Lorraine Moller Interview

August 4, 2011 1

© Copyright – 2008 – Athletics Illustrated

Phidippides, the Athenian foot-messenger left a legacy that grows greater each year and is propagated by the millions of people who now participate in marathon races all over the world.

In 490 BC, Phidippides was fighting for democracy, when he ran back-to-back ultra-marathons; two days each way, to ask the Spartans to help fight a war for democracy against the Persians and he returned with their answer.

His inaugural marathon, delivering the news of victory, after back-to-back ultras, killed Phidippides; he was a martyr of sorts. Thus sport has become one of the greatest political arenas.

Roman god, Mercury was a messenger, a mediator and a god of commerce, trade and profit. His legendary trait of being able to move from one place to another swiftly is his best known characteristic.

Running is many things to many people, but ultimately is an expression of freedom.

On the trails and within the pine trees in and around Putaruru, New Zealand, Lorraine Moller began to express her sense of freedom by running. She ran when women didn’t run, running with her father for hours.

Although many parents can be credited with developing their star child into the great person or athletes they become, Lorraine can be credited with turning her father into an excellent runner.

As it turns out, Gordon ran many marathons and at mid-life, ran as fast as 2:51. Of the millions of messengers who dream of breaking 4 hours or 3:30 or even 3:00, Lorraine’s father did so, not just by training endlessly with run groups at the track, but building a solid aerobic base first with steady, long runs with his sometimes barefoot daughter.

During New Zealand’s golden age of running, Lorraine became intrigued by the most inspiring of athletes like, Sir Edmund Hillary, Peter Snell, Barry MaGee and many others. For a country the size of New Zealand (3.5 million) they produced a stunning quantity of quality athletes.

As a second generation runner that was trained on the Lydiard method by the likes of John Davies, Dick Quax and later by Ron Daws; Lorraine turned out a career typical of those who trained under the Arthur Lydiard method, long and versatile.

Four Olympiads and 30 years of competitive running, including a bronze medal in the Barcelona Olympics, after she had been written off as too old, capped a career where she competed at the highest level on the roads, track and in cross-country.

Recently Lorraine wrote her autobiography, On the Wings of Mercury. Although not yet released in North America, it is available online. The book has already reached the top sellers list in New Zealand.

As a runner fighting for the right to compete both as a professional and as a women, when women weren’t welcome in many races, perhaps Lorraine, like Mercury, is a messenger and mediator of democracy.

Of her book, Peter Snell writes, “The most compelling autobiography I have ever read”.

Chris Pilone, Olympic Coach offered, “The best autobiography and possibly the best book I have read, full stop.”

Christopher Kelsall: Mercury, the Roman god (like the Greek Hermes) was known for many things, most importantly as a messenger and his ability to move quickly from one place to another. My first assumption is that you named your autobiography, On the Wings of Mercury was taken in reference to his legacy. You helped create a beach-head in women’s participation in competitive and later professional athletics.

As it turns out, Mercury was also a mediator – I get the sense Mercury played a larger role in your naming your book, than his ability to move swiftly from one place to another.

Lorraine Moller: Mercury is the Roman god, the Greek version was Hermes, and he was preceded by the Egyptian god Thoth.

They are all an archetype for the faculty of higher mind: that capacity in humans for inspired thought that bridges heaven and earth and moves us to greater awareness. Mercury in particular was portrayed as a runner; the celestial messenger who delivers missives from the gods to mortals.

I increasingly related to Mercury as I came to realize that my path as an athlete was, above all, a spiritual one. My book, “On the Wings of Mercury” is about navigating the uncharted territory of being a Professional Woman Marathoner and how the quest for Olympic gold awakened my consciousness.

It was published in New Zealand last October, hit #2 on the bestseller list and is now in its second printing. It is due to be released in the USA this fall. Presently it is available at www.garymoller.com.

CK: Was writing your autobiography, without a ghost writer, no less a cathartic exercise in some way.

