Turning the ordinary to Extraordinary – A Converstaion with the Great Barry Magee
By: Avner Matan (Auckland) and Nachshon Shohat (Jerusalem),February 2017
"I can't remember it being any special thinking of that apart from the fact that you had some friends to run with, probably just the same as you do in NZ or Jerusalem. There's no thought of that that I'm training to be the best in the world, nothing like that. In fact, we probably talked about every subject in the world. If we'd be running today we'd be talking about what's Trump doing to America, is Bill English (NZ current prime minister, AM) doing a good job, that was it. Or one saying that he painted the bathroom last weekend or something because the wife told him to. It was just a general bunch of guys enjoying the fellowship and the training together."
Yet this unique and specific "bunch of guys" developed 17 world records and six Olympic medals for New Zealand. Runnners who came from one town, trained under one coach with a strong belief in one way: Arthur Lydiard's way. This group of friends, if you were to ask one of its champions, Barry Magee, often managed to turn ordinary talent to extraordinary feats. We were lucky for the rare opportunity to interview Barry Magee and to get an inside view of this extraordinary training group, that changed the history of long distance running.
In the interview that follows, Barry shares – candidly, poignantly and with brilliant wit – his views and experiences as an elite runner and coach. He explains the tremendous influence and inspiration of Arthur Lydiard and Barry's concept of "Running freedom". The interview quickly became a lesson in training method, in motivation, and in proportion. A welcome introduction into "Barry Magee's School of Running".
Following is the complete English transcript of the interview (For an audio recording of the interview, press here).
Cover photo courtesy of Jason Oxenheim, East and Bays Courrier
(Barry Magee with Ethiopian Olympic Champ Abebe Bikila on the winners' podium of the 1960 Olympic Marathon in Rome. Photo by unknown, public domain @ wikipedia).
It is a great honor and a greater pleasure for me to interview Mr. Barry Magee, a truly great and inspiring running and coaching legend. Barry is known as one of the "Lydiard Boys" who took the world by surprise in the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome – and consequently changed and redefined the paradigm of training for long and middle distance success.
Barry Magee finished third in that unforgettable Olympic marathon, whose final 15 kilometers were run in the dark, in Rome, winning the bronze medal on the day when Ethiopian Abebe Bikila ran the fastest marathon ever. Magee's ran 2:17:18 on that day, one of the fastest marathons ever run at the time [faster than Jim Peters' world record].
In this interview we'll also speak about your consequent success, as the world's leading runner in the Marathon and 10000 meters, part of New Zealand's 4*mile world record breaking team, as well as your unbelievable success as a Masters Runner as well.
Barry has been coaching runners to achievements ever since, prominently using Arthur Lydiard's system.
Barry, thank you so much for this opportunity to speak with you.
Let me tell you, before we begin, that the coaching of Arthur Lydiard and the amazing character of Arthur and his runners/boys – yourself among them, of course – has served as a wonderful influence and inspiration to many runners in Israel. This includes champion coaches and runners who read Lydiard's books and implemented his methods in the 1970s and ever since. Lydiard's concepts of high mileage, periodization and the strong belief in patient aerobic development over time have defined the training of our Jerusalem Breakfast Club Amateur Runners' club.
We will be relaying this interview to runners and other readers in Israel and we also look forward to hosting you and your wife as our honorable guests in Jerusalem.
Can you describe what it felt like, that day in September 1960 on the streets of Rome, when you were running in the dark, torches lighting your way, and knowing that you were heading towards glory. Did you realize how fast you were going? Did you realize, as you were running, both the personal, national and historical significance of that run? Could you describe what goes through a young runner's mind when he's at the brink of such ultimate achievement?
The answer would be no, no, no and no to all of those questions. That's right. There were about 70 runners in the race and they actually changed the starting time of the race, what they were scared of, it was 30 degrees every day in Rome, and we've been there for four weeks, and it was very hot and the week before the Olympic marathon a Swedish cyclist had died in the road race, in the 150 miles or whatever road race that they do. [The cyclist who died was Knud Enemark Jensen of Denmark – AM and NS]. Probably a combination of heat and drugs, that would be my guess today. He had probably taken stuff and the heat affected him and he died in the race, so there was a great protest from all of the athletic managers of the whole world that if we were to run the marathon at the original time, something similar might happen in the marathon, so it was changed. It was supposed to be the greatest public pictorial from helicopters and photographs and cameras work done to really put Rome in front of the world as they do with international marathons. But they've changed the time for the runners, from about 1pm which was great for the world TV and the world everything, to about 4pm or half past four, later in the day, when we would be running the last 15km in the dark. But that's the way it was because if you have a look at the internet and Google you would see us running down the way when it is pitch dark and no street lights, but there were soldiers holding flaming torches every a few hundred meters so that we can see the road.
That is another reason it went down as one of the greatest marathons in history, because they had never run a marathon in the dark before, they've never run an Olympic marathon that wasn't at the stadium and it started outside from the stadium and everything was done in a completely different way, and I had no idea where I was even at the finishing line. No idea. So had no idea that I'd run fast, no idea that I got a medal and so it was a wonderful surprise to get to the finishing line and finding out that I got 3rd and got the Bronze medal for the Olympic games, which for any runners in the world it is just one of the greatest things that he can do in the sport that he has chosen.
But that success in Rome, that took me 11 years to do in training, so as they say with most things that are successful in life, hard work comes before success. So 11 years of training had gone into that one day that had changed the history for Barry and partly for NZ distance running, because we've never won Olympic medal like that before in a marathon, and that was the first ever New Zealander to get an Olympic marathon medal. And as we know the two gold medalists for NZ in the 5k and 800 meters at that time that was a few days before my race.
It was very very exciting but I certainly had no idea what I was doing, that I was creating history in a way, of being a world record, the first marathon in history with an African to win it, and to win it in bare feet, so that was a historical first ever, because they didn't believe the times Ethiopia had submitted that this man had actually done in the trials, they thought that they've got it all wrong, because he had run way faster than the Olympic record to qualify for Rome, and the amazing thing was that he was standing within 1 meter of me in the starting line in his bare feet.
What did you think when you saw him bare feet?
Well I thought 'Well, he must have come out of the jungle or something, poor man can't afford shoes'. But many africans feel more comfortable running in bare feet than they would in really professional running shoes that we have been accustomed to. I mean, people like me, I couldn't have run in bare feet, but for him he found it difficult to run in shoes because they had lived in bare feet.
But it was a wonderful surprise, and those games turned history of the Lydiard training being recognized as the best and the most successful in the world for middle and distance runners, and just about the whole world followed the Lydiard way in the years to follow. And the Japanesse and those countries, they were here very quickly, wanting to learn everything possible, but we know it is the most successful system, and probably half the world today still uses Lydiard's principle, even if they don't know it or they don't acknowledge is, half the world would do that today.
