Running Writing ©
No. 13    August 1998
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Part 2

Lisa Ondieki        
• by Brian Lenton •      
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lisa ondieki
Signing autographs for fans - 1991 [14k]

kerryn mccann & kerrith duncanson
An old photo of Kerryn McCann who ran for Australia in the 1994 Commonwealth Games marathon [30k]

yobes ondieki, pat carroll & andrew lloyd
Yobes Ondieki - 5000m, Sydney Athletic Field, January 1990 [24k]

•  Can we now look at your coach-athlete relationships. I suppose there have been fundamentally four - Ken Martin/Jack Daniels, Dick Telford Part 1, Yobes Ondieki and Dick Telford Part 2. What have been the pluses and minuses from your point of view?

Actually I cannot think of any minuses with Ken and Jack and basically my training has not changed since those days except for the two year stint with Yobes at high altitude (7000ft/2000m) in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Ken and Jackís work-outs were 16x400m with one minutesí rest the day after a twenty miler. Then an easy day followed by 4 to 6 repeat miles. Another easy day then a hard steady 4-6 mile run on the track. About the only difference now from that pattern established in 1983 is a possible increase in the tempo run up to 10 miles and maybe twenty quarters now. Thatís how good the program was. It worked like a dream for me first up.

Dick Part 1 and 2 was a continuation of that basic training pattern. You only have to look at my diaries to see it hasnít changed. Dick just supervised it.
Then there was training with Yobes at altitude. This was where my training changed a lot and it was a minus. The Kenyan way is set, hard work-outs. The coach only has to be there, time it and make sure the athlete does it. There was no emotional support or psychology working. No concept of resting up and peaking for races. Absolutely no consideration of injury prevention. Itís essentially survival of the fittest. If you donít die, youíll run great. For the first time in my life I felt like I hated running. Of course I did some great performances from this training like a 31:11 for 10km track in Helsinki and a 2:24:40 course record in New York. But I also DNFíd in Barcelona because I think there was no consideration for heat and humidity. It was a program that even after ten years of marathon training background I simply wasnít going to survive.

You could say it was interesting but I believe thereís more to coaching than writing out an incredibly hard program and saying to the athlete ĎDo it!í It was Dick that added the emotional and psychological support. He can make me laugh and heís great to have around at races.

•  Some years ago Scotlandís Liz McColghan and you seemed to be the worst of enemies, if you can fully believe the mainstream media, but now you appear to be the best of acquaintances, if not friends.

Liz really did get under my skin and irritated the hell out of me, but boy sheís made a small fortune from it. She has been reportedly paid $250,000 a year in appearance fees to run London for three years - thatís $750,000 total which is not bad. It was all because her mouth was so big and she predicted all these world records. I distinctly saw it in print in a running magazine that Liz wasnít going to waste her time running 2:26 but instead would run 2:16. Unlike Barcelona I didnít dream this.

Liz has disdain and lack of respect for all previous female performances. It was Grete Waitz and others who had made the marathon a popular event and paved the way for appearance fees. What I couldnít understand was that Ingrid Kristiansen held the world 10km track record of 30:13 and Liz hadnít even remotely run that fast. Ingrid had run 2:21 for a marathon and yet Liz was predicting 2:16. Of course Liz acts like she really believes it. I just thought this event is going to humiliate her. Sheís yet to break 2:27 and her fastest was her debut. At the 1995 Tokyo marathon Liz was so friendly but also very confused. She was training harder than ever before, three times a day and yet couldnít break 2:30.

The marathon can humble everyone. It certainly has me and Liz too. But it has made her a nicer person. She invited me to come to Gainsville, Florida to train with her and I said maybe I would. Liz even invited me to stay in her own house but I said a girl has got to draw the line somewhere and that Iíd find my own place.

One of the reasons we never liked each other was because we were so similar. We had the same sort of fire - shoot your mouth first and think about it and regret it later. Iíve now found out I quite like her. We were talking about our work-outs and this was a big step, sharing information with Liz. I didnít think that would ever happen. Lizís training was very similar to mine but then she had to put in a little stinger at the end. Iím slightly exaggerating but Liz told me sheíd do ten one-mile repetitions in four minutes and whatever seconds. I said okay, but how much rest? Liz replied: Ďjust a wee rest - about 10 seconds.í I could accept and believe all the other work-outs but not this one. That was just Liz. But she was very nice and having also become a mother has probably changed her too.

Having said all that I still donít regret our conflict either. When we first raced each other in London í93 they said people came out of the pubs on to the street to watch the fight. It was Londonís best spectator crowd for years. So if it creates some interest in womenís marathon running Iíve no regrets.

•  You said that if the Chinese women competed in the 1995 World Championships you would not be a starter. Do you still feel that way?

The Chinese were just so blatant. You have to realise thereís no solidarity amongst athletes because it is not a team sport. I just wish that if 90% of distance runners had said Ďwe will not competeí it would have been great. There has got to be a lot more pressure on the IAAF to do more with the drug testing. For example, a Chinese runner might come out and run 29:30 for 10km track in Atlanta. How could you randomly test her now, six months ahead, because you might not know who that is going to be. It might conceivably be someone with absolutely no previous record.

