Brian Morgan is one of those endurance athletes who just kept on keeping on. His career is impressive and though some of his best performances were swamped by the rapid improvement in Australian distance running from the mid 1970s onwards, they are revered by Newcastle locals who raced during that era. Brian’s name crops up everywhere in the NSW and Australian distance racing scenes, across all disciplines: track, road, cross country, mountain running, fun runs and club association events.
Brian’s developing years coincided with an explosion of fun runs in NSW. They provided an opportunity for the best in NSW, and other states, to compete against each other week in week out, complemented by club events and the NSW AAA winter competition. Brian raced frequently, winning and placing against top shelf competition, achieving Australian representation in the marathon.
Brian describes himself as versatile. His ideal range was 10000 metres to marathon. While he enjoyed cross country, he raced on rhythm, and found his style better suited to the road. A big mileage man, his performances below 10000 metres suffered due to a tendency to train through these events without easing down. He had a penchant for doubling up in races on the weekends. However, anyone who competed against Brian knows that on his day he was a tough competitor, so strong, a human metronome, who ground it out until you dropped.
Typically understated, and many times underestimated by his opposition, a NSW mainstay into the 1990s, Brian’s career was peppered with ill luck, intersected by flashes of what could have been. This is his story.
- Personal Bests
1500 3:53, Sydney, 1975
3000 8:07, London, 1983
5000 14:07.1, Sydney, 1981
10000 29:00:8, Melbourne, 1982
Half marathon 64:26, Rome, 1983
Marathon 2:16:27, Vancouver, 1981
- Career Highlights
Brian competed in 26 marathons and aspired to selection in the 1982 Commonwealth Games and 1984 Olympics. He was part of a burgeoning Australian distance running scene, an exciting time of renewal in NSW, in parallel with the rise of de Castella, who did so much to lift Australian standards. While he largely remained in the ‘supporting cast’ nationally, Brian featured prominently in some key races of that era. There were many runners of similar calibre, within NSW and around Australia, vying for international representation. Though there was a palpable camaraderie in the Australian distance running community, it was highly competitive, with an everchanging pecking order behind David Fitzsimmons and Chris ‘Rabs’ Wardlaw after Montreal 1976, and Rob de Castella and Andrew Lloyd into the 1980s. Not to mention the see sawing careers of such luminaries as Bill ‘the Living Legend’ Scott, Gerard Barrett, Steve Austin, Dave Chettle, John Andrews and Lawrie Whitty, many of this group affected by extended periods of injury.
Brian considers two fun runs as the most significant races of his early career, the Bacchus and Gosford to Terrigal events of 1977 and 1978, respectively. It is difficult to explain to the current generation how prevalent fun runs were in the 1970s and early 1980s. They were halcyon days, with frenetic weekend activity around the state(s). Today we have running festivals, well organised and full weekend events. Back then, particularly in NSW, there were multiple fun runs, held at many different locations, with little coordination. It was a packed calendar and as Brian said, ‘it was lucrative if you chose well.’ To emphasise the point Brian cited Andrew Lloyd and Danny Boltz who were flatmates and club mates, being secretive with each other about their choice of fun runs, and going their separate ways over the weekend to ensure they had a chance of winning. ‘Sharing the spoils.’
Some of Brian’s best memories include placing third in two of the Big M Melbourne Marathons and twice placing amongst the top three domestic runners in Australian Marathon Championships, winning the Vancouver International Marathon of 1981, representing Australia in other international marathons (Philippines 1980, Montreal 1981, Vancouver 1982, Macau 1987) and racing in England and Italy for Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers in 1983.
Brian’s career can be broken into four distinct phases: running as a kid and developing into someone of potential up until 1977, making the grade as a young elite 1978 to 1981, attempting to make Games teams 1982 to 1984, and a resurgent phase from 1987 onwards after two years of debilitating illness.
- Some Personal Information
Brian has always lived in Newcastle and Hunter Valley environs. Born in November 1955, he grew up in Waratah, one of the oldest working-class suburbs of Newcastle. After high school he fell into teaching (primary), also his wife’s vocation, Sue (nee Jones). Sue was to become a respected principal in the Catholic School system. Though Denman born, she resided in Lake Munmorah (Central Coast) when they first met. Sue was a middle and longer distance runner, her father also a distance runner. Their lifetime partnership has been a source of great strength to Brian in managing his running career, navigating the challenges of life and overcoming adverse health.
By the early 1990s Brian had scaled down his training in concert with Sue’s career advancement (principalship). Any thoughts of running ended dramatically as poor health took hold, and other life priorities became more prominent. He suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) upon turning 40: ‘I couldn’t get myself out of bed.’ By 1996 he had ceased running altogether and was confined to a wheelchair for six months. ‘It took 10 years to fully recover from CFS.’ He reflects on this as a difficult period in his life, but that ‘you just have to get on with it and maintain a positive mindset.’
Brian observes that a range of vaccinations required to travel to India in 2006 on a Social Justice Immersion Experience with colleagues from the Maitland/Newcastle Catholic Diocese seemed to have a positive effect on his condition and by 2007 he felt much improved. The next year Brian and Sue managed a group of Year 11 students from the Diocese on an Indian Immersion Experience. Thereafter his improving health enabled a new phase in his life and the eventual creation of their not-for-profit association, SIM’s (Schools Immersion Mission) Cambodia Inc.
Its aim is to break the cycle of poverty by creating education infrastructure (including new buildings and renovations) and delivering education support services to remote and jungle communities of Cambodia. SIM’s Cambodia Inc. also provides water and sanitation to remote villages with support from Rotary Australia World Community Service (RAWCS).
