Alternative Running Role Models #6 – Joe Strummer out of The Clash

20131203-231758.jpgWalking up London’s Edgware Road yesterday, I spotted that somebody had decided to name a suitably urban subway after the late, great Joe Strummer, lead singer of 1970s/80s punk icons The Clash. As my daydreaming shifted back to thoughts of what running I might be doing later that day, I suddenly remembered a story I’d otherwise forgotten. In 1982, after poor ticket sales for the band’s Combat Rock Tour, their manager hatched a plot for Joe to suddenly go missing to generate a bit of publicity.

The plan was for him to fly off to America but I guess that as the band were “so bored with the USA”, Joe ignored instructions and hot-footed it to Paris. While hiding out in the French capital, Strummer claimed to have got around to running the “French Marathon” which later turned out to be the one in Paris. Joe’s training for this iconic event? A 16 week Runner’s World “Sub 4:00” plan with lots of cross training and carefully scheduled rest days? No, the Strummer Strategy was:

You really shouldn’t ask me about my training, regime, you know….Okay, you want it, here it is: Drink 10 pints of beer the night before the race. Ya got that? And don’t run a single step at least four weeks before the race … But make sure you put a warning in this article, ‘Do not try this at home.’ I mean, it works for me and Hunter Thompson, but it might not work for others. I can only tell you what I do.

imageSo are these the key elements of the perfect if radical marathon training schedule? Extreme hydration following an extreme taper? The jury’s out because there’s an element of doubt over whether Joe actually completed the 26.2 miles. In pre-internet days I guess you might have been lucky to track down your results in a local newspaper, none of this permanent record on the website business we take for granted today. Unfortunately neither Joe’s stage or real name appear in any official results.

However, presumably buoyed up by his Parisian challenge, there are photos of Joe taking part in the 1983 London Marathon with an actual race number. Although you shouldn’t believe everything you read in newspapers, it seems that Joe was somehow sponsored by The Sun who claim he completed the course in 4 hours and 13 minutes (nice vest by the way).

Anyhow, it goes without saying that Joe Strummer, spokesperson of a generation and alleged marathon-man, we salute you!

For a comprehensive analysis of Joe Strummer’s running career, check out this site.

Alternative Running Role Models #5: Steve Austin – The Six Million Dollar Man

20131026-003427.jpgThe Six Million Dollar Man was a tv series in the late 1970s which never failed to disappoint. Those in the know knew that there was no point bothering watching the programme – this followed Steve Austin’s bionic lifestyle which basically entailed being able to jump any height (in slow motion), look at distant objects close-up (using the zoom lens in his bionic eye), and run as fast as he liked (again in slow motion).

We used to play at being Steve Austin in the school playground, which coincidentally involved running (in slow motion), using our bionic eye (which entailed staring hard at somebody and making an “eh-eh eh-eh-eh” sound) and to give things a bit of a twist, fighting (yes, you guessed it, in slow motion). I don’t remember any story lines in the Six Million Dollar Man. I do remember the introduction of a Bionic Dog (an Alsatian which ran and jumped, in slow motion), and a Bionic Woman. I can’t remember if the bionic man and woman were a bionic item or whether Lindsay Wagner was the star of a bionic spin-off

The programme was never as good as the opening credits which showed Lee Majors trapped in a space rocket, crashing, and then being rebuilt as a bionic man, presumably for something close to $6 million. This was the only part of the show where we saw Steve Austin show us what he was really capable of. In the clip, at about 1:15 you can see Steve running very fast indeed in a nice, red, old-school track suit.

Some people at my school thought that the programme’s director had simply sped up the film for dramatic effect but since having taken up running I know different. I am now convinced that they’d taken Steve to a race and filmed his last minute sprint when he’d noticed that someone on the finishing line had a camera. I know this because I like to think I look just like the Six Million Dollar Man when I turn up the pace and almost catch up with a nine year old in the last 100 metres of my local Parkrun.

Next time I’m lying on the grass, head spinning, “a man barely alive” after yet another failed attempt at finish line glory, hopefully a passing scientist will offer to rebuild me.

Alternative Running Role Models #4 – the woman off of the front of Southern Running Guide

20131019-104525.jpgIn the past I have been known to have blogged about contrived running photos in magazines. The front cover of Runner’s World is often the biggest offender. Nine out of ten cover stars look like they’ve just walked it of the salon rather than having hauled their aching body around a windswept park. It seems that they have been asked to adopt a pose “like you’re running one of those marathons” after preparing with 2 hours in make up. And the irony is that the cover stars look a hundred times removed from all the spot-on advice and tips you’ll pick up if you get to look inside the magazine.

