The results by the British team in the World Indoor Champs in Portland, Oregon were disappointing. In fact the only Gold medal won was by Barnet and District’s Dave Wilcock in the v60 invitation 800m race. The top v60 800m runners in the world were invited to compete. Dave once again proved that he is still the man to beat on the Vets track scene. Not only that but he was involved in probably the finest race of the champs, and certainly the most dramatic finish. What follows is a brief backstory to this fantastic achievement.
Dave Wilcock lost to Joe Gough twice in finals at the European Vets Indoor Champs in Gent in March 2011. First in the 800m by 1.26 seconds (2-11.51 to 2-13.17) and then in the 1500m by a mere 36 secs. As it was so conveniently located, Moira and I had taken the Eurostar over there to support Dave. That 800m defeat hurt, and in the 1500m Dave had decided that Joe was going to have to work darned hard if he was going to beat him.
This marvellous photo shows mild-mannered Dave giving Joe a thousand-yard stare on the start line. In the race he sat in for a while and then took the race on with a lap or so to go, actually surprising the field (and Joe Gough in particular, who for a moment seemed to have missed the break). However, as Dave strode out for the win Joe seem to open up his stride, eat up the ground between them, and then drift past for victory. The raised arms and smile showed what it meant to him to have beaten Dave. It is pleasing to know that Dave arranged to go out for a meal and some craic with Joe that evening.
So, on last Saturday Dave reversed the positions in the Invitation v60 race at the World Indoor Champs at Portland Oregon. I am certain that he will be very proud of that result, but knowing him won’t see it as any sort of ‘redemption’ for the earlier performances, where the fitter man had won the day.
What the result in Oregon does show are three essential characteristics of Dave Wilcock’s make-up as an athlete, whom I have worked with closely over the years. First he is unlike anyone else that I know in his ability to use races to get fit. When he received the invite to compete in Oregon he naturally upped his training in the weeks available. But also he found a series of races to test his increasing fitness, and also finesse his racing tactics. On 14 Feb he ran 2-16.76 in an indoor race at Lea Valley, and followed that with three more 800s in similar times in the next few weeks, plus three 1500s which brought his time for the longer distance down by 22 seconds. In all these he was untroubled, including the British Vets Champs just the weekend before Oregon, and was able to try fast starts, long runs for home and other racing variations.
The second characteristic is a proven ability to take something positive from all these races and build a superb confidence level as he goes through, which he was able to take forward to the race that really mattered. During this time Joe Gough had become the de facto race favourite for the race as he had already run faster than Dave this year. But Dave had an unshakeable believe in his own fitness and ability to rise to the occasion.
The third trait is one that I have witnessed on so many occasions. That is Dave’s commitment to racing. Hard. For him this often means taking it out hard and making others work that bit harder to beat him. There are no easy victories against him. I have seen rivals wilt under this pressure, and others take him out. But interestingly, for someone who can run so well at the shorter distances he hasn’t so often sat in and out-sprinted his rivals, although physiologically he is quite capable of doing it to most of them. I think that deep down he wants to both win and run as fast as possible. The ‘Ovett-kick’ tactic may win races but may come off a slower mid-race pace and not be so satisfying time-wise for him.
So, to the Oregon race. I was not able to be there, and have yet to find a full video of the race [one subsequently surfaced]. But from Matt Treasarden’s phone video of the first 550m or so and from the online clip of the last few metres I think I can talk you through it. For the first 200m Dave sat in in third, with Joe just in front of him, as they hit 34secs. The same positions were held for the second lap, which was reached after another 36 seconds. 70s for 400m was too slow, so Dave took it on down the back straight to open the field up and get a more respectable pace. Joe surged to the front just before the bell and entered the final straight with a narrow lead. Now the race was on, and it was there for whoever wanted it most.
The video of the finish shows Dave (with his surname mysteriously spelt wrong thoughout) taking it in what must have been the last 2 metres, to win by just 0.11 seconds (2-15.90 to 2-16.01). In his effort Joe crashes to the track as he crossed the line, and Dave raises his arms in triumph. A brilliant win, just shy of the World best – which is 2-14.06, by (you got it) Joe Gough, in 2014.
