Run The World #6 – Abebe Bikila

Abebe Bikila couldn’t find a comfortable pair of shoes for the 1960 Rome Olympics. So he ran barefoot. He won gold. Set a world record. And created history in the sport of long distance running, making East Africans a force to reckon with ever since.

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The sixth in our series on international runners, Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila was the first sub-Saharan African Olympic gold medallist, and the first back-to-back Olympic champion. He won his first gold medal at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome while running barefoot, and won his second gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, which made him the first athlete to successfully defend an Olympic marathon title.

Abebe was a member of the Ethiopian Imperial Guard – an elite infantry division that safeguarded the Emperor of Ethiopia. He was a soldier before he became an athlete, rising to the rank of a captain (shambel in Amharic); therefore his formal designation was Shambel Abebe Bikila. He was instrumental in establishing East Africa as a force in long distance running. Abebe participated in a total of sixteen marathons in his athletics career, winning twelve. According to Olympian and sports journalist Kenny Moore, Abebe was responsible for the great African distance running avalanche. He brought to the forefront the relationship between endurance and high-altitude training in all kinds of sports. The Abebe Bikila Award is presented to individuals for their contributions to long-distance running. Mamo Wolde, Juma Ikangaa, Tegla Loroupe, Paul Tergat, and Haile Gebrselassie are all recipients of the Abebe Bikila Award.

Abebe Bikila was born on August 7, 1932 in the small community of Jato. His birthday coincided with the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Marathon. As a young boy, Abebe played gena, a traditional hockey game. In 1952, he joined the 5th Infantry Regiment of the Imperial Guard in Addis Ababa. During the mid-1950s, Abebe ran 20 km (12 miles) from the hills of Sululta to Addis Ababa and back every dayOnni Niskanen, a Swedish coach employed by the Ethiopian government to train the Imperial Guard, soon noticed the twenty-four year old, and began training him for the marathon. In the 6,000-foot high mountains, he led Bikila and others through grueling workouts. Runs were up to twenty miles, including repeated sprints of 1,500 meters and barefoot runs over the rocky soil. In 1956, Abebe finished second to Wami Biratu in the Ethiopian Armed Forces championship.

In July 1960, Abebe won his first marathon in Addis Ababa. A month later he won again in Addis Ababa with a time of 2:21:23, which was faster than the existing Olympic record held by Emil Zátopek. Coach Niskanen entered both Wami Biratu and Abebe Bikila in the marathon at the 1960 Rome Olympics, which would be run on 10th September. In Rome, Abebe purchased new running shoes, but they did not fit well and gave him blisters, leading to the decision to run barefoot instead. The race started late-afternoon and finished at night. Abebe’s winning time was 2:15:16, twenty-five seconds faster than runner-up Ben Abdesselam at 2:15:41 and breaking Russian marathoner Sergei Popov’s 1958 world record by eight tenths of a second. On crossing the finish line, Abebe began to run in place, saying that he could have run another 10–15 km (6–9 miles). He returned to his homeland a hero. The emperor awarded him the Star of Ethiopia and promoted him to the rank of asiraleqa (corporal). Bikila’s gold was the first Olympic medal by a black man, and marked the beginning of a new era in international competition.

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Bikila, with bib number 11, at the back of the pack
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Breaking away from the pack to get into lead position
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Finish line of the 1960 Rome Olympics
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Receiving the Star of Ethiopia from the Emperor
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On the podium of the 1960 Rome Olympics, with silver medallist Abdeslon Rhadi of Morocco and bronze winner Barry Magee of New Zealand.

In the 1961 Athens Classical Marathon, Abebe again won while running barefootThis was the second and last event in which he competed barefooted. The same year he won the marathons in Osaka (Japan) and Košice (Slovakia). While in Japan, he was approached by a Japanese shoe company, Onitsuka Tiger, with the possibility of wearing its shoes; Coach Niskanen declined the offer. Between his Olympic wins in 1960 and 1964, Abebe also ran the 1963 Boston Marathon —and finished fifth in 2:24:43. This was the only time in his competitive career that he completed an international marathon without winning. The race was won by Belgium’s Aurele Vandendriessche in a course record of 2:18:58.

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Training for the Tokyo Olympics with team mate Mamo Wolde

Forty days before the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Abebe felt pain while training. He was diagnosed with acute appendicitis, had an appendectomy on September 16, left the hospital within a week, and was all set to run the marathon on 21st October, this time wearing Puma shoes. Abebe began the race at the back of the pack until about the 10 km (6 miles) mark, when he slowly increased his pace. He entered the Olympic stadium alone, to the cheers of 75,000 spectators, finishing with a time of 2:12:11.2, four minutes and eight seconds ahead of silver medalist Basil Heatley of Great Britain. Abebe did not appear exhausted after the finish, and he again performed a routine of calisthenics, which included touching his toes twice then lying down on his back, cycling his legs in the air.

