changes in particular buildings over 40 years and fellow blogger Bobby Seal who recorded the same view at the same time of day over a year and created a video.

On Twitter, the Barnsley Bard, Ian McMillan, creates 140 character poetic ‘images’ of his (very) ‘Early Stroll’ of around 40 minutes, that includes a visit to the paper shop – it is one of the joys of twitter .

The Point is perhaps my favourite view of London, it was the starting point for my first post on Running Past  – there is an uninterrupted vista over the city in an arc from around Battersea in the south west to glimpses of Orbit in the Olympic Park to the north east.

image

Oddly, it isn’t a well-known panorama, often I am the only one admiring; it doesn’t have the impressive Inigo Jones foreground of the view a little further around the escarpment in front of the Observatory which draws in the tourists.

copy-image1.jpg

It is a place of solitude, despite the proximity of the often pollution laden A2, frequently the only sounds are the birds in the quite dense shrubbery that flanks the viewpoint along with the more distant rumble of the DLR.

In places, the horizon is truncated by the hilly landmasses of north London – Hampstead Heath and Highgate along with their relatively near neighbour which Alexandra Palace sits atop.  All the tall London landmarks are visible – St Pauls, Telecom Tower, the ‘Cheese Grater’, the ‘Walkie-Talkie’, the ‘Shard’, the ‘Eye’, and the tops of the Canary Wharf towers – the number of stories depending on the level of pruning.

On a clear day the Wembley arch is visible in a way that the Towers never were – it sometimes glints in the sun – it is about 10 miles away as the crow flies; on a really clear day there are views beyond to what appear to be the tiny undulations of to what must be the Chilterns to the south and Harrow on the Hill to the north of it.

image

I first discovered the view from The Point on a run in the mid-1990s and have been frequently drawn back, although only started taking photographs a couple of years ago.   The camera can never pick the level of detail of an eye scanning the horizon – the clarity of the view on a frosty autumn morning or after a summer afternoon downpour are hard to replicate, particularly with a smart phone camera with no optical zoom.

Some of the changes would need a much longer time series of photographs to become apparent – most of the larger landmarks of the cities of London and Westminster have appeared in the time that I have been viewing – it is a gradual evolution of the view, almost imperceptible from visit to visit.  Over longer time periods the view has changed more – I bought a 1940s photograph of the view (taken slightly lower down the hill), while fascinating, its slightly blurry image is almost unrecognisable compared with those 70 years later, with considerable bomb damage around Deptford Creek.  Only St Pauls Deptford seems constant – its steeple particularly clear.

img_2875

The middle distance has evolved considerably – the Pepys Estate and other ‘regeneration’ schemes that have brought high specification private housing, but little genuinely affordable social housing, to the riverside and in the process have driven traditional Thames-side activities away from the waterfront.  Deptford Creek, the mouth of the Ravensbourne, around a mile away, is much altered – it is no longer visible but now seems lined with glass and steel, including the  impressive Laban Centre.  The changes are even greater to the north – when I first ‘discovered’ the view, 1 Canada Square was there but little else on the Isle of Dogs, the Barkantine Estate towers on the east of the ’Island’ were still fairly dominant, they are now dwarfed by everything around them.

There are lots of other changes too, which it is easy to forget.   Helpfully the viewpoint has a guide to the view provided by the old Greater London Council, which predated many of the now landmark buildings that dominate the skyline, less helpfully , most of the time those in charge of the grounds maintenance have allowed shrubs to block the view it described although an early January pruning has restored the view.

point3

Other changes are more obvious – seasons, weather, cloud cover, pollution levels, times of day and foliage growth.  The seasons make a surprising difference – the winter sun with its much lower angle casts a very different light to its midsummer counterpart – the former is clearer, brighter and crisper but the contrast is greater. My visits are often on a Sunday morning, more recently I have frequently laced up my running shoes in the afternoon. In the summer, I sometimes eschew the Wednesday evening ‘club run’ for a run nearer home – decisions that are often based around the timing of the sunset or the weather.