Though Brian no longer runs, he enjoys recreational bush walking.
- Philosophy, Influences and Insights
Brian was, and is, of his community, a runner who supported and raced in Newcastle and NSW events. As a young kid coming up through the ranks in the 1970’s he was a regular competitor at the weekly Newcastle cross country and road events and NSW AAA winter races. This never really changed. ‘Is Brian running?’ was the first question asked at local races, a measure of the respect he garnered from the Newcastle distance running fraternity. He won with monotonous regularity against most local competition, from his late teens onwards. Only the later rise of David Forbes gave him any real concerns. He also challenged himself in NSW race fixtures and championships that included runners of the ilk of John Farrington, John Stanley, Rob McDonald and Dennis Nee, largely out of the places, but gradually working his way through to the top echelon of NSW distance runners.
Reflecting on his career, Brian provides the following insights:
He cites the connections made and relationships formed as key motivations. He states that those connections are life lasting, and talks warmly about the ease with which he has reconnected with fellow runners from the past as though it was yesterday. His advice to today’s runners is ‘to enjoy the journey, first and foremost.’
His racing ethos was simple: ‘I competed as honestly as possible. I tended to push the pace and run the legs off the others. I had no kick so I really had no other choice. I always gave it my best shot.’ While this was a successful tactic in his many wins, it generated variable outcomes in races against those of similar ability.
‘Back in my era, when NSW was trying to lift its standards, the Victorians had it over us, meeting at Caulfield Racecourse and the Dandenongs on a regular basis, and training in groups. I see the Kenyans train in large groups so there must be something to it. Though the top NSW guys did attempt to get together more often, the travelling to meet up and employment commitments were disincentives that couldn’t be overcome. We were a disparate bunch. Outside of racing I had the most to do with Rob McDonald, Wayne Brennan and John Andrews, Steve Poulton and Lawrie Whitty tending to do their own thing. I was also a loner and liked the immediacy of running from home, integrating the running into my life routine. John and I trained together a lot during 1976, when I attended Teachers College at Castle Hill, and later we kept in touch. We only lived one kilometre away from each other. Back at home I remember taking Wayne, Rob and John Maddison (local Newcastle runner) for runs through the Watagan mountains. Good tough courses. Rob and the others used to come up to Newcastle occasionally for training weekends, and at times the group would meet elsewhere in NSW, such as Freeman’s Waterhole and Jilliby on the Central Coast.’
‘I took my inspiration from the readings of Lydiard. As a teenager I grabbed everything I could from Clarke, Elliott, and Cerutty. I was impressed by Clayton’s mileage, especially considering he was working full time and I found the writings of Bruce Tulloh (Tulloh on Running 1968) effective in my mid-teens. During the first part of my elite phase, up until 1984, I fasted regularly, to detox and cleanse my system. One of my longest fasts was six days. I found it highly beneficial to my running. But this waxed and waned later, as my motivation ebbed, due to serious illness and changes in personal priorities from 1984 onwards. I experimented with a vegetarian diet for a while but gradually reintroduced lean meats back into my diet a couple of times a week which is still maintained.’
‘During my best years I was averaging 200 kilometres per week. Up until the age of 18 my training had been inconsistent and low volume, with some occasional long runs. Once I transitioned to a regular routine of high mileage, I became more competitive against a cohort of NSW aspiring elites that included the likes of Gosford’s Peter Bromley (current CEO of Athletics Australia). Actually, prior to the Montreal Marathon of 1981 I hit a couple of 240 kilometres weeks.’
‘Faster work was done on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (if not racing). Typically, mile or kilometre reps on Tuesday, 400s on Thursday and 2×3000 metres on Saturday. I ran twice a day on week days, usually 10 kilometres each morning and rarely eased up for a race, apart from marathons. In fact, in 1981 I ran my best City to Surf, finishing fifth in 42:28 (Deek 40:08) after a 20 miles training run the previous morning. I did weights during high school, but didn’t really continue with them, opting for yoga and stretching. My time was limited as Sue and I were teaching full time.’
- Phase One: Developing Years
Brian talks fondly of his primary school years, ‘I was the fastest in the class.’ Aged eight years old he was involved in street races with other kids and ‘beat them all’. By ten years of age his best mate encouraged him to join an athletics club, Myers Park, but ‘Mum wouldn’t let me join unless I won my next race, which was an 800 metres Newcastle regional event.’ Having finished second the previous year, Brian won, and the rest is history, as they say.
In his early to mid-teens, Brian occasionally ran long runs of 25 to 30 kilometres, during family holidays on the sands of Forster-Tuncurry, sometimes barefoot. He had obvious talent, running 2:07 for 800 metres and 9:07.8 for 3000 metres, aged 14. He ran his first marathon at Newcastle, aged 15. This arose from a bet with a friend, Martin Pitts. Even at this age Brian set high standards for himself, describing his result as a ‘pathetic 3:28’. Pitts dropped out at 18 kilometres. The next year Brian ran it again in 3:01:48, having averaged 37 miles per week in training, vowing not to run another one ‘until I could run a good one.’
Brian progressed nicely during his teens, which included club racing trips to New Zealand where he achieved a New Zealand junior record of 6:02.4 in the 2000 metres steeplechase, that lasted only one week. On 31 March 1974 Brian surprised himself, finishing fourth in the Australian Junior (under 19) steeplechase championship, running 4:17.7 for the 1500 metre event off a very low training base.
