Profile: Arthur H.G. Taylor

May 14, 2017 0

Image: Canadian Road Running Hall of Fame

© Copyright – 2017 – Athletics Illustrated

Arthur H. G. Taylor was a Canadian long-distance runner, coach, and mentor to many athletes. Frontrunners Footwear in Victoria, BC immortalized the expat of England with a stone in their walk of fame, outside of their Vancouver Street location. He is revered by many and his dedication to the sport is legendary.

During his final few years, with double hip replacements, he still found several hours a week to commit to fitness by walking and jogging in the Victoria neighbourhoods of Fairfield and Oak Bay. He enjoyed cycling from downtown to Sidney and back weekly – a total distance of approximately 70K.

He may be best known for coaching elite athletes, including Olympians Zach Whitmarsh and Diane Cummins (among many others). Both athletes competed in the 800-metre distance. Cummins held the Canadian record for nearly a decade at 1:58.39 and was just the second Canadian to dip below the two-minute benchmark, Charmaine Crooks was the other. Since then three more have gone sub-2:00, Melissa Bishop, Fiona Benson and Jessica Smith.

Long before Taylor became an icon in the sport of Canadian running, he left his mark in London, UK, Waterloo, Ontario and Edmonton, Alberta.

Taylor was born in the midst of the roaring ’20s on September 1st, 1926. He was the oldest of 10 children, of parents George Henry and Jessie (Rogers) Taylor, in Potters Bar just fifteen miles north of London, England.

Growing up in the Dirty Thirties, Taylor was fortunate just to be able to attend school. He stayed until the age of thirteen, then war broke out in 1939 and he had to leave to find work to help support his family. His first job found him working on a pig farm. He stayed there for one year.

At seventeen years of age, Taylor did what most teenagers were doing at that time and joined the army.

Register for the seriesAfter returning home from the war, Taylor found himself a permanent job in a flat steel spring manufacturing company, where he worked until 1949. Eventually, he got his ticket as a Master Tool Maker with Vickers Armstrong at their experimental tank. During this time he was responsible for building a model submarine of the Dreadnought for Prince Charles.

In the early 1940s, Taylor was bitten by the soccer bug that seemed to catch most young Englishmen at that time. When he first began he would run around the farm fields during the off season so he could be in even better condition for the following season. At the age of 18, he became more serious about soccer and joined the local club, Furzefield Athletic, where he played competitively until 1952.

At the end of each season, the local clubs would host an inter-club cross-country race as a wind-up to the season. After winning for three consecutive years it became evident what sport Taylor should play. However, he still maintained a diverse range of activities and pursued them all with the same determination. An example of this is was that he was a member of the 20-35 men’s table tennis team that won the WGC and Hatfield Division League Championships.

During a time when legendary runners such as Gordon Pirie, Chris Chataway of England and the great Emil Zatopek of the former Czechoslovakia were dominating middle-distance running, a runner with equal determination was just beginning what was about to become a remarkable career. In 1952 he transferred within Vickers Armstrong for a nine-to-five position as a tool room foreman. This freed up more time for him to devote to running and coaching and it was during this time that he became a founding member of the Welwyn Athletic Club.

The turning point of Taylor’s running career came when he linked up with the running trio of Chris Burning, Eddie Keen and Harry Wilson in 1953. From that point forward nothing could stop him.

In 1956 Taylor completed his first two marathons. The AAA Championships in Liverpool was where he first tackled the distance, finishing an impressive 29th position overall in the time of two hours and 28 minutes, a competitive time of the day.

The next chance at the distance came a year later when he raced against a world-class field at the Polytechnic Marathon, shaving over two minutes off of his previous best time.

The Poly ran from 1908 until the 1990s, it was organized by the Polytechnic Harriers, and was put on first for the 1908 London Olympic Games; the Olympics that officially standardized the distance as 26 miles and 385 yards (42.195K). It was also the event that saw the great Jim Peters, become the first to break the 2:20:00 barrier.

Taylor was sidelined with anemia after Poly and with idle time on his hands turned his attention to coaching.