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At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

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In the book “Olympic Marathon: A Centennial History of the Games”, Charlie Lovett writes, For Bikila, no strategy was necessary. He slowly increased his lead, running with total concentration and precision. His body seemed to float down the streets. He ran  using the least amount of energy and his smooth strides and motionless head made the race appear effortless.

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On the podium of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics with silver medallist Basil Heatley of Great British and bronze winner Kokichi Tsuburaya of Japan.

He was the first runner to successfully defend an Olympic marathon titleAs of the 2016 Olympic marathon, Abebe and Waldemar Cierpinski are the only athletes to have won two gold medals in the event, and they both did it back-to-back. For the second time, Abebe received Ethiopia’s only gold medal and again returned home to a hero’s welcome. The Emperor promoted him to the commissioned-officer rank of   metoaleqa  (lieutenant). He received the Order of Menelik II, a Volkswagen Beetle and a house.

In May 1965, Abebe returned to Japan and won his second Mainichi Marathon. In 1966 he ran marathons at Zarautz (Spain) and Inchon Seoul (South Korea), winning both. The 1966 Incheon–Seoul Marathon was the last marathon he ever completed. He did not finish the Zarautz International Marathon in July 1967 due to a hamstring injury, from which he never recovered.

In July 1968, he joined the rest of the Ethiopian Olympic team training for the Mexico Olympics. A week before the race, Abebe developed pain in his left leg. Doctors discovered a fracture in his fibula, and he was advised to stay off his feet until the day of the race. Abebe had to drop out of the race after approximately 16 km (10 miles) and Mamo Wolde won that year in 2:20:26.4. This was Bikila’s last marathon appearance. He was rewarded with a promotion to the rank of shambel (captain) upon his return to Ethiopia.

On the night of March 22, 1969, Abebe lost control of his Volkswagen Beetle while trying to avoid an oncoming car. It overturned, trapping him inside, and he was only freed the following morning where the Imperial Guard hospital declared him quadriplegic –  paralyzed from the neck downOn March 29, Abebe was transferred to Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England, where he spent eight months receiving treatment. Although he could not move his head at first, his condition eventually improved to paraplegia, regaining the use of his arms, though he was paralyzed from the waist down and never walked again.

In 1970, Abebe began training for wheelchair-athlete archery competitionsIn July that year, he competed in archery and table tennis at the Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Games in London. The Stoke Mandeville Games were an early predecessor of the Paralympic Games. In April 1971, Abebe participated in games for the disabled in Norway. He competed in archery and table tennis and defeated a field of sixteen in cross-country sled dog racing with a time of 1:16:17.

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At the International Paraplegic Games in Norway, 1971

Abebe was invited to the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich as a special guest, and received a standing ovation during the opening ceremony. Speaking about his accident in a 1973 interview, Bikila said, “Men of success meet with tragedy. It was the will of God that I won the Olympics, and it was the will of God that I met with my accident. I accepted those victories as I accept this tragedy. I have to accept both circumstances as facts of life and live happily.

Abebe Bikila died at age 41 on 25th October 1973, of a cerebral hemorrhage related to his accident four years earlier. He received a state funeral, was buried with full military honors, and Emperor Haile Selassie declared a national day of mourning. Many schools, venues, and events, including Abebe Bikila Stadium in Addis Ababa, are named after him. The American Community School of Addis Ababa dedicated its gymnasium (which included facilities for the disabled) to Abebe. Bikila was not only one of the greatest marathoners of all time, but also won at paraplegic games post his accident – truly a source of inspiration the world over.

On March 21, 2010, the Rome Marathon observed the 50th anniversary of his Olympic victoryWinner and fellow Ethiopian runner Siraj Gena, ran the last 300 meters (984 ft) of the race barefoot and received a €5,000 bonus. A plaque commemorating the anniversary is mounted on a wall on the Via di San Gregorio, and a footbridge in Ladispoli was named in Abebe’s honour. In 2010, the Italian company Vibram introduced the “Bikila” model of its FiveFingers line of minimalist shoes.

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Plaque at Via di san Gregorio, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Bikila’s Olympic gold win.
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Italian footwear company Vibram’s “Bikila” model of minimalist shoes.

