Arthur Lydiard: the leader of the pack

July 6th, 2021 — Ever since I got to know Arthur, I have tried to send him a card or call him on his birthday to wish him a very happy birthday. One time, he had turned 82 and, at that time, I was 41 so I told him that he was now officially twice as old as I was. “Thanks for reminding me!” he replied, laughing!! One time, however, when his first wife, Jean, passed away, he was quite depressed. “Running destroyed my family,” he said. “I wish I never started running…”. That was quite a negative statement coming from (literally) the Father of Modern Distance Running. I put together a T-shirt for him; something similar to this image shown here (though I couldn’t quite “photo-shop” well here with the program that I have…) with the caption that read: “The Leader of the Pack”. Arthur Lydiard was the Leader of the Pack; fast runners and slow runners alike, elite and mass runners alike…. All of us runners, one way or the other, benefitted from what he had accomplished and contributed. Lydiard made training to become a champion more “tolerable” to any aspiring athletes and he also made the act of “running” accessible to any of us. He made it okay for any of us, fast or slow, to get out and just run for the sake of running.

Arthur and Nobby after removing a tree stomp

When we talked to Peter Snell about what kind of person Arthur Lydiard was, without hesitation, he replied he “was a very hard working individual!” He was the man who attempted to run over 200-miles a week while holding 2 jobs! When he and I worked on removing a tree stomp off his property in Beachlands, he insisted he would do more physical labor. I was 25 and he was 67!! I literally had to twist his arms so I got to do “some” work!! He was always in a hurry — he hated wasting time (“I don’t have time for fools,” he used to always say). Why he came up with Lydiard hill training circuit? “Because you can do the whole thing (strengthening exercise + stretching for range of motion + aerobic running) in one workout; we save time!!” But he also always had time for FUN. He enjoyed life. Anybody who spent any time with him would know that he loved to mingle and chat with people. He always had time for ANY runner — fast or slow. It doesn’t matter at all to him how fast or slow you are as a runner as long as you are SINCERE and listen to him wholeheartedly. This is why I call him: Every Runner’s Coach.

Arthur just fooling around on one of our beach picnics

He used to come pick me up and we would go to some Bush Tracks through Waitakere Range or Iron-sand Beach north of Auckland. His second wife, Eira from Finaland, would come along and, while Arthur and I would go run around, she would get picnic lunch ready. He showed me this knife he was given by his Scandinavian friend. “This cuts so well You can slice greasy salami and then slice a tomato so thin and you’ll have no problem,” he claimed. He was a wine-love (as much as a beer lover!!) and he and Eira would sip wine (sometimes throw wine at each other!!) while I…drink water or ice tea. Whenever I drink “Diet Coke”, he would quietly look at me and shook his head…for disapproval! One time, he insisted that, if I were to run with buddies in New Zealand, I would have to drink beer with them. He offered this beer from Denmark called Elephant. “This is the strongest beer in the world,” he told me. It was in fact very tasty!! But I got so sick in the car coming home. “I’m going to throw up, Arthur…,” I would murmur. “Not in my car!!” and he would drive faster….and rougher, making me sicker!! I did keep it in though.

Arthur Lydiard with his second wife, Eira

When I was in New Zealand with Arthur in 1984, it was one of his happiest moments as well as onr of the saddest moments. When I arrived in November 1983, he just “retired” as the Public Relations Officer at Winstone, the largest wallboard manufacturer in New Zealand. He just bought the land in Beachlands and was building a new house. He told me that they were installing a Finnish style sauna for Eira and really looking forward to a quiet and happy life with Eira. At times (like wine throwing!), they were like kids and it was heartwarming to watch them together. Then Arthur went to Los Angels Olympics…. I would visit Eira a few times just to keep her company. I lived about 2 miles away from their house and, one day, I jogged to their Manurewa house and, to my surprise, instead of Eira, Juliet, a young lady who accompanied Arthur to LA opened the door! I was greeted with a big bear hug and she started to cry. Unfortunately, it was NOT because she was happy to see me. “Eira is dying,” she said. They found a volleyball-size tumor sitting on her uterus. His life, literally, had turned up-side-down. She deteriorated quickly and would pass away on the day I left New Zealand in November. For the longest time, whenever I called him, he would start the conversation with “Of course, I miss Eira very much…”. I felt like I might have reminded him of her.

Arthur and Nobby in Spokane, WA, during Lydiard’s final US lecture tour in 2004

I’ve had the honor of being asked by Arthur to organize the last 2 USA Lecture Tours for him in 1999 and 2004. Of course in 2004, with two more clinics to go, Arthur passed away in Houston, TX. Now I had a very tough job of letting “Arthur’s Boys” know that the Master had passed away. The first person I called was Peter Snell who lived in Texas. The first person I called in New Zealand was Dick Quax. “We have to come up with a press release…,” he said. My head was spinning; press release?! Dick was super great!! “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of that…”. During the course of knowing Arthur, to me personally as well as publicly, he had been asked whom he thought was the best athlete he had coached/known. Of course, as far as athletic accomplishments are concerned, Peter Snell — no question. But he had told me, time and again, with a personality and his “sincere” mannerism, Dick Tayler is way up there as well. “But,” he had said, “the man I had the most admiration for that I trained was Halberg. He (literally) came from death’s bed to be an Olympic champion…”. Naturally he had my admiration as well but he was the one I had never met or talked. I was told that he was not quite involved with athletics then and was leading a very quiet life. I respected his privacy and never reached out. Now, for the first time, I was calling Sir Murray Halberg. “It’s no time for a joke,” was the first thing he said. So I had to explain who I was, what happened…. There was a few seconds of silence. Then he quietly said: “Let us not shed the tears and feel sad. Let us instead celebrate his life, his accomplishments and contributions…”. That was when it hit me and lost it.

Whenever I watch Tom Cruise’s “The Last Samurai”, I think of this short conversation with Sir Murray Halberg. When Emperor Meiji asked Captain Nathan Algren about the last moment of Katsumoto: “Tell me how he died,” Emperor asks. “I’ll tell you how he lived…” says Algren. Someone called my website, www.lydiardacademy.org, “the Lydiard Museum”. That is the exact intent purpose. Life and accomplishments and contributions of this Big Man in a small statue need to be handed down and carried on, continue to be talked about. Alexander Fleming received the Nobel Prize for discovery of penicillin that would eventually save millions of people’s lives. Arthur Lydiard’s contribution of spreading the gospel of “jogging” for health and fitness is nothing less than that. And Arthur was never shy of spending his time of the day for anybody. He did so purely for the sake of running and for the sake of helping fellow runners. He was a good man. He would have been 104 today if he’s still alive and kicking!! Happy Birthday, Arthur!! — Nobby Hashizume