Mike Penman (1964 to 2003)

Until 2020, Jane Roche (Mike’s partner), her family and the Club have held an annual 10km race in Victoria Park each spring in memory of Mike Penman, who was suddenly taken from us in 2003. Due to an increasingly busy race calendar, the Roche family have agreed for the Open 5 miles to be held in Mike’s memory from 2022 onwards, with the proceeds from the event going to Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity.

Logo of Shelter, the the housing and homelessness charity

© 2022 Shelter

Memories of Mike

The following are extracts from pages 14 to 16 of the Club newsletter, April 2003.

Tribute

By Tim Mitchell-Smith

Mike Penman was that rarest breed of man, a truly genuine, caring, gentle guy who was loved by everybody he met. I first met Mike when I arrived nervously at Cadogan Terrace in 1998 to see what life as a running club member was all about. Mike had only recently joined the club himself and, spotting my nerves, made a point of welcoming me and of making me feel at ease. Such was the essence of the man. Over the years, I spent many happy times with Mike, socially, training and racing. I soon discovered that he had immense reserves of inner strength which manifested itself in a variety of ways. Tough track reps, where we slogged it out for supremacy, were always followed with a grin and a “well done”. He would thrive on the physical challenge of a tough cross country race or long road race, driving himself through the pain barrier remorselessly. But most noticeably his strength came across in his gentle nature. I’ve known Mike to be irritated by things but I don’t think I ever heard him raise his voice in anger. I’ve watched Mike bear up to crushing disappointments and ill fortune without ever once losing his cheerful and peaceful demeanor. And I’ve watched Mike’s good humour infect all of those around him at many a social event.

Aside from running, Mike was a great lover of music. He came to London in the early 80s and studied the trumpet at the Royal College of Music. Unlike many of his friends, he decided not to become an orchestral musician. Instead, his love of foreign cultures came to the fore and he travelled throughout the world for a few years making many friends on the way. Mike’s varied work saw him try his hand as a plasterer and more recently working for Tower Hamlets Council. However, I think it was Mike’s love of things outside of work that gave him greatest pleasure. He gave up his free time after work to teach Bangladeshi children English. He loved the arts and regularly attended galleries and exhibitions and went to classical music concerts. Mike loved eating out and was always in different restaurants. He loved extremely hot curries and very ripe French cheese. Mike was a true club man. He loved VPH & THAC and served proudly on the management committee. Whenever there was a call for volunteers to help stage an event, Mike was one of the first on the scene. And of course whenever there was a club party Mike was only too happy to test the strength of the beer. I don’t think there is anyone who knew Mike who has not been enriched in some way by his company. That perhaps is the truest mark of the man. Even those that didn’t know Mike for long were proud to call him friend. Mike’s legacy is the spirit and humour he shared with us, and the happy memories he leaves us with. For these we should be truly thankful.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Mike Penman - The Cadogan Terrace Years

By Rich Newbold

Mike arrived at St. Augustine’s Hall in the summer of 1998, joining VPH on the 21st of June. He had a solid background of road running and augmented his fitness with cycling and swimming. He made his debut for the Club at Blackheath in the Assembly League recording a solid 19:53 for 5k before succumbing to shin splints. Mike’s next appearance for the Club was at Eastway where he ran 20:42, a time he was eventually to beat by three minutes. Mike’s first appearance over the country came at the Ware Cup, where he came home 19th as the VPH team finished a distant 2nd place to Eton Manor. However, fortunes were to rapidly improve for both Mike and the Club. Mike made his first appearances for the Club’s ‘A’ team in the Chingford League at Trent Park and Victoria Park before winning his first Club Championship Medal, a bronze, in the Club 20. Mike followed this up with an improvement of 46 seconds for the Blackheath 5k and a new PB for the marathon with 3:07:23 at London. After the marathon, Mike made regular appeaances in the Southern Men’s League (SML) ‘B’ team picking up two wins in the ‘B’ string 5000m. The winter season of 1999/2000 saw Mike firmly establish himself as a key member of the club’s cross country and road running team, with regular appearances in league and championship races which saw him hacking a great chunk off his Eastway PB.

