Marathon: Ultimate race fitting tribute to legend

By Peter Thornton

Lydiard (left) with Murray Halberg and Peter Snell. Photo / Supplied
Lydiard (left) with Murray Halberg and Peter Snell. Photo / Supplied

On the 50th anniversary of the Rome Olympics, tributes have been flowing for Arthur Lydiard. But perhaps the greatest compliment the legendary coach can receive will happen today on the training route he made famous.

The Lydiard Legend Marathon, regarded as the toughest on-road marathon in the country, and Arthur's Half Marathon follow as closely as possible the famous Waiatarua routes (in the Waitakere Ranges in West Auckland) on which the late coach used to train his world-class runners.

Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, Barry Magee, Jeff Julian, Bill Baillie, Ray Puckett and many others built their extraordinary endurance on the infamous West Coast Rd before they went on to win Olympic and Commonwealth medals, world records and international and national distance running domination.

John Walker, although not a Lydiard pupil, used the coach's training system and the Waitakeres route.

Today another New Zealand legend, Olympian Dale Warrander, makes his debut in The Legend marathon and starts as the favourite.

Warrander now lives on the Gold Coast and is in good shape after training with Australian marathon runner Michael Shelley, who is preparing for the Delhi Commonwealth Games.

"It has been great to have someone of his calibre to really push me," said the 37-year-old Warrander, who is arguably one of the best marathon runners in New Zealand history with a personal best of 2hr 12min 58sec in the Fukuoka Marathon of 2004.

Only the late Jack Foster has finished faster, with 2hr 11min 18sec in Christchurch more than three decades ago.

Warrander, who is preparing for a marathon in Japan, used to train on the Waitakere hills every Sunday morning and said it was going to be fun competing on the route in an official event.

"I know it well and it is tough but I can't wait to give it a crack as hills are my forte ... If I am feeling good on the second half, I will up the ante."

That is nothing but bad news for marathon hopeful Steve O'Callaghan, who is famous for his sprint finish to come second in the Rotorua Marathon last year.

"Dale is always pretty tough to beat," said 28-year-old O'Callaghan, who has targeted The Legend and trained about 160km per week.

"I won't count myself out but, at the same time, I respect what a great runner he is."

The entry of elite athletes such as Warrander and O'Callaghan is a fitting tribute to Lydiard.

"His theory of 100 miles a week has been a big part of my career but now I am seeing athletes build on that and add to it because they don't have full-time jobs as Peter Snell and Murray Halberg did in their day."

Lydiard's philosophy moulded New Zealand's best middle-distance runners and Ian Winson, the creator of The Legend run, is proud to honour the man appropriately.

"This is not just another marathon," said the Zimbabwe-born Winson.

"It has personality and a huge amount of history behind it to make it one of the most significant events on the running calendar."

Numbers have increased every year for The Legend run, with 530 entries last year.

Organisers are expecting 600 runners today with about 40 per cent attempting the marathon.

"It has given me a purpose and a sense of belonging here in New Zealand," Winson said.

Multisport athlete Winson was inspired to create The Legend after watching a film tracking a young Lydiard trainee on his Sunday run through the Waitakeres. It inspired him to make sure that the master coach and his master course would never be forgotten.

The Legend first took place in 2005. In 2008, it was divided into The Legend Marathon and Arthur's Half Marathon to give it official recognition on the running calendar.

In 2004, the concept was given a warm endorsement by Lydiard not long before he embarked on his final American talking and coaching tour.

Regrettably, he never came back to see the inaugural Legend event take place. He died in Houston in December 2004, aged 87.

Since its inception, the run has struck a chord with Lydiard fans and former pupils running an almost nostalgic race in Arthur's memory.

"What happens in New Zealand is that too many of our stars quickly disappear from the memory and we don't honour them appropriately," said Garth Gilmour, 84, a close friend of Lydiard who co-authored 13 books with him over 43 years and also wrote his biography.

"This event is a constant reminder to all of us how great Arthur Lydiard was - in my mind, our greatest New Zealander."

Gilmour regards Lydiard as the greatest New Zealander, ahead of Sir Edmund Hillary, because of his revolutionary training that built endurance as the basis for speed and his contribution to international health and fitness through jogging.

"Quite simply, Lydiard's is the best training method the running world has even seen - no one has ever bettered it.

"He introduced the world to jogging and now tens of millions around the world run because of Arthur ... he was a phenomenal man."

Gilmour is a member of The Legend Charitable Trust, which was established to safeguard The Legend and now runs the event.

The other trustees are Winson (chairman), Katherine Winson, Arthur's son, Gary Lydiard, and Aaron Carter.

The trust plans to reinvest the money from the run into schools to ensure Lydiard's training methods continue to be employed by the next generations.

A regular at The Legend is Scott Winton, a former pupil of Lydiard and one of the favourites for Arthur's Half Marathon.

The 31-year-old Aucklander, who won the marathon in 2008, finished runner-up to Sam Wreford in the marathon last year.

He is running the half-marathon as he is competing in the Auckland Marathon in a few weeks,

Winton says he will always run The Legend when he is able as a tribute to his mentor.

"Every time I run, he is in the back of my mind," said Winton, who trained with Lydiard every week.

"Being back out on this track brings back a lot of memories and some of the stories Arthur would tell me of Peter Snell and Murray Halberg running these hills.

"Arthur taught me about hard work, discipline but, above all, to enjoy your running and make the most of every opportunity to run."

The success of The Legend run is indicative of the followers of Lydiard and his illustrious career.

"We want larger fields but we are developing it as an elite marathon and that is the way that Arthur would have wanted it.

"This event is not just for the elites," added Winson. "It is for anyone who puts in the right training, just as Arthur would have wanted ... you just need to be inspired."

- NZ Herald

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