Monday, 25 May 2015

National Track Champs 1985


Apart from the first time I ran at the nationals as a junior, I had only ever run a single event at the National Athletics Champs and that was the 1500m. However I'd come to realise that I perhaps didn't have the speed for the 1500 and being Wellington champion over 5000m for the last three years I decided to give that distace a crack at the nationals. The 5000m was held on the Friday so I still had a backup over the 1500 if things didn't go so well.
The trouble with running a 5000m for a 1500 runner is that the pace at the beginning seems quite easy, after all you have become used to running laps in around 60 seconds, so 67 seems a doddle. However running at that pace for twelve and a half laps saps your energy and will power. So a 1500m runner begins to doubt his abilities at around four laps to go and it becomes worse at three.
And so it was for me in this race. I had contemplated running it in bare feet as the track in Dunedin was quite soft but decided to go conventional. I found it easy keeping up with the pace over the initial stages but gradually got more and more weary until I had to let the leading trio go. Although I rallied at the end and came home with a good finish, I failed to get up to third by a couple of seconds. The fourth placing remains my best performance at a Nationals (outside mountain running).


I really had no idea as to how my legs would stand up to running a hard 5000m then trying to run a decent 1500 the next day but as it was they coped fine.
1500m heat. Mike Gilchrist leads from Phil Clode and Me.
I had drawn a heat with Mike Gilchrist, Russell Haswell, Mark Furlan and a then unknown Phil Clode from Waikato. Mike made the pace quite honest and I sat very close to him the whole way. Then coming round the last bend I pulled alongside him and we both glanced back to see a wall of people all contending for the qualifying spots. I think we both uttered a mild profanity at that and added an extra touch to the accelerator to pull away form the rest of the field and qualify for the final.
There were a few people in the heats who had run their best times for the season and still failed to make the final. Alastair Leslie had run 3:48.60 in the other heat and not qualified and in our heat Neil Gaudin missed out with 3:48.39.


Since I had made the final I was contemplating a better performance than in the 5000m which meant I was angling for a medal. In fact without John Walker in the race the title was up for grabs, despite the fact that the field contained Tony Rogers who had made the final at the Olympics the previous year. I thought that there would be a good battle for the title and that, although Tony was the obvious favourite, many in the field would probably consider him beatable. I hoped to challenge him myself having set my sights a bit higher up than usual. I thought that even if I didn't succeed I may have been in with a chance to pick up some of the scraps.
I've drawn lane 1 with Andrew Stark, Russell Haswell and Mark Furlan outside me. Tony Rogers has drawn 6 with Mike Gilchrist outside him.
Unfortunately I drew lane one for the final. From lane you have two options: either go out hard and take the lead or get swamped by the field and take your chances. Not being a front runner myself I chose the latter option. I thought that Tony would probably lead and the main challengers would hang on to him, dragging me through with them.
After 300 metres I'm in a bad position close to the rear of the field.
Things didn't go to plan for me. I got too far back in the pack and when Tony began his run for home after only 300 metres nobody went with him. This really annoyed me and I cursed the rest of the field for being such a bunch of wimps then decided I wasn't going to let Tony have it all his own way so took off after him. This meant dropping to the back of the field and then running round everybody on the bend.
Having just completed one lap I'm after Tony while the rest of the field figures out what to do.
Unfortunately I couldn't quite bridge the gap. I got close, but not close enough to make contact and use him to drag me through. For the next couple of laps the gap between us remained the same as the pack gathered itself for the final onslaught.
With a lap to go I'm all on my own.
By the beginning of the final lap I could feel the oxygen debt building in my legs but pushed on as best I could. Tony was away and one by one people began to pass me. Mike Gilchrist, Mark Furlan and Colin McDonald went past then finally down the home straight Andrew Stark passed me.
Andrew Stark beats me to the finish.
So I ended up a couple of places worse than I had in the 5000m and in my best time for the season (3:47.18). The other guys in the race congratulated me on such a gutsy effort but really what I did was run on my emotions at the time. Perhaps if I had been prepared to let Tony go and race just for second I may have got that place. But you have only got the opportunity once a year and you have to make the most of it on the day, otherwise it's another twelve months wait.

Friday, 15 May 2015

3000m PB - Porritt Classic 1985

I don't know if the meeting was called the Porritt Classic in 1985 but that's what it's known as these days so I thought I'd stick with that in the title.

