A column by Len Johnson – Runner’s Tribe

Most years a runners’ panel is part of Falls Creek Running Week. It was again this year, featuring rising middle-distance star Georgia Griffith, Olympic and world championship distance representative Dave McNeill and London 2017 marathoner Brad Milosevic.

McNeill @ Falls Creek: Picture by RT ’16

Chris Wardlaw was the MC. Inevitably, the topic of how much training the (predominantly junior) audience should be doing came up. Just as inevitably, the obligatory cautions against “doing too much, particularly up here” were issued.

Almost invariably, the longer discussion around the topic leads the panellists to acknowledge: “I did too much up here once, but I think I got away with it.”

Very Basil Fawlty when the hapless host of Fawlty Towers, having absconded from his hospital bed while suffering self-induced concussion (the moose-head he is trying to hang in the entrance hall instead falls down on him, causing him to trip and suffer a further blow to the scone), tries to avoid mentioning the war in the presence of a party of German guests.

“I mentioned it once,” he confides to Polly, the maid, as the Germans are left distraught by war references in almost every statement , “but I think I got away with it.”

Or perhaps it’s more in the line with the standard disclaimer of the daredevil stunt performer: “Kids, don’t try this at home.”

What else is the daredevil’s warning, or the elite runner’s caution, other than a prompt to any ambitious youngster to go out and immediately take the opposite course of action. If they weren’t hell-bent on doing so already, the “I did it once, but luckily I got away with it”, will be the clincher.

Like Bart Simpson when he goes to see his Evel Knievel-style hero daredevil, Lance Murdock. Despite watching Murdock crash and burn attempting a stunt, despite injuring himself on his skateboard, Bart tells his mates he will leap over Springfield Gorge. His father, Homer, ultimately talks him out of it, only to step accidentally onto the skateboard and go soaring above, then crashing into, the gorge.

Most athletes’ first time at Falls, first time in any training camp environment, is an exercise in over-training. Hopefully, a controlled exercise in over-training, but an exercise in over-training nonetheless. The trick is to recognise when you’re over-training and stop before you go too far.

I was fortunate enough – good sense played very little part in it, I can assure the reader – that my own early training camp experiences were mercifully brief. Both times I was safely back home within days.

There was a long weekend away to Warburton, where St Stephen’s Harriers had access to a club cottage. Max Little was the SSH contact, Robert de Castella the other participant. The ‘easy’ runs included one straight uphill to get to the O’Shannassy aqueduct and a rock-hopping trip to a waterfall which seemed to involve an interminable number of creek crossings.

Then, there were the day’s main sessions. The main lesson I learned that weekend was not to leave ‘Deek’ alone at night with a just-opened packet of Tim Tams.

The second ‘camp’ was my first visit to Falls Creek, when I extended a long weekend because Chris Wardlaw told me I should stay and do the Fitzgerald’s Hut run. This involved a little creative ‘car trouble’ to justify absence from work, but was well worth it. ‘Fitzy’s’, as it is invariably known, became instantly, and remains, one of my favourite runs.

The lesson? I suppose if you fear a bout of over-training coming on, better to get back home before you suffer the inevitable consequences. The just as important corollary is that you will find yourself doing more, or doing it harder, than you planned to. Better to allow for it and focus on avoiding the deadly trinity of too much, too hard, for too long.

Timing came into play another way this week, when the Victorian Milers Club meeting went ahead on Thursday (18 Jan) as planned despite a forecast of extremely hot, and potentially dire, conditions. A combination of an early-evening start, calm conditions and the setting of the sun meant that while temperatures remained high, conditions in fact were good for middle-distance running.

We were rewarded with some excellent performances, topped by Georgia Griffith’s 800 metres win in 2:01.09. Not until the final 20-30 metres did a sub-two slip from her grasp, but you get the feeling it is coming soon. It was the fastest women’s 800 in the VMC’s 2005-2018 history. In second place, Abbey de la Motte’s 2:02.42 was the second-fastest performance in a VMC women’s race and third-fastest overall.

It’s great when history can be encapsulated in one person, and on this particular night for the VMC, it was by the presence of Madeleine Pape on a visit from the US where she is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Pape, one of the five Australian women to have broken two minutes for 800 metres, ran the 1500, finishing tenth in 4:37.00. This time she competed in the A-race, but Pape won the B-heat of the women’s 1500 in the VMC’s very first meeting back in October, 2005. She ran 4:46.1 then, so this one was a VMC-PB for Madeleine.

Pape was a Beijing 2008 Olympian and a Berlin 2009 world championships representative, the same year she won the 800 at the World University Games.

At least one other woman – Kate Seibold – ran on Thursday who also ran in the first VMC meeting. She was fourth in the A-race back then, 12th in C-race this time.

Another competitor in that first VMC meeting was Lisa Weightman, named to run the marathon in her second Commonwealth Games team this week. Weightman was second behind Libby Allen in the first meeting.

Lisa Wightman AUS (left) and Florence†Kiplagat KEN†competing in the Elite Womenís Race exit Blackfriars Underpass. The Virgin Money London Marathon, 23rd April 2017. Photo: Charlotte Wilson for Virgin Money London Marathon


Main cover photo: Courtesy of the marvellously talented, Ewa Facioni – Zatopek:10 2017 women’s 1500m.


Len Johnson has been the Melbourne Age athletics writer for over 20 years, covering six Olympics, eleven world championships and six Commonwealth Games. He is also a former national-class distance runner. For over a decade Len has bee Runner’s Tribe’s lead columnist. Len also writes for IAAF. He has recently been named an Athletics Australia Lifetime Member. He is also the author of ‘The Landy Era’.