 

A clip of Bikila running the 1960 and 1964 Olympic marathons:

https://www.olympic.org/videos/abebe-bikila-barefoot-to-olympic-gold

 

Sources:

~www.biography.yourdictionary.com

~www.olympic.org

Run The World #3 – Sister Madonna Buder

“I love the feeling I get when I whizz past people younger than me who say, ‘I want to be like you when I get to your age’.”

Third in our series of international runners, as a line-up to the ninth anniversary of my running group here, is Sister Madonna BuderThe Iron Nun!

Sister Buder is the current world record holder for the oldest person to ever finish an Ironman Triathlon. Born on 24th July 1930, the 88 year old is no ordinary nun, and is known in the athletics community as the Iron Nun. The Ironman triathlon consists of a 3.2 km (2.4mile) swim, 180 km (112 mile) bike ride, and a 42.2 km (26.2 mile) run. Sister Buder has competed in 340 triathlons, out of which 45 have been Ironmans.

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“I feel like God’s puppet: First I am down,then he pulls me up with strings, and then he pulls the strings to put me hither, dither and yon.”

Sister Buder was 14 when she decided to become a nun. As a child, she was more interested in equestrian events, and even won national championships at the age of 16. She entered the Sisters of the Good Shepherd convent in St. Louis, Missouri when she was 23, where she remained until 1990 when she went to serve with the Sisters for Christian Community in Spokane, Washington.

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As a young equestrian enthusiast, before she joined the convent.
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At age 23, with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

After over two decades as “Sister Madonna”, she found her second calling – Running! She started running at the age of 45, as a means to keep the mind, body and spirit healthy. Unsure of the reaction “racing nuns” would receive, she confided her doubts to the bishop, who replied, “Sister, I wish my priests would do what you’re doing!” The simple and direct response inspired her to join running clubs, with serious training and racing beginning at age 48, where she ran for the cause of Multiple Sclerosis.

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Her thoughts about triathlons at the time? She found swimming claustrophobic, and couldn’t sit on a bike saddle for so long. But she would try. The steely nun completed her first triathlon at the age of 52 at Banbridge, Ireland in 1982, and her first Ironman at age 55. Her sense of accomplishment was met with a simple, “I was content.” Bruder earned the title “Iron Nun” when she became the oldest woman ever to complete the Hawaii Ironman in 2005 at the age of 75. Her current world record for the oldest woman to ever finish an Ironman triathlon was set at the age of 82 at the Subaru Ironman Canada on 26th August 2012. This feat broke the record of 81-year old Lew Hollander’s 16:45:55 set at Ironman Kona in 2011, causing sister Buder to be the oldest person ever (male or female) to complete an Ironman in the 80+ category with 16:32:00. The Ironman organization has had to add new age brackets as the sister gets older and breezes through every age group. She has opened up five age groups through her athletics career, thereby enabling older folks to compete as well.  In 2014, Sister Buder was inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame.

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Featured in a Nike ad

Inevitably, Sister Buder acknowledges the hand of a higher authority in her achievements. She was approaching the 37th km (21st mile) of the Boston Marathon in 2013 when the bombers struck, and she was escorted away from the scene. Running is her favorite part of triathlons, and she can’t wait to get to the final leg. Describing her passion for her favorite sport, Sister Buder says, “I don’t know what runner’s high is. I know what the lows are if I don’t run. When I’m out of bed, the first thing I do is run to mass. Literally!”

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The bike portion of the Kona World Championship, 11th October 2014

The Iron Nun’s training?

“I train religiously”, is how she describes her training. “I know that God has given me this gift. And I have to make the most of the gift. If I didn’t make the most of it, it would be an affront to the gift giver.” She runs to church or every day if the weather permits. She bikes 40 miles to swim in a lake near her house, and goes for longer runs on weekends. She also runs to the jail to talk to inmates and read scriptures to them. Most of her training is solo, since people her age are on grandparent duty. Otherwise, her training buddies are decades younger than her.

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Smartphones and computers and the internet are big annoyances to Sister Buder. “What’s all the fuss about?”, she asks. “I’m just a little old lady doing her thing.” And what did she do when she turned 88 last year? Competed in St. Anthony’s Triathlon at St. Petersburg. Her favorite part of competing? “The spirit of camaraderie. I know these people. They are my extended family.” How do her fellow-runners perceive a nun running amidst them? “They think I’ll pray for good weather or something.” Interviews annoy her. But then she prays and meditates and runs 2 miles and calms down. She considers her dual role as sister and athlete complimentary to one another – they both require discipline and are character-builders. Religion aside, she feels if everyone adopted such sporting endeavors and focused on practice, the world would be much better off.

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Cover image of her book

On 5th October 2010, Sister Buder released her autobiography “The Grace to Race“, sharing the wisdom and inspiration of the Iron Nun. Reviews have described it as the courageous story of a woman who broke with convention, followed her heart, and found her higher mission.