In my prime as a track runner I used to seek out competition where I could which, more often than not, meant travelling north. The meeting at Porritt Stadium in Hamilton was a popular one with amny athletes and good competition was virtually assured. In 1985 there was a bit of added spice to the meeting with a bunch of juniors over from England or a bit of out of (their) season competition.

The 3000m was probably my favourite distance. I thought I lacked the pace to be a decent 1500m runner and seemed to lack the endurance to run a decent 5000m (although my cross country results tend to suggest this was all in the head). Unfortunately in those days 3000m races were few and far between so I took the opportunity to run them whenever I could.
Stan Grimes leads the chasing pack with Barry Ellis and me trailing.
The race started at a reasonable clip but one of the English juniors (who I suspect was a D Taylor from other results around that time) decided it was not quick enough for him so set off on his own, whilst Stan Grimes made the pace for the chasing pack. The gap between the leader and the chasing pack extended out to around 30m but the pace was reasonably brisk and it was looking like we were on for a good time, at least sub 8:10.

I've left the pack and am hauling in the leader.
With about three laps to go the gap to the leader had not closed and there didn't seem to be any urgency in the pack to close it, so I took matters into my own hands and set off after the leader. With just over a lap to go I had caught him and had a little breather while I considered my options of winning the race. It's always a bit of a worry when racing someone you don't know as you've no knowledge of how fast they are able to finish but I just had to back myself.

Just before the 200m mark I kicked with everything I had, sailed past the leader and ran away from him all the way to the line. The pace had been good and I was hoping for a PB but got a real shock when I was told I had run 8:04.1. That meant that I had run the last 200m in 26 seconds, probably my fastest finish ever.

In the following weeks I defended my Wellington 5000m and 1500m titles. In the 5000m I had a similar finish of 26 seconds over the last 200 so it showed that all the training I had been doing was most effective and I was in rare form.

Unfortunately I failed to get invited to compete in John Walker's 100th sub 4 minute mile attempt and ended up running in the B grade race virtually on my own. This was a big disappointment because I knew I had the form to break the mark that night but didn't have the support I needed.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Tauranga Twilight 1985 - John Walker's 92nd Sub 4 Mile

It's hard to believe this was thirty years ago today.

Probably my favourite photo of myself running. After about 250 metres things were quite relaxed.

It's amazing what can transpire at New Year's Eve parties.

I'd normally go up to Tauranga over the new year period to get some good training in and race over 3000m at the twilight meeting on New Year's day. But John Walker was looking at extending his tally of sub four minute miles up to 100 and was taking every opportunity available to get there. The Tauranga Twilight meeting just happened to be another opportunity. However the organisers were finding it difficult to arrange a pacemaker and approached me with an inducement of a dozen beer. I accepted.

Unfortunately the summer had been a bit wetter than usual, which left the track a little soft, and the wind, if not strong by Wellington standards, was quite steady and hampering. John wasn't too sure whether the attempt would be worth it and as we jogged around together he was umming and aahing as to whether to make the attempt or not. This struck me as strange from a guy who always seemed confident of his abilities but years later I saw a documentary about his first breaking 3:50 for the mile and there was the same guy wondering if the conditions would be against him. Finally, about halfway through the warmup, the decision was made to go for the mile.

The field for the mile was a pretty strong one and included Russell Haswell, Mark Furlan and Kerry Roger but the pace which I was to set meant that they'd be left well behind, running for second.

I knew my pace pretty well by this stage in my career and set off to run the first lap in around 58 seconds but John called at me from behind saying "Go faster" so I did. We got through the first lap in 57 and I carried on into the second lap but things became a bit more difficult. I had hoped to carry on for another 200 metres or so after the half mile but unfortunately the softish track and steady breeze precluded this and I had to let John go on his own after I got through the half mile in 1:57 (which was a full second quicker than the 800m was won in that day).

At about 650 metres things aren't looking so comfortable.
John carried on to finish in 3:58.9 which was really impressive given the conditions. The rest of the field were more than ten seconds behind.

