Running Writing ©
No. 8    March 1998
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The following stories have been selected from "The A to Z of Running in Canberra" by John Harding. Friendships is from Canberra Runner magazine #105 - June 1994 and Garner, Gates, Gilbert are from #106 - September 1994.

by John Harding


Sometimes runners, and frequently parents, either do not understand or else lose sight of what they are trying to achieve in running. If you get down to the essence of what people really want when they participate in a sport, it is to do something that is going to make them feel better about themselves and to feel happier.

Runners have various mechanisms in mind in seeking their holy grail of increased happiness. On the physical side, it can be losing weight, improving appearance, improving fitness to run faster or perform better in another sport. On the psychological side, it can be to have a mental break from employment or work at home, to be interacting with different people, to get a buzz out of interacting with the environment, or the personal satisfaction of a PB or a hard workout.

I have now been involved in running since the late 1960's and observed a high turnover in the sport but have also been fortunate enough to know people who have become involved and stuck with it for many years. If there is a single common denominator for the latter group (there are many long term ACT Cross Country Club members), I would say that it is the lasting friendships and the comradeship that they found in the sport, not the PB’s or the medals or other prizes. These were friendships fostered by shared training, shared trips away, shared racing experiences and shared social interaction.

For the former group, who don't last long, the two most common denominators are injuries and not taking an approach which fosters friendships. People who aren't interested in joining training groups, or interacting socially at races, social events or trips away simply do not last long in the sport. One reason for a high turnover of juniors in athletics is that many parents push their children into the sport if they show some promise at a school carnival. These parents take the attitude that the sole object of participation is to run faster, jump higher, throw further, and beat other kids (and, in many cases, thereby give themselves as parents some reflected glory). The right attitude is that a sport where a child has some aptitude is one where the child can enjoy himself/herself, make friends and develop into a better human being in the long run.

The parent should be providing encouragement and fostering a support structure for the child to develop friendships in the sport. Unfortunately even in cross country, although much more so in track and field, there is ample evidence of parents predominantly focusing on son or daughter beating rivals at races, even to the extent of keeping the child away from the rivals before and after races. This is hardly conducive to building friendships in the peer group age-group. Fortunately these sort of barriers can often be broken down when local rivals get together as ACT team members travelling away, if they reach that level. Chris Butler, one of the younger runners I coach, has had many trips away with ACT teams for different sports over the last four years. He considers the social enjoyment from the trips away as the pinnacle of enjoyment in sport, the icing on the cake.

Pat Clohessy's brilliance as a coach stems not so much on his technical knowledge (which is considerable) but on his understanding of human nature and the way he can facilitate the social support structures which meet runners’ needs. A few features of training groups are:

  • Time tends to fly and the harder sessions are mentally much easier.
  • There is a focus on up-coming races which gives a greater sense of direction to the training sessions, so that if you are a regular you will probably cop heaps from your mates if you miss training.
  • They facilitate post training and post racing socialising, and group trips away.
Ron Clarke wrote in The Unforgiving Minute that running with his mates after work was just as social to him as going down to the pub for other people. I can remember once counting 70 runners leaving Brian Lenton's house on a Sunday morning with the AIS training group. It was a hot bed of social interaction and friendships that was infectious. I have had a dream for many years of an ACT Cross Country Club club-house that would act as a focal point to replicate this intangible dynamism of social interaction.

From a personal view as a runner, the greatest satisfaction I have received over the years is the friendships I have made. As a coach, something that has given me tremendous satisfaction has been seeing so many of the runners I have coached turn into best mates with other runners in the group. I have personally gained many strong friendships from runners I have coached and I can't understand why more runners don't get involved in coaching. As an administrator, at a recent ACTCCC race I was asked by a runner whom I was trying to get to join an athletic club what would be all the benefits. How do you explain in a couple of minutes the value of friendships and personal growth from those friendships?

If as a Canberra Runner reader you have not yet found any of the things I have described, then there is an old saying: “The good Lord helps those who helps themselves.” If you can't find a training group to join, then set one up yourself! And if you really need some social interaction, then pencil in National Running Week at Thredbo for next January. I met my wife there (and she is my best friend) so I might be biased, but 500 other runners from around Australia each January reckon the nine action packed days of running and sporting festivities and socialising are a bit of all right.

