What a weekend! On Saturday afternoon I watched the cream of British and Irish Masters battle it out over the fields of Santry Desmene, where I ran in my first All Ireland Championships well over 40 years ago.
On Saturday night I was the guest of Athletics Ireland at their Annual Awards Dinner and had the pleasure of seeing Eamonn Christie and Ciara Mageean pick up two well deserved awards. I also got the opportunity to speak to and receive an autograph from the great Ronnie Delaney, the Olympic Champion from Melbourne in 1956 and hero of all aspiring young middle distance runners in Ireland of my vintage.
On Sunday morning I was up before the larks and on my way to Dublin Airport for what I hoped would be a reunion with another legend.
I first met Frank Horwill in October 1973 when he was invited by Sean and Maeve Kyle to lead a training weekend based on the North Coast around the dunes of Portstewart. By the end of the three days Frank had approved my qualification as a BAAB Club Coach and left me a quivering wreck.
I had finished the 1973 season fairly satisfied with a 1:52.4 800m and a conviction that I knew what hard work was all about. Mr. Horwill knocked that idea on the head. On the Friday night after Registration we did a 35 min run. The following morning the session was an 8 mile run including 2 miles fartlex. After lunch we returned to the dunes for 10 mins hard sand running including a ‘sprint’ up a giant sand dune. This was followed by 4 x 5 x 100 metres with 20/15/10 and 5 seconds recovery and 2 minutes between sets. Sunday being the ‘day of rest’ we began with a mile warm up and some exercises on the sand. Then it was into 3 x 800m fast with 4 minutes recovery and a mile and half jog back for lunch. All that remained was an afternoon stroll of 10 miles!
It took me two days to recover but I left Portrush inspired by this man and in possession of a signed copy of what was to become my ‘bible’ , The Complete Middle Distance Runner by Horwill, Denis Watts and Harry Wilson (coach to Steve Ovett). Frank had inscribed the book with the words “Coaching an athlete from nothing to something is a noble cause”.
Frank was not everyone’s cup of tea but he was full of qualities that I admired. He did not treat fools gladly and British Athletics had more than its fair share of fools. He was the scourge of the English Womens’ AAAs because he had the audacity to believe that girls should be training as hard as the men and running long distance races like 3000 metres! He spoke his mind and cared not a jot about what others thought. He was generous to a fault and he lived and breathed running.
He was also a fighter, a quality which has stood him in good stead in the last number of years as he has fought illness time and again. I have known his qualities as a fighter since 1974 when having shattered my personal bests for every event from 100 metres to 2 miles Frank invited me to run in a British Milers event at Crystal Palace. The invitation included being hosted by Frank in his one roomed flat in London. In the evening he took me for a meal to his favourite Greek Restaurant in Golder’s Green.
As the meal progressed we noticed that another of the customers in the restaurant was one of Britain’s greatest runners and I was totally star struck. Unfortunately the athlete in question was, in modern parlance, ‘blocked’. He was also somewhat belligerent and called Frank some very nasty names and questioned his parenthood. Frank accepted the first onslaught but issued a warning of retribution if the insult was repeated.
The insult was duly repeated and retribution followed in the form of a punch to the nose which sent this very famous athlete flying over the dinner tables. Frank compensated the owner and we left. In the early hours of the morning we were awakened by the phone as a sobering famous athlete issued an apology!
The significance of all this to my weekend was that I was travelling to Manchester to meet Frank again for the first time in nearly forty years. During that time Frank’s training methods produced the best ever performance by a British athlete at the World Cross Country when Tim Hutchings took the Silver Medal and Peter Coe acknowledged Franks’ influence in his coaching of Seb to Olympic Gold. His ideas are heralded throughout the world and countless athletes owe their success to his methods and in particular his ‘five pace’ system all of which can be read in ‘Obsession for Running’ of which Frank is the author.
Arguably Frank’s greatest contribution to middle distance running was his formation of the British Milers Club. Formed in 1963 the aim of the club was, and remains, to improve the standards of British Middle Distance running. This is to be achieved by coach education, providing competition opportunities where the main aim is to improve times and to encourage the top British athletes to compete against each other.
As a further consequence of that initial meeting with Frank I found myself in 1975 succeeding Neil Morton as the Northern Ireland Regional Secretary for the British Milers Club. I would be the first to admit that my contribution to the above mentioned aims has been somewhat minimal. But in the last few years I have shown a greater commitment and have promoted several middle distance meets under the BMC banner as well as a couple of high profile races at Ravenhill with Ulster Rugby. I also came into contact with the BMC Treasurer and Chairman Pat Fitzgerald and Tim Brennan and when the idea of a Grand Prix BMC meet in Belfast was muted I jumped at the chance.
Thanks to the efforts of Pat and Tim and a lot of hard work by the staff of Athletics Northern Ireland the event was considered by all to have been a great success. Frank was unfortunately too ill to get across to Belfast but he too was convinced that the meeting was a success and so it was that I found myself on my way to Manchester to receive the ‘Frank Horwill Trophy for Services to BMC’ from the man himself. Despite being hospitalised again during the week I was delighted when I saw Frank entering the room and I was therefore given the opportunity to publically pay tribute to the man who has had an immense influence of my running and coaching career.
Despite the fact that the criteria for the award required the ‘Services to BMC’ to be for at least 10 years I am acutely aware that it was the success of the Belfast Grand Prix which was the main contributing factor in the award and I would like to thank all those who worked a lot harder than me in making it a great success.
However it is my name on the trophy and I am keeping it!
Visit John Glover's NI Stats website at: http://www.track-ni.org/