Last month I received the sad news that my coach from high-school running days, Mr. Lawson, had passed away in Darlington. A prominent figure amongst the coaches of that era in north-east England, Mr. Lawson (or Wally as most people also knew him by), was an out-standing coach for a number of reasons, which I will attempt to summarise below. But I was only one person in a large group of people whose running improved under the guidance of Mr. Lawson at Darlington Harriers & Athletics Club, and I’m sure many others can expand on the little I remember!
If it hadn’t been for Mr. Lawson, who was standing at the finish line of the Darlington School cross-country champs (many moons ago), running might not have developed to become such a presence in my life – and to be honest, I wouldn’t be where I am today. As I crossed the line of that race and walked along the finishing shoot Mr. Lawson handed me a card that simply stated ‘1 year FREE Membership to Darlington Harriers & AC’. And so off I went the next week – to ‘Harriers‘ – giving up swimming and instead joining the group of fellow local runners (of all ages – but I mainly ran with the younger ‘junior’ group) and the rest, as they say, is history.
That all might sound slightly melodramatic, but to stick with the serious theme for a while longer – running has really opened doors for me and Mr. Lawson played a part that really passed under the radar. Mr. Lawson was a stalwart person throughout my teenage years but he didn’t really say much. Looking back, I can now see what an excellent idea and tactic that was! First of all – it meant that when, and if praise was forthcoming – you had really earned it and had run well. Second – Mr. Lawson just let us be our own people and become whatever we were meant to be. Yes, of course he ‘coached‘ us as runners and was disappointed if we didn’t stick to the schedule, or missed training nights – but he didn’t dwell on it. If we showed up consistently, worked hard and raced for the club with pride – that seemed to be enough.
And what sticks out in my mind from the years I spent being coached by Mr. Lawson? The fact that he gave up so much of his time in retirement to be an unpaid coach at the club. And that also in the winter he would stand, trackside, hardly flinching in the cold, wet and/ or windy weather, in a baby blue puffer coat, it’s hood lined in yellow fabric – with big sheepskin wool mittens – whilst also somehow using a stopwatch!!
A part of what we might now call the ‘old school’ form of coaching – Mr. Lawson’s routine did produce results. When I look back at training diaries, and recall what the group at Darlington Harriers actually achieved under the guidance of Mr. Lawson it’s fantastic: numerous Club regional and national titles, many qualifiers who ran for Durham County, the North of England, and England, and a handful of English School Track & Field Championship finalists and English Schools Cross-Country top ten finishers. Almost every week in the cross-country season the training looked very simply – something like this (from October – March):
Monday – 50min run.
Tuesday – Hills. Warm up run to hill (1.5 miles.) 2 sets of 6x 100m hill sprints. Jog downhill recovery. Easy jog (about 0.5 mile) between sets. Cool down (1.5 miles).
Wednesday – 50min run.
Thursday – 3-4 laps warm up. 5-6x 600m repeats on the cinders track at Longfield School. 200m jog recovery. Fast pace. 3-4 laps cool down.
Friday – OFF.
Saturday – Race. OR: West Auckland hills (once per month). 7x 1mile up & down continuous running.
Sunday – Long run – 1hr.
There have been a few times in the many years since I ran with Mr. Lawson that I have returned to that training plan. It stands as a great way of regaining competitive fitness, and in a small way, reminds me of my roots! It also shows me that running is all about consistency – and doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact – running is often where I turn for simplicity, a change of scenery and fresh air. I’m thankful for the knowledge that Mr. Lawson shared with us during those years at Darlington Harriers and I know everyone will miss him greatly.
Below are a few photos from early running days that my Dad kindly dug out of the attic but unfortunately we didn’t have any of Mr. Lawson himself!! What you see is a very small tribute to the hard work and dedication of coach and Darlington Harriers member Mr. Lawson.