In 1975 Steve Prefontaine, then the holder of seven American distance running records, was killed in an automobile accident. He was 24. After his funeral in his hometown of Coos Bay, Ore., it fell to some of his friends and teammates to conduct a memorial service for him in Eugene, where he had run for the University of Oregon. The sudden loss of this combative, prodigiously energetic man had been a disorienting shock. "We didn't know what to do," recalls Frank Shorter. "So we tried to give him what he had always wanted."
Prefontaine had spoken about a three-mile time that would satisfy even his voracious ambition. "Twelve thirty-six," he had said. "Sixty-three seconds a lap, four-twelve for each mile." His American record was 12:51.4. The world record was 12:47.8 by Emiel Puttemans of Belgium. Thus 12:36 seemed a fitting Prefontaine goal, one so impossible it invited laughter. One that only he would take seriously.
Four thousand people filled the stands on one side of Oregon's Hayward Field for the memorial service. The Scoreboard's digital clock was started. Briefly, Pre's friends and competitors said what they had to say and left the infield.
As the clock reached 12 minutes, the crowd stood and began to stamp and cheer, bringing Pre home as it had so often. Many said later that they felt they had willed his presence. The clock stopped at 12:36.4 amid forced, tearful pandemonium.
February 16, 1983
Through the succeeding years, those who had been there could be forgiven if they regarded that mark as a natural limit, not only to what Prefontaine might have done had he lived, but a limit to the rational aspirations of any earthly distance runner.
Soon afterward, the U.S. abandoned yards and miles for what the rest of the world runs—meters. The Olympic distance of 5,000 meters, which is 188 yards farther than three miles, was substituted. Puttemans held that record, too—13:13.0. (Indeed, he had set his three-mile record on the way to it.) Prefontaine's goal of 63 seconds per lap converted to 13:03.
In 1977 Dick Quax of New Zealand improved Puttemans' record, but by less than a second, to 13:12.86. A year later Henry Rono of Kenya ran 13:08.4. Three years after that, in 1981, Rono cut another two seconds from the world record with a 13:06.20. Rono also broke world records for 3,000 meters, the 3,000-meter steeplechase and 10,000 meters. He seemed the ultimate combination of talent, imperviousness to pain and readiness to drive the pace early in a race. Yet he did not run 63 seconds a lap for 5,000 meters.
But on July 7, 1982, in Oslo, Norway, David Moorcroft of England did. Taking the lead at 800 meters, intending only to chase Brendan Foster's British record of 13:14.6, he ran away from a field that included Rono. He passed the miles in 4:12, 4:11 and 4:11 to finish in 13:00.42.
"That is simply the greatest performance I have ever seen," said Dr. Thomas Wessinghage, the West German mile and 5,000-meter record holder. "He ran splits that nobody else has ever run. He didn't need a rabbit. He didn't need anybody. There are no words to describe what we have seen."
It was hard to choose which was the more astounding, the performance or the performer. Moorcroft is 29 and has been a more than solid miler for nearly a decade. He won the Commonwealth Games 1,500 in 1978 in a tight finish with Filbert Bayi. Yet, if he now appears vaguely familiar, it is probably because we have seen him for years, albeit subliminally. He was one of those straining, out-of-focus figures back down the track in such photos as that of the finish of the 1976 Olympic 1,500 final, won by John Walker (Moorcroft was seventh), or the 1979 Golden Mile, won by Sebastian Coe in a then world record of 3:48.95 (Moorcroft finished ninth in the mile 3:54.35).
Nevertheless, Moorcroft's record run in Oslo was not only the most significant performance by a track athlete in 1982 (and arguably the greatest feat by anyone in a non-team sport last year), but it was also the most popular. Moorcroft had paid his dues, and in the paying had come to seem representative of common mortals, meaning all those less divinely gifted than Coe or Rono or Steve Ovett.
Despite his 3:49.34 mile in Oslo 11 days before the 5,000, despite winning (in 7:32.79, only .69 off Rono's record) a hard-fought 3,000 in London from almost every good middle-distance man going, Moorcroft returned to vulnerability later in the season by doing too much, contracting an eye infection and being outkicked in the European Championships 5,000 by Wessinghage, the man who had so reverently watched his record run.
