Tag Archives: mel edwards

Learning 2012

Expectations which arise from impressive performance or a spell of great training, can result in an athlete’s target race going either one way or the other. Team GB and Kenyan performances from London 2012 provide plenty examples of how some athletes thrive under extreme pressure and others, for whatever reason, are unable to produce the goods when it matters. Despite not yet being at that level of competition, I am able to relate to and draw comparisons between the London 2012 Olympics and my own season.

Firstly, what an incredible Olympics it was – certainly the best I have witnessed in my 23 years on the planet. From organisation to determination and the inspirational to the spectacular, London 2012 had it all and was undoubtedly a resounding success. The added bonus for me is that I have a gut feeling that the Paralympics will inspire me further more.

Sir Steve Redgrave kicks off London 2012 by passing on the Olympic flame to stars of the future

As always with positive and successful events in life, there are always going to be negative people clutching at straws to find faults and criticisms. Thankfully these straws were the small kind you get with Ribena packs and the pessimists were drowned out by the billions of people who have been thrilled, inspired and motivated by the performance which London put on for the world. The stage was well and truly taken and I believe a generation has been inspired.

Whilst trying not to sound hypocritical, the only negative area which I will touch upon is that thankfully drugs cheats grabbed much less of the headlines than in previous years, however they were still there. It amazes me how Nadzeya Ostapchuk could have been naive enough to think that she would not get caught doping in this day and age. It baffles me equally as much that she could take satisfaction from winning a tainted medal and therefore deny other athletes their reward for years of hard work and sacrifice. Articles are going to be about the only ceremony Gong Lijiao of China will receive after she was bumped up from 4th to the Bronze medal position as a result of the Belarusian’s cheating in the women’s Shot Put competition. Valerie Adams of New Zealand was rightly promoted to Olympic Champion and Evgeniia Kolodko of Russia was moved up from bronze to silver.

Ostapchuk (centre) with her tainted medal

Anyway enough of the negative. What was most inspiring for me was that at one point during the Games, the north-east of Scotland would have been sitting 10th in the medal table had they been a nation. The reason this provides me with increased motivation is not because of some misguided pro-Scottish feeling, but because living in Kenya has showed me that when your neighbours achieve great things, this automatically raises the bar and sets the standard for others to go and at least match.

For whatever individual reasons, the Kenyan team did not enjoy the success they had hoped for and which they have become accustomed to. It was lovely to see that the message coming out of Olympic Marathon favourite (but finished 4th), Mary Keitany’s camp was along the lines of “win or lose, it will always be together.” Another example was in the men’s Marathon where pre race favourite, Wilson Kipsang (bronze medallist) said afterwards: “some days you win and some days you don’t.” We can learn a great deal from the Kenyan attitude despite their relative lack of success in London 2012, as I am sure it has played a huge role in their past triumphs.

My summer track season started promisingly after returning in late May from 3 months of altitude training in Kenya. I enjoyed 5-6 weeks of personal bests and winning performances but unfortunately suffered from chest infections and bugs for the best part of a month after that. Now back fully fit and training well I felt disappointed after relatively good performances in the Division 1 British Athletics League match on Saturday just past in Windsor. Having had a few days to reflect and take on board advice from my Dad/co-coach, Mel Edwards and my other coach, Grant Smith I have realised that you cannot expect personal bests in every race just because you are feeling in great shape. With 2 races left this season (BMC 800 metres tonight in Watford and BMC 1500 metres in Bedford on Saturday) I aim to relax, stay positive but not overly optimistic and just go out there and enjoy my racing and hopefully a personal best or two might come in tandem.

Maybe, and I hope, one day there will be no need for me to draw these comparisons between the world’s best and my own.

David Rudisha leads home the fastest 800m race in history in what was ‘only’ one of two gold medals for the Kenyan team in London

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Reflecting on three incredible months in Iten, Kenya – Home of Champions

Mary Keitany winning the 2012 Virgin London Marathon,becoming the third fastest of all-time.

