Welcome to Pushing the Limits, the show that helps you reach your full potential with your host, Lisa Tamati, brought to you by lisatamati.com.
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Right over to the show now with an amazing guest who is one of my heroes, a hero from my childhood actually. Now I have Rod Dixon to guest. Rod Dixon, for those who don't know who he is, maybe you were born only in the past 20 years or so, and you really don't know. But if you're around when I was a kid, this guy was an absolute superstar. He is a four-times Olympian; he won a bronze medal at the 1972 Olympics. He's a runner, obviously, he won in the 1500 meters bronze medal. He's won multiple times championships and cross-country running, and who really one of his biggest successes was to win the New York City Marathon and absolute mammoth feats to do back in 1983. So hope you enjoy the insights that Rod Dixon is going to provide for you today. If you're a runner, you will love this one. But even if you just love interesting, amazing people then check out this interview with Rod Dixon.
Lisa: Well, welcome everybody. Today. I have an absolute legend with me on the show. I have Rod Dixon, one of my heroes from way back in the day, Rod, welcome to the show. It's wonderful to have you on Pushing the Limits. Thanks for taking the time.
Rod Dixon: Lisa, thank you. I mean, of course, I've known about you and read about you but this is our first time, and it's come about through the pandemic. So, some good things have come out of this.
Lisa: There’s definitely some good things come out of it. And I've definitely known about you sort of pretty much my entire, since I was a little kid. So you’re one of my heroes back in the day, so I was like, ‘Oh, wow’. And the funny thing is, we got to meet through a friend in America who just happened to know you. And I was talking with them, and they're like, and I'm like, ‘Can you introduce me?’ Via America we've come, but to get you to Kiwi, so wonderful to have you on the show, Rod.
Rod, you hardly need an introduction. I think people know sort of your amazing achievements as an athlete and runner are many, and we're going to get into them. I think one of the biggest, most incredible things was winning the 1983 New York City Marathon. And that iconic image of you with your hands in the air going, and that guy behind you not such good shape. That's one of the most famous images there is. But Rod, can you tell us a little bit about your story, where you came from, how did that you were such a good runner? Give us a bit of background on you.
Rod: I think, Lisa, I started… I was born in Nelson, and living out at Stoke, which is just not far out. And my brother, John, three years older, he went to Stoke Primary School. And so, I was in a centre, I think. And my mother came out to check on me. And there’s a young Rod, and he sees, and he said in the centre, ‘I'll go and take my shower now’. And that was my chance to then put all the things that I've learned of how to climb over the gate. And I climbed over the gate, then off I went. My mother got the phone call from the Stoke school. ‘Where is your son, Rodney?’ He said, ‘Oh he’s at the back, hanging in the sand’, and she's, ‘No, well, he's down here at the Stokes school with his brother’. Because we used to walk John down to school and walk and go and meet him to walk him back. And so, I knew that way. And here is my chance, so I think, Lisa, I started when I was four years old, when I ran out.
Lisa: When you are escaping? And your brother John. I mean, he was a very talented, amazing runner as well. And actually, he's got into it before you did. Tell us a little bit of his story, because he was definitely been a big part of your career as well. Tell us about John a little bit.
Rod: Yeah, well, my mother's family were from Mishawaka. They're all farmers. And fortunately, they were tobacco farmers, hot guns, and sheep and cattle. And so, we would be over with the family a lot of the time. And of course, a big farm, and John would always say, ‘Let's go down and catch some eels’ or ‘Let's go chase the rabbits’. And so we're on, outside running around all over time. And I think, then we used to have running races. And John would say, ‘Well, you have 10 yards and say, for 20 yards, 50 yards, and see if you can beat me down to the swing bridge.’ And I would try, and of course he’d catch me. So, there was always this incredible activity between us. And my dad was a very good runner, too. And so, we would go down for our, from the north we’ll go down to the beach for swim. Pretty well, most nights we could walk and run down there. So we would all run down. And then we would run along the beach to the estuary, and run back again.
And then my dad, of course, he would stride out and just make sure that we knew our packing order. Slowly but surely, you see John waited for his moment where he beat dad. And I think, dad turned around and came back to me and he said, ‘I won't run with John, I'll just run with you’. So, I knew what the story was that I had to do the same, but it took me another couple of years before I could beat my dad. So, running was very much an expression, very much part of us. We’d run to school, we’d run home. I would deliver the newspapers in the neighbourhood, most of the time I would run with dad. So, and then at 12 years old, I was able to join the running club, the Nelson Amateur Athletic Harriot and Cycling Club. There’s three or four hundred in the club, and it was just incredible because it was like another extension of the family. And so we would run on farms and golf courses and at the beach or at the local school, sometimes the golf cart would let us run on the golf club. So, there was this running club. So the love of running was very part of my life.
Lisa: And you had a heck of a good genetics by the sound of it. You were just telling me a story, how your dad had actually cycled back in the 40s, was this around Australia, something like 30,000 miles or something? Incredible, like, wow, that's and on those bikes, on those days. And what an incredible—say he was obviously a very talented sports person.
Rod: I think he was more of an adventurer. We’ve got these amazing pictures of him with his workers in those days, they have to wear knee high leather boots. He’s like Doctor Livingstone, explorer. And so he was exploring and traveling around Australia, just his diaries are incredible. What he did, where he went, and everything was on the bike, everything.. So, it was quite amazing, that endurance, I think you're right, Lisa...
Lisa: You had it in there.
Rod: ...there’s this incredible thing and genetically, and my mother, she played basketball, and she was very athletic herself and gymnast. So I think a lot of that all came together for us kids.