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The Iron Nun – Sister Madonna Buder

 

Sources:

~www.globalsistersreport.org

~www.thenational.ae

~www.triathloninspires.com

~www.tampabay.com

~In The Running – Phil Hewitt

Run The World #2 – Achim Aretz

Put your best foot backwards!

When Achim Aretz runs, you can’t follow him. At a pace where many can’t even move forward, Achim’s ingenuity has caused him to run himself  into the record books by completing the world’s fastest backwards half-marathon and full marathon.

On 31st October 2010, Achim Aretz broke the six year old world record set by Chinese Xu Zhenjun over the marathon distance in reverse by 58 seconds, and his new record still holds at 3:42:41, set at the Frankfurt Marathon. Aretz reveals how Kenyan Wilson Kipsang couldn’t believe that a 3:40 hr marathoner could be in the record books. At the Hochwald Middle Rhine Marathon in Koblenz on 28th May 2011, Aretz broke his own previous record in the half marathon retro distance set in 2009, by completing in 1:35:49.

Achim Aretz was born on March 13, 1984 in Essen, Germany. He studied Geosciences in Münster and obtained a doctorate in Darmstadt from the Technical University. How does a passionate runner suddenly decide to run the other way round? The reason is “a crazy idea”. Aretz chanced on retro-running when he woke up with a hangover. To shake it off, he went for a run with a friend. Aretz was so slow that his friend started running backwards to while away the time. Aretz joined in for fun, and found he preferred it. He later discovered from the social network “Studivz“, that there really is an international retro-running scene, and decided to henceforth compete as a retro-runner. He says the attraction was the mental challenge, and the fact that he was developing different muscles compared to runners who run forward. His runs are both solo as well as with friends. “When I am running alone, I have to look back maybe every ten meters. When I am running together with friends, they tell me what lies behind me.”

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En route at the Frankfurt Marathon
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At a press conference after the Frankfurt Marathon, where he set the current world record for fastest reverse full marathon.
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At the Hochwald Middle Rhine Marathon, where the current world record for fastest reverse half marathon was set.

 

Medical specialists have confirmed that running backwards allows better recovery from certain knee and ankle injuries. Retro-running has been found to burn more calories with twenty percent less effort than running forward. Performance analyst Mitchell Phillips has underlined the benefits walking or running backwards brings – it is a great way to cool down, and also improves balance and increases neuromuscular efficiency. Phillips describes it as the perfect remedy to cure the imbalances between anterior and posterior chain muscle groups (like the hamstrings and quadriceps, for instance). In his book “Backwards Running“, Robert K. Stevenson describes retro-running as a fantastic activity for physical conditioning and training. It is considered healthy to occasionally tear the body out of everyday movements and break out of set habits. Not only other muscle groups, but also senses such as hearing are strengthened.

Running backwards has a meditative character“, says Aretz. “I perceive the environment differently when I walk backwards.” He does not see what lies ahead, but what he has already done. His ambition is not to win medals, and the main thing in competitions around the world is an opportunity to meet old acquaintances.

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With his friend Gregor Schlüter and centenarian marathoner Fauja Singh at the 29th Frankfurt Marathon

The 35-year old geologist runs up to 80 kilometers a week backwards. He explains how reverse runners start with the forefoot, thereby avoiding the typical rolling over the heel motion that occurs while moving forward. Beginners struggle with sore muscles at the beginning (as in any other sport), and many with knee problems have found it to be a beneficial alternative for relieving pressure on the knees. Several other sportspersons have also incorporated and benefited from retro-running, including boxer Gene Tunney and wrestlers William Muldoon and Ed Schultz.

Achim Aretz shares some tips in the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung for those who want to start running backwards:

Started very slowly and for a short time. It’s best to use a flat surface, such as a tartan/synthetic track. One needs to get used to going into the unknown. Bumpy terrains are not the best places to start to train. Not seeing the track is an unfamiliar situation for the mind and there is always the fear of falling. He cites the most difficult obstacles being dogs who can’t figure out what he’s doing. Training with a partner can be very useful for beginners because the partner can give instructions and set the direction. It helps when the retro-runner does not have to turn his head constantly – which can cause sore neck muscles. In addition, the mind is trained differently, because when one goes forwards and the other backwards, “right” then suddenly becomes “left” and vice versa.