As I sit on the roller coaster-like bus journey from Eldoret to Nairobi, it gives me time to reflect on the 3 month trip to Iten, Kenya as a whole.  In between getting thrown from window to window and launched off the roof in jack-in-the-box fashion, I realise that I have definitely taken being able to train injury free for the whole trip for granted.  The fact is I have just been enjoying it so much and relishing the opportunity to push myself to new limits.  But that is what you do when you are happy, you go for it and do not look back.

However, when I think back to what the previous trip between August and November last year was like due to shin problems and the worries I had before this one as a result of that, it really sinks in how grateful I am to be training injury free thanks to my physiotherapist, Ron Coutts.

Blogs and interviews have been a lot less frequent this time around as a result of me actually doing what I was here to do – run.  It is a sacrifice I have been more than happy to make and hope it pays off on the track this summer.  Nevertheless, I have been lucky enough to conduct two of the best interviews of my journalism career, which more than made up for the lack of other articles.

Spending time training and relaxing with Kiwi twins, Jake and Zane Robertson was a ‘Macced-out’ experience.  After leaving home aged 16 in 2006, the pair are now on the cusp of the highest echelons of the sport.  They are living proof that if you make sacrifices and follow your dreams to the bitter end then you will succeed.  As I concluded in my article with them in VO2 Max Magazine earlier this month, these boys prove people wrong for a living.

Jake and Zane Robertson, per 1500m final in Kitale, Kenya.

Two days ago I was also incredibly lucky to interview the charming and charismatic double London Marathon champion, Mary Keitany for the second time in my career.  What made this interview all the more special for me was that not only did it focus more on the personal side of her life than the running but she trusted me enough to ask any question I wanted despite one journalist not so long ago abusing this trust and writing unpleasing material.  This was made possible largely thanks to Jeroen Deen, one of the world’s top physiotherapists who is based in Iten.  Without Jeroen, I would not have achieved half the success I have done in the profession today.  He and Mary will be friends of mine for life.

There have been far too many people to name that have contributed to success and enjoyment of this trip.  One friend in particular was instrumental in helping us get set up in Kenya last year.  Both myself and Dan will miss his company and horrendous humour now that we are heading home.  Both trips would not have been the same without him.

From left to right: Ciaran, Nelly Masai, myself, David Rudisha, Dan, Linet Masai.

As an individual and as an athlete I feel very solid mentally and always have a positive mindset. Having had my fair share of injuries over the past few years I have often felt like I just needed the physical side of my running to catch up with the mental side.  During the first few weeks of this trip I had a handful of sessions with Klemens Weigl, as part of a sports psychology programme and already I am feeling the benefits. The sessions have filled me with belief that I can take the mental aspect of my running to an even higher level and as a result I am certain my times on the track will improve. His techniques and thought-provoking advice really gives you the feeling that you have an extra weapon in your artillery. I feel empowered and I look forward to a long and successful partnership with Klemens, even if it is via Skype.

Iten truly is a place where you can realise your dreams.  That said, you have to have a higher than ever commitment and desire to achieve your goals.  I came to Kenya knowing the results I wanted on return but would have to admit that to a certain extent, I naively thought it would come almost magically just by being here.  In week one something my training partner, Dan Mulhare said really hit home: “No one coming to altitude is going to improve unless you train harder than you would at home.”

My attitude has always been spot on thanks to my Dad’s inspirational advice over the years, but at home as a result of injuries and distractions which I won’t go into, my application and commitment has been lacking. Not now. Not ever again. This is the time I make sacrifices, work to fulfilling my potential and put smiles on the faces of those who support me.

Dan has definitely had a big influence on my training and commitment over the past 3 months. Anything I achieve this year would not have been possible without Clockwork Mulhare’s 6am screams at me: “Myles are you running this morning or what?” Had he not been here I would probably still be in bed rather than writing this article or running anywhere near the times I feel I can this year.