Mike’s long term targets at the beginning of that season included a sub-3 hour marathon, sub-30 minutes 5 mile and sub 18 minutes 5k, all of which he comfortably achieved over the next few years. Mike’s main target that season was the marathon and considerable hard work that winter saw him again winning a bronze medal in the Club 20, improving his previous best by seven minutes despite having taken a wrong turning whilst holding 2nd place. Mike’s report of this race in VPH News, and his unfortunate navigational error, makes splendid reading, providing an insight into the psyche of the long distance runner and Mike’s ability to laugh at himself. This indication of tremendous form was proved strongly at the 2000 London Marathon as Mike ran evenly and strongly to smash his PB by almost 12 minutes, recording an official time of 2:55:41 for 817th place, comfortably leading home a very good contingent of fellow Harriers.

After the marathon, Mike took a very short break while he organised a fundraising jumble sale for the Club but he was soon back competing on the track including appearances in SML in 4x100m and 4x400m relays. Mike was also a key member of that year’s championship winning VPH ‘B’ team in the Assembly League. The 2000/2001 season saw further progress as Mike chipped away at PBs from 5k to 10 miles. Mike finished just out of the medals in the 10M road and 7.5M & 10M XC championships as the Club continued to make enormous strides in terms of quality and quantity. However, come the Club 20, he was back in the medals, winning another bronze, running alone for the last 19 miles. Mike’s London Marathon of 2001 saw a steaming first half, with a 39-minute opening 10k and a halfway split of well under 1:25. Sadly, he wasn’t able to maintain this pace, suffering badly over the last six miles. However, Mike’s consistency over the whole season saw a further move up the Boswall League standings with a solid fourth place finish which went largely unnoticed at the time but which was merely a taste of things to come the following season.

In terms of his prematurely ended running career with Victoria Park Harriers and VPH & THAC, Mike’s crowning glory was his win of the Boswall League in 2002. This involved a range of quality performances throughout the season including a PB at Eastway, regular appearances in the Chingford League ‘A’ Team and coming home 2nd for the Club at the National Cross Country Championships in Bristol. Mike’s most memorable race of that season was probably his hard fought silver medal in the Club 20 where he threw down both gauntlets and challenged the rest of the field to follow. Blasting through half way at a pace close to his 10M PB showed Mike’s willingness to push himself to the limit, helping him to discover what he was capable of. The 2002 summer season saw Mike take his excellent endurance onto the track where he was a regular performer for the SML 4E Team, setting a new PB at 5000m. He also recorded an excellent 63:34 for the extremely challenging Orion 10 for a notable 16th place finish.

Unfortunately, Mike’s running form was ruined by serious illness due to an infection centred upon his ankle. This saw Mike hospitalised and then unable to race for several months. On his comeback in November 2002, Mike slotted straight back into the groove scoring for the ‘B’ team at Eastway and then Higham’s Park with a Paula Radcliffe-style sock making its first appearance to help counter the swelling round his ankle, one of the after effects of his illness. Mike followed these runs with an ‘A’ team appearance at the Middlesex Cross Country Champs but an astonishingly impressive performance came a month later at Mike’s spiritual home, the Club 20. Despite so much missed training, Mike won an excellent bronze medal beating his silver medal-winning run of the previous year by 8 seconds.

Next up for Mike was the Physical Shield road relay where he anchored home the ‘B’ team, his last competitive appearance in club colours. The last time that most of us saw Mike was at the Open 5 where he was helping the event to run smoothly. I can’t count the number of times Mike had helped out at events, especially acting as an extremely reliable timekeeper for track events when his steady hand and cool head came to the fore. As well as his running and social input into the Club, Mike also served on the VPH Committee as a General Member making a range of constructive suggestions on those long cold evenings in the Committee Room. Mike’s influence upon the training habits of many VPH & THAC members cannot be underestimated, certainly I learnt as much from Mike as he may have from me.