Dave was very eloquent when interviewed afterwards, saluting his fellow competitors and the vocal, supportive fans, saying: ‘You know the guys gave a good competitive race and the crowd, that Portland crowd down there, really lifts you. I couldn’t ask for anything more. It was a good time. That is what it is about – to entertain the crowd and just give it a 100%.’
On many levels Dave Wilcock is a class act, and one that his club and country should cherish.
Now watch the video of the full race. The build-up, the race developing, and the denouement. It is a classic:
I was pleased last week to see a piece I wrote some time ago appear in the latest Like the Wind magazine. It is entitled ‘The dark art of coaching’, and is a reflection on some of the characters and issues I have faced in my coaching career. Since writing my first book on running I have been regularly trying to write for other outlets. This is partly, I think, to practice writing for different audiences, but also because I have got the bug, and just love to write – and then (importantly for me) see that writing getting published.
In the last year I have had two other publications accept articles from me. Firstly, The Fellrunner accepted a piece entitled ‘Bob, the navigator’ [read: bobnavigatorfull] in its Spring 2015 issue; and then Trail Running magazine commissioned an edited extract of my second book, which was published as ‘The 24 hours that changed running history’ (not my title!) [read: Steve Chilton BGR] in its Oct/Nov 15 issue. The one aspect that I have been disappointed over is not being able to get anything published in The Guardian’s online ‘Running Blog’ yet, despite submitting what I thought was a good piece entitled ‘Off-road running – an antidote to life’s worries and expensive adventure races’.
It does show that as an author (but not professional journalist) you can find a variety of outlets to publish in. I have yet to try Athletics Weekly or the Daily Telegraph (which is picking up the running baton online now). You could say, why not just be satisfied with your own blog? Even though some stuff goes here, it doesn’t give me the same buzz somehow. The intangible ‘yes’ of acceptance by an outside ‘publication’ is a feeling/reward that I crave.
I have always read a lot. Since trying to write I have probably read even more, and certainly have covered the running books scene pretty well. Are more books on running being published than ever before, or am I maybe just more aware of them? Examples of ones that were published recently include: 2 Hours (Ed Caesar), Runner (Lizzy Hawker), Way of The Runner (Adharanand Finn), and Natural Born Heroes (Christopher McDougall). However, and despite very much enjoying Caesar and Finn, I still would argue that the running oeuvre overall has a way to go to match cycling on the quality writing front.
But maybe some of those that I have noticed that are scheduled for publication this year (or later) will change that. Some good ones to come, are from: Richard Askwith (Today We Die a Little: The Rise and Fall of Emil Zátopek, Olympic Legend, out 21 Apr 2016), Rick Broadbent (Endurance: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Emil Zátopek, ALSO out 21 Apr 2016), Jonny Muir (next project – due for publication in late 2017/early 2018 – is a book on Scottish hill running and racing with a particular focus on the Charlie Ramsay Round), and myself (an as yet untitled third book, a biography of Kenny Stuart and John Wild, due out March 2017).
Meanwhile, if you want a good running read then blogs are often the place to find it. Some examples I like are those of: Ed Price, Ben Mounsey, Jonny Muir, and Karen Murphy. A good place to find new blog posts is on the FRA Forum thread dedicated to blogs. [If you have a favourite running-related blog DO let me know, via a comment.]
Footnote: A new (old one) one on me, and on my book wish list now, is Pat Butcher’s ‘The Destiny of Ali Mimoun’, which I only knew about after his piece in the latest LTW magazine. And bizarrely, his biog in LTW states that he is ‘currently writing an account of the life of Emil Zatopek’. So, if that comes out it will be three new books on that great athlete. Of course you can always search out a copy of Bob Phillips’ 2002 book, with the excellent title of: ‘Za-to-pek! Za-to-pek! Za-to-pek!’