And in Rome, indeed, the "Lydiard boys" – Peter Snell, Murray Halberg and yourself – coming from the same small running group in Auckland – exemplified that concept. Then again, in 1964, Snell would win gold medals in the 800 and 1500 meter runs, with John Davies adding a bronze. What do you describe as the keys to this small group's amazing success?
It all boils down to one man and one thing – Lydiard. Lydiard, for some reason, they still don't know how he knew everything, but what we do know and from living with him and running with him and having him as my coach for all those years, he studied every known way of training in the world, and took the best out of that. The best of the South African, the best out of the British runners that have set world records and things, and then he experiment on himself for about 5 years before he started formulating what is now the training schedules of Lydiard, this is still available for the whole world to follow, and through that 5 years he discovered that you could run faster and better and you are stronger and it became effortless, it is a combination of cardio-respiratory, cardio-vascular efficiency and that allowed runners to just run endlessly and tirelessly, but the natural ability for some that determines whether you're a 100 meters runner, Usain Bolts are the born sprinters of this world, other people are born 100K runners because they run slow but they can just run all day. But the Lydiard method brings out the best in everybody, but you determine your race distance by the fact of your natural speed, which we determine over 200 meters sprint. 200 meters sprint determines how fast you are, and whether you can be a middle distance, or a distance or an ultra distance racer and runner.
But Lydiard knew it all, and they still today do not know how he knew it all. And 99% of it has been proven right, and the results just prove for themselves and it is still happening today that even the results of the people I coach, last winter in the NZ Cross Country championship I had three runners running in the under-20 division of the national Cross Country championship, about 8km, and they got first, second and fourth, three in the first fourth in the NZ championship, all training the Lydiard way, so it doesn't matter what it is or where it is. In the 1980's I took the Lydiard method of training to South Korea. Lydiard was supposed to go and he wouldn't go or couldn't go, he asked me to go, I spent a month in Korea coaching the coaches and telling the coaches and leaving them Lydiard book, and in the 90's they won a gold and a silver medal at the Olympic marathon, and the funny thing they gave me the credit and flew me back to say thank you in the 90's. But that was the success of Lydiard.
So everyone who wants to be a champion, they don't have to recreate or invent the wheel again. Lydiard has done it all for us, it's all there and all we've got to do is follow the instructions of the master, the master coach. I remember he died in about 2003, at 87 years of age, doing a lecture tour in America at the time, of a heart attack, bang, gone, and they flew him back to NZ, the body and I conducted his funeral service, so I was very connected to Arthur Lydiard.
It is referred to in many places that in the 1960 Rome Olympics you ‘took the world by storm’. Did you surprise yourselves as well?
I don't think so, no. I don't think there was any surprise to us whatsoever. Halberg in the previous two years had beaten the world champion, had beaten the world record holder, and was a success. Snell was the surprise, because he was only 21. He'd only been training for three years under Lydiard, but Lydiard always said that it takes three years to make a champion. Three years of real training, what he calls 3 summers and 3 winters of real training, that means training 50 weeks of the year, and doing everything you need to do, but Snell was a surprise because he wouldn't have been ranked in the top 20 in the world in the lists.
But Snell and Lydiard, Lydiard had told everyone for three weeks in Rome that Snell would win. Lydiard knew somehow and I think Snell actually believed that too. He didn't go to Rome to qualify for the finals, he went to win in Rome even though he was a complete unknown. And of course as we know, the history books tell us that the world record holder, Roger Moens of Belgium, he just wondered who this upstart was, but the confidence that Snell had was beyond anything that I've ever experienced in my life. On the way to the semifinals, where he was going to race against Moens, in the semifinals of the Olympic 800 meters, Snell said to Lydiard 'I hope Moens runs fast enough today that I may break the Olympic record today'. Is that confidence? I've never made a statement like that in my lifetime. I always hoped I would do well, I never told anyone, I had just hoped that I'd do well and I'd go out to do the best I could always, and if I won I won, if I've lost I've lost, so be it, the sun would still rise tomorrow, and you just get on with life. But Snell was absolutely a champion in waiting, and Lydiard recognized that, and he had the ability, the speed, and the stamina and the strength.
You have to remember that in 1964 the great Peter Snell did 10 weeks of 160 km a week in his conditioning to be the best prepared and the best conditioned middle distance runner in the world. There wouldn't have been another middle distance runner in the world that would do that in preparation for any major event today, I don't think they would do it. And I've talked to middle distance champions in NZ, and nobody even today in 2017 does that in middle distance running. Some of the distance runners don't even do that. But that was the Lydiard way. It was plan A and no plan B. So it was.
But Halberg, he was a confident, but we were the best prepared and the best conditioned runners in the world. That's what made the difference. We had the physical and the mental strength to fight the good fight. And most other runners in the world didn't have the strength-stamina factor that all Lydiard's runners have. Doesn't matter if it's Simon Aspden (a local amateur runner who trains with Barry, AM) or Peter Snell. They still gotta have that. You've gotta have that wonderful basic conditioning, just do 100% aerobic for perhaps 8-10 weeks, and even in 10 weeks runners can go from zero to hero. It's how fast that things can change with just doing the training and doing the work. That big mental challenge of 'Am I prepared to do it?' but you either shaped up or shaped out of Lydiard. If you did the work, you were in, if you didn't, he wouldn't even be bothered with you. You had to be prepared to do what he said and that was it.
(The Lydiard Boys on the famous weekly run on the Waiatarua Loop: Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, Barry Magee and Alan McKnight).
Could you describe what regular training was like, among the group? I am not asking about the training system per se or its specifics. I'm curious to hear about the dynamics of training in such a group – the attitude, the camaraderie, the competition within the group itself, what a typical training run would feel like. And did you guys realize that you were training to be the best in the world?
I can't remember it being any special thinking of that apart from the fact that you had some friends to run with, probably just the same as you do in NZ or Jerusalem. There's no thought of that that I'm training to be the best in the world, nothing like that. In fact, we probably talked about every subject in the world. If we'd be running today we'd be talking about what's Trump doing to America, is Bill English (NZ current prime minister, AM) doing a good job, that was it. Or one saying that he painted the bathroom last weekend or something because the wife told him to. It was just a general bunch of guys enjoying the fellowship and the training together. Not terribly even thinking much about running. It was a social as well as a training group. And the fun was always there. There was never a time it was really hard work, there was always the fun, and some of us, I think I had the ability to either train alone or with others. It didn't worry me. If I had a two hour training on the schedule, I'd just go out and do a 2 hour training run. Some runners seem to can't do it. I'd just go out and do it anyway. But it was fun once a week or twice a week or whatever to run with the others, and we didn't train together all the time, let's put it that way. Because we were all working, at the time we were all 17-18-19 when we met Lydiard, there was no one in University or anything like that, we were all going to work so we were training in the different times from Monday to Friday, and so it was just a part of life really, and I don't think any of us, we weren't in that category where we were paranoid about having to do all the training, or having to do this or that, there was no thought of that. We were just enjoying life, enjoying sport, enjoying running. I call running freedom – mental and physical freedom. It's very hard, you can't run on worry… it's impossible. In fact, it works like a drug, it makes you feel good. You come home and runners sing in the shower. So we were just very ordinary, normal, human beings, and we didn't see ourselves as world beaters or world champions or anything like that, just a bunch of normal guys, going out there training and running, and we were all great mates, really, we were great mates and we didn't consider, I don't think I hated any of them, even on the race day. Even though we had 6 Olympians, we ended out after 64 six Olympians in Auckland, so I could go out to every race as a world ranked athlete and get sixth in the local race. So I'd go home and my wife would say 'how did you get on'? and I would say 'I got fifth today', which means I didn't get a medal or didn't get anything. But it didn't matter. It didn't matter. We didn't, and I particularly didn't live to run, running was just part of life. And I call it as I tell all my runners – it's a bonus in life. Don't live to run. Don't become neurotic and fanatic about it. You enjoy it and have fun while you can, so I raced all the way through 65 years of age, because I was still enjoying it.
