Category Archives: Running

Low Tide on the Thames 2 – Thamesmead and Erith

A couple of weeks ago I ran upstream from the Thames Barrier to Greenwich along the river at low tide, stopping at several old wharfs along the way.  A consultation of tide tables this week suggested that I would find similar conditions this week.

Rather than repeating the route, I headed in the opposite direction, starting my run at the eastern edge of Woolwich Arsenal and heading downstream – my original aim was to run to the River Darenth, the boundary between London and Kent, but the twists and turns of the Thames Path meant that the edge of Erith was my limit before retracing my steps.

The early morning light over one of the abandoned jetties saw Canary Wharf bathed in bright sun. A heron waited patiently at margins of the glutenous mud and the shallow water for the movement of fish.  A little further downstream the blue of a kingfisher darted out of one of the many drainage channels bringing water away from the former marshes of Thamesmead, its task, as it glinted and glided over the surface, the same as that of the heron.

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The ‘light’ at Tripcock Ness (so named as vessels were not allowed to carry their anchor ‘cock-billed’) was ‘lit’ in the early morning sun, and a wall from the former Arsenal provided a pleasant foreground for a small area of remaining marshland on the north bank – apart from the pylons, little will have changed in the view in a century.

imageAfter passing a driving range abandoned by golfers, but taken over by horses,  the odour changed a little – first was Joseph Bazelgette’s ‘Cathedral on the Marsh’ – Crossness, a former steam driven sewage pumping  station.  Next door is its modern counterpart – with warnings of explosions – and a little further downstream Thames Water’s sludge power generator which uses sewage flakes as its fuel. Oddly, the ‘flakes’ come from Slough rather than next door.

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On the north bank, opposite Crossness, is Ford’s Dagenham plant, once home to the Cortina, the Sierra and the Fiesta but now just an engine plant.  On the south bank jetties and industry start to re-appear – a mixture of abandoned and working  – and the river bank is used for light industry, how it used to be upstream, before the housing took over.

My target mileage for the run was 11 miles, and the ‘out and back’ route along the river made distance easy to judge – the turning point was the on edge of Erith, with the sun glinting off the river and the heavy traffic heading southwards on the QE2 bridge in the distance.

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Low Tide on the Thames

My expectations for my long run on Wednesday had been limited, the forecast the previous evening had been for torrential rain all day, but as I set out early there was only a hint of drizzle in the breeze.

By the time I had reached the Thames, the weather seemed a little more optimistic, a half hearted attempt at a rainbow appeared over the gritting depot by the Thames Barrier but it failed to crest the Dome, re-emerging as a little more than a smudged spectrum in Newham. It didn’t last long though as the sun submerged into the gloom of the early morning.

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It was low tide with large expanses of mud, pebbles and lot of debris washed up by the river from tyres to footballs and, of course, the regulation shopping trolley or two. It was the old jetties that interested me – they always do – as I headed upstream towards Greenwich.

I stopped at Anchor and Hope Wharf, there is a wrecked boat there at the foot of the jetty which is only visible at around low water and plenty of other decaying debris from other broken up boats.

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The top of the old Blackwall Peninsula, now known as North Greenwich, sees lots of sand deposited as the Thames meanders through the eastern side of the city. At low tide it is a haven for gulls and wildfowl, with large numbers of cormorants there as I passed.

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I stopped again at Enderby’s Wharf, formerly home to the cable industry but the river side deserted although it will soon be the outlook for expensive new homes.

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Finally, before I turned for home I passed the remains of Tudor Greenwich, the jetty for the former Royal Palace visible in the mud.

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As for the run, it was about 10 and a half miles, my longest since my accident, which was good and the rain held off until I reached home.

A Race of Two Hemispheres

The last Assembly League race of the year is always a marker of change – the end of the summer, a bit like the last Test at the Oval used to be. For me though, this week’s race was a different sort of milestone – my first race post almost life-ending accident.

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Not only was it my first race back, it was my first trip back to the Beckenham Cricket Club, the home of my running club, a place I had avoided quite deliberately. I knew that I staying positive and focussing on the things I was able to do was key to my recovery and the running club would just make me remember the things I couldn’t do.

It all got a bit emotional as I picked up my number, so I escaped to the outfield and warmed up in the gloom for a lot longer than I needed, trying not to be spotted by people I knew. My HRM knew something was amiss – my heart was pounding at a rate that I would expect when doing 400 metre ‘intervals’; it took an age to calm down – I jogged nearly as far on laps around the boundary as I was about to race.

The three miles of the race skirt around the eastern edge of Beckenham Place Park, with a tough hill to start with, and then ends in front of the decaying ‘Place’ at the top of the same ridge.

