© Copyright – 2011 – Christopher Kelsall
Below is part 3 of the 4 or 5 or 6-part series of interviews with brothers Keith and Colin Livingstone (plus three interlopers, that's 5 for the price of 2).
Keith is a chiropractor practicing in Australia and is the author of the top-selling book, Healthy Intelligent Training, the definitive modern translation of the legendary Arthur Lydiard method.
Colin, who now lives in England, in his words, “the sticks” is an author and professional illustrator.
Keith and Colin were competitive distance runners for New Zealand and Australia during the late 1970s to early 1990s. Both currently coach and continue to be involved with athletics.
Click here to read the very entertaining, part 1 and part 2 of Fartlek and Low Things in West Auckland series of interviews.
Chris: Are we seeing a resurgence in distance running in North America?
Keith: Possibly. Any committed, talented runner with a good ‘head’, a smart coach, a committed training group, and a 10-year plan can make it happen, and certainly we’re seeing some good, consistent results at the highest levels coming out of the USA nowadays. I’d like to think that is because coaches are starting to “get it”. I’ve seen several athletes reach Olympic level from quite ‘ordinary’ athletic pedigrees when younger. The defining characteristics are patience and the realization that ‘persistence is omnipotent’, as Calvin Coolidge said in his famous quote.
Any high school coach can tell you why aerobic training at slower paces is not “specific” to racing paces, and from there go out and “burn” his squad of young runners. A guy I was talking with recently, from San Diego, told me that his 13-year old daughter’s track coach had his squad of young teens doing track work up to five nights a week! Because he was new to the world of running, it took his daughter getting very sick with swollen glands for him to realize that the coach had no idea! It’s now 2011, and this is the information age, but we still have these clowns everywhere: one’s probably in a suburb near you! If you can, go and beat him up! That’s what he does to your kids!
But seriously, the smarter coaches now are seeing that the ‘successful performance pie’ requires all the ingredients, with differing parts being added to the mix at the right time. If a training plan can’t be holistic, and tailored to the current development and abilities of the athlete, then it’s going to result in heartbreak at some point.
The Law of The Farm
Chris: So you are suggesting North America needed a change in culture – a paradigm shift - in order to become world beaters? So has the pendulum swung?
Keith: Yes. The American thing until recently at least seemed to have been “no pain, no gain”, and to me it’s an “impatience” to get ahead that defines the American culture as a whole. This is very different to other cultures where they understand the “law of the farm”. Whether you’re an aspiring superstar or a happy fitness athlete, the first thing to appreciate is the importance of an aerobic foundation. Lydiard always said that when the Americans could drop their fascination with anaerobic work that they’d beat the world. Hopefully from now on in North America, we’ll see the pendulum swing back to sensible balanced training.
Chris: Frank Horwill, if I remember correctly, had a tough way and yet achieved great results.
Colin: Some guys seem to be able to respond to different types of training quite well. The key here I think is a “balanced” program. I spoke to Tim Hutchings, who won World Cross Country medals with an intensive approach under Horwill and later, steadier stuff from Dave Bedford....Early on in the piece, he was doing things like 6 x 1000 meters in 2.32 with shortish recoveries...but got a lot of injuries.
Actually, I don’t regard myself as an expert...just a bloke who understands running because I’ve lived it. Everybody makes mistakes...but it is important to learn from them...not keep repeating them. I call it ‘wisdom through folly’.
Keith: Wisdom through folly! You must be the wisest man on the planet then, Colin! And I’m not talking running! It’s a good thing that there’s a statute of limitations now in New Zealand!
Colin's Wisdom Through Folly and his Quest for the Holy Mile
Chris Pilone: Because of the statute of limitations, this isn't even my best Colin Livingstone story, but in regards to this “wisdom through folly” business, let me tell you about Colin's quest to beat Keith and to explore high volume training.
I was introduced to Colin in the mid to late 70s by Keith. It was at their Mt Albert flat where Colin was up a tree and having consumed a large amount of alcohol was convinced he could fly. I was concerned at both Colin’s state of mind and also his position high up in a tree. Keith took the whole thing in stride and as became usual in these types of situations we went inside and had a cup of tea.
