Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Nudists, Emus, Elephants and Other Runners in the News!

RUNNING is a more newsworthy activity than you might think.

This week I dug out my little reporter’s notebook, brushed up on my Pitman shorthand, and sniffed out some true stories involving runners, all of which hit the news in this one average week of December. 

So, in time-honoured ITV style, here's today’s ‘Running News at Ten’:

Nude runner wins appeal as judge rejects claims of ‘penile terrorism’!
Emu volunteers to be a runner’s new training partner!
Running in towns makes you stupid, says bonkers Daily Mail story!
Policeman runner makes an arrest during training session!
Marathon girl Morag gives lung cancer a run for its money!
Drunken elephants go for a quick run in Siberia!
Meet the man who’s a cross between Bear Grylls and Forrest Gump!
Essex girl’s hamstrings are refusing to talk to her!

Good evening everyone……………

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND: The right to go running in the nude has been upheld by a New Zealand court. Andrew Pointon was wearing only shoes on an early morning run in a forest when spotted by a woman walking her dog. She called police and Pointon was convicted of offensive behavior. He lodged an appeal, claiming: “If it was offensive, God wouldn't have given us genitals.” He said women were allowed to ride naked in a busy town during the recent ‘Boobs on Bikes’ event, but he’d been nabbed while naked in a remote area. The High Court judge sympathised and quashed his conviction. 

VIRGINIA, USA: A runner got more than he bargained for when setting off last week for a leisurely few miles in a quiet neighbourhood of Virginia Beach.  After a couple of miles he was suddenly joined by an emu, which ran happily alongside. The worried runner kept quiet and kept going, but passers-by became alarmed and called police. Animal control officers were called in and revealed that the emu was the pet of a local person and had drifted away from its home.

LONDON, UK:  Running in towns can make you go senile, according to university research highlighted in the Daily Mail. Studies showed people who exercise in urban areas have higher levels of mental decline and inflammation in their brains. Traffic pollution could significantly age the brains of over-50s. We must therefore conclude that running in towns can make you stupid - especially if you’re a Daily Mail reader!

GEORGIA, USA: The City of Dalton's Chief of Police Jason Parker set off for an enjoyable steady run recently, but it turned into an unplanned speed session when he found himself chasing a suspect. Chief Parker saw a man acting suspiciously and carrying items away from a residential premises. As he approached, the suspect began running, and when Parker shouted that he was a police officer, the man picked up the pace. It turned into quite a race, but eventually the officer’s fitness from regular running won the day. Fair cop, guv.

EAST SUSSEX, UK:  Last Christmas, Morag Murray was told she had lung cancer and 40% of her right lung had to be removed. A year later she is raising a glass with clubmates at Hastings Runners Club to toast many miles run and charity pounds raised since her major surgery. The 54-year-old was back up and running within months, completing the Hastings Half-Marathon. a 50-mile bike ride in Liverpool, traversing the three highest peaks in Yorkshire and the Great North Run. She puts her recovery down to the basic fitness achieved from her years of marathon running.

SIBERIA, RUSSIA:  Glugging down vast quantities of vodka and then going for a jog is not recommended procedure for serious runners, but it seems to have saved the lives of two Indian circus elephants. The truck in which they were being transported caught fire and was left stranded on a highway in the middle of freezing Siberia. Their handlers did the only thing they could think of, which was to give them two cases of vodka mixed with water and get them to run around a bit. Eventually help arrived and all have now arrived safely at their Omsk destination.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA:  These days your Clapped-Out Runner rarely runs for longer than 60 minutes – but Aussie Richard Bowles this week got back from a run lasting 60 days! Bowles became the first person to run the 3,054-kilometre Te Araroa Trail, which spans the entire length of New Zealand. It was no flash in the pan either, for earlier this year he was first to run the world’s longest marked trail, the rugged National Trail of Australia. The equivalent of 127 marathons, it took him 23 weeks.

And finally…………

ESSEX, UK: “My hamstrings are not speaking to me,” was the verdict of Harwich Runners’ star Becky McCorquodale at the end of the Waveney Valley Turkey Trot 10-miler in Beccles last weekend. Becky is on the comeback trail after a year out with a foot injury - and although her hamstrings are in a strop, she’s pleased to be “best buddies with the foot” this week!  Becky is sometimes known by the nickname ‘TomTom’, which was given to her after she got lost during one of the most straightforward cross-country routes known to mankind (“Someone mentioned cake”, was her only excuse!). 