From the late 1950s and into the 1960s, Taylor worked at expanding his coaching abilities and raising a family. During the summer of 1960 and 1961, he studied at Loughborough Summer School in various athletic events. By now, Arthur had become a well-established coach and was asked to teach courses on specific events for the U.K. National Coaches Association.

During this time, Taylor was busy raising his two young sons, Dave and Russell. To add to the already busy pace of life Taylor and his family made the decision to immigrate to Canada. They moved to Waterloo in 1966 where Taylor had secured a job with the University of Waterloo.

“Immigration was a tough decision to make,” recalls Taylor. “It was really difficult leaving all the friends we had made and athletes whom I had coached. I had spent my entire life there.” Despite all of this they decided it was a necessary thing to do.

The next four years were spent working and settling into a regular life schedule. He was also able to find time to work on his coaching skills and in 1967 he became a senior distance coach for Ontario. Two years later he became an FTA National Distance Coach.  He had many other coaching positions during the late 1960s. The most important of these was being the head coach of the Kitchener-Waterloo Track Club (1966-69) Assistant Head Coach for the University of Waterloo (1967-70) and in 1969 he founded the WCAAA.

After his four year lay-off during which he recovered from an appendix operation, Taylor began running again in hopes of regaining his competitive edge.

After a year of hard training, Taylor made his comeback at the Springbank six mile (9.65K) road race, which he finished in 31:19 to set a new masters (40-plus) course record. After doing so well in his first race back, Taylor made a New Years resolution to run the famous Boston Marathon in the summer of 1971. For the next six months, he ran 10 to 12 miles a day no matter what the weather conditions were. “I relish adverse conditions, don’t ask me why,” commented Taylor.

His goal for Boston was to break 2:30. He was comfortably ahead of the pace at 15 miles, but for the next four miles blisters slowed his pace and he lost his concentration.

“I started feeling sorry for myself; the pain was awful,” Taylor remembers. “Then I decided, what the hell, I either pack it in or ignore the pain.”

Ignore the pain he did, picking up 18 positions during the final five miles to cross the line in 2:33:34. He finished thirty-fifth overall and was the fourth Canadian. This race officially marked that he was back on top of the masters scene.

Taylor wasn’t the only one running well during the 1970s; his athletes were having some of the best seasons of their lives. Liz McDuffe made the Commonwealth Games team in 1970 and in 1974 set Canadian records in the 50m, 50yd, 60m, 60yd and 100m hurdles. Brian Bisson, who had been training under Taylor, made the Canadian team travelling to Scotland for the 1969 World Cross Country Championships. The 400m specialist, Joan Fox, made the Pan American Games team in 1972; she then made the Commonwealth Games team in 1974 and finally in 1976, made her first Olympic Games team.

Along with training his own personal athletes, Taylor was head coach at the University of Waterloo from 1971 to 1977. He also taught and lectured basic track and field and coaching fundamentals to fourth-year students.

Taylor’s next big race came just seven weeks after Boston, where he ran in the Canadian Marathon Championships against the great Jerome Drayton, who currently holds the national marathon record time of 2:10:07. As usual, Taylor rose to the challenge, finishing fourth overall in a time of 2:27:22.

The Around the Bay race, a 19-miler (31k) – now a 30K, was scheduled on a chilly Hamilton day. A puffy chested Taylor came to the start line and according to reporters had a hot water bottle full of Bay Rum in his jersey. Although Zatopek used to do this, it is not proven that Taylor did. He did go as far as putting newspapers in his singlet, for the purpose of stopping body heat from escaping. His strategy must have worked because he finished sixth overall in a blistering of 1:44:35.

Records, records and more records:

From 1974 to 1984 Taylor ran some of the most amazing races of his life. During this ten year period, he set six Canadian records five World records and two North American records.

“I had a change of focus and I started a much more demanding training schedule,” said Taylor.

When asked what lead to these records, Taylor stated that it was what his hero; Zatopek had done twenty years before. Taylor started logging over 150 miles a week and training twice a day.

Taylor’s philosophy towards training is that you have to train harder and longer each year.

