Things are quiet in the swimming world. COVID 19 has closed Auckland’s swimming pools. Judging from the 50-car gridlock on Auckland’s Lincoln Road, KFC and McDonalds are back to normal. Swimming pools cannot be too far behind the delivery of an Almighty Texan BBQ Burger. And so instead discussing swimming I am spending some Swimwatch time on events that occurred when I was involved in Alison’s running career.

I have been fortunate enough to go on training runs with some pretty impressive runners. There was Alison of course, and Barbara Moore, and Anne Audain. On the men’s side I have run with Rod Dixon, Dick Quax and John Walker. Tell me that’s not impressive. In today’s post I want to share what happened in my first runs with the three guys, Dixon, Quax and Walker.

Rod Dixon

 I went for my first run with Rod Dixon through a Bavarian Forest, just outside the town of Freising, about 20 kilometers north of Munich. Rod was running a 3000 meter race the next day. Alison was entered in the 1500 meters. And so, after a 400-kilometer drive from Frankfurt we thought a loosen-up run was in order.

Loosen-up run? You should have been there. Not two minutes had gone by and Alison and Rod had disappeared down a maze of winding trails. I was lost and alone somewhere in Germany.

No wonder Rod had a bronze medal from the Munich Olympic Games. No wonder he had run a sub-four-minute mile. And no wonder he was the owner of the world’s fastest 3000-meter time. But did he need to lose me in the middle of Germany? Where was our hotel? How was I going to survive the night? How cold did it get during a German night?

After 20 minutes Alison appeared running back down the trail towards me. Completely unconcerned about the seriousness of our plight she said, “Wow, Rod runs fast.”

“Do you know where the hotel is?” I asked.

 “Oh, it’s up there somewhere. We’ll find it,” she said. And off we jogged at David’s pace.

About ten minutes later I heard footsteps behind us. “What now?” I thought.

Then a voice in perfect English said, “Hi, you guys. It’s a lovely place to run. Are you enjoying yourselves?”

I lied to one of the world’s best runners and said it was my best run in Germany. Only I knew it was the only time I’d been for a run in Germany. The three of us jogged back at David’s pace to our most welcome hotel.

Dick Quax

Dick Quax had just run 13:12.9 to break the world 5000-meter record when we went for a training run together. On this occasion our run was in the very familiar Windsor Great Park. My Windsor home backed on to the Park. Alison trained there every day. She was on “Good Morning” terms with the Duke of Edinburgh who was often out training his horse and carriage team.

After getting lost in Germany behind Rod Dixon I prepared myself to be quickly dropped by Dick. We set off and nothing happened. There we were jogging gently up to the Game Keeper’s house chatting away – no problem at all. Then down across the Big Dip I noticed a slight increase in pace. Dick was still chatting, but I was taking little part in the conversation. By the time we got to Smith’s Lawn – that’s where the royal family play polo – I was hanging on for dear life.

Up Rhododendron Walk was agony. Down around the Royal Lodge (the Queen Mother’s home) to the top of the Long Walk and I knew exactly why Dick was the fastest man on the planet over 5000 meters. We stopped at the Long Walk and agreed Dick would run the three kilometers down the Long Walk to home on his own. I would jog the 200 meters to where our run began and drive my car home.

I jogged and walked to the car and drove home. And then the final embarrassment. Dick was already there, talking to Alison about what a lovely place to run. He had not only beaten me, he was faster than my car as well.

That evening Alison, Dick and I had a lovely dinner at the “House on the Bridge” restaurant in Eton. It is close to the floodlit Windsor Castle and overlooks the River Thames. Two or three glasses of wine and I admitted Dick’s idea of an easy run in Windsor Park was a novel way of inflicting pain. Start off slow and gradually turn the screws. I still believe that run is the fastest I have ever run, anywhere.

John Walker          

My first run with John was through the huge Gateshead Cemetery in the north of England. Alison and John were there to run in the Brendan Foster track meet. We enjoyed the meet. Our black Labrador, Tweed, was welcome into the Five Bridges Hotel. For some reason the breakfast waitress always mistook me for Dave Moorcroft. And after I explained to a young autograph hunter that I wasn’t a runner, he demanded to know why I was allowed to wear a tracksuit.

After my experiences with Rod and Dick I was prepared for anything as we set off through the cemetery. Ten minutes went by. John was clearly not a Rod. He was still running along at my pace, chatting away. Twenty minutes later Alison was away ahead of us somewhere. John appeared to be quite happy dodging gravestones and talking about my meat company business.

“There must be something more to this,” I thought. John is not doing a Rod or a Dick. But he is a bloody good runner. What pain is he about to inflict? Something had to happen. But no, forty minutes went by and we arrived back at the Five Bridges Hotel at the same speed as we had set out. A lovely run.

The next day John won the mile in, I think, 3.59. I think the real Dave Moorcroft was second and Sebastian Coe third. I could not wait to tell Alison that the guy who won the men’s mile, I had kept up with him in training. She did not seem at all impressed.

So, there you have it three very different runs with three great runners. But you know what was the same. It was all good fun. No sign of arrogance or superiority. No, I’m faster than you. Just runners and hangers on like me, 12,000 miles from home, doing their thing. I suspect the centralised, scientific training stuff that we have today might have lost a bit of the fun of a run in a Bavarian Forest or Windsor Great Park or even a Gateshead cemetery.

From what I’ve seen at the Millennium track there is too much yelling and not enough laughing. It seems to me the work Rod is doing with young athletes in Nelson and John with his Field of Dreams in Auckland is where the next champions will be found. It’s where you’d want your children to be as well.   

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