Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Charlie Spedding: From Last to First: How I Became a Marathon Champion

When the names of greatest runners from the 1980's are mentioned, there is quite a list of runners to discuss. One runner that may be overlooked is the British marathoner, Charlie Spedding; however to overlook his achievements would be a mistake. Who, you say? Unless you are a true fan of the sport, the name might not ring a bell, but just take a look at his marathon record:

Houston Marathon Texas January 15th 1st place 2.11.54 (the result was so close it took 15 minutes to figure out who won and 3rd place was 1 second behind!)
London Marathon 13 May 1st place 2.09.57
Los Angeles Olympic Games 3rd place 2.09.58 (bronze medal)

London Marathon 21 April 2nd place 2.08.33 (English record)

Chicago Marathon 26 October 3rd place 2.10:13

London Marathon 10 May 8th place 2.10.32

London Marathon 17 April 10th
Seoul Olympic Games 2 October 6th place 2.12.19

Charlie Spedding has an Olympic Bronze medal and a 6th place Olympic marathon finish, wins in London and Houston and other impressive finishes and times. He still holds the English marathon record of 2:08:33 set in London in 1985-Steve Jones (from Wales) set the British record by winning the race. Got that? A runner of this caliber certainly begs a bit of study, and fortunately Charlie Spedding himself has written an autobiography chronicling his running career. He describes himself as someone without much talent, so he must have done something right to reach the heights he did. He spells out the secrets to his success in his book From Last to First. I read the recently released Kindle version.

Charlie Spedding winning the 1984 London Marathon

The 1984 Olympic Marathon

The book is a compelling read, but not just because it is interesting to read what is going through his head as he runs the Olympic marathons and other races. He had a deliberate plan to bring a positive mindset to his racing, and it worked very well. Charlie Spedding could be called one of the all-time great peakers, because the bigger the race, the better he ran. Charlie could sense that the highly touted runners like Rob DeCastella did not have a winning attitude as they started and ran the Olympic races as favorites and thus they never got the medals that others predicted they would win. On the other hand, Charlie looked for the positives and produced when it most mattered. This unfortunately led to his demise as a professional runner, as he couldn't muster the mental focus to cash in on his marathon successes after the fact. He could prepare himself for the big races, but that meant he couldn't run the smaller races with the same mental and physical peak.

"The better I became at digging deep in a major race, the less able I was to run hard in any other event. I tried to do my best, but I became less and less able to produce a performance if a race didn't matter to me"
If you enjoy a well-written book and want to learn about one of the marathon greats, then this book is for you. You might also pick up some tips on how to mentally prepare yourself to be the best runner that you can be. One of my favorite running quotes (I listed it in my high school yearbook) comes from Frank Shorter, " me the object is not to beat someone, but merely to live up to your potential. If you do this, then you will end up winning a lot..." Charlie had a similar mantra, that he wrote down in his notebook at the start of his quest to become a champion, "Success is measured by how much I fulfill the talent I was born with." Charlie Spedding was a successful runner by all counts!

1984 Olympic Marathon
Bronze and Silver (John Treacy)Medalists in 1984
New England runners got a closer look at Spedding before both Olympic Marathon races as he trained and raced in the Boston area leading up to both races. He also ran the Falmouth Road Race twice: finishing in 9th place in 1981 and 30th in 1988.

Charlie Spedding on reaching goals:
"I achieved my targets because I knew what I wanted. I knew why I wanted it; and I knew how much I wanted it.I also stuck to it when things went wrong, and I wasn't distracted by other things that came along."
Charlie Spedding on his greatest moment in running (a moment that all runners have dreamt about and that Charlie lived) :
"...the question usually includes a choice between winning the London Marathon and being third in the Olympics. Both of these are very high on my list, but neither is my greatest moment....My reply would often cause surprise because my greatest moment was not a result, but a spell of running which lasted about five minutes. The greatest moment in my two decades of running came 22 miles into the Olympic marathon when I took the lead and pushed the pace. After all the setbakcs, injures and failuresm I was living the fantasy that every distance runner has on a long, cold winter run, I had the initiative. I was calling the tune. I was grasping my opportunity with both hands. I was taking part in Olympic proportionsI was running as fast as I dared. I was trying my upmost to fulfill my wildest dreams. Today was indeed the day. I was doing it. I was flying and I felt absolutely fantastic."
Check out the 3:05 mark in the Olympic marathon video above for this moment.

1985 London Marathon 2nd in 2:08:33 with  Steve Jones 2:08:11 1st place.
1986 Chicago Marathon with Mark Curp 12 and Thom Hunt 10
 Here is an interesting interview with Charlie from back in 2003.

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