Lisa: So you definitely had a good Kiwi kid upbringing and also some very, very good genetics, I mean, you don't get to the level that you have with my genetics that much. We're just comparing notes before and how we're opposite ends of the running scale, but both love running. It’s lovely. So Rod, I want to dive in now on to a little bit of, some of your major achievements that you had along the way and what your training philosophies were, the mentors that you had, did you follow somebody and started training? Who were you— so, take me forward a little bit in time now to when you're really getting into the serious stuff. What was your training, structure and stuff like back in the day?
Rod: Well, it's very interesting, Lisa. This was after did, in fact, incredibly, he was working, and with Rothmans, and he would travel the country. And he would come to the running clubs to teach the coaches, to impart his principles and philosophy with the coaches. And my brother being three years older, I think he tended to connect with that more so, as younger kids. And but we were just pretty impressed, and Bill Bailey used to come in as a salesperson, and he would come and we'd all go out for lunch with Bill and he would tell stories. And we were fascinated by that, and encouraged by it, and inspired by it. So, I think what John did, as we started, John will get to Sydney in 1990. And he noticed that young Rodney was starting to — our three favourite words, Lisa, it’s learned by doing. So I would learn from this race and I would adopt something different. I would try. When I knew, I mean, John would tell me, he said, ‘You've run the same race twice expecting a different result.’ He said, ‘You've got to run differently’. And I would go out train with John and then he would say, ‘Okay, now you turn around and go back home because we're going on for another hour’. So he knew how to brother me, how to look after me or study.
And so really, as I started to come through, John realised that maybe Rodney has got more talent and ability than I do. So, he started to put more effort into my training and that didn't really come to us about 18. So, he allowed those five, six years just for club running, doing the races, cross-country. I love cross country — and the more mud and the more fences and the more steep hills, the better I ran. And so that cross country running say I used to love running the beach races through the sand dunes. And I love trackless, fascinated with running on the grass tracks because of Peter Snell and yeah Murray Halberg. And also too fascinated with the books like The Kings Of Distance and of course, Jack Lovelock winning in 1936. One of the first things I wanted to do was to go down to Timaru Boys High School and hug the oak tree that was still growing there, 80 years old now, Lisa because they all got a little oak sapling for the end, and that is still growing at Timaru Boys High School,
Lisa: Wow. That was so special.
Rod: There's a lot of energy from all around me that inspired me. And I think that's what I decided then that I was going to take on the training, John asked me, and I said yes. And he said, ‘What do you want to do?’ And he said, and I said, ‘Well, I just listened to the 1968 Olympics on my transistor radio’ — which I tell kids, ‘That was Wi-Fi, wireless’. And I said, I want to go to the Olympics one day. And he said, ‘Right, well, they know you've made the commitment’. Now, obviously, during the training, John would say, ‘Well, hold on, you took two days off there, what's going on? So, that’s okay’, he said, ‘You set a goal, but I told you how to do it. So you've got to figure out what you're prepared to do’. And I think then I realised it was my decision making and I had to focus.
So I really, there was very, very few days that I didn't comply — not so much comply — but I was set. Hey, my goal, and my Everest is this, and this is what it's going to take.
Lisa: And that would have been the 19, so 1972.
Rod: No, 1968.
Lisa: 1968. Okay.
Rod: So now, I really put the focus on. Then we set the goal, what it would take, and really by 1970 and ‘70 or ‘71, I made the very, my very first Kewell Cross Country Tour. And I think we're finishing 10th in the world when I was just 20. We realised that that goal would be Olympics, that’s two years’ time, is not unreasonable. So, we started to think about the Olympics. And that became the goal on the bedroom wall. And I remember I put pictures of Peter Snell, Ron Clark and Jim Ryun and Kip Keino on my wall as my inspiration.
Lisa: Your visualisation technique, is that called now, your vision board and all that. And no, this was really the heyday of athletics and New Zealand, really. I mean, you had some, or in the 70s, at least, some other big names in the sport, did that help you — I don't think it's ever been repeated really, the levels that we sort of reached in those years?
Rod: No, no. know. It certainly is because there was Kevin Ross from Whanganui. He was 800, 1500. And then there's Dick Tyler, because he went on incredibly in 1974 at the Commonwealth Games, but Dick Quax, Tony Polhill, John Walker wasn't on the scene until about ‘73 right. So, but, here are these and I remember I went to Wanganui to run 1500. And just as a 21-year-old and I beat Tony Polhill who had won the British championships the year before. So we suddenly, I realised that —
Lisa: You’re world class.
Rod: First with these guys, I can — but of course, there were races where I would be right out the back door. And we would sit down with it now, was it tactics, or was it something we weren't doing in training, or was it something we overdid the train. And we just had to work that out. It was very, very feeling based.
Lisa: And very early in the knowledge like, now we have everything as really — I mean, even when I started doing ultramarathons we didn't know anything. Like I didn't even know what a bloody electrolyte tablet was. Or that you had to go to the gym at all. I just ran, and I ran slow and I ran long. And back then I mean, you did have some—I mean absolutely as approach what’s your take on that now like looking back and the knowledge we have now that sort of high mileage training stalls. What's your take on that?
Rod: Well, John realised, of course I am very much the hundred mile a week. John realised that and the terrain and I said, ‘I don't want to run on the right job. I just don't like that.’ He said, ‘Okay, so then, we’ll adapt that principle, because you like to run on the cross-country and mounds all around Nelson’. Yeah. And, and so we adapted, and I think I was best around the 80, 85 miles, with the conditioning. There would be some weeks, I would go to 100 because it was long and slow. And we would go out with the run to the other runners. And the talk test showed us how we were doing.
At 17, I was allowed to run them, Abel Tasman National Park. And of course, the track was quite challenging in those days, it wasn’t a walkway like it is now. And so you couldn't run fast. And that was the principle behind bringing us all over there to run long and slow. And just to get the timing rather than the miles.