I wasn’t sure how my body would react to racing, so I deliberately started at the back of the pack, right at the back, but within a few metres I was in race mode, albeit rather slower than 9 months ago, and gradually passing a few runners.

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By the time I was over the first hill and crossing the prime meridian into the eastern hemisphere I was into a rhythm, although I was a little wary as I bisected it again as I was crossing Calmont Road (I am still very circumspect traversing tarmac).

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I had left something in the tank for the final mile from the former Garden Gate pub, now a McDonalds Drive-Thru’, and was able to pass a few runners although that last hill seemed to go on for ever as a gloomy dusk descended.

I was exhausted; the time, pace and position weren’t great (23:18, 7:52, 205/238) but that didn’t matter at all, I was elated – I was racing again and my body coped with what I had put it through. A fellow club member joked that I would be running a sub 40 minute 10k by Christmas, I somehow doubt that, I haven’t run one of those since 2007, but maybe I will be at least able to race that far by then.

I jogged back to the cricket club with a friend I hadn’t seen for a while – we shared our 2015s – neither had been great, her partner is seriously ill. We hugged by the clubhouse, my life is getting much better, her’s really isn’t.

I stayed under the dark Satanic skies and warmed down with some more laps of the cricket pitch outfield, I needed to get my emotions under control before I headed home. I called it a day as the rain that had been threatening for three hours finally started.

The Road to La Cruz

There are some days where things just suddenly seem to unexpectedly fall into place – successfully running up La Cruz de Benidorm earlier in the week was one of those and proved to myself that I had almost recovered from my accident.

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I’m not sure exactly how high the peak is, although the colour coding on one blurry on-line map suggested just over 250 metres (around 800 feet for non-metric readers). The climb is around 2700 metres long, so has an average gradient of around 9% but in several places were probably double that.

What made it harder was the heat – I saw a thermometer on the side of a building on my run down to the sea front which suggested 34°C in the shade, but there was no shade on the winding road up to La Cruz.

The views from the top and from the route up were impressive both over Benidorm (which was much more pleasant than I had expected) as well as over the Parque Natural de Serra Gelada, which La Cruz is on the edge of.

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I didn’t even intend to run up there that evening – I had done a hilly fartlek session the day before along a lower road out to a ruined fortification – my plan was just to get away from the crowds on the promenade and check the lower parts of the route as preparation for a run another evening and just do a ‘recovery run’. But the early stages were quite steep and having invested a lot of energy into getting up them it seemed silly to waste that effort.

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I wouldn’t have even thought about doing a run like this two or three weeks ago, but the strength in my legs has improved a lot after a focus for a few weeks on intervals and tempo runs which didn’t lead to any adverse reactions in my back. For the first time since 20 January, I am convinced that getting back virtually all of the fitness that I had before that fateful morning is something that I am actually going to achieve rather than something that I am aspiring towards.

 

A Spring in my Step

The skies were leaden with nimbostratus clouds as I left home and the brisk westerly wind thinned and thickened the cloud to change the colours from charcoal to light aluminium and back to battleship as I followed a fairly standard route from my repertoire – a loop edging the Heath, passing Charlton House before dropping down through Maryon Wilson Park to the Thames Barrier, following the River and then heading home back up the escarpment through Westcombe Park.

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It was just over six months since I had run the route, the sky had been almost azure that morning and the colours intense in the winter sun – the two pictures of Angerstein Wharf tell a tale.

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Today was an important milestone though, it was the first time post-accident that I had ventured more than a couple of miles away from home or from my car.  The pace for the 8.2 miles may have been slower than last time – 3.4 times faster than a British spring (around 9:15 pace), compared with a pre-accident speed of 3.8 times faster (8:15 pace).  The speed will come back eventually though – today was just about getting back to normal.

 

Five Months On

It’s five months since my life was re-arranged by a Fiat Punto, while it is getting back towards normal, but is still some distance off, but still infinitely better than it might have been.

Life rather feels dominated by rehab work – near weekly trips to the physio and at least an hour a day of strengthening exercises and stretches, there is no alternative though – if I want to regain full fitness and range of movement I have to do them, and slowly, very slowly I am improving.

Running is still hard work, after three months of a relatively sedentary lifestyle my leg muscles had largely forgotten about the faster forms of pedestrianism and they grumble about every run when I start. But the running is progressing – I am coping with ‘faster’ sessions again – this week’s was a mile at just under 8 minute mile pace. At full fitness that would be around 6 to 6:15 pace, but it is real progress.

