Rich Englehart: Tribute to Arthur Lydiard

Tribute to Arthur Lydiard

Rich Englehart

In 1977, I was living in Washington, DC, immediately around the corner from the house where Ed Ayres was starting Running Times Magazine on the ultimate shoestring budget. Occasionally, I’d go and help out. My “payment” was an invitation to a dinner that Ed hosted for Arthur Lydiard, who was touring the US and speaking twice in Washington, sponsored by Running Times.
The dinner was at Ed’s brother’s house, a posh place in the Northwest section of town. Ed was the first macro-biotic eater I’d ever known and the buffet table was completely lacking any food that I recognized. I found something that I guessed was some sort of rice and cheese combination that wasn’t too bad. Arthur had been surrounded for much of the dinner by a group of lawyers and dentists trying to figure out how to run a sub three hour marathons without investing any time training to do so. Eventually, the lawyers and dentists drifted away and Arthur was left to himself, leaning against a wall diagonal to the one I was leaning on, eating the same cheese and rice thing I’d just finished.
He finished his as well, glanced at me and said, “Well. That was nice…whatever it was.”
I replied, “It was nice. But it would have been even nicer if there was some beer to wash it down with.”
I’d said the magic word.
“Beer!” Arthur answered, his eyes shining. “Do you know where there’s beer?”
It’s not all that difficult to find beer in Washington, DC on a Saturday night, though, in this case, it required going someplace other than where we were. So we did. The Roma, on Connecticut Avenue, as I recall, where Arthur and I and a couple other runners from the Washington Running Club drank beer and told running stories. I think a pizza might have appeared somewhere along the line.
Arthur and I got on well. Perhaps because I’d spent a few weeks racing in Finland once, not all that long after he’d been there reviving the Finn’s running fortunes. We knew some of the same Finns, jogged our memories as we tried to distinguish between small Finnish towns, all with four to five syllable names, a paper mill and a track. We discussed the drinking habits of the Finns, a topic well worth its own article. Arthur told me the secret to a happy life was to get a Finnish wife and move to New Zealand.
We corresponded for a while, but that eventually tailed off. He’d told me to be sure to look him up if I ever went to New Zealand. At the end of 1990, I finally went. I imagined that he wouldn’t remember me, how many thousands of people has he met? I wasn’t going to look him up at first, but he had told me to. So I called and began to introduce myself, thinking that perhaps if I gave enough specifics of our visits and letters he’d be able to remember me, or at least act like he did.
I got as far as, “I’m Richard Englehart. We met in Washington, DC thirteen years…”
“Oh yes. The schoolteacher and coach.”
We arranged to meet and we talked for perhaps an hour and a half. He was, at that time, obviously hurting. Going to New Zealand with a Finnish wife only insures a happy life if she doesn’t die prematurely, and Eira had succumbed to cancer a few years earlier. But he was more than willing to talk running and we had an enjoyable time, given the circumstance. This lead to another correspondence, this time by e-mail as Arthur, reluctantly and temporarily, entered the computer age.
To know Arthur is eventually to know Nobby Hashizume. When Arthur toured the US five years ago, Nobby and I connected and continued to connect after that tour ended. As he organized the Farewell Tour, we spoke frequently about the event. I told Nobby I’d do what I could to help. He called to ask if I’d be willing to collect the copies of Arthur’s biography when they arrived from England and get them to the site of Arthur’s Boston talk. I agreed but mentioned that because of work commitments I wouldn’t be able to attend that talk and was thinking of going to the preceding one in New York. But that talk, at the moment, had fallen through. The next closest talk was in Washington, DC. I mentioned that maybe I’d drive down. Nobby, it turned out, needed a way to get Arthur from Boston to Washington. Why, I suggested, doesn’t he ride with me?
And so it was that at 4:30pm, with exactly thirty two days left to live, Arthur Lydiard sat in the living room at Jamie and Kristen Chisum’s house waiting for me to get finished blundering around Wayland’s back roads and take him to his next stop. He sat behind an enormous suitcase, made more enormous by the fact that its retractable handle wouldn’t retract. I didn’t know how I’d get it into the trunk of my Hyundai, but Jamie eventually pounded it into submission.