Brian Lenton, grand co-ordinator of NRW, in one of his quintessential performances made me laugh so hard on four or five occasions that tears literally streamed from my eyes. If you have never seen Brian in action, then you as a runner have missed something - Thredbo is the place to be to see Brian, and if Brian's humour doesn't get to you, there is a hell of a lot of other humour all week, culminating in the Saturday evening NRW Review which will get you laughing.   end

Select photo to view large image

penny garner
john harding on top of Australia
david gates leads graham burke
country & western star Brian Letton
greg gilbert
Victory to SCTAC's Penny Garner in the 1989 ACT Cross Country Championships over a distance of 8 kilometres [32k]
Mountain running guru John Harding finishes the 1997 Kosciusko Classic at Thredbo [32k]
SCTAC member David Gates leads Graham Burke in the 1990 Parkwood cross country novice championships [26k]
Brian Lenton in 'that hat' chases Rebecca Hosking in the 1995 'Rosemary Longstaff Trophy Race' [35k]
Greg Gilbert races in the 1993 'John Harding Trophy Race' at Dunrossil Drive [24k]

Garner, Gates, Gilbert
by John Harding


One of the all-time greats of Australian female distance running. She broke the Australia mile record twice, firstly in Vancouver and secondly in the famous Bislett Stadium at Oslo on the same night (27th July 1985) as three world records were broken - one by Ingrid Kristiansen in the women's 10000m and another by Steve Cram in the mile. Penny ran 4:29.28 for the mile that night.

Her other personal bests are 2:06.6 for the 800m, 4:11.7 for the 1500m and 9:04 for the 3000m. She first represented Australia at the Pacific Conference Games in 1985, finishing 3rd in the 1500 metres. In 1985 she also won the national cross country in Sydney, an emotional moment on her home course at Bankstown in front of her home crowd. In 1986 she represented Australia in the World Cross Country Championships and then made the final of the 1500 metres at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games, finishing 7th.

Last year she married Woden Harrier ace Gerard Ryan and they are expecting their first child late in October. Earlier this year Brian Lenton inducted Penny into the National Running Week Hall Of Fame when she won the NRW tennis competition at Thredbo.   end

GATES, David

Canberra Grammar English teacher who ought to be writing this stuff with credentials like that. If Paul Keating [ex Prime Minister of Australia - ed] can send his son to Canberra Grammar to be taught English by David Gates, then the Cross Country Club should not be letting talent like that go to waste by only asking David to organise the annual Canberra Grammar cross country (the most popular on the calendar each year). What the Canberra Runner needs is a writer who can bring the Shakespeare out of the weekly dramas we see each Saturday afternoon. The players are all there: Clayton Clews," To be, or not to be. To race or not to race. That is the question!". Brian Lenton," Is it come to this? To be beaten by Dave Cundy this week?" Brian Wenn, "What cruel fate is this? Done the achilles in again!"

David was one of the multitudes to have been inspired by Deek's (Robert de Castella) great performances of the early 1980's, running the City to Surf in 1984 while living in Sydney and then an inaugural marathon in 3 hours 7 minutes in 1985. He moved to Canberra in 1986 and has since achieved personal bests of 59.1 for 400, 2:13.6 for 800, 4:30.2 for 1500, 9:45 for 3000, 16:45 for 5000, 35:42 for 10,000, 82:52 for a half marathon and 2:57:28 in the 1989 Canberra Marathon, his second sub-3 hour clocking before retiring from marathons to concentrate on the shorter distances.

David does most of his training from Canberra Grammar, either around Red Hill and Deakin or down to Lake Burley Griffin and back, while runs from home are around Mr. Tuggeranong. He has resisted the temptation to run up Mt. Tuggeranong in case word gets out to Ewen Thompson and other colleagues in South Canberra Tuggeranong Athletic Club to rope him into a relay team for the Three Peaks or Brindabella Classics. He decided that running up Mt. Majura in a Three Peaks relay leg one year was too tough for a non-hill runner.

David has a golden rule now of doing his long runs in company after a nasty mishap on a solo run in October 1991 while living at Monash. On a long run past the Hyperdome, he decided to head off along the shores of the Murrumbidgee River near Pine Island where he ran into a single strand of barbed wire at neck high level. The puncture bled so profusely he had to tie his T-shirt around his neck, and then struggle back home. His wife naturally freaked out on seeing a hubby that looked like he had done a few rounds with a vampire.   end


South Canberra Tuggeranong Athletic Club administrator who is currently Senior Vice President of ACT Athletics. He started running in 1970 in Darwin then ran the City to Casino race in Hobart in 1974 and Canberra Times Fun Run in 1977.

Greg has done 11 City to Surf races, with a PB of 60:13. Other PB's include 11:14 for 3000, 14:37 for the Interclub 4km fun run, 7:27 for the 2k steeplechase, 11:58 for the 3000 steeple, 18:34 for 5000m and 38:02 for 10k road. His marathon PB of 3:23 was achieved in Darwin in a race that starts at 4am.

Greg was President of SCTAC for 3 years and Secretary for a further 4 years, and organises the Southside Schools Cross Country competition at Fadden Pines. He coaches in shot put and discus. He has worked for the Attorney General's Department for 25 years and has been Clerk of the Court for both the Magistrates Court and Supreme Court.   end

John Harding is the Editor of "Australian Mountain Running News". He is a life member of the ACT Cross Country Club, winner of the inaugural 1976 Canberra Marathon, a coach and prolific writer on running - much of which has been published in The Canberra Runner. If you wish to subscribe to "Australian Mountain Running News", or need info about Mountain Running in Australia, visit the website or write to John at:
42 Stanley Street
Hackett   ACT   2602


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