I understand that you excelled as a rugby player in your teens and only later turned to distance running. Do you think that your habits as a child and later playing rugby contributed to your success in distance running? When did you realize that distance running should be your sport, and what was more fun?
They are pretty separated really, but you're right that mental attitude and mental thinking you need the same quality for both. Which is great determination, great determination, I played Rugby as a kid for three years in a row. For two and a half years I was a total failure. Total failure. It has people laughing my heads off when I explain to them how I would do anything rather than tackle the guy from the other team, which Rugby is a real contact sport and then I hated it, if he tackled me I thought I was gonna get hurt, and I was scared, I was a scared little boy and that's the worst thing you could have in Rugby. But as the story goes, at 14 I went to a bible class camp and the minister challenged us there in his talk to give our lives to god, and let him take over our lives. And at that camp I said 'yes, I would do that'. About a month later this man came up to me in a Rugby match and took me aside and gave me a talk. And that day changed my life. And I think god sent him into my life and for the next three months I was one of the best Rugby players in Auckland city, as a left wing, quite fast but not a sprint fast, but fast enough, skinny little boy who was determined to the uttermost. All fear had gone. And that transformation of all fear being one, the funny thing is of course, six months later I injured my finger playing Rugby, and I had it in a splin for six weeks, and a bible class friend of mine invited me along for a harrier club to go for a three mile run, and I thoroughly enjoyed it because it didn't matter about the finger that was in a splin, and we had about a 1k running at the finish of the race and I think I must have gotten first or second in this running, bunch of junior kids aged 15 years of age, and Barry the runner was born that day. I never played another game of Rugby, even though as the Rugby, the previous season I ended up representing Auckland, which is not easy in Auckland to get into a Rugby rep team, that has about 22 players, and I only got half a game in a rep game and I scored my first tri in a representative match, and I carried about 3 players over on my back while scoring the tri. Such was the determination, but that same determination than carried out to the running. So I believe god used the Rugby as a training thing to get the running bit, Barry the runner was born at 15 years of age and the rest is history.
Amazingly, you continued to run marathons for decades. You ran sub 2:30 marathons at ages 48 and 49. You ran 2:44 at age 54. That's truly awesome. As a successful master's runner and coach, what do you see as the key to maintaining the ability and ambition to train and race, for so long. And how do you achieve such durability? The roads can really bang up most of us over the years…
Not sure if there is any real answer for that. Our style and our cadence, I mean, Lydiard called Barry the ballet dancer of the road. So somehow I was a floater, and probably had my share of injuries, as every runner does. But somehow came through all of them, and never changed my attitude but perhaps I was born to run. Born to run. Perhaps it was that way that if I got injured I'd get over the injury and start again, and start again, and start again. Never lost the love of running. I did an exercise on the kitchen floor when I was 42, I had to have my knee cartilage out in one part of the knee, that was about a 3inch cut and they took out the whole cartilage as I splited doing an exercise on the ktichen floor and I Was about 42. The surgeon said 'you'd probably never run again Barry on roads and marathons and things like that'. And I just thought to myself 'well I'll show you' and I think that about 9 months later I ran a 2:29 marathon. So I just started again without the cartilage, and what I found is that I would wear shoes out on that leg in a different leg because it changed the cadence of my style and step. I don't know, I just got out there and still enjoyed it all the way, and it's been a wonderful ride, but such was the experience about helping others to do it all well and to do it all good as well, the Lydiard way.
(Funrunner Barry, in 2000. Still running strong 40 years after the Rome Olympic Marathon).
You trained at an elite level, two runs a day, well over 100 miles a week, while working full time – 50 hours a week. You were an amateur in every sense, not just officially.
Yes. I never got a dollar, in any of my 54 years of running. I shouldn't say that. I think that in 54 years I had about 700$ given to me. 700$ in 54 years. So we were true amateurs. I had to get a bank loan every time I went away, I did two common wealth games and two Olympic games for NZ, plus things like a world tour, a European tour six weeks away, I had to take a bank loan every time and it would take me 6-12 months to pay back the bank loan every time I came home. That's how amateur we were. But we did it because we loved to run. We did it, Barry did anyway, I think some runners they ran because they wanted success. They wanted to be number 1 in the world. Halberg and Snell are perhaps in that category. Barry just ran because he enjoyed it. There was never money. There was never money there. At the Rome Olympics with our 3 NZ medals, we would have been lucky if we could raise 500$ between the three of us, everything we were worth. We had nothing. At Rome in 1960 because we were so amateurs, you weren't allowed to receive 5$ as a prize at an athletic meeting or you'd be termed a professional and banned from all amateur running.
How does one balance such a training load with work and family?
With great difficulty. That's perhaps the hardest thing of all is to get that balance, particularly I'd be running 6 in the morning to 6:30, 8:30 starting work, in my situation I worked until 17:30, I'd get home at 6 o'clock, get changed and go out training for 1-2 hours each night. And we'd be having tea at 8:30 every night, so it was a whole change of life style, but because you wanted to do it, you did it. And some of the other runners got off at 4:30, but for Barry it was 5:30 knock off and a 6:00 start running time. But I just did it. Just did it. And I didn't ever think about times or things like that, did it matter or did it not, 6:30 or something, never crossed my mind not to do it, regardless of the time. But as you said, with family and work it was a big juggle, it was a certainly a juggle, and at times it was quite difficult, particularly in the middle of winter when it was dark at 6 o'clock, and I'd had to go out and run 18 miles in the rain for two hours in the middle of winter, and still do it. I don't know if that makes a difference for a champion or not, but such is your focus and such is your commitment to do the stuff. And I think I always had quite a lot of fear with me. I won the NZ 6 miles championship one year, and the man who was second came up to me afterwards and said 'you know you never looked behind once the whole race' and I said 'no, I was too scared'. He thought it was confidence. The real answer was fear. But it doesn't matter I don't think what drives us, we just did it and juggled. Luckily I had a wife at the time that supported my running and wanted me and worked in with me. That would be an impossibility if your wife didn't like your running, you'd be stupid to continue it. You need to change direction. Luckily we all had wives that wanted us to run and helped us in that. You have a wonderful cook perhaps, and a wonderful house keeper, you had a wife that was helping you all the way to accomplish what you wanted. And I don't think some of us would have done it if we hadn't had that cooperation, so up to a certain age we had a mother that did it for us, and then we exchanged it for a wife, and that wife if she cooperated helped us to be the champions we became.