In an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Aretz reveals how Germany is a strong reverse running nation – they have many record holders up to the 5000 meters distance, and Aretz himself hold the records for the half marathon and full marathon distances. Achim Aretz has also authored a book titled “Faszination Marathon Andersherum“, where he talks about his journey as a retro-runner, shares scientific insights into the physical differences between running forward and backward, the challenges to the brain to break out of set patterns, and how changed perceptions bring new ideas and insights into running as well as to life.

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Achim Aretz’s book on backward running, originally written in German.

 

Sources:

~www.welt.de

~www.faz.net

~www.waz.de

~www.achim-aretz.de

~www.baukasten-dateien.de

~In The Running – Phil Hewitt

Run The World #1 – Violet Piercy

Our running group here will be celebrating its ninth anniversary next month. Over the last nine years since its inception, there has been a tradition of a city-wide coming together of all distance runners, to run a 21 km (13 miles) stretch on the city roads every first Sunday of every month. As a result, the anniversary run is going to be held on the seventh of July this year. As a line up to the celebrations, I will be writing a series of articles, featuring international distance runners.

First up is Violet Piercy, considered the pioneer of women’s running.

Violet Piercy is recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federation as having set the first women’s world’s best in the marathon distance. Now-a-days, women of all shapes and sizes run along the streets and compete in marathons around the world. But there was a time when running was considered injurious to women’s health, and one of the rules of the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association (WAAA) was that no race should exceed 1000 meters, since any distance over a kilometer would be a “strain” and adversely affect child-bearing ability. Violet Percy blithely broke the rules of the WAAA and even broadcast an account of it on the BBC.

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In 1926, probably in response to the acclaim received by American Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, Violet ran from Windsor to London, thereby becoming the first Englishwoman to attempt a marathon and the first to be officially timed when she ran 3:40:22 on 3rd October 1926 on the Polytechnic Marathon course. She started at 4:27 pm, and was slowed down by suburban traffic outside Battersea Town Hall, till she finished at 8 pm. This time stood as a world record for the next 37 years, until American Merry Lepper ran 3:37:07 in California’s Western Hemisphere Marathon on 16th December 1963. Englishwoman Paula Radcliffe currently holds the world record for the fastest women’s marathon, with a time of 2:15:25 set in London in 2003.

Piercy fell into obscurity over the years, and athletics historian Peter Lovesey conducted a series of investigations into her athletics career. As we inch towards 2020, almost a century has passed since Violet Piercy ran the marathon in the 1920s, when the rules barred any woman from running more than two laps. Research by various historians shows that Violet ran five marathons between 1926 and 1936, in a pair of walking shoes with cross straps and heels. Piercy’s white jersey, black shorts and dance-like shoes serve as a priceless insight into a runner from a different era.

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An iconic picture of  Violet Piercy accompanied by three cyclists and followed by a car during a race in 1927.

Violet Stewart Louisa Piercy was born in Croydon, Surrey on 24th December 1889. She was 36 at the time of her first distance run, and her athletics career carried on till the age of 46. Over a period of 12 years and between two world wars, Piercy was widely regarded as an eccentric and feisty runner, who had a flair for slapping court cases against people who upset her. Rules were “tosh and piffle” to Violet, who ran solo marathons to prove to the world that women could be good at sport and endurance events. She referred to the sport as being based on rhythm, co-ordinated movements and clean living.

Reactions to her feats at the time?

The Westminister Gazette wrote: “It must be hoped that no other girl will be so foolish as to imitate her.”

Piercy’s response: “I am the only long-distance woman runner in this country, and people rather shout at me about it. I really don’t see why they should. Running is about the healthiest form of exercise a woman can have.” Piercy worked as a doctor’s secretary and encouraged others to take up distance running, but no one took up the challenge in her lifetime, and her runs were always solo.

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A news clipping of Piercy in 1934 from the Clapham Society

The second world war affected her stream of marathons, and there is no trail of hers since the 1950s. She is known to have passed away in a London hospital in April 1972, having suffered from brain hemorrhage, hypertension and chronic kidney-related infection. Violet Piercy had languished in obscurity for about 70 years, but the British Pathe archives, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and Track Stats magazine have been instrumental in finally securing for her the recognition she deserves.

The link below is from the British Pathe website, and is a copyrighted video of Violet Piercy.

https://www.britishpathe.com/video/camera-interviews-the-runner/query/Violet

 

Sources:

~www.claphamsociety.com

~www.britishpathe.com

~www.clappedoutrunner.com

~In The Running – Phil Hewitt

When Wonder Woman Turns Long Distance Runner

A belated write-up of the Halloween Run I had participated in earlier this month. Every edition of the fear n’ fun themed event is held on the first Sunday of November – the weekend nearest to Halloween. While last year I had to orchestrate the event myself in the capacity of SPOC (Specific Point of Contact), free from organizational tasks this year, I could dress up and run. The run is organized on a 21 km route from the Otter’s Club in the Western suburbs to the NCPA in the South of Mumbai, on which participants can run varying distances either as a point to point run or in any desired loop pattern within these points. Being racing season, many runners did a half marathon or distances above 30 kms ( for those training for full marathons). I did a 15 km run – a little after the start point, and up to the end tip of the city. A large number of runners opted for distances of 10 km and below, on account of this being a costume event.