As far as Iím concerned the drug testing is still pretty useless. When Primo Nebiolo stood up and said he couldnít see there were any problems in China I just thought it was a joke. It was like a slap in the face to all of us. There were people who then took the opportunity to say that Western women didnít know how to train hard. I was offended by that because if we were on the same drugs we might recover a whole lot quicker and we might also be able to run up to 300km a week. There were some people who seemed to take real glee in that Western women were so weak and pathetic.

Now I would compete against the Chinese because if I finished fourth behind three Chinese, as far as any Australian is concerned, I would have got a gold medal. Their reputations have been so destroyed I would compete against them and consider they are non-entities. Iíd simply remove all Chinese names from the race results. Also for marathon ranking lists of East Germans and Russians, I just donít see their names.

•  What interests will you pursue when you cease being a full-time athlete?

Iím very interested in interior design. I also would like to stay involved in the sport whether it be television commentary or something else. Iíve already done a little TV work - the menís marathon at the Seoul Olympics for Australian television and the womenís marathon for the 1991 Tokyo World Championships for the BBC with Brendan Foster. I enjoyed both experiences.

Of course working with kids would also be great. The girl in Sydney, who I mentioned earlier, has the same sort of dreams and aspirations that I had. Kids are so enthusiastic and not cynical and cheesed off. When youíre around kids with that attitude it tends to rub off. The one thing that Iíve found sad with my involvement in the sport is hearing and seeing the drugs thing. It just takes some of the enjoyment out of it and you become pretty cynical. When someone does a good performance there is the inevitable questioning of whether it was a clean one.

The time I really got exposed to that was travelling with Yobes on the European grand prix circuit. It was so unbelievably bitchy. Whoís on drugs and whoís not? Yobes was offered EPO (erythropoietin) and drugs like that. This was no longer second-hand. I knew the guy who offered it. For any athlete who wanted to take these drugs there was no problem at all. On the one hand it was very exciting to be in Oslo, Zurich, Brussels etc, as a spectator. But on the other hand there was something really nasty about it. In the end I was actually happier not being in Europe because I didnít want to hear all that talk.

•  Off the top of my head, Japan '95 was the only race in your career in which you've DNF'd because of injury. Why has your running been virtually injury-free?

Actually that instance had nothing to do with running. It was an accident caused by slipping off a concrete step here which bruised my heel. Using a shoe insert subsequently caused hamstring problems in the race. My injury-free career is probably because I started as a sprinter/hurdler. I also did low mileage when I was young and never ran on hard surfaces or participated in fun runs. A warm-up was two laps on the grass infield at the track. John Daly started coaching me when I was fourteen and from then on it was stretching, a proper warm-up and sprinting.

There was no great stress on my developing bones. Many people are unaware that your bones are still growing even in your early twenties. On switching to distance running I continued stretching although Ken (Martin) had never done any. I thought everyone stretched before and after each session but even the great ones like Rob and Alberto Salazar didn't bother.

My running was also biomechanically efficient. I'm light on my feet and have never had weight problems. Despite what some people might think or say, I've never had an anorexic day in my life. That perception annoys me because anyone with half a brain would have figured out that if I was anorexic I would have experienced stress fractures a long time ago. No one stays in the sport of marathon running for almost 15 years with anorexia. That's one of the messages our young girls have got to get. It would be sad if some young girl thought I dieted to stay thin when in fact I eat to gain weight.

•  Can we pinpoint the specific role of the coach with you - obviously they are important in getting you to the competition properly prepared but what about during the actual race?

The coach is very important up until the gun goes off and then you're on your own and you need to be independent. Still, your mind is pre-programmed. You've done the training and the coach has been part of all that, so in a sense he's still there. However I wouldn't want the responsibility of writing out my work-outs and planning my races. I've always been coached verses, say, Yobes who is primarily self-coached. He's a one-person band who cannot work with a coach. I'm completely different and this is another reason why Yobes' coaching probably never worked well.

The coach becomes even more important when things are not going well. If every training session is clicking well and you're happy in your personal life, the coach's job is pretty easy. But there have been other times when things got bad and Dick has helped me enormously. I wouldn't have got through the problems athletically without him. Also, even though I've been basically stuck on the Martin/Daniels program for 13 years Dick has always fine-tuned it according to my races. I've always bounced training ideas off him. Sometimes Dick might suggest different work-outs. I'll try them and if I like them I'll do them now and then. If not I won't. So it is always a two-way thing and the coaching situation with Dick has worked very well.

•  What about a hypothetical situation when, say, one mile repeats are scheduled for that day. You, however, cannot face them and refuse to do the session. How will that impasse be resolved?