Arthur walked like a broken wind up toy thanks to his replacement knees and impaired balance following a stroke a few years earlier. Jamie lead him toward my car. I followed with the suitcase.
“Make sure he’s actually in the car,” Nobby told me. “He has trouble getting in and out and can fall over.”
We got him into the car and his suitcase into the trunk.
We had two options for this drive. We could leave on Friday morning and drive all day to Washington. Or we could leave Thursday evening and stop at my mother-in-law’s house outside of New York City, finishing the drive on Friday. Arthur opted for a double session.
We left at the height of rush hour but were far enough from Boston that traffic moved easily. Eventually, the roads cleared. Nobby told me that Arthur would sleep most of the way, but he was wide awake. So we caught up with each other. Joelyne, his wife, didn’t come because she had just got out of the hospital but would likely be able to start running again soon. They were going to move to a smaller house when he returned from the tour; one with no stairs and that wouldn’t be too much for Joelyne to take care of when she was on her own. He was genuinely enjoying the tour and really liked American coaches for their willingness to learn and to share ideas. I didn’t want to make him talk about running for the whole ride, reasoning that he did that all the time on the tour. I asked about some common acquaintances, what he did with himself these days when he was at home and what he did during World War II. His age should have put him in the military, but I’d never recalled anything about military service.
“Hurt my shoulder playing rugby and was declared unfit,” he answered. “I was in the home guard. We’d go out to the beach and drill with broomsticks.”
“Did you all expect an invasion?”
“Yes. That’s why we drilled on the beach. I don’t know how many Japanese I could have killed with a broomstick, though.”
We entered Connecticut. “Try to stop along the way,” Nobby told me, “so he can take a leak if he needs to. If you ask him, he’ll say he doesn’t need to. But stop anyway.”
I’d deliberately not filled my gas tank when I left for the trip so there would be an excuse to stop. Arthur didn’t need the stop. “I went before we left the house.”
I had as well, but needed to go again. Nature, I thought, might be a bit merciful after all, enlarging Arthur’s bladder so he wouldn’t have to get in and out of service station rest rooms on those knees. We continued on.
The conversation turned to Eira somehow. My dad had died of cancer thirteen months earlier so we stayed on the topic of cancer for a bit. “She got it from using a copper IUD,” Arthur said, sadness unconcealed in his voice. “And it would have taken me fifteen minutes to have gotten a vasectomy.”
I turned the topic back to running, mentioning comments of a coach/physiologist I know who claims that if you aren’t getting the results you want you’re either training too little or too fast. I asked Arthur’s opinion of this statement. He told me that Billy Mills had begun to use Arthur’s methods after visiting Pat Clohessey in Houston in 1963. Clohessey had trained Arthur’s way and won the NCAA indoor three mile title in 1963.
“But in Tokyo, Billy told me, ‘Arthur, I tried to do your training but couldn’t do one hundred miles a week. So I’ve only done eighty’. Well, he couldn’t do a hundred because he ran too fast. Then he got sick and couldn’t do the interval phase. That’s why he won. If he’d done the interval phase he’d have burned himself out.” I now regret asking why, if that was the case, any of us should bother with the interval phase.
“What’s the most common mistake people make when they use your training?” I queried.
“They try to do anaerobic work during the base phase.”
“I know some people who say you advocate doing fartlek during the base phase. I think I’ve seen it mentioned in some of your writing.”
“There are two kinds of fartlek. There’s easy, aerobic fartlek, which is fine. But there’s also anaerobic fartlek. You shouldn’t do that kind. You should do the first kind.”
We hadn’t eaten by the time we got to my mother-in-law’s. She opened a can of soup and toasted some cheese over bread for us. Arthur was as happy eating soup and grilled cheese as most people would be at a fancy restaurant. He was very grateful to her for feeding him and letting him stay, and to me for driving him.