The woman on the front of the current issue of the Southern Running Guide runs all over the Runner’s World pretenders. I’m not sure who she is, but she is most definitely running a marathon (the Kent Roadrunner Marathon since you’re asking). There are people around her are also clearly doing 26.2 miles. The face of the man just behind in the black and green top is out of focus but you can just about make out the combination of determination and suffering.

What I like about SRG’s cover star is that she’s running a tough event but she’s spotted a photographer and hasn’t done what I usually do in such situation (“Look straight ahead, I’ve trained for this event and I’ve got no time for superficial things like race photos, in fact I haven’t even noticed you, I’m so focused” which either leads to another “grimace shot” or the photographer simply snapping somebody less uptight). No, she’s remembered that running is lots of things, one of which is a chance to either be yourself or find out things about yourself you never knew. So why not acknowledge the photographer and make it clear that bits of this running lark are actually kind of fun?

I like to think that our cover star carries on in this mode after the photo’s been taken, careering from left to right, arms outstretched, making aeroplane noises until she suddenly remembers where she is and returns to the serious business of whatever she was hoping to achieve in this event.

This magazine hasn’t been thrown away or put on the pile of Runner’s Worlds on top of the wardrobe. It keeps appearing around the house and has helped remind me why I need to get back out running those streets when it’s raining or the commute home as been even more draining than usual. (Incidentally Southern Running Guide‘s a half decent magazine – it’s free, it has a good article about intervals in the Autumn 2013 edition, and despite the title, there might even be something in it for runners who aren’t delicate Southern types).

Anyway, cover star of the Autumn 2013 Southern Running Guide, we salute you!

Alternative Running Role Models #3 – Dorothy out of Gregory’s Girl

imageMy research for this post has been more frustrating than my attempts to do a 5K in less than 24 minutes. You see I’m 90% certain that I own the DVD of this film but every time I have another search for it around the house, I always come back empty handed.

It only recently occurred to me that although Dorothy (played by Dee Hepburn) is best remembered for her football skills, in the opening shot of Gregory’s Girl, she’s out running. Not fast, not plodding, but “in the zone”, running around a country park on the edge of a Scottish new town. This key aspect of her life appears to have been wiped from history, all those searches on Google Images for “Gregory’s Girl running” or “Dee Hepburn jogging” haven’t unearthed anything apart from a blurred still from the opening credits.

This was the first ever film I saw at the cinema which featured a runner. Coincidentally, when I saw it, Gregory’s Girl was the first of a double bill, followed by a movie jam packed with runners: Chariots of Fire. So maybe this was where the running bug scuttled into me and lay dormant for 30 years (although I’d never admit to being inspired to start running by Chariots of Fire).

Gregory suspects Dorothy might have the early symptoms of runner's knee

Gregory suspects Dorothy might have the early symptoms of runner’s knee

What I do remember about Dorothy, running around the park at sunset, was that she made it look fun and effortless. No asthmatic wheezing, no hint of shin splints, no pompous Vangelis soundtrack. What was she thinking about when she ran? Maybe she was plotting how to sensitively let Gregory know she wasn’t interested in his advances. However, rather than just telling him to sling his hook, perhaps she used her workout as an opportunity to plan how to lead him to a dream date with Susan (played by Clare Grogan, sigh). The date might culminate with Susan and Gregory sitting on top of a hill, Gregory wearing a white jacket that could only have been worn in the 1980s, Susan wearing a particularly fetching beret. Perhaps they might see who could come up with the best numbers and practise dancing on their backs as they gazed at the stars? So much easier to keep fit and plan things in detail when there was no such thing as a Garmin to distract you every 30 seconds.

Dorothy from Gregory’s Girl, original Scottish Parkrunner, we salute you.

