Acceptable in the Eighties

A very unscientific attempt to go back in time

Month: March, 2013

‘Evening, Dougie. How was work?’
‘Fine. How was the library?’
‘Alright. Feeling ok from this morning?’
‘Yeah. A bit tired but fine.’
(we had, like on most mornings, already run a few miles in the meadows in the morning)
‘Lovely weather, eh?’

Around an hour later, following a session in gale force winds and a blizzard…

‘Cheers, mate, see you tomorrow. Will you be out in the morning?’
‘I’ll be out at about 7.45. See you in twelve hours…’

I’m not going to pretend I don’t understand why there aren’t more people my age trying to get to a decent level as distance runners. There must be people who travel to and from work at eight in the morning and six at night who wonder whether the two tight-clad men they see twice every day ever stop running. There are a few people left who are at least nearly as mad as the lads who were running thirty years ago, though, and I’m making an effort to run with them as much as possible. This morning I ran with Patryk, a Polish marathon runner. He definitely doesn’t lack craziness – I met him at eight and he’d been asleep for four hours and was still feeling the effects of tequila consumed in the early hours of the morning. A lot of the guys in ‘British marathon runners of the 1980’s’ write about the importance of getting on with it regardless of the circumstances. Patryk was doing a pretty good job of that, just not always in a completely straight line.

I got a mate from work to pick a year at random between 1975 and 1985 in order to test the reality of the decline in standards across the distance events. He went for 1977. Below are the times of the fifth, tenth and twentieth ranked runners over 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon. I haven’t listed the top ranked athlete, because it is irrelevant to my argument, which is about strength in depth. A lot of the comments on my first article, amongst at least fifteen versions of the same joke (‘Why were we faster in the ’80’s? Because we were a lot younger then!) were about Mo Farah. Obviously Mo is an exceptional athlete, but that is the problem – he is the exception that proves the rule. Roger Federer is an incredible tennis player, but that doesn’t make any difference to an assessment of the overall quality of Swiss tennis.


2012: 5th 13.22 , 10th 13.51 , 20th 14.02.
1977: 5th 13.25 , 10th 13.39 , 20th 13.49.


2012: 5th 28.51 , 10th 29.40 , 20th 30.12.
1977: 5th 27.55 , 10th 28.31 , 20th 28.59.


2012: 5th 2.16.40 , 10th 2.19.22 , 20th 2.22.29.
1977: 5th 2.16.02 . 10th 2.17.16 , 20th 2.19.10.

Last year was an Olympic year, and the Olympics were in London. You might expect that to push up performances. 1977 was just another year, but to make the top twenty in the British rankings you had to be the length of the finishing straight faster over 5,000m, a lap faster over 10,000m and about half a mile faster for a marathon.

My coach was ill for most of the equivalent week in March 1981 – he only covered 42 miles. This is probably, then, one of the few weeks where my mileage will be higher than his. I did 84 miles, detailed below for anyone interested:

Sunday: 15.5 miles in 1.38.
Monday: AM 5 miles steady PM 5 miles steady.
Tuesday: AM 5 miles steady PM 7 miles including 5 x 800m on the track with decreasing recoveries (1.15, 60, 45, 30).
Wednesday: AM 6 miles steady PM 5 miles steady.
Thursday: AM 6.5 miles including four miles hard in 20.13 PM 6.5 miles including 4 miles hard in 20.38.
Friday: AM 6 miles steady PM 6 miles steady.
Saturday: AM 5 miles steady PM 5 miles steady.




‘Good afternoon’

‘Right then, I think you need to get on the track tonight. Can you get on a track or is it still snowing’

‘I think I can get on a track’

‘Ok good, well here’s what you’re doing. Are you listening?’


Conversations with my coach – those related directly to training at least – don’t tend to last much more than a minute. Less talking about running and more running. Ironically I expect he’d probably see this blog as part of the problem…

So, to the training. For the first week of March, our diaries look pretty similar. Seventy six miles each. The major difference is one that I can’t do a great deal about – I didn’t do any running with Barry Smith and Charlie Spedding. I expect I could probably keep up with them now, but in 1981 being able to do a few runs a week with established international athletes must have been quite handy. Running is an individual sport, but training in a strong group clearly has a huge impact on performance. Groups of likeminded people have led to athletic success from the Midlands in the ‘60s to Gateshead in the ‘80s and Iten today. A group of us try to co-ordinate training when we can in Edinburgh, but getting a group of a decent standard together is difficult when we all run for different clubs, are coached by different people and have different aims. For a golden period of about six weeks in the winter we managed to get a group of more than five together every Tuesday, but injuries and different priorities (we had a 3.42 1,500m runner and a 65 minute half marathon runner training together in the winter, but coming into Spring it makes less sense for people to do the same training) have meant that it’s harder to maintain a group training environment. There just isn’t the strength in depth now to have groups training for different events at a good level.

As for competition at local road races, it is even harder to find a race that has the kind of strength in depth you saw twenty or thirty years ago. Off the back of my first post I was sent a sheet of results from 1991 for a midweek 10km in Sunderland where 11 people ran under 30.51. When I ran 31.09 at the Jedburgh 10km last year I won by two and a half minutes. In the two five mile races I’ve run in the last two weekends I finished second in both in 24.47 and 24.55, in races where a total of only seven people broke 26 minutes. It seems fairly obvious that if you’re getting beaten by ten people you’re likely to work harder than if you’re getting beaten by one.

The advantage of having my coach’s diaries is that I can put things into a kind of historical perspective – I can try to compete with him instead of with the other people training in the Meadows in Edinburgh. Recently he’s had me doing a few days where I run a hard, measured four mile run in the morning and then the same route again in the evening. Apart from being a bitch psychologically, this means I can compare myself with him. Last time I did it I ran 20.16 and 20.38, but he consistently ran under 20 minutes for both runs. If I didn’t have his times to compare mine to, I’d probably have been reasonably pleased with that day’s training – it’s not very often, after all, that you do two hard runs in one day (or that it’s considered a good idea!) As it stands, though, I just want to beat his times. Knowing that the bloke down the road could do it makes it attainable.

So here’s last week’s training for those who are interested in the details. I imagine there’ll be a few more of those since my article went on (one of my ambitions, at least, is complete!)

Sunday 3rd: 15 miles steady (1 hour 38).

Monday 4th: 11 miles steady.

Tuesday 5th: AM 5 miles steady PM 2 mile warm up, 3 x 2 miles in 10 minutes with 5 minutes jog recovery, 1 mile warm down.

Wednesday 6th: AM 5 miles steady PM 5 miles steady.

Thursday 7th: AM 5 miles steady PM 2 miles steady, 10 mins of 100m hard every 30 seconds, 2 miles steady.

Friday 8th: AM 5 miles easy

Saturday 9th: 10 miles including 2nd in King’s Buildings 5 mile road race in 24.55.