In 1974 Brian recalls speaking to Tony Manning, 1970 Commonwealth Games steeplechase champion, during a training run, about whether to stick with the steeple. Injury prone, Tony was residing on the Central Coast and attempting a short-lived comeback. A good mate of Sue’s father, he was training with Steve Manuel’s group and competing in Newcastle cross country races. Tony told Brian to give it up, that the risk of injury was too great. A beautiful stylist who ran high on his toes, Brian has vivid memories of Tony wearing Dunlop Volleys with heel sponges in his shoes running through the hills of the Watagans.
Brian hit his first ‘100’ training week in 1974 (twice actually), aged 18, and found the increased winter mileage beneficial to his road racing. However, the combination of work and education commitments meant his training remained inconsistent until 1975, when he gradually introduced a regular 100 mile per week training regime. During 1975 Brian started to win higher profile fun runs in NSW, like the Newcastle and Fishers Ghost events, and was selected as first reserve for the NSW Cross Country Team, a signal that he was on the improve. By February 1976 Brian had placed in the NSW 5000 metres and 10000 metres track championships with modest times. He improved to 14:31.4 a couple of weeks later and 29:53.2 in November. In both instances he beat Nee, one of the ‘top dogs’ of the Sydney scene and winner of the 1975 City to Surf.
5.1 Bacchus Fun Run, 9 April 1977
This race has a special place in Brian’s heart. In its early days ‘the Bacchus’ was a magnet for some of Australia’s top distance runners, with overseas trips on offer. In a quirky Newcastle connection, the Race Organiser for a time was Glyn Cox who represented NSW in the marathon and competed for the Newcastle University Club during the mid 1970s. Aged 21, the 1977 event was Brian’s break through race into the top elite level nationally. Billed as a matchup between Montreal Olympic 10000 metre finalists Wardlaw and Fitzsimmons, the advertised 12 kilometres road race was actually 11.6 kilometres. There were 450 starters and 380 finished. Wardlaw ran away from a class field that included a young Deek. Race reports say that Rabs coasted home uncontested from the top of the hill at nine kilometres.
Brian recalls that he ‘got caught up in the excitement of racing against these guys, and though I just followed I found myself in second place at three kilometres’, Deek and Fitzsimmons running next to him as his two shadows. Eventually Deek pulled away surging up the hills and Brian thought he had dropped Fitsimmons, ‘but Fitzie came back at me on the oval and passed me with 300 to go.’ Wardlaw and Deek beat Wardlaw’s 1976 race record (35:18) with 34:39 and 35:10 respectively, Fitzsimmons and Brian running 35:21 and 35:31. Top Victorian, Bryan Lewry, finished fifth in 35:45. One year younger than Brian (and the same age as Deek), Lewry had just returned from representing Australia at the Dusseldorf World Cross Country Championships, his first of four consecutive Australian Cross Country singlets. A portend of things to come, 17 years old Whitty finished ninth, 26 secs behind Brian. Brian had run himself right out, nothing left in the tank.
In the exuberance of youth, Brian backed up the next day to win the Up the Mountain event. ‘Australia’s steepest race’ was two kilometres of a near 2000 feet vertical climb from Thredbo Valley Terminal to Mt Crackenback Terminal. Ten years later Brian Lenton described the 1977 event as ‘…the most exciting finish ever in the history of the race, with only six seconds separating the first three placegetters.’ Brian ran 22:04 to Jim Box’s 22:07 and Gerry Van Der Ploeg’s 22:10. Recalling other experiences of this race, Brian remembers a Nordic skier leading one year – ‘he was a hulk of a man. He took off at the start but 50 metres from the finish line he just stopped in his tracks and I was able to pass him. It was a bloody tough event.’ Although his winning time was nowhere near Laurie Toogood’s race record of 21:07 set in 1972, given his race the day before and his previous best of 1976 (24:33), Brian’s performance was another supreme effort, showcasing a high level of racing resilience. Of interest, Poulton later achieved 20:08 before the course was changed.
Clearly Brian had arrived on the national scene, at least that’s what the Newcastle distance running fraternity thought at the time. Already a local hero, he was becoming someone to watch.
- Phase Two: Making the Grade
6.1 Gosford to Terrigal Fun Run, 19 August 1978
The Gosford to Terrigal Fun Run of 11 kilometres was a premier event in the 1970s, offering overseas trips to the winner. The 1978 race was a loaded field including Deek, Scott (a future Moscow Olympian), Julian Goater (to become 1981 English National Cross Country Champion), and prominent NSW competitors. In the 1977 event Brian had run 33:05 to beat Nee, the previous year’s winner and current NSW Cross Country Champion, and a languishing 18 years old Lloyd who finished sixth. While he was expecting a difficult repeat race, he had no inkling the other three ‘outsiders’ had entered. In a hard-fought race that included Nee and local hot shot Bromley, Brian finished fourth in 33:32 behind Deek 32:24, Goater 32:46 and Scott 33:12.
6.2 Cross Country
Two weeks prior to the ‘Gosford to Terrigal’ Brian had finished second, an estimated 40 seconds behind Andrews in the 1978 NSW Cross Country Championships, and well ahead of everyone else. Though disqualified for not entering the race, after some argument, he was reinstated. This was one of a number of occasions when officialdom denied receiving Brian’s mailed entry form, causing undue anxiety. Mail from Newcastle to Sydney, how hard could it be? But the vagaries of Australia Post could play its part in a ‘country’ runner’s frustration with the bureaucracy back in the day.