Lisa: Keep it light then, the time is for us to use it.
Rod: So, he used to go more with time. And then after, we’d come to Nelson and he would give John time. And John would, of course, I would have to write everything down in my diary. And John would have the diaries there. And he would sit with Arthur and I would go through them. And afterwards, we would give a big check, and say that ‘I liked it. I like this, I liked it. I like to see you doing this’. And because we're still the basic principles of the period with the base as the foundation training, as you go towards your competitive peak, you're starting to narrow it down and do shorter, faster, or anaerobic work and with base track. And John, we just sit straight away, you don't improve when you train, you improve when you recover.
Lisa: Wow, wise.
Rod: Recovered and rest and recovery.
Lisa: Are you listening, athletes out there? You don't get better training alone. You need the rest and recovery, because that's still the hardest sell. That's still the hardest sell for athletes today, is to get them to prioritise the recovery, their sleep, their all of those sort of aspects over there. And like you already knew that back then.
Rod: And I said once again, just remember to learn by doing. So, unless you're going to record what you've learned today, you're not going to be able to refer to that. Sometimes John would say, ‘Ooh, I noticed today that you didn't do this and this. Bring your diary over.’ And on those days, of course, it was a blackboard and chalk. And he would write the titles at the top. And then from our diary, he would put under, he would take out, and he'd put under any of those headings. And then we'd stand back and said, ‘Now look at this. There's three on this one, nine on this one, two on this one, six on this one.’ We want to try and bring the lows up and the highs down. Let's get more consistency because this is your conditioning period. We don't need to have these spikes. We don't need to have this roller coaster. I want to keep it as steady as we can because it's a 8, 10-week foundation period. So those are the ways that we used to be. And John just simply said, he would say, when you wake up in the morning, take your heart rate. Take your pulse for 15 seconds, and write it down. And then he would say ‘Look, the work we did yesterday, and the day before, yesterday, I noticed that there's a bit of a spike in your recovery on Tuesday and Wednesday. So instead of coming to the track tonight, just go out for a long slow run’.
Lisa: Wow and this was before EPS and heart rate monitors, and God knows what we've got available to us now to track everything. So what an incredible person John must have been like, because he also gave up pretty much his potential, really to help you foster your potential because you obviously genetically had an extreme gift. That's a pretty big sacrifice really, isn’t?
Rod: He was incredible. And I just saw him yesterday, actually. And he used to live in the Marlborough Sounds. And of course, now that moved back to Nelson and so it's wonderful. I mean, I would always go down there and see him, and I used to love—well, I wouldn't run around — but I was biking around, all around the Marlborough Sounds, Kenepuru Sound. and I do four- or five-hour bike rides in the head. He says to me, ‘What was your big thing?’ And I said, ‘Well, I saw three cars today, John, for three hours’, and he said, ‘Oh, yes, and two of those were in the driveway’. It was amazing. I just loved down there, but now he's back here we see each other and talk and we go through our bike rides, and we go for a little jiggle, jog, as we call it now.
Lisa: And so he helped you hone and tailor all of this and give you that guidance so that you boost your really strong foundation. So what was it, your very first big thing that you did? Was it then, would you say that for the Olympics?
Rod: I think qualifying — no, not qualifying — but making the New Zealand cross-country team, The World Cross Country Team at 1971. I think that was the defining moment of what we were doing was, ‘Well, this is amazing.’ And so, as I said, 1971, I finished 10th in the world. And then then John said, ‘Well, what are you actually thinking for the Olympics? Are you thinking the steeplechase or the 5000 meters?’ And I said, ‘No, the 1500.’ ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Oh, Jack Havelock, Peter Snell, John Davies’, and then, he said, ‘Good. You're committed, so let's do it’. Okay. Of course, once I have announced that, then, of course, I got all the — not criticism — but the suggestions from all the, ‘Well, I think Rod's a bit optimistic about the 1500. He hasn't even broken 1’50 for the 800 meters. He hasn't yet been broken 4 minutes for a mile. He wants to go to the Olympics. And I think he should be thinking, and John said, ‘Put the earmuffs on.’
Lisa: That is good advice. Don’t listen to the naysayers.
Rod: Off we go. And then slowly, but surely, I was able to get a lot of races against Dick Quax and Tony Powell, and Kevin Ross, in that. And then I remember, in Wellington at Lower Hutt, I was able to break the four-minute mile, then I got very close in a race to the Olympic Qualifying time. And then of course, you look at qualifications. And a lot of those runners didn't want, they already realised that they hadn't got anywhere near it. So they didn't turn out for the trials. So John gave up any idea of him going to the Olympics. And he said, ‘I'm coming to Auckland to pace you. And this time, you will stay right behind me. And when I move over and say go, go’. And so because we've done a couple of these earlier in the season, and ‘I said that I can sprint later.’ And of course, I missed out at the time, but this was it. And so, he said, ‘Our goal is for you to win the trials and to break the qualification’. And he made it happen. He said, he ran in one second of every lap to get me to 300 meters to go. When he moved over, and he said ‘Go!’ I got the fight of my life and took off.
Lisa: You wouldn't dare not, after that dedication order. And you qualified you got–
Rod: I won the trials and qualified. And Tony Polhill had qualified in his and he had won the national championship. So he qualified when the nationals and now I've qualified and won the trials. So, they actually, they took us both incredible. He was an A-grade athlete, I was a B-grade athlete. You got everything paid for, be in your head to train.
Lisa: Yes, I know that one. And so then you got to actually go to the Olympics. Now what was that experience like? Because a lot of people, not many people in the world actually get to go to an Olympics. What's it like? What's it like?