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The distances I run are increasing – my long run is now over 5 miles and will hopefully get up to around 10k this week. Hills are becoming bearable – I toiled up to the top of Crystal Palace on Friday, but it was easier than Greenwich Park 10 days before. The views from the decaying remains of the burnt out Palace were surprisingly clear, the Sphinx on the way down always seems a mixture of slightly surreal and delightfully familiar, a trip to the Park isn’t the same without seeing one of them, and a little further down the hill, but no less surreal are the rotting remains of the 1970s Concert Bowl, once a stage for the likes of the Beach Boys, Lou Reed and Eric Clapton but now dangerous and unable to be used.

And finally ….. ‘grazing’ in the dappled shade, I spotted another Lewisham Natureman stag escaped from its home borough, outside the former entrance to Thomas Tallis School in Kidbrooke.
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Statues, Skeletons, Salters and an Empty Seat

Since my serious accident in January my running has been, initially non-existent and now a little hit and miss as my soft tissues attempt to remember what they used to do before a Fiat Punto re-arranged my life.
My first run back was far too optimistic and ended with being almost confined to bed with back pain.  A lot of physio and some gradual building up from just over a kilometre to around 5k now had gone well, but my left calf wasn’t convinced by my first fairly gentle ‘speed’ (3 x 400 metres @ 7:15) session on Blackheath during the week and tightened up.  I guess I need to be a bit more patient in building up my speed.
I have been continuing to revisit some of my running routes along the Thames by a slower form of pedestrianism – walking.  A couple of weekends ago it was downstream from Woolwich – starting at the Arsenal by Peter Burke’s ‘Assembly‘.  Each of the figures is three out of the possible four assembled mould sections of a body cast ‘allowing the viewer visual entry and an opportunity to perceive it from the outside in, as if casting ones own body’.
 Further on there were a series of rusting steel carcasses in the sand and mud of low tide along with almost forgotten wooden skeletons rising out of the water.


Today’s walk was a partial repeat of a run that I posted about over a year ago, albeit in the opposite direction.  We started close the the the now piped outfall of Earl’s Sluice, part of the water comes from the River Peck and its springs high up on One Tree Hill.  It used to the boundary of Kent and Surrey, as well as the boundary between St Paul, Deptford, and St Mary, Rotherhithe, as the (slightly moved) stone indicates.


St Mary’s Churchyard in Rotherhithe, once had to have a watch house to prevent body snatchers, and adjacent to there was a Free School, endowed in the early 17th century.

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On Bermondsey Wall though, was a sight that gave me enormous pleasure – the return of Alfred Salter.  His bronze statue had been stolen, presumably by scrap metal thieves a few years ago – last time I passed in early 2014 there was just a space on a bench, but since November there has been a recast statue of Alfred, the restored statues of his daughter Joyce and his cat returned.  Importantly, there was an addition, Ada Salter, her work was important in its own right and there is a real dearth of statues of women in London – Ada was the 15th.


Before heading back for the bus home, we wandered a little further upstream to, perhaps, my favourite view of the Thames, looking towards Tower Bridge and the City with the houseboats of Shad Thames in the foreground.

Yesterday was the end of my team’s football season – after a terrible start, it turned into one of our best ever.  It is emotional business being a football fan and this season I have shared the emotional roller-coaster with the woman who sat to my left.  We both come from northern towns and have adopted the red and blue stripes of Crystal Palace and we have also shared our life threatening health battles since January, mine an accident, her’s an aggressive cancer. Sadly, seat 163 was empty yesterday, Rita had passed away on 17 May.

Rita McGuinness 1958 - 2015 RIP

Rita McGuinness 1958 – 2015 RIP

A View From Mile 8

The 2015 London Marathon was oddly emotional for me – which caught me slightly unawares.  After being rejected in the ballot, I had decided to try the inaugural Ashford & District Marathon instead, but a serious, potentially life-threatening accident in January put pay to that.

The family watching place for the marathon is one of the quieter places on the course, close to the mile 8 marker in Deptford – as the road falls away slightly past the now redundant bridge over the former Grand Surrey Canal at what was Victoria Wharf.  I have watched or run every year but one for the best part of 20 years.

The early BBC pre-race coverage, with its reporting of Paula Radcliffe’s last competitive race, had already brought a tear to my eye.  We got to our vantage point around 5 minutes or so before the leading men, with nine in a group including the pre-race favourites – last year’s winner and course record holder, Wilson Kipsang, and world record holder Dennis Kimetto (who we have covered before on the blog) along with the eventual winner – Eliud Kipchoge.

  

 

A little bit further back was a group containing the evergreen  Serhiy Lebid, who was European Cross Country Champion a staggering 9 times, with lower places on the podium on a further three ocassions.  A minute or so back was a small group with the top British marathon runner Scott Overall.

