Meet the Club Member: Karen

If you are partial to running up and down the hills in Greenwich Park, you are likely to have met Karen Hancock, long-standing Serpentine member, coach and record holder.

Picture from Meet the Club Member: Karen

You are...

Karen Hancock, member since 2003 

What brought you to the club

I’d moved to London from Edinburgh in 2001 and initially retained my membership of City of Edinburgh AC, where I was also a coach. However, my partner had joined Serpentine and I thought it would be a good idea to join as well. I decided to set my Greenwich hill sessions in February 2004 with his help. My relationship with Serpentine has outlived the one with my partner.

When you aren't running, you are...

Reflecting on past glories, doing economics consultancy, researching for my PhD, practising my guitar, stroking my cat, passing on my accumulated wisdom to my two grown-up children and younger runners, going to Pilates classes. And trying to find the right balance of pleasure and purpose in life.

The most challenging thing you have ever done

Learning to cycle in cleats in 2015 so I could cycle up Mont Ventoux to celebrate my 60th birthday. I was anxious about being stuck in them and falling off and breaking my bones. And descending terrified me. Many times, while learning, I thought about abandoning my attempts. My anxiety about it kept me awake at nights, and many times I had panic attacks and tears by the side of the road. Trying to learn a new physical skill when you are older is much more difficult. But what kept me going was simply the thought that giving into one’s fears hastens the ageing process. Margaret Sills was a huge help in getting me going when we were in Lanzarote for the Serpie training camp that year. I’ve since cycled up Mont Ventoux 8 times in total, including completing the Cinglés (all three sides in one day), along with Margaret Sills – my biking inspiration – in 2017.

Your favourite book

Fred Hoyle – “The Black Cloud” (with an Afterword by Richard Dawkins) – an enthralling, apocalyptic science fiction tale about (to me) the merits of technocracy vs democracy. Does being a scientist make one better-qualified to make decisions affecting many people than less well-educated elected representatives? Do scientists really understand the nature of man’s place in the universe? How do scientists discover truths? How do we know something to be true? What does it mean to be human – a separate individual? The book deals with some very big themes, served up through the medium of a fast-moving plot, and strongly-individuated characterisations. Although first published in 1957, the themes are very topical, especially the question of how much power should be accorded to technical experts. I’ve read it more than once, and will again.

If you could be an animal, you would want to be...

I can’t think of anything better than being human.

What you like best about the club

Its scale and diversity. One never feels like an outlier, and there is always something to learn or be inspired by among our membership.

Most unusual race you have ever done

The hot and dusty Delhi half marathon in February 2009. I won the women’s race, and was 4th placed overall, but there weren’t many women in it. As I was running along in the lead in the early morning heat, a motorbike came alongside me with a cameraman on the back who tried to interview me for an Indian TV channel as I was running along. I could barely utter a word – I was racing, not jogging!

Your top training tip

Learn from my mistakes: if you’re a runner, don’t just run for exercise. You’ll be able to keep running well for many more years if you value and practice other forms of aerobic, strength and balance exercises. And make sure you do mix up the intensity of your aerobic training. It’s not all about the miles in your training diary.

Your next big goal

Since I had to give up running marathons after my last in London in 2010, on my 55th birthday, it’s been hard to find anything as motivating as hard training. Until then I usually ran 50-80 miles per week. But my hamstring tendinopathy means I can’t run more than 3 times a week these days and am limited to 5ks and the very occasional 10k. I took up cycling up mountains to try and fill the gap in 2015, but I am still trying to find the same sense of achievement from it.

In the non-sporting arena, obtaining my PhD in about 2021 is an important driver, and trying to help my children on their way in life of course.

Something you have never told anyone else or that would surprise others

I used to be quite a good runner. I’ve covered more than 50,000 miles running since I started at age 11. But I have slowed down a lot now. One of my best ever races was being first W50 at the Bramley 20-mile race in 2006 at the age of almost 51, in a time of 2:15:08. That’s 6:45 pace per mile. I cannot manage even one mile flat out at that pace now.

Note from the editor: To this day, Karen holds the women's club records for V40 20M, V45 10M, V45 Half Marathon, V50 1km, V50 5M, V55 1M and V55 Marathon and coaches the club's weekly Greenwich Hills Saturday session.

If you would like to be featured in our 'Meet the Club Member' series, please email me.

Eda Korkmaz

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Submitted: 11 May 2018