Dan and myself during track session at Kamariny Stadium

Gideon Gathimba is a Kenyan international athlete and world record holder (4x1500m relay) who won the mile race in Aberdeen for the opening of the Sports Village in 2009.  He kindly invited me to live with his family and train with him for 5 days in the middle of my trip.  It turned out to be the best 5 days of my life – filled with some incredible experiences.  We met his 122 year old Great Grandmother who had never seen a white person before.  As I entered through the gate at the bottom of her garden and she caught a glimpse of me, she started dancing around and shouting ‘mzungo, mzungo’ –  a term that many Kenyans use to refer to white people.  It was heart warming to see how delighted she was that a mzungo had come to visit her and also brought her some small gifts.  It is an experience which I will take with me to the grave.

Myself and Gideon’s 122 year old Great Grandmother, Adelaide

Gideon plays an active role at his local church when he is not jet setting around the world as part of his life as an international athlete.  By taking me along to Sunday service as his guest, we created a little bit of history.  No white person had ever attended and again their welcoming warmth towards me was inspiring.  Little did I know they were expecting me to get up on stage and give a mini speech.  I through in as much Swahili as I could muster and thanked them for their kind welcome and greetings.  It seemed to go down ok and I quickly migrated back towards my pew.

Myself, the Pastor and his daughter at Sunday service

In the final part of my trip we both competed in the Athletics Kenya track meeting in Thika.  My first race on Kenyan soil and I was the only mzungo in the whole stadium.  Racing in Kenya gives you a tougher than ever mentality that makes nerves in Scottish championship  call rooms fade into insignificance.  All eyes on were on me.  Thankfully this inspired me and made me more determined.  I knew I had been training hard and most importantly I knew that I had more ability than almost anyone in the stadium thought I had.  Racing below race distance at 400 metres, I ran 0.5 seconds outside my lifetime best and placed 4th out of 8.  I am told the announcer shouted on the microphone, halfway in to the race: “who is this mzungo and why is he beating our boys?”  We hope to raise sponsorship to get Gideon into the Aberdeen Union Street Mile road race this year.

Gideon taught me the importance of ‘shape’.  ‘Shape’ to Kenyans means more than just being in good shape, but being in shape to compete against anyone on any given day.  Previously I had been naive and in some ways lazy, thinking that 4 weeks of hard training with some weights and core mixed in would get me into prime shape.

Right now I am the fittest I have ever been but what Gideon and Kenya to a certain extent too has taught me is that there is no reason why this is anywhere near my limit.  It gives me huge confidence that if I could run 1.53.07 for 800 metres last season, off the back of 6 weeks hard training which had been preceded by months of messing around, then this year can be hugely improved.

Day 1 of the 2011 trip, not in ‘shape’

You can learn a lot from the Kenyan athletes.  You can also learn how not to do things.  So many train in groups that follow the lead/fastest runner’s programme.  These are not suited to everyone and it is why many runs themselves into the ground and into an early retirement. The rain here is indeed far worse than home. Almost every road is un-run able at times when the skies decide to open. However, they need to toughen up and run in the rain sometimes, they think we are crazy when they see us running in only a small bit of rain.  Another way that this can be looked at is that they do not feel the same pressure as we do at home to complete every session that is planned for them.  It is flexible and they can easily miss one here or there.

Coming into ‘shape’

Thanks to BodyHelix I was able to organise a mile race at the Kamariny Stadium in Iten.  It was a huge success and we hope to build on it greatly next year.  With winning times of 4.14 for the men and 5.00 for the ladies, there was a high standard turn out which was great to see.  It felt fantastic to give something back to a place which has given me so much.