"David is kind of delicate," said a British writer before the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia in October, where Moorcroft captained the English men's team. "He doesn't travel well." Yet Moorcroft won the Commonwealth 5,000 easily in 13:33.00.
"Another chapter in the up-and-down world of my 5,000 running," he said with a big grin after the race. "But it meant a lot personally to come back after the disappointment of the Europeans."
After an Australian holiday with his wife, Linda, and infant son, Paul, Moorcroft returned in November to Coventry, where he was born and where he administers the Coventry and Warwickshire Awards trust, which provides sporting opportunities for inner-city youth.
Its main office, reached through a sky blue door (indeed, the sign over the door reads ENTERPRISE SKY BLUE, one of the youth programs funded by the trust), is beneath the stands of the Coventry City Football Club. To gain a view of the club's emerald pitch, one must venture through the dim concrete men's room. The trust's office walls are soft fiberboard, to which are tacked class schedules, posters, maps, ribbons, bills, messages, photos, award certificates, postcards, pennants, telegrams, clippings, tickets and blueprints. A kayak lies among the desks.
"The blueprints are for our great project," says Moorcroft. "Converting an old warehouse into a sports center. There are no adequate indoor field-event training facilities in England. We're on tenterhooks just now, waiting to hear from the English Sports Council on a $500,000 grant request."
Meanwhile, as many as nine employees must work out of this small office. They coach talented underprivileged kids, supervise canoeing and climbing expeditions after the fashion of Outward Bound and train unemployed teen-agers for jobs in sport and recreation.
Coventry, 90 miles northwest of London, is Great Britain's Detroit. A number of companies once manufactured cars here. Only Jaguar is still operating.
"Once it was a boomtown, paved with gold," Moorcroft says. "There never used to be any question of unemployment. But Japanese cars have taken the market. Last year seven out of 10 school-leavers didn't get full-time employment."
Moorcroft and Pippa Jones, who was third in the 1980 British Olympic Trials in the women's 100-meter breast-stroke, were the first employees of the trust. "Took two and a half years to become registered as a charity with the government," Moorcroft says, "because it's hard to be thought of as truly charitable when you're involved with sport. But in the inner city, sport is considered educational."
As he speaks, a man comes in and attaches metal brackets to the already burdened wall. He clips on a fire extinguisher. "We were about to be condemned by the fire brigade," says Moorcroft. "Anyway, some of the board may have highfalutin ideas of us discovering Olympic medalists in time for Los Angeles, but it's not that simple. The important thing is to help people fulfill individual potential.
"And, too," he continues, "everyone here understands the demands of my own running and forgives me for training a month or two in New Zealand during the worst of the winter. But the satisfying part of the work, for me, is being able to encourage a lot of kids to keep going. It's a pastoral role, taking the part of parents they might not have."
Moorcroft's own parents, he says, gave him no cause to hunt for surrogates. "We'll go see them later." His father, Robert, is an executive with Massey-Ferguson, the farm machinery firm. "He was the one who always encouraged me, from the time I began cross-country at 11 and before that in swimming and rugby."
"Didn't your mother?"
"Well, she was always protective. She said it wasn't fair. 'They're bigger than you' or 'Those nasty older boys shouldn't be in the race with you.' She used to believe I lost because she came to watch. But I lost then because I usually lost. It will be fun to talk about it now."
The phone draws him away. It is Robert Jackson of IMG (International Management Group), Coe's agent. Moorcroft listens patiently, his face open and curious. He has widely set dark blue eyes, a casual mop of hair and favors jeans and sweaters. His only ornament is his heavy gold wedding ring. "I don't want to get involved with agents," he is saying. "I probably only have two more years of good track racing to do, and I just want to carry on with the system and the races that I've thought important...." At length he's allowed to hang up the phone.
"After the record everyone said, 'Get an agent, get an agent.' I said no. I know the advantages of being represented, of having someone digging up endorsements or lucrative races. But there are a few opportunities even without one. The difference is whether you want to be a millionaire or you want to be comfortable. I'm sure if I'd run the record at 21 or 22 I'd have gone commercial, but now I just want to be normal. It was being normal that got me the record in the first place."
