Back to the future with running royalty

This week saw ‘Back to the Future Day’. The date (21st October 2015) that Marty McFly travelled to in the future during the hit 80s film of the same name, first released 30 years ago.

Back in 1985, life was different. English football clubs were banned from European fixtures. A ‘Walkman’ played cassette tapes. And Sinclair C5s were the future of transport.

Team GB had the likes of Coe, Ovett, Cram, Moorcroft and many others tearing up tracks and helping us punch above our weight as a nation.  And, our marathoners were world class, challenging at every major Championship and breaking world records for fun.

Back in modern day Britain, last Saturday, I was lucky enough to be invited to the excellent England Athletics Hall of Fame Dinner in Birmingham. The event featured key players in the world of sport, and celebrated sporting greats and volunteers from clubs up and down the country. Nine athletics greats, including Olympic silver medallist Roger Black and Paralympic 800m champion Danny Crates, were inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame.


There were many notable moments during the ceremony, but two stood out for me. Firstly, a moving video message from new IAAF President Seb Coe thanking England Athletics for inducting his father, Peter, for coaching excellence. And, secondly, the legendary figure of Basil Heatley presented with his award by club-mate David Moorcroft, who spoke of how Heatley had inspired him and many others within the Coventry Godiva club to work hard and run faster.

During the dinner, I was lucky enough to meet Noel Thatcher, the British Paralympic runner who represented his country at six Paralympic Games, and won five gold medals. A major figure within the running community, it would be harder to meet a nicer guy, or one more willing to help other runners succeed. If you don’t follow him on twitter, you should.

The theme of running greats willing to help us slower runners continued once the dinner and ceremony had finished. To my glee, I found myself in the company of two other members of running royalty, and marathoning legends, in Ron Hill (2.09.28 PB) and Bill Adcocks (2.10.48 PB). These two, along with Basil Heatley (2.13.55 PB), have an average personal best quicker than most of today’s Great Britain runners. In fact, if they ran their best times tomorrow, two of the three would be faster than GB’s quickest marathon runner this year.

Having read so much about them, and having even written to Bill Adcock to get a copy of his book ‘The Road to Athens’, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to ask for advice. The pair were only too willing to chat to another member of the running community. And their advice was simple: “Work harder”. It’s a “long hard road’ said Ron Hill and “not easy”, but “always worth it”.

I was struck just how willing they were to give advice and to chat about a sport they clearly still loved. Here were some of the greatest marathoners this country has ever seen, yet I seriously doubt many young up and coming marathon runners on the national stage would seek them out to learn from them. And that is sad. These guys ran their fast times without nutritional aids, technology or modern kit. They were the best in the world, and generations since have struggled to match their achievements.

EA Dinner

Some of that will be down to societal factors meaning an ‘I want it now’ culture has overcome our ability to work hard – it’s no surprise that ‘cheap debt’ (i.e. credit cards) really burst onto the scene in the late 1980s and our results have suffered since. However, the times of these legends show they were ahead of their time in every way. Maybe it is time for us all to go back to the future and learn from these running legends when we still can?

Back in 1985 in ‘Back to the Future’ the Doc says at one point: “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads.” Shock horror, in 2015 we all need roads. And if you are to listen to the likes of Ron Hill and Bill Adcocks, we need to be spending more time pounding them if we really want to become better runners.

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