The BodyHelix Men’s Mile 2012

Things could not have gone any better for me this time around.  I recorded my biggest ever weekly mileage week at 75 miles in week 10 of 12.  Whilst my Dad urges me to not get too fixated on mileage like he did it is hard not to get excited but I remain careful and hold back when necessary.  The track sessions I have done here give me real hope that I can run the times I want to this year.  I was pleased to be hitting fast times in sessions on the slightly too long dirt track at 8000 feet above sea level.  My last 2 weeks have included some quality sessions but reduced mileage and I am beginning to feel fresh as the races approach this weekend. I will line up to run the British Milers Club Grand Prix 800 metres on Saturday followed by a 1500m and 4x400m relay in Aberdeen on Sunday in my first outing as club captain.  It will be fantastic to see my Mum again when she kindly collects me in Manchester and drives me back to sunny Scotland.

It’s clear to see that I absolutely love it out here in Kenya and I could easily live here.  However, it is a strange feeling to have that I still really, really want to come home.  I am looking hugely forward to seeing family and friends again but the burning desire to be home again comes from wanting to produce the results that all this trip’s hard work was designed to do and that many people have supported me in doing so.

Yesterday I completed my final track session on Kenyan soil.  It was only 5 x 200 metres and with a long-ish recovery to get the legs ticking over for Saturday’s race.  I was determined to hit one of them in 24 seconds and the first 4 went by in 25, 25, 25 and 25.  I said to myself before the last rep: “you will hit 24, now GO!!” Coming down the home straight I was thinking to myself ‘push as hard as you possibly can and leave it all on the track, you will not have another opportunity to rectify this if you don’t push hard enough now’.  I crossed the line in 24.94 and as I put the brakes on I went up onto the bank of the track and was confronted with the most incredible view across the Great Rift Valley.  It was one of the best moments in my running life.  That is the magic of Iten, Kenya – Home of Champions.

Elated at hitting the elusive 24 second rep!

15 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Braveheart Becky aims to follow in the footsteps of her mother

Written by Myles Edwards in Iten, Kenya.

The first in a series of in depth interviews with Aberdeen Athletic Club members features under 17 middle distance star, Becky Cheyne.  Cheyne chats to Myles Edwards about her aspirations for the coming years and what it is that drives her to succeed in the sport.

Born in Aberdeen in 1997, Becky tells us how she first got involved in athletics:

“My first ever race was a Primary Schools event at Chris Anderson Stadium (now Aberdeen Sports Village).  I was in Primary 5 and managed to come 4th in the 800m.  Although I missed out on a medal, I was very proud of myself because my only other races had been at school sports days.”

This race planted a seed within Becky which continues to spur her on today as she then went on to compete in all Active Schools events from 2007-2010 and scooped 1st age group place in every Race for Life from 2007 through to 2009.  She hopes to return to the Race for Life event this year as she has missed the past few due to other commitments.

Now coached by the legendary Grant Smith, Becky has won ‘Athlete of the Week’ three times since the introduction of the award in November 2011.  Becky says:

“I am proud of this achievement because it shows that I am improving and heading in the right direction.  I think the introduction of this award means that secretly we all strive to do better and that our performances are recognised.”

Coached by Grant Smith since 27th June, 2011, she goes on to describe the influence that Grant has on her progress and that of others in the group:

“Grant is a good coach for many reasons.  He emails our workouts to us beforehand so that we know what times we have to improve on.  He also emails us our times following the session so that we can write them in our diaries and make comparisons with similar sessions from the past.

“He also gives us little tips on how to improve our running styles and techniques. He is always happy to help and never pushes us too far, he just goes with our abilities instead of pushing us to breaking point. He’s always happy, encouraging and positive.”

With personal bests of 2.49.1 and 5.56.2 for 800 and 1500 metres respectively, Becky aims to improve on both of these marks this season off the back of some great training over the winter months.

Cheyne goes on to tell us why athletics is the sport which she most enjoys:

“Athletics is my favourite sport because nobody judges you, every member of Aberdeen AAC is very friendly and welcoming. The sport itself is very enjoyable – you can run from anywhere, for whatever distance and for whatever reason. You can also use it to take your frustrations out on really well.  If I’m annoyed, I simply think – ‘I will show them’ – and therefore run better because of it.

