The “Winningest” Runner

Jan. 9, 2021 — The other day I was talking to Anne Audain about 2020 and, naturally, with COVID (among other things), she wasn’t too keen on 2020. Even Bill Rodgers said “2020 was a swamp!” True. And, even personally, 2020 was tough mentally and emotionally. As a naturally optimistic guy as I am, however, I had to look for something positive. “But…,” I said to Anne, “I got to know you!!” Of course I knew who she was all along. I came to the US in the spring of 1980; took a year off and went to New Zealand in 1984 during LA Olympic Games; came back to the US and finished up my university in Cheney, WA, in 1986. That happened to be the hey-years of Anne with the US road races. Near-by where I went to school in WA was Spokane’s Lilac Bloomsday. My first Bloomsday was in 1981 (where, at the Expo, I got the mailing address for Arthur Lydiard from Joe Henderson) and that was also Anne’s first Bloomsday…..win!! She would win it 6 more times. In 1985, I remember seeing a photo in the local Spokane newspaper (being one of the largest road races in the world, Bloomsday was proud to call themselves as “the world largest most organized road race” in the world — they get all the results next day and every participant would receive a postcard with his/her result within a few days!!) of Anne Audain PASSING Henry Rono, one of the greatest MALE distance runners in history!! It was like I would hear about Anne Audain almost every other week or at least each month, winning some road race around the country!!

Of course, her journey was not a smooth-ride to glory either. As a matter of fact, it was more “rocky” as some Hollywood movie (and turned out to be “Rocky” eventually!!). She was born with bone deformities of her big toes so she had reconstruction surgery when she was 13. The doctor told her (and her adopted parents) that she could walk, but would not be able to run. Along with excruciating pain, it must have been hard for a young girl at the very sensitive age to have to wear these wooden boots!! When they came off 6 months later and then a year of rehab, she began to run. Her doctor advised to wear “nearest thing to barefoot”. Later when she ran for Nike (she was the first female runner to sign the contract with Nike), they custom-made shoes for her — one for road running and the other for trail running, based off their racing shoes. As well as a path-finder for female running and professional “prize-money winning” runner, Anne was also a pioneer (by accident) for minimalist running!! That’s good 30-years ahead of Christopher McDougal and Daniel Lieberman!! Of course, Arthur Lydiard was one of the early proponent of “minimalist” shoes; that your feet should be able to move and function freely and not to restrict feet’s movements. So it most probably worked for her when she started running — she learnt to use her feet naturally to their full function.

She is as a Lydiard-Runner as can be, being coached by John Davies; the Olympic bronze medalist in 1964 Tokyo Games 1500m behind Peter Snell —and perhaps one of the most prolific Lydiard-trained coach ever. But Anne wasn’t nurtured by John from the get-go. As she started to show her talent as a teenager, Gordon Pirie — a fierce competitor for his own rights back in the days, competing against legends like Emil Zatopek and Vladimir Kuts — approached her. He was probably the complete opposite to Lydiard, heavily interval-trained and, here, breaking probably the first rule of Lydiardsim; NEVER recruit athletes!! He did alright with Anne (or course, you cannot overlook her raw talent either but…), she made it to the Olympics in 1976 in 800m and 1500m where she was completely crushed with Eastern block super-ladies (you know what I mean…). She kept on working with Pirie but, by early 1980s, she was exhausted mentally and physically. So she called it quit.

Sometimes you feel like you had just wasted 10-years of your life and you hit the rock-bottom; but that could actually be a necessary step for much better things. Somehow all those years being abused mentally and physically by a controlling coach brought her to the right mentor — John Davies. She told me that they were really the opposite ends of spectrum; Pirie was controlling, crap-shooting approach to training (never know what the day’s workout might be) and heavily interval-oriented with little mileage. John Davies, on the other hand, was nurturing and caring, training approach with purpose and planning, and employing the Lydiard Way. He is one “Arthur’s Boys” I always wanted to meet when I went to New Zealand in 1984; but never had a chance to meet in person. Actually I partially blame that to Anne because when I was in New Zealand in 1984, he was too busy with Anne, preparing for LA Olympics!! But Dick Quax introduced me to him later on and we had exchanged numerous e-mails and phone calls. I was very impressed with his mannerism, knowledge with training, and also his intellectual curiosity to training. At any rate, just listening to Anne explain Gordon Pirie and John Davies is an absolute must for any aspiring coach — it’s like a text book what to-do and NOT-to-do as a coach (this is being told very well in her documentary, “Anne Audain: Running Her Way” — highly recommended!). I can actually recall Dick Brown, explaining “new” runners to his group — likes of Marla Runyan or Suzy Favor-Hamilton — WHY’s of Lydiard approach in the late 1990s.