Rod: So we went to Scandinavia, and to Europe to do some pre-training. And on those days, we used to say, ‘Well, no, you got to acclimatised’. I mean, nowadays you can kind of go and run within a few days. But in my day, it was three to four weeks, you wanted to have —
Lisa: That's ideal to be honest.
Rod: Yeah, if they were right.
Lisa: Yeah. Get their time and like that whole jet lag shift and the changing of the time zones, and all of that sort of stuff takes a lot longer than people think to actually work out of the body. So yeah, okay, so now you're at the Olympics.
Rod: So here we were, so and John gave me a written for a track that schedule every day, and this was a training, and he had bounced with knowing that I was going to be flying from London to Denmark. And then, we're going to go to Sweden, and then we're going to go to Dosenbach. And so he expected in all the traveling, all the changes, and really a lot of it was I was able to go out there pretty well stayed with that. Now again, I realised that that wasn't going to work. And but what he had taught me, I was able to make an adjustment and use my feeling-based instinct, saying, ‘What would John say to this?’ John would say this because those all that journey, we'd have together, I learned very, very much to communicate with him. Any doubts, we would talk, we would sit down, and we would go over things. So, he had trained me for this very moment, to make decisions for myself. Incredible.
Lisa: Oh, he's amazing.
Lisa: That’s incredible. I'm just sort of picturing someone doing all that, especially back then, when you didn't have all the professional team coaches running around you and massage therapists and whatever else that the guys have now, guys and girls.
Rod: It was the two days he knew that I would respond, it would take me four to five races before I started to hit my plateau. I found early in those days that — see, I was a strength trainer to get my speed. I came across a lot of athletes who had speed to get their strength. And so, what I wrote, I found that when I would go against the speed to street, they would come out of the gate, first race and boom, hit their time.
Lisa: Hit their peak.
Rod: Whereas, I would take three, four or five races to get my flow going. And then I would start to do my thing. My rhythm was here, and then all of a sudden, then I would start to climb my Everest. I've been new. And so John said, ‘These are the races that the athletic, the Olympic committee have given us. I want you to run 3000 meters on this race, I want you to run 800 meters if you can on this race. If you can't run 800, see if you can get 1000. I don't want you running at 1500 just yet. And so, then he would get me under, over. Under, and then by the time that three ball races, now it's time for you to run a couple of 1500s and a mile if you can. Then, I want you to go back to running a 3000 meters, or I want you to go back out and training’.
Lisa: Wow. Really specific. Like wow.
Rod: He was very unbelievable. Also to that at that time, I had these three amazing marathon runners, Dave McKenzie, our Boston Marathon winner, Jeff Foster, who is the absolute legend of our running, and a guy called Terry Maness. And John said to me, ‘Don't train with quacks and all those other guys. Run, do your runs with the marathon runners’. You see, and they would take me out for a long slow run. Whereas if you went out with the others, you get all this group of runners, then they’d all be racing each other.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don’t race when you're training
Rod: Your ego. With the pecking order, when you ran with the marathon runners, there was no pecking order.
Lisa: It's all about pacing and —
Rod: And of course, and I would eat with them too because I learned how to eat because they were better eaters than me. I would eat more carbohydrates and more organic foods because it was the long run. I learned to do that. It was interesting because Jack pointed out to me said, ‘Now you see those two guys that were at the track today. And they were doing, and you are quite overwhelmed because they are your competitors and they were doing this incredible workout’. And I said to them, I said, ‘Woop, that what I was up against’. And Jack said, ‘Put it behind you. I want you to come to the dining room with us tonight, and we'll try and see if we can sit with them or near them.’ And I’m sure enough, there they were over there and they were talking. And they were pushing their food all around their plate and they weren't eating much’. And Jack said, ‘Look at you, you've eaten everything, and you're going back for seconds and thirds. If they're not replacing their glycogen, they won’t be able to run very well in a couple of days because they're not eating right’. So that gave me the confidence. Oh, I'm eating better than them. So they may have trained better. And sure enough, you didn't see them at the track. And the coach had taken them off because they were obviously racing too hard, they were racing their and not recovering.
Lisa: Recovering. Yeah, so don't be intimidated. Because it's very easy, isn't it, when you start to doubt your own methods and your own strategies, and you haven’t done it right, and so-and-so's got it better than me, and they're more talented. And this is — all that negative self-talk, and you found a couple of guys to go, ‘Hang on, you've got this part better than they've got.’ What a great sort of mentoring thing for them to have done, to put you in that sort of good headspace. On the headspace thing, how did you deal with the doubts? Did you ever have lots of self-doubts? I mean, I know I certainly I did, where you don't feel good enough. Like you're what am I doing here? The old imposter syndrome type thing? Did that ever rear its head in your world? Or were you able to focus and...?
Rod: No, absolutely, Lisa. I mean, I would often, fortunately, I could go to John with any question. There is nothing, no stone left unturned. He was amazing. Because he sensed it too, by the way, that being that brother, playing and training. And he was very, very connected with me because he would train with me, and he would sense things. And he'd say to me, he said, ‘Oh, you’re a little bit down today, aren’t you?’ and he said, ‘What's happened?’ There are like bit of a bullying going on in school and this or that, or ‘That girl won't talk to me anymore, and I love her’ and that stuff.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah, all that stuff.
Rod: And so he was like Marian, my mother. She was very, very on to me, too. She would sit with me and talk with me. And her mother, my grandmother, amazing, amazing people. And I will say this, right now, when my mother was 95 years old, she asked me to come and sit with her on her birthday. And she held my hand. And she said, ‘You can call me Marian from now on’. And I said, ‘Wow, this is fantastic’. And that was my mother's gift to me because I've always called her mother. I never call her mum. No. Always ‘mother’. And that relationship with my mother was very, very powerful, and it came through in my running. And John would now and again have to kind of toughen me up a little bit — that was incredible balance. So I never had anything that I had, I took to bed with me, I never had anything that I would go out.