After work Moorcroft collects Paul, 18 months old, and drives to the comfortable two-story house he grew up in on the Kenpas Highway. "This was the main road to Birmingham before the motorway. I used to run 800-meter repetitions on the pavement in front of the house."
Milly, his mum, greets him and seizes Paul, who shouts and produces a Milton Berle grin. "Paul has both my and Linda's teeth," says Moorcroft. "A fair set of gnashers."
"Your father isn't home yet," says Milly.
"Well, we have questions for you, too," says Moorcroft, usurping the visitor's role. "Just how did you encourage me when I was but a child?"
"Well, it was a way of life, wasn't it?" Milly says to her son, then turns to the visitor. "This house revolved around the running. David's dad went abroad quite often and always brought back running shoes for him. And my mum always made running shorts...."
"I ran in the Olympics with Grandma's shorts," says David. "She made shorts for the whole Loughborough University team."
"I didn't enjoy going to cold cross-country races as much as your father did," Milly continues. "I always thought you should win...."
David nudges his visitor.
"...I was dreadful," she goes on. "Once we watched you lead the whole way and then be passed. 'That shouldn't be allowed,' I said. 'To stay behind all that time and nip ahead in the last few feet.' My heart always went out to David. He didn't grow until he was 15."
She brings out some well-kept photo albums, the captions neatly typed. In each, somewhere, is a tiny, pale boy with soft, short blond hair and about five pounds of clenched teeth. "An angelic child," Moorcroft says dreamily, watching his former self running amid taller, more mature competitors through the mud and hills of the Warwickshire cross-country in 1965 or in the huge mass of the English Schools Championships in 1966. "I was 86th," says David, "but Warwickshire was always the winning team, every time I ran it. Cross-country was the thing. I never ran track then."
"We knew he tried so very hard," says his mother, still faintly dubious. "He tried and tried. Following from that, I guess we'd have thought...that he'd be better. Your dad said you'd be in the Olympics. I never really thought that. I worried about school being left behind somewhat."
Moorcroft is absorbed in the photographs. In the group pictures, he points out all the runners of talent he began with, and was mauled by. "That's David Glassborrow, who broke the age-16 1,500 record of Jim Ryun. And there's David Black, who became an internationalist for England, and that's Ray Smedley, who was a semifinalist in the 1972 Olympic 1,500 and this year got 11th in the Brisbane marathon." His tone is of reverie tinged with regret. None of these men ran a world record. "They could have done better," he says. "It seems they could have done better."
After a moment he says, "Funny about records and statistics. When I was 16 I knew everyone's times and what they'd done at what age. I thought Steve Prefontaine would win the 5,000 in the 1972 Games because of how fast he was improving. I didn't realize then there was so much else to it."
The visitor tells him about Prefontaine's goal of 63 seconds a lap. Moorcroft's face shows a flash of pride, then embarrassment. "I wouldn't have said I could do it," he says.
Moorcroft's father bursts in and lifts the ecstatic Paul to the ceiling. He is business-suited, with silver hair and a sparkling manner. "Oh, yes," he says, "from David's very early childhood I always said, 'The best in the world.' I think every parent feels that his child will be the best, or deserves to be. We realized that the fighting spirit we saw in swimming and later in cross-country was special. He was always eager to do the measured amount of training his first coaches asked. That eagerness increased as time went by, and because he wasn't the best yet, he learned to value personal improvement. One thing he knows is how to be beaten."
"And you learned how to be the father of someone who was beaten," says David.
"Right. I always said, 'The day will come.' On Thursday nights it was a walk, a wind-down before the Saturday school race. We'd go hand in hand, because he was at that age, with me trying to motivate him, to make him understand about the idea of a race, but making it clear that nothing in how he ran could change my unconditional support. There were occasions, you see, when we saw another child struck for not winning, for having the effrontery to run badly."
The visitor, impressed with Bob Moorcroft's instinctive confidence in his son, asks if he has any more predictions he would like to make about David's running future.