Rob Hadgraft’s five books on running are now also available as e-books for Kindle at just £4.99 each.   Use this link:   Rob Hadgraft's running books on Amazon
or  www.robhadgraft.com

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

My Top Ten 'Celebrity' Runners

Rocket Ronnie leads the way . . . 

EVER bumped into somebody famous when out on a run? 

Celebs often look completely different when exhausted and drenched in sweat, and therefore can pass largely unnoticed by spectators and fellow runners. For some of them, that's exactly how they like it. 

Below is my own Top Ten list of running celebrities, some of whom I’ve spotted in action, a couple I’ve even managed to overtake, and some who have probably passed me too!

1. Ronnie O’Sullivan 

The man hailed the most naturally-gifted snooker player in history admits he enjoys running more than his main sport - even though he’s been world champ five times. But Rocket Ronnie from Chigwell is no fun-runner. His victories include a five-miler in Epping and last year’s Lactic Rush adventure race. He’s also chalked up several high finishes in cross-country, including the murderous Essex championship race in Basildon, and boasts a road PB at 10k of 34:54. He gets his stamina from his Italian-born mum, who last year walked 192 miles for charity.

2. Nell McAndrew 

I’m not entirely sure why Nell (real name Tracey) is actually a celebrity. This former Leeds bank clerk looks a lot like Marilyn Monroe, so that could be something to do with it. But there’s no doubting her running ability. She’s proved her mettle over a number of years and in 2012 improved to a sensational 1:21.53 at the Bath Half-Marathon, followed by 2.54.39 at the Virgin London Marathon. There’s more to Nell than just good looks.

3. Paolo di Canio 

The mad ex-footballer doesn’t do anything by halves. After a colourful career that included knocking referees over, Paolo last year ran the Swindon Half-Marathon by mistake! The volatile Italian went along as official starter of the race and after firing the pistol headed off to join the two-mile fun-run for kids and beginners. However, after taking a wrong turn, he ended up running the entire 13.1 miles, wearing the heavy kit of Swindon Town FC, whom he now manages. Despite the cock-up, he managed an impressive 1:49 without stopping once. Two other footballers deserve recognition: Former Exeter City man Barry McConnell embarked on a charity run from John O'Groats to Lands End last year, with a fine marathon PB of 2:58 already under his belt. Sadly severe knee pain forced him to quit after 126 miles, near Inverness. Meanwhile, former Real Madrid and Barcelona star Luis Enrique – who beat the 3-hour mark at the Florence Marathon - had a successful crack at the vicious Marathon des Sables (151 miles across the desert) and is now said to be training for a 400 mile mountain bike epic.

4. Graham Gooch 

Cricket legend Goochie wins his place in my top ten – not for his batting ability or a successful hair transplant, but due to the fact that he is a ‘real’ runner. Over the years, he has quietly and without fuss entered all manner of races and fun-runs around Essex, enjoying some very respectable middle-of-the-pack performances. He’s a big bloke and perhaps not a natural distance-runner, but his attitude and work ethic couldn’t fail to impress. In his playing days he would often be seen training in Chelmsford’s Central Park, sometimes with reluctant teammates trailing behind.

5. Chris Boardman 

The best running displays by any cyclist are probably those of the disgraced Lance Armstrong (e.g. 2:46 at the New York Marathon), but in the light of recent events we can’t be sure exactly how they were achieved. Therefore, Chris Boardman MBE sails past Lance thanks largely to his splendid 3:19.27 at the 2009 London Marathon, achieved only months after he was diagnosed with osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis. It forced him out of cycling and is a condition normally afflicting middle-aged woman, but Chris tackled the problem full-on, saying: “Cycling is good for strengthening muscles, but does very little for bones. I need high-impact activity to strengthen my skeleton, so I run about 30 miles a week instead.”

