Tag Archives: Mornington Chasers

Competition in a small running club

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If it is summer, it must be the new racing season. For me, as I’ve explained before, that means the Summer League; a contest between six or seven London running clubs, taking in a 5 mile or 10k race followed by various 400 metre relays. There are also “tenderfoot” races, 1 mile for the 7-18s, and a 400 metre race for children under 7. Add in the involvement of all ages (participants include people running in all age categories up to “s75”), a free picnic, and you have a thoroughly enjoyable day.

My left-wing friends have been discussing whether should we be opposed to all competition. The idea we have are revolting against, I suppose, is the red-tops’ cliche about how primary school sport is organised by “militants” from the “Marxist-led NUT trade union”, i.e. in mythically grim occasions in which anyone who should win one particular race is sent to Coventry to their teachers and penalised by being sent to the very back for the start of the next race. (Whenever someone tells me that this is how the left “does” sport, I’m reminded always of how assiduous the Tories have been at compelling schools to sell of their sports grounds…). Against the myth of compulsory egalitarianism, I’ve heard it suggested (and I think agree) that there should be a space for socialist competition, i.e. teams competing against each other in a more playful spirit, where the purpose of the competition is to maximise dynamics of solidarity and people compete against themselves as much as they do against anyone else. My friend Josh Clarke tells me that this is true of Rugby Union. Clubs play each other but the rivalries are complex and different teams’ supporters drink together. The negative image here is football, and the glee with which (for example) many Celtic fans welcomed the near destruction last year of their great rivals Rangers.

Josh suggests (and I think I agree) that this is a peculiarly self-defeating way of being. Sport, unlike politics, is made more interesting by rivalry. The logic of the competition dictates a certain sympathy for the people you are competing against. Should they be obliterated altogether, that doesn’t leave your team standing solo, “the winner” for all time. It just means that the particular sporting contest in which you have been involved is finished, and no-one can derive any pleasure from it any more.

Now that I’m over 40, my running ambitions have changed. At the moment, I’m running relatively well, by which I mean that I haven’t had an acute injury (i.e. something that disables me from running for more than three weeks) for more than two months. After a winter which was a complete write-off, that’s a victory of sorts. But instead of intense injuries, I seem to be suffering from fewer, more chronic injuries. Every time I run my calves and achilles tendons are sore, typically it takes me between 5 and ten days before I feel capable of running again. I find myself reading websites aimed at people running in their 40s. Much of their advice is relatively generic: hydrate, improve your diet … I see suggestions that I should not train more often than four times per week – in truth, I seem to be maintaining speed with only 1-2 runs a week (I find this both encouraging and troubling).

Racing in the Summer Leagues, I find myself conserving energy for the relays at the end. My best pace for 10k ought to be about 50 minutes or so (last year, I ran it in a best of 51:30). Earlier this summer, I ran a 10k in 63 minutes. This is a slower pace even than my slowest in a marathon. (it brought me home 17 seconds behind runners thirty years my senior). But by conserving energy I seem to leave something behind for the sprints. The image at the top shows me racing an anchor leg in the 400 metre relay. I felt fastaround 70 seconds pace, and quicker than anything I’ve run on the track in quite a while.

The most successful Renton in the summer league is my youngest son, the reigning Summer League age 13 champion from 2012 in the 1 mile category. His triumph appears to have been assisted by a transcription error. When he ran the race last year he was not aged 13 but only 3. Someone misread “y3” as “year 3 of secondary school” (i.e. 13 years old) instead of “years: 3”, which is what we had intended. Of course, if there had been an under-4 age category he would have won that fair and square. His brother also ran the same race, his face turning back every 5 metres to make sure that the younger boy did not catch him.

Our club, the Mornington Chasers, were recently featured on the Running Stories blog, where we are described as “relatively small compared to other London clubs, with a modest 260 members, but the advantage of our small size is that we get to know each other well”. That’s my sense too as a relatively new member (about 13 months in the club). In a smaller club, it’s easier to get to know people, to find people who run at a similar pace, to “drop in” to a training programme that suits. Even just running as occasionally with the Chasers as my injuries allow, I have found it easy to join in, to meet people, to benefit from that running dynamic where sometimes I am the one who encourages others to keep going, and sometimes others support me.

The Chasers’ rivals in the summer leagues include the Serpentine Running Club (red vests with orange hoops in picture above) who with over 2000 members boast that they are “possibly the largest running and triathlon club in Britain”. It is a small point of pride to note that the Serpies rarely do well in the Summer League, compared to the Chasers (green orange and white vests), who seem to end most matches in either first or second. I do not pretend to have an adequate explanation of the Serpies’ relative failure. But in a format that rewards participation by the largest number of people, of as many different ages as possible, my “hunch” is that they just don’t have enough young and old runners, enough people running second- and third-string relays, enough people running as a team.

They are not the Chasers’ only rivals. In the relays, i.e. the 400 metre sprints, the usual winners are the Ealing Eagles (white vests with a black trim), who almost always seem to do best in the men’s races in particular. Malicious gossips suggest that they (gasp) …  train for the races. The Chasers’ refusal to do this , to select within our club our fastest six runners, to practise handovers; all of these are signs of what I like about club running. We compete, we refuse to be competitive. We run together. We cheer each other on. No money ever changes hands. If a  neoliberal should watch our sporting competition they would grumble that we barely seem to have grasped the point of competition at all.