Let's turn to training methods. I'll start out by asking what was (or is) your favorite training session, personally? In terms of enjoyment.
No, not really. Not for Barry. I mean, some of them were tough. When you've gotta a night doing hill running for instance, the only word you can describe it it's a tough session. But I don't think I had really any favorite ones. What we do now is Lydiard training is called periodization training, and it's split up into four periods or four phases. The first one is conditioning, so you might do 8 weeks at least of that, and 4 weeks of hill work, and then perhaps 8 weeks of track work and repetitions and time trials, and then about 4 weeks of sharpening and short sprints and races and freshening out. So we had that variation right through a six months period, so we worked in two periods of 6 months each year, and we had 2 weeks a year off. 50 weeks training and two weeks holiday off training. But all of us couldn't wait to start again after the two weeks. In fact some times in that second week we'd do 2 or 3 little 30 minutes jogs because we couldn't wait to start training again. Such was the keenness. But Lydiard always said the brain need a rest, not the body. He said the body never needs a break or a rest, all you have to do is jog to restore the body, but the brain needs a rest. That's why he insisted of two weeks of no specific training, and if possible physical and mental rest. But half the boys that Lydiard trained, they'd jog during those two weeks because they couldn't give it away completely, but the emphasis was on the mental rest as far as Lydiard, and it must have worked because we never got burnt out, we never got stressed out. That two weeks mental rest every year just restored you for 50 weeks of get up and go.
Lydiard talks a lot about the importance of ‘peaking’ for a race. How did that take form in the actual training? As a runner, how did you KNOW that you are ready for the race?
I think it came automatically with the training. You'd be racing in training, and at the beginning of those six months you'd go out and run 10 miles might take me 63 or 64 minutes to go out and run a 10 miles or 16 kilometers. As the months went by, I'd go out and do that same course in 55 or 56 minutes. Easily. Not as hard as it was to start with. And then you go on to your repetitions and your time trials, and the time trials for Barry would be 6 miles in 35 minutes in week 1, but by about week 6 of that training that would be down to 31 minutes for the 6 miles, or 30 minutes for the 6 miles in training. So the confidence, and then you'd started to race on a Saturday or something like that, there'd be an inter-club race on, you'd go and race and we were racing on club nights on a Wednesday night week after week after week, two races a week for 6 weeks perhaps before the major races, and that all told you exactly how you were at the time. So there was no guess work to it, we had a successful formula to follow every year, and it just worked. You have to remember that in 10 years of NZ championships, as an example, where there's 800, 1500, 5000, 10000, marathon, Lydiard's runners won 45 of the 50 NZ championships in a 10 year period. Can anyone argue against the formula not being right or whether we trusted the formula? We had it all there and we just proved it year after year after year after year. In fact, most of us would run different distances in the NZ Championships so that we could each go home with a gold or silver medal. I don't know how that sounds but we would sit around the table about November and work out what we do, you know, Snell for the 800, Halberg for the mile, Bally for the 3 miles, Barry for the 6 miles, Puckett and Julian can fight out the marathon. 45 out of 50, so it was such a successful formula that when we gathered at NZ championships you'd see the other runners from around NZ would see Arthur's boys walking around on the Friday night before the champs and they would turn pale. They were fill with fear, like David and Goliath, when all Israelites saw Goliath they turned and fled and were full of fear. The rest of NZ were like that with Arthur's boys. It was so dominant and everyone, you didn't have to live in Auckland, there were south island runners that followed it. Whoever followed the formula succeeded. But it was, you just knew you're going out there to try to win the race. Didn't win them all, I probably lost more races in my career than I ever won, but I think during about a 10 year period I started about 17 NZ championships, and won 7 gold, 7 silver and 3 bronze, 17 medals, 17 places, 17 starts. That was Lydiard. But you gotta remember I lost 10 of them. I didn't win 10 of the 17, but you just took it and, I got my golds because the other Olympians didn't run in that particular race in the NZ championships because you'd couldn't run everything. It worked out good but we were all lifted up that way, the training just put you into mental position and a physical position where you went out to try and win the race every time.
Was the transition from running to coaching natural for you? What were your main challenges?
No, I never had any problems whatsoever in the transition. In fact, after about 5 years of coaching one of my runners ran the fourth fastest 10K in history. So that was more proof. But luckily I always had like a big tick from Lydiard. He told other people Barry Magee probably understand my training better than virtually any other coach in the world. Not everyone understood the Lydiard philosophy, or the Lydiard way, particularly track runners. I asked Arthur 20 years later 'Why me? Why have you chosen that I understand it better'. He said 'Barry – Marathon runners understand my training better than others, and you are the marathon man and the track man'. Because my combination was just about unrivaled. In one year I was number 2 in the world over 5K, number 1 in the world over 10K, and first-equal in the marathon in 1961. That was an incredible combination and as well as the 4 X 1 mile world relay record holder. Over so many distances, but he said 'marathon men understand my training, and you are a marathon man'. So I get queries from all over the world from someone who wants to improve their marathoning, they seem to understand they come to Barry to help in their coaching and training, and that works. I have one man in India whose goal is to break 5 hours for the marathon, 45 years old business man, and he weighs about 96 kilos, so I have challenges that way. Then there are other people who are 2:35 marathoners who end up running 2:16, things like that.
It is there, but I never had any trouble because I think by the time I was 30 and sort of retiring from international running, I'd been 13 years with Lydiard. I virtually knew his stuff and I could tell you how his lines of most of the things he said, just as now I get people here quoting Barry form 30 or 40 years ago in his coaching that Barry says this and Barry said that, and I was the same with Lydiard, Lydiard said this and Lydiard said that, I could still remember all his main quotes and main lines to us that I do it a bit more gently I think, I sort of love my runners. He loved us in a rough way, a harsh way, a strict way. He made us like family really, and I do it in more of a gentle way.