Victoria area runner and former UVic Vike Mark Nelson recalls, “One workout he told me about was almost his last. It happened in the spring of 1978. Taylor was living in Fort McMurray and he went out for a training run in the woods on the rise of the Athabaska River. Unfortunately, what could have been a nice run turned into a disaster when a snow storm hit and he lost his way. After he remembered that the wind always blew down the streets of Ft. McMurray, he decided to run with the wind. Luckily his memory served him well and he soon found his way home. I don’t know which workout would have been harder, this one or Zatopek’s legendary 100 x 400m in one session.”

Although he ran many great races during this time, the one that stands out in many people’s mind the most is the steeplechase at the World Championships in Christchurch, NZ. As Taylor approached the first hurdle a group of demonstrators were fighting over it and dragging it around, he hurdled it anyway.

“I didn’t want to be disqualified,” commented Taylor. As if this wasn’t bad enough when he ran towards the second hurdle they were up to it again. “God it was exciting,” was what he thought of the race.

Former Taylor-trained athlete Mat Baker of Victoria remembers, “Apart from being known by his athletes for an endless supply of bad jokes, Taylor is an extremely dedicated athlete and coach. His dedication to the sport is paralleled by few.

A World Champion at heart, Taylor always has been willing and excited to share his ideas and experiences. As a coach he makes you work hard, but knowing he pushes himself just as hard if not harder is almost always in the back of my mind, easing the pain.”

The worse you feel, the harder you push.

“The day Taylor ceases to live by this quote, I believe, is the day he ceases to coach.”

Taylor’s athletes continued to produce great results. The most prominent of these athletes during the 80s were Jane Felling, Kathleen O’Malley, Adrian shorter, Ken Bell, Lyle Kushmak, Ten McKeigan and Dana Wright. In 1984, Wright went to the Olympic Games in Los Angeles and won a silver medal in the 4 x 400m relay.

In 1976 Taylor was rewarded for his coaching and athlete’s accomplishments when he was inducted into Ottawa’s Athletics Gallery. In the early 1980s, Taylor and his family moved to Edmonton where he became the senior coach and president of the famous Edmonton Olympic Club. He also continued University coaching at York University for the 1985 and 1986 Track and Cross Country seasons.

“I first met Arthur Taylor when I began Track and Field in 1992. Like all young athletes, I followed the crowd, moaning and groaning when Arthur came to coach us because we knew it was going to be hard work. But as I got older and had an opportunity to learn more about the whistling, bearded man, I gained respect for him because I realised that a coach as dedicated as Taylor does not come along very often.

I began training with him as a midget athlete in 1996 and since then I have seen what an amazing person, coach and athlete he was.

His sense of humour is always a refreshing break during training runs. I remember one time that we were on a training run through Oak Bay, as we ran past a flower garden, he dead-panned, “Hi Drangea.” It took most of the group and thirty seconds before we realized what he meant,” shared Nelson.

Perhaps his most amazing accomplishment was running a marathon in the time of 2:27:25 at the age of 50.

Taylor was inducted into the Canada Road Running Hall of Fame. Although a hip replacement had slowed his pace he was still training regularly, putting in approximately 10 hours per week. If his hip allowed, anyone who knew him knows he would have attempted the world masters championships.

Performances as an athlete:

Masters Competition

Canadian Champion 21 times
Canadian record holder 14 times
North American Champion 4 times
North American Record holder 5 times
Pan American Champion 4 times
Pan American Record holder 5 times
World Champion 9 times
World record holder 5 times.

Personal bests

Three-time national 3000m steeplechase champion – Marathon 2:28
Poly Marathon 2:25:48
20 miles 1:43:55
Three-time 20-mile champion (County)
World Master Champion 25km
World Masters Championships Marathon Paris France first
Canadian Masters Championship Marathon first 2:29:38
Canadian masters Championships cross-country 4,000m first 14:28
Ontario Open Marathon Championships 2:27:01
World record 5,000m Masters 15:42 (50-plus)
2:27:25 marathon at age 50

 

Thanks to Mark Nelson of Victoria, BC for his assistance with this profile.

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