Lisa: Get it all out.
Rod: I would say, sometimes, if you're running through the Dan Mountain Retreat. And he said, ‘I know what you get yourself wound up’. He said, ‘Stop, take your shoes off, and hug a tree.’
Lisa: These guys is just so like, what astounds me is that your mom, your brother, these good mentors and coaches that you had were so advanced. And this is the stuff that we’re talking about now, like, I'm telling my athletes to take your shoes off and go and ground yourself every day. And go hug a tree and get out in the sunlight and get away from the screens and do all these basic sort of things. But back then there wasn't that, like, there wasn't all this knowledge that we have now, and they obviously innately just nurtured. It sounds like you had the perfect nurturing environment to become the best version of yourself.
Rod: Yes, I think so, Lisa. I was very, very, — and wonderfully, even in the club, in our running club, get this, our chairman of our running club was Harold Nelson, 1948 Olympian. Our club captain was Carrie Williams, five times Australasian cross-country champion. And they took time to run with us kids. They didn't all go out and race. The club captain and Harold would come down and talk with us kids and we would run. And then, I remember Carrie Williams, when he took us for a run. And he said, ‘Right’. He said, ‘Now there's a barbed wire fence in, there's a gate’. And he said, ‘We've got the flag there and the flag there’. He said, ‘You got a choice of going over the barbed wire fence or over the gate’. He said, ‘Come on, you boys, off you go’. And of course, 9 out of 10 went over the gate. And a friend of mine, Roger Seidman and I, we went over the barbed wire. And then he said, ‘Why did you do that?’ And I said, ‘Because it was shorter.’ And they turned to the others, and he said, ‘I like his thinking’. And he said, ‘You've got to have, to jump over a barbed wire fence, you've got to have 100%, you got to have 90% confidence and 10% ability.
Lisa: And a lot of commitment. That is a good analogy.
Rod: Things like that, all started to, there's this big, big jigsaw puzzle. And all those pieces started to make sense. And I can start to build that picture. And when I started to see the picture coming, I understood what they were telling me. And once again, learn by doing — or another word, another thing that John had above my bed was a sign, ‘Don't be influenced by habits’.
Lisa: Wow, that's a good piece of advice for life. I think I might stick that on my Instagram today, Rod Dixon says.
Rod: And, of course, wonderfully, all these I've carried on with my programme that I did with the LA marathon, and bringing people from the couch to the finish line now. And when I was going through, we're putting through, I started off with five or six hundred. But I got up to over 2000 people. And basically, it's the matter that I used for my kids’ programme is, ‘Finishing is winning. Slow and steady. The tortoise won the race.’
Lisa: Well, that's definitely been my bloody life history, that's for sure. Finishing is winning and the tortoise wins the race. Yeah, if you go long enough, and everyone else has sort of stopped somewhere, and you're still going. That was my sort of philosophy, if I just keep running longer than everybody else, and whatever. Let's go now, because I'm aware of time and everything, and there's just so much to unpack here. I want to talk about the New York City Marathon because it was pretty, I mean, so you did the Olympics. Let's finish that story first, because you got bronze medal at the 1500 at the Olympics. Now, what was that like a massive, life-changing thing to get an Olympic medal? You did it four times, the first time?
Rod: I mean, my goal, and I remember, I've still got a handwritten notes of John. And our goal was to get to the sideline at the first heat. And if you can qualify for the next thing, would we give you this, that, if you're there, this is what we've worked for. And of course, and I remember 1968 again, when I was listening to my transistor radio, to the 1500 meters with Keino and Ryun, Jim Ryun, the world record holder, Kip Keino, Commonwealth champion from Edinburgh in 1970. And here he was, this incredible race, and we were absolutely going in there, listening to it, and it was incredible. And to think they said that four years later, I'm on the start line, and beside me, is Kip Keino.
Lisa: Yeah, it'd be, it’s pretty amazing.
Rod: And then the next runner to come and stand beside me was Jim Ryun, the world record holder and here I am. And I'm thinking because I don't pick it out, when we got the heats, well you've got the world record holder, silver medallist, and you've got the Olympic gold medallist in my race, and only two go through to the next leap. So I'm going for it but I never, I wasn't overwhelmed by that because John has said to me, our goal is, and I wanted to please John by meeting our goal, at least get to the next round. Well, history has shown that Jim Ryun was tripped up and fell and I finished second behind Keino to go through to the next round. And then and then of course, I won my semi-final. So, I was in the final, and this was unbelievable, it’s no doubt is –
Lisa: It’s like you’re pinching yourself, ‘Is this real?’ All that finals and the Olympics. And you ended up third on that race, on the podium, with a needle around your neck on your first attempt in a distance where the people sent you, ‘Yeah, not really suited to this tribe’.
Rod: And what was amazing is that just after we know that we've got the middle and went back to the back, and after Lillian came in into the room to congratulated me and Bill Bailey. And they said, ‘You realise that you broke Peter Snell’s New Zealand record’. And I was almost like, ‘Oh my god, I didn't mean to do that’.
Lisa: Apologising for breaking the record. Oh, my goodness. I'm sure that's just epic. And then you went on to more Olympic glory. Tell us from...
Rod: So at that stage, we went back to… New Zealand team were invited to the Crystal Palace in London for what they called the International Athletes Meet. And it was a full house, 40,000 people, and I didn't want to run the 1500 — or they didn't actually have a 1500 — they had a 3000, or two mark, this right, we had a two-mark. And that's what I wanted to run, the two mark, and that was Steve Prefontaine, the American record holder, and he just finished fourth at the Olympics. And I went out and we had a great race — unbelievable race. I won it, setting a Commonwealth and New Zealand record. He set the American record. And that was just like, now, it was just beginning to think, wow, I can actually run further than 1500.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah, you can. You certainly did.