Drinking vast amounts of tea, running, practical jokes, off beat sense of humor, bonded all three of us together. Both boys were talented in a lot of different areas, almost genius class but at some times completely impractical.
“Stick to Arts, Colin!”
At one stage Keith told Colin he should stick to the artistic pursuits in the family, and he Keith would stick to running. This was like a red rag to a bull for Colin and his response was basically “F%$# you”! He challenged Keith to a race in a local road event to happen in 6 weeks time. The challenge was accepted and Colin started training. He went straight into 100 mile weeks. Prior to this he had been running a few times per week. I was a national class runner at the time, but couldn’t believe how fast Colin trained. Also courses were very non standard and trips though people’s back yards became normal. Colin appeared to in all aspects of life to not have any idea of what may be considered normal. Being normal was someone else’s problem! I loved this side of his character.
The upshot of the challenge was Colin actually beat Keith by a few seconds in the local road race. I think it may have been the Howick 10 miler. At this stage Colin decided that 100 miles per week was pretty easy and he was going to up it to 150 miles per week. This involved running 10 to 15 miles in the morning and another 10 miles at night. I quite often met him at night to run in the Auckland Domain. The 10 miles at night was usually a pretty solid pace (6 min miles or better) and sometimes with local running identities like Kevin Ryan (2:11 marathon runner and real hard bastard).
Colin was employed by TVNZ in some sort of artistic capacity but actual attendance at work appeared to be optional! The 150 mile week was easy and Colin at this stage had read about Dave Bedford doing 200 miles per week.
He decided to launch into 200 miles per week. Colin lived close to the Domain and started doing the Waitaks from central Auckland in the mornings. The usual solid 10 miles at night was also included. After a week of this regime Colin confided in me that Bedford being a Pom, was soft and didn’t train hard enough and no wonder he hadn’t won anything big on the track! He was going to up the training to 250 miles per week. This involved a horrific amount of running and I noticed the 60 min 10 milers in the Domain eased out to 62.5 or 65 min. Colin also became quite pale and his occasional mutterings about fagots and poofters became more frequent.
At the end of the 250 mile week , Colin announced, “f&$k it Pilone, I am going for 300.” The next week there was going be 300 miles in the log.
After this conversation I didn’t see Colin for 10 days or so. He wasn’t showing up to the Domain evening runs. It transpired later he was running the Waitaks morning and night.
Having not seen Colin for days I decided to call around at his flat. The door was ajar and closer inspection revealed Colin in the fetal position on the couch and apparently completely unable to straighten his legs.
Colin then told a story of running the Waitaks morning and night with the way lit by glow worms and chased by stray dogs. His diet was large amounts of chips (fries) from a local takeaway sprinkled with huge amounts of vinegar and salt. He was also drinking gallons of a product called ENO. It was meant for indigestion, but may have had some electrolytes in it which Colin craved.
Chris Kelsall: School of hard knocks!
Keith: Sometimes I think of the wonder if it all and did it all happen, but of course it did.
But he NEVER got injured! Yeah, it was the Howick 10 miler, and Colin beat me by about 30 seconds, as he had a crack at Keith Pearce, who was a damned good vet who could occasionally beat Barry Magee. They took off together up the road surging on each other. They weren’t too far behind Jack Foster, who won. Hot day as it took Foster over 50 mins because of it. I think Colin didn’t train super-hard or long for a few years, but I can’t ever recall him not being up for a run at any stage.
OK. What about the Auckland Domain toilets in January 1984? Or Crump's hawk story?
Paul Fartier: Yeeeeeeeeeeessssssssssssss reminds me of the old man blowing up his garden shed after trying to make Nitro Glycerin. Barry Crump story about the hawk? Someone tied a stick of TnT to it. The hawk had been ripping into their venison as it hung from a tree in their camp. It flew back towards them and into the hut and demolished the hut....they froze their arses off that night.