If you ask some of the girls I coach, as one of them said a few years ago, she brought a new girl along to training one night, and she introduced this new girl to Barry and said 'Christine, you do everything Barry tells you, he will help you with your running, Barry loves us all'. And I think that's come true, the friendship and helping I don't sort of slap them down, I try to build them up and encourage them, even if they get last I pat them on the back and say 'You did your best, you gave it all you had, I think you're a champion' even though they got last, and they go home happy. If they are stupid or they do a stupid race I will them. But if they had given their best shot, the ability doesn't matter, the placing doesn't matter, every finisher is still a winner to me, even if they're last in the race, so I've enjoyed and had tremendous satisfaction out of coaching runners to Olympic games or Commonwealth games, world championships, world cross country, and one of my runners won golds in the last masters world championship in Perth, a gold medal, 60 years old lady, etc. Others got fourth and fifth in the masters world champs, and I got a lot of satisfaction out of the coaching, but I don't think there was any transition from runner to coach whatsoever, and you gotta remember I played running all through those masters years, I never went out to be the best runner in the world in my masters years whatsoever, it was incidental I was probably first or second ranked in the world when I was about 50, I could run 15:37 when I was 50 for 5K, and about 31:50 for 10K, but I was 50. But I just ran because I loved it and then I coached because I think I'm a people person. If I can help someone, you don't even just help them with running. I got a X-mas card years ago 'To my favorite life coach'. I sort of help people through their divorces, it doesn't matter they got worries or whatever I try to help them in every possible way and the running is part of that. They come to me for the running but they get everything.
What do you see as the most important role of a coach, and has that changed as you moved from being a runner to coaching?
Well the coach is the most important part of the whole thing, the whole exercise really. There's no such thing as a champion without a coach. The coach is the mastermind of everything that happens for the runner. He is everything. The coach's job is the encourage, to inspire, to teach, to train, even in fact when they get beaten or they've broken down, to lift them up again. That's the job of the coach to restore them. And nobody really becomes a champion or anything without a coach. The coach is the most important thing in these people's lives. And I've had fathers tell me that 'I'm number 2 in the house now'. If you told so and so my son to jump off the harbor bridge he would jump off. But that's the relationship the coach gets, he just builds a whole life that he's working with, and this is what Lydiard did and I do that too but what I would use as the example of that, if you went to mount Everest and you wanted to climb mount Everest in the Himalayas, you'd go to Nepal and you'd check out what and how you would climb the mountain, what do you need, you'd perhaps go to the tourist bureau or something like that and they would say 'ok, we can give you the best maps of the world of the mountain, all the weather conditions, everything, all the gear you'll need to buy, the tent you'll need to live in, what you'll need to cook, they can give you a 100 things that will encourage you or help you to get up there, to get that mountain and conquer the mountain'. Or, they might say to you 'in the next room we have a man called Sherpa Tenzing, and he will take you to the top'. That's the coach. Sherpa Tenzing was the coach or the guide that took Hillary (Referring to Sir Edmond Hillary, a famous New Zealand mountaineer, explorer, and philanthropist – AM), to the top of Mount Everest. And that's what the coach has to be today. And every day. He is the person that lead you and takes you to the top. If you want to be at the top. He is the most important person. I talked to a man a few years ago about half an hour at the club, and the president came up to me afterwards, or he came up to the man afterwards, and I was still with the man, I was talking, and he said to the man 'Have you got on with Barry?' and he said 'Have you learned anything? Has he helped you?', because the man was thinking of joining the club. And the man looked at the club president and said 'I've learned more in the last 30 minutes than I've learnt in the last 10 years'. That's the difference a coach can make. So to Barry the coach was everything. Lydiard was everything to us, and Lydiard was… he's accredited with 17 Olympic gold medals, you know, countries from Finland or Germany and NZ and America. America's great marathon runner, talked to him, he won a gold and a silver for America, and I said 'What training did you do'? He'd said 'Lydiard's' Gold and a silver Olympic marathons in wherever it was, Moscow and Los Angeles and stuff, so the coach is everything. Anyone that wants to run or run well, they find the best coach they can get. But I think the Everest story sums up. You can read books till the cows come home, you could do your own thing, you could follow Ethiopian training, Kenyan training, American training. Nothing compares to having the coach, and it doesn't matter if it's the Israeli soccer team or the All-Blacks (NZ world-famous Rugby team – AM). If they have the coach, they could win.
What are the core principles of successful training for distance runners, in your opinion?
You don't expect perhaps success for three years. You look at it logically and just work, work, work. Whatever the ambition or whatever the goal is. You don't give up with things that get in the way or stop you and you find ways through them or around them, and you do what you can do and without rushing, and to understand and learn the principle that speed kills, distance never kills. You can go out and run a 100KM, it won't kill you. But if you train too hard or too fast, it could be just 6X800 on the track or something, or you start racing your training when you're not ready, things like that would kill you. It's a matter of learning the principles and following them, knowing that it takes probably 3 years and for some it often takes 10. There are runners at 40 that took up running at 30, they're far better at 40 than they were at 30, runners started at 40 are better at 50. It takes 10 years because running is a thing that you build. Some field events are like that too, it takes about 10 years to make a great discus thrower or a great shot putter, things like that. They can stronger and stronger and stronger and stronger, and it's the same with the runner. They just never lost sight of the goal and keep working at it, and as Winston Churchill once said in WWII – 'We never, never never give up'. And that's to me the famous quote of the great Winston Churchill, we never give up. That's the heart of the runner, but just depends on what the goal is. And I think being sensible, I'm not sure there's any one thing.
How do you see the developments in coaching methodologies in recent years? Do you think people are just trying to re-invent the wheel, or is there something else? Nutrition, shoes, clothing, smart watches, compression, massages – do you look into any of those, or do you just keep doing what you’ve always been doing? You said Lydiard had tried it all, but some of these things weren't available back then. Do you look into them at all?
I look at them all, I've always been open to looking at new things, but 90% I reject and don't accept, because they don't make sense. People say 'Should I go to the gym? Should I do these core exercise? Do I need all these sprint drills?'. There are so many things, there are people with PHDs and Master degrees and physical education and goodness knows what, they've got all the theory in the book, and we had nothing. Look at what we've accomplished and what they have. They can't run half as fast, they can't do half the stuff we did. That's minimal and that's everything really.
So I'm still the Lydiard old-fashioned way of training, and whether they go to the gym or not I couldn't care less, whether they touch their toes, it doesn't matter to me, I couldn't touch my toes when I was a runner because my hamstrings were too tight or something, I was never born a ballet dancer. The secret is in the training. Some may need something, but it's still just the training. One of my runners last year won the NZ X-country championship, second in NZ marathon marathon championship, third in NZ road championship, and that was just one runner sort of thing. He doesn't spend his time in the gym and all of these other things, I think they side-track you. But if someone with a Master's degree in physical exercise, they'd have their runners do 30 minutes of speed drills and things on the track. Lydiard runners in that time would have run 3 times up a hill that's one kilometer long or something with about 10 times the benefit. So I'm not particularly modern I suppose with all the latest things. Lydiard used to argue against all the experts of that in his days, he'd shoot them all down in flames really – 'What results have you got from doing all that great stuff'? Because they had all the test from laboratories, people have doing hundreds of hours on treadmills, doing this and this and this, this happens and this happens and this happens, and Lydiard would say 'How many champions have you coached'? So there would be a cough and a splutter at the other end. At the end of the day, I still think it's 99% training with the right attitude, the right coach, the right runner and it will happen. It will happen. None of Arthur's boys went to the gym, we never had time. Home, family, work, everything else, and running 100 miles a week in training. The training is 99%, success comes with training. 1% can be that trims or the extras that you might do. If someone asked Lydiard 'Should I go to the gym or shouldn't I'? Lydiard would say 'Have you got time'? The person would say 'Yes'. 'Are you doing all the training?' 'yes go to the gym. If you got time, you go'. He wasn't against it at all, but you never did other stuff in place of training. But I mean, if you're training twice a day and you're working as well, you don't have a lot of time for other things, do you? I think if you go work or children or something as well, you don't have enough time as it is just to play with the kids. It comes to a stage where, as they say, 'love is spelled with T-I-M-E'. They did a survey with children and they asked them 'How do you know your daddy loves you'? About 90% of small children aged from 5 to 7 said 'Because he plays with me'. That's time. So that's what you've got to juggle, the things that are important really of the playing and doing and getting that balance there. But no, I'm not strong on all the extras. If they do all my training, I don't mind if they're lifting weights or things or going to the gym or doing some core, that's fine, that's ok, as long as they do the training first.