I only tend to visit in daylight, it is uneven under foot and ill lit at night, although there are exceptions, and rarely when it rains, although where there is a choice I would tend to avoid running in the rain and the phone stays firmly in the pocket.

image

But perhaps that is the key point, I am one of the variables, perhaps the single biggest influence on the series of pictures – it depends on me being there to be captured – it isn’t just the wet days, I may ‘skip’ the loop to The Point if I know the visibility is poor – the clarity of the view towards the spire of Our Ladye Star of the Sea on Crooms Hill from my emergence onto the Heath– is often the bellwether of adjustments to my run.  I also decide on the angle of the photograph, the amount of zoom, while my eye is drawn more towards the horizon, the lens is drawn west-north-west towards the City, towards the glimpses of the River.

image

image

Bridge Over the River Cray

An almost epic battle on the damp meadows of the Sidcup borders for the prizes in final cross country of the season.

image

Like many of the open spaces that the League has ended up at over the years, this was formerly home to the wealthy of Georgian and Victorian England. Foots Cray Meadows are the grounds of a pair of former country houses. On the north western edge was Foots Cray Place – a Palladian mansion built in 1754.  It remained in private ownership until 1946 when Kent County Council bought it for use as a museum. It was demolished following a serious fire three years later – its location is obvious from terraced areas high up on the north-western side of the meadows.

On the south eastern side was North Cray Place which dated back to at least the mid-18th century, but was hit by a WW2 bomb and demolished in 1961 to make way for housing.

image

Presumably the River Cray formed the boundary between the two – it was partially dammed to create a small lake – the plans for the landscaping, including the splendid five arch bridge, are attributed to Capability Brown.

image

The course was much easier than all but one of the cross country venues that I have raced this season. Like the first, Stanhope Farm in Wilmington, it is a venue I know quite well – we used to come quite often when the children were younger – there is a pleasant mile and a half circuit along the banks of the very clear Cray with a children’s playground strategically placed at the mid-point.

The organisers eschewed the option of a water feature forming part of the course – there is a wide ford which is ankle deep in summer but would have been up to knee height for most (a bit higher for me) in February.

The course zig zags around the western side of the Cray passing the five arch bridge on quite uneven ground, it is clearly mole paradise beneath the lush grass, before eventually climbing up to the terraces of Foots Cray Place, then descending along a track back to close to the start for another meandering loop.

For reasons I never really understand, the final fixture of the year always seems to see fewer runners than the others, particularly in the slower, older categories – like me. It was a bit of a struggle from the start, the opening metres were a quagmire – I wished that I had worn longer spikes as I nearly hit the deck after ungainly avoidance of Talpa europaea deposits – but it dried out a little later, and I decided my spike length choice was probably correct. After about a mile, there was a turn and I could seen very few runners behind me and the finest of Kentish youth stretching out in a long line in front of me. After this point I passed no one and no one passed me and the race became an oddly solitary affair.

image

On the route back down through the woods seemed to be a mixture of gravel and hardcore with a thin veneer of mud – it was treacherous with spikes and I had to pick a careful path along the edge of the path to get some grip. The two runners in front of me from Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells that I had been inching towards pulled away from me taking a good 50 metres out of me on the shallow descent.

On the second lap the runners behind me seemed to struggle more than I did, my glances behind saw the distance increasing considerably. In front of me, the gap was narrowing a little, but if I was to improve my position I would have needed to pass and take out at least 50 metres from the runners in front to make up for the time I would lose in the woods. I made a bit of a push and got the gap down to 20 metres at one point, but never got closer. The last few metres back through the quagmire were very reminiscent of Michael Rosen’s wonderful children’s book -‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’

Uh-uh! Mud!
Thick oozy mud.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.

Oh no!
We’ve got to go through it!

Squelch squelch!
Squelch squelch!
Squelch squelch!

I stayed upright, although nearly nearly stacked it in the funnel – I was rather generously awarded a 5.7 for my efforts by the officials there, one of the best of the afternoon – worth waiting for apparently! I was 109th out of around 120 and sadly for Beckenham, our 4th scorer, ‘helping’ us to 10th out of 11.

Overall in the League, the club was 11th out of the 11 teams who had four finishers in all 4 fixtures – not surprising really, we are a relatively small club without a youth section and relativley little interest in cross country. Using the same logic in terms of age group placings, based on turning up to all four events, I can proudly announce that I was top ranked MV55 runner in the League. There were only two of us that did all four races mind – myself and another Beckenham runner, Andy Small.

image
Finally, two sets of apologies – firstly, most of the photos are from a visit to the Meadows a week ago when the sun was out unlike yesterday’s drizzle; and secondly, I am sorry if you stumbled across this by mistake thinking that this was a piece on the David Lean WW2 epic, ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ – I hope you eventually find what you want.