Lorraine: Barry Crump was a great mate of my Uncle Bill who died last year in his nineties. Bill owned Moller's barn on Shaw Road. It started out as a farm with a cute farmhouse and I stayed there with my cousins when I was teenager. His biker buddies had a rip-roaring party there one night and burned his house down, so he went to live in the barn. He added on to the barn and it became THE party place of West Auckland, gathering many old bastards. Barry blew his dunny up. Tried to have a smoke on the john and struck a match, lit his cig and threw the match down the hole not knowing Bill poured gasoline on it to keep the blowflies at bay. Blew crap all over the place.
What self-respecting Kiwi joker does not have a few explosion stories here and there?
Colin: Yeah... the toilets...and explosion stories...
Keith: Yeah. (pauses in reflection as glistening tears begin to develop).
I was home in New Zealand from College in Melbourne. We had a visiting Australian 1500m runner staying with us, and he was a very nervy bugger at the best of times. So we took him down to the Domain at sundown for some ‘live entertainment’. Sundown was the time all the hermaphrodites emerged to do their business in the cubicles.
Before the sun did go down, from our little vantage point up on ‘Maori Hill’, we watched as Col scurried busily outside the brick building like MacGyver, all around the little openings above the cubicles. This was a military operation, carried out deftly and quickly by a man who knew what he was doing. Earlier he’d left a “supply” inside, and then these were all joined with a long length of fuse to the crackers on the rims of the windows, and then outside to a nearby bush.
When the murky zombies all started to arrive, it was too dark and anonymous for anyone to see the fuse-work. As soon as the hushed voices and muted action started, it was time for the lighting ceremony. Brian, the Aussie 1500m runner, didn’t know what was going on.
Then all Hell Broke Loose
The brick walls amplified every explosion, as all we could see was spectacular flashes of white and orange, amidst screams from hell!
Half a dozen hermaphrodites screamed in various states of unbucklement. Brian took off like a cut cat towards the Domain gates, completing a PB 800 on the way. He was seething afterwards, thinking somehow that he was going to get into trouble too. I said “listen, Brian, the most they can lock you up for is aiding and abetting, and anyway, they’re hermaphrodites, so who cares? Do you think they’re all going to go the cops and tell them what happened?” That comforted him greatly. Those were the days! Nowadays, hermaphrodites have a charter that probably gives them sole access rights to these places at night, under police protection.
Chris: Those were the days, eh?
Colin: Yeah those were the days.
Col- Didn’t you get chucked out of Aquinas College in Dunedin in 1976 for a major incident involving explosives and toilets, too? And a sofa being thrown 5 stories down onto someone’s car?
Colin: The toilets on top of Mount Albert...
The first time I blew them up was in early 1974 with Mike Moroney. On that occasion, it was broad daylight after school, using ten packets of thundercrackers gaffer taped together under one rim, the toilet bowl back-filled with ballast from a nearby pile of gravel and chipping stones donated by the local council. I still remember hiding a spade by the soccer field...and dutifully wandering back and forth filling the bowl. From memory, I think it was a dozen thundercrackers to a packet...all being an inch thick and 5" long...like smaller sticks of dynamite. So 10x12=120 sticks of explosive taped together ...that completely filled the ballast-lined bowl. The fuse was the Glo Plug cable used with remote control model aircraft at the time...one fuse to a gunpowder lined tray on a plinth of 120 other fuses.
I had a summer job in the holidays with the Stoker Model Shop in Remuera...30 bucks a week...and the complete earnings from this period were spent on Glo Plug fuse and at Wah Lee, a Chinese Emporium near Hobson Street, that sold skyrockets for the myriad of Chinese festivals, year round. Elderly, inscrutable and wise Mr. Wah Lee was more than willing to supply $125 of explosives to a Caucasian 15 year old for responsible festival merriment. It took me three trips on the Number 7 bus to get those bastards home.... in huge cardboard boxes that I carried from Owairaka Avenue all the way up to Pickens Crescent..where I stored them in my cupboard under camping gear...so my Mother would not forage around.
