Except in Bristol, Britain has a new found love of spending money on sport, and luckily for politicians there are plenty of sports, like rowing and cycling, where money talks.
Running doesn’t fit this model. Every runner knows that the best thing about it is the simplicity - anyone can run, anytime and anywhere. But because of this, success in running doesn’t come easy: you need to scale a pyramid of six billion people, not just the pyramid of people with access to a rowing lake or a velodrome.
There are plenty of examples of people running well with no facilities. Horace Ashhenfelter was the 1952 Olympic steeplechase champion. Occupied with his job as an FBI agent, and raising a young family, he couldn’t train until 10 in the evening. At ten every night, he went to the local park, where seven laps made two miles, and used the park benches as hurdles. At other times he would run twice up and down the 18 floors of his office building.
Bill Dellinger, an American olympic 5000m medallist joined the airforce and was stationed at a radar station on Washington’s Olympic peninsula. He was eighty miles from a track and so trained on the beach. He measured his interval workouts by counting strides:
“I would count to myself each time my right foot touched down until I reached ten. I’d put one finger down to keep track. Twelve fingers would be one 440 [yards]. I ran up and down that beach doing everything from 220s to 1320s by counting , for eight months, without ever stepping on a track or knowing how far I was running or how fast”.
Returning to civilisation in 1958 he ran a mile time trial in 4:05 and went on that season to set American records over 1500 metres, two miles, three miles and 5000 metres.
Relics of a bygone age? Saif Saaeed Shaheen (current steeplechase world record holder) doesn’t demand much either:
“When I’m training, I need four things, a room, a bed, and maybe two blankets, for when it gets cold”
Americans might not be winning so many Olympic distance running medals these days, but the lessons of Dellinger and Ashenfelter still apply and the sport’s future champions will start with the same thing you have: the desire to run.
But when athletics has to compete with every other sport, how many people in Bristol will want to be runners when they have no track to train or compete on? A new track here won’t make you or me into faster runners, but it would help attract people to the sport. On a winter night at Filton, it’s hard to see why the average teenager would leave the floodlit 5-a-side pitches to train on the track in the glow of a few fire exit signs.
(Bill Dellinger quote from Bowerman and the Men of Oregon by Kenny Moore)