"The 10,000-meter world record," he replies without hesitation. "And the English cross-country title. [This is run over nine miles. Moorcroft was second in 1976.] He still loves the mud."
It happens that David Moorcroft's parents have kept an electronic scrapbook as well. "You haven't seen the last laps of the record?" says Bob, slipping a cassette into his video recorder. "Now you will."
The Oslo race lights the screen, Moorcroft striding freely, all in blue, his lead the length of the straightaway. Paul runs across the room, crying, "Dadda!" and smacks into the TV set. By the time he is caught and carried away, David has won and is being interviewed. "Is this your sweetest world record?" asks BBC-TV commentator Ron Pickering.
"Well," says Moorcroft, "it's my first one."
"Let's try to see that again," says Bob, hitting the rewind.
"I'd have been really disappointed if someone had broken the record this year," says David. "Next year, oddly, it won't seem so bad. It has to go sometime."
Oslo is back on again, David's stride light and sweeping, his arms carried high, his grimace of effort seeming from a distance an expression of glee. Though he runs his last lap in a swift 58.04, there seems no desperation to his sprint, just a final release. As he finishes, he raises his arms in thanks to the crowd. Paul again streaks across the carpet to the TV set, squealing happily, his arms up in the identical gesture.
"The sense of privilege has grown," says David. "The night was perfect. There was no pressure. I mean, I could have been entered in the 800 meters."
"Well, you would have gotten a personal best," says the visitor.
"Yes, but it wouldn't have been any 1:40. [Coe's world record for the distance is 1:41.8.] And if I'd broken any records when I was 20, we wouldn't have these tapes."
In the car, the visitor asks David about the point that his mother left hanging, his education.
"We take what we call O or Ordinary level examinations at 16," he says. "I failed them all and was advised that should be it in terms of school for me. I had neglected it for sport. But my father encouraged me. I left school and went to technical college [roughly akin to a U.S. junior college] and did my O levels again, and passed. Then the next year I passed my Advanced levels to qualify for university." In 1976, Moorcroft graduated from Loughborough with honors in physical education and social studies.
Moorcroft takes Paul to their house in Binley Woods, a quiet suburb of Coventry. The parlor is pleasant and warm, with a toy piano for Paul to dance upon. Linda Moorcroft is dark-haired and deceptive, a gentle surface over a sensible, tough interior. She takes Paul off to bed, despite his vocal unwillingness. David puts on a Bette Midler record, in part to cover the ruckus upstairs.
"I love the words of The Rose," he says animatedly. " 'It's the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance./ It's the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance./ It's the one who won't be taken who cannot seem to give./ And the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live.' " He is a little self-conscious at this recitation. "Unfortunately," he goes on, "that describes a lot of life beyond running."
The doorbell rings. There are children there. "Money for the Guy?" they ask. One has a stuffed dummy over his shoulder. This is the British counterpart of Halloween, kids collecting money to buy fireworks for Guy Fawkes Day (Nov. 5). They get satisfaction from Moorcroft. But as he comes back from the door, Linda meets him with the tearful Paul. David takes his son and walks the floor with him. It seems Paul is so social, so happy with visitors that he's sometimes a terror to put to bed.
"Any son of yours was bound to be determined," says the guest.
"Obedient," says Moorcroft, heading upstairs to try again. "I was always obedient."
And a little secretive. Linda tells the story of how they met. "We'd seen each other before, but it was at a party that we first, uh, talked," she says. "I was 16, and when my father came for me, I said to David, 'Let us take you home.'
" 'I'll run home,' he said.
" 'Run? Don't be silly. Where do you live?'
" 'Out on the Kenpas Highway.'
" 'You can't! That's miles away.'
" 'I ran here.'
"Somehow I just thought that was an affectation or something," she continues. "I never knew he ran, I mean to race, to train, until we'd gone out for a year or more. My father explained how good he was, but I didn't seem to care. Now, what would our life be like without running? Boring."
In further explication of their life, she reveals that every morning David wakes her with a cup of tea.
"Get that down," says Moorcroft, descending from a now quiet bedroom. "Finally a virtue on record."