“I prefer athletics to team sports purely because my hand-eye co-ordination is a bit skew-whiff! However, I do still consider athletics to be a team sport as everyone is in the same club.  Also, in relays we are a team – even if you’re not picked to be in the squad of 4 you will still get a buzz from cheering everyone else on.”

Keen to find out what drives Becky to train harder and harder week in, week out, I ask who it is that inspires her:

“My Mum, Denise is without a doubt the person who inspires me most as it was not so long ago that she ran for Scotland.  Kelly Holmes is someone who I also greatly admire.  She didn’t have the best start to life and didn’t even like running to begin with.  Despite this, she never gave up and in the end her hard work produced two gold medals in the same Olympics and also got her a knighthood.

“I admire the attitudes of athletes such as Derek Redmond who battle through severe pain to get to the finishing line.” (Redmond famously pulled a hamstring during the 400m semi final at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and had to hobble and be carried by his father for almost 200m to cross the finish line)

Becky goes on to say that she ‘holds athletes in high regard who, despite their talents continue to be modest and support younger athletes’ like herself.’

Next we move on to what Becky feels she can achieve within the sport of athletics:

“I am not certain of exactly what I can achieve but if I keep training well and getting personal best times then I will in myself feel that I have achieved an awful lot.

“I think it would be brilliant to run for Scotland one day, or compete in the Olympic or Commonwealth Games.  However, that is not a necessity for me to be satisfied. As long as I know that I can run for as long in life as I want to and that I am a lot fitter and more active than my peers at school, then I will be a happy chappy.”

The next interview will be with middle distance maestro, James Joy as he looks to improve on his 800m personal best of 1.53 from last year.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Returning to my home from home: Iten, Kenya

By Myles Edwards

Twitter – MylesEdwards

At 6pm last night I returned to my home from home.  Not that I needed any extra enthusiasm towards my return to Iten, Kenya but a phone call from Cambridge athletics legend, Mike Turner on the eve of my arrival sent my excitement and determination levels through the roof.

A hero of mine and close friend and inspiration of my father’s, the former English Cross Country Captain and GB Team Manager at the 1988 Soul Olympics has sadly experienced some ill health in recent months.  However, his granite-like grit and trademark resolve are shining through more than ever as he embarks on the recovery process.  To hear a double British Universities and double Inter-Counties Cross Country champion say – “Myles, you’ve never lacked ambition and have all the attributes to be a top athlete” – has given me an incredible buzz and increased determination to make this 3 month spell of altitude training as successful as possible.

The journey from London to Nairobi consisted of sleep, sleep and more sleep.  A hectic week with work and catching up with friends followed by the English National Cross Country 7.5 mile race on Saturday had clearly taken its toll as for the first time in my 23 year career, I declined a meal.

With only 2 flights leaving Nairobi to Eldoret each day I had missed the first one and was not hanging around Eldoret Airport all day until evening.  This left me one option – a 500 mile journey by matatu. For those of you who are not familiar with the matatu, count yourself lucky.  Packed in like sardines is an understatement.  The 14-seater mini bus at one point had 22 passengers and this was including my two 20kg bags taking up two of the ‘seats’.  Safe to say my backside and I were relieved and jubilant when the ordeal finally came to an end.

As soon as I set foot on the famous red dirt roads of Iten, I felt at home.  Within seconds a couple of locals, whom myself and training partner Dan Mulhare had made friends with on our previous trip, recognised me and came running over to greet me.  Local children refused to take no for an answer as they fought to be the one to carry my bags for the 5 minute walk to our place, secretly hoping that they would be full of goodies from the UK.

I write this after waking up on my first morning back in our compound owned by Moses and Linet Masai.  It has been absolutely fantastic to see everyone again.  Either Linet has transformed into a very annoying Rooster who seems hell-bent on disrupting my sleep or the feathered creature awaits her as a gift to mark her return from a fantastic 3rd place finish in Puerto Rico’s World’s Best 10km.

