Britain is forced to play catch-up

Today marks the 20th running of the London Marathon. It promises to be the most memorable yet. Never before has a such a wealth of high-speed marathon runners toed the same start line. Sadly, though, none of those speed merchants happens to be British. Never before has Britain's marathon stock run so low. Last year only one Briton ran faster than 2hr 15min in any marathon. Nine of the overseas entrants for today's race have broken 2:08.

"The state of British marathon running is nowhere near what it used to be," Lindsay Dunn, one of Britain's leading distance running coaches, acknowledged. "At one time, when I was a member of Gateshead Harriers, we had five runners in our club who could run under 2:15. What you can do about it... it's very, very difficult. But somehow, somewhere along the line, we have to start making inroads."

UK Athletics has already made a start. Last month the domestic governing body appointed Dunn to an innovative new role, National Marathon Potential Coach. Considering his impressive track record, it promises to be a big step in the right direction. Dunn happens to be the only guru who has guided a British athlete to an Olympic marathon medal in the past 36 years. As a coaching adviser, he helped to plot Charlie Spedding's path to bronze behind Carlos Lopes and John Treacy in Los Angeles in 1984. With Dunn's guidance, Spedding also won the London Marathon in 1984 and ran 2.08:33 as runner-up to Steve Jones in the 1985 race, a time that still stands as the English marathon record.

"The basic idea is to try to identify potential future marathon stars," Dunn said. "I'll be working with Norman Brook, the Technical Director of Endurance Running for UK Athletics, and we'll be looking at good distance runners who are maybe planning to move up to the marathon over the next few years and offering support to them and their coaches. It's not going to have any great impact this year, for the Sydney Olympics. What we're really looking at is between now and the 2004 Olympics.

"One of the things we'll be looking for is people who run well in the Great North Run or in any of the other big half-marathons or 10-milers. It could be that they are either not coached or that their coach perhaps has no experience of international running. In that case, we'll try and point them in the right direction - the coach as well as the runner - and try to help them as much as we can. Broadly speaking, we're just looking to offer help where we can, in coach education, athlete education - really anything we can do to bring them on. A good example was me going out to Germany last weekend."

Dunn spent Friday to Monday in the northern German town of Detmold, observing and absorbing the coaching methods of Volker Wagner, the man behind the two leading women entrants for the Flora London Marathon - Tegla Loroupe, holder of the women's world best time for the marathon, and Joyce Chepchumba, last year's London winner. "It's given me a lot of food for thought," Dunn said. "The way they train is on a totally different level to what we're doing in this country. The quality, the intensity and the volume of their sessions is on a higher level than anyone in this country would even dream about doing. It's going to be a long, rocky road for British marathon running to try to catch up."

In his own running prime (he still competes as a veteran), Dunn never quite made it to international level. He was not far away, though. He ran 23:20 for five miles, was runner-up to Walter Wilkinson in the North of England championship mile, twice won the north-east mile title and was a member of Gateshead Harriers teams that won national cross-country and road-relay titles. He started in coaching by advising his Gateshead club-mate and training partner, Brendan Foster, and his many successes, apart from the 1976 Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist, have included guiding Barry Smith to the IAAF Golden 5,000m title in 1981 and Geoff Turnbull to a World Student Games 1500m bronze medal.

"I haven't coached as many marathon runners as I have runners at other distances," Dunn said, "but I feel the percentage of success I've had with marathon runners has been far greater. The schedule I use is different to what other people use. I've used it with Charlie and with other people I've coached and it seems to have worked for all of them."

The latest beneficiary could emerge today - not on the streets of London, but in Hamburg, Germany, where Dominic Bannister, one of Britain's leading cross-country runners and a member of Dunn's training group, takes up the challenge of the marathon for the first time.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Account Manager

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Account Manager is requi...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

£35-45K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer / Web ...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Manager - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Commercial Manager is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
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