David and Linda were married in 1975. Moorcroft taught school near Leicester and made the progress in his running that let him reach the Olympic 1,500 final at Montreal in 1976. "I was running uninhibitedly then," he says. "Enjoying it without really appreciating it, if that makes any sense."
It does in the context of what followed, five years of off-and-on injury. He had run the mile in 3:57.1 in 1976. A back injury plagued him in 1977, and he did only 4:02.0 that year.
The back eased enough to allow his Commonwealth win in 1978, but in 1979 he began moving up to the 5,000, and the longer distance hurt him first in the calves. "They would simply lock solid after a race, and even with ice and ultrasound, it was still a week before I could run freely again," he says. This was compartment syndrome; the sheaths around the calf muscles were restricting blood flow. The condition had also slowed John Walker and Mary Decker Tabb. Running thereafter was a struggle.
The Moscow Olympics loomed. "Nineteen eighty was my most unbalanced year," he says. "I was torn between the 1,500 and 5,000 and conscious that if I chose the 5,000, it would be seen as being scared out of the 1,500 by Ovett and Coe. [In fact, the move up had long been planned by Moorcroft and his coach, John Anderson.] I didn't teach or work at all that year, just trained, and it drove me daffy. I was paranoid about possibly not doing well at the Olympics, but didn't really know why I wanted to win there. There was lots of pressure, imposed pressure that I let get to me. Moscow itself was a disaster."
A stomach bug went through Moorcroft at just the wrong time. He was ninth in his 5,000 semifinal. "And I ran even worse after the Games."
It was a time of disillusion. In response, Dave and Linda and a friend, Terry Colton, spent four months driving a motor home 13,000 miles back and forth across the U.S. Colton is a legendary accumulator of running mileage as well. "We drove eight-hour days," recalls David, "and he ran 20 miles a day. I had to get running more."
The road training didn't bother his calves. He ran in several road races, getting seconds behind Thom Hunt and Alberto Salazar and, in a San Francisco indoor mile, Steve Scott. And he thought about things. "I'd had no ambition before 1976 and 1980 except the Olympics. It was winning I cared about. When I was injured, I began to realize what I'd had, how much I wanted just to do my best. I came to see what an extrinsic aim trying to win the gold medal had been. If that's your concern, it's not who you beat or how you do it, it's simply winning. I made a decision to spend the rest of my career on intrinsic, controllable things I could do without having to be told I had to do them on a certain track at a certain date. At one point I'd about decided to give up the track for the roads in America. But I knew I hadn't done my best. I had to try one more time."
Yet when he stepped on the track in 1981, his calves seized again. "By September of that year there wasn't a lot of choice," he says. "It was either have an operation or get resigned to jogging around. It was do or die. The doctors really made no guarantee of help."
The idea was to split open the fascia or sheath around the restricted muscles to allow them to expand. Moorcroft watched Eamonn Coghlan of Ireland win the 1981 World Cup 5,000 on TV while having his legs shaved for the operation.
It worked. By Christmas he was running like a child again.
There were other influences in Moorcroft's early career besides parents and Olympic dreams and injury. For one, he was always a club runner, and the club was the Coventry Godiva Harriers, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1979. In 1964, when Moorcroft was 11, two Godiva runners, Basil Heatley and Brian Kilby, placed second and fourth for Great Britain in the Tokyo Olympic marathon. Another, Bill Adcocks, was fifth in the 1968 Olympic marathon, won the Fukuoka marathon and still holds the course record for the Athens marathon.
Adcocks was famous for his 22-mile Sunday run in Coventry. An impressionable junior runner then, Moorcroft remembers the time marathon world-record holder Derek Clayton of Australia, who was outspoken in his insistence that he trained harder than any man who ever lived, showed up one Sunday. Adcocks ran him into the ground. "I wanted to be a marathoner," says Moorcroft.
Adcocks is a jovial spirit, a teacher at Coventry Technical College and still active in Godiva club affairs. He walks the visitor to The Butts, the 386-yard, beige cinder track with rather square corners near the college. "It's what I call an all-weather track," says Adcocks. "It's not very good regardless of the weather."
