© Copyright – 2011 – Christopher Kelsall
Below is part 2 of the 3-part series of interviews with brothers Keith and Colin Livingstone.
Colin who now lives in England, in his words, “the sticks” is an author and professional illustrator.
Keith and Colin were competitive distance runners for New Zealand and Australia during the late 1970s to early 1990s. Both currently coach and continue to be involved with athletics.
Click here to read the very entertaining, part 1.
Chris: Colin, what are your thoughts on Mo Farah moving from England to the US to Alberto Salazar’s group?
Colin: I am not really connected with the running scene here, although I coach athletes, I am just a country boy living in the sticks. I don’t know much about who is doing what, but my initial reaction would be ‘if it ain't broke, don’t fix it’.
Salazar did very well with volume training,being coached himself by Bill Dellinger: who was coached by Bowerman, a Lydiard advocate. If Farah drops the routine that has made him double European champion, then that is a questionable decision 18 months before the Olympics, but Salazar is a smart guy who knows about life at the top.
Keith: Bill Dellinger’s concept of gradually “callusing” his athletes to quality sessions based on:
Date pace - where you are currently at
Goal pace - where you want to be
is a simple, elegant concept that is quite brilliant. These are the sorts of innovations that when placed on top of a mountain of appropriate aerobic foundation can deliver phenomenal results. I agree that when you reach a certain elite level, then there’s simply no-one around to push you in your intense sessions, or even to keep up with you in your aerobic work. Mottram had the same problem a few years ago in Australia, so he went up to places like Flagstaff.
ON ALBERTO SALAZAR AND PORTLAND
However I’m not sure of Salazar’s approach. He never seemed to have much “fun” with his own running. Is he the sort of guy you could chill out with over a beer and a bit of fishing? Running is still only a sport, but it was life or death for him, and he certainly evidenced this by being given the last rites at Falmouth one year where he collapsed on the line and they wrapped him up in foil. Gutsy, gutsy stuff, and very driven.
It seems pretty intense if you can believe what you read and hear. I think there are three coaches in Portland of note, one being Salazar, the Englishman, Rowland has put together a crack squad across the distances, which is a very hard thing to accomplish, and then Schumacher got several of his guys into the US 5000m squad at the world champs last year. Solinsky surprised the hell out of Galen Rupp last year in a 10,000m, dipping well under 27:00. At present, there are about 20 noteable runners in the States over the longer track distances, and about 15 are in Portland, so something’s happening there. A good place to train if you want to be tested in your final preparations.
The American thing to date seems to be “no pain, no gain”, and Lydiard always said that when the Americans could drop their fascination with anaerobic work that they’d beat the world.
Chris: Colin, you mentioned that coaches and athletes in Great Britain have strayed from proper training mileages to now looking for quality - the short-term fix, like what Keith refers to what has been going on in the US. Do you see any positive developments happening in GB?
Colin: I am not sure. I went to a coaching seminar in Wales where they had all these guys doing year round tempo and fartlek with bugger all conditioning. One bloke even claimed 8-12 miles was a long run for his teenage charges. I said that I was running 2-3 hours in the bush tracks of New Zealand when I was 16, could beat most guys in my school at sprinting and was mountain trekking, kayaking and cycling too - an active Kiwi lifestyle. He found that hard to take on board. Okay, I did a lot...but a lot of these coaches mollycoddle the British kids today. Hell! go to Ethiopia or Kenya and whatever I was doing in New Zealand as a teenager would be considered pretty normal. They should be following the lead of Mo Farah, Ovett, Brendan Foster...the Kenyans and Ethiopians...not the so called experts.
