‘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.