I cannot wait to get stuck into some serious training over the coming weeks but plan to be careful in the next few days to acclimatise and not risk injury.  As many of you know my previous trip to Kenya, whilst being truly inspirational, was unfortunately marred by a shin injury which stopped me doing almost any running.  Thanks to Aberdeen-based Physiotherapist, Ron Coutts, I am confident that I have the tools to manage the injury this time around and make this trip a springboard to future success in the sport.  I am hugely grateful for the unwavering loyalty, support and enthusiasm from my parents.  My father, Mel Edwards, has been an inspiration throughout my life and in particular during the times I have spent on the sidelines due to injury.  Grant Smith’s guidance, advice and coaching played a huge role in my success last season and solid training over the last 3 months and I look forward to carrying out his sessions in Kenya.   The trip would also not have been possible without the support of Body Helix, Fugro Subsea Services, Petrofac and in particular Paradigm Flow Services who have shown great faith in me as an athlete – something which makes me all the more determined to achieve my goals and repay their loyalty.

In half an hour or so I will be heading out for my first run of the trip and hopefully my first pain free run on African soil, with the words of Mike Turner ringing in my ears.  Iten is a truly magical place where you can witness athletes achieving their dreams all around you.  Who knows, I may even be on the shoulder of World 800metres champion, David Rudisha in years to come. Sorry, it seems the altitude has gone to my head already.

Kwa heri for now and thanks for reading.

Myles

17 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

“Some things never change……some things.”

By Myles Edwards

 
 
Cast your mind back to 1967.  Labour were in power in the United Kingdom.  War in the Middle East was causing conflict in the western world.  Casino Royale was a box office hit.  Mini skirts were the craze.  Ken Barlow was strutting his stuff in one of the nation’s favourite soap operas.  Some things never change……some things.

Mel Edwards is a former British marathon international runner with a personal best time of 2hours 18minutes 24seconds (set in 1967), and is widely regarded as one of the most inspiring, modest and popular coaches in the running fraternity.

Born in December 1942, he graduated in Civil Engineering from Cambridge University in 1966 and has since enjoyed a great deal of success in the world of distance running.  In a career which has spanned over 40 years, Mel has endured a roller coaster of ‘injuries’ and success at every level from club competitions to international level.  Detailed and accurate training diaries have been kept, which show he has racked up a total of over 100,000 miles of running!

Mel Edwards at Font Romeu, high altitude training camp 2008

Following receiving his second Cambridge ‘blue’ for his exploits on the track he went on to bigger and better things in 1967.  It was quite literally a record breaking year for Mel.  He impressively broke the Scottish 6 mile record – whilst finishing 2nd to Lachie Stewart, but went one step higher on the podium in the English universities 3 mile race by cracking the previous record.  1967 saw him really flourish as an athlete, most notably in the marathon distance of 26.2 miles.  In his first attempt at the event, Mel ran away from his rivals early on to win the Harlow marathon and climb to 4th in the British rankings.  To cap it all off, he narrowly missed out on the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, by 2 places.

What contributed to this large amount of success in a sport, which, at the time was highly competitive in the UK?  In an answer that was oozing with Mel’s typical, determined attitude, he said:

“It was down to single minded focus on getting the best out of myself, by doing the work and when injured leaving no stone unturned to find the solution.”

Renowned for his training regimes of around 100miles per week, what makes Mel stand out is his positive attitude and dogged determination to get the best possible outcome from everything he does.

In November 2006, aged almost 64, Mel underwent a MRI scan for lower back pain.  45 minutes later he was diagnosed with Myeloma, an incurable but very treatable form of bone marrow cancer.  After numerous treatments and minor disruptions to work, 8 months later he was back to full-time work as a chartered road safety engineer and running over 20 miles per week.  His reaction following the diagnosis typified his personality traits.

“Those are malignancies, cancer”, said Dr. Frank Smith.  Much to the doctor’s amazement, Mel’s immediate reaction was not to be shocked but “I’ve got a big cross country race coming up soon.”

