• Gary Moller

Racing to Train

Gary Moller finishing cylocross race
Photo by Lisa Ng 2020

I remember Arthur Lydiard saying that his athletes took every opportunity to race. He said that, if they were flying over Ethiopia and were able to land and take on the best of the world at the time, they would be all for it without hesitation. There was no fear of competition. His athletes were race-hardened, despite living in 1960's New Zealand, very much isolated from the rest of the world. Yes, they were race-hardened and I'll explain why.

Back in the Good Old Days

As a young runner during the late '60s and '70s, I raced in many club and provincial events. The winter season began with weekly cross-country running, either a club run over the undulating paddocks of the South Waikato or else a short and sharp race, never longer than about 5 km for us as juniors. There was always something of this nature every Saturday. Then, on Sunday, everyone did a long, slow run, usually over rocky and undulating forest roads.

It was a weekend consisting of a short and intense workout one day followed by a long, slow run the morning after.

Lorraine Moller and Gordon Moller on a forestry run

When I think about it, the best of the best were always there. John Walker, Dick Quax, the Dixon Brothers, Allison Roe, Barbara Moore, Peter Snell, Mike Ryan, John Robinson, Sue Haden, John Davies, Barry Magee, Glenys Quick, Heather Carmichael, Heather Thompson and more. If we went to a club event anywhere in the country, the best would be there for the run and then the scones, cake and tea afterwards. The list of great runners of New Zealand who turned up to local and provincial runs and races was endless. Oh, and my sister, Lorraine.

Lorraine in 2nd place racing in cross-country
Lorraine in 2nd during a cross-country race

Racing was part of the training

Building endurance and doing all kinds of drills to improve form, power and speed are essential components for athletic performance but nothing beats perfecting the art of racing itself.

Perhaps the biggest mistake a coach makes these days is to have an athlete target a single event such as an Iron Man (or Woman?) race a year away and not have anything other than a handful of races between now and then. Month-after-month of daily grind only to blow on the day. It might be more of a problem today because a lot of coaching is done remotely online with limited knowledge of local clubs and events.

Blowing up on the day

It is not uncommon for an athlete to come seeking my help for a typical problem.

"Gary, I trained like I have never trained before for this marathon and even ran the distance (42 km) several times in training. I felt great on the day but by the 5 km mark, I was starting to cramp and ended up walking most of the last 10. I was devastated. Why did this happen to