On 3 September Brian finished 14th in the 12 kilometres 1978 Australian Cross Country Championships at Hawkesbury Agricultural College in Richmond, 90 seconds behind a rampaging Deek. In a highly competitive field Deek outlasted Scott and Tasmanian Kent Rayner by two and 28 seconds, respectively. While Brian ran with the big pack early in the race, he fell back during the second half, finishing a hairs breadth behind Poulton and McDonald. In a fickle relationship with cross country, this was the second, and last, occasion Brian raced at the National Championships.
Not to be outdone, in an inspired attempt to make the 1979 World Cross Country Team, on 29 January 1979 Brian competed in the final National Selection Trial at Sandown Park. A race report within the Autumn Victorian Marathon Club (VMC) newsletter describes the hot and humid conditions for a select field of 17 runners. In a race of Australian distance running legends, Rabs won the 12 kilometres event easily in 36:55, with Austin, Scott, McDonald, Deek and Lewry in his wake. It was five laps of a 2.4 kilometres grass parkland, one rise and one low hurdle per lap. In his own words Brian explains ‘I vaguely remember coming in around 13th but a very ordinary performance. Rob McDonald had an outstanding run qualifying…I averaged 201km per week for 21 weeks prior…I guess I was overdone…though I did finish second to Fitzsimmons in the 5000 at the Australian Track and Field Championships so I guess some of the hard work paid off…’ McDonald was the only New South Welshman selected for Limerick.
While Brian had proven that he could mix it with the best, his results were less convincing over cross country and shorter distances. This was a turning point in deciding to concentrate on racing at 10 kilometres and above, focusing on the marathon. He was not alone, NSW colleagues Poulton and Whitty soon transitioning to this event, and Lloyd starting to experiment with marathons early in his career. All were young and developing quickly. Brian’s foray into marathon running began on 26 May 1979 with an easy ten minutes win (2:27:14) at Newcastle, backing up the next day to finish 28 seconds behind Lloyd in a 10 kilometres fun run at Toronto, south of Newcastle.
6.3 Melbourne Marathons and Other Things
Brian competed in three Melbourne Marathons finishing third in 1979 and 1980, and sixth (fourth Australian) in 1990. Held during October, the 1979 and 1980 editions were notable because in both years NSW runners were prominent, and it was part of a triple consecutive winning streak by Lloyd, who went on to win again in 1981.
While the 1980 race was Brian’s fastest, 1979 proved to be the most gruelling. Held in searing 29 degree heat it was a ‘baptism of fire’ introduction to top level marathon racing. Dubbed the ‘Highway to Horror’ by the media there was much toing and froing amongst the pack, with all three placegetters’ leading at different stages of the race. At 25 kilometres Lloyd and Brian were 15 seconds behind Horst Wegner. Things changed dramatically over the next five kilometres with Lloyd leading Brian by 46 seconds at 30 kilometres and Wegner a few seconds away. Lloyd continued his charge to the finish while Wegner rallied to repass Brian for second place. The slow times reflected the conditions, Lloyd 2:26:44, Wegner 2:31:20, Morgan 2:32:09. Wegner, newly arrived in NSW from Germany, was a 2:18 performer. According to a humorous race report by Brian Lenton, the NSW runners were unknown to the Victorian mainstream media, race commentators describing Lloyd as ‘Allan’ in one telecast until this error was realised at the 40 kilometres mark! While unsure of the veracity of this claim, it rings true about what can be a parochial Victorian sporting outlook.
Outside of these two marathons, Brian’s competitive reputation was improving with strong performances in NSW AAA winter events and fun runs, highlights being fourth in the 1979 City to Surf 43:14 (Scott 41:54), a win in the 1979 Parramatta 10 mile of 48:40 and second in the classic ‘Parra’ race of 1980, 48:02 behind McDonald’s 47:49, and beating Whitty and Poulton. He also managed fourth place (seventh outright) in the Australian Marathon Championship of July 1980; 2.23.57 behind Whitty’s 2:19:00 and South Australian Grenville Wood 2:20:26, Stanley third Australian 2:22:43 – in wet and windy conditions. To put this marathon in context, the Olympic marathon trials had been held three months earlier at the same location (West Lakes Adelaide), with Barrett, Deek, Rabs and Garry Henry running 2:11:42, 2:12:24, 2:12:47 and 2:13:11 respectively, the first three selected for Moscow.
As preparation for his marathons of 1980, Brian broke the Australian track records for 25 and 30 kilometres for this rarely run event. They were ‘soft’ records of 84:12 and 1:44:16.8 set by two Victorians, Eero Keranen in 1974 (when 18 years old), and Fred Howe in 1964, respectively. Held on 24 May at Newcastle Athletic Field on a warm and windy day, McDonald and Poulton did the early pacing, Poulton lasting until 10 miles in 50:40 before dropping out. Brian’s original aim was to run 12 miles in the hour then continue through to claim both records. This wasn’t an unreasonable ambition, given he had achieved 19.29 kilometres (49:53 at 16 kilometres) during a Newcastle one hour track race in 1978. However, on this day the difficult conditions saw Brian crawl home over the last five kilometres, dropping to 18 minutes plus, running 98:33.5 for the full distance and 80.31.4 for 25 kilometres. ‘It felt as hard as a marathon.’ There were only a few diehard spectators.
Thirty-three years later, to the day, Scott Westcott, running alone on the same track, with a small local crowd in attendance, broke these records with 80:18/97:10 and Brian was there to witness it. Although Brian does not rate his own performance highly at all and Scott’s records were quickly superseded by Tasmanian Joshua Harris in 2016 (79:56/96:37.9), Brian and Scott’s runs have become part of local folklore, a minor footnote in Australia’s distance running history. It has to be said that Brian and Scott’s times are much slower than they ran in other road events and the existing national records remain comparatively ‘soft’ measured against current and past international performances.