Runners were required to run in costume, in keeping with the Halloween theme. We had Two Face, Batman, Catwoman, Superman, giving company to the great many vampires, witches, zombies and devils.  I went as Wonder Woman! In consideration of the distance required to be run in costume, I settled for a handmade costume constructed out of readily available materials – comfort in long distance running being the priority. The Wonder Woman costume comprised a basic red racerback top, and blue skorts – both in dri-fit fabric. The ‘W’ logo, bracelets and tiara were crafted from glitter foam, and star stickers were used for the skirt, bracelets and tiara. I didn’t make the belt on account of the running pouch occupying space on the waist. Here’s what I ended up with:

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Protecting the bay!

Overall, it was a fun event, racing through the city dressed as Wonder Woman, and receiving peculiar glances from morning runners who were not part of the event and/or not in costume.

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At the early morning start point.

15 km was the longest distance I had attempted since the accident, and pleasantly received company from the halfway mark onward, with a runner attempting 32 km. Step by step we trotted along to the finish point.

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When you feel like you’re the only one racing around like a weirdo!

It was a joy to see volunteers at the various water stations dressed up in their spine-tingling best, hiding behind parked cars, jumping out and scaring runners, and capturing a cornucopia of expressions.

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When Wonder Woman meets the Devil.

A common sight on Sundays are the vintage car rallies that occur within South Mumbai. Clicking pictures and taking in the sights on the seafront, the never ending run finally came to an end.

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Appreciating beauty on the route.

The only disheartening feature of the event was that many runners didn’t really run, but only showed up at the end point to click pictures dressed in costume. The idea behind a Halloween Run was to run the distance in spooky or fun attire. Merely showing up in costume for the sake of pictures defeats the purpose of a running event. Ah! The flip-side of social media.

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The ghosts and ghouls at the finish point.
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With Captain America cum Wonder Woman cum Super Girl

NavRun 2018 – Adding Color To Fitness

Another year, another edition. The fitness based concept by the Mumbai Road Runners (MRR) recently concluded its sixth edition of the Navratri challenge called “NavRun“. Navratri is a nine nights (and ten days) Hindu festival, celebrated differently in various parts of the Indian subcontinent. A color is fixed for each of the days, symbolizing the nine avatars of Goddess Durga. The running community celebrates all festivals as a means of bringing people together, irrespective of religious affiliations.

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Image courtesy MRR

The goal of NavRun is to run nine kilometers or engage in any other workout for nine consecutive days, wearing the color of the day. Workout details need to be submitted to the organizers at the end of each day, along with a brief description of what the color of the day means to you. A leeway was allowed for submissions since people were participating from around the world, across different time zones. On certain days, the organizers threw surprise challenges which we had to undertake in addition to our planned workout of the day. Here’s a summary of what I accomplished this year:

Day 1 – Royal Blue

The challenge began with a flag off two weeks ago, on a Wednesday, which is a strength training day. I accommodated the run with a modest 4 kilometer run, and upper body weight training.
Chest – 4 exercises – 3 sets, 15 reps each
Shoulders – 3 exercises – 3 sets, 15 reps each
Triceps – 3 exercises – 2 sets, 15 reps each

True blue stands for loyalty, trust and faithfulness. Royal blue (or imperial blue) manifests at the convergence of violet and blue, and represents superiority. The perfect color to kickstart the NavRun challenge, with a workout mix of endurance and strength training.

Day 2 – Yellow

Sunshine yellow on Leg Day! Hence no running here. Being a classical dancer and runner, lower body strength, balance, flexibility are very crucial for me. Here’s what I did with my yellow tee. (Incidentally the official tee of a hill half marathon💪)

Quadriceps – 4 exercises – 2 sets, 20 reps each
Hamstrings – 2 exercises – 4 sets, 20 reps
Calves – 3 exercises – 2 sets, 20 reps each
Single-leg variations for all the above exercises – 2 sets, 10 reps each
Abductors – 2 exercises – 2 sets, 20 reps each
Adductors – 2 exercises – 2 sets, 20 reps each

Yellow is the color of positivity, optimism, clarity, energy, warmth and friendliness. The brightest color on the visible spectrum signifies creativity and cheerfulness. The perfect color for a day of lower body strength training – high energy workouts comprising some of the largest muscle groups of the body.

