How They Train #4: David Bailey - My Successful Mile / 1500m Races During the Summer of 1967

My Successful Mile / 1500m Races During the Summer of 1967
By David Bailey


On June 11, 1966, I met one of my career goals of running a sub 4-minute mile (3:59.1).  I was the first Canadian and 74th person since Roger Bannister to do it (see photo).  The Canadian media had high expectations that I would run faster and medal at the Commonwealth Games later that summer.  It did not happen.  In fact, results were subsequently disappointing. 

I needed to be tactically improved and physically stronger in order to be more competitive at the international level.   A major shortcoming was my insufficient basic speed and acceleration to mount much of a real challenge over the final 200m compared to most of the superior class of opponents against whom I would now be racing.  Yet, greats of the mile/1500 like Herb Elliott and 880/800 like Peter Snell were also not blessed with exceptional sprinting speed.  Despite this, they became Olympic Champions and World Record Holders.  Their strong-willed attitude, sound racing strategies and correct training methods meant that they could apply their resolve on the field at any time in the race.  Their competitors were either too far back or too fatigued to have a finishing sprint of any consequence.    

The summer of 1967 was the most successful of my athletic career.  It started at the end of May and concluded in mid-September.  The chronological sequence of races was the California Relays Meet in Modesto (1st in mile – 4:01), Canadian Pan American Games Trials in Saskatoon (1st in 1500m – 3:45) and Canada Day - East York Track Club Meet in Toronto (1st in mile – 4:01 against the 1964 Olympic 800 m silver medalist and good friend Bill Crothers on a rain-soaked cinder track).  This was followed by the Commonwealth vs USA Meet in Los Angeles.  I must admit that I was surprised to be selected with Kip Keino (Kenya) and Alan Simpson (Great Britain) to compete against the first three finishers at the USA Championships.  Despite 38 degrees Centigrade at track level, Jim Ryun of the USA had career defining run (3:33.1 to break Herb Elliott’s seven-year-old World Record by more than 2 seconds).  I got a new National Record (4th in 1500m – 3:41.7 and defeated the Americans, Jim Grelle and Dave Wilborn, see photo).  I won the mile at the Toronto Police Games (3:57.7 after a full day of competition on the cinder track of Varsity Stadium).  It was a new National Record that lasted for 10 years and was the 9th fastest time in the world for 1967.  Other races included the Pan American Games in Winnipeg (3rd in 1500 m – 3:44 after a 65 second first 400 m when I then took the lead and forced Tom Von Ruden of the USA to break the Games Record in order to win),  the World University Games in Tokyo (2nd in 1500 m – 3:43 that was 0.1 seconds behind the European Champion Bodo Tummler of Germany for his new Games Record) and the Pre-Olympic Games in Mexico City (4th in 1500 m – 3:48 at 2500m or 1.5 miles altitude). 

I was originally asked to write just about my training 4 – 5 weeks before a major breakthrough run.  I have tried to do it.   However, the overall success of 1967 was the result of more than 9 months of planning.  This involved altering my mental approach and physical training to maximize my strengths.  Thus, I thought that I would provide a more in-depth and hopefully enlightening blog.

My Psychological Approach to Racing

Good training alone does not guarantee good racing results.  The proper mindset is essential.  Because I had a burning desire to do well, I usually had lots of anxiety a couple of days before the race.  It would often take me several days to prepare mentally.  By then, I had tried to channel much of this nervous energy to a focus of intense concentration.  The many triumphs of teammates like Bill Crothers and Bruce Kidd (Commonwealth Games 6-mile gold medalist at 18 years of age) also provided me with role models so that I might be able to rise to the occasion when it mattered. 

However, there were times when I still had self-doubts right up to race.  I recall desperately hoping that I would make the 1967 Pan American Team at the Canadian Trials even while warming up for the final.  The thought occurred to me that everyone else in the race had the same ambition.  None of them were just going to give it to me uncontested.  I would simply have to take it away from them because I wanted it more.  With 500 m to go in the race, I took control and ran away from the field with a 56 second last 400m to win.

There were other times during warm up when I had to talk myself.  I would non-verbalize, “I can win this.”  Invariably, a little voice in my head would initially reply, “No you can’t”.  So, I would repeat this mantra in my head for about a half hour.  By then, I was totally convinced that I would be unbeatable. 

The great Canadian coach Lloyd Percival once commented to me that I worried too much about where I would finish in the race before it was run.  I lacked a clear tactical plan beforehand.  Also, I needed to be able to alter it as needed as the race progressed.  He said, “Don’t worry about your placing beforehand, the best result will come with a solid effort along with a well thought out run.”.  He was right.  It seems obvious to me now.  However, I was unaware of this problem at the time.  Thereafter, I became more engaged by watching my race develop in order to decide when would be the right moment to challenge for control.   The underlying basis was to test my opponents when they were having self-doubts or a bad spell.  At this point in the race, I figured that I would have a greater chance to defeat them. 

The mile/1500 can be divided into 3 important sections.   The first two laps are often run quickly when racers are high on adrenaline.  Challenging your competitors during this period when they feel good is wasted effort in my opinion.  The third lap is the most important.  It is always the slowest and there is good reason for it.   This is when the race begins to hurt and there is still a sizeable distance yet to be run.  There is uncertainty whether this fast pace can be sustained.  Thus, the pace inevitably slows as runners begin to conserve energy for the finish.  Your opponents are now at their most vulnerable.  They will let you take control of the race without much of a contest.  A decisive move at some point during the 3rd 440/400 can put distance between you and them.  The problem is that you are also having the same physical distress and anxiety.  However, you have the advantage of surprise and have prepared yourself for this moment.