LM: Totally cathartic. As I sifted through my past I bawled, laughed out loud, got indignant, disappointed all over again and mad as hell. By the time I got to the finish I had made peace with it all. I could let it go out into the public arena because my past history no longer had a hold on me.

CK: Is it easy to write about yourself? Did you at anytime need to contact friends or family to clarify fact, you know, remove the first person and prejudiced perspective.

LM: It is impossible to write objectively about oneself, unless you are a total robot. I attempted to be accurate in my facts but when you just pull things from memory it can be terribly inaccurate, as eye witness accounts have proven. (Thank heaven for the divine gift of a good editor!)

The brain stores things in emotional buckets (at least mine does) not linearly at all, so time sequences in particular were hard to recall.  My two time markers were Olympic Games and love relationships, which were not useful at all for my early years. When it comes to actual events themselves there are probably as many versions as there are people that took part. I dove in and wrote it down as I remembered. When it involved people that I wanted to continue having a copasetic relationship with, I read it to them first to see if it was an accurate account in their eyes, and whether they minded it being in print.

For most of us ninety percent of life is a projection. Writing for me was a way of looking at my story and seeing it as just that – my own personal prejudiced perspective. While truthful it is not truth. Truth is what is left when we take away the story.

CK: Regarding Mythology. Perhaps you were born 1000s of years late. You, Greta and Joan could be written about extensively at some point in the future. Almost like Martyrs, except there’s no sacrifice if you just loved to run, maybe catalysts affecting change.

Perhaps you were part of the greater movement for women, without all the bra burning and hype. More so by actualizing what you are capable of rather than just demonstrating if you know what I mean. There is a holism in self-actualization; demonstrating what you are capable of.

A little like Rosa Parks.

LM: I feel so fortunate that I got to partake in an extraordinary time for women in sports. So much change afoot, incredible names to be associated with and historically defining events. I never set out to change anything. I had no cause, just the youthful naiveté to think that I could and should rightfully have the right to do what I loved and to fulfill my dreams. This desire led me to the start line, to run for the same opportunities as the men to compete in long distance events, run in the Olympics, and to earn a living.

CK: It is well noted that you started running quite early in life. I understand you were not directly coached by Arthur Lydiard, but trained according to his method through your own coach. When did it occur to you that all the training you were doing was Lydiard’s method?

LM: I was introduced to the Olympian John Davies who became my coach for many years. He would often call Arthur, his coach, about my training, so I grew up knowing that Arthur Lydiard was the highest authority on all things running. While he was not directly my coach, because of the lineage I was one of his from the beginning, and he would take a personal interest in my training and racing whenever our paths crossed, which was fairly frequently.

CK: And to think you ran barefoot for many years.

LM: There were no such things as running shoes for kids when I was growing up. We went barefoot most of the time, except when the ground was frozen in the winter. My brothers were so tough they refused shoes even then, but I was not quite so hardy. When it came to running it never occurred to us to wear anything but our skin. There was prickly weed in the grass and if you were not quick on your feet they stuck you. This was good sprint training. I wore canvas sneakers for running on the roads when I got into training. By the end of my 4 mile runs my legs were numb from the hard roads.

The club system was very strong when I was a teenager and every town had their own grass track with weekly track meetings. The younger runners were mentored by the older ones. This was part of living in close-knit communities where people all knew each other.

CK: Your father, who you ran with early on, must have been an anomaly.

LM: It was always assumed that I got my running interests and abilities from my Dad, but in fact he inherited them from me, a sort of reverse hereditary. I was keen to run so we both started out together, unfit and ignorant, my Dad as my safety-valve and protector. Dad went on to run many marathons and ran a PR of 2:51 in his mid-50’s, so even though he started late he obviously had some talent. I have to admit I did inherit from him a fierce fighting spirit and a certain intractability.

CK: Is your daughter showing signs of athleticism; are we going to see another Moller running competitively one day?

