Thanks Coach | A Column By Len Johnson
There’s probably almost as many different athlete-coach relationships in athletics as there are athletes and coaches.
Some athletes have a coach from the time they start out in the sport as a junior. Usually, that’s a club coach. Others never have one, though some who make this claim fail to acknowledge significant nudges in the right direction by some mentor/advisor along the way.
Some have one, career-long coach, others have different coaches at different stages of their career. But whether the relationship is transient or enduring, we all tend to remember our first coach, the one who set us on the path.
I was fortunate enough to have two coaches in my career, along with a training group replete with many more advisors. My first coach, Keith Lodge, passed away last weekend and I want to pay him tribute.
Keith was the formative influence in my running from the time I met him. From before that time, as it happens, because I saw Keith running some years before I knew who he was.
Keith was one of a group of runners who occasionally used to meet at our school change-rooms for a lunchtime run. This was memorable enough in itself, given the state of the rooms before a latter-day re-build, but one of the group drove an old-model Porsche, which tended to make an impression on our impressionable schoolboy minds.
Anyway, within a few years of this first sighting I had joined St Kevin’s Old Boys Athletics Club and started running middle-distances. For the first part, I did interval workouts with (Runners World publisher) Terry O’Halloran, his brother Mick and another ‘Mick’, Mick Lewin (uncle of former national 800 metres champion, Simon Lewin, supervised by Frank Hanigan, a Franz Stampfl devotee who worked at one of the Melbourne Uni residential colleges.
As I gravitated towards the distances, I came more under Keith’s influence. Keith – ‘Lodgie’ or ‘KL’ to most of us – had followed a similar trajectory to mine. As a 400m runner he had been good enough to be invited into a training squad for the Melbourne Olympic Games and had just missed out on making the relay squad. He had moved up to the longer distances as he went.
Keith guided me towards longer runs. Initially these would be from his place, in the Melbourne suburb of Kew. The Eastern Freeway had been built at that stage but its opening delayed by a series of political and industrial disputes. The two of us, accompanied by the Lodge’s crazy Irish setter, would run down the empty freeway to Chandler Highway, then around the Ivanhoe Boulevard back to Keith’s home. As the runs got longer, we added circuits around the local golf courses.
Soon, Keith suggested I join the Ferny Creek group in the Dandenongs. My debut marathon was the 1976 Victorian title and I ran just under 2:43, breaking the club record. The next year was a 2:34 and in the following year’s Commonwealth Games marathon trial I crashed all the way down to 2:23. By now, we were getting excited.
Keith was a successful architect with a large practice. He planned things carefully. He introduced me and others in the group to sports science, sending us to what is now Victoria University for VO2 max tests and muscle biopsies. (My VO2 max was somewhere near Derek Clayton’s, my marathon ‘pb’ is better than Ron Clarke’s. I can’t help thinking I missed out somewhere!).
At a time when the sophisticated view on hydration was that “you need a drink before you think you need a drink”, Keith sourced a glucose polymer drink that I used in several races.
For all that, however, Keith had an intuitive understanding of motivation. A beautiful stylist himself, one of his favourite ploys was to cruise up alongside late in a run and say, “you’re moving very well”. Unspoken in this motivational spur was – “but you won’t be if I’m still with you at the finish.”
Keith would also employ the “you’re moving well” line late in our Saturday afternoon run which in its late stages took us up the steep St George’s Rd hill from the river towards our finish at St Kevin’s.
Our crowning achievement together was my 2:19:32 in the 1978 Fukuoka marathon, which remained my career best and was overwhelmingly to Keith’s credit. By that stage, though, I was training with Pat Clohessy’s group, a move Keith endorsed as it exposed me to better runners on a daily basis. It was a seamless transition, as Keith was very close to Pat’s philosophy.
It is easy to look at coaches like Keith Lodge and damn them with the faint praise of being ‘club coaches’. Keith certainly did most of his coaching at St Kevin’s, but his horizons were far more garnd, encouraging athletes to set and attain higher goals. Stewie Handasyde, an Old Scotch athlete but one of our group, this week recalled a post-Fukuoka gathering at Lodgie’s home at which Keith admonished him, “you could do that too, if you got serious about it.”
Keith Lodge was “serious about it” and those of us lucky enough to come under his influence were the beneficiaries.