First in our series of “Coach Knows” features.

Allan is a familiar face on both trail and tar in the Cape. Former founder and Chairman of Hout Bay Harriers, he is currently the Chairman of Wild Runner Athletic Club as well as Trail Running Association of the Western Province (TrailWP) and steering committee member of ASA’s Mountain and Trail Running division.

Allan has been running since 1983, and coaching since 1986. He is an ASA Level II Long & Middle-Distance Coach and WP Level II Long & Middle-Distance Coach. His list of running credentials could span a half marathon course, but include highlights such as a Two Oceans Ultra permanent number made up of 13 consecutive silvers and 31 medals in total. He is working towards a goal of 50 Oceans medals in total. His Oceans personal best (PB) stands at 3 hours, 27 minutes and 41 seconds, which placed him 14th overall. Allan also has a permanent number at the Peninsula Marathon, with a PB on that course of 2 hours 31 minutes and 48 seconds. Additional permanent numbers include the Redhill Classic, Knysna Marathon, and the Table Mountain 16km. In total, Allan has completed 179 marathons, with a lifetime marathon PB at Cango of 2 hours 30 minutes and 59 seconds. The grand masters need to watch their backs, as Allan has just pinned on his number 60, but he has spent the past 10 years rocking top spot in the master’s category of trail events such as our Helderberg Mountain Challenge, Jonkershhoek Mountain Challenge, Marloth Mountain Challenge, as well as the infamous PUFfeR Ultra, Hout Bay Trail Challenge and VWS Trail. The list goes on, and it is long, but he’s a long way off stepping away from his running shoes and he has plenty of goals on a long bucket list, including all effort to achieve a sub 3 hour marathon in his new age category, as well as a sub 4 hour Oceans. If you are looking for sage running advice, he’s your guy.

After turning 60yrs in July 2017, and still insanely passionate about my running, after 35 years, there is no limitation between me and the next runner’s high on trail or road. My passion and pleasure has been derived in both arenas over the years”, says Allan.

I started road running in 1983 and trail racing in 2005. In the early ‘80s, we used to run all the well-known trail runs of today, all the time, as training runs. Just not with all the bumph that is used today! Our gear included shorts, shirt, running shoes, a bank bag (the original collapsible water cup). Boland 80km Trail and the likes were favourites for Comrades training. Trail running has been the backbone of training and success for many runners over many decades. TR only really formalised in SA into races during the early 2000’s. Since then it has boomed into an international industry and sport. My belief is that TR opens a door to a multitude of fresh young talent. TR has helped SA to identify latent talent in so many athletes that road or otherwise would not have noticed, due to all the administrative bungling.

When I got badly injured at the end of 1983, I was treated by Graeme Lindenberg (Physiotherapist). Graeme took me under his wing, and became my mentor and coach and set me on the right path to proper training. Within a year, we became competitors and it all changed from there. Those were good running times.

The golden rule was and still is…. “When the gun goes for the start of the race, you lose all your friends. When you cross the finish line, you get them back. Until then show no mercy. Pain is your ally, make them feel it.””

Although Allan’s running career has been impressively consistent, there was a dark patch that began in 1993 that many runners can relate to.

It is a painful blemish and is an infliction that breaks so many athletes down; some never to return to the sport.

During the end of 1993 and into 1994, I reached a point where my belief in the training and the ambition just took a number of steps sideways. Training was too intense. The self-imposed pressure to do better got way ahead of me. To the extent that I started Oceans (56km) in 1994 and ran to 28km around 1:44:16. Having pit stopped twice, feeling sick and just feeling overwhelmed that I had to finish this race in a good time. Knowing that all I really had to do was to gain control and run easy for the remaining 28km, and it would be another Silver medal in the bag.

I came to a sudden decision to stop, get into the car (my support team was waiting), and just go home, and quit. Not just quit for the day, but to walk away from the sport that I loved so much and which had given me so much for so many years. It was over, I was done! No convincing could change that.

This patch prevailed throughout 1994, 1995 and 1996. I was unfit and content. I played golf, lots of it, and got down to a handicap of 9. 1997 loomed. I turned 40, and was living in Constantia, directly behind the VOB sports grounds. Day in and day out I witnessed these folks doing their thing, as I worked from my office at home. Meeting for their club runs, running in groups, looking happy. Just having fun with no pressure.

I think I can do this too” popped into my head, again. Only this time it was, “I know I can do this, and I know I want to do this again. This time I will be smart”

I joined VOB running club, joined in the runs and the fun and just let it happen naturally. I met up with old running mates and competitors from years before and slowly allowed the desire and the passion to creep back in. The rest is history. What I have learned from it all is that running is a huge part of my life. I am passionate about it, and I have a very strong will and drive to achieve at it. As long as I keep it a passion and not an obsession, then I will be okay”.

Allan’s personal running heroes echo his running philosophy.

My running heroes started out with Alberto Salazar. Setting the world marathon record. One of the toughest and hardest athletes and trainers of all time. Most of my approach to training and coaching is based on Al’s methodologies.

Joan Benoit Samuelson was another hero who set the world alight in her day with her sheer determination and guts. Setting the Ladies world marathon record.

My local heroes list includes Bruce Fordyce (everyone in SA reveres his talents), Ewald Bonzet (if there was a distance to be run on track, XC or road, he held the record for it at some point. Errol Green (one of the best/toughest/most out spoken athletes this country has ever produced across multiple disciplines). Len Keating – Legend. Coached myself and Errol (2:14) to our marathon PB’s. Master of the pain threshold. “Pain is just a door that you open to get to your next awesome achievement” Bruce Matthews – Legend. Training partner and coaching mind of immense talent. Dave Spence – Coach and Teacher, had such incredible talent in being able to fine tune your skills for the present moment. Dave set me up for my Rhodes Ultra win.

Let us not forget Chet Sainsbury; a legend and mentor in so many ways. On the road and in the boardroom. What he did for our sport as an administrator was just unprecedented.

And Ryan Sandes – Wow. Ryan took on the world of Trail running in the mid-2000s. Many were sceptical but he proved them wrong on so many fronts and at so many levels. He did it then and he is still doing it now. He remains a work in progress. Just when you begin thinking it is time to start drifting off, this “Sandman” will come along and give you reason to sit up and listen.

But of all the advice that Allan has for runners, this remains his personal go-to:

You do not know it all. I certainly don’t. Every day is a learning opportunity. No matter what, there is always something positive to take away from your experience. A bad run/race is part of the habit of growing. If you don’t crash and burn, you don’t learn. Consistency is your key to being a better runner. My pearl of wisdom is that you build a strong endurance foundation no matter the intended race distance. Foundation, foundation, foundation. Think of it as the foundation to your Pyramid. A bigger foundation provides a bigger Pyramid. The bigger the base the higher the peak”.