Neil Featherby: A few home truths when it comes to marathon training, according to veteran runner

Pete Duhig in action. Picture: Pete Duhig

One of the things I like best about these weekly columns is when I know I have caused a reaction which creates further constructive and sensible debate.

Therefore, how pleasing was it for me to receive a very long email from former Norfolk top runner Peter Duhig this week letting me know what his thoughts are towards some of my recent columns and today's running scene.

Pete now lives in Spain where he and his wife Cath, are very prominent in local athletics and on a much bigger scale, Masters Athletics.

It was after watching the first London Marathon in 1981, which fired his imagination up when it came to putting on a pair of trainers and getting out on to the roads with thoughts of running a marathon himself.

This of course he did and by the end of 1982 the running bug had most certainly bitten him for which he had already completed four marathons by this stage.

However and being the competitive person which he has always been, he wanted to be much better and was frustrated that as hard as he tried he was still some way off the guys at the front of the race field which led to him reading up and finding out as much information as he could as to what was deemed to be the best way to train for distance events back then.

"Hard work and high mileage was the order of the day with no short cuts and no one could expect to be a decent runner until they were doing at least 40 to 50 miles a week," he said before going on to further say that "it amazes me how many runners nowadays try to get by on just 20 to 30 miles a week and then try to run marathons.

"Their weekly mileage is not much more than the marathon distance itself and it doesn't take too much intelligence to realise that. If you want to run marathons then you need to run miles, but and whilst mileage is all very well, if you want to run more quickly then you also need to add large doses of fast running to your training programme through speed work, intervals, reps or whatever else you want to call it."

I first met Pete at one of the local races, but had always been aware of him due to noticing him in the results of the first Wolverhampton marathon in 1982 which I had ran in. Why did I notice him? Well just because he was the only other person I could see from Norfolk.

With all due respect he was just a very average runner, but by the mid 1980s, I was now starting to notice him much more as it was becoming quite clear that he was improving by a considerable margin. At the time I was doing pretty well locally and had broken 2:20 for the marathon for which he also approached me about sponsorship through the sportswear company which he had at the time.

However, it was more than obvious that he wanted to be right up there at the front too and it was also obvious he had a huge intent to be the best he could be.

He really was a man on a mission where he continued to further educate himself with regards to the principles of training, seeking out top quality coaching and even tailoring his working life to fit in with his running. "That's what it takes, if you want to be good," he would say. "A commitment towards your goals that goes beyond what is known as normal."

Whilst by his own admission he never hit the high spots of international running as a senior athlete, he did indeed win many races boasting times of 2:25:04 for the marathon along with a 49 minute 10 miler as well as several sub 25 minute 5 milers.

I would love to write much more about his career after entering the masters ranks where he most certainly did win races at international level as well as still producing PBs on the track and road, but this column is more about his thoughts towards modern day running and training methods.

"Why am I blowing my own trumpet?" his email went further on to say. "Well because I don't see the same work ethic coming through from enough people any more. The times are still very good at the front of the races, but they are few and far between. To run 59 mins for 10 miles was considered okay years ago, but not anything to write home about. It is the same thing with breaking 40 mins for 10k. Such average times are now much more heralded," he said.

There is no doubt that Pete is so very passionate about his running and whilst it sounds like he might be criticising runners of today, I will defend him and say he is not. It is this passion of his where he just wants to see everyone being the best they can be. Pete has always been like this and in everything he does. You only have to read his autobiography to realise this.

He does however, criticise commercialism in sport these days though.

"The propensity for commercialism in sport has boomed during the last 35 years where shoe and clothing manufacturers along with energy drinks and supplements companies have jumped on the fitness bandwagon and brainwashed everyone into thinking that running is easy if you wear these shoes or consume this drink.

"The worst thing about it all is that so many people seem to believe it too and sign up to buying anything that promises to make them faster rather than just getting down to the basics of hard work. Do shoes really make you run quicker? If so do they cross the boundaries of cheating? I guess that's for the authorities to decide, but I ask you, how come people were running sub 2:10 marathons back in the 1970s and long before the availability of so called super shoes? The same goes for water. We have an automatic bodily sense of the need for fluid. It's called thirst. Whoever started the adage if you are thirsty it's too late?

"The people who want to sell you drinks of course. It's not to say they don't have a place, but after racing or training as the amount of salts one will lose in even a marathon is absolutely minimal unless in very extreme weather."

My column this week has only skimmed across the surface of what really was a very well and drafted out email about Pete's inner most thoughts towards the sport he loves for which I will be posting it on the Sportlink website for those who may want to read the contents in its entirety.

Whilst I do not necessarily agree with some of his comments and views which in some respects could also be construed as being negative towards my business Sportlink, this I do know is most certainly not his intention. At the same time anyone who knows us (Sportlink) will also know that we only sell what we endorse and we will always go out of our way to educate everyone into a full understanding of anything purchased on our premises.

I am sure there will be some who may disagree with much of what he says, but I am also sure there will be many who fully agree too.

"Commercialism has softened people up into believing they don't have to work as hard anymore providing they are prepared to make a financial commitment towards whatever it is being offered," he added. "However, I know who I think are the biggest winners when it comes down to the realities of it all and that is the manufacturers. If you really do want success, then it comes down to hard work, desire and application to the goal you have set yourself. So with that in mind, keep your money in your pocket and enjoy the warm glow of satisfaction when you do hopefully reap the rewards from all your efforts and desire to be the best you can be."

Neil Featherby's Friday EDP Feature