Day 3 – Green

Celebrating the color of life, renewal, harmony, freshness. How better to workout with green than in the lap of nature. A short run in a park with pretty little bonsais dotting the landscape. Cardio and Core in verdant surroundings.

6k run
Skipping – 5 variations – 3 sets, 200 skips each 
Hanging abs – 2 variations – 3 sets, 15 reps each
Planks – 6 variations – 3 sets, 1 minute each
Pushups – 1 set, 15 reps (as requested; I had already completed my chest workout for the week).

The color associated with eternal life is soothing and refreshing, and evokes a feeling of abundance. A simple routine for cardiovascular endurance and core strength, which provides tremendous fitness returns. Cardiovascular fitness enhances the ability of the heart and lungs to supply oxygen-rich blood to the muscles, and improves the muscle’s ability to use this oxygen for movement. The transverse abdominis, erector spinae, obliques, pelvic floor muscles, glutes work as stabilizers for the entire body and play an important role in everything the body does. It’s the simple things in life that yield the maximum joy/benefits, as proven by the color and workout of the day. 🐢

Day 4 – Grey

Rest Day. It’s a grey and gloomy day when one has absolutely nothing to do. But rest and recuperation are imperative to growing stronger for the days ahead. 🐱

The following day was going to be a busy one – a run followed by a dance show. Accommodated an hour of structural training here, to keep the joints well lubricated. Even the fittest of bodies display some kind of imbalances or structural kinks, as a result of regular wear and tear. The basic framework of the human body consists of bone, cartilage, ligament, tendon and muscle. The vital feature of the body’s structure is its joints, and their integrity determines structural fitness. There was no fixed exercise routine, but a variety of movements covering the major and minor joints of the body. 

Grey is a neutral and balanced color, emotionless and conservative. It can be viewed as drab and depressing, or elegant and formal. It does not have a personality of its own, and is associated with conformism. Structural fitness is essential fitness on which all other fitness depends, making us more structurally and bio-mechanically aware. Like the color grey, a structural routine might not look or sound impressive, but goes a long way in prepping up the body and keeping it sound for other forms of activities. 🐩

Day 5 – Orange

My church feast, plus the 19th anniversary of my Odissi dance institute. (More dance details in another blog-post.) While one event was the celebration of Mother Mary as Our Lady of Fatima, the other was an invocation of myriad gods and goddesses through classical dance. That’s what I love about the NavRun challenge too – it goes beyond religion and brings people together. And the color of the day was perfect – orange being associated with kinship.

A run couldn’t be accommodated in the morning, and I settled for a modest 5 kilometer night run. Nocturnal running takes you into another world, physically and mentally. It goes against the human circadian rhythm, and the absence of ambient light amplifies the challenges faced during a day run. But it also brings perspective – a whole new world of nocturnal creatures all prepped up as darkness dawns. It makes us think beyond ourselves, about those different from us. 🐹

Orange is associated with sunshine, light, brightness. But it is also said, “Be the light you want to see in the world”. I could not manage a morning run, so donned flaming tangerine and ran around like a ball of sunshine in the dark. Orange is known to be extroverted and uninhibited, after all. It also corresponds to a thirst for action, proven by the additional squats post a highly active day.

2 sets of squats, 30 reps each (as requested in the challenge of the day)

Margaret Thatcher’s words rang true as I sipped on some golden-orange colored chamomile tea. “Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing: it’s a day you’ve had everything to do and you’ve done it.” 🧡

Day 6 – White

Kickstarted the week with a Back workout. The back plays a huge role in how the entire body functions, since it attaches to the neck, shoulders, chest, abdominals, and hips. A strong back keeps posture aligned, helps performance and prevents injury, thereby being critical to fitness. The day’s workout comprised a mix of Weight training, Pilates and Yoga – rotational movements and flexibility being as important as building muscle and strength. 🐼

Dumbbells – 3 exercises – 3 sets, 15 reps each
Resistance bands – 3 exercises – 3 sets, 15 reps each
Pilates – Prone series, 4 exercises
Yoga – Backbend series – 4 asanas
Concluded the routine with a few roll downs to neutralize the spine, and a forward bend as a counterpose. 

