President’s reflections

June 2020

Our athletics club mourns the tragic killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25th May 2020. George Floyd’s murder has become a symbol of the oppression and systemic racism present in the United States, during a period when Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted black people around the world, both in terms of the immediate death toll and the economic and social impact. The ensuing protests have, in some instances, been met by a brutal response from the US administration at a time when a reconciliatory tone is called for.

We should not pretend that the underlying issues of racism and social deprivation is an American problem, as we have similar challenges in the United Kingdom. A good number of our members will have been the victim of stop and search and other actions aimed predominantly at young black men. In October 1993 I attended what became known as the Welling Riots. Arranged by the Anti-Nazi League, tens of thousands of us gathered at Winn’s Common, Plumstead to march to Welling and demand the closure of the British National Party’s bookshop/headquarters. There were large scale clashes between riot police with truncheons and on horseback, and the protesters. It was a frightening experience, but I never regretted taking part, as I had been sickened earlier that year by the killing of Stephen Lawrence and could see that the positioning of the BNP headquarters in Welling had contributed to a significant increase in racist attacks in the area. The current Black Lives Matter movement has a real resonance.

Almost thirty years on, we still have many systemic issues to address in the UK, and it has sadly taken this tragic killing for many to sit up and recognise these challenges. This is not a time for complacency. We have always prided ourselves on the fact that Herne Hill Harriers places paramount importance on being an inclusive community-based Club, attracting members from a wide range of backgrounds and fostering their potential. We will not tolerate racism within the Club, and during my time as President we have made some small steps, for example through increasing diversity on our Club Executive, in addressing the challenges we face.

We have agreed to consider at our June Club Executive meeting the question of what we are doing to increase diversity, and what further opportunities and action we can take to ensure we are doing all we can. To inform this discussion, could I ask that members email me with comments and suggestions on this really critical matter at keith.newtonhhh@hotmail.co.uk

Many members will have seen the updates to the England Athletics (EA) guidance, in the context of the government’s loosening of the lockdown restrictions. The Club’s Executive have agreed an overarching plan as a pre-requisite to re-starting some small group training sessions, and this is available at:

Coronavirus

Not all of the Club’s coaches will be in a position to recommence, and you should therefore get in contact with your coach if you are uncertain about the situation. Some of our coaches may themselves have reasons to not be able to recommence, for example they may be in a vulnerable category/shielding, hence not in a position to get going right now. But we know that some are very much intending to restart sessions, sticking closely to the rules that have been agreed by EA and in the Club plan.

We are obviously hoping that, from sometime after June, there will be scope to re-introduce some competitive opportunities for our athletes. We will keep you posted as EA guidance is updated in what is a rapidly changing situation.

I sign off with immortal words from the Civil Rights Campaigner, Rev. Martin Luther King:

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Let us work together and in our small way, help make our world a more inclusive place.

President’s Reflections-May 2020

I write in what continue to be the most extraordinary of times, but trust you are all keeping safe and well. We all hope that we are now over the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although face to face competitive athletics has not returned, we have seen some loosening of the ‘rules’ governing training in line with the Government’s relaxation of its broader guidance.

The Club’s Executive has been keeping a close eye on the latest advice from England Athletics. We have continued to meet (by zoom) on a monthly basis, to ensure we are well placed to return to training sessions and competitions when we can do. As it currently stands, Totting Bec track, like most tracks, remains closed, albeit the track management are giving consideration to the parameters that will govern re-opening. I am aware of a small number of tracks that have or are about to re-open, and we have passed some very useful guidance that others have drawn up to Tooting track management to inform thinking.

Regarding coaching, our coaches are doing a great job in keeping in touch with their athletes and setting sessions remotely etc to keep you engaged. With the opportunity to now meet one other person with appropriate distancing, a number of our athletes have capitalised to do some training together.

England Athletics’ guidance does now allow for one to one coaching sessions, or for coaches to meet one athlete after another for coaching input. For most of our groups this is challenging as they typically have significant numbers in them, hence being able to do justice to all group members through these one to ones is not easy. In the event that minors (under 18s) do meet coaches, it is essential that at least one parent or carer is in attendance. And, of course, any such sessions should include appropriate distance between participants, hygiene precautions etc. Things are moving but we are not currently in a position to conduct face to face group training sessions.

We have agreed to continue to suspend our subscriptions pending further certainty regarding restart, and are fortunately in a position to withstand this short term cash flow reduction. The absence of open meetings also impacts the Club’s financial bottom line, albeit we also have less outgoings at a time that our teams are not travelling to competitions. The Club’s Executive did agree to pay the club affiliation fee to England Athletics, but we have held off individual EA subscriptions for now with the extension of the EA deadline. We will need to monitor the position closely as we will obviously want our athletes to be able to compete as soon as things get going.

