The following interview was extracted from an article in Athletics Weekly March 1989 prior to Dave’s all time marathon best of 2:10:30 gained at the London Marathon in 1991 when he was part of the victorious mens GB world cup team.
How did you become involved in running in the first place?
“I started initially when I was a Sunday League footballer. I seemed to be losing fitness during the close season so in the summer of 1983 I started to run to tide myself over until the season started again.”
Can you remember the point in your career when you realised you could make it internationally?
“The first time it really became apparent was after the 1986 London Marathon when I ran 2:16. I had no idea how you got noticed to be picked for a national team or what the standard was. Within about a month of the race Alan Storey (who at the time was the National Marathon Coach) rang me to see if I was eligible to run for Great Britain. That’s when it dawned on me that I may get a vest out of it.”
What was your first international race?
“The Beijing Marathon in October 1986. Of all the trips I have been on that was the most memorable. I had this ‘dream trip’ to China for starters and also ran a personal best of 2:14:42.”
After Beijing had you any thoughts about the 1988 Olympic Marathon?
“None at all. After Beijing I was offered the chance to run in Seoul in the World Marathon Cup in the spring of 1987. I did that so I could say I had run over the Olympic course while I watched it on television!”
So you had run the Olympic course the year before, did that help you at all when you ran the Olympic Marathon?
“Not really, it put into perspective what a difficult race it could be. The conditions were very windy during the Marathon Cup. It also brought home the problems of being out in the open without much shade.”
Why did you decide the Marathon was your event?
“I think it has really been forced upon me. The first race I ever did was a half-marathon and the second was a full marathon. There didn’t seem to be many alternatives at the time. I started running in the fun running craze and the obvious thing to do was run a marathon. I am still not convinced that had I approached things in a different way it would be my best event.”
At what point did you get involved with Alan Storey?
“I first spoke to Alan after Beijing. After that there were three or four phone calls during the summer mainly about races. There was never any training programme or sessions to do, that didn’t start until January 1987. I said that I had got as far as I could on my own, could he give me a hand? The first time we actually had a chat about training I was quite impressed because he didn’t radically try to change the way I trained. He said that I had obviously succeeded with what training I was doing so what I was doing was basically right. However, over about 18 months it progressively changed as he suggested improvements here and there.”
Are there any problems with long distance coaching?
“No, not really. At this time of year we speak on the phone perhaps once every 10 days, especially if I am preparing for a big race. If we’ve planned any sessions I’ll tell him how they’ve gone. I’ve got his number in New Zealand in case I need to speak to him while he’s there, but unless anything unexpected crops up I can’t imagine speaking to him before February. It seems to work quite well. I’ll probably see him to talk to about three times a year.”
Your personal best for the marathon is 2:11:33. Does that reflect your potential?
“I ran 2:11:33 on a reasonably good day 18 months ago and over the last six months all my under-distance race times have improved, so I don’t think that is a barrier I can’t break. I don’t see that as the limit.”
So what do you feel you are capable of?
“I know I can run faster. All the big city marathons have pretty flat courses. I think that if I could get good conditions in the right race I could go under 2:11.”
What changes in your training would you envisage to run say, 2:09?
“I’m not sure the actual sessions that I do would change, it would certainly help if I could do them quicker! The training that I have been doing, for instance in the build-up to Chicago, has been more speed orientated than previously.”
I’ve seen you doing several track sessions of 400s with short recoveries. Is this a standard session for you or something new?
“That session has been there for a while. Those sort of sessions are generally mixed in with something a little bit longer. It is unusual for me to do 10 or 12x400s as a straight session. We try to create race conditions as far as possible, if you can run a fast session of 400s after two or three-mile repetitions you are mirroring what happens in a race. You may find yourself at 10 miles and someone puts the ‘boot in’ and ups the pace 20 seconds a mile. These sessions help you cope with that in a race situation.”
How much mental preparation do you include in your marathon build-ups?
“I don’t do any mental rehearsal, but I do make an effort to relax and think about other things. Before the Olympic Marathon last year I was walking round the track taking it all in, enjoying it. I try to put it into perspective and not fret.”
What was it like when you walked out into the Olympic Stadium?
“I was quite surprised how calm I was, it seemed like just another big race. Maybe the fact I had so much to think about in the month before helped, if I’d had a longer build-up I might have been more on edge. There was also the fact that there was very little pressure on me because of my late selection. Newspapers were ringing me up to ask me if I thought I would finish!”
What about money, does it motivate your running?
