Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Whatever happened to the Heroes?

Simon Lawson

The person who provided me with the initial inspiration to run longer distances, as a kid, was a guy called Harry Hayes.You've never heard of him?Perhaps that's because he wasn't real,only existing in the world of celluloid.I remember being about 10 years old and watching 'The Games'.The film followed fictional characters from various parts of the world as they trained to compete in the Olympic Marathon.The Harry Hayes character captivated me-an ordinary working man (a milkman),who under the guidance of an overbearing coach and a grueling training schedule,gradually rose to the higher echelons of British distance running.The pivotal scene for me was in the changing rooms just before the start of the Olympic Marathon.Harrys coach informed him that,not only did he expect him to win;he wanted him to run the first sub 2 hour marathon.When the film was made,in the late 1960's, when the world record was around the 2 hr 10 min mark,it was certainly a huge ask.Harry set off on schedule,but in scenes reminiscent of the famous Jim Peters collapsing scenes on the final lap of the track,at the end of the race,he failed.However I was inspired,got changed straight away,and went outside with the intention of running until I collapsed.My bedroom door,until I left home to go to university,had a homemade sign pinned to it bearing the legend,'Think of Harry Hayes and Douglas Jardin.'Douglas Jardin was the English Cricket captain on the infamous 'Bodyline' ashes tour-but that's another story.

The influence of Harry Hayes probably inspired my interest in the mavericks of long distance running.I devoured information on Percy Cerutty and his 'stotan'regime,at Portsea,Victoria ,which produced several great athletes,the most famous being Herb Elliot,the mile world record breaker.There were also Ron Clarke and Derek Clayton.Ron Clarke trained 3 times a day,often raced at least once a week and trained with the same intensity all year.He did not attempt to peak for races or championships,seldom trained on a track,did not keep a training log and never used a watch.Derek Clayton was similar.He was entirely self trained and,typically,ran between 140-170 miles per week,sometimes running over 200 miles.This approach brought results-he was the first man to run a marathon in under 2 hrs 10 mins and 2 hrs 9 mins.

With the increase in scientific knowledge over the past couple of decades the number of these maverick heroes have become few and far between.Vo2 max tests,blood lactate tests etc have shown the types of exercise needed to achieve the results,therefore the number of people ready to rip up the rule books are decreasing...but there are still some out there.

One of my personal favourite runners is Anton Krupicka.Anton appeared 4/5 years ago as part of an emerging young guard of ultra running.Traditionally the reserve of older athletes,these youngsters,including Anton and the Skaggs brothers,Kyle and Eric, ripped up the record books.Their approach echoed the 'dirtbag' surf and climbing lifestyles..they literally lived to run,living cheap,and shunning much of the modern technolgy used in running circles.Antons approach is basic-big miles everyday,usually ran at a comfortable pace.That is basically it-no intervals,no core/gym work-just plain running.The fact that Anton regularly runs close to 200 miles a week and that most of it is done on mountains and at altitude is awe inspiring.

A little closer to home is another maverick,altogether less well known.Simon Lawson is a Welshman,currently studying for a medical degree.In 2009 he won a silver at The European Junior Championships.His typical training day defies belief:
Up at 5a.m 10 mins of sit ups
Morning Run
Another 10 mins of sit ups
One hour core work in the gym
Another 10 mins of sit ups

Lunchtime 10 mins of sit ups
Lunch time run
10 mins of sit ups

P.m Quality session of the day-intervals/reps etc
One hour of core work

His basic philosophy is simple-run far,run often,lots of core work,nothing complicated.Again Simon is self coached.
In 2009 he completed one of the fastest Half Marathon times for a Britain as a teenager ever-65mins 49 secs.

Another remarkable aspect of his training is his diet.For the last 7 years Simon has not eaten anything that he considers to be 'crap food.'He has consumed not a single chocolate,sweet,fizzy drink,chip,burger or cake.The only liquid he has consumed has been water.

The Simon Lawson story does not have a happy ending.As is often the case with mavericks he has had his fair share of confrontations with the Athletic authorities.In the 2009 Euro Junior champs he was not allowed to compete in the 5 000m ,several days after the 10 000m,the authorities telling him it was too much.He was dissappointed with his silver medal in the 10 000m,and attributed it to him not being allowed to prepare for the race his own way.Lawson did not believe in tapering,indeed the day before his half marathon performance he completed 3 runs-16 miles/9 miles and 5 miles -but was told to take it easy before his 10 000m race.He disagrees with the over protective attitude of the governing body-that less is more.

Unfortunately Simon Lawson announced his retirement from the sport earlier this year,at 20 years old.He was disenchanted with the fact he could not obtain lottery funding,that he even had to pay £3.75 to use his local track.This ,combined with a period of injury caused by slipping on a pile of leaves,proved to be the icing on the cake for Simon.He decided to concentrate on his medical degree and resume playing football.

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