  

The biggest cheer was for Paula though – like knowing that Mo Farrah was coming from a ‘Mexican wave of cheering’ when I was running along The Highway last year, this year there was a crescendo of noise as she approached us.  While she had been telling anyone who would listen that she was just there to enjoy herself and savour the atmosphere, the competitor in her wouldn’t allow to plod around like mere mortals – there was no way she was going to be anything other than first woman in the non-elite race.  She was only just behind top local runners John Gilbert from Kent AC and Dean Lacy from Cambridge Harriers as she passed.

My tear ducts opened as she passed and I was unable to cheer and encourage anyone for a few minutes, but it soon passed and I was back to my usual foghorn levels of encouragement – I managed to give myself a sore throat and ringing in the ears….

I saw a fair number of runners I knew in the crowded masses – including Beckenham’s Jim Addison who was  36th MV40 in 2:38, Clare Elms – 1st FV50 in 2:55, my old friend Dennis Williams, along with, I think, fellow blogger Neil from Go Feet blog – looking very relaxed with 18 miles to go.

Hopefully, I will get a place again for 2016, but I may be back at the same spot next year, without a place but encouraging other runners.  But seeing nearly 38,000 others on their feet inspired me so much to slowly build my recovery and running fitness and get my body back to the shape it was in January so I could run the distance again, in a time I would be happy with.

Since my first run a couple of weeks ago, there have been a few setbacks – the run found an area that had become weakened by the long lay-off, my lower back, and I could barely move the next day.  But some physio and a lot of strengthening and stretching has allowed me to re-start with more modest jogs of a mile or so and these have been just about pain free – three months after a serious accident and operation, it seems like progress.

An Important Milestone …..

Since being hit by a car on a pedestrian crossing in January, there have been a number of important milestones that have been passed on the road to recovery – getting the cracked vertebra in my neck fixed was the first, followed rapidly by going home from hospital, then getting out of home and walking, getting off pain killers, going on a bus, seeing my football (soccer for you North Americans) team play, going back to work was psychologically really important and very emotional, and the most recent was driving again a couple of weeks ago.

Today saw another one, perhaps the last significant one – running.  So it seemed appropriate that the run should include a physical as well as a psychological milestone – on Blackheath marking the distances on the pre-motorway A2.  

It will be a while before I will be ready for either of those distances, although I was utterly delighted with a fraction over 5k this morning – the first mile or so went by in a blur, mainly caused by tears causing my sunglasses to steam up.  But once I got over the emotions, I just concentrated on gait and stride length – it felt wonderful.  The time was slow but that didn’t matter, the important thing was that my neck felt fine and I was running again.  There are a few aches and pains elsewhere in bits of my body that haven’t seen much stretching or exercise in my focus to get my neck working again – but those will will heal quickly and I will be back out again in a few days. 

Reflections on the Rivers Ravensbourne & Pool

As I recover from an accident, I am still a while off running but my urban wanderings always seem to draw me back to my regular running routes.  

This week my still (slightly) short days at work have left me with time to follow the Rivers Pool and Ravensbourne from Sydenham back towards Lewisham.  It seemed slightly odd not running, but it gave a rather different perspective.  

Monday’s leaden skies saw me focus on the both the mural under the bridge near Bell Green – which was painted a couple of years ago, but I have never stopped and looked at – plus the more industrial and metallic elements of the route.  





Friday morning should have seen a partial eclipse and, given the juxtaposition of it with the vernal equinox, meteor showers and the aurora borealis being visible in parts of Britain, it would have had our ancestors heading for the henges and hills.  Sadly it was just 50 shades of grey in London (photo by @weareblackheath).  



The afternoon though was almost perfect spring weather – clear, mild and sunny.  I niddle-noddled along paths alongside the river, which I don’t usually use – tending to stick to the smooth tarmac – to save time on my run to work and to make intervals or tempo runs safer on the run home; it made a wonderful change.



I also spotted several reflections, which at a faster pace I would have undoubtedly missed.



Any wanderings of a fluvial flâneur would not be complete without the sight of a semi-submerged, upturned shopping trolley, one was spotted in the reflection of the Riverside Building of Lewisham Hospital – an odd cocktail of drugs on a past stay there left me convinced of the presence of dayglo squirrels in the adjacent Ladywell Fields. 



Sadly only grey squirrels were visible this week, and alongside the rivers a green woodpecker, a heron and the iridescent blur of a kingfisher was seen a couple of times.  It was two spottings of different wildlife that oddly pleased me more – Lewisham Natureman stags – one by the Ravensbourne under the road bridge in Catford, the other shyly hiding in the corner of the former Ladywell Leisure Centre site as I went from the Ravensbourne to the Quaggy catchment.