Alternative Running Role Models #2 – Willy the Wimp

imageI’ve probably covered a few thousand miles since I started running around 2008. However, I reckon if I took the number of miles and doubled it, that would be the approximate number of children’s books I’ve read since becoming a parent in 1999. I’m probably a bit out of touch now, but I reckon I could get quite a high score on Mastermind with the specialist subject of “Children’s Picture Books, 2000-2010”. There’s one character in all of those books which I think left a lasting influence on me, helping me to realise that pretty much anybody can become a runner and that character isWilly the Wimp

Willy is a chimp who happens to be a runner. Not a sprinter or a marathoner, but someone who relaxes by lacing up his trainers and running around his local streets. I’ve only recently noticed that Willy’s serious enough about running to get some gait analysis and invest in a pair of New Balance shoes. However it’s hard to tell from the illustrations whether they’re neutral, stability or motion control.

Unfortunately Willy lives in a neighbourhood where his runs are often interrupted by a gang of “suburban gorillas”. It’s tempting to think that he goes on to order some weights and take up body-building to help him to stand up to the tyranny of the Suburban Gorilla Gang. Us runners will know better – Willy’s simply got to the stage as a runner where he finally heeds the advice that to make the leap to the next level, he needs to build his upper-body and strengthen his core. After some serious pumping of iron at home, Willy emerges a better runner. Author Anthony Browne realised that the subsequent smashing of Personal Bests wouldn’t really impress his target audience so he added a nice sub-plot where his bulked-up body sends the Suburban Gorilla Gang packing in fear.

If you haven’t read any Anthony Browne books then what have you been playing at? The illustrations are often surreal with little visual puns that will reveal something new every time you look at them (and if you’re a parent or spend a time with young children, you might have to revisit the same book a few hundred times). If you become a fan of Willy he goes on to have some other adventures as a Wizard, a Champ and with his friend Hugh. Personally I’m still (maybe misguidedly) hoping “Willy Makes the Transition to Barefoot” will be published soon.

Willy the Wimp, New Balance shod suburban runner with an increasingly stable core, we salute you.

Alternative Running Role Models #1 – Leonard out of Butterflies

This month’s Runner’s World has a feature on “running heroes”, but for some reason, there was no mention of Leonard from Butterflies. Leonard was the first amateur runner I can remember appearing on TV. This was in an era when families regularly crowded around their televisions to watch duels between the likes of Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe. “Runners” were super-human, people that you were astounded by, not people you ever thought you might be able to emulate.

Butterflies was a BBC sitcom starring Wendy Craig as Ria, who juggled her role as a suburban housewife with a nagging feeling that maybe she was destined for a life less mundane. She lived with her dentist husband (played by Geoffrey Palmer, one of very few celebrities I’ve seen travelling on the London Underground) and two half-heartedly rebellious teenage sons. Ria spends two series contemplating the idea of having an affair with Leonard, a recently separated businessman, but as far as I can remember, never quite goes that far (hang on, I’ve got a vague recollection of a scene involving Wendy Craig, away from home, looking guilty, wearing nothing but a dressing gown…..quick, get on with the running related bit…)

You can find whole episodes of Butterflies on YouTube and fast forwarding through a few programmes, I can’t imagine the BBC will ever bother doing a re-run. The reason I was browsing Butterflies was because I was trying to find out how my hazy memory of Leonard running around the park compared with how he really appeared “back in the day”. There are no Google images of actor Bruce Montague plodding around, just a few latter day publicity shots and an ancient signed photo someone had offloaded on eBay.

My memory was of a podgy middle-aged man, huffing and puffing in a baggy shell-suit. The reality was that he was probably 5 years younger than I am now (everyone aged over 30 looked on the verge of retirement to me back in the 1970s and 80s). The podginess was imagined although he was certainly no beanpole. Leonard was also able to put on a burst of speed – check out how he zooms up the hill at 13:02 in this clip:

It was probably (thankfully) a pre-shell-suit era. Leonard actually had a nice line in (flared) Adidas tracksuits, slightly let-down by his failure to wear anything underneath – Leonard probably ran naked from the waist up on a hot sunny day.

His unique selling point as a runner was how he got to the park for his lunchtime workouts/failed seductions of Ria. He didn’t jog there gently as a warm up, he didn’t get the bus or drive. No, Leonard got his chauffeur to drop him off, who then had to wait (in the kind of vehicle you wouldn’t expect to be driven by a chauffeur) until his boss flopped back into the car, his fartlek ticked off on the training programme. You can see Leonard being delivered at the park gates by Thomas the chauffeur, as well as probably predating the concept of the “Santa run” at 0:58 here:

Leonard (surname unknown), chauffeur-driven park running pioneer, Alternative Running Role Model #1, we salute you.