“No, but if I had the choice between winning a kettle or £500 I know which one I would choose. I put the Olympic Marathon before Chicago in 1988. My heart ruled my head in that instance although I don’t regret it at all. I have also turned down trips abroad with good prize money to run for the club. That means more to me than a weekend away and a nice little payday at the end of it.”
Before the Chicago Marathon you had been injured with a stress fracture. How much did that affect your preparation and race performance?
“I don’t think it did. I was over it long enough beforehand. It might even have done me some good, I had a period of limited running followed by a complete break of four weeks. I started running again in May ’89’ and from there I had a reasonably good run through to Chicago. Because of the heat I felt this run was at least as good as my 2:11 in London.”
You do a lot of your training alone, is this from choice or circumstance?
“It’s a little bit of both really. I’m used to my own company, being an only child and I quite enjoy having spells on my own. I can see the benefits of training with a group occasionally but I am not sure it would do me any good. Steve Binns was telling me in Chicago that this can work against you. In Colorado, where he had been training, there are around eight world class athletes within one square mile, all of them very competitive. He was finding it difficult to have an easy run. After a while he began to think it was having a negative effect on what he was doing. I do enjoy some runs in company, especially my lunchtime runs.”
Do you do a lot of work on grass now?
“Yes, ever since the stress fracture. I am sure it helps.”
What sessions in your weekly schedule are the most important?
“I know what you mean but it wouldn’t work if many of the sessions were changed. The obvious things are the track sessions or the long run, I also do a run of about 35 minutes at marathon pace which is important.”
Have you got a weak link?
“I don’t do enough stretching. While I was injured I did up to an hour a day but now I’m running again it seems to have got pushed aside. The other area is my lack of speed.”
Considering the circumstances, your 2:16:18 in the Seoul Marathon was an excellent performance. Looking back on it now would you have changed your race plan?
“I don’t think so. It was a complete ‘one-off’. I hope it was, I don’t foresee doing a marathon in the future and having only four weeks to prepare for it! Bearing in mind 10 days of that was winding down plus a flight halfway round the world it was no time at all. I had to finish the race with a few people in front of me as possible. It would have been easy to go with the big group at the front and get carried away. I knew that I could have been with them at halfway but it’s a very big stage on which to do something stupid and come in all over the place, not knowing where you are in around 2:40. Alan had told me that there was no way I would be in the first 10 finishers because of my lack of preparation and the weather. It was one of the hottest days of the games and we had a 2pm start for American TV, which didn’t help. There was a lot of heat bouncing around. Taking all these factors into consideration we felt I should run steadily for the first half which in the end was the right thing for me to do as only Cambell and Pitzinger passed me in the second half. I quite often run a race and come through strongly towards the end passing people who are struggling, but in Seoul there were a lot who had really over cooked it! I knew that I couldn’t do anything else on the day.”
Some people have expressed surprise that your race programme can be influenced by where Coventry City are playing. How important is running as a part of your lifestyle?
“I did miss one or two games while I was training for Chicago, perhaps City have learnt to do without me! At the moment I am not sure which marathon I am doing later on in the year, with Coventry poised to go to Wembley in the Littlewood’s Cup Final in April, I did check when the Boston Marathon was.”
Is there anything you would like to change in athletics?
“I have also turned down trips abroad with good prize money to run for the club. That means more to me…”“There are a lot of people in positions of authority in this country who don’t realise what is involved in high level competition. I would like to see the right people in the right job. It amazes me to see people like Bill Adcocks are not in positions where their experience can be put to good use. The other thing is the drugs problem. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. It annoys me that Johnson is to compete against Lewis again. It shouldn’t be allowed to happen”
Are we going to see you on the track in 1990?
“Yes, I’d like to run anything from 1,500 metres upwards. What I do lack is the basic speed that others have. In Chicago when Paul Davies-Hale put the boot in at 14 miles and ran the next three at 4:45 pace, it was too much of a change for me to cope with, I couldn’t go with it. I’d like to run a decent 10,000 metres and if I can get the shorter distance times down I am sure it would help.”
Finally, what of the next 12 months? What plans do you have?
“I have a couple of races in America in early March and then a spring marathon, either London or Boston. The trail race should have been named a long time ago. I’d like to run the Europeans but it’s not as important as the World Championships or the Olympics. Before I finish I’d like to run all the big city marathons as competitively as possible. If I don’t make the Europeans team then I’ll be looking for another autumn marathon with a good track season in between.”