Keith: Our squad in Melbourne’s got a kid aged 16 who ran 3:49.6 off a mileage-based program, before Christmas. Young Kyle Alcaide-Martin. He also won the world schoolboys’ cross-country championships in Slovakia last year. Dusted off all the Morrocan kids in the last 500m. Only a little guy, but he’s got a very big engine. He and his team-mates all run about 90 minutes in the hills each Sunday at this stage, and they LOVE it! My coaching partner John Meagher says he has over 20 kids turn up early on Sunday mornings for their long runs. His school squad at Marcellin College in Melbourne has consistently topped the team results in Australian Schools’ cross-country events the last 12 years. Naturally, many many kids have been through his school programme over the years, with varying talent pools, so it’s the system and the culture, not the individual talents that enable this to happen
Colin: I don’t even bother defending the concept of conditioning...if these guys are too thick to look at the ideas of great champions and coaches...then there is an ego or pride and problem there. There is none so deaf as those who will not listen...or as blind as those who won’t see...so...no point.
At one UK Athletics Seminar in Manchester for GB athletes and their coaches, it was suggested that once an athlete gets a GB vest; that their training schedules are reviewed by UK Athletics ‘endurance’ panels. No thanks...if I get a guy onto a GB team...I don’t need someone else to sit over my shoulder. That is my only gripe with the Poms really...they love their bureaucracies. I reckon the only other GB guy who is coaching in a similar vein to the Africans is Alan Storey, although I could be wrong.
The Endurance Centre headed by Ian Stewart sounds great. There are some good young runners coming through.
Many years ago, I spoke to Harry Wilson, (Ovett’s coach) a few times. He was very much like Lydiard or Cerutty in laying a huge conditioning base, including hill-work, dunes and strength stuff. Most of the fast stuff was on golf courses or grass. Ovett hardly ever visited a track. Brendan Foster’s coach was a genius. A lot of GB runners today are into intensive running instead of extensive running, they just never get to the top end.
Keith: The Kiwi definition of “expert’ is this: ‘X’ is an unknown quantity, and ‘spurt’ is a drip under pressure. I’m just a guy who’s been around over the years, learnt from a lot of mistakes, and put his hand up. I was privileged to stay for a week with Greg McMillan in Flagstaff last year - and he really has his act together I reckon. Good guy, great team there. Anyhow, I remember saying that everyone has an opinion on something, and everyone has a backside too.
Chris: Colin, you are coaching a good mountain runner, yes?
Colin: I coached a local Welsh bloke, Tim Davies, to quite a few International wins, British, Welsh, and English championships in Mountain Running between 2001 and 2010. He got 5th in the World Trophy one year, being a top competitor in Europe too. He won the Snowdon International Mountain Race 3 times, with a 2nd and a 4th to boot. There have been a few others who have approached me...but most are too soft, scared of doing something bold and adventurous...not killers like Tim Davies. There is only one way to get stamina..develop it...no one is born able to run 2hrs05 for the marathon..it is purely a product of genetics plus conditioning.
Tim is an ex Marine, so we got on straight away. I was looking at joining the British Forces around ‘81 to ‘83...so we had the same mindset...and gallows humour. Anything I gave him, he just went out and did...asking intelligent questions which I answered with results and huge increases in threshold, recovery and performance.
THE ART OF COACHING
To me, coaching is not only about observation, progression and science...but an art...a bit of detail here, a splash of colour there...don’t overdo it or blur focal points..or you’ll ruin the picture.
In dog parlance, I would train a Greyhound 800 type differently to a Ridgeback distance type like Tim.
You have to talk to the athlete..understand what makes them tick....gradually adapt a program that caters to enthusiasm and strengths. Regardless of race distance, they should all do strength work. Unless you are animally fit with a huge aerobic base, you will not handle the harder, faster work required at the top end. That is why a lot of athletes get injured...their muscular strength and connective tissue is not developed enough to handle the harder stuff. It you have spent months of progressive, gradual conditioning, then your aerobic cruising pace develops naturally and hill work builds the relaxed power and muscle groups needed for faster running.
MORE LOW THINGS IN WEST AUCKLAND
Chris: Keith, can you describe the running scene in Auckland during the late 70s and 80’s.
Keith: Yeah. You’d be on your regular Sunday run in summer and you could be running beside a Boston-based marathoner or a Swiss Olympian, or a Polish steeplechaser. But the main thing I remember is all the hi-jinx.
