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. 🎁

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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. ☘️

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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.

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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.

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