I read an older interview where you said that when you first met Arthur Lydiard, at age 17, he told you that you must be willing to run 100 miles a week, or else you'd be wasting his time. And although you never ran more than 50 miles a week before that, you showed up the very next morning, ready for the challenge. What mental characteristics do you look for in runners?
They'll sit down with me at the table, and some of them it takes me perhaps an hour to convince them that they may possibly be able to do the training. Does that makes sense? But the runners who I have coached who have set down at the table with Barry, one of my questions is 'What do you want from me as a coach?'. The people who had done great things, Olympic games, NZ records, one of my runners still holds NZ resident record for 3K, 7:45, don't know how it compares with Israeli records or anything. But all the champions that really became champions virtually had one line for me, the coach. They said 'Just tell me what to do'. I didn't have to spend an hour telling them, trying to say I think you could run 50K on any day, I think you could do a 100 miles in a week. They got the sheer sole purpose – 'Just tell me what to do'. They are prepared to do everything. Those are the people that really are so simple to train and so good to train, and that's why Lydiard knew that if you weren't prepared to be like that sort of thing, don't waste my time. That was because, he was a busy man, he had 4 children, a wife and 4 children and a full time job, and he was still running a hundred miles a week as well as that himself. But he as a bang-bang-bang man. He didn't mock around. Even his walk was fast, boom boom boom. There was no mock around, and he certainly didn't want to waste time with runners who weren't gonna be giving it everything, because he considered time very valuable. You don't waste time. But that's a true statement. He said to Barry 'Are you prepared to run a 100 miles a week? If not tell me now because you're just wasting your time and mine'. And so I must have said yes, I was at his kitchen table the next day and I got my first schedule and went home with the first schedule from Lydiard, which was a 100 miles. Plan A, conditioning for 8 weeks.
Lydiard preached a "train, don't strain" philosophy, as you have also done, indeed. Please explain how this works with runners training at the elite level and pushing the boundaries of human physical ability?
With great difficulty, probably. Lydiard used it. You had to be a relaxed runner. It didn't matter how fast you ran, you had to stay relaxed. As soon as you start straining yourself and you're trying hard all your shoulders bunch up and you start getting tight and apart from running into what we call the anaerobic threshold and running into oxygen debt, and you get sore legs and the next day you can hardly walk from training hard or training on hard surfaces, that wasn't the Lydiard psyche at all. It was none of that. You never ran a 100% in training. You didn't do it, any day. And so there was nothing, in 8 weeks of conditioning, there was nothing out of aerobic, you never hit the wall without oxygen for those 8 weeks and even the first 12 weeks, because the first 12 out of the 24 were really just building up and conditioning. So at the end of those 12 weeks many runners were doing PB times just because the aerobic ability had gone from there to there. And you got to remember, in that conditioning period of 8 weeks, it accomplishes 80% of everything you were training for to be a 100% on race day, six months down the track. You're 80% there just with the aerobic training, and that was all no-strain. No strain in that at all. So you're also ok for tomorrow, you never left it on the training track or road today, that you'd needed days to recover or something from something just done in training. It was training within yourself always, never strain. And so that just lifted you day by day and week by week for those 8 weeks or whatever. Marathon runners did 10 weeks, the track runners did 8 weeks. No strain. But that was always the Lydiard way. He knew if you relaxed it didn't matter if your arms flopped along beside you or paddled along, he couldn't care less what you've done with your arms, but there was no fighting or tightening or all that sort of stuff, and you're fast and relaxed. When you run fast it wasn't a 100% ever – 70, 80, 90 or even 95. So you're always running within yourself, and any time trial you did even, you never sprint finished at the end with your hands on your knees for two minutes when you finished it, even with the time trial you could just keep jogging because you hadn't killed yourself, even in the time trial. So that always allowed that you never broke down the body, you're building it up week after week after week. Does that make sense to you? That was the Lydiard philosophy – no strain. 'Train, don't strain' was one of his number one key lines that he coached us all, and that just proves as successful, so good. I mean you gotta remember that in our training group there were 17 world records and 6 Olympic medals. That's unbelievable, isn't it? What we know is he got everything he did, everything was right. But unfortunately none of us could be a Lydiard quite. We try to be, but we can never be Lydiard. Lydiard was Lydiard.
Could you share with us how you feel about elite runners today, running the marathon in 2:03 and approaching the sub 2 hour benchmark? What do you think is the main explanation for such unbelievable times? I mean, Peter Snell ran 1:44.3 for the 800 meters, on a grass track, in the 60’s, which would be competitive in an Olympic final even today. Whereas the marathon has improved so much- it's almost an entirely new discipline. In the early 1960s, as well, there was a major improvement. A sub 2:20 hour marathon was very rare until then. How do you see these improvements from a historical perspective?