LM: My seven year old daughter, Jasmine is a typical active kid, who is a non-specialist and mostly loves to play make-believe with her friends. She has little concept of me as a competitive athlete and no experience of it. Perhaps it is in her genes and destiny, perhaps not, either way she has her parents support to pursue her dreams however they present themselves.

CK: Being co-founder of the Lydiard Foundation, you must be acutely aware of Lydiard’s influence in the running community. Are you surprised by the vastness of it and the curiosity his legacy continues to create in 2008?

LM: I was always aware of the pervasiveness of Lydiard’s influence in New Zealand, but am blown away now that I see the extent of his influence world-wide. When we look at the running revivals in many countries we find that Lydiard had very often coached the coaches. The great USA coach Bob Sevene summed it up so aptly, “I don’t care what anybody says, everything we do goes back to Arthur Lydiard.”In the area of endurance training I believe that Lydiard has been the single most powerful contributor to sport this past century.

CK: As broad scope as his legacy is within the worldwide running community, it must be ironically perplexing to see the greater ‘jogging community’ to be totally unaware of the name. Yet this is a part of the sport he is known to have popularized.

LM: Lydiard began his career by coaching Olympic champions. What many people do not realize is that when his runners swept the distance running medals in the ‘60 and ‘64 Olympics they were not hand-picked from a great pool of superior physical specimens as the eastern bloc did, but were a group of neighborhood kids with two legs each and enthusiasm focused by a particularly inspiring coach with a superb methodology.

Wherever Arthur applied his training principles he got results. In the early sixties he trained cardiac patients on a marathon training program through an experiment with the Auckland Joggers Club. This was revolutionary as the treatment of the time was to take it easy and not to stress the heart.

The program was highly successful. On a visit to Arthur in Auckland, Bill Bowerman witnessed this program and was so impressed that he started it back in America. This precipitated the running boom. When receiving the Medal of Honor from President Kennedy for his contribution to American health through the jogging movement, Bowerman said, “I am but the disciple; Arthur Lydiard from New Zealand is the prophet.”

CK: Part of the Lydiard Foundation’s responsibility is to protect the Lydiard method, are you and if so, how are you tackling some of the education to the average runner.

LM: There are a lot of people who bandy about the Lydiard name with misconception or a piece taken completely out of context (the 100 miles per week as a definition of Lydiard training is a good example of this.)

When Nobby (co-founder Nobuya Hashizume) and I founded the Lydiard Foundation our goal was threefold.

  • First we wanted to preserve a vital part of running history so that it did not get buried with Lydiard himself. Nobby has assembled on our website fabulous archives and he is adding to them all the time.
  • Our second goal was to consolidate Arthur’s materials and present them in a more comprehensive way than had been. If one looks at the material that Arthur has put out over the past 60 years he presented it, they start to find apparent contradictions and become confused.

People get hung up on the details. On Saturday do I do 3 x 1 mile, or 10 x 400 meters? What is the difference? How do I know? The only way to sort out such things is to define the principles behind the workouts. Only then can you make an informed intelligent decision and tailor the program precisely to the individual needs of the athlete. For example the first principle of Lydiard training is to maximize your aerobic capacity, since this sets the framework on which the rest of your training is based. The question in base training is not then ‘Do I run 100 miles a week?’ but ‘How do I maximize my aerobic capacity?’ For one runner it might 20 miles a week for another 120.

To teach runners and coaches these principles we offer a 6 hour Level One coaching program. Level Two is how to apply these principles in devising a training program that gears you to peak on the day of your competition. We are currently putting the finishing touches to a Level Three course that addresses finer aspects of performance such as running form, sports nutrition and psychology.

We have partnered with Rod Dixon’s Kid’s Marathon program to provide the handbook for teachers and coaches to convey Lydiard principles to kids in a fun and easy to grasp manner. We know that the principles apply equally to beginners as to Olympic Champions.

  • This brings us to our third goal – to promote the Lydiard principles so that anyone who starts an exercise program can click onto our website and get information on how to proceed safely, effectively and for the long-term.