On 30 August 1980, only one month after the Australian Marathon, Brian achieved his first Australian singlet, competing in the Philippines International Marathon in Manila. The formal race invitation was made at short notice, and included Norm Osborne as Australian Athletics Union ‘chaperone.’ In sweltering heat and high humidity Brian finished third to experienced campaigner John Stanley, 2:30:05 to 2:47:03. Although they arrived in Manila three days prior to the event, and drinks were offered every 2.5 kilometres, Brian was not able to acclimatise to the conditions and suffered severe dehydration. It was an inauspicious start to his international racing career, but a valuable experience, that included a visit to meet Tony Benson at Baguio in his capacity as National Distance Running Coach for the Philippines.
In a late turn of events, flights were delayed and Brian and John were requested to stay in Manila for the upcoming President Marcos Marathon Running Festival held on 6 September. Only manager Osborne was able to board a return flight. Barely seven days since his 2:30, Stanley performed remarkably in the ‘Marcos Marathon’, running 2:27 in oppressive conditions. Brian opted for a 20 kilometres race held in conjunction with the marathon. Both won their events.
With the Philippines experience still in his legs, Brian returned to Australia and set himself for his second Big M Melbourne Marathon, winning a Newcastle 10 kilometres fun run and finishing third in a hotly contested Bathurst 8 kilometres event behind McDonald and Andrews, but ahead of Lloyd and Whitty. There was an early hiccup to his Melbourne plans when his flight was delayed and he missed the pre-event media launch the evening before the marathon. Race Director, Ted Paulin, assumed he was a ‘no show’ and gave his designated race number 3 to late entry Bill Scott, the hometown favourite and inaugural winner in 1978. When Brian turned up on the morning of the race, he was handed number 6799. Despite his third placing in 1979, this resulted in some commentary in Melbourne television coverage about how the ‘unknown’ number 6799 is running such a great race, well above his station.
Scott had run 2:11:55 in the 1979 Fukuoka. He was known for his relentless pace setting and did not disappoint. In a tight race, in cool conditions, Lloyd, Scott and Brian were bunched at 30 kilometres with Lloyd leading in 97:25. Lloyd and Scott remained together to 35 kilometres (having dropped Brian), until Lloyd edged ahead and gradually extended his lead to the finish. Brian suffering a bad patch fell back to fourth place, and was 2:20 behind the leaders at 35 kilometres. In a gutsy performance, he managed to stave off a late challenge from Victorian Rob Neylon, finishing strongly and repassing Neylon during the last seven kilometres.
Times for placegetters were Lloyd 2:17:37, Scott 2:19:26, and Brian 2:22:03. Amongst a sea of Victorians Lloyd, Brian and Arthur Kingsland (2:30:29 and 15th), an expat Newcastle Harrier, were the only NSW finishers at the pointy end.
6.4 Vancouver International Marathon, 3 May 1981
After his mixed experience of marathons during 1980, Brian won the 1981 Vancouver International Marathon with a career best 2:16:27. This was also the Canadian Marathon Championship (as it was in 1980). Brian’s win completed an unusual hattrick of wins for Australia, Scott 2:15:56, and Henry 2:13:14, having won in 1979 and 1980, respectively.
Brian came to this event determined to defeat Whitty who had consistently beaten him in close races during the summer track season. In wet and blustery conditions on a difficult three loop course Whitty and Brian had a great stoush from half way onwards. Brian recalls that Whitty became fed up with parochial spectators yelling support for their’ favourite son’, John Hill. Hill, a Vancouver local, had won the 1978 event outright. Whitty surged from halfway with Brian hanging on and thereafter Brian and Lawrie traded the lead many times before Brian clawed Whitty back with two kilometres to go for the win. Whitty finished in 2:17:52. In the later stages the cold had set in, Brian was freezing and his arms became numb, and Whitty had bowel problems throughout the race. In a performance that ranked him sixth nationally for 1981/82, Brian always thought it was worth a 2:12-13, and raced his future marathons with that mindset.
In only his second marathon, ‘kiwi’ Roger Robinson, age 41, placed third in 2:18:45. Hill won the Canadian Championship finishing fourth in 2:19:16, Grenville Wood fifth, 2:19:50. Admittedly the course has changed over the years, but to this day, Brian’s result is the seventh fastest winning time ever for the Vancouver Marathon, an event that commenced in 1972. Henry’s time remains the event record and Robinson still holds the master’s record.
6.5 Montreal International Marathon, 13 September 1981
Post Vancouver, Brian continued to train and race well. ‘Two weeks before Montreal I ran the Gosford to Terrigal fun run again, breaking 33 minutes for the first time. I was in really good shape.’ Australian team members were Whitty, Poulton, Stanley and Victorians Graeme Kennedy and Rob Wallace, Trevor Vincent in the Team Manager role. This was a significant marathon, given it was a Nations Cup team event. All except Brian and Wallace ran sub 2:20s, Whitty the fastest in a career best 2:14:01 for sixth.