Adcocks believes that Moorcroft benefited from the English tradition of club training, which can provide a stable environment for decades, much longer, obviously, than a college athletic scholarship. "There is a philosophy that comes with it," he says, "the club run on Sunday, the sense of mutual support and of taking advantage of something as it comes, not trying to force it. You see that in David."
And there is something passed on from good runner to potential good runner, something ineffable but communicable, about possibilities. "When I learned what he had done," says Adcocks, "I told all the lads, 'You know that 14 miles you did with David on Sunday? You were part of his final preparation for the world 5,000-meter record.' And the next Sunday he was back with them again."
Adcocks conducts a little tour of Coventry's compact city center, showing off the new cathedral beside the red sandstone ruin of the old, bombed in World War II. Nearby, St. Mary's Hall has been the center of city functions since the 1300s.
"We're having a dinner there for David on Saturday," he says. "You know, I wasn't genuinely surprised that he did it. But I was amazed at how he did it. From the front. He's never been that way. He's always waited and kicked. That's the thing to ask. What made him go so wonderfully mad?"
It is a 10-mile drive to Nuneaton, a borough of 113,000. Moorcroft is taking the visitor to meet John Anderson, who has been in charge of his training for 14 years, since David was 15.
"He's the chief recreation officer for Nuneaton," says Moorcroft, "a town famous for nothing at all that I can think of."
Moorcroft clearly wishes to prepare the visitor for this meeting. "I went from being a runner who ran, to a runner who ran to win, because of John's influence," he says. "I learned what I was prepared to do, and not ever do, like take drugs. I remember when I received my first free gear [from a shoe manufacturer], and he said in dead, cold seriousness, 'If I ever find you've sold any of that, we're done.' "
It is raining as Moorcroft searches for a parking space near Anderson's office. "You'll see that he's a great motivator," David says. "He's capable of getting people to really believe that they can do something very difficult, so much so that he has to insist that when you go in a race, you go alone."
"I learned that lesson the hard way. In 1975, I'd just done my first sub-four. Before the national championships at 1,500, he said, 'You can take this field apart.' I won the semifinal with 3:40.5, relaxed. I was last in the final in 3:51.3. It was because John had gotten me to a state where when it hurt, I wasn't prepared. I panicked and let down. He said, 'Hey, I never said it was going to be easy.' "
Anderson is trim, with blond-gray hair and mustache, natty in a houndstooth check, and brisk, to say the least. He seems to hum with suppressed mirth. He starts at the beginning.
"Initially our relationship was that of a teacher and pupil," Anderson says. "I was a font of total knowledge. He was a kid with a pair of legs. Now, however..." Here he holds the tips of his index fingers on the same level, as if a spark is going to jump between them. "We're almost equal, but Dave is above me now. In theory and coaching, I'm still perhaps the richer, but his knowledge of the rigors of international competition makes him the senior member here. He can go on perfectly well without me, and that's the greatest coaching success of all."
In Anderson's judgment, the 5,000-meter record simply certified Moorcroft's splendid joining of the elements of his life. "It was the coming together of a whole running personality, a result of his father's help, of social awareness, of disciplining himself in school, in work, in planning a family. There are swarms of factors. He failed in his first goal, to make the team for the English schools 1,500. It was a struggle for Dave to get into college, yet he came out with an honors degree. The whole pattern is similar to a broken bone being stronger when healed. I see Paul's birth as important, too. It let Dave grow in the role of a father. His relationships are what make him tick. His running is supported by all the others."
Moorcroft himself is listening open-mouthed, fascinated. "One thing is," he says, "as I developed, it was as John wanted me to. My philosophy was based on his views, and yet we're poles apart in character. I'm nice, and he's..."
"But in terms of training..."
"We've often said if we sat independently and wrote a month's training for Dave, 95 percent of it would be the same."