A strong and flexible back is invigorating to the entire spine. It releases tension along the front of the body, leaving you uplifted and energized. White is considered to be the color of perfection, and a strong spine keeps the body perfectly aligned.The color of light, goodness, purity, brilliance and illumination was a perfect start to the week. White is everything and nothing. The day’s workout could be seen as everything (strength, flexibility, mobility) or nothing (just one muscle group – the Back). But it leaves one feeling fresh and serene, like snow or white kittens or fluffy clouds.💭💭💭

Day 7 – Red

Red Day following White is a pleasant sequence. As an Odissi dancer, red and white are important colors for our saree costume; red also finding its place in the red bindi and red alta. 👣

Started the day with 10 Surya Namaskars, as requested in the challenge of the day. My workout was originally planned for the evening. The nocturnal regime included an hour of cycling on the stationary bike, followed by ab exercises to counteract yesterday’s back routine.
Planks – 6 variations – 1 set, 90 seconds each
Pilates – 4 exercises
Concluded the session with 4 rounds of Chandra Namaskar. 

Red is associated with energy, power, determination. It is an emotionally intense color, raises metabolism, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. Surya Namaskars in red offered a stimulant to kickstart the day. I, subsequently, toned down the evening workout to balance energy levels closer to bedtime. Sipped on some rose tisane to unwind after a long day.

Day 8 – Sky Blue

Cardio Circuit in true blue attire, with matching skipping rope and hula hoop.
~5k run
~Skipping – 3 variations – 3 sets, 60 seconds each
~Hula hooping – 3 times clockwise and anti-clockwise, 100 rotations each set
~Agility ladder drills – 9 variations, 2 rounds each
~Shadow boxing – 3 rounds, 3 minutes each round
~Capoeira – 3 movements – 30 counts each

Sky blue or azure is the hue halfway between blue and cyan. It signifies contentment, inspiration, determination, freedom and intuition. Like a clear, cloudless sky, the color encourages you to be free and fearless. The day’s workout was set around agility and proprioception – bringing together balance, speed, strength and control; sense movement and be aware of how the body is moving as a co-ordinated unit. Like the color of the day, there is no limit to how much we can do, if only we challenge ourselves each day. 🏊‍♀️

Day 9 – Pink 🐷

Culmination of the nine-day running/fitness challenge. Leg day! I usually don’t run on leg days, but needed to collect the official Pinkathon tee for their event on Sunday (more on this in another blog-post) and decided to run at the venue. The day’s workout was therefore split – Running in the morning, Strength training in the evening. 🌸

~5k run
~Lower body strength, balance and flexibility training:
Pilates
Yoga
Structural training 

My favorite color, pink, is associated with playfulness, charm, innocence and laughter; the color of universal love for oneself and others. The delicate color was completely in contrast with the workout of the day, but that itself was the perfect combination – donning a color symbolic of tenderness, while working out some of the largest and strongest muscle groups of the body. Reinstating the belief that one can be fierce and feminine, delicate and dynamic. Pink is a color of compassion and is associated with giving and receiving care. And how better than to blend it into a workout – we take care of our health and our bodies support us in return. 🎁

BeFunky-collage
An assortment of workouts in the nine colors of the festival.

Day 10 – Camouflage

Navratri is celebrated for nine nights and ten days. A bonus day was allotted with a special color, as a tribute to the armed forces – the people who strive tirelessly to keep our country safe.

A Chest and Shoulder strength workout: 
~Dumbbells
~Resistance bands
~Yoga – Arm balancers
~Pilates – Mobility and strength for the Chest, Pectorals, Rotator Cuff, Deltoids

The camouflage color was selected as an ode to the armed forces. Nothing compares to their physical, mental and emotional strength – where the nation is considered more important than self or family. ☘️

Day 10 - Camouflage (6)

 

All in all, a holistic conclusion to the festive based fitness challenge. From cardiovascular and muscular strength and endurance, to flexibility, mobility, balance and proprioception, various elements of fitness were catered to. Health and fitness are, after all, lifelong endeavors. We haven’t received our medals yet. I will share a picture of that too when I receive mine. 🙂

 

Forging Connections

Another well spent Sunday morning in the company of fellow runners from around the city.

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And then I came across this picture in today’s news, featuring people practicing yoga as part of the La Parisienne event in front of the Eiffel Tower.

yoga

What is it about community events like these that bring people together? They are extremely beneficial for recreational athletes and fitness enthusiasts who might not be professionally trained in a sport or particular activity, but look forward to being active as a form of healthy living and fitness. One doesn’t need to be engaged competitively in order to practice an athletic endeavor. In such situations, people seek to connect with other kindred spirits who share the same interests.

Our run this weekend, comprised people running across varied distances. The route was the same, but some ran the half marathon distance, some did a 10k, while others completed any chosen distance on the route. It is the friendships that people forge with like-minded individuals, and the camaraderie they share that make community events fun and fruitful affairs.

community+hands