Our talk drifted to health running as we explained to my mother-in-law that it was Arthur who invented the idea of running for health. We got to the subject of money in the sport. “It’s not as new as people make out I said. It’s just handled differently.” I looked at Arthur. “I’ve heard and read in a couple of places that Ron Clarke,” I paused to explain who Clarke was to my mother-in-law, “would get calls from meet promoters all over Europe asking him to run their races. His answer was always the same, ‘Send a first class, full fare ticket,’ which in those days cost about $1,000. He’d get maybe twenty of those, cash in nineteen, fly to Europe on one, and pocket about $19,000.”
“That’s why Clarke never won a gold medal,” Arthur said, nodding. “He always ran for money.”
Then he added, “Very smart man. He’s an accountant and did very well for himself in business. Nice fellow.”
The conversation drifted again and the topic of Arthur’s three marriages arose. “Which of your wives was the best one?” my mother-in-law asked.
“They all were,” he answered immediately. “Each in her own way.”
It was bedtime. Arthur slept on the downstairs couch, preferring that to negotiating the stairs to where the guest beds were. He was awake at six the next morning, his usual wake up time regardless of time zone. I was going to get up and keep him company but decided to lie in bed for just a few more minutes before rising. The few more minutes turned into two hours. When I came downstairs Arthur was watching TV and hopping in front of the kitchen counter, supporting himself with his hands.
“Back home I have a walker and a rowing machine. I go to a park by the ocean and walk with the walker, then go home and use the rowing machine. But it’s hard to exercise on this trip without those things.”
I headed out to run. The weather is awful. I run in a park by the ocean in sweat shirt and shorts. The wind whips the rain through my clothes and my left hand freezes. I don’t know why I didn’t wear gloves and long pants and say so to Arthur as I return, adding that I hate running in long pants and put it off for as long as possible each autumn. He tells me that in Finland, he ran in shorts with the weather as cold as minus seven, I’m guessing Centigrade here, and was ok. It strikes me that it was my hands, not my legs that were cold.
We’re off for the second leg of the trip. The weather doesn’t improve. Traffic is sluggish and heavy. Visibility is bad as we work our way through New York City and into New Jersey. Arthur suggests lunch and insists on paying. He’d tried to pay for gasoline and tolls but I wouldn’t let him, though I agree to lunch.
As we drive on, he tries to find a radio station that plays the “old songs. You know, like Frank Sinatra.” I find a couple but we pass out of range fairly soon.
Arthur sleeps much more this time than on the previous leg. He wakes up and says that the Hyundai seems like a good car. I tell him I’m pleased with it. “Garth Gilmour had one and liked it so well that he bought another.”
“What do you drive?”
“I have a little Daewoo.”
“Can you still drive a manual with your knees?” I ask.
“Yes. I wouldn’t have an automatic. I made Joelyne get a manual. She was almost killed by an automatic transmission. Her wheels went off the road when it was slippery and kept spinning. Her car spun around. So I made her get a manual. When I’ve had automatics, I shift the gears myself.”
I tell him that I do the same thing when I have to drive a car with an automatic transmission and that I also prefer manuals. We get to talking about coaching in Korea, something he didn’t do when offered the chance. “I didn’t like Korea. Couldn’t stand the food. They eat a lot of fish. I can’t stand fish. I hate it!”
Here we went onto a fairly extended discussion of our mutual dislike of eating fish, though he was more adamant about it than I am. He slept again. The weather didn’t improve.
When he awoke, I asked him some about his coaching. How did he know, I wondered, if his athletes were doing their distance work too fast or too slowly? It is, after all, a big question many ask about his system.
“I ran with them,” he answered.
“Even Tayler?” Arthur would have been fifty six or fifty seven when Richard Tayler was preparing for the 1974 Commonwealth Games and I wondered if a man that age was able to run with someone capable of a 3:59 mile and 2:16 marathon.
“Yes, I ran with Tayler.”
I asked about his story of going to a track with Tayler to run 400 meter repeats not knowing how many Tayler would run, nor how fast, or even if the track really was four hundred meters long.
“He just ran until he was tired. The he stopped.”
It came clear that Arthur expected his athletes to be honest with themselves about what they were feeling and able to do. He dozed again. We passed through Delaware and into Maryland. I’d meant to ask him about rugby’s rules, but somehow, that slipped my mind. The Washington Beltway was very crowded and we inched along towards Bethesda, Arthur’s next stop. He dozed, awoke, commented on the traffic, each of us agreeing that there is not enough money in the universe to get us to deal with that sort of traffic on a regular basis. He dozed again. More roads. More traffic, and eventually we were pulling into Roland Rust’s driveway. Arthur was at his next host’s.
