I have set out below the preface from my book as it shows more about what I am like. Perhaps deludedly, I still think I can promote myself with a bit of modesty.
I was sitting in an internet café in the hills in Andalucia when I received the email equivalent of a cold call from Crowood inviting me to write this book. My first reaction was one of suspicion akin to receiving an email from a West African ‘bank’ enquiring after my mother’s maiden name and asking to verify my internet banking password. But it was bona fide and many thanks to Crowood editor Hannah Shakespeare for her faith in adding my name to the endurance writing publications list.
At the risk of self-aggrandisement, or perhaps just showing that I’m an embarrassingly slow learner, the knowledge and experience that has gone into the book has been almost forty years in the making. The first seeds were sown in 1972 when as a very shy eight year old I watched the 1972 Olympics from Munich. Amidst the British highlights and the deadly intrusion of the terrorist attacks on the Israeli team, it was the long distance races that stuck in my mind. Finnish legend Lasse Viren achieving the 5000m and 10,000m double on the track, and the wiry USA runner Frank Shorter coming home for a dominant marathon win which had a key role in triggering the growth of long distance running in the Western world. I thought it looked very exciting and I wanted to be part of it. And so started my fascination with long distance running.
By a mixture of luck and design, this brought me into some hotbeds of endurance running. My very first tentative track sessions at Shaftesbury Harriers in North West London were done with one lane kept aside whilst the then world record holder for 10,000 metres, Dave Bedford, went through sessions trying to recapture his 1973 glory days. I progressed and was able to wear the Barnet Schools vest with some pride but little competence.
Through my later teens I persisted with a stable level of mediocrity. The typical scenario was that if I beat another Under 17 or Under 20 athlete they would see retirement from the sport – and in a couple of extreme cases emigrating to South America with an entirely new identity - as the only logical option to preserve some vestiges of self-respect. At University I could just about describe future World Cup Marathon Champion and 2.08 marathon performer Richard Nerurkar as a training partner on those days when his recovery run and my threshold effort happened to coincide.
To show how the marathon world has changed, I ran my first marathon just before turning 18. In an event which wasn’t even classified as an official competitive event, I placed 42nd in a time of 2 hours 42 minutes. Thirty years on, there is no race in Britain outside the mighty London Marathon where this sort of time would place so relatively far down the field.
Typical of many coaches, it was only after stopping my own competitive running (well, as competitive as my short stumpy legs and overzealous engagement with Mr Kipling’s exceedingly good cakes could manage) that I acquired the objectivity to drill down into the details of how to really optimise one’s endurance running ability, whatever level that ability is. It’s a cliché that is only partly true, but distance running is in many ways the easiest sport to do – just put on your kit, head out the door and run, sometimes hard and sometimes easy and if you do this very regularly you will improve considerably. However, it’s also just as easy to become a regularly injured runner or an underachieving runner. Indeed most experienced runners will at different stages encounter both situations and the goal – which I hope this book will contribute to – is to ensure that the large majority of one’s running years are spent achieving the best results that are achievable for each individual’s ability and training commitment.
My time so far in coaching has been supported by people who contribute to the immense enjoyment we gain from the fulfilling yet existentially futile attempts to help people run a long way a little bit quicker than the last time they tried it.
In particular, Bud Baldaro and Geoff Williams, great motivators and special people who have such a lasting and positive influence on so many. And they also help them to run faster. Outside the running world, Kevin Hickey MBE has been a tremendously wise and supportive mentor and adviser on the broader aspects of sports coaching.