A Perfect 10 ….nearly

It was almost perfect conditions for a 10K as I headed to the beautiful south, well Gravesend; it was around 10°C and just a gentle breeze – it couldn’t be better for distance running, well obviously apart from the lack of daylight and the particulates, Nitrogen Dioxide and Sulphur Dioxide undoubtedly wafting in from the adjacent A2.

image

Gravesend Cyclopark is a great location for running at night – while only parts are lit, the surface is perfect – no utility patching of the tarmac or tree roots causing perforations or undulations – it does take at least a circuit to persuade the brain that it is fine to go almost flat out down a gentle descent in darkness though.

There were a lot more runners than the couple of occasions that I have done the race before – but that is probably because the wind and rain of my previous outings had kept the saner runners indoors.  The fair weather racers came more prepared for the darkness than those of us who toiled around the course in December in 20 mph winds and driving rain – there were several with head torches.

I had finished in 47:37 in December and was hoping for something a little quicker, if, for no other reason than the conditions were better.  Anything under 47:00 would be a success, although my aspirational target was 46 minutes for the 4 times 2.5k course.  I got into a good rhythm straight away, if anything I was a little worried that I had gone off slightly too quickly. The first lap saw the LED finish lap timer at 11:20 and the 5K mark was passed in 22:47.  I got a bit of stitch on the third circuit which slowed me down a little – 34:32 at the 3/4 point.  Halfway through the final lap I was passed, at some speed, by a group of much younger runners from Rebel Runners Medway who were treating the race as a training run – a slow, for them, 7.5K then flat out for the final lap – foolishly, I tried to stick with them, but was quickly ‘dropped’ and I forced my body reluctantly through the darkness.

I glanced at my watch as I emerged from the obsidian into the fierce bright lights around the start/finish and saw I if I threw every last drop of energy into the closing metres I could dip under 46 minutes.

I had promised to myself that I would try to move on from my accident of 380 days before, my post on the anniversary tried to do that (although knowing the number of days without having to do the maths, probably suggests that I haven’t…).  As I crossed the finish line it was abundantly clear that I hadn’t though – initially the adrenaline kicked in, I had beaten my aspirational target for the race – sub-46 minutes by 3 seconds; but as I did my warm down, I briefly burst into tears – I think it was the recognition that I was now within 30 seconds or so of where I was pre-accident.

image

I suspect that I need to find myself a flat 10K during the spring to and maybe, just maybe, I might pass that final milestone (or kilometre marker), it is close – but I know I am not quite there but almost within touching distance.

The 10K wasn’t the only race at the Cyclopark last night; there was a 5K which started half an hour before – but also a series of youth races on the fantastic looking BMX circuit built in the centre of the Park.  It looked brilliant as we ran a few metres away, while the times recorded on the road last night are unlikely to point to the future of British distance running coming from one of our number, maybe the next Shanaze Reade was riding there.

image

The Sounds of Running

And the wind blustered …

Molly is called

Molly ignores

She continues to gently sniff and snuffle

 

And the wind blustered …

A woodpecker’s taps echo through the copse

The 8:08 from Catford brakes on its approach,

The bridge sighs and rattles

IMG_0816

And the wind blustered …

The confluential rumble of the merging of Pool and Ravensbourne

‘The Hipster’ misjudges his approach to the footbridge,

Mutters an apology

 

And the wind blustered …

‘Brompton Woman’ smiles and greets

A cackling-like call from moorhens scurrying across the path

The soft purr of a well maintained Giant’s Shimano

 

And the wind blustered …

The Pool gurgles and splashes under Boris’ bridge

The gentle pad of trainer on tarmac

Water caresses and gently shifts stones from the island of the now lost country seat

island

And the wind blustered …

The ferrous acceleration of the fast train just past Lower Sydenham

A cacophony of internal combustion

Bell Green

 

Today is an odd anniversary, 365 days since my neck was broken by a car travelling at around 35 mph that failed to stop on the pedestrian phase of a pelican crossing; I survived and recovered thanks to the National Health Service, a fantastic physiotherapist and a lot of hard work.  I wanted to mark the anniversary in some way, but I thought it better to use it to draw a line and move on rather than reflect on the year gone – I did that to a large extent anyway a few weeks ago in my Review of 2015.