The purpose of this move is not just to lead but to create a gap.  It now needs to be maintained and possibly lengthened.   There may still be opponents who will give chase.  After a brief breather, you now need to start a continued gradual acceleration that is sustained to the finish when you are going as fast as possible.  It is very discouraging for the chasers when they cannot close the gap.  I have done it with success and had it done to me.  The results of the race can be decided at that moment with a decisive attack between 800m to 500m remaining in the race.

Sometimes, I still did not win.  However, I invariably ended up with a better overall placing than I would have had otherwise.  Moreover, I felt good about my run which was the most important thing to me.  I had tested my competitors resolve to win.  They “knew I was there” and that I “made them sweat” before they could claim victory. 

My Training Plan

The mile / 1500m is a combination of 50% aerobic and 50% anaerobic fitness.  The former is slow to develop, can be markedly increased and slow to lose while the latter is the converse.  Therefore, aerobic strength training was my early focus.  Starting in late September of 1966, I ran 3-4 cross-country meets for the University of Toronto and had wins that involved the CIAU (CIS) Championship.  During that period of time, I included a long run (1:45 – 2:00 hours) weekly at any pace that felt comfortable.  I also did this throughout the year whenever possible.  I avoided running on hard surfaces to minimize risk of injury.  I had the good fortune to live close to three almost interconnecting golf courses which had challenging hills that I often ran without much concern from most golfers, something I don’t think would happen very often these days.  I also sought out parks and dirt paths through forested areas even though getting there involved travelling some distance.

The cross-country results set me up for a limited but good indoor racing season following some interval training.  Winning the Toronto Maple Leaf Indoor Games (mile – 4:03) and finishing 2nd at the Milrose Games in New York City’s Madison Square Garden (Wanamaker Mile – 4:02) in the winter of 1967 on 11 laps to the mile banked wooden tracks proved that I was headed in the right direction.

A key workout after the indoor season was hill running starting in late March.  I adapted this aspect to how I would race.  I tended not to run steep and short hills for short duration power but ran a long (about 600 m) gradual grade hill that allowed me to stride out for speed endurance (stamina) fitness.  This hill was through a scenic wooded area on a paved road, which gave good traction.  It was a 20- to 30-minute jog from my home and I ran it once a week for 4 – 6 weeks before returning to interval training.  I would do hill repeats at a quick pace concentrating on relaxed movement until I got tired but not exhausted.  I did at least 10 per session.  Then, I warmed down by jogging home usually with my thighs feeling quite heavy. 

Following completion of third year exams in Pharmacy in early April, I now had the opportunity to include a daily morning run of 30 – 40 minutes.  It was an easy way to add aerobic fitness and to recover from the soreness and fatigue of the harder evening sessions.  I did this at 6:30 am before heading off to my 8:30 am – 4:30 pm summer job (non – manual labour) which paid for university tuition and living expenses (FYI, I had turned down all athletic scholarship offers at several prominent universities in the USA).  I then had supper, took a nap and prepared for my mid- to late-evening workout.  

This schedule meant that I designed my own workouts and trained alone.  It was challenging but I enjoyed being in control.  I avoided running on a track as much as possible to keep this experience fresh.  Instead, I found parks and other esthetically pleasing places to do speed play (fartlek). 

For track workouts, I would park my car a 20- to 30-minutes jog away, carry my spikes and spend as little time there as possible.  I ran concentrating on speed and relaxation to eliminate tension.   I minimized the number of intervals which were usually not timed.  However, they were demanding and simulated the way I would race.

An important early season session was 3 x 800m at race pace (equal distance recovery jog).  Putting two 400m back to back adapted me better to the race circumstance than doing something like 10 x 400m could ever do.  It took less than 20 minutes and also was much less boring.  However, each 800m subsequently got much harder because I suspect that they were around 2:00 minutes.   This workout was sufficiently demanding that I would not do it again for at a least week.  However, this conditioned me mentally and physically for the kind of race that I would run.  I did not do the 3 X 800 m workout after I got into the regular racing schedule. 

I planned races on a two-week cycle.  Starting with Saturday as the race day, Sunday was always a 1-hour easy run recovery day. Then, Monday to the Tuesday of the next week (9 days) would be solid training.  Total distance run was about 165 km (130 km/wk).  Wednesday to Friday (3 days) was for being fresh for the race on Saturday.  This is when I would focus on my mental preparation. I would continue with my usual morning run.  In the evening, I would do a 20-minute jog followed by a dozen strides on grass to bring back quickness.  

The Tuesday before the race I liked to do a race simulation workout on the track.  The Tuesday before I ran my 3:57.7 mile, I remember doing 1 x 800, 1 x 600, 1 x 400, 1 x 200, 1 x 100 with equal distance recovery.  Each interval got faster.  None were timed.  I focused on quick and relaxed running.  When I did the 800m and 600m, I would yell out “ding, ding, ding” with 400m to go!

I used a race warm up routine that involved a 15-minute jog followed by a warm shower about 4 hours before the race.  It required less time to warm up at the track and took away tightness before the race.

These are just some thoughts on how I improved my performances for the mile / 1500m, distances that are demanding because they require emphasis on both speed and endurance.  I hope that you found this to be informative and interesting.  I wish you best of success in future races.

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