The mile: a twenty-year PB

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Monday’s wonderfully-titled Self-Transcendence 3 x 1 Mile relay was organised by the Sri Chimnoy running club in Battersea Park.

Sri Chimnoy himself was that familiar type, a spiritual leader from India who travelled to the West. But whereas others of that ilk played the sitar, collected Rolls Royces by the dozen, etc, Chimnoy devoted himself to the nobler task of transcending his ego through running: managing for example 7 marathons and 2 ultra-marathons at age 48. (The only person I know who tops that was Jimmy Saville, with his 200 marathons in 30 years, maybe he too should have offered his services as a religious guru…)

Anyway, the route is an 800 metres-out and a 800 metres-back, run along the long straight road at the south end of Battersea Park guarded by plane tress.

It’s August now and the nights are already longer than they were and the evenings shorter. The race began at 7, ending thirty minutes later in the approaching dusk. There was even time for a sudden, passing shower.

I was lucky to be running with John and Alice, two fellow Mornington Chasers, for a team we named “Mornington Chasers Red”. Other Chasers included a men’s group led off by Ian Gordon, our sub-2:15 half-miler, their team finishing fifth in the men’s relay, and a women’s Chasers over-50s team who beat not just all the other women, but also all the men in their age group.

John led us off in 5:14, with Alice running her mile in just a fraction over 7 minutes. John’s face at the end was a study in determination (it reminded me of a story told about Steve Prefontaine, that he knew he wasn’t the fastest runner on the track, but he also knew that there wasn’t another runner in the world who could bear pain better than he could).

By the time I began I was about 50 metres behind the next runner, and I settled into a pace which was intended to shield the calf injury I’ve been feeling – off and on – all summer. A runner in his twenties overtook me at about 200 metres, and for the next kilometre I settled into his pace, leaving him to pull me round the course.

A quick look at my watch at the halfway point showed that I ran the first 800 metres in about 3:10.

Through the return half my calf was horribly sore, but I comforted myself with the words John had spoken to me – not altogether seriously – before I started. “This time, David”, he said (two of my last runs having ended Did No Finish), “you’d better not stop, even if you’re injured.”

At around a kilometre, I seemed to overtake around a dozen runners.

And then with about 200 metres to go, I was passed by a runner in a white vest. Furious, I kicked back at him, allowing my stride to lengthen (probably too long) and letting my feet race towards the end. He finished three metres ahead of me.

I ran 5:52 for my mile leg; which translates to a 66.61% age related time. Just to give you a sense of how fast this is – for me – it narrowly beats any race I’ve run over the past 10 years, at any of the recorded distances I’ve run from 5k to a marathon.

Not having run a timed mile since my teens, I declare it a 20-year pb.

Did I transcend myself? I don’t know; right now, I feel sore but happy.

Running with the Mornington Chasers

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Last Sunday, I ran a 10k as part of London’s Summer League. The League is competition of five races between June and August at parks around London. It is a club competition, so not something you can just attend as a “runner off the street”. The clubs taking part in the league are Dulwich Park Runners, Metros, Ealing, Southall and Middlesex, Mornington Chasers, Serpentine RC, Sudbury Court, Ealing Eagles and Queens Park Harriers.

The day begins with 5 mile or 10km race which covers all standards and is based at a park local to the hosting club. On Sunday, we were running in, or more accurately, on the pavements around Dulwich Park. Following the main event there is a shorter ‘tenderfoot’ (1.5-2km) race for children. Finally there is a series of age graded, 300-400m relays. I enjoyed the 10k quite as much as any race I’ve done since I began running again just over a year ago. I began very slowly, and eventually teamed up with a runner from the Mornington Chasers, who led me round the course until there was only about 2k to go, when I was able to increase my pace a little.

The race was in three laps and my splits of 19, 18 and 14 minutes give you an indication both of the general standard (9-10 minute per mile pace perfectly allowed at one end, with other runners completing the 10k in not much over 30 minutes), and my own improving fitness on recovering from what has been a debilitating achilles injury.

I watched the tenderfoot races and enjoyed meeting a number of running families, with up to 4 children running the 1.5k (as well as parents running the 10k). By the time you get much above age 7, the standard seemed high. I would love it if my own boys wanted to join in.

I then ran the second leg of the Chasers’ men’s B relay, which is the first time in more than 20 years I’ve run 400 metres (actually, I think it was more like 300 metres, but who’s counting?). The sprints are on grass, I wasn’t wearing spikes, and the adrenaline was pumping much faster than I could use it. I found myself running almost comically – super-fast with my legs and super-slow with my feet. As another runner asked, “Who’s Hamster Legs?” To try and speed up I found myself having to force my legs to go slower, if that makes sense. Silly as it must have looked, I enjoyed myself enormously.

Eagle-eyed readers of this blog will have noticed that I am also a member of the Serpentine Running Club. I wanted to run with the Chasers because they’re a smaller group (so it’s much easier to meet other runners), because two friends of mine are Chasers regulars, and because they have a reputation as a friendly and welcoming club.

Many thanks to everyone I met (including the Chaser who let me borrow his spare club top) for making me feel at home. The remaining races in the Summer League are as follows:

24th June Headstone Manor Rec
8th July Perivale Park
22nd July Regents Park
26th August, Battersea Park