A lot of track and marathon are completely different form the ones we've been. All the track racing and grass and distance running, probably have a 10K would be half a minute difference, my 28:50 for 10K could easily been 28:20 in those days even. So the tracks are far better, the roads are far better, the courses are far better. I went to Boston marathon three years ago and I nearly cried when I saw it. It was twice or 10 times harder than Rome was, it's point to point, you might get a tail breeze and the last 8K is downhill. Lovely slide into the city. So there are so many advantages to them, but once you get under about 2:05, you gotta be very suspicious also about drugs. Cause they give you two or three minutes quite easily if they use EPOs and as you know there's a worldwide battle going on about who is honest and who is dishonest, in countries like Russia and Kenya it has just been a way of life, of taking stuff. But mainly the roads, the shoes, I mean, we had no running shoes. The shoes I ran the Olympic marathon in Rome, Lydiard made them in his shoe factory where he was the foreman, off a bowling shoe last. He got a bowling shoe last and made Barry a pair of running shoes. We had no running shoes even these days. I used to run in Tennis shoes, 100 miles a week in tennis shoes or what's called sand shoes in those days. So everything is better, and the further you go, the greater the distance, the improvement is concerned. But even the sprinters on the track today, Usain Bolt and Jessie Owens, there's probably about a second difference, but Jesse Owens may have been just as good as Bolt if he had been alive today with the same training and the same tracks that they have today. But the biggest thing is, and also they got conditions, you'd find most those world records are run in 10 degrees, and they run incredible times on incredible courses on incredible surfaces, I remember running marathons in NZ with tears in my eyes because the road was so rough, and it was coming through and hurting my feet in my sand shoes, and it's a pain. I was supposed to be qualifying for a national championship or something, but that was, so many things are better and improved, plus generally speaking the health of lots of people is better today in some ways. I think we were the last generation that had good food, and today you've probably gotta take 90 vitamins and minerals and amino acids and fatty acids to be equal to what we had when we were 16-17 or 20 years of age. Our fathers grew vegetables, we ate fresh stuff, and even at the fruit shop stuff wasn't even 24 hours old when you can buy it, today it could be three months old sitting in the supermarket. So we had many advantages in natural health wise, but for the time differences there's half a dozen factors that contribute to that, and these courses in Amsterdam and Berlin and London, the courses all made for times. It's a whole different ball game. We sort of ran up to the level that we just had to at the time. But I probably never fulfilled my marathon potential. I only ran two marathons overseas, and luckily succeeded in both, but times and courses and everything is better, but as you've said, two laps with Snell, it also just showed the Lydiard training, 1:44 on grass, would be 1:42 today when the world record is about 1:41, it's still incredible and still stands as a national record in NZ. And even Nick Willis and his great athletes they still can't do 1:44 in NZ like Snell did on a grass track.
It is an amazing thing but I think there are just so many factors in the distance racing and the marathon running in the world that I think generally speaking 2:04 or 2:05 is probably the maximum capable. I'm very suspicious of everything that us under 2:05. In fact I have a top coach from another country tell me 10 years ago 'Barry, I don't believe there is a clean record on the books today' and that was 10 years ago.
We knew in 1960, there were European or Russian women, they had more hair than you did. I think it was called steroids in those days, male hormones and steroids. But these women would come out and get a medal in the shot put or discus, they were built like men. You look at the NZ woman, she looked more like a model, she was throwing a shot put for NZ, she was a normal woman. But these other ones, they were on drugs and stuff in 1960 so unfortunately we live in a world that cheats today, that's very sad. But such is the fame and the fortune that goes with it. 100,000 USD just to win one big marathon these days. And when people have gotten nothing, you can't blame a Kenyan who is brought up in poverty, and some of them might not even know what they're taking or doing, really it might be the coach. We had a situation in NZ 20 years ago when a top swimmer was banned for taking drugs. Coach had given him Muesli. Health muesli with vitamins in it. But they still banned him for three years. He retired, he just gave up and he wasn't gonna sit there for 3 years or whatever. That's the sad aspect of sport today, and it's probably ripened just for every sport that's going, and as you know cycling is one of the worst, Lance Armstrong was the greatest drug cheat in history, but the money is just, we never had that did we? I've never seen a drug in my life actually, and I gave up smoking at 15, and I virtually gave up alcohol when I was about 22. And I've certainly never seen any so-called drug, and I think we proved what you can do without them. Most New Zealanders are not running the times we ran 50 years ago. And that's very sad. Very sad. We used to have on a grass track in Auckland Championship in 1962 or 1963 or something, five runners under 30 minutes (for 10K – AM). Here the national championship one runner. It's sad isn't it?
Why do you think that is so? I mean, with all these improvements in shoes and tracks?
If you asked Lydiard that question, you know what the answer would be? Their coach. Their coach. You never blame the runner. Only coaches make champions. That's the difference. So if you have the coach, last year I had two runners under 2:30 here in NZ, and they're running 2:26 and 2:27 last year, and they're just local boys. And then my top runner who has so many abnormal things in his life, he wears out a pair of running shoes in three weeks, so 15 pairs of running shoes in 200$ each. Unfortunately there had been injuries because his foot hits the ground and screws out the whole mid-sole of the running shoe, in sometimes two weeks, and that gives him, he won Auckland marathon by 6 or 7 minutes in 2:18, he won the Invercargill marathon in 2:17, he won the CHRCH marathon in 2:16 and yet he's having to just about give up really, because unfortunately he's got a style that destroys himself and his shoes at the same time. It's always the coach, that's it. The standard, you get the coach, it doesn't matter if it's a Rugby team or runners. It's the coach. My runners last year in the U-20 NZ X-country, my man won the NZ senior title, and I had two masters running that day, they both got gold medals, in M-55 and W-60, both won gold in the masters. It's the Lydiard way of coaching. I'd put Lydiard there, big letters, Barry, little letters underneath. I'm the guy, I'm the helper to their Everest.
So there are not as many good coaches as there used to be? It just doesn't add up. If it's that successful and the results show that it is, what? Are everyone just idiots? Why aren't they following it and getting to those same achievements?
When I talked to athletics NZ some years ago they told me that they've moved on from Lydiard training. So many coaches say 'What have they moved on to'? What we now have are great pole vaulters and great shot putters and we're good all-around, but not in distance running. Because they've moved away from Lydiard training. It's as simple as that, they've moved away from Lydiard training. And I mean, I watched a coach two weeks ago he had 20 people on the track running with a stopwatch. And not one of them was a good runner, but I just saw him flogging them. They'd do a 600 meters fast, and then 2 minutes break, jogging. Whistle would go, bang, 800 meters, fast. The whistle would go. That's not recovery. Half of those people would be lucky if they went the whole session. They weren't Lydiard trained. They probably hadn't done 8 weeks conditioning, or anything like that. They were all ages and stages and males and females on the track. He was the club coach and they all turned out on a Saturday morning at 8 o'clock for one of his training sessions. That's the American way. Too much speed, speed, speed. I'd never timed a recovery in my life. The American way is 'No, you only take 30 seconds, you only take 60 seconds, that lifts oxygen uptake levels, yeah'. But they haven't got a foundation, they haven't got a base. We had a great world champion here about 12 years ago in NZ, world record holder, Olympic champion, from another country, El Guerrouj or something his name was, one of the greats in history (Hicham El Guerrouj is the current world record holder in the 1500 meters, mile and outdoor 2000 meters events and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. He is considered the greatest middle-distance runner of all time – AM). He put up on the board all his great training he had done. He had done 20X400 in 59 seconds or 20X200 in 23, you'd do 6X800 or whatever in 1:58 and everything and all of this, terrific stuff, as if this is what made him a champion. But one of the coaches raised their hand and asked 'Mr. El Guerrouj, what did you do for the five years before you did all that'? And this great athlete looked at him and said 'Oh, just a 100 miles a week'.