Brian relates that ‘Rob Wallace and I collided going into a drink station just after the halfway mark reached in 67:10. Rob retired from the race injured. Lawrie was in front of us and coming up from behind Steve Poulton rendered assistance. The mishap occurred near our accommodation so Rob was able to limp back to the hotel. Steve and I gave chase as our Aussie team was performing well. We eventually finished third behind Canada and Colombia. What could have been if the mishap had not occurred?’ Trevor Vincent states that Wallace, Australia’s fastest marathoner of the group, ‘tripped accidentally’, injuring his legs. He also concurs that the team was in contention to win the Nations Cup at this point but Poulton and Brian lost contact with the main pack as a result of the fracca, destroying their chances. Brian ran 2:21:46.
- Phase Three: Games Aspirations
Despite the Montreal debacle, Brian entered 1982 with confidence. Training was solid and big mileage maintained. On 8 March he placed 16th in the Nagoya International 30 kilometres, 96:41. Dick Beardsley, inaugural victor of the London Marathon in 1981, was a DNF. Six weeks after Nagoya Beardsley raced Salazar at Boston in the ‘now famous’ Duel in the Sun. Just shows, we all have our bad days. Brian saw Vancouver 1982 as a stepping stone to Commonwealth Games selection. However, 1982 was to be a year of inconsistent race performances. Reflecting, Brian thinks he went ‘over the top’ in training, without adequate recovery. He had dispensed with his past routine of an ease down in volume every fourth week. A lesson learned that ‘more is not best.’
7.1 Vancouver and Brisbane 1982
Well regarded by the Vancouver Race Organisers, Brian was invited to defend his 1981 win. His aim was to beat the Commonwealth Games qualifying standard of 2:16. Unfortunately, in a largely domestic field, Brian had an off day, finishing twelfth in 2:29:56, 13 minutes behind Canadian winner Steve Pomeroy. Brian and Pomeroy were stride for stride at half way ‘in just over 67 minutes’ before Pomeroy accelerated to victory. Newspaper reports indicate Brian was ‘hampered by tight calf muscles.’
Though disappointed, Brian again attempted to achieve the qualifying time, entering the Australian Championship held at Brisbane on 25 July. This was the designated Commonwealth Games selection trial, run on the Games course. Solid winter performances, indicated he was in form. However, Brian concedes he had a ‘shocker’, finishing 23rd in 2:30:32. Similar to his Vancouver race, he was amongst the leaders to half way but ‘struggling’ by 30 kilometres. No Australian beat the qualifying time, the winner being Fumiake Abe of Japan in 2:15:57, with Wallace (2:16:02), Wood (2:16:22) and Laurie Adams (Qld, 2:17:51) following. Wallace was to join Deek as ‘the Games’ marathon representative, along with Whitty who was selected for the 10000 metres. Wood, who later ran 2:12:50 in the 1982 Melbourne Marathon behind Bill Rodgers, was unlucky to miss out. The course was described as the ‘least hilly course Brisbane could offer’ (in the absence of using a loop arrangement in the outer Brisbane swamp/river flatlands), adversely affecting performances by up to three minutes.
7.2 Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers 1983
1983 was to be a year of reinvigoration. Facilitated by McDonalds’s relationship with Julian Goater, arriving in England in January, Brian spent ten months with Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers. Brian and Sue took two years leave without pay from teaching, which resulted in better general health for Brian. He reduced his training volume, introduced more sustained threshold training, and concentrated on racing. At one stage they managed a sports complex in Kent for three months but found the working hours onerous.
Fresh from a 29:00.8 fourth placing in the ‘Zatopek’ behind Andrews (28:09.7), Deek and Lewry, with 20 years old Monas back in eighth place, he was quick to make an impact at his new club. Despite advice to keep a low profile because club registration issues were not yet finalised, his first race was a leg for their B Team in a road relay, increasing the team’s placing from fourth to second.
Shaftesbury were a well organised outfit, serious about their club’s achievements but you could also ‘have a laugh’. I could see Brian’s eyes light up as he recalled getting to know Dave Bedford (ex-world record holder for 10000 metres and Race Director of the London marathon) and John Bicourt (independent race agent and dual Olympic steeplechaser). Bicourt was mates with Franco Fava, who holds a special place in the history of Italian distance racing. Based on this relationship, Bicourt coordinated a race schedule for ‘contracted’ international runners to compete monthly in Italy. At this time the core group included Dave Clarke (1982 English Cross Country champion), Martin Caldwell (New Zealand), John Graham (Scotland), with whom he became good friends, and 2 x Americans. It was a melting pot of international experience and a huge motivating factor for Brian to compete well.
Brian ran his half marathon personal best when finishing sixth in the ‘Rome to Ostia’ road race, in unusual circumstances. Invited runners included two Italian internationals, Englishmen Bernie Ford, Mike Gratton and the well performed marathoner Merv Brameld. Gratton was in form during 1983 off the back of third in the 1982 Commonwealth Games Marathon behind Deek and Tanzanian Juma Ikangaa. He was to win the London Marathon in 2:09:43 three weeks after this Rome race. On the start line Bicourt told Brian that because of traffic congestion a late decision was made to change the course and increase the distance to 25 kilometres! Brian managed to keep up with the leading pack to the half marathon, hitting 64:26 enroute. Later, when preparing for a strong finish with what he thought was 1500 metres to go to 25 kilometres, he was told to keep on running. In effect, the end distance was changed ‘on the run’ to 27.5 kilometres! Some would say this is typical of Italian disorganisation, prevalent in their road racing events of that era. Brian reflects on his performance as a missed opportunity to do something special. For the record, the final race positions were Ford, Gratton, 2 x Italians, Brameld, Brian.
