I joined an athletic club in 1962. My career really started in 1961 when I invented a game. If my mother wanted to post a letter, I always volunteered. I timed myself by the kitchen clock. Out the back door, down the side path, through the front gate, down to the letterbox at the end of the street, post letter, and back. I wish I had started my running diary then. I could be owed a 50-letter t-shirt.
In 1963 I was undefeated over 800m in D grade at Interclub. My father George Moore, no relation to the jockey, only came out to watch me once. Before the race he thought for a while and came up with this advice. “Make sure your shoelaces are tied properly”. I have never forgotten this advice. All the 800s were just on 2 minutes but the second lap was usually 5 seconds slower than the first. I don’t recall my father having any thoughts about that.
My long run was a 3 mile circuit around Mile End and the west parklands near my High School. No one in the school training group had broken 17 minutes for this run, until a tall gangly youth who usually trailed off behind us announced he had run 16:55. No-one believed him and he went off quite sad. This came to mind when I ran the Bega-Tathra relay course solo in 1978 in a time well under the Cross Country Club’s team record of the previous year. No one believed me. What goes around, comes around. Well, I did go on to break the ACT marathon record a few weeks later. My best run that year was at Bega. Kohnke did run that time for 3 miles.
In 1964-65 David Looker of St Peters College beat me by 100m every time we raced 1500 at interclub. I got my revenge at the annual interschool carnival, where representing the ABHS (Adelaide Boys High School) I finished 0.2 secs ahead of David in the mile. My coach Robert Boomer was delirious. He had just won a rather large bet with the St Peters’ coach. Robert Boomer was also my English teacher and I topped the school at English that year, despite being in the science class.
In 1966 all my training was by myself at the new Flinders University. I ran 200m intervals where the footy side trained. One of their teams played in the lowest amateur grade, and were last in the comp. One day they asked me to boundary umpire. We lost 43 goals to nil. Usually boundary umpires run from one end of the ground to the other. Not in this game, it was mostly in one half. I needn’t have been training running 200m intervals; 100s would have sufficed. Even my boundary umpiring skills didn’t match their footy skills; they never asked again.
Later in 1966 I found a new coach, Bertrand Russell, no relation to the philosopher. His 16 year old son could run 1:56 for the 800m; I couldn’t. But he was impressed when I ran exactly the pace he advised in a 1500m run, so he took me on. Mondays we ran 20 x 400m with a 400m jog. Tuesdays the same. Wednesdays ditto; Thursdays ditto. Fridays we rested up for Saturday’s race. Sundays hill sprints. After his son retired in 1967 he stopped coaching runners and trained greyhounds. I would think these greyhounds always ran at the pace he advised.
I carried the habit of resting the day before a race into the 1970s. I didn’t carry the habit of running sessions of 20x400m into the 1970’s. Why one habit should persist and not the other is a mystery. The first athlete I encountered in Canberra was Nigel Crew. In January 1969 I arrived in Canberra from Adelaide to work at the CBCS (Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics). Looking for somewhere to run, I jogged along Northbourne Avenue, found Haig Park, then North Oval at the ANU. Nigel was training at North Oval, and after exchanging a few words, I asked him what athletic club I should join. “North Canberra is the best club” he suggested. As we all know, Nigel is colourful and eccentric and enthusiastic. In other words, no different from any other athlete you or I know. And he is MR NC, the man with the NC number plate which I have always been sure stands for Norths first and Nigel second.
My first cross country race was the 1 mile Corkwood. Before the race I met Jack Pennington and Peter Scott. During the race Peter and I ran neck and neck for the whole run – out to the Corkwood, 1 circuit, and back. Until, that is, I stepped in a hole and tripped and fell with the finish line in sight, bounced back up and successfully ran second. Peter presumably concluded from that one victory that he was the better runner, because I don’t think I ever headed him in any race after that.
It was interesting that the “one mile” Corkwood was “out, one circuit and back”; the 2 miles “out, two circuits and back”, and the 3 mile “out, 3 circuits and back”. This creative course measurement seems to have lost support nowadays; we measure everything precisely – distances to the metre, steps, km rate, heartbeats, altitude, wind velocity, calories burned, weight change, skin temperature, air pressure,…anything really. Were the old, simpler days better? Nah.
