Arthur Lydiard - a coach of champions and nobodies

By Claire Trevett

Arthur Lydiard died on Sunday during a speaking tour in America. It would have delighted him that the same day, in New Zealand, lawyer Grant Erskine went for a 34km run in the Waitakeres, where Lydiard had run many miles with his champions.

Erskine then went to a friend's house and was told Lydiard had died.

Erskine "at best a good average runner" had been coached by Lydiard since 2000.

"I read an article in a newspaper about how Arthur would coach anyone who asked him. So I wrote him a letter, and he became my coach. Before that I'd just assumed that he wouldn't be accessible. He gave me a schedule which one newspaper wit described as the "run until you spew" method of training.

"And since then I've just been chipping away at my time and I ran my first marathon this year."

More recently, at Lydiard's suggestion, Erskine has trained with the Auckland City Athletics Club under Barry Magee, an Olympic bronze medallist and one of the original "Arthur's boys".

Magee said Erskine's story gave some insight into Lydiard's character. "He gave him the same instruction that he gave Snell and the others.

He never differentiated between a champion and a nobody."

Erskine views Lydiard as "up there with Edmund Hillary".

"I remember one time early this year, round winter or spring, I said to him out at Beachlands, 'I want to thank you for the time you've given me.' I didn't take it for granted that I was in the company of this great man."

The sight of thousands of people taking off on fun runs and half marathons probably gave the man credited with the invigoration of jogging here as much satisfaction as gold medals around the necks of his Olympic athletes. Lydiard's philosophy of training everyman had persisted from the beginning. He refused to restrict his coaching to Olympians only, telling the Herald in 1960: "It is unfair to differentiate. I like nothing better than training young boys and running with them."

Despite struggling to earn a living while an amateur coach, he was reluctant to move overseas. In 1961 he said: "I would never take money off a young chap for coaching ... how could you take money off a young man when you see him keen to run and trying all he can in spite of his cynical companions who may waste their time lounging in the streets smoking cigarettes?"

Ironically, just six months later it was cigarette company Rothmans which gave him the job that enabled him to stay in New Zealand, with the flexibility to earn money as well as coach. Rothmans later produced a booklet of Lydiard's techniques and sponsored a lecture tour.

Lydiard's methods were viewed suspiciously in the beginning.

In 1960, a letter to the editor from the 1958 sectional manager of the NZ Empire Games Team, J. Dickey, noted of the alleged soreness of Lydiard's athlete's: "One cannot understand Mr Lydiard's idea that more hard work was the means to overcome soreness in four days, and that after one round of golf, lack of condition could be remedied by another round of golf the next day."

The joy of jogging hit the masses in 1961 after Lydiard told friend Colin Kay, a triple jump representative in the 1950 Empire Games, he was getting fat. "We were sitting together coming back from Wellington and he said, 'Colin, you're getting fat and you shouldn't smoke as much'. So I gave up smoking and started to get fit. It was Arthur Lydiard that got me going."

The Auckland Joggers' Club, now at Cornwall Park, started up in Kay's Remuera lounge with Lydiard talking to about 12 overweight businessmen. The club, under Kay, has since set up the Round the Bays challenge, and Lydiard had long been a patron.

Arthur spoke to the club and jogged with them "as many times as I asked him, and that was quite often," said Kay. "Sometimes when he was running with us we'd have to tell him to shut up, because he was talking all the way up the hills and he was still just belting along."

Mr Kay said jogging spread to the United States after Bill Bowerman, a long distance coach in Oregon and co-founder of Nike, visited New Zealand in December 1962.

There is a tale Bowerman tells of running up "Two Pine Knoll" (aka One Tree Hill) in Bill Dellenger's book The Running Experience. " ... then we started up this hill. God, the only thing that kept me alive was the hope that I'd die. I moved right to the back of the group and an old fellow, I suppose he was around 70 years old, moved back with me and said 'I see you're having trouble'. I didn't say anything - because I couldn't."

He went back to the US, spread the word, and in 1963 news headlines blared: "Jogging movement has spread like fever in Oregon."

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