I was in Wellington watching this track session, and I was cringing inside at the poor runners that are huffing and puffing and the whistle had gone for the start of the next repetition, repetition, repetition, fast, fast, fast with this little short recovery. Some might take 3, some might take 4 minutes to really recover, and one of my runners jumped in with them a couple of months ago, and she had to stop 2/3 into session because she was absolutely wrecked, because she wasn't fit enough to do it. But that's not our way whatsoever. They've gone away from Lydiard training in distance running. I mean Snell run 2:41 marathon training for the 800 and 1500. Does that tell you something? Halberg ran 2:28 marathon, Davis run about a 2:29 marathon, it was just training, they weren't even straining to do that. It was hard work that day, it would have been for all of them. In fact I was in the radio car when Snell did that 2:41, because I was sick, got the flu, was supposed to run but I couldn't and the radio commentator phoned me up and said 'Would you come and travel with me and you can help me commentate on the marathon as it goes for the radio, report'. And with 3 miles to go, Snell is walking down the road, and he jogged for a couple hundred meters, and he walked and jogged again. He was still conditioned well enough to still finish at 2:41. At the 20 miles mark he was on for 2:30. He lost 11 minutes in the last half an hour of running. But it's all in the training, all in the coaching. That's the secret. If you want good runners anywhere, just like within 12 months of me going to Korea in Seoul for a month, I stayed at a university of sport and I just worked with a different team every day, a different coach and his runners every day, and I gave them the Lydiard formulas and within 12 months they've broken the 5K, 10K and the marathon national records. Doing Lydiard training. But today countries so many coaches are not doing that, and NZ the athletics NZ has told me they've moved on.
(The New Zealand World Record breaking 4*Mile team: Snell, Magee, Halberg and Philpot).
What are the main differences between coaching recreational and competitive athletes? Do you prefer one over the other?
I just take everyone as they are, when they are, how they are, what they can do, what they can't do, whether they start off with 4 days a week or 5 days a week, it makes no difference to me. 50% of all I coach are social running, and 50% are go-getters. You know I had about 4 or 5 running the 1500 at a club Wednesday night, and 3 of them got PBs the other night. So they're go-getters. Makes no difference to Barry whether they're just social runners really trying to break 4 hours or 5 hours for a marathon or 3 hours for a marathon or they just wanna do Round the Bays (A traditional race along Auckland's bays that attracts almost 100,000 runners and walkers each year) about 8k, makes no difference to me whatsoever. Make a professional coach and everyone is a complete individual to me, and they all start in different with Lydiard it was different. He didn't coach all the social runners. He just trained people who wanted to do the stuff, and we all did it. He probably had 20 at the time, but 6 of us rose to the top. We had about 20 all the time probably, I don't differentiate. I just treat them all as human beings and helping them with their quality of life. I call quality of life running, wherever they are. I just smile more when I've got a real athletic champion or someone with some potential to deal with, because some of them have very little potential, but we can still make them improve a lot, heaps and heaps and heaps, and that puts a smile on my face because it's lovely to have it, that Peter Snell potential with a runner, if he can runner, and so it's wonderful to see him fulfill his potential as a runner and help him to do that and he can look back and say 'the last 10 years have been a great time'. I've set up a professional international school of running, 'Barry Magee School of running', it's done the Lydiard way, as everybody knows, and they will pay something for that just to keep it going, but if you got paid what I got paid, you'd be broke, you wouldn't be able to support a wife or a child or anything. Because it's peanuts, I think I do probably about 30 hours a week on the computer, because I coach in nine countries in the world, plus all over NZ, a lot of it is by computer, I never see lots of them, 90% of my runners I never see, but I still coach them that way, but we do have that fee, last year I think the gross income was about 18,000, expanses were about 7,000, so I don't know how many workers would work for 11,000 a year, so you can see it's a hobby job but I've insisted it pays its way. A US coach like me would be 2,000 a year, or even if you went to a Triathlon coach he'd be 100$ a month minimum. Barry is 9$ a week. But everything, that's nutrition, that's life style, that's coaching, that's training that's everything you can think of, I want to know what their blood pressure is, what their resting heart rate is, so that I've looked at everything, I want to know if they're taking B complex or B-12 or I know if their taking a multi-vitamin tablet, if they're taking Calcium, Magnesium, I want to know what their Iron ferritin is, Hemoglobin, so I really try and do the whole deal for that. I've spent years and years and years studying what they should have. Do they have enough protein for breakfast for instance? Because breakfast is the main meal of the day, and a runner if you're training twice a day, you can't get by on five WitBix (Traditional NZ cereals breakfast – AM), that's Carbohydrate, you gotta have protein with that as well. So I try to help in every possible way that'll help – body, mind and spirit. To run faster or feel good, work or play, or running or training.
Finally, another wonderful quote that I've read from you states: "I call it my ministry of helping people,". "I like to help people in every possible way, and not only with their athletics ambitions". You charge a laughable, merely symbolic fee of 450$ per year from your athletes, meaning that you coach as a passion. I find that intriguing, and commendable. Could you comment about that?
I feel god has really given me a gift of helping and coaching other people, and that's, I think that's the thing. It is like a ministry to me, just like if someone might be driving an ambulance or a nurse or a school teacher, there's sort of feel to it, no, it warms my heart to help people that way, and that's the main thing. The satisfaction that I get from doing it and everything that Lydiard has taught me, it's a privilege to pass it on, and it's a privilege to see someone fulfill their potential, one of these boys last Wednesday night, about 17, had a PB for the 1500, he ran 4:09, and thought he had won the Olympic title. I got this TXT the next morning 'Barry, 4:09 last night!'. He was so happy. So that's the answer really, just helping people do something and to be successful and good, I've never wanted what I charge to put people off. Unfortunately sometimes you only get the people with the money that would come to you and not the people who need it perhaps who perhaps can't even afford the 450$ a year. It's a tricky situation but for Barry it's a thing of the heart. Hopefully your wife is the same to you. That you love her completely and you're willing to live or die for her, and it's a bit of the same for Barry. I do what I love to do, I love doing it, I love helping them and so be it.
The ministry of helping people, indeed. Barry Magee, one of the greatest and most inspiring runners of all time – Thank you so much for this interview. This has been a fascinating learning experience. We look forward to seeing you in Jerusalem, very soon.
My final words are I think I was always have been a very very ordinary person, who has somehow done the extra ordinary. And I think a lot of people would fall into that category of ordinary. The Usain Bolt and Nick Willises of this world are born, they're not made champions, they're born champions. 99% of runners are made and made, and I think I was one of them, I don't think I was gifted or born, I think I was very ordinary. In fact my story is the boy who was scared, afraid, skinny and weak and bullied at school, everything, and I was the weakest of the weak, and just very very ordinary, and yet life I've had is absolutely extra-ordinary. And so the results have been that way that people just look and they can't believe what we did, it doesn't comprehend because it's out of their world of reasoning and thinking that you could do the extra-ordinary, but I think I'm an example of that, which should be an example to everybody who wants or strive to do something to give it their best shot and we'll see what will happen.