During this period Brian won the Southern Counties 10000 metres Track Championship in 29:14.4, beating Keith Penny by four seconds. Brian is one of only three Australians to achieve this feat, the others being Dave Chettle in 1981 (29:26) and Martin Dent in 2003 (29:49.1). Penny, a seasoned international, had been a close competitor throughout the track and road racing seasons. On a mild Wednesday evening Brian showed his steel by putting in a 65 second lap breaking the field up with eight laps to go, and holding on. The following Saturday, Brian flew to Italy for the World Mountain Running Championships that was held on the Sunday. But that’s another story!!
His stint with Shaftesbury was an eye opener about what was required to reach the top. Apart from the monthly international road races, competing in the British road relay scene and exposure to ‘real cross country’ hardened his racing outlook. Before leaving Europe Brian spent two weeks training and racing in Italy with Bicourt’s troupe, and beat Graham in an Italian road race at Amatrice.
One fortnight later, in October, with plans to return to Australia via the USA, Brian ran the New York Marathon finishing 71st in 2:21:01. He had secured an entry via Graham’s intervention. While unhappy with his placing (and noting that ‘training partner’ Graham finished fifth in 2.10.57) it was an exciting race to take part in, with lots of colour and fanfare generated by spectators. Readers may remember a rain-soaked Rod Dixon as the winner in a hard grind against Geoff Smith in 2:08:59.
7.3 Fateful Intervention
Although 1983 was meant to be a year of consolidation to prepare for potential Olympic marathon selection, Brian’s personal situation dictated a different path. Sue had fallen pregnant while in England. During their stopover in the USA, travelling to Denver via Atlanta, Sue fell ill in the transit lounge at Atlanta airport. Complications occurred with the pregnancy resulting in the very premature birth of their son (1040 grams) and the hospitalisation of mother and child – both for extended periods in different Atlanta hospitals. Baby Joel was in mortal danger caused by brain haemorrhage and Sue suffered renal failure and was on life support for a time.
Sorting out finances, Brian was housed in a hospital funded residence and spent many distraught weeks travelling between hospitals to visit wife and son. After nine weeks of this ordeal the Morgan family could fly home. On a brighter note, Brian recalls being told that Joel ‘was the lightest person to ever fly across the Pacific.’ He also commends the level of medical care provided by hospital staff, doctors and nurses in Atlanta.
7.4 Tilt at 1984 Olympic Selection
Arriving home late in 1983, Brian was affected by the emotional upheaval of the USA experience. Although his mindset was not quite on the mark, Brian asked my father, Jim, to coach him to achieve Olympic selection. The program set by his first ever coach was tough and included the addition of sustained threshold running over longer distances of up to 15 miles.
The Olympic Marathon Trial was held in Canberra on 8 April 1984. For a variety of reasons, including injury and illness, top contenders such as Nick de Castella (Vic), Andrews, Whitty, Poulton, Lloyd, Chettle, Austin, Wardlaw, Adams and Colin Neave (ACT) were absent. Deek was a preselection. The Olympic qualifying time was 2:14, well within the reach of Brian and many other competitors. Some pundits felt 2:12 would be required to ensure selection. However, on a relatively tough course, a howling westerly headwind during the late stages of the race shattered the field’s dreams of selection. Wood was the victor in a solid 2:15:50, close to a minute ahead of Wallace, with Graham Clews (WA) another 30 seconds behind and Kennedy off the pace. Henry ran badly (2:27:08), as did Brian who did not finish, both having raced hard in the Sydney Striders half marathon three weeks earlier. The same applied to Kennedy and a number of others.
Brian states that ‘the wind was just so heavy, buffeting all the runners, that it became ridiculous and I realised that no one was going to qualify in this race, so I pulled out to save myself for the Australian Marathon Championship.’ VMC Secretary, Fred Lester, estimated the wind affected performances by three minutes. Although sub-2:14 had originally seemed on the cards, Brian was philosophical: ‘in the end it was a relief when I didn’t make the team.’
However, in an effort to salvage the rest of the year, continuing under Jim’s guidance, Brian aimed for the Wang Australian Marathon Championship in Sydney to be held on 10 June. Still smarting from his DNF in the Olympic Trial, Brian returned to the solace of his training routine and regained some form in winter events. A highlight included defeating Whitty in the Cooranbong Half Marathon on 20 May, 65:46 to 66:07. The course was a combination of country roads and dirt gravel through the Martinsville Valley, at the base of the Watagan Mountains. It was a picturesque setting, but not an ideal racing surface. With a withering final surge on a warm and sultry day over an undulating course, Brian ran negative splits of 33:25/32:21. He was back.
Although the selection trial had already been run, there was a muted sense amongst the distance running fraternity that the Australian Marathon Championship was a last opportunity to influence the Australian selectors. In his best performance since Vancouver 1981, and with some solid training and racing behind him, Brian finished sixth outright and third Australian in the National Championship. Never with the pack, on his own throughout, Brian ran an astute race to achieve his second sub-2:20 performance of 2:18:22. While a pleasing result given his poor form in recent marathons, his satisfaction was dampened by his failure to achieve a much better time. ‘My training indicated I should have raced much faster.’
Jon Anderson (USA) won in 2:13:18 from Lloyd 2:14:36 (a PB by three minutes) and Malcolm East (England) 2:15:04. Boltz, age 21 in his debut marathon, was fourth outright and second Australian in 2:15:45, with Alain Lazare (New Caledonia) vying for French selection, running 2:15:55. In a disappointing year for Australia’s marathon family, ‘fresh’ from a World Championship win in 1983, Deek was the only one selected for the Olympics.