Hey, Col... remember those runners’ parties we used to have round at (Chris) Pilone’s house in Mt. Eden? Remember the punk rockers over the back fence? They turned their music up loud and were yelling abuse!
Colin: Yeah. Bit of a mistake with our crowd. We all swung into action with military precision and fired skyrockets into their kitchen window from our kitchen window using a PVC drainpipe like a ground to air missile launcher to ensure absolute accuracy. I seem to recall that they got pretty annoyed when we shoved a garden hose into their bathroom window at full bore too, but they had no balls so that was a bit of a downer.
...we used to shoot horizontal skyrockets from the exhausts of cars, or front ways down the motorways, whooshing under cars at 300 mph, very pretty at night.
But what has this got to do with running? It is about the...the warrior spirit...the Apache within
Keith: That sounds good...yeah...the Apache within..
Colin: In order to beat the world , you have to beat the world, or at least give it a darn good thrashing. Never let the world beat you into submission!
Talk about thrashings...I remember Pete O’Donoghue and I nailing Lovegrove shut outside his top-floor flat when he was all set to go on a hot date. He smashed his own window through the fire escape because he could not kick the door in.
Chris: Why couldn't he kick the door in?
Colin: The reason he could not kick the door in was because O’Donoghue and I nailed it shut with 4” galvanized nails, counter punched and filled in. We kindly repainted the door frame in quick drying gloss paint. We had overalls on and painted a few other doors as well, to look as if we were maintenance boys. Looked completely kosher, but there he was with his keys, door unlocked but it was not opening. You could hear the swearing halfway down the street.
DISTANCE RUNNER'S NUTRITION
Randall Diamond at the Palmerston North Relays party. He was in a yard-glass drinking competition, and brought the whole lot up, with requisite carrots and swirly green stuff, back into the yard-glass, then drunk it down again to win...that was a real will to win. Wasn’t he a cop?
The Bronze Goat Restaurant, that was a helluva night. I ended up in a flower bed by the duck pond in the Auckland Domain, being shat on by Pigeons at 5am. I vaguely remember upending a table with a room full of businessmen, corporate seminar bullshit...sirens...then fade to black.
Keith: The Bronze Goat! That old Victorian building in Ponsonby Road! At the time one of the trendiest new restaurants in Auckland. It was Blair Roskruge’s 21st. Blair looked like he was 41, with thick stubble and an impressive walrus moustache. Yeah.. about 20 of us were packed in upstairs to a long table with a room divider behind us. 19 males, and Blair’s sister was the only female. Poor girl. We waited a long, long time for any action from the waiters, and all they gave us was beer and wine, which was like setting a time-bomb with a whole lot of dehydrated and carbohydrate-starved distance runners on a Saturday night!
Colin: No, there were plenty of females...maybe not in our group.
Keith: So we were making a helluva racket pretty quickly, when the room divider was thrust open by an important-looking businessman with a red face who told us all to quieten down as they were having a ‘board dinner’ next door. So you jumped through the doors, up onto their table, righteously and indigantly pissed, and yelled into their faces that they were “interrupting a bloody good pissup next door!”
There was stunned silence before we got asked to leave by an angry hermaphrodite waiter. So we all meekly obeyed his/her request, and went out very quietly through the window and down the old external iron fire escape stairs to the street below, deftly bypassing more angry hermaphrodites at the till and the police coming in the front door.
Colin: What about that poor little Chinese bugger in Queen Street who had an “all you can eat for $5.00” smorgasbord (this was 1979) with an endless pot of tea or coffee. So hordes of us descended after our Sunday long run and took him at his word.
Keith: Yeah, I already told Chris about that. The poor little guy had tears in his eyes as he said he “liked us”, but “please don’t come here and eat - you are eating way too much”. 20 skinny guys with empty legs post-22 miler take a LOT of filling. He got really quite edgy when the field events boys heard about the deal and decided to partake as well, after their “heavy Sunday” morning on the weights.
Chris: After your Sunday 22 milers, didn't you feast with a toaster in the bath?
Keith: No. OVER the bath, on a wooden tray. Had the kettle there, and teapot, and the whole works. I’d usually just hammered a hilly 25-miler when I needed to top up. All I’d be thinking of the last 5 miles was tea and toast with marmalade.
Colin: Remember getting that whale vertebra out of that carcass that washed up on Muriwai beach? You, me, and Moloney on a 2 hour run through Woodhill Forest and the sand dunes. What the hell were we thinking? We could smell the bloody thing half a mile downwind. You kept on saying ‘look at that shape in the distance...it is probably the hull of a 16th century Portugese Caravelle’...then we got closer and saw it was a humungous, stinking, bloody decomposed whale with scattered vertebrae the size of typewriters...those were just the small ones near its rotted tail.
You were jumping up and down on the carcass like it was a Bouncy Castle, comparing it to an incredibly thick rubbery leather..when you fell in...you came out covered in oily, tar like rotting flesh, sea lice and Christ knows what else.
Keith: I don’t remember falling into the carcass!
Colin: You don’t remember anything that you don’t want to! We all ran back another hour to the car in Woodhill Forest, carrying this bloody Whalebone in a relay...with you stinking like a Tramp’s jockstrap. We got to Moloney’s car with towels on the seats and the windows wide open all the way back to a teashop by Waimauku. Old ladies were having afternoon tea...with you sitting there...proudly stinking the joint out ...smelling like something died. Rolling in the surf did not get rid of it, soap, detergent, nothing but my industrial tub of Swarfega.
We still got that Whalebone back to Pilone and Moloney’s flat though..where it became a coveted trophy. Moloney...a huge talent and a true animal...could have been as good as Dixon or Quax.
Keith: And what about the time I threw a bottle back at a dickhead who’d thrown one at me while I was running in Melbourne... and got him ‘full on’ just behind his left ear.
They were stuck at lights in thick traffic before I got to them. He was the front seat passenger. He crumpled like a sack of spuds and the bottle bounced back hard with a delightful “bonk” into the rear window, and I ‘came to’ seeing a whole queue of drivers looking at me with their jaws dropped. Wrote about that in detail for my club magazine but they wouldn’t print it...said it was not a good example for junior athletes and families. Hell... I took off into the bush and back-tracked along the creek so that the sniffer dogs wouldn’t find me...
What in blazes were we thinking? Were we even capable of thinking? Thinking never entered into anything. Thinking isn’t living! Thinking’s for guys like Steven Hawking!
Colin: Yeah Steven Hawking.
Chris: Keith, you competed while New Zealand was still a world-beater in distance track, road and cross-country. You were close, but never qualified for an ‘official’ black singlet. Does that still bug you?
Keith: Yeah. Very annoying, but we’ll call it ‘experience’ and that annoyance has led me to write my book (Healthy Intelligent Training) and make sure others don’t repeat my mistakes! Nice of me, eh?
THE TALE OF THE MISSED SELECTION RACE
Keith: I got 2nd to Dixon in the 5000m trial for the Pacific Conference Games at the end of 1980. We all understood that the first two in each track event were on the team. I got 2nd on a hot humid Auckland afternoon to Dixon, who charged away and hung on for a sub-14:00. (Why would they put on a distance race at 3pm at a time of year when those conditions are always likely in Auckland? Why not have distance races in the early evening if times were what they were after? Go figure!) I came right through the field from well back in the pack, way back in 14:11, but a long way ahead of the rest. I think third was in the 14:20’s, which shows you that the conditions weren’t great for getting a time in a selection race. There were some very good guys behind me, one of whom came 8th in the LA 1500m final in 1984, but of course this was the end of 1980.
Anyhow... I didn’t get selected. However I had a couple of starts lined up in PCG warm-up meets, over 3000m, so I felt I had a point to prove. In Auckland, on another hot afternoon in January, I hung in tough with Dixon and Renner, and another guy Alan Thurlow, who was punching out the pace from the front. I had no real tactical sense or experience at that stage, and when I heard Dixon breathing hard coming into the last lap, for some reason I jumped the whole field with 300m to go and opened a decent gap. Then I came to, realizing... hey... you’re in the lead and you’ve got Rod Dixon behind you...let’s do this!” and I was still ahead going into the last bend, but coming off it, Rod launched up the last straight to really clear out and I was going for it, but totally lactic. Paul O’Donoghue, who was a very talented runner, got me right before the line, which was annoying. Anyhow, 3rd in an “international” was ok, as I’d left some pretty good guys behind me. I ran 8:06 there, and it may have been quicker if the whole field hadn’t banked up on the second last lap in 68s. We’d been averaging 64’s before that. In hindsight, if I’d applied some pressure 700m out, smoothly, when everyone was starting to breathe hard, I may have done better, because I was still feeling pretty good. I ran a 57s last lap, so Dixon must’ve run a 52-53, most of which was over the last 200m. He went past like a train.
Then on the next Wednesday night in Wellington, I’d set myself to do whatever it took to either win and/or break 8:00 trying. We had another good lineup of Kiwis, as well as the Japanese 1500m runner Junjiro Motoyama, and his 5000m counterpart Masami Otsuka. This was a very odd race, not helped by strong westerly winds coming down the finishing straight, or by the crazy team tactics of the Japanese duo. The Kiwis who I’d have expected to have been there just backed off from the start, and were no help to anyone.
So these Japanese runners took off from the start with surges every 100m, which they shared out between them. I was feeling very grumpy with a nasty boil under my left armpit. It was one of those days I shouldn’t have got out of bed, and here I was in a race that wasn’t panning out anything like I’d imagined. Their coach had positioned himself on the inside of the track at the 300m mark, and was yelling instructions to them on each lap. I really wanted to nail them , but I was also annoyed at the coach’s furious arm-waving and yelling. So as I went past him, I yelled “Banzai” and he jumped back startled. I did the same sort of thing as I went past each runner, but I think I was more polite this time, saying Konichi-Wa or Sayonara as I passed them.
Anyhow, the first mile felt horrible, in only 4:19, but that’s what happens when you have a strong wind and two guys playing games with the field. It was a hard-won pleasure to get past them, and I eventually cranked out a good win by 4 seconds from Motoyama, and 7 seconds from Otsuka. The time was only 8:13, but a win is a win. It was a rough last 600m, and I remember to this day the hard grasstex surface sounding “clack, clack, clack” under my spikes as I went for the win, and commentator Roger Robinson saying to the crowd something like “and here comes Keith Livingstone from University, who SHOULD have been selected for the 5000m in Christchurch.” To give you an idea of the conditions, John Walker got 2nd in the 800m to Mike Hillardt in 1:52. The NZ selectors who were at that meeting didn’t comment at the informal dinner after the meeting, and I seriously wonder if they even knew who I was. I wasn’t the type of guy to go up and introduce myself, either, so there was this ‘disconnection’ going on.
Motoyama got bronze the next week in the PCG 1500m, and Otsuka got a silver over 5000m. And the guy picked ahead of me for the team , who didn’t run the trial, ran another event anyhow. Could I have done something if I was selected? I like to think so.
So; although I loved my running dearly, I wasn’t prepared to be disappointed like that again, and the next year I was in Australia studying to be a chiropractor. I thought I had the brains to just cruise through the academic coursework, but the course was way, way more demanding than I ever envisaged, and I had to really knuckle down for several years, and this time my nemesis wasn’t a band of inept selectors, but an Afrikaaner professor who took a dislike to me from my first week on campus. So.. we all have these people pop up in our lives, no matter what we do. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to keep our dreams alive no matter what.
Einstein was held back from his PhD by a guy called Heinrich Weber, who apparently said to him something like ”Einstein, you’re a very clever boy, but you have one great failing- you think you know everything”.
<<Read part 3 here>>