This brings us to our third goal – to promote the Lydiard principles so that anyone who starts an exercise program can click onto our website and get information on how to proceed safely, effectively and for the long term.

CK: There are many people who take Arthur’s method and changed things here and there to make it their own. What would Lydiard think of people like Phil Maffetone.

LM: Of course people copy Lydiard because it makes sense and it works. Arthur was all about spreading the word and he knew that the further down the web his work spread the less control he had over it. Ultimately what concerned him was that people trained correctly. He wanted runners to do it right and that was his lifelong mission. I know Phil Maffetone’s work from a short association in 1987and even though he came to his knowledge through the triathlon door it is very much aligned with what Lydiard propounded. While his training theories were all very familiar to me having been brought up on Lydiard, Phil offered some nutritional information that has been very helpful.

There are many people who claim to have their own training system that looks a lot like Lydiardism and have put their name to it, but if you look at their era, they are a generation after Lydiard.

By all means make your contribution, but have the good manners to pay tribute to those whose shoulders you stand upon. There are many great coaches and sportsmen who have the humility to give credit where it is due. Some of those who give tribute to Lydiard are: Coaches Nakamura and Koide, Mark Wetmore, Jim Bush, Dick Brown, Steve Scott, Marty Liquori, Ron Daws, Pat Clohessy, Barry MaGee, John Davies, Greg McMillan, Bill Squires, Dave Martin, Kiyoshi Nakamura, Yoshio Koide  … the list goes on and on.

CK: Lydiard called anaerobic speedwork ‘eye-wash’, which I believe he meant that it is not as important as the marathon conditioning phase (base). Yet in one of his books, he starts the anaerobic speed chapter telling the reader, that the speed phase is something that should be on the mind of the runner from the beginning of the training cycle.

This is symptomatic of Lydiard’s communication. Do you think writing a book on the Lydiard method, using modern and more accurate terminology is a good idea?

LM: Yes, there was a need to consolidate all this information and that is what we are doing at the Lydiard Foundation.

The definitive Lydiard book called HIT, Healthy Intelligent Training, is coming out this fall, written by Dr. Keith Livingstone and will available on the Lydiard Website.

Nobby, chimes in: With Arthur, anaerobic development (by using intervals or repetitions) is totally different from SPEEDWORK.

Intervals or repetitions are used to develop your anaerobic capacity to maximum; by creating large oxygen debts and lowering of your pH level; you create buffer against this type of fatigue.  In essence, you “make yourself very tired with speed”.

Speed, on the other hand, is very much nerve thing as well as technique thing. You achieve faster speed with longer and faster strides. So you work on developing it by working on proper technique like lifting your knees or pushing the ground hard with your back leg. You can’t do it when you’re up to your ears with lactic acid (or whatever else it is that slows you down!).

People mix them up (speed training and interval training) because you run faster in both. If you have been only plodding all along, then hop on a track (or wherever) and start doing slightly faster repeats, you will get faster because you’re now running a faster pace. But, in Arthur’s eyes, that’s not necessarily speed training.

If you’re working on speed, then you should run 100m very fast or 150~200m at fast relaxed pace and take AT LEAST 3 minutes for recovery to make sure you are in fact recovered, so you can repeat same fast pace with good relaxed form over and over again. THAT is the difference.

The athlete

CK: You won three Osaka International Ladies marathons. During the races, did it work to your benefit to be in the lead overall or close to it, rather than racing in a field where there would be men around you. Or did you perform better keying off men in mixed events.

LM: I liked running both in mixed races and in women only races. In mixed races back in the 80’s when there were so few women so spread out it was possible to run the entire event and not even see your competitors. It taught me to run my own best race regardless of others. Running with men, besides the camaraderie, had the advantage of providing pacing partners throughout the race. Many men were very chivalrous, at least in the early 80’s, and did not mind sharing their water and having you draft off them. No such perks in women’s only races. However women’s races did provide a heightened sense of competitiveness because there is no longer the dilution of being in a race, within a race. Women’s only races are totally appropriate for championships such as Olympics and were necessary so that women could develop tactical skills with reference to other women.