Throughout 1984 Brian had underestimated the emotional impact of his ongoing personal situation. In the aftermath of the Wang ‘I declined an invitation to race in the Berlin Marathon. I realised that I needed to be less self-centred and focus on my family’s wellbeing.’ Any remaining Olympic ambition quite rightly took a backseat to the welfare of his family.
7.5 The Slump
On the up, and having regained some form, Brian was looking forward to a successful 1985, with a revised outlook to racing and training. However, it was not to be. Brian’s running was significantly affected in 1985 and 1986 by ill health. Carbo loading only exacerbated his condition and he became weaker. In declining health, Jim offered to help and organised a visit to the Australian Institute of Sport to consult with Dr Peter Fricker and Dick Telford. As a result of this visit and some follow up testing facilitated by Stan Barwick (Executive Manager of Lingard Private Hospital), Brian was ‘diagnosed’ with a form of lactose intolerance. ‘There was not much in the way of running training during this period but certainly much valued and appreciated support was provided.’ Attempting to race competitively, this was a frustrating period, as evidenced by an abysmal 31:22 10000 metres at Newcastle Athletic Field in November 1986.[Many years post Brian’s competitive running career, with the availability of more sophisticated testing, it was revealed that he also had gluten intolerance, and there were borderline indications of celiac disease]
- Phase Four: A Resurgence
After this disastrous period, only partially recovered from his ‘unknown condition’, Brian entered a resurgent phase. While his ambitions had been doused by two years of illness, from 1987 onwards, at 31 years of age, he came back strongly to perform well across a range of distances. For many years he continued to win against stiff opposition, racing frequently in Newcastle and NSW events. Some notable race results were:
seventh outright, and second Australian, 2:20:07, in the 1987 Australian Marathon Championship, Sydney. In a field that included many top international runners, highlights included the novelty of beating the great Filbert Bayi, and winning a ‘consolation’ trip to the Macau Marathon; sixth in the 1987 City to Surf in 42:28 (Brad Camp 40:15), equalling his best ever time of 1981, beating Andrews and Poulton; third behind Barrett and Neave in the 1988 Canberra Marathon in 2:24:26; and winning the 1991 NSW Half Marathon Championship, on a changed and difficult Sydney Striders course, in 67:05.
Perhaps fittingly, one of his last marathons was the Melbourne Marathon of 1990. In an event that kicked off his elite marathon experience 11 years ago, he performed creditably, 2:24:21 for sixth outright, and fourth Australian. He was named Maitland Sportsman of the Year in 1990, evidence that he was still performing to a high standard. And to further emphasise Brian’s longevity, though not quite the event it used to be, he won Bacchus in 1988, 1989, 1992 and 1995 (aged 39).
From Brian’s perspective his last year of elite competitive racing was 1990, which happily coincided with another addition to the Morgan family, one baby girl, Hayley. ‘Although I still raced until 1995, and was winning overseas trips, I was in wind down mode from 1991, and the volume and intensity of my training had eased considerably. I still enjoyed this period, racing in NSW, and competing in international marathons such as Noumea and Phoenix, but my focus on serious competition had dissipated.’
- Concluding Comments
Brian competed at a comparatively high level for 20 years, 1975 to 1995, across three generations of developing elites, each generation building on the performances of the previous generation. He was a distance running journeyman, always in the thick of it. He raced hard frequently and in many different places. His attitude to training was zealous, uncompromising. He was largely uncoached and trained alone most of the time. In hindsight, these factors proved to be strengths and weaknesses.
Brian’s experience mirrors many of his era, top performers, ups and downs, missed opportunities and flashes of brilliance. That’s what was so exciting about racing in that era and witnessing racers such as Brian competing, no holds barred, when ‘anyone could win on their day.’ Brian set high standards for himself, and not surprisingly, given his matter-of-fact manner, he downplays many of his best performances (too many to mention all of them in this article). His racing career is about persistence beating adversity. He never lost hope, and always gave of himself honestly.
1982 to 1984 was when he should have made his mark, and he was given no second chances in 1985 and 1986. Whether Brian’s high mileage and ongoing level of experimentation with diet, vegetarianism and fasting affected his health somehow is not clear. He does acknowledge that throughout his running career he had some extensive periods of higher quality training that were marred by ‘inconsistent’ race performances that he couldn’t objectively understand. But then again, luck and misfortune are a runner’s lot.
Brian is defined less by his unsuccessful Games campaigns, more by his ability to overcome disappointment and debilitating illness that affected his quality of life. Through it all, Brian remained loyal to his roots, encouraging local runners by his regular presence and willingness to compete, and in later life by giving back to his community.
In a career where he had his fair share of brushes with the fast and famous, Brian Morgan remains a Newcastle legend, a living treasure.
He is the archetypal local boy done good.
Athletics Australia Almanacs: https://athletics.possumbility.com/almanac/index.htm
Australian Runner, various
Australasian Athletics, Official Journal of Track and Field, various
Australasian Track and Field Athletics, various
Fun Runner, various
Lenton, B, Distance Running in Australia, 1978
Lenton, B, Unfit for Publication, 1986
Recollections of Brian Morgan during meetings with author on 7 November 2023 and 8 December 2023
Results Book for Health 84 Cooranbong Half Marathon
Results Book for 1979 Big M Melbourne Marathon
Victorian Marathon Club Newsletters, various,
Vincent, T, Team Managers Report, Montreal International Marathon 13 September 1981, sourced through Ausrunning.net
The majority of Australian race reports were obtained from five main sources: Fun Runner, VMC Newsletter, Australian Runner, Australasian Athletics: Official Journal of Track and Field, and Australasian Track and Field Athletics.