The fundamental tenet of Moorcroft's training is inescapably simple. "Races are won by the fast," says Anderson. "And here I was presented with this wee boy at 15, maybe 5'6" and eight stone [112 pounds], who said, 'I've got one pace and no changes.' We had to cultivate the speed factor, but you don't learn that in five minutes, especially if you're a late developer. So we set the pattern in training for developing acceleration. We recognized that eventually the 5,000 and 10,000 would be his best distances, but we had to avoid the traditional cycle of plod in winter, race on the track in summer, then give it all away for the grind on the road and sod the rest of the year. That just wasn't on."
Instead, Anderson devised schedules that had Moorcroft doing fast running on grass or the track a couple of times a week nearly year round. "Specificity is a word I quite like," Anderson says. "Dispense with the inessentials, keep to the vitals. Those are speed in all its manifestations, such as pure sprint, sustained speed and change of pace. It is essential to link them in the body. Then there is endurance, the ability to keep going, at a high level."
All these elements are worked at consistently throughout the year under Anderson, a departure from the cycles made popular by New Zealand's Arthur Lydiard, wherein runners do weeks of straight mileage before spending time exclusively on hills and finally going to the track. "Dave, therefore, can come out in the winter and race because his speed work is never dropped completely."
Stacked in a corner of Anderson's office are bundles of scientific papers. "I've tried to interpret the findings of the best physiologists and translate them into sound practices," says Anderson. "That's made me a radical. We've turned some coaching sacred cows on their ear."
For one, Anderson dismisses the stretching that most runners do. "It's rubbish," he says. "The received idea that by touching your toes you lengthen the fibers in your hamstrings is wrong. Soft tissue stretching like that is a learned skill and doesn't carry over into running. Dave requires a flexibility, a joint mobility, but running fast is the right kind of stretching for him."
The world-record holder mutely demonstrates his suppleness by reaching toward his toes. His fingertips get down to about midshin.
To build speed, Moorcroft sprints sets of 60-and 100-meter dashes. For sustaining it he runs sets of 150s. For "linking" speed with endurance he runs 300s and 600s, not very many (four to six) but always very hard. "Over the years Dave took his workout of four 600s from 100 seconds to 81 for each repetition, and effectively destroyed that session because the effect of 80 seconds of running is different from 100. We had to go to repeated 1,000s."
There is little emphasis in Anderson's schedules on a gradual progression of improvement. "The human body doesn't progress that way." He slashes at the air, great sawtooth shapes. "The body improves in peaks and valleys on the graph. The thing to do is let effort dictate pace. Your guide is the ability to sustain quality. If you practice fast, you run fast. If you practice slow, you run slow."
By June of 1982, thanks to the calf operation, Moorcroft had had his best winter and spring training since 1976. He was running his six 1,000-meter repetitions in 2:26 each or 3:54-mile pace. "It was patently obvious," says Anderson, "that when he got into a race he would run out of this world."
Moorcroft stands. He must leave for another appointment, but the coach isn't done with this visitor yet. He takes him for coffee to a nearby shop. "Here's your usual, Mr. Anderson," says the waitress, placing before him a tea cake toasted so rigorously that it resembles a clay pigeon. Its crusty blackness is running with butter. Anderson looks a little uncomfortable. "My departure from reason is diet," he says.
Speaking of departures, says the visitor, why did Moorcroft decide to lead in Oslo, after a lifetime of staying off the pace?
"Most of that career had been in the mile, of course," says Anderson, "where the gamble of leading is much higher. In the 5,000 the decision was more sensible because there is more time to extend the opposition. But beyond that, it was just time to find out what was there. We've had talks all the way along about no performance being the end, but only a part of the pursuit of still better ones. The philosophy of never being satisfied and the practice of running fast combine to reject the logic of just running to win and get you on toward perfection."
His words recall Moorcroft's own answer. "It had its own logic," he had said. "Its own daffy logic."
"I knew he'd do well in that 5,000," Anderson says, "and Dave knew, too. But you know Dave, he was after me not to talk about it. He'd won the Revco 10,000 on the road in Cleveland in May by a great margin. In June he ran 3:49.34 for the mile behind Scott and Sydney Maree in Oslo. 'You're in absolutely staggering form,' I said. 'You could beat anyone in the world.' Normally he'd stammer and demur. Instead he said, 'You may be right.' I nearly fell off my chair."
