The Father Figure

Special Tribute to Arthur Lydiard - Part 2
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What a life! What a man! On December 12, 2004, New Zealand lost one of our greatest treasures. Arthur Leslie Lydiard passed on to his higher reward. The world has lost a very caring and wonderful person. The world of sport and particularly running has lost someone far greater; it has lost a genius of coaching and motivation, the inspiration for thousands of athletes and millions of joggers. Personally, I have lost a friend and father figure. 

What was it that made Lydiard different, that made him a maker of history? Often I wonder what this man possessed that from modest beginnings he could turn someone like me into an Olympic medalist and world-ranked athlete? It started in 1952, when I was 18. I had been running for three years with Wellesley Harrier Club, guided by a sound and sensible club captain in Gil Edwards. I had enjoyed a successful season, but one day after winning a junior road race in Hamilton, Gil sat me down for a chat. "Barry," he said, "I think you have quite a lot of potential, and I am not sure if I am the one to develop it. But I know who can."

Gil introduced me to a small man with a hawk-like face who spoke in short, abrupt sentences while fixing me with a piercing stare. Gil told the man he thought I could develop well and asked whether he'd take over my training. Those piercing eyes looked right through me as he said, "Son, are you prepared to run 100 miles per week? If not, just tell me, because you would be wasting your time and mine."

I must have stuttered out the word yes, because the next morning I arrived at the home of Arthur Lydiard to get my first training schedule. Much has been written of Lydiard and his training methods. But like the man himself, what he gave me was straightforward. Two months of 100 miles a week which, while termed marathon conditioning, he made everyone do. After that came four weeks of resistance work that included a lot of hill springing with downhill striding and gradual implementations of reps, but still close to 100 miles a week. This was followed by 12 weeks where we mixed long runs with track training, time trials, reps, fartlek, sharpening sessions and races to arrive at a peak for the major goal. Eight years later I won an Olympic bronze medal in the marathon.

This man changed my life. He spoke with such confidence and authority that I never doubted any word he said. He was a trailblazer, and today I still look back with amazement and admiration at how he totally changed the way the world approached running, sport and fitness. His training brought me an incredible confidence in my fitness and ability, and with his inspirational, motivational and believable manner, when Arthur Lydiard told me I could win a race, I knew I could. 
I never doubted Lydiard's word. I remember in 1960 I received an invitation to run in Japan's prestigious Fukuoka International Marathon, an event that is often harder to win than the Olympics. Fukuoka was the first week in December, but I had already been away for six weeks at the Rome Olympics. December was the busiest time of the year for me as a grocerÑand as a married man with two children to support, the last thing I needed was more time away. I thought it only fair to tell Arthur about my decision to decline the invitation, so I told my wife I'd be back in half an hour and drove around to Arthur's house. Two hours later I arrived back home to tell my wife that I was going to Japan! 

I am not sure if I got a word in at Arthur's place that night. His opening sentence was, "Barry, you are going to be the first New Zealander to win an international marathon. You can do this for every marathon and distance runner in New Zealand. This is an opportunity that you cannot let pass. You go and win it." So I went and I won!

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