In the meantime do keep safe, keep fit and enjoy the excellent weather and training conditions that we have all been experiencing.

President’s Reflections-April 2020

Dear Member,

I write in the most extraordinary of times, as we continue in lockdown to counter the spread of Coronarvirus. First and foremost I do hope all are well in these testing circumstances. Beyond the immediate threat posed by the virus, living in isolation often separated from our friends and family presents a wide range of challenges.

Never before will our members have faced such unusual circumstances, yet we still have a window during the day when we can get out and exert ourselves. We are extremely fortunate as athletes to have developed a resilience and focus that will help us through, both physically and mentally.

Some of our members will have adapted to new ways of working in terms of their school, college or university studies. Whilst others will be grappling with the challenges of zoom, teams and other software to enable us to continue with our work commitments in our remote settings. Parents will be juggling looking after young children with their other commitments. In amongst us all there will be our members who are on the front line, our health workers. Most of us will have been treated over the years by our local hospitals, GPs and others in the community, but this is surely their finest hour. Nye Bevan, who established the NHS to provide medical care free at the point of need, would be so proud of today’s health workforce and the hospitals that we have.

As a nation we have marveled at the generosity and kindness of those who have committed their lives to serve others, fearlessly dealing with the sick in the most challenging of circumstances. In recognition, many have instigated fundraising efforts to help ensure the health system can continue to provide the level of support that is needed. Being based in Tooting, many of our members and their families will have close links with St George’s Hospital. Sarah Guest who competes for the Club and is involved in the cross country administration, has established an appeal ‘George’s Babies’ to support the staff at St George’s. Funds raised through this just giving appeal set up by Sarah will feed into the Hospital’s St George’s Coronavirus Thank You Appeal, and will pay for essential things such as accommodation, transport, clothing, IT equipment, care packages, toiletries, food and counselling for St George’s staff who are working long challenging shifts. Please do give generously, if you can to:
George’s Babies

George’s Babies
Help Sarah Guest raise money to support St George’s Hospital Charity

There is not a lot to report on the athletics front, and as members will know we have had to cancel various meetings in the immediate future, as have some of the leagues we contest. Like everyone I am hoping we will still have some semblance of a track and field season. It is impossible at the moment to comment on what form this may take-but do keep an eye out for messages, updates to the WWW site etc. In the absence of face to face, I am aware of various virtual competitions that have been instigated, including such innovative ideas as an indoor pentathlon.

One significant event was the Virtual National Road Relays, which required team members to complete solo legs of 5km, with times then accumulated for 6/12 members. We fielded strong teams in men’s and women’s competitions, and I am delighted to report that our women won both the six and twelve stage events against strong opposition, in the six stage avenging the defeat by Leeds in the 2019 National Road Relays. Geoff Jerwood has reported in more detail on this via the Club’s WWW site, facebook – a fantastic team effort.
Please do keep well and continue to observe social distancing, hand washing and other guidance for as long as it is with us. By acting responsibly we have helped ensure that the daily exercise allowance remains intact, a critical outlet for us all in these challenging times.

Up The Hill

President’s reflections March 2020

Dear Member,

We are living through unprecedented times.

I was talking to my Dad about this, who’d been fortunate to attend (as a spectator) the 1948 Olympics. The 2020 games have now been put back to 2021, no surprise but a huge blow to those who will have been preparing for them.

During the war years as a teenager my Dad continued as did others with day to day life, delivering papers in the morning and getting on with things. In some respects we are living under more stringent controls, to help contain the pandemic that has hit all corners of the globe.

We must do our bit as an athletics community, and I would like to thank everyone for your contribution to the social distancing and staying at home policies that have been introduced. As I write, we can now only leave the home:

To shop for basic necessities and that should be limited to once a day
To take exercise once a day – but alone or with those you live with, no gatherings of more than two people
For medical reasons or to care for a vulnerable person
To travel to essential work if that cannot be done at home
As a Club we have paused the annual call for subscriptions, and we will of course abide by the latest guidance from England Athletics:

Extending the suspension of all athletics activity in England to the 31 May. This suspension includes all organised athletics activity in the UK, including all competitions, formal club activities, running groups, and all Education activity (coach, official, teacher).
Strengthening our position on coaching activity – We are now mandating that all physical coaching ceases, and only be conducted via virtual means during this period. Bringing groups of people together to train, however small, can no longer be permitted under the strict ‘Stay at home’ measures implemented by the UK Government.
As is so often the case in extreme times, people are innovative in the way they approach their lives, and our running community is no exception. Last weekend we staged a ‘virtual’ 12 stage road relay context with our rivals Belgrave Harriers, whereby 12 athletes from each Club completed a solo 5km time trial which they uploaded to strava, cumulatively providing an overall team position (sadly we just lost out to Belgrave). A write up is included at the following, and men’s and women’s events are planned for the weekend of 4 and 5 April 2020. Contact team captains Julia Wedmore and Angus Butler for further details.

https://www.belgraveharriers.com/news/belgrave-take-on-herne-hill-in-first-ever-socially-distant-virtual-road-relays

In keeping with this entrepreneurial spirit, I have seen plenty of evidence of some innovative remote coaching methods deployed by our coaches. We are fortunate to still be in a position to be able to get outside and exercise, and the current restrictions make us think creatively about ways to stay fit and ensure we maintain our physical and mental wellbeing. Motivation will be an issue for some of us-and in some respects this is an opportunity for us to back off a bit in terms of intensity. Moderate exercise will help our immune system, whereas full on training can supress it and make us more prone to viruses.

Finally, I’d ask you remain in contact with the coaches, team managers and officials at the Club as well as your fellow athletes. They commit massive amounts of time to supporting our athletes throughout the year, and suddenly this focus which brings so much reward has disappeared overnight from their lives. If you have a spare moment do get in touch, and let them know how things are going.

Do look after yourself, and make sure you adhere to the government’s guidance which can only help in where we all wish to get to i.e. the restoration of normality.

President’s reflections: February 2020

It was a pleasure earlier this month to be able to present at the Club’s annual awards evening. It is an opportunity for us to recognise the wide range of achievements across all disciplines and age groups, and for the first time we conferred Club Colours on athletes who had secured international honours. A number of innovations were introduced this year including Q and A exchanges with some of our leading athletes, which sought to highlight key facets in their preparation for higher level competitions. Two themes that emerged for me were the importance of not setting upper limits to what you think you can achieve as an athlete, and the central role of visualisation. Seeing oneself in the thick of competition in advance of it happening, and adapting the approach and tactics to maximise attainment was a very strong thread that our top athletes emphasised.

Central to the success of the evening was the hard work of a core of volunteers who organised the venue, food, medals, trophies, visuals and all other aspects. I have highlighted the importance of volunteering to the success of our Club. We are specifically seeking volunteers in a range of areas to augment those who are already providing a service including safeguarding (where we need at least one female parent/helper to take on this role), membership services, WWW and coaching officer. Please do contact Steve Bosley or me should you be able to spare a few hours per week.

On 22 February I was very fortunate to be able to contest the greatest cross country race in the world, the National Cross Country Championships, Wollaton Park, Nottingham. Those who were there will have witnessed a course that was in the true spirit of cross country running, including sections of mud and water that were knee deep. At a time when we see the cancellation of events on safety grounds, as we have done over the last two weeks, I am delighted that the English National, which first took place in 1876, has never succumbed to this fate.

Plaudits must go to our U20 women’s team who, having won the title last year, finished a very close third team, led home by our highest finisher of the day, Yasmin Marghini, in 5th place. Also worthy of mention is an ever present in our scoring men’s team for the last 14 years, Jeff Cunningham, every year in the top 250 (in fields which typically have >1700 runners) and a highest finish of 133. On a personal note, although bagging my lowest ever finish, I was delighted to complete a national in the sixth consecutive decade, having started on this journey in the 1970s. I fear this will be the first decade, though, when I do not feature in our scoring team!

I would also like to say a massive well done to the small group of athletes who contested the England Athletics U15, U17 and U20 Indoor Championships at Sheffield, 22/23 February. Dante Clarke won a brilliant gold in the U15 boys long jump, whilst Ignatius Abebrese was second in the U17 men’s triple jump and Alex Abebrese won a bronze in the U15 boys shot put.

This coming weekend, on Sunday 1st March 2020, the Club is hosting the Frank Harmer 10km in Brockwell Park at 10am. We would encourage distance runners in the Club to enter this race, or if you are not running please do come along to volunteer. If you can be there from 8.30am to help set up that would be great, or from 9.15am to marshall.