The black and white photo above (or at least one very similar to it) was to reappear in The Herald years later, in 2013, when the Queen Street mile was resurrected.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Nike Capital 15k (and the Legend of the Beer)

In the early 80s someone in the Scottish had the idea of staging a road race around the bays which would attract the cream of runners from around the country. Run at the end of November, the race was over the unusual distance of 15km and was mostly flat but contained a substantial climb over Awa Road in Miramar. This should have had the effect of slowing the times somewhat. There was also a prize awarded for the first runner past the Greta Point Tavern which was located at the 5km point. The prize was a dozen beer and was much coveted by many a runner in Wellington.

The first race was held in 1982 and, even though I'd won the Wellington Dross Country Champs, I didn't fancy my chances of lasting the full distance with the quality of runners in the field. However, I did think I could beat most people over 5km and earn my refreshment.

The task didn't prove all that difficult on the first occasion, it was just a matter of hanging in there at a 15k pace and sprinting away once in sight of the entrance to the Great Point. But it still took a bit out of me and I let several people past me before regathering my faculties and deciding I could actually finish reasonable well up. In the end it was Dallas McCallum who took the victory (and the prize of a trip to a marathon in Australia) in a decent time, considering the terrain, of 45:25. I worked my way back through the field to finish second and, in addition to my dozen beer, won an electric barbeque. How useful is an electric barbeque? you may ask. I did use it, but not very often.

By 1983 a few more people had wised up to the idea that there was a dozen on offer for the leader after 5k so the runners at the head of the field didn't look so much like those who were gong to complete the distance as they had the previous year. Initially it was Pat Meffan who made the pace to Point Jerningham, then it was just Mike Gilchrist (a really good 1500 runner) and me battling it out to Greta Point. I got there in a time of 14:04 (it must have been a tail wind) and took a rest while the better runners in the field went past. Mike carried on and held out all challenges except the one from Brent Addison who overtook him just before the tunnel under the airport runway. Brent won in 46:14 and although I rallied towards the end I couldn't get past Mike, who finished three seconds in front of me in 46:30.

1984 saw even hotter competition for the beer. This time the major contender was Phil Barnes and we got to the Greta Point in 14 minutes, but again I prevailed. However, this time there was to be no great recovery and I finished well back. Phil held on well and battled it out with Alastair Leslie for the honours. Alastair prevailed in 45:45 after running away from Phil inside the last kilometre.

Years later I managed to anchor a team of 50 year olds home in the University Relay. The prize was a dozen beer each. There were comments made that if there's beer a stake I'm unbeatable (but this ignores the fact that there was beer at stake the previous year and we didn't win it). It's just the stuff of legends.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

No Defence - 1984

Going into the 1984 cross country season I had a new plan for my training. I'd decided that I was too soft over the longer distances and the way to remedy this was to work harder on the anaerobic phase of my training. You may wonder, why change a formula which was working? but in order to achieve a goal of representing New Zealand I felt I had to change something in training to improve my performance in racing, especially over the longer distances. So instead of doing an unknown number repetitions over an unknown distance, in an unknown time over parkland, I decided to go to the track and do a predetermined number measured reps in a predefined time. In my case this tended to be 10 x 400m repetitions in 60 seconds with a 400m jog recovery. The mileage and hill phases of the training remained the same.

As usual I ran poorly in the Dorne Cup but improved my performance in the Vosseler Shield. The latter race ended up being a classic showdown between Dallas McCallum and me. Dallas, being his normal aggressive self, put the pace on almost from the start and with me being the only one game enough to go with him, we quickly established a huge gap on the rest of the field. Dallas wasn't happy that I was keeping up with him and kept putting in bursts over the opening lap. By the time we got down to the Badminton Hall towards the end of the first lap I was beginning to doubt that I could keep up the pace he was setting, so when he put in another burst I decided to let him go. That was all he needed, he'd established a gap and he defended it until the finish. His winning time was 35:34 and I was nine seconds back.

Years later Dallas would tell me that if I'd've stuck with him at the crucial stage he would've given it away. Knowing him, somehow I doubt it.

I won the interprovincial cross country again so things were looking pretty good for a third Wellington cross country title. Little did I know the training I'd been doing had been taking its toll on my body.

Dallas makes the pace from the start leading me, Barry Prosser and Phil Barnes.

There were no surprises in the way Dallas tackled the race. He went to the lead from the start and tried to make the pace so hot nobody could stick with him. But I did. Initially I found the pace comfortable enough but before too long I ran into problems. Fairly suddenly my breathing packed up and my legs ceased to function as they normally do. I had to let Dallas go and didn't have any ability to latch on to anyone else as they came past.

