The cult of Bill

A few years ago I met a man, called Bill. And he talked to me about the art, not the science of running. He told me about running by feel, about dedication, about consistency. He talked about being competitive but also humble. About running with others but also enjoying the solitude of running alone. He talked to me about the importance of self belief and of pushing yourself if you want to achieve more than you ever thought possible.

But this was no shamanic trail runner. No running hippy. Bill was a road runner, a marathoner. A product of the grim north in Britain in the 1950s and 60s. And he is increasingly my hero.

Today I was sent a link to a company that is creating running apparel that will measure and record every conceivable variable available to a runner – gait, stride length, cadence, speed, distance, altitude… the list goes on and on. And it is just another example of the nonsense that I think permeates running. All the gear and no idea basically.

So I want to start the cult of Bill: work on an understanding of what it takes, in the 1950s and 1960s in post-war Coventry, with no money and a full time, physical job, to run a 2:10 marathon.

Of course it is not about one man called Bill. At the time Bill was running, right up to the end of the 1980s, there were British athletes – men and women – running times that would eclipse any British or indeed European runner now. But I am going to use Bill as my benchmark. The person that I will try to learn from.

Lesson one is about dedication. Bear in mind that at the time he is talking about in this excerpt from an interview that he wrote, Bill is probably 23 or 24 years old and just married:

My daily routine was: Monday to Friday – up just before 6.00 am on the road by 6.10 for the first run of the day. Breakfast then out to work by 8.00 in a physically demanding job. A second run would be done at lunch time. The third run of the day – the main evening run – started by 5.30pm. In bed by 9.00/9.15. Always enjoyed the cinema and the theatre and so once a week, usually Wednesday evening would be out, so in bed by 10.30

How many runners are prepared to put in that sort of effort, month in month out for years on end? Not me. But then maybe I didn’t want success badly enough.

So that is the first lesson from Bill. I’ll post more about what Bill did soon. For now, I have to hit the sack and get some sleep – I need to somehow fit in three runs tomorrow!

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