Entries can be made at:

https://www.letsdothis.com/gb/e/frank-harmer-memorial-10km-road-race-60453

This year our race organiser James Ward has arranged for the event to support the Norwood and Brixton foodbank. All donations (to be brought to the track this Tuesday evening or on Sunday morning) are welcome, but the following have been especially highlighted: shampoo, bars of soap, deodorant, shaving foam, toilet rolls, washing up liquid, washing tablets for clothes. We are a Club that is very much rooted in our community, and your support for this excellent cause is very much appreciated.

President’s Reflections-January 2020

We have entered a new decade in what is also Olympic year. There is no greater pinnacle of success for an athlete than competing at these championships which take place in Tokyo from 24 July to 9 August, with the Paralympic following on 25 August to 6 September.

Many of us probably consider the Paralympic a relatively new phenomenon, and would be surprised to learn that Tokyo 1964 was considered to be a significant landmark in the development of sport for people with disabilities, hosting nine sports for athletes with paralysis of their lower bodies.

One constant in our sport is the fact that athletics is normally a long game, with success generally following years of endeavour and commitment. There are many stories of young athletes not getting to, finishing way down the field or being eliminated in heats of English Schools’ Championships, only for them to become established senior internationals. Conversely, there are those who achieve brilliant things as U11s and U13s, only to drift from our sport when they find that they cannot replicate their achievements in the older age groups.

For these reasons, but also in terms of developing a wide range of skills and avoiding too much repetition at a young age, I am a strong believer in young athletes engaging in a variety of sports, and/or track and field disciplines which go beyond what appears to be their main strength. Delaying specialisation not only improves attrition rates, but also helps the athlete avoid injuries that may be caused by a constant cycle of the same range of movement.

Recent weeks have seen regional championships, both in terms of cross country and also indoor competition which continue into the coming weekend with the U20s and Seniors, hosted by the South of England Athletics Association. Lee Valley, where I plan to be on Sunday watching, amongst others, my youngest daughter, will offer a contrast to the mud of Parliament Hill, which I had the pleasure of attending last Saturday.

Whatever the event, the regional championships offer a high level of competition for our athletes, and will often be a stepping stone to greater things. I have taken great pride myself in winning SEAA medals, whether as an individual or as part of a team, and I very much hope to see the famous red and black on the podium at Lee Valley.

On the subject of podium finishes, I am delighted to hear that 120 tickets have been sold for our upcoming Presentation Evening on 8th February, always a great night with plenty to celebrate. So the message for those who haven’t bought tickets is you had better move quickly as there are just 20 remaining as I write. Please do email eventsHHH@gmail.com to reserve your tickets.

Keep up the good work through these dark winter months-and I look forward to seeing many of you over the coming weeks at competitions and training. It is getting lighter!

Up The Hill

President’s Reflections-December 2019 ☃🎄⛄🎄❄️

Things have been no less hectic in the last month, and I am sure members will be looking forward to some downtime from work, university or school over the Christmas/New Year period.

The country has engaged in the first general election in December for many years, with the anticipation that we will leaving the EU over the coming year. As a Club we hugely value the breadth and diversity of our membership, which now stands at 739 (465 male, 274 female).

Based where we are, we attract members from a wide variety of backgrounds, a good number of whom were born in our fellow European countries and beyond. The Tooting area has become more transient, and we constantly see new people moving to the area who grasp the opportunity to be a member of our great Club, and we are sad to see others leave. We have a common bond, which is our love of athletics, and we will always welcome and support members from across the globe. Indeed, at this time of year, we extend our warmest wishes to our members wherever you are, who proudly represent our Club.

I was fortunate to have a short trip to Lisbon earlier this month, where I witnessed a fantastic European Cross Country Championships. Having ‘raced’ (I use this term very generously nowadays) myself on the afternoon of 7th December in the Southern Masters Cross Country, I then headed out in the evening to see Sunday’s races.

And what a treat it was. A testing course, and in the second race of the day our very own Saskia MIllard produced an excellent performance to finish second British athlete, 11th overall, and a scoring member of the winning British team. Next year the event will be in Dublin, and it would be great to see further HHH representation, both competing and spectating, in this classic event. Judging by the Irish support in Lisbon, I reckon next year’s event will be rocking, with very significant support from the home country who love their athletics.

As a competitive athlete I always found the Christmas/New Year period an excellent opportunity to get in some high quality training. Feeling more rested and able to run off road and in daylight, it worked well for me in advance of the biggest races on the winter calendar. As an inspiration, I used the quote from the British double Olympic decathlon champion in the 1980s, Daley Thompson “I train twice on Christmas Day because I know the others aren’t training at all. It gives me two extra days.”