Alan and Alastair battle it out for second.

Into one of the later laps. It appears that I have given up.

Alan almost keeps it in the family, finishing second.

The picture that began it all. Sprinting in with Gary Weston-Webb for 10th place.
Finally Gary Weston-Webb caught me but it was within sight of the finish line so I wasn't going to let him past.


After that performance and another below par one at the nationals I decided to go to the doctor and get things checked out. What the tests showed was that, although my haemoglobin was fine, my ferritin levels were pretty low. The doctor prescribed a course of Ferrogradumet and in a few weeks time, after giving away the repetitions and reverting to a pure mileage regime, I was back to a good level again.

The first lap of the Wellington to Masterton Relay 1984. Alastair leads me, Euan Robertson, Mark Furlan and Dave Hatfield.
The National Roady Relay was the Wellington to Masterton and, despite indulging in a few celebratory pints the night before, I got out and ran one of my best road races ever. Alastair was the fastest on the day, getting the drop on me just before the Petone overbridge, and we did beat a lot of classy runners.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

1500 PB Cooks Gardens 1984

It had become a tradition ever since Peter Snell ran his world record in 1962 that the mile was run at Cooks Gardens but this year it was changed to the metric equivalent to help people chase a qualifying time for the Olympic Games. I never considered qualifying myself since I would have had to improve my best by more than ten seconds, but I was hoping to do an equivalent of the four minute mile over 1500m.

The field contained Tony Rogers, Peter O'Donoghue and Englishman Peter Elliott, better known at that time for his 800m running. There was some good pacemaking for the first couple of laps and Tony took up the pace with 800m still to run. This is around the time the photo above was taken (you can just see me in fourth place if you look hard). Both Peters went with him and they got a bit of a gap on me, but I was still going at a really good pace so wasn't too concerned. Peter O'Donoghue sprinted away from Tony over the finishing stages and won in 3:38.03, just outside the qualifying standard. Tony held on for second in 3:41.4 and although I finished strongly and nearly got Peter Elliott, he held me out for third in 3:43.1 to my 3:43.9.

So another race at Cooks Gardens, another fourth place and another PB. I was really happy with the time and an improvement of four seconds. It could've been time to readjust my sights and maybe consider getting down to a qualifying time for 1500, but I really didn't think I was fast enough for the distance and instead looked at stepping up the distance to 5000m. This time remains my best ever over 1500.

Welligton Track Champs 1984

Steve Walshe leads the first lap of the 800m from Brian Turnbull and me.
I was looking to repeat my efforts of the previous season and defend my three titles over 800m, 1500m and 5000m. Unfortunately speed merchant Brian Turnbull picked the weekend to make his first appearance on the track for the season. The photo above shows that he didn't resort to his usual tactics of burning me off over the first lap but sat with the pace made by Steve Walshe, trusting his speed to get him home. The photo is one of my favourites and shows how relaxed you can be even when running 400 metres in 55 to 56 seconds. Shortly after the photo was taken Brian overtook Steve and I followed him but was unable to get past in the home straight. Brian's winning time was 1:53.0 and I was four tenths of a second behind. A little bit slower than the previous year but still a respectable time.

Half an hour later I lined up for the 5000m where I was lined up against Dallas McCallum who had been selected for the New Zealand cross country team. Dallas was his usual aggressive self right from the start and opened up quite a gap over the initial stages but once I'd got into my stride I managed to haul him in. What this did was initiate a number of bursts from him as he tried to shake me off. But after each burst I'd haul him back. Once we had the bell I knew I could win it from there and took the lead down the back straight. Dallas hung on grimly but once I started sprinting from 200m out he couldn't foot it with me. I covered the last 200 in 27 seconds to win in 14:18.9. Dallas finished in 14:20.1.
It's hard to say whether this double was a better one than the previous year. Although the 800 was slower, the 5000 was quite a bit quicker and the conditions were not as good.

The following week I lined up for the 1500m (no 400 heroics this time). The field contained Steve Walshe, Liam Healy, Dallas, Barry Mayo and Brent Addison and, such was my confidence, I took the lead after only one lap had been run and ran away with the race. I finished in 3:48.0 with Steve second in 3:52.7.