6. Dr. Alan Turing 
The brainbox mathematician, celebrated as the founder of computer science and for his wartime heroics breaking the Enigma code, was also a brilliant runner. It was his escape from the stresses of work and of being gay in an era when such a thing was simply not accepted or tolerated. Turing would storm down country lanes like a rampant buffalo, eventually being enticed to join local club Walton AC soon after the war. He was ranked in Britain’s top ten and fell not far short of Olympic selection. At the 1947 AAA marathon at Loughborough he ran 2:46 to finish fifth and regularly ran six miles under 34 minutes.

7. Alastair Campbell 

The spin doctor and Burnley supporter is included to represent those politicians who take their running seriously. Although he couldn’t quite match the marathon time of 3:44.52 achieved by George Dubya Bush (Houston, 1993), Campbell gets the vote for overcoming the handicap of a body clearly not designed for distance work. He finished the 2003 London Marathon in 3:53.45 which, among other things, beats the 3:59.36 by US politician Sarah Palin at the amusingly-named Humpy’s Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska.

8. Joe Strummer 

Punk icon and main man in The Clash, Strummer could well be the unlikeliest marathon hero of our times. Back in 1982 he disappeared to Paris where he grew a beard and lived anonymously. Later, Strummer would claim he’d competed in the Paris Marathon with his girlfriend during this time (Your Clapped-Out Runner has raced in Paris and can confirm a degree of chaos and cheating is usually involved in mass participation events in this city!). Strummer said he didn’t do any training, apart from downing ten pints the night before the race and not running a single step in the four-week build-up. He urged fans not to try this method, as it would only work for him and the writer Hunter Thompson. His girlfriend came last in Paris, while Joe’s time and position remain unknown, although he would later be credited with a highly respectable 3:20 at the London Marathon of 1983 (allegedly). 

9. Hugh Laurie 

The talented and mega-rich actor wins a place in my top ten thanks mostly to the fact that I bumped into him (almost literally) when we were both on training runs in a chilly Regent’s Park a while ago. Hugh is an extremely big fellow and his progress was not quick by any stretch of the imagination. As we passed, our eyes met and he gave a weary flick of the eyebrows as if to say “Hard work isn’t it?” I thought about answering in the manner of Stephen Fry, but thankfully didn’t. Hugh has inherited stamina from a father who was a champion rower, but a speed merchant he is not. But he gets out and runs often, and told one interviewer: “I run six-to-eight miles a day, plus weights and aerobics in the lunch hour. I also lie a lot, which keeps me thin.”

10. Bjorn Ulvaeus of Abba 

Some celebs exaggerate their running exploits, some tell blatant porkies. But when Bjorn from Abba (the one with the chubby, non-bearded face) claims he did a marathon in 3:23.54 he’s not fibbing. There’s documentary and photographic evidence to prove it. Wearing headband and short dark socks, Bjorn cruised the 1980 Stockholm Marathon. Apparently he was persuaded to take part by insistent race sponsors Nike. Super Trouper indeed.

Rob Hadgraft’s five books on running are now also available as e-books for Kindle at just £4.99 each.   Use this link:   Rob Hadgraft's running books on Amazon

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Marathoners and triathletes urged to go steady!

Triathlons too wet for me, so I did the Mildenhall Duathlon instead!
IN the same week that East Anglia’s fittest woman Chrissie Wellington quit full-time sport, there was another scare story in the media about people who overdo exercise.

The two things were not related of course.  Chrissie was quitting purely to take up fresh challenges in her life, and not because she’s clapped-out from thousands of miles running and cycling. 

She announced on Monday she was retiring as a professional triathlete at the age of 35, bringing to an end an incredible career devoted entirely to the ‘Ironman’ discipline. She won Ironman world titles four times, remaining unbeaten at the distance and clocking the four fastest female times on record.  Not bad for an ordinary working-class girl who grew up in the sticks (that’s ‘boondocks’ for any American readers, and ‘Back o’Bourke’ for any Aussies).

She went to school in the unremarkable little town of Downham Market, and lived in the even less remarkable village of Feltwell.  In recent years the only time I’ve had occasion to visit those two places was in the wee small hours, towards the end of the annual Round Norfolk Relay. Being weary and irritable from lack of sleep, I barely noticed them at all, let alone looked upon them as places where an elite endurance athlete was made.