Rod: So we got invited to go back to Europe at ‘73. And so we have the called, the Pacific Conference Games in ‘73, in Toronto. So, I asked the Athletic people, ‘Can I use my ticket to Toronto, and then on to London?’ Because I had to buy—may they allow me to use that ticket. And then Dick Quax and Tony Polhill said they were going to do the same. And then we had this young guy call me, John Walker. And he said, ‘I hear you guys are going to England. And could I come with you?’ And I said, ‘Yeah’, because he didn't go to the Olympics, but he ran some great races, we thought it was heavy. And he said, ‘Now do you get me the ticket?’ And I said, ‘No, you have to get the ticket’. And he said, ‘Oh, how do I do that?’ And I said, ‘If you, can't you afford it?’, and he said, ‘Not really’. I said, have you got a car? He said, ‘Yes’. I said, ‘Well, sell it’. And he said, ‘Really?’ So he did. And my reasoning is that, ‘John, if you run well enough, you'll get your tickets back again, which means you'll be able to buy your car back again.’ And that was John...
Lisa: Put your ass on the line and forward you’re on, because this all amateur sport, back in the day. And it was hard going, like to be a world-class athlete while trying to make a living and how did you manage all of that, like, financially? How the heck did you do it?
Rod: Well, before I left in ‘73, I worked full time, eight hours a day. I did a milk run at night. I worked in a menswear store on a Friday night. And then of course, fortunately, I was able to communicate with Pekka Vasala from Finland. And he said, ‘We can get you tickets. So the thing is, get as many tickets as you can, and then you can cash them in’. Right. But then, so you get the ticket, of course, there you wouldn't get the full face of the ticket because you were cashing it in. But if you got enough to get around. And you did get expenses, double AF and those rows you're able to get per diem, what they call per diem. Yep. But by the time you came back, you kind of hopefully, you equal, you weren't in debt.
Rod: Well, then you go back and comment for the Sydney Olympics. Very good friend of mine allowed us to go do shooting and we would go out every weekend and then sell with venison. Yeah. And that was giving another $100 a weekend in, into the kid.
Lisa: Into the kid. And this is what you do, like to set, I mean, I must admit like when I represented New Zealand, so I did 24-hour racing and it's a ripe old age of 42. Finally qualifying after eight years of steps. And I qualified as a B athlete, I did 193.4 in 24 hours and I had to get to 200. I didn't make the 200, but hey, I qualified. And then we didn't even get a singlet, we, and the annoying thing in my case was that we qualified for the World Champs but they wouldn't let us go to the World Champs. And I've been trying for this for eight years before I could actually qualified. And I was desperate to go to the World Champs and then just on the day that the entries had to be in at the World Champs athletics, New Zealand athletic said, ‘Yes, you can actually go’ and I'm like, ‘Well, where am I going to pull $10,000 out of my back pocket on the day of closing?’ So I didn't get to go to the World Champs, which was really disappointing. So I only got to go to the Commonwealth Champs in England and got to represent my country, at least. Because that had been my dream for since I was a little wee girl, watching you guys do your thing. And my dad had always been, ‘You have to represent your country in something, so get your act together’. And I failed on everything. And I failed and I failed, and failed. And I was a gymnast, as a kid, it took me till I was 42 years old to actually do that and we had to buy our own singlet, we'd design our own singlets, we didn't even get that. And that was disappointing. And this is way later, obviously, this is only what 2010, 9, somewhere, I can't remember the exact date. And so, so fight, like you're in a sport that has no money. So to be able to like, still has, to become a professional at it, I managed to do that for a number of years, because I got really good at marketing. And doing whatever needed to be done — making documentaries, doing whatever, to get to the races. So like, even though I was like a generation behind you guys, really, it's still the same for a lot of sports. It's a hard, rough road and you having to work full time and do all this planning. But a good life lessons, in a way, when you have to work really hard to get there. And then you don't take it for granted.
Now, I really want to talk about the New York City Marathon. Because there’s probably like, wow, how the heck did you have such a versatile career from running track and running these, short distances? It's super high speeds, to then be able to contemplate even doing a marathon distance. I mean, the opposite ends of the scale, really. How did that transition happen?
Rod: Yeah, I think from ‘73, ‘74, I realised that John Walker's and then Filbert Bayi and some of these guys were coming through from the 800,000 meters. And so I knew, at that stage, it was probably a good idea for me to be thinking of the 5000 meters. So that was my goal in 75 was to run three or four 5000 meters, but still keep my hand in the 1500. Because that was the speed that was required for 5000. You realise that when I moved to 5000, I was definitely the fastest miler amongst them, and that gave me a lot of confidence, but it didn't give me that security to think that they can't do it too.
So I kept running, the 800s, 1500s as much as I could, then up to 3000 meters, then up to five, then back to 3000, 1500 as much as I can. And that worked in ‘75. So then we knew that programme, I came back to John with that whole synopsis. And then we playing for ‘76 5000 meters at the Montreal Olympics. Pretty well, everything went well. I got viral pneumonia three weeks before the Olympics.
Lisa: Oh my gosh. Didn’t realise that.
Rod: Haven’t talked about this very much, it just took the edge off me.
Lisa: It takes longer than three weeks to get over pneumonia.
Rod: And I was full of antibiotics, of course. It might have been four weeks but certainly I was coming right but not quite. Yeah. So the Olympics ‘76 was a disappointment. Yeah, finishing fourth. I think the listeners set behind the first.
Lisa: Pretty bloody good for somebody who had pneumonia previously.