He was escorted to his room and promptly toppled over backward again, but again was ok. He put on slippers and headed for the living room. Roland’s wife, Chiarro, went to get beers for us. Roland explained that Chiarro is Japanese and that Japanese housewives are fanatical about making sure that their guests have whatever they want and are as comfortable as can be.
“What do you want for dinner, Arthur?” Chiarro asked as she poured the beers.
“Anything!” Arthur answered. “Anything at all. I’ll eat anything. Been all over the world. Never had a problem finding something to eat. I’ll eat whatever you have.”
“Except fish.”
I thought I saw a cloud pass ever so briefly over Chiarro’s face.
“You don’t like fish?”
I smiled remembering Arthur’s and my earlier conversation about fish.
“No. Can’t stand it. Can’t stand the smell. Can’t stand the taste. But anything else is fine. Just some bread and cheese would be good. Or bread and jam.”
“Cheese,” I hear Chiarro mutter as she headed back to the kitchen.
A few minutes later she came back carrying a big tray filled with cheese and crackers.
“Oh!” Arthur exclaimed. “Cheese and crackers. That’s lovely. You’re spoiling me,” as Chiarro set down the tray. Then, “That isn’t blue cheese, is it?”
“Don’t you like blue cheese?” Chiarro replied nervously.
“No. Leaves an aftertaste.”
Trying not to laugh, I happily note that I will be able to have fun when I’m in my eighties.
I say goodnight to Arthur and his hosts promising to meet him at his talk the next day.
The talk is small, perhaps forty people were there. Most of them say there had been almost no pre-event publicity and they just happened to have learned of it. But size didn’t affect the quality. The video made you feel like you wanted to head to the nearest track and fly along at a four minute mile pace, or perhaps go out for a twenty two mile run over the hilliest course you can find. Arthur has trouble getting out of his chair. I sit behind him and push him from his chair and onto the stage, then help him back down when he’s done talking.
Before the talk I told him that I’d say my goodbye now because he’d probably be talking to people from the audience. I say how good it had been to see him again and that my wife and I are seriously hoping to get back to New Zealand in the next couple of years. We’ll look him up, I say, and I’ll take him and Joelyne out for a fish dinner. He laughs. “She’d like that. She loves fish.”
I tell him that my wife loves fish too. Maybe, I say, we’ll drop the two of them off at a seafood restaurant and he and I and my sons will go find a steak.
“And some beers,” he adds.
But I stay after the talk, getting into conversations with some of the others who wanted to talk to Arthur in more detail. Finally, the last of the audience leaves. Arthur and Roland walk towards Roland’s car. I walk along with them until we come to a junction in the hallway where I needed to go right to get to my car and Arthur and Roland would go left. Once again, I tell Arthur how good it was to see him and we talk again about a visit when my family goes to New Zealand. But it seemed as though we both knew that it wouldn’t happen.
The drive home was much easier than the drive down. The roads were dry and there was no traffic once I’d cleared the city. I generally enjoy long, solitary, car trips. But this one felt a bit empty. I missed Arthur’s company and felt quite sure I had spoken with him for the last time.
But I knew that many, many, runners throughout the world would have given much to have spent as much time alone with Arthur as I did. Nobby keeps saying things like, “I hope the drive went ok. I hope Arthur wasn’t too much trouble.”
No, Arthur was not too much trouble and yes, the drive was much more than ok. Thank you, Nobby, for arranging an experience I’ll remember all of my life. Thank you, Arthur, for an enjoyable road trip, for being a great companion on the way, for your generosity with your time, and most of all, for making my life and others better by teaching us all how to run better and stay healthy while enjoying the whole process.
So long, Arthur. I hope that it’s not too awkward for you in the afterlife with both Jean and Eira there. I hope God wasn’t too upset at you when you told Him about how much better the universe would work if everyone in it did your training. And I hope they don’t serve fish.

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