Being a bit of a ’townie’ myself, it’s tempting to suggest that growing up in a quiet place like Feltwell would be enough to prompt anyone to run/cycle as far away and as quickly as possible. But that would be out of order. I’m sure Feltwell is a very interesting place. For example, here’s an interesting fact about Feltwell:  It’s village school headmaster for 20 years was called Mr. Don Feltwell. Yes, really!

If you don’t believe me, ask Chrissie Wellington, because he used to teach her!  And Mr Feltwell had other star pupils too, including TV weatherman Jim Bacon and two members of Katrina and the Waves.  I told you Feltwell was quite interesting, didn’t I?

And there’s more. Mr Feltwell of Feltwell was a wireless operator during the Suez crisis who played football for the likes of Downham Town FC into his late 40s. And when his school opened its new swimming pool he showed he was no ordinary headmaster by leaping in fully clothed to entertain the assembled crowd.  Dull in Norfolk? You must be kidding.

But I digress.  The main topic of this week’s blog was supposed to be those scare stories mentioned earlier about the effects of intense exercise - i.e. the sort of thing Chrissie Wellington did every day until last Monday.

According to the report published by a group of cardiologists, fitness fanatics should restrict themselves to only the odd one or two marathons or full-distance triathlons in their life-time, because over-exerting the heart for years can lead to long-term damage.

They reckoned repeatedly asking the heart to pump massive volumes of blood can lead to an array of problems - overstretching the organ’s chambers, thickening of its walls and changes to electrical signalling. These could trigger dangerous rhythm problems.

Their warnings were directed at those of us who exercise hard for long periods, often repeating their training programmes over many years. They cited the example of ultra-runner Micah True, the hero of the 2009 book Born to Run by Christopher MacDougall. Micah died earlier this year in the USA aged 58, collapsing during a 12-mile run on a remote trail, his body undiscovered for several days. Micah routinely ran a marathon a day, sometimes more. An autopsy revealed heart problems, although it was not immediately clear whether this was genetic, or whether his extreme training did the damage.

The cardiologists insisted that most people should limit vigorous exercise to 30 to 50 minutes per day, only tackle the odd marathon or two, and then proceed to “safer and healthier exercise patterns.”

Many news outlets ran the story, and, predictably, it was not universally well received. Ultra-runner John Storkamp, one of my 'Facebook friends’, responded angrily:

“And what oppressive tax shall be levied on our spirit should we become stagnant and quit running out of fear? Running is one of the most natural acts most people will ever do. My dad gave me this article and said it was very interesting.  No, it’s bullshit!  Even if it were true, it’s bullshit and a waste of paper and ink. Don't they have anything better to do with their time? When the time comes, I’ll be happy to run into the woods, have a heart attack, die doing something I love and will be honored when the ravens, turkey-vultures, hawks and eagles pick my bones clean so I am reincarnated in all of nature. The other alternative is to quit running, get old and sick in a nursing home and die a long, drawn-out, painful death. ”

Basically the cardiologists want mileage freaks to become more moderate and circumspect.  But I’m sure I’m not the only ordinary club runner who has many friends and colleagues unable to stick to ‘moderate’ levels of competition and exercise. These people need new challenges and new adventures so they can stretch themselves to the limit.  Ageing and injury are just occupational hazards.

In the case of your Clapped-Out Runner, my marathon days seem to be long gone thanks to knee trouble.  Runs of around one hour – and not too many of them – are my maximum these days.

And my pitiful efforts over the years in the swimming pool have always ensured I’d never be able to complete a full triathlon. Way back in 1989 I did manage a desperate 25 metres at a pool in Stowmarket. The sheer bizarre spectacle of it stopped everyone else in their tracks and led to huge cheers when I finally smashed into the far wall. I wasn’t able to join the celebrations due to my innards being full of chlorinated water instead of oxygen. I had simply been too low in the water to breathe for the entire 25-metre journey!

My claims about having ‘heavy bones’ and ‘dense muscles’ and therefore a seriously-compromised buoyancy have always raised a laugh. But I’m sure there must be others out there who have the same genuine excuse? Aren’t there?

* Rob Hadgraft’s five books on running now also available as e-books for Kindle at just £4.99 each.  Go to:   Rob Hadgraft's running books on Amazon