When asked if he felt his attitude and fitness achieved from competitive sport had helped him face cancer head on, Mel’s response was definitive:

“There is no question these elements made fighting myeloma much easier. I would hate to have had to deal with it if I had never had to show determination in my life due to things coming too easily. Certainly fitness means that you have a built-in reserve which can be used to deal with additional stresses.”

It is this attitude which has served Mel so well throughout his life and during the treatment.  An inspiration to many, but what makes this inspirational character tick?

“I am inspired by the opportunities available to do constructive things, such as helping people with their athletics aims and trying to make roads safer in my working capacity. These aims, when carried through, give people a feel-good factor.”

British marathon running was booming in the late 1960s and continued to do so for the best part of the following two decades.  In 1968 there were only 2 countries to have more than 3 runners faster than Mel – Japan and UK, which, looking at today’s standards makes him look rather unlucky at missing out on competing at an Olympic Games.  But it is evident that excuses, simply, aren’t in his nature.

In 1968, 46 UK men broke the 2hours 30 minutes barrier.  In 2007, only 31 men managed to achieve this feat.  With all the advances in footwear, nutrition and training tools, as well as even faster role models, albeit almost all from other countries – why is there such a decline in British marathon running standards?

Mel’s opinion on the decline is, again, filled with absolute clarity:

“It is down to distance runners not putting in the work they did 40 years ago.  You have to be totally dedicated to getting the mileage in and choosing the right races.  Between 1966 and 1984, in Aberdeen alone, there were ten guys faster than 2 hours 20 minutes for the marathon.”

For many people, it is intriguing to find out what gets an athlete through long runs without boredom setting in.  For Mel, it is simple:

“I really enjoy the challenge of distance and time.  The fact that others with an aim to be in the top echelons of marathon or cross country running in the UK, were doing similar training also gave me a desire to be the best.”

A common site in elite marathons. (World record holder Haile Gebrselassie 3rd from right)

The lack of top marathon runners in the UK today is in stark contrast to the likes of Kenya, Ethiopia and America.  For Mel, in the late 60s and 70s you only had to turn up for a local race to compete with or witness elite athletes in action.  Therefore can the lack of male distance running role models in the UK be a factor in the decline of standards?  Perhaps so, but with Mel’s philosophy, it is very likely that all smaller factors would subsequently fall into place.

“More role models would emerge as a result of increased hard work from individual athletes.  To be the best, you must learn from, and work harder than those faster than you.”

His fair, no nonsense attitude spans far wider than himself or anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting him.  For those who are not familiar with the name, Oscar Pistorious, he is a South African Paralympic runner, known as the “Blade Runner”.  He is the double amputee world record holder in the 100, 200 and 400 metres and runs with the aid of carbon-fibre limbs, attached from the knee down.  In 2007 Pistorious took part in his first international able-bodied competitions.  However, the International Association of Athletics Federations (with their typical Rubix Cube-like mindset) ruled that his lower leg, artificial limbs gave him an unfair advantage over able-bodied athletes and subsequently banned him from competing under their rules.  Thankfully this decision has since been reversed and he is eligible to compete in able-bodied Olympic competition.

Mel’s opinion on Oscar Pistorious’ situation not only demonstrates his love of a challenge but also seems to apply common sense to some harsh obstacles which had previously been placed in the path of the young South African’s destiny.

“I believe he should be allowed to compete at the highest level possible.  He is not far off the top able bodied 400m runners and relishes the challenge of competing against them. Why deny him the chance?  He deserves the opportunity to enjoy himself as he wishes and I see this taking precedence over views of others on his actions.”

The British male marathon running scene offers little sign of competing at the front of world class racing.  At 67, Mel Edwards shows less chance of slowing down than Formula 1 cars and even less likelihood of quitting than Ken Barlow:  “I have no reason to stop.  I feel good and it is exciting.”

Some things never change.

8 Comments

Filed under Life and Society, Sport

Cancer facing tough opponent

By Myles Edwards                 17 December 2007

November 2006, aged 64, Mel Edwards underwent a MRI scan for lower back pain.  45 minutes later he was diagnosed with Myeloma, an incurable but very treatable form of bone marrow cancer.  After numerous treatments and minor disruptions to work, 8 months later he was back to full-time work as a chartered road safety engineer and running over 20 miles per week.