Jack Pennington (now our club Patron) organised the winter program - week after week we ran at the Corkwood, occasionally elsewhere. After many years of this the Cross Country Club was started, primarily as a response to the lack of variety in venues. Jack had done a magnificent job of organising the Corkwood races and in promoting distance running. Remember in those days there were no fun runners; no-one ran around the lake in the Canberra sunshine, the only runners there were, competed in athletics on the track except a hardy few who ran in the forest and the Corkwood.
Jack Pennington was regarded by some as eccentric even for a runner, and a favourite story I heard Jack tell was about an ex Prime Minister (John Gorton) who asked him why he was still playing silly buggers at his age. This silly old bugger named Jack was in his late forties then; everyone else involved in starting up the Cross Country Club were in their early or mid twenties. Jack was not only strange, he was unique and a fearless ground-breaker. Although I must say that his training methods were different too; even to me, a 400m and 800m runner from 1962 to 1974, I found Jack’s ideas on speed training extreme. Now everyone is older than Jack was then. We could do with some of the speed he had then.
I ran in everything on offer. There were very small fields on today’s standards, but great camaraderie. Everyone turned up to every race they could. These races served as my winter speed work. In summer it was interval work that got us fit but in winter we just ran at lunchtimes from work and raced on the weekend. All training runs were hard and fast however, until the mid seventies when the marathon started to appeal, but that’s another story.
Returning to 1966, I was a student at Flinders University. It was Flinders’ first year of operation. I remember my low student number, 660055. All clubs and societies started from scratch, including the Flinders Athletic Club, of which I was its first President. Hence I was pleased to see at Santos Stadium in Adelaide last year a Flinders banner; the club is still alive and well after all these years.
I remember getting my mother to type up the new Flinders constitution. I still redden with embarrassment at what a mishmash that first constitution was. We had no idea.
The club uniform I designed for Flinders was a white singlet with broad horizontal stripes in dark and light blue, identical to the ANU singlet which emerged many years later. Guess who ANU copied? The choice of colours was derived from a combination of the two SANFL footy teams, Sturt and South Adelaide, whose areas Flinders bordered. As the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Flinders wasn’t my only experience as a club President. I have managed to avoid the many rewards and pleasures of being ACTVAC President, but back in the seventies I was President of North Canberra Athletic Club for a short time. My “reign” saw a huge increase in senior athletes, particular men, joining the club. What happened was, I recruited a whole lot of fun runners from the ABS where I worked. At that time Athletics was mainly Track and Field, and there weren’t that many distance runners. So the influx of many extra members was a breath of fresh air, broadening the club.
Or – you would have thought so. But the response was chilly at best. ACT Athletics was ruled at the time by one particular difficult person, who ran a monopoly, controlling everything. This chap ran the Athletics Association, coached the junior athletes, organised and conducted all the track competition, wrote the newspaper articles, took the photos … did everything. My feeling was that he didn’t like me very much, and things came to a head when I went with some distance runners to a fun run in New South Wales where we competed as a North Canberra team. This was when Fun Runs were just starting to catch on.
We did well in the Fun Run, but that Monday the Canberra Times article reporting the result, penned by our afore-mentioned friend, instead of celebrating the outcome with us, criticised us for competing elsewhere on the same day that a track competition was programmed in Canberra. Not that we would have been competing in it had we stayed in Canberra. Anyway, the next ACT committee meeting was “interesting”. I expressed dismay at the tone of the article and got considerable support from the committee, but then we all backed down when our friend promptly resigned from every position he held. He was reinstated. I had been seriously out-maneuvered – it’s pretty hard winning a poker game against someone holding all the cards. I hope the gentleman concerned is enjoying his retirement up north, and reflecting on the rise of fun running everywhere, and of orienteering, triathlons, masters athletics, mountain running, marathons, etc, where entrants don’t have to belong to athletic clubs to compete.
Running belongs to the people and always will. I haven’t given up encouraging people of all kinds to get involved in this pleasurable and rewarding activity. Membership of clubs where one is continually controlled and managed by hostile others is not my idea of fun. But a whole lot of people of similar interests forming clubs so they can enjoy training and competing together in an atmosphere of fellowship and generosity and mutual encouragement. Let’s keep it that way! A minimum of bureaucracy; a maximum of enjoyment!
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