With the guidance of John Davies on the Lydiard’s aerobic-based and carefully planned training program, Anne bloomed as a runner within a year. By then, she moved her base to the USA and found a new “sport” — Road Racing. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect: it was the time some superster US distance runners, such as Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, Don Kardong…, got together and created trust-fund based “professional” running circuit. The first of such historic event took place in Portland, OR — Cascade Run Off 15k, and women’s running was really beginning to make way. It was a perfect storm of a sort (in a positive way). Anne came out from nowhere (i.e.: New Zealand) and won it handily and picked up then-considered-as forbidden fruit for amateur athlete — Prize Money!! She, along with other athletes who accepted the prize money, were immediately “banned” from “amateur” international Track & Field events by IAAF (International Amateur Athletic Federation: now “World Athletics”, or WA). Burnt out by track competitions in the Olympic Gamers by Eastern Block women (now we know they had been chemically-enhanced), she didn’t care. In fact, she now was able to make living out of running road races in the USA. She signed the contract with Nike — to be the first female runner to be sponsored by Nike. So came the winningest streak of 1982.

In 1982, Anne ran 13 road races, won 13 and set 13 course records!! With 2 track races that she would run, it was a perfect record with a few extra toppings to go along. John, with his very Lydiardisque thinking, suggested Anne to consider running Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia, in the fall of 1982. “If nothing else, run for New Zealand…”. “But, John, I’m banned!!” Here it is; yet another adversity for Anne. She wasn’t even allowed to compete! So John, the way he is, laid out a plan to force the officials to have to include Anne. “Let’s plan to break 5,000m world record,” John suggested. At that point, Anne had never run 5,000m on track but she ran then the world record of 15:13. Now NZAAA and IAAF were in a tough position — here’s the best female distance runner in the world; should she compete in the upcoming Commonwealth Games??? With the answer up in the air, she didn’t want to give up road races in the US. “I was determined to get the ‘Road Racer of the Year’ title,” Anne says. She would run 10 races back in the US before Commonwealth Games in October. She had shared her detail training of 1982 and I am currently “studying” it — this is a perfect example of how you can employ Lydiard Principles and still compete quite frequently. I intend to share this with public eventually; like I did with Peter Snell’s training (HERE).

She didn’t know if she would be allowed to compete until she went to Brisbane. Not the perfect condition to prepare for one of the most important races in her life!! But, again, John prepared her — both physically AND mentally — and sent her a hand-written detailed schedule and titled: “This is a Gold Medal Shot Schedule!!” And the day after The Race, he put down: “Polish medal”!! Again, for someone like me, this is a Gold Mine!! Anybody who thinks Lydiard training program is to spend 3–6 months just for ONE race; it is so wrong! And Anne is the perfect example of you CAN engage multiple races and be very successful. You can watch the race HERE; she led the entire distance; set the Games record as well as New Zealand national record that stood for 25 years, and won the gold medal. She is the only New Zealand female athlete to have won the Commonwealth Games gold medal in the track events. As John and Anne had planned, the following day, she polished the gold medal!! (though it probably didn’t help the recovery of her legs…).

Out of her 7 victories at Spokane’s Lilac Bloomsday, I was in Washington State and participated (the best I can claim…) the race 5 times. It was actually in 1986, I did meet her and exchanged a very brief “hi”. It was Bloomsday’s 10th anniversary and they invited a runner from the sister city of Spokane in Japan. It so happened that there was one of the best distance running powerhouse high schools in Japan, Hotoku. So they sent one of the best Japanese high school distance runners; Kazumi Sada (shown here, chasing Anne). The race director, Don Kardong, asked me to help him out. So after the race, I ran into her at the hospitality room. As I recall, that was the first time I saw her with blonde hair as well!! Fast forward, the spring of 2020, like I said, I was having a bit of a rough patch. Out of blue, Anne reached out to me. We started chatting and, to me, it was like a breath of fresh air! She is very pleasant and thoughtful to talk to; totally supportive of what I’m doing and Lydiard Training & Academy. And, like I said, she has already shared so much with me to be shared via Lydiard Training & Academy (which I need to catch up a bit more…). “I just want to continue John’s legacy…,” she says. John passed away way too young, at the age of 65, of melanoma in 2003. Like I said, he was probably one of the most successful Lydiard-trained coaches, having coached, not just Anne, but Dick Quax and American premier road racer of the 1980s, Jon Sinclair and the surprise finalist at 1996 Atlanta Olympics women’s 800m, Toni Hodgekinson of New Zealand. I can totally relate to that — that she wants to honor her old coach and wants to continue his legacy. She has been quite active with women’s running as well, having founded St. Luke’s Women’s Fitness Celebration 5k in Boise, Idaho, in 1993. Sometimes I feel like Arthur is looking after me from up above and probably sent Anne to me!! She has shared quite a few pictures which have been posted at Photo Gallery page; and I intend to put together her training and share that with public as well. And I am looking forward to collaborating our effort to honor Arthur Lydiard and John Davies. Thanks, Anne, for reaching out and all your support!! — Nobby Hashizume

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