Rod: Then I went back to Europe. And then from that point on, I didn't lose a race. And in fact, in ‘76, I won the British 1500 meters at Sebastian Coe and Mo Crafter, and Grand Cayman, and those guys. So, then I focused everything really on the next couple of years, I’m going to go back to cross-country. And I'm going to go back to the Olympics in 1980 in Moscow, this is going to be the goal. And as you know, Lisa, we, New Zealand joined the World Cup. And we were actually in Philadelphia, on our way to the Olympics, when Amelia Dyer came up to John Walker, and I said, ‘Isn’t it just disappointing, you're not going to the Olympics’. And I look at John and go...
Lisa: What the heck are you talking about?
Rod: No, and we don't? New Zealand joined the boycott. So at that stage, they said, ‘Look, we've still got Europe, we can still go on, we can still race’. And I said, ‘Well, I'm not going to Europe. I'm not going to go to Europe and run races against the people who are going to go to the Olympics. What? There's nothing in that for me’. And I said, ‘I heard there's a road race here in Philadelphia next weekend. I'm going to stay here. I'm going to go and run that road race. And then I'll probably go back to New Zealand’.
Well, I went out and I finished third in that road race against Bill Rogers, the four-time Boston, four-time New York Marathon winner, Gary Spinelli, who was one of the top runners and I thought, ‘Wow, I can do this’. And so, I called John, and we started to talk about it. And he said, ‘Well, you really don't have to do much different to what you've been doing. You've already got your base, you already understand that your training pyramid’. He says, ‘You've got to go back and do those periodisation… Maybe you still got to do your track, your anaerobic work.’ And he said, ‘And then just stepping up to 10,000 meters is not really that difficult for you’.
So, I started experimenting, and sure enough, that started to come. And in those days, of course, you could call every day and go through a separate jar. I had a fax machine, faxing through, and then slowly but surely, I started to get the confidence that I could run 15k. And then I would run a few 10 milers, and I was winning those. And then of course, then I would run a few races, which is also bit too much downhill for me, I'm not good on downhill. So I'll keep away from those steps to select. And then I started to select the races, which were ranked, very high-ranked, so A-grade races. And then I put in some B-grade races and some C. So, I bounced them all around so that I was not racing every weekend, and then I started to get a pattern going. And then of course, I was able to move up to, as I said, 10 mile. And I thought now I'm going to give this half marathon a go. So, I ran the half marathon, I got a good sense from that. And then, I think at the end of that first year, I came back rank number one, road racing. And so then I knew what to do for the next year. And then I worked with the Pepsi Cola company, and they used to have the Pepsi 10K races all around the country. And so I said, I’d like to run some of these for you, and do the PR media. And that took me away from the limelight races.
And so, I would go and do media and talk to the runners and run with the runners and then race and win that. And I got funding for that, I got paid for that because I was under contract. And so I was the unable to pick out the key races for the rest of the set. And then slowly but surely, in 82, when I ran the Philadelphia half marathon and set the world record — that's when I knew, when I finished, I said, ‘If I turn around, could you do that again?’ And I said, ‘Yes’. I didn't tell anybody because that would be a little bit too —
Lisa: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Praising yourself.
Rod: So I just thought I'd make an honest assessment myself. And when I talked to John, he said, ‘How?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I couldn't’. And he said, ‘Well then, we’re going to look at that’.
Lisa: We got some work to do.
Rod: He said, ‘What we will do in 1982, you're going to come back and you're going to run the Pasta Marathon in Auckland, and that was going to be my trial. And Jack Foster was trying to be the first 50-year-old to break 2:20. So, I got alongside Jack and I said, ‘Now this is my first marathon. What do I do?’ And he said, ‘I see all these runners going out there and warming up and I don't want to run 29 miles...
Lisa: For the marathon? I need to do some extra miles warmup.
Rod: ‘Use the first mile as a warmup, just run with me’. I said, ‘That'll do me’. So, I went out and ran with Jack and then we time in, started down to Iraq, and we're going through Newmarket. And he said, ‘I think it's time for you to get up there with the leaders’. He said, ‘You're looking at people on the sidewalk. You're chatting away as if it's a Sunday run. You’re ready to go’. I said, ‘You're ready?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, go’. And so, alright, because this is Jack Foster.
Lisa: Can't leave him.
Rod: 1974 at 42 years old. Jack said, ‘You can climb Mount Everest,’ I would do it. Yeah. So, I got up with the leaders and join them and out to Mission Bay. And on my way back, and I was running with Kevin Ryun, he who is also one of our legends from runners. And Kevin, he said, ‘We're in a group of four or five’. And he said, he came out, he said, ‘Get your ass out of here’. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘You're running too easy. Make you break now.’ So I said, ‘Yes. Kevin’.
Lisa: Yes, Sir, I’m off.
Rod: So I ran one that and then that was when I talked with John, that was going to be the guidelines that maybe not another one this year, but certainly look at 83 as running a marathon at some point.
Lisa: How did you work the pacing? Like going from such a shorter distances and then you’re going into these super long distances, where you're pacing and you're fuelling and all that sort of thing comes into it. Was it a big mind shift for you? Like not just sprint out of the gate, like you would in, say, 1500, the strategies are so very different for anything like this.
Rod: Certainly, those memories of running with the marathon boys in 72. And I went back to Dave McKenzie and Jack Foster and talked to them about what it takes. And then, John, my brother, John was also too, very, very in tune with them, and he knew all the boys, and so we started to talk about how it would be. And he said, ‘So I want you to do, I want you to go back to doing those long Abel Tasman runs. I want you to do those long road aerobic runs, and just long and slow.’ And he said, ‘I don't want you going out there with your mates racing it. I want you to just lay that foundation again.’ And he said, ‘You’ve already done it’, he said, ‘It's just a natural progression for you’.
