True to his club colours
To some, meeting Dave Moorcroft would have them reaching for their autograph books, honoured beyond comprehension to meet the former world record holder for 5000m.
For others, they’d be in awe to meet the man who reported from a string of Olympic Games for the BBC, while the business community would be impressed to meet someone who was Chief Exec of the sport for a decade, but for the younger crowd in particular there’d be blank look.
"I was once introduced like that, but when host added the words ‘coached by John Anderson, the referee on TV’s Gladiators’ to his piece, the excitement really picked up," laughs Dave. If nothing else, it’s been a pretty amazing career for someone who describes himself as nothing more than a club runner, not in any way a negative sense, but very much in the positive. "It’s what made me so good and it’s what makes the sport so successful,"
But the passion he feels for club athletics very much evident. It’s the coaching and team spirit, he says, that is what makes being a member perfect.
“The 1964 Olympics had a massive influence on me, so I joined Coventry Godiva,” recalls Dave, still very much an active member today. The club was a hot bed of talent back in those days, with three of the best marathon runners in the world turning out for them on a regular basis. “So obviously I wanted to be a marathon runner when I started,” he continues. Basil Heatley (2:13:55, world record), Dick Taylor (28:06, 10,000m) and Sheila Carey (fifth 1972 Olympic 1500m) were all local runners Dave looked up to. Fortunately for Dave, it was at this point he met John, a coach at the club. "He told me if I wanted to be a marathon runner, I first needed to be good on the track."
They couldn’t have known it at the time, but John’s philosophy was pretty much exactly what England Athletics’ funetics is all about – learning and understanding the importance of movement and how getting it right as a youngster will help you progress as a senior. And progress Dave did. "John played such a huge role in everything. He was brilliant to be around, and his only rule was you had to want to be the best you can be." You’d imagine that for a world record holder that bar would be pretty high all the time, but Dave’s is a great story for us mere mortals in that for most of his career he was just that, finishing last on more than one occasion and throwing in the towel once or twice.
"John knew how to say the right things at the right time. One time I retired after finishing last in a race but managed to talk me into doing one last workout for old times’ sake. I flew!"
Dave’s training, hard as it obviously was to run 13 minutes flat for 5000m (in a time when the majority of the world’s elite ran around 13:20), was encouragingly normal. "We had three sessions, A, B and C. A was steady runs, B was building blocks like 8x2min, hills and that sort of thing and C was track work – faster than race pace stuff. My favourite in all of this was an out and back. Run as fast as you can for 10 minutes out, then turn around and try to get back quicker. Simple." Even his steady runs were unspectacular. While his clubmates met up for a 22-miler every Sunday, Dave often called it a day at 12. That may seem like he was slacking, but it was a successful formula that took him to gold in the European Champs and Commonwealth Games, British, European and World records, two Olympic Games and a career that spans five decades.
Indeed, these days, close to 40 years, after running that spectacular 13:00.41, more than five seconds faster than the previous world record, Dave still loves running as much as he ever did. When he was 40, for instance, he ran a 4:02 mile, while today he’s still setting himself targets. If a parkrun is on the agenda, he hopes to achieve a ‘Double Dave’ for the 5km loop. "I did and was really chuffed," he laughs, dipping well inside 26 minutes for his last effort earlier this year.
"Athletics is about resetting the clock at different stages in your life and understanding you aren’t who you were, but you are who are now!"
He’s also keen to stress how important it is to have a coach - 'another set of eyes' - to help you progress and help when things go wrong (which they did regularly, he laughs). But most important of all is the club. "We have the beauty of being an independent sport and a team sport which is what makes clubs so special."