Birds of a feather plot London Marathon triumph

Liz McColgan has Grete Waitz to thank for resurrecting her ailing career.
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The Independent Online
Grete Waitz accomplished much during her running career, but in the last year she has achieved something rare indeed - persuading Liz McColgan to change her mind.

The 31-year-old Scotswoman - always determined, sometimes dour - will toe the line in the Flora London Marathon on Sunday a far more relaxed and confident athlete than she was a year ago thanks to Waitz's intercession.

Soon after the last London Marathon, where she finished fifth, McColgan wrote to the legendary Norwegian - twice a winner in London, nine times in New York - to take her up on an offer she had made to coach her.

Waitz, who now lives in Gainesville, Florida, noticed McColgan while the Scotswoman was training there in the winter before the 1994 race. "When I saw her I just shook my head," Waitz said yesterday. "She was running 140 miles a week and she looked tired all the time. I told her I didn't want to interfere, but if she wanted my advice or my help, I was available."

A few months later, after finishing a far from happy fifth in London, McColgan wrote to the Norwegian. It was not easy for her to do. "Grete has always been an idol of mine," McColgan said. "Even though I'd won the world title and everything, to go up and talk to someone you had looked up to all your life - it was quite an intimidating feeling."

She has not regretted her decision. Since linking up with Waitz, her mileage has come down to something closer to 100 miles a week, and she has mixed in track sessions as she used to in 1991 when she won the world 10,000 metres title. And she is feeling good on it.

"Very many runners go from one training system to another because they read about what others are doing," Waitz said. "I think Liz was a little bit insecure. When we sat down and talked it was just a case of getting her to go back to the type of training she did five or six years ago.

"We speak the same language. I have been where Liz is. I tell Liz, `I have done the mistakes for you so you don't have to do them.' My biggest problem was to convince her she should have some easy days in her training.

"Sometimes she has tried to do it a little bit her way and a little bit mine and I have not been happy with that. So I said either do it my way or we don't do it at all." So now they do it her way.

"It is very, very difficult to get someone you can talk to and has the same ideas as yourself," McColgan said. "Grete and myself are on the same wavelength. The biggest problem I had when I was self-trained was that I would tend to be too hard on myself. With Grete I have more confidence about easing back. I trust her judgement.

"If I had not met Grete when I did I would probably have just run myself into the ground. I was getting injury after injury. I would probably still have been running and still hitting my head against the wall, not getting the performances I should have done."

Both are confident that Sunday could mark an end to that sequence. "When I see what Liz is doing in training and look at what I did I don't see any reason why she can't run as fast as I did or even faster," Waitz said. "With the marathon, anything can happen on the day. But based on her training, she should win on Sunday."