Back in his office, Anderson digs through dusty papers. "It must be clear that I'm delighted with David," he says. "If ever I've had a perfect coaching relationship, this is it." He takes out a thick gray file with Moorcroft's name on it in fading black ink. It is filled with training schedules and correspondence. Here is a letter of regard from Bob Moorcroft and the first schedule Anderson had sent to David in 1969, which asked for four stiff 660s. And there is the letter back from the 16-year-old David, in a blocky, ordered hand: "I'll put in all the work you advised and hope that my future progress serves as repayment for your efforts."
"He always was a nice kid," says Anderson.
David, Linda and Paul are on the way to a dinner party at the house of Brenda Grace, a diver and determined organizer who works at the trust. David harks back to the Oslo race.
"About three days before, I got out a calculator and worked out the 400-meter splits necessary for the 13:06 world record. That needed 63s. So I dismissed that and figured what I'd need for Foster's U.K. record. That was 64s. So that became the most ambitious goal. It was good that there were no pressures to win in Oslo. If an official had told me, 'If you're the first Briton home, you're in the team for the European Championships,' I'd have reverted to the old wait and kick."
Just minutes before the start, Moorcroft trotted nervously and watched Steve Scott win the mile in 3:47.69, the second-fastest ever run. "I thought, 'Uh oh, I should have been in that.' "
Charged and ready, Moorcroft followed the early pace of NCAA steeplechase champion Richard Tuwei of Washington State and Kenya. "After 200 I was itching to go," Moorcroft says. The 400 time was a swift 61.4, but then Tuwei sagged to a 65.8. "I took off then and ran what I thought was a steady 63." It was 61.3.
The next laps were 62.6, 61.5, 62.4. The field let him go, in wonder. (Indeed, Ralph King of Athletics West would think, as he placed second in 13:20.85, that he had won. "I thought the guy in blue who took off was a rabbit and had dropped out of the race," he says.)
"I took in all the atmosphere," says Moorcroft. "Perhaps it was like what a free-fall parachutist experiences, the elation. I knew it was fast, but not how fast. I was enjoying the running for its own sake, not for the selectors or for the public acclaim or to prove anything."
He struggles for analogies. "I think of an artist, stuck out on a beautiful beach with birds and sky, and left alone just to get on with it."
He didn't have a clear idea of what his speed meant. "In miling I know exactly what splits should be, but in the 5,000 I hadn't a clue," he says. "I remembered in my calculations that if the 3,000 were under 8:00, I'd be on for a good time."
He passed the 3,000 in 7:50.2. "Hello,' I thought, 'possibly a very good time.' Then with three laps to go, it was hard."
He slackened not at all. "At the bell I knew it was a question of by how much I'd break it. I kind of savored that feeling on the last lap. As I came down the last stretch I looked up and saw 12:56 on the scoreboard clock. It turned 13:00 just as I crossed the line...."
The family has reached Brenda Grace's front door. All talk of the race ceases. It is a superb curry dinner, in a setting of some elegance. Grace grew up in Hong Kong, and the house has Chinese furniture and pillows covered in silk. Many of the high points are provided by Paul, who breaks a liter of orange juice, spills wine on the carpet and is barely pulled from an open china cabinet in time.
Back in the car, David says, "Well, we can never go back there again." He smiles. "The British way is very much Brenda's. 'Oh, don't worry about it. That goldfish was old. I'd been meaning to have it put down for years.' "
He sees to everyone's seat belts. Talk turns to the things people have been known to do in life-or-death situations. "Lifting cars off others, that sort of thing," says David. "I've never had an experience like that, but often in races I've tried to imagine that what I was doing was that serious. But it's hard to will that. Yet, in Oslo, once I'd decided to go and not worry, I didn't worry. If it hadn't come off, if I'd died and become an uncoordinated wild rabbit, I'd have been disappointed, but able to laugh about it afterward. So it was the opposite of grim, of life or death."
"Can you run faster?"
"I don't know if I can ever again prepare for a race as I did then. If I mention that I'm going to do a 10,000 now, the papers will all shout I'm going for the world record. No, it will never happen again. Not that way, with that beautiful freedom."