Running Writing ©
No. 29    May 2000
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Optus Grand Prix Photographs

cathy freeman
Cathy Freeman is interviewed after competing in the Optus Canberra Grand Prix

matt shirvington
Matt Shirvington with SCT athletes Jade and Hanneka

tamsyn lewis
Tamsyn Lewis runs 1:59.21 winning the 800 metres in Canberra - Jan 15, 2000

melinda gainsford-taylor
Melinda Gainsford-Taylor signs autographs for young fans after running in the Optus Canberra Grand Prix

kris mccarthy
Kris McCarthy ran a personal best time of 1:45.77 to win the 800 metres in Canberra

mary fien
Former Australian record-holder Mary Fien won the women's steeple in 10:38

shannon hill
Promising junior Shannon Hill placed second in the 3000m steeplechase

400m hurdles action
The USA's Eric Thomas (49.60) won the 400 hurdles from Zid Abou Hamed, Blair Young & Rohan Robinson at the Sydney Grand Prix

noah ngeny - 800m winner
Kenya's Noah Ngeny won the 800m in Sydney running 1:45.74. Djabir Said Guerni placed second just ahead of Andre Bucher & David Kiptoo

matt shirvington
Matt Shirvington won the Optus Sydney GP 100 metres in 10.41. Patrick Johnson finished second with NZ's Chris Donaldson third

melinda gainsford-taylor
Melinda Gainsford-Taylor won the 100 metres in 11.48. The USA's Chryste Gaines placed second with Nova Peris-Kneebone third

kelly roberts
Group two in the women's 800m at the Optus Sydney Grand Prix. ACT Academy of Sport runner - SCT's Kelly Roberts (9) ran 2:08.2

georgie clarke
Middle distance phenomenon Georgie Clarke signing autographs after placing third in the Sydney Grand Prix 800 metres (2:03.1)

Brendan Foster Interview

by Brian Lenton

Brendan Foster was a triple Olympian, placing fifth in the 1972 Munich 1500m. Brendan Foster - (photo by G Barrett)At the 1976 Montreal Olympics he placed third in the 10,000m and fifth in the 5000m after setting an Olympic record of 13 minutes 20.3 seconds in a heat. Foster has a remarkable range of personal bests from 800m to the marathon, with the 3000m and two mile marks being former world records -- 1:51.1 (800m), 3:37.6 (1500m), 3:55.9 (mile), 7:35.2 (3000m), 8:13.7 (2 mile), 13:14.6 (5000m), 27:30.3 (10,000m) and 2hrs 15min 49sec (marathon).

•  Why were you able to compete so well at a range of distances for such a long time?
Once I realised I was going to make international class I always wanted to do well. I was keen and able to focus on one event. I didn't race too much during the winter. I was always thinking of how I could get myself to be in shape when I needed to be. My personal bests and British records were always set at the major games. I wasn't that bothered whether I won an international meeting at Cologne, Brussels or Zurich.
It was the British Championship and the Commonwealth, European and Olympic Games that mattered. I was determined to collect medals so that at the end of the day I could say: 'That's what I did!'. The most important thing was to satisfy my own desire and to be judged by the knowledgeable running community. I didn't care whether Fred Smith thought my running was good. It was more important that the people who knew what running was about appreciated what I did. I think I achieved that and it was primarily because I was determined to.

•  Although much of your running was aggressive and from the front, would you describe yourself as an aggressive personality off the track?
I wouldn't but some people would. If I know what I want and my motives are right then I can chase anything as well as anyone else. I won't let things stand in the way. I worked hard and did it for myself. I was determined I was going to get what I wanted.
I wasn't going to say: 'That was a slow race, isn't it a shame', because if it had been a quick race I would have won it. I wasn't prepared to let other people do things because I'd seen enough indecision from athletes in the past and the only outlet they got was in moaning. I'd rather run, take it my way and win or lose on my efforts.

•  With this single-minded attitude was it necessary to sacrifice everything for athletics in the seventies?
No. I worked all the time. I was a school teacher from 1970-74 and then Sports and Recreation Director at Gateshead until 1981. I was married in 1972 and had kids. Basically I lived a fairly normal life. I ran to work in the morning and ran home again at night. My application to running meant we didn't lead a gay social life. But it was something I did because I enjoyed it. Initially it was a hobby and later became a way of life. I didn't sacrifice much for it.

•  How did you resolve any conflict between work, family and athletic commitments?
It was just like managing your life. I ran instead of driving to work. With our petrol prices that wasn't only a saving of time. I had sympathetic employers in the Gateshead Local Authority who allowed me to start at 10.00 a.m. and finish at 4.00 p.m.. I used to get a hell of a lot done during that time. It made me pretty active and aggressive at times because I just had to get the job done. There was a bureaucracy to cut through and decisions to be made. This was an area where people would say I was aggressive.

