John Herring

Distance runner who became course director of the London Marathon

John Bryan Herring, runner and athletics administrator: born London 10 April 1935; Assistant Director, Crystal Palace Sports Centre 1970-87; start co-ordinator, London Marathon 1982-93, course director 1993-96; married 1958 Shirley Dyer (one son, two daughters); died Lavenham, Suffolk 7 October 2003.

John Herring was a runner who understood runners. Good enough to compete for Britain in his youth, Herring made an even greater impact on the sport through his work, for over 20 years, with the London Marathon. While the inspiration for the Marathon came from Chris Brasher and John Disley, it was Herring, as much as anyone, who gave the event its heart.

The inaugural London Marathon in 1981 was heralded as a ground-breaking event, but the start of the race had been chaotic. Herring was drafted in the following year to sort it out and did just that. There were 7,000 runners in 1981 and almost double that number lined up a year later, but this time everything went smoothly - as things invariably did when Herring was in charge.

For the next 14 years, during which time the race numbers crept up to and above the 30,000 mark, Herring was pivotal to the London Marathon organisation. More than anything, what counted was his ability to smooth the way for changes by listening and responding to people's concerns. Problems were solved over lunch or dinner and with a good bottle of Barolo, a policy that seldom failed him. "He liked his food and his wine, but he kept people on side and made a lot of friends, really just by caring for people. It was as simple as that," said Disley.

Although Herring became progressively more important to the event, eventually taking over responsibility for the entire course in 1993, he seldom enjoyed a comfortable relationship with Brasher. While Herring was a passionate man, he was even-tempered and always rational, a devotee of detail and a lover of lists. Brasher's fire burnt differently; he was a man of extremes, brilliant or unbearable in equal measure.

So when Brasher urged innovation, it often foundered on Herring's logic. "When they argued, I usually sided with John, firstly because he was usually right, and secondly because I couldn't bear the thought of replacing him," said Disley. For years, despite the extraordinary success of the London Marathon, Herring and Brasher hardly exchanged a word outside the regular Marathon meetings.

Herring had been involved in distance running all his life. In the Sixties, he was close to the top of a talented generation of distance runners. So high was the standard then that, just a few months before his death, Herring was able to note with some irony that in his peak he ran the 5000 metres faster than the winner of this year's world championships trials, such is the current poverty of British distance running.

There were no world championships in the Sixties, but Herring, a lifelong member of Blackheath Harriers in south-east London, did make the Tokyo Olympic team in 1964, aged 29, though an injury in Japan meant that he ran below his best and did not qualify for the final.

Herring worked for Customs and Excise during the Sixties, and was allowed time off for his running. In 1970, he took a job closer to his heart when he was appointed assistant director of the National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace, with particular responsibility for the athletics stadium. During his years at Crystal Palace, Herring was also involved with the International Athletes' Club (IAC), effectively a runners' trade union, but which also organised athletic events. In his capacity as chairman of the IAC he became race director for the first IAC Coca-Cola meeting at Crystal Palace. Those annual IAC events, later promoted by the current race director of the London Marathon Dave Bedford, would usher in the new age of professional athletics.

A persistent Achilles tendon injury meant that Herring's own running was curtailed shortly after he started working for the Marathon. He took to swimming with the same dedication as he ran; a 1000m swim every morning before work. During his time with the Marathon - he continued to work as a consultant after retiring as course director in 1996 - Herring was also a considerable fund-raiser for Great Ormond Street Hospital, applying his organisational skills in raising around half a million pounds through sponsored runners. It was done unobtrusively.

Peter Nichols

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own