Around this time, Hugo Holden released hundreds of huge Asian hissing cockroaches from the Biology lab at Mount Albert Grammar and threw a nugget of pure lithium from the Science lab into the school swimming pool...which also hissed and fizzed, ignited and exploded ....as several 4th formers cleared the decks quicker than Mark Spitz. The school had to be fumigated over a weekend.
Back to the toilets...
This early experiment was a partial failure... although it sounded as if the Battle of Stalingrad erupted inside the building. All the thundercrackers were going off at slightly mistimed intervals.... the roof , door and walls were completely peppered by shrapnel, but the smoking toilet bowl itself was miraculously intact with a few chinks missing....a near indestructible Armitage Shanks from memory....( Armitage Shanks sounds like a compatriot of Sherlock Holmes) and it silenced local bird life for a few minutes. It was decided to go back to the drawing board and design a bastard that would not let us down. We knew the fuses worked...but what we needed was synchronized timing..one huge explosion...
Chris: A Krakatoa?
Colin: Or even two Krakatoas.
After the dust cleared a month later, we returned. We sliced open hundreds of thundercrackers and skyrockets...emptying the contents into a large box. Using four large paint tins...each choker full of gunpowder. We inserted them into the ballast filled bowls of four cubicles...Ladies and Gents respectively. In with the deeply buried tins and ballast were smaller screw top tins full of gasoline...all with Glo Plug fuses of proportionate length poked through tiny openings. We spent hours getting the timings right...approximately 30 seconds from our vantage point behind the trees. When lit, these fuses worked without air or even under water...so there was little doubt this part of the experiment would succeed.
We decided to go for a night operation...partly because of stealth and safety...partly for the spectacle...and partly to scare the bejeezus out of any late night arse cruisers around the joint.
We filled the bogs in earlier, before dark. The remaining details, in the weak council lights...hiding the lines, hooking the fuses and seating the tins took a while. Besides, no one visited hilltop bogs at night. We waited in a recess by the footy field (soccer)....it seemed an age....in quietness for the right time. We saw a car draw up by the gates to the park...someone in the shadows hanging around the trees in moonlight...waiting for another shadowy figure to arrive.
At moonlight. Inside park gates. Under trees by a deserted hilltop bog in suburban Auckland. So nothing unusual going on then...
Chris: No, nothing unusual.
Colin: We did not check to see if the buildings were occupied...some 60 yards away. Consequences, or cause and effect generally....were rarely considered. There were shapes in the shadows and that was good enough for me. I lit the fuses and off they hissed like fizzing snakes in the long grass, winding their way unseen to their appointment with destiny. I heard a hollow PPFFUFF...an orange and white flash...then another one half a second behind...then the biggest mother of a BLAKKAMM...like a thousand Rawhide whips...followed by another thundering, thudding BLAMMM. We saw bolting figures in the shadows ...as orange, white and blue flashed asunder like God's judgment. It beggared belief as red tiles, wood, porcelain, gravel and steel all shattered the night air in an unholy alliance of shrapnel, smoke and carnage. It was one of the greatest...a huge success...a bloody great hole in the roof of the Gents...gun-smoke...gravel and rubble...splintered doors...and not a sign of three of the four bowls. We beat Armitage Shanks. Number four had the bottom stub of porcelain bolted to the floor.
We got on our bikes, in the dappled streetlights in case the Police had dogs...and cycled the long way round the mountain. I got home and Dad was up having a cheese sandwich. "Where have you been laddie?" he asked ." Great night for a bike ride " I replied, as distant sirens wailed. He gave me that quizzical Sergeant Major look." A bike ride...balls" and his voice trailed off. It was never mentioned again.
Keith: One book by Barry Crump, was called “Bastards I have Met”. It and a few of his similar offerings sold 4 million copies in New Zealand, when the population was just over 3 million. The population is over 4 million by now with the way the islanders and boat people are breeding up. Man when I think of all the things that were done, and wrote it, it would be termed “great fiction” by the walking dead who write book reviews...but it's the truth.
Contact Chris: email@example.com