For reasons I cannot fathom, one of the changes in me is that I have become much more aware of sounds. So it seemed appropriate to recognise and embrace that change and also to try something new here. The piece above is a series of sounds turned into words that I noticed along part of one morning’s run to work, along a path sandwiched between a railway and the River Pool that I share with cyclists and dog walkers – many of whom I know by sight, and several of whom I have ‘named.’  The overwhelming sound that morning was wind (other days it is birdsong and on return journeys often children) … until I got to Bell Green….

Cross Country in Monochrome

The first snow of the winter in London greeted the morning, it hadn’t settled on the grass and nothing more than a light dusting remained on windscreens in Lee, but at the start of the annual mob-match with Blackheath and Bromley Harriers in West Wickham there was more than a dusting on the fields and in the churchyard of St John the Baptist next to the start.

image

It is probably my favourite race of the year, a point to point run, a genuine challenge in attractive countryside – much better than the multiple laps of the traditional cross country course – like last weekend’s race at Brands Hatch.

image

There were more of us at the start than normal – Beckenham had had a three line whip on attendance, doctors certificates were required from non-attendees, and to encourage our participation the club had decided to pay entry fees – but Blackheath had also invited Striders of Croydon, Petts Wood and Bromley Vets to join the fun.

The course was the same as previous years apart from, pushing the start back a few metres and then going to the right (instead of left) of a group of bushes thirty metres later. The net result was the same length. I’ve described the course in my posts on the race in 2014 and 2015, so I won’t duplicate it here. The snow made for a slightly more circumspect descent of the hill just after Layham’s Farm though; and there was perhaps slightly more mud than last year – particularly in the closing stages across the common.

image

There were the traditional obstacles on the course – stiles, the waits early on we’re a little longer as there were more of us; horses – there were a lot loose in a field early on and some of the quicker runners had to wait for the harasse of horses (other collective nouns are available) to canter to safety; and on the part of the course that edges New Addington, the lack of horse power of a small burned-out motorcycle.

image

One of things I love about cross country is the camaraderie, in the second half of the race I ran with a woman from Striders of Croydon, she had run in the Surrey League yesterday – we chatted, we swapped places a few times but she was stronger in the end. She was probably spurred on by the encouragement shouted out by Simon, 50 metres from the line, suggesting that I should be able to pass her. Quite rightly, she was having none of that, and all I could muster was a burst fast enough to protect my place from the runner behind me, whose footfall I could clearly hear.

We hugged at the end, thanking each other for encouraging each other round, comparing notes on broken bones and recovery, obviously my broken neck from almost a year ago top-trumped her broken ankle of seven months ago.

My time was about a minute slower than last year, but around half of that was the waits at stiles as there were a lot more runners. I beat a number of Beckenham runners I expected to finish behind which was pleasing.  All in all, it felt like progress – a 10k before Christmas had seen me over 2 minutes down on 12 months before.

image

At the time of writing the result of the mob match is still unclear, Blackheath and Bromley seem to have had a few technical problems with the results, so Beckenham will probably have to wait until tomorrow to find out whether we have gained our first victory in the match.

 

Mud, Pylons & Speed Limits – Cross Country at Brands Hatch

No, I’ve not started Formula 3, Superbike or Truck Racing. When it was announced that the Kent Cross Country Championships would be held at Brands Hatch it was a race that I couldn’t resist, obviously it isn’t the same circuit as was used for the British Formula One Grand Prix until 1986, but it still had a ‘draw’.

image

 Brands Hatch developed in the 1920s initially for cycle training on farm tracks. Oddly, the first competitive race, in 1926, was not that dissimilar to today’s – a cross country race which strangely had both runners and cyclists competing over 6.4 km – around half today’s distance for the senior men. Motor cycling started in the 1930s on a slightly smaller ciruit than the current race track.

