Distance runner remembers the Bislett Games in Oslo in July 1988 when he won the 10,000m in a British record of 27:23.06
I was still working for Ford at that point – officially as a testing and development engineer, testing all of the various components around the car. When I came back from the 1984 Olympic Games, the powers that be there met me and asked: “Is there anything we can do to help?”
I’d gone to Europe after those Olympics and raced in Cologne and Koblenz, as did Dave Moorcroft, and I spent quite a bit of time with him. He told me that he’d tried full-time working, part-time working and being a full-time athlete. He found that by far the best balance had been working part-time and having a purpose each day so that he wasn’t just hanging around waiting to train.
So, when Ford came to me, I said I could do with working shorter hours per day – from 10am until 3.15pm – and they sanctioned it. From 1984 onwards, that’s exactly what happened.
I just absolutely grabbed it and made the best use of it, thinking I was incredibly fortunate to have been given this opportunity. I had plenty of time in the morning: to train, to stretch, to shower, to do breakfast properly and go to work.
I hadn’t really changed my winter, I think I’d added just a couple of miles to the Sunday run, and I just got better and better and stronger and stronger.
Then, in the transition from winter into spring, I was doing some bigger sessions on the track and they were going fantastically well.
That’s when Mel Batty, my coach, said: “You should really dip your toe in the water at 10,000m this season.” I thought that sounded like a really good idea.
I was doing big sessions at Basildon and, one time, [1980 Olympian] Barry Smith came over.
I told him: “I’m looking at running the Bislett 10,000m on Saturday.” He joined in, did half a session, then watched the second half.
He said to me: “That was absolutely amazing. On Saturday, you’re either going to run a blinder or you’re going to go too fast and the wheels are going to come off.”
I still had to get my head around the 10,000m. Nevertheless, if you are a track runner at 5000m, and physically doing great sessions – and mentally they’re tough as well – you kind of feel ready for it. And that’s what I was doing.
It had rained a little before the race. The air was slightly oxygenated. It was dead still and cool inside. They scheduled the 10,000m for late evening – just before the Dream Mile, which Steve Cram won. It made it a long old day.
In 1988, I won the 5000m in Zurich and came second in Edinburgh – I’d had a very good season, coming off a comeback year in 1987. After 1984, I kept suffering Achilles problems, having good winters but tough summers. But, that year, I’d raced quite a bit.
Everything was pointing towards 27:30 and the British record in Oslo if it all went incredibly well. That was my opinion. That was Mel’s opinion.
Everything suggested it, so I thought I would work my way to the front group, hang on and then really start to think tactically from maybe four laps out, depending how it was going. And that’s exactly what happened.
It was a 13:43 first 5km. I was pretty pleased with that, because I felt really, really good and really comfortable. Gradually, it got whittled down to four of us: Hansjörg Kunze of East Germany, Arturo Barrios the Mexican and Salvatore Antibo of Italy.
With two laps to go, I felt the pace was dropping. I heard the time and I just quickly did the calculation. I thought: “I don’t want this pace to drop because I’m well inside the British record. If we do a 65 lap, I can probably run a 55 at least, if not faster.” Two minutes for the last 800m was just in my head.
I went to the front, just to keep the pace going, but I felt really comfortable. I had to make sure I was inside the British record. I’ve never really thought like that, because I’d always thought about winning the race and that was still my priority.
We got to the bell. Barrios and Antibo were there and I let them overtake me, because I quite like attacking from behind. With 300m to go, I thought: “I feel brilliant. What am I doing?”
Off I went. I thought I’d sprint from there to the finish and that’s what I did. I think I ran 26 seconds for the last 200m, which is why it was seven seconds inside Brendan Foster’s record.
People say about the tactics. You have to be aware that there were some seasoned runners in there and I thought I might be hanging on for dear life towards the end of the race and just using my sprint. But I was feeling good and that was probably the really pleasant surprise.
Two months later, I didn’t finish in the Olympic 10,000m final. It was two races. I always felt that it was almost ridiculous: running qualifying heats in the 10,000m. Runners are all different and different physical sizes. As a runner, I was probably more on the heavy side so I didn’t think that naturally lent itself to recovery.
Also, I was in great shape for 5000m. I got almost morally pressurised into the 10,000m because I was the British record-holder but I wasn’t an experienced runner. I was a much better 5000m runner then.
When I went to the World Championships in Tokyo in 1991, they actually had the heat of the 10,000m on the Friday and the final on the Sunday. At least at the Olympics, it had been Friday and then Monday. I ran 28:23.42 in the heat on the Friday on a really hard track. My legs were not in good shape. When I tried to get massage out there, I struggled. The masseurs had gone to bed when I finished the race.
Now it’s one-off races at major championships, which is much better. That doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it much better because you’re not recovering from a 10,000m just before you race the final. I’m glad that changed for the better of the sport.
» This article was originally published in the October issue of AW magazine. To subscribe, go here