Our sprinters, jumpers and throwers will be working hard in the depths of winter with their coaches to ensure they emerge in the Spring in peak shape to compete. Some have already competed indoors and many more will do so from January onwards when open meetings are frequent, and the major championships take place. My very best wishes to these athletes who form such an important component of our Club, and should be the backbone of our success in the summer months when we contest the newly formed National Athletics League, and other league competitions.

Through the Executive we have made good progress on our Coaching Qualification and DBS checks, and we will be updating information on the HHH WWW, as we will with brief bios for our Executive members. We had good sessions on safeguarding with our three new Safeguarding Officers, again information to be posted on the WWW site, which addressed our duty of care to athletes but also to our coaches. In addition, we considered emerging proposals around data handling and GDPR compliance, and have a small sub group which is developing thinking/policy on this matter.

On 8th February (see separate publicity about to be issued) we have our Presentation Evening, which is an opportunity for athletes, coaches, parents and Club officials to celebrate the amazing achievements of our athletes. Do please note this for your diaries and purchase tickets as they become available. As with all of our activities, this event is organised by volunteers from the Club community, hence should you be willing to get involved do let me know keith.newtonhhh@hotmail.co.uk
So finally I will say a massive thank you to all of you for your efforts over the last year, have a great festive season and I look forward to seeing and hearing about your successes over the next decade!

President’s Reflections-November 2019

One month into the role and it has been some month!

I must first give my huge thanks to the organising committee for our Club’s 130th celebrations – a dinner/dance at the Bedford Hotel, Balham, on 23rd November 2019. Waldy Pauzers, Eric Dol, Andrew Simms and Glen Keegan did a brilliant job in putting together what turned out to be an unforgettable night. The dance floor was heaving to the sounds of Soul in the City, appropriately attired in red and black, which complemented the excellent food, punchy speeches and hospitable hosts.

It was great to have our star athlete Kristal Awuah with us to share her reflections on what the Club has meant to her since joining as an U13 athlete. Kristal ran 11.16 as an U20 which ranks her second on the UK all time list behind Dina Asher-Smith. This year Kristal was part of the 4 x 100m relay squad that medalled at the World Championships, and will have big aspirations for next year’s Olympics. I was also heartened to hear that Kristal had completed a hill session on Streatham Common during the day of the dinner, a timely reminder of the value of hill training for athletes who are contesting a range of events!

I chaired my first Executive and have been keen, as outlined in my last message to you all, to broaden representation to ensure it better reflects the breadth of the Club’s events and membership. I am delighted that we now have four new members, Fiona Brown, Gilbert Anderson, Joyce Kalombo and Olivia Zeltner. We are finalising brief bios that will be added to the HHH WWW site, to give our members a better insight to our backgrounds and interests.

In the broader context of our sport, two key developments have attracted significant media attention during the last month. First of all the ‘Mary Cain’ story, linked to the NOP training set up. She has reported of the constant pressure on her to lose weight by her coach, corroborated by statements from others who indicate they have been put under similar pressure. This has made me reflect on the importance of us, as coaches, parents or fellow athletes, making sure we are sensitive to the issues of eating and diet. Reflecting on my own approach to these matters over the years, I reckon there have been times where, with the benefit of the knowledge I now have, I would have handled advice or comments differently. Athletes will from time to time seek advice from their coaches, and my own reflections have made me think how critical it is that we handle these matters on a one to one basis and sensitively.

A second critical issue is the duty of care we have to our athletes, which requires our coaches and others to have the appropriate DBS clearance and coaching qualifications. Our awareness of the importance of this has been heightened by the decision of UKA to not allow the appointed candidate to take up the role of Chief Executive. We will be communicating with coaches/others shortly on this matter-and rest assured that as a Club we consider this to be an issue of the utmost importance. To that end, three of our members have recently completed safeguarding courses, and further information regarding them will be made available on the HHH WWW site.
Finally, I wanted to thank Club members for your tremendous support for an event I organised on 13th November 2019, at King’s College London. 300 athletes, coaches and parents attended the lectures followed by a lively Q and A session. A summary of proceedings is at:
https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/connecting-science-and-performance

A wonderful footnote to the event. Our guest speaker Jess Piasecki completed her first marathon on 24 November 2019, in Florence. After a solid first half in 74.31 Jess produced a storming sub 71 second half, winning the women’s race in 2.25.29. As well as being an Olympic qualifying time, it was the third fastest ever by a British female athlete and the quickest for ten years. For those who heard Jess speak or know her story, this was a triumph over adversity and testimony to what can be achieved.

Enjoy the next few weeks leading up to the festive season.

Up The Hill
Keith Newton
President, Herne Hill Harriers

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