CK: No athlete interview exists (tongue-in-cheek) where the interviewer doesn’t ask about specific training. For you what worked best for long runs. Were you loyal to 20 milers every week.

LM: You are talking about almost a thirty year period here, so what I did in my teens was not what I did in my twenties or forties.

Sometimes I did long runs every week (but not over thirty years!!). I first ran twenty miles runs when I went to university at the age of 18 and started running with a group of guys. I ran what they ran and it included very rugged long runs of 20 plus miles. I had no reason for doing this other than I enjoyed my running buddies and was not willing to miss any of the fun. At the time I was an 800 meter runner. When I came to US in 1979 and hooked up with Ron Daws in Minneapolis, I continued my long runs every Sunday. My first marathon at Grandma’s in Duluth was meant as a 20 mile training run and I fully intended to quit when I reached that mark, but since I was winning I thought I might as well finish and get a prize. That was the beginning of my marathon career.

CK: How about over-distance.

LM: During my three years with Ron he pretty much demanded as my coach that I do 28 miles runs every Sunday, which I did. When I left Minneapolis I had absolutely no fear of going the marathon distance. From then on 23 miles on Sundays became my staple.

My long runs were never timed over distance, so the truth is I never really knew how far I ran, and it didn’t matter. These were my precious solitary meditative runs that recharged my battery.

CK: Do you agree with recent comments by Coe and de Castella regarding the lack of participation in cross country running by Europeans and North Americans as symptomatic of a running problem on the roads and track. (These comments came on the heels from the lack of non-Africans in the World Cross Country Championships in Scotland).

LM: I haven’t really thought about it. I think it was helpful to me to have come to the marathon through track and cross-country, and believe that mixing season of track, cross-country and road are all to the mutual benefit of each other.

CK: Are you going to continue to run marathons despite the retirement from competitive racing?

LM: No, the marathoner has given way to a wafty waddler whose sole purpose for engaging in any ambulation is to provoke the muse. I have no desire to do this in a public place.

CK: Speaking of muse, Rod Dixon is well known for his appreciation for the odd brew here and there. Has this rubbed off on you, can you keep up with him?

LM: Hell no! I could never keep up with Rod. The truth is that, dare I admit it, I hate beer. (I have probably just been excommunicated from my homeland.)

Yes you will be (and Canada too!)

CK: Regarding Ron Daws. I understand he came up with his own template based on the Lydiard method. Where Davies was very much a direct advocate (correct me if I am wrong here). This being the case, did Ron change your training much from Davies way? If so, what are some key differences.

LM: Ron was true-blue Lydiard, through and through. The difference between Ron’s and John Davies’ coaching was volume. With John I was a teenage track runner, with Ron I became a marathon runner. John was very conservative with my training, as he was concerned that I might over do it. Ron demanded I train like a guy.

CK: Regarding your story – Being Cathartic and allowing you to re-appreciate the past. Has the writing of the story energized you – ‘when your past has a hold on you’ – can this be described in the sense that there may be lingering guilt or unfinished business? Having moved on, are you energized now to focus on the Lydiard Foundation and family.

LM: Yes, it did re-energize me. Writing my book was like gathering all these pieces of myself that were stuck in the emotional mud of the past and releasing them home to the present.

I no longer feel driven by the demons of unfinished business as I often was as a runner, but free to choose where I put my time and energies. My family, writing and the Lydiard Foundation they all ignite my passion.

CK: Thank you for the interview Lorraine, it has been a pleasure.

LM: You pose wonderful meaty questions, well researched, knowledgeable and with insight. It has been a pleasure for me also.

Pick up the highly acclaimed and cathartic autobiography; completely penned by Lorraine Moller, online at www.garymoller.com.

 

 

 

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