A cinder track was laid out just after WW2, initally used for motor cycle races with the first car racing in the early 1950s. To start with, this was for 500cc cars but as the decade went on more powerful cars raced at Brands Hatch and the small circuit was extended. Those early days saw the likes of Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham and Jim Clark compete.

image

The course was extended again in the early 1960s, and 1964 saw the first British Grand Prix there – something that continued until 1986, sharing them with Silverstone . However, the sport’s governing body, FISA, wanted long term contracts and the space to expand facilities; Brands Hatch lost out to Silverstone. Motor racing still continues at the ciruit with race meetings of some form most weekendsimage

Niki Lauda in the 1976 Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, Wikimedia Commons

The heavy rain of the last few days had actually put the Championships at risk during the week but the races went ahead. By the time that that men’s race started, there had been heavy rain for an hour or so, and the junior races had cut up the surface which was ankle deep in in almost liquid mud for probably half of the course.

image

The course was four laps – flat around the start and finish, a gentle slope down, then the height lost and a bit more was re-gained, then partially lost, and after a sharp, treacherous turn by a pylon it was a wide muddy track, its breadth growing every lap, back to the start.

image

My own race was a bit of a slog, I know my place now in cross country and always start at the back of the field, it was still raining and the first lap was just about avoiding mishaps in the more crowded conditions and looking for the best route through the sodden, slippery surface for subsequent laps.

Towards the end of the second lap I started to be passed by the leading runners who made the conditions look easy – some just powering through the mud, others serenely gliding over the surface – both equally effective; I suspect I just looked as though I was wading.

My average heart rate was several beats below normal for races, and it suggested that I could have put a bit more effort in – my legs thought otherwise; the last half a mile were a real struggle, I lost touch with the bloke from Istead and Ifield I had spent much of the third lap running with, and in the final run into the line I was passed by a couple of Dartford Road Runners and in the final few metres fellow running blogger, Neil from Go-Feet Blog, I tried to find a bit of pace to make up the lost place – but to no avail.

I finished in 1:03:17 for the 7.6 miles and came in 166th from 186, 4th V55 though – it’s a young man’s sport. I was the 4th Beckenham man home, and ‘helped’ us to 11th out of 11 in the team competition – some considerable distance off 10th place.  Twelve months ago, I would have been hoping to finish in under an hour, in 2016, I am happy to have made it to the start line, happy to get round in one piece and happy to be able to run that far.

And finally….there were some slightly surprising speed limits around Brands Hatch …

image

Almost Perfect Cross Country …

It was almost proper cross country conditions for the third outing in the Kent Cross Country league at Sparrows Den in Hayes on the southern edge of Bromley. There was a strong, blustery wind and very damp conditions underfoot, the rain held off during the race but, sadly, temperatures were nowhere near freezing.image

The course is three laps of around 3000 metres plus a flat 300 metres there and back over some incredibly muddy mole hills – I dread to think of the purgatory for the moles digging through the sodden ground to create them. The main part of the course is an initially rising path alongside playing fields followed by a sharp, slippery descent then continuing along the edge of the rugby pitches. The route then enters some ancient woodland – Spring Park. It’s name comes from water sources rather than the season – The Beck, one of the arms of the River Pool, a tributary of the Ravensbourne has its source in the woods. The paths are unsurprisingly soggy as a result. A couple of winters ago the water table got so high that the playing fields became a lake for a month or two. There is a steep escarpment running through the woods, the race organisers have found the toughest ascent (around 35 metres) and a slightly more benign descent through the trees. All this is repeated twice more.

A weekend ago, I had thought that I wasn’t going to make it. My back, which I have had serious problems with post accident had improved considerably, so much so that I had done some heavy duty gardening during the week before. I hadn’t bargained for it straining again on a much less strenuous activity – plumping up a cushion…. Lots of icing, rest (from running at least) and stretching got me back on track though and I was feeling no aftereffects yesterday.

My race was seemed a bit of a struggle though, particularly the final ascent through the woods when I almost ran myself to a standstill – I might have been quicker walking. It certainly wasn’t the just over 10k advertised, but I suspect that it was more than the 5.5 miles my GPS suggested; my 47:10 (164th from around 190) was about 3 minutes slower than when I ran almost the same course in 2011. The slower time is not surprising, the conditions were a bit tougher, but my body has been through a lot this year and the ageing process sadly continues unabated. I will get a better idea of where my fitness really is in early December as I am planning to run a 10k on a course I have run before in Gravesend.