So it was just amazing, because it just felt comfortable. And at that time, I was living in Redding, Pennsylvania, and I would be running out or out through the Amish country and the farms and roads, they're just horse and cats.
Rod: I had this fabulous forest, Nolde Forest, which is a state park. And I could run on there for three hours and just cross, but I wouldn't run the same trails. I mean, you'd run clockwise or anti-clockwise, so. And then, but I kept — I still kept that track mentality and still did my training aerobically but I didn't do it on the track. Fortunately, the spar side, they had a road that was always closed off only for emergencies. And it was about a three-mile road. And so, I asked if I could put a little pin markers with some tape, and I knew that there was 200, 400, 600, 800. And I would do my anaerobic work in this trail, not going to the track point. And then I would do the odd time trial at the track, but that was only maybe once a month, I would do any track work. And if I was doing it, if I did, wanted to do 2 by 1 mile, I do one mile, counterclock and one mile clockwise. And I could run within about 10 seconds either way.
Lisa: Wow. So, you really got your pacing down. And then, when did you set your sights on doing the New York Marathon?
Rod: It was interesting, Lisa, because in ‘82, I actually went to the World Cross Country. And I realised that I ran ‘71, ‘73, 1980. And I realised that if I was going to run marathons, I got to get back to my cross-country mentality.
So, I went to the World Cross Country in ‘82, in Rome. And I remember we always just sit around and Fred Lebow, the legend of New York City. Of course, he had heard about my marathon on in New Zealand, and he said, ‘It's time for you to run New York’. I said, ‘I don’t think so. I don't think so.’ Because Boston, London, and San Francisco all wanted me to run a marathon then. I wanted to go and have a look at the course. So Chris Brasher brought me into London. I had a look at the course, I quite liked the course in London. San Francisco was fascinating, because I love the hills, but I didn't like the downhill, so.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah. It was a no-go there.
Rod: And Boston was too much downhill from Heartbreak. So really, I looked at New York, and I thought New York was going to be probably my best marathon course. I had to connect to it emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally. So, it was ticking all those boxes for me. So, ‘82, at the World Cross Country, I said to Fred, ‘Look, Fred, I will commit to running New York. But it won't be this year, because we've got 40 more races this year. I will look at 1983, and if I run one, I'm pretty sure to be New York’. And he said, ‘Well, how do I put that all together?’ And I said, ‘Well, I'll tell you what, if I have a medal here at the World Cross Country, be it first, second or third, I will run the New York Marathon’. And I thought to myself, I'm just saying that. Wow. I mean, I'm out again to the finishing third. I was coming out into the finishing, there’s somebody standing right in the middle of the finishing, and I thought, ‘What the hell are you're doing there?’. And as I got closer, it was Fred.
Lisa: You're coming out.
Rod: And I said, it would be 1983, Fred. So, I made the commitment to him then. I said, ‘I will come to New York Marathon in ‘82 and watch, and get a feeling of what is it all about and course notes’. And that was when Gomez and Salazar had this unbelievable race and right down to the finish line. And I remember I went out, ran on the Central Park the next morning, Monday morning. And I came across the finish line and I stood there — and of course, it was so weird, but it’s like a visual warning.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah, visual.
Rod: And I look up and I go, ‘This is me, I can see myself here’.
Lisa: You're visualising getting yourself ready.
Rod: And it was funny because I know Arnold, Arnold would say, when I said Arnold, and I stood there and I get, ‘I’ll be back’.
Lisa: I'll be back. And you were definitely back. So the following year, you spend this year preparing solely for New York?
Rod: Yes, I came back to New Zealand and, and I did a few, I think it was called the pastor series of races, we did a few road races. And that was about mainly to come back to New Zealand for summer training and preparation. And then when I went back, I said, by this stage I had my whole schedule, and this was the first time in my life, they said, that I actually had a programme designed for one race. And that was going to be, no, these races here in between were part of that journey.
Lisa: Build-up races.
Rod: Over a hundred races. And so, and John said, ‘If you're going to be serious about this, you've got to train. No distractions, you focus’. And what was incredible is when I committed to that first day, I felt, and I said, ‘Been hugely influenced by Sir Edmund Hillary in my life and set the Mount Everest —’
Lisa: Yeah, that’s your base camps.
Rod: Yeah. And so here I was now, for the first time my life, kind of like blinkers on.
Lisa: Tunnel vision. One thing. You gotta get up this mountain.
Rod: Going in and writing that diary every day. And it didn't become obsessive, but it became very, very much my goal orientation. And what was, I could see each month is that I was going up the mountain. I was climbing up. I wasn't having those fallbacks, and I just kept going and the blocks would building that improvement.
Lisa: Ugh, you must have incredible endurance, man. Yeah, and you've got a decade or more of actual base behind you now and experience at racing at this high level, and everything was sort of coming together.
Rod: It was. It was incredible. And the time trials. And I remember I said to my brother, John, I called my brother, ‘You've got a 3000 meter time trial for me here.’ But I said, ‘I wanted run the mile’. And he said, ‘What's your reasoning?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know, John. Everything is right. Everything is done. I've done it. I've got all the texts, everything, all the ducks in a row’. And he said, ‘So what's the draw?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. It just goes back to ‘72, I guess. It goes back to the Magic of The Mile. It goes back to snow. It goes back to Bannister; it goes back to Lovelock’. I said, ‘It's all part of my journey’. And he said, ‘Good boy, go out and run that mile. So, I went to the biker High School track. I had my mate come with me. And I said, ‘I’ll warm up. And when I'm ready, I will let you know. And you click the watch. Don't get me splits. I'm just going to go out there and r