•  What would you regard as a good week of training?
It varied as I got older and moved up in distance. From 1974-78 I ran about 120 miles (193km) per week. I would run five miles and occasionally ten of a morning. Throughout the winter I would run steadily and never did any track or speed work. Once a week, when Gateshead Harriers was in its heyday, I would have a ten mile run with the club. The pace was all right for me but a lot of people used to have a week's rest before the run. The Tuesday night run became quite famous as it was televised a couple of times.
In the summer I'd also run 120 miles a week with ten miles or more in the morning and a track session in the afternoon. Of course if I was racing I would taper off. My training wasn't any different to anyone else's. I just ran, regularly and consistently between 100-120 miles a week all year round.

•  How did you normally cope with injuries and what sort of treatment did you get?
People will say I was very lucky. I was always injured but only in small ways and rarely so that I couldn't run. We had a great physio, Norman Anderson, and all the boys like Steve Cram, Mick McLeod and Charlie Spedding use him. Norm's a runner and hospital physiotherapist and he understands what it means if you can't run that day. He very rarely says: 'Don't run today.'
In my whole career the most running I ever missed was about three weeks. I sometimes had a week or two when I could only run five miles a day but he would rather put you right doing it like that. Norman always used to teach us about doing things to stop injures. We were always putting ice packs on our legs and wearing long socks to keep our muscles warm. If I had a niggle I used to slow down, run on grass or whatever.

•  Could you rank one to five the highlights of your athletics career?
That's an interesting question. First would be winning the 1974 European 5000m championship in 13 minutes 17 seconds in very hot weather. Second would be the bronze medal in the 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games 1500m behind Keino and Quax. I was very excited about that. Third would be breaking Emiel Putteman's world 3000m record at Gateshead running 7 minutes 35 seconds. Fourth would be winning the 1978 Edmonton Commonwealth Games 10,000m title and possibly fifth the European Cup final over 5000m at Edinburgh in 1973.

•  One thing in your biography co-authored with Cliff Temple that I didn't understand was why it took so long, while at university, to realise what you had a problem with aneamia?
I also had the feeling at the time that the more I struggled and the more it hurt the more I had to keep doing it. I was lazy. I never used to cook food for myself. I'd go to the refectory and eat all the rubbish there. Although my diet wasn't right it didn't occur to me that it was the problem. I just thought the bubble had burst. I'd been quite good, but not great as a junior. I won my first race at university as a fresher. After that I never did any good for another two years. I didn't think it could be medical reasons. All I knew was that if I missed a couple of days training I would run quite well. Yet if I trained all week I used to run crap. Since then I've always had to be careful I take in enough iron.

•  How did your blood-and-guts knock the stuffing out of them sub-sixty-second mid-race laps develop?
I thought if I could run the last lap in 54 seconds and lose, why not run 57 seconds in the middle and win? The first time I used it was a 3000m before the 1974 FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. My team, Newcastle United was playing and I told the Football Association I'd run if they gave me ten tickets.
It was a race at the time of year I would normally never run. I didn't have any speed so I would lose on the last lap if I wasn't careful. So I just cleared away in the middle and won from Juha Vaatainen and Tony Simmons. After that I thought seriously about the tactic and trained for it.

•  Although you started as a 1500m runner did you feel moving up in distance would be an inevitable process?
I never really thought about it. When I was racing over 1500m I wanted to be the best like Herb Elliott and Peter Snell. Yet after a while I realised I didn't have the basic speed to be a great miler, even though when I was fourteen I ran 54 seconds for one lap. I think if I had been trained and coached more on developing my speed I could have attained 49 second speed when I was twenty-one.

•  Who were your earliest heroes in the sport?
To be perfectly honest the first athlete I was really aware of was Herb Elliott. I remember running home from school to watch the 1960 Rome Olympics. It wasn't just winning the 1500m but the way he won the race that was great. Murray Halberg and Peter Snell also inspired me.

•  Have there been any major changes in training patterns over the last decade?
I think the most significant change has been that around 1970 everybody used to run repetition and interval type sessions like 10 x 400m or 20 x 200m or whatever. Nowadays training is more geared to the event. For example from 1978-80 when I was racing over 10,000m one of my first training sessions of the season would be to run a 10,000m of sprinting and jogging on the track.
The way the Russians are going they've got it all wrong. They assume that because ten quarters is what so and so used to do, then if I do twenty I'll be better than that. You should run the kind of training you're going to run in races. There's not a lot of point if you're a 10,000m runner of never running more than 800m reps in training. Basically the thing is to get the pulse rate down and get the heart built up in size by the long steady distance work and then be specific about your training. The long steady runs are only general conditioning and don't count as specific training.
In the early days I used to run 10 x 400m on Tuesday, 6 x 300m on Thursday and maybe 20 x 200m on Saturday. In later years the sessions were 5000m of sprinting and jogging, maybe three x one mile or five laps fast and five laps slow with a very fast middle lap. The workouts always focussed on how I was going to race.

•  When the track and field historians do you in a generation or so what would you like to be remembered for in your international running career?
Just that I did my best. That was always my motivation. I had some talent and I was determined to fulfil that. I'd like to be remembered for the way I ran.  

Excerpts from the Brendan Foster interview published in 'Through The Tape' (c) 1983.
Brian Lenton Publications.
P.O. Box 5, Duffy. ACT. 2611. Australia.


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