Well first of all Dick will want to know why. He'll ask questions like - did I sleep well last night or am I getting enough to eat? For instance did I skip a meal because I was busy? Sometimes it has happened that I've been caught running around doing things and ended up dead tired. Dick will get angry with that. He'll say that's a stupid excuse and I've got to plan my day better. Also he might ask what I did the day before and if I did more than I was supposed to I'd get into trouble for that. Occasionally I do more on an easy day because I think I'm going to get away with it and then it backfires. Then Dick will say I told you so and I'll accept that I was wrong.

Finally, if I really cannot do the session he'll discuss modifying the work-out. Instead of doing 16 x 400m Dick will have me do 8 x 400m with a float which is one of the track work-outs he likes. I'll be willing to do that. I do listen to him, but I also make mistakes. I certainly don't think I know it all. There is good dialogue between us.

•  I was very interested in your answer that you might do more on an easy day which is in contrast to say Steve Moneghetti who follows Chris Wardlaw's program exactly?

I've had that Kenyan influence and Yobes had some awfully good ideas. If the Kenyans set out to do something and some guy in the group feels unbelievably good he'll take advantage of that on the day by doing more or going faster. They run more to how the body feels and you can't plan this for a given day. If you're feeling great and fresh, go for it. Yobes was such an inspiration to be around and despite the negative things I said about the coaching and training, I always had the utmost respect for what he'd achieved.

If Yobes went to the track say to do 5 x 1000m and was feeling off he'd probably only do three and then maybe a couple of 400m. He'd still put in the same effort even though the resulting times were slower. Also, if it was very windy Yobes would still go out and put full effort into the work-out. In contrast I'd wait for a more reasonable day weather-wise for that session. I didn't like to record slow times in my diary, but that never bothered him. He certainly had a better attitude to unfavourable weather conditions than me.

•  Well if there are a number of incidents in your life that you don't want to see the light of day what about any amusing running anecdotes that can?

I was in Nairobi, Kenya, after Yobes had become the first athlete to run sub-27 minutes for 10,000m. We were sitting in an unairconditioned hire car, with the windows down, at a set of traffic lights. It was very hot. I was unaware at the time that many Europeans had changed the name of Nairobi to Ni-robbery. Anyway I was wearing this gold chain with a cross that Yobes had given me after he won the 1991 world championship 5000m. I wore it when I won New York in '92 and it was really special to me. Suddenly while we were waiting on the red light this chain was just ripped from my neck. I immediately screamed and my neck was bleeding.

I'd been to New York more than ten times and never been mugged and yet here I was in Nairobi and being mugged in the safety of my own car. Yobes looked at me and then the light turned green and he just nonchalantly drove on. Absolutely no reaction, like a happy clam on a rock. I was aghast and said: 'Do you realise what they've stolen?' He just calmly replied: 'Oh yeah - that's the street kids.' I tearfully said: 'But you made no effort to catch them.' 'Those street kids are really fast.' 'But you just broke 27 minutes for 10km and you can't catch them.' Yobes just said: 'Nuh!' and drove on. So you'll probably see one of those street kids running around somewhere with my chain around his neck.

•  Hopefully there will be some promising female distance runners who will read this book (despite my controversial sexist reputation) with Sydney 2000 and the next millennium on the horizon. So what general advice would you offer?

It would depend on the age group. For kids, stay off hard surfaces and work on your sprints and jumps. In fact anything else but distance running. For women in general, if you are anorexic I've got no respect for that. You're simply not going to be a great distance runner. The world's best distance runners are thin because they train hard and eat well. They don't run in order to be thin. It just happens and they've got to realise that.

As for the older women I'm not sure if they train hard enough to be honest, or if they are really aware how time consuming it is. It's a full-time job and you need to be very focused. Track training is especially demanding. Grete has told me that doing repetition miles would ruin her day. She couldn't relax or enjoy anything else. She tried doing the session in the morning to get them out of the way and I've felt like that too. Maybe the other Australian elite women have to realise that's how seriously I, Liz, Grete and others treat interval sessions on the track. Although it is not quite a race, sometimes I think it is harder because there's no crowd or atmosphere. Yet you put in almost a similar effort when you are tired and not rested, with no one cheering you on.

I've sacrificed a great deal in the area of social life. I don't go out much at night. Sometimes I find that a little depressing. I'm now single again and I'll go in to Dick's office complaining that I never get asked out. He'll say if you want to meet people you have to get out and mix a bit. I'll say that I don't have the time or energy. Dick's comment is : 'Well what do you want me to do? -provide and instant boyfriend and serve him up on a sliver platter?' There are many sacrifices.

•  Is it worth it?

Trust you to end with a real good one. If you're not happy and have no other life it's certainly not worth it. I think it is really sad when athletes don't move on or if they end their career feeling they have nothing.

I've had some failed marriages, in part, because of the career I've had. I don't think anything is worth a failed marriage but the statistics show a lot of marriages fall through so maybe it wasn't just because of the running. I'm happy at the moment and I think it is worth it. But I certainly don't think running is worth hurting other people and not having a life.   

Part 1


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