On one hand, this is just one of many cancer survival stories but what makes Mel stand out is his positive attitude and dogged determination to get the best possible outcome from everything he does.  His reaction following the diagnosis typified these two personality traits.

Following the MRI scan, Dr. Frank Smith of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary asked Mel to view the result with him.  He identified a herniation of the lumbar 3 disc, but what concerned Dr. Smith greatly was the presence of white spots all over Mel’s skeletal frame.  “Those are malignancies, cancer” he said.  Much to Dr. Smith’s amazement, Mel said that his immediate reaction was not to be shocked but “I’ve got a big cross country race coming up soon.”

It is this attitude which has served Mel so well throughout his life and during the treatment.

dad

Mel Edwards

Born in Aberdeen on December 2nd, 1942, Mel graduated in Civil Engineering from Cambridge University and has enjoyed a great deal of success in the world of distance running.  Renowned for his training regimes of around 100miles per week, his Marathon personal best time of 2 hours 18 minutes 25 seconds would place him high up the British rankings of today.  In a running career which has spanned over 40 years, Mel has run over 100,000 miles and is a former Scottish international athlete at distances ranging from 6miles to Marathon.  He now coaches and advises athletes of all abilities.

Mel said: “It has not been too onerous to be fully back at work.  The only disruption was the main treatment in June and July.”

The treatment involved 4 weeks of isolation as high dose chemotherapy was administered to kill off malignant plasma cells in the blood and then transplantation of Mel’s own stem cells which had previously been harvested.

Mel ensured that he remained as physically and mentally active as possible during his stay in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.  He said: “During this time I was determined that I would not allow myself to get bored and succeeded in this although I was very keen to be released.  I returned to work the day after I left hospital.”

Mel’s eagerness to return to ‘normal’ life is evident in his work and running.  “Although running is not that easy (mainly due to Thalidomide drugs used during treatment), I am doing just under 20 miles of running a week.  This keeps fitness and ability to challenge myself physically on board.  As a human I feel 100%, as an athlete I feel 80%.”

Fraser Clyne, a close friend and former rival of Mel’s said: “Mel is so enthusiastic.  He was one of the toughest competitors of his generation, and I believe most of his success to be down to his determination to succeed at everything he encounters.”

Ellen Watters, Myeloma Information Nurse Specialist, Edinburgh, stressed the key role which an active lifestyle plays in terms of ‘prehabilitation’ and recovery.  She said: “Exercise helps to tone muscles which, in turn, support the bones.  This is vital when tackling bone marrow cancer”.

She said: “Athletes are generally more surprised when they hear the diagnosis, but they are typically more driven because of their desire to compete again following treatment.”

Although Mel may not fall into the first of those categories, he certainly epitomises the latter.  Whilst in hospital, he was continually, meticulously planning work, family and social events for after his release.

“By being totally positive I feel it makes things easier for others in their dealings with me.  They are not at all apprehensive about approaching me and discussing how I am doing”, he said.

Myeloma is a form of cancer arising from plasma cells, which are normally found in the bone marrow.  Each year, in the UK, more than 2,400 people die due to myeloma and around 3,800 people are diagnosed with myeloma.

Professor Mike Greaves, Head of the Medical School at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, identified the introduction of Thalidomide as a treatment in having a positive effect on Myeloma sufferers.  He said: “Myeloma one year survival rates have increased to over 85%, a 20% improvement on 2004.”

Myeloma incidence rates are on the rise.  Myeloma survival rates are on the rise.  These trends are most likely down to advances in diagnostics and an overall greater awareness of the disease.

Technology alone is not going to conquer Myeloma, nothing is.  But it is attitudes such as that of Mel Edwards which are going to give the disease the toughest of battles it is likely to ever come up against.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life and Society, Sport