Fartlek & Low Things in West Auckland Part 1



© Copyright – 2011 – Christoper Kelsall

Colin Livingstone is a UK-based writer and illustrator who was a competitive distance runner in New Zealand, representing Auckland in national competition over road and cross-country from the 1970’s to the early 1990’s. He relished fast ‘bush running’ on the wild hilly trails of Auckland’s west coast, long before the days that mountain running was an official sport.

He coaches British and Welsh champion, Tim Davies, a three-time winner of the annual Snowdon International Mountain Race, and top performer at the European and World level. Tim went from being 15th in Britain to 5th in the world within three years of this progressive endurance conditioning.

Colin's twin brother, Keith Livingstone, was a national-level runner in New Zealand and Australia, winning Wellington and Auckland titles,with top performances on road, track and cross country. He ran 44.37 for 15k on the road in 1983, and won the final of the Budget 10k road race series in 1984. Keith is the author of the best-selling book on the Arthur Lydiard method of training, Healthy Intelligent Training, which was written with the serious middle distance athlete in mind and to modernize Lydiard's method to today's language (brother Colin provided the illustrations).

In 1990 Keith helped his current coaching colleague John Meagher to a debut marathon time of 2 hours 16 minutes, and later to a Melbourne Marathon victory, and three titles in the World Masters Games. Their “HIT Squad” currently boasts three nationally ranked senior 1500m runners.

Colin and Keith grew up a stones throw from the legendary Arthur Lydiard and in the same neighbourhood of many of his great athletes. Keith is now a coach and chiropractor in Australia, while Colin resides in Great Britain.

Recently I have had the occasion to discuss with both Colin and Keith the subjects of athletics and training principles that guided them during their years as competitive. The following is part one of the seven-part series of interviews.


Christopher Kelsall: Colin, during a recent conversation you were suggesting that CoeOvett and Cram, despite popular dogma, actually ran serious mileage buildups back in the day, just like Snell and company. What sort of of mileage (during the buildup) are we talking about?

Colin Livingstone: All these guys did volume conditioning during the autumn and winter, with hill work, faster tempo and VO2 efforts in the Spring. Then they did specific track work to early Summer. In terms of weekly mileage, anywhere from 70 to 120 miles. Ovett once topped 160 miles in a single week. Any decent runner can handle steady conditioning of 100 miles in a week. I never believed that Coe only ran 35 miles a week. I’ve met blokes who trained with him, including long steady runs outside Sheffield, but he is a politician and a superb tactician.

Keith Livingstone: Yeah, there was a bit of bovine excreta flying around over this myth, which it clearly was. I have looked at this question quite deeply and can very confidently say that Coe trained on a Lydiard-based system, for many reasons. Coe has confirmed it himself in public recently, anyway, at a guest breakfast in Melbourne a year or two ago with Steve Ovett and over 100 attendees.

Now that he’s about 55 and a peer of the realm, he possibly feels relaxed enough to admit what we all knew anyway. Dave E. Martin, his exercise physiologist, first confirmed it to me in 2006. Was it deliberate misinformation, or was it a media beat-up based on sensational reporting? Possibly the latter, but Peter and Seb did nothing in the short term to quell the media fire once it got going. It’s like when the headmaster thinks the guy beside you has crapped in the rose gardens; if you have a chance to skulk off under the radar, you’d take that chance wouldn’t you? I probably would if I thought that there was such a thing as “secrets” in training.

Here’s how it could have happened:

Coe did run 35 miles a week, at one stage, when he was resting a slight foot injury while deep in his track season during his major breakthrough year in 1978. Freshening up for racing after a massive build-up was an old-hat Lydiard thing anyhow. Seb obviously had a massive conditioning base beforehand, and it all came together for a few very big weeks in the office.

Chris: Then?

Keith: Then a journalist asked him something like “what have you been doing in training?”, and Coe answered truthfully with respect to his previous few weeks, I guess. You can imagine the sports reporter probing for any angle that could shed a different light on the secrets of becoming the Nureyev of the track. With the media beat-up and need for sensation, the legend was born, and neither Seb nor Peter Coe saw a real need to correct it. Clearly, Peter was and still is a very cagey old bugger, and was big on “mind games”.

Peter’s book (Running for Fitness, July 1984)

Peter wrote this little general fitness book for fun-runners years ago. Good read too. In it, he staged a scenario where an average jogger wanted to beat his show-pony neighbour in a local fun-run. All cloak and dagger stuff. Peter had the would-be fun-runner doing secret sessions at different times, and the words “Don’t let your enemy know what you are doing” emerged from the text. Hilarious! So if a neighbourhood fun run needs mind games, what about the Olympics? My friend Tony Wilson in Melbourne is a real running nerd, and he showed me a long letter written to Athletics weekly by Peter Coe many years ago, that went to great pains to state that Coe’s training was largely “orthodox”. But never there, or in his highly touted book with David E. Martin, did he outline exactly what this ‘orthodox’ training was. Draw your own conclusions. Somewhere in the letter, Peter stated that Coe‘s gym sessions were only to be done AFTER he’d got through his running sessions for the day successfully, if he had the energy. So it was an add-on session but the main thing was the main thing: running, and lots of it. The gym sessions were initially done after-hours with the large group of resident PE students at Loughborough who were supervised by the very smart George Gandy.


Over the years, tales come out of the woodwork from all kinds of people. One of the Kenyan place-getters (in his early 40’s at that time) in the Grandmas Marathon in Minnesota a few years ago, told Nobby Hashizume that when he was a teenager, he had spotted Coe training up and down the legendary Thompson’s Falls hill climb in Kenya. Apparently he bettered the phenomenal 22 hill climbs in succession done by Ben Jipcho years before. (Kip) Keino trained there as well. If you’re bettering those two guys’ marks on a track that would get mountain goats puking, you’re going OK.

Peter Coe also had Lydiard’s number, and used it now and again. When Nobby Hashizume was staying with Arthur in 1984 a call came through from Peter Coe. From what Nobby told me, they were in Arthur’s office at Winstone’s Concrete. Arthur didn’t say anything in particular about it, because he always got calls from coaches, but apparently Seb was doing a bit too much intense work a bit too early and was getting swollen glands, so Arthur suggested a couple weeks of pure aerobic top-up would get him back on track. If Peter and Seb followed this suggestion, and we don’t really know if they did or didn’t, then the result was damned good. I’d guess they did, because Arthur was the man with the score on the board.


Colin: Did Keith ever tell you about the one with the Doberman Pinscher guard dogs we used for a bit of speed work and fartlek?

Chris: No but he did tell the story in a previous interview about a fellow runner that while out on a run with a group of Lydiard guys, would pee inside the shoe of one particular training partner, which through that created a fartlek session.

Keith: Yeah, to protect the guilty, let’s just say the guy’s name was Fred Smith. But he had an incredible “skill” that I’ve never seen replicated anywhere else. He could pee accurately onto the socks of the runner on his left, while running. He used to do this just after the big hill climb on the Waiatarua. He got me once, and I just laughed. But the guy he picked on that day was a stocky red-head 2:17 marathoner who was new to the group. So at the 13 mile mark of the Waiatarua, these guys took off with Graeme wanting to kill Fred. They seemed to have sorted it out when we gradually caught up, but they were well under 5’s I’d say for a mile or two.

Chris: So who is this so-named, “Fred Smith”?

Keith: “Fred” was a training rat in his early 40’s at that stage, and I’m sure he was well under 2:20 for the marathon as well. He’s probably still running the long runs. He used to be Kevin Ryan’s regular training partner. He had a long nose with huge nostrils that were specifically adapted for air intake, and he was very encouraging to young runners like me. Once when I was 18 he shepherded me through a senior men’s interclub 5000m race, right until the final 200m, with instructions to “take off”, which I did. He was just making sure that I learned how to pace myself through a 5k.

Chris: What sort of time did you finish in?

Keith: I think it was only 15:29,

Chris: Tragic.

Keith: But I heard “15:02” with 200 to go. A few of the senior male athletes were a bit stunned.

Chris: I am beginning to think his name was Fred Smith.

Keith: Yes, but no-one would believe that would they?

Chris: No.

Back to the dog story – THE LOW THINGS:

Colin: Yeah Fred Smith...with the rat hooter...what a guy he was. Anyway...dogs. Damned things were let loose and used to attack us blindside whilst running home. One day I saw one of the bastards having a dump on the side of the road. I chased it mid-cable (mid-dump), with its arse hanging low, whimpering and cowering for damned near a kilometre away from its home. It never bothered us again. Usually scampering inside the gates when we approached. Attack dogs or predators generally don't like being attacked. It confuses them completely and it rips up the script. There's a life lesson in there somewhere...when in doubt...attack...someone pissing you off at City Hall?...attack!. Just like Lydiard's approach to racing...attack attack attack....then kick.

Keith’s translation: “Mid-cable” is that specific period of the dump where it’s neither out nor in really, and the autonomic nervous system is doing its thing independently of conscious volition. The point of no return where any mammal is vulnerable to attack. Kinda like giving birth really.

Chris: You would know.

Keith: Those dogs belonged to a group of would-be bikers in Mt Albert. They used to sit on the front porch and drink beer while they let their mangy dogs out from behind their security fence. Real men don’t need a security fence do they?

Colin, I do remember running home one night along St. Lukes Road and seeing you manically at work, with my low-geared 1956 Morris Oxford, and a chain, pulling their gate down, and throwing beer bottles through their front windows. You were in your own world.

See the night before one of the dogs mauled Colin’s arm and he killed the mongrel and chucked it out onto a traffic island. The cops came.

Those bikers didn’t want to go in the same paddy wagon as him.

He was off his head it seems. The bikers had disappeared when I ran past, and Colin was yelling at them all to come out and have a “go”. We were flatting together at the time and I remember Mum dropping in and being horrified by a torn checkered work shirt covered in blood, soaking in the laundry tub. She probably thought her son was a murderer. Anyhow, once the full story was decompacted unwillingly from him, she set to with the local authorities and I think the dogs had to be put down. Nothing like a 5’2” mother on your case.

Colin: She always said she was 5’3”! I forgot about all that stuff...but you guys remind me and it triggers all sorts of half-baked memories. Yeah...I was pulling down their fence with a rope and hook attached to the car...and poured a carton of oil on their drive in case they fancied their chances chasing me. I might have been as mad as a bag of Ferrets, but I had tactical ability under pressure.

Chris: Old fashioned fartlek.

Keith: Yeah old fashioned fartlek.

Colin: Yeah.

Keith: That was the New Zealand I grew up in, where men were men, men were boys, and boys were men too. Now these ADHD flabby kids and their video games and car rides to school....

Colin: We Neanderthals and hunter gatherers will rise again.

Most blokes in New Zealand only listen to guys with serious balls: Snell...Churchill...